Sunday, 19 May 2013

Melancholy Monday (Lessons from the Bong Bard #2)

You can read the first post in this series here.

I've been practising Rabindra Sangeet on and off for almost a fortnight now. I enjoy dabbling with the different raags (melodic modes) that my mum's been teaching me. Sadly, the technique seemed too mechanical to me and I would miserably fail to put any life to the music. That is, until last Monday when my misery brought me out of another.

I never feel the office blues. Never. It so happens that I love my work, the people I work with, the office premises, the stationery, the cafeteria food, the conference calls with my coworkers in London, the occasional chat with a colleague in Hong Kong, the townhalls, the free cappuccino, the open culture, the formal dress-code, the meetings, the fun events, the catch-up sessions with the HR and the big bosses, and even the walk back home. My life is perfect, you'd think. But when you weave a blanket of happiness based on past statistics, you start expecting a similar or better state of mind with every passing day. And when the circumstances don't meet your expectation, your blanket starts thinning and you spot holes in it.

I experienced my first Monday morning blues in a weather that was far from cold. Maybe, I had got off the wrong side of my bed. I kept to myself the whole day and tried to allay my dysphoria, in vain. Sometimes, you just cannot tell what makes you so melancholy. I was not my usual self even when I got home. I poked at the porridge I was supposed to eat. Under normal circumstances, I would be ready in my shorts & sneakers and be off for a quick jog. I flopped down on my bed and slept with my head buried in my pillow. I felt tired. Weak. Useless. Undesired. Incapable. I had lost all hope. And my mum asked me then to get my notebook and practise Raag Bhairav.

You know that condition when you know you are strong enough to hold back your tears as long as nobody makes you talk? It's that delicate balance your throat has with the tear glands. You break the dam (open your mouth) and the tears flood your eyes. I did not want to sing that day. I was sure my voice would crack and my mother would be disappointed at the weakling she had raised. Nevertheless, I gathered myself and repeated the musical notes after my mum.

Lesson - 2

Rabindra Sangeet, and every Indian classical music for that matter, has a multitude of ragas or melodic modes. Each raag is characterized by the combination of swaras (notes) it comprises. Some notes are shrill and some soft. Each raag is best appreciated at a certain time of the day and emphasizes a certain state of mind.

Raag Bhairav is a morning raag. It embodies the solemnity and strength that comes with peace. I sang with complete surrender. And the tune guided my voice to follow it note-by-note. I was surprised at my own attempt. I was improving. My quiet state of mind was helping my vocal chords. I transferred the pain in my heart to the sound that came from it. I noticed for the first time that my western voice was starting to take a classical Indian turn. I did not sing as loudly as I usually would, but I was certainly softer and more solemn. My mother and I explored Raag Bhairav that evening by elaborating every note that comes together to form it. We did a raag-vistaar, like she'd say. And then we sang a Hindustani classical song based on that raag.

I learnt that melancholy Monday that each new day is like a new raag. Some are celebratory, some serious, some make your mornings, and some your evenings. One can enjoy new experiences like new music by only exploring everyday like one would explore a raag.

Women in the Corporate Jungle #2

This post follows an earlier post that you can find here.

From the endless variety of females at the firm, I present you some more who stand out due to their deviation from the general trend:-

Exhibit - 6 (The Loudmouth):

Not to be confused with the "bigmouth", lady-loudmouth has a decibel limit of no less than 100. She could crack the champagne flute you're holding just by calling out your name. She'll make sure you flinch once every 2 minutes (while you pore over some serious work-related document) as she makes light conversation with every random colleague who passes her desk. But you haven't seen anything till you've heard her laugh! It's like a thunderstorm that'll make you run for cover.

Exhibit - 7 (The Weight-Watcher): 

She's one of the skinniest girls at work but she just HAS to lose that stubborn bit of fat! She will avoid sweets, chocolates and cakes at all costs, even if it's her own birthday! She will skip breakfast AND lunch because you made her eat at the last team-outing. She will also walk a mile (in her towering heels!!) around your office building in the scorching heat of the afternoon so she can burn the previous night's dinner. It's no wonder then that you fail to notice she's around, what with her needle-thin frame that threatens to vanish!

Exhibit - 8 (The Laundry-Service):

She likes to wash her linen (dirty or otherwise) in public. She will wear you out with the endless stories of how her house-help ditched her right before the mid-year gala; or how her son decided to fall sick just before their trip to Mauritius, resulting in steep cancellation charges; or how her anti-hair-fall shampoo is stripping her hair of all moisture. You will notice she shares some traits with 'Lady-Loudmouth' as you hear her scream (over the phone) at the travel agent for booking her a room with a mountain-view and not valley-view.

Exhibit - 9 (The Freeloader):

She is the ultimate opportunist- the first to run to the London-return's desk so she can grab all the foreign chocolates; she sits near the food counter at monthly townhalls so she can snatch the samosas and tea before the others get there; she eats the biggest piece of cake at every birthday/success/farewell celebration. She volunteers at CSR events so she can collect the company-branded T-shirt and get clicked at photo-ops. And she will NEVER forget to pocket all the coloured pens and notepads that are handed out at training sessions. (And you wondered what she kept in that big bag of hers!)

Exhibit - 10 (The Full Plate):

She should be the poster-girl for blow-your-own-trumpet. She will grovel about how much work she's done and show you her choc-a-bloc calendar. (How does she have more meetings than my Department Head?!) She will also work till late so it looks like she's slugging-it-out. (Seriously, if you were efficient, you'd have finished all your work within the regular office timings!) All your conversations with her will be punctuated with heaves & sighs as she never fails to mention what she's been breaking her back over. With the lady who has too much on her plate to take on anything new, it's hard to tell whether she's really busy or just faffing. What she needs is a class on time-management and the art of saying "no".

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With this post, I will stop labelling women. All the 10 exhibits were meant to be taken with a pinch of salt and I know the ladies at my office are mature enough to take it in their stride. (OK. Even I am laughing at this one! Honestly, who am I kidding!) Anyhow, the next set of posts will showcase some nice people and interesting situations that are unique to the corporate world.

Women in the Corporate Jungle #1

Today, I bring you the first in a series of posts that will introduce a smattering of female characters from my workplace. Some traits describe many whereas some are unique to the individual. Some make me proud of being a woman, and some inspire indignation. I will kick off this series with some women who make me laugh (without meaning to do so).

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Exhibit - 1 (The Complaint Box):

She enters the floor with a perpetual frown that refuses to leave her face even when she's laughing. She finds faults with everything at office- the firm's elegantly branded coffee-mugs, which are either too plain or too cumbersome to wash or too bulky for her; the nutritionally balanced cafeteria-food, which according to her either lacks salt or spices or comes with veggies she can't recognize (due to her limited gastronomical experiences, ofcourse!); the free office supplies that are way too unfashionable for her extraterrestrial taste; even her own (talented and mostly experienced) coworkers! She can make a bouquet of fresh flowers wither under her scowl, I'm certain!

Exhibit - 2 (The Name-Dropper):

She only just got here but will act like she knows 'em all! She will tell you she lunched with A, B, C, D & E. (Never mind that none will recall her name when they next meet her.) She will boast about the MTV Music Awards night that she went to the previous weekend and will spend the whole of Monday telling you (and every other hapless soul in your bay) how many actors/singers/DJs she brushed shoulders with. This will almost always be accompanied with grainy pictures you can make nothing of, and videos of sparkly objects that emit incoherent sounds. The one thing I genuinely admire about the name-dropper is her infinite memory to store names.

Exhibit - 3 (The Brand Ambassador):

She only wears big brands (and makes sure you know it). The echo of her Louboutins will reach you before she does (eerily, despite the carpet that was put there for the very purpose of muffling the clicking sounds). The alligator of her Lacoste bag looks so giant, it could eat you! What? You cannot tell the brand of her tiny diamonds? Don't fret! She will carry her lunch in the Tanishq paper bag (for your eyes only). 

Now, most brand-wielding women are composed and dignified, and wear what they wear 'cause they can afford to. But the kind that really entertains me is the one that tries too hard to announce that she's "arrived". She starts conversations with "I know I'm wearing checks but this is a Tommy Hilfiger" or "Is that a Vero Moda dress? (snootily) No? You bought it from ____?! (with a fake shocked expression) I'd never risk shopping there." And it only gets hilarious when she sometimes gets the pronunciation wrong. Every time I hear "Chae-nell", "Woo-ton", "Tiss-ott" ... I struggle to clench my teeth so I can control the imminent laughter.

Exhibit - 4 (The Far-From-Formal):

She is the lady who was going to a mall with her giggly friends but lost her way and ended up in the office. (Mine is a global investment bank, mind you! We consider checks, corduroys, sleeveless and polos a strict no-no, just to give you an idea.) She will wear bright red chinos with a floral top. She cannot breathe without baring her shoulders. If she ever deigns to wear anything with sleeves, it'll invariably be sheer or have sleeves of net. She flaunts polka dots like they're pinstripes, and bright-coloured flip-flops like they're closed-toed black heels. Her utter disregard for the corporate policy makes people balk, but they stop short of warning her for the fear of hurting her sentiments. Her actions may seem bold, but she's usually a sweet, harmless woman and mostly very helpful.

Exhibit - 5 (The 'Man'ager):

She can delegate better than your own manager. She treats every man like her personal "Man Friday". She has one to make her coffee, one to carry her stuff, one to drop her home, and a separate one to pay her bills. She is an astute businessperson (not in the traditional sense). She will get the brainy guy to help with her office work (while she browses through the catalogue of her favourite online retailer); Mr. money-bags to take her to the local pubs where she'll knock back vodka shot after vodka shot (without getting unconscious, ofcourse) and leave him to pick up the check (despite earning the same amount as the guy!); the innocent-looking good guy to get her out of trouble; and the guy with "connections" to get her exclusive passes to assorted award functions/shows. The only people who intrigue me more than these ladies are the men who fall for their traps.

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My stomach hurts with all this giggling, so I'll go get some rest. But I'll be back some other day to entertain you with more species from the corporate jungle! Buenas noches a todos!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Caution: Men at Work #1

I've been working at my office for over 10 months now. And all this while, I've been observing people closely. With this series of posts, I will start talking about the various interesting characters I come across at work. I meet some on a regular basis and some on rare, precious occasions.

My first post in this series is dedicated to a boisterous lad who speaks his mind unabashedly. I've rarely seen him without a tie. And he only ever wears shirts of the finest quality. (Folks, trust me on this! I've stared at so many shirts by now that I can inspect the weave of the fabric without having to touch it.) His name contrasts his personality, but I know now that he has another layer underneath the one he shows me. This episode filled me with peace when I lived it, so I've decided to share it with you.

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He braked his bike and called out "Oindrila . . . Oindrila . . ." from across the road. I mostly acknowledge such screams only to make them stop. I turned, not bothering to hide the annoyance on my face. I was stumped! And pleasantly so. He was supposedly one of the handsomest young men in our organisation (this isn't me talking) and perceptibly very arrogant (as I had observed on various occasions). He told me he would drop me home. I protested mildly, but he was insistent. I started crossing over to his side of the street to avoid the attention our conversation was fetching from the onlookers, and to say a proper "no". As I walked, I couldn't help but be amazed at the situation- this was the same guy who once went around telling his colleagues he'd stop wearing a shirt if he ever saw another guy wear the same one (and you thought only girls behave like that!); and here he was . . . waiting on me. Before I could say a word, he buckled his helmet, tilted his bike toward me and said firmly, "Come. Let's go." 

Now, I always walk back home because my place is a stone's throw from my office. But I thought to myself, "Sure. What the hell! I'm not doing anything immoral." As I climbed behind him I admired how far I had come . . . from being a bespectacled schoolgirl in my college-days who everybody presumed was studious to trotting about in dark heels and making heads turn (alright, alright... I'm losing my mind here. But I'm allowed some vanity considering how self-deprecating I've always been). The next few lines go well with the music I've embedded here. So, please play it before you proceed. The background score will only enhance your reading experience.

He asked me if I was "all set" and we set off to a smooth start. He would keep looking behind to make small talk with me. (This reveals a lot as to how most road accidents occur.) He told me then that he was planning to put in his papers and leave for his home for good. (No, you did NOT hear my heart sink!) I asked him where "home" is, and he told me of a beautiful north Indian union territory, quietly nestled between two states blessed with endless meadows, farms that touch the horizon, a sun that always shines and clouds that never fail to pour and yield a bountiful harvest. He revved up and proceeded to tell me where his parents were from, but I couldn't hear him over the roar of the engine. I said we could talk after I got off. Just then he unbuckled his helmet with his right hand and swung it over his forearm in one swift move, balancing the bike with his left hand. He turned, smiled, and assured me I'd hear him better now. I was horrified! I admonished him to put the helmet back on, but he was adamant. He grinned and spoke some more about his college. Despite the breeze, I was in no mood to admire his spiky black hair with traces of grey. (I know! He's only a year older than I am, but his age is starting to show already. :P

The ride finally came to an end as the bike halted in front of my gated complex. (Was it just my imagination or did I see smoke come out of the tyres? Nah! It was probably just the dusty road.) He softly tilted his bike to the left so I could get off with ease. (This is by far the best "getting-off-a-bike" experience I've ever had.) I thanked him and bade  him goodbye. He wore his helmet and waited for me to enter my building before whizzing off. I stopped in my tracks as I suddenly realized I hadn't told him my address. How did he know? I smiled to myself as I waited for the lift. I thought it best to forgive his "homework" (*cough* "snooping") in light of the chivalry he displayed that evening. After all, he did make me feel valued, if only for a few minutes.

Monday, 6 May 2013

From Cleaning to Cleansing

In early spring this year, I visited some friends in the princely city of Hyderabad in South India. I will blog about my travel experience some other time as I'd like to reserve this post for something else. One of these friends also happens to be my high-school sweetheart and I wanted to plan a surprise for him for the evening, in keeping with the Valentine's Day tradition. Chocolates, gadgets and other "material" things seemed too mainstream and boring to give to the person who charmed me out of my wits with his effervescent personality. So, I took a cue from the American home-improvement reality show, "While You Were Out", to give my Valentine some well deserved change.

Now, getting access to his bachelor pad was the easiest of my tasks. Attacking the living room and kitchen was going to be a serious ordeal! Take a look:-

Kitchen: cooking area

The modular kitchen in itself is fantastic but for the clutter and grime it has to put up with. My innamorato is fond of cooking and his favourite dish is rajma-chawal (kidney beans with rice). His overflowing love for curries ensures that the rajma he cooks flows out of the pressure cooker and irrevocably coats the stainless steel body of the cooker with its thick, brown liquid. The exhibit above was cooked a fortnight before this picture was taken. Due to the unfortunate fact that my beau works so hard at office on weekdays and plays on his Xbox or watches football on the telly when he's home, the dirty cooker remains forgotten.

Kitchen: sink

Even the washed utensils (all credits to the cleaning lady who is seen once in two weeks) don't find a  place in the empty shelves below the granite counter.

Drawing Room: View-A
The ultra-minimalistic living room has to lose that title, thanks to the ugly cartons that rule the roost. I have always wondered why 3 men with similar tastes in television have to have 3 separate TVs in their respective bedrooms while the drawing room showcases the giant cartons.

Drawing Room: View-B

Throw in more cartons for a washing machine and 3 separate set-top-boxes for good measure, and you can rest assured the dust-bunnies will have a field day!

Drawing Room: View-C

Guys love their freedom and they like to extend the freedom to assorted pizza-flyers with discount coupons that have expired and take-away menus that lie on the showcase cabinet instead of inside.

Taking in the herculean task that lay ahead of me, I took a deep breath and rolled up my sleeves. I began by swallowing my pride and scrubbing the wok. It's amazing how cleaning can rejuvenate you from within. I played soft music on my phone and sang along to keep sloth away. With every stain I washed, I felt my sins wash away (not that I've committed too many grave sins :-P ). It helped me understand that over time, even things that I expect will make me happy, may leave me stained. And with the weeks that pass, the stains will only harden and mar my beauty (referring to inner beauty here). But it is never too late to make some changes in my life and turn over a new leaf. I may have imperfections and ways that need mending, but I also have the power to clean the dirt and grime and cleanse my soul. Clearing up the clutter helped me clear up my thoughts and organize my mind. All the scrubbing, washing, wiping, dusting, stacking, arranging and rearranging was so therapeutic! By the end of my project, I had a neat little surprise ready to greet my date for the evening:-

Kitchen: cooking area

A squeaky-clean kitchen-top with a stove that sparkled. All the cutlery and cooking ingredients arranged to maximize space utilization.

Kitchen: sink

Washed utensils rested in peace inside half a dozen drawers. The kitchen-sink was disinfected and human-safe. And, all the trash was shoved down the garbage-chute.

Drawing Room: View-A

The cardboard boxes that were an eye-sore, were lifted and moved across the hall . . .

Drawing Room: View-B

to the other side where each was stacked atop the other to erect a compact, tolerable structure. The beauty and simplicity of the hall could now be admired. I created enough space in the room to convert it into a dance-floor. Oh, what wouldn't I give to waltz about in this room! (I know very well that this will now be used to play cricket. Sigh!)

Drawing Room: View-C

The unsightly bits of paper and plastic were stashed out of sight inside the shelves. And there was not a trace of dust in the room!

I stood there, pregnant with emotion at the wonder I had created. I knew this would only last a couple of days as filth has a way of creeping into our lives without us noticing it. But I was content with the knowledge that I had done my bit that day and would do so time and again to keep the world clean. The sound of a key unlocking the front door brought me out of my reverie. It was him! :-)

I know he loved the surprise because he took me to this beautiful place called Cinnamon Fusion for dinner. There was live music and a 7-course meal of innovative and top notch dishes!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Lessons from the Bong Bard

It started as a midsummer night's dream. I saw my maternal grandma captivate the entire palace in the pre-partition Bengal with the melody that emanated from her smooth voice. Then I heard my mother croon Rabindra Sangeet during countless public performances. Her cool voice, soft as silk, was such a contrast to the hot, stuffy room that greeted me when I woke up from my dream.

Aprils in Mumbai can make you swelter even at nights when the sun takes a nap. That night, I stayed up and thought what my life would be like without the touch of music. I had always resisted my mum's pleas to join her in her riyaaz (practice) every evening. I loved to listen to her sing, but I was sure Rabindranath Tagore's music was not my cup of tea. I realized with horror that I was 22 and counting and I knew zilch about the beautiful compositions of the Nobel-winning poet. What would I tell my children? How would I ever face my grandchildren? Who would pass on the legacy of such rich tunes to the family that I would have and to the generations that would succeed me? The sultry darkness ignited a blazing flame in me right then. I made a conscious decision to embrace my Bengali culture. And I would begin with music.

My mother could not contain her joy when I broke the news to her next morning. She hugged me tightly, like only a mother can. And on that fateful day of April, the first thing I did after returning home from work was to learn Tagore music from the basics. Rabindra Sangeet is slightly different from Classical Bengali Music which originates from the Bishnupur Gharana (School of Music). Bishnupur happens to be a small town in Bankura district of West Bengal. I have spent umpteen summers in Bankura (where I'd visit my paternal grandma until 3 years back when she moved in with us) completely oblivious to the fact that my home town of 19 years was the birthplace of Classical Bengali Music. The more I delve into the world of music, the more I discover how ignorant I am! This is why I have decided to chronicle my journey towards ending my obtuseness.

As my mommy dearest explained to me the intricacies of each note of the octave, I was amazed by how much I could learn from the distinctive style of Kobi-Guru (poet-King) Rabindranath Thakur's music.

Lesson - 1

In Rabindra Sangeet, each swar (note) is distinct when sung.

Sa  Re  Ga  Ma  Pa  Dha  Ni  Sa

Do  Re  Mi  Fa  So  La  Ti  Do

No note must touch the other. The notes don't amalgamate but retain their individuality. Each note stands strong against the onslaught of the other 6 notes.

This simple rule has helped me understand a very important life-lesson. We live in many octaves - family, friend-circle, teams at the workplace and various activity-groups. We share our opinions and brainstorm to create music-like solution to various problems. If the notes are well-composed, the music pleases the listener and singer alike. But at no point must we forget our individual strength and speciality. We must be kind enough to share our thoughts but not weak enough to change our capacity to think independently.

I have a lot of songs to learn now that it's May and the burning sun let's me do little else. So, I will be back some other day with a new lesson that the Bard teaches me. For now, you may enjoy this beautiful composition, "Purano Shei Diner Kotha" (Stories of The Days Bygone):-