One Journey ends. Another Begins.

As I just finish one journey, a wonderful journey, at a wonderful place which has been a home more than home for the last two years — colleagues who have been more than friends, and seniors who have been such wonderful people, I can’t but feel a tinge of nostalgia, a small feeling of void that can not be put into words. As I started writing my goodbye mail, I found myself deleting sentences again and again, because I realized that whatever I might say could not do justice to the experience I have had. Finally I settled for the words of Rabindranath Tagore:

I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.

Here I give back the keys of my door
—and I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask for last kind words from you.

We were neighbors for long,
but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned
and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.

Always with You

http://alwayswithyou.tv

I was amazed by this site. This site recites the stories of people from derived deprived (Thanks PS!) parts of the country (villages, poorer sections of the cities) and how they are changing under the influence of technology, and with help from philanthropy in some cases. I was completely amazed by the first story, that of Sarita, who has been able to get advanced education thanks to Abraham George. Her English was as fluent as top notch convent schools in the country!

In the words of the creators:

Always With You is a collaboration between Interactive Filmmaking and Microsoft Research India. It is an exploration of the impact of rapid growth in economy and technology in India, through the voices of those whose voices frequently go unheard.

Do have a look.

October Fest, Bangalore

The Germans have their Oktoberfest. Bangaloreans are not for behind. How can they be when they have Mallya buying up liquor factories all over the world? He would throw around his weight, his beer and all his bikini-clad models to make sure he has the biggest party in town. Finally, he smiled and Bangalore got its weekend extravaganza (minus the bikini-clad models :-( — he probably kept them for himself) called the Kingfisher October Fest.

I went only the second day, but the good thing was that the place was teeming with people. People of all shapes, sizes and ages (between 4 and 40) had lined up in front of the stage head-banging to the rock competition. There was a plethora of games, activities and fun time-pass things on the side. And there was a lot of beer which my friends drank to their fill and insanity (I sadly haven’t been able to develop a taste for beer).

The activities were fun — they actually thought about their games. One was Entrapment, adapted from the Connery-Zeta Jones starrer I had loved, where you had to cross a criss cross of ropes tied all over (red in colour like an infra-red field) touching it less than 3 times. Another was in the Yahoo! booth where you had to sing the yoodle, and then take funny pictures which they would put up in flickr. This felt good!

Towards the end, I really enjoyed the Headlines Today (they don’t have a website @*%#!$%!) crew along with their very cute reporter ;-) preparing their report. She first wanted us before the camera, but while waiting for the go-ahead from the newsroom, I got bored and went behind the camera. It was fun watching how the report was made — she first had to collect a crowd, and then ask them to shout out aloud and make lots of noise as if they were having the time of their lives, they had to do several retakes in the middle of all that commotion. What I found the most funny was the ‘We’ll be back after the break’ said right there in the middle of nowhere. In between, a hooligan or two would suddenly walk in and create a nuisance. I found the whole process very intriguing. Maybe, I should hang around reporters more ;-)

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And now for something completely different …

[Cross posted on Desicritics]

Ha ha. I tricked you ;-) More of the same: theatre in Bangalore.

So, I had written about Five Point Someone by Evam back in July when they performed in Chowdiah, and they asked me (flattering!) to write a small preview of their next show in Bangalore: ‘And now for something completely different’ which is adapted from Monty Python. The sub-title goes “The greatest comedy show ever” — and I can very well imagine that it’s going to be funny (from Evam):

This colorful show promises a lot- Meet King Arthur and his trusted servant Patsy who have ridden the length and breadth of the world by banging coconuts! Catch Inspector Tiger trying to solve a crime straight out of Agatha Christie’s novel; Get surprised by Spanish Musketeers; Get tips on how to get through an interview without going bonkers; Enjoy being served by the finest Chinese Mayonnaise cooks in town; Get emotional for the man who bought an ex-parrot; Propose marriage and get accepted-in less than 10 seconds!! And learn how to defend yourself against pointed sticks!

Surreal plots, intelligent yet slapstick-laden humour, gags, idiosyncrasies of British life and a completely whacked out fun evening- a non stop 80 minute entertainer with choreographed set change matching the pace of the humor on stage- Errm..If this is not different then what is!!!

Yumm … sounds tasty. And considering the fact that they did such a good job of Five Point Someone — I can very well imagine that the execution will give you great exercise for your tummy muscles.

Of course, in theatre, the means are as much fun as the end and luckily, they didn’t send me a professionally prepared collage or poster, but rather the pictures of the group practicising, pranking, posing. It’s a lot more fun watching people rather than actors:

Evam1 Evam2

It’s being performed at the Chowdiah Hall in Vyalikaval on Sunday, Sept 23 at 3.30 and 7.30 PM. The damage to your wallet would be 500/250/150 but the lung exercise you get is probably worth it! To book, visit evam.in or call 99162 14062/98402 22363.

Unfortunately, I would not be able to watch myself since I am traveling at the moment, but I am sure you wouldn’t wanna miss it!

More details can be found in this Zip file.

PS: Interestingly, I got a lot of people visiting my blog searching for the name of the female lead in Five Point Someone, Uttara Krishnadas who played Neha Cherian. Perhaps, I should mention the name of the actresses in big bold letters to get more hits ;-)

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Shakuntala Remembered by Little Jasmine Theater

image I went to a performance of Shakuntala Remembered by the Little Jasmine Theater group. It was an English Adaptation of Shakuntala as originally written by Kalidasa using a number of translations. The story is about Shakuntala who is wedded to Dushyanta (a gandharva wedding, no less!) during one of his hunting sprees, but subsequently forgets about her completely and even humiliates her in front of the whole court.

The performance was actually a fusion of theater by Kirtana Kumar, a kalari performance by Anmol Mothi and guitar sounds by Konarak Reddy. Kirtana carried almost the whole performance and the narrative on her own shoulders, and Anmol mainly spoke with his body — moving it delicately with lyrical quality, in fact, his dialogs were in Malayalam (which is something I didn’t quite get the motivation for). Each of them were great by themselves, but the fusion didn’t happen. It seemed more like a pastiche stitched together hastily. It seemed like three artists performing separately, but not a single performance which it should have been.

imageAlso, there were a number of meta-stories around the main plot — of Vyasa and Narada and of Shakuntala talking to a bunch of wise men. There was a meta-meta-story about terrorism and of loss of self-righteousness in the yuga of kali. These felt completely forced. The connection to terrorism was just not there — for some reason the sutradhar kept talking about terrorism which to my ignorant self seemed completely unrelated to the rest of the plot. There could have been other ways to establish relevance to current affairs, some better than showing recent terrorist activities on a video at the beginning of a play about love.

However, in the midst of this, it dawned to me that mathematics was not one of the strong points of Kalidasa (or his translators). Shakuntala waited for Dushyanta for 12 years, which they equated with 4380 days (or some other number ending in zero). Since 12*365 ends in a zero (because 5 and 2 would be factors), and the number of leap years in a span of 12 consecutive years can not be more than 9 or less than 1, this number doesn’t seem quite right to me. Perhaps some algebra I don’t know about :-P On second thoughts, there can be a fallacy in this reasoning. Let’s see if somebody can point this out.

The mathematical digression, and the very poor joke aside, they play was a decent performance, but not the best that I have seen. They should have worked harder on the screenplay. It remained a good performance, and can not be called superlative, and will not make it to my spaces blog.

Some more coverage: here, here and here.

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The Cafe at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore and the number 13

I saw Let’s Have Sex by Vladimir Krasnogorov performed by Workshop Productions today at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore. While the play will not find its way into my spaces blog, it was my first visit to af Bangalore, and I liked the place. What really piqued me was the cafe. There was a strange mathematical irony (or perhaps creativity!) because almost everything seemed to be priced at Rs. 13. Obviously, Nobody there suffers from triskaidekaphobia. However, looks like the architect of the place was cut short of using his math-creativity fully. The samosa stood out as an eye-sore at Rs. 8 and tea (2 cups) was disappointingly priced at Rs. 14 (how could they break the symmetry?!).

Gave me an idea. Imagine, a row of gourmet items all priced at Rs. 13. Of course, there are 13 items. The cafe-owner could very conveniently hang a large board with multiplication tables of 13 to aid the customers (the clincher!).

Cafe 13, or perhaps to make it even more mathematically esoteric, Cafe E.

[I am not the lone lover of symmetry. Looks like very much a geek thing. People have done it with far more disastrous consequences. Damn, if I knew how to draw cartoons!]

Vijay Tendulkar’s ‘Kanyadaan’: An Unparalleled Performance

Went to see Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan directed by Lillete Dubey performed at Chowdiah Memorial Hall today. It was an amazing performance, one of the best I have been. Read more at my spaces blog.

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Talwalkars Gym: Do they think the Customer is an Ass?

I had a rather bad experience with the Talwalkars Gym in Sadashivnagar (Bellary Road, Bangalore) recently and so I thought I should write it down so that people googling for it will find this out and perhaps be forewarned.

I have been a member of the Sadashivnagar branch of Talwalkars for a year now. While people do complain about them being overpriced (5k per month and 20k for an annual membership), my opinion has been that there is perhaps some value since so many people join the gym. Also, since it is covered under my company’s fitness benefit, I really can’t complain.

Hence, this post is not meant to rant about their pricing. The whole problem started when I went to renew my membership. I asked the chief instructor on the floor around the third week of July about renewing it and he told me that new rates will be applicable from August beginning with new offers and I should wait. I decided to delay the renewal since I still had a few weeks left. One the first of August, a colleague of mine told me that there was a new scheme in Talwalkars under which renewal was only about 15k. He called them up and cross-checked with them. I thought the deal made good sense so I even sent out a mail to people at large in my office so that they could avail of the deal if they so wished.

When we reached the gym, the instructor (the one I had asked earlier) informed us that renewal would come to about 20k, a full 5k more than what we had heard. What they had done was bumped up the price by 3k and were then giving a 2k discount under an ‘early bird’ offer. Renewals would get a further 1k discount. Talwalkars has other schemes (such as discounts on couple membership) but he was extremely reluctant to share these with us (though he kept insisting that the prices are decided by the head office and they have to follow the catalog but he was not allowed to share the catalog with the customers). He said that he is not allowed to give us the details by the head office. On prodding further, he did give us the catalog sent by the head office, and we found that a discount of 15% is available in the case of renewal. However, he informed us that such a discount was applicable only on the full price (bumped up by 3k than the current price and this fact was not mentioned in the catalog) so the deal would come out to be more expensive for us. He was obviously not very comfortable with us asking a number of pointed questions because he seemed to be sweating profusely. I asked him for a proof somewhere in between, and he started fidgeting so much that I felt he was trying to evade.

The fun continued when I came back to the office and tried the Talwalkras number again. I called up the Jayanagar branch and they told me that the rate was 15k (n fact, they also said that the rates all over the country are higher). I called up a number of other branches as well, and it seemed to be lower everywhere. In Bombay, the rates were 10k. I could not get through to the head office in Bombay. I checked at each of these branches and they said that the rates are the same all over the country (and were very insistent about this). When we called up the Sadashivnagar branch and asked them the reason for the bumped up rates, they said that they have better equipment than the other branches. It was not clear now whether the rates were decided by the branch or the head office.

I agree that Talwalkars is a private company and they can pretty much do whatever they wish to, but I would like to focus on the following complains:

  1. Don’t try to make a fool of loyal customers: In most other shops (or organizations), if there is an impending price increase the shopkeeper would actually inform you and try to get more sales. It also makes sense to inform loyal customers anyway, at least they should get some rewards for their loyalty. It seems obvious that Talwalkars Sadashivnagar is making enough money and doesn’t give a damn whether older members leave or continue. On the contrary, they wish to bump up the price for them so that they can extract more money. At the same time, you can not ask repeat customers to pay the same amount as new joinees, esp. when the service is like a gym. If you mention a 15% discount, it should be given on the price you are charging new joinees and not a bumped up price which clearly implies fleecing. (In fact, a lot of other people have also left the gym for various reasons which I will not belabor here)
  2. There has to be transparency in pricing: If you are referring to a catalog, make it public and have the policies clearly mentioned. There is no point of playing a game of FUD with your customers. Moreover, the pricing should be simple. If there are alternate schemes, state them clearly, and not make a mess of the pricing structure so that the customer doesn’t trust you. Either there should not be any ambiguity, or if there is, the benefit of doubt should be given to the customer. He is the king, after all!
  3. Have clear communications between the head office and the branch: While it is very apt to have pricing being decided centrally, it is important to have them communicated to every branch. If the branch manager says, ‘We’re sorry, but everything is decided by the head office, and we can’t do anything’, the customer is going to wonder what he is there for. They could very well do away with him and replace him by a membership vending machine (a la a Coke vending machine). Also, if there is differentiation between the branches, it should be clear. I am still not sure if the differential pricing is a matter of policy, or if the guy was trying to cheat me.
  4. Hire competent people: The most important thing. You can be doing each of the three above, but if the person in-charge does it convincingly, the customer is not going to feel sour (I am actually giving wrong advice here!). The point is, the person should be able to handle uncertainties, and tricky situations, if they arise. We don’t want answers like “Cummon man, do you not trust me?” from the in-charge. Of course, we don’t trust you. The FUD game never works.
  5. Let customers see value in the price: Though I promised not to talk about it, I have to revisit this. At the end of the day, there has to be value. I thought that my year-long association should have promised me a better price. Most companies give a lower reimbursement for renewals as compared to new joinees, precisely for the reason. At least in the case of a gym, a repeat customer has much lower cost: since he knows most exercises and just has to use the equipment. It was very clearly noticeable that the trainers were only interested in helping people who had coughed up more money for getting a personal trainer, and others were left to fend for themselves. If that is the policy, so be it. But then, the customer has to be charged commensurate to what he is getting.

Of course, I had refused to renew and I would recommend the same to others. The price is not the pain point because finally a person has to judge if s/he sees enough value and s/he wishes to spend that much money for the service s/he is getting. However, what irks me is the fact that they are trying to so blatantly fleece customers. They obviously seem to think the Customer is an Ass.

Thanks to all this, I am now enjoying the Sankey Tank in the mornings.

Update: Sriram has posted his own horrendous experiences with the Talwalkars Sadashivnagar branch at his blog: http://talwalkars.blogspot.com

A Ghazal Extravaganza

Roz kehta hoon ki bhula doonga use,
Aur Roz yeh baat bhool jaata hoon

Ustad Ghulam Ali Sahab said that we could not forget this sher very quickly, and trust him to be true. Listening to two ghazal maestros on the same night is rarity and we were lucky to get a chance to listen to Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali tonight. While Jagjit Singh was at his soothing best, Ghulam Ali (in my opinion) stole the evening with his versatility and good humour. He was cracking jokes, reciting shayari, and rendering beautiful music with great elan.

However, I didn’t find myself transported to another world, which is what great music can do (and so I haven’t written this in my spaces blog). Sadly, it was not because of the music, but rather because of the organization. I was disgusted how the organizers didn’t seem much bothered with the music. Will try to list down some gripes:

  1. Please, for Heaven’s sake, don’t have food on the side all the while. In the middle of a wonderful shayari, when you find yourself admiring the words and the voice, you would really not appreciate clanking of spoons. And not to mention, people using the place as thoroughfare, walking around as if its not music they have come to listen but walk the ramp in their latest sarees and kurta-pyjamas. My guess is that the sponsors didn’t pay enough and they had to earn money on the side selling (unpalatable) noodles for 40 bucks. The very least they could have done is to have an interval if they wanted to make some money on the side.
  2. Have good speakers. Saving money on speakers in a musical evening doesn’t make sense. Never.
  3. Start on time. Otherwise let people know you would be starting late and they would come late.
  4. If you are planning a musical concert, please at least make sure that there is no other loud music (like discotheques) playing on the side. Imagine Ghulam Ali’s rendition of a ghazal being interrupted by loud party music, and the maestro himself getting irritated and asking the organizers to stop and (and the organizers being helpless). In fact, he said ‘Zara iss aafat ko khatm ho jaane dijiye‘, but that never happened!
  5. Don’t allow kids. While I love kids, I don’t see much point in kids who can’t even speak attending a ghazal concert. I agree they can’t be left alone at home, but it might be more advisable to leave them with a reliable baby-sitter rather having the kid disturb the parents as well as the rest of the audience.
  6. There is no point trying to have the accompanying instrumentalists try to play classical music suddenly in the middle of a ghazal, esp. if they are not accomplished enough to move people with their music. I found myself thinking of real classical musicians and finding these paling in comparison. (This was in the Jagjit Singh part)
  7. Get a better emcee! I don’t like can’t stand emcees who come on stage and say ‘three lucky winners‘ as if it is a beauty contest. And inviting three distinguished guests on stage – Padmabhushan Jagjit Singh ji, Ustad Ghulam Ali Sahab, and Manager – Credit Cards and Personal Loans. I wished to run up on the stage and beat the hell out of the guy for telemarketing calls.

Anyway, too long. Guess, if they had just taken care of the first two points, it would have ensured an excellent musical evening. Sadly, it only remained a good musical evening.

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2 Talks at BCB4

Gave two talks at BarcampBangalore4:

  1. 5W – Widgets, What, Why, Where and hoW: This introduced people to widgets and included a small demo of adding a widget to your site using the Minekey Content Recommendation Widget (login required) as an example. A word about the Minekey widget again — it provides content recommendations on your blog based on both the content of the current page as well as the user’s past browsing history (and thus his/her interests). [I have put the presentation up as a PDF]
  2. Automatic Verification of Software – Past, Present and Future: This talked about why we need verification at all, what is the current state of the art and some pointers as to what might be coming in the future. [Using Sriram’s slides]

I felt that this edition of Barcamp became quite chaotic because of last minute room changes, and it was really difficult to find out what was going on in which room.

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