Monday, September 30, 2013

On the brink N saved at the bell

September is almost gone –a period where my mind plunged into depths of despair and now slow on the bend. So many lessons thick and fast; let’s say I was caught in a rain of lessons. 
My job scene is the last four years reads a Greek tragedy. Chennai is no place for a creative writer; if you are not employed in “Hindu” there is simply no other avenue where you can expect corporate level salaries. That demotes one into seeking “content writing” space where dolts offer: Rs.40 for editing a page, or Rs.100 for a 500 word article.   
September was the fifth month of unemployment and I was near panic. I have no saving cushion for sustenance expenses for rest of 2013. I felt a trapped mouse. I hate to rent out the Besant nagar flat; my fears stem from ineptitude. When a man of my talent does not know how to get his due from the system then I am sure tenants would find it irresistible to get “stay” orders. No wonder discerning and circumspect house owners would rather lock their apartments than place any trust in rental income. 
            That fear of not able to afford this apartment, a distinct possibility, got my heart thudding like a factory mill, a lingering fear that made me jump on telephone rings or doorbells. I exhausted possibly every job opportunity on Naukri – I realized that none in a Delhi or Mumbai or even nearby Bangalore or Hyderabad would call me for an interview.
            Pushed to the wall I went frantic in my job efforts, calling up old friends or colleagues. I sanitized my resume to remove any slights. My heart kept clanging and to prevent a slide into depression I sat on Vipassana for 2-3 hours a day. I knew that was only the thing that would prevent a mind from fusing out. I told a long standing friend Mani: that I have not found a suitable job in the last 5 years shows my ineptness, that the society not found shows its callousness, and that you have watched over this agony in the last 5 years shows your heartlessness. More than smart word play at work, I was livid with anyone who was in a position to help but chose to only dish out verbal sympathy. I said,” No time for words; can you help in real terms? Jobs lead to gulf? Or buy TOI n Hindu and sack the whole lot of them after converting it to a poultry farm.”
Vipassana helps: 2-3 hours a day of daily sitting prevented a complete collapse. I found a quote of Martin Luther King and stuck on my computer table: The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy. It is not something that poured fresh energy but serves a good reminder.
Importance of Linkedin: I discovered the power of Linkedin. I cleaned up my profile and joined media groups in Dubai and Muscat or whatever I could find. I even got a call from Dubai, I messed the telephonic interview. “Do you have any social media experience?” I immediately said,” Not exactly” when I should have talked of Vivek’s direct marketing efforts. But I now know better. There’s utility if you participate in any discussion on Linkedin than Facebook or Twitter if you are looking for a top gun to spot you. Join as many groups pertaining to your profession and someone would amble in like a fish and knock on your door. This thing beats me square: everyone is looking for a hot talent and I don’t even come on the radar. What’s wrong? Their locked minds or my exaggerated claims?
Bangalore trip: Godot called me for an interview and it felt god-sent. I was sitting on my hunches and nothing like a short trip for a stimulant to the lazy bones. I cadged one more job interview, Trivone obliged me. So I had a train which took me to Bangalore at 1:30; one meeting at 2:30 and another at 4:30 before I had to wait for the night bus at 10:00.
I enjoyed the 6 hours in Brindavan Express on 27th. I befriended everyone around me. There was a wedding party of a SI in the police (those guys intuitively know human-nature being caught in the worst end), then a Congress trade union leader traveling with his wife (he again was full of sense. The couple were headed to Bangalore to support their daughter’s infant upbringing). I was interacting with an export consultant; he turned out to be a bachelor at 60+. He made a crackling observation,” being on one’s own means you have to be self-sufficient. It’s not bad a ride if you know how to occupy yourself.” I forgot to take the addresses of these firms, Kesavan smsed me on request. He is turning out to be a solid friend. For an interview strategy, I took the day’s newspapers and using a highlighter marked out sentences that needs straightening. Damn it, every sentence violates Strunk’s “Elements of style” – TOI and Hindu has not a single writer who can write a sentence without a crink and a fracture.
I met a senior executive at Trivone and he seemed a dream. We were arguing more on India; anyway he gave me the best possible news: we will engage you as a retainer. Work out 20 blogs for XX a month. We’ll try this for 3 months and see where it takes us.” I got my breath back, the heart in the mouth went back to its original place. Within an hour of Bangalore, I was singing. It’s a city I have many memories; my grandparents gave us a rich haul of them.
The best part of Bangalore was meeting Shyam. We agreed to meet at a coffee-shop and he drove to reach there. Shyam is the son of my chanting friend, Mr. Krishnamurthy. We learnt our Rudram and Mahanyasam under Venkatakrishnan mama and I join the chanting group at the temple especially on pradosams or Fridays chantings. Shyam read my web-links on my resume and said,” You are a fine talent in these days of plagiarism. Let me see what I can do. When you are in Bangalore, let’s meet.”
Shyam has worked in some of the biggest computer and internet companies in India and US as their “Chief Technology Officer”. He spoke to his contacts in Bangalore to explore an opportunity for me.  We met at a cafĂ© and I felt an immediate connect. He spoke of 20-80 rule in his industry, how he got an odometer fixed where such things are taken seriously in America. He explained,” Everything you need is on google. You must only know how to tap into.” He smsed a media owner to inquire a feature writing slot for me. He explained his philosophy,” I try not to be nuisance to anyone. Who knows how long our lives are; even 10 days from now could be our last. So if you are any use of anyone, so much the better.” Shyam reminded me of Vimala’s son Shanker; very few people are born with such grace and maturity.
I was at Majestic at 6:00 pm and that meant I had four more hours to squander. I had a Mark Twain and two hours of “Mysterious stranger” kept me occupied as I sat in the office of National Travels. I had a peek into their world; it’s tough living filling up seats. That’s a super smart race, haggling prices till the last moment and just get the nerds to board the bus.
We were herded into another bus at 10:00 and we waited for an hour at Kalasipalayam; it reached Madivala (another boarding point in the city) before the bus picked speed. It was at Egmore at 6:00 in the morning I disembarked with every bone and flesh in the body wanting to lay in a cot. A man of 190 cms in any bus finds sleep impossible. I felt in a Procrustean bed - a mad fellow who made any guest fit into his bed either by stretching their legs or chopping them!
I learnt a lesson this September. We are bigger than our problems. Problems come and go but we are at the centre. Every experience in this world must lead to trusting oneself more. It is not that we are expected to solve our issues or manage them or endure them; we are not here to learn from experiences for those only clog up the mind space (What learning is possible in India other than realizing how callous the system is). We are here to trust ourselves more. When I set out for Bangalore I prayed at the Hanuman shrine at Ratnagiriswarar temple: Lord, see me through. Any assignment and I will offer vadamalai and butter; save me! The prayer was answered. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

August, 2013 notes

Writing is the greatest gift and most transparent. There is nothing simpler on the globe than “evaluating a writing style”. I’ll even say how: grasp on words and control over a sentence. Read any paragraph of any writer and either he wins respect such that you would go slow on your reading speed or you fast read if it tastes like burnt coffee without sugar (in that case you would more likely fling it out of the window and find better use for your time). A good writer is one who has the ability to translate a mental imagery into words such that you laugh when he wants you to, or weep. A good writer is in control like a child torquing the screw of a doll; the doll has no choice but to play along when fully coiled and released. But Indians don’t get it and I remain undiscovered and rusting up on a seashore beach. 
Now my diluted resume goes around – I found couple of interviews in ages. I praying to join the work force with such fervor that if a crackpot says,” Go to the terrace at midnight and shout like a owl or hang upside down like flying jackals” and I would comply in all sincerity even if that were to improve my odds by less than 5%. 
The best part of August was reading Ravi’s dad’s manuscript. Here is a very accomplished marketing man (he has worked in Fortune 100 companies heading their marketing function over the last 3 decades). He read “O my darling India” and that gave him a mind to record his experiences for an autobiographical account. This is a mighty rich life and holds lessons at every corner. Mr. R Ramakrishnan is one of those gentlemen who you don’t forget in life – throaty, infectious vivacity, full of good sense and his humour is spontaneous. More than an interesting company, he has a sharp mind that cuts the maze for astounding clarity (Sarada Mami is my idol on "mind as sharp as rapier" - the pointed end for an incisive quality). Reading 34 chapters of his mss was the best thing I have done in years. It traced through his growing up years in Calcutta and meeting life’s challenges square-on. What makes any writing readable is honesty, this one had that ring throughout and that made it edifying.
August saw me interacting with the great man on gmail and it felt an invisible hand of destiny. Every mail of his is worth preserving and I add a “star” to retain it and come back to it for reading it again. He writes at a juncture: Dear SathyaNo one can , I am sure, tell a self-story so poignantly as you have, in less than a page . What a writing skill you have! Even a working tap connected to the tank full of water or any other source with a prime mover for support would clog up or spew out air only but not your language flow. It is amazing to see such a word power at work. I am also saddened that such a thinking and keenly perceptive person should be perpetually finding himself looking for job and therefore, some earning for sustenance. Trust me; I am not capable of laying it so thick and such class. Mr. Ramakrishnan is a marketing person; I find his writing more insightful and a verve I would be hard pressed to match. I have had my share of compliments but this one is special. 
I saw “Zero dark thirty” at USIS. I went into the auditorium in a sour mood but two and half hours later found a lot of uplift. This is certainly my best Oscar movie of 2013. The Americans are patriots; they will not allow anyone to kill 3,000 of their citizens and allow that depraved to go scot-free even if that blighter is a needle in a haystack and placed on the ocean floor. Jessica Chastain as an obsessed investigator and Jason Clarke as a ruthless interrogator were brilliant. The torture scenes including water boarding was spine-chilling and very graphic and damn real. The movie flowed without a kink, a tale told with a lot of honesty and painstaking research. It certainly towered over Argo, this movie deserved the “best picture” to me. What is hallmark of a good movie?  You watch a movie or read a book and you suddenly find a lot of inspiration to handle your worries – your problems look small as though you are put in an airplane taking off and the land mass shrink rapidly. Watching this movie got my mind a lot of oxygen and a new resilience to face up to my troubles in life: piece of cake as the American idiom goes.  
As for me I find my heart racing to a panic attack and I determine myself each day for two hours of Vipassana medicine. I manage my troubles with a lot more grace. I realize one thing: India is no place for me. For the first time since I started my innings as a writer in early 2007 I feel lost. This Indian CALLOUSNESS and MEDIOCRITY will certainly drown my puny talent. The rains have started and mind feels vulnerable in high doses. I serve my God, waiting, waiting, waiting....