Veterans

So I was into the US Social Security Administration office, waiting for my turn to apply for SSN.

As our token numbered approached, a 60-70 something man opened the door and shouted my token number. I raised my hand and proceeded towards the direction he pointed out.
“C’mon in, young man”, he said.
A pretty neat desk with only a computer, key board and a mouse on it. All the less essential items were on the table behind him. The partition wall at his desk had a number of things. But what caught my attention was the Veteran Creed that read out.
I am a VETERAN!
I have seen and done things that many will not understand.
I am a WARRIOR
A member of the team spanning the world
I have served my country proudly and now standby to serve my brothers and sisters in arms
I will never accept defeat
I will NEVER QUIT
I am a VETERAN!
As I was reading it, the veteran asked, “Am I reading this correctly? First Name, Last Name and Middle Name” – confirming the mother’s name in my passport.
“No, its like the First Name, Middle Name and the Last Name. And the middle name there is the first name above that – that’s my father’s name”, I clarified.
“Oh alright. I love Indian passports. You guys mention both of your parents names in passport. I like it. I don’t see that in other passports and it surprises me.”
It kind of drove me into two parallel thoughts. One was on how US manages to respect their heroes and instilling pride in them, something where India still struggles and has a dire need to correct it. And not just arms, but even critical services like firemen, policemen, traffic policemen etc. Perhaps the reason why people think these are some of the most thankless jobs in India. It is not the pay that hurts, but lack of general respect in the society which hurts these people who risk their lives to make our life safe.
On the other hand, the veteran was happy on a small gesture of mentioning parent’s names in passports. I am not completely sure but I guess the general perception is that Indians do well when it comes to respecting and treating parents well. Although, I don’t subscribe to the stereotyping by Indians that American kids are spoiled and they ill treat their parents, since I have seen American families and their bonding. But of course, if American kids might not be mentioning their parents in their passports, it may be because the parents leave their kids on their own once they are 18. And that’s where it is different from how it works in India.
Before I could say something on the Veteran Creed to make him feel a bit better, he stacked the papers and said,
“So, young man. You are good to go. You should receive your document in next two weeks. If you don’t, just let us know and we will help you out. You have a great day!!!”

Why I Try to Travel to a Place and not Visit

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While going to Dallas on a United flight, I came across this cover story in their magazine, Hemisphere, by Nicholas Dorenzo on his three days trip to San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Beautifully written, it made me want to go there instantly. More so, because his travel actually involved lot of interaction with the locals and understanding of the history, culture, cuisines and customs of the place rather than just tick marking the spots. Of course, that’s why it made it to the cover story. But the point is very few tourists indulge in this kind of travel.

It’s in the last one year, that I have tried to make deliberate efforts to move away from conventional traveling methods of most of the tourists. Luckily for me, I have had a chance of staying in some of the most happening places of the world like London and Paris. And thus, got a chance to interact and make locals as friends as well. And that’s how I understand how overrated the so-called “tourist attractions” are.

For example, unlike what people think, Paris is not just Eiffel tower or Mona Lisa. For me, Paris is about taking a nice morning or evening walk along the river Sienne or enjoying street dance in the evening at Champs-Élysées or listening to live music in a metro or enjoying the breathtaking view of the city from the top at Sacré-Coeur. And perhaps much more. Eiffel tower doesn’t excite me and Mona Lisa is overrated.

It’s my Day 3 in the US and yesterday I went to New York city. While I got to see Times Square and a huge Christmas tree decorated at Rockefeller center, what really excited me was the breathtaking view of the NYC from my friend’s office on 23rd floor. What I enjoyed the most was a heart to heart conversation with another friend while relaxing on a chair with a view of evening lights out on Lexington avenue. What intrigued me was the depiction of the history on the walls of Port Authority station. Yes, Manhattan skyline is exciting but not beyond 10 seconds.

I guess one life is not enough anyway to see everything. And no matter what you do, you’ll miss something or the other (drawn from a dialogue in one of the Bollywood movies). So it’s better to enjoy fully, whatever you see.

Recently, my aunt and uncle made a trip to South America. I loved the way they captured last level of details of the places they visited and explained it when they uploaded the photos on Facebook. Certainly inspiring and showed that they actually “traveled”, instead of “visited” South America.

Traveling is evolving and the trends show that people are opening up to being more unconventional in the way they travel. In India, for example, couple of years ago, package tours were on the rise. However, off late, with more and authentic information available over internet through sites like TripAdvisor, all that people ask for are good deals on tickets and prepare their itinerary on their own. With better highways, road trips is the new fad. So much so, that in last one year I’ve came across three stories of people driving down from India to Europe.

If it continues, soon, the unconventional might become the new convention.

It’s An Abbreviated World

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At the lunch table today, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues who looked a little relaxed after a long time. Her projects had drained her out off late and perhaps, after a long time, she has some relaxed time.

“How is your project going on?, I said.
“Finally its reaching completion. But there’s another one which is going on crazy. Although I’ve got a good practice of handling crazy projects in last couple of months, so this one is manageable”, she said.
“That’s cool”, I said.

” It looks like my professional life is all about three letter abbreviations. My projects, client names, divisions with which I interact. They all are abbreviated to three letters”, she said before enumerating them to me.

A few months back I read a facebook status of one of my friends where he tried to find reasons for why we use so many acronyms. To look cool? To save time? For marketing? There might be few others as well. However, we are rapidly moving to the world where abbreviations are penetrating very quickly into our lives.

The bus in our city is BEST or BRTS or DTC
The train ticket we book is having a URL that says IRCTC
The phone that we use is HTC (High Tech Corporation – how many of you knew that?? 😉 )
The laptop from which I am posting this is HP.
The milk that we consume everyday is AMUL.
That Ganesh idol that got immersed few days back in the sea was made up of POP
The watch that your father has cherished is HMT
That car that you dream about is BMW
Almost all the B-schools are known by acronyms – IIM, XLRI, MDI
People don’t go to Cafe Coffee Day these days. They go to CCD (pron: Sis-d)
The southern side of Bombay is proudly called SoBo.
Delhites enjoy shopping and hanging out at CP while they live in GK
The last play you watched was perhaps at NCPA
When was the last time you updated your FB status?
You probably forgot to RSVP that invitation your friend sent last week.
Youngsters remember classic movies through abbreviations like DCH, ZNMD, YJHD.
People express their condolences in RIP

And these are the things outside professional environment. The speed with which our world is getting abbreviated is a little scary.

Off late, I have seen people who abbreviate their names in their email signatures. Just the initials of their first and the last names. Sometimes just the initial of their first name. O yes, that’s how I should be recognizing them!!

Sometimes abbreviations backfire too. Nobody would be want to abbreviate Wisconsin Tourism Federation, South Lake Union Trolley, Semiconductor Equipment Communication Standard, National Union of Teachers, Short Term Disability, American Symphony Orchestra League or Tamilnadu Advanced Technical Training Institute,

No doubt that abbreviations makes things easy. But sometimes it takes the whole essence out of the terminology and trivializes the whole idea behind setting up that terminology itself. And in worst cases, it can embarrass you for life.

Movie Review: Manjhi – The Mountain Man

“Manjhi – The Mountain Man” takes you through the painful journey of a so-called low caste Bihari who takes on a mountain to avenge his wife’s death.

Story (5/5):
Based on a true story, the movie depicts how, the determined Dashrath Manjhi carved out a road through a mountain using only hammer and chisel in spite of all the bashing received from the fellow villagers (including his father), conspiracies by the village head to stop him and fake promises by the government. In the backdrop, the movie spends some significant time in the build up of the entire story, which is the life of Dashrath Manjhi before the incident – introducing the audience to the rampant and barbaric view of caste based discrimination in Bihar during 50s and 60s, which is prevalent to some extent even today, not just in Bihar but across India. The story is extremely well written and thoroughly researched. It is a story that deserved to be told to the entire country.

Acting (4/5):
Apart from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the movie doesn’t boast of any big names. However, with the support cast of NSD stars – (late) Ashraf Ul Haq and Pankaj Tripathi – and the promising Radhika Apte, acting is one of the strongest departments of the movie. Their hard work behind projecting the characters is evident and the Bihari accent never sounds taught. The dialog delivery is impeccable and does great justice to the writer who wrote them. Some of the dialogs are very profound and will keep you pondering over it. A special mention for Radhika Apte who has rose like a phoenix through some of her recent performances in short movies – That Day After Every Day and Ahalya – and upped the benchmark in Manjhi, complementing and competing with Nawazuddin, in terms of acting.

Direction (4.5/5):
Ketan Mehta has done a stupendous job in terms of ensuring the movie doesn’t lose momentum at any point of time. The flow of the story moves back and forth between the years before his wife’s death and after the death. But never, for once, it loses audience attention – full marks to the editing team for that. Some of the scenes are a complete surprize in terms of conceptualization and executed to perfection. His depiction of the socio-political scenario in Gehlaur during 50s and 60s through various incidents that Dashrath Manjhi and his wife encounter shows the depth of research that has went before shooting the movie. Some of the scenes are gruesome (even though a reality at that time) and makes you cringe. At one point of time, it reminded me of Prisoners which had a similar aura.

The Mountain:
I would also add the “mountain” to the list of characters as the movie also portrays how its relationship with protagonist evolves over a period of time. Although the movie celebrates the victory of a man over a mountain, it also portrays Manjhi’s relationship with the mountain and its evolution from his childhood till he carves out the road through it.

Overall (4.5/5):
Overall, the movie is a must watch. It shows what strong determination can achieve against all odds.

Movie Review: Brothers

Story and Screenplay (3/5):
It is a story of two brothers turning enemies due circumstances and end up in a face-off at a Mixed Martial Arts competition, where it is a matter of life and death. While the story is highly predictable and quite cliche , the execution has been very good. They made some changes to the flashback story in the Warrior to suit the Indian audience and unlike in Warriors, you don’t see any suspense on the background stories of characters in Brothers. They revealed everything right in the first half and the second half is completely dedicated to the “fight” which this movie is all about.

The Fights (4/5):
So far, not many bollywood movies have had the amount of violence this movie has. The fights is the centrepiece of the movie and it does reasonably well, in spite of having stunt choreographers from the west. When you compare it with Hollywood movies and even some of Akshay Kumar’s own movies like Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, you realize the level of action could have been better. Director puts in some of the technical jargons around fight moves but there is nothing much more than that.

Acting (4/5):
The casting of the movie is where I feel it does better than Warrior. The power packed performances of Akshay Kumar and the “beefy” Siddharth Malhotra provides the much needed steam to the movie. Siddharth might not have the physique of Tom Hardy but his height and voice does a lot of work for him. Akshay Kumar is impeccable with his expressions throughout the movie. However, the movie is a big let down when it comes to other characters like Jackie Shroff and Jacqueline Fernandez who are off track when it came to acting and dialog delivery. Kareena Kapoor has no work with the ridiculous unwanted item song. The movie could have done away with all the songs.

Direction and Cinematography (3/5):
The plot demanded melodrama and the director, Karan Malhotra, exploits it quite well. He has kept the story relatively simple compared to Warriors, making audience focus only on fights in the second half. However, editing sucks big time as the flashback appears in patches and doesn’t knit well. The entire first half could have been cut down by about 15-20 minutes with proper editing. The movie required an above average camerawork and that’s where it falls flat in the ring.

Overall (3.5/5):

Overall, you would enjoy the movie if you haven’t watched Warriors. The movie is well made, especially in the second half. I can’t see a better casting for the movie among the contemporary lot of actors and Akshay Kumar and Siddharth Malhotra nails it.

Movie Review: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Incidentally, I came to know about Rogue Nation only a few days before the release and instantly I checked on to book the tickets. I had watched Ghost Protocol in IMAX and the movie did justice to the IMAX screen through stunning visuals, brilliant stunts and amazing background score. I booked IMAX for Rogue Nation, expecting the same, and it did not disappoint me at all.

Story and Screenplay (4/5): 
The plot takes a teeny tiny leaf from the previous movie and elevates it to build a breathtaking, edge of your seat story that keeps you glued to the screen for the entire 131 minutes. The movie has it all that takes to make an amazing thriller – good action, stunning bike and car chase sequences, betrayals and small surprises that keep coming every now and then. The movie doesn’t use much of special effects that gives a unique and a very real experience while watching those action and chase sequences. The screenplay does good justice to the story. The dialogs have elements of humor, emotions and drama – all that is required.

Acting (4.5/5):
Tom Cruise is brilliant as ever, pulling off some amazing stunts right from the word GO! He does well in constantly improvising over the benchmark, his performances has set in earlier MI movies. It is a very difficult thing to do, looking at what is happening in other franchises like FF, and Tom Cruise shows how it is done. He doesn’t make it feel ever that he is 52. The supporting cast of Jeremy Reener, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris have played their part beautifully. A special watch out for Rebecca Ferguson who almost steals the show from Tom Cruise in the movie with a very intriguing character sketch.

Direction (4/5):
Christopher McQuarrie does a commendable job in keeping up the benchmark set by the earlier directors in the MI franchise. His choice of locations, the conceptualizing and execution of stunt sequences (the plane one and the underwater one) is brilliant. But what takes the cake is the way he portrays the character of the female lead that does not take a back seat to Cruise at any point of the movie, which is kind of breaking away the stereotype.

Cinematography (4/5): 
The cinematography is great. Some brilliant camera work has gone into the movie, especially during the plane stunt and the bike chase sequence in Morocco. Full marks to Robert Elswit for that.

Overall (4/5): 
The movie loses momentum a bit in the middle but regains it as the climax approaches. Overall, its a good watch and a movie which you would love to keep in your collection.

Movie Review: Drishyam

Drishyam is an intense story of an average middle class family caught into a “legally wrong morally right” act from which they have to escape any which way. The only way they can do that is to be together come what may. Just like in the trailer, it shows that a person can go to any extent for his/her family. Shot in the backdrop of Goa, it shows a Marathi family putting every bit of their energy (physical and mental) in escaping from the claws of our legal system for a supposed crime. But when it comes to family, there is nothing right or wrong.

Story is meticulously written and all the pieces explained and tied up perfectly. It keeps surprising you till the last scene. The twists and turns in the movie has been well conceptualized and ensures that audience keeps guessing the next scene even though the movie is more of a thriller. This is one of those rare movies that shows a flawless plan executed to perfection without any loopholes unlike other planning based movies  like Players, Dhoom 3 etc where directors take things for granted due to their “chalta hai” and “Bollywood movies mein aisa hi hota hai” attitude. All kudos to the story writer, Jeethu Joseph and Upendra Sidhaye, for a perfect story.
Ajay Devgn has given a memorable performance with his effortless acting. His eyes do most of the talking. He plays a role of a street smart person, a family man and extremely protective for his family. Tabu has been a little weak, mainly in terms of dialog delivery, compared to her performance in Haidar but does well enough to give justice to her role. Other actors – Shriya Saran, Rajat Kapoor, Ishita Dutta – have complemented the efforts of leading stars very well. A special watchout for the youngest kid among the fantastic four, Mrinal Jhadhav (other three – Ajay Devgan, Shriya Saran and Ishita Dutta), who holds up with the big shots through her brilliant performance.
At the end, Drishyam compels you to put yourself in the shoes of Vijay Salgaonkar and think about right and wrong. It is a must watch.