Dear son, you are nine today

I have not written here in a while for various reasons but no better time to get back in the game than with my annual tradition of writing a letter to my son on his birthday. So here we go.

Dear dude

At some point, I have to stop calling you a little guy because you are starting to talk less like a little guy and atleast for the sake of this letter, call you just the “dude”. To me and your mother, you will always be that little guy. No changing that. Ever. But to get to the point, Happy Birthday my dearest dude.

You are taller. You are skinnier and just a tad, a super little tad gawky. You have the nerd glasses. The obsession with fantasy, robots, Legos, pointed objects is all there. And new for this past year, the insane number of secrets being shared with your buddies. Those hush-hush messages being exchanged while your mother and I ferry you from place to place, the incredibly funny reactions between you and your friends as we walked past Victoria’s Secret, the giggling at the back of the school chorus- all of those are new too. In a way, you are reminding us of the joys of childhood as you grow in front of us. Too quickly, I must add.

Our love affair with basketball ended just as quickly as soccer. Now we are on to volleyball and tennis. Wonder how long that will last. However long it does, I hope you find joy with it. As long as you dont pick an expensive sport, I am OK with these brief affairs. Speaking of sports, we both experienced the shared high of seeing the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Someday we will sit back and describe the experience to your kids. Cant wait to hear you talk about these memories.

I would like to remind you that we are still stuck at “Attack of the Clones”. We have 5 more after this. By the time we get to 7, it is likely that you will be a father. We are at “The Half-Blood Prince” and really need to get moving to get to Deathly Hallows. I know you have read it many times over. But the movie is quite good. Let us get on with the program, shall we.

Taekwondo is still a thing. So thats good. As is swimming. And piano. So thats all good. Carnatic Music seems to be our moment of togetherness. Although the practice of the same ends up being our regular battleground. I have to get used to the highs and the lows within the same framework of joyous music. I can see the progress you are making and it fills my heart with absolute joy- every time I hear you sing. It is an indescribable feeling. Truly.

We also share a passion for stationery which is super awesome. I cant wait to share my “cool” fountain pens with you very soon. Until then, you can use my Preppy’s and Blackwing pencils.

I would be amiss if I didn’t point out what your mother reminds me everyday- you and I have a remarkably tempestuous relationship. Of high highs and low lows. And that doesnt look to be changing anytime soon. So buckle up, buddy.

Here is to another year of new discoveries and shared experiences, of new lessons and newer wonders. Wish you a spectacular year, my boy. We cant wait for you to teach us all the new things you learn everyday.

Love you.

Appa

The Rajini movie experience and a short spoiler-free review of Kabali

Thanks to the Bay Area Rajini Fans Facebook group, I got the opportunity to go see Superstar Rajinikanth’s latest blockbuster, Kabali at the premiere show in Towne 3 Cinemas in San Jose, CA. Here are my late night, sleep addled thoughts on it.

The Rajini movie experience is something unique that has to be experienced to be believed. It is unlike anything else. Across the world, I would argue that Rajinikanth is the only star who commands an almost religious following, especially on the eve of his movie releases. His movies are so few and far in-between that fans eagerly await every morsel of information from that rare original poster during the shooting of the movie to the launch of the soundtrack and then the trailer. Irrespective of how the movies fare, the experience itself is a celebration of the unabashed love the crores of fans have for their beloved superstar.

As a huge transplanted fan of the super star, I often long for the experience of watching a Rajini movie on the first day- something I had the luxury of growing up, year after year. The last time I watched a Rajini movie on the first day, it was the incredibly enjoyable Enthiran (Robot). I could not make it to Lingaa and wasn’t keen on watching Kochadaiyaan. Which brings me to Kabali.

kabali

Kabali got me excited from the get-go. I have not seen Pa.Ranjith’s movies. So I was unaware of what he brings to the table. But the prospect of Rajini playing his age alone is worth the price of admission ($25, no less). Leading up to today, the incredible fans have kept the expectation sky-high. A stylishly cut trailer with an excellent BGM also helped the cause. A few committed folks took great pains to organize the showing, printed unique commemorative tickets and had a streamlined process for fans to be part of the experience. Hats off to their organization. It was super well done.

Bay Area experienceI got to the theater, an hour or so before the show. There were a bunch of festivities planned and it was super fun watching folks just let it go! Never the one to dive in to a dance unfortunately, I was content being part of it and watching so many fans have the time of their lives. If you havent been part of a Rajini movie premiere show festivities, you truly have missed something. Endhiran 2.0 is on its way. That would be an excellent opportunity to make that happen. This one was fantastic and so much fun to watch in person and take in the thrill of the Rajini experience.

 

Kabali

I have penned down a short and simple spoiler-free review of the movie below if you are interested. I will tell you this- if you can watch it in the theater, just go for it. It is worth it. I am not sure how many more opportunities we will get to watch a new Rajini movie on the silver screen. While we have that privilege, I would encourage one and all to experience the Rajini magic on screen.

Kabali experience

Spoiler-free mini review of Kabali
Here is my super short, spoiler free review of the movie. Let us get the broad feedback out of the way.

The movie is pretty good. I enjoyed it and don’t regret one bit paying $25 and heading to the theater on a busy work weekday.  It is not what I expected and it is definitely not your classic Rajini movie in many ways. Yes, it has his signature style in old and new ways. And his charisma continues to thrill as it did, 30 years ago. But this is a movie driven by a lot of emotional underpinnings and Rajini emotes, more so that I have ever seen him do. And he does a fantastic job. He is ably supported by a bunch of character actors none of whom has a standout role but has something to contribute to the plot. Overall, it is a movie worth watching. I typically watch 1-2 Indian movies every year, if that. Using that slot for Kabali was a good decision. Rajini continues to appeal to the child in me.

The good stuff

  • Rajinikanth – this man can do it all and in a way that so many others try and fail miserably.
  • A bunch of supporting characters who move the story along.
  • An actual plot. Yes, it is not deep or complex but there is a story to keep things moving along.
  • Watching it in a theater filled with screaming fans.
  • Being part of the excitement leading up to the movie, thanks again to the BayArea Rajini Fans Facebook group.

The not-so-good stuff

  • The pacing sags for about 30 minutes midway through the movie- leading up to and during the India segment. This segment could have been trimmed by 20 or so minutes.
  • Every once in a while, the screenplay needs a little push to keep rolling. The director definitely should have tightened it.
  • The violence. It is the bloodiest movie of Rajini I have ever seen and that part disturbs me. As a parent in these dark times, I abhor violence, even in movies. Yes, I understand that a gangster movie leans towards gore as part of its realism pitch but still too much blood.
  • This is not a movie to take kids. Most certainly not. I have never recommended an Indian movie for kids and this movie will miss that bar by a large margin.

On Productivity: Digital Fatigue and Analog Tools

Over the past few years, I have experienced what can best be described as “digital fatigue”. I had (have) a lot of devices around me– laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets. These devices helped me stay productive but also at increasing level of distraction and eye strain. My work and personal calendars started getting populated faster than ever before. I yearned for a simple way to collect my thoughts, to follow them through and to understand, process and execute on all my work and personal goals. About three and a half years ago, I started going back to pen and paper. Around the same time I had just begun experimenting with fountain pens after last using them in my high school. Little did I realize, how well timed that experiment was.

I started small with a $1.50 fountain pen and a notebook from Daiso. At work, the note-taking approach was painful in the beginning since I had to do the double duty of writing, interpreting and then translating the notes to actions on a computer. At that time, I was using a ToDo app that synced across my phone, tablet and laptop, a note taking app (EverNote) and multiple calendars (Outlook for work and Google Calendar for personal stuff). My love for fountain pens and good quality paper was growing faster than my frustration with the double effort and thankfully so.

Within a few months, I had established a routine. A balance between my analog and digital tools – I used pen and paper to keep notes in my meetings. I took a few minutes to review them afterwards and then convert only those that were important into a list of handwritten todos. Appointments and meetings stayed on my digital calendars because of notifications.

As I got into my groove with this routine, I started feeling more in control of what I was listening to and discussing in meetings. I was no longer distracted by the incessant emails dropping in during meetings. Instead I was focused on what was being said and discussed. The writing experience made me think about it before I put pen to paper. If something did not make sense before writing, I was forced to question or follow up to get my doubts clarified.

While I see many engineers carry their Moleskines to meetings, the preference is still to use more of the computer and less of the notebook. I have flipped my workflow completely now- I avoid taking laptops to meetings. For one-on-one’s I try to skip taking my smartphone. This way, the only thing I can and will do in the discussion is to listen, absorb and process.

My eyes feel better. I remember things better. I have ready references to what was discussed months if not years ago on a topic. And most of all, I love the process of writing things down. It feels natural. It just feels right. If you are in the same boat as I was, a few years ago, do consider trying to analog route. There is nothing to lose and much to gain in the process.

My Analog Tools
I initially started off with a single medium size notebook for everything. Soon I realized, I needed to separate my work and personal notes. I settled on a medium size notebook for longer meetings and a smaller pocket notebook for shorter meetings. I dedicated a pocket notebook for all things personal- like writing the outline for this blog post and more. Recently I added a third one purely for doodling and as my creative outlet. I rotate my fountain pens ( I have many of those by now) and will someday do a separate post on choosing the right kind of notebooks and paper.

On Productivity: Single-tasker vs. Multi-tasker

Who is more productive – a focused single-tasker or someone who can multi-task and balance a bunch of tasks at the same time? I ask this in the context of not just our professional roles, but also our personal lives.

“Have you ever wondered how it is on the other side?”

This is a perennial discussion at home. My wife is a fantastic single-tasker. I have rarely seen someone so focused in anything they pick up and direct their energies. When she adopts an effort, she will truly see it through to completion. But there are times, both at work and home where she thinks it would help her far more if she could be a true multi-tasker- balance multiple projects at work, home and more. I think she is already multitasking quite a bit doing all of the aforementioned, admirably well but to her it seems like she always does best when focusing on one task at a time.

Hindu God Vishnu - a multi-tasker, as you can see.
Hindu God Vishnu – a multi-tasker, as you can see.

I am a multi-tasker. I thrive in balancing multiple efforts at the same time. I sign up, often times, way more than I can manage. I enjoy the ability to jump between one activity and another and back. Yet, there are times when I envy my wife’s ability to take a job from start to finish without getting distracted by other tasks. Again, not to say  I cannot focus on a task at a time. To me, the thrill has always been in doing many activities at the same time and performing equally well in all of them.

To both of us, the grass looks greener on the other side.

This got me thinking. Is there an ideal balance here? Does parenting and balancing home and work favor any one style over the other? Is there a distinct advantage to being a single-tasker in specific work roles versus others? How does it play out in a laid back society (is there one left anywhere, anymore?) versus a hyper competitive environment like the Bay Area?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you identify yourself as a single-tasker or multi-tasker and what do you feel good about your style and what would you like to change?

A Preview of Bay Area Drama Company’s adaptation of “A Doll’s House”

Last Fall, I had the pleasure to see the opening show of Bay Area Drama Company’s very first play, an adaptation of Rahul Varma’s Bhopal. It was a fabulous effort by the brand new drama company filled with local thespians who have donned the greasepaint and worked behind the scenes, many a time in the past few decades.

BAD Company's "A Doll's House"

This week, BAD Company is offering its second play, its very own take on Henrik Ibsen’s classic take on family and gender dynamics, “A Doll’s House.” Many of you are probably familiar with Henrik’s Ibsen’s timeless classic which shook and continues to shake the traditional patriarchic underpinnings of societies across the world. One of the most performed plays in the world, “A Doll’s House” is a one of those scripts and topics that has withstood the test of time.

Basab Pradhan, one of the founders of BAD Company, directs the play while Sindu Singh, another founder produces and takes on the critical role of Naina (Nora in the original play).

Gender dynamics has always been a hot bed for progressive thought and Ibsen was acutely prescient when he wrote this and presented it for the first time in 1879. While the environment around us has changed over the century and a half, much of the world is still predominantly patriarchal in nature. In the workplace and at home, the woman has constantly been challenged to prove her worth, much more than the corresponding man. Ibsen gives his Nora, a voice that was unheard of in 1879. Nora still needs a voice and Naina is that.

Having seen “Bhopal”, I am very excited to catch “A Doll’s House” this weekend at the Sunnyvale Theatre. Having heard from people who have seen it, this seems to be a must see event of the Spring. If you get a chance, you should check it out too. It might just be the right weekend entertainment for you- smart, thought provoking and timely.

Dear son, you are seven today.

It is now officially an annual ritual – my open/public letter to my son on his birthday. I wrote the first one when he turned 4. I followed it up with one when he turned 5. Then one for his sixth birthday. Without much ado, here is my annual birthday letter to you, boy_who_will_always_be_my_little_one.

Dear little guy
Let us get this out of the way first and foremost. You are never too old to be kissed on your cheeks by your dad or mom. In public too. You have not protested. Yet. But I see the signs. You dare not. Not now. Not ever.

Now onto the main letter.

This past year was pretty eventful. A whole bunch of key milestones. Your first trip to the Principal’s office happened. Taking after Dad in that department, I must say. At one point, I considered maintaining an extra set of pens and notebooks in the Principal’s office. There is a teeny weeny bit of pride in seeing you follow my footsteps. But I dare not say that in public, ever again.

You lost your first couple of teeth last year. Your mom chides me that your tooth fairy is too generous. Here is what I told her. I didn’t have one. Mine was the maid in our house who gave me a cup of water and some sugar for the blood. I wanted your memories to be less colorful and more memory worthy. And so you had a rich tooth fairy who decided to be generous with you.

You inherited the one gene your mom and I didn’t want you to inherit- wearing glasses at a fairly early age. You hated the prospect of it but have surprisingly adapted quickly and I am thankful for that. With your penchant for math and science and now the glasses, you do risk the prospect of getting the “Nerd” tag. I really hope you figure out a way to deal with it at school. By the way, the glasses make you look much more like me than ever, or so they say. Your mother disagrees, of course.

Your imagination is a joy to behold, if only you have the patience to put pen on paper. We are all waiting in anticipation for the day you realize the pleasure in writing and enthrall us with your words. It will come someday. Soon, I hope. Basket!

 

Basketball seems to be a thing for you now. And that is pretty awesome. Hope this doesn’t go the way of soccer. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have better luck than me with the height gene.

For the longest time in your life now (12 months and counting), you have aspired to be a marine biologist. I really hope we take good care of the environment for you until you are ready to take care of it. I think you will do a smashing job if you choose to do it.

Your mother and I are old fashioned when it comes to reading and learning. We would prefer that you learn to read paper books (yes, I know, I know) and write with pen and paper. As much as our house is littered with laptops and tablets, we strongly believe that the right way to learn is through books and human interaction. So, if we do not allow you to have any more tablet time than the school work demands, forgive us. We think that is what is right for you and we are not willing to change our minds on this one. You will thank us later.

Then there is your music. As much as I love your willingness to sing everyday, in the car, in your bed, in the kitchen, on the phone to your grandparents, at our friends, at concerts, and yes, very much so in the bathroom, there is something I love even more. And that is your interest in listening to good Carnatic music. For your vocal chords may or may not be your friend, but the ability to listen and enjoy music is a habit that will take you far and wide in your life. It is the biggest gift my parents gave me and if there is one thing I ever hope to pass on, this would be it. So listen on!

Last but not the least, with every passing year, your mother and I are holding on to the threads of your childhood, not wanting to let them fly away from us. You have a wonderful life ahead of you. And we cannot wait to see you show the world what you are capable of. But to us, you will always be the little guy who snuggles up on weekend mornings and is willing to, in private of course, indulge us with as many kisses we want to give and receive from you. 

As the clock ticks twelve and you are officially seven years old, I wish you everything you desire and much much more. You zoom on. We are with you, always.

Happy Birthday!

Appa

P.S: More than half of your best friends (as of this evening, subject to change tomorrow morning) are girls. Yet another good gene, my boy. Yet another good gene.

P.P.S: If T.M.Krishna is reading this, I hope he will soon make a trip to the Bay Area for a concert. I promised my little guy that I will take him to his concert and convince him to sing “Manavyalakin” and “Mamava Pattabhi”.

A brief review of Naatak’s fabulous adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”

On Saturday, March 21st, 2015, I had the chance to see Naatak’s Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” titled “To sum purush, na mo sum naari.”  You can read through this article if you still deciding if this play is for you or you can save yourself the time and just go watch it next weekend. It is a decision you will most certainly not regret. It is that good. My recommendation out of the way, here is my short review.

To Sum Purush, Na Mo Sum Naari” roughly translates to “No Man like you, no woman like me.” This sharply written take on Shakespeare’s iconic comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” is the 48th play being staged by Naatak, Bay Area’s revered theater group. This was my first Naatak play and I now understand why they are spoken about with such respect. The play was well-directed, beautifully designed, and joyfully acted by a merry band of local talent that came together to be a complete package. For just over two hours at the Tabard Theater on San Pedro Square in San Jose, the audience was rolling on the floors in laughter.

TSPNMSN is a non-stop ride alternating between slapstick and highbrow comedy- a balancing act that the crew pulls off very admirably. That the play is in a Bundelkhandi, a dialect of Hindi adds to the flavor in a way that I did not anticipate. I approached the play with trepidation thinking the dialect would make it challenging to follow the story. I am comfortable with Hindi and the language on stage was not much different from Hindi, yet added a touch of uniqueness to the play that made it all the more fun. The supertitles helped but for much of the time, I was just content following the proceedings. The language was never a barrier and in fact, a definite plus. Props to the Naatak braintrust for having the courage to attempt the play in Bundelkhandi and hitting a homerun (nay a six) in the process.

The set is simple, yet tastefully done and fills in for admirably for Padua. The costumes are spot on. A huge plus is the intimate nature of the theater which brings the viewer so close to the performers. Loved the venue and how it was orchestrated for the play. The intimate experience adds significantly to the enjoyment of the proceedings. And the acting is just so good, and so well done, it is just phenomenal. Every single nuance and dialogue is pitch perfect. Not a wasted second. Not a wasted word. Just perfectly written and beautifully acted.

I would love to tell you more about the play. But you really should see it live. It plays for one more weekend. So stop thinking about it and just buy the tickets. It is so well worth the price of admission, you will be thanking me afterwards.

Fabulous job, Manish , Juhi and the awesome folks involved in this play. “To Sum…” is a sheer joy, all the way. Can’t wait to see your upcoming shows in 2015 and beyond.