Bear with me, Mother – Memoirs and Stories

MT Vasudevan Nair

“Bear with me, mother” is a collection of memoirs and short stories from arguably the finest writer that Kerala has ever produced – MT Vasudevan Nair. The book has 16 memoir pieces and half that number of stories.

Though its against the flow of the book, it might be a good idea to read the stories before the memoirs. This is because many of the stories have a touch of autobiography/ reality in them, and it might take away a little from the stories of you read them second.

The memoirs work amazingly well because it takes the reader back in time. Even for a Keralite like me, it seemed like a different culture. Temple festivals replete with folk arts, ten days of Onam celebrations, communities which hadn’t split into religion based factions all point to a Kerala that was markedly different, and this was only a few decades back. The change is visible in geography too, as the author agonises over the fate that befell the Nila river.

The author walks the journey of his life with us, with anecdotes from his school and college life as well as his early working days. In them, we can see many characters that made it to his fictional works too.

The stories offer excellent glimpses of the author’s craft, and works like ‘The Soul of Darkness’ will stay with you for a long time. In yet others like ‘Firecrackers’, ‘Karkitakam’, and ‘Elder Sister: Oppol’ we see the world through the eyes of an innocent child. It is amazing how even in the translation, I could imagine what the original Malayalam words must have been and marvel at the wordcraft.

The price of influence

Speaking of trust, between a corporation and consumers, one of the earliest controlled version of ‘outsourcing’ it was celebrity endorsements. I use ‘controlled’ because organic WOM is not really in the corporation’s control. Though it is still in vogue, the credibility is possibly dented thanks to abuse by the endorser, the endorsed and a media that creates more ways to make an a$$ of the end consumer. eg. passing off ads as content.

In the era of social networks and lightweight interactions, the beneficiaries of this decline would be micro celebrities (MC from now) who have created their own circles of influence in specific domains. I remember writing about that – over 3 years back, and following it up later with influence cycles and the tool based influence calculations being used by brands for promotions. The platforms used by these celebrities could be any – twitter, blogs, Pinterest etc and it does allow the brand to customise their interactions basis the medium itself and with help from the MC, use the strengths of the medium to the hilt.

I was hoping that it would evolve such that brands would identify MCs who would be connected to their own category and therefore would wield their influence among people interested in that category. But judging by the directions the platforms are taking, the equations seem to be becoming closer to the earlier forms of media, and ignoring the social aspect. When Vijay shared this and pinky-swore that he wasn’t playing an April Fool prank, I was even more convinced of the direction. Full circle. Hopefully the lessons will be fast, and the new cycle will begin soon. :)

until next time, influenced?

Rise!

It is difficult to make the last part of a trilogy when the first two have set sky-high expectations and one managed to create a larger than life character that would probably have to be one of the best in films, ever, if not THE best. But it had to me made, and 99% would like it. And there would be a 1% hating it – either because they hate crowds, or because their stance would stand out amidst the idol worship. This also includes the .01% for whom this film – objectively and for genuine reasons known to them – didn’t work. I haven’t seen any reviews in this category yet.

So this is just a thank you note to Nolan and his team, for scripting a trilogy that took Batman out of the “Holy atomic pile, Batman!” and the more recent caricature versions to a status deserving of years of comics. For making an intelligent movie with neat hat tips to earlier villains. For wonderful visuals that let me ignore the small doses of incredulousness in the plot. For providing an awesome closure even while throwing a line of hope.

But most importantly, for putting together a perspective on morality and the idea of justice, pursuing these themes consistently across the three movies, using characters with different worldviews, backgrounds and thinking as well as modern issues such as economic crisis and terrorism to add layers to it – the affluent Wayne/Batman can afford a moral compass and changes his path from revenge to justice, Selena/Catwoman doesn’t have that luxury but also seeks a more just balance, Bane is radical and seeks an entire wipe out, the Joker was unpredictable with seemingly no plans except chaos and showing the moral decline of society – even the white knight Harvey Dent, Ra’s-Al-Ghul abhors any sort of weakness in the delivery of justice. All have their own notions of justice, fairness and the institutions of society, institutions we have chosen but whose tools have been subverted, whose rules we try to live by have slowly become unfair and shackles those who desire justice. And thus, for the idea of the Batman as a symbol for those good people who restore our faith in humanity with their actions – “Anyone can be a hero. Even a man who put a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended”, and as an ideal.

until next time, thus spake a fanboy :)

Bonus read: Nolan’s goodbye letter to Batman

California Pizza Kitchen

We decided to give Keramangala a break and limit our weekend outings to Indiranagar in May, considering that the latter had suddenly begun aping the former in terms of restaurants popping up all over the place. That’s how we landed up at California Pizza Kitchen, located in that stretch between 12th Main and CMH Road junctions on 100 feet Road, where it seems all the action is happening. (map) There’s valet parking and enough place for 2 wheelers too.

The ambiance is very pizzeria like, and not really fine dining. But it’s neat, classy and was actually near-full when we got there at about 7.30. A little later, we could see people waiting too. But the service is fast, so even if you don’t reserve, you probably wouldn’t have to wait long.

The menu at Zomato is almost complete – the only thing it’s missing is the smoothies section. We started with an Adobe Chicken Chowder, that came to us almost as soon as we ordered it! The tortilla strips added excellent texture to the thick creamy soup, which which was quite awesome – wild rice, cilantro, corn, though we did miss the green chillies. But the pepper on the table made up for that very well.

For the main course, we ordered the Original BBQ Chicken, with a smoked bacon add-on and a thin crust, which costs Rs.20 more. I would’ve liked the BBQ sauce to be more dominant, specially because the onion and the unevenly spread cilantro are all-too familiar flavours. But it was a reasonably good pizza. The other dish we tried was the Southwestern Chipotle Fettuccine. A wonderful spicy, creamy dish, from which the only thing we’d have like to remove would be the black beans, which seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. We had just enough space to accommodate the Chocolate Banana Smoothie, which used regular cream that added a unique flavour to the mix.

 

Overall, the experience was quite good, though pricing is definitely on the higher side – all the above with service charges and taxes came to over Rs.1600, not exactly what you’d expect from the friendly neighbourhood pizza joint. So long as you keep that in mind, and are fine with moderate portion sizes, you should be fine.

California Pizza Kitchen, 284, Ground Floor, 100 feet Road, Indiranagar Ph: 64048888

In trust we trust

Karthik recently wrote a post on a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while now – “How should brands use public information you share on social media“, on British Airways’ “Know Me” scheme to personalise their service by providing iPads to their staff and “giving them instant access to customer data, including passengers’ travel history, meal requests and details of any previous complaints. They will also use Google Images to search for pictures to link with passenger profiles, helping staff to identify them next time they fly” (via) It has already been met with disapproval from some, but Karthik believes there is value if there is intelligent use of context to delight a consumer. I’d tend to agree.

Any user of Rapportive would be familiar with the thrills it offers thanks to rich profiles provided as you read/write a mail from/to a contact. :) At an enterprise level, any social media practitioner would also agree that it’s sometimes useful to butt into conversations where an @ has not been used, if you can provide value to a consumer. A Capgemini infographic, based on 16000 interviews in 16 countries, shows that 61% of digital shoppers want the store to remember their personal details, 54% want to receive persoanlised offers, and 41% actually want to be identified through digital devices when they enter a physical store! But when Orbitz starts showing Mac users different and costlier options as compared to Windows users,  I’d really wonder if the business is providing value to consumers in personalised offers!

At paidContent, I read “Big data and the changing economics of privacy“, which discusses how easy it is to get info on people, and debates a ‘Do Not Collect’ law, especially in the context of new technologies like face recognition. Another suggestion I read at AdAge is to let consumers build their own tracking profiles - What consumers might prefer, if one were to actually ask them, is the ability to build, manage and get useful things from their own profile and data. Let consumers remain entirely anonymous and in control.

As this Econsultancy report succinctly points out, personalisation is ultimately a trade off, and businesses need to learn to provide tangible value to consumers who share their data. But before that, they also need to make the consumer comfortable by using even freely available data intelligently in a way that shows their intent, asking consent when applicable, building trust and allowing users to retain control.

I personally believe that if you’re putting any information out on the web, you should take responsibility for it – that includes what you share and who you share it with. From experience, it can give you great lessons in trust, and I think that applies to the relationship between people and businesses too.

until next time, trust worthy

From the Kerala diary..

An overcast sky met us at the Alwaye railway station on June 1st. As I sat inside the bus to Kothamangalam, I wondered where the rains would meet us. I saw school kids waiting for their bus, but not as many as I had expected. It has been a tradition in Kerala – on June 1st, when the kids begin their academic year, the rains are the first to welcome them. I remembered umbrellas, raincoats, pants hitched up, new wet notebooks…. But it seemed that things weren’t so anymore. I wasn’t the only one surprised – the Gandhi in Perumbavoor stood open jawed.  We reached our destination, dry. I learned later that most schools were opening on Jun 4th and the rains were scheduled on Jun 5th. On the way back to Cochin that night, starting from a near empty bus stand, I was able to relive the window seat. But I realised that just as the seer had changed, so had the scene.

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There’s a wonderful quote that’s attributed to Bryan White – “We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.” So when one goes back to places which only hold childhood memories, maybe there’s a natural pull to rewind to a time without that learning, and just let loose. And just like in that age and time, many impulsive, harmless things then become capable of delivering an incredible amount of joy.

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For a long time now, Nedumbassery had been my exit point from Kerala. And so I sat, after a wedding feast, on a journey from there to Palghat and beyond, watching a series of places I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. Familiar landmarks and new sights, and the Western Ghats that stood solidly in the background. Hello, Kuthiran. Dad was surprised I could remember the name of the towns. How many ever roads a man walks down, his first roads remain etched….

The occasion for which we had made the trip saw 3 generations – one that had been born and had spent all their childhood in that village, another (mine) in which the majority of the members had cities that they considered home but had spent many a wonderful vacation there, and a third which was probably making a few memories. There’s that favourite Garden State quote of mine - Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place. In this version, ‘imaginary place’ is not a place that no longer exists physically, but one that exists in a certain state in  the memories of many people. I wondered when a place would cease to exist at all – is it when it disappears physically, is it when all the people who have memories of the place cease to exist, or is it when the place changes so much that even memories cannot bring it back. You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. When the seer and the scene let go of each other. And that was why this trip was special – memories had been added, and the disappearing had been delayed.

until next time, seen there, done that :)

The White Tiger: A Novel

Aravind Adiga

The experts talk of India and China dominating the world’s economy in the near future. Aravind Adiga’s protagonist Balram Halwai agrees, and even states as much in his letter to the visiting Chinese Premier. But the macabre twist lies in his reasoning, and that’s perhaps why this book is unique.

There are many books that talk about India’s rising middle class and its opulence. There are also ones that talk about the ‘Other India’, the one that lurks beneath the urban sprawl that inspired ‘India Shining’. So the premise is not a new one, but I haven’t yet read a book that explodes the accepted stories of India’s transformation with such a relentless and unforgiving narrative.

The White Tiger is an animal that appears once in a generation, and Balram is given the title early in his life, for standing out amongst his classmates. He takes it to heart and climbs up the class ladder despite being born in the Darkness, where moving out of one’s position in the social hierarchy is impossible. From the Darkness, he moves to Delhi with his master. The city, with its politicians and malls, when seen from Balram’s perspective has a bleak tinge to it.

Balram breaks all the rules that bind the traditional Indian joint family unit and ends up an ‘entrepreneur’ and a murderer. At one level, its a social commentary that starkly shows the difference in lifestyles of the various classes that make up India, and what it takes to break through.

But more importantly, it is more a take on an individual’s morality – Balram’s and even his master Ashok’s, when traditional diktats meet the necessities of the modern world in a nation that has only begun its march towards a complete overhaul. Though one could be critical and claim that some parts of the novel/characters merely reinforce stereotypes, the fact that Balram’s story seems entirely plausible makes the book a winner.