About manu prasad

Posts by manu prasad:

Happiness: The End

A while ago, in Happiness and Compassion, I had written about what Fahadh Fasil described as the biggest lesson he learnt from failure – he said it made him decide that he would only do things that made him happy. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I live, the more I start relating to what Fahadh is doing, and what Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Everything else – fame, power, money, compassion, detachment etc – is probably just the means we create.

The thing though is, even if happiness were indeed the purpose, I can see at least a couple of challenges. In this excellent read “10 truths you will learn before you find happiness“, the first point is “It is impossible for anyone else to define YOU”. This echoed my first challenge – a difficulty in defining what happiness is to me. At the next level, I felt that the paths to happiness are confusing and have many things going against them. For instance, fame – “..other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.” (Schopenhauer) Or compassion/pity (not kindness, which I regard as a more active expression, though the following might apply to it as well) – “There is a certain indelicacy and intrusiveness in pity; ‘visiting the sick’ is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbour’s helplessness” (Nietzsche) As you can see, it isn’t difficult to bring each down.

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Mumbai Noir

edited by Altaf Tyrewala

14 stories, divided into 3 sections, edited by Altaf Tyrewala, that’s Mumbai Noir. A completely different version of the city from the usual grandiose, glamorous ones that most fictional works create, it definitely lives up to the title.

For some reason, I saw more of Bombay in this than the current Mumbai – in terms of the city’s character and how the actions of various people across different stations in life helped create it. Altaf’s introduction sets up the overall tone and feel of the book pretty well, and sensitises us to the stories ahead.

In the first section – Bomb-ay – Riaz Mulla’s take on how ordinary hard working people become pawns in the machinations of global terrorism is an excellent start. Paromita Vohra’s mix of internet and real life ‘romance’ and trust makes ‘The Romantic Customer’ a neat read. Devashish Makhija’s ‘By Two’ is quite surreal and tragic, and Abbas Tyrewala’s “Chachu at Dusk” has to be a contender for my favourite among the stories. It captures the transition from Bombay to Mumbai the best.

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Changing brandscapes

Recently, I was part of an interesting round table discussion organised by afaqs and IBM around “Technology in Marketing“. While we did stick to the subject, in my mind, I was also wondering about the impact this (topic) was  having on the idea of brand. It has been only 4 years since I had last held a brand job, (I left TOI in 2010) but I can safely say that the landscape has changed massively. A few thoughts –

Time: The cycles of brand building have been massively reduced. This is not a 2010 phenomenon, but to give you some perspective, in that year Flipkart was just venturing beyond books and hardly the well known brand it is now. Zomato was a ‘promising startup’ according to a list made by the Smart Techie magazine and had just expanded beyond a single city. The flip side is that some of the other startups in that list no longer exist. AlooTechie, which reported this, also does not exist. I had a Nokia E series phone then, and they are pretty much a non entity now. In short, that word – change, and it’s faster than ever! It is said that brands get built over time, but do business cycles allow that liberty now?

Geography: A cliche used frequently is “Geography is history”, but a little incident reminded me that it may not altogether be true. One of the regular conversations these days is around taxi rentals and Uber is a favourite among many of my friends. I casually asked them whether they knew of the heavy rap Uber was getting in the US for remarks allegedly made by a senior VP. (alternate perspective) They didn’t, and it isn’t as though they don’t consume news online. They missed it amidst all the ‘noise’. While a brand may be global, how much does its international stature impact regional preferences, even in this hyper connected era?

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Napoli Bistro

First published in Bangalore Mirror

After the World Cup, a bite of Italian could mean a lot of things, but in HSR Layout, there aren’t really a lot many options. That probably explains the crowd on a Saturday night at Napoli Bistro. ( Having said that, HSR continues to surprise me each time with its growth spurts!) Street parking and a flight of stairs take you to a well-lit floor with views to the busy 27th Main road. (map) The faux brick wall, the framed art and the functional, elegant furniture all add a semblance of character to the place. We got there just in time before the place filled up. The menu is all Italian and seemingly extensive.

There is no dearth of starter options – soup, appetisers and a host of salads – though there is a clear skew towards vegetarian. On a chilly Bangalore night, a soup is a great way to begin a meal, and that’s exactly what we did. The description doesn’t offer a lot of explanation and simply states ‘Non Veg’. The risk turned out to be worth it and we got a delicious, creamy yellow soup (pumpkin was the guess, but turned out to be carrot) with chicken sausage slices. The Napoli Pesto was a tasty dish too – toasted bread with a tasteful signature pesto. The Chicken Quesadilla – standard tortillas stuffed with diced chicken – wasn’t really the best we have had. Quite savourless and a bit too greasy.

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Natural Law

After a couple of years of Samsung, I bought a Moto X (2nd gen) phone, the Droid Turbo and Nexus 6 also being considerations. In the first few days of use, the automation that Moto’s Assist, Actions and Voice allows has impressed upon me the potential of such technologies and the dependency we could have on them.  As Karen Landis states in the Pew Internet Project’s Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age, “Implants and wearables will replace tools we carry or purchase…It will also redefine what a ‘thought’ is, as we won’t ‘think’ unassisted.

It reminded me of an article I’d read in Vanity Fair titled ‘The Human Factor“, and a particular observation in it – To put it briefly, automation has made it more and more unlikely that ordinary airline pilots will ever have to face a raw crisis in flight—but also more and more unlikely that they will be able to cope with such a crisis if one arises. This thought is elaborated in ‘Automation Makes Us Dumb‘, drawing the difference between two design philosophies – “technology – centred automation” and “human- centred automation”. The former is dominant now and if one were to extrapolate this , a scary thought emerges.

I think the best articulation of that scary thought is by George Dyson in Darwin Among the Machines – “In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.” I had seen this in Bill Joy’s amazing 2000 Wired article “Why the Future doesn’t need us“, which itself discusses the idea that Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. More

The Other Side of Light

Mishi Saran

I completely loved Mishi Saran’s earlier work “Chasing the Monk’s Shadow”, an inner journey as much as an actual one. In some ways I could associate it a little with Asha’s journey in ‘The Other Side of Light’, a work of fiction. The blurb says she has written short stories earlier, but I have to wonder whether this contains autobiographical elements, like many first time works of fiction do. (just a thought)

The book is written in flashback mode as we get the current status of Asha’s life in the first few pages. We follow Asha’s life right from the time she was born – with a harelip. Childhood is zoomed through but college is an important part of the story – friendships and first love and the camera that, in many ways, defines Asha’s life later. The narrative is fairly linear, with Asha’s friends, love interests, parents and teacher playing important roles. History and events pop up every once in a while in the background and it’s almost as though the protagonist and the nation are being moulded by their experiences in parallel. More

The circle of nothingness

During a recent trip to Cochin, Dad pointed to a newly constructed building and asked me if I remembered what had been there before it, since he couldn’t. Neither could I, though I might have walked/cycled/ridden/driven past it many, many times. I get quite disappointed on such occasions, because when a memory is removed, it’s almost as though a slice of my life, thin though it may be, has been taken away forever. Strange though it may seem, I feel a sense of guilt, towards myself for not retaining a complete picture of my own life, and towards the object itself. A few days later, we passed a plot on 12th Main, Indiranagar, where a commercial building is being constructed. This place will ‘always’ remain in my memory as my uncle’s house, though they moved away quite a few years ago.

All of this reminded me of Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea“, and a post I had written more than four years ago, the last paragraph in particular. From nothingness comes an idea, it then takes a tangible shape in a mind, and then probably manifests itself in words, deeds, objects and so on. Beyond its physical life, it exists in the minds of the people with whom it has been shared, maybe in forms massively different from its original, until the minds themselves are no more, and no connection exists between the current form and the original. “Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.” ~ Marcus Aurelius  More

Leaping Windows Cafe

One about-to-rain Bangalore night, despite the comments that we shouldn’t go there only for the food, we took a leap of faith, and landed up at this cafe in Indiranagar. You’re bound to miss it if you don’t know exactly where it is, so check the map in the link. It’s a house converted into a cafe and the ground floor is devoted to the library/reading rooms. Up a winding staircase and we got to a balcony where we managed to get a table for two. There are other seating options inside as well. You’ll love the ambiance if you’re into comics. Bright, colourful murals and comfortable furniture. What works for the balcony is that it also offers non-comic entertainment, thanks to a bar across the road! From the menu, I asked for a Nutella Banana shake and D wanted a Peppermint Hot chocolate. (day’s special, said the board) The shake was more banana than Nutella, and despite me specifically asking for no ice cubes, I got them in abundance. The hot chocolate was much better!

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Processes, People & Culture

It has been more than three years since I wrote about my Indigo fandom. Since then, they have been my preferred airline, mostly thanks to their on-time promise. A few weeks ago, Karthik wrote an excellent post “Why I love an errant Meru and hate the awesome Indigo!” that offered some unique perspectives based on a few of his recent experiences with the airline. He ends the post with When did the ‘plastic’ nature of Indigo’s customer-facing organization set in? May be around the same time their hostesses were asked to use wigs? It restored a sense of objectivity to my fandom.

Our way of doing things” is how one definition of culture goes and I remembered Gautam’s recent insightful post on the components that make up ‘culture’ in an organisation. If you look at these factors, you’d wonder whether a cultural change was at the root of Indigo’s new avatar. It made me think of something I wrote earlier – Culture Architecture – the thrust of which  was culture being a strategic business advantage. But how can that be made sustainable? I’ve been a big fan of processes. Indeed, one of my favourite posters is

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Difficult Pleasures

Anjum Hasan

Anjum Hasan is definitely among my top 3 favourite authors, and this book only adds to it. But that also means that this is not a thoroughly objective review. :)

The book has thirteen short stories that have a varied set of characters in different circumstances. As the jacket informs us, some of the stories are borderline surreal, but that doesn’t take away from the empathy that the author (has and) seems to be able to evoke in the reader. This is especially commendable because the characters vary in age, socio-economic class, mindset, location and many other factors. Yet, the single common takeaway from each of these (sometimes not-so-ordinary) slice of life situations is how the author is able to drag the reader in and empathise with the character/s even if not completely identify with. More