That passion – profession debate, again

In many beer fueled conversations, I have heard the sentiment of “quitting my job and doing something I am passionate about.” While I see merit in that line of thought, these days I also end up playing party-pooper by asking if he/she has a business model in mind, especially since the ‘passion’ is more often than not from the usual suspects list – digital photography, cooking/baking, writing, travel and so on. To clarify, unlike funded startups this model doesn’t even have to scale, but in the medium-long term, the revenue has to be greater than expenditure. That’s a requisite for survival in the world, unless one has alternate sources of income.

I saw a meeting of worlds when I noticed yet another job listing that demanded the person to be “passionate about digital marketing“? As someone who has been working in the domain since 2004, I have seen a version of this phrase appear in many job descriptions. I could replace digital marketing with startups, consumer insights, programming and so on, the question remains the same. More

Framing passion

A lovely Malayalam movie came out earlier this year – Maheshinte Prathikaaram – a simple premise based on actual events. The movie is set in Idukki, which makes for a great backdrop and also provides excellent material in the form of the simplicity of the people and their lifestyles. We saw the movie soon as it released and I loved it. Very few scripts manage to  bring together an enjoyable mix (read balance) of humour and poignancy, and it requires a well chosen and talented cast to execute it well. This movie did both.

While the principal narrative track (the revenge that is suggested in the film’s name) around Mahesh, the protagonist, is entertaining in itself, the idea around his father’s character – Vincent Bhavana – interested me a tad more. Recently, I saw the movie again, and now that I knew how it would play out, I could pay more attention to this track.  More


Slightly dated in the context of real time, but I thought this was a pertinent read in the Armstrong era. It’s titled “Honesty of the long-distance runner” and is about a Spanish runner Iván Fernández Anaya. He was running second in a race he had no chance of winning when he saw race leader Abel Mutai pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line. Instead of exploiting the situation, he let the Kenyan win using gestures to communicate. He thought it was the fair thing to do. He also candidly said that if a Eur/World medal was at stake, he’d probably have done things differently.

I saw this poster at gaping void, related to  purpose, but twisted it a bit in this context. It isn’t as though there aren’t things we love to do. As we move further in life, we learn more about the way life works. Sometimes these things we love make business sense, sometimes they don’t or requires either stellar talent or more hard work than we are willing to put in. Some of us work at it, some of us lock the love away and some of us decide to find an easy way out. And thus it is that even things which involve love and passion – sports and arts – have been converted into competitions and ruthless economically viable phenomena. So really, where does the corruption begin?

until next time, strong-armed

Plan C

This post has been pending for a while, the date of publishing of the article that inspired the post is evidence enough. It is about people who leave their jobs to follow their passion, but instead of the success stories we are used to, it focuses on the difficulties on that path. Even if you’ve not taken that path already, it’s quite possible that you have contemplated it. It’s romantic – the freedom, being your own boss and doing the thing you like – Plan B. But it’s not easy, and it begins as early as even identifying one’s passion. (must read)

Interestingly, NYT themselves had an article almost a year later that asked “What Work is Really For” and answered that with an Aristotle quote “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” Though I didn’t know about this quote until recently, this is a perspective that I have often used to debate with people who say those who do not like their jobs should quit. There are many reasons why people don’t, and one of them is consciously making a choice to work (possibly on things they don’t enjoy) for the 2 days (and vacations) when they are able to spend their resources – money, effort and time – on things they enjoy.

The reasons people don’t scale up those 2 days could be many, including the difficulties involved in the early stages of setting up, and then maintaining a positive balance – of money and life. Money is after all an essential resource. It buys things, it opens doors. But when your passion becomes your work and your principal source of money, does it feel the same? Or does it become a job?

I liked the second NYT article also for its last 3 paragraphs. It addresses the money conundrum. It talks about how right from when we are born, we are taught to be consumers, thanks to capitalism, which though calls itself an open market where we have the freedom to buy is actually a system unto itself.  The choices are not really independent. It points out that education should be meant to make us self determining agents. True freedom requires that we take part in the market as fully formed agents, with life goals determined not by advertising campaigns but by our own experience of and reflection on the various possibilities of human fulfillment. But that’s not an easy path either. It calls for independent thinking and a subjective view of fulfillment and happiness. And that brings us to the familiar “to each his own”

until next time, work it out :)

Bonus Read: Six Rules to guide your career

No kidding

The debate on twitter, some time back, on the subject of kids on Junior MasterChef Australia was an interesting one to watch. I have no definitive opinion on it, and I understand that it can be debated both ways. So, just a few perspectives.

I watched the show for a few days, and was amazed by the skill displayed by the kids. I also found the judges being very careful with their words. (they can be scathing as the ‘regular’ MasterChef show would prove) The kids seemed to be having fun. I don’t know if the elimination grind got to them. I don’t know how the entire experience would affect them – irrespective of them being winners or losers.

What I do think is that in many ways, the show is preparing these kids for the world – for making choices, (I’m reasonably sure none of them have been forced to come here) chasing a passion, the consequences – winning and losing, fame and despair, public scrutiny and the loss of privacy, dealing with judgments passed by others and so on. And that goes for all sorts of reality shows – dance shows with scantily clad kids included. Any opinion I have against dance shows is a judgment based on my baggage, and objectively, I can’t be sure that dancing (of any kind in any attire) < cooking. I could be flawed in my rationale, but that’s like saying Vidya Balan’s performance in The Dirty Picture is somehow lesser than Sanjeev Kapoor’s erm, Dal Makhani.

I am not a parent, so I can only talk from the perspective of a child that I once was. :) We didn’t have reality television then, but we had non televised competitions, and I have been a participant. Music, debate, hockey, quizzing, cricket, dumb charades – I’ve represented  my school/college in all of these. I was lucky enough to be encouraged in most of these (very few got the point of Dumb C :) ) by my parents and teachers. I can only dimly imagine the sacrifices my parents might have made for letting me pursue these and my other indulgences – voracious reading, for example. :)

I do believe that most parents want the best for their children, though the way they show it could be seen and judged in different ways. Parents have no inkling of what the world will become, though they pretend to. They make choices based on their experiences, their perspectives of the future, and their desires for their children. I have a choice to make now too – I could blame my parents for not making me focus completely on studies. (for example) Who knows, I might have gotten in and out of an IIT/M and might have finally written a book. 😉 Or I could be thankful for the choices they made for me, and for the experiences that gave me. I, for one,  am indeed thankful, and think that these paths gave me valuable perspectives – with regards to all the ‘preparation for the world’ points I had listed earlier. There can be no A/B testing for all this, you realise. :)

The fun part is that somewhere along the way, I started writing a bit. This blog has been around for more than 9 years, I write 2 newspaper columns. I haven’t been trained for any of this. Whether the story has a fairy tale ending is completely subjective and dependent on many factors that are beyond the parents’ or the child’s control, or imagination. The parents and the children are living some great moments. Perhaps that’s all there is to it.

until next time, show stopper

Master Classes

The last few episodes of Masterchef Australia Season 2, especially after it came down to the final four, were quite awesome. For me, it went beyond the cooking or even the amazing camaraderie between the participants and the judges. The final two turned out to be Adam and Callum, separated in age by more than a decade.

Adam, I thought, (thou shalt not dare to bring up the fact that I know zilch about cooking) was quite a genius. Though he was a bit too arrogant in the mid-episodes to be my favourite, his range and the thinking and creativity he brought into his cooking were nothing short of phenomenal. Meanwhile Callum’s level of cooking sometimes made you forget the age (and experience) difference between the two.

But something more than that made me identify with Callum. A very smart friend recently gave me a Master Class and pointed out to me a classification of personalities – askers and guessers. I belong to the latter, I do tons of calculations and thinking before I can ask something of someone, and I still wonder if I’m being presumptuous or inconveniencing them. The worse part, I’ve noticed that the shyness is mistaken for arrogance!!

In one episode, when Callum’s dish earns special praise from an external judge, he mumbles a ‘thank you’. Matt Preston admonishes him and reminds him of what he’s supposed to say when he’s praised. Callum then asks the judge whether he can do a stage, (“Staging is when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines”), and is promptly rewarded. I wonder how much ‘asking’ has to do with confidence and passion. Callum is fortunate to have discovered a passion early in life. I’m sure that his experiences will make him more confident.

I read this excerpt from a book, which talked about “young adults in America choosing to slow down their path to adulthood”. Probably a good move. (Generalising) By the time we go through the motions of education and work, the baggage and constraints start accumulating. The passion practically disappears, and the experience possibly does more harm than good. Rediscovering all of it is no easy process.

Perhaps, if we had an ‘education system’ that could help identify what we wanted+were good at+ could earn money with, we’d have more askers than guessers. Because then, we’d know our passion, and with that knowing would come a direction to seek our experience, with that would come confidence, and then all the world would actually be a stage – to learn and to perform.

until next time, youthopia indeed

Related Read: A toast to common genius

Putting on an act

For a while now, Renjith has been the gold standard (for me) in Malayalam cinema. Yes, he still disappoints occasionally, but his good works more than make up for it. So I had no hesitation in booking tickets at PVR for Pranchiyettan and the Saint. In addition to writing, directing and producing the film, Renjith also lends his voice to Saint Francis’ character, who starts speaking fluent Malayalam at the end of a hilarious sequence in which Mammootty questions whether the Christians of Kerala were being idiots by praying in Malayalam to a saint who couldn’t understand it.

If someone had shared this script with me a few years back and told me to pick a lead actor, I’d say Mohanlal. But not anymore. The two superstars of Malayalam cinema have always been contrastive, on and off screen. Mohanlal earned his chops with portrayals of characters that we could either easily identify with or be in awe of. We laughed with him, cried with him, egged him on. In the mid nineties, he moved on to roles that had more serious shades. Less than a decade later, the actor in him died, leaving fans like me fighting discussion crusades that lacked heart. His last good performance was Thanmathra. When people talk about his supposedly superlative performances in films like Bhramaram, I wonder if they have lowered the bar, as a favour to their favourite actor.  I can understand that, most of his other releases make me cringe. I also wished movies like Pakshe and Pavithram hadn’t been made earlier, so that he could’ve done them now. His interviews make me wonder how this serious person with a philosophical perspective on even mundane things could ever have done those amazingly funny characters early in his career. Its a glimpse of the abundance of acting talent he possessed. Now he is just a superstar.

Mammootty, on the other hand, I had never considered a brilliant actor, despite films like Thaniyavarthanam. It was his screen presence and the strength of characters that carried him. Cop, lawyer, CBI sleuth, he brought a special something to the role, which made him a star. But the thought of him doing comedy was funny, despite coming across in interviews as a very witty, fun loving person. Over the years, he has slowly scaled his repertoire. Now he dazzles us with films like Kaiyoppu, Loudspeaker and Paleri Manikyam, each a different genre and style, and even in utterly nonsensical films like Pokkiri Raja (a Tamil film made in Malayalam, go figure) he displays a comic timing that makes you forgive the movie. In an equally masala commercial movie called Daddy Cool, in one scene he references a character he played 13 years back! Instant Classic. At 56, the method actor has arrived.

Mammootty is now extremely comfortable as an actor and is not afraid of even having fun at his own expense. The things the mimicry guys used to feed on – his dancing skills (lack, that is), hand gestures are all part of his own comic repertoire now. On the other hand, Mohanlal is a shadow of his former self. One can actually see the labouring that goes into his acting now, where, once upon a time, his portrayal of characters seemed so natural that we regularly forgot it was an act.

I thought about both of them in the context of talent and passion – last week’s post. Having seen the above two, I have to wonder again whether passion commands more perseverance than talent.

until next time, cut.

Food notes

For the last few weeks, I’ve been hooked on to MasterChef Australia. (the show’s site reveals the winner, this is the wiki entry) For those unfamiliar with it, its a cooking competition-show that airs on Star World.

I’ve always liked the idea of food – more the consumption than the creation, of course, as you probably know. While I’ve begun to appreciate nuances these days, instead of focusing on solely gobbling up the food, cooking is still far away. My most famous exploit (and that’s only reheating) thus far has been the aluminum-foil-packed-food-inside-the-pressure-cooker-incident. I have a restraining order from D – I am not allowed to handle steel vessels and the microwave, when they exist in close proximity. D, as you probably know, has to show a lot of restraint anyway.

But we digress. The show has interested me even beyond the awesome cooking that happens on it daily. I’ve never really been a fan of the music and dance reality shows, and after I began watching this show, I wondered about it.

I enjoy music, but have always flipped, channels that is, when i watched those shows. Maybe its the one-upmanship games of the judges, or the showboating, or the SMS driven degradation of a god given gift, but they have never worked for me, though i have noticed some supremely talented performers.

There is a passion in the cooking contestants, all of them – maybe they’ve managed to capture it well – a will to win, and they work hard for it. We can see the efforts, and the judges’ appreciation and backing – a sense of fairness. Perhaps I haven’t watched enough of the song and dance shows to notice any of this.

Though both require honing, music (vocal) is perhaps a talent and cooking, a skill, to which creativity adds layers. So the latter, I thought, would require more of an interest, and more hard work. Does that mean the passion for it would be more than that for a talent, which might be ignored, because it has been given without asking. I guess either would be okay, if you had the passion and perseverance  to get it to its logical conclusion. Interest without talent, and talent without interest, both are sad states to be in.

until next time, fortune cookie :)