Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are you an exception too?

One lazy afternoon, I was engaged in some harmless office banter. After some uninteresting topics, we moved to discuss the perils of travelling by London's underground tubes.

We talked about the terrorist attacks of 7/7, how there are some weirdos who lurk behind you in the platform and push you off towards a train, and about suicide attempts in the tube stations.

Australian Colleague, Au: "Here's a deal - I would get under the tracks and stay there till a train passes over me. £10,000. Any takers?"

British colleague, Brit: "Not yet. You are not that irritable yet."

Me: "Same here, I'll wait for awhile too. I have to say, I am really worried about someone pushing me into the tracks while waiting on a crowded platform - it's my nightmare."

Brit: "I am scared of getting my leg caught between the closing doors and having to remain that way till the doors open again. Sometimes people in the tube don't help you when you get stuck. That's mainly because some people tend to act rude when offered help. So most people just pretend it's none of their business and pretend to be busy reading the fine-prints on the ads."

Au: "Hmm I saw something like that on the tube yesterday. I am scared about falling into the tracks as P mentioned. But what worries me more is will anyone pull me back to the platform or will they just watch me getting crushed under the train?"

Brit: "Well, it depends more on how you look."

Me and Au: "What!"

If I am not dressed as good as you, you wouldn't help me? If my skin is of a different colour, you wouldn't help me? If I am a beggar, you wouldn't help me? If I don't cry for help, you wouldn't help me?
I bet if I were a dog or a cat, you would jump in to help me.

Is that the age-old ugly-head of untouchability showing itself?

PS: I understand this could be an exception, people are almost always friendly here. But there's a difference between being friendly outside and meaning it in the inside.


Within a week of writing this post, I had a bad fall in one of the tube stations. I fell on my knee and the pain immobilised me for 10-15 minutes. The only person who offered to help was an old man who was passing by. And the help he gave me was to pick up my shoe and place it near me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Kafka on the shore - Haruki Murakami

I picked up Kafka on the Shore - the only book by Haruki Murakami that I could find in the biggest bookstore in my hometown. Upon enquiring why they don’t have more books by the author, I got the response that not many people can digest Murakami’s work. I considered this as an intellectual challenge and walked out with the book.

Set in Japan, the story follows two characters on their phantasmagoria—a teenage boy named Kafka Tamura who is running away from home and an old, not so smart man called Nakata who is following Kafka’s path out of an unexplained compulsion. As the story progresses, Murakami brings in plenty of surreal scenarios – human talking to cats, rain of fish and leeches, UFOs, slimy creature slipping out of a dead man’s mouth, a person eating cats’ hearts to create a flute, WWII soldiers guarding a township inside a dense forest, – it just goes on till the end! You are compelled to keep reading if only to find out what the hell is going on – all the while hoping that everything will fit in at the end. But sadly, it doesn’t

The story is filled with symbols and metaphors, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of any of them. It is a page-turner but for some reason I'm left with this puzzlement and confusion about the ending of the story. There's so many things left unsaid and unfinished. Murakami himself isn't too interested in making sure he answers all your questions either. Anyone got any clues for me? I don’t want to give up on the ‘intellectual challenge’.

The author recommends repeat readings: riddles abound it seems! I'd give that a miss after the first experience.

If magic realism or surreal roller-coasters excite you, you will love this book. Otherwise, you are better off reading the op-ed section of the newspaper.

A bit of caution advised to Johnnie Walker fans as well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wet finger in the air

If you don't know what it means, we are on the same side!

I was totally unaware of this idiom and the gesture until I started working in the UK. From the first day of my work here, I spotted people doing this strange gesture - they would wet their finger with their tongue and then hold it up in the air smack in the middle of a conversation. And no, the finger that was held up was not the middle finger; it was the index finger.

Apparently the 'wet finger in the air' is an idiom that has a convoluted reason behind it. I did discover the reason after a month - when someone wets their finger and holds it up, he/she is trying to gauge the direction of the wind flow at that moment. Once they have this piece of knowledge, they could align their decision along with the rest of the majority.

I wish I had realised this earlier as I had to do a lot of I-am-not-sure-what-you-are-doing-ewwww whenever I had seen anyone licking their finger and sticking it up in the air.

I guess, it's going to be one of the idioms that I know but will never use - just because of this and also because it fits into my do-away-with-clichés-wherever-I-can plan.

There - taught you something new today, didn't I?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

De-cliché your lexicon this year

Recently, a cousin of mine asked me to review her friend’s SoP. And it went like this

My fascination over the working of airplanes and racing cars, urged me to get into mechanical engineering. The status gained by my father and my two brothers, after starting their own business made me think of starting my own business relating to my interests. This created an interest in manufacturing turbomachines after doing a research in Computational Fluid Dynamics, which plays a very vital role in providing the solutions for the existing challenges in turbomachinery industry.

My first thoughts after reading these lines were of some poor bloke trying too hard to impress the reader using long and complicated sentences to make them sound ‘formal’ or ‘intelligent’. If I had to read 10 of these passages in order to winnow out the best candidates, I am sure I’ll be irritated and have a headache at the end of the exercise.

IMHO, two mistakes made by almost everyone while writing SoPs, CVs, business writing or even Emails are

  1. Complex sentences – trying to sound erudite or prove mastery over the language
  2. Overuse of clichés

It is rarely that you come across a CV or and SoP or even an IT Proposal without the popular clichés. Most IT companies even have standard IT proposal templates which provide you with a choice of clichés. You put in the name of the client, some details and the magic number, and intersperse them with clichés and you have a proposal ready. It’s a vicious circle – you use them because all other XYZs are using it and you don’t want to be circled out.

"Hey, Cheapo Software Ltd is promising to architect us a pro-active approach which will give us a lot of quick-wins and a value-added solution, which is strategic, robust, scalable and will also help us in our core-competency areas and to move up the value chain and cross the chasm. And you are just giving us a plain vanilla solution."
Can you do the business walk without talking the talk?

Worst case is when people start using clichés to cover up their real intentions or the lameness of their message. Some of them can be really irritating and most of the times they are used incorrectly.

Don't even try it!

Companies thrive on clichés and complex sentences. MBAs hide behind them. Others choke on them and declare themselves too dumb to understand English. :)

Which of the following sentences would you rather read?

The company fired half its workers because nobody bought its product.

Or this far more eloquent befuddlement?

As part of its strategic vision, the company cited shifting demographic demand and variable inventory turnover as cyclical factors contributing to a mission-critical process of rightsizing.

Are you a cliché abuser?

If you are not sure what a cliché is, you are a rare breed. Rejoice.

Do check out this huge collection of everyday clichés - and stay away from them if you can help it!

If clichés do form a large part of your vocab, maybe it’s time for a New Year resolution to change the habit - at least in your personal life!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Oxford, Stonehenge and a Garden maze

I bid farewell to 2007 in a very enjoyable way - lazing around at home, plenty of reading and dreaming done, travelled around and for a change gave the New Year's eve party a miss.

London Hampton Court Palace Gardens
I've read and marvelled about garden mazes - those huge mazes fashioned with thick hedges. I was so fascinated by them at one point in my childhood that I used to dream about wandering inside one of those mazes and getting stuck in there most of the time. I headed on to the closest garden maze near my place at Hampton Court Palace Gardens. The size of the maze and the fact that one could see through the skinny hedges did spoil the fun - but I did get to live my dream and navigate my team to the exit successfully. :)
The rest of the gardens were well worth the visit too. It sure was good to see so much green during winter.

Oxford - a stroll in the streets
All I could think about when we were wandering around the 39 different colleges in Oxford was about Indira Gandhi - the Iron-lady of India. She was a role model for a large majority of girls in my generation. The only woman Prime Minister of India who was the epitome of a strong character, who was the smart woman who ruled the country, had the balance of grace and belligerence in her personality, and wore a modern outlook that really stood out at that time - Indira Gandhi is one lady who my generation was very curious about and awed by.

She studied in the Somerville College, University of Oxford till 1941 - the time when the Independence movement was slowly gaining steam in India. Wonder how she would have felt living and studying in British land while her father wrote to her about the exploits of the British in India. How she got any studying done when her country was in a big crisis is beyond me.

Stonehenge - as seen from the road
Stonehenge - This place looks exactly as it would have in the grainy picture in your history textbook. But being there, walking around it, listening to all the myths about it, why it was built, what were the ceremonies held around it 5000 years ago is a commoving experience. Not many would find it exciting driving an hour just to see some big stones - but I am not one of them and I love to woo the charming past.