Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Purple Bands

It takes five minutes and two purple bands on flat white oval disc to change your life.

The home test kit sounds complicated but is surprisingly simple. It involves putting 2 drops of body fluid on that white disc and waiting for five minutes.

Those five minutes seem the longest and the shortest spin in your life. The do-it-yourself kit instruction pamphlet tells you that if you get only 1 purple band, in the region marked T, then it means your test is successful. And you're negative. If you get 2 purple bands however, one in the region marked T and the other in the area C, then your test result is positive.

Of course, if you get no bands, then you've messed the test up and need to do it again.

The kit also warns that you must check in exactly five minutes. Any delay and the bands may fade or drift or god knows do what. Implode perhaps.

Of course you don't take your eyes off the disc for those five minutes. So the 'check in exactly 5 minutes' instruction seems a bit redundant.

The funny thing is that the kit doesn't tell you that the purple band in the C area appears BEFORE the purple band in the T area. Which means, technically, you know your results even before you know if the test has been successful!

It's strange, that colour spreading gradually on the white paper inside the disc. You remember ink on blotting paper, weaving its way through the warp and weft of the material? Its exactly like that. A pale purple spread, over which the darker bands appear. Quite magical actually, and quite beautiful.

And you keep staring at it. At the two purple bands. At the first completely real, lifetime committment you're making, at the ripe old age of 32 going on 33. At the first sign of 'the rest of your life', especially if yours has been the moment-to-moment and whimsical and uplanned sort. 2 purple bands, like grips around your heart.

2 purple bands like wedding rings.

2 purple bands that feel like wizened fingers gripping your own.

2 purple bands that bring to life cliches you never thought would be real for you. Cliches like tears. And a smile. And a bursting heart. At the thought, so funny, so strange, so scary, so overwhelming, so insecure, so giggly, so frightening, so soft, so curly, so cuddly, so freaked out, so unknown, so worrisome, so careful, so boring, so mundane, so clinging, so freedom, so independent, so binding, so restrictive, so liberating, so fattening, so figure-loss, so stressful, so stress free, so calorie-count, so eat-what-you-like, so personal, so universal, so restrictive, so addictive, so old, so new, so confusing, so contradictory, so mismatched, so timely, so accidental, so sudden, so awaited, so unborn...

2 purple bands.

Drive carefully. Baby on Board.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Quote Hanger

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. - Soren Kierkegaard

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who's In Your Mirror?

Its incredible. How does the whole world gang up against a person who's already down and out? How do people reconcile to kicking somebody who's already down?

What brand of aggression is this? What kind of petty minded insecurities prompt this sort of behaviour?

For those of you reading this post in Delhi, you might just have heard of a radio presenter called Pallavi. She used to be one of the most popular, well loved radio personalities, years ago. Then something bizzarre happened. She lost her voice. Unbelievable though it sounds, like a badly scripted TV soap, it actually happened. It was the rarest of rare symptoms of a very rare disease called Myasthenia Gravis. The same one that Amitabh Bachchan had years ago - remember the droopy eyelids and the raspy voice of Agneepath? It wasn't just performance and make up.

Pallavi obviously could no longer continue as a radio presenter. However, she did not end her relationship with the one medium that she's always loved, and which she's spent almost a decade and a half in. She became a show producer and went on to deliver one of the most successful breakfast programmes in the country.

Again, if you are a radio listener in Delhi, you may on and off have had the duo Ananta and Saurabh crack you up in the mornings, in their laugh riot of a show. Pallavi was the silent and highly competent producer behind them.

The treatment for Myasthenia Gravis itself takes a toll. It's severe and complex, like cancer treatment, involving surgery, radio therapy, chemotherapy. The process of flushing out those toxins from the system itself is a long drawn one. On top of that, the desire to go back on air has always burnt strong in Pallavi. And therefore she continued with a variety of muscle regeneration treatment, speech therapy, yoga and meditation. The opportunity to realise her dreams came up suddenly, when Ananta and Saurabh decided to move on from Radio Mirchi.

As a friend I was delighted to facilitate her return on air. But the focus was obviously the radio station and not her. I've always had tremendous faith in her radio presentation style - its muted, its subtle, its endearing and it grows on you gradually. Pallavi is not the sort of presenter who has you rolling in the aisles or who makes you jump up and applaud. But her influence is insiduous. Suddenly one morning you realise that switching on to her show has become a habit, a habit you'd rather not let go off. And that is the real power of radio.

The only place where Pallavi did not get a strong score as replacement breakfast jock, obviously, was in the voice parameter. But we gambled. We decided to take her story to the public and let them give her a chance. We had great faith in her ability to endear listeners to her, and with such a strong survivor story and inspirational message, well, we had an idea we might just make it.

So far it has worked. Our ratings are good, the story has captured people's imagination and even if there are flaws, glaring flaws in the programme, I hear her making progress every single day. Till then, we have something called marketing muscle to see us through! I believe we'll make it. I am genuinely convinced that - unlike what a lot of snide water-cooler commentators are saying - I have NOT made a mistake this time. I know that many colleagues, junior and senior, who've mentally abandoned this journey mid way, rather than sticking with it, are waiting gleefully for me to be proved wrong.

I have no desire to prove myself right. Unlike what has been grandly predicted about me by armchair psychoanalysts, I am not 'preparing the grounds to withdraw gracefully' everytime I address the team, because 'its difficult for me to accept immediately that I was wrong'.

Obviously, there are enough people in the company who've written Pallavi's second innings off. They are convinced that it is a matter of time before she's pulled off air, we go into damage control overdrive, and one of the grand talents that are supposedly tucked inside the system is asked to come forth and rescue the day. Needless to say, every single presenter in the system today believes that he / she would've done a better job. I am not so sure. I think everyone would've come with a similar balance of strengths and weaknesses and the effort to establish them would've been as much.

It's evident that my central team members don't agree. And like I said, they're only waiting for the time when we will say 'so sorry, I give up, can you rescue us please with your phenomenal talent and incredible vision. Really sorry, we mucked up inspite of having run the most successful radio station network in the country, please please fix this for us'.

Hey, you know what? That may well be the case. We may have mucked up - though I don't believe that - and we may well need younger fresher perspectives to pull us out of our crisis. Pallavi I know is trying her damndest best, but yes, it may well not be enough. I'm not in the business of making Pallavi's radio career, I am in the business of keeping Mirchi the number one radio station in the country.

And that is what brings me back to where I started. Supppose for a second that Pallavi is genuinely failing. Suppose she's struggling and giving it all she has, and yet not being able to make it. Even if that was the scenario, how can a whole team of able-bodied, perfectly healthy individuals gang up against such a person? Start the day by dissecting her show, pulling out her recordings only to laugh at it, and end the day with another doomsday prophecy?

Forget about human values, even if you are political by nature, wouldn't it strike you that being forthcoming and helpful and concerned, or atleast appearing to be, would be your best bet today? At least be devious with some intelligence!

Now for a second let's leave corporate machinations aside.

How does an entire team just start ostracising a person for no fault of hers? How do they start treating her like a pariah, and refuse to bond with her at any level whatsoever? How is any of this Pallavi's fault? Even if things weren't working out for her, wouldn't it strike anybody that she may be lonely, frightened, afraid of becoming the laughing stock, thirsting for some affection, some understanding, some momentary suspension of judgement....

Hey, these are other performers. Don't they at least fear for themselves? Life is such an even playing field... this could happen to anyone. How can we become so desensitized as to actually start treating a living breathing human being like a dart board for all our insecurities, jealousies, envies, mediocrities?

How can you stop talking to a person who's only trying her best not to let the company down?

How can you make fun of somebody who's only trying to make her own job fun?

How can you sleep with yourself after making comments like "kehne ko to cancer tha, morning show milte hi sab theek ho gaya?" How? How do you even look yourself in the mirror?

I shudder to think of a day when I'm even capable of thinking like this. I dread the time when I too will settle into my comfort zones, and be happy to pull other achievers down, rather than having any ambition or vision for myself or for the world...

Seriously man. This show may or may not work. This jock may or may not stay. God damn it, this radio network may or may not survive; who cares? It's not the end of the world. The media is a fickle entitiy. Today's rulers are tomorrow's beggars. No statistic, no TRP, no GRP ever stays.

But what always does stay are our words and our actions through trying times. And there are always those who stand up to be counted, and those who just wait for others to fall.

And at the end of it all, there is the person in the mirror. We can justify, preen, bluff and fluff in front of the entire world, explain away every heartless comment, brush off every insensitive remark and action. But when the mirror reflects a monster, we're alone with that dreaded image.

Who do we wake up with, when we go to sleep alone? That is the only reality that bites.