The Weekend Muse

Random thoughts from my daily experiences

Archive for the ‘Personal – Reflections’ Category

Of Deja Vu… Nostalgia… and all those good times

Posted by Shrini on September 26, 2010

The other day, while I was trying to push my two sons out of the house, to go and play outside, instead of being glued to their Nintendo Wii, iMac or some inane Japanese cartoon on TV, I couldn’t help but compare my childhood to theirs – something, I’m sure, all of us have done at some point in time!

Those days, our options were limited to far simpler games with little or zero access to sports gear. We played cricket with home-made bats and hardened sponge balls or with hockey sticks carved (personally) carefully out of stout sticks salvaged from the neighborhood brush! My brother and I had a minor celebration or sorts when our dad bought our first cricket bat and the same festival arrived again when we got our own football. We got our first bicycle – a blue BSA SLR – when I was in 10th class. We gawked in awe at the small “dinky” cars (Matchbox® series) that my classmate with Pakistan connections, used to show off – the Hotwheels® version of the same were not launched in India for at least a couple of decades.

In contrast, my sons have Reebok Cricket gear, Football and Basket ball besides Baseball gear imported from the US of A, besides individual bicycles for the two – and these are not their first cycles. Between them they had over a 100 Hotwheels® cars, numerous remote-operated toys including a Robosapien V2 mini-robot. Needless to say, the average lifespan of any of these toys, is not more than 3-5 days. Well, there is no point in complaining – we will continue to give in to their demands and they will continue to disregard the utility of their acquisitions, beyond a few days. I guess, we are buying them stuff that we could never get ourselves, while we were kids.

In spite of all the gizmos, gadgets and new age toys available to the modern kids, I sometimes wonder if they have the same quality of fun we used to have. In our days, our games used to help us bond better – “teams” really existed in schools or in the residential neighborhoods, who were bound by a single culture or learn how to make the most of scarce resources. For instance, in our “colony” only one boy had a cricket bat and we all looked forward for a chance to play with it in the evening. The owner of the bat invariably used to call the “shots” and was therefore the “natural leader”. Compare that to the current scenario where almost every boy has at least one cricket bat if not more. With so many leaders, who would follow, I mean – bat and bowl? The best way to play cricket now-a-days, I notice, is in the (paid) training camps.

Well, change is a constant and all that we know as of today, will eventually be replaced by something new. I wonder, when my kids grow up, what will excite my grandchildren? Would they rue the disappearance of “wholesome” entertainment provided by the PS2s or X-Boxes? I shudder to imagine the social life my grand-kids would lead in a couple of decades from now.

My brother and I spent our childhood in various parts of the country as a result of which, the experiences we have had are a rich mix of various cultures. Before the games that I grew up with become folklore or vanish from peoples memories completely, I am putting together this list and encourage readers to add ones that I have missed.

The Games we played

1. Kites – These have survived the vagaries of time with very little changes. But the ones we flew were made out of various papers, including news-papers by ourselves and had long tails. People would engage in duels high in the sky using home-made “maanja” (yes – though some of our parents may still not know but we crushed glass and used home-made glue to make potent and probably lethal stuff). And then there were armies of kids who would chase the kites that lost, with long sticks to which a small dried branch was appended – the kid with the longest contraption had the highest chances of capturing the spoils of the aerial fight.
2. Gilli-Danda – Practically extinct in large towns and cities, I hope this fantastic game has survived in rural India. What made it more exciting was that it was considered dangerous by our moms, who forbade us playing this game. It’s true that any unfortunate soul who happened to be in the path of a flying “gilli” would remember the nasty experience for some time to come.
3. Marbles – Each part of the country had their own games that employed these versatile little glass baubles! Almost all boys used to have a sizeable collection of these glittering little marbles, which came in myriad colours. The boy with the best aim – one who could strike down a marble from a distance, with another marble – was the champion and the one to defeat if you wanted to swell your collection.
4. The Original Top – No, they were not made out of plastic with flashing lights inside nor were they obscenely expensive, packaged in do-it-yourself pack, fashioned after Japanese cartoon serials with ridiculous sounding names like “Bey-Blades”. These were aerodynamically designed beauties carved lovingly out of wood by some expert Indian craftsman, painted in brilliant enamel colours and came in similar shapes but many sizes. You were expected to drive the pin – which was like a two-sided nail, blunt on one side and sharp on the other – into the top on your own, without splitting the top. The games that one could play with the top, once again varied across the country, but each one, essentially tested your skill in winding the thick cotton string around this wondrous toy and release it with a flourish in such a manner that it lands spinning on either the ground, or an already spinning top, or your extended palm.
5. Pithoo –Yet another extremely inexpensive yet engaging game that can keep a horde of 20 odd youngsters busy for hours. We played it when we lived in Uttar Pradesh and am not sure if this game was played nationally. All it needed was a soft ball and a set of 9-10 stones that are flat and chipped down to be round and progressively smaller sizes, so that they form a crude pyramid when stacked up. The idea is for one team to strike the stack down with the ball and run! The other team hits out each team member of the striking team with the ball (who then gets out of the game), while the striking team is trying to put the stack back together – by members who run, swerve and duck the ball all the while. If even one member survives long enough to put the stack back, the team wins!
6. “French” Cricket? – I seriously doubt if the French have ever heard of this game but again, I suspect this version of cricket was invented by an ingenious Indian who felt, his game would get more credibility if he called it French – a la “French Vanilla Coffee” by the Americans (which is the single biggest reason the French hate them Yanks). But then, back to the game – it was created for small groups of kids with limited space and is generally economical when it comes to physical exertion – and therefore remained very popular till Electronic Arts came up with the computer version of the game that boasts of even lesser fatigue!
7. Tyres – Boy, did the good times roll! Almost all the boys in the neighbourhood used to roll cycle tyres with a stick, till the scooter tyre emerged as a status symbol. My brother had a reputation for being able to keep the tyre rolling or stationery but upright, for hours at end. It is said that this game died a natural death when the cost of the used tyre started to challenge the cost of brand new one.
8. Hide-n-seek – Probably one of the most popular games across the world for its simplicity, and guaranteed hours of fun, as long as there are enough number of people and more than enough places to hide.
9. Hopscotch – Yet another unisex game, known to be popular across the globe, we boys agreed to play it only when we were outnumbered by the girls and had nothing else to do.
10. Festivals – The festivals brought with them their own compliment of seasonal fun. Listed below are a few and what they meant for us, back in those times.
a. Lodhi: A festival of massive bonfires which called for cutting down trees, without the elders being aware. But on the night of the bonfire, everyone joined in – kids and parents alike – with no questions asked about where all the firewood came from.
b. Dusherra: Plays and Drama with the Bengali camp and Ramlila and ultimately burning down Raavan with the north-Indian friends.
c. Holi: I cannot claim to have enjoyed applying muck and Paint on others or be the victim yourself, but the fun was unlimited.
d. 24 hour “Akhand-Ramayan path” – more than the puja itself, it was the opportunity to stay awake late and play, while the elders were immersed in religious pursuits.

One common trait of all the games mentioned above was they were very easy on the pocket (read: our parent’s pocket) and helped us delve deep into our collective ingenuity. They helped us utilize meagre resources and still have a great time. They helped us bond as friends and form endearing relationships that lasted a lifetime.

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The choices we make

Posted by Shrini on February 17, 2010

I have always laughed at people who, in a fit of nostalgia, wish they were back in school again. They reminisce about the carefree days, the bunked classes, not-so-favourite teachers and old buddies and so on. To me school always meant those horrible trigonometry classes, the avoidable organic chemistry lectures or the never-ending parade in the sun under the watchful eyes of the sadistic PT teacher. And in the end, there was always the inevitable exams followed by the single page nemesis of a report card!

Man! Was I thrilled to break away from this hoodoo and enter the crafty world of Corporate politics!

However, for a political novice like me, who had a reputation, at least during the initial years, for opening my mouth – just to change the feet, life has not been too bad! I may not be at the pinnacle of the corporate ladder, but coming to think of it, given my impetuous decisions, I could have done far worse!

If ever there is a decision I rue, and actually wish, I could travel back in time to change, it was the day I resigned from Citibank! I had spent about 4 years in Collections and after a shaky start, had actually done quite well for myself with a decent posting to Mumbai in a high-visibility role, et al. I loved the city, used to stay on Pali Hill, one of the best addresses in the suburbs and worked in Andheri – which meant I commuted against the traffic! Till date, I am not sure if it was arrogance that I could do better than where I was “struck” or maybe plain fatigue that drove me to start exploring alternate options outside the world of Collections. One of my favorite bosses that I had left behind in Chennai, helped me in my quest for a role in Card Sales – outside the bank rather than within. I wish he had rather pumped some sense into me and made me stay on.

With his help, I got a role as Manager Card Sales for South, in ANZ Grindlays Bank. With prejudice towards none, all I will say is that my stint there was the darkest period of my career. I managed to wriggle out of it quickly though, to a good role with HongKong Bank (HSBC) which lasted 3 years. I got married during this period and my first son was born while I was in Mumbai. Yes… life was good and my only complaint was the Salary account which would be sucked dry by the third week and stay dry till the a fresh infusion of cash happened every month-end.

Those were also the days of the internet start-up and mega-buck buy-outs. Financial tabloids like Economic Times ensured they fed us with enough masala on how young nobodies were turning into millionaires overnight. For a commerce graduate, I have always been Tech-savvy and somewhere along the way, I too was bitten by the internet/IT bug, which I mixed with the desire to go down the path of entrepreneurship to create a concoction that lasted a full six months. It would have lasted longer but for the untimely crash of the NASDAQ (which should have waited till I had made my millions)!

Here I was, desperate to get back to the safety of the Corporate world, when I heard about a company called GE, which was setting up a Operations unit. Frankly, I was not too impressed about working for this “Electric” company, which was putting together a Customer Service team for some of it’s group companies. For an ex-Banker, who had grown on liberal dose of ego and misplaced conviction that only “Line” roles were worth the salary that you get paid for… “Staff” functions were for the “less fortunate”. Nevertheless, my entrepreneurial streak was at a low ebb and this company did seem to have a very plush office. Our discussions lasted over a month, by the end of which, they made me a handsome offer.

While this was happening, I was in the process of rejuvenating my old links with Citi and was successful in getting an offer in the Technology Dept – that of an RM, which was more or less the same level as GE, albeit at a lower CTC. This offer came my way courtesy my ex-Boss, who had helped me exit Citi in the past.

So… here’s was my question… which offer should I pick up – go with GE which was offering a better financial package, or go back to Citi – a “known devil” and correct any error I might have committed by leaving the organization in the first place.

definitely not the end.

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