Apr 12, 2015

India’s Digital Superstar – an innovative idea, indeed

Innovation. At the end of the day, that is what everyone is looking for in their shows – something that makes it stand out from the hundreds of other alternatives that are available on television and social media.

FreMantle Media knows that all too well. After all, they are the ones who ushered in a whole new era of television show viewing in India with two of the most successful reality shows in the country – the iconic Indian Idol and India’s Got Talent. Internationally too, their list of shows are truly legendary, featuring names like The Price is Right, Family Feud and American Idol among others.
So when they decide to innovate once more, you know it is something you want to keep an eye out for.

The newest addition to their list of innovative shows is India’s Digital Superstars

Amazon Gionee RedFm

Touted as the biggest digital talent hunt in the world, the show stands out for the following reasons.
  • Auditions are open to Indians all across the world
  • No waiting in queues for auditioning. Do it from the comfort of your own home, if you choose.
  • No restrictive criteria like needing to be a good singer or dancer. You can be a magician, contortionist, stand up comedian et al. Showcase your talent.
  • The audience gets to be the judge over the next 14 weeks. Likes and opinions across Youtube, ZengaTV and Facebook will all be considered. 
  • The competition never stops – you can send in your videos at any time. Do you understand what that means? The show is literally on 24/7 a day! Non-stop auditions, non-stop viewing for those who wish to see the videos and non-stop opportunities to be discovered. 
  • You can upload multiple videos of your skills. 
  • Mentors! Yes, there will be mentors to advice and guide you on honing your skills. These include celebrities like Anu Malik, Sunny Leone, Vishal Dadlani, Salim Merchant and Jazzy B. Music Director Aadesh Srivastava was one among many other celebrities with words of advice for the budding talent. 
  • I personally found YouTube sensation Shradda Sharma’s episode smart and hilarious at the same time as she and host Sahil did their impressions of some the videos uploaded. The episode featuring Daniel Webber's The Disparrows is also fun as they try to make sense of certain videos. Note to self - doing a rendition of Devdas's drunken scene is not the best way to showcase one's talent.
  • The winner at the end of the contest gets a contract worth Rs 20 Lakh from FreMantle and One Digital.

Presented by Amazon.in, the show is powered by Gionee alongwith radio partner RadioFM. So far, there have already been over 1400 videos uploaded by Indians all over the world which have officially received more than a million likes cumulatively. And it isn’t even a month since the first video was uploaded!

Apr 9, 2015

Not an ending but a new beginning

We have been probably been aware of each other’s presence for nearly a decade, I reckon. But that statement is so misleading. You see, we are two individuals who have very little in common, I feel sometimes. Neither have we ever visited each other’s native states nor are we from the same social circles or occupational fields. And yet, she is someone I trust with the inner musings of my mind and heart more than I would a hundred others who walk beside me every day.

We encountered each other years ago at a time when blogging was just a fad; she with her lyrical poetry and me with my silly rants. There would be an occasional “Nice post” comment on each other’s blog and then we would carry on, engrossed in our own lives.

I guess it was a darkness in our individual lives that helped us find each other again, seeing something in between the words each other wrote on social media posts that so many others could not recognise – a heart seeking comfort. This time when we connected, it was not as bloggers but as strangers looking to attenuate their own pain by helping each other. It was a tough time to be trusting of the world with so many wearing masks in real life and yet, in the anonymity of the blogosphere, I knew that this woman’s mask was translucent, her heart worn on her sleeve.

Over the last few years, our friendship has grown and settled into a comfort zone that is perhaps rare for both of us – we can find time for each other while boarding the crowded trains of Mumbai or walking out of operation theaters in Kerala. We know we can call the other even at 2 in the morning if there is something that needs to be discussed and the other one will not curse us (or perhaps more accurately, curse us openly to high heaven and then listen patiently to our problems before offering a solution or just a comforting shoulder to lean on.)

When she finally gave her last exams at her college and attended her first interviews last year, she fretted and frowned imagining every possible bad thing that could occur. It was now my turn to be her anchor just as she had been so many times over the last year for me. It was easy to do so honestly – she was always a shoo-in with her brilliant (nerdy!) mind. The examiners felt the same way, placing her among the top five in her batch. In between working past midnight and coaching her friends to help them get placed, she aced her own campus interview too, getting into the company she wanted.
She called me that day and was so overwhelmed, I remember. The selfless creature that she is, the joy was only partly because of her own achievements. The rest was for her friends who had made it thanks to her help. She was genuinely happy for them. And yet, in between her words, I caught a hint of melancholy.

Many had started leaving already for their new jobs, I gathered from her words. The goodbyes for friendships that had lasted throughout college were thus abrupt and sometimes even missed. I know it made her feel sad – like me, she thinks with her heart instead of her head.

I also know it because years before, I too have been in that position. Days before she was to leave her hostel, she received an innocuous little package from a delivery boy as she and her roommates were busy packing their stuff. In it was my little gift to her – a monogrammed Parker Ellipse Black GT Roller Ballpen. 

It was my little way of letting her know a few things – that she mattered, for starters.
That this new phase she was entering was not about endings but about new beginnings.

Apr 5, 2015

Once Upon a Time - An Anthology of Historical Short Fiction

Fablery Publishers have always looked to be different in their approach to telling tales. Their first anthology was a collection of the best stories from a contest held over nearly a year across ten different genres, each month focusing on a separate genre. The end result was a wonderful collection of taut stories, Ten Shades of Life, that had a lovely book launch in Bangalore and received rave reviews (individual links to reviews at the end of the post in the link) from all those who purchased it.

Trippayar Sahasranaman Priyaa Roshan Radhakrishnan Aarush Deora Karthik anthology Nethra A
Click here to get your copy
So when they announced they were looking to try something different once more in their next anthology contest, I was more than eager to take part. 
This time around, they were looking to give even more freedom from the regular constraints of the short story to the authors. Rather than fill up a book with twenty to thirty short stories that end before they can even begin, Nethra (who heads Fablery) increased the word limit putting the onus of developing the characters of the story upon the authors.

Moreover, the focus was on a genre which required more skill and research from the authors as well - historical fiction. That meant that the authors had to find out the past of the characters and the lifestyles of that era before they could look to formulate a story around that time.

In the end, after four of the best stories that arose from that competition were selected, editing and rewrites were incorporated by Nethra to make each story more plausible and enjoyable for the reader.

Rather than bore you with my words, I present to you here both previews and an excerpt from each author's story in Fablery's new book "Once Upon a Time - An Anthology of Historical Fiction"

1. "Quartet of the Town" by Trippayar Sahasranaman Priyaa:  
Bassanio vows to make the aristocrats of London pay dearly for the peace they took away from his family. He unfolds the loopholes in the prevalent system of insurance and architects a plan to swindle money from his rivals. Yet, fate has something different in store for all of them... 


“Catherine, please tell me the truth. Who was with you that morning?” asked Bassanio in a soft voice holding onto Catherine’s shoulders. Catherine’s face turned pink and her hands started to tremble. Her chest moved heavily inward and outward yet she did not say a word. 
Bassanio’s anxiety refused to give in to her mettle. “Has someone tricked you into something? Look at your head,” he said running his palms over her scalp on which the hair that has just started to grow back. Catherine nodded. 

“Look, I never wanted to hurt you, and if I was angry I would have left you to the hands of the senate at the scaffold itself. Please tell me,” and as he said so his voice began to crack and his eyes shrunk as if he was bearing the excruciating pain of his heart in them.

Tears rolled down Catherine’s face. She sat down with a vacuous look on her face. As she gulped down her saliva, her hand ran over Bassanio’s chest and then got hold of his head. 
“Forgive me, but I will have to go back to them. It’s for your good and our good. I will tell you everything,” she said.

Mar 20, 2015

Do not lose sight of who you are destined to be #1000Speak #Bullying

Growing up in a childhood that was divided between Dubai and Kannur, I was never introduced to the concept of bullying. Though I had a dunce-like personality that any bully would usually covet, I had great friends around me and no shortage of love.
I had even lesser encounters with bullies during my days as a medical student when I think about it. If anything, the closest to anything like ragging I encountered in those days involved me voluntarily walking into a train compartment filled with dental seniors and singing so badly that they squealed in agony begging me to stop (In hindsight, perhaps I was bullying them that night. Hmmm... I guess, I owe them an apology.)

No, my bullies did not arise until I had grown up.
The bullies I met were a lot different than any variety I had ever encountered or imagined. Where childhood bullies blended into a crowd with their school uniforms and water bottles, these people used religion and wealth. Physical punches of childhood were replaced by mental torture and deception. The weapons were different but the concept was the same - to make you feel inferior to them. To derive pleasure from your sorrow. To hurt you mentally.

What do you teach a child when he is being bullied? Some teach you to turn the other cheek. Others advocating standing up to them and calling them out on it, forcing them to confront their own personalities. There are even those who advocate fighting back, giving as good as you get. 

I did all of that. And I can tell you that it did nothing for me. Unlike the moral science lessons we grew up with in school, very rarely do bullies get an epiphany and actually change in real life, much less when they are grown up. Challenging them at their own game was a venture in futility; a bully targets someone smaller than him precisely because he feels he can take him on and win.

So what lessons did I learn that I have to offer to those who are bullied? Quite a few, as a matter of fact. 

Image source: here
1. Know that bullies will always exist. There is no age limit for being a bully. You and I picture bullies as chubby fat kids wearing school shorts and smirks. No. Bullies can be anyone from seniors at college and work to the very politicians and policemen we turn to for help. They can be relatives you trusted and strangers who just see you as an easy target because of a difference of caste, culture or religious orientation.  
2. Do not fight fire with fire. Bullies are looking for exactly that. They want to prove that you are just like them, only lesser. 

3. Do not lose sight of who you are. A bully may choose you because you are different from him - shorter, a different race, a different skin colour, bad at sports or good in studies - the reasons are innumerable. They are also irrelevant. Being different does not make you inferior to anyone. Being a jerk, on the other hand, definitely does.

4. Know who you are and accept it. Do not let the scathing comments of someone who has a beef with you get lodged in your head and eat you from within. 

Mar 19, 2015

The need to meet up with old friends

Being a doctor is no picnic. It is a life where people come to you when they are suffering physically and mentally and we have to deal with that sorrow alongside other factors that I honestly wish no one had to go through when they enter our doors – poverty, loss and even impending death.

The really good doctors can dissociate easily, not allowing the pain and suffering to hang on to them. That is a necessity if you are going to hold on to your sanity, really. With 80 – 100 working hours in a week on average, it can get really hard to find time to just de-stress and let some steam out. Often, the collateral victims are your family members, friends and the ones you love who do not get time to be with you and start to feel inconsequential.

One of the things I always advocate to every young doctor as a must is to make time for those who matter in your life. The inflow of patients through the hospital doors will never end; you will never finish seeing ‘the last patient’… but you will lose in life if you choose to ignore the ones who truly matter to you.

My old college roommate and I always make it a rule to meet up once in at least six months away from the hectic life schedules of our lives. We have done this religiously since the end of our MBBS days back in 2005. That is ten years of tradition.

Life around us has changed a lot over the last decade. We have seen loss and attained success. We have watched patients die in spite of our best efforts and struggled with the avalanche of text books and journals. There have been losses in personal life and missed opportunities which will probably never come back. We are harder souls now, the rose-tinted glasses knocked off our faces by the reality of life.

The last year has had its share of good and bad moments for me – ghosts of the past weighed me down while the uncertainties of a future unknown added to that insecurity. That is why I am glad that I have this system in place. Often we find a place nearby to just relax and take a break before heading back the next day to our respective work places.

This time, we chose to celebrate the New Year by taking an extended leave and heading on to a place filled with memories for us all - Mangalore, the city where we studied as students at the start of this century. For a change, we entered the state not as doctors but just friends on a vacation, meeting fellow doctors outside of work and indulging ourselves with the best of food that Mangalore always has to offer besides the luxury of good movies and long chats.

For two days, it was about sizzlers and cinema, family and old friends. It was about visiting old places we first walked by as students a decade ago and greeting old faces, be it the kind travel agent who used to book our train tickets or the person who used to record songs on audio cassettes for us from his vast collection. 

It was not about what we had studied for fifteen years of our life but what we had become over thirty. And it was a necessary reset button, reminding us that there is a life beyond the medical field as well. It motivated us to go back in a happy frame of mind, ready to face whatever walked in through those hospital doors again once we reached back.

Everyone needs to have an outlet for the stress in their lives. Bottling things up/working ungainly hours/carrying your work home are things that will eat you up in the end if you are not careful. You need to make time for the few people who truly matter in your lives and let them know that they matter, right here and now rather than when it is too late.

Take it as a doctor’s advice, if you must, but find the time for something beyond work. Be geuninely happy again. The younger version of you should be proud if he were to come across you today for how well you have balanced your work and personal life. Chances are pretty good he would have known what truly mattered in your life, don’t you think?

Author's note:
This is written for Housing.com


Mar 11, 2015

Burning the boats

How many times have you stared at something that seemed unattainable and heard that familiar lament of “what if” within your mind? How many times have you wished you had the guts to break free from everything that defines you and just go for broke, laying your heart, soul & life on the line?
Sometimes you do not realize how close to the unattainable dream you were until you have all but lost it. You look around you and see all the little noises that make up your day – the waiter who serves you breakfast, the people who cross your path at work, the strangers and friends on Facebook, the opinions on twitter, the stories in the news, the whatsapp jokes – and you realize that in focusing on all of these things and being safe lost amidst them, you let yourself lose track of the things that truly mattered to your heart.

Sadly, sometimes, by the time realization dawns and you try to chase after what you know matters, the journey has already become one unlike any you have ever attempted before. And you are left standing at the bottom of that mountain wondering, “How do I make this journey? How do I do the impossible? When losing seems to be the logical conclusion, how do I tell myself to move forward and take the first step? Why not just turn around and walk back to where you were safe?”

That is when you need to do a Cortez.

In 1519, 600 Spaniards with no armour, 16 horses and 11 boats landed on the island plateau of Mexico. Their target: the legendary gold and Aztec jewels. Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador leading this group, really did not have anything going in his favour. For six centuries before this, far better and larger armies had attempted to lay their hands on the jewels but failed. Cortez knew this well. Rather than begin an immediate assault on the Mayans, Cortez chose to stay on the beach where the boats had docked and inspire his men with speeches. He painted a glorious picture of the treasures that awaited them and how prosperous their future would be. He showed them how this was unlike any other battle they had ever faced and instead was a battle that would redefine their lives forever. 

He made them see the dream of happiness.
And then he burned the boats.

Hernan Cortez’s act effectively cancelled any lingering thought of a retreat by his men. There was now no safe place to go to should the battle turn against the Spaniards. The only way they were coming back to Spain was by defeating the Mayans and using their boats now. Cortez had thrown down the ultimate challenge to his men: Live the dream that victory will bring you or die trying… there was no in-between.

History acknowledges Hernan Cortez as the first man to conquer Mexico in six hundred years. He did it because he removed the safety net and made the jump. The will to win knowing losing was not an option helped his men trump all the logical odds. 

A time comes in all of our lives when we need to filter out the white noise around us and focus on the dream that is life-changing but seemingly unattainable. It is the moment when we need to stop listening to the murmurs that say “It can’t be done” or “Don’t do this. You are doomed to fail.”

Once we see the dream of happiness and realize what we stand to lose, we can take the first step towards it. And that involves giving up the comfort and security of the life we have led till now (our safety net) and choosing to be something more – to truly believe we can succeed because failure is just not an option. When the option to retreat or give up and let things remain the way they were no longer exists, then the drive to win is at its peak.

Recent developments have helped clear my vision and show me how close I was to a dream had I not doubted myself. It was far better than any gold Cortez would have imagined and yet quite rare and precious. And now – for factors beyond my reach - all is seemingly lost and I stand at the bottom of that mountain again, a familiar place.

Except this time, I cannot be the guy I was who shrugs his shoulders and wipes away a tear of loss. This time, I find myself asking the pacifist in me to finally sit this one out and let the inner Hernan Cortez out. I realize now that giving up the safety nets around me is the only way I can achieve the impossible. It is a scary thought and I truly empathize with those 600 Spaniards standing there at the beach, watching their ships in flames. But I also know now the value of what Cortez did.

It is time for me to do the same. It is time for me to burn my boats and walk away from the safety of the shore. Because sometimes, even if all the odds are against you, you find that you need to persevere for the things that matter most to you.