Saturday, April 22, 2017

Designing a Fuller Life

Quite a wonderful experience delivering this talk at TedX, SIU Lavale, Pune. The kids at Symbiosis are awesome! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This is a program worth trying out!

Fabulous program. Not based on dance, but high intensity tempo training.

Incidentally, I believe this program's license is being opened up even to non-Zumba instructors in 2017.

Check it out!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Best Way To Celebrate a Birthday - EVER

So a couple of days ago it was my birthday. You'd think that if you were turning thirty seven, the excitement of the celebration would be more muted than previous years.

You'd be wrong.

First of all, clearly I have the best and most creative team at Genpact - the kids who work with me in CSR and Diversity. About a week prior to my birthday, or maybe more, they'd started planning a visit to an NGO opposite our office, the Desire Society in Suncity for HIV positive kids in Gurgaon. One by one, they started to sneak the plan to me, each one telling me not to tell the others, barely able to contain their excitement and stating they were just telling me to make sure I didn't make other plans. I assured them that I would act surprised, and that given that Vijay was out of town, we had no major plans for the evening.

So between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. we were to go and celebrate with the children. Despite having known about this visit for days, I hadn't got enough detail from any of my team members about the ages of the children - and it was only at about 2 p.m. that I started to enquire what the plan really was. It turned out that the team had contributed to collect several thousand rupees which was being used to sponsor the children's meal for the day, including the treat of non-vegetarian food. I thought that was fantastic and immediately wanted to contribute - except that I only had a couple of hours left to organise anything for them.

I turned to my go-to guy Prashant of Giftark in Nirvana Courtyard. Unlike many toy shop owners who are strangely grumpy, Prashant is a genuinely nice and friendly guy who always has the best idea about what kids will like. It was a busy day for him, but upon my persistent calling, he got on the phone with me and then we immediately started to exchange messages on whatsapp - he shared several options with me for gifts until I finally cried to him 'Prashant, you just pick what you think they will like!' I had told him the kids ages, but we basically settled on these crazy light-up mugs for the younger kids and another set for the older ones - pretty cool, with straws and lids and all. I sent my driver to go and pick up the gifts, telling Prashant not to bother with the wrapping. Being the guy he is, he also happily agreed to give me the stuff on credit, and in fact, threw in a discount, saying 'It's for a cause - I'll do my bit too.'

Safe with the gifts in the car, and only slightly late, I rushed home to pick up Pickle, Papad and Peanut, who also had been looking forward to this unusual celebration for about a week. We were all supposed to perform for the kids, and I took my guitar to accompany Peanut's singing, except that she developed cold feet and I was the one in our family who sang. But I wasn't alone - my team displayed their talents, especially Young Krishna who turned out to be an amazing musician, playing the Djembe and the flute for the kids, getting everyone to dance and sing along. Young Shrutunjaya, we already knew was a fabulous singer, trained in Carnatic music and he did his jugalbandi with Krishna's instrumental capability. The rest of my team clowned around and danced with the kids. But it was the kids and their own performances that really lit up the evening for us.

The two hours passed by in a flash, with cake cutting and stand up comedy and performances and general partying -  and my own kids mingled with the others easily, with Pickle especially immediately making new friends. The youngest girl in the house, a little sweetheart of merely two years was feeling unwell and cranky - it was the older kids who carried her around and tried to cheer her up. Thankfully, when she got her hands on the glass handed out as a gift to her, she was delighted and went around showing it to everyone.

I find it hard to describe how I felt. We usually blow money on parties and gifts to celebrate and the pleasure is momentary; but it really lasts when you make a connection like this. I know for a fact I'm going back there to meet the kids - I was really struck by the sense of humour, the desire to express themselves, and the kind of caring and affection that they showed each other as a group - and I'd like to be able to do something for them on an ongoing basis.

My own journey with volunteering on weekends began at the Happy School a couple of years ago; and sadly it's been a while since I went back there. But the impact of that experience has been high - it's what gave me the clarity that I wanted to try my hand at a role where I could make a difference to society and lo and behold - after more than a decade as a marketing professional, here I am leading Corporate Social Responsibility and Gender Diversity globally at a large organization. But the fact is that it tends to get so busy that while there's plenty of interaction with NGO leaders in my job, and much by way of strategic planning and operations at a organizational level - the interaction with actual beneficiaries of these NGOS isn't as high as I'd like it to be, and that's something I'm hoping changes as this year progresses.

All in all - this was an amazing experience, and I actually think if more organizations, including our own, do more to encourage celebrations and team building activities of this nature, we'll start to see more volunteering, more awareness and more connections with the outside world - and that's definitely a good start.

And I know, for one, what it means to have a team that cares - and one that's created a memory that will last for a long, long time. One that deserves to be shared. And therefore, enjoy these few clips!

And hey look - I just discovered this cool Facebook plug-in - it contains the above two videos, and more ;)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Take Me To The (Children's) Movies

For several years, I didn't even think about going to the movies. The kids were small, I was short on time, and I generally wasn't much of a movie-goer anyway.

But I just realised over the past few months that the occasional trip to the cinema makes for a great family outing. It's comfortable, what with online booking and Uber, and the kids love it, and hey, I must admit - I think I enjoy the movies we watch almost as much as them. I have also noticed that these movies for kids nowadays actually make for really decent overall entertainment.

While I'm thinking that this year I'm going to have to be more disciplined about my writing and therefore will cut back on the movie thing, I look back fondly at some of the films we saw over the last year. And just because I feel like writing a one-or-two line summary of what we thought about it, I'm going to do so!

In no particular order but however they pop into my head now, they are -

The Jungle Book - I remember being really impressed by the animation in this film - very life-like. The Mowgli character was very likeable too, although I wouldn't call the kid the greatest actor in the world. We all went for this and enjoyed it - I would have liked the music to be a little more pronounced in the movie, but the reinterpretations were pretty good.

Zootopia - what a great film this one was! It brought about the subtleties of bias and discrimination in a really clever way. This has to be among my favorites, although I really don't know about whether it would pull me in for a second or third watch.

Nil Battey Sannata - Peanut and I both have fond memories of this one because it was the only movie that just the two of us went for - wait, until one more later. Still, I was advised that if you have a daughter, go ahead and take her for this film, so I did and she really liked the movie a lot - and is still fond of 'Maths me Dubba Gul' as a song. I personally thought it was mildly overrated and predictable but still enjoyed it.

Moana - another great animated film. I thought the singing in this movie was pretty stellar and I really liked that the main protagonist wasn't this pretty princess but a rather daring and feisty daughter-of-the-chief. But my favorite character in the movie was the demigod Maui, and my favorite song is 'You're Welcome' - the one that he sings when Moana first meets him in her quest to 'restore the heart of Te Fiti' and save their land.

Kung Fu Panda 3 - the children loved this film, but I really thought it was Meh. They laughed throughout. Of course, it may have also been that I was traumatized by the fact that I had lost Pickle in the mall (for about three minutes but that's enough). More about that another day, but I resolved never ever to take 10 kids to the mall for a birthday celebration by myself.

Storks - So Storks was also one of the watchable, fun and eminently forgettable films of 2016. Much like Kung Fu Panda 3 according to me.

Trolls - Ah, much better. Trolls also featured some really great music and animation. I quite like Justin Timberlake's voiceover for the grouchy troll Branch, and Anna Kendrick's singing. 'True Colours' was the discovery of that month for me, and I even performed it as a duet with Nikhil, my guitar teacher yesterday.

Dhannak - very sweet as a movie, a great story, and again, the music is very nice in this movie but hell yeah, those two child actors - especially the girl who played Pari - amazing. I connected with her right from the beginning of the movie to the end, and the fact that this was both predictable and unbelievable as a film was more than made up for by just how endearing the two children are and the way that their bond as brother and sister is showcased in the film.

Ice Age 3 - yeah, frankly, I don't remember a thing about this one, so I guess it's kinda in the Kung Fu Panda/Storks category for me.

Pete's Dragon - I do remember the storyline of this one vividly. It's a decent film and the children really liked it a lot - but this was one movie that I remember actually getting bored by, which really didn't happen in the other cases. Sweet, warm, nicely made but nothing stellar.

Finding Dory - it lacked the magic of Finding Nemo somewhat, but then it was centered on a character played by the lovable Ellen Degeneres so that kind of made it one of the better films of the year for me. I liked this one.

The Good Dinosaur - I actually like this movie a lot but the kids seem to have enjoyed other films more. They found it sad that Arlo lost his dad ( this is not a spoiler - it happens really early in the film) but I was very taken by the little boy 'Spot' and how he behaves so much like a puppy - except when he's being a ferocious little tiger.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - now we're talking! This was a GREAT watch. I loved the special effects, and I loved the main characters in the film and how they were cast and developed. The nervous, distracted and very focussed Newt; the No-mag ( Muggle) Mr. Kowalski -and of the two sisters, I really liked Queenie. The entire thing about setting story in the Wizarding world in America and the references to Hogwarts and characters we are familiar with thanks to the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling really has created her own parallel universe and we are lucky to be part of it. I bought the screenplay and thought it was okay ( only a million times better than that Cursed 'The Cursed Child' - but found myself wishing it had been written as a proper book)

Dangal - you may notice it's one of the only three Hindi films in this list ( would you call it Hindi, it's more Haryanvi perhaps). I'm not (at all) a fan of Aamir Khan, but I have to say I was totally, totally captivated by this film. We all went for this one, Vijay included, and enjoyed it from beginning to end. The casting and the acting and the dialogues and the music ( we have had some GOOD music in the movies in this list) was all really great, and the story in the film about grit and determination and girl-power, all good. The only slight issue I had with this film is that the part where Aamir Khan's youth was shown seemed too limited and short to me, so it felt as if something was missing there - but that's a small price to pay for an overall brilliant film. I think for me, it may have even competed with Fantastic Beasts, and that is really saying something. The masterstroke here is that the final match was handled on the strength of the main protagonist alone, and it's not like she 'owed' anyone anything for it. (Not that there is anyone left in this country who hasn't seen Dangal, but I've tried to be vague about it here to avoid a spoiler!)

So that's it. That's how many of my weekends were spent last year. I'm really very keen to cut back on the movies in 2017. (Not doing too well on that, saw 'Sing' today and it was just about decent, ha ha ha)

How about you? How many of these films did you catch in the last year? What did you and your kids think?