Category Archives: Personal

  1. Apple and I: A long love affair

    In early eighties small town India, like my hometown, had not seen computers. The closest that you came to one was when you booked a railway ticket and it was across the glass in the booth. It was most often operated by bored mid-size government workers in synthetic bush shirts, buttoned down till the vest and a handkerchief dipped in talc around their neck. Or by women nibbling fried snacks from their cold press molded stainless steel ‘eversilver’ tiffin boxes next to perennially plastic covered keyboards.



    I have to describe these machines to you. They were behemoth grey boxes with a pixel screen, slightly larger than a Tamil pocket crime novel encased in an oversized dull monitor. The CPU looked like a part of a menacing Russian tank and the monitor was made of discarded plastic buckets. The keyboard had their tab keys jammed often and the lady operator was screaming for help in a fit, kicking her snacks of her table while the cursor did a wild tra-la-la jig across form fields on that minuscule window. And I was waiting with my filled form. Always.

    I never understood how they can make us more productive.

    A little later when my father bought an AppleIIc for a publisher friend of his from Singapore (the farthest idea of a foreign land for a Tamil boy) I was amazed that computers can look good. My dad had meticulously unpacked and assembled it with great care. The machine, if I can call it, looked like million suns of gypsies’ ice a la Marquez.

    Call it love at first sight. Apple it was – hook, line and sinker. I was a convert, a self-confessed fanboy and hopelessly smitten for life.

    At college they taught me BASIC on an Apple. I met a Macintosh at a design school. Not that we were allowed to use it freely. We used to set type in Aldus Pagemaker, take prints and paste it on our artworks with rubber cement. That was quite a promotion from hot metal where we have to set type laterally inverted or phototypesetting where we pretended to solve a thermodynamics problem on a blue screen and got a small piece of photo paper with type exposed on it. We loved and grew on Macs.

    Then came the candy colored eMac at home, a Powerbook G4, an early iPod, more Macbooks, an iPhone and a strong affinity for a brand that thought of people who used their product more than the machine itself. An affinity to the creator of this brand – Steve Jobs.

    More on Mac and me soon.

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  2. London to Abu Dhabi: The poetry of flight – Seven hours told in three minutes

    I shot a series of stills from my window on a Etihad flight EY12 from London to Abu Dhabi. This is a compilation of these stills as a home video. I love the meditative theatrical scape, like a lyrical narrative. Below is a color corrected shorter version. Music: Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Café.

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  3. 7am Inspiration: Ralph Steiner

    Yesterday as a part of my morning ritual I picked up my tablet and ran StumbleUpon on it. The first stumble was a quote.

    Ralph Steiner was one of the early American photographers who worked along with Paul Strand in and around New York City during early twentieth century. Later he was a part of the avant-garde cinema movement. There was an inspiring quote that I read of his and this resonates with my personal creative goal.

    Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: Be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.
    ~ Ralph Steiner

    He does not prescribe mediocrity. He suggests that you can be your most constructive critic if you choose to. And that is his path to glory. Moved me.

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  4. Small Town Nostalgia: Madurai 9° 58' N 78° 10' E

    I was raised in a small temple town in south India, a bell jar of life, love and inhibitions. It felt self contained and comfortably familiar – a severed outpost of progress way in the days of trunk calls and rationed television on tall 13-element antenna with boosters.

    I remember mornings of temple chants, smell of ground coffee or anise and those blazing afternoons with distant songs on Radio Ceylon wavering on on thin air. Picture this: a collage of small eateries with spicy food, barber shop with a bright rooster against a rising sun mirror etched on saloon doors, Charles Bronson at Regal Talkies which was Victoria Edward Library by day, opening movie shows where foul mouthed men pranced on railings over the queue to reach the counter faster, gold foil tickets, jubilant shadow confetti when the hero shows up on screen. Nights came with percussive mincing of ‘parothas’ over flat hot girdle, migrant Rajasthani men serving hot milk over nuts served on streets and street fights that ended invariably with bloodshed. There were colourful visitors too – caucasian backpackers – residual free spirits of seventies with their long hair, worn cottons and lost destinies; complaining North Indian pilgrims in bright saris and bus full of tonsured heads off loaded near the temple; Tamil poets and Sanskrit scholars deep in discourse under cackling monkeys at the temple. There were street acrobats, dancing bears and movie announcements with posters on wheels or a brass band playing old tamil songs. The west temple tower stood sentinel, like an ornate backdrop, watching us grow up.

    School was of early fear for the system and yoghurt on hot rice. The walk from bus stop was across an old banyan tree and a graveyard full of stories. There were plots to throw blankets on that unsuspecting nasty teacher and beat him up right at that cemetery. Education was taken too seriously by most of us. BUt the classes were boring and most often without an objective. Stealing glances was all that was permissible with girls in public, unless you were brave. However, we did have our share off school sweethearts and juicy gossip. Those weekend cricket matches at the school grounds should not have ended at all – small ice boxes on wheels that sells lollies. Stories involving catapults, dead snakes, garden lizards and the reluctant stride to extra classes after matches.

    Literature was largely Tamil pulp, comics like Rip Kirby or Lawrence David translated and paperbacks from Higginbothams. There was the street library too run by an old man with his taped-together spectacles. I grew up with a thirst to know more. Seasons changed, Skylab fell (our school was sure that it will fall on the admin block), civil war broke in Ceylon, radios went silent, refugees came in, love died and new ones flowered. And one day like mine shrapnels we graduated from school to disperse into the wide world of our joys and agonies. A few stayed. But most moved out.

    I was thrown into the shifted reality and culture of a creative school. I had to catch up real fast. This readies you against all hurdles without losing the honesty, values and integrity borne from growing up in a small town under the temple towers.

    I believe in small towns.

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  5. Call Back: A visit to a place I consider alma mater

    A few months back  there was a regroup vacation of a bunch of schoolmates who mattered in a place, considering that most of us have lived away for more than fifteen years, we would still call home. The meeting was a blur of stories of wonder, success, suffering and survival well-doused with malt liquor. I went back again to imbibe the city, awake and thirsty. These are some glimpses of that trip.

    Narasimhan aka Naresh A typical street Shankwala Bhavan The North Tower Temple ceiling

    Blogged with the Flock Browser

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  6. Can we?

    Last week was traumatic for every Indian on this planet as we were going through disbelief, anger, incomprehension, concern for all of us who remain and recovery. We cursed and blamed everything in sight over all this – religions, countries, politicians, bureaucrats, luxury hotels, fishermen, news anchors and more.

    I believe that this calls for an attitudinal change that erases the grey spaces in rules. How can I drive without a license in India? How can I evade tax? How can I enter a secure zone when a dumb PVC tube metal detector beeps and the policeman is reading hindi pulp? Our comfortable mid ground in everything is the easily penetrable no man’s land. Our security too stays on this mid ground.

    If we can come to consensus that as citizens we will not break or flex a rule, will assist others to stay on the acceptable side and will create a wee bit of order in this enjoyable chaos of India, we probably will notice an anomaly earlier. When will we hold our elbows tight and stand in a queue?

    But can we? Can I?

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  7. A Director's Profile

    I was given this task of writing Indrajit Nattoji’s profile to be published wherever necessary. Being a long-standing friend helped me write this piece and have fun doing it. Watch his movie when it is out and tell me if all this is true. His profile follows:

    Indrajit Nattoji is a movie maker with an exotic combination of narrative panache and irreverent humour. He has always been comfortable in placing the mundane or the real against a complex perspective of human experiences that creates his brand of jocular art. Indrajit also has the ability to blend organic storytelling with the precise craft of cinema.

    He began his career as a documentary filmmaker, which again is a fabulous excuse to get an all-paid trip around the country with a camera of your choice. This taught him relevant skills in deconstructing a real situation into intelligent modes of presentation. He also recognised the hidden irony in fleeting instances of the world.

    He would have remained in that illusory realm of roaming about playing mouth organ with his bare hands if not for love. He fell head over heels for the Ford Mustang and consummating needed money.

    He traded his ideals for moolah and tighter narratives when he started a production company in New Delhi called Watermark.

    On recognising the mutual match in the genre of storytelling Channel V hired him as a Senior Producer and he moved to Mumbai to work with them for three years. These three years sharpened his wit, added style to his imagery and strengthened his managerial skills. Then he decided to start his own gig called Blink Pictures – a production house that jaywalked the roads of advertising commercials to glory. He rose to fame brushing shoulders (even if he had to stand on a step ladder) with celebrities like Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham as he directed them for endorsed products.

    By now, he was a fully evolved film maker who was invited to flaunt his knowledge on ‘Popular Street Culture and Advertising’ in public by Promax BDA Los Angeles Conference. He did that well too. More international and Indian accolades followed.

    Indrajit decided to move on to the greater plains of feature length movies with style and witticism. He recently decided to get married, push weights at the gym and make his first feature film all at the same time. Soon he will be introduced as a man with wit on top, washer-board abs in the middle, a smiling wife by his side and a few hits behind him.

    Now, they say, there is a Ford Mustang somewhere heartbroken and pining.

    Indrajit Nattoji is a Communication Graduate from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, with a specialization in Film and Graphic Design.


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  8. A Stupid Prayer

    The figs in the yard are ripe and forever falling,
    the moon has waxed many times and now it is waning,
    the cigarettes are stale with a stench of an ogre’s tale
    And I can hear my blog feebly calling.

    Time is torn and is twisted around the clock,
    a thinking head is shut shop lock, barrel and stock,
    my mind is mostly idle or it bolts without a bridle,
    Oh Lord deliver me from this proverbial block.

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  9. Freeing Willy

    When you are out in cold weather for long there is a challenge that needs to be addressed. This is probably a design problem that is not solved yet.

    When sleety wind stiffens your face the tips of your ears feel numb. They feel as if you can break them off like crackers to feed a carnivorous Polly. Given this circumstances you have to wear a lot of layers. I wore long johns, thermal vest that extended over the crotch, t-shirt, jeans, sweater, fleece and a windcheater. Now when you feel cold you also need to ‘drain your lizard’ as often as you can. And when it is cold your manhood is challenged and your willy shrinks.

    Picture this. You run to the men’s room, find the urinal and frantically rummage through the layers to locate the diminishing appendage and ease yourself. This challenges motor coordination, accuracy, estimation of trajectory, performance in moments of stress and every possible skill that you have honed over the years to do a simple everyday task. Pee.

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  10. Mid West Mid Life

    The room windows open out to the wrong side of downtown – open with a big sky. Small mounds of snow on terraces, a faraway belfry and the comfort of the room with outside temperature at 12 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale.

    I was way too tired to keep awake in the United Airlines from Chicago to Minneapolis. I slept from Bangalore to Frankfurt and was unable to sleep on the spanking new A340-400 from Frankfurt to Chicago. I was pacing up and down, watched movies, read a book and was wondering about the dope that designed the toilets in that plane. (All the toilets are one flight of stairs down accessible through a narrow passage making it difficult for old people and parents with children to reach. What was Airbus thinking?)

    Later I woke up for the landing at Minneapolis, had no mood to take the train and bought a shuttle ticket to the Hilton. The lobby was a typical Midwest overdone horror house of mirrors and the cat-threw-up marble. The rooms were good and I pass out. Woke up very early to see the brilliant view.

    Breakfast at French Meadows – an organic breakfast bar little away from the downtown that serves Granola, yoghurt, organic farm eggs and good coffee. Pleased. I finished my morning meeting and met Brad at noon. Brad had been talking about this place called Bullwinkles and they serve the best Coney Island Hotdogs on this planet. And the place was a legacy, an institution that made people come back after years. A Coney Island Hotdog is a long sausage in warm fresh hot dog bun with Chili, hot sauce and onions. I loved it and washed it down with Bass Ale. We went straight into a meeting in a conference room at Pete’s office. This involved intense discussions. We were done late that evening and were due at Runyons.

    Runyons is an old bar with dark woodwork, tall ceilings and walls full of framed pictures of the patrons wearing Runyons t-shirt all over the world. There were a few at the Taj, Agra. More Bass Ale and nuclear wings. We were supposed to meet Brad’s friend Jarvis there. Our parking time ran out. We went out to put some more coins into the parking meter and on our way back Jarvis is standing on the other side of the road. He locked his keys in the car with headlights on and the engine running. A small chaotic introduction, planning and Brad decides to wait at the car. Jarvis and I head out to his house to get the spare keys. Jarvis is a middle-aged friend of Brad who runs an energy management company in Minneapolis. In that short ride we talked about the similarities between Judaism and Hinduism. I already liked the man. Post reclaiming his car Jarvis takes us to The Yacht Club that is deep inland and has no indication of any water body around it. This is a seriously local bar with middle-aged regulars. A basic happy place with talkative dumpy bartender, lone neon sign on a white wall, a pinball machine at the far end, a pool table, wire mesh shutters on doors and plenty of bar stories. Very American and very warm.

    One such story involved sumo wrestlers being invited to the bar by a regular and the whole place was filled with people wanting to see them perform. There was another guy called Big Frank – a massive native American who used to sit at a corner. Somebody decided that Big Frank would fight a sumo. There was an uncomfortable silence and somebody ordered a round for everybody. This made the air lighter and the tense mood slackened. Then there was party.

    As I left Jarvis gave me a dollar bill and asked me to give that very bill to somebody who needs it back in India. I will carry that with me.

    This was a good sample of a typical mid west local bar. I will remember this for long.

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