31 December 2005


A tsunami, a hurricane, an earthquake, a war. Lives snuffed out within minutes. Losses much more. And, don't forget the bombings and the bird-flu. That, too, was 2005.

As Bob Geldof reminded us during Live 8: many children will go hungry to bed tonight.

If this is reality, what's in store for us in 2006?

Despite these pictures of gloom, there is one difference between the New Year and the previous. That difference is our confidence - an undeniable, unshakable confidence in ourselves which has made us stronger, fitter, smarter in the past 365 days.

We have survived to tell the tale. And, we shall pursue our lives in 2006 with the same confidence and courage and hope and optimism.


28 December 2005

Living it up

Living it up’ seems to be the motto here in Bangalore. And I’m not just referring to the Christmas/New Year holidays. Bangalore is a happening place – all year round. At least, that’s what I can gather while talking to people and going around the city. There’s money in people’s hands, which explains the overall cheerfulness I see everywhere.

The first thing to notice is the boom in the construction and real estate industries. Buildings are coming up everywhere and people are buying up properties like nobody’s business. A friend handling the advertising for a builder was concerned. According to him, just a couple of ads deliver all that’s necessary in booking flats or commercial properties these days; thereby, reducing media spends by builders and client billings for the agency.

Shops and restaurants are crowding the city, with people happily spending their easily-earned money from their IT and BPO jobs. For a marketer, it’s a paradise for brands – particularly for apparel, accessories, cosmetics, sportswear, mobilephones, consumer electronics, automobiles, retail and restaurants. Everybody is sporting a Nike, a Reebok, a Levi’s or a Titan. I-pods and the Nokia N-series mobilephones are being eyed with envy. Sales of diamonds and hair colour are shooting up. Most homes now have a car or a two-wheeler – some, a combination of these, in multiples. I spent an hour or so at a Toyota dealer in the city and was amazed at the number of vehicles sold right before my eyes.

Restaurants are sprouting up all over Bangalore, many with innovative names. And, people are crowding these places all through the week, no matter how much they have to pay for their food. For me, pizzas with my nephews and nieces chalked up a bill of Rs.2,000/-; a weekend lunch with a friend at a well-known Chinese restaurant put me out by Rs.1,000/- (without alcohol); and a cup of mocha at a new coffee bar cost me almost Rs.100/-. These rates were definitely much higher than what’s on offer in Mumbai. But, what’s interesting is that all these restaurants have most of their tables full.

Other businesses are doing well too. Hotel occupancy is at an all-time high in Bangalore. A friend confirmed that this was mostly from business travellers and there was a slight dip in occupancy in the weekends. A snap survey also indicated that tobacco and alcohol consumption was also on an all-time high, their biggest growth coming from the young-adult consumer segment. Most of these young adults are now pouring out on the streets after their typical BPO shifts, even on weekends. Unless, of course, they are living it up at a pub or a restaurant, a shopping mall or someplace else.

26 December 2005

Shades of Christmas

Walked into The Royal Orchid coffee shop just before 11 this morning and took up a place in the garden patio overlooking the KGA golf course. Wanted to kill some time over a cup of coffee and catch up on my reading, before I ran an errand for a friend just after noon. The breeze was cool and the sun was just warm enough on my face to make the sit-out a wonderful idea. The book I was reading - 'Shade' by Neil Jordan - picked up speed and I could feel the aroma of steaming coffee coming along to make this a wonderful day.

I waited to catch the eye of any one of the waiters to order my coffee, but I was found lacking in success. Several of them hovered behind me, rearranging tables and chairs, making quite a din. I sat and waited, but none even looked at me, let alone come to ask for my order. I decided not to holler for a waiter. I decided to bet on myself, to see if any of the waiters would actually come to take my order, putting my money on their not coming… at the cost of forfeiting the pleasure of a cup of coffee at that wonderful moment.

Sure enough, even after an hour and a half when I got up to leave, no one came to take my order. No one came to offer me the menu card, nor leave a glass of water on my table, which is customary in all Indian restaurants. No one wished me, nor nod in my direction. I reflected on the moment. Was it just me? Or, was this a shade of the regular apathy of Bangalore I had experienced several years ago when I decided to return to Mumbai and not settle in this city?

Perhaps I was too quick to judge. I dropped the thought from my mind. On the way out of the main hotel doorway, the smartly-attired attendant held-open the glass door for me, saluted, and wished, 'Good Day, Sir… Merry Christmas.' Well, all was not lost yet. I happily returned his wishes.

23 December 2005

Plate-glass future

From the way things are taking shape here, you'd expect Bangalore is where the future is. The IT and telecom boom is shaping the city's future and, with the rapid influx of highly-paid skilled workforce from all over the country, the city is developing a consumer powerbase envied by most other metros.

This economic explosion is also changing the city's skyline. Bangalore is rapidly evolving from an architectural perspective. Side by side, companies are constructing monstrous building complexes of concrete and plate-glass; only to be mirrored by shopping complexes in similar design and building material.

Old buildings are torn down and in their place you find another concrete and plate-glass structure - a shopping centre, a bank, an office or a restaurant. Beautiful colonial-era bungalows which Bangalore was so proud of are now fewer in number, reducing Bangalore's architectural heritage by a great deal more than just a building. Some of Bangalore's history and heritage are also lost in the process.

When I spoke to several Bangaloreans about this, they indicated something I can only describe as 'mixed feelings'. Some expressed their disappointment, even annoyance, at losing a part of their architectural heritage; but they were fewer in number. Others felt that, if the trees and the gardens and the best of the colonial buildings were not destroyed, they didn't mind the change. After all, Bangalore was the country's IT centre!

Looks like, we're going to see a lot more rubble and plate-glass in Bangalore's future.

22 December 2005

Bangalore, not so 'very green'

A friend had come to pick me up at the Bangalore (HAL) airport. It was 8:30 p.m. and as we waited in the traffic jam just outside the airport, my friend squarely blamed the traffic police for half the city's traffic problems. Surely this can't be true, I surmised. But my friend was insistent, pointing out that the traffic police were negligent about their duties. Sure enough, we located the traffic policeman on our beat, standing in a corner in a fluorescent jacket, eating a banana, while vehicles on the road nudged each other, blowing their horns.

Apparently, this is a common phenomenon everyday, in almost all corners of Bangalore. Bangalore's traffic jams have become legendary, being reported in the media everyday, without any solutions surfacing from the millions of discussions taking place all over the city. With more and more IT and BPO companies setting up shop in Bangalore, the city's human and vehicular population is growing at an astronomical rate. The city's roads, infrastructure plans and administration are just not geared up for this explosion.

Bangalore's traffic problem is now new… as you'll find in die-hard Bangalorean Birbal's lament in www.koramangala.com going back a year: “Sad, isn't it? I mean, after all Bangalore's charm was in just going out; shopping, movies, dinner at a restaurant; or perhaps that late night drive for ice-cream on MG Road or paan at Brigade Road. A time will come when our grandchildren will read in their history books about, 'Once upon a time, there was this garden city called Bangalore.'”

I decided to test the traffic conditions myself and took an auto-rickshaw ride from Hennur, one of Bangalore's suburbs, to another suburb called Koramangala. The journey took an hour, long by Bangalore's standards, winding through detours as the roads were dug-up and under construction in many places. Being a Mumbaikar, I'm used to long auto-rickshaw rides, and hence I didn't mind this all that much. Perhaps, I was expecting it.

But, what surprised me was the amount of dust that enveloped me through the journey. Once I arrived at my destination, I actually saw the auto-rickshaw driver blow a thick layer of dust from his dashboard as he waited for me to pay his fare. This was not what I had seen, nor experienced, in Bangalore before. Bangalore has always been a very green city. There has always been - and still are - trees everywhere. Several parks adorn the city too. This was what Bangalore was known for. But now, dust seems to cover it all.

20 December 2005

Two Mumbais?

There is Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country; the city that contributes as much as 40% of the country's coffers in taxes. Then there's a Mumbai divided: South Mumbai, the country of the haves; and Suburban Mumbai, the country of the have-nots. This divide is debatable of course, with suburban Mumbai catching up on demographics and development. Upmarket highrise residential complexes, movie and entertainment multiplexes, shopping centres and malls now decorate the suburban Mumbai skyline, not South Mumbai which had once been the hub of cosmopolitan activity.

Once upon a time, South Mumbai was where it all happened. People thronged there for work and business, for their shopping, and for their entertainment. In many ways, for Mumbaikars, going to South Mumbai was like spending a day out. This, no doubt, referred to the millions who travelled in buses, local trains, cars and share-taxis, for an hour or more, just to reach their places of work and/or entertainment. On the contrary, people in South Mumbai would saunter in from home in 40 minutes or less, fresh as a daisy, or perhaps with a hangover from the party the night before. While people in Suburban Mumbai toiled to reach home in time for dinner, South Mumbaikars would reach home from work, change, and go out for the evening.

Today, this divide is widening. Not in lifestyle, but in anger and resentment in suburban Mumbai which complains about “the iniquitous distribution of the city's revenues,” according to a media report (going back to August this year) on www.rediff.com by Saisuresh Sivaswamy. Other voices have spoken up too. There's a feeling in suburban Mumbai that there should be two Mumbais - with separate administrations and civic authorities managing the two municipalities. The report goes on to say, “There is already a division of sorts in place, or call it a recognition that the city is too vast to be dealt with from one point, between the Mumbai Collectorate and Mumbai Suburban… The throbbing suburbs of Mumbai cry out for a better deal, and its destiny cannot be decided in a part of town that scarcely has any concern for it. The viable solution is to bifurcate the city into two civic administrative units, Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburbs, each with its own municipal corporation that will raise money from, and spend, within its jurisdiction.”

13 December 2005


What is suburbia? Is it the thriving habitat of the middle-class in concrete high-rise buildings or in unpainted houses with grilled windows? Is it a milieu of people fighting over drinking water, shopping for fresh vegetables and fish alongside heaps of garbage? Is it the throng of a million commuters in crowded buses and local trains every day?

Some say yes, sadly, while others rejoice at the sign of eternal life.

Suburbia may not be everyman’s dream-world, but it has a disposition that is worth celebrating... as this poem from
http://www.daypoems.net declares:

Suburbia! I Think It Time to Praise
by William Brendan McPhillips

Suburbia escaped me when I wrote.
An unintended slight, I should explain,
I've lived here long and put it in my vote,
Despite the city's population, pain.

The country, farms, were fodder to the Muse,
And cows not cattle set the rural scene,
And forest stretching distance fed its hues
To measure out the glades of treasured green.

And yet suburban contradictions kept
Me from returning to familiar fold,
And urban constancy made sleep un-slept,
So here I am suburbanite, and old,
Amid conflicted contradicted ways,
And yet against the contradiction, praise.

Suburbia is not always the brick and bitumen anonymity that people make it out to be. It has its own character and its own beauty. Over the years, it has been a source of inspiration for many. Artists, poets, writers, photographers, architects alike have toiled to portray their feelings, thoughts, ideas and designs of suburbia creatively – displaying their love, their despair, their isolation, their discovery of the self and their loss with the onslaught of modernity.

If you look deeply enough, you too might find suburbia a source of wonder and inspiration.

10 December 2005

Art and suburbia

“Ah, Suburbia. Reviled and idealized. Strived for and loathed. Ridiculed and praised. Suburbia is many things to many people and has become an icon of modern living. Whether it is cookie cutter homes or ‘cook-outs’ in the summer, bikes on the lawn or the ‘Stepford Wives’. Whether you find the modern-day ‘Utopia’ serious, amusing or just plain absurd, turn your eye towards Suburbia, its landscapes and inhabitants, and show us what you see.”
[Prospectus: EBSQ Self Representing Artists’ show ‘Suburbia’]

I’m a product of the suburbia. Most of my life I’ve lived in the suburbs – that peripheral place that is frowned upon by the inner city population. This is particularly true of Mumbai, where the inner city is confined to downtown ‘South Mumbai’. I don’t mind this suburban segregation or nomenclature. It, kind of, describes who I am. You see, traditionally, suburbs were those clusters of people who lived outside the fortified city walls, away from the main centres of commerce and the high-life. Today, this is still true. What I find most interesting about suburbia is not its alternative city-like communities and its commerce, but the fact that it represents an entirely unique individualistic culture of people and their aspirations.

Having lived in several suburbs of cities in India and a few of them abroad, I had a longing to find out what suburbia really meant. This culture of suburbia, these aspirations of the people living there, are they unique to a specific city or region of the world? Or, is there something universal in the concept of suburbia?

When I turned to Australia (where I’ve spent several years of my childhood), a country known for its suburban culture, its suburban aesthetic, I found an interesting interpretation from an artist’s point of view. Howard Arkley (1951–1999), who exploded the banality of suburbia in his hallucinatory airbrushed paintings, once said in a 1994 interview to Leo Edelstein:

“Because we’re actually – you know, we’re talking about the international global village, everyone’s the same, but when it actually starts to appear, that you could be here and you could be in California and this street could be anywhere in the world, then people have a problem – they want this uniqueness, they want this special quality, but the thing is if they looked harder they would actually find that it is unique… It’s unique in the same way that a tree’s a tree and dirt’s dirt, but for the particular artist who can perceive something special, then it becomes something else. Well, everything out there is exactly the same – a road’s a road and a paling fence is a paling fence but...”

But, does this answer my questions? Maybe yes. Let me think this over.

06 December 2005

Creative vision

Picasso, Mozart, Frank Lloyd Wright, Coco Chanel, Charles Chaplin and Walt Disney. Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Ravi Verma, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Satyajit Ray. These people have shaped our lives by creating art, music, architecture, poetry, fashion and film. They are icons in their own right and will be remembered for generations. We have all learnt from them and still appreciate their genius.

However, in a culture where children are growing up with digital art and re-mixed music, with newer and newer tools developed for desktop art and garage music, where exactly is our creativity heading? Is the paintbrush and the human voice being replaced by the mouse and the computer keyboard? Are we looking at a brave new world of technology where poetry and music and art will be generated by computers or similar digital machines? Would human creativity no longer produce art?

And, what is going to happen to the indigenous art and music and creativity India is so famous for? Will there be no audience for these? Which artist among us is shaping the creative vision of our generation?

05 December 2005

Can art be criticised?

Some say that art is the representation – albeit an external representation – of the artist’s experience. It’s the representation of the artist’s original emotion in a communicable form for all to see, hear, feel, sense, etc. Which would mean, the quality of a work of art ought to be a measure of the artist’s ability to loyally represent his/her unique emotion or experience to us.

Yet, we like some art; we criticise and throw away others. What gives us this authority to do so? If the origin – the source – of the art is an emotion or experience unique to the artist, and we have no access to it, how can we even judge a work of art? This, in fact, takes us to another question: If we can’t judge art, who can? Who can determine who is a good artist and who is not?

According to Dr Sam Vaknin’s article in authorsden.com, ‘The Basic Dilemma of the Artist’, traditionally, artists have used their own reference groups – their audience, so to speak – to measure their art. This audience is a defining part of the artist’s creation – the work of art itself – and inseparable from the artist’s reputation. This reference group, this audience, is expected to have in its possession some sort of a universal guidebook – a source of knowledge – which can be used to interpret the artist’s emotion and experience from his/her art. This reference group can aptly judge the representation for what it is.

If this is true, then the concept is unique in its challenge. For, if the artist happens to be too emotionally involved with his/her art, the reference group has a privileged status. This group is the only one which can judge art – or, has the capacity to pass judgement on art. For, only this group can interpret what transpired in the artist’s mind.

I admit this is not ‘the real thing’ – the creation called art from the artist’s original emotion or experience – but it’s a pretty good substitute. While we sit back making assumptions – guesswork really – about what the artist may have felt in creating a work of art, this reference group happily goes about voicing its views, advice and criticism.

Of course, there is an outside chance that these views, advice and criticism of the reference group may not be loyal – or even close – to the artist’s original emotion or experience. After all, the emotion, the experience, the creation all belong to the artist, who is the only person who can refute these. But then, the artist is too emotionally involved with his/her art to make a logical representation.

03 December 2005

The creative thinking process

The little girl had the makings of a poet in her, who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?”
[Graham Wallas in his book The Art of Thought]

The creative thinking process has confused mankind for centuries. From ancient times to present-day ‘creative thinking’ teachers, the likes of Roger von Oech and Edward de Bono, people have tried to understand the human brain and make sense of our thinking and creative processes. More accurately, the creative thinking process – or, how do we get ideas? Where do ideas come from?

Here are two schools of thought to keep you busy thinking:

Graham Wallas (1858-1932), social psychologist, in his seminal work, The Art of Thought (1926), described four stages of the creative process:
Preparation. The person expecting to gain new insights must know his field of study and be well prepared. People get inventive ideas mainly in their own fields – poets in poetry, scientists in science.
Incubation. Many ideas come only in a period of time spent away from the problem, usually after actively engaging with the problem. [Archimedes got his idea in the public bath.]
Illumination. The ‘flash’ of a new idea. Resting the mind by doing other activities and letting the creative ideas form. [This is indeed a mysterious phase.]
Verification. Ensuring that the idea actually solves the problem. Since many great ideas don’t always work out in actual practice, this final step is vitally important to the success of any project.

Roger von Oech, creative thinking speaker and specialist, most famous for his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, recommends a seven-stage process and says that creative thinking can be learnt and practised. He breaks the seven stages into two groups: The Germinal phase where ideas arise, and the Practical phase where the ideas are evaluated and processed.

The Germinal Phase
Motivation. The desire to be creative, generating the energy.
Search. Information gathering; looking in other fields for ideas; looking at the big picture; being willing to go astray, exploring other areas.
Manipulation. Transforming and manipulating the resources and ideas found, delaying judgement and eliminating some old assumptions.
Incubation. Walking away from the problem after a time of focused attention and turning it over to the subconscious. This ‘letting go’ puts the problem into perspective, and the planted idea grows in the subconscious. Delaying action often improves ideas.
Illumination. The Aha! or Eureka! experience [Archimedes again!]. Oech advises, “…ideas can strike at any time, so always carry a means of recording an idea.” Recognising one’s creative time of the day may also be important.

The Practical Phase
Evaluation. Making a decision even if the ideas aren’t perfect.
Action. Completing the creative process can be the most difficult step of all.

According to von Oech, the focus of the creativity technique is on the Germinal phase and how we can generate and manipulate ideas. For more on Oech’s techniques, try this link on ‘10 Mental Locks’ – or, visit his Creative Think website.

And yet, others protest, creative breakthroughs don’t always come from the most expert thinkers. But then, why leave things to chances!

02 December 2005

Creativity, expression

Think about creativity and you immediately think of artists and musicians, poets and writers, dancers and actors, designers and architects. Film-makers and photographers, even tribal craftsmen. Maybe people in advertising. On a long stretch, some scientists may also fit in (remember Archimedes?). What you won’t think of when you consider creativity is an accountant, a salesman, a secretary, a farmer or a housewife.

Why is that? Why do we rule out certain trades or professions in favour of others when we think of creativity? Is creativity restricted only to a few professions or a few types of people?

If creativity is a mental phenomenon based on mental and conceptual skills – if it’s about problem solving and innovating, about insight and imagination – then there shouldn’t be any specific boundaries to creativity and its applications. Anyone can be creative. After all, at any given moment, we all use a very small portion (reportedly only 10%) of our brains. So, what stops us from being creative?

Perhaps because, creativity has a lot to do with expression. As much thought as expression. And, not everyone is good at that. Expression requires courage and, therefore, has a great deal to do with the psychological profile of the creative person. Then, there’s the need for opportunity – or the creativity in context to something. Situations matter. So does culture and societal norms which may encourage creativity. And today, even technology. Hence, you find specific creative movements (Impressionism, rock music, film animation) in specific periods in history, in specific places of the world.

This apart, a creative person must also possess special faculties/skills in order to express himself/herself. Which takes us into the realm of communication.

01 December 2005

Creative people more attractive to others

I’m the proverbial ‘suit’, working on marketing and business strategies. Much of my work deals with helping my clients push marketing messages through to their customers, hoping to catch them (the customers) at the right place, at the right time, and win them over. My work is not perceived to be creative. Creativity is reserved for creative people; I’m not one of them.

A conservative view, no doubt. I didn’t let it bother me until I read this BBC news story, ‘Creative people luckier in love’, which openly stated, “the more creative a person is, the more sexual partners they are likely to have.” Apparently, “artists and poets had an average of four to 10 sexual partners, compared to three for non-creative types.”

The sub-head announced, “If you are hoping to improve your love life, it may be wise to develop artistic traits, researchers suggest.” I didn’t need to hear this. 46 and single, I felt lonely – even jealous.

Dr Daniel Nettle, who was a part of the team which researched this phenomenon, explained, “Creative types lead a bohemian lifestyle and tend to act on more sexual impulses and opportunities, often purely for experience’s sake, than the average person would.” He went on to add, “It’s common to find that this sexual behaviour is tolerated. Partners, even long-term ones, are less likely to expect loyalty and fidelity from them.”

Professor John Gruzelier, professor of psychology at Imperial College London, gave a somewhat contrary point of view, saying, “…some arts required introversion. Some creative people, such as artists and writers, are solitary people. They are almost hermit-like. That’s partly because they are so driven. Their art is all they want to do.”

Confused? Well, as usual, there was a perfectly good reason for this contrary behaviour. Creative people could be displaying the ‘positive side’ of their personality traits seen in schizophrenia, the article stated. Would this be such a good thing after all? Not so sure now. I think I’ll stick to my marketing and business strategies for the time being.