Friday, March 23, 2007

The happy family

He swung his car into the parking lot, and killed the engine. Getting out, he extracted his jacket from its hanger in the rear, and put it on. He pulled out his briefcase, and beeped the car shut. Tall and handsome, he cut a smart figure as he walked across the parking lot. He carried his age with élan, in fact, the greying temples, and the light horizontal wrinkles on his forehead gave him an air of maturity and commanded respect. A high-profile lawyer, he was the Midas of the court-room. A home in the suburbs, a swanky car, socialite evenings and a neat sum stashed away for retirement. The perfect life. He smiled at the waitress as he walked into the restaurant for lunch with the family.

The estate agent slowed as she entered the driveway, and smiled at the valet as he came over to collect the keys. He recognised the car and its owner very well. She was svelte, attractive and vivacious and received regular double-takes from young men passing her way. Must have rendered many a men breathless in her prime, he mused to himself. They came in on the third Thursday of every month – the lady, her husband and the kids – and joked and laughed over an extended lunch. It was almost a ritual, and he wondered whether a family could be ever so happy. He watched her shaking her head as she saw her husband smile at the waitress.

From his corner office at the investment bank, the son saw his father walk into the restaurant below. A glint of red at the corner of his eyes told him it was the valet parking his mother’s car in the guest lot. He straightened his tie, and pulled his jacket over as he walked down the stairs into the restaurant. He joined the older couple just as they were about to sit down. The maitre d’ picked up three menu cards, and then he took one more – for he knew there would be four. Sure enough, the young girl came huffing and puffing, and kissed her mother before she took the seat opposite.

She was an art-student, and presently, in faded jeans, dull ochre top with swastika and Sanskrit motifs and a cross-bag, she stood in stark contrast to the spick, formal attire of the rest of her family. But then that was how she was – bubbly, vibrant and a beloved – she brought colour and fun into the family folds. Her stories of the impressionists, the way she explained the styles of Renoir and Rembrandt always fascinated the other three. It was as though she was living their dream.

They lunched for a long time, devouring the steaks and wine with great relish, laughing together, and enjoying their meal and time. As if they didn’t care for anyone else on the outside of the general vicinity of their table. The maitre d’ noticed that for the entire lunch, they never spoke business. It was always about the fun they had, or general small-talk. This cosy table, set away from the rest of the restaurant, should be the hotel’s happiest table, every third Thursday, he thought to himself. By dessert, the family was almost at home – ties loosened, collars open, cuffs folded back, vanity bags set away and everyone sitting back and letting the meal settle.

The waiters cleared up the table and the maitre d’ came up with a box of unordered Cuban cheroots. Setting them, he produced a Zippo lighter and addressed the lawyer, “On the house, sir, for the happiest family I’ve seen”. Father, mother and son inhaled indulgently as the daughter nibbled on the remainder of her dessert.

“The happiest family”, they all thought, as they walked back to their cars, “the happiest family, if only they had stayed together and not fought over divorce and custody”.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Of the Swedes and Slowing Down

On a mid-morning break at work, I was strolling with my colleagues in the parking lot, enjoying the sunshine and sipping watery tea of the vending machine, when I chanced upon this one.

The first thing that came to my mind was Govinda's song Chashme par unke wiper. Such innovation!!! I mean, the weather generally is snowy here in winters, and tends to develop moisture on the outer surface of the headlights. I have seen people scrape snow off their cars using a small rubber shovel. So this is not a bad idea after all. And if not that, it sure does help in flicking off the dust and grime off the glass - ensuring a better illumination. Of course, it did not click on most cars, but what the heck? It's a gem of an idea. And who else thought about it, but Volvo, the Swedish auto giant.

And while I'm on Sweden, I came across this beautiful article, by way of forwards, and it made interesting reading. It's called the Slow Down Culture, and versions of this are splattered all over the web. Here goes -
It’s been 18 years since I joined Volvo, a Swedish company. Working for them has proven to be an interesting experience. Any project here takes 2 years to be finalized, even if the idea is simple and brilliant. It’s a rule.
Globalize processes have caused in us (all over the world) a general sense of searching for immediate results. Therefore, we have come to posses a need to see immediate results. This contrasts greatly with the slow movements of the Swedish. They, on the other hand, debate, debate, debate, hold x quantity of meetings and work with a slowdown scheme. At the end, this always yields better results.
Said in another words:
* Sweden is about the size of San Pablo, a state in Brazil.
* Sweden has 2 million inhabitants.
* Stockholm, has 500,000 people.
* Volvo, Escania, Ericsson, Electrolux are some of its renowned companies. Volvo supplies the NASA.
The first time I was in Sweden, one of my colleagues picked me up at the hotel every morning. It was September, bit cold and snowy. We would arrive early at the company and he would park far away from the entrance (2000 employees drive their car to work). The first day, I didn’t say anything, either the second or third. One morning I asked, “Do you have a fixed parking space? I’ve noticed we park far from the entrance even when there are no other cars in the lot.” To which he replied, “Since we’re here early we’ll have time to walk, and whoever gets in late will be late and need a place closer to the door. Don’t you think? Imagine my face.
Nowadays, there’s a movement in Europe name Slow Food. This movement establishes that people should eat and drink slowly, with enough time to taste their food, spend time with the family, friends, without rushing. Slow Food is against its counterpart: the spirit of Fast Food and what it stands for as a lifestyle. Slow Food is the basis for a bigger movement called Slow Europe, as mentioned by Business Week.
Basically, the movement questions the sense of “hurry” and “craziness” generated by globalization, fueled by the desire of “having in quantity” (life status) versus “having with quality”, “life quality” or the “quality of being”. French people, even though they work 35 hours per week, are more productive than Americans or British. Germans have established 28.8 hour workweeks and have seen their productivity been driven up by 20%. This slow attitude has brought forth the US’s attention, pupils of the fast and the “do it now!”.
This no-rush attitude doesn’t represent doing less or having a lower productivity. It means working and doing things with greater quality, productivity, perfection, with attention to detail and less stress. It means reestablishing family values, friends, free and leisure time. Taking the “now”, present and concrete, versus the “global”, undefined and anonymous. It means taking humans’ essential values, the simplicity of living.
It stands for a less coercive work environment, more happy, lighter and more productive where humans enjoy doing what they know best how to do. It’s time to stop and think on how companies need to develop serious quality with no-rush that will increase productivity and the quality of products and services, without losing the essence of spirit.
In the movie, Scent of a Woman, there’s a scene where Al Pacino asks a girl to dance and she replies, “I can’t, my boyfriend will be here any minute now”. To which Al responds, “A life is lived in an instant”. Then they dance to a tango.
Many of us live our lives running behind time, but we only reach it when we die of a heart attack or in a car accident rushing to be on time. Others are so anxious of living the future that they forget to live the present, which is the only time that truly exists. We all have equal time throughout the world. No one has more or less. The difference lies in how each one of us does with our time. We need to live each moment. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Congratulations for reading till the end of this message. There are many who will have stopped in the middle so as not to waste time in this globalize world.

Forget the blah-blah on slowing down - I know it's the truth, and we need to stop to smell the flowers - but what struck me the most in the whole article was the logic of parking. Its almost like thinking laterally!!! I won't be surprised if the reason for those headlight wipers is something more common and obvious than cleaning the lights.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Friday, March 02, 2007

I dream of ...

... a lot of things, because I remember them in the half-awake moments when I pull the blanket tighter around me. But once I am fully awake, they have fully evaporated from my memory. Even so, there are a few which are clear, and come back to me when I’m day-dreaming while waiting or travelling.

The most common, of course, is the one where I fall off a cliff. But unlike her, I don’t develop wings, I just fall…I enjoy the breathless drop at some breakneck speed, and fall with a thud on my bed. This “thud” would usually be a sudden rolling over, accompanied by an awakening jerk. I hated this dream for the reason that it always woke me up half an hour before the alarm sounded – and it put me in a bad mood because the knowledge that the alarm would sound in 30 minutes would deprive me of any sleep lingering in my drowsy eyelids. Now though, the dream has stopped appearing – largely due to the fact that when I started falling, I would realise that it was close to half-an-hour before the alarm sounded, and I shut the alarm off even before it sounds…he he he!!!

Another consistently appearing dream is the one where my daughter is ice-skating (or doing something similar, which requires her to glide on a smooth surface) and she wants me to come see her perform, but somehow I can’t seem to make it. And it so happens that at the end of her skating, she tends to fall, and I somehow come up from behind, grab her waist and we do a lap of the rink, to standing ovation. It leaves me with goose-pimples, and I don’t know what happens before, or what happens after that. I don’t even wake up then – I only remember in the morning that I dreamt about it.

And there are the ones where I dream about a lot of insignificant things in advance, as if a few friends are sitting and discussing some movie together. Or that we are gathered in some unknown place over a dinner. Much later, when we are actually discussing a movie or sitting at a friend's place, I remember that I had “been here” before – that the guys were wearing the same clothes; that we are talking on the same topic. It’s an uncanny sense of déjà vu. (In order to explain it better, I came across and ended up seeing Déjà vu, which is not that bad a movie, after all) But what I feel is explained to the T by this quote of Dickens – “We have all some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time – of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances – of our knowing perfectly what will be said next, as if we suddenly remember it!”

In the process I also learnt that when I feel that I was "there" before, it is a particular type of deja vu, known as deja vecu; that when I know that I'm falling and decide to get up, I'm actually undergoing what is known as lucid dreaming, and that jamais vu is the opposite, when you can't remember something despite knowing that you have been there - Like you know that you have seen that face somewhere, but don't know when and where!!! (Happens to us guys all the time :D) Some gyan, eh??!!! Shru, thanks for the tag, I didn't know these before.

More later... :D