Wednesday, August 08, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH AF MATHEW

This was initially done for a website, unfortunately, didn't get published because of editorial concerns. Sadness. Nevertheless, I'm sure Mathew's fans will enjoy it. Publishing it here in full.

A brilliant photo of Mathew taken by Pratap Kaul, a MICAn.

==

Professor AF Mathew. The name conjures up memories for MICAns who are years out of their alma mater and would have forgotten their 4Ps and brand Hofstedes. Mathew is an ex-professor of a host of subjects at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) (and subsequently Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kozhikode) where he taught sociology, cinema, culture appreciation and a lot, lot more. The impact the man makes is felt long after he leaves the classroom. In the words of a batchmate from MICA, "Mathew doesn't tell you to follow one particular path. He puts all the options in front of you, and expects you to make an informed choice." Long associated with MICA, Mathew is now moving on to IIM Kozhikode in his homestate of Kerala where he hopes to "enlighten young minds".

While no doubt those in b-school circuit would have heard stories about the man and 'Mathewisms' regularly invade Facebook and Twitter during his classes (coughcough), his genius lies not in one-liners with social media currency. To say that would be akin to saying Mark Knopfler was a genius because he helped sell guitars, or Messi because he kicked a ball. Mathew is known to open up minds in a way few would have imagined, especially while entering the cold, ruthless world of business school education. I was fortunate to be taught by Mathew during my two years at MICA, and I'm sure his coming to IIM-K might just help the B-school go a notch up in the 'most wanted B-school by students' section of various rankings. Here are excerpts from an interview I had with him a few days ago, a short while after he quit MICA, and his first ever media interview, I must proudly state!

The author of the blog with a fellow Mallu a few days before convocating.

Can you tell us a little about the courses that you have been teaching at MICA and other schools?

My training --- MPhil and doctorate --- is in sociology. But I take multi-disciplinary subjects when I'm teaching. My broad area of teaching includes subjects like Cultural Studies, Areas of Globalisation --- its economic past, the social past and the cultural past. I also take two elective courses in Cinema Studies --- both Indian and global. These courses are not on cinema per se, but through cinema, they explore the socio-economic, cultural, historical perspectives.

I’m a teacher and if you’re in an educational institute, the main purpose should be education, right? How does one disseminate education? I believe that using various teaching methodologies, you can actually show a slice of life. I use cinema as a medium and try to show what is happening around the world. And this kind of an understanding is necessary irrespective of what career or profession you’re going to pursue. I think a rudimentary, critical awareness of the world is necessary for you to perform well in your work.

And I also take a course on India which is also a socio-economic, political and historical overview. I take all these courses at IIM-K and I’m also a visiting faculty at many places around the country.

You have largely been involved with a lot of marketing schools and courses that celebrate capitalism. How do you make your relatively left-leaning beliefs fit in when teaching at these schools?

Sociology is a very foundational subject to help understand the world around you, regardless of your profession. It’s also important for business. Actually all these subjects are taught in most important business schools all over the world, especially of late. Why? Because it’s a very important requirement for any business student to have these fundamentals at the back of the mind for his/her work. It’s also important in terms of business. You need to have a balanced critical base to your mind which will also help you with your work. This is one of the most fundamental requirements for even business studies. A sociological view of the world will always keep you grounded so that you can do your work in a more efficient, progressive manner. It gives you a sense of perspective, teaches you to look beyond your own world-view and how your decisions will impact various levels of people.

It’s not about capitalism or socialism or anything like that. The focus is to give a balanced perspective to education. All perspectives should be taught. Then let the student decide what he/she wants to do.

The best description of your class I’ve heard is, “He gives us all the options on a platter and says: Now you pick and choose.” For instance, many students might not have a socialist leaning, but the fact that such an ideology exists shows that there is some reasoning behind it. It’s important for students and future manages to be aware of all such perspectives, according to you. Your classes have helped open the minds of your students...

That’s nice of you to say that,  but the most important aspect is to keep different options in front of the students. I try to make sure that whatever is there in terms of sociological understanding is linked to marketing or advertising. These links have to be demonstrated in front of the students to even show the utility to them, whether it’s law, medicine or engineering. Albert Einstein and other great scientists have emphasised that even to teach science, scientific research or engineering, you need to have social sciences as a backing course. 

These are the things that will help you direct your scientific research. So it’s very essential for every discipline to have a component of social sciences. And it’s the teachers’ responsibility to link it to the subjects which the student is pursuing.

Interesting you say that, because when we were in BSchools, we tended to focus on so called action-oriented courses like Marketing and Brand Building and ‘soft subjects’ like Organisational Behaviour and HR were just meant as things on the side that one has to go through them in order to get the degree. But the reports that are coming out suggest that ‘softer skills’ like HR and people management are the most valued assets as you move up in the senior management chain. If that’s the trend globally, do you think that in our country, there is a lack of the kind of courses you’re teaching?

There has been a minor shift in the IIMs, but I don’t see any shift at all in other business schools in the country. In fact, in America there has been a lot of critical thinking about the entire business school curriculum, especially after what has happened in the area of finance, with the recession and crisis in Europe. People are going back to subjects like Philosophy, Sociology and History. 

That is not seen in a big way in India. Nobody’s coming in because there’s no other way out. Given the state of globalisation today, there’s no other way but to reflect on. As far as subjects like OrganisationalBehaviour and HR are concerned, they’re also drawn from the social sciences. The main social science subjects like Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, History etc. are the mother subjects and the other disciplines that you mentioned are derivatives of these. 

Obviously, subjects like OB and HR are extremely crucial but then the main question is how are they being taught? Ultimately, it comes back to the teacher. A bad teacher can ruin any good subject and can also give a completely different twist to the subject.

Maybe we look upon subjects like organizational behavior as softer subjects because of the way Indians learn. Right from school, the focus is always on marks. When we enter college, if we have high marks, we get into science. If someone gets into humanities, it is assumed that he/she must have got lower marks. Even at B-school, this mindset persists. The subjects that will immediately get one good placements take precedence and are given more importance. So is it because of our result-oriented mindset?

Actually I would call it a short-term vision. If you study sales distribution, marketing etc, then the view is that you will immediately get a job. People who are at the top in any discipline are highly well-informed and articulate people. They will be able to bring forth a discussion on history, cinema and various topics. So in the long term, if you really want to be on the top, you need to be a well-informed, balanced person. You can’t be bigoted or a one-track fundamentalist. You need to have a broad vision and only students who are given this vision will climb their way up and reach the top.


Even in business studies, if you see the top people who are doing very well, a reasonable amount of them are actually well-articulated people. There is no substitute to the long-term vision of a good, wholesome education. There’s absolutely no way other than that.

You’ve always taught us to look beyond stereotypes. Unfortunately, a large part of marketing, especially advertising is stereotyping. (For example – typical shots of the subservient housewife, or the villager who is not at all tech savvy) Be it in terms of things like SECs (Socio-economic classifications, that segregate people by their education and purchasing power) or behavioral analysis. Is the world ready to move beyond stereotypes and how can advertising work without stereotyping?

I think that these are 1950-60 kind of ideas. At that time, the market was booming. All they had to do was present some sort of a campaign and the product would sell. The growth rate was huge. It was just after the Second World War and everything was being rebuilt.


The 1970s saw stagnation and saturation. We also had a sense of awareness among the consumer on issues of environment, progressive sensibilities with regards to portrayal of women, blacks, homosexuals etc. Now there is no way out that you can keep on reproducing the same stereotypes. There are many examples. One example I give is where one particular campaign has gender as one of the most important aspects of the advertising brief. They’ve increased by 33%.  Or how the consumers lap it up if you put environmental sensibilities into your product as well as your campaign. So the consumers are also becoming aware.

One of the most important areas now is segments that were never there earlier in the 1960s, for instance the gay and lesbian segments. That’s a huge market. Most students can actually be homophobic right now. Having said all this, I’m not saying that we’ve reached a situation where no stereotypes are being used. It is still continuing in majority. But it’s not the same as it was before and there is no need now to inculcate better sensibilities among the marketers and business students. The market is not the same as it was earlier. Now marketing professionals need to incorporate all these sensibilities in their work, otherwise they may not actually reach out to the consumer. This debate will continue for some time but it’s not like the earlier times where you could do anything and get away with it. It’s not so easy any more. Although I must admit that stereotyping is still the norm, but it’ll take some more time. Stabilisation doesn’t come in a minute, no?

A slightly controversial question. A large part of the takeaway from your classes has been through unconventional methods - films with nude scenes, UCB ads, Madonna videos, hints at lesbian porn etc. Is this sensationalism or is it a required part of the teaching? Or is it just to hold the attention of wavering young minds?

I don’t think I show any porn in my classes. All the films that I had shown were award winning films. They are by great filmmakers and have won awards at the Cannes and Berlin Film Festival.

But it is a deliberate methodology from my side. As a teacher or an educator, how does one give education to young students? One thing that came to my mind through what my own teacher has told me is that education is hearing things that you don’t want to hear. Anybody can tell you things you want to hear. You’ll become very happy and the teacher will be very popular. The real test is that you must tell students what they don’t want to hear about caste, religion, life, sexuality, gender, race, nations. All the uncomfortable things should be told to them so that they become better equipped not only in their work, but also in their own lives.

Cinema is a very attractive tool and that‘s why I’ve adapted it as a methodology to tell unpleasant things to students. So that they are not only shocked but they also know what is happening around the world. For example, 18 percent of France’s population has voted for a right-wing Fascist party. I think it’s very important to tell the students that this is not a right thing for the world. That is the duty of the teacher.

Tell us about your experience at MICA.

I have a total of 15 years plus of teaching experience at the post-graduate level out of which 10 years I have been at MICA. MICA is an interesting school in the sense that it’s both communication as well as marketing. Communication is an essential component of business operation. How does one sensitise students or communications management professionals to this particular area was a challenge for me. I had come from a typical state university before I joined MICA. What MICA taught me was how to connect social sciences to every business function. That has been my learning experience. In fact, that learning has also come from IIM-K where I’ve been teaching for the last 7 years. IIM-K is a mainstream business school and there also, I had to customise my teaching to the requirements of the students.

When I was at a state university, there was no pressure to link my teaching to business operations. But after joining MICA and now at IIM-K, there is a direct section that says there’s a need to connect it to business functions. That is something I picked up from my stint at MICA. Hopefully, in my present position at IIM-K, I will extend that and probably learn even better because they are mainstream business school students and will help me in trying to bring about these connections even more clearly.

You have largely been perceived as a legend wherever you go and you have a cult following. What are your thoughts on your ‘rock star status’ if you will?

Actually, that is far from the truth. They see only the end product. Wherever I have taught, it was a lot of hard work. In the beginning, there was huge opposition to what I brought to the table! Slowly, you build brick by brick and after a long process, the students actually say something nice. I don’t know about all the students but many have nice things to say. In the beginning, they were always was abusing me! As time goes by, there is some sort of a mutual admiration society that evolves.

You’ve been known to be an extremely difficult man to shop for. Since you have all the movies that one could really want, what would you like for your next birthday? Maybe you can make a wishlist on Flipkart and make it public. Then, IIM-K will have some courier work to do.

How I wish my Flipkart wishlist is fulfilled! It’s a huge list and I don’t know if my students will be kind enough to send me couriers.

There is one thing that I can think of and I will make use of my first interview or public appearance to express my ardent wish that needs to be fulfilled. That is to go the city where Pablo Neruda wrote poetry. I hope I do that before I die. I hope all the students are listening! Maybe they can all get me a ticket to Santiago in Chile in South America!

==

That's all, folks, hope you liked this. Sound off your Mathew love in the comments, I'm sure he'd love to see it!

==

Friday, July 27, 2012

SMALL MUSINGS AND STUFF

If you're the type who likes spice - who lives and breathes by Scoville scales and whose toilet jet has seen its water being converted into steam - then here's something brilliant that you can do, that a certain someone told me.

Eat spicy stuff. Do not drink water / anything sugary. When your tongue is on fire, close your mouth. Blow slowly. Hot air over a tongue already writhing with pleasure / agony (depending on your point of view).

Soon, your mind will go to places that LSD couldn't hope to take you.

==

Turtles are awesome pets. They just plod along in their tank all day, and keep themselves amused. Don't make the mistake of thinking they're low maintenance, though, even if you get them for cheap. The food, the tank, the cleaning - all costs a fair bit.

They poop like souls possessed, though - and the water tends to get murkier than Satyam's account books.

So I asked my good friend Srikeit to ferry me an expensive Fluval filter when he went to the US. After waiting for it for weeks, I finally plugged it in. BOOM. India's 230 V is not equal to America's 110 V. What a freaking waste.

Some engineer I am, but then, I once called water 'condensed ice' or some such, so I'm guessing those credentials have been left behind long long ago.

==

I recently bought a cycle, thrilled after my doctor told me I can pedal again after that ruddy accident last year. Felt so good to have the wind on face and all that.

What did the Samajwadi Party's symbol tell the CPI(M)'s symbol after the latter was trounced in the election?
Bye, sickle!

Sorry ok.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

FEAR

Fear.

Some people describe it as waiting outside your boss' room before your annual appraisal after a particularly bad year.

Some people describe it as a bowler coming in, with your team on strike needing two to win, with one wicket left.

Some people describe it as sleeping alone at night.

Some people describe it as the wait for exam results.

Some people describe it as popping the question, and the painstaking wait as she thinks it over.

Some people describe it as waiting for the 'Price' slide of the annual Apple gadget presentation.

I thought of many of those too, and more.

On July 10, 2011, my definition changed for ever.

Imagine being woken up from your reverie in the backseat of a car, totally out of control and the driver unable to get a grip. Imagine seeing a huge truck in front of you. And you're speeding towards it, with no sign of slowing down.

That one second when you know you're going to crash.
That one second when you don't know whether you'll be alive at the end of it.
That one second when your entire life - from peeing in public to raising your hands in triumph after conquering Maharashtra's tallest peak - flashes in front of you in ultra-fast-forward.
That one second where you wonder whether all you've worked for - all your hopes and dreams - will just reside in pieces of a useless cerebellum, whose best future could be inside formalin.
That one second where you want to scream, cry, curse, hope, pray all at once.
That one second where you know something terrible is going to happen, and you don't have the power to do anything - anything about it.

That one second.

Everything else - job, cricket results, bugs at home, marks, rejection, iPad prices - seemed so inconsequential.

That. Is fear.

One year ago, each one of us involved in the accident is alive. And well. And in a position to work just as before without any problems. We can think about iPad prices and cricket matches again.

I just hope none of us - or any of you reading this - are needed to be given a reminder on how fragile life is.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A LEVEL OF ABYSMAL UNHEARD OF

(Disclaimer: For the sake of this rant, assume that Tata Docomo, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Flipkart did not advertise during the IPL. It would be unfair to include three actually brilliant campaigns in this harangue.)

I am convinced that one of the leading reasons the IPL 5 was as successful as it's being made out to be was not because the quality of cricket was spectacularly more brilliant. We've had close contests before, we've had bowlers in previous IPLs too making their presence felt, and had stunning individual performances too.

Oh, no. Don't be misled. Don't let those slick BCCI media chaps fool you into thinking that this IPL was ACTUALLY better than previous editions.

The truth of the matter, simply, is that the cricket was better in comparison to the ads that played during the IPL. So much so, that after seeing that monstrosity of an ad starring Abhishek Bachchan, you actually felt relieved to go back to the stadium and you'd even embrace Danny Morrison and spend an hour with him, just so that he took you away from Idea's gargantuan cataclysm.

Oh yes. Everything works in relative terms. The IPL is no stranger to terrible advertising. Last year, we were subjected to Lloyd bringing us the worst jingle known to mankind. The year before, there was some stout gentleman called KC Abraham raving about his brand of Ayurvedic aphrodisiacs (that year, we had Kochi Tuskers and the Silsila guy also. It was not a good time to be a Malayalee).

Thankfully, I could find only the 11 second version


But the advertising during the IPL5 plunged to such a depth, it made Black Sabbath's last few albums look like a small blip. The IPL5 advertising standards were so low, its absolute value would still be negative.
It wasn't consumer demands and complaints that led TRAI to impose a 12-minute-per-hour imposition of ad time, it was because the head honchos of TRAI were watching the IPL one day after a particularly harrasing day of trying to sort the 2G mess out, and one of their board members died after hearing the now seminal line 'P... P... P... Priya, mere saath ek Frooti share karoge?'.

Make no mistake. The ads during the IPL5 were monstrous, pathetic, appalling, revolting, dreadful, ghastly, atrocious, awful, piles of leviathan garbage that made you want to cut an incision in your cranium, crack open your skull, reach out for your brain and rip your amygdala out so that you wouldn't have to feel emotion ever again. I missed out a very vital adjective in that sentence: Embarrassing. Imagine being an advertising professional watching the IPL with family members or colleagues from other countries.

Now, the IPL has always been a paragon in creative ways of wasting money. For instance, few can forget this:

When this flew over Antilla, Nita Ambani looked out and yelled, 
"Stop fooling around and get back down here, Akash!" 
Yes, but like I was saying - the IPL sets and inspires new benchmarks when it comes to smoked-up ways of spending money. Hence, it would only be natural that some of India's companies adopt this mentality and dish out the worst possible creative work they could. Imagine paying crores of rupees to make those barf-worthy Vodafone ads (That money could have been used to just pay the damn government and get them to shut the fuchsia up)!.

Let's have a look at the biggest duds of the IPL (no - Ravindra Jadeja is not in this list. For stuff like that, you need to ask him.):

3. Frooti: Because every woman's dream guy is a valedictorian who not just proposes to her while stuttering, but does so clutching something that he should have outgrown in the 6th grade. Granted, with lunatics like Kapil Sibal around, it would hardly be appropriate to show him swagger a Smirnoff (which is what was actually required). Unless the Frooti was very heavily spiked (all Wodehouse fans - remember Gussie distributing prizes?), the lad could not have pulled this off. It was cringe-inducing. You can relive the magic, fresh and juicy, here.

This, along with Katrina Kaif's alphonso rape, have been responsible for mangoes 
going out of style quicker than you can say 'DLF Maximum'


2. Vodafone: What were they even thinking? They had the Zoozoos. They had the pug. We loved both.  There have been some bad, puzzling, head-scratch-inducing decisions that the world has seen - letting Tony John be the lead singer of Avial, allowing Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to be made into a movie, discontinuing the Altec Lansing MX5021, to name a few - but the decision to ditch two of the best (and most recognizable) properties in Indian advertising to make a set of ads so indecipherable it made Kurt Cobain sound like a spelling bee champion - tops the list.

It's incredible because this was not KC Abraham selling his shit aphrodisiac. This was from one of India's best marketing brands, and from one of India's best creative agencies.

They ditched them 'zoos for this?

As if taking a cue from the various Instagram jokes (paying $1b for something that makes your photos look older, etc), Vodafone's new set of ads made many people actually wonder if their TV sets were working fine. 'Rubbish' would not even begin to describe these abominable tributes to Takeshi's Castle.

I'm considering porting over to something else thanks to these ads. Actually, it's because of the range in my new apartment, but stating this would be a cooler reason.

1. Idea: Now, where do I even begin? Idea, like Vodafone, had a brilliant property with their 'What an Idea, Sirjee!' plank. The subsequent 'No Idea... Get Idea' ads were simple and brilliant. Every time I went to an elevator, I thought of Idea. It achieved what every advertising tries to do - touch a chord with basic human nature. Idea had the best execution when Mobile Number Portability came out (everyone else just pleaded you to join them), and it worked - they had the maximum number of port-ins. The Idea ads, many said, were Abhishek Bachchan's best performances on screen.

And then.

This.

Abomination number 1

and this...


Abomination 2

and this.

What a terrible, terrible idea, sirjee 3G

There were a few more, but why risk the chance of losing readership?
Now observe the last ad in particular. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, despite Himesh Reshamiya's best efforts, the most annoying thing you will ever see on Indian television. In fact, if I were to plot a graph:

This should sum it up nicely

Everything from that pathetic firang accent (which also manages to beat the fake Hindi accent from the slum kid in the Avengers) to Abhishek's "Nah - 3G!" added up to mute buttons across the country being worn out during the course of the two months.

There were other disasters, of course. Like Volkswagen (but that was the case of a useless product as well. After all, who DOESN'T want a car showing you the IPL while you drive, no?) and Gems (which at least had some amount of a story... And I'm being as generous as I can here). There were more duds like Pepsi, too which were pathetic pieces of advertising, standalone. 

But you know what they said about Deep Purple's brilliant album, Machine Head? Each song was a gem, but because of the brilliance of Smoke On The Water and Space Truckin', other gems like Lazy and Pictures of Home are generally overlooked. It was the same thing with the IPL advertising. Because of the gigamonstrous standards of Idea, Vodafone and Frooti - the others could be overlooked. 

The saddest part of all this? It actually looked to be a promising season for IPL advertising, what with this awesome film being the ad for the IPL itself.

Like Paul Valthaty's career, it promised much but delivered nothing subsequently

Oh well, on the bright side, our customs officials won't have too much work to do when the return contingent from Cannes arrives.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

THE WORST JOKE I HAVE EVER MADE

I apologize in advance for this.


Churchgate.


Marine Lines.


Charni Road.


Grant Road.


Mumbai Central.


Mahalaxmi.


Lower Parel.


Elphinstone Road.


Dadar.


Matunga.


Mahim Junction.


Bandra.


Khar Road.


Santacruz.


Vile Parle.


Andheri.


Jogeshwari.


Goregaon.


Malad.


Kandivili.


Borivili.





Like A BoS

Borivili Slow. Pic credit: Her.

PS: She also made a follow up joke: What if people were confused whether to take Borivili Fast or slow?
BoForS case. Ayayyo.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A SMALL MILESTONE

Today, I draw (or rather, get published) my 50th comic for Pagalguy.

Why's that a huge milestone, you ask? After all, I've done more for Sportskeeda in a much shorter span of time. And heck, it's been over two years, so wasn't that 50th long overdue? Was it a case of Tendulkaritis?

Yeah, whatever.

The Pagalguy comics will always remain special to me for the same reason that the Manchester century remains special to Tendulkar, and Please Please Me remains special to Paul McCartney (actually it doesn't, but it's a poetic example and let's not ruin it by factoring in that annoying thing called reality). It was the first set of cartoons I'd ever done.

When I'd started out with the PG comics, things  were extremely raw, and it's almost embarrassing to go back and see what the older cartoons look like (heck - the earlier comics were digitized by using a P&S camera!). But then, those were days of experiments... And while I'm not likely to give Stan Lee or Satish Acharya sleepless nights just yet, I suppose some amount of technique and form have managed to inadvertently creep in - much like how even the most ascetic and resistant participant of an MBA program just manages to say 'paradigm' by his third trimester.

It was funny how it all started. 2009 was a terrible year for me, and I badly needed something to distract me. Things got off to a great start in 2010 when I was given the chance to interview of one my heroes, Warren Mendonsa, perhaps India's finest guitarist. One of my favourite Indian comic creators, Saad Akhtar aka FlyYouFools, ran a contest in which I won a consolation prize officially, but the audience vote (and isn't that more satisfying?) by a mile.

So good friend Apurv, who edits Pagalguy, got in touch. The idea of satire on the editorial part of the website was brewing for a while and they were wondering how to do it, and this comic contest provided the perfect impetus. In fact, you'll see a very (raw) FlyYouFoolsesque influence in our first ever comic.

Quite honestly, we were overwhelmed by what was to come post that. Each post got hundreds of comments and people were obviously lapping up to it. Heck, it even got to the stage where we were able to put in in-jokes (MII institutes, RAT, the character Prof. Thambee A, etc) and loyalists would get it. It was fantastic. Heck, in 2011, Pagalguy even gave me an award for best article for a comic I made - I was shocked, because there are actual articles that are way better, with research and stuff.

Personally, Pagalguy opened up a lot. I started doing stuff for MTV, Cricinfo, In.com, Yahoo!, Sify, CrazyEngineers and Sportskeeda after that, all while managing a day job which I love. It's been a fantastic passage of life, and I've been lucky to do a lot of that work - but somehow I'll owe it largely to Pagalguy for actually finding merit enough in my comics to pay me for them.

But the biggest person to thank (cliche coming up) are the readers who made the comics what they were. I read each and every comment of everything that I do - some call it paranoia, some call it CRM - it's actually a mix of both. You junta on Twitter and Facebook who put up with the incessant plugging, bother to read and sometimes even share.

I'd like to think I have a long, long way to go. And I do. My drawings are not great, and I've had my fair share of misses. But we all learn, and I wanna say thanks to Allwin (PG's founder) and Apurv for helping me do that.

This was not meant to be an awards ceremony-like speech, which I realise this has turned into, so it's best I end now.

I'll end with my top 5 Pagalguy comics, ones which I truly loved myself.

5. What if Apple decided to launch a BSchool? Introducing the iMBA
4. The substance-pfaff matrix
3. The cricket stump marketing model
2. What if Lalit Modi took over our top management schools?
1. How most people prepare for BSchool entrance exams

Thanks for stickin' around, yo :) The 50th comic is a contest, which should be out sometime during the course of the day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

THAT CRICKET MATCH

It started out seeming like just a normal day in the life of a 4th-year engineering student from a small town in Kerala.

Exactly 6 years ago, to the time of posting this.

A few days earlier, I found out I didn't get into my dream BSchool, and just got over the phase of depression and self-pity. Thankfully, I had friends and a phone with a GPRS connection. That helped, yes.

12 March 2006 came with no indication of what was to come. Those of us who had an interest in cricket knew that a fantastic series was happening over at South Africa, where the undisputed top two teams in world cricket were slugging it out over a five match series.

Each of the first four matches had something memorable. Ntini took 6/22 in a 192-run demolition at Cape Town to help SA go 2-0 up. Then, Australia bounced back, but just barely, winning the next two games by 24 runs and 1 wicket respectively. The stage was set, at the risk of sounding Shastriesque, for a cracker of a last match.

It being a Sunday, me and a friend decided to pop out to town and have a roam-around. It was my last month in college and we decided to pop over to visit some eateries which we hadn't ever been to.

Of course, those were days without Cricinfo access 24*7, so the only way us fleeting cricket fans got to know about things was when friends told us. And that's what happened.

I was halfway through a watermelon juice of questionable aqueous content when a friend SMSed me "Australia scored 434."

I couldn't believe that. That was impossible. Sri Lanka' 398 was untouchable, like Bradman's 99.94. How could a team score over 400 in an ODI? Impossible, I thought.

A quick phone call later told me that the news was indeed, correct. As someone who gets a thrill out of records being broken, I was ecstatic, even though I hated Australia (but secretly admired them). Now, if the score was 350 thereabouts, I would have probably taken the effort to hunt for a TV and watch SA attempt the chase. But at 435, even I was willing to laugh things off.

My friend was not too much of a cricket fan, but the magnitude of what happened wasn't lost on him. He asked me whether it was probable that South Africa might chase that down. I laughed, but for a moment, my mind went back to a legendary domestic English match. "I remember... It was Glamorgan and Sussex or something. One team scored 440+, and the other team almost chased it down... And lost by just 4-5 runs. Wouldn't it be classic if something like that happens here?", I asked.

That match, of course, was this one. It was Surrey, not Glamorgan. And Alistair Brown had scored 268. In a 50-over game. If there was one thing that a knowledge of that match should have told me, it was that anything was possible.

I came back to the hostel putting all the memory of the match behind me. The thought of SA winning didn't really cross my mind, in fact, I was hoping another record would be broken (yes, I'm one of those stat-minded sorts) - that Australia would win by the highest margin in ODI cricket - 300 or so. Which, quite honestly, seemed more probable at the time.

When I got back to my hostel, around 6 PM, boy, oh, boy.

My two sport-crazy roommates were jumping up and down and asking me where the fuchsia I was.
I asked why.
They said Herschelle Gibbs was going crazy, and was looking to score a double century.

Jaw. Dropped.

We didn't have a TV. Nor did we have live internet access. Nor the time to go to a friend's place.
All we had was, in a glorious mix of modern technology and old-school syndication, per-over messages from a friend who stayed in town.

It looked amazing. South Africa looked like they were actually going to win, comfortably. And at one stage, end of over 31 to be precise, South Africa were at 286/3. They needed to go at just (!) 7.8 an over. Gibbs was on an astonishing 163 off 107. Surely, this was history in the making. And when he hit two successive sixes and moved to 175, it surely seemed like a stroll in the park now.

But then, what's life without a little masala, right?

The moment HH Gibbs walked off the field, we knew it would be his finest moment. It's thrilling and sad at the same time. You know he's just done something special, but is very unlikely to better it. It's almost like saying your best moment has passed. 

Not just did Gibbs get out, his dismissal led to a sudden shortage of runs despite Kallis, Boucher and Kemp being at the crease. Fathom this: In a match where the average run rate was close to 9 an over, there was a period of 7 overs where a single boundary wasn't hit. The pressure was right back on SA, and it told.

And we, in the hostel, were on absolute nerves. There were three of us. Just mesmerized, waiting for the next SMS. The RRR crept up to 11. But an unlikely hero stepped up - Johan van der Wath, who clobbered strategic sixes. One must not forget the contribution of Ricky Ponting, who undid all his good batting (scoring one of the most phenomenal hundreds ever) by persisting with Mick Lewis, when Brett Lee had plenty of overs left. Unfathomable. But the Proteas didn't complain - they merrily scored off him. And we all know the ending. Everyone thought SA would easily win it, and then Hall got out just when there was 2 to get and 1 wicket left.

Suddenly, SA could lose! We were pissing in our shorts up in our hostel. The relief when 'Ntini took 1' flashed across our screens came! We screamed! But we knew the job wasn't done yet.

We waited. Waited. For that last SMS to come, which could go either way.

I wasn't as tensed as when my dad called up to tell me my 10th board results.

'SA win'

Delirium. We cried, we did. For a match not involving India. We celebrated SA's victory as if we were residents of Durban or Cape Town.

The next day, hundreds of us thronged to the main hostel where there was a TV and watched the highlights. At the end of Gibbs' innings - and I kid you not - all of us stood up to applaud him. Some fleetingly said, as is wont in such moments - that it was the greatest ODI innings of all time.

6 years later, I find that statement hasn't eroded. It's withstood the test of time and reflection. Herschelle Henry Gibbs indeed, might have played the greatest ODI innings ever.

In the greatest ODI ever.

A lot of people rubbish this match saying it was a flat pitch, there was nothing in it for the bowlers, etc.
Which is true. But why should that take away from the achievement?

Since then, a lot of 400+ scores have been matched. Tell me how many you remember. Exactly.

That match was unforgettable. Just like Edgbaston '99 was. But for some reason, I belong to the camp that says Joburg 06. Was it because I was biased that SA won? Was it because records tumbled (and I was a fan of seeing records break)?

No, not for me.


I prefer to look at it this way. One team crossed the limits of what everyone thought a cricket team did. And the other team, instead of getting bogged down, pushed themselves beyond the new limits, and created a new mark.

Like Jacques Kallis told his team during the lunch break, "Why're you all so depressed? It was a 450 wicket - they fell 16 runs short."

What a day. What a match.

Even today, just reading the commentary of that game gives me goosebumps.

Friday, February 17, 2012

MY TOP 20 JOE SATRIANI SONGS

There are two ways to enjoy Satch. One is to technically analyse everything he does and use terms like chromatic watchemekallitzscale. The other is to just shut up and enjoy his guitar playing. Sure, he's probably the most technically sound guitarist around - a Rahul Dravid of axemen, if you will - but no one has made guitar instrumental more accessible. Without plunging to the massism of a Chetan Bhagat, but without invoking the entry barrier of a Nietzsche. If you will. Heck, I don't even know which of his songs utilizes a 7-string - I just don't care. The end result sounds bloody brilliant.

There's not much to explain about these songs, really, them being instrumentals. But Joe names his songs so perfectly. So when you listen to Surfing With The Alien, you actually picture an extraterrestrial riding the waves (or browsing the internet together?). Joe is at his best when he's not showing off (there are some interesting but imminently shelvable tracks, there are others that are just meant to show off his prowess - such as Midnight, which is tap-happy), and he plays with incredible emotion.

Satch has never really had a 'down' stage in his career. There was a phase where he experimented with vocals (a decent experiment in my opinion, but yielded nothing remarkable), but like all great bands, had a purple patch - from his 2nd to 5th albums, which was critically and popularly acclaimed.

Satriani has a lot of very melodic, sweet passages (make that SWEEEEEEET!), which I like to call Joegasms. There are plenty, particularly in his slower songs, and I'll point them out as we go along.

Here's my 20.

20. Asik Veysel: One of his tributes to the blind Turkish minstrel of the same name. Also with some lovely basswork by Matt Bissonette. It's probably just a little tad too long at 7:42, which is rare, because Satch generally has a lovely sense of knowing when to stop playing.

19. War: There's a lot of frenetic doom in this piece, and images of warriors atop horses come to mind. Off one of his most acclaimed albums, The Extremist. A lot of Satch's work has been used elsewhere, and this is an example - Disney used this to promote Power Rangers at their theme parks.

18. Rubina: From his first album, a lovely slow piece dedicated to his wife. Surefire cig-lighter concert moment.

17. Premonition: Off his last album, this a lovely example of how he manages to sound emotive at high tempos. Joegasm moment from 0:48 to 0:57 (of course, you'll realise that all Joegasms sound better when they're played fully in song, rather than just fast forwarding to the good bits).

16. Made Of Tears: Mid-tempo masterpiece, and he makes it clear here how vital the backing guitar is as he launches off into one of his speed-to-feel solos.

15. Surfing With The Alien: Great use of effects, very surfy, indeed. Lots of his technical skills on show here. Emotion-seekers stay away. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not really about the Silver Surfer, it just so happened that the alien on the cover of the album resembled him. Of course, in an instrumental, what's supposed to be 'about' is more subjective than usual...

14. The Traveler: This one slowly grows on you, particularly the portion from 1:20. 

13. Cryin': With a name like that, you'd expect him to make his guitar cry in a soft setting. That's pretty much what happens. It's also strangely uplifting in a way, almost like how you feel better after a good bawl in your room.

12. The Forgotten (Part 2): Forget part 1. This is a total masterpiece. It's got blazing stuff, slow stuff, everything. Just listen.

11. Satch Boogie: Another bag of pretty fast tricks. Probably the closest thing to a headbanger you'll get on a Satch album. 

10. Starry Night: Allmusic called this an attempt to recreate another masterpiece (#2 on this list). I agree. But that song by itself is so good that any derivative is bound to be decent, at worst.

09. The Crush Of Love: Taken off a mini-album, and an explosive opening. Wah lovers rejoice. It's easy to see why Hammett was so obsessed with the effect.

08. Crushing Day: With a nice crunchy riff, the song begins and explodes in a smorgasbord of riffs, shreds and pretty much everything that could be done on a guitar. Old school, fast Satch here. Surfing much like the album says.

07. Memories: Joegasm from 0:22 to 0:32. Lovely. See if you can hear this song without some image of childhood flashing up. You wonder how he does that, this oh-so-perfect naming of instrumentals.

06. Secret Prayer: I love the buildup on this one. And the tone he uses is so smooth. Bassist Stu Hamm, often overshadowed by Satch, shines here if you pay attention (or have super earphones. Haha!). Particularly  the dual outro.

Right, the big boys now.

05. Andalusia: This was a tribute to Veysel, as well. Starts off nice and folksily, before going off in a typical Joe fashion. But the real reason I love this song is because it has probably the best basswork on a Satriani song, so Matt Bissonette, take a bow!

04. Crystal Planet: The first time I heard this, I jumped out of my seat in a bus in Chennai. That intro! And this time, it's Stu Hamm blowing minds away on bass.

03. Why: Beats me why more people don't know this. What a brilliant piece. Joegasm at 0:25 to 0:41. Yes, he starts off his solo with a Joegasm. It's hard to think why anyone would hate this song. Like a comment on that YouTube video asks, "Why did 5 deaf people open this video?". The video itself seems to have created a mini-meme of sorts in the comments. Satriani just toys with his guitar and produces magic, much like VVS Laxman at his best.

02. Always With Me, Always With You: The song everyone knows. And for good reason. A sappy ballad, even by instrumental standards, but the cheesiest part is the name. This is a great intro for anyone trying to initiate someone else into instrumental rock or just rock in general. Plenty of harmonics, speed and tapping here, makes it a technical masterpiece as well.

Hold on, if that's #2, what's #1?

01. Lights of Heaven: What's that, you ask? Just a rippin' brilliant track off Crystal Planet. Yes, I know it doesn't warrant a place in SongMeanings' list, but then that's the fun of discovering a relatively obscure gem. What's not to love? The intro, the buildup, BRILLIANT basswork by Hamm, and that Joegasm from 0:53 to... Well, when he stops playing. 

Gotta love that man, Satch. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

[JUGAAD] CARTOONIST'S LIGHTBOX

In an attempt to shore up my sorry cartooning skills and upgrade from using nothing more than paper, markers and a scanner (and of course, MS Powerpoint), I did a Google search for cartoonist tools to see what I was missing out on.

Among them was a lightbox. A device on which you place your paper and draw, which makes sketching a lot easier (think layers from Photoshop if you're of that clan). In essence, it's nothing more than a box with light coming out of it.

Cost: $199.99. You've got to be freakin' kidding me.

Which is when I decided to do a little rummaging, pay the electrical store a quick visit and come up with my own solution.

Materials needed: Plastic paper box, 1 small CFL, bulb holder and wire to a plug.

Place CFL in box like suchly.

Close box like thusly. Try not to snip the wire, that will render things a little useless.

Voila! Sketch heaven!


Total cost: INR 525. #winning.

This man, the king of jugaad, would be proud.

==

Saturday, January 21, 2012

TENDULKAR FINDS 100TH 100 ON CRICINFO PROFILE, CONFUSED


Adelaide: The entire nation of India is ecstatic, confused, delirious and upset all at the same time, as master blaster, little genius, Bradman incarnate (etc etc) Sachin Tendulkar was found to have a 100th century on his Cricinfo profile.


"I have absolutely no idea what happened... I just woke up this morning to check my Cricinfo profile to see how many runs I had... And was shocked to see that I had 100 international centuries. I was shocked.", revealed the little master to CoD's roving cricket journalist.


Tendulkar's Cricinfo profile which clearly shows 100 international centuries

This comes on the heel of the news of one Bengali professor finding 490 billion rupees in his SBI bank account, and no one knows where the money came from.


"I was initially confused... But then I realised that Cricinfo is the authority on Cricket and couldn't have possibly made a mistake, so I guess I have 100 international centuries now.", said the little master, looking up to the skies for a brief moment before adjusting his abdomen pad and asking for the sightscreen to be moved.


Also, the master blaster seems to have broken Brian Lara's world records of 400* in a Test match and 501* in a First Class match, as his new highest score was put up as 502*.


"To be honest, I don't remember scoring that. I once remember I was playing EA Cricket 2010 on Virat's XBox with him and I had made Dinesh Mongia score 433* against the MCC XI, but I quite honestly don't remember this...", said the little genius.


"Anyway, I'm relieved... It feels great to have scored that 100th century (whether I did it or not)", said the little wizard before going on and scoring a quickfire double century in a game against a local XI. "I know can play with freedom". Australia at Adelaide had better be scared. Very scared.


The news has been greeted with contrasting views by India's cricket-crazy population and the media.
The average fan is ecstatic, finally getting the bugbear of waiting for SRT to score his 100th. "FINALLY! Now I can stop doing poojas every morning", screamed out one cricket fan from Varanasi. Tweeted another one from Delhi, "I can finally stop reorganizing furniture in my room before every Sachin innings."


The media, however, does not share the happiness. Every publication in the country was gearing up for the huge event with a Sachin Special issue (Every publication apart from The Hindu, that is, who would had templatized 'keen contest on the cards' for the Adelaide test). "Stark raving crazy this is. Not only do we seem like fools for having missed this alleged 100th 100, but what do I do with the 5 page Sachin Ton-dulkar special that I've been keeping for the last one year?!", bellowed an editor from the Times of India.


How the 100th 100 came about itself is a mystery. Some cynics (mostly Australian) assume that a hacker got in, but ESPNCricinfo's head of security assured us that no-one can break into the servers. The overall assumption is that Sachin just played an innings which Cricinfo forgot to update or some centuries in unofficial innings (such as  the Diana Memorial Match at Lord's) suddenly was conferred official status.


"In any case, he can now stop worrying about the 100th 100 and do what he does best - scoring centuries", said Rameez Raja, underlying his ability to sound absurd and logical at the same time.