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Movie Review : Hampi

Published November 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

I review only the best movies; the next one that qualifies is Hampi. Some people told me Hampi was a movie. Some told me it was a great movie. Some told me it was a travelogue. Some told me it was a sweet movie. Well, all the above were wrong; all the above were right – and all the above did not, in my opinion, come even close to what Hampi is. It was a relatively short movie – if you can call it that; which I don’t. It was over in 1 hour and some 40-odd minutes tops. It wasn’t a moving movie; it wasn’t a deep movie; it didn’t deal with esoteric subjects. It also isn’t a movie that will appeal to everyone, that is also equally true. You need, in my opinion, a particular kind of emotional / artistic / simple outlook in your mind to truly connect.


हंपी एक नुसतं चित्रपट नसून एका उत्कृष्ट कवी ची कल्पना असावी; एका विलक्षण चित्रकाराचे चित्र असावे. हिला  एका महान कवी ची कविता जरी म्हंटलं तरी चालेल. ह्या चित्रपटाची सर्वात मोठी गोषट तर हि आहे कि ह्याच्यात एक एक फ्रेम, प्रत्येक सीन, प्रत्येक क्षण फार विचार करून ठेवलेला आहे. पात्रांनी म्हंटलेली एक एक वाक्य त्यांनी म्हंटलेले एक एक शब्द खूप विचार करून ठेवले गेले; एवढे जर पुरत नसेल तर हे पण खरे कि ह्या चित्रपटात शांतता चा वापर सुद्धा खूपच उल्लेखनीय आहे. फक्त हेच नाही – संगीत आणि पार्षव संगीत, म्हणजे बॅकग्राऊंड स्कॉर व गाणी सुद्धा चित्रपटाशी, संपूर्ण वातावरणाशी आणि इतक्या सोप्या आणि सरळ रीती नि मिळतात आणि एकजीव होतात कि अगदी तर्क संगत व स्वाभाविक वाटतात


This is a labour of love; it is a poem, it is a lyrical story of a maestro author, a signature painting of a top painter, it is a masterpiece of artistic creation with each and every cinematic sub-item in perfect consonance with the beauty of the story and the script. If there is perfection anywhere – it is here, it is here, it is here – in this stupendous creation of love, harmony, art, entertainment, poetry, prose, painting, canvas all rolled into one.


THE STORY
The story, per se, is simple – it is a story of a disillusioned daughter, whose parents are going through a divorce. She decides to get away from it all, and plans a holiday to Hampi {a tourist destination of breathtaking natural beauty in Southern India} with her close friend. The friend cannot make it and cancels – so she lands up alone, and runs into a co-resident in the hotel she stays at. The story is of her experiences in Hampi, with the taxi {auto} driver, a handicrafts-woman, a sadhu; and most of all, for the large part, her continuous banter with Kabir, the guy who stays at the hotel. Until that is the other lady, the best friend, arrives… no, don’t jump to conclusions, please. Nothing like that. But it does cause a bit of a change in the scenario. Saying anything else will be a spoiler!
THE ANALYSIS
As I observed earlier, a story is one thing, the script quite another. The difference, the magic is in the script and screenplay, which weaves in a scenic tour of the magnificent ancient township of Hampi, effortlessly co-creates a story of ethereal visual appeal that will transfix you with its awesome cinematography, which is one of the biggest pluses of the movie. At no point does the slow pace of the story get to you, such is the hypnotic beauty on screen!
This is a movie in which every word has been chosen and placed with great care and attention; every frame has been tastefully placed almost – with great love; every note of every musical score has been crafted to gel into the entire scenario, and blend in effortlessly. Even the silences interspersed throughout the movie are chosen with great care, passion and add to the story, the overall hypnotic transcendental magic and the beauty of the overall product. This is a true Gem in every sense of the word. Loaded with memorable dialogues, even more memorable silences, heart-warming music and background score, and superlative cinematography. What more can you want?
What more can you want, you and I say? The stunning, natural and effervescent performances by the entire cast; Lalit Prabhakar, whose talent we saw earlier in Chi V Chi Sau Ka; Sonali Kulkarni – who needs no introduction; and the supporting cast – all played their part to the best of their considerable talents. Everyone has a strong, scriptwriter-backed role; but they have put in the performance of their lives. Sonali as Isha is a revelation in this excellent role; Lalit as Kabir is, as usual, tops. They carry the story on their shoulders, ably supported by Priyadarshan Jadhav and Prajakta Mali.
Reviewer after professional reviewer has stated about the absence of a story, of the lack of a coherent narrative; they are flat wrong, period.  It once again shows that the so-called professional reviewers are totally out of touch with audience tastes. While the professionals rate in 2.5 stars, the audience ratings are above 3.5. That shows the divergence in audience and the professionals. The film has a lovely, deep story – one that has to be understood by an emotionally awakened intelligent person.

It is a story told through sparse words, words pregnant with meaning; through soulful music, through penetrating and telling silence, and their combination which together craft a story of the conversion of one person – Isha, from a negative, slightly depressed, slightly angry element into a vivacious soft person. One can easily see, at the end, that this is the real Isha and that the depression was a temporary trauma brought by a painful divorce of her parents.  It has a moving, mesmerizing story; that the professionals weren’t able to fathom it shows they need to understand a real artistic creation, not just go through the motions of watching it! All in all, rated 5 stars. Note that I only review the best of the best Movies; and it has qualified for my blog…
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Indian Culture : Being Indian, Truly Indian – An Examination

Published February 20, 2015 by vishalvkale

Being and becoming is definitely the flavor of the season… there are a few trends that are now clearly discernible in the national discourse in India along these lines: one is the yearning for a return to our culture and our roots, the second being a push to be Indian and buy Indian, a third is the rising tide that pushes a national narrative of a Hindu subjugation, and a fourth being the rising tide of Hindu sentiment for a golden Hindu period, with Hindu values, and morals. The icing on the cake is the moral brigade, and the attendant reverse, with the pillorying and vilifying reactions to this moral brigade. Intermingled among all these is the single viewpoint of contempt and disdain some educated Indians have for ancient Indian culture.

In the atmosphere of Ghar Waapsi, I noted that the true Ghar Waapsi will happen when we stop giving bribes, stop eulogizing The West etc. Similarly, in the light of the rise of the AAP, we are talking of a rising hope, which is great, and a rising euphoria, which is misplaced. In both the cases above, as well as the scenarios in the first paragraph,  we are talking about a complete change in a people being dreamt and imagined by a people who first of all only pay superficial obeisance to Indian Values,  Sanaatani Vichaardhaaraa and our culture, and have little or limited knowledge of history.  As a small example, just try and tell anyone the fact that Hinduism is a British creation; that our real religion is Sanaatan Dharm; note the aggressive reaction, and the ignorance.  

Being “Indian” in culture, in this context, is taken to mean something either completely superficial and  external, without getting to the core of the issue – by and large, equated with language, dress, and such like – things that have precisely nothing to do with culture, and are manifestly superficial; or something based on a biased, one sided and incorrect narrative of History. This article delves into the first aspect, and the historical narrative forms the 2nd part of this mini-series.

Being Indian is being taken and interpreted as a stance of morality in relations between the sexes, which is a loaded and one-sided sentiment even at the best of times, as another example. Some of the more interesting views is the political landmine of Hindi being needlessly and incorrectly termed the national language by some people. Being Indian is taken to mean eulogizing the ancient culture we had, with a more hardline stance pillorying even the Mughal and Arabic rulers of New Delhi from 1150AD onwards

These people forget that the very language they go ballistic over – Hindi – is a borrowed tongue, being born out of Arabaic, Persian, Awadhi, Braj and a couple of other dialects. 300 years ago, this language had not even been invented, and was in the process of being crafted – whereas some modern languages like Marathi had already evolved out of Maharashtri Prakrut and Apabhramsa several hundred years before this time. Yet, it is Hindi which is spoken across Northern India, not the other ancient languages. What does this tell us about our culture?

India has come under one political yoke many times in ancient days, and yet a single language did not evolve, and was never enforced. Even in Muslim central rule, when Persian was the official tongue, one single language did not evolve; the language that did evolve from this – Hindi – was more akin to Marathi and other Indian languages than to Persian and Arabic. Not only that, at no point did an indigenous arts and literature evolve around the foreign language in India. Point is the openness and non-interference in cultural affairs and the cultural tolerance even during Muslim rule!

On the topic of women, one side of the argument vociferously denounces the changes happening, while the other, quite naturally, in automatic and justified outrage, goes the other extreme! For the moral brigade : technically, you might have been right – had you decided to approach the problem as a point of education and awareness, rather than moral policing; an issue which meant that Indian Values need to be inculcated… but even there, we run into problems, as becomes evident in the next paragraph. On the other side: it is your life, your decision; I personally see no locus standi of anyone not from your respective families.

I am all for a reversal for the role of women to that in ancient India, provided it is in keeping with the genuine Indian culture, not what is normally pandered in the guise of Indian Culture. What was the role of women in those days, and in what societal context? Women have always had a position of primacy in the Indian household, society and politics – right from ancient times. Even in normal lives, women were not oppressed – yes, there were some practices which are unacceptable in the current societal context, like age of marriage – but by and large, they were relatively free.

If you say women should marry as per male family members’ wishes, fine by me. If you say open display of love is a no-no, fine by me. But… it can’t be a one-way street; you then have to re-examine the entire scenario: what was the overall attitude towards women in those days in our society? How safe were they on the streets? What was their contribution towards the economy, the society and politics? How were they treated, and how were they viewed? Were they objectified and treated as showpieces, as men are habitual of doing today, openly staring a women, treating them as objects? Was open display of love really a no-no in those days – within the then prevalent societal norms?

Women were treated with respect, given a pride of place, were safe in ancient India, and were not objectified, were actually honoured. Can we say that today? Display of affection was allowed within the norms of that society. Further, their contribution in economics, politics and society was valued. Given the nature of that society, and the role of women as home-makers, that was relevant. In the modern context, women are important contributors to economics, politics and society far in excess of ancient times.

If we then say that the old norms stay paramount, then revert them to their old roles, stop their contribution in various fields. Fine by me – but what about the damage to politics, economics, livelihoods of males working in organizations formed by women etc? You cant have your cake and eat it too! In other words, males want to benefit from female efforts from other families, while simultaneously keeping and treating them as property! They are fine if other women do it, their family should remain in their control… what If everyone thinks the same? What will be the difference between us and the Middle East in that case?

As a matter of fact,  a powerful case can be made for the fall of the Indian Political power in the medieval times as being a result of the rise in the maltreatment of two classes in our society: women, and the downtrodden. The rise of norms such as Sati, increasing obstruction of women coincided with the fall in our fortunes – this tallies with our scriptures, which specifically state that Gruhalaxmi has to be respected, else wealth flies away. We started ill-treating women, and our wealth went bye-bye! Remember, Goddess Sita opted to bury herself in Mother Earth rather than go back to Ayodhya!

Moving on, the easiest aspect to tackle in this narrative is the be-Indian-buy-Indian brigade, which has both economic and cultural aspects; the economic side of the argument has been well covered in mainstream media, and needs no repetition. The cultural side of the argument deals with a narrative of re-colonisation, and is a very popular and oft-forwarded message on Whatsapp and even Facebook, as well as blogs and digital media. This narrative actually is completely the opposite of “Indian” from an ancient perspective! Ancient and Medieval India was a trading powerhouse, with a vast and massive trade of a large number of goods with the entire world from the past 5000 years, which is a known and established fact.

We had trading outposts as far away as Central Asia, a busy land trade route as well as extensive commercial guilds that traded with other ancient cultures, as is evident from the mentions of India in other ancient literature from other cultures, as well as the interchanges with diverse visitors and invaders like the Greeks and the Huns. India flourished as it learned to trade far better than others – giving what it did best, and taking what it could not specialize in. This is essentially what Modern Economics states, and we did it 3000 and more years before the birth of Economics!

But this narrative never reaches the public, who focus only on be-Indian-buy-Indian, which is not only against all economic logic, but is also against our own culture, history and learnings from the past! Far from learning from our mistakes, as we saw in the case of language, women or in this case of trade, we are reacting in a way that holds some serious questions for us as a people and as a culture. Sad part is, there is no attempt in the mainstream to handle this logically, and without passion… the good part is, that the first stirrings of a logical debate on these matters has now started.

The point of the article is that “Being Indian” in culture is more about what you THINK, what you do and how you behave : Vedic values are more about honesty, cultural and religious tolerance, openness, free trade across political borders, equality of the sexes {viewed in the context of the respective era}, etc. It has to be viewed holistically, not piecemeal as per our convenience and vested interests. It also has to take into account our prevalent societal, socio-economic and other paradigms, and cannot be viewed in isolation. And lastly, it has to be based in light of facts, not a desired fiction or a notion or even an imagined Golden Period;



My small suggestion for what it is worth,,, can we all try and really be Indian in every sense of the term?

The Skill Gap – 2 : The Way Forward; Focus On What You Can Change

Published July 1, 2014 by vishalvkale

I am penning this article based on my experience as a corporate guy with nearly 16 years work experience cutting across Indian companies, as well as MNCs. What makes me slightly different is that I have been a visiting faculty in 3-4 management institutes, and have managed to develop relationships with quite a few students. These institutes range from top ones to unknown ones, and thus represent the entire cross-spectrum.

I am also an active blogger, and regularly attend blogger meets across platforms like Indiblogger and Blogadda, where I meet and mix with teens, 20-somethings as well as 30-somethings.

Thus, I have seen the so-called “unskilled” people at 4 levels –

* hiring manager;

* team leader / area manager / segment manager / regional manager;

* Professor and/or guide

* Friend, or group member, having been talking to and conversing with them as one of them.



THE BACKDROP

As I observed in my previous post on this – The Great Indian Skill Gap, the so-called Skill Gap is vastly different from the perception. I have read several news articles that wax eloquent on this, as well as a few surveys – all have the same verbiage and meaning; but fall short on specifics, Furthermore, most are a survey of hiring managers, and are frankly based on the gift of gab. This is by no means in the category of an exhaustive research. 


The answers to the questions are based on personal experience, and the background of that experience, the company policies, industry realities, specifics KRA requirements etc is not taken into account. 

The phraseology is wonderfully indistinct, and proves nothing either way. What does “lack of technical competencies” mean in specific terms? It can mean anything under the sun. It needs to be specific, this is just a general statement. This statement can also be construed to mean that companies are setting the bar way too high. This is way too general a statement, and we can draw no conclusion based on this. The technical competencies vary widely with the role, function and the industry. There can be no generalisation; we can conclude nothing based on these reports. 

Frankly, it could also mean that employer expectations are rising too fast, and employer willingness to invest in training is waning too fast. This hypotheses has not been tested; hence, one simply cannot draw the conclusion that there is a skill gap from such data unless the reverse hypotheses is tested, and not on hiring managers, but on a more exhaustive research. Only then can we state anything for certain!


ABOUT SKILL SETS AND COMPETENCIES

It is not about setting the bar high; it is about hiring for skills that are just not required for on-the-job performance! Our intake process does not measure KRA-Specific skills, but rather wavers all over the place, including all and sundry items in addition to job-specific skills in the guise of gauging personality. And the fun of it is that this judgement is passed by people who themselves have precisely zero knowledge of psychology, or personality! The entire process is highly subjective and prone to error which is perhaps why frequently positions go unfilled or hiring gets delayed. 

And the description “technical competencies” cannot be so vague – especially not in a high-level report, on which basis strategic vision documents are created. It has to be specific – and it will vary from industry to industry. For example, for underwriting in insurance, the core skill is knowledge of documents & their veracity; basic finance; insurance theories, concepts and processes; and so on. No college teaches these skills; and oral communication is not a pre-requisite. Neither is an excellent knowledge of English a requirement, given that documents can also be presented in the Vernacular. 

Anything else is frankly immaterial insofaras underwriting is concerned. A similar case can be stated for other functional skills – the moment you go specific, you realise that the organisations are equally responsible for bloating the entire affair out of all proportion. I say this as I have seen all sides of the coin – the college, the young brigade as well as the company side. Whether or not the candidate can speak English is immaterial, as is any other point not mentioned as a core skill. Not all jobs require you to be technically savvy, or speak English at all {let alone fluently}

The focus on hiring managers in survey after survey is fallacious; this requires a deeper research to get a handle on this entire matter, which is far too complex to rely on one set of individuals alone. Few hiring managers are skilled in psychology, and yet “bad attitude”, and “personality mismatch” feature as rejection reasons. How can a person who has zero knowledge of psychology pass judgement on these parameters? Far more critical, how can any decision on future direction be taken on the pronouncements of these people?


TRAINING SCENARIO

How much emphasis is placed on training? How much emphasis is placed on skilling the candidate in specific KRA-designed training programmes by companies? Nil. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Cipher. Induction programmes are unimaginative affairs, listing things a simple google search will reveal. You require an induction for that? What for?

How many hours are devoted to periodic training that is KRA specific by companies? Again, very near zero. Training is looked upon as a waste of time by line managers. A training programme nomination is looked upon as a warning, as is treated as a first step to sacking by more than a majority of line managers. Periodic training to refresh skill sets is absent across functions. Simple fact.

How can you blame candidates or universities in such a scenario? The companies are not willing to invest in their own people, whom they call “assets”, and want to earn profits from their performance? Furthermore, no company is wanting to engage with universities and colleges outside the top 10-15, and communicate with and work with these colleges. Arent the companies a part of our society, our culture? Shouldnt they do it – if not for nationalist feeling, then out of a pure play profit motive?

I am not absolving the colleges of the blame – just making a simple point that this is far too complex a matter. 


THE WAY FORWARD – THE CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE  

Let me clarify. I once had occasion, during my tenure as a visiting faculty, to check what my students are using as study material. The non-regular students were using translations into the vernacular; these students were further not in the A-Graders, or even B-Graders. Now companies immediately scream at this juncture : English Problem! No Skills! Prima Facie, this seems logical, and spot-on. Except, on deeper analysis, this is exposed as a fallacious impression. 

First, is the knowledge of English mission critical? In most roles, it isnt. Fact. Then why reject because of this? Next, how do you expect a student from the heartland and hinterland, schooled in poor schools or local languages to upgrade to flowing top-level English in the space of a heartbeat? Impossible – it cant be done! Does this mean that this person has no talent whatsoever? 

The next point follows from this – if the person cannot even understand English, how can anyone expect him to be functionally an expert, or at a par with those who can, given that most top-level books are in English? At this point, companies reject, scream “Skill Gap” and wash their hands off the entire matter. Seems logical – except that it is anything but, as deeper thought reveals.

As Corporate India moves into the smaller towns / smaller colleges in big towns for its hiring, this is going to be a persistent problem. This is not really a problem – it is a signal that Corporate India is not in sync with the ground realities, and needs to modify its processes and procedures, and undergo serious introspection. 

The reality is that only the creamy layer is exposed to good schooling; this is an external reality. Hindi / Marathi / Bengali / Tamil / Telugu etc are the medium of instruction. Corporate India has yet to realise this reality, let alone accept it. Books and quality material, access to resources are absent in this layer. Schools and parents alike cant afford it. This is a hard reality. 

Does this mean that this entire set of people, or a large majority among them, is not worth hiring? Has anyone given them a chance, by proper timely training interventions before deployment on the job / regular interaction with college managements and faculties and such like? No! Then how can you assume that they cant perform, when you are using standards of judgement that they just cannot meet, and are therefore manifestly unfair? 

This isnt socialism – I am talking pure capitalism and perfect business sense. You have a vacancy; you have candidates who have passed an exam pertaining to that required skill set; and you dont hire! You choose – note that – actually choose – to leave the vacancy open in a hyper-competitive market! Amazing! 

Not one corporate in my experience has tried to retrain these people. And, sadly and shockingly, in corporate India itself there are people who have overcome these handicaps, reskilled themselves, and succeeded – thereby proving that this is a gap that can be bridged. And if it can be bridged, it ceases to be a gap, and becomes a ground-level challenge that needs attending to. 

Trust me – there are students who are raring to go, given a chance at reskilling. It is in corporate interest to give them that chance. Either that – or cry skill gap, leave positions vacant and impact your business competence. Corporates are running away from the problem, not trying to solve it. 

They are a part of this nation; they are a part of this society. That they should get in, dirty their hands and get it done is beyond debate. The pay-off? Talent. And there is plenty of latent talent – try interacting with these students. I did. And was stunned, humbled and shameful. 

Remember : Focus on what you can change, the circle of influence. The socio-economic factors, the schooling issues are way too complex and are in the circle of concern. Changing that will require decades- and you want business performance in the near term. 

My point is that this is not so simple, and has many, many facets and roots – Socio-Cultural, Economic, Political, Business etc. This does not lend itself to simple and-or situations. In the meantime, we in Corporate India need people. 

Any youngster will have dreams and aspirations, that is natural. It is the absence of dreams that is a problem, not how tall they are. Similarly, not all can communicate their feelings and thoughts. That is again a human trait. Does this mean that all those who cant communicate are worthless, and have no talent? Obviously no. What is needed in counselling – which is not done, or proper guidance as to what suits which person. This is the most significant gap in educational systems. 

What can WE do should be the question? That is our circle of influence. Remember – we require people as much as they require jobs. Our need is in some ways greater than theirs. We can either sit and cry as to the failures of the system – or roll up our sleeves, plan and execute strategies that will bridge the gap. The latter course is a sure guarantee of success. The former isnt. 

What we can do is step in, fill the perceived gaps in chosen institutes that have the potential of meeting our needs, and work with these institutes round-the-year, through monthly seminars with students, one-on-one counselling sessions,and other such activities. This will cost next to nothing, and give us a strong understanding of the prospective candidates to boot. In the pressure for immediate results, we forget to nurture new talent; we set the bar too high due to our internal deliverables which are demanding, so say the least. The need of the hour is a long-term approach. To be specific, choose and target specific colleges in smaller towns and cities – Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, Surat, Nasik, Akola, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Bhuj, Agra etc. Work with these places – you will get talent, and at a lower cost. Win-win situation 

This will also go a long way in reducing employee turnover, reduce stress, build engagement. Survey after survey is showing rise of dissatisfaction, unbearable stress, physical diseases, mental diseases in Corporate India. 


In my experience, students do respond to counselling, and proper guidance. Problem is, they dont have anyone to approach for help and guidance. We can play that role. The pay-off? Talent. Assured talent, and tie-ups with institutes that will last years, as also fulfilling your CSR mandates in a sure way.

The Pull Of The Mother Tongue – The Impact Of Technology

Published June 19, 2014 by vishalvkale

This is the eleventh article in the culture series
Recently, I walked into the Inox Theatre at Kalyan for a movie – Bhatukali {Marathi} starring Ajinkya Deo, Shilpa Pulaskar and Kiran Karmarkar. This experience – the mere unlikely fact of me as a person watching a Marathi film in a theater set of a chain of thoughts, leading to what I feel might be a defining change being wrought by Technology and awakening, alongside the spread of economic growth, a change that is seeping into India
It has been a strange journey for me so far; when I look back today, it is indeed a strange conversion for a totally anglicized man such as myself, a man who was known for linguistic skills in English, a man who loved watching Santa Barbara & The Bold And The Beautiful, Different Strokes, Small Wonder, Yes Prime Minister, Home Alone 1&2, Die Hard, Terminator 1,2&3, Independence Day etc…; a man who loved listening to Michael Jackson & BoneyM
If I look at myself today, I am doing something I would not have believed possible; my list of favourite artists on Nokia Lumia MixRadio lists artists like Swapnil Bandodkar, Mandar Apte, Vaishali Made, Salil Kulkarni, Sonu Nigam, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi! My most watched TV serial is Eka Lagnaa Chi Dusri Goshte in Marathi,  followed by Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai; and the movies I love the most list LOC-Kargil, Mumbai-Pune-Mumbai in Marathi… the conversion seems complete; the turnaround nearly 360-degrees. 

How did this happen? I am not too conversant in pure Marathi – while I am perfectly fluent in my mother tongue – I still run into words that I cannot understand while listening to the music; and yet, the music just grows on me, it has an almost ethereal quality and hypnotic pull for my mind. Even if I cannot understand a word, I can get at the gist by reference to the context; the rest is easily done by the simple expedient of asking a friend the meaning! 

The earliest I can identify the change is through my better half, who watched Marathi TV Serials and Movies. Me, I would avoid them like the plague, ensuring my absence from home even, at times. Then one day, Mee Shivajirao Bhosle Boltoye happened; the plot as my wife described it sounded appealing; net result is I liked the movie. This was followed by an awakening of interest through constant exposure on TV of serials like Asambhav, Uncha Mazhaa Zhokaa and Eka Lagna Chyi Dusri Goshte. The power of the Media, and its increasing reach manifested itself…

The other aspect is my exposure through a totally unlikely medium – Nokia Lumia MixRadio, and Youtube. I would watch Eka Lagnaa Chyi Dusri Goshte  regularly on YouTube; one fine day, I noticed an interesting song on it – Devaa Tujhyaa Gabharyaalaa Umbarach Naahi; clicked on it, loved it – and proceeded to watch several other classic pieces on YouTube on Lumia. I am a regular on Nokia MixRadio, so this time I went to Marathi songs – and discovered a melodious world of lovely songs which were intuitively appealing, and very, very contemporary indeed. 
When I look back – I can spot a clear trend – the impact of Technology, and the rekindling of mother tongue-based serials and movies through the spread of cable television and the proliferation of channels. Suddenly, an entire people – away from their culture, but still very much attuned to it, and “with” it – like my better half – had access to entertainment in their mother tongue. 
These early adopters provided the interest in the people with greater resistance – yes, like me – while the spread of technology through mobiles and reduced data rates, alongside a superb and complete repertoire of endless programming on channels like Nokia Lumia MixRadio and YouTube reduced access barriers and obstacles, rekindling and expanding the love for the mother tongue as the tongue of preference even for entertainment. This is the power, the incredible power of the media. 

The greater availability of channels {means} for contact with the mother tongue- Television, Online Music, Websites has dramatically improved the chances for experimentation – like I did – while simultaneously reducing the access cost for the same. Would I have walked into Inox to watch Bhatukali had I not been exposed to Marathi programming over the past 2 years through Television and Mobile? Very likely not. 

This is going hand-in-hand with the contemporary and modern music and media programming – modern in technology terms, with digital recording and excellent reproduction, alongside digital mastering techniques, and musical implements that make for a lovely and rewarding viewing and listening experience. This, in the case of Marathi, is combined with music that sounds by and large traditional, without excessive western influence {my opinion only – and you all know how much of an expert I am 😉 }

Thus, it is an interesting “battle” for the Indian Mind that is now underway; the same channels that are beaming western influences into our homes are also faithfully beaming traditional themes as well; this is devoid of fundamentalism in any way, as the traditional programming is based on music, or TV Soaps, or other such benign programming. And, judging from my personal experience, it is no way certain that western values or language shall overrun us; as a backlash has been created by a back-to-my-culture sequence, fuelled not by fundamentalist anti-west rhetoric, but by an interest in and a craving for the culture. 

It is still early days – but technology is working its wonderful way in more ways than one… doing its bit in  creating a better integrated and more modern India in areas spanning right from the critical Meteorology to the daily routine of Culture, an India that already has come to terms with its diversity, an India that has learnt to use its internal forces to modulate its diverse population and culture!

The Peculiar Problem Of English in India

Published December 1, 2013 by vishalvkale

It is a commonly held notion – by almost every section of our society – that English is a key to success – at least in Corporate India; that English education (especially the Public School variety, or the convent variety) is a pre-requisite. It is thought that English is a basic quality that is the key to unlocking doors as well as understanding complicated concepts and acquiring advanced skills. The importance of English, thus, is thought to be both in unlocking further doors, as well as acquiring skills that enable a person to succeed in life. 
Fine, List functions, roles, specific KRAs in your experience where English is mission critical – that cannot be outsourced to the secretarial staff. List the languages used in the normal course of business. Most of the times, it is a mix of local and English! So why the hullabuloo regarding English? And as regards English… who needs English? In 14 years, I am yet to conduct a single business deal in English. 14 years and 10 months, to be precise. All – repeat – All – my discussions have been in Hindi or even Marathi with bosses and channel alike. Why, then, is this notion? Does it have any connect with the reality?
Two, we get mails in English – but discuss them in our own language. Even in the Channel, even if our Channel Partner is educated (I have handled several CAs, one Major Industrialist as well as PhDs etc as partners), we speak in Hindi, or the local tongue. All the time, every time.  Why is this so? I repeat: in 15 years , I have not had one single full conversation on any topic in English. Not one single topic. If you want to do business in India, learn the local tongue, the local culture and the local habits. But does that mean we can jettison English?
Three, I have been a visiting faculty for Adverstising and Brand Management, and from that experience, let me clear one point. I have checked the study material and understanding of students, and those who dont perform have problems in English. They use vernacular material to study, while papers are in pure English! This, when they dont have any use of the English language in practical life outside some emails. Why on Earth are we trying to create rugby players out of people skilled in cricket? Teach ’em cricket! Talk to them in their language! Prima Facie, it seems that this proves the commonly held notion of English being a requirement of success; but the real problem here is not English, but something else; as I shall connect up later
Unless we attend to this fundamental dichotomy – hiring for English skills (that, by and large, dont exist) for a role that requires either local tongue, or some other skill, things will not change. Unless we understand that we are actually speaking in Hindi or local tongues, but writing in English, this argument will remain. But that is another story. It is easier to change our approach, which is manifestly incorrect!
This does not mean that we dont need English; we are a nation of several hundred tongues – Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri in the North; Bihari, Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Manipuri, Naga in the East; Marathi, Guajarti in the West; Tamil, Kannada, Malayali, Telugu in the south alongside hundred of others. English is the only common language; English is the only link language – in fact, it can be said that English contributes to keeping us together and united, and helps us avoid Bangladesh-like risings – of which we have had one sample in 67, when we tried to enforce Hindi. In short, we need English as the link language. 
Further, the need for English cannot be underscored – as in some areas, English is a pre-requisite – like in International Trade, Business Process Outsourcing etc. Here, you do need proficiency in English – unlike other areas, where you only need a working knowledge at best. Please understand that I am restricting myself to the business atmosphere only; my focus in this article in Business and Indian Corporates. For people interested in Science and Technology, you can refer this discussion on LinkedIn, which discusses this threadbare, and has some industry experts partaking in: LinkedIn Discussion on English in Tech and Science

Thus, from the above we can see that while we need English, a few of us are not proficient in the language; and secondly, we have only a limited use of English, which is restricted to only written communication, and basic skills in understanding what is being said. First, let us attend to the question of why there is a need for written language skills in English. The answer is straightforward: English is the only possible script and language that is common across the land; there can be no other language that can fill the gap created by English – if it is abandoned. 
And in this, admittedly yes, quite a large number of students are lacking, as mentioned in the opening of the paragraph.  The reason is simple: not many parents can afford the costly education where you can acquire these skills. More than 75% of India resides in villages and small towns;and more than 75% dont earn enough to have their children sent to such schools. Quite simply put, this is a delivery gap of governmental educational services, which are shoddy at best, and pitiable at worst. 
In conclusion, it can be seen that English is a most peculiar problem in India : while at one level, we need it for integrity and continuity; at the other, it is the lack of proper education that is hindering a good number of our students. While at one level, it is a mission critical skill, at another level, it is only a basic skill since verbal communication is in the vernacular. While at one level, our students cannot afford access to good education, at another level, Industry bemoans lack of English skills. While at one level, we need people, at another level we cant hire them as they don’t have the skills! While at one level, it aids in keeping us one and united, at another level it is a significant challenge to our culture. While at one level, English speakers consider themselves a cut above – employing the language at every opportunity, at another level the local populace both wants to emulate while simultaneously belittling such anglicized people by the pejorative term “angrez”!
Why should we have an attitude of superiority if we speak English better, or are better educated – when this is largely because our parents had access to good education, and earned enough to put us through the same? And why should those who did not have this happy chance be left out? Thus, if you cannot afford a good education, will you be always on the periphery? This is what seems to be happening, since the consumption trends indicate that consumption of the bottom income layers has not gone up. This is more so, since in my experience, English is only a peripheral requirement in the large majority of functional roles, and that we need only a working knowledge of the same.
None of the questions I have asked above have easy answers; none of the questions above has any quick fix. These are hard realities, a fundamental dichotomy that lies at the core of our national identity. We are, essentially, by-and-large, a tri-lingual people – English, Mother Tongue, and Hindi. Till such time as this is resolved, and a local link language emerges, these questions and problems will remain. What we can do is change our outlook – hire people who are good at communication, and have the required level of skills in English for the role in question…
This is not an article which suggests solutions, or makes grandiose statements, or suggests a one solution fits all type panacea. I cannot state the impossible; such is the peculiar nature of the English Problem in India. The same language that is linking the diverse groups in our country together, is also  the target of much innuendo in the cultural sphere as well as in the skills sphere. The gaps are vast, and they exist on both sides – while we need to change our approach, attitude, and drop our  superiority complexes towards English on one side; we also need to improve education! There are no solutions; only questions. Perhaps, the answers lie in the distant future… 

Cultural Backlash 1: The Language Issue

Published April 4, 2013 by vishalvkale

This is the sixth article in the culture series
The penetration of the English Language is undoubtedly increasing with each passing day; this is driven by the fact that English is the language of international of commerce & science. It is also the language with the widest spread; and is thus the link language between cultures. That is undisputed, and this will only increase at least in our lifetime. 
The spread of languages is governed by culture and politics both; consider Latin – which was in its heyday enjoying a vast following till socio-politico-cultural changes in the European continent changed that, Or Sanskrut – which was the link language for the entire Indian Subcontinent and some areas in the immediate east: the rise of various politico-cultural changes made first Prakrut, (in simple terms, a spoken version of Sanskrut) and then its various offshoots (the modern Indian languages – esp Hindi predominant). Similar is the case of English; it enjoys the status of the primary link language. It has massive momentum behind it in the form of science and commercial communication, its brand of movies, the lure of the economic might of the west and a vast body of literature to sustain its continued dominance over world affairs at least for the foreseeable future. 
But every coin has a second side. In the case of English – there are 2 other sides. First is the interaction with other languages, which is showing signs giving rise to what are already being called dialects. At the extreme is the case of the interaction with Hindi, which is giving rise to what some people are already referring to as Hinglish – a mix of the 2 tongues Hindi and English. This is the way languages evolve: Sanskrut led to Prakrut (disputed by many linguists who state they are parallel in emergence), Prakrut in turn, gave rise to Maharashtri Prakrut (among others) – which, by AD 300 – 800, came to be known in its modern form as my mother tongue – Marathi. Similar is the case with all other languages; Hindi emerged out of several languages. Languages evolve – and we can see this happening already, as British, American and Indian English are already known to be quite different. As to in which direction they will evolve is anyone’s guess. 
Secondly, this change  is further enhanced by the sceptre of cultural backlash, as the increasing dominance of an essentially alien tongue gives a push to a backlash, which has massive socio-politico-cultural shoots. The purists go on a speak-mother-tongue binge, and quite a few people can and do get converted. There are 2 modern examples of a backlash leading to to political upheavals – Bangladesh, where imposition of Urdu gave a massive popular push to existing resentment against Pakistani excesses. The second – Tamil Nadu (and other southern Indian states), which, in 1967, saw a massive political movement against Hindi when India tried to make it the national language in 1967. Till date. Hindi is still not the national language. Cultural backlash is also in evidence, for example the pro-marathi campaign in Maharashtra during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mumbai people still praise the Thackerays for re-instilling pride in Marathi – which, they say, is now again the primary spoken tongue in Mumbai. There is an increasing push towards sustaining the mother tongue almost everywhere; this is a natural evolutionary development. India even has a central body that is preparing a scientific and normal vocabulary in Indian tongues; quite a few top IT guys are involved in this initiative, as another example
The point is that English is not killing any language; that said, there are various evolutionary forces on it that is causing it to change  This is normal, and on par for the course of any language’s  development. Will the changes lead – eventually – to another language –  is anyone’s guess – and is decades – perhaps centuries in the future
The survival of languages is a function of the number of native speakers  of the language; the smaller numericals do tend to get subsumed into the larger numbers. Not talking about English here; the absorption is typically into allied related tongues- for example, Bhojpuri into Hindi. Tamil will never be subsumed by Hindi – or HIndi / Bhojpuri into English. The vast difference between the 2 tongues would preclude such a possibility. It is easier to adopt a relatively familiar tongue – and it also gives rise to less friction. The friction and the cultural backlash when a language begins to threaten another is a reality when the subsuming tongue is perceived as alien. I would love to know if there is any evidence of the reasons of the depletion of languages being due to English. It seems to my untrained (but hobbyist) eyes that the real threat to minority languages is from the related tongues. 
The only caveat is the political factor. That would seem to kill languages, that seems true, But, if you consider Persian – which was the political tongue in India for nearly 5 centuries – that complicates matters. The moment it lost patronage, it vanished within the space of a generation.
Thus, while the political factor is important, it seems to me that the presence of indigenous literature, art and culture in the said language is the real factor behind the sustenance of languages. Example – Sanskrut, While there are no native speakers anymore, the vast body of literature in it ensures that it is still a live language – at least in the realms of religion and higher studies. Or Marathi – the constant stream  of class literature has ensured  its continued survival for 1500 years now…  The moment literature dies, the language has started to die… literature seems to give a language life; it keeps its adherents glued to it; as does art and cultural traditions. 
I am sceptical about the effects of globalisation, and the ability of English to overhaul our indigenous linguistic heritage. It is more of a colonial hangover, and is limited in scope to only the top 3-5% of native speakers; the rest still use their respective vernacular tongues as a matter of course. With only a penetration of a few percentage points, we are already seeing a massive cultural backlash in India at least, targeting western customs that are seen as non-Indian in nature; as well as promoting Indianness and Indian languages. On the positive side, more and more youngsters are going the culture way, and consciously creating an Indian identity for themselves in both tongue as well as appearance and behaviour. Vernacular literature is showing signs of a robust revival, with translations of famed English books into Hindi and other local tongues being available everywhere; the next logical step is a revival of original literature… of which there are signs available. Vernacular literature is still alive in India and vibrant; what is required is popular mass following. The first step has been taken – popular Indian writers like Chetan Bhagat have now started releasing their works in Indian languages. This should go a long way towards bringing in popularity and numbers to the literary landscape.
That is why I dont think that language depletion will happen – not in a 100 years, and not in a 1000 even. In India alone, there are 29 languages with over a million speakers, 57 with more than 100000 speakers. And the number is not depleting as per information available to me;. 
The reason is the cultural backlash that is now raising its head, with more and more people returning to their roots. In this day and age of easy bonding, IT, Social networks, and unhindered information flow – it is easy for people with similar thoughts to come together and for views to find receptive eyes and ears.  No people would like to lose their language: when this threat passes acceptable levels, visceral forces are unfortunately unleashed; which is why this cultural backlash is welcome – it is a safe outlet for pent-up emotions. A safety valve, if you will.  At least in democratic political systems, I perceive little threat. And in unfriendly systems (with forcible suppression) , the backlash will unleash visceral forces that will be to the detriment of everyone – as we have seen earlier.
That leaves the smaller tongues: and I am of the opinion that these will also show revival; maybe not all – but most will. As an example – you can now spot Bhojpuri film DVDs at DVD parlours in North India. Yes, there is a chance that some of the smaller tongues will get susumed; but not too many in my opinion…

The Loss Of Heritage: A Question Of Language

Published March 16, 2013 by vishalvkale

The second article on culture… (the below stands true for every Indian Language; I am using Hindi and Marathi since they are the languages I speak)
I am a person schooled in 3 languages: English, Hindi and Marathi. My language of choice is English; followed by Marathi and Hindi. Marathi is my mother tongue; but I am furthest from it. I am fluent in Marathi – more than in Hindi, in fact; but it is still my third language, behind the other 2. This post stands despite the above facts, and is in fact borne out of the above.
My first tryst with  language was in college, when I studied language groups and the origins of language as a hobby. Thereafter, along the line of a career, my hobbies got lost: Language, Reading, Dramatics, Culture etc… and life just became too fast paced. The initial flame was lit during my sojourn as a visiting faculty of Brand and Advertising Management, when I came in touch with SPIC-MACAY, and began attending cultural dos again – after a gap of 15 years and more. Then, last year, I was part of a fabulous LinkedIn discussion that examined the education system in India, and the impact of a foreign language on the mind – as well as the feasibility of introducing an increasing number of subjects in the vernacular. A lot a current research was shared (I cannot find the dicsussion thread, as it has been archived); which acted as the catalyser. I slowly began asking myself questions; some pretty uncomfortable questions, ones to which I had no answer. This post below chronicles the questions I have asked myself over the past few months.
What is Language? The educated will tell you that it is a means of expressing oneself, and of communicating with each other. The dictionary will tell you that it is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Some will add non-verbal communication on top of this. Even wikipedia will delve in some detail on this aspect. Well, before I ask the questions that came to me, let me clarify: the above is but one small aspect of what we call language. Hidden away deep inside the wikipedia article is the little beauty: “Language is therefore dependent on”communities of speakers”…
In truth, language is far more than a means of communication: it is a carrier of the entire social history and cultural heritage of a people. Through language, we communicate words, ideas, social practices, values  and emotions… the entire culture of a people is encapsulated in what we call language. Let me elucidate with a popular example:
This is a poem by Neeraj, and was later adapted into a song, with a heart-rending rendition by Mohd Rafi.  Try translating this to English. Or, better yet, note how easily the poem gels with you; you can visualise the scene as it plays in front of your eyes. The word Shrungar, for instance, instantly connotes its meaning to us; we can immediately visualise both the scene as well as the meaning of the line just from this word. There is no English equivalent; this is borne out of our cultural landscape, our society and its norms…  now imagine a world where this word has become obsolete. A language is a means of passing on the cultural heritage, norms, values, thoughts, ideas, history, prayers, rituals and much much more. We stand to lose far more than just a means of communication. I shall delve into this in more detail later, for this is far too complex a matter to be taken up in a paragraph. But I hope that the uninitiated among the readers have been able to grasp the import of my statements.
Am I being melodramatic? Consider the questions below, those that have occurred to me:
1) Visit any book-store. Count the number of Vernacular books and English books. The ratio will be 95% English. Even in the seedier second-hand store, the ratio remains the same. In a nation where the major languages are Hindi, Marathi, Bengali etc – the literature is primarily in English. Why?
2) Compare the best of Vernacular books with the English books you are so fond of. (If you read vernacular – you are a better person than I am!). Why the difference in quality?
3) Why is it that most of the reported literature from India – judging from magazines, new sites and other sources – is in English? Why is the visibility not there for Vernacular literature? Point out how the Neeraj poem above is in any way inferior, or superior – to an English poem!
4) When and what was the last vernacular book you read? For me, it was Caravaan Guzar Gayaa – kavya sangraha by Neeraj circa 1996. Why so?
5) How many of us read- I mean really read – the vernacular papers in preference to the English? I dont mean reading it as a secondary publication – I mean the vernacular as a vehicle of choice? And please dont state quality – how can they produce quality and attract talent when the readership is absent?
6) What will be the impact of the lack of interested readers and practitioners on the cultural richness, progression and development of that language? How long will it, or can it, continue without patronage? Remember: Persian was prevalent for a good 300 years; the absence of literature in persian was one of the contributory factors in its rapid decline; with the others being lack of speakers of persian among the common people.
7) Insaan kaa insaan se ho bhaichaaraa, yehi paighaam humaaraa; Naye naye jagat mein huaa puraanaa oonch neech ka kissa, Sab ko miley mehnat ke mutaabiq apna apna hissa – Kavi Pradeep… lovely lyrics, a song and a poem from our past; now just compare the lyrics of today with the golden days. How many of the day have such deep meanings? And how many songs of the old days had such lovely poetry? Where are the poets in India today? Where are the Kaka Hathrasi, Shivmangal Singh Suman, Neeraj etc? Where are Rabindranath Tagore and Harivansha Rai Bachhan of the modern day? (If there are any, please enlighten me. I may not be aware, that is also true…)
8) Why dont we Indians read Vernacular literature with more interest? Why the inordinate emphasis on and prefence of English? Where does the fault lie? We see Hindi movies, adulation for Hindi (Or Marathi or Tamil or Telegu)  stars is common – and yet we totally ignore the language everywhere else? From where does this incipient loss of a language come? And is this hampering our imagination as well as hindering our growth potential? 
9) We can translate Harry Potter into Hindi; we can translate other western classics into Hindi (or other vernacular languages) – but there is no sign, there is no indication, there is not even the remotest hint of popular demand for original literature in our own mother tongue or the regional tongue that is now already our second language, instead of being the first. Where is the Hindi, or Marathi bestseller?????? What direction are we as a society taking?
Food for thought, I hope…