The Wallah’s in my life

I saw my fisherwoman (machchiwali)  first 25 years ago.

Early in the morning she was running on the Juhu beach in Mumbai, sari and all, balancing the basket of fresh fish on her head that was tilted at a slightly awkward angle – probably the best way to balance the uncertain load on her head. I was told by her later (as she would deliver fish to my doorstep), that she ran to be able to get the fish to her customer in the freshest state possible. But I guess also to beat the competition. Over the years every time I got to the beach in the morning at the right time – I would see her run with the catch that just came off the fishing boats. How does she keep that fit, I thought ? And then a couple of years ago, I would never see her again. I wondered if she now had a different beat. Or something had happened to her.

Then today I saw her again. I asked her why she did not run on the beach any more and she showed me her swollen foot and leg. I asked her what was wrong, and she laughed and said “Age, Baba” something you would not know about yet (as if !). The she introduced me to her daughter who now does the same run. Anyway I wished her well and left. Later this evening she and her daughter turned up at my apartment in Juhu fully dressed up. They had cooked for me ! The most delicious Soorma Fish Curry you could have. And enough to feed me and many of my friends in an impromptu dinner party I quickly arranged.

Pity that we are losing these friends to the Super markets and soon to Foreign Retail Brands.  Over the 20 years I have visited Mumbai off and on, I have had the same Milkman ( who beat me at football on the beach and would drag me to his house every festival for his mother to feed me to extinction), the son of the same fruit seller who’s charming negotiating skills taught me a thing or two of how to negotiate with Studio heads in Hollywood. And the family of the same sabzi wallah. I even have the same Bai who comes searching for me always to see if I am back. She has a bad back so I tell her to stay at home and I pay her salary in any case. But she insists on coming and supervising the cleaning of the house by a new, younger Bai. “This is my house”, she says proudly” Your mother employed me and only she can ask me to stop”. Well, my mother passed away many years ago, so I guess the Bai is here to stay.

And then I have Suresh who follows me around the world insisting that I need someone to look after me. he has been doing that for almost 15 years now. When in London, his cooking skills made me the most popular person in London. Friday nights in my house in London would be famous as Fish Curry nights – where Suresh would cook up the most amazing food for 30/40 people. If you want Suresh to go into deep colours of red, ask him to show you his picture with ‘Cate Memsahib’, where Cate Blanchet has her arms around Suresh and planting a firm kiss on his cheek. As a thank you for all the meals he fed her during the Golden Age shoot.

The other day the son of the Fruit Seller heard I was in town and came to say hello. He told me his story of woe. The police will not let them put out stalls in the street anymore, the shops are too expensive and the supermarkets are eating into their business. But they are now hitting back back with technology. Mobile phones !
Now I have everyone’s mobile phones. And if I am flying back from New York, I can phone my Fish seller, My fruit seller, my Vegetable vendor and my Bai – all of them a day ahead and tell them exactly what I need delivered to my doorstep as I arrive.

I hope the supermarkets and FDI in retail do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.

I am just so middle class

I am just so middle class.

Middle class is not always is a monetary judgement. Middle class is  how you think, feel and make judgements about other people, but mostly about yourself.  Middle class in India is a mindset. A mindset that looks for stability over enterprise. Continuity over change. A fear of that which could cause society to change.

Middle class is a fear of borrowing money. An arrogance of being debt free. Middle Class mindsets is what banks survive on. Taking low interest interest deposits from middle class mindsets, offerring them a false sense of security, and lending to those not imprisoned by the middle class mind set. Never mind that they would never pay it back.

I have always been Middle Class and struggled with it. For a while after the success of my films I flirted with the elite. I felt like the ball in the Pin Ball machine, bounced by one elitist group to another , unable to settle, and finally thrown back to where I belong. Mostly because inside me I felt I did not deserve it. Middle Class meant that you did not deserve to be extraordinary.

That was certainly true in my generation. We still meet and talk about how the nation has changed for the worse. Moralizing at those who, rightly or wrongly, morally or otherwise, proved to be game changers.  In houses priced so far out of the range of anything we could afford now. For our parents built those houses when land was cheap and the speculators and real estate companies had not stepped in.  At that time having house simply meant that. I cannot remember talk about increase in property value and assets.

The middle class. It meant knowing you were consigned to a high moral ground but otherwise to ordinariness. That you would forever be a job seeker than a job creator.  That job creators in India were those that has thrown caution and morality to the winds. And actually turned out to be your employers !  Yet middle class meant seeking jobs in foreign multinationals, for their sins were unknown to you. They happened so far away that you assumed those sins did not exist.

 Middle Class also meant a certain frugality. The Mochi came to repair your shoes, and you did not own more than a couple of pairs a year. You were not expected to. Too many clothes were considered flashy and consigned to the so called business community.  In fact the business community was not even allowed to join the Delhi Gymkhana Club. Not till they became so rich that they bought their way in and pushed the Middle Class out !  The middle classes that rose in protest with Anna Hazare, were finally responding to the frustration of the nation changing beyond their comprehension.

I still struggle against my own middle class mindset.

Creativity to me is always a struggle to break my middle class boundaries and barriers.  When I look back at Masoom, I realize that I was looking at my middle class moralities. I did not even realize it then.

And I am writing this from Venice, where I am the Chairman of one of the Juries of the film festival. See how strong the middle class mind set is ? For I am not sure I deserve being here.

I am sure hundreds will disagree with me, as they should. For I hope they are right. But I do ask them.  Why is it that middle class boys and girls that went overseas were more prone to become entrepreneurs  and game changers than those that never left the shores of India ? Would I ever have had the courage to break the shackles of being middle class if I had not gone to London to study ?  Would I never have become a director if I stayed back in India ?

Who knows, but its a question I always ask myself

My carcass in the Holy Ganges

You dont have to read this one, but I had to record it as I felt it.

On my twitter someone directed me to pics that churned my senses, but also caused me to question myself. I was going to retweet them. But stopped myself. Why am I damming others to spend a night awake trying to push those images out of your mind ?

The pictures were on a Chinese blog and talked about what a dirty country India was. My shackles were up immediately. Its fine for us to criticize our own, but when others do so, you throw a protective blanket around yourself and all that you consider yours.

The pics were horrendous. Most of them of dead human carcasses floating in the Ganges at various states of decay. I spent a some time wondering what word to use here. First I wrote ‘bodies’. But that is still a human term. Its almost what is left behind whole when we die. Or life leaves us. It is still in a state of preservation. Something to be revered in its last rites, before we bury, burn, throw to the vultures etc.

Or in this case just float way in India’s holiest river.  The Ganga.

I then wrote the word corpse. Yet a corpse too is something respectful. Usually used in wartime. Or in urban warfare. Or in police files in cases of murder. These were just rotting human carcasses. Some in such states of decay that even the most terrifying images in horror films would be no match for these.

All floating by people on boats.  By children swimming. By people bathing and even drinking from the holy waters of the Ganga. As the bloated carcasses drifted slowly by. Often with crows and other birds of prey pecking at the flesh that remained. Often with the intestines out being dragged along. Mostly with eyes and a lot of flesh ripped out or simply rotted away.  Sorry to be so explicit but I promise you words mean nothing if I showed you the pictures.

My first reaction was disgust. The whole psyche revolted. The words came screaming up. Unhygienic. Uncivilized. Followed very closely by extreme anger.

What is wrong with us ? How can we let this happen ? Why are we so uncivilized and dirty. How can people, my people,  even swim, bathe, drink from the waters with these …. these … things go by. I looked again and again. Getting angrier and angrier. More and more disgusted.

Till I questioned myself. What revolted me more ? Yes matters of hygiene, cleanliness, civilization, pollution, respect for the human body etc etc. But was there something deeper ?

Was I looking at true images of the reality of  my own mortality ?  I always imagine my mortality as event. Funeral pyre. Chanting priests etc etc, but often take it further into spiritual ethereality. Ideas encompassing Vedantic philosophies of the body being just an appendage. Of all of life being a mere illusion. Of ‘Time’ never beginning and never ending. Of consciousness being eternal and the true self.

Yes. I have indulged. I have believed. I still do.

But what my whole being was screaming at was me looking at these rotting carcasses , intestines splayed out, half the face missing, bloated out of shape, and visualizing myself. This was ultimately my body/carcass. May just as well be.  Casually floating by as life goes on. People praying, swimming, traveling on boats, laughing, bathing as my body/carcass floated by unnoticed.  The casualness of it was unacceptable.

But then Death is casual. These were not bodies of people caught in a war zone, or in concentration camp. These were bodies/carcasses of people trapped in the ordinariness of life. And of Death. And that overwhelming feeling of panic is what I wanted to always remember. So I put it down in all honesty.

And then I realized. I , who speak about life and death in so many philosophical terms. Have written words and poems about them. I have yet not been able to come to terms with the ordinariness of Mortality.

That my perception of the carcass/body should be no different from that of a leaf that is drying and about to be crushed back into the earth. Why do I see one as beauty and the other with disgust, other than for reasons of my addiction to my body ?

I will still fight for the Ganga to be cleaned. For bodies not to be thrown into the river. For pollution to be stopped. For standards of hygiene to be raised. Even as I know that the people that are throwing the body into the Holy River are doing so because they are unable to afford firewood for the funeral.

I will fight, but knowing that in its most confrontational avatar, the Holy Ganges gave me lesson. About my addiction to my body, and the fear of its decay,

‘Cancer Express’ starts from my home: Poisoning of Punjab by Gurpreet

Cancer Express originates from my home.

I live in Bathinda. The heart of Malwa region of Punjab ! and I am not proud to say that I live there. why should I be???

While traveling from delhi to Bathinda I met a guy from south. he said that he is working in an insecticides comapny. it had to close its factory in south coz people were demonstrating against them. and now shifting to Punjab coz govt is helpful (we all know how) there. even maximum consumption is also there. I felt horrified and ashamed at the same time.

Pesticides are sold like hot cakes. no recommendations by the experts but greedy shopkeepers are selling them with their prescriptions ! Even four to six sprays are done. and this poison goes to the soil and then to the underground water. and slowly to our blood. most of the cancer cases are in the villages where these pesticides are used.

Govt is totally involved with these multinational pesticide companies.

The other major wrong practice followed is giving banned injection to the buffaloes in order to have more milk from them. these poor animals bodies becomes fully toxic. an when they die villagers throw them to an open place where dogs and birds eat them. but now almost all the birds are died because of these poisonous and highly toxic  dead bodies of animals. sparrows have finished coz of eating poisonous grains from the fields.

Third to be discussed is poisonous vegetables and fruits. I have seen my self a farmer giving the same injection to watermelons which they give to the buffaloes. with these injections these fruits and veggies grows very fast and large. but gives poison to us !
In all these three cases only one power works behind and that is…


We want more production, more money more quick !!!!

What if ? data, intuitive search and emotion

I was watching the Google co founder  Sergei Brin presenting Google Glasses at SF conference  . It was quite a presentation and here are some  incredible images shot by Google Glasses by skydivers. Other than the opportunities in filmed drama, I thought what if.

What if every person on this planet had Google Glasses ? With Google Street camera’s prowling the cities, and Google Earth Satellites snooping at us from the skies. What if Google Earth went live streaming,  and standing in the middle of the Sahara Desert you could wave to your girl friend in New York. Hold a placard saying you were about to drop dead of thirst in a few minutes, but your dying thoughts were about her ?

What if ?

What if there was no place to hide. Somewhere their was a camera looking at you, snooping on you? But not being a conspiracy theorists (Sergie Brin does not look like the Devil does he?), I was thinking about something far deeper. Somewhere , in some amazing date center, guzzling power needed for other, more life saving activities, all these images are going to be recorded. Thats an amazing amount of data.

What is the world going to do with this data ?  And how are you going to analyse it all to make some sense of it ?

In terms of futurology and technology that problem is of course, is already here, Google Glasses are already dated. In a previous post I had spoken about the future of the Camera.  The Camera is after all nothing but a data gathering device. It’s biggest drawback is that it can only ‘see’ and record date from one point of view. In the future a ‘Camera’ will be a device that will stream out millions of Nano Particles, each sensitive to different attributes : light, sound, color, shades, temperature, odor, shapes etc. Each of the Nano particles will bounce off every object and reflect back the information to ‘listening’ device that we currently call the camera, that will capture all the data.

Imagine a film maker ‘shooting’ a party scene. He/she will set up the scene with the actors and the production design and let the Nano Particles gather all the information. Not just dialogue and actor performances, but also what was behind the actors, the scene from every conceivable angle, their perfume, their body temperatures. Everything. Happy with what the film maker ‘saw’ he would go to his ‘edit room’ with all the data. Much much more than his senses could pick up.

How will the film maker now analyse and interpret this data ? I dont want to be in that film makers shoes.

The analysis and interpretation of data is a fundamental process of learning, of life, all necessary for survival, for social intercourse and for ordered behavior of any species. Without the instinctive ability to instantly sift through the data, to know what is important at that moment, neither a hunter nor the hunted could survive. Without this ability all actions with be random and civilization would be doomed.

I am sitting in a coffee shop at this moment. There are pretty girls walking through that catch my attention, the smell of coffee and food, the music in the background, people I know and those that I don’t, the TV showing the Pakistan/Sri Lanka cricket match. Thirst, hunger, the need for coffee, the conversation in the next table, the itch in my foot. All stimuli coming at me, while I am writing this. Yet I can almost instinctively isolate data that is important to me from instant to instant and yet make sense of the world around me.

I do all of this without thinking of how. I do it intuitively.

I do it for the needs I have for that moment. Those needs mostly driven by emotional impulses. Which is why I don’t have to think about it. Emotional impulses drive intuition that drives my ability to analyse and respond to specific data instantly. The greater the emotional impulse, the more acute the selection of data.

Of course artists and film makers have known this for a long time. We cajole the emotional impulse of viewers through techniques of close ups, wide shots, drama, dialogue, violence, sex, background score etc to drive the emotional impulse and therefore ‘data selection’ to where we want audiences to be.

Now back to all the data being generated through the internet. Far far more information beamed to us than ever before. Reams of business analysis now claim that the next big thing is not just ‘search engine’ but intuitive search engines. But how ? What is intuitive to you is not intuitive to me. What is intuitive to me at this moment is not intuitive to me the next. Simply because my need has changed. I no longer need to scratch that itch on the palm of my hand, so I can go back to smelling my food and realize I am hungry.

The contest between a hunter and it’s prey in the jungle probably has a far greater amount of information to process far faster than all the data that is being thrown at us currently. Because one is hungry and needs to eat to survive, the other needs to escape to survive.  Pure emotion of that instant. Need based.

How does one then develop tools that analyze data for us that are need based, emotion based. For only then we will come upon the next big thing in ‘Search’. In fact would it be ‘search’ at all ?  Would there need to be more provocation ? Will the future ‘Search Engines’ be less laid back and be far more provocative ? Entice us into emotional game playing that then leads us into ‘Search?’

Will Video Games and Search Engines be combined into one technology ? In fact, will Social Media, Video Games and Search Engines all be combined into one technology, driven by emotion ?

Ok, this is all free thinking, hoping all of you will come and contribute. The next in this series will be what form these SearchEngines/Video Games will take  …. Over to you guys.


Rather, I have the power to wish : by Eshla

Can I help you with that?

I wish I could.
I wish I could grant you peace.
I wish I could create joy for you.
I wish I could take your worries.
I wish I could digest your fears.

For this is not merely empathy,
This is love,
This is friendship,
That too in its most crude form.

For I bear no gifts.
I dont bring presents.
I don’t have those.
Nor can I afford them.
Nor do I believe in such pleasantries.

Rather I have the power to wish
And the will to make it real.

So, I will wish for my friend.
I will wish for you.
For it is the only thing I can give-  a hope, a dream.

Because reality says I cannot wipe out your sorrows,
I cannot lift your pains,
I cannot rectify the injustices.

I cannot.
That is your path, I’m told.
That is your journey to endure.

But I will rest my hand on your back,
And I will wish,
Wish that it were not so,
Wish that my feet fit in your shoes.
Small or large,
I wish that I could drag them along a foreign path,
So that you may rest your tired soles.

For it’s only a wish that I can gift you.
But that wish encapsulates every bit of my being.

I wish,
And I believe.
I believe that such kindness makes wishes bear fruit.

In defense of Rajat Gupta

Yes of course I am prejudiced. Rajat and I are from the same school. I have known him for many years, and though I cannot say I was one of his closest, his profile being far too big for that, I still shared a warm relationship with him and his family.

The problem of being friends with Rajat was that you can not help but admire him. Admiration creates a thin wall between friends that never really allows you to be too intimate. You admire Rajat for his sheer breadth of vision and knowledge. But you also do so because every one else does. It did not matter that the person you spoke to was a Head of State, a CEO of a Forbes top 10 Company, an NGO that benefited from his tireless support, the name Rajat Gupta inspired awe and appreciation.  I have heard Rajat constantly described as a Rock Star by young management students who aspired to emulate him.

So why did Rajat Gupta not make deal with the US justice department, accept guilt and pay  a fine ? Yes , his reputation would have suffered.  But a man with his capability would have soon put the past behind him and create new paths that were equally productive to himself and society ? Yes, there would be no more high profile Board positions, but any number of Institutions and Corporations would still beg for Rajat’s talents.

Why then go down the path and sue the SEC itself and risk being prosecuted in court? Why risk a jail sentence ?

Because this was not just about Rajat Gupta. Not just about him and his family. Rajat actually believed in all that he stood for. He believed in the institutions he helped build. He believed in the system that allowed him to express his hard work and talent. Rajat went to court and risked everything to try and uphold all that he believed in, so the world would not lose faith in the very institutions he believed in.

And he lost.

He lost to an environment of hostility. To a world rightfully angry at banks and Wall Street, ready to bring down the so called  upper echelons of privilege. But also a world that failed to see the vast difference between the intent and modus operandi of Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Hedge Fund and Rajat Gupta.

Rajat  believes he is not guilty. As do I and all his friends. But the courts found him guilty in face of ‘overwhelming evidence’ and we have to  accept that, circumstantial as that  evidence might be.  I hope he wins his appeal, and if in the outside chance that he does not,  his (unjustified) prison sentence is very short.

The world needs people with the talent, foresight and commitment like Rajat Gupta.

Advertising in the changing world of Social Media

The argument for advertising is compelling. It gives information. It increases competition. It creates awareness of alternatives and brands.   It creates brands that people aspire to and therefore drives consumerism which is good for the economy.

Today the same arguments against advertising are equally if not more compelling. It gives misinformation.  It tries to replace awareness by subtle messages targeting consumer’s fears, insecurities and self worth, especially kids.  It actually tries to decrease competition. It drives a false consumerism that is environmentally unsustainable, especially on issues like water etc.

The truth lies somewhere in between.  But increasingly the consumer and communities are beginning to doubt the intentions of the advertiser. While the advertising professional is getting better at selling his/her product, they are doing a terrible job of selling themselves as people working honestly towards the good of the community they claim to serve. And in doing so they are serving their clients badly.

As the world becomes increasingly competitive, and quarterly results and stock market valuations drive corporations towards profitability at all cost, consumers and advertisers are moving dangerously apart.  And the loss will be completely the advertisers if they continue to do so.

Much of the reason is Social media. Advertising usually looks deeply into the mind of a single consumer and creates within him/her a desire to buy a product. All advertising affects the community of course, but it is believed that ‘chatter’ will come slower and later.  Rarely has advertising reached out to large communities unless they are public service ads. Of which they are many great ones.  The advertising professional is just not trained for dealing with the size of communities being created by Social Media, and certainly not the speed at which they relate/share/chatter with each other.  Before they realize it, the message has spread and could turn negative even as the initial Media Buy has not played itself out.

A great case of community creation is the Apple Brand.  Of course the product is great 🙂 (I’m a fan)  , but it created a cultural following that allows it to put great premium on its product and thereby become the most valuable companies in the world. So much that the founder Steve Jobs became a cultural icon. Comparable only to Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory !

However culture is very very sensitive to change.  Which explains why Apple was so quick to explain/redress the news that the Apple brand was being supported by malpractices in use of Chinese labor.  Social Media opinion can turn a wave into a tidal wave and even into a tsunami before you can counter it. And that tsunami is about to hit a lot of advertising that is not realizing the sheer strength of a community and its power in Social Media that can overturn the best laid marketing plans.

Nestle’s would have never sustained with it’s campaign in Asia to against  mothers milk in favor  of powdered milk for as long as it did if Social Media was around at that time.  Social issues are hugely predominant in Social Media as information is actively shared. The community will express itself with force.

So what do you do if you are an advertiser ? How do you promote your product/brand in a world where Social Media is exploding ?

a. You must be far more sensitive to the community. You must find ways to relate to them from within the community to understand their fears and desires.

b. Talking to communities from within the community rather than from outside as Advertising tends to do will be really important. You relate amongst the community rather than outside  it.  Those days when genius minds sat on a table churning out brilliant ideas that will take over the minds and hearts of the consumers are numbered. The new ‘advertising  genius’ is socially aware, caring, emotionally connected and active member of the community who ‘serves’ and not ‘manipulates’

c. Always be aware and sensitive to messages from the community when they are mere waves, and before they turn into tidal waves. If the community is trying to tell you something, listen. Understand.  Don’t wait for marketing feed back reports. Social Media is a great listening post, and is usually free. The advertising professional  is too used to thinking of the community as targets – target groups , target demographics etc. Communities have begun to resent being targeted.

Advertising is becoming more and more suspect in the collective mind of communities. Often with good reason. If there is to be honor in advertising, the professional must evaluate him/herself as a caring and concerned part of the well being of the community.  And act according to that.

Social Media offers huge opportunities too. Interaction with the community could help create a ‘Social Brand Identity’ which is far more powerful than just a Brand Identity. It could do more.  Active participation with the community could help product development for your client too. This is just the beginning.

I go to Cannes Lions to speak on these and other issues, and welcome comments/debates on this forum from advertising/creative professionals.

Are Cell Phone Towers ‘cooking’ us ? From Ganesh

Another subject that has been bothering me much is about the ‘Radiation Dangers’Magda Havas demonstrates how WiFi connects your laptop, iPhone and iPad to the internet via microwave radiation. You will also learn how WiFi base stations, portable phones and baby monitors constantly radiate microwave radiation. The Swiss Government feels that all of these devices have the potential to do great harm if used incorrectly and warn their citizens.

Please watch the brief youtube video on the subject:

This is another longer video on on Cell / Transmission Towers & Your Health:

I have a Huge BSNL tower just next to my house? He has also given a portion of the building to the local BJP counselor, whose only primary motto is to distribute sarees for votes. I doubt, he himself is aware of these hazards and is even bothered about these!

I was discussing with my friend, about these huge Telephone towers found in many residential areas. It is no secret these days how harmful there towers are. My friend told me that in India they use primitive technology that radiates high radiations and are extremely dangerous for everyone, and even more specifically for pregnant woman and babies. I asked, if it is so dangerous why is the government allowing these things on? he said, the companies have invested huge monies in all these towers and unless they are able to recover their costs, they are only going to hold us on ransom. For the companies, money is important than the people. For the government, their power is important than people.

I guess, cigarate smoking is much better than these radiations (just kidding) some time back the media had some reports regarding these towers, but there was no response, and, thereafter, the media themselves forgot about all these. There are more interested in sensationalism than real welfare.

We are living in dangerous times. Where just meditation is not enough. These radiations definitely interfere with our mental energies.

I have noticed over the past 10 years how so many people, who previously had good memories have become totally forgetful and easily distracted.

Perhaps the digital age itself is partly to blame, because in these days of instant communication memory is not required as much (most of it in my experience being unnecessary chatter), but I am almost sure that the radiation from these towers is not helping matters.

I was told that some westerner brought a detector from the west and measured the output from the towers. According to the story I was told, they were either 1600 or 16,000 times the radiation level permitted in the west.

We are all being slowly cooked from the outside by the sun and the inside by the microwaves.

Can we do anything? Let us hope that it improves.


Thanks to you, my friend, by Eshla.


There are days that I wish to empty myself.  Empty myself of everything.

Of all the clutter that distorts.


So I can make room to breathe.

So I can make room to imagine.

So I can make room to love.

So I can make room to forgive.

So I can make room to listen,

to listen to you that is.



to your worries,

to your fears,

to your aspirations,

to your hopes,

to your dreams,

to your passions.


That way, I have little to do but be still,

be silent,

be kind,

be empathetic,

as I listen to you.


And in understanding you,

I become me again,

I become hopeful,

I become gentle,

I become uncluttered,

I become quiet.


For your wishes

are like mine.

For your dreams

are like mine.

For your fears

are like mine.

And so my hesitations are silenced.


I no longer wish to be empty.

Rather, I want to be drenched,


in the beauty of life.


Thanks to you, my friend.