Friday, April 28, 2017

Yellow Wall, Red Door!


Today marks the completion of the first year in our new home.

It has been a wonderful year. This being the first home that we built from, almost, scratch, there are interesting lessons we learnt.

As there is always a potential that one of my readers may end up building their own home, I thought it prudent to list down few of my learning.

Don’t rush things:

I pride myself as a quick shopper. I spend 7 minutes in any hypermarket for grocery shopping. That includes car stop to car start. Other purchases are equally brutal. In no shop, do I spend more than 10 minutes. The 7 minutes limit I have, stretches to 10 when the girl behind the counter warrants it with her shape and looks.

This is achieved by keeping choices simple. Shoes are black. Trousers are gray or black. Shirts are white. The rest are ordered on Amazon.

I extended the same logic to buying a property. The home that we now dwell in for a year was the third one we saw, of a total of 4. Left to myself, I would never have reached #2.

I saw the first property, a beautiful wooden structure, with lush green gardens and a terrific garage, and I decided that it would be my home. That it was already 15 years old and it was a good 14 kms from city centre had to be explained to me, by a friend,  before I kissed it goodbye.

The second was virgin land. Being developed by a builder. He was ready to combine two plots and make an independent home. The original project was meant to be a row of houses.

A cluster of matchboxes is what my daughter called it.

We had a huge row and she almost broke down crying. To this date I do not know why I fought for it. My daughter 28 years my junior, patiently explained how a home in the middle of a cluster of matchboxes is still not a home, in the real home sense, and how would I react to the shrieking of the kids from the basketball court, which would have been sharing the boundary with what would have become our home.

It was only after she said that I noticed that there was a school next door.

The third was what would eventually become our home. But the first time I saw that I was like “meh”. No way.

So much work to do.

Forget it.

Did not even cast a second look.

Closed and left with polite thankyous.

The fourth was another “love-at-first-sight”. What my wife called a place fit for banshees to dwell. The place was dark and a reasonably big part of the house was below the ground level. It had a horror film backyard. With a creaking swing dangling from a forlorn tree. One of my friends once commented that I have vampire blood due to my aversion to bright spaces and sunlight. Probably the reason why I loved this place!

Ever the democratic family we sat down to evaluate the 4. After a lot of due diligence we zeroed in on #3, to my absolute horror. The logic was that it was a blank canvas and we could paint what we wanted. Unbeatable logic.

Only catch was I did not want to paint any canvas!

I agreed with a heavy heart. I looked at the jobs left to be finished, the shamble around the house that needed to be levelled to become a garden, the entire second floor was a football field. It gave us the freedom to design it specifically how we wanted it, but at that moment I saw only additional work.

It took us 3 months to select the right property. Looking back now, it was wort it.

Lesson learnt #1: Don’t rush it.

As my daughter patiently explained to me as she would to a small child “Dad, you are 51, this is probably the last property that you will buy and develop, why the rush”

The devil is in the details:

The two simplest things I did were paying the erstwhile owner and hiring a builder to finish my home.

Hiring a builder also would have been “meet-the-first-guy-explain things- a little negotiation-and close” affair.

But another friend of mine insisted on floating a tender and asking for quotations and we involved two parties who gave the identical sum after two months of negotiations / clarifications and we finally decided on the guy I decided at the beginning, but after a thorough and laborious process.

Honestly this two month period did drop the price.

And I thought I was done.

I have a semi-finished home and I am paying a builder, so all I need is move in after 4 months. Simple, right?

Wrong.

The number of things that needed to be selected and approved is mind numbing.

The tiles.

The size of the tiles.

The colour of the tiles.

The wall colour.

Which shade.

Doors.

Outside colour of the house.

The pavement around the house.

The fence.

The gate.

The railings.

The light fittings.

Position of the switch boards.

Number of switches.

The garage.

The wood colour of the garage.

The fire place.

The tiles around the fire place.

False walls.

Additional walls.

Sliding doors.

Do the doors open inside or outside?

The above questions are from the builder who has been paid to do this job.

His logic, supported by that of my wife and daughter, is the same. The builder’s job is to execute and the selection comes back to us, as we are the ones who will be living in the home.

And the selection is almost impossible.

A combination of about 200 colours (I know only 7), 70 designs/patterns and price range from 400 to 10,000 per unit (The unit could be pieces, square meter, meters, kilograms, liters).

Simple mathematics puts the combinations at about 5 to 10 million!!!!

Add to this a long distance daughter who wields veto power over the selection/combination.

We, my wife and I,  were very close to divorce on more than one occasion.

My question, which is still the most logical to me, that why not have one tile and one colour for the whole home, was discarded even without a cursory acknowledgement.

There has to be a perfect marriage between the ruthless efficiency of a man and the perennial dawdling of a woman to finish this enterprise.

But as each room takes shape and when you are able to see the lifeless tiles come alive in the pattern that you conceived, the hours spent suddenly becomes meaningful.



Lesson #2. There is no short cut here. The variety needs to be explored, the budget needs to be relaxed at times and hours need to be spent. The famous 7 minute rule must be forgotten for a few months.

You must make the visits for

Tiles

Flip through shades of paint

Doors

Light fittings

Pavement tiles
……….

Devil is in the details, avatar 2.

This comes under the guise of built-in furniture.

When you inherit the empty canvas the flip-side is that there is no limit to the imagination. The other members of your family conceive of ideas of how the furniture should be built in permanently. Here there is a catch. Each member has a weak spot and there is no way one can deride or downplay another aspect without putting your soft spot in peril.

The daughter supports the walk-in closet, the wife dreams of her kitchen while you fantasise on your bar.

No one gives an inch and this part is quickly settled and usually ends up the most expensive part of the deal.

Each gloats about what they managed at the completion of the home. And one year later this furniture still gets categorised as mother’s kitchen, dad’s bar etc..
As with most of the things that you conceive by your own imagination the end result is usually fabulous.



Devil is in the details, avatar 3.

This is the killer.

This is the furniture part, the piecemeal part.

Left to me I would have finalised 3 identical cots, 12 identical chairs, 3 identical tables (one of them the dining table)2 identical sofas and few, identical, center tables.

Only a fool would expect this to come true.

“Each room must have a theme dad” – this was my daughter.

For the first time in their history of 23 years of co-existence my daughter and my wife were in agreement and united.

One man against one woman is a mismatch and is a closed chapter when it is against two women.

I walked and walked and walked the length and breadth and the width and the depth and floors of this furniture shop. Even a dying deer delivers a last feeble kick when life is drained by the suffocating crushing clamp of the jaws of a tiger around its neck. And so did I deliver one ultimatum. All furniture shall be bought in one shop. I shall not jump from one shop to another.

A mistaken false stand. This one shop is equivalent to at least 5 of the biggest shops I had seen in my life.

I travelled from the displays of living room to dining room to bed rooms to studies to outside seating to cupboards to centre tables to sofas to ……..

Despite my resolution to finish the shopping in one go (a futile meaningless target) I ended up visiting the same shop three times and later bought additional pieces from other shops.

Lesson learnt #3: Leaning on a cliché - A baby takes 9 months after conception. The same is true for furniture for your home.The time spent is exactly the same, whether you do it in one attempt, two attempts or multiple visits.

Planning multiple visits judiciously yields better results and lesser arguments.

And one additional information. Never buy the mattress that comes with the bed from a furniture shop. A furniture shop is good for making a bed, not a mattress.

I slept fitfully for almost one year and woke up most mornings with a sore back before I bought a correct mattress from a mattress shop.

Few hours saved in initial shopping and the convenience of all under one roof resulted in a yearlong aching back.

All that you need after everything is in:

Sounds like a paradox.

These are stuff that you need after you think you have covered everything.

Stools.

Small boxes.

Holders.

Hooks.

Mops.

Ladders. (a small one if you already have a big one and vice versa)

Additional plug sockets.

Flex boxes.

Key-chains.

Candle stands.

Movement sensors for the garage.

Solar lamps on the outside, along the walkway.

I am still buying stuffs one year later so I do not know if it ever officially ends.

The blasted garden:

Numerous picture postcards and movies have forever spoilt our mental image with a perfectly manicured lawn, neat flower beds and various, perfectly positioned trees.

What you get after few months of toil is an uneven patch of overall green with lumps of grass inter-spaced with glaring bald patches. A conspicuous weed (not the smoking type, the unwanted weed), non-uniform flower plants, and conifers of horrendous dimensions and differing heights is all that you get.

After months of toil you wish you had spent additional money on concreting the whole damn thing. That would have been best value for money.

But all I have now is a miniature forest with a mind of its own and a land that is fertile to unwanted plants and barren to all the flowers plants we painstakingly plant, water and nurture.

It is too late to concrete the place now.

One rose in the whole summer and spring, few coloured leaves in the autumn and three apples in the summer justify the need of the garden to my wife.

Add to this bounty few random vegetables that grow more by accident than by design, the garden is here to stay.

Whether you like it or not.

The unfinished remains unfinished.
This is the golden rule. You move to your home because you do not want to wait till everything is in place.

Plus you have well-wishers who advice you “Move in, the remaining things will happen over a period”

This never happens.
Things that are not completed before you move in, usually take longer to get completed and sometimes remain incomplete forever.

Seating in the sit out, a swing in the balcony, an automatic gate… they all remain at the same stage as it was when you moved in.

Best part is throwing things out

One of the best parts in building a new home and shifting gives you a golden opportunity to throw away things that you would otherwise not do.

The secret is in packing things from your old place after you send your wife to the new place. You should be the packer and she should be the one who unpacks.

A shrug of your shoulder, palms upward and outstretched is your answer when your wife asks you “What happened to the ….?” for nearly five months after you have moved to the new home.

You remember exactly where did you throw that damn thing away while packing but feigning amnesia is the best strategy.

Improve quality of life.

This may sound a little far-fetched, but is really possible.

Individual homes and personal choices are different.

Hence this can’t be considered as a golden rule.

I will give one example from our life.

In our new home, we placed the TV in the drawing room on the first floor.

In the one year that we have spent in our new home, we must have watched a total of 20 hours of TV. (most of them UEFA CL matches)

Reaching home and switching on the TV for news is a habit that had died and yielded additional hours for us to talk.
(all right and to fight, argue too…..)

Give in to a bit of madness

Not everything can be planned.

Not everything should be planned.

A chance conversation could be a key.

Our discussions to decide the décor of the kitchen wall facing the living room led to some serious mad ravings. One challenged another, some provocation took place. We slowly transited from comfortable monotony to outrageous atrocity.
This was the only part of the home that my son participated in.

The result is now the talk of the town.

Be mad.

It is good.


And one last bit of advice.

Plan on such an investment when your son is in the final school year.


He cared two hoots and it was easier handling one hyperactive child instead of two.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sense of Humour

The dictionary definition goes “the trait of appreciating and being able to express the humorous”

We all know that we need this to survive in this world. It makes the world a better place.

Despite the universal acceptance of its need, no other trait has been more misunderstood than this one, and I shall set out to explain my understanding of this particular trait.

What is it?

Unlike a specific skill, like playing football, this one is a bit generic in nature, and subjective, and like most subjective things, is not easy to assess.

You can look at a Ronaldo or a Messi and declare “Ha! There is a fine footballer”

One can’t say, looking at a person, “Ha! Here is a guy with sense of humour”. One needs to have a deeper understanding of that person, over a period of time, under trying circumstances.

To understand what it is, it is always easier to understand first what it is not.

It is not
  • Cracking jokes at the expense of another person, like highlighting the person’s deficiency, exaggerating an event, downplaying a person’s capability. (recall Trump mimicking the reporter with disability)
  • Being vulgar
  • Ability to merely recite jokes
  • Dig into the limited repertoire of anecdotes from the past, often imaginary, to regale the audience (often repeated under the influence of alcohol, so one gets to hear the same story many times over)
  • Bullying hapless individuals, at times children, to a point of their embarrassment and other’s merriment.
  • Trapping inarticulate individuals into clever wordplay

In a nutshell, it is NOT one’s ability to evoke laughter at the expense of another individual.

Let us now explore what must be considered as true sense of humour.

As a trait it is one’s ability to evoke a laughter under the even most trying situation.

The ability to sow optimism when the future looks bleak.

The ability to remember a joke, relevant to the topic, and graceful narration of the same to ease the situation and improve the atmosphere.

The ability to diffuse a tense situation.

The ability to inspire confidence in another person to approach you with their troubles.

The best example of a great sense of humour for me has been the role played by Roberto Benigni in the film Life is Beautiful.

He is in a situation where he is confined to a concentration camp, where he had to protect his son.

He has two options.

Tell the son the horrors of Nazi-Jew situation, scare him into submission, hide him successfully and somehow hope he gets out alive.

Or, be so positive and concoct stories, dispel fears with vivid imagination, that the son has no other option but to keep smiling even in the face of the most dire situations.

As anyone who has seen this masterpiece knows, he chooses the latter. (Those who have not seen the film, drop everything, including reading this blog, and go watch the film)

The best part of his method is that the son gets out with positivism, not morose with negative feelings and hatred for some.

Two scenes stand out in that wonderful film.

The first where he steps forward to, impromptu, translate the arrival instructions given out by the commandant to ensure that his son hears what he wants him to hear.



The second is, even in the face of such a calamity, he hoodwinks his son into hiding, in order to save him, and expose him to the risk of capture and subsequent death.



With his sense of humour he manages to win his love, make his son believe in humanity (no more spiders and visigoths), make his son survive the camp and succeed in getting his son leave the camp alive and with no hatred inside him.

It is because of his extreme positivism and exemplary sense of humour, which stems from quick thinking, that the son cries “We have won” even after his father is dead and when he gets reunited with his mother.

A person with a sense of humour should be able to make the others around him bask in the comfort of encouragement and not squirm in the agony of embarrassment.

In summary a sense of humour is the capacity to laugh with not laugh at.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nip it in the bud

We are all control freaks.

There is the obsessive need to control.

At various levels: Parental (captain von Trapp), brotherly (Tom Cruise, Rainman), social circles (Star chamber, Michael Douglas), at the work place (Meryl Streep, Devil wears Prada),mafia boss (De Niro, The untouchables), at national level (Stalin, Churchill…), at global level (The big brother US of A, the self-appointed moral judge of the universe), even in far flung galaxies (Nasa poking its nose in to Jupiter for example or Mangalyaan by Indian Government).

It has been difficult, and of late it is increasingly getting impossible to nurture conflicting thoughts or voice them aloud if they do not fall into a collectively comprehended, approved good.

Dissent is dying.

Slowly but systemically being smothered to death.

Like Carlin once quipped, in his inimitable style, that of a frustrated old man being pissed off by everything, “You believe in God? No. Kaboom. You believe in God? Yes. My god? No. Kaboom”

But to be politically correct, we all say “we encourage dissent”

But often when a colleague/friend/father/boss/leader says “Let’s discuss” it is usually an invitation saying “Let’s argue and let me knock the shit out of you”

A parent has to discipline his kid. It is part of the deal. A child grows up learning what all he can’t do.

Physically harmful things like “Do not touch fire” are ok. Even if you do not caution/admonish, the child will learn.

But, is every restriction warranted.

Don’t use your left hand for writing or eating, is one such. (History, language and religion all have somehow managed to brand left as evil and sinister).

Don’t get involved with the association for the welfare of the refugees. It is morally correct, but risky given today’s general atmosphere.

Take the following study courses, go to this particular college, practice this sport, play this instrument, are you listening to Justin Bieber?, Holy mother of Christ, seriously?, stay away from Adam, befriend Eve, no TV, switch off the mobile…. Yada yada …..

A parent feels complete after administering all the dos and the don’ts.

After all we know better, we have travelled the road, don’t we want what is best for our children…..

Are we certain? How do we know that we do not know everything. That we are probably pushing the rewind and play button of our lives.

The greatest progress in the world had taken place when the minds of the people had the courage to say “I do not know”

The parent feels that he has to nip it in the bud.



How does one know what bud to nip?

Are we sure that we are nipping the bud that needs to be nipped? What if we nip the wrong bud? How strong is our data base that the nipping is 100% foolproof.


I shall not run through the entire gamut listed earlier on, but a few examples are prudent.

Let’s explore the next popular stop: workplace.

It is common knowledge that people often change their jobs because of their bosses.

A place where a new idea is an anathema is not a place to linger on. How can one be productive if he is going to be tied down by bureaucracy and “let’s-play-it-safe”.

And when it comes to nipping it in the bud, bosses and organisations that the bosses try to represent, are the world champions.

The next category, that of leaders, give them a serious competition but the playing fields are not the same. The latter comes with greater mandate and, usually, a shorter reign.

“Don’t come to me with one of your fancy ideas”

“Have you finished writing the next fairy tale”

“Will I get to see one workable idea in my lifetime from you, or is it too much to ask for?”

“Is this what you come up with? My neighbour's son who is dyslexic, could come with something 10 times better than this crap”

These are some of the barbs that are fired in auto mode.

Sarcasm and insensitivity are two great arsenals in the quiver of the boss in his assassin’s role.

Employee turnover then takes them by surprise.

Don’t rattle the boat is their mantra.

Tom Peters (My job is not to motivate my team; it is not to demotivate them) is exchanged for Douglas Jardine


Many fertile, productive, adventurous young minds are nipped in the bud by a scythe wielding boss who defends his actions by claiming to restore stability before potential growth.

“What if” is their strongest counter arsenal to every possibility that one could propose. How can you ever answer all the “what ifs”?

And the what ifs that have a limited damage (financial) as an answer are usually proposals that get the nod and that make the business move at the speed of that of a glacier while the ones with a potential to transform the shape of the business are generally given a burial fit for an entire New Orleans town that was wiped out by Katerina.

The last category that I would like to explore is that of the leaders, by definition responsible for vast masses, and consequently capable of inflicting maximum damage.

Leaders are, against the agreed definition, myopic.

Limited vision driven by limits of geography. They plan all their initiatives based on their nation. A small piece of land cut off from its neighbouring countries by imaginary lines drawn from time to time by other men with different reasons.

A leader initiates his actions by proclaiming a sovereign diktat that it is being done in the best interests of the nation.

He never says for better prospects. It is always the best. He knows it of course.
When the die is cast rendering the action as “the best” everything else in its path must be crushed. One never fails to see use of military terms like “crushed” “annihilated” “squashed” “cut to size”etc… because the intentions are exactly what they convey.

Any opposition shall be crushed.

No room for dissent.

No debates, they are for the queasy intellectuals ensconced in the comforts of academia,

Two factions are formed, one in support and one against. The two factions usually have no influence on the act being enacted. It is already decided as “the best” by the leader and his henchmen.

The media, the administration and the powers at the disposal are all employed to implement the act. The dissents, should they dare rise in public, are quashed, with iron fist if needed. The leader manages to achieve what years of efforts by other vested interests could not manage. He creates “us” and “them,” within us.
And the artificial “us” and “them” never can reconcile to a neutral path. We are forever divided, the later day member of this faction blindly following the established way, not having the slightest clue as to how it originated.

Friends turn foes, division is created in the names of colour of your skin, faith, eating habits*, geographical locations.

(* - there are housing societies in certain cities in India, where you are not allowed to be a tenant if you eat meat)

Ghettos form, unrest grows, at times they end in a successful rebellion, replacing the existing ruler with another one, usually, more abhorrent than the one displaced.

The cycle continues.

The catch phrase of every ruler, without exception, is “In order to clear the field of weeds (a clear analogy for nipping in the bud) I do not mind sacrificing few roses”

Who gives him the authority to sacrifice the few roses? How does he know the nipping is restricted to weed?

How does he even know they are weeds?

All ethnic cleansing have all been categorised as monstrous in hindsight. But while they were being implemented, the collective masses took part gleefully, believing they were doing the right thing. All of them were told to “silence the dissent”

Catholics vs Non-Catholics

Civil war in USA

Systematic ostracizing and elimination of Nomadic Romas in Europe

Albanians in the Balkan wars

Bolshevik vs Cossacks

Nazis vs Jews

Japanese in America vs Americans after Pearl Harbor

Serbs vs Croats

Indian Hindus vs Pakistani Muslims

The Rwandan massacre

The list goes on

The blog is a result of being a witness to the animated discussions of two individuals who accompanied me on my regular trekking to Lysa Hora. 

At times I feared that one of them would throw the other off the mountain, so vehement was their discussion. 

The redeeming factor was that the two could bury the hatchet and drink a Pilsner peacefully at the end of the discussion.

As my daughter, one of the two in discussion, succinctly put – they agreed to disagree, over a beer on amicable grounds.

These two nipped it in the bud, the right bud and at the right time.


Can we say the same about others?