Sunday, November 30, 2014

The equation of his life: A tribute to Dr. James E Jamison, Professor at The University of Memphis

“I am sure that the path that lies before you will have moments of joy and this pain will slowly be pushed away by time.” 

The above words were from an e-mail that my mentor Dr. Jamison had sent me in response to my sharing with him the details of a tough phase that I was going through.  At that time – as with any crisis that I have gone through in the past 16 years that I have known him – he was there for me, assuring me that this too shall pass.  Every time I felt pain of any sort – physical or emotional - he was there to help me push it away with balmy words, thoughtful gestures and above all, his presence.  That reassuring presence.  The way he would lend his broad shoulders to me whenever I needed a shoulder to lean on was as solid as any rock was.  What was even more remarkable was that he did all this despite going through a tremendous amount of physical suffering on and off in the past 14 years ever since he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000.  He went through a lot of physical hardships but his gracefulness was the constant in the equation of his life that was, in his last years, filled with variables of unpredictability.  The unpredictability caused by cancer may have made his life difficult but he continued to infuse the lives of others with warmth, love and compassion.  His sheer love for math, his infinite passion for teaching and the courage with which he faced life…no scratch that, lived his life to the fullest were all things that he, my favorite Professor, taught me by example. 
With his passing away (on Friday, Nov 28), I have lost not only a mentor but also the most steadying influence in my life.  But let me first go on a small trip down memory lane.

I had lived in India till I completed my high-school at which time I migrated to the US with my parents.  In my first semester as an undergraduate student at The University of Memphis, I took Dr. Jamison’s Calculus-I.  (In one of the happiest accidents of my life, I was supposed to be in another section but I was so green that I couldn’t even figure out the error until I received a letter late in the semester stating that I had not attended class all semester.  Of course, I hadn’t…in the section that I was supposed to sit in!  I was in Dr. Jamison’s class!)  A professor in his 50s (at that time), he at first seemed to be a little distant, but unmindful of that, I kept asking questions in the middle of his lectures with a standard opening line, “Dr. Jamison, could I ask you a question?”  But I quickly realized that despite his seemingly gruff exterior, here was a person who truly enjoyed Math and wanted his students to enjoy it as well.  And over the years, he has always ribbed me about my inquisitiveness joking, “I should have never answered your question!  Now you don’t stop!”

He realized that I enjoyed Math but he also quickly found out that a lot of what I had done in India was learning by rote, with little application.  So, he advised me to join the Educational Support Program (ESP) as a Math Tutor to do the best form of in-depth learning - teaching.  He was right because I consider my stint at the ESP as a rich, educational experience.  Even after that semester, I kept in touch with him, always getting solid advice and encouragement in matters of academia and career.  (I even took an Advanced Calculus class with him and was welcomed to class by a smile that probably meant, “There you go!  The Question Master is here!”)  Over time, I started sharing pretty much everything under the sun and far beyond the confines of mere career advice.  As I started sharing the highs and lows of my life, I began to see the highs and lows of his and how he dealt with them with a sunny disposition and a steely resolve. 

A case in point is a phone call that I received from him in 2007.  It was around 10:15 at night, and I picked up the phone and said excitedly, “Dr. Jamison!  What a surprise!  How are you doing?”  He replied, “I am in the hospital.”  My heart sank for a second.  So had his the previous day.  He said, “I was in the gym working out when my heart stopped.   But luckily they used a defribilator to resuscitate me.”  He continued in an almost flippant tone, “Oh, there was no pain!  The heart just stopped.  Anyway, I am going in for a bypass surgery tomorrow.  I am not scared.  I am just thinking good thoughts and I am sure you’ll do the same.”  I was extremely shaken and speechless.  But after I wished him luck for the surgery, I spent the next day praying fervently that everything would go well.  And, luckily, I got good news the following day when I spoke to his wife who said that the surgery had went well.  My mother had visited him in the hospital the next day and told me that he was his usual cheerful self.  Years later, even during his brutal cancer treatments, he remained thankful for all that he had gotten in life and spoke lovingly of how blessed he was to have his family and friends.  As I mentioned earlier, the equation of his life indeed had the unwavering constant of grace. 

In a similar vein, over the past 16 years, the equation of my life had a constant amidst several variables.  That constant was Dr. Jamison’s presence.  Now that that constant has left me, the equation of my life has morphed into an unsolvable inequation.  An inequation invented by a cruel act of nature that has taken away a great man who lived life to the fullest and exhibited grace every step of the way, including the arduous steps out of this world.  To steal his words, the path ahead may have “moments of joy and this pain will slowly be pushed away by time.”  But I won’t have him gently putting his arm over my shoulders to help me push away this pain.  May your soul rest in peace, Dr. Jamison.  I have one last question for you – “Why did you have to leave us so early?”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Inspirations (16 of 25) - Baradwaj Rangan, Film Critic and Author

Let’s assume that you have an annual pass to a museum.  Driven by an inexplicable passion for art, you go there every weekend, roam around and stare at painting after painting.  Each time you look at a particular favorite of yours, you experience a high but struggle to find the right reasons or words to express what it is about the painting that yanks you out of the present and lifts you to a different plane.  But one day, you pick up a newspaper and read an exquisitely crafted write-up on this work of art and it changes your perceptions of art, makes you dig deeper, makes you question certain choices that the artist would have made and helps you engage your intellect as opposed to just your senses.  In this case, is it just the artist that has inspired you?  What about the author of that write-up?  What is his role in your enriching your experience?  Is he an inspiration as well? 

National award winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, through his intelligent, witty and thought provoking essays on film and filmmakers has certainly enriched my movie watching experience manifold.  I wrote about Kamal Hassan earlier in my Inspirations series and how he routinely – for well beyond the duration of a movie - transported me to the worlds that he was creating as a writer and as an actor. (“Mahanadhi” is a case in point.)  But in Rangan, I see a person that will help me traverse the worlds that are created by an actor or a director, respectfully question the paths, twists and turns and yet, never hesitate to express my unabashed admiration and love for the works of a creator. 

With my strong interest in writing and my even stronger interest in watching movies, Rangan’s write-ups make me enjoy my two strong passions to the fullest.  But more importantly, they help me articulate my own thoughts.  I will give you an example.  In his wonderful book, “Conversations with Mani Ratnam,” he routinely discusses casting choices from Vijaykumar in “Agni Natchathiram” to Manisha Koirala in “Bombay” and Jayasudha in “Alai Paayuthey.”  Up until I read the book, I had never quite thought of what may have gone into casting certain actors for certain roles, be it the major or the minor ones.  Then, when I watched “Jigarthandaa” and “Madras” recently, I appreciated one casting choice while questioning another.  In “Jigarthandaa,” one of the hilarious segments involve an acting coach who teaches the basics of acting to a gangster.  A little known character actor was cast in the role.  And, he did quite well too.  But I felt that the director Karthik Subburaj should have chosen a better known actor, say one like Nasser who is known to take acting very seriously and played off his image.  I thought that a well-known face would have lent the role more gravitas.  On the other hand, I liked the fact that Jayabalan (the antagonist from “AadukaLam”) was cast in what was actually a minor role in "Madras."  The fact that his face adorned the huge wall that became the bone of contention to two warring factions in the movie made me appreciate the Director for his choice.  He utilized Jayabalan’s image from “AadukaLam” well and ensured that the wall (with his image) gained a life of its own during the movie.

With his keen observations and thoughtful word choices, he has also made me look at movies that I have loved immensely over the years, through a fresh set of eyes.  His write-up on "Anbe Sivam" and the chapter in his book on “Nayagan” are two examples.  As much as I love “Anbe Sivam” and had come to terms with its minor flaws, he made me think about Kamal’s indulgences as a writer while not losing sight of his wonderful performance as an actor.  And, one of the things that you will notice in his writings is a certain respect for filmmakers that strive to make good, even if flawed, cinema.  His write-ups on Selvaraghavan’s works may make people think that he cuts too much slack for Directors with unique touches but imperfect execution.  But dig deeper, you will see that he does not turn a blind eye to the flaws in, say a “Mayakkam Enna,” a flawed film, yes.  But a fascinating character study nevertheless.  Thanks to his writings, I have been able to think deeper about the disparate elements that combine to make a whole picture rather than just giving a one-dimensional, “I loved it” or “I hated it” kind of a response.  

The intelligence and intellect doesn’t mean that his writing does not have an element of fun.  Wit, understated humor and occasional cheeky irreverence all mark his work.  For instance, he concluded his scathing review of "Anjaan" with the following line - "You go in expecting a meal and you end up with a… toothpick."  

If I were to pick one element of his writings that I generally disagree with, it's his writings on movies and filmmakers from an earlier era.  While he undoubtedly respects a Sridhar or a Sivaji and appreciates a "Motor Sundaram Pillai" and Sivaji's understated acting in that movie, I wish some of his writings would also incorporate some more context and history that may make the current generation appreciate the works of an earlier generation.  For instance, I remember reading that he was not a huge fan of Sridhar's works except for the music and cinematography.  Of course, he is entitled to his opinions of Sridhar's movies.  But I also wish that he had written about how Sridhar's dialogues and direction heralded a new era where conversations were unfussy (as opposed to the dramatic, long-winded dialogues of the "Manohara" days) and how he essentially sparked off a wave of triangular (and sometimes even quadrangular!) love stories.

All said and done, you must be wondering what is so inspirational about a person that helps me experience movies better.  Well, one of my favorite lines in “Sindhu Bhairavi” is one uttered by Suhasini to Sivakumar – “Neenge oru genius; naan oru veri pudicha rasigai!” If you remember that scene, you will remember the kind of high that Suhasini experiences as a rabid fan of music, one who is yearning to learn and evolve…just as a fan, not as a creator.  Well, Rangan helps me channel my ‘veri pudicha rasanai’ for the movies in new ways.  If I am the movie equivalent of the art fanatic roaming the halls of the museum, then he is the newspaper critic giving the wanderer some very good direction!  And that I find to be truly inspirational in its own way.

Start watching at 18:18

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Inspirations (15 of 25) - Music Maestro Ilayaraja

He is a master in a language in which I don’t know even the basic semantics.  His exquisite expressions in the language swayed an entire generation, from the uneducated to the erudite.  Well, can one read a book without understanding the language in which the author wrote it, yet feel exalted, mesmerized or moved?  Probably not.  But when the “book” is a movie score, the “language” music and the “author” Ilayaraja, most definitely, yes!

Before I proceed any further, it makes sense to hear this sample.  This piece is titled “Do Anything” from his album, “How to name it.”  The titles of the track and the album are as arbitrary as they can be.  You and I don’t know the “situation” (in Tamil movie parlance) for which it was composed.  There is no context or content to lead us into this.  But just listen to the piece in its entirety first.

There is something that this piece – which I feel is so symptomatic of Ilayaraja’s music – always does to me.  Whatever mood I am in when I listen to it, it yanks me out of my world for at least a few minutes beyond the duration of the piece and calms me down.  Having practiced yoga for the past seven years, I am reasonably aware of my breathing patterns and my centeredness (or the lack thereof, at times!) and it is absolutely no overstatement to say that this piece has a meditative effect on me.  The piece starts out with the gentle melody of the flute and from the time the group of violins play right up to the crescendo reached by the rustic part of this piece, there are so many emotional notes that the piece hits that different pieces touch me the most depending on my mindset at the time of listening. 
In one of the best books on filmmaking, “Conversations with Mani Ratnam,” Ratnam makes a wonderful point on how well-placed songs in a movie heighten the mood or the emotion that the filmmaker is striving for and essentially provide the audience with an abstract, stylized way of experiencing that high.  He makes this point when explaining why he didn’t place a song in the Karthik flashback in “Mouna Raagam” and how that high was attained by the scenes themselves, hence rendering a song redundant.   But take the same movie and two splendid, elevating songs tuned by Ilayaraja.  The first one is “Nilave Vaa” which starts right after the wife demands a divorce from the husband in the first week of marriage.  Aided by the Late Vaali’s marvelous lyrics (“Ammadiyo Neethaan Innum Siru Pillai…Thaangathamma Nenjam Neeyum Sonna Sollai”), Ilayaraja’s tune and SPB’s singing all combine to give the perfect end to that sequence.  Ditto for the “Chinna Chinna Vannakuyil” which represents an even more interesting situation.  The wife that had once described her husband’s touch as “kumblipoochi oorra maadhiri irukku,” has now fallen in love with him and makes eye contact for a fleeting moment after she bumps into the husband.  Without a song, it is hard to imagine how the filmmaker could have meaningfully ended this sequence.  Instead, starting with S. Janaki’s “la la la…” the music joyfully and tastefully conveys the ecstasy felt by the wife.  A combination of the lilting tune, Janaki’s lovely rendition, Revathy’s graceful emoting and some beautiful lines (“Puriyaadha Aanandham Pudhidhaaga Aarambam”) form the most eloquent explanation of the wife’s silence.  What better way for a “Mounam” to pave the way for a “Raagam?”  Moviemaking is an audio-visual medium and this kind of perfect harmony of audio and visuals has truly enhanced how I have felt during and after a movie.

Of course, to just describe Ilayaraja’s penchant for melody is hardly doing justice to the astonishing variety of his oeuvre.  In the late 70s and 80s, at his peak, he was equally at ease helping us experience the poetry of Bharathiraja’s creations, enjoy the mindless guilty pleasure of SP Muthuraman’s masala films and relish the complex musical subjects of Balachander.  Ever since the grand arrival of AR Rehman, his outputs have been limited and even quite underwhelming in terms of quality.  But Ilayaraja’s background scores for movies continue to be a treasure.  The music in this sequence (watch from the 18:38 min point) from “Sethu” is enough proof of how his music can elevate a sequence.  Director Balki, at an audio release function, played a sequence from “Paa,” first without music and then with Ilayaraja’s background score.  Try doing the same for this sequence and you will know how Director Bala was able to make us understand Vikram’s feelings for Abitha without a single line of dialogue. 

Cinema and music are both escapist mediums.  But the escape from reality doesn’t have to always be condemned or even looked down upon.  Especially if in the way creators such as Ilayaraja express themselves help us experience our own emotions in a heightened, wondrous manner, the escape journey is well worth the time we invest in it.  After all, the ways in which art can uplift us are sometimes as ineffable as the language in which the artists do so. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Inspirations (14 of 25) - Ravi Shastri, former cricketer

“Ravi Shastri maximized what God gave him,” said commentator Harsha Bhogle in an interview.  It is perhaps the most perfect summation of a man who has polarized opinions like few other, yet was a vital, if underappreciated, cog in the Indian cricket wheel of the 1980s.  It was a wheel full of incredibly talented cogs that didn’t always work in concert with one another.  It was a wheel that occasionally spun in the right direction and achieved notable successes but to me, the Indian cricket saga of the 1980s, especially from 1986-90 was a story of how much further the wheel could have traveled had the cogs been realigned.

On youtube, if you search for videos of Shastri batting, you unfortunately will find only one rather unflattering post of a Shastri innings of 10 off 63 balls, that too in an ODI.  Yes, you read that right – 10 off 63 balls!  Yes, that’s one fifth of the innings consumed for 10 runs (that funnily enough includes a boundary!)  Yet, the video is a sad representation of a man who not only hit six sixes in an over in a first class match but also, when backed by the team management and selectors, could go anywhere from being a dour opener to a very useful lower order hitter.  Sure, there is no excuse for an innings of 10 off 63 balls.  The truth is there were days when Shastri could not get the ball off the square.  There were days when Shastri could not bring himself to run quick singles.  Heck, there were days when Shastri could not bring himself to get out and end his (and the spectators’) misery.  But if you carefully look at the statistics of his career and try to get some context for some of his awful miscalculations, you will quickly realize that it is mostly concentrated in the last part of his career.  To understand Shastri’s failures in the last two or three years of his career (the notable exception being his typically solid-but-not-spectacular 206 at Sydney where he made a mess of Shane Warne’s debut) is to understand the failures of the Indian cricket system.  But a bit of context first…

The first five years of Shastri’s career offered ample evidence of his ability to adapt and to evolve.  In his debut series against NZ in 1981, he was primarily an off spinner who could bat lower in the order.  By 1983, he opened the batting against Pakistan, in Pakistan, and scored 128.  By 1985, he alternated between opening the batting and batting in the middle order (in Tests and ODIs), his off spin was marginally effective but the most important development was that he had become vice-captain by the age of 23.  Mentored and backed to the hilt by Sunil Gavaskar, Shastri came into his own as an effective, thinking cricketer who was an integral part of the think tank and was built up to be the future captain.  Gavaskar stepped down as the captain after the victorious 1985 WCC and Kapil Dev took over with the hope that he would recreate the magic and deliver on the promise of the 1983 World Cup win.  But if you dig deeper, you will see that Kapil rarely had the smarts as the captain.  What he could do was lead the way with stunning performances with the bat or ball but it was very rare that Kapil could stomp his authority as a captain through an intelligent tactical move or an inspired choice of selection.  By 1986, Dilip Vengsarkar had become one of the best batsmen in the world, stylishly crafting century after century.  The powers of Indian cricket, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the best player in the team would become captain.  So, after the fiasco of the 1987 World Cup, Kapil was sacked and Vengsarkar became captain.  As Harsha Bhogle notes in his biography of Azhar, the two year grooming period of Shastri was completely wasted. 

What Shastri possessed were a shrewd mind and a go-getter spirit.  Where Vengsarkar won over was in sheer batting talent.  It poses a very interesting question – who should lead a team?  A less talented but smart youngster or a more senior, more talented but less astute leader?  Save a home series win against a NZ side, Vengsarkar’s tenure was a failure, not only in terms of less than stellar results but also low team morale and poor direction for talented players.  (Vengsarkar was once supposed to have yelled at Azhar from the pavilion when the latter was in the middle, batting slower than what Vengsarkar expected!) 

Shastri meanwhile continued to be an effective all-rounder (even if not a dominating one), even making a fighting century in the West Indies.  His performance in the Tied Test betrayed his shrewd cricketing mind.  Sure, he exposed the last man Maninder Singh to Greg Matthews but it was only after he played a superb knock under pressure (48 off 40 balls…in a Test; Mr. Youtube poster, why not post this?!) and ensured that India did not lose.  By the late 80s, the players had a serious dispute with the Board (headed by Raj Singh Dungarpur) over pay issues.  Vengsarkar was dropped.  Krish Srikkanth was dumped as a player after one series as a captain.  And, the captaincy was handed over to Azhar.  Did the selectors ever think of Shastri, now in his 10th year as an international player, with a few years of experience as a vice captain?  I don’t know all of what happened in the offices of the BCCI but from what I have read of this period, it is safe to say that Azhar was deemed a “safer” (read, more subservient) choice as a captain by the board than any of the seniors.  That was one of the most horrible decisions in the history of Indian cricket for Azhar was a fiasco of colossal proportions as a leader, being a poor communicator and an even poorer tactician.  Sure, he was a glorious sight to watch as a batsman and he had a number of successes in the Indian dustbowls in the early 90s but I find myself hard-pressed to attribute even one success to his captaincy. 

By the early 90s, Shastri had declined as a player.  He had started to have knee troubles and played in the World Cup despite that and limped – literally and figuratively – to pathetic innings such as 25 off 67 balls in the crunch game against Australia where India was chasing a stiff target of almost five an over.  It was a sign that the end was nigh.  He made the mistake that many others such as Kapil made of neither quitting nor evolving when the signs of decline were clear (the way Sachin reinvented himself, curbing his aggression, post 2007-08). 

But, what an empowered Shastri would have done, had he taken over the captaincy in the mid-to-late 80s is a matter of conjecture.  But I sincerely feel that given his superb track record as captain in domestic cricket and his deep understanding of the game, especially in Tests, that he should have at least been given a proper chance to prove his mettle.  The failures of the team under Vengsarkar and Azhar proved that the captaincy should have been given to the best leader, not the best player.  It is a testament to Shastri’s adaptability that he scored runs under all four captains in the 1980s, all with different styles.  

He is an inspiration to me for the sheer reason that as a player, he turned up and put in his best efforts and made sure that there was not an ounce of talent (even if limited) that he left unutilized.  He is an inspiration to me for the way in which he ignored his critics who highlighted his lack of flair but didn’t always appreciate his grafting ability.  His supreme confidence in himself may have bordered on arrogance but the fact is that far more talented players fell prey to self-doubt and muddled minds.  The fact that he was able to score more than 10 centuries, making hundreds in Pakistan (against Imran, et al), in West Indies (against Marshall, Patterson, et al) and in Australia (against McDermott, Hughes and Warne) all go to show that he could fight it out in his own way.  To put it succinctly, Shastri certainly maximized what God gave him.  It is just sad that Indian cricket did not maximize Shastri for what he offered.

PS: The lack of any mention of Shastri the commentator of present is intentional.  To me, the facet of Shastri that inspired me the most was that of a cricketer, not of an expert.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Inspirations (13 of 25) - Ra. Parthiban, Film Actor and Director

One of the most controversial figures in my list of Inspirations, film actor and director Ra. Parthiban figures in my list because of just five (“Pudhiya Paadhai,” “Bharathi Kannamma,” “Swarnamukhi,” “Housefull” and “Kudaikkull Mazhai”) films that he has featured in, two unforgettable cameos (“Aravindan” and “Anthapuram”) and  a book of mostly wonderful poems that he wrote, “KirukkalgaL.”  It is hard to imagine an actor who has divided opinions so much, who has abused his undeniable talent in some unwatchable films, whose checkered personal life has been the subject of much criticism.  Yet, he has - through a small set of meaningful, hard-hitting films such as the ones that I have listed above – made a lasting impact on people like me and even been an inspiration in a few ways.  It is just sad that a close look at his career can serve as a lesson in how to not mess up a legacy.  More on the actual legacy first.

Charting a “Pudhiya Paadhai”

Come April 14, 2014, it would have been 25 years since “Pudhiya Paadhai” released in the theatres to a rapturous response.  Making his debut as an actor, writer and director, Parthiban did not just make a splash with his effort.  Instead, he redefined the rules for jumping into the water.  “Pudhiya Paadhai,” for whatever flaws it may have, is a raw, bold and beautiful piece of cinema.  Every line of dialogue uttered by Parthiban in the movie is as bold as bold is.  Sample this piece uttered by Parthiban (an orphan in the movie) to a woman who tries to abandon her illegitimate child under a tree in the middle of the night:

Watch from the 0:37-3:11 point (WARNING: This scene has really graphic language)

After writing a script that sparkled with wit, raw emotion and inimitable play of words, Parthiban the actor added even more weight to the controversial subject with his acting which again was raw, rough around the edges, yet hit you in the face with punches so hard that it hurts (for the right reasons) even 25 years after the movie was first made.  What really has hurt me (for the wrong reasons) is how his career has rarely lived up to the promise shown in this movie.  With exceptions, that is.  Except that the exceptions are so exceptional that it is sad that his career in films overall has turned to be a case of mostly wasted talent.

If Parthiban had only made the half a dozen or so films that I listed in the beginning, he would have been acclaimed as a master actor and even more masterful script writer.  (He is known to frequently write his own lines for the movies that he acts in even if he doesn’t get credit.)  Blessed with big, powerful eyes, gift of the gab as well as superb diction, Parthiban’s strength as an actor is dialogue delivery.  But one has to see him in movies like “Housefull” to note how masterful his body language is.  As a story writer and director, he has a yen for the different.  But what started out as a yen turned out to be obsession.  Obsession to the point that his films started being very distanced from the mainstream.  A film like “KudaikkuL Mazhai” has a number of brilliant moments but placed in a screenplay that gads about in an unconventional way, the filmmaker ended up catering to a very small audience.  One of Parthiban’s flaws as a filmmaker has been to almost want to take a vengeance on the audience for failing him commercially.  A sensitive (but undercooked) effort such as “Sugamaana Sumaigal” was backed up with a cheap “Ulle Veliye” and a wondrous film such as “KudaikkuL Mazhai” was succeeded by a crude “Pacha Kudhira.”  Now, how do you preserve a legacy of films such as “Pudhiya Paadhai” and “Housefull” if your oeuvre also contains drivel like “Kundakka Mandakka” and “Kadhal Kirukkan?”

You must be wondering, “All this and yet, you not only like him but also consider him an inspiration, no less?”  It now behooves me to tell you why my answer is yes!

The unconventional inspiration

Where Parthiban has really influenced me is in my approach to writing as well as my perspective on things that would have normally made me squeamish otherwise.  Through his forthright approach to dealing with uncomfortable subjects such as a rape, abandoned children and the effects of violence (in “Housefull”), he has inspired me to not shut my eyes to things that happen around me and instead, as a responsible adult, to talk and write boldly about issues that reveal the darker side of humanity.  For instance, the first short story that I wrote was called, “True Love.”  Sounds innocuous except the fact that it was about someone afflicted with AIDS.  Another story that I wrote was titled, “White Doves,” and was about domestic violence.  I wrote the story after watching his “Housefull,” which was a 2 ½ hour paean to non-violence.  I said to myself, “The type of violence that bothers me the most is domestic violence, so I better write something about it.”  I will openly admit that I have not done anything substantial as yet (such as joining a non-profit organization that helps victims of violence) about the things in the society that bother me.  But I once received a letter from someone (who had seen my story on Sulekha) who wrote to me that she had lost her partner to AIDS and that my story meant something to her.  That was truly gratifying for a budding writer and I have to thank Parthiban for making me approach a sensitive topic without shying away.  Maybe the day will come when I do something substantial such as what he does with his “Manidha Neya Mandram.”

Apart from my writing, my approach to public speaking has also been influenced by Parthiban.  In my Toastmasters Speaking Club as well as at work (where I give motivational speeches at group meetings), I have given some speeches on topics such as how my wife dealt with an unfortunate miscarriage to how I have tried to curb my short tempered nature after reading a book on habits.  Whenever I type up the contents of a speech, I would think about the places where I would have to state something bold in order to make an impact and would strive to make lines sharp without sounding unnecessarily sensational.  Sure, there are places where subtlety has a place.  But as I have seen Parthiban demonstrate time and again, there are instances where making a point in a brutally honest manner can be very effective in conveying something important.  For instance, at a group meeting at work, as part of a motivational speech (during a time of reorganization), I spoke about three people – Randy Pausch (who kept a sunny attitude through his terminal cancer), Sheena Iyengar (who, despite her blindness, has made a profound impact on people’s lives through her book, “The Art of Choosing”) and my wife, who dealt with a miscarriage in a mature manner without complaining.  I finished my speech saying, “Each of these three people had every right to complain.  But they did not.  So, let’s not sit and complain about something that’s beyond our control.”  I through twice about saying this in a professional setting and whether it was too personal or prescriptive but then I said to myself that there was a point worth making and it was worth making only if made in no uncertain terms.  That was that.   

I recognize that this write-up does not talk about the less admirable traits of Parthiban.  But as I wrote in my piece on Imran Khan, for a person to be an inspiration of mine, I don’t think he or she has to be perfect.  I just want to take the best out of a disparate set of people and find inspiration to view the world through different lenses.  And, a different lens is something that Parthiban has indeed given me.  I just wish that he acquires the 20:20 vision of hindsight to look back at all the mistakes that he has made in his career, a career whose “paadhai” has lost a lot of direction since he set foot in a gloriously “pudhiya” manner 25 years ago. But is it ever too late to get back on track?