Thursday, July 17, 2008

A famous weekend at Kasauni, Uttaranchal - Part I

It was one of the greatest weekends of my life and most definitely the best weekend trip I have made during my life in north India. We were a gang of 14 - young, vibrant, enthusiastic, self-driven (read, charged) people, who just wanted to scale the world. We almost did - we got to the edge of the Himalayas! This was at the place that Mahatma Gandhi famously called as the Switzerland of India - its called Kasauni in the state of Uttaranchal.

The trip was immensely enjoyable by the sheer fact that the 14 of us gelled like a fantastic unit. The frequency of thought, the wavelength of reactions to each other was something else altogether. The trip started off at a pulsating rate for me, as I barely managed to reach the railway station at Delhi. I was stuck in office on a client deliverable till 8.40 pm, while our train was scheduled to depart at 10.00 p.m. What a life, I thought to myself - that too on a Friday night, when 13 others had banked on me while planning this trip! Nevertheless, I ended up taking things in my own hands and told my boss that things were done and we will continue the effort on Monday. She obliged and I managed to eke out of office at 8.40 pm.

The office cabbie gave me a hard look when I told him that I need to reach Delhi railway station in 45 minutes (the usual duration is 1.5 hours!). He then told me, "We'll do it and you will be there in 30 minutes flat. All you have to do is, sit in the front seat, lower the window (let's not use AC), and leave the rest to me". I knew that I was in for the ride of my life, as it were, in the next 30 minutes. But that cabbie was phenomenal! We missed 3 pedestrians, 2 cyclists, sped past 2 police vans, did not stop at any of the red lights, nearly scraped the vehicle against an autorickshaw, and eventually got to the station in 28 minutes flat! One helluva ride, I must say! But kudos to that cabbie - whatever the risks may have been, the guy had the skill to navigate through the Friday evening traffic in a city like Delhi and get me to the railway station (usually, the most crowded area in any city), in such a short time.

When I got to the station and called up the others who were joining me on the trip, they could barely believe that I was there. One of them said, "Are you serious? We just got here ourselves!". And they had left office at 7.45 p.m.!

Anyway, I finally ambled along to the railway restaurant and met the thriving 13. We had dinner together, and there were a couple of new faces in the gang that I noticed - only to be introduced to them much later by the respective "stakeholders"! Once our tummies were amply full, we got into the railway station - religiously using the, "Do Not Enter" doorway - and headed towards the platform where our train was supposed to depart from.

The platform was choc-a-bloc, what with folks like us with tough clients and bosses to handle during the week, seeking this sort of a weekend getaway to picturersque Kasauni and surrounding areas. However, it was very hot in the platform as we awaited the train, and the sultry weather did not help matters either. I must have gotten my handkerchief damp in less than 5 minutes after we set foot on that particular platform - very oppressive conditions there.

The tempo of things to follow over the next 2 days was set, right on the station platform itself. All 14 of us began to enter a robust sense of ease and pull each other's legs. This was the start of a few memorable moments that were to follow in the next 48 hours.

The train eventually made its way into the station and we hopped onto the bogie. That's when the the power of one of our "leads" came into the picture, with support from a couple of others. The problem in where we were seated was that,the 14 of us were distributed across 2 ends of the same bogie. And in order for us to eventually sit together as a group, we had to shift other passengers in the bogie to our current location. This needed powers of negotiation, incentivisation, cajoling, perseverance and many other man management skills before we achieved our end objective of being seated together. And once we were seated together, the party began in full gusto. People's opinions, freewheeling conversations, card games, leg-pulling, a perennial set of jokes with one following the other, et al,flowed. Junk food came into its own and that marked the start of a variety of cuisine that we would end up consuming over the next 2 days.

In the middle of the night, one of the guys in our troop came up with this brilliant idea of playing a card game called, Killer. The rules of the game were such that each person in the gang is given 1 playing card each. Of the 14 folks around,3 people are marked out - 2 as policemen and 1 as a thief. The "objective" of the game was to deceive the policemen at all costs i.e out of the 14 people in the game, the thief had to outsmart 2 cops by winking at the remaining 11 people in the game (who were neither cops nor thieves). Every time one of the 11 members figured out who the thief was, he/she had to proclaim himself, "I'm dead". This would give hint after hint to the cops as to who the thief might be and they would have to narrow down their search to the actual thief to a handful of people in the end. Of course, there were eminent tricks of the game that were widely used, such as folks who were not thieves winking at each other, in order to fool the cop even more! I had the time of my life in this game, when I was the thief in one such game, and one of the cops happened to be a lovely young girl who kept staring at me. I very automatically remarked, "Its been many years since any girl looked at me non-stop & for so long". That created one of the loudest moments of the trip with all 14 of us in splits for the next few minutes! This was an exciting game that kept a lot of people engaged, and it was one of those rare occasions when girls winked at guys in a train! Whoa! Life couldn't get much better than that, could it?:) . Killer, for sure!

After a few hours of this game, a few dreary eyes started stretching. There was a particular railway station in the middle of the night where the train stopped and most of the 14 got down to take a stroll; a handful of them, stepped out to grab a hot cup of tea in the wee hours of the night. That break tilted the scales for the really tired folks to hit the sack. And before we knew it, the train got moving again, and all 14 of us eventually retired for the day.

Most of us managed no more than a few hours of sleep and before we knew it, daylight struck. The fresh oxygen in the air and the surreal surroundings of a hilly region beckoned. Many of us were awake even before 6 a.m. a feat rarely achieved on a Saturday morning for the best part of the last decade, at the least. The first railway station that the train stopped at,first thing in the morning, got the feet moving for most of us, what with early morning strolls, hot tea, cigarette breaks setting the tone for the day ahead. A couple of them were in an adventurous mood upfront with their cameras in hand and clicking photographs away to glory (they claimed they were enjoying nature, but you never know with photographers, do you?).

The entire sequence of non-stop laughter from the previous night caught on greater momentum from this railway station. People were fresh & awake with renewed energies and an entire weekend beckoning them. The thrill of being in natural environs was an experience by itself - a far cry from the dirt and mudpots of pollution in Delhi.

The train finally reached its destination - Kathgodam station (I ended up calling it the 'station with the godown'). My jaw dropped the minute I alighted from the bogie and got on to the platform. I was awestruck by the fantastic sight in front of my eyes - there were huge mountains right behind the station and it almost seemed that the train had stopped right where the track ended/where the mountains began. It almost felt like the mountains will take care of the entire folks standing at the station, a big motherly facade to it and the sheer greenery of it all just added to the touch. Phenomenal sight - just the start of more mesmerising sights that we would see later.

After the initial photographs on arrival at Kathgodam, we walked out of the station in search of suitable cabs at affordable tariffs, that would accommodate this huge, energetic team of 14. We were lucky in that we were chased by a cabbie who had a huge van that would accommodate exactly 14 people. We took turns examining the vehicle and sizing up the leg space et al, before getting into negotiations with the cabbie on the routes to take, the spots to visit, and the eventual rates that we were willing to pay. Some sort of a middle ground was achieved at the end of this negotiation and we started crawling into the van, one by one. Not before a couple of guys had finished yet another round of puff, puff (read -cigarettes) and others had gulped down bottles of water and eaten a pack of wafers! By the way, the sales of the top 3 brands in the wafers industry last weekend in Uttaranchal state, must have skyrocketed - purely driven by the revenues they generated from the 14 of us!

The fun that we had is way too much for me to capture in this single blog. I am going to break it up into 2 parts - read on for the main part of the trip in Part 2 of this blog, that follows.

Monday, July 07, 2008

When bad times have befallen...

Its true that good and bad are a part of life. But, when the economic slowdown across the globe comes around to hit you and retards all personal plans that you make, life can get suffocating. Very, very suffocating.

I mean, people make plans - a number of them - in their personal lives, based on some calculated risks, or measurements that they believe will work out for them. But, when none of their risks or when none of their attempts every fructify, despite putting in one's heart & soul into it, life can get way too depressing. The old excuse of, " I did my best, but things did not work out", is exactly that - an excuse.

This phase of endless disappointments is like hitting your head against a hard wall that shows no signs of cracking, let alone breaking down. I just hope that we gather the courage of conviction, build the necessary temperament to tide over this ridiculous recessionary economy. Many of us need to maintain our sense of balance, poise and indeed in many other cases, find ways to recover from downfalls.

Judgement calls - about jobs & references

There have been times when companies have recruited people for specific positions, purely on the basis of the references that the prospective candidate brings. There are other times, when candidates refuse companies based on the feedback that they receive from their reference - either direct or indirect. In each case, the role of the referee becomes critical for either the candidate or the new company.

But, there are instances, when one should never ever listen to references. And these instances are the toughest to handle i.e. you know the credibility of your referee, you know him/her for a long time, he/she wishes the best for you - but at the end of it all, the choice that you make, could completely backfire. It is not the fault of the referee per se, nor is it the fault of the candidate who makes the move to join the new firm. There are other elements involved - the whole fitment issue, the cultural adjusment, the softer and deeper nuances of the firm, the ruthlessness of the top bosses in the new firm, the ridiculous working hours in the new firm, the bad orientation to bend head over heels to clients etc - which the new candidate may never believe in and find may find hard to adjust to.

The role of the referre becomes even more pronounced, if he/she knows both about the firm where the reference is being made, and, the candidate himself/herself. It is important to present both the pros and the cons of the new firm so that candidates can make informed decisions. This, is something I am going to do whenever I refer somebody to a firm, especially when I know the goings-on within that firm.