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An old e-mail ...

Jun 5, 2010 | Cicero

Some years ago, when I was a couple of years out of college and trying to find my feet in the corridors of the High Court, I received an e-mail from a friend. We had met a few months back when I had been to his city for a flying visit. We had cribbed about the difficulty in adjusting to life after college. Perhaps he remembered that conversation and included me in his distribution list. The e-mail went like this:
Hey Everyone,

I think that you all know that I am not much of a forward person... but this is something that deserves a read for all of you... please do so...
They call it the "Quarter-life Crisis." It is when you stop going along with the crowd and start realizing that there are many things about yourself that you didn't know and may not like. You start feeling insecure and wonder where you will be in a year or two, but then get scared because you barely know where you are now. You start realizing that people are selfish and that, maybe, those friends that you thought you were so close to aren't exactly the greatest people you have ever met, and the people you have lost touch with are some of the most important ones. What you don't recognize is that they are realizing that too, and aren't really cold, catty, mean or insincere, but that they are as confused as you. You look at your job... and it is not even close to what you thought you would be doing, or maybe you are looking for a job and realizing that you are going to have to start at the bottom and that scares you. Your opinions have gotten stronger. You see what others are doing and find yourself judging more than usual because suddenly you realize that you have certain boundaries in your life and are constantly adding things to your list of what is acceptable and what isn't. One minute, you are insecure and then the next, secure. You laugh and cry with the greatest force of your life.

You feel alone and scared and confused. Suddenly, change is the enemy and you try and cling on to the past with dear life, but soon realize that the past is drifting further and further away, and there is nothing to do but stay where you are or move forward. You get your heart broken and wonder how someone you loved could do such damage to you. Or you lie in bed and wonder why you can't meet anyone decent enough that you want to get to know better. Or maybe you love someone but love someone else too and cannot figure out why you are doing this because you know that you aren't a bad person. One night stands and random hook ups start to look cheap. Getting wasted and acting like an idiot starts to look pathetic. You go through the same emotions and questions over and over, and talk with your friends about the same topics because you cannot seem to make a decision. You worry about loans, money, the future and making a life for yourself... and while winning the race would be great, right now you'd just like to be a contender!

What you may not realize is that everyone reading this relates to it. We are in our best of times and our worst of times, trying as hard as we can to figure this whole thing out. Send this to your twenty something friends....maybe it will help someone feel like they aren't alone in their state of confusion.....GOOD LUCK TO ALL OF US!!!!!

A few days ago while searching in my Inbox for the registration details of a website, I came across this e-mail. As I read this, I went back to the time when I had opened the e-mail for the first time. It had meant a lot to me and I had forwarded it to quite a few of my other friends. (That is how chain mails are born Baby!!) What this one mail made me realise was the universality of our experiences.

Before writing this post I googled the text of this email and discovered that this text is still popular. In fact there are even facebook communities to quarter life crisis!! I also discovered the author (finally) in one of the pages (Brenda Della Casa). 

My English tutor used to say that sometimes imitation of a writing style or quotation of a writer's work is the best compliment you can pay. So thanks Brenda, for the words which arrived in an e-mail - an aeon ago.

Image Courtesy: here

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Baby Barista’s War .. !!

May 28, 2010 | Cicero

Tim Kevan is the reason I almost gave up blogging. The blogosphere is strewn with my numerous aborted blogs and all because of the very high standards set by his blog ‘BabyBarista – serving coffee for the rich and powerful – a junior’s view’.

Tim depicts the life of his fictional alter ego BabyBarista and his travails as a junior barrister practicing at the English Bar. The posts are written in the style of a delighted diarist documenting his exploits as well as that of a aural spectator of the gossiping Bar. Many who have followed his blog from its initial days at Blogspot cannot be faulted for believing that the legal disclaimer was bogus and the blogger was in fact writing about episodes reflecting real life. Tim in fact spent ten (10) years practicing as a barrister in London and much of his posts seem to have been inspired by what he saw.

For those who have not read his blog before, the posts start at a point when Baby B enters the Chambers as a newly minted pupil barrister. To win a tenancy at the Chambers he has to outwit three (3) other pupil barristers: TopFirst, who is described as a Cambridge graduate with a prize-winning resume and an ego to match; BusyBody, described as a human whirlwind on a husband hunt; and wide-eyed Worrier; who carries the world on her anxious shoulders.

Of course BabyB outwits all his competition through sheer cunning and resourcefulness. Thereafter, the pace of the story slows somewhat and moves on to BabyB’s days as a junior barrister.

I got hooked when I came across BabyBarista on the website of ‘The Times’, which did itself a favor by picking a winner for its blogroll. BabyB had already written almost a year’s worth of posts by then and I spent one Sunday afternoon leisurely reading - from the very first post.

But enough already, this is not what this post is about. This post is about BabyBarista’s move from ‘The Times’ to a new website and the reason for this change. Though, I have no good words for the new title of the blog, ‘BabyBarista - A worm's eye view of the English Bar’, I applaud Tim’s decision to withdraw his blog from the venerable ‘Times’ and move to his own website. He mentions that didn’t like the newspaper’s decision to hide his blog behind a paywall, along with their other content.

Tim gives up some great visibility, which got him a book deal and made, BabyBarista a byword for intelligent humor. This is commitment to ‘free’ speech in its literal sense.

One can however empathize with the newspapers. They really haven’t had it easy since the World Wide Web came about. Since the heady days, when newspapers treated the internet as manna from heaven, to their present state where all their online strategies have failed, they have been caught in the loop of “to charge or not to charge?"

While the online contents of some newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have been fully or partly paywalled from the beginning, the overall movement has been towards free content. One of the last holdouts New York Times dispensed with Times Select in 2007 (NYT recently announced plans to start charging again beginning 2011). While exceptions like WSJ and FT have been successful, it’s mainly because they offer premium content which HNEs and decision makers seek.

Last month the Washington Post Company announced that it was looking for buyers for Newsweek. Analysts blamed the Newsweek’s failure to unlock the secrets of online publishing. It now appears neither free access nor a paywall worked for them.

The strategy to start charging again is one with high risks. Readers have been used to free content for almost a decade and these efforts seem to resemble an attempt to close the barn door after the horses have fled. If the belief is that readers have nowhere else to go and would be forced to start paying, someone is in for a nasty surprise. The internet is a very different place today and slick websites are not going to draw in paying customers like moths.

BabyBarista’s not going to be the only one to move. All the best BabyB.

Image courtesy: Alex Williams

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picnics and all that .....

May 27, 2010 | Cicero

I got talking with LEB the other day about picnics. He had just been to one with his family and described the bedlam Onga created in the Park. This got me thinking of the simple pleasures of eating out in the open with family and friends. I could not recall the last time I had been on a picnic and hence this post tries to capture the memories of picnics past. Over the last couple of years, I have been on quite a few treks and weekend getaways but not one of them can be strictly classified as a picnic.

I still vaguely remember my first picnic. I was around three (3) years old, and Dad and Mom took me to a resort in the middle of the forest for a picnic with his college friends. My lasting memory of this trip is getting bitten by an insect in my left eye and moving around with the swollen eye and getting pampered by everyone. Mom still keeps a picture of me tucked away in one of her many albums. In the picture I have some kick-ass hair and one mother of a swollen eye.

My picnics during my early years could be broken into the following – picnics with Dad’s friends, school picnics, picnics with my art school and picnics with family and childhood buddies. There were in fact so many ‘picnics’ every year that there were quite a few times when I ended up visiting the same place.

I haven’t mentioned in any post before, but I grew up in a small industrial town surrounded by forests, streams and hills. It did not take too much of an effort to leave our urban life behind and spend some time with Mother Nature.

School Picnics.........

My first yearly school picnic (“educational outbound”) was to a forest cabin located near a small dam. My lasting memory of this trip will be the fear I hid, all through that trip. We had some tests in class a week back and the graded papers were expected the next day. I was sure that I would flunk in mathematics. After all these years, I have forgotten the grades but still remember that fear.

Mom had baked some cake for me to carry to this picnic. It was a sort of picnic where everyone got one variety of cooked food from home and then shared it with everyone. Mom had carefully packed the cake in a hot case, but when the time came to open it, none of the teachers could get past the lid. It was my physics teacher who finally managed to get it open all the while elaborating on Newton’s Third Law. The best part of the picnic (apart from the streams, bingo and the Superman comics) was the movie, we watched on the way back in the school bus.

In the years ahead, we would go to streams, parks, farms, nurseries, waterfalls and finally ending with a week long road trip during the final year of school. But there is only space in this post for a few words on one more school picnic, which incidentally was my last picnic at school.

We went to this large stream outside the city, whose waters went round in a loop before going its way. We set up massive speakers in the centre of the looped stream and belted out the hit singles of the 80s and 90s. As the dusk settled and we got ready to go, I discovered that one of my records had been buried in the sand and was ruined. That record was ‘Dangerous’ (MJ may you R.I.P.)

Picnics with Dad’s friends.......

I have already mentioned about my first picnic. It was also my first picnic with Dad’s friends. During my childhood quite a few of my Dad’s friends from college and grad school worked and lived in our small town. Every year they would have these reunion picnics (parties) for the College and Grad School alumni. After Dad passed away, his college friends would still come home and invite my mother to join these Alumni picnics. If she refused or dithered, there would always be someone at hand on the relevant day to ensure that she turned up. Additionally, we went to quite a few picnics with Dad’s colleagues and their families.

I will never forget the picnic where I caught a fish at a place called “the five streams” and then transferred it to a pond near my home. I will also never forget the time when I almost drowned, but that’s a story which deserves its own paragraph.

So there was this one time when we went to this picnic with my Dad’s colleagues and their families. It was on the banks of a large artificial lake which had been created when the local river was dammed. My mother had warned me several times to stay away from water but I had rudely replied that I was old enough to be left on my own. It so happened that some time later I proved my statement wrong because as Dad and I went for a walk by the banks of the lake, we came across one of his colleagues sitting with his legs in the lake’s water. Unsurprisingly, I wanted to wash my feet and walked over to his (the colleague’s) side to take my turn.

I still remember my horror, which came as I keeled over, from the discovery that there was no gradient and banks sloped vertically. I did not know how to swim and started drowning. The image which is still imprinted in my memory after all these years is the face of my Dad, as I went under. I saw him instantly jump into the water but also realized that he was still some distance away. As my head went underwater, there were only four (4) thoughts in my mind - Dad does not know how to swim, I must not swallow water, I keep my arms straight above my head and DAD DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM.

In any case he saved me and I lived to tell the tale. My ordeal became a part of the family lore, especially the message which I had confidentially whispered into my Dad’s ears as we walked back, “Dad, will you tell mom that I got wet trying to save you from drowning?”

Picnic with Art School......

My handwriting as a kid was very messy. (t still is if you are wondering and I have always felt that I suffered from some form of undiagnosed dyslexia!) and my form teacher convinced my parents to enroll me for art school.

The classes were held every Sunday and I hated waking up early in the morning and heading to, what was clearly a waste of time (after all I was missing my favorite shows on T.V.).

But coming back to the topic for this post, every few months the Art School would take all its students out of the classroom into the open for a ‘working’ picnic. The places we were taken to could be a stream, a lake (including the one where I almost drowned), a market place or an ancient ruin (I remember it rained all through that trip). They were places, which under normal circumstances I would have liked to spend some time in except for the fact that that we were required to be ‘inspired’ and begin painting like Van Gogh.

Since, I was not too interested in these endeavors, I intensely disliked these picnics. Invariably instead of playing, the other kids would be glued to their boards scratching away intensely – trying hard to justify the trip.

The only interesting thing that ever happened at any of these picnics was the one time when all of us went picnicking on this cliff but were shooed away by a guy in hard hat. As we moved to a different place, which was some distance away, we heard a loud boom coming from the direction of the cliff. On the way back we realized that a part of the cliff, which we had initially commandeered, had been dynamited.

Picnic with family........

In my family we had this tradition of going for a picnic every Christmas Day. Mom would spend hours in the kitchen the previous day in order to get our picnic basket ready.

Sometimes, the place where we would go had been decided days in advance while sometimes the place would only be finalised only on Christmas eve. Occasionally some other family would tag along with us but in general it would largely be the four of us.

I cannot say that the places we went to were always scenic or special. What mattered was that we were going out as a family unit and enjoying the holiday together. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from these picnics. It used to be so much fun, whether it was feeding deer with my hands and teaching the sibling to do it too or just gorging on Mom’s food. I have always felt that it is important for families to have traditions. They go a long way in creating some common cherished memories.

Anyway coming back to the story, there was this one time when we picnicked at the local Airport. Dad had taken the permission of the airport officials some days back (they were so sporty about these things in those days) and on the appointed day we walked to the Airport and spread our sheets on a huge grass patch beside the tarmac. In those days the air traffic was limited to perhaps two flights per day and we had this large open space all to ourselves. The airport guys dropped in from time to time to eat some of the food Mom had cooked and in all we had a jolly great day. The highlight of the picnic was when a B737 landed on the runway and our sheets and the paper plates got blown away.

Then there was this another time, when my Uncle and Aunt surprised us by suddenly arriving unannounced from the metropolis along with my newborn female cousin, just as we were stepping out of our home for a picnic. We went to a lakeside and I will never forget that picnic spent with my little sister sleeping peacefully in my arms.

And then there is this one picnic, I would be happy to forget. We had chosen a waterfall in the middle of the forest. It was and remains a very popular picnic spot but due to its relative inaccessibility and lack of a full time life guard, it remains a very dangerous place. The thing that struck me when I went there for the first time with my parents was that all the warning signs had been disfigured (I was soon to find out why). As we (the sibling and I) splashed water at each other in the shallows, there was a huge commotion downstream and we discovered that a young guy had slipped into the frothing water and been carried away. The river bend where he appeared to have drowned was too dangerous to enter without any proper equipment. As everyone tried to find some way of saving that fellow, a group of woodsmen who live around the waterfalls offered to help on the payment of around USD 5,000 in cash. Cash was difficult to come by and they refused to accept a cheque, valuables, watches in lieu of the cash. A lot of time was wasted in collecting the money and finally when the poor guy was pulled out, he had been dead for an hour.


I cannot end this post without talking about the picnics with my childhood friends. During the long school holidays, we would take every opportunity to go out for a picnic. It could be anywhere – our gardens, parks, at the ruin near the railway tracks, the woods near our house, the ponds, etc.

Initially we would only get sandwiches from home and share them over comics, soda and games. As we grew older, we would filch utensils from home and cycle over to our favorite places and cook food over a small wood fire. The girls would try to take over the cooking claiming inalienable human rights (in the coming years they would turn staunch feminists and treat cooking as a form of bondage) while the pyromaniacs like me would hate to have them mess with our fire. Mothers were generally not happy when their utensils got home.

Phew!! quite a long post baby...!!

image credits : Google images

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Friday night on a fishing trawler ...

May 16, 2010 | Cicero

I wanted to start this post something like this ..."The smell of the sea brushed my face as I got out of the car", but have come to senses soon enough. The language .. too pretentious for my taste....can wait for my debut bestseller.

What really happened is this......

The Friday was turning out the way it usually does. And I was brooding over my plans for the ever short weekend. Sleeping was definitely on the cards. The last few weeks had been pretty hectic and had been getting back home only for a few hours every night to catch up on sleep and change clothes. Had finally closed the deal on Thursday night and wanted to get away for a while.

So when the Office Party Animal invited me over to a party after work, I jumped at the opportunity. I did not ask any questions or asked for any details. What can I say, I was desperate. As it turned out, it was all for the best.

I managed to dodge some weekend assignments and headed out of office with OPA and his friend Commando. I noticed that the Commando had tried to get a hair transplant at some point of time, which had failed horribly and left thickets of hair on his head.  I restrained an intense desire to yank them out and restore his head to its pristine glory.

But enough now, should be returning to my narrative. I found OPA piling a weekend bag into the car but decided to keep quiet about it. We drove out of the city for a few hours in the dark, with all but silence in the car. The music which OPA had was more suitable for a funeral parlor than for a group of people headed for a late night party. As we left the city and drove down this empty road, there was not a soul in sight. I had second thoughts on accepting the invite. My mind went to the latest crime statistics of the area and immediately pictured myself on some lonely column on the city page announcing another unidentified body found stark naked and stripped of possessions. (I know I really have a morbid imagination. In fact I have censored the  more unpalatable portions of my anticipated obituary.)

In any case my apprehensions turned out to be just that and we finally (phew!!) reached a beautiful small coastal town which seemed to have quite a few parties happening. It seemed quite a few people had chosen to get hitched that day (the poor buggers) but we did not stop at any of these places but headed for the docks. We walked towards the fishing trawler with its lights on in the distance. There was hardly any light on the jetty and quite a few times I trampled some idiot who was sleeping on the jetty!!! In any case we finally reached our destination. Our trawler was ready to head out to sea. I looked at the yachts lying by its side and seriously contemplated replacing "trawler" with "yacht"  when I write the post.

I had a small scare when I had to jump over a few decks to get to 'our' trawler. I forgot that I was still in my 'work clothes' and as I jumped from one deck to the other, for one second I thought.. this is it .. the end of little Cicero. Well I survived and reached our boat, which shoved off the moment I landed on its deck.

OPA and some lads at the party had already started getting drunk and passed rude comments as I landed on the deck. I distinctly heard someone wonder if I would float if I fell into the sea. Someone actually asked me if I knew how to swim!!

In any case the party really picked up once we got to high seas. The music was awesome and the beer chilled!! The cooler had an assortment of spirits from Commando's bar. Through the haze I noticed that the cooler had something written on top of it. Curious I leaned forward and this is what I read "Property of .......... Government."  (P.S.- I took a snap on my Blackberry but will not share it here.)

The food was awesome - barbecued chicken, grilled fish, livers, prawns etc. After a few hours, the harassed Captain finally convinced us to return to the shore. We walked back to the waiting cars over the lonely jetty.This time I was not alone in trampling the sleeping seamen!!

No one was in the mood to call it a night and we decided to gatecrash the parties around town. It was 2 a.m. in the morning and most of the parties had long since winded down but we found quite a few places which we gatecrashed. While everyone let their hair down, the Commando brushed his thickets and joined in the dancing until the music stopped abruptly.

It was time for some java. We drove to some friend of a friend of a friend's house and woke up his Mom and demanded coffee. While she went to wake her son, we settled ourselves on the garden chairs. Their guard dog was really happy to see us and tried to shag everyone in sight. Finally the Lady of the House came with a tray containing some delicious fruits from her orchard. The lovely lady even kept quiet about her drenched dog. (OPA had been spraying the beer on us and the poor horny SOB caught a blast as it tried to shag him.)

Someone mentioned a graveyard and a 600 year old house of worship and all of us headed there. Graveyards always have this huge fascination for me, but when we all got there we found that the house of worship had been remodeled and there was no sign of any graveyard.

What we found instead was a lovely hidden cove. We all knew what to do as we ran towards the waters. Each racing the other.

BTW Baby I do float on water.

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