14 October, 2009

Beautiful Creations - Forgotten Creators

The Song

I was returning to Aurangabad city from Verul in Maharashtra, India. It was a break from work at Mumbai and had decided to take a random trip this long weekend; random because the destination was not planned till we hit the road. The driver put on some music. An unfamiliar voice and song came about through the music system …Clear strident notes, wonderful voice quality and superlative music. It was Hindi film music but had never heard it earlier. In the close confines of the car with the twilight casting all objects outside in soft focus, the music enveloped me. “Bheegi Hui Koi Shaam Ho” simply pure, the music soared, the energy in the voice building up the song and I was lost in the wonderful composition. “Whose music is this?” I asked the driver, Sir its mine sir, he had misunderstood my question completely. “Arrey No, who has made it?” I repeated my question a bit differently. “Sunidhi Chauhan is the singer and the film Chameli” said he proud in his knowledge. It was a movie that had clearly not been a commercial success despite a great brouhaha about the top film star Kareena Kapoor doing a serious film. “Nahi…no no… What I meant was who is the music director; the composer?” “Pata nahi saab” said he…”but music solid hai and I play it often”. It was a truly glorious track. “Do you have the CD jacket?” I pressed on. He shook his head “No jacket sir, only have this common plastic box for all my CD’s here.” I had no chance then of knowing the name of the person who had created the soul stirring song that had me perking up.

The Movies

On Reaching the Hotel, I freshened up. Having nothing much to do outside I decided to have a relaxed evening by myself. Ordered an early dinner up and started flipping through the cable channels. The movie ‘Gumnaam’ was on. A body had been discovered and the background music conveyed the tense moment. This movie was adapted from Agatha Christie’s famous book “Ten Little Niggers”. The book later got rechristened, when saying niggers became politically incorrect, to “And then there were none“. I had seen this movie earlier but enjoyed it yet again. The room service waiter saw me engrossed in the film and remarked, ”Lovely movie, Mehmood has acted real well”. I nodded and asked him, “who has directed Gumnaam?”. “Who knows Sir?” he shrugged. Gumnaam has been a rock solid hit and a total entertainer right from the day it has been released. I flipped a channel and “Chalti ka naam gaadi” was playing; a comedy riot and again one of the most well known movies in the Indian cinema scene. I again asked the waiter, “How about this film, who has made this one?” This time he was more confident and said “Kishore Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Anup Kumar. The three brothers together have made this film.” “They are the lead actors certainly, but are you positive they directed this film?” By this time he looked at me queerly, as if I was from some distant planet. I did not look like a quiz show host but was shooting questions about in a similar fashion. He then retorted that next you would ask me ‘Who painted the wall frescoes of Ajanta? Or who built the Kailasa Temple at Verul? And you would even tell me that the Taj Mahal was not made by Shah Jahan, Right?” And I laughed out loud and said “Exactly right.” “Kya saab subah se koi milaa nahi kya?” I tipped him, enjoyed the movie and finished my meal. My post dinner Chai was served out in the verandah where I sat in the wicker sofa chair looking into the night and lit up a cigarette.

The moot point

The question that had been hazily forming in my mind was clear. Music, Film making, Wall fresco painting, Architectural construction are all intensely collaborative art forms. However for them to cohesively come together and create something that is magical it demanded one mind to be at the helm. The one person with the overview and knowledge of getting it done exactly the way it should be, the person who conceptualizes it first in the mind before she/he gathers all of the pieces and starts the physical process of creation. In all of the above instances that I had coincidently touched upon, in the talks with my driver and the room service staff, every one of them was familiar with the work. Not one of them knew the maker. The work shone bright, luminous and had achieved popularity to become immortal, but the actual creators had receded into the oblivion or remained in the background.

Who does one credit, the Patron or the Artist?

Art and Entertainment are curious forms of creation. There are also certain forms like Architecture and Building science which reach the level of the artistic. Some better, bigger or more prolific than the others, lasting centuries. But all of them take shape only in civilized societies. It is only a fully evolved society or civilization that produces and propagates fine art. Often though the work of art has been attributed to the patron. Case in point are Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal at Agra and Rajaraja Chola I and the Brihadeeswara Temple at Tanjore; The largest complete granite temple anywhere in the world. This was built in the 11th Century AD, nearly 600 years prior to the Taj Mahal. But neither of these kings actually drew a plan, mounted a stone or carved a design. Ustad Ahmad Lahuri, Makramat Khan and Abdul Karim Maumar Khan who were the conceivers of the Taj in the form that we see today are forgotten except by the chroniclers. Similar is the state of the Vishwakarma builders who made the Brihadeeswara temple possible. Time and history adds layers and layers of dust and the lore gathers force while the creator fades behind the curtain of time.

No one knows who actually built the Kailasa Temple. All we know is that it was built during the time of the Rashtrakutas in the 8th century AD 300 years before the Brihadeeswara Temple. This temple is unique because it is actually hewn out of a single basalt rock and has taken 120 years to build. That is nearly 10 generations of craftsmen would have worked on this one monument. Without going too deep into the historical significance, it is the creative scope that is awe inspiring. How can an idea of an architectural design survive for 120 years and whose was the mind that conceived it in the first place? But that’s a discussion for some other day. It is yet another immortal work whose actual creator is not known.

It is the patron who creates the environment that is amiable to the process of creation. The patron may fund it or commission it too and should they not do this the artist may not have a platform or an environment to achieve his creation; in the above cases such sublime ones too that have lasted centuries.The Patron and the Artist , two individuals who needed to collide in a window of time, for artistic magnificence to happen.

The Creators

What began with the music of Chameli and its music director Sandesh Shandilya who created this fresh sound, moved on to Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi the movie. Do take note that this the movie is nearly 60 years old and an absolute cult comedy yet equally fresh and fun when viewed even today. But ask the same people who is the director and erroneously one of the Ganguly brothers or all three who acted in it would be given credit. Nobody remembers the prolific film maker Satyen Bose who was its director. Satyen who? Now this phenomenal talent has made upwards of 34 films in as many years in Cinema. Some of his works like Dosti, Jagriti, Raat aur Din , Jeevan Mrityu were smash hits, but none like the one movie he made in 1958 “Chalti Ka Naam Gadi.” Same is the Case of "Gumnaam", one of the tautest thrillers ever made in Hindi Cinema. This movie is a perfect blend of being a complete entertainer yet a classy thriller for its amazing screenplay , story idea, the casting, the performances and the music. This movie is right on top of most watched movies ever in the video circuit but even today very few would be able to name Raja Navathe - the director. Nawathe was the assistant director to Raj Kapoor in making the RK Classics Aag, Awara and Barsaat. The seven films which he later directed were all popular films and commercial successes. Let me put them in perspective and you will know what I am talking about. Aah starring Raj Kapoor & Nargis, Basant Bahar & Sohni Mahiwal with Nimmi and Bharat Bhushan, Gumnaam and Patthar ke Sanam both starring Mehmood and Manoj Kumar, Bhai Bhai with Sunil Dutt and Manchali with Sanjeev Kumar. The work is famous its creator isn’t.

Schools of thought

In ancient eastern civilizations of India,China & Japan art and architecture flourished. Who doesn’t know about the ceramic pottery of the Han, Tan and the Ming dynasties? The metal working skills of the ancient Japanese are particularly well regarded in fashioning swords and blades; The Katana’s and the Samurai swords or the polished metal mirrors. The Buddhist and Hindu art forms have their roots in the Guru-Shishya tradition. The school of the master would be known and its style would have a demand. The maker was not important as long as he/she maintained the very high standards of the school. This was the ethos from which an Artiste from the east operated. Pride in the work but not in self. Those who practiced it achieved immortality through their work.The work spoke for itself and artistes were richly rewarded if their art found patronage or languished on the path to penury without it.

The western society which has its roots in the Greco Roman civilization took pride in the self. Not that the artists were any less talented but very few of them as persons remained hidden behind their work. A classical example is the Sistine chapel that had the greatest of the renaissance painters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and Bernini coming together. The patron Pope Julius II is comparatively much lesser known for the chapel than these masters. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile even now leads to speculation not so much about the muse as much as the multi talented painter who created it. The enigmatic sculpture “The Thinker” is not complete till we say “Rodin’s Thinker”. The name stamp of the artist is equally strong as his work is magnificent.

And then there is Fame for Fames sake

In the material world of today modesty has ceased to remain a virtue. It doesn’t ring the cash register. The speed at which the world moves today has everyone scrambling for their “fifteen minutes of spotlight” as Andy Warhol had very aptly said. This hurry, impatience and wantonness tends to sometimes divert the attention from the actual product delivery and its quality in the art that they practice. The work by these people may even achieve quick popularity but also is forgotten just as quickly.This is exemplified in a Marathi language music reality show that is extremely popular and aired on TV called Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. Season across Season the bulk of songs that have been sung by the contestants have all been from an era that is even early for their parents. How does this happen? These works are timeless because they were perfected. One hears of music directors of yore taking months to record a song. RD Burman gave 36 versions of the music to Nasir Husain before the director was satisfied for Teesri Manzil. With technology time has certainly been crunched but imagine the quality of the work if the same team records 40 songs in one day. Kumar Sanu is credited with this dubious record, am positive he himself would not be able to recall all the 40 songs that he sung on that fateful day. If he himself cant then how will I?

Then there are the cases of those individuals who are simply famous for being famous. No one really knows or worse cares what these people actually do. Leading this pack today is Rakhi Sawant, the current flavor of the season (ala Paris Hilton minus her billions and good looks).Open a page 3 of any newspaper and we see some faces there time and again, the usual suspects. Now reflect on the actual activities or work done by them, those that stare at us from these pages and go figure their reason for being famous.

Some stray thoughts as I sat out looking into the Aurangabad night. Rakhi Sawant or Sandesh Shandilya, Paris Hilton or Satyen Bose & Raja Nawathe…the two antipodes on the compass of the bitch goddess of fame.

02 October, 2009


It was the phone call that started it all. He was on his way to Harvard on a company sponsored Executive Management Program; a condensed rigorous schedule chalked out only for the very best senior executives of an organization being groomed for the top position. As he deplaned at JFK International airport, New York, the cell phone buzzed. It was Murali Kanetkar his personal assistant. The words still echoed in his ear even today “The Board has selected TSR “.

He had seen it coming for a while now but never imagined that it would be announced in his absence. It seemed as if they wanted him out of the country for an extended period when they did this. He went through the entire Business Management Program in a numb state of mind. It was a KO punch that would have downed any normal person in his position but he was made of sterner stuff. Yet it hurt and badly at that. For twenty five years he had given himself to the company growing its business, creating & grooming great teams and it had eluded him now; the top job. Playing the system had been sheer guts ball; his rise was meteoric in parts, steady in the others with a few setbacks too, quite normal to an executive’s career graph. Hit hard, he had decided then to roll with the punch and go with the flow. But things had only gone from bad to worse after that call. Individually he seemed secure but his position and the power with it had lost its sheen. It had coincided with the market downturn and opportunities outside petered out too. He had never once considered that as an option till then. But now with the situation coming to a head, completely against his grain, he had consciously broached out. It was eerie the manner in which every single moment of the last two years flashed across his mind in clear & distinct frames like an old choppy black and white film.

The light had turned red as his chauffeur halted the car. Aditya Buch, Sr. Executive Vice President of Energy Corp Limited just put his head back on the seat rest and stared out of the window, eyes unfocussed. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what had triggered this memory.Today he had decided to wind up early at work and at 2.00pm started for home. The downturn affecting the company’s business and his vertical in particular was neither the first nor the severest one in his career & he was sure that ‘this too would pass’.

ECL was his first & only job from the time he was handpicked picked off the campus of IIT Bombay. He had opted to be in the sales function. Through sheer determination and hard work he had quickly scaled up the ranks. ECL was an off shoot of Cyrmed which had been a closely held company founded by a Parsee gentleman Kaizad Cyrusi. Cyrmed dealt with fabricated furniture used in medical facilities. The son in law of the founder- Farhan Engineer was instrumental in steering Cyrmed towards technology. Subsequently ECL was carved out as a separate company. ECL concentrated on being an equipment and solution provider to other Industries in the field of Energy. Ironically Engineer the first chairman was not an engineer by qualification at all but an economics graduate. But what he lacked for in technical knowledge he made it up with his quick-silver open minded approach, clear vision, superb business acumen and a unique ability to attract the best talent in the industry. He assembled together the finest young brains in technology and made them a part of his vision. It was an exciting place to work with precisely because of this very talent pool. Aditya had joined the company when its strength was some 350 people and a turnover of Rs.100 million.His only goal had been the top position for which he had chalked out a path and systematically gone about it; executing and achieving those periodic milestones in the climb upwards. The company too had grown in the interim period. ECL in the present day was a multi-divisional company with people strength of 2900 & a turnover of Rs. 19 billion. The vertical under Aditya alone had a top line of Rs.12 billion and 1500 people.

Where had the years gone by ? Why did he feel a faint sense of unease and distress today?

He sighed deeply and as his thoughts lost the intense concentration the world outside the car window swam back into focus. He found himself in the suburb of Bhuleshwar. He wondered why the chauffeur, Joseph, had chosen this path today. It didn’t bother him much though as Joseph knew they were going home. Home was Bandra, further north from Colaba where the office was located. It was not his style to interfere once he had spelt out his expectation. His team loved him precisely for this trait, never once would he vacillate over a decision and once conveyed would give the team total freedom of execution. Nearer the timeline would come a brief review check and unless asked for he would hold his opinion. His feedback was always fair, firm and encouraging even if things may not have been exactly in line with what he had earlier spelt. He allowed people to make their own mistakes and learn from them. He was a superlative man motivator & consistently got more delivered because of this ability; coupled with the fact that he took his people along with him as he rose had created a fair amount of bankable goodwill. Now if one has to achieve speedy progress then some toes are bound to be stepped upon, some games would be played. He had done them all. As he looked out he zoned in on the trigger of these thoughts.

In an open compound adjoining the spot where the car stood, were four children playing, three girls and a boy all between ten & twelve years of age. It was hopscotch. He smiled widely to himself and looked on. Hopscotch is a simple game yet absorbing in its execution. All one needs to play it are a piece of chalk and a small flat rock or tile. One draws the course of 9 squares in a cross formation, tosses the slate in one of the squares and hops into the squares. The square with the tile is avoided while the foot has to be clearly inside the square. When the foot falls on a line then the player is out and has to concede her/his turn to another player. The beginner is allowed to look below and jump but as one progresses in the skill she/he should not. There lay the skill and the precision of the hop. Each being a commitment to a path forward till the top of the course is reached. Then one hops around comes to the square holding the tile, bends while on one leg, picks it up and completes the return, hopping all the time.

He had played it as a boy in Junagadh district, Gujarat where he hailed from. They were Nagar Brahmins’ by caste and a very close knit family. He being the apple of his grandmother’s eye was encouraged the most. When he won at Hopscotch against his sisters, he would get a paisa coin from her as a reward. He was allowed to spend it on himself though he never did. Even later as his education and career took him away from Junagadh to Bombay, this practice never varied or stopped. She rewarded and celebrated each one of his successes. He too looked forward to visiting her year on year just to see the glow in her wrinkled cheeks and shiny eyes as she dipped her hand below the pillow and fished out her velvet pouch. The joy and anticipation had remained just the same between them. The paisa had grown to four annas over time and he treasured them as much as his promotions, increments or bonuses which would have boggled the mind of the lady had she known the values. He clutched each coin fiercely like a hard won medal and kept them in a walnut engraved box at home. They came from a person who encouraged him and believed in him much before anyone even knew of his existence let alone potential. She had passed away a decade back and the playing kids rekindled that memory. He missed her for her simple homilies, the sage advice and her innate native wisdom. She had been his first & original mentor. She had played a role in his understanding of people &motivation for performance.

All things being constant the more one plays a game the expertise goes up till there comes a time when one can even play blindfolded. He knew now that he had never actually stopped playing; only now which each step ahead the squares had progressively become smaller and one day it would be his foot on the line. It had fallen two years back. Outside the girls yelled with joy as the boy faulted the line. Disappointed the boy stepped back & awaited his turn to play again.

The Engineer family had encouraged Aditya’s progress in his early days and he had grown close to them. He was on a song then and his rise was spectacular. He rose to command the outpost in the Western region with a record performance at a very young age. His efforts going forward were now keenly watched by his rivals. They waited for him with an obstacle at every turn. Most he had nimbly jumped over, some he had anticipated and diffused but off late he had stumbled a few times. The next business he headed was a startup, a new thrust area for the group. Things had not worked out for the business, as well as he had envisaged, both in the receptiveness of the market or the team he had to settle for. Limited capital constrained him to look within the group for a team. Those he chose were senior experienced hands. Startups as a thumb rule though work best with young people. Youth is energy and this energy when channelized by one head on top works wonders. This precedent was overlooked by him. Startups also require a fair seeding time. While the business idea had merit and they did manage a few business orders they had faltered. He had begun operations in a comfort zone of his relationships; both with the choice of clients and his choice of the team. This became his undoing and he had vowed not to adopt the same kind of approach ever ahead. He wound up this division and then moved back to the group.

The CEO, Rajiv Deshpande was an old school, old economy veteran and an autocrat in his style of operations. He had replaced Aditya’s mentor who had to leave when the economy turned & the groups fortunes fluctuated. The bad weather CEO, RD tightened the reins, trimmed the costs, cut off fresh financing to all new ventures and denied extended timelines to new seeded ventures. One of the casualties had been Aditya’s new venture. But then as a loyal, skilled & market hardened resource, he was just too valuable to let go. He was weaned back and as compensation was given his old division to head. RD’s actions streamlined the company into fewer verticals and restored profitability. He had recalled another of his trusted people T S R Balakrishnan from a company in the Middle East back into ECL to head its parallel division that concentrated on Environment. TSR was impeded by no historical performance metric for his division and the growth he achieved was phenomenal. This starkly contrasted with the performance of Aditya’s old economy division that was hit by the downturn. RD favored TSR to head the company after him and made no secret of it to the board. The family members who favored Aditya were left mute when performance in the recent past was brought on to the table.

Every successive day became a struggle. His peers & board who had supported his candidature receded into their shells. Most straddled a fence and preferred to keep mum.

Outside the traffic had not yielded even one bit, the light was still red and Joseph was drumming his fingers on the steering. In the rearview he could see his boss calmly watching the kids play their game. Joseph was a Tamilian and he too knew the game if only by its Tamil name - Paandi. The world around them was still, only the kids seemed to be perpetually in motion.

As the girls played Aditya could see that two of them deliberately cheated, and the boy, despite noticing this was quiet about it. He felt a queer empathy with the boy. The girls had denied him his rightful turn for a couple of rounds yet the boys expression didn’t change.

The thoughts flew back to the manner in which TSR after having taken charge had systematically scuttled his responsibilities and eroded the power centers. Aditya was still perceived as a threat to his chair. The attacks were oblique and never direct and it was a confrontation waiting to happen. Aditya had read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and was a follower. Without a fall back option he was not going to engage TSR. For this very reason he had activated his contacts outside. For over a couple of months now there had been an active discussion with a multinational giant. They were on the lookout for a person of his talents. They too had expressed interest and four rounds of informal meetings had happened. He had liked the people there, the role he was considered for and was awaiting their response. His team’s morale at ECL was at an all-time low, vitiated by the tension between him and TSR. Aditya’s still stance now worried his loyalists too. His patience had given way long back and with a startling clarity knew what TSR didn’t, that he “wanted it” no more. He would neither engage TSR in his futile attempts at one–upmanship nor retaliate in the same strain. His integrity would not be sacrificed at this stage of his career when their engagement would wreck the very business he had helped build over the past years.

The two girls finished their turn, the third one unfortunately stumbled and it was the boy’s turn to play again. Aditya could see the boy’s set jaw and the glint of steel his eye and knew this was it. The small kid’s determination brought about a surge of energy in Aditya too and he watched with fascination. With renewed vigor and grit the boy played. His movements were smooth and coordinated & he had wiped out the slate of his past error clean by opening up a new chapter in the play. The cars honking around them did not bother him. The girls were reduced to mere onlookers as the boy played with a calm competency. He actually felt sorry for the one who had stumbled. The cheats were only getting their just dues.

His cell buzzed. He was shaken up from his reverie. It was a similar ring that had him stare at a hellish two years, but the boys energy had suffused him with an optimism. “Hello, Aditya?” a faintly accented voice in English said, “Sven here, you are it, Congratulations, we shall talk later.” The blaring horns and vehicular sounds indicated the light had turned green. The choke in the road miraculously cleared. Aditya Buch, the new CEO of Bearings Inc felt the hum of the powerful engine as his car gathered traction. As it moved ahead he looked out & back, the boy was jumping in the air screaming "I won".