Sulaiman and Mount Nebo

(I am embarking on a trip around the Middle East traversing Jordan, crossing into Israel, up the Nile into Egypt, flying into Qatar before I return home. My next posts will be a travelogue that I will try to update everyday if I have access to the Net. Comments welcome.)

‘Welcome to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’, says Sulaiman. Our portly and smiling guide is a true blue Jordanian. He wears his love for his King on his sleeve, you can almost hear his voice tremble with emotion as he recounts how King Abdullah wanders on the streets of his kingdom disguised so that he can experience the life of his citizens first hand. Sulaiman says with that being peaceful nation it is a natural choice for people from neighbouring countries to settle in. As you pass through the rural areas surrounding the airport one sees large tracts of ploughed land. Olives and wheat are the main crops.

We pass through Madba, Sulaiman says he would have loved to invite us to his house here but his wife might throw him. Olives and pines line the roads that leads to Mount Nebo, the place that Moses spent his last days. The stone memorial to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul 2 has words from the Bible etched in Arabic. Close by there is a stone memorial that talks about Moses. We move ahead to the side of the hill that has a wrought iron representation of the bronze serpent that the Jews made to worship in place of Jehovah when Moses went away to the mountains to commune with the Lord. Sulaiman points out far into the horizon and says that what we see there is Canaan. Moses was told here that he could only see Canaan, the Promised Land, the ‘land of milk and honey’ but it is not his to lead the Israelis to.
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‘Kiddu’ – The Fort Kochi Connection

Kochi

I am a little dated when it comes to the latest slangs my nephews use back in Kerala. One that regularly comes up especially in comments on Facebook pictures is ‘kiddu’, I now understand it is short for ‘kiddilan’. The closest synonym in English will be ‘awesome’, though it barely covers the power of the word. I have been waiting for an opportune moment to use it and today I did.

So let me say it like it should, ‘Lunch at The Fort Kochi Connection was ‘kiddu’. A dash of subtle mallu humor, the aroma of spices and delicious Syrian Christian food…may be I should say ‘Suriyani Christiyani’ to make it even more authentic.

The Rib-Tickling Mocktail Menu

The Rib-Tickling Mocktail Menu

The humor starts with the Mocktail List – the names are typical of mallu humor – Kalipu Machane, Pacha Parishkari, Kumari UDC, Alambu Scene, Oru Jathi Gedi, are some of the names of the mocktails. The mallus will understand the humor, trying to translate it will kill the fun. Even the main menu has some funny names – Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken Curry, Railway Lamb Curry, Achayan Pothularth.

The menu starts with a peep into the history of Kochi and the influence of the Chinese, the English and the Dutch visits over the centuries and the menu is divided under these cuisines. But then why would I go to an authentic mallu restaurant and have Kung Pao Chicken or Shepherd’s Pie or Bitterballen? And so we ordered the Syrian Christian Erachi Cutlet and I bit into childhood memories of my mother making cutlets when I got home from school. The Suriyani Christiyani cutlet is generously spiced, we make minimum use of potato and the meat is well minced. We serve it with fresh onion rings mixed with green chillies and crushed curry leaves, not for us the newfangled ketchup and the sauces.

The next was kappa biriyani (tapioca biriyani) again the ingredients were fresh and perfectly cooked. The kappa had a slight nutty taste and the beef was soft and well cooked, the dish was nicely spiced. We also ordered the Malabari Biriyani which was equally good. I looked around and people on other tables seemed to be smiling and nodding so I am guessing the other dishes found favor as well. I had Nalini giving me good company as I dug into the food, next time I will ask for Tholasie. And before you draw conclusions, Nalini was one of the mocktails.

My advice to non mallus, there are dishes beyond aappam, stew and fish moilee in our repertoire, you know. Go on experiment and your palate will be richer for the experience.

The only drawback with place is parking and with footfalls only going to rise, this is going to be a serious concern in the not so distant future.

You went to a mallu restaurant and didn’t have sea food, you ask? Well, now I have reason to drop in again with foodie friends. I will sum up my experience at The Fort with an older mallu adjective that we used back in the day – Ugran.

Ten Simple Commandments for World Environment Day

earth9[1]

Are you intimidated by the media harangues about the drastic measures to save the planet? Here are some simple things you can do in your daily lives to do your bit before you take on the world.

1. Thou shall not feed the vampire – vampire power is the charge that is being drained at night by your plugged devices that are in standby mode like your cell phone chargers, TV, microwaves, etc. Even these tiny bits of power multiplied by thousands of households means wasted energy when it is over a period of 24 hours.

2. Do not let thine water run in vain  – many people have the tendency to leave taps running while brushing teeth. Hold a mug under the tap as you wash and you will have enough water to rinse your razor while you shave. Avoid rinsing your razor under running water.

3. Thou shall not shower – collecting water in a bucket and bathing saves a significant amount as opposed to using the shower. 

4. Thou shalt listen for the devil’s drip – listen for dripping faucets and running toilets. Fixing a leak can save hundreds of gallons a month or more.

5. Thou shall wash only when thou has no shirt on your back – Run your washing machine only when it is full. You can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.

6. Remember to use the besom wisely – Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalk and save water.

7. Thou shall use the water of thine fruit – Collect the water you use for rinsing fruits and vegetables to water houseplants.

8. Thou shall live of the power of the stars – install a solar heater on your terrace. It does not cost much.

9. Thou shalt use the same cloth to wipe the sweat of thy brow – reuse towels while staying in a hotel or even at home.

10. Above all honor Nature – do your bit in your neighbourhood, plant trees, encourage rain water harvesting, switch off street lights every morning. 

Of CVs and Interviews

“I have met a few agencies and I know what the going rate in the industry is,” the candidate said. There was nothing wrong in being honest and upfront but as an interviewer it made me a tad irritable. It was probably the choice of words not about the amount. Going rate? How about saying remuneration or salary? Definitely sounds better. Just goes to show how minor mistakes can make or mar impressions. I am not certain how many CVs I have read or interviews I sat through, but there are some that stand out as honest, funny, quirky, bizarre or sickeningly boring. I am sharing a few of my experiences, it may probably serve some job aspirant well.

Covering letter / mail  - I remember getting one that sounded highly flattering, worded to make my company sound as though we invented PR. The only thing missing was neon lights flashing ‘mass mail’ and I was very sure the same letter was sent to other companies too. Most candidates spend effort beefing up their resumes and put little effort in the covering letter. Interviewers know that you probably got help to create your CV but you may be exposed with this one.

Will that be all?

One recurring mistake I have seen is candidates from the same institution using the same covering letter. This is the first piece of communication that your prospective employer sees, so make it stand out. Briefly talk about yourself, your strengths, your experience. This is also an opportunity to display your proactivity, do a bit of research on the company and explain why you think you will make a good fit with the company. Above all, remember not start with a ‘Hi’. Its better to err on the side of caution, so the traditional ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ should be safe.

Résumés – At a campus talk, a student asked me for ideas to make a good impression with his CV. My response was that this is about you, let your individuality come through. I added that all the CVs I got from that college were replicas except for personal details. Imagine my embarrassment when all 35 of those students glared at their Career Counsellor and said they had all been instructed to follow the college’s prescribed format.

Blooper

Put yourself in an employer’s position, he gets CVs from you and your batchmates as well. How are you going to stand out? Your CV is your personality in words, let it come through. I have received one pagers and 12 pagers as well but the one that stood out was a CD with a wacky Powerpoint. Now I am not saying go out and get a multimedia presentation done, but do try to be creative. For me the criminal offence would be to let errors slip in to the document. If I got the proverbial penny for every CV that I have got with typos and formatting errors, I could have retired by now. One can’t emphasise enough that ‘the devil is in the detail’. There are several CVs that elicit no response for exactly this reason.

To work in a reputed organisation, to learn new skills, utilize my potential to the fullest & to add value  / contribute to the growth of the organisation – this is how every third resume, I get, begins. It is a put off and reading further takes an effort.

Interviews – Casual does not mean creative, period. I have had people walking in wearing drawstring pajamas, floaters, scuffed jeans, and even the occasional suit. And guess what? The guy in the suit still works with me :-), of course, he had skills beyond his choice of clothes. Rule of thumb – formals are safe.

The impact of body language cannot be emphasised enough, firm handshake, smile, maintain eye contact. Admit it if you don’t know the answer to a question. Years ago we interviewed a promising young executive (I am sure he will roll up his eyes if he reads this), he was making a presentation to my team on ‘Company Positioning and Its Effects on Stock Performance’. The first slide was a comparison of Infosys and Wipro, he started by saying, ‘Infosys is the best PR agency’. There was silence and before we could react he dashed out of the room, took a deep breath and strode back in confidently apologised with a smile and he went on to complete his deck. And yes, he was hired. :-)

Do a bit of research on the company you are interviewing with, ask around, get the names of a few clients, try to identify differentiators. Given the proliferation of social networks, it will be a good idea to check the digital profile of your interviewer, you may find an ice breaker. It happened at one of my interviews,  an Account Director that I was meeting was checking my tweets just as I walked in. And she started the conversation with a discussion on a particular tweet and the meeting panned into a debate than the boring question – answer routine.

Follow up – You can end by clarifying when to expect to hear about the company’s decision, follow up after that. You can also be smart about the follow up. For instance, during one interview that my colleague and I sat through, the candidate sensed that my colleague was a keen follower of the telecom vertical. A day after the interview she sent us a comprehensive commentary on trends in the telecom vertical. We could not but offer her the job.

So take a look at your CV, type out a good cover mail and prepare well for your next interview, chances are that you stand a better chance at landing that job you have always wanted.

Puckish Revelations – The Funny Side of PR (Episode 1)

At the outset, let me clarify, I said puckish and not pukish.

A recent blog post by a colleague of mine, Shahnazj/ talked about the funny things that she has done over the course of her PR career (http://text100india.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/you-know-youre-in-pr-when/) got me reminiscing. And here goes my attempt at narrating a few amusing incidents that have happened during my time. And before you question my credentials, let’s say I do have a few press conferences under my belt too.

 

This one happened recently and comes to mind right away. It was a media briefing for a tech client, ably managed end-to-end (an over used corporate usage, if you ask me) by my colleague M. Post the briefing, yours truly, was staffing (how is that for PR speak? :-)) a media interview with a senior spokesperson. As is normal in such interactions, the journalist asked about the company’s India R&D centre. (M had briefed the journalist earlier that the company did not have such a facility in India). There was a brief, uncomfortable hesitation by the client with a hint of exasperation. I looked at M who was at the far end of the room, I needed to clarify if there was mention of any such centre in the press kit. Not wanting to disrupt the interview I caught M’s eye and noiselessly mouthed P-R-E-S-S K-I-T, she nodded and I turned my attention back to interaction. From the corner of my eye, I see M walking across and she hands me a plate of biscuits!!! The client and the journalist give me a look, a look that blared a lot of things like – what audacity? How greedy can he be? Couldn’t he wait for lunch? How insensitive to order a colleague around?

Red faced and with a sheepish smile – I said, sorry I wanted a press kit.

Resolutions For Here And Hereafter

It’s the time for resolutions and I have been quite irritated with the resolutions of one particular tweet I follow. His first resolution was that he would blog regularly, that touched a raw nerve, not to mention that I have been guilt ridden by PB’s constant pleas. And what better way to start than to list out resolutions, some of which I have no intention of keeping, however it may rid me of my blogger’s block. So here go my resolutions for the year ahead; actually make that for the decade, I have no intention of indulging in this excruciating exercise every year. 

1.  I will continue to believe in God and his infinite mercy despite everything that goes in the name of organised religion. The intolerance, the caste wars, the desecration of holy places. What happened to – love thy brother, turn the other cheek? Well, the lines stay in the Holy Books, God is in the Heavens and all is well in the world.

2. I will take up the cause of load-shedding. Err, not my flab; I am not FAT, just pleasantly plump. I will do my bit to save on electricity, switch off lights and airconditioners even if they are in adjoining workstations. 

3. I will defend Bangalore as the best city in the country on several factors none of which will include infrastructure, tolerance, security and openness. I will make a song and dance about the biggest blessing we have – the climate.

4. I will learn another language – French probably. Cursing at traffic tyrants in Kannada or Tamil is not effective any more. I tried Malayalam but the BPO cabbie nearly caused an accident laughing at me.

5. I will not vote if there is no candidate I can support. Its all humbug, one vote less wont make any difference. The corrupt will still win.

6. I will keep my friends close and my foes in the closet. That’s where they belong.

7. I will heartily join my Mallu brethren to proclaim that we hail from the most literate state, I will vehemently deny that we are the most illiterate in progress.

8. I will be tolerant to all other genres of music including the organised cacophony that have no rhyme, rhythm or reason.  And if I hear them being played while I am engrossed in James Last or Paul Mariat, I will take the ultimate step in toleration – I will don my earphones.

9. Money is the root of all luxury and I will shamelessly hold on to every bit of it. That Lazyboy will surely make a good retirement present to myself.

10. I will ensure that my favorite brand Louis Philippe will not go bankrupt. I will buy all of their special editions, 10th, 10 1/2, 10 3/4 year editions. I will buy all their new ranges especially the ones that are landmark and so different from the previous ones – like the changes in the thickness of stripes or the minute changes in the checks. 

Well, with that, my dearies, here’s wishing you all the very best for the year ahead.

All is not lost, some of us still have a sense of humour.

Doubts and Doubting Thomases

I have had a few people asking why I took a break from blogging and urging me to resume, believe you me it feels good to know people are concerned. So Padma, Poorani and others thank you for the concern and encouragement. My break was a result of a personal loss, of which I wont say much, because I believe loss is private and should be dealt with alone. And as is wont in difficult times one’s beliefs and faith are tested. It took me to the various times in the past when several of my traditional beliefs where put through the test.

I remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ and the furore it created. I was young and wondered  what was the big deal about Jesus having feelings for Mary Magdalene or him having doubts about his last suffering. Did it change my views? No, I was used to reading about God’s that were really human – Krishna, Arjuna, Rama and all my other heroes from Amar Chitra Katha. For me it was fine for God or Demigod to have normal feelings. There were other controversies like the Turin Shroud, remnants of Noah’s Ark which again were matters of grave discussion.

And then came Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code that threatened to shake the foundations of Christendom. The Vatican was up in arms, and so were a few other factions. Did it change my beliefs? No. What if Christ loved Mary, what if he had a child? Does it take away anything from his teachings? absolutely not. It however got me thinking, was there truth in some parts of the novel? Was it all a hushed up by the church? But why? Jeffery Archer tried to stir up some controversy with the Gospel According to Judas, at best it was like a short story written by a high school student.

Recently there have been discussions about St. Thomas and his journey to India. Some eminent historians aver that he didn’t come to India and that it is an elaborate make believe story. They say there are no records, however there is a belief that the Portugese wiped out all evidence. Does historical evidence really matter in matters of faith? Whether Thomas came to India or not, Syrian Christians will still be Christians…will that make me less Christian? Do my values change because Thomas didn’t visit India? No….