The mechanic CEO

George chettan (not the real name) was a mechanic. He used to repair the disinfectant spraying cylinders that were used by the municipal corporation cleaning workers. It was not his own business and he worked for a shop in the town. I worked under George chettan for about 4 months in 1997 hoping to learn and become a mechanic myself.

It was a typical mechanic shop. You’ve got to learn the wrenches/spanners by numbers. At first, I didn’t understand what he meant when he said “bring me the 10!” or “try that 12!” etc. And you’ve got to get your hands dirty with oil and grease too. That was hard for me initially, because I was an ‘ambitious’ teenager who did not want to work hard (in general, jobs such as these taught me and prepared me for life that was about to come). I was sort of like Jayaram in the movie “Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal”, minus the rich family background.

Luckily, George chettan wasn’t that abusive as the seniors in this line of work usually are towards juniors, and I learned something about that work because of him. It wasn’t a hard job to learn and I started getting incentives from George chettan once I started repairing those cylinders myself. 10 rupees everyday (that’s about 13 cents in USD) from his own pocket, other than the monthly salary that the shop owner gave. He said I could earn more if I kept performing well.

There were two ways to repair a cylinder. You look for the problem at the specific area that the customer mentioned and try to fix it. If you can’t see the issue first hand, the next thing that you can do is to start from the basics. Basically to unscrew the parts, clean up the washers and replace if any washer is broken, apply some oil or grease to the rusty parts, tighten the nuts and bolts, and then assemble the whole thing back to its form. When you test it afterwards, it would work perfectly. The method was simple, even though the labor could be difficult. When I landed in the I.T. industry, I could draw parallels between the two. You try to fix your code where you see it broken and if not, you go line by line and fix the errors, and then you get the clean code with the problem solved.

When you think about it, what anyone needs to learn almost anything is just a keen interest, a good mentor, an intensive training and the hard work. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mechanic or a software engineer in that aspect. And that is how software engineers are produced these days too, right? You take whatever background one has – electrical, mechanical, civil, commerce or whatever – and then you train people, and then they become software engineers.

And that is why it hurt me deeply when I heard a politician from the opposition party in Kerala, who is also a member of the local assembly, questioned why the position of a company director was enjoyed by an auto rickshaw driver and alleged that it showed vested interests. He accused a healthcare startup as fraudulent, despite being named by Microsoft as one of the top 10 emerging startups in the state. The fact is that the ‘auto-driver’ is in fact a Gulf-returned business man who ‘also’ happens to have an auto rickshaw. But the larger question remains – why cannot an auto-driver or any other person as such start, or invest in, an I.T. company?

That’s when I recalled this particular episode from my early life and George chettan himself. The frail old man with a long face, raised eyebrows, big ears, long moustache, a day-old stubble and the stretch marks that the hard work has left on his forehead. That is as much as I could remember of him after about 23 years now. I imagined him to be a CEO sitting on a desk, defying the prejudices of some people and politicians.

Is that irksome to these politicians? So be it.

In memoriam

During some of the deaths and funerals, you would be taken on a trip down the memory lane. Yesterday was one as such as a cousin sister passed away all of a sudden. Memories came rolling back to a time when there was a parish festival, one of the very few times of the year that you got to eat well. The closest cousins would come early in the weekend to help my mother make the Achappam, Kuzhalappam and Unniyappam – the special snacks which were made only during the festive times (which are now available on every single day at the bakeries). They are then stored in the large and empty palm oil tins until the next week (or maybe for much longer than a month after the parish festival).

The next memory was of a house where someone took his own life. There was a strange odour that filled that house and for so many years that followed, I had thought that it was how poison smelled.

And then a shared memory in the family of the hand-written letters from her while she worked abroad. Letters in fine handwriting, detailing her life abroad, and asking about how we were faring. Letters, because there was no telephone. And much later when telephone happened, some occassional phone calls too.

And here I was thinking yesterday, about how come all those memories to recollect were from the days of hardship, when people had very little yet were so close to each other. That there were no easy means to connect with each other – not even a landphone, easy access to vehicles, or social media – yet they kept visiting each other in person and kept in contact.

In memory of Leyoni chechi, a life lived full of struggles, yet with grace. May her soul rest in peace…

Politics in the name of faith

So the RSS at the centre supports the women entry at Sabarimala, but many footsoldiers of RSS (including the online ones) do not. BJP at the centre supports the cause but BJP in the state opposes it (the BJP state chief has openly said that this is a political shift in favour of BJP). Hindutva’s long time poster boy Rahul Eswar fights for the cause but Hindutva and RSS ideologue T G Mohandas fights against it. The ex-VHP and now IHP head Pravin Togadiya who has a rift from the parivar (but not from its core ideology) is against it and challenges the BJP government at the center to issue an ordinance against the verdict. SNDP general secretary was against the protests one day (a stand that he shifted twice since then in a matter of a couple of days) but BDJS, the political wing of SNDP and led by the secretary’s son, is protesting.

And then there are some Christian and Muslim organizations, parties and people against the verdict, not because the secular values have hit them all of a sudden, but a strategy well in advance so as to protect their own patriarchal practices if a similar verdict is issued against practices of their respective religions.

All these drama happens in Keralam, however. It is obvious what their common goal is with this theatrics, right after we as a state and community have shown the world some great examples of humanity, survival and co-existence at the time of the floods, and now that the upcoming elections are a priority. Yet many are left confused about which side they should pick and fight. One must be a total idiot not to see these political games in the name of faith but unfortunately that is what happening.

Review: Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

There was a time when Mani Ratnam was a master of his art. He took the best out of every actor; even actors about whom we thought were average have performed beyond our expectations in Mani Ratnam films. When melodrama was the signature characteristic of Tamil cinema or Indian cinema in general, Mani Ratnam’s characters did it subtly, spoke not just with their words, and they went straight to our hearts. Well, that’s a thing of past now.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

In “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam”, you see the director struggling to keep the audience consistently engaged with the characters. Even the characters are emotionally disconnected with each other (and I’m not talking about the plot’s context). There is a scene when Jyothika’s character is dying and Aravind Swami is confessing something to her. This supposedly is a very emotional scene, yet it is one among the many cold scenes in the movie.

The first half of the movie was totally racy though. So much so that you wouldn’t realise how that one hour went. Mainly thanks to the towering performance of Prakash Raj (that actor is a gem!). But once the initial plot for each character is set, the director is clueless about how to take this forward on the shoulders of the three leading actors. Though at the end he gains some hold on the craft.

Jyothika is the only consistent performer in the movie, other than Prakash Raj and Jaya Sudha. Vijay Sethupathi does justice to his role, but it is not convincing enough that all his subtlety throughout the film was for the climax. Aravind Swami’s performance is not what I would except in the company of Mani Ratnam but maybe that is expecting too much.

Rahman’s background score is gripping at times but falls to melodramatic lows at times. And please don’t sing anymore, Rahman! You startled me with your voice during that funeral scene of Ethi’s wife.

Mani Ratnam does a Ram Gopal Varma with “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam” and that is not what his fans go to theatres for. I hope he doesn’t forget that even if the movie does well in the box office.

Kerala Chronicles

I usually am very proud of my home state. About how, despite the desperate attempts of some pro-Sanghi north Indian media, we are faring well, and on top, on all major social indices and how the international media says that we cannot be compared to any other Indian state but to the developed nations.

And today was one of those moments when every Malayalee should be proud of as the news of Kerala being at the top of the health index by NITI Ayog came out. But for once, I am not very proud right now. There is something wrong with our society’s mental health. I’m ashamed, because this news comes a day after a mob beaten up a migrant worker, accusing him of child trafficking. In between all the beating, he was trying to eat what he had and the mob thrashed his food to the ground and asked him to eat from there. The man seem to have told the mob that he has a child back home and none in Kerala, but the mob inferred that he had kidnapped one child in his home state and none yet in Kerala. Yes, the Malayalee mob who would otherwise point to the mobs in Bihar and U.P.

The incident happened shortly after the chief minister himself had said that out of the 199 people who were arrested in charge of the child missing cases, 188 were Malayalees. And the state police chief had warned that those who spread false news through social media would be charged.

All this happening in a state from where people have migrated to all parts of the country and world for a living. And when they became rich enough, they had to resort on the domestic help from outside the state to do the job that they refuse to do.

Of course there is a spike in the child missing cases each year, and as a parent am worried. As Muralee Thummarukudy mentioned, as the state develops compared to the other states, it is likely to attract all sort of things from within and outside – businesses, development and, criminals. But to outrightly point to the migrant workers, most of them who are here to make a living, just like how Malayalees are in Gulf or elsewhere in the world, is utterly wrong.

The homeless diaries


Everybody is wary of the homeless ‘problem’ in the downtowns in the U.S. Whether it is San Jose or Seattle. As a visitor, you would be more cautious than the residents. One of the guys whom I met in a bar last year gave me some perspective about the homeless issue though. About how the surge in real estate pricing, and other such issues results in a homeless community.

Usually I ignore the questions from the homeless on the pavements. Everytime it pains me because ignoring someone is the cruelest thing to do than denying or refusing. But the fear of the unknown is dominant and I would always find solace in imagining them to be drug addicts or people who have messed up because of their own fault. Most of the times they would be asking for change. And when we ignore, most of them curses.

Which wasn’t the case when I met a lady near the SAP center. I didn’t even lend my ear properly to what she was asking for but then as I walked past, she was saying ‘bless you’ and ‘happy holidays’. I walked past a little more, only to realize that she was asking for food, not money. And I did have food as I was on my way back after grocery shopping. So the guilt mounted over after a few steps and then I walked back and asked her, ‘were you asking for food?’. She said yes. I gave her a little of what I had. She was thankful and asked me if I had anything to sew, she would do that for me in return of the favour. ‘I will sew for food’, she said. A proud woman, just being plain unlucky.

Another day, another homeless man. And this time I was more attentive to what was asked, though still trying to ignore. He also wasn’t asking for money. ‘Would you have a lighter’, he asked. In this cold weather, that is the only thing he’s got to ask. I said sorry and moved on and there was no cursing.

I would still ignore, as I am still fearful of the unknown, bu this couple of incidents prove that maybe sometimes you just got to acknowledge the presence even if you don’t give them anything. Ignoring someone’s existence maybe is the cruelest thing to do.

Stroll around San Jose

On the first-day stroll around the city, you would notice that San Jose is a city of beautiful old Spanish architecture. From the majestic Bank of Italy building to the 18th century cathedral of St. Joseph. From the Sainte Claire hotel building to the art museum. The architecture is captivating. Then there are large and beautiful urban murals in the parking lots and smaller art projects in every corner of the city.

And the city is home to the homeless. On a lazy Sunday morning, you would see people packing their bags from their ‘spots’, and there is poop and pee and broken glass pieces of beer bottles on the sidewalks. In to the evening, you would see the homeless getting into a brawl with the security folks of the buildings, as they try to find a spot and settle in for the night.

On the first-day stroll around downtown San Jose, I found it quite amusing, with curiosity and a bit of fear, of the unknown and unfamiliar.

San Jose City Murals:

Saintly at St. James

St. James park is either empty or full of homeless in groups. Not many regular city dwellers in the area. And as you cautiously walk through the park, you notice that they get up from the ground and pace their way through. As you begin to wonder what now, you hear a voice asking, “did you get one yet?”. And that’s a group of three girls and a boy, distributing food packets to the homeless. From the look of those who rush through at the sight of this group of youngsters, I’d assume that its a regular supply.

Food, like people

American diaries } FOOD, LIKE PEOPLE

Some say food is like people. Like people, it travels the world and in the course it imbibe cultures and change its color and character. Like people, it survive the wars and carry the bitter-sweet taste with it. How else do you explain ‘Tacos Al Pastor’, a Mexican dish with Pork, that seem quite similar to the middle-eastern dish, Shawarma? And you learn that it was actually brought by the Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, and this immigration was a result of the collapsing Ottoman Empire back in the time? I mean, how many hundreds of years of history is that behind a single dish?

Or take the Greek dish called ‘Souvlaki’ (pita) which is also a close cousin of Shawarma, and the origins date back to the 17th century BC. When you look at the Vietnamese noodle soup ‘Pho’, it has stories of war to tell, because the soup was made popular in rest of the world by refugees of the Vietnam war (oh, and that soup is so delicious). While the Korean ‘Bibimbap’ has so many things mixed together – raw and cold vegetables, slices of meat that are sweet, fried egg and Kimchi. And you have to mix it all and eat. It is believed that farmers ate this during the farming season because it is easy to make food for a large amount of people.

Ain’t food interesting, like people?

Tacos Al Pastor
Tacos Al Pastor (Spanish/Mexican)

Souvlaki (Greek)

Pho (Vietnamese)

Bibimbap (Korean)