Leaving Neverland. And Michael Jackson.

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Some movies are too tough to watch; especially those that bring down the aura that surrounds global stars. The #MeToo moment did that (and is still doing) for a few stars; even though it might be only temporarily for their careers.

And then there are those stories that have been hushed and spoken in whispers all these years; till they are laid bare. Michael Jackson and ‘child sexual abuse allegations’ are something that has been made public for over two and a half decades. There have been several allegations, a few court cases and several out of the court settlements. But till date, all of this has had minimal impact on the aura of the star; his music has been and still holds strong across all races, young and old.

But that’s changing with the recently released documentary, now being aired by HBO, of the story of two young adults in their 30s, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who detail out their childhood and the allegations in detail through this documentary. Millions have watched it in less than a week since it’s release. The Jackson estate has sued HBO for millions of dollars; but they have gone ahead with it.

It is a hard-hitting, straight-in-your-face documentary. There is no cover; there are no smoke screens. The emotions are visible on the face of the multiple protagonists; whatever “proofs” they have, it is shown across the 4 hours, 2 episode documentary in detail.

It is tough to watch it. There is nothing graphic; just a narration of things as they (allegedly) happened. But it is tough to watch. But it is necessary; whether one believes the allegations or not. In today’s extremely radicalized world, the need for having a viewpoint on a particular topic has been blown out of proportion. But then, there are some areas that need to be discussed; simply because they shape what is considered taboo; and what should not be kept behind closed doors; whether it impacts us or not.

To be honest; I have been able to see only the first episode, I simply can not find the nerve to go through the second part. And unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to any of MJ’s songs ever.

Leaving Neverland Trailer

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The New Kids on the block

India strikes back in explosive sledge war”

The day after an Indian ODI match or a test was always special, all the more important if India had won that match. Because the newspapers would come out with a grand article singing praises out in bold and burying the negativities in the details. Especially more with shitty newspapers like Times Of India who would surround such articles with a grand winning picture on the front page, with multiple articles and opinions on the Sports section. 

This ritual used to be vital because of the inherent flaws with our cricket team. We had heroes, and a floundering team otherwise. We made mistakes, we were always catching up to the other team, whether it be in terms of the bowling, batting or fielding aspects. Matches were won by special innings by singular individuals, or by a mix of luck and bad performance by the opposite team covering up the mistakes of the Indian team. We weren’t that bad, on paper we always had a great team and hence expectations were always high, but we always never seem to meet them. 

Hence the role of the newspaper articles – they made us forget the flaws, and revel in the small joys of a win for a day or two; or maybe even a week. It made people forget the flaws of the recent win; the gaps in our bowling and fielding attack, the failed attempts of the other batsmen in making this an easy win. Hope was rekindled again for the next game. Always.

There would be reasonable logic filled articles too. By critics, and by former cricketers who would point out the areas of improvement, ‘star’ players who have consistently been playing bad, and the need for change. One would generally treat such articles as if they were part of the editorial section. These articles would truthfully point out how we should have probably lost them, but for the opposite team’s mistakes.¬†

Should Australia be more aggressive?

We are in new territory.

It is a flash in the pan – critics would tell you. Or the nagging colleague who sits next to you and always has an opinion on everything that walks or moves. We have been here several times, as indicated by when the Indian team has been at the top of the rankings over the years, and winning matches at home and overseas. 2001, 2007, 2011, and several more.

But this is different. 

Look at the recent series – we lost in South Africa, we lost in England (the home series don’t even matter). But the fact of the matter was we lost matches that we had almost won. 

And we seem to have an all-around team, led by a booze slinged coach, and a cocky captain who seems to know how to talk sense in the post-match sessions without giving out too much away on his players, irrespective of whether we played well or badly.

And for once, I’m looking forward to reading overseas newspaper articles, especially of those in the host countries. Give it a try. You might feel the familiar feeling of being here in the past.

The Accidental Thief (Part II)


Part I can be read here


5 a.m. The early morning wake-up call wasn’t helping. Neither was the filter coffee, made out of Kenyan Arabica beans (procured at a idiotically premium amount from the Starbucks outlet at my office) that tasted as similar as the local Matunga based coffee powder. I wisely turn down the thought to go down and check if by any divine luck, the auto driver would have had a change of heart and returned the purse. Nada – that’s not happening for sure.

7:15 a.m. The maid comes in, with a bit of gleam in her eyes, certainly more than any other day; after all it was the end of the month; it’s pay-day. And just the day earlier she had requested this month’s payment in cash (now you understand why a purse that generally has peanuts in cash was holding thousands of rupees; ah the sweet irony of it). I update her about the situation; more important – the lack of a working card meant I really couldn’t give her money in cash. Her face falls. Then for the first time, in her 6+ years of working at my place, she makes a valuable comment

Bhaiya, aap ne CCTV check kiya?

Eh? CCTV?

Haan bhaiya, woh hain na gate pae camera... Usme pata chalega auto ka number

BRILLIANT! Honestly, I could have kissed her for that piece of information (Disclaimer: no way that was going to happen). I get up to go down when she makes shares another piece of valuable information (seriously, this lady is on fire! How does she know all this?)

Woh society office abhi nahi khula hoga. 10 baje khulta hai

I still run down to check the angle of the cameras. Yup, she was right. Infact there were two cameras at different angles. No way am I going to miss the auto. Our bengali babu who just arrives looks at me with a weird look (seriously he needs to relook his profession; all that time spent, and he couldn’t figure out to bring up the cameras even once?) I ask him if these cameras are active to which he stutters and stammers that he’s not sure. Of course. Not that I expected him to know.

I drop a chat to the office team on the new findings. I literally hear a groan from my boss (he understands I ain’t going to be in office till af’noon without me saying it). Well, waddyaknow, maybe today might turn out to be a good day, for multiple reasons. 

10 A.M. Dheeraj, the security admin is at his seat with all the camera up and running. I inform him on the situation. He whips up the keyboard, punches in a few keys and voila, we are looking at yesterday’s video recording – I’m making the payment and I walk inside. Like a formula 1 car, the auto makes a 180 degree turn and heads out. And right there, right at the 133rd angle of turn, a brown colored object falls out. As if on cue, a security guard walks up and picks up the object and quickly turns back disappearing out of the camera’s view. Incredibly, I’m still in the camera’s view in the bottom corner, doing the walk towards my block; all while this has happened.

Dheeraj switches off the application, with a wide grin on his face. I just made his day, probably his week or even the month. Events like these are rare for him – where his job description responsibilities are actually realized. He gets to be the hero – the Sherlock who just solved the nation’s biggest mystery. I stammer – asking him if we can zoom in; look at the security guy’s face, any more details that we can use…

Nahi sir, muje pata hai woh kaun hai. Aap chaliye, abhi purse dilata hu

We walk out towards the gate, and then move ahead to the building opposite to us. The security guard looks up to Dheeraj and comes to the gate. Pat comes his tort

Arre woh purse dena, jo tune kal shyaam ko paanch baje uthaya

The guard looks as if he’s just been asked to handover his kidneys “Sir, kaunsa purse….

Arre hamne dekha camera pae, tumhara chehra pura dikh raha hai. Ab time waste mat karo” 
Boy, was he in his element or what! Our hero’s been watching too many detective shows, methinks.

And the guard gives up. All pretense. Tells the purse has been handed over to the office “as-it-is” and the admin is out. Says he’ll personally come and hand it over by lunch.

Dheeraj looks at me with a look that ACP Pradyuman would have had trouble beating, that was literally shouting out to whoever was listening I’m da man, yea am I da man or what! I tell both of them that were 3 credit cards, 2 debit cards, 2 DLs and about nearly ~5k cash. Dheeraj reaffirms this point to the guard again and we walk away.

Case solved.

Elementary, my dear Watson.


Note: The purse was returned later in the afternoon. The cards and IDs were all there, so was present the other useless stuff. The cash? Only 700 Rs left. Apparently that’s all that was in the purse. No amount of threats
(complaints to society chairman, police station complaints, etc) could improve the situation. Ah well, you can’t win them all. Atleast I got to avoid office for most of the day. Yay, for the small things in life.

The Accidental Thief (Part I)

It was turning out to be a good day. A very good day indeed. Things were flying off my workdesk, long pending tasks were getting closure, I was on a good roll! So I decided to do myself a favor and leave early for home – the idea being I’d continue later from the comfort of home while bypassing the rush hour traffic.

And that, I did for sure. A route that generally takes 45 min at the bare minimum was coming to an end end in less than 40 mins (yes in Mumbai 5 mins count). But I wasn’t really paying attention, my 110% focus was on the mobile, on a whatsapp conversation that really did not go very well with the vibe of the day. Maybe a reckoning of what to come? Retrospection is a bitch.

Aa gaye sir, 120 bees hua bhaada. Chutta zaruur deejiye pleej

One hand responding to the chat messages, the other to get the purse out. But hey, I had the change in my pant pocket! Voila, out came the cash and the grin was back on his face, delighted that I gave in so easily. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention. I got out and entered the gate and headed towards my building block. The happy bugger turned around and went on his way.

A minute must have passed; no probably at the most 45 seconds I guess. It suddenly hit me, I do not have three hands – one for the mobile, one for the cash from the pocket, so the purse must have… A quick check of the pant pockets (there weren’t that many, huh) reconfirmed that. I turn and run back towards the gate. The auto is nowhere to be seen. The bengali guard (whaddayknow, that’s a first – I never have seen a bengali security guy in my life; must ask him how did he get into that profession; alertness and bengalis don’t really go together, no?) looks at me with a lazy-do-not-disturb-me look and waits for me to say something.

Aap ne eak auto jo tha idhar usko jate hue dekha?

Nahi saab, kyu kya hua…

mera purse reh gaya...”¬†

aapke paas number hai uska… fir toh kuch nahi ho sakta

Like I didn’t know! People really like to rub it in, no! The realization then hit me – 3 credit cards, 2 debit cards, 2 driving licenses (why I was carrying my US license I have absolutely no idea!!!), some 4-5k inr cash, and other documents of minor importance – all gone. I rush out to the main road junction, hoping for some luck, maybe he went and waited there to get a new passenger. Fat luck – there were three autos there, but I could tell jackshit if any of them was my guy. Kinda reminded me of Sherlock’s first episode – no one notices the cab (/auto) guy, no? Anyway I digress; so I went and asked them the stupid Q. All deny, one even nods his head wondering what was I smoking.

So I trudge back home, searching for a purse shaped item on the road, hoping against hope, but without any luck. So much for my great day. Ah I forgot the whatsapp conversation; I quickly jot down my current situation and a “BRB” message (ironically I didn’t) and call up a few friends. This was unknown territory – my friends have absolutely zero pointers for me, one guy even (almost) laughs at my predicament. And like a dream (heh) the boss calls; I gleefully cut the call – I really did not want to entertain any thoughts on work now. Then realization hits in, and I call him back and update him about the situation. He understands and cuts the call. I then call another friend who had gone through a similar situation and get the first real pointers on what to do (you know it already) – block the cards immediately, and also do a visit to the local police station, doesn’t really help but it is required.

So the trudge back home is continued – and the calls happen; ICICI doesn’t allow temporary blocks so out go those cards. Standard Chartered does allow temporary blocks on debit cards only (thank god) – I avail that immediately. HDFC customer care puts me on an infinite loop but I do see the option on the website and I block it immediately. A check again downstairs with the bengali dude reconfirms the situation – the purse is gone for sure.


To be continued…


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Running – Men vs Women

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Pick any sport or any other industry, there’s always the talk of gender equality and maintaining a fair share of both genders. Whatever be the efforts taken, there is always going to be a gap; depending on the industry/activity we look at, the gap is going to be on one¬†side or the other.

Long distance running events, which are more dependent on participants than the efforts of the organizers, can paint quite a different interesting picture. I have had the fortune to do several half marathons over the past 12 months across the US. Most of these races are popular events that have been running since several years or even decades!

So I looked up the stats of these events and it does put up an interesting picture!

  • These events are spread over 7 states across the¬†east coast and mid-west
  • Some of these events have been going over the past 10 years
  • Women outrun (literally) men in each of these events!

I have played quite a few outdoor and indoor sports throughout my life. While most of them allow equal chances to men and women, the uptake across the fairer sex has not been great across all the sports.

But there seems to be a entirely different motivation factor¬†when it comes to running – women clearly are more interested in taking up this ‘sport’ over men.

Whatever be the reasons, this is really great and I hope the situation remains the same in coming years.

Running events that I have participated over the last 12 months

Half-Marathon Race Location Date  Total Runners   Female #  Female % Male %
Winston Salem 13.1 Winston Salem, NC Oct-15 253 154 61% 39%
2015 Thanksgiving Half Marathon Atlanta, GA Nov-15 7,205 3,692 51% 49%
Rock ‘N’ Roll DC Washington, DC Mar-16 14,501 8,749 60% 40%
Rock ‘N’ Roll Raleigh Raleigh, NC Apr-16 5,117 3,091 60% 40%
One America Mini Marathon Indianapolis, IN May-16 24,821 13,477 54% 46%
Rock ‘N’ Roll Virginia Beach Virginia Beach, VA Sep-16 6,110 3,341 55% 45%
Chicago Half Marathon Chicago, IL Sep-16 8,530 5,029 59% 41%
B.A.A. Half Marathon Boston, MA Oct-16 6,205  Р50% 50%
Summary     72,742   56% 44%

Running + Beer = Good idea?

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One consistent theme I have noticed in running events across the US is the free beer offered after the run is completed. And that is something I can never comprehend or understand.

Why do you need to have a beer after doing a marathon run? Your body definitely needs fluids and nutrients to be replenished – liquor should be the last means to do that. A simple google search on this question would throw you ¬†a list of “research” – advocating both¬†options.

However I would stick to the basic fundamentals – do I consider a liquor based diet necessary for my training? If no, then a beer after the run certainly doesn’t make sense to me. And till date, all the free beer coupons I have received for the marathon events I have attended have mostly gone to the trash can.

Open to views from fellow runners on this query – what’s your thought on this?

What Apple got right in iPhone 7 (Edit: Counter View added)

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Apple has been called various things – a design oriented company, an innovation hub, a product firm, a services firm, and so on. What they also are is a Marketing firm.

It was primarily Steve Jobs who understood the core mantra that when you create a new product, not always can the consumers imagine it or the need for it until it is marketed and displayed to them. From this unique perspective, marketers and product developers must understand how to meet consumer needs even before they have articulated them.

And it was not always that¬†Apple was the first to develop the product to fulfill a particular¬†consumer need. What they do repeatedly, and they are¬†very good at this, is to perfect the product to fulfill the customer needs and go above it and offer a more comprehensive product that what other competitors have already been offering. And package it with a branding strategy that¬†ensures the customer¬†ignores the fact that Apple¬†really wasn’t the first to offer that product.

But once in a while they also push for certain design and product decisions that goes against what is available in the market. They did it with the closed memory (no SD/micro-SD slot) a few years ago; the market initially criticized this, but later accepted it as a norm. There are several other examples, and not all of them have been successful.

Removing the 3.5mm jack is a similar decision. And it’s a brilliant decision. Don’t agree? Let me explain.

Wireless / bluetooth head-phones¬†and¬†ear-phones are slowly becoming the norm as prices keep falling and¬†the wide array of branded products and cheap Chinese options are flooding the market. Most of these have decent battery life that range from a few hours to almost a day’s usage.

But what I have failed to see in the market are¬†completely wireless ear-phones that have separate left and right pods. And that is the brilliance of Apple’s AirPods.

Will they sell? I doubt it. But the way has been set and will be followed by others. Expect a lot of future android phones to come out without a 3.5mm jack. Also expect a lot of branded and Chinese (completely) wireless in-ear¬†pods similar to Apple’s AirPods; at different price points.

And if you are someone like me, who can’t move around without carrying a headset/earphones, you will eventually shift to a wireless option eventually.That is the brilliance of the iPhone 7 release.

Edit: This video by JerryRigEverything raises very valid points on why Apple discarded the 3.5mm jack. Have a look at the video – it literally throws my earlier view right out of the window!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmTSN4zWeQ0

Feminism

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One of my (recent) hobbies is to do half marathons across the world; with the focus to do routes/runs that are scenic, popular and that give me an opportunity to visit and see new places. Also a side-benefit Рthese are popular ones with a fair number of runners ranging from few thousands to more than 35,000!

The gender mix in these races are quite evenly matched. For example, in my most recent half marathon; the Rock’n’Roll Virginia Beach Half; more than 3400 out of the total 6100 runners were female. And I have seen similar gender mix in most of the events I have participated in.

Most of these events get a decent amount of eyeballs as the city folks turn out to cheer or just watch the proceedings. Some of them get actively involved, offering drinks or chocolates. I have seen folks offer beer, scotch as well as margaritas to the runners!

One common theme I have noticed in most of these events is ladies coming out to cheer; and more than once¬†I have seen them shouting¬†– “Go ladies! You can do it!” to every female runner they see. No harm in this – everyone has a right to cheer/encourage others. But¬†do you really need to cheer a specific gender in events that have equal status for both sexes?

I understand the history behind the (absence of) involvement of the fairer sex in these athletic events. But this is 2016. Until we believe in it completely (and behave accordingly), we¬†aren’t going to change others.

And that belief – men and women are equal; should push one to consider both sexes are same. We¬†don’t need to push the case for one, unless there is an oppression for the same.

Olympics – The battles of the few

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Every four years¬†we are subject to the grand Olympics – a contest between¬†all nations; democratic, communist, monarchies and even those who don’t have a country to call of their own for now. Truly, a contest between “equals”.

Or that is what they would want us to believe.

But is it really so? As this NYTimes article lays down the facts in a very neutral tone, the 2016 medals share are clearly skewed towards the few

  • Top 5 countries claim nearly 40% of all the medals till date
  • Top 10 countries are at 54% of all the medals¬†till date
  • Top 20 countries nearly cover 70% of all the medals till date

And trust me, these percentages are only to go up.

For London 2012 Olympics, the final numbers were as such

  • Top 5 countries : 361 / 960 medals (38%)
  • Top 10 countries : 520 / 960 medals (54%)
  • Top 20 countries : 678 / 960 medals (71%)

The medals list has a long tail with more than 50% of the participating countries going back empty

  • Countries with 0 medals : 119 / 204 countries (58%)
  • Countries with 1 or less medals : 136 / 204 countries (67%)

¬†Look at the top 20 nations of any Olympics and you’ll see a near majority of developed countries (Jamaica, Kenya, Cuba & Croatia are the only non-developed¬†countries in the top 20). Or rather countries that have the budget and financials, and the vision to have the infrastructure at the grass root levels.

Look deeper at the athletes from any other developing or poor country, and you only get to hear stories of how the athletes have had to fight hard, sometimes even against the system to be able to participate in these games and have had very less support and training for the games. And probably a few that were lucky to have got some level of support.

The reasons for these are aplenty : corruption, poverty, lack of infrastructure, economic & political issues, war, and what not.

Lack of good athletes is never the reason.

Then how exactly is it a fight of the equals?

The “great” US Healthcare system

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I recently had a broken jaw injury. I am still undergoing treatment while I have my jaw all locked up with wires and screws to let it heal up. While I am at the end of the recuperation period, it did give me some time to ponder as the net amount of bills and insurance claims are now upon me. So here are the numbers:

  • Total Charges¬†inclusive of¬†ER, surgery¬†& other services: ~$22,000
  • Total Charges¬†after Insurance adjustments : ¬†~$15,000
  • Total Payments from Insurance : ~$12,000
  • Total Payments to be done by me : $3,000 (and that is because $3000 is¬†the maximum I should pay out of pocket)

The above doesn’t include medication expenses that were borne by me, as well as dental bills I will soon incur in coming weeks once the wires and screws come out.

Coming from a family that has a fair share of doctors based out of India, and especially one cousin who deals with the kind of surgery I had, on a daily basis; I was curious to know what would have been the costs if I had the same operations and recovery done back in India. Her answer was short

  • A top-end premier chain hospital in any of the metros : ~$1,100 – $1,300
  • A smaller hospital or a local specialty clinic : $400 – $500 at max

So in retrospect, for the amount of money I pay out of my pocket for the treatment at US, I could have taken a flight back to India by BUSINESS CLASS, get my jaw treated with medical services at par with what I received out here, have a month long holiday at home (my company allows extended sick leave for medical emergencies), and return back to US with still some money in my bank account.

It’s a pity that I had to be operated immediately after the accident.

And so much for US medical healthcare.