Monday, December 24, 2007

Humor of the day!!

It is Christmas tomorrow. Half the floor at office is empty, Christmas being a Tuesday, many of them have taken off today, which makes this a long weekend for them. Now first of all we ourselves are excited about Christmas, and on top of that this kind of atmosphere in office has laid a foundation of laziness at work. Nobody is in the work groove, its holiday mood all around.

In order to do something different and say that yes we are also in the holiday spirit I and Kapil went to office coffee day for a late lunch. We were sitting there lazily sipping our coffee and whiling some time when Kapil said, "Anu I have a headache". To have some fun I, with a poker face, replied, "Kapil see how strange things are in life, sometimes you start getting what you actually are". I paused and then smiled. It took him a moment to understand this. His expressions gave an indication that he understood when suddenly the lines that had formed on his forehead when I passed this comment eased away in a flash. We both started smiling. And then he continued, "I am glad I didn’t say I have a pain in my ass today".

:)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Grace

This is not a biography, but just one episode from her life, which perhaps left an impact on her. Life doesn't stop so it didn't, but it still made memories. And I am a sucker for moments that make memories. So presenting an episode from life of a good friend of mine, Grace.



Mr. Reiser was a man of few words. Business brought him to a small countryside of an old looking Britain. This place was called Whitby, in the north of Yorkshire. In summers, this place drew lot of tourist attention, because of the festivals, carnivals, beach and an old Abbey. But this time of the year, Halloween over some ten days back, the last tourist too perhaps would have left at least ten days back. Not wanting an extended travel time, Mr. Reiser checked into a small Bed and Breakfast lodge, which was five minutes walk from his office. For him, it was never a 5 minutes walk, but always a two minutes drive.
Grace was the only housekeeper of this lodge and Mr. Reiser, the only guest. Apart from Grace, there was just one more face that could be seen among the staff. This was of the night attendant who was never seen because he came at unruly hours of the night and left at unearthly hours before the crack of dawn. Grace always liked guests like Mr. Reiser, who did not expect her to drop his luggage and grocery to his room, talked less, and didn’t throw whims. Mr. Reiser was topping her favorite guest list because apart from the set criteria for liking a guest, he said thanks for everything, didn’t leave his wet towel on the bathroom floor, and kept his kitchen clean.
On this day, Mr. Reiser came back early from work. He looked a little pale. He straightaway headed for his room. Grace noticed that he didn’t look too well. Usually she waited for her guests to give her a shout if they needed something, but she knew that Mr. Reiser would not utter a word. He was different. So she approached his room and gently knocked at his door. She didn’t want to wake him up if he was asleep. She knocked again, equally gently this time again. Convinced that Mr. Reiser was asleep she turned back and took a step when the door opened behind her. She turned around immediately and apologized for having disturbed him.
“No Grace, its fine, I was not sleeping. Tell me is there something I can help you with.”
“Mr. Reiser, you looked pale when you walked in. I was wondering if everything was ok with you.”
“O yes! I am alright, thanks. Grocery store was closed, so just picked up some cold on the way. Nothing to worry about, I will be fine.” He smiled.
Grace smiled back briefly and asked, “Are you sure Mr. Reiser you want nothing?”
“Yes Grace, thanks for asking but! I appreciate.”
Grace asked him to call her for anything and turned to return back to her cabin when she heard Mr. Reiser’s voice again.
“Grace!”
She turned around.
“Grace I was wondering if you could get me some herbal tea, that is if you have it here with you in the kitchen. Please don’t bother too much, I just..”
“Certainly Mr. Reiser”, she interrupted him. “I have some herbal tea in the kitchen. I’ll get some for you. I will be back in a minute.”
Grace came back with a pack of herbal tea bags. She entered Mr. Reiser’s room seeing the door ajar. Mr. Reiser was lying on the couch with his eyes closed. She went to his kitchen and prepared tea for him. She was about to wake him up when she looked at his face and thought that it looked so tranquil and pleasant. He, indeed, had a very pleasant face. She realized that he couldn’t be sleeping on the couch if he wanted to sleep. So it was better to wake him up and serve him tea so that he can sleep comfortably on his bed afterwards. She woke him up. He thanked her for the tea. He had not realized when he slept off, when she came, and when she made tea for him. He offered her to sit. She obliged but added “only till your tea lasts. After its over you will sleep and I will go back.” He smiled and nodded. He took a sip and thanked her again. Tea was perfect. She smiled in acknowledgement. He asked her about her folks at home.
“I live here in Whitby all alone. That is how I chose it to be as I love Whitby. My parents live in Gloucestershire. They moved out of here seven years ago, after Dad retired. They loved Whitby too, but we were staying in his company’s accommodation. After his retirement we were expected to move out to another place here. They thought it was better to move back to the roots. We have a farm in Gloucester, and a home too. I decided to stay back because I love this place, and the people. I love summers here, the festivity, the happiness, when tourists flow in. Whitby looks beautiful then, decorated with colors…” and she went on and on and on. The usually quiet Grace talked with enthusiasm of a child, and the passion of a lover, when she talked about this place. 45 minutes (easily) would have passed by when Grace realized that the tea was long over. She felt sheepish and apologized for not realizing sooner.
“Grace, I was listening! First time in these twenty-five days of my stay in this town someone is talking to me, about something other than work. I loved listening to you. And your tea made me feel better too. So don’t apologize for anything. I thank you Grace. Thanks!”
She responded with an awkward smile. The kind of smile that a person delivers when he doesn’t know how to react to a compliment. “Ok Mr. Reiser, I think you must take some rest now, I will bore you with my stories some other time.”
“I will look forward Grace”. His pleasant face smiled too.

Next day was better for Mr. Reiser. He came back at his usual time. Grace greeted him and offered to make tea for him. Mr. Reiser replied saying, “only on a condition Grace! You will sit with me while I have my tea, but you will sit only till the time I have my tea.” They both looked at each other and broke into laughter. Grace prepared tea for both of them this time, and again started her non-stop talks. This time the topic was not Whitby. It was Sheffield this time. The place where she went for her middle school education. Everything about Sheffield! How it gets flooded in monsoons, what is it famous for, the famous kitchen store from where she picked up her jacket of chef-knives – a set of 12 shining knives, different shapes and sizes, and how each is used for a different purpose, and what the purpose can be.
This evening her story lasted an hour and a half. She found the best listener in Mr. Reiser. She looked at her watch, and this time didn’t apologize at all.
“Mr. Reiser I think you should rest now. I’ll see you again in the morning, breakfast time. Night Mr. Reiser.”
“Grace, I like your name, you have a beautiful name.” He paused, and then greeted her back, “Night Grace.”
She smiled once again, awkwardly again, not being able to handle a compliment again, and walked back.

Grace used to phone her parents every Sunday, after coming back from Church. Today, she called them in the middle of the week. They got worried and asked if everything was ok. Ofcourse everything was alright! This phone call was just to express her gratitude to them for naming her ‘Grace’. It was a beautiful name. Ofcourse she didn’t say this! “Just felt like talking to you”, she said. They felt very pleased by this small surprise. She felt pleased in their happiness.

This sequence of sitting with Mr. Reiser continued for some more days. She knew that she was getting drawn to him. She also knew that it wasn’t the best of things that could happen as he would leave in a week or two. They can never have a future together. Moreover what did she know about him?
The next evening when they sat with their tea together Grace started the conversation as usual, but this time to allow Mr. Reiser to speak.
“Everyday I talk endlessly, Mr. Reiser, and I am sure you are tired by now. Today is your turn to speak and I am the listener.”
“Grace, it’s a pleasure listening to you. But now that you have asked, all I can say is there isn’t much about me. I am a Professor by profession, love teaching and understanding Sciences. Currently I am whiling away my time researching on Plasma, the fourth state of matter. I am carrying out a research on something called ‘Ultracold Plasma’. While browsing the internet, I learnt that there is a unit of youngsters who are also trying to study something similar. Since I have already advanced a little on this topic, I thought I will help them out with their initial synopsis, and in the bargain, learn something from these fresh minds. I got in touch with them, and this is what brings me here. Grace, the nature of my work, and my love for it, expects me to spend longer hours at work. But I have started cutting my work at a fixed time every evening because I love listening to the enthusiastic stories of a young English girl who knows so much about her country and its people. It is a pleasure as much as it is insight sitting with her and listening to her every evening.”
He paused. No, he stopped. He was smiling now. Grace felt elated once again, but.. but this wasn’t all that she wanted to know.
“Thanks Mr. Reiser”, she said, “I like your company too. Tell me more. Tell me about your likes and dislikes.. and .. and your family.”
Reiser raised his face when his eyes met Grace’s. She was looking at him searching for something, waiting for something. He paused, and looked away. He looked at her again. There still was a question in her eyes. She was intently looking at him with bated breath. He looked away again and posing a very casual demeanor, answered her question.
“Well there is nobody in the family yet. Boring person that I am, I couldn’t find a girl also for myself. But as the age old adage goes – don’t go for someone whom you love, go for someone who loves you. Grace, I couldn’t find someone I felt something for, but I surely know that Sophie loves me a lot. She trusts me, tolerates my odd hours and busy weekends, she understands me completely. And this belief of hers makes me believe that I love her too, very much. So am not asking many questions, not confusing myself here at all, and planning to resign myself soon to her. So that will be the family then, that is whenever it happens.”
“And about likes and dislikes”, he continued, “well I dislike rains washing even day out of the summers. Summers are scarce, they are to enjoy.”
“And I like..mm..mm.. yes! I like ice-creams in winters. You feel the season better. Yes I love ice-creams in winters.”
Grace was looking at him, watery eyes and smiling face. It was like Mona Lisa minus the peace on the face. No, the face wasn’t restless either.
“Are you ok Grace?”
“Yes Mr. Reiser, why do you ask?”
Grace was upset for a few hours after which she talked to herself. This was not something that she didn’t expect. And this certainly should not keep her from admiring a person like Mr. Reiser, the best person perhaps she ever met. This also wont keep her from keeping a secret small corner in her heart, beating for Mr. Reiser. After all he is the best! As soon as she thought about this, she felt stupid about herself as this sounded like a clich├ęd dialogue from the weekly plays in the town hall theatre.

Reiser’s mission got over and the day finally arrived when he had to leave Whitby, for good. Reiser finished his packing, and booked an Airport taxi. Airport was far away, three and a half hours away, in a bigger city called Manchester. Taxi arrived in twenty minutes. He could see the taxi approaching the porch from his window. He had paying his bills to Grace last evening itself. Grace offered him some discount, but he declined. After all she wasn’t the owner of this lodge. She might have ended up paying the deficit from her pocket as she was not entitled to make such decisions, or so he thought. They had their last tea together last evening. There was no exchange of words. And then Reiser broke the silence. He told her she must write to him whenever she felt like, and gave her his business card. Grace took the card and nodded. There was silence for another 15 minutes after which Grace got up and said, “Mr. Reiser, you have to travel tomorrow. You must take rest now. Night.”
“Night Grace.”
And she left.
Now the taxi was here, he started strolling his luggage to the front door. He looked for Grace. She wasn’t to be seen anywhere. He looked inside her cabin. She wasn’t there. Instead the night attendant was sitting there. He asked the night attendant, “Hi! Do you know where Grace is?”
“Yes Mister. Grace is outside, waiting for you near your taxi.”
Reiser looked outside. There she was. She was standing near the taxi, in her overcoat, scarf, gloves and cap. She was perhaps going somewhere. He kept looking at her through the glass door for a while. She looked pretty, and upset. He came out with his bags. She smiled in greeting and helped him put his bags in the cab.
“Grace! You have been wonderful.” He slid his hand inside his inner coat pocket and took out some 20 pound bills. “Please don’t take it otherwise, just a friendly gesture of appreciation.”
“Mr. Reiser, please allow me to come with you till the airport.”
“Manchester is 3 hours and a half from here Grace. Don’t be stupid. Come on take this now and..”
“Mr. Reiser please!” She looked at him. And he couldn’t say no.
“But how’ll you come back.”
“Don’t you worry, I have grown in these lands. I will find my way back easily.”
He took her hand in his and pressed it softly, “you are crazy Grace, come along.” He opened the door for her. There was no exchange of words between them till the Manchester Airport. But he held her hand all through the journey. And he felt a soft grip reciprocated too.
At the Airport he went to collect his boarding pass at the counter. Grace also stood with him in the queue. There was no exchange of words still. He collected his boarding pass, and held her hand again. Her eyes watered. His nose turned red. Grace wondered if Mr. Reiser caught cold again. She remembered his pleasant face when he was sleeping on the couch down with cold. His face looked pale, and his nose looked white, but not pink. Was Mr. Reiser feeling a little overwhelmed too? She would never know, because she would never ask.
Security check was announced for his flight. He turned to Grace about to tell her to leave when suddenly Grace got alerted, as if she just woke up from a deep slumber. Her expression said she had forgotten something, something really major.
“Mr. Reiser, please be here. I will be back in a moment.”
“Ok but what’s the matter?”
She wasn’t there to answer the question. He saw her scampering towards the far end of the hall, towards the food court. He knew what it was. He saw her at the ice-cream counter, struggling to get past the queue. He kept looking at her. She looked back every ten seconds to ensure he was still there. Security check was announced again. Grace was still the third person from the third counter in this snail-paced queue. Reiser didn’t move.
Boarding was announced. He had no time. Terminals were some distance away from the security check area. She heard the boarding call too. Her heart was pounding. She ordered for an ice-cream, gave the money, collected the ice-cream plate, didn’t wait for the change, and ran back to him. “Ice-cream in winters”, she managed to smile while tears rolled down. He took the plate from her hand, and gave her a one hand warm embrace. Both of them knew he was late. He rushed towards security check. She stood there till he was in sight.

That was the last time they saw each other. Reiser gave her a call after reaching. Grace had his business card on her desk, but she never wrote to him. Reiser sent cards on occasions, none her personal, just festivals. She felt pleased but never replied. This didn’t stop the cards from flowing in.
She could never forget Reiser’s favour of waiting for the ice-cream despite boarding call, knowing how important it was for her. The secret corner in her heart, without letting her know also, still beats for Mr. Reiser.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Festivities and grandeur..!!

Friday, 07 December 2007, Bangalore. I had to make a presentation to the customer. While I fortunately have never faced the brunt of his temper, and more importantly sarcasm, he is quite famous for having these weapons, scintillating and dazzling, in abundance, in his armory. Many have been his targets and there are lot of personal experiences stated everytime his name comes up. Hence I usually am cautious in my dealings with him. Having said all that, he also appreciates good work whole-heartedly and that is the reason why I quite like working with him.

For those few of you who are wandering here and don’t know me at all, I work for a software company, in the delivery stream. On this particular occasion, this presentation was basically a demo of a new application that we are currently developing. Development is half way through, and we are some four months away from its first release. Everyone who would have seen fresh developments before will agree with me that it is an anxious time for both you and your customer. While we still have a grip of things, the customer is left with no choice but to take our word on the health and timeliness of the project. And when he is unable to contain his anxiety any further, he asks you to demo all that has been developed and is ready. This is a health-check on the project to ensure things are under control. And also that it is in accordance with the progress that is highlighted to him every week.

So, as I said, I usually am cautious in my dealings with him, on this particular occasion there were lots and lots of other things that needed immediate and good amount of attention. Because of this I could not check all the areas that I needed to show as part of this demo. Not great! There wasn’t a confident nod from development team also for the demo. Quality Assurance team had its own doubts. Major doubts. All of us wanted it to be postponed by a day at least but it was not possible. I started testing the application three hours before the designated time. Some features were working, some were not working, and some features were sometimes-working-sometimes-not-working. I sent the agenda listing only those features that were working for sure. There was a disclaimer to the agenda which said these were some features selected at random for demo, and that I was open to barter some of those with some others if asked. I have never seen him changing my agenda earlier and was not expecting on this occasion either. I was right, he confirmed his consent and we got started with the presentation.

The presentation was building up well, I was five minutes into the presentation already and things were good so far. But as soon as I got comfortable, the law of serendipity took over the demo. It looked like the trailing list of features that I had picked from “that-definitely-worked” category were actually from “that-sometimes-work-sometimes-does-not-work” category. And these features chose ‘definitely not to work’ this time. Every time I said “on clicking this button, you will see..” .. was followed by “..umm I guess there is a problem here. I was getting nervous, Mr Customer also started asking questions like “did you see this working before”, and I went on with explanations like “this is an open issue (meaning we are aware of this), it has been fixed already, but the fix will go in only in the next build.” My discomfort was perhaps obvious, or so I thought, and suddenly he said – “Anu, whatever you may do today is not going to upset me because its Christmas time”. The second half of this sentence was very cheerful and upbeat. I knew he wasn’t upset, he wasn’t upset at all. I mean after this complete demo fiasco also he was not upset. Because it is Christmas time!! 18 days before 'The Day', the festivities had set in so well that nothing could upset him. Everything took a backseat. I staggered somehow to completion and he did not complain at all, and after the demo, he himself started with some facts about Christmas. I had not heard of them before, and quite enjoyed hearing those. More than anything else I was relieved. I thanked Christmas to be around for my/our rescue.

I am deeply impressed by this fact that festivities can engulf you and influence your mood so much. Takes me back to my days at home when all festivals, primarily holi and diwali brought in so much of enthusiasm that carried on for days. In the hustle-bustle of this life, like all other important things, these also have sadly taken a back seat. Their festivals are so bright and cheerful, and mine (all singles like me, away from home) are just holidays. I am left with this thought and still pondering over it as to how things can be back on track, when I get a forward from a team-mate – “list of holidays for the year 2008.” I scan the list quickly – can’t spot holi in this list. I scan the list once again, this time very slowly – still can’t spot holi in this list.
:(