Chetan's Blog

The Mercedes Blogs II- Dealing with Disappointment


Hi Guys,

It’s been a while. Sorry for the delay, was caught up in too many things workwise, and even with the family. The kids had their summer vacation, so we had to spend more time with them too.

What am I going to talk about this time? Well, Mercedes released a new video, about a Google employee, who talks about how the car saved his life once. 

The video is here:

 

In a candid chat he describes how he wasn’t paying attention while driving as he approached a static car in front of him. His Mercedes’ sensors kicked into action and automatically stopped the car from hitting another car in front. You can tell from his voice that he is being genuine, and grateful that he avoided a major crash. Something about the video works; perhaps it is the real person, his family shots or the feeling that this could happen to any of us.

Like I said, I am not obligated to talk about Mercs in this blog, but I really believe this is one cool feature to have in a car.

But what touched me about the video was the fragility of life. We have a world around us – our jobs, families, aspirations and dreams, and in one moment it can all change. We spend years trying to build something, but it could be gone in seconds. A job loss, health issues, relationship break-ups – can all change everything in an instant. Has that ever happened to you?

The question then is, how does one deal with this disappointment? How does one accept a sudden, big loss? It is a question I grapple with, for even small setbacks can cause a lot of distress.

There are no easy answers. Neither am I an expert in handling disappointment. I am also learning, and would love your thoughts on how you handle setbacks in your life.

Here is what I can say based on my experiences so far. The fact is, when disaster happens, one has to struggle to cope. There is a period of suffering that cannot be avoided. It is an emotional time, and as they say in yoga, one has to ‘breathe through it’. That is to have awareness about yourself, and not trying to snap out of it. You cannot snap out of it. The only thing to note is that this is not a time to make big decisions. You have to let the emotions pass, or at least subside a little.

For eventually, the human spirit is resilient. It can handle the toughest of times. In history, humanity has suffered immensely due to natural disasters or wars. It just cannot do it in an instant. The time varies for people, but eventually, people come to terms with a situation.

Once emotions settle, one has to reflect on what happens next. One needs to make a new path, based on the new reality. Whether it is a break-up, or a job loss or you lose someone close – your life has to discover new meaning. Once you accept this reality and want the answers – they come. Slowly, life changes again. You meet new people. You find other worthwhile things to do. Life goes on.

Disappointment is one of the nastiest aspects of the human condition. Some say non-attachment is the answer. It may be true. But to live a life devoid of all attachments isn’t quite possible too. Hence, disappointment will come into your life, at regular intervals. Accept it, and it becomes a little easier to deal with.

You are welcome to put your thoughts in the comments section. Similarly, I’d invite you to read other people’s insightful comments too.

Lots of love,

Chetan Bhagat


The Mercedes Blog – I : Taking a shot at your dreams


Hi guys,

 

This is my first blog for the mb.Inspired India series for Mercedes Benz. I shall be writing once a month about various topics related to inspiration. Sometimes, I will be writing about Mercedes cars, but only if a particular model or Mercedes experience inspires me. While I am doing this for the brand, there is no compulsion from Mercedes’ side for me to write ‘salesy’ stuff or praise its products. Anyway, I don’t think Mercedes needs that.

However, since it is my first blog, I wanted to share one particular incident regarding a Mercedes, long before I became an mb.Inspricon.

This comes from the time I was resigning from my job at the bank, to become a full time writer. The bank tried to make me stay. One of the things that were told to me against leaving the job was that I’d be eligible for a Mercedes from the bank soon. 

I must admit that the lure was enticing at one level.  For if I quit, I didn’t know how I would make a living for the rest of my life, let alone own a Mercedes. Anyway, I had decided to follow my passion. Despite the persuasion, I left the bank. Little did I know, that a few years later I would become an mb.Inspricon of Mercedes-Benz itself!

I guess, sometimes you don’t know what life has in store for you. Once, I left a Mercedes for my passion. Today, my passion earned me back the Mercedes. I am grateful to my readers and God for making this possible for me.

While I was indeed extremely fortunate, the little story above does have a lesson. Sometimes, when you listen to your own inner voice, things may fall into place.  I particularly want to reach out to people who want to be entrepreneurs.

Many people work in their jobs, and harbor secret dreams of opening their own business one day. Few take the plunge, or even make an attempt. Perhaps the need for security is quite strong in humans. Even I worked for over a decade, before I decided to call my banking career quits. However, do realize that India is changing today. There are lots of opportunities for those who are committed to learn, be excellent, take risks and want to deliver quality. It isn’t as risky a place as say, during our parents’ generation 30 years ago, when losing a job meant the end of the world. There are jobs for good people, and if your attempt at doing your own thing fails, you can always come back to something. At least you will know you tried.

I am not saying one choice is better than the other. It isn’t. I have seen happy people in jobs as well as entrepreneurs. But if you have a dream, if there is something you want to try and that thought doesn’t leave you – why not give it a shot? What’s the worst outcome? You will fail?

Well, we all are finite, and life ends one day. If you don’t try, yes it is true you won’t fail as much. But on your deathbed, if there is a choice between two feelings – 1) I failed or 2) I never even tried – which one will be less bad for you? I guess that determines your answer.

Like I said, this may be a Mercedes blog, but I am not here to sell cars (and people rarely buy a car after reading a blog!). The theme is inspiration, and responsible aspirations, something the company and I both share as common values.

I am open to topics you suggest I discuss here – about achievement, aspirations, success or whatever you would like me to talk about.

Keep your suggestions coming. And yes, sometimes, if you like I could post pictures of some cool Mercs.

So give me your suggestions. More than anything, share with me your dreams.

 

Lots of Love,

Chetan

 


FICCI Frames 2012 Speech


Hi All,

Hope everyone is well. It’s been six hectic months since the release of  Revolution 2020, including a lot of travel around the country. I am thankful to all of you for the wonderful response. 

Today I spoke at the FICCI Frames 2012, an entertainment industry conference organized every year in Mumbai. I am glad they gave writers a chance to speak there. 

My speech there was somewhat industry specific, but it was themed on about something close to me – change. Hence, thought I’d post it here.

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FICCI Frames 2012 Keynote Address

Chetan Bhagat

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First of all I’d like to thank the FICCI frames organizers for giving me and other writers a chance to talk in a conference on the entertainment and film industry.

Writers are not supposed to talk. Traditionally, writers in the film industry work silently, even though they pretty much decide every word that is spoken on screen. Every film tells a story. Without a story, you cannot make a film. You can replace actors with animations, you can skip the music, you may not erect huge sets – but you must have a story. For something so critical, it is befuddling why the role of writers here has been less than many other departments.

Of course, it is a star driven industry. I don’t believe for a second when people say that the ‘story is the star’ in the movie, even as a writer. No, I am saying that stars are important, directors are important, marketing is important, the producer is important – but the story and screenplay, and thus the creator of the story are important people too. I am no activist, but more as someone who likes to analyze things I have tried to understand the problem. Why don’t writers get visibility, compensation and the same attention as say – music directors, who are known and rightly so. But why not also writers?

I see two main reasons for the same.

One, the single biggest reason, is the audience pardoning bad stories. Our Indian audiences love our films. They are crazy about Bollywood and their stars. And in this allure, they pardon a lot of sins. This isn’t very different from how Indians looked at their politicians. Charisma was everything. Of course, a certain minimum was expected, but that was quite a low standard. As long as the stars looked good, could create a few laughs or thrills, the songs and dance were nice to listen to and watch – people would give a thumbs up to a movie. In fact, the Bollywood story became nothing to write home about – it was not meant to touch people, just keep them hooked or engaged for the duration of the movie. The movie ends, and as train passengers, the audience would simply say goodbye and leave the characters behind.

‘Fully filmy story man,’ is how people describe our films. Every now and then, a movie would come that would touch the core of our being. Something that made us think and feel – even after the end credits rolled. We enjoyed that experience, but that was so rare that it couldn’t be expected in every movie. ‘Keep your brains at home’, ‘It’s a Hindi movie, what else do you expect?’, ‘just time pass’ are all phrases we have heard. When the audience cared about the heroine’s figure and the hero’s punch more than the narrative, the makers cared little about writers. A story and screenwriter were engaged like a bare minimum and thus few shined in the department.

The second reason is a unique aspect of Indian culture, which is the exploitation and abuse of power, by those who can. It is considered acceptable in our value system that the more powerful will get a bigger share, irrespective of whether they deserve it or not. From a traffic cop to a minister, we have seen examples of people exploiting their position to gain an unfair advantage. So if a writer deserved a slice of the pizza, but the producer distributed it, the writer had to do with scraps. “This is how it happens in Bollywood,’ was drilled down people’s throats.  Writers became used to less money. However, the few times their work was noted, producers and directors pounced on another thing – credit. Whatever was good in the story, the producers and directors thumped their chests and took credit for it. Why? Because they could. They had power and thus they did it. In the end, the film writer could never make a brand for himself,. He had noone to appeal to and had no choice but to lump it.

Hence, a manifestation of some typically Indian habits, audience indifference and power exploitation, found its way in Bollywood, and hurt the writers.

But we know all this.

 The question is how do we change it. How do we change audience preferences, and the power order established over generations. Well, I have always believed, people change when they want to change. People change when they believe change will do them some good, make them a better person or give them a better life.  Well, good stories do enrich our lives. Stories that touch us do make us feel happy and alive. And slowly, the audience is realizing this.

The audience today is cluttered with content. 200 TV channels, noisy social networks, the Internet, smartphones, print media, radio – everyone is being bombarded in every direction by content. It is natural that people will develop a certain numbness to it. A fashionable actress was a big draw earlier, but if I see pictures of ten of them in a day, it is difficult to be so excited about it. More than anything, so much content means the content isn’t created with much thought. Recycling, clichés, formulas are being tried everywhere – from fashion weeks to reality TVs to even movies. The audience is in stupor. The easy ways to catch attention – a striking visual, a catchy beat – doesn’t seem to work as well. People now want more. They want entertainers to touch their core – one of the few things that can touch your core is a good story.  Films that have worked – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dirty Picture, and currently Kahani show that the audience likes content too.  Yes they were star vehicles, but content is inching ahead.  LSD, Shor in the city, Stanley ka Dabba are some recent pure content successes. The day is not far where people won’t pay for movies without content. Just as more and more Indians are asking for more accountable politicians, similarly, we are going to see a demand for content. This means writers will have to be brought on the boardroom table.

The second part, changing the power equation is a little harder. Of course, as a few writers deliver consistent hits, their power will rise. Then they too can demand their fair share. This is the argument many would make. However, this is not how a fair community is organized. Whether a writer is powerful or not, he or she should get his or her due. In fact, everyone in the unit should. A set of values, ethics has to come to our film industry. If it doesn’t, a lot of talent will shy away. Only established guys and their protégés will function, and while they may grow – the industry as a whole will grow much slower than it could in a true and fair meritocracy. In Hollywood, they faced this same problem in the 1950s, issue of credit – used to cause a lot of concern there. Soon, norms were set. For example, they would stipulate, credit number 4 will belong to the writer, in the same font and size as that of the director. It isn’t up to the whim of the producer. The author of the story cannot be changed – it is the fundamental copyright law. You can buy a painting. You cannot say you painted it.  The producer or director cannot put their name on a story they haven’t written, even if they have paid for it. Such norms have helped reduce conflict in Hollywood, ensured fair play and brought them a whole bunch of content.

Literature and Bollywood complement each other. Literature can use the fame provided by Bollywood. Bollywood can use the content created by Literature. The audience is starting to demand it. Bollywood needs to adapt it to grow to its potential – not just to make money – but to be a great industry where there is both commercial and creative growth.

I hope, the changes I talk about come soon, for they have to come eventually anyway. Let us all in our capacity, act as catalysts and support this change, rather than resist or thwart it.

For life and films should not be just measured in how much money they made, but how many people they touched. It isn’t about money, it is about being great. And trust me, writers will help you get there.

Thank you.

 

 


Happy Diwali (and why I am still here)


Dear All,

I have never really reacted to a piece written by someone else before. However, the  “Why I left India (again)”,  (do read this to make sense of what follows) made me want to share my own thoughts.

The well-written article talks about an NRI (non resident Indian), who returned to his country and then found enough reason to leave again. The reasons he cites, probably genuine, seem to revolve around the inability to fit in with certain aspects of the Indian way of life – be it the treatment of servants, the poverty or the traffic rules. In a commendable, bold manner the writer claims he did not like the person he had become in India. Thus implying that in India, we become part of a terrible system and become terrible ourselves. Finally, he and his wife returned back to the USA, where they now live in California.

So why am I reacting to it? Well, I am doing so because I am also a returned NRI. I lived in Hong Kong for 11 years, worked for American investment banks until I finally returned to India in 2008.  Given this, many NRIs often ask me what is it like to return to India. I am usually too busy writing books or columns and never get a chance to share my relocation experience much.  The article above talks about one guy’s relocation (that didn’t work out). I felt I could provide a different perspective, especially to those thinking of moving back to the country.

Please note, I am not offended by the article. I am glad he wrote it. This is something many NRIs feel. Certain foreign media houses love to carry stories about the ‘poor little pathetic India’ stereotype or the ‘real muck beneath the shining India’ stories anyway. After all, everyone has the right to write, express and feel whatever they want.

I am not going to counter argue the points raised in the article. I will simply share some of my own experiences in the situations mentioned in the article. I must also add I don’t  want to come across extolling my virtues. However, it is important people who have read the above piece to get another side of the story as well. So here goes:

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We moved to Mumbai in 2008.  Both my wife and I worked in banking jobs then, and domestic help was imperative given our 3 year old twin boys. We had an older helper who had been with us for a while. She joined us and brought along her young 18-year-old daughter.

I was particular that the young girl does not become a full time maid. She was to help her mother, but essentially help play with the kids and not do hard domestic chores. I saw potential in her, and enrolled her for a basic computer course. This meant she needed to go out of the house everyday. Almost everyone in the house protested. My mother and in-laws, both from a somewhat older school of thought,  didn’t seem too enthused. They felt I was the classic NRI idiot, returned from abroad and now trying to push his modern reform agenda. Even the girl’s mother (our elder maid) didn’t seem that excited but approved it. The girl however was excited and over the moon. They only taught her data entry, but there was a Maharashtra government certificate at the end of it. She started to perform well at the course and soon her mother warmed up to me as well.

Then, the proverbial disaster struck. The girl had a boyfriend from her native place near Bangalore. He came to Mumbai and eloped with her. This was done while she went to her computer classes. Apparently the girl’s mother had opposed the guy for an year. Hence, the girl only saw this as a way out.

Of course, hell broke loose. Everyone in the building mocked me, for sending my servant to computer classes. We didn’t find out about the elopement for two days, and everyone in the house had sleepless nights as we went to various police stations.

Finally, we found out the girl had married the boy. She never spoke to me, but sent me a message that she felt ashamed to have let me down. I was told by my family not to interfere in how servants are managed.

Around the same time, we also had a driver. He was extremely good at his job, and soon the family began to trust him. He used to come to South Mumbai (where we lived) from far sub-urbs and dreamt about moving closer (to a slum, of course). After an year of work, he asked me for around fifteen thousand bucks, to pay the deposit for his new place. I asked several questions to establish veracity, and he gave me reasonable answers.

I gave him the money. He disappeared. I found out later he had moved to Dubai, as he found a job there. Again, my family lashed out on me, given my stupidity.

Hence, you can see that I wasn’t exactly off to a great start in India. Much like the gentleman who wrote that article, I also was told “all of them are thieves” and to “keep them in their place.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, that is not the person  I am. I cannot assume a person is a thief as default. To me, a person helping me in the house is giving me enormous service. To treat them badly is unthinkable. I hate abuse of power to the core, and yes, many Indians abuse their domestic helpers without even realizing it.

Anyway, the idiot me continued with my welfare approach to domestic help. We moved to Bandra in a year, and our driver then, used to live in South Mumbai. I didn’t want him to quit. However, his commute using public transport would be hard. He asked for a bike. I bought him one. He didn’t run away with it. It’s been over a year. He still hasn’t run away with it.

We had another set of two maids. One of them is another young girl, around 20 years old from a village in Ratnagiri. I told her she has to learn something. She chose English and found a set of classes near the house. Everyone opposed me again. I told her to go ahead anyway. She has joined classes. She has not run away. This morning she said to me in slow but perfect English “Bhaiya, would you like your breakfast”, smiled and I felt it was worth it.

In my house, nobody is allowed to call the maids servants. We call them helpers, the kids call them ‘didis’. There is no question of separate cutlery. They eat what we eat, and are paid enough that they can afford good clothes, soap and shampoo that the hygiene standards are at par with us.

I also found the helpers quite bored in the afternoons. That is when the dissent, negative gossip and nonsense starts. I installed a small TV and Tata sky in their room. My elder folks flipped again. They told me they will ‘sit on my heads’. I ignored them and their barbs. My helpers run my life. I am grateful to them. A TV costs nothing these days, but dramatically improves their quality of life. It also gives me more privacy.

This summer, I even installed a small AC in their room. I didn’t tell anyone at home (for more barbs would have come). I just did it. It’s hot and humid in Mumbai, and they have a tiny room.

My elder maid has kids in Bangalore. Every summer, we call them to our house to live with us. They play with my kids, with their toys. When we go to Bangalore, my kids spend a day in her house. They haven’t fallen sick because of it.  Whenever she wants leave, if it is reasonable, we send her home. Every week, both maids have a day off. Every Diwali, we give them a bonus and a raise, given the high inflation rates. This year, I had a new book which did well, hence the bonus will be bigger.

When a cookery show wanted to feature me in my kitchen (Secret Kitchen), I insisted my maids are featured on the show, as they do my cooking.  Both of them dressed up on the day of the shoot. The episode has one dish cooked entirely by my maids.

Day after tomorrow, on Diwali day, all of us will go see Ra.One together at a Multiplex. My driver will also get tickets for his family to watch it near his house. Altogether, 17 of us will watch the movie. That is what is fun about India. I am fortunate I am able to make a difference to these people’s lives – without it costing me that much.

Yes, the traffic bugs us. It bugs my wife more. She has often told people to stop before the zebra crossing. Her public social crusade sometimes embarrasses the hell out of me. We know it won’t change the country.  However, us being there means another example of how things can be different. Because of me, another friend has bought his driver a bike. Someone else bought movie tickets for their maid. It is still a trickle. Most of India still doesn’t treat servants well. However, it is fun to be part of the trickle. It is nice to imagine that one day this trickle of positive change will become a flood. And that you, in your own little way, had something to do with it.

And this is the most exciting part of coming back to India. To be the ambassador of change in your own world. You don’t have to be a celebrity, authority or a powerful person to effect change. You just have to change yourself, and set an example for others. Slowly, people will see the right path.

Of course, you can also quit. You can take the ‘you bloody Indians’ approach people have taken against my country for decades.  I won’t judge you. I really won’t. I really wish the person who wrote the article above is happy in the USA. I love America, it is a wonderful country that understands creativity, talent, freedom and equality. It has drawbacks, but I look at their positives more. I wish India will adopt many of those positive qualities one day. But until that happens, I don’t wish to quit. I love India too much to quit. I want to be here, till the last servant is mistreated and the last person breaks traffic rules. I want to be here, not to be perfect, but to try my best to not succumb to all that is negative in my country. I want to fight it, for simply fighting it feels good to me.

Meanwhile, on Diwali day, my maids are going to pack paranthas and Mithai for the entire crew so we are not hungry during the Ra.One show. We are going to wear new clothes, watch the movie and have our lunchß. In the evening, we will light diyas in the house, burst crackers with the kids and pray to God. I feel lucky to be in India, for I have spent many Diwalis abroad and no matter how many high-class NRI parties you go to, it just doesn’t feel the same as the Diwali back home. Home, yes, that is what India is to Indians – and will always be – home.

Happy Diwali everyone. And wherever you are, stay happy and stay positive.

Love,

Me.


Pre-Revolution 2020 letter to my readers.


Dear All, 

I cannot remember the last time I wrote a personal blog entry. There was a time, not so long ago; I used to do this regularly.  Twitter spoils us. You can get away with posting one line, and have everyone see it immediately. However, Twitter doesn’t allow elaboration of thoughts, or the feelings behind them. Mostly it is ok, but every now and then, I feel the need to share more with my readers. This happens especially before a book launch. It is the time when I am most vulnerable emotionally, and expressing myself helps.

So, here were go again. Another book releases in less than twenty days. Revolution 2020, something I have lived with for the last two years, is finally going to be out there in the world on October 8th 2011. Countless opinions shall follow, and the book will finally find its place in the world. I remember the how nervous I had felt right before the release of 2 States, my last book in October 2009. I had gone to ISKCON temple in Mumbai the night before and blogged about it later. I do not feel as much nervousness, at least as yet. Maybe I have matured, maybe I am confident about Revolution 2020, and maybe I am just numb. I need to get away for a while, and will share more about that in a moment.

A lot has changed for me in the two years since the last book. More than anything, I think the readership is wider and broader than it ever was before. This is for the following reasons:

  1. My last book 2 States, became the most widely read of all my works. For the first time, I saw housewives and senior citizens pick up my book in large numbers, perhaps connecting to the universal theme of marriage and parental approval.
  2. After 2 States, 3 Idiots, an adaptation of Five Point Someone, came out in December 2009. The movie did extraordinarily well, and reached places where none of my books had reached. Almost anywhere in India I travelled, I found a new set of readers for my books, who had picked them up after watching 3 Idiots.
  3. In 2009, I started doing columns for English and Hindi newspapers. Every two weeks since then, I have had a chance to share my thoughts about the nation with a totally different set of readers – the people who read editorial pages, but not necessarily my books. Both TOI and Dainik Bhaskar have readership in crores, and it will be interesting to see if my column readers pick up Revolution 2020.
  4. In the last two years, Twitter and Facebook exploded as well. Millions of readers now connect with me through these two sites and they are a source of constant support for me.

In light of the above developments, it would be interesting to see the initial response to Revolution 2020. I try to not think about the magnitude of expectations, and for that reason I think it would be a good idea to get away for a while.  Hence, even though the book launch is right around the corner, starting tomorrow I shall be in Thailand for a yoga retreat for a week. I will be somewhat disconnected from India and I think that will help settle my mind right before the launch. The program is supposed to be quite tough, as you don’t really eat much the entire week (a glass of juice per day is what I have been told!). Thus, in the middle of all these high profile fasts in the country, I’d be getting away to do my own, and mostly for my own sake.

On the personal front, my twin boys have grown up. They are seven years old now. They were born just two months after my first book came out. Thus, in some ways they reflect my age as an author – still quite young, and hopefully, a long way to go. It is fun to be at home and watch them grow up, even though they disturb me every now and then from my writing. But as Krish says in 2 States – ‘what is life without being disturbed by the right people?’

Anusha is busy at work. She is Chief Operating Officer at her bank, which as you can guess from the title, is quite a big deal. People often call her superwoman. She has maintained her career, brought up twins well and handled a crazy husband. I think she is quite a role model for Indian women.

Apart from books, I spend my time doing talks, which have grown tremendously over the last two years. It is from these talks that Revolution 2020 was born. The talks help me stay connected to India. At the same time, they make my schedule hectic. In the last one year alone, I visited 55 cities.

Hence, I have become terrible at replying to calls, messages and keeping in touch. One of my goals after Revolution 2020 is to simplify life, be more selective in what I choose to do, and make more time for family, friends and myself.

For now however, I have to bring my new baby to the world. Revolution 2020 carries fantastic feedback from the people who have read it, so frankly I am not too worried. To keep things simple, I would do the initial launches only in Mumbai and Delhi, and then get to other cities in a few weeks. I will post details on the same later. This time the title of the book doesn’t reveal so much about the story, but I think that will add to the fun of reading it. I can’t wait for your feedback.

I hope the book launches go well. After all that, in December, I have also promised my family that I will take them on a nice long vacation, especially after the book launch madness, and a part of me is looking forward to that as well.

Thank you once again for your constant support through the years – in almost everything I have attempted to do. I always say: my personal goals in life are already met. I now live for people who have made me – you, my readers.

With that, I better go pack for my 7-day escape before the madness.

Don’t be serious, be sincere.

Love,

Chetan


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