18 December 2009

Siang 2009: Trip of a Lifetime

The Brahmaputra or Siang as it is called in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most remote rivers in India, and considered by many as the "biggest water" rivers for rafting in Asia. It had fascinated (and in my mind, challenged) me for the longest time.

I had decided long ago that I would be in a raft on the Brahmaputra one day, not the easiest task to achieve and it took me some time. I have caught the rafting bug over the past couple of years and it was almost inevitable that the Big One would come around soon. I signed on for the Siang earlier in 2009 and then spent most of the year looking forward to it... its strange when you look forward to something without knowing what exactly to expect.

We landed in Dibrugarh and took a day-long ferry ride to Pasighat. It was a very slow ferry since it was going upstream but it was a great experience. We started off pre-dawn at about 4 am and by 8 am there was a round of Jack Daniel shots doing the rounds! We reached Pasighat late in the afternoon and had just enough time to take a walk around the town. Had a look at the lovely foodstuff that the local arunachali's enjoy - including rats......



The following morning we left Pasighat for Jenging. It was going to be a day-long drive in Tata Sumos and not one we were looking forward to. The sunrise (as always) was breathtaking, we saw it from the newly completed bridge across the Brahmaputra.


And the customary 'before' photograph of the entire group on the bridge.......
Along the road to Jenging we came along this incredible iron bridge and we just had to do a "boys are back in town" photo... thats Sanjay, Abhay, Richard and Me.


We stayed that night in Jenging and boy what a night it turned to be.... a group of us were partying till very late in the night and what happened next.... well, the less said the better. Lets just say much rum was consumed and much havoc was created.... poor old Jenging town will never be the same again......We left the next morning from Jenging to Tuting, which was going to be the put-in for our rafting expedition. The anticipation was beginning to build and we had already spent 3 days together as a group - we were getting to know each other and realised that it was a great bunch of people. We went into Tuting town the next day and spent a relaxed time preparing ourselves for the big run down the river.

The rope bridge across the Brahmaputra... very very scary to look at but great fun to cross, exhilarating.

We started the expedition at Tuting after blessings from Buddhist Monks and local Adi priests, just below the Class 4 Ninguing rapid. The big story that day was the Palsi and the Palsi's Bitches were immortalized forever. Richard had the ride of his life on the wrong side of the front of the raft down Palsi and Sanjay had the best view in the house ! Lord Paul was in the water and not alone... Amit, Aaron and many others joined him... They all had the best stories to tell. Other than Palsi Conquerors, of course.... Vik, Abhay, Vivek, Atul, Claudia, Deepika and Sonal... Take a bow!
We camped that night at Pango which was arguably the best campsite, spacious, lots of beach and beautiful stream flowing right next to us. We slept that night in our 2-man tents with the soft gurgling sound of the stream and nothing else.

On Day 2, we rafted down the Pango rapid and entered the Ninguing and Marmong gorges. These are some of the remotest gorges in the world and quite inaccesible.


That day we ended up at the Class 6 Toothfairy rapid. Easily the most intimidating rapi I have ever seen in my life. It was impossible to run and so we portaged across and set up camp right above the rapid. The rapid roared all night while we slept peacefully by. The following morning Norbert decided to run the rapid in his Kayak - what an incredible sight that was.

That day we rafted down to the camp where we had our rest day. Unfortunately, it was raining almost through that one and a half day period and all our clothes were wet and damp, not pretty. I think the weather cleared up just long enough for us to have the Aquaterra Beach Olympics and what a laugh that was. Heads spinning, people spinning, coins up strange places and finally the decisive tug of war!

Campfires at the end of every day... Naren, Me, Vivek, Deepika, Sejal, Vaibhav, Sanjay
Sejal's Yoga Class (which Abhay enjoyed from the 'other' side)
What a great bunch of people in the group... Deepika, Amit, Vivek, Naren, Sanjay, Me, Lullu, Paul and Richard
The last big rapid on the trip was the Ponging which needed a scout and was quite the honker.

The rafting run ended back under the bridge at Pasighat. It had been an amazing journey down the river with a bunch of great people and good friends now.

The "after" photo....
But the trip was far from over, not with this bunch ! The next day was my birthday and it was going to be special... they made sure of that. We took the ferry back across the river from Pasighat to Dibrugarh and straight to the airport for our flight back to Delhi.

It was going to be a long day for all of us getting back to Delhi and everyone was kind of resigned to that.... at the airport they decided to break into song in the Security lounge "Happy Birthday to you"... very very embarassing! and nothing like anything that Dibrugarh had ever seen before...
was that it? oh no... there was more to come.... my friends made the purser announce in the flight that it was my birthday and then proceeded to cut a pastry and smear it all over my face..... embarrassing but great fun and i really enjoyed it... a birthday to remember forever....
To go with the trip to remember forever..............

20 September 2009

4-3

4-3 is a thrilling scoreline under any circumstances, but "thrilling" does not do justice to this game.

One of these days United is going to make me have a seizure....

I am in Singapore for work and was going to miss watching this game because I was to be on the flight back to Bombay. Decided to extend my trip for a day and "thank you thank you, god" that I did.

My friend ramballs and I went to watch the game at Chijmes, seemed to be a great place to watch and we watched the first half there. There were quite a few United fans there and many anti-united ones too. United scored first but a defensive error allowed City to equalise. Why do we do this to ourselves?

At half time we decided to quickly go across to Boat Quay to the Manchester United Cafe Bar (yes, such a place exists). Unfortunately, we couldn't find a cab easily and by the time we got there it was already 2-2. We had been in the lead twice and been pegged back twice. Annoying to say the least, the blue losers should have been left well behind.

The Manchester United Cafe is a really cool place with lots of club memorabilia and signed t-shirts and posters on the walls. There were a good 100-120 united faithful in there. Singing United songs and chanting. It was a bit funny with their distinctive accents. But it was really passionate and I felt 'at home'.

We missed a few good chances and some of the fans were less than charitable towards Berbatov.

Michael Owen came on for Berbatov. A few years back, I didn't think I would live to see United fans welcome Owen onto the Old Trafford pitch in the Red devils shirt. (Football, bloody hell!).

The famous United Supporters spirit was there.. Everyone believed we would score the winner. United always scores. Everyone believed. And we did score - Fletcher ghosted into the box to head in the goal, the bar erupted like we were all there at Old Trafford... High fives all around. No high fives for the two of us - the primarily chinese crowd was still trying to figure us out. I seemed to be a United faithful but they obviously hadn't seen me before at the bar. And my friend was quite obviously a neutral (he's a Liverpool fan but didn't dare wear his shirt to this bar!).

And the bar was a happy happy place.. Singing 'we love man united, united we love you'. And many more songs which I can scarce repeat the language of here. Suffice to say, they were disparaging towards our so-called rival clubs.

The clock ticked over to 90 minutes and we were just waiting for the final whistle to blow so that we could go home happy. Rio made a mistake, silly mistake. Sir Alex's hair dryer treatment is gonna get him for sure. City scored and it was like we were in a funeral home at the bar.. Dead silence. I had that terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and a hammer blow to the head. All we had needed to do was hang on for a couple of minutes but it wasn't to be... Or was it?

I had to muster up a lot of spirit within me, Come on United, come on boys... and I could see around me, 5 or 6 United fans doing the same. "We could still win this" - more in hope than expectation. There were a few cries of 'remember 99'. The players tried a couple of times but the attacks died without a threat on the goal.

.......Giggs on the ball, outside the box. Calm as ever. Strokes the perfectly weighted pass into Michael Owen's path. Owen looks up quickly and mentally judges the speed of the ball, the pace of the oncoming goalkeeper, the angle towards the bottom right corner of the goal. He may well have seen the flash of a blue t-shirt out of the corner of his eye of the defender's tackle coming in. He measured all this in under 1 second. Gently stroked the ball home.

Goal. Winner. Instant Legend.

The bar went crazy. It was like each of us had scored that goal. There were people piled on each other. Strangers hugging me, 4, 6, 10, maybe 15 of them.

Yessssssss. Goalllllllllllll. Unitedddddddddddddd.

We didn't know each other but we celebrated extreme joy and elation together. Screamed myself hoarse, could barely stand after. And then it slowly sunk in. We'd won, we'd really won. 95th minute winner - by Michael Owen. Hahahaha. Never ever dreamt I would see THAT.

24 July 2009

U2 Live in Barcelona: the 20-year wait

Time lost. That's the feeling I was having... Why didn't I see U2 live for over 20 years? I have no answer.

This was quickly replaced with the sheer elation of enjoying the experience of a lifetime. But that was when U2 came onto the stage and I saw them, physically saw them for the first time in my life. The concert was at the Camp Nou - the stadium of the Blaugrana - FC Barcelona. Visiting the Camp Nou would have been an experience in itself. But on that day it was easily overshadowed by U2.

The opening act for the night were Snow Patrol, a band I had been accidentally introduced to by a friend a few years earlier. I had grown to like them a lot over the past 3 years. Honestly, I would have paid to watch just Snow Patrol!! They took the stage at about 8.30 with U2 expected at 10 PM.

They were good, despite suffering from a crowd which was "waiting for U2" and having to play while it wasn't even dark yet. They played a great set - most of my favourite songs. Started with "Take back the city" which is their latest big song. Followed that up with the Spiderman 3 theme song - "Signal Fire". That sounded and felt quite good with the sun going down over Barcelona. Next came "Shut your eyes" followed by the big one - "Chasing cars". By now the crowd was warming up to them and they went straight into "Crack the shutters", "Open your eyes" and ending with the brilliant "You're all I have".

That really set the stage for the big show coming up. It was still only 9.30 or so, another half hour to go before I could feel what I had waited to feel for 20 years - what would it be like to see The Edge in the flesh... To see U2 play LIVE.. What songs would they play? Hoping they would play some of the old tracks - the ones I had grown up on.

Almost at 10 PM sharp it happened. U2 took the stage and the stadium was rapturous and erupted.

Me - I was sitting in my seat, overwhelmed. I watched with tears in my eyes. I had waited so long. They kicked off with "Breathe" from the new album.

What followed for the next 2 and half odd hours was breathtaking, stunning, incredible. The superlatives could be endless so I won't bother. Suffice to say it was one of the highlights of my life, till now.

They followed up "Breathe" with some more tracks from "No Line on the horizon"... The title track "No Line On The Horizon", "Get On Your Boots" and then "Magnificent" which was truly magnificent. I was slowly getting excited and expressing myself and standing and watching rather than absorbing it sitting down. "Beautiful Day" followed.. Pretty good. Great song.

And then it happened. It took my breath away. I could not stand.... The Edge started strumming "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". I had to sit. Concentrate. What a sensation to watch U2 play one of my favourite songs - LIVE. So many emotions, so few words. All I could do was sit there and watch them through moist eyes and sing along.... Along with 80,000 other voices.

They upped the tempo after that with "Desire" and bits of "Billie Jean" and "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" as a tribute to Michael Jackson.

What followed was yet another incredible high.. Two really old songs "Party Girl" and "Electrical Storm" (being played live for the first time ever!). Few in the stadium even knew the songs - a vicarious pleasure for me!

Then back to the new album with "Unknown Caller" which lends itself really well to the crowd singing along and boy did we sing along. Followed up with another classic "The Unforgettable Fire". By now, the band were really playing us by mixing up the old and the new.

Yet another 'high' followed with a spectacular lights and stage display for "City of Blinding Lights". The band really took the roof off the stadium for this one. And then another "How to dismantle" track... "Vertigo".

Immediately after playing a new track "I'll Go Crazy if I don't go crazy tonight", U2 went into a mad double-header straight from their roots in Ireland - "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)". Oh my God - the crowd went a bit ballistic. Its was incredible to watch.

And then "MLK" - another old one. By now the band had the stadium eating out of the palm of their hands. Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton were roaming the stage casually and 'talking to the crowd' with their music. The stage was a unique design with a 360 degree view and the giant claw stage.

The next song was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi... Her face flashed on all the screens and Bono reminded people of the plight of Myanmar - "Walk On". During "Walk On",
Bono was wearing a mask of Aung San Suu Kyi. There were about 20 children on stage - all wearing the same masks. A good tribute to a woman with extra-ordinary fortitude.

And then they hit us with another old one which raised the tempo in more ways then one.. "Where the Streets Have No Name". This was followed up by a speech on the video screens by Bishop Desmond Tutu promoting the ONE Campaign... Perfectly cueing up "One". Oh what a feeling. Serious goose-flesh. I've probably heard this song and even live versions a thousand times. And now it was in the flesh.

And then U2 leave the stage... Triggering the beginning of the end of the night. As expected the crowd sang for them to return and they did.

U2 came back to the stage with a slow build up of sound and lights and then a massive crescendo. Breaking into yet another popular-amongst-hard-core-fans-but-not-famous songs - "Ultraviolet (Light my way)". This was followed by arguably U2's most famous song - "With or Without You". I am running out of words and superlatives to explain the emotions.

And then U2 left the stage again.. The crowd would have none of it and kept singing for almost 5 minutes I'm not sure if they were planning to come back anyway or did because of the crowd. My guess is the former.

They hit us with two tracks from the new album "I'll Go Crazy...." A repeat because they played the normal version of Crazy tonight for a video being made of the concert tour and then my favourite song from the new album - "Moment of Surrender". To be honest, I think Bono and the band played with the track a bit too much and it didn't sound great to me but nothing was going to dampen the night.

Needless, to say I was drained. Lost my voice completely. Sweaty, grimy, dirty, hungry, thirsty but contented. Oh so satiated.


-------
Song List (with album name)

Snow Patrol

1-Take back the city (A hundred million suns)
2-Signal Fire (Spiderman 3)
3-Shut your eyes (Eyes Open)
4-Chasing cars (Eyes Open)
5-Crack the shutters (A hundred million suns)
6-Open your eyes (Eyes Open)
7-You're all I have (Eyes Open)


U2

1- Breathe (No Line On The Horizon)
2 - No Line On The Horizon (No Line On The Horizon)
3 - Get On Your Boots (No Line On The Horizon)
4 - Magnificent (No Line On The Horizon)
5 - Beautiful Day (All that you can't leave behind)
6 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (The Joshua Tree)
7 - Desire (Rattle and Hum)
8 - Party Girl (Under a blood red sky)
9 - Electrical Storm (Best of 1990-2000 B side)
10 - Unknown Caller (No Line On The Horizon)
11 - The Unforgettable Fire (The Unforgettable Fire)
12 - City of Blinding Lights (How to dismantle an atomic bomb)
13 - Vertigo (How to dismantle an atomic bomb)
14 - I'll Go Crazy...(No Line On The Horizon)
15 - Sunday Bloody Sunday (War)
16 - Pride (In the Name of Love) (Rattle and Hum)
17 - MLK (The Unforgettable Fire)
18 - Walk On (All that you can't leave behind)
19 - Where the Streets Have No Name (The Joshua Tree)
20 - One (Achtung Baby)
21 - Ultraviolet (Achtung Baby)
22 - With or Without You (The Joshua Tree)
23 - I'll Go Crazy (No Line On The Horizon)
24 - Moment of Surrender (No Line On The Horizon)

18 July 2009

Cannes Promo Lions Jury Experience: One Word - Unforgettable

Its probably the single most concentrated intellectually rewarding activity I have done. One week of intense and relentless intellectual stimulation took so much out of me.
The jury was constituted of 18 members. They were just names and faces to me less than 10 days ago. But now they are friends, whom I respect and like very much. Some of whom I hope to have as friends for the rest of my life... More about them later.
The jury process was rigorous and methodical. For a form of evaluation which had strong subjective and individual variations, the process worked hard to stay true to itself. For the large part and in the end result it was a very effective and efficient process. Certainly not foolproof but as close to that as possible.
Over a period of 5 days, I saw some inspired promotional marketing work. And some truly insipid work too! Interestingly, there was very little correlation between big/famous brands great promotions. Sadly, there were a few examples of entries purely for awards - borderline scam entries. It was not fun to have to go through entries that were so obviously done to be entered into award categories. But that must not take away from the majority of the entries which were well worth going through.
We spent the first 3 days in small groups short-listing the entries down to a smaller and manageable number. This stage was pain-staking and a bit tedious, I must admit. The latter 2 days were spent whetting the short-list and deciding on metals through some rigorous and deep discussion about each entry. These days were considerably longer and strenuous but more enjoyable. Listening to a truely international and varied view-point on promotional projects was brilliant.
Over and over, we ended up analysing entries to see whether they actually 'activated' the consumer. This was crucial to the Promo Lions category. We often ended up thinking - "I like that, but is it a promo?". Soon that become the joke of the jury and we ended up referring to everything around us with that phrase.
I've worked with a multitude of people from various countries on various fora, but this group of people comprised of some of the funniest and I enjoyed their company through the week that I spent at Cannes. Chris from South Africa was the one I spent the most time, despite being a Chelsea fan, he's pretty cool. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the world cup next year.
Pius, my friend from Zurich, thinks he's very funny and often is... (Pius, if you're reading this - you know you love my jokes - admit it!). Janice the youngster from Toronto, it was fun watching how the other half live with you.. We will always remember the 'the canadians' as her favourite project.
Figuring out where to go for dinner every night was an interesting little exercise. Johannes (from Berlin/Stuttgart) wanted to go to a place where we had already been. Very conservative. While Tito (from Buenos Aires) and the rest of us wanted to try something new every night.. The German stood no chance - I think we made him a little more adventurous in the week that we were there. Tito and I loved our Haagen Daas ice-cream after dinner and by the end of it everyone else did too...
The jury sessions culminated in a shortlist and winners list (you can have a look at the Promo Lions at www.canneslions.com). There was a press conference in front of journalists from all over the world and just sharing the stage with such a group of professionals was a thrill. The awards night itself went by in a flash and it was a strange feeling to know exactly what winners were going to be announced and watching the audience reaction.

Suddenly, I felt completely useless. The last week had been so focussed and result-oriented. We were treated like royalty by the Cannes organising team and as friends by some like Maureen. Half Chilean-half Portuguese, she was the most amazing coordinator of anything I've ever met. Of course, it helped that she's really pretty and funny.
Cannes and the jury work at the advertising festival was an unforgettable experience and I loved it. Fortunately for me, I wasn't crash-landing back home to work... I was off on a 2-week driving holiday!








28 June 2009

Paris: a surprise that shouldn't have been

I have heard so much about Paris over the years that it had built up for me - really built up. But that was a few years back.... Over the years those expectations mellowed a bit and I started thinking, "how beautiful could Paris really be?"

France (and Paris) had the added charm for me, because I've supported French football for many years.. Platini, Tigana, Fernandez, Amoros, Giresse, Papin, Cantona, ZIDANE, Deschamps, Blanc, Thuram, Petit, Djorkaeff... The list is endless... I always wanted to go back to the Stade De France in Paris.. The scene of the famous 1998 world cup win!

I spent 3 days in Paris and it blew me away - there - I've said it!

I really packed in a lot into the 3 days... The usual stuff - Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, Montmahtre and Sacre Couer, Notre Dame, Trocadero and something really special - The Stade De France!

I'm almost embarrassed about how much I enjoyed the Louvre... I went for an hour and ended up spending close to 5 hours. It was truly breathtaking. My favourties were the Venus De Milo, Psyche and Cupid, Gladiator, The winged victory, The dying slave - all amazing sculptures. I spent several minutes with each one and really appreciated the art.

The paintings were great too.. The Mona Lisa of course and others like the wedding feast, the raft of the medusa, the man with the glove, the coronation of Napolean and so many others.

I enjoyed walking and sitting around so much at Notre Dame and St Michel and at the Champs Elysees. It did help much that there was gloirous sunshine 2 of the 3 days and I made the most of it. A real tourist for a weekend.

Sat by the Seine river eating a sandwich and watching the boats go by. Met a couple of local parisien students. What a way to relax and see the city go by..

The highlight of the Paris weekend - the visit to the Stade de France. I had been looking forward to that for years. Visiting the place where France won the world in 1998. Zidane's 2 headed goals in the final is one of my best football memories ever! I did the stadium tour and went on to the pitch and took in the atmosphere. Imagined the feel of the stadium when the 2 goals would have gone in... Stood at the spot where Michel Platini handed over the trophy to Didier Deschamps and he lifted it high for the first time for France. Relived a moment I would never forget.

I left Paris for Nice and Cannes to 'serve time' on the Cannes Lions Jury, but that's for another blog entry..

27 May 2009

Anticipation, Nervousness, Hope, Tension, Stress.....

......just some of the emotions and feelings I am going through. A little more than 24 hours to go before my beloved Manchester United take to the field in Rome against Barcelona on one of the biggest stages (if not the biggest) that world football has to offer.

As I lie in bed and try and sleep, I am going over the many many times in the past that I have felt such anticipation related to football. Several times the night before a big game I was playing in myself for school or college or another team. But ever so often the night before a big game in which one of my favourite teams is playing. I can vividly remember such nights in 1986, 1993, 1995, 1998, twice in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and now in 2009..... (Big prize for anyone who can guess the games I'm referring to in each of those years!)

I have supported United for 26 years now. Since 1983. The Eighties were very dark years for us United Supporters but we got through them. With faith in our club and belief in the style and brand of football that Manchester United has always played.

The last 16 years have been very kind to us - 11 premiership titles.... And I have gone through the feelings I am going through twice before European Champions League Finals - 1999 and 2008. We won both times.

I have great faith in my boys, the United team, massive belief that they will do what they need to do and win... But there is always the lurking fear that something could go wrong, a stroke of bad luck.. when you're up against a strong and talented team like Barcelona, that's all it takes.. One stroke of bad luck. I know we are better, I know we deserve to win.. I believe in US.

Although I have felt this anticipation twice before, the night before Champions League finals, but the last time I remember feeling EXACTLY like this was the night before the World Cup Final in 1998. France v Brazil in Paris. I support France and both teams were heavily favoured to win, if that makes sense. History was made that night.

I can only hope and pray I am as happy tomorrow night as I was that summer's night in 1998....

20 May 2009

Tan Tana Tan on the Tons

I think its safe to say that I've been bitten by the river rafting bug! 3 trips in 10 months is a pretty strong case. There is something about the mix of the rush of the rapids and calm of the camps that is incredibly intoxicating. Many of the rivers are in remote, very difficult to reach locations and naturally the valleys and the rivers themselves are untouched and pristine in their natural beauty. 

The Tons is considered one of the leading river rafting runs in the world. The valley is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to. The best part about the river is that the rapids come thick and fast. There is very little time to rest and take it easy on the river. The river was running very low when we were there and so it wasn't big water and the rapids weren't as rough as expected. But the water level being very low made for very difficult maneuvering and the technical difficulty was heightened. This was totally different from the rafting runs I had done before on the Zanskar and the Ganga. Very very different. Terribly tiring because of the amount paddling one had to do and the dreaded "Right draw".

We took an overnight train from Nizamuddin station in Delhi to Dehradun.... We took an overnight train from Nizamuddin station in Delhi to Dehradun.... Our group was a small one - Arvind (my friend from IIMB who now lives in Hongkong, Aditya the obnoxious madman, Abhay the enthu fun-man, Rajat, Nalanda the designer who was out camping in the outdoors with her Louis Vitton Strolley, Stephen the crazy South African). And we were met in Dehradun by Vaibhav our trusted Aquaterra River specialist but more importantly our dear friend and Somna the quiet one.   

I have to say I hate the top berth in the 3-tier trains - so bloody claustrophobic.... but we got there in one piece.... and drove to the Tons through Mussoorie and Kempty Falls. Pretty uneventful, though, longish drive..


I arrived at "Camp Lunagad" pretty tired but rearing to get on the river so we did a short 1 hour run through pretty tame rapids but it was amazing to be back on the river after 6 months! As usual we formed teams on the first day - Abhay, Arvind, Somna and I were in one raft with Rana as our "River Guide". I had rafted with Rana before on the Ganga and he's a great guy to be with. Pretty strict but great fun too. 

Absolutely no mobile phone coverage, no electricity, no TV, no communication at all.... just some of the perks of being back at Camp. Incredibly relaxing and a massive release. Despite being out of touch with the rest of the world, the facilities at the camp were great. the tents and living area 
was superb, very comfortable. the food and support staff were awesome, the drink was pretty good too!

On the second day we drove upriver a few kilometers and put in the rafts close to a school in the nearby village. The run on the river was slightly longer, about 2 and a half hours and was a lot tougher and taxing. By the end of it there seemed to be a storm brewing and it seemed like rain was on its way. We decided to take out close to the camp to make life easier for all of us. And then we carried the rafts on our shoulders all the way up to camp, no mean feat whle walking on the stones with that massive load on 4 pairs of shoulders. 

Later the same afternoon, we went for a short hike close to the camp to a nearby natural pool. it was beautiful, really cool. It was Arvind, Nalanda, myself and Rajat (photo below). And also Stephen. 


Unfortunately, I cut both my feet pretty badly on the stones in the pool, shouldn't have removed my sandals before jumping in! The feet bothered me for the rest of the trip but held up in the end. I ended up using bandages and ointments from almost everyone in the camp to keep my feet sorted for the next 5 days.

On the third day we went even further upriver to the farthest possible point from where it was possible to run the river. 

Effectively the beginning of the Upper Tons. The run was longer and harder on this day. We started off the day with a pretty rough rapid which none of us were really ready for. No warming up and practice on this run. Pretty hard hits and bumps almost right through. 

In the afternoon, we went for a short drive to a village called Hanol where we visited the Masudev Temple which is a very famous local temple. On the way to the temple, we stopped to have a look at the famous Khoonigad rapid from a distance... looked pretty tame from a distance. We were going to be running that rapid on the 5th day - the longest day on the river - the Middle Tons section.

The 4th day was amazing - the rest day. My feet had been hurting the day before and I really needed to put my feet up and give them a chance to heal a bit. So i did nothing which is not easy to do in the middle of a valley with ZERO communication. That's not true actually... it was very easy to do... sat out in the sun and relaxed. chatted, read some. lazed. played some cricket (feet had to be rested, remember). Very relaxing day, the perfect day before the BIG day on the Middle Tons. Promised to be quite a day!

On the 5th day we started the run from the camp itself. The objective was to run the Middle Tons over 2 days of rafting. The Tons river drops at an average rate of 32 feet per kilometer between Lunagad and Tiuni. This stretch has some of the most technically difficult rapids ranging from Class III to Class IV+/V. The first day included the Khoonigad rapid which is considered one of the most difficult anywhere. There were to be several rapids that would require scouting (getting out of the rafts before the rapid to walk and have a close look at the rapid from the bank of the river to decide the ideal line of running the rapid). There was also the possibility of certain rapids being "un-runnable" and thus requiring the rafts to be walked around the rapid on the river bank.

Overall, it ended up being a very tiring 5-hour day on the river. The highlight clearly was Khoonigad. On which we got stuck pretty badly (photo below). (I'm on the front right of the raft)

As we were paddling towards the rapid, the adrenaline was pumping and the expectation was palpable - it was exhilarating. The first move that Rana made us do worked well and we entered the rapid at the right pace and angle. But then the river took over and we hit a big rock. The raft turned 180 degrees and we were facing the wrong way.  We then started moving towards the right but downriver, went straight into a big rock at a very fast pace. the rock hit just about 2 feet behind me and dislodged my footing and I could feel myself being thrown out of the raft. This rapid was not a good one to break my record on - I would come out with some serious bruises from the rocks. (My record - yet too fall out of the raft on any of the rivers that I have been rafting). I just about held on.

We were then stuck on this rock, that we had hit, for about half an hour - seemed like that long - it was about 30 seconds really. Required some hard paddling, "right draw" paddling and some skillful maneuvering by Rana to get us through. All the while my left foot was free and I was hanging on intermittently with my right foot and the other time with my friend Abhay to my left hanging on to me. I could feel myself slipping out of the raft and it took a lot of willpower and focus to stay in. I wouldn't say Abhay saved my life but he certainly saved my record!

After a short while, we were free and the river pushed us down the rapid. We thought we were through and relaxed a bit..... Rana quickly made us focus with some shouts and we paddled through the last bit.

The scene is still vividly clear in my head and we were very lucky to get through without the raft flipping.

Khoonigad was followed by over 2 dozen challenging and exciting rapids. All required tremendous skill on Rana's part and some work on our part to stay the right side up. The rapids were some of the best I have ever been in and the amount of focus and concentration that was required was unreal.

The rapids came thick and fast and it didn't matter that we were dog tired and ready to collapse...... You had to paddle. Not just because Rana kicked our arse to do so but also because if we didn't we would end up in the drink and that was NOT a good idea. 

We stopped for lunch after about 3 and a half hours of hard paddling and managed to get some rest (not sure you can call 5 minutes of lying down on a log that, but at the time it was AMAZING).

And then we were back to the river. Its laughingly outrageous how quickly one can get back to the the river and find the energy and strength one had no idea existed. It takes a couple of minutes for the adrenaline to kick in again and you're back to the rush.


The day ended short of the Tiuni village where we camped by the river....... 

It took all my strength to get out of my wet suit and wet clothes and get changed and then lie down on a Karrimat right about anywhere. I was dog-tired.

Although we had tents pitched and ready for us, that night we slept out in the open under the stars and a bright (almost full) moon. The temperature was almost perfect, a bit hot even. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of times and opened my eyes and the feeling and surprise is impossible to articulate. It was a beautiful night and one that I will remember for a very long time. 

The next day was a short 2 and a half hour run to Tiuni and then we reached the Take-out point. It  had been a great adventure with an incredible group of friends and Aquaterra guides.    


28 April 2009

The Importance of Chaos, Cash and Karma

Management by definition is the science of minimising disorder and maximising predictability. Unfortunately, life, business and especially startups are anything but predictable. Chaos is not only inevitable; I'd say it’s important, desirable even, to the process of starting up an enterprise.

After completing my MBA, I had to do my fair share of unlearning to adapt to the real world. Very often my ‘instinctive response’, based on my education, to situations would be the wrong one. A response which would further complicate the situation rather than resolve matters. In the same situation an 'innovative (or I dare say, ‘Jugaad’) response' would be more appropriate.

After doing this several times over in the early years, I realised that my responses based on education would probably bring better results in the long term as compared to the ‘Jugaad’ decisions. But then "in the long term we're all dead"... Often, startups are about getting through the here and now. If one was to implement the long-term-friendly-educated-response, one wouldn't survive long enough to see if it was a good call.

To a typical corporate-minded outsider this gives the appearance of chaos in a startup. Someone who is not involved in a series of ‘Jugaad’ decisions taken to manage the short-term would not see the order in the chaos. The long-term outcome is often a hugely positive and desirable result of a series of such short-term events.

The same often applies to managing cash, real cash. Cashflow management is a crucial part of management education but the way it is imbibed is to treat cash at a very theoretical or esoteric level.

Life teaches you otherwise. It’s a proven fact that the single biggest reason enterprises fail is because they run out of cash. This element is more important than marketing, operations, HR, sales, or anything else. Day-to-day management decisions in a startup enterprise are often guided by keeping your cash-head afloat rather than looking at long term profitability, organisational or financial health (Remember.... in the long term, we're all dead).

This brings me to Karma. Doing all that one can, doing one’s duty, to the best of one’s ability and aptitude without 'attachment' to the results and rewards of such actions. This nature of approach to one’s work is pretty much an anathema to classical management theory which would focus strongly on goal-orientation. But I have found this to be one of the most crucial aspects of building a business. And I don't just mean this in a spiritual sense, I believe that keeping a karmic approach to everyday work, projects and business allows one to focus better and achieve higher productivity and results.

Management education taught me a lot and brought me the distance but left me tantalisingly close... I had to learn a few crucial life-lessons to truly apply myself to the challenge of building Candid Marketing into the No.1 Brand Promotion Agency in India.



21 April 2009

IPL: Opportunity lost

I love cricket, I really do. I love Test cricket - most people in non-test-playing-countries don't even understand how a sporting contest can last 5 days, but I love test cricket. (The memory of Rahul Dravid square-cutting for a boundary to win a test match for India in Australia will live with me forever).

And yet I'm no purist, I think 20-20 cricket is very cool.. Amazing entertainment.. Will be very good for cricket as a sport in the long term.

T20 is a sport. Make no mistake. It is not entertainment or a tamasha alone. It takes tremendous athleticism, strength, strategy, power, stamina, mental strength, intelligence, perseverance and other such essentials to be successful and a winner at a sport. I love the entertainment part of T20, the music, the flashy colours, the cheerleaders, the innovative rules and innovation.

But..

The IPL has gone too far. The IPL had the opportunity to be the first major sports franchise created in the 2000s. As it is now, IPL is the first major marketing sports franchise of the 2000s.

Have a look at all the major respected and popular sports franchises around us. The football world cup, the olympics, the football leagues in Europe. Most of them have major sponsors and have tremendous money involved and yet when you watch the sport, brands are not in your face, players' clothes are not covered with them.

In football, the club strip has ONE sponsor logo on it and no more. For years, Barcelona FC didn't even have that because they didn't want to commercialise the club. Even now that they do its "Unicef" and they are not paid for it. Its that kind of approach that builds sanctity and loyalty for a club that lasts generations.

IPL teams have 4, 5 and in some cases 6 logos on their uniforms - its sickening to see. The players are walking billboards. I won't even get into the marketing effectiveness of such branding - that's a debate for another day and another blog-entry.

Marketing in the IPL is crass. It is overriding cricket and undermining it. It makes me ill.

Creating a break after every 10 overs is absurd. It breaks the momentum of the sport. What is even more absurd and hypocritical is for IPL authorities to say its not done for marketing reasons. Can one imagine a strategy break after every 15 minutes in football or hockey? I know its there in Basketball, American Football etc but that pretty much rests my case.

The approach to the IPL both for the organisers as well as the team owners seems to be to make as much money as quickly as possible. Its almost as if they don't believe that the IPL will last more than a few years and so its best to 'break-even' and make money NOW... Who knows if it will last?!

The Taj Mahal was built to last forever, the IPL is certainly not being built with any such noble intention or vision. If the IPL is successful over time and stands the test of time, it will not be because of the BCCI and Lalit Modi, it will be despite them.

Lalit Modi has famously said that IPL2 will redefine how a sports event is marketed for the whole world. At the moment its looking like by redefine he meant how NOT to market a sports event.

06 April 2009

Kiko Macheda, take a bow

When i sat down to watch the Manchester United game this evening, I knew it was no ordinary game. United have had it tough over the past couple of weeks. Seldom do united lose 2 consecutive games and they had. A third would be unthinkable. But even i could not have imagined as extra-ordinary an evening as it turned out. 

I saw the starting line-up and it was distressing - 6-7 first team players injured or suspended. Rio Ferdinand wouldnt be starting - that was a bit unexpected. With him and Vida both out, things at the back were embarrasingly weak.

I glanced across at the substitutes list and it was worse, not even one established player. I saw several youngsters names there that I knew but saw one I had never heard of - "MacHeda" - thats how it was spelt and so I throught he was probably scottish or Irish.

The game started well with Ronaldo scoring and then it quickly went south for us and we were down 1-2. If ever we needed the famous Manchester United spirit and the noise of the Old Trafford faithful, this was the time.

I have seen United fight hard and long before and never say die, I never get up from watching a United game however bleak the chances of a turnaround because I know and I believe that the Manchester United team never gives up and so I never give up. and this time they did it again.

Love him or Hate him but you can't ignore him. Sir Alex Ferguson, and he did the unthinkable. He threw on Federico Macheda. 17 years old. never played for the United first team before. yes, he had scored a hat-trick for the reserves earlier this week but this is the premiership and we were a goal down.... Sir Alex knows when its time.

Ronaldo was sulky and petulant in parts and was probably responsible for the 2nd we conceded but he stepped and scored with his weaker foot that too.... we were level and from there, only one team wanted to to win. With ten minutes to go, the sense of expectation around Old Trafford was palpable.

With 5 minutes going up as injury time, there was hope.

Three minutes into this, history was made. Macheda was in the box, not just waiting for, but seeking the ball. Pointing to his right, away from the goal - he signalled for a through pass. Ryan Giggs played a perfectly weighted pass.

Then it was all Kiko, with his back to goal, the ball the wrong side of the near post. For those of us who have played the game, in fact any sport, know that often what happens next is not something you plan or think, instinct takes over. Chances are Kiko didn't even think: he just did it. In one fluid motion he teed the ball up with his heel, turned, and put his weight low behind the ball, and curled a shot past the goalkeeper and inside the post. It was utterly sublime.

I could NOT restrain myself and yelled and screamed and ran around the room.... truely unbelievable. Mark of the champions.

United may not go on to win the premiership, only time will tell. No trophy was decided tonight.  
But this isnt about that at all. This is about reaching such highs and peaks. Such joyous occassions are what have made me support Manchester United for 26 years. No club can match it. I am proud to be a Manchester United Fan!



18 February 2009

Goa

Goa is a fascinating place, more in the mind than in the physical world. There's something about Goa that will make me relax - automagically. All I have to do is land at Goa airport and I feel the stress easing out of my body and my muscles relax just that crucial bit.

I've been to Goa over 20 times in the past few years and each time has been a time to remember, including the work trips. Anyone who tells you they're going to Goa purely on work is LYING. Such a thing doesn't exist.

There was the time I went to Goa to manage an event of ours and spent the entire 2 days indoors at the hotel where we were, but even then I managed a twenty minute swim in the pool and that was enough - its all in the mind.

But the best way to enjoy Goa is when you leave home in shorts and chappals and spend the entire holiday in the same state of mind and come back in chappals too. Goa is the kind of place I don't worry what I'm looking like and often don't worry what about I'm doing (I know most of you are thinking he never worries about what he's looking like!). Goa can be such a great leveller. The best of us and the not so much will rub shoulders at the same beaches, markets and bars. Many of us wouldn't be caught doing some of the things we do in Goa, back home where we live. Goa brings out that part of me, the me that is willing let my hair down and let go.

Parts of Goa, are unfortunately over-developed and bursting at the seams. Its the price of growth and popularity and there really is no way around it. All it means is that you have to be willing to go off the beaten track and often further down the beaten track to find places that are fun and relatively untouched.

But there is an obvious good side to all the development in Goa... There's so much to do and places to go to... Some of my favourites...

- Favourite Cafe/Lunch place - Leela Cafe

- Favourite Pub - the one in Baga which shows live football matches - I forget the name

- Favourite Restaurant - Brittos

- Favourite Club - Club Cabana

- Favourite Hotel - Tah holiday village

- Favourite Beach - Morjim

- Favourite 'fancy place' Restaurant - Fiesta

- Favourite Spa - Snip (incredible indonesian massage)

- Favourite shopping place - the little store in Calangute that sells football stuff

- Favourite View - the view of the beaches, Calangute and Baga when you're para-sailing

There are very few places in world I could go to again and again and again and not feel let down....
Goaaaah. Enough said....

08 February 2009

Top 30 random memories from "when I was younger" (in no particular order)

1. Playing football with Alok in our bedroom, most often getting my ass whipped by him.

2. Missing a goal from 1 yard out... mis-timed the shot and scooped it over the bar... worst miss EVER.

3. Trekking up to Bhrigu Lake (near Manali) when I was in Class 6, youngest person to ever reach there at the time... 6 hour trek in knee-deep snow.

4. Playing Foot-squash in college... probably the best and lasting memory of College!

5. The bus rides to and from school on MS-15... with all my friends - mala, mandira, soma, sumant, gauri, anjali, jai, joe (sometimes), rohit, jaspreet, amar, divya etc etc.

6. Watching the planes flying really really low over our football field in school.

7. Playing football instead of eating lunch during our 20 minute lunch break, it was almost like we went to school just for THAT 20 minutes.

8. The scambled eggs (bhurji, really), bread and nimbu paani in the SRCC canteen after football practise..... tasted like a gourmet meal after the hard work on the field!

9. Scoring the first penalty kick in a semi-final shootout against Govt School, Moti Bagh (the most feared team in Delhi). We went on to beat them and win the tournament..... if I close my eyes today I can still see the ball nestling in the net in the bottom left corner. Sheer joy.

10. Sitting on the wall in college and doing NOTHING all day long.... just talking about just about nothing or just about anything.

11. Camping in a 3-man-tent in Samar's back garden when we were 10 years old and waking up in the morning and cooking our breakfast on a stove (sort of).

12. Mince and bread at st stephens 'cafe'.... crap college but the one good thing in their canteen!

13. Sitting and gallivanting at various airports while traveling all over the world and watching all kinds of different people.... (even today, i feel a strange kind of comfort and ease at airports).

14. Arriving at Ambedkar Stadium to play against a random, non-descript school... finding that they were fielding 3 over-age players (looked like they were in their mid-twenties)... lodging an official protest which was summarily shot down.... had to play the game.... BEAT THEM 4-0. we played out of our skin that afternoon...

15. Chole Bhature at Chacha's in Kamla Nagar (K-Nags) before / during / after college... enough said.

16. Camp Blue Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia - 12 weeks of an incredible experience with American Kids and counsellors from all over the world.

17. Winning the Youth Review Football tournament playing for school in 1988... well against the odds... beating 2 of the top teams in Delhi who were massively favoured against us.

18. Scoring the winning and solitary goal in the Sarthak tournament final in Ambedkar Stadium in 1988.

19. Missing a penalty kick in the shooutout in a school tournament (Jatin Bedi memorial, i think) and pulling my own shorts down in disgust (fortunately, my t shirt was long enough!).

20. Checking my Class 12 Board results and finding my result was pathetic... my whole future life (or the lack of it) passed before my eyes).... Alok had a closer look and realised i had seen the next guy's result... my result was considerably better. Cant ever forget that sinking feeling.

21. Playing football in the rain. Simple as that.

22. Going to watch India-Australia at ferozshah kotla in Delhi during the 1987 Cricket World Cup.

23. Seeing the Niagara falls for the first time... awe-inspiring. the ride in the 'Maid of the Mist'  boat to the best of the falls was the scariest thing I ever did at the time. 

24. Lying down on a park bench next to an artificial lake close to Toronto and staring at a pristine blue sky with white fluffy clouds and wondering what it would be like to live in Canada for the rest of my life....

25. Walking the streets with my cousin Rahul in Hongkong. Massive cultural assault on a relatively young mind.

26. Lying down in a massive puddle on the road on my walk home from the bus stop after it had stopped raining and i was absolutely dry. (in response to a challenge)

27. Christmas 1987. Dancing to Strangers in the Night. Enough said.

28. Straight out of Modern School and SRCC... feeling on top of the world.. selling vanaspati and refined oil to traders who could only speak hindi. Learnt a lot about business, trading and hospitality.

29. The first five minutes of my Class 12 Maths Board exam. Was the most bizarre paper ever set and most of us in the exam room exchanged bemused and confused looks with each other. Took me a good 15 minutes to collect my thoughts and get down to it. It was an abject lesson for me - how important it is to stay calm in a pressure situation and keep coming up with solutions. 

30. Getting into IIMB on my second attempt. Arriving at the institute was an experience with a lot of importance in my life. It was something I had waited almost 3 years for. Sweet.

04 February 2009

Top 20 NON-FOOTBALL random memories from "when I was younger" (in no particular order)

Never one to turn down a challenge... (you know who you are – the ones I’m talking to)...here's the non-football list......

1. Seeing the Niagara falls for the first time... awe-inspiring. the ride in the 'Maid of the Mist'  boat to the bottom of the falls was the scariest thing I ever did at the time. 

2. Lying down on a park bench next to an artificial lake close to Toronto and staring at a pristine blue sky with white fluffy clouds and wondering what it would be like to live in Canada for the rest of my life....

3. The bus rides to and from school on MS-15... with all my friends - mala, mandira, soma, sumant, gauri, anjali, jai, joe (sometimes), rohit, jaspreet, amar, divya etc etc.

4. Walking the streets with my cousin Rahul in Hongkong. Massive cultural assault on a relatively young mind.

5. Sitting on the wall in college and doing NOTHING all day long.... just talking about just about nothing or just about anything.

6. Lying down in a massive puddle on the road on my walk home from the bus stop after it had stopped raining and i was absolutely dry. (in response to a challenge)

7. Camping in a 3-man-tent in Samar's back garden when we were 10 years old and waking up in the morning and cooking our breakfast on a stove (sort of).

8. Mince and bread at st stephens 'cafe'.... crap college but the one good thing in their canteen!

9. Trekking up to Bhrigu Lake (near Manali) when I was in Class 6, youngest person to ever reach there at the time... 6 hour trek in knee-deep snow.

10. Christmas 1987. Dancing to Strangers in the Night. Enough said.

11. Sitting and gallivanting at various airports while traveling all over the world and watching all kinds of different people.... (even today, i feel a strange kind of comfort and ease at airports)

12. Straight out of Modern School and SRCC... feeling on top of the world.. selling vanaspati and refined oil to traders who could only speak hindi. Learnt a lot about business, trading and hospitality.

13. The first five minutes of my Class 12 Maths Board exam. Was the most bizarre paper ever set and most of us in the exam room exchanged bemused and confused looks with each other. Took me a good 15 minutes to collect my thoughts and get down to it. It was an abject lesson for me - how important it is to stay calm in a pressure situation and keep coming up with solutions. 

14. Getting into IIMB on my second attempt. Arriving at the institute was an experience with a lot of importance in my life. It was something I had waited almost 3 years for. Sweet.

15. Chole Bhature at Chacha's in Kamla Nagar (K-Nags) before / during / after college... enough said.

16. Camp Blue Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia - 12 weeks of an incredible experience with American Kids and counsellors from all over the world.

17. Finding the "Best of Then Jericho" in the HMV Shop in London - On Sale. One of my favourite albums ever.

18. Checking my Class 12 Board results and finding my result was pathetic... my whole future life (or the lack of it) passed before my eyes).... Alok had a closer look and realised i had seen the next guy's result... my result was considerably better. Cant ever forget that sinking feeling.

19. Overnight train journeys to Central and Eastern UP for weekly visits to my Sales Territory, meeting all kinds of people in the interiors and experiencing the 'real' India.

20. My first day of Summer training at HLL.

11 January 2009

A Friend?

I decided long ago to measure my life in friends not years.

And after much of life has gone by and so much more of life is to come, my mind turned in the direction of what my "age-in-friends" is.

Along the way I've questioned and even proven wrong some standard myths about friends... "A man and a woman can't be friends", "Never get into business with a friend", "You can't be friends with an ex".... Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt!

What is a friend? In today's over-communicated world, the lines between acquaintances, friends, close-friends, best-friends, and in some cases family is blurred. I'm closer to and trust some of my friends more than family and there are members of my family who are more friends than family to me. So clearly the traditional definitions of a friend don't really hold for me and I suspect they don't hold for most people I know.

Facebook tells me I have more than 500 friends, I hope that's not true because THAT sounds like a huge responsibility. Friends (as defined by me, not facebook!) to me are as much an 'asset' as they are a 'responsibility'...

Is a friend someone who makes you smile, laugh, have a good time? Not to me.. That's only part of what a friend is... A friend to me is someone you can depend on, does not (should not) matter how far apart you may be physically... Someone I need not meet for days, weeks, months, years and then in an instant and a hug pick up where you left off. And pick up such that there was never a gap!

They say that "friends are the new family" and I couldn't agree more. Its probably also true because families are a lot smaller and geographically spread today. Some of my closest friends, some of my oldest friends are to me what family must have been to generations gone by. These are people I love and trust with my deepest (darkest!) secrets. People whom I KNOW to know me well, know what makes me tick, what ticks me off and most importantly accept me with (maybe even, because of) all my flaws. These are friends I can count off on the fingers of my hands.... Literally.

And then there are friends, there are friends who mean something to me but don't necessarily mean "something" to me. I could have fun with them, I could be there for them, I could even depend on them sometimes... But would I close my eyes and jump, knowing that they have me covered - I don't think so. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy such friends' company, think they're very good human beings who mean well, know me well too and are probably really good and dependable friends to other people... Just not for me. So much of being friends is about time and making choices. Its true that there is no substitute for time, if for no other reason then because of the sheer myriad of experiences you end up sharing with someone whom you've known forever (or so it seems, anyway).

Relationships are all about making choices, friendships are certainly much the same. In the life of a friendship, you are inevitably faced with situations which test your bond with a friend, your loyalty even. And if you're really unlucky, this could be a choice of loyalties between 2 friends, almost an impossible choice, you can't win that one. You make a choice and then watch the consequences unfold right in front of your eyes... it is NOT pretty but c'est la vie. Is the reverse true? If a friend stands by you in an hour of need, at a time you need to have shoulders next to yours, would that friend automatically be a 'true' friend... You know something - I've seen this in 1 or 2 people and found that, damn right - its true! An old friend comes to mind, she inevitably surprises me with her intense loyalty when things come down to the crunch and its left me speechless - more than once.

An old and very close friend once asked me, "atul, what's more important, a friend or the truth?". I'd like to say I instinctively knew the answer to that, but I must admit - I was foxed. And after much deliberation, convinced myself that the truth was more important to me than a friend (idealistic idiot!). Life has taught me otherwise.......