Maternal Love, Paternal Love

June 22, 2007

It’s finally raining, and the poor chicks are not getting any food. That’s because their mother is sitting firmly on top of them, keeping them warm and dry. She’s crouched low in the nest, feathers fluffed up, look of resignation in her eyes, leaves dripping water from above, chicklets doubtless yelping for food below.

It’s really quite enchanting to watch her feed them. When she flies away to look for food, there’s not a peep from the nest. Then, when she comes back, you can actually see her cheeks bulging with food that she’s not allowing herself to swallow.

When she alights near the nest, the chicklets pop up, the tallest one visible, the other two still hidden by the untidy bowl of twigs. She deposits some of the food inside the nest and stuffs little bits down the three gaping gullets in turn. When her cheeks have emptied out, she picks up some of the stuff she had deposited and does another round of stuffing. Sometimes she sits on them for a while after this, other times she leaves again, to gather more food.

Yesterday and even this morning, the father was visible, being helpful, but with the advent of the rain he’s disappeared. This is the time for him to be maximum helpful, if you ask me, bringing crisp, warm, crunchy stuff for wife and kids, but no; doubtless he’s sitting in some cozy, covered nook, chatting with the other guys and drinking and smoking too, perhaps, while the missus keeps the kids safe and dry.

Having said all that, I must admit that I can’t actually distinguish between the two with any degree of certainty. It could be that they have been taking it in turn to brood and to feed and to provide rain-proofing. I think the woman has a few specks of white on her breast and that she is the less aggressive of the two. When I was photographing the chicks yesterday, I think it was the mother who went and complained to the father, and I think it was he who flew right up to the window, demanding, indignantly, to know what exactly I thought I was up to… but that could be an entirely mistaken assumption based on human gender stereotyping.

Anyway, assuming that the less aggressive bird, who sits in the nest most of the time is the woman, it is her mate who isn’t too fond of me. On the rare occasion that he approaches the nest, if he catches a glimpse of me hovering behind the curtains, he squawks and hops around in a highly irritated manner. She is much more accustomed to me, and only flies off reluctantly if I happen to be talking too loudly or moving too fast. He, on the other hand, hasn’t seen enough of me to like me yet, I suppose – of course, if he had seen enough of me, he couldn’t help but like me… heh heh…

I hadn’t been able to get a shot of the two parents together, far less the entire family, so I finally rigged up my camera to the laptop, put my camera on the tripod, hid myself behind the opposite curtain, where they weren’t used to looking for me, and waited. Sure enough, both of them hopped towards the nest and both of them were feeding the chicks! I clicked away with the remote shooting facility on the laptop and they were unaware for the space of about a dozen shots. Then the male – suspicious as always – decided to investigate the peculiar clicking sound coming from the strange black object (my camera, that is, not my head) and came and sat on the window sill in a rather threatening manner. I suppose protecting his family from strange clicking objects is as much his idea of filial devotion as keeping them dry is hers. Sigh. I took the hint and disassembled my gear, but I was not too displeased with the results.

Any which way, it is quite an experience o observe the family life of crows at close quarters, though I still wish they were somewhat prettier creatures.


Honesty – The Worst Policy

June 21, 2007
My HR Rep has been setting up meetings with the rank and file of our department – don’t ask me why – and she set up one with me, to find out what’s good and bad about the company or something of the sort. I told her the company was great, but that I was “this” close to quitting, because I simply didn’t have enough work to do and hadn’t had for close to a year and therefore it was clear that my contributions to the company were not appreciated.

She immediately jumped up and did a few evolved and highly agitated dance movements, and then asked a few pointed questions and then promised to speak to everybody from the CEO downwards to see that my issues were resolved in the shortest possible timeframe, and meanwhile she pleaded with me not to put in my papers. I told her I had vacation time coming up and would think about it after that.

So what she did was to go and talk to the India site manager of my larger team (my office organization gets a little complicated, but let me put it this way – you remember those senior managers I went out with for our quarterly? This chap is the manager of the manager of that bunch). Normally, should I be delighted to be receiving attention from high up? Not in the least – attention from high up is something I’d be better off without in any circumstances. In this particular instance, I was even less delighted than I normally might have been. I don’t trust this chap an inch. You know how some of these ultra-senior managers are – all smooth, and suave and charming, and they know your name and they go out of their way to make small talk with you and not let you feel like the last, tiny, insignificant cog in the wheel of their hugely important machinery, all the while making sure that they convey subtly that they indeed think of you in exactly that way? Well, that’s exactly how this gentleman is, and I’ve seen him make mincemeat of small fry like me, in public at that, with the full force of his smooth, suave, charming manner. Do I think he cares one whit about whether I stay or go? Not on your life. And yet, once he’s informed of it, he’s compelled to go and set up a meeting with me.

Errrrrrrrgh – it gives me the creeps to have to talk 1:1 with this chap in a small room behind closed doors to boot. Next time, I’ll know better than to say anything the least bit honest to the HR Rep.

Oh what a tangled web we weave

When we don’t practice to deceive!


Hatched!

June 19, 2007
My pet crow has delivered. This morning, at least two, maybe three tiny pink beaks appeared amidst the brown mess of twigs that is the nest. Both parents were in attendance, stuffing half-digested grub down the tiny gullets.

The mother continues to sit on the chicks, though, as though they were still eggs waiting to hatch. How it is that she doesn’t smother them, I don’t know, but they don’t appear to be any the worse for it. It is for this reason that I’m not sure exactly when the chicks were born. It could have been a day or two earlier, and if I missed their feeding times, I might not have realized. I have seen the mother stick her head into the nest and examine the contents somewhat curiously or perhaps solicitously, but so far I had no glimpse of beaks, and of course, no sound from them either.

I think, if you watch them closely enough and often enough for long enough, crows grow on you as much as any other creature. They are quite expressive, once you get to know them a bit. The parents sit together atop a light pole on pleasant evenings and talk to each other pretty much like any human couple might. The husband sometimes brings tasty tidbits for the expectant mother, while she sits endlessly on her eggs. They both regard me with decreasing suspicion and don’t seem to mind my watching them so much, but any sudden movements or loud conversation from the house prompts the mother to leave her perch. She never goes too far away, hopping around anxiously on nearby branches till the disturbance subsides.

I will miss the growing up of the chicks for the two weeks that we are away. I hope they haven’t already learnt to fly by the time we come back. I hope we don’t return to find an empty nest!


Cold and Miserable

June 18, 2007
Ugh.

That is the sum total of my reaction to my cold – I don’t have the energy to say any more. Why do I always get a cold just before going for a trek? I get so worried that it might develop into something more deadly, such as pulmonary oedema. Plus, it means I can’t go and play tennis, which I’m dying to do because my game has improved visibly in the recent past.

Meanwhile, it has been a fairly productive weekend. We managed to cancel our IC tickets. This was necessary because the airline had kindly preponed both our arrival in Leh and our departure from Leh by a day. We didn’t mind so much about arriving in Leh a day early, even if it meant taking an extra day’s leave and re-booking our tickets from Bangalore to Delhi. But preponing our return from Leh was a really nasty thing to do, as we planned to still be out in the wilds somewhere at that time. We had to make a trip to the airport to cancel the tickets. The traffic at the airport at 10.30 at night has to be seen to be believed. Since I had already seen it in the fairly recent past, we went at 3.30 in the afternoon and it was a breeze.

Of course, as luck would have it, as soon as we got home at 9.30 that night, we discovered that our other flight, re-booked from Bangalore to Delhi a day early to accommodate the flight to Leh, had been pushed out by almost three hours. If the airline pushes it out by three hours, they have to refund customers’ cash, so they don’t do that until they actually have you in the airport, boarding pass in hand. Considering that our flight to Leh leaves Delhi at the crack of dawn, we’d have to wake in the dead of night to catch it anyway. Now, with our flight reaching Delhi somewhere in the wee hours (well, alright, 10.30 p.m. is not exactly the wee hours, but by the time you get your luggage off the carousel, get home, eat, sleep… it’s almost time to wake up again!) it looked like being an altogether sleepless night. So now, we have to cancel those tickets and book yet another flight. Surely this is good for the economy – some airlines gain customers, some lose, but at least several trips to the airport are involved and the parking attendants make hay at 60 bucks just to enter the parking lot.

So, once all the dust settles, I still don’t know whether I’m coming or going, or where or when or how.

At least I’ve made some progress on my sample assignment for Archaeology. I’ve put down some 1200 words, which took me four hours, which is the slowest I’ve ever written anything since I learnt to hold a pencil! And this is only a sample.

That apart, on Sunday evening we did so much shopping on credit card that the credit card company actually called to ask us whether our card had been stolen! That tells you something about the extent to which we normally use our credit cards. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with HDFC bank, which in the recent past has not done a single thing to impress me.

I get the impression that this is a pretty garbled blog, but I put it down to:

  • My cold
  • Lack of beer over the weekend
  • No non-veg for more than two weeks
  • Hunger pangs combined with sleepiness
  • My cold

Mind in the Mountains

June 13, 2007
Two weeks to departure and the countdown is very much under way. As usual, there’s too much to do and not enough time. Apart from the usual trek preparations which involve getting out our tent, sleeping bags, warm clothes, assembling cameras and tripods, taking stock of medical and first aid requirements, etc etc etc – apart from all that usual stuff, I also have to think of a birthday gift for my sister and one for my cousin sister-in-law. Not just think of, but also obtain.

And all of that is quite apart from mundane stuff like getting ahead in German, writing an assignment in Archaeology, and keeping the house running.

To add to the excitement, tax filing date is around the corner!

On top of everything else, my second (or is it third?) most ardent wish has finally been granted and I have been given some work to do in office. It’s very far from being glamorous – or even challenging – work, but it’s work nevertheless, and it’s better than nothing.

On second thoughts, though, nothing would have been quite good just right at the moment. Well, I suppose you should be careful what you wish for.

At last, after postponing it for several weeks, I have finally started fitness training for the trek. Currently this takes the form of running 15 rounds at the tennis courts – that’s AFTER playing for an hour. If that’s not enough to impress you, let me add that my circuit consists of two courts side-by-side. It was enough to impress Tennis Sir, who thought I was doing this to improve my tennis – of which erroneous notion I have not had the heart to disabuse him. I should have done, though, because he was so impressed to see my assumed dedication to the sport that he promptly instructed me to add crunches (sit-ups) to my daily exercise routine. My poor stomach hardly survived the first attempt, but after giving it a week to recover, now I’ve done it three days running and it’s only protesting mildly. So, there’s hope for me yet.

Two weeks might not be enough time for all my preparations, but it’s still too long to wait – my mind is already in the mountains. For a naturally slothful person who avoids physical exertion like the plague, I’m constantly amazed at how I’ve taken to trekking, where you spend hours walking every day, for days on end, with no specific purpose.

I also never cease to be surprised at how I love the rustic lifestyle of trekking. I consider myself a fairly comfort-loving person. I was brought up in an urban and fairly westernized environment, eating dinner (AT the dining table, if you please, NOT in front of TV) with three sets of cutlery and all that, and here I am gamely taking to dust and dirt, a complete lack of privacy, outdoor toilets (sometimes communal), two weeks without a bath and other such delights of the mountains, as if they were second nature to me.

Another thing I about trekking that is perverse to my nature, is the complete absence of a plan. I mean, you do need to have a plan when you set out, and your plan should include certain essentials such as food, and a place to pitch a tent in the evening – oh, and a tent, of course. But all of that is “pre” planning – what you do before you set out. Once you’re out on the trail, you don’t have to plan a thing. You just keep going, and when you find a level spot with some clean water nearby, you stop and pitch tent. The only things to think about are where you’re going to sleep, where you’re going to find sufficient privacy for toilet breaks, and when and how you’re going to get your next meal. Life really boils down to the basics. No wonder hermits through the ages have taken to the mountains.

This time it’s not so easy for me to escape the trek planning part, though. Amit’s trekking cousins are accompanying us. Since I’m the only one who’s been on this trek before, I’ve somehow been made de facto “leader” of the team. This is terrible, because I actually see myself as the least experienced and also the weakest link; the trekking cousins have been trekking twice a year for the last couple of decades. And they are looking to me for information and organization.

Unfortunately, my idea of being “organized” for a trek is to get all my/our personal equipment together and get going. Everything else we’ll buy once we reach the trail head. I’m not used to dealing with questions such as: who’s bringing the stove and pressure cooker, and how many tents will we need?

I suppose it’ll all work out eventually and that whatever can be done will be done, and whatever can’t be done will get dropped by the wayside hopefully without any adverse effects. As long as it doesn’t rain up there and nobody falls sick, it should be ok.


Quarterly

June 8, 2007
My office has this wonderful concept of quarterlies. (For those of you who’ve not met with this particular concept before, a quarterly is a team outing that happens once a quarter.) My immediate team, being a team of three who are in a constant state of barely-disguised hostility, has made a fine art of avoiding quarterlies like the plague.

Unfortunately, this was noticed by upper management and attributed to the fact that our manager sits halfway across the globe from us (which is in general a good thing). We were, therefore, cordially invited to join the senior managers in their quarterly, which was positioned as a quarterly for “managers and employees who report to remote managers”. This basically boiled down to senior managers and the three of us.

Since the civil war in our team has resulted in a two-against-one polarization, the person on the one side gracefully declined the invitation, leaving the two of us to face the torture. (Yes, torture – what else would you call being closeted with a dozen senior managers for an entire day???)

Well, we both were dreading it, but politeness demanded that we attend, and neither of us could leave the other to attend alone, so we decided to take the plunge together. And guess what… it wasn’t so bad. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was fun, but then again, given that it was a bunch of senior managers, it was as close to being fun as is humanly possible.

Of course, there were mitigating circumstances. Some bright spark had elected for a resort near Mysore (!) so we spent close to eight hours in the bus, as opposed to about five hours in the resort. This is good, because how bad can a bus ride be? In the worst case, you can always look out the window, or pretend to be asleep.

In the event, this was not required, because we whiled away time playing flush and bluff (some of the players getting carried away and trying to play one while others were on the other – e.g. playing “blind” in bluff) on the outward journey. Inescapably some very terrible antakshari had to be endured, but this soon died a natural death. Finally, came the turn of dumb charades and this not only lasted a good four hours, but also provided a great deal of entertainment to all.

Oh and, at lunch time when drinks were being ordered for all, we four women were automatically offered a choice between juice and soft drink, so I did a gender-bender and asked for a beer!

So all in all it was an almost-enjoyable experience… though I don’t think I’d want to repeat it in a hurry. Mixing with senior managers, some of it might rub off! (Christina – are you listening???)


Effective Meetings

June 1, 2007
There are some things my office is very good at. One of these is meetings. We’re terribly good about meetings. We set them up weeks in advance, we send out notices, keeping a variety of time-zones satisfied, we block conference rooms, we book audio bridges, we accept, decline and tentatively accept meetings, sometimes we propose new times, and occasionally we cancel. When we don’t cancel, we have punctual and predictable attendance. No-shows are practically unheard-of… except in a few types of meetings, where they are common.

We have many types of meetings. There’s team meetings, staff meetings, department meetings, site meetings, business update meetings, project meetings, program meetings, bug scrub meetings, open forums, virtual meetings, live meetings, F2F meetings, and 1:1s (read – one-on-ones)… to name a few. Our meetings range from 30-minute sessions with a single person in a room that seats six (not talking to himself – the other participant is on the phone, of course); to 20 people and 20 laptops and a super sophisticated overhead projector and half a dozen polycom phones cluttering a room that seats 16; to a 500-strong audience that throngs into the cafeteria to watch a presentation on huge side screens, with mikes strung all over the place for people to ask questions, an interactive session that lasts two long hours.

Whatever the case may be, we’re very particular about the infrastructure. Our meetings start on time, they end on time, the projectors and sound system always work, we always have wireless network connectivity, we never spend more than five minutes setting up and tearing down connections.

Likewise, we’re also very good at trainings. We have almost as many types of trainings as we do meetings (and I’m not talking about subject matter here) and sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between a meeting, a training, a workshop, a roadshow, and a tea-break (to name the most popular forms of interaction). No sooner has a new “tool” (have you noticed how nowadays anything on the computer is generically a “tool”?) come out, than there’s a whole series of trainings associated with it. Once you wade through all the training, you find that all the buttons have been moved around, but other than that it’s basically the same as the old tool.

Conducting surveys and collecting feedback is another favourite pastime in my office. We have surveys (or sometimes feedback – and sometimes both) on office facilities, coffee and tea vending machines, trainings, computer systems support, quarterly events, shuttle services, cafeteria standards (everyone loves those!), managers, employees, blue boys, the postal department and the impact of the monsoons on work/life balance.

When no survey has been done for a while, things are bound to get exciting soon, because, in all likelihood, there’s a particularly exotic survey in the pipeline, keeping all the “surveyors” busy. Now, if you’re thinking, just how exotic can a survey be, let me assure you that some very interesting things are possible by combining surveys and feedback with meetings and trainings.

  • For example, once, we had a survey to find out exactly how much time people spend in meetings. It turned out that, across the board, people spend about 40% of their time in meetings.
  • The survey also tried to find out whether meetings were generally felt to be effective. The answer was, generally, no: too many participants, too broad and unspecified an agenda, no clear decision making or decision makers, too much overlap in subject matter or scope.
  • Guess what they did with this survey? The created a mandatory training (mandatory!) for ALL employees to explain how to hold “effective” meetings.
  • Then, they collected feedback on the efficacy of the training on effective meetings.
  • Next, I’m guessing, they’re going to do a survey on the efficacy of the survey that was conducted regarding the efficacy of meetings.

Like I said, there are some things my company is extremely good at – and we just keep doing what we do best.


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