Saturday, July 28, 2012

Are Indian men ready to jump?

My article on

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with a few businessmen from China. While the topics of conversation ranged from Macau gambling anecdotes to Sharapova’s comeback and from the sinking Euro to the newest model of Lamborghini parked outside, the one topic that made every Chinese eye on the dinner table sparkle with unrestrained enthusiasm was Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Now I'm a diehard Lakers fan, but by the end of the evening, it was clear to me that basketball has penetrated the world’s most populated nation. And then I saw what I was not prepared to see: A picture of Kobe, in a traditional purple silk Chinese blouse with enormous print and thick gold borders on his sleeves instead of the yellow/purple jersey I’m so accustomed to, as a wallpaper on one of their phones. Now, I frequently picture Kobe ferociously dunking from halfway across the court in a shiny printed silk blouse and feel severely traumatized.
China’s love affair with basketball began long before most European countries had heard of it. Fast forward to the early 2000s and the NBA (National Basketball Association) had turned out to the most popular sports league in China. China is in fact the largest market for the NBA outside the US, courtesy Yao Ming, the first and only (and now retired) Chinese player to make it to the NBA. On the drive home, thanks to the myriad Indo-China comparisons our media, economists and politicians have conditioned me with over the years, I began to think about basketball in India. 
So where does India figure in this story of a nation embracing a new sport professionally? It’s on the verge of it, from all the stories I hear. And it has all the right reasons. Basketball is a fast-paced game that gets the pulse racing and adrenaline pumping; it doesn’t make you linger around for hours as in football or hockey just to witness a goal. And here’s a non-scientific but effective test: Every NBA game I’ve attended, I’ve heard the Indians in the crowd cheer just as loud if not louder than the rest and small as my sample size may be, it tells me that there’s nothing in our DNA that’d forbid us from becoming basketball fans.
To gain a little insight, I caught up with Karan Madhok, who is smack in the middle of all the basketball action in India. The signs of impending change are prominent and the developments are rather encouraging: the NBA increasing its presence and promotional activities in India, a Director of Basketball Operations from the NBA setting up base in Mumbai (bringing along with him coaching clinics and training camps), a multi-city recreational league as a result of the NBA-Mahindra alliance, and a 30-year IMG-Reliance partnership set up to create a surge in infrastructure development across the country. The blueprint has been laid out and the momentum is building up. We could just be a couple of years away from a professional basketball league in India, Madhok says. Now all we need is a player or two from India to make it to the NBA to stimulate our interest and all eyes are on the impossibly tall and talented Bhullar brothers and Satnam Singh.
Obstinate as we may be, we invariably end up making room for the new. Clothes, shoes, crushes, relationships, taste buds. We let go of our reins and watch as the old and the new learn to co-exist in harmony. We’ve already been privy to football fever sweeping over the under-35 demographic in India and its time for the age-old craze to scoot over a bit further.
How long before we see Kobe Bryant sporting an atrocious maharaja outfit at an exhibition game in India? If that doesn’t win Indian hearts and bring them over to the other side, I don’t know what will. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The next big eerie thing

This appeared on last week

Coachella, the mother of all music festivals, or so us patrons like to believe, will be remembered for a lot more than kickass music this year. What other festival is spread over two weekends with the exact same lineup of popular and upcoming musicians/bands because there’s just no ground big enough to accommodate about 120,000 die-hard fans? Electrifying acts aside, the biggest bolt from the blue was undoubtedly a hologram resurrecting late rappers Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg last Sunday.

What’s being referred to as Tupac’s hologram (or his ghost, depending on which side of the coin you want to see), the technology is all set to revolutionize performances and concerts. It’s not a new concept in the least. It’s been around since the 19th century. You’ve seen it plenty in Star Wars. This application of the concept isn’t new either. The first hologram concert was the ‘World is mine’ by Hatsune Miku, who is a female persona, in Tokyo. The video is worth a watch (it’s on YouTube) just for her moves if nothing else. Trust Japan to manufacture a pop star out of nothing. And it wasn’t a one time concert to showcase the marriage of music and technology either. She regularly performs and goes on tours. But Tupac’s, conceptualized and orchestrated by Dr. Dre, was a first of sorts created for an actual person. And it awed as the late rappers performed along side a live Snoop Dogg. It was truly an incredible jaw-dropping-eyes-popping-out-heart-skipping-a-beat moment.

Digital Domain Media is the company behind the lifelike Tupac Shakur visual effect. Rumor has it that soon enough the company might arrange for Tupac, the 25-year old rapper who was shot to death in Vegas in 1996, to go on tour. Rumor also has it that The Jackson 5 has proposed a similar tour of Michael Jackson. While I’m namedropping, I heard about the Beatles too.

So how does it all work? An oversimplified explanation goes like this. An image is projected onto a mirror that reflects it down to a transparent film that is tightly stretched in a 45 degree angle and ends up looking like 3D. Though the projected image has been widely described as a "hologram," it is a 2-D image and not a hologram, which is 3-D. A single projection can cost up to $400k. It is also extremely difficult and time consuming to create but the results can be quite precise as already witnessed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A huge part of Japan’s proposal to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup is to broadcast entire games to stadiums all across the world in life-sized holograms. To get a taste of this, check out the promotional videos on the 2022 bid website.

As long as we’re speculating, the technology can do wonders for those with loaded wallets. For instance, bringing to life your favorite deceased grandma in her beach house. Of course, you’ll need a footage of her. Or a Jimi Hendrix fan making him perform at his wedding reception. Or dirty dancing with Patrick Swayze. Or having a Muhammad Ali for an opponent and even beating him. Or an adult movie star in your bedroom. The possibilities are limitless.

Pretty soon, the lines will be so blurred, they won’t call it a parallel universe anymore.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Inside the Grammys

This appeared on today

It isn’t everyday in LA when couture, glitz, talent and celebs come together to celebrate music. Well actually, it is, but the 54th edition of the annual Grammy awards at Staples Center brought more of the usual suspects out to play than usual. The influence of music and eminence of the Grammys infused life in the air way before the awards began. Countless limos and Lamborghinis, media vans, reporters, photographers, security guards and cops enveloped the venue as the rich, the famous and the gifted posed at myriad pre-parties highlighted by glittering curtains, exquisite floral arrangements and flowing wine that sprawled across the hotel lobbies, clubs and restaurants around the venue. As I made by way through a couple of those parties, the names that relentlessly fell on my ears were Adele and Whitney. Oh, the Beach Boys, given that they were reuniting after eons. All the speculation involved Gaga’s entry and all the jokes were on Chris Brown.

The red carpet displayed the customary razzle-dazzle. Loads of elegance, skin, shimmer, smiles and quirks. It was a strange concoction of the old and the new, the geniuses and the admirers, the clean shaven and the tattooed ones with piercings, the gelled hair and the punk hair, men without makeup and men with excessive makeup but together they make it work. I spotted Jay Sean from a distance adjusting his tie for a while in the car window (it ain’t just the ladies who can’t resist a sneak peek each time they bypass a mirror). Rebecca Black and Shaggy were both there, chilling, walking, seemingly unaware of the trauma they’ve caused to the world. I caught Paris Hilton pop a big piece, cheese or white chocolate, in her mouth when no one was looking. Paris eats! Who knew? Bruno Mars finally looked all grown up just as much as Taylor Swift did.

Fashion was at its best as it should be given the occasion. There was enough blinding illumination from gold and silver at the scene to put the sun out of business. Sasha Gradiva toted machine guns on her right arm where as Nicki Minaj startled with a bizarre red hooded outfit and a bishop on her right arm. She definitely did a one up on the egg from last year that Gaga was thus making it the wackiest moment of the evening. Gaga was a no show on the red carpet which is just not done, but attended, her face all covered behind a black net. Jessie J wore molten metal and looked like a disco ball, Katy Perry matched her hair with her blue fluid dress whereas Fergie, the rebel that she is, showed up in a risqué red-hot see-through outfit. Julianne Hough looked charming and Rihanna, quite sultry. If there’s such a thing as the perfect shade of black to complement your skin, Ri Ri found it. Internet music sensations Sophia Grace and Rosie were all cutesy, posing in their princessy outfits when I spotted the only t-shirts of the night on Foo Fighter’s band members. As for the men, Eric Benet, Adam Levine and Kings of Leon band members looked impeccable but all eyes were on A-Trak, Skrillex and Diplo.

Once I got inside, there were several noteworthy performances. Bruce Springsteen kicked off the event with a very yellow guitar but my heart fluttered where Maroon 5 opened for the Beach Boys. Remember Kokomo? Paul McCartney, Chris Brown, Civil Wars, Adele, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Coldplay – they all rocked the stage with their acts but Jennifer Hudson stole the show with her tribute. It’s not an award show unless there’s some misses to go with the hits. Presenting Bruno Mars. I take back what I said about him earlier. He is still not grown up enough to be allowed to perform.

Speeches were short and sweet accompanied by a tear or two in certain cases. Nothing out of the world. Host LL Cool J kicked it off with a prayer for Whitney Houston and said there’s a death in the family. That was touching. Then there were the speeches that never happened… like Skrillex, even after winning 3 categories.

I almost forgot the awards. If you thought 2011 was the year of Adele, you were right. Her ‘21’ was album of the year with a total of 6 awards for the night. Other big winners of the night were Kanye West, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Chris Brown, Lady Antebellum and Bon Iver, who was oddly given the 'best newcomer' award.

Oh, and dubstep's most friendless man Skrillex won three - and gave a perplexing shout out to London satellite town Croydon, known for its underground dubstep scene. There was no sign of reciprocal appreciation for the man who stands accused of inventing 'bro-step'. Worse still, he was the victim of a 'trolling' manoeuvre by electro-house producer Deadmau5, who wore a t-shirt with Skrillex's phone number on it - cue Skrillex activating call forwarding on his number to, you've guessed it, Deadmau5's phone. Who says these two masters of commercial beats lack imagination?

In conclusion, the event was terrific - very raw and entertaining and there was tremendous positive energy and lovely vibes from all around. The finale was grand. All in all, an evening I won’t forget for a long time. As the host summed it up succinctly, the night was about music and healing. Now only if I hadn’t spilled my tinted drink on my unforgiving dress, it would have been a perfect night.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Despite khadi vests

It's been 63 years since India adopted its Constitution and fortunately, I’ve been a part of more than a couple dozen anniversaries. Through my growing years, in several different ways, I've celebrated this remarkable day with a lot of enthusiasm and fervor, with activities that every Indian is privy to… from flag hoisting to march past to painting my face and dressing up in colors of the flag to singing along with Lata on the television screens, a few customary tears invariably rolling down my cheeks. But I'm not sure I ever gave it enough thought and consideration. I'm not sure I ever attempted to fully comprehend what it means to live in a free India. I'm not sure I valued the brighter aspects of it and opposed the not-so-bright ones. Sure I sat through all those speeches from visionaries, dignitaries and political leaders but unfortunately nothing seems to have registered or made an impression. Was I just inattentive or inspiring speeches are a rare find?

It feels rather ironic that so many years later, when I'm no longer even celebrating it in the conventional ways, I'm taking the time to indulge in something I should have done long ago. I conduct analytics for a living and in the end, it all boils down to the arithmetic of what has worked and what hasn’t. If someone was to do the math on our country, what would the outcome look like? Have we successfully implemented everything that was outlined in the Constitution or has our bureaucracy failed us? I can almost hear a brusque reply from someone in a khadi vest or a dated safari suit saying "Madam, it is not as black and white as that. It is complicated." I bet it is. It better be. It is after all the largest democracy in the world. But read between the lines through any new policy failure and you’ll notice that if it ain’t the hierarchy, it’s the procedures. If they’ve streamlined procedures, then it’s the protocols that sting. If protocols have been mastered, then it’s the regulations. If somehow, miraculously, regulations are followed, then it’s the C word (corruption, silly). And by the time all of the above puzzles are solved, it’s either time to break for a festival or for winter session and soon time to re-elect. Where is the time to implement?

I heard Rahul Gandhi imply very categorically in a speech that it may not be entirely true that our government is by the people, of the people and for the people. He categorized politicians four ways; (1) those with power - money or muscle, (2) those who've got it running in their veins, (3) those with the right business cards in their pockets and last and quite unfortunately the least, (4) genuine and deserving, which amounts to less than 10% of those who are elected.

So let me get this straight; only about 10% represent people who need to be represented and the rest are by proxy or default. Brilliant, isn't it? It is indeed because despite that, we're one of the largest emerging economies of the world. Despite that, we’re the largest producers of brain power in the world. Despite that, global corporations cannot survive without their back offices in our nation. Despite that, a common man can become the president. Despite that, our technological initiatives are comparable with any nation out there, our movie industry can churn out more films than any others and we’ve pushed some 24 folks in the top 100 billionaires in the world.

Dare to dream, I know, but wouldn’t it be amazing if those who govern our nation would, for once do it a little different? Like a chef who adds a new spice to an age old recipe to make it even more delicious. Like a doctor who prescribes a more effective drug to speed the recovery. Like a DJ who adds a new beat to elevate spirits even more. We may not be perfect but we’re pretty good. And just a few little boosters here and there, can bring about such grand outcomes that we can only imagine. Just a few little boosters, which turn impediments into opportunities. Need I even mention which ones?

Jai Hind.

Festivals and the modern man

This appeared on

Most people I know get charming gifts for Christmas and holidays. Cruise tickets, bling, electronics, designer watches. I get calendars. All possible varieties. The regular one with US federal holidays from vendors, the Hindu calendar that the temple sends me with a prefix of Mr. on the envelope, a spoof of the Mayan calendar, family birthdays calendar from a cousin, the Indian holidays calendar.

The Indian Holidays calendar got me thinking about Indian men and festivals. How should the modern gentleman participate in festivals? Is the urban, sophisticated, well-traveled man a conformist when it comes to traditions? Does he partake in age-old celebrations just like everyone else with the same enthusiasm, or with restraint? It’s not unusual to hear adjectives like "low key", "intimate", "peaceful" extensively in conjunction with festivities while talking to men. How, for instance, might he celebrate the kite-flying festival? Would he feel comfortable being on the rooftop amidst a sea of others as they get boorish and aggressive, all set to chop off the competitor's pride? Would he scream his heart out when he does succeed and announce his victory going at it full throttle with requisite facial expressions and accompanying body language with a little jig thrown in? Or would he rather buy a piece of art for a kite from the Chinese vendors who've set up shop on the exhibition grounds and silently take his possession to the international kite competition and fly, observe and internalize the process and later blog about what it did for him?

Or Holi. After years of doing it the same way, would he crave to do it any differently, perhaps a tad more discreet? Instead of dunking everyone and their mom in colored water tanks or flinging water balloons, would be rather prefer a single color for symbolism, take along an intimate group of friends to the beach and watch the sunset as they made tea on the campfire, a hint of color accentuating their faces, indulging in animated discussions?

Does bhaang have to be the highlight of Maha Shivratri for him or would he be tempted to take that trip he's been thinking of to the Kailash-Mansarovar region and feel closer to the Almighty as he camps out next to the highest body of freshwater lake in the world, capturing the play of sun rays on Mount Kailash with his digital camera firmly rooted on a tripod? If the modern man is going to take his cues from the rest of the world, he probably won't be getting too down and dirty with everyone else.

Take Ganesha Chaturthi. If you've ever been to the Mumbai one, you're familiar with the clamor, the colors, the processions and the euphoria. The city virtually comes to a standstill. But if you were to celebrate it in San Francisco, you'd have to take your Ganesha Idol to the Hindu temple where it'd be tested for bio-degradability before you could board the bus to Pier 49 and take a 3 hour cruise to the middle of the ocean, which is the only ‘spot’ that the city environmental agencies have approved for drowning of the idols.

I'd like to think the modern Indian man can find a middle ground here somewhere. Sure, if you're living in the US you probably can't throw colours on non-Holi celebrators without getting sued, but in India, isn't it about time you got involved like everyone else? No one likes the guy who is always standing at the sidelines, however perfectly groomed he looks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The other "woman"

This appeared on in December.

She’s new, she’s famous, she’s exotic and she’s a game changer. Ladies, that’s just one of a million ways to describe the new “woman” in your man’s life, come November 25. You’ve read all about her. You are familiar with her upsides and downsides. You’ve heard all the jokes on her, twice. It’s taken the curiosity out of the equation. In this over familiarity sans proximity streak, you have not had half a reason to be concerned. After all, a name like ‘Siri’ could hardly pose a threat for you. Think again.

Set to be released later this week, the iPhone 4S has a faster processor, sharper screen, updated apps like iMovie, Truphone, Pandora, 8.0 Megapixel with f/2.4 camera specs (as compared to 5.0 Megapixel with f/2.8 in iPhone 4) and combined GSM/CDMA capability for better service. But a huge reason people want to get this iPhone 4s is because of Siri. Voice recognition isn’t a new concept but Siri is an intelligent software assistant functioning as a personal assistant application for iOS and a deftly designed one at that. It can find you a dentist, remind you to send someone flowers and compose a text message. One huge plus is that she doesn’t nag like her GPS counterparts and offers conversational interaction with many apps like email, calendar, contacts, music, etc. Siri may have limited functionality outside of the US in that it may not have maps, directions and traffic data but she doesn’t discriminate between the Indian and other accents in English.

Ladies – if the man in your life is already pre-ordering it, here is what you should expect. I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues alike and while my sample size may have been small, the behavioral patterns were startlingly similar. It’ll start with innocuous questions in your presence to check the weather, stocks and reminders. He may ask her to play your favorite song to impress you. Soon his questions will drift into the gray areas of what she looks like, what she’s wearing, what size is she. She’ll tell him she looks shiny and he’ll laugh. It’ll give him courage to chase her. You’ll catch him asking her profound life questions to entertain you but no sooner than you turn around, he’ll ask her out. Given that she’s smart and funny, he’s sure to be hooked. Her answers have a variety. Sometimes she repeats, other times, surprises with a witty or even an absurd one. You might see him turn into a pathetic little love bug asking her if she loves him. She can be stern and can cut him to size, thankfully. When her sarcasm stops amusing him, you might be exposed to his dark side as he begins to verbally abuse her. Fret not, for you won’t have to cover up for his bad behavior or apologise. She may not give him the look but she will sternly say, ‘play nice’ and he will. She’ll go into a loop sometimes not deciphering his questions and frustrating him but other times, she will please him by embellishing her answer with ‘master’. It might make him go weak in the knees and he’ll ask her to marry him. All this, of course, under the pretext of eliciting an interesting response. Truth of the matter may be that he’s fascinated by his interpretation of a personal assistant who’s at his touch at all times. It’s probably a universal male fantasy.

What you should be doing instead of getting concerned or annoyed is taking advantage of this situation by going to spas, shopping and enjoying night outs with your gal pals for he may not even notice you’re gone. Just know that a piece of technology can perhaps engage him for a week and may turn into borderline obsession but leave the two alone, keep the fussing at bay and you’ll watch him happily return to you from what may seem like a point of no return.

On a closing note, I’d love two versions of the iPhone 4S in the market, the other one with a male voice. It’s only fair.