Monday, October 26, 2009

How Starbucks Saved My Life

What’s the big deal? It saved my life too, many times. That’s what I thought when I first heard the title of this book. Lately I came across this title here . I have been meaning to read this book ever since. Sometimes it so happens that you want something and it presents itself. It’s been happening so with a lot of things for me, except of course that truck load of money that just doesn’t arrive. So a friend of mine sees this in discount section gets the book and I get to read it.

Now coming back to point, this book is not about Starbucks coffee saving lives the way we know it. You see, we have been guests. This book is about how Starbucks gave a second chance to Michael Gates Gill. He, by the way, happens to be a barista at Starbucks.

So what is so special about this Mr. Gill? Well, there is something. Michael Gates Gill is son of a celebrated New Yorker writer Brendon Gill, lived in a huge brownstone as a kid. He studied in Yale and was a successful advertising professional at JWT. He worked there for 25 years and rose up to executive vice president and that is when he was fired. He was fired by one of his mentees whom he helped rise in her career. He tells you that he was fired for being an oddity in a company which wanted to be young and sleek. At the age of 53 he starts his own consulting business, which doesn’t click.

He spends next 10 years doing various things. Hoping that his old customers will find him useful, going to gym, having an affair, fathering a son out of marriage, getting a divorce and giving his big house to his former wife. He also manages to bore the woman he had affair with and grow a tumour in his brain which is non-terminal but is making him lose hearing in one ear. Oh, I almost forgot, he spends all his money, has no insurance for him and kids and is almost broke. Apart from all this he mainly spends time visiting Starbucks stores and being too rigid to accept for a long time that he has screwed his life up and good. Only good thing, spending time with the youngest son, makes him realize what he missed out on with his other 4 kids.

 One fine day, he is sipping coffee in Starbucks store and pondering over how messed up his life really is, he is offered a job. He grabs the offer, thinking of the great health benefits. Thus he becomes a partner at Starbucks (a barista for us).

Rest of it is how Michael, now Mike, copes up with his new job, realizing everyday that JWT never made him feel so respected and satisfied.

That is what the story is for the most part. But if you can, for a moment, forget that the narrator is telling his own ‘riches to rags story’, there is something more that comes out. Most glaring is the contrast between the old corporate in America ruled by ‘white middle aged men’ and the corporate today that is more diversified and inclusive in terms of color, age and sex. Now and again Mike can’t help but compare the small everyday things with the way things were. Comparing how his young African-American female boss supports and guides him with how he ruined the advertising career for an African-American girl for committing a mistake that he didn’t warn her against.

And that at times, makes you think that from being served to be one who serves probably serves him right.

The book has a great catchy title, something you would expect from an ad veteran. It is also full of information and details that, at least I would not care about. I mean, I can live without knowing which Starbucks store Crystal manages. The narrative is easy going and sometimes manipulative and at times makes you genuinely feel for him. Most importantly, without any serious sermon, book makes you realize and think about a few things which are so important and so neglected by us in life. After I turned the last page, I looked for when it was printed and could not help but wonder what this guy is doing today. That is when I knew I have read a good story.

This book doesn’t cost much to read, both in terms of time and money. Read it by all means if you lay your hands on it. If you miss it, there is a movie all ready in the making. Read here on IMDB.

Good job Michael Gates Gill. I hope that you are truly happy in life and you don’t have to think anymore about how low you have fallen in life. By the way, though Starbucks might have saved your life, for me you would have redeemed your soul too if only you had not omitted Tawana’s name from the acknowledgements.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mom, where is my Nobel?

Ever since the unthinkable has happened, it has got me thinking. And it has got me thinking very seriously. Not that I don’t think seriously ever, but this is different this time. I have been thinking mostly on the lines of 'akhir mujhme kya kami hai' (roughly translated to what is missing in me after all).

I mean if Barack Obama can have the Peace Nobel, so can I. After all in our different ways, on different platforms, we have been doing the same thing for world peace (that would be nothing but talking). It’s not only me who thinks so. Half the people I know seem to think that they have equal, if not more, claim on the prize. I even got roughed up by a couple of my friends. We have been debating who deserves it more, me or my friend.

See the irony, how peace prizes make people violent. As for the details or this roughing up, let’s just say, a few things are better left unsaid (as they contain profanity and violence).

So I turn to the only person on earth whom I could trust on genuinely believing that I could, or rather should get all the Nobels in the world. Yeah, that’s my mom. Besides, she is the only person I could confidently hope to beat in a debate. At least that’s what I thought. As it turns out, it was not that great an idea after all.

Here is the conversation. By the end of it you will know what I mean by not a great idea.

P: Ma, who is the coolest dude in the world?
Mom: Who else kid, you are?

I am always touched by how I will remain a kid for her, even though I have been trying to convince everyone for a score and then some years that I am a kid and I needed their support. Mainly their financial support.

P: Ma, do you know Obama got the Peace Nobel?
Mom: Of course I do. Who doesn’t? What do you think I am last generation or what?

Now I know, as long as I remain a kid she remains current generation.

P: But Ma, you think that was right? I mean, Obama getting the Nobel. I think I am equally qualified for this.

What else would my sweet mom say, but agree to it.

Mom: Hmm, I think its right. I think he should get it next year too. He is the President of the United States. And kid, you need to concentrate more on your work. How many line of code have you written lately? Count on your fingers and tell me.


This should have been my clue to back off. But I thought she won’t say anything that I won’t be able to write later. Also I am not always comfortable talking about my work. So I pressed on. This after all was a day of bad decisions.

P: Look Ma, he has done nothing really to deserve this. As for president, even I was the Class President in third grade and then I repeated the feat in seventh grade. Even now I am the President of my movie watching club. Obama might not be the president again.
Mom: Son, I love you, but let the truth be told. You bullied all those kids in third grade. In seventh, you were the only man amongst the few boys in a girl majority class. And I know how silly girls that age can be. And I also know that your club has just two members, you and Scooby. And I would hate if dogs presided over men, even you.
Who says he will not be the president next term? He will be. He is such a charming man.
P: If charms won you a Nobel, I would have got a few by now. Didn’t you just agree that I charmed the majority as early as seventh grade? Ma, even I am tall and dark and handsome. Two out of three at any rate. The way I am losing my hair I will soon be a better egg head than him.
Mom: I will have to give you that kid. But then he gives hope to people. Hope is what keeps people going. Oh! By the way clean the bathroom of your hair, it has started to flood now.

Now this is the thing with Moms of the world. They always remember cleaning. But I was not to be deterred today.

P: Ah mom! You have to bring such dirty things as cleaning into our so important discussion. We are talking about Nobel ma, not grocery list.
Have I not been giving you all hope mom? Haven’t all your hopes been pinned on me for so many years? If just giving hope is the big thing, then who is a better man than I?
Mom: Oh so you have started to make smart arguments! Unfortunately they are true. How hopeful we were when you were born. And hope it has remained.

I was all glee at this time.

P: See, that is what I am talking about.
Mom: But he speaks well at least. Such beautiful words, such clear thoughts!

This is when I thought I will be able to make this killer argument that I could not with my friends.

P: Ah, so we come to this finally. I have been paid to keep this secret, but I will give you some hints. Just between you and me.

  1. Like every other great leader and orator he does not write his speeches.
  2. Do you remember I was there in USA during his campaign, then I came home to return back just in time for his inauguration.
  3. Even though I have not done a thing in my life, ever since I learnt how to speak I have said ‘yes we can’. And everyone else did. You know this one well.

Can you connect the dots now?
Mom: Oh My God! Oh My God! What are you saying kid.
P: He he he! And now I am worried about his acceptance speeches.
Mom: Acceptance speeches? But he got just one Nobel.
P: Oh Ma! You are so naive. Who do you think is going to win Miss World next? I think he will have to reuse the Nobel acceptance speech. After all it is going to be about the world peace only.
Mom: Oh son, you are such a genius, even though a strayed one. I don’t know if you should have got a Nobel. I surely think I want a Nobel for peace now for feeding and keeping up with you for decades.

There you are. Another claimant for my prize. But there is more to come.

Mom: By the way, you just said that you have been paid to keep things secret. That has to be a big money. Looks like its time you moved out. I will help you pack.

Needless to say I was broke (like always). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that gambling is such a messy thing. Of and on you lose some money.

I still didn’t have one person in the world to agree with me, but the pursuit had surely left me homeless, penniless and jobless (well, technically no so).

I now needed to sit down and concentrate and think about what to do next. I surely will not be looking for a Nobel. I think I need some coffee now. Starbucks to save my life!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Use it or lose it!

Is it time or is it youth or is it an opportunity? No silly, it’s your earned leaves. Never mind that you think that you have earned it, because you have not. It’s us, the masters of your universe who have given you this. So better use it or lose it! That is the policy change in the company that greeted me on my return to work. The earned leaves will now lapse if not used by the end of the year.

Now for the record, this is the only kind of leave I get. No sick leaves, no casual leaves and no any other kind of leave. I mean if I didn’t come to work today, because I died yesterday, they will deduct one of my earned leaves.

When I started to work here, friends and relatives would ask about the terms of employment and invariably about the number of leaves I was entitled to. They would always be shocked and I would always be embarrassed when I told them. But at least I could earn and save my leaves and use it per my convenience. I could just pile it up till I could get it encashed.

For the uninitiated, earned leaves are actually earned for each day of the work that you do. This is mandated by the government laws and there is a formula for the calculation. If you go on a leave of absence you don’t earn the leaves for those days. And when you have saved a certain number of leaves that you have earned, you could get it encashed by getting the salary for as many number of days.

But not any more, not in my company at least. In the middle of the global economic crisis when everyone preaches about saving your earnings, my company forces me to splurge.

Funny it is, how you tend to become spiritual when you sense the presence of some super being (that would be my HR managers) overseeing you. Your earned leaves are no more earned leaves. They are a gift, like the gift of time or youth. You have to use it now. Because tomorrow it will not be there. No they are not encashed, they are lapsed.

So take a vacation, or sit at home or best still go to work and don’t punch in and out. Just make sure that you have not more than half your leaves left by the end of the year.

Sometimes I think these guys are jealous of us. Jealous about how we settle down so fast with the changes despite the policy changes coming at frightening regularity. And no one seems to mind this policy change as well.

I wonder what they smoke. I just want to know so that I can keep away from it. And I demand to know what those five gentlemen were smoking when they voted for the Peace Nobel.

Footnote1: When I joined this company as a young, fresh, campus recruit, it used to be the most admired company in India. It’s been among top spots for years. Now it does not even figure in top twenty. Guess why? No, it’s not only because I work here.

Footnote2: I use up all my leaves every year and even go into leaves without pay (and not earn leaves for those days). But I still find this whole idea appalling.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Train Trip to Home

This is the only year when I have made so many trips to home since I moved out about thirteen years ago. The one last week was by train. Here is a little account.

I book my tickets in second class. I favour being close to the elements more than closed comfort of an air conditioned coach. That dog peeping out of the car window will agree. But this one time I was thankful to God (and Laloo Prasad Yadav) for the upgrade. I boarded the train and in a minute I knew that next 36 hours are going to be painful. The whole bunch of people around, well, sucked. Especially this lady with holier-than-thou written across her face. Just as I was steeling myself for the torture, a man comes claiming my berth as his. Now this is the thing with Indian Railways, they tell you that trains are your own property. And you have to fight for your property. That’s what I did. But after a little scuffle that ensued, one gentleman suggested that we should look into the berth chart. Only one passenger upgraded and it was me! You buy a lottery ticket just for the sake of it and hit the jackpot! With a sigh of relief, I picked up my backpack and ran. This was only second upgrade in my long life and countless journeys. First was on a flight from Dallas to Detroit.

First couple of days were uneventful except the fact that it was hot. It was hot like crazy! And humid! I remember that around this time we used to take out the warm clothes from the trunks and air them. Begin October, we started wearing them. Believe me, global warming is real. Weather cycle is screwed up all ready. I wonder if there will be a sequence of changing seasons at all by the time I am old. And then I went to Madhubani where it was hotter, despite being closer to Himalayas. This is one place where I always like to go to. My earliest memories are of this place. I probably didn’t understand the world better, but as far as I can tell, the best days of my life till today were spent there. Like always I went to see the house and the locality where I spent my early childhood. Its amazing how much, yet how little things changed in all these years. Oh, by the way, I went there to initiate the process of getting uprooted forever. I just hope that I get to go there again and in leisure.

No upgrades now and just as well. A group of youngsters travelling back to join the colleges after the vacation were my co-passengers. Unaware, apprehensive and still confident about what lies beyond the college gates, in the corporate. I enjoyed it every bit without trying to level their expectations. Not that I would have been able to, their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. Since I am vaccinated for every kind of infection, I slept like dead for more than 24 hours. Whatever little time for conversations I had, people invariably asked me where I am studying, when I finished school, etc. Not just one guy, but many. Not that I am not used to this. Every single pub in USA refused to serve me without seeing my driver’s license. Waitresses flirted with me like I am a teenager. I used to wonder if they were blind. There I was a 6 feet tall man with long hair and beard and weighing close to 200 pounds. More like a construction worker than a teenager. I never thought this would happen in India. And I am sure as hell not sorry for it this time.

I reach here at seven, at nine-thirty I am at work. Only to be greeted by a super funky policy change. That is coming next.


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