Saturday, 22 October 2016

'How To Ace Your Job Interview' By Venkataraman Sundaraman

The Hunger Games or Big Boss Brother, it's definitely one of those two. Maybe both.

Having grovelled in the chasms of unemployment from a time when 'President Donald Trump' was nothing but a frivolous joke (some argue it still is, but faulty microphones might differ), I find myself empowered with the experiences of multiple interviews I subjected myself to. A gradual detachment from the corporate stooge I initially purported and the nihilistic interviewee that I ended up becoming was just a corollary of one of my first interviews in the UK in which I had unknowingly waged a bloody duel with the reigning, defending and undisputed paragon of corporate success, Venkataraman Sundaraman.

It was, literally and beyond, a tussle with the law of jungle where the strong survived.

***

As I stepped through those revolving doors, I was immediately ferried to the centre of a jeering pre-medieval Colosseum. An innocuous rodent in ominous hostile territory. A rat chasin' some cheese. Hordes of unseen eyes were assiduously trained on my slightest movements. Movements that were once subconscious but in this moment incredibly forced. All of which was supplemented by permanently plastered plastic visage that exuded false bravado in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.

The games had begun.

Careful, calculated steps led me to a receptionist who proffered a wide smile that didn't reach her eyes. In return I gave her a smile that would probably have reached Mars, having reserved my most potent smiles for such occasions - meticulously polished by numerous auditions in front of unassuming mirrors.

This was, after all, an occasion for plastic smiles.



As I sat and waited, mocking interest in the numerous brochures littered around me and making polite conversation with other, similarly robotic candidates ('Oh, did you take the train as well?'), in walked the guy who ruptured my bubble of corporate plasticity, by being nothing but the entire bubble himself.

Venkataraman Sundaraman was a portly lad, with half the reserves of an oil rig sacrificed to slickly pat his hair onto his head, neatly divided by a side-parting. To add to that, he was adorned by a polka-dotted tie that couldn't be defended by any extreme fashionista in 2016 and a wide plastic smile that put all my prior smiley auditions to irrevocable shame, in retrospect.

I wasn't allowed to appreciate the spectacle at my own pace, for confident, greasy Venkataraman spotted the only other brown candidate in the lobby (yours truly), and with a glint in his eye, strutted gleefully right up to his first victim. A smugly insidious cat ready to pounce. Where these is cheese, there are rats. Where ever there are rats, there are cats.

You tell 'em, Andre.

I don't know about you, but when I see a brown portly thugger with the name Venkataraman Sundaraman on his name tag, I involuntarily resort to certain stereotypes. Maybe it was wrong to expect him to burst into his rendition of 'Lungi Dance', but I'm a brainwashed entitled man, right? So I needed a moment to drag myself back to disillusioned reality when this legendary figure blurted out the choicest introductory slang in a half-northern British, half-southern British but inarguably, a fully fake British accent.

I was he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

It took a bit of inquisitive needling from me to break him down to his original Sri Lankan accent, but it didn't last long as we were soon ushered into the actual assessment centre. To this date, I consider the fact that I heard the real Venkataraman one of my life's biggest achievements. But all Venkataraman had was big achievements (or so he wanted us to believe). This lad was an assimilation of all exemplary interview books, guides, speeches and 17-Things-That-Would-Wow-Your-Employer listicles, and he was out to prove it. Every conversation with an employer, be it as mundane as a comment on the weather, would be deftly converted into a speech on his superior teamwork skills, management experience, volunteering services and strong support for gay rights.

Venkataraman Sundaraman wasn't just playin', man he was slayin'

When candidates were asked to present solutions to a given problem, big ol' V would survey them with quasi-nonchalance, but immediately shadow practice any assertive hand or head movement he liked in any other candidate, visualising himself the Marc Antony to the employer's mob. He would constantly remove a miniature comb to meticulously keep his oil fields in check, before shadow practicing his apocalyptic declaration of independence while other candidates exasperatedly tried to give their presentations.

At times, when I was embroiled in the engulfing darkness of the unemployment chasm, I often questioned the entire Hunger Interview Game - the methods with which companies looked to hire the most genuine person on a day when everyone's supposed to dress, talk and act fake. Questions that demand fake answers and not blatant honesty - what purpose do they serve? That a person knows how to answer interview questions?

Why is a modicum of fraudulence still lauded in society in 2016?

Venkataraman didn't rebel against this system, he was the system. He had memorised all the pointers and made himself the ultimate candidate - a candidate that openly focused on his extra firm handshake, visibly stumbled through his presentation in an attempt to sneak in popular corporate buzzwords and in lieu of selling himself ended up selling his soul.

I feared him in me.

*inspired by a true story

**maybe I'm just messin' with you

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Why I Stopped Loving Mahendra Singh Dhoni



<in b4 hate parade>

Long locks, a classical Maharaja-esque countenance, a subconscious shrug, a conscious ball smashing bravado and the bursts of childlike impishness. That was the Dhoni I first saw, that was the Dhoni that caused love at first sight. That was also the Dhoni I lost, and the Dhoni I never saw again.

Unlike Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly or Kumble, I've watched Dhoni right from his debut. It's been a tumultuous relationship we've shared (if I may take the impudent liberty to assume he cares for my opinion) - I've liked him, like liked him, loved him and absolutely hated him. Thankfully, we've (read: I've) now moved past it all to settle into a phase where I reserve a deep trench of respect for the greatest cricket captain I have ever seen. He is yet to acknowledge my presence, but I guess some people belong in the spotlight, and for now I'm one of those meant to extol them - which brings us back to this isolated blog post in the dreary, desert sands of dead habit internet domains.

I'm not here to tout records or statistics, for they will always be in Dhoni's favour. Statistics, however, often tell inadequate, incoherent, abridged and at times, specious stories. Rahul Dravid batted at the top order for 344 ODIs and managed just 12 centuries. To put that in perspective, that's half of the number Virat Kohli has scored in half of the number of matches Dravid has played. Yet any ardent follower of the Fab 5 era of Indian cricket knew that Dravid was incontrovertibly indispensable, to put it mildly.

Funny things, them statistics. Here's another one - the undisputed distinction of owning the best bowling figures by an Indian bowler in ODIs is held by Stuart Binny.

Let that sink in.

Stuart Binny, who nearly emulated another Stuart's shambolic performance at Lauderhill this summer, is hitherto the man behind the best Indian bowling spell. If none manage to upstage the figures of 6-4, there might come a fateful day when posterity might fondly remember Stuart Binny as a 'wasted talent'.

I've always been a stickler for the stories scorecards tell, and the stories they don't. An enigma that comes ensnared with the clarity they're intended to proffer. Wahab Riaz ended the 2015 World Cup quarter-final with decent figures, yet no scorecard can do pure justice to the ruthless spell he unleashed upon unsuspecting Australian batsman.

That fact will, and can, only stay engraved in living memory.

In living memory stays the acrid taste that Dhoni cooked up on multiple occasions. Whether it was a covert declining ability in finishing innings, an overtly unorthodox technique that struggled in exacting conditions, an obstinate tendency to promote lesser batsmen above himself when India needed him most and the frustratingly recurring feeling each game that he could've done a lot more given his talent. Surely, my memory shouldn't be any different from the rest of the world's?

Yet I often found myself spearheading a minority - a subversive retrograde who was just simply hatin'. Public perception was deceptively influenced by his captaincy, and everything else was annually redeemed by the IPL. As has been the case with multiple cricketers since the inception of IPL, fans tend to diffuse the divider between international and league cricket in retrospect. IPL allowed Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohit Sharma and of course, Suresh Raina, to convince people that they had talent, despite multiple failures in international cricket. Not for nothing, since all those individuals are fantastic cricketers today (or well, most), but repeated fondness for non-performing cricketers reeked of favouritism, especially when they all belonged to the same IPL team whistlin' and podu'ing its way through corruption, scandals and glory, and also especially at a time when several Indian legends had been axed with no second chance.

As Dhoni flourished under the tutelage of Gary Kirsten and burgeoned his wallet, fame and acumen for captaincy, he gradually lost his reckless abandon. I lost the Dhoni I loved - the milkshake drinkin', papaya devourin' six hittin' maniac. The aggression was substituted with calculation. Dhoni the Tactician replaced Dhoni the Aggressor. The helicopter feebly sputtered, before vanishing from the international circuit for years.

He had luck - an incessant truckload of it. Joginder Sharma was bowling the worst over in a T20 World Cup final before Misbah-ul-Haq decided to give us a reason to cherish a video clip with Sreesanth in it. It worked. In the 2011 World Cup final, Dhoni walked in after Gautam Gambhir and Kohli had steered India clear of ominous disaster. Gone ahead of a Yuvraj Singh in the form of his life, Dhoni quickly overshadowed Gambhir's herculean effort and his own piss-poor performance in the entire tournament, and before it. It worked. Another IPL season followed, a little more whistlin' and podu'ing, and no one would remember his dismal performances in the years leading to the World Cup and in the tournament itself. But I do, with my memory testament to my claims.

Dhoni at the post-match presentation after the infamous Edgbaston T20 where he refused to give the strike to Rayudu and subsequently failed to finish the game.
He never had a good batting technique - his assets being rapid bat speed, supple wrists, brute strength and acute hand-eye coordination. He openly voiced boredom in watching and playing Test cricket and prematurely retired the moment tiny inklings of doubt started seeping into the people's minds. His defensive tactics faltered in stark contrast to Kohli's aggressive strategies in his stand-in match in Australia - so he quit before the criticism could build. His batting had often been shielded by his exploits in captaincy, but the day people started questioning his captaincy it were the first signs of impending doom. For a man guilty of overthinking scenarios, a skirmish with impending doom for a format he was never really able to establish mastery over seemed foolhardy at best. But then if not anything else, Dhoni was definitely the smartest cricketer of his time.

I hated the situation he had built for himself when the men he had blissfully snubbed struggled in domestic matches for the remote plausibility of a recall. I never wanted him dropped or sacked as captain. I just wanted him to do better, do more and be accountable. He was glorified beyond belief and always escaped unscathed. He had statistics that told a different story, fans that happily overlooked his shortcomings and frankly, a captain's mind that belonged on the field. Even if his batting fortunes swung like Bhuvneshwar Kumar's spells, no one exuded a higher mastery of cricket than Dhoni keeping behind the stumps when Indian spinners took over.

He seems to be doing well again, so we're back to reverence. But like a relationship once gone sour, a rope cut and knotted back, it's hard for me to love a man who played his politics, forgot his game, kicked my idol out of the team and ignored him thereafter and still gave me enough reasons to not want him out of the team - I couldn't love or hate completely, resorting to an unwelcome state of indomitable helplessness.

I hated that, and in turn never saw him the same again.