TIMES HAVE CHANGED...(For all my fellow trainees at Mastek)

Today as I sit in the Varanasi training room after more than 1 year, I feel nostalgic. Having joined Mastek Ltd on 13-June-2012, I was still in training around July 2012. Now, I sit on the same place and I reminisce about the time I spent exactly a year back. ‘Bunch of monkeys’, that’s what our manager used to call us. Fresh out of college we used to jump about the entire training room having fun and doing antics. There was never peace and quiet time in the room. Out of nowhere a person used to start playing songs on his/her mobile and people used to start singing along. I was a step ahead. I even used to dance. We had whistlers in our batch namely Mandar and Nikhil (they were the best ones). And yeah you can count me in too (A little astonishing since I am a girl!).

Well, this was not the only fun we had. We had our 'antakshiri' sessions and our eating sessions too. Girls, namely Meenu, Vyoma, Leena,etc used to open their lunch boxes and we all used to swoop on the delicious eateries that they used to bring. We used to check again and again if the training room had any cameras (just so that we never got caught doing so much ‘masti’). Our soft skills sessions were exemplary. We realized later we should not divulge too many details of our mad fun to the trainer! Apart from this, for me, training period also revives the memory of my best friend. Well, her name is Zeba too. Well, just as the name matches, our personality and thinking matched too. But she was a step ahead of me.  She knew how to steal hearts. She used to make gulab-jamuns for the entire batch and now that Ramadhan is going on I also remember the iftar party we hosted last year thanks to my bf ZEBA!!

Our batch was naive and frivolous. We never used to take anything seriously (apart from a few). The tension of evaluation also could never take away our ‘masti’. We didn't know about corporate ethics and to think of it now I am glad we didn't  We enjoyed the 3 months of our training period without the burden of behaving in a particular way, eating, talking etc etc in a particular manner. Corporate politics was not known to us and coming on Saturdays was still fun. That was the only time during the entire period at Mastek I felt I was paid appropriately for the job I did! I feel ghastly underpaid now.

I decided to pen this down because the silence in the very same room is getting hard to bear. Although I have had phenomenal growth and Mastek has really been kind to me, I still feel the best duration of my stay at Mastek was the L&D period. I made some good relations and I also made some bad ones. I connected awesomely with a few and the others I hardly knew. I know Mandar, I irritated you ‘hadh bahar’ and Nikhil, I don’t think you will ever have such an annoying partner ever in your life. Vyoma I loved your 'khakras and fafda’s' and the rest ,I enjoyed all our endless banters.

Manish was one of the best trainers anyone could ever have and Joel, Ha ha!! I still remember his 'dhamkis'!!. The carrom period, I doubt anyone of us can forget. I know I played the worst but Manali came close next.  Our customized cakes were awesome (Gotta thank Dukhande for that). And yeah Ruman, our Admin, my activa ride is still pending!! Vinod Muda, our java specialist, I loved your TekTalk presentation and I am glad you are doing so well.  Since I just lost contact I am not sure as to how all of you are doing. I know every one of you are ‘killer’ busy with work and are doing awesomely well too. I doubt if everyone even has the time to go through my random thoughts. Therefore, I am not stretching it too much. But I must add, our ‘couple-making’ sessions were too funny! Mandar was the scapegoat (getting paired with girls as well as boys). Now, times have changed drastically, the same room which never experienced solitude has pin drop silence.  No one I used to know is around me any longer.  Although I am not complaining, I will always cherish the memories and the time I spent with all of you guys!!

Why did you have to go?

It is difficult to comprehend the silence,
I am unable to jump the fence,
Hidden feelings are hard to show,
My friend, why did you have to go?

I know it was not meant forever,
Our endless banters and palaver,
No debts are there, nothing you owe,
My friend, why did you have to go?

In the zest for money and career, we leave the people behind,
We fast pace our lives and run away, we just forget to rewind,
Remember we are always there, when you are high and when you are low,
My friend, why did you have to go?

You had your dreams and things worked out,
I was always confident, I never did doubt,
Happiness ahead and I am glad to know,
My friend that is why I let you go…


Nigel Richards—An enigma

“Do I talk a lot?” I asked, amused by my own palaver. “Not at all, you have a very pleasant voice”, said the reticent Nigel Richards. I was enraptured by his aura. Well, if you are incognizant of the world Scrabble champion Nigel Richards, I am not surprised. The world’s most popular word game has hardly any cognizance in India. It is lamentable but it is true. Yet, I am not incriminating anyone for this. Cricket is the only recognized sport here. The Indian soccer, basketball, hockey etc teams are obscure. Therefore, it is obvious that Indians are not aware about scrabble or its players.
But for me, Scrabble meant passion. So, Nigel Richards was a paragon to me. What flummoxed me was not Nigel the world scrabble champion, but Nigel the person he was. The enigma was a normal human after all. Just a little more focused than many and a little less complicated. He said he was a normal school boy and had just been through high school. He had not studied in any university. He was fiercely independent and left home when he was 18 years old. He worked on security system which includes monitoring cctv cameras and people moving in and out of the organization. Till he was 28 years of age he had not seen a scrabble board. He had a strong mathematical mind but he was not good with words. His mother introduced him to the game and told him "Nigel, since you are not good with words you won't do good in this game but this will keep you occupied!” Yes, these were the exact words said to the world champion Scrabble Player! However this did not deter him. In fact, it increased his keenness in the game. He started pursuing it on national level and then he moved on to the international level. He won many titles and eventually he left his job in New Zealand. He moved to Malaysia when he was offered a job by some Malaysian scrabble enthusiast and has been staying there for the past 13 years.

Nigel Richards

Nigel Richards and me.
Apart from scrabble he loves bicycle riding and rides for 120 km every day. He says that it keeps him fit. He doesn't drink alcohol, smoke, party and is a vegetarian. He is so humble and down to earth that he wears the same t-shirt almost everywhere. The only emotion (irritation) he ever displays is when media mobs him and asks for interviews. When you look at him you would never be able to say if he won or lost. He is the best in the world for what he does and yet the simplicity in him leaves you mesmerized. I got an opportunity to interact with him on 20th January 2013. I was in Bangalore representing my organization, Mastek, at the inter-corporate Scrabble tournament organized by IGATE Global Solutions. After emerging the best team in Mumbai, we went to Bangalore for the finals. There was an international tournament going on as well. Nigel Richards was a part of the international league. The world champion won his title yet again!
Nigel chatted with me for quite some time, he gave me tips, showed me the area of my improvements and a lot of other stuff. But more than the game he plays, the person Nigel Richards left me awed. A true persona of how a human should be. He pursued his passion, did what he wanted and was always focused. He was outrageously modest and honest about his life experiences. He was mobbed everywhere during the event and yet he never acted as if he were a celebrity. After collecting the grand prize, Nigel Richards just slipped away without any trace. I was left there, wondering when I will get another chance to meet him again.

People don't know him much since scrabble is not a very popular sport (especially in India), but people who do know him have a lot of Nigel stories to tell. ‘Nigel Richards has photographic memory’, ‘He is a loner’, ‘He is painfully reticent’, ‘He does not talk with anyone’, ‘He is an ENIGMA’, etc etc. I don’t know what made the reticent Nigel open up to me and talk so freely. Whatever it may be, he managed to influence and charm me. I learnt that if you follow your passion passionately you will definitely excel.  Even after achieving success you must keep your head firmly on your shoulders. Modesty should always be a key aspect of your personality. I learnt a great deal that day. I so wanted to keep in contact with him, but he was nowhere to be found. Not on the internet, not on social media and not even on phone (He keeps a very simple phone called 'dabba' in our local terms)! And here I am, eagerly awaiting the next tournament to meet him again! Thanks to him, next time he meets me, I will be a better player and definitely a better and focused individual too!

Scrabble-- My Passion

Papa!! ‘PERMUTE’ is not a word!! I shouted. I challenge! I took hold of the Oxford dictionary lying next to me and started scanning its pages for the word. Lo and Behold!! There it stood with clear letters: ‘Permute—change the order or arrangement of’. Sad faced, I looked at my father. My father gave me a sly smile. He had gained 61 points for that word in the game of scrabble we were playing. For a six year old, he was a very tough player. But I took it in my stride and smiled back. That day, I had not lost a challenge; I had won a new word for my ever increasing vocabulary. I used to learn new words and even use it in my day to day conversations. At 7, I used to tease my friends with, ‘Hey, you are looking preposterous today!’ The response was equally amazing. They used to thank me for my obnoxious comment. I laugh when I think of it even today. No doubt, people used to call me ‘Miss Oxford’ at school. I used to enjoy it when my essays were praised and I loved all the attention showered on me for my creative writing. My audiences were swayed by the way I wrote. The inception for all this was my beloved game ‘Scrabble’.
The game of scrabble was introduced to me by my father. When my father was in Saudi Arabia working for ARAMCO he used to play with international players. He started playing 30 years ago and when he came back to India he had no one to play with. Unfortunately, scrabble is still not a recognized sport in India. But my father loved the game. He taught Mom how to play and started playing with her. I was around 4 years old when I saw them playing together. I also had an interest in the game. Eventually I started playing too. At 6 years I could calculate the scores and play fairly well. This game not only increased my vocabulary, it also developed my mathematical skills. It made my brain sharp as it is a strategic word game. Now, for those who have still not heard about scrabble, let me introduce the game to you. Scrabble consists of a board, 4 racks and a bag of letter tiles. Minimum 2 people have to play the game and a maximum of four people can participate on one board. You have to remove seven letters from the bag randomly without seeing, and place it on your rack. You have to make sure that your opponent is not able to view your tiles. Every letter has a face value. For eg; A,E,I,O,U have a face value of 1 point. Z, Q have a face value of 10, X, J =8 and so on…

Me at Bayer national scrabble championship.
You have to make valid words from the rack in front of you and place it on the scrabble board. The scrabble board has ‘double letter’,’ double word’, ’triple letter’, ‘triple word’ cells which fetch you extra points. If you place a ‘Z’ on a ‘double letter’ cell you would get 20 points. Once a word is played, the opponent has to join the placed word and make valid words. The game starts from the middle cell. The game involves a lot of strategies. A ‘BINGO’, i.e., a seven letter word gives you a bonus of 50 points. This is how my journey for my passion had commenced.
Me with Phaneesh Murthy at the felicitation ceremony of inter-corporate scrabble tourney. 
With my opponent at Bayer national scrabble championship.
I loved the game of scrabble and continued playing the game till I was in my high school. One day I told my dad, ‘I want to be a professional scrabble player.’ My father laughed at me. He said, apart from cricket, no sport is recognized in our country. Constant discouragement veered me away from the game. I was lost. I wanted to represent my country at the international league one day. But I knew I could not earn my bread and butter this way. Scrabble is a game of luck too. 30% depends on the tiles you draw from the bag on which you have no control.  For 4 long years I did not touch the game. I forgot all the intricacies of the game. It did not matter anymore. Although somewhere deep down I still wanted to play and be the best at it. I just wanted some opportunity. I just wanted a reason to start playing again. After four years this wish finally became a reality…

One fine day, My College HR called me to her cabin. I went to her cabin and she showed me a circular. It said IGATE Global Solutions Inter-collegiate scrabble competition. I could not believe my eyes. I was not even sure as to why Vandana Ma’am had chosen me out of 2000+ students for representing my college at this event. She looked at me and said, ‘Zeba, since you are pretty good at English, do you think you could go and play this game?’ I was staring at her incredulously. I could not speak. The feeling was overwhelming. I had finally got the chance I was waiting for. I asked her when it was. She said day after tomorrow. I was a little taken aback. I told her she should have informed me earlier. She said, she was not sure if anyone knew this game so she did not put it on the notice board. Last year she had ignored the circular. I could not believe it! She had not even bothered to post it since she thought nobody would participate. I was sad but now equally ecstatic about the chance I had grabbed. I said I’ll give it a shot even though I knew I had no time to prepare. To top it, I had to arrange a partner too and this was a very tough task. People were seriously not aware about the world’s most popular word game. Finally I took an incognizant partner and went for the tournament. I was surprised. The turnout was good and some of the players were really proficient since they had participated last year too. Yet, I emerged as the top two best teams there. But due to some ugly circumstances I could not go to Bangalore for the finals. I knew if I had to participate next year, it had to be through corporate.

 I was not sure which company I would join or I would still get an opportunity to play professionally. I left the thoughts of scrabble. But destiny had other plans. I joined Mastek and I was spotted by the people who had represented Mastek in the inter-corporate scrabble tourney. My exuberance started all over again. The Scrabble Workshop initiative that the HR team had planned was headed by me. I took the session on the game and enlightened the enthusiastic people who had come to learn the game. I was a part of the organization team who organized indoor sports too. I was also the winner in the intra-corporate scrabble tournament in the singles as well as doubles category. The runner-up lagged behind by more than 350+ points. I was the declared champion of scrabble in Mastek which automatically made me the representative of Mastek in the inter-corporate scrabble tournament held by IGATE. 

I was enraptured. I was a good player but I had lost practice. I was not aware of the international format too.  I played the game with Oxford dictionary all my life. The scrabble dictionary was also a new concept for me. But all this did not deter my spirits. I had to team up with the runner-up to represent Mastek at the inter-corporate level. My partner was a novice, so I knew I had to teach him and also coach myself on the international format. I had the task of going through the inconceivable huge list of scrabble words (Scrabble word-list consists of words which are not English too, for eg aia, aua, qin, bhai , etc are some valid words allowed in scrabble) too. I prepared myself and went ahead. Mastek emerged the best team in Mumbai and qualified for the finals that were going to be held in Bangalore. I was rhapsodic. We had won an all paid trip to Bangalore and the opportunity to meet the world class players. I could not contain my fervor. I am not sure when I had been so felicitous. I fell in love with my organization. I was glad of my decision to join Mastek of all the organizations. Mastek had given me more than I had bargained for. My dying passion was revived. I was being appreciated for playing the game. People came in and lent me hands of support and words of encouragement. Sometimes, I was lashed for my ebullience too. But they were incognizant of how much all this meant to me. I ignored the skepticism and concentrated on the positivity.

It did change my life. The Bangalore experience was worth the entire wait. I met the world champion Nigel Richards. What an amazing personality he was. He blew me away with his aura. I had the best conversation with him. Since I will be writing an entire article on him, I am not stretching this one any longer. I am thankful for the opportunity I got to all the people at Mastek who supported me and appreciated me. I did win the third position in the finals, battling 87+ corporate teams who had participated.  I narrowly missed the first position thanks to some of our negligence and unawareness of the international format. We were still the team with the highest wins and we were leading till the last round. A margin format dropped us to the third position. The corporate which secured the second position had already lost to us with a margin of over 70 points. So, even though I was happy for my achievement I was a little sad for having lost the first position after almost winning the tournament. The world champion witnessed my game and told me that I can play internationally after grooming myself a little more. Now, I had finally procured the reason for keeping my passion alive. Even though I know I cannot make scrabble my career due to lack of cognizance regarding the game, I can still play the game in collimate with my professional life. If I continue with this with determined efforts and concentrated focus, the day seems not far when I will be sitting opposite Nigel Richards representing India internationally!! 

The broken doll...

I wept when I read the news today,
She was outside her house, busy with her play,
An uncle she knew offered her a toy,
She never knew that now she will never find joy...

Hands held high and eyes filled with hope,
She did not even know the meaning of grope,
She was inside the room waiting for some fun,
But she was mistaken, coz there was none…

He took her in his arms and undressed her naked,
She shouted for help but her cries were stifled,
She was molested and raped and bloodied she lay,
She was just a 5 year old, they say…

This gave me goose-bumps and raised my hair,
The brutality was more than she could bear,
Bruised and strangled, he left her there,
She was completely broken, beyond repair…

The question is raised to all this time,
What are we doing to stop this crime?
No respite is seen in all this sorrow,
I dread to see the plight of tomorrow……


God Only Knows...


Each day comes and each day goes,
What I am thinking, it never really shows,
Some people are far, some people are close,
But who is a friend, God only knows...

Sometimes I bring laurels, sometimes disgrace 
Sometimes they are impressed, but they never praise,
I want appreciation, but I never disclose,
Why people don’t appreciate, God only knows...

Sometimes I am irritated and I cannot bear,
Sometimes people are just not fair,
Justice denied and hatred flows,
Why people hate, God only knows...

Sometimes I am happy and I want a hug,
But all I get is a cold bare shrug,
The need for love, only grows,
Why people don’t love, God only knows...

Sometimes I am sad and I want someone who cares,
But all I get are empty stares,
I need to share, all my woes,
Why people don’t care, God only knows...

Sometimes I am gentle, sometimes I am rude,
Sometimes I don’t know, why I am shrewd,
 I have to let out and anger will dispose,
Why people don’t express, God only knows...

Ignorance is bliss, is only a myth,
Don’t live with it, you will die of guilt,
When you are in love, offer a rose,
When you have ideas, please propose,
Don’t keep assuming, don’t suppose,
Beware of friends for they might be foes,
Don’t take advantage, don’t tread on toes,
A person reaps, what he sows..

So, I suggest you express what you feel,
It is important to know with what you deal,
Machines we have become without feelings to disclose,
Remember we are humans, I hope everybody knows....!!!



“*Naanimaa!! Don’t touch my things! How many times have I told to not mess with my stuff?” I bellowed.
“But *beta, I was just trying to tidy your room”, she said softly.
“Don’t!! I like my room messed up!” I shouted.
She tried to reason with me but I just refused to listen. I told her to get out of my room. I am not usually this way but that day was exceptionally bad for me. I fell down on the bathroom floor while taking a bath and hurt my ankle, missed my usual 8:15 train and reached late to college. Since I was late, my class teacher refused to take my assignment. After begging her to finally take it, she gave me a B grade and an ugly red remark stating ‘LATE SUBMISSION’ on it. I had spent the entire night doing the assignment, so this was particularly nasty of her to do so. As if all this was not enough, I had a fight with a friend on a petty issue. All burnt up, I reached home and tried searching for my novel that I had put on my couch the previous day. Obviously, Naanimaa had cleaned the room and had put everything in its proper place (that means I will never be able to find it). I lost my temper and I just blasted her out of my room. I never realized that I would regret all this one day. It hurts me to this day on how I behaved with her.
Now, let me introduce my Naanimaa to you. She is a real sweetheart to say the least. She told me funny bedtime stories when I was child and I must say she was extremely good at it. Not only that, she was the one who had spoilt me to the core. She would hide my mistakes from Mom so that I could avoid the punishment. She would listen to all my sob stories patiently and always give me good advice. She used to do my part of household chores so that I could enjoy some extra time for play. She would bring for me all the junk goodies that children crave and even give me cash for my extra expenses. My naanimaa was also an adventurous and funny woman. She would take me to the garden often and she was the one who taught me how to ride a bicycle. When I attained puberty she was the one who told me the birds and bees stories. She was a cool Grandma and I loved her for all the little and big things she did for me. She was never stern with me even when I used to experiment all kinds of pranks with her. Once my prank misfired and she hurt herself. But she never told mom about my naughty and obnoxious behavior  She would sit with me and explain everything so calmly and coolly that I learnt so many things without even knowing I had learnt them. I became a matured young lady thanks to her. I loved her so much yet I never told her so.
But all this had to end someday. My grandma was turning old. She started getting ill often. The doctors said she has to live with these conditions as this was due to old age and hence could not be cured. Her health started deteriorating and she was no longer the cool grandma I once knew. She used to get irritated quite often and I started veering away from her. I never realized how much she still adored me. Then, she fell very ill. My mama (mom’s brother) came and took her away stating he was in a better position to take care of her. I felt bad, but was relieved to get rid of grandma. Grandma needed a lot of care and nursing and Mama had people who could take care of her. My family had just three people. With mom and dad working, I had to attend college; there was no one in the house to take care of her. But my granny wanted to stay with us. Her heart and soul dwelt here. She adored us. When she was in mama’s house she kept calling us. I always ignored her calls. She had a hearing impairment and I had to yell in the phone for her to understand what I was speaking. I never found the time to go and meet her. Mom visited her occasionally and on one fine Saturday, she told me that Grandma was inquiring about me. She had become frail and old and kept asking for me. I wanted to meet her too but I was always so busy. I told mom that next Saturday I will definitely go and meet her. Mom nodded in affirmation. That night I felt very uneasy. I thought to myself, instead of next Saturday I will go and meet her tomorrow itself. I had my exams on Monday but I made up my mind. I slept sound that night.
Sunday morning I woke up to loud wails coming from the interior of my house. I shook myself up and went to my Mom’s room. My Mom was wailing like a maniac. She was shivering and papa was trying to control and console her. I stood there frozen in panic unable to ask what had happened. My Mom suddenly came and held me and whispered, “Your naanimaa…” and she trailed off. I could not react. I knew I had lost the chance of going and meeting her. I had lost the chance to tell her how much I loved her. I had lost the chance to tell her that she was the coolest naanimaa on planet earth. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I could not face myself. I regretted every moment I lost when I could have been close to her, nurtured her, and been there for her. I regretted the times I was rude to her. I felt ashamed of myself when I realized I had never told her how much I loved her. Now I had lost her, everything was over.
The once lively woman who adored me lay before me lifeless. I would never hear her stories again. I would never be able to hear her laughter!! I would never be able to hug her and cuddle her. Memories flushed through my eyes. My eyes started swelling up with tears and I could only whisper in the ears of my dead naanimaa “I am sorry…”….

How many times have we been ‘too busy’ to go and meet our loved ones? How many times have we been ‘too ignorant’ to tell our loved ones we love them? The regret eats you later on. You start cursing yourself. You beg the time to rewind. The past will not let you live in peace and your future will be filled with “ifs”. If only I had done this… If only I could have told her/ met her… and so on… Do it before it is too late. Make memories... 
The saying goes, “On your death bed no one will remember the presentations you made, you will be remembered for the memories you shared.”

*naanimaa: Hindi word for maternal grandmother.
*beta: Hindi word for son/daughter