Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Come here, 2017.

Don’t mean to sound like a twat, but let’s review what we have on our hands. Shall we?

Acceptance. Of growing older, physically (we can agree I was mentally 42 a decade ago). 
Empathy. For snot-faced kids that I’d previously treat like radioactive Uranium. Because I didn’t have a single walk out in the cold when my nose didn’t decide to behave like a malfunctioning water pipe. 
Comfort. In finding colleagues that really are adopted family. And discovering, rediscovering the best of friends. The kinds I can’t not be completely honest with. 
Happiness. And repeatedly finding it in small meals, small travels, small pegs, small treks, small budgets, (many) small conversations, small campaigns, small reassurances and massive hugs. 
Courage. In trusting my overly enthusiastic, untrained, whiskey loving, sister-from-another-mister colleague with my fragile hair for a free hair cut. 
Motorsport. Dear nosy relative who cried about me not having a long-term relationship in my life, meet Motorsport. 
Brevity. And being reminded of its importance at work..and in life. Sigh. #CanIHireAPersonalCopyWriter
Entitlement. And why getting rid of it is so important. 
Beauty. Of lakes and hills. Everything else is temporary. 
Tears. Frustration. Heart break. Failure. Agony. Because who am I kidding? 
Sleepless nights. Wait, scratch that. Who am I kidd...zz.
David Bowie, among others. Donald Trump, among others. 

2016 dropped by all of that and more. She alternatively knocked me out cold and slapped the widest of grins on my face but either way, she was a stunner. Go one better, will you, 2017? *fist bump*

Friday, November 18, 2016

One More Time

Who was I kidding? Of course this wasn’t going to be easy. 

After I’d hopped between what felt like 403.99 connecting trains, I found myself in a tiny train taking me to Verviers, Belgium. This was the last train on my journey - I had to work my way through the next couple towns with buses. But it felt like the tougher part of the journey was somehow over. A voice in my head declared, “This is it, Merin..It’s happening!”..and it happened. Commentator’s curse struck and my train jerked to a halt and stayed motionless. In fate’s defence, the damn train managed to break down near a gorgeous river that I could feast my eyes on. A train official soon walked in, sang an apology in French and walked on. I looked around the compartment hoping to find someone who could translate the message for me. Nope. Not one of ALL three people in my compartment spoke English. Twenty seconds into kicking myself for not making any effort to learn French from my nice French ex-boss, I dragged myself onwards to find more people. When the train official and I finally found each other, I understood the train had broken down for good and we’d be taken to a town called Pepinster by a bus, from where we were on our own. I explained where I needed to go and he looked deeply into my eyes and told me with genuine empathy, “Good luck”. 

After 25 minutes, we got onto a rattling bus to Pepinster. To distract myself from the piercing cold, I wondered how the town ended up with a funny name like that. Were its founders drunk, you know, like mine? (Merin? Pfft). Anyway, much of what happened after we got to Pepinster is a haze because my brain had frozen. Not the kind of freezing that renders me looking stupid in everyday social interactions but the 1 deg C kind of freezing. With no internet or humans around, I relied on Google’s wonderful Offline Maps to get me about. Making my way from one bus stop to another, easily annoying each of those strictly French bus drivers with half a dozen questions, I finally..FINALLY reached the small town of Spa. There’s a small chance I was delusional but I totally heard violins and pianos go off in the background as I stepped off the bus and onto Spa’s fine roads. 

Surreal. Walking around the quaint town with its F1 themed restaurants popping up around every corner was surreal. But I had to get going if I wanted to reach the circuit in time for a ‘guided tour’. Maps told me I had another 12kms to cover to reach the circuit. Since the next bus wasn’t going to turn up until two hours later and absolutely no taxi was willing to take me there, I decided to walk it. A pretty walk, I’ll have you know, despite really gloomy skies (also, just FYI, Salzburg is still the prettiest). As the tips of my fingers and toes began freezing over, the saner of all voices in my head cursed my irrational need to see this race track. Keep walking, I told myself, just like Johnny Walker would’ve told me if I had him in a glass at that very moment. 

A few kilometres in, I met Jean. Wonderful, wonderful Jean. A charming, silver haired cab owner who agreed to take me to the circuit. If that wasn’t great, he loved chatting F1! “When F1 comes here, we make at least 10,000eur over one weekend. Many Verstappen fans came from just over the border this year..those crazy orange men think this is his home race! But next year is going to be even bigger and exciting for us!!” ..”because Stoffel Vandoorne”, I quipped. He looked at me with big eyes that clearly had new found respect because I knew of his compatriot who’s set to race in F1 next year. “You weren’t lying! You ARE F1 crazy! Why come all the way to this track when there is no race?”. Sigh. Beats me, Jean. Completely beyond my reasoning.  

The drive to Spa-Francorchamps is straight out of a postcard. Beautiful roads, ridiculously pretty countryside. Wasn’t too long before we got to Francorchamps Route de Fagnou - the bus stop closest to the circuit. I got off, thanked Jean and walked to the circuit. And I am NOT making this up - as I walked through ‘Gate B’ of Circuit de Spa Francorchamps and saw what was possibly a V8 super car zoom up and over my favourite corner in the F1 calendar, the sun found its way through the clouds and made its presence felt. That moment. Magic. 

After the guided tour of the track and all its facilities, and a long, long walk, I sat myself down to a good view of Eau Rouge. The forest, sun light, clouds, tarmac and echo of mega engines around combined marvellously to make my favourite race track come alive. Genuinely, magic. 

Of all the times I counted my blessings this year, this felt like the tipping point. The year’s been mental for sure. Between good old hard work, numbing cold weather and mindless sacrifices, I got to keep a swell job working with amazing folks, got to compare Ricciardo’s smile to mine, watch Verstappen behave like a fun 18 year old, ‘experience’ Rosberg’s German sense of humour and watch Raikkonen marinate in a race suit inside a sauna while I kept his wife and son company (whaa!). After Monaco, Hockenheim and COTA, I now saved myself a mental image of Spa Francorchamps. The circuit where Schumacher won his first race, where Raikkonen crashed and broke my heart in 2008 (prompting me to cry in my bathroom for hours and start this blog - have I told you this story yet? I have? Oops), where every race is..magic. 

You can’t shut me up when I start talking about this year or this silly pilgrimage, but one thing’s for sure. This blog’s now come full circle.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Top 10 memories: Sports

Hello there, kind reader. Like your dentist last promised you, this one's going to be real quick. Less pain to endure - my word.

"Fresh" from watching three sport-related documentaries back to back on a bumpy flight, I find myself sitting on the carpeted floor of an airport, justifying the emptying of my hard earned and well guarded piggy bank for a trip that (as much as I've dreamt of for *years*) does not involve an F1 race in Belgium. And since there's nine hours of this sitting, waiting and miserable analysis I imagine I will subject myself to, I've taken to poor Notepad for distraction.

The documentaries I watched - one on Arsenal, one on Nadal/ Federer and the last, on motorsports (but of course!) - got me navigating my far-from-nimble mind palace to take stock of moments from these sports that really got to me. So here's a simple list of my top sport memories - some good, some bad but all bloody brilliant - from the last decade or so.

I'm giving myself just one shot and less than half an hour to list down the top ten, allowing myself a fine excuse for when I think of other entries that should've made the cut. Given how my memory is known for everything but retention and quick recall, I figured I'm better off announcing this disclaimer. :)

10. Federer vs Murray - Wimbledon 2012
There's a charged Andy Murray, there's perhaps all of England connecting with Jesus because they want to see a British champion again and there's Roger Federer calmly raining down brilliance. Good guy Murray, but Federer reclaiming the Wimbledon title in style gave me a high that refused to go away for a while.

9. Sebastian Vettel's first win at Monza in 2008
This 21 year old's emphatic pole + victory at a passion-packed track like Monza was special not just because he's German and held promise but also 'cuz his hero was good old Schumi. Like in a fairy tale, baby-faced Vettel grew up to race alongside his hero and won the Race of Champions Nations trophy with Schumacher (for Germany) in 2007. His consistent performances in F1 made me wish we'd see him in Ferrari one day. Well.. yay.

8. Schumacher's engine's PMSing - Japanese GP 2006
Schumacher was this close to an 8th world championship. But while he was in the lead in the penultimate race of the year, his engine decided to put up a show by going up in smoke. That's that. Bollocks. Miserable rascal, that engine. Ugh.

7. Miroslav Klose/ Mesut Ozil - World Cup 2006 / 2010
Klose's Golden Shoe for being the top scorer in the 2006 World Cup in Germany was immensely special because that was the first time I found myself hooked to football. It's inexplicable why I took to the German National team like I did but there's been no going back since (Except to the Deutscher Fußball-Bund cap I have..since the darned thing has Adidas on it). And Klose was an instant favorite for reasons I can't remember. His personality, perhaps. Whatever it was, I'm a fan for life.
Similar scenes with Mesut Ozil - love at first sight during the 2010 World Cup. Yes, despite his frog-like eyes. On a good day, what he does on field is pure magic to my eyes. More power to the boy!

6. Kimi Raikkonen's suspension failure - European GP 2005
If you knew me back when Raikkonen raced Schumacher for the championship, you'd remember just how much I enjoyed his cars' many reliability issues.
Raikkonen's engine blew? HAHA! The smoke escaping his car was my favorite version of modern art.
Raikkonen crashed at the first corner? "Oooooh boy, good luck explaining that static grin on your face to teachers in school tomorrow, Merin."

But something pulled on my heart during the European GP in 2005. Raikkonen took the lead at the first corner of the race after a brilliant start and drove a good race up until, perhaps, boredom hit him. A few driving errors meant he damaged his tyres a tad too much. The damage eventually got so bad that he began experiencing vibrations throughout the car; still in the lead but with an eager Alonso closing in, a pit stop meant relinquishing victory. During the final laps of the race, the vibrations were so severe that you could see his head bobbing about in the cockpit and I remember thinking that that level of determination and hunger for victory deserved immense respect. Suddenly, BOOM! Last lap of the race and his suspension broke under immense pressure. Seconds later, he picked himself off the barriers. It was all over. That was the first time I felt terrible for the Finn.

First of many times, as we'd have it. When I next found myself crying - literally - for him, I ended up writing my first (wonderfully cringe-worthy) blog post - here.

5. Germany's triumph at the 2014 World Cup
After years of agonising near-misses at World Cups and Euros, DFB made gold theirs..with a 7-1 scoreline along the way! Too good to be true, I'd have said. Everything - luck included - worked well for Germany in 2014 and the end-result gave me good reason to feel like a champion.
Albeit temporarily, as always.

4 and 3. Germany's loss to Spain (Euro 2008) and Federer's loss to Nadal (Wimbledon 2008)
Both these matches took place in the span of a week, mid-2008. And both saw Spaniards come out on top. If Germany's loss to Spain hurt deep, what happened at Wimbledon the following weekend left me emotionally drained. My mom and I were both teary-eyed at the end of the match..only, mum was celebrating Nadal's victory. I have absolutely no credentials to bother you with my commentary on that EPIC match but I remember passing out from a case of spectator's exhaustion, utterly heart broken.

2. Schumacher brothers at the San Marino GP - 2003
After pulling off a 1-2 at qualifying in San Marino, Ralf and Michael had to rush to Cologne to be with their ailing mum. They unfortunately lost her on race day morning but flew back down to Imola to put in measured drives, with Michael taking the win. On the top step of the podium, we found Schumacher - popularly declared stone hearted - crying. The grit, determination and pain I saw on Michael's face that day left behind a mental image that will never leave me. Ever. 

1. Schumacher vs Kimi - Brazilian GP 2006
This was set to be Schumacher's last race, given he'd announced his retirement at Monza that year. He started the race down in 10th but moved up the track pretty quick - only to endure a puncture and go all the way back the grid. He then drove a blinding race with upto eleven-twelve beautiful overtaking manoeuvres, to finish fourth. The pass that leaves me drooling every single time I watch it though, is the move Schumacher pulled on Raikkonen towards the end - sudden, precise, gutsy, too close for comfort. Perfect. 
My favorite F1 moment, shared by my favorite F1 people. 

* 0. A bonus! My favorite moment, irrespective of everything in the world, will be when I walk the track at Spa Franchorchamps in Belgium.  :) Someday soon, I tell you. Someday soon.

That's that! What's your list like? :) 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

“What did your MBA give you?”

XIME turned 20 and the celebrations were big! A kind, unsuspecting alumnus asked me to write a nostalgia-driven article for a magazine that was to be published for the occasion. Here's what I managed to cough up.

As a member of the minority race in my first company – I was the rare MBA graduate in a sea of Chartered Accountants – I often got asked questions on my MBA experience.

Why MBA?”

“What made you decide you wanted to do MBA?”

“What did your MBA give you?”

While I have been dishing out adulatory hokum that seemed to serve as appropriate answers, the anniversary celebrations at XIME did get me wondering - what did my MBA really give me? 
Now, I couldn't conjure up the perfect answer, but please indulge me as I attempt to put it down here.

From my two years at XIME, dotted with several hundred precious, some painful and many nerdy memories, one in particular overwhelms me the most – one made during our batch’s twelve day educational tour of China / Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. (That trip faced ridiculously high expectations set by 180 eager students but boy, did it deliver!)

As a part of our tour, we had the blessed opportunity to visit The Great Wall of China. Everyone was obviously kicked to the hilt all through the journey..only to reach the destination and find the mighty place dressed with fog and rain drops. But before I could complete my whine about how a sunny Great Wall would have made for a better experience, the boys from the batch (and some girls too!) made their way up the steps leading to The Wall in speeds that could make Usain Bolt proud.

Juyong pass, the part of The Wall that we visited, had six watch towers (or levels, as we called them) along the way to the summit. Considering we weren’t the fittest of the lot, my friend Shinu Simon and I decided we could loiter around a couple of levels before hitting the tour bus. We enthusiastically covered two levels and clicked enough snaps for Facebook glory along the way. As the rain began coming down harder, our motivation to touch level three grew weak. It absolutely did not help that the steps got steeper and the path, narrower. But uh oh – there it was. Peer pressure! With nearly everyone wanting to cover as much ground as possible, we coaxed ourselves to go one level further. And we hit Level 3! 
But..could we possibly do more? Our Duracell-driven Mallu peers (who’d happily made their way up to the summit and were headed back down) threw incentives at us – Level 4 had a souvenir shop that handed out medals, they said. Before we knew it, Shinu and I were staring at our medals with so much pride, you’d have thought we held new-borns in our hands. But hey! Mission accomplished! 
Or was it?

At Level 4, the number of enthu-cutlets running about The Wall had trickled down to 1/5th the number at the base. It was cold – SO cold, I remember feeling pain in my fingertips and toes. The stinging rain was no less harsh, slapping us in our faces every time we attempted to raise our heads. We were incredibly exhausted and our muscles seemed to have taken turns to submit their resignation letters. We looked up at the VERY steep steps leading up to Level 5, looked at each other, felt common sense leaving our bodies and hauled ourselves up, step after step. With every step I took, a voice in my head broke down, abusing my unnecessarily zealous ideas. When we finally did land at Level 5 though, the voice shut up. Shinu, my voice and I – we all knew we could go no further but we also knew we had gone an extra mile, pushed our limits like never before and accomplished something that would make us smile every single time we thought of it.

Yep, just how it makes us smile now!

I find myself comparing this experience to the two years of MBA itself.
Most of us started off with two things: a definitive goal (get a job?) and a hazy path that we hoped would lead us to said goal. We made our way through one year – learning, bonding, winning, fumbling and discovering our capacities, our friends and ourselves. As we approached the second year, having gotten a taste of all things Corporate during the summer internship, the ascent got steep and tense. We had to decide (if we didn't already know) our majors / career-streams, embrace them and work towards them. There was encouragement and advice from professors – some of whom we can (gratefully) still call on - just as much as there was pressure from peers.  We constantly fell out of our comfort zones (for instance, some of us had to befriend the enigma that called itself International Finance(!)) and were compelled to go a level further than we ever had before. And we finally made our way to the finish line hoping we'd given it all our best. Hoping, that we’d enhanced our skills and opened up avenues for a career that could keep us happy. Hoping, that we’d made a good number of friends for life in the process. And hoping, that we’d look back and smile. 
Now, three years since that hike, I can’t find reasons not to.   

If you haven’t already given up on my almost-failed attempt to give that question an honest answer, here goes:  What do I think my MBA gave me? It gave me what I worked for and what I longed for.
Simply put, my MBA gave me everything I really wanted to take away from it.