How to interview your interviewer … or … do you really want to work for this idiot?

Now that I’m out of the corporate world, let me share some wisdom from my slavery days.

Corporate life is nothing more than glorified slavery. Over thirty years, I’ve seen it all. Sleaze, politics, tears, exploitation, lies, anger, depression, betrayal, divorce. I saw it all. And I walked out.

Still, if you need a job, you need a job. You have a family to feed and a career to manage, and you’re willing to do what it takes. Fair enough.

The least you can do is to avoid getting into a bad company, especially on your first job. When one is fresh out of college and desperately seeking a job, it is easy to fall into the wrong company. Believe me, a bad first job will haunt you through your career.

Before the interview:

1) Ignore all those buffoons who offer expensive training courses on “interview skills”. You don’t need them. All you need are your qualifications and your sincerity. The best and most effective interview skill is – Be yourself.

2) Do your homework. Read everything you can about the company. Don’t be deceived by the apparent size of the company. A small but well-managed company will be a far better employer than a large, glamorous MNC with a dubious reputation.

Remember, “Yatha Raja, thatha praja“. As is the King, so are his subjects. If the company’s promoters are rogues, you can’t expect your future boss to be any different.

3) Always reconfirm the interview date and time. And do this immediately. If you delay, the interview will go to someone else.

4) Always be on the dot of time. And remember to consider the time it will take to complete your entry formalities at the gate and the wait for the elevator. If you are delayed for some reason (and the only acceptable reasons are an earthquake or a public riot), then always call up and explain yourself.

5) Always dress conservatively for an interview. First impressions always matter. Always.

At the interview: The classical warning signs: 

1) The watchmen at the entry-gate:  A rude watchman is a sure sign of a stingy company that doesn’t care about its visitors or employees.

2) The front desk: The receptionist is the public face of the company. She (it’s usually a she) is expected to be friendly and helpful. A disgruntled receptionist is a classic symptom of a sick company. Don’t be fooled by a dazzling smile or an equally dazzling cleavage. If the receptionist is unhappy you can always tell by her body language. In particular, watch how she talks to salespeople and job-seekers, and how she answers the phones.

3) The waiting time: If you are kept waiting at the front desk, then beware. This means your interviewer is either a bad time-manager or he’s deliberately making you wait just to rattle you. Either way, it’s a bad company to work in.

4) The dumb questions:

These classically idiotic questions are asked by classical idiots who don’t know how to conduct an interview.

a) “Tell me about yourself”.

Really? Even in this century, there are people who start an interview with this ridiculous question. Actually, I’ve asked this question too. That’s because I was a classical idiot too, once upon a time. Apparently, there’s an esoteric psychological reason behind this asinine question. Whatever. It’s still a question that insults the applicant’s intelligence.

The polite response to this question is that all you have to say about yourself is in the résumé that the interviewer already has. If he wants any specific information outside the résumé, he is welcome to ask a specific question.

b) “Why do you want to work for this company?”.  Another foolish question.

Which is followed by another foolish question, “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”.

The correct answer, but the answer no one likes – Your company is better than my current company.

For a first-timer, this question is sometimes asked to see if he knows something about the company. The correct and polite form of the question then, is “Can you tell us what you know about our company?”.

The intelligent answer is, “Yes I can”.  And then give a concise analysis of the company’s history, current financial reports, research activities, reputation in the outside world, and the like. A short, sweet and sincere report that shows you know your way around the Internet and that you are serious about whom you work for.

If your interviewer has any common-sense, he will offer you the job on the spot.

c) “Where do you see yourself five (or ten) years from now?”.

This is the uncrowned king of foolish interview questions. What am I supposed to answer it with? I’ll be the president of the company, I’ll be your boss, I’ll be your son-in-law, I’ll be successful and happy, I’ll…what?

There is one correct answer: Five years from now, I will be five years older.

c) “How soon can you join?”

The question asked by a fool. Obviously, an employed person has to serve his current employer a month’s notice, at least. If your interviewer doesn’t care about this, he is the wrong person to be your boss.

Even if you are a fresher and are desperate for that first job, don’t say you will join tomorrow morning. Tell them you need a week to wind up whatever personal obligations you have. Take that week to study the job offer thoroughly and understand its legal implications.

d) “When will you get married?”.   Or worse, “How come you’re not married?”

No matter which gender you are, there is one appropriate response. Walk out.

e) “Why did you get divorced?”.  Same answer as above.

f) “What salary do you expect?”

Frequently asked by idiots in order to confuse freshers.

A well-managed company will always disclose its emoluments to fresh graduates – instead of playing guessing games with nervous applicants.

The intelligent answer is, “I believe the normal salary for this post in reputed companies is about Rs.xxx. Of course, if your company pays more than this, I would not mind!”

h) “Can you give me one reason why I should hire you?”.

This bombastic query is meant only to demean you. The appropriate answer is – Eff you.

Since you can’t use those exact words, the next best answer is, “I’m sorry. I do not understand the question. Since you invited me for this interview only after studying my résumé, I had the impression that my qualifications and experience were directly relevant to your company’s needs. Am I to understand that this is not actually the case?”.

Usually, the interviewer gets confused and loses his cool. If this happens, you are looking at the wrong employer. Smile and leave.

It’s just an interview, for heaven’s sake. It’s not an inquisition. The purpose of which is to see if you and your potential employer are compatible and want the same things – not to make you feel like dung.

Two other classical warning signs: 

  • How your interviewer talks to his subordinates. Especially to the person who serves you refreshments during the interview. If they don’t have the courtesy to offer you refreshments, that’s another warning sign!
  • An interviewer who talks about himself, and little else.

A person who talks too much about himself and talks down to people under him is the most avoidable boss in the corporate world.

You can always tell a good company from a bad one. There’s a happy air about a well-managed company, that you can sense as soon as you enter. Noisy, cheerful chatter is a good sign. Sullen silence is not.

For a fresher, that first job is worth waiting for. Better that you remain unemployed for a few weeks, than join a bad company and regret it, as I did with my first job and several jobs thereafter.

The same wisdom applies to marriage, as I found out the hard way.

Cheers … SKS

 

The last days of Kokkrebellur.

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Once upon a time, there was this happy place called Kokkrebellur. Once upon a time.

Now, this age-old nesting site for the endemic Painted stork has become another casualty of human greed.

In Kannada, the word “kokkre”  means stork. The very name of this village is derived from the storks that come here every February to breed. It is believed that this location has been the nesting ground for the Painted stork since a thousand years.

kbellur-02763It has taken Homo sapiens less than a decade to ruin it.

What else do you expect from the most destructive species on the planet? Microwave towers, loudspeakers blaring, massive old trees chopped down, waterbodies gone dry, illegal sand mining, heaps of garbage  – no effort has been spared to screw up Kokkrebellur as only humans can.

Once, there was a grove of Mahua trees that was three centuries old, and housed dozens of mating Indian grey hornbills and a hundred other species. Now there are charred stumps. And an illegal function hall in its place. Littered with discarded bottles, plastic, rotting food and all the usual shit that humans like to throw around. DSC02601

I’ve written at length about Kokkrebellur in an earlier blogpost, written in the days when there was something to write about this unique village in Maddur district. But now there’s nothing left at Kokkrebellur to write about. The storks and pelicans have arrived this year too, but each year their numbers dwindle.

The Kabini river that provides sustenance to these great birds has gone totally dry. There are fewer trees to nest on, more vehicles, much more competition for what little space and resources are available.

Eventually, the storks will simply fly off to a better place.

When the Kokkre is gone from Kokkrebellur, then what?

SKS

Melukote. No cleanliness. No Godliness.

 

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Cows, dogs, hawkers, shops, cars, garbage. Where is the room for God?

What the eff am I doing here, I ask myself as I trudge barefoot in the heat, through the filthiest temple town I have been in.

This is Melukote. Global hub of Shri Vaishanavism, second only to Sriperumbudur in importance. A world-renowned center for Sanskrit learning. The scriptures say that Rama and Krishna themselves worshipped the ancient deity here. The temples you see today are a thousand years old, built stone by stone by Shri Ramanuja and his disciples.

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To visit temple, just follow the garbage.

This is Melukote. And it is filthy.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, we are told. If that is true, then please be assured that God would keep His distance from Melukote.

Due to my being born a Thenkalai, I am a follower, albeit a reluctant one, of Shri Ramanuja and a Shrivaishanavite by default. Melukote is therefore “my” place. Each year, I find myself drawn to this place. And year after year, I find myself being repelled by the general filthiness. This year, the filthiness was just intolerable.

The history of Melukote is truly Vedic. The temples are merely ten centuries old. The primary deity here, Cheluvanarayanaswamy or Thirunarayana, has been worshipped at this place since the time of Rama. After the long-lost metal idol was rediscovered by Shri Ramanuja in 1100 or so, Melukote was heavily patronised by the Hoysalas, the Wodeyars, even by Tipu Sultan, and in modern times, by Shrivaishnavites across the world and by all other sects. With all that patronage, past and present, there is no excuse whatsoever for Melukote’s current state.

It’s not a question of money. There is no shortage of money, I have no doubt. It’s not a question of government support. You need neither money nor political support just to be clean. It’s a question of attitude and it’s a question of arrogance.

At no other major shrine have I seen cars parked right at the temple walls, nowhere else have I seen so many hawkers peddling their wares so close to the main temple. No where else have I seen garbage so carelessly strewn about. Sullen watchmen at the gates and sundry people expecting money at every nook are common features in all temples. One expects Melukote to be different, but no. One is totally wrong. Give me twenty rupees, insists an elderly priest inside the temple, and I tamely hand over the money, not due to piety, but due to pity.

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Don’t worry. It’s a “protected” monument.

My visit there yesterday coincided with an “abhishekam” of Ramanuja’s idol. The term “abhishekam” means a ritualistic libation of  a religious idol with various sanctified liquids like milk, ghee, honey, sandal paste and others.

There were innumerable Iyengar mamas and mamis inside, in traditional vestis and 9-yard sarees respectively. Technically, I am an Iyengar mama too, and I ought to have been in a vesti too. But my priorities are crystal clear.

Cleanliness first. Godliness next. Hygiene first. Spirituality next. Sanctity of body first. Purity of mind next.

Three years ago, my elderly mother ate the food here, came back that evening to Bangalore with acute gastroentiritis and had to spend a full week at Fortis hospital. That horrible week comes back to my memory, and I bluntly turn down the offers of puliogare and annadana that I am plied with.

History and divinity both get buried under the filth of Melukote.

As a Shrivaishnavite, I am not just angry. I am filled with a cold rage as I make my way through this ancient town. In vain do I tell myself that Rama and Krishna might have walked down the same lanes that I walk now, and that Shri Ramanuja definitely did. All I can see are the piles of garbage, the plastic bottles everywhere, the stray dogs, the hawkers, the growling monkeys – and the devotees who create all this filth by tolerating it and worse, by patronising it.

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The ancient Kalyani (water tank). This is the only angle from which the garbage is not visible.

Enough. I call up the driver (who is of course parked right next to the temple wall) and we make our way back to the Garbage city, also known as Bangalore.

Garbage outside. Junk inside.

The newly laid road from Mandya to Melukote provides little consolation, since I’ve seen the hundreds of old trees that once stood on either side of that road, and were butchered for no reason.

In comparison, Tipu’s tomb in Srirangapatnam is a pleasure to see. Gumbaz is immaculately maintained, and more important, it is clean. There’s no entry fee although there is a stiff parking fee – but no parking lot. The outside is no doubt dirty and hawker-infested. But the inside is just the opposite. Manicured lawns, old trees that date back to Tipu, and the tomb itself is shining white – and clean.

So. This is “my” Melukote. I don’t feel good, I feel ripped off. I don’t feel sanctified, I feel dirty. I am not filled with spirituality and enlightenment, I am filled with dark anger.

Next time I feel the desire to commune with God, I won’t take the expense to hire a cab and drive 150 kms through dense traffic to end up at a place that is filthier than the urban slum I live in.

I’ll either visit the small temple at my street corner, which is far cleaner, or just stay at home and visit Wikipedia, which is far safer.

Absolutely no cheers … Srini.

Neralu. Only questions. No answers.

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For the third time, I set aside a weekend to attend Neralu, Bangalore’s annual tree festival. And for the third time, I came back with some nice pictures – and little else.

neralu-1-9Neralu, like other such “celebrations” of Nature, has a lot of passion, enthusiastic volunteers, energetic workshops, the usual collection of grey-headed academics and assorted “experts”, and the mandatory music concert accompanied by lusty applause and thunderous foot-stomping.

The primary reason for carting myself across the city through all the traffic (even on a Sunday) was the talk delivered by Dr Harini Nagendra. Turned out to be a disappointment. The title of the talk was itself misleading, the content was nothing new and its conclusion was hardly inspirational. One expects a lecture by a qualified ecologist of her repute to be considerably better than what one can learn from Wikipedia.

That Bangalore’s current state is alarming, is already well known. Bangalore’s ecological history is also well known, at least to me. And I’m not even an ecologist, mind you. What one is really concerned about is Bangalore’s ecological future. This was the one question that I posed to her that Dr Harini would not answer.

Her evasiveness on the question served to confirm what I have long known – that Bangalore’s doom is all but inevitable. To my mind, Doom is already here.

The cyber-talk on plant evolution that followed, delivered via skype (or whatever) by Pranay Lal was equally pedantic. It may be fascinating to learn that dinosaurs once ruled the Deccan and feasted on cycads during the Mesozoic, but the questions that trouble those of us who live in the Cenozoic remain unanswered. DSC00613.jpgNothing wrong in an author trying to promoting his book through a lecture, but in this instance, I do not think the purpose was served.

What I did like was the tree-walk at Krishna Rao park conducted by Narayan, Divya and Srikanth. And I did enjoy the workshop conducted by Charumati Supraja. These are nice, unpretentious folk with a genuine fondness for trees.neralu-1-4.JPG

The evening musical performance was, well, passable. One cannot doubt the musical know-how of Bindumalini Narayanaswamy and Vasu Dixit. What one looks for though, is clean melody, a sweetness of voice, that sincerity of sound that pleases the ear and thrills the heart. The raucous support from their fans in the audience notwithstanding, this rare quality is missing from their music. This is what separates the good from the great. One hopes that this singular quality will develop in this couple’s music over time.

A professional music critic I am not. I am not even a bathroom singer, I am that bad. But I did learn a thing or two from a lifetime of listening to real musicians (like my mother) and I did learn something directly from Dr Balamuralikrishna himself, whom I once met in my childhood, that all music is Carnatic music, because Carnatic music is nothing more than “Karnau madhura”.  That which pleases the ears, that alone is Carnatic music.

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Passion, enthusiasm, concern, anguish, energy, so much youth.

But, no answers.

That is because Neralu, like other eco-movements in the city,  has all other emotions, except the one emotion that matters.

Rage.

Cheers … Srini.

I am not your mother’s brother!

respectStop calling me ‘Uncle’.

Nature photography is one of my serious hobbies. Outdoor photography is a powerful stress-buster, a good way to get myself some cardiovascular exercise, and it keeps me off my butt and off the streets.

For the serious hobbyist, modern digital photography is an expensive avocation. Thankfully I’m single. Even better, I don’t need to pay alimony, to either of my ex-wives. Neither of them would let me buy expensive lenses, speedlights, filters and other costly accessories that I keep buying to pursue my passion.

Notwithstanding the absence of a sullen wife, there are several major irritants that frequently keep me from enjoying photography as much as I would like to. Too many inquisitive on-lookers who keep poking around my equipment. Too many drunken sots who keep asking me if I am from a TV channel (as if!). Too many stray dogs. Too many moronic security guys who keep blowing their whistles in my face. As if taking a photo of a flower will kill it.

The worst irritants however, are those half-assed nitwits who insist on calling me ‘Uncle’. Last evening, as I was taking some particularly difficult shots of a Saraca tree in bloom, a boorish photographer taking photos of his clients told me to ‘Move aside, Uncle’.

I let him have it. That a*hole of a photographer got the shock of his life when he discovered that ‘Uncle’ knows several foul words in several languages. Apart from questioning his legitimacy and his father’s mating habits, I informed him in the worst possible language that I am not his mother’s brother, and therefore not his effing ‘Uncle’.

Don’t call anybody ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’, unless you know them really well. Hailing a random stranger as Uncle is insulting, abusive, arrogant, condescending and downright rude.

And equally abusive and condescending are phrases like “even at this age”, “he’s an inspiration to other people of his age” or worse, telling a 70-year old grandfather of six grandchildren that “you just don’t look your age”.

We elders have mirrors in our homes and we know exactly what we look like, thank you very much.

In civilised society, the correct form of address for a person of mature age is Sir or Madam, or the equivalent in whichever language you use. Samskrit being an especially refined form of communication, specifies the use of ‘Mahoday’ or ‘Mahodaya’. Since all other Indian languages are derived from or influenced by Samskrit, they each have honorifics to be used for elders. Learn them and use them.

Don’t go ’round town creating brothers for your mother. Unless you want an ‘Uncle’ like me to ask you why your mother has multiple brothers from multiple fathers.

No cheers … Srini.