Monday, 25 May 2015

Book Review:
“Dream with your eyes open” an entrepreneurial journey- Ronnie Screwvala

This book by Ronnie Screwvala goes well beyond strategies for wealth accumulation and talks of genuine value creation from almost nothing. A personal account of a man embracing and accepting failure as an integral part of success, this is a remarkable story of a rank outsider entering the closed club of Bollywood, fighting tremendous odds and coming out a winner. Ronnie encounters failure and disappointments on what he calls the “journey of entrepreneurship” and relates how he overcomes them all.

His own experiences emanate from the media and entertainment industry but the content is relevant for upcoming entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. Ronnie realised very early that the race for the top starts at the finishing line and he advises quick scaling up and expansion of any new venture.

As a non-conformist he thoroughly downplays the idea of luck and advises focus and single minded determination to achieve success. Stay the course – it is the holy grail of business and all the ingredients that go to make great entrepreneurs look a lot like the recipe of luck. He also has quite a different take on exiting a business and the common management concept of having a plan B. He never timed his exits from the various ventures he divested and is convinced that a plan B is unlikely to guarantee great success, it can at best ensure survival.  Upset with their arrogance, Ronnie had the guts to cut a 100 million $ negotiation with Sony and tell them “No need for another call at midnight, we will not be going forward”  

He strongly believes in investing in talent and keeping a closely knit high performance team in play for high growth new ventures. Drawing lessons from theatre Ronnie observes that no actor worth his salt will go on stage without knowing his lines. He therefore proposes relentless analysis in an environment where your business can become outdated any moment.

Challenges in India include the inability to face fear and uncertainty, a conservative mind set, a low appetite for risk, no gift of the gab and a general lack of confidence. Ronnie overcame them all and after successfully divesting his various businesses is now entering his second innings.

Handling failure, scaling up business and choosing the right team may not be new management phenomena but coming from an emotionally charged individual account they bear conviction and impact the reader at a very personal level.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Appreciating miniature paintings 1.

Indian miniature paintings or more commonly their prints are often displayed in hotels and public venues to give an Indian touch to the surroundings. Hurriedly completed and inexpensive replicas are offered to visitors in touristic cities thus reducing a great art to a mere caricature of its original place in Indian art. Unfortunately Indian miniature paintings today have a limited appeal for the Indian audience.

To appreciate a miniature painting one must stand quite close to it and spend time in appreciating its various characters, colours and features. Appreciating a miniature painting is an independent activity and not a casual time pass while doing something else.  Such paintings were made for the viewing pleasure of connoisseurs from a well to do community in a bygone era.

A few hundred years ago there was very little entertainment on a summer evening or a winter afternoon.  This was especially true for those who had arrived in life and were pursuing more evolved and engaging interests to enrich their lives. Typically a miniature was passed around in the room and viewed from a distance of 18 to 24 inches by the patron connoisseurs to entertain themselves and set their conversations going. The finer points were perhaps discussed and the patron or owner of each piece was criticised or praised for the fine artists employed by him in his atelier.

The patrons and collectors of miniatures never painted but directed the creation of a piece of art. To a great extent it was the patron’s vision and imagination which had to be translated by the artist in such a way that it was reflected in the art form. Contrast this to the contemporary artists who pretty much do their own thing and offer their creations to the world to view and appreciate. The great masters had perfected their own styles and used their own concoctions of paints and brushes. Some of them had developed a distinct style and were encouraged by their masters in pursuing their individualistic style and manner with their junior artists. While commissioning a painting or series there was tremendous discussion and exchange of views between the master artist and the patron before an order was finally placed. The selection of colours and contrast is very important in miniatures as they were viewed indoors without any extra lighting. Similarly the detailing and finish of each aspect in the painting was minutely examined by patrons and were the defining features of a good or upcoming artist.

Most often the subject of the painting was not directly associated with the patron unless it was his own portrait. Very often the subject was neutral and non-controversial and could be discussed publicly. If the paintings were erotic in nature one can imagine that the viewing would be done within the then socially acceptable norms.

Allegorical paintings reflected the public image which the patron wished to create. It was perhaps a public relations exercise in building an image or impression of the subject being depicted. In a Mughal miniature the emperor is seen giving precedence of audience to a holy man over the king of England who is seen waiting in the background. It is a different matter that no British monarch ever visited or waited on a Mughal emperor. Therein lies the allegorical significance, as the subject wishes to be seen as a pious and just ruler who gives precedence to spiritual matters over those of State.
Miniature paintings can be traced to the Ajant Ellora period where wall paintings with fine detailing and distinct style were created. The dreamy and inward looking eyes of the Apsaras may have also contributed to and perhaps inspired miniature artists in the centuries that followed.

Shooting Sports in India
Shooting sports have a strong tradition in India and competitions can be traced back to the ancient epics.  There is hardly a period in Indian history when this sport does not feature and tales are full of incidents depicting marksmanship and related skills. There are plenty of anecdotes across centuries to prove that this was a sport taken seriously by all sections of society. Gun powder arrived in India replacing the bow and arrow and there are interesting accounts of shooting competitions in the Mughal period. Shooting sports along with riding were almost a social obligation during the British rule in the country. For those who claimed to have arrived in life this was a sport they could not do without. It was an integral part of growing up in high society and has continued to be patronized by both the rural and to a great extent the urban populace of India.

In more recent times Dr. Karni Singh MP and former Maharaja of Bikaner and Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore MP from Jaipur brought Indian shooting sport on the Olympic map. Other shooters have done the nation proud by participating in several national and international events in air rifle, pistol and shotgun events.  For various reasons youngsters are taking up the sport very seriously as ambitious parents gradually realize the benefits of taking up this discipline for their wards.  Several air rifle air pistol ranges have come up in schools and colleges all over the country and no gun license is required for these events. Facilities exist for air rifle, air pistol, .22 rifle, .22 pistol, shotgun trap, skeet, double trap as well as archery at several locations. Perhaps rightly so, it is not easy to get a gun license for shotgun and rifle shooting unless one qualifies in the nationals with a minimum qualifying score (MQS). Once that is achieved it is possible to apply for a shotgun license for sport shooting. 
What are the basic requirements for newcomers and youngsters who wish to take up this hobby and do well in competitive shooting sports?  The answer lies in analyzing what is required to be a good marksman. There may be several factors essential for success but they can be generally summed up in three major factors which form the bedrock of air rifle, pistol, rifle, shotgun or archery sport shooting.

The first and foremost is the mind power of the sportsperson. This is perhaps true in all “contact” sports but assumes paramount importance in the shooting disciplines. A fickle and unfocussed mind can never lead to any level of success in this discipline. A cool temperament combined with a high level of focus is essential to be consistent and successful in this sport. The ability to completely disengage from your immediate surroundings especially in that final moment of alignment between the target, eye and the aiming apparatus can only be attributed to mind control. At the “point of no return”  the finger gently pulls the trigger releasing the projectile towards the target, be it an arrow, an air pellet, a bullet or a load of shotgun pellets. The target is the end, the gun or the bow is the means and the projectile is the means to the end. In the final moment of placing the shot, all these are merged under the control of the mind. All these actions must happen simultaneously and effortlessly and if the mind is in full control, the final moment will yield success for the marksman.

The second and equally important factor is technique. Most shooting disciplines have matured to a level where very little choice of style is left to the individual and he or she must master the techniques which are essential for the discipline. Most people will have some amount of individual style and technique which distinguishes them from others. If this was not the case, everybody would be equally good or equally bad in their target scores. For learning the right technique, the services of a coach must be utilized in conjunction with some amount of reading on the subject. This has to be done with a lot of patience and tremendous amount of practice over a sustained period of time. There is no common technique for all events and this makes the sport interesting as a variety of points need to be mastered if you take up more than one discipline.

The third factor is of course physical fitness.  This may not be a muscle sport but fitness of a reasonably good level is essential. An obese or an underweight person is unlikely to have any good result in this sport and all the physical faculties must be in balance and harmony with the mind. Stamina levels must be high otherwise there will be a marked deterioration in performance as fatigue would set in when the game progresses. The level of concentration, focus and ease of movement must be as good in the last shot of the last round as they were in the first shot of the first round. Energy levels, flexibility of body movements, breathing and blood pressure levels must remain constant from the beginning to the end of the game. This is possible only if reasonably good and healthy levels of physical fitness are maintained by the individual.

What are the several advantages for newcomers to take up this sport? Given the excellent facilities now available in most countries, it should not be too difficult to get started. As mentioned earlier, a reasonable level of fitness would suffice to get started. It is not necessary to have a group of people and a single person can get going. It will give the individual a good reason to keep fit and experience and learn a new set of skills. This will lead to improved mind control and help relax the mind from the complexities of daily life. Several shooters take up meditation to improve their skills but the sport itself is like a form of meditation as one would understand from the salient features of the discipline. The shooting or archery range is also a good place to meet like-minded people who can not only improve and help in your practice and shooting skills but also become life-long friends.

The sport definitely helps you grow in patience and temperament and is great for stress management. It is a lifetime sport and can be pursued till quite an advanced age. For young people this assists in mental and physical fitness and greatly impacts the ability to concentrate and focus on issues of importance, including studies. While developing a good social hobby, no matter what your age or gender, one can take up target shooting and potentially compete at all levels. Shooting is the safest sport for girls to take up and the controlled and quiet atmosphere of the range is ideally suited for young people. Unlike other professional sports it’s never too late to take up target shooting. So why not visit your local public shooting range at a school or a college and get started. This is open to all and just needs some effort on your part to take the initiative. All types of equipment are available on various websites or at stores across the world about which you can talk and discuss with your new found friends at the range.

The author is a hobby enthusiast in the shotgun (trap) discipline