Preparing for Oracle Certified Master – Java EE Architect ( formerly SCEA) Part-2 and 3

My last blog post was about my experience with the OCMJEA Part-1 multiple choice exam. That was based on JEE5 though I don’t think there is much difference in the approach that one has to follow for the JEE6 version.

This post will talk about my experience and approach towards the Part2/Part3 of the OCMJEA certification. These two parts are common for the JEE5 and the JEE6 versions.

Part 2 is the assignment. You have to pay and you are given a link to download the assignment. Once you download it, the timer starts ticking. You need to remember that BOTH the assignment (Part-2) and the essay exam (Part-3) should be completed within six months time of you downloading the assignment. Another thing to remember is that you can’t register for the Part-3 essay exam unless you have uploaded the assignment solution (part-2) — so time your moves well.

OK. So, this is going to be a long read. If I may sound preachy, well, bear with me but do make it a point to email me your comments.

Part 2:

My first advice about Part 2 is also the most underrated one – Once you have downloaded the assignment, go through it. Oracle’s guidelines prohibit you to take a printout of the downloaded PDF (I know, yes, they have gone too far with that) but it can be a good thing. Write it down on paper – at least the most important aspects. Go through it again and again- trust me, it is not what it looks like. Once you start with the assignment you would read it multiple times and each time you may have a different interpretation of the assignment. Those are the “grey” areas that you have to deal with. Identify the non-functional requirements (NFRs) here. Some NFRs are written clearly (For example a sentence like “customer security should be in focus” obviously asks you to focus on Security NFR) but be on the lookout for NFRs that aren’t obvious.

My second advice about Part 2 is also as much underrated as the first one – don’t take breaks. I know that clearing part-1 feels like an accomplishment (and trust me, it is) and there is nothing wrong to have a breather between the two. But chances are that you are reading this AFTER you have downloaded the assignment and the clock is already ticking. The first few weeks you can still lay low and afford to stay away but don’t prolong it. You may have spent a month wandering around after you have downloaded the PDF and it is OK – but once you decide to work on the assignment, do not take any breaks more than 2 days at a stretch. I found it *really* hard to come back to my assignment after taking those mini-breaks. How do you deal with it? Well, the days when you can’t sit on your desk to work, keep thinking about some aspects of it. Think over the problem statement, the grey areas and in all directions. The idea is similar to what the great Rahul Dravid describes as being “in the zone” (remember the shadow batting?). You end up carrying that mental aspect with you everywhere – so even when you are having a quiet evening with your friends you are still “working” in the background. It is important that you come into this frame of mind as soon as you can.

The assignment does not ask you to code but if thinking on the lines of code helps you, don’t hesitate to write a few classes. One thing that helped me was that I created dummy classes to ease myself into the assignment. As new architects, we come from a coding background and many of us find solace in code. It is a comfort zone of sorts. But remember not to overdo this.

When you start working on your assignment by sitting on your desk with a pen and a paper – don’t be surprised if you spend hours on it without anything scribbled on your notepad. During my initial days on the assignment I used to sit for hours without anything written down while pondering over stuff. That is work. When you do this a few times you will realize that the thinking is the real work – creating a class diagram is just putting your finalized thoughts on the paper and that does not take much time. Thinking brings clarity and this sounds cliched but the more you spend your time thinking, the better your solution will turn out to be.

The first few days as you ease into the assignment – spend some time creating your work environment on your PC. If you have no prior experience on UML, you may need to spend some time working on that. I read a lot of IBM tutorials on UML and of course, Martin Fowler’s classic UML Distilled. The choice of UML tool matters as it will be something you will spend a lot of time on. I did not have much UML experience/knowledge. I used StarUML (not the new Beta!) for my assignment. If you have not used the chosen UML tool before, you will have a small learning curve before you get comfortable with that as well. You need to take all this into account.

I think that the order you go about for creating the diagrams is important. Start with the Class diagram. This is because identifying the Classes and the main methods should be the one of the first things you should do when you start with the assignment. This is also an area which requires constantly coming back to – you might think of X as a class and then one day you’d say, “wait why can’t that be an interface?”. So, this back and forth is a very common thing to happen even as you work on other diagrams towards the end of your assignment. That means your Class diagram is constantly changing and that is why this should be the first to be attempted.

One point here. Remember the “grey areas” that I talk about above? There will be points where you would be unable to move forward until you have a concrete answer. What do you do then?

Consider a real life scenario. The use case is where the grey area is. You have a project to deliver. Things are vague. You want exact specifications. What do you do? You talk to the customer. Except that in the assignment there is no real customer. So you have to assume and move on. Now remember – maintain all your assumptions and notes. Write everything that comes to your mind. Document every doubt and every thought. As you move ahead and achieve more clarity, some of your assumptions will cease to exist. Don’t forget to strike them out from your notes then.

As your class diagram nears maturity, a rough draft of your component diagram should be ready. Actually if you do things right, you should not be spending a lot of time on the first draft of the component diagram. The module and tier segregation should be fairly clear once your class diagram is in good shape. You can always revisit it to “beautify” the Component diagram but the basic structure should be ready and stable.

A word on design patterns – Do not use a design pattern because you think it is cool. Do not use a design pattern because you think you understand it better than the others and because you have used it in your job. On the other hand, some design patterns are no longer in use because of the advent of technology frameworks (Business Delegate, DAO, Service Locator). If you think you can justify their usage, and there is a case for them still, please do not hesitate to use them. Remember that there can be more than one solutions to a problem. Also remember that it is you, who will be required to defend the use of that design pattern so be ready with an explaination. Many people told me not to use Business Delegate but I did. On the other hand, I know people who have used a flow like “JSF->ManagedBean->EJB” and still passed with good marks.

Sequence Diagrams will be something that you have to handle with care. Now here’s the tricky part – Sequence diagrams take the longest time. They go on and on. They also have the least marks (with no minimum passing score – in theory you can get a Zero here and still get your certification!) Here’s another tricky one – There is a good chance that while doing Sequence diagrams you may encounter some things that you may not have thought of earlier and want to go back to the drawing board. Why? Because Sequence diagrams makes us think at the lowest level details, just one level above coding, and it is generally in the details wherein lies the devil.

It is inevitable that you will spend a lot of time in Sequence diagrams so prepare for it accordingly. Use the notations introduced in the UML2.0 to your advantage – for example, the “Ref” notation which allows one sequence diagram to “refer” to another. Identify a small series of sequence that you think is common to every use case – for example, a rendering of a “workqueue” page for a user. Or a service locator looking up a service. Or a series of “if-then-else” sequences that is common in more than one use cases. Create a Sequence diagram and refer it in your use cases with the “Ref” notation. This helps in many ways – (1) it saves your time, (2) it makes your sequence diagram more readable and (3) it tells the examiner that you have used the tools at your disposal in an optimum way.

Remember to document only the main aspects of your use cases in the Sequence Diagrams. Try not to get too detailed. And this is important — it is suicide if you refer to a Class in your Sequence diagram which is NOT in your Class diagram. Cross check that all your mentioned Classes are present in your Class diagram. Having said that, I had a couple of Classes that were there in the Sequence diagram but not present in the Class diagram – the EntityManager (JPA) and CacheManager (From EhCache framework which I had used in my solution). You don’t need to have System classes in your Class diagram but you can show them in the Sequence diagrams for the sake of continuity and clarity. This should be mentioned as a side note in the diagram and/or in the assignment notes section. Lastly – you should ideally have the same number of Sequence diagram sections as the number of use cases in your assignment. So, if you have four use cases, you should have at least four sections for Sequence diagrams (broken down further for clarity).

Deployment diagram takes less time. It took me 3 days to do my deployment diagram. Your deployment diagram should most clearly reflect the NFRs you are focusing on. For example, if you have to make your system on high-availability, your system should have some disaster recovery mechanism. Also, do not use an infrastructure only because you think it is the “in” thing (For example – cloud). Not every deployment has a case for Cloud infrastructure. As you near completion, you can also spend some time on researching on the servers available in the market for the kind of hardware you are going to suggest but from what I hear it is not a mandatory requirement. If you do it though, it shows up positively on your effort (I did it).

You might be wondering on how much “text” to include as notes/comments/side-notes on your diagrams. I do not think there is anything wrong in putting a side-note that helps the examiner understand your diagrams better. Having said that, I also think that it is your diagram that should do most of the talking. Try to strike a balance here – write a few notes that supplement the diagram but overdoing them could make your diagrams look cluttered (and may also signal a lack of confidence).

Now the final documentation part – remember the notes that I suggested you to document? They finally come in real use here. Writing everything down as notes DURING the assignment is very critical because it tells about your thoughts, as they were, at THAT time. When you go over them again and again, with your thoughts getting refined, you will see changes in them and you might strike out a few things as they will no longer be valid. What remains of them at the end of your work is what should now go in that zip file to Oracle as notes and assumptions.

Part 3:

Sorry to break this for you but the most important tip for part 3 isn’t exciting at all. In fact it sounds like an age old wisdom: Don’t take a long break between your assignment submission and your essay exam. If you follow this, you do NOT need any preparation for your part 3. You can have a good night’s rest after your assignment submission and simply go to the exam center and be done with it.

The second thing I would like to insist on for Part-3 is that be prepared to type. They ask you questions on the NFRs, design patterns and technology choices and you have to justify your decisions taken. What kind of design patterns did you use? Why did you use them? What have you done to make sure your system is secure? How have you ensured availability?

There could be somethings which you have thought of but could not be shown in the diagrams/assignment. For example, using javascript for any client side validation/security mechanism may not be a part of any of your diagrams. You can mention all this in your essay exam. Be prepared to write. I remember typing till the last minute of my essay exam.

Alright then – This has been such a long post. If you have read it till here, I guess you must be really serious about it. In which case, I should wish you Good luck! Please feel free to reach out on email in case you have any doubts.

Preparing for Oracle Certified Master – Java EE Architect ( formerly SCEA) Part-1

I haven’t blogged lately but there has been a lot that has been keeping me busy. For the most part of this year (and a few months during last year) I had been preparing for the Oracle Certified Master Java EE Architect certification. I gave the final part of it last month and Oracle informed me earlier this month that I have passed with a 90% score in the part2/3.

Thus, I thought, why not write about it and post it on my blog? I have generally been quiet about my credentials as a “techie” and focus on other things here but what-the-heck and then there’s no harm if my experience helps a few others out there.

I have written two long posts – the first one is about part 1 which is OCMJEA’s multiple choice exam. The second post (which I will post soon after this) focuses on part 2/3. I will be disabling comments here but should you have any doubts, please feel free to email me (from the “about me” page) or reach out to me on Twitter (predictably, @adityeah)

Update: The second part of my series of OCMJEA blog post that talks about part2/3 can be accessed here.

***

I started working on the part-1 sometime around October last year. I had targeted giving the exam sometime in the month of February 2014. There is no standard time-frame that one can have to prepare for part-1. It varies in each case and the time you can devote. I have come across cases where people have studied for 20 days and given the exam. In my case, I gave a couple of hours per day average (it shot up to 4-5 hours during the last month), in 3 months to prepare for the exam. You can very well do it in two months time if you can give more hours per day.

I gave the JEE5 version and I believe one has to go for OCMJEA6 now. During my time, last year, there was no guide available for OCMJEA6 as the exam was relatively new and I felt more safe giving the older version then. I think a lot of the documentation and guides for OCMJEA5 still hold true for the newer exam too. Of course, now you have this book to help you.

The first thing I did was to read Mark Cade and Humphrey sheil’s book. The book is compact – this is no exhaustive material for an exam such as this but it gives a primer on what can be expected in the exam (and parts 2 and 3) and acts as a stepping stone for the exhaustive reading ahead. I feel this work is important because Sheil and Cade were in the creator’s panel for this certification. Since this book is not a long one, I think you should not spend more than 12 days (or even less!) on it. Also remember that this is a book you might keep coming back to.

Initially I spent a lot of time reading Mikalai Zaikin’s and Cheng’s notes. They can be found here and here. Zaikin’s notes are only available for the first two sections. I found these notes worth looking at for topics such as NFRs, Architecture principles and design concepts. For technology specific topics, I would not advise them.

As you move towards sections that deal with technologies, don’t be afraid to read specific topics from the right books. For example, the first few chapters of “EJB 3 in Action” are an excellent source for understanding EJB3 from the exam’s perspective. I also thoroughly read the JEE tutorial by Oracle to understand the lifecycle of JSF. The JEE tutorial (http://docs.oracle.com/javaee/6/tutorial/doc/gfirp.html) should be read for all topics. You can skip the code samples but otherwise it should always be in focus.

It is very important to try to come into the “this vs that” mode of studying. The exam poises a lot of questions that ask you to choose one technology over another given a specific scenario. For example, why would you choose JSF over any other MVC framework? What will make you look at Web Services for a solution? Such questions form the crux of the technology based questions.

Design Patterns form a big part of the exam – and that is because both Gang of Four design patterns and the J2EE design patterns are included in exam’s scope. For some people out there, it is a good thing. Design patterns can be a good scoring area if done right. Not for me. The whole thing could be a dealbreaker if it is not your strength. So keep in mind to spend enough time on design patterns. And it takes a LOT of time – especially if you have not studied them before. In case this is not your strength, keep in mind to devote enough time on this topic and then go over it again and again. I did not follow a single source for studying this. The J2EE pattern book, GoF and Martin Fowler’s blog were my major reference material.

And now lastly the Dumps question. Do they work? Where does one find them?

Before I talk about it let me cover an important aspect of this exam – something which differentiates this exam with say, Oracle Certified Professional Java Programmer (SCJP). It is the lack of trick questions (Do they call them “gotchas”?) in the OCMJEA. This is a major difference. You do not have to read between the lines again and again – maybe thinking if you are missing something. There is no code. There is no semi-colon missing. Oracle is not messing with you. What this means is that the conventional methods of exam preparation work well in this exam. You do not have to be sceptical.

There are a few questions available online – you’ll have to search for it. But I would recommend buying the Whizlabs exam simulator. Start going through the tests once you are done with a single iteration of your preparation (and perhaps 30 days before you sit for the exam). But having said that I must insist that you must NOT depend on it. Do not think that going over and over with Whizlabs would help you pass the exam. If you do not buy it, it is OK – I know people who have passed the exam without any simulator and scored very well. And that is exactly why I think the conventional studying methods work well with this exam.

Also – and I can’t stress this enough – go through Coderanch (If you are a Java professional and do not know of Coderanch..well..umm…) The forum there is the best support group you will ever see. Ask questions. Look up old ones. If you have a doubt, search for it. More likely than not, someone must have already asked that question and another noble soul must have answered it.

Last words – Buy a new notebook. Make notes. Write everything. Keep coming back to it. I wrote the distinguishing features of each design pattern on my notebook and I used to look them up when I had nothing to do. Study for knowledge, not passing or attaining a number. Not for beating a system. Didn’t I tell you this is all old fashioned exam studying?

So well – that’s that then. I will be posting about the Part2/3 experiences soon enough. I would be glad to take up any doubts that you may have. Feel free to reach out to me on email or twitter (from the “About me” page on my blog). Good luck with your preparation!

The auto driver who doesn’t like journalists

Last Saturday I went to the other side of town, to Malleswaram. On the way back I could not find a bus so I had to take an auto. I live in south Bangalore and the distance is quite a lot. It was a long way home and as it happens under such circumstances, almost inevitably, the auto driver and I got talking.

The election fever has overtaken us all and so I asked him if he would vote. Yes, he said. We got talking about political affiliations. To my surprise, he said he would vote for the AAP. As I recall, I think he got Kejriwal’s name wrong (I think he said “Aggarwal” – but that is beyond the point because he was aware of what had happened in Delhi). We, the urban elite, have always thought of AAP as a mostly urban-upper-middle-class phenomenon so that conversation was a myth-buster.

Anyway, towards the end of the ride, the driver mentioned that he was cautious about opening up with his passengers these days. Considering that we had just had a long conversation, I found it a bit odd so I asked him why. The other day, he recalled, an incident happened when he dropped a lady at Malleswaram. I asked him further. “Well”, he said, “she got talking just like you. About life, social issues, politics etc. And when she got down, she asked me if she could take my picture. I was hesitant but she took one and left”.

The lady was a journalist. The auto driver claimed that she asked him questions, got him talking and recorded the conversation without telling him about it. A few days later (or the next day, I do not know) an article was published with his name (and he claimed it carried his picture too) in Bangalore’s Deccan Herald. “My friends saw it and they were laughing at me. I kept telling them – I never said all that”.

I told him, in a way that he could understand, that for a journalist to do that was wrong. He didn’t need much convincing – he already knew that. More than the quotes, which he said weren’t true anyway, he was hurt by the fact that his name was published in a newspaper without his consent. “But I don’t want to do anything about it”. I told him that I can take this up with Deccan Herald. He agreed but later he added, “Sir, I just don’t want my name anywhere”.

I went home and searched for his name at Deccan Herald’s website. I found him quoted in a story, just as he had mentioned. I did not find his picture there (thus, I can’t say if Deccan Herald carried it in the print version).

The next day, I posted a series of tweets – some of them mentioned his name and the link to the article. I was wrong to do that – in my bid to highlight the lapse of ethos, I committed the same mistake I accuse Deccan Herald of – quoting the auto driver despite his reluctance. Moments later, I deleted those tweets. I have taken care not to mention his name and the article link on this post.

What I did was though was this: I tried to contact the author of the article on twitter. I haven’t heard from her. Maybe I will. I also tagged Deccan Herald’s twitter account on my tweets about it (those tweets that I decided to keep) and somewhat conveniently, I haven’t heard back from them.

Apart from the obvious lack of ethos evident here, my only question is this — would this journalist dare do the same thing if she met, say, a CEO of a company? Or anyone who held more influence than our auto driver? Someone who won’t be as helpless and won’t hesitate to go public about it? Would she record the conversation without telling, snap a picture when done and then run the story despite knowing that it is not OK to do it?

Because out there, an auto driver doesn’t want to ever talk to journalists.

Katra Katra milte hein

I have always loved Gulzar’s poetry. Maybe during my days of growing up, it was the melody that caught my attention (after all, Gulzar’s best came with great melodies rendered by Pancham). I loved the songs because of the music but as I understood the songs more, I found that his lyrics made the songs more beautiful; so I often ended up looking for songs penned by Gulzar.

Two days ago, when I found out that Gulzar was to be in conversation with Prasoon Joshi on the morning of 28th September (today) at the Bangalore Literature Festival, I thought this isn’t something to miss. I made it to the lawns of Crowne Plaza a few minutes late. Gulzar sa’ab and Prasoon Joshi were discussing, what I thought was about the linguistic element and etymology in the nazms and poetry. Then Gulzar sa’ab talked about how he would insist on using a word in his works so that not only it fit into the narrative but also would serve the purpose of preserving the word (Since, well, using an uncommon word is actually a way of not letting it go in time). An example he used was the Urdu word, “mukhtasar”. Coming back home, I notice that the word is used by him in a song penned by him, “Tum Pukar lo” (“mukhtasar si baat hai, tumse pyaar hai”) sung by Hemant Kumar for the 1969 movie, Khamoshi. At that moment, it made me think of another movie, directed and lyrics penned by Gulzar himeself, Ijaazat.

During the Q&A session, I used my arms well by raising them as high as I could and got the microphone. Apparently then, Gulzar said that the time was up and he won’t take any more questions. I was stopped midway. Then he had a change of heart and allowed me to continue.

I started by saying that I was his great fan and carried him all the time in my iPod. This was followed by cheers from the audience that went for a long time. To which Gulzar sa’ab replied: Ab mujhe maloom ho gaya ki mera size kya hai. (Now I know what size I am!). This was then followed by a longer cheer from the audience and the applause never seemed to end.

Anyway, my question was related to their just concluded talk of preserving words, the one I mentioned above. So in Ijaazat, I think before the song “Katra Katra”, Naseeruddin Shah is talking to Rekha and explaining: “Maazi ko Maazi na banaya toh..” before Rekha interrupts him and asks, “Maazi?”, implying that she does not know the meaning of the word. Now considering that this is a movie, I found this very peculiar. Why would the screenplay writer make the actors of a movie explain words to each other in the movie? I mean, couldn’t Gulzar make it simple by using, “Jo beeta hua hai usse beet jaane do” (which Shah eventually says, clarifying “maazi” further) instead of insisting to use the word “Maazi” and then making Shah explain the meaning of the word to Rekha? By doing that, Gulzar was reaching out to the audience, maybe breaking the fourth wall indirectly, trying to make them understand “maazi” and wanting them to remember it forever. I did not have the opportunity to be so elaborate with my question as I am here but was that Gulzar’s way of preserving a word, by insisting on using it where he could, in his own movie?

Gulzar sa’ab’s first response was almost dismissive. He said something to the effect that this he used to do often during his younger days. It was not about preserving a word but just using it, where he could. The second response, and I did not see this coming from Gulzar, was that he almost reprimanded me for using an English sentence in my question. That while I had used chaste Hindi in my first few sentences and conveniently gone to English in the last line perhaps irked him (as it would, to any purist). My world came to a standstill, I thought I heard lots of laughter and I was told later that I was on the giant screens while asking the question.

Which I think, was fine. I did not get to explain that I wasn’t really used to talking to intellectuals like him, least of all in front of such a huge audience. On the bus ride home, this event captivated my mind. I concluded that while only a few hundred got an opportunity to listen to a great man like Gulzar sa’ab, only 3 of them had today got a chance to talk to him in front of such matured and educated audience. And I sincerely believed that my question to him had substance. It wasn’t stupid.

Toh, Gulzaar sa’ab, kam se kam aapne hamari hansi toh udaai. Baakiyon ko toh woh bhi naseeb na hui.

“Gaon mein koi choota bhi nahi hai”

Friday morning, August 23, I was taken aback hearing about the rape of a journalist in Mumbai. Social media was abuzz with people in shock that such a crime could still happen after all that we had witnessed a few months ago in Delhi.

The first thing that we need to change is the mindset that city X is safer than city Y. Maybe it was true 20 years ago. Not anymore. There are various reasons to it.

The first reason I can think of is the unprecedented migration that has been happening in India over the last two decades. I do not have any data to support it right now but it seems plausible that with the growth that has taken place in our cities over the past 15-20 years, we have witnessed people, of all classes and professions, moving around across the cities for jobs. Bangalore has software engineers from Delhi and Bombay while the security guards that I have met have mostly migrated from the east. Delhi has migrants from Tamil Nadu just as it has people from Bihar. The typical one-city guy, that stereotype is no more. Everyone is everywhere.

Secondly, the behavior of our society which I believe reflects our morals (or the lack of it) is more or less the same. Reason being that our morals, across geographies, have that common ground. Haryana and Tamil Nadu, states that have had little in common in terms of culture and language have witnessed numerous cases of honour killings. Moral policing in a town of, say, Uttar Pradesh, is more or less of the same brand that exists in the southern port city of Mangalore.

The only exception to the above two reasons could be India’s North East. Look closely and you will find the reasons — their culture is more open, a boy and a girl holding hands is not a social taboo. And largely, the movement of people for jobs from the rest of India to the North East, it is safe to assume, must be negligible (It has been mostly, east to north/west/south but not vice versa).

Before I go any further, I must tell a small story here that a friend shared with me a few months ago. He had gone to Goa on a holiday. One of those days, in the mornings when the beach was deserted and the shacks were just opening up, a shop-helper sort of a guy was opening a shop. Mornings in Goa beaches are usually sane, with less crowds and all. A few foreigner tourists, all women, were walking by. This guy, suddenly exults, gives a smile and positions himself to be ready for a series of “high-fives”. The ladies obliged, perhaps smiled too and moved on. After the ladies had left, this guy, happily proclaimed something to the effect – “Back in the village I never get to touch a lady and here? wow!” (“saala wahan gaon mein koi choota bhi nahi hai!”).

I hate generalizing but it seems that to me, people who do the ghastly crime of raping a woman, have tendencies like this guy had, only magnified a few times.

To be honest, I am a little surprised that all the “change” that I am hearing about on social and traditional media has something to do with the law, or the Government, or the policing. No one is looking at what could be driving a 20 year old guy to commit this ghastly crime. It is almost naive to think that a law or a stronger police force is the ultimate answer to this menace.

A few months ago, I was at the Bangalore town-hall to witness the protest and the candle light vigil that happened just after the Delhi rape. People demanded justice and justice for them meant that the state give capital punishment to those six men. With the Mumbai rape, people may still ask for a similar punishment as the outcry right now suggests. There have been equal (if not more) calls for a more stringent law that would deter someone to commit this heinous crime. While I think that a strong law is the need of the hour, I also believe that giving someone death for this crime would not really bring about the change we want, in the long run. If that had to work, our society must have learnt its lessons after the Delhi rape case. It has to be a combination of a stringent law AND a social change.

The social change that I talk about here is about not making a deal out of a boy and a girl holding hands. To not look at young, unmarried couples in contempt. To make it reasonable for a young unmarried couple to stay together. The urban society that we are so used to may have learnt to agree with it but there is a lot to India than just the few big cities. It is only when our villages and small towns come out of long held social but irrational beliefs would we be able to see a real change in our society.

Maybe then that guy in Goa will stop raising his hand for high-fives everytime he saw a group of white women on the beach.

On the other side

Sometime during 2000/01 in Indore, Dainik Bhaskar, the Bhopal based newspaper (which also had an Indore edition) held a series of media events that were open to the public. During that week, many prominent media personalities visited Indore. Suddenly the otherwise quiet town was in focus (or it was made to look like that to us, anyway).

In my late teens then, I had never seen anything like it. One like minded friend, Girish Sekhar (who was already disillusioned with our netas then and later joined the Army – always ahead of his times, Girish Sekhar) and I decided to make the most of the opportunity. We wildly hunted for passes that were freely available but required traveling to another part of the city, trying to get into as many events we possibly could. Indore’s public transport was pathetic then so commuting was a major problem. We did manage to get a pass to the event at the infamous Sayaji Hotel, one of the town’s few five star hotels. It was the stuff we could only dream about — hearing top media people speak at the best hotel in town, for free.

Loitering in the hotel after the event as if we had always belonged there, Girish pointed me out to a man walking in the lobby, who seemed to be returning from the rest room. “I’ve seen him somewhere – I just have”, exclaimed Girish. I had the same gut feel and of the two of us, I turned out to be the assertive kind. I walked to the man, all confident and ready to speak the clichéd line: jee, aapko kahin dekha hai (Sir, I have surely seen you somewhere). The man looked at us, broke into a smile and said: aapne mujhko Zee TV ke kaaryakram, Ru Ba Ru pe dekha hoga (You must have seen me in Zee tv’s program, Ru Ba Ru).

That man was Rajeev Shukla. Down to earth, introducing himself to a bunch of nobodies in a Five-star hotel lobby. Of course, he was much thinner then though his moustache, almost gone now, loomed thick when you looked at his face. he broke into a smile often and when he spoke his pure hindi, you could swear that you had never met a more modest man than him (I also realize now that he may have been a MP then).

In the late 90s, Rajeev Shukla, someone who started his career as a journalist went around seeking answers from people in power, on national television. In his usual head wobblling style while stating things matter-of-factly, he would ask uncomfortable questions in chaste hindi that made way for more uncomfortable answers. His website claims that “he interviewed eminent personalities ranging from political leaders like Congress Chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Ministers Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr I.K Gujral, the then President Mr K R Narayanan, Benazeer Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Dalai Lama to film celebrities and sport stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan”.

Come to think of it, maybe that is why Girish recognized him and was happy to meet him. Because here was a man that made it very uncomfortable for the same people that we had grown to get disillusioned from, and in a way we could all admire not just from a distance. We could bump into him in an expensive place and he talked to us in a way that we could understand. He was one among us.

That is also why I am now disillusioned by the same Rajeev Shukla who now, among holding other powerful positions, is also incharge of The Indian Premier League. And who, despite everything that has happened, has mostly been mum about the latest scandal that has rocked BCCI’s premier tournament. Wouldn’t the Rajeev Shukla I met in 2000, the man who looked for accountability from the most powerful people of his times, be outraged with this silence by now?

Maybe this is how life comes a full circle. Maybe this how it is on the other side.

Chequered Pasts

For the last 9 months or so, I had been working on a story involving background verification industry, résumé fraud in the Indian IT sector and the state of technical education in India. The story took a lot — it is the toughest writing that I have ever done, and so finally I am glad to be able to write this that it has been featured in the Reportage section of April’s issue of Caravan magazine.

You can access it online here.

I want to thank the editors at Caravan who I had the wonderful opportunity to work with in the last 9 months. It was one heck of a learning curve. I feel the magazine is filling an important void in Indian journalism and at the same time has a pivotal role to play in the years to come. It has been rightfully compared to the likes of The New Yorker. I am just a part time writer who is always on the lookout for a good story, so for them to give someone like me an opportunity (again) means a lot to me.

Thanks to the few people who have inspired me, who continue to inspire me with simple things like what they do in their everyday lives. To close friends who have reviewed countless times the drafts that eventually landed at the Editor’s desk. To friends who have genuinely felt for me — forever in my heart, come what may. They know who they are.

There were a lot of “takeaways” from this experience and I probably would write them down as a separate blog post but for now, let me just say that I would be happy to return to regular blogging.

More later!