Friday, August 31, 2012

How I miss my phone!

I had seen it coming. But I had been in denial. My thinking was how come something as critical as a phone ever get that kind of a privilege? But it died…right in front of me, without any consideration of its own reputation or my misery.

Now, I’m not that sentimental kind. I don’t cry at funerals. (Not that I’ve been to one, but hypothetically if I ever got a chance, I don’t think I would.) But this one almost had me in tears. The unexpected loss of such an integral aspect of my existence, that too in an alien place where I had no way to contact my driver to summon the car! 

The point is life without these devices has become unfathomable. Our dependence on these technologically-savvy, digitally-accurate devices is such that we no longer find the need to rely on own memory or our darwinian-intelligence. Digital devices are our demigods: Omnipresent! Resolver of all our problems!

Now, I won’t have turned so philosophical had I not lost my other soulmate (my laptop), a few hours ago. Imagine a life without a phone and a laptop! (and no, not on a holiday; right in the middle of a work-day) What the heck, these days you cannot even go on a holiday without them. Who’d help you find out about those hole-in-the-wall eateries and those 20% off online promotions?  But luckily the laptop literally decided to wake up from its slumber. I still don’t know whether it was my cries or kicks that did him in.

The truth is our devices have earned their spot in our maslow’s hierarchy of needs by being our most faithful servant, aide, and guide.  To a large extent, they have made us what we are today: Super-productive!  This “superman/superwoman” persona is so intoxicating that we can’t let go of our digital crutches, even if we wish to. That’s why no one talks about it. We all know we won’t be able to handle the other side of the truth.

But what we don’t realize is that these subservient servants are slowly taking control. We are at their whims and fancy, rather than the other way round. And they are changing us in unimaginable ways:

  • Notice how many times have their incessant callings made us jump out from our sleep, dinners, showers, meetings? 
  • How many times have we’ve hushed people (our near and dear ones) so that we can listen to our phones?
  • How many times have we pleaded to our computers not to crash?
  • And how many times have we cried in front of the idiot box than in front of a friend? 

So, at the risk of sounding too “hollywoodie”, I’d like to add, ”Don’t be surprised if our coming generations morph into small-limbed, big-headed, electronically-stimulated, robotically-programmed zombies!”

For me, I’m in search of an altar life! (Let me start by googling it on my laptop.)

ps. And I do believe in rebirth. If not for myself, for the time being, for my phone!

Friday, July 27, 2012

How do you explain Olympics to your kid?

Olympics is in the air.  I, for one, felt the warmth from the flames, when Amitabh Bachchhan carried the torch yesterday! Now I’m no avid sports fan, but the sight of the multi-colored interlocking rings brings fuzziness to my heart.  To me, Olympics is a tradition that has withstood the ups and downs of the times. < We blame western countries for their failure in keeping traditions intact…but fail to acknowledge this universal one that they’ve sanctitized and revived.> Or more profoundly,  I’d like to think of it as a celebration of the universally accepted philosophies of our human race…a yin-yang of cooperation and competition, survival of the fittest, unity in diversity.

So what happens when I get an assignment from the school to explain Olympics to my 4-year old? I fumble. Where do I begin? Qualifying it as a sporting event seem like an understatement of the quadrennial. I contemplate adding adjectives like mega, global, or one-of-a-kind, but wonder about its comprehensibility to a 4-year old.

Describing it in quantitatively or geographically (like the guidance I received from the school) seems inadequate. That would be like seeing a flower, without smelling it; like listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops without experiencing them on your skin.

When I was little, no one bothered to explain me what Olympics was all about. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the entertainment of the opening ceremony, the two weeks of athletic agility, gymnastics antics, and discovery of sports that had no existence in my psyche before, all to culminate in the heavy-heartedness of the closing ceremony.  And the aura of the Olympics got imbibed in the mind.  A couple of Olympics later, I remember the anticipation of the daily review of the medal tally(for those 2 weeks, the medal score seemed more pertinent than the GDP of the country)  and the wishful thinking of seeing India in the higher rungs of the medal hierarchy.

What remained etched in mind was the valor in the athlete’s efforts, the sportsmanship of the participants that couldn’t make it, the feeling of pride and giddiness during the medal ceremony<sans nationalism>, and the hope to relive it again in another four years.

But I did my bit to explain Olympics in a vocabulary reserved for my son, just to abide by the solidarity of the school assignment.

More as a reaffirmation of my explanation, when I asked him, “So what is Olympics?” With childlike innocence, he proclaimed, “it’s a movie with many games”. Maybe I oversold the entertainment aspect of the games with a lot of emotions.  <Just validates my notion that it’s hard to do justice to a phenomenon like that in pure words.>

I think the best way is to let him watch and experience it, just like I did, 20 years going. And leave it to him to derive his own unique interpretations and inspirations out of it.

So, let the games begin.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Takeaways from "Temple Run": Tips for new-age parenting

I watch at the iPad screen as my 4-yr old points me to a score of 137,298. He cannot read yet, but knows it’s a big number judging by the long sequence of digits. This is his personal new-high in Temple Run - the mobile video game where you as a treasure hunter, have to outrun demon monkeys, deadly traps, and other obstacles, while collecting gold coins on the way. 
Running is all that matters!

The score has intrigued me. Especially since that kind of number never ever flashed up during my casual-yet-competitive video-gaming endeavors to-date. <To my defense, games designers back then never thought that big!> I decide to watch him. I want to know how he does it.

But the next few tries does not prove to be that lucky for him. He has not hit the 100K mark. Though the mom in me is happy, the spectator in me is losing interest. I walk away thinking this would be the end of his playing session. But five minutes later, he’s back with a happy squeal. “Great. How did you do it?” me, trying to show enthusiasm. “If you keep trying, you can reach bigger score also”. 
“Ah, keep trying, is it?!”  

So I challenge him to beat his last score. I notice this time around he doesn’t bother to pick up the gold coins on his left or right. I’m naturally curious. “If you move to the side, the monkeys attack you, Mumma!”  <Note to self:  He does understand the concept of “watch and learn”, just refrains from applying it when I’m teaching him alphabet tracing.>

In fact, I get inkling that he’s learnt his first lesson in risk-taking. Evaluate your options. You need to forgo gold coins at times, especially when they come at a higher cost.

But I can’t help myself prompting him whenever I see a long sequence of gold coins, just waiting to be picked up. “You win by running, Mumma” <which in the context means remaining alive> he tells me, with an almost exasperated expression. Hmm…so you mean gold coins are not that important after all? Well, Did he just preach me the essence of life, a la Dalai Lama style, in his game lingo? Profound!

Now I’m not a big proponent of video games or anything (And trust me, Temple Run is not paying me any commission either), but I find myself reflecting on this experience, and realizing, Didn’t he just learn about not giving up, taking calculated risks, and focusing on what’s truly important? I wonder if it would have been possible to teach him all this, if it had not been for the stimulating environment of the video game.

More importantly, what chance do my sermonizing nags have against these entertaining mediums he’s learning from!

So here’s my tip #1 for all the new-age parents: Teaching cannot be banal anymore. Either be entertaining, or be forgotten. I say, start looking for animation and speech modulation workshops, if you remotely aspire to impart any of your life learning to your children.

Consequently, new-age parenting tip # 2 is: Make peace with the fact that your children are learning some good positive things from their environment and the resources at their disposal, however eerie they may seem to you.  (And if you cannot figure out what these good positive things are, you’re not thinking hard enough!)

By the way, energized by his valor, I decided to try my hand at Temple Running. I gave up after 12,455. I guess it requires focus and commitment. Wish I’d learnt that from him!

Here’s my last tip on new-age parenting:  Ask not what you’ve taught your children. Ask instead what have you learnt from your children!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My French (Hair) Affair

“Need an appointment for a haircut,” said I. “With whom? M’am,” bounced back the alluring voice. “Well, Who do you have available?” “You are in luck today, M’am. Our French Hairstyle Director, Laurent is available, if you can make it at noon.”

Hmm...a French Stylist! 

Just like a French kiss, the thought of a French hairstyle conjured up images of passion, style, romance and…Eiffel tower (There goes my Indian stereotyping self. Anything French = Eiffel tower!). But then came the fear of the unknown. No doubt, the risk (of going with a new hairstylist) was significant.  I’m past that age where a hair style could be treated as a fleeting crush. Well, it is a serious affair! A hair style is a matter of personal identity or crisis (if it goes wrong. i.e.).  Now it may be hard for men to understand this mental turmoil. So let me put it this way: For a woman, her hair style is as grave a matter as a man deciding what company to work for. 

 Also, it would mean breaking the loyalty with my old hair stylist, the chummy, effervescent, and always reliable, Ansar.  What had he done to deserve this?  Finally, an epiphany to break out of the nested loop (You knew I was a software engineer, right?!). A timely recollection of the lecture I had received on risk-taking from my husband the other day. And I thought, What is life without a little risk? For what its worth, my husband would be proud that I started somewhere. And with a name like Laurent, chances are that he could be related to the YSL fashion family.  

So mustering up all the courage, I retorted back with a meek okay to the receptionist.

An hour later, I’m in the salon trying to look for a gora face in the huddle of the posh but popular salon. What is it about the fair skin, and the extra credibility it gets entitled to! But instead, I got escorted by an oriental-looking female. Could it be that she’s Laurent? You never know in France. She could be an immigrant with an adopted unisex name.  Luckily she was just the hair-washer! 

Finally, my eyes lay sight on him, as I get seated in my hair-cutting chair.  A meticulous dressing style with a matching demeanor! Every bit like the French man I had imagined him to be. Enough to get me all excited about the possibilities of a French transformation. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw his client. A model-like woman to whom he was giving an uber-cropped-cut…a la Madhu Sapre style. What if he proved to be too haute couturish for me?!

With hope in my heart and Hanuman Chalisa on my lips, I waited for him to turn to me. He just looked at me. Felt my hair. “I don’t need a very short cut. You see, my hair is very limp. A short cut won’t look good. All I need is layers, just to add volume. You see!” I burst out like an accused defending herself in court. But I got no indication or acknowledgement out of him. All he did was, take out his scissors, pulled my hair and started chopping them at a 45-degree angle. Could it be the mark of a true craftsman? Maybe. Or maybe he does not understand English! I didn’t know whether to feel lucky or doomed.  Then for the next 20 minutes, he looked very much like a man on a mission; cutting my hair at every possible angle.  He was at it with same dexterity and commitment, as a French composer orchestrating his first ballet performance.  For a while, it was just the snipping of his scissors and the uncomfortable silence between us. 

I decided to break the ice. “So where are you from?” “From Paris,” he said. Hmm, that Eiffel Tower association was not too far off.  “So what brings you to India?” me trying hard to engage him. “My wife. She’s from India. She’s studied here and wants to live here." Oh good, feeling happy that I hit his talking button. “What does she do?” “Oh, she’s an engineer but has her own company now.”  Ah an Engineer, you say? Pouncing on the chance I’ve been waiting for. “I’m an engineer too,” I said, with the hope that he’ll take the cue. He should know that as an engineer I’d have a certain geeky reputation to protect. That a hanky-panky hairstyle just won’t work. And that his conventional wisdom should be overruling any creative liberties he’s been taking. But to my surprise, he retorted with, “Blow dry, please!”. What? Are we done here? I thought bemusedly, but dare not say it. Even after a good shuffle and a puff, I was not seeing it. What kind of a hairstyle was this? It felt like an un-hairstyle to me. I was about to get up, when he said, “I want to see how your hair looks before I cut.”  Are you kidding me?! What was the last 20 minutes all about?  But what option did I really have? Go underground with my current hairdo or succumb to this man’s wishes.  

And for the next 20 minutes, his scissors seemed more daunting than a surgeon’s knife. My heart sank with every snip, rose back up at each swizzle. I got the impression that my hair was posing a challenge that was bringing out the fighting spirit in him.

And finally, the golden words, “There you are, pretty lady!”

I grudgingly turned up to see my own reflection. Hmm, my hair was certainly shorter than what I wanted it to be, but it did look cute in a non-conventional yet conventional sort of a way.  I could learn to live with it. In fact, even flaunt it without being flamboyant.

All and all, a surprise happy ending to an emotionally-charged roller-coaster of an affair!

For the next time though, I’d go for a French manicure before I think of a French coiffure. Nothing against Laurent, but I don’t think I have the stomach for so many butterflies!

ps. A smart risk is a dumb risk with a lot of thinking!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Amit Somani - 40 years of ideas and advices

What does a man leave behind? A pertinent question that creeps up, esp. around milestone birthdays.

As echoed in one of Amit’s favorite songs, “Ek din bik jayenge mati ke mol, jag me rah jayenge pyaar tere bol” <We’ll all die one day, the only things that will remain are our thoughts/words>, I believe his legacy are his thoughts and words, translated into ideas and advices.

The man needs no inspiration  His ability to create viable business ideas out of any little conversation, piece of information, observation, is unparalleled.  There have been many recipients of his ideas over the years. But most of what I reflect here are an outcome of our daily bathroom ritual.  i.e. Me standing outside his bathroom door, listening, while he is showering away his ideas. <He does not believe in wasting a single second.>

His days in the Silcon Valley, esp. during the advent of the internet boom spurred many ideas. Some of the early ones I recollect are:

Global Buying, Local Delivery: Every year we used to be challenged when it came to sending gifts to our parents in India around their birthdays. So he thought why not use the internet to allow folks like us to purchase gifts globally but have them delivered locally to their home cities. There were lot of variants of this idea, over cups of tea with our friends, Kaushal and Krishna. But sure enough, while we talked, there were others who started successful sites with the same concept.

Local Buying, Global Delivery: So he came up with a reverse idea. He told me, that there are lot of folks living outside of India, who miss those bhakarwadis from Pune, sandesh from Kolkutta or Kurtis from FabIndia. How about sourcing these items from local  markets and figuring out a global delivery mechanism?  A survey followed around the most popular regional items people miss. But of course, the logistics marred this one.

Way before the and the “Band Baja Baraat ” era, Amit had come up with the idea of a complete wedding portal (from online match-making to planning to execution). He wanted his mom to run it, given her expertise and knack in that area.

The mobile and the social networking era, along with the move to India, brought its own share of ideas. The furore in his voice, the twinkle in his eyes and you know there’s another one coming at you soon. A born problem-solver. Though I think most of his ideas are due to his ability to co-relate trends, technology, and human behavior. 

A Daydreaming Amit
  • A search engine optimized for SMS searching.
  • A mobile-app discovery tool to search for applications based on relevance and popularity.
  • A methodology to gauge effectiveness of ad campaigns using social networking tactics.
  • A career guidance program for Indian schools aided by online assessments/aptitude testing.
  • A college discovery portal to help Indian students select the right college based on specific criteria.
  • A blog/service to curate experiences (basically allow folks to share their unique experiences about a city, its public transport, things to do, etc.).
     With some whacky ones, like:
    • A service that delivers your own self-written letters to you after 5 or 10 years. Would be cool to see how your thinking has changed over a period of time.
  • GPS tagged car keys/mobile phones(to eliminate the daily ritual of looking for these items).
  • A fluid-filled, yet wearable bodysuit which can control body temperature via hydrodynamics principles. Image the energy cost-savings across the globe!
  • A women run men’s shaving salon (just to get that daily dose of feel-good factor :))
Btw, being a foodie, his creative juices presented themselves on our plates from time to time. Some of his successful culinary innovations include:
  • Basmati Burrito - burrito with basmati pulav, grilled paneer/veggies, and salsa.
  • Masala Margerita – margarita with mint, ginger and masala.
  • Mango rasmalai – Rosgulla (sweet cheese-balls) in mango and saffron puree.
  • Uttapam-pav- thick rice crepe sprinkled with chilis and veggies and stuffed in a sandwich.
  • Oats Side up: Spicy pan-fried sandwich spread of oats, besan and yogurt.
Well, needless to say, lots of “What an idea, Sirji! :)” moments in our household.

But his idea-crunching abilities are only paralleled by his uncanny ability to give gyan. (Could be a side-effect of having many mentors as well as mentees in his life, coupled with the weekend rendezvous with the TED talkers and those self-help books.)
Laying down some of his pearls of wisdom:

So, What’s your goal in life?
Though this was passed on to him by a bade bhaiya <close family friend>, this can be called Amit’s signature question.  This question has irkingly served as a wake-up call to a lot of the younger somani clan. (His younger brother, Abhishek, can swear to that. Well, at least the irking bit.:)). But it’s his way of imbibing focus and alignment of energies towards one’s priorities in life.

Good enough is better than perfect.
Amit doesn’t believe in perfect. Like a true baniya, he thinks instead of maximizing returns. Back in his college days, when everyone used to spend days studying for exams, he said he’d still excel with half that effort by focusing on just the right topics. 

You don’t have to be the first, you just have to be better.
But in life, he says coming first is not key. You have to be a better person, a better businessman, a better employee, a better son and father. You have to constantly improve yourself to be better.

Visualize success.
Most of folks who know Amit will say he’s a visionary. But on a trip to Pune and a car-ride with a friend, he figured out that that’s not enough. You have to visualize, even daydream about how success would feel like. That is the most powerful way to get over your own inhibitions and go for what you want.

Learn from others mistakes.
The old-school theory that men should learn from their own mistakes is too time-consuming, he says. Smart men learn from others mistakes.

Don’t tell me 10 things why it wont work, tell me 10 things how you’d make it work.
A self-proclaimed optimist, he always uses this line on me. (And I’m sure, his team also hears this occasionally.)

Connect with people when you don’t need them, not when you need them.
Relationships are your most important assets, so make your sincerest efforts to cultivate them and keep them buzzing.

Surround yourself with smart people.
He says the biggest opportunity he’s got in his life is to be able to hang out with so many smart people. Most of his life learning has come by watching them or listening to them.

Golf is a mind-game. Its actually like life. The calmer you are, the better your chances of winning.
His favorite game for years, golf has taught a lot to him. And he’s taught golf to a lot many.

And finally, Life is too short.  
Very true, esp. for the kind of vision he has and the kind of things he wants to do. But I just want to remind him that “Life begins at 40”. :)

So here’s a Heartfelt Happy Birthday to the greatest problem-solver and advisor in my life.

ps. I had once told Amit that I could write a book if I could get my head around all the ideas and advices he’s shared. So, how about gifting him back one of the ideas or advices (or even moments) you’ve received/shared with him?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A parody of paradoxes

I had resisted it. Even ignored it. But the new year kept peeping at me; the ostentatious display of the date by the calendar nudging me for days now.

Finally, I give in. Time for some reflection, some new resolutions.

So I ponder. Something new, something unique. But what?

As I reflect more, I can't but get more confused.
I have tried them all before: Follow your heart, Live in the present, Balance your life, Manage your time, Be Healthy, Make New Friends, Be good, Be fair, Spread Joy...

Very apt goals. Just why haven't they worked?

Some more thinking.

How can you follow your own heart, when you're expected to meet expectations of all around you?
How do you always live in the present, while striving for a future goal?
How do you balance your life, when you set yourself up for multiple priorities?
How can you think of time management, while spending hours on Facebook? :)
How can you be healthy, when you're always stressed about being healthy?
How do you make new friends, when you can't keep up with your old ones?
How can you be good and fair, when good and fair are not accepted?
How can you keep spreading joy, when you're fighting your own glooms?

Such is our world. Very complex, a little paradoxical. 

And our life: A  parody of paradoxes, I say.