Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bloody first-world problems!

Recently, I have been working on a consulting engagement for a Disaster Management Agency of one of the first-world nations; there had been reports of a fraud in flood insurance claims disbursal. While my job involved figuring out how to predict and avoid such a mess in the future, the task also carries digging into the past and identifying the events that led to the current state of affairs, so to say.

As I ploughed through transcripts of thousands of conversations, I realized how vastly different the concepts of “devastation” and “homelessness” are between the people of that mighty nation versus the perceptions of our own compatriots here in India.

People there seek government grants and insurance claims (funded by taxpayer money) to repair the wall paint in their basements and to replace consumer electronic appliances- clothes driers, room heaters et al.- that have been damaged in a flood. For a large part, the rest of their homes, the superstructure, the rooms and the rest of their furnishings are more or less intact. And they speak of their homes as being ‘devastated’ and of themselves as being ‘homeless’ when they had to empty parts of their homes that are being repaired.

Compare that with the ‘floods’ here in India. All we have is the only basement level, where all our possessions are, including our own bodily selves. A few feet of rain water in the house and we don’t even bother to call it a ‘flood’. What can we do- this is an annual occurrence in our many flood-prone areas. In fact, we have gotten so used to it that we kinda miss it when it doesn’t happen that year. Even those multitudes that live in ramshackle shacks don’t call themselves homeless or devastated in floods. They just pick what they can and go where they can wait out the storm; and once the worst is past, they come back and start rebuilding it all with whatever the flood has left behind.

They don’t wait 2 years for the government to give grants or aid to rebuild the houses. Perhaps because we know that we can count on the certainty of another flood more than we can count on the certainty of government grants here.

I am not saying we are awesome or anything. Nope, not at all. Tonight, I’m working a presentation for the aforesaid assignment that would be discussed in board rooms several times over the next few weeks. If things go well, it may even lead to a million dollars changing hands over the next few months. A million dollars of money spent on painting someone’s basements or replacing a rusty, flooded clothes dryer in the ‘developed nation’. A million dollars that could potentially build a few hundred concrete houses in flood-zones in an ‘underdeveloped’ or a ‘developing’ nation.

But hey, what can I say… the price of a human life after all depends on the time zone one is born in.

Trouble is, I can't not work and tell my boss all this tomorrow...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Would I do that if I were paid so much more?

“Who smokes beedis these days!?” said my friend.
“Quite a lot of people that can’t afford cigarettes…” I replied automatically.

We were in a corner booth at a quaint, charming place called Koshy’s early this morning. This place is quite popular with the locals for its English breakfast, but I noticed how much the place looked like your typical eatery scene from the pages of an a British novel. It was quite early in the morning and we barely beat the church-crowd by just a few minutes to get a seat in this deli.

On this occasion, that strong beedi smell that intruded our senses came from a few night watchmen we just passed, catching up during their morning tea breaks. As we made a quick arithmetic, we realized that those watchmen must be making no more than 4000 bucks a month and probably had quite a large family to fend for. A simple pack of cigarettes (at 200 bucks) is almost 5% of their monthly wage and it was obviously a luxury they can’t afford. Now, I could go on giving a discourse on the deterrent effects of a price hike or on the unintended side-effects of other tobacco forms people resorting to. But not today. Not this morning.

This morning, what my friend said just brought up a few questions that have been going around in my mind:

“How much is too much?”- What would it take to make me feel ‘Enough now, I don’t want more’?

“Why do people do the same things every day? And how could they wake up every morning to be the same ?”

“What would make me do so-and-so?” and this could be anything as wide ranging as giving up something to murdering someone. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any plans to actually do these. Yet.)

Every time any of these pop up in my head- oh, and they pop up randomly more often that I’d like- they are accompanied by the song “Little boxes” (originally by Malvina Reynolds, made popular by Walk-off-the-earth) playing in the background.

Truth be told, I just don’t like bend in the question mark ‘?’ (Never could scribble that bend properly by hand). That and the fact that it bugs me to not have means of finding answers. This train of thought had just left the station when I was startled from my reverie by the waiter bringing in my breakfast.

Perhaps it was the rising sun seeping in through the French windows or the lack of air conditioning on a warm, cloudless day. Or I just needed more sleep. After all, it’s a Sunday and I should’ve been in bed at this obscene hour…

PS. If you find the answers to these questions or other important ones like ‘how to draw the perfect ‘?’’ or ‘how to survive a lifetime eating Maggi’ (with lead and all), do write to me and rescue yourself from the drudgery of waking up to the same day, every day.

Bangalore, 7th June, 2015

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let Go…

That’s the secret- Letting go…

More of the small/trivial things you let go and the sooner you do it, more will be the peace you’ll have and you’ll have it sooner too.

It is true that these smaller things take up little spells of our time, effort and mind space. Also true is the fact that we usually tangle ourselves in a gazillion of these small things- day in, day out- and they add up. Ask yourself, when was the last time your mind was empty- utterly, totally empty- of all thoughts. Sitting quietly on a park bench, our mind goes for a jog alongside all the people strolling in the park- he’s fat, she looks good in the sun, look at that cute kid, god how I wish that stupid bird would shut up and so on. When you are not too occupied with your head inside your smartphone, that is.

And for the hyper-sensitive, attention-deficit youngsters of today (of which I am one myself), it takes very little to push them over the tolerance threshold- dusty roads, vague signboards, faulty grammar, ill-typed mail, wrong colour of a picture, you name it. Ironically, some of us, we are bugged even by our own less-than-perfect work of yesterday.

I can’t even begin to think why it is this way with us. I don’t even think I know enough to dig into the reasons. But here’s what I recently learnt from a patient, sagely boss (yes, some do exist): Let go.

The perspective he gave was quite interesting in that it was simple; it got me thinking. Everything is done by people, and no person is perfect- neither in what they are, nor in what they do. But they do things nonetheless, for whatever reason. Now, it ain’t possible for us to take everything upon ourselves. (Yeah, we have enough things to do already) So, let go- let people do what they have to do. And you get down to do what you need to.

Call it delegation, call it tolerance or as Dale Carnegie says, “Don’t saw sawdust…” and see for yourself… Hakuna matata!


Bangalore, 28th Oct, 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

With all due respect…

Says everyone, but I’m sure nobody- not one- means it, ever. No matter what they say about themselves, everyone has a huge bloated ego and when you say something to their face that they is contrary to their beliefs, it is certain that they’ll fight tooth and nail to refute it.

Hence the prevalent use of terms like ‘with all due respect’, ‘no offense’, ‘with due consideration’ etc. intended to ameliorate the situation. Ironically though, when people use these terms, they seldom mean it and that leads to hilarious circumstances sometimes- hilarious to the audience, I mean. These situations are far from hilarious to the speaker and to the recipient; the recipient will take offense, without exception and the speaker will have many an indignant person to deal with.

So the next time you tell your boss something that starts like this- “with all due respect sir…”- take my seasoned word that it doesn’t matter at all what you say after the phrase. That time you say ‘no offense…” to your colleagues, boom! These four words uttered and alea jacta est!

This doesn’t mean we are doomed to mollifying idiots’ egos. Unless you are Caesar or you just don’t give a hoot for the person, (read, the very last time you talk to your ex-boss), there’s pretty much just one thing that could save you- sarcasm. Copious, witty sarcasm. It saved my ass twice, I’m sure it’d come to your rescue too…

Hasta la vista!

26th October, 2014


Thursday, October 9, 2014


Recently, I’ve moved to a new city. Being just out of college, all friends from before moved to different cities for work. So, I just happened to have moved into a new circle of friends. And things changed.

These are loud, totally random and unpredictable, binge eat and drink like a fish; their apartment is a pseudo dump. But over the past few months, I liked hanging out with them- it’s easy, natural and somehow I felt at home there with them.

That was totally unexpected for me- I mean, this is not the ‘me’ I knew. So, that got me thinking- have I been keeping bad company before or I didn’t yet know what this new company is doing to me. Here are some things that struck me in retrospect:
  • These guys don’t have facades- no pretences. Doesn’t mean they don’t do stupid stuff or have their privacy. Just that they don’t have anything to hide. We respect one another’s secrets.
  • No patronizing. All of these are elder to me at least by a couple of years. And of course in better jobs and all too. But I always felt an equal among them.
  • Not judgemental. I have done stupid things with them. Shared with them many of the dumb things I’ve done before. Yet, all I got from them is the more-than-occasional friendly gibe and lots of poking fun. Never disrespect. Never dislike.
  • Not criticising- accept me for what I am- the flawed, idiosyncratic, moody me.

Now, the friends I had before were also similar, but in varying degrees of these characteristics. I seem to have found another of my quirkiness but I think I also stumbled upon the secret for finding good friends.
Cheers to friends! Cheers to us!


9th October, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This city's made us crazy and we must get out...

So, here I come to this famed hub of technology in southern India. The weather couldn't be more different from the original Silicon Valley- the rains longer, the wind stronger and the nights colder out here.

What a welcome! A friend had to leave the city almost as soon as I arrive, tossing all our plans out the window. The universe does have a sick sense of humour.

The people-oh, the people! There are so many of them that I began replacing "crowds" with "herds" in all my speech.

These herds are so much alike- in shape, size, packaging, labelling, tagging and what not. The whole sight and sound of 'em is so alike that not a day goes by without the song "Little boxes" ringing in my ears.

And all these people choose the exact same schedule to travel to and from work- the exact same two hours each in the mornings and the evenings. Either they have a masochistic love for spending several hours a day stuck in traffic or they have that logic part of their brains fried out from all the coding.

The jargon- uselessly stupid and stupidly useless. Everyone use it but no one knows what it actually means. I'm talking about the bandwidth of using the horizon to deliver perfect excellence across the scope... Sigh!
I'm a huge fan of social experiments; I like love sitting in a quiet corner and watching people act crazy. But lately, the samples of my social experiments have turned out to be so homogeneous that it's a huge waste of effort even trying to experiment here.

My most comfortable and frequent hangouts used to be coffee places and music lounges. This city has plenty of those, but none with the peace and quiet that attracted me to those hangouts in the first place. Conversations turn into yells and screams, cappuccinos are more like crap-uccinos. You know how good the DJ is when he plays an Indian remix of (Coldplay's) Paradise.

I wanted to write about the rude auto-wallahs, the fleecing store keepers, the blood-sucking public transport system and the trouble of finding a seat at office and a flat near the workplace. But here comes a traffic jam and it's time for my power nap- these days I get longer naps stuck in traffic than I ever could sneak at my desk...

PS. Coldplay and Maroon5, I'm solemnly sorry!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fifteen men on the dead man's chest...

Always believed books must be free and accessible to all. And been putting together a nice little bookshelf of ebooks- classics, fiction, mysteries, thrillers and many more odds and ends. A collection that has been one of my prized possessions, almost as precious as The Black Pearl to Jack Sparrow.

This here is Mach's bookshelf

Feel free to share the fun...
And do tell what you liked or any new titles that should be included.

Some more books added