Oh clutter, my clutter

There’s a poem in Dead Poet’s society which goes something like:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a flying;
An this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

Carpe Diem, Seize the day!

Today, we were cleaning our apartment since our parents are coming for graduation and I came across a lot of thrash which had been accumulated since the past two years. Career fair stuff such as notebooks, bags, pens which I don’t even need had made my room dirty and messy. When my friend Ashwin had visited me, he made a casual remark that my undergrad room was much tidier in comparison with how the room looked and obviously my ego was hurt. Just throwing away the mess made the room so nice to live in, that I wonder on why I did not do it earlier. It was not that it was full of unnecessary things, but it was full of things which I should not have collected in the first place.

Accumulating things is an old habit, where I would take care of items with extreme care and try and fix them, if they are broken. My aunt had once gifted me a water bottle to my brother and me. My brother broke his in the first month itself, but mine lasted for more than eight years, until my mother threw it without letting me know. On another note, I think I have a decent memory and am observant enough to remember a lot of things that people say to me. But that comes with the peril to accumulate a lot of unnecessary clutter, which should be cleared at regular intervals.

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On resilience

Disclaimer: This can be one of those self-praising articles, as my flat-mates like to call it.

When one is resource constrained or not supremely talented, they are forced to become resilient and come up with solutions out of thin-air. Though doing well is a combination of doing the right thing at the right moment at the right place, I think resilience determines how many times the wrongs take place for all the rights to fall in-place.

I used to take part in a lot of quizzes since the very beginning, but my first exposure to competitive quizzing was in ninth grade, when I took part in the TCS IT Wiz. I was amazed by the aura of people pressing buzzers in split second differences and answering weird questions. Obviously, I could not do well and so I came back next year, slightly better prepared. It was my 10th boards exam year and I had to study hard for it, but instead I spent my time preparing for the quiz. I fumbled in the competition, and was ridiculed for wasting time on such frivolous things. Come 11th grade, and I now had to study even harder for my IIT JEE examinations, but I studied even harder for the quiz and failed again. Then came the mighty 12th grade, where I had to study the hardest to compete with 110,000 other students and secure admission into a good engineering college. I studied harder for the quiz, and this time I won! Eventually, I was lucky to join a decent engineering college, which was the last college I applied to and was the last one to offer me an admission.

Come engineering, and the same story repeated itself. I failed Tata Crucible thrice, before winning Rajasthan finals, then qualifying from North Zone, and then becoming the National and International runners-up in my last attempt. Ours remain the only team from Jaipur to achieve this feat, if you would like to call it that way. Career wise, I must have been rejected and failed innumerable times. I wanted to explore the venture capital, CSR consulting and Management consulting industries and again the same story, but eventually the rejections gave up. I simply did not want to join an IT consultancy after college, and was one of the few to leave without a job. Eventually, InnovAccer and QCRI happened.

UW was the only admission that I had for MS and I was very skeptical of the MSIM degree. I was sure of two things that I wanted to work in ICTD, and I was not going to pay my tuition. After getting several rejections to work with Professors, few responded and luckily Kurtis came to UW and I got a chance to work with him. Even then, my application to become a Research Assistant got declined. One fine day, the persistence paid off and then the application was approved. And because of the RAship, Facebook happened. This glory was also short-lived as I could not convert it into a full-time thing!

I then decided to apply for PhD programs. I gave all I could to write my essays, but got rejections from all the places I applied to. The only option that was left was to look for jobs. I was skeptical since I wanted to work on emerging market problems, and there were not many companies working on them. I again got innumerable rejections, but on another fine day Grab happened. Theo, the CTO was my long-time LinkedIn acquaintance and was also at Facebook at the same time as myself. He liked my intern presentation and when he joined Grab, he decided to bring me aboard.

I thought that I had cracked the pattern for life. I sort of got obsessed with the notion of being resilient and trying to find solutions, until I got what I wanted. I felt that the end would justify the means eventually.

I have this analogy that relationships and career are not that different. You apply and if there’s a vacancy, you get a chance and if there isn’t, you find something else. The the outcome is not in your hands, no matter how good a fit you could be. I stumbled upon a situation, where the efforts would have no effect at all. But is being resilient the best way to go?

I think not. This birthday, the advice that I would like to give myself is that its okay to lose sometimes. Not all battles have to be won, if you are out there to win the war!

Bat first sometimes!

I am sort of amazed by the aura of Virat Kohli, who is unarguably the best modern day batsman the world has seen. He is the best in all conditions, but King Kohli just reigns supreme in a run-chase and averages 98.04 (till 2017) in successful run-chases.

Cricket - India v England - First One Day International

The approach that he takes towards a run-chase is somewhat interesting. He would approach things with a reverse calculator in mind – where he calculates exactly how many runs need to be scored to win a game. If the batsmen on the other end gets out or does not rotate the strike, the calculations happen again and there comes the mighty dab shot or the flamboyant cover drives.

Iterating over the target is really helpful, as you can plan your strategy according to how the situation is changing. It can motivate people to push hard and strive for that extra inch. But is this sort of an approach always the way to go?

My (rare) gym sessions somewhat look like twenty minutes of run, fifteen minutes of cycle, and fifteen minutes on the elliptical. I think, I am much more productive if I do not look at the clock and just run as many rounds as I can. Thinking in the reverse direction that I have five minutes left or ten minutes left, only adds to the mental strain to keep going and is in-turn counterproductive. In seemingly complex things like relationships, chasing a “target” by planning things and hoping that things fall into place, almost never works. Even in simple things such as reading the book, I can read better if I do not look at how many pages the given chapter has. The mental model that I try would be that irrespective of how big this chapter is, I am going to take away the pressure of finishing it and read as well as I can, in whatever duration that I want to.

I think, a good strategy is to maintain a balance of both the approaches, where you sort of have a target in mind and go the extra mile to achieve it. But, one should also sometimes bat first, give all you can and give the opposition a respectable target to chase.

The immigration moment of realization

I was browsing Quora once, and I came across an interesting question. It was was something on the lines of  “What was the one life-experience that made you mature significantly?” On browsing different answers, I came across an answer by a fellow Seattle-ite, Rohan Kamath. His story was that his father had suffered a massive stroke, and he was perplexed by the realization that his father might not be able to make it out of the ICU. He felt that this whole experience made him more mature as a person. I immediately messaged him and asked whether moving to US was worth it, as the notion of not being away from family and friends during difficult times really agitates me. He replied that US gave him amazing opportunities and because of the financial stability, his parents could travel places that they could not have been able to, if he had stayed in India. I soon forgot about it, and became busy with my daily routine.

Today I came across an article on Lungi Ngidi, who is a South African fast bowler. He was awarded man of the match in his debut test match against India. He was very grateful that cricket gave him an opportunity to bring his parents to Johannesburg for the first time, to stay in a hotel and watch him play Test cricket. He felt that not many people get to do that and through cricket he has been able to improve his parents’ lives. Ironically, Lungi lost his father during the ongoing Indian Premier League.

This made me think about my experiences, outside of “home”. It has been seven long years outside of home, and I still think that the entire journey was worth it. I have missed a lot of celebrations, and have been away during some difficult times, but the positives have far out-weighted the negatives. I have been blessed with some amazing opportunities, and this in-turn has enabled me to give back to my parents, who like every middle-class parents, have sacrificed a lot for my brother and myself. I don’t think that any of this would have been possible, had I stayed home, inside my comfort zone!

I am pretty excited to bring my parents and my brother to US for my graduation. It is going to be Achal’s and my mom’s first trip outside of India 🙂

Secret to a happy friendship – Eat Together!

Anthropology is an holistic study of different human beings across different times at different places. Here is one such anthropological study, where the researcher observes different groups of friends at different places, while he was living and goofing around with them.

The saying, “Food is where the heart goes” is perhaps very accurate. Our food preferences are likely to be a good indicator of people we spend time with and more importantly of people we don’t. Living with unknown people, with different food habits scars most of us to not explore beyond our comfort zones. The researcher was fortunate enough to leave his home at the age of seventeen and live with different people and has been doing so ever since.

He did his undergraduate studies at Jaipur, where he was away from this parents for the first time. His college had separate hostels for boys and girls within a modest hundred acre campus. All freshers would be pitted in the same hostel, with twenty-two people staying together in small ghettos, better known as a ‘wing’. In the first year, All wing-mates would usually go to mess together to avoid being ragged by seniors. What started as a compulsion, became a habit gradually with wing-mates always going to eat together, even after the ragging season had ended and they themselves were ragging their juniors. They would sometimes eat in extended groups, with people from different wings and the researcher made some amazing friends from all across the campus.

Usually, people are more relaxed and less diplomatic while eating and this would lead to sharing unfiltered gossips or sympathetic concerns. People who would not eat together were more likely to be ignored, as the group would goof around before going to mess and would then go for walks after the meal. Also, eating together introduced a sense of empathy, where the group would wait for all members to start eating and eventually go to put dishes together. Tensions would usually soften down as you cannot just not talk to people.

He also observed that the most lonely people would be the one’s who did not have a fixed eating group. Folks with girl-friends would repent on not spending enough time with the group, after breaking up, since they would have been ostracized from the group by then.

Above pictures are of the ‘Inferno’ Mahabhoj, where the entire wing would order food from Tadka and eat together on a floor. Both pictures were taken seven years apart, and the tradition still continues 🙂

He then went to Noida to work at a startup. He was living with six other flat-mates and almost all of them were working at different places. They would come home at different times, but always made sure to eat dinner together. They did quarrel here and there, but had an amazing bond that the researcher still cherishes.

At Doha, he was sharing room with a person seven years senior to him. They had similar cultural values, but were two very different personalities. Friction was inevitable, still nothing much happened. Their very generous Gujarati neighbor would cook food for them, and they would have dinner together everyday. Weekends would be spent eating outside, and since their food habits were similar, they would always be sharing their food. Once strangers, they became very good friends and still keep in touch with each other.

While at UW, he noticed that the intensity of friction between roommates would increase if they did not eat together and would suddenly decrease otherwise. These observations were made in different countries, by observing people speaking different languages at different times. Hence, he thinks there’s enough anecdotal evidence to say that friends who eat together are more likely to be happier than those who do not.

Perhaps he should now stay more with female participants to sort of generalize this research and make an even more conclusive evidence 😉

PS – The researcher does not undermine at all, the time spent eating with school-friends and family!

12916 Ashram Express

I had never heard a more beautiful prose, during the four years of my B.Tech than this one:

यात्रीगण कृपया ध्यान दे,
दिल्ली से आने वाली,
जयपुर होकर,
अजमेर के रास्ते,
अहमदाबाद जाने वाली,
बारह हज़ार नौसो सोलह,
आश्रम एक्सप्रेस,
आठ बज कर पैतीस मिनट को,
प्लेटफार्म नंबर तीन पर,
आने की सम्भावना है|

Ashram Express, which gets its name from the legendary Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad was a my defacto train to go home for semester breaks. I still remember the routine, which was to fight for a seat in the 5:15 bus from college and reach Ajmeri gate at 6:15. Have dinner at either the Indian Coffee House or at McDonalds, hire a cycle rickshaw and reach the Jaipur railway station by 7:30.

If my friends would also have trains in the same interval, they we would be accompany me to the station or else it would mostly be myself in this predictable journey. I would find my sleeper class coach, settle my luggage and talk with fellow passengers. Who knew, this was prepping me for the small talk that people in the ‘land of dreams‘ usually scorn about. In this chatter, someone would recognize that I am still in college and traveling alone. I would then have to adjust and exchange seats so that families can stay together or the elderly would not have to climb the upper berth.

Things would eventually settle when the Ajmer junction would arrive and the lights would be turned off. I would then spread newspapers on the usually stinky berth and wrap my favorite shawl that I still have, and try to sleep. Sleeping in jeans, without a pillow, with the stench of toilets and the whining of children was never an issue since. Abu road would arrive at 4 AM and I would sometimes get off the train to try the famous rabdi. The train would reach Palanpur at 5 AM and my simcard would go into roaming mode – indicating that the train has now crossed Rajasthan and is in Gujarat now.

I would then have to give a missed call to my parents, who would call me back and assure that my father would be there to pick me up by the time the train arrives. As soon as I would finish my call, an uncle would be there to sell his ‘pescial’ tea. By the time I graduated, he had ten more competitors selling their own variants, but I would only have the original special tea.

My destination, which is Sabarmati junction would arrive with my father nowhere to be seen. Upon calling my mom, I would find out that he has just came home from his morning walk and would be at the station in fifteen minutes. I would argue and instead take the BRTS bus to Shivranjani, and there he was, waiting to reprimand me for not having enough patience to wait at the railway station.

A hostelier might forget about the classes they attended, but would never forget the to and fro journey. No wonder, Sundar Pichai still remembers the Coromandel express that he used to take to travel from Chennai to Kharagpur 🙂

Of alternate careers and bygone dreams

Coming from a Tata Crucible background, where you learn and memorize facts about Indian business groups, especially the Tatas, you sort of start falling in love with the grandeur that the hundred year old organization has achieved. If you have not, maybe you did not slog enough for India’s largest quiz competition!

During one of my slog hours, I came across something called the Tata Administrative Services. It’s said to be the IAS equivalent for the private sector, with likes of Raghuram Rajan having been through the arduous selection and training process. Given the breadth of industries and initiatives that Tata’s have, one had the opportunity to contribute to different sectors  and make an impact to India’s fast growing economy. I did a consultancy project with Tata Power, where I evaluated impact of their CSR initiatives in fishermen villages. After that, all I wanted to be was a TAS officer, where I could travel to villages and design CSR initiatives.

Despite taking all humanities electives and doing some good consultancy internships throughout my undergrad – life just happened. I got a wonderful opportunity to do a Machine Learning project and got to work at Noida and Doha. UW seems like the best decision that I have taken, from being an RA to working at Facebook and now Grab. I always say that I am a forced technologist, but I am also having the time of my life!

There’s a ton of things that I wanted to do, and there’s tons that I want to do now. But seeing my friends achieve those dreams gives me as much of a pleasure as doing things myself.  When one of your very own achieves something that you always wanted to, it’s as if you are living your own dream. A big thank you to all those who have made it happen and are making it happen!

Maybe now, I can sympathize more with my father, when he sees his dreams in myself. His dreams of becoming an engineer and studying abroad. I hope I am making him proud 🙂