Blogging about my wife

I might have mentioned multiple times on this blog that my wife thinks I don’t blog enough about her. She has told me that after reading my blog, she had assumed that I’d be writing tomes to her like I did to some of the women I was hitting on earlier in life, and that on this count I’ve severely disappointed her.

In my defence, I’ve said that I don’t write about her because there is “no angst“. On other occasions, I’ve looked at the blogposts I wrote in the early days after I first met her, and found that most of my posts around the time were about her. And despite her protests that I don’t write about her, she gets intermittent mentions on this blog.

So as is my usual habit, I was going through some old blogposts today, and the discovery of the day is that I’d actually blogged about my wife on the day we first saw each other. And this was long long before we had met!

In the early days of our meeting, I remember Priyanka telling me that she had first seen me at the Bangalore Landmark Quiz in 2007, which was incidentally a couple of months before we chatted (on Yahoo! Messenger) for the first time. I’d always maintained that I hadn’t noticed her at that quiz. Until I saw this blogpost today.

Based on some details mentioned in this blogpost, I realise that I had actually seen the-person-who-is-my-wife on that day, and that I had actually found her cute. I had compared her to another cute chick I’d seen at the same quiz two years earlier, however, and this anchor meant I downplayed her on my blog.

From my blogpost:

Both times, there was A cute chick I saw just before the quiz… Both times, the cute chick i’d seen before quiz sat at the same place. Fourth or fifth row from front. Towards the right of the audience. Ideal position for me to put eye contact during the finals…

This time I’m not writing any letter to the chick-of-the-day. i didn’t find her as impressive as the one i’d seen two years back. Or maybe the novelty factor of seeing a chick at a quiz has worn off… But I’m unlikely to put blade…

I realise this doesn’t sound terribly charitable to the person who is now my wife, but it is documentary evidence that I did write about her the first time I saw her! So this deserves further documentation!

And apart from providing such documentation, that blogpost is of extremely poor quality, and I’m not proud of it at all. Seems more like a rant than an honest blog-post.

Writing and depression

It is now a well-documented fact (that I’m too lazy to google and provide links) that there exists a relationship between mental illness and creative professions such as writing.

Most pieces that talk about this relationship draw the causality in one way – that the mental illness helped the writer (or painter or filmmaker or whoever) focus and channel emotions into the product.

Having taken treatment for depression in the past, and having just finished a manuscript of a book, I might tend to agree that there exists a relationship between creativity and depression. However, I wonder if the causality runs the other way.

I’ve mentioned here a couple of months back that writing a book is hard because you are working months together with little tangible feedback, and there’s a real possibility that it might flop miserably. Soncequently, you put fight to make the product as good as you can.

In the absence of feedback, you are your greatest critic, and you read, and re-read what you’ve written; you edit, and re-edit your passages until you’re convinced that they’re as good as they can be.

You get obsessed with your product. You start thinking that if it’s not perfect it is all doomed. You downplay the (rather large) random component that might affect the success of the product, and instead focus on making it as perfect as you can.

And this obsession can drive you mad. There are days when you sit with your manuscript and feel useless. There are times when you want to chuck months’ effort down the drain. And that depresses you. And affects other parts of your life, mostly negatively!

Again it’s rather early that I’m writing this blog post now – at a time when I’m yet to start marketing my book to publishers. However, it’s important that I document this relationship and causality now – before either spectacular success or massive failure take me over!

Dining philosophers in action

When we learnt semaphores as part of our Operating Systems course during undergrad, one of the illustrations that was used was the “dining philosophers’ problem“.

The situation is simple – there are six philosophers seated around a table and six spoons placed between them. Each philosopher (the problem is not sensitive to the profession of the eater) has to now pick up a spoon. It is not clearly mentioned if a philosopher has to pick up the spoon on his left or on his right.

This is now a coordination problem. If all philosophers go the same way, all is good, since each of them gets exactly one spoon. If any two philosophers go the opposite ways, it results in two philosophers fighting over the same spoon while one spoon remains unclaimed. The use of semaphores in the solution to this problem is outside the scope of this blogpost.

Back when I learnt about the dining philosophers, it seemed like a rather esoteric and academic exercise (one minor point of hilarity occurred when this particular chauvinist in my hostel refused to read this book on operating systems by Silberschatz and Galvin because the book referred to philosophers as “she”. “How can philosophers be female, da?” reasoned this guy). It seemed unlikely that it would actually occur in real life.

Until it did tonight. The wife’s graduation ceremony was followed by cocktails and a formal sit down dinner. The dinner had been arranged around round tables, with large plates being set in front of each chair. Bread plates had been placed between the large plates.

So there were eleven of us around the table, with eleven plates in front of us, and eleven bread plates between us. The positioning of the bread plates meant that each of us could have either picked the plate on the left of us or the plate on the right (it was symmetrical to our seat). As the wines started to be brought in by bearers, it was time to consume the bread.

Our table consisted of eleven Indians, all of whom were unaware of the convention regarding bread plates. All of us wanted to eat bread, though. Had any of us known the convention, that person would’ve confidently swooped, and the rest of the table would have followed. With all of us being unaware, we stared at one another blankly, waiting for someone to move. A perfect Dining Philosophers Problem had been set up (dining MBAs and families, to be more precise).

We proved to be inefficient philosophers. Some moved left, others moved right. Those that saw people go left followed left. Those who saw people go right followed right. Inevitably there was a conflict, as my mother-in-law and I reached for the same bread plate.

The conflict was resolved by looking around the table to see the side that was in majority – most people had gone for the bread plates on their right. The rest made adjustments and bread was broken. It would turn out later that we were all wrong – the convention is for the bread plate to be placed to the eater’s left.

Ordinarily I might have been disturbed about my lack of knowledge of social conventions, and resulting faux pas. Seeing the Dining Philosophers’ Problem in action more than compensated for that today! Seeing my excitement at seeing the problem in action, the others on the table might have thought I’d had a glass of wine too many.

Diversity and sorting by last name

So the wife graduated today. The graduation ceremony was in threes – three graduates were called at a time and presented their degrees (the wife now claims that she has one more degree than me, since my B-school gave me a Post Graduate Diploma and not a Masters).

It was reminiscent of swearing in of Ministers of State in India, who take oath four at a time. My graduation ceremonies, where we collected our degrees one at a time, was more like the swearing in of Cabinet Ministers. This simultaneous award of degrees worked well in finishing the ceremony in good time, though.

As is usual in such ceremonies, the graduates had been sorted by name. Except that since this is a global business school, the sorting was done by <Last Name> followed by <First Name> (at all my schools, sorting has been in the opposite order).

This related to fairly hilarious bunching of graduates from different countries at the same point in time. One batch of three was a set of three Lee’s, for example (rather amazingly, there was not a single Wang in the graduating class). They were followed by two more Lee’s/Li’s. Another set of three were three Japanese who had the same prefix to the last name.

And the wife was one of three Indians in the batch whose last name started with “Bha-“. It’s a rather unique Indian construct, and the three were listed consecutively for graduation. It was only because of a “cut” that occurred in the middle that the three didn’t go simultaneously to receive their degrees.

Different countries have different name forms and the same words might occur as a prefix of a large number of last names from the country. Such prefixes might also be unique to certain countries, thanks to which sorting by last name results in the occurrence of several “country clusters” through the course of the list.

It got me wondering if the diversity of the batch (more than 50 countries were represented in the graduating class of ~300) mgiht have been exhibited better, and people of the same nationality been spread apart more widely through the list had they done (what is to us Indians) the conventional thing and sorted by first name instead!

Paris or Parrys Corner?

We arrived in Paris Gare Du Nord a couple of hours back by Izy train from Brussels (this is a new low-cost service introduced by Thalys, and that deserves its own blogpost).

I don’t know whether it’s something specific about Gare Du Nord, or if I feel this way about all Terminus railway stations, but it had this feeling of Chennai Central to it. This feeling was complete with the smell of urine just outside the station.

We walked to the left, as our online research had told us that there were some South Indian restaurants there, and we were seeking some comfort food. Saravana Bhavan first came into view. A little further was Hotel Sangeetha, and we ate there (I have better memories of Sangeetha than Saravana Bhavan from my times in Chennai. The decision today was well-founded).

After having finished our dinner at Sangeetha (food and coffee were brilliant, far better than at Saravana Bhavan in Amsterdam where we ate 3 days ago. Dinner was made better by the discovery that a couple of waiters there spoke Kannada), we decided to walk to La Chapelle metro station to catch a train to our hotel.

Having been in Europe for over 3 months now, the walk from Sangeetha to La Chapelle seemed like anything but Europe. The road was dirty in parts, with water flowing next to the pavements at some places (making us lift our rolling suitcase every few metres). That was not the only thing that reminded us of Chennai, though.

Saravana Bhavan and Sangeetha were only two in the long line of Tamilesque establishments on that road (Rue du Frauborg Saint Denis). There was an Annachi, a Muniyandi Vilas and at least two outlets that served Dindigul Thalapakattu Biryani!

And it was not just the restaurants. There was a “Thangamaligai” (jewellery) store. There were barbershops. There was Ganesha Sweets. And there were shops that went by names such as “SP Traders” that looked just like shops in India do! The resemblance was uncanny.

During the course of our walk, we even passed a couple of bars, and the smell emanating from them reminded us more of the shady bars in India (not Chennai, though, since liquor sale there is tightly controlled) than any bar we’ve seen in Europe.

I understand that there’s a significant Indian-origin (and Sri Lankan Tamil origin) population in France, but the number of Tamil-esque establishments next to the Railway Station completely astounds me. That they’re clustered together is no surprise. That this cluster is right next to the city’s main railway station is. And the fact that the station is so similar to Chennai Central doesn’t help matters!

Until we got out of our Metro at Place du Clichy (to get to our hotel), it seemed more like we were in Parrys Corner than in Paris!

PS: Put recommendations on things to do here, etc. Please leave comments.

How social media affects your life

My first attempt at writing of any kind was in 2004, when I edited the daily newsletter at Saarang, IIT Madras’s cultural festival. It was a fun experience (I remember digging out my newsletters sometime back, but cant seem to find them now), and I think RAP and I did a pretty good job.

Given that events would go on late into every night and we’d to bring out an edition every morning, some “preprocessing” was key, and I decided to solve the problem through some “online writing” (at the same time I was doing my B.Tech. project in online algorithms, but I digress). As and when I would make a pertinent observation (I borrowed the name for that newsletter, too), I would try and think about how I would describe it in the next day’s newsletter, and immediately jot it down in a notepad I carried.

This way, by the time RAP and I met every evening to compile the newsletter, most of the material would be in place and all we would have to do was to compile, edit and typeset it, and the newsletter would be ready. One time, when we knew that a quiz would go on till dawn (as per tradition), we wrote up the article even before it had happened based on how previous editions had gone. The winner’s name was inserted in the morning just before printing.

The reason I’m telling this story (which I might have told before) is that it inculcated in me the habit of trying to instantly describe in written word anything I saw. Going forward, it became a habit, though it didn’t have much outlet. Later in 2004 I started this blog, and when I would remember the thoughts I’d thought to describe things I saw, I would put it down on this blog.

Twitter changed all that. Now, as soon as I could describe something I saw in a meaningful (and short) fashion, there was an outlet for instant output. Facebook made it even better, allowing me to tell stories with photos and without a word limit (Facebook did photos long before Twitter did). Instagram did the same.

So seven or eight years on social media (I joined Facebook in late 2007 and Twitter in mid 2008) meant that my skill of quick written pertinent observations about just about anything I saw got a lot of encouragement (though, most times no one would react, and at times I would get trolled).

A month after going off social media, I realise that this habit has gotten completely ingrained into me, and irrespective of what I’m doing I’m thinking more about how I’d describe it in a few words (and maybe a picture), rather than enjoying the sight or sound or conversation or whatever! And knowing that I’ve denied myself this mode of output (social media) temporarily, it feels a bit odd when I mentally make one such observation, knowing there’s no way to put it out!

The thing is while I used to already do this before I got access to instant social media, the extent to which I’ve started reacting this way has changed significantly over the years! And I don’t know if that is a good thing.

Anyway, here’s an old style pertinent observation, being made much delayed, and put on this blog (rather than on any other media). I found this place called “ze fork on the water” on the Lake Geneva shoreline yesterday!

zefork

Seasons

This day eleven years back I travelled to London to intern at an investment bank, in the middle of my MBA. The internship was an academic requirement and popularly referred to as “summer internship” at our school. The term confused people in London, though, with the common reaction being “it isn’t summer now”. Over time I learnt to respond to that with “but it’s summer in Bangalore”.

Back when I was a kid I dutifully learnt from textbooks that there were four seasons – “summer, winter, autumn and spring”. Despite efforts of multiple teachers to explain, I could never understand what autumn (there is no mass shedding of leaves in Bangalore) meant. Some Indian books we had substituted “monsoon” for “autumn” and I started assuming that “autumn” referred to the rainy season.

Over time I have understood that the monsoons are a uniquely India-and-around phenomenon, and they don’t exist elsewhere in the world. What’s taken longer for me to understand, however, is how that has affected my understanding of seasons.

Coming from Bangalore, where April is the hottest month, I’ve always assumed “summer” as lasting from March to May. “Mango showers” start coming in in the beginning of May, cooling down things a bit, and by the time we are in June, the monsoon is in full flow and you might even need a light sweater along with your umbrella.

Things heat up mildly again in October, after the South West monsoon has gone, but the sporadic cyclones of the North-East monsoon aren’t too far away, and there’s a graceful transition to winter. And February is the sole month of “spring” before things quickly heat up again.

It’s April already and things are still cold in Barcelona. It’s not as cold on average as a month earlier – I can occasionally dispense with my scarf, and pavement cafes are more full than before. I still need both a sweater and an overcoat, though, and the winds from the Mediterranean mean that the temperature you feel is much lower than what the thermometer suggests.

While I know that things will heat up in Barcelona in the next month (by which time I’ll be preparing to move back to Bangalore), the fact that things are so cold in April, the month I consider to be the peak of summer, is something that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I also find it quite funny that Barcelona was rather warm in October 2014 (when I first visited, and could walk around in shorts) and is so cold now.

This goes to show how much the monsoons affect the seasons in India, and in South India in particular. In fact, the definition of “summer” (as defined by school holidays) is itself different in different parts of India – South India breaks in April and May, and the North (where the monsoon hits much later) in May and June.

And yet, we continue to teach schoolkids that the “four seasons” are “summer, winter, autumn and spring”

PS: I find it hard to reconcile with the six seasons according to the Hindu calendar as well – maybe those have a North Indian bias