Astrology and Data Science

The discussion goes back some 6 years, when I’d first started setting up my data and management consultancy practice. Since I’d freshly quit my job to set up the said practice, I had plenty of time on my hands, and the wife suggested that I spend some of that time learning astrology.

Considering that I’ve never been remotely religious or superstitious, I found this suggestion preposterous (I had a funny upbringing in the matter of religion – my mother was insanely religious (including following a certain Baba), and my father was insanely rationalist, and I kept getting pulled in both directions).

Now, the wife has some (indirect) background in astrology. One of her aunts is an astrologer, and specialises in something called “prashNa shaastra“, where the prediction is made based on the time at which the client asks the astrologer a question. My wife believes this has resulted in largely correct predictions (though I suspect a strong dose of confirmation bias there), and (very strangely to me) seems to believe in the stuff.

“What’s the use of studying astrology if I don’t believe in it one bit”, I asked. “Astrology is very mathematical, and you are very good at mathematics. So you’ll enjoy it a lot”, she countered, sidestepping the question.

We went off into a long discussion on the origins of astrology, and how it resulted in early developments in astronomy (necessary in order to precisely determine the position of planets), and so on. The discussion got involved, and involved many digressions, as discussions of this sort might entail. And as you might expect with such discussions, my wife threw a curveball, “You know, you say you’re building a business based on data analysis. Isn’t data analysis just like astrology?”

I was stumped (ok I know I’m mixing metaphors here), and that had ended the discussion then.

Until I decided to bring it up recently. As it turns out, once again (after a brief hiatus when I decided I’ll do a job) I’m in process of setting up a data and management consulting business. The difference is this time I’m in London, and that “data science” is a thing (it wasn’t in 2011). And over the last year or so I’ve been kinda disappointed to see what goes on in the name of “data science” around me.

This XKCD cartoon (which I’ve shared here several times) encapsulates it very well. People literally “pour data into a machine learning system” and then “stir the pile” hoping for the results.

Source: https://xkcd.com/1838/

In the process of applying fairly complex “machine learning” algorithms, I’ve seen people not really bother about whether the analysis makes intuitive sense, or if there is “physical meaning” in what the analysis says, or if the correlations actually determine causation. It’s blind application of “run the data through a bunch of scikit learn models and accept the output”.

And this is exactly how astrology works. There are a bunch of predictor variables (position of different “planets” in various parts of the “sky”). There is the observed variable (whether some disaster happened or not, basically), which is nicely in binary format. And then some of our ancients did some data analysis on this, trying to identify combinations of predictors that predicted the output (unfortunately they didn’t have the power of statistics or computers, so in that sense the models were limited). And then they simply accepted the outputs, without challenging why it makes sense that the position of Jupiter at the time of wedding affects how your marriage will go.

So I brought up the topic of astrology and data science again recently, saying “OK after careful analysis I admit that astrology is the oldest form of data science”. “That’s not what I said”, the wife countered. “I said that data science is new age astrology, and not the other way round”.

It’s hard to argue with that!

Chiltu

If my mother were to be alive at the time I got married, I’m not sure she would have been too happy that I was marrying someone named Pinky. At the least, she would have insisted that we call Priyanka by another name.

The reason for this is that for my mother, the “default Pinky” was her friend Girija’s dachshund. Now I might have told you about “default names” – basically for every name, there is one person with the name who you instinctively think of. While the default person attached to a name can change over time, at any point of time there is only one default.

And because of this, when I know nothing about a person apart from his/her name, I form a Bayesian prior image which reflects that of the default person with the same name. And I assume this is true of a lot of people – you judge other people by their names in the absence of other information.

So considering that my mother was my mother, and so also followed the practice of judging people from her corpus of “default names”, she wouldn’t have wanted a daughter-in-law who had a nickname which defaulted to a dog, even if it were a rather friendly dachshund.

Anyway, this is not what the post is about. So while Pinky was Girija aunty’s longstanding pet, she wasn’t her only dog. Periodically she would take in some other dogs, though none of them lasted anywhere as long as Pinky did (I don’t ever remember meeting any of the other dogs more than once). However, one of them is hard to forget.

He was an Indian pie-dog named Chiltu. He was quite young, but thanks to his breed, he already towered over Pinky. So it turned out that whenever they were fed, Chiltu would finish off his portion much before Pinky ate hers, and then he would go for Pinky’s food as well.

Now don’t ask me why I remember this. But I remember telling this story to “my Pinky” a few years back when I had finished eating some rather tasty food much quicker than her. And I remember telling her that day that I would “do a Chiltu” – which is basically to go after Pinky’s food once I had finished my own food.

And that name has stuck. Every time one of us beats the other to eating something tasty, and then goes for the other’s portion, we simply say “Chiltu”.

My mother is long gone. Girija aunty has been gone for longer. Girija aunty’s dog Pinky has been gone for even longer. And Chiltu didn’t live with her for too long. But then Chiltu’s name, eternally associated with this practice, lives on!

NRI Diaries: Day 3

The longer I’m here, the less I feel like an NRI and the more I go back to my earlier resident self. You can expect this series to dry out in a few days.

So Saturday started with a reversion of jetlag – I woke up at noon, at my in-laws’ place. One awesome breakfast/lunch/brunch (call it what you want – I ate breakfast stuff at 12:30 pm), it was time to get back home since I had some work at some banks around here.

I decided to take the metro. The wife dropped me by scooter to the Rajajinagar Metro Station. The ticket to South End Circle cost Rs. 30. The lady behind the counter didn’t crib when I gave her Rs. 100, and gave change.

Having used the metro as my primary mode of transport in London for the last nine months, I’m entitled to some pertinent observations:

  • Trains seemed very infrequent. When I went up to the platform, the next train was 8 minutes away. And there was already a crowd building up on the platform
  • Like in London, the platform has a yellow line and passengers are asked to wait behind that. But unlike in London, the moment you go near the yellow line, a guard whistles and asks you to get back. I’m reminded of Ravikiran Rao’s tweetstorm on Jewish walls.
  • For a Saturday afternoon, the train was extremely crowded.
  • My skills from an earlier life of expertly standing and grabbing a seat in a BMTC bus were of no use here, since other passengers also seemed to have that skill
  • My skills from the last few months in knowing where to stand comfortably in a crowded train were put to good use, though. I managed to read comfortably through my journey
  • It took 20 mins to get to South End. Another 10 mins walk home. Not sure this is quicker than taking a cab for the same journey

Afternoon was spent running around banks updating mobile number and Aadhaar. It was all peaceful, except for Punjab National Bank asking for a physical copy of my Aadhaar (which quite defeats the purpose! HDFC told me to update Aadhaar online. ICICI did it through ATM!).

In the evening I let go of some more vestiges of my NRI-ness. I got the water filter at home cleaned and started drinking filtered tap water. And then I went and had chaat at a street gaaDi. I promptly got “spicy burps”. I guess it was the masala powder he added.

I quickly made amends by going to my favourite jilebi stall and belting jilebi.

Then I went to meet fellow-NRI Paddy-the-Pradeep for coffee at Maiya’s in Jayanagar. We ordered bottled water, discussed first world economics and made jokes about NRIs carrying around bottled water. And then we walked out carrying the leftover bottled water as a NRI badge.

On my way home, I went to a nearby bakery and got plain cake, nippaTT and Congress.

All is well.

NRI Diaries: Day 2

NRI Diaries: Day 1

NRI Diaries: Day 2

I know this is a day late, but the reasons for that will be apparent by the end of the post.

Day Two (15th December) started with waking up at 9 am – jetlag had clearly not worn off. I was going to be late for my 10:30 meeting and started getting ready in a hurry only to see a text from the person I was meeting that he was late as well.

Once again I took an auto rickshaw for breakfast. Meter showed Rs. 35. I handed a Rs. 100 note. Driver said “no change”, and didn’t seem to mind when I told him that I’ll get change from the restaurant I planned to eat at and that he should wait. I bought coupons for my food, and brought back Rs. 50 for the auto guy, and he promptly gave me the change.

The meeting in question was on the other side of Silk Board, and I was dreading the commute. Surprisingly, the commute was rather smooth, taking less than 20 minutes from Jayanagar 4th T Block to HSR Layout. Along the way I got to hear the driver’s life story as he was constantly on the phone with a friend of his.

Traffic was worse on the way back from the meeting (started from HSR around 1230 pm). Took nearly an hour to get home (Jayanagar 3rd Block). And along the way I saw this:

I honestly miss this kind of stuff back in the UK, where I find people taking “data science” too seriously (another post on that sometime in the future).

Lunch was swiggied. Main course came from Gramina Thindi, It’s a tiny restaurant and doesn’t have a computer, so it’s not integrated into Swiggy’s ordering system. So swiggy actually sent a guy to the restaurant to place my order, and he waited there while it was being prepared and then brought it home to me.

I totally didn’t mind the Rs. 35 “delivery fee” they charged on top of my Rs. 55 lunch.

Dessert was from Corner House. Cake Fudge was as excellent as usual. Made a mental note to introduce this delicacy to the daughter before this trip is up.

And then it was time to go launch my book. Sales of the book are not exclusive to Amazon any more – it’s also available at Higginbothams on M G Road, which is where the book launch happened.

The launch was at this nice outdoor backyard of the store. I spoke to Pavan Srinath about some of the concepts I’ve described in the book. After that I signed copies, trying hard to get a wisecrack for everyone I signed for. I mostly failed.

The highlight of the launch was this guy zipping across the venue right behind me on a scooter, and then loudly honking. He was followed by another guy on a bike.

After the launch function was over, the wife and I decided to head to Mahesh Lunch Home for dinner. We took an auto. The guy at MG Road demanded Rs. 80 (ordinarily an exorbitant amount) to take us to Richmond Circle. We instantly agreed and got in.

He may have had some sense of seller’s remorse after that – in that he probably priced himself too low. So he drove slowly and, as we got to Richmond Circle, he said it would cost us a further Rs. 20 to take us across the road to Mahesh. We paid up again.

Something’s seriously wrong with Uber in Bangalore it seems. Out of six times I’ve tried using the service, I’ve got a cab within 5 minutes on only one occasion. On a few occasions, it’s been upwards of 10 minutes. And when the app showed that the nearest Uber was 20 mins away, we simply decided to take an auto rickshaw.

Except that we’d not bargained for drivers refusing outright to take us to Rajajinagar. One guy agreed and after we got in, asked for Rs. 300. This time, with our stomachs full, we were less charitable and walked out. Some walking and more waiting later, we were on our way to Rajajinagar, where I spent the night.

Oh, and it appears that the daughter has been afflicted by NRI-itis as well. She bears a red mark on her cheek following a mosquito bite.

Seven

It’s a little over seven years ago that we got married. It was a traditional Hindu ceremony. It was so traditional that we began at around 11am and finished with a ceremonial lunch only around 5:30 pm. And tradition meant that the priests hurried through the mantras, not bothering to explain what they were supposed to say (it’s another matter that had they bothered to stop and explain, we would’ve been getting married for another two days).

It was later that I got to know that some of those mantras were rather insightful, though archaic and backward if you go by modern sensibilities. Like this one Mantra the search for which led me to a website titled “6 noble virtues of an ideal wife“. As the website explains, it is from “Neeti Saara”, written by a Telugu poet Baddena in 13th century (yes, some of the wedding rituals are only 800 years old).

I won’t go into explaining these “noble virtues” here, but as I look back at our seven years of marriage, I realise that Pinky has been a brilliant wife. And she has done so while either studying or keeping a (mostly demanding) full time job for most of the duration of our marriage.

I’m reminded of the time when we lived in Rajajinagar, when I was working as an independent management consultant. I would work from home, and having disposed of our cook a few months earlier, I had the task of making my own lunch.

Pinky would have none of it. She would wake up at 5:30 and painstakingly make tall stacks of chapatis (I was going through one of those “I don’t want to eat rice” phases at that time) before she ran to catch her factory bus, so that I could have a good meal. And the dutiful husband I was, I’d finish the full day’s quota in the afternoon itself which meant she would be forced to cook again once she was back after a tiring day and 40-kilometre commute.

I’m also reminded of the time earlier this year when we’d moved to London and I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to do here. Pinky not only supported our family financially, but also ferry Berry all the way into town each day so that I could figure out life, possibly find a job and finish my book. And on most days it would be Pinky who would cook dinner after another long commute (usually with a screaming baby).

During my consulting life, every time I had to strike a deal or go through a tough negotiation, I would turn to Pinky. Each time she would unfailingly help me sort out my demons and give me sage advice. On several occasions she saved me from pricing too low. When she would see that I was getting into a bad deal, she would firmly pull me back.

She was insanely supportive when in late 2011 I decided to quit my job and lead a portfolio life. She would find her own cute ways of supporting me in every endeavour, like buying me a new fancy notebook when I was going to meet my first prospective big client, or trying to find me a fancy water bottle prior to my bike trip across Rajasthan.

When I would wake up at 4am to catch the first flight out to see outstation clients, she would wake up along with me, make coffee for me and polish my shoes. On two such occasions she wasn’t around. I almost missed my flight on one of those occasions, and missed my flight on the other!

From time to time she plans fun activities for us to do together, like the time she took me to the A-Paul-ogy art gallery, or when she took me for a Japanese meal to Matsuri and totally bossed the menu (before I knew it she’d ordered a host of dishes which made for a wonderful and complete meal!).

In some senses, I feel I haven’t held up my side of the bargain at times. One thing she absolutely enjoys is for us to watch movies together, but we almost never do that since I don’t generally have the patience to watch movies. She would love to spend a Friday evening cuddling on the couch watching something together, but I prefer to be on my computer instead. She loves being surprised, but my ineptitude means that on most occasions I’ve tried it’s been a shock rather than a surprise.

And then I have my occasional bouts of extreme anger, and she’s borne the brunt of it on several occasions. Usually it involves shouting (I’m an absolute shouter and love to went out my frustrations; she’s the quiet types) and I have to try hard to not get violent at times (on some occasions I don’t succeed in restraining myself). On some occasions it starts with something seemingly silly. On others, I fuck up like crazy. Either ways, it occasionally gets ugly – something I’m definitely not proud about.

I know I have driven her insane. I know that my negativity and NED has rubbed off on her. It is normal for a married couple to influence and change each other, and I know I’ve changed her in ways she absolutely hates.

Yet she’s always been the forgiving sorts. She’s stood by me thick and thin through the seven years of our marriage. Thanks to her adventures during her MBA, I’ve managed to increase my country count (and also got to move to a new country!).

And she’s been a wonderful mother to Berry. One old friend who met Pinky for the first time last year later told me, “man, she is so sorted!”. She remains cool, and seemingly without taking much stress, has managed to turn Berry into a bright and naughty toddler – I’ve mostly been a freerider! Oh, and do you know that she writes an absolutely delightful letter to Berry each month?

It’s mostly been a wonderful seven years with Pinky so far! I know we’ve had the odd low moment, and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to her for that. But in my mind, these have been far far outweighed by all the wonderful times we’ve been through, and all the fun we’ve had together! I hope to get another seventy such wonderful years with this wonderful woman!

And for after that, there’s this:

PS: The more perceptive of the readers here will know that this blog (its predecessor, rather) played a not insignificant part in us meeting. One of the posts that drew her attention, and which got us talking was this.

Pudina family

Sometimes they say that opposites attract.

But more practically, I think it’s impossible to louvvu someone unless you have lots of similar interests, and that also means lots of similar ambitions. And in that sense my wife and I have shared quite a few ambitions.

First we wanted to become celebrity bloggers. Then (ok the order gets messed up here) there was the MBA. And before all this there is Ganeshana Maduve (which we re-watched perhaps for the 50th time this weekend).

And adding to all this, there’s the desire to write in newspapers. I remember that over a decade ago I wanted to regularly write in newspapers, and about “policy issues”. I didn’t follow up on that ambition, of course, but through lots of twists and turns and happy coincidences meant that I started writing for Mint in 2013, and some of the stuff I’ve written there are about “policy issues”.

And the wife has had similar ambitions as well, though her methods have been vastly different, and much more focussed. She’s always wanted to write a column on relationships. Rather, she first wanted to be a relationship blogger, and then a relationship columnist, and she’s gone about the process with single-minded ambition.

So, first there was the MarriageBrokerAuntie blog (now hosted here). Then it turned into a Facebook page. It even led to a business that she ran during her maternity and post-childbirth periods (imagine running a business while nursing a tiny baby). And now she’s in the papers. Yay!

It so happens that it’s the same paper that I write for. And it also happens that the edition of the paper where it was published (Mint on Sunday) also happened to carry an excerpt from my book two-three weeks back. And that also happened to be about relationships.

So a long long time ago, a couple of days after we’d first met, she had written about “Arranged Louvvu“. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first piece she’s written for Mint is about “Love, and other arrangements“.  It’s about dating apps, and how what they lead to is not “real love” and it’s no different from “other arrangements”. That people think arranged marriage is uncool, but dating apps lead to basically arranged relationships. And so on.

Read the whole thing, it’s damn well written. Oh, and it features 1-6-1 calls, Panchatantra and George Akerlof’s “market for lemons”, among other stud fundaes.

Now the only thing left is for Berry to start writing for Mint. They don’t have a children’s issue (where they feature drawings, poems, etc. written by kids) so I guess she’ll have to wait a while. But I’m damn hopeful!

In any case, for now massive pride is happening on account of the wife!

Book Release

So my book Between the buyer and the seller is now available on Amazon, in both print and kindle versions. You can go here to buy. Thanks to Amazon’s print on demand service, it’s available worldwide.

It’s been a long time coming. I completed the first draft way back in April 2016. Writing it was no easy task, but was definitely helped by the presence of one awesome coffee shop close to where I was staying in Barcelona.

Having written one draft, I went around finding publishers. It wasn’t a trivial process. In the process, I found out enough about the publishing industry to get a new prologue for the book (I guess that should be part of the Kindle sample).

And then in the course of the backs and forths with the publishers I found a lot of what I’d written to be absolute shit, and so revised the book two times. Then in December last year, the Takshashila Institution decided to publish it.

And then they sent it to some experts for expert opinion. Said opinion came back positive but with some suggestions. So I revised the book yet another time and implemented these suggestions. Then there was the copy editing process and yet another revision. Then the book design (if not anything, doesn’t it at least look good?) and typesetting and stuff. And formatting.

In the meantime, Shashi Tharoor and Bibek Debroy wrote some nice blurbs for the book – they’re printed at the back of the book now. And then some more hoops and procedures and printing and publishing and fighting with Amazon and the book is now out! For you to purchase.

I want to put out a special word of thanks to Anupam Manur, who has effectively “produced” the book, managing the entire process on Takshashila’s behalf. He’s been patient with my periodic abuses, and diligently got work done. The night before his wedding, he was up fixing some stuff on Amazon for the book.

Anyway, enough of my story. Now go buy the book and read it. Let me, and others, know what you think of the book. And spread the word!

Oh, and I want to thank all of you, my patient blog readers, for the encouragement through the last 13 years. It’s your collective effort and support that has made me a better writer, and resulted in this book coming out!