Category Archives: personal

Required: A new value proposition

Today, more than five years since I started out with Pinky, I realise that I need a new value proposition for the relationship. So far things had been simple – I was simply the rich guy in the partnership. I was working for the Giant Squid when we met, I’ve since remodelled myself as a quant management consultant and make reasonable money out of it, and save for a short period in 2011-12, my contribution to the household finances has far outpaced hers.

However, with Pinky now pursuing an MBA from a top global (pun intended – it was she who coined the phrase “value proposition” for this post) B-school, this is going to soon change. The next two years she’s in debt of course (some of it to me), but after graduation she’s likely to get a great well-paying job which is likely to significantly cut down my advantage in terms of the family finances (I still hope that I’ll retain my lead, and I mean this in a good way – that she gets a really well-paying job and I’ll be able to outpace her).

So by this one stroke of Pinky going to get herself an MBA, my main value proposition in the relationship has been completely destroyed. What this means, of course, is that I need to find a new proposition. If I’m a dog (remember I described myself as a bakery doggie in a recent post?) I need to learn new tricks. Or perhaps I need to get back to my old tricks?

Back in 2006, when we first talked, what impressed Pinky (by what she tells me now) was this blog – my income statement wasn’t particularly great then, and she had absolutely no clue about it until we met three years later. In 2006, Pinky liked how I used to write about every damn thing here, especially about all my failed attempts at relationships. She has repeatedly told me since that she loves being written about, and that one of her great big hopes of being with me was that I would write reams about her on this blog, like I have about all those failed attempts at relationships.

On this count, though, I’ve utterly failed her. For reasons I’m still not able to put a finger on, I’ve hardly written about her. There was the usual flurry of posts in the first few days of our involvement (this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one). By the time the last of those posts was written, I was preparing to meet her parents and things were cementing. And then, bang, boom, fizzle! I stopped writing about her!

There has been the odd post I’ve written here or there but I’ve been writing nowhere close to what she possibly expects from having been with me for over five years now. On the primary criterion – the spike – that she evaluated me on when we got together (I must say I did damn well in those initial days to sustain interest), I’ve been an utter failure. It’s almost like the reason she married me has not come to bear fruit.

In this context, I hope to get back to my old value proposition – maybe because I’m not creative enough or too lazy to come up with a new one. In the year and half that I have (before Pinky graduates) to come up with the new proposition, there might be some other good that might come out – something else I might discover about myself which would be a great value proposition for me in the marriage. You need to start your search somewhere, though.

When you break up, sometimes your first attempt at doing a rebound is by checking if your ex is still single and if you can hook up with hem (my friend and fellow-IESE-WAG Aravind told me yesterday that this is the word the Swedes have come up with as a short form of saying “him/her”, as a gender neutral pronoun). You are unlikely to succeed, and you are more likely to find someone totally new. But your ex gives you the starting point for your search.

It is similar in my case. With my value proposition due to expire, my first instinct is to go back to my ex – my ex value proposition that is (I have no other exes!!). Maybe it will succeed. Maybe it will not – in which case I’ve to find something new. But rebounding to the ex is the safest bet. So if I manage to make this work, you can hope to find a lot more Pinky in these pages.

Language

For millions of years
Mankind lived
Just like the animals

And then something happened
That unleashed the power of our imagination
We learned to talk

(from Pink Floyd’s Keep Talking from Division Bell)

And then we moved to a place where no one speaks any of the languages you speak. And we became animals again.

This trip to Barcelona is the first time I’ve spent a reasonable length of time I’ve spent in a place where no one speaks any of the languages that I speak. And I’ve been literally feeling like an animal again, absolutely incapable of communicating, pointing at things and using sign language. It seems like my experience here has been significantly diminished given my inability to speak any of the languages spoken here.

I learnt to talk Kannada when I was perhaps one, or max two. I learnt English in a year or two after that. And then my language learning stopped. I had Hindi as my second language in school, and somehow struggled through it despite scoring 90 out of 100 in my board exam (shows how pointless board exams are). I can understand Hindi, and watch Hindi movies, but I still can’t speak fluently. When I have to speak Hindi, I construct a sentence in Kannada and then translate it. And I speak it with a heavy Kannada accent, much to the mirth of people around.

I have a Bihari cook in Bangalore. He claims to know Kannada  but I’ve never tried testing that. And I try speaking to him in Hindi. It is almost like we use sign language. I point to a set of ingredients and tell him the name of what I want to eat. He cooks, and buzzes off. At least talking face to face is fine. There are occasions when I have to call him and give him instructions (“come early tomorrow” or “come late today” or “don’t come today” or some such). It is a nightmare.

It’s not like I’m absolutely bad at languages – I can pick up words  quite easily. Thanks to football watching I’ve learnt a fair bit of European history and geography and culture, and through the process I’ve learnt a fair number of words (they’re of the kind of trequartistaregistatornante, etc but European words nevertheless). I know words in several languages. Just that I have this inability to learn grammar, or how words are put together to form sentences and communicate thoughts (except of course in English and Kannada).

Fourteen years back I went to IIT Madras, and half the people in my class were Gult. That meant I had the opportunity to pick up a fair bit of both Telugu and Tamil. I did neither. I can understand both languages a fair bit, but my understanding of the languages can be described as “assembly language”. I know words and what they mean. I listen for such keywords in what people are saying and interpret based on that. And when I speak these languages, it is based on keywords – I just say out the noun and the root form of the verb and expect the other person to interpret. I’ve never managed to get beyond this!

So there are these bakeries near where I live which might have already marked me off as a weird animal who just walks in and out o them. I go in, survey what they have and if something looks interesting point to that. They pack it for me, and then tell a number. I ask for the bill – so that I can read the number, or just give them a large enough note and trust them to return me the exact change. When nothing looks interesting to me in the display I can’t talk and ask them for what I want. I just look around (perhaps like a bakery dog) and just walk away. I don’t know how to say “Sorry I don’t know what I want”, or “Thank you, but I don’t find anything interesting here”. And I’ve been visiting some of these places multiple times, doing the same thing!

The level of discourse we are reduced to when we are unable to communicate is rather remarkable! It’s like we can simply not unleash the power of imagination, it is like going back to living like animals. I don’t like it, but I don’t know how to remedy it – I simply can’t pick up new languages!

Reading fiction

In the semester of January-May 2004, I took a course on Indian Fiction in English. This was in order to satisfy the quota for “humanities” credits at IIT Madras. The course was mostly good, and taught well, and we got a glimpse of how Indian writing in English developed, and the motifs that have been unique to such writing. There are a number of short stories we read as part of the course that I still remember vividly. But then there was the book.

For a one semester course, having lots of short stories makes sense, but no course is complete without analysing a novel, and so we were asked to read Jaishree Misra’s Ancient Promises, a truly depressing and mindfucking piece of literature. I don’t know if it was a consequence of that, or that I didn’t read much anyway, that the number of books of fiction I’ve read since then can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Soon after graduating from IIT (after some wrangling – I had attendance issues in the said Indian Fiction in English course, thanks to all the IIM interviews and some casual bunking), I paid Rs. 95 for Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone and devoured it. Fresh out of IIT (and having spent a summer at IIT Delhi, I could relate to the settings in the book), I must say I loved it. A few days later I borrowed To Kill A Mockingbird from God. Loved that, too. Then I borrowed (from God, again) Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Never got past the initial pages. I don’t think I even returned the book to God.

Then I bought Catch 22 and didn’t read it (the book was soon in tatters and I gave it away). Through IIM, I was too busy reading the Business Standard and blogging and indulging in unsavoury activities to have any time for reading. And after graduation I turned to non-fiction (I started with Duncan Watts’s Six Degrees, then James Suroweicki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, Freakonomics, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, James Gleick’s Chaos, etc.) – mostly books on science and history and economics. I was hooked and for the last eight years this is what I’ve mostly read. The only book of fiction I remember reading in this intervening time period was Amit Varma’s My Friend Sancho. I had gone for the book’s launch in Delhi (more of an excuse to meet Amit and other friends who were going to turn up there), bought it out of sheer social pressure at the occasion and read it. I must say I quite liked it (though I like Amit’s recent writings on risk and ancient writings on freedom much better).

So scroll back (or forward – depending on which frame of reference you are in ) to about a month back, after I had left twitter and facebook when I decided I must use the now available time to read some fiction. I started off with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (free Kindle edition), struggled though to about 50% and promptly gave up. I needed some fiction that would inspire me.

Some ten years back Madness had recommended that I read Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. I promptly ignored him. Eight years back he made the same recommendation. I ignored him again. In 2008 I decided to read the book, but couldn’t find a copy (pre-Kindle days, remember). Sometime in 2009 or 2010 I found a copy in Blossom, and bought it, and it was sitting in the back of my bookshelf till two weeks back. I didn’t start reading from that, though.

When I had my accident in Rajasthan back in 2012, I had injured the ligament in my left thumb, and the greater injury of my fourth right metacarpal had meant that I had ignored this ligament injury until it was too late. So I have a weak left thumb. And that means it is hard for me to hold open a paperback with my left hand – it has to be placed somewhere. This means most of my reading in the last two years has been on the Kindle.

And so I got a sample on my Kindle. The first scene involving movement of currency in Shanghai had me hooked. Soon I was through the sample. Before I hit that “buy” button on my Kindle, though, I checked the bookshelf to see if the physical copy still existed. It did, though it was yellow (perhaps it was already yellow by the time I bought it). So I picked up the physical copy. And over the last ten or twelve days I’ve read it. All 918 pages of it.

It’s been a fabulous book (if a work of fiction has to hold my attention for this long it ought to be fabulous – my ADHD makes me a very good judge of books and movies). Insane fundaes on cryptography, privacy, the second world war, American legal system and just about everything else. It’s been so insanely full of fundaes that I actually sat through 918 pages of it! Can’t recommend the book enough!

I wonder if I would have read it had I still been on Twitter and Facebook. I probably would have – despite being on these media I did read a sufficient quantity of non fiction in the last 2-3 years. But I had the kind of mental space I didn’t for a long time (possibly in part with living alone). And so I read. It’s been fabulous.

The next two books I plan to read are Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (I’d begun reading it two years back and liked it before I had a problem with that Kindle and had to exchange it) and Dr. Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga (considering I’m traveling to Catalunya next month). I still don’t know which one I’ll pick up next (figuratively – both books are on my kindle).

A month of detox

I cheated a little bit this morning. Since it’s been a month now since I got off Twitter and Facebook, I logged in to both for about a minute each, to check if I have any messages. The ones on Facebook weren’t of much use – just some general messages. There was one DM on twitter which had value, and I sent the guy an email explaining I don’t use twitter any more. I presently logged out.

The one month off Twitter and Facebook has so far gone off fantastically. For starters it’s given me plenty of time to read, meet people, talk to people and other useful stuff. And apart from some interesting links that people post on Twitter, I haven’t really missed either of them.

There have been times when there have been thoughts that would have earlier led to a tweet. However, given that the option exists no more, I end up doing one of two things – if there is substance to the tweet and I can elaborate on it, then I do so and it results in a blog post (you must have noticed that the frequency of blogging has gone up significantly in the last one month).

If it’s not really blog worthy but just something that I want to share with someone, I think of whose attention I would have liked to have caught by putting that tweet. In most cases I have found that there is a small set of people whose attention I would have liked to catch with a tweet – every time I tweeted, I would think of how a particular set of people would respond. So what I do when I have something to say and a particular set of people to say it to is to just message it to them.

While this gives a much better chance of them responding to the message than if they just saw it on their timeline (or missed seeing it), it also has the added benefit of starting conversations. Which is not a bad thing at all. In the last one month I’ve seen that my usage of WhatsApp and Google Talk has gone up significantly.

The only thing I miss about twitter is the interesting links that people post. I’ve tried a few things to remedy that. Firstly I tried to see if I could write a script that crawls my timeline, gets popular links (based on a set of defined metrics), and then bookmarks the top five each day. I went some way with the code (pasted below the fold here) but couldn’t figure how to post the linked articles to Pocket (my article bookmarker of choice). So I ended up tweeting those chosen links (!!) with a #looksinteresting hashtag, so that ifttt does the job of adding to Pocket.

It went for a bit till multiple people told me the tweets were spammy. And then I realized I needed to tweak the algorithm, and it needed significant improvement. And then I realized the solution was at hand – Flipboard.

If you have an android phone or an iPad and not used FlipBoard you’re really missing something. it’s a great app that curates articles based on your indicated areas of interest and history, and one of the sources it can get links from is your own Twitter and Facebook accounts. It is generally good in terms of its algo and good links usually bubble up there.

When I went off Twitter and Facebook on the 6th of August (in a fit of rage, outraged by all the outrage and negativity on the two media) I wanted complete isolation. And thus I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my FlipBoard also. Now I realized that adding back twitter on FlipBoard will allow me to access the nice links shared there without really getting addicted back to twitter, or partaking all the outrage.

For the last two weeks it’s worked like a charm. That twitter is present only on FlipBoard, which I use not more than twice a day (once in the morning, once at night), means that I’ve had the best of both worlds. And not being on twitter has meant that i’ve been able to get a fair bit of work done, finished three books (my first attempt at reading fiction in ten years fizzled out midway, though – Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness failed to sustain my interest beyond about 40% (I have it on kindle) ), written dozens of blog posts across the three blogs and had more meaningful conversations with people.

I hereby extend my sabbatical from Twitter and Facebook for another month.

Below the fold is the code I wrote. It’s in R. I hope you can make some sense of it.

Continue reading

Law of conservation of talent

For starters. there is no such law. However, there exists a belief in most people’s minds that everyone is equally talented, and it is only that talent in different people is spread across different dimensions.

It starts when you are in school. If you are not good at maths, people tell you that you must be good at something else – arts perhaps. At that age it is perhaps not a bad thing – to be told when you are a child that you have no talent no way helps you in growing up. You are encouraged at that age to try different things, to find the thing that you’re good at.

And then you grow up. And you grow up with this entrenched belief of the “law of conservation of talent”. When you see someone good at something, you will assume that that is the only thing that they are good at. When you see that someone is bad at something you assume there is something else that they are good at. When you see someone good at more than the average number of things, you think they cannot be real, or that it is unfair, or perhaps that they are just faking it.

I once heard this story of a mother arguing with a schoolteacher that her son did not need remedial classes in maths. When told that the kid was indeed poor at maths, the mother responded “so what? He might be good at art. Why does he have to pass his maths exam for that?” (not sure I’ve paraphrased accurately but this is broadly the picture). While it might be a good idea to tell the kid that there is perhaps something else that he is good at, the mother strongly believing in the same thing is simply not done.

\begin{controversy}

Back in business school, there was this set of people who claimed to have a deep passion for marketing. Now, these people belonged to two classes. The first were actually passionate about marketing – there was something about marketing that gave them a kick and they wanted to pursue a career that would allow them to generate such kicks. From my conversations with them I know the passion was real, and most of them are doing rather well now in their marketing careers.

And then there was the second type. This was the class of people who had found that they were no good at mathematics and accounting and economics, and thus figured that they had no hope of a career in anything related to any of these fields, and thus found refuge in marketing. Of course they wouldn’t admit that – they would also claim a deep passion in marketing. While that was okay – perhaps marketing gave them their best chance of pursuing a successful career, and thus I don’t grudge their choice – what got my goat was that these people would claim that because they were no good at the “hard sciences” (mathematics, accounting, etc.) they were “creative”. Who says that mathematics and accounting and economics are not creative subjects? And why does anyone who is not good at these subjects (it is impossible, for example, to excel at mathematics unless you are creative) automatically become “creative”? It is the law of conservation of talent, simple.

\end{controversy}

For people who are good at more than one thing, law of conservation of talent can bite you in more than one way. Actually there is more to do with this than just law of conservation of talent – people like to analyze other people by putting them in easily understood silos, or categories. And law of conservation of talent helps assign sets of talents to these silos.

Over the last two years, by hook or by crook, I’ve built my reputation to be a great quant. I consult with companies helping them with their quant and data stuff, I write a quant blog and I write a series in Mint on quant in elections. While it is all good and I’m glad that I’ve built a reputation as a quant, the downside is that people refuse to look beyond this and recognize my other skills.

For example, I think I’m rather good at economic reasoning, and I believe that my prowess in that combined with my prowess in working with numbers can deliver massive value to my potential clients. However, when people see me as a quant, it is hard for them to digest that I could also be good with economic reasoning, or behavioural sciences, for example. Thus, when I take on a mandate to do something beyond quant, people find it extremely hard to accept that I dole out non-quant advice too. I blame the law of conservation of talent for this – when people think you are good at quant, they exclude all other skills you might possibly have.

I’ll end this post with another anecdote from  business school. A few months in, things were going well and I had (even back then) built a reputation as someone who was good at quant and mathematics and accounting and economics (in business school, all these fell on the same side of the fence, so the law of conservation of talent allowed you to be good at all these at once). Quizzing was a related activity, so I was “allowed” to be good at that. If I remember right, what perhaps upset people’s calculations was when I represented my class in the inter sectional basketball tournament and didn’t perform badly – based on reactions after the game I think people were a bit thrown off that I could be good at basketball too (especially given that I’ve never looked remotely athletic, and have always been a slow mover). Law of conservation of talent again!

Chatting and messengers

So the wife has just moved abroad and I haven’t even bothered getting international calling enabled on my mobile phone. It’s not that I’m not concerned about keeping in touch with her – it’s more to do with the plethora of options to keep in touch with her than a normal phone call.

Firstly there’s whatsapp, which I’ve used for the last two years (the trigger to join whatsapp was the limit in the number of text messages one could send per day which was introduced in 2012 as a “rumour prevention mechanism”). A large number of people on my contacts list use WhatsApp, which means that it is extremely rare that i use normal text messaging to connect to them.

And earlier today, while she was waiting for a connection at Frankfurt airport, the wife asked me to install Viber, saying it allows us to talk without any international dialing cost. I just had a brief conversation with her and the quality was extraordinary (especially given i’m on a weak BSNL broadband here and she was in a car there). Then I looked at my contacts who are on viber, and the number of my contacts who are using Viber is insanely high! Almost makes me seem foolish for not joining in so far.

And then earlier today I spoke to someone in Singapore using Skype. Call quality wasn’t that great – we dropped a couple of times – but it was still pretty good. And then there is google hangouts. And then there is apple’s facetime (perhaps the main reason the iPad fell my side when we were dividing our assets prior to the wife’s move is that I could have an Apple device with me so that we can FaceTime!).

The number of options for messaging is so large that I wonder how long the whole calling and messaging model will continue. I had shown in a recent blog post (on my public policy blog) that the number of SMSs sent per user in India peaked three years ago and has then been on a secular decline. And now there is news that the telecoms regulator in India is thinking of instituting a fee on providers such as WhatsApp and Viber because of the revenue losses they are causing to the mobile phone service providers in India (like Airtel, Vodafone, etc.).

The question therefore is what the future of telecom will look like given the large number of internet based reliable communication providers who are springing up. My prediction is that the phone call is not going to die – what sets apart a phone call from a Voice over IP connection (such as Skype or Viber) is that it is “online” (i forget the technical term for it – ok got it it’s “network switching” as opposed to “packet switching” which is how the internet works).

To explain that in English, when I talk to you over the phone (normal phone call) there is a dedicated line that goes out from me to you. Basically your telecom provider and mine and the network interchange come together so that a virtual line is drawn from me to you, and this is exclusive for us as we talk (call dropping on mobile phones happens when we try to move from one “cell” to another and get lost in between).

The internet doesn’t work that way. When I send you a “voice message” over the internet, it goes one hop at a time. There is no dedicated line from me to you. The reason we are now able to voice chat online reliably is that the bandwidth available is so much that packets usually get connected quickly enough (think of a bus network so dense that you can change buses instantly to get to your destination – it virtually simulates a “direct bus”). When the network is busy or the bandwidth clogged, however, there might be some delays (while a phone call once connected remains connected).

Given this distinction the phone call offers a level of reliability that packet switching based voice messengers can never reach. And there will always be a market for extremely high reliability. Hence the phone call is not going anywhere.

The SMS, on the other hand, is again packet switched, and a mechanism in which carriers could extract large amounts of money. The SMS will soon die a natural death – kept alive only by means of government mandated services such as two factor authentication of credit card transactions.

While the fees on carriers such as Viber might become a reality in a place like India they are unlikely to sustain as international norms become uniform. What we are likely to see instead is mobile carriers coming to terms with existence of such providers, and some interesting internet pricing plans.

Currently, to use Viber for a fair bit you need a fairly high FUP (fair usage policy) limit on your phone (carrying voice digitally takes a lot of bandwidth). Carriers might introduce some kind of a graded payment structure such that they can partly recover (through higher internet charges) the lost revenues thanks to lost call charges.

If any mobile phone operator is reading this and needs help on devising such pricing mechanisms, feel free to use my consulting services. Among other things in the past I’ve done revenue management for airline ticketing and cargo (the holy grail of revenue management) while working for Sabre – the pioneer in revenue management.

Bachelor notes: day zero

I’m writing this having just dropped the wife at the airport. I’m taking the bus back home. While it helps that this bus goes 200m from my house and i saw it leave just when I was ready to leave the airport, I realize that with the wife not at home there’s no incentive for me to get home asap. A little delay doesn’t hurt!

And to think that the last time I took the airport bus home was one week shy of five years ago, which was a month before I first met the lady who is now the wife!!

While I’m at it I’m suddenly reminded of the time eleven years ago, when I was at IIT and decided I wanted to “slow down the pace of life”! And my way of achieving that was by selling my cycle!

Something tells me I’ve written about this recently on the blog but I’m on the mobile and hence too lazy to check right now!!

Back to bachelorhood

Starting tonight I’ll be a bachelor once again. For the next nineteen months or so. No it’s not that I’m returning my post graduate diploma and hence getting this downgrade (it’s been a while since I cracked a bad joke here so I’m entitled). It’s that the wife is going away. To get herself an MBA (yes I know that after this she will be better qualified than me since she’ll be getting a proper MBA while i have a post graduate diploma only. Maybe I can retire soon? ).

She’ll be going off to Barcelona tonight. The original plan had me moving there too. But then classic old NED happened and I ended up not looking for a job or assignment there and since it’s not an inexpensive place to stay I’m staying back. Plan to visit her every once in a while. And even though tickets to Europe are prohibitively expensive I now have a place to go to in case I need a break.

But for that I need to first get myself a visa. I guess one of my chief tasks in the next few days will be to get this bit of business done. But then I have my own business.

Regulars on this blog might be aware that I haven’t had formal employment for close to three years now. I freelance as a quAnt consultant – helping companies figure out how to make use of the volumes of data they collect in improving their business decision making. It’s been doing quite okay but my plan is to use the next few months when I don’t have any domestic commitments to see if I can take it to the next level.

It might also be pertinent to mention here that the first bit if business I got for this particular venture was through this blog – the last time I put out a post like this one a long time reader who was looking for quant assistance left a comment here and that led to a rather fruitful assignment. Perhaps mentioning this here might result in a repeat?

Now that I’m blogging more than I used to in the recent past I’ll also be using these pages to keep you updated on the long distanceness. I’ve also noticed that since I last put the update on leaving twitter and Facebook that there’s some more activity here. Keep that flowing and I hope for some good conversations on the comment pages here.

Slowing down

Back in 2003, when I was in my third year at IIT,  I thought that “life was going too fast”. That too many things were happening all the time and I had no time for anything. I decided to respond to that by purposely slowing down my life. I gave away my bicycle (which was the primary means of transport at IIT) and started walking. This meant I had to leave ten minutes earlier for class each morning, but given I would wake up early this wasn’t an issue. What this ensured was that I had time to think, to introspect, and to do things at my own pace rather than let other things drive my life.

In January this year I went off Twitter. Twitter was being too much of a time sink, and was taking too much mindspace so i decided to get off. the abstention lasted a month. I sought to make a ‘limited comeback’ in February so that I could plug my pieces in Mint, among other things. However, that soon turned into a full-scale comeback and in the last month or two I’ve been looking at twitter while trying to put myself to sleep, and again as soon as I wake up.

So I’ve decided once again to slow things down. I’m off twitter and facebook. I hope this one will last longer than my last attempt. The reason this time is a combination of the time sink that these networks were proving to be and the overall negativity that was being transmitted through these networks – facebook has stopped being a place where people share photos and quirky messages – it’s all outrage and flame wars there. Twitter has always been that way. I realized these were affecting me negatively to a significant extent, and so I’m off.

So far there have been no withdrawal symptoms, but I’m formulating a policy for that. If there’s something I want to say, there are two ways I’m going to say it in – I’ll either expand and elaborate and write a blog post ( you are likely to see more action on this blog and on my other two blogs in the next few months), or I’ll decide which specific person I want to tell what I wanted to tell, and tell that person! Broadcast is simply a waste of time.

My policy as of yesterday afternoon:

  • No twitter
  • No facebook
  • More email
  • More google hangouts
  • More whatsapp
  • More phone calls
  • More reading books
  • More writing blogs

And hopefully I can even resume on that book of which I’ve only written the preface.

I returned last night from a walk, and instinctively reached for my phone to check twitter and facebook. And then realized those two apps have been uninstalled. I wanted to switch on my PC and just “generally be online”. But then realized that most of my “generally being online” was to be online on twitter and facebook. With those two out, there was no use of “being online”.

And then I saw my kindle, and spent the next four hours continuing a book I’d left midway a month back. I woke up this morning and switched on the computer, and have been “generally online” but reading emails and writing blogs. I like this already, and hope this can sustain.

Last week someone told me that I’m a “natural blogger”. The meaning of this term wasn’t clear to me until he said “I assume you can write a blog post in like 45 minutes?” 45 minutes is the upper end of the time i take to write a blog post. I normally do one in 20. Maybe it’s a sign and I should get back to doing more of this.

PS: This also means that the only way I can talk to you, the reader, is through the comments section of this blog. I promise to be more responsive here and engage in a conversation.

Twisting and shouting

Ten years ago to the day, there was tragedy. Around this time I was home. That day I remember my father’s usual Ambassador (his office car) wasn’t available, so he had come in a blue WagonR which looked like anything but a government car. Not that I could see too well, though.

Back in 2004, spectacle lenses made of plastic weren’t yet popular, and even if they were available they were quite expensive. I remember having a shell frame back then (like I do now, except that that one was an ugly-ish brown). The lens was made of glass – the kind that could shatter on impact and enter your eyes.

And shatter and enter it did. I had instinctively closed my eyes, so not much had gone in, though. My first reaction at that point in time was to remember the phone number of my usual opthalmologist (yes I still remember things like that). I even remember calling that guy’s office (yeah, back on those Nokia phones you could type without looking). Friends, however, were of the opinion that I should go to the nearest eye clinic. And Shekar Netralaya (JP Nagar 3rd Phase) was where we ended up.

It was among the freaker of freak accidents. I was playing badminton. <lj user=”amitng”> and I were on one side, two others on the other. We were both close to the baseline when the opponents sent the shuttle high. Both of us went for it, <lj user=”amitng”> slightly ahead and slightly to the left of me. Both of us drew our rackets back with a slight backswing. And that was it.

His racket caught me flush on the left spectacle lens. The lens duly cracked, and parts of it entered my eye. I remember that the game immediately stopped. I remember that one other guy’s car was right there outside the court, so we could go quickly to the hospital. And back in those days there wasn’t even a signal at the Delmia junction, so the U-turn was taken fast so that I could go to hospital.

I don’t remember what they did at the hospital. I think they cleaned up my eye, but one or two pieces remained particularly troublesome. I remember going for a follow-up test two days later. And I remember that one day after the accident I went all the way back to IIMB (after the accident I went home, in my father’s temporary blue WagonR) so that I wouldn’t miss accounting class (yes I was in my first semester so such youthful enthusiasm can be expected). And went back again the following day to write a test which I nearly aced.

And then there was the back story. 2004 was the first time that the IIMs decided to make public the CAT percentile. They had used an algorithm to allocate percentiles, and allocated it up to two decimal places. So if your “percentile” (with decimal places the term doesn’t make sense) was greater than 99.995 (i.e. you were in the top 0.005% of the 130,000 odd people who wrote the exam), your percentile would get rounded up to give a weird-sounding “100.00 percentile”. Top 0.005% of 130,000 means about six or seven people. Two of those were at IIMB. I was one of them. <lj user=”amitng”> was the other.

During our inauguration the certificates for the “directors merit list” of the senior batch were handed out. It was possibly meant to tell us how important being in the top 10 of the batch was, and I’m sure it did inspire a lot of people. And having been the top performers in the entrance test, people perhaps considered <lj user=”amitng”> and I top seeds (neither of us ended up getting it, though he got considerably closer than I did).

And so when I got injured before our first ever unit test and he was in some ways culpable for it (though in fairness it was on the field of play), there was scope for conspiracy theory. And when you have a bunch of creative youngsters and scope for a conspiracy theory, you can well expect someone to stand up and do the honours. And @realslimcody rose to the occasion. And Twisted Shout was born.

The name of the organization has its own story. @realslimcody is a Beatles fan, and he suggested that he name the yellow journalist enterprise as “twist and shout”. Madness heard it as “Twisted Shout” and the name stuck. A couple of episodes later I duly joined Twisted Shout. And we did a lot of twisting and shouting and yellow journalism. If you were our contemporary and not slandered by Twisted Shout you might consider your stint at IIMB of not being worthy enough!

Of course in a place like IIMB, you don’t do something just for the heck of it. Everything has to result in a “bullet point” in your CV (back in 2005 I’d planned to write a book called “In Search of a Bullet Point” about IIMB, but that again didn’t take off. I put NED, I guess). I think I wrote in my final resume that I was a “co-editor in the campus informal journal Twisted Shout”. I think the placement committee (which whetter all CVs) let that one remain (bless them). And as with all such campus endeavours TS quickly died after we graduated (though I tried to resurrect it in a separate blog on this site, it didn’t take off).

It’s ten years since that landmark incident that sparked the birth of Twist and Shout. I must mention my eye is fine – fine enough for me to wear contact lenses as I type this. There’s a scar inside my eye, though, and that’s something I’ll carry all my life. But it doesn’t affect life one bit, and life goes on!

Oh, I wasn’t right on that one – after the injury the doctor had told me that I shouldn’t let sweat enter my eyes. Two months after the injury I managed to get myself a red bandana (with skull and crossbones on it), and I ended up wearing it at all “sweatable opportunities” – when I played or partied. The bandana got legendary in its own way, and its story shall be told another day (or perhaps it’s already been told somewhere on this blog).