Callousness of the callus

When my wife went to the University of Michigan as an exchange student, she embarked on a “social experiment” that I later termed “Lord of the ringless” (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned here already  that she’s a big fan of social experiments).

The hypothesis, based on advice from a senior in her own college, was that a married exchange student was unlikely to win too many friends, and find too many people to hang out with. With a number of potentially interesting conversations and friendships at her “home school” IESE having ground to a halt the moment the counterparty noticed the ring on her finger, she decided to leave her ring behind at home when she travelled to Ann Arbor.

The social experiment worked, for a while at least. She managed to find herself a solid assignment group, and a bunch of friends to hang out with, before she got “outed“.

Back home in Bangalore last December, she wore back her ring, and promised she would never take it off again. Simultaneously, she made me promise that I would never take off my wedding ring, either. I accepted conditionally. “Most of the time I’ll wear the ring”, I said, “but I need to take it off when I’m deadlifting. Else it will give me calluses”.

“Oh, but I love picking your calluses! Don’t deny me that opportunity!”, she shot back.

I may not have mentioned on this blog that she’s always been a big fan of picking out scabs and calluses, right from the time she was a kid. For a long time, this was restricted to picking out her own, but then once she found me, she has ensured that no scab or callus of mine has gone unattended.

And so, thanks to this arrangement, I continue to wear my ring while lifting, and that gives a big callus at the base of my right ring finger. And my wife enjoys picking out these calluses, and now she has her own incentive to make sure I remain fit and go to the gym regularly!

Though I’m considering buying a pair of weightlifting gloves now!

Nomenclature

One of the fundamental methods in which we humans understand the world around us is by means of classification, and one of the fundamental steps in classification is nomenclature. When we give an object (animate or inanimate) a name, we take a massive step towards understanding it and appreciating it. An entity without a name is extremely hard to fathom, and it can be argued that the lack of a name can turn something into a non-entity.

It is thus standard practice that when something is created, it be given a name. And this applies to fellow human beings as well – until a name is applied, a newborn Homo sapiens remains an “it” – almost a non-entity. With the application of a name, “it” becomes a person, and gets an identity of its own.

As we have been discovering over the last few months, finding a name for a t0-be-born baby is a non-trivial process. The number of considerations that must be taken into consideration is humongous, for this set of words is going to fundamentally determine how this to-be-born will be viewed by the world for the duration of its lifetime.

For starters, the name should sound pleasant, and should be reasonably easy to pronounce for most of the people the to-be-born will encounter during the course of its life. Second, the name in entirety should seem cohesive – think of all those names where some part of character is lost because first and last names somehow don’t “match”.

Then, while there might be an argument that the name is simply an identifier for the said entity, we should also take into consideration the meaning of the said collection of syllables. This meaning should be something aesthetically pleasing to both the parents, and (hopefully) to the to-be-born.

Some people go so far as to name their kids after certain qualities, either physical or otherwise, and then it becomes a lifelong (and sometimes futile) adventure of the said kids to simply live up to their names!

And then there is a separate set of factors that many might find trivial, but can nonetheless be important. One must consider, for example, the possible nicknames and diminutives that might stem from the name, and these (apart from the name itself) need to be palatable. Next, the name should be “contemporary”, so that the to-be-born’s name doesn’t look misplaced in terms of era.

Then, this is a possibly recent phenomenon, but there is the uniqueness factor. As one hostel T-shirt at IIT Madras in the early 2000s put it, “na bhUtO, na bhavishyati” – there should never have been one, and there should never be one other with the same name. And so people try to find names that are unique – but not so unique that it (the name) becomes a point of ridicule.

And then there are constraints on the language of origin of the name – in case it means something. And some people like to name their kids based on where they expect it to stand in class – this is one reason for the profusion of “Aa*”s in recent times.

Given that we know the gender of our child already, there is added pressure on us to come up with a name quickly – at least by the time she is born. With a name by the time of birth, she can start her life of an independently living Homo sapiens as a “person”, and won’t have to be an “it” for too long.

A friend with a two-year-old daughter recently remarked that “naming a girl shouldn’t be hard. So many abstract nouns in Sanskrit denoting qualities are female”. Another friend with a much younger daughter supplied us with “rejects” – names he had considered but ultimately didn’t use. Yet, it is of no avail, as we continue to be clueless in our nomenclature.

And it’s not just the first name that’s up for grabs – we need to decide what our daughter’s last name will be as well. The “default option” is to continue the patronymic (using father’s first name as last name), but the wife thinks “Karthik” makes for a lousy last name, so there is some debate on that front as well. Another option is to use my father’s given name (which is my last name) as my kid’s last name, but I find that simply weird.

Then there is the option of reviving the name of my ancestral village (which was part of my father’s name, but is not part of mine), but it sounds “too country” (translates to “village of cowherds”). Another option is to use the gotra (which is what the wife, or rather her parents, has used), but that will lend a casteist element to the name, which we’re not particularly comfortable with.

Yet another option is to dig into my paternal ancestry to look for suffixes that can be used as last names (this supplies “Rao”, “Shastri” and “Bhat” – and I know this because this is necessary information for performing death ceremonies), but that somehow that sounds too manufactured. Another common option is to use the place of birth, but “Bangalore” (where we expect our daughter to be born) just doesn’t sound right.

And all this is for the last name, which you might think must be straightforward! Imagine the amount of effort involved in coming up with the first name!

Whoever said nomenclature is an easy process!

Pregnancy and deadlifting

The so-called Sympathetic Pregnancy Belly, which is caused due to something known as the Couvade Syndrome, is not a myth. As the expectant mother’s abdomen swells, to make room for the baby growing within, her partner’s belly starts swelling up as well.

Having personally experienced this, I can think of several reasons due to which this happens. Firstly, the expectant mother (“mother” for short) is encouraged to eat nutritious fattening food during pregnancy, which is sometimes too tempting for the expectant father (“father”) to let go of.

So as the baby grows within the mother’s belly, the father becomes fatter as well, ingesting the same nutritious food his partner has been instructed to ingest.

Then, it is a custom that when you are pregnant, people call you home to feed you lunch/dinner (sometimes you go out of your way to solicit such invitations). It is also custom that these invitations are extended to the father as well, and with rich foods and desserts being staples at such meals, it further contributes to the sympathetic  belly.

And then there is the lack of exercise. With your partner experiencing pains all day, and not being able to walk too much, you prefer to spend time with her doing nothing rather than going out on those romantic long walks of the yesteryear. You take pity on the partner and start taking your car out for even the shortest distances. Even when you travel, you limit your activity so that the partner doesn’t get stressed. And your tummy grows.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have minded growth of my tummy along with my wife’s, but the problem in this case is that my triglyceride levels have shot up as well (thanks to all that eating and little exercise). With the nutritious foods the partner consumes being too tempting to let go of, dieting is not an answer. And hence I’ve decided to resume deadlifting.

Among all the different kinds of exercise I’ve done in the past, the deadlift stands out because of the sheer volume of mass you move in the course of the exercise, and the extent of your body that gets exercised in the process. It is an utterly tiring exercise (you need to make sure you’ve eaten well enough before you embark on it), and if you are deadlifting regularly, no amount of dessert eating can have any impact on your triglycerides (last October, when I was deadlifting sporadically and eating without restraint, I recorded my lowest ever triglyceride numbers since I started testing that thing).

And there is one other major advantage to deadlifting as well – you can continue lifting your partner well into the pregnancy. While both the father and mother put on weight during the pregnancy (as documented above), under normal circumstances there is no addition to the father’s muscle mass. Consequently, it becomes progressively harder to lift the mother through the course of the pregnancy, a task that would have been trivial in ground (non-pregnant) state!

And what better way to be able to lift the partner, than practicing to lift heavy weights? And where else can you lift the kind of weights you can lift when you are deadlifting?

Unfortunately I had given up deadlifting for the first part of the pregnancy, and hence I’ve fallen well behind the curve. I find it extremely hard nowadays to lift my wife, and I’m not proud to say that. Hopefully, having resumed deadlifting, I should be able to make up for this in a few days now! Watch this space!

One final question for those who deadlift – deadlifting what weight (as a function of N) can prepare you to lift a human weighing N kgs off the floor and cradle her in your arms?

Ends, beginnings and furniture rearrangement

Back when I was a student at IIT Madras, I would get the feeling from time to time that I needed to “resurrect my life”. The motivation for this would typically be trivial, though at times it might have been an examination or an assignment gone wrong.

And these resurrections followed a pattern – I would begin by cleaning my room, throwing out all the unnecessary papers, and getting things around me in order. Whether my life would be “resurrected” after this is questionable, but I would definitely feel better, and get on with life.

Given this background, it came as a pleasant surprise when I found that the person I had married also had a similar philosophy with respect to life resurrection. In fact, since she had never lived in a hostel room, and had access to larger quarters, her resurrection would mean rearranging furniture, and throwing out clutter from her parents’ house.

And so this became our new paradigm of resurrection. Whenever we felt we needed a new start, we would rearrange the furniture in our house. Most of the time it would be minor, but it was rare for us to go too long without any rearrangement. Along the process, we would also clean and declutter the house (my resurrection formula). Again, whether our life would thus be “resurrected” is in question, but we would feel better and get on with life.

Except when we rearranged the furniture last week. It was the first time we were rearranging the furniture in our present house since we bought it two years ago. This was mainly a function of the wife being away for most of this time, doing an MBA. Living alone, I would simply clean my desk to resurrect my life. The furniture would be left alone.

Given that we were rearranging furniture after such a long time, it was a major exercise. We called Tata Sky and got our TV shifted from our shared study to the living room. A lot of other furniture also got moved around. And the house started looking very different! We found new warmth at home, and our desire to live here for a very long time got reinforced.

While most “resurrections” have been nondescript and I’ve gotten back to living life the normal way after rearranging my desk/furniture, these resurrections are usually a time for introspection, and some rearrangements have actually led to major life changes. And as it happened, this one too has spurred what I think is going to be a major change.

Back in late 2011, after I had just quit my last full-time job, I embarked on “Project Thirty“, where I gave myself a year to do everything I’d wanted to do but had never done. I had no revenue targets for that year (2012), but had some plans. More reading. More writing. More travelling. Maybe some teaching. Maybe to set up a business.

By the end of the year, my career as a freelance consultant had taken off. Six months afterward, I got a contract with Mint to write a column for them. Meanwhile, I got associated with the Takshashila Institution, a public policy think tank. In 2014-15 I taught a full term MBA course at IIMB. And earlier this year I completed the manuscript of a book. In other words, over the last five years I’ve led a full-blown “portfolio life”.

As I ruminated in my newly decluttered study following the rearrangement (the TV and a couch had moved out), I realised that I’ve pretty much achieved most of what I set to achieve when I wanted a portfolio life. And when you have achieved a lot of what you’ve wanted to achieve, it is hard to remain motivated. And when you’re not motivated, Parkinson’s Law takes over, and you become inefficient. Work expands to fill the time available.

So I’ve decided it’s time to rebalance the portfolio, and possibly reduce the number of components. Most importantly, I’m looking to get back to the corporate world, and find a job in Bangalore. I expect this job to take the place of my freelance consulting business in my portfolio. My associations with Mint and Takshashila will remain. The book, having been written, doesn’t need so much attention now. And for reasons you’ll see soon, travel will become significantly tougher.

In moving from freelance consulting to a job, I’ll be losing volatility and uncertainty, and its associated excitement. I’ll be losing significant option value in terms of additional things I can take up. Compensation, of course, will come in the form of a steady paycheck.

And as my current portfolio comes to an end, it is also time for a new beginning. One of the reasons I’m willing to forego excitement in my professional life is that there is a new source of excitement coming up shortly. Gene propagation is happening in September (more on that in a separate post)!

While we did want to resurrect our lives (and my portfolio rebalancing decision does justify that end) when we rearranged the furniture last week, the main motivation behind the exercise was to prepare the house for the expansion in human population. Things are sometimes more interconnected than we tend to think!

Help me name my book!

The more perceptive of you here would’ve known by now that I’ve finished the manuscript of a book on Liquidity. Having finished the draft, and one basic round of editing, I’m now sending it around to publishers, hoping to strike a deal.

One of these publishers wrote to me saying that while she loves the chapters I’ve sent her (a small sample), she doesn’t like the name of the book. “Liquidity”, she says, is too bland and doesn’t reflect the contents of the book, and has asked me to come up with a better name.

And I’m at a loss, in terms of coming up with a name. I don’t even know what kind of name I should pick for the book. So I need you to help out!

The book is about liquidity, in the context of different markets. Apart from the handful of obligatory chapters (my chapters are mostly tiny, and there are 21 of them) on financial markets, I have stories on markets in taxis, dating, footballers, real estate, agriculture, job hunting, food, etc.

Here is part of an introduction to the book I’ve written, which might help you help me!

Why do people with specialised skills find it hard to switch jobs? Why do transfer fees for footballers always seem either too high or too low? Why are real estate brokers still in business despite the large number of online portals that have sought to replace them?

 

[….]

… we analyse why the market for romantic relationships, both matrimonial and dating, is mostly broken, and none of the new platforms are doing anything to fix it. We take a look at how taxi regulation is inherently inefficient thanks to liquidity issues, and how Uber’s much- maligned surge pricing algorithm helps create liquidity by means of superior information exchange. We will also see how liquidity helped build up the credit derivatives market, and then ultimately led to the global financial crisis.

So if you have any cool ideas on what to name the book, or at least a framework I need to follow to name it, please do let me know in the comments here! It might help you to know that the “acknowledgements” part of the book hasn’t been written yet!

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!