8/13: Dabba

Back when I was single and looking, one of the criteria I had with respect to the potential partner was that she should be willing to indulge in what I would call as “arbit conversations”. Arbit conversations can be about any subject, and the only rule is that it need not make sense.

So you can reply to anything with anything. Digress like crazy. Crack stupid, and potentially offensive jokes. Talk nonsense. Complete nonsense all the time doesn’t add value, of course, but some amount of nonsense can make the parties laugh, and keep things happy.

My love for arbit conversations started with my favourite hobby from the time I started working. It initially began on Orkut where I’d occasionally leave nonsense scraps on friends’ walls, and they’d reply with more nonsense. Prior to that, of course there was the “.:Arbit:.” discussion group in IIMB, which was created with the explicit purpose of talking nonsense.

And then sometime in 2006-7, Google decided to add all Orkut friends to your GTalk list, and soon Orkut started getting spammed by “franship seekers”, and my favourite hobby became opening a number of conversation windows on GTalk and simply talk to people, irrespective of whether the conversations made sense.

When I told some friends that I was looking for someone “who can make arbit conversation”, I’d already started talking to Priyanka, and she was of course one of the people with whom I’d indulge in such conversations. So when I declared her as a “super common minimum program“, I already knew that she was capable of arbit conversations (in hindsight, I realise why she was a “super CMP”. I used to talk to her so much that I’d anchored my expectations of a potential wife based on what she was like. In that context, it’s obvious that she’d ace it).

What I didn’t know, and was delighted to find out later on that she can also be “Dabba”. Now, this doesn’t have a good synonym in English, so I continue to use the Kannada word. It’s hard to even describe what being Dabba entails, but both of us are Dabba and we love each other for it.

Being Dabba means you don’t take everything too seriously, and are willing to see the lighter side of things. Being Dabba means finding some random stuff funny, and laughing endlessly about it. Dabbaness can sometimes mean talking in a strange accent, or pronouncing words wrongly, on puropse.

Being Dabba also means that you are willing to tolerate some amount of shit, and not get disgusted by it (if we don’t train her properly, Berry might grow up being disgusted with our Dabbaness). Being Dabba also means occasionally acting far less polished than we’re capable of, just for a few laughts. And so forth – hope you’re getting the drift.

If you’re a Dabba person yourself, it’s hard to reconcile with someone who’s not as Dabba, since you might get disgusted and feel let down at times. In that sense, I feel incredibly lucky to be married to someone who I think is at least as Dabba as I am. There are random things that Pinky finds funny. We have many inside jokes, especially related to 1990s Kannada popular culture, that makes us burst out laughing at times. There are words we pronounce in a particular way, to the extent that we pronounce them that way even when we don’t intend to.

Both of us being Dabba allows Pinky and me to connect better to each other. There are so many subliminal things we “get” about each other that we wonder if we’ll be able to get along at all with someone else. And of course, another thing that we should keep in mind is that we’ve been training each other for the last 7-8 years, effectively merging our respective brands of Dabbaness!

That’s possibly a great way to describe a relationship – where you train each other on your respective Dabbaness, and over time become so similarly Dabba that you’d find it hard pressed to be Dabba-compatible with others!

1/13: Leaving home

2/13: Motherhood statements

3/13: Stockings

4/13: HM

5/13: Cookers

6/13: Fashion

7/13: Dashing

Platform as a platform

This afternoon, as I was getting off the tube, I looked at the railway platform, and wondered how it compared to “platforms” as we now know in the context of “platform economics“. For those of you under a rock, platform economics talks about the economics of “platforms” that bring together two sides of a market to interact.

In that sense, Uber is a platform connecting drivers to passengers. Ebay is a platform connecting buyers and sellers of used goods. Paypal is a platform connecting people who want to pay and those who want to receive payment. And so forth (these are all textbook examples nowadays).

So is the railway platform a platform? And if not, is it correct that we refer to entities that run two-sided markets as platforms (arguably, the most intuitive meaning of the word “platform” in the last hundred or so years has been in the railway context)? These were some of the questions I grappled with as I walked along the length of the platform at Ealing Broadway.

For those of you who’re not in the know, I’ve written a book on market design. The Takshashila Institution is publishing it, and the book should be out fairly soon (manuscript is complete, but there’s still plenty to do). In that book, I have a chapter on taxi marketplaces such as Uber/Lyft/Ola, and how they’ve transformed the efficiency of the taxi market. Before I introduce these characters, though, I draw the history of the taxi market.

In that, I talk about taxi stands. Taxi stands work in the way of Thomas Schelling’s focal points. Passengers go there because they know empty taxis will go there. Taxi drivers looking for passengers go there because they know passengers looking for taxis will go there. This way, rather than waiting at a random place looking for either a passenger or a ride, going to the taxi stand is rational. And in that sense, taxi stands are a platforms.

In a way, railway platforms are platform in the same sense. Think of a train that wants to pick up passengers, and passengers who want to travel on a train. If there were no designated pick up points, trains would stop at random places, which passengers would have to guess. While engine drivers could see passengers waiting by the side, stopping at random places might have meant that the train would have had to go empty.

From this perspective, railway platforms act as platforms – they are focal points where trains and passengers come together. Passengers wait there because they know trains stop there, and vice versa. And helpfully, there is an actual physical platform that elevates passengers to the height of the train door so they can get on and off easily!

Isn’t this a wonderful way to have complicated a rather simple concept?