Tag Archives: long time

Pinda

I had written this as a note on facebook a long time back, in an introduction to another of my blogposts. It went largely unnoticed – I claim it is because it made way too many people uncomfortable. For posterity’s sake, I thought it needs to go somewhere more permanent – like this blog, so reprising it here. 

One of the several post-death rituals in the Sanatana Dharma is called “sapinDikaraNa” – in which the “pinda” (departed soul) of the deceased is “tied” to the pindas of their ancestors. This is apparently done to make sure that the pinda doesn’t end up as a free radical and come back to haunt its descendants.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this today, but the way they “connect” the pindas is quite funny. They just tell the gotra and given name of the deceased, and then the given names of the deceased’s father, father’s father and father’s father’s father (for women it is mother-in-law, mother-in-law’s mother-in-law and mother-in-law’s mother-in-law’s mother-in-law).

I think this is a rather poor addressing system, and not one designed for today’s populations. Maybe back in the days when this was invented, not more than one person belonging to a particular gotra had the same name. So this system of addressing worked (like in villages and small towns, houses don’t have door numbers – the postman knows everyone by name). Why is it that the system hasn’t been changed even though there are possibly thousands of people with the same given names and gotras?

If religion truly ever worked, its working would have broken down through the ages when its addressing system became obsolete. Why then, do so many people still “religiously” believe in it?

It’s all pinda wonly, I must say.

Helmets, Tinted Glasses and Low Hanging Fruit

I’m opposed to the law that makes wearing of helmets and seatbelts mandatory for two wheeler and four wheeler drivers (respectively). I might have argued earlier that they cause perverse incentives (a driver wearing a seatbelt is likely to feel “safer” and thus drive more rashly, causing more collateral damage). There is another important reason I add now – these provide too much low hanging fruit for cops to provide them enough incentive to go after real crime. Let me explain.

Cops are an overworked and underpaid lot. So they try to improve their lot by extracting rents wherever possible. So you have random traffic cops flagging you down to “check your documents” so that some deficiency can be pointed out and a fast buck can be made. Or you have (non-traffic) cops “inspecting” bars to ensure that excise rules are being followed – once again to make a fast buck. What Inspector Dhoble and co in Mumbai are doing is to similarly go after low hanging fruit – easy targets who they can “catch” and hopefully make a fast buck of.

While rules such as compulsory helmets, not having tinted glasses and drinking permits might be desirable from the social perspective (even that is highly debatable), the bigger damage such rules do is to over-stress an already overworked police force. Policemen have a choice between doing “real” police work which could actually lead to reduction of crime, but which may not pay in terms of “rents”; and the “low-hanging fruit” work which may not go that far in controlling crime but allows the policeman to make a fast buck. Given the general stress that goes with being a policeman, it is no surprise if most policemen would opt to do the latter kind of work.

One obvious solution is to expand the police force, provide better training and better pay so that policemen spend more of their time spending real crime. But that involves strategic changes which might take a long time to put in place. Police reforms are important and the sooner we start them the better. However, it needs to be recognized that it’s a long-term project  and has a long gestation period.

So what needs to be done to increase police efficiency in the short run? Cut opportunities for policemen to pick the low hanging fruit. Repeal the helmet and seatbelt laws, stop summary stopping of vehicles and document checking (except for drunken driving) and shift to a notice-and-voucher system, repeal archaic laws that allow policemen to disturb business, legalize prostitution and the like.

We already have an over-stretched police force. We don’t need further stretching by means of increasing their workload. Simplify the rules and make it easier for policemen to implement them, and crime is more likely to drop that way.

Valuing a flexible week

For the last couple of weeks my wife has taken time off from work, and given that I’m freelancing, we as a couple now have a flexible week. Yesterday, we went shopping. We were at the Bangalore Central store in JP Nagar, and for the first time in a really long time, were able to shop without bumping into fellow-shoppers every other moment. My wife didn’t have to wait endless hours in the queue just to get into the trial rooms (yeah, this happens at large format apparel stores on weekends). We shopped at Food Bazaar sub-store, and could take our time in deciding what to buy, without sharing aisles with other shoppers. The checkout counter was empty, ABSOLUTELY EMPTY, and we had an extremely peaceful experience there. It was an awesome day of shopping.

There are certain things that are done so much easier on weekdays than on weekends. Shops are significantly less crowded. If you have to get work done in government offices, you are better off going there on a weekday than on Saturday (when there are more consumers, and the employees are pissed off at the end of a long week). You don’t need to book cinema tickets hours before. Restaurants aren’t crowded. If you go for a day trip, you can expect your destination to not be flooded with other tourists. Of course, there are activities which are so much easily done on weekends rather than on weekdays – this involves anything that involves driving across the city in “peak traffic” hours.

So it’s clear that the “flexible working week” that I have provides some intangible value. Of course, since my wife doesn’t have a flexible week, we as a couple don’t always get to enjoy my flexible week, but leave that aside for now. What I’m trying to understand is the extra value that I”m getting thanks to my having a flexible week, and if I can put a number on it.

One way I can think of valuing my flexible week is in terms of optionality. I’ve listed down some of the advantages of doing certain things on a weekday. Maybe I can quantify the value of each of them? Maybe the value of the time I save by not standing in a queue at a checkout counter? The economic value of buying more and better clothes because I can shop peacefully? The additional value I get by having the picnic spot to myself rather than sharing it with a hundred others. The option value of being able to walk into a movie hall and buy tickets a minute before the show. And so on. And all this multiplied, of course, by the probability of my wanting to do each of these activities. Sounds right?

Of course, I’m talking about a flexible week here, and not about a week where you have weekly holiday on a weekday, like my wife had earlier this year. Thanks to some power supply issues, the local electricity distribution company mandated different weekly holidays for heavy industries in different parts of the city, thanks to which my wife had her weekly off on Wednesdays. And they were among the two most disorienting months I’ve been through. We were unable to do all those things that we would have normally done on weekends (and which are more advantageous to be done on weekends). I couldn’t do a full day of work on Saturday to compensate for not working on Wednesday. And I would try to work on Wednesday but wouldn’t be able to because my wife had her weekly off that day. It was absolutely mindfucking.

So yeah, maybe the next time someone asks me how much I”m making as a freelancer, I must include the “value of a flexible week” in the number I tell them!

Non competitive hobbies

During my riding trip two months back, I was wondering why I enjoyed riding so much more than any of the other “hobbies” that I have indulged in over the last twenty years or so. It was tough for me to think about any other hobby that had given me as much pleasure in the early days as riding did, and no other hobby seems or seemed as sustainable as this one. As I rode, and daydreamed while I rode, I thought about what it was about riding that gave me the kind of unbridled joy that any of my other hobbies had failed to provide. The reason, I figured, was that it was not competitive (no I don’t intend to be a motorcycle racer, ever).

Looking back at the hobbies that I’ve had since childhood – be it playing chess or playing the violin or even writing, they have all been competitive hobbies. As soon as I got reasonably good at chess, I started playing competitively, and soon the pressures of tournament play got to me, I lost my love for the game and stopped playing. Violin was a little better off in the sense that for a reasonably long time I only played for myself (apart from the occasions when I had to entertain random visiting relatives). But then, I was asked to take up an examination, and then enter inter-school music contests, and I find it no surprise that I quit my lessons six months after my examinations. I must mention that I’m on the road to committing the same mistake again, in my second stint at violin learning. As things stand now, I’m scheduled to appear for the ABRSM Grade Three examination this October, but I have my reasons for that and don’t think the process of appearing for the exam will kill my love for music.

Writing remained a passion, and a hobby which I think I was rather good at, until the time I started thinking about monetization. The minute I started thinking about wanting to write for money, I lost the love for it, which might explain the deceleration in activity on this site over the last three years or so. I had lost yet another hobby to the competitive forces.

The thing with competition is that it puts pressure on you. You have to being to hold yourself to a standard other than your own, and that means you will have to do certain things irrespective of whether you think it makes sense to do that. Soon, your hobby ends up as a slave to your competition, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to sustain interest after that. You can say that the moment a hobby becomes competitive, it ceases to be a hobby and becomes “work”.

The reason I’m bullish about motorcycling at this moment is that I don’t see a means for it to become competitive. Since I don’t intend to race, and don’t care about whether others have ridden more than me or whatever, I’ll be mostly riding for myself. Yes, when I planned my Rajasthan tour, I did think of monetizing it by writing about it for the media, but that I think was more a function of wanting to monetize my writing than my riding. In the event, i didn’t get a mandate to write, and that in no way affected my enthusiasm for the ride. Rather I felt freer that I could enjoy the ride rather than thinking about what I would write about it.

As I go along, I hope to pick up one or two more such non-competitive hobbies. Of course I intend to make motorcycling a “major” hobby. As it is, I love traveling, doing it my own way and going off the beaten path. And I love the feeling as i accelerate, with the wind penetrating the air vents of my riding jacket and my thighs grabbing the petrol tank. Now if only I can convince Pinky to also take this up as a hobby..

Coffee

I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. Maybe I started drinking at the age of  three. Maybe even earlier, maybe later. But I clearly remember that back when I still had half-day school (i.e. kindergarten), after my afternoon siesta, I would sit down with my grandmother (another major coffee drinker) and we would sip coffee together. My father had been pissed off that my mother never drank coffee, and he had told my grandparents (with whom I spent the day while both my parents went to work) that they should bring me up differently. And so my grandmother had initiated me to coffee fairly early in life.

When I was in high school, I remember being one of the few people in my class who drank coffee. Back then, it was before the coffee days of the world came up, and coffee was still seen as downmarket. Something that you would invariably order at the end of “tiffin” at the neighbourhood Sagar, or Darshini. Coffee was uncool, and had an “uncle” feel to it. It was what you got when you went visiting relatives, or when guests came home. In my family, a visit to a relative’s house would not be complete without at least four rounds of coffee, one as soon as you arrived, one just before “tiffin”/lunch, one after food and another one “for the road”. And my poor mother would miss out on all this.

For a strange reason I can’t fathom now, for a long time I used to prefer the coffee that my father made, a nasty “decanted” brew, made from finely ground coffee powder we got from “modren coffee works” in the Jayanagar Shopping Complex. Despite my grandmother’s exhortations that the coffee she made – from a steel filter using “pure” (i.e. without chicory) coffee beans sourced from India Coffee Works – was superior, I would tell her that it never measured up to my father’s coffee. It was only later on in life (maybe when I got to high school) that I started finding my father’s coffee disgusting (interestingly back then, his mother (i.e. my “other” grandmother) and siblings also made coffee the same horrible decanted way), and I convinced him that we should also start making coffee using a filter.

During the last few years that I lived with my parents (ok I didn’t really live with them, only visited them during (substantial) vacations), coffee had the aura of a “special dish” in our house. We would make coffee only if we had guests. My mother anyway hated the drink, and my father would have had his daily fix at work, so instead they made  tea at home, some four times a day, with plenty of sugar. If I protested, I would be asked to visit the nearest darshini (one abominable place called Anna Kuteera). I would grudgingly sip my tea.

So coming back to high school, it was uncool to drink coffee. It was “uncle” to do so, and with friends you only had pepsi (or coke or thums up or whatever). So I was mildly shocked when I found that some classmates in my “new” school (which I switched to in 11th standard, and which was decidedly upmarket compared to my earlier school) had gone out “for coffee”. And a few days later, I ended up accompanying some of them, once again “for coffee”. We all had the relatively inexpensive espresso (Rs. 10; cappuccino was Rs. 20) that day at Cafe Coffee Day (#youremember?) on Brigade Road. It was the first time in my life I had felt “cool” drinking coffee (yeah, back then I was a wannabe and all that).

Six years later, when I got admission into IIMB, my father decided that along with me he too should “go upmarket”. The day I got my admit, we went for coffee (!!) to the Jayanagar Cafe Coffee Day (my mother refused to accompany us since she found that they made chicken samosas there). Soon, I found that my father had started having some official meetings also in coffee shops, rather than in his office (where “office boys” would source coffee in flasks from Adigas a few doors away).

Another level up was when Kalmane Koffee opened an outlet at the forum, and another in Jayanagar. Now, we could sit in a coffee shop and have “real coffee” (I never took a fancy for the taste of cappuccino). It is indeed unfortunate that they haven’t managed to scale up the way CCD has. Though I must mention here that the only time I had a “personal interview” back when I was in the arranged marriage market, it took place at a Kalmane Koffee outlet. And I don’t know why just about everyone I go to that coffee shop with ends up ordering this coffee called Nelyani Gold (I stick to plain vanilla Filter Kaapi).

Some three years back, I had bought a Moka pot from a Coffee Day outlet (they have coffee powder stores apart from their cafes). For the last six months or so, I have abandoned my filter and have been exclusively using this pot to make my coffee. For a long time, I didn’t get good results, but this time I read up and instructed the person manning the counter at Annapurna Coffee Works close to my house to grind my beans extremely finely. Awesome coffee I get, now. Now, if only I can figure out how to froth the milk at home like those Cappuccino machines in Rome do…

The Second Hand Goods Market

Every time we clean up our house, which is quite frequent I must say, there is a bunch of stuff that we want to throw or give away. Being rational beings, each time we look to maximize the returns we get out of whatever we don’t need, and hence go around looking for people who will buy them. The problem here, though, is that the second hand market doesn’t really exist, and even if it does it’s so illiquid that it’s not worth the effort to locate them and sell our goods there.

For example, for a long time we’ve been wanting to get rid of our dining table. The question is how do we dispose of it in order to maximize returns. I don’t know of any shops that buy used furniture, and there are search costs involved there. And then there is the cost of actually transporting the dining table (you realize it can’t be done by my car, right?) to the location of sale. And then haggling over the price. Given that it’s not made of particularly good wood (we know where to sell stuff made out of “good wood”) I don’t even know if what get by selling even covers the cost of selling it!

Worse, we got a bunch of new electric appliances (microwave, mixie, gas stove) as wedding gifts. The “normal” way of getting rid of old mixies or gas stoves is to give it “in exchange” so that we get a small discount for the new appliance we’re buying. When we get appliances as a gift, though, this avenue is lost. The old mixie and stove (and a couple of ancient table fans) decorated our attics and bred rats until we sold all of them for a grand total of five hundred rupees while buying a new saucepan! (I’d located that store and carried the stuff there with such great difficulty that I was willing to sell at any price).

Now there’s this ancient vacuum cleaner and old RO water filter out for disposal (the latter was disposed due to exorbitant maintenance costs). There’s a good chance that we’ll dispose of them by just dumping them on the road somewhere. Seriously. The selling costs are way too high. I know that in New York there’s this whole “industry”, where people leave old furniture and appliances on the roads in the middle of the night, and some other people take them away and salvage whatever profit they can get.

I thought of a business plan that gets unnecessary appliances and furniture from people (for a nominal fee; and by paying transport costs) and then sells it on to people who are actually willing to buy these things. The problem is that a lot of people actually dispose stuff as part of “exchange offers” so I don’t know how much volume this new business can get. But if someone manages to pull it off, I promise to donate all my useless stuff to them. Else, you’ll soon start finding unnecessary furniture and appliances scattered along KR Road in Bangalore.

Library sourcing

It’s been close to two years since I took up membership at the British Council Library in Bangalore and of late I’ve been thinking that I won’t extend my membership after it expires this December. The library hasn’t been very active in updating its book stocks, and seeing the same books in the same places again and again (my interests mean I’m limited to a handful of shelves in the library) gets monotonous, and there have been times when I’ve borrowed books just for the heck of it.

Yesterday, I was meeitng Kodhi after which I wanted to go to the library (since books were due for return), and he offered me to come along with me. And for the first time in a very long time, I had too many books from which I had to decide which ones to take home. There had been books which I’d been seeing at their regular places time and again, and had never felt the need to read until Kodhi told me about them and convinced me to borrow them. Overall, it was a very pleasant visit to the library.

Going forward, I think I’ll extend this strategy. Every time I go to the library, I’ll take along a different person – hopefully someone who understands well my interests and reading habits, and see if I make better use of the library. Since there are two months left before my membership expires, I hope to have got more data on this (how “successful” visits to the library are when I go with a friend) and can make a better decision about giving up the membership (it costs around Rs. 2000 per year).

The Pasta Darshini

A long time back I’d cribbed that in places like Bangalore where not too many people are willing to experiment with food, non-standard cuisines end up being insanely expensive. This was perhaps during my first trip to New York last year, when I’d been amazed to find extremely high quality food at nondescript places for very reasonable rates, and was cursing my own city for making me pay up exorbitant amounts every time I wanted to have something “special”.

Given that background, the new Veekes and Thomas outlet in Jayanagar 4th block (I believe they have outlets elsewhere in the city also) comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s a small place, situated across the road from the more famous Maiya’s. The whole establishment is less than 100 sq ft, with a large part of it taken by a massive machine to make sugarcane juice. The two times I’ve visited, there have been two guys there, one to make sugarcane juice and the other to make pasta. The seating area is limited, and you’re served in disposable (areca bark) plates and glass glasses.

They mostly make pastas and some other european dishes (their subtitle is “fine European cuisine” though I’m not sure how “fine” they are), and represent really awesome value for money. The average pasta there costs Rs. 60, and a soup I had on my last visit (wasn’t too great) was Rs. 15. And perhaps to go with the fact that they’re situated in the heavily-vegetarian Jayanagar, they don’t serve meat.

The wife says that it’s among the best pasta she’s eaten in Bangalore. While I disagree with that, I do think the food is really good given the price point. Also, given that they have only one cook, the waiting time can get a little long. The other thing with Pasta is that it is a slow-cooking dish, which is why it doesn’t lend itself too well to the darshini format – which is more suited for made-to-order or assemble-to-order dishes.

Nevertheless this is a good start. It’s hopefully a harbinger (sorry for using such a lofty word here; nothing simpler came to mind) for cheap “non-standard cuisine” in Bangalore. The next logical setup, I guess, would be a falafel-hummus stall. The advantages there are that the dishes are either quick-cooking or can be made to stock , ingredients to make them are easily available here, not much is lost by having a vegetarian-only place (I think there are easier to set up in terms of licensing than places that serve meat; and easier to cook as well) and the taste isn’t very different from Indian (yesterday I was describing the falafel as “AmboDe made out of chickpeas”).

Again, I can help someone set this up, though I’m not particularly interested in running the business since I think it involves a lot of hassles.

 

The Importance of Discipline

I’ve never been a fan of discipline. I think it is a major constraint and hinders creativity, and puts too many walls within which you need to live your life. Despite constant exhortations by my father, I never wanted to join the army. Hell, I tried my best (successfully) in order to even avoid NCC when I was at IIT. I pride myself on being some sort of a free spirit who isn’t held back by any arbitrary rules that I create for myself to live my life by.

A really nice article that I read today, however, makes me think twice about this stand. So this article is about “decision fatigue” and is not very dissimilar to what I’d read a long time back (again in the NYT) about the Law of Conservation of Willpower. So this article talks about how every time you need to make a decision it consumes some part of your mental energy. Irrespective of the size of the decision that is to be made, there is some willpower that is lost, and that causes you to be suboptimal in your decision making as the day progresses.

The article really struck a chord with me, and I realize I’m also heavily prone to decision fatigue. Sometimes the smallest decisions take away so much energy from me that I simply put NED. And yeah, on a related note, I’ve got the wife upset innumerable times solely because of my indecisiveness, a part of which can be attributed to decision fatigue. I even remember not going to a wedding reception some three years back because I couldn’t decide which shirt to wear! And no, I’m not making this up.

So on that note, here’s where I think discipline has a part to play in life. By putting certain constraints on your life, you are reducing the number of decisions that you have to make. And that implies your willpower and mental energy will be reserved for those things where it’s really important that you decide carefully. By making a schedule for yourself, you are outsourcing to you-the-planner all the trivial decisions of your life. Yes, you might feel constrained at times. But it saves you so much energy by way of saving you from several trivial decisions.

Of course, feeling constrained can also affect your mental energy in a negative way, and prevent you from giving your best. Nevertheless, this decision fatigue thingy implies that discipline may not be all that bad. Or maybe I need to think about it some more.

More on consulting partners

I’d written in an earlier post that consulting firms remain young nd dynamic by periodically promoting new people to partnership, and they in their quest to develop new markets and establish themselves, take on risks which can prove useful to underlings who now have a better chance to make a mark and establish themselves.

However, as I’d once experienced a long time back, there can be a major downside to this. The new partners, in their quest to establish themselves, can sometimes be too eager in the commitments they make to the clients. They are prone to promising way more than their team can logically deliver, and that contributes to putting additional and unnecessary pressure on the people working for them.

Nothing earthshattering, but thought I should mention this here for the sake of completeness, so that I don’t mislead you with my conclusions.