Letters to my Berry #6

So you turn half today. And I’ll let you write this letter yourself, since over the last week or two you’ve been trying to get to the computer and operate it.

OK I gave you two minutes, but unlike what you’ve been doing over the last one week, you didn’t try to get to the computer today, so I’ll write this myself.

This last month has been one of big change, as you made your first forin trip. It was a mostly peaceful flight from Bangalore to London, via Dubai. You hardly cried, though you kept screaming in excitement through the flight, and through the layover in Dubai. Whenever someone smiled at you, you’d attempt to talk to them. And it would get a bit embarrassing at times!

Anyway, we got to London, and we had to put you in day care. The first day when I left you at the day care for a one-hour settling in session, I cried. Amma was fine, but I had tears in my eyes, and I don’t know why! And after two settling-in sessions, you started “real day care”, and on the first day it seems you were rather upset, and refused to eat.

So I had to bring you home midway through the day and feed you Cerelac. It was a similar story on the second day – you weren’t upset, but you still wouldn’t eat, so I had to get you home and give you Cerelac. It was only on the third day, that is today, that you finally at ate at the nursery!

The biggest challenge for us after bringing you to London has been to keep you warm, since you refuse to get the concept of warm clothes, and refuse to wear them. And so for the last 10 days you’ve not only got a cold and cough for yourself, but you’ve also transmitted it to both Amma and me 🙁

London has also meant that you’ve started travelling by pram regularly, though after one attempt we stopped taking it on the Underground since it was difficult to negotiate steps. When we have to take the train, I thus carry you in your baby carrier, like a baby Kangaroo!

In the last one month, you’ve also made significant motor improvements. You still can’t sit, but you try to stand now! It seems like you’ve taken after Amma and me in terms of wanting to take the easy way out – you want to stand without working hard for it, and sometimes scream until we hold you up in a standing position.

Your babbles have also increased this month, and we think you said “Appa” a few times in the last one week in the course of the last one week! Maybe I like to imagine that you say it, and maybe you actually call me that! It’s too early to say!

Finally, one note of disappointment – on Monday when you were all crying and upset and refusing to eat at the nursery, I rushed to pick you up, and hoped to see you be very happy when you saw me. As it turned out, you gave me a “K dear, you are here” kind of expression and just came home! Yesterday you actually cried when I came to pick you up!

It seems like you’re becoming a teenager already! And you’re just half!!

More on religion

According to the Hindu calendar today is three years since my mother passed away. If I were religious, or if I were to bow to pressures from religious relatives, I would have performed a “shraadhha/tithi” today. Instead, I’m home, leading a rather normal life. In spite of it being a Sunday today, I’m actually working (I coordinate schedules with my wife, and for some reason she chose to take off this Friday and go to work on Sunday, so I followed). I’ve eaten breakfast and a very normal lunch.

Every year, twice a year (it’s remarkable that my parents’ death anniversaries have a phase difference of about six months), I begin to get requests from relatives – mostly uncles and aunts but also from the wife – that I need to “do my religious duties” and perform the shraadhhas. The last few occasions, I complied. However, as I’ve explained in this post, I’ve gotten disgusted with the general quality of priests around and decided that it’s not worth my while to enrich that community just because someone tells me it might help my parents attain salvation in their afterlives.

Since I flatly refused to do the shraadhha this time, the last few weeks have had more than their fair share of religious discussions compared to earlier. I’ve been asked how I know that priests mis-pronounce. When I say that my limited knowledge of Sanskrit is enough to identify the mispronunciations, they suggest that I try different priests. I then talk about the number of different priests I’ve encountered over various Shraadhhas over the last few years, and about how not one has really said the mantras well (except for the family priest who conducts weddings, etc. but shraadhhas are too small-time for him).

Then comes the clinching argument from my relatives – that even otherwise irreligious people like my father did their ancestors’ shraaddhas without fail. And it is at that time that I start questioning the whole purpose of the Shraadhha and trying to ascribe a believable reason for it. I argue that if the intention is to remember the deceased, I don’t need one day a year to do that since my parents come in my dreams practically every other day. The intention might have been to get all the descendants of the deceased together, but then I’m the only descendant of my parents and I’m “together with myself” all the time.

Then they try and convince me to perform what I can classify as “lesser evils” – such as giving raw rice and vegetables to a priest. I’ve done that once before and considered it to be such an unpleasant experience that I don’t want to do it again. And then I question how it will help. And the argument goes on.

So for today, finally I submitted that I’ll put food out for the crows before I eat, since in the Sanatana Dharma crows are supposed to represent your ancestors. After much haggling, this seemed like an acceptable compromise.

Later in the evening yesterday, my wife and I had a long conversation about what it is to be a Brahmin and why Brahmins are traditionally vegetarian.

Sometimes, when I don’t think enough I think it is ok to admit to the whims and fancies of other people just so that I don’t piss them off. But then when I do think about it, I find it ridiculous that saying a certain set of songs with certain pronunciation and intonation will have some bearing on my life. I find it incredible that feeding some random so-called Brahmins will help provide peace to my deceased parents.

Growing up with an ultra-religious mother and an atheist father, I never really “got” religion, I must say. In fact, the first time when I thought about religion was when I read about parts of America not believing in evolution (this was some 4 years back) – it was incredible that some people were so deluded that they didn’t accept something so fundamental. It was around the same time that I read The God Delusion (not a great book I must say – could’ve been written in < 20 pages), and the beliefs of the devout, as it described, shocked me.

It was around this time that I realized that some (nay, most) people actually take it seriously that if you pray for something it increases your chances of getting it. It shocked me to believe that some people believe that chanting a certain set of songs (mantras are just that, in Vedic language) will improve your life without any other effort on your part. It shocked me that people actually believe in afterlife and rebirth. By this time, my father had passed away, and this wasn’t a topic about which I could have a rational discussion with my mother, so I let it be.

Some temples (of various religions) make me feel calm and peaceful, and I love visiting them. There are temples which look so good I think they need to be preserved, and I make reasonably generous offerings there. There are festivals that I consider fun, and I celebrate them enthusiastically. We had a fairly large doll display at home this Navaratri. We burst fireworks and ate lots of sweets this Diwali. Last year we hosted a Christmas party. With some friends, I raided the kebap stalls in Fraser Town during Ramzan. We set up a little mandap at home for Ganesh Chaturthi, and displayed my collection of Ganesh idols.

But the concept of before-lives and after-lives and rebirth? That of prayers sans effort making a difference? That you need to feed some so-called Brahmins who can’t recite mantras for nuts just so that your parents attain peace in the afterlife? I find it all absolutely ridiculous.

I didn’t put food out for crows – I find no reason to believe that my mother has transformed into one of them, and that that particular crow will come looking for food today. I haven’t worn back my sacred thread as promised yesterday. I think my cook had put onion and garlic in my lunch today. And life goes on..

Career Progression

I’m close to two thirds my way into my “Project Thirty”. Parts of it aren’t going so well. I’ve hardly traveled, for one, save a bike trip across Rajasthan. My to-be-read pile is as tall as it used to be, and my DVR hard drive is almost full with movies that I’ve wanted to watch, but haven’t been able to watch. Despite this, at this stage I must say Project Thirty is heading to a success.

Soon enough, I should be signing my first really large consulting deal. That should keep me busy enough for the next six months, though I think I’ll have some time to do other interesting stuff. The interesting thing about this is that it all started off with an “incoming lead”. One of the senior managers at my prospective client reads this blog. So that can be considered as my blogging career’s second big achievement – this blog’s predecessor was instrumental in my getting acquainted with the woman I’m currently married to.

I’ve structured this consulting assignment in a way that I spend just over half my time on it, and I’ve decided to use the other half to do things that I find interesting, without really having a monetary objective. So I’ve built a new graphic for cricket, which I’m trying to hawk around. I’ve built a whole system to simulate cricket matches. I’ve taught myself R, and more R, and have now learnt to scrape data off the interwebs.

I’ve rediscovered my love for programming (through that cricket project), and have now started dabbling with some stock market data trying to figure out if I can come up with a statistical arbitrage based strategy (in which case I’ll try sell it to some hedge fund). I’m teaching a course for the Takshashila Institution and if things go well, I might be teaching more than that, and elsewhere. I’ve started doing corporate workshops. Later this week I’ll be attending a conference for networking purposes. I meet people over coffee, just to get to know them. And so forth.

Now the problem is sustainability. Being a lone wolf, trying to find six-monthly consulting projects that take half your time is not an easy task. You need to be careful about how much you commit, for you have no resources at hand if you are over-stressed, but then you need the pipeline to flow, if you need your life to flow. That tells me that the logical step is to recruit, and build a team. That way, I can spend my time doing more quality things, but that also means that I spend time doing employee-management, something I don’t particularly look forward to. I like my current life as a freelancer but sustainability issues mean that I might need to “settle down”.

Some of those over-a-cup-of-coffee meetings have been with old friends/bosses who are insanely brilliant people. These conversations have given me a real high, and I never seem to have had enough of them! The amount of positive information flow and idea flow that happens when I meet one of these people is phenomenal. Unfortunately I don’t get to meet them too often, given our respective busy-ness. However, it would be wonderful to find co-workers like that, who would keep me mentally stimulated all the time.

Another cup of coffee was downed last week with a couple of acquaintances who needed my help in analyzing a particular data set they were looking at. They are individually intelligent people (though neither belongs to the category I mentioned in the previous paragraph), but a little different from me in terms of world-views and backgrounds and expertise. It turned out to be another phenomenal conversation, though, as we exchanged notes on how to attack the data, with each of our views educating one another. We were different people, but we were comfortable working together, and there seemed to be a lot to learn.

Anyway, the point is that I’m looking for partners now, to run my consulting business. Of course, they need to be people who share my world-view in terms of quant and data analysis, but I do think there needs to be some diversity in terms of world-view and way of thinking. Again, they need to be self-motivated to pursue this field of quant consulting, and they need to remember that they won’t be drawing a salary – since they’ll be partners. The most important bit, though, is that I need to be able to work with them. I hope that over the course of the next few months I’m able to identify and convince one or two people who fit this description and who I would want to share revenues with.

I’m also looking for a mentor. I have a number of things I’m doing and I need to focus. I have a friend who has worked in consulting who is mentoring me with respect to the general stuff regarding my consulting assignment. However, I need someone who can guide me in a larger perspective. In terms of how I need to approach life, how I should go about building a partnership, building my business, building my team, etc.

I’m excited at this point in time, and I hope I can make things work in terms of my new-found career. I’ll keep you updated on this.

Whether to surprise or not

Today, my wife turns twenty five. It hasn’t been a good birthday so far, for she feels depressed that she’s growing old. It doesn’t help matters that I’ve failed to surprise her, while on my birthday six months back she had put together a series of fantastic surprises. In my defence, I treated her to an afternoon of unlimited shopping a couple of days back,which I had assumed was her”birthday gift”.

Anyway, the point is that it had been brought to my notice before I went out somewhere this evening that I’d failed to materialize with a “birthday gift” and I was wondering if I should get something on my way back. It is not like I didn’t have ideas. I had several. But as I went through them one by one I realized that for each of them, there was a credible rebuttal she could come out with for each of them that would make it seem like there was no “thought” behind that gift and the only reason I had brought it was that she was unhappy.

I reasoned that irrespective of what had happened in the intervening couple of hours when I was out, she would still be upset with me at the end of it. Given that she would be upset with me, the odds that the gift I would bring would completely melt her and she would be satisfied would be miniscule. Instead, I would only have to endure more sulking, with the added charge of my trying to bribe her out of her anger.

I guess the big problem with me that I’m too cold and rational most of the time (the few occasions when I get emotional, I go crazy and cry loud enough to bring my whole apartment complex down). So the rationalist in me decided to make the rational decision that the chances of winning over my wife with a superb gift was so low that it would not justify the effort involved in bringing that surprise. So I came home empty handed.

My wife is inside the bedroom now, pretending to read a book that isn’t particularly interesting, while I blog this sitting in the hall, having taken control of the TV and watching the French Open final. I guess I was guilty of not giving myself that chance to turn her over today. But then, I didn’t spend all that mind space in trying to find that superb gift. I told you right, that I’m too cold and rational most of the time. And I write about too many things on this blog.

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..

Internal Conflict

When a bunch of friends and I described ourselves as a pantheon a few years back, I was War. Part of the reason was that in Hindu Mythology Karthik is the God of War, but more importantly, I was War because I was always at war with myself. With three others being conveniently called Disease, Hunger and Madness, and another being Death, we formed a formidable force indeed.

True to the name that these guys gave me all those years ago, for the last six months or so, I’ve been absolutely consumed by internal conflict. It mostly has to do with my professional career, which hasn’t particularly taken off the way I imagined it would when I graduated from IIMB some 5 years ago. For the first time ever, I’ve completed two years in a job, and things don’t particularly look rosy, especially if I evaluate myself based on where I could have been had I not made those big blunders.

A part of me wants to go easy upon myself, and not be too harsh. Everyone goes through tough phases, that part tells me, and that mine has been a wee bit longer than most people’s. This part tells me to not worry about peer pressure, and to concentrate on keeping myself peaceful and enjoying the good things in life. This part further asks me to not worry too much about the future and that things will get into a flow. And that despite my corporate career not exactly taking off, life isn’t all that bad.

The other part, on the other hand, holds me responsible for all my troubles. It tells me that it’s because of my mistakes in the past that I’m where I am, and that I need to work really hard to rectify them. This part takes me to LinkedIn, and shows me the wonderfully sculpted oh-so-successful careers some of my old associates seem to be having, just to prove the point that I’ve messed up. This part wants me to conform, and be a good employee, and climb the stairs in the same way others have, and follow the well-trodden path into successful corporate whoredom. And this path is also supported by those pesky relatives who ask you uncomfortable questions about your career every time you are unfortunate enough to bump into them.

The first part is quite worried about my health, both mental and physical, and believes that messing up one’s health is too high a price to pay for corporate success and the associate perks that it brings. The second says I need to learn to adapt, and somehow reduce the impact of my health, while still being a good corporate whore.

And like in that old Coffy Bite ad, the argument continues. Except that these two parts of myself have completely ravaged my head over the last few months. I’m reminded of the story of the Bherunda bird (the “state bird” of Karnataka) which has two heads and one body. The two heads get into a quarrel. One of them gets so upset that he drinks some poison, thus killing “both of them”. These two parts of me, by means of their continued conflict have ended up completely consuming me, and my head.

And here I am, trying to figure out once again what it means to chill.

The Switch

Cafe Coffee Day is among the most unromantic places to go on a first date, or so they say. But then you need to understand that the venue can do only so much when it comes to creating the right “atmosphere” for the date. So if you think you are yourselves capable enough of doing a good job of creating a good “atmosphere”, you don’t need to bother about trivialties such as how “romantic” a place is or how good it is in creating “atmosphere” and just pick a place that makes practical sense.

There has been so much of One Day International cricket of late that it is difficult to keep track of various series and tournaments. One tournament that similarly got lost, mostly because the ultimate result was unremarkable (Australia won yet again) was the Champions Trophy, which happened (I think) in South Africa. I don’t remember much of the tournament; I don’t think I watched much of it. All I remember was that there was a game where India played Australia, and that Australia batted first.

Seating arrangement plays an important factor on a first date. Optimal seating arrangement ensures the optimal arrangement of eye contact. Sitting beside each other means you need to put too much effort to establish eye contact, and that is way too much energy. Sitting opposite each other can lead to overexposure – if things aren’t going that well, it’s tough to keep looking into each other’s eyes and that can lead ot awkward moments. It might be interesting to do some academic research in this matter but my hunch is that for a first date a ninety-degree seating arrangement is optimal.

For a few months now I have been on a diet. It has not been without results – my weight has come down by almost a fourth in the last six months. I haven’t done anything drastic, just a set of simple principles. And one of them is “no sugar in coffee”. I’ve given up on tea altogether since I can’t have it without sugar. When you are on a date, however, it is not nice to show off that you are on a diet, especially if you are a guy. it doesn’t give a good picture. So a good strategy is to order something like espresso, which you can claim tastes best without sugar!

I think it was an appeal for LBW that triggered it, but I’m not sure. I do remember, however, that it was a strong appeal that was turned down, but I don’t remember the nature of dismissal. Ashish Nehra was bowling if I’m not wrong. I have no clue who was batting. Maybe it was Haddin, or was it Paine who was opening in that tournament? Not that it matters.

Onlookers might have thought that the move was choreographed given how well we executed it. I don’t even remember their being too much eye contact as it happened. I don’t remember there being any conversation about it as it happened. All I remember is that one moment I was being distracted by Ashish Nehra’s appeal, and the next I was sitting with my back to the TV, comfortably settled where she had been settled a moment earlier, with her having taken my original place.

And I remember that our coffees had also exchanged places along with us!