Spirit of Rangeela

The bad news is that Rangeela songs are not available on Spotify (my music streaming app of choice). The good news is that instead I turn to Youtube to watch them, and get the “full experience” instead.

It’s 25 years since Rangeela released, and Mint has done a feature on “25 reasons to love Rangeela“. Here are my own thoughts on why I loved the movie and why it had such a big influence on my life.

I remember the date when I watched Rangeela. 25th October 1995. It was the last day of an epic long weekend caused due to Diwali and a total solar eclipse. Two of my cousins were visiting us, and the previous day, after the eclipse had passed, we had gone to watch The Mask (along with my dad). On the 25th, we went to watch Rangeela.

I watched Rangeela in the theatre only once (sadly, in hindsight), and watched it sitting next to my dad (and cousins). I was nearly 13 years old. We had gone to Urvashi, which was then (and maybe even now) one of Bangalore’s biggest cinema halls. Urvashi had recently undergone a makeover, getting a Dolby stereo system in the process. And I had never listened to Rahman’s music before.

I remember it being a insane experience. It was so insane (in a positive way) that even today, 25 years later, listening to the songs rekindled the memory of sitting in Urvashi, and imagining Rahman’s sounds hitting my ears from all directions. And to combine that with the awesome visuals – remember that I had just hit puberty and this was one of my first movies after that event (The Mask, obviously, being another).

Watching the videos on Youtube now, I still think Urmila Matondkar looks stunning in the movie. Even otherwise, the cinematography is first grade, and the visuals are stunning. I can only imagine how the 12-year-old me might have felt looking at all that on a big screen back then (with my father sitting right next to me).

I have written here earlier about how the teens are possibly the optimal years of movie appreciation.  And it was influential for sure. For the next couple of years, Spirit of Rangeela was a fixture for choreography shows at inter-school cul-fests. Some of us little teenagers who assumed we were jilted in love sang (or whistled) Kya Kahe Kya Na KaheTanha Tanha, of course, was yet another level.

Sometimes I wonder, if the movie would have had the same effect on me had I not watched it on a really large screen, in a theatre with awesome audio. Maybe Rahman’s Hindi debut deserved that.

My apologies if this post appears scattered. I’ve been listening to (and watching) the songs of Rangeela on loop for the last two hours, and it has triggered all sorts of thoughts in me. And there have been too many things to write here.

Maybe I should’ve done a tweetstorm instead.

 

 

Once upon a time

A few months back, someone sent me this “pixar format” of storytelling.

While it makes sense, I have deep-seated insecurities regarding this format, going back to when I was in “upper kindergarten” (about 5 years old).

Until I was 14 or so, I had a pronounced stutter. It was very rare until then that I would win any prizes in speaking events even though I was comfortably the class topper in academics – basically I couldn’t speak. The mystery got unlocked when some teacher wondered if I stuttered because I “thought faster than I could speak”. That one remark made me conscious, and helped me slow down, and I remember pretty much cleaning up the speaking events prizes in school the following year.

Anyways, ten years before that I couldn’t speak. On top of that I couldn’t remember. I mean I could remember obscure things (for a five year old) such as the capital of Angola or the inventor of the telescope, but I couldn’t remember a coherent passage of text.

And one such passage of text that I first needed to mug up (and remember) and then speak it out (double nightmare) happened to be in the above (Pixar) format. There was a storytelling session in school for which we had to mug up stories and then tell it out in class.

I don’t exactly remember the text of the story (well I couldn’t remember it in 1987-88, so what chance do I have of remembering it now?), but it went something like this.

Once upon a time, there were four cows who lived in the jungle.

Every day, they grazed together. So if a tiger attacked, they could get together and chase it away.

One day, the cows quarrelled among one another.

Because of that, they started grazing separately.

Because of that, it was now possible for the tiger to take them on one-on-one.

Until finally, one day, the tiger attacked the cows one by one and ate up all of them.

Don’t ask me how a tiger could eat four cows in a day. I remember struggling like crazy to remember this story and speak it out. I remember that my father tried to make me mug it up several times during one weekend, after which I was supposed to speak it out in school.

I don’t remember how well or badly I spoke it out. However, what lasted was that this kind of stories started giving me nightmares. From then on, I developed a fear of the phrase “once upon a time”. Any story that started with “once upon a time” were scary to me.

I remember this one day in school when one classmate was asked to narrate a story. He went up to the front of the class and started with “one day … “. That was liberating – that not every story needed to start with once upon a time was a massive relief to me.

It’s funny the kind of things we remember from childhood, and the kind of seemingly innocuous things that have a long-term impact on us.

The Tube Strike Model For The Pandemic

In 2002, as part of my undergrad in computer science, I took a course in “Artificial Intelligence”. It was a “restricted elective” – you had to either take that or another course called “Artificial Neural Networks”. That Neural Networks was then considered disjoint from AI will tell you how the field of computer science has changed in the 15 years since I graduated.

In any case, as part of our course on AI, we learnt heuristics. These were approximate algorithms to solve a problem – seldom did well in terms of worst case complexity but in most cases got the job done. Back then, the dominant discourse was that you had to tell a computer how to solve a problem, not just show it a large number of positive and negative examples and allow it to learn by itself (though that was the approach taken by the elective I did not elect for).

One such heuristic was Simulated Annealing. The problem with a classic “hill climbing” algorithm is that you can get caught in local optima. And the deterministic hill climbing algorithm doesn’t let you get off your local optima to search for better optima. Hence there are variants. In Simulated Annealing, in the early part of the algorithm you are allowed to take big steps down (assuming you are trying to find the peak). As the algorithm progresses, it “cools down” (hence simulated annealing) and the extent to which you are allowed to climb down is massively reduced.

It is not just in algorithms, or in the case of AI, do we get stuck in local optima. In a recent post, I had made a passing reference to a paper about the tube strikes of 2014.

It is clearly visible from the two panels that far fewer commuters were able to use their modal station during the strike, which implies that a substantial number of individuals were forced to explore alternative routes. The data also suggest that the strike brought about some lasting changes in behaviour, as the fraction of commuters that made use of their modal station seemingly drops after the strike (in the paper we substantiate this claim econometrically).

Screw the paper if you don’t want to read it. Basically the concept is that the strike of 2014 shook things up. People were forced to explore alternatives. And some alternatives stuck. In other words, a lot of people had got stuck in local maxima. And when an external event (the strike) pushed them off their local pedestals (figuratively speaking), they were able to find better maxima.

And that was only the result of a three-day strike. Now, the pandemic has gone on for 5-6 months now (depending on the part of world you are in). During this time, a lot of behaviour otherwise considered normal have been questioned by people behaving thus. My theory is that a lot of these hitherto “normal behaviours” were essentially local optima. And with the pandemic forcing people to rethink their behaviours, they will find better optima.

I can think of a few examples from my own life.

  1. I wrote about this the other day. I had gotten used to a schedule of heavy weight lifting for my workouts. I had plateaued in all my lifts, and this meant that my upper body had plateaued at a rather suboptimal level. However much I tried to improve my bench press and shoulder press (using only these movements) the bar refused to budge. And my shoulders refused to get bigger. I couldn’t do a (palms facing away) pull up.
    Thanks to the pandemic, the gym shut, and I was forced to do body weight exercises at home. There was a limit on how much I could load my legs and back, so I focussed more on my upper body, especially doing different progressions of the pushup. And back in the gym today, I discovered I could easily do pullups now.

    Similarly, the progression of body weight squats I knew forced me to learn to squat deep (hamstrings touching calves). Today for the first time ever I did deep front squats. This means in a few months I can learn to clean.

  2. I was used to eating Milky Mist set curd (the one that comes in a 1kg box). It was nice and creamy and I loved eating it. It isn’t widely available and there was one supermarket close to home from where I could get it. As soon as the lockdown happened that supermarket shut. Even when it opened it had long lines, and there were physical barricades between my house and that so I couldn’t drive to it.

    In the meantime I figured that the guy who delivers milk to my door in the morning could deliver (Nandini) curd as well. And I started buying from him. Well, it’s not as creamy as Milky Mist, but it’s good enough. And I’m not going back.

  3. This was a see-saw. For the first month of the lockdown most bakeries nearby were shut. So I started trying out bread at this supermarket close to home (not where I got Milky Mist from). I loved it. Presently, bakeries reopened and the density of cases in Bangalore meant I became wary of going to supermarkets. So now we’ve shifted back to freshly baked bread from the local bakery
  4. I’d tried intermittent fasting several times in life but had never been able to do it on a consistent basis. In the initial part of the lockdown good bread was hard to come by (since the bakeries shut and I hadn’t discovered the supermarket bread yet). There had been a bird flu scare near Bangalore so we weren’t buying eggs either. What do we do for breakfast? Just skip it. Now i have no problem not having breakfast at all

The list goes on. And I’m sure this applies to you as well. Think of all the behavioural changes that the pandemic has forced on you, and think of which all you will go back on once it has passed. There is likely to be a set of behavioural changes that won’t change back.

Like how one in 20 passengers who changed routes following the 2014 tube strikes never went back to their earlier routes. Except that this time it is a 6-month disruption.

What this means is that even when the pandemic is past us, the economy will not look like the economy that was before the pandemic hit us. There will be winners and losers. And since it will take time and effort for people doing “loser jobs” to retrain themselves (if possible) to do “winner jobs”, the economic downturn will be even longer.

I’m calling it the “tube strike mental model” for behavioural change during the pandemic.

Back to the gym

Late last month, the Indian government permitted gyms and yoga centres to open from August 5th, with sufficient social distancing and safety precautions. The Karnataka government immediately notified the order. Perhaps to take time to prepare, and give coaches who had gone out of state to return and complete their home quarantines, my gym began only yesterday.

And I went today.

Initially I was a bit sceptical. Not from the safety perspective – the gym had put in place several safety measures such as limiting the number of members in the gym at the same time. I was sceptical more from the perspective of the safety measures which could have been restrictive.

To cut a long story short, I managed to deadlift while wearing latex gloves. I had been highly sceptical of whether I would be able to do this. Usage of disposable latex gloves in the gym was a regulation that the gym had enforced, and justified saying that the government regulations now mandated it.

I had to use an app that the gym asked me to install to book a session. Since I’m not interested in their classes, and don’t want to go there when too many people are around, I booked an “open gym” session for this afternoon.

Before I got there I had to print out a declaration form saying that I don’t have covid (and basically indemnifying the gym if I caught it there). So I went to this shop close to the gym, printed it out and then headed to the gym. I had bought some cloth masks over the weekend since I wanted something “breathable” (I didn’t want to take off the mask at the gym). Compared to my usual wildcraft mask, this seemed so peaceful that it sort of felt “illegal”.

I was welcomed at the gym by Abhijit, the housekeeping guy. He took my printout, asked me to sanitise my hands, took my temperature and oxygen readings, and then sprayed me with some disinfectant. He explained the rules. There were boxes drawn all over the gym. I was supposed to keep all my belongings in one such box. Any equipment I used was to also go into that box – it would later be sanitised.

I warmed up with some dead hangs (and got reminded of that pull up bar that I’ve spectacularly failed to install in my balcony – after two attempts). And some leg raises. And then got down to business.

This is among the longest gaps I’ve taken in terms of lifting weights after I seriously started in 2014. My left shoulder hurt as I gripped the empty bar on my shoulder for my squat. I went through with the motion.

So there is this theory about force behaviour change – when there as a series of London Tube strikes in 2014, people were forced to change the way they travelled – involving alternate routes and connections, and even some alternate modes of transport. What the study found was that once the strike was over, some people stuck to the new alternatives they had found during the strikes. In other words, the forced  behaviour change led people to discover more optimal  behaviours.

I think that might have happened to me to some extent. Having been denied the use of the gym for the last five months, I’ve experimented with other exercises I could do from home. Having read Convict Conditioning, I started doing the progressions of pushups, squats, (sleeping) leg raises and bridges.

Prior to this, for the last six years I had stuck to a standard regimen of parallel back squats, shoulder press, bench press and deadlifts (in the last year or so I had added sumo deadlifts and front squats to my repertoire). This had allowed me to significantly improve lower body strength but my upper body strength had stalled.

The bodyweight exercises at home have had some interesting results – I now “naturally” squat deep (calves touching hamstrings), and I did the same today even with loaded squats. And my upper body finally shows signs of improvement, with all those pushups (though inability to install my pullup bar means my upper body might be growing weirdly).

So for the first time ever, with a barbell on my shoulders, I squatted deep. It was comfortable. I progressively increased the weights but didn’t go too heavy (don’t want to start my comeback with an injury). And then it was time for some deadlifts. My earlier fear of whether it could be safely done with latex gloves proved unfounded. However, again I stuck to lower weights (I have this problem with deadlifts that at lower weights my form is sometimes imperfect. The weight doesn’t “Force me to do it correctly” like higher weights do).

I must say I seriously missed this. This evening I felt the hungriest I have ever felt in the last six months. I’m sure to be going back regularly, at least once a week (possibly two). I’m going to continue with my bodyweight exercises, not wanting to give up the “alternate gains” I’ve had over the last six months.

By the time I was done this evening my mask was soaked, as were my clothes. I hope I wake up up tomorrow in a position to move.

Scrabble

I’ve forgotten which stage of lockdown or “unlock” e-commerce for “non-essential goods” reopened, but among the first things we ordered was a Scrabble board. It was an impulse decision. We were on Amazon ordering puzzles for the daughter, and she had just about started putting together “sounds” to make words, so we thought “scrabble tiles might be useful for her to make words with”.

The thing duly arrived two or three days later. The wife had never played Scrabble before, so on the day it arrived I taught her the rules of the game. We play with the Sowpods dictionary open, so we can check words that hte opponent challenges. Our “scrabble vocabulary” has surely improved since the time we started playing (“Qi” is a lifesaver, btw).

I had insisted on ordering the “official Scrabble board” sold by Mattel. The board is excellent. The tiles are excellent. The bag in which the tiles are stored is also excellent. The only problem is that there was no “scoreboard” that arrived in the set.

On the first day we played (when I taught the wife the rules, and she ended up beating me – I’m so horrible at the game), we used a piece of paper to maintain scores. The next day, we decided to score using an Excel sheet. Since then, we’ve continued to use Excel. The scoring format looks somewhat like this.

So each worksheet contains a single day’s play. Initially after we got the board, we played pretty much every day. Sometimes multiple times a day (you might notice that we played 4 games on 3rd June). So far, we’ve played 31 games. I’ve won 19, Priyanka has won 11 and one ended in a tie.

In any case, scoring on Excel has provided an additional advantage – analytics!! I have an R script that I run after every game, that parses the Excel sheet and does some basic analytics on how we play.

For example, on each turn, I make an average of 16.8 points, while Priyanka makes 14.6. Our score distribution makes for interesting viewing. Basically, she follows a “long tail strategy”. Most of the time, she is content with making simple words, but occasionally she produces a blockbuster.

I won’t put a graph here – it’s not clear enough. This table shows how many times we’ve each made more than a particular threshold (in a single turn). The figures are cumulative

Threshold
Karthik
Priyanka
30 50 44
40 12 17
50 5 10
60 3 5
70 2 2
80 0 1
90 0 1
100 0 1

Notice that while I’ve made many more 30+ scores than her, she’s made many more 40+ scores than me. Beyond that, she has crossed every threshold at least as many times as me.

Another piece of analysis is the “score multiple”. This is a measure of “how well we use our letters”. For example, if I start place the word “tiger” on a double word score (and no double or triple letter score), I get 12 points. The points total on the tiles is 6, giving me a multiple of 2.

Over the games I have found that I have a multiple of 1.75, while she has a multiple of 1.70. So I “utilise” the tiles that I have (and the ones on the board) a wee bit “better” than her, though she often accuses me of “over optimising”.

It’s been fun so far. There was a period of time when we were addicted to the game, and we still turn to it when one of us is in a “work rut”. And thanks to maintaining scores on Excel, the analytics after is also fun.

I’m pretty sure you’re spending the lockdown playing some board game as well. I strongly urge you to use Excel (or equivalent) to maintain scores. The analytics provides a very strong collateral benefit.

 

Night trains

In anticipation of tonight’s Merseyside Derby, I was thinking of previous instances of this fixture at Goodison Park. My mind first went back to the game in the 2013-14 season, which was a see-saw 3-3 draw, with the Liverpool backline being incredibly troubled by Romelu Lukaku, and Daniel Sturridge scoring with a header immediately after coming on to make it 3-3 (and Joe Allen had missed a sitter earlier when Liverpool were 2-1 up).

I remember my wife coming back home from work in the middle of that game, and I didn’t pay attention to her until it was over. She wasn’t particularly happy about that, but the intense nature of the game gave me a fever (that used to happen often in the 2013-14 and 2008-9 seasons).

Then I remember Everton winning 3-0 once, though I don’t remember when that was (googling tells me that was in the 2006-7 season, when I was already a Liverpool fan, but not watching regularly).

And then I started thinking about what happened to this game last season, and then remembered that it was a 0-0 draw. Incidentally, it was on the same day that I travelled to Liverpool – I had a ticket for an Anfield Tour the next morning.

I now see that I had written about getting to Liverpool after I got to my hotel that night. However, I haven’t written about what happened before that. My train from Euston was around 8:00 pm. I remember leaving home (which was in Ealing) at around 6 or so, and then taking two tubes (Central changing to Victoria at Oxford Circus) to get to Euston. And then buying chewing gum and a bottle of water at Marks and Spencer while waiting for my train.

I also remember that while leaving home that evening, I was scared. I was psyched out. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. This was a trip to Liverpool I had been wanting to make for the best part of 14 years. I had kept putting it off during my stay in London until I knew that I was going to move out of London in two weeks’ time. Liverpool were having a great season (they would go on to win the Champions League, and only narrowly lose the Premiser League title).

I was supposed to be excited. Instead I was nervous. My nerve possibly settled only after I was seated in the train that evening.

Thinking about it, I basically hate night trains (well, this wasn’t an overnight train, but it started late in the evening). I hate night buses as well. And this only applies to night trains and buses that take me away from my normal place of residence – starting towards “home” late in the night never worries me.

This anxiety possibly started when I was in IIT Madras. I remember clearly then that I used to sleep comfortably without fail while travelling from Madras to Bangalore, but almost always never slept or only slept fitfully when travelling in the opposite direction. While in hindsight it all appears fine, I never felt particularly settled when I was at IITM.

And consequently, anything that reminds me of travelling to IITM psyches me out. I always took the night train while travelling there, and the anxiety would start on the drive to the railway station. Even now, sometimes, I get anxious while taking that road late in the evening.

Then, taking night trains has been indelibly linked to travelling to Madras, and something that I’ve come to fear as well. While I haven’t taken a train in India since 2012, my experience with the trip to Liverpool last year tells me that even non-overnight night trains have that effect on me.

And then, of course, there is the city of Chennai as well. The smells of the city after the train crosses Basin Bridge trigger the first wave of anxiety. Stepping out of the railway station and the thought of finding an autorickshaw trigger the next wave (things might be different now with Uber/Ola, but I haven’t experienced that).

The last time I went to Chennai was for a close friend’s wedding in 2012. I remember waking up early on the day of the wedding and then having a massive panic attack. I spent long enough time staring at the ceiling of my hotel room that I ended up missing the muhurtham.

I’ve made up my mind that the next time I have to go to Chennai, I’ll just drive there. And for sure, I’m not going to take a train leaving Bangalore in the night.

Coming back to life

On Sunday, I met a friend for coffee. In normal times that would be nothing extraordinary. What made this extraordinary was that this was the first time since the lockdown started that I was actually meeting a non-family member casually, for a long in-person conversation.

I’m so tired of the three pairs of shorts and five T-shirts that I’ve been wearing every day since the lockdown started that I actually decided to dress up that day. And bothered to take a photo at a signal on the way to meeting him.

We met at a coffee shop in Koramangala, from where we took away coffees and walked around the area for nearly an hour, talking. No handshakes. No other touches. Masks on for most of the time. And outdoors (I’m glad I live in Bangalore whose weather allows you to be outdoors most of the year). Only issue was that wearing a mask and walking and talking for an hour can tire you out a bit.

The next bit of resurrection happened yesterday when I had an in-person business meeting for the first time in three months. Parking the car near these people’s office was easier than usual (less business activity I guess?), though later I found that my windshield was full of bird shit (I had parked under a tree).

For the first time ever while going into this office, I got accosted by a security guard at the entrance, asking where I was headed, taking my temperature and offering me hand sanitiser. Being a first time, I was paranoid enough to use the umbrella I was carrying to operate the lift buttons, and my mask was always on.

There were no handshakes. The room was a bit stuffy and I wasn’t sure if they were using the AC, so I asked for the windows to be opened (later they turned on the AC saying it’s standard practice there nowadays). Again, no handshakes or anything. We kept our masks on for a long time. They offered water in a bottle which I didn’t touch for a long time.

Until one of them suggested we could order in dosas from a rather famous restaurant close to their office (and one that I absolutely love). The dosas presently arrived, and then all masks were off. For the next half hour as the dosas went down it was like we were back in “normal times” again, eating together and talking loudly without masks. I must say I missed it.

I took the stairs down to avoid touching the lift. Walked back to the car (and birdshit-laden windshield) and quickly used hand sanitiser. I hadn’t carried my laptop or notebook for the meeting, and I quickly made notes using the voice notes app of my phone.

Yes, in normal times, a lot of this might appear mundane. But given that we’re now sort of “coming back to life” after a long and brutal lockdown, a lot of this deserves documentation.

Oh, and I’m super happy to meet people now. Given a choice, I prefer outdoors. Write in if you want to meet me.

covid-19 and mental health

I don’t know about you but the covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown have had a massive (negative) impact on my mental health. And from the small number of people I’ve spoken to about this, I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Before I continue I must mention that in the past I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and depression, though I haven’t been under medication for any of them for a long time now.

For starters, there’s the anxiety related to the disease itself. Every three or four days I suffer from what I’ve now come to dub “psychological corona”. Most of the times this is triggered by an allergy I get (I’m allergic to pollen from the tree in front of my house, a fact I conveniently forgot until I had bought this house). I start sneezing and coughing, and start imagining the worst.

One time, though, this “psychological corona” was legit thanks to my own stupidity. I had accepted a sample that a nearby baker had offered me, taking off my mask to eat it, and then remembered that he had been coughing before I entered the shop. And then panicked. I had thought later that I should write a blogpost on “the importance of keeping a consistent risk level” but then forgot.

The next level of anxiety is work-related. I’m lucky enough that I had a medium-term ongoing project at the time the lockdown started. This anxiety is regarding whether these clients will continue to pay, and if so, for how long. I don’t think I want to comment much on this issue (beyond bringing this up).

What I have mentioned so far is possibly what everyone has been going through. And then there is the “next layer”.

I have a 3 3/4 year old at home, and her school has been shut for over three months now. We don’t employ any help to take care of her (in other words, we use her school as our “child care”), and in normal times, we had worked out a method where we could get work done while still hanging out with her adequately.

Now, with the lockdown, this is doubly hard. We have settled on a method where the wife and I work in alternating 90 minute bands, with the person who “isn’t working” in that time band hanging out outside the study with the child. One of the responsibilities of the “person outside” is to ensure that the child doesn’t knock on the door.

This worked fine for me as long as I mostly had “fighter work” to do, as I could switch on and off at will as I entered and exited the room (though sometimes I found it harder to switch off when exiting). For the last month or so, my work has been more stud than fighter, and this band-based system has been a disaster. Most times, by the time I get into the zone, my slot is over.

And not getting work done in my slot is the least of my problems. The thing is that I’m “always working”, either trying to work on my work, or parenting (school meant that the total hours of work were far fewer). And it can be tiring. And from the point of view of my ADHD (I can easily get distracted and lose my train of thought), getting constant outside stimulus (even if it’s from close family) can be extremely draining.

What makes the problem really bad is that most outlets that help me normally deal with life are now absent. All sport has been shut, though nowadays football has been trickling back to life (yes, next Sunday I’m staying up late to watch Everton-Liverpool).

Getting regular exercise has been a part of my usual protocol of managing my mental health and it doesn’t help that gyms are closed (my gym wants to open, the state government wnats to open gyms, but the union government isn’t giving permission).

Children under 10 aren’t allowed to go out here “except for essential purposes” (I don’t understand the reason behind this, since the pandemic hasn’t really been affecting children). This means we can’t go out as a family. My wife and I can’t go to a shop together. I can’t take my daughter to a park (which is a big way in which I’ve bonded with her over the years).

The list is not complete but I’ll stop here since this is turning into a long rant. I’m pretty sure you have your own list of how the pandemic has hurt your mental health. And the lockdown isn’t helping one big on this.

Oh, and if there are therapists you recommend, please recommend.

Ending a 33-year-old wait

When I was in upper kindergarten (UKG) in 1987-88, my teacher Chandrika Aunty had shown me how to do thread painting. It was a fascinating exercise. Cover a thread in paint, and then let it lie in a random pattern inside a folded piece of paper, and then pull out the thread. It creates a beautiful and symmetrical (thanks to the folding) pattern in the paper.

To my dismay, Chandrika Aunty failed to repeat this exercise, instead spending time to teach us other kinds of painting such as dipping ladies fingers in paint (I’ve always loathed ladies finger as a vegetable, so you can imagine my not being enthused by using it as a block-print).

Somehow my mother (who was generally interested in painting) wasn’t interested in doing this either. So as much as I loved it, I never ended up doing thread painting again as a child.

All that changed a few days back. With the lockdown on, my daughter’s school has been sending her “assignments” to do at home. Now, I find most of these assignments rather stressful. Sometimes they make me wonder what’s the point of sending her to a Montessori at all, if they are giving here homework that I have to supervise (thankfully none of these need to necessarily need to be turned in. They’re more for keeping her occupied. But looking at them as “pending” on the Google Classroom irritates me).

However, there was one assignment that I was rather excited to see. Thread painting! We sat on it for a few days without doing (basically NED happened). However, it was my wife’s birthday yesterday, and when we sat down to make a card for her on Tuesday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do thread painting.

And so we did, using a small string and water colour tablets (I was so excited by the idea of thread painting that I didn’t bother following the school’s instructions). Apply water to the colour tablet, put the thread on it (and use the brush to make sure the paint was coated on the thread). Then put it in a random pattern between the folded sheets. And then pull it out carefully (the last bit was done by the daughter with great interest).

This was the result:

I’m rather excited by this. For someone artistically challenged like me, this is a nice way to make nice-looking images.

I don’t intend to do a Chandrika Aunty. I plan to do thread painting on a regular basis with the daughter. It’s both fun to do and produces nice results, like what you see here.

The rest of her school assignments can remain undone. I don’t care.

Meetings from home

For the last eight years, I’ve worked from home with occasional travel to clients’ offices. How occasional this travel has been has mostly depended on how far away the client is, and how insistent they are on seeing my face. Nevertheless, I’ve always made it a point to visit them for any important meetings, and do them in person.

Now, with the Covid-19 crisis, this hybrid model has broken down. Like most other people in the world, I work entirely from home nowadays, even for important meetings.

At the face of this, this seems like a good thing – for example, nowadays, however important a meeting is, the transaction cost is low. An hour long meeting means spending an hour for it (the time taken for prep is separate and hasn’t changed), and there’s no elaborate song-and-dance about it with travel and dressing up and all that.

While this seems far more efficient use of my time, I’m not sure I’m so happy about it. Essentially, I miss the sense of occasion. Now, an important meeting feels no different from an internal meeting with partners, or some trivial update.

Travel to and from an important meeting was a good time to mentally prepare for it, and then take stock of how it was gone. Now, until ten minutes before a meeting, I’m living my life as usual, and the natural boundaries that used to help me prep are also gone.

The other problem with remotely being there in large but important meetings is that it’s really easy to switch off. If you’re not the one who is doing a majority of the talking (or even the listening), it becomes incredibly hard to focus, and incredibly easy to get distracted elsewhere in the computer (it helps if your camera is switched off).

In a “real” physical meeting, however, large the gathering is, it is naturally easy for you to focus (and naturally more difficult to be distracted), and also easier to get involved in the meeting. An online meeting sometimes feels a bit too much like a group discussion, and without visual cues involved, it becomes really hard to butt in and make a point.

So once we are allowed to travel, and to meet, I’m pretty certain that I’ll start travelling a bit for work again. I’ll start with meetings in Bangalore (inter-city travel is likely to be painful for a very long time).

It might involve transaction cost, but a lot of the transaction cost gets recovered in terms of collateral benefits.