Games of luck and skill

My good friend Anuroop has two hobbies – poker and wildlife photography. And when we invited him to NED Talks some 5 years ago, he decided to combine these two topics into the talk, by speaking about “why wildlife photography is like poker” (or the other way round, I’ve forgotten).

I neither do wildlife photography nor play poker so I hadn’t been able to appreciate his talk in full when he delivered it. However, our trip to Jungle Lodges River Tern Resort (at Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary) earlier this year demonstrated to me why poker and wildlife photography are similar – they are both “games of luck AND skill”.

One debate that keeps coming up in Indian legal circles is whether a particular card game (poker, rummy, etc.) is a “game of luck” or a “game of skill”. While this might sound esoteric, it is a rather important matter – games of skill don’t need any permission from any authority, while games of luck are banned to different extents by different states (they are seen as being similar to “gambling”, and the moralistic Indian states don’t want to permit that).

Many times in the recent past, courts in India have declared poker and rummy to be “games of skill“, which means “authorities” cannot disrupt any such games. Still, for different reasons, they remain effectively illegal in certain states.

In any case, what makes games like poker interesting is that they combine skill and luck. This is also what makes games like this addictive. That there is skill involved means that you get constantly better over time, and the more you play, the greater the likelihood that you will win (ok it doesn’t increase at the same rate for everyone, and there is occasional regression as well).

If it were a pure game of skill, then things would get boring, since in a game of skill the better player wins every single time. So unless you get a “sparring partner” of approximately your own level, nobody will want to play with you (this is one difficulty with games like chess).

With luck involved, however, the odds change. It is possible to beat someone much better (on average) than you, or lose to someone much worse (on average). In other words, if you are designing an Elo rating system for a game like poker, you need to change players’ ratings by very little after each game (compared to a game of pure skill such as chess).

Because there is luck involved, there is “greater information content” in the result of each game (remember from information theory that a perfectly fair coin has the most information content (1 bit) among all coins). And this makes the game more fun to play. And the better player is seen as better only when lots of games are played. And so people want to play more.

It is the same with wildlife photography. It is a game of skill because as you do more and more of it, you know where to look for the tigers and leopards (and ospreys and wild dogs). You know where and how long you should wait to maximise your chances of a “sighting”. The more you do it, the better you become at photography as well.

And it is a game of luck because despite your best laid plans, there is a huge amount of luck involved. Just on the day you set up, the tiger might decide to take another path to the river. The osprey might decide on a siesta that is a little bit longer than usual.

At the entrance of JLR River Tern Lodge, there is a board that shows what animals were “sighted” during each safari in the preceding one week. Each day, the resort organises two safaris, one each in the morning and afternoon, and some of them are by boat and some by jeep.

I remember trying to study the boards and try and divine patterns to decide when we should go by boat and when by jeep (on the second day of our stay there, we were the “longest staying guests” and thus given the choice of safari). One the first evening, in our jeep safari, we saw a herd of elephants. And a herd of gaur. And lots of birds. And a dead deer.

That we had “missed out” on tigers and leopards meant that we wanted to do it again. If what we saw depended solely on the skill of the naturalist and the driver who accompanied us, we would not have been excited to go into the forest again.

However, the element of luck meant that we wanted to just keep going, and going.

Games of pure luck or pure skill can get boring after a while. However, when both luck and skill get involved, they can really really get addictive. Now I fully appreciate Anuroop’s NED Talk.

 

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.

Finite and infinite cricket games

I’ve written about James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games here before. It is among the more influential books I’ve read, though it’s a bit of a weirdly written book, almost in a constant staccato tone.

From one of my previous posts:

One of the most influential books I’ve read is James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games. Finite Games are artificial games where we play to “win”. There is a defined finish, and there is a set of tasks that we need to achieve that constitutes “victory”. Most real-life games are on the other hand are “infinite games” where the objective is to simply ensure that the game simply goes on.

I’ve spent most of this evening watching The Test, the Amazon Prime documentary about the Australian cricket team after Sandpapergate. It’s a good half-watch. Parts of it demand a lot of attention, but overall it’s a nice “background watch” while I’m doing something else.

In any case, the reason for writing the post is this little interview of Harsha Bhogle somewhere in the middle of this documentary (he has appeared several times more after this one). In this bit, he talks about how in Test cricket, the opponent might be having a good time for a while, but it is okay to permit him that. To paraphrase Gully Boy, “apna time aayega” – the bowler or batsman in question will tire or diminish after some time, after which you can do your business.

He went on to say that this is not the case in limited overs cricket (ODIs and T20s) where both batsmen and bowlers need to constantly look to dominate, and cannot simply look to “survive” when an opponent is on the roll.

While Test cricket is strictly not an “infinite game” (it needs to end in five days), I thought this was a beautiful illustration of the concept of finite and infinite games. The objective of an infinite game, as James Carse describes in his book, is to just continue to play the game.

As a batsman in Test cricket, you look to just be there, weather out the good spells and spend time at the crease. You do this and the runs will come (it is analogous for bowlers – you need to bowl well enough to continue to be in the game, and then when the time comes you will get your rewards).

In ODIs and T20s, you cannot bide your time. Irrespective of how the opponent is playing, you need to “win every moment”, which is the premise for a finite game.

Now, I don’t know what I’m getting at here, and what he point of this post is, but I think I just liked Harsha Bhogle’s characterisation of Tests as infinite games, and wanted to share that with you.

Famous people from little-known countries

I recently finished reading Svetlana Alexievitch’s Second-hand Time, a memoir of people in the erstwhile Soviet Union as the union broke down in 1991. It’s a long and rather intense book, and maybe it wasn’t the best choice for reading on days when I wasn’t able to sleep.

I don’t, however, regret reading the book at all. It was incredibly enlightening and taught me a lot of life in the Soviet Union and in the post-Soviet republics. This is what I wrote in review on Goodreads:

Absolutely brilliant book. Very very informative and enlightening, especially for someone for whom “USSR” was this monolith growing up, and then finding out that it was actually 15 different countries.

Only reasons I didn’t give it 5 stars are that it’s a bit too long (though at no point did I want to give up on the book – it’s very good), and that some of the stories are a bit too similar.

Also I would have preferred more stories from the non-Russian republics.

One of the stories in the book is about migrant workers from Tajikistan in Moscow, and how they are ill-treated and racially abused. They are called “blackies”, for example, a term that puzzled me since to my knowledge Tajiks are rather fair-skinned.

I had to “see it to believe it”, and what did I do? I googled the photo of perhaps the only Tajik I’ve heard about – Ahmed Shah Massoud, late leader of the Northern Alliance who fought in the early 2000s to expel the Taliban from Afghanistan.

(Now I learn that Massoud was Afghan and not Tajik, so I was actually mistaken. I somehow remember him as being the leader of the ethnic Tajiks in the battle against the Taliban (and General Abdul Rashid Dostum being an ethnic Uzbek leader as part of the Northern Alliance) ).

In any case, now that it turns out that Ahmad Shah Massoud wasn’t actually Tajik, it turns out that I don’t know of even a single Tajik. Not one. So this got me thinking about countries that have very few people who are present in popular imagination.

And I don’t think there are too many countries from where there are so few little-known people (I consider my own “general knowledge” to be pretty good, so me knowing someone “famous” from a country should count).

Some countries have charismatic or otherwise popular political leaders, and you are likely to know them by face. Then, there is sport – if you follow a handful of sports, you are likely to know at least a few people from most countries.

For example, my ability at guessing a European’s nationality from their first name comes from my following of football, a sport that is popular all over Europe, and has famous players pretty much from all countries (I admit I don’t know anyone from Moldova or Belarus, though the latter has a rather famous and nicely named football club).

I know of people from a lot of former Soviet republics (but not any Tajiks, or Uzbeks or Kazakhs) because I follow chess. Paul Keres from Estonia, Mikhail Tal from Latvia, Levon Aronian and Tigran Petrosian from Armenia, Teimour Rajdabov and Shakhryar Mamedyarov from Azerbaijan and so on are among the very few (or only) people I know from their respective countries.

Think about it – which are the countries from which you can’t name a single person? How many such countries might there be? In my case there may be a maximum of 50 such countries (there are about 200 independent countries in the world, IIRC).

I recently came across this blog post in EconLog which made a pretty interesting point comparing blacks in the US to Uighurs in China, which possibly prompted my post:

In most cases, oppressed groups tend to be relatively poor and powerless, and thus are often invisible to outsiders. Can you name a single member of the Uyghur minority in China?

It seems to me that African-Americans are somewhat different. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most well informed people in other countries able to name and identify quite a few African-Americans? In politics the most obvious example is Barack Obama…

I can’t think of a single Uyghur either. Oh, and I forgot to mention the role of movies and books and other methods of popular culture that give you exposure to people from different countries.

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.

Unions and blacks

Did you know that trade unions were responsible for apartheid, which devastated the lives of black and coloured people in South Africa for nearly a century?

The logic was simple – black people were willing to work as miners for lower wages than white people. So the white-controlled unions lobbied to not allow black people to work in mines, so that their wages weren’t undercut. And what started as a movement to not let blacks work in diamond mines became an overall anti-black movement that led to apartheid.

This is captured in this beautiful old essay in Econlib. A couple of excerpts:

At first, however, the white capitalist could deal directly only with the few English and Afrikaner managers and foremen who shared his tongue and work habits. But the premium such workers commanded soon became an extravagance. Black workers were becoming capable of performing industrial leadership roles in far greater numbers and at far less cost. Driven by the profit motive, the substitution of black for white in skilled and semiskilled mining jobs rose high on the agenda of the mining companies.

[…]

Nonetheless, the state instituted an array of legal impediments to the promotion of black workers. The notorious Pass Laws sought to sharply limit the supply of nonwhite workers in “white” employment centers. Blacks were not allowed to become lawful citizens, to live permanently near their work, or to travel without government passports. This last restriction created a catch-22. If passports were issued only to those already possessing jobs, how was a nonwhite to get into the job area to procure a job so as to obtain a passport? Nonwhites also were prohibited from bringing their families while working in the mines (reinforcing the transient nature of employment).

[…]

To discourage mine owners from substituting cheaper African labor for more expensive European labor, the trade unions regularly resorted to violence and the strike threat. They also turned to legislation: the Mines and Works Act of 1911 (commonly referred to as the first Colour Bar Act) used the premise of “worker safety” to institute a licensing scheme for labor. A government board was set up to certify individuals for work in “hazardous” occupations. The effect was to decertify non-Europeans, who were deemed “unqualified.”

Read the whole thing. Going by modern American (or British) politics, this kind of a conflict between labour unions and blacks doesn’t make sense. After all, both these “communities” are among the biggest supporters of the Democratic (or Labour) Party, and so based on modern politics, you would imagine that they would be in harmony with each other on most counts.

However, I’m not sure the conflict between mostly-white unions and blacks has completely gone away.

I’ve been thinking of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests all over the USA (and elsewhere) over the last 10 days. The protestors have been protesting against racism, and the many cases of abuse of black people by white policemen in the US.

While the perpetrators of the crime were all racist white men, and the victim was a black man, I don’t know how much of the brutality can be attributed to racism, and how much simply to bad policing. Keep aside the victim’s race for a moment, and think about what happened – a policeman pinned down a suspect, and then knelt upon his neck for eight minutes until he was dead.

Racism has a part to play in that maybe the policemen thought they have a higher chance of getting away with it because the victim was black, but that the cop thought it was okay to brutalise just about anyone the way he did is atrocious.

Having largely been off social media, my reading about this (and related) issues is through the blogs that I follow, and one phrase that repeatedly make an appearance in this context is “police unions”. Policemen, like many other professions, are highly unionised in the United States, and the unions set rules for how the police can be treated, what they can be expected to do, their punishments, etc.

And from the stuff I’ve read (too many to link to everything), the unions give individual cops to behave the way they want to, knowing that punishment is going to be limited.

Today I came across this rather interesting post by Alex Tabarrok about Camden (New Jersey) where policemen marched with the Black Lives Matters protestors. There is a very interesting history to policing in Camden NJ.

In May of 2013, however, the entire police department was disbanded nullifying the union contract and an entirely new county police department was put into place.

And Tabarrok’s post goes on to show that the dissolution and reconstitution of the police force (basically the dissolution of the union) has led to tangible benefits in terms of reduced violent crime.

So it appears that, decades after apartheid was (in letter) abolished, white-controlled unions continue to make life really difficult for blacks.

Mata Amrita Goes To New York Times

Remember that I had written recently that the pandemic is likely to change the practice of hugging, and the Mata Amrita Index? Now the New York Times has also covered it (possibly paywalled). It includes helpful graphics on “how to hug and how not to hug”.

It is an interesting article, quoting an expert on aerosols about what is the best way to hug. From what I gather, the key is to keep your faces turned away from each other. As long as you maintain this, hugging should still be fine.

[…] the safest thing is to avoid hugs. But if you need a hug, take precautions. Wear a mask. Hug outdoors. Try to avoid touching the other person’s body or clothes with your face and your mask. Don’t hug someone who is coughing or has other symptoms.

And remember that some hugs are riskier than others. Point your faces in opposite directions — the position of your face matters most. Don’t talk or cough while you’re hugging. And do it quickly. Approach each other and briefly embrace. When you are done, don’t linger. Back away quickly so you don’t breathe into each other’s faces. Wash your hands afterward.

Most of this seems fine. Only the last bit seems a bit difficult to implement – how do you wash your hands soon after hugging someone without offending them? I mean – I face this problem already. There are many people I come across whose hands I shake (this is all pre-pandemic) which leave me queasy and at unease until I have washed my hands. The challenge in this situation is how to efficiently wash your hands without making it explicit that the handshake wasn’t a pleasant one.

My favourite bit in the article, however, is the last one. It pertains to the “quality of hugs” that I’ve been talking about for a while now, and also happens to bring in Marie Kondo into the picture.

Dr. Marr noted that because the risk of a quick hug with precautions is very low but not zero, people should choose their hugs wisely.

“I would hug close friends, but I would skip more casual hugs,” Dr. Marr said. “I would take the Marie Kondo approach — the hug has to spark joy.”

Local time zones and function food

Last year after we got back to Bangalore from London, we started inviting people home for meals. It gave us an opportunity to socialise and rebuilt our network here. However, soon we stopped doing this – we had what I call a “time zone problem”.

In the UK, people eat early, and kids go to bed early. We liked both these aspects of the British culture and (to the extent possible) adopted them wholeheartedly. Now, back in India, we continue to follow these practices, but realise that most people around us don’t follow it. And this results in “time zone issues”.

This inevitably results in crane-fox situations when we have to go to someone’s place to eat or vice versa. We have gotten foxed several times, turning up for dinner at 630 or 7, and staying hungry till 9. We’ve tried craning several times, calling people at home for dinner at 630 or 7, and having them turn up much later in the evening.

Meeting outside in neutral places has some mitigating factors. Like 8pm drinks with friends means I finish my dinner and then go for drinks, thus maintaining my schedule. When I want to avoid drinking, the easiest thing to do is to drive to the venue (I’m paranoid about driving without full control).

The worst are religious functions. I’m pretty sure I’ve cribbed about them several time here on this blog. With very few exceptions, they invariably serve lunch or dinner late. Also that a “sacred event” is going on is reason enough for most other guests to not be bothered about the disruptions in eating schedules.

And to deal with that (apart from the fact that a large number of functions after we returned to India served pretty unspectacular food), we took inspiration from a close relative who has this policy of never eating at functions (the one time he broke this policy, two years ago, also coincided with what is easily the worst wedding food I’ve ever eaten, so it’s unlikely he’s breaking his policy again). Unless we have good reason to believe that the food at a function is going to be good (most reliable indicator being the caterer), we’ve taken to this relative’s policy.

Timing of most events in Bangalore means that we can eat our food at our normal times (lunch at noon, dinner at 6:30) and then comfortably get to the function well in time. Sometimes the host might get offended when we don’t eat, so a lighter than usual meal at home ensures that there is room for at least a dessert and a tiny course of meal.

As for the original crane-fox situation (calling people home or visiting for meals), we’ve started making adjustments. A few months after we returned, the daughter got back to her usual schedule of going to bed at 7 (unlike most children her age, she doesn’t nap in the afternoon). So dinner invites (in either direction) are out of the question. Lunch invites we manage by adjusting our breakfast times and quantities.

What’s the use of living in India if you cut yourself off from all socialising?