Thursday, December 15, 2016

My Tryst With Mortality

Duplithingal was the name I was given by Saju. He had somehow obtained information that my last name was inherited from another source and hence I was not the "original" but the "duplicate" and hence he Called me Duplithingal. Funny how that is the thing I remember most about him apart from the fact that he was probably the one person who was cheerful most of the time. But as the cliche goes, it is the good souls that are called upon first. The call was rather jarring for a rainy, dark morning in Chennai. Saju had been in a motorcycle accident and passed away, said the caller. His body is in the morgue. Standing outside that morgue I still couldn't believe what I was there for. how can a 19 year old die. That was unfathomable to me. As the daily commuters went about their business unaware of this catastrophic event, I realized that what shakes one world goes unnoticed in another and just like that he had left us all and we continued on with life.

Dhavinder was the tallest kid in class. Lanky built but a towering figure nonetheless. He too seemed like a happy-go-lucy kind. Always smiling and cracking jokes, he had the skill of using sarcasm as an effective tool for humor. I remember the day there was a general murmur in class as to why Dhavinder had not shown up for class for the past few days and it turns out he had Jaundice. Okay, that should be something he will get over soon and we will be back to seeing him around. But then came the news that he had passed away. How does a 20 something kid die of Jaundice. Standing in that dirty looking symmetry I wondered how one finds himself standing in such places. It was again something that seemed like an out of body experience to me. I did not know Dhavinder well but it seemed rather callous of me to be examining my own existence when the real victim lay in a pyre.

Daphne was a cheerful, small built girl who I would occasionally come across at work. She was one person who was willing to get lunch in the cafeteria with anyone who was willing to come along. My closest interaction with her came when our kids started going to the same pre-school and we watched them flutter around in class over the cameras that were setup to observe them at work. Without really saying much to each other, there was a common bond of concern for our kids that kept us connected. I lost touch with her as I moved on to other teams until that rather uneventful day when I got a message on on internal chat program that she had passed away. Passed away? She has a 3 year old kid. What do you mean she passed away? Turns out she had a terminal for of cancer that showed up late and she fought it was about a year and finally succumbed. What about her kid? What about her husband. All good questions that would need to find its own answers I guess.

Damayanthi was the maternal figure in the gang of five. We were all away from home for the first time in our adult life in a foreign land trying to not mess up too much. We were all looking for some place to throw our anchors and feel like we belonged. It was in a small dingy little apartment across the street from college campus that we found that place. She was always willing to host and sometimes I felt she did the hosting just so that she felt the maternal need to look after somebody. She had a challenging couple of years at school tackling some health issues and some squabbles among friends, but at the end of it all, she never wavered from being a gracious hostess. I woke up this morning to a message on my phone saying that she had passed away. Again, she has a small kid. What do you mean she passed away? She is in her prime!!

The fallacy in that argument is that mortality has nothing to do with who you are and what your current state of affairs are. It lives among us looking for the next one to walk away with. As unbelievable as it may seem to me, the fact is that we are all living on borrowed time. There is nothing we can do about it except to look away and enjoy the moments we have in the present.

Bon Voyage my friends, I hope you all continue to smile wherever you are.

Friday, November 18, 2016

You have been Trumped!

The phenomenon that is Trump is for all to see. Everybody waited with baited breath on that cold Tuesday night, each with their own small prayer. As the night grew darker some sobbed while some cheered and that is how Democracy works. Like the words of the fake president in "The American President" - "You gotta really want it".

Democracy is a very humbling experience. It is the great equalizer between the high tower elites to the small man on main street. At the end of it all, it is the power of the voters that speak. You may or may not agree with it, but the power of democracy is in its ability to reshape history as dictated by the masses and not necessarily by conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom states that Trump should have been out of the race about 16 months ago. For every atrocious thing that he has said, there are several examples of people who have fallen on the wayside for having said or done way less. But then conventional wisdom and Trump do not get framed in the same sentence very often.

So how did this come to pass. Obama claims that he is not to blame for the rise of Trump. But as a early supporter, I say to you Mr.President, you need to take a fair share of the responsibility for the rise of Trump. Not that I would lay the greatest blame on you, but for you to shirk responsibility for the greatest upset in modern American politics would be rather irresponsible. After all Trump is going to be sitting that that office that you have adorned for 8 years now.

My disappointment is not in the policies that Obama worked on, or the things that he has said and done. As a matter of fact as I watch him in his last days as president I come to the sad realization that I am really going to miss one of the coolest political leaders I have seen and admired. No, my disappointment comes from the things he has not done.

As liberal as I think I am, I wish Obama had not left half the country feeling like the liberal agenda was being pushed down their throat. I wish the House and the Senate were a little more cordial to the President, but you play the cards yo are dealt. Mr. President, you should have gone to each Republicans and dismantled their resistance with some middle ground. You have the personality unlike any seen in presidential politics before and that was your weapon you bring people together. Not the democratic party. You could have done it. Republicans were fractured from within, you had the chance to bring them over to the center. It could have been a more moderate form of politics and you probably would not have got everything you wanted, but then I assume politics is all about give and take, right?

But you chose to tell everybody what the right thing to do was and as much as I agree with almost everything you stood for, I doubt you made any friends beyond your core base with that stance. While I know it is idealistic to stand by what you believe no matter what and you want to negotiate from a place of strength, a wounded foe will always see that as oppression rather than righteousness. I suspect that took the two parties further apart even though there was no unity within the other party.

That left all the people in the middle with a bad taste in their mouth. Now here we are, hoping upon hope that the ominous responsibility of leading the most powerful nation in the world will make Trump do the right thing, beyond his words.

No Mr.President you do not get to walk away blameless here. We all have our role to play in getting ourselves Trumped.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Summer Vacation

Last month I relived my summer vacation. When I say that I relived it, I mean I saw it through the eyes of a five year old once again and it was fabulous. Over the last couple of decades, in my 20s and 30s I have found myself not enjoying summer vacations as much as I remember enjoying them when I was a carefree child. My memories of summer vacations are in such a happy part of my mind that it almost hurts to recollect the details of it. The loitering through my grandfathers grounds, the adventures with my brothers, the slew of movies, the visits to a plethora of people, visit to the beach and everything else.

This summer I once again saw glimpses of that joy. The only difference was that I was seeing it through the eyes of my son. I had pushed them to stay in India longer this time around and boy did I see what I wanted to see. The complete joy of kids in a new, warm and loving environment where every day is a discovery is something to cherish. Even my daughter seems to be showing glimpses of enjoying the moments. Hopefully she will have more profound memories next time around. The joys of summer are back, albeit through my children's eyes.

I hope the memories have rewired their neurons and they store theses precious moments somewhere deep inside to relive it some day down the road.

To Summer Vacations!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Jury Selection

Today, after two days of continuous briefing from a judge regarding the rules of Jury Duty I was excused as they found the 14 jurors they needed for the case. Though I was not looking forward to serving on the Jury for a month, I have to admit I am a little disappointed by the fact that I was not selected. As disruptive as it might be to my daily routine, the experience of watching criminal proceedings is something that I think would be an eye opener regarding how the world works.

We are so caught up in our daily lives that we never stop to think about the world around us. But the last couple of days made me stop and think about it (as I had nothing other than that to do in the court while the proceedings were in progress). The fact that there are people in going to the judicial system with everything else in their life at a complete standstill makes you wonder how much you take your daily life for granted.

As I watched the defendant sitting there I wondered how odd it would be if I found myself in that position one day amidst all the daily stuff that I go through. This man could not make bail and so he is actually in jail waiting for the trial. So even though he has not been proven guilty he serves time in jail waiting for justice to be served with everything else in his life in a holding pattern.

The other amazing part about jury selection is all the things to hear from the jurors. It amazes me to know the amount of stuff people experience in their lives that emotionally roil them to a point where they cannot be composed while recounting it. The number of people who have had run in with the law and the number of people who have biases that we only hear of on TV.

Either way, it was a great experience to stop running for two days and listen to a completely different perspective on our society from people so diverse. I have to say, for all its inefficiencies, the jury system is great. Even the 14 people selected today were so diverse in their background that they couldn't possible interpret the evidence in a similar fashion. It gives the defendant a chance to be evaluated by an array of his peers rather than a single judge.

I hope justice prevails.....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Magnum Opus

The one thing I fault myself with is my inability to be patient and persistent when things get tough. I generally am very impatient and hate the idea of not getting it right the first time. The first time I was made chronically aware of it was in a feedback from a friend.

The story goes that I once went for an interview based on a recommendation from a friend. After the interview my friend called up and said that they had reviewed by interview and one of the interviewers had provided the feedback that I seem to give up very easily. Since he mentioned who it was, I remember the incident very clearly and my version is that he had asked me a question and I had given it a try. But when I realized that I did not answer the question, I told him I don't know. The reason I do that in interviews is that I don't like to come across as a person who keeps talking when he doesn't really know the answer. But tuns out the take away for the interviewer was that I gave up too easily.

When I heard that I was shocked. But once I got over it I realized that it was a fair point indeed. After that day I made it a point to observe myself and realized that it was indeed very true. I do give up easily. I do not like it when I do not have the answers and I dont really like to dwell on it after that point.

With that in mind I am looking to prove myself wrong. It is in that context that I ventured into the task of rebuilding my deck. What is the relationship you ask? I wanted to see if a task completely unrelated to work has the same effect on me. The job of building the deck was not a small one and after my brief intro to carpentry in my engineer school 20 years ago, I have never touched a carpentry tool in my life. So the experiment was to really see if I was willing to learn and really learn from my mistakes and improvise and patiently build something substantial.

The deck was a true study in endurance. I started over the memorial day weekend of 2013 and began breaking down the existing boards. As I broke through it I could see the underlying framework and was already intimidated. It was not looking good and a number of beams looks rather dilapidated. Once I was done removing all the boards I realized that this was not an exercise of just adding new boards and that I would have to rebuild some of them. The project had already taken an unexpected turn. But I continued on. I got myself some support beams and shaped them as best as I could. I then got myself some support joints and nailed them into all the joints to reinforce them. After four days of 8 hours hard labor, all the joints were reinforced and the new beams were in place.

That is when I realized there were a lot of nails sticking out from the beams from the old boards and I had to pry them out one by one. A true test in patience and strength. Once they were out, I painted each one of the beams with paint to avoid further degradation of the existing beams and filled them up with putty. That was when I was ready to put the boards back.

Finding good redwood boards  the real test in patience. I remember going to the store and seeing a pile of 200 boards sitting there and I thought to myself this should be really easy. But then it was when I began spiffing through the pile that I realized that the yield was more like 2%. So for every new pile of boards I would find 5 boards. Each one had to be nailed it and painted with a water proofer. The yield finally worked out well for me because that was really the amount of boards I need for a days worth of work. I would collect three days worth of boards and work on a Saturday trying to nail them into the structure. This was the stage that was really a test in patience. The job was mundane and really needed very little thinking, except for the challenges in leveling the boards.

Building the steps was the most challenging part of the project and was the one stage my endeavor that I failed and had to improvise to finish it off. But 6 months and endless hours of sawing and drilling and the deck was done just in time for winter and the rainfall to start.

Though this is not a real test of if I am really capable of patience and determination, it has gone a very long way in reinforcing my confidence in myself and my ability to stick to something till it is done. It was truly my magnum opus because even though it was not obvious to many, there were times when I thought that it was not worth the effort.

Here is to something I finished....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Our Daughter

Little did I realize that it has been so long since I wrote anything here. The sands of time slip away with specks of memory blowing away aimlessly from my mind. So here I am to note down some of the events in the past year and a half least I might forget the details.

Maria is here and she is just unbelievably adorable. Fourteen months old now, she is ruling the roost with everyone at her beck and call. He brother is terrified of her as she approaches only to find that she is there merely to exchange pleasantries  on her way to her mom. Maria's entry to the world was not as dramatic as her brothers as she slipped into her place in the world. Tobey and Maria now seem to consume almost all of our waking time but everyday they both surprise us with something new.

Maria has a vocabulary that includes "what", "no", "ende ammae" and "mine". With these four words she is practically able to negotiate anything and everything that she needs out of us. She has her brother on a short leash too.

Tobey on the other hand is living his "terrible twos" in his "threes". He has had a couple of run ins with his teachers and is not open for negotiation. He however does seem to be open to reason and very carefully listens to me as I reason with him and then does exactly what he wants. But the mere attention that he gives me while I talk gives me hope for future parenting.

Ann and I will muddle through this time of super parenting trying to figure out what best works for us and one day we will come out of this tunnel and look back at it in amazement, I am sure.

Just so that I put a random stake in the sands of time.... my current interest is country music, which I am sure will soon fade away, but just so that I remember my favorite song at this time in my life.. here it is.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Walls around us!

Something I wrote for a Toastmasters speech a few years back.

I took the first sip of my drink and settled into the chair. The dim light in the room set the mood for the night. Three friends meeting after a long time. It was one of those days when the conversation careened from the totally bizarre to the most thought provoking. That is when my friend stood up and made the announcement. He was going to become a school teacher for the under privileaged children in India. He had it all planned out. The city, the school, the children, the way he is going to fund the operation. Everything to the minutest detail.. We listened in awe until he concluded on a surprising note. He was going to do this 10 years from now.

Greg Mortenson decided to climb the K2 peak in memory of his sister who had recently passed away. On his journey up the mountains a member of his group fell sick and they had to abort the mission. On the way down the peak, Greg lost his way and wandered for days until he reached a village. There, while he was being nursed back to health, he noticed that the children in the village did not have any means of basic education. He promised to return and start a school for them. After initial hiccups to raise sufficient funds Greg setup the first school in northern Pakistan and today his organization runs 78 schools for under privileged children around the world.

Mother Thersea came to Calcutta as a young missionary. As a catholic nun, she had no resources of her own except the clothes on her back. She was not even educated in the local dialect or aware of the local culture. But, she was so moved by the poverty that she witnessed in the streets of Calcutta, that she felt compelled to break away from the norms and build an organization dedicated to a simple principle. She was determined to provide the poorest of the poor the ability to live and die with dignity. Today .Missionaries of charity is one of the most recognized organizations around the world.

Alex was suffering from terminal cancer. One day she had to go into the hospital to get a stem cell transplant. While in the hospital she told he mother that she wanted to help the doctors collect some money to carry out deeper research into cancer treatment. She left the hospital and started by opening a lemonade stand outside her house. That day she collected 2000$. By the time she died, Alex had raised 1 million dollars for cancer research through her Alex Lemonade stand foundation. Alex was eight years old.

I can go on like this about the scores and scores of people who have achieved incrediblethings from seemingly modest backgrounds. But that is for another day. Today I stop here to ponder what is it that makes these people so special? There is only one thing that comes to mind. They got into action as soon as the thought struck them. They did not wait for the stars to align or the perfect time in there life to begin the journey. They did it as soon as they felt enlightened. That my friends is what makes them so special.

Six years ago I had an epiphany. I decided that I wanted to get an MBA. The first thought that came to mind, the 1,20000$ it would cost me. I would also mean 2 years of student life. I decided that I would wait a couple of years to build my resources to do it. Four years later, I revisited that thought. But then I was busy in a startup and could not afford to spend the time to write my exams for it. Six years later I lament that I still do not have that MBA.

Though my MBA goal is not as noble as the one Greg, Mother Teresa or Alex had in their lifes, my point is this. If you do not get down to doing what you want to do today, then you will have a hard time justifying the time to do it tomorrow. Imagine if Mother Theresa had decided that she would wait for a few years to build up the resource to start her mission. Or if Greg decided that his family was more important than starting that school. What if Alex had waited for four more years to start her lemonade stand.

Let me ask some of you a simple question. Do not over think this or dwell on it. What is the one thing that you really want to do in life?

Now think about this, why wont you start working on it today.

As a child we are born with no boundaries to our imagination. Everything is possible in our little minds. As years go by we begin to build walls around us. These walls are built one brick at a time. We soon begin to confine ourselves within these walls because it feels safe and secure in that region of familiarity. The education we got as a child, the job that we have, the family around us, the house we own, the car we drive everything begins to make us feel safe and secure. Then comes a thought to achieve something great. . Alas, there is no space for that journey within the confines of those walls.That is when we think about taking a step beyond those walls and venturing out on a journey of the unknown But in fear of leaving something behind, we put it off for another day.

Today I ask you to stop and take a deep breath. Open those gates and look beyond those walls. The opportunity is there if we are willing to let go of the things that we are holding on to so tightly. If you look carefully, the things we are unwilling to let go are not that precious in the first place. Once we let go and take that first step outside those walls we will realize that the dream we had about a life that we wanted to live was just outside those gates.

As I took the last sip of that drink and heard my friend continue on with his dream, I thought to myself, the possibilities are endless if I am willing.