Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sitting At A Corner Of The Party Room... Book Thoughts on The Introvert's Way


"She is an introvert. She is a loser," I had overheard a conversation when I was a kid about a distant cousin of mine. I swore never to become an introvert.

But then I realized during college that some people are great charmers and life of parties. I could never be them. Clearly, they were extroverts and I was not. So, was I a loser?

In The Introvert's Way, Sophia Dembling enlightens us about the way introverts source their energy compared to extroverts. This has got nothing to do with shyness, depression or fear of public speaking and has no correlation to success or failure. Introverts are inherently stimulated by lower sensations to brain compared to extroverts. Introverts comprise of 50% of the population in the US, the country that prides itself for extrovertedness.

The book is a good primer for those who consider introvert behavior to be a weakness. But, the solutions are not comprehensive enough to show a path forward. I would highly recommend Susan Cain's Quiet for a stellar book on identifying successful traits in introvert behavior.

An interesting point that I came across in Upstarts - book on AirBnB and Uber. The venturecapitalists in Silicon Valley look for introverts to bet their money on, as most successful startups (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon) were founded by introverts and CEOs of biggest tech companies (Satya Nadella, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai) are all introverts.

PS: One can never 'not become an introvert' or extrovert as I had planned during childhood.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Trivial Adventures Of A Failed Artist

(My Ice Breaker speech at Memorial City Toastmasters)

The girl stood there, right in the middle of the park. She was wearing a black top and a short, black skirt. It was a hot and sunny day. I walked up to her and said, “I have always liked you as a friend. It is going to be different now.” She smiled and hugged me.

She was an attractive girl but I was very uncomfortable. One - It was a hot day and I was in a dark suit embraced by this girl who was wearing black. Two – Her boyfriend’s bodyguard was standing only a little distance away, observing our every move. Fortunately, just then the director of the movie screamed ‘CUT IT’. Next he said, “Splendid. It is a good shot. Let’s wrap it up.”

She was the female lead of the movie in which I was the male lead. This was a movie scene being shot in Bangalore, India, the city where I was born and raised.

The question is ‘How did I get there?’

You may have heard of stories of a lot of actors who struggled their way to become movie leads. For me, it was a little different. One evening during college, I was hanging out with a friend on a suburban street when a man drove past us. He stopped and came back. He apologized for interrupting us and after introductions; he asked me if I wanted to act in the movies. I was surprised. I asked him, ‘What is the part?’ He said, ‘You will be the hero of the movie’. I thought he was crazy. Then, he invited me to a studio to meet the director of the movie in two weeks. I went to the studio to talk to the director and tell him that I had no experience in acting. But when I entered the studio, there was a press conference going on. The director welcomed me in front of everyone and introduced me as the male lead of the movie. It was all a bizarre experience after that. To cut it short, here is the end result. One of the producers of the movie backed out midway into the project. The director got distracted by another project. The heroine married her boyfriend who was the leader of a local mafia gang. I realized I overact way too much anyway and did not try any other movie projects. Instead, I focused on my technical career and became a computer programmer. Ah! That is a contrast, isn’t it?!

Few years later, I wanted to explore the world of business and management. I joined the MBA program at Rice University, Houston, graduated with a concentration in Finance and joined Air Liquide Corporate Finance team. Now I manage Air Liquide’s eCommerce offerings, which brings together by backgrounds in both technology and business. I am married and do not have any kids yet. Both my wife and I are into spirituality and meditation.

One of my hobbies is photography. It has an interesting beginning.

One January evening in 2006, during my stay in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my friend and I drove up in a Ford Taurus car to the northern US border lake called Lake of the Woods. It is a shared lake between the US and Canada. It is a huge lake but is almost entirely frozen during winter. From the lake bank, we saw some trucks far away on the lake. We presumed that they were there for Ice Fishing. We had never driven on a frozen lake and thought that this was a good opportunity. There was a board by the pier on the lake that said ‘No Diving or Swimming Allowed’. But it did not talk about driving. So, we followed the truck tracks and drove on to the lake.

I was just getting interested in photography at that time and took a quick picture of the car on the frozen lake before getting into the car.

After a few minutes of driving on the ice and snow, we heard a cracking sound. The car came to a stop. I got down to observe and my friend hit the accelerator. The wheel turned rapidly but the car was not moving. The wheel was digging into the ice. We realized we were in trouble. I had seen on TV that in such a situation, you need to shovel out the snow around the wheel. But there was no shovel in the car. For the next excruciating twenty minutes in minus ten degrees temperature, I walked back to the lake bank where I had seen a restaurant. The waitresses at the restaurant who were horrified by our plight loaned me a shovel. I walked back to the car with the shovel in the bitter cold hoping that the car would still be there. Fortunately, the car was still there and my friend had been able to flag down a passing truck. With the help of the shovel and the truck we were able to get the car out from the ditch and come back safely.

I vowed never to drive on a frozen lake.

But all was not lost! My picture was published in a Ford company magazine and they sent me a $500 check.

Now, this was a great incentive for a beginner. Since then, I have shot thousands of pictures, but never hit upon such a lucky shot-YET.

Anyway, after all these years of shooting, now I love the art of making the picture more than the rewards or critiques that come after. I love the work that goes into the process.

This is an interesting insight that I use in other aspects of my life as well. For any project at work or in our personal lives, we spend a major part of the time working towards the goals. Even if we succeed, the elation due to success is fleeting and short-lived. So, life is in the activity.

I try to enjoy the activities, the hustle and hard work of achieving the goals and leave the results to the supreme spirit.

Thank you very much for letting me share my story.

Beggars, Fake News and Google - Book Thoughts on Trust Me, I Am Lying


"In America, even beggars have cars," I was told by a friend when I was a kid of about five or six growing up in Bengaluru, India. This was a time before the internet when even blockbuster Hollywood movies arrived a couple of months or years after they were released...all depending on the whims of the distributors. Most beggars in India are very poor (to the levels unimaginable in the West), dress in rags, live on the streets and mostly suffer hunger all the time. Most beg at traffic lights. As a kid it was difficult for me to imagine such a person in the US to be driving in cars, stopping at the traffic lights to beg.

But it had to be real as I trusted my friend. I believed it to be real for a very long time.

It was a harmless lie that my friend may have made up. But in this age of major news channels and newspapers following blogs to pick up trending stories, it is not very difficult to create a story out of nothing, says Ryan Holiday in this book. He goes on to show in the book about how he created such stories and got free publicity by major media outlets by starting small rumors in blogs that are competing for dramatic headlines to attract attention. In the latter part of the book, he explains that extreme difficulty in managing this monster once you let it out.

Remember, this book came out in 2012, even before the whole fake news racket being run out of Macedonia where a large number of jobless youth are hired for only creating fake news sites (Google 'fake news Macedonia'...interesting read).

This book is an interesting read if you are curious about numerous Google Now cards showing up on your phone that direct you some lesser known sites that masquerade as news outlets but are just grocery-store-check-out-counter-tabloids in electronic format.

Game Of Thrones...in East & West...


"If you stay here longer, you are going to get hurt kid. I am advising you to get out of here before there is a fight," my father's friend who was working for Janatal Dal (S) walked up to my table and advised me. Janata Dal (S) is a political party in India. It was the national election day in 1996 and I was sitting at the polling booth at the BJP (another political party in India) table. The BJP poll booth team had just helped a team of professional fraud voters who go around the city to different polling booths and the Janata Dal (S) team had seen it. Such teams exist for all political parties but BJP fraud voter team was less experienced in corrupt practises then. Now the Janata Dal (S) thugs had surrounded our BJP table and had started a verbal fight. One of the senior people in BJP team had disappeared from the scene, as he was trying to call the thugs from BJP to come help. The unprofessional BJP thugs did not show up till about an hour later. By then the senior party members had talked it out.

Later that year, BJP came out as the single largest party in the national elections and Vajpayee became the Prime Minister for 13 days (whole another story) but I was disillusioned with politics. Coming in as an idealistic teenager I had seen politics at a close angle as a party worker. I decided to stay away from active politics after that and just be an inquisitive observer.

US politics seemed far simpler. You mostly knew what Republicans and Democrats stood for. But the 2016 elections threw a curveball even for the most experienced pollsters. Strangers in Their Own Land is a 70% honest effort by Arlie Russell Hochschild to understand the Tea Party members in Louisiana, one of its staunch supporters. She talks about the life and challenges of the people in lucid details, almost taking you into the living rooms and polluted backyards of her Cajun friends. You can feel her liberal bias in some places but mostly she sticks to getting answers for analytical questions. Whether you agree with the political views expressed or not, you will walk away with a better understanding of the issues and dilemmas of the Louisiana Tea Partiers. Loved the journey.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What A Cheater Reads

"He is cheatin'," she said.
"He is going someplace else and learning all these tricks," she added appreciatively. That was the acting President of the Toastmasters club, kindly praising my speech. This was only my second speech at the club and she mentioned that it seemed like an advanced speech by an expert in public speaking.
She was right. I was cheating. I was reading up on public speaking in this amazing book.
Ted Talks by Chris Anderson is a genuine book about public speaking. It covers all the elements to present a great speech with or without visual aids. The heart of the book is not to give just a speech but to effectively communicate ideas. Ideas can inspire, entertain and invoke emotions. The book gives a framework to effectively talk about them, the ideas. Are you going to learn to give good speeches? Yes, but more importantly, it also makes you a better communicator.
Stellar Book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pencil nostalgia

It was a priced possession. The Reynolds pen that I had got lying around in the house. I had liked the look and feel of the blue glass, coming out of the white body, with those beautiful fonts declaring ‘Reynolds 045’ and on the other side, something I have read a million time ‘Fine Carbure’. I desperately wanted to use it, but I was not supposed to be using it until next year. Hence, for the whole of second standard class in 1987, as I used pencil to write all my notes, and exams, I stored this pen, in the hope of using it one day.

I finally did!!! The leaking refill, the search for a better pen later, and the love of ‘Hero’ pens in high school all form a different story.

But, I have graduated to Pencil again. It was the midterm exams for the first semester of the Business School today. With the recent love for using Pencils all over, I requested the Professor if
I could use pencil in the exam. He agreed.

I wrote two full exams in pencil, after twenty one years!!!

Kinda feelin nostalgic !!!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Leopard at Nagarhole

It had been a wild weekend.

The Nagarhole and Tholpetty wild life sanctuaries had provided us with more sightings of wild animals than any other safaris in the past. We had taken two safari trips in the Tholpetty Wild Life sanctuary, one on the Saturday evening, one on the Sunday morning, and one in Nagarhole wild life sanctuary on Sunday evening, resulting in the sightings of herds of Indian Gaurs, wild Elephants, huge number of spotted deers, Sambars, and a large number of exotic birds. But the most anticipated cats, Tigers and Leopards had eluded us this time too.

The desperation of a Tiger sighting in the wild for us wildlife photographers was so much that we had been going to Bandipur Wild Life Sanctuary three times in the past four months, with back-to-back safaris. But still, the King of the Indian jungle never made its appearance for us. The passion had almost turned into an obsession. When would we see the tiger? When could we attain the nirvana?

Due to the very frequent visits to the Wild, a joke had grown to exist in our families. If we would go to the jungles one more time, the Tiger, exhausted of hiding from us, would come across, give us an autographed photograph of itself, and pray us not to while away our time in chasing it again. Yeah right!!! We had prayed that at least their wish may come true.

After the Sunday evening safari at Nagarhole, we began to munch on the few crumbs that we had brought along, before launching on our drive back to Bangalore. It was twenty minutes past six in the evening, and the local guards told us to vacate the place as soon as possible. Nagarhole Wild Life sanctuary is a protected forest, and the roads to the place close at 6pm. This is to prevent vehicular traffic on the roads in the jungle, so that wild animals could be left alone in the evening and in the night. Every extra minute that we spend inside the gates after 6pm will have to be accounted for, once we reach the gates that lie at the border of the forest, which is 23 kilometers from the forest office. As we got into Tata Safari, I shut my camera, and put it inside the camera bag. I knew that there could not be any great photograph that can be made after the sunset. Any flash photography in the wild generally looked like desperate shots from a novice. My other friend Shreyas, a passionate wild-lifer, had his camera ready.

As we cruised along the smooth road, we stopped occasionally for wherever there were spotted deer grazing by the side of the roads. I had almost stopped taking the pictures of the spotted deer because these were in abundance in Bandipur, where I had quenched my thirst of taking their photographs in the previous year. Very rarely, there could be some occasions for unusual shots of the spotted deer, but I had become numb with my laziness to take my camera out for these beautiful but commonplace mammals.

"The forest guard was talking about Tiger census next month", mentioned one of my friends. The Tiger census by the Indian government invites a lot of civilians who are interested in wildlife, to count the tigers in the wild. This is a great occasion to move around with forest guards into the dense jungles, where generally trekking is prohibited. We had been told that the food and accommodation would be taken care of, by the department. Plus, there was a promise of rare sightings of exotic species of denizens of the jungle. A tiger sighting cannot be ruled out, one of the forest guards had said. "Let's check it out. May be the tiger sighting for us, is reserved for that occasion," mentioned other friend, who had turned into a fatalist.

It was getting closer to seven in the evening, and dark. The forest around us was turning into an eerie silhouette that encompassed mystery and suspense. There was almost no chance of sightings in this light, I thought. Suddenly, my friend at the wheels, Anand hit the brakes. "Sshhh," said Shreyas, as I could see a wild elephant herd on the highway shoulders ahead, lit by the strong head lights of the vehicle. I was pleasantly surprised by this bonus forest excitement. Slowly, I withdrew my camera from my camera bag, and began to change the lens to shoot a picture of these mammoths. I could feel the nervousness of Anand at the wheel, who carried the responsibility of the whole team in his hands.

"Don't use flash," instructed Shreyas.

"No, I am not planning to," I said, as I emerged out of the window of the vehicle, placed my camera on the top, and set it into a long exposure shot.

I came back onto my seat to see the picture of the elephants in the low light.

Suddenly, one of the elephants turned towards the vehicle, and walked. A chill traveled through my spine. We all knew that we could not beat an elephant if we drove in reverse gear.

But, the elephant went into the huge lantana bush beside the highway, along with the other elephants, and they huddled together, as though plotting for their next move.

Anand hit the accelerator, and the vehicle sped past the giants, as Shreyas struggled in vain to take parting shots of the huddle.

That was an exciting moment, I thought to myself, as I placed my camera inside the bag. Good way to end the trip.

I closed my eyes, and let the cool jungle air brush past my face from the open window. I was enjoying the last moments of our nice trip to the wild.

"I see some movement there...RIGHT THERE!!!" said Shivaram, hurriedly. He was famously known for his weird jokes, and could it have been one of them???

"Where?" said Anand, as he slowed down the vehicle.

Shreyas jumped up to get a glimpse of the road ahead, and something that was moving.

"Go ahead, it is still on the road"

"Yes," said Anand, as he sped ahead at wild pace.

My eyes were frantically searching for the small thing that these guys had already seen. Where was it? Where was it???

I believed that I had already lost it.

"Right there," showed Shivaram, pointing to a huge fair cat that was slowly moving towards us by the side of the highway.

"That's a tiger cub," he said.

I was astounded. This was the moment that we had been waiting for a very long time. I could feel the excitement in every nerve of my body. I could feel the mystery in the ambience, as all those exciting moments of wild cat encounters that I had seen on TV, and had read about in personal experiences by famous hunters came across to me in a single wave, and hit against me. I could feel the electric energy as it traveled from the wild cat a few yards away, and connect to me in a strange way.

"It is a leopard," said Shreyas, as he pulled out his camera, and began shooting pictures, with flash as strong as flood lamps.

The fair cat moved stealthily into a bush by the other side of our vehicle. "I do not see it anymore," said Shreyas, as he peered out of his window. "It is right there, inside the bush" said Shivaram. Shreyas continued the flood of flashlights, with his camera facing the bush, though he was able to see anything in the dark.

Half a minute later, we were certain that there would be no leopard inside the bush, else, it would have lost its sight with all the flash lights Shreyas hurled at it.

"Ma'an, that was exciting," said Shreyas. I was still coming to terms of the fact that we had sighted a leopard. Finally, we had sighted a leopard, in full view, in its own territory!!!

Shreyas showed the images on the preview screen in his camera. It was indeed an adult leopard. As I moved to the next few pictures, I could see that the leopard had been behind the bushes beside our vehicle in the pictures. To my shock, it was there even in the last picture.

I stared out of the window on the other side of the vehicle, a little unnerved. The carnivore would still be there, may be waiting for us to leave so that it can attack the deer on the other side of the road.

As Anand moved the vehicle, all of us were drenched in strange emotions of excitement, and fear. We carried the exciting memories of this brief encounter, all the way to Bangalore city.

Here are some of my pictures of the same trip....



Hope you like them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Brickbats for Bouquets

The flowers are the only things that have become a man's friend, despite no utilitarian value, says Eckhart Tolle in his best selling book, A New Earth. Many other great authors have likened the flowers to life, wife (newly married of course ;-) ) and love (before marriage :D ). Jokes apart, flowers have always been regarded as the most beautiful means of communication of love, devotion and respect.

Not one of the Victorian authors, who always had the heroes holding exotic flowers for women, would have imagined the brutal purposes that the same flowers are being used in the current world.



"He is getting married tomorrow afternoon," said a friend of mine, about another friend.

"Oh! This is on a weekday. I don't think I can make it. Maybe I will go for the reception later in the evening," I said.

Reception is the party that is hosted the Indian marriages, where the bride and the groom stand with their best clothes on a stage, as though ready for a battle of political speeches. They would have to do more 'pretending' than the politicians, putting on a fake nice smile, greeting the loads of gaudily dressed relatives, whom they never knew before, who have bouquets in their hands, and dinner on their minds. It does require a strategy, and sheer mental strength by the couple to sustain 3- 4 hours of sweat, itch, and mental diversion techniques to avoid the urge for a quick rush to the rest room.

"The reception is today, not tomorrow," my friend said.

"What? Why? Isn't the reception to be held after the wedding???" I asked.

"That is the logical way. But, economics speak otherwise," he said, as he explained me the reason why Receptions were being held the earlier day. The Wedding houses ( Kalyana Mantapa) in Bangalore are rented out from afternoon till the next afternoon. Hence, if the Receptions are held on the first evening, then one can save on the rent for one day, by vacating by afternoon the next day. Most of the weddings have their Muhurtha (auspicious moment when the wedding has to take place) in the mornings.

Hence, the couple standing on the dais in the Reception is not a couple yet. They are a bachelor, and a spinster.

Hmm....interesting.

"What gift are you planning?"

"Oh! The bugger did not even put 'gifts by your presence only' ??" I asked, not having seen the wedding card.

"Nope. Actually, it is good not to put that," my friend said.

"Why?"

"If that liner is present, then many people would not get gifts. But, some stubborn ones will still get bouquets, which creates a lot of confusion and ill feeling in the others who would be empty handed," he explained.

"True," I was beginning to understand the various nuances of gifting for receptions.

"What do we take?" I asked him.

"Think about it. It should be something that they will 'cherish for life', and should be 'useful for both of them'," he said. I agreed.


That evening, he called up again. "Did you think up any gift?"

"Not yet. I was totally busy today," I said, burning the mental images of the hour-long coffee break that I had taken.

"My friend suggested a silver cup," he said.

"No silver cups please. My cousin received so many silver cups in his wedding that he decided to use the silver in Paris Hilton fashion. One silver cup each day, and never use it again," I said with a chortle. Paris Hilton supposedly never wore a dress the second time. ( I am sure she has some friendship with a Laundry guy ;-) ) .

"Wall clocks?" my friend suggested, reminding me of the Wall clock my cousin had gifted me, but had forgotten to take out the sticker bearing the name of the person who had gifted him that, on his wedding. "Naah, there will be too many clocks, and he will be forced to gift them to others," I said.

"May be a Deo set," he suggested.

That was the best that our non-creative minds could come up with. "Let's get that," I said, preventing the urge to remind him they would not 'cherish for life' the Deo set, or could never use the Deo together.


My friend picked me up the next evening, on the way to wedding. "Which Deo set did you get?" he asked me.

"What? I thought you were supposed to get it," I replied, taken aback.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!!!" he cursed.

"Let's go to Gandhi Bazaar. There are some nice shops, with good Deo sets there," I said.

"That is out of the way, will take a long time," he said. "There is a bouquet shop near the Kalyana Mantapa. Let's get a bouquet," he added.

And thus, a random set of flowers were pulled together, tied up against their wishes, pasted on a conical shaped white cardboard sheet, with some designer plastic cover on the top, that resembled a funeral box of flowers.

As I was on the drive back from the wedding, the uneasy feeling of incompleteness haunted me, as I had not done justice to my friendship by hurrying with a default, for a gift.


UNEASINESS???!!!! YOU ARE CRAZY!!! I HAVE USED FLOWERS ALL OVER MY PLAY 'MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S DREAM', Shakespeare would have screamed.


I reply: Oh! Yeah.... Krrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...... takk (flash back Bollywood style)


The scene after my cousin's wedding Reception, few months back was gruesome. After having loaded all the box packed gifts into various cars, to be taken home, there lay a huge pile of bouquets on the dais of the wedding hall, like the dead bodies of Persians who were killed by the Greek in the battle of Thermopile [remember the movie 300?? ;-)].

Some good looking cousin of the groom realized that she should bring them back to life, and walked over to the pile, and started sorting.

"I want some of those too," said her kid sister, as she ran over to the pile, and picked up some for herself.

Some more ladies realized that the bouquets formed a part of the gifts/wishes, and were to be taken care off, too. They walked up to the pile, and started putting the bouquets in different groups.

The more expensive of the bouquets, that had a wooden basket inside which the flowers were arranged, were in high demand. All of them wanted that, for different reasons. One of them said, "You can take out the flowers, and put fruits inside them, to place it in front of guests," which was still a noble use.

"I can use the basket to keep all the pending utility bills," said another aunty, who had no clue that she was rampaging on the theory that there was a feeling behind the gifts, "And you can use this for our pen stand," she continued handing a bouquet with cylindrical wooden base to her daughter.

"This is long," the kid complained.

"Cut the base into half," architectured her mother.

Though some of the bouquets did end up in the bride's hotel room (this was one of those wedding where Reception was after the wedding), many of them were routed for utilitarian purposes. Ekhart Tolle has never seen an Indian reception yet ;-)

I just prayed that the groom not have any allergy towards flowers, else it would be rougher night for him than planned.


Confused between gifts that the couple may never use, and the bouquets that create a drama at a different level of life, I decided to stick with currency in a decent envelope, whenever I fail to come up with a creative idea for a gift.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pictures of Goa trip

junta,

here are some of the pictures of Goa trip earlier this year.




Hope you like them.