Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Indian airport emotion

It as circa 2003. I had come to Bombay's Sahar airport (since renamed CST international airport) to drop someone . It was a few weeks from when I was going to board my flight to the USA . And that's when I realized something. This was the last time I was coming to the airport without much emotion. Growing up in India, flying was not as frequent and easy as it is today. Everytime someone took a flight, the entire family came to drop. Everytime someone took an international flight, the entire town seemed to come to drop them. Earlier, sitting inside the airport was also available. Security was much less , people were few, systems were archaic, but still even the thought of someone else flying seemed to be a big deal for the entire family to make an airport run. Couple with the fact that India has adapted well to the "leave at night" international flights. The ordeal is simple. Most flights leave after midnight. It is said that this system originated because in the initial days of flying , when flights were mostly through frankfurt or london, it was difficult to get airport staff in those cities at odd hours, so all flights were timed in such a way that Bombay would take the hit. But what seemed to be an uncomfortable time to fly somehow became the highly preferred time to fly - for multiple reasons. First among them - traffic , it is so much comfortable driving to the airport at midnight, enjoy the cool breeze on the empty highway, rather than trying to reach at 7 , for which even a lead time of 4 hours was no guarantee. Second, for the person departing, it was perfect, spend time with family, have dinner, joke around a little over tea and recharge. Then spend the night at the airport , and start adapting to US time zones to get rid of the jet lag. Finally, board the flight, eat like you've been hungry for days, drink like a dog , and sleep off at 8 am India time. About 9:30 US Pacific time, and your body has already become 'angrez' Lastly, the inconvenience caused to the people dropping at the airport. Somehow growing up, the excitement of going to the airport trumped all such things . Seeing people wear suits and ties on a 24 hour long flight seemed perfectly normal. After all , they were going to Amrika , where everyone expects them to show up in suits on day 1 (On a rather interesting note , when I first flew , I wore a suit and a leather jacket, since at the last minute that was the only way to fit all luggage) But then on, I was the passenger and the emotion changed so much. I almost felt jealous of the people dropping me, since I knew they would go home whereas I was to take the rather cattle class flight and after spending 24 hours sitting in crammed seat and eating limited tasteless food , and watching movies over and over again, I would be greeted by the friendly immigration officer, who , if my luck was good scribble something on my passport and let me go, and if my luck was bad, I might be subject to the ultimate Software engineering torture . Over the years a number of things have changed. Flights have become smaller, food has become worse, premium economy is what used to be called economy, and economy is like travelling ticketless . Of course , I have seen an increase in various dimensions including age, weight, circumference etc. all making this flight even more interesting. Things have also moved on from the time when you would give up your mobile phone at the airport and then talk with parents over a glass wall , which almost seemed like being in prison , to having smarter mobile phones to still simulate ths same stupid behavior . I have also become a dad, and the two times I flew, I have been sad that my daughter was so well behaved, and I could not take my revenge of the 10 odd years that I was constantly troubled by babies crying , and parents pushing them closer to my ear and looking at me as if I was obliged to care for them just because they had a baby. The presence of Ipads, offline videos and smart headsets has meant that I can now look forward to some more interesting movies. However, at the core, some emotions remain the same. It's still the middle of the night, parents are still there. There's always a crowd, someone always breaks a queue, and an old uncle comes out of nowhere to curse you for not doing anything about it. But surprisingly, I have always and still long for the time when i sit on the flight and I am asked to switch off my phone. I think of this as the time, when I can't communicate with the world , and hence have zero control to do anything. It surprisingly puts me in a state of great bliss, where all I can do is eat, sleep or watch movies. In this modern , ever-connected world, that serenity has been always very precious, and while I know sooner or later technology will get there, for this one time, I am hoping it takes some more time. Sometimes the helplessness of a 24 hour flight (Mumbai and San Francisco are really the most extreme when it comes to air travel) sounds very overwhelming, it sometimes dawns that life would be so simple if we just called one place an eternal home. The airport emotion is hard to fathom. It'll always be.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A sad yet deep thought !

         This is a post I want to write for a long time. The events of last year have taught us the importance of health and how vulnerable we are against the forces of nature. Who would have thought that a micro-organism would disrupt our lives in such a way.

        But frankly, the motivation goes beyond the last year of COVID. It's about a constant realization of how tricky and unpredictable death is, and how life has it's own plans and how helpless you can be ! It is also a rather deeper realization of how tiny and powerless we are in the Universe, and that we should be grateful to nature for giving us what we have (most of all - a human life) and that we should strive to give back (by making sure we are being conscious about environmental issues)

        We all know that death will come one day . Yet, we have different philosophies around it. At 19, I was Hrithik Roshan in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (of course sans his body and looks). I wanted to earn all the money and retire as early as possible and then "live life to the fullest" . His number was 40, mine was 35 . The fallacy of that approach hit me pretty soon (fortunately) , but not before I said no to a number of fun events and trips with friends. I once had an opportunity to drive to Vegas on a hunch, but decided that 8 hours of time could be utilized in doing the one school project which could propel my grade from A- to A (which it did not :D ) . I missed some fun games because I was doing that "extra project to get a reco from a professor" . I took up a saturday job and missed a bunch of fun trips because I could make "21 dollars more every week" . But fortunately, the moment came early enough and I realised that I had to make every moment count. While I do believe balance is necessary ( you can't live paycheck to paycheck your entire life), enjoying every moment is certainly something to live for.I do believe that most of the people whom I know either believe in the prior point , or have had some point in their life which led them to believe it. 

       The second philosophy is to have a "bucket-list". All of us have it in some form or the other. Some day, I want to become CEO of a company. Some day, I want to see my daughter graduate from a great place. Some day, I want to tour the world. Some day, I want to start an orphanage.  Some day, I want to be as great as my Dad. A combination of adventure, love, noble and sometimes funny yet heartwarming wishes. As with most people, I believe that it helps in life if you have a list and work towards it. Some people also have an extension of it like "Places to visit " or " things to do before you are 30,40,50 and so on...." . In my opinion, it is one of the healthy things to do. Planning helps you align your actions, keep your focus and gain satisfaction when you check it off. After all, Farhan Qureshi did not want to be 70, dying in a hospital and thinking "Only if I had convinced Dad to allow me to pursue wildlife photography". 

        The third philosophy is - to have something in your heart, good or bad - that you'll tell people one day. One day I'll show my boss that inspite of what he thought, I worked really hard for his success and wshes him well. One day, I'll thank my parents for what I am in life. One day, I'll tell the friend that inspite of not talking for many years over a small issue, I remember his SRK imitation everytime SRK says "kkkk". One day, I'll meet the old uncle who used to help me jump puddles and watch over me as I went home int he dark. We all have a secret list of mostly good, some maybe brutally honest things, we want to tell people. Or do - for example, I'll donate a bunch of money to charity . I'll sponsor a kids' education. At the very least , we all have a speech prepared to say when we are successful, rich or old - like "I would like to thank ...."

        Except that most likely you won't ever say it . Which brings me to the fourth and rather most important realization - something that hit me int he last year or so. Someone close to me passed away, his last words being "my heart hurts". I heard of someone who went scuba diving and never returned back. Someone who was sitting on a beach and was eaten away by a wave, to be never found. Someone who could only manage to say "I can't breathe". And which is the truth of life - that unlike SRK and Rajesh Khanna movies, when it happens, you won't have the time or the opportunity to say what you wanted to . Achieving everything in life is not in our control - and living each day as if it is your last will probably make it the last one day - but telling people you love them in advance, mending relationships and getting together does not take too much effort. If you haven't heard this, please listen to this very interesting perspective from Steve Jobs 



Sunday, April 25, 2021

A year of COVID ...and a year of realizations !

<Started writing around March 5th 2020 , lazily completed > 
      It was March 5th. 2020.  Our CEO, sent out a message that given COVID-19 has started to create some impact on global health, we should be prepared for a scenario when we are forced to work from home. We had an award function that night , and we all went to a nice party in San Francisco. It was Thursday and it was announced that the next day , would be a "game day" where all of us would work from home just to work out the kinks in case there came an emergency that we would "temporarily" need to work from home "for a few days". Very very thankfully, my parents who wanted to spend some time with their granddaughter narrowly made it to the USA on that very day.

           The day was weirdly memorable. The awards function was great with some amazing performances and some deserving award winners. There was an after party but soon we were on our way home. I had a long walk to the BART station, and as I was eager to get home to my parents and daughter, I was passing through a pretty lonely street when a middle-aged woman approached me. I initially felt that she was asking for money, but she asked 

        "Sir , this is a pretty lonely street, I am waiting for my bus to go the BART station. Do you mind waiting with me?"  . Well, I did not admit, but I was frankly scared to walk on the street myself. But the thought of waiting there was a little scary too. The security that my parents were home with my wife and daughter and reaching late would be OK, coupled with just the instinctive reaction, I waited at the bus stop. Any case, I really doubt if I would have turned down such a request unless things were absolutely out-of-hand. A bus arrived 15 minutes later and we took it to the BART station and we both managed to catch out respective trains.  In those 15 minutes, I was thinking of a lot of things. Some around just routinely planning my next week, some about calculating how much I was delayed, but more so, being grateful that I was in the position of "helping" rather than "being helped". Also in my mind was the emotion (both positive and negative) of having to work from home for a few weeks. 

        Would not commuting be good? Of course. Having taken the train for 8-9 months, it was draining. The frantic search for parking in the morning , the hope to get a seat (and not having to give it up in "being a gentleman"), the uphill climb on 2nd street on an empty stomach , plus the scare of COVID due to packed trains (BART was particularly crowded in the rush hours)

        But barring that, I had loved coming to the city. The office was almost always full, there was always chatter, the food (and especially the chocolates and desserts ) were nice, our CEO would greet everyone like they were family and in the evening, I would love the pace of the city as people scrambled to get home , reminding me of some of the office trips I did with my Mom and Dad to VT in Bombay (yeah, VT and Bombay ! )

           The bus arrived soon, and I was able to escort the lady all the way to a public place on the Bart station where she (and I also) felt relieved and went on with our day.  I was feeling happy that I was able to get her and also wasn't too delayed . Now, I was a train ride away from "home" given my parents, wife and daughter were all there.

         The next day, we went to a grocery store to "stock up". A store where normally you would not see 3 customers at one time, had a line which stretched 50 yards out of the store. The owner was so slow in billing, that I almost felt like volunteering for some time to relieve everyone of the stress . In the line, a few young Indian kids were behind me (yeah, I am now at an age where I can use that term). One hour into the line, and the guy had managed to get the girl's name and add her on LinkedIn . I was patiently waiting and this thought had brought some humor / positivity to the otherwise looming stress that everyone was  anticipating. 
        There were so many funny things we did. For example, I went to Safeway a day before the county's stay at home order took place. The crowd there was more than I had ever seen. An elderly staffer there told me that the store was going to open as normal tomorrow at 6 am and she assured that everything would be available. But still, no one was willing to wait , no one knew what was coming. I remember buying things like "powdered milk creamers" - just in case things reached a point where a curfew-like atmosphere ensued.

        The next few weeks were different. As everyone adopted to the new lifestyle, they were happy than sad . People played games, played music with plates, adopted a "enjoy these days", "respect the healthcare workers" . Soon enough, the plight of those affected economically by this saddened us. The plight of migrants, business owners, restauranters drowned the early cheer .  Some images made the world stand up and pay attention to the seriousness behind this.

         But still, by and large, everyone expected this to be a temporary phase. A month, two at most and then things will return to normal. After all, Mumbai local trains have never shut down for more than a few days (even during heavy rains) , either ways, we'll get there. 
         Except that it did not. Numbers started growing, emotions became murkier. Businesses started shutting down. People started struggling with life. Children were losing their active life. Doctors were working overtime . A year down the line , while life has moderately returned to "some" normalcy, it looks like the thought of living life as it was before 2020 seems like a far fetched dream. It almost always feels like, some day , I'll tell Kavya. Yeah, those things, yes, we used to do them before 2020 . 

          And that brings me to the main thought I wanted to express. That of gratitude. To be, to live, to exist. To have the technology that at least made life livable - imagine it happening in 1990 . Gratitude t have doctors and researches who have been racing to get to a vaccine. To have a smartphone and the internet to make medical co-ordination easier. If someone told me that I would spend an entire year without traveling 40 miles away from my house, I would have laughed like crazy.  It someone told me that I would not visit a movie theater for an entire year, or not sit down in a restaurant for an entire year, I would have said "I'll go mad". If I did not meet friends or co-workers for a year, I thought I would have a nervous breakdown.

           Yet, here we are. One year down. A realization that when life gives you problems, it gives you enough strength to face them.  Of course, it is easy for me to say, but I am sure some people have suffered much more economic hardships and my heart goes out to them. 

And for one, this time we are united in the fight. All of you reading it. All 7,854,896,896 of us. Needless to say , this speech is more important in today's time than ever before 


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Good old days?

           In the late 1990s , I was preparing for the final stage of the NTS exams, and had taken a short course.One of the professors at the DG Ruparel college, who was teaching us, was discussing about the internet and how protocols were developed.

        Mind you, this was a time when internet was limited to email via a pine client and chat via irc, all done through a command line interface, and the cost of internet was about Rs.25 per hour which was pretty expensive given the standards of living then.

        The professor explained to us the structure of the internet, a bit about internet protocols , but then he went into the various applications that existed then , the ability to send emails instantaneously across the globe, being able to read news from around the world, and a cheaper , faster way of two-way communication (then chat) to any part of the world (some of it mentioned in this old post ). Of course, in the light of the iphone, the social networks, the broadband speed and the decreasing costs of 3g/4g internet, this might seemed small, but in the late 90s, being able to send a message to the USA free of cost seemed like a dream.

         But at the end of the technical discussion, the professor said something philosophical which resonates with me a number of times, and especially relevant now. He said , next time your old uncle speaks of the "good old days", explain to him the struggle of not having a search engine, not able to get news and updates regularly, and the pain of one way communication using letters.

         Which brings me to the main point. Imagine if the same pandemic had hit us in 1990. How different would life be?

         " You take the train home , as you reach your house, you wait patiently for the 8:40 news in Hindi. There is some mention of the pandemic , the entire family listens attentively and wonders what is in store for us. You call up your doctor on his landline but it is continually engaged as he is receiving calls from his various patients. The news at 10 in English confirms what has happened in Italy could happen to you.

          You step out for work the next day, newspapers are carrying reports of the pandemic. The reports are bringing in only little information that the editor was able to procure over the bad quality, super expensive ISD call with his US friend. The information still does not speak of the extent of the crisis and how it is going to affect you. You go to the STD booth and speak to your brother in another city in India . There's a line of people and you get to your turn after half an hour.

           You leave from work and head back home, rumors of a shutdown are already doing the rounds. You pick up grocery for a few days and go back home. The prime minister announces the shutdown that night. For the next 30 days ,you are at home. No going out. No playing. No gathering.

           Money aside, imagine spending 30 days without communication, the phone being the only source of communication which is expensive , and will probably be unreliable given the load. Doordarshan will put some movies , which you probably won't like. Kids will play inside the house, getting bored to the hilt . You have a limited supply of books you can read .

          There's a lot of confusion about how to use masks. The kirana store guy sells masks at 20 times the original price. He becomes the "I-know-it-all" guy about masks, forcing you to buy multiple when you might need one. He also starts off with the "Drink the cow urine" and "KEM ke hospital ne bola hai" With no way to verify information, confusion hits an all time high .

       Five days on, the world is hell. The books are done. Newspapers are not coming. Your curry still does not taste good even after trying 5 times from the partly torn recipe book with masala stains all over it. Doordarshan is showing it's true colors  all day long.

       Businesses have come to a standstill. Factories have stopped production since they need manual intervention in everything. Food, medicines, everything is in shortage. Lack of awareness is leading to more deaths. Rumors are doing the rounds. Cash has dried up completly."

      The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the most extraordinary global situations I have seen in my lifetime. I do imagine the world wars to be worse , and maybe even the great depression, but still a global pandemic has shown us that while we have made strides in science, nature reminds us that we are it's creation and we should respect it (or 'aukaat mein rehne ka')

        But, there is no better time to thank technology strides made in the last 30 years, thank Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and all the technical visionaries who have got us to a state where our life is not impacted.

       The old days were certainly good, but thank you technology for making these days better. Hope this will pass soon.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Yeh un dinon ki baat hai

Growing up in the 1990s is a surreal experience . I always feel that as a generation, we have been very lucky to see technology grow with us . It is a golden mean between my dad's generation in the 70s who really got wonderful things very late in life to the people born in the 1990s and later for whom a lot of things were taken for granted

The first and the best thing about those times was the 'It's OK to be middle class'. My schooldays were a lot of fun. And while there were kids around me who were richer and had access to some really cool stuff (some examples I can think of are Action shoes with lights, funky school bags, pagers on which you could see cricket scores) and also not as rich , it did not seem to make a lot of difference.

It was assumed that some things were unaffordable, even impossible, and we never felt sad about it.
In the pre-information age, even information was considered to be an asset. Like the guy in our class who saw that one cricket match we had all missed. Or that girl who had Madhuri Dixit's phone number and she would flaunt "mere paas uska number hai, pata hai?". Without any validation or attempt to see how easy it was to get it, such things were basis of one-upmanship

I think my parents were indeed pioneers in getting us exposed to computers and technology and it's a gift that was always amazing.

But I guess somethings that are fairly unusual today might have been so usual then:

1. It was rather usual to walk around without a single penny in your pocket as schoolchildren
2. Time seemed to be always abundant. In fact in 1993/4, I remember an ad about the "Hero Cup" and it was 100 days away . I was counting each day as it came.
3. Things were valued more. Pencils, Erasers, Toys, cricket balls. I recently saw someone go to Tennis practice with about 40 balls and I felt a little lump in my throat
4. Simple picnics were fun. No out-of-India trips. Going to Matheran every year seemed to be a top luxury.
5. Getting lost was the scariest thing ever. In my childhood, I always feared that if I let go my parents' hand, I would end up searching for them the rest of my life. There were no announcement booths to announce "lost children". Every outing was associated with mom's instruction to meet at one pre-decided place if you get lost
6. Trust was more. Everywhere. Banks, shops, friends, relatives.
7. Asking for help was considered totally fine. Relatives would babysit for you,  dropping onto people's home for dinner or even staying over was very very normal . Asking people on the street to help you with a chore was also considered normal
8. Valuing money was not considered bad. It was OK to not go for a picnic or a movie citing costs.
9. Entertainment was less, not all was good quality but all entertainment was well respected.
10. Access to information was limited. It was never possible to google and check something. The limitation of books in this regard was almost frustrating at times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Funny but interesting mini-post

Just felt like blogging this.

It's a really hot day. Sitting inside the house is very muggy, warm, and sweaty.

What did I do?

1. Keep complaining and thinking how hot it is and how bad I am feeling
2. Thought twice about complex ways like turning on the air conditioner or picking up a fan from another room
3. Thinking about having a cold (sugary) drink.

What I eventually realised?

There's a sliding door right next to where I am sitting. Slid it open and the cool breeze came in and solved all my problems

The solution to the biggest problems in life might be right next to you, but you don't see it :) . 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The story of Amerium

In the late 18th century, a platinum-typed shiny element was suddenly found in South America. It was soon named Amerium and started getting very popular . It’s color was platinum but it had a sharp shine in the sun and was very different from all the elements found then. It’s mining needed a special technique which only a few miners knew first , but they taught others and people started catching along.The early miners started making ornaments of it and it also became a symbol of wealth. 

The Europeans heard of this element and a number of voyages began. They too learnt the technique, although they paid a price to the miners who were getting richer due to the growing popularity of Amerium. Soon the reserves of Amerium started depleting and mining them became tougher. The early miners realized this and started spending a lot of money in securing their Amerium and also selling small quantities of it at huge prices. Every new batch of Amerium mined was sold off at premium prices soon after.

News of this spread across Asia, Europe, North America and Africa and soon everyone tried to buy this from the early miners. The early miners still held on to their reserve, selling only parts of it, enough to make them survive, but saving their best for the last, and thus expecting a spectacular exit which would not only make them the richest people then, but maybe the richest people in history. 

People were trading land, food grains, gold , silver for the smallest bits of Amerium sold.Slowly Amerium started replacing gold and was used as an exchange for goods and services.

At this point, the miners opened up their reserve and became the wealthiest people on earth. They knew that by selling their Amerium, they could barter for anything. They could probably buy land worth the entire area of a country. 

One of the miners was walking on the street when he noticed a man standing with a huge cart of fruits. Proudly, he walked and said ,“I’ll buy you and your entire cart, Here’s the payment” , handing over a grain sized quantity of Amerium. 

The man said, “Well, just because you mined this piece of metal first, does not make you rich. Get me something more worthwhile to exchange, I’ll not give you anything for Amerium”

The miner threatened to wipe the fruit-seller away , and almost did so, and in his effort, the news of the fruit-seller spread. And everyone started asking the same question “Why should the early miners get an unfair share of the wealth? Finding Amerium was great, but that should give them a reward, not half the wealth of the world” 

People stopped accepting Ameriums for food, land or gold. The miners were left with Amerium and nothing else to do but use up their food and riches while it laster. People who had bought Ameriums at premium prices eventually gave up on them. The world shifted back to a barter system and Ameriums are nicely displayed at the museum in DC .