Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day 24

I failed to update the blog for several days in a row as I was not feeling well. But I'm better now and so will resume the exercise, and hopefully starting tomorrow also study more and have more to report in my daily posts. But for today, I have no such productive work to report.

I've been thinking lately of ways to return to India. When I first moved here, I was pretty clear I wanted to come back. In five years, I told everyone, I'll be back. It's been three and a half years now, and I'm beginning to think how best to script the return. What will I do once I'm back there? 

One option that figures highly in my mind is to run a book shop. Why? Basically because I can see myself doing that for the long haul, without worrying too much about why I'm doing this. That's not entirely true though - there is, if I be totally honest, a latent conceit of intelligence in me, that makes me ask this question to myself a lot: "you could have done this with far less intelligence and skills than you possess, so aren't you wasting your talents doing this?" Partly, it is true, for running a bookshop needs not great smarts, but mostly, it is just conceited, for I imagine I am so much more intelligent. I have to confess I do harbor these ideas, even if somewhere I know they are crazy. All said, I can still see myself doing that for a long time, just because I think I enjoy being surrounded by books. In any case, if I do decide to follow it, I still have to save aggressively over the next couple of years to be able to set it up.

Another option is to work in the social sector. That work can be meaningful, yes, so that box is checked, and there is enough scope to be creative so that you're not left thinking you're doing dumb work. The rub here is it pays peanuts. So either I save so much over the next one and a half years, that I'll get by fine anyway, or do it in a way that pays enough for me to afford rent and a car and petrol, other than of course food and AC. How how how.

The third option is to go back and work for some investment bank in Mumbai or Bangalore - money will be decent, yes - but it would score so low on the meaningfulness front that I would be sure to question the point of moving back. If I had to do this anyway, why wouldn't I do this in the US while taking in much more money, with much better convenience of daily living, and much higher opportunities for making it big? So yeah, this option is pretty much ruled out.

A fourth option is to work on a start-up. India is growing, I have the coding skills, some ideas, so why not try it out. The only rub here is the risk of losing everything accumulated thus far. This option is exciting, but is it too late? I'm almost 30, will probably add dependents pretty soon, so do I want to take the risk? In a way, this goes back to the social sector option - as long as I'm able to save a fortune in the next couple of years, maybe I can do that, but again, how how how.

In the end, every option will have its share of rubs, and it will come down to which of the rubs I'm willing to take for the upside bearing those rubs might afford. I think about it everyday. Maybe one day soon I'll wake up with the answer. Till then, one thing seems clear: for as long as I am here, I need to earn aggressively, and I need to save more.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shadow

You always praised my memory, as I sat
bloated, and yearned for more of that.
I wish now that you had praised my heart,
and in yearning, I may have learned the art
of loving, not fueled and fooled by ego;
of being at home, wherever we go.
But what choice did you have in the matter?
I gave you no chance to praise the latter.
I worked for more of what I got
(I can not lie, I loved it a lot).
For years apart, it's clear as hell
that I had memorized you well.

[January 16, 2016 | Princeton]

Friday, January 15, 2016

Soulicitation

Call me some time. It will very likely be awkward, yes,
but just a little. Tell me what work is like, what you do,
and I'll respond with measured interest, no more no less,
crack appropriate jokes - some old ones, but mostly new.

Important things hogged all attention, and time has shot.
Yesterday, I loved your taste, and you loved Wodehouse
and Rumi, who have grown on me, and Eliot, who has not.
Recommend a book, maybe, or stuff on the web to browse?

So much of life is hard work, and planning for tomorrow,
and that may be how it ought to be, by jove, for all I care!
But of that precious ticking time, I'd really like to borrow
a tiny bit of listening to any words you'd like to spare.

[November 30, 2015 | New York City]

Day 15

I'm a little tired tonight. It was a long day, and quite unremarkable.

I did not read any book today, but just the poems I've written in the last 11 years on my blog. I expected to be embarrassed, as I usually am by my previous deeds, but actually ended up feeling pleasantly surprised. Most of them, I think, were certainly better than what I can manage today.

That's it for today, really.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Day 14

Today was the annual review and bonus day. Although mine was nothing stellar and certainly below what I would have guessed it to be a priori, I got a sense that it was maybe better than my teammates, because they all looked pretty pissed off and were in a palpably bad mood through the day (some unpleasant emails were written, apparently). Alternately, it could be, although unlikely, that I am just stupid and therefore not protesting enough. Either way works for me.

Part of me wished that I knew Mandarin, to really know what people in the team were discussing (yes, they switched to Mandarin for today), but part of me is really happy I don't. It leaves me free, and limits just how unnecessarily tense I could possibly get. I personally think it is quite telling that year after year, this day of very possibly the biggest single cash inflow to your bank account that you'll see that year, coincides with the day you're especially unhappy and overly hostile.

On day 2, I wrote about the awesomeness of going to have a tea, after doing it for the first time. I now think much of the awesomeness was about it having been the first time, because I've done it four more times since, and it is only half as awesome now. It's a busy place that I go to, so a lot of what I enjoy is people-watching, more so because it is an Indian jaunt and I see a lot of Indians. Yes, the masala chai is very good too. They also serve vada pav, which I have every alternate time I'm there, and while it is nothing compared to the those served outside Siddhivinayak temple, or those outside Gokul's, or even Kanjurmarg's Balaji vadapav, let me not recall all that and get wistfully greedy. What they have here is good enough for me to be unable to resist it for long enough.

Over the last few months, I've listened with rapt attention to whatever Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev had to say. I'd been skeptical of Spiritual gurus before, but what he was professing made a lot of sense to me. In fact, let me not understate. It had a great impact on me, his lectures accessed a part of me I had lost access to as I had grown older. In a way, they helped me reconnect with the purer, happier parts of me. So let me not belabour how much gratitude and respect I have for him, because the more I write the more susceptible I am to an inaccurate depiction of it.

For this reason, it was hard for me to write the following comments on one of his recent videos. I'll paste the video as well as my comment here, and on this occasion I would invite any readers of my blog to share their views on the video and my comment. It was a big step for me, challenging the views of someone whose wisdom and intellect I deeply respect and consider far above my own, so I'm naturally a little iffy.

So here's the video:

And here's my comment:

"I've learned a lot from Sadhguru but I have to differ here.
One, the fact that slaughter of cows for export of beef is continuing is not enough reason to not be worried about animal cruelty in Jallikattu. This argument is akin to saying that if you can't climb the Everest yet, don't climb the hill near your house. Real progress is a step by step process, you fight for what you can get when you can get it, and then try for more. Two, whatever valour might be for a man or beauty for a woman, it is not bigger than what dignity and safety is for an animal, another 'piece of life', as we might call them. Besides, valour doesn't cease to exist because you can't express it by toying with an animal. Three, the point about no animal ever having died in this game even as men have died during it is not a valid defence (even if we assume it is a fact) for the simple reason that men who died during it made the 'conscious' decision to play this game, while the bulls that are injured (the videos I've seen of the game being played bear this out amply) did not choose this, they were forced to. I've learned from Sadhguru how what you do consciously is beautiful, while that which is not lacks any pleasantness, so I was surprised by this omission. I've learned a lot from Sadhguru and will continue to do so, but I think that I differ on this and just want to express what I really feel. Perhaps it seemed as important to me as valour is to men."

Thanks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Day 13

I finally got some studying flow going today. Read a couple of papers on rates, inflation and unemployment by Cochrane and Noah Smith, and a few articles by various economists, of which I particularly liked this one, by our RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. Not sure if I'm ready to fill a post with my own thoughts; it would  be wrong for me to claim support to any one among this cluster of diverging views that modern day macroeconomics has become, before I dig some data to convince myself.

I got ready for bed a couple of hours ago, and just read 50 odd pages from "The Road to Character". The profile of Frances Perkins is great and left me impressed with the writing as well as with Frances Perkins herself. I've always believed that the true import of any reading is if at the end of reading you know something you did not read. Along those lines, one takeaway for me that was not alluded to in the book, was that even for worthy virtues such as modesty, kindness - it is much better to have that virtue be conscious rather than compulsive. When it is compulsive, it is easy to lose all sense of proportion, of balance. And of course we all know how too much of a good thing can be bad.

Then there was a profile of Dwight Eisenhower. I'll be honest, he did not appeal to me as anything extraordinary. Peculiar, original, yes. Extraordinary, no. Anyway, that's just what I thought.

My diet is a mess, and has been for a while because I don't feel like cooking, and eating out everyday is not that great. I've got to fix it soon, but how, how, how. Off to sleep.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Day 12

My boss' mother passed away today. I felt sorry for his loss when he informed me of it, but I would be lying if I don't disclose that moments later I found myself almost automatically thinking of how it would be harder now for me to express to him any possible dissatisfaction with my announced bonus or some such thing, when it is revealed in a few days. I had been thinking of having this compensation conversation with him for some days, but shouldn't the news of this loss have submerged it under an ocean of everything that makes us human? That was not to be; a few moments after I got the news I was telling myself -- with a tinge of disappointment of a man whose plan goes wrong -- that the backdrop for negotiating a raise is sub-optimal now, that I can't be as assertive slash aggresive with him with this personal tragedy of his still so recent. And then I realized where, in what kind of goals, my mind was dwelling. If at such moments of loss, these bland concerns are able to unseat a sense of empathy for a fellow I work with every day, then I'm far, far away from where I hoped to be. I usually think of myself as fairly unenthused by matters of money mongering, so this self-awareness of my swift impulses came as a rude awakening.

Home from work, I resumed reading 'The Road to Character' by David Brooks, and I have to say, it is a very fulfilling, nourishing book. I'm still reading that book, and looking forward to going back to it after posting this entry.

What else, I had a big dinner today. It was one of those "I'll eat heavy today because anyway I'm going to lead a spartan life from tomorrow until time's end" days. Only such days have been coming a little too frequently these days.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Day 11

So I did watch The Revenant today, right after work. Inarritu and DiCaprio, among several others, have to be credited for going to extremes to bring their movie out with a level of purity that astounds. There are some great performances, and if you go watch the film watch it for the performances, and for the moments where it forces you to examine a past human life, which was a life in the pursuit of survival, just like the animals yet so indelibly like humans still. At the level of plot, it may be called a revenge movie, but if you must watch the movie at the level of plot, you might as well skip it.

After the movie I stepped into the Barnes and Noble next door, after maybe a couple of years, and was looking at those elegantly handmade leather-bound notebooks with recycled paper. When I was new to the US and first saw those, I was quite enamoured by them. I remember thinking how I could've pleased my then girlfriend so much if I gifted her one of those, but I ended up not buying anything because I was pretty broke. It is just as well, because we broke up shortly after and if I had bought them I would've had to keep these beautiful things on my table and never write on them.

I picked up "The Road to Character" by David Brooks from the store after reading about 15 pages sitting there. I was already riveted. I came home and read a little more until Rohit called and we ended up talking about the young generation.

When I was a kid, or even when I was collegiate, the distinction between us and the adults was pretty clearly etched in my mind. There were those of us, and there were those of them, the adults. You couldn't mistake any of us as adults, or any of them as us boys, even if you only interacted with them by mail or phone, such that you had no way to infer by physical appearance. Even on a behavioral level, in our conversations, views, and preoccupations the difference was crystal clear. We were another people, with another set of things that we deemed important in life. As I've grown up, I've held on to most of the same preoccupations and a largely same world-view as back then. And so for long stretches of time I latently believe that I'm still a boy, just the same as I was 10 years ago, even 15. In the demarcation between boys and adults, there is no reason to assign me to the latter category.

Not quite. It is easy to crush this notion with simply an hour spent with a 15 or 20 year old of today. And then you see that there are those of them, these kids, and those of us. And perhaps that's the whole difference between boys and adults. It is not as if our elders underwent fundamental changes on reaching a certain age that made them different from us, made them adults. In all likelihood, they were just as they were when they were 20 year old young boys, only that they remained the 20-year-olds of 1980, which seemed rather 'adult' to us 20 year olds of 2006. And similarly, even though I feel the same inside as I did in 2006, I talk to a 20-year-old of today and can immediately see that we're different. It is another thing that I think they're a bit fake, but didn't our elders think the same?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Day 10

Yesterday (Day 9, for which I did not post anything) and today were both very lackluster. I slept a lot. I didn't study. I think I was doing a lot better in 2015. 2016 has mostly found me out of my elements. My apartment is a mess, everything is lying around and I keep putting it off, the cleaning up, for a tomorrow that doesn't seem to arrive. I haven't been in high spirits either, which is a big departure from most of 2015 which was plenty blissful. Let's hope for a turnaround pretty soon.

In another news, two people who in all likelihood came to know of each other because of this blog will be getting married soon! That's some achievement, I suppose, for this blog at the tender age of 11 years. What a precocious kid. I must have written at least 15 meta-posts during these 11 years where the blog talks about what its purpose was, why it exists, and I have to confess that I've painted various conflicting pictures while tackling this subject, pictures of varying levels of authenticity. Hopefully, with this, that shall happen no more, for anyway it is somewhat presumptive of me to pretend that I know why this blog exists - maybe it did only for these two to find each other.

With my previous paragraph I have maybe romanticized the love and marriage business a little more than I genuinely believe. So to make up for that I'll go watch The Revenant. Will write a post about the movie tomorrow.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Day 8

I watched the documentary series "Making a murderer" till the wee hours of the morning and was very moved by it. I highly recommend that others watch it too. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Day 7

Today was another really busy day at work, the third one of back-to-back long days. This was the end of it though, at least for the next 5 or 6 days. I haven't been able to get a lot of studying of my own done this year. At work, one of my teammates has left and I am covering for her until somebody else is hired. On top of that was this presentation to one of the founders of my company that I finally got done with today. It went well, a couple of things garnered his commendation.

Many of the early career quants that I talk to find it rather intimidating to present to him. I did too, until some time last year. I think that whatever little initiation I've had into yoga, meditation and vedanta has really brought about a major transformation in how I approach everything in life, and being mostly relaxed even when presenting to such big-wigs, I think, is a direct consequence, or one of the manifestations, of that transformation.

One of the changes I've brought about is while earlier I used to take extensive notes of everything I would say, and almost memorized my presentations to the level where even phrases like "and for that matter", "so much so" and "let's turn to the top left part of the page" were not spoken naturally but were part of a thoroughly planned script, I let things flow almost entirely conversationally now. It has maybe added a few extra uhmms to my delivery, but from watching a recording of it, I felt that the overall feel of the thing was much better, much more real than the linguistically flawless but emotionally robotic nature of my older rehearsed presentations.

Of course, I could only make the switch from a super cautious to a more relaxed, natural delivery because via vedanta and mediation I was able to overcome to some extent the fundamental things that underlie nervousness and cause feelings of intimidation. All said, I'm still no good at workplace small talk, except with friends.

I also did away with the tie.



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Day 6

No post tonight. Really tired. :|

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Day 5 - (ii)

So I just got off work, it's almost 11, and I thought before I leave I'll write another post. Mostly because, well, it's my blog, and who will stop me?

Yeah, that was just lame, what I just said. But so what, it's my blog, and I can be whatever way I want, and who will stop me.

Now that was really, really dumb, what's the matter with me? I think it's either because I'm stupid, or because I'm a Delhi boy.

Either way, I get to drive back home now, because it's my car, and who will stop me?

Day 5

Today is a long day. It's 9:30 PM and I am still at work, and likely to be here for maybe a couple of hours more. Tomorrow promises to be similar.

I have this compulsive habit of running up stairs. Normally, I'm a little lazy, but when there's a flight of stairs in front of me, I almost automatically start running in leaps of two stairs at once, and at great speed. My desk is on the 4th floor, and that is just as well, for any higher and I couldn't have kept up with this madness. As weird as it is, I don't even try to consciously change this habit, because at some level I think it's good for me. I may be erratic about exercising regularly, but I go to work everyday, and each day I'm at work I walk down to the cafeteria on the ground floor about twice, which means there's at least this physical work-out I'm bound to get, with or without any self-effort to stay healthy.

But why am I talking about it today? Because I fell hard on those concrete steps while running up after lunch, and in this sub zero weather, it hurt a little bad, turned my knee blue, and ensured that I won't go running for some days now. It was only after this that it even occurred to me for the first time that this habit of mine of always turning crazy at the sight of stairs, might not be as unequivocally good as I imagined it to be.

Time to get back to work.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Day 4



Every now and then at work I zoned out thinking of mausa ji.

I chatted with Sambhavi after maybe a year.

A bunch of electronic things I'd ordered in December reached today.

It has got suddenly very cold around here.

I did not go running.

I did not study.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Day 3

He was an unassuming man with a wry, understated sense of humour that was brilliant. For me, I'd say, he even had glamour, although I suspect that I might be a loner in having this opinion. I say glamour, because I always wondered if I could know him a little more. I always thought that he was definitely so much more than what meets the eye, but I had no way of knowing what that more consisted of.

He ran a shop of bags and suitcases in a busy market, and was known to never miss a day even if it meant taking 3 AM buses from Delhi after an extended-family function to return to his house and shop in Ambala. His shop was a favourite jaunt of so many other shopkeepers of this market, who would stop by to share a smoke and banter with him whenever business would be slow at their own shops, and he would generously give them his time and wit.

Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, and had been growing thinner and losing hair in the midst of numerous chemos and hospital visits.

Last March, when I went to Ambala during my holiday in India, he asked me if he could go to the US with me. He said he could help out with my brother's retail businesses in the States, after all he'd been selling stuff for decades! He'd said this while watching a cricket match on the same old small black & white TV in his shop that has been there for as long as I can recall life. At first I thought he was kidding, but when I realised he wasn't, it made me sad in a peculiar way, a kind of sad that didn't tear me up, but still one that I hadn't been before. If he wanted to leave this place, the very air of which, to me, breathed synonymous with him, I couldn't imagine what he must be going through, despite the ever cheerful front. That broke my heart. All of this maudlin business was happening inwardly, in him and in me, because on the outside, this conversation continued in a matter-of-fact and light-hearted way, and was soon broken by a nondescript call for a trivial chore.

He was a particular favourite of my brother for the longest time. A decade ago it used to be one of my brother's big thrills to oversee his shop for little bits of time in his brief absences, and imagine himself a businessman! And since a decade prior to that both me and my brother have always relished his characteristically crisp one liners as he went about his business of selling suitcases. Of course, we also enjoyed the other perks of hanging around there, which was hot dogs, chow mein, paneer pakodas and aloo poori from all the cool places close by. That he would ever say he'd like to leave that and work for my brother was unimaginable to me, until he said it.

A month ago I was told he was seriously ill. I asked my parents about him on our phone-calls every other day, but I didn't call him myself. What would I say, what will we talk about, I thought.

He passed away today. I wish I'd called him and told him that I loved him.

Bye Mausa ji. Hope you keep smiling. Hope maasi and your kids find strength to deal with the loss of you not being around. You were awesome.


Day 2

I planned to run a half-marathon this morning, but gave up after 8.73 miles. It's quite alright though. In fact, it is quite alright if I never manage to finish one. Running is something I do on whims, and save for future whims. I respect people who can run a lot, everyday, but the feeling that always accompanies respect is "why would they do it"? I really am not quite at the point where I really get it, why people do this. So why do I do it? Because they do it. Admittedly, that's not a good reason. And that's why it's totally cool with me if I suck at it.

In the highlight of the day, I called my grandfather after ages. I don't even remember the last time I had called him. I love him, but I'd never called him for so long. I don't know why, maybe I thought I wouldn't know what to talk about with him. He was a little pained, I could tell, when in the summer of 2012 I decided to move to the US for my masters, but he wished me well. He is about 90 now, and although old, he is fairly healthy for someone his age, but has been tellingly lacking color ever since I lost my grandmother in early 2012. That was the first time I'd ever seen him in tears. That did something to me, although I can't quite say what.

My grandfather was very happy to talk to me. Unsuspecting, he had talked to me for a few minutes thinking I'm my brother, who calls him more often, before I told him it's me. At that point, he sounded cheerful in disbelief. I promised myself to call him more often, it's not everyday that I'm able to make someone so happy like that with such little effort, and delight myself too in the process.

In another first, I picked my car and drove to a restaurant just to have tea, all by myself. I don't know why I'd never done it before, because it was awesome, especially in this chilly weather. There was also little bit of harmless flirting with the cashier girl; actually I wasn't even aware of the flirting until she started acting really "flirted". But it was cool, with its share of hahahas. That's never bad.

Alright then. Hopefully tomorrow, on the first Sunday of the year, I'll get some serious studies done. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Day 1

Yesterday night was spent partying and dancing in Manhattan. I already knew that partying and doing woo-hoo at turn-of-the-year moments was never much of my thing, but I was a little surprised to find that my marginal utility from dancing is also on a decline. Earlier, I used to enjoy dancing a lot, and I guess many a time I was responsible for dragging my friends along to dance at night. I've been doing it a lot more infrequently now, the last time before yesterday was in March of 2015. In any case, I realized that I didn't have nearly as much fun dancing yesterday as I used to earlier, especially back in 2013 and 2014. I still enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but just a little bit. Mostly I was just happy to get some blood flowing and body moving after the highly calorific snacking throughout the evening.

This morning we roamed about for breakfast but all the "in" places had at least a thirty minute waiting, and who waits for 30 minutes for eggs? So we ate at subway, and then went back to one of our friends' apartments and watched BBC's exploration show "Planet Earth". It is just amazing the level of perfection these guys aim for, and the lengths to which they go to get us the rarest of earth's wonders. Highly recommend! Then we started watching Jim Gaffigan's stand-up special, which was good until I dozed off. When I woke up in the late afternoon, I was getting late for the train back to Princeton, but still managed to eke out enough time to run and grab Kathi rolls with Srinivas. The train ride back seemed shorter than it usually does.

After getting back home, I spent some time surfing the internet, and then remembered about Chinmaya Mission's cultural program for New Years day. So hastily took a shower and drove away to the temple. Some guy was singing bhajans and he was really good. A lot of volunteers had brought home-cooked food from their homes, and I feasted on so many delectable south-indian dishes with great relish. I feel like these guys do their best cooking when bringing stuff for the temple. Overall, the evening at Chinmaya was great. I always have a hard time talking to the resident Swamiji as I feel like he, being so adept at Yoga and mediation, would be able to see right through me to all my myriad faults. So I'm always shy around him, but I wished him happy new year today and he smiled back saying happy new year, which I'll be honest was a bit of a relief!

Anyway, that's it for today. I don't know that I learned very much, except that sometimes I'm nervous about things that are totally imaginary, and it might be worth it to be a little more carefree, maybe.