Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Blue Jay

I was standing by a river in Big Sur, listening to the birds chirping in the trees. I had just finished a run, and was catching my breath, when right in front of me, I saw a Blue Jay. And I remembered my grandfather, SRD Guha.
Maybe it was the bicyclists I had seen on my run, which reminded me of him being a champion cyclist.
Maybe it was the run itself, which reminded me of him running by my side while he taught me to cycle.
Maybe it was the Spanish I was learning, which reminded me of him being proficient in 6 languages.
Maybe it was the church I had seen on my run, which reminded me of his appreciation for all religions.
Mostly, I remembered him for all those reasons. I remembered him for the sheer impact he has had on me.
But the trigger was the Blue Jay chirping in the tree, that reminded me of our bird-watching expeditions. Those long walks in Manipal or Dandeli which instilled in me, my love for the great outdoors.
Growing up, to us grandkids, Thatha was a giant. An influential scholar. Champion sportsman. Multi lingual. Fit enough at 70 to teach his grandchildren how to cycle. He had read the Bible, the Kuran and the Gita, and more importantly lived like all religions were worth learning from. He taught us the value of saying thank you. Taught us to appreciate the small kindnesses that give life it’s meaning. Taught us to work hard but not take yourself too seriously. Taught us to care as much about other people's success as your own.
When he passed away a year ago (almost to the day) I was shell-shocked. Sad. Relieved that the end was peaceful. Relieved that my mother, his darling daughter, had been by his side.
But mostly, I was frustrated with myself that my mourning was not doing this great man justice. Eventually, time passed by, and while I struggled to say my goodbye, my frustration faded into the background.
Today, a year on, I finally feel at peace. I can now look back and treasure the time we did get to spend together. While there are so many memories from my childhood, the one from adulthood that I often remember is from the 2 weeks my wife and I spent at my grandparents' house in 2009. I spent many hours learning French from him to prepare me for my time in France. We played our daily game of scrabble. But the most abiding memory is the walks we went on.
They were ambles in a Bangalore strip park, and not the long, brisk hikes from my childhood. We saw sparrows and traffic, not Golden orioles, Magpie robins, Blue jays and trees. But the smiles, the stories, the strength was there. My grandfather, the giant, was back. Those few hours were time I spent with my Thatha. Time I will treasure for the rest of my life.
In some ways, so much of what I do is to try to live up to his example.
I run so that I am fit enough at 70, to teach my grandkids how to cycle.
I try to love life, because like he showed with his remarkable life, there is so much to love.
I try to give my family and friends my all, as that is what he did.
I try to set aside time for things that I love, like writing.
The last few years, I have gotten too consumed with life to write as much as I would like. In some ways, this blogpost is my Thatha’s most recent gift to me. His memory inspired me to do what I love. His memory inspired me to write.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I happen to think of myself as fearless. I am up for any adventure, rarely shy, always looking for new experiences. 

It is interesting however, that there is one avenue which has for the last couple of years gripped me with fear. It is something which I enjoy, something which I think I am good at, and something that I list on my resume as a passion.

Yet, it is something I do not do. It is to write.

I have a number of hypotheses about why that is the case, ranging from the mundane, that I am lazy, to psycho-babble, that I am too worried about how well I write, to write. 

Regardless, having a daughter has been one of those experiences that seems to have re-kindled the urge to write, so here's to ripping the bandaid. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

A tale of two cricket games

India vs England, World Cup 2011, Bangalore, India
England vs India, Day 5, Lords, London, England

Getting tickets

My wife and I were in Bangalore, when the news came out that they were shifting a World Cup cricket match from Kolkata to Bangalore. The fact that it was India vs England, the original rivalry, was icing on the cake, and I was immediately scrambling to find tickets. The official channels were quickly deemed to be unviable and I reached out to a “connected” uncle to find out if he could pull some strings. He came through, and on the morning of the game we picked up our tickets.

Four months later, we had just moved to England and India was coming to town to play a 4-match test series. We had purchased tickets to Day 4 of the Lords test match. It was an absorbing day of cricket and day 5 was setting up quite beautifully, with the fabled Indian batting line-up having to bat out a day for a draw. The tickets for Day 5 were first-come, first-served, so a group of friends and I showed up bright and early at 8:30 am to get our tickets. After 2 hours in the queue, we were in, with tickets in hand.

The queues

In Bangalore, we had been warned that the queues would be long, but nothing prepared us for what we saw when we got to the ground. The queue was a mile-long and then some. For some inexplicable reason, the authorities decided that they would only start letting people in an hour or so before the start of play. As a consequence, the game was well and truly underway while thousands of potential spectators were still queuing outside. News that India was batting came in, and the crowds started getting restless. Before you knew it, there was a near-stampede situation as people were trying to push their way in. The 3000 policemen (I am not exaggerating) who were on duty continued to sip their coffee and do nothing. Some members of the crowd started self-policing which brought some order to the proceedings. However, we still saw many families getting out of the queues as they were afraid for their children. We decided to stick it out, and eventually we were in.

On day 5 in England, the queues were just as long as they were selling all the tickets at the gate. However, they opened the door early and all of us were in with time to spare. There were instances of some fans trying to sneak ahead and jump the queue. However, the policemen were quite alert to it and I saw multiple instances of burly (and often drunk) interlopers being pulled out of the queue by the police.

The atmosphere

In Bangalore, once we were in, we were immediately pulled into the madness of a one-day crowd. Sachin made a flawless century and the crowd greeted every shot with huge cheers. There were Mexican waves and flags everywhere, not to mention DJs and dance music. People were coming and going as they pleased.

In England, the first thing you noticed at the gates was spectators being asked to turn in their flags, horns et al. While this was mentioned in the terms and conditions, it was a bummer for those coming to have a blast. Lords is the home of cricket after all and they didn’t want the rarefied atmosphere sullied. At one point during the game, to add some excitement during a slow period, the rowdy sections of the crowd started some Mexican waves. The wave was clearly picking up momentum, until it reached the famed Member’s pavilion, which is occupied by the MCC faithful. No one budged. The wave was picked up at the other end of the Pavilion and it went another full circle. When no one budged the second time the wave got to the Pavilion, the rest of the crowd started booing in jest. It was all in good fun, but it was a clear portrayal of the clash in cultures.

In India, it was all people – a relative got us our tickets, the spectators self-regulated the queues, the atmosphere was electric, the food-stalls were swamped, but still functional by having doubled the staff.

In England, it was all process – the tickets for day 4 were ordered online, day 5 was a well-run queue, the policemen were at the top of their game, the atmosphere was “British”, the bars and burger joints worked like clockwork.

And for what its worth, even the 2 teams played their cricket in accordance to the plot. The Indian effort in India was characterized by the individual brilliance of India's two heroes, Sachin and Zaheer. The English dismantling of India at Lords was a complete team effort – with three players (Pietersen, Prior and Broad), none of them superstars, in contention for the Man of the Match award.

Two countries, two ways of being, one game.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Fitting in..

One of my many learnings at INSEAD has been that I am definitely more interested in the technical aspects of finance and economics than the average MBA. Most of my classmates hate the math, and rightly focus on getting the business insights which they can then apply to the “real world”. I am a proud exception who thoroughly enjoys playing around with all the equations and numbers.

Initially, I felt quite odd and attempted to fit in by trying to be more MBA. Any such illusions were shattered, as I once found myself conducting a finance tutorial to a class of 40 students desperately trying to prepare for a final exam. After this incident, I spent the next few weeks with the nickname “Professor”.

Eventually, I accepted my strangeness and even resorted to attending some of the Ph.D seminars on campus where I could find others like me. Today, I attended a seminar titled “Friends in High Places”. It covered a fascinating piece of research which explored the impact of social networks (college alumni networks, seating proximity in the Senate) on the voting behavior of individual senators. I enjoyed the entire presentation and was mesmerized by the techniques used to leverage a complex database to extract some fascinating insights.

Over lunch, I was excitedly describing this research to 2 MBAs. They were extremely unimpressed and insisted that the research was doing nothing but proving the obvious, which it clearly was. My protestations as to the unique methodology and the potential future research areas it opened, failed to impress them in the least. Their conclusion from the conversation was that most academics spent their lives sitting in their cubes and proving the obvious using obscure techniques. Try as I might, I could not disagree. :)

That incident however, reminded me of a conversation I had had with a Ph.D student just earlier that day. We were talking about the Finance recruiting opportunities which an MBA opened up. He was telling me his views about how most MBA Finance roles completely lacked intellectual challenge and were in reality, extremely well-paid, glorified clerk jobs. Try as I might, I could not disagree. :)

Two sets of people, from two different worlds, inhabiting the same campus. And never the twain shall meet.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tales from the Road - the World's Cup!

Last weekend, we spent a lazy weekend in Khao Lak, a town one hour north of Phuket which is described as what Phuket was 15 years ago. The town definitely lived up to the billing – beautiful beaches, laid-back resorts, great Thai Food and no parasails/banana boats spoiling the beautiful horizon.

One evening, Disha went to get a massage and I headed off in search of a television so I could see the World Cup. As it turns out, they take the “Phuket 15 years back” tagline so seriously that they don’t have televisions in the resort.

I eventually found a roadside grocery store where they were showing the game. Unsurprisingly, there was a group of about 10 huddled around the TV. I bought some water and biscuits to alleviate the guilt and then settled down among the crowd. The guy sitting next to me spoke English and so I started chatting with him. He told me that he was a Nepali born in Thailand. However, his family moved to Burma and he studied there, which was why he knew such good English. He then moved back to Thailand to get a job because of the political unrest in Burma. I had recently spent a few days in Myanmar and so we exchanged commiserations on the sorry state of that beautiful country.

He was a tailor in one of Khao Lak’s ubiquitous tailor shops. I asked him why Khao Lak had so many tailor shops. He told me that the German and Scandinavian tourists who frequented Khao Lak got a year’s supply of clothes stitched when they came on their vacations. Hence, every resort had its very own in-house tailor. Globalization at its very best! :)

He then started telling me about his Sikh entrepreneur boss who was born and brought up in Thailand. He was a tailor who had developed an international reputation for quality and had used that to build up a chain of tailor shops across Phuket and Khao Lak. It was now going on 12 shops and counting. As he proudly proclaimed, “everyone knows King’s fashion”.

The way his boss managed his employees was by having video cameras in each store so that he could do surprise check-ins. Since my Nepali friend did not have football in his store, he came to this nearby grocery store to see his football. If he got a call from the boss, he would go running back to the store and tell the boss that he was outside trying to herd in customers.

Since it was now low season in Khao Lak, my friend had a lot of time on his hands. Being a football fan, he was seeing every game of the World Cup, supporting Holland and Argentina. He caught me up on every detail of the games I had missed, and we exchanged sporting stories back and forth. The game (Netherlands vs Japan) wrapped up with a 1-0 victory for the Dutch (go orange!), and it was time to bid each other goodbye. We wished each other good luck in all our respective endeavours. An Indian and a Nepali-Thai–Burmese – citizens of 4 countries that aren’t close to being in the World Cup can still spend an hour watching the beautiful game and getting to know each other’s lives. That is why I love the World Cup. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Damn it! I am an NRI – part 1

One of my recent passions is running. Back in America, I had dreamed about running through India. While I realized that I would never quite manage a run through an Indian city (alive), I had hopes for running in rural India.

Yesterday, I was at a relative's farmhouse in the outskirts of Jaipur. I got up early for my run. I headed out onto some dirt roads in search of my rural idyll. I lasted about 5 minutes before I realized that I had to choose between my dreams and intact ankles. Sanity prevailed and I settled into a more comfortable stroll. Damn those movies (especially Delhi 6)!

The good news is that I did find some fields (and I even found a peacock). :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

I blogged 4 years back about happiness.

It was a very pessimistic view of the world and on reflection, deeply unsatisfying. I have spent a lot of time since then reflecting upon what makes me happy… with little success.

Until today. I went for a hair cut at a non-descript Hair Cuttery. I asked for the first available hair-dresser. She was a kind Southern woman who was born in South Carolina and moved to Washington, DC in 1970. As I was settling into my chair I noticed a simple hand-written note on the mirror.

“A happy person is one who has
Someone to love
Something to do
.. and some hopes”

I spent the next 10 minutes looking back through life. Thinking about the times when I was happiest. I told her I loved her quote and that I would remember it. She smiled and said. “Life is simple. We forget to notice it”

I loved it and will remember it next time I am feeling sulky. What do you guys think?