Where am I headed?

Somebody a few days ago asked me,
“Anand bhai with this wood working where do you think you are headed?”
I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances might have had similar questions. So I have decided to answer this question once and for all. But before that I would like to point out all the directions I am not headed towards.

I don’t want to be the next “successful” startup founder billionaire. In my personal experience more money always brings more problems not less. Also acidity and sharts.

I don’t want to go settle in the US/Europe or any other exotic country. I have had the opportunity to visit a few places for a while but I like the chaos of our own country.

I like to work my body. Sweat each and every muscle. This may run contrary to most people’s ideology. Most people work so be able to afford not to work hard. Hire a coolie in a station. Get “better” seats in a train or a plane. Better being more comfortable to their bodies. Feel free to pamper your bodies, I will “use” my own.

A few close friends who have maybe glimpsed the slight spiritual traces I have, suggested I should go join a suitable akhada and go full monty as it where. I even once did some research, spent some time in Rishikesh. From all these experiences I have found that the saffron clad ones are probably far more attached, rather than detached. But again, if you don’t see me online/offline for a long time I might have taken the plunge.

Many of you think that I have not “used” my degree for a “better” life. For one I have a different definition of a better life than many others. I would think someone working with wood, designing structures and grinding steel is doing far more justice to a degree in metallurgy and material science than someone selling shares, or soap, or cigarettes. That is again my own personal opinion.

So where am I headed to. I have discovered that instead of knowing where you are headed to if you are sure of the next few steps, that will probably lead you to some place good. Again after doing vipassana, I have realized that all good and bad is just in ourselves. The most happy people I have seen have probably the least reason to be happy. So its all good. Have I reached that state where I can be happy in any state?
No; but that is where I am headed.

P.S. one of my friends (Vinay) pointed out that it seems I have something against CEOs and founders. Maybe I have some personal bias against some of them because thier ambition usually is so huge they have hardly any space for empathy. Also this negativity might have come because of the negativity I have faced by people who think they are doing “well”, and their’s is the only right path. Theoretically I know to each there own. But, am I in a state of mind where I can apologise all of them 100% for their negativity, maybe not. But I am headed that way.

P.P.S. Somewhere in all this mix I guess the Indian caste system is also at play. Working with your mind is the right of the higher castes. Also making other people work. Physical labour is usually is reserved for the low castes. And in todays economy, low class. I have been highly inflenced by Guru Nanak ji’s philosophy. In spiritual endeavours there is a widespread feeling against hard labour. They say it wastes Ojas. I have even read that if a spiritual seeker sweats a lot they should rub it back into their body. Guru Nanak ji I believe was ghe first who said that you can work hard and still gain liberation. He also believed that one doesn’t need to be a sanyasi to be liberated. Lots of gratitude to him to showing me the way, yesterday being guru purnima.

नाम में क्या रखा है?

मेरे पापा मेरा नाम संतोष रखना चाहते थे। मेरी माँ आनंद। संतोष रख देते तो दुनियादारी में रहता। अब किस्मत ने ही नाम आनंद दिया है तो निभाना तो पड़ेगा ही। ये नाम भी बड़ी पावरफुल चीज़ है। अब सुनिए ये वाक़्या,

कुछ बरस पूर्व हम एक समय ट्रैन में यात्रा कर रहे थे। अग्रणी टिकट लिया नहीं, फिर जनरल के दरवाज़े पे खड़े होने की जगह मिली। ऐसे अवसरों के लिए मेरे पास बस्ते में हमेशा एक न एक किताब जरूर होती है। जैसे तैसे मुस्कुरा कर, सॉरी कहकर उस भीड़ में किसी तरह बस्ते से वो किताब निकाली, फिर पढ़ने लगे. देखते देखते १-२ घंटे बीत गए.
“आप बहुत अच्छा पढ़ते हो”
हैं ? मेरे किताब के किरदारों के जमाये महल ये किसने तोडा? मुझसे कोई पांच एक साल बड़े होंगे। मुँह में मसाला। बालों में हलकी से सफेदी। सफ़ेद शर्ट के जेब में हज़ारों बिज़नेस कार्ड्स और कुछ सौ के नोट। खैर हमारी थोड़ी बातचीत हुई। अब बातचीत किस चीज़ पर हुई ये तो याद नहीं, पर करने में मुझे मज़ा आया। उनके जस्बे से ये झलक रहा था की मज़ा तो उन्हें भी आया था।
“इतनी बातें हो गयीं, आपने नाम नहीं बताया।”
“आनंद”
“अरे पूरा नाम बताइये ना.पहले नाम से भी कुछ होता है ?” ये बात उन्होंने एक मास्टरजी द्वारा क्लास के बचे को डांटने की सी मुद्रा में कही। चलिए मान भी लीजिये उनको लगता है की पहले नाम से कुछ नहीं होता, परन्तु उन्होंने ये कैसे सोच लिया जस्ट ऐसे ही मिस कर दूंगा। पहला नाम बताया है क्योंकि यही बताने की इच्छा है। फिर उन्हें जातिवाद ने जो बिगाड़ा है उसपे ५ मिनट खरी खोटी सुना दी।
बाद में अपने गुस्से को जांचा तोह पता चला की ये नाम पूछने के ऐसे कई इवेंट्स पहले हुए हैं और ऐसे कई हैं जिन में कुछ न कुछ लोचा हुआ हो। अब तो मैने दाढ़ी अपनी बढ़ा ली है, तो कोई अँधा भी मुझे “मद्रासी है”, देखते ही कह सकता है। पर उन दिनों में काफी ‘स्टाइलिश’ हुआ करता था. MTV के एक VJ निखिल चिनप्पा की नीचे के होंठ की बीचों बीच एक बालों का छोटा सा झुरमुट, इस से में बहुत प्रभावित हुआ था. कॉलेज लाइफ में सब कुछ ट्राई करके देख लिया। तो कुल मिला के उस समय लोग ये नहीं पहचान पाते थे की में किस प्रान्त का हूँ. महाराष्ट्र में काफी लोग मुझे मराठी समझते. दिल्ली में समझ जाते की साउथ से हूँ. बैंगलोर के लोग मझे दिल्ली का समझते थे. एक तो दिल्ली के नंबर की गाड़ी और हाथ पे कड़ा. जबसे बाल बढे किये हैं और दाढ़ी बढ़ा ली, पंजाब के बहार ही नहीं कुछ कुछ जगहे तो पंजाब के अंदर भी लोग मुझे सरदार समझते हैं। तो जब में अपना नाम के ए आनंद ऐसा बताता हूँ, जो की मेरे सारे आई डी कार्ड में है, कुछ लोगों को लगता है में कंजूसी कर रहा हूँ.
“पूरा नाम बताईये न ”
“अरे सर मेरे ID कार्ड में ऐसा ही है. आप डालिये न बिंदास. ”
“अरे हमारे सिस्टम में ऐसे ही डालना पड़ता है.”
“अच्छा तोह लिखिए के यू आर यू एम्…”
क्योंकि इसके पहले कई बार झेल के ये जान गया हूँ कि ३-४ बार बताने के बाद भी स्पेल ही करना पढता है।
अब मेरे पहले नाम को ही ले लीजिये। कुरुम्बूर। कुरुम्ब माने जिद। हमारे परिवार में लोग अक्सर कहते सुना है कि चूँकि हम लोग इतने जिद्दी हैं इसी लिए कभी तो हमारा ये नाम पड़ा होगा. ऊर तो कई जगहों के नाम के पीछे लगा हुआ है. त्रिशूर, गुरुवायुर, वेल्लोर, वगेरा वगेरा. अब मैंने सोचा की जैसे पुर, वैसे ऊर. ये तोह बाद में पता चला की ऊर मतलब गांव को कहते हैं तमिल में। कॉलेज में इंटरनेट कि सहायता से ये भी पता लगा की कुरुंबूर तोह तमिल नाड का एक गांव है. अब उस गांव वाले जिद्दी होते हैं की नहीं ये तो में नहीं जानता, परन्तु इस बात का काफी भरोसा हो रखा है की पुरखे कभी उसी गांव से आये होंगे। अब देखिये नाम से पर्सनल हिस्ट्री का पता चला न? साउथ के नाम अक्सर लम्बे होने के लिए विख्यात हैं. पर ये लम्बे नाम काफी सारा डाटा लिए हुए हैं। अब लोग उस डाटा का क्या उपयोग करते हैं ये तो उनपर है.

क्या आप लोगों से उनका पूरा नाम पूछते हैं ?

Naagin Dance – Life cycle of a pop culture


It started with this song. In fact it started ages ago, starting with the pungi or been. Used for religious purposes, somewhere down the line it got associated with the snake dance. It was adopted by the saperas who encourage the idea that it is the sound of the been which keeps the snake hypnotised. Then the snake dance made its place in the public consciousness from this song, performed by Sridevi.

There is even a heavy metal version by Deciblel. Watch the cover here:

And the dance became so popular that it became de riguer for guys to perform it in baraats, to do it. Even who had not seen the Sridevi’s naagin dance came to know about it. So I was pretty amazed to see it as a main feature in brand new bollywood song.

the Choco Nutty

This post was written by me in 2012 when I came to Ahmedabad. For some reason I had not published it. In know, I know it is really bad housekeeping on my end for this post to be posted almost 5 years later. But fortunately I currently am in Ahmedabad, so all of it is true.
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I recently moved to Ahmedabad. The reasons for that are many and multilayered. In short I had visited for a workshop and I liked the place.

After initially crashing in with a childhood chuddy buddy, Prem, who got married right about 12 hours ago, and after having looked at a score of apartments, I finally did rent a place. I had wanted a 1BHK, with many balconies, good ventilation, natural lighting and on and on..but had to settle for a 2BHK just because it had a nice huge balcony. This place is in Puja Apartments, Ambawadi. 30 year old house build by the housing board, the design is very like Bhilai steel quarters. I moved into this place a month ago. So you could say that I have lived in Ahmedabad for 2 whole months. And during that period I have taken long walks, longer bicycle rides and observed the whole moon cycle for the first time in my life. We sleep on the roof. Almost 5 families in my apartment block. But this is not about the building. This is more macro. There are lots of very big differences between Ahmedabad and other cities I have been. I will write more about the other points later, starting with the electric one. The power went off just once in the last 2 months. And not just where I was staying. During all my walking around the city, even in the old part of the city, I noticed it just once.

Which leads us to the other observation which lead to a certainty that people are using this fact (the reliable power) to their advantage. Forget about electricity for a while, how many of you like ice creams? I was taking my evening walk, when I went past a Havmor ice cream parlor. My side glance caught 4 unsheathed nut covered chocolate cones pointed at me. Yes they were without purdah, the silver/gold foily which covers such prepacked ice creams on the top was missing. Oh boy, I sound like a B grade Jehadi smut writer. Whatever, there they were. I had to stop and get it. “Sein-thh”, said bhai, which means 60 in gujrati. It was fairly simple but very different just because of its simplicity. Look at this image and you can almost taste it. A simple blob of vanilla ice cream covered by a layer of frozen chocolate smothered in nuts.

While cornetto and their ilk are shown uncovered in posters, they are invariable covered up in foil packaging. Why so? Hygiene? Yeah most likely. Since these are speciality products created with special machines in factories, and they have to go through a logistics system hand to hand to reach the customer.

So what about this Havmor Choco Nutty? Now this is a long shot by analytical standards, but I am in my intuitive mode right now and let me indulge. Havmor is a local ahmedabad based ice cream brand, I my guess is they produce it near enough. And the supply chain would also be very small.

Bing Advertisement strategy

I was looking for desktop configurations in google. Landed on a page. It showed me a Bing ad, with the same search words I had used in Google.

So the flash file of the ad picks up the search query (from where?) and uses it inside the flash file. And yeah it is animated and shows each letter being typed in. Very innovative, one search engine using a search query typed into another search engine

DIY in India

I like to do my stuff, on my own. Stuff like cleaning the house, washing my clothes, trying to repair my own gadgets, and so on. And I like to learn about how to do one’s own stuff, which means a lot of browsing through instructables, makezine, and off course youtube. I will give you a few case studies and tell you the practicalities involved.

Some time back I saw a video to cut beer bottles to make glass bottles. The idea seemed superb. An empty beer bottle destined for the garbage bin gets another life after it is cut. While we can sell it to a kabaadi vala for 2 rupees a bottle. But as a glass it would at least be worth Rs.15. More importantly doing something with your own hands and seeing the result come out, gives a satisfaction next to none. The first method I tried was the tying a string around the bottle soaked in a flammable liquid. The idea is to locally heat the bottle where you want to cut it. The challenge here was heating it only on a very narrow area, as close to a line as possible. And which is next to impossible. So the results were all haphazard cuts. Anyway, then I found another way which required a glass cutter. You think finding a glass cutter in hyderabad would be easy job? Indeed it would be for people who have business in glass. Not amateurs who want glass cutters for cutting glass bottles. After trying 5 hardware stores, I gave up. Found a cheap glass cutter on ebay and ordered it. That method did not work very well too. It required a propane blow torch, which I tried to substitute with a candle. Again the crack was much better than the string method, but still unusable.
Later found I found yet another method using jubilee clips. Here comes the next problem in hardware sourcing. Most of these niche hardware have local names. I asked around and nobody understood what a jubilee clip was. I explained describing what it was and how it was used. 4 of them said they did not have them. The fifth one too said he did not have them, but on looking around I saw it hanging in a bunch, on his shelf. Anyway, I got the jubilee clip, and using it I could make a deeper score on the bottle. And this time the cut is almost perfect.

Pouches and Bottles

I saw Crocodile Dundee recently. It is a good movie. Based in Australia, it somewhere had this mention of a walkabout. Here is how walkabout is defined at UrbanDictionary

A spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…yes… something like that… you can’t quite touch it so you have to go find it because it’s you just know it’s there…Or maybe it just feels good to go walking around …

In urban settings sometimes I use a cycle for this purpose. Sometimes there is a vague purpose about the whole ride. I might need some tool. Or someone mentioned a temple being built somewhere which has lots of broken high quality stones, which I could use to sharpen my tools. And so on.

I was on one such ride today. After cycling for about 3 hours in the sometimes cloudy sometimes surprisingly sunny weather, I broke a sweat and needed a bottle of water. Now I had two choices. The common man here in Bhilai goes for the water pouch. Priced at Re 1 or Re 2, the format, package and the price is right for the market here. But a friend from Bhilai recently sent a watsap message which said something bad about the local pouch water. Chemical contimation, etc etc. Ok, so I thought I will get a full bottle of water. Pouch would have been more convinient, as I would have to  stick the bottle between the cycle carrier. Ok so I went to a store and asked for a bottle of water. I don’t want cold water I said.

Now nobody who buys a bottle of water in bhilai, wants warm, kept out of the cooler, bottle. The person who buys a water bottle and not a pouch also does that to signify his social status. This is not a 0-1 thing. They might also believe in bottled water being more safer. But the social status angle is sure there. Also water pouches are usually stored in ice boxes with ice. As they are kept by small shoebox stores, pan shops etc, and even if they have an electricity connection they do not simply have the space for a cooler, or a refrigerator. Needless to say the water pouches are not that cold. This is another point where a water pouch buyer goes and buys a water bottle. He may be a water pouch drinker himself. But today is the weekend outing with his 3 year old kid and his wife. And today he can splurge on a water bottle. And if you see his budget, splurge is not a wrong word. He spends almost 3-4 times for the same commodity. The only thing he wants is his bottle cold.

Now the bigger stores have usually a cooler, given to them courtesy either Pepsi or Coke. The cola wars have made sure that every dick and harry corner store in even remote villages has either one of them. Off course if the cooler is from Coke, you won’t see any Pepsi drinks.

Now back to my thirst. I asked him for a warm water bottle. Drinking cold water after a long warm ride, I knew was a bad idea. Anyway I am off terribly cold water for some time now. Now this itself,might have been surprising for him.

“I don’t want cold bottle, Bhai”, I said again, as he approached the cooler. He got one bottle from inside the cooler and gave it to me.

“I kept it just now. It is not cold”, he said. He was right, it was in the cooler for maybe half an hour.

“20 rs”, he said.

I reached for my wallet, and my other hand rotated the bottle trying to find the MRP.

Rs. 18, it said.

Now from experience I know that if someone wants cold drink, or cold water bottle, these stores take Re 1 or Rs 2 above the MRP. This practice is throughout India, and you  might have come across this surely. At such situations I don’t like leveraging the law. So many laws and policies are such a joke anyway. And as soon as you mention any law, the whole cloud of the law system, the courts, the police etc come into picture. It might well sound intimidating, like somebody wants to report if they don’t comply. A very unpleasant situation.

“But this says Rs 18. I don’t want cold water. I know you guys take 2 Rs for the cooling. Why don’t you give me warm water?” I asked him. Maybe he could not imagine anybody not wanting cold water.

He proposed he will give me some other brand, at Rs 16.

No, I said. This is not about money. Do you have any reason why you are taking 2 Rs more from me. Above the MRP?

I have been in such situations before and they make me excited. Excited in a very negative way. My fight or flight instinct begins to take over. And I have even sometimes paid more. Or sometimes not bought and went away. Sometimes got into a word fight for 15 minutes and then got the water for MRP. The only difference today was how calm I was about the whole thing. In fact smiling the whole time. The women at the cash counter could not understand the situation at all. Everyone paid Rs 2 more. How could this guy refuse. When I saw no, these people are not budging, I moved on.

“Look i am not that thirsty. I will find water somewhere else.” When I was near my cycle, the salesman called me back. Surprisingly the salesman was the person taking the call, not the woman at the cash counter.

“Please take the bottle. And here is the Rs 2. Happy now? He asked”

I smiled again.

Internet Coma – Vodafone UX bug

Vodafone  prepaidhas many different internet packs, with different data limits and day validities. I was using a 1GB pack with a one month validity. This was not an unlimited plan, and once the 1GB data was used, the plan gets exhausted. My data used was at a 90% level with lots many days remaning validity. Since I was planning much more extensive use, I bought a new internet pack of 651 with more GBs.

This is the way this works in vodafone:

  1. When a new internet pack is bought, instataneously they stop the older plan, whatever be the data remaining, or days of validity remaining.
  2.   The user first gets an SMS confirming Recharge of the said amount. This does not have any mention of internet packs or any plan. This is the SMS text, “Rchrg of MRP Rs 651.0 on 17-Dec-14 successful. Tlktime rcvd Rs 1.07, STax Rs 71.61, AccessFee Rs 5578.32, New Bal Rs 381.13. TransID Tn 1231232123. Dial *111# for a/c info.” The main intention of a user installing an internet plan is to get more data, and day validity. This sms does not tell about these two important pieces of information.
  3.  After a few moments we get another SMS. This is what it says, “Your request for Data pack BC651 is successful. Please wait for Data pack activation SMS before using the service. Dial *121# to know your best data pack offer.”  While I might want to know the best data pack offer, but not at this moment. The moment right after I bought a data pack. This message is better suited if it comes when my data pack is about to end. Also the main thing now I need to know is when will my pack be activated.
  4. And then the third SMS hits you in the face. “Your previous internet pack has been overwritten by the new internet pack. Dial *111# to check balance.”

So I not just wasted a bit of data, and a bit of validity. Even after buying another data pack, I need to wait for it to get activated. And the time it takes to get activated is much more than a few minutes. It did get activated. After about 1.5 hours.

 A good UX would have deactivated the old plan only when the new one gets activated. An even better plan would have given be the balance data from the old plan. 

Foreign Affairs

“What time is it?”

“hmm..”, taking out the phone from the pocket, “7.50”, I tell him.

“At this time of the day, nobody would be out. If a young boy goes out, the soldiers will just take a stick and start beating. I miss Kashmir. But I don’t miss that fear. You know I come from a village. It is blacklisted. Nobody cares about us. No roads. No hospitals. No schools. And beatings if you are found by the soldiers after dark. It is only because of the cement factories near our village that people still live. These factories give some facility to the people, clinic, school etc.”

“how far is Pakistan from your place?”

“There is a short hike, and from top of a mountain you can actually see Pakistan. There is another point were you can see Afghanistan as well.”

“oh! Afghanistan? We share a border with Afghanistan? I don’t remember the map.”

” Yeah we do. Anyway the actual LOC you cannot see in most maps. One side taken  by Pakistan. Another by China. China takes a few kilometers everyday. You don’t believe me?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I know India is far less aggressive. But few kilometers everyday?”

“Yeah because India does not know where the actual LOC is. So China takes advantage. You know kashmiri people don’t need visa to visit China. Chinese consider Kashmir as theirs. You just need a passport. If the address in your passport is in Kashmir, you can just walk in. Infact whenever chinese tourists come, most of them take me out for Pizza :).”

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This is the second part of the series of conversations I have had with a Kashmiri friend of mine. You can read the first part here called Sales.

 

Sales

“I have always wanted to see this place from inside. Finally”, I said smiling.

“This is a much smaller shop. If you see my MG Road showroom it is 5 times bigger.”

“Oh… what is in that small room?”, I asked moving towards it.

“Sit. First what will you have, coke, tea…Indian tea haan!”

“Tea will be nice”, I said settling into the chair.

He went outside to a nearby cafe, while I waited for him in the chair, looking around. He was back in 5 minutes.

Between us was a glass showcase in which scores of jewellery gleamed. Rings, lockets, semi precious stones, crystals.

“This looks beautiful,” I said pointing to a oxidized silver locket.

“This is unique. You see this ring, I can get it made from my jeweller. I just have to call him, and tell him the model  number. He will make an exact replica. But not this. This is from a collection. If I sell it. It is gone. I don’t know how to get another one.”

“Who buys these then?,” I asked.

“There are people who are specialists. They travel around buying things and adding to the collections. They come to shops like us and then sell us there entire collection. For example, one guy brought me these tibetan jewellery 3 years ago. I have sold almost 80% of it. Only these 6 pieces remain. I have tried finding them again. But impossible. ”

There was a a red coral oblong like a tablet, with silver inscription of some tibetan text.

“It says Om Mani Pad Mani Om,” he said. “This hear is lapis lazuli. It comes from Afghan.” He pointed to another oval stone with just a tibetan Om in silver.

“How much is this?” I asked pointing to one of them.

“This here is 3350. This smaller one is 1850.”

“I love this one. I might come some day to get it. Not today though. Sorry I am wasting your time.”

“No no. You are my friend,” he said, sounding 100% genuine.

“Are most indian customers like me?”

“It depends. People from Coimbatore have lots of money. Once a lady came and bought 6 pashmina shawls. She was a professor. Very old. Didn’t even bargain. If I say the real price for harem pants, 350, then they will say, “Bhaiyya, kam keejiye na. Real price batayiye.” I don’t entertain. They can go to other shops where they will first say 500, and then finally give for 350. You know sometimes real good people come. Once a german guy came. As soon as he entered, he put his finger to his lips. “Shhh…” he said. Don’t say anything. Then he started picking up things from here. There. Shawl. Meditation bowl. The bill came out 60k. He paid with card. And forgot his card when he left. Good thing he had mentioned the guest house he was staying. I took it back. He hugged me when I gave him the card back.  He came back the next year he was here. ”

“Don’t you go to your other shop, the MG Road one?, I asked.

“That is run by my uncle. You know. He has a different style. He is a very good salesman. I have a different style. I don’t try to sell. I make friends. Once a guy came and asked to see chess sets. I asked him whether he would like to play. We played. You know make friends. Offer tea. Thats how I sell.”

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This is the first part of a series of posts I will be writing based on my conversations with a Kashmiri friend who has a handicrafts showroom. I can vouch for this guy, if anyone coming to Auroville wants to do some handicraft shopping. Hot indian chai guaranteed :).

UPDATE- You can read the second part of the series here called – Foreign Affairs.