Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Break: the unhurried life

It's a testimony to the pace at which life goes on here, that its been only two weeks into the winter break even though I feel like I've been vacationing forever. It's a welcome change. In some sense, a throwback to my days in Bangalore, where the mornings were unhurried (yes, office started at 11 AM) and started with sipping chai in the balcony, turning on the TV and reading the Times of India. And that's why, yesterday in particular, reminded me of life before B-School. The Wall Street Journal has replaced the Times of India and it's a little too cold to actually stand in the balcony. The number of roommates has reduced from 3 to 1 and no longer is there a cook to make tea. But the sun rays streaming down the sliding glass door, and the the satisfaction of dipping the biscuit in the cup of tea was good enough.

Charlottesville is pretty empty now. It's a little too quiet for me. A week ago, I was having this big city, small city conversation with a friend in New York and how the people around you become so much more important in smaller cities. I totally get it now. Fortunately, there are a bunch of us here and so in between watching movies, killing time, going out to eat and preparing for the interviews (the time devoted to each decreasing in the order in which listed); we've managed to keep ourselves busy. Somewhat.

Another 3 weeks before the break gets over. And on the 1st day of 2010, I leave for San Francisco. In India, we say that the entire year mimics whatever you do on the first day of the year. 1st Jan, 2008 - I flew from Singapore to Bangalore. There were around 12-15 more flights during the rest of the year. 1st Jan, 2009 - Minneapolis. I woke up at around 12 in the noon, after a long night of drinking and partying in sub zero temperatures and worked the whole day on the Darden essays (they were due on the 4th).

Will 2010's first day have any bearing on the rest of the year? It's anybody's guess.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Season's First Snow

Brianne's ping was the perfect excuse I needed to go out. It was the Saturday after a brutal week at Darden and even with exams looming large, I just couldn't get myself to study. Most Facebook statuses ran on the lines of 'Oh it's snowing in C'ville...'. For a lot of us it was the first snowfall of our lives. My mind went back to another Saturday morning earlier this year, when I had ventured out in harsher temperatures. It wasn't snowing back then, though.

I love lamp posts. There's this old world, story like charm to them. Always reminds me of childhood stories of a quiet town, with a railway station and a solitary lamp post. And the yellow in this case looked so contrasting against the backdrop.

Contrast, again. This time red against white. A much stronger one. And the way the snowflakes had melted to form a lump of watery ice and had yet managed to stay atop the red berries.

Park benches at Darden. Another one of those objects towards which I have a strange attraction. No reason. Totally random.

Same colors. Same lump of ice. Different setting.

Stripped of all its leaves, the branches of the tree still prevent the grass underneath from being totally covered with snow, adding a dash a green to the picture.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This Week Last Year...

...I was a first time visitor to this country. Everything was happening very fast. Black Friday shopping was a necessity because the jacket I had was good only for an Indian winter. And that too was borrowed from my 6' tall friend so it wasn't exactly a fit. 26/11 had just happened in India as I stood in the hotel lobby watching images of the Taj Palace under siege, feeling a sense of disconnect which internet or cable television doesn't quite fill. The weekend brought the season's first snow. I remember waking up in the morning and finding everything covered with a thin layer of white. It was my first encounter with sub zero temperatures. Over the next couple of months, that would touch -25 degree Celcius.

That was Minneapolis. A year on, everything's still moving past at a hectic pace. But the setting is so different. There was time and money to spend last year. The money is still there though. Just that it's a huge loan. And don't even get me started on time. My Darden application wouldn't happen until January and so if you had asked me where I saw myself a year from then, Charlottesville wouldn't have come up as one of the answers.

This has been a much needed (shall I say much deserved too?) break. And I've successfully done what I do best. Chill out. It started off with drinking wine and sangria and singing songs at our place. Next day was the Thanksgiving party courtesy Jose and Lucas complete with touch football and LOADS of food and wine. We followed it up with a game of cricket the next day and dinner at Ariana Kabob House and a round of Taboo. In between there were futile attempts to string together a cover letter. There's still one day. So there's still time.

One more day till everything comes crashing down again. Resume drops, cases, exams - all thoughtfully packaged into two weeks of madness. And then the winter break. And New York. And San Francisco. And Seattle.

Let's get over this quickly, shall we.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

If the glass is half empty, at least you can't drown

The best week in Darden so far. And all because it had less of Darden in it. Don't get me wrong. I like the intensity. It makes me stretch myself. But once in a while, you do need that break. To explore and experience some other things. To sit back and relax and just enjoy doing nothing. Black November as it is turning out, already happened in October.

It can get a little intimidating at times. Case studies, class participation. exam grades, cover letters, networking calls. It's a lot to handle when you have never done it before. And that's why this week was so special. So needed.

Monday and Tuesday went as usual with inventory management trying to match up to Capital Asset Pricing Model and the IS/LM curve. From Wednesday, however, things started getting really good. First, we had this Operations filed trip to MicroAire. Seeing the push-pull strategies of marketing and the lean manufacturing principles of operations actually being used in real life was quite a kick. And since MicroAire was into manufacturing surgical instruments like those used in Carpal Tunnel and Knee Replacement surgeries, there was the ethics angle to it too when it came to how much should the market be driven by the manufacturers and not by the doctors.

The rest of the week was easy and didn't involve case preparation. This meant that the entire evening was free. I spent the afternoons playing Racquetball; had Thai food one evening and just enjoyed being relaxed. Wednesday night, in particular was great not only because of the dinner but also because of the fact that it was one of those rare nights, when unwinding did not mean getting high on alcohol and being with hundred other first years in a bar. We walked down to Tara Thai at Barracks, had dinner and then came back chatting about first year and our expectations from this whole MBA experience.

The Virginia Film Festival was in progress and so some of us decided to catch a few films. Meet John Doe, Departures & Wonderful World. Three very different movies. But three very satisfying experiences.

Meet John Doe is a classic about the power of press and how it can create and destroy public figures. My friend had told me that there was a Hindi movie - Main Azaad Hoon which was inspired by this one.

Departures (last year's Foreign Language Film winner at the Oscar) is as unique a movie as I have ever seen. An unemployed cellist takes on the job of 'preparing' dead bodies for the funeral. It's a beautiful commentary on life and death and the emotions the death of near and dear ones can evoke in us. There's a lot of dry humor and drama in the script but I particularly loved the closure that the ending brought which seemed to reconcile all the different threads - the main character's tension with his wife regarding his not so glamorous job and his memories of his father who had left when he was a six year old.

I could talk about Wonderful World but it's better if you watch the trailer. Matthew Broderick puts in a controlled and powerful understated performance as the pessimist who would start believing in the general goodness in the world once he sees "fish falling from the sky". The dialogues are crisp and even though I would have liked the script to be less abstract and more explicit; this works.

And in both these movies, the soundtrack is really melodious. Loved both the classical (even haunting) cello pieces in Departures and the acoustic guitar pieces in Wonderful World.

And yes, we went bowling last night and played a First Year Vs Second Year cricket match today which we narrowly lost.

Quite a week.

By the way, the title of this post is from the movie Wonderful World.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

From Engineering to Economics

Stack means LIFO and Queue means FIFO. The most basic data structures in computer science.
Well, apparently, they are also inventory costing methods used in Financial Accounting.

So what's the best thing about coming to a B-School from an engineering background?
Quant skills? Structured thinking? A sense of confidence that you would be able to survive it? Knowing the equation of a normal distribution and being able to handle probability?
No. If you ask me that is.

The best thing is that none of the courses are a repeat of what you did in undergrad. Which means that the balance sheets and the bond pricing and the supply, demand, interest rate graphs are all new for me. Yes, for some of the things, (and this is mostly in economics) Wikipedia had already given me a foundation to build on, but learning about how the Fed might lower interest rates to bolster investment in a formal setting is certainly helping me get a stronger grasp on it. Suddenly the articles in the WSJ have started to make sense. Like when they talked about Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target not being able to discount price books in Europe or when they analyzed various industries on the basis of cash as percentage of assets.

It's tiring and frustrating at times. Being asked to do so much in so little time. But at least so far, it takes just a moment to sit down, take a few steps and realize the tremendous potential these two years have. And I'm not talking about getting a great job and walking out with a fat paycheck. I'm simply talking about the perspective a B-School can (and already is) give to someone who hasn't studied about business before.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

After The Rain

I finally found some time to go out with my camera and take some pictures of the place I live in. As has become the norm here, the weekdays are generally gorgeous and it rains all day during the weekends. Today was not all that bad though. The rain stopped during the late afternoon. The sun came out in bursts in between drizzles and an overcast sky. At times, a gust of wind would shake off the water droplets from the leaves giving an impression that it had started to rain again. The weather was pleasant without being cold. There was a section party coming up in the evening. Could you blame me for completely wasting my day and doing nothing?

Green & Yellow

Leaves on the grass

Wooden stubs

Rain droplets on the leaves

Inside Ivy Gardens. The road that leads to my apartment

Against a cloudy sky

The road that runs between Darden and Ivy Gardens

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exam Week

It's so different. 5 hours, open notes, take home, honor code and the least stressful week of the entire quarter - exam week in Darden is a whole new experience. Maybe it was planned that way. After all aren't we supposed to 'Trust the process'? I mean, the week before it was hell! Consulting conference, GMO conference, company briefings, networking dinners and of course, cases. Cases which ran for 30 pages and had scores of Exhibits. Cases which were supposed to be cracked without the aid of the learning teams. And then suddenly it's Friday night and you almost feel a void. You study because others are. You go through the review notes and try and organize all the stuff in folders for easy reference. You say to yourself that you havent been slacking off during the last 2 months so you will be okay even without studying for the last 2 days. No. Don't get me wrong. I'm no rock star and I'm solidly in the middle when it comes to the unique Darden phenomenon called class participation (trust me, other B Schoolers - it's different here!). It's just that studying before exams is not my thing. Till high school, I was supposedly a smart kid and didn't need to study before exams. In undergrad, I was way too screwed up to make any significant improvements by studying in the last week (though the night outs made sure I never got an F! and over years I learned the art of optimizing my study hours to just make that mark). Here, its neither of the two. And yet. I cant sit down and study. So, it's not my thing. QED!

The marketing exam was a mix of emotions. I used my old strategy to start off with the last question. It helped that it was an easy one so I felt good after the first 15 minutes. Couldn't say the same for the rest of the 4 hours and 45 minutes though. So at the end, I had a lot of margins and percentages and numbers and dollars floating around the word doc and I was hoping that at least half of it made sense to the professor. Hope, like they say, is a strategy.

Accounting tomorrow. And then 3 more papers. And then the 100 case party. And then Metallica. And then Quarter 2 from Monday. I love Darden.

Friday, September 25, 2009

of potato chips and tomato ketchups

"Even if you are not interested in marketing, go to the Marketing Forum. The Frito Lay guy is a terrific speaker."

He indeed was. For an hour, as Dave Skena (VP Marketing) spoke about the latest Potato Chips ad campaign, I sat in amazement - somewhat in awe of the art of marketing.
He started with how they set about reaching out to the consumer with a very simple strategy. That the chips are made of three things - potato, vegetable oil and a dash of salt. To dispense the image of an unhealthy, junk, fat filled diet, they launched ads which showed the farmers from across the country who supplied potatoes to the Frito Lay plants. The simplicity and uniqueness of the whole exercise took the audience by surprise and yes, revenues started showing positive trends. So there I was - an Indian, listening to an American talk about a snack which I'm not particularly crazy about, watching ads which showed farmers from Florida and Texas and Michigan - and yet I could somewhat identify with it. As much as there are numbers and market share and consumer lifetime value, maybe marketing is indeed a lot about knowing the pulse of the consumer.

Heinz followed next, carrying on the theme of Ketchup = Tomatoes. Noel Geoffroy, Director of Consumer Products Ketchup and a Darden alum, talked about changing the label in front of the bottle. About how replacing the pickle with the tomato and increasing the font size of Tomato had so much research going into it whereas the consumer was not really bothered about it that much. As a guy who has almost zero brand loyalty when it comes to CPGs, it was a revelation to get a peek into the minds of people who have and what goes into deciding what to buy and how much to buy. Like mothers who want to give their 10 year olds a 'healthy' ketchup and thus need to be absolutely sure what the ketchup is made of.

The DuPont presentation, to me, was the least exciting of the lot. It might have got a little to do with the fact that I was feeling sleepy by that time but apart from the bit where he talked about how Teflon sticks to the pan, I was bored.

MarketBridge was next and Katrina Lowes, SVP Marketing Services talked about Social Media and how Humana was using its social media portal to foster collaboration among users. She pointed out how, everybody, in the race to capture the youth population (25-35) have forgotten about the Baby Boomers aged around 50-65 who form the bulk of the world population. Never ever in the history of mankind have there been more people of this age and that represents a huge market if you are ready for it. She talked about how these are people who are nearing their retirement. About how these are people who are sustaining their families and have, in a lot of cases, both parents and children to take care of. She talked about how, they want to talk to others about things ranging from sex to healthcare, from emotional stresses to the changing world around them. It was funny that Katrina mentioned the stupid war that CNN had with Ashton Kutcher in Twitterland and how Social Media is Not about getting a million people to follow your tweet or blog. On the other hand, if you are FlyLady, you do have control over the minds of millions of people!

4:00 P.M. and it was time for Dan Holler, Product Director - Johnson's Baby to talk about the "Olympics Campaign - Thanks Mom". Particularly engaging was the bit where he talked about how they signed in Cullen Jones even before he was a part of the US Olympic Swimming team. A shortage of funds meant that they couldn't sign in big names like Phelps so they decided on this approach and shot the ads in very less time, using the training grounds of the athletes as the backdrop as they talked about how their mothers have influenced them throughout their life. Novel, inexpensive concept. But here's the magic that happened after it. Jones made it to the Olympic team. He then somehow made it to the six who formed the relay team. But only four were to make the finals. Against all odds, he makes it and is the last man in the relay. If you haven't already, dig out the YouTube link and watch how he beats the French guy to win the Gold (thus helping Phelps get his 8 medals). The story doesn't end here. By a rare mix of luck, forecast, science and add what you want, the first TV ad slot after the 4x100 relay is the Johnson & Johnson one where Jones says "Thanks Mom".

General Mills came up next and with no disrespect to them, the emotional high of Johnson & Johnson was tough to better. I listened to them talk about targeting the Hispanic market even though none of the guys presenting spoke Spanish. We laughed out loud at the part where they talked about how Latina women only want slim waists and don't really care about anything else!

After more than 4 hours of sitting in Classroom 50, I came out of the 2009 Marketing Forum feeling good and a lot more informed about the science (& arts) of marketing. The speakers were great. The subject matter was even better. And although I still don't want to get into marketing, yet, I feel I more than had my time's worth.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What are you going to do about the wrist, Doctor Dorsey

In our management communications class today, about 15 of us told their 2 minute leadership story. Some talked about people who had inspired them while others narrated instances from their own lives. We had Paul Farmer's example of how leadership is about empowering people and bringing hope. Then there was the ex Indian Army grandfather who packed up his business in India and went to the US so that his grandson could get his VISA. There were stories of coaches and mentors; of a Mohammed who had immigrated from Pakistan to Canada; of a 29 year old millionaire who went shirtless to office, and of the moment when The Dalai Lama told someone that her opinion mattered.

It was amazing how each story was so unique and yet so powerful. But what made the session special was the story the Doctor said. As somebody pointed out later, the fact that nobody said a word or raised their hand even after he had gone back to his seat bore testimony to the impact it had had on us. I wont even try to talk about it here. If you were there in the class you would have felt its power.

It's a humbling experience. To be sharing the class with these guys. Hopefully someday I'll have a story which blows your mind!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Only The Boy Can Go

And he did.

Today I went to the first of Darden Leadership Speaker Series and heard Ralph de la Vega talk. About things ranging from the story of a 10 year old who had to leave behind his parents in Cuba to come to the US, to iPhone apps and how the Apple - AT&T collaboration happened. It was enthralling. He told us about his meeting with Steve Jobs during the pre launch days of the iPhone and how he couldn't even talk about the design of the phone to his boss. Then there was his take on the ubiquity of the wireless network and how its making ways for the cellular company to collaborate with Beer manufacturers. I did my Masters Thesis on Sensor Networks (although the amount of work I put in it could be debated!) so it was quite exciting to listen to him talk about it briefly.

Woven in between all this was his personal story of making it big in the land of opportunities. Of struggles coping with language, culture and food. Of his love for Miami and not so much for Chicago. He was a really good story teller - as our Management Communications professor would say. It helped though, that he had one heck of a story. He ended with a piece of advice which I have often heard. But this time around, it felt a lot more powerful. Maybe it was him. Or maybe its the energy you feel when you are at Darden!
He said never to let anyone place limitations on what we can do. Somebody had dissuaded him from being an engineer. And he was on his way to becoming a mechanic instead. His grandmother, however, believed otherwise.

It's a wonderful place. Darden. All that they said about the intensity, energy, people, professors has been true. And beyond.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Let the games begin

I saw him sitting next to me at the Division of Motor Vehicles Office. He had the distinctive Darden School of Business black folder with him. 'So are you attending Darden', I asked.

That's how I met one of my classmates.

My first 2 weeks here have been really good. Meeting new people has been fun. The fact that almost everybody seems to have such a different (read as hugely interesting) background makes it that much more exciting. We've already had about 3-4 get togethers and the group seems to be growing each day. People have been posting on Facebook, meet-ups are being planned everyday, some just turn up at your door and ask 'Are you darden guys', some you met at the Ivy Garden Office (Ivy Garden is the name of our Apartment complex) as they are moving in - I love the spontaneity of it all. All the buzz words that I had seen on the brochures and the websites while applying - diversity, small town feel, close knit community, high energy - are gradually beginning to make sense.

School starts tomorrow. Well it's actually the orientation. So there would be more people to meet. And judging from the ones I have met so far, the good times are just beginning.

Playing with my new toy

It's really worth all the hype. Ive not been able to stop tapping it ever since I got it a few days ago. In fact, I'm writing this from my phone! Just wanted to check if it really works.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Drinking Hot Chocolate & Reading Pamuk at the JFK airport

A week ago I left Kolkata for Charlottesville - ending what was a very satisfying, transitory, eventful and relaxed phase of my life. One which was also characterized by anticipation mixed with some amount of uneasiness. An uneasiness which, I guess, a change of this proportion in anybody's life is bound to bring. I got my errands done, kept myself very busy, enjoyed the extended stay with my parents, savoured the brilliant sunsets our ninth floor apartment offered everyday, and was cheered up by the weather which was somewhere between an all out monsoon and the heat that preceeds it.

Charlottesville has been fun so far. And school hasnt even started yet. From an ex army who served in Iraq and knows about Sachin Tendulkar to an NFL quarterback - meeting people from all over the US has been a totally new experience. We've already had a couple of get togethers and as far as first impressions go, people seem to be nice. Last night we went to the famous Downtown Mall in C'Ville and it really was unique. I didnt have my camera along so can't post pictures but the pebbled road and the solo artists playing flute and violin lent a very old world, arty feel to the place. The band which was playing (Alligator, I think, they're called) was good to listen to in the background.

It helps that my house is a little less than a 5 minute walk from my school. More so because at 11 o' clock today, I felt like taking a picture of the Saunders building at night. It's a very majestic building and has a certain aura to it. And by night as well as by day, it looks gorgeous.

And about the title of the post - it makes for an interesting title (a little snooty maybe), right. But then again, last Sunday at the JFK International airport, I was indeed reading Pamuk's Other Colors while waiting for my flight to DC and not just because of the book, life felt really good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Partial Solar Eclipse

As seen from the terrace of my apartment in Kolkata (6:30 AM - 7:00 AM)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


The train curved its way over the rivers and rivulets - flowing full and fast. The intermittent drizzle would occasionally be interrupted by the sun trying to find its way out of the monsoon clouds. A few 'Elephant Zone. Drive Cautiously' signboards went past as the train hooted its way through the dense forest. I half hoped for the elephants to stop the train. Of course, I would then have cursed myself for not having brought my camera. Nothing of that sort, however, happened. The train moved on steadily with its rhythmic clik-clak.

From New Jalpaiguri to Alipurduar Junction, the train ride was at once nostalgic and full of anticipation. It was twelve years ago, when as a fifteen year old kid, I had last been there to spend my vacation with my grandparents, uncles, and cousin brothers and sisters. This time, though, there were fewer people to meet and I had just about two days.

It's unbelievable how our conceptions of space and time change as we grow up. The time it took to cover the distance from the station to my dadi's house had seemed like an eternity when I was a kid. So much so that even a couple of days ago, I had argued with my father that it would take me at least 30 minutes. 5 minutes is what it took me this time. The rickshaw puller who helped me cover the last stretch, told me how the city had changed over the past decade. He showed me the new buildings that had come up long with the old ones - some of which had stayed the way I hazily remembered them and others which had become bigger and more 'modern'. But to me nothing really seemed different. The huge field was still there. The rain, the dense vegetation, the dampness, the one storied houses with tin roofs, the little shacks on stilts which sold everything from bread and biscuits to soaps and brushes, the drains full of water, the people on bicycles, the absense of anything which my dictionary defines as 'modern' - Alipurduar, to me, had stayed pretty much where I had left it in 1997.

I found my dadi waiting for me in front of the gate. I got down, gave the rickshaw puller the Bhutanese 5 Ngultrum note (Owing to the close proximity to the Bhutan border, (less than 50 kms) the Bhutanese currency is used alongside the Indian Rupee in these parts) that the chaiwallah had given me in New Jalpaiguri, touched my dadi's feet, hugged her and went inside.

As a small child, I never realized the charm of the journey to Alipurduar. Reaching home was the most important thing. My heart and my mind hadn't grown up enough to consciously take in and enjoy the little things that made up the week long stay. It's only now that I can separate out the parts and feel a sense of joy mingled with loss. It's only now that I realize that maybe I should have made a little more effort to visit this place more often during my days spent shaping my life and myself in Delhi and Bangalore. The next two days were spent with my grandmother and then my uncle and his family. There was a lot of catching up. More importantly, there was a lot of knowing each other. I have never been very close to my relatives. My parents and my friends have pretty much made up my world. But for what it's worth, it was nice to be there. It was a pleasant feeling - although a bit surprising to me - to know that connecting, bonding with your closest relatives - be it your 85 year old grandmother or your 50 something uncle or your 14 year old brother, isn't all that tough even after the long gap.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's Beautiful

'Three bedrooms in Malabar Hill! It's beautiful.' ....
.... By 'beautiful' she didnt mean what she meant when wandering about an art gallery, or assessing one of her husband's graphic designs; as an adult sometimes pretends to use a word in a simple, clear, limited way for the benefit of a child, she used the word as the upper reaches of the bourgeoisie thoughtlessly used it, as an uncomplicated acknowledgment of well-being. At the same time, the observation was an afterthought she'd almost come to terms with, without too much ruefulness: about the impossibility of ever possessing anything like this lifestyle...

Reading Amit Chaudhuri's The Immortals.

Monday, June 08, 2009

winding up - 4 (a hattrick of binge drinking)

The farewell went on for 3 nights.

On Wednesday, Rohan called up and I ended up at Legends of Rock (LoR). Two people, who were one of the first new friends I had made after coming to this city, had also come. The beer bomb came in and the music was softer than Heavy Metal. High on beer and a couple of large Smirnoffs, I was sitting behind Naman when the car hit us. I held my breath as he somehow managed to steer the shaking Bullet across the road and bring it to a halt. The leg guard had loosened and I felt a slight sting on my right foot but apart from that, everything was in one piece. For some reason in my mind I was singing Sing us a song, you're the pianoman....
Maybe alcohol does make you more alert.
Or maybe not.

Thursday and it was my treat to the office dudes. Along with another B-School-bound colleague. LoR it was again, owing to its proximity to Sidharth's, Ranchu's and my house. This time I didnt waste time on Kingfisher. So after tasting all the Belgian beers that they had (which were very different), we moved on to whiskey and vodka. I got really sloshed after drinking what I guess would be close to 10 pegs. Couple that with the occasional puff (yes, I do smoke a bit when I really want to get high!) and boy was I talking. In fact, everybody was talking. I thanked Pradeep for being the 'best team lead ever' and hugged Sidharth for making it such a memorable US trip. I finally told Prashant how uneasy I felt because of his calling me 'Sir' even though we were the same age. Oh, everybody was way too drunk. Pradeep made me promise him that I would come over to Minneapolis whenever he was there next. Let's see.
I sat beside Pradeep as we went to MG Road to look for more booze once LoR turned off the music and kicked us out at 11:30. The police caught us headed in the wrong direction in a One-Way. The alcohol meter went berserk as Pradeep inhaled and I had to cough up a thousand bucks. Back at Ranchu's place, I realized that I was drunk as dead. He laid the bed, I gulped down some tap water (he had run out of drinking water) and collapsed.

On Friday Shravan decided that I needed a farewell. And a unique one at that. The venue was Kyra and the band was Swarathma. We felt a little out of place in the beginning amongst the more elite looking crowd but as the drinks started to take their effect and the band started to up the tempo, we found ourselves enjoying. Quite boisterously at that. Anpadh was the loudest one amonst us. The bass player, Jishnu with his typical UP/Bihari accent provided the additional spark as people started turning around and looking at the 5 of us shouting at the top of our voice, clapping continuously to the rhythm and even trying to voice the lyrics as good as drunk 27 year olds could.
By the time it ended, we had done enough of shouting to make the percussionist come up to us and say, 'Thanks guys. You were louder than us!'. We also got hold of Jishnu and came to know that he was part of Bodhitree of GMD and Sabka Katega fame. A few ka bhaiya, kaisan ba later, we decided to head to Take 5. It was after all, only 10:30 and we needed to get high-er.

Jason Mraz's I'm Yours greeted us at Take 5. Rohan and I had reached earlier so we ordered drinks for everybody else before the bar closed. 4 large 100 Pipers and 1 large Absolut. Rohan had gone crazy. I've never seen him gulp down neat whiskey at such pace. He didn't even bother about putting a few ice cubes. Upon my request, John Mayer's Say started playing and we ordered a repeat of the drinks. As is the norm, people got a little senti and started talking about the days gone by and the things we will miss. In spite of all the alcohol and all the music, I knew that I was leaving behind the best place I've lived in and a wonderful bunch of guys. People with whom there are no inhibitions. With whom you never have to wonder if you have been misunderstood or taken out of context. Who have the same sense of humour as you and a similar taste in rock n roll. And even though I am the only vodka drinker, that was hardly a problem ever.

I drove the bike as Rohan clinged on to me. In hindsight, I'm glad that after 20 meters he realized that he was in no state to take us home. I was drunk too. More than ever, I might say. Perhaps that's what got us home. I was too alert!

When everything in life comes with an expiry tag - the last drink, the last get-together, the last concert; my feelings towards each of them tend to be ambivalent at best. To me, it's these moments of delight that shine through when you look back at your life. To use the cliche, you hardly remember the grades you got in college or the projects you worked in your job. And as sure as I am to trade this life for something which would be a different world altogether, I know that a good part of me would be what I was in these last three years. A lot of what I become from hereon, would be thanks to the life I've led here.

To my friends in this city with whom I have shared all the joys and disappointments of my life, till we meet again - cheers and keep the music playing.

Friday, June 05, 2009

winding up - 3 (quitting the only job I have known)

In the end there was no 'This is my last day' mail. The party had already happened the night before. So I completed my formalities, shook hands, asked a couple of my friends to come out with me and have a smoke (no I dont smoke) and left. Life as a software developer was over. And even though I never liked it with my heart, there was a tinge of sadness. You can better your 'bests' but the firsts always stay. I'll remember my first job and the few people who made the transformation from colleagues to friends. They were nice people. Fun to hang out with. Fun to drink with. Be it mango shake or alcohol or tea. From bitching about our manager to discussing xkcd and iPhone apps - they made the stay enjoyable. And there was my friend and my boss, who made it the most awesome 'first US trip' when we were there. 

There would be no more of Eclipse and Java and desktops and servers. There's this thing with closure. With finalities. It makes me uneasy. So no matter how badly I wanted this day to come, when it finally came, it was difficult to let it sink in.

It's funny. There's so much to write about. So much that's floating in my head. Emotions. Feelings. But when I sit down to write, everything goes blank.

So long and thanks for all the bugs.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

winding up - 2 (a few things i'll miss)

The morning tea and music. Of late it was mostly Rohan who would pick the songs.

The sudden urge to have a drink (mostly on weeknights) which would mean getting a few cans of Kingfisher Strong from the nearby FoodMall and putting on some rock N roll.

Doing nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, on weekends and discussing how happening our life was.

Discussions with my friends: Why some people earn so much. Times Of India. IPL. Cheergirls. Dada. Random surveys and who does them. Bangalore's screwed up infra. Ajit Agarkar. Stock Markets. xkcd. College....

More discussions (mostly after having a few drinks): Women and their unfathomable ways. How 99% of all music is about relationships (mostly failed?). If only we knew more women. 

Will add more as they come to mind

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Winding Up - 1

I sold my bike today. The milometer read 16486 Kms. It was 2 years 6 months 16 days old. In many ways, of all things I have owned, it was the one thing which meant the most. I remember having literally pleaded to my father to let me have it. Trying to put sense into him that in B'lore, a car wasnt the best option (he said he will lend me the money to buy the car). He was convinced that I too would have the same number of accidents that he had had when he rode his Jawa. I only had a couple. And they were anything but serious. But the one when an Avenger hit me while I was coming back from Purple Haze, in supreme confidence of my maneuvering abilities at 50 kmph, really hurt - because I lost the watch my father had given me. The very next day though, Dada hit a ton at Chinnaswamy and all was good.

2 trips to Nandi Hills, one to Chunchi Falls, the famous Sivasamudram adventure, Srirangapatna and the 2 longer ones to Chikmagalur and Coorg - I did my share of weekend road trips. With Naman as my constant companion in all of them. Of my near three years of stay in Bangalore, a majority of the memories of unbridled joy go back to one of these journeys.

In my day to day life, it gave me a sense of independance. It meant that I could rush off to my friends' place whenever I felt like - just to have coffee and talk about stuff which had been bothering me. Hitting 100 kmph on the Inner Ring Road while coming back home at 1 in the night had its own rush.

It's time to wind up from B'lore. And letting go isnt all that easy. It was a bike today. Soon, there will be bigger, more meaningful things. 

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Coorg Bike Trip: Day 2

The best part about Saturday, our second day of the trip, was that we didnt have any fixed spots to visit. The '52 Weekend Getaways from Bangalore' travel guide said that the road from Kushalnagar (4 Kms from Bylakuppe) to Siddhapur and then to Madikeri was very picterusque and ideal for a bike ride. So that was our plan. Ride around the coffee estates and reach Madikeri before sunset.

For the second consecutive day, we didnt get to eat idly/vada and sambhar. The eatery in Kushalnagar had only Set Dosa for breakfast. The coffee though, had already started to taste distinctly different. 

Our first stop on the way was Dubare where you can cross the Cauvery and get to see elephants being bathed from close quarters. It turned out to be another one of the tourist places with a long queue for the boat. A 10 minute halt and we decided to move on. 

The ride to Siddhapur and then onwards to Gonikoppal more than lived up to the description in the book. Hardly any outside traffic, bright weather but not at all hot, and the road which snaked through small villages and coffee plantations lined with huge trees - it was just as we had wanted it to be. A little after Siddhapur, we took a diversion to see one Augusteshwara Temple in Guyya. The almost non existent, narrow road suggested that it was in no way a place people visited. 3 kms and 10 minutes later, we reached a temple on the banks of the Cauvery. Serene, quiet - apart from the chirping of birds and the distant drone of a cement mixer and very much isolated; and the surprises thrown in by diversions was continuing. We spent almost an hour there, sitting on the rocks near the river, observing red ant like insects in the temple and mostly trying to assimilate the calmness of the place. Like the Sakya monastery but in a much different setting, this place again made my mind wander to the life we lead in cities and how we hardly ever sit idle, doing nothing, thinking about nothing. I know I dont want to (I wont be able to) lead such a life, but once in a while it makes sense to cut oneself from the everyday drill and go to such a place. To use the cliche, it really soothes the nerves.

On the way back, a screw got stuck into Naman's bike and punctured the front tyre. I went to Siddhapur and fortunately found Rajiv who came along with me, pumped air into Naman's bike and somehow managed to take it to his shop. He asked me how we were liking Kodagu and I said, 'bahut khoobsoorat'.

The road from Siddhapur to Madikeri goes through the hills. It had rained a little in the afternoon. The road had become so hot during the day that the rain water was fast evaporating leading to a very misty appearance. Add to it the dense jungle on one side of the road and a drop on another and the ride had become even more exciting. There's a certain charm, a sense of discovery, when you are on the road. Because no matter how much you have read or heard about something, it invariably has the ability to surprise and at times astound you. Kodagu and its beautiful roads were doing just that to me. And I was loving every moment of it. 

Finally, we reached Madikeri at around 4 o' clock and started looking for a hotel.  As it turned out, everything had already been taken up by half of Bangalore which had come there to spend the long weekend. We tried calling the Sakya monsatery guest house but the number was out of order. Bylakuppe was around 50 Kms from Madikeri. Left without any other option, we decided to head there anyway. The Madikeri - Kushalnagar stretch was really bad. Till Suntikoppa, which was 10 Kms or so from Madikeri, it was still comfortable. We made a brief halt there to have coffee. But after that the ride was bad and back breaking. Bylakuppe, however, didnt let us down. We got the last available room. Apparently, people had discovered it and were coming back from Madikeri to find a place there!

Sunday would be our tick-off-places-to-see in Madikeri day. And we would take the Kushalnagar-Siddhapur-Madikeri route again instead of the direct one. And again, when your body is a little tired and you are so content at heart, sleep does come real easy.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Coorg Bike Trip: Day 1

We had somehow missed our favourite roadside joint where we used to have breakfast whenever we hit the Bangalore - Mysore road. And the famous Kamat eateries had busloads of people waiting. So after 2 hours of riding we were really hungry and thought that the "Yummy Breakfast -Available all day long" consisting of Idly, Dosa, Aloo Parathe etc at CCD, might not be too bad an option. We decided to give it a try at the Maddur CCD.

The 10 or so 1 inch sized white discs and the yellow liquid over it which they passed for Idly - Sambhar was without doubt the worst, most distasteful thing I have seen and eaten. The dosa was only a little better. And priced at around 80 bucks, it was a bad start to the trip. Naman was furious that how could anybody sell such stuff. It was a pity that in all the frustration (and hysterical laughter), we forgot to take pictures of it.

We took the diversion somewhere before Mysore and were soon on SH 88 which would take us to Madikeri. Almost immediately, things started to get better. Gulmohar tress lined the road and I dare say that I can't remember seeing RED like that in a long long time.

At around noon, we reached Bylakuppe, the Tibetan settlement. But for a couple of signboards, it's easy to miss it. A few hundred meters into the settlement, and the landscape was already changing. Prayer flags, vast farmlands on either side of the small road, ornately built gates, Lamas and Tibetan people on the road - it was tough to believe that we were in Karnataka.

Bylakuppe was a gem of a discovery. It grew on us as we roamed around the place. Even though the first stop at the Namdroling Monastery reminded us of a typical tourist spot with roadside vendors and hordes of familes clicking pictures, we soon realized that people didnot have the time, energy or the inclination to visit the lesser known monasteries which were more secluded and not a part of tourist guide books and hence in my book more worthy of a visit.

The half a dozen monasteries that we visited in the afternoon really made our day. From the 'prasad' of cheese balls, wafers, guava juice that we received at one monastery to the sight of lamas chanting with gongs and drums playing in the background; from the Tibetan school kids who posed for my friend to the late afternoon squall which was preceeded by the darkening of skies - Bylakuppe was way beyond what we had expected. A diversion, meant as just a stopover on our way to Madikeri had turned out to be a revelation.

The late afternoon shower had made the place all the more charming. We were having chowmein with chop sticks when the rain came. And it ended almost at the same time we finished our lunch. Talk of coincidence.

By 5 o'clock in the evening, we were so much in awe of the place that we shelved our intial plan to reach Madikeri (another 40 kms). By a stroke of very good luck, we found out that the Sakya Monastery guest house had rooms available for the night. The thought of spending the night at that quiet village as opposed to some touristy place with a hotel in the market place was at once a huge relief and a pleasing feeling. We dumped our bags in the room and went in for another ride before the sun set. As if to remind us that there was much more to Bylakuppe than we had seen, we witnessed lamas debating amongst themselves in the Sera Je monastery. Groups of 2 were continously arguing along with frequent clapping of their hand as if to emphasize their points of view. Of course we didn't understand a word of what they were saying but it was a very unique sight nevertheless and something both of us are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Soon it was night and after having tasted the steamed momos at the Fast Food center, we came back to our room. At around 9 o'clock, we went to the Sakya monastery. A cool, steady breeze was blowing. The few solar powered lights outside the monastery along with the the flickering lamps which could be seen through the huge windows lent a sense of eeriness to the place. The fluttering prayer flags which in turn would make the lights dance only enhanced the effect. It was a very peaceful and calming feeling. And of course there were thoughts on the way we lead our lives - continously assaulting our senses with internet, TV, music and what not but this is not the place for those.

I came back to the room very content. There was hardly any tiredness because of the 280 Kms that we had travelled. I guess when you are so happy, the body yields to it too. By 10 we were asleep.

Day 1 of the trip had been unlike what we had thought. And in a very pleasant way. Day 2 would see us at the real Kodagu (Coorg), amidst the coffee estates and the rolling hills.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Week Off

Sometime in the beginning of September last year, I had taken a week off from work. To work on my essays. This time around it's to get the paper work done for the admissions and also because I just don't feel like going to office. I'm quite happy with myself. I'm back to planning things. And since I never was a planner of any sorts, it's new and exciting to me. And I'm back to jogging again. Yes, I have that urge every six months or so and then it gradually subsides after a month at the most. 

Today after I came back from my jog, I saw the sky brilliantly coloured by the setting sun. The weather has been like the Bangalore of old since yesterday night and it all added up to bring a smile to my face. Strange, how when things are going well, everything feels all the more beautiful.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I called up my boss at around 11 in the morning and told him that I was not coming to office. I mumbled something like not being able to sleep last night owing to the frequent power cuts. I don't know if he bought it but nevertheless he said 'Haan haan theek hai'.

After having cornflakes for breakfast I decided to take a short nap. All my roommates had left by then and I was tired of facebook-ing and chatting. I woke up at around 1:30 and suddenly had the urge to play the guitar. So I plugged in my Fender, opened the lyrics and started singing Hey There Delilah. I don't know if it was the setting - having the entire house to myself and with nothing else to do in a hot afternoon, or the song, but I really got into the zone. Alternating between the YouTube and the lyrics page, I slowly started playing it - para by para. Once I had the guitaring right, I turned to singing it as good as I possibly could. Soon I found myself singing 'Oooooooo it's whatch u do to meeee' at the top of my voice. With the guitar strapped on my shoulder and the laptop placed on the chair, I was utterly and totally happy - singing as if I was singing it to a girl. So for the better part of 2 hours, I kept singing and listening to Hey There Delilah. It was only a power cut at 4:30 which made me take a break. I went out, smiling to myself, had a mango shake and came back home. I switched on the amplifier, opened the word doc which had the lyrics (although I had almost memorised it by then) and sang it for another time. The bunk was worth it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


It was around 6:30 in the evening when my cell phone rang. Call 1. I got up from my desk, started moving towards the reception and picked up the phone. 

Is this Atish
Hi. This is ....... calling from the Darden School of Business. We are pleased to offer you admission to the Class of 2011 ......

Everything thereafter was a blur. And I remember saying nothing more than a 'Thank you so much' and 'It's as good as surprises come' to her 'Ya, we like to call people a day before the official announcement'

I let out a silent 'Yesssss', rang up my parents and sent out a mail to the five people who form my family here in Bangalore. A minute later there was another call. Call 1 again. My heart skipped a beat. It was a mistake. I have been waitlisted or worse, not offerred admission. So they are calling to apologize. I pressed the green button on my phone. It was my friend from Vancouver. 

I had played this scene so many times in my head that now when it had actually come, I found myself not reacting much. I wasn't restless. There was immense relief and the knowledge that I wouldn't have to start revising my data structures and algorithm fundas in search of another tech-job. But like most occasions for which you have waited a long time (and I mean really long), this one too left me a little numb. The long blog post talking about failures, success, balance and chance never happened and will most probably only remain in my head. The pumping of fists and the crying out really loud also didn't materialize.

There wasn't any celebration that Tuesday night. It started on Wednesday evening and got over on Monday morning with a minor break on Thursday. But more of that later. After the longest time, I'm happy in a very different way. In a way which tells me that I might finally have control over my life. It's a state of mind which somehow is not fundamentally transitory which has been the case with most things in the past 3 years. It gives me a chance to change a lot of things. And I had been waiting for this chance forever.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Wednesday Late Afternoon

Clips on the clothes line against the sky

Clips on the clothes line against the trees behind

A close up on the bunch of coconuts which keep falling every now and then on our terrace with a loud thud 

I realized that keeping your hands steady while holding the camera above your head is not very simple. But I guess my Canon has pretty good image stabilization, for this came out better than expected

Spotted this on the house next to us. Was wondering if there's a story behind it. Some sort of a guard? A watchman maybe?

Brightly colored electric wires. This one was taken from the balcony

Another one taken from the balcony. Again, had to hold the camera up. But this time had the support of the railings to steady my hands

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Weekend With My Friends

Very often, the build up to an event is the best part of it. The anticipation, the countdown, often bloats up the real thing so much so that when it actually happens, it doesn't turn out to be as grand or as amazing or as memorable as we thought it would be. Last weekend, however, was not one of those occasions.

From O'Hare Airport to the Greyhound bus stop, we spent the better part of the ride trying to figure out when was the last time we had met. Was it at her cousin's marriage in Delhi in 2003-04 sometime. Was it during one of her trips to Bokaro. In the end, none of us could remember and we settled for 'a long time'. For about two hours we chatted non stop. About what we have been upto. Parents, people we are in touch with, people who have somehow got lost, complications - everything. Then they arrived. Husband and wife. He cracked his usual silly jokes and she told us about the baked chicken and banana cake she had brought.

After roaming around downtown for a while, we headed to a Chinese restaurant. She placed the orders and the rest of us mostly approved of whatever fancy dishes she wanted us to try. The talk mostly revolved around marriage, family, responsibilites and how things change after marriage. Husband and wife were all mature and talking eloquently about family, acceptance, and adjustment. She made her point about settling outside India and the new equation it brings forth. She was more passionate about all of it. She had all the whys. I just listened and concentrated on my Samuel Adams except for my occasional one liner which at times seemed profound. At least to me.

After a brief stop at Melting Pot for a Yin & Yang chocolate fondue, we decided to head home. I kept shouting for alcohol but the shops had already closed.

Saturday, and Chicago came up with a bright, sunny, 47 deg F weather. Cheesy, touristy snaps around the Bean, pizza at Giordano's, hanging around Navy Pier, a 'free hug', an impulsive decision to go for a $5 '4-of-us-together-sketch' - the day went by like a dream.
We went back home to recharge ourselves for the evening and finally managed to buy alcohol. At home, I made the drinks while the others busied themselves getting high and dancing. I took the opportunity to make videos of my friends singing and dancing. Hardly have I seen people sing so out of tune as these guys did - karaoking to Socha Hai from Rock On!
Anyway, high on vodka and very happy, we left for dinner. The sushi was good and I did a decent job of eating with chop sticks. By around 11, we were inside a club. In context, it wasn't the best part of the day. But although I never really like hip-hop music, the tequila shots and random gossip with my friends made up for that. We stayed there for a couple of hours. By that time I was quite drunk and so managed to climb up an escalator which was coming down thus fulfilling one of my long standing desires!

We were meeting after years. 3/4 years in some cases. And yet, there wasn't an awkward moment. No silences. No uneasy pauses. We never ran out of things to talk about. And at the same time we didnt have to make small talk. It was amazing in every way you look at it. She was turning out to be the best host ever. It was the kind of reunion where you didnt have to think before talking. You could say anything you felt like saying. You could even go ahead and talk about things you didn't like about someone without being misunderstood. You could laugh on the silliest of jokes and the next instant talk about 'important' things.

Sunday was always going to be laid back and lazy after the Saturday we had had. And so it was. It was a Bangalore like morning. The sun rays streamed down the open blinds as I lay on the bed. Tea was served and I slowly woke up - letting last night's hangover to leave me. We went out, had brunch and met the guy who's car my friend was planning to buy. Most of the talk was about when we would meet next and since I was the only one staying in India, all attention turned towards me. It felt good to be wanted. It felt good when they said the next meeting the 3 of them would have in a couple of weeks time wouldn't be the same without me. I don't remember the number of times she asked me 'next kab aa rahe ho' to which I never had any answer. We left them at around 5 as they were about to board their bus. The two of us decided to take a walk and then watch a movie. The movie was rather long and not as good as we had expected. We came out of the hall and walked for a bit before going to a Japanese restaurant. I guess it was beginners luck because I did worse with the chop sticks this time around. Or probably it was the sake. We had sushi once again.

By the time we came out, the streets were quite deserted. She said that I hadn't clicked a single photograph throughout the day. So we took turns posing and taking snaps before deciding that it was time we head home.

I think we were mostly quiet during the ride back to home. It was perhaps the realization that two wonderful days had gone by and next morning we would return to our lives. We talked about the two who had left us in the evening, about a few other friends and about ourselves. She booked a cab for 6:15, I packed my luggage and then went to sleep.

The ride in the morning was lonely. I had been thinking about this for months and now that it was over, I couldn't help but get a little sentimental. All of us have vastly different lives. We work in different industries, have different tastes and live in different places. I dont know when we will meet next and if it would be as special as this one was. But for what it's worth - this one was magical.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Saturday In Minneapolis

I stood there watching the man kite skiing on the frozen Lake Calhoun. The temperature was a shade above zero, the wind lacked its usual bite and the sun was out. With just about 3 weeks to go before I head back to Bangalore and the weather finally obliging, it was my best chance to spend some time wandering about Minneapolis. People were out with their dogs and skiing gear. Some had in fact pitched a tent in the middle of the lake.
"How deep is it", I asked the guy who had managed to bore through the ice. "2 feet or so", he replied. "Just wanted to test if this thing works. It does!" he shouted back as he put his drilling machine in the car. I walked along the shore for about half an hour and then stood on the sheet of ice covering the lake. It was one of those rare moments when your mind doesn't wander. There was nothing that I was thinking about. Not friends, not family, not job or career. I stood there, looking at the kites and letting the tranquility of the place flow over me.

My next stop was the Orpheum Theater. I got down from the bus in Downtown and found the Minneapolis Orchestra Hall to my right. I went there and asked an elderly man if he knew the directions to the theater. "Go 4 blocks down to Hennepin Avenue. It would be on you right". Good, I said to myself. I would make it in time to get the tickets.

Spring Awakening, kept me mesmerized for 2 hours. It was like an assault on my eyes and ears. I wouldn't attempt any sort of review here but from the rock-ish music (especially the use of the cello) to the lighting which was at once bright and subtle (if that makes any sense to you); from the explicit and near grotesque portrayal of sexuality to the energy with which the actors performed - it was unlike anything I have ever seen on stage.
The show got over at 4:30 and it was only then that I realized that I hadn't had anything to eat during the whole day. I decided it was time to head back home.

Roaming around alone has a certain appeal to it. I have liked it on the two occasions that I have done it recently. Today, and on the 24th of December when I roamed around Washington DC. It lets me be very instinctive without being bothered about anything else. It gives me more freedom to do whatever takes my fancy without having to explain it to anybody. I reached home at around 6:00 to find my room mates on the verge of calling 911 since I had left with the word that I would be back in an hour ! I told them what I had been upto as they listened in slight amazement. Anyway, it was a good Saturday morning. The next one, in Chicago should be very different yet very memorable.