Ode to the “idli”

So then while the rest of you were losing sleep following the presidential debates, I on the other hand was following a more interesting debate thats been trending on twitter. A british historian, tasted an “idli” – the flat, round, rice cake, which is the “go to” comfort food for any true blue south indian worth his checked lungi, and tweeted his personal opinion, that the idli was “the most boring dish in the world”

Uh-oh… Three things seem to have gone wrong on this one and lined it up square on the path of a perfect storm – 1. Nobody says anything bad about an idli, a south Indian filter coffee or the “Chennai super kings”. (2) It was a britisher who was stirring things up AGAIN, and (3) We Indians practically live on twitter, and have made it a national past time during this pandemic to argue about any and every opinion posted, on any and every social media platform.

As expected the backlash came pouring in fast and furious- Politicians, Bollywood-types, South Indians, and north Indians alike, and things literallywent south faster than you could say “Kancheepuram idli”.

I sat down on my couch and gave the whole situation a good thought and tried answering the obvious question everyone wants to hear – Why do we south indians love our “idlis” so much?

Before I go further let me just give you a few snippets on my credentials which hopefully would convince you folks that Im an authority on the subject of idlis.

I’m a chennai-ite, who’s been eating idlis from as far back as I can remember. My personal record is eating 16 idlis for breakfast at one go as a teenager. As things go, I’ve eaten idlis of every kind in my time- hard ones and soft melt-in-your mouth idlis with a variety of sides – sugar, ghee and sugar, a variety of chutneys, sambar, and a mutton kurma, and sometimes even without sides. Ive also eaten them in just about every setting, including off street carts, and in one instance also out of a police Jeep. ( more on that in another post)

So then back to the topic- why we south indians wouldnt blink twice before bartering off our Mother-in-laws for a plate of fresh Idli Vada ?

The idli embodies core south indian values- versatility. simplicity and tradition. It has a very neutral taste, but enhances the experience of the one it’s paired with. An idli is made of a fresh “rice batter”, which however after 2-3 days in the refrigerator, gets converted into a base for its slim, dusky, glamorous cousin, the “Dosa” who’s been around the block more times than you would want to agree. Lets however stick to the idli piece here though. An idli is your girl next door – quiet, low-profile, “paattu” class going-type, who makes all other side items she associates with come out looking better. She is a life-long companion, and appeals to kids and toothless geriatric, old folk alike, and has graduated from being just a breakfast item to coming out on her own at any point during the day .. or night.

Next time you pass by a South Indian Restaurant and the whiff of a fresh sambar makes you lose all control of your faculties and walk in trance-like, take my word and order a set of Idlis, make small talk with her, and order an extra serving of coconut chutney too.

Shashi Tharoor said it best though… “there are some who are truly challenged in this world. Civilisation is hard to acquire: the taste & refinement to appreciate idlis, enjoy cricket, or watch ottamthullal is not given to every mortal. Take pity on this poor man, for he may never know what Life can be.”

Well there you have it…. Long live the idli!

Zen and the art of Refrigeration.

You can learn a lot about the people in a home by looking at the size and contents of their refrigerators- their priorities, their beliefs, their lifestyle … and sadly in these strange times, their political leanings too.

hmmm. small family-BIG refrigerator? BIG Family- small refrigerator, or No refrigerator at all.

Last week i went to the supermarket and got some eggs and frozen parathas … it was only when i got home, that i realized that i didn’t have a frying pan or skillet (“tawa”) at the place i’m currently staying.

What does your refrigerator tell the world about you? What relationships do you have stocked up in the easily assessable top shelves of your lives? What do you keep at the coldest part of your refrigerator- the back row of the lowest shelves? When was the last time you checked in on the expiry dates of those little jars you bought on on impulse and is now just taking up space? Do you find yourself getting up in the middle of the night, staring endlessly into the dark, dank, crevices of your mind? Have you considered having a smaller refrigerator to improve your eating habits and consume fresh? Will you be embarrassed if someone opened your refrigerator by mistake? when was the last time you sat up in bed on a quiet night and heard the strange, ambient sound of the purring of your refrigerator- spooky! right?

An organized fridge saves time and money. If you know exactly what’s inside, grocery shopping and mealtimes become way more efficient, with less food waste and unpleasant smells.

If you have young children, stick their healthy, go-to snacks at eye level so they can easily grab them without making a mess.

And finally categorize and store items in clear containers. The world is full of people that come in opaque containers and print too small to read. Carry your bifocals and read the fine print at the supermarket shelf before you throw them in your shopping cart.

There you have it.

Life lessons from a dog named Max- Part 2.

My dog max was trained by a police dog trainer, so… don’t be judgemental.

Infact he was so well trained, he had 3 gears when he wanted to poop- “Green”- when he had the thought locked in, but the reflex muscles were still sitting on the couch, teary-eyed and watching the “Lion King” scene where simbas dad is trampled to death. We lived in a community of row houses those days and he would bring his leash in his mouth at 5:30am, wait for you to carry the plastic bag and take him for a walk.

“Amber”, was when sphincter muscles had raised their “kanban” card like a “just-in-time”, manufacturing plant of Toyota. At such times he would give you a ” I dont think you can walk this emergency- just open the door”. He would run 50 meters in the early morning darkness to the community front gate, go to the main road, waking up the street dogs in the process, who’s startled barking would be just enough to relax his sphincter muscles and do his job smoothly.

He would reach a state of nirvana post that, and walk himself back home using the longest, slowest walk possible- stopping at our neighbours front door and drinking the small plate of milk kept their for the cat.

Once in a while though he would be having his afternoon “siesta”, all stretched out on the living room, and he would suddenly jump up with a crazy look on his face- like he’s seen a ghost, look down to make sure he didn’t soil himself, then goes skating through the living room and shoots into the neighbours garden shouting, “RED, RED, RED”, crap there and run back home in slow-motion- like he’s in a Bollywood dream sequence.

We all do that dont we?

Its been a while since I’ve given up on organized religion- but not long enough to forget that of the 10 commandments, two were focussed around maintaining good neighbourly relationships. My take though is if you dont get distracted by the mentions of ox, and man servant, etc, in the script, all it says is “Don’t be a jerk of a neighbour. Make it easy for him to love you”

Many of us though, take a dump in our neighbours garden every morning (okay not literally, that would be gross), but figuratively. In this totally connected world, the definition of “neighbour”, extends beyond the one who shares a physical wall with you. Everytime we make a stupid post on FB, or put up a hurtful comment, we are literally taking a dump in our neighbours garden.

And don’t blame the dog.

Miracles

Okay so here’s my take on the most famous miracle of all time, we’ve all wanted to do since we were teenagers on a tight weekly allowance – changing water into wine.

Let me first set the context here. The good book refers to this “water to wine” miracle happening at a marriage hall in the Middle East some 2000 years ago. Somebody seems to have miscalculated the drinking abilities of the new “in-laws”, and ordered wine that only got through to round 1 in what was turning out to be a long night.

“Hello? I told you not to invite Mustapha. I’ve seen him drink at the local pub … gawd! See what you’ve done?” doesn’t actually qualify as a good problem statement, but let’s go with that for now.

The first step in any transformation journey is to identify and articulate clearly a need for change or a problem you want to solve. In this case, a unique one, “If I don’t have some wine here in the next 30 minutes – I’m dead”

The next step is to evaluate all available options on the table and confirm that the only “Plan B” available, is not a viable option- this is to ensure that you are fully invested in the change process.

In this particular case, “Plan B” would have involved having the father of the bride, slip on his nike sneakers, walk into a dining hall packed with a tipsy bunch of guests getting ready to line dance to the “cha cha slide”. Then having to bang spoon to plate to grab the attention of the crowd and go – “okay everybody, listen up, we have a small problem here- We’ve run out of wine”.

See what I mean? That’s not a viable Plan B. Is it?

There would have been pin-drop silence and confused looks, and then the father of the bride would have had to outrun a group of half-drunk, new relatives through narrow cobbled streets, side-stepping donkey with high ambitions of serving the messiah, and having three generations on your family tree being cursed in ancient Aramaic. Not good!

Moving on.

Here’s some advise for event planners, business owners and individuals ready for a transformation though – always expect the unexpected and plan for worst case scenarios in life – insurance, miracle men, bouncers, super heroes and a “designated driver” who can get you out of a sticky situation and save the day.

If you on the other hand happen to be that problem-solving, transformational leader, that’s been designated to do a little miracle and save the day- DON’T PANIC. Heres how you do it.

First, close your eyes and ask your sponsor, what flavour of wine he would want to turn this water into.

You can use the most trusted pickup line of a magician and go-
“Pick a fruit. Any fruit.”.
“GRAPE.”
“Grape? Hmmm. How boring and predictable”

Next, crush audience requested fruit into bowl containing a frothing yeast mix, add water and go “Abracadabra!”. That’s it!

Okay, if you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you would have got an insight into the mechanics of crafting a good spell- spells you see serve just one purpose- divert attention and buy time, and hence they’re usually long and confusing … just right to divert your attention long enough for the magic to happen. In this case, approximately 12-15 days for the water to magically turn to wine which I hear is how long ancient wedding parties in the Middle East usually lasted.

Every parable ends with a lesson right – Bringing about a magical transformation in your life uses the same building blocks of wine making. You must ENDURE being crushed by the hard times and come to a point where you WANT to change your present state, you must have mustard seed sized SELF BELIEF and you must have a lot of PATIENCE. It’s that simple. Try it!

As for me, I need to go check if that wine I’ve been brewing has matured as yet. It’s about time.

YES, I think it has.

“Wingardium Leviosa”.

Like Powder to the back of your head.

I remember growing up and going to the local “barber shop” for a haircut. When the guy is done with your head, he’ll dab some powder on your neck, like he’s trying to cover up some errors and blood stains, brings out a mirror and stands behind you like a magicians assistant, letting you have a look at his handiwork, and areas of your anatomy you haven’t seen in months, through a reflection on the mirror in front of you.

You give your head a good look like goldilocks would have (“my. What big ears you have grandmother”) and before you could Identify any flaws, the rascal quickly shifts to the other side, and you nod hesitatingly, letting him know it’s “a okay” – like we had any choice at that point.

Sadly “barber shops” like many small business owners, are taking a big hit in this lockdown, and the mirrors seem sadly to have turned, and it sight doesn’t look good.

I hope small business owners hang in there though and make a come back post the lockdown. I for one have pledged to use their services as far as possible once we’re back to normal mode- you should too.

Take precautions, and go back to that “chai walla”… go back to that 2 seater “hair saloons”… drop by at that family run restaurants …encourage the home bakers…. shop at your local “Kirana” store for basic essentials … encourage local artists…

If you’re afraid these small “barber shops” are going to screw up your hair style- trust me, I’ve seen all your selfies- that ship has passed. 😂 just do it!

Stay safe! 🙏

The second cup

Coffee lovers like me swear by it. The first one is to wake you up… but it’s the “second one”, that gets those bowels moving.

You may argue that the need for a laxative in these strange and challenging times is non existent. What with having to deal with a virus picking us off one by one, pink- coloured currency notes, and saffron-coloured, right- wingers trolling you in your dreams. Enough to get those wheels hyper sensitive and threaten to soil your bedsheets in your sleep.

Strangely though, over time your Central nervous system gets used to the train of bad news, and your vagus nerve waits for its daily shot of caffeine to pass the memo from nervous system to digestive tract, like a tenured government employee, rubbing thumb to index finger and going, “Saar. Something? something?”

These are strange times though and we’re all acting like we’re in a pandemic of flatulence- staying 6 feet away, wearing masks and staring with mistrust at folks in the elevator, while mnc pharma companies, try to side step a nimble, bare chested “Baba” with a squint. who’s threatening to shout “Pathanjali” as he crosses the finish line holding high the antidote.

Our role now is to just stay home, and what better way to keep a billion people home and flatten the curve, than inducing a pandemic of irritable bowels. Bring that second cup my friend – make it dark. Make it thick. Make it mysterious.

Go ahead. Close your eyes. Drink Deep. Aaah!

Now run …..

Dive Deep.

I just heard that you have a higher chance of being attacked by a shark when you are swimming at the surface. Hmm. Remember the poster to “JAWS”, ?

Yes, we live in strange time- short fuses, everyone in masks, trying to be politically right and staying away from one other to ensure we don’t connect with a virus. It’s probably therefore a good time to take a deep breath, say a prayer and dive deeper …. into speaking out and not caring about how other people would react. Dive deeper – when you are unsure if that chocolate cake has too many colories baked in. Dive deeper.

Yet, many of us just think it’s safest when you can see the shoreline and are embracing the familiar.

When we are left with no option but to go “skinny-dipping” in the dark, would you want to be lit up against the afterglow of the harbour lights or slip smoothly into the darkness? For the very beliefs that we sought refuge in under normal conditions are probably the ones that could compromise us during a crisis.

Let go…. leave sight of the shoreline…. and face your deepest fears.

STAY SAFE. DIVE DEEP.

#unsermon

“Stop-loss” and the art of investing in relationships

Life is short and we are all “day traders” looking for bargains on the market- Walking around. Offering our limited time here in exchange for a shot at earning a livelihood, making meaningful relationships and soaking up experiences.

Not surprising then that everyone is out to get the best “return-on-investment”, and the folk who come out winners are the ones who care about “fundamental analysis” of their relationships and don’t look at the market as a big casino where luck and karma play a part.

Okay at the outset, let me put down a disclaimer that I have minimal to no experience dabbling in the stock market, and cannot be termed a “thought leader” in the field by any stretch of imagination, however I’m proud of the strong personal and professional friendships I’ve built over the years and feel I’ve unconsciously used the same principles – and it’s helped.

So without further ado, let’s get familiar with a few trading terms that should get us all on the road to profit booking in our relationships.

Followers of “value investing” believe that a share price should equal the intrinsic value of the target company’s share. This approach can be used to evaluate our investment strategy in relationships too. Many of us (usually the young, who have a long life ahead of them) have a “trader” mindset going into relationships – “Go in. Make a quick “kill”, and exit” ….. others approach relationships with an “investor” mindset and have a longer horizon, spend a lot of time doing “fundamental analysis” to ensure they carry minimum risk and usually are ready to amortize their gains if required over a period of time.

The key to happiness is to have a portfolio of relationships with both a “growth” and “value” horizon balanced out based on your risk appetite.

“Stop-loss”: This refers to an ”Exit” strategy when things don’t seem to be going as planned. All of us have experienced people who follow you when things are going up, but have a low tolerance for tough times and vanish into thin air when they see a faint grey cloud coming around.

Having said that, it’s important to have an “Exit Strategy” for all our investments and not having one will put you in a situation where you jump into a relationship as a “trader”, crank up losses quickly, pump in more good money behind the bad money to bail out (aka:”fallacy of sunken costs”), get stuck, and decide to become an “investor” and hold on to the stock. Look around you- are you stuck with these types of relationship investments?

“Resistance-Support” levels: Look at the data stupid. Its important to evaluate the universal “high-low” bands that is at the core of any investment. What is an acceptable price to pay for getting into that relationship. Are you paying more than you bargained for? It’s okay if you do, just be sure your risk-to-reward ratio makes sense and you are are cautious when there a high probability that you’re going to lose BIG? Step back, take a good look at the data, but trust your instinct. Also be ready to walk away.

Portfolio: Looking at out relationships like stocks and evaluating them periodically is critical to ensure you are successful as a trader and/ or investor. Remember though that investing in relationships should only be part of your “happiness strategy” and make sure you focus equally on your Career, Health, Wealth. Spirituality.

Happy investing!

Do you make a good cell mate?

We’ve all watched reruns of old English movies or Netflix series where our hero is this well mannered guy with impeccable prison habits- reading, painting, shaving, bathing, etc… and his cellmate was literally a grimy goon who finally gets influenced, becomes a best friend and accomplice in planning and executing an escape plan to perfection

Do you…. ?

We’re all officially in a “lockdown”- a prison term, typically referring to a situation within a prison (say a riot) that requires control measures to be imposed with force, and here we are – holed up with a couple of family members 24X7 for over 3 weeks now, and the obvious question pops in my mind…. Is there some “prison etiquette” that exists for cell mates that we could learn from during the lockdown to ensure we don’t make the experience more painful than it already is for our near and dear? 🤷‍♂️🤨

Well here are a few that come to my mind.

Make “social distancing” a way of life: okay I’m not just talking staring 6 feet away physically, I’m wanting us all to do the same me mentally. It’s easy to get under the skin of a loved one in these challenging times when everyone is in a very vulnerable mental framework. Irrespective of the size of our living spaces, a good way to socially distance is to just understand your “cell mates” rhythm and respect personal spaces ….

Hygiene and decorum. Chances are there’s more than one member working from home and taking zoom or skype calls through the day at different times …. trust me watching you cell mate walk to the refrigerator in his undies and peer into the lower shelves doesn’t actually make for a good background when you’re on a client call. If you’re stuck with a cell mate like that – try some creative background wall papers available on most apps.

Fun fact: Cell mates use a technique called “courtesy flushing” when they have to do their business when sharing a small cell. It’s a simple technique where you just flush the toilet continuously during the entire performance to camouflage the smell and the noises.

Turn the other way. Over the years there’s a lot of irritable habits we gather like moss on a rolling stone, and I’ve realized the best way to deal with that and generally any awkward, unpleasant situation in life is to just turn the other way and face the wall. It’s a time-tested technique used by cell mates and believe me it works like a charm, both personally and professionally.

Be a good listener. Most people when stuck in a confined space find solace in venting out their frustrations. Part of being a good cell mate is to be a good listener, chances are you’re stuck with a whole bunch of “I’m not guilty” type rantings by your cell mate – you don’t actually need to agree with all their arguments – just nod understandingly and feign empathy.

Focus on non verbal Communication. In prisons where the dining area is mostly a “no talking” zone- prisoners just tap on the table as etiquette before leaving. Chances are you’re already at the receiving end of a cold shoulder by now and your very shadow brings out some base emotions in your cell mate, either way use non verbal communication- helpful when you our cell mate is on a call, listening to music on a ear pods, etc- don’t just go stand like a moron in front, expecting them to drop whatever they’re doing and listen to frivolous observations.

Respect. Being respectful will get you a long way in prison… okay not literally! Like I mentioned earlier we’re all in a vulnerable space mentally and walking around doing chores while operating with a very short fuse- the last thing you want in this situation is for someone to feel disrespected – take out your well preserved, rarely used collection of “thank you’s” and “please” and make sure you use it generously in your conversations. Lockdowns are probably not the time for your sarcasm and wise cracks- hold them back. Believe me, I try to …. 😂

That’s it, hopefully the few tips above will help you come out of this lockdown a better person …. and alive.

Stay home. Stay safe!

The ride.

Quarantine learning #14

I’m riding back from the supermarket, decide to take off my helmet, put it on my tank and ride past my home for no particular reason. It turns out to be a 10 kilometre detour straddling the lake close by.

I ride along ….. smiling. nervously. Would I get my knees hurt? Would I be forced to do exercises I haven’t done since school? Would I need to carry a placard showcasing a sentence that hasn’t been spell-checked and created in “Times New Roman”(Bold)- gawd how I hate that font.

The delivery guy rides past- a cloud of mask, orange and broken dreams …. stick figures with kind faces walk past too.

The wind is cool and warm at once…. stray dogs peep out of a dumpster – a pair of human eyes too. “Levelling the curve” means different things to different people.

The smell of fresh sambar from a quarantined home as I ride past makes me nostalgic for chennai – the borders are closed I remember.

Kids on tricycles – make little dust circles on their verandahs like it were vacation. Old folk peep nervously through half closed windows, only to bang it shut when the sound of a distant cough catches their ear through the din of the TV playing inside.

A distant drum beat…. the flickering hope of Diyaas lit on balconies… a chant dispelling the virus …. a bunch of migrant construction workers sitting cross-legged on the steps of their “company-provided” container shed they now call home- staring into the vacant abyss.

I reluctantly take a turn and head back.

The setting sun makes polite conversation with the moon and an evening star, like factory workers changing shifts.

The water in the lake seems blue- but isn’t…. the trees seem green- but are they ?

The eagle is out, doing an extra lap too …. two crows chase a “kuil”, a forked tail tickles their overgrown eye lashes. Damn, these beauty parlours better be classified as “essential services “ and open fast. A sparrow darts past too (hello friend. it’s been a while! ) while a 1000 fireflies pepper my face as I ride past ….

I realize the padding on the seat of my bike could be a tad more forgiving. My pants do a small “wiggle” and all’s fine. Life’s all about making those little adjustments.

If there’s one thing that I could take away for this period of quarantine – it’s to be more “aware” and conscious of the little, simple things around me that makes life what it is… things till now I’ve probably taken for granted… things we are too busy to notice ….

I hum an old tune – “ Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” …. the eagle sits majestically – pool side on the terrace of our apartment.

I am home!

Quarantine learnings #11

You finally become the stories you tell yourself.

It’s a lockdown and we’re trying to make sense of a situation we have no control over unfolding around us, and we have a lot of “alone time” to do it.

What do we do ?

We tell ourselves stories with us as key protagonist through the day and unconsciously through the night.

Better make them good ones.

letitBE

Stranger things!

Having lived in cities my whole life, let’s just say – I’m comfortable walking up to and making small talk with total “strangers”.

It could be that we win this battle against the virus in a couple of months, however the schisms its going to bring between the “haves” and the “have nots” is only going to get accentuated in an already fractured society and the war could be lost if a well thought out, post disaster management plan incorporating people to people/ community-wide initiatives are not addressed.

Secondly at the personal level, I’m afraid that we’re all going to come out of this “social distancing” period with a lot more phobias, introversions and general mistrust of strangers…. that knowing nod we gave to a parent trying to pacify a wailing kid at the super market… that “bhai Saab” we used to break the ice with at the chai shop…. probably won’t work anymore.

In a world where society as we know it is already being reimagined by vested interests, my worry is having on one side these nervous, stressed out young parents transferring their fears and half baked knowledge into the next generation while at home for the next 21 days, while another section of the next generation join their parents on a 200 kms trek “home”, carrying their meagre belongings and no money- hungry, beaten and tired. In one quick stroke of the brush, we’ve divided the “essential” and the “non essential”- and I’m not talking commodities.

Sure we would all be back to BAU (“business as usual”) mode in a couple of months at most…. the economic meltdown? … probably a couple of years- but the impact of this virus on making general small talk with total strangers is going to be across a whole generation.

For the moment though I’d prefer you stay 6 feet away.

Quarantine lesson #10

It’s simple. The corona virus doesn’t actually kill us, it’s how our body reacts to it- that finally does. That’s the reason why the same virus has an effect no more than that of the common flu in some people, while turning fatal for the elderly with an under-active, weak immune system that suddenly goes to overdrive and damages healthy cells too. We all go through almost similar challenges in life (financial, relationships, etc), it’s finally how WE decide to “respond” to these situations (our immune system) that defines us finally. Don’t let your “over response” to situations do more damage to yourself, than the situation itself? Breathe. Stay balanced. Stay healthy. This too shall pass… #letitBE #covid19

Hair stories

I’m all for encouraging small business owners and I believe anyone charging me more than 100 bucks for my hair-“style” is ripping me off. So I go to the local “barber”, so my son, Nischinth can spend 1000 bucks at Freaking “Toni & Guy”. 😦 I give only one instruction- “Number 2 podu Paa”…I mean the number on the electric trimmer. Not what you think. 🙂 . Check out the “Gellette” Foam and the “Jordan” Color-ah. The funny thing is I went in at 8:55.a.m and the guy tries out his electric trimmer on one “girdha” (sideburns) and then goes “Saar 9:00.a.m current cut-uh”. Hello? and then rushes through like an MTC bus on my head. Its a small hole-in the wall shop and I don;t need to walk to the sink (check it out behind the fan) ; if I ever get the courage to have a “shampoo wash”. Anyways the last time my wife Kavitha visited the Tirupathi temple in southern india, I accompanied here as usual ( I’ve been in a couple of times – but can’t manage the claustrophobic queues… ) and as usual I sauntered around the back lanes trying to pass time… had 2 cups of tea… walk,walk.. still an hour to go- so I enter where-else- a “barber shop”. “Number 2 podu pah”. still 45 minutes to go… “Oru Head massage”… still 15 minutes… “Oru facial podu paa”… I’m not kidding he started with a foundation of talcum powder ( pervert!) , then some white wax type of thing… then some pink lotion with golden sparkles. Gawd. Kavitha could’nt stop laughing when she came back and saw me all bleach-faced and sparkling. LOL! “GO. Encourage your local business owner.”

A walk through the Sistine chapel.

One of the most searched questions on quora and google is probably, “what is your purpose?”

However the answer is not a simple one and has 2 sides to it based on how you look at it.

On the one side we have to just look at the evil perpetuated by ordinary folks who are given to believe that they are fulfilling a faith-based, “god given purpose”, when they go to war in pointy white hats, blow up airplanes, bring down places of worship, and take another life brazenly on the streets.

There’s got to be something wrong here …. so let’s try and deconstruct this myth – firstly we need to understand that this universe doesn’t owe you anything, yes – like nothing… zilch…. and if you think you’re part of gods great messianic plan to save or change the world- it’s best you fold that thought thrice into a nice small compact pill sized ball, slather it with a generous dose of moisturizer and do the right thing. (Ouch!) The universe doesn’t need saving…. it never has… it never will. Long past humans annihilating themselves, the universe will survive, heal itself and prosper.

So what’s the deal here??

Side 1

You’ll agree that one of the greatest works of art ever was Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine chapel in the Vatican City. 5000 square feet of divine magic painted on the ceiling (yes!) Inspired by stories in the bible on the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, the great flood, etc, and taking over 4 years to complete. The Sistine chapel is not just about the ceiling though. The walls are in 3 levels and covered in artwork by some of the greatest renaissance painters and creative minds that ever walked this planet. As if this wasn’t enough, the pavement of the Chapel is a combination of marble and a colored stone that marks the processional way from the main door that the Pope follows on Palm Sunday.

Hold that thought.

I believe the problem in today’s world is that a large majority of the population are ego-centric, nincompoops, looking desperately for that elusive holy grail of purposes by figuratively walking in the dark through the Sistine chapel with a candle in hand and being exposed to temporary revelations, which they mistakenly label as “their calling”, illuminated by the small circles of light or a breaking rain cloud in the distance. The ego in us makes us stop mid- stride, ecstatic, feeling “enlightened” (sorry for the pun!), or confused and fearful all at once, or sometimes even propels us to dance in a mad, psychedelic stupor with flashes of light and long shadows giving us the illusion of dancing an immersive, cosmic dance with gods, angels, and demons around us.

The truth is – it’s not true!

Let their be light…

Its is only when we give context to this illusionary truth, when the first rays of the morning sun slowly shines through the stain glass windows and reveals the magnificence that we go speechless as our whole being absorbs the divinity of this sacred place …. and we step back in embarrassment at the realization that what we had all along considered our purpose has nothing to do with us at all.

What if the singular purpose of life is the realization that there isn’t one, and It’s only your ego that makes you believe that you deserve one.

Side 2.

Now there are others who don’t have such egoistic delusions of being part of “gods grand plan”, believing simply that we’re all just here on “day passes” to the Sistine chapel, and every visitor passing through the chapel has a personal experience based on his talents and mental makeup- if you are a religious person, the experience through the chapel inspires a fountain of reverence and you come out with a satisfaction or reaffirmation of faith… if you are an artist – your purpose is fulfilled through unfathomable inspiration …. if you are an architect- it’s a different outcome and if you just want to spend you day experiencing the quietness in meditation – well it’s all up to you.

And that’s probably what we could define as our “personal purpose” – an individual choice we make on what we want to accomplish on this day pass at life – for “Kobe” it was to become the best basketball player in history. For Martin Luther king or a Gandhi or even a hitler- they had a personal purpose that defined the impact they made to change the world.

For many of us though our best option to finding and fulfilling our purpose would be in striving to be the best we can, to use the special talents we have and excel in a field of our choice or better still find a problem or cause that’s worth fixing in this world and go about fixing it with all our body, mind and soul.

How to Interview with “Mindfulness”

So this week some of the supervisors at work, went through a workshop on behavioural interviewing techniques, where a couple of us were requested to share a few learnings we’ve had over the years in interviewing candidates.

I thought I should probably try and put together what I tried to articulate during the session.

Humility is under-rated. New hiring managers and old ones too, sometimes get a “high” out of being in a position where you literally are able to change the direction of a Candidates career. Remember the saying, “with great power, comes great responsibility”? Well, I personally feel being conscious of your own interview experiences as a candidate as you started off your career is helpful to put your current role at hand in perspective. Being mindful that you’re treating your candidates with dignity and respect is always a good starting point. Small stuff like an apology if you’ve had a candidate waiting for a while is always in line. It’s sad that doctors and interviewers don’t feel the need to apologize when they’ve had people/ patients waiting for hours on end.

“Multi-tasking” is over-rated. Not sure if multi-tasking actually improves productivity – but I’m a “single- tasker” and when in an interview, a good practice to follow would be to give your undivided attention to your candidate- keep your phones on “silent mode” and preferably off. It may be just another interview for many of you as part of your role- but for a candidate, it’s a milestone, so, make sure your respect the time and effort he/ she has made to be at the interview by keeping distractions to a minimum- if you have a secretary, ask him/ her to not transfer calls and if you have a smart phone- do the smart thing and put it on voice mail / DND mode.

Interviewing with Mindfulness is all about getting yourself and your candidate into a mind-space of clarity and awareness.

Listen to understand- not to respond. It’s easy to forget that the most important aspect of an interviewers role is to listen. Ask the questions and listen. Try the 80/20 rule. You should be talking less than 20% of the time and listening the rest of the interview. Also practice “active listening”- don’t start framing your next question while the candidate is responding- maintain eye contact and listen to understand. Paraphrase to ensure your understanding of his/ her response is complete and true. I’ve seen a lot of interviewers sometimes use the interview to massage their own egos, and literally “high-5” themselves in their own minds with a smirk on their face, when they ask a good counter question that puts the candidate in an uneasy position. Grow up for gods sake.

Have a growth-mindset and be open to new possibilities. A candidate is like a stock, which a company invests in, if you have a candidate with great attitude and an appetite to learn- believe me, you have a winner, even if he/she probably does not have all of the requirements of the role. Hire for attitude- train for skill.

And finally…

Have conversations. Yes, put the candidate in a comfortable, non-threatening environment and chances are you will get a lot more insights into the person and make the right hiring decision.

Remember you are not taking a decision to get a robot to do the job, and a human comes with a lot of feelings, and emotional baggage which will have an influence on your team.

A resume lists “experiences”, so while it is important to verify that the information provided is right and a true representation of skill – your role as an interviewer is to also decode the person who is the product of all those experiences.

So there you have it, of all the strategies and tactics you may try and craft to drive “Candidate Experience” and “Quality of hire”, “Mindfulness” of all stakeholders in the hiring process is probably going to have the biggest influence in driving these metrics.

Happy Interviewing!

Life-hacks from a dog named max.

It’s been 3 years to the day since we lost Max, a special member of our family for 10 years. When the little guy first entered our lives as a gift for our son Nischinths 10th birthday, little did we know that he would transform our lives so much. While we taught him small things like sit, stay, fetch, etc…. he taught us virtues like patience, authenticity, contentment, enthusiasm, joyfullness, etc. MAX GAVE EVERYONE A CHANCE unlike many of us he didn’t differentiate between the milk man, maid or our friends circle. Everyone got his attention and was made to feel special. MAX GAVE EVERYTHING A TRY ONCE – If he liked it; yes he’d go with it, else he’ll just move on. MAX LIVED IN THE MOMENT – He enjoyed a ride in the autorickshaws. We mostly took him in one when we went for his checkups to the best vet I’ve know #theark. He knew there could be some stress at the end of the ride, which sometime ended with an injection or having a thermometer shoved up his ass- but that didn’t deter him from enjoying the ride to the vet. He was a guy who if you told him there was a pot if gold at the end of the rainbow, would have said “f#€# the pot of gold, I’m going to sit here and enjoy watching the rainbow.”. MAX MOVED ON HAPPILY from people who didn’t warm up to him. He gave people time, and space and had no hard feelings if they weren’t “dog people”. He also enthusiastically accepted people back when they felt comfortable and came back. Max may have left us, but we’re happy that he came into out lives and changed us forever. Travel well my friend. Travel far. RIP. … and Shine on you crazy diamond.

Dark. Matter.

Probably the best album from my favourite band- “Pink Floyd” is the one called (you guessed it right) – “The Dark side of the moon”. Hmmm, not just a catchy album name alluding to death, time, greed, and mental illness- maybe we all missed the point that was being made on “awareness of your personal now”.

Surprisingly everybody and their pet dog has a copy of “The power of positive thinking” by this guy called Norman Vincent Peale on their book shelf…. hmmm, I think the book is over-rated, irrelevant and probably the reason we have so many flaky, charlatans in society today.

I’ve infact seen a lot of fresh graduates at walk into day 0 at work, with a copy of the book and brandish it proudly on their desks through year 1. Guess what? Want to impress the boss? Bring a Pink Floyd album to work. I’m serious.

For too long we’ve been doling our advise like “stay positive”, “always look on the bright side of life” and other such corny stuff. But have you noticed that when you try and ignore something, you actually give it more control over you. Think about it. Try holding a tight fist for a while and not focus on the discomfort.

I think its almost impossible to focus on the white dot on the dark page, by not bringing into context the “blackness”- the negativity, if you will. True awareness of your personal “now” is impossible to attain by just going into a lotus position, holding a “Mona-Lisa, half-smile” while you close your eyes and not acknowledge the darkness within you- take my word- we all have it! Some like me – more than others. ☹️ I think we’ll all do well to go into an “inverted lotus position”, (don’t feel shy!) open the dark corners of our ….. closet, (…you pervert 🤷‍♂️) a bit everyday, and do some house keeping.

So there you have it – don’t hide your flaws, acknowledge your pain, embrace your dark side, wear it with pride like a tattoo, ‘cause it’s true- “Those Who Mind Don’t Matter, and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind.”

Okay I got to go continue my search for that white dot within me that I (…. and many others I’m guessing too…) have been trying to find without success for many years now.🤨

What’s the “matter”? Do it!

Cats, “Karma” and sailboats

This week, I celebrated successfully spinning round the sun another time. Yes just sitting on a rock hurtling through space at 460 meters per second…. or roughly 1000 miles an hour for over 50 years now- enough time to unravel such stuff as Cat motivations and Karma.

Okay now that we’ve got that one out of the way, let’s look at debugging the purpose of life. Surprise! Surprise- life has as much meaning to it as a cat chasing after laser dots. We seem to catch it on some luck day- only to stare blankly at our palms, shake our heads and go – “nope, no meaning here!”

And so along with the realization that none of us are going to leave this rock alive, why get worked up, frustrated, depressed … at people … at the innumerable “what if’s” and “if only’s” from the past that cloud our thoughts in an endless loop.

Lets agree in the new decade that’s rolled in that “happiness” is just a consequence of accepting the choices we made and not feeling nostalgic for the life that never unfolded … and while we’re at it- let’s agree also that “karma” is just as real as a gentle wind that moves our sail boats. We could acknowledge it’s presence, but don’t need to accept the course of its machinations anymore- ‘Cause who goes on sail boats these days anyways? A word of caution though- karma will get you if you sit on your ass and don’t take ownership for your own destiny.

Mankind has proved time and again that we could, by the magic of our imagination and resourcefulness build ships that can drive our lives against these winds of karmas and help us gain full control of our own destiny …. and while we’re at it, may I suggest we stop mocking cats for their stubbornness!

“The Solomon Paradox”

My son just hauled a nice Taylor guitar 13k kilometres on a flight for me and I’ve made a vow to play everyday this year.

I’ve realized a simple hack to ensure you or your kids play more everyday, is to keep the instrument open in the living area of your homes, so you’re passing it a 100 times everyday and since it’s out of its case, tuned and easily accessible – you’ll instinctively pick it up and play a bit. I’ve also realized that if you have the instrument in a case under your bed – chances are you’ll not play it as often.

With the year still new and shining, I think it would be worthwhile to assess the toxic people and negative emotions we’ve allowed to slowly garner prime real estate in the space just around us – our “inner circle” as it were – Because the things we keep most accessible are the things that finally influences and defines who we truly become.

I’ve realized also that Facebook is a great tool to get social, but with artificial intelligence now inbuilt- it’s a “Trojan horse” that has the capability to creep into our little personal spaces and rearrange the furniture – bring into focus or take to the background ideas, thoughts, people and emotions seamlessly, which influences our emotions and values system dramatically. The trick to beat Facebook AI though is “karma”- yes, as we start posting positive stuff, Facebook machine learning gets tricked to sending us the good stuff …. and we continue to use whatsapp to wash the dirty linen. 👋😂

As for me I’m going to address the “Solomon paradox” within me- talk to myself in the third person and Try and use the advise I give others myself. 🤔🤨🙄

The “Koi” Pond of the mind.

I was spending some time this morning watching the Koi Pond at the home I’m staying in at Goa.

“Koi” – You see these beautiful ornamental fish often these days. Want to give your home a nice central focal point- think of having a Koi Pond. Very calming and you can spend hours on end admiring these colourful creature swim lazily through their ponds. Sometimes coming up to the surface and opening their large mouth in a perfect circle and taking in some air…. other times just following each other on endless loops in the water. Red. Silver. Black.

A little googling and I found out that these fish grow relative to the size of the water bodies (environment) they inhabit. Put them in a small tank and they grow to be 3-4 inches. However the same fish has the capacity to grow up to 3-4 feet long when in a lake.

Our minds are like a Koi Pond and our thoughts- like the “Koi”. Sometimes colourful, self-absorbing and growing relative to the attention you give them.

I’ve realized that spending sometime in meditation each morning to be aware of the thoughts running through our minds- never reacting, but letting them do their little circles in our mind for a while without trying to get interactive and poking our toes could be truly therapeutic and sets us up for a productive day.

Interestingly however I noticed however that there was a stork (or heron?) that seems to have also made the Koi Pond a point of interest- not necessarily out of a will to be a better bird, I’m sure. So while you’re controlling the size of the thoughts by awareness… you got to protect the good positive vibes from predators – negative people, social media, etc. that could destroy your peace of mind. There’s always a big white bird with long legs and a longer beak just blending in the environment – and misjudging its intentions could be fatal.

So then I now got to go stare at the pool. WHAT?

The forgotten art of having conversations.

It’s been painful watching the goings on in our country today. Strong opinions , stronger egos and an inflated sense of identity that’s threatening the very fabric of our society.

I think opinions are like wearing spectacles. You see the world through the lenses of your opinions, and like wearing glasses, you have to keep the lenses clean and evaluate their effectiveness periodically, not because they’re wrong- but because they become irrelevant as you transition through life and absorb new experiences and ideas.

I’ve seen my share of stubborn older people in our family circles, who’s ego gets in the way and they do not accept that their eyesight is probably failing them as they’re getting older. Blindly following traditions made centuries ago in a different context to me is a consequence of having an “inflated ego” and “false identity”.

The humility to listen to opinions different to ours, being open to new experiences and ideas that go contrary to our own and being open to recalibrate our own opinions (if required) in a rapidly changing society to me is a life skill worth developing and rewarding within organizations and the political arena.

Have a great weekend and have those conversations. I think we just need to have more bars and reduce taxes on liquor- which in my opinion is the elixir to relaxing the guard to our opinions and having great conversations. 🤦‍♂️

And finally, remember that the medal for humility is not meant to be worn.

Cheers!

Breaking Wind

So then, when you decide to do the 12 hour drive from Trivandrum on the west coast of India to chennai on the southern coast Like I did yesterday – the most common route is to drive further south around the western ghats, touch the coastal town of nagerkoil at the southern tip of india, take a sharp U turn and go up the southern coast of india.

It’s difficult not to get totally immersed in the beauty of this little patch, however this point is probably what some may call the right place for a dangerous “perfect storm” – seas on 3 sides and a mountain range (western ghats) cutting through. But then you pass the town of “Muppandal”, in Tamilnadu, which was till recently just another impoverished, but beautiful, little southern coastal town, and you pass giant wind turbines now and realize someone had a brilliant brainwave and flipped the context – These are the perfect conditions to harness the seasonal monsoon winds blowing from the Arabian Sea and gushing through the mountain passes, and set up what is today the second largest onshore wind farm In the world. This stroke of genius has brought in jobs and turned the fortunes of all the people in “muppandal”.

In life we sometimes find ourselves in a “Muppandal-like” situation- when

everything seems to be going down and the winds seem perennial, so

much so that some even call it “being cornered between the devil and the deep blue sea”. But we have an option- either accept our “fate”, wallow in self-pity and go down the path of personal ruin…. or with a little rejigging of the context of our situation, we can build ourselves a wind turbine and harness the innate advantages of the unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves in- that nervous energy, that freedom to take risks because you have nothing else to lose, that anger, that realization that theres nowhere else to go- but up, and turn your life around.

Remember what they taught you about the “eye of the storm”… well let me tell

you- they got it wrong – it’s the “i” in the storm. Infact most storms start with the “i”- Address the ego (I) that probably started it all in the first place, and is now also stopping you from turning your situation around and living a better life and get to work.

Your choice!

What is your “PQ”?

Okay, let me start with context setting – In life I’ve learned that the “positives” are mostly a by-product of managing the “negatives”.

We see the toned body- but never the hours slaving at the gym, the strict diet, the 5am runs. We see the corner office- but never the years of heartache managing the politics, the 12-15 hour workdays, the marriage that went down the drain, etc. We see the “Clapton-level”, guitar skills- but not the 10000 hours of practice behind it.

There’s some bad advise floating around though on achievement- “if you want it bad enough- you’ll have it” Nope. Just wanting something bad enough, never gets you anything – but a bad headache

So then, the 2nd all important question to ask yourself after the 1st one-“what is your purpose in life?” should be “what are you willing to suffer to achieve your purpose?”.

While your “intelligence quotient” (IQ) and your “emotional quotient” (EQ) are key indicators and should get you places- the key differentiator to attain your purpose would be what’s your “pain quotient” (PQ), because what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire, but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feeling.

So now that you’ve actually read through to the end of this post – its a good indicator that you probably have a high “Pain quotient” (PQ) to get to that corner office.

Wish you well!

Vegetable soup for the biker soul.

“So what’s your purpose?”

It was the end of a long offsite and the boss asked this of each of the leadership staff round the table a couple of months back.

Hmmm, It’s a tough one actually and most folk at the first instance mix up “passion” with “purpose”, however knowing the subtle difference between the two is key to making critical life and career decisions, and so I’ll try and deconstruct it here.

Let’s start with a confession- most of us parents at some point encouraged our kids to “follow your passion beta”, so they wouldn’t have to “work” a single day. Great advise right? Hmmm. Not actually…. Infact it’s probably a shitty career advise to give a pimply teenager- unless you’re setting your kids up for short- term happiness, and not for long-term success exactly.

Firstly, not everyone is an enlightened being who knows his/ her “true” passion- which unfortunately ebbs and flows for us mere mortals at different points in life, and so probably not a valid parameter to make a career decision on … also it doesn’t always guarantee a vocation or decent livelihood. I’ve seen a lot of brilliant musicians, artists who pursued a passion they loved doing and deeply enjoyed, only to end up leading a life of compromise, and heartache trying to make a decent living.

Okay let me explain with some biking analogies.

There are two key elements in creating energy in a bike or any motor vehicle for that matter – “ignition” and “combustion”. When the spark that ignites you comes from within you and motivates you to drop everything and pursue this dream selfishly- it’s “passion”. If however that spark comes from an external source, like a persona, or a life changing event, etc, it’s called “inspiration”

One thing we all can agree on- Life is dull without passions and it is an emotion that lights you up like a Christmas tree, gives you goosebumps, and makes you feel alive when you find it. It could be anything – music, sport, art, etc. Passion however is focussed inward on the individual, and like a spark – is temporary, directionless, selfish, full of emotion and if left unattended can actually be ‘effing dangerous.

If you are a biker – you’ll get the subtle difference – “Passion” is ignited at the spark plug, and “Purpose” happens at the carburetor.

Hold that thought for a moment …

So then, when your “little munchkin” says “I loooooove playing cricket” while stuffing his face with another slice of cheese pizza- it doesn’t actually qualify as “passion”.

Remember that the little spark that ignited at the spark plug on the engine side needs to be powerful enough to take that “leap of faith” across the firing ends and make contact with the air and fuel mixture, to really matter. If it doesn’t- it’s just “infatuation”., and the role of parents and teachers is to provide the kid enough space to explore his interests and gauge which one of those is powerful enough to do that “leap of faith”….

Don’t get me wrong- Passion is important and ignites big things in life…. but to make things happen continuously over a prolonged period, a “controlled combustion” is critical, and THATs where “Purpose” comes in.

(TA-DA) ….. The carburetor …The role of a carburetor on a vehicle is simple- control the air and the fuel mixture to ensure a “controlled combustion” and this is all done within the confines of what’s called a carburetor and in this context – Purpose.

When you ensure you have the right motivations, talent and skill and put in the effort required- with a little patience, the magic happens and the engine purrs to life.

Exactly how much fuel and air an engine needs varies from moment to moment, depending on how long it’s been running, how fast you’re going, and a variety of other factors.

So what is “Purpose” and how do we know what our purpose in life is?

A layman’s guide to understanding his/ her “purpose” in life is finding a convincing answer to the simple question – what would I rather be doing to change the world in a small way and bring meaning to my life, if I had no need to earn a living? Mere Mortals often chase after “passions”, super heroes however are motivated by a larger than life “purpose”.

So then, understanding the underlying “why” we want to do the things we want to do is probably a great starting point to analyze the inner motivations, unconscious needs and purpose we aim to fulfil in pursuit of happiness.

Sure your kid is passionate about cricket and wants to drop out of school (atta-boy) and join a cricket academy after watching the latest edition of the cricket league. However before you sell off your home and pull “beta” out of school, try asking the important questions. Does this cheetos-eating, coke-drinking, CSK- tee-shirt-wearing, chubby guy REALLY have the skills and staying power to compete at the highest level – Or are his motivations only driven by the desire to sport “bling” and be entertained by fan girls ? I’d suggest you seriously consider a plan B if you’re blinking at this point ….

… and finally, life is all about balance – and following your passion within the context of your purpose is probably the right direction to take to ensure fulfilment of your true potential, becoming a success in any career you choose to pursue and living a fulfilled life.

Now …. don’t quote me in on any of the above, Its not like I’ve attained nirvana- I’m just another traveller on the open road

Ride hard. Ride safe!