gist of it

I attended a wonderful keynote by Dr Abhijit Banerjee, at Google today. He and his wife Esther Duflo won the Nobel Prize for Economics this year. I have read some of his work before and was very interested in hearing him live. His keynote was quite short and delivered some really positive and inspiring insights. His five take aways on solving for Next Billion User’s problem were –

  • Ignore global trends. They somewhat lie.
  • Augment not transform
  • Don’t fear the obvious
  • It does not have to be new to be innovative
  • Look through the user’s eye.

Such simple advice and yet so true. I think his list is an example of his advice – “don’t fear the obvious”.

I think sometimes we over complicate things. We like to solve for tougher problems, which is always more rewarding, but in doing so we sometimes over complicate the problem and hence over engineer the solution. I have seen this time and again and in some cases I had a voice, and I was able to avoid it. And in some cases it was obvious that my voice was not welcome, and there I gave up. But this is even more important when you are solving for the NBU. Their problems are deeper than our problems. Let’s not solve with super apps, let’s solve with deeper understanding and empathy.

NBU is of a lot of interest to me. For several reasons. Being an underdog myself, I like to bring up the underdogs, root for their success, and take them across the line. There is joy in that. My dad found that joy by serving for Lions Club. He organized blood donation camps, and limb transplant camps, and eye camps. I just attend a summit and take notes.

The message of augment not transform is another favorite line from my old, yet glorious consulting days. While my employer sold transformational project plans, I looked for quick wins, smaller augments. Sometimes that’s all that is needed. Transformations are expensive. In an NBU context, even more. Sometimes you need to re-think the problem, but sometimes you just need to solve it.

Perhaps I am just a risk averse person and hence my views jived with that of an academician. Don’t get me wrong, I admire Elon Musk. But I don’t get inspired by him. I am inspired by the insights Dr Banerjee shared today.

Lately, I am increasingly finding myself in a state where I just don’t care enough about expressing my real view point. And when I do I get exhausted. May be that’s why women leave the workforce. It gets too exhausting to keep that edge. You are not meant to be in the game anyways. No one is counting on you to win it.

I was telling a friend at work the other day, sometimes I feel I have seen this movie so many times. I know how it will end. I know the drama, the ego, the fall, the climb, the competition. It’s almost not worth playing it anymore. But we are humans. We have temptations. We commit the sin and bite the apple sometimes, and then we feel disappointed.

Dr Banerjee said, “Trying and failing is better than failing to try.” It stirred something within me. I am failing to try what I want to do. I am losing energy on things that will never satisfy me. And not even attempting to do things that will likely give me more joy. Hmm.. note to self, do something about your joy!

On a high note, our project “get Tara healthy” aka improve her iron levels, is yielding positive results and we are thrilled about it. It is always nice to see your efforts yield positive outcomes. Even better when you have the data to support it.

I am glad I was able to attend the keynote today and get another jolt of inspiration. I was running dry. Glad I found it so close to home.


Two weeks ago on a Friday just like today, I tucked Tara in bed and left for a whirlwind trip to India, for work. It was furthest I’d ever been from Tara ever since she was born. And it was also the longest I was away from her. I tried not to think about it. The more you think about something the more it consumes you. Sometimes you just go through the motions for the feelings to settle. The fridge was stocked with food that could last a week. I packed all the five days of lunch boxes with food that I know Tara can eat on repeat, without much complaining. Yes, Rajma Chawal was on the list. I did what I could – prepare. And then I left. She and I chatted about her taking care of Daddy. And that if she was going to be a good girl, there were two science experiments kits were on the way.

It was good to meet Mom for a day, go shopping with her, and enjoy chai with her. Enjoyed her home cooked delicacies and before I knew it time was up. Met my in-laws, and Agam’s Nana and Nani who had not been keeping well. And attended a few hours of Durga Puja on Saptami evening. In fact I enjoyed my first Anjali. Even BUa squeezed a few hours to come meet me before my flight. And caught up with my little nieces and sister for a couple of hours.

To be in India the same week that we lost Papa was little odd. I thought it would weigh down on me. But truth is my days were so packed, that I could barely remember the dates.

The five working days in between are a blur. I felt like was experiencing some 24 hour time zone where there was no clear segregation between day and night. Just those few hours when I crashed before the sunlight woke me up the next morning. I did not get more than 15 hours of sleep over those 5 days. I was experiencing an adrenaline rush that was driving me forward. I cannot believe I even found 30min to shop for a pearl string for my Mom’s bday. I was on a call all through those 30min. So weird.

Anyways, it was a fabulous experience. I have traveled a lot for work, but never to India. It was a special experience. I don’t mind doing it again. It’s like being a part of the show you love watching. I had some very insightful conversations with a lot of people on this trip. From the cab drivers and security guards, to Googlers who were traveling with me on this trip.

I fell in love with the minarets of Hyderabad. Each one is so unique and so dainty. The city is special. So much history, and so much literature comes from it. I did not step out of the office much, so there was no Char Minar to be enjoyed. But I will definitely make a trip next time.

I have a lot of cherished memories from this trip. Mostly with my team, while we were driving this rather ambiguous initiative forward, in Gurgaon. I truly experienced a #onegoogle effort on the ground. I’d like to believe I had some part to play in creating it. But the company was splendid. And the goal was worth it 🙂 Adrenaline helped!

But my favorite memory was when I received a surprise gift from the local team in HYD. The day before my departure from HYD, I met the teams and shared a few insights with them, heard their stories and encouraged them to keep the channels of communications open even when I am back in US. We took a selfie to freeze that moment in our memories. The next day the team got the selfie on a coffee mug and gave it to me as a gift. I had urged them to think of magical experiences we can deliver to our clients, and in return they gave me magical delight. The mug appears to be an ordinary black coffee mug. But when you add hot liquid to it, the selfie appears. It was truly magical. And more so because they made it happen in less than 12 hours. I don’t know what magic they did. But it was so special 🙂

I flew Air India on this trip, and it was a wise choice. Or a lucky one. I slept 14 hours on my flight back. And was super refreshed to meet Tara on Sunday morning! She had been a good girl and her science experiments were waiting for a review with Mama!

It was a whirlwind trip unlike something I have done before. An adrenaline rush, I could not quite explain, forget recreate. And a bucket full of memories of the people, the food and the places I visited.

When I arrived in Delhi, there was a Google cab and security guard who picked me up from the airpot. He said to me, “You have come on the first day of Navratri. It’s the day Durga comes home. It’s an auspicious day. You will have a successful trip.” He was right. I did have a successful trip. And Durga’s strength is probably what I can attribute that adrenaline to.

२४ घंटे

यह जो २४ घंटे मैंने घर पे बिताए

माँ का आँगन, सुबह की चाय

एक प्यारी सी नींद और

चुपके से दो चार आसूँ भी बहाए

माँ के कुछ परदे खूँटी पर लगाए

कुछ देर टी॰वी॰ देखा

कुछ ख़रीदारी की और गोभी के पराँठे दबाए

और दोपहर में ख़ूब सारी बातें की और फिर नींद के ठोंके लगाए

कुछ तस्वीरें दिखाई और तारा के बड़े सारे क़िस्से सुनाये

माँ की तबियत का हाल पूछा

और बस इतने में ही २४ घण्टे ख़त्म होने को आयें

और फिर चल दी समेट कर माँ की प्यारी दुआएँ

मेरी माँ अकेले रहती है

मेरी माँ अकेले रहती है

सुबह की चाय से लेके रात की दवाई तक

सब कुछ अकेले सहती है

मेरी माँ अकेले रहती है

आज सुबह चाय बनाने जब उसकी रसोई में गयी

तो उसके अकेलापन का एहसास पहली बार हुआ

नौ साल हो गए हैं पापा को गुज़रे

और उसकी रसोई में बर्तनों की कमी का एहसास आज ज़ार हुआ

देखने में तो सब कुछ है लेकिन

आज इस रसोई में रौनक़ नहीं हैं

किसी के आने का इन्तज़ार नहीं और

किसी के जाने की जल्दी नहीं है

धीरे धीरे सारे काम करती रहती है

किसी से कुछ नहीं माँगती

किसी को कुछ ना कहती है

मेरी माँ अकेले रहती है

सुबह की चाय से लेके रात की दवाई तक

सब कुछ अकेले सहती है

मेरी माँ अकेले रहती है

What were the odds?

Going to Delhi in October after 9 years. What were the odds? After all there are 11 other months when this trip could have materialized. October in Delhi is going to be hard. What is going to be harder is being in Delhi on October 2nd, and yet not with my family. Dates have a lot of meaning for me. May be they shouldn’t. And may be that’s what I will learn on this trip.

To hope, and joy!

I hit a professional low in the last quarter. I am not sure how much of it was mid-life crisis, and how much of it was the actual trigger that led me down a spiral of negativity. My favorite law of physics is that energy can neither created nor destroyed, it can only change forms. So when I hit a negative patch, I try to change the form of this energy and give it a positive spin. Convert anxiety into action, or negative thoughts into inspiration. I learnt this when I lost my father. I can keep going down to the abyss, or I can use the surge of emotions as a super power, and propel myself upward, and take that view of the bird, soaring above the ground, watching the minute details that consume me, from a different, more elevated perspective.

That’s what I ended up doing this time too. The anxiety generated by the low I was experiencing led me to turn the tide, with a nudge from a friend, to find my self worth, outside of my current environment. So I went through a few rounds of interviews at the likely suspects of Silicon Valley and validated myself. It was a good experience. Quite positive and reassuring. And also made me realize how I am a different person now than I was five years ago. I realized that my experiences in the last four and a half years have yielded some wonderful stories that I joyfully narrate, with a lot of fondness and passion. I like interviews. You get to connect with the work you have done in a very different way. I also found it quite surprising that my wants have evolved. They are more people driven than task driven.

My experience led to a renewed sense of appreciation for what I do today. Part of it, is that this is my choice, and not a result of a sequence of events where one thing led to the other. For some strange reason I have felt that way about my career at Google. I am always very sensitive to the play of choice and chance. I don’t disregard chance. But let’s say I am immature enough to still want to control my destiny and want it to be of my choosing.

Of course the reason that I went into a professional low was resolved. It was annoying to be completely helpless. And even more unnerving to see so much effort being spent towards fixing a problem that should not have occurred in the first place. I hate adding to people’s to do lists. If at all I like to help take things off of their lists. But it was needed. And the outcome was worth it. Or so I hope.

With that behind me, I want to focus on a few short term and long term goals. Somewhere in the middle of the year I came up with this whim and fancy of starting a children’s magazine. I validated the idea with a bunch of like-minded friends. [Sidebar, I love them all for their enthusiasm, skepticism, and borderline paranoia in some cases :)]. I think this is feasible. I just need to get down to scoping out the market and figure out how to kick it off. I have enlisted some true brains for this, and recruitment is in progress for more. I don’t know how to jump start it. But we will figure it out. I want kids to write and feel proud of their content. And I want to give them an option, to read, a real magazine, written by them, and for them, instead of yet another app on their tablet. I know i am fighting against technology here. I have no fear of failure. I am just going to do it.

On another note, lots of festivals, and holiday cheer coming up in Q4. So much to plan and so little time. But at least my mind is relatively at peace, and I can go back to enjoying things that I love to do – like bringing people together and weaving a fabric of love, trust and sharing that we can all use in copious amounts in today’s trying times.

To hope and joy…

Let’s get going!

Pause, and then play!

My head is very clouded. It’s like when you get so wound up about something. And then it turns out to be ok. But you just cannot release the tension all of a sudden. The phase you are coming out of led you into a deep self discovery. You learnt a few things about yourself. You identified a few weaknesses, a few preferences, and a few strengths. You also made a fully executable backup plan. And now you are to wrap it all up. As if none of it ever happened.

You want to take the time to unwind. But there are no hours in the day to do that. You want to start fresh. But again, you are not able to find the turning point you can use for that. You are still hurt to some extent. And now you need to build a new narrative for yourself. But there is just no time for any of it. There is a sixteen hour flight coming up in a week’s time. Even that won’t cut it. Too much on my mind, and to add to that, an interesting week to be in India.

Sigh! I want to feel like something new is starting. But I have no time to feel. It’s the one thing I don’t like about life – it just goes on. Only stops once, when it’s the end. Why can’t we pause it for a little while?