2018 – a recap

It’s almost time for the annual reflections. There is a lot that happened this year. A lot that I am thankful for, and a lot that I am just surprised at. We traveled a tiny bit more than planned. Both of us switched roles, and in Agam’s case, he left Google. I found hope and some promise in my humble attempt at understanding leadership. Tara grew up by leaps and bounds, and with her so did we. 

It is fair to say that this has been a swift year in passing. It started with our trip to India and Singapore, and will end with a trip to India.

Our travel highlights this year were a quick trip to San Diego to meet Kiaan, followed by a getaway to Monterey, followed by a long and fun trip to Australia. Then Dadu and Dadi came to visit and we went to Monterey with them again, followed by Maui on Labor Day, Seattle some time in October, and Cabo on Tara’s bday. In between I went to Boston for Jeeju’s graduation, New Orleans for a work summit, and Austin for a work trip. That’s a tad bit more than I like, so I am going to keep it light next year. I am dying to go back to Yosemite next Spring, and with Dadi completing her PhD in Spring, the much awaited trip to Greece is due as her reward. An annual pilgrimage to Hawaii and may be we keep it at just that for now. Of course we will wrap up with India in December. 

Health highlights – not much to note. Agam and I both did poorly on that front. I kicked off my walks this spring and continued through the summer. But the DST screwed up with my plans and winter has been harsh. I started a weekly strength training routine and that worked out fairly well. But it is not enough, and needs to be supplemented in 2019. I am so glad to have rekindled my love for walks though. It is like meditation. It is so hard to find time with just myself, but this year my morning routine allowed for more of me time.

Tara highlights are plenty. She is turning into a chatter box. Not sure what I was expecting. Her vocabulary and ability to frame complex sentences, and her natural style of oration is way beyond what I thought kids at this age possess. She finds joy in helping. She oscillates between a mellow kind kid to a fire cracker on a pretty regular basis. And I love that about her. It mirrors my own moods 😛 She enjoyed her music class this year with teacher D. Next year she will start an art class at CSMA.

Work front was just way too tumultuous. I grew the team, built a strong team culture, got us all grooving to the beat of moving forward, set some ambitious goals for the year, and then I went and gave myself away to an exciting unknown. I promise myself to never do that ever again. I don’t have the heart to leave what I build. I am still reconciling with my decision to leave a warm, strong, excelling team to go follow my lofty idealistic unknowns.

I am a fighter when it comes to making people do the right thing. I channelized my impatience, and righteousness to fight bureaucracy and yielded marginally productive results. I did not stay long enough on my old team to see it through, but I hired the right successor to take charge and continue the fight.

I learnt a lot about people, their incentives, their learning styles, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and coaching, this year. I tried hard to balance the heroic IC and the humble manager sides of me. I think I did OK. But I am sure there is scope for improvement. I did get a promotion. So that was nice too. But then again, I am just catching up to a trajectory I let go off when Tara was born. No regrets.

On the cooking front, I baked a lot less this year. We had several get togethers – the Spring Giving brunch, Holi lunch, summer party when Dadu and Dadi were here, and then Tara’s Bday + Holiday party. We met up with some friends after decades. The social scene was pretty heavy. And I’d like to slow that down a little in 2019. I need more “we” and “me” time next year. Work is bound to get more hectic and demanding, so I need to carve out time for Tara, Agam and myself.

I read more, but not enough. I like to keep some week nights for reading, and I had relatively less free week nights this year. By the time I hit the sack, I was so sleepy, and tired that I did not indulge in bed time reading as much. Need to work on my week night schedules. The problem with loving your work is that you start doing it as a hobby during any free time.

I wrote a lot. It was not as structured as I would have liked it to be. But something is better than nothing. Writing is my release. I don’t like to associate incentives with it, because it defeats the purpose. I prefer it to be a vocation. But it’s quite possible that I am convincing myself of this excuse when in reality I am just simply lazy. I did promise VC that I’d do it some day though. Perhaps that’s what retirement is for. I realized that I cannot store thoughts, I need to let them out. If I let them brew a little, I should be able to write some short stories. But I like to let them go, so they don’t occupy my mind. And that’s the challenge.

One can say that Rupi inspired me to be more lyrical this year. I went back to dabbling with hindi/urdu poetry. I feel embarrassed to even use the word poetry to describe my lyrical ramblings. Truth is that I find it very meditative to write in hindi/urdu. I recall the words, find their meanings, look for the right word, and weave it all together. It is an activity that completely disconnects me from my environment. As the time I have for myself shrinks, I need to find more activities where I can get the maximum return on my time. Writing in general, and writing poetry in particular are both great for that purpose.

In terms of giving, I found more ways to give this year. I am not going to list that here. But I felt like by giving in ways that I did, I received a lot back. So this cycle shall continue.

Here’s something that I will always remember 2018 for – a powerful passage in a book I read in a book shop in Seattle.

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This year, I felt positively challenged in my pursuits. It was rewarding, gratifying, and ethereal in some respects. I learnt that good things happen to those who wait. That plans are just plans, life always takes over. And that finding myself is the only way to close the pot that has been open for a long time. I am the lid I am looking for.

We leave for India tomorrow. A happy home awaits us 🙂 See ya’ll in 2019!

Chase

Today I graduated from mediocrity, to excellence in my own eyes. ‘Medicore’ is a label my Dad bestowed on me when I failed to get through a decent engineering program at IIT. I wish he had instilled the fear of mediocrity in me a little early in life. If he had, I might have not disappointed him with my dismal results in JEE and DCE exams. I have lived with that monkey on my back for my entire adult life. Today, the monkey goes back to the jungle.

We all evaluate our life using different measures. I don’t chase money, titles, and the awards, but I chase impact, and appreciation of the people I work with. I feel very accomplished tonight. And I am not going to be modest about it.

Performance reviews become more and more meaningful as we grow up. They represent a pattern. They are also a good indicator of how others see you. It is a big component of self awareness. It is important to me that I am perceived exactly as I am. And as I read some of the reviews tonight, I did well. And with that achievement, I am graduating from mediocrity to excellence, in my own eyes.

I want to very concretely define what it is that am I excelling at. It is hard. I am told that I bring people together. But that cannot be enough. I resolve conflicts. That is also not enough. I inspire teams to move forward. That too is not enough for me. I need to know more specifically what am I excelling at, and what do I need to keep doing. Surprisingly, no performance review ever delivers that message. It can only be answered by self reflection.

I’ve thought about this, and as of tonight, and perhaps I am rushing it since I am very tired, I am excelling at growing a team, leading them with a strong vision, stretching them to be the best version of themselves, and bringing teams together for the common good of my employer. And for tonight, that’s enough. But I know that starting tomorrow, it won’t be enough. I need to find that one thing I can excel at, moving forward. The chase is on.

I like this chase. It helps me get better. May it continue. As long as it is me catching up with a better version of myself, I should be OK.

 

 

Kaleidoscope

The world lost two statesmen in a week’s time – John McCain and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both of them were leaders first, and politicians second. They both led exemplary lives with a strong mission and acute focus on bipartisan leadership.  The world was unfair to both, and yet, in their leadership, we found inspiration. May their souls rest in peace.

In other news, Tara got her first “real” bike this weekend. An within moments of getting it, she had her first “real” fall. Yep! Irresponsible parents were so busy celebrating, and recording a video of her first bike ride, that we could not tell her to stop before she took a tumble on a “bed of thorns”, in Agam’s words, and “a shrub by the side walk”, as I prefer to explain it. Note the dramatic tone in a father’s description. I wonder if he would have used the same phrase if we had a son. Sigh! Tara got her first bike at 3. I got mine at 30. She is already ahead of the curve 😉

Last Friday I fell in love with Google, all over again. The day started on a rough note. I was finding it hard to be an adult. Super hard. The air quality in Bay Area has been terrible last week, and I am very sensitive to the day to day variations. [Yes, I lived in Delhi. No you may not laugh].

The combined effect of the air quality and my state of mind, was just too hard to manage. I pinged a friend, and asked for help.

Me – “I need therapy.”

He – “I am available.”

Me – “I am walking over.”

He – “See you in a few.”

50 minutes later I was not only feeling better, I had a plan, and I was refreshed. I went back to work, super charged. I really value these friendships and cherish this camaraderie that encourages me to seek help (something that is super hard for me to do), without any fear of being judged. I am so thankful for the help I was given, and the friendly advice and a listening ear that was offered. 😀

It did not stop there.  I had two more such engaging sessions through the rest of the day. A sad Friday ended up being a very satisfying Friday. All thanks to the three Googlers who helped me turn my day around.

It is important to have a support system as you progress in your life. It makes it easier to fight the battles you have to, and you build strong relationships along the way.

Lastly, I’ve finished ‘Discover your true north’. I am now on to ‘Build an A Team’, by Whitney Johnson. I picked this book for no other reason but Clayton Christensen’s words at the back – “Management, when practiced well, is a noble profession.” I concur.

An ode to ghazals

Kicked off the weekend with YT playing oldies on loop, and all of sudden the trend shifted towards Ghazals. Especially when Arth and Saath Saath songs begin to play, you know where this session is going to end. Before it got there, I switched to writing. I’d rather channelize this energy towards something more constructive.

I wonder why such songs are not made any more. Who will keep ghazals alive after Jagjit Singh? Are we giving up on them? Will this be a forgotten art? Sigh! Why?

I don’t know many people of my generation that listen to this stuff. Even Agam does not care much about them. As for me, I will never be able to forget their importance in my life. I grew up with them.  I still remember short couplets from some of Papa’s favorite ghazals and there are several that found new meaning over the years – like  “kis tarah ye gum bhul jaaye hum woh judaa hua, is bahaar mein”.

[YT just switched to Aandhi And then this. It must be my lucky day! I wish there was a way for me to save this list somehow. I am not going to put in the effort. Let the AI tackle that.]

Back to the dying art of ghazals. I hope they will make a come back, some day, somehow. Until then, I have enough to keep my Friday evenings jamming. The only thing to remember is to never listen to ghazals on my drive to work. The salted contact lenses give me trouble all day long.

[We are on to this now. And while we are at it – this is one of my very favorites. And this and this . And finally this, which is actually on the lighter note. I can go on and on and on. ]

Tara and I shared a lovely evening today. I left early around 4 and we got a car wash (which translates to Tara ate free popcorn), went to Whole Foods, and then she helped me put the groceries in the fridge. When I went to pick her up at the day care she ran to me and hugged me so tight.  I wonder if she will run to me this fast and hug me this tight, even when she is 16. She probably won’t. But I will etch these hugs in my memory for future use. Mom will become like a ghazal, old and forgotten.

It was Avery’s last day at the day care. He is joining TK in a few weeks. Avery had just turned one when Tara joined the day care at 4 months. The two of them have been good friends ever since.

Tara’s friends are my friends. So obviously I got a little emotional about saying goodbye to him. I kept watching the two of them circle around each other, and play for a little while, and wondered if we will ever meet Avery again. We all hugged each other tight and Tara and I wished him good luck. Sigh! These good byes only get tougher as we grow up. I don’t think Tara and Avery realize that now. Well they have a lifetime to figure it out. I am calling it a day now.

I feel pretty light and relaxed today. No idea where that’s coming from. Let’s give the credit to the musical evening, and the evergreen ghazals 🙂

 

 

 

#1 – Cabbie Diaries

My goal with these essays is to write a 1000 word essay on topics near and dear to my heart. The goal is to publish an essay every two weeks. So I can get to at least 25  essays this year, that can be knotted together into a collection of essays I can call “mine”.

#1 – Cabbie Diaries

My first cab ride was a decade ago. Little did I know then that I will one day end up writing an essay inspired by my conversations with the many cab drivers that I have met in the last decade.

I was using cabs almost every week for the first few years of my career. I was a technology consultant who hopped on a plane every Monday and came back home on Friday. I did not have a car back then. I did not even have a driving license, and hence I used to depend on cabs to take me from place to place. I preferred to keep the same cab drivers while I was in the city for a long project. Some times it worked out and some times it didn’t.

I remember a lot of my cabbie friends. They were from all over the world. Armenians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Russians, some times even Indians and only once, an American. I have had cabbies that told me that I remind them of their Indian girl friend, their mother, and even their grand mother. There was one who burnt a CD of a song that I really loved in his car and dropped it at my client’s office without a name or number. Laptops had inbuilt CD players back then.

I have had cabbies explain to me the meaning of death and how to reconcile with it. I have also had cabbies tell me that that they came to the US to follow their dream and it landed them in this cab, driving me to the airport.

  I once met a cabbie who was a Math major from Russia. Such a sharp guy. And once I met someone who was an illustrator for children’s books. My primary cabbie in Denver was an elderly man with two wives and four sons. He always complained about his sons and even asked me to speak to them, so they could find a purpose in life and start to make a living for themselves. I never spoke to them. I told him to start charging them rent instead. It helped.

I am a natural when it comes to striking conversations with strangers. And most of the cabbies I have met have been really easy to chat with. They are reflective, contemplative and they open up rather easily. A common theme that unites me and my cabbies is that they are also usually immigrants. We immigrants, we always have such rich stories.

I just remembered, I once had a cabbie in LA who saw me struggling while trying to untangle my necklace, from his rear view mirror, and when we reached the office, he offered to untangle it for me, with patience, sparing good ten minutes of his very busy morning.

Although in reality I am a very chatty person, to my cabbies I always prefer to be the listener. I feel a sense of obligation to hear them out. As if I was the chosen one to listen to their struggles and their journeys from far away lands. They needed someone who would listen without judging them. I played my part. Sometimes I even saw them wipe their tears as they shared their stories. And sometimes I wiped my own.

Our relationship is so transactional, and yet so intimate. We meet and part, with no expectations of ever meeting again.

The cabbie we hired in San Diego, when my parents were visiting me, was another special character. The conversation started when we found Swami Vivekananda’s books in his front seat and the boot of his car. He was an avid reader, and an ex professor from a small town in Arizona. He came to California for his kids’ education, and loved it so much that he decided to never go back. That’s when he started driving cabs to make money. His family shrunk their expenses, and lived in San Diego on his meagre income. His kids went on to get their education from Princeton and MIT on 100% aide. He still drives the cab, because of his love for people.

The cabbie who drove me from to Jessica’s funeral was another one that I can never forget. I was leaving Tara at home for the first time ever since she was born. I was worried about her since I was putting her to sleep way before her normal bed time. I was struggling to balance the two personas within me – the mother and the friend. I wanted to meet Jess’s parents and tell them what a wonderful daughter they had raised, and how much she was loved by everyone. They deserved to know much she loved her parents and how apparent it was in her conversations that she was raised in a wonderful family.

Of course Tara slept early without any issues. But the cabbie was able to tap in to my nervousness. Little did he know where I was going, when he said, “Probably as a mother one has to learn to smile when you grieve, for the child can catch every sliver of emotion and can internalize it without understanding the context.” The entire journey he told me about his mother’s strength of character, her sense of duty and her righteousness. And as we approached the city, he shared that he had lost her to cancer, little over a month ago. He was grieving too. We shared our grief together for the rest of the journey, in silence, and prayer.

Recently there was the cabbie who dropped me at SJC, who told me to go follow my dream. It was after he shared how he went on to become a rock band lyricist after running a construction business for twenty years. I was going to Vegas for a work related conference. His parting words crushed me. I was speechless and found it hard to recover from his innocent blow. My dream does not require me to travel to Las Vegas. But my work does. And the work I do, is not my dream. It will never be. The light pat on my shoulder, that might as well have been of my own father still shakes me up. Reminding me in subtle ways that my life is drifting in a direction I set the sails for, and yet, the mind is not certain of its willingness to follow the wind. I might as well have written an anthology of my cabbie experiences and published them. But here I am, following my dream, in some way. 

I feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people, and have carried a part of them with me wherever I go. Be it the Gurbani in a desi cabbie’s car in LA that is still in my music library, or the image of the Christ’s cross hanging in the car I went to Jess’s funeral in. Be it the trick the cabbie taught me on how to untangle my necklace, that I still use, or the whiff of Addis Ababa coffee that I recall, when I think of the Eritrean cabbie who I met in Vegas who told me that coffee is roasted in sand in some parts of Africa.

I carry these stories in my heart, the words of these cabbies reverberate in my mind and their kindness and wisdom continues to inspire me.

Cabbie Diaries will resume…there’s more travel to be done, many more memories to be made, and a lot more stories to be told.

Welcome 2018!

2018 is here…

It’s been 10 years since my younger self celebrated her bday by indulging in a shopping spree on the 5th Avenue in NY. It was an experience to check off from my list and so I did. My life was very complex back then. I had education loans, a long distance relationship, a demanding travel intensive career, few friends, fewer hobbies, and a very busy mind. I lived in NY and I did not know what I really wanted to do with my life.

In the last 10 years, I made my career, I made my family and I made my identity. And I de-cluttered my life. I like where I have landed. But there is a lot of scope of improvement. I can be so much better. To myself and my loved ones.

After a decade,  it’s time to turn the page. From me to others. From establishing to dwelling, adventures to stability, and from dabbling to adopting.

Forming new habits and perhaps a new lifestyle. One that is anchored in simplicity.

I sowed the seeds for this simplification in 2017 by first simplifying my career. I took the most natural next step and gave up on my coveted IC status. I want to build teams, not just my resume. I want to become better at being a multiplier. The word means so much more to me now, than it did when JFab shared the concept with me. In a 1:1 that I will never forget and will one day owe my career to, he told me that I am a multiplier and not a diminisher. I need to get even better at being the multiplier.

I also simplified my wardrobe this year. 5 capris and 5 cotton tees. That’s all I wore this summer. And 3 hoodies, 3 sweaters, 3 full sleeves tees and 3 jeans is what I plan to wear all winter.(Add a dozen or so scarves to that). Screw the rest.

Next I need to simplify health. There is too much confusion. Reduce carbs, increase protein, watch calories – which one or all of the above. I am not a fad follower. So the Paleos, Ketos are not for me. I need a balanced diet which is natural and easy to follow. I need to find time for a 30min physical activity daily. And I need to commit to it. Like most folks I fall prey to the “I have no time to spare” syndrome. I cannot procrastinate any more.

We as a family have also simplified our lives by deciding not to have another child. I am not selfish for my time, its just that I just cannot love another child like I love Tara. I cannot imagine doing anything that disturbs the wild spirit that my child has. She needs to stay the way she is and I cannot disrupt this environment she is in.

Also, we have greatly simplified our travel plans. We want to visit family during winter vacations. Winter in Delhi is just amazing. And as our parents age, and Tara grows up, we want them to meet every year. Apart from India, one international trip and one domestic trip, with a customary Hawaii trip if possible, ensures that we have something to look forward to each quarter.

I need to create some space in 2018. To start doing side projects. Something more than just work and family. Some hobby, volunteering or some project on the side. Not quite sure what it will end up being. My only requirement is that it has to be simple and thus achievable.

I am sure I have shared this before. But I love growing old. It is rewarding, these years lived. So much to learn, adapt to and assimilate. And, so much to simplify 🙂

Yays and Nays of 2017

And now for the Yays and Nays of 2017

**Yays**

– Agam recovered from his accident at a pretty fast speed.
– I switched teams and roles
– We spent a LOT of time with family throughout the year.
– Mom stayed with us for a few months and we enjoyed her company and surveillance 😉
– I ran a lot in the first half of the year.
– Tara is potty trained (yeah that’s a YAY!)
– I checked off two bucket lists – Hop on Hop Off in NYC and Sakura in Tokyo.
– We established a Will and Trust for Tara.
– Tara started eating sushi.
– Our new ride – Subaru Outback.
– We went home for the Holidays!

**Nays**

– I did not run at all in the second half of the year.
– We were naughty from Thanksgiving to New Years about our healthy eating habits.
– Mom’s diabetes went through a rough patch.
– Posture issues plagued my weekdays and weeknights

Not too many Nays as one can tell. 2017 was kind to us. And we hope to keep up the trend.