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.

 

 

Conversation with a self encouraged story-teller

As I get more serious about taking writing more seriously, (yeah that’s a lot of serious talk in one sentence), I need to unlearn some of the things the world has taught me. I don’t lack the ability to take a happenstance and narrate it in simple and soul hugging words. What I lack, is the ability to imagine and create.
 Today I don’t create. I simply narrate. And if I want to be a story-teller, I need to learn to create and not be limited to what the world has taught me. To think without limits is an ability a story-teller must possess. I don’t think it is difficult to get there. It is like meditation of some sort. And with practice and patience I can do it. I just need to embark on the journey to start creating and I need to start now.
I do think that having dealt with too much practicality and reality early in my life, imagination is not something that will come easy to me. But I don’t think it is impossible. Well Impossible is Nothing! I just need to find my strengths.
Observation is a big part of imagination. If you don’t observe, what will you base your imagination on? Now that is something I am good at. And as I confessed to Agam not very long ago, I observe too much. I observe every reaction, every smile, ever grin, every shrug, every shiny eye, every smirk, every damn emotion or movement that can be captured by this human eye. I observe all body movements, all uhs and umms. I am observing even when I am  not actively looking at something. My sub conscience is always observing, like a beacon out there grabbing all signals – involuntarily of course. May be everyone is like that. And I won’t be surprised if that’s the case. But oh well that’s how I feel anyways.
 The good thing is that I have learnt or rather coached myself to observe but not analyze. Analysis can be biased and clouded by experience and preferences. Observation is simply raw data. If I use the observed sample set to imagine. I think I can do many creative things with that data set.
Phew.. all this and more, thanks to Nilanjana Roy’s candid interview in NYT. See link here A Conversation With: Author Nilanjana Roy – NYTimes.com

Individuality

When I was a child, I did not know much about individuality. I was attracted to friends who were like me. There was definitely no conscious effort behind these pairings. It was just that it seemed to be a comfortable choice to make. And then I grew up to realize that my closest friends and I had nothing in common and that was exactly what I loved about their company. They offered such fresh perspectives on almost everything that I enjoyed seeing things from their lens and shared my reflections with them.

By the time I got to college, individuality had been established as a prominent cornerstone of my persona. I realized how life was going to get tougher as I proceed on this route. I was always the fish that swam against the crowds. And needless to mention, I also got into trouble because of that. But that is who I was and I was not going to change myself.

Then I came to the US. Luckily for me I found the society that I was most comfortable in. It is woven with diverse threads of individualism. Each thread is so strong and so unique, that the resulting fabric is par excellence. That was when the rubber met the road for me. And I have been enjoying this solitary road trip, ever since.

In between all this, I fell in love with a man who was a perfect match to my complete self. Let me elaborate. I have read those romantic novels that talked about the notions of “love completes us” and other such BS. But now these themes disturb me. When books and movies profess this notion of one completing the other, they are diverting the attention of the future generation from individuality. We are all complete in our own self. We don’t need someone else to complete us. And therefore statements like –“what a lovely couple, they complement each other” are baseless. And if you disagree with me then you are admitting that you are incomplete. Now how does that feel?

We are all complete humans with our flaws and our qualities and all other attributes that make us unique. Our life partners are people who match us in spirit, intellect and values. We are both complete in our own selves and together we are not ONE, but TWO strong individuals.

I digressed. We all live by certain strong principles – the key tenets of all our decisions, the value pillars on which we build our lives. And I believe that individualism is one such tenet that I inherited. I did not have any other influence in my childhood other than my parents, and both my parents have a role to play in who I am today. They harbored in me the spirit of inquiry, and the strength to form my own opinions and take my own decisions and live by them through thick and thin. Thus my individuality is something that I cherish and cannot do without.

But lately I have observed a couple of patterns. The first one being that people consider individuality as a taboo and seek shelter in community. To comply is by far the simplest thing I have come across in life. What takes courage is to create. Create yourself, your values, your relations, your opinions and your perspectives. When you create the framework of logical thinking from your own experiences and knowledge, reasoning becomes extremely simplified. When you borrow the framework from the society, it takes time to get the nuts and bolts in place and those cracks result in the gaps in your reasoning.

In the end, just make sure your actions are yours, and not those influenced by the world around you, because after all we are simply a sum total of our actions. And if your actions were not yours, then whose lives have you been living?

My second observation is -what we seek from our friends when we are 8 is different from what we seek from them when we are 12 and that is different from what we seek from them when we are 16. But somehow for me, the counter is stuck at 16, and I am still seeking the same elements from my social circle that I sought back then. I am still hungry for those fresh perspectives and that ability to reflect on things with one’s own lens.

You are ripe with your own experiences. You have your very own light within you, throw your own light on the object and tell me what you see. I can guarantee you; no two people see the same thing even when they are seeing the same object. Share your reflections with me and I will share mine. Look deep, find the new, and tell me, and I will also reveal. Don’t see the world with the eyes with sore eyes, and report back what I can find on the news channels. Intrigue me, and I will reciprocate.

I want you to show me worlds that I cannot see. I want you to be YOU. And I want you to let me be ME

Just one of those ramblings, that I will revisit when I am 40.

 

About writing..

It is a very nice feeling when people tell you that they relate to your writing. I write because I think too much. And I don’t want to discount my thinking by allowing my thoughts to drift away and go undocumented. I write because that is how I clean up the corners of my mind.  People do meditation, they work out, they cook, they take up dancing – I just write.
I write for myself. I write so I can read these thoughts at a later point in life. I like to read my old posts and laugh at how immature or insecure I was. It helps me reflect on what I was and what I have become and gives me confidence that I can nurture myself to be someone better.  I have been blogging since 2005, and I have archived every detail since then in the cloud. But instead of making this about me, I want to write about people who come to my blog and leave a note of reflection.
 People, who don’t just come and browse, catch up on gossip in my life and leave. They come and reflect on their own lives through my posts. There are also a bunch who might not leave a note on the blog, but send me an email, a Facebook message or +1 my posts. About people who tell me directly what these words mean to them and how they live each moment with me, as they read my posts.  
This is not a thank you note by any means. I think these simple acts reveal a lot about who you are. You have no fear in communicating your thoughts. You don’t hesitate in engaging in this virtual dialogue – about your life and mine. You don’t hesitate in appreciating someone or for that matter critiquing someone’s work or habits. You are honest with yourself. You don’t act in stealth, but in open. You don’t read and move on; you ponder. You don’t simply take from people’s lives, you also give.
Some folks are shy about voicing their thoughts on an open platform, and some think they might get sued for commenting on the world around them. Some people think they cannot find anything appropriate to comment, and some feel they might be invading someone’s privacy by commenting on their posts. Whatever be the reason, I feel that there is lots of learn from each other.  And blogs are a great way to go about it. It used to be uncommon to write in public about the fears and jubilations that we experience. But not anymore. We live in an open world where we share open networks and open relationships. It is time we accept that as a way of life.
Often in my blogger’s regret phase, I think about taking the blog private. But I fight myself out of this notion, and bring it back up. Why should I hide something from anyone? Stealth breeds fear. Open dialogue builds confidence and also a certain commitment to yourself. If you start thinking about who is going to read this and what they will interpret out of it – you will begin to write a story that the world wants to read. This is my story as I experience it. I have no audience but myself and I have no motif but my growth.  

Delhi Belly

One does not need a reason to go to India. But this time, I had repeatedly spoken to Agam about the purpose of our India trip. It was to serve as a blast of energy for our families back home.  There had been some ups and downs. It almost felt like a series of unhappy happenings had plagued the environment. For starters, some of us lost our father, some lost their husband, some had to go around doctors for eye checkups and surgery, and someone was managing so many things all by himself – making sure he is there to support all others around him.

We wanted to distract everyone from their usual routine, and stir up the environment. Get the Brahmas excited about the upcoming wedding, the Khullars stirred up with activity in Hari Nagar and the Gandhis excited about future vacations, their adorable photogenic daughters and life ahead in general. We wanted to make them all happy. We had a very tight itinerary, but we managed it cover a lot of ground in these few days. I loved the complete orchestration of activities. It was nice to sit back and see the plans form and merge and collapse and form and finally get implemented.

We landed in the wee hours of Saturday morning and spent the next day eating and then eating more, and then getting ready for the party in the evening. I think the party was a great idea to jumpstart the vacation. Especially in summers, it would have been impossible for us to go and meet everyone in person, so this was just perfect. We met some of our favorite people and shared the happenings since the last few months and also the plans for the upcoming ones.

And then we started the drill – Kamakshi temple, dinner/lunch at some favorite restaurants, monsoons, shopping, super fast darshan at Bangle Sahib, more shopping, family dinners, day spend with Valya Bua, family visits, giving gifts/receiving gifts, meeting friends from way back in time, more family visits, bailey shots, Delhi Belly, Chole Bhature from Haldirams, Chaat at Bikanerwala, birthday parties, birthday cakes and the last and final day spent with my favorite people all together in Hari Nagar.  And then we boarded the flight back to SF. Oh what a fun time spent in Delhi with our loved ones, a whirlwind trip, one that helped me replace my memories from the last trip to Delhi. I indeed needed this trip.

So this how I think our brain works. We visit places and make memories and those memories are what we remember about those places. In my mind, Delhi was associated with Papa’s death. Delhi was where I rushed to when Stuti told me that he is no more. The home in Hari Nagar was printed in my memory, as from the 13th day ceremony, full of people with sullen faces. My memory of my mother’s dazed face had to be replaced by something more cheerful, or else every time I thought of her, her sad face came in front of my eyes. My last memory of my Dad is him waiving at me from the security line at the SFO airport, right before their flight back to Delhi in 2009. That’s how I will always remember him. Luck favored me and I didn’t have to replace his cheerful face with that of him, after his soul had departed .
So I wanted to replace my memories from the last trip with new memories, of the world after he had left. And that’s what this Delhi trip was all about.
Now when I think of Delhi, I remember the fun time we spent at the party with my nieces and my family, seeing my Mom and sister at home on Saturday evening before the party, the trip to Kamakshi temple and the short discussion that followed it, the gift opening session at Naraina, the yummy Rajma Chawal at Stuti’s, shopping trip to gold suk with Bua and Momma, my super active Mom, running around making sure her son in law is fed , mango kulfi at Bikanerwala, followed by Mishti Doi, watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Paris pictures with Jeeju, Mumma, Stuti, Aunty and the niecos, cutting our bday cake at Hari Nagar and waving the final good bye to Momma and Papa at the airport. That’s what I remember of Delhi – and that’s what I want to remember until our next trip in January.

Delhi rocks.. it is still the city I will happily swap with any destination in the world.

June .. is for anniversaries !

It was our first wedding anniversary last Saturday. We celebrated in indulgence and style at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. I surprised Agam with a booking at the hotel for the night of June 4th and we both enjoyed the day at the resort, sans gadgets and other distractions. But all that while, a thought kept lingering in my mind – “what is it exactly that we are we celebrating?”

A silly statement on facebook turned out to be the actual answer to my question – we celebrated a year of commitment to each other. That’s pretty much all there is to celebrate so far. Isn’t it? I don’t fancy phrases like “celebration of love”. Of course there is love, that’s why you are married; there is more to this equation. And commitment is a big part of it. There are other variables, but commitment should stay a constant for the marriage to last.

This 26th of June, will be my mother’s first wedding anniversary without Papa. I have been thinking too much about this and I need to get it out of my system. So bear with me here. The question on my mind is – “can I still wish my Mom, a happy wedding anniversary?” The answer of course is “Yes I will”. But it took me sometime to process this thought. I am a result of this marriage that still exists. So what if one of the partners is no more in this world. I want to still thank my Mom and Dad to bring me into this world. And we should all still celebrate it. Just like we did for all these years. I want to take my Mom out for dinner, just like my Dad did. I want her to know that marriage does not end with death. It stays on. We as kids should forever celebrate our parent’s anniversary, since it is for this union that you and I are here.

Deep within – we all have these fears lingering in our mind. Some of us combat them head on, and some of us jostle within ourselves, trying to find answers to some of this randomness in life. Whatever be the means, I believe these fears must be addressed and acknowledged, else we cannot move on. And so I will celebrate my parent’s wedding anniversary, this year as well.