[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

A road well taken

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

On a bright, humid summer morning, she is walking along a trail deep in the park. Tranquil surroundings, smell of fresh air, and the lullaby of running water from the stream – she felt thankful for everything. A few other morning joggers pass over exchanging courteous nods. From moment to moment, her thoughts wander away into the inglorious past. But she quickly recovers to stay in the moment and relish the liveliness. Yet again, next moment comes, she is lost thinking something about a promising future. Thankfully, her third eye is keeping her in a steady pace through the trail.

Until she runs into a three-way intersection.

Regaining total awareness, she slows down heading towards the groomed island at the center of the intersection. The other two trails leading away from the intersection seem alien. She isn’t quite sure if each will lead to the same kind of experience she has just had in the last 20 minutes. One appears too dark for the morning. The other seem to become narrow within a few yards so she couldn’t make anything out of it.

She takes a moment to turn around and appreciate the trail she came in from.

“May be I should just go back the same way, It sure is worth another trip.”

She is reluctant and quickly gives up that notion. She squeezes her eyes to see as far deep as she can into the trail on the left. It sure feels more inviting. But that’s just a feeling though, they both look more or less the same from where she is. She grinds her teeth for wasting too much time on this trivial thing, but she just can’t make up her mind which one to move on. Yet, she is sure she wants to go the trail as good or better than the one she just came in.

She takes a sip from the bottled water. The digital watch reads 7.44 AM. She wants to be home by 8 AM or at least by 8.15.

She can hear someone breathing hard, rushing to cross over from the trail she came in. A black Labrador swirls around her followed by a tall guy who slows down to look right into her eyes.

“Do you need help?”

“I am all right. I am wondering which way to go”

“Well! Take the one on the right, you will be in good company plus you will love the view of the downtown a mile or so down”

She thanks him as he jogs down the trail to the right. He doesn’t look back and she is still double-minded.

“Do I care for the view?”

Just as she swipes the dripping sweat off her chin, an old couple walk into the intersection from the trail on the left. They look happy, chatty and wanting to talk. She wants to ask their opinion of that trail but decides to just wish them a good morning even as the couple pass staring at her. They fade away into the trail behind her.

“I have always followed my intuition, let’s just move on the trail to the left”

“Wait! Why wouldn’t I enjoy the view of downtown? I haven’t been here before…”

“What the heck am I doing here? This is stupid. What’s the big deal? Just go with whatever!!!”

She begins to walk towards the trail on the left.

“Why should today be any different?”

“You know what? Let it be different. For once, I am going to give a break to my intuition and instead take someone’s advise!”

She turns away heading towards the trail on the right. A few yards down, it becomes narrow, rough, and rather smelly too.

“Is this the company he was talking about?”

She can’t find any signs of other joggers. The morning breeze seem to have vanished and the air feels awfully dry.

“Where did all the chirps and lullabies go?”

Finally, she runs past a mom jogging with twin infants in a stroller. She finds it strange that both the babies are crying louder than all other noise around while mom is busy on the phone. Mom was too busy to bother a smile, so she picks up some pace wanting to get home sooner.

A few minutes later her cell phone vibrates with a text message. She checks the phone slowing down a bit but wobbles and steps on a beer can. The left over beer slurps across her shoes and a bit on her left leg.

“Crap!”, she yells.

She wants to clean it up right away, except all she has is one last sip of water. She wants to get home right now.

“How far is this damn thing going to go? I should have stuck to my intuition!”

A few more minutes of jogging between the trees and unexpectedly, the full morning sun from the east catches her attention. And there it is. Leaning over the edge of the trail, She gets a glimpse of the river and past it, the spectacular downtown. Everything seems refreshing all of a sudden. The skyline is shining like a glorious Kohinoor diamond. The ferries and ships line up the waters as the peak hour traffic is buzzing across the riverside parkway.

“This is gorgeous”, she wishes every morning was as spiritual as this one. She takes the last sip of water, throws the bottle out in the garbage bin and looks up.

Her heart misses a beat. A massive airplane is ferociously descending down into the downtown’s tallest skyscraper.

Try try touch the sky! India

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

This Saturday may be Sachin's most precious day...

Today, India stole from the hands of Pakistan a well-deserved win against a roaring crowd from great country side of Punjab. On a day like this, the people of India love their cricket team to death. (On other occasions of failure, the same players get virtually hunted and verbally beaten, getting psychologically killed!)

Indeed, today was a moment of pride and honor for players and the whole nation. Every single player in the team worked hard for this moment and they won’t go to sleep tonite until they celebrate the heck out of their souls. A world cup Semi Finals is perhaps harder than Finals – more so because it hurts so much to get this far and not make it to Finals. In some sense, the teams fought not to win but for not to lose. You will shed your last pint of blood to escape going through what went on between the ears of Afridi and Aktar in the last few balls of the match.

Reclaim lost legacy and nail it!

In the first innings, the Indian players got burned down by Pak’s impeccable bowling. Yet, the team India rose out of the ashes to stage a spectacular show under the lights.

The Team India rarely gets their act together on a consistent basis. The last two matches will likely go down in history books as great cricket leading up to a world cup finals.

What’s remaining on Saturday is for Team India to show that it can cough up fire out of ash to nail its lost legacy as the world’s best cricket team in the world. Sachin Tendulkar will bet his entire fortune to be frozen in that moment through eternity.

A billion fans will be holding up our torches so the eleven tigers can scale through the darkest, farthest part of the heaven to kill the roaring lions. Go Team India Go! Try try and touch the sky!

Love and the joy of Fatherhood

Monday, March 28th, 2011

I have no clue how the last few months has rushed past my consciousness. Harini completes her full-term this week as we eagerly await the arrival of our second one. It seems as if it was only yesterday we started talking about a second child. As the ensuing months simply sprinted for me, I reckon it has been awfully tardy and burdensome for her.

Add Rishi to the equation and She can spend days elaborating on what it takes a go through a monumental 2nd pregnancy with a 2.5 year old constantly buzzing around your head. Don’t bother adding a clueless father to that equation, it gets really ugly.

Needless to say, I have been slipping by without a deep sense for what we are getting into. Of late, Rishi has been reminding me of the upcoming new release by saying ‘I love you, daddy!’ about 10 times within an hour. Over the course of a day, he must be uttering those words hundred times over between me, Harini and her mom. I cannot fathom what must be going on in his innocent mind, I do see he is preparing to face the reality of sharing his parents. Though he knows how to share toys with others, the moment he realizes what it means to share us, especially mommy, his tender heart is going to be sore.

One thing I am thankful to Rishi is he has shown me how to love. Shame on me, I didn’t realize it in the years that I have been married but better late than never. With the way Rishi loves us and expresses his love, I cringe with a sense of guilt that I am unable to reciprocate with same vigor and authenticity.

As part of our bedtime routine, I will read whatever book he choses that day and then we go through our motions of hugging, kissing, turning off the lights etc. I finally wrap him in his blanket and say “Night-Night, Rishi” and I walk out of his bedroom, just about to close the door…

“Daddy, Are you going to sleep with Harini?”

I lose my breath for a second.

I pause, “Yes, Rishi. Good Night! Sweet Dreams!”

“OK Daddy…”

Rishi loves Puzzle

I am glad he doesn’t say anything more because if he did, I would be in tears. I walk away with a heavy heart mixed with sense of love, warmth and guilt. It is with these subtle moments he has been giving me the precious joy of fatherhood.

I constantly question if all my love is self-centered around my desires. I am as much in love with my music or adventure sports or reading. Is all the myriad things that I get attracted to same as my love for Rishi or Harini or our to-be-born?

I wouldn’t trade anything else for the moments I spend with them but neither can I imagine going for months, if not days, without spending sometime with my other love affairs – reading or writing or playing tennis or whatever. Is it egregious to feel so? Thats the question I grapple with these days.

Dare to go on a war with your Imagination

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

For anyone who is looking for reasons to write, Poems can be a great inspiration.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terror clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

With the sight of a gorgeous tiger in mind’s eye, William Blake derived the inspiration to extract those beautiful words out of his imagination. Here is a good study guide for the Tyger Poem.

Tyger by William Blake

It’s a fantastic poem that reminds me time and time again that writing, in any form, is act of bravery. You wage a war inside your mind against your own imagined inspiration, be it a tiger or a sunset or a baby. When the words finally but slowly draw out and settle down in front of you on the screen, you are winning. You actively engage in the battle for a while until you get a satisfactory feeling that you have rescued your fair share of words out of your imagination.

Then, you engage in a joyous craft of literary peace making. You re-read the whole passage while your inspiration takes a back seat. You clean up words that seem burned-out in the process of extraction and polish sentences that came out awfully raw. You rehash certain ideas lost in collateral damage. At last, you stop. You just birthed with at most care and love a wonderful piece of writing, .

You walk away as a proud creator, knowing all too well that you love to wage this war forever and ever.

For the love of bullet trains and bonsai trees

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Much about the Japan’s earth quake and tsunami is being recorded and seen. Given the proliferation of cameras, this event is perhaps as close to real for rest of the world as can be experienced virtually. The tenacious Japanese will quickly recover or recreate the property damages, but nothing can compensate for the precious lives lost in one of Nature’s worst outrage.

In the middle of all the oohs, aahs and wows, there is also wide recognition of both Japan’s preparedness, as well as it’s disaster relief efforts. Anything man-made is “no more than a dust in the hands of Nature” so we may never perfectly design a building or a city or a relief operation, but the Japanese have absolutely demonstrated what superior engineering, thoughtful planning, religious preparation and most importantly, careful execution, by authorities as well as citizens, can do to minimize loss. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it at the moment, but given the scale of nature’s double whammy we must soon recognize that it is Japan’s design prowess, strict adherence to engineering codes, and earthquake drills that saved more lives than what eventually will have been lost. Obviously, the rest of world got a wake up call and has been keenly watching to learn from every second of Japan’s experience.

Calmness in Chaos

Personally, my siblings and I have long been admirers of Japanese for their culture, work ethic and determination. Growing up in southern India, we lived in a very old house with toilets detached from the house out in the backyard and so we had to walk a bit to answer nature’s calls. No offense, we actually named our toilet as, you might guess, “Japan!”. We used to yell “I am going to Japan!!!” before we ran through the back door. That was a silly-but-serious way for the siblings to keep the fascinating Japan accessible to ourselves.

Call it luck or destiny, my brother-in-law was a scientist in Japan (incidentally researching earthquake resistance of specialized concrete) and so my sister moved to Tsukuba shortly after they got married. Later, my parents too had a chance to visit Japan. All of them have nothing but admiration for this great country, its heritage and its people. No country is without shortcomings but what I heard again and again was Japanese were hallmarks for politeness, discipline, sincerity and mutual respect for fellow humans and nature.

A few days after the earth quake, I stumbled upon a personal blog written by a non-Japanese guy living somewhere in Japan. He had shared his first-hand perspectives of the post-earthquake events having experienced Japan and its culture more closely than average foreigner. Knowing that my family would better relate to this guy’s observations, I shared the article with them and my brother-in-law had this to say in response…

The preparedness of Japanese has always kept me mesmerized. Right from controlling air planes to picking up rags, these people do a perfect job. Guess, God must have put hard disks and artificial intelligence in them rather than neurons and tissues.

The other day i was talking to one of the Indians friends in Tokyo inquiring about their welfare. She told that the Japanese were simply adorable during such an havoc. It seems, they still greeted each other the same way and was ready to help this Indian friend of mine as if it was another normal day.

My dad responded with a beautiful poem written by 12-year old Rohith, who lives next door to my parents in Coimbatore…

Hit by tsunamis and earth quakes
Nuclear meltdowns and flooded lakes
Japan has suffered more than what it takes
To bring the earth down.

This is our little prayer
Its not much but it is larger
Than the ignorant layer
Of people who don’t care

Oh God! please save those people
Survival of the feeblest of the feeble
All the dead , they should be able
To reach heaven without fail.

To restore it to the ultimate peace
From the bullet trains to the bonsai trees
And to bring it all in one piece
You have to help them god, to make it through

I am not at all surprised that there has been no looting or public unrest in Japan. The Japanese hold their culture to highest levels of integrity – more so during times of disasters. I see no point in comparing them with other citizens across the world who looted their own cities amidst natural or man-made disasters. Many countries have similar values but only in Japan every citizen takes their cultural values to their heart and souls.

I join Rohit in wishing the Japanese further strength and resilience to “restore to its ultimate peace, everything from the bullet trains to the bonsai trees”

A fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Often I stumble upon on the same day, two different perspectives on the same topic. One of my favorite past time is to pick up random magazines from the library. The lucky winner the other day was The Progressive magazine. Very thought-provoking articles focused on current events in America, and with arguments that normally fly below the mainstream media.

Quite a few articles caught my interest due to the nature of the topics that I haven’t come across lately. An article, “Fighting Fire with Water” by Colman McCarthy, on the idea of pacifism was a great reminder of why the revolts in the middle east are so effective.

Another article by Luis J. Rodríguez, “the Latino vote” cleared up my common misconception of treating the entire Latino population in the US as one entity. On one of the panel discussions that the author was part of, an average American would have classified the panel participants as all “Latinos” but the author highlights that the only thing common amongst them was writing, if that.

But the best one was waiting just for me. The blockbuster article of the February edition was “The Rule of the Rich” by Bill Moyers. Some of you may know him from the PBS show Bill Moyer’s Journal – which I recommend if you are interested in thoughtful talk shows. The article is based on a rather lengthy speech he gave at Boston University in honor of Howard Zinn. Apparently, the Progressive article not available online in its entirety.

The article starts with defining the word Plutocracy (a new word for me and it means “state in which the wealthy class rules”) and goes on to open your eyes on why Richest Americans do not need the rest of America. The point of Moyers’ article is best summarized by this quote, ““There are two things that are important in politics, The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”. What you will realize, after reading his speech (or the article if you can get hold of the magazine), is how in the name of capitalism, American politics and governance has outright sold itself to the wealthiest in America. Here is a key part of the article to ponder

from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

Just a couple of days prior to reading this article, I was watching the PBS show, Need to Know and they had a fantastic segment on “Income inequality in America: An illustrated interview”. Try to watch the video on the link but the summary of it is that if this deadly canyon of inequality doesn’t stop, America may split into two parallel worlds.

If the trend that we’ve seen for the past 25 years were to continue over the next 25 years, I can’t imagine what the world would look like. Because suddenly you’ve got two separate education systems, two separate housing places. Two separate levels of experience. So, of course, I do not see how, in a system such as this, somebody that begins at the bottom can end up at the top.

Corporation, Profit, Politics & Corruption?

You know about six years ago I made a big decision to get a MBA from a reputed university. Which I did. But about half way into my short journey on business education, I realized I was losing appetite for corporate America’s lure. The courses I took, and some of the wonderful teachers at NYU made me discover what really clicked for me was the Social Enterprise Sector (Non-profit). I disliked finance, accounting and investment banking. I grew wary of Capitalism. Most students out of a business school get out deeply married to the ideas of Capitalism, I emerged crystal clear of its perils. The stories by Bill Moyers and Eduardo Porter reminded me of the heated discussions we used to have in the classes on corporate ethics, global economy and social entrepreneurship.

The subtle reality is corporate America is becoming monstrously huge and ruthless. The pointless year over year growth syndrome is driving corporations to seek wealth at any cost. Where the costs are too high, Washington devises clever policies to rescue Wall Street.

The agony is America is creating a fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption. The rest of the world is boozing the hell out of it.

Flaws in the hype around Startup Visa Act

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Vivek Wadhwa wrote an article yesterday in BusinessWeek, Startup Visas Could Boost U.S. Entrepreneurship, in support of the proposed Startup Visa Act. The article purports that the Startup Visa bill, if approved, will result in “thousands of new startups”.

After you have read the BusinessWeek article, I suggest you also read Vivek’s brief summary report on skilled immigration statistics.

As outlined in the Business Week article, the summary of the legislation in itself has quite a few conditional clauses. I have to assume the detailed legislation that would go into effect, will have more specific gotchas. I am not sure how they arrived at all the numbers but within the boundaries that they have defined, I do not think we will see thousands of new American jobs – which is the goal of this legislation. It might create a few hundred American jobs, at best. We all can certainly pray for a Yahoo! to emerge out of this.

Note, I agree with his assessment of the immigration limbo (last but one paragraph in the article) on how skilled workers are jailed in the visa system, waiting for permanent residency. In my humble opinion, tying the skilled worker immigration fiasco with the Startup Visa Act is not entirely logical. I find certain flaws in the arguments and assumptions that Vivek is making in support of Startup Visa Act.

First, if an immigrant in the US has a business idea and wants to start a venture around it, they will find a way to do it. If there are legal ownership issues, they will find a resident or citizen partner to work with them. If someone landed in the US yesterday as an immigrant and dreamed up a brilliant idea last night, what they need this morning is money to make it happen! In its absence, they have to work their rear off through the network of known people to fund it. If this individual is passionate and aggressive, she will somehow find and pitch to VCs or enter one of the scores of startup / business plan competitions out there. As long as they can stay in the US legally, they will continue to look for ways to startup their idea. Case in point here: How Archana Patchirajan, who moved to the US only in 2004, launched her idea, founded a company with two other friends and secured funding from BMW.

As a matter of fact, I had gone through the process of forming a business so we could open up a retail franchise (this one) in our town in New Jersey. If things had gone right, we would have created at least 5 American jobs. We didn’t pursue it because the bank insisted a higher proportion of startup funds from our personal savings than we could pull. The accountant, attorney, and the bank executive who helped us didn’t question once about my immigration status – which was, and still is, H1B (very last stage though!).

So, as long as you are a legal immigrant, starting or owning a business in the US is not impossible. There may be a few immigrants who would take advantage of the Startup Visa Act, but it will not magically make thousands of skilled immigrants sprint overnight to Silicon Valley.

Second, the Kauffman report says

…India and China are racing ahead as centers of research and innovation. Further research may confirm what seems likely—that returnees from the United States are increasingly fueling this growth. Our interviews reveal these returnees typically went home because they saw tremendous opportunity in their home countries.

Greatest prospects for skilled labor is elsewhere

I would caution that anecdotal statement is somewhat misleading. Many of my friends have returned to India in last few years. A few of them returned specifically because they didn’t get a green card soon enough and got sick of being stuck with same employer and same job on a H1B visa. But the telling story is: Almost all of them returned to India, because India is the damn land of opportunity at the moment. They find wider range of jobs, faster career growth, better titles, higher pay in some cases, almost the same quality of life as in the US. In essence, they are simply as opportunistic as they were when they came state side. Let’s be clear: not everyone returning to India is starting a company there. I don’t have any research to back up that point but so is the quote above. Some returnees indeed start business there, immediately or eventually, yet the majority of India’s recent entrepreneurial growth is purely organic (read this and this). Internet boom and new media has opened up access to know-how and inspiration for all Indians, while India’s younger generation is doing the heavy lifting by embracing the culture of entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, American is wobbling, majority of industries have negative or stagnated growth, American corporations themselves are betting on their firm’s growth in International markets. For heaven’s sake, Chinese, Brazilians, and Indians are returning to their country because that’s where the greatest hope for the skilled person’s growth and prosperity is. Not because that’s where the next Silicon Valley is.

Third, if the Startup Visa were to “open the flood gates” (it won’t, but glad if I am proved wrong), it will be for the benefit of and because of Silicon Valley’s elite. The legislation’s clause mandates

“The investor must be a qualified venture capitalist, a ‘super angel’ (a U.S. citizen who has made at least two equity investments of at least $50,000 every year for the previous three years), or a qualified government entity.”.

I don’t exactly understand the logic of this restrictive “investor clause” but I suppose it was to prevent misuse. We can speculate what that misuse could be, but, this clause, by design binds and favors the Venture Capital community. That is good if some Venture Capitalist already knows you personally and can’t wait to cut a cheque in your idea’s name. If you don’t know anyone, then take a bus to South By South West (SXSW) or shunt coast to coast looking for business plan competitions.

I suspect quite a few VCs out there know entrepreneurs outside the US that they would like to fund and bring over to Silicon Valley, for good reasons – mentor and hook them up with best of the valley to eventually make a ton of $$$. Indeed, if such a legal framework exists, I would do it too.

One statistic intrigued me the most in Vivek’s Kauffman report.

In 2006, foreign nationals residing in the United States were named as inventors or co-inventors in an astounding 25.6 percent of patent applications filed from the United States, a substantial increase from 7.6 percent in 1998. Foreign nationals also contributed to a majority of some U.S. companies’ patent applications, including Qualcomm—72 percent, Merck— 65 percent, GE—64 percent, and Cisco—60 percent. More than 40 percent of the U.S. government-filed international patent applications had foreign authors. These numbers did not include immigrants who had become citizens at the time of filing.

Vivek asks, “so, why weren’t they becoming U.S. citizens and filing patents as Americans?”. Great question. Once you come into the US in a skilled worker visa category, the queue to the permanent residency and citizenship is enormously long. The irony is the Dream Act, whose primary focus is illegal immigrants, is taking up all the air time leaving no time or will to make the path to citizenship faster for skilled, legal immigrants. I bet very many of them will go on to start or own small (and big) businesses, spurring job creation across America.

No doubt, we need more Start-Ups, Not Bailouts but it largely must come from inside America, not outside. The Startup Visa Act will create American jobs, but it won’t make a dent on the job market or economy. Unless, of course, the Gods answer Vivek’s wish and bless US with another Facebook economy of some sort to spring out of it.

Benjamin Zander’s art of possibility

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I was reading a book by Alan Fine, “You already know How to be great” and in it Alan writes about Benjamin Zander‘s method of “Giving an A” to all his music students right at the beginning of the semester in exchange for just one home work: Write a letter that begins with “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…”.

I have not heard of Benjamin Zander before but I was hooked. The clock had just crossed midnight and it was awfully quiet, yet I couldn’t help but try to learn a bit more about him. Soon, I grabbed my headset to watch on my phone his great TED Presentation.

What got me hooked was not so much the idea of “Giving an A” or Mr. Zander’s flamboyant stage presence at TED, but it was the contents of an actual letter from one of his students, a young Korean flutist,…

Dear Mr. Zander, my teacher,

I got an A because I worked hard and thought deeply about myself as a student in your class-and the result was truly magnificent. I have become a whole different person. I used to be negative about nearly everything, before even trying. Now I’m much happier than I used to be. Around one year ago I couldn’t accept my mistakes. I got mad at myself after every mistake I made. But now I actually enjoy my mistakes and I really learned a lot from those mistakes. There is more depth in my playing than there used to be. At first, I only played the notes, but now I’ve discovered something about the real meaning of all those compositions. Now I play with more fantasy. I’ve also discovered my own worth. I’ve discovered that I’m a special person because I saw that I can do anything if I believe in myself. Thank you for your lectures and classes because they made me understand how important I am and the true reason why I make music.

This kid really made it sound too simple but this exercise in imagination is hard. I need to imagine myself in the future, and then look back at my own life and further imagine what I learned, how I changed, what I achieved etc. While I need to do this exercise lot more thoroughly, I am already imagining the moments when I speak at TED.  When that possibility materializes, Benjamin Zander will be my role model!

If everything is invented, why not do it right? Source: royblumenthal

I recently wrote about Running our own race in life. I said, Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can.

What Zander’s suggests is for all of us to open up to imagining the perfect story of our own life. Not just imagine it, but Write it. See it.

Believe in what you imagined, after that, it’s a matter of living the endless possibilities.

In Praise of Atanu Dey – Deeshaa.org

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Who is Atanu Dey? I know nothing about him personally and the little I know of him is what’s on the “About” page of his website – Deeshaa.org. What I do know is his writings. And what I aspire is to think and write like him.

I have feeble memories of when and how I stumbled upon this guy, must be early 2000s when Rajesh Jain was a dotcom heartthrob. But what a find: Atanu Dey is an authentic citizen of the sort that India sorely needs in millions. He is everything I want to be, but am not – at least not entirely yet.

With an education from more than one Ivy League institution, he could have been cruising now in a senior management job in corporate America but instead, he chose to focus his mind share on India’s development. He is most likely a omnivorous reader but more importantly, a free thinker and articulate writer. We may not agree with all his opinions, but he eloquently writes what he wants to say. I know not the hours he toils to compose his blogs, but I know what he ultimately writes are articles that you won’t find in reputed media. The topics, style and the tone makes me wonder they might as well be editorials for the day in mainstream media. That may sound as an exaggeration, so judge for yourself.

Atanu Dey writes on India's development @ Deeshaa.org

His writings are usually commentary on the state of politics, economy and education – primarily focused on India. But what distinguishes the commentary is its offbeat perspective and depth, which is generally lacking in the blogging community. For many bloggers today, being quick and quirky is more important than being deep and authentic. In that sense, Atanu is either naturally gifted to create a perception of depth or, as I believe, plows through background readings before constructing his arguments. To be fair, I should mention he occasionally throws diatribes that endlessly belabor his own notions.

Ultimately, what makes me return to his blog is that he is an ordinary and responsible citizen with no affiliations but lot of insights on current issues. In many cases, he does outline a vision for solutions too. Some day, he will be recognized in a larger stage for his authenticity and boldness, but until then, as Desh Deepak writes, he will be one of jewels in the overcrowded world of “restless, maverick and quirky Indian bloggers”.

Prayers for the Speedy Recovery of Japan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Mother nature’s ability to cause unbelievable havoc should never be underestimated. It is heart-wrenching to see the extent of the damage to Japan from today’s eartherquake. These pictures from Boston.com says it all. We offer our sincere prayers for speedy recovery of victims and the country as a whole. It’s a relief that Japan knows how to handle this situation better than anybody else on the face of the earth.

Students from Ahmedabad pray for Japan's victims via boston.com

The perspective of long range thinking

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Today, I created a separate twitter account (thinklongrange) to start communicating on the specific topic of long range thinking. Some refer to this as strategic thinking.

Coincidentally, after I created that twitter account, I stumbled upon the Change This manifesto by Rajesh Setty titled 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself. The item #14 in the manifesto is “THINK LONG-TERM”. I agree with Rajesh that many are becoming “short-term thinkers”. Everything from the collapse of the American financial industry to the perils of global warming to the rampant corruption across governments is because of focus on short-term gains. What we lack is a vision for the future – a vision for world at large as well as for our own personal future. The convergence of these two positive visions should be the impetus to give our best every single day.

Perspective from Mountain Top

Imagine you are standing on top of the mountain with the breathtaking view of the city in front of you. You can see the lake swirling around the city while on the other end airplanes wait in line to land. You see that what you thought as the tallest building is not really that tall and that there is much taller builder now on the west of the city. You notice the east of the city is dotted with more greener than rest of the city. You cannot make these observations from elsewhere inside the city. You needed to be at a range long enough to appreciate this perspective.

With this perspective imprinted in your mind, would you now go about your life in the city a bit differently? I believe you will. The next time you want to jog, you will more likely chose the east of the city with more trees. Won’t you?

Thinking long range provides the crucial perspective that’s not isolated from short-term thinking. In fact, your shot-term thinking will be entirely different after you take a stroll from a long range perspective.

So whether it’s called for or not, next time you approach a problem, take an imaginative (or real if appropriate!) step back to get a perspective similar to the one from the mountain top. Spend minutes, if not hours, observing and digesting what you see from that perspective. Bring those observations back with a closer-look at the short-term details of the problem. Though the solution might still take longer to arrive at, you will be amazed at the quality of the solution.

Performance art – Undefined

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Wikipedia defines Performance art as

Performance art refers largely to a performance which is presented to an audience but which does not seek to present a conventional theatrical play or a formal linear narrative, or which alternately does not seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in formal scripted interactions. It therefore will often include some form of action or spoken word which is a form of direct communication between the artist and audience, rather than a script written beforehand.

For many years, my vision of this type performance art was what I saw in a circus. Though they were well rehearsed, the jugglers, acrobats, fire breathers, ring masters and puppeteers were still performing a kind of live artistic maneuvers on stage that is a delight to experience.

I still don’t understand where the line is between performance art and other staged performances – the likes of drama, dance, orchestra etc. Is it the elements of spontaneity and uncertainty above and beyond the usual scripted performances? I doubt it. Modern directors of all forms staged performance deliberately design and introduce some sense of spontaneity in their performances.

Is this performance an art?

If your tastes permit, check out this video of spooky performances art by a Japanese artist. And then, the guy who paints his body like a silver statue and stands sill for hours in Times Square, only to wink occasionally at an odd bystander. Are these people performance artists? May be? We can debate for hours both ways.

Leaving that debate aside, Museums and art galleries, at least the leading ones, are reinventing performance art. Priya Kulasagaran writes about how Malaysia’s National Art Gallery is breaking out of its mold to embrace new age performance artists and hosting their arguably bizarre acts.

She says, “One of the stand out performances of the night was Jumaadi’s avant-grade wayan kulit performance. Armed with modernist shadow puppets and a backdrop of didgeridoo, electronic sounds and haunting vocals, the Indonesian artist weaved a tale of origins of rice and rats – complete with wrath of god, death and an incestuous love affair.”

I remember the traditional puppet shows (called bommalattam in Tamil) I watched at the temple across the street where I grew up in Gandhipuram, Coimbatore in India. Changes in audience taste plugged with sophisticated technology now enables folks like Jumaadi to produce “avant-grade” performances. And then there are the innovators, who think laterally redefining art. Priya writes about Tan Zi Hao’s performance dealing with “communal memory”. The audience were staged along with a chair, phone and a scrapbook full of notes on directions to a specific destination. Elsewhere in Malaysia, a volunteer student was let loose to figure the route to that destination – except he can call as many times this phone, which will ring only to connect the audience in this at Art Gallery performance who can advise directions to the student. Though I would consider this neither as an art nor performance, it did remind me of something lot more fascinating.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

Early last year, The Museum of Modern Art in New York demonstrated a intriguing work by god-mother of all performance artists, Marina Abramovic. This is one such performance that just catches you off-guard to remind why this art form is referred as “an ephemeral medium”. Marina sat in a chair, quiet, inactive and indifferent, for 7-hours a day, and six days a week, across another chair where audience took turns to sit and “participate” in the performance. Unquestionably, it was titled “Artist is Present”. Not to confuse her work with theater, she says “To be a performance artist, you have to hate the theater. Theater is fake…the knife is not real, the blood is not real and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite”. Want to know her latest quest? Making you eat Eat Flaming Volcano Dessert. Suppose you want to read more about her, here is her interview in UK’s guardian news paper.

While on the topic, check out http://weburbanist.com. They showcase some unbelievable art projects, from murals to 3D street paintings. These are not necessarily performance arts; They still are spectacular works of art requiring extraordinary performance by the artist.

Artist Meg Saligman working with Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

What can you do in a 30 second video?

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

This stunning work of art and digital videography will keep your attention for 25 seconds.

Seaweed from Tell No One on Vimeo.

Practice is getting out of the way of your Intention

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Intention to Manifestation (Tibetan Calligraphy) Tashimannox.com

If we want to know the true meaning of intention and manifestation, look no further than ourselves. These two words are common only in the spiritual circle, so not many care to think about it. If we really understand what it is, It indeed is a powerful phenomenon to experience. Let’s try and understand it.

When someone throws a soft ball at us, do we catch it? Of course. Wouldn’t we catch it 8 or 9 or 10 out of 10 times? Each time we catch it, we are demonstrating the power of intention and manifestation. If we think about it, we don’t give special instructions to our hands or body to catch the ball;  Do you? We don’t really work to catch the ball;  We simply place an intent that we want to catch the ball and our body manifests that intention by catching the ball. We do act on the intention by letting our body react but we don’t force anything. In fact, the more we think about it (we are attached to the outcome), the chances are we will miss the catch. When unruffled action follows intention, the result will be close to perfect.

Wayne Dyer would say the same law of intention at work in everything that happens – things we see and that we don’t. When an ice skater makes a triple spin and lands perfectly on the ice, all she does is intends, and lets the action of spin and landing happen by itself, without any conscious effort. Make no mistake – hours and hours of practice is needed for such acts. What we don’t realize is that all the time and pain we put into practice is to elevate us to a spot where we don’t think about the action anymore.

Give that last statement another moment of reflection. When we reach that level of skill, intention to manifestation is a simple, straight transition. We can’t even explain, it just happens.

Can you explain how you are actually able to ride a bicycle? I don’t think so, we can only show it. Did we magically ride a bicycle one fine morning? No! not without striving for days and if lucky, got away with few bruises. In the end, when we zip around the cycle, sometimes hands free, we absolutely do not spend even a single micro second thinking about it. We intend and we are on our way enjoying the ride.

I am sure you have seen musicians perform. The pianist or flutist simply plays. Their musical intentions just merely flow through their body and all we hear is great music. In those moments, the person playing is simply another instrument for the manifestation of universal power of intention.

I am a student of classical Hindustani vocal music and every time I work on a particular song or rendition, I labor for hours, sometimes weeks or even months. And then one day, I simply get it. It is no more labor, I just think for a second what I want to sing, and there it comes. As I sing, I am able to observe myself with amazement that all I am doing is letting go of my effort and the need to try. I see I have reached the level to just surrender to the intention of singing and I just sing. Or, something sings, all I do is let it all happen.

The next time you work hard on something, be aware that all you are trying to do is learning to surrender, to get out of the intention so the result simply happens. That awareness in itself will get you one step closer to whatever you are working towards.

Jailed by the US Immigration Process

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Vivek Wadhwa makes a decent argument on TechCrunch Why Silicon Valley Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Returning Home. He is getting a lot of heat for what he is saying, but how you judge his opinion depends on what your experience is.

Though I am not an entrepreneur (yet!), I am a victim of the pathetic US immigration law, practically jailed in the immigration process for over a decade and there are no good reasons to hope we will get green card anytime soon. Of course, what Vivek outlined in the article rings painfully true to me.

Let’s be very clear, most immigration laws are well intended. But the immigration policy decisions, for good or bad, made in the last decade has forced millions like me to stick to same jobs, employers and settle with restricted career paths. While many employers, including mine, are doing everything legally possible to treat professional immigrants with equal opportunities, the reality is we are stuck in the system with too many legal restrictions and no easy way out.

The great nation of migrants

Though owning a house was possible, it was daunting paperwork-wise. Visiting the DMV every couple of years to renew my driving license as an immigrant is an experience I dread. Getting a parole and EAD every couple of years is a financial overhead as well as a legal risk in the event it doesn’t get approved or gets approved late. Let’s not even talk about the necessary evil of facing up the immigration officials after returning from trips abroad. I just suck it up.

These pains force me to contemplate return to India more often than not – forced by the never ending immigration fiasco. There are scores like me who would attest for similar experiences and emotions. From all our vantage points, Vivek’s article is on the dot.

Yet, not many days go by without being thankful for this great country for the opportunities I have had. It’s not just that immigrants are successful in the US, it’s that this is the only country that flourished by capitalizing and absorbing immigrants. Too sad that we might be witnessing the demise of that Great America in our lifetime.

Next generation of Designers will be everywhere.

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Inspire - Source: Smashing Magazine' Floral Typography

If you like the idea of making your environment a better place to live, then you are person who embraces design thinking. The environment could be just your room or house or could be whatever you do for living, or be it the world. Design thinking is about taking a different perspective, a view of a creator.

Designers come in all flavors. The traditional ones design cars to toothbrushes. The contemporary ones design cities, websites and iPods. The next generations of designers are going to be unlike; they will bring a fresh mix of right and left brain thinking to everyday problems, everywhere.

I like this article on Smashing Magazine titled Five and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Designers. It is intended for web designers – the folks that dream up the look, feel and aesthetics of web pages and the graphic design that goes with it. But I thought the ideas are apt for any designers, the types I defined above. The habits highlighted in the article are valid for individuals too to better design our own lives – especially the last habit described, Habitually Rewrite The Habits

Roger Martin's Knowledge Funnel

On on the same topic, I recommend a book by Roger Martin, “The Design of Business”. It’s a quick read and the model he defines is one I found intriguing. While the model is somewhat same as in six sigma approaches, Roger does a nice job of articulating it in a simpler way.

If you take an inventory of any business problem today, they will likely fall in one of the spaces within the funnel. Innovative companies, such as Samsung (let’s give a break to Apple) manage their product lines rigorously – ideas mature through the funnel and gets mass produced at the bottom of funnel, while newer ideas are brewed and hashed out at the top. Future of all modern business will be based on principles discussed in this book. You can read Roger Martin’s blog here.

XPlane is one of those companies that you should know about. They spearheaded design thinking early on, though many firms now exist in this up and coming space of Design and Innovation consulting. I encourage you to watch this video made by XPlane (their blog here) in honor next generation of designers out there – like you and me.

A love letter to Designers from XPLANE on Vimeo.

Run your own race in life and definitely write about it too!

Friday, March 4th, 2011

One of my cousins sent me an email a couple of days ago…

…I couldn’t stop myself from ending with these couple of lines:- Every time I think of you, am amazed at how a once shy and recluse Sudhar turned things around and unfurled himself to become who you are today! And that’s no joke…you’ve made it up all by yourself! I bet you should start writing an autobio…

I was on cloud nine by the time I was done reading the email! Those kind of words always fan one’s ego.

Thankfully, only a few weeks earlier, I had read the NYTimes article “The Problem With Memoirs” – I even tweeted that “Half the people in America seem to be writing a book, especially memoir. The other half could care less. No wonder Borders B&N are bankrupt”.

That article was somewhat unnecessarily brutal. Yet, it was a timely reminder on a couple of fronts. I like to call out a few things from it, for my own sake:

That you had parents and a childhood does not of itself qualify you to write a memoir. A vast majority of people used to live lives that would draw a C or a D if grades were being passed out — not that they were bad lives, just bland.

That’s what happens when immature writers write memoirs: they don’t realize that an ordeal, served up without perspective or perceptiveness, is merely an ordeal.

I ask myself, Did I have a life that would pass a A grade? Likely No.

Did I have any ordeals that offers a perspective? Probably. Is it unique? Likely No.

It is probably fair to conclude that a nobody like me should not publish a memoir.

But hang on. I say publish not write.

As William Zinsser argues in this fitting rebuttal to the NYTimes article, every self respecting soul has The Right to Write. Here is a gist of what Zinsser had to say – which is exactly what I had concluded myself after reading Neil Genzlinger’s rant in NYTimes.

All of us earn that right by being born; one of the deepest human impulses is to leave a record of what we did and what we thought and felt on our journey. The issue here is not whether so many bad memoirs should be written. It’s whether they should be published–let’s put the blame where it belongs–and whether, once published, they should be reviewed.

Run your own Race (Source: kaboodle.com)

Zinsser, as some of you may know, is one of my teachers and role models in writing – so I trust his opinion more than Genzlinger’s. I do wonder if the inkling to leave a legacy is true for every person. May be it is and manifests in many ways, not the least of which is an effort to write a memoir, that too published & in rare cases, end up as best sellers!

All of this reminds me of the phrase “Run your own race”. Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can. Let’s be a hero to ourselves first. Being our own hero or a hero to our own small circle of people is in itself worthy of our efforts. That my cousin was “amazed” by my life thus far or that I inspire a few from my little circle of friends and family is all I need to eventually rest in peace.

We can save the trees and the publishers. Of course, we can give a break to some bored NYTimes book reviewers too.

Stunning Popup Dinasours, Slick Ganesha and Malgudi Days

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Today, my in-laws joined us for an extended stay through the summer. Rishi was instantly elated seeing them though he last saw them over a year ago. Being somewhat of a sticky kid he is, I was expecting he would hesitate to respond to them. Wrong! He was on his way and within a few minutes it was as if we have all been together forever.

Robert Sabuda's Stunning Dinasour Pop-Up Book

With every visitor from India comes loads of books for me and Rishi. My FIL has a fantastic collection of old books mostly published in 70s-90s of last century. I suppose he hasn’t still read many of them, for he religiously travels only with books from his own collection to read. This time I have quite a few “gold pieces” (as he would call them) including a couple of RK Narayan’s books to spice up my summer.

But what seized my attention was not the usual suspects but two books intended for our 2.5 years old, who exhibits symptoms of a ravenous reader.

The first is a pop-up book titled Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up.  I have seen pop-up books before and Rishi has a few that are fantastic, but this one is unbelievable. Not without reasons has it scored solid 5 stars in Amazon review from 167 reviews. I was flabbergasted with the production quality of this book, specifically the pop-ups of various sizes, shapes and intricacies.  Today, I become a unofficial disciple of pop-up book design guru Robert Sabuda. Dude, you are one heck of a creative person who will inspire me from now onwards.

Cool Ganesh's Mousescapes

The other book is YAG (yet-another-ganesh!) book. I got to believe there must be millions of Ganesha & Krishna cartoon/illustrated books published just in the last few years in India. But this one is unlike any that I have seen. That it is commissioned by Chinmaya Mission and written by one of it’s swamini’s seemed little odd. Nevertheless, we must appreciate their courage to take a more innovative route in how the book turned out. Cleverly titled, “Ganesha’s Mousecapade” is work of beauty in the hands perhaps the best, contemporary designers and illustrators in India . Where the quality jumps out is the work done by Brahma Design and owlandbat.com in creating fantastic “2D animation and motifs from  India Madhubani art“.  The illustartor has done a masterful job of juxtaposing the epic characters and mythical timescape with today’s sensibilities and slickness – reminded me of KungFu Panda.  The Ganesh illustrated in this book is as cool as a movie star you have never heard of, but can read about in this brilliantly-written Slate article. You don’t have to believe me, but find a way to check out “Ganesh’s Mousescape” yourself.

Oh, flipping through one of FIL’s RK Narayan book reminded me of Malgudi Days. This website, aptly named, Malgudidays.net, carries the full set of 39 episodes of Malgudi Days which arguably is the most beloved TV series of last century – or may be even this century.

Yearning for the times...Malgudi Days