[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

So you want to be a top performer?

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

After a long hiatus with my writing, I took advantage of the winter storm lockout this weekend to write a blog and posted in LinkedIn!

“Who wants to be a top performer rated as “exceeding expectations” and “outstanding talent”?” on @LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/who-wants-top-performer-rated-exceeding-expectations-krishnamachary

If you are in any corporate environment, you might find it useful. Please check out and share!

Funny Life Quotes

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Life is sometimes serious and at other times, outright funny!

On our way to the day care, Rishi, munching a chocolate, “Daddy, I am going to show Ms. Kristen (his teacher) the chocolate in my mouth!”.

Me: “That’s not a bad idea, Rishi!”

R: “Bad Idea? Good Idea Daddy!”. I cringe for blurting out a wrong phrase!

A few minutes later…

R: “Daddy, I ate all the chocolate, I can’t show it to Ms. K now!”

Me: “Oh! that sucks!”

R: “That’s a good Sucks Daddy, not a bad Sucks!”

Me: I just stumbled upon a funny life quote – there is good and bad in everything, including things that suck!

For the love of learning a new sport

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

If I could, I would have picked up Squash. Emerging from what many would call mid-life crisis – a phase of life when you know you got to be doing something else, but know nothing more about what that else is – I recently picked up a less intense, but equally addictive sport, Tennis.

Who doesn't get inspired by that?

I don’t recall ever seeing a Tennis court growing up in India. Yet, I religiously read The Hindu’s SportStar magazine and go for war with my brother to own the center page blow up of Boris Becker. Over the years, I generally watched all the grand-slam finals – just for the love of Tennis and the kick of its corner to corner, head-turning rallies. Not to mention the compelling changes in the way the game is played these days – thanks to Federer, Nadal and now, Djoikovich.

Last fall, the dormant Becker in me finally decided to show up. At 36, I committed to learning yet another sport. This idea was certainly not new to me. I taught myself to roller-blade when I was 24 and to snowboard when I was 26! But I haven’t played an active, outdoor, athletic sport since high-school where I made a vain attempt to earn a spot in the district field hockey team. So this time I was absolutely ecstatic signing up for beginner lessons at the Warren Racquet Club – I now have one more way to get my receding HDL cholesterol back up! Besides, one of my best friends who has been playing for a few years now kept reminding me that once you start playing Tennis, you won’t give it up for life. I knew exactly what that means now that I meet tennis partners who must be in their 70s and even 80s. Let’s not go into the details of how many of these older buddies kick me around the court.

Over the last few months, this new commitment has taught me the big difference between knowing and doing. I knew the rules of the game, have seen the best shots in slow motion, have mercilessly critiqued the world’s best players for playing up to their potential, have read best of the articles on tennis for over a decade. But…that’s a big fat BUT, I could not hit the ball into the court for many many days.

With help from the left-over athlete in me spurred by a relentless desire to improve, I have upped the game to the point where I not only get the balls into the court, I even pull a few winners occasionally. I have also taken bold step to sign up for the USTA 3.0 Adults League – I am in Business!

I read somewhere that Life is simply a combination of keys and locks. All one must try is to match the right key with the right lock, then, satisfaction and happiness prevails.

You might wonder why I started off with Squash then? I don’t exactly know. Perhaps, it will remain the greatest sport I never played but read everything about since I am just about halfway done with reading how Trinity College’s squash team continues to remain at the top of the college squash circuit [Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear].

Beauty in Zen Philosophy

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

This Zen Buddhist riddle touches the deepest part of my soul so well that I could just meditate on it forever without feeling a bit tired.

Q: How long should you stay at something?
A: However long it takes to get what you came for.
Q: How do you decide what you came for?
A: You don’t, you discover it.
Q: How do you discover it?
A: You notice what isn’t there anymore when you feel like leaving.

You need to be a person of certain nature to have the patience to seriously ponder this riddle. If you do take the time to ruminate on this, you will be rewarded with an illumination that’s priceless. It may even do exactly what riddles and poems are supposed to do: change your outlook on Life.

The reward in this discovery is the next...

There is a sense of spontaneity and now-ness in the first answer. Listen to your soul to know how long you should stay at something. But how did you arrive at this ‘something’ to begin with? Intriguingly enough, the last question answers that. You arrived at this ‘something’ when you felt like leaving the previous ‘something’.

Who said philosophy, that too Zen philosophy, is easy?

We always will have a ‘something’ to stay at. The only conscious or sub-conscious choice we have is to let go of this ‘something’, so we go to the next ‘something’.

Do you realize how the “notice” on the last answer circles back to the “something” in the first question? no? never mind.

What you came to ‘discover’, the reward, in this ‘something’ is really your next ‘something’. Zen is Genius. This is Life. This is exactly who I am.

And, I am not really as nutty as you might have concluded.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Reflecting on Qualities of Success

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I have always been self-reflective and conscientious. Though not entirely an introvert, I enjoy time alone, that too quiet solitude, where possible. Most of my reflective time is spent on wondering what are the right things to do as a person or what makes someone a “success”. Naturally, I love philosophy for it needs extensive inward focus.

There is quite a bit of literature on the subject of what it means to be a good and successful person.  My quest has been to find the ultimate answer to the question of success – of course not in a material sense, but in a true human, soulful sense. For sure, I know I won’t find the one answer, so my discoveries continue. I have found a few so far. I write about one below and will write about others soon. [Hint: Dungy…]

John Wooden’s achievements has been unprecedented. He was the genius coach behind UCLA’s college basketball team which won more championship titles than any other college – unbeaten record even today. In his later years, he gave a lecture (and later a book) titled The Pyramid of Success. The pyramid is made of qualities/attributes we must have for winning in life. I love analyzing models, so this pyramid has been a sweet pudding savoring my appetite for a while!

Pyramid of Success

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

While searching for the graphic, I stumbled upon this article about John Wooden written for a local newspaper in Tennessee by Barbara Gunn. She quotes John Wooden from a Toasmaster article she had read:

“When I was an English teacher, I found out some parents made their youngsters feel they had failed if they didn’t get an A or B. I never liked that definition of success,” he told the Toastmaster interviewer. “I wanted to come up with something that I hoped would make me a better teacher and give those under my supervision something with which to aspire, other than high marks in the classroom or more points in athletic endeavors.”

Thus came his pyramid. The qualities in the pyramid are not about becoming a sports star or going to Harvard business school or being a math genius. They are the time-tested personal qualities everyone should cultivate – be it a pauper or king. Success (material & non-material) and satisfaction will follow wherever we go and whatever we do.

Now, take some time tonight to reflect on the pyramid.

Mr. Wooden lived exactly 100 years (1910-2010) to attest for the truthfulness of the pyramid. Is that good enough to convince us to take his words seriously?

Designing the life of our kids

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The tyranny of choice; Click to read at Economist.com

As current generation of “digital” kids grow up, the one skill they are going to need absolutely is ability to design their life. What I mean by “life” is both at a higher level – who they are, what & who they like/dislike, what they want, what they want to become etc and at the lower, day to day level – what they should do with time, attention and money right now, next hour, next day and how they should go about doing it.

I know that’s way too abstract. Just hold that thought while I present another abstract one.

What I mean by “design” is making the right choice amongst all the options available regarding anything – from small day to day decisions to big life-altering ones in the areas education, money, media, sports, technology, career, marriage, health etc.

With those clarifications, let me restate my assertion: The one skill our kids would need now and in the (near) future, to be happy & successful anyway, is the ability to design their life.

I assume you follow me so far. If not, sorry, let me suggest you take a break.

So why is this so important to our kids?? (I guess it is as important to us grown ups as well!)

The rotary phone I knew well

If you are at least 20 years or older right now, you likely escaped the digital immersion when you were little and growing up. For anyone over 30, and especially if you grew up like me in the developing world, most of our early life, until at least when we were 17, was designed by our parents. Outside of the academic books, we only read what our parents bought or subscribed – mostly for themselves which we read anyway. We only saw what was interesting on the 2 or 3 channels in the television. We occasionally learned how to speak on the black rotary dial phones when uncles call from distant parts of the country. Outside of friends from school and neighborhood, we only mingled with people our parents knew. We played the one or two sports that everyone in the country played.

Good or bad, our parents set up the ‘world’ we grew up in. Moreover, in a majority of cases, our parents hadn’t consciously designed it either. If we are happy and successful today, we should thank the Gods. An environment arbitrarily designed by our parents worked by fluke to get you to be who and where you are today.

On the other hand, just think about the world we are in right now and what we are providing our kids. We are in an unbelievable state of information overload & choice explosion. There is hundreds, if not thousands, of choices to pick for what you want in a toothbrush to what you want in a bed and everything you would need and want in between.

I stumbled upon this fact recently:

An average super market contains about 50,000 items! of which is 15 different types of toothpaste.

Another statistic: there are 9500 banks in the US with $100 million or more in assets.

Another: there are at least 3500 different types of occupations one could take up, according to US Department of Labor.

Another: 150,000 new website domain names are registered every single day! As of today, there are at least 128 million internet sites online! (Souce : Domain Tools)

and the best statistic of all from information economy…

Between the dawn of civilization and 2003 there were 5 exabytes of data collected (an Exabyte equals 1 quintillion bytes). Today 5 exabytes of data gets collected every two days! Soon there will be 5 exabytes every few minutes.

While it may be a good thing to have many choices, too many will eventually bring us down. The toughest thing for us and for kids in the future, is making the choice from the very many!

Too many choices lead to confusion and disstatisfaction - Barry Schwartz

Besides, it appears today’s environment might not only complicated but somewhat damaging than what we had 20 or 30 years ago. Yet, many of today’s parents are not conscious of the world their kids are growing up today. Lets take note of our ignorance: Through our day to day choices, we are designing the environment our children grow up in, and ultimately, the life they will make for themselves. I suppose kids older than 5 are already making their own choices in many aspects that would shape their life – whether parents influence those choices is up on us.

With how fast kids grow up (mentally & physically!) these days, we only have a small window of opportunity to even influence them before they tune us out. I don’t want to boil the ocean by designing every little thing for our kids. But are we thoughtful about what they hear? what and how they talk? what books they read? what activities they do? what TV channels or movies they watch? what clothing they wear? what day care or schools they go? what kind of friends they have? where they hangout? what sports they play? what subjects they are good at? what skills and talents they are building? what their belief system is? what they value and don’t value?

Design your life

All of that depends on how good of a parent we are. And by the way, did anyone teach us how to be a good parent?? We are scrambling to figure out what good parenting actually means! especially in today’s complicated world. By the time we get a feel for it, our first child might have grown past the age to care to listen to us! Add to that, many of us are happily re-living our own life as if we are teenagers – piling up latest fashions, gadgets, gizmos, manga books, animation films and what not.

We – the 20s 30s, 40s with kids still growing up – are indeed in the midst of unusual times. We are learning and designing our own life, while simultaneously designing the life of our kids. If we don’t take it seriously, we will be consciously betting on the same Gods and luck to bless our kids with a well-designed life – unlike our parents who simply did it unconsciously!

PS: I have used the word “design” rather heavily. I believe that every choice we make is in essence designing our own life – as if our life is like an artwork or craft or object one would design bit by bit. Every person is design outcome of his or her past.

How I used the Secrets of a Mind Gamer

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

This article in NY Times is fascinating. Written by Joshua Foer, titled “Secrets of a Mind-Gamer”, It is about how an average person can build supposedly “extraordinary” memory. Calling it extraordinary is validated by the brain-crunching exercises he does such as how many binary numbers he can memorize in a span of few minutes and later recall every one of them, precisely.

The article (and the book titled ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by the same author) is more about the biographical journey of how Joshua Foer gets to build mnemonic skills to remember virtually anything and in that process earned the obscure title – United States Memory Champion. The secret is surprisingly simple and practical – use our in-built capacity for spatial memory, use a tad bit of wild imagination, which is also something we are all born with. You may question if everyone is born with ability to imagine wild stuff and be creative but I believe every single one of us is. Whether we exercise it or not is questionable. (Side bar: Creativity vs. Imagination – same or different?)

I tried to experiment myself with this idea and come to believe it actually works and can be useful too! Though the scale and scope of what I tried is fairly small, it is very beneficial for my day to day life. Here is how it goes. My wife and I are having our morning coffee, talking about some mundane things. In the middle of the conversation, she asks “When you come back down after your shower, can you bring the laundry basket down?”. I say yes and we continue talking about many other things. Fifteen minutes later I depart to perform my usual weekday morning rituals. Three hours later, I am in the middle of a serious discussion at work, I get a text message, “You never got the laundry basket down!!!”. I grind my teeth silently cringing, “Damn! I forgot again!”.

Could the mnemonic principles that brought Joshua Foer to limelight come to my rescue? principles he used to win the national memory championship? and a million dollar book contract to go with it?

I had to try.

The first and perhaps the most important thing to do is to pause as soon as my wife asked that question. If I just nod and we just keep talking then I don’t get to “register” this fact into my “spatial memory”. No mnemonic magic would ever save me. So what I do is take a few seconds pause, right at that moment when I say yes to my wife’s request. I construct a vivid imaginary visual clue. Here is what I say to myself in my mind –“As soon as I open the bathroom door, my father jumps over my head, wearing a spiderman suite. He was yelling that he doesn’t have any clothes to wear and could only find Rishi’s Halloween costume! I bend over my back to thank him for not jumping naked and ask him where all his clothes went. He zooms his arm out like a spiderman, and shoots a spider web pointing at the laundry basket…It’s overflowing and smells vomit…”

Angry dad in spiderman costume scene - Courtesy www.knowyourmeme.com via Google Images

I know! How silly and yucky right? While I am glad I didn’t tell my wife what I was thinking, it really is the point. The imagination & association must be bizarre and far outrageous from anything ordinary and usual.

It really only takes about 20 seconds to build and hear that story in my own mind. As soon as I register this story, my wife and I move on with our chit chat. Twenty minutes later, I walk into the bedroom and as soon as I get the first sight of the bathroom door, I recall the crazy story for just a second, but I don’t really replay the story at all. I just immediately realize that I need to take the laundry basket down. I move it out to obvious place in the room when it will be in my line of sight to take it down after I return from show. That’s it. Bingo! I remembered something I would normally forget. Neat.

An important factor is to associate the angry-dad-in-spiderman-costume scene to a trigger event or object that I will encounter in the future moment when I need to recall the thing I memorize. In this case, the trigger is opening the bathroom door. Of course, there is a chance that right at the moment of walking into the bedroom, I could have been seriously pre-occupied with some other thoughts – such as when I should get my next hair cut or how I sucked with my backhand in last night’s match or how long since I have had a beer or some such important thing. Nevertheless, the mnemonic exercise simply increased the chances of me recalling that funky story and thus helped remember what I needed to do. So it’s worth that 20 second investment to exercise my imagination and creativity!

What I tried is rudimentary in comparison to memory games they play in World Memory Championships. I honestly don’t understand how this basic technique can help remember the exact sequence of a decks of cards within a minute.

If you read the article, you will notice they refer to “memory palace” as the familiar spatial object (your house or street or favorite museum or any familiar physical structure) around which they build the crazy imaginary stories embedded with whatever they want to remember – playing cards or stranger’s names or random binary numbers etc. Do they use the same structure every time? If so, doesn’t it confuse the imaginary stories, mixing up the things you want to remember? How to “clean” the loaded memory of stupid stories? (They say they can!). How do they associate a “Queen of Clubs” to a particular incident and location in the made-up story? I would have created an association with a donkey queen and a soccer club within the story. They seem to simply recall the card as they pass through certain object or event. I just don’t get it. I really have to read more on this fascinating subject.

Meanwhile, why don’t you give it a try? It doesn’t hurt to try and fail since we will be just where we are – as forgetful as we always been.

PS: True to his curious spirit that drove him to the memory championship, Joshua Foer is a co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, an online compendium of “The World’s Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica.”

Reading to be a Writer

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

God knows I want to write more. This blog has been virtually haunting me everyday to do so.

Of late, I have been reading more and practically stopped writing. Except, of course, writing at work. Which doesn’t count in my books as the same writing in this blog.

Perhaps it was the haunting or an intuitive attraction to certain books, I have been heads down reading books about writing. Two of them I highly recommend for anyone, who first wants to read good books, and second, have tender hopes to write – even if its in private.

As it usually happens, I stumbled upon during my usual wanderings in the library, a fantastic book by Francine Prose’s “Reading Like a Writer” (A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them). I ended up overwhelmingly proud of myself for finding this book, rather serendipitously, that I just ordered a used copy of this book to own for life. She dissects some of her favorite books and authors on how they have chosen and written certain words, sentences, characters and story lines. Prose, herself a versatile writer, takes a back seat as a humble reader, to bring to light some of the fascinating writings across English literature. I, for one, have not even heard of most of the writers she mentions. That’s a blessing and curse. Why Curse? May be that’s harsh, but I curse myself because I don’t have the breadth of reading to know many of them. Every writer she brings forth is typically an accomplished person, but one must be a omnivorous (I picked up that word from her book!) reader to have come across all of these authors. Why Blessing? Indeed, because now I know who I can read if I ever run out of books to read. But, hold on, running out of books to read? that ain’t happening baby!

The second book is one I own and go back to every so often. Especially when the demon in me occasionally shows up in deep sleep, only to remind me that all I can do is read, read and just read even more but can’t get my ass to write more! I have previously written about William Zinsser. His most popular book, On Writing Well, is worth every dollar (though you can buy a used one for pennies!) not so much for writing instructions but to be a constant reminder that simple writing and especially writing well, is absolutely doable, be it painful. See, Zinsser is not one of the greatest writers, but he is one of the common, but good writers who exactly reinforces my confidence that I can be one too. If you are interested, Zinsser writes a weekly blog, “Zinsser on Friday”.

I want to write, simply for the purpose of expressing myself in a simple yet coherent way. Besides, as both Zissner and Prose constantly remind throughout these two books, writing well is all about rewriting. It’s not about writing more. It’s not about writing with fashionable and Shakespearean words. It’s about writing and rewriting and immersing ourselves in the pleasure of toying with simple words and sentences, literally crafting it, to get the point across in its most economical, smooth and simplest way.

On the other hand, Prose’s book at times made me wonder how in the world could someone come up with such fantastic writing. She brings to our attention writings by Samuel Johnson, that is so good to the extent of wiping off all my confidence that even I can craft great sentences. I mean, seriously, Samuel Johnson must have been a genius, if he naturally had the flair for such writing.

Here is a glimpse into fantastically crafted paragraph from The Life of Savage, By Samuel Johnson

It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe.

To be clear, I didn’t completely understand the entire meaning in one pass. I must have read it a few times before I digested his point. Perhaps, I am not used to this type of sophisticated 20th century writing, but, every time I read, I pause on certain places, just to wonder about what must have gone through his mind when he wrote those words – “splendour of their rank”. To imagine writers of past have hand written or typed all their writings is unfathomable. I am only glad I didn’t have to hand write my writings – would absolutely end up with no hope for any aspirations to be writer.

From TATA Dhan Academy

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Some of you may have read my article about Tata Dhan Academy in ThinkChangeIndia. Today, I got a note from Ananda Mahto, an American, who has moved to Madurai, to teach English @ Tata Dhan. He has made some great progress getting the students to better express themselves via writing and producing audio/video materials. As part of the interview, I had the opportunity to speak to all the senior offices of the Academy who continue to inspire me to do more developmental work. Below is the note from Ananda and link to the student-created newsletter.

I just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know that the students I work with have just re-initiated their student newsletter and the first new issue is now available. You can view it online here: http://tdapdm.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/spectrum-issue-4/

I’d like any feedback you might have to offer (and I’m sure the students would too). Also, if you know others who might be interested in the newsletter, please feel free to forward the link.

I was read the Interview with Dr G Paran Gowda and found this quote of Vivekananda striking:

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

Tips before you host visitors from developing world

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

This summer my parents came to the US to stay with us and to tour the places around. Having lived all their life in a second tier city in South India, everything in the US was so different, often puzzling, sometimes even embarrassing from them. Many days we would chat at length about why things are done a certain way in the US – and how it’s good or bad from the perspectives you have. As an example, we eat refrigerated food over a period of few days, but that made my parents uncomfortable. They haven’t had the luxury of a fridge for most of their Indian-lower-middle-class life so they don’t embrace it, while we can’t appreciate enough how convenient it is to cook for the whole week, when both of us work 8-6.

The above experience is probably common for many visitors to the US from developing and third world countries. For someone who is hosting the visitors, It would perhaps help to know a list of things to prepare the visitors before or at the beginning of their visit. So here are the few things that the hosts can discuss with visitors at the outset – which helps them settle down quickly and enjoy this great country they always dream of visiting.

Basic English Words & Phrases – Most visitors probably speak some level of English but it would greatly help to ensure they know few words that would come handy – when they meet your neighbors or when the waitress at the Diner takes an order. We could write a whole page of words but here are a few: “Hello, How are you?”, “Good Morning”, Thanks, Restroom, Phone, Dollar/Cents, Need help, Vegetarian, Water, Coffee, Bread etc.

Simple Etiquette – Smiling at strangers, saying “Hi, How are you?”, responding with “Thanks”, Holding the doors for others, Staying to right when walking, Talking mildly in public, Avoiding body odor through perfumes, Wearing a shoe/light clothing when taking a long walk, Basic usage of spoon and fork when eating in public, Being respectful of others space, property.


Using the western toilets, bathrooms & bathtubs – For visitors who have never used western toilets – this is a very touchy feely issue – which they eventually figure out and live with. However, it would help them if the host could guide them in how to use toilet paper, how to flush, how to use soap dispenser, hot water tap vs. cold water tap, how to use the shower curtains (haven’t you had a visitor leave the shower curtain outside the tub only to step out in a soaked up floor?) and shower knobs etc. While I am on this topic, if you are planning a backpack trip to India – you should definitely check out ‘How to use Indian Toilets’.

Trash & Recycle – It’s important for them to know how we collect trash and recycle. They may not be used to level of discipline we have in the US from grinding garbage in the kitchen sinks to splitting garbage and recycle bins. Its better to explain than be surprised when something stinks around the kitchen.

For Vegetarians, Get used to eating Cheese Pizza, Pasta and Salad – They will probably cringe at eating Pizza or Salad for lunch, when they are used to sumptuous multi-course meals back home. But if the visitors want to tour US at any length, they will come to appreciate the Pizza quickly. My parents now love Pizza – no surprises there.

Basic Utilities – If the hosts are working couple, the visitors would be bored to death within three days – take my word for it. So getting to use few things around the house will go a long way in making them enjoy their time during the day. Kitchen appliances – range/stove, microwave, knives, cutters etc, TV & Cable/Satellite remotes, Phone (how to call you and 911), Door Bells/Security Alarms, Treadmill or Static Bike (if you have it), Walking trails around the house and of course, leave them your home address and emergency contacts.

I am sure there are more. Some might feel this is too much taking out the opportunity for the visitors to figure all this out themselves. I would prefer to tell them exactly how to use the gas stove than to hear the carbon monoxide alarm go bonkers. It would take about 15 minutes to go through this with your visitors and everyone will feel thankful in the end.

If you have hosted visitors from countries far out and away in culture and development from the US, What else would you add to this?

Simple strategy to reduce over commitment and slow down

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about over-committing myself. On one end are the day to day little things that I like to do – internet, books, TV, movies etc. On other end, there are bigger things such as long-range goals on sports, music, writing, business ventures etc. And then, there are things that I should do but never consciously plan for – spending more time with family, calling friends, relax, laugh out loud etc.

The desire to do “MORE” can sometimes be a chronic addiction.

Having said that, I genuinely wanted to slow down. In Praise of Slowness and ADULTITIS couple continue to inspire me to “escape adulthood” and find practical way to stop being stretched too thin.

My greatest inspiration though is closer to home: my little boy and my wife.

Unaware, he has been disciplining me to slow down. He won’t stop until I put down the phone or remote before we can play. If I have a book, he will ensure its put far away. And when he is playing, he is just playing. He makes me wish God had given a toggle switch somewhere in the head to stay focused.

I continue to admire my wife’s ability to get so much done at home and outside and yet find time for me, Rishi, her parents, chatting with friends, wishing birthdays, facebook and people.com! Not for a day had she complained that she didn’t have time to do her things, it’s really a question of if and how I am planning for and make our time together and family time.

I know many men struggle with this, so here are some steps that I am using to reduce my yeses…

1) Accept the problem exists and then sincerely commit to fixing it – if you don’t admit, then there is really no issue – at least as far as you are concerned.
2) Take an inventory of all your activities (time suckers!) that’s going on daily/weekly – don’t get worked up with GTD – just grab a piece of paper and dump it.
3) Just do the top 3 things – for next 1 month. Don’t do anything else. Your time and energy will be spent on whatever the top 3 things from your dump. Remember to share the top 3 with your family so they know you are cutting down.
4) If you are successful during the month – revisit the top 3 – change it – but stick to 3.
5) Trust that you will be happy – by doing less. Trust your soul will rest in peace no matter what.

Finally, don’t think too much. Don’t try to rationalize it. Any approach is better than no approach.

I still am struggling. The top 3 strategy is working but still takes up more of my available time. I have started somewhere, nevertheless.

What has worked in your experience?

Fire Drop Quote

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I have been dormant for a while but got totally inspired today to write about this. In spite of owning the now-not-so-trendy iPhone, I don’t spend a lot of time playing games in it. I open up the FireDrop today and after a level or two, this quote showed up in my screen and it just shook me up a bit.

If you don’t want anybody to know it, don’t do it

Just think about it.

Will an Indian compete in Snowboarding in Olympics?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I am not surprised about lack of attention to India’s representation in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Most Indians aren’t interested in winter games and even amongst those who follow it, there is lesser people who actually play winter sports themselves.

Personally, I actually snowboard. Yep. Many of my Indian friends and family think, it isn’t much different from skiing. But it is not. I never skied so I wouldn’t know which one is harder or better. However, It did take a long time for me be a decent snowboarder, especially since I had not seen snow until I was 21 and started learning snowboarding only when I was about 25 or 26. I can come down the hill in most trails with no issue, but my speed and aesthetics still sucks in steeper trails.

Let me tell you my secret – just do it and don’t give up. Most newbie give up after the first day on snowboard. But the truth is you can really get a hang of it within the 3rd day of learning and rest is just showing up and mastering it.

I have been hitting the slopes at least 2 or 3 times a year for many years now though I only frequent ski resorts in NY area. I have tried out resorts in Colorado, Vermont, and Candada too (Tremblant!). There is no comparison to the quality of snow and the overall boarding experience in Vermont or Canada. The local resorts here are just easier to access but not for great snow.

In all these years, I have seen many people from India in the slopes. Almost all of them ski. However, I am yet to meet another Indian (1st generation Indian like me) who snowboards. I am sure there are many out there, it’s just that I haven’t had a way to connect with them. I continue to go all by myself, year after year. Its a great meditative feeling to snowboard down a long hill all by yourself.

Since the day I picked up boarding, I always wondered if an Indian will ever compete in Snowboarding in Winter Olympics. May be, who knows, someone might be training today for it.

Shiva Keshavan thinks we can do something about winter sports and India. From India’s standpoint, he is a veteran winter Olympian even though he is only in late 20s. He has been participating in Luge, representing India for three Olympics now. While I know nothing about Luge beyond being a spectator, I got to imagine its just as hard as any sport and at least, he finished at a decent spot, unlike his two other counterparts who literally ended up at the bottom of all participants. Sad as it is, I applaud their courage to participate (against the usual odds) and hold India’s flag in Winter Olympics. Let’s not forget that we got to start somewhere to get to the top!

I found just a few blogs or news items on Shiva Keshavan :

A Chance Interview with Indian Olympian Shiva Keshavan (btw, he speaks genuinely and very sensibly)

Kamala Bhatt (who also runs a popular Internet radio show) blogged about Shiva.

Lakshmi Gandhi pieced the ten facts about Shiva’s sojourn to Vancouver.

CNNGoAsia cribs about the beaten Indian team

Comments are closed since I couldn’t keep up with deleting spam. You can reach me at my yahoo at skchary.

Prayer, Intuition and the Alchemist

Friday, January 8th, 2010

I have a stack of some of my favorite books in the bathroom. In the few minutes I have there, I love picking one at random and read whatever page opens up.

Today’s pick was page 78 of Alchemist:

…Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there…

It reminded of a simpler version from Wayne Dyer:

If prayer is you talking to God, then intuition is God talking to you

How to articulate your value to others?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Be it a brand, a company, a country or even an individual person, there are always challenges in articulating value that entity adds to others.

This piece of paper from the United States Postal Service is a constant reminder to me on how to articulate in a succinct yet persuasive way. If only they added some more visual aspects to it, but words are worth it.

Isn’t it amazing that US Postal delivers as many as pieces as a day as FedEx does in a year???