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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pursuit of Happiness: Learning

Everyone has a certain idea of how they want to achieve what they consider happiness. Mine includes spending a major chunk of my life in a T-shirt and glasses reading, learning and marveling.

When I was in school as a kid, I learned mostly to score the highest, and make my mother happy- who most of the times was very difficult to please. If I scored 98, she would  ask why it wasn’t a 100/100. In my MBA, when there was scope for extra credit I made sure I did that too ; thus, at times, I scored above 100% in certain sections. But the purpose wasn’t just to please my parents anymore. I found joy in learning my subject.

Some people take up Liberal Arts, some people prefer learning machine languages, I majored in Marketing and it fascinated me. It is a good time to be a marketer. It has never been easier to listen and communicate to your customers, innovate and evolve accordingly. Your judgment can be more informed and your brand message more consistent if you are just  willing to pay attention.

When you are not studying just to complete with the next best, scores became exceptionally good as a by-product. Learning for the sake of learning is the greatest reward of all- and it means better retention too.

 The greatest fear when I was leaving Boston (B-school) was that I might not get enough structured learning  until I decided to enroll in a program again. The first thing I did after I moved to West Coast was to get a library card- the cheapest and most convenient way to get access to bigger resources than I can personally afford or maintain.  I feel happy to visit  my library to return a book or movie I have thoroughly enjoyed and browse for more things that might interest me.

Though I have taught myself a couple of things with steep learning curves(or at least long learning curves) in recent years (I'm fairly decent in Photoshop and I mean beyond masking and layering, learning Illustrator now), I found that more structured learning was required. I took up Statistics (for Managers), something I had in my undergrads and hence got waived in my Masters. I religiously followed video lectures on Youtube by an excellent UCB professor, took notes at least 1-2 hours each day. My brother seemed surprised- but I told him that I did it because I enjoyed it, and I had more than enough spare time to learn something I had began to forget. Couple of days later, he asked me about a case of forecasting using Regression model, which I enjoyed discussing with him.

Now, I have signed up for couple of courses in Coursera on Finance,  Innovation, Strategy and Disruptive technologies. I signed up for another class archive because it is over already. My sessions begin on 28th Jan. I must say I am happy, and I hope to learn well again.

I know Udacity, Udemy and Skillshare are similar resources. MIT Open courseware was something I used as a management student to complement my classroom learning. Youtube has some good lecture videos too. Send me a query if you require help to explore these further. Like many, I too believe that education should be free for all. You don't need to be buried in a heavy load of student loan to be able to afford quality education; it is what you do with what you have learned that should matter, not the price you paid for it.

P.S. Recommended for Business majors  hoping to succeed in a technical environment : Advice From A Former Business Student Turned Googler (Aditya Mahesh, TechCrunch)

TEDTalk on the new age of education.

Update: Had fun in this course, and scored 97.7%. Not all courses have provision of distinction and it is getting too stressful now.Not sure if I can keep up.

My statement of merit

Friday, December 28, 2012

A sad day

I was on a very restful holiday in Old Pasadena when I read about the gang rape of a 23-yr old woman in a moving bus that occurred in Delhi. I found myself praying for her recovery and feeling enraged that the report had mentioned, ’..she will never have a normal married life.’ Really? Is that what some people cared about? Of course, there were protests. But police brutality on the protesters(misuse of Section 144 of IPC) and the comment by Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee outraged the people even more. A police constable died of cardiac arrest post injuries during the protests.

I remembered an incident about 7-8 years ago, when I was 20. I was visiting a senior in Munirka when she walked me out to catch a bus that would take me back to campus. It was evening and I was expecting crowded public transport. An almost empty mini-bus came to halt right in front of us, and the driver asked,’ Madam kaha jana hai?’ (Madam, where do you want to go?)

I mentioned my destination, he said he was heading that way, and then he asked if both of us wanted to go. Before I could say anything, my senior said yes (which was not true- only I had to go back) and mentioned that she didn’t want us to take his bus and firmly shooed him off. I felt angry at her for not letting me go in the empty bus where I could have a seat. Then a crowded bus came around and she helped me climb it somehow. All the way I kept wondering why did she lie.Now I understand, and I thank her for her perspicacity, and though at times I used to get angry at her, now I appreciate her caring for me like a mother in a strange land. (Remember Sam?)

'Thank God it didn't happen to me or someone I know’. If it has happened to someone, it could as well happen to my cousins or a friend. Even as a human being, it should matter. How do the perpetrators go to such length without the fear of the law of the land? I mentioned before, I had a very protective childhood and I always knew my father or at least his reputation would protect me wherever I went. I knew of a friend whose teacher had molested her, a cousin whose neighbor had touched her the wrong way. I am sure my father would break the hands of someone who tried.

But when I left home for my undergrads, and had to live alone for a while during my first job, I kept a very low-profile in NCR. I knew what unwanted attention meant there and how life could be made hell by erotomaniac stalkers and sexual perverts. Every night I went to sleep with the prayer that no one broke into my house and every morning I hoped no one noticed me on my way to office. Someone who loved attention wanted to be completely invisible. It was my only hope to avoid anything untoward.

7 years later,nothing has changed. Delhi, NCR- even the rest of the country. When I saw the Incredible India ad featuring a female foreign tourist, I had a wry smile. Of course, she can experience all that but who can guarantee that something unpleasant won’t happen to her?

It is sad to see India being mentioned for the wrong reasons- scams, bans, and political tomfoolery. And not for what it is- a spiritual journey that can be had at every step of life; where happiness needn't be bought- and people with very limited resources will teach you how to be happy. It shouldn't just be promoted as a country of safe and affordable tourism; it should live up to its claims.

But I also have hope. We are known to revolt, irrespective of our expectations about the end result. And the protests indicate that the youth of today is not going to accept it lying down. My brothers and sisters in India, please do not give up. If the system is inept, callous and weak, fight to make it strong, make it stand up and take notice. Social justice has been meted out owing to the pressure created by media and the common man. If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes. Our greatest advantage is that we are a land of hypocrites. Our political leaders might take a stance just to save their face, if not out of care for the citizens. (I am going out on a limb and hoping our President will admonish his son publicly and apologize for his own poor parenting.)

And no mother should fear for the safety of her child. Rape is a heinous crime, and as long as someone thinks he can get away with it, it will happen. Strike fear in the mind of perverts, not the potential victims.
And for this, we need to create a concrete action plan. Some of my suggestions are:

1. Suspend all politicians/law-makers who have court cases of sexual assault of women against them. (Supreme Court will be hearing a petition soon)
2. 26% conviction rate is a shameful number.  Also, use fast-track courts to ensure faster justice.
3. Educate your family to respect women. Don't treat your womenfolk as second citizens. Begin at home.
4. Don't tolerate eve-teasing. Have a helpline number dedicated to reporting such incidents. (Not like the one Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurated on Dec 31, the 24 hour Helpline (181) meant for immediate police help for women in distress that has actually proved to be an embarrassment; but real functional ones. Keep it the same nationwide; promote it.)
5. Increase policing. Screen the policemen for their sensitivities towards women. Train them if necessary.
6. Local communities should appoint anonymous volunteers who keep a watch and report perverts and (any) suspicious behavior.
7. New laws should be made with stricter punitive actions for rapists.
8. Basic education provided to children about self-defense.

@The remarks of Asaram Bapu Sorry, my suggested action plan to reduce rapes in India should have included taping the mouths of self-proclaimed god-men who speak BS.No wonder it is unsafe for women when these enlightened gurus spread this kind of valuable gyaan.

Suggested further reading:

Victim dead (BBC)

India mourns (BBC)

Crimes against women including rape cases declared by MPs, MLAs and candidates(ADR)

Lawyers boycott defense of India rape suspects (CNN)

Victim's friend (and witness) speaks(Zee News)

The Victim's Story (WSJ)

Update: New anti-rape laws (3/23/2013)

Thursday, November 15, 2012


When I was a child, my mother undertook the task of inspiring me with success stories of my predecessors- the kind she wanted me to be like. No matter how it started, it always ended in the same way,’...and then he went to America (for further studies) and lives there now.’ It was the happily ever after of her stories. But you don’t really know until you have lived it. And then you realize that most endings are actually beginnings.

America is a land of immigrants, and for many years people across the world have dreamed the American dream – still, a land of opportunity. Immigrants you come across every day, woven in the fabric of the American society – the Ethiopian cab driver who hasn't seen his mother in 25 years, the friendly Bangladeshi store owner, the good-looking Colombian waiter, the kind Mexican housekeeper, or even the solitary Indian tech guy working late hours in Silicon Valley- all have a history. They have left their families behind in the countries they were born in, but not just for a better pay-check. A Chinese friend once said- ‘we are doing it for our children.’ So they may have the opportunities we didn't have. And by 'children' I don’t just mean our offsprings; we all hope for a better tomorrow for ourselves; where there is more value of life, more social justice, and less haggling required for daily life. And though I had a very comfortable childhood, I think I will flourish better in this environment than in any other. Is it my bullishness? Maybe.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Skin care

My skin, unlike SG’s, is far from perfect. But someone asked me about my beauty regime. In recent months, there has been a visible improvement in the overall appearance and I believe it is owing to the following basic things. I am sure you know it already, but no harm in enumerating them again.

 1) Regular cleaning and moisturizing: At least, twice a day, after I brush. If you don’t brush twice, I have nothing to say to you. Don’t ignore your whole body- not only for cosmetic reasons, but skin is your first organ of defense. It deserves some respect.

2) Exercise: This is the most important element of overall well-being and beauty. People with chronic ailments should opt for a regime suitable for them and stick to it. I know ‘sticking to it’ becomes hard if it feels monotonous. Add some fun elements like zumba , spinning, dance classes, MMA or yoga if you want. Find your motivation.

3) Food: I can’t stress upon it enough. A balanced diet rich in nutrients, fiber and protein is essential for the body to work. I prefer home-cooked meals when I can control the quality of ingredients I use. If you aim to reduce weight, please skip the take-outs. You can cook an equivalent meal at home- with more food value. Eating junk will make you feel full, but not energize you. You will probably end up feeling groggy. Eat healthy. Consult a nutritionist if you want. Rule of the thumb is to divide your plate into thirds for lean proteins, carbs, and fiber(greens).

4) Sleep Complete your quota, and the previous factors contribute to your sleep pattern. Try not to sleep too late at night. Manage your time accordingly.

5) Stress I don't think anything effects as negatively on my overall health as stress. Learning to let go has made me a happier person. I'd suggest the same to my friends. Sometimes, we split our hair over trifles- so not worth it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sanskriti Durga Puja, 2012

Experimenting with fonts. The Autumn Goddess

I got acquainted with in Feb 2012 while attending Natya Mela in Pleasanton, CA. One of the organizers, RB, had a good chat with us before the play 'Tiktiki' (by Re-Act, Durgabari-Houston) began and I offered to volunteer if they needed any help for their events. I was away in Portland during their Indian Classical Music and Dance Festival in July, but did what I could to promote it in the social media. I was told the event was a success and the event tickets were sold out. That made me very happy.

Soon, it was that time of the year that makes every Bengali miss home- Sharadiya (Autumnal, in the months of Sept -Oct) Durga Puja .Each year Goddess Durga descends on Earth from her heavenly abode to visit her father. It is a time of going home, visiting your folks. It is nostalgia in the most excruciating form for what you have left behind. At least, I used to feel very homesick around that time of the year, though I have learned to call someplace else as my ‘home’ now. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Dear Vonage

Dear Vonage,

I like your service. Even though you charge me a fixed rate of $25.99 (which actually amounts to $34.79) per month for your World Plan (Unlimited calls to 60 countries, but not to mobiles in all cases, as I found out in my recent calls to Italy), I don’t mind, because I talk to my parents in India every day. I have been doing so since I was 18 and had started living away from them. Never has it been so convenient or so cheap (if you don't count free video calls on Skype or other VoIP competitors which offer their service for a lot less, like magicJack. Some folks I know still use Reliance calling cards, but talk only once or twice a week. )

But your Telemarketing sucks. I suspect there is no quality monitoring of your calls and probably a third party is doing your marketing for you (My caller id showed: Westwood College, which is why I picked up the phone in the first place).

 The first rule of telemarketing is to ask if it is a good time to talk. Permission. Respect. Seth Godin has screamed himself hoarse over this. I was watching the Presidential debate on Wednesday and was considerably irritated by the 15 mins you wasted trying to convince what a valued customer I was. To top it, you spoke with a heavy Mandarin accent, parroting the same thing over and over and over. Do you think I am mentally challenged? At least you acknowledged, ’You are a very patient lady’.

I subscribe to your email offers, and I know all about the first free cell phone extension and a fee of $4.99 per month (plus taxes) for each additional extension. And then you handed the phone to another executive who was just repeating the offer details. To get you off my back, I furnished a number, availed of the offer, then went online and deleted the extension as soon as I got the confirmation mail. My advice: stick to testimonial ads on TV, and please don’t spoil the customer experience with noob marketers.

Thank you.

P.S. They called me again (10/11/2012) with the same offer and I asked them to put me on their  do-not call list for this offer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Clothes for doll

I have a Glam Doll Barbie I had fun dressing up. I bought patches of fabric from Walmart (super cheap @99 cents) and worked my way to some random assortment of clothes for her. These are some my attempts. Most are work still in progress, but I am learning a lot as I have learned with every new hobby I picked up. If you are interested, let me know, I will be glad to share how I made it.

Dress 1
Dress 2
Dress 3
Dress 4
Dress 5

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Travelogue: Silver Falls

There is an undeniable connection between humans and nature. Unmolested greenery, the sounds of a free-flowing brook, and chirps of an unknown bird rustling among the leaves of a tree comfort a soul that feels tired in the concrete jungles of civilization sometimes. I know I have forgotten the skills to survive in the wilderness thousands of years ago. But those who manage to do it for pleasure or for pain- come out with the wisdom that we need very basic things to survive: a hunting knife, the knowledge of fire, and the ability to climb trees for safe shelter at night. 

It may be several moons before I go on a jungle safari in Africa or South America, but I can quench my thirst with what is available around me. On my recent trip to Oregon, I discovered Silver Falls State Park, which has 10 waterfalls. Road construction on our way to the park included single lane closures with pilot cars chaperoning visitors to follow them through the dusty road. It was a sigh of relief when we saw concrete road again. The Northern Falls appeared first, but the real beauty was the South Falls. The volume of water had diminished in Silver Creek with the onset of dry months and swimming was not allowed owing to hazardous conditions. We hiked for couple of hours around South Falls trail. The trailhead that begins at South Falls takes about 5 hours to reach North Falls (about 6.9 miles). 

A temperate rainforest has charms of its own. The unabashed verdancy invites you to explore it more intimately. I surrendered and felt lost among the lushness as I walked on the trail spellbound, my will to see the waterfall more closely growing stronger with each step. Soon, the naked overhang of rocks was above me- I touched the ceiling that had patches of brown rocks (probably Iron deposits) on the black basalt bed. The mist from the waterfall moistened my face, and I felt hypnotized as I looked where the water hit and created a plunge pool.

There were several gaping holes, called ‘erosional chimneys’ formed by continual enlargement of cracks and fissures under the attack of ice and percolating water. * I looked up the chimneys and wondered what might creep out of it. I imagined that with some effort I could actually crawl up one of those- but fortunately, my companion is more pragmatic than I am and wouldn't have allowed it. I saw a bench, dedicated to the memory of one Michael Summers. It said ‘We miss our walks with you.’ I imagined a family walking together on this beautiful trail- what a wonderful way to remember someone!

We progressed past the South Falls trail and towards the Twin falls. The forest got quieter and the trail narrower as we walked by the stream. SG said that maybe we return to the trailhead before wandering too far. “Maybe next time’’ I thought while I looked around still dazed by the curious things around me.
Suggested further reading :
Oregon State Park link
Oregon geology link *
Silver Falls Trail map link

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hum Chlormint kyu khaate hai?

Ok, everyone is doing Batman-Robin joke these days. Here's mine. (Premise: You need to watch Indian Cholrmint ads)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Apple iTunes credit fraud

The good thing about having little money is that you can monitor it constantly. I have the habit of checking my BOA account at least once a week, especially before the weekend splurging begins. On 09/04/2012, I discovered that the merchant name: Al*Apple iTunes had made an unauthorized withdrawal with my card.

I called up Dispute transaction/claims of BOA at 1-877-366-1121 and notified them of the transaction, then got my card blocked. They sent me a claim report to fill in some details while they temporarily adjusted the amount to my account. I looked up at the Apples support site where similar incidents have been reported. (Link)

Fortunately, Apples iTunes made a refund on 09/10, BOA made the temporary credit reversal on 09/18 and all is well. For now.

 In case it happens to someone else, please cooperate with your bank in their investigations and report the claim asap.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to make the best use of criticism

I was reading this article by Vinod Khosla on TechCrunch, where he decouples the need to be a jerk to become a successful entrepreneur. But he asks the readers to be 'objective, intellectually honest leaders' and says,'I prefer brutal honesty to hypocritical politeness.'

A lot of us believe that we prefer so too in our dealings with others, but find it rather difficult to accept when criticism about us or our work is not sugar-coated or served with other random praises. I, for one, believe in giving my best to the task at hand- often pushing myself to do some extra bit so that no one can find fault with the completed task. For many years, it worked for me- my parents, immediate family, peers, teachers, my superiors - all seemed happy. If there ever was a rare occasion where I felt that I did not do as well as I should have, I tried to compensate by outperforming in others.

But life has reached a different phase now- it is not about just one job or one relation. And I have realized that I have to open my perceptions to objective assessment. Not denigrating or belittling my efforts, but genuine advice that shows me ways to improve my undertaking. It might not be possible for me to cover all bases all the time. People have different set of values and experiences, and they will judge based on the extent of their intellectual facilities. Some may not be able to process the information completely and beyond the scope of their accommodation or acquaintance, but be eager to make recommendations nevertheless. However, it is good to know how things look from a different perspective. Now, you might or might not agree with their opinion, but there is seldom the need to wage a war over it.

Monday, September 03, 2012


I was a war correspondent at Kosovo when I met her for the first time. The first thing I noticed about her was that she had kind eyes and a very comforting calmness about her; the way she spoke to those who had to live through the horrors of war. She empathized with their suffering and tried her best to bring out their stories for the world to hear. It was not long before we got married. I was her colleague and husband but we respected each other’s decisions as adults, never infringing upon the professional territory of the other. I always considered her a better reporter, though she was several years younger to me. Her sensitiveness to war and suffering was not vitiated by age.

Then she got posted in Syria. I knew it was nothing like the war zones we had covered before. Drones dropped bombs on residential buildings without qualms. Soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians were executed by the Syrian Army deployed by the government. The civilians and army defectors unified and fought under the ‘Free Syrian Army’. She moved around with the help of the insurgents, doing what she best did- reporting stories of innocent people whose lives were caught up in conflicts.

I moved in with her and we heard reports of journalists dying in the field: American reporter Marie Colvin, award-winning French photographer Remi Ochlik , French television journalist Gilles Jacquier. No matter whose side you were reporting from, there was no safety. I feared for my life and hers too when the journalist next door to our hotel room was fatally wounded by a gunshot.

We were traveling to report shootings in Aleppo, in northwestern Syria, 310 kms from Damascus. We saw another group in army fatigues moving across the street and I thought they were from Free Syrian Army . But suddenly, someone screamed and I heard gunshots. I moved to my left and took shelter behind the broken walls of a dilapidated building. After an hour, I managed to crawl out and reached my hotel. I waited for her to arrive too, but she did not. Someone mentioned seeing her in the hospital. I rushed where she was and saw her body on a stretcher. Her hair and trousers were red. I saw where the bullets had entered and exited through her neck and right leg. I asked her if she had been in pain, if she had looked for me. But she said nothing. Our government helped me to take back her body to our country where our families arranged for a funeral.

We had talked about this before- living under the constant possibility of death- and she had told me if she were to die before me, she would come back to our house and move the statue we had bought together for our garden. I watched it every day while I was at home. But time has come for me to return to work, and my will has not been broken yet. I will do what she would have wanted me to do: go back to Syria to report the unheard stories of human plight.

(incomplete draft)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ad lucem

If people suffer, it is mostly because they have made some wrong decisions, or they just couldn't be resolute enough to make any decisions at all. I have great respect for free will. It never fails. It accomplishes the most amazing things.

We all go through some phase of darkness in our lives. The worst thing we can do then is clam up. At times of distress, we should reach out to others. NEVER force yourself to loneliness, unless you are preparing for a very tough competitive exam or you have a deadline for a book writing project.

Empathy for others is important for your overall well-being too. If we close ourselves from others, we lose a lot more than we can perceive immediately. But it is equally important to have the right people in our lives. People who are uninspiring, demoralizing, continually depressing and sans any hope for the future will grab you by the feet and try to drag you down to the dungeons of hopelessness with them. People who are positive, cheerful, know how to greet with a smile and can take control of their negative emotions have a certain buoyancy about them that no bad day can weigh down.

We all have our journeys ahead, wars to fight, mountains to climb- or whatever imagery we prefer to refer to our hurdles in life. My point is- keep your environment clean, happy, conducive to creation; be resolute and let no one say that you can not.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A very short story

I saw her for the first time when she interrupted my conversation with my colleague as she called out to him in the elevator, ‘Hello Chirag!’ Chirag avoided looking at her directly and squirmed uncomfortably, nodding half-heartedly. Later, I discovered that she had an interview scheduled with him and he was trying his best to pretend that he didn’t know the candidate personally. Chirag soon realized his mistake of making personal favors when her take-home salary was a lot more than her teammates, but her contribution to the team was less than zero. She not only seemed uninterested in her work, her attitude was morally calamitous to her peers. The complaints mounted, Chirag tore at what was remaining of his hair each day and regretted: ‘I should have never given her the job!’

Now, I am chronically inclined to see the silver lining in everyone, even if I have to tip my toe to the point of falling on my face. I tried to console Chirag saying, ‘Maybe it is just a phase. We should watch her performance over the next quarter.’ But even in my optimistic heart, I knew there was slim chance of her waking up one day and completely transforming her work ethics.

Then she got pregnant. Usually, women take a couple of months off from their jobs for maternity leave. But she was absent for eight months and then we heard that she had a miscarriage. When she got back to office, she came back with a worse mood- picking an argument at the slightest provocation. I think she sensed that Chirag was intending to sack her, so she applied for resignation with a notice period of 3 months. It was her way of getting back at everyone because those 3 months she did nothing but incur a cost to the project. We were relieved when she finally said goodbye.

A few months later, Chirag pinged me on Gmail chat asking if I remembered her. Bile filled me up from inside and I started complaining about what a headache she had been, and I offered, ‘She must be working for her husband’s firm now- nice and cozy.’ By then I had come to know that her husband was a corporate honcho at a consulting firm.

Chirag kept quiet for a while and then typed out carefully:
‘She died in an accident last week…’

I was taken aback, expecting everything but this. Now I was feeling guilty of having spoken ill of the dead. I wanted to share this with someone but did not know whom to share it with.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How not to be an ass at the gym

I was working out at our residential fitness center with several others when a guy in a green T-shirt entered the door. A lot of people view their cardio-screens or read books while they work out. The first thing he did when he got in was try to switch on the big screen TV which was far away from the equipment of his choice. When he couldn't find the remote, he called the security and talked to him like he owned him. Then, he walked right in front of my elliptical and tried to switch on a ceiling fan at his end of the room. Common sense says the calibrated ones are for fans and the basic on/off switches are for lights. But he had to try all the switches several times, and still couldn't figure out- never bothering to set them back to their original settings.

He had a shrill, irritating voice with a very fake accent with which he hollered at his companion in a red T, who was obviously trying to disappear. Fortunately, I was almost at the end of my session and wrapped up in no time. When I was about to leave, I noticed while I cleaned my equipment, he was still busy with the fanfare of getting comfortable- with no apparent objective or workout plan.

Do yourself a favor, never be that jerk at a communal place.

Gym etiquette for Dummies

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Affiliate Marketing

A new breed of pests has infested Bay Area. They will smile at you and try to pick random conversations. If you are holding a shower gel and wondering whether to buy it, they will tell you it smells heavenly. If you are at the grocery store, trying to steer your cart without hitting that crazy kid who’s running amuck, they will pop up to say ,’What a wonderful day’, and pick the kid you narrowly missed. If they recognize your mother tongue and have the slightest chance of acting parochial, they will. Then they will give you their phone numbers and ask you to call/meet-up. For a good number of times, you will believe it is their goodness of heart or your new make-up/dress /perfume etc. But soon, you will find them trying to convert you into a religion they so steadfastly believe themselves- affiliate marketing. (Other terms include multi-level marketing, pyramid selling, network marketing, referral marketing.)

You know where you have to buy stuff you don’t need to get into a network of people in a hierarchy of distributing profit which can never work if you know how to do basic Maths. Yet, a lot of people get sucked into it and try to ‘network’ with those people who believe in it.

I have had the privilege of watching legitimate, honest business startups spread wings. It takes years of commitment, a strong network of professional and personal relations capable of understanding their roles and fulfilling them, and more often exceeding expectations. A business build on the premise of exploitation seems unethical to begin with. When someone tries to pitch me a half-baked pyramid scheme, I feel like saying aloud, ’Don’t insult my intellect.’ But the best thing is to avoid such situations completely. It might actually work for someone, I do not know. But I am not a believer, so don’t make lame efforts to convert me- it is pathetic.

Suggested further reading:
The big, ugly affiliate marketing scam [Venture Beat]

Monday, July 16, 2012

Am I a feminist?

I have often been called a ‘feminist’ by people I know. What makes me a feminist? The fact that I never really enjoyed playing ranna-baati (kitchen) as a kid or thought I’d never fall in love with a man and become emotionally dependent on him- none of which matters now. Or that I abhor objectification, stereotypes and gender roles?

A new breed of female writers had captured the media attention when I was growing up. They narrated the stories of their childhood abuse and were called ‘feminists’. In reality, they were just unhappy people who refused to heal. Hating men doesn’t make you a feminist- it makes you, well, a misandrist.

When people talk of women’s lib, how can they not mention men’s lib? A patriarchal system imposes restraints on a man too. He is supposed to be ‘masculine’, hit birds with an air gun when he is a kid, be a bully and not help around the house, play soccer instead of talking piano lessons. A girl, on the other hand, should feed her doll all day long, be courteous, unquestioning and accommodating.

My parents always encouraged me to speak my mind- but the fact that sometimes it is just not worth it -is my discretion. I was given the same privileges as my elder brother was to pursue an education and a career of my choice. I had the freedom to choose my life-partner, as long as my family approved of him. Not because I was afraid to rebel, but because I thought I owed that much to them.

I was happy to see SlutWalk (a favorite of third-wave feminists), because ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized’ is bull. It bothers me that victims of social crimes are further victimized by society, ‘She must have provoked them’. Received wisdom should also convey that you don’t really need to provoke the twisted – the best you can do is avoid them.

Am I a feminist? I don’t think so. I just have a system of beliefs which might get challenged, and I am sport any day for a reasonable debate. But don’t call me a feminist just because I think your wife should hit you back if you subject her to domestic violence.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guwahati incident

This is a collage from the Facebook pics of Amar Jyoti Kalita, who led the mob that molested the minor in Guwahati. His passport no. is H6312911. Share as many possible pics you can and help the police apprehend him no matter what avatar he decides to assume. We may tolerate a lot of things, but public humiliation of a woman shall not be tolerated. And if this doesn't bother us, we are better off dead.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Duck Tales

For someone who grew up watching Duck Tales reruns, life was meant to be an adventure; traveling to new places and sometimes, finding it in your own backyard. They weren't ducks- they were just people who happened  to look like ducks. And the fantastic seemed so credible at that time that it was more real than the mundane world I had to return to at the end of the half hour.

Understandably, I was excited to find a collection of vintage strips by one of my favorite creators - Carl Barks(who created Uncle Scrooge). Hope I never grow too old for this.

Sometimes, when I have a difficult time believing, I go back to this, Calvin and Hobbes, Tintin- in fact anything that helps me remember that life is an adventure. Of course, I am living it, but there is a lot more to come and I will never stop believing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bharat Premkatha

I have a copy of Bharat Prem Katha (ভারতপ্রেমকথা) by Subodh Ghosh that my grandpa gifted to my father on his 18th birthday in 1374 Bongabdo (Gregorian year 1967). Couple of years ago, I discovered the charm of a book that had been written years before I was born, about people who first appeared in the epic Mahabharat(মহাভারত). The stories are classic, yet contemporary; maybe because the characters are eternal. Read the book if you can - I have relished every word of it.

Here's an excerpt from the first story.

Porikhhit o Sushobhona (পরীক্ষিত ও সুশোভনা )

You might also like Chader Pahar chapter 1

Click on the label 'podcast' or 'mp3' for more audio clips and 'video' for videos.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Melancholy melodies

The sweetest songs are those who remind us of our saddest thoughts. Some of my favorites are:

1. Dil se tujhko bedili hai- Yahudi (1958)

2. Waqt ne kiya- Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)

Click on the label 'podcast' or 'mp3' for more audio clips and 'video' for videos.

Friday, June 15, 2012

We need true leaders

'Rajat Gupta, a native of Kolkata, India, was orphaned as a teenager. After earning an engineering degree, he moved to the United States after receiving a scholarship to Harvard Business School. He then landed a job at McKinsey, the elite management-consulting firm. In 1994, at age of 45, Mr. Gupta was elected the global head of McKinsey, the first non-American-born executive to run the firm.'
-Excerpt from The New York Times

He was India's first poster boy at Wall Street. Now, he is convicted of Insider Trading. ( U.S. v. Gupta, 11-cr-00907, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan))

Why would a millionaire value money more than his reputation? Guess I'll never know.

But it should come as no surprise. In recent years, it has become quite the fad: business and political leaders are making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even in well-respected financial firms [Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs] , you are taught to be ruthless and are judged only by your contribution to the bottom-line, relationship-building and integrity have allegedly taken a back seat. Business Ethics is a class you take in B-school for an easy A. Then toss back those books and ideas and focus on the race. Only the thrust to grow higher can take you places. No need to check if your roots are firm in the grounds- if you are compromising with or forgetting your fundamental values.

Gordon Gekko said 'Greed is good.' But greed can never be good. It clouds your judgment and makes you a coward. Greed makes you want to have things you might not be able to have if you are righteous. And even if no one else knows, you will know it in your heart, and you will loathe yourself for it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Travelogue: A little adventure at San Francisco Botanical Garden

Last week, I was at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Had a great time at the California Academy of Sciences, Rainforest Exhibit. The enclosure was temperature and humidity controlled, and it felt like I was walking through a tropical jungle.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Call a Northeastern 'Chinki', be jailed for 5 yrs in India

Ok, 'Chinki' is a racial slur. So is Bong, Gujju, Gulti etc, but it makes sense because NE women with mongoloid features are statistically more prone to certain crimes against them in mainland. I don't think it will make life any easier for them, but any step is good. I am cynical about the implementation though.

India is rushing towards a state of cacotopia in the guise of social equality. Political and industrial godfathers with the wrong motivation and reservation based on caste(instead of merit) are two major things that need to be corrected. What ppl choose to call each other is not a concern, if the feelings are the same. Maybe folks will learn to call 'chinky' under their breath now. Would be foolish to assume that they can erase that word from the vocabulary of the common man. It will take generations of conditioning to learn to respect differences. The MHA has done it to clear their conscience. Nothing more.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Yogurt Wars

Greek yogurt is now a billion-dollar industry in the US, and has experienced an accelerated market growth in recent years. Once a specialty item, it is now a staple in most supermarket aisles. Strained and hence creamier, Greek yogurt is a healthier alternative to ice-creams and other desserts. Also, it serves as a low fat alternative to sour cream and mayo as sandwich spread. I am addicted, and I guess so are many others.

What are the driving factors of its popularity?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lara Croft :Tomb Raider Crossroads

Looks like Crystal Dynamics is going back to basic survival strategies with a young, inexperienced Lara.

Hope they bring out a bug-free version of TR for PS3, I really miss seeing my favorite gaming diva in action.

My previous post on Tomb Raider Legend

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Satyamev Jayate (video response)

I know there will be a lot of cynics out there who will doubt the intent– of both the creators and the host – of the show,’Satyamev Jayate’. But let us not focus on the froth (presentation), but on the essence (content) of the show.

A lot of movie stars get paid in crores per episode for judging Reality talent shows, there is no harm in that. But when a film star appears in a show with relevant social issues, we feel uncomfortable. Some bloggers have even used the term, ’social pornography’ for daring to share the stories of women who have fought against social prejudice and injustice to survive and protect their girl child. Of course, we feel disgusted. The moment when we heard about the mother-in-law, who kicked the baby cot with her granddaughter in it, we wanted to close our eyes and shut our ears to the horrors that our imagination can't even fathom. But someone had lived through it; someone who felt that she should have empowered herself before and that could have saved her. It is not that educated women are not victimized. According to the surveys cited in the episode, fetal gender determination and consequent female feticides are more rampant in urban, educated homes.

The issue is nothing novel, we have been reading about these atrocities in newspapers since we were kids. But it is not every day a show makes an attempt and it trends in everyday conversations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I am looking forward to the next episode, and though I can’t change your perception about a show or its host, I can implore you to judge it for the message it is trying to convey, and not for the conveyor. And I hope that the truth shall prevail.

Twitter trends on May 6,2012 . India vs San Francisco

The show site: Link

Monday, May 07, 2012

Young adult fiction

This a tribute to the countless adventure stories I read as a kid. My apologies in advance to those who can't read Bengali, but I felt the need to write it in my mother tongue first. I might translate it upon completion.

ডাক নাম রশ্মি । বয়স পনেরো কি ষোলো । সবে ICSE দিয়ে গ্রীষ্মের ছুটি কাটাতে কিছু দিন মামা বাড়ি যাবে বলে ঠিক হয়েছে , তাই মনে খুব আনন্দ । মামার বাড়ি মানেই আম গাছ, লিচু গাছ, পেয়ারা গাছ । দুপুর বেলা পাখির ডাক শুনতে শুনতে গাছে ঝুলে ঝুলে ফল পেড়ে খাওয়া - কেও মানা করবে না ।

মা ও তখন পড়ার জন্যে জোর করেন না । আর আসে পাশে সমবয়েসী অনেক প্রতিবেশী আছে, আর আছে মাম - রশ্মির প্রিয় বান্ধবী । শুভদা, সোনাদাদা - এরাও আছে যারা স্কুল মাঠে ক্রিকেট খেলে; আর মা আম কুচি বানিয়ে দিলে সব হর হর করে চলে আসে । সেই মামার বাড়িতেই যে এত কান্ড হবে সে কে জানত ?

পরীক্ষা শেষ হলো পর ঠিক হলো যে মা আর রশ্মি আগে চলে যাবে, বাবা কিছু দিন বাড়ি থেকে অফিস করে এরপর ওদের ফেরার সময় হলে গিয়ে এক দিন নিয়ে আসবেন ।

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A tale of two…

It is the nth time when a group of aestheticians rounded up on me and said how fortunate I was to never need augmentation for certain body part(s). I told them I was not too happy. Honestly, I am worried what age will do to them. Not that I was very comfortable with them in the beginning either. In my early teens, small protuberances appeared on my hitherto proud flat chest and I tried to counter their attempts at gaining acknowledgment by walking with a forward stoop. I felt the whole world knew something was wrong with my body. My mother noticed me one day and asked me why I was walking weird. One of the most wonderful things that make a mother is that she understands her child’s problems-most of the times-without explicitness. She tried to reason in an old- fashioned way about the 'ornaments' of womankind and that I should bear them with pride. Ornaments or not, I understood that for better or for worse, they were there to stay.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Salesman

Everyone has the potential to become a hero- given the right circumstances. How many times during desperate dark hours of desultoriness have we wished our lives were a little less ordinary- that we mattered to someone – to a life other than our own? Here is one such story of an ordinary man. I wrote this in Feb for a website,  but published it in my blog now. An attempt to make the gender, personality and language of the protagonist markedly different  from the author's.:D

I work for a small Marketing Management firm- it is just another way of saying that I am a bonded laborer for a parasite organization that cleans the shit of bigger firms when no one else wants to. We are set off as Knight Templers in the beginning of a campaign the big whale wants to pilot, but if we succeed in meeting our targets, the big guys take our jobs and give it to their boys. Why? Because we work at half the pay their sales unit does, and they don’t want to waste the talent of Ivy League kids on fruitless test campaigns. It is something about managing the resources- I know that much.

I graduated from a community college- attending night classes while I worked the days at the university. I lived in an apartment with five other guys from the university so that I could make my rent; I still do. I had high hopes till the day of my convocation, but when the career fairs yielded zilch and the Finance grads were the first to start paying off their student loans, I realized that it might be a long time before I started living my dream.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I have lived in this house as long as I can remember, but sometimes I have dreams that I belong to someplace else - far, far away. My father is a very religious man and he preaches me about the many sins that dwell outside the house we live in. We don’t have a garden or a pet. No one ever comes to visit us, and when Papa goes out to work, he locks me from the outside and says that God has asked him to protect me. I believe him. I feel scared of what lies beyond the confines of my home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi

If you have known me long enough, chances are that you have already heard me sing this one. One of my old favorites from the 1969 b/w classic Hindi movie Khamoshi.

You can find the Bengali song Bhindeshi tara here

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New beginnings

A tie-dye Ganesha wishing you luck for new endeavors

And a Saraswati composite

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Learning curves

I have a certain belief that a man is a function of what he has learned or chooses to learn in his life. As children, our minds are like clean slates on which our family and teachers write upon. As we grow up, we come across several people in life and walk through new experiences, and our personality molds accordingly. It is very difficult for even the most reclusive person to say that he is a 'self-made' man because the environment around him will leave its impact in some way. It is like two energy fields approaching each other, the patterns of each will be affected by close proximity of the other.

Now, think of these energy fields as something you can have control on- at least some factors of it. Would you choose to be with a field that drains your vitality and makes you weak in body and soul or would you rather be with a field that nourishes your mind and strengthens your goodness?

Virtue and vice are relative terms, but a palpable measure of your positive energy is the vitality you feel emanating from yourself. Some days, you wake up all groggy - not feeling up to anything. At others, you wake up with the sense of being alive, believing that you will do your best at every task at hand. It is as simple as that. What would you rather be? Of course, the purpose of a human life is not to be an efficient machine, but if you think that happiness is your ultimate objective, then tell me- how many of you have not felt the joy that comes with doing a job well?

We need to condition ourselves to accept only positive energy fields into our systems. In an idealist scenario, we would have transcendental or meteoric learning curves and we would know right from our births what is right for us or wake up one morning and feel that all the knowledge of the universe has been injected into us overnight. But we are humans, and we err. And we live in fears of being let down by ourselves, and we feel scared of learning the unpleasant truth. With time, however, all the insignificant lies begin to matter less, and we want to know ourselves as we truly are. Not how our dear ones address us, or our haters wish us to become, but as we are in the realm of things; in peace with our purpose, which only we can discover for ourselves.

Man-hour vs productivity

This is a response to another of my brother's post. See if you agree.

We should be careful about equating man-hours with productivity. I hope you took into account the time spent in front of the water-fountain or coffee machine, at lunch or at sutta breaks and the likes. What we need to develop is a stronger work ethic. That every hour we put in should be useful- this will also help us learn more efficient ways of doing things.

I have seen employees spending 14 hrs in front of their workstations- logged in with their cards, getting paid overtime for chatting with their neighbors at work. And I have seen employees who concentrate on their work, finishing more than required for the day, spending hardly 8 hrs at work and yet, getting ' Employee of the Month' month after month after month.

The philosophy should be different, the focus shouldn't be an easily measurable ' man-hour', but more important productivity factors like effectiveness and efficiency. What are we doing? Is it productive? In alignment with the firm's strategy? More than satisfactory for the customers?

If I had a mother who asked me 'How many hours have you studied today?' instead of 'Did you finish your homework and are you prepared for tomorrow's class?', I'd be worried.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ready for love

The meaning of love changes with age. An extra cookie as a kid meant my mom loved me; I don’t think I have loved anyone like I loved my first pet; guys asking me out meant a precursor to love or I hoped it was. I have felt love for inanimate objects- a favorite book gifted by Dad or a teddy bear that I had the habit of sleeping with.

Now, every day I wake up to the kisses of a wonderful person, and believe that I would not have known love if I had not known him. I had to make a conscious choice to be with him, to decide that I am going to spend the rest of my life with this person. It was not easy. But with every passing day, I feel glad that I did take the plunge.

Life is an adventure with him. We explore the world around us together- a little shop in the corner or a wild flower by the bush. We giggle at silly jokes at 3 in the morning. We can drive for 10 hours together and still not feel a thing. We sing to each other and he plays the keyboard. We dress up and dance when we want to. I read poetry to him. Recommend good books and movies to each other and discuss better ways of doing things. We cook for each other, work-out together, and I love to watch him shave in the morning. We watch the rain pour on the pool and drink tea from the same cup. Sometimes we fight, and then we make-up.

He is the most amazing friend I have. He makes me feel alive, makes me feel things I never thought I would. I have learned that you don’t need to speak to understand or be understood. I have learned that the trust someone puts in you protects you like a talisman. And that I have a lot to learn about love. But I am ready now.

 Accepting only promises today 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Interactive TV ads

This is a comment I made on my brother's blog post:

TiVo and other recording devices have made Marketing executives rethink their TV advertising strategies. Fewer people watch commercials and the number of impacts per ad will decrease in the coming years. Personally, I prefer watching my favorite shows online or on Video-on-demand where ads are relatively low. Most TV ads generate negative ROI, then why won’t advertisers spend on relatively more cost-effective advertising channels like Magazines? Because the audio and visual stimulus facilitates better brand recall in consumers and can influence brand perceptions.

I have  come across Interactive TV advertising, where I was asked if I wanted to view the trailer of an upcoming film- all I had to do was click a button on my remote, and I’d be directed to it. Instead of making a directive, they were giving me an option, which as a consumer means respect. And as a marketeer means more accurate calculation of ROI ,I will know more precisely how many viewers actually saw the ad.

Primetime and World cups sell a 30-sec slot for millions of dollars, and yet there is ad clutter. The TV ads have a primary objective: to drive demand, and the intent of purchase is best stirred in the target market. Think: an ad for an online design course is wasted on a regular PhD student, almost as much as the ad for life insurance would be for a dead man. Interactive tv ads will make lives easier for all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bhindeshi tara

Original song by Chandrabindoo. Slow version

Click on the label 'podcast' or 'mp3' for more audio clips and 'video' for videos.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Poros pathar

Years ago, I wrote a post about what the poem Poros pathar meant to me then. Today, I was reading some old favorites, and I recorded this. Hope you enjoy. Skip to 06:35 for the last 4 lines.

Poros Pathar by Rabindranath Tagore

Click on the label 'podcast' or 'mp3' for more audio clips and 'video' for videos.