Thursday, January 31, 2008

One Night @ The Call Center

By when you make it to page twenty of Chetan Bhagat’s One Night @ The Call Center, you see a Bollywood screenplay pretty much writing itself. Had I been more Bollywood-savvy I would have figured the entire cast - a younger Rahul Bose seems perfect for Sam, the narrator. I don’t say this is a demeaning way at all. In the right directorial hands, this is a story ripe for being Bollywoodized.

The material is fully ready waiting merely a couple of item numbers to be shoe horned at the right spots. There is love, sex, heroes, villains, vamps, God (though God knows why) and a long suffering Indian wife who catches her husband cheating on her even as she slaves to make the perfect Badam Milk for his mother. Plot elements are borrowed from sources on cyberspace and elsewhere – probably a natural thing for something that has Bollywood stamped all over it.

Though the God element in the prologue was intriguing, I did not get the point in the end - especially in the epilogue. Other than that the story is quite readable actually – just like some Bollywood flicks are entertaining and watchable. Some of the stereotypes about the average American customer calling 800 numbers are rather lame - but then that is the nature of most stereotypes.

At any rate, Bhagat warns the reader very early not to expect a work of Naipul or Rushdie. That is a very useful disclaimer as it turns out. Talk about excellent reader expectation management. Whether or not Bhagat is a writer, he is a salesman par excellence. Reading the Wikipedia entry confirms my first instinct : Bollywood has been quick to snap up the rights.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seventeen Pebbles by Jane Hirshfield

Reading Seventeen Pebbles by Jane Hirshfield took me back to a time long ago when I loved collecting pebbles whenever I visited a new place. It was my kind of memento. Sometimes leaves, sea shells and twigs would be added to give more definition to my memories.

As I was to find out, pebbles are not so different from one another even I found them a thousand miles apart. Once inside my box of "treasures" I could not tell the places apart. Hirshfield's pebbles unlike mine are as distinctive as they are beautiful.

After Degas

The woman who will soon
take a lover shaves her legs in the bath,
Would knowing or not knowing that she does this please him more ?


The lake scarlets
the same instant as the maple.
Let others try to say this is not passion.


The grated lemon rind bitters the oil it steeps in.
A wanted flavor.
Like the moment in love when one lover knows
the other could do anything now wanted, yet does not.


The body of a starving horse cannot forget the size it was born to.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adventures In Direction

I got lost twice within a couple of hours trying to get from my apartment to point A and from point A to point B. I am direction challenged to the point of being handicapped but this time it was not me. I called the woman I was supposed to meet at point A and asked for directions but she handed the phone to her husband right away.

Everything heads south from this point. I scribble down what he tells me – interestingly there are more landmark references than there are directions. I thought that was a woman thing. When I review what I have scribbled it reads like “Keep going until you see a church, then after a while, there will be a road on the left that forks in about a mile. Take the left branch and keep going. Turn left and one stop light and right at the next ..” after several more contortions left-right, right-right, right-left I should see a house with a porch. That is my destination. Did not sound promising but I trusted the man to know the way to his own home.

So off we go, J and I to point A with the trusty directions on the passenger seat. Following them to the letter, I end up in the midst of farms dotted with placid bovines and equines. I tell myself the odds of a desi living on a farm are slim to none and call the woman from someone’s driveway.

She is ready to defer to hubby for directions once again but I beg her to desist and stay with me on the phone and guide me turn by turn. I trace my way back to the main intersection and eventually reach the “big house with a porch” . Like me she is not able to get her bearings straight with respect to left on right relative to where I am coming from but it is no big deal really - she is still able to navigate me.

You would think after this first experience I would know better than to trust her man’s directions but then that would make me a smart and prudent person which I most decidedly am not. After we are done and ready to head out to point B, I ask for directions again. She begins but her husband takes over and confuses me with a couple of gratuitous u-turns which he tells me are absolutely necessary to make it to point B on time for my appointment there. Someone there is driving me and J to a point C about an hour from point B and I don’t have the least idea where that is or how to get there. Did I mention J had to perform in a music recital with a group of other kids at point C and had been practicing for a couple of weeks ?

I head out from point A and after the two u-turns, I am completely discombobulated. Seeing me grow increasingly agitated J advises sagely from her car-seat “Mommy, you should head home and start from there so you won’t get lost again”. But I pay no attention to the ramblings of a mere six year old. What does she know about driving directions anyways. Instead I make some more u-turns and find myself in the exact opposite end of town from where point B is.

Glancing at the watch I panic. I have all of five minutes for a fifteen minute drive. I go twenty miles over speed limit through a residential area to make up for lost time. I figure if I get to keep my license this afternoon, there is no way J will miss her recital. I enter the enclave where point B is just in time to see my ride gesticulating furiously from inside her car. She is on her way out to point C. I park wherever I can, grab J and my belongings and make a dash for her car. We make it to point C as planned without any further misadventures along the way. I promise J that I will never again ignore her two cents in matters relating to driving directions.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Flying Solo

J takes music lessons on the weekend and that is the only activity that I have been able to sign her up for given my schedule. There is a ton of learning and recreational opportunities for kids - storytelling, crafts, dance, drama and sports to name a few. The problem is not the lack of options but when it the classes meet. A 3:00 p.m on Tuesday does not work for me.

The system seems to penalize single parents without an extended support network who are trying their best to keep their head above the water. Working full time and enriching your child's life outside school seems to an impossible proposition unless you have a partner or a whole bunch of family who are glad to pitch in. This would mean either being married or living very close to your family. It is surprising given the statistics

As of 2000 an estimated 13.5 million single parents had custody of 21.7 million children under 21 years of age whose other parent lived somewhere else.

Given the numbers it would seem that there would be a market for services this demographic needs. Like a pickup from school to an activity and drop off at home. There are baby sitters and nannies who would do this but I am looking for something more organized - almost like a service provider whose goal is to eliminate the many challenges of trying to be the hydra headed multi-taker that a single parent must become in order to make up for the support network formed by spouse and readily available family. Better still would be to have activities organized taking a full day work schedule and a single parent into consideration.

Instead, the art workshop will end the day at 4:00 p.m and the hapless single parent has to scuttle their work schedule to reach there on time. The county will organize summer school five days a week from 8:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m. which works great for stay at home moms but not for someone like me. Then there are academic tomes written about dysfunctional families and children headed by a single parent (frequently a mother). It seems like most of them have a choice of being super-human and face the overwhelming odds and swim against the tide or give up in defeat. We single parents are not of superhuman extraction.

When you add the many challenges of finding gainful employment that pays the medical bills the problems are compounded manifold. Sometimes, I have to wonder if even the Western society is really giving single parents and their children a fair chance. Maybe the "normal" cross sections of society every where in the world create disincentives for those among us who don't fit the "normal" bill. The way the discrimination works may be in your face (as I have experienced in India) or subtle and all encompassing as in this country.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bitter To Sweet

Reading about these magic African berries that make everything taste sweet made me wonder about having one magic thought which when recalled could make an utterly wrong day, set a terrible month or year right - spin a gossamer web of happiness over what is unbearably painful. I know that water tastes sweet after eating amla - but neem still tastes bitter.

When I am feeling low I find myself tunneling into a book or a movie - overlaying the life of a character over mine. For a while I would have escaped the here and now, living another life in another place and time - not quite the magic berry for the mind, a poor substitute at best. This is my amla standing in for miracle fruit.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reading For J

J finished reading Dairy of a Wimpy Kid a few weeks ago and announced in all seriousness that it is the best book she has read in her life. It had been random chapter books, Abby Hayes and Junie B Jones up to then. For a book to make J's reading list these days it must have hundred or more pages and no pictures - it is very important to not be caught reading a "baby book". I had to sneak and read Wimpy Kid being that J frowns upon grown ups who fail to mind their own business and raid the bookshelves of "little people" (her preferred way of depicting herself when she wishes to be viewed as a victim).

This book is a journal of a middle school boy replete with hilarious illustrations. To restate the obvious i.e. boys don't write diaries, the narrator Greg provides his disclaimer right out front - "Don't expect me to be all 'Dear Diary' this and 'Dear Diary' that". Luckily for the reader he does not walk the talk. This is the first webcomic I have read and I am ready for more if they are even half as good.

Jeff Kinney brings back memories of the early teen years - a time of great awkwardness combined with resentment at being generally misunderstood and unappreciated. Though technically this is a "boy book" anyone who is or has been Greg's age will be able to relate to him. Though J got most of the humor a second reading in the early part of middle school may prove much more enjoyable.

I have been trying to get J interested in poetry but it is hard to come by that first volume that will click and make her want to read more. My search for the perfectly nonthreatening introduction to poetry in contemporary English for first graders led me to this little gem by name of Flamingos On The Roof by Calef Brown. It even has a haiku.

Ten Cent Haiku

I sat down to write a haiku.

It seemed the right thing to do.

I wouldn't need very much time.

No need to bother
with making it rhyme.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out a dime.
This is my ten-cent haiku:

Shiny silver friend.

I will never let you go.

Look ! An ice cream truck !

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not To Drive

I am a notoriously lazy driver. There has never been a chance to ride along or carpool that I have not snapped up immediately. Though it made for a very long commute, I loved being able to hop on a train to get to work. I soaked in the sights of the subway stations and bus shelters, read the latest Harry Potter or just sat still and enjoyed not being the driver. Then came J, elementary school and living in the burbs. Driving and mommyhood go together.

Anything more than two hours of driving is too far to go "just for a weekend", I hate driving in the dark and will do anything to avoid driving in bad weather - even a mild rain would qualify. The idea of living in the heart of a big city has always been appealing because I will not need a car and won't miss its absence. All around me are people who love driving long and far. Just to hear accounts of their ten and twelve hour drives wears me out.

To me,
to drive or not to drive has never been a question. The sad truth is I live in the backwaters where the notion of efficient public transportation has not yet come to exist. The nearest bus stop is about fifteen miles away - well beyond the radius of where my daily needs take me.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Childhood Robbed

When J asks me a question and I am not quite sure of the answer (which is very often the case) she is prompt to add "Look it up on Google". She has heard of Wikipedia and knows that I often check out books on Amazon. Kids at her age are internet-savvy and I am quite sure there are six year olds out who are much more sophisticated in their use of it than J is.

Neil Postman's observes in his book
The Disappearance of Childhood : ...if we turn over to children a vast store of powerful adult material, childhood cannot survive. By definition adulthood means mysteries solved and secrets uncovered. If from the start the children know the mysteries and secrets, how shall we tell them apart from anyone else?

Back in the dark ages before there was internet, acquiring knowledge was a painstaking undertaking. You had to have access to libraries and encyclopedias not to mention a robust memory to store what you had learned for easy recall. The meaning, etymology and pronunciation of a new word was not one hyper-link away. The word tossed and turned inside you restlessly longing to be spoken but your trusty Webster was ten years too old. You had to wait on finding a newer edition before you knew what it meant and found occasion to use it.

Yet the nostalgia for pre-internet days is not unlike any other "remembrance of things past". One looks back with fondness for an obsolete way of life, for the many inconveniences that in rose-hued hindsight appear particularly alluring. J's generation will grow up to bemoan the loss of some significant part of their own childhood experience in the lives of their children. Yet another generation would be accused of killing the very essence of childhood. Despite all odds and the conspiracy of adults against it, childhood has always managed to survive.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Not Quite Ready

Read this excellent summary of signs that an organization is not ready for outsourcing. Almost every consulting engagement that I have been a part of, has suffered from a multitude of the malaises listed. But that did not dampen their zeal for outsourcing whatever was in sight - from back-office operations to core business processes and critical applications. While the results were far from pretty, never was it attributed to the organization's lack of preparedness.

Vendor SLAs are scrutinized, operational metrics are sought where none exist and blame is divvied up as convenient. Major unforeseen costs and inconveniences are attributed to the newness factor. It is generally believed once that wore off and everyone in the equation reached stable equilibrium all will be well.

Interestingly enough the clamor of the initial days subsides to a low din and just stays that way for the length of the outsourcing relationship. It is deemed an acceptable level of chaos because eliminating it is too expensive and therefore impractical. That it may be a significant contributor to lost business opportunity and impact customer retention does not appear to bother management unduly. You are exhorted to work around the challenges and seek out "opportunities" for improvement which is management-speak for a five-slide deck.

While I have often borne the brunt of trying to baseline metrics and monitor vendor performance and the like (a largely thankless and pointless exercise in gathering numbers just to have some digits on the ready to throw around as needed - not intended for driving meaningful change), I have yet to participate in a "
true cost" of outsourcing assessment specially over a 5-6 year window. Maybe it is for a good reason that some histories are best left buried.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Buying Luck

I have a fern covered in gold brooch and love the idea of wearing a real leaf as jewelery. Designed by nature, it is unique and one of its kind. The four-leaf clover pendant along the same lines is a nice idea too. I am not so sure about the "cheap good luck charm" part. I wonder if good luck charms retain their potency when they can be bought and sold at will. Or maybe it is an outmoded notion that fortune like love cannot be purchased; that it comes only as a reward for good karma.

There are stories of lottery winners who lost it all and those who managed to keep it. Being able to keep the windfall seems to require having "earned" it at a certain level and a genuine desire to pass forward the rewards of good fortune. Likewise, finding one's own four-leaf clover and preserving it in gold for posterity might well bring the well deserved good luck.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Translated Birdsong

If I knew how, I would have loved to upload J's name in birdsong as a ring tone for my mobile phone . Until then I have to content myself with knowing that it can be done. Surely some geek at the workplace will take pity on my tech-retardedness (in some other language there may be a word that describes the combination of being technology challenged combined with the irrational fear of new gadgets much more succinctly) and help me out. Whatever the accuracy of the algorithm being used, English translated to birdsong sounds perfectly delightful.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


The next morning when she checks her mail, she finds his response to her initial contact.

I liked your profile, though I must admit that your description is shrouded with mystery - what I call the "Tell you later" syndrome. A little about myself. I was born in Calcutta, raised in Bombay, and spent the first 18 years in India. And then undergrad in NY and grad schools in CA - so I guess I spanned both sides of the coast ..and work has taken me to places like Austin, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, etc. Have traveled a bit, but not as much. But I am keeping that as one of my "To Do's" among so many ..

I am sorry to hear that you went through a difficult divorce. I have borne the brunt of that on my end as well. I guess keeping your head up and faith in the truth ( a rather philosophical outlook I have now!) and pursuing other passions keeps one going.

Send me an email at Look forward to hearing from you.


To which she responds with alacrity that is fairly typical of her


This is in response to your response to my contact. A little long-winded but it tells a lot about the hoops one has to jump through to reach the elusive Person Right :-)

I am an engineer for all the wrong reasons, do IT stuff for a living - how unoriginal and boring, am passionate about reading and writing. I have not been published on a dead tree yet but some e-stuff is out there. My work in progress will take about ten years to complete at the going rate. Thought your profile was interesting and wanted to get to know you since we have some interests in common.


He writes back in a few hours… She has by then had breakfast, taken a shower, answered her mail, paid her debts to society which are fairly numerous this month. Belle always knows her checking account balance to the nearest cent…sometimes she has dreams about it.. one among the many oddities of her character that have surfaced since she turned “suddenly singleton single mom” . In all she thinks, this is going to be a quiet weekend.

Hi Belle:

People are not elusive ..I don't think. They are all there for the taking. It is your choices that make that person "elusive" -- start flagging them with multiple criteria, rank em ... and lo and behold ... the abstract "elusion" ( that is not a word) becomes concrete. No wonder Seth wrote " A Suitable Boy " rather than the " Elusive Boy" .... :-)

So you are a writer. Well --- at least you are green and an environmentalist. Don't kill trees -- e-poetry-zines suffice. It certainly has more reach than a 500 copy publication, most of it sold in the Bay Area and NY and Michigan ... and Amazon. It is good that you have works in progress. Over time, it will be interesting to observe it morph to the circumstances and perspectives ... a read into the next ten years of not only the conscious but the sub-conscious mind as well.

I can assure you that the discovery can be quite contrary to how you have always thought of yourself. And that is sheer delight ...or horror! Between the thought and the word on the paper lies infinite intent ... and we the unfortunates are not up to calibrating that infinite. So the work in progress is wonderful and I urge you to continue on this journey. There ain’t no Ithaca or Shangri La or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is all an yellow brick road.

We do have a lot in common ..and over time I guess we will find out things in common and things not in common. And then the delusions of the elusive one or the illusions of the elusive one will come to fore.


She thinks to herself – too grandiose, vapid and verbose for comfort. The ideal person to kill time with, have coffee and conversation and some flirtation included for good measure but not the stuff of the daily grind – the ideal husband material the holy grail of all marriage minded women.

She has to smile to herself as she sips her green tea and sits back to type her response. Joann her dear friend who dabbles in astrology would have termed him Mr. Mars – the type that attracted all her planets except her Moon…and in having failed to placate her Moon the connection was doomed. Mr. Mars with a Saturnine overtones would be the ideal man for her.. but until then the Red planet exerts its pull.

Hi Helios,

I am a Seth fan though I like his poetry a lot more than his prose. Was completely charmed by "The Golden Gate" - when I first read it.

Years ago an accountant friend had impressed upon me the merits of a weighted and prioritized checklist to go spouse-hunting with. Like, family background weight3/10 priority 6/10. Doing the math would reveal "the one" magically. Sounded very logical but did not work out in real time.

One misadventure and a many years later I have realized there isn't a formula. There is a math to it maybe but it is probability and not arithmetic.

It's nice to hear from you.


She has new mail a lot sooner than she expects but then it is a Saturday morning.. probably the best time to start a cerebral relationship. She does not quite get a sense for where this is heading. After a long time she finds herself not anxious to seek denouements. She merely goes with the flow...She wonders who he is looking for.. she reads up about his wants on his profile.

He tries to define but cannot because he has no notion except for the ghostly image from the antiquated past that haunts him. Does he still desire the object of love that turned to hate or does he want to forge a new path and be pleasantly surprised at what he finds there ? He likely does not know. He hopes like many others to recognize it upon finding it. Belle is different in that she knows who she seeks just that she has not met him yet.

What am I looking for?

I wish I could be concrete and drive to specificity -- have a laundry list that negates that I do not want versus what I do. One hopes, and futilely so, that such an exercise in reason may include or exclude many in one and one in many. But the reality and experience undermines that fact. What I want is imperfection -- can i be specific about imperfection. Nah -- but it is better to have the forbearance to accept that since one can and shall never be disappointed.

So be imperfect, be skewed, be different -- and let me address or rather -- let me revel in the truth of how you perceive yourself and how I can, by my third eye, perceive you. Bare me your deepest tales and I shall be the scribe that will lend color and gaiety to it. I believe that everyone has that something special -- and I am not in search of only one thing or group of things "special" --- rather -- I simply would like to ambulate at a leisurely pace and come upon that which will become my Muse -- and I become her mirror that will unearth the secrets of how life perhaps can be negotiated and led once again. Be nice --- Be accepting -- be the water that flows and flows ---

But what he tells her is quite different.. Is he , she wonders all about words stringed together for aesthetic effect.. a patterned silk screen that promises riches of the world obscured from view when it really hides only emptiness. She notices that words camouflage rather than reveal him…or that he uses them to achieve such a result.

Hi Belle:

I agree. Seth does have some good poems and his Golden Gate .. I can relate to it fairly closely, having been in the Bay Area for a good eternity or two. However, his poems when he went to China ..i liked that one a lot.

Misadventures abound in life. Makes it interesting. Although I admit that I could do with a little less "interesting" in my late past. Having said that, it is always worthwhile to move forward by lowering the bar a little .... that is secret sauce to happiness and lasting connections. Furthermore, if misadventures are learning, then we are all the better for it. I certainly believe, or at least rationalize that all things happen for the best.

Well ... if that is the case, then what will be will be, and things are reduced to not only an arithmetical jig and a probability jog ... then guess what ... we are alive and we have hope and there are a shit load of stuff out there that makes all worthwhile. And the fact of living and hope is not a probability is ...that is the resilience of the human spirit.

So when the hell did I turn the corner and start spouting philosophy. When the misadventures happened, and the math did not work .... then one gets religious ( not the iconic and institutional kind) and then philosophical ... reminds me of the Pope's adage - Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think.


She finds herself falling into a natural rhythm in responding to his e-mails. There are no questions asked, no histories to fathom , gauge or judge.. she feels perfectly comfortable at the non-committal pace of this dialog.. and each time she thinks to herself “How interesting !” He like her ex is probably a gifted raconteur – and in her, he will always find a captivated listener. She does not bother to analyze too much because she has no expectations from this communication, to need to define or direct. It is very a peaceful feeling.

Hi Helios,

For a long time I used to veer precariously from Pollyanna optimism to abysmal blues over all the lost years and lost dreams...Have found solace in chance friendships and little miracles that have held out hope against crushing odds.

I can't claim I am as tranquil as I would want to be -but I am starting to make peace with myself. I've learnt, I've grown and I like the person I am today more than I did the woman who was silently asphyxiating in a dead relationship.


He finds himself waiting for her mails with feverish excitement that baffles him. A veteran of a difficult and expensive divorce, ten short term relationships since then and vast stretches of emptiness and delusion in between. What is it about Belle that draws him he wonders ? They are very different from each other – even without having seen a picture or having talked with her he can sense that – maybe very different from any other woman he has known before. Is that her attraction to him ?

She piques his curiosity – in a way that is akin to physical arousal. It disturbs him. This is out of the range of his experience with women. Yes, Rupal came close, she was witty and had the knack for repartee but her words did not transform to chemical pulses like Belle’s did. Her words lacked power to energize him.

Hi Belle:

A start is a good beginning. And realizing where one stands is the best start. How to reconcile that start with where u would have wanted to be is water under the bridge ...or better still " the abysmal depths of blues" -- but since you have found your way to one end of the bridge and you have taken those ginger steps to span the crossing ... then it is all good. It is never bad to peer into the hoary depths ... it is always there ... so I say what! And i am sure that you are more tranquil than what u think you are ...

So how long have u been in AZ? How do you like it there? And where in AZ are you? I have been to Scottsdale ... used to play in a band ...used to be a bit of a bass guitarist in another life. Now more focused on other hobbies that I hope can make a difference. But woe is me ... my day job seems to be creeping into those personal times ...what with managing the hyper growth and management speak and BS. When all is said and done, more is said than done! The saga of Dilbert plays out still!


Haven't been in AZ that long. Moved to Phoenix late last year. Used to be in MD before that. The AZ summer can be daunting - not that I was not warned. I'd been to SF in '00 (if memory serves ) -left with an impression of pervasive shabby chic about the place. Given that the impression was formed in a very short stay it was probably presumptuous.


He smiles to read that. The comment about SFO is intriguing and he wonders what led her to that conclusion in what was obviously a very short stay. Was it a state of mind, her attitude, the person she was with or something quite different. He thinks “Hmmm”. She makes him ponder, think about things he otherwise had neither the time nor the inclination for. There was indeed something very special about her – or maybe in the way she appeared to him –manifested as she were through a bit stream of consciousness in cyberspace. He types his response to her between sips of lukewarm Mocha.

Interesting -- pervasive shabby chic! I would like to think that your vacation was tooooooooo short, and that you are being presumptuous. SF is a beautiful city .... yeah ...maybe windy ... and moody ... but beautiful all the same. Now if you decided to go clubbing and bar hopping ..I can understand your comment. I am far removed from that scene for a while.

But Belle ... geeez lady .... u need a local tour guide that will take you to where the locals haunt and the ghosts of yesteryears surface. And I assure you that now that you are up in arms against the "slings and arrows" of the sun in blazing AZ ... SF will be a pervasively "chilling" place to be in. And it is a lair for someone that loves writing and reading ... go up to the mountains, lie on the beach, take a pedal boat to the lake, sit beneath the redwoods ...

So how on earth did u get into IT consulting ? Engineering! Your writing and profile takes you upon paths less trodden. What happened. When did lightning strike to alter your course with destiny?


Her response does not answer everything but again it sets him of thinking in different wanton directions – aimlessly yet peaceably. Word playing with her is like foreplay to wild sex – he imagines she must have a soft throaty voice, sexy laughter , being very uninhibited and abandoned in bed. Why he thinks what he thinks he has not the least idea. In his mind she grows in beauty with each mail she writes to him. He knows she is extremely attractive.. the kind that has always let him astray. Is this a Siren that beckons him from far away ?

Your description of SF is more like what I had imagined it to be. Maybe the company was all wrong..

When I was growing up in India, the only "safe" career options used to be engineering and medicine. I could barely manage a passing grade in biology so I ended up becoming an engineer. I was looking for an education that would give me a job at twenty two. Back then I used to think a paycheck is what it would take to nurture the literary and artistic in me.

Many hundred paychecks later, I'm still where I was ten years ago. Project Management is probably what I can do most naturally - it takes no effort and so does not feel like a "job". Of course every once in a while I flip from doing earned value analysis to pen a few random thoughts .. hoping some day it would all come together beautifully into something larger, more meaningful..

She notices that he has not asked to see any pictures, asked anything tangible about her – there is this gentle drift back and forth of words that she feels happy to be in the midst of. There is no future that she envisions and in many ways that provides the biggest feeling of comfort in this communication.

She sees a potential for deep and abiding friendship – love she would stop short of that – because once loved and lost then friendship is gone too. She would rather seek love elsewhere. While she senses a strong sense of kinship and attraction there is nothing that tells of permanence and future. Indeed those associations seem to dampen the glide and flow of thoughts.

Chapter 1

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sized In Vain

I am not much of a clotheshorse and most definitely not up to the challenges of shopping for them online. Thanks to vanity sizing a woman never knows what size her clothes are. She can never tell if it will fit unless she has tried it out in a fitting room. Depending on the label and the vintage she could range from 2 to 8. Help is now at hand with sizemeuponline.

There are apparently some industry data exchange standards and an XML specification but it does not help much without a governing institute like the bureau of weights and measures. With even the kilogram standard needing recalibration what are the odds of getting a Marilyn Monroe mannequin to be and remain the gold standard for dress size 12 ? Women in need of a dress that fits might be better served by a body scanner and purveyors of mass customized couture.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Application Types

Anyone who has ever coded an application or been in the thick of things when one was being coded by others would chuckle reading this blog post that compares applications to certain type of employees. I have to admit that I have seen all the types she has on her list and then some. My most recent experience was the totally "Clueless Guy" who was "Undecided" to boot.

The application's sole redeeming grace was that it guaranteed employment for hoards of developers, testers not to mention a few architects, analysts and managers - a cash cow if there was ever one. The party lasted all of two years and a close to two million dollars when senior management had an epiphany - Bangalore it expeditiously. I'm sure that it makes perfect sense to have a "clueless + undecided" guy in a different continent serving the business needs of your customers 24/7. This must be what they call smartsourcing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Two Poems

Read two beautiful poems that seem to belong together - almost like they were a pair. Love and loss are often inseparable even cyclical.

"Separation" by W.S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

"You Fit Into Me" by Margaret Atwood

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dating History

A co-worker's recent comment triggered this post. He is a very highly networked individual and that has clearly paid rich dividends in his career. He volunteers for a number of organizations and coaches kids for soccer. Rob is attractive, has a pleasant personality, is well liked and is really fun to be around in the workplace. All things considered, one would wonder why he is still single in his early 40s.

When conversation turned to dating and the pitfalls thereof, Rob said he wished he could review dating resumes before going out with someone, be able to get reviews and recommendations from friends, family and exes and finally how neat it would be to have all that information readily available online. His rationale was that most hiring decisions he has made or been a part of have been successful because one or all those data points were available for the candidate. His lack of success in the dating game is due to the absence of the very same information about his dates.

Though it sounded strange, it turns out that dating resumes are out there; both men and women have them. Some have logged their own dating histories. Elsewhere services and scams have sprung up around the same idea

What is missing is an integration of these things into a cohesive service. In an ideal world, someone like Rob would go to a or the like look up a profile, read the blurb and if it sparked enough interest check out references (ok, that may be a stretch) and review dating history. They can also apply for an interesting significant other position. The idea is what works so well for business networking can be used to make perfect romantic connections.

It is generally accepted that your success in the current job can be largely correlated to success on previous jobs. That is the best way to judge if you will be able to walk the talk. Likewise, the chances of someone who has a twenty year history of gravitating toward highly dysfunctional and abusive relationships is quite unlikely to do different now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Modern Cubes

There is something very Modern Times-esque about this story about this contraption for turning the cubicle worker mobile. The idea is to keep workers gainfully employed on the computer as they get their daily quota of exercise on the tread-mill. The feeding machine would fit in nicely in this scheme of things along with the state of the art napping device.

A built in alarm is set and once nap time is up, lights and vibration serve as a gentle wake up call. Members pay $65 a month for an unlimited number of naps, while non-members pay $14 for 20 minutes in the Energy Pod.

When sleep is that expensive, unlimited access to the device could very well become an employee benefit. The whole idea of making the most of the 40 hours a week (on average) of worker time may not always yield the expected returns. Most people don't miss their deadlines because they were slipping away for a workout at the gym or napping at their desk from sheer tiredness.

They are not successful as individual performers because they don't have the larger organization working in tandem with them towards a set of common goals. Critical decisions are made too late, budgets are cut randomly and key players move on by when the ducks are finally in a row. No amount of cube-walking or power-napping will solve all that. The mantra seems to be "ignore cause, control symptoms"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Split Yet Green

Apparently you cannot be green and divorced at the same time and there is obviously merit in that argument. My neighbor downstairs is a single dad who keeps his apartment so tidy that management of the property would likely pay him to use it as a model to show prospective renters.

Nothing looks like its ever been used. The books and CDs are lined up so carefully that you hesitate to venture near for fear of disturbing their order. Having been neighbors for three years now, my guess is it would take an act of God to fluster him or put his house in any state of disarray. The perfection is almost repelling. I'm not surprised that I have never seen any visitors at his place in all this time - it would intimidate me to sit on his couch.

When his little girl comes to spend a weekend, his house is the favored watering hole for a bunch of neighborhood kids including J at times. Unlike us adults who step even on his doormat gingerly, they don't think twice before trashing the place. But the minute they are gone, the apartment is back to looking picture perfect. Us moms wonder how he does it. I am guessing a lot of cleaning supplies are involved in this rapid recovery from the mess and chaos that half a dozen kids must necessarily leave in their wake.

His lost green quotient on account of his split marital status and obsessive compulsive cleanliness is probably more than made up by the Toyota Prius he drives.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Touchscreen Waiters

Inattentive to outright churlish waiters are part of the eating-out experience. Then you have the "Is everything okay ?" every five minutes style of waiting which drives me up the wall. It seems that striking the right balance is a fine art. It must require a certain mileage in the industry that most wait-staff lack being that this is not a line of work the majority of them is looking to build a career in. Consumers can now have touch-screens to replace surly waiters.

It won't be a big loss from a customer experience perspective where a restaurant's wait-staff is a big reason for business not being brisk. It would probably drive down cost for the customer and improve service quality - overall a win-win. However, to replace great waiters with a lifeless machine, strip a restaurant of what makes it a favorite with customers would be a shame. Turning touch-screens into the de-facto way of doing restaurant business would make as much sense and 100% IT outsourcing is making. It would just hurt everyone involved.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Random Notes

Great pointers for those who are considering a career as a brand strategist - the list of job disqualifications is fairly long.

We speak in jest about finding something so funny that we died laughing - turns out that it has really happened. Maybe this should be a warning for everyone who has ever said that they want a partner who can make them laugh.

It was a few days before Christmas. I was that the office cafeteria with a friend. We had both paid for our lunch when we realized we had forgotten the water. I made a sprint for a couple of Aquafinas and the next guy was paying for his meal. He had paid for our aquas too and said cheerily "Enjoy your lunch !" Unlike the Starbucks cheer-chain, this one ended with us thanking the guy a few times for this nice, surprising gesture.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Headhunting Stories

When you've been in the IT consulting business for a while, you run into a host of colorful characters in the form of agency sales and account managers and plain old recruiters. There are stories and stories but here is a small sampling :

1- It was a phone screen with the agency recruiter before being submitted to the client. After about five minutes she asked me "Have you ever considered a career in radio ? You have the perfect voice for radio" When I said I had not she had a second recommendation for me"How about technical recruiting, you know interviewing candidates and screening them for submission to clients ? I think you would do really well at that too". While those were great votes of confidence, neither resulted in a job.

2 - She is a recruiter in her early twenties and asks me to meet her for coffee at the local Starbucks. Before I leave I find out that she has no college degree, has quite a bit of credit card debt - she hardly makes any commissions and her salary is about same as a McWorker's only she has to dress a lot better and look very cheerful. Goodwill is her lifeline. The worst part of her job - meeting nerds for coffee who stare at her bust for the full twenty minutes of the conversation.

3 - He name drops every time he gets a chance and impresses upon me the power of his sizable Rolodex. If there is not a job, for the right candidate he can have the hiring manager create one - it has been done before. He thinks he can put my resume to work handily. There is no company in town that he has not done business with. Then he tries the oldest trick in the trade - he does not have a position that may be a fit for me right now but could I give him "at least three professional references" along with their phone numbers.

4 - He tells me that he came to this country from India before I was born. I say that's a long time ago. To emphasize the relative difference in our places in life he adds, I got divorced when you must have still been in high school. Needless to say we had not talked about the job yet. I resolve to remove the year of graduation in the education section of my resume. But for that we would not be having this conversation. Then he talks about how his ex-wife has the best of both worlds "the privileges of marriage without any of the responsibility". He lives an hour away from her and was on his way to the airport to receive her and drop her off at her home. He was her preferred handyman as well he adds proudly. I say she has a deal that was hard to beat. As for the job, the hiring manager had to cancel the position since her budgets got slashed.

5 - She contacts me regarding a position. I am a little slow to react and send her my resume months later when I am back in the market. She calls and leaves me a message asking me to call back. When I do she tells me that she no longer works for the company she was with at the time of writing to me. She has her own catering business now. She is confident she'll break even this year but in the meanwhile if I had a part-time project manager position would I please consider her ? Money is rather tight with the business still struggling. I am at a loss for words but manage to say of course, go ahead and send me your resume.

6 - In a previous life she was a waitress at Hooters. Apparently she met her husband when he came there one evening. She looks like Barbie doll might at forty five - a little wrinkled, sagging and worn out but still very much the bimbo that men find ogleable. She wears an Omega and carries a large brown bag that looks ominously like a Birkin. Every time I meet her at the consultant appreciation breakfasts, I find myself working the math of number of bodies times spread minus cost of bagels, coffee and OJ equals money for Birkins and more.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting Wrong

This article on how Hollywood routinely gets Africa wrong is aptly under the Provocations section of GOOD Magazine. While it is completely true that "An Africa that is more than lush landscapes, bloodthirsty tyrants, and trigger-happy killers is long overdue.", Hollywood's distorted perspectives on cultures and peoples outside North America has its own benefits.

As an immigrant it helps you understand the broad brush stereotypes that are associated with your kind and come up with some handy coping mechanisms. For desis it could be the fake gurus, Patels running motels, thick accents and arranged marriages with an occasional doctor thrown in for good measure.

So when the course of casual social interaction, some or all of those assumptions are made about you, you don't feel overly perplexed. You do what you can to give folks a sense of where the median India lies - somewhere between the extremes of a Bollywood Musical and Salaam Bombay, you encourage them to check out some of the better made Bollywood flicks, indie and parallel cinema from India maybe a book or two by R.K Narayan.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Besotted By Chai

I tried the Panera Bread Chai Tea Latte for the first time this morning and am completely smitten by the taste. This a way better than the Starbucks Green Tea Latte - a beverage so gross that it had managed to wean me from all manner of chai for a bit. I drink copious amounts of black and green tea but masala chai is always a special treat reserved for a lazy Sunday morning. My blend is the the very refreshing desi formula but Panera's concoction is quite a different animal.

The official recipe says "brewed black tea with honey, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and steamed milk". I guess it must be the vanilla that makes it taste so unlike the masala chai I am familiar with. While I love how it tastes, I have no desire the pay the ridiculous price of close to $4 for it. So I came home and tried to reproduce the taste with fat free milk and it did not taste half bad. I have to fine tune the mix of tea and spices until I get it just right.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Buying Power

An American friend was recounting her recent trip to Disney with the kids. It was fun, got really crowded around Christmas and there were tons for foreigners - specially Europeans. With a stronger currency they were having a lot more fun than the average American like my friend who had planned and saved for this trip for a couple of years. I guess it won't be long before foreigners over-run and out-shop the locals at their local malls. Travel to the States may actually peak before Black Friday. Shopping in NYC is a good start on the way to the outlet malls. I can't wait for some IT work to get near-shored from the EU to the US.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Never Safe

I have been thinking about a six month India trip for J - it is probably a desperate bid for cultural immersion before its too late for impressions to be etched. When I first discussed the idea with her grandparents they had a mini panic attack. I had imagined they would be excited - which in all fairness they were but anxiety overshadowed that.

There were concerns about what if she grew homesick and wanted Mommy would I come get her, would they have to drop her off ? What about school ? I could tell there was more than logistics on their mind but was not sure what it was exactly. J for her part was ready to pack her bags for the trip right away when I asked her. She said she would miss me but she could always call and it was only for six months. It was not like she was going away for ever. Her teacher thought it was an excellent idea as long as J and I were able to endure the long separation.

All this reassured the grandparents somewhat but they were still not sure it was a good idea. I was taken aback by what my mother had to say "India is not safe for any woman and J is so strikingly beautiful. It puts a huge responsibility this puts on us - two elderly, helpless people. What if something goes wrong ?"

But she is all of six, Ma I protested. Besides every grandparent in the world thinks their grandchildren are the paragon of beauty and perfection, the rest of the world may not exactly share the sentiment I added. It does not matter. It would not be totally safe she argued. At this point, I felt like I was talking to a wall.

Growing up in India, this whole business about the world outside home not being safe for women started only around the time I hit puberty and actually became a woman. At six, I ran carefree through the paddy fields and woods in the semi-rural town we lived in. The only rule was to come home when the street lights came on.
I at least had the right to be a child and enjoy it.

How has all that changed to the point where a six year old must be protected from lecherous men on the streets and in public places ? I asked my mother. She was not able to give me a good reason besides being completely paranoid about the safety of her grandchild. Things have become much more unsafe and dangerous now. Times have changed she insisted.

When I read the
news of crimes against women in India and how the law does nothing to protect them or even redress their complaints I am not so sure about the paranoia I blame her for.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


we call the mountains in the lake,
whose existence resides in neither stone nor water.

From Articulation: An Assay

Found this fascinating story via Buzzfeed on Lakota Nation, a nation inside a nation or superposed on it at least. The comments on the blog post are just as interesting as the story itself. Like a lot of other folks, I'm very curious to see how this all pans out and specially what it means for the rights of illegal immigrants from Mexico given they are an indigenous people. As of now, this contemplated nation feels like Jane Hirshfield's assay on reflection.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Geek Stuff

The Wifi Donation Alarm Clock has to be the most horrible punishment for the snoozers among us but it is almost guaranteed to get the job done. Also on the flip side, one person's friend is the another's enemy so our collective propensity to hit snooze on the alarm clock benefits everyone in the end; friend and foe alike.

After you've finally hauled yourself out of bed and made filled your enemies coffers in the process, you can feel a new rush of despair looking at the calendar. No matter what month of the year, there is always something to feel lousy about. Based on my most recent experiences at the work place, the line for November resonates deeply with me - Planning. Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress. I could not agree more.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Too Vegan

You can never be too vegan apparently. I am just as confused as this blogger by "Vegan Cane Sugar". For a minute I wondered if unbeknownest to me, I had been eating sugar laced with bacon powder - just to enhance the flavor. Before, I got ahead of myself I read the update further down in the post which clarifies the use of charcoal in the sugar-making process may render it un-vegan.

At the grocery store today, I saw this over-priced chicken that was fed a 100% vegetarian diet. In nature, hens do eat worms and are none the worse for it. I was not sure why it made sense to turn the chicken vegetarian and have the consumer pay for its unnatural diet. Would it not be better to leave the poor chicken to their own devices and have the wannabe vegeterian find some textured vegetable protien instead ?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Rental Womb

The morals and ethics of being a surrogate mother are enormously complex. One perspective is that of a generous woman who is willing to pay the emotional and physical toll of pregnancy on behalf of another who is unable to bear her own child. The act of handing this child over to its biological parents after carrying in for nine months is a great sacrifice and a gift beyond compare.

And there is the other view of a woman who is bartering her womb and her childbearing years for money, being no more than a sterile petri dish emotionally to the fetus growing inside her. The loving bond between the mother and her unborn child either does not exist or is killed early. She must bear and deliver the child mechanistically so she is not traumatized from having to part with the child.

emotional state of a pregnant mother supposedly has a lot to do with the physical and mental well being of the child. It seems in the surrogate arrangement, this would tend to be a casualty. The birth of the child signals the time to collect the paycheck and not the happy culmination of many dreams. Such commoditization of motherhood is its ultimate travesty.

As with technology outsourcing, there is the pattern of cheap and willing labor in India leading the way in the womb rental business.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Investment And Change

Solving for world hunger and improving your vocabulary while you are at it - that's an unbeatable combination. This can get addictive specially if you are working on getting past your best level - I got stuck at 46 and remained there up until 12000 odd grains of rice. It was really hard to pry myself away from this site and put my time to uses far more mundane than solving world hunger.

The idea can be extended to yield bigger and better returns for highest reading, history, critical reasoning or math scores; make learning fun and rewarding for kids. So many grains of rice for every correct answer; the top scorers could earn seeds, clothes, livestock and even land for the poor. The about page summarizes what makes this concept click :

Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide.

I must be in dire need of change and self-improvement these days because soon after Freerice, I discovered these simple free hand drawings that can change my life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

In Flux

I don't know about the ten archetypical males this article talks about, but I am in complete agreement with the author when he describes the consequences of women redefining their own gender roles in the wake of the Women’s suffrage movement :

As women took steps to define their own gender roles, men missed the opportunity to do the same. We were left with a confused, ragtag concept of what it means to be a man, defined not by ourselves, but rather by contrasting ideals from two sources — liberated women and posterity.

While his archetypes are probably more relevant to the Western world than they are to the Eastern, the issue of manhood caught in the flux of two contrasting ideals - "liberated women and posterity" is fairly universal. Reading this reminds me of a comment my friend Janet made recently. She got married a few years ago after dating many men over a long period of time. The marriage has run into rough weather and they will end it officially soon.

I asked her if she was seeing anyone and she said "After dating men for so many years, I now wonder if I am even looking for a man. That's the only way to explain why no man has ever been right for me". At fifty six she should know what she's talking about. Interestingly, she is not the first woman I have heard regretting they were straight even if in jest.