Another big year

By any account 2007 was an action packed year, probably the biggest in my life till then. I changed career tracks to consulting, bought my first home, got married, and bought my first car. Phew!

2015 promises to put it to shame, and for very similar reasons. No. I am not getting married again.

But we did buy our second home, I am again changing career tracks, and moving back home to Hyderabad after years. There are several other changes too, which we will talk about in the future. What I want to talk about today is about the move back home.

A few years ago, we moved from Hyderabad to London. And when the time came to move back to India, we had an open mind, sort of. We were open to other cities as well, as long as they were either Bangalore or Pune. So it was only natural that in a few months down the road, we found ourselves in Mumbai – a city I had never ever wanted to even visit and had never gone beyond its filthy, smelly, mismanaged airport.

Mumbai doesn’t make a good first impression.

As the plane touches down, all you see is a sea of blue – not the Arabian Sea, but the plastic sheets on the roofs of the sprawling slum just adjoining the airport. As the final glass door in the airport parts, you feel the waft of hot, moisture laden, stale air, and you think “Uh oh! What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

The ride home does nothing to calm you either. And what’s with these weird concrete tiles in the roads? You realize the slums near the airport are not an oddity and very soon lose count of their numbers. The filth overwhelms you. Almost all the buildings seem to have been built 20 years ago judging by the discoloured paint. The signs are mostly in Marathi and Hindi. You soon realize that for breakfast your options are either poha or vada pav. And that it was futile to attempt to talk to the call-center executives in English, even after you “press 1 for English”. Housing in Mumbai leaves you fuming. You are dependant on real-estate brokers to who you pay a fat fee when you find a good apartment. But it doesn’t end there. Every year when you renew your rental agreement you pay your broker again. This is like the obstetrician who delivered you showing up on your birthday every year demanding to be paid for the service rendered years ago. I could forget about every buying an apartment too. They do have matchbox apartments (Area: 350 sft. No really!) in a decent budget (that would get you a 2BHK in any other city). Then one day you spot an ad 2BHK apartments for 65 lacs only. And the area isn’t too bad, only at the outer fringe of the outer suburb. Look for the fine print, and there it is – “65 lacs down payment, balance on possession”.

No sir. Mumbai does not make a good first impression.

Whether your opinion on the city changes for better largely depends on your answer to a key question. “How much do you love the rains?”

For a monsoon worshipper like me, the first rains of monsoon washed away all the disgust and contempt I had for the city…most of it anyway. I had never seen such torrential, non-stop,  mindbogglinglybeautiful rain. The Mumbai monsoons are a sight.

In the month that follow you tend to think that the waterfall outside is a permanent feature of this world. There is a huge clap of thunder, frightening yet beautiful lightning in the hills at the horizon, and suddenly as you are watching TV, the lights go out. It is at that moment you realize that this was the first time you are experiencing a powercut in all these months, and before the thought sinks in, the lights are back. Not bad! Not bad at all.

Eventually someone turns off the shower and you decide to venture out. Except that your front gate seems to have turned into a portal to Narnia or someplace. The brown hills at the horizon? They are wearing a fresh bright coat of green, and is that a waterfall you spot? No! It’s several waterfalls. In the next few months, you make the most of the bounty of rainfall and visit as many of the hundreds (literally) of weekend getaways around the city. ( For a guy from Hyderabad, this is especially overwhelming.)

Over the past couple of years I have found, and grown accustomed to so many things that are unique to Mumbai and that I will miss in Hyderabad. The abundance of yummy street food, the night life (which I hardly ever too advantage of), the thriving theatre scene, malls with all the brands you can think of, good schoools. But most of all what I love most about Mumbai is that it lets you be ‘you’. If you are a vegan gujju, come right in, we have tonnes of you. Pan chewing UP bhaiya, join your kin (hide when MNS goons come around though), urban working couples? Feel right at home. Hot-likes-to-wear-tinyshorts-girl? Sure, nobody’s going to stare (other than that dude who probably came from Hy.. some other city.

So why are we moving back you ask? Well, sure Mumbai let’s me be me. But what I am, is a Hyderabadi. So home beckons.

Mumbai by numbers

For previous insights from The Undercover Statistician visit here.

11 days, 2 hours, 14 minutes Duration of a period in Mumbai when the night temperature dips from high twenties to mid twenties. Colloquially referred to as ‘sardi’ or winter.

3 The number of things that are not put between two ‘pavs’ and eaten in Mumbai. FYI, the three things are Screw driver, chyawanprash, cricket ball.

Though some claim that an outlet in New Panvel sells at least one of the three listed, this claim has not been verified.

141 meters The maximum distance that can be travelled through the city before a ‘fecal sighting’.

0.04 The total number of minutes of power cut per month one would experience on an average.

707 Km The smallest distance to be travelled for the nearest Andhra food eatery, this coincidentally is also the distance between Mumbai and Hyderabad.

(zero) The chances of getting a good south indian breakfast at about 7am on a weekend.

The number of times Jerry Seinfeld is expected to be in Mumbai. Compared to zero for rest of India.

55% The amount of actual Hindi words used when a Mumbaiya (thinks he) is speaking Hindi. The rest is made up of words like ghai, gardi, vatana, pauti, kaanda, etc.

>52 The number of unique places you can visit on weekends in a year.

 

A religion for the rest of us

In case you are a first time visitor to this blog, or do not follow me on twitter (@vixdomDotcom), my views on the whole religion thingy might be unclear to you. So let me try to sum it up in a single tweet.

I do not know or care if a sentient being created us since it doesn’t make any discernable difference to my life.But I do not like religion.

I will wait for you to check if that fits into a tweet. Spoiler: Yes it does.

But religion does have some financial and social benefits for its followers though. A religious person can donate money to his cult/church/guru/temple and get a dual benefit of feeling as if he has actually done something good, but also get tax deductions.  On the other hand, you can donate to wikipedia and would not be able to get a tax break (at least in India) though I would argue this actually does way more in helping humanity. Sure you can donate to a notified NGO and get the tax break (and maybe a warm fuzzy feeling), but I think I am on to a better idea here.

What if atheists and agnostics (there is a difference) get together and form a religion.

Here is how it would work.

The religion would first of all need to be recognised as one. And for this it needs critical mass. With all the social media tools at hand it shouldn’t be a tough task to get this done, especially after we make a compelling case as I hope to do below.

Once the religion is ‘established’, it would need to have a bunch of core principles – simple rules that most of us anyway live by. I propose don’t be an asshole as the first rule commandment.

After a basic ‘framework’ of dos and don’ts are done, it can be put up online and would serve as the bible equivalent. The rules would be mandatorily relooked and revised regularly.

A retail network of temples needs to be rolled out. These ‘temples’ are going to be what the whole religion revolves around.

First of all what would the temple be like? I propose a lounge which serves food, beverages and alcohol (prasad).

The festivals would include each individual’s birthday, or any group voted Monday or Friday (Yea long weekend!)

This way I could say I am going to the temple on my birthday since my religion requires me to and chill out in the lounge. If my employer refused, it would be a case of not allowing me to practice my religion.

We would need a figurehead too, a pope of sorts. I see someone like Bill Gates because he is an atheist, very very good at managing money, and most importantly not an asshole (anymore).

The money management part is crucial since the religion would essentially act as a bank. I would donate to the temple, and it would invest it ethically – clear energy, game changing technology, healthcare, etc. The portfolio would be transparent and all members would vote on it.

My investments donations would also be tax deductible, and my bank temple would not be paying taxes either. And with the flood of investments in potentially game changing areas, maybe this just might end up to be a religion that actually does humanity some good.

Who’s in?

 

 

 

The Showdown

Remember the first part of the bit of fiction I wrote a few months ago? Even if you do, go here and re-read it, because here is the next part. 

Update: Because many people cribbed that clicking the link above was too strenuous, the entire story is now available below. Read on.

 


 

As she looked down at her hands, Saakshi realized that they were still newlywed. The mehendi on her hands, though faint, was still there. She smiled to herself.

She knew that soon, cognizance of her marital status would sink in, and these sudden jarring reminders would cease. She had quite started enjoying them; like earlier that morning, having woken up in an empty bed like always, she stumbled over to the bathroom, only to see Varun shaving. Or the day before, when she opened the closet to find a crumpled boxer stuffed into the sock drawer.

She had a valid excuse for not registering her nuptials just yet, it had all happened in such a hurry because it had had to happen in such a hurry. Just four weeks, no 24 days ago he met her for the first time, and perhaps in the first time in a non-arranged marriage (outside of a television sitcom), they were engaged, and wed as per Hindu tradition in two weeks. From Saakshi’s point of view though, this was dangerously close to being not nearly fast enough.

“I told you that you needn’t come to the airport. At least with trains you can do a proper sendoff in the platform, in the airport you can’t even come in past the check-in counters.” said Varun, gruffly quickly realizing that his tone seemed to express anger, rather than concern over his wife having to take a long cab ride back home.

“Besides, you know it is more difficult for both me and you to say bye this way”. He hoped this would placate his wife, but was relieved to find that she was not paying attention and was staring at the airport terminal where their cab had just pulled up.

While getting out with his single piece of luggage, Varun attempted an awkward hug and a peck inside the car and was happy that he was hugged back.

“Friday by this time, I would be back in Singapore airport all set to come back. Just enough time away from you to miss you.” he said, noticing that Saakshi seemed worried and forlorn. He had a hunch why this was.

“Worried about having to spend a couple of days with ma? Don’t blame you. I didn’t expect her to welcome you, but she has been particularly….”

“Bitchy” said Saakshi. It caught even her by surprise when she thought out loud.

Varun was happy to find that he was not being subject to the silent treatment, even if it meant a comment against his mother. He might have preferred a different word perhaps, but now was not the time to be choosy.

“Just hold on. Will make up for this when I am back” he said. But his wife was already out of the car and had even brought in a trolley, and before he could get out, his luggage was in the trolley with his dry cleaned suit hanging from the handle.

“Didn’t realize I married a rock salesman. Your samples weigh like a tonne. Bet you will be paying for excess baggage.”

A quick hug later, Varun was on his way into the terminal. As the glass door slid back behind him, he turned back to give a final wave, but Saakshi was already gone.

I bet she will take public transport back home. Possibly stopping by for some shopping and some snack to avoid going home and face Ma. Varun smiled to himself.

A train hurtled through the suburbs, crushing the dry human shit on the tracks from earlier in the day. The teenagers on the rooftops in the slum beside did notice the woman on the roof of the train, but did not think too much of it – people in the big city go to any lengths to save on ticket fare. But to see someone wearing what looked like a burqa on a train rooftop was not an everyday sight.

“Focus!” the ninja said to herself as the train passed through a small tunnel. “Remember…it all comes down to tonight.” And when the train came out of the tunnel seconds later, Saakshi was no longer on the rooftop.

Mrs. Bhatt had her head so deep into the top shelf of the old refrigerator that it seemed as if the old rattling appliance actually had a human body to match. The refrigerator light had given up the ghost long ago, and instead of light what greeted her whenever she opened the door was the smell of fish curry, mango pickle, bananas, and various medicine – all combining into a distinctive odor that she associated with her home.  She fished out a half eaten bag of potato chips and made her way back to the television set that had the nightly news on.

The old lady slid into her comfortable bamboo rocking chair.Her garishly purple nighty with neon orange hibiscus flowers was almost psychedelic.  As she put her hand into the large bag, she was visibly annoyed with the crinkly noise it made. He fingers felt around for an unbroken chip, and once she found one, put the entire potato chip into her mouth, taking care not to bite into them. Having softened it in her mouth for a few seconds, she then quietly nibbled on the snack. Though the television was on,  it was on mute. Eight angry men, crammed into tiny boxes were screaming at each other, while three different news headlines, neatly copywritten as twitter hashtags flashed in rapid succession. Mrs. Bhatt looked right through the TV, looking a tad disconcerted.

The window panes rattled lightly as a train passed by a little before the horizon. The old lady picked up a shiny metal alarm clock, and set it to alert her four minutes from then. After unmuting the television, she took out the last of the unbroken chips and bit into it, with the slightest hint of a smile.

The alarm beeped. And almost on cue the lights went out, along with the TV. The room barely lit though, from the neighbour’s porch light. This was not a power cut.

The old lady sat up straight, picked up a matchbox, and held a stick. And waited.

A quick bursting sound, and the neighbour’s light was out, plunging the room in darkness. Mrs.Bhatt struck the match with one quick stroke and lit the candle beside her that seemed to be set up right for this moment.

Picking it up, she ambled gently to the adjacent room.

“C’mon now! Let’s get this over with already.”  Her voice complemented the eerie silence in a strange way.

The very next instant the ninja stepped out like a shadow from behind the curtains.

Mrs. Bhatt didn’t need to wear specs even at her age, she lifted the candle just enough to confirm who the guest was.

“Did Varun message you? Has his flight left? When does he reach?” asked the old lady, already making her way back to the TV room.

Sakshi pretended she did not hear the barrage of questions and gently stroked her katana.

Mrs. Bhatt turned a knob near the mains to switch to the UPS. A couple of lights in the house switched on along with the TV.

“You ninja people no, why do you need so much show-put-up and all?  Bekaar mein you broke Mr. Godmare’s light. After association complained so much he put that and now you break it just for your entry. That fellow will never put another light now, and the side road will be dark again…By the way did you at least remember to do what I asked?”

Sakshi closed the door of the bedroom with an intentionally audible thud.

In moments the old lady was in front of the TV, the bag of potato chips back on her lap, but snoring.

The TV news was still on with breaking news of a leading industrialist who was found murdered in his home. Police were apparently baffled – and the only clue was a shiny metal star embedded in the skull of the dead man.

The snoring old lady smiled ever so slightly.

 

Wishlist 2014

Has it been a year already? Wow! Let the annual shame and greed post begin.

 

Wishlist 2013

Raspberry pi / Android Device “If this one doesn’t get checked by next year, I have to drown in shame.”

Yes, thats what I had said last year. And the result…take me to a pool of shame..and strap me to an anvil. Didn’t go ahead with this, and in hindsight with good reason. I don’t think this will make it to my list this year..or will it? The Chromecast partly takes care of some things I wanted to do here.

Console WiiU? PS4? Xbox? Ouya? do I play enough to justify a new console? Hardly

No surprises here… except Ouya??? Really???? In any case if I do pull the trigger, it will most likely be the XBox One…

Google X Phone This turned out to be the MotoX – a really good phone. I didn’t get it…but my awesome Nexus 5 is a superior alternative. This one is definitely a check.
Noise Cancelling Headphones I bought these really good harmon earphones in London, but also managed to damage them. Now I have these decent ones from Cowon – but no noise cancellation and all. A half check here if possible.
Windows 8 device Sandhya did recently get a Dell Windows 8 laptop – with awesome discrete graphics and all. But its no Surface Pro.

So this year’s list of things that I want are:

House Whoa! Ya…this is a big one, and one we have been thinking about for a year or so now.  The big question that we cannot figure out the answer to is ‘where’? Mumbai? Bangalore? Or another one in Hyderabad.
And unless we answer this one I do not think we would be jumping on this big one.
Car Hold on! Is this a repeat of the list from 5 years ago? The Santro works well, and everyone knows that I am a gadget and tech geek not an auto enthusiast.  Put this one in because last year, I couldn’t get the list beyond five items, so why not be more whimsical this year?
HTC Volantis Now we are back on our usual tech track. And so you know we are being serious here.
I am of course referring to the HTC made Nexus tablet that is rumoured now. The Galaxy Tab we have now is showing its age (2 years now) and though its only used by Tvisha, I do think we need a shiny new tab.
NextPhone Not sure what my next phone will be…. But I do know what Sandhya’s next phone will be – my Nexus 5 (she currently uses my old Galaxy Nexus).

There is a rumoured Nexus phablet by Motorola – that’s a possibility but the size puts me off

I most probably will not jump ship to Windows Phone – too sucked into Google ecosystem. Got dangerously close to buying a Lumia 1020 this year though.

Motorola X+1 perhaps? They have been timely with their updates.
I need an awesome camera, great battery life, and a fingerprint reader – hate typing in my PIN each time.
This category is wide open

Kindle Priority wise, this is probably #1. I really do think this will help me read more. Only the fact that Amazon India is charging a ridiculously high price is holding me back. Can’t wait for my next trip or for someone to come down here.
Android Wear Yes! The round watches look droolworthy – and how could I not have this? From the current lot, the GwatchR and the Moto360 have my attention.
   

 

Well, looks like I haven’t managed to list out 10 items this year either. But I will keep my options and eyes open, and update this post when greed calls.

 

Showdown – Part 1

It’s been ages since I wrote some fiction….not for the lack of ideas though. I have a whole bunch of rather interesting premises, but thats about it. If I put pen to paper (figuratively speaking…. though it should be finger to keys) I know I will come out with something… not necessarily something good, but something.

So without further ado, I present the first part of ‘Showdown’ (working title)

 

As she looked down at her hands, Saakshi realized that they were still newlywed. The mehendi on her hands, though faint, was still there. She smiled to herself.

She knew that soon, cognizance of her marital status would sink in, and these sudden jarring reminders would cease. She had quite started enjoying them; like earlier that morning, having woken up in an empty bed like always, she stumbled over to the bathroom, only to see Varun shaving. Or the day before, when she opened the closet to find a crumpled boxer stuffed into the sock drawer.

She had a valid excuse for not registering her nuptials just yet, it had all happened in such a hurry because it had had to happen in such a hurry. Just four weeks, no 24 days ago he met her for the first time, and perhaps in the first time in a non-arranged marriage (outside of a television sitcom), they were engaged, and wed as per Hindu tradition in two weeks.  From Saakshi’s point of view though, this was dangerously close to being not nearly fast enough.

“I told you that you needn’t come to the airport. At least with trains you can do a proper sendoff in the platform, in the airport you can’t even come in past the check-in counters.” said Varun, gruffly quickly realizing that his tone seemed to express anger, rather than concern over his wife having to take a long cab ride back home.

“Besides, you know it is more difficult for both me and you to say bye this way”. He hoped this would placate his wife, but was relieved to find that she was not paying attention and was staring at the airport terminal where their cab had just pulled up.

While getting out with his single piece of luggage, Varun attempted an awkward hug and a peck inside the car and was happy that he was hugged back.

“Friday by this time, I would be back in Singapore airport all set to come back. Just enough time away from you to miss you.” he said, noticing that Saakshi seemed worried and forlorn. He had a hunch why this was.

“Worried about having to spend a couple of days with ma? Don’t blame you. I didn’t expect her to welcome you, but she has been particularly….”

“Bitchy” said Saakshi. It caught even her by surprise when she thought out loud.

Varun was happy to find that he was not being subject to the silent treatment, even if it meant a comment against his mother. He might have preferred a different word perhaps, but now was not the time to be choosy.

“Just hold on. Will make up for this when I am back” he said. But his wife was already out of the car and had even brought in a trolley, and before he could get out, his luggage was in the trolley with his dry cleaned suit hanging from the handle.

“Didn’t realize I married a rock salesman. Your samples weigh like a tonne. Bet you will be paying for excess baggage.”

A quick hug later, Varun was on his way into the terminal. As the glass door slid back behind him, he turned back to give a final wave, but Saakshi was already gone.

I bet she will take public transport back home. Possibly stopping by for some shopping and some snack to avoid going home and face Ma. Varun smiled to himself.

A train hurtled through the suburbs, crushing the dry human shit on the tracks from earlier in the day. The teenagers on the rooftops in the slum beside did notice the woman on the roof of the train, but did not think too much of it – people in the big city go to any lengths to save on ticket fare. But to see someone wearing what looked like a burqa on a train rooftop was not an everyday sight.

“Focus!” the ninja said to herself as the train passed through a small tunnel. “Remember…it all comes down to tonight.” And when the train came out of the tunnel seconds later, Saakshi was no longer on the rooftop.

…to be continued.