Friday, November 03, 2017

an ode to the iPhone





My obsession with Apple began 10 years ago. I had finished my MBA, joined a pretty high profile company, and was just starting my life really. Till then I was not really aware of Apple, had heard about the company, had seen the tacky looking iMac in stores, a friend had described the iPod and had learnt about how iTunes had given a new life to the music industry (as a case study in marketing class). But I really didn't know what Apple stood for.

That was to change with the iPhone. I don't really know when I first heard about it (I recently learned that Jobs announced the iPhone as early as January of 2007), but when I heard about it, a touch screen phone just appealed to me instantly. About 70  of us, new recruits, were in NY for a 3 month long 'NAPA'  training (which really was an endless party) when the iPhone was officially released. All of us wanted to buy it, but none of us were sure if the  carrier locked phone would work in India, and it was more like who'd take the risk first. I made a couple of trips to the fifth avenue Glass Cube store, fascinated by the glass stairs and apple retail.  But every time stopped myself from buying it, it was not very expensive, at $199, converted to Rs. 8000/-, it was a steal really, but still the Indian middle class brain heard $200 for something which might end up as a glorious paper weight (a term used for my iPhone many years later) .

But the allure was there and one late evening, on a whim, I stood in a long queue snaking through the Glass Cube and finally bought it.

The next question was what to do with it, it was carrier locked, so for the first couple of days I just used it as a camera.

Then started the adventure of unlocking the phone. A friend discovered a 39 step blog by the now legendary iPhoneDev team, with steps to root and unlock the iPhone. There were ample warnings about 'bricking' the phone in the blog, but then a brick also makes a good paperweight and so we decided to try it on my iPhone. So sirjee and I sat next to the pool, and started the unlock. Connecting through putty, replacing some files, rebooting a 100 times, keeping your fingers crossed and anxiety levels under control, we finally managed to complete the final step. And then the final reboot. The phone did come back up, and all seemed fine. But how do we test it. We needed an Indian SIM card. The friend who named the iPhone a glorious paperweight's roommate was carrying one and so we were banging at the girls doors at 2 in the night!

She was groggy and pretty pissed off, but understood our excitement, she gave us the sim and we inserted it in the phone. And voila, 4 bars lit up!

That opened the Pandora's box. After that first iPhone ˜70 more were bought between the 70 of us. I remember sneaking into Bangalore airport wearing a multi pocket cargo pants stuffed with 3 iPhones. And once in India, we unlocked so many iPhones.  Jaibreak, virginize, Basebands, DFU mode, Cydia, RedSn0w…there were so many terms. And yes, bricking an iPhone, that skip a beat, stop your heart, worst nightmare moment when after reboot Apple logo will not go away, or iTunes won't recognize your phone. Every jailbreak - unlock - please don't get bricked cycle was a small adventure in itself.

The other thing I distinctly remember is stepping out of the plane when we landed at the airport, and hearing the iPhone ringtone for the first time. It was my dad calling on my iPhone. The first time after 2 months of just taking pictures, I could actually use the ''Phone in the iPhone.

Last 10 years, the iPhone has always been by my side. Stuck by my hip in a stylish holster case, or in my right pocket, I have reached out to it innumerable times. Its been with me during the most important times during these 10 years. It was there with me during my two accidents (scarred and broken both times, but alive, both the iPhone and me).  It was there with me when I got married, promoted, basically any important moment. And it was dear to me, I went sliding about a 100 feet in the first accident, remember opening my eye during the long slide and realizing two things, one…I was still sliding, and two, my iPhone was sliding ahead of me! The iPhone has fueled many hobbies, photography, reading, exploring cities (google maps just makes it so much easier).  have clicked a million photos with the iPhone. read a million articles, and written long boring blogs. But more than all this, it has been a constant companion. Every time you feel alone in a crowd, every time you need to hide away, the iPhone comes to the rescue.

iPhone and Apple also taught me, and a million others about design and product management. Focus, launching at the right time, the right time, perfection, keeping it simple…all these things came from Apple. Last ten years I have watched every Apple event, except for the iPhone X launch, ironically. And then researching the features endlessly, debating in my head why a feature was added or removed, and then seeing the logic, the vision behind it. And finally getting that apple view validated by the rest of the industry (read removing flash, the headphone jack et al).

Another constant over the last 10 years has been the attention and the ridicule that the iPhone has got me (and all other iPhone users). For the first few months, as you walked around the office, everyone wanted to see the iPhone. First there were just a few of us, but iPhone 4 onwards pretty much everyone had it! And for everyone, it almost seemed like it was a part of them. You never see iPhone folks looking for new features, setting up their iPhones and all. Like Jobs vision, iPhone was just a platform for all the apps, for enabling folks to do stuff. Unlike Android, where the joy was customizing the phone, and yea, restarting it because it got hung all the time. And of course making rounds of the physical stores to update it. Yet there was and has been so much ridicule for us iPhone owners. All because it was expensive (even though the first few generations were not), and because it couldn't be customized. What people forgot was that iPhone was always meant to be an enabler for everything else. Like all Apple products, it just fits into your life, it doesn't want to be the center of it. I stopped arguing with the detractors long time back, but they all know that they would never possess their phones like I posses my iPhone.

The iPhone has been the pinnacle of design for this generation, and not just how it looks. The first generation was like nothing else. Black and Silver, shiny, small, light. And it just worked. It was so intuitive that I didn't have to learn how to use it. And ever since that gen 1, Apple has just been pushing the envelope. Over the years, the many versions which I have possessed (and which have possessed me), I have never felt let down. Yes there have been misses and mistakes, and the pace has slowed down, but for once and all, lets be very clear, Apple and the iPhone brought on this revolution, and they continue to lead it, one generation at a time.

And so a decade later, I still swear by the iPhone (X)

(PS: And I am calling it iPhone eX and not iPhone 10)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Last Christmas...

Christmas is usually characterised by food, fun and family (& friends). For us, that usually means taking a backpacking trip out to a jungle or a mountain or even a city like Benaras, eating the local cuisines, exploring the place and making new friends.

But last year, Christmas came late for us. We wanted to complete a long cherished dream of walking on ice, of completing Chadar. 

One of the top 10 treks in the world as per National Geographic, Chadar, at its heart is a trek. The only difference being that it is cold, extremely cold and you walk on ice. But otherwise pretty much like any other trek. 

Or so we thought...But then, in most treks you can't see your reflection as if your are walking on a mirror, in most treks you don't walk on a surface as smooth as glass, or on waves frozen in time, or ice like freckles on a pretty face or on torsion cracks or crunchy swishy melting ice-cream like ice, or besides (and sometimes over) a pristine river, or along small and big icebergs, or on crackling ice, or on steep razor sharp rocks or on melting frozen snow or on frozen waterfalls and streams and tributaries. Most treks, you don't chase sunlight like your life depends on it, slide under rocky outcrops, walk on your tiptoes on the frozen margin of a river, or wade through icy cold pools of clear water (with your trousers folded up to you knees mind you), or on the side of landslide prone disintegrating debris mountains, or through tunnels formed by rivers running through landslide blockages. Most treks you don't have to rush on breaking ice with a calm urgency, and hear the cracking groans of the ice under your feet, or have your leg suddenly pierce through what seems like solid snow and then hanging ankle deep in the rushing freezing river below. Most treks you don't walk along a winding river which has cut through majestic mountains, most treks you don't lose yourself in a maze, not knowing where you are in the big picture, but always knowing where to go next. Most treks you become confident of your footing in an hour or so, here you have to watch every step, right up to the last one. Most treks you don't do disco every few steps to stop yourself from falling, most treks you don't fall in the double digits and still remain unhurt. Most treks you don't meet ladhakis who take care of you and all your needs, who safe guard you, who play the perfect hosts, and entertain you. Most treks, the terrain doesn't change every few meters, and is surely not completely different, even though you are coming back by the same route.

Most treks are not Chadar. 

There is no way to express how you feel when you walk on ice along the flowing river, the serenity of the experience, its almost therapeutic. The 9 days we spent their, we didn't think of anything else...nothing. Every day was just about the routine, get up - do your morning stuff - pack your bag - eat breakfast - walk - lunch - walk - reach the campsite - dump luggage into tent - tea and snacks - dry your socks & shoes - dinner - some talk - setup sleeping bag - roll around in the tent trying to sleep - sleep - repeat. This is a place which teaches you the value of small joys of life. Like finding a private spot to do your morning thing, finding clean socks to wear, washing your face, hot water from the flask, cream biscuits, a spot in the sun, a cave with a fire...the last is more of a 'today's my lucky day' moment actually!

Chadar is an experience, a once in a lifetime journey which initially overwhelms you, but you come back with a sense of peace and quite that city life can never offer. 

And so, a year ago, to this day, my wife Roshni and I started for Chadar...and here are some pics which try to describe our journey. 



Delhi to Leh
And the changing landscape below...cloud cover as we left Delhi, lower himalayas around Himachal, and the upper snow covered himalayas as we approched Leh. The view was magnificient as you can see!!!



All dressed up and all smiles...
Christmas usually starts with Holiday shopping and in that sense we did shop a lot for this trip. Only, the shopping was only at decathlon. From rucksack to waterproof clothing to flasks and gloves, we ransacked the different Decathalon branches and prepared for the trip. 

And even though we are smiling, there was a fear of what was to come. First couple of 'acclimatisation' days in Leh had given us a taste of the extreme cold, and that extreme was about to double!



the first sunset...
Some how as soon as the sunset, there was this chill which went around. It was almost like an invisible cloud of cold which enveloped us. Sadly, and well, unfairly, Sunrise wouldn't have the opposite effect. Although dawn broke by around 6 every morning, the tall mountains hid the sun till late mornings, and ever after that, the sun would play hide and seek everday. Atleast one of us paced himself to chase the ever elusive dhoop, but gave up soon.



Walking by the edge...
Chadar trek is really a walk on a frozen ice river. The complication comes because the river doesn't freeze completely or evenly. Mostly the edges, closest to the mountains freeze first, and are the most stable. Like here, you have at least a meter wide pathway with stable ice to walk on. But frequently, that meter wide solid ice pathway turns into foot wide, unstable slushy, melting ice way, and you have to bend, crawl and balance your way across such stretches, all the way making sure that you don't slip into the ice cold Zanskar flowing by! 



Climbing up...
And sometimes, the river doesn't freeze at all, or overflows its frozen banks, and as the water level is higher than the gum boot level, you climb the mighty himalayas. Its no easy feat I tell you, the mountains here are steep, and the surface varies every few meters. Its either jagged rocks, or crumbling landslide prone rubble like in the picture. A fall wouldn't kill you, but the fear of broken bones, or getting drenched to the bone in icy cold water keeps you on your toes when climbing... 



the vista...
there are just two things in the entire trek, the majestic himalayas, and the mystic Zanskar. The river snakes through the mountains, and when you are walking along it, or on it, you just lose sense of direction. Its like a maze, you see the river turning and as you walk along, after a moment, you wonder where the turn went, did you already take it. The mountains as so tall and steep that there are no view points, you are always dwarfed by them. There is no big picture here, there is no map, you are always in the maze, you are always insignificant. 



the frozen waterfall
the first of many, I wonder how it happens. Roshni made the joke that one moment you are falling and in an instant your are frozen in time, literally, waiting for the summer to come. 



the ice
the ice, there were so many types of them, each one requiring a different way of walking. Each step required you to concentrate, you take your eye of the ice for a step, and guaranteed you will slip, and get into a series of acrobatics to balance yourself. This pic itself shows three different ice fields, the left most is the dark green old ice with a very bumpy slippery texture, like thousands of ice pebbles got embedded in the green ice, the one on the right is again green ice, but like sea waves got frozen in time. the center one, which Roshni is walking on was the easiest to walk on, thin layer of ice which cracks under your feet, giving some much need grip. Of course the cracking makes you all nervous... 



Tunduk & Stenzing
We had two guides, Tenzing and Tunduk, the good cop and the bad cop.

Tunduk, sitting here with hack to the ice wall, had 15 years of experience, and it showed. He wouldn't help you or guide you, he would rather pull you or push you. As someone in the group said, he didn't help, he expected you to help yourself. But behind the tough frustrated exterior, Tunduk was the nicest of guys, and lived for his clients. Tunduk would always be chanting some mantra, and so we started calling him lhama...! Although if you saw some of his antics 'child lhama' would have been are more appropriate moniker.

Tenzing, standing behind, was our other guide, our savior and ultimately our hero...He had so many talents. A pro leader for one, he knew when to hold back and when to risk it, he knew when to be gentle and when to chide. He had guts, would not think twice before stepping on to a section which others had been too afraid to approach, he had experience and he had a good heart. He pretty much saved Roshni when she fell from a 10 foot high cliff, instinctively bringing himself between her and the fall. That kind of instinct comes from a good heart. He also knew that the porters and the guides are really in the hospitality business, making sure that all of us are comfortable, personally feeding us, tucking us into bed (literally). And he entertained us, with his jokes, antics and a marriage drama he organized in Lingshead.

In addition there were a group of 10 - 12 porters & cooks who walked along us, without whom, walking would have been impossible for us. 



the kitchen tent 
the evenings, after the days walk was over, were spent in the dining tent. But the real action was in the kitchen tent, the warmest of all. In that small a tent, on those two stoves, the cooks (everyone in Ladakh knows how to cook by the way, the cook is just someone who cooks for clients) would create magical food. Over the nine days we had halwa, puri, kheer, khichidi, alu paratha, daal paratha, many different soups, fried and roasted papad and well, popcorn. The kitchen tent was also where we got hot boiling water, and lots of warmth! 



the shoe...
there was a long story behind this one...and it ended in someone stuffing a shoe and blocking the waterfall. But this was the only 'water' fall that we found, and the only green (even if because of moss and lichens) that we saw in all 9 days we spent on the Chadar! 



the snowfall 
the ever continuing cycle of snow to ice to water. Here Roshni is walking on a snow field, snow which is 3 - 4 days old, and so not fluffy anymore, but rather a bit melted and clumpy. Easy to walk, and beautiful to take pictures on, but don't let it deceive you as it might just hide the flowing river below. On one of these 'snowfields' I sank knee deep with my feet dangling in the freezing river below. Sadly people around me were too busy saving me to take pictures of that epic moment!!!



the underground river
the unfrozen river had a way of emerging and then going beneath the ice from time to time. It would suddenly gush out with a flurry, and then silently hide itself. First there were islands of ice spread about in the might river, but as the Chadar froze, there were islands of water spread about in the never ending ice fields. 



worth a thousand words...
the cave in the distance, the mountains are lined with such caves which are used by the porters for shelter. Light a fire and they become warm and hospitable. In the foreground, a dried tree with dried red colored berries. The contrast was just amazing. This was pretty much the only color we saw in 9 days there, otherwise it was all whites, browns and greys... 



the lone warrior
the essence of any trek is walking alone, treks are one place where there is just you, and no one else. And that is the most difficult challenge of any trek, knowing that I am on my own, if I fall, there is no one to help. Here Roshni is walking at her own pace, in her own world...



come home to roost...
little icebergs, they keep flowing in the river. Here there was a small break in the river bank, and all of them came to roost. 



Walk on Ice...
At many spots the ice was frozen such that it forced us to walk in long queues, led by either Tunduk or Stenzing who would test the ice ahead before stepping on it. Even then, sometimes you had to gingerly take every step, checking the ice ahead of you, and in Tunduks words 'Walk lightly as if walk on the clouds, but quickly like you are running for your life'
Trekking poles are pretty useless when it comes to saving you from slipping, but they are good to test the ice ahead, and somehow give the reassurance of a third leg. So do carry one, but don't rely on it.



the meandering river...
the river flows gently here, and is pretty shallow. You can see the pebbles even, but let that not fool you. The river changes pace and depth very quickly, one moment it will be meandering along on an endless journey, and another moment it will be gushing along like the finish line is around the corner. 



the river, the bridge, the peak and the frozen waterfall 
the famous Nerak frozen waterfall, this is the one that you in all the blogs about Chadar. But the spot had so much more. The section of Chadar just before this point usually doesn't freeze, and so you have to climb a pretty steep hill. Here you see a makeshift bridge where you can cross the river and head to Nerak Village. 



the real trek...
After Nerak, we left the mountains and started walking towards a village called Lingshead, made famous by the school started there some years ago. The walking experience was completely different, but far more familiar to us trekkers. Even though stark and barren, the walk was one of the most beautiful treks we have undertaken. 
surprisingly on one side the mountain was laden with snow, whereas the other side was barren. Snow has been less this season as per one of the guides, else all you see is white, and you can only walk on that one path in a single file...In the distance you can see the tunnel created by a landslide, mentioned in more detail below.



Under the landslide...
this is how this happens, there is a landslide which completely blocks the river, over time the river cuts through the blockage, thus leaving behind what looks like a tunnel. This one is from last year. Notice the roof, pebbles and stones are just suspended. You'd think this could be dangerous and could collapse any moment, and you'd be correct too, but then we are thrill seekers, so who cares. 



the rescue...
this is on the way to lingshead. We finally left the Zanskar and started walking along one of its tributaries, gradually ascending the slopes of the moutains. This is a typical gully through which a tributary to the tributary flowed (or was frozen). Crossing these was always difficult, and so Mr Tenzing was needed most of the time. Also seen the very helpful Manpreet. 



the snow leopard meets me...
and you can see who ran away and who held his ground...
This area is famous for the elusive Snow Leopard. There are even trek itineraries planned around spotting the snow leopard. But you would be really really luck to spot one, even though it would have its eyes on you all the time. The paw prints here were pretty fresh, made the night before. Sadly it didn't stay back to say 'hi' 



adventure adventure... 
We had signed up for an extra long trip...going to Lingshead and back. Mostly people go till Nerak and back. And there is a reason for it. post Nerak, there is a stretch of Chadar which is very dicey when it comes to freezing. And deep. And fast flowing. And to add to that, on both sides are vertical tall mountains, so if the Chadar is not frozen solid, you cannot pass at all. These pictures are on our way back from Linshead. We had crossed the dicey stretch, known as Omar (where incidentally iron bars are embedded into the mountains in some sections) but just as we were getting comfy, we got here. The day before we had to step on a float slab of ice to cross this stretch, and an alarm had gone off in my head. Till about two hours before our crossing the slab was in place, but then it decided to go on its own journey. Here the enterprising Stenzing and Tunduk helped us using ropes. Of course, they crossed the stretch many times balancing on their tiptoes to tie the rope...adventure adventure!!! 



the changing Chadar
One thing that we read in all the blogs before going, and heard it often once we started was that Chadar keeps on changing all the time. It seemed like one of those things to say. But then once there, and withing the first few days we realized that Chadar changes, every 100 meters and every hour. On our way up to Nerak, Chadar was frozen solid. On our way back a lot of that solid ice had melted away or was underwater. Point in case, the water fall that we encountered on the second and ninth day. This is same as the you have seen above. For that picture, I walked all the way up to the base. Now i would have to swim for the same... 



brrr... 
By the time we started our journey back, Chadar had started melting. The ice has many layers, and each layer goes through multiple freeze - melt cycles. Here, the layer below was frozen hard, but the upper layer had started melting, so we had to wade through ankle deep water. If you look closely, water level is almost till the rim of the gum boots, any higher and we'd have to find a path on the mountain. Even here, our feet got wet, thats why the folded pants (which when you are wearing 3 - 4 layers of bottoms, is no easy task) 



breaching the boundaries...
This is not melted ice, rather this is water collected when the river breached its boundaries and came over old ice. Clear water, it was like walking in a shallow swimming pool. We encountered a lot of this on day 3 and on our return back. 



the climb 
there were not easy, they were steep, on crumbling landslide prone mountains (or jagged vertical faces). And they tired you out because these were short, infrequent climbs, so your body had to suddenly change gears. But at least for me and some other seasoned trekkers, was a welcome break from the unfamiliar walking on the slippery ice. 



Lunch... 
Lunch used to be a simple affair...maggi, pasta, khichdi or pulao. Mostly something which was hot (very very important) and had lots of water to re hydrate us. It was cooked fresh and served hot. Followed by a refilling of the hot water flasks. Lunch spots usually were beyond half way marks, and in areas which used to get sunlight. And the entire group, including the porters had lunch together...Seen here, this was one of the last days. one of the toughest days...we had been walking for hours, route was tough, Chadar was not frozen and so it was hard work. The entire group was split up across the stretch of the river Even the porters had a tough time, and so by the time we reached the lunch spot, they had just finished cutting the veges. But that meant this lunch break provided much longer break to all of us. 
Seen here, every one is just resting, and a bit impatient, Stenzing being a smart ass and putting the cooker (entire cooker) on fire, Suhani and Rohit being their cheerful selves, Tunduk being the kitchen supervisor. Also at the back, the porters from another group passing by. 
Time of the day - around 5PM. 



Night walk...
The second last day we got really late, and the sun had set. Thankfully it was a full moon night, and so the Chadar and the mountains were awash with milky white light. Didn't make walking any easier though, but the ice and everything around just looks different in the moon light. A refreshing cool calm white. Problem is that it becomes difficult to decipher what kind of ice you are walking on, green stable ice, white slippery one, millky white cracked one...and so you have to gingerly step on every new terrain, hoping you don't slip. Thankfully the Chadar was well formed and stable here, and we were all together. But this was one of the most taxing evenings, by the time we reached 'sabki death aa chuki thi...'. 
But we still managed a selfie 



Kitao...
this is not the entire group, but the laggards on the last day. Starting from the left, Manpreet next to Tunduk was the helpful guy, always stopping to give a hand. Didn't fall till the second last day (when in his words he lost his virginity). Yo and Sam, both were struggling with injuries and a bad throat, to the extent that Sam couldn't speak by the time we reached Leh. Best friends, they were always walking in sync, and from a distance looked like a team of synchronized ice dancers. Roshni, who wouldn't give up, in spite of her body and mind both screaming at her. Aditya, the guy who loved falling, he'd fall at every second step. There were times when we'd see Aditya walking ahead, turn around, turn back and 'where did he go'. He'd be lying sprawling on the floor. He also had the record of actually breaking the Chadar two three times, the joke going around was "sab chadar se darte hai, Chadar Aditya saab se darti hain". Next is Arvind and Sapna, seasoned trekkers in every way. They knew how to respect the mountains and what the mountains can do to you and in the face of everything that they throw at you, only courage takes you forward. Swapna had a bad fall on the ice, a split lip and the courage to brush it all aside. Arvind sir had an old injury resurface on day 5 or so, and he went on for the next four days. You could see the pain in his eyes with every step, but he soldiered on...hats off to the guy. And then the other married couple, Archana and Jose, first time trekkers, but who could tell. They were on a mission and walked like one. Usually first time trekkers crib a lot, not these guys, they took everything in their stride, slow and steadily walked on and in the face of it all, cracked jokes all the time. 

There are others not in the pic.

Nadeem, Jackie and Sohrab saab, guys who finished a 4 day return in 2 days, and were gracious enough to arrange a resounding welcome back party for the rest of us. Nothing better than to have someone come to receive you after a tiring trek, and then find food, drinks and a bon fire waiting. So thank you Nadeem, Sohrab and Jackie. Chetan, the tall giant, who we were using to test the depth of the river. Kidding, but Chetan was the gentle giant, never speaking much, but always there in every party. Suhani and Rohit, who were the quickies (in addition some others), would finish every day in half the time, and be cheerful enough to welcome everyone back every day. And lastly, the cousins, Abhishek and Pranav who entertained us with their miya biwi jhagda, and were pretty much the driving force behind us doing a lot of stuff we otherwise wouldn't have. Shek saab, the lawyer between us convinced everyone to go to Lingshead, and Pranav would find innovative spots to take pictures. In all we were a group of 18 individual, each wondering how we'll remember every ones names, by the end of it, we were all friends, walking and joking together, who kept on shouting 'kitao' every now and then! 



the tents...
If only you can imagine the setting...open the tent and you can see a frozen river, and majestic mountains, cold clean air and a full moon! 




the last day...
one of the only things that our organizer said which came out true is that by the end of it you'll just want to come back and go back. Last day the spirits were high, because we were pretty much done. People were laughing and singing and dancing (literally, and not recommended) 



the last glance...
Even though its been a year since we completed Chadar, those days are clearly etched in our minds. We still dream about going back to Chadar, discuss it with life long friends we have made. We all keep on going back to the pictures posted on facebook, or recalling the experiences over the whatsapp group, or maybe just calling out 'kitao' from time to time. 

One thing we have understood, although we have left the Chadar, Chadar shall never leave us!!! 



Thursday, November 10, 2016

masterstroke...

I don't think I have ever been ecstatic about a political / policy decision take by the government. Forget ecstatic, not even been happy about it. Most of the policy decisions usually end up as debates between friends and family and in my head itself. Like the RTI, the outcomes of Nirbhaya and so on. 

Well that changed yesterday when Prime Minister Modi invalidated the ₹500 & ₹1000 denominations. With one master stroke, he has managed to kill black money & counterfeit money. He has also managed to force people to adopt electronic money, killed corruption, rebooted the real estate market, changed elections, lowered income tax levels' and as per some, brought inflation under control forever. 

And that makes me, a salaried employee who doesn't have any black money avenues available to him, feel really really good. 

Yea I know, time will tell if all or any of this will come true. But there is hope, and that on its one enough to justify the 'inconvenience' caused. 

First some rebuttals to arguments made by so many:

  1. Yes is not original thinking. Banning large currency notes is an old idea. But magic is in implementation. And Modi did it beautifully. Its well thought of, well timed, done in absolute secrecy so there are no loopholes or undue pressures. 
  2. Why now, people ask...Well not really now. This has been in the making from day 0 of him become PM, right from opening Jan Dhaan accounts, to making PAN compulsory. 
  3. What after a the new notes come into circulation - Well two things, with this move, Modi is ensure that everyone starts with a clean slate. And secondly, methinks this will become a regular activity. At the risk of repeating myself, it'll be like Bisleri changing their packaging. 
  4. What about Land and Gold and what not - Land and Gold and any other fixed assets give value only when they are sold. and who is gonna have the black money to buy. And if its bought in white, then the govt gets it fair share. 
  5. My full family in Haldwani, actually everyone in Haldwani don't want to use plastic - well this will force them too...so good. 
  6. It causes inconvenience - As Modi said, so what. Small price to pay for such large gains. 
  7. How do they differentiate between 'money we keep at home for security' vs 'black money' - Well they plot the histogram, find its exponential, start from the peak end and start taxing. 
  8. People will go to jail - Well no, Modi is from Gujarat, a business state. They don't jail their most talented people (the fact that they made loads of black money and managed to hide it means they are talented), they will just ensure that the country also benefits from their talents. A 45% tax rate + 5 - 15% as punishment. 
So that was about the scheme. Now the person. Modi was no one till the riots happened, no one knew him really, but post riots everyone did. Infamous is also a way of becoming famous you see. We all know Modi is driven by his self image, by his need to leave a legacy behind. He is narcissistic and power hungry. And he always managed the show. I have believed this for long, Modi will end up becoming a dictator. He will be awesome for India, don't get me wrong. But at one point, he will become dictatorial. Some day he will realise that he deserves more respect for what he has done to the country, and he would have done a lot, but at that point, he would start turning draconian. Or it could be a very strategic well thought out plan and if so, I think he will use war with Pakistan to get over our ideals of democracy and the armed forces. 
But then, I have for the longest of times believed that India needs a dictator. We used to debate about this many years back in college, and well, if that what it takes to transform this country so be it. We need someone who has the right vision, the execution skills required to implement it and the balls to do so, and Modi is all of that. So what if he is driven by his own legacy, aren't we all at some point. Not a lot of Mother Teresa's out there!

Wait and watch...

PS: If the above does happen, and sure he or his supporters are gonna find this blog and pursue me...so am putting my life at risk writing this. Makes me feel good! All for the country!
And there is a quote from the dark knight said by Dent - You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. And another one said somewhere else - heroes die young!

Thats all I am saying, you do the math!!! 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

on a loop...

listening to songs on a loop, on a new namesake speaker gifted by friends, and just didn't feel right not to write...and easiest, always ready topic is movies...

Was listening to a song from Highway, and wondering how far have we come. I did predict it many years ago, indian cinema is on the verge of greatness...of making movies which are not only technically perfect, but leave an impression. I do think movies made today will stay with us forever.

Couple of movies over the last few months which left an impression were Tamasha and Kapoor & Sons. Don't remember too much of Tamasha...I did start writing about it at the time but some how ran out of words. The movie resonated so much with me and with a lot of folks I knew. It was one of those movies which you can understand only if you have lived what was depicted, else you are just lost as to what is happening. 

We all lost our innocence somewhere, we all changed to fit in and somewhere forgot out dreams, and started living a double life, to an extent that at one point many of us just forgot who we are, we just confuse ourselves. We are always like fish out of water, never know where we fit in. And that kinda affects everything in our lives, you gotta ask yourself, are you your true self with anyone...is there a true self left. And rest of life is spent searching for that true self...or in pursuit of our dream as they say. 

The way tamasha depicted this, the way tamasha showed how Ranbir broke the shackles, shackles which were put on him by none other but him was amazing. And well, the only two things which can propel you to do that is love and a pursuit of a higher objective, a passion that engulfs you. How Padukones character lets go, suffers and waits for it to happen was another part of the awesome story. Tells you true sacrifice does help, wishing good for someone with all your heart, unselfishly, does help. Reiki does work!!! 

The theme of living an alternate life, either in dreams or a on vacations is not new, the Mask introduced it to me...and well if nothing else, all of us do have that imaginary friend in our heads who we have grown up with, who is nothing but your manifestation of what you really wanted to be, of who you really are inside...

And well another truth that most of us, at least in India have lived with is the disjoined, dysfunctional family. Growing up, I thought I was the only one, funnily, putting myself on a pedestal thinking that I was the only one...I was the only one who had a tough life, tough family. and I rebelled, and struggled with it, But then as I spoke to others, found out that it was not just me, it was pretty much everyone. Everyone, friends, cousins, everyone had pretty much the same story. Families which were tied by blood and society, members of which were expected to behave in a certain way. and because of that expectation, they could never ask what they really wanted, they never could express themselves or what they thought of others. Relations built on societal terms, not on love and just caring.  But then you can't really go far when you imprison your true self, your thoughts, the self keeps on breaking out...

and in Kapoor & sons, it breaks out in a fashion which almost destroys that 'family' but ends up tying everyone in a true everlasting relation. Mostly each family has a member who keeps the family together, and maintains the status quo, gets fighting people talking...but just once, once in a while, it doesn't work and all hell breaks lose. 

So what gyaan, well frankly, like most of the things in this blog, I have solutions which I struggle to implement in my own life. But what if we did live a true life, one where our own selfish self is shown as it is, because well we all are selfish. What if everyone is accepting, know that only when they accept, will they be accepted. What if there are not societal burdens, no universal rights and wrongs, what if we accept that everyone is grey, there is no perfect and so everyone is perfect, for themselves at least. 

Somehow we have tried to clothe everyone with an artificial cloak, a cloak which makes everyone acceptable to other, a cloak which reduces friction. But it also hides our individuality, and although reduces the friction between people, increases the friction within the self. And at some point that has to come out. 

Can't help but mention Osho's philosophy, everyone for themselves, selfish but considerate & responsible. No one is a criminal, everyone is just for themselves. Relations based only on love and caring, not on 'what is right, what is required'. 

Both of the movies surprised me, didn't expect anyone to handle such topics, till I saw the movies, didn't realise these were real issues to be handled. But someone did...and I am happy for that. 

anyways...kudos to both movies...not only did they explore complex topics, they did so in innovative and a very entertaining manner.

Take care

PS: from the heart...!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

farewell speech...

Let me tell you a story, a story of a journey, the journey of a wandering probe to the youngest planet of the brightest star in the universe...The stars, and there were many of them, used fuel to create more fuel. This was done by the probes, who had built engines. And our star had the most efficient engine to do this. It produced the most fuel and was the envy of the entire universe.

The story starts about 9 eons back, when the probe, against all odds landed on this planet. This was the probes first journey, and the planet, although had not light of its own, shined bright, bathed in the white light of its star. There were many other probes who landed along  with our probe here...and as soon as they landed, they were told "go to our star, see and understand its ways, learn how to make fuel, and then come back and make some on your own." And so they took another journey, flew to their star. And the star was all that it promised and more. Our probe and all others were in awe of the star, and had the best of times. They learned the ropes, and had a great time doing so. 

And then it was time to come back...and well you can't live anywhere for free, so the probe started contributing to creation of the fuel. But the planet was almost as good as the star it served, and so the probe enjoyed. There were many other probes, old and new, and our probe learnt a lot from them.

But there were a toxic chemical reaction brewing on the star, on all the stars actually. You see, the stars were mixing lot of bad fuel with a little bit of good fuel to produce what they thought and sold as awesome fuel. But the bad fuel showed its colors, and the engines started misfiring. And one day a couple just exploded. Others stars became dim, some died a slow death. But our star was still shining, still the brightest. You see, our star only kept the best probes, probes who created the best in class parts and an engine which could create fuel out of pretty much anything.

But for how long...this was a gravitational wave which had hit the universe, a gravitational wave created by the collision of two black holes named greed and fear. The waves were fondly called bubbles, and this one was stronger than most, and lasted longer than most. And our star started flickering, and became dimmer.

And in this darkening environment, an enlightened probe with a powerful torch and illuminated an idea.  So what if the engine is not performing well, and your probes are leaving, you still have all the parts, he said. Let's just replicate the parts and sell them for fuel.

All the fellow probes loved the idea, so the enlightened probe got to work, and he brewed up a dust storm which is still to settle. The crust of the star got eroded and the probes feared that even the core might burn out.

But the story is about our little probe, the wanderer who was feeling lost, and looking for his own beam.  

Fortunately (or not) in all of this confusion and darkness, our little probe got the invitation for a journey on another galaxy, and the choice was to wait for the dust to settle and the bright star to emerge again, or go on another journey. And he thought, what the heck, time to create my own little dust storm.

Incidentally, the star is fondly called the firm, and today is my last at the firm.

------
This was my talk for our toastmasters club CC2, on the last day at my previous job. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

this happened at 560034...

560034 as you might have guessed is an Indian Postal Code, of what arguably is the startup capital of the county. 560034 is Koramangla, Bangalore, where most of the most successful Indian Startups have roots, where a startup opens (and closes) everyday, where every third door is a startup without a board, where every chaiwala (including Costa Coffee) and paanwala (or daaruwala) runs because of these startups. 

The story in short first, questions later...and maybe some gyaan. 

This happened specifically in Koramangla 3rd Block, which is one of the richest areas in not just Koramangla or Bangalore, but perhaps whole of India. You just have to take a walk along the many mains and cross roads to see the kind of wealth and power which resides here. Needless to say the Residents Association (Koramangla 3rd Block Residents Welfare Association or KML 3rd Blk RWE in short) has a lot of clout. This clout though is mostly used for the good of the residents and the area in whole, the area has one of the best parks a locality can have (with a library and open gym mind you), roads with barricades, police patrolling 24 x 7, a composting plant, a soon to be inaugurated lake and so much more.  The people comprising are quite aware, proactive and mature. 

The area has some shops, the oldest being Sheetal's Iyengar Bakery, run by a stern, no nonsense uncle. A pretty usual bakery, serving tea, coffee, yummy snacks and warm bread, but no cigarettes. "No Cigarettes" I emphasize. Lately some other shops had opened around the bakery, and they sell everything that uncle does, plus Cigarettes. Also a well funded startup in the food delivery space opened its office bang opposite the bakery. 

So a couple of things happened, because the shops were selling ciggies, it started attracting crowds, am not commenting on what kind of crowds, but crowds for sure. And the food delivery startup, because of the kind of business it is in, also had a lot of employees (delivery guys basically) waiting around for their number to come, adding to the crowd. This particular addition to the crowds though, from some experiences I had, was surely not all of the right kind. And yea, lets not forget the bunch of college kids who every morning would bunk college, and loiter around the bakery for hours...

On a side note, Iyerngar Bakery uncle was approached by some startup to start stocking their ready to eat packaged food, biryanis and the kind. Uncle had agreed to it (the margins were high) and had already gotten the marketing material ready for the big launch...

Anyways, so now, you had this huge crowd just hanging around the bakery and its surroundings, dumping garbage all around, making noise and generally disrupting the quite calm environs of Koramangla 3rd Block. I knew it wouldn't take long for this to erupt and it didn't. One fine morning, the RWE asked all the shops, again, "all" the shops to put their shutters down, and close their business. Seems they had some police backing, because all shops had to comply, and its been a week now, the street is hauntingly deserted...the quite calm environs are back, but it has taken away the little good life which was there because of the Iyengar Bakery...

Long Story, but here are some questions??

  1. What was the fault of the Iyengar Bakery? Or was it just timing and the association?
  2. How much control should neighbourhoods have on the businesses that run in those neighbourhoods, especially the ones with legal approvals? 
  3. What role did the two start-ups have in all of this?

For the first one, I think it was just timing. I also think that Uncle has earned enough good will for KML 3rd Block RWE to realise that he was not the root of the problem, and to make amends and let him open shop again...I so hope that they do.

I won't go into the second, I don't know really...any comments, your two paise of opinion is welcome.

But coming to the mudda, the third question...what role did the startups have. Shouldn't the startups, the food delivery one and the ready made food one, have been more socially conscious? The first one should have instructed its delivery people to stay 'in' office, and if not, at least behave. Maybe they shouldn't have established a office in a purely residential area, knowing that their under construction office won't accomodate their entire staff. The second one should have made sure that once sold and consumed, the packaging of their readymade food is correctly disposed. But all they did was woo uncle with a 40% margin...

And this is really a wider question, because this is the same questions which comes to mind when you hear stories of offices of startups such as NoBroker and ZipCab and Uber being vandalised by people who have lost their income. All great models, which solve a problem in an innovative way. But it leads to a clash of the new and the old, and the old will have to adapt or die, but shouldn't the new be conscious of the old and some how figure out how to be inclusive. Or at least help the old in adapting to the new. Take the example of Ola, because everyone started taking cabs, the rickshawallas started feeling threatened, and Ola just included them in the ecosystem. Consumers, rickshawallas and Ola, all profited. 

So heres the gyaan for the startups, be a bit empathetic to the ones who's livelihood you are going to take, be a bit conscious of the environment you are going to operate in, because if these two are not happy, or at least ok with your business model, and the way you run your business, its not going to survive too long...

Signing off with a hope that Iyengars opens again...

Take care

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

kitao...




Its been two weeks since we last walked on ice, and two weeks since we all have been reminiscing those 9 days of walking on ice and grit. I say 'we;, because going by the occasional but daily FB likes on one or the other pic by someone from the group, pretty much tells me that all of us are in the same boat. The walk is over, the memories will be always be us. 

That is a sign of a good trek by the way, you finish the trek, and then remember it forever. You think about the walk to fall asleep and dream about the vistas once asleep. Incidents, steps (or missteps), jumps and falls, crossings and breaks, all stay fresh in your mind, and even as they fade in your memory, when you do see a pic or meet a group mate and recall an incident, you relive the entire experience.

And this was one such trek. And a trek it was, no doubts about it. It might be counted as one of the top ten treks in the world as per National Geographic, but at the core of it, Chadar is a trek, like any other, the only difference being that it was cold extremely cold, and you were walking on ice. But otherwise pretty much like any other trek. 

Or so I thought for the first two days of walking...

But then, in most treks you can't see your reflection as if your are walking on a mirror, in most treks you don't walk on a surface as smooth as glass, or on waves frozen in time, or ice like freckles on a pretty face or on torsion cracks or crunchy swishy melting ice-cream like ice, or besides (and sometimes over) a pristine river, or along small and big icebergs, or on crackling ice, or on steep razor sharp rocks or on melting frozen snow or on frozen waterfalls and streams and tributaries. Most treks, you don't chase sunlight like your life depends on it, slide under rocky outcrops, walk on your tiptoes on the frozen margin of a river, or wade through icy cold pools of clear water (with your trousers folded up to you knees mind you), or on the side of landslide prone disintegrating debris mountains, or through tunnels formed by rivers running through landslide blockages. Most treks you don't have to rush on breaking ice with a calm urgency, and hear the cracking groans of the ice under your feet, or have your leg suddenly pierce through what seems like solid snow and then hanging ankle deep in the rushing freezing river below. Most treks you don't walk along a winding river which has cut through majestic mountains, most treks you don't lose yourself in a maze, not knowing where you are in the big picture, but always knowing where to go next. Most treks you become confident of your footing in an hour or so, here you have to watch every step, right up to the last one. Most treks you don't do disco every few steps to stop yourself from falling, most treks you don't fall in the double digits and still remain unhurt. Most treks you don't meet ladhakis who take care of you and all your needs, who safe guard you, who play the perfect hosts, and entertain you. Most treks, the terrain doesn't change every few meters, and is surely not completely different, even though you are coming back by the same route. 

Most treks are not Chadar.

Am not sure how to write about Chadar, or what to write really. There is no way to express how you feel when you walk on ice along the flowing river, the serenity of the experience, its almost therapeutic. The 9 days I spent their, I didn't think of anything else...nothing. Every day was just about the routine, get up - do your morning stuff - pack your bag - eat breakfast - walk - lunch - walk - reach the campsite - dump luggage into tent - tea and snacks - dry your socks & shoes - dinner -  some talk - setup sleeping bag - roll around in the tent trying to sleep - sleep - repeat. Seems a lot, but compared to our city lives, these things are just the basic essentials for survival. You kind of learn how to scrape out all the unnecessary crap we do in our days here, you think before everything, do I really want to do this. This is a place which teaches you the value of small joys of life.  Like finding a private spot to do your morning thing, finding clean socks to wear, washing your face, hot water from the flask, cream biscuits, a spot in the sun, a cave with a fire...the last is more of a 'today's my lucky day' moment actually!

I might want to tell you how to prep for the trek or what to carry, but then there is nothing which has not been said already, and frankly, there will always be something left out. If you go, you will have a personal experience, if lucky, profound personal experience and you should vie for one Inspite of all the prep, there will be things that you would have forgotten (or shouldn't have carried). You will feel cold, and you will feel tired, doesn't mean don't prep, but be prepared for the struggle inspite of all your prep. And please ignore all the advice you get on timing your trip, Chadar has a mind of its own, it will change and there will be stretches which are not frozen...and frankly that is the beauty of it. If you don't find those stretches, unlucky you. Only advice I can give is don't start or finish during long weekends, because there will be many who will, and getting stuck in a traffic jam on a mountain slope where the only spots you can safely place your feet are where your feet are already placed, is not a very nice feeling

some learnings though...long treks are better than short treks, for the only reason that you make friends. Like on this one, most of us were struggling with names and faces on the first day, on the last day were all joking around like college buddies. And you get to know personalities in longer treks, how people react, what people enjoy. If you are into that kind of a thing that is...

Pack your bag well, carry the essentials that everyone has talked about, have options and adapt. Believe me, forgetting the smallest of things becomes an everyday irritation, its like that small 'kankar' in your shoe, niggling little thing! Options in clothes is good, layers are what matter, but don't carry two of everything, instead mix and match. Buy stuff from Leh market, army stuff is cheap and good quality. Thermos (750ML) and hot water bag is essential. Give yourself time to acclimatize, try not to take diamox. 

It will be cold, does't matter how ever well prepared you are or how ever many layers you are wearing. Make your peace with the cold, try to ignore it and enjoy the views. Don't just walk and go through the motions, enjoy the trek. Like most other treks, Chadar tends to overwhelm you in the first few days, get a handle on it, and then take time out to open the zipper of your tent and watch the sunset (or the moonrise). Or like flat on the rocks when the sun's out midway through the day's walk, and just watch the blue skies. Because thats what its about...the walk is to clear your head, forget everything, the breaks are to enjoy that clarity, experience nothingness. 

Keep some small treats for your self during the trek. And leave a bottle of brandy, clean undies and socks at Leh, you thank me...small pleasures remember. 

And lastly, and most importantly, do not get swayed by the marketing guys who sell you the trip on the internet. Guys like Rohit Khattar, who have absolutely no control over what happens once you hit Chadar. They don't even own the tents or utensils or anything else. All they do is book the clients, make false promises and charge a premium for it. All arrangements are made by the porter association in Leh, they own all the assets, assign the porters and guides. I read about this on the net, didn't believe it, paid a premium for the false promises, and that was the only disappointment of the trip. And Khattar was not even present when we got back for us to complaint, neither did he reply back to a mail that I sent post the trek. For the premium we paid, we were promised a smaller group of 10 - 12, with a 1-1 porter ration, the group actually was 18 people with a staff of just 13. That meant less number of tents, no bonfires at campsites and rationed food everyday. We were promised a day at Lingshead, but were never told about the risks. We were not even told that a day in lingshead would mean we would have to complete the way back in 3 days instead of the usual 4. Just a lot of marketing talk and  false promises.

So my advice, and pay attention, contact the porters association or a Ladhaki guide directly, they will be cheaper, more honest and will take care of you. The only reason Rohit Khattar couldn't ruin our trip was of the porters and the guides. Our guide was Tenzing, trustworthy, helpful, he will get you out of situations and will keep you safe. Highly recommended, can be contacted @ +91 9469393192. (He might be on a trek and so unreachable, so give it a couple of trys. Also give 'Kitao' group's reference.)

thats it, Kitao

PS: I will keep on updating the blog as I remember things, as I said, these kinda treks stay with you forever. And secondly, if you don't about Chadar, below is a short primer. 

Chadar is a 9 or 11 or 15 day trek on the river Zanskar in winters when it turns into a river of ice. Ironically, this trek is undertaken by Zanskaris to get to Leh in the winters, to get their kids to school or to get supplies for the remaining summer months. Ironic, because most places are connected in summers and cut off in winters, but the opposites true for Zanskar region. You don't gain a lot of altitude in the trek, usually walking about 5 - 8 hours a day, covering anywhere between 6 to 15 kms. There are many many places to pitch a tent and call it a day, but usually you do Leh -- drive 3 hour -- Daar -- Walk 6 hrs / 9 km -- Singdha -- Walk 8 hrs / 12 km -- Tibb -- Walk 9 hrs 15 km -- Narek -- Walk 7 hrs -- Lingshead and back. Day temperature around -10, night -20 and below. And these are not just numbers, it is cold out there. A lot of blogs will tell you its just a walk on ice, believe me its not. This is am much of a trek as any, there is climbing involved, there are risks. And this is so much more...I guarantee, you shall not forget this one easily!

And lastly Kitao is a war cry that Zanskaris use to motivate each other on steep climbs or when carrying 40 kgs of load on their backs, and which became our group name