Monday, 17 December 2012


“You have so much knowledge about the work we do. No one can take your place here!”

“Sweetheart, you are one of the most wonderful people I have ever met in my life. I can never live without you!”

“You are one of the main pillars in the team. We cannot survive without you!”

“Sachin is irreplaceable in Indian cricket. He cannot be dropped from the side”

At some point or the other in our life, most of us have been at the receiving end of one or many of these statements. What would these lines make us feel? Do we feel proud that we have been able to establish so much credibility in things we do? Do we feel good that someone has placed so much trust in us and cannot do without us in their personal or professional lives? Do we feel scared that we might not be able to live up to these expectations? Do we feel so complacent that we have now become irreplaceable and hence can start taking things for granted? It could be one or many of these or even more, but one thing is for sure – it feels good to hear such statements whenever they come by (except the fourth one of course!). It also set me thinking about some of the bigger things that come with these statements – the themes and the philosophy associated with them!

The year gone by has been very pivotal for me. It began with so many things to look forward to – culmination of a professional course, a new job, moving to a new place (not city of course), happy times with family and closed ones, wedding ceremonies to look forward to and all that. Lots of things have turned the way I expected and have made me really happy. Some things have not gone the way as expected or have been extremely disappointing by the manner in which they turned out – but there were nice experiences and learnings I could take from them. At the end of the year, as I sit back and review all that happened, there seems to be one theme which I can associate to the year. If 2010 revolved around change management and 2011 revolved around skill management, then the main theme of 2012 seemed to be replaceability. Not only in my life, but even when i look at the events of the year, there seems to be the overwhelming theme of replaceability associated with it.

The year started with rumors, gossips and folklore about the world ending. What if the world really ended this year? How would all the damage start? Would it just go off on one day and replaced by zilch the next day? Or would it come slowly – one calamity after the other? Would we be replaced by some better people or life forms after that? Would it all start over again? After the kali yuga ends, shouldn’t the cycle start all over again with satya, tretaa, dwapara and kali lined up in cyclic order? All these made of interesting conversations and movie scripts. But I guess, we do not have much control on how things pan out at that level and as commoners, all we could do about these rumors is to wait and see how it unfolds. And of course, make plans for the Christmas and the new-year vacations :)

When we graduated from engineering, the most happening social networking site was orkut. If you dint have an orkut account or know what leaving a scrap or writing a testimonial meant, you would not have qualified to be called an engineer. And then there was a photo sharing site called flickr, where people shared photos in high resolution. Rediffmail was the mail account people wanted because it provided 1 GB of storage. MSN was the site that people opened for news/gossips. Yahoo messenger was used for chats and blogger was the site to post events and articles.... Today, all these have replaced by just two big names – fb and twitter! Personally as well, the number of posts on maama’s adda have also taken a beating because facebook enables microblogging and instant sharing which allows me to share easily and enables a wider reach. But that does not mean facebook itself can be complacent that it is irreplaceable. Tomorrow, something else might put facebook totally out of business and we dont even know what it is today!

Same is the case with gadgets. It is hard to believe that just a decade ago, we used to have so many different handy gadgets to make our life easy - a watch to look at the time, an alarm clock to wake us up in the morning, a calendar to plan holidays, a diary to write down contact addresses and phone numbers, a calculator to do quick 2+2 calculations, video games to play tetris, and what not. I don't even have to tell you the one device which has replaced all of these today. And with so many millions of transistors being added to the microchip every month, we dont know how many more gadgets this one ubiquotous thing will replace eventually!

After this, there was the talk on replacing the almighty Himself. Didn’t they build a huge hadron collider or something to create a replacement for GOD? I also heard that there was indeed some breakthroughs in their research in the form a Higgs Boson particle. Maybe they thought that since the world is ending anyway, it was necessary to have an alternate GOD ready to create a backup for the world so that this new god could create a new world and the people who created GOD could then claim copyright of all the thing that ever existed in the world! Thank God (old), I have written this post before their new God has taken control :) :)

Although the above paragraphs were written with pun in mind, I feel they somehow just reinforce the theme of replaceability which I have experienced for most part of the year. It just goes on to show that even though we do fear changes, we are always anticipating and preparing for them. Maybe it is the evolutionary instinct which makes us do so. If you are not able to adapt to changes, you will not survive. So, it is good to have an alternate plan ready. Students plan to work while at college. Employees plan to study while at work. Management plans for attrition when team seems to be good. Girls and boys in committed relationships plan for a backup in case things do not work out. Workers plan for retirement even while they are at prime earning age. People plan for replacements to their mobile phones, cars, etc all the time. ‘Exchange offers’ are ubiquitous these days. In fact, there are a lot of companies, especially the insurance and storage service providers which are doing business today only because people anticipate change and prepare for alternate options.

The gist of management theory is about managing risk and having alternate plans to achieve targets. In the industry, a substantial amount of money is invested in having backup servers in place so that they can handle the load in case the primary servers go off. Alternate resources, both human and machines, are always considered good to have to make sure there are no hindrances to plans. In infrastructure, service routes and detours while building roads is a primary requirement. All the new buildings designed will have alternate entry/exit paths for contingencies. New phones always come with an offer which promises an additional alternate storage space on the cloud just in case of crashes/thefts. In short, backups and alternates have become so much ingrained in lives that there is no way you cannot do without having them.

There is a very important human aspect which comes into play when we talk of backups. While machines and non-living entities are so cold and emotionless to all these ‘main’/’backup’ nomenclature, it becomes an entirely different case when dealing with people. The end-user of gmail would not even know if his mailbox got switched from a main server to a backup server on the google’s server farm. But if his manager at office was replaced by a new person, things would get so different. People have feelings and become really sensitive to changes around them. How would someone feel if the very person he was training in office for a certain skill replaced him and put him out of the job? How would workers in an industry feel if one fine day, a machine replaced them and they were asked to retire? How would it feel if someone who was a best friend till not so long ago starts ignoring you/acts very indifferent when you are around? How would you feel if your beloved for years started going out with someone who was just a friend and said that things between you two dint seem to work out anymore? These are really tough moments. Everyone would have dealt with such moments at some point or other. Some chose to take it in their stride and move on. Some might seek comfort in other temporary pleasures like alcohol/drugs/ bounce back relationships, etc. But, in some extreme cases, people get so depressed and never come back from it. It is really a tough job with replacements and backups when humans are involved, and a lot of high paying jobs today require you to possess the skill of effective communication while handling such tough situations.

So, is there a best way to replace people? Can we handle replacements when people are involved effectively at all? Well, it turns out that there are good options there as well. It is not considered fair when people are dumped unceremoniously. The onus lies in making the communication so effective that the other person feels so valued even when being replaced. Some sort of a golden handshake where everyone walks out from the deal winning. The voluntary retirement scheme in few organizations was one such example. The workers who wanted to be replaced were given handsome payouts such that they felt rewarded for their efforts. The organizations felt happy because they got rid of extra manpower and could now invest the money into buying new age machines or younger workforce. It was a win win situation for all. Even relationships lasting years together could end amicably sometimes. If one of them always wanted money/career and the other wanted care and attention, and if they managed to find it, people could part ways in a manner where there would be no hard feelings. There is this new term being used in the industry termed as ‘positive attrition’ where employees and the employers end terms on a good note. Employees go off to study in reputed institutes while employers get their brand built in such institutes thus creating a win-win situation. All in all, in any deal where the people are treated with respect and feel valued and cared, replacement becomes easy.

On the personal front, this year has been one of continuous change. We moved to a rented place for the first time in life because our old house had to be replaced by a new one. I have stayed in atleast 3-4 rented places in this year alone and the experiences have been a mixed bag – one of them really bitter, one totally awesome and others somewhere in between. Then, there have been experiences at work place where targets and priorities get replaced by new ones so dynamically that adapting to them becomes a challenge. As always, new people have come into life replacing some of the old and very special ones. There have been some people who were just acquaintances or casually walked into my life, but I have realized that they are as important to me as anyone else right now. The important replacement was that of goals. For almost six to seven years now, there was a specific purpose and goal which I pursued. And when that fell apart, lots of things changed. I wandered aimlessly for few days before it struck me that it was all part of some bigger picture which would become clear in a few days. And the most important realization that has dawned upon me is that no matter what happens, certain things or relationships in life are irreplaceable. The memories/lessons which people give are irreplaceable. One main thing that cannot be replaced is the ideology and the principles which we stand for. It is one thing which defines our character and identity and we cannot afford to lose it. I now know the people who are the most valuable in my life. They were always there when I needed them, are with me now, and will hopefully continue to be so. It makes absolute sense to hold on to them no matter what happens. I feel really happy when I know that there are so many of such close people in my life. Through this year-end post, I just want to thank (you) all for always being there!

At the brink of yet another year being replaced, there is one thing which we must all realize. It is the fact that change is the only constant in life and no matter how bad the changes seem at first, things will always turn out good in the end! There will always be experiences from which we can learn from. The replacements which come might not be welcomed at first, but eventually we will realize that there was a reason that the old one had to go and make way for the new – be it the old home, old worker, old machine, or even Sachin/Dravid/Vajapayee. Even if the world did end sometime soon, it would be only because it had gotten so bad that a better world was needed to replace it. As far as possible, try not to compare the old and new because each one had a specific purpose. Drawing parallels and lamenting about past would only make us weaker. So, let us continue to celebrate the journey of changes in life and learnings it gives us. Wishing you all a very happy new year 2013!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

City Lights - Part 2 : The city of joy

[...continued from Part 1]

Kolkata has been referred to the city of joy. For me, it will always be the city of special love and that is one thing I immediately associate with the city - just plain and simple love and the faith that love cures all things going wrong. Right from the times when I first visited Kolkata in my high school days to the special weekend visits during the two years of MBA life, Kolkata has always been something special – a city with a heart and soul of its own. It was lot of fun getting to explore the city and its nuances. For the to-be corporate grads like us secluded from city life at our institute, Kolkata was the city where we would all rush to escape from the dull life. Since Kharagpur lacked a passenger airport, malls, software parks or anything faintly related to urban life, Kolkata was the go-to city for all these luxuries once in a while. Also, all opportunities like sponsorship for fests, interactions with corporate world, etc had to happen in Kolkata. More importantly, exploring a new city with some special friends and relatives always gives good memories of the place and Kolkata is one where I have lots of it.

For me, the most striking of all memories in Kolkata starts even before entering the city. To someone who loves the railways like me, the 22 platform Howrah terminus is nothing short of a holy shrine. The mad rush on the platforms, the red painted towers, the non-stop announcements about arriving or departing trains, the red uniformed coolies, the aroma of Comesum’s biryani near platform 18, coaches in all colors and classes to carry passengers – ah! Never has any Indian railway station fascinated me so much. Whats more – my first glimpse of India’s fastest train – the Duronto express was in Howrah. Even the first double decker AC coach connecting Howrah to Dhanbad was first spotted in the Howrah station. I have so many lasting memories of the Howrah station and the numerous journeys I used to take from Kharagpur to Howrah and back. I have travelled on this route so many times and in so many classes of trains – ranging from the basic Rs. 19/ ticket local train to the super luxury Rs. 541 priced ticket 1A coach on the TATA-HWH Steel express. I have also made these 2.5 hour journey at almost all times of the day/night – the most frequent of them being the early morning 6:20 MDN-HWH local to Kolkata and return on the 1930 is HWH-MDN galloping train. The oddest hour when I made this travel was at 0230 in the night when my flight landed in Kolkata at midnight on a cold December night.

Most of these journeys were undertaken in anticipation of special moments – be it sponsorship amounts, travel back home on flights, job interviews, rigorous academic terms that lay ahead or spending time with special people in the city of joy – each of these had a flavor of its own. There was a time when I could easily list out some 20+ stations on this route even in my sleep. It was always the same pattern - the vast expanses of lush green fields while passing through Jakpur and Ballychowk, then some green forest cover while passing Radhamohanpur and Panskura, the thermal power plant at Kolaghat and the bridge across river Rupnarayan. We would then zoom past the suburbs of Uluberia and cover stations like Phuleshwar, Chengel, etc and land into Santragachi junction, only to cover the next 10 kms in such frustratingly slow pace that entering into Howrah would make you want to get out of the train and dance.

The station, river, bridge the city and trams are something very unique to this city. While most other cities of the world have combinations of the above, Kolkata is one which boasts of having it all! The vintage yellow ambassador taxis and wooden framed colorful buses on Rabindro Setu with the silently flowing Hugli below is like a picture postcard you can mail to dear ones for having travelled here. When you get into the huge streets with old angrez buildings on either side, you will realize that these are places which have survived the test of time – they could be easily a century old. Park Street, Camac street, etc are essentially where the midtown madness is. Esplanade and the market areas around it are places where you can shop for any item –old and new. Each landmark or area in Kolkata gives you some sort of thrilling feeling when you know that there is a lot of history and heritage associated with it. When I pass through the huge maidaan, I just imagine the sports Englishmen used to play here back then. Eden gardens still echoes the roar of the 100,000 people who were there to witness that epic test where Aussie pride was dusted. Passing through Kalighat, Gariahat via Rashbehari avenue makes me think of how Mother Teresa used to nurse the leprosy patients on the streets here. Passing through Nandan talkies somehow reminds me of gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and his legendary compositions. Victoria memorial stands in testimony to the glorious Fort William days. Kali temple at Dakshineshwar and the ‘across the river’ Belur math makes me bow in reverence to Paramahamsa and his famous disciple Narendra who carried the essence of Hinduism across the world. I just felt every place in Kolkata had a story to tell and tried to listen, see and experience it to the fullest.

The newer areas, read Salt lake, Rajarahat, etc dotted with all the technology companies, high rise apartments and malls are akin to any other metro. However, purely from an economic standpoint, Kolkata is much less expensive as compared to the others. I just might be wrong here. But this is just a personal opinion. Maybe it is the variety of options the city offers which presents the overall combination as being a little less expensive. You can use the buses, the trams, the underground metro, the rickshaws, taxis and the ferries or a combination of these to get to any place you want. You can eat at roadside thelas, carry carts, fast food outlets, or the big restaurants depending on your wallet size. And regardless of your wallet size, you must have chai samosa at local tea stalls and rossogollas at mithai shops at least once! :)

One thing that people say defines Kolkata is the pujo time. It seemed to me that the Bengalis have only one festival in the year – Durga puja! There are different flavors that the city offers and the pujo flavor can easily be termed as its flagship. Pandals at every nook and corner of the city, each one built with so much thought and artistic design put into it make the city look so beautiful during the times. The all night stalls, the dance and the rituals and the variety of food on offer during this time make it a very memorable one for anyone. However, since the college used to shut down for almost a week during the pujo times, I ended up missing the real pomp and glory of Kolkata during pujo, as I used to come back home for vacations during both the years. I just wish that I get a chance someday to visit the city during puja time and experience it.

Kolkata has been portrayed in so many movies in so many shades, the recent ones being Bidya’s Kahaani and Ashima Roy’s haveli in Vicky donor. But to me, the movie ‘Love Aaj Kal’ and especially the song ‘yeh dooriyan’ is one which immediately makes me recall the city and all its memories. ‘Love aaj kal’ was the first movie which I got in super high quality in the super high speed LAN at Kharagpur. The movie and the songs served as constant time pass when I travelled on the trains or stayed in the lodges at Kolkata. Whenever I listen to ‘yeh dooriyan’, my mind races back to the city of joy – to the train journeys undertaken, to the romantic rides on the SaltLake’s cycle rickshaws, to the time spent at Kolkata airport so many times waiting for people/flights. The song is one thing which defines Kolkata in my mind. When I used to travel back and forth on the KGP-HWH route, my mind would contemplate on the lyrics of the song ‘aa raha paas ya door main jaa raha jaane na koi yaha pe’. In retrospect, it is vividly clear on what the lyrics used to mean.

In any city, there can be good things as well as bad ones. One thing I deliberately leave out when I write this articles are the bad experiences. Also, along with all the good things a city has, there will always be some things which you don’t like at all. For example, the one thing which you’ll notice as soon as you get out of the Howrah station is the huge pile of debris and filth. But we can have a separate article dedicated towards infrastructure management which can get on all that. These articles are only about the pleasant experiences the cities have offered me and a recollection of all things nice which I got to experience in these cities.

In statistical experiments as well as in life, people always expect an ‘unbiased’ opinion when looking for insights. And that is exactly the opposite of what would happen if I wrote about the experiences and memories in namma Bengalooru – it would be highly biased because of the fact that over 90% of my life has been spent in this city – the growing up days of the 90’s, the PU college days of 2000s, the heavenly BMS days, the ‘new to industry’ Symbian Ltd. days, the ‘60km daily travel’ workdays and all other days in between. Nevertheless, the only word and emotion which I feel when I think of Bengalooru is ‘bliss’! In fact, if I had to start elaborating on why Bangalore gets associated with bliss, I would be writing an entire autobiography, which I plan to do sometime very soon :) But for now, let me just say that each and every experience that my home city has given me have been such that I always feel good about it. Even the bad ones seem not so bad because of all that they have taught me. Maybe I will write more parts of this article by sampling some of the awesome moments that define Bangalore for me.

Other big cities that I have been to in India include Pune, Jaipur, Indore, Bhopal, Udaipur, Bhubaneshwar, Trivandrum, Hyderabad among others. However, I have not spent enough time in these cities to have a lasting memory or an incident linked to these places. I was just a tourist visiting only the must-see places or using the city as a quick transit point to get to other places. Of course, there have been experiences but nothing noteworthy of sorts. And then there are cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Guwahati, Srinagar, Shimla, Dehra Dun, Ahmedabad etc which I have always wanted to visit but never got a chance to. Maybe I will write more on these cities in the coming days. In the meanwhile I would like to hear from you all if you have any nice city memories/experiences. I know there would be bad points and cribbing about infrastructure, culture etc in all cities. But, no city if perfect in all senses that way. They are all in the development path and will take some time to improve. And the experiences which I shared were only subjective. Maybe someone else would have had the exact same experiences which I had in city A in other cities. The only thing which I want to state here is that people stop judging a city by the stereotypes and self-explore it. Take your own time and explore the city with the pace you are really comfortable. I wish you many more wow moments in your cities.

PS: 1. HWH - station code for Howrah, headquarters for Eastern and South Eastern railway divisions of Indian Railways
2. MDN - Station code for Medinipur. Local trains from Howrah run till Medinipur, passing via Kharagpur (KGP)

City Lights - Part 1

Books, clothes, accessories and most importantly memories of two great years were in those airbags and suitcases. They were getting crammed in the tiny space available in the air conditioned railway compartment of the 12863 HWH-YPR express. We were going back one final time and some of the closest friends in the two years had come to drop us off. The feelings were mixed – the joy of finishing a professional course, the sadness of having to leave such happy days behind, the excitement of the professional world that awaited us… it was all there. As the lights of the twin towers of IIT Kharagpur faded out far away, the city lights awaited us!

Having stayed in one city for almost all of my life, the answer you’ll get from me on which city I love the most is obvious. Even during most part of the two year MBA course that I stayed away, I kind of knew that I would get back to my city itself after the course. Also, during the summer internship, I had the privilege of staying at home. The joy was only compounded when I got an offer letter stating about the location of my new workplace.  Back then, it was placements season at college and the discussions would usually be around which city is good to settle down and make some money and the other things centered around them.  I used to listen to them with great interest. Some used to shout that Mumbai was India’s heaven on earth and some thought that Pune and Kolkata were great places to save money. There were some who wanted to be in Chandigarh and Gurgaon or NCR because it was closer to their homes and more “homely” than other metros. But the two southern cities they dreaded the most were Chennai and Trivandrum. Even some localites from Chennai had some sort of aversion to going back to Chennai. It was something which baffled me then. Why do some cities become a instant hit and bring happiness to people while others are feared so much that people spend days together crying when they get their work location as these cities?

I have given it some thought for quite some time now and realized that it is those strong memories which people associate with a city that make it good or bad in their perception. Consider for example, even if Gurgaon is one of the sophisticated and high-fi cities in India right now, just because I have heard a strong unpleasant memory /story relating to it, I never feel it is good. Even if all the other factors and surveys report the city to be good, it is ultimately the mind-set in the people which would go a long way in them liking/disliking the city. And then comes the familiarity angle. If you stay in a city long enough, you get used to the place, the culture and the way of life that you start loving the city. The more you get to know about the city’s history and why certain things are the way they are, there will be more appreciation of the place rather than contempt or disdain. Imagine having to land in an unknown city at night and having to speak an unfamiliar language to the local taxiwalas to take you to someplace which is not your permanent home. Now compare that to landing in your hometown at midnight and telling the local autowalah in your own language something like - 'guroo, Vijayanagar bartiraa?' Need I say more?

In the next part of this post, I list down few prominent cities in India which I have been to and the emotions/stories that I associate with them. There is also a lasting memory of the place which kind of defines the city for me. Of course, your opinions could be different based on your own experiences. You may feel free to add on to this list at the end so that even I get to hear about more city experiences and memories.
I have spent very less time in the financial capital of India, Mumbai to say anything about it but one emotion which I can immediately associate with it is HOPE. Some years ago, we had been there during the monsoons. Like most Indian cities, rains wreak havoc in Mumbai too. However, I was really amazed to find that nothing could deter the city from going on. We could always find some people on the streets busy with their work, regardless of the weather or the time of the day. We could always see that hope in people's eyes - be it the dabbawalahs who sang all the time they carried heavy lunch boxes in crowded local trains, the vendors near the railway stations who sold every possible item you can imagine or the people living in the slums alongside the railway tracks – they all seemed to have dreams with the hope that Mumbai would fulfil the dreams. One takeaway memory of the place is that of the monsoons. It is really amazing to see how people go about their work during this time of the year without caring for the downpour or the hardships it brings to them. The rains are perhaps the soul of Mumbai and the people's reaction to it - its true spirit

The next city on the list is one of the earliest British settlements - Chennai. I have not spent much time in this city owing to its proximity to my home city. Whenever I have been there, it was during transit to farther cities or for small works which would not last more than a day. However, the thing which I can instantly attach to this city is HUNGER for KNOWLEDGE. There is something about the city which makes you want to learn things. The feelings for this city can be best summarized with an anecdote about the city.

During my summer-time application for MBA, I got a call from IIT Madras, DoMS for a GD/PI at their campus. My initial reaction after seeing that call letter was indifference. Who would go to Chennai when most institutes would conduct their processes at Bangalore? That too, there was nothing motivating about the institute (ratings wise) or the city itself which made me want to go there for a day long process, let alone study for two years. After much deliberation, I decided to go and attend the process because getting a holiday to travel was easy. I took the KSRTC’s flagship Airavat Volvo to Chennai with a strong bias against the city. And as soon as I set foot on it, most of my initial feelings about the city were reinforced. The Autowalahs deliberately pretended not to understand anything other than tamil and dropped me off at the campus gate, while still taking the full fare till the hostel. I had to walk almost 2 km to reach the hostels in the morning heat and humidity of Chennai which further irritated me. I was made to wait for another frustrating hour outside the hostel till the admissions committee member came and allotted me to a tiny hostel room. By the time I finished the bland breakfast in the mess and came back to the room, I had almost decided that I could not study in such a place for two years.

A couple of other aspirants like myself who were there in the hostels kept discussing about pros and cons about doing MBA from institutes known for technological excellence. I was so biased that all the cons were taken in happily and the pros were conveniently filtered out. We then went to the DoMS in the afternoon for the process and were made to sit in a AC classroom waiting for the process to begin. A religious looking professor with vermillon applied to his forehead (a stereotype south Indian, especially the Tambrahm types) walked in to talk to us about the institute and the course they offered. It was the first time I was listening to a professor from IIT and even to this day, that talk for one hour remains one of the best talks I have ever heard in college. The way he was able to seek attention from disinterested people like us, describe the course and the institute’s legacy to us was totally out of the world. In his talk, he even described the beauty of the city and its culture, by quoting from the scriptures. It was an amazing turn-around for me.  My entire perspective of viewing the city and the institute had changed in a matter of minutes. The seemingly insignificant troubles I had to undergo to be there that day dint seem to matter for me. The city was offering me knowledge and it had induced the hunger in me to seek it. I dint care about the pros and cons or the rankings of the institute anymore. I just wanted a chance to be in a premier institute like that and listen to more of such professors. I had my own doubts on whether I could stay in a hostel after spending all my life living at home. But all that dint seem to matter anymore - it had given me that thirst. The special Friday night 'Pulav and seviyan' dinner at the hostel tasted even better that night. A friend I made there and I shared an auto back to MAS for our trains and even that autowalah seemed friendly. This one incident made me realize the power of perception. If you look at things in the right perspective, everything about the city feels good. And that is what Chennai taught me in a day. 

Every city has both a heart as well as a soul. A stay of a very long duration would be needed to experience the metaphorical heart of the city. But getting to and experiencing the soul of the city is something which takes more than that long duration stay. It happens to very few people who spend their lifetimes exploring cities and understanding its true identity. And the realization of having experienced this feeling is also too hard for someone to notice.  The next two cities which I want to write about are the ones which are very dear to me – both individually and collectively.  These are the state capitals of the two states (one a former national capital as well) where I have collectively spent almost my entire life. The cities are Kolkata, the city of joy and the awesome namma Bengalooru. I have had innumerable experiences/memories in these two cities such that narrowing it to one simple thought or incident would be very tough. I am still not sure if I have experienced the souls of these two cities but in the numerous experiences that I have had, I certainly have experienced the large, caring heart with which these cities have embraced me.

[continued in part 2]
1. HWH-YPR express: An Indian railways' superfast train that runs from Howrah, WB to Yeswantpur, KAR. It connects the cities of Kolkata and Bangalore, passing through the states of WB, Orissa, AP, TN and Karnataka
2. MAS - Station code for the 'Chennai Central' railway station - one of the oldest stations in India

Friday, 4 May 2012

Parting note

Today, I cross one more milestone in the journey called Life. The ride in these two years has been really eventful and satisfying. After having stayed at home for almost all my life, I stepped into a remotely located premier institute of India to do my post graduation. It was a completely different experience with a sudden exposure to an entirely different culture and way of life. And as I sign out of here today, I can now boast of having achieved so many firsts in the two years – hostel stay, mess food, night outs (for both studies and for fun), organizing and participating in events, the legendary fun group at hostel, and the new learnings. When I left my previous organization, this was the last mail which I had written:
(reproduced here after minor modifications)


From: (maama's mail ID)(Nokia-MS/Bangalore)
Sent: July XX, 2010 XX:XX AM
Subject: One last mail from (last_name) (first_name).(initials of middle name) :)

Dear friends,
After finishing three eventful here in this esteemed organization, it is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to all of you – my wonderful colleagues. You have made my stay here truly memorable.

I always used to wonder what emotion would be the foremost in people’s minds when leaving an organization where they spend a long time – pain? Excitement? Nostalgia? Joy of a new prospect? – I could never narrow it down to one of them and thought it to be a mixture of all of them. But as I sign off from here today, I am filled with one overwhelming emotion – gratitude towards one and all for all the things you have taught me.

Life is a wonderful learning journey and the last three years in my life here have been the most enriching and fulfilling learning experiences in my life. From a fresher right out of college in 2007 till today, this company has taught me so many valuable lessons - be it the merger in 2009, the re-orgs, the celebrations, the all-hands meets, the frugal expenditure budgets during tough times, the long cab journeys - each one of these have left a lasting impression on my mind.

I don’t carry grudges, I don’t carry bitter moments, and I don’t carry the sad moments. I don’t carry the frustrations and disappointments. All that I can carry from here (apart from the salary :)) are the learning experiences. Each and every day of my stay here has taught me something new and made me a better person overall. If I have erred or hurt any of you, then please consider it as unintended mistake from a learner and accept my apology.

You are really special to me and have taught me something - thank you! Wish you all the very best in life and hope that our paths cross in the future. Please stay in touch.

(maama's name)
[“shraddhavan labhate jnyaanam” – A dedicated person begets knowledge]
PS : Please bear with me if the mail is too long for you. I will not be doing it again :)

I thought the parting emotions could be quite different from whatever I had experienced then - the practical life learnings over here were much more than what I learnt while I was working and staying at my home. However, even now, the overwhelming emotion when I am leaving is still the same – gratitude towards every person who has taught me things in life – the professors, friends, seniors, anyone and everyone who gave some kind of ‘gyaan’! Thank you everyone for all the lessons you have taught me, and forgive me if I unknowingly have erred in any manner. Continue to learn and enjoy life all the time. Wishing you all the best for the journey of life!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Kya seekha?

It is said that learning is a life-long process. Since the time we are born, the world presents to us so many varied experiences and we learn from each one of them. And then there is formal education for the more privileged ones where certain skills are imparted by teachers which will help us to face the travails of the world and make a living out of it. Even after entering professional careers, learning keeps happening through experiences of the work environment. We keep moving towards being better individuals by the day.

In the ancient Indian system, young lads were sent away from the comfort of their homes into the rigorous gurukuls where they were subjected to a tough lifestyle to gain physical strength, which in turn prepared them to acquire mental toughness and spiritual knowledge through a powerful guru. Having stayed at home and finished all my schooling, then college and even my engineering and work life, I always wondered how life would be different if I had to stay away from the comfort of my home and study, would the learnings be any different or not? It was something which I wanted to experience once. So, when the opportunity came two years ago in the form of MBA admission in faraway Bengal, I was more than eager to take it. The independent life over here has surely taught me a lot of things. Some of them were expected. Others were situational. But each one of these experiences has surely taught me few life lessons.

In this post I have tried to put down few learnings which happened in the MBA classrooms over the span of two years. Wherever possible, I have tried to link these to a practical experience so that it gets reinforced. Of much more value and importance than these academic theories have been the experiences and knowledge gains which have happened out of classrooms – from co curricular activities, peer groups, hostel life, etc. And all these require big posts by themselves which I plan to write in the forthcoming days. Although the list is by no means comprehensive of all the theories/cases/subjects I have learnt here, this is just a kind of takeaways from the theories for me. It is a kind of ‘My learnings from MBA curriculum’ if you like to call it so, of course with simpler examples.

1. Fixed cost = Sunk cost
Some of the most feared classes of first semester used to happen on Monday mornings when the highly respected, highly decorated Dean would take a course in operations for us. Of course, there are many mathematical takeaways in the subject. But if there is one practical thing you can learn – it is about the fixed costs being sunk costs. There is no need to get overly emotional about them. For example, you spend so much money to buy a new computer and find out that it is absolutely worthless for use after two years. Just because a heavy investment was made two years ago, there is absolutely no reason to get overly emotional about keeping it. If you can add more value to your business by scrapping them, go ahead and do it right away.

Practical example: When we used to go for trips during vacation, we used to pay 24 hour advance in many cases for accommodation. In some cases, we would finish the local sightseeing within 16 hours and would have totally had our share of fun. Some people insisted on staying in the room for full 24 hours just because we had already paid for it, just to cover up the already sunk cost. What they dint realize was that the additional 8 hours would also entail variable expenses without adding much to the fun which we already had. It is best to ignore these and move on.

2. No theory is perfectly wrong or right!
For every theory we learn, there is either a contradictory one which says the opposite or some clause in it which asks us to apply it with caution. Even the simplest of theories can get more and more complicated with addition of new information. Thus, no theory can be perfectly right or perfectly wrong. And it is for this reason, we have the famous manager jargon ‘It depends

Who won the battle between Dettol and Savlon? “It depends!”
Should you buy banking stocks this year? “It depends!”
Should we fulfil the contract or back out? “It depends!”
Should you marry or not? “It depends!” :) :)

Sometimes I feel “It depends” can be the answer to any question asked in management. Let me take as simple a question as possible. What is the standard deviation of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5?

A simple answer to this is the square root of variance and hence 1.414.

And as usual the management answer to this would be “It depends”. It depends if these numbers are the entire population or just samples from a population. If it is the former, then 1.414 is correct. But if these are samples, we have lost one degree of freedom and hence the deviation comes to 1.5811… amazing isn’t it?

And it is because of this ‘it depends’ that management consulting thrives as a profession. And there would always be some people who give fundas all the time and you would like to call them management gurus or management babas :)  People want experts’ opinions on what is the best decision to take given the limited information available. Maybe having a positive reinforcement from experts also helps build the confidence factor to take strong decisions. In retrospect, all cases can be analyzed to the bare minimum and seen what the mistake was. But in real life, you just have to go ahead with whatever is the best solution for that particular situation.

There will always be people who give you suggestions or criticize you no matter how much you do. There will always be theories which can prove you wrong. Listen to all suggestions, read all theories and then take an informed decision. Don’t just reject or accept anything blindly just because someone said so. Use your own judgment and discretion if you are responsible for making the decision.

3. Nothing is riskless!
Perhaps there has been no subject in MBA till now which has not talked about risk or volatility till now. Also, it is only logical that risk management is taught the most in MBA courses because if everything is running smoothly without any risks, there would be no need for professional management in the first place. However, even after studying so many theories on risk management, the only thing you learn is, you can only manage a certain amount of risk – can never eliminate it totally.

One of the best anecdotes which I remember when I think about risk management is an early morning finance class where the teacher was talking about mitigation of risk in mutual fund investments. According to some experiments, he said, it was proved that random choices of funds made by training orang utans yielded more returns than choices made by professionals! Such is the volatility in the market that relying on any individual or market expert makes no sense at all. It is only in retrospect that you realize that something was worth the risk or not.

You can have so many statistical models, econometric models and whatsoever to model the risk, but no model can take all the factors into consideration and predict the future accurately. A perfect example for this is the case of Nobel prize winning Myron Scholes (creator of the famous Black and Scholes model) whose very model which helped him win the nobel prize caused his hedge fund to go bankrupt in the next year's recession. It is because of this inherent risk in using such complicated formulas that one of our professor jokingly remarked in class “If you are managing someone else’s money, go ahead and use all the formulas in the world. But in case of your own money, prefer common sense over complex formulas any day”. Isn’t it?

4. Change is the only constant
A corollary which immediately follows the risk and volatility theories is that of Change management. In a dynamically changing environment, there is no way anyone can be complacent about their position or performance anytime. Change keeps happening and inorder to survive, you have to be adaptable to change. Most of the cases which we discussed in class talked about feasible solutions to turnaround organizations which were not doing well. But the one point which people just mention and not give much attention to is about change management. And we all know, it’s the one which can make or break business decisions. I say this from experience of my work experience in my past company where a well-calculated, prudent, takeover decision by Nokia failed because it could not manage the changes in an efficient manner.

One of my wing mates in hostel, Mr Mohanty is a PhD student and his work involves change management. Sitting on the foyer in our hostel, we have shared a lot of enlightening talks. He once told me – human beings are the weak species if you look at the nature’s scheme of things. And yet, by their sheer ability to adapt, they have survived through tough times – one of the supreme qualities of humankind – adaptation. To quote the words of Darwin, ‘it is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent one – it is always the one which is most adaptable to change’ – True, isn’t it?

5. There is bias everywhere
No matter how much people claim that they are neutral, there is always an inherent bias in people. There are a lot of factors responsible for this bias. It could be their region, language, upbringing, personal experiences, etc. But one thing is for sure, this bias cannot be eliminated. When we go for surveys to collect unbiased samples or understanding organizational cultures, this is one of the important things to keep in mind. Trying to search for the perfectly neutral unbiased sample is a futile thing to do. Acknowledging this bias and trying to find a practical workaround would be a better thing to do.

As and when you go higher up in the organization towards leadership roles, this point becomes increasingly important. You cannot expect all of your employees to behave in the same manner all the time. Neither can you expect that everyone will do the same amount of work given the same time and resources. Understanding that people have their own predispositions and biases go a long way in assigning tasks and winning the confidence of the subordinates.

Most of the points which I have mentioned here seem to be common knowledge. Anyone would wonder if an MBA degree is worth all the hype and effort to learn such simple truths. But mind you, each degree has its own value and worth in the scheme of things. Though the ultimate learnings are simple, it takes a lot of hard work and effort to reach there. It’s the same way in life everywhere. It takes a lot of effort and hard work to figure out simple truths. Prince Siddhartha had to meditate for years and years and subject himself to harsh treatments to finally attain the Nirvana state, but the Buddhist teachings are seemingly simple and easy to follow even to this day. And as I said earlier, this list is by no means complete. Maybe I will write about few more learnings of MBA sometime soon. Maybe I might come back with one more post and contradict some of the theories which I have posted today. It just depends :)

P.S: 1. Want to know more on mean and standard deviation? Read here
2. Thanks to Ratan Ranjan and Samrendra Mohanty for the long bakar sessions which helped me to rediscover some of these past seemingly unimportant learnings

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Bro when it’s you, life’s always gonna be a dashing ride! - Part 3

Read part one and two of the posts here and here

Many people have asked me this question ‘Temples in Goa? You are kidding right?’ and have given a sheepish ‘I know’ kind of grin when I have tried to answer. So, here I am clarifying, once and for all, a little lesser known facts about the tiny state.

Before it became the popular beach tourist destination it is today, Goa was a Portuguese colony. In fact, till as late as 1961 (yes, after independence too!) it was under the control of the Portuguese. If you recall, the Portuguese were the first of the European merchant-cum-invaders who came to India seeking richness in the Middle Ages. After Vasco da Gama, we have one Mr. Alfonso de Albuqerque who snatched Goa from Bijapur sultans and established a Portuguese colony. Before all this happend, numerous Hindu empires ruled over the area and the Indo-Aryan Brahmin group called ‘Saraswat Brahmins’ had setup a large number of temples. Most of these temples were eventually destroyed in course of Portuguese rule but have been subsequently restored. Since the GSBs have a concept of Kuladevata, it is a practice to visit the ancestral temple whenever possible and offer prayers to the Lord.

For the more interested, here is the wiki link to history of Goa.
And here is the link to history of Goud Saraswat Brahmins.

23.12.2011 12:45
Nothing of interest had happened with me at the wheels. We had crossed Hubli and were on the NH 63 moving towards Ankola. NH 4 till Hubli was awesome with 4 lanes and dividers that we dint have to go below 80kmph at any point. But the NH63 was a two-lane divider less road. There were lots of places where we had to go below 60kmph and the gear changed to 3rd or less. Even then, since the traffic was not so dense, we had managed to keep pace. We had now reached Kalghatgi. And Ultra was ready for one more round of driving. He took over when the km reading on the trip meter read 436kms…

curve on NH63

23.12.2011 14:00
We just finished lunch at a small restaurant in Yellapur. Though the hotel was a small one, the meals were filling and the mango drink really helped in the hot weather. Ultra resumed on the highway while mom, dad and I tried to take a nap. We were passing through the western ghats now and there was constant green cover along the highway. The forests got denser and the road started it natural descent into the coast of Karnataka. There were a lot of curves – some of them hairpin and some of them really tough to negotiate. Bro was doing it so well that we dint get disturbed in our nap.

23.12.2011 15:30
National Highway 17 … ah!
The coastal highway connecting Kanyakumari in the southern tip of India to the financial capital of Mumbai... passing through the coast of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, is one highway which both Ultra and I have always admired and longed to drive on. We used to sit on the compound wall of our maternal grandma’s home in Thekkatte and count vehicles passing on this road. We used to memorize the names of bus operators plying on this highway, remember the places covered by this highway, visit temples and beaches which lie on either side of this highway. It was our long standing dream to drive our own vehicle together on this highway. As soon as we reached Ankola, the place where NH63 joins NH17, we both took a deep breath to take in the excitement of being on this road… NH17, you beauty!

(For the uninitiated, who are wondering what is so beautiful about the Konkan coast of India, I would strongly recommend Konkan Railway and a drive on NH17 covering the coast of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka once. I bet you wont be disappointed)

23.12.2011 16:00
I was itching to drive on the highway and Ultra was anyway getting tired after driving for more than 300 kms today. Even on a holiday we had got up so soon and started on the journey, so the eyes had gotten a little tired. I took over from him at km 563 and immediately we crossed the port of Karwar

Immediately after the coast of Karwar we crossed the bridge across river Kali and then a narrow road through the cliffs – one of the fine examples of the scenery that is available on this highway

A short while after this, we crossed the border entering the tiny state of Goa. Even on the highway, the traffic in Goa gets a bit dense and the roads are narrow. Some roads are so narrow and curvy, lined with houses on either side, that if you get stuck behind a truck at one point, you are stuck behind that truck for almost 20-30 kms… there is no way to overtake.

23.12.2011 17:00
Driving in the traffic road of Goa was tiring. We had started 11 hours ago and still had some 50 odd kms to go. So, when the signs on the road said that a ghat section would emerge, we decided it was time to take a short break and have some refreshments. The highway side hotel named ‘Karmal Ghat restaurant’ dint look such a big place anyway. So, I thought it would be better to order less and took only tea. What a refreshing tea it was – sugar, tea and milk in the right quantities and awesome taste! It was one of the best till date. This rejuvenation was enough for driving through the tough ghat section where Ultra kept saying ‘Slow Slow Slow!’ …maybe he dint have the tea :P

23.12.2011 18:25
After crossing numerous traffic hurdles in Margao, Ponda and the highway, we had finally made it to the parking lot of Shri Ramnath temple, covering a total of 665.6 kms in a span of 13 hours! It was one of the most awesome journey ever, and the fact that it was with Ultra made it even more special. We would be offering prayers to the temple deities the next day, ie on 24th . We also planned to visit Panini’s kuldevta temple at Mahalasa, Mardol and go to one of the beaches if time permitted. We managed to do all that and more. Unlike previous times, where we would end up paying a lot to the taxi walas, local transport would not be a problem anymore – the privilege of having your own gaadi! Not only that, but we also visited places like Karwar, Ankola, Kumta, etc on our way back and even stayed at my mom’s maternal home in Thekkatte. I wish I could write about all this sometime in detail. Maybe someday I will.

23.12.2011 21:00
We sat in the all too familiar Hotel Venkatesh Leela, savoring the awesome kingfish curry, fry and prawns rava fry! Visiting this place and having the signature fish and prawn dishes had almost become a tradition now. I have kept bills of all the times we have eaten there. Its worth collecting! I still have not been able to figure out what it is that makes the fish cuisine in this part of the world so delectable. Maybe it is because we get a chance to eat it very rarely. Maybe it s because the humidity makes you more hungry and the sea food is fresh because of the proximity to the sea. It could also be the coconut milk that they mix along with other spices. But the kingfish curry and rice is THE best food I have ever had in my entire life. Add to it, the side dishes like prawns deep fried in rava and kingfish fry, the meal is one whose taste would stay on for a long time. If you are a fish eater, I would definitely recommend going to this restaurant once while in Goa to enjoy the delicacies.

Ultra and I sat there in the restaurant after the meal, sipping fresh lime soda and taking a bit of saunf. I had been a long and tiring day, but one which we would remember for a long time to come. We missed having Panini there. Pulling her leg by making fun of her eating would have added a completely different dimension to the fun which we were having. Nevertheless, we were still happy having spent time together. Right from the time we had bought our car, we had this dream of driving to Goa in it. After 4 long years, with preparation and planning, we had finally managed to do it. And we had even got along skeptical dad with us! Driving in Goa for next two days would be fun. And with him by the side, life would always be a roller coaster ride!

Bro when it’s you, life’s always gonna be a dashing ride! - Part 2

23.12.2011 Dawn
One mobile started ringing at 04:26 AM and the other at 04:28 AM. For most of the familiar readers, it’ll be easy to guess which one was which. Excitedly, we both jumped out of our respective beds. Yes, we would be driving today! Ultra slept for a while while I got ready. Mom and Dad had already woken up and mom was making VangiBath (popular rice dish) early in the morning. We had packed most of our clothes and there was a little bit of hurry in the last minute charging the camera and mobiles, some last minute packing, etc. Ultra was the last to get ready and by the time he got ready at 5:15 AM, the rest of us had some coffee, which he doesn’t like to have anyway. We put all the luggage in the dicky of the car. The audio speaker deck was creating problems for large bags to be stuffed, but somehow we had managed to fit them all.

23.12.2011 5:33 AM
We planned to start at 5:30 in the morning and it was exactly 5:30 when we locked the main door and sat in the car. It was a cold, December morning and we had to close all the windows to feel comfortable inside. However, the sunrise was still faraway and we had to drive for sometime with headlights. I had this experience before so I wanted Ultra to start it off. And he did! This was the route which we had to cover:
Tumkur --> Davangere --> Hubli --> Ankola --> Karwar --> Goa border --> Madgaon --> Ponda --> Ramnath temple

Route map - click to enlarge

So, we had chosen a little circuitous route instead of a direct one and this was not without reason – many bloggers on the site had warned that the road would be very bad if we had taken the shorter route without going till Hubli. We planned to reach the temple by evening.

23.12.2011 5:45 AM
We were on the NICE road by now and Ultra was already doing speeds of 80-100 km/h. I was just sitting in the navigator’s seat and trying to help if needed by warning. We kept saying ‘Quick but safe’ to each other. But we knew we had to cruise through the city limits as early as possible to avoid the morning traffic. Although we thought we could do it, there were many toll booths on the way. Our first target was to get on NH4 and then touch Tumkur by 6:45…

driving with headlights at dawn

23.12.2011 6:40 AM
Well, we had made it almost near Tumkur but the city traffic was a little heavy. So, we would just barely make it to the bye-pass at 6:45. The dense fog before sunrise was not helping either. It would be cold if we opened the windows, but the fog would cover the windshield and reduce visibility if we dint. The AC directed towards to the windshield helped a bit but not totally. Dad and Mom had taken the backseat. As usual, Dad had forgotten the ear cap and was asking mom for the sweater and we both laughed remembering the numerous times that had happened before. Whoever said familiarity breeds contempt! It doesn’t! In fact, you start loving the familiarity and start yearning for it. We laugh that it is too familiar, but deep down, we develop a liking for it and miss it when we don’t get it. Isn’t it?

23.12.2011 8:00 AM
The sun was out now and it was already 2.5 hours since we left home. The excitement of getting up early, packing and hitting the road had slowly sunk in. We were cruising at 80-110 kmph consistently except for the toll booths where we had to shell out some 150 rupees already for as many kilometers covered. Mom and Dad were already dozing off after the initial high. Ultra was still going steady. It seems he had made ‘Quick but safe’ his mantra of the day. Some scenes like this were on offer to our eyes:

tractors on truck

Quick but safe :)

23.12.2011 9:00 AM
The hunger pangs had set in and we kept searching for the Kamat Upachar on the highway. We had crossed Chitradurga already. Mom kept saying we will have VangiBath which she had packed. The name of Vangibath excited our hunger pangs even more. We thought we will go to a nice restaurant on the highway instead of leaving the highway to get into any city. It was 225kms when we stopped on the parking lane for a quick loo break for the first time. Ultra had driven all the time. As soon as we came back from behind the bushes (:p), we saw that mom had already opened the Vangibath and started eating. None of us could control either and we gobbled it up in no time. We were good to go after that and I took over from Ultra to drive on. By 9:30, we reached the Davangere byepass and most of us were still hungry. So, we decided to get inside the town for to have the famous ‘butter dosas’.

It was a long way into the city and we struggled to find a decent restaurant till we reached the city limits. We got into some restaurant and ate heartily. By the time we finished and got out of there and back on the highway, it was already 10:10 AM. We had to make up for the lost time. I drove on and hit 80 right away. Ultra went to the backseat to take some rest…

continued in part 3 here

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Bro when it’s you, life’s always gonna be a dashing ride! - Part 1

23-12-2011 17:45
He kept saying 'Slow! slow! slow!' … I just said to myself 'Sorry bro when it’s you, life’s always gonna be a dashing roller coaster ride'

The ghat road was winding, curvy and didn’t have a divider for the traffic coming in the opposite direction. He kept warning me to slow down and watch out! But I knew I was in total control. I had the best navigator in business and nothing could go wrong… we had come this far and we would definitely make it safe. Finally, we had managed it and it was an experience to cherish.

Flashback: 2011
Okay, so 2011 was not exactly a year of leisure or vacation for me in anyway. It also reflects on this blogger site as I could not find to update my blog posts at all with zero entries in the year – a personal low for me (or anyone for that matter). The year started with the second semester of MBA in Kharagpur and continued there till the summer internship back in BengaLuru. After two and half months of awesome stay at home and relishing the internship experience, it was back to business at Kharagpur with the hectic third semester – one of the busiest till now. There was always something to do at all time with lot of electives to study, politics to deal with, fests to organize, companies to prepare and so on. But there was also the odd trip where we could enjoy. A Coorg trip with close college mates during internship was good and the trip to Rishop and Darjeeling with a different gang from college was not exactly something which gives good memories. Nevertheless, it was the trip in which I caught my first glimpse of the Himalayas and that alone was enough to make the trip a memorable one. Such being the case, when there was an opportunity to go on a long road trip with Ultra at the far end of the year, I dint want to let go of it at any cost. Thus began one of the most awesome drive trips I have ever been on till now!

When I landed in Bangalore with three weeks of vacation in hand, I already had a long list of to-dos built up even before I set foot on the YPR platform from the HWH-YPR duronto. Regular maintenance works at home, bank related work, phone repair, and what not. But the main thing of all was to spend time with family (especially Ultra) without any tension of college, job, etc. Also, Panini had landed in India with her hubby and they had plans of visiting their ancestral temple in Goa from their residence at Pune. So, I was thinking that if we went on our trip at the same time, it would be a good opportunity to meet her after a long time. But, the main things to be considered were if Ultra’s and Dad’s holidays coincided with the dates when they planned to travel. The idea of the trip had been planted but nothing concrete was decided.

A week went by in finishing off the routine tasks like vehicle service, bank account, etc. When I first brought up the tour plan at home, Ultra got really excited. He said he had one whole week of holidays in the last week of December and that would be the best time to go. Mom was in for it as usual. As a rule, mom is always in for travel plans like this. That’s the best thing about her. So, only person remaining was dad, and we all instantly knew what his reaction was going to be – trip to Goa during Christmas? No way. Do you know it will be enormously crowded that time of the year? (Khanddaaaapati rush :p)

And yes. That was exactly how he reacted. He was true to some extent. Christmas and new- year time is when it gets really crowded and expensive in Goa. Room rents per day in some places are known to touch a whopping 25,000 INR per night! Even the temple accommodation, where we usually stay would be full. Panini and her in-laws had already finished their trip by then and had to cut short their trip because of accommodation problem. Thus, we had thought it was all over about the trip plans. Ultra had plans to buy a new phone for long and was waiting for me to assist in that work. So, we decided to spend the holidays together by exploring the new phone he would buy, watching movies and playing games.

20 & 21 December 2011
It had happened many times before and it did happen this time too. Some casual talk between mom and me during a lazy winter morning over breakfast made us think that it would be a good plan if we continued our plans - The car had been serviced and yearned for a long drive since so many days; we had not been on the family trip since early 2010 and did not see any chance for some time in the future if we dint go now; Ultra was anyway taking a leave on Friday and if we could somehow arrange for accommodation in our temples, we would be good to go. A casual call to the temple office evoked a response of strict no for accommodation at first and then turned to a tentative yes to a confirmed status within a span of 10 minutes. Dad returned from office in the evening and said that if the three of us were going anyway, he would come too. But the only constraint for him was to be back in Bangalore on Monday morning which we thought could be taken care of. And by the time Ultra was back from work on Wednesday we had a plan in place!

22 December 2011
Ultra went to office early for the last time in the year. Mom got busy packing for all of us. I spent most of my time reading up blogs on and making notes for myself on which is the best route to go to Goa. The main criterion was to stay on good roads as much as possible. After going through many discussion forums, I decided on a route, somewhere close to 675km one way. It would be long drive and we would have to leave early to make it to the temple by dusk. We planned to stay at the temple for 2 days and then maybe leave for Karwar on Christmas day. Dad would catch a bus back to Bangalore from there and we planned to continue on the coast of Karnataka to our mom’s native place near Kundapura in Udupi district. Visiting the sacred Ganapati temple at Anegudde was long overdue, more so in our alto because we had put the deity’s name on the windshield and could never take the car to meet the deity whose name it flaunted

Pic of the alto lxi with the deity's name in Kannada script - it reads 'Aanegudde Sree Mahaganapati'

When Ultra came back in the evening, we went to fill fuel in the car and get the air pressure right. It had been serviced just two days back so we assumed there was no need to check anything else. We watched some videos on youtube together and learnt how to change a flat tire using the jack. We even tried out jacking on our own car, but dint make the mistake of removing the tyre… why remove something that’s fine anyway? Ultra’s new phone, which was promised to be ready by 22nd was to be available only the next day. We abused the sales guy over telephone but there was nothing much to do. We thought we would collect the phone after the trip anyway. We had to wake up early morning at 4:30 AM the next day and leave home by 5:30AM. A long but exciting day awaited. Both Ultra and I could hardly sleep and kept waiting for that alarm ….
... continued in Part 2 here