Saturday, April 10, 2021

Daddy's school life

It was one of those days when one decides to do something different. And the 'great idea' struck me towards the end of my morning walk. I decided to invite my elder son to join me for my final lap of the day. In fact, let me put it this way ... among the multiple reach-out-to-engage-him activities I have been having with him, to get ready for his fast approaching teenage years, and of course instigated (rather, instructed) by Missus to do so, spiced up with statements like "If you don't 'connect' with him now, what will happen during his teenage?", I asked him if he would like to join me for one round around the apartment. Even if he hesitatingly agreed to join me, we had a brief stroll of say 30 minutes. Among other things, we ended up going down my memory lane where I gave him a glimpse of my schooling journey of 15 years.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels
Since my father worked his entire professional life in a transferable job, it was imperative that my count of cities and schools would not be limited to a small, single-digit number like many of the privileged folks around me have had. As a matter of fact, my schooling life took me to 5 cities, 6 transfers and 10 schools.

Here are some more fun facts about my schooling days:
  • My stays at a single school have ranged from just about 5 months (yes, unbelievable to a few folks I have told about it) to a maximum of 3 years.
  • There was a particular span when I attended 3 different schools in 3 different cities over a period of 10 months.
  • The classes I have been a part of ranged from a size of 2 students to 60 students.
  • My schools have been housed in a first-floor flat of 600 sq. ft. area to a 49 acres campus.
  • I have studied in a school which was established in the year 1892, and was also a part of the founding batch of a school established in the year 1981.
  • I have attended a school which had the word "mandir" in its name, and at least a couple of schools having a church on campus.
  • The modes of transport I used throughout my schooling life include my own cycle, the maid's husband's cycle (with me sitting on the horizontal rod in front, and my sister sitting as pillion), a horse-drawn tonga, my dad's scooter, school bus and of course all the way on foot.

While I have continued to share many anecdotes of my schooling life with him, a few specifics of a particular school that stand out (and instigated an are-you-kidding-me reaction from him) merit a special mention here just because the two years I spent in that school will always remain etched in my memory.

Photo by Dids from Pexels
  • The school was 1 of the only English 2 medium schools in the district head-quarters we were staying in. The other school didn't cover education for my class.
  • The school had 2 buildings - 1 for classes from Nursery to 3rd / 4th Standard, and the other, around a km down, where remaining classes were conducted in a 3-room flat.
  • Other 'facilities' in the second building included a TV Training Institute on the same floor, and a Government office on the ground floor.
  • I was 1 of the only 2 students in my class, and hence we shared the 'classroom' with another class across the partition, and an office table for the administrator.
  • My 'class' was a Maruti Van seat, with the teacher sitting right across the long desk, just about 15 inches away from us, and of course no black-board.
  • We were upset that our class strength went down by 33%, from 3 to 2, in the middle of the academic year, and then were delighted that it increased by 100% the following year.
  • When all 4 of us used to be present on the same day, it used to be a logistical nightmare - most of those days, we got a "self-study", which we used to convert into "group-study", spent sprawled across the slides in the adjacent public park.
  • The commendable part of the school was that our previous batch, having 5 students in Standard 8th, had as many as 3 merit holders at the state level.

P.S: To bloat the number of schools, I have taken the liberty of counting 1 school twice where I joined back after a gap of seven years. And have also counted another school twice which actually went through a name-change and an address-change while I was still a student. Mercifully, the school which changed its board affiliation from state board to C.B.S.E while I was a student has been counted just once 😈. The number also excludes the "engineering school" and the "business school" I attended. The other exclusion - When I was pursuing my engineering studies and later on my management studies, my father added 2 more new cities, with 3 more transfers in the list.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Bees come visiting

My apartment's proximity to an open army area has multiple positives. While the year-round greenery (well, almost!), accompanied with the myriad bird species (no, this is not limited to the pandemic induced lockdown period only) are certainly great to have, there is no risk of the excellent view of the horizon getting blocked because of any real estate construction. Of course, these positives become more prominent when you stay on the 18th floor of the apartment, as I do. However, one tends to forget all these when, every now and then, the same proximity to the greenery is held responsible for bee hives coming up in one of the buildings. And this gets exacerbated when the society office suddenly decides to get rid of the huge bee hive right below the neighbor's window, typically in the late evenings when you are just about taking the long awaited break. The society office apparently has a very different way of improving the quality of time we spend as a family - they make the bee family visit us.

Being a consultant for almost two decades now (yes, I know I am old), defining a standard operating procedure for anything and everything comes very naturally to me. Having a maturity assessment done for any of the activities comes equally naturally. Since the bee family visits me very frequently, having an SOP and maturity assessment in place to minimize their visit time helps us in extending a consistent level of hospitality to the guests. Well, we do believe in अतिथिदेवो भव, don't we?
There are certain variations we can expect to encounter - be it the size of the visiting family (we have seen a number from 1 all the way upto 6), their level of frustration, their plan to manifest their anger or for that matter, their reason for visiting us (it can be as simple as yearning for some artificial light) and the timing of the visit - we seem to have perfected the art of managing these. Their repeat visits, every fortnight or so in the peak season, is a testimony to the quality and consistency of our hospitality. Without further ado, let me share some snippets of our IP (well! don't expect me to share the complete procedure - isn't it a trade secret?).

First and foremost, you need to be adept at confirming the arrival of the guests. The distinct sound of either the guests hitting the glass door, in an identifiable pattern, or if they have already entered, then the obvious buzzing sound coming from even the remotest corner of the house - it needs experience and minute observation to develop this skill. Key here is to get in an action mode before the guests start hitting the tube-light in the room you are sitting in, and of course much before the guests decide to leave a mark of their love on one of the family members. You will be considered having reached the expert level of maturity when you have anticipated their arrival a couple of minutes in advance. Your family is defining industry leading practices if the kids have noticed some 'untoward movement' in the society in the evening, and have informed you well on time.

Once the status of the arriving party is confirmed, the next course of action is to stop them from entering, in case of higher levels of expertise on the previous step, or stop further additions to the visiting party, if you are not as good. In the former case, the next step is very obvious - close all the slightly open (or the widely open) doors and windows. A minor variation to this is when there is a visiting marriage party, with scores of members - you just need to switch off all the lights and sit tight! If the guests have still managed to enter, making fun of your ineptitude, the first reaction is to curse the family member for keeping something open (the culprit usually is yours truly or the elder son), then plug the gap. Following the sequence - curse, then plug - is critical, else a favorable outcome of the exercise cannot be guaranteed because of the inefficiency induced by the remaining "pressure in the system" (read - Missus' disappointment). This gap is usually the window in my work room, remaining open "accidentally" (well there have been instances when Missus left the kitchen window open, after finishing her hour long conversation with her friend whose kitchen window is right in front of ours - but you know, the bees don't like to take the kitchen route to enter, right?).
After you have successfully limited the size of the visiting party, you need to identify the exact location of the guests and restrict further movement. The location will define whether you restrict the movement by closing the door of the room, or switching off the lights in the nearby rooms, so that the merry making of the guests is restricted to the one source of light they are closest to.
Current location of the guests and the size of the visiting party, along with the current location and ongoing activity of the family members, decides the final action - a mortal combat or a simple chasing away of the visitors. The former option works well when the size of the visiting party is small and the location is deep inside our fortress. Movement of the location towards the outer periphery of the rooms shifts the preference to the chase. If it is dinner time, and the younger one has somehow sensed the urgency of the situation (which most of the time, he does), he would have already ensconced deep inside the farthest room, knowing very well how even a minor error will lead to a sting, either from the visiting bee or from the "resident bee". If this has happened, the combat party is free to use both the options. If not, the much gentler, and slower, second option needs to be executed.
It has taken many hosting experiences over last several years to identify the best weapon of bee destruction to be used in the mortal combat. A rolled up newspaper, while effective in most of the cases, is not very helpful when the target decides to leverage the height of its resting place. Further points are lost when the size of the visiting party is slightly big. The distance is too less for the combat party's comfort level. The easiest and nearest available weapon is the footwear - but to use this, one needs to have a very accurate aim and also needs to ensure that the throw doesn't leave a mark on the wall. Since both are highly unlikely in my family, with past instances of beautiful designs on the wall, this weapon is no longer used. The height problem gets easily resolved if one decides to use the broom - the ease of locating it in exactly the same location every time helps the cause immensely. This was the most preferred weapon till April 2020, when the only broom in the house was used for this purpose, with the end result being all the fibers irretrievably coming out of the clutch. Subsequent repercussions need no imagination - a stopgap arrangement to clean the house, right in the middle of the lockdown since you cannot venture out to get a new one. A badminton racket was used on a couple of occasions, but to no avail for obvious reasons. But we have finally found THE weapon - by far the most effective option, with no repercussions, the owner having no interest whatsoever in preserving it, allowing the best angle to hit, with the right speed, from a right distance - everything so perfect, and made for each other. It is none other than the all-so-humble plastic cricket bat. In cases where the bee party has decided to rest behind the tube light frame, the broom (old one) comes handy in forcing some movement, followed deftly by THE weapon. This also comes handy as a temporary weapon, when THE weapon has mysteriously found its way towards the bottom of the container which has 4 wooden cricket bats, 6 wooden stumps, 2 badminton rackets, the rolled up yoga mat, and a couple of long-handle umbrellas.
When it comes to chasing the party away, it is very important to define the path of movement. Here, we leverage our superior understanding of our enemy's reaction to light, and use it against them. Depending upon the location of the party, the path helps us determine the sequence in which the lights need to be switched off and the multitudes of screens (TV, laptop, cellphone, iPad) need to be turned down or away, as the case may be. Once this is in place, and the soldiers have taken their positions, the plan is executed, with the final step being the door opening ceremony. The visitor making its way towards the light in the lift lobby means the final frontier has been conquered. Before the victory bugle is blown, one final visit to the first step of the exercise is conducted to check and confirm there are no signs of any left over companions of the visiting party.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Decluttering during pandemic

Decluttering has been one of the many trending concepts during the pandemic. While most of it has centered around removing the clutter from the house - those unused artifacts gathering layers of dust on them due to limited use all these years, those long forgotten pairs of jeans (and umpteen number of such unused garments) which you always wanted to wear after shedding those extra pounds of oh-so-loyal weight, those books you have so carefully stacked up in your closet and never bothered to use - there's a long list of such items as potential targets for decluttering. Those who prefer a little serious mode of thinking, got into decluttering the mind - cleanse the thoughts, forgive and forget, prioritize positive thoughts, let bygones be bygones and so on.
Yours truly got down to a different kind of decluttering - target being the 45,000+ unread mails (or for that matter, the 200,000+ mails) in my Yahoo inbox. While I have developed this habit of not giving a lot of importance to this number, and do not dread missing out on any important mail for the simple reason that if it is important, I will be bluntly reminded of its importance on a phone call. But still, the thought of having a "clean" inbox is too tempting, when people around have been doing all sorts of cleaning and boasting about the same on social media.
Having successfully brought down the number of unread mails to ~35,000, I accidentally opened the SPAM folder and, lo and behold, I was mesmerized to see all the unsolicited love and affection showered on me by so many leading brands of the day. I mean it is touching to see five different brands showing their concern for my health by trying to sell me a glucometer, with a 100% cashback. They seem to have somehow figured out that my family medical history and personal eating habits have destined me to acquire one of these. Going one step ahead, there were three others forcing me to avail the 50-80% discount on a full body health checkup - what with all the excessive work I have been clocking for last ten months (unfortunately, the right person, read "the boss", doesn't see that), and the excessive calories Missus has made me consume through the innumerable dishes she has experimented on me during the lockdown. And, as if they came to know about the drop in my fixed take home salary because of the ingenious adjustment and variabilization done by my organization, there are so many remote working job opportunities, assuring me INR 10,000 of extra monthly income just sitting at home. The job sites perhaps got the estimate of variabilization as well as my skills level a bit wrong - I have actually received offers for interesting roles like Entry-level Software Engineer, Insurance Agent, Junior Process Executive, Direct Selling Agent and so on - I swear I have not mentioned any of these skills anywhere on my LinkedIn profile (if that is the source of their "targeted campaigns"). I almost felt like "commenting for better reach" on these mails, but there was no such option available.
Similarly, Tata AIG perhaps picked up my 15 years old Facebook feed and hence has been offering me an immediate renewal of my expiring bike insurance policy. FYKI, I last owned a bike in the first half of the last decade, and with the fantastic job being done by the local administration on maintaining the roads, I have no intention of owning one in the near future. And thank God for small mercies that Missus doesn't spy on my SPAM folder - with the number of mails from Kalyan Matrimony and, giving me a sneak peek into the profiles of brides on their portals - enough to give someone an idea that I am still active on these sites, to stalk or for some voyeuristic pleasures. Another interesting frequent visitor is someone offering me UPSC coaching or a scholarship for a UGC-recognized online BBA degree from Manipal University. They somehow caught hold of my responses in the latest HR Pulse Survey and understood that I am not quite happy with the job I have got after doing my Engineering and MBA, am looking out for alternate career opportunities and am busy reskilling myself, like so many others. Dude, if you are reading this, which I know you are for sure, please note that I have already crossed the eligibility age for UPSC entrance. And more importantly, there is no fun putting these degrees on my LinkedIn profile - I would rather have my Udemy and Coursera certificates up on my profile. That is the pandemic trend, isn't it?
In all this mad rush of helping me set my life right, I really appreciate the efforts put by this group of spammers hell bent on selling me a car insurance without any paperwork, or BAJAJ FINSERV asking me to avail a zero documentation personal loan. I respect you for all you are doing to save the environment, by not using paper in conducting your business. Also thanks to "HDFC Life - no reply" for reminding me to be aware of spurious calls and fraudulent offers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The pandemic post, finally!!

We have finally reached the last month of the year. Needless to say, and for obvious reasons, unlike other years of our lives, this brings a sigh of relief, instead of the usual regret that one more year of our lives is over. But as they say, and perhaps one of the oft repeated statements in such situations, it all depends upon one's perspective.

For the lucky few blessed souls, whose life remained unaffected by the pandemic - no adverse impact on job, little or no impact on income, no fatal infections among near and dear ones, essentials like groceries and basic necessities taken care of - this pandemic brought multiple opportunities to do things they had never done but always wanted to do. Zillions of bytes on the Internet have been taken up by the "thinkers", "innovators", "motivators", "thought leaders", "eternal optimists" or "evangelists", bombarding the lesser mortals on how to make good use of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But, alas! None of these golden words could enthuse me enough to do one thing that helps "keep my sanity", "defuse my stress", "calm down my nerves", "take a break" or "let my creative juices flow". It finally took this quote from a New York based comedian I read in the newspaper a couple of days back for me to stop procrastinating, put a structure to my random thoughts and make my long pending contribution to the blogosphere:

"We're finally at that point in the pandemic where you can regret how you've spent the pandemic."

- By Molly Brenner

Yes, this quote pushed me to question my seriousness about this hobby, and in a way threatened to ask me the question - "If you could not take out time to pen down a couple of dozen blogs in these six months, are you really serious about this?" Of course, I did not want this to be my regret. Sometimes there are small triggers like these which push you out of your reverie. I have been feeling bad that I have not done justice to this hobby for a long time. But I am happy that I am finally ON it. Well, too early to call it out, but isn't well begin as good as half done?

Ever since the pandemic began, I kept on thinking about picking this up. There were the standard ideas (hate to call them ideas though) to write ... ABCDs of COVID, full form of COVID, lessons to be learnt from the pandemic situation, something about God's way (or nature's way) of giving us a "certain" message and so on. On one hand, as I said, these were not exciting ideas. On the other hand, I wanted to write something different, and these topics were already covered in umpteen number of articles or blogs. And even if I started thinking along these lines just for the heck of it, putting "Appreciate what you have" for the first letter in the alphabet, "Exercise regularly" for the next vowel, "Increase your immunity" for the next or C in COVID for Caring or Compassion was too boring. So many people I know found this the best time "to re-skill" (and upload all those Udemy and Coursera certificates on LinkedIn), "to find the purpose / meaning of one's life" (and share their "having reached a stage right next to nirvana"), "to set the past mistakes right" (and make me feel either I have not committed any mistakes in life, or am too shameless to accept them so as to correct them now), "to equally share household chores / financial planning responsibilities with the spouse" (ain't I already doing enough?), "to reconnect with childhood / school / college friends" (and make me feel so unwanted that nobody suddenly reached out to me or remembered me even during this life-threatening pandemic) or "to rediscover and unleash the hidden artist in me" (and remember asking Mommy dear about the unique scenery I had painted which had the unheard of combination of the rising sun, smoke coming out of a hut's chimney, the mountains, the road and the birds flying in the sky). Finally, I decided to just rant about not finding anything to blog about, and get done with it.

In the meanwhile, there were numerous such occasions, when my ruminations were triggered. A frequent one has been the ephemeral nature of resolutions few people made at the beginning of the pandemic. This is when the initial euphoria had subsided and people realized the change was perhaps not so sustainable. Analyzing the transient nature of these resolutions will take me into the realm of preaching, hence resisting the temptation of using that to write another blog.😈

P.S. Well, it has not been so unexciting.  I did put a few tick marks against certain items of my wish list. To begin with, I always wanted to play "find the word" game with my son. Ask is to find words of three or more letters, in any sequence, out of the letters of a long word, say CONSTANTINOPLE. We were around the 325 word mark at the last count. Another one was solving the Einstein puzzles with my family. Boy it was fun! For once, missus was speechless, and I could successfully confuse her. It was great fun sitting with my son, thinking about the puzzles, eliminating options or justifying a particular selection, all day long, sometimes late into the weekend nights. Simply memorable. Then there was one task challenging myself - for one of the virtual fun meetings, I recorded myself performing the famous steps of the Las Ketchup Asereje song. Hats off to the missus again for the motivation. 😍

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why this Kolaveri Di?

"A developed country is not where the poor have cars, but where the rich people take public transport."

Cognizant of the fact that this quote has its origins in a statement made by the Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, an upper middle-class economy, I picked this up from one of the local newspaper articles during my visit to Singapore a few years back. It somehow got stuck in my memory. And now, when I have just spent some time in Hong Kong, my ruminations are humming - "Why this Kolaveri Di?" Incidentally, this song was released and became famous around the time I was frequently traveling to Trinidad & Tobago, more of Trinidad & Tobago, more of a high income developing country, but at the same time contributing equally to this train of thoughts.

No, it is not only about rich people using public transport. It is about the whole attitude. The attitude of behaving oneself on the road. The emotion of being responsible, being disciplined. It is about respecting the coexistence of other human beings around you when you are on the road. It is about courtesy. Not that there are no traffic violations in developed or high income developing countries. It is about the frequency with which you observe such things on the road, and end up making comparisons. Comparisons become more pertinent in case of places like Hong Kong because you experience the same number of heads around, similar population density, similar narrow streets, lack of space to walk, people in a hurry ... so many similarities, but far better when it comes to the experience on the streets. For the sake of this post, let's not bring in the incomparables like the per capita income, literacy, negligible number of two-wheelers and so on.

Overtaking from wrong side, sneaking in after taking the other side of the lane to overtake, obstructing the free-left lane when you want to go straight and unnecessary honking are so common-place in our homeland that your hands itch to take control of the vehicle when the cab-driver in other countries does not do-the-obvious. Icing-on-the-cake are the instances below where your stomach really grumbles, the head shouts out aloud and asks you to get down from the car to whack the offender mercilessly, and make you a proud member of the road-rage-bully club.
    First and foremost are the Ambulance-Obstructionists. These are the nincompoops who do not turn and see which direction is the sound of the siren coming from, who can not care to check whether they are in the ambulance's way and who do not try to figure out if they can do anything to make way for the ambulance. They are ensconced in their own little world, with the ear plugs helping them to remain cut off from such worldly pursuits. A blessing in disguise for them are the traffic cops who will not bother about doing anything to expedite the movement of the poor soul, who, perhaps fighting for life, is still wondering why the ambulance has not taken a wrong side of the road to reach the destination faster. And the entire drama becomes more ridiculous when a select group of good citizens start honking in an unsuccessful attempt to attract the traffic cop's attention and coax him to act, and end up getting stared at because they have disturbed somebody's reverie. Salt on the wound is when you see the same breed shamelessly taking advantage of the ambulance's trail once it has somehow made its way.
      Then come the Snakes-and-Escorts. These are those two-wheeler riders, and some times the big brothers, who, at a traffic signal, find it insulting to stop for it to turn green. Wherever they see some space, or scope of maneuver, they will squeeze in, slithering in a serpentine motion, putting the rear view mirrors and bumpers of the good boys at risk, gifting a scratch here and awarding a dent there, triumphantly making their way through the patient morons, to see the black-and-white flag to be waived at the end of the race. These snakes have close country cousins in the escorts, who, hunting in pairs or groups, go too close to and on both sides of a patiently moving four-wheeler, just to ensure their prey is not targeted by anyone else. You'd feel tears flow down your eyes, the tongue itching to tell them not to give you so much respect, and keep it reserved only for those squadrons you see flying in the skies during the Republic Day parade. Their friendliness becomes all the more profound when the lane width is slightly more than that of the bigger beast they are escorting, and they take it upon themselves to save us from the representatives of our next category, the Right-of-Way Atheists.

      There is a fraternity of non-believers who have utter disrespect for the concept of right-of-way. They only believe in Darwin's Theory. Be it the nonchalant interrupter from the side lane who joins the big lane traffic without waiting for as much as the way given by the other motorists, or our friend coming out of the apartment joining the street traffic straight away without bothering that is is creating chaos. These atheists indeed have a religion with a single motto - Drive to deprive. This reminds me of an  observation in Trinidad and Tobago, where the vehicle getting a shoo in used to blow the horn almost in a silent acknowledgement, just about sufficient to let the other person know about it. Back home, the horn, much louder and longer in duration, is usually blown by the big lane guy, in utter frustration, because the jolly good fellow was just caught by surprise at the audacity of the intruder. However, not every time is the intruder at fault. Think about times when you wait endlessly on the side lanes, seeking permission to join in, and are not allowed because the bully has the right-of-way!

      Last but not the least are the Thankless-Opportunists. These are the champions of shamefulness, and for a change not exactly on the wheels. These are the people who are not obstructed, who are in fact given the right-of-way by certain souls of a fast diminishing breed called Patient-and-Courteous-Drivers. In absence of this breed, it will take the opportunists an eternity to cross the road, or join the traffic, or merge. Thanklessness comes from the fact that there is no acknowledgement to the permission that has been given, risking incessant honks from the innumerable nincompoops behind, some times risking the inflow of some flowery language. A smile helps, but it is more of a smirk, making fun of the courtesy. What is outrageous is the key-chain or the sharp nails, hopefully unknowingly, making their way on the bonnet, or for that matter the far end of the hand craft, kissing your tail light, as if giving you a certificate of appreciation. To top it all, sitting right there at the pinnacle, are the pedestrians, who chose to cross the road, red signal or green, seemingly oblivious of the traffic as if it is the motorists' problem to avoid hitting them, thereby leaving the foot-over-bridge, just a few meters away, questioning its existence.

      And when you experience all this on your way back from a full day in office, kolaveri is inevitable. Isn't it?