The world lost one of its luminaries, someone who abhorred the spotlight but couldn’t escape it because the light of his good deeds was not a flame but a conflagration. You can try to hide the smoke of a lamp, but a forest fire will not be contained. It is amazing to me how often he used to help people and organizations while keeping his name away from the public eye. He believed in doing the right thing for the right reasons, and that help rendered was a reward in itself.
This is where my cousin Sudhir came to the rescue. On our recent flight to Jaipur, our discussion gave birth to a pretty interesting idea on what to write!
Light Spoilers, but nothing that would impact your movie watching experience. There is a TLDR (Too Long, Didnt Read) section at the end for those who only want to read overall verdict.
MY BACKGROUND FOR THIS MOVIE –
Batman Vs Superman (BvS) was announced to much fanfare at Comic Con a few years ago, with a reading of the much loved passage from the comic “The Dark Knight Returns”, where Batman beats Superman.
(Read the comic, its really good, though Batman defeating Superman if Superman does not want to be defeated is bullshit of the highest order.) I’d been excited for the movie since that day, because who wouldn’t be excited to see the two foremost superheroes duking it out on the big screen?
I dont remember the last time I was so disappointed in a movie I had been actively hyped to see. Talk about a let down.
But first, lets talk about the things I liked.
I have loved Pallavi since the day she was born. I think her birth proves that even a 3 year old kid can have feelings of intense protectiveness. In my mind, at that young age, the abiding thought was simplicity itself – “She’s mine. No one mess with her.”
As we both grew up, the differences were readily seen. I was getting older, but she was getting wiser. She was the glue of our life, love for whom bound our whole family together. With her marriage, the glue that held us together may not be present daily, but its impossible to unstick the pages of history she has left behind.
The weird part is that the feelings I have for Saanvii are similar to the feelings I have for Pallavi. Yes, she’s only 3-4 years younger to me, and yes, she is a grown woman (a married woman now!), and yet the need to always guard them from any danger, any difficulty, still remains. While Pallavi may have a bodyguard in chief now in Pratyush ji, I’ll always be two steps behind her, scanning for any upcoming troubles and taking care of them before they confront her, till the end of my days.
My life is utterly, bitterly, incomplete without her daily presence. For someone who is not known for having words fail him, this is truly one time where I dont even know how to describe the maelstrom inside me.
Pallavi is my sister.
She is my life.
I love her.
I wrote my last blog post almost a year ago and have been away from this site since then. The reason is pretty simple.
On my last birthday, over my birthday cake, I made a wish for two things I fervently wanted. One wish was that we find the perfect match for Pallavi, and the other was that I wanted to celebrate my next birthday with my child. I decided as a lark to not post until my next birthday, and then only if both my wishes had come true.
Imagine my joy today that I am able to write today as both my wishes have been fulfilled! In Pratyush ji, we have struck gold, someone who perfectly compliments the diamond that is my sister. And in Saanvii, I have found how much more love I had within me still to give.
Today, I am a happy man. Perhaps not completely content (who is?), but as content as can be. Now its time for the next phase of my life to properly begin.
Last year was my 30th birthday as a man. This year is my 1st birthday as a father. I’m looking forward to the next 12 months and hoping they’re as good as the last 12 have been.
Handy links to previous parts are below for ease of browsing:
I came back to Kolkata in January, 2010 after finishing up my studies. While I knew that my family would start preparing for my marriage, at that time I can honestly state that it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was busy establishing myself and starting work, though that had its own hurdles for me to cross.
I had seen the corporate culture in NYC and it was in stark contrast to India, especially Kolkata. There, meetings were structured, had an agenda, and would start and end on time, usually with a clear plan of action at the end. In India, by contrast, everything was much more free form. Someone would come in for a meeting and spend half an hour chatting about inane things till tea had been had, and the last 10 minutes would be about work, often with no clear objective achieved or plan of action made. It was tough to stomach the absolute waste of time and efficiency this constituted, and yet the vast majority of meetings I attended in various companies were similar in their structure. I have tried to bring some semblance of efficiency into my organization, and though progress has been slow, I’m just glad there has been some.
I started working at a Group company of ours called Indo-Thai. I had been involved in the bidding process while I was in NYC, but working on the ground was definitely far different than reading briefs, notes and Tender Documents. Similarly, building financial models was a much different exercise after spending some time at the airports, seeing how they were run, what the true costs were, and recognizing where we had been either overestimating or underestimating some figure. I toured Jaipur, Lucknow and Amritsar quite frequently in those early months as we started operations, and am happy to state that some of the processes I argued for have today been implemented. While I understand that its difficult to listen to the advice of someone who has just entered the work force, I’m just glad that the systems and processes we put in place in those early months are bearing fruit today. Better late than never!
After Indo-Thai became a known quantity, it was time for me to do something different. We had been approached by a company to give them a loan, but since it was drowning in liabilities, we had refused. They in turn offered to sell us their assets instead of requesting for a loan. We did some due diligence on the subsidiary company they offered and found it to have great potential. The name of the company we purchased was Bihar Rubber Company, and their brand was Duckback. I had known Duckback as a school kid for their school bags and raincoats, and taking care of a manufacturing company was a new challenge for me. I thoroughly enjoyed working with an impressive group of people, none more so than the General Manager and CEO of the company, Mr. Basak. He is a fount of knowledge regarding Rubber product manufacturing and has been a pioneer in this field in his 35-40 year odd career. While currently the company is stuck in some litigations, once they are cleared I have high hopes from this company. Its already a good performer and its future only grows brighter.
I was always involved in Real Estate. It had slowly become our main business and my father had taken care to keep me updated in all the year I was in NYC. I would sit on my mails every night and go through the documents he would send me, either to study, or simply for my information, or for me to work on. When I came back, the transition was very smooth for me as I already had a lot of information about deals, lands, projects and people. I also had a great mentor in my father, who was always generous with his time and his advice and guidance. Everything I have learnt about who to work has been due to him, and everything I do wrong is usually due to me not following him. Then again, we both understand that we are different people and will have clashes of opinion, however he has always given me a fair hearing and a chance to justify my arguments, which is all I ask.
When I was in India for 2007, one of the last things I did work wise was decide the terms of a Tender we were submitting for a prime piece of land. We eventually ended up winning the tender, beating out many established brands. Since the plot was so strategically located, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary on it. Thats when my father asked me to visit the World Trade Center offices in NYC. I would go to their offices and tried to create a rapport. Once I was back in India, I started following up with people at the WTC NYC offices and eventually ended up applying officially for the World Trade Center license. After a year of hectic back and forth, sending documents, letters of recommendations, presentation etc, we finally achieved what we wanted and are the proud holders of the World Trade Center Kolkata license. Like everything we do, we’ll take our time, move when its opportune and delivers something that exceeds expectations.
We have also launched a residential project called Pratham on BT Road. I believe we are the only developers on that entire stretch of road that are providing luxurious living at a price comparable to other projects. We are also the only project that does not compromise on the size of the apartment and provide full size, spacious living instead of asking our customers to live in matchboxes. I’ve been intimately involved in its launch and marketing efforts, and the response to the project has been beyond the goals we had targeted! Saying anything more would be marketing our product and I will refrain from doing so on this forum. Suffice to say, work has been sometimes a cakewalk, sometimes irritating and almost always interesting. Working in India has its advantages, but the way work is done is sadly not one of them in my experience. That is the only blot on my experience, and the perfect combination in my mind would be to work like New York, but in India. We put too much emphasis on inter-personal relationships to solve our problems instead of relying on processes and systems in my view, but things are slowly moving in the direction of a structured way of working, which I heartily welcome and encourage.
I am not going to talk about the work environment of Kolkata, because I was taught as a kid that if I cannot say something good, I should say nothing at all.
While I was working to get Indo-Thai off the ground in early 2010, Pallavi was busy making my Bio-Data. I must compliment Pallavi for this stage, as she compiled all relevant information and produced a beautifully designed Document. I remember thinking that whether or not I got married, at least Pallavi will be able to get a job quite easily in any creative field. Unknown to me, my parents had already received a few Bio-Datas through family members and were sifting through them. I was quite happy being away from the whole process as I had no interest in the journey, only in the destination! I had told my parents to find someone who they would be happy with, as I was quite confident I would be able to adjust with whoever they liked. Still, once in a while a Bio-Data came my way and I was asked to give an opinion. I would usually keep it to myself and relegated my role to be the last approval required, after my whole family had been convinced. Then it would be up to me and the girl, and we found each other compatible, we’d take the final step. Formulating this step-by-step system definitely helped us in streamlining the whole process.
There was an incident in April or May of that year that might be instructive, but I will let that particular cat out of the bag at the end. 😉
While my parents were going through the Bio-Datas they had received, I was busy planning a trip attending the football World Cup being held in South Africa. Matt had gotten a job at UEFA and had kindly let me have an additional ticket he had been given. I flew into SA, hung out with Matt for a week, saw the Semi Finals and Finals, and watched in anguish as first Germany (my first choice) and then Holland (my second choice) were defeated by Spain, who displayed the most boring brand of football ever played. It was a deeply disappointing tournament in terms of the result but an exhilarating experience nonetheless. The people of SA were wonderfully helpful and I fell in love with Cape Town in particular, one of the nicest and prettiest cities I have ever been to. Unknown to me at the time, this was the last trip I would go on as a bachelor, and it was an excellent one!
I remember landing back in India on the 12th or 13th of July and staying in Mumbai for a couple of days for some work. My father was also in Mumbai and we were supposed to fly back to Kolkata on the 16th. The last day of our stay in Mumbai, during breakfast, my father told me that on 18th, some people would be coming to see me. I was totally taken unawares. Surely this had been brewing for a while, and yet I had been told just two days before the first step would be taken! Not that I was particularly worried, as I had no intention of pretending to be someone I was not to impress anyone, and this would be a sort of take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the girls side. My parents didn’t seem to be too worried either and made no special preparations. We would all be who we were, and if that was good enough, things would proceed. If not, that was fine too. Marrying under any pretension would be a fruitless venture in the end and I definitely didn’t want to go down that route.
I still remember that 18th of July, 2010 was a Sunday. I had not been able to go and watch Inception (which had released on the 16th) and was probably more worried about missing the afternoon show if the meeting ran late than the actual meeting itself. I had planned to go watch it with my friends, who didn’t have an inkling what was going on at that point of time, and since most of them were comfortable with an afternoon show, me asking to delay it would invite the inevitable question of ‘Why?’, which I would not be able to adequately answer! The Saboo family came on time and met my parents downstairs. I had been asked to stay upstairs, like a Rapunzel in my guilded castle, until I was needed. Since the gossiping downstairs was taking longer than expected, I opened up my laptop and started replying to my mails that had piled up during my South Africa trip. This itself should indicate how calmly I had taken the whole thing!
Without informing me, suddenly the door of the room opened and I saw my future wife’s family for the first time. We all got seated and had a nice, casual conversation for the next hour and a half. I still do not recollect much of the conversation, except that they all were exceedingly nice to me and made me feel quite comfortable. I remember thinking that if the girl was as wonderful as her family, I would be quite lucky. Unfortunately, she was not. Fortunately, she was better.
When they left, my family decided to sit down and discuss how the meeting went. My Blood Pressure was off the charts by this time as I was worried I would miss watching Inception if I got further delayed. Thankfully, the whole conversation was cut short by a phone call from the Saboo family saying that they thought the meeting went well, and inviting my family to come meet the girl. The thought running through my head was not “Oh snap I’m a step closer to marriage!”, but “Oh good now they wont bother me with questions about the meeting and I can leave for Inception!” This is not to belittle the fact that important things were happening to my life, but to give an indication of how strong my “what will be, will be” attitude was. I’ve always believed that it is futile to worry about the things that are out of my control. I would worry about something if it was in my hands to effect change, and that bridge was still too far at that point of time for me to worry about crossing it.
After this meeting, things moved like a boulder rolling down a hill. My parents went to see the girl and were highly impressed. I must note that they never put any pressure on me regarding whether I say Yes or No. They did their part and were content to let me do mine. They were also, however, quite serious about me taking it seriously, and I would have to back my judgment properly before they accepted it. A meeting was set up neither in Kolkata nor in Jaipur, but in Delhi, so that both families could go through the process without our whole social circle finding out.
We were all sitting in the Drawing room of our Farmhouse when their cars rumbled to a stop on the Porch. I decided to go out to greet them when I saw the back door opening and a girl come out wearing a green salwar suit. I walked out of the house, and Shradha walked into my life. We spent a hour or so sitting with both the families, and then spent a good 40 odd minutes separately. I was impressed even then by her honesty and clear minded focus on what she wanted from life. We met again the next day over lunch and talked privately for 15 minutes. We both left for our respective homes the next day. I wouldn’t meet her again till I was engaged to her.
My parents were eager to know what I had thought of the meetings, and whether we should pursue further. I quietly gave them the go ahead. Being expressive has not been my strong suit (much to Shradha’s chagrin), and they knew enough with the little I said that I was happy with the match. My grandparents were in Khachariyawas (our native village in Rajasthan) at that time and were returning soon. It was decided that they would finally go and meet Shradha (and Shradha’s family members, the ones who hadn’t met me, would see me as well) on the 24th of August, 2010, which was an auspicious day. My grandma had asked me simply before going “theek hai kya ladki?” (is the girl all right?) and I had replied with a smile “Theek hi hai.” (she’s decent enough). The families met at Rambagh palace and after a couple of hours together, the issue was settled. The Dhoot and Saboo families had decided to become relatives!
There were some rituals that were done that night for Shradha and then we all sat down for dinner. That was my first inkling that something had gone horribly wrong. Apparently, no one had told the Saboo family that I wasn’t a big eater, and they coaxed me to eat like goats are fattened before Eid. Dear lord, I have never had someone feed me so much food with so much love. They would be so polite and saying no to them was so tricky that eventually I turned to Shradha in my desperation and asked her to please stop her family! She said “But these are just my cousins, my father’s generation hasn’t even started yet.”
There were butterflies in my stomach that night, though whether from getting engaged or from the food, I still do not know.
The next morning, I visited their home and my rituals were completed. This was also when I decided to update my relationship status on Facebook. This was when all my friends found out that I had gotten engaged, as I had told them I was going to Amritsar for some Indo-Thai work. Since this happened frequently enough, no one had batted an eyelid. When news reached that I was in Jaipur getting engaged, they exploded and the choicest words were flung in my direction. I had enjoyed surprising them a lot and their good natured ribbing as their way of getting me back didn’t bother me. I wont talk about lunch at their house, nor of any food related topics at all after this. Suffice to say, they firmly believe that the path to a mans heart is through his stomach, and they have done their level best to turn the path into a highway.
The next day, me and Shradha met separately for the first time as an engaged couple. She kept wondering how I could remain so calm and casual in the face of all the excitement. I guess that was her first experience of me not getting worked up about most things in life. I’m a pretty relaxed guy usually, and tend to keep calm in crisis. Not that getting married was a crisis, but you know what I mean.
The marriage date was fixed for the 2nd of December. (To those following my recollections from the beginning, remember the prediction I had made to my friends in NYC back in January of 2008? Heh.) Functions were held in Kolkata and Jaipur by the respective families, with the actual wedding taking place in Aamby Valley. I was kept completely out of the wedding planning by my parents and my only responsibility was to show up to the functions properly attired and on time. That was fine by me as I was anyways spending most of my time on the phone. The marriage went off without a hitch and soon we were Mrs. and Mr. Dhoot. There isnt enough space to mention everyone who worked so hard during the marriage, but I would like to mention my cousins, who gave their all and practiced really hard for the Sangeet. I was genuinely touched and I could see they were doing it out of their love for me. My sister, of course, was the show stopper, as was Krishna (Shradha’s brother).
In my life so far, marrying Shradha was perhaps the best decision I have taken yet, and definitely the happiest moment of it. I was surprised then (and sometimes wonder even now) what she saw in me to lead her to believe she’d be happy to marry me. She is astonishingly beautiful, wise beyond her years, gracious to a fault and unfailingly devoted to my family. She has been a wonderful wife, a trusted confidant and a rock for me to steady my ship with. She not only knows how to read my mood but also how to change it. She knows when to take control and when to cede it, maintaining a fine balance in our relationship that I never could. In fact, I would argue that most of the work done to keep our relationship strong has been done by her, while I have stood by like a silent spectator, marveling at all the things she does to keep me happy and content. She’s always remembered to celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays whereas I have maintained a good track record of sitting on my ass doing nothing until the last moment, when I suddenly realize that there isn’t enough time and start rushing around like a panicked headless chicken. She coordinates with my friends, makes plans, arranges gifts, plans surprises… I could go on and on. My only solace is that I had told her exactly the kind of person I was, non-expressive and a bit of a dolt about these things, before we were engaged, but I know that doesn’t absolve me from all my sins!
I’ve also had a chance to get close to her family, and the love and affection they shower on me sometimes feels undeserved. They have been a great support system. Shradha and I have had a wonderful married life so far, parrying our ups and downs like every other couple, and yet I am thankful every day that I married her. It isn’t often that you find the person who perfectly complements your personality and I consider myself a lucky man that I found Shradha. There are so many ways in which she surpasses my expectations, and she does it with such regularity that its stopped being surprising by now.
I’ll stop talking about her, or I’ll never stop talking about her.
As for the future, as the song goes…
I never know what the future brings,
But I know you’re here with me now,
We’ll make it through,
and I hope you are the one I share my life with,
and I wish that you could be the one I die with,
and I’m praying you’re the one I build my home with…
I hope I love you all my life.
If you’re not the one – Daniel Bedingfield.
P.S. I’d promised I would let the cat out of the bag at the end, and I will keep my word.
In April or May of 2010, before any concrete steps regarding my marriage had happened, my father received an email from a relative regarding a girl and the possibility of a match. I found out about it the next day when my mother entered my room in the morning and asked me to log into Facebook so she could see photographs of the girl. I saw her profile and read the email our relative had sent, and that was that. A couple of days later, I met my friends who were all of marriageable age and the conversation, naturally, turned to marriage prospects. I told Avishek with mock seriousness that “Boss I think I know who I will end up getting married to.” When he asked why I felt that, I had no idea what to say. I just said that we had just received her Biodata a couple of days ago, and I actually knew nothing about her at all. He was incredulous and asked me which girls Bio-Data it was. I replied…
“Its some girl named Shradha Saboo in Jaipur.”
What can I say… God works in mysterious ways.
The first thing that hits you when you land in New York is the air crackling with energy. Everyone is busy doing something or the other, and no one cares a whit what you are doing and with whom. The no-one-has-time-to-judge-you-24/7 freedom of New York was a refreshing change from the stifling societal situation of Kolkata. I had never been to the US before, and that doubtless added to my excitement.
New York (I’m gonna stick to NYC after this) is a difficult city to explain. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it is all things to all people. If you are a loner, you will feel right at home. If you are a party animal, you will find your mecca here too. If you want to raise a family, you will find like minded people who are in the same boat as you (namely, wanting to enjoy all the benefits of NYC life without going bankrupt raising kids there.) The defining characteristic of NYC for me, though, is its energy. The city positively oozes a metropolitan, industrious personality. It almost seems to me that living in NYC automatically improves your body’s metabolism by 10%. The city has… how should I put it… speed! You walk fast, you talk fast, you work fast. In this particular context, it is almost the exact opposite of Kolkata.
NYU is a microcosm of the city. A university that caters to more than 50,000 students from all walks of life. Whites, Blacks, Jews, Gays, Middle aged men, child prodigies, pregnant mothers, social activists, the incredibly wealthy, the dirt poor… all form a part of the NYU fabric. It helps that it is situated in a location that is the envy of almost every other college in the world (yeah, I include Columbia in that.)
My parents had come to drop me off and were understandably hesitant about the lifestyle they were seeing everywhere. My first year, I roomed with three other kids and nothing could tell my parents more clearly what NYU was all about then their meeting with them. The first guy was a Jewish kid whose goal in life seemed to be to annoy as many people as he could with his conscientiousness. The second roommate was a short kid from Texas who was gay and wanted to become an actor. The third dude was a Bisexual black intellectual who was already an accomplished writer. I rounded out the quartet of our room, an international student who drinks too much coke and is always on his computer. I would love to say that we were the most multicultural and ethnically, sexually, intellectually diverse group of people living in a flat, but this was really par for the course instead of something our of the ordinary at NYU.
I distinctly remember my first day at Stern (the Business School of NYU.) It was Orientation Day and I fell into conversation with a Brazilian girl who had been assigned into the same group I had been assigned in. Her name was Gianna, and I’m happy to still count her as a good friend. I also looked from a distance at an indian dude who looked weirdly asian and had brown hair with red and golden highlights. He would turn out to be one of the closest friends I would make at NYU, but that wasn’t till a couple of years later. All students were also asked to fill out a questionnaire that had questions like – Where do you see yourself at the age of 30? What do you want out of your college experience? We handed them back, and didn’t see them again until graduation day, when we were all given our sheets back! It is an excellent idea, and I loved reading what I had written 4 years ago. I doubt many people remembered this questionnaire and we all were pleasantly surprised!
Classes were conducted completely differently from my experience in India. In subject after subject, I was taught how to think instead of what to think. I was a little nonplussed at first, having never had to think critically for myself, but I soon grew to love the system. I must thank the Indian Education System though, and especially my school, for preparing me well for College. My first year I pretty much coasted along, as I was well prepared for subjects like Calculus, Economics etc. I also took courses in things I didn’t even know were studied. One of the required liberal arts courses was called “Conversations of the West”, or Con West in short, which was about reading, analyzing and interpreting the great books of western literature. I took the Section which focused on Greek Classics, and it was a completely new field for me and quite eye opening. The flair and method shown by old Greek Poets like Homer was astonishing, as were the intense and deep philosophical outpourings of Plato. Another class I (and everyone else at NYU) hated was the required ‘Writing the Essay’ class. We would have to submit some assignment or the other every week, and the writing had to be of good enough standard to pass muster. I wrote about all sorts of things, including the Mona Lisa and how it reminded me of my Maternal Grandma, a walk in the park with descriptions of everything around me, my understanding of Death, etc etc. It was boring, it was routine, but I find now that it was also necessary. It taught me to give my thoughts some semblance of order, taught me how to write passable prose, and also how to work under deadlines. We all came out better writers after this class, but its definitely the most hated class in all of NYU.
I didn’t make too many friends easily in the beginning. I had trouble relating to the experiences of other students, who had all traveled more, seen more, experienced more than I had. In time, I got close to a bunch of people. Varun Kapoor was a great dude from Mumbai, as was Anand Piramal, who later transferred out to UPenn. I also hung out with Rajiv Harjani, one of the nicest people I have ever met. Its true when they say that good people are called by God before their time, and so it was with Rajiv. The memories he left his friends with are priceless. Haresh Kishore was a chilled out guy from Chennai. Everything was funny to him, and I almost never saw him lose his cool or be flustered. He was permanently high on life. Rakesh Mani was the intellectual of our group. He was the type who would discuss scholarly articles and worry about the condition of the world.
It was with these kids I roomed in my second year. We transferred from Third North to Water Street on the south side of Manhattan. We were on one of the higher floors, 24th or 28th, and we had beautiful views of the South Street Seaport and beyond. Education wise my first two years were excellent, and I scored the highest grades possible in almost all my classes. I was also the quiet, studious type in those years, and usually applied myself to make sure I was in the good graces of all my teachers. I am glad to state that this happy state of affairs continued throughout college, ending with the Dean of Stern, Professor Sally Blount-Lyon, writing me a glowing recommendation for admission to MBA courses.
I had decided I wanted to travel and make the most of every opportunity NYU threw at me. With that in mind, I applied for and was accepted to spend the second semester of my Sophomore (second) year in London, where NYU had a study abroad program. I lived in Crawford House, near Farringdon, and it was a 25 minute walk to the main NYU building at Bedford Square. I used to cross the public library on my way and got a monthly subscription there. In fact, one of the things that most fascinated me was the library of NYU. Called Bobst library, someone had jumped off the top floor during the first few weeks of my first year, and since then they had installed tall glass on the stairways and corridors overlooking the atrium. The small library of my school next to the Bobst Library looked like a snowball in front of an avalanche. I must have checked out at least 400 books during my undergraduate years from Bobst. I maintained the same schedule in London, checking out around 50 books during my 4 months stay. London was definitely a lot of fun, though I was none too impressed with the city as such. What made the stay so much fun was the group of people I hung out with.
My flight got delayed a couple of hours so I reached London late. The bus taking the students to their dorms had already left, so I took a cab down to my dorm. As I got down, an Indian kid skipped out of the building and told me “Yo Piyush you’re with us!”. That might possibly be my first interaction with Chirag. Matt was right behind him, a white guy in shorts with a weird stubble that never seemed to go away, however much he tried. He was good natured without being a pansy, and knew how to have fun. The dude living below us was Amir, and he was, and still is, one of the funniest guys I have encountered. He had tons of stories, the large majority of which were exaggerated beyond belief, but the amount that were true was still mind boggling. If you wanted a story about trying to follow a police car while driving drunk, he would oblige. If you wanted to know what it felt like to jump on cars at 3AM and get their roofs dented, he’d done it. In fact, if you could think it, either he or someone he knew would have done it. The chances of him having done something was directly proportional to how outrageous the thing was.
With a group like this, London was far more fun that I had thought. I remember going to Rosebury Kebab late at night for burgers and discussing whether the owners were part of a sleeper cell (dont ask, it was completely dumb and yet completely plausible.) We used to go to a bar called Printworks which had turned into the designated hangout spot after classes got over every evening and eat some Indian food. I remember accompanying some friends on the Yellow Line Pub Crawl and having to help support them back to our dorms. I went with a friend to see The Mousetrap, which was pretty amazing. It was the longest running show in history at that point in time. I also enjoyed finally talking about cricket to people who seemed to know what the sport actually was, after two years of getting blank looks in the US when I mentioned Sachin Tendulkar!
Classes were pretty chilled out, so we had a lot of time on our hands and used it to get into all sorts of trouble. One night, the printer of our admin building was somehow ‘misplaced’. The next day, an email was circulated to all NYU London students regarding the ‘theft’ of a printer from the admin building. It was found, back in its usual spot, the next day. Another time, I helped a few people carry an 8 foot long bar table (with attached benches on both sides!) back to our dorms. This was at 3 in the morning. When the security guard asked us what the table was for, Amir nonchalantly replied “Its a birthday gift for a friend, actually.” The poor guy helped us carry it inside. Of course, he found out the truth the next day and we had to send it back with our profuse apologies. Drunk friends are the best people to have spontaneous adventures with.
The summer of 2005 was not a happy time for me, and I will be eternally grateful to friends like Chirag, Matt and Amir for cheering me up. I met a lot of great people in London and those friendships carried over once I came back to NYC. Pavni, Meena, Amanda, Larissa, Jenna, Jenn, Richa, Amit, Naveen, Neerav, Lenny, Manasa, Kinjal, Amita… the list goes on and on. Of course, many of these guys had nicknames too. PK/Pavneezy, Meenu, Larizzle, The Blumkin, Richardina, Wombat/Wombino, Navi… Chirag was Hugo, Matt was always Horseman, Amir was Ballack, and I was Pi, as in the mathematical term, and the four of us together were the Sonic Breaker.
The above paragraph alone contains a hundred stories.
Things accelerated from there. Classes got harder and the courses became more advanced, but Chirag and I quite easily maintained our reputation as Finance geeks. I had tons of friends by this time and usually had something or the other to distract me pretty much every evening. I used to go out almost every night and would meet new people, make friends as well as stories, and study hard during the day. It was in NYC that I really understood the meaning of work hard and party harder. I would see executives in suits leaving a club at 4 in the morning and still reaching their offices at 8 for work. It was a crazy, uncompromising attitude towards making the most of the life you are given, and I quite enjoyed it. NYC is the best place in the world to taste every cuisine, meet people from every country in the world and experience things that just aren’t available anywhere else.
Stern used to host the International Study Project where the whole class was sent to a foreign country to study its business environment as well as be exposed to different cultures. I was in a class that went to Germany, and my company was Schering, the pharmaceutical giant. The day we were supposed to go to Schering’s office, we opened up our morning newspapers to see the headline – “Merck makes play to acquire Schering.” Obviously, all the preliminary due diligence of the company we had done as well as all the questions we had prepared was for naught, as the whole outlook of the company had changed. Of course, at Schering, they weren’t going to answer any of our questions related to the takeover/merger due to all sorts of non-disclosure agreements they had signed. Amir and Me were in the same group, and we ended up changing our whole presentation to focus on whether Schering should let Merck take them over. We decided that they should… and our recommendation came true in the future. By the way, we won amongst all the groups of Germany, and went to the finals with two other groups who had gone to the other two countries. In the finals, our group came second in the ISP competition, and I still feel we were robbed. I still remember the recommendation of the two other groups, and ours was bang on the money while theirs wasn’t.
Pretty soon, my time left at NYU started dwindling. I had taken extra classes in the Summers, and was ending School a full semester early. I left in December of 2006, but not before throwing a going away party. I held it at 40/40, Jay-Z’s club. The peeps there were kind enough to give me a room after looking at how large the guest list was, and I was told later by the hostess that 213 people had come, far more than I had anticipated. That was a far larger number of friends than I had thought in 2003 I would have at the end of college. I can never thank my NYU classmates for being great friends.
I next got back to NYU in April 2007 for graduation, giving a pleasant surprise to many people by arriving early. I enjoyed the Stern Formal party as I got to meet all my friends again, and it didn’t hurt that I was looking and feeling pretty good, even if I say so myself. I hate almost every picture taken of me, and yet that day I couldn’t get a bad picture taken! Our graduation was held at Madison Square Garden, and I was happy that my parents had come down to US for it. Walking up the steps to the stage, getting my certificate, hugging the Dean and then throwing our caps in the air… that was a bitter sweet moment. This was the culmination of 4 years of hard work, and I was admittedly proud of my grades, but I was also sad that my NYC adventure had come to an end. Then again, all good things in life come to an end, and I was glad I had that experience. It made me more social, turned me into a critical thinker, and helped me broaden my horizons and dream bigger, better and farther. While I will always credit my family members and the values they inculcated in me for making me the person I am today, my time spent at NYU was instrumental in shaping my mindset and thought process. Like I said previously, I have never regretted going to NYU.
As soon as I was back, I started working with my father. Things seemed to be going smoothly, until one day I heard my grandma talking to someone about my marriage, and how it was time, and that they might start the process soon, etc. Talk about a shock to the system. I had planned on working for a couple of years before going back to do my MBA, but I moved my plans forward. I talked to my Dean at NYU, and she said if I could wait a couple years till I had come work experience, she would be happy to see me apply back to NYU, but work experience was a mandatory requirement. Unfortunately, I wanted out of this situation, and I wanted out NOW, as I simply wasn’t taking any chances, however remote they might be. I also thought that it might be a good idea to get my education wrapped up asap so I could get into work full time quicker.
I gave my GMAT on the day of the Inaugural T20 world cup final between India and Pakistan. I had to miss watching the final live as my exam was in the evening, during the same time the finals would be played. Since it was computerized, I got my results immediately, and was happy to see I had scored 760/800, a score good enough to land me once again in the 99th Percentile. I have always been blessed in such things. As soon as I walked out of the testing center, I could hear fireworks all over the city. I knew India had won, and though the surprise element of watching the taped final was lost, my elation at both the events of the last couple of hours knew no bounds!
I had applied to colleges that I knew would waive the work experience requirement if they got a good enough application, and top of my list were Fordham and Pace (both were in NYC and had good MBA programs). I was lucky enough to not only get admitted to both colleges but also to receive scholarships from both, and eventually decided to attend Fordham with a Presidential Scholarship that took care of all expenses for the whole of the first year. I had also given the CAT and gotten an extremely good result, but by the time the results came out I was already on my way to NYC to celebrate New Years with my friends!
Fordham was very different from NYU. I was almost always the youngest person in every class I attended, and there was much less socialization as my classmates were older than me. Almost all of them were working, and some were married and had kids. I used to attend the birthday parties of my classmates at NYU, whereas at Fordham I was invited to attend the birthday parties of my classmates kids! Thankfully, a lot of my NYU friends were still in NYC and I hung out with them for the next two years. I did meet a bunch of people accidentally and they have been good friends ever since. Arpit and Ankit Goel, Karan Darda, Sanam Agarwal, Prerna Jhunjhunwala nee Sarda, Aanchal… I dont talk to them as much as I would like to but I know that we will always pick up from where we left off whenever we meet next.
My last semester, I tore a ligament in my left leg. It was almost impossible for me to walk for a couple of weeks. I was living on 26th and 7th with Prashant, the best roommate a guy could ask for. He helped me out a lot, putting ice on my leg, helping out around the apartment while I was out of commission, giving me company while I was stuck at home on the bed. He’ll be one of the first people I call whenever I next visit NYC.
Soon enough, my time in NYC was over. I was sad at leaving a place I had come to love as my own, a city I identified with far more than my birthplace, and yet I was also excited to start the next phase of my life.
On the 1st of January, 2008, once I had landed in NYC to start at Fordham, I had made a prediction to my friends that I would get married in either November or December 2010. I was now back in Kolkata, in January of 2010, and it was time to see if that prediction would come true!
As usual, many things have been left out. Here’s a small sampling of stuff left out on the cutting floor:
My trip to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with Shweta’s family, and my role in persuading her to pursue a different course of action on the urging of her parents.
My ridiculous cell phone bills in the beginning, before I figured out a far better plan.
My 24 hour bus ride to watch the Indianapolis F1 grand prix, and the 12 hour car ride and 6 hour bus ride to get back an hour before an exam.
How I didn’t speak to my roommate for a whole semester my freshman year.
Attending a Sorority’s graduation party with Matt and Jenn when Jenna kindly asked me to tag along!
Sleeping in a suit in Chirags bed.
Becoming fanboys of Aswath Damodaran.
The incident in the lift lobby at Palladium while Wombino suddenly walked by… and giving him a high five behind my back. Its the sort of cool shit you see in movies. Oh, you had to be there.
Berlin. For those who know, the word is enough.
Frickin Crocker Liu.
How I (completely accidentally) hung out with Arpit and Ankit Goel on Diwali, and only found out how closely connected we were when they came down to see me off!
St. Patricks day, 2008-09.
Harry Potter. Denied. Fish Bowl. My journey through Madison Square Park and conversation with Police Officers. All these events took place over a period of 6 hours.
The story of the Dhoot Booth and crying waitresses.
The one time I almost stabbed an 80 year old man with a plastic knife.
The Village Pourhouse passport.
Watching a TI concert at Hammerstein from the back, and halfway through it, figuring out I couldnt see the stage because of all the weed smoke in the middle wafting upwards.
I could go on and on… you get the picture. See you all tomorrow.
I have also mentioned only a few of the people who have been an integral part of my life, as writing about everyone I remember would turn this blog into a novel (not that I promise this wont be novel-length!) This is unedited, stream of consciousness writing, simply because I know I will leave out all kinds of stuff if I spend more than a minute on thinking about what I have written. I only promise to be honest about whatever I write.
I’m including some handy links for ease of reading:
I was born into a loving family on 20th December, 1984. At that point in time, we used to live in an apartment in Howrah, small enough to be called cozy and large enough for me to play around and get injured again and again in. My grandparents and parents were amazing and I have seen innumerable photos of them teaching me how to play, giving me gifts, bathing me, scolding me, feeding me etc etc. Not all memories of photographs are good, though. My mother had an obsession of dressing me up in weird clothes (using a rajai as a pallu and making me pout with a finger on my chin) and making me do weird stuff (kissing a barbie doll) while she took photos. And no, I am not posting those photographs here. She still laughs about them, and I still flush with embarrassment every time they are mentioned.
I dont think I was a very mischievous kid, though my elders take pains to point out how mistaken I am in that belief. I will concede, however, that I was always a bundle of energy and at times may have been a handful for my parents. However, I was usually quite obedient and didnt trouble my mother much. Most of the growing up I did was due to my mother. She was always there to guide me, to teach me, and to take care of my every need. I know she took many pains to make sure I was healthy and for that I can never thank her enough.
My grandmother was the disciplinarian of our house in those times. I would usually sleep with her at night. Later on, once I started going to school, she was the one who would bathe me and get me ready. That was quite an experience, as I still marvel how a child can be ready, from waking up to going inside the school bus after having his breakfast, within 20 minutes flat. My grandma was an iron lady then, and still is one now.
My father also sacrificed a lot of his happiness for the sake of his children. He worked very, very hard to make sure his family was well provided for. I also remember him taking time off to celebrate our birthdays. He would always look quite dapper in those family functions, though most of the photos of him at those functions are with Pallavi, my sister. She has always been his favorite, a fact I am quite used to by now, but I know his love for me is unconditional and that others do not recognize the small ways in which I sense it as his actions are never overt.
My grandfather is the greatest man I have ever met. I have only heard stories of his struggle, but I know for a fact that if I was ever in his situation, I would never be able to accomplish even 10% of what he did. I marvel at his persistence, his capacity for hard work and his uncompromising principles. I have never known him to do something ethically wrong. I feel like there are a lot of similarities between his nature and mine. We are both closet introverts who act as extroverts, we both feel bad if any family member is inconvenienced for our sake, and we both tend to keep a lot of things bottled up inside of us. With me, however, he was as free with his time as he was with his advise. He taught me how to play cricket, how to hold a badminton racquet (captured in a photo by my mother, of course!), how to cycle etc. I love a photograph we have of me, a tiny kid, jumping on his stomach while he is laughing, looking at me with happiness. There really aren’t words fit to describe how much I love him.
Which brings me to my sister. I often say that the happiest years of my life were the first three, as after that my sister was born. In reality, its a joke, and a pretty poor one at that. She was always the laadli of the house and everyone pampered her, but none more than me. She was always either in Papa’s godi or running along after mummy, holding her sari. She was perhaps a little more shy than I was with strangers, and would hide behind papa or mummy when others would be around. We used to play a lot as kids and it was always me with the ball, and she with the bat. My parents would usually take her side and would urge me to bowl. Of course, once she was out, she had a million other things to do rather than bowl to me while I batted. I remember once that I had become very angry at her (for she could be very, very annoying if she wanted to be) and would not come out of the room to play badminton with her. She wrote an extremely sweet letter to me, in her small, crooked, childish handwriting, saying she was sorry and would I please come out to play with her (Mummy was the emissary she sent with the letter to mollify me). She has the baffling ability to disarm me with a sweet gesture or word, as I can never understand how she does it. We fight like all siblings do, but she is one of the most clear hearted people I know with no malice towards anyone, and I love her a lot.
My buas filled the role of the pampering aunt to a T. While my elder bua was married when I was a kid, she would always make me feel important when she visited by spending time with me, however little time she had. She was also the person who went through a lot of struggles in her life and came out stronger for it, and that was a strong influence on me. My younger bua was always filled with mirth and merriment, and her nature was infectious to someone like me, who was naturally inclined to be boisterous. I spent more time with her as a kid as she got married when I was about 6-7 and would marvel at how beautifully she danced (like I marvel today at how amazingly graceful Pallavi is at dancing.) I would be the one to go and pick them up from their homes when they were coming to stay with us for a weekend or a function, and their in-laws would always pamper me as well. My younger buas family members would make me recite the whole Bheeshma dialogue from Mahabharat as payment of letting my Bua go with me. I would always oblige, as there would be much laughter and chocolates as part of the payment!
My whole family has always been musically inclined. My grandfather would sing for us and he was excellent. In fact, he still sings beautifully, though he gets short of breath nowadays. However, he has an excellent grasp of sur and taal, and he has given the same gift to his three children. My buas were both very good singers, and my younger bua was also a great dancer. My father is an excellent singer, something that perhaps many people may not know. My mother sings beautifully as well, so it was quite obvious that even a talentless hack like me would enjoy singing. I am nowhere near as good as they are (my sister got those qualities, while I lost out!) but this is the origin of my love for singing. My grandfather really wanted me to learn tabla, and I am happy to say that I followed his wishes. I learnt tabla for many years, eventually getting good enough to perform in front of the Governor for a program.
My constant companions in Howrah were my two other buas, Sonu bua and Monu bua. They were always over at our house and, since they were elder to me, would always good naturedly boss me around. For a kid like me, they were super smart, super obedient, super liked by everyone, and super fun to be around with. In fact, while my mother always encouraged me to read, a large part of the credit for my love for books must go to Sonu Bua. In my formative years, she gave me a gift of the box set of Sherlock Holmes (all 4 novels and 56 short stories) for my birthday, and my interest was well and truly piqued. I devoured them from end to end within days, and I knew I had found a wonderful hobby, one that is with me to this day. That was also my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, one of the characters that has influenced me, my thinking, my mindset and my life in no small measure. That box set of Sherlock Holmes is yellowed and well thumbed through, but in great condition and still a treasured part of my Library.
When I was 5 or 6, we shifted to Salt Lake. A large house gave a kid like me many more opportunities to get injured, and I took advantage of them to the fullest. I remember I used to have a yellow cycle with three tyres, which I used to race in circles in Howrah. Once I got a little older, I got a red cycle with only two tyres, while Pallavi got the yellow cycle (she’s always complained of getting my hand me downs as a kid. Now she has more stuff in one cabinet than I have collected in my whole life.) There is a great photograph of me and Pallavi on our cycles, with Udita (my older buas daughter) in my arms as an infant. I would often come home with the skin of my knees completely scraped off after having fallen on the road. My grandma would scold me, put some ointment and some white powder thing on my knee, bandage me up and send me on my way. As soon as the bandage would come off, I would be out of the house, racing away on my cycle. I would inadvertently come home with the newly formed skin freshly scraped off after falling down somewhere again. My grandma would scold me, and the cycle would continue. BTW, she was the one who would scold me the most at my injuries and cycling escapades, but she was also the one who got me a larger cycle once I was tall enough to ride one.
My cousins were, and still are, supremely important to me. I have never felt the division of an own brother/sister and a cousin brother/sister. I have tried to be an older brother who would lead by example, perhaps an ideal that is spotless and good enough for them to strive for. My mother impressed upon me the importance of doing the right thing at all times, as there were a dozen kids watching my every move, waiting to emulate me. While it was a lot of pressure to set a good example to them, it was all worthwhile in the end. They have far surpassed me in many areas, and they are each impressive in their own right. Udita, Harshu, Ujjwal, Gudda, Sanchit, Garima, Sonu, Krishnam, Devansh, Tanisha, Yamini, Yashu, Monu, Saurabh, Shruti… the list already seems endless, and I havent even covered all of my Buas and Mamajis kids! Nowadays I take them out once every few months to Bombay Shiv Sagar, and the few hours we spend together as always entertaining and full of fun. I love them all, and would sooner take a bullet for them than find them in even the slightest trouble.
I remember we used to have a chandelier that had a lot of glass pencils hanging down. My cousins would come over for a night stay over the weekend, and my Grandma would go to Satsang on Sunday at Alipore instead of Salt Lake, meaning we could cause whatever chaos we wanted for at least a couple of hours. We would play badminton a lot and our favorite game was to try and get the shuttle as close to the pencils without touching them. Either that, or to get the shuttle to rest on top of the chandelier. So while we aimed for either the top or the bottom of the chandelier, it was impossible for us to not hit the glass pencils in the middle. If the glass pencils would break, we would get it cleaned up as best as we could and try to be on our best behavior when Grandma arrived. It never worked as she always knew. I sometimes wonder if she would count the number of Glass pencils in that chandelier before she left and compared when she came back. All the children would line up behind me and I would have to face the punishment meted out.
School was a lot of fun. I was quite restless as a kid, but had been brought up to be obedient as well, and the two conflicting parts of my nature would always land me in some trouble or the other. My teachers would find me mischievous, and my fellow students would call me a teachers pet. I was perennially between a rock and a hard place, and eventually I learnt to find the right balance between being a good student and being a good friend (not surprisingly, both do not always coincide!) My most dreaded experience was the Parents-Teacher meeting day. My mom would usually have to endure an hour of various teachers telling her the same thing, “He’s quite brilliant, he just doesn’t apply himself.” I, on the other hand, was happy to coast along on my wits alone. Looking back, it seems to me that I learnt about a cost-benefit analysis at quite a young age. Studying for 5 months extra for 5% extra didnt look too appetizing to me, so I was happy to just study before the exams and get a good result instead of an outstanding one. This went on until I decided to go to college and straightened out my act, but I am getting ahead of myself.
My friends and batch mates were a great bunch of brilliant kids who didnt want to study too hard either. Sharad, Abhimanyu, Rajkumar, Chetan, Vineet, Avishek, Rohit, Aditya etc were all capable of doing extremely well in studies (like me)… they just werent too concerned with it (like me!) By the way, before you get the wrong impression, we all did relatively well in school and all got into good colleges. By extremely well I mean coming first in class, which took too much time away from the fun things in life. As is the norm with all kids, we all had our nicknames, some that made sense and some that didnt. The above lineup, by the way, is Pangu, Munni, Raju, Ghoda, Barakar, Muri, Lohia and Chullu. Like I said, we were too busy having fun to notice how dumb it all was.
We enjoyed our school life very much, by which I mean we enjoyed each others company a lot. We had to go to school just so we could all hang out together. Some of the things we did were perhaps not in keeping with the decorum of a school, but we were kids and had enough of the screw-it-all attitude of youth to cause trouble tempered with just enough street-smartness to not get caught. We burst chocolate bombs in our school toilet, destroying a urinal in the process. A few of us boys would bunk school after the first period to go play Pool, and come back just before the last period to maintain our attendane. Our whole class bunked school one day, and 50 odd kids went to see a movie since we hadnt planned anything beyond the “Lets-everyone-bunk-school-today” stage. We ended up going to watch, I kid you not, Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai, the debut movie of Tushar Kapoor. Because God works in mysterious ways to thwart the plans of the mischievous and the naughty, the theatre’s projection equipment broke down, leading 50 kids in school dress to camp outside. At 1.30, the primary section of our school got out and the school buses of the area we were in trundled past us, with a few school teachers gazing at our group in astonishment and not a little anger. We were well and truly caught, and our punishment the next day was to stand in the corridor outside our classes. We didnt have to go to class, no studies were conducted, we chilled outside with each other in the corridor and the other kids looked at us with envy, like we were some sort of rebels. I fail to see how it was a punishment as we all had a gala time.
By this time, my parents had pretty much given up on me getting into Xaviers and were prepared for me to attend Bhawanipore college. Xaviers is where the people who come first in class go to, Bhawanipore is where Marwari kids who start working in their family businesses right after school hang their cap. My parents didnt have much hope of me setting my academic scores on fire. I think thats where the determination to do one better than Xaviers took shape inside me. I had always wanted to fly the nest and live independently for a while, to see if I could cope without an emotional security net around me. This was my opportunity to not only get out of the protective shell around me, but also to prove my worth to those around me who perhaps doubted me.
I decided that I would go as far away from home as possible, and US was right at the other side of the planet. If I had to aim at something, I wanted to aim high. I started taking SAT tuitions. I remember my parents thinking in their hearts that it was a fad, and that they thought they were letting me entertain my little fantasy. However, by then I had seen what SAT tested, and my heart had soared. It wasnt about hard work at all, it was about how smart, quick and intelligent you were! These werent questions, these were puzzles! I had always been an inquisitive and curious kid, and this was right up my alley. I am sorry to say that I bunked more SAT tuitions than I attended, and I only seriously studied for the exam the last two weeks before the test. I gave the test on the 2nd of November, 2002, and everyone promptly forgot about it. I had been allowed to indulge my side project, and now it was time to get back to life, seemed to be the general view. This lack of confidence hurt a bit, but then again, I had brought it upon myself due to the lack of applying myself. I am thankful to say I have done well enough after that for this to never be the case again.
On the 25th of November, the results came out of my SAT exam. I received 1550/1600, with 99 percentiles in both English and Maths, and a 99+ percentile of the combined score. The reactions were extraordinary, especially my fathers. When I told him, he was speechless for a second. His face was the picture of bewilderment for a second, as if processing completely unexpected information. Then came surprise, then happiness, and finally pride. That was a pretty good feeling. Everyone’s reactions ranged from incredulousness to astonishment in various intensities. At that point, I remember thinking that while there were a lot of people who expected me to do well, there were only two people who had expected me to exceed all expectations. Those were my grandmother, in whose eyes I could do no wrong, and my sister, who knew how boneheaded I was and thus knew that I would not let an opportunity I actually cared about pass. I still remember her hugging me with joy (she knew how badly i wanted to get out of Kolkata and do something on my own) and then saying matter of factly, “Humko to pata hi tha tum kuch chhupa rustam wala kaam karega. (I knew you would do something that no one would expect)” My grandmother cared not a whit about the score. My grandfather was asking me details of what 99+ percentile means (it means I was ahead of 99+ percent of other test givers) and while I was telling him, my grandma cut us off by saying “Eeko matlab baki sabse aage hai aapno chhoro” (It means our boy is ahead of all other boys), pride dripping from her every word.
Of course, a score like that meant that suddenly, my going for college in the US had gone from a distant fantasy to a foregone conclusion. The only question remaining now was how high could I aim? For ivy league universities, I had to give SAT II exams, which consisted of three subjects. People studied for months for this exam, whereas I decided in December to give it in January. Like I said, no one expected me to do so well, so I had not entertained the notion of giving higher level exams. I ended up getting 95+ percentiles in each subject, and a combined percentile of 99+ again. I had already scheduled my TOEFL for 30th January, and since it was computerized, I got my results immediately. I had been unable to study properly for it since I had suddenly had to shift my attention to SAT II exams, which were quite tough, but still received 297/300. The percentile was 99+ again.
To my family, this was getting way out of hand. This string of results were unexpected and beyond the pale, and it seemed to me that for my family it must have been like a desert receiving an unexpected thunder shower, followed by another the next day, and another, and so on for a month. Suddenly, within three months, I had demolished any doubt about my capabilities and was well on my way to academic success. I had already been accepted into NYU in the first round itself. I found out at a later date that I had gotten into Wharton and Carnegie Mellon as well, but by then I had already sent my acceptance to NYU. I have never found cause to regret my decision later on.
While all this was going on in the prepare-for-college front, I was chilling in school. I had gone to a couple of school trips and had been, perhaps, a little rowdy. In fact, to go back a little, in Class 11 my school used to appoint prefects. I had been told by my class teacher that I would be one of them, but the day came and went and my name wasnt called out. The next time I met the teacher, a couple of my friends asked him what had happened regarding my prefect nomination? He said a teacher had blocked it and apologetically replied “tor reputation ektu theek nei” (your reputation is not so good.) My mischief making had come back to bite me in the ass!
But yeah, back to the school trips. My School refused to give me my Class 12 report card along with other students. When I enquired, I was told that my report card would be given to me personally by my Principal. I trudged up to the Principals office, knowing full well that it would not be as easy as me waltzing in and the Principal just handing the Report card over to me. I was met with a stern faced dude who was sorting some papers. I asked him about my report card. He looked over to his left at a cabinet. I could make out a paper that had been pasted there, and the name on top of the paper, in bold block letters, was PIYUSH DHOOT. Oh dear.
I was sent to the Principals office. She told me that I would not be given my report card, and that I would have to call my parents and it would be given only to them. I asked her that I would bring my parents, but what should I tell them when they ask why it had been withheld? She said that my report card was being withheld due to “Severe indiscipline during the school trip.” To this day I do not know why I was singled out. I had never portrayed myself as some sort of a leader of the group, and there had never been any incriminating evidence against me (I need to stop watching cop shows!). I went home and told my parents. They asked me if I had done anything seriously wrong. They said ‘seriously’ because they were pretty sure I would have done something a little wrong, just like they were sure I would never do something seriously wrong. I said no, nothing serious had taken place. Hearing that, they declined to go to the school and let me know that since I had done nothing wrong, I should go and state my case. The trouble is, they didnt know what my case was, but I did, and I knew I wouldnt get a proper hearing. To get around that, I shot off an email to NYU. The reply was in my inbox the next day.
I spent the next week outside the principals office. She finally tired of me and told me that no college would accept me without a final Report Card. I played my trump card and earnestly informed her that I had enquired with NYU and my file with them was complete. After my scores, they didnt need any other documentation, and that my college admission was secure, whether I received my report card or not. She didnt say anything for a minute, busily dealing with the pile of documents on her desk, then curtly told me to collect it tomorrow from the stern faced dude outside. I walked out, walked in the next day, collected the report card, walked out again and decided to not walk in again until things improved. I have so far more or less managed to do that and have not returned to my school.
My Board Exams of 12th were a formality as I was already admitted at NYU and all I had to do was not fail. Here is my routine during that period.
12 PM – Get up. Shower. Read Newspapers. Kill time.
2 PM – Have lunch. Study for an hour or so.
4 PM – Take out the car and start picking up friends.
8 PM – Drop the friends off back to their place.
9 PM – Dinner.
10 PM – Pretend to study while reading something else.
1 AM – Play video games after making sure everyone else had slept.
4 AM – Go to sleep.
I have no doubt I was the cause of at least a 3-4% decrease in many of my friends Board Results!
My parents threw a going away party to celebrate my acceptance into NYU. All my relatives from across India came and I am thankful to them for coming and giving me their blessings. Many people shot video messages for me which were played during the Party on a big screen. I took along a CD of those with me and they gave me great solace whenever I felt lonely later on. My father, in his typical fashion, stole the show by reminding me again and again with just two words – “Akele Aana.” (come back alone!). My friends were there in full force and I had a great time with them. I was also extremely happy to see so many of my teachers who had come to wish me the best for my future. It was humbling to be so loved, and also inspiring in a way to have so many people celebrate my successes.
Soon, it was time to head out for college. Throughout the flight, I wondered how the next phase of my life would be. I found out very soon. As the lyrics of Summer of 69 go… those were the best days of my life.
I have left out many, MANY things from this small recollection. The time I got stuck outside the fire escape of the 26th floor of a hotel, gingerly walked down and was greeted by the fire department as someone had called them after seeing me on the fire escape. The time when I came closest to death in an accident on the sand dunes of Rajasthan after leaving a Religious function. The fun-filled Europe trip I took with my grandparents just before the Football World Cup of 98 in France. My life changing trip to Maldives with my parents. And of course, girls, simply cuz there isnt much to say.
Next part of the recollection will deal with my college years.
Punya gave various dares to his friends and family to complete, record and then upload to the above website. The dares ranged from putting atta (flour) in a balloon and then bursting it by biting it with your teeth, to doing the reverse escalator, to going to McDonalds and ordering in Bhojpuri! Needless to say, such outlandish dares have spawned creative dare responses, and they have been a lot of fun to follow.
My particular dare was to redub any Hindi movie scene. Basically, I was supposed to choose a scene on youtube, mute it, and provide my own version of the conversation. I decided to move things up a notch. After all, its my little brother in law, and if I dont go all out effort-wise for his wedding, whats the point?
A little background – My Saale Sahab’s name is Punya, Anu (or Anubhav) is another Saala of mine who is getting married after 6 months, and Krishna is Shradha’s own brother. The following takes place 6 months from now, just before Anubhav’s wedding, and 6 months after Punya’s. Thats all the information you need!
However, instead of dubbing a scene on youtube, I decided to… Why dont you guys check it out yourself?
For Part 1 of this account, go here.
We reached Six Senses Ninh Van Bay pretty tired and a little hassled due to our hellish journey. I remind you of our journey only because it explains my mindset that if Six Senses had been even a little short of perfect, I would have considered it a failure, simply because I was convinced that everything that could go wrong, will. Fortunately for us, the next 7 days were heavenly.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll try to stick to that.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is blessed with an incredible location. The resort is spread over 220 acres and is situated on its own private bay. They furthermore have a private beach on the same island which is accessible by a boat ride.
There is not much I can say about how beautiful the whole area is. The air is cleaner, there is a distinct absence of noise, and litter is nowhere to be found. Just the perfect place to unwind.
Every evening, guests would congregate at the Bar for Happy Hour, at which time extraordinary views of the sunset could be had while lying on hammocks strung above the beach. We tried to catch the sunset almost every day, as it really was something else.
Right across the bay, at the foot of those hills with clouds rolling over it, lies Six Senses.
A brilliant purplish hue to the evening sky. Astonishing. If the kaleidoscope of colors doesn’t come through in the above image, i’m to blame, not the sky.
One of the ways Shradha & I are blessed is that we dont have to carry a truck load of food when we travel. We’re quite happy sampling the local cuisine rather than break out our ‘khakhra/bhujia/nimki-achaar’ combo every 6 hours. It helps that we eat all cuisines, and nowadays almost every place can serve you something that is delicious AND vegetarian.
Six Senses took care of us like we were royalty. The chef would come during every meal to ask us what we would like to eat. Mind you, I’m not saying they brought a menu and asked us to pick something out. they’d simply ask us what we would like to eat, and then they’d make it for us.
A small example: Shradha usually had pancakes for breakfast, a neglected option for most other guests. Still, the female chef would make fresh whipped cream solely for her and bring it to our table herself. She was always trying to make our meals more interesting and enjoyable, and for that I cant thank her enough. For example, one time she made a bunch of vegetarian Vietnamese dishes for us and sent it to our villa. I did not know what 80% of those dishes were called, or even what they had in them, but by this time I was so confident that the chef knew exactly what we ate and what we didnt, that we didnt have any hesitation in digging in. She laid out an absolute feast for us and it was wonderful!
Chef Lalith was a rockstar. He was usually around for lunches and dinners, and would take care of our food specially. One of the nights for dinner the resort was hosting ‘Curry Night’, where there were a ton of Asian curries and mostly with a Vietnamese flavor. I am sure there must have been a ton of guests to whom he was catering to, and yet he made a whole spread of Indian food that night. Well, this will explain it better:
Yeah, thats Aloo with Gravy, Dal, Veg Jhalfrezi, Cucumber Raita, Coconut Chutney, Achaar, Rotis, Rice and Papad. Looking at it is making me hungry again. Lip-smackingly good stuff!
The Spa is something both Shradha and I look forward to a lot whenever we travel. A good spa can make or break a trip. In Ninh Va Bay, the Spa wasn’t just good, it was great! They gave us a free massage the day after our arrival, and the other massages we took were all extremely relaxing and rejuvenating. We had a ton of fun. That it was extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful didnt hurt.
The entrance to the Spa. The rocks on either side have water falling over them. Very soothing.
We went on a day trip to a local village to see more about how the average Vietnamese lives. The infrastructure is decent, especially the roads, which I assume is because of the Vietnam War. However, in most other aspects the country is quite similar to what India was 15-20 years ago.
We asked our guide to show us some local industries. He took us to a family that has been making Rice Paper for the last 7 generations. The speed with which they worked, and how roughly they seemed to be handling the delicate Rice Paper at extremely high temperatures, was a sight to behold. Shradha tried her hand at every step of the process, and thankfully came out of the whole ordeal without burning/hurting/embarrassing either herself or anyone else. I, of course, was content looking from a distance and taking pictures. I did join in when they gave us some Rice Paper to eat though. For, you know, research purposes.
This is how they dry the Rice Paper. It can be eaten directly, or with some accompaniments, or can be used to make a variety of other products as well.
Next we went to meet a family that makes traditional Vietnamese hats.
The work ethic of the ladies was worth emulating. Also, it was shocking to know how little they are paid for each hat. Sad really, but its a dying industry, mostly kept alive by tourists like us.
The lady on the left is 68. The one on the right is 89. The dude behind the camera (er, me) is 29, and would probably get beat black and blue if he got in a fight with these ladies. Great work ethic, great stamina, and great powers of concentration at this age! Hats off! 😉
After that, we went to a local eatery to try some authentic, local, vegetarian dishes. The owner did not understand English, so our guide explained what we could eat and what we couldnt. I could not have been more stressed before our food arrived, and the food could not have been more excellent once it did. We were good children that day… we finished all the food on our plates.
It was a meal full of flavors and spices. Far in the background, you might see the frozen coconut they gave us to begin with meal with. A very simple and thus different meal, and a very good one.
Fishing is still the biggest trade for the local populace of Nha Trang (the area we were in.) They worship the Whale and from what I could understand from our guide, if someone sees a whale they cant get married for a year or something like that… which explains the line of young dudes with binoculars lining the harbor. Er, yeah, fishing. We went to a fish market, because why the hell not. Our noses told us why the hell not within 5 seconds of setting foot in it. However, our guide thought us very cultured people for enquiring so politely about the fish market and gave us the Mega-Long Extra-Detailed Super-Duper tour. Unwilling to break his image of us, we went along, trying to breathe as little as possible. The only thing of beauty in my view were the boats. All of them were painted blue, and looked amazing bobbing around on the sea.
Dont ask me why ALL of them are blue cuz I have no idea. They just are. Its a communist country, maybe no one cares which or whose boat they take. (Thats the one ignorant joke quota per post done with!)
Please note: My knowledge of Vietnamese religion extends only to what our guide told us. There is every possibility that things might have been lost in translation.
Vietnam has a bunch of religions, but it seemed Buddhism was the largest of them. One tradition that perhaps all religions have in common, though, is honoring and worshipping their ancestors. Almost all homes have a small temple, and larger families can use a full plot of land to build temples to their ancestors. Our guide was one religion, his wife was another, and his mother a third. From the general impression I got, it seemed like there was a high level of religious tolerance, which was admirable.
Inside a Buddhist temple. You may notice a small Buddha right in front, behind whom is a larger Buddha, behind whom is another Buddha, and so on. I believe there are around 4-5 Buddhas set in a straight line in this way. The walls and ceilings were beautifully painted with events from Buddha’s life, and they were so expressive that you could follow exactly what was going on in each painting without even knowing the captions in Vietnamese.
The scene at the top of the hill. I climbed 200+ steps to find this humongous statue of Buddha. The surprising thing was how quiet it was. There were a ton of people around, and yet everyone was respectful of each other and barely a whisper could be heard. Even the beggars were polite! Gave me an inferiority complex as an Indian.
There are quite a few similarities between our religion and theirs. For example, this is how the devotees pray to Buddha, which is very similar to how I pray to Shradha.
SIX SENSES GOES CRAZY
Half way through our stay, Six Senses told us that we were being upgraded to the Rock Retreat. It was set amidst rocks the size of a small house, and covered 3000 sqft. The only way it could be accessed was via speed boat… which means every time we ordered Room Service, they would send our food via boat. This seemed crazy to me, so I asked our Butler (Oh yeah, we had a private butler. In fact, every guest is assigned a butler who takes care of all reservations, appointments, activities etc) about it, and she said not to worry about it and not hesitate to call if I needed anything at all.
The villa has its own private jetty where boats dock. Then there is a main villa, with another villa sized bathroom attached. There is a separate villa as well, complete with a bathroom. Then there is a large outdoor cabana with a full bed and mini bar. Then there is a huge infinity edged swimming pool carved out of a rock. Then there is a separate outside covered area for dining. Then there is another separate area in case you want to get Spa done in your villa itself. There are also areas where you can actually climb on the rocks. Oh, and between the two villas, there is an outside shower.
Its was as mental as you think it was.
So… There’s an area you cant see behind the area you can see, and there is an area you cant see in front of the area you can see. Basically, there are lots of parts of our villa missing in this photo.
The pool was carved out of a rock. Just ridiculous. I must admit that we were lucky to get great weather throughout our time there, which definitely played a big part in how much we enjoyed.
A FEW PERSONAL PHOTOS
On a more personal note, many of you might know that I hate getting my photo taken. I absolutely hate it. I dont remember last seeing a picture of myself and thinking “Hmm, this one aint so bad.” It just doesn’t happen. Which is why God, in his infinite wisdom, has gotten me married to a woman who takes an almost perverse pleasure in taking my pictures, whether of me alone or of us together.
The following conversation actually took place and is 100% accurate.
I’m on a Boat, so automatically I was thinking of a Lonely Island song.
Shradha – Let me take a picture.
Me – No.
Shradha – Why?
Me – Why take a picture?
Shradha – I want to. You only take pictures of the sky and hills and flowers and roads and other pointless things. We should take more pictures of ourselves.
Me – … … … No.
Shradha – Why?
Me – Just.
Shradha – Ok just look there for 5 seconds.
Me – C’mon, stop. Let me be.
Shradha – No it’ll barely take 5 seconds. Just look that way.
Me – Fine whatever. (I look that way, fuming.)
Shradha – A little to the right.
Me – Christ. (I look to the right.)
Shradha – Good. You know, if you put your hand on this post, it will be better.
Me – Ok. (I’ve completely surrendered to my fate by this time.)
Shradha – Ok stay still now.
I dont see what Shradha sees in the photo (or in me, for that matter), but there it is above you. In case you are wondering about my expression in the photo, I am thinking whether I would be able to swim to the Resort if I jumped off the damn boat.
One last, final discovery I made while I was in Vietnam. You see, for the longest time I thought Hat-Stands (where English Gentlemen used to hang their hats, umbrellas etc) went out of fashion by the 1920’s. What I didnt know till I saw photographic proof was that they have made a comeback of sorts – in the form of the Indian husband.
I’m just gonna go there, wait for me, meanwhile hold this and this, put this in your pocket, carry my purse… oh and let me just put this on your head.
All seemed to be going well… until disaster struck. Vietnam allows you to have a letter of introduction issued from the local consulate which assures you a Visa on Arrival. The dude at the Thai Airways counter took a look at our Visas and tickets, printed Shradha’s boarding pass, then started frowning. Soon he had dialed some higher up and was gesticulating animatedly at my ticket and visa.
Turns out my Visa had been issued on my previous passport. Thankfully, I was carrying my old passport as well, and so was able to furnish it to prove my credentials. You would think that should be enough, right? Wrong.
Their worry was that if they let me go with the documents I have, and then I am denied a Visa, they will be on the hook for letting a passenger travel with less than ideal documents. I asked them to confirm with their head office if they could, so that they would have some clarity. They called up Bangkok to confirm whether someone in my situation would be given a Vietnam Visa on landing there. They didn’t pick up for 20 minutes. When they finally did, they said they had no idea and to call to Ho Chi Minh desk. They called up Ho Chi Minh, and those heroes didn’t pick up the phone at all. Welcome to the work ethic of a communist country.
I requested them to let me go, and that there wouldn’t be a problem as I would use my unlimited charm and my innocent looking face (Its a God given gift, really) to worm my way into receiving a Visa once I land in Vietnam. Perhaps my charm might have worked in Vietnam, but it didn’t work in Delhi. They apologized profusely but didn’t give me a boarding ticket. The best they could do, they told me, was give me a ticket for a later date without any extra charges. After a quick chat with my travel agent, I ended up getting my ticket reissued for the 7th of October, 2 days after we were originally scheduled to fly.
On 6th morning, I applied for an emergency visa to Vietnam. I further discussed the accommodation situation and resolved it satisfactorily. On 7th morning, I had the Visa in my hand, this time with the correct passport number printed. Check in was smooth that night, and soon we were on our way to Bangkok, where we had a short transit. All smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong.
By the time we landed in Bangkok, Shradha had started to feel a little under the weather. However, it wasn’t anything major, and so we soldiered on, still in a pretty good mood. By the time our flight landed in Ho Chi Minh, however, she had taken a turn for the worse and was feeling quite ill. There were two options in front of us – 1. Take the Visa and head onwards, or 2. Go back to Kolkata. After about half an hour, Shradha gave the go ahead, and we got in line for the Visa.
We were scheduled to fly domestic from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, and there was another couple who was in the same flight as us. Eric and Kathy were from Norway and were on a backpacking tour of South East Asia. They had already covered Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, and were going onwards after Vietnam to Indonesia and the Philippines. Their trip would take them 3 months and ours was only for a week, and yet they had 2 backpacks and we had 2 pieces of luggage of similar if not larger size, along with 2 smaller hand carry suitcases, and Shradha’s purse. Talk about feeling like a luxury-loving, privileged, spoilt Marwari brat.
Being of a similar age, we hit it off pretty well and walked out. Eric had to buy some Duty Free stuff and we were also feeling a little hungry, so we took our time. As it is, our flight was at 3 in the afternoon and we had landed at 10 in the morning, so we had plenty of time. However I, being the eternal worrier, hurried everyone along saying that lets just check in, and we’ll chill after getting all the formalities sorted. Shouldn’t have been much a problem, right? Wrong.
We walked into the Domestic Terminal and approached the JetStar counter. A woman was sitting there, nonchalantly clanking on her keyboard while ignoring customers. I asked her about checking in to our flight to Nha Trang, and she replied with the dreaded words – “Sorry sir, that flight is cancelled.” Nonplussed, I asked her when the next flight was so that she could put us into it, and she replied there’s only one flight per day, and the earliest flight we could catch would be tomorrow. After I explained to her that it was impossible for me to stay a day in Ho Chi Minh, she pointed us towards the VietJet ticket counters. It was 11.50.
A 55 kg lump of incompetence greeted me at the VietJet counter. I have no idea whether she did it on purpose or was genuinely terrible at her job, but she had trouble understanding simple words like Nha Trang and Tickets. After two minutes of playing Dumb Charades with her, another rep took over our counter and finally we got some answers. Yes, they had a flight to Nha Trang. Yes, they had tickets available. You’d think it was time to start singing Hallelujah, right? Wrong.
She told us the cost of each ticket was $100. Vietnam might be a communist country, but this lady knew how capitalism works, and she used it quite ruthlessly against us. With no other option, I forked out $200, and so did Eric. It was 12.05.
We rushed to the check-in counters and were met with a lady who must have been a direct descendant of Stalin. I don’t think she smiled for the 10 minutes we were forced to spend looking at her face. She didn’t talk much either, except telling us our luggage was overweight. I tried telling her that we were on an International transit, and hence we should be allowed the additional weight. After all, JetStar had allowed it! She only replied with “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Back to the ticket counter we went. The lady greeted us with a smile, but by this time her teeth looked like a Shark’s jaw to me, waiting to crush any hope I had of a smooth flight. Oh, how sad that we were overweight.No, International Transit wouldn’t work, as “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Of course, we could purchase additional weight for the rock bottom price of $42. She grinned. I grimaced and paid up. She took her own sweet time printing out the receipt, while the VietJet counters had pretty much emptied, all passengers already near the boarding gate. I rushed to the check-in counter and produced the receipt, upon which finally my luggage was taken in. Eric and Kathy had no such issues with their luggage, of course, and were waiting for us to go through security. I was a little pissed at their ‘travel-light’ ways, but also grateful that they didn’t leave me alone as the only passenger still left for that flight. Oh well, onwards to paradise, right? Wrong.
Eric had bought a bottle of whiskey from the Duty Free shop in the international terminal. Upon going through security, he was stopped by Comrade I-know-no-English, soon joined by Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle. Eric didn’t know what the hell was going on, and neither did I. Finally we figured out that the security personnel wouldn’t let the bottle through as it didn’t have a seal. Eric told them that he had no idea a seal was required, and that he had just taken the bag as given to him by the people at the Duty Free shop. Shouldn’t it be their responsibility to pack it up properly? Comrade I-know-no-English wouldn’t budge, and took Eric back to the check-in counters, presumably to deposit the bottle in his checked-in luggage. No dice, all luggage was already gone. Eric asked the Security Personnel whether they would give the packet to the airline crew, and they could give it to him once he lands? Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle wouldn’t even entertain the thought. Finally, poor Eric had to leave his precious bottle of Whiskey on the Security Counter. I assumed it must have been an expensive purchase as Eric seemed livid and crushed in equal measure. The Comrades waved us goodbye with smiles on their faces. I guess their night’s libations had been arranged. In any case, we finally boarded the flight to Nha Trang. Our travel agent had already intimated the resort that we will be coming much earlier than planned, and they had done the needful rescheduling. Finally, all was well, right? Wrong.
You see, if Shradha was Superwoman (that ‘if’ is pretty unnecessary, isn’t it?), her kryptonite would be not eating at her designated time for meals. Shradha’s stomach had decided to play nice for a while, but now she wanted to eat something so that her stomach would settle down. Due to the transformation of our 5 hour relaxed and stress-free transit into a 2 hour run around like a headless chicken transit, we had not gotten the opportunity to have some lunch. No worries, I told Shradha, we’ll get some snacks on the flight to tide us over till we reach the resort. Looking over their in-flight menu, my heart and Shradha’s stomach sank. There were barely two items that could be termed vegetarian. As soon as possible after take off, I called the steward and asked him to bring two each of both items. Comrade Why-are-you-a-vegetarian smiled and politely informed us that both the items were not available. I asked him if there was anything, anything at all, that was vegetarian in what he had in the galley, and he nodded his head no, more vigorously than was needed, as if to rub salt on my wounds. I looked over with dread to Shradha, who had fallen asleep after telling me to rouse her when the food came, and decided not to wake her up after all. A sleeping person can’t feel hunger, right? Wrong.
By the time we landed in Nha Trang and Shradha woke up, she was in desperate need for sustenance. Her vomiting had died out, but something, anything, was required to make sure it remained dead. We got out after taking our luggage, said bye to Eric and Kathy, and were immediately greeted by a butler from the Six Senses resort. He helped me exchange Dollars into Vietnamese Dong (what an unfortunate name for their currency. As funny as the Canadian Loonie.) and also helped Shradha buy some fruits. After all, the car ride from the Airport to the private jetty of Six Senses would be an hour, and then there was a 30 minute speedboat ride to the resort itself. Shradha’s mood had brightened up considerably as she started to feel better, and I was just happy the needlessly stressful traveling part was over. I was in the hands of Six Senses now.
Nothing else could go wrong, right?
For Part 2 of this account, go here.
1. I was traveling, and
2. I got a weird idea from a newsletter I read, and I wanted to see where it went, which took a while.
I ended up writing in a stream of consciousness and the result is the following short story. I am sure there are tons of errors, both factual and grammatical. I hope you will disregard them as cavalierly as I did. I also did not want this to be so long as to not take more than 5 minutes, so my apologies if the pacing seems too hurried. I could probably work more on this idea if you all like it.
With all that preamble out of the way… here we go!
The ‘Exquisite Beauty Of Last Adventure’
Hamid got off the plane early on a cold winter morning. It was a bitter Monday morning in New York and Hamid had some trouble comprehending the sheer wall of cold that hit him as soon as he got off. Having lived all his life in Iran, he could be forgiven for letting the cold catch him unawares. It was the 6th of October.
He collected his luggage, a new Samsonite purchased specially for this trip, and walked out to join the line of people waiting for a cab. He finally got one after waiting for 10 minutes. He gave his driver the address of the budget hostel he was staying in. After all, the cost of this trip was too high as it is. He didn’t want to spend any more than necessary.
He looked at the nick on his finger. While putting the luggage in the trunk of the cab, he’d got himself a cut on his little finger. He saw a small pool of blood forming on the seat and grimaced. He pinched his finger to shut the flow of blood and then, glancing surreptitiously at the cabbie, rubbed the blood all over the seat, so that the driver wouldn’t notice. He grinned at his own actions and continued pinching his finger.
He paid off the cabbie and looked at the hostel he had been recommended before he left. It wasn’t luxurious, but it wasn’t shabby either. It had 4 large rooms, 2 on each floor, and each room had 24 beds. The bathroom facilities were clean enough, and there were two bathrooms for each room. The bed sheets were changed every day and the morning breakfast was decent enough. He was shown up to his room by an orderly. Around a dozen people were inside, most of them getting ready to go out. He chose a bed in the middle of the room and plunked his stuff down on the bed. Then he went and introduced himself to his roommates, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries.
Formalities over, he went over to his bed and took out a clean pair of underwear, a jeans and a Woolen shirt. Then, looking out of the window and seeing the slick roads and the snow falling slowly to the ground, he took out a hoodie as well. With all his stuff in hand, he went over to one of the bathrooms to take his shower. While showering, he saw that his nick had been bleeding again. He determined to buy some band-aids when he was out.
15 minutes later, he was out on the street. In front of his hostel was a vacant parking lot. It was dirty as hell and completely overgrown with weeds, and that is where a large number of homeless people had congregated to ride out the winter. He looked at them disdainfully and walked towards the corner to hail a cab. Once he found one, he took it straight to the subway station and then onwards to Times Square.
He’d seen photos of the place, sure, but nothing could have prepared him for the mass of humanity he saw there. Everyone seemed busy, everyone was hurrying along to do whatever the hell they were doing, and the only people who seemed to stand and quietly take in the madness of the place seemed to be tourists like him. He ended up taking tons of photos to send to his friends back home. After having a quick bite at an overcrowded falafel cart, he returned to his hostel.
A few of his roommates were planning on going to a bar for happy hour, and they asked Hamid to join in to be polite. Hamid wasn’t a big drinker, but he wanted to see what the New York nightlife was all about, so he gladly accepted. He also wanted to make a few friends while he was in New York, and what better way then to get drunk?
They reached a crowded bar early in the evening. His friends told him that Happy Hour was the right time to drink, as they would head out to a club later on, and drinking there would be extremely expensive. Hamid took their advice to heart and kept ordering beer after beer to keep up with his new found friends. His tolerance was over far before the Happy Hour was, and he ended up depositing the contents of his stomach all over the walls of a bathroom stall.
Undeterred, he kept up his drinking till the time his friends decided to go to a club. He had never been to one, and though it seemed to be in a seedy part of town, it was an eye opening experience. He had a couple of shots, checked his wallet, declined any more drinks, and went on to the dance floor. There were tons of women dancing; most of them seemed to be college students. He hit it off with a chubby white girl named Sandra. She seemed very interested, especially once she found out he was a foreigner, showing him off to her friends (You know, he’s from Iran! How exotic!). Soon things got hot and heavy, but his friends decided to leave before he could proceed beyond making out. He wasn’t too worried. After all, this was America, and there were plenty of fish in the sea.
Walking out of the club, he could see some ladies of the night working the corners. Picking up his courage, he approached one, bargained, and went on to her place. After an hour, with both fluids and money transferred, he walked out, embarrassed, exhilarated and slightly feverish, all at the same time. He ended up walking to his hostel (it wasn’t far) and peed into the newspaper boxes on the way, trying his best to aim in the slot. He felt a little woozy and walked into a Deli to buy a bagel, hoping the bread and cheese will make him feel better. He bought a coke while leaving and sauntered along to his hostel. In front of his hostel, he was approached by a homeless man from the empty lot across. He gave his half drunk coke to him, and saw him share it with his family members. Feeling good about himself, he went to sleep.
The same process repeated itself for the next week. He moved from hostel to hostel, making new friends, hanging out at all the touristy spots, enjoying the sights and sounds of New York. He would give his clothes to whichever local (and cheap) Laundromat he could find, and thus would go out every night with newly washed and pressed clothes, looking at his presentable best. He had a lot of fun at a lot of clubs with a lot of reputable ladies, and at the end of the night, a lot of exertion with a lot of disreputable ones as well. He would come back and cover himself with a comforter, soaking his bed with his sweat every night. In the morning, a wave of guilt would wash over him and, perhaps ashamed of himself, he would switch hostels so that his roommates wouldn’t notice the pattern. To relieve his conscience and possibly to assure himself of his innate goodness, he would donate a part of his uneaten dinner to the homeless.
By the end of the week, his fevers seemed to be growing stronger. Perhaps it was due to the cold he was suffering from. The constant sneezes were giving him a headache by now. He went to an ER room in the poorest part of town, simply because he couldn’t afford going to a proper hospital. When his turn came after about three dozen others, and the doctor asked him what he thought was wrong with him based on the symptoms he was feeling, he replied “Malaria”. The doctor wrote him a couple of blood tests to ascertain whether it really was Malaria or just a Viral fever, and gave him some pills in the meantime. Not wanting to spend his money on tests instead of booze, Hamid decided to ride it out for a couple of days and then go back if he didn’t feel better. It was the 14th of October.
Three days later, he still felt like shit, more so since he got diarrhea. He’d been intermittently hit with waves of nausea and his body ached all over, but he’d not wanted to ruin his trip by going to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. After his fourth trip to the bathroom in 6 hours, though, he couldn’t hold off going to the hospital any longer. He sent a text, packed his Samsonite and started for the hospital. He was sweating all over, so much so that the cab driver asked him if he was all right. He appreciated the cabbie’s concern but said there was nothing wrong with him, just a slight fever. He got out, leaving a sweaty spot in the back seat.
Upon reaching his destination, he took out a packet from his bag and left it on an empty bench in the park next to the clinic before going inside. Within a minute, the bench was empty once again.
This time around, there was a different doctor attending to the patients. It seemed that all this clinic (and its patients) could afford were doctors who were volunteering their time. Having ascertained that Hamid was a repeat patient, the doctor looked him up on his system and noted his previous diagnosis. He asked for the results of the prescribed tests, and Hamid profusely apologized for not getting them done, but he was ready now in case they were still required. He was getting weaker every day, and he asked if he could be admitted. The clinic was small, but seeing Hamid’s condition, the doctor arranged a bed for him. He willingly gave his blood sample to the nurse who came in later that evening.
The next morning, Hamid saw the doctor rushing towards his room through the glass partition of the wall. He started chanting something under his breath. The doctor entered his room and Hamid, upon seeing him clearly, noted that he was wearing a protective mask. Hearing him chanting, and seeing the deranged look in his eyes, the doctor felt a shiver go down his spine.
“You knew?” he asked, horrified.
18th of October had started well for him.
22nd of October in Iraq began like any other day, moderately hot and extremely dusty. Inside the backroom of a small out of the way restaurant in the town of Qaraqosh, sat a heavily bearded man poring over a map of America mounted on a soft board. There was a swoosh of the beaded curtain as a younger man entered.
“Did we get a count yet?” the older man enquired.
“Yes. 12 taxis, 8 subway rides, 4 hostels with potentially 38 contacts, 8 bars and 8 clubs, 6 women in the clubs, 5 working women, a few janitors, 3 laundromats, 4 different homeless people, a few of the medical staff at his Hospital, hopefully some patients as well, and visits to public places with large crowds like Times Square, Central Park, Lincoln Center, Washington Square Park etc. Must have been thousands of potential contacts. He also gave himself a cold and sneezed whenever he could, wherever he could. All things considered, he did very well.”
“Are we sure of these figures?”
“Yes. He kept a diary and noted his number of contacts established meticulously. He passed it to us before entering the Hospital.”
“Good.” Said the older man. He pushed a pin into New York. Pins had already been placed over Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Miami, Chicago and Houston. By the end of the night, new pins had been placed over Philadelphia and Las Vegas as well. He expected San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego to join the list within 24 hours, rounding out the dozen cities of his plan.
Before leaving for the night, the old man cast one last look at the American map, by now covered in pins.
“America,” whispered the head of ISIS under his breath, “say hello to Ebola.”
Marwaris are well known as one of the premier business communities of India. Having traveled from Rajasthan and settled all over the country, they are present in sizable numbers in many cities of India and contribute greatly to the Indian economy. Largely family owned and usually working on conservative principles, Marwari companies have thrived due to their general suspicion of debt and complete control over even the smallest of expenditures, both traits almost ingrained in a Marwari.
I’m gonna talk about a third trait, and we’ll look at it in three different ways.
1. The “Corporate Culture” Shenanigans
In recent year, words such as “professionalism” and “corporate culture” have become buzz words for almost any decent sized organization. All companies was to work in a Corporate environment and follow international business practices. Marwari businesses are no exceptions to this trend, however many have made a major mistake in their adoption. While they have copied wholesale the systems and processes of the west, they have not adopted the mindset that allows those systems and processes to thrive.
One of the most egregious examples I can find of the utter failure to understand good corporate culture is the habit of working till late. I understand that people value hard work? however life, just like school, gives no marks on effort alone. It is the results that matter. Most Marwaris tend to work hard and equate working longer and harder with success. I find this view of business laughable. If such was the case, Mukesh Ambani would be a laborer in Burrabazaar, working from morning till night carrying loads on his head. Since that is not the case, then surely this understanding of long hours = success has a flaw somewhere?
2. The “I am my own boss” myth
Lets look at this situation from another perspective. In one of his widely successful books, Robert Kiyosaki talks about the cash flow quadrant. It talks about four types of people – Employees (E), Self Employed (S), Businessmen (B) and Investors (I). Instead of going into the details of the whole setup, lets just focus on the difference between “S” and “B”, or Self Employed and Businessman. Self Employed is someone who has to work to make money, and the moment he stops working is when he stops earning. Doctors, Lawyers etc usually fall in this category (unless they start their own hospitals or law firms). Businessmen, on the other hand, earn money whether they are working or not. Their business makes money regardless of whether they are in their offices or at a beach in bahamas wearing flip-flops and sipping cocktails (well, its Marwaris, so probably coconut water).
What I see is Marwari men considering it a badge of honor coming home long after office hours have been over. I can think up a few reasons for this. One, they believe it gains them sympathy from their family members (He works so hard!) and also earns their respect. Two, they genuinely are so enveloped in their work that they have cultivated no hobbies or interests, so feel restless and bored once home. Third, it is an insurance against failure. Lets say someone’s business doesn’t do well. What do you think the reaction will be? What the Marwari Man is hoping for is “His luck must be bad, because he works so hard, there was no lack of effort, thats for sure!” Fear of failure makes men work harder and harder, without stopping to think about whether their way of working is any smarter than before. Fourth, it is a signalling mechanism that they are successful (I’m doing well, so I’ve got so much work to do that I dont get enough time to do it all!)
3. The “Fear of Failure” fallacy
Finally, lets talk about the big picture. Why does a man want to be rich? So he can provide for his family, give them a good life, make sure they have all available opportunities to grow and excel in whatever they want to do, to live comfortably till his last years, gain a little name and fame amongst his peers, and then maybe leave something behind for his next generation and society. Lets take that as a decent working definition.
Now, why do we work? To make money, because money is what makes all of the above possible. But these are not all ‘standard of life’ values, these are also ‘quality of life’ values, and this is where the Marwari Man fails miserably. Money also what enables you to work a little less and relax a little more. Our aim should be to earn enough money so that we have to work less in the future, not more. In the case of the Marwari man, the more success they attain, the more workaholic they seem to become. Working at all hours of the day, and working till after office hours, are considered signs of hard work, success and a growing business by them, whereas in reality these are evidence of pathetic Time Management, if they even know what that means.
Summary, because I dont want to work too long on this.
To summarize, if you are a Marwari Man who believes working for longer hours makes you richer, more productive and more successful, I have the perfect job for you. Become a Taxi Driver. Their take home pay is directly related to how long they work, and thus provides exactly the occupation that aligns your philosophy with your level of success.
And to those who believe in working longer hours = better results in life, before you go to buy a taxi… Please guide me to the alternate universe Bill Gates is currently inhabiting where he gets a 100 hours every day to work, since surely a man as rich as he must work FAR longer than the normal Marwari Man.
In the US, there are two major political parties – Republicans and Democrats. There are a bunch of others like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, but for the purposes of our discussion, they are irrelevant. Both the major parties have established platforms from which they collectively, or their members individually, do not deviate much. In highly simplistic terms, Republicans believe in lower taxes for all, smaller government and a strong defense. Democrats believe in higher taxes for wealthy people, a larger government role in public and private life of individuals, and a focus on the welfare state. The options in front of the voter are distinct. Politicians usually have to follow their parties ideology to get elected, and then follow it to survive future elections. An example is Republicans signing Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, where they pledge to not increase tax rates. 90-95% of Republicans sign it, and they usually are pretty good about keeping that particular promise. This is what politics guided by ideology looks like.
In India, on the other hand, I fail to find any political party that will do what it publicly proclaims to be right in the face of what is politically convenient. We have people changing parties at the drop of the hat (doing so is very uncommon and thus front page news in US), changing policies to whatever the public opinion polls show is popular, and in general having no deep seated guiding philosophy. Please note that the distaste I have for parties extends to regional parties as well along with national parties. In fact, regional parties are even worse in their disregard for any concrete policy proposals they champion before the elections. No policy is sacrosanct, no election promise so essential that it cannot be sacrificed at the altar of remaining in power. This utter disregard to fealty to any philosophy just rubs me the wrong way.
In the US, the purpose of power is not only to remain in power but also to move the country in the direction you want. In India, it seems the purpose of power is to remain in power… and to do whatever is necessary to maintain that status quo.
This leads to comical situations like Aam Aadmi Party campaigning against Congress corruption, then joining hands with them to form the Government in Delhi. I dont put much stock in the “They did it for the greater good” argument. Either you believe that Congress is corrupt, in which case you should not align with them in any shape or form on general principles, or you dont believe that Congress is corrupt, in which case what is the basis of your parties existence in the first place? Similarly, Didi liked BJP first, then threw them away for Congress, then broke up with them too. I dont see what had changed so drastically in those parties, except that it was politically inconvenient to carry on with them. There are many, MANY such examples in India. (I’m not even gonna go into the quagmire that is Sharad Pawar’s track record.)
If I dont trust them, its only because they dont trust themselves enough to know if they will be able to fulfill the promises they make before elections. When looking at Indian politicians, why waste time wondering what color you see when what you are looking at are chameleons?
So yeah, if I do write about Indian politics, please expect a heavy dose of cynicism and general dislike.
I wondered for a while what my first blog post should be about, then decided that I should at least lay down some information on what I would be writing about on this site right at the beginning.
I’ll probably post about economics, politics, reviews of various forms of media, pop-culture etc. I’ll try to keep it light hearted, but I am sure at some point or the other the urge to write something serious and pseudo-philosophical will over power me. I promise to do my best to resist.
For those who know me on Facebook, you are well aware that my posting style is more akin to a volcano than a glacier… spurts of activity followed by a dormant state, rather than a constant movement forward. This site is no different. Expect it to silently go defunct, utterly neglected, within six months. I personally give it three, and thats only because I’m an optimist, a glass half full sorta guy.
Oh, and if things dont work on this site, whether it be comments, pages or anything else, please let me know. I should apologize in advance for any inconvenience caused due to my complete lack of knowledge about how to run a site. I’m running this site just like how I run my life… operating far beyond my circles of competence (and often comprehension.)
It’s very possible that if something’s broken, it might never be fixed. In that scenario, we’ll al just muddle along together as best as we can. Sound good?
Let the inanities begin, then.