Friday, December 30, 2005

Boys don't cry

Well they fight and cheat and fight and cheat and grunt too, especially when playing cricket. We used to have these cricket matches between the compound junta where I live in Nagpur and outsiders. Friends and their relations from all around had descended into the city for christmas. It was time to relive those moments that have defined the very men we are now. It was time to teach the younger ones a little bit of tradition so that they can pass it down the line. The teams were formed. As usual it was the compound against the outsiders. Rules were made as the game progressed. One run if it touches the roof out there, another one if it goes into the bush out there, no runs if it crosses this line and what about other places... well we'll decide as the game progresses. The objective is to win at any cost. You can cheat and cheat you must. If you get run out you can argue that it was actually a one run declared and that you were just running for kicks. You can ask for a third umpire decision. And you are free to choose that third umpire. You just have to use your imagination to come up with arguments and counter arguments along the way. Yelling frightens your opponents. Even if you don't have any valid argument you yell to add to the noise, while the brains of the team cook up something. Me... well I usually play without specs, which if my excuse for not being able to catch a fast moving ball. With specs there is no drastic improvement in my catching skills :-) but I usually play without specs and leave the rest to fate and my cheating teammates.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Oh Christmas tree

Reached Delhi/ Gurgaon around afternoon time. When Sonali opened the door she said I was stinking. Well I did not bathe for a week or so cause of the cold and since I was on a trek. During the trek I did not change my last set of clothes for about 3 days. What do you expect me to smell of, musk deer. Carol singing practice was going on at their place as Nikhil was tweaking their singing skills. After a royal bath I got ready for mass. Midnight mass was at a church in Gurgaon. The mass was both in Hindi and English. Nikhil sang some solo numbers. During some of the carols he played some heavy metal on the guitar :-) He also plays the violin and the synthesizer. Sonali told me that he has a grade 8 in violin. Grade 10 or so being the highest. He is very passionate about music. Reached home around 2 at night.

Hitchikers Guide to the Mountains

Day 0 - 19th Dec:
Bought the pending trek items from Delhi. Some woolens and trekking boots. The shoes are the most important thing. It needs to have a good soul :-) Almost missed the train, again. This time was at the wrong station :-) Managed to reach the other station well in advance and caught the Jammu Tawi train at night. Was travelling alone. Decided to make friends along the way. However a friends brother who I had not met before was also coming for the trek. So I would make atleast one new friend. Slept through the journey.

Day 1:Its cold, very very cold. Have to get down at Pathankot which is in Punjab. It arrived at around 8 in the morning. The buses in Pathankot had signs which warned people of unattended items which could be bombs. It also mentioned that you should look under your seat to make sure no one has left anything behind. It could be a bomb!!! Pathankot is a big military base. My mom later told me that someone told her that Pathankot is at the border where there is a lot of bombing :-) She then got all paranoid and stuff. I had switched my mobile off since it was running out of battery. She phoned a lot of my friends in bangalore who finally managed to allay her fears :-) From Pathankot I got on a bus to Dalhousie. Reached base camp around 12. Was supposed to arrive the previous day but I don't think I missed much as the actual trek had not started. Collected my sleeping bag and other essentials. Got acquainted with some of the folks at base camp. However since I arrived late I shared a room with trekkers who were to start a day after us. Met Raoul, my friends brother. Raoul is in his fifth year at BITS Pilani. At night we were forced to showcase our so called talents at the campfire. It was not an actual fire just a solitary candle burning in the middle. People sang, performed a skit, joked, made fools of themsleves and then it was my turn. Well I can't sing, can't tell jokes, can't errr... well I can dance. Oops... not alone..... I managed to pull up 4 other guys up with me, Raoul, Saurabh, Sandeep and Shobit, but since we were taking too long to decide the song we sat down :-) As I said I was not the only one, everyone was making a fool of themselves. Whatever it takes to break the ice I say, whatever it takes.

Day 2:
The sky was clear. It appeared like an artist's canvas, with subtle shades of blue and orange and yellow and purple. We packed our lunches. After a good breakfast we were off to our first destination, Kalatope. There were 50 people in our group which I felt was too large for a trek. It should be 10 max. Our group leader was a criminal lawyer practicing in Delhi. However as we moved along the group broke into smaller groups which maintained their respective paces. There were about 6 of us in our group. Raoul who is studying. Sandeep who is practicing law in Delhi. Doing stuff in IPR in addition to other fields. Saurabh from Baroda who is studying and working. Then Brahma from Hyderabad and Lakshmi from Bangalore. Both are working in IT. The first stretch was along the road which was not fun at all. So we decided to climb up the surrounding mountainside just for kicks. Lakshmi and Raoul led the pack. A few of them were a bit dangerous for me so I decided to be an observer. After our lunch break the route was more scenic without the tarred road. The path got a bit narrower where we had to go in a single file. Reached Kalatope around 3-4ish. It was to be the highest point in the trek. Well over 6000 feet above sea level which is not very high at all. Lakshmi Raoul and myself decided to take a short hike into the forest. We explored some alluring paths and came to a consensus that it would be nice if we could make the hike early morning with torches. So we made plans for the next morning and decided to go to this place where we got an amazing view of the sunset. There was also this whiff of grass in the air. It reminded me of the smell of grass you get at rock shows. Why you ask. I dunno maybe its the feeling since both made me a little high :-) The night sky was crystal clear. It was peppered with millions of shining dots. And as you looked toward the horizon you couldn't distinguish the stars from the lights sources from some houses way below. That night the temperature went below zero. It fell to about -4 at night.

Day 3:
The hike thinghy didn't happen. We and our big plans :-) Anyways after natures call in the wild and all that we were off to Khajjiar. This route was more like it. We were enveloped by thick forest cover for most of the trek. Our knees began to ache as they had to bare the brunt of the sudden uphill and downhill climbs. Along the way peoples imagination resurrected a black block of wood into a bear :-) Well we were trekking through bear land but it wasn't a bear. We broke for lunch after we crossed the first mountain. We ate along a stream in the valley. It was beautiful. Cold but wrm at the same time. One of the trekkers got bit by a scorpion. After a good lunch we were hungry for more. It was a tedious 1 1/2 hour climb uphill. We zig zagged through the never ending ascent. I began to perspire quite a bit but it felt cold. Finally panting we reached the top. Phew. The remaining path was smoother. We had another mountain to cross. At one point there was this tree which grew sideways out of the mountainside. Lakshmi was like,"Lets go". The gang carefully climbed onto the tree and I volunteered to capture their exploits. Finally we reached Khajjiar around 4ish where we descended into this huge open field, the size of 3-4 football fields. It was surrounded on all sides by tall pine trees. There were a few horses grazing in the field. And just sometime around then it started to snow. You could taste the soft flakes while they brushed against your face. It sure felt like heaven. After filling our tummies we proceeded towards the guesthouse. This time we decided to have a campfire, a real campfire. You know like with some real wood :-) I went in the woods to collect some twigs. I had the torch while the other guy carried the booty back. On the way down I missed my stepping and then clung on to a tree for dear life. Finally when I managed to put some light on the situation I realised I was just 2-3 feet above ground. But I could have sprained a few things. Two Navy guys told us about their encounter with a bear along the path. The were ahead of the pack and sometime after lunch realised that a bear was following them. It did so for about 20-30 mins. G.V. Bhushan who is a Commander in the Navy then told us about his Basic mountaineering course experience which he did when he was 19. Its a 20+ day course where at one point you are left in the jungle for 2 days. He said he was petrified as a guy of 21 years was killed by a bear sometime back during the training. A knife is more of a liability in the jungle he said. Its the fire and your survival skills that get you through it. At night there was some star gazing with a studing astronomer as a guide. The Navy guys told us that they would be leaving early next morning as they wanted to leave basecamp the same day. It was 22nd and I also wanted to be back in Delhi by 24th night for midnight mass. One by one members of our gang decided to join up with group leaving early.

Day 4:
Our small group started early in the morning. We could see the snow capped peaks in the distance. The scenery was covered in a blanket of blue mist. The path all along was downhill. We passed through a couple of villages in the mountains. There was no tree cover above us, just the rising sun. Saw some eagles at close range along the way. It was amazing to see them soar through the sky. At some places the surface had loose mud. It would not have been a path we would have taken, had it snowed. We met a lot of children in the small villages along the way. After some knee beating downhill stretches we reached Mangla. We broke for tea and then headed off to Chamba where we took a bus back to basecamp. The bus journey to Pathankot was cramped. The conductor who was sitting shot gun would go to collect the ticket money from people every now and then. At one point he had to go back by putting his footing on the seat rests. His feet didn't touch the ground :-) When we reached Pathankot we enjoyed a hearty dinner. Saurabh stayed back at Pathankot to catch another train later. The five of us then got on a train to Delhi that night.

Missed the bus

There is always a first time for everything. A time to do things for yourself. A time to do things for others. Some of them you know, some of them you don't. Some of them you like, some of them you don't. But in doing those things you know that in some magical way it will finally make you a little bit happier than before. So I guess its all about doing things for yourself.

Well there are also times in life when you know the outcome of certain actions, you would hope/wish otherwise, but you just know that if you didn't do it then at the end of the day you would regret it. And then there are times in life when you know the outcome of certain actions, but then what you would never hope or wish for happens, but you just know that if you didn't do it then at the end of the day you would regret it. You kinda get a sense of a deja-vu feeling when both happen in close proximity to each other. Not cause of the more than subtle similarities or differences, but maybe cause ultimately the feeling is the same.

Oh my God... What the hell am I yapping about. Ok I'll tell you about one incident. Well I was on my way to attend Ayush's wedding in Saharanpur. He has been my roomie for the past 4+ years in Bangalore. My sister Sonali was to join me from Delhi. I arrived at night by flight and we were to catch the train to Saharanpur early next morning. Nikhil drove us through the fog to the railway station. It was pretty cold. We checked that the train would arrive on platform 12. We parked ourselves on the platform, too cold to move. Then this huge chunk of people that were standing near us, moved away from us and this new chunk of kids and parents came towards us. Morning walk I guess to generate some heat. Good for them. The Shatabdi came into the platform. All of us got inside. It was nice and cosy as the heater was on. This group of kids were going on a field trip up north accompanied by their teachers. Parents were all around us, telling them what not to do. It was gonna be a pleasant journey, a nice loud singsong pleasant journey. 6:55am the train didn't depart. 7:00am the train still didn't depart. 7:05 am the train still didn't depart. Its cold maybe the engine takes time to heat up :-) Then these people come up to us and tell us that one of our seats is theirs. "Ooh oh". We showed them our tickets and then in that eternal second reality hit us hard. They tell us that we are sitting in the wrong Shatabdi, "Ouch!". This one was going to Amritsar, "Yikes!". Both Shatabdis were on the same platform 12, back to back. And good ol Murphy decides to play his pranks. "Nooooooooo", I let out a silent cry. As we regained our composure and woke up from our slumber, we grabbed our luggage and got off the train. The other Shatabdi left sharp at 6:55am. "Damn", I let out another silent cry. It was like one of those movies where everything goes wrong and we were starring in it. Not my usual morning cup of milk. Well our journey had just begun.

Since the next Shatabdi to Saharanpur was at 2 in the afternoon we decided to go by bus. We caught a bus outside the station to take us to the main bus stand. It was a 20 min drive through old delhi. The bus was packed to capacity. As I watched the rising sun which was still a cold yellow disk, I pondered about the evil that lay ahead. Would we manage to get a luxury bus to our destination. Nope we won't. Since I had run out of silent exclamations I was silent as we boarded the bus to Shamli. The direct bus to Saharanpur would take time. By now a couple of people had been informed of our plight. "The poor kids". "How sad". Switch the mobile off :-) We got front seats just behind the driver who kept honking his horn for no apparent reason whatsoever. Maybe its cause all the trucks put up this sign "Horn please" at the back. I then moved myself into this real uncomfortable position so that Sonali could cover her face with my jacket and sleep on my back. It was the beginning of my two week vacation and things were not looking good. The bus was getting packet to capacity when I realised that I had forgotten to pack the most important thing. An open mind and an adventurous spirit :-) Once that was done things began to look different. The misty roads, the cold cold wind, the road ahead, all added to the mysticism. The occasional honking did continue but that was ok. At one of the stops there were these kids who were selling oranges. The conductor was trying to chase them out from one end while others ran in the other end to make a quick sale. Then he would run to the other end still shouting. I smiled. Just then this girl who was seated behind me decided that she was feeling sick. I missed by a whisker as she puked out the window. I smiled again wondering what else could happen.

We boarded another bus at Shamli. Again not a luxury bus. The seats of this one were blackened with filth. Just then this travelling doc stood up and began to shout his premeditated speech. He claimed that he had this powder which would whiten even the dirtiest teeth. I bought one out of curiousity. 10 Rs and if it didn't work he promised to give you 500 Rs. He also gave you this certificate. After making a good deal of money he vanished. I don't know if people bought it out of curiousity or for the 500 bucks. When the bus started filling up to capacity this old lady came in. She wanted us to fit in 3 people in a seat that was mean't for 2. Sonali was fast asleep. After negotiating with her for quite some time I told her that she could sit on my lap. She smiled and refused the offer. If she was any younger I would definately have got beaten up :-) However she obliged when I asked her for a snap. I mean I would have offered her the seat but I was worried about pick pocketers in the crowd if I had to stand. Well I had paid for the seat and I had occupied it long before she boarded the bus, so no one could say anything. Finally chivalry got the better of me and I offered her my seat. Or maybe it was cause I knew I would blog about it and chivalry is good for ones image :-) Hmmmm.... As we moved ahead through some bumpy and dusty roads there was this huge blast. A tire had burst and our bus was tilting to one side. I smiled as I said to myself, "Lets walk". Luckily or unluckily it was the truck at the side of us. The bus then dropped us at the wrong location. So we did the final mile by tempo. Finally after 3 buses and a tempo we reached our destination. At night it was pretty cold and Ayush and Pallavi had the best seats in the house. Near the fire :-) Everyone at the marriage referred to us as the ones who missed the bus. Well contrary to popular belief it was quite an eventful journey. I actually enjoyed it.

Well there is always a first time for everything. And then there are times in life when you know the outcome of certain actions, you would hope/wish otherwise, but you just know that if you didn't do it then at the end of the day you would regret it. And then there are times in life when you know the outcome of certain actions, but then what you would never hope or wish for happens, but you just know that if you didn't do it then at the end of the day you would regret it. Maybe not just regret it, maybe your life itself will be a bit different. I guess its your perspective that matters. I guess its the open mind and adventurous spirit thinghy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Distinguished Technology Product Company

Its nice to be recognised for the things that you do, be it at work, play or wherever. NASSCOM which is India's IT governing body awarded us with the prestigious "Distinguished Technology Product Company". I remember the first day quite vividly, when I joined Impulsesoft nearly 2 and a half years back. At that point we were a little over 40. I was briefed about the HR practices for about half an hour. Then taken to my seat in the basement of this quaint house, where I was given a chunk of hardware. I was given deadlines on the first day itself and got down and dirty with it right there and then. Vidhya told me, "The aim is to bring this thing to life. There will be a lot of new things along the way that none of us have laid our hands on. So you are totally responsible for this. We can guide you but can't spoon feed you." At first I was a little bit scared but slowly got a hold of all the device drivers, bootloaders, application stuff required to bring it to life. That was just the beginning. Worked on some real good innovative products since then. As a team we have climbed a few mountains that others thought could never be scaled. We have built stuff from scratch, including the hardware for the products which was done by our hardware team. We (I especially) have made a millions mistakes along the way. I still make a million mistakes :-) but I get to learn a lot along the way. We have come a long way, have a long way to go.

Its a fact that less than 95% of startups survive. And for product companies its even harder. First you come up with something new and innovative, then you build it including the h/w, device drivers, right to the application level stuff. You learn whatever you have to get the job done. After that you throw the product on the wall. A very few of them stick, very very few. I've seen some real innovative products that have not seen the light of day. Some cause they are ahead of their time and some cause of one tiny little loophole. But thats part of the game. You have to keep at it, keep churning out those ideas which finally metamorphise into something. Some of them make money, some don't. But some of them give you this warm fuzzy feeling.

We are now about 55 heads strong. Along the way we have been ranked amongst the top 10 startups of India, then the top 3 innovative Indian networking companies, and now this. One of the products I've worked on has also been featured as the "Gadget of the Week" by Time Magazine. It sure takes a bucket full of tears and an ocean of sweat to get a successful/innovative/trend setting product out the door. Its been a roller-coaster ride so far with its share of lows and highs. But the few highs more than compensate for the lows. I'm hungry for more :-)

Hungry kya ???
PS: I'm also known as the unofficial HR and PR person of the company :-)

Bangalore Habba

The Bangalore cultural festival was held from 2nd to 11th Dec. There was live theatre, music, art shows, traditional dance, singing, street theatre, rock shows and the likes. And to top it all all of it was free. All you had to do was get free passes from the local Cafe Coffee Day. I actually went to about 7-8 outlets around the city to get passes for all the plays :-) Some of them were good and some were like totally experimental. There was this play where this guy was moving and talking in slow motion. He moved so slowly that even if you closed your eyes for 2-3 seconds he wouldn't have moved much. Yikes. Saw a good Hindi play based on Marquez's "Erindiza and her heartless grandmother". Went with Neeti, Deepti, AJ, Bala and Deepa for various plays. I could say we were all playmates but then Neeti would kill me :-) On Saturday we went for the rock show where Strings and Indian Ocean performed for a very little while. Finally Neeti and Deepti agreed that their eye candy performers played for a longer time and ate into the slot for the rock performances. Sob sob.

God's Own Country

Jimmy was getting married in Kerala on 27th Nov, so a few of us planned to attend. The wedding was in Trichur, which is his home town. Jimmy is one big guy. Used to gym with him. Also played football with him during Cisco sports, a long long time ago. He introduced me to the Saturday charasmatic church meetings. And also to an old age home nearby. Nice chap with a big heart. The only time I have every seen him angry was during the Cisco football finals where the referee was favouring the other team. He shouted, "If you don't give a foul now, I'll beat you up!!!". The referee got scared :-) and then decided to play it straight. I mean anyone would get scared cause of his size. We were the underdogs throughout the tourney. After scoring the only goal in the finals we defended and marked our opponents like there was no tomorrow. We foiled all attempts of a comeback and I even managed to drop a couple of their players down :-) They sure had a lot of stamina. But finally we won. Yippee :-)

Anyways so I went along with some friends from Cisco, my previous company. Met a lot of other Cisco/ex-Cisco colleagues, friends and acquaintainces. Stayed at Gopa's place as he too is from Trichur. The day before the wedding we went site-seeing. Saw a lot of waterfalls. The restaurant where we broke for lunch had a bookrack. There was this one book called "Whos who of Gulf", which had the names of all the important people in the gulf. Kerala's virtual economy.

I tried on the traditional dress for men in Kerala. Its called the 'Mundu', where a white cloth is wrapped around the waist. The full mundu version is worn as a sign of respect for elders. There is also a half mundu version where my hairy legs were exposed. I looked more like a bouncer at a roadside toddy shop so I decided to wear my original attire for the wedding.

That night we had this sudden urge to watch a Malayalam movie. Gopa told us of this new actress, forgot her name, so we were all game to watch this movie in a language we did not understand. We reached about 5 mins late and bought tickets for the movie. When we entered we discovered that it was free seating. The theatre was peppered with a few unoccupied free single seats. Since we could not sit together we decided to go outside and get some help from the 'ticket dude'. Gopa and the dude exchanged some words in Malayalam. Or maybe expletives. Well whatever it was it sure made the dude a bit touchy. He said something and then looked at us as if we did not understand his language. Well technically I didn't but we all grasped the gist of it. We decided to leave and maybe catch another movie. Since I didn't understand the langauge it didn't matter what we saw :-) Besides we were out numbered and didn't want to attend the wedding with a few black eyes. We finally saw some other movie at another theatre. I asked Gopa what he had asked the dude. He said he asked him why the theatre didn't have seat numbers and the dude was offended. The dude said that thats the way it has been and thats the way it will be, so help us God. "Mind it. Wokay!!"...

It seems that all the theatres in Kerala have free seating. The second theatre guy was more polite and tried to give us a rational explanation for the current state of affairs. According to legend, a long long time ago there used to be seat numbers. Then someone discovered that the seat he was sitting in did not have good enough fan coverage. So he demanded that he get better fan coverage. When the likes of the dudes could not satiate his innermost desires he cried foul and decided to park his belongings someplace else. Then a fight broke out. And alas seat numbers were abolished in the whole of Kerala. Sigh... Hmmmm....