Quixotic Semiotic

Dreamer. Give me a sign.

Menu Close

The thing about fear

I visited South Africa for the second time last month and it was as beautiful as I remembered. The week after that, I clinked glasses with new friends in Bangalore and now, well I’m writing this while lounging in the hotel in Bangkok and stuffing myself with Phad Krapow. Life is fucking good. But before anyone starts to complain about the injustice of it all, the past year has held its own unique set of challenges.

I went to South Africa with absolutely no expectations, because I was fifth-wheeling—the only ‘kid’ among middle-aged golfers and their WAGs. I did the whole ‘I’m 23 years old and I’m too cool for this trip’ thing and seriously considered staying at home, but who was I kidding? I packed my bags and left two days after the entire group and found myself in sunny Cape Town. The weather was blissful, especially after the heated cesspool that is Hyderabad at the moment. The ocean was too cold to swim to my utter dismay, although I should’ve known better (our summer is their winter, kids pay attention in geography class). After four nights in Cape Town, having eaten what seemed like an entire ostrich, crocodile and warthog (a.k.a Pumba, as the waiter cheerfully deigned to explain), we drove for 6 hours down the Garden Route to George, a place that apparently has a higher density of golf courses compared to people.

Now I’ll admit, there was only so much I could cycle, swim and spa (noun? verb?) in the manicured landscapes of the country club we were staying at (first world problems). It was a chance conversation with our friendly driver with the most eargasmic accent that led me to Bloukrans. Bungee jumping was always on my list of things to do someday, like a lot of things are for a lot of people. I never actively set out to strike it off my so-called list, but this just felt like serendipity. One of the highest and most scenic bridges in the world was a stone’s throw away and I was going to jump from it.

People have asked me if it was scary. People also asked me how it felt. The answer to these questions is both easy and hard to explain. I’ve never had a fear of heights, in fact, I always welcomed the surge of adrenalin from being at higher altitudes. I guess my fear so to speak was taking that leap. I’ll be honest, I’m a great swimmer but a really sucky diver. Jumping headfirst into a pool of water can feel like concrete at times and I developed an aversion to that whole sensation after a summer spent belly flopping at the municipal pool.

The day before I was due to jump, I practiced falling—mentally and physically (I hope I didn’t break the springs of my hotel bed). I also heard tales of the cord snapping; a particularly gory story of a woman falling into a crocodile infested river at the base of the Victoria Falls with her feet tied together. Coming to terms with death isn’t the easiest thing to do, but what helped was knowing that I’d rather die jumping off a 216 metre bridge than slipping in the toilet at 80 years old.

I’m probably digressing here quite a bit but Dan Fredinburg’s life and death kind of forced me to revisit my own thoughts on the topic. This dude lived—I mean really lived a beautiful life. Even a full time job and the mundaneness of the real world doesn’t mean you have to be chained to your desk.

Hell is chained to a desk.

Shameless plug here.

You can leave your imprints on lives, places and people, or at least that’s how I aim to live. As for death, well Alan Watts says it best.

No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.

To come back to what I was originally talking about: people asked what it felt like to take that jump. I’ll admit that I was apprehensive when I looked down at the valley between two mountains with the ocean in the horizon. The trick here was to not give my brain enough time to process the situation (because when it’s flight or fight, the former wins) and just fall. The falling part was exquisite—sort of like flying and meditating at the same time. I screamed the kind of scream I never had the courage to scream before. Being close to perceived death made me feel so alive (I think I’ve covered all the cliches related to falling in this one paragraph… more to follow).

I’m usually not a fan of very literal metaphors but in this case as you will see shortly, the siren call was just too strong. There are going to be times when you’re afraid. You see, there are going to be times when you’re scared to fall. But the payoff of charging through is all too sweet. I’ve been living at home for the past two years, and I usually get the ‘how do you live at home’ deal from people all the time, but it was actually living at home that gave me enough time, energy and the financial freedom to work a full-time job and start and run my own company. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if I shuttled off to a bustling metro to live alone as a sophisticated 20-something year old.

Now that I’m moving to Bangalore, I’m afraid again but for the opposite reasons. This time I worry about living alone and meeting people in a city that is now alien to me. I worry about how I’m going to do at the job I feel sorely under-qualified for but miraculously acquired. It’s the fact that I’m afraid to disturb the balance of the status quo that tells me I’m making the right decision. Kierkegaard, who is always good for a light read said:

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.

And it’s true. That rush is incomparable. Bungee jumping. Making important life choices. Saying no to things and people that make you unhappy. Ordering that weird thing on the menu. Asking a random person on the street for directions. Texting that guy or girl you have a crush on. Whatever it is that scares you, do it. You’ll have that pit at the bottom of your stomach. You will wake up in a cold sweat. But you’ll also learn to live, laugh and cry with your entire heart. Do with it what you will but it’s been working well for me so far.


Dreams of the Day (webcomic) – Experimenting with new media

So our germ of an idea has finally come to fruition. The incoherent randomness in my head has been transformed into visual stunner-y by the oh-so-talented Kruttika. The words are a little all over the place, but I think in conjugation with her illustrations, they just about make sense. I hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed working on it. Also, this is only the beginning of what we hope is a looooong collaboration – we are very excited. Let me know what you think, or what your interpretation of the poem is!




Dream on, little dreamer

I’ve been on some weird kind of Euro binge lately and it’s causing some serious damage to my/dear father’s pockets. In the past six months I’ve been to France, Scotland and the U.K on two separate occasions, and I’m finishing off this winning streak in Croatia next month. Yeah, I’m one lucky S.O.B (son of a bitch for the uninitiated). That’s a lot of travel, even for me, not including the trip to Goa in the middle but I don’t think I could ever complain about too much travelling. There is no such thing! Yeah, the fancy biz people tell me how shuttling how to remote cities in the country every week for days on end is a major pain in the ass. “All those hotels and airplanes, sigh…” Um, what the fuck?! I freaking love hotels. What’s not to love about fancy high flying, soft white linen sheets with a high thread count, room service and the little chocolates at the end of your bed? You’re not even paying for it yourself. Just give me your job already you heathen.

On a related note, I hate how people react when these underground, low on the radar things come wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am into the mainstream. Yeah dude, we get it. You liked deadmau5 when he was a weird guy with a huge mouse on his head. That basically means you’re Columbus and you discovered the New World. All the other chums out there still thinking the world is flat, HAH. In yo face bitch. So now the entire world is educated to the fact and instead of celebrating the power of discovery, you’re having a fit like a two year old because some other little ankle biter is playing with your toys. I don’t get it. I never will. The first thing I do when I discover music, or well anything that is awesome for that matter, I spread that love around. In every list for a 20 something, “travel the world” is probably up there in the top five. I was shipped to Bangkok when I was about a year old, so it’s pretty much been a lifestyle for me but I LOVE how it’s become a rite of passage.

There are so many things that travel teaches you and I don’t just mean backpacking on your own, living off 100 bucks a day. As a kid, I learned to appreciate the obvious things. The art, the history, the architecture, the food, the fact that there are white skinned people, dark skinned people, yellow skinned people… basically that there are people of all shapes and sizes and colours of the rainbow. As a young adult starting to travel alone or with friends, I came to realise that it has a lot to do with finding yourself outside the warm embrace of the familiar. It happens in a lot of small, seemingly insignificant ways. When faced with the prospect of speaking to an angry looking French shopkeeper for directions in my sorry excuse for the beautiful language, I felt all kinds of panic and social anxiety — and I’m normally a seasoned pro at this stuff. After being thoroughly dismissed in what distinctly sounded like “stupid tourists never buy anything” in rapid French, I patted myself on the shoulder for mustering the balls to ask a woman with a Hitler moustache. I spent the next hour dragging my over-stuffed suitcase over cobblestoned streets (yeah they’re pretty, but wheels and heels? nopenopenope) in complete darkness. But hey, hardship builds character right?

Yeah, so anyway. I love how everyone is now sipping this Kool-Aid. Instead of making futile attempts to describe how I got life lessons from a 60 year old woman on some kind of psychedelic drug, I know that we all have outlandish stories to share and travel nightmares to exchange. We just get it, we all know the punchline of this travel joke. It is unbelievably unifying. Travel is the real form of globalisation. Outsourcing IT services and BPOs to India is one thing, but actual young Indians jetting off across the shore in search of adventure and life and love… now that is the world truly becoming smaller. For a while, even a short while, you can dream about what your life would be like without being a prisoner of birth. And for the braver ones among us, what it’s like to actually take that plunge. Until then, I’m going to ride my pipe dream of reading books at this charming little cafe for the rest of my life.


The Winter of our Discontent

I think it’s high time someone invented a way to transcribe thoughts and store them on the cloud, at the very instant that these thoughts transpire. I seem to have all my best ideas at the most inopportune moments like in the shower or in those twilight hours right before you fall asleep. My witty thoughts need to be recorded for posterity and I can totally see the merits of tweeting with my mind. Not to mention the fact that it would make blogging so much easier for people prone to procrastination and complete sloth, a.k.a me. Now that I have actually gotten down to this, I’ll stop being meta and get right to the point.

I was watching an episode of CSI yesterday, and yes, I’ll admit to being a crime show watching fiend. I think most of Fox Crime’s ratings have come from my obsessive interest in crime shows. What can I say? I love me some gore. However, that’s besides the point. For those interested, this episode is called ‘Yahrzeit’, which is translated to ‘soul candle’ in Hebrew. It’s a candle lit as a sign of mourning, usually to mark the anniversary of death. This particular episode dealt with the consequences of the Holocaust that are still prevalent today and opened my eyes to the nauseating existence of neo-Nazis. I have been to Auschwitz and it was a visit that deeply affected me then. Being witness to the fragments left of a million lives and souls made me realise the atrocities that we humans are capable of turning a blind eye to. In what we consider today as a modern world, we still continue to stare blankly in the opposite direction.

The civil war in Syria has killed over a 100,000 innocent people, civilians caught in the crossfire between the forces of government and the violent opposition. The United Nations has estimated that over 1.5 million refugees have left Syria, and those remaining face an uncertain future. For the most part, the rest of the world watches on. We have all seen the aftermath of what happened in Iraq with the involvement of the West, yet rather than learning from the dire consequences of these actions, we choose to burrow our heads in the sand and do nothing. As Indians, we are no strangers to the riots brought on by class, caste, community and religion. Casteism well and truly exists today, in the homes of the rich, educated and privileged. How different is this from racism really? Sure, I’ll sit next to you on the bus but I draw the line at marrying you, just because. Watching political parties use this to their advantage is absolutely sickening, but that’s an entirely different story altogether. People take pride in treating their servants well. But god forbid that your daughter falls in love with the driver.

Homosexuality is another raging issue today, something I believe is so fundamentally simple but made unbelievably convoluted. Two consenting adults, choosing to do what makes them happy, in a decision that has nothing to do with anyone outside this sphere of consent (which makes me open to the possibility that polygamy and incest might not be reviled in the future, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing). Coming out as gay is still amazingly rare in a country as large as India, and I can totally understand why people wouldn’t want to face the repercussions of the close minded society we have come to be. We have already made it illegal, and even after the effect of acceptance from the West trickles down to us, we will still continue to complain about the influx of bad Western morals that has our children wearing baggy jeans, short skirts and loving members of the same sex, while never actually making peace with the fact. Maybe we aren’t killing everyone who is different, but merely being different puts a discernible target on your head that basically implies that you asked for it.

In a country so diverse, we struggle to be the same. Aspirations are reigned in, because to dream too big makes you an outlier. Dreams are shattered because that’s not what everyone else is dreaming about. You say artist, everyone else says engineer. You say “I want to travel the world”, everyone else says “Settle down and get a stable job”. The strength required to shed this baggage of expectations is immense, and to everyone who has done it (and the numbers are increasing each year), you have my undying respect. In essence, I feel like the core of Nazism was to promote a kind of sameness. A white army that wasn’t sullied by other races. I protest this ideal of sameness, and I think this is something that remains pervasive in our lives today. When life isn’t really yours for the living, what’s even the point? But I can only hope that with the birth of the millennials, now is the winter of our discontent.


thnks fr th mmrs

There’s something about spending over 10 hours in front of a computer screen all day, churning out words faster than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends, that is really not conducive to blogging. My creative juices have been cut, squeezed and slaughtered from what’s left of my shrivelled excuse for a brain. As always, I’m quite surprised when people in real life ask about my writing activities, aka this blog. I figure that everyone who writes online, either on a blog or on Facebook, or anywhere on the internet develops a persona, that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their real selves in the non-virtual world. I don’t even come off sounding half as intelligent in person as I do with a sprinkling of nerdy vocabulary while writing. I also believe in the unique magic of words that makes even the most mundane activities seem glamorous and inviting. We all live through almost the same experiences and that comes with the humble realization that no thought we have is unique. Every little epiphany you had, was had by millions before you and will be had by a million people after you. The context, in large part, given to these experiences that are framed by an artist’s mind, a writer’s word, a musician’s skills or simply anyone who stops to pause and think, is what makes our lives our own.

I remember the sheer coolness of sitting next to John Martin on the plane from London to Miami, the handsome Swede responsible for several hits in the electronic music scene this year, and I also giggled at the fact that he slept with his mouth wide open, a dribble of drool on the side. Note to self: There’s an important life lesson here. 1. Sleep with mouth shut. 2. No matter how rich and famous you are, your bodily functions remain the same. I remember letting the music wash over me during Above and Beyond’s set at Ultra, and watching the joy I felt being reflected in the faces of so many others. Music festivals, especially electronic music festivals get a bad rap because they’re touted as money making, drug peddling machines, but the experience of being surrounded by happy, like-minded people was a testament to the unifying power of our shared existences. As hippy-dippy as this sounds, this was my first time of being part of a group that was larger than its whole.

I remember snorkelling in the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean this July. It was a special session just for me, thanks to the sweet Mauritian guy at the beach. I jumped off the boat alone, with as much grace as Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars and with a flash of my fins, I was gone. I was in the middle of the ocean, the boat a tiny speck in the distance. Underwater, all I could see was endless blue, interspersed with schools of fish and bright corals. The ocean is constantly churning and a feeling of lightheadedness set in as I let the aura of silence hum through my ears. It was starkly beautiful, the rays of light filtering in through the water, but it only reminded me of exactly how small we are in the larger scheme of things. I felt miniscule as the ocean carried me wherever it wanted to and I came up and gasped for air, trying to keep the boat in sight. I guess the entire experience could be a metaphor for life and whatever, I see that, but that’s not the way I choose to remember it. Wherever you are, be there, completely in the present. There are times to shut your brain down and stop thinking.

I remember spending three days in a place I called home for four years. Saying goodbye wasn’t hard, because Manipal the ‘place’ had much less going for it than Manipal the ‘people’. Almost all of us landed up here because at the time, fate had dealt us a bad hand. But on circumspection, we only served to benefit from it, simply because: 1. No one knows how to party like we do. 2. Grades don’t mean shit, if you don’t have the smarts. As all the BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog posts will tell you, college was actually the easy part. The real world is cruel, and mostly boring. When you’d rather spend a weekend to catch up on sleep instead of raging it away, you know you’re in trouble and that you are now officially an adult with all the baggage that label brings.

I remember walking along the little streets of France, listening to jazz and Christmas carols while overdosing on sugar laden crepes and waffles (gauffres!). Irena, our sixty year old roommate in Avignon reassured me that you are never too old or too poor to travel. Life lesson she taught me: If everything goes to shit, and you don’t have a place to call home, you will find it in a hostel, in a little town, in the south of France. You will be offered shots of Swedish Punsch and glasses of wine, and a place at the tables and in the hearts of random strangers. Gervla (sp?), the feisty Irish-Canadian was house hunting and learning linguistics at the Sorbonne while Caio, the Adrian Grenier doppelganger, was living on carrots (and weed?), cut off by his rich Brazilian father and being hit on by gay Couchsurfers, watching sunrises at Grenada. Four sentences that sound more interesting than my entire life upto this point. Next life lesson? It doesn’t have to be that way. Take more risks. Screw the plans. I’ll do it when I’m older, richer, wiser. Those days could never come.

Somehow I’ve managed to make this entire thing about myself, but it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. It’s been a good year so far and I’m looking forward to what the next will bring. More importantly, if the year doesn’t bring it, I will. Whatever you hope for or dream about, make it happen. Life now seems long and never ending, and that’s the beauty of being 20 something. I hope it stays this way forever.

Incredible India is a Myth

I have been bugging my parents to get rid of their Times of India subscription for a good two months now, but the newspaper guy is deaf to all requests for change, perhaps he’s yet another soul sacrificed at the altar of Bollywood gossip. I was pleasantly surprised this morning by the crisp typography of The Hindu which I adore, and I call it serendipity because otherwise I’m not sure I would have read this brilliant piece called ‘Life, rape and death in an Indian city‘. There have been a lot of articles written about Nirbhaya, and the infamous Delhi rape, none of which as far as I know have painted such a complete picture along with distinct social commentary in the unlikeliest places. It is also interesting to note that these insights came from a ‘foreign’ journalist, south Asian correspondent of The Guardian and The Observer, Jason Burke. Indian, or not, I strongly urge everyone who reads my blog to go read this. You must.

As Indians, we are anaesthetised against the reality we live in. We know about global warming and drought and the impending doom of mankind, but we’re more worried about our jobs and what to eat for dinner. It’s a natural defence mechanism, how else do we live? In a similar way, we choose to ignore the truths about our country — the vast disparity between the classes, the corrupt politicians that run our country, communal tension, acts of violence and terror and the list goes on. There are times though, when we are forced to open our eyes wide open and take a good look around. Our little cocoon will come down crumbling.

There are certain parts of the article that rang loud and rang true. I felt like I needed to write about it, if only to come to some kind of internal resolution. Beware, jumbled and highly haphazard thought processes ahead.

The incident was to prompt a global outcry and weeks of protests, and to reveal problems often ignored by those overseas who are perhaps too eager to embrace a heart-warming but simplistic narrative of the rise of prosperity in the world’s biggest democracy.

The rest of the world seems to classify India by putting it in one of two categories, both polar opposites. There is the heart-warming Slumdog type story where despite all the slums and open latrines, there will be happy endings. India will prosper because we as a nation, have evolved from being a land of snake charmers and elephant mahouts to world leaders in outsourcing and thus we can do anything. The other end of the spectrum is the rather cynical version, where India is a terrorist hub, a land of rape and violence, and a country often marked as unsafe for travel. But you really can’t blame an outsider for not knowing where to place India in their mental filing cabinets, because when I try to answer this question, I fail. Where do we stand? Are we an optimistic growth story with a booming population accompanied by a booming economy? Or are we in a rapidly downward spiral with an out of control population and a farce of an economy?

These were not serial sex criminals, psychopaths or brutalised men from the margins of society. Their backgrounds were, perhaps more worryingly, like those of tens of millions of Indian men.

The perpetrators of the vicious crime were regular Indian men. The very sentence terrifies me. They all belonged to a similar section of contemporary Indian society. They were semi-skilled and poorly educated migrants. They were unmarried and they had a propensity towards alcohol abuse. They all came to the big city, the capital, in pursuit of money and a better livelihood as is the case with a million hopefuls every year.  But this massive exodus to the cities has led only to overcrowding and the shattering of dreams.

By 2030, India’s urban population is set to reach 590 million, an addition of approximately 300 million to India’s current urban population. Much of this growth will be due to rural-urban migration.

The numbers are staggering, and the causes and effects numerous. The rise of crime in cities almost always has a correlation with an increase in the migrant population. With no money for food and no place to live, it almost seems justifiable that they turn to petty crime which soon escalates to rape and murder. Give a man enough cause, and he will turn into a monster.

One of the most striking elements of the Delhi gang-rape case is the similarity in the backgrounds of the victim and of her killers.

Nirbhaya’s father, Lakshmi Chand was a migrant himself. They lived a modest life in Dwarka, where he eked out a living as a loader, emptying planes. To raise money for Nirbhaya’s education, he had to mortgage his ancestral land in the village while she began working in a call center to make ends meet. This had the beginnings of a somewhat happier version of the migrant story, albeit with a tragic end. India with all its contrasts never ceases to amaze me. There is never an absolute truth.

They walked out past the western-branded clothes shops and supermarkets, the new coffee bars, the car rank where drivers pull up in imported 4x4s, past the uniformed security guards, into the darkness of the evening, and started looking for transport home.

I know absolutely nothing about life in India. According to McKinsey’s projected forecasts for the year 2015, I belong to the 1% of the population that forms the Indian upper class. And if you are reading this blog, you probably belong in the 1-10% percent range. We can manage to afford an education abroad and we can scrape together enough money to go out every weekend.  We buy clothes from fancy malls and drink overpriced coffee. The rest of India lives in an alternate reality that we only see vague glimpses of. Yet, we are effectively the ‘ruling class’, the educated policy makers. According to the Credit Suisse numbers, the top 1% of the population own 15.9% of India’s wealth, the top 5% own 38.3% and the top 10% have 52.9%, more than half the country’s wealth. In contrast, the bottom 20% own 1% of the country’s assets and the bottom 10% own just 0.2%. How can we ever propose solutions to problems we’ve never experienced and probably never will?

She was not in a village, nor was she working in a nightclub. She was thus seen as representative in a way that other victims, rightly or wrongly, had never been.

Almost always in a rape case, fingers are first pointed to the victim. She was wearing a short skirt so she was asking for it. She was in a nightclub, she was morally loose and asking for it. Nirbhaya wasn’t guilty of any of the above and hence, she became a representative of the completely innocent Indian daughter (sidenote: as dubbed by the Indian media, because women must fall into one of three categories — mother, wife or child) who was brutally raped. Had the situation been different, it’s hard to tell whether the reactions would have been the same. This struggle between the rigid moral dogmas that are characterized as Indian-ness and the race towards modernity, has put us Indian women between a rock and a hard place.

Hanging them is not enough. They should be tortured like she was. Then maybe there will be a change. Why not?

Is capital punishment enough of a deterrent? Does a death sentence by hanging mean more than life imprisonment? Most countries in the world have abolished the death penalty, but in India today we can’t help but celebrate that justice has been served. But I can’t help but instinctively believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. How far are we willing to go?

I console myself by saying she was a good soul, set free in death.

A premature end to a promising life, I hope she was set free and I hope her family can find peace. The impact of the anti-rape legislation is yet to be seen, but the problem is deeper and more endemic. Realizing all the problems that plague this country can make your head spin and it’s much easier to bury your head in the sand. The truth can set you free, and maybe it is time we face the facts. Incredible India is a myth.

Startups and All That Jazz

Things have been busy lately, in no small part due to my own tendencies for over-achievement and sheer pigheadedness.  I was until about a week ago, buried under mountains of documentation and fistfuls of hair that I had pulled out. No one really tells you about how hard it is to work at a tech startup no. All you usually hear about are the million dollar investments and the sweet corporate buyouts. No one tells you about how you get stuck for ages while fervently refreshing StackOverflow hoping for some answers. No one tells you that Google for once, can’t solve your problems. If there was ever an incentive for original thought, this is it. New ideas have no reference to build upon, and you have to do it from scratch. I feel like a low-class version of a scientist, which is not a bad place to be in all honesty.

Going back to how I pushed myself into a pit of my own despair, well I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m an above average writer and I have been since a while now. I’m quite the nerd among my circle of friends, so every now and then I’d get requests from people to write recommendation letters or essays or anything else that needed to be written. Weirdly enough, I was always happy to do it. Writing never feels like a job to me, its something that comes as naturally as breathing. The fact that other people recognized this made me feel worthy somehow. As friends started applying for graduate school and jobs, the number of favours I did kept increasing. My company is always on the lookout for fresh talent, and I’ve put out a lot of feelers all over social media and I have received plenty of resumes and cover letters that I dutifully forwarded to my boss. The quality I saw there shocked me, it really did (it was bad not good, in case I didn’t make myself clear). I mean these were mostly from my classmates and peers, people that I know are smart and talented but didn’t have the time or the inclination to dress themselves up on paper.

I can help friends, but there is only a limited circle of people I can reach. What about people outside that circle? When push comes to shove, all you need is a little nudge to get you the start you need. I’d never done anything about it so far except continuing to help people where I could. But working at a startup for the last 3 months or so has made me realize that I need to trust in my abilities to do things. We’re always putting ourselves down for various reasons because it is easier to cope with lower expectations than it is to try and fail. I’ve been there and a part of me is still there. But this magical little book called ‘The 100$ Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau is what really made me take the plunge (no I don’t get paid for any advertising, I wish I did).

We know about these billion dollar startup success stories like Facebook and Apple, and this has evolved into a stark form of tunnel vision. This is what we all aspire to be because this is what we know. Our hopes and dreams are jumbo sized in accordance with these pillars of success. ‘The 100$ Startup’ reminded me otherwise. The book is written very simplistically and it is such an easy read. It’s full of stories and anecdotes about real people who set up small businesses and are living a happy, comfortable life doing what they love. A guy who used his Frequent Flyer miles effectively to travel all over the world decided to share his tricks and he makes over 100,000$ dollars a year. The basic premise is that you don’t need to invest a fortune in an idea and the book reinforces that. The beauty of the internet and e-commerce is that it allows you to have a virtual presence all over the world at a nominal fee. More importantly, money can be made in ways other than founding a hugeass company or slaving away at a multinational.



This infographic says it all. The nirvana like state called convergence is where you can find true happiness. I read the book and I was itching to finish it only because ideas were popping into my head like kernels of popcorn ricocheting all over the place. I raced through the book and planted myself in front of a computer and I’ve been there ever since. I finally came up with the name, ‘The Perfectionist’ with a ridiculous back story to go with it (because quirky always sells). I’m not going to go on about what we do there because I’m sure you have a fair idea by now and I don’t want to shamelessly advertise.

The Perfectionist.

The Perfectionist.

 Well, that was subtle. 

Anyhow, there’s no predicting how we’ll do and I’m not even going to try. I’m optimistic though and kind of surprised that I actually came so far with this germ of an idea. Failure is scary, but as always if you put yourself out there in the first place that means you have the balls to take whatever comes at you. Before I end this tirade, let me get on to my soapbox for a minute.

Find your convergence! Think about skills that you have that bring value to others. I’m pretty sure every person has one. Graphics wiz? Make posters. Sports champ? Make coaching videos online. Artist? Create affordable, custom pieces of art. Photographer? Do weddings and baby showers. Party girl? Event planning. Tech geek? Possibilities are limitless. You don’t need a huge bank balance or a massive loan to start something. Just take that leap of faith, it will be the most sound investment you ever make. 

Note: We are also on Facebook, so you can go there and like us if you haven’t already. If you want to. Not that I’m advertising or anything. 

Dark, Fat, Ugly, Everyone is Beautiful

The ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign started by Nandita Das immediately caught my attention, as I belong to the darker persuasion myself. This is somewhat of a genetic aberration because my mom has much lighter skin, but the accepted explanation for this anomaly is that I was tossed into an incubator and my poor mother had to hang around the hospital to feed little jaundiced me. So the tale goes that I was born white and then all the rays from the photo-therapy darkened my skin to the luscious brown it is now. I question the scientific reasoning that was the foundation for this story but I’m really not complaining. Thankfully, my parents didn’t give a crap either. All my limbs were intact and I was jaundice free. Anything after that had to be a welcome bonus.

But as always, if you’re born in India every relative and the aunty brigade has to have an opinion about personal issues. “Why is she so dark? Don’t let her play sports any more!”, “Oil her hair everyday, who will marry her without a thick braid”, “So many pimples she has paapam, my Pinky has clear skin”. I’m just glad my name isn’t Pinky or Dolly or anything that ends in a y. The pimples will clear up but that’s here to stay. I’m pretty sure this was all well meaning advice, because this is what society’s expectations are and we’re supposed to adhere to some standard that somebody set. For me it was a non-issue and it always will be.

Time to wade into murky waters. It was a non-issue for me, only because I somehow managed to get past every other hurdle that society threw at me. I’m dark, but I have big eyes and I can style my hair decently to cover the bald patches (HAH). I’m average sized as far as weight goes, and tall enough to pass off as an adult (at last). I think the campaign comes from a good place, but I question its usefulness. People are discriminated against for all sorts of things. Fat people. Ugly people. Dark and fat. Ugly and fair. Fat and ugly. Are we going to start campaigning against every single bias that we have?

I realized how inadequate so many young girls felt purely because they couldn’t live up to the societal standards of beauty.

I am shocked to see the rise in the number of fairness creams, dark actresses looking paler and paler with every film and magazines, hoardings, films and advertisements showing only fair women.

There is nothing wrong with what Nandita has to say, but skin colour is the least of our problems. Every page of every magazine tells us that fat is ugly. Every film star endorses six pack abs and size zero figures. This is so much more prevalent than fair actors and fairness creams. Some people are fat. Unhealthy or not, that’s how it is. Can we start campaigning about how unfair it is that society has created a standard of what is thin and what is fat? Beauty according to societal customs is defined as symmetry of features, big almond shaped eyes and button noses with angular cheekbones. Bad features? Ugly. Bad teeth? Ugly. Bad figure? Ugly. Dark skin with killer features and a hot bod? I don’t see anyone complaining. The so-called standards of beauty are constantly evolving. In the 60’s, a woman with curves was a bombshell and a skinny girl was a boyish waif. The tables are always turning.

The point is this — beauty always has and always will be in the eyes of the beholder, and we will always want what we cannot have. Fair skinned, vampire-y skinned people in the West go tanning because chalky white skin is a fashion faux pas while we go through the ritual of spreading dollops of fairness cream every morning. I go to the gym every day to lose pesky fat and my grandmother tells me I need to put on weight. There are always going to be people who cash in on our insecurities — celebrities, fitness trainers, plastic surgeons and fairness creams, but this a battle we just can’t win. Advertisers will advertise because as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.

Countless studies have shown that attractive people are more successful in life, that things are always a little bit easier for them. There is no way to fight that kind of inherent bias, we all make those judgements. These are the uncontrollable factors given to people by an awesome gene pool and a whole lot of plastic surgery. This whole dark issue is moot. Instead of attacking the advertisers and the fairness creams, how about a campaign to teach young people to take pride in themselves — mind, body and soul? How about teaching teenagers that looks will come and go, but it’s intelligence and confidence that will take you the rest of the way? How about teaching parents to raise their kids to be tolerant and accepting of everyone regardless of height, weight or skin colour?

Beautiful inside and out. That’s how we should feel about ourselves and balls to everyone else.

In conversation with a jaded Indian man and a dented-painted Indian woman

(Taken from comments made on my post, Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Other Inconvenient Truths)

I am an Indian guy and I need to say many things from my own experience. I have noticed that Indian girls who are good-looking have a feeling of pride and attitude and behave as though all men are their slaves.

People who consider themselves God’s gift to the world do have that attitude and this goes for men and women all over the world! I’ve had guys not give me the time of day because I wasn’t upto their standards of attractiveness. It works both ways. I really don’t think this is a gender issue or even an ‘Indian’ issue.

Regarding attitude that you mentioned as not being gender specific, I again disagree. Perhaps, what you say is true to an extent. But there is no denying the truth that good-looking women have an attitude much more than their male counter-parts.

Although I’m inclined to dismiss this as hyperbole, I’m going to answer this anyway. Why do ‘hot’ Indian girls have so much attitude? Setting aside the fact that this isn’t something that is specifically gender based, I’d like to focus on why ‘good’ looking Indian girls in particular are said to have this ‘attitude’.

Easily put, it is self preservation. The thornier the exterior, the less likely anyone is to approach. Every woman in the country has been mentally undressed at some point by leering men, and this as everyone now is well aware of, is the least of it. And of course there is the slut shaming, where a girl who has a lot of guy friends is immoral and loose, and a BAD BAD girl. No wonder then that girls (in particular the ‘good’ looking ones) would rather be ice queens than be vulnerable to this quagmire of unpleasantness. But like I said in my earlier post, it’s something that I’ve personally been working on as a part of my own effort. This gradual change in attitude needs to be augmented by changes in the very system.

Somehow, Indian women (urban educated), it seems have got it into their heads that they are superior to the men. I wonder what makes Indian women  pride so much when they are not even half as beautiful as their Russian and Ukranian counterparts (although I agree beauty is relative).

I’m an ‘urban educated women’ as you put it, I don’t know why you think we consider ourselves superior to men. We have finally reached a time where we see a significant number of Indian women working, driving and doing other ‘manly’ activities.

That is a different debate altogether whether feminism has brought about good or bad in society To me, its definately made society worse.

Oh dear lord. To anyone who says this, all I can say is — keep your women safely locked up in the kitchen  because if you had it your way that’s where we would be. No voting rights, no right to inherit property, no right to our own reproductive choices, no protection from domestic violence and the list goes on. I see how it has made society worse.

Do we take pride in the fact that we are making huge strides in this male driven society? Yes.

Again its another debate and about technology having been the cause of this so-called empowerment. But its definately NOT a male driven society as you women claim it to be. I would dispute that; contest it and I have enough reasons to do so. Rather, I would say its always a female centric society where men are made the scape goats whenever the need arises.

India is a male driven, patriarchal society. Period (oh wait, that’s a female thing).  Sigmund Freud stated that for women ‘anatomy is destiny’ and it makes me sad, because it is true. Even now I hear friends’ parents telling them not to choose Civil or Mechanical Engineering because girls can’t work on the field. Even now, in 2013 I have friends who aren’t allowed to enter the kitchens in their homes because it is their time of the month. Even now, women in the corporate world can never feel secure about their jobs after taking a maternity leave. Even now, hostel timings are set at 6 p.m. for girls while there is no such need for the boys. Even now, at 21 I get asked when I’m going to get married because that is my sole goal in life. Someone needs to tell me how this isn’t a male centric society. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I can even call myself a feminist. I wrote about it in an earlier post, “Where do we go from here?”. Sometimes I wish it was black and white.

Yes, there are cases when men are falsely accused of rape and women get the benefit of the doubt. It does happen, and it is wrong. There are women who use their gender as an excuse to be morally repugnant. It is best to acknowledge that these situations do exist, but at the same time remember that so many crimes against women go unpunished.

Do we feel empowered that we can stay alone and work in a different city without fear? Yes. Does this have anything to do with men? No. It is just pride in our own achievements, that we are able to do things our mothers and grandmothers couldn’t do.

Too much of corporate-fed media here. You are brain-washed to believe that mothers and grandmothers weren’t achievers. They were bigger achievers than all the achievement that you can ever imagine. Just because they didn’t mean much to the MNCs as they led simple lives didn’t mean that they were under-achievers. Turning a house into a home is a much bigger achievement than owning bungalows, cars and 10 digit packages.

By achievements, I don’t mean earning truckloads of money and owning bungalows (although that is never a bad thing). My grandmother on my father’s side was married at the ripe old age of 14. When I think of myself at 14, I can only scoff at the idea of getting married then. There are so many things she could have done, if she had the chance to. She didn’t even get a chance to work on her hopes and dreams. Turning a house into a home is a huge accomplishment, I don’t deny that. Was it their dream? Was it the only thing they wanted to leave behind? Was it a choice or an expectation? We have an entire world full of possibilities now. 

We claim that we are a gender equal society. Then why the hell should a guy approach a lady and not the other way round? Why should guys pay the dating and dining bills and not the other way? (now don’t tell me that you go dutch. Saying is different from doing and even if I assume that you do, what about the other women?). 

We can’t claim that we are a gender equal society because we aren’t.

Yep, we are habituated to pampering women…..

For this I’m going to direct you to this wonderfully acerbic post. She tells it far more eloquently than I will ever be able to.

But lets say that men and women are to be treated alike. In which case, who pays rests totally upon the individuals in question. Sure, social norm for ages has been that the man pays. But that’s not the status quo anymore.

If a guy told me that he didn’t want to pay or couldn’t afford to pay, I would be okay with that. If he wanted to pay for my meal, I would be okay with that too. But I earn my own money. So I’d be perfectly comfortable paying for our meals. Can I speak for all women? No, I can’t. But it’s inaccurate to make a blanket generalization.

I do not agree with many many things that you have mentioned. First of all, I told you not to speak for yourself when it comes to paying bills. I have had this argument with many ladies who make such claims but when it comes to actual payment, they back out. Its real! Its my experience. What you speak here is immaterial; what you do in reality is what matters and there is a HUGE difference. Secondly, when you cannot speak for other women, why do you even need to refer to that? As a guy I know how many times I had to pay bills and how many times I was exploited. Sorry, I can’t accept your contention.

I’m sorry but no one is putting a gun to your head and asking you to pay. If you choose to go out with women who are that exploitative in the first place, that is entirely your fault. Women aren’t succubi. We’re not out to suck you dry of your money and your soul. If you’ve had multiple such experiences, I’m truly sorry but I think its time for an exorcism.

Regarding this article, its well-written. But, I also do not agree with you when you say that a guy who seeks ‘Fraandship’ is a bad guy.

The guys who seeks ‘Fraandship’ may not be a bad guy. However, when a person I don’t know sends messages like that after simply looking at my profile picture, I’m not going to be inclined to be friends with him. Even if he happened to be the nicest guy on the planet. That’s not how you approach a person.

For example, a guy added me on Facebook. He sent me a message saying, “Hey, I read your blog and I like the way you write. I wrote a blog exactly like that once and it felt like you expressed my thoughts exactly.” Would this be someone I’d like to be friends with? Yes! He shares my interests and I know he’s read my work. It’s all so subjective really.

This is one of the fundamental differences between the psychology of women and men. You cannot deny this. Women and men are different in many ways and I sometimes wonder in the correctness of gender equality itself. How can there be equality between two different creatures?

And finally the cusp of this mostly fruitful discussion. I wrote about Gender Bias-ity and I strongly believe that the only thing different between men and women is anatomy. Two different creatures would suggest a different species altogether and that isn’t the case. Gender equality, by strict definition is that men and women should receive equal treatment. Arguably, this is the final destination that we need to reach. I will go on a limb and say maybe this means that as women we need to let go of certain privileges bestowed on us for the sake of equality.

If I have to give up men opening doors for me and paying the check in return for equality in other places, that would be the best trade I’ve ever made. 

Sylvia, Esther and The Bell Jar

I just finished reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and now I have a rabid dog feasting in the recesses of my brain as my mind whirls and churns and futilely attempts to make sense of everything and nothing. The Bell Jar is often compared to Catcher in the Rye because of its Hollywood-esque ‘coming-of-age’ theme that everyone seems to adore. I wouldn’t even know how or where to begin the comparison. I sympathised with Caulfield’s travails, but I saw myself in Esther Greenwood. She is deviously smart, and like most smart people she breezes through her classes without absorbing an inkling of knowledge. She somewhat penitently but with a smidgen of smugness admits to exploiting the system by convincing her chemistry professor Mr Manzi that she shouldn’t take the class because she would get an A anyway. It is easier than it sounds, because by virtue of my grades I got away with a lot of things I shouldn’t have.

Esther’s descent into the darkness is so logically chronicled that it feels strange that anyone should feel otherwise. It makes depression feel like the natural state of the mind, and happiness an aberration. The fact that this is a semi-autobiographical story stops me from discounting any of Esther’s thoughts as ‘this is fiction, this doesn’t happen in real life’. She goes through the quarter life crisis we all struggle with, she’s constantly asked what she wants to do next, and she doesn’t have the answers and neither do we, most of the time.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

The book was written in a different time, when women had to choose and there were no in-betweens. But even now, we face the same questions, the guilt and the torment. We shuttle between our wants and our needs, the precarious balance between all things wanted can never be at perfect equilibrium. You balance the scales, adding and removing, hoping that you get there before you tip over.

“When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.
“Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said.
“She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.”

I think Allison Pearson’s, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” portrays the struggle without a hint of sugarcoating.

The way I look at it, women in the City are like first-generation immigrants. You get off the boat, you keep your eyes down, work as hard as you can and do your damnest to ignore the taunts of ignorant natives who hate you because you look different and you smell different and because one day you might take their job. And you hope. You know it’s probably not going to get that much better in your own lifetime, but just the fact that you occupy the space, the fact that they had to put a Tampax dispenser in the toilet – all that makes it easier for the women who come after you….

Esther feels the same way, albeit without the pedigree of experience. Her musings on the injustice of it all, that a woman’s virginity was to be guarded like treasure but a man had no such qualms. The hypocrisy of the society she lived in rankled, until she could no longer take the weight of those expectations. She sleeps, but she cannot sleep. Words are as undecipherable as hieroglyphs. She is suffocated by the stale air, a butterfly in a jar. Freedom doesn’t always mean being free.

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.

because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

She paints her suicide attempts like works of art. Simple clean lines, a razor blade is to puncture delicate skin and that is its sole purpose of existence. When she finally creeps into the cellar and swallows down a bottle of pills, I felt the terror she seemed immune to. The images in my head looked like a David Lynch movie. I once knew Sylvia Plath as a talented poet who stuck her head in the oven. She is so much more than her tragical end.

This entire diatribe has been littered with random thoughts and quotes in no particular order and with no significant meaning. But this is what lingers after reading the book, and this is what I will remember for a long time to come. In particular, these few sentences of the book are what I consider the bane of my existence.

How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing?

I often wonder. How can I write about life?

© 2015 Quixotic Semiotic. All rights reserved.

Theme by Anders Norén.