Quixotic Semiotic

Dreamer. Give me a sign.

Menu Close

Disruption by Innovation – Fireside chat with Vinod Khosla

Let me just start by saying how grateful I am to be located in a place like Bangalore where there is absolutely no dearth of opportunities to pick the brains of the best and brightest individuals in the world. The ex-CTO of my company mentioned to me in passing that he had an invite to a fireside chat being hosted by Vinod Khosla, and I squealed in excitement. This man is an absolute legend, but I was still a little wary considering what a huge disappointment the GMIC was. I just returned from the event, and I’m happy to say, it was worth it.

My first impression of Mr. Khosla was that he was older than his pictures seemed to suggest! I was under the impression that he was in his late 40’s, but he turned 60 this year. Who knew?! But I think with age and experience comes wisdom and this man has it in bucketloads. He spoke for about an hour and a half, and although most of what he said wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, it was so deeply insightful that I was immediately enraptured. I’d be ready to take his words as gospel, as unwise as that might be, simply because of how strong his convictions seemed. When asked about what entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk and Larry Page all had in common, Mr. Khosla said it was their internal belief system. Believing in an idea that goes against all societally accepted norms, and more importantly sticking to that idea despite the possibility of imminent failure – that made all the difference. There were two specific quotes that he shared that I am going to write down here for posterity.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Martin Luther King


The gist of is that to conform is to fail as an entrepreneur. If you’re happy with conformity and you’re happy climbing the ladder at a giant multinational, then more power to you. But if you’re looking to innovate, then that need of living up to the expectations of the people around you can be a killer. It’s something that scares me personally because I’ve always had this notion of being an entrepreneur, but I’ve also noticed that the truly bright people I’ve met always have something off about them. Either they’re eccentric or just flat out weird. I am a little bit of a weirdo, but for the most part, I’m a well-adjusted part of society. Have I done anything that’s nonconformal? I’m not sure to be honest. There have been times when I have wanted to make radical career decisions because I was unhappy, but I chose to wait because it was the “safe” thing to do. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past year, and Mr. Khosla’s talk just reminded of it, it’s this: if you have faith in your abilities and a quiet confidence (or even arrogance as he called it), then no matter what happens, you’re going to be able to bounce back from whatever situation you find yourself in. You’ve gotta take risks.

Another question that I’ve always had and that Mr. Khosla answered today was “Are we really in this tech bubble that’s bound to burst?” It might also be worth noting that this question was asked in an Indian context. His answer or at least my interpretation of it was yes and no. Investors have become so afraid of missing the “next big thing” that they’re throwing money in every direction, hoping that something, somewhere sticks. The result of this is of course, many companies that don’t even have a viable business model get funded and in most cases overvalued. To put it bluntly though, as an entrepreneur, if an investor is throwing money at you, why the hell wouldn’t you take it? If you’re smart about it, you will identify the flaws in your own value proposition, and you will plug in all the holes in your product before you sink in the market. But if you don’t, then really, whose fault is it? In the form of numbers, Mr. Khosla said about 85% of the companies that exist today (in India) may not exist in the next decade. When or how the bubble bursts, well I guess only time will tell.

As far as his thoughts about where the future of technology is headed, to put it briefly: innovation in sectors outside of traditional internet, SaaS and e-commerce companies. These include banking and financial services, food and education. Also, note to self: machine learning and artificial intelligence are going to take over the world. The implications of this are going to be massive in the next 15-20 years, which I guess is a known fact, but seeing how much progress is already being made in these areas makes me incredibly optimistic about the world we’re going to be living in.

And finally, Mr. Khosla said that one of the things that worry him the most about India is the fact that certain segments of society are being left behind during this rapid growth. While he specifically mentioned Muslims, I think it also applies to people belonging to low-income families and backward castes. I think this is such a significant, valid point that we need to come to terms with. Having a role model to look up to can have a tremendous impact on inspiring millions of others. When you think about it, how many Muslim CEOs or founders can you name off the top of your head? It’s almost a kind of circle jerk. There are no successful Muslim entrepreneurs, hence no one from the community is even going to try. I don’t profess to know too much about this, but I do know that if we are to grow as a country, innovation can’t be driven by and limited to a certain section of the population. It has to be inclusive for growth of any kind to be sustainable.

This man has given me so much to think (and write) about and for that, I am truly grateful. If you have any thoughts about any of this or innovation in India in general, do share! Many interesting conversations were my motivation for writing this and really, a conversation is the first step to creating change.

The Global Mobile Internet Conference, Bangalore

When I first heard about the GMIC, let’s just say I got pretty damn excited because after years of sitting in front a desk coding, I actually had an opportunity to go and listen to the bee’s knees of startups in the country. Mom, dad, look at me now: I’m the fancy mover and shaker who attends conferences and hands out business cards. The line-up of speakers was impressive at first glance – all the bigwigs with a few firangs thrown in for good measure. The price tag was impressive as well, $100 for a silver pass, but I guess even the organizers knew they’d be staring down a sea of empty seats with that kind of pricing. Basically, everyone and their mother got a free pass or an 80% discount (like I did) or a kind upgrade to gold (which I also got).

On the actual day of the event, I got in pretty late, so I missed the first panel with arguably the biggest names of the conference (Sachin Bansal, Naveen Tewari, Vikram Chandra). By the time I did get into the conference hall though, there was a live band playing “Tonight I’m Lovin’ you” (I kept hearing the dirty version in my head) and this was accompanied by weird disco lights. Hello, nightclub or conference? Are these things usually like this?

All the keynote speakers who were supposed to talk about seemingly interesting topics like “Big Opportunities in Emerging Markets” and “Wearables 2.0: The Next Wave” used the poor captive audience to evangelize their own companies and products instead. If I really wanted to hear about their annual revenues and growth rates, I would have googled that shit. Stick to the brief people. As a product manager, how does it help me to know about your entire suite of products? I came here to learn about industry trends and to learn from the unique experiences of these hugely successful companies. Instead, I came back wishing I hadn’t just blown a million litres of petrol going 20 kilometres each way. The CEO of the APUS Group (who?) jabbered away in rapid Mandarin and all I heard at the end of a long, mostly boring monologue was “investing blah million blah in India”. Cue claps.

The Indians were slightly better but not by much. Rohit Bansal and Kunal Shah were on the panel talking about “Revolutionizing Mobile Services” but really, it kind of reminded me of my mom complaining about kids and technology (Rohit Bansal, I’m looking at you). “Arre, children nowadays know how to use an iPhone before they even start talking. Itne fast hai ye bacche aaj kal”. Like dude. You guys are CEOs of huge-ass companies. Throw us a bone and give us something of value, would you? Or at least something other than generic platitudes we’re all aware of? At least Kunal Shah was funny, I’ll give him that. But I didn’t hear a single thing that I hadn’t already heard before. “Mobile is growing”. Yes, we knew that. Where’s the revolution we’re talking about? What is the next big thing? Crickets.

The panel about “Monetizing on Mobile” was marginally better. Dude called Alex Qian went on about dogs, cats, pigs and donkeys (something about advertisers and publishers), weirdest analogy I’ve heard in a while. Then they went off on a tangent about how the Chinese are gamblers and Indians are saints with tightly zipped pockets. But I’m not complaining too much since they were at least mildly entertaining. A special mention also to the very out of place lady emceeing the entire event. Did she get lost on her way to hosting a Bollywood dance show? The exhibitors hanging around outside seemed to think they were at a music concert, the freaking music was so loud, I couldn’t hear a thing the people on stage were saying. But hey, it woke me up from time to time, and they seemed to be having more fun than I was so power to them.

If I had to describe the day in one word: FAFF. Yes, this is my new favourite word buddies in Bangalore have taught me. This word actually exists in the dictionary it seems (surprise, surprise). It means “a great deal of ineffectual activity”. Spot on.




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.

© 2015 Quixotic Semiotic. All rights reserved.

Theme by Anders Norén.