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Posted on: Monday, May 25, 2020 by Rajiv Popat

Remote Misses, Corona And Why You Should Take Extra Precautions.

The Corona / Covid lock downs in most countries are being opened up and life is getting back to normal as far as most folks are concerned. The number of infections however, in a lot of countries are still creeping up. Take for instance India. India declared its lock down when there were barely a couple of hundred cases and now 100000+ case later (with over 6000+ new cases a day) India is opening its lockdowns.


The media narrative has gone from, "the virus is very dangerous you need to stay at home" to "we have to live with the virus and you need to get back to work". The CEO of Infosys has now been asking people to not just go to office but to take a pledge to overwork themselves. And the governments which were particularly concerned about our health and well being are now equally concerned about the health and well being of their country's GDP and the economy.

All of that is fine and makes business sense. If you look at it economically, I'm not going to complaint about any of that. Most businesses and governments are always known to give more importance to macro economics over individual lives, but what I find most fascinating amongst all this is the way people are reacting to this pandemic lately.

The same people who were wearing masks and scared to death are now hanging out and chilling and even going to work with very little precautions. And as much I find this fascinating, there is already a documented psychological phenomena / fallacy that describes what is happening with people.

So how does fear and panic of death transition to a case of denial and perception of invincibility so quickly?

How did people go from being bad s#it scared to not giving a sh!t?

Turns out, Malcolm Gladwell described this phenomena years ago in his book David and Goliath using a famous fallacy called remote misses vs. near misses. I am not going to quote the entire chapter from the book, but Chris Irvin does a really awesome job at describing this concept in his blog. His conclusions though, are radically different from mine.

Long story short, during the world war just as Germany was going to bomb the UK, the British government had predicted that when the bombs begin to come down the civilians would be scared and would panic. And when the bombing started there was some fear, but within months Londoners grew resilient and stopped giving a damn about the explosions. As Irvin explains in his post:

Just a few years later the bombings began. Just as the British military predicted, thousands of people died and were injured and a million buildings were left standing in ruin. What the British military didn’t get right was the assumed panic amongst its people.

As the bombings continued, the people of London became resilient. One English psychiatrist wrote that as bomb sirens were alarmed, “Small boys continued to play all over the pavements, shoppers went on haggling, a policeman directed traffic in majestic boredom and the bicyclists defied death and the traffic laws. No one, as far as I could see, even looked into the sky.”

While Londoners were known to be a tough bunch, this wasn’t just a miraculous behavior unique to the people of London. As Gladwell puts it, “Civilians from other countries also turned out to be unexpectedly resilient in the face of bombing.”

The central idea here is that the phenomena of people growing resilient and developing almost an unhealthy courage towards the bombs which could kill them was never really courage or resilience. It was a convoluted form of belief or a mass scale societal delusion in large groups of people, that nothing was going to happen to them.

Malcom in his book, presents a hypothesis that in cases of bombing (or any tragedy) two kinds of things can happen to you. If you are alive you are either:

  1. A Near Miss - this means you are someone who were almost or partially hit by a bomb (or whatever tragedy we are talking about). The near misses see first hand the trauma and damages a tragedy can cause and most near misses are left in shock and trauma from that experience. These are people who can feel and spread panic but in a larger population this group is usually pretty small and contained.

  2. A Remote Miss - These are people who have heard about a bomb explode, or have had a bomb explode a sizable distance away and have just witnessed the report in a television show. Repeat this a few time and these folks who Malcolm calls, remote misses, start believing that the bombs or tragedies are never going to hit them. They distance themselves from the people who are getting hit and start developing a false sense in invincibility.

As MacCurdy, the researcher who did this research puts it:

Remote misses are the people who are essentially unaffected. The bombs have fallen far enough from them that the consequences are much less than the first two groups. As MacCurdy puts it, “a near miss leaves you traumatized. A remote miss makes you think you are invincible.”

This research is important because a lot of remote misses are happening to us right now and creating a false sense of invincibility in a lot of people who are taking their cars out and driving to work without any precautions. A lot of companies which are literally arm twisting their employees to show up for work when they should be working on giving them infrastructure and supporting them to work from home.

I do understand that the economy is suffering and some folks would need to go out there and start providing essential services and most need to also go out and work to make ends meet and pay the rent. I am absolutely cool if folks take a deliberate calculated risk and then step out of their homes to go to work. But stepping out with an illusion that "nothing is going to happen to me" is nothing but hope and hope alone is never a good strategy.

If your work demands you to work or even if you yourself have take an active decision to work I respect that. Totally.

Go ahead and do to work, but please do it safely and carefully! Wear the dammed masks and then wear shields, and then gloves and them some more protective equipment if you can. Wash your hands, wash everything that comes into your house starting with groceries to the stuff you order online, take showers and change your clothes when you come back from work and even distance yourself from your family as much as you can and sleep in different rooms temporarily so that if something happens to you they can be there for you and help you and take care of you. There is no glory or love in falling sick collectively as a family, just because one person in the family has to, or chooses to, go out and work.

And most importantly, never say, I am careful, nothing is going to happen to be. Instead focus on awareness and mindfulness (and prayers) so that nothing does. Observe every mistake, every oversight and every miss that happens on your part and fix it. Remember that time when you forgot to wash that milk packet? Remember that so that it doesn't happen next time. Remember that time when you took your mask off for a meeting? Please don't do that again in your next meeting.

And even more importantly, just the fact that everyone in my team is working, everyone in my workplace is working or even everyone in my company is working is never a reason for you to be driving to work. You should work if you have to or want to work. A huge number of people indulging in an act doesn't make it safer or reduce the risk in any way. With a virus the risks only go up.

With Remote Misses, the entire fallacy lies in the fact that a huge population of people are not going to be directly impacted by something dangerous and there fore are going to end up feeling invincible. That doesn't make the overall environment safe to be indulging in the act.

I know this because I actively chose to travel to a family member's wedding right before the lock downs began. But not for a second did I have a false illusion that I was invincible. My wife and I discussed this and concluded that it's a risk we are collectively willing to take in return for an experience. And we went ahead and took the risk with prayers and all necessary precautions. Not because we were emotionally arm twisted or guilted into being there, not because we wanted to impress someone or prove a point or flex our courage mussels, but because we genuinely wanted to be there and were okay with taking the risks in return of the experience of being there. The number of cases back then were really low. Would I take the risk today to get an experience of being a part of a family member's wedding? No way!

As we move ahead I can only pray that deaths are none, but the reality is that this is getting worse in a lot of countries and The Remote Miss Fallacy, which ends up causing a feeling of invincibility at a mass scale, is just going to make things worse. I know people who have even stopped following the news and stopped tracking the numbers and are just blindly going to work without any persuasions what so ever. The other day I heard the story of a lady at a friend's office bragging about how she doesn't feel the need to wear a mask.

All I can do in this post, is tell you that the Remote Miss fallacy might be f@#cking with your head and that following the heard is not always the right answer. You must definitely go to work if that's what you need to or want to do, but be very honest about why you can't work from home, why you are going and if the reason revolves around following a herd, flexing your courage mussel, impressing your organization or anything superficial, take a pause and think if it's worth the risk. Don't work under the assumption of your invincibility and don't get complete rid of that bit of healthy fear in you that's keeping you safe.

And then if you still decide to go because you have to or want to, that is absolutely fine! Just be careful and take necessary precautions. I genuinely wish you good luck from the bottom of my heart and pray that you and your entire family, loved ones, friends and acquaintances stay out of harms way.

posted on Monday, May 25, 2020 6:57:52 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, August 15, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

The Honest Truth About Independence.

Today, literally the largest democracy of the world celebrates its 73rd independence day and since I am an Indian it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on a fundamental question - What does it mean to be independent?

I'm not talking about independence at a country level but rather, independence at a personal level.

If you've spent any time on YouTube watching the left-leaning Feminist groups and social justice warriors you've probably seen them yelling and screaming about women independence at the top of their voices.

If you've spent any time in the corporate world you've probably seen right-leaning businessmen in suites go on and on about how they are a 'self-made man' and how they are independent.

A jobless student wants her first job because she wants to become independent. The experienced job goer wants to do a startup because he is sick and tired of serving others and wants financial independence.

Independence is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days and the more I hear the word the more I am unsure if the person using the word even understands what the word means.

The bastardized meaning of the word, largely propagated by western media, often conjures up the image of a powerful working woman who is not dependent on anyone to pay her shopping bills. Or a super-rich dude in a suit who can fire anyone he wants in his own kick-ass company. In reality, both of these images are equally stupid images which have nothing to do with independence.

Today, I wanted to throw out some general thoughts about Independence which no-one seems to be speaking about and hopefully start a discussion on the topic of not just what it means to be independent as a country, but moreover what it means to be independent as an individual. In short, I would love to discuss some of the honest but bitter truths about independence that no-one else seems to be talking about.

Here are a few:

#1: Independence doesn't mean you are not dependent on anyone for anything!

The idea that 'independence' means you are not dependent on anyone for anything is by far the stupidest literal translation of the word that most people fall for.

My being independent doesn't mean I'm not dependent on my family and loved ones for moral support, or my employer for my salary or my clients to pay me or my employer for my services.

The whole idea that any form of life is independent is so ludicrous that I'm still surprised people fall for that trap in today's day and age. Of course, the idea sounds romantic and alluring - the hero of a story who can stand all by himself and doesn't need anyone for help!

The idea of complete independence sounds romantic and alluring because anything impossible and nonpractical usually sounds romantic and alluring. But in reality, no life form or collective group of life forms is truly independent. Even Independent countries depend on their allies all the time!

Being independent doesn't mean you are not dependent on anything or anyone. It just means:

  1. You are not forcefully dependent on anyone - You freely choose who you depend on and how much you depend on them. And in turn, they choose if want to provide you the services for which you depend on them. By the same logic, they also get to choose if and how much they depend on you. And in turn, you get to choose if you want to provide the service they are depending on you for. It's a web of intricately and deliberately picked choices which aren't forced, but that doesn't mean these choices don't come with repercussions and price tags. A lot of us again are in romantic love with this idea of more free choice, when the reality of life is, that there are no free choices and most of us can't even handle choices we have. Independence is just the ability to choose who you want to depend on mutually.
  2. You are interdependent - You rely on your family for moral support. They rely on you to be there when they need you. Independence is about interdependence that it is not forced. Notice I didn't say 'interdependence that is free' - because all interdependence comes at a price, which, in a free world, both sides should be happy to pay. In my personal opinion, it is people who are the most scared of creating this interdependence (or taking up the responsibility of paying the price for this interdependence) usually hide behind the pretense that they are 'independent' and are often the neediest, clingiest and whiniest people you will ever meet in your life.

#2: Independence Is Never about an Individual Achievement

The idea that someone can achieve independence individually is nothing more than a media hype which falls back on the ideology that every story must have a hero and hence if you are independent you are the hero who achieved it single-handedly. We do that to our freedom fighters as well.

Any independence story that you dissect will have more unspoken heroes than the names you see in the star caste, screen roll or in front of the cameras.

Your parents had to babysit you and clean your diapers for years before you even stopped shitting your pants. And even now with your so-called independence every time you feel like crap your Mom or Dad is the first number you dial for support. It's easy to talk about your independence in hindsight and forget all the unspoken heroes who contributed to it and are contributing to it even now. It's really hard to look back, pause and give them the due credit they deserve. I suggest you start doing that.

The act of achieving independence is seldom an individual act. Dozens of people have to give up their freedom and sacrifice their independence for one individual to become independent. This number runs in millions when we talk about countries.

So the next time you use words like 'I'm an independent woman!' or 'I'm a self-made man!' spend a little bit of time to reflect - Are you? Really?

Contrary to what you would love to believe, your independence has very little to do to with your achievements and accomplishments. Your independence has to do much more about the people standing behind you than it has to do about you at all.

#3: Independence is Hard to Achieve, Harder to Retain (And Even Harder To Handle):

At an individual level when most people say they are independent they have no clue of what they are talking about. Show me one man who says he is independent and I'll show you a man who had most likely never seen a movie in a movie theatre alone and has never gone on a truly solo trip or vacation. Show me a man who says he is independent and I'll most likely show you a man who can't even enjoy his own company.

Independence doesn't mean you withdraw from others. But Independence is about ending the habit of being needy, clingy, whiny and being emotionally dependent on others for petty things like attention and approval. It is about mature, meaningful coming together of powerful individuals because they like each others company. The same is true when powerful countries decide to become allies.

When you look at it from that perspective, Independence is hard to achieve and you have to keep working at it. Most of us mere mortals aren't independent. Most of us can't even wash our clothes without whining when the washing machine breaks down or cook our food day after day without relying on a restaurant when we are fully aware that the junk we buying at that stupid fast food joint isn't good for us. And then we sit in our cafeterias and talk about how we as individuals are independent and self-made.

Most of us aren't even capable of forming an independent thought. So the next time you talk about independence here is an exercise you can try out: Come up with one independent thought. Not something that builds on something you read in a newspaper or something you heard a self-help guru scream about on YouTube. One independent thought that was formed in your head. Be Honest about this exercise and you'll see how hard independence is. Now keep working on that thought and you'll see how you slowly start getting better at developing independent opinions.

#4: No, You're Not There Yet:

No, you still aren't independent. But the beauty of living in a free country is that you have the freedom to practice the idea of independence as a lifestyle. Not the usual independence where you strive to not depend on anyone but the more mature idea of independence where you willingly and happily pay the price of mutual interdependence and develop gratitude for people you depend on. The question is, can you even handle that kind of independence? Or is even your idea of independence, dependent on the stupid cliché media narratives of what it means to be independent? Honestly, the whole idea of independence has very little to do about being independent in the conventional sense. Just a little something to think about.

And now that you have something to think about for today, If you're an Indian and are reading this today, Happy Independence Day.

posted on Thursday, August 15, 2019 5:57:20 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, August 3, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Writing, Social Media, Openness and Forgiveness

Some of the best writers out there are capable of captivating you with their stories because they are high in openness. Take for example Eat, Pray, Love - where the Elizabeth Gilbert describes her own broken relationship with an articulation that requires nerves of steel. Steve Job's biography exposes parts of his life and a past that is not easy for most people to lay open for public consumption.

Yes, I know Steve Jobs did not write his own biography but he did allow the author unrestrained access to parts of his life and past knowing well that his life would be exposed for the whole wide world. The mere thought of giving unrestrained access of our lives for public consumption would make most our stomach's churn.

Some authors hide being the veil of fiction while others face their ghosts and daemons head on with their writing but the simple reality of the profession of writing is that unless you are high in openness you are not going to be a good writer. People are either going to find you boring or fake.

Now, theoretically, this generation should be high in openness because they spend most of their lives on social media where they lay their life open for the rest of the world to consume. So they should be really high in the traits of openness, right? Actually, the more I observe the way the current generation engages with social media websites and the internet in general the more I am convinced that social media hardly has anything to do with openness. Being open is almost an antonym of being fake; and when you selectively pick the most glamorous parts of your life and then photoshop them and edit them to publish them on Facebook you aren't being open - you are just being fake.

With the way most people engage with the internet, I'm almost starting to believe that the more you engage on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms the more you loose your traits of openness. I could write essay after essay to illustrate the difference between being fake on social media and being high on the trait of openness, but I thought I might be able make one simple diagram that gets the point across much more articulately.

Let's assume you have a really bad fight with your wife, spouse or significant other. Here is what the flow looks like if you have traits of openness about it:

Take the same fight and introduce an aspect of fakeness and social media into it and here is what the vicious cycle of false pretense looks like:

Openness in writing is all about self awareness. You are mindful of your bad experiences, you contemplate on those lessons, then you engage in the act of learning and forgiveness about those bad experiences. This is when you finally become capable of writing about the experience articulately. Then you structure your thoughts and write with the idea of passing on a consistent message and a meaningful lesson. And once you do write about it, you let the experience go and you share it with others so that others can learn and grow from it.

Your openness and writing tells everyone that you are just as vulnerable as the rest of them, that you have learned something new about life and that you aren't ashamed of sharing what you have learned. The focus on your writing is not about you - it's about what you've learned. This is why you should never really write about something you are really angry about. Give it a couple of days. Let your head calm down. Structure your thoughts and  when the focus has moved away from 'you' - then write - but not before you have practiced forgiveness and developed a new insight you want to share with everyone.

The Social Media version of openness on the other hand is just about shoving all the dirt under the carpet. Fight with your wife, go on a materialistic vacation to calm her down, take lots of pictures with fake smiles, share those with the world at large to tell the rest of your social circle how happy you are so that someone from your circle feels they aren't as happy as you are; has a fight with their spouse on how they should go on a vacation too only so that they can go on that vacation click the few pictures, publish them on Facebook and upset someone else in their circle. It's literally a viral vicious cycle that benefits no-one other than Facebook or the social media platforms. As a generation we think our lives are open on social media. They aren't. Publishing a few happy pictures or writing a  few spontaneously depressing or angry political opinions on social media isn't openness.

Openness is hard. It demands that you face your ghosts and skeletons head on. That you contemplate on those, you learn something from your experiences and above all you practice forgiveness and then you write about what you've learned, not with the goal of portraying yourself as a hero or a victim but as a regular guy or girl who has grown just an inch and wants to share an idea or a life lesson.

I know you are on Facebook and Twitter. I even know you have huge WhatsApp list and a decently read blog. But that's not the same as having high openness and being a good writer. There is nothing wrong in publishing vacation pictures but the next time you are about to do that, think about how open you really are. Can you write just as articulately and expressively about a ghost from your past or an ugly skeleton in your cupboard? Can you write about how you were a jerk? Can you write about how you messed things up? Can you write about your own scary mental and phycological struggles?

If you can't, you should think twice about publishing selective happy moments  of your life. It's easy to be a hero in your own novel, or a victim or the guy who lives a perfect life with happy pictures but that has nothing to do with openness. Just a little something to think about the next time you get on Facebook or Instagram.

posted on Saturday, August 3, 2019 10:36:10 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Monday, April 29, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Moving Forward With Keystone Habits.

Have you ever wondered why your life, literally and physically, moves out of balance when you are going through a stressful time? Your diet is usually the first thing to go out of control. You stop cooking, and even when you eat out you stop taking the right decisions and start picking all the wrong foods.

Your closet, room and home is usually the next thing to go out of control.

Give me your diet journal for the last one month and I can probably tell you how productive or nonproductive your month was. Let me visit your home on a surprise visit and I'll probably tell you exactly which phase of life you're going through.

And then as these little things go out of control they create a cycle of more panic and anxiety in your life, which in turn leads to more things going out of control.

On the other hand, have you also noticed how doing just a few simple things, can have  a profoundly positive impact on your life and your self-confidence? For example, when you consistently wake up early in the morning, work productively (just for a couple of hours a day), when you consistently eat right, play music, workout; go for a run; or do whatever it is that you do; life feels so… awesome and even your work life and productivity begins to improve.

All of us has at least one thing which if we do right and consistently, we feel in control of our lives and when we don't do that one thing… that's usually a sign that we are losing control and going into a state of depressed helplessness.

That one thing can be different for different individuals. For some, it's waking up early. For others it’s making their bed after they wake up. For many others I know, their daily workout happens to be that thing. Everyone is different but most people have at least one thing which creates a perception of control for them. It makes them feel happy, makes them feel like they are in control of their lives and doing that one thing, makes them feel strong.

We are creatures of control. In an uncertain world where most of us have very little control over anything, including our survival, any perception of control that we can create for ourselves makes us feel safer and stronger than folks who are unable to create that perception.

In the larger scheme of universe where you are an insignificant speck of dust, who  could cease to exist because of a simple road accident, an illusion of control makes you believe that what you do matters and as a result of that, you matter.

If you can pick up one habit, and stick to it, even when life throws its shots at you, you are telling yourself that you take active deliberate decisions and your life runs on those decisions; not a random chain of events controlled by mere chance. You are taking a stand against helplessness.  This is why social scientists call these keystone habits.

This is why when you pick up a keystone habit your life starts to change. For example, most smokers who cultivate the habit of running quit smoking. Most folks who start working out or practicing a musical instrument get better at their work life.

You might say that the perception of control is just an illusion, and I might even agree with you, but that perception of control is exactly what allows us to get up in the morning and go to work. That perception of control is what allows survivors to fight dreadful diseases and even though this would sound a little cliché I would argue that this perception is exactly what powers most of our space programs and allows individuals to climb mountains. Of course rockets have exploded in the past and people have died while climbing mountains but that perception and illusion of control is what enables the astronauts and the climbers to roll the dice, take a chance and succeed.

I have a personal theory that as nerds most of us love programming because in an uncertain world, programing computers creates a perception of control and that perception makes us feel strong and empowered. Hey, we can't change everything, but at least we get to control what's behind the screen of that machine.

All my life, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned it is the idea of inching forward slowly and yet consistently using keystone habits and creating a perception of control is your only chance at that forward movement.

This is why every time I start feeling a sense of helplessness, I fall back to some of my keystone habits to regain that perception of control again. I start writing code each day; I start my daily work out session and I come back to this blog and start writing consistently. And I begin reading. These are four keystone habits that help me inch and claw out of dark and depressing times.

And before I know it, I feel empowered to change things and I'm control. I know the control is just a perception but it still works magically when it comes to taking me out of a state of helplessness and making me productive again.

What are your keystone habits? Did you do them today? Did you take a stand against the punches life throws at you, and actively take out time to do something you committed to? If not, please give yourself a moment today to think about which your keystone habits are and then make an active effort to execute on them.

I won’t say it’ll change your life, but if you are experiencing a sense of helplessness, there is a good chance it’ll pull you out of it and empower you to change things. One inch at a time. This is your way of telling yourself that you may not be in control but at least you are not completely out of control either.

Go on. Pick a few keystone habits and give them time, consistently. There is a high chance you may regain your perception of control and life will begin to come back in balance soon. If you haven't given keystone habits a chance, you should. I wish you good luck.

posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 3:41:20 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

When It Comes To Wellness, You Are Your Scientific Laboratory.

Science is all about cause effect relationships. So when I started working out and set out my first fitness goals a few years ago, I turned to science for validation. I read books like Spark which were all about how workouts can re-wire your brain. If a qualified doctor or researcher shows me a study that involves a sizable number of individuals, control groups, placebos and an output built on causation, I tend to get convinced much more easily about doing something compared to a random individual giving me health and wellness advice. It's probably why I like Headspace; because it approaches Meditation with a scientific approach rather than a random guy telling you that 'meditation is good for you'. It's also the reason why in the last decade I've  literally read dozens if not hundreds of book on neuroscience, health, fitness and wellness. I have a lot of respect for science because it explains 'why' something works.

Having said that, modern day science has it's own set of quirks. One of the primary problems with modern day science, particularly when it comes to wellness, is the more you read, the more contradictions you encounter. As much as I respect science and scientists, (as I grow older) I am starting to realize that If you want to get completely confused about something really simple,  get a bunch of scientists with sufficient funding, contradicting opinions and conflicting interests and ask them to research a topic. Once you've done that, you can sit back and watch in awe as they come back with their elaborate research results with contradicting conclusions and confuse the crap out of you. We like to believe that the years of experience and expertise in a topic makes doctors and scientists better than the rest of us, when in reality, Experts are just as human and are affected by the same biases as the rest of us.

Take for instance the vegan diet. The china study was one of the most detailed elaborate scientific study about how the vegan diet works and heals your body. Just when you thought the science was clear about vegan diet, studies on carnivorous diets started evolving. And this isn't a single isolated example of scientific contradictions when it comes to health and wellness. Take any single simple nutritional opinion and you will see experts fighting in the battle ring of ideas, everyone with equally compelling arguments and 'scientific research' to support their opinions.

How many bananas should you eat on any given day - more or less? Are cocoa beans really good for you or are they dangerous and toxic? Is running good for you or can it kill you? Is soy a superfood or a cancer causing poison? Are mobile phones useful tools that make you super productive or is the radiation from your cell phone killing you and / or making you impotent? Is high cholesterol really connected to heart issues or is that just a medical hype? If you have cholesterol should you take statin drugs or should you continue to try curing it with lifestyle changes? Try googling  any of these supposedly simple questions that you would think science would have figured the answers to by now. Instead, all science has to offer to you in most of these cases is complete confusion and contradictions.

As far as I am concerned, confusion is fine. I am all for confusion. To an extent, I even love confusion. The problem I have with modern science however, is that scientists are now turning to leveraging our primal fear of death to force their 'opinions' (disguised as 'research') on us. And to be honest, most of the information you see out there today isn't even real science.

Someone from the Vegan community wants to prove a point and so touts Vegan Raw diet as a silver bullet and tells you that if you eat dairy you will die. Someone else from the dairy industry fights back by touting Soy as the most toxic substance and argues that if you eat Soy or drink soy milk you will die. Right in the middle of these two far end opinions are regular pragmatic folks like us, who are being constantly influenced by both sides which are leveraging our primal fear of death to push their opinions, agendas and lifestyles on us.

As I grow older, when it comes to my own health and wellness, I am learning how to take these 'scientific' studies with a grain of salt. I am starting to realize that a study based on one individual (you) which most scientists tout as 'anecdotal' is sometimes just as important for your health as any other scientific study done by an expert. When it comes to your own wellness, anecdotal results of what works and does not work for you is sometimes much more important than a doctor telling you what's good for you. Milk, may or may not be good according to science, but if you are lactose intolerant or it makes you feel crappy, it isn't good for you. The fact that milk makes you feel crappy, is reason enough to stop milk even if all the science in the world is telling you milk is harmless or does wonders to your health. On the other hand If you love milk, and it makes you feel energized, continue having milk - don't stop just because the china study says drinking milk is bad for everyone. Your body is your lab, try different things in moderation and see what works and does not work for you.

I had recently developed ulcers in my food pipe which eventually caused some serious gastric issues. I was burping all day long. After going to over four doctors, all of whom had different opinions on what was causing my gastric issues, and after sticking a tube down my throat and conducting a painful endoscopy, I was prescribed a bunch of medicines, which was supposed to fix these ulcers for most patients. All the medicines did however, was temporarily mask the symptoms. Even the masking of symptoms barely lasted for a few weeks after which the symptoms resurfaced again. The moment I would stop the meds I would return to where I was. After going to the same doctor for six months, the symptoms resurfacing every couple of weeks, I went to a new doctor only to be prescribed a different set of tablets.

After a few of these visits someone at work accidently talked to me about infusions made with holy basil and ginger. All you do is you dip them in water like a tea bag and then drink the water. By that time, I had had been prescribed over half a dozen medication by at-least four qualified doctors and nothing had helped; so I was pretty desperate. In an act of desperation I did a quick search on how ginger and holy basil help with gastric issues and bumped into some articles where they had helped individuals with similar symptoms as mine. I started the infusions and within two days, my gastric issues were gone. Placebo? Who knows. Anecdotal? Absolutely. Scientific? Absolutely not. Did it work for me? Hell Yes, it did!

Most of us tend to see our bodies as a machine and if there is anything wrong with it, we walk into a doctors office as if the doctor was a mechanic for the machine. Going by this analogy, most of us know our cars better than we know our own bodies. We can change tires, jump start the engine and we know the kind of gas our car works best on, but we don't seem to know even the basics of our own bodies. How many of us know the power of breathing, regular workouts, meditation, using basic food and herbs as medicine and the science of eating well? How many of us have genuinely experimented with some simple home remedies and herbs to heal ourselves? How about experimenting with different kinds of workouts - from weight training, to cross fit to running, which one works the best for you?

I'm not saying don't go to the doctor for a serious sickness. While your doctor can and will help you with your sickness, it's also equally important that you take control of your own body and start tiny experiments and be mindful about what works for you and what doesn't.

Do you know which foods make you feel like crap? Do you know which foods energize you? Do you know how you can lose some weight or gain some of it back if you really wanted to? Do you know what spikes your blood pressure and what causes it to be normal? Have you tried lowering your cholesterol naturally? Caring about your own wellness is just as much your responsibility as it is your doctor's job.

I'm not saying stop your medications if you have a serious medical condition, but as a parallel step you can start working along with your physician, start some small natural harmless life style changes along with your medication and start observing what works and does not work for you. And as you begin to start using your body as a playground or a lab for your own wellness, you'll get to know yourself better, you'll start having some seriously interesting experiences and over a period of time, you might even start listening to the patterns of your own body which might help you heal yourself and become an exception in a 'scientific study'. When it comes to health, wellness and happiness you are your own scientific lab. You don't have to wait for a bunch of scientists to tell you what to eat or how to do some basic healing - just like you don't need a mechanic for replacing your car tires.

posted on Monday, February 4, 2019 2:59:29 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Embracing Controlled Confusion And Flexibility Of Thought.

Back in 2008, about ten years ago, I wrote this blog post where I self righteously proclaimed that when it comes to the time you spend at work, eight hours a day aren't good enough and everyone should spend way more time at their workplace. Like an absolute idiot of the highest grade and kind, who has no life outside of work, I announced:

Eight hours a day might be good enough for a job but they may not be good enough for a profession. And they are absolutely no good for keeping a passion alive. If you can’t love what you do, maybe you need to stop right now.  Look harder for profession you can love. Seriously, if you are going to be an unknown-programmer who writes depressing programmer poetry - it’s best that you chase your dreams in a profession you love.

In just a couple of years, my life took a complete U turn and I was asking programmers to Work Less, Stay Focused And Say No To Random Meaningless Slogging:

Work less, stay focused and if you find yourself moving into a constant firefighting mode for fifteen hours a day and you cannot get shit done, learn how to say no, logout and get some sleep. The same applies for your team if you happen to be leading one.

Couple of years later someone asked a generic question on Reddit - How many hours a day do you work - and I promptly went so far as saying that no-one works for more than 25 hours a week and if you did real work 30 hours a week you would be a rock star:

If your definition of work is producing real and efficient output, the real figure would be more around 25 hours a week.

Let’s be real here - Most work that you do at work is not really work – Filling timesheets, expense-sheets, TPS Reports (:) ) and goofing around with colleagues / friends isn’t work. Reddit isn’t work either. :)

Spend about 30 hours a week “in flow” without gossip, chats, email, twitter and a thousand other beeps and popups distracting you and you should be a star performer at work.

Once you do that for a few years, you can spend more time at work if you love what you do and experience flow but keeping tab of the “number of hours” and just spending time in office to meet that number doesn't make you more productive.

Ask me the same question today and I will tell you that I strongly believe that if anyone did real focused deep work for 15 hours a week, they would be awesome. At 20 hours a week they would probably be top performers in most workplaces.

The early part of this blog endlessly talks about 'passion for work' one post after another. I even wrote childish poems on my passion. Then as I grew older I started questioning what passion really is and my idea of passion completely flipped on it's head. Now I genuinely believe that passion is one of the most overrated things out there.

What's going on here?

Why are my opinions changing in such strikingly contradicting ways?

If you look at the tone and style of my original post on spending more time in office, it's loud, opinionated, assertive and authoritative. Now my tone is much more toned down and inclusive. My opinions are changing over time and so am I. What you see is a classic example of Strong Opinions, Weakly Held. When you give yourself the freedom to change your opinions (even the ones which are really strong) you give yourself the freedom to change your personality over time and evolve as a better person.

I do realize that I sometimes confuse people with constantly evolving opinions. One could argue that if your opinions change so frequently, what is your fixed reality and can your current opinions at any given time be trusted? When you are constantly growing and your opinions are constantly changing evolving, it's easy to confuse yourself as a phony or to give an impression to others that you are clueless... or even worse; that you are actively trying to just prove them wrong by confronting their ideas and opinions because you have a secret vindictive agenda against them.

But then, changing opinions, ability to contemplate, question and challenge both sides of the same idea is what makes us fundamentally human. This is exactly how everything from medicine to space theory has evolved. Doctors for example, know something; till the time there is a breakthrough and then everything they know is wrong and they must unlearn what they know and learn, know and believe something completely contradictory.

In the medical space, every new breakthrough changes everything the doctors know about a particular disease and it's treatment. It doesn't mean that what the doctors knew before was completely useless. It was still saving lives. But the new knowledge and the newly formed approaches to treatment just takes the science of medicine forward and a doctor who is willing to evolve rapidly with the evolving science of medicine is able to help his patients better. There are times for instance when medical science sometimes goes full circle and even starts looking at medicines that were used hundreds of years ago. The doctors who are using science to learn from ancient medicine aren't losers. They are just willing to entertain the thought that maybe they don't have all the answers. It's called research for a reason. You search something, you have an answer, and then you search the answer to the same question again; re-search.

Aristotle once said:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

And sometimes when you entertain really good ideas and give them a fair chance, you become a better human being. The process is not about jumping from one idea to another like a monkey. The process is about questioning everything with logic, intellect and with the eye of a philosopher who wants to get to the truth. One philosopher who played this game rather well was Socrates. I find this episode about Socrates particularly amusing:

After his service in the war, Socrates devoted himself to his favorite pastime: the pursuit of truth.

His reputation as a philosopher, literally meaning 'a lover of wisdom', soon spread all over Athens and beyond. When told that the Oracle of Delphi had revealed to one of his friends that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, he responded not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong.

So Socrates decided he would try and find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life, because anyone who knew that would surely be wiser than him. He set about questioning everyone he could find, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer. Instead they all pretended to know something they clearly did not.

Finally he realized the Oracle might be right after all. He was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not.

Challenging your own opinions and opinions of people around you can be fun. But like all good things it comes at a price. To lead a happy life with constantly evolving opinions, and to embrace the constant questioning of opinions through discourse, you need like minded people around you. People who understand that you are challenging their thoughts and opinions not because you don't 'support' them or you don't 'trust' them; but instead, you are just trying to probe deeper and form your own opinions, ideas and relative reality; so that when you independently come to the conclusions they have come to, you can trust and support them with even more conviction. Sometimes you probe and question ideas and opinions not because you want to fight these ideas and opinions, but because you want to believe them and embrace them with your own independently formed conviction. By questioning and challenging people with your own logic and pragmatic thinking you're trying to make their truth, your truth and make their opinions, your opinions.

With time, I am learning that not everyone wants to understand a philosophy of having strong opinions weakly held. Not everyone wants to dissect opinions they hold strongly and inspect them. There are people who are thin skinned and easily offended. As I grow older I am starting to realize that people often have a fixed reality of life. A fixed map of how they navigate their world and a fixed set of ideas which let them differentiate between good and bad. I am starting to believe that even people who live their life based on a single story should be allowed to live, peacefully.

And if you really want to focus on your intellectual growth and the quest of the truth through logical debate and discourse, without room for feelings or fear of offending someone, you will always find plenty of adventurous people who are open to the idea of fierce logical intellectual arguments and putting their ideas in the intellectual battle ground with yours, match after match to see which ones win and which ones perish, without taking it personally. People who are open to even accepting and embracing your ideas if they win on the merits of logic and depth. People who don't necessarily agree with you all the time; but people who are... your tribe. People who aren't ashamed to learn from you and people who have the capacity to teach you. People who also believe in strong opinions weakly held and the evolution of thought.

The beauty about having documented your thoughts for decades is that you have a live written running documentary on how your brain is evolving. Your writings shows you how you have evolved and changed  as a person over decades. Every-time I go back and read a post or two on my blog, all I find is contradictions. Sometimes the contradictions are so strong that I feel the urge to delete my older posts in an attempt to scrub my stupidity off from public eye; but then, this stupidity and evolution is what makes me... me. It should surprise me, or depress me, or make me feel all confused and phony, but it doesn't. It just makes me happier and open to embracing new stories, ideas, opinions and realities.

Life is so much more than living with just a single story. And if you are the thin skinned kind who wants me to trust you without questioning your opinions or if you want me to not ask questions for the fear of offending people, I won't judge you, but all I will do is make one last humble attempt to try and nudge you towards seeing multiple sides of the same truth and see more than one story of your life. I can't guarantee you success or happiness, but I can tell you that life becomes much more interesting when you do that. Here is to curiosity and adventure of seeking your own truth and then re-seeking it. This year, instead of throwing in emotions and feeling all offended anytime your ideas are challenged, throw your ideas in the ring of logical debate without excessive emotions, see if they win only on the merit of logic, let them go if they don't, embrace new ideas and enjoy some controlled confusion. I promise you, you will see your life become much more colorful. Happy new year.

posted on Monday, January 7, 2019 3:05:33 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, December 31, 2017 by Rajiv Popat

Here Is Wishing You A Drama Free 2018.

If there is one single thing has the highest negative impact both on your professional and personal life, it is Drama.

When I wrote my first book a couple of years ago, the book had an entire Chapter dedicated to drama and why most people love it:

This movie starts with the camera giving a wide angle shot of the hero who shows up to work every day early morning before anyone else has arrived and with focused eyes stares at his computer screen, his fingers flipping keys on his keyboard for the next four hours; then he gets up for a cup of coffee when others arrive. He spends about 20 minutes of casual conversations with colleagues where he discusses a few technical problems, the weather, a particular book that he has been reading and what his kids have been up to.

Sometime during the day this hero of ours also attends a daily status call for about 20 minutes. During the afternoon he takes a break, eats lunch, returns to his desk and works for countless hours staring at the screen, his fingers dancing on the keyboard once again. He even works late night after his wife has slept.

The hero does this for 15 years of his life before he gets really successful and financially independent.

What would you tell me if I told you we are planning a next big budget movie with this hero of ours as a central character. The entire script of the movie is going to revolve around this hero's life.

"But that's a boring story! That'll never be a big hit! “– you respond.


You know why? Because it's hard to make the average middle class spend their money on movie tickets (and overpriced popcorn) without an overdose of drama.

My contention here was simple. Drama is tantalizing, Drama makes you feel like a victim who is suffering... like a hero or heroine of your own story who is going through a horrible time in a horrible universe but will ultimately emerge successful.

To make things worse, drama is spicy, it keeps you on your feet, gives you a strange combination of adrenaline rush for your brain and an excuse for your learned helplessness.

The worst thing about Drama though, is that it’s incredibly easy to create in your life. All you have to do is get depressed, annoyed, angry or take offence to something… anything… no matter how ridiculously small that thing is.

Now repeat. Keep taking offence to small things, keep getting annoyed, angry and depressed about small things in life and very soon you will have a drama packed life sitting on an emotional rollercoaster with it’s constant ups and downs.

Drama might create the spice your brain subconsciously craves, but it is dangerous, self sabotaging and it almost never leads to long term success. It’s usually the guys who are silently living a drama free life who are eventually shaping their own lives, the life of loved ones around them and eventually making dents in their own little universes. I  still stand by what I wrote in my own book two years ago:

The story of silent people staring at computer screen for hours and typing away quietly day after day for weeks, months or years, doesn't make a best-selling novel or a movie that tops the charts or good television.

But it does make successful businesses, successful careers and sometimes – history.

So the sooner you resolve to a drama free life with hard work the better off you will be in your career.

Getting rid of drama from your life is easier said than done though. Learning how to lead a drama free life is life long process; particularly since Drama tends to manifest itself in multiple forms in our lives and sometimes even shows up uninvited. Which is probably why there have been entire books written on the topic of living a drama free life!

When the organization we work in is going through a difficult time and firing folks, we indulge in drama by gossiping around and discussing the firings with other colleagues rather than focusing on and silently preparing for our next interview. When a close friend of ours is going through a difficult time, we make his drama ours rather than calmly telling him to snap out of it.

2017 was a drama filled year for me. It was a year when I saw close a friend struggle with bad health issues. A year when a relative was diagnosed with a terrible disease and had to go through surgery. It was also the year when I changed my job after four years of being happily settled in one organization. And it was a year when I was prescribed medication for high cholesterol and told I would ‘have to’ take them. That and there there were a few more things that, for lack of a better word, were let’s  just say… ‘eventful’.

So, 2017 does seem like a drama packed year when I look back.

But then, 2017 was also a year when I turned to a no-oil, no-sugar, vegan diet and hopped on to Headspace for my daily meditation. 2017 was also a year when I started running and working out again very actively. And 2017 was also a year when my cholesterol dropped by over sixty points in a couple of months using just diet and workout, without taking any medication which I had been initially told I would ‘have to’ take and continue taking them for the rest of my life.

It was a year when I tried to rebuild a few old broken friendships and I was able to get more work and learning done than I had done in the last two years combined. A Year when I finally came back to technical blogging and started devoting time on open source development again.

2017 taught me that there will always be drama that surrounds us and sometimes we don’t have control over just how much drama we find around us. But it’s ok to shrug our shoulders, calm our minds and continue living a drama free life. I’m not saying that the Drama that surrounds us does not impact us; of course it does. This year for example did take its toll on me, but the biggest take away I had from 2017 was that we might have a lot of drama surrounding us, but we get to choose how much of that drama we welcome into our lives and our brains. Sometimes, it’s just best to either focus your energies towards Drama free action that can change things, or if there is nothing you can do to change things, let go and direct your energies on things which keep you happy, focused and in flow.

I’m not a big believer of new year’s resolutions and I see time as an ongoing phenomenon with no milestones. But  then, the end of a year and the beginning of new one is always a nice time to be mindful about your own life, and take stock.

2017 started as a drama filled year but by the time it ended it had made me that much stronger at keeping drama out of my life. If there is one thing that I can wish for each one of us (me included) this year it would be a drama free 2018.

This year let’s try to be a little bit more mindful about the drama that surrounds us, the drama that we welcome into our own lives and the drama we create in other people’s life and let’s make a conscious effort to make 2018 a drama free year. Happy new year everyone!

posted on Sunday, December 31, 2017 8:35:59 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, January 9, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

Brain Challenge: 52 New Books For 2016

After having finished a challenge for my body in 2015 where I ran two half marathons in the same month, the next goal I plan on setting for 2016 is hitting the gym at-least 4 days a week. But this post isn't about the body. It's about the mind.

Fitness and books; two things I spent my entire school life not liking and then as soon as I finished my school life and started my work life these exact same two things slowly became things that I fell in love with. I think this says something about our education system and how we introduce our students to topics like Fitness and reading but I'd rather not touch that topic today.

For the last few weeks I've been looking for something that challenges my mind and what would be more appropriate than a marathon for the mind after two half marathons for the body?

I've been looking this thread in Reddit and this post on Life Hacker about reading 52 books a year. We're not talking about skimming books. We're talking about reading a book cover to cover and relishing every page of the book. A book a week continuously for 52 weeks is nothing less than a marathon for the brain.

To make things even more interesting I will try to read all 52 non-fiction books which actively and creatively feed my mind with new knowledge, insights and information.

And I'll blog about most of what I read.

I do realize that a goal of this size is pretty similar and involved (if not more involved) than committing to running a marathon; which is why; as the year rolls over I've done considerable planning for this goal.

But how do you plan and prepare yourself for a fun goal like this?

Here's how:

  • You start by picking at-least 10 to 20 books that think you would love reading and put them on a list (personally I use a Google Keep checklist) - that way you have enough material to stop worrying about and constantly finding new books to read and you are good to go at-least for the first 2 to 3 months; which gives you enough time to find other connected books and add them to your list as you go.
  • You enroll either in library or find a source that would be able to provide you these books at a cheaper (or near free rate) with as little wait time as necessary. Preferably a library lets you carry two books at a time and keep them at-least for a period of two weeks. Or Kindle lending which again forces you to return the book in a week.
  • You need to budget for the books that you don't find anywhere if you plan on buying them; especially e-books and audiobooks. Save up for these books and keep that money aside so you don't have to think twice before buying books you can't find in a library or with cheaper Kindle sharing.
  • You need to start taking some active time out to do the reading.
  • You need to start carrying the books with you everywhere you go - either hard copies or start using your kindle or phone or tablet or your i-pod (for audio books) so that you can read in any idle time you find at work and in personal life.
  • You need to cut down on gossip time and learn not to take up useless commitments during the weekends.
  • You need to get into the habit of reading not just for the sake of reading but reading with deliberate practice so that you can learn from the book and then talk about the book. Read, learn, take notes, form opinions about the book,  share what you've learned from the book and practice active immersion as you try to put some of the ideas you pick up from each book into action in your own life.

Why take up a challenge of this sort? Well, this question has an answer which is very similar to how you would answer the question of why anyone chooses to run a half marathon, a full one or why anyone climbs a mountain.

It's hard, it's challenging and it has it's own intrinsic rewards.

When I committed to running a half marathon, I loved to run for a few miles every week. I've been doing that for years. For months I hesitated with the idea of committing to run a half marathon because I was scared that a commitment of that sort would take the fun out of running and turn it into a chore. On the other hand, what the goal actually did was completely different.

It made be a better runner. I learned how to push my body and my mind, to get myself out there and run on a schedule. I read about the science of running, the right forms, the right stride, the right techniques and I learned that sometimes, just pushing yourself to run, even when you are not in the mood, actually makes you feel really good once the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin kick in to take you through runners high.

By the time I hit the half marathon month, I was not focusing on finishing it but rather focusing on doing a good time and running better.  I ended up running two half marathons in two weeks rather than the one that I had initially planned. One was done with really good timing, the other wasn't all that great; but both were fun and both taught me things about my body and mind that I never knew before. From nipple chafing, to blisters, to cramps - as I tried to beat my own timings during practice, I learned the art and the science of respecting the limits of my body and then over-coming them slowly - not once, but twice in two week period.

I have both fun and serious goals and challenges set out for 2016. Reading 52 books in 52 weeks and learning something new from each of these books happens to be one of them. If you're an avid reader I encourage you to join the Reddit thread or any book club that does similar challenges and enjoy the pleasure of words as they transform your mind. If nothing else; I expect this challenge to be fun and to teach me things about my own mind that I never knew before.

What are some of your challenge fun challenges 2016? What are you planning on doing this year that is more than 'scratching the surface' of your capabilities and getting out of your house and your comfort zone? Hope you set high, interesting and fun-filled goals for the next year and you achieve more than what you actually set out to accomplish! Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous 2016 ahead.

posted on Saturday, January 9, 2016 1:05:12 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Sunday, August 15, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Fun With ADHD: Learning How To Learn And The Pointlessness Of It All.

Children are absolutely amazing when it comes to taking chances and moving away from the realms of mediocrity. They are also seriously kickass when it comes to the idea of learning things without measuring the exact ROI from learning those. They are good at having fun.

I have had the pleasure of spending some time today with my nephew where we ended up doing a mini research which started with my ADHD driven mind easily getting confused with a kid's question and giving in to countless digressions.

Here is how it begins:

I am in the process of trying to think of an idea to post. It's one of those hours of the day where I crave silence. Serious silence. Varun, who coined the name of this website and is about eight now, walks with his PSP in his hand and is playing a soccer game. I tell him to lower the volume. He does. I tell him it is silence zone and a little bit of quite is good for his brain. Fifteen minutes of silence follows.

Then before I know it, he is goggling videos on the Egyptian history on YouTube using my laptop. I have been removed from my very own laptop by the sheer brute force of an eight year old. We are both watching a YouTube video which is talking about Egyptian history. The video casually mentions the length of River Nile. Now how do you take six thousand six hundred and seventy one kilometers and explain it to a eight year old? Hmm.

So, let's begin with what he knows. He knows the distance between two stations of a local subway. He thinks he can guess the distance between the two other stations. So we Google the distance. Turns out, it is seventeen kilometers. He thinks that is a lot of distance.

Now translate the distance of Nile in terms of number of trips that he would have to do between these two stations. The number of trips roughly equates to: 392.4117647058824 trips. He gets it. Totally.

Now let's Google the speed of the subway in our part of the world.

Before you know it two strange minds are deeply submerged in solving a problem. Our research is taking us to corners of the universe where I would have never even dared to go alone and for those of you who might be interested in this super secret research of ours, read on people.

First of all, we now have the time it would take if you were to travel 'through' Nile using our local subway. By the way, there is a huge disagreement between me and my nephew on whether the right word to use is 'through' or 'across' because depending on the direction and angle you travel in the word to use varies. Anyway, I digress, from Egyptian History, to Nile, to Mathematics, to English my ADHD is now playing tricks with me so we decide to focus and complete the research.

We have the details worked out, which we do not have a plan to publish but here are the end results:

  1. Time to travel through Nile using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 9 days 6 hours 14 minutes 24 seconds.
  2. Time to travel around the earth using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 55 days 15 hours 50 minutes 19 seconds 19 milliseconds.
  3. Time to travel milky way using our local subway if it keeps on running without stopping: 3805175038 years 18 days 21 hours 19 minutes 48 seconds.

We thought of handing this over to the discovery channel and letting them publish it but then we figured that since this is our hard work, we should just publish our research on my website and continue to hold the copyright of the research.

Are we sure if the numbers are one hundred percent correct? Have we accounted for all variable factors when we drill down till milliseconds? If you are still reading this and are wondering what is the point of this post, let me tell you that you have missed the whole point already.

If you are interested in buying our research results, we are not interested in selling them. Thank you so much anyway.

Having said that if you have your very own research we (where 'we' stands for my nephew, me and a couple of really close friends) would love to hear about it. Seriously.

posted on Sunday, August 15, 2010 10:58:23 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, May 1, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Coping With AD(H)D or Avoiding A Truckload Of Multitasking - Part 2.

I have never really discussed my ADHD openly until recently. It was also not until recently that I started talking about taking active and conscious steps to work around it. But then I have been working around it for years.

I have always been a vicarious reader of books connected to philosophy, the human mind, business or management. Poems have been something I have liked ever since school days and I could practically recite scenes from the William Shakespeare play I was studying.

I love books but then it took me years to figure out why I read a few books end-to-end in just one sitting and why I just could not gather enough focus to even browse through others end-to-end in spite of the fact that I desperately wanted to.

I either fell asleep way too randomly or I just quit reading them half way through.

ADHD Is Not About Attention Deficiency

For anyone who has browsed through the basics of ADHD if there is one thing qualified doctors often tell you, it is that ADHD is not about deficiency of the ability to gather attention. As a matter of fact, folks with ADHD tend to be much more attentive than their normal counter parts when they are paying attention. Having said that, ADHD is about the deficiency to 'voluntarily' focus your attention on something.

Put simply, your mind silently-and-quietly almost sub-consciously decides the things that it wants to pay attention to and the things it wants to ignore. Once it does that, no amount of convincing usually tends to work.

Of course you know exercising is good for your body, of-course you know that reading classics is a great way to improve your writing skills but if your brain has flipped the switch on the side of not doing it, chances are you wont be able to give enough attention to the thing to get it done.

Listen Don't Read.

When it came to Outliers, when I was reading it, you would find me with a hardbound copy of the book on my way to commute. If you caught me at a bus or a cab chances were that I was reading it. I completed the book within about a couple of weeks, reading it on my commute to office. 

Atlas shrugged has been in my list of favorite books for years. Having said that, here is a deep dark secret. I was never able to complete the book without skipping huge number of pages in the middle. Lets face it, the book was seriously hard to focus on.

Then then the miracle of a life time happened. I don't know exactly when or how this happened. As far as I remember I just bumped into an audio book and decided to download it. I was hooked on to the idea. My MP3 players started having physical scars because of overuse and it was practically next to impossible to see me on my way to office without a pair of headphones on.

When I went through my first audio-book of atlas-shrugged there was very little skipping. I started remembering and stumbling upon parts of the story that I did not even know existed. I started remembering incidents from the book, I started remembering the names of characters, phrases and writing techniques way better than I had ever remembered by reading the book multiple times over.

There were a certain kind of books that I could have read, for everything else, I almost instantly started preferring audio books. Then came a realization that I happen to be 5x to 10x more attentive and receptive to learning when I am listening to stuff rather than reading it.

For me audio books were like a conversation. My mind was suddenly focused and soaking in words like a wet sponge as I sat down with eyes half closed in a moving bus speeding on its way to my office.

My mind, it seems had pre-decided that while it was okay to listen through a version of the Da-Vinci-Code it was a criminal waste of time to flip pages of a text book and even try to read it.

Classics, literature, travel related books, love stories - the horizon opened up and I was reading, or should I say listening to everything and anything I could lay my hands on. Slowly, as I listened more I also started grabbing hard copies of these and I started reading them occasionally as well.

I had similar issues with long-winded emails which I often found pointless to read. Proof reading my emails, which were generally long was also painful. Editing the blog posts I write was a huge problem as well, because no matter how many times I proof read them, they would typically have a couple of mistakes. Besides proof reading them sounded like a boring chore as well.

Then one fine day the realization dawned unto me with divine intervention, that I could in-fact use the inbuilt engine of Microsoft word to read aloud what was written on screen. In the first few days of doing that, proof reading emails or blog posts like this one wasn't suddenly all that boring or difficult. I actually started liking it and getting done with just one round of review.

The point of this post, is a rather simple one. If you think you have ADHD, having issues with paying attention while multi-tasking and are having a hard time reading a certain kind of material, don't try to force yourself too hard to read it. Go grab an audio book or an audio version of the same content. If you cannot find the audio version, drop the content into Microsoft word and have it read aloud to you by the text to speech feature of Microsoft word.

Of better still, if you can afford it go grab a copy of text aloud with a few natural voices from AT&T and have your emails or word document read out to you. See if you can focus any better. If you suffer from ADHD and are like me, chances are that you will love audio and will soak in much more content than what you will absorb if you were reading the same content. Chances are that you will actually love audio. Try it.

I wish you good luck.

posted on Saturday, May 1, 2010 8:30:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [1]
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

TEDxCalcutta - We Want To Listen To Your Ideas And Learn From Them.

One of my earlier posts was our first announcement for TEDxCalcutta. I absolutely enjoyed and loved being a part of the event. Besides the speakers, who were of-course amazing and absolutely fascinating one of the things that I also loved about TEDxCalcutta was the participants who attended the event. We had folks from all corners of the world and all walks of life doing amazing things which were not just innovative but hugely inspirational.

During the event I was able to connect to a few participants and get a conversation going about some of the genuinely inspirational and innovative work that they were involved with.

As we work on editing, publishing some of the speaker videos and deciding a schedule which will be used to upload the talks on the website, one of the additional things that we want to start as a parallel thread is listening to you.

If you are working on something that is ground breaking, genuinely innovative and at the same time is truly inspirational, if you have an idea that you believe is worth sharing and if you would like to share the idea with a community of really smart individuals, we would like to know more about the idea.

We would typically prefer this to be in the format of an un-edited video where we have a casual discussion with you about your idea or your work, preferably in your work place but if you are working out of places where we cannot get someone to interview you, we can also do it as recorded podcast, a recorded webcast or web meeting.

The email to send in your ideas or more details about the work that you are involved with is We will start looking at some of the emails that we receive and start prioritizing the order in which we cover these. We expect the first recorded cover to happen around mid April.

Its always a pleasure to come across smart people who inspire you and connect to them. This, is just one of our attempts at getting the discussion going around the year instead of just turning TEDxCalcutta into a once a year event.

Go ahead, send in your ideas.

We are waiting to hear from you.

posted on Sunday, March 28, 2010 9:00:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [2]
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010 by Rajiv Popat

TEDxCalcutta 2010 - Announcement 1.

Those of you who follow my twitter handle are probably aware of my involvement with TEDxCalcutta.

The last few days we have been working really hard in organizing the event, picking the right participants, getting the right speakers and doing a truckload of work that is associated with organizing an event.

The event was an absolutely stunning experience which ended up teaching me much more than what I had initially expected.

If you are reading this and you were an organizer, a speaker or a participant, here is big fat thank you for being associated with the event. We were touched by your involvement with the event, the passion and the encouragement that you guys have given us.

As a small team of organizers start working towards post-event activities like publishing the videos and getting you to give a feedback about the event, some of us have already started thinking about how we make the next year's event even better than this year.

Pictures and videos of this years event coming soon.

More information about the next years event will also start coming out on the website in a couple of weeks. If you were there at the event and liked it, go spread the word. We look forward to having you at the event next year as well.

Stay tuned for more announcements.

We will be publishing them on the TEDxCalcutta website in the next few days.

posted on Sunday, March 21, 2010 8:45:00 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [5]
Posted on: Thursday, August 30, 2007 by Rajiv Popat

When in Doubt, Don't Think.

Malcolm Gladwell toys with the idea of “snap judgements” and how our brain makes snap judgements in his book - blink. He describes how one can learn the art of “thinking without thinking”. He calls this the art of blinking.

Some refer to this as “listening to your heart” or “gut feeling”. Others refer to this as “going by your instincts”; Malcolm, calls this “blinking” and presents the whole concept using a simple yet distinctly elegant and factual examples.

The book is full of tons of examples of snap judgements and a number of experiments which are eye-openers. I’ll never be able to do justice to them by wrapping them up in three lines but here's my attempt to tease you to go read the book. Some examples the book illustrates rather articulately:

  1. An individual realizing in the first minute of watching a statue purchased by a museum for 10 million dollars, that it’s fake, when a team of scientists takes 14 months of study and calculations to come to a completely wrong conclusion before buying it.
  2. Psychiatrics using the ability to blink and techniques for predicting how long a marriage will last just by listening to two people talk for less than 3 minutes about a topic which has nothing to do with their marriage.
  3. The ability to find out if a candidate is a right candidate for an the job, during an interview in less than a couple of minutes; sometimes even without talking to him.

Too much thinking is dangerous. Malcolm questions our traditional knowledge of how a lot of us take decisions:

And what do we tell our children? Haste Makes Waste. Look before you leap. Stop and Think. Don’t judge a book by its cover. We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making.

He warns:

But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgements and first impressions can offer much better means of making sense of the world.

He explains why we, as human beings, lean towards basing our decisions on calculations and data and then goes on to explain why this approach is fundamentally flawed and why too much deliberation, data and particularly calculations before taking decisions can be devastating at times.

The book starts with the same lines as Steve Job’s video on Life and Connecting the Dots (using a  follow-your-heart-and-intuition kind-of approach) and then this book goes beyond with Practical and eye opening examples. A must read that I would highly recommend for anyone who has ever hesitated about trusting his gut feeling. Even if you always go with snap judgements this book offers new insights and perspectives which are eye opening.

<Aside> Personally, my life has been full of snap judgements and this book offers support and reconfirms (in a different way), what I've always believed in. But this post, dear reader, is not about me or my life. It’s about snap judgements, so I shall try not to digress. Let's move on with the topic. </Aside>

As programmers we are supposed to blink all the time and yet there's only a really small group of programmers in our profession capable of blinking well. I see countless developers debugging through their code - line by line and working for hours when a 3 second blink, instinct, gut feeling (whatever you call it) would have told them exactly where the bug lies and maybe even given them major hints on how to fix it.

According to Malcolm, this power of blinking is not a special gift that only a few have. He believes it’s something all of us have.

But, as Malcolm puts it we often “override” our blinks with so-called logical thinking, facts and figures and take completely wrong decisions.

I see developers once in a while thinking too hard, wasting hours, to fix that nested if-else complication which has resulted in a nasty logical bug when all they need to do it go out grab a cup of hot chocolate, come back and blink!

Almost Ninety Percent of all performance related issues that I’ve fixed in my development career have been a result of blinking. A hunch about what is causing the system to slow down. All the research, data and figures have just been add-ons; at times, even a waste of time. A lot of times, the data and figures have also driven me in the completely wrong direction.

The concept of blinking seems to work in all aspects of life starting from taking the most complex of decisions, recruiting folks, to fixing bugs and logical errors in code.

Fellow developers and dear readers, when in doubt, Don’t Think - Blink!

(Now go get your own copy of the book! :))

posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007 3:42:36 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [3]
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2007 by Rajiv Popat

Meet - Me 0.3.0.

There were a couple of folks who asked me what happened after the one-man-army post? Why did I stop writing? I didn’t. In fact, I’m back! And I feel light and awesome!

The Past couple of weeks were exciting, depressing, motivating and sofa king (to be read loud and very fast, repeatedly) educational that I felt like a baby who was taking his first baby-steps at learning how to walk.

Past couple of weeks was my first time at a lot of different things or for that matter, the first time where I did a lot of things, “differently” (depending on how I see it). A lot of things happened and that changed both my personal and professional life – faster than I could cope up.

So what were these few weeks all about?

  1. These weeks have been about watching near and dear ones sort out their problems and knowing completely, that there is nothing I can say or do to help them other than praying for them and standing by them - “if” they need me. 
  2. These weeks has been about realizing that at times I can do a people much more help by moving away rather than by being there during the most vulnerable and embarrassing moments of their life.
  3. These weeks have been about getting to know a few new people and a lot of people I already knew, newly.
  4. These weeks included having a long conversation which lasted for hours in the middle of a busy road and making a promise to myself that I would try to change parts of myself completely, after that conversation. 
  5. These weeks have been about seeking help from family and friends by waking them up in the middle on the night, night after night, and then keeping them awake all night in discussions. 
  6. These weeks have been about having my friends and family stand by me in all decisions and letting me know that what mattered most to them was my happiness. Everything else was secondary.
  7. These weeks have been about getting some very sound, timely and spontaneous advice, which came straight from the heart of friends and family. Advice that has always given me the hope and courage to make the crazy decisions I often make in life.
  8. On professional side, these weeks have been about having discussions with mentors and realizing that I can completely trust them to represent me, exactly as I would represent myself, without having any fear of being misquoted, misinterpreted or misunderstood.
  9. These weeks have been about dumping the excess baggage and developing stronger roots! These weeks have been about making difficult decisions about what is important to me and what is not and then letting the things that don’t mean much to me, go. It has then been about watching those things come back, all of a sudden. 
  10. These weeks have been about trying to become a better human-being on the professional side and trying to become a better person on the personal side.

I wish I could write more about the turn of events rather than just talk in riddles. But then, that would mean writing a very long post involving mundane details of my personal life. :) Rather than writing down and then remembering each and every incident, I would rather remember these few weeks by what they taught me and how they changed me.

I have a habit of versioning myself. After my last version (0.2.0) - this weekend has made me feel like a new me! I feel like the version 0.3.0 of myself was developed and taken to production in the past few  weeks. These past few weeks, as difficult as they were, will be very special to me because they taught me so much on both personal and professional sides that I feel like a baby again.

<Aside> For everyone who can make any sense what-so-ever out of this post, for everyone who talked to me these past couple of week (be it for my personal problems or be it for my minor problems on the professional side), I thank you from deep corners of my heart. Thank you! Thank you for being there. Thank you for discussing. Thank you for teaching me things I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for helping me become “Me 0.3.0” :)  </Aside>

These past few weeks have been about realizing that no matter how much I grow, I would always find myself on the road of life long learning where there'll always be something fundamentally new to learn. I will cherish every single lesson learnt in these past few weeks for life. Dear Reader, meet - "Me 0.3.0"! Hopefully, many more versions to come in future as I walk down this road of life long learning. :)

posted on Sunday, June 10, 2007 7:05:27 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [4]
Posted on: Thursday, March 29, 2007 by Rajiv Popat

Some Gangi Talk from the Past

I think it’s been more than a year since this incident happened. Which is when I had  written this and shared it out with selected friends and acquaintances on a collective blog I shared with friends at that time. Recently I was reminded by someone that I should probably post this out on my blog :)

For all the readers who are not familiar with Indian languages here are some words used in the story and what they mean.

“Jadu” is a special kind of a broom usually kept at Indian house-holds. Besides sweeping the floor this thing is supposed to have multiple other uses, like…

Hitting cockroaches hard enough to leave them unconscious, without killing them! :)

“Gangi” is Hindi-Language-Equivalent for a vest. So here’s the post - back from the old-days. Read on!

Some More Gangi Talk from Yesterday…

Yesterday was “sofa king” (to be read very fast without stopping) long and interesting - thought I should share it out for the sake of some creative speculations that you guys might have.

A Little background: Tuesday evening I see a big fat cockroach crawling on the walls of the bathroom of my hotel suite. That is when I realized that hotels in Texas don’t give a jadu with rooms… I missed my jadu then.

Anyways, I decided to use a "gangi", climbed up the bathtub caught the bugger walking high on the wall and left him on the stairs of the hotel so that he could conveniently go into someone else’s suite and bother them. Thought that was the end of it… turns out, I was “sofa king” wrong!

Yesterday morning, just when I was about to leave for office, I see a cockroach (the same one? Milan, a friend back from school days, suspects that it was a relative of the one thrown out on Tuesday, but I have my doubts – I mean, personally, I am inclined to believe now that with the years of evolution behind them these guys can easily find their way back to the bathroom of the suite from which they were insulted and thrown out! Can’t they?)

So I see him walking on the same high spot on the same wall! (I think he was back for revenge of the insult he had been subjected to a couple of days ago) Anyways, now the turn of events begin…

The plan was laid out – the primary weapon of attack that was so successful last time (the same gangi) will be used again and the rascal will be thrown right on the streets of Houston! So, I take the gangi and climb the bathtub again! Just as I was about the attack, the rascal decides to fly right on my shirt!!! Well, I did what anyone who hasn’t participated in fear factor would do – decided to RUN! But… I slipped from the bathtub instead.

In a desperate attempt to hold my ground I tried to catch hold of the bathroom curtain rod – which I thought, being made of solid steel, would be able hold my weight! Again, I was “sofa king” wrong!

The rod just decides to break into two pieces (that was a steel rod! I am not kidding here – albeit, it was hollow but it was steel! Makes me wonder if I am putting on weight or as ifte (another friend from school days) says, becoming - 'muscular' – Well, it breaks into two pieces, comes completely off the wall, throwing the curtain on the ground. This time, the cockroach decides to hide in the kitchen area! Right under a cabin!

Now my mind is multitasking with the primary thread being – Who the phu##$% pays for this?? The secondary threads all occupied by the cockroach who was still sitting there in the kitchen!

So, I decided to go to the front desk and tell them about the cockroaches! I thought everything would be fine now. Well again, I need not say by now that I was so… wrong!

Basically, I go to the front desk with all the 3 key cards of my room safely locked in the room!

So I go and tell them – “Houston, there’s a problem” – and the lady out there starts filing a ticket for me assuring me that they will “look into it”. Then I broke the news that I have already wreaked their bathroom rod while I myself was trying to “look into it”.

Now I am taken a bit seriously. A guy is sent with me to the room. When I ask for an extra key I am told that I’ve already used up the keys the hotel had for my room – but the guy can open the door for me. Good! I think… once I get in I can get all my keys.

On the way up (we took the elevator to go to the second floor) I have a hard time describing to the guy what a cockroach is. Not sure why – but looks like the guy has never heard the word cockroach before (or maybe I am just not articulate enough). Interesting.

So he finally opens my door for me using his master key (or whatever). Luckily for me the bugger is still sitting in my kitchen! Jackpot! My point is proved! I point at the bugger and tell him – “these” (whatever you want to call them) have been coming to my room for the past 2 days!! Now he gets it or in his words – he sees what I mean. He bashes the bugger with his handkerchief and throws it out.

He tells me that there’s been some renovation going on and they’re spraying insecticides around the building so cockroaches are moving in. At the end of the day...?

I get all my three keys, I go to office… some really exciting work going on these days which makes professional life fun (but better to leave the technical mumbo jumbo out) … and when I am back I can see my room all cleaned up with the insecticide sprayed in the entire suite! And the broken rod with the curtain… it’s still lying under my sink.

posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007 9:45:09 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Monday, December 25, 2006 by Rajiv Popat

Have You Made Your New Year's Resolutions for 2007 Yet?

Here is wishing anyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year! It’s that time of the year again! Time for celebrations, rest, holidays, fun and above all, a time to get inspired!

A whole new year is near, and that itself, is a good reason to take a pause, look back and spend some relaxing time to plan for the year ahead. Personally, these times feel so very similar to those during my long 10+ hour flights, when the plane is standing silently on the runway and we’re all waiting for the takeoff; The plane staff are checking the pre-flight checklists, assessing the weather conditions, checking the flight-plans and we’re all ready to fly and get to where-ever-it-is we want to get.

Of-course, having a flight-plan for life is a very difficult. But, this is the time when most of us make New Year’s Resolutions before we take off for the year. Wikipedia states:

"The new year resolution is one example of the rolling forecast-method of planning. According to this method, plans are established at regular short or medium-term time intervals, when only a rough long-term plan exists."

Looking back at the History of New Year Resolutions, it was the Babylonians who started this whole concept. They believed that what a person does on the first day of the year will have an effect on that individual, throughout the year. The most popular Babylonian resolution was to return something they borrowed from a friend (usually, farm equipment).

Today, lists like the List of Top 10 New Year Resolutions seems to cover and claims to provide help with most of the resolutions that a lot of us tend to make these days. Then there are sites out there that also provide help in the form of a paid-service which is supposed to help you meet your New Years Resolutions. Are they effective? Honestly, I haven't tried any and hopefully, don't intend on trying them anytime in the future. 

Personally, I don’t find the whole idea of New Year's Resolutions very appealing. Most of the resolutions we tend to make during this time are way too optimistic and un-real. Maybe, that’s why they fizz out within a couple of months. I’m more inclined towards introducing agility into my life using Professional and Personal TODO Lists for Life and striking off items from these lists whenever life permits. I’m also into doing small and agile sprints of myself. I call this the “Your-Next-Version” approach.

The idea of versioning myself and then working for Self-Version started out during a great vacation this year when I spent a lot of time thinking about my plans of self improvements in the next 6 months. I wrote a lot about the things that I wanted to change and made a lot of so-called-resolutions. Then I announced in this blog that I was done doing an elaboration of “Rajiv 0.2” and construction would being soon and that people would notice the difference.

I’ve always said that too much Analysis doesn't really help and after posting about the problems with analyzing too much, I soon realized that I had ended up doing the same thing with my own versions. My idea of versioning myself and keeping constant track of the self-versions, could work, but if it was to work, it needed to be light-weight and not too-optimistic-big-plan-up-front kind of an approach. The approach was quickly tweaked to support agility.

Each version of “Me” would include just one or two new features. The features included in each version would be both simple and incremental - As an example, a feature could say:  

"Just because you can, don’t code for others. You’re not really helping them. Let them find their own answers – even if you know them already. Be a mentor, not a human search-engine!"

A version, typically consisting of not more than a couple of features, can take anything between a month to a couple of months to roll out and my life would continue as normal, except of course I would be really careful and serious about committing to and making just one or two features a part of my life. Once this was a habit, I would call this version complete. For the next version, I would move to next one or two features, which may be an extension of the features in current version that was just completed or something completely disconnected. This approach seems to be pretty effective till now.

This New Year, I suggest the Your-Next-Version approach as an alternate option to New Year’s resolution. "What’s the difference?" - You might be thinking. The difference is exactly the difference between Waterfall and Agile. A New Year resolution is too generic, long and waterfall-like. E.g. for my friends and colleagues who smoke, A typical New Year's Resolution is often something as generic as “Quit smoking” – (way too optimistic and most likely to fizz out within the first couple of weeks or maybe a couple of months).

With the Your-Next-Version approach, we tweak this slightly and just say - My Next Version / Sprint smokes a cigarette less than my current version. Whenever this is achieved and is a comfortable part of your life, you move to the next version / sprint where the features could be an extension of existing features (a couple of cigarettes lesser) or something completely disconnected. We’ve worked with quick sprints, releases and versions in the software world; isn't it natural to extend the same knowledge and use it to tweak ourselves?

Do you version yourself too? If not, doesn't a whole New Year seem like a good time to try this out? Keep your own versions small and keep them agile. Here’s wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, great Holidays and a beautiful New Year full of lessons, love, family-time, work, excitement, growth and lots of new, exciting and stable versions of your current self! :)

posted on Monday, December 25, 2006 5:17:58 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, October 12, 2006 by Rajiv Popat

The Train-Person... and a Train Trip that Rocked!

Dad is a "Train-Person"; simply put, A Train-Person is an individual who takes a train when he travels from Point A to Point B. Period.

Other mere-mortals like me or for that matter, mom or even you, (if you are not a Train-Person) would do some So-Called-Analysis which would be usually based on a set of “worldly” questions:

  1. How far Point B is from Point A? - or vice-a-versa.
  2. How long will it take to reach from Point A to Point B by train? - usually counted in Man-Days (with a Capital M and a capital D).
  3. Are there other faster (and/or cheaper) modes of transportation? - e.g. metal things that move on 4 wheels or metal things that fly, (depending on what the answer to question number 1 works out to be)?

To a "Train-Person" these questions are nothing but trivial worldly details. A Train-Person sees the "higher picture"; A Train-Person will ask a completely different set of non-worldly questions:

  1. Is There a Point A?
  2. Is There a Point B?
  3. Is There a Train Between Point A and Point B?

But the "worldly" questions asked become profoundly important; especially if Point A and Point B are located somewhere in India.

As an Indian who occasionally reads the news-papers :) and along with the papers, the Advertisements of the crazy Discounts a lot of Indian Airlines offer, I knew for sure that there were cheaper and faster ways of getting to Point B. But we (mom and me) pretty much agreed to the Train Plan without any arguments. Mainly because:

  1. I don’t have get to have a lot of vacations with family – for the past few years I have been nowhere on this map, every time a vacation was planned - mostly work and American hurricanes (long story) have kept me ‘on the move’ and when I do return to India the holidays have usually ended. So, the "going on a vacation" part was more important than how we got there.
  2. You can’t convince a Train-Person that there’s a better way to get to Point B from Point A other than a train. It has never been done in History of man-kind. Never.
  3. And honestly (on a slightly serious note), I liked the whole idea of "enjoying you journey as much as your destination".
Long story short, we surrendered to the train person and boarded a train that would take us to Point B for an awesome vacation. The Train trip to the destination was "sofa king" (to be read very fast, repeatedly) lousy that I wouldn’t enjoy it even if I was on a highest dosage of Nitrous Oxide (a.k.a. Laughing Gas) that can be given to any two legged creature before that creature… anyways, I digress. The point is, the trip to Point B sucked! Why?

Other than Mom, dad and me, the train compartment we had boarded consisted of the following other “things” which happened to accompany mom, dad and myself:
  1. A Mommy thing – this thing was usually quite, barely spoke, but would fight for luggage-space of 9 people because Daddy Thing had paid his “hard earned money” to buy 5 tickets.
  2. A Daddy thing – with obnoxiously loud voice and sick jokes, which by the way, were so-not-funny.
  3. 3 Teenage things – all three of which, had something in common. A Taste for bad and loud cell phone ring-tones. I’ve seen people listening to some strange music, but ring tones!!? How can you listen to ring tones, even if you are just a... a... “thing”? And of course the use of ear-phones was so-not-necessary… Anyways, am I sounding mean here? I think I’ll leave it at that :)
The part of the trip that sucked the most was that these things happened to be in the same compartments as us. There was one good part to that train trip however – It Ended.

We Reached Point B. Took connecting buses to our final destination (my happy-place) and I had the best uber cool, rocking, relaxing and thought provoking vacation of my entire life (long story).

Good times slowly ended and it was time to head back to home to Point A to enjoy home, life-as-usual and interesting work. The return tickets had been booked and I was getting “prepared” for another lousy experience of having to spend another 38 hours with god-know-what kind of creatures and “things” which would share the train cabin with us this time.

But this time I was be prepared; with my MP3 player, Audio Books and the loudest set of headphones I could buy. At least sick jokes, mobile phone ring tones and requests for “a little bit more space” weren’t going to get me down after such a rocking vacation.

When we boarded the train Mom was concerned about the seats we had. Dad (being, the Train-Person) was concerned about all the other points between Point A and Point B (such as X, Y, Z etc.) in which the train was going to make brief stops and kept looking for an official Time-Table. I was concerned about the lousy company I was going to get and kept buying books just in case my Mp3 player lost charge. So, basically, all of us were... concerned.

After more than 38 hours we reached home. So, after my long rant about train-trips you would think that if I had a chance to choose between a flight and a train journey, ever again, I would choose the flight any-day, right? WRONG! Wait, I didn’t describe the train trip back home yet.

On the train journey back home other than me, the train compartment we had boarded consisted of the following “interesting individuals”:
  1. An incredibly lively girl who could speak on-and-on-and-on-and…and-on, for hours; Quite literally :). About sun-signs, face-reading, religious conversations, bhajans, jokes, cards, movies, travel (the list goes on). If you didn’t talk to her, when she was getting bored and if you were brotherly enough, you ran the risk of having her pluck a hair out of your head or hand to make you talk.
    If she was my sister I would feel proud (no offense to my existing cousin sisters :)). If I was concerned about recruiting guys for HR of any company, I would choose this girl with eyes closed.
  2. Her sister - who would ask questions, listen, explain what she knew rather well (I saw her giving some sound career advice to yet another individual) and was curious to know about things when she heard them. I casually mentioned the word Blog in a conversation and ended up describing what a Blog is and beyond.
  3. A Bubbly Girl who would laugh at jokes and then couldn’t stop laughing.
  4. Mom – Mom was “interestingly different” with these girls than she is with most other people in her first meeting. With most other people she takes a couple of days to break the ice (much like me). Here, she was singing bhajans, playing cards, talking, laughing away and having fun. We’ve (dad and me, well, at least me) never seen her get this friendly with people in the first meeting.
  5. Dad – He was putting his solid hold of English vocabulary to good use - the guy is a living walking dictionary and the reason why we never looked up the dictionary when we were young (we usually just asked him). There was this game of making words which start and end with a particular letter and Dad was in action!

During a short span on one day as the train was taking us home; people in the compartment (me included) were engaging into one or more of the following activities:

  1. Having conversations, cracking jokes, pulling legs. (Including my leg, which got pulled more than once :)).
  2. Singing bhajans.
  3. Playing court-piece - a card game (I learnt that I suck at it!).
  4. Career discussions and advice.
  5. More conversations, more jokes, more pulling legs.
  6. Stories about heart surgeries, discussion on recipes, face reading, sun-signs, studies… (Long list). 
  7. Gambling - not with real money, but with a deck of cards which everyone pretended was money.
  8. People teaming up to plan to steal my personal diary when I sleep (and then asking me if I was asleep and if it was OK to steal my diary) :)

This trip was the first time, since my school life, that I wrote my thoughts on paper and the first time in a long time, when I went anywhere for more than a week without my laptop. I paid the price for it by getting my legs pulled for using a paper pad :) – But a deal was struck.... They would have access to an “edited version” of whatever-it-is that I was writing and in return the idea of stealing my diary would be completely dropped.

There are very short extracts of the thoughts I was scribbling there 'embedded within this post' so I guess I’ve kept my part of the deal... "Technically" :).

The next day after a trip of 38 hours or so (albeit, it appeared much lesser than that) we reached Point A again. If I was to version myself and say that I was “Rajiv 0.1” when I started out for this vacation it would be ok to say that this vacation has been a solid Elaboration Phase for “Rajiv 0.2” – people will notice Major “design changes” as Construction begins :).

This was a vacation where I came back without a lot souvenirs or pictures but with many interesting stories. And the train trip back home? Well, that was an icing on the cake!

Moral of the story: When a Tain-Person tells you to board a train, you board a train. Chances are, in the end of the story, you won't regret you did what he told you to do. :)

posted on Thursday, October 12, 2006 2:41:26 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]