Progress ?

I installed Facebook messenger about 2 days ago. I can abashedly say that I was lured into it. One minute I was checking my notifications then I was downloading the app and I was all setup.

And wow. It was so beautiful, the little heads with such detailing sitting at the edge of your screen, moveable anywhere. Wow ! I was impressed. The default ring tone the table bell perfect.

After messaging a few must-message people (wife etc) I went back to Facebook. Back to the posts and posts about the Nepal quake.

Every day the death toll is rising. People putting their life on hold to help. Stories of heroism and sacrifice peppered with a few tales of selfishness. After all we are human. Peoples accounts of narrow escapes and morbid descriptions of the devastation right at my finger tips.

Awesome ! BUT wait a minute. Didn’t anyone know in advance? Most places know they are on a fault line ? Seismology is a thing rt ? People study it rt ? Shouldn’t someone have raised the red flag. What were those buildings made of ? Doesn’t Japan have seismic proof (multi-storeyed??) Buildings ? Why wasn’t that technology shared ?

Then I had a sinking feeling that the person who could have solved this problem maybe spending his life making smartphone apps ! Then I looked at myself, I spend my life pushing ones and zeroes around the internet.

Depressed, I logged off Facebook and went back to the work that pays me. I realized that money has so warped our incentives that survival of the species has taken the back seat. Its no longer the survival of the fittest. Its survival of the one who collects more Money. Your genes might allow you to live past 150 ! But it means jack sh#t if your parents don’t have the money for basic healthcare 🙂

If our little fantasy about money suddenly ends and its back to the farm for sustenance, I am not sure if the ability to make more money will translate into ability to thrive there.

Then I went back to work anyway. I mean humanity doesn’t pay me !

Going away

Bags are all packed, they are ready to go. Its not a sudden decision or a crisis to handle. Its a discussed, planned trip.

Tickets were booked much in advance after a number of discussions (arguments), delays and hoping. We have had a month to internalize this. Its a reality before it happens.

Its the morning of the travel day. My car packed up the day before. Through a series of events I am without a vehicle to office. We argue whether I should go to office at all. For some weird reasons I decide I Must go. She relents. I set off to work by public transport.

Thank god I fixed my phone. Reach work at 2 pm. Finish some work for an hour. They leave at 4. It will take 1 hr to reach home. I finally prise myself away from the screen at 3.20pm. I am wondering, no phone call yet ?

On a normal day, If I said I will reach by 6pm I get a call at 4.30 to make sure I leave. Today nothing.

Leaving everything incomplete I pick up my bike left at the office and scramble home. I reach 4.10pm. She is upset. “You don’t care that I am leaving”. I take the silent route.

My daughter is leaving as well. “Papa you come with me in airplane?” She asks. “No baby” I say thinking on my feet “But I will drop you to airport”.
“No papa you must come to airplane” she says in tears. These tears are worse than crocodiles.

The taxi is late. “I told you I would drop you” I say referring to a previously lost argument. “With no AC” she replies angrily.

Finally 4.30 pm our cab arrives. We sit. “Where’s your suitcase” my daughter asks. I begin to explain again that I won’t be coming , I tread carefully to avoid those crocodiles. Realizing the futility of words I pull out my phone and show her “Peppa pig” videos on YouTube. Danger averted.

As the journey continues my wife’s mood gets better, we talk again. Reached the airport hugs and kisses. They check in and leave.

I sit at the cafe, waiting to make sure they get through security OK or maybe its with the hope that they don’t. This is not how its supposed to be, I think to myself.

I am supposed to be excited about my new found week long freedom. I should be planning all the stuff I would do now they are not around to eat my time. But no, here I am wondering what to do, if anything at all.

Its when they leave that you realize how much of your internal system they take up. As much as they are obstacles to things you want to do, they are the motivation to do anything at all. As much as they are part of your constraints, they are the source of creativity as well. Life without them that you fantasized is actually unfathomable. It can’t exist in your present system. When it happens life just stops and nothing makes sense.

I look back at the events of the day and I see both of our internal systems trying to stop this journey. She not calling, me coming to office for an hour, not securing a cab, me hoping the flight didn’t take off. Even in the presence of our fantasized freedom, our internal systems didn’t want this trip to happen.

Maybe this is what it means to be 2 half’s of a whole.

The struggle to get to nothing

If I were to put a title to the past few months, the title of this piece would be it.

There are so many conversations out there in the world and one finds oneself either accepting them or rejecting them. This makes you this kind of person or some other kind of person in the eyes of the world. This branding is going on and people do it subconsciously. They drift, socially, towards people with similar thoughts and beliefs and distance themselves from those with other thoughts and beliefs. So much strife and I believe its all on account of language.

The fundamental issue I feel is lack of understanding of language. We use it every day externally, and internally it just goes on and on and on. Yet because we don’t understand language we end up being used by it.

because we don’t understand language we end up being used by it. 

Take the word terrorist, on one side it conjures up a picture of willful wrong-doing and condemn-able behaviour and on the other it conjures up a picture of sacrifice and martyrdom. Which one appeals to you depends on the memories and thoughts it conjures up.

It is this conjuring that is the problem. People have no control over it.

Consider the noun “Respect“. Why is it a noun? It doesn’t describe any physical thing.  It has no colour, no shape, no physical reality. (Try disrepecting a stone). But because we dont understand language we give it a reality.

If he says, this, this ,this we are respected, if he does that, that and the other we are disrespected. If disrespected we must protect our honour. How do we do that? We kill slaughter, shout abuse so on and so forth. Its like in that book “The curious incident of the dog in the night time” . The protagonist who is autistic, has a bad day (filled with low emotions and anxiety) if he sees more cars of a particular colour than another. Most people who read this book love it for its palpable description of autism, but what I liked about the book is its a description of the way each of our brains work.

We give reality to a bunch of sounds vibrated in a particular sequence. We give it enough reality to first feel sad and depressed and worst case get violent about it.

Language is a tool to describe things. Thats what its supposed to be used for! We need to stop being controlled by the description we give things.

All that said, its still tough to do though. I know that there are many areas where I still react to things that only exist in language. Getting to nothing certainly is not easy but for sure it makes life make a bit more sense.

Lost and Loving it…. (RIP Divakar Bari)

On 23rd July I was hunting for my form 16 from my previous company. They had’nt sent it to me yet and I was frantically calling old friends and colleagues in a desperate attempt to beat the deadline. One of the people I pinged was a junior who had worked with me – Divakar Bari. I reached out on skype and found out that it was his birthday. He replied the next day.

[7/22/2014 9:39:05 PM] Paramananda Ponnaiyan: Bari saar happy birthday
[7/23/2014 11:14:36 AM] Divakar Bari: Thank you Sirji.  You are indeed Awesome 🙂

Reminding me of a popular refrain I used to say (still do?) when I solve a hard problem. We chatted a little more about my form 16, he offered to approach the HR for the same. I then asked him, how he was doing.

[7/23/2014 11:15:35 AM] Divakar Bari: hehehehe ..
[7/23/2014 11:16:19 AM] Divakar Bari: nothin much on my end .. a lot of planning on some fronts .. gotta plan few years ahead.

I just got to know that he passed away on 8th August 2014. 15 days after this message.

When I look back on the short time I knew him, Divakar has to be the most frustrating young person I had the opportunity to work with. His very existence in the company I worked was a source of pain for me.

Divakar was not a good software engineer, atleast whatever I saw of his code left a whole lot to be desired. And yet, he survived for almost 2 years in the burning cauldron of a startup atmosphere. When he was working with me, I kept all the manual jobs for him. Things I could easily explain and he could execute. I like to think that he started showing some initiative. My boss was not happy though and put him on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Then in a quirk of fate there were layoffs in my team and Divakar’s improvement plan was forgotten so that he could start doing some of the work of people who had been laid off. Saved again.

I remember we used to have long talks on the nature of existence. Divakar did’nt think there was any reason to stress it. Even on PIP he used to be much the same as before. It was as if whatever the world did to him it would’nt change him. This irritated me. I wanted him to be ambitious, hard working, focussed. He did’nt care, didnt even feel the need to care. Life was a series of happy accidents he used to tell me. He didnt expect to get into my company, but got placed somehow from campus. He used to say that the recruiter made a mistake. Once in the company he enjoyed the experience but if he was going to lose it, he was ok with that too. He was sure there would be something more to enjoy over there too.

Maybe the close shave of PIP changed him. Not so much the PIP but being saved by fate changed him. Although we used to have a good laugh whenever I brought it up, I know that after the layoffs he worked a lot harder. That is also probably why he made that statement of planning for the future in the chat. If you know Divakar, that line is as alien as the Pope speaking in Hindi.

And just when he was turning a new leaf, wanting more from his life than what came his way, his life was taken away. Shakespeare could not have scripted it better.

I am left wondering, though, if he had’nt gone through that PIP, if he had’nt changed (if I (and others) had’nt tried to change him) would he have been happier for the few months of his existence?

It seems to me, Divakar, the earlier one, the untainted one, was right. There really is nowhere to run. The life we have is right now. Why suffer for a future that may not exist ? Why not just enjoy it as it is.

[ I hope noone is offended by what I have written, its just my way of paying tribute to a guy I enjoyed some time on earth with. I mean no ill feeling to anyone]

Lost

Missing people is a big problem in India. The success rate of finding a person who is genuinely lost is dismally low as frankly the police department is not equipped or staffed properly to deal with it. For small children its even lower and tracking a person who cannot communicate like a dumb person or mentally challenged person, it is practically impossible.

My dad went missing last weekend. My dad has Alzheimers disease. Although he is physically fine, he is not able to communicate even the simplest things. From the outset we were told that our chances of ever finding him again were low.

Our first instinct when we were told the news was to get as many people as possible on the road to scan the area. My wife Paluk reached out to everyone we knew while I started the search for dad. The care-taker whose carelessness had put us in this spot told us that he had lost track of dad in Indiranagar.

We posted flyers all over Indiranagar and spoke to passers-by, dhobis, ironing persons, mailmen… anyone if they had seen anyone with a white shirt and white dhoti holding or wearing a blue sweater.

As I walked the streets with a colour photo of him in my hand, the futility of the situation hit me over and over again. I asked myself if I were in the place of the people who were being asked, would I even be able to notice, forget recall an unknown person walking by me. I could only pray that dad would somehow leave an impression on passers-by.

While facing disappointment and discouragement on the one hand, we were also witness to the humanity and sacrifice of the volunteers who came to our side at this trying time.  At any given time we would have 10 – 20 volunteers on the road searching for dad. These people were friends, colleagues, dad’s old colleagues from the navy, even people who had just seen the news on social media and reached out to help. This gave us encouragement and hope that we would find dad soon.

We got a number of sightings once news began to spread. The thing about sightings is that its pretty impossible to verify whether it really was dad or someone who looked like dad or maybe a lie altogether. To deal with this we changed our strategy. We would first show the photo and check for recognition. If a yes, we would ask questions about his dress “What was he wearing?” etc and sometimes throw in a red-herring like “What was the colour of his pants?” (he was wearing a dhoti) to catch any liars. Even with this methodology we still had 10% of the sightings totally off the charts. Looking at the other points a credible story seemed to be appear. In this way we moved from one area to the next, following the most credible of the sightings.

According to the data that fit the story, dad had crossed over to 100 ft rd from domlur and then moved up to kodigehalli and then moved to CMH road and adjoining areas over the course of 3 days.

While the volunteers and I were on the streets doing the search, Paluk went about organizing media coverage such as more pamphlets, putting an ad in the news paper and even getting us sometime on the TV and cable channels. My brother also flew down from the US to help in the search.

Very soon my Dad’s photo was all over the Internet and Dad’s course mates and ex-colleagues from the Navy started calling in to see how they could help. The commander-in-chief of the southern naval command called and assured me that no stone would remain un-turned to see that dad was returned safely. The Navy applied pressure on the police and also provided a few personnel to help in the search. MLA’s and influential persons from bangalore and the center called up the police station to galvanize the police force.

A whatsapp group was created and all the updates appeared there. A friend of mine Albert Bivera from Mumbai pulled in a lot of people into the search and also helped directing the groups via whatsapp.

The search was physically and emotionally taxing. We would go to sleep every day at 2Am only to wake up at 5 Am and continue. To be closer to the place where dad went missing, our friends Srobona Das and Nelson Carvalho offered their place to stay.

Tuesday I reached a point where the emotional turmoil inside and the physical exhaustion on the outside, put me in a zombie state, not having the energy to care anymore but still caring too much to stop. I sat at one of the places dad had already been, hoping that he would return, while directing other groups so that their searches would not overlap.

On Tuesday night we combed a 2 mile radius around Chinmaya mission hospital at night, hoping to catch him while he slept. This was done with a beat policeman Mr Manjunath. No luck.

Wednesday morning all the leads went cold. There were no new sightings of dad. We combed the area around Chinmaya Mission hospital twice that morning, but did not get any new leads. The number of volunteers at that time was very few (more were coming in the afternoon) and we started looking at hiring private detectives to continue the search. We were also thinking of getting colour posters printed and pasting them all over Indiranagar.

For me, the biggest question, was where do homeless people sleep? Any homeless person on the pavements, I learnt, was picked up by the police and handed over to some NGO organization. For healthy homeless people it is usually  the beggars colony in kengeri and for mentally challenged destitutes it is RVM foundation hospital on bannerghatta road. We also found that the places where homeless people can sleep without getting caught by the police are only bda complexes, railway stations and bus stands. We searched all the complexes, stations and bus stands nearby but no luck. A friend of ours sent a photo of dad to RVM foundation to check for dad.

On Wednesday afternoon around 4pm we got news that a 90% match had been found at RVM foundation hospital. We quickly asked for a photo. They responded on whatsapp. The photo was that of my dad, he was found. I rushed from Indiranagar to Bannerghatta rd to verify that it indeed was dad. We didnt tell anyone, as we didnt want to stop the search until we were 100% sure that dad had been found.

I reached RVM hospital by about 5.30 to see my father elated and thanking god to see me. Tears of joy and gratitude to the heavens.

Dad had been found on Tuesday evening in a dried up late near Anekal. The villagers had helped him out and handed him over to an NGO called Niranthara who had in turn handed him over to RVM on wednesday afternoon. We were told at RVM that this was the first time a missing person had been taken home within an hour of arriving.

Dads upper body clothes were clean. He had mud on his feet and hair, but otherwise physically he was fine.

If dad was in Anekal on Tuesday evening, then who were we tracking in Indiranagar? How could a person with no money reach Anekal ? Did the caretaker lie to us about where he lost him in the first place (it turned out he had already lied about the form of transport he had taken and the reason for him going to indirinagar)? If he lied why did he do so?

These questions for the most part will remain unanswered, we have filed complaint against the caretaker to see if there was a bigger plan here.

In conclusion, we are really happy that dad is back and this is a call to us to be more vigilant about his care. We thank all the Volunteers for their help and support and hope we will be able to be of service to you in the future. The police handling of Lost cases, from accepting the FIR to the actual work of finding leaves much to be desired. I hope to contribute there in the future.

What feels like work but isn’t…

I found another danger in the workplace. I suspect Its a quirk of my incentive recognition system, somewhere in my brain.  So it probably doesn’t apply to everyone.

Meetings. 

I know, its old news. 

BUT, the small quirk as I said lies in my head somewhere.

Meetings are a must sometimes and the ones I am talking about are the “needed” kind. The issue is that after a couple of meetings or an especially vocal one, I mean the ones where I have something to say AND I say it, I feel like I have done a lot of work. The issue with that is I feel I have done enough for the day, and spend the rest of the day doing brainless or enjoyable work that wallows in the nether regions of my todo list.

I cant exactly put my finger on the feeling, but it lies between adulation and a standing ovation. It feels like my existence has been validated, My reason for being (in the company) vindicated beyond doubt for the day, “if that is the case then why work?” the conversation goes.

Right now, I am just watching this. I dont know what to actually do about it, but I know its affecting my productivity. Suggestions anyone?.