Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Chinese cab driver, his Sikh friend & spicy Indian food

It was an overcast Thursday evening in Singapore when I boarded the blue Comfort cab to head home. I was hoping I would reach in time for dinner. 

The old Chinese uncle driving the cab gave me a warm smile followed by that all too familiar question, “So, are you from India?”. My reply, “yes, how did you guess?” was a lame attempt at humour given the turban on my head. 
I pretended to be busy staring into my phone. My seven years in Singapore had conditioned me well. Any signs of interest in a conversation will be followed with a verbal primer on Sikh history in Singapore, “did you know Sikhs arrived in Singapore as soldiers and policemen during the British empire?” Or “Did you know there are 7 Sikh temples in Singapore?”.
But this was different. “Very few Singapore Sikhs wear a turban now”, he said. 
“Yes, I am aware of that”, I said, trying to be curt enough to avoid a full blown conversation, yet polite enough to not offend him. 
“One of them was my best friend. My platoon mate from my national service days”, he said.
“Oh, thats nice”, I said, maintaining my balance between curtness & politeness, still looking at my phone. 
“He introduced me to spicy food and I never went back to bland cuisine after that”, clearly my curtness wasn’t working.
“He was my best friend, brother from another mother, as some say. But then he went abroad”
“Oh so are you still in touch with him?”, by now I was mildly interested. 
“For several years we used to exchange letters, snail mail, as its called now”. 
 “Nothing like personal hand written communication”, I said, though immediately feeling a bit stupid as this clearly must have been before mobile phones. 
“Yes but unfortunately that stopped. My house got burnt down and I lost his address. I shifted to another place and unfortunately lost all contact with my turbaned friend” 
"Oh thats a pity", I had stopped looking at my phone now. 
“A few years back I visited Canada to meet my son and his family in Toronto. I also visited Vancouver. One day, in Vancouver, I felt the urge to eat my favourite spicy food my friend had got me hooked to, and was looking for an Indian restaurant. There are many Indian eating joints in Vancouver and I just randomly chose one. As soon as I entered, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was my Sikh friend who I hadn’t been in touch with for 15 years. He had put on a lot of weight so it took me a moment to recognise him but he had no problem recognising me. He was the owner of the place. Can you imagine, out of hundreds of Indian restaurants in Vancouver I walked into the one owned by my long lost friend?”
“That’s so amazing”, I said
“Yes, I believe my friend and spicy food are in my destiny"
“Are you still in touch with him?"
"Yes, I just do three things now. Drive this taxi, exchange letters with my friend and WhatsApp messages with my son in Toronto. My son keeps asking me to shift there and I'm seriously considering it" 
“That will be nice, Toronto would be a great place to retire”, I said 
“Why should I retire?
“What do you plan to do there?"
“Run a spicy food restaurant, after all its in my destiny."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A note to my son hours before he turns a teenager

I’m sure you remember Puggi. The hyper-mischievous boy and the protagonist of the stories you made me imagine and  narrate to you as your favorite bedtime ritual. We must have started when you were very young, not more than 5, and maintained the routine for years, clocking well over a 1000 stories. Many a time, I used to doze off before you did with the stories meandering into incoherence and you shaking me up, “Papa wake up, that doesn’t make any sense!”.  But my lasting memory is  that of us laughing hysterically on Puggi’s imaginary antics, troubling his neighbors, teaching the school bully a lesson, bugging his teachers and many other characters who became an inseparable part of our bedtime routine.  Since you were so familiar with each of them you even started pre-determining  the cast for each story,  the rotund neighborhood uncle  - Puggi’s pet victim, being your favorite of course!

Somehow, the frequency, almost daily initially, slipped to ‘every other day’ and then we settled into a weekend routine. My work and your discovery of electronic distractions being the reason – the former being the bigger culprit. And then the Puggi stories stopped. Childhood routines don't have a specific point when you outgrow them. They just fade into a nostalgic past. There's always a reassurance that the next one could be anytime. Till one day you realize that may not be the case. Last week when I saw you practice an AC/DC riff on your new electric guitar, the realization dawned that we’ve come too far from the world of Puggi stories. I can’t remember the last story. Had I known its the final one, I would have made it the funniest, craziest, most epic one ever, turning it into a grand finale. But its time to move on.

So here’s a confession dear son.  Puggi was just an excuse, a front, a living version of a few values that I hold true. They say Popeye was created to get kids to eat spinach. I created Puggi to teach you all that I hold true in life. All the crazy mischiefs and antics always had the same sub-plot. Sorry for being Machiavellian about an innocent bedtime routine. But my intentions were good.  In case the thousand odd stories failed to work, here’s what I wanted to tell you

1. Did you notice how Puggi found himself in new adventures and experiences each time?
Never ever hesitate to experience new places, activities and cultures. Life is all about accumulating experiences and not possessions.

2. Troublesome as he was, there never was a story where Puggi harmed someone weaker than him.
Neither should you. Help those less  privileged than you. Most of us have won the lottery of birth. We could easily have been the ones braving rough waters in a raft trying to reach a safer country.  Its simply our responsibility to help those less privileged.

3. Women – Puggi was nice to them.
Ideally I would say treat them as equals but given the world around us is rather unfairly male centric I would appreciate if you go out of your way and be sensitive to them.

4. No matter what he did, Puggi always confessed to his parents at the end of the story.
So always be truthful. Now I have to admit, as you grow older you’ll find it more and more difficult to follow this. However being completely honest with those close to you is a good practice and not too hard to follow.

5. Remember Puggi’s awkward and uncomfortable questions?
There’s nothing in the world that’s not open to questioning. No truth that's absolute, no belief beyond logic. We were given the power to reason for a reason. Stay away from dogma and rigid thinking. Question everything. And that includes these 5 values I just shared with you.

That's it. That's all I was trying to teach you all these years. There’s no guarantee these values will bring  you material success. But they just might make you a better human being. 

Years from now you might feel the need to refer to this note again. Which will be nice. Or maybe you won't. Which might even be nicer as that could mean you are already living these values or have discovered some of your very own. And there are few things more wonderful than finding your own little values to live life by

Happy Birthday son. Enjoy teenage and now you can go back to practicing that AC/DC riff. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Remembering Steve…and his little known connection with Indian ‘Jugaad’

It was the India launch of the new iMac, a pristine white work of art with a hemispherical base, aka the sunflower Mac due to its vague likeness to the flower. The event was being held in a hotel near Connaught Place, Delhi. The Product Manager had flown down from Cupertino for the unveiling. As the Marketing Manager, I wanted to emulate the grand spectacle  Steve Jobs had put up a few days earlier in the US., though at a smaller scale. One of his tricks included a levitation of the  iMac  on a platform followed by 360 degree rotations  to emphasize its beautiful backside. I was skeptical we could pull off the platform levitation bit till we discovered a hydraulic lift from the nearby electrical market in Bhagirath Palace, Chandni Chowk. It worked perfectly.. 

The stage was set, the press and dozens of Mac enthusiasts arrived for their first glimpse of the latest marvel. The final dry run was being conducted 30 minutes before the unveiling and we seemed in perfect control …till the hydraulic lift decided to get jammed . The damn thing just wouldn’t start. The supplier rushed to get a replacement  but given the Delhi traffic there was little chance he could make it unless he  himself levitated all the way to his shop. Not doing the levitation & rotation act would have ruined the entire sequence. Minor heart attacks were happening all around!

Fast forward  40 minutes -  the iMac was launched to thunderous applause in a slick routine that included   levitation and rotation revealing its three dimensional glory – just like Steve’s show at Moscone Centre, SFO.

Here’s what happened behind the scenes.  No, the supplier's replacement never appeared  but the 30 minute gap between the  lift’s act of defiance and the unveiling was just about  enough to find a person of modest height (one of the employees with the hydraulic lift supplier) who could fit into the 5 ft. cylinder encasing the lift. The levitation was mimicked by deftly pushing the iMac platform from underneath by our vertically challenged savior after getting a cue from the Product Manager (which was a knock on the top of the frame). Then he spun around inside the cylinder like a pirouetting ballerina to provide multiple 360 degree views of the iMac.  Our man crouched inside in perfect stillness till the end of the presentation  - luckily someone had the foresight to drill  enough holes to let in precious oxygen and avoid manslaughter. And so the world’ most talked about machine owed its India launch to the flexibility and spinning ability of a guy from Chandni Chowk or the Indian practice of jugaad!

Jugaad is ‘Think Different’  thought differently

Sunday, January 8, 2012

11 things I learned from my 1st marathon

11 things I learned running my 1st  marathon

- Anyone can do it
   Many people tell me "I can run only 5 km/ 10 min etc." Well if you can run that much, in all probability, with some practice you can run a marathon. 

- Run it only if you really want to. 
 Running a full marathon requires serious commitment. There are many sacrifices you'll need to make. If you are into fitness running, you can stretch a bit and run a half marathon. A full marathon is a painfully different ball game altogether. Be sure you really want to do it. 

- Follow the pre-documented plans but customize. 
  The web is full of free resources and training plans. Jeff Galloway and Hal Higgdon are  two popular online experts. Follow their plans but make your sure you make adequate changes to suit your routine.  For instance, my travel and work schedule never allowed me more than 3 weekly runs though the plan I followed prescribed four. 

- Paperwork helps.
Maintain a schedule and measure your performance weekly against the schedule. Rate your self each week. 

- Make use  of technology - some of it is FREE. 
 You could buy a $300 GPS watch or install a free app like Cardio Trainer on your smartphone. It tracks your distance, speed, route and stores critical data of all your runs. There's something uniquely satisfying about looking at your previous run records and the progress you've made over the months.

- Running shoes: much ado about nothing. 
  As much as possible stay away from the jargon sports shoe salesmen are tutored to disseminate. The entire running shoe industry is built on a shaky foundation. I ran my marathon in minimalist shoes with soles meant to provide only basic protection for the feet and nothing more. I believe the best way to run is to run naturally - why should your shoes attempt to influence your running form? Read the book 'Born to Run'  to learn more. Most manufacturers are now introducing running shoes that allow you to run naturally. 

- Its not how much you can run, its how fast you can recover. 
 Recovery is the key to all practice run. Remember the basic principle of recovery: RICE -  Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Also, if possible buy something called a foam roller. It helped me  recover from a near show-stopping knee injury 4 weeks before the marathon. 

- Daily motivation helps. 
 Subscribe to Runner's World quote of the day. You will be surprised how eerily close it will be to whatever you're going through. 

- Listen to your body. 
  No running schedule and recovery aids can help if you ignore what your body is telling you. Yes, almost all runners at times go beyond limits. But such instances should be an exception and not the norm. You simply know when you are not fit enough to run and need to rest.  

- Finding the time to run
  A full marathon requires serious commitment in terms of time. I traveled over 100 days last year with a fair share of red-eye flights and jet lags. One of my biggest learning was that finding time for an activity is a function of two things - how high is it in your priority and weather you really enjoy it, which brings me to my last point.

- Do you really enjoy running?
 Finally, it boils down to this - do you find running rejuvenating or a chore? There will be days when you come home after a hard day's work and would need to do your 10km practice run. Only those who really enjoy running will eventually manage to stay true to the practice schedule. 

Happy running!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here's to you Steve

Here’s to you Steve…
  •  My first recollection of you was a 1992 article in Economic Times Brand Equity titled ‘What’s NeXT?’. That cool picture of yours with the Next Computer along with an account of your ouster from Apple is still fresh in my mind and it was the first time I was inspired by a business personality. Thanks for showing us that superstars don’t  always hold a guitar or a racquet .

  •    That article had something to do with my decision to choose Apple as an employer over a traditional IT MNC 7 years later. My business card ‘Sales Manager – Apple Computer’ with the six color Apple logo still gives me as much joy & pride as it did back then. Thanks for giving me a job.

  • I still treasure the  beautiful black book  titled ‘Think Different’ I received when I joined Apple. The  black & white images and inspiring messages from all your heroes, from Gandhi to Einstein, continue to delight. Thanks for the inspiration.

  •    I was extremely proud of  heading a regional office for Apple in Delhi. It didn’t even strike me that my kingdom  was a 5x5 cubicle  in a business centre and I was the only employee in my office at that time.  Such is the power  of  the Apple brand. Thank you for teaching me that  your worth is not measured by the size of your office.

  •   The small office meant that my house became an Apple stocking centre. My wife and I had no hesitation in devoting one room of  our two bedroom apartment  to stock  the iMacs and iBooks –  they were gorgeous. I would choose them anytime over  pieces of furniture. Thank you for  making our computers a work of art.

  •  The video ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’ used to give me goose bumps back then and even now. Nothing epitomizes your life than the last line in the video“ People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do” .Thanks for giving us the power to believe.

  •  Somewhere along the way I became a Steve Jobs & Apple trivia junkie. In a reseller recruitment drive my pitch  focused on your and Apple’s detailed story instead of the usual Reseller terms & conditions & profitability models  and it worked wonderfully. Thanks for showing us that the best way to convince people is to appeal to them at an emotional level.

  •   One of my most exciting moment at Apple was when I was nominated to  attend your MacWorld Keynote. The  US visa didn’t come through – the rules were made much tighter after 9/11. It turned into one of my biggest regrets.  Nevertheless we followed all your keynotes staying up late at night to witness the latest magical marvel you are unveiling.  We would  subsequently imitate the same presentations at  events in India and all of  us ended up  imbibing your style.  Thanks for  showing us  the true meaning of a presentation.

  •   I received the first iPod that landed in India– small privileges of being the Marketing Manager. You introduced  the concept of iTunes playlists back then.  I still have that iPod ( though its not working any more) but I  still run to the same ‘workout’ playlist I created back then .  Thanks for putting the  music in our lives.

  •   I was crazy about setting up Apple retail centers.  Due to lack of budgets for  the Retail initiative my wife and I used to spend our weekends doing up Apple shops on our own.  Looking back, those attempts look almost laughable compared to the ultra cool Apple Stores now. But thanks for showing us  what a retail experience should be.

  •  Over a decade ago you predicted  “we are entering an era of digital lifestyle and the Mac will be at the heart of it.” Though this became part of my sales pitch  I never quite believed it.  Now we know what you meant  back then, you were just ahead of your times. Thank you for transforming our lives.

  • I was disappointed when I secured a front page interview of yours with India’s leading business daily and the request was turned down by your office. I was told there are only 4 publications that you appear in. I couldn’t quite appreciate it back then when I was  told ‘we need to be focused and not over expose Steve’ . You said somewhere in the context of Apple’s minimalist design, ‘Focus is being able to say no’.  So true.Thanks for sharing the power of   being focused. When Apple changed the logo from  6-color to solid I wondered why don’t we talk about the change  and  create an ad campaign. Your guidance was – “a logo represents the sum total of what  a company does . Talking about the logo itself is meaningless from our consumers perspective” . Again something that took me time to understand.Thank you for sharing with the world how to create a powerful  brand.

  •  I still try to follow  the advise  you gave in your commencement speech at Stanford ‘What would you be doing if this was the last day of your life?’.  One of the most inspiring  speeches ever.Thanks for being a guide and mentor to millions.
  •   I had mentioned in my farewell note at Apple – ‘No matter where I work, Apple will always be close to my heart and I will continue to follow all developments at Apple’. I  moved on several years ago and the passing years made me  less star struck  but I stayed true to my promise. I still use your products and so does my son.  Thanks for a legacy that will last  for generations. Goodbye Steve.

Apple employee (1999-2003), Steve Jobs fan for life