Friday, 17 November 2017

Sometimes I think I lose sight of what is important.

I am willing to worry myself sick about my 'technical expertise' (or lack thereof) in one sector, the outcome of one project, or even worse, one fucking A&M, but I rarely, if ever, take a step back to see where I currently am.

I have pretty much lucked into a profession that seems tailored to my interests - I get to travel, meet people and hear their problems, and try to solve them. Sometimes I get to write about their problems and my solutions. If I were in college (not younger, because then I just wanted to get an MBA and earn pots of money and read books), I would give my left arm trying to be here.

Hence, from today, I'm going to try and see the big picture. Read about development stories of the world (and not just skim through the headlines in India), and understand how they can be solved, if at all (I am still me, after all).

What am I not going to worry about? The rest - colours of the PPT, the hours I am working, the hours other people are working, R or Kobo...the small stuff.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Of News and Other Stuff S2 E03

  • There is a new diplomatic coalition in town, which as always, will achieve nothing but the chance for our diplomats to say nothing while using lots of words. However, I was intrigued by the name 'Quad', since they claim that's the shape that forms if imaginary lines were to be used to join the four countries a part of it: US, India, Japan and Australia. But really, this is quite unimaginative, because a quadrilateral is essentially any four sided figure. The shape that is actually formed is below -

Which reminded me of something that absolutely, resolutely, was the golden standard of all creativity. Namely this:

  • Reetika Khera makes some good points about why Aadhar Based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) must go. Coincidentally, I have been reading up on these issues lately, and it is surprising to see the unabashedly positive coverage it gets in development literature. I would probably be ashamed to be a development professional, if I had any professional pride in the first place.
  • I need a cobot too.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Of News and Other Stuff Season 2 E02

  • Why does the domestic airport at Delhi offer Chai latte? Are we are now fetishising our own culture?
  • Today's Hindu talks about PM Modi visiting Karunanidhi and Chennai, signifying that the latter is not a 'political untouchable'. Weirdly, the only political aspect I find interesting in the piece is the use of the word untouchable. 
  • Apparently the Kerala govt. wants the use of words like Harijan (and Dalit) to stop in official communication, preferring the more prosaic 'Scheduled Caste'. Am I the only one who feels it's weird that Harijan was used in the first place, given that even the Supreme Court  ruled that the term was abusive, around seven months ago? 
  • I should do a new version of this post. Except now it will be called 'You know you are in advancing age when...'. The main symptom of my advancing age is how I abruptly stop engaging when people starting throwing out words like big data, digital, nano-technology, artificial intelligence and the like.
  • I wonder what kind of awkward silence will ensue if a content developer on KBC formulates a quiz question on 'Which of the following names is common to the Panama and Paradise Papers?'...

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Of News and Other Stuff Season 2 E01

  • My personal laptop (which I started today after ages) requires a password to log in. I can't for the life of me remember whether this is a case of my Delhi Person ParanoiaTM or if this is normal behaviour.
  • I squealed at a picture of the young Bhutanese prince, who is currently in India with his father. Yes, that’s probably not normal behaviour.
  • TIL that IAS officers can be posted to the Stationery and Printing Department.
  • TIL that there exist Stationery and Printing Departments.
  • I’m sorry, it was a slow news day. Unless you want me to pontificate on Kashmir or the ever-impending Air India sale.

Monday, 30 October 2017

New Resolutions

Yes I'm aware it's not a new year. Fuck you.

1) Be more assertive.
2) Stop procrastinating - on work, on reading the newspaper, on exercising/ walking, on cooking, on learning R, on blogging more, on writing (writing for real, not bullet point posts), on seeing Chennai, on paying the bills.
3) Continue doing what feels right to me. Not what feels right to an imagined version of me. 
4) Quit whining. 
5) Be more honest. At least to myself.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

I'm upset.

For a very idiotic reason.

So idiotic, that I'm actually embarrassed to admit it to another human being.

So I'm actually not going to admit it here too, my supposed sanctuary, my own platform where I promised myself I wouldn't censor anything.

I'm just going to dance around the reason here. To mark this as a reminder of this time.

The time when I felt like an egoistical idiot. When unbeknownst to anybody (but me), I acted like an idiot. When I went back on my own principles.

When I lied to others (and myself) as a self-defence mechanism.

Now to move on to dinner.

And work.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Nepal Diaries

In the last six months, a variety of people – from immediate family to passing acquaintances, and everyone in between – have expressed surprise at my fondness for Chennai. After all, it’s perennially hot, impossibly conservative and unapologetically brusque. I quite agree with this assessment, though some of my love stems from this exact brusqueness, its almost boring laidback-ness (which I unfortunately relate to) and its ability to not give a fuck (a quality I aspire to cultivate). More importantly, by virtue of being the first place I have been forced to navigate on my own, as a legitimate adult, it has helped me understand and actually like the person I am (ignoring sporadic bouts of self-loathing which really, should count as a personality trait, just like introversion or morbid curiosity). 

The only other times, I have had such crash courses in self-awareness are when I have travelled for work. In Bhutan I learnt that I revelled in my own company and that professional competence was a turn on. In Maldives I learnt that I liked Bhutan better, Kit Kat ice cream existed and that men mansplain. And in Nepal? In Nepal I learnt that Khukhri rum was my poison of choice, that I will forever and ever be a sucker for Thai curry, and that I’m probably in consulting for good. But let me back up a bit and start from the beginning.

9 October, Monday: I land in Kolkata, the City of Joy or as I like to describe it, the City Where People Do You a Favour by Showing Up for their Jobs. It is raining, so naturally we wait for a little less than an hour for the Uber to arrive. Our hotel is a bit of a shock – apparently, the staff are self-appointed upholders of the morality of their guests, who are actively discouraged to stay out past 10 pm. A belated perusal of online reviews reveal that couples have had to produce marriage certificates to be able to avail of their booking, and standard rooms cannot be latched from inside. I stack room furniture and luggage against the door to block out illicit entry and sleep with a pair of scissors under my pillow – my Delhi Person ParanoiaTM is in full force. My laptop also has trouble starting up, so I use my innate technological skills of switching the device on and off while plugged in/ without battery and other permutations and combinations.

10 October, Tuesday: My laptop refuses to start up at the Kolkata airport. I sound the alarm to my boss and he offers to drop a mail to our local partners to see if they can spare me a device (Spoiler alert: they cannot).

We land at Kathmandu where a rickety Air India bus awaits us on de-boarding, to ferry us to the airport building. The immigration staff don’t look up as they stamp our passports, a contrast to the personnel in India who wanted to know everything about Indian passport holders in front of them, from reason of travel to their second cousin’s gotra, before letting us out. The traffic situation in Kathmandu is mad and we reach the hotel only late in the evening. It is in Thamel, a glitzy tourist hub – think of it as a love-child of Paharganj and Hauz Khaz Village.

In the hotel room, I exhort deities I don’t believe in, to allow my laptop to switch on. They listen. The land of Pashupatinath has made me an overnight convert.

11 October, Wednesday: We begin our interviews with government officials in Nepal, aka the ritual where we drink black tea five times a day.

12 -13 October, Thursday & Friday: We begin to train a group of 20 enumerators on a questionnaire we have approximately zero faith in. I start with rusty Hindi (blame Chennai for that) which gets better as the training progresses. Soon I’m dealing with words like yogdaan and uttardaata.

Lunch on both days is a plate of momos - chicken the first day, and an unidentified meat on the second day. For the sake of my mother’s peace of mind, I hope that was pork.

14 October, Saturday: Finally, a semi-break day. The morning begins with us betraying our hotel (with mostly nice, sometimes stoned staff) to shift to another one down the road. We pretend we are moving to a colleague’s home, whose location we are repeatedly unable to recall. The manager and his underling are adequately suspicious. The gods are also upset at our treachery, and retribution arrives in the form of dysfunctional cards and under-renovation ATMs.

Our local expert meets us for an early dinner (at a restaurant called Tabela, where a live band belts out Dum Maaro Dum, in response to a drunken request by one of the diners) and asks us, regular as clockwork, if we have done any sightseeing. We haven’t, and feel guilt ridden. We are determined to change this as he drops us back at Thamel. Our first stop in exploring Nepalese tourism and culture? A local dance bar.

Thamel is littered with these – about two in every street. Each is named with appropriate disregard for creativity. The one we visit is called Nasha Bar. There is a Bebo Bar as well with Kareena Kapoor’s face on the hoarding (which was better than the inexplicable night suit – wearing, mid-riff baring cardboard cut-outs at other places), as well as a Teenage bar (which we steer clear of, unsure whether the name referred to the age of the dancers or the clientele).
The lighting is expectedly lurid in Nasha Bar and the patronage exclusively male. The middle aged dominate, though there are a couple of bespectacled college kids as well, seated on red leather sofas arranged around a raised platform. The dancers are scantily dressed, wearing high heels and garish make-up. Calling them dancers is also a bit of a stretch, because their primary duty is to sashay down the stage to the beats of Hindi film music, strategically revealing skin. They are hospitable though, ushering us into comfortable seats (that is with no other men on our sofa, and located a little way off from the stage/ platform). I constantly feel like a prude, the 15 odd minutes we are there. We order nothing, and leave without being bothered.

Afterwards, we discover other bylanes of Thamel, where pubs and restaurants cater to tourists and locals, till late hours. I am introduced to the joys of Cuba Libre (using local rum), though I also covet the mojito my colleague orders.

15 October, Sunday: A day where I question my professional competence and learn that success as a consultant will require faking personal charm. I’m surprised that I’m determined to try at any rate, though that night, I drown my sorrow in a fancy dinner at the stunning Garden of Dreams. It’s an erstwhile royal garden, which manages to keep Kathmandu’s dust and pollution out by constructing mile high walls. It reminds me of Delhi, where we keep eyesores like poverty out by covering slums with hoardings and curtains.

16 – 18 October, Monday to Wednesday: More interviews, more sweetened black tea, and some more sight-seeing. We venture out to Durbar Square, which has been ravaged by the earth-quake.  Suddenly, the local insistence that we see things beyond the office and our hotel room, seems clearer.

I also wonder at the use of old Hindi film songs to Adam/ Eve tease in the sub-continent. It was Husn hai Suhana in Bhutan. Sawali Saloni in Nepal. Still better than the kissy sounds I heard yesterday in Chennai.

On Wednesday night (our last night in Nepal), I eat the best Thai curry ever (even better than Benjarong’s). I also make a long overdue entry into adulthood by finally appreciating pub culture. More khukhri rum and coke is had, and elderly creeps repulsed by adopting an attitude of blatant rudeness. Cops are asked for directions, who drunkenly sing it back to us. Cycle rickshaw wallahs want to be paid 200 rupees for making a quarter kilometre ride. As always, Google Maps save the day.

19 October, Thursday: The day of our return, though not before a quick trip to Pashupatinath in the morning. It’s one of the more interesting temples I remember seeing (and I have seen lots), with a giant Nandi covering the entry of the temples from the eyes of non-Hindus (who have to return from the gate – so much for our famed tolerance).

20 October, Friday: After another eventful 24-hour layover in Kolkata, I’m back in my flat in Chennai. It’s the first time in seven months, but I finally feel at home.