Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The White Tiger - Book Review

The White Tiger Cover This year's Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger, by Indian writer Aravind Adiga, starts off in an unusual format - as a letter or series of letters from a small-time Indian entrepreneur, addressed to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China. The premise is that Balram Halwai, the Bangalore-based entrepreneur, hears on the radio about the Premier's impending visit to India, to learn about how India produces so many entrepreneurs, the one thing in which China has not surpassed India, and he takes it upon himself to educate the Premier. Based on the mood and tone of the first few pages, you'd expect to read the story of how a person becomes one of the millions of successful entrepreneurs in India, who have propelled the country into being the second fastest growing economy in the world. A story narrated with wit, sarcasm and dark humor. And that is what you get.

But you also get more. You get an utterly realistic, ugly and depressing view of Indian society, through the eyes of one of its poorest sons as he goes through his life. From growing up in a remote North Indian village, attending a pathetic school, to being pulled out of school at the age of eight to work in a tea shop, to becoming the chaffeur for a rich family, to committing a heinous crime to the capital for her entrepreneurial venture, to becoming a successful, scrubbed entrepreneur running a cab company in India's tech capital, Bangalore. That's the entire story of the novel in one sentence. And no, it is not the story of the courage and heroism of an unfortunate person who rises up in life through honest hardwork and determination. And no, it is not an uplifting story by any stretch of the imagination. There is nothing to be proud of in the novel - not the country, not its society, not its economy, not the booming technology sector, not the upper classes, not the lower classes, not even the observant, determined, quick-learning, ultimately successful protagonist, Balram Halwai.

The author, Aravind Adiga, keeps the first person narration simple and straight-forward. There are no narcissistic attempts at showing off his literary skills. No self-indulgent prolonged critiques and philosophical narratives. The few places where the author attempts to explain concepts about Indian society - examples include the caste system and the 'Rooster Coop' (the coop in which hens to be slaughtered are packed tightly and where they remain quietly, unprotesting) metaphor for the Indian society with its quietly subjugated population - are handled with pithy simplicity.

The author exhibits a remarkable skill in observing and narrating the story through the eyes and heart of a servant. Quote from the book: "Do we loathe our masters behind a facade of love - or do we love them behind a facade of loathing?". He also shows a similar skill in the characterization of the people who fill the story. At one point, Balram Halwai, the servant-driver, says how he would never buy a t-shirt, like the one his master wears because it is mostly white with a small, simple design on the front. To get his money's worth, he would buy a very colorful shirt, filled with as much designs and patterns as possible. While the characterization is believable, the transformation of Balram from a suppressed servant to a ruthless criminal is somewhat abrupt and hard to accept. Despite the fact that he is portrayed to be different (a white tiger!) from the other boys and men his entire life. Perhaps, I'm simply used to reading and seeing heroes in most books and movies going through great misery and pain before they've had enough and decide to fight back.

There are some poignant moments in the story like the time Balram, the chaffeur, counsels and consoles his broken master on the side of a road, using his own home-brewed cocktail of morals and philosophies, some picked up in his childhood village and some made-up on the spot. At that point in the story, he compares himself to THE famous chaffeur from India - Lord Krishna Himself, who narrated the great Bhagavad Gita to a broken and self-doubting Arjuna. It is this kind of wit and humor from the protagonist, which keep the book from becoming a dark and depressing read. This is also the author's greatest strength. It makes the book very readable and keeps it moving at a steady clip. One could easily finish the book in one or two sittings.

I like that the author keeps things gritty and real without being too dramatic or preachy, without being moralistic or taking sides too obviously. I like that he does not seem to indulge in the cardinal sin of many Indian writers and movie directors - playing to the Western galleries with a mix of exaggerated and exotic portrayal of all things Indian. Unless you consider the entire novel to be one big play for the Westerners. I don't think it is. But I am a little disappointed because I did expect the novel to be representative of the story of a typical (tech) entrepreneur from Bangalore, a story that needs to be told, a story I'd love to read. I did not expect a story, which when described in one sentence, sounds like it is straight out of a typical Indian movie! Despite that, I do recommend this book. It is a valuable and realistic snapshot of the current state of Indian society, with all its class differences, misery and corruption, juxtaposed against the tech boom and economic growth. For that it's well worth a read - especially to my fellow, young Indians.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Handling One-sided Love

It happens to all of us at one time or the other: we fall in love with someone who does not love us back the same way as we love them. one-sided love. Unreturned love. Unreciprocated love.

One day you are innocently living your own life. The next day, you start to notice this cute person at school / work, or this charming new person in your social circle, or you befriend this person online who seems to be very interesting, or you start to date somebody to whom you are very attracted. At first it is just this admiring attraction you feel, that you are barely aware of yourself. Then, there comes a moment when you realize that you are hopelessly in love with them, and have been so for the past few days / weeks. One-sided love is like that... it has the nasty habit of creeping up on you unexpectedly.

Regardless of how it starts, one-sided love is one of the most painful experiences to go through. The pain is especially great when it is first love. One of the cruel realities of human life is that for most people, first love is indeed one-sided love.

Love happens. It is extremely hard to consciously choose with whom, when and how you fall in love. So, it is almost impossible to avoid one-sided love. Falling in that trap is in itself very bad and very sad. But it is what you do after the fall that's important. Unfortunately, it is far too easy to do things which compound matters more and cause the pain to be far greater than it needs to be.

One-sided love is my old friend. I have been on both sides of the equation. I have experienced the pain, difficulties and discomfort of the one who fell in love and did not find it reciprocated. And I have noted with surprise and much misery that being the object of one-sided love can be an equally painful experience, if not worse. I have enormous compassion and empathy for those who go through this misery on either side. I present this post with the humble hope that it might be of some help to the unfortunate souls going through the hell of one-sided love.

Undoubtedly, some of what I write below will sound like actions that drive the final nail on the coffin of your love and bury it. So, this advice will be hard to accept for people who still harbor hopes that their love will succeed. But trust me, when I say that these actions are not aimed at burying your love. These actions are primarily focussed on helping you heal and be strong. And if there is even a remote possibility, for your love to succeed, these very actions will draw out that possibility and help it become a reality. As such, all that I write below is totally valid and applicable whether you have given up on your love and want to move on, or you still harbor hopes that it will succeed. In either case, you would do well to heed this advice.

When to give up?

You fall in love. You share this fact with your beloved, with much anxiety and fear, hoping upon hope that they feel the same way towards you. But alas, you learn that they do not "like you that way" or "never saw you like that" or "can never have that type of feelings for you". There is immediate dejection, your heart feels heavy as a mountain in your chest. Then what?

You try again. The next hour or next day or next week, you have another talk with the person you love. You hope to convince them with logic or sentiments. You try desperately to make them see the beautiful vision of a future together that fills your eyes, you try to fill their hearts with the overwhelming, tender feelings that fill your own. But without success. Then what?

It can be very tough to know when to recognize that your love will never succeed, that you should give up and move on. It is especially tough to realize the futility of it all when you are young. And even if you realize that it is a failed venture, it can be tough to give up and let go without trying your best, without putting some desperate effort into it, without fighting for that ultimate love you so ardently believe in.

So, at what point should you give up? Unfortunately, there is no right answer to that question. Just as we cannot predict when the heart will fall in love, we cannot predict when the heart will be ready to give up and move on. Worse, we cannot predict the heart of the other person - who knows, it might turn around and fall for us, if only we remain true to our love for a few more days or weeks. So, I cannot tell you exactly when to give up. A good rule of thumb is to give up as soon as the communication from both sides has been very clear and unambiguous. You have expressed your love clearly and the other person has rejected you unambiguously? Time to move on.

Don't try too hard

You have talked 2 or 3 times to the person you love to see if they love you back the same. They don't. Then what to do with them? Nothing. Just let go. Even if you madly, desperately love them, don't try to make them. Keep the mad love in your own heart. Don't drown the other person with your feelings. Don't try too hard.

You can't use logic to convince anybody to love you. You cannot charm them into loving you, against their wishes. You cannot force or make anybody love you, if they don't already feel the love for you. Moreover, convincing somebody to love you with your charm, beauty, money or sex is not the best way to get love. Love cannot be bought like that. The best and most enduring love is the one which rises in the heart on its own, inspired merely by the being of the other person, without needing extra efforts or convincing from anybody. Such love will flow effortlessly and naturally, of its own accord.

Whatever you do, don't try too hard to make somebody love you. I can never stress this enough. By trying too hard, you might actually be killing any small chances there might be for the other person to fall for you. Growing things need lots of room to grow freely and playfully. You can't convince a wild tiger or wolf to come out and play with you by trying too hard and chasing it all over the jungle. The most you can do is regulate your own behavior and hope for it to come to you on its own. Who knows, if you are lucky, things might flow your way. But don't try too hard lest you kill your chances yourself.

Walk away and keep away

The other thing you do when your love is not reciprocated is just walk away. Put some distance between the person you love and yourself. In fact, if you know for sure that they will never love you back, it is best if you don't run into them or communicate with them at all. At least temporarily. Perhaps later, when your heart has let go and healed, there may be a chance to resume some form of acquaintanceship or friendship. But when your love for them is still burning bright, when the wound of rejection is still fresh, when your heart is still hurting, any type of regular and/or close contact should be avoided.

Some people fear that by keeping away from the person they love, they may be killing what little chance they may have with them. The opposite is true. When you are away, it gives the other person a chance to realize what they are missing by not having you around. If they realize that and truly want you, they will come seeking you on their own. If they don't realize anything of the sort, it means they didn't notice you or value you all that much to begin with. So, you are better off being away from them.

Don't do stuff together

In a way, this point is same as the previous point about keeping away from the object of your love. But this is important enough that I am spelling it out explicitly. Before you fell for that person, the two of you might have been in a relationship where you did stuff together. You might have been buddies, classmates, colleagues, or part of some hobby/special interest group. But now that you have expressed your romantic interest and have been rebuffed, it is better that you avoid such combined activities.

This may require you to go through some inconvenient changes in your own life. Change classes at school? Change departments at work? Stop hanging out at the same social haunts or events? Delete them from your online contact lists, phone address book, etc.? Even change the gang of friends whom you meet regularly? The idea is to keep interaction / contacts with the person you fell for at a bare minimum or none.

This advice is most important if you were doing 'couple stuff' before one of you fell in love seriously. By couple stuff, I mean things like casual dating, going out for movies or dinner as a twosome, or even a friends-with-benefits / casual sex type of relationships. If you were doing such things, and one of you fell in love seriously, where as the other person doesn't want to get serious, put a complete stop to all the 'couple stuff'.

It can be very painful to regularly interact, even as just friends or colleagues, with a person who doesn't reciprocate your ardent love. You are constantly reminded of what you love, desire and want, but can't have. It's a torture for the body, heart and soul. It makes moving on and healing very tough. It comes in the way of getting a proper perspective on things. Don't let yourself go through that torture. End the interactions.

Don't stalk or obsess

Being in love means being constantly concerned and interested about everything going on with the person you love. This comes very close to stalking and obsessing. Stalking isn't restricted to just physically following someone around everywhere. Physical following is something you should never do with someone who doesn't reciprocate your love. Remember - walk away and keep away! But suppose circumstances don't allow you to totally avoid interacting with the person towards whom you feel one-sided love. Suppose you are classmates or colleagues, and you are unable to change classes or jobs. Then what? If you can't be physically away, at least try not to mentally obsess about the person. I know this is easier said than done. To love someone is to think about that person constantly. But you can certainly avoid obsessive behavior like trying to know everything about them, keeping tabs on what is going on with them, listening to their conversations with others, constantly checking their blogs or social networking pages and updates (Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, etc.), following them online to participate in the discussions and postings they are involved in, etc., etc. These are the types of behavior you can and should avoid. Doing these things won't help you win their love. These things will in fact, push them farther away. And these actions keep you from healing and moving on.

Don't try to share and heal together

It's stupid to think that a person who loves and another person who doesn't return that love can share the hurts caused by this same unreturned love, and can heal together. You may genuinely care for each other. You might even have been good friends in the past. But as things stands now with one person wanting something more than the other person is willing to share or give, there is no way for peace and healing to be experienced together. You can certainly heal, but on your own. Or with some other caring friend or lover. Not with the person you love and who can't love you back. Don't even attempt this because the opposite will occur. The constant reminder of unreturned love will hurt you more. It will cause the other person to feel worse also.

Don't become weak or ill

Whatever you do, for god's sake don't become weak or fall ill - physically or mentally. It is not worth it at all. Not worth spoiling your health over someone who doesn't return your love. It is not fair to yourself. It is not fair to the other person. It also doesn't make you any more attractive or love-able. In fact, by falling ill, becoming weak or going loco, you are totally destroying any little chance there might have been of things working out for you. When the person wasn't attracted to you or didn't love you when you were healthy and happy, what makes you think that falling ill or going crazy makes you any more attractive and love-able. Just get a good strong grip on yourself and concentrate on living a steady, strong life. It's okay if you have to break-down and cry. Just don't stay broken or stay down. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on.

Ultimately, that is the gist of everything I have said above: when you are in love and it's not returned, just move on. Move on.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December Lunch

My lunch today was a six-course meal:

1. Slices of green apple, marinated and grilled portabella, grilled eggplant & red pepper, avocado and spinach, wrapped in a spinach tortilla with pepperjack cheese, dijon mustard, oil and vinegar. Lightly toasted.

2. One the side: lentil-potato-carrot salad & Cholula hot sauce.

3. One-third cup of sweetened lemonade mixed with two-thirds cup of unsweetened black iced tea.

4. A blue sky half covered with scattered clouds in all shades of dark, grey and white, and in all shapes and sizes.

5. Warm sun rays caressing my skin from between the clouds. Chilly breeze trying to get under my clothes.

6. Vista of the Northwest metropolitan Valley sprawling below me, with mountains beyond, everything covered by a patchwork quilt of cloud shadows.

To enjoy this lunch using a wall-buttress as a stand-up dining table, on the parking lot's 9th floor rooftop: the perfect beauty of the moment filled my stomach, heart and soul.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

National Public Internet

Here's my submission to Google's Project 10 to the 100th. The idea is presented by answering a series of questions (bolded below) from Google.

National Public Internet

What one sentence best describes your idea? (maximum 150 characters)

Internet connectivity as free, as ubiquitous and easy as FM radio.

Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

Internet for Everyone from National Public Internet (NPI).

The future of the Internet is that basic wireless connectivity will be as free (of cost), ubiquitous and easily available as FM radio. This will co-exist with a paid tier of premium Internet service that offers ultra high speed connectivity. But the basic service will be free. Just as FM radio is free and easily available, where as premium video channels on cable cost some money.

The project aims to:
  1. Create a non-profit nationwide Internet service provider organization (called NPI), analogous to the non-profit public radio company NPR. It is very important to conceive and run this as a non-profit organization.
  2. A nationwide network infrastructure on which to provide the basic free wireless Internet service to everybody.
Why non-profit?

The focus and energies of NPI should be on smoothly running an extremely important and vital nationwide network infrastructure to provide free wireless Internet. The focus should never be distracted or biased by profit-making considerations or for creating shareholder wealth. The organization should be strictly independent of any profit-making corporation. It should also be independent of incumbent profit-making internet service provider companies, including cable and telecoms.

The organizational structure for NPI would be inspired by and based on the NPR model of city-level stations working together to provide nationwide coverage of high quality programming.

Network Infrastructure

NPI should be the preferred model for providing internet service on the White Space spectrum. It should directly connect to the Internet Backbone. It won't be dependent on incumbent telecoms. At the city-level, the main vehicle for the Internet signals could be the ‘white space’ spectrum. At the local block-level, there could be repeater routers deployed, as required.

What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)
  1. Inadequate Internet connectivity in general. Extremely poor wireless Internet connectivity in particular.
  2. Internet connectivity not managed and provided as a nationwide public resource like roads and highways, accessible and useful to everybody for free.

If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)
  1. EVERYBODY in the country would benefit from significantly increased connectivity for learning, information access and communication.
  2. Emergency responders and service providers.
  3. Model could be replicated in other countries with poor Internet connectivity.

What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)
  1. Build a campus-wide or city-wide network as a proof of concept for the specific design and technology to be used by NPI.
  2. Design the organizational structure and start building out.

Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

If basic wireless Internet connectivity is available for free and easily to everybody and in every place where FM radio signals are available, this project is a success.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happening Life!

As we draw close to yet another year, I look back at the past year and have my usual year-end thoughts: "Wow! So many things happened this year!" When I am actually living my life and experiencing things, I don't stop and take notice. I just go through them with an, "it's no big deal" attitude. It's only occasionally that I pause to realize that it is indeed a happening life. Consider the highlights of just the current quarter:

1. Christmas came early for me, at the beginning of this quarter, with a couple of peer recognition awards, an outstanding support award and an appreciation award for implementing a project I led. I also won a couple of prizes in a team game and lucky drawing at work. I pooled in some of those awards, pitched in a little myself and took my team out for lunch.

2. On October 18th, I helped organize the TRAC 1B (PDF link) session here. TRAC is a workshop on Hinduism conducted by Dato' J Jegathesan around the world, to increase awareness of Hindu traditions, religion, aspirations and culture among young Hindus. At the TRAC 1B event in October, Uncle Jega talked about the power of mantras. Also, we gave our first presentation of RHYTHM. RHYTHM stands for Reigniting Hinduism in Youth Through Music. As part of the RHYTHM program, we presented four group songs. During this visit, Uncle Jega and his wife stayed in my house for 5 days, and we had a wonderful time together.

3. Later in October, I finished the first trimester in my MBA program with A's in both courses I took, scoring above 90 in both. God I love the feeling of good academic performance. Has been so long since I last felt it! And, it is so much fun to learn new things... especially when you know that you are learning the very basics, the equivalent of alphabets, of whole new fields. I am soaking it all in with the wonderment of a child.

4. I took a long overdue trip to the East Coast to meet some very dear friends in late Oct - early Nov. I absolutely LOVED spending time with them. I met 3-year-old Sarika for the first time. She is my old college-classmate-cum-close-friend's daughter. She is such a sweet and loving child, and we hit it off from the moment we met. Felt so nice to be around a child who can't stop talking to you, playing with you, touching you and who declares that she loves you within two hours of meeting you for the first time. Poor thing was crying when I had to say bye to them. I never thought I'd say this, but meeting my friends on that trip made me want to move out East. Other highlights of my trip included - enjoying the fabulous Fall colors along I-95 on my drive from NJ to VA, experiencing the vaunted subways of New York City for the first time, and most of all, watching the 2008 US Presidential Election results unfold on big screens in Times Square. It was a real party with free snacks, coffee, tea and water courtesy of the big TV channels, and the crowds cheering wildly every time they showed the numbers, with Barack Obama sweeping state after state.

5. Drunken photos from a college party plastered on Facebook - guess, I can check that off my list of things to experience as a student in America (although I still refuse to sign up for Facebook)! Last month, I participated in the great American college tradition - Beer Olympics. Around 10 teams, each with 5-6 MBA students from all the classes in my college gathered at around 2 PM in the afternoon and started chugging beer. We kept chugging well past midnight, while we indulged in increasingly loud and boisterous drinking games, celebrating each victory with high-fives, group hugs, crazy pictures and even a couple attempts at 3-level human pyramids! Past midnight, after all the games were done, prizes were given and everybody else went home, my dear classmates (who had spent all afternoon screaming the unimaginative-but-very-catchy battle cry of "Here we come bitcheezzz!") were still not done partying. We ended up at a karaoke bar, chugging more beer! By two most people were trashed, except yours truly, who was sober enough to drop off a few people at an apartment. Until last month, I did not even know what beer pong, quarters and flip cup were. Now, I can say that I've been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Yes, my classmates actually got t-shirts made with 'beer olympics' and 'Downtowners' (our classes are held Downtown) printed on them, to the envy of other teams. I wore that t-shirt to the next class, earning a snide remark from the accounting professor.

6. The day after the beer olympics, I was supposed to help a local Sai Center at their event to celebrate Sai Baba's 83rd birthday. I had told them that I'd be there at 6 AM to help load big vessels of food. Needless to say, I was not even awake at 6 AM after having gone to bed well past 3 AM. Incredibly, I did make it by 7:45 AM. I am not a follower of Sai Baba and I don't even belong to any Sai Center or group. But I like volunteering for service activities with the Sai people because they are genuinely nice, especially the head of the Phoenix center and his family, and a few friends from the Tempe-Mesa area. When they have their activities, a whole bunch of people - very young children to older adults - come together and it is a real family atmosphere. Having grown up in a joint family in India and being very family-oriented, I always miss this family atmosphere here in the US. So, I am grateful for any opportunities to do stuff with them. I especially enjoy work that involves food. I had helped a little to prepare some of the food the previous afternoon, before I left for the beer olympics. At the celebration itself, they made me incharge of all the food in the kitchen for close to 300 people! Feels very good to be trusted and accepted like that by people, even though you don't belong to their organization or group. By that afternoon, I was pretty burnt out myself! The highlight of the celebration was the chanting of Rudram with a group of young people. They had learnt Rudram to present it on this occasion, and I got to chant with them. It was simply awesome to witness a group of young people in America chant the centuries-old mantra - the very same words, the very same accents with which they have been chanted for thousands of years, by millions of people, in a land on the other side of the globe. I was so touched and moved, I choked up a couple of times during the chanting. This felt more awesome than the time I chanted Rudram 11 times, with the people at the local Ganesha temple during the Deepavali festival a few weeks earlier.

7. Meanwhile, things are getting real exciting at work. I am getting involved in two projects which will put in some revolutionary technology on the metering side of our business. Although I am not part of the development teams which will implement these technologies, I have been identified to be primarily incharge of the systems when they go into Production. One of the projects will go live this month. I am working closely with the project teams to learn and transition the systems over to the support team. Lot of new things to pick up. High visibility systems to take care of. Exciting times ahead.

8. What other exciting stuff is in store for the 20 more days left this year? I have a mid-term exam coming up next week. And then, Phoenix's very first light rail system will be inaugurated this month. I will be volunteering at the inauguration event - my small attempt to be a small part of the local history. After that, I will be preparing for my trip to India. I will be in India for most of January 2009. I will be seeing for the very first time, my first niece who was born this quarter. I know I am looking forward to that!

Can't believe I just typed out all those details from my life, as if this was a teenage girl's journal! I guess, more than the current post, some of my past dramatic posts would qualify for such a journal.

So, yeah, it's a happening life. Despite my going through most of it with a 'meh' attitude. Life is what happens in those special and precious moments, while all the years whizz past in a one big 'MEH'!

Auras in Love

I was cleaning up my mailbox recently, when I came across an old email sent to me in Aug 2004, by a good friend writing shortly after she got married to her boyfriend of over 2 years. Here's part of the mail:
Things are wonderful being married, the security you feel...that wonderful knowing that you will never be alone is a great feeling. I suppose that this is why married people have that calm peaceful look about them. My aura and Mike's aura truly blend and that's something you want to make certain you look for. A kind of flow that seems so natural that deep down you know it is what it was always meant to be. It's good. Real good. I wish you this kind of peace and happiness and love....

Thanks, C... and I hope your peace, happiness and love will last forever.