La Madre

Dear Mother,

Yesterday was your birthday. Over the past two years, I’ve been in Dubai to celebrate it with you. One year we’ve gone to Bollywood Park and had a full day out as a family, and another we’ve gone out to a wonderful dinner to share in your joy. This year I was not there, and it’s the first time in a while that I haven’t gotten to see you up-close, behaving like a giddy child and excited by the smallest of things on your special day. I’m glad we did what we did though. The zoom sessions, a free-entry/free-exit policy! The entire thing made it feel like it was a real party. Staying online for the entire thing brought me as much joy as it brought you – mostly because I heard lots of your childhood stories, and people laughed along with you about them.

Every single year I’ve racked my brains to figure out how to make your day memorable. Appa and I have really struggled, especially after all the things you do for us. Let’s take this year only as an example. I was fully prepared to chill at home alone on my birthday, and at the most, consider ordering some outside food. I’ve been home alone for a while now, and while I’ve enjoyed it, you were perhaps the first to sense that maybe I wasn’t a 100% sure I wanted to spend my birthday alone. Chikamma, you and the family figured out all the logistics, Uncle came and picked me up, and I was with them the entire day. But it didn’t stop there. You gave me explicit instructions to stop doing whatever I was doing at midnight and log on to a zoom call with you and Appa. Then you showed a 10-minute video that brought me to tears. It didn’t just make me well up a little the first time I saw it, but I was visibly moved by it each time I played it through the day.

Usually, people make 1-minute videos. Attention economics premises itself on the fact that human attention is a scarce commodity, but boy oh boy do you know how to make me concentrate. You managed to reach out to friends: old, new, surprises – through e-mail, facebook, and Whatsapp! I feel like if I had friends where technology had not fully penetrated, you would have sent them a postcard requesting for their co-operation in this endeavour. You got family to participate, and, you put in the effort to bring it all together, with detailed instructions, illustrations, and learning how to use Windows Movie Maker.

This is not new. It’s just this year’s story.

Do you see how much pressure Appa and I are under?

Which is why I’m glad you take your own initiative in planning your birthday parties. It makes our lives so easy to know that you’ll be happy with everything as long as we follow your instructions and comply with what you’ve envisaged in your head. For us, I think Appa and I are happy to contribute in small ways – helping with your technical setup, proofreading the party invites. Who can forget your 40th birthday celebrations – where we had instructions to play the keyboard, and dance with you, and write a prepared toast!

Just you wait though. One day we will surprise you. I just hope you let us.

Happy Birthday, again!

Love,

Tejas

Calling Old Friends

I love keeping in touch with people I’ve met in my life, because it’s difficult to look at any of the friendships or relationships I’ve had in the past and say “my life would be better without that person”. I think I’ve been privileged and fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people – people I’ve had disagreements with, fundamental disagreements, people I’ve hurt, people who have hurt me, but all wonderful people with their hearts in the right place. So thinking back to friendships I no longer have access to is sometimes a painful thing. When my brain decides to meander along to that place, I often find it resting on my school friendships – because at the end of Grade 12 I felt like we had all just become one big blob of friends, but that vanished soon after. In a lot of ways this feels magnified in my head. My brain enlarges small issues, something I’ve been working on, and I’m sure this is one too. A small change in the way we kept in touch somehow magnifying that we weren’t friends, or as close anymore.

Yesterday I was thinking about three people I hadn’t heard from in ages, so I messaged them this morning and had short phone conversations with one of them. That’s what convinced me I had blown everything out of proportion. It felt like nothing had changed at all. We’d just gone our own paths, having stopped for a while to meet each other along the way, but taken different turns after meeting – with different destinations in mind. Those roads aren’t that far apart that you can’t find the space to meet again. Phone conversations feel like the best way to do that, even if you just recall how you met the last time. I think I want to do these sort of catch-ups more, even if I’ve derided the practice in the past. Maybe it’s just a result of the conversation today, and maybe it’s just the circumstances – but calling old friends and hearing from friends with whom I went to school will always occupy a special place in my heart.

Ideas (and Inherent Value)

Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of time to think about a range of things in my life. A large number of these thoughts have centered around the passage of time: what I’ve let go of from the past, where I am in the present, and what I’d like to be doing in the future. In the middle somewhere, I got very frustrated with myself because I kept looking to a benchmark I created and manufactured for myself in the future, without focusing much on where I am and what I want to be doing in the present. The purpose of these thoughts felt very useless. I didn’t fully recognize why I was thinking about them and where they were coming from, or what role they were playing.

I’ll illustrate this. I enjoy writing. I’d always think about – and get all these incredible ideas about what I could be writing next. Things I want to read and research about – thoughts I hadn’t seen expressed on any other medium I had read. Things that I would look forward to reading about and creating a piece about. Then I’d think about them more: crystallize plans for how I’m going to go about writing these pieces, what source material I’d pick up. Ultimately, I’d procrastinate. Most of these ideas were time-sensitive, they were highly relevant in the context of an event taking place at the time. So although I’d get around to all the reading I wanted to do, I’d never actually get around to the writing. Why? Because I felt it wasn’t as relevant anymore. This put my thinking and my ideating at a precarious position for me. It placed all of my thinking right in the middle of thought and action. See: the reading is always an excellent takeaway, but the writing would have been even better.

So I’ve been thinking about why these ideas, especially the unfinished ones, those unclaimed ones that lie in the back of your brain, matter. Since January, I’ve progressed to using OneNote over Google Keep to keep track of things in life. Not because I want to get hyper-organized, but more for this one experiment. Mentally, I decided that I would write down every grand idea I had. I’d jot them down and categorize them. I’d spent all of the thinking time writing. Even all these thoughts I had about reading plans – I’d type them out as I was thinking them.

This has led to a lot of random notes, including one that says “Read a book” under a heading that says “Cars”. I do not remember the idea I had anymore, nor do I have context apart from a time-stamp. For the most part though, the notes are reasonably contextualized. They’re almost a transcription of that little voice in my brain that talks to me for most of the day, so they’re reasonably accurate in depicting my thoughts at any given point of time.

What I’ve measured out is that for every 10 ideas or notes I write down, I execute 1 of them. The ones I execute are often the ones I execute immediately after ideating them and writing them down, ones that energize me enough not to procrastinate that idea. So, jumping straight into things helps me.

So, what’s the value of those other 9?

I’ve read back all these notes I’ve taken, and I see so much processing happening. For me, ideas stem out of sensory cues for the most part. Most of my ideas come from things I read, with some of them coming from things I hear. I think the value of these ideas I have just lies in the fact that it means I’m processing some of what I’m hearing and seeing. Then there’s the other aspect of things. I find that several of these ideas are interconnected, so there’s a lot of synthesis taking place – and a lot of connection of random pieces of information I would have spotted on two ends of the internet.

Of course, the value of having 10 ideas is that maybe 1 translates into action.

All of this thinking ended up with more thinking. Should ideas have value at all? Can’t they just be that: ideas, without anything attached to them, normatively?

The definition of an idea, as a noun is: a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.

Reading that definition pretty much answered that question for me.

It’s definitely possible. The value of an idea doesn’t rest in its conclusion, or on the action you take at the culmination of ideating. It’s in the ideating itself, and the application of mind that goes into thinking or suggesting, or figuring out a possible course of action for anything.

Which means I could have avoided writing all my thoughts down for a whole month if I had read that definition first.

De-cluttering the Internet

The title is a little unclear. There were better options, but I’m not doing you or me any favours unless I confuse you sufficiently to make you intrigued enough to read the rest of what I have to say for the day. If you’re here now, welcome: I’m happy to have you. Please read through till the end for a delightful surprise. Where, you know what you’ll find? Thanks to infinity scroll, another post of mine. Delightful, I know.

I spent the better part of late evening yesterday and today morning decluttering my life on the internet. I’m not entirely sure what prompted this decision. I feel like I got to this deep desire to clean up my internet footprint because of a desire to procrastinate some work I had – and yes, unlike previous occasions, where I’ve slipped into calling everything I do “work”, I’m talking about actual work this time – with deadlines and a deliverable. Imagine. I had completed all my usual procrastination techniques, ended up on a weird place on YouTube, which is when I decided to take this step. It took my about 5 hours, and I’ve ended up in a place where I now have a clear idea of how better I can declutter. So of course, you get to read all about it.

I have 3 active user profiles that enable me to login to web services. 2 of these are hosted on Gmail – and I’ve been using Gmail since 2006-ish, when you had this amazing counter that showed you how much storage Google would offer you if you signed up – every time you moved to the login page. At the end of my YouTube binge, I felt the need to organize my e-mail inbox better: put labels on everything, make things easier to navigate. So I started doing that, and about half an hour into it, I realized it served no purpose for me. I pretty much knew most e-mail IDs I regularly e-mailed. I usually mark things that need a response from me as “unread”, and I keep a journal to remember whom to respond to – it’s very rare that I miss e-mails as a result. So after 30 minutes of painstakingly figuring out how to label things, and what sort of labels I envisioned in my ideal inbox, I ditched that idea altogether – deleting every single label I had created, including some automated ones.

Then, I realized I used a few services on the internet where I had duplicate profiles. This disturbed me. I don’t like having two profiles. I’m a straightforward person on the internet, and I’d rather have everything that’s public about me attributable directly to me – rather than through some web of discovery and trail searching people have to push themselves to go through. Most of these duplicate profiles were created through legitimate accident. How, you ask? Simple.

Like I said earlier, I have two Gmail accounts, right? Well, one was my first Gmail account – and my daily usage e-mail ID till I finished up Grade 12, at which point the alternate e-mail ID was my spam box (I signed up for subscriptions & things with it), and post Grade 12, because I needed to look more professional (my old e-mail ID, as you may be able to tell, was not), I switched them around. The old alternate ID became my primary ID, and the default moved over to my secondary. That ended up in a couple of changes and at that time, I reconfigured mails to move around accordingly. Everything was peaceful.

Except, then this thing called Gmail integration came along and erupted around 2013-14. The problem with Gmail integration is that it is super convenient and easy. You don’t have to keep creating multiple accounts & remember multiple passwords. All you need to do is remember your Gmail password, and you can pretty much sign-in to every service imaginable on the internet today. So why is this a problem? Well, for people like me – who are signed in to two e-mail IDs, sometimes we make the mistake of accessing the service with the wrong Gmail ID. That leads to the creation of a duplicate profile. This happened on multiple applications.

So what I did yesterday was I reversed that process. First, I figured out all the applications to which I had given access to my Gmail. Then I logged in to each of those services and deleted my user profile. And finally, I revoked Gmail’s access to these applications. Several of them are applications I don’t use anymore, or will never use in the near future, so it’s a good thing they don’t have my data. 

Similar things had to be done with WordPress as well. Massive kudos to them though, their Happiness Engineers basically helped me migrate an entire website, content, and a domain to my alt (but default) profile in a jiffy.

Then, the closure of the entire Gmail process was to delete an e-mail account I had created exclusively for the purpose of backups, given that my 15GB storage on my primary account had expired. Given that I purchased Google One this year, I no longer needed it. So I migrated all the data and shut that off too.

The result: a decluttered internet footprint. Something still in progress. I’m sure I have accounts I don’t remember creating and data I don’t remember sharing (but have consented to), but it’s time to live a leaner life here. Keep fewer passwords to remember, not give random applications access to my e-mails. Just be a little more aware of what I’m giving up & for how much convenience I’m trading off my information for.

One day I’ll figure it out.

Great Electricity

Last night when we were about to turn the lights off, my roommate spoke to me from his bed. He told me that when he entered the room, the electricity meter was at 512 units. Now we’re at 2300 units or so. He looked at me and said, ‘Tejas, look how much we’ve consumed’. I wasn’t sure what the appropriate response was. It was true. We had consumed all those 1800 odd units of electricity. With 50 units allocated to us for each month, that comes up to 36 months – because we’ve never strayed beyond the allotted electricity limits. Not even when we had a standing fan, which stopped standing – and then collapsed by our fifth semester.

I haven’t noticed these things before. Usually someone comes around once a month to take our meter readings – and I look to ensure that he’s jotting down the right numbers, but apart from that, I haven’t cared too much. I check my emails when they send out the dues list to ensure I don’t have payments to make, but then it’s business as usual.

My roommate’s pretty much in charge of most of the electricity stuff in our room. He switches off the meter before heading to class – unless something is charging. It’s rare that it’s on the entire time. When it is, it’s usually because it’s summer and we’re out of the room for a few minutes, and switching off the fan would mean disaster, with hot wind all over the room. Most of my responsible electricity consumption is something I’ve picked up directly from him. That includes shutting down my laptop before I sleep, which is something I never did before: under some assumption that I would lose important files.

When he told me about the amount of electricity we had consumed, I realized that this was possibly the last time I would have to care so little about it. I’ve learned a lot of things on this campus – and being less wasteful with electricity is one of them. But I’ve not cared about the payment of electricity bills, or the source of my power generation. I’ll be out in the world in a couple of months – which is when I’ll definitely have to care. I’ll be responsible for electricity bill payments and keeping track of consumption to ensure I’m not going overboard.

I’m not too concerned about keeping track of consumption. Climate change has scared me sufficiently. What I am keen to learn though is the art of managing bills: one of those things almost every adult complains about at some point or the other.

I turned off the lights last evening and went to bed, only to be reminded of a modified version of Uncle Ben’s quote, which my roommate has crafted:

“With great power comes a great electricity bill.”

Sleep-in’

The weekend is usually when my roommate and I both catch up on any sleep we’ve lost over the course of the week. Or, in the case of fifth year, overcompensate for the sleep deficit we’re battling from the last four years.

I was speaking to some classmates from school yesterday about how it’s been 5 years since we gave our board examinations to get out of school, and how it’s been 7 years since our 10th Grade boards. The one thing that cracked us up was how these board exams seemed like the scariest endeavour at the time, but we’re looking back at it like it was some joke. I wouldn’t trade-off the effort I put in for my boards for anything; I loved studying for all of them, and I really enjoyed the month of giving exams. I would, however, take away the kind of stress I put myself under at the time. Wholly unnecessary. Maybe without it, I could’ve enjoyed the process a lot more.

In any case, the reason I mentioned boards is because what we also realized is that there’s a ton of information from our education that we don’t use everyday that’s still trapped in our brains. An example is the concept of an “oxygen deficit”. When I see sleep deficit, or actually, wherever I see the word “deficit”, that’s the only concept I associate it with. Even though it’s wholly incorrect. The Board I studied taught us the concept as an “oxygen debt”, but I remember it as an oxygen deficit instead. Why? I don’t know. But I can still tell you exactly what the syllabus needed us to remember. It was this: Oxygen debt is removed after exercise and during recovery thanks to aerobic respiration of lactic acid in the liver, the continuation, after exercise, of fast heart rate to transport lactic acid in blood from muscles to the liver, and the continuation, after exercise, of deeper breathing supplying oxygen for aerobic respiration of lactic acid.

How this information is something I need to remember verbatim in my life on the daily is not something I understand. Yet, I do. What I was wondering about this morning, when I thought about the sleep deficit I’ve accrued, is if there’s a similar process of recovery outlined somewhere.

All I know is that my process of recovery involves a ton of sleep. I woke up this morning, ate breakfast, and came back and slept till lunch. After going for a run in the evening, I slept another two hours.

It was awesome.

Catchy Tunes

Our brain is ridiculously wondrous in its sheer complexity. One of the things that I’ve been trying to figure out is how my brain classifies different kinds of music as being catchy – and how each of us has such uniquely different tastes in music, or the kind of music that we end up humming along to/that we find catchy. More specifically, how despite all of these variations in our tastes, pop radio ends up ensuring that we end up humming along to the same tunes. It’d be extremely difficult, for example, to find someone who didn’t find the song “Happy” peppy and upbeat – whose rhythm was lodged in their brain immediately upon a first listening. This is similar of other songs too – “Moves Like Jagger” is another one that comes to mind immediately.

Okay, I’m not thinking about this remotely as academically as I make it sound in the above paragraph – I just re-read what I had written. Honestly, what I’m trying to understand is why this song – “Sing It With Me“, which has an incredibly humorous/cute music video is absolutely stuck in my head. I first heard it yesterday, and it’s been playing on loop throughout the day. Quite literally, every minute of my run today was spent listening to this song, which is not something I’m used to.

The science community owes me an explanation. I don’t particularly take issue with the fact that the song is stuck in my head – because I quite like it, honestly, but I feel like this is going to be on loop for a while now, or at least till I find another song to replace it.

I’m probably going to spend the rest of the day reading about this. Leads, as always are welcome.

Update:

I took a break in posting this because I wanted to see if I could at least contribute an amalgam of some observations from what I’ve read. Apparently most catchy songs do a couple of things:

  1. Start off lower than the highest pitch they will eventually reach;
  2. Have a lot of repetitions in patten;
  3. Have a consistent rhythm/bassline; and, shockingly
  4. Apparently resemble earlier, well-known pieces of music, like nursery rhymes.

This means two things:

  1. I’m now trying to figure out how many songs I’ve heard fit the bill (the answer is, several)
  2. I now feel like I have the tools to clearly make a pop song that gets stuck in everyone’s brains.

Classes (and Jokes)

I do believe that the faculty who teach us are well aware that we, as a batch in the final semester, are paying very, very little attention to what they are teaching. The subjects aren’t core papers, or as necessary as to amass widespread inherent interest among every student. One would understand the number of students whose interests are captured falling, especially given that we are on the cusp of completing our degree – but they’re dwindling. They’re so low, you can see people falling asleep or deciding to do their own thing in the classroom within 5 minutes of attendance being taken. I digress though. The force of this paragraph was meant to convey that the faculty know this information. They know that we care very little – but that we will pay attention if something is being communicated about portions, internals, or something else that’ll genuinely concern us.

Sometimes they adopt that strategy to get us to look up for a few minutes. Very unexpectedly, someone will say the words “Continuous Evaluation”, and for a couple of minutes everyone’s heads will shoot up. If nothing, to memorize the date when it’s due so you can ask the batch what is actually due the evening before the deadline – sometimes even the morning of. Or they’ll say the word “Internal” and all of a sudden you’ll be awoken from any slumber to try to understand if there’s an added component of work they’re going to make you do in final sem.

Some faculty are genuinely trying. We’re allowed to take laptops into class for drafting, which keeps you interested because there’s a bigger screen to stare at. That faculty is being super innovative. Apart from his usual quirkiness and sharing thoughts of the day with us (which are genuinely nice to watch), he’s been using technology to keep us engaged with what he’s teaching. Even if it doesn’t get the whole class hooked; it’s worth applauding the effort.

Today, however, I saw something that I think I’d like to practice if I ever get a teaching job. The art of the poor joke, executed to perfection. You see, a part of being in the last semester is a bunch of people leaving class citing various excuses – and not returning because there really is no incentive to return once you’ve left and veered out of class. One faculty sensed someone leaving – catching them just as they shut the door, and exclaimed “yeh dekho, pehli wicket gayi”

Now you see; there is no way for me to explain how fantastic her comic timing was on this joke. It was perfect. She also chose a cricket joke – which is universally understood in India. The best part was that she kept following it up with other cricket jokes: she drank water in the middle & called it her “drinks break”, and when she caught someone unsuccessfully sneaking out, she called it a “dropped catch”.

As you can tell, the jokes got worse as the class progressed. Nonetheless, it gave me material for this blog post, and caught my attention sufficiently such that I missed my mid-day snooze.

I wonder what the faculty will try tomorrow.

Sourcery

Yes, the title of this post is a nod to the Discworld series, which I was very kindly introduced to by one of my friends when I was in my third year – and a series that I am yet to fully read through. This will be the year that happens, I feel that in my bones. But this is not a post about magic, or any of those arts. It’s more about the news and the ways I consume news on the daily.

I’ve been reading the newspaper for a long time. My introduction to the newspaper was originally because my cursive writing was suffering a little, so my father thought it would help me if I could copy out an entire news article – specifically the Editorial each day. The habit lasted around a month or so, before it faded away. As a source of information, my mother put me to task by offering up the newspaper on the table when I ate my cereal. I didn’t understand most of it in Grade 4 or Grade 5, but I got into the habit of reading as I ate breakfast. I started from the Sports section, a section I definitely understood, and stopped at the middle pages because it was time to go to school.

In Grade 6 and 7, I read nothing news-related. I don’t even actually remember too much of what was newsworthy between those years. Grade 8 saw a shift of schools and of priorities and things, and as I began to debate a little more and attend Model United Nations conferences, I understood the value of being a little more informed about the happenings in the world. I began to read the paper when I was in the mood to do so. It was by no means daily. My mom read the paper daily and my dad was super well-informed about regional information, which meant there was some amount of pressure at home for sure, but it often manifested itself in the form of my mother clipping out articles from the paper or writing “Tejas To Read” in an attempt to ensure I actually read.

Grade 9 and 10 saw me introduced to mint and mint lounge. That was influenced in part by my desire to understand international economics and international finance better. What it ended up doing though is broadening the kind of information I sought out on the internet when I surfed it daily from the beanbag in my room. I became a little obsessive about the Model UN circuit in Bangalore around the same time, and I genuinely believed that aside from oratory skills something essential to success in the activity was being a little more informed. I used that as an excuse to read all sorts of things related to the agendas I was researching for.

In Grades 11 and 12, when I began to prepare for the Common Law Admission Test, I subscribed to The Economist and a magazine that was aimed at competitive exam aspirants: Pratiyogita Darpan/Competition Success Review. I took the weekly/monthly editions and carried it in my bag, reading it on the bus ride to and from school, when I wasn’t sleeping. Those became my primary sources of world information.

Graduating to University saw me understand how biases function in media and reporting – an offshoot of my experiences debating, and I tried to pepper my news diet with a range of sources across the spectrum. My reading is eclectic, to say the least. I remember that for some time in second year, Facebook News became my go-to to find out what was happening in the world. It was a crazy time.

In the last one year, something I’ve noticed is that I’ve started to read the Guardian with an alarming frequency. It started off because I followed a couple of football matches and formula one races on the guardian website and enjoyed the reporting there. Subsequently, I read through a couple of news reports about Brexit, and one longform article, which looked good. I downloaded the mobile application. Soon I had subscribed to a couple of newsletters they sent out. Then I added them to my Feedly. And my goodness, there’s so much content they churn out every single day. More often than not, the conclusion of any perspective or argument they put out ends up agreeing with my internal biases and prima facie opinions I’ve formed, which means I go along to recommend that article to people as well.

That’s created a bit of an echo chamber for me, which I’m trying to tackle by exploring alternate sources of reporting as well.

But that doesn’t solve the problem entirely. Search algorithms all over the internet appear to have picked up the frequency with which I visit The Guardian’s website, because most of my top hit results are from that site as well. And the world must be working in some really, really mysterious ways because GUESS WHAT – the last book I read? It’s called Play It Again. I picked it up because the story appealed to me: a non-fiction tale of an older man trying to learn Chopin’s Ballades.

The man is the Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian.

So, this is a plea: if you have other sources that write as broadly, as well, and as engaging as The Guardian’s pieces are, recommend them to me. Thank you. Sidenote: they should be free too.