The Indistructibles

When I bought the Palm Pilot 5000, I could legitimately call myself one of the “early adopters”. I still remember the excitement with which I drove to the Circuit City (somewhere near Park Ridge, Illinois). And I couldn’t wait to return to the office and lay my hands on the beauty.

Some years later, I was buying a new device every year. And I was probably in the bottom half of the Silicon Valley early adopters.

But that was a long time ago.

I resisted the wiles of a slew of sexy iPhone models.

My first Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S2) was bought in late 2012. And I only upgraded to my second Android (OnePlusX) 3.5 years later.

But this post wasn’t meant to be about devices 🙂

Some of my accouterments have approached (or approaching) end-of-life and I wanted to grant them emeritus status with fond memories on my blog. I present to you six exhibits, in reverse chronological order.

indis_nike_shorts_2002_IMG_20160828_121329#1 Nike running shorts (two pairs): Acquired within a week of each other in 2002 (most likely in May) after a decision to train for my first ever marathon in Oct 2002. The shorts saw four months of intense use over all manners of tempo, interval, treadmill, and long run workouts. They unexpectedly got a six year reprieve – until our move to Bangalore. Where, things really started to happen for me as a runner. After a steadily escalating running volume (circa 2009 to 2011), the shorts conveyed sufficient warnings that they be excused from long run deployments (yeah! those inner elastics do have a finite life) so they eventually became my workhorse shorts for tempo and interval runs. A few years ago, seams started to give way but the neighborhood tailor fixed them alright. I looked at them again recently and realized that it was finally time.

indis_ultimax_socks_2002_IMG_20160828_121212#2 Ultimax running socks (two pairs): Acquired a few weeks after the aforementioned Nike shorts, these were bought from Ryan’s Sports Shop – the same Santa Clara running store where I got my first running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS6). The socks were heavily used for 4 months in 2002. After the six year hiatus, they experienced heavy usage again for 3.5 years in Bangalore.. until I discovered barefoot running. After a four year hiatus, I used them again for an ultra race and, I must admit, they are still good as new.

#3 Rockport shoes: My previous pair of Rockport shoes was a lot more indis_rockport_shoes_2001_IMG_20160901_223610interesting. This one is as boring and vanilla as dress shoes get. I probably bought them in 2001. The insole needed to be replaced a few years ago but at 15+ years, this pair is as close to indistructible as I know. A few days ago, I finally bought my first pair of vegan shoes so the Rockports shall be dispatched to a Goonj location real soon.

indis_gy_tee_jun26_2000_IMG_20160901_224143#4 Company Swag Tee (Jun 26, 2000): Larry Page came to Yahoo to give a tech talk about Google’s fault tolerant infrastructure.. in conjunction with the Google-Yahoo partnership party. The first 200 Yahoos who made it to URLs (name for our cafeteria) got the tee shirt.

#5 Healdsburg Jazz Festival (May 31 – Jun 3, 2000): What anindis_healdsburg_2000_IMG_20160828_122205 incredible lineup of jazz musicians we were SO fortunate to hear over two days – Charles Lloyd, Pharaoh Sanders, Billy Higgins, Von and Chico Freeman. So when I saw this tank top shwag (see right), I grabbed it instantly. My favorite night time wear. At least for a few more years.

indis_bluetee_1993_IMG_20160828_122302#6 Tank top from Mervyns (1993-94): How can I Carbon-14-date this faded blue tank top? Well, watching your home team winning its first NBA Championship sorta etched things in. The seams are giving way in a few places but it (and I) aren’t giving up without a fight.

 

Never too late to be alone

Chicago was the first city where I lived alone. Alone in the truest sense of the word. 

Hostel life at Mesra, an extended hostel life at Jamshedpur, and roommates during my years at Houston certainly prepared me for it.

If not for my friend Ganesh I might not have experienced 
Chicago, Ganesh Glen Dale Heights
It’s never too late to be alone

Summer here is over in a million different ways 
You look like a dream sometimes, but I don’t dream these days 
Yesterday the snow fell, by four o’clock it thawed 
And last night making love to you, well honey, it was such a fraud 

‘Cos you can find yourself a lover 
You can find yourself a home 
You can want no other ever 
But it’s never too late to be alone 

So everything is settled or so we do pretend 
From a beautiful beginning babe to a muted kind of end 
And our separate possessions are shuffled up on shelves 
Like our fingers lock together when we talk about ourselves 

You can find yourself one day staring into space 
With a suitcase waiting by the door 
You can think you’ve got it made ’til it hits you in the face 
That these are not the people you want to be before 

Summer here is over, you can feel it in the air 
From the down-town shells to the upland hills 
The chill is everywhere
 

Squash and the City

amr_shabana_squash_shotSerious runners are crazy people.

Serious squash players are no less crazy.

The crazy squash player I am thinking about is my friend. Sanjay (now a Princeton, NJ resident) was my senior at BIT Mesra and we became close friends during our years in Jamshedpur. Unlike my sporadic dalliance (2 years of squash initiation in ’90-’92 followed by a year in Chicago playing racquetball circa ’95 before hitting my ‘serious’ but disjointed stints between 1998 and 2005), Sanjay was far more devoted to squash.

As he moved from Jamshedpur to Clearwater, FL before settling down in the NY/NJ area, he managed to find a squash court and kept at it. I mean really kept at it.

When we visited the NY/NJ area in Christmas 2002, we stayed with Sanjay’s family in Princeton. His squashing had reached a level where he was beginning to challenge young bucks on the Princeton University club ladder. Coming finally to the crazy bit. His ‘local’ squash court was a whopping 75 min drive away – across state lines. And he would make it there at least twice a week.

Imran Khan was probably one of the reasons Sanjay squashed regularly at that remote club in Pennsylvania. Imran (from that land that produced two amazing squash champions with the same last name) was the club’s squash pro and Sanjay’s good friend.

During that trip I managed to catch a game with Sanjay. Predictably I got whipped. Later that evening Imran visited Sanjay’s home and the bulk of the conversation was on squash (obviously).

I’m sure I grilled him a lot but there was ONE insight that overshadowed everything else that came up. An insight that could catapult a rookie or a struggling C player on to the right path.

“At any point in the squash court, there’s only ONE right stroke to hit.’

Wow. You mean to say I shouldn’t debate between a rail vs boast vs lob in real-time as I approached the ball? And NOT change my mind last-minute?

Hmm..

So every grid position on the court is pre-computed for the ideal stroke?

More like a classical music score and less like jazzy improvisation?

As i reflected on it, it made sense. If you’ve seen professionals play those long rallies point after point, you’ll know this to be true too.

A ballet being played out between players seemingly in a preordained fashion. Rail-rail-rail-drop-rail or rail-rail-rail-rail-cross-cross-boast-rail-rail.

The script and patterns don’t vary much. What separates the very good player from the truly exceptional are things like: how quickly he recovers the T, how deep her rails are, how judiciously she uses the cross/boast/lob, how patient he is in going for the killer smash (or boast) only when the odds are just right. Of course having a few different serve variations and possessing the replicable ability to hit the edge can be key weapons in your arsenal but those come *after* you’ve taken care of the basics.

An uncluttered mind. A body dynamic trained to unleash the right stroke at every grid point. Ballet like a pro. Wait for the other guy to make a mistake or keep watching him until the positional odds tilt in your favor to go for the kill.

I finally understood how to play the game of squash. Too bad I would step into a court only once more.. 10 years later.

But lessons in sports carry over to life. Playing to a script, seeing the patterns, waiting for your chance, putting in those long hours of disciplined  drills, automaticity… These are all portable skills.

Thank you Imran Khan.

Stories related to this topic of training to a pattern:

[Closing note: this post had a gestation period of 3 yrs 10 months. I guess there is hope for the remaining 99 posts in my Drafts folder.]

 

 

 

When I met a Mexican Vishy in a Texas Ghost Town

[Editor’s Note: On a musical day that started with Depeche Mode, moved on to Buena Vista Social Club, and continued with Omoro Portuondo and Getz/Gilberto in the evening, it wasn’t a surprise that I remembered this story and a 1993 road trip in West Texas.]

The man grinned widely, offered his hand and introduced himself.

“My name is Pablo. Is this your first visit to Terlingua?”

“Yes.” I said. “We are students at University of Houston. We came to checkout Big Bend National Park.”

He nodded approvingly.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Vishy,” I said.

Pablo’s eyes widened. He jerked back his head in astonishment, nearly knocking off his sombrero.

“No way! My friend’s name is Vishy too!” He pointed to a man across the room.

“You think I’m kidding, right?” I’ll go bring him here.

A minute later I was shaking hands with a short man in a full panoply Mexican attire. Grinning ear to ear, we shook hands and sized each other up. As my two friends and fellow journeymen (Soumya and Naveen) watched on with amusement, we did some polite small talk and eventually bid goodbye. Three Indians, two Mexicans and four first names. What were the odds of that happening in Terlingua, a small West Texas ghost town?

************

Our two years at the University of Houston were a simple blur of action.

  • Slog ass off from Monday to Friday (which usually meant a work day that started late and ended in the wee hours of the morning).
  • Do something different on weekends (don’t recall exactly what — maybe it was catching up on sleep and groceries)
  • Long weekends were special gifts. Gifts that couldn’t and wouldn’t be squandered away by staying within city limits. Simple three step formula: Rent car. Pick destination. Drive.

The destination didn’t matter (sooo.. many awesome destinations). The rental car didn’t matter (all of them easily touched 100 mph).

Pic courtesy wikimedia.org

Pic courtesy wikimedia.org

One such long weekend took us to Big Bend National Park. Here are some other memories from the trip.

  • The drive from Houston to Big Bend was negotiated with exactly one stop (in San Antonio) where we gorged ourselves on some Mexican burritos, tostadas, and chalupas. It was most likely Taco Bell. We were not the discerning gourmands that we claim ourselves to be (now).
  • Last 5-10 miles were rather nervous.. Ten meter visibility means, well, ten meter visibility.
  • Reaching the park welcome center around 2am and falling asleep in the car. Waking up at 6pm with a magnificent mountainous vista greeting us through the car windshield.
  • Dinner one evening at Alice’s Restaurant. It was a vegetarian restaurant! Yes – a vegetarian restaurant in West Texas.
  • Hiking along the banks of the Rio Grande river.. a boatman offering us to row us over to the Mexican side and we actually deliberated for several minutes before better sense prevailed.
  • A deer deciding to cross our path when we were cruising at 70 mph. Only Soumya’s deft reflexes and superb car control ensured that we stopped about two feet short. The deer calmly looked us in the eye (no ‘deer caught in the headlights’ look, no sir) and calmly crossed the highway while the three of us gulped down our hearts.

 

How the West was Lost – Short Version

Pic: courtesy m3space.net

I grew up on a diet of  Wild West novels and a dominant American narrative that celebrated the victory of the white man against the native American Indian. It was always about how the West was “won.”

The turning point in my thinking occurred in 1996 when I was lucky enough to attend a lecture and solo performance by the legendary R. Carlos Nakai at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Nakai spoke poignantly about how the West was “lost” by the Indians. If the point had been missed by anyone, he played a set of brilliant scores on the native American flute, which transported the audience to the America of a few centuries ago. A few days after the concert, I had bought 3 of Nakai’s albums which included this masterpiece – How the West was Lost.

In the last few months, as I re-read the complete 17-novel Sackett series from master storyteller Louis L’Amour, an extract from Treasure Mountain stood out. I reproduce it below – the short version of How The West Was Lost (as recounted by Powder-Face, an old Indian, to William Tell Sackett).

Powder Face shrugged. “I know,” he said simply.

“We killed them and killed them and killed them, and still they came. It was not the horse soldiers that whipped us, it was not the death of the buffalo, nor the white man’s cows. It was the people. It was the families.

“The rest we might conquer, but the people kept coming and they built their lodges where no Indian could live. They brought children and women, they brought the knife that cuts the earth. They built their lodges of trees, of sod cut from the earth, of boards, of whatever they could find.”

“We burned them out, we killed them, we drove off their horses, and we rode away. When we came back others were there as if grown from the ground—and others, and others, and others.”

“They were too many for us. We killed them, but our young men died, too, and we had not enough young men to father our children, so we must stop fighting.”

And William Tell Sackett’s subsequent conversation with Powder Face reveals the American value system relevant even in the 21st century:

“Remember this, Old One. The white man respects success. For the poor, the weak, and the inefficient, he has pity or contempt. Whatever the color of your skin, whatever country you come from, he will respect you if you do well what it is you do.”

“You may be right. I am an old man, and I am confused. The trail is no longer clear.”

“You brought your people to my cousins. You work for them now, so you are our people as well. You came to them when they
needed you, and you will always have a home where they are.”

The flames burned low, flickered, and went out. Red coals remained. The chill wind stirred the leaves again. Powder Face sat silently, and I went to my blankets.

 

The sandwiched generation. The best generation!

Cucumber-Mint - the tastiest sandwich in the world!

[Editor’s Note: The author of this post, Rajat Mukherjee, lives in Silicon Valley and works for Google. This post originally appeared on his Silicon Thoughts blog and is reproduced here with his permission. Rajat is a classic lay-down-rooter, a term I defined in this post.]

Last week, we were at the Bellarmine Speech and Debate team banquet, where we heard a great student speech, in which Mr. Rogers (of the TV show) asks each member of his audience to take a few silent moments to remember who made them the special (imperfect, but unique) person they are.

I remembered my parents, who are responsible for who I am and where I am today.

Being in Silicon Valley during the most vibrant technology era in humanity offers us absolutely unique perspectives and opportunities, while also throwing challenges our way as first generation immigrants from a distant place.

Being a first generation immigrant, we’re caught in a middle ground between who we are and who we (really) are. Or who we were and who we are. Or who we are and who we’re going to be. I’ve just crossed over in terms of spending more of my life in the US than in India. India still means a lot to me, but in day-to-day happenings, e.g., elections, business changes, etc., I’m not impacted – it’s not personal any more. My roots are there, my life is here, my parents there, my children here, my heart wanders there, my mind stays here. My citizenship has flipped, but my accent hasn’t. Proud of India’s accomplishments, derisive of the system, politics and corruption, yet hopeful of what India will become.

We’re bound by old traditions, but liberated by free thinking and the worlds we’ve been exposed to, starting with a liberal upbringing. Actually, it is not my son who is the American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) – I am the  Indian Born Confused Indian-American!! The kids are actually reasonably clear in that their ties are just to us, not to a faraway country they were born in. I have half-baked ties to my relatives, even to those I was reasonably close with during my childhood. The kids have just a few clear relationships, and they seem pretty matter-of-fact about them.

My identity is like that blurred face in the airport scan. I feel like I’m on the Berlin wall, while someone’s pounding on both sides to bring it down – I don’t even know which side I’m going to land on. Maybe I don’t really care.

I’m the spicy mint chutney in a sandwich with wheat bread on one side and white on the other.

For my children, the extended family just got an order of magnitude smaller. They don’t enjoy the relationships that we’d have otherwise nurtured – their grandparents are not a strong force in their lives. Our family is so small out here! I have to PLAN to be with my parents!! That’s sad!

Now, for the good part!

There’s nothing like living in a sunny part of the world with the best technology minds in the world (yes – most of them are indeed working on making you click more on ads :-)). Technology is moving so fast that I’m almost obsolete before I write my next blog post! We’re not just consumers in this new connected world, we’re the ones creating it!! That makes us a special generation!

The best part – I can enjoy gooseberries and mangoes as much as I do crunchy persimmons, and salt-rimmed margaritas and caipirinhas just as much as a masala-chai (at different times :-)), crepes as much as masala-dosas, kababs as much as sushi. That makes me a special generation.(I still don’t get sauerkraut and tripe!!) I no longer need to stare at someone because he or she is from a different place – I stare at myself in the mirror and wonder where I’m from.

I’ve taken salsa lessons, been a soccer coach to kids from all parts of the world, watch football and basketball (and the Sharks choke every year on ice in crystal clear HD). I can watch Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in concert, followed by U2 in a few weeks. I can appreciate ghazals and the magic of Bollywood music, while also tuning in to classic rock and rap and Lady Gaga and … Friday (that’s talent!) I can choose to ski or go the beach this weekend (or watch TV!). You can do some of these things, but not all of them unless you are in the right place, like Silicon Valley.

I can appreciate a variety of things, because of where I am, and the generation I belong to. The next generation will never understand the magic of Kishore Kumar or Jagjit Singh. My kids have lost the ability to relate to good Bangla folk music, or even western music from the 80s and 90s (Michael Jackson?). I don’t believe this is just a generational thing, it is a timing issue – we’re the right generation. The next generation will not appreciate the automatic respect we have for the earlier generation – the appreciation of hard work and experience and integrity and loyalty. Ask yourself how long you’ll work for a single company!

Yes, each of us brings a uniqueness to the world, to the neighbo(u)rhood, as stated by Mr. Rogers. But our generation, and our first-generation status in the sunniest part of the world brings a certain uniqueness to our lives.

Am I a citizen of India? A citizen of the US? A citizen of Silicon Valley?

I am a citizen of the world!

As I shuttled between Bangalore and San Francisco in 2010

I saved this tweet from Nitin Pai (chief honcho and writer at The Indian National Interest) sometime in the first half of 2010. The operative phrase is “ought to”. The sad reality is that for most people (and I include myself in this category), the dominant emotions are sadness, guilt and frustration. Where’s the fury at the indifferent Indian state one might ask? There’s such a massive gap between the expectations of the Indian citizen and the reality of the Indian state that the daily sight of small kids doesn’t register on the fury meter. The guilt and frustration arises from the fact that besides doling small change, one seemingly cannot (or will not) do anything which has the potential to get begging kids off the streets.

Which brings us to the question our 4 year old asked sometime back – “why do we give biscuits/money to some beggars and not to others?”

How could we answer that the reasons were mostly arbitrary — wallet devoid of low denomination currency, mind preoccupied etc. Or that this minuscule dole was so inconsequential that it served more as a balm to our guilty souls than making any meaningful difference to their pathetic lives. We yearned to say that in future years, we were contemplating doing something to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. With a deep sigh, I answered: “You asked a really good question. Let me think about it some more and and get back with a proper answer.” I’m hopeful that the completion of this blog post (after gestating in the Drafts folder for the past 10 months) signals that we are ready to answer his question.

As I shuttled between Bangalore and San Francisco in 2010, it struck me that, besides software, there was at least one other thing common between the two cities – homeless people. There’s no dearth of homeless people in most Indian cities and Bangalore is no exception. What one tends to forget is that San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, and many other American cities also suffer from this problem. The magnitude of the problem is different of course. While it needs to be stated that the problem of adult homeless people is very different (and relatively less troublesome if one deigns to compare), the attitude and reactions of the well-to-do-citizenry is pretty similar in both cases.

Still… San Francisco’s homelessness problem has always confounded me — especially during my 10 years living in the Bay Area. The Wikipedia article on San Francisco had the following interesting facts:

San Francisco ranks third of American cities in median household income with a 2007 value of $65,519. Median family income is $81,136, and San Francisco ranks 8th of major cities worldwide in the number of billionaires known to be living within city limits.

The city’s poverty rate is 11.8% and the number of families in poverty stands at 7.4%, both lower than the national average. The unemployment rate stands at 10.1% as of August 2009. Homelessness has been a chronic and controversial problem for San Francisco since the early 1980s. The city is believed to have the highest number of homeless inhabitants per capita of any major U.S. city.

Back in May 2010, I was in San Francisco for a week-long business trip. A lazy Sunday afternoon listening to Moonalice at Union Square seemed to provide a perfect start. I followed this up with a brisk walk, and spotting a Subway, hurried in to grab my usual favorite. As I contemplated the choice of bread, I heard a voice “I know folks don’t usually like to give money but could you buy me a sandwich?” A middle-aged homeless woman peered at me hopefully. After a two second pause, I nodded and indicated to the Subway employee. After I paid for her chicken-teriyaki and my veggie-delite sandwiches, I did what I normally do after these kind of encounters (in India or America) — beat a hasty retreat.

As I did more research on San Francisco’s homeless problem, I came across this rather encouraging article in WalletPop (key excerpts below)

In 2004, San Francisco launched an ambitious ten-year plan aimed at ending homelessness in the city by greatly expanding its social services and creating 3,000 permanent housing units as substitutes for shelters. Now at the six-year mark, San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, is claiming the city is more than halfway toward its goal, having thus far created almost 1,700 housing units. As a result, despite the recession, it’s managed to shrink its homeless population for the first time in 30 years.

Closer to home in Bangalore, here are a few sobering statistics gleaned from this Hindu article and this DNA article:

  • 17,000+ homeless people in Bangalore.
  • Per Supreme Court, there needs to be one homeless shelter for every lakh of people. For Bangalore’s 80 lakh population, this maps to 80 shelters.
  • Homeless women are exposed to regular sexual attacks and homeless men are at the mercy of goon and police atrocities.

When something’s not easy to do, you are doing it wrong

Pic: courtesy Bing Images

It was early days for me at the University of Houston campus in the Fall of 1992. One of my initial starry-eyed memories was that of purchasing my first Coke can from a vending machine on my way back to the Cambridge Oaks apartment. This was my first-ever encounter with a Coke can (for that matter any soft drink can). I examined it as one would a hard-earned trophy. It was chilled to the perfect temperature, the bright red Coke colors and the calligraphic lettering epitomized to me excellence, beauty and perfection — all things I associated with the American Dream that I was here to pursue. And I had just bought it for 60 cents. It was thrilling.

At this point, most normal people would have pushed the tab open and started glugging away. For some odd reason (daftness perhaps?), I decided that one had to twist/rotate the tab (step #1) and then pull the tab (step #2). Not surprisingly, after I had executed step #2, I was left holding a detached tab and a (still unopened) Coke can and feeling rather silly. I hurried my way back back to the apartment with a mixture of how_could_I_be_so_dumb and a steely resolve to make amends. Later in the kitchen, a few deliberate pokes with a screwdriver yielded results and I was soon slaking my Coke thirst. This was incident #1.

Incident #2 involved the American matchbook – which is quite different from its Indian counterpart (which we call “match box” or “matches”). For the benefit of my Indian readers, let me describe the American matchbook – 2 rows of soft matchsticks are fused inside a thin cardboard flap, there’s only striking surface which is on the outer side of the flap. In case you are wondering, I’ve been a smoker for a grand total of 3 1/2 years – the latter 2 years were during my 1992-94 Houston stint. My roommate (another smoker from India) and I used the matchbook like an Indian matchbox – i.e. tear off the soft stick, and strike it against the striking surface. After a few days of low hit-rate match-strikes, we concluded that the Americans didn’t know how to manufacture matchbooks. Along comes Beaumont-Srini (a senior in Business school) who  showed us the correct way of using the American matchbook — twist the flap around to almost touch the striking surface and simply pull out the match between the striking surface and the flap. Voila! (Friction + chemistry = fire).

As I reflected on these 2 incidents, our mutual good friend, philosopher, guide and senior – Soumya (of Soumya.org fame) had this pithy summary about life in America: when something’s  not easy to do, you are doing it wrong. Over the years, this served as a reliable guiding litmus test. When I found myself waiting for hours at the DMV, turns out I could have called a toll free number to book an appointment instead. Years later, when I kept getting placed on hold on that toll free DMV number, turns out I could have booked my appointment (via the web) in less than a minute.

Now let’s look at India. The same pithy litmus test can be applied here – you just have to flip it on its head: when something’s looking very easy, you are probably doing it the wrong way. If you got your driver’s license in a single afternoon, chances are you bribed the RTO officer or utilized the services of a driving school agent. If you bought the latest video game or the newest Bollywood release from a footpath vendor as you were lounging down Indiranagar’s 100-feet road or Koramangala’s 80-feet road, they were definitely pirated (and you knew it!). If it’s taking you fifteen visits to the Corporation office to register your recently purchased property and you still don’t know when it will finally be registered, you (my friend) are doing it the right way!

If you found my description of the American matchbook to be inadequate, here are some visuals via Google Images: click here

Memories of an American Life – First Two Years in Houston

University of Houston – Science & Engineering classroom complex (Pic: courtesy hayneswhaley.com)

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on my life in America spanning Houston, Chicago and SF Bay Area. Part 1 was Memories of an American Life – 4 years in Chicago. I arrived in Houston, Texas on August 16, 1992 with one friend (my friend & classmate from BIT Ranchi – Namita Raghavan). I left the city in October 1994 (headed to Chicago) with a Masters degree, several dozen good friends, and plenty of good memories. Below are some of my fond recollections:

  • Seeing Namita’s friendly face  at the airport.
  • My first experience of American freeways in Soumya’s tiny 1992 Dodge Colt with cars whizzing by on both sides.
  • Eating my first Pizza Hut pizza at Namita’s Cambridge Oaks apartment the evening I arrived.
  • Experiencing campus life at University of Houston during the first semester.
  • Starting my book collection via Houston Public Library’s annual book sale at the Astrodome. In Shiv’s words that day, I bought books like people buy potatoes.
  • Teaching Fortran Programming to a class of 45+ sophomores. Enuf said – I survived!
  • Interviewing at Compaq for an internship and learning that they had so many employee groups moving offices, they needed to build a system to optimize it.
  • Getting a summer internship at Grumman Technical Services and a brief exposure to a quaint 4GL called Peregrine Systems.
  • Buying my first car – a maroon 1984 manual transmission Volkswagen Jetta.
  • Tequila shots with Naveen, Shiv, Asmi, and a Mexican couple (pursuing Ph.D in Economics). Btw, no self-respecting Mexican does ‘shots’ – they drink their Tequila straight up.
  • Singlehandedly demolishing a large Pizza Hut pizza in under 30 minutes. My witness and co-glutton was my dear friend Naveen who, as I was his witness, also demolished a large pizza.
  • 36-hour Greyhound trip from Houston to Charlottesville, Virginia. Developed a fresh appreciation for vegetarian choices available in large cities (read “Houston”).
  • Exciting day at Astroworld – my first trip to a Six Flags theme park.
  • Continuing Soumya’s fine tradition of driving the 41 mile 610 Interstate loop in the wee hours of the morning as a ‘reward’ for completing assignments.
  • Driving Soumya’s Dodge Colt on 610E in the left lane and discovering that the brakes had stopped working. Thanks to my non-panicky copilot (was it Gorty?), managed to execute a sequence of nervy lane changes which eventually brought us safely to the shoulder.
  • Renting a Toyota Camry and driving nearly continuously (for 36 hours) to Minneapolis. My cousin Swarna (who was doing her MBA at Baylor University, Waco) was the fearless copilot. Getting my first ever speeding ticket at Huntsville (just 60 miles north of Houston) was the rite of passage. And to think that if Soumya hadn’t loaned me a fuzz-buster, I might have been clocked at 100mph!
  • Road trip to Tampa, Florida over a Labor Day Weekend with Soumya. Rental car: Pontiac Grand Prix with a moon-roof and fancy steering controls. We perfected the art of “zero stop” driving.
  • Awesome trip to the Big Bend National Park with Soumya & Naveen. We fell asleep in the car in front of the Visitor Center and woke up to see the majestic mountains up close. We dined in Alice’s Restaurant (a vegetarian restaurant to boot) in Terlingua – aka “Ghost Town”.

Memories of an American Life – 4 years in Chicago

Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive between Diversey & Fullerton – part of my fave running stretch — till Navy Pier (Pic: courtesy flickr.com)

I originally wanted to start a post called “Ten little things I miss about America” and then realized it should more on the lines of ‘memories that I treasure’ (true true!) rather than a life that I miss and crave (at least not yet!). Sixteen years of American life were spent in 3 cities (Houston, Chicago and San Francisco Bay Area) so this is going to become a three-part series. I’m going to allow my stream of consciousness to flow with little filtering (P often wonders whether I have ‘any’ filters) – the only exclusions would be grand tourist sights like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Golden Gate Bridge, etc. So here I go in no particular order…

  • Running along Lake Shore Drive between Diversey and Navy Pier often times at 10pm and not being the only soul on that stretch
  • Dining in umpteen multi-ethnic restaurants in Lake View/Lincoln Park neighborhoods
  • Riding the different L trains between Lake View, Downtown, Belmont, Park Ridge, and Evanston
  • Driving north on Lake Shore Drive and continuing on Sheridan Avenue through Evanston, Wilmette, Highland Park all the way to the Wisconsin border
  • Walking on Michigan Avenue (aka “The Magnificent Mile”) during festive Christmas time and in sub-zero bone-chilling wind chill conditions (ducking in and out of stores)
  • Summers in Grant Park (Taste of Chicago, concerts, jazz festival, oh.. so many events)
  • Listening to Fareed Haque mesmerize the audience at The Green Mill with a custom-built guitar-sitar
  • Experiencing the young trumpet genius Nicholas Payton at The Jazz Showcase
  • Watching Jethro Tull at Tinley Park following a loud warmup session from Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • (Dating days with P) Watching R. Carlos Nakai perform the native American flute at the Field Museum of Natural History
  • Zipping around Greater Chicago on my rocket (ahem, 1985 Suzuki GS-700ES) – thanks for protecting me, oh guardian angel
  • (Dating days with P) Out of the world performance by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the pride of Pakistan
  • (Dating days with P) First Dave Brubeck concert at the Orchestra Hall (I think)
  • Riding my Suzuki from Chicago to Omaha with a gas tank cap held tight with tape. This is a blog post all by itself (maybe someday after I retire)
  • Returning to Chicago and getting caught in a thunderstorm. Riding an hour in soaking rain before stopping at a motel close to Des Moines, Iowa
  • Bungie jumping in Wisconsin along with Ganesh – childhood buddy who intersects three of my place circles (Bokaro Steel City, BIT Ranchi, and Chicago)
  • (Dating days with P) After training for a Chicago-area Half Marathon for 3 months, woke up late on race day and missed the start (by one hour). Oh well! apparently the auspicious time hadn’t arrived for me to run marathons
  • My first Starbucks coffee – in an obscure Dominicks location – next to the Park Ridge offices of SEI Information Technology
  • Meeting P for the first time in a Chicago art gallery. What on earth was I doing in an art gallery?? As the wise old men say “it was meant to be”
  • Watching Big Daddy Kinsey, Junior Wells, and a host of blues luminaries in Blues Etc and Blues Chicago (didn’t mind the smoke-filled ambience those days)
  • Playing disc golf during lunch time with a group of like-minded fanatics at an ‘object’ course in Park Ridge
  • My first winter morning in Chicago. Icicles formed on my wet hair as I vigorously scraped the ice off my 1984 Volkswagon Jetta
  • Watching Jean Luc Ponty perform at Navy Pier
  • (Dating days with P) Watching Ian Anderson perform, as a guest artist, at the National Flute Convention in downtown Chicago (Grant Park? I think). He had the cheek to poke fun at the flautists’ “puckered lips”
  • A glorious year at Old Town School of Folk Music (on Armitage Ave). They made me feel special even though I had little talent for playing the silver flute. Thank you Judith Johnson Brown.
  • Watching Ulele at their CD release party on Morse Ave (North Shore) with Michael and Marilyn and two of their friends (Deidre and Ms. X).
  • My first veggie Thanksgiving at Anthony Clarke’s Arlington Heights apartment. Anthony & wife were fellow bikers (from Maryland) who took my apartment sub-lease (while I moved to my Lake View apartment).