A vegetarian cracks an egg

Eggs from free range chickens fed on a vegetarian diet, anyone?

Eggs from free range chickens fed on a vegetarian diet, anyone?

I was raised a vegetarian. Avoiding meat was the most natural thing for as long as I can remember in my childhood. During our teen years, eggs made a brief entrance into our lives. In the form of cakes. They would be baked in a special-purpose oven (egg handling done by a domestic help) away from the kosher confines of our kitchen.

I liked cakes though even the slightest overt taste of eggs would reduce my enjoyment. There was no danger of cakes making it to my Top 5 favorite desserts list. That list, I must mention, was dominated by milk-based desserts.

When I was in 8th grade, an uncle from Canada (who had turned omnivore a few decades earlier) presented a gastronomic proposal to my mother with a gleam in his eye. If she was willing to sacrifice a nonstick pan and give him free rein in the kitchen, he would make scrambled eggs for his nephews and niece. In a moment of weakness, she agreed. [See Addendum below].

An hour later, I was tasting my first egg dish. It didn’t send me racing to my friends’ houses for sneaky servings of egg dishes but the memory was definitely “hmm”.

Meanwhile, my older brother had discovered eggs at his college hostel mess. When he came home during holidays, he showed off his bread omelet making prowess (yes – that very same sacrificial nonstick pan was used!) I have a distinct memory that this tasted better than scrambled eggs.

Four years would pass before I got my next egg-eating opportunity. I was in college and omelets were a staple part of breakfast. I must have became an occasional to regular eater of omelets but I don’t have a strong recollection of it being something I “couldn’t live without”.

I graduated from college and my first job brought me to Jamshedpur. Those Tata Steel people! They really know how to take care of their employees, especially new trainees. The hostel mess was a serious upgrade from college. I think this is where I really developed a taste for omelets. I finally understood what the fuss was about.

The move to US elevated eggs to the look-forward-to segment of my weekly diet. My friend and housemate in Houston (who was instrumental in me becoming a basic-101-Indian-cook) taught me a cheese-intensive recipe which he dubbed as “Italian eggs”. The details are sketchy but my rendition was appreciated by my housemates as “almost as good as Shiv’s”.

From a parental standpoint, eggs were never on the “do not eat” list. It was more like “don’t ask don’t tell”. A lack of discernment between fertilized and unfertilized eggs and ignorance of the industrialization of poultry meant no moral dilemma.

Have you always been a vegetarian? Have you never tasted meat?

These were two frequent questions asked by Americans. My answers were Yes and No.

The latter answer requires elaboration. Stay tuned for the post “A vegetarian tries meat“.

Addendum: My mother just read this post and shared two related stories:

  • Later in the day (after our egg tasting escapade), my sister’s earring went missing and my mother was convinced that it was divine retribution for having broken a cardinal rule. Fortunately the retribution turned out to be just a slap on the wrist – the earring was eventually found next to a flowerbed in our garden (whew!)
  • Clamors for a home baked cake (from her children) had reached a crescendo so my mother finally gave in. She requested a family friend to come home and bake a cake. The friend deputed her son to lead the proceedings. Eggs were beaten, utensils were rendered impure, a mess was created but at the end of it, there was a cake to show for it. I don’t recall how it tasted but the episode had a scalding impact on my mother’s psyche. She went to bed tortured with guilt and had the worst nightmare.. a scene with scores of chickens squawking loudly in her face. For someone who’s not seen Hitchcock’s Birds, she could have been describing one of the climax scenes. The nightmare cured her of her newly found affinity towards cakes.

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.]

 

 

 

Three Coincidences

Put two Indians (perfect strangers mind you) in a room and it’s merely a question of time before they find a few common connections. As you might suspect, I epitomize this quintessential Indian quirk.

  1. The Paper Cup Saga: In our first week in Bangalore, during that honeymoon period when work had not yet consumed me, I had the luxury of reading the Times of India (TOI) cover-to-cover. I read a very interesting story in the business section entitled After all your paper cup is not that eco-friendly. The story was about a Texas Instruments (TI India) employee creating an informative video that persuaded the employees to significantly reduce paper cup usage. Being ‘green’ at heart, my thoughts immediately raced to achieving a similar outcome in the Adobe India office. Since TOI publishes the reporters’ email addresses, I was able to dash off a quick note asking them whether they could share the video produced by TI. My attention then went to one of the authors – Sujit John. Was it the same Sujit who was school captain (three batches my senior) at St. Xaviers Bokaro? A quick LinkedIn search confirmed it. Turns out, he’s Times of India’s Bangalore-based Business Editor. Wow! my first solid contact in the Indian Fourth Estate. To top it, Sujit is married to Alice (one of my Xaviers Bokaro classmates).
  2. The Intel Folsom Connection: As I mentioned in The First Week in Bangalore, we spent the first three weeks in a guest house flat on Bannerghatta Road. The flat was in an apartment community called Adarsh Vihar – two buildings next to the Adobe office so it was very convenient for us. As Bangalore apartment communities go, Adarsh Vihar was small (less than 100 flats) but they have a decent playground which the kids and I would frequent on most evenings. One of the kids mom (Sharmila) had moved to Intel Bangalore (from Intel’s offices Folsom, California). I knew exactly ONE person in Intel Folsom – BTV Anant Kumar (my dear friend and classmate from BIT Mesra). Turns out Sharmila and her husband (who also worked at Intel Folsom) knew BTV and his family very well, in fact they were even next-door neighbours for a few years in California. Gee! What are the odds? We exchanged updates on BTV’s miraculous recovery after a month in the ICU.
  3. The Bokaro/Jamshedpur Connection: P and I were sitting in Alok & Babita Sinha’s (owners of the Raheja Residency flat we are renting) living room relating about our life’s ram kahani (“life’s story” for my non-Indian readers). The conversation eventually led to Bokaro and Jamshedpur (two eventful places in my past). Alok runs a division of Symphony Services and had a long fruitful stint at Tata Motors Jamshedpur (previously known as TELCO). Turns out that yet another Xaviers Bokaro classmate (Aman Sinha) used to in Alok’s group at Telco. Not only that, Alok and Aman (who is in the SF Bay Area) met as recently as a few months ago. On a final coincidental note, I had reconnected with Aman (at Hobees Cupertino) just a few weeks before our exodus from California.

Asthma, Bangalore and me…

Pic: courtesy myhealthguardian.com

Asthma and I go back a long way. One cold winter in Bokaro, when I was either 6 or 7, asthma came uninvited into my life. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Besides taking a lot of medicines and being bedridden more than the average kid, the big lifestyle impact was that I didn’t play much of any sport during my school or college years. In the 70’s and 80’s, asthma was not well understood – I mean besides the medicines prescribed by allopathic & homeopathic doctors to suppress asthma. Sports Star used to be part of my staple reading during my high school years. I was deeply puzzled when I read that Morten Frost Hansen (Dutch All England badminton champ) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (heptathlon Olympic uber champion) suffered from asthma in their childhood. I was to learn later that the best way to combat asthma is to exercise “more” (not “less”).

My first job (in India) was with Tata Steel at Jamshedpur. Perhaps it was finally the release of academic pressure or maybe it was finally time to beat my nemesis. Whatever the reason, Jamshedpur was where I won my first battle against asthma. Thanks to my dear friends & colleagues Vochak (squash champion from BITS Palani) and JD (squash champion & amateur coach from IT-BHU), I was introduced to the wonderful sport of squash. I scratched and struggled around on the squash court of Beldih Club for nigh on two years. My squash game didn’t threaten but a worthy side effect was that it kept my asthma at bay and I gradually built my cardiovascular fitness. When I moved to USA, I experienced asthma-free bliss for 16 years (barring a few minor episodes of exercise-induced asthma in Chicago).

As I wrote in Why are we moving back to India now, we came very close to moving to India in 2005. A casual one week stay in Bangalore suddenly turned into a very real possibility. I had an offer to take up a key role in the Yahoo! Bangalore organization and Poonam also had a great opportunity at a biotech startup. At the eleventh hour, we pulled the plug. The asthma factor was not a major reason but it did figure in the calculations. In all my trips to Bangalore (including this one), the wheezing would start by the second or third day.

Fast forward three years. I was planning my 2-week scouting trip to India and wondering Where in India we would be moving to. By our original reckoning, Bangalore should have been on top of our list of prospective cities. However, it had fallen out of favor and was at #3 (behind Delhi and Bombay). This was partly because we were steadily reading stories about Bangalore’s worsening traffic situation, Delhi/Gurgaon’s rise as a techno hub, and of Bombay’s seduction. The elephant in the living room was actually my old nemesis.

Poonam (our Chief Research Officer) read many articles about how asthma was getting worse in Bangalore.

50% Bangalore kids hit by asthma screamed this Times of India headline in 2007. Dust mites in the humid atmosphere of Bangalore trigger around 60% of asthma, while vehicular emissions like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, sulphur dioxide also act as trigger agents.

‘‘Continuous exposure to allergens like Parthenium could prove fatal for asthma patients as it can lead to a permanent damage of the lungs affecting the respiratory functions’’, said Dr. Rao in this blog post Bangalore still carries ‘asthma city’ tag. Then came a study from WHO and UNICEF that declared that over 30 per cent of Bangalore’s children suffer from asthma. Whoa!!

Then out of the blue, Twitter provided a glimmer of hope. I saw the following tweet (or maybe it was a Facebook status message) from one of my Bangalore friends: “down with asthma. Bummer.” You might find the following email exchange interesting.

— start of email thread —

Hi [friend],
Sorry to hear you are down with asthma. I was reading a few blog posts recently about how the air quality in Bangalore keeps getting worse – pollution + pollen. Why you might wonder? So I suffered from asthma for years – it only stopped after I moved to US (14 years ago). Actively in the throes of moving back to India (looking at Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore as Pune) as prospective cities. The biggest ding against Bangalore (for me personally) is how severely my asthma would return – my last 2 trips to Bangalore were memorable (not!). Would like to know your thoughts..
Thanks.
– Vishy

Hi Vishy,

I can relate a lot to what you say. I was in the US for about 6 months – and was perfectly fine through the period. I am fine elsewhere in India too, In general : Asthma for me is local to Bangalore. I have been here about 10 years, and have learnt to fight it. I am generally fine as long as I am exercising in some form or the other – even a 10 minute walk would do it, as long as its regular. Through various stages, I have practised pranayama, played badminton, gone running, etc regularly. The moment, I get a little lazy – stop exercising for a few days, and asthma reminds me that I cant afford to be lazy in Bangalore. I believe, as long as you are religiously regular with exercise – you can keep asthma away. I myself have considered moving to other cities, but for internet products focussed on the global market – this is the place.
There is enough India focussed internet work happening in Bombay & Delhi, but not as many global companies/startups as in Bangalore.

Let me know if you have anything specific you are looking at in India – might be able to connect.

All the best with the move,
[friend]

[friend],

Thanks for your detailed note on asthma. That certainly re-emboldens my heart towards Bangalore. So I just booked my trip to India – flying in to Bombay on Jun 3 & returning on Jun 18. Plan to cover Bangalore & Delhi as well. Would love to hook up when I’m there.

— end of email thread —

In my blog post chronology so far, a few posts are still incomplete (and hence unpublished). One of them is the “Bangalore Calling” post where I make the case for Bangalore. (Still intend to finish that post but might take a few more weeks). Anyway, I spent 6 days in Bangalore during my 2-week trip and I didn’t feel a single asthma symptom. This was baffling and miraculous. In all my previous three trips to Bangalore, I had asthma trouble so what was different this time? I tried to contain my excitement. Maybe it was the allergy medication which I was taking regularly that acted as a shield. Did it? I have no idea.

What this asthma-free Bangalore trip did to me (& Poonam) was that it removed the we-cannot-move-to-Bangalore straightjacket. We still had a healthy apprehension about how this factor would affect the kids and me. The net score in Bangalore’s favor definitely tipped things over for us. I’m completing this post on day#13 and, so far, (touch wood!) I have not felt any symptoms. The traffic is as bad as it was touted to be but ‘maybe’ the pollen counts have come down. Only time will tell.

Where in India are we moving to?

Pic: courtesy cwc.nic.in

So we are moving to India but to which city? For better or worse, the list of candidate cities is fairly small.
Before we get into discussing the merits and demerits of each city, let me outline the key V+P criteria (V=Vishy, P=Poonam) in evaluating the candidate Indian cities. In no particular order, here are the criteria:

  • Career prospects
    • Is the city a one-trick pony? or is there a critical mass of hitech and biotech companies? (Biotech because Poonam’s background & experience is in biosciences/neuroscience)
  • Livability
    • Some blend of city infrastructure, traffic, pollution, pollen, schools, non-outrageous housing
  • Character of city
    • City of Djins? Cosmopolitan? old-world or new-world city?
  • Proximity to other cool places
  • Primary spoken language
    • Poonam is Punjabi by lineage but Bombayite by birth and upbringing. I am Andhaite by lineage but have honorary Bihari/Jharkhandi citizenship since I spent most of my growing years in Bokaro, Ranchi and Jamshedpur. Hindi happens to be the Indian language that both Poonam & I are comfortable speaking. Of course, a high proportion of our conversations at home tends to be in English but we fully expect the Hindi/English ratio to significantly increase after we move to India.
  • Quantity of friends already living in city

Now that we’ve squared away the city evaluation criteria, let’s dive into our short list of cities…

New Delhi/NCR

National Capital Region (NCR) encompasses the entire Delhi metropolitan area as well as the neighboring satellite towns of Faridabad and Gurgaon (in Haryana) and NOIDA & Ghaziabad (in Uttar Pradesh). The V+P definition of NCR includes Gurgaon and NOIDA but excludes Faridabad and Ghaziabad.

  • (PLUSes)
    • Relatively speaking, Delhi has the best infrastructure among all the Indian cities.
    • Delhi has a rich and old history worthy of exploration.
    • Reasonably strong hitech action in New Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon.
    • Gurgaon is arguably India’s fastest growing city & most modern city (at least until Nanocity goes live
    • Close to Himalayas and several exciting destinations in Uttaranchal
    • Tons of friends from Bokaro and BIT Mesra days
    • Housing still affordable (esp. compared to Bombay & Bangalore)
    • Excellent food & dining options
    • Hindi is defacto language
  • (MINUSes)
    • Infested with politicians (and all the associated baggage)
    • Delhi-wallah syndrome
    • Punishing summer heat
    • Severe winter for most (not for us since we braved Chicago for 4+ years)

Mumbai/Bombay

  • (PLUSes)
    • Probability of bumping into Preity Zinta or Rani Mukherji high (compared to any other Indian city)
    • Arguably India’s most cosmopolitan city. Entertainment & financial capital of India.
    • City has great & unique character. Energy is palpable all around.
    • Excellent food & dining options.
    • Sizable number of friends from Bokaro days, BIT MESRA days, and Timpany School, Vizag days.
    • Hindi is defacto language
  • (MINUSes)
    • Monsoon season and Bombay don’t play well together
    • Housing almost unaffordable
    • City’s infrastructure roadmap unclear
    • Commute times potentially very high

Bangalore

  • (PLUSes)
    • Silicon Valley of India. Reputed to be cosmopolitan. Hotbed of innovation.
    • Even before hitech hit feverish pitch, Bangalore had a strong tradition of science & engineering institutions.
    • Humongous number of friends from Bokaro days, BIT MESRA days, Jamshedpur days, and Timpany School, Vizag days
  • (MINUSes)
    • Traffic has become horrendous.
    • Double P whammy (Pollution + Pollen). Tough to ignore pollen since it triggers asthma. More on this topic at: Asthma, Bangalore & me
    • Housing costs approaching American and Bombay levels?
    • Need to learn Kannada?