hercules and the sirens by giovanino d3h0t9z

The Sirens trying to tempt Ulysses’ sailors (Pic: courtesy giovanino.deviantart.com)

It’s been a little over four years since I wrote Why are we moving back to India now? I thought of our R2I decision this morning as I read Tim Kreider’s brilliantly insightful and wonderfully written The ‘Busy’ Trap on New York Times.

The following two passages caught my attention.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Kreider is writing about America in the 21st century. Nowhere is this more true than in Silicon Valley. I recalled something my wife said to me (probably in 2007) – “You were more fun in Chicago. You were interested in things other than startups!” Guilty as charged – just take a quick look at my Chicago memories.

Six months after we moved to Silicon Valley, I had quit the ‘big’ company (Navteq) and joined a hot mobile startup – Online Anywhere. (Yeah – mobile was hot even back in 1999 though we thought the inflection point was just a few years away.) After Online Anywhere was acquired by Yahoo, I stayed at the ‘large’ Internet company for almost eight years. It might seem like a long time but Yahoo was an exciting place in those days and it felt like a startup on most days. In 2007, I quit Yahoo to co-found a startup in the video social learning space (Graspr).

So when I quit Graspr, why did I not join (or co-found) yet another Silicon Valley startup?

Just dumb luck I suppose. As I wrote in the Why now post, Poonam’s and my desire to move to India ebbed and flowed like two sine curves with a phase lag. And then came April 2008, when the planets, moons and Saturn’s rings all aligned in such a way that both Poonam and I got simultaneously primed and jazzed about moving to India.

And boy, did we move out of Silicon Valley in style?

So… why did Kreider’s article resonate with me today? I was reminded of the fact that it actually took a certain planetary constellation to make us move. If any of the myriad preceding events hadn’t quite occurred just that way, Newton’s First Law might well have prevailed. Maybe we still would have moved a year or two later but my gut tells me that it would have required a special performance – think Ulysses and the Sirens.

Thus ends my brief flashback to four years ago, in the process, peeling another layer from our R2I story.


If the Internet-induced ADD has prevented you from fully reading Kreider’s article, I’ve pasted my favorite bits below. Have I mentioned that you MUST read it?

She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”

This next bit appeals to the writer trapped inside me:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day.

The next gem reminded me of a quote from A. Parthasarathy’s Vedanta Treatise – “You must practice Vedanta in the din and roar of the marketplace.” [Nailed the theory, failing the practical.]

It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

For those who need a *reason* to be lazy or idle, here’s the checkmate argument:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

And this final extract is not very different from the vision that Khan Academy’s Sal is pursuing for a learning laboratory physical school he’ll be setting up soon:

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites.