Sunday, May 23, 2021

Five years as a Red Hatter- the best job of my life!

 As I reflect upon and contemplate over my time spent here, I deemed it apt to share. This is my attempt at summarizing the top five experiences I've had and learnt from in these glorious and eventful years. I sincerely wish these resonate as much with you as they do with me. I also hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

1st April marked five fabulous and fantastic years since the day the honour of being called a Red Hatter was bestowed upon me. This gig is BY FAR, the best job of my life, period. It's my true north.  I've learnt and forgotten (:D!) more in these five years than in the rest of my career combined, and I'm grateful to be able to learn, add value and grow with and within Red hat.  

My Red Hat journey in a nutshell

I had read The Open Organization book by Jim Whitehurst, and to this day remark at how accurate and authentic the depiction of Red Hat as an organization and as a culture is in it; Jim, I doff my hat to you! 

When Red Hat came a callin', I was greatly interested in having a discussion with them about my career prospects at a small but beautiful town in the Czech Republic that I've now come to love; Brno! I'll admit the interview process was lengthy, tough and draining. Eventually, the Documentation Program Manager role was offered to me, and I jumped at it because the role and the prospect of working with the largest open source organization in the world had me excited. 

Since working as a DPM  for Business Automation Suite of products (they were called BxMS in those days), I've held multiple roles (Associate Manager, Business Lead, BLC member- Brno Leadership Council) and have worked in multiple products  (BXMS, Satellite, RHOAR, 3scale, RHEL, etc.). So in essence, I'm the poster child for showcasing how internal mobility well and truly works at Red Hat! If I had an iota of doubt about if Red Hat was the organization for me, it was laid to rest in the New Hire Orientation at Munich. To me, life at Red Hat was a breath of fresh air. 

Five things you need to know about Red Hat

  1. You truly lead your own career.

  2. Open Decision Framework (ODF) works. But it's often misunderstood.

  3. People Management is a whole different ball game.

  4. Situational leadership is the best foot forward.

  5. This culture bit is a big deal. And a lot more important than I had thought. 

1. You truly lead your own career.

I remember rolling my eyes - and seeing my teammates roll their eyes - at this statement. The reaction to this statement at times is, no not really. It's up to the manager, or maybe it's partly on me, but no, I don't lead my career. For me, I've realised that might have been because of the privilege of working at Red Hat. We have fantastic people managers who do so much for us, that we often forget that of course, my manager has a part to play in my career progression, but I can truly lead it, and if I do, I will progress.  The performance and development discussions, the competency deep dives, or any discussions centered around progress are really taken seriously here. While they can be  draining (or energising) and time consuming for both the associate and the manager, they've helped me tremendously and continue to do so.  

My thoughts as a manager

I've said it to my teammates on many occasions, my job as your manager isn't to make you happy or keep you happy; I'll fail at that. I believe my job is to ensure your well-being and facilitate your growth. My job is to provide you with opportunities for growth and stretching yourself and hold you accountable - as you hold me accountable to hold my end of the bargain - to what we agreed on. Now, not everyone is seeking a quick promotion, and not everyone is greatly interested in getting a pay hike. The growth bit may differ from person to person, and that's okay. The point is, you lead my growth story here. And growth doesn't make you or anyone else happy all the time, au contraire, it might just put you out of my comfort zone. But hey, in my view, that's how growth happens; one has to push oneself and have your manager keep you honest. 

My thoughts as an associate

Whenever I found things I am interested in over and above my current scope of work - doing a good job at your current role would be an important prerequisite to add here, unless I was not a good fit for that role - I've approached my manager/ mentor and have discussed things through. As my manager once told me, with some folks, there is only so much feedback that you can provide at that point of their careers and role (given they've become extremely proficient at it). What my manager focuses on is aligning our discussions,  my passions and interests to opportunities that can be presented to me. I've observed that as my work scope increases, not only does it provide me with more opportunities to learn (that's a polite way to say, I make mistakes and learn from them as it enables my manager to provide me with feedback), it bolsters my confidence. That's worked for me.  My own internal mobility success stories (four in total) are a testament to that assertion.

2. ODF works. But it's often misunderstood.

Wow, really? They're asking a large set of folks about what they think about a certain thing? How will they decide? Is it a vote, and the most upvoted idea wins? I was intrigued when I first heard of the concept of Open Decision Framework. I'd never come across anything like it in my career. I also had aspersions on how it would work, how efficiently it would work, or if it would work at all! I was so naive and new back then.

My personal experience with ODF

Despite having some inhibitions, I decided to take a leap of faith and employ ODF from the get go. As I was learning the ropes of program management in BXMSDocs, I realised that we would do well to jot down weekly status meeting notes. I presented the proposal to do so to my teammates, and detailed the pros and cons of it to them. While there were no objections to the idea of taking notes itself, there was a lively discussion within our team about the format and storage mechanism to use. Multiple options were brought forth; Mojo (Remember that thing?), Etherpad, Google Docs, Confluence Wiki, JIRA, Gitlab Merge Requests were all discussed. At one point, I remember taking a mental note of the time spent on discussing this matter - 37 minutes.

But I saw how animated, passionate and opinionated my teammates were (some were interns, mind you), and how opening this up for discussion led to understanding each others' needs, constraints and thought processes. Not only did this conversation make me respect my colleagues more, the foundation of mutual trust was formed.

I can't recall why we concluded that Mojo was our best bet for then. Was it the most ideal? No. Was it everyone's first choice? Heck no! Was it the best idea though and would it best serve the purpose? Yes! And you know what? That idea had come from an intern who's now a super Agile practitioner at Red Hat!  I learned how important and powerful this was, and pledged to employ it wherever feasible, and in all walks of my life. It has helped me build connections, mutual respect and rapport with my colleagues, family and friends.

There have also been times where post employing ODF, the burden of the final decision making has fallen on me because as in life, sometimes, there is no singular best idea but a few great ones. Someone has to decide, the team cannot be stuck in analysis paralysis, and even if it's not the most popular decision, most of my teammates have been open to accept it.

Having said that, I've had to remind folks - and myself too - about this not being a democracy but an inclusive meritocracy every now and then. One can only decide what's best by taking into consideration the factors and data points at that particular point in time. It's never a perpetual diktat and can and might need to be revisited later, and that's okay!

What ODF isn't 

  • In my view, ODF is at times grossly misunderstood, or misconstrued (without any malice, mind you) by many of us. We get swept in the wave of our own struggle to accept the decision and forget about the extremely important "assume positive intent" request.

  • If the decision that was finalised wasn't to your liking, or what you had chosen, it does not mean ODF was not followed. 

  • The burden of researching and finding out more about a decision - typically after a lot of time has elapsed since ODF was employed and the decision made - is on you, and not on the people who were involved in that decision making process. 

  • A decision that affects 17,000 fellow Red Hatters can't be revisited just because you feel so. Many intelligent and diligent colleagues who share the same Red Hat values have worked to proceed with those decisions; anything over polite dissent would be unreasonable and frankly, a tad disrespectful towards our fellow Red Hatters.

3. People Management at Red Hat is a whole different ball game

Having been in management outside and inside of Red Hat for a good 11 years - and counting - now, I can say with a lot of conviction that people management at Red Hat is… different. 

Management isn't easy

People management in itself is not for everyone; that’s no secret. I’ve had my share of challenges with it but I'd have loved to start my career as a people manager at Red Hat, and to a large extent, I did. There is so much great material available for folks considering management, to new managers, along with mentorship opportunities. 

My experience as a Red Hat People Manager

Look, let's be honest. It is imperative that I keep my team engaged, challenge them, provide them with opportunities and ensure their career is progressing, and this is not just from an ethical people manager's handbook; it also makes business sense. We hire, train and work with some of the sharpest minds in open source, and retaining those sharp minds is a priority.

However, the way Red Hat does this, is unique. Even as a manager, I don't have a lot of authority over my teammates. I cannot dictate what they will do, and micro managing managers are a rarity here as it just won't work; I've never met one in my career at Red Hat. The impetus is on influencing without authority, the onus is on me to showcase my abilities to my team so that they are confident in knowing I understand the job they do, I've been in their shoes, I can see their challenges, and that I have their back.

My primary job is to endeavour to keep my teammates engaged and communicate context to them about any broad discussions that are happening from a strategic perspective, and then clearly articulate what my expectations - usually in the form of requests - are from them. If I try telling them how to do something, it seldom works and I've had to check myself at times. I focus on the why and what; the how is on them. I've observed that by providing context, empowering my team, giving them space to falter, provide specific feedback and coaching, and ensuring they know they have my unequivocal support brings out the best in them. And of course, the same applies to my management chain up top. This does not change from first-line management to senior management and above. 

OMP ftw!

People management based on Open Management Practices has been a humbling, gratifying and enlightening experience. It has not only made me a more open manager, but I'm certain it has made me a better person. And quite frankly, I've seen my managers and the leadership in general exhibit the same OMP best practices.

The amount of time, energy and passion I see in my managers, and how they genuinely care for my career and are open to having lengthy discussions with me, work and partner with me to get where I want to, I've seldom seen elsewhere. 

4. Situational leadership is the best foot forward

I had read about situational leadership, but had very few examples of it being executed in the right spirit in my experiences away from Red Hat. Not only did it sound like an ideal to strive for, it also sounded like a pipe dream. Well, then Red Hat happened! 

Erm, situational wut?

Situational leadership is based on the premise that it's not just the managers that are leaders. Leadership isn't just a manager's prerogative; based on the situation, the requirements and expertise/ experience available, the most suitable person to lead a particular endeavour should be given the opportunity. If that happens to be an individual contributor or manager is of little consequence.

To lead - in my humble opinion - is at times to go to uncharted terrain and  make sense of it. At times, what's required is a vision, conviction and a healthy dose of optimism (and of course, if the situation demands, scepticism). However, there are times when you need experience, knowledge, and a set of skills best suited to get the job done. And it's not always what a leader or manager from their very narrow definitions might possess. And that's where Red Hat shines.

We are fantastic at identifying who the best person for a job is, and then get out of their way to let them go do their thing. Of course, we have check-ins, status calls and what have you, but the situational leader has the autonomy to proceed, the liberty to escalate and the support from their teammates that helps them deliver. I've learnt how to be a situational leader and how to identify folks for situational leadership from Red Hatters. 

I don't have all the answers; no one does. And that's okay.

There are many instances in the life of a manager or a leader, where they are uncertain, or they don't know, or they know as much as the other person. It can be a daunting realization, but at Red Hat, I've always found it easy to say I don't know. For sure, I've offered to find out if I can, or we find out together, or I point my teammates to folks I believe would know.

And if this involves a task worth doing, whoever is best suited based on experience, interest, enthusiasm, bandwidth, etc. is empowered to get the answers, or get the job done. It's truly wonderful to see this in action!

Inclusive leadership is tough, but totally worth it!

Being open, transparent and inclusive are the traits of any leader at Red Hat, and this is our secret sauce right here. Whoever is leading anything makes it a point to think about all parties that would be affected or need to be influenced based on the requirement, and ensures there are discussions and deliberations with that set of stakeholders. Hey, we're human too, and we might forget to include someone every now and then, but the intent is always to include and listen actively.

Active listening has been a revelation for me. Listening to understand, and not to respond was something I made a resolution of doing. And boy did that really assist me in broadening my perspective, and in turn, make me more inclusive, knowledgeable and open to differing viewpoints. 

5. This culture bit is a big deal. And a lot more important than I had thought.

I had read about and heard from folks about the unique culture at Red Hat, but didn't realise how telling, impactful and how huge a key differentiator it was until I experienced it myself. Through the informal email list called memo-list and through my discussions with my colleagues, within a month of starting at Red Hat, it was all too clear that while many organizations tout this culture thing of theirs, Red Hatters were the embodiment of theirs. Through their thoughts and their actions, I've seen our colleagues showcase the true Red Hat values of Freedom, Courage, Accountability and Commitment being the cornerstone of this culture. 

Now, many organizations have equally superlative terms they use to describe their culture but it's one thing to document it and a whole other thing to live it. To hold each other accountable for it, to ensure it flows through and into new Red Hatters, to seek culture fit but also culture add when hiring future Red Hatters (since part of our culture is to be diverse and inclusive). To call out if some of us momentarily forget what we stand for, regardless of what office one holds, and to be equally quick to forgive and assume positive intent and see the best in others.

For me, there is an inherent common DNA of a Red Hatter that perhaps drew me towards Red Hat. We are a bunch or scary smart, passionate about open source, highly opinionated, collaborative folks who truly believe that open unlocks the world's potential, and who aspire to be community first in all our dealings. This is what attracts the right sort of folks to Red Hat, and this is also what keeps them here. We've realised in these testing times during the pandemic where the uncertainty that's grating on our nerves, coupled by long periods of having to work in isolation have brought out the un-ideal in people. I'm also certain that if anyone can act quickly, efficiently and thoroughly to rid us of some issues related to diversity and inclusion, Red Hat is best poised to do so. I truly do. 

Not all things at Red Hat are lovely and wonderful, no. What is remarkable is that we are great at finding out what we suck at, and address it, as a group.  On many occasions, I feel we still have a startup, we're in a skunk-works mentality and with it comes the associated pros and cons. We aren't perfect, we know it, we acknowledge it, we call it out, and we work on it. But I digress; I'd rather focus on the things I learnt at Red Hat, found remarkable and those that had a far-reaching impact in my life beyond Red Hat (ain't got a shadowman tattoo for nothin'!). 

Well, that's about it. I'd love to hear more from you about what you've learnt from your time at Red Hat, and aspire to continue learning from it. I'd like to thank all my colleagues that I've learnt from and continue to do so each day; there are far too many to list here. I'm just grateful to have been given the opportunity to work at such a wonderful place with such a wonderful bunch of folks that I've come to admire, adore and befriend in these five years.

As my wife puts it, I'd do well to retire at Red Hat after many many years. Live long and prosper!    

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Red Hatter Writes-Book key takeaway-Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less

I work at, live and breathe Red Hat, it is the best job of my life. Reading, learning and sharing are my passions. 

I'm currently on a reading (well, listening) spree as I catch-up on my must read/ listen to books during those long walks in the woods I'm indulging in. I had the chance to listen to the audio book: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. I have to admit, the book title had me intrigued as it brought forth memories of eating frog legs; an activity I am unsure if I'll ever partake in again. 

The book in itself is a lot of what we already know. However, it served as an apt reminder to me that knowing and doing are two different things. Here is my key takeaway from the book:

  • USE lists, in whichever form you prefer (paper, trello, papyrus). 
  • ABCDE ftw! Wut? Prioritise tasks using the ABCDE method-
    • A- Highest priority, highest impact tasks, must do
    • B- Medium priority, medium impact, should do
    • C- Medium priority, low impact, nice to do
    • D- Tasks you can delegate. But whichever you do delegate, please ensure their impact and priority is clear to the delegatee, so that they can ABCDE the task for themselves.
    • E- Low priority, low impact, can be removed from the list
  • The Six P formula- As an unabashed alliterations aficionado (see what I did there?), this brought about a chuckle.  Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance
  • If confused on how to prioritise as EVERYTHING seems a high priority, imagine you just learned you’re going on a surprise vacation tomorrow. What would you have to do before leaving? Those are the tasks you should take care of right away. If need be, seek your managers help with this. I do it often with my manager. 

And you know what? We're human. It's okay to acknowledge that every once in a while. The goal isn't to become the most productive person in the universe, this and parallel ones. The idea is to be more productive than yesterday, one step at a time :). 

Live long and prosper!

Red hatter writes: Book key takeaway-The upskilling initiative

I work at, live and breathe Red Hat, it is the best job of my life. Reading, learning and sharing are my passions. On my current PTO, I had the chance to listen to the audio book: The Upskilling Imperative: 5 Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work by Shelley Osborne.

It talks about how in today's day and age, especially in IT, one needs to upskill themselves every five years to not become obsolete. At the pace at which tech is moving, employees prefer organizations that provide upskilling opportunities and have a robust system around it. This book talks about understanding the value of this initiative and creating one. Red hat in my view already excels in this area. One key takeaway from the book for me was to ascribe the deal hour acronym; the drop everything and learn hour. I personally aspire to do this each day and have often found myself learning or researching and absorbing new and complex information for hours. Encouraging this structured behavior and socializing it's benefits would be a fitting complement to the day of learning sessions we have quarterly. Continuous learning is a habit and like most needs to be cultivated.

Does it mean we whimsically decide not to attend a meeting or finish a task and start learning all about kubernetes? Of course, no. It's about looking at your calendar, and planning to block an hour a day to learn. I find having it as a part of my calendar--on most occasions--ensures I do find the time and inclination to learn each day.
Live long, and prosper!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How I found my fourth gear

For a multitude of reasons, I have been living life in the fast lane for the past couple of years. Golly, I’d have to say from the time my mum met her maker, about 18 odd years back. It began with necessity, which turned into habit, which in turn, culminated into an obsession.

An obsession to keep improving, learning, growing; physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, academically, financially, in all possible spheres a human life encounters. A drive to be a better representation of my innermost and truest self, a reflection of the values my parents had imbibed in me, and those that I hold dear to this very day, those principles that continue to shape my very being.

The obsession—as I mentioned—was not completely unfounded. During trying times—someone who has lost a dear one would concord with the remark that there isn’t a more disagreeable period-- when we as a family were facing emotional and financial upheaval, failure was not an option. Success wasn’t a savory victory; success was the very means of survival.

I had to grind. I had to work, study, cook, be entrepreneurial, fend, absorb, deflect, defend, become independent (fiercely at that), evolve. I did all those things with academic rigor and verve to consummate a simplistic, perhaps naive, yet singular goal; become a person and do deeds my late mother would be proud of.

I’m suspicious if all my deeds since then must have made my mother proud; au contraire, I am near certain some would have had her veritable and thorough disapproval. But therein lay my naivety. It took a while for the realization to dawn upon me that I was not my mother, and I would do ill to live by her and her principles alone. I needed to form my own opinions (something she was an ardent believer of), adhere to my own set of rules, and in doing so become a person she would well and truly be proud of.

But, as is the story of my life, I digress. And howsoever diametrically opposing a notion yet equally true, as is the saga of my life, I jump right back on track. Long story short, I was studying hard, working harder, and when I now look back (mildly to my chagrin), partying harder still. However, being duty-bound was something I was focusing hardest on.

Late nights, early mornings, being a night owl, and being the early bird that catches the worm, all stood true to my mention. For a good man, what is life but a constant quest for self improvement became my mantra. A smidgen worth of improvement brought about objectivity, empathy, and perhaps a rise in emotional intelligence. It provided perspective, and abundant than before moments of clarity. My idols were no longer just the academics, the thinkers, but also those of the celluloid persuasion, but of a different kind. I began idolising Spock, the Vulcans, and yearned to become a better student of detachment. All this led to-- and this is my extremely pragmatic, if not humble opinion-- commensurate prosperity, be it in stature, economic standing or confidence in self. Friends, humans and inhabitants of universes, this was I well and truly ensconced at fifth gear.

On many an occasion, by many a well wisher, I was cautioned, chastised, cajoled, coaxed and counseled to slow down, to take it easy, to, erm, find my third, and if not third, at the very least my fourth gear. But with obsession comes stubbornness, and perhaps a massive ego. YOLO was my slogan, and by jiminy, I was completely happy to live by it and kick the bucket with no regrets whenever that happened. My family was well secure financially in my living or upon my demise. And I had always done what I could, when I could, for whomsoever I could, with what I had, from where I was. I had led a full life, walking the fine tight rope between living up to my mum’s ideals and respectfully moulding my own with elan. I was extremely satisfied with my fifth gear.

All I’ve ever sought from life or the various supposed forces commandeering it, or if ever a prayer has escaped my lips in recent memory, it has been to ensure that I am always stepping out of my comfort zone in order to continually grow. Little did I know that a curve ball the size and complexity of a Canis Majoris fibonacci sequence was headed my way.

I came a visiting my motherland and mother town to get some paperwork done for my father with the additional ulterior motives of spending some time with family and friends, and devouring the delicacies that usually surround such private gatherings. It was at this opportune time that my town decided to welcome the largest water-logging in its history due to what could only be aptly described as a deluge with a mean streak, a rainstorm befitting satan him (her?)self, the nuclear variety of a party pooper.

Almost everything on terra firma was under four feet of h20 mixed with what I’d politely wish to describe as leptospirosis juice. We were very quickly bereft of the luxuries of modernity we’re so accustomed to; electricity, access to internet, and the prospect of ignoring one another whilst peering at some electronic screen or another. As our family—the ones nearby-- congregated at my house to stay together in such testing times, we began to feel the pinch of the want of said luxuries; we were forced to talk to each other to bide time, distract oneself from the current and impending misery, and maintain a semblance of sanity about us.
What started off as a pinch for all became the gnawing recognition of digital addiction for some, a saviour for others. Contrary to—I can bet my last un-wet dollar on it-- popular belief, I fell among the latter category of peoples. It was a refreshing change of pace for me, my brain had no business going a mile a minute, it did not warrant multiple and prodigious context switching, there were no meetings to attend, no tech to be tinkered with. I was left to my own devices to arrange for some fodder to satiate my mental faculties. I could have slinked into a corner and curled up with a book; it had been a while since I had laboured on, straining my eyes under candle light to make sense of the portrait Alexandre Dumas was painting. I could have gotten busy being the duty-bound stereotype I had created around myself; something which in fact upon a good mull was my comfort zone, I realised. I did a little of the latter, yes, but chose to do something else. Nothing radical, mind you. I chose to spend time not only playing games but having a dialogue with my family. An uninterrupted one, with my undivided attention.

If one is even a less than average astute observer, living in close quarters with intelligent, articulate, feisty people in a stone ages sort of environment provides with great learning opportunities. For almost three days, we talked, laughed, got concerned, snapped, got snarky, got overprotective, felt humbled, created fond memories, experienced gratitude, encountered despair, were exposed to unbridled joy, a very sound discernment of our bowel movements, a sense of wonderment, and for me personally, a stark awareness of im-perpetuity and impermanence.
This too, shall pass. Someone with an overabundance of wisdom had formed this quote. In my head, I imagined this person as someone whose intellect was was well beyond their years, someone far, far superior to even Nemoy.
I was content and I welcomed passing through life at the highest of gears my body afforded me, nay, at times, even when it ill afforded me. But if there was even a sliver of a chance that I was missing the moments I experienced because of the cloudburst, was it what I wanted? Was it what I needed? And was it something that someone even as vulcan like as I, would some day regret? Probably not. Or maybe yes. I was, after a long time, apprehensive. Not uncertain, it was not just that. I had suddenly, and very clearly, entertained the idea of self doubt. Did I wish or need to lead my life this way? I did not know. My sprain (spock like brain, copyright on term pending) alluded that I could always switch gears up if I wished or needed to, but I had near forgotten how to switch gears downwards.
I do not wish or need to slow down; I SHOULD. I should switch to my fourth gear. And I should do it now. The unfortunate rainstorm facilitated it, my times spent joking and learning from my family facilitated it, my forced abstinence from self improvement and employment facilitated it. Everyone, one and all, I had well and truly found my fourth gear..

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Pinch to remember

T'was the day before Christmas. Packed like Sardines, I was heading to my nutrition class at Dadar, Mumbai, in the famous Western Local Train. The lifeline of Mumbaikars, yes. I remember wondering about how to strike a personal conversation with my heavily cute and heavily pregnant instructor about her marriage as marriage was on my mind too, and she was a Marwadi wed into a non marwadi family.

My chain of thought was jolted as soon as we reached Dadar, and I was pushed out of the train. One of the perks of travelling by train is that you seldom need to expend energy in alighting, unless you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The narrow foot over bridge entrance was swamped with passengers wanting to get the hell out of the Train station, and except for a lady carrying fish in her basket- she was allowed ample free space to walk, because of the fish and all- all the rest were clinging to each other, so to speak.

In instances like these, where you walk a centimetre a minute, jostling against the crowd, strategizing at times to find the best route out, giving up and just following the flow, there is usually someone who starts encouraging the rest by shouting "chalo, chalo”! Not that it helps speed up the procession though, but you find someone like this more often than not, this time, the encourager was, in my estimation, an old woman who was shouting behind my back, and she seemed in a hurry.

Mumbaikars usually mind their own business, and so did I. I didn’t turn around to look at who she was, despite of her enthusiastic shouting. She must have been in a hurry, I surmised.

When my thoughts were again being drawn to the Maadu Instructor- did I mention she was heavily cute?- about midway onto the stairs of the bridge, the encourager started getting creative with her language. I had never heard such colourful language, such abuses, and such panache in giving them, at least not from someone who I thought was an old timer.
She wanted me to rally along with her too, and started pushing and prodding me, asking me to do the same to the fella ahead of me. His eyes met mine, the fella’s, and we both smirked at the lady’s language and insistence, and as is the case in Mumbai, went back to what we were doing; ignoring her.

It is then that….it happened. I felt a sudden pinch on my buttock. It wasn’t one meant to hurt, it was a naughty pinch, executed by someone who knew the mechanics of a good pinch. It was deliberate, unmistakably so. And mildly embarrassing. I immediately seethed in anger and turned around envisioning the smackdown that I was about to lay on the poor man. Yes, in my fit of rage, I thought it’d be a man, perhaps a homosexual who was taking advantage of the crowd.

I have nothing against homosexuals, more power to them. But since I am not one, I take offense to being pinched in public by one.

My raging fit melted, and confusion set in when my mind recognised the Pincher, and acknowledged  and appreciated the situation I was currently in.

I had been pinched on my buttock, playfully, mind you, by an elderly woman who wasn’t the least bit apologetic about it; au contraire, she was beaming her smile, with most front teeth missing.

In those moments, we reached the bridge, and I was too confused to do or say anything. “Bheed mein aisahi hota hai uncle”! This is what she said to me, nodded her head naughtily-forever beaming- and disappeared.

I felt.. Violated. An old woman had pinched me in broad daylight, and I was completely unequipped to handle the situation. I could see this wasn’t her first tango, going by the mastery of the pinch, and the absolute nonchalance with which it was delivered.

 Half laughing, half embarrassed, I trudged along the bridge towards my classes, feeling sad for the women who have to endure such bullshit each day. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's a bugs life

Whilst the Syrian refugees had faced and were continually facing conflict, I was facing an immeasurably smaller yet significant one myself with a wasp. Yes, a three inch insect had taken great affinity towards my room, and more importantly, my body.

I am not too fond of insects. I have nothing against them, but, let's be honest, they outpopulate us by a mile; there are about 10 quintillion ( don't know how much is quintillion? Neither did I) of them creepy crawlies on earth, and for me that in itself is unnerving. What if someday, a bug attains a higher level of intelligence? 

Insects are resilient, disciplined, combative, and extremely well coordinated. Take ants for instance. Impressive little suckers, aren't they? Now imagine them being controlled by a highly intelligent bug who is aware of the human population hell bent on eradicating and taking over "their" land, so to speak.  

For almost a week, we were up in arms, the wasp and I. The moment I opened my window, it would enter, and after hovering around the room as if searching for a budget apartment in Mumbai, it would then enthusiastically attempt giving me a wasp hug. At first, I thought it was threatened by me, so I left the room. It lost interest and went out of the window. Back I came in, back came in the wasp! It was almost like it had developed a crush on me. I didn't want to kill the critter by swatting it away, but was not too enthused by the idea of it clinging to me lest it sting- like my wife's words- me. 

I attempted to brush it away extremely politely, something which it took offence to. The buzzing became louder and angrier and I swear that, amongst the buzzes, I almost heard a "Challenge accepted" jibe. Still not wanting to harm it when it was obvious it didn't reciprocate my feelings, I hurriedly left the room again so as to allow the wasp some time to cool down!

This went on almost for a week. It used to wait outside the window-hidden somewhere- and the moment I opened the window ever so briefly for much needed ventilation, it would saunter in for a joust with me. I came close to swatting the shit out of it about twice, but somehow the spider that too had made itself home at the corner of a wall reminded me that with great power came great responsibility.

I then contemplated letting the bugger sit on my forearm or something, and if that is what it wanted, bloody hell, let it sting me. It would, erm, sting, yes, but hopefully that would give it some closure. However, the realization dawned upon me that most insects that can sting use it as their ultimate defense mechanisms, and are liable to die after it. Mr Google helped me allay those apprehensions; wasps could sting more than once. And the stings were extremely painful. 

I have to admit it was uncomfortable sleeping with the window closed, but I persisted for the lack of a better solution. It was so uncomfortable one day that I took my first world problem to someone who had seen death, misery, and had grown up in a warring state, but had still managed to hold on to her innocence and was wise beyond her years.

Reciting to her the whole story, and not expecting a lot of inputs, I jokingly asked her what she would do. "I'd change my room, she said. Maybe you are intruding into its space, its house and it doesn't like that". And here I was, thinking all the time and complaining how the wasp was intruding into mine. By her answer, I was stung. And it was more painful than any wasp sting could have ever been.

 This led me to ask myself some poignant questions. Who were here first, them or us? Who was encroaching whose land? And technically, who were the actual pests? Are there any other species in the world that invade, encroach, destroy as ruthlessly and selfishly as us humans? 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The last I saw of her- Part 1

I’ll be honest Chacha, she is living on borrowed time. You can go in for another endoxan therapy, but in my professional opinion, it will but prolong her misery.
When a friend, a Doctor, says that to your father while you’re cowering at the edge of the room, half praying, half hoping for some good news, all you feel is anger. Since the Doctor is your dad’s friend for the past 25 years, someone who respects him and calls him Chacha, I couldn’t even lash back at him.
Deep in your heart, I wanted her misery to end. Every son would. To see his mum suffer, cough blood, go through epileptic fits, to have seen her undergo dialysis and 60 days of hospitalization in the ICU, every son would.
To see his father crumble, both mentally and financially, to never be the same man again, isn’t something I would wish on anyone. But that is what happened, and perhaps, that is what made me the person I am. That is what gave me the resolve to face that dreaded night, and that is what gave me the strength to see my mother die in my arms.
Please come to the hospital immediately, was what the kind Nurse whose name escapes me now, said over the phone. I remember spending 20 days at the ICU waiting room, and other many days at other hospitals, but I cannot remember why, on that day, we were all home.
I remember Dad asking me to go, as all of us knew what was to transpire, and perhaps he couldn’t muster the courage to face it. I wouldn’t blame or hold it against him. Heck, I don’t think I was ready, no child ever can be. I didn’t have it in me; I was forced by circumstance to bring it out of me.
I’ve never been particularly scared of the dark. As a kid, yes, but as a 17 year old, I had loved the embrace of the dark. Dark was fun. This fateful night, however, at about 2 am, in the dead of the night, a sudden fear encompassed me. I couldn’t find public transport of any sort at this ungodly hour, and the half jog, half brisk walking trek to the hospital was mired in howling dogs.
Mis-assuming their nocturnal shenanigans for that night, I had armed myself with stones and a grim resolve to counter just that. I was taken aback by their howling, at how they maintained an almost deferential distance from me.
Not barking dogs. Not snarling dogs. Not overtly aggressive dogs. Howling dogs; the creatures of the night, the rulers of darkness, who come into their own as the sun falls, snarling, running after and barking, almost chiding those who dare to cross their path at that time, were eerily inept at their routine.
They were howling, and were exhibiting behaviour completely opposite of their usual intrepid self for that hour. It was as if they sensed para-normality. It was as if I was carrying with me, the harbinger of death, the Grim Reaper, or Yama itself. I can well remember the chill down my spine, and how I sprinted towards the hospital, for the fear of what was to happen to mother was little as compared to the unknown fear of the dark I felt at that moment.  
As I darted towards the street light ridden roads that befell my journey, I recalled how Mum had half-jokingly mentioned how she couldn’t sleep when we fell ill. Those days, I didn’t know what an Espresso or a Red Bull was, and despite any stimulants, sleep had evaded me, evaded us all, for the better part of the past two days. Neither had I slept a wink that night, nor was I to sleep again, for about 36 hours more.
Uncle didn’t come? These were the first words out of the worried nurse’s mouth. She genuinely cared for mum; Mum had that uncanny knack of genuinely caring for people regardless of her own state, and that drew people to her, which drew similar feelings for Mum. She was always everyone’s favourite. Favourite cousin, daughter, daughter in law, Chachi, Mami, what have you. She was the kinda lady that prepared bhindi in 3 different ways for the three of us at home, and took pride and contentment in it.
She knew of everyone’s preferences, everyone’s affairs, and everyone’s sob stories. Every guests comfort was paramount, every secret safe. I’d be lying if I said I’ve found another homemaker who was better at it, than her. It was her choice, to be the home bird, as she gleefully used to declare. Dad had encouraged her to pick up some vocation if she so pleased, her interest lied not in entrepreneurship, nor in someone’s employ.
She wanted to do her best to support, encourage and raise us three, my dad, my brother and I. Being the only gal around, she was pampered and loved, but she gave about tenfold of that love and pampering back, and then some.
I’ve served her well in these months, I told myself, and by God if this is the last time I get the opportunity to do so, I’ll do my best. How many people, after all, get the genuine opportunity to serve their parents? Learning to inject her with insulin and intra muscular injections, braid her hair, give her a sponge bath, take her for a walk within the house as some days, that is all she could muster, feed her, coax her into having the bland ass food, entertain her, quieten her down post her fits, drop everything, academia, friends, and ignore inquiries about why I had done so from seemingly concerned from a distance relatives, all that seemed to be inconsequential to the barrage of “duties”, and to the sacrifice that only a mother is capable of.
I had, surprisingly, no trepidation while entering her room, although I remember the wrench in my heart when I observed her struggling for air. She hadn’t given up, for the sake of her kids, and her husband. She knew how dependant they all were on her, and how, without her, our life would shatter.
She had the will to survive. Sadly, her body didn’t have the will to do so. As soon as I saw her, I knew it was a matter of time. I can still remember that feeling of helplessness, and I’ve woken up vomiting, crying, shrieking, or breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about that, even years after that day has elapsed, faded somewhere within my subconscious I lie to myself, yet so ruthlessly clear when it comes to the fore.
Did we make the right medical decisions? Why was she so negligent? Why wasn’t dad more careful? Why was I so self-absorbed in my life that I couldn’t take charge as I was doing now, when charge was thrust upon me? Was the current Doctor right? Was there a way? There had to be a way.
Can you give me some water, beta? That broke my chain of thoughts. And those innocuous words slapped home the stark reality. It is what it is. There isn’t any use dwelling in the past. Do what needs to be done now. What followed was what seemed like eternity, a discipline that covered lowering and elevating her bed to ease her breathing or help her sleep, give her some water, let her relieve herself, on and on again. After a while she didn’t even have the strength to tell me what she wanted. She didn’t have to, because like clockwork, I knew what she needed, when she needed it. I guess that is how she must have realised what I wanted as an infant. By giving me her undivided attention, and love.
But there too, I faltered. Not by actions, mind you, but my mind sauntered off, at the crack of dawn, to the discussions, lectures of note that I had participated in with her, sometimes half-heartedly, sometimes just to humour her, sometimes just because I wanted it to end so that I got my pocket money.
I remembered how she had once told me that my child, you may never be a rich man, people may or may not find you handsome, although I will always feel so. You may never be a very popular person, or a successful person, a lot of this depends of how hard you apply yourself at the right time, and well, dumb, blind luck. But regardless of whatever you’re facing, and in whichever stage of life you’re in, you can always, always be a good person. A person nice person. Not in the eyes of others, but in yours. Always do what you feel is the right thing to do, given the circumstance and situation. That, my child is always, and will always be in your hand. Let’s discuss this.
I remember being mesmerised by this concept, and arguing about the demerits of this premise with her for a long, long time, and eventually, all was crystal clear. She had taken the pain of explaining it at length to me, she hadn’t disregarded any of my at times imbecilic inquiries and arguments, and she had never ever imposed her opinion or will on me. Heck, she never even attempted to convince me! All she did was give her understanding and opinion, along with her experience, and allowed me to form my own opinion based on my perceptions, experiences and things I could relate it to. I recollect that to be as her finest moment as a mother, conception, nurturing me from infancy and tending to me when sick, these apart.