On Productivity: Digital Fatigue and Analog Tools

Over the past few years, I have experienced what can best be described as “digital fatigue”. I had (have) a lot of devices around me– laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets. These devices helped me stay productive but also at increasing level of distraction and eye strain. My work and personal calendars started getting populated faster than ever before. I yearned for a simple way to collect my thoughts, to follow them through and to understand, process and execute on all my work and personal goals. About three and a half years ago, I started going back to pen and paper. Around the same time I had just begun experimenting with fountain pens after last using them in my high school. Little did I realize, how well timed that experiment was.

I started small with a $1.50 fountain pen and a notebook from Daiso. At work, the note-taking approach was painful in the beginning since I had to do the double duty of writing, interpreting and then translating the notes to actions on a computer. At that time, I was using a ToDo app that synced across my phone, tablet and laptop, a note taking app (EverNote) and multiple calendars (Outlook for work and Google Calendar for personal stuff). My love for fountain pens and good quality paper was growing faster than my frustration with the double effort and thankfully so.

Within a few months, I had established a routine. A balance between my analog and digital tools – I used pen and paper to keep notes in my meetings. I took a few minutes to review them afterwards and then convert only those that were important into a list of handwritten todos. Appointments and meetings stayed on my digital calendars because of notifications.

As I got into my groove with this routine, I started feeling more in control of what I was listening to and discussing in meetings. I was no longer distracted by the incessant emails dropping in during meetings. Instead I was focused on what was being said and discussed. The writing experience made me think about it before I put pen to paper. If something did not make sense before writing, I was forced to question or follow up to get my doubts clarified.

While I see many engineers carry their Moleskines to meetings, the preference is still to use more of the computer and less of the notebook. I have flipped my workflow completely now- I avoid taking laptops to meetings. For one-on-one’s I try to skip taking my smartphone. This way, the only thing I can and will do in the discussion is to listen, absorb and process.

My eyes feel better. I remember things better. I have ready references to what was discussed months if not years ago on a topic. And most of all, I love the process of writing things down. It feels natural. It just feels right. If you are in the same boat as I was, a few years ago, do consider trying to analog route. There is nothing to lose and much to gain in the process.

My Analog Tools
I initially started off with a single medium size notebook for everything. Soon I realized, I needed to separate my work and personal notes. I settled on a medium size notebook for longer meetings and a smaller pocket notebook for shorter meetings. I dedicated a pocket notebook for all things personal- like writing the outline for this blog post and more. Recently I added a third one purely for doodling and as my creative outlet. I rotate my fountain pens ( I have many of those by now) and will someday do a separate post on choosing the right kind of notebooks and paper.

On Productivity: Single-tasker vs. Multi-tasker

Who is more productive – a focused single-tasker or someone who can multi-task and balance a bunch of tasks at the same time? I ask this in the context of not just our professional roles, but also our personal lives.

“Have you ever wondered how it is on the other side?”

This is a perennial discussion at home. My wife is a fantastic single-tasker. I have rarely seen someone so focused in anything they pick up and direct their energies. When she adopts an effort, she will truly see it through to completion. But there are times, both at work and home where she thinks it would help her far more if she could be a true multi-tasker- balance multiple projects at work, home and more. I think she is already multitasking quite a bit doing all of the aforementioned, admirably well but to her it seems like she always does best when focusing on one task at a time.

Hindu God Vishnu - a multi-tasker, as you can see.
Hindu God Vishnu – a multi-tasker, as you can see.

I am a multi-tasker. I thrive in balancing multiple efforts at the same time. I sign up, often times, way more than I can manage. I enjoy the ability to jump between one activity and another and back. Yet, there are times when I envy my wife’s ability to take a job from start to finish without getting distracted by other tasks. Again, not to say  I cannot focus on a task at a time. To me, the thrill has always been in doing many activities at the same time and performing equally well in all of them.

To both of us, the grass looks greener on the other side.

This got me thinking. Is there an ideal balance here? Does parenting and balancing home and work favor any one style over the other? Is there a distinct advantage to being a single-tasker in specific work roles versus others? How does it play out in a laid back society (is there one left anywhere, anymore?) versus a hyper competitive environment like the Bay Area?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you identify yourself as a single-tasker or multi-tasker and what do you feel good about your style and what would you like to change?

Hello, 2016!

2015 is done. We are now onto 2016 and as always it is a good time to use the New Year milestone marker for all major activities- both professional and personal.

2015 was a good year in many ways personally and professionally. As a family, we were very busy with work, school and home but closed out the year with a good vacation. I organized a bunch of stuff in my local community, some of them small and one particular one, really big. All of them were remarkable team efforts that made me a bunch of new friends. After a period of lull in the last few years, my reading is on an uptick and I read more in 2015 than 2014. I hopefully learnt more too. My fitness levels continue to be reasonable, thanks to the wonderful folks at LifeWorx CrossFit.

My book “Mahabharata for Kids”, continues to be a steady seller on the Kindle bookstore with zero publicity and I continue to contribute all of the proceeds to worthy causes.

Professionally, I changed roles from engineering to being a Product Manager. Something I have aspired to do for a while now. I am learning quite a bit in my new job and it has been an interesting and pleasurable experience. Amazon Lab126 continues to be a place where I am learning every day and I am very thankful for that.

Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016.

This is usually the blog post where I talk about all my writing and how many views I garnered in the previous year. 2015 turned out to be very interesting in that regard. I continued to be excited about blogging but a curious thing happened- I stopped enjoying the process of typing stuff. My love for analog tools (fountain pen, pencil, paper and ink) has grown exponentially and I have a half a dozen blog posts fully written up on a small notebook but without the enthusiasm to type it up. Often times, I hear of people getting tired/bored or out of touch with the physical act of writing. I have gone the other way. I am not as excited about typing as I am about composing my blogs on pen and paper. I am still looking for tools that will do this translation for me. That said, I wrote much fewer posts in 2015 that ended up getting far more views than ever before. With 50% less output, I managed to double my readership from 30000 views to 60000+ views in 2015. Much of this was due to the network effects of writing on LinkedIn. I am thankful to LinkedIn for giving me that reach.

So where does that lead me to in 2016-

  • I hope to read more. Much more.
  • I hope to write more. Much more.
  • I have a bunch of interesting projects in the works in various stages of progress – I hope to get one of them out in public this year.
  • I hope to contribute more of my time and resources towards the right kind of causes and to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
  • And most importantly, I hope to spend as much time as possible with my precious family.

The world has had a tough 2015. Between natural disasters[1][2] and man-made disasters[1][2][3], we have lurched sideways as humanity. There are things to hate and not be optimistic about but humanity as a whole continues to want to do the right things. Atleast most of us, anyway.

I will leave with this parting thought from the bestseller “The Martian” wonderfully written by Andy Weir (must-read in my opinion).

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are a******s who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?”

Dear Chennai

Growing up in Coimbatore, I thought little about Chennai, my closest metropolis. The city felt huge, chaotic and perennially hot and humid. I spent many a summer in Chennai under the air conditioner and longing for the milder weather in Coimbatore. I did not have a real connection with the city inspite of having family and friends by the dozen spread across the sprawling and rapidly growing city. All that has changed in the past couple of weeks where the city has seen the worst rains in over a hundred years that has left over 260 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless and from whose waters rose a million superheroes.
Chennai: An aerial photo of flood relief operation by Indian Coast Guard at flood affected areas of Kanchipuram District on the outskirt of Chennai on Tuesday. PTI Photo(PTI11_17_2015_000055B)
Chennai: An aerial photo of flood relief operation by Indian Coast Guard at flood affected areas of Kanchipuram District on the outskirt of Chennai on Tuesday. PTI Photo(PTI11_17_2015_000055B)
Where do I start?
As I see the dark images and videos of an entire city under the siege of water, I also see and listen to the stories of heroic men and women working in the dark, literally and figuratively and saving lives. We talk of saving lives all our life but when the rubber meets the road, we lose the plot. Here in the drowning city, heroes have been born every single minute. In the first world, we whine and cry about losing a few hours of sleep. Here in this water ravaged city with no power for days and water and sewage every where, people are running/ nay swimming to save people and dogs and cats and parrots.
Every minute on social media, I see and read of men and women and children doing things we are used to seeing the Avengers and Justice League do, on the big screen. These are second, third and fourth hand accounts. If these accounts and videos are even partially true, I can only imagine what went down. For all the heroes on the ground, saying hats off is belittling your effort. Words fail the wordsmith.

Yesterday, a new trailer for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie was released (link, if you so care). As I watched it, it struck me- we are witnessing in real time a million of Batmen and Wonder women and Supermen doing everyday super heroism. They lack the capes and the masks, the x-ray vision and the bat mobile- but they do have their Innovas and boats and buses and Twitter and Facebook. And in the past few days, they have soared farther than Superman could ever do, into the hearts of many in Chennai, Cuddalore and across the world.

Chennai, I am a convert. Your new biggest fan. You, the people of this city are rockstars. And so are all the people you have inspired from around the state and country to dive right into the water to help. This is a story to be told for generations to come of how a city rose to a challenge unlike any other and stood tall, drenched, but strong and resilent.

 

So is it over?
Rain is forecasted for the next few days but in the long term, the city needs help in cleaning out the mess and rebuilding their lives. And lest we forget, it is not just Chennai. Cuddalore and other smaller cities around Chennai have also been hard hit. They need help. Health challenges will be plenty and the biggest need for the coming weeks will be clean water, food, medicines and clothing. So don’t stop supporting efforts in Chennai just because the roads are getting back to normal. The affected areas will take months to get back to normal life.

 

How can we help from far?
A lot of organizations are mobilizing funds and resources to pass on to the right people to buy food, warm blankets and mobile phone chargers for people in Chennai. Some of them you can reach out to are listed below. There are many many more and please seek them out. Chennai needs every little bit of help we can give. It is literally the least we can do from far.
General Resources and funding opportunities:
Google Crisis Response:
Facebook:
Twitter:

Post Script:
When nature unleashes her fury, we tend to blame the Gods and then pray for help and mercy. But not all of it is nature. Much of it is us. Just as real as the men and women saving lives are, as I type this and as you read this. Decades of illegal permits issued to builders in low lying areas and rampant construction where there should really nothing, total lack of urban planning, no disaster preparedness plan to speak of, and so much more. We should not lose perspective nor get lost in blaming one political party or the other. This is failure in many levels that needs to be addressed now. We need to ask the right questions and look to solve them ourselves. Politicians fend for themselves. We need to fend for ourselves too. The government is what we make of it. Let us make it something that matters in times like this. This is not party politics and who did what. This is about how we set policy and enforce it.

This is no longer about taking care of the future of our kids. This is for our survival. Of this generation. Forget the future. We need to figure out a way to live for today.

 

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Experience

I am not a coffee connoisseur. After a lot of effort, I recently broke through my own taste buds and cultivated the habit of drinking coffee. After 35 years of never being able to drink it, I can now enjoy a good cup of coffee. I am still a coobie (coffee newbie). I still prefer a cup of homemade chai over coffee. But that is a discussion for a different day.

This Memorial Day weekend, we made a family trip to Seattle. Included in that trip was a trip to Pike Place market. While the rest of the family was busy exploring the market, I took off on a brisk 15 minute walk to Starbuck’s newest retail experiment, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room as it is called is a huge coffee shop cum bistro cum cafe cum a shop for pricey knick-knacks cum a lot more things. What drew me there in the first place was the Roastery special edition of the Field Notes which I cherish and use daily. As I approached the store, it struck me, how big it really was. Imagine a retail space the size of a mini-Target. It is huge. And it is coppery and silvery everywhere. From the entrance, you are greeted by glinting copper and brass and silver every where. And there are a ton of helpful people walking around, helping you get a feel for the place and what it is attempting to do.

The Experience is the Product

I spent a good 30 minutes taking in the sights, sounds and most importantly, the smells of the roasting coffee beans. This place is bliss for someone who loves the smell of coffee like me. It is heaven for a coffee lover. Just the sheer scale of everything is incredible. I drank a flat white with their Roastery exclusive Gravitas No.1 blend. It tasted great. Then again, I am not the one who can spot the difference. All I can say is that it was pretty good.

I took a whole bunch of photos and had a hard time choosing just a few to share. So here is the entire set. Wade through to experience second hand but if you are ever in Seattle, try to stop by. The first hand experience is that much better.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room experience is the product here. And you can feel it everywhere. I am told this concept store might expand to more locations in the coming months and years. If it comes to your town, definitely stop by. It is well worth it.

A brief review of Naatak’s fabulous adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”

On Saturday, March 21st, 2015, I had the chance to see Naatak’s Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” titled “To sum purush, na mo sum naari.”  You can read through this article if you still deciding if this play is for you or you can save yourself the time and just go watch it next weekend. It is a decision you will most certainly not regret. It is that good. My recommendation out of the way, here is my short review.

To Sum Purush, Na Mo Sum Naari” roughly translates to “No Man like you, no woman like me.” This sharply written take on Shakespeare’s iconic comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” is the 48th play being staged by Naatak, Bay Area’s revered theater group. This was my first Naatak play and I now understand why they are spoken about with such respect. The play was well-directed, beautifully designed, and joyfully acted by a merry band of local talent that came together to be a complete package. For just over two hours at the Tabard Theater on San Pedro Square in San Jose, the audience was rolling on the floors in laughter.

TSPNMSN is a non-stop ride alternating between slapstick and highbrow comedy- a balancing act that the crew pulls off very admirably. That the play is in a Bundelkhandi, a dialect of Hindi adds to the flavor in a way that I did not anticipate. I approached the play with trepidation thinking the dialect would make it challenging to follow the story. I am comfortable with Hindi and the language on stage was not much different from Hindi, yet added a touch of uniqueness to the play that made it all the more fun. The supertitles helped but for much of the time, I was just content following the proceedings. The language was never a barrier and in fact, a definite plus. Props to the Naatak braintrust for having the courage to attempt the play in Bundelkhandi and hitting a homerun (nay a six) in the process.

The set is simple, yet tastefully done and fills in for admirably for Padua. The costumes are spot on. A huge plus is the intimate nature of the theater which brings the viewer so close to the performers. Loved the venue and how it was orchestrated for the play. The intimate experience adds significantly to the enjoyment of the proceedings. And the acting is just so good, and so well done, it is just phenomenal. Every single nuance and dialogue is pitch perfect. Not a wasted second. Not a wasted word. Just perfectly written and beautifully acted.

I would love to tell you more about the play. But you really should see it live. It plays for one more weekend. So stop thinking about it and just buy the tickets. It is so well worth the price of admission, you will be thanking me afterwards.

Fabulous job, Manish , Juhi and the awesome folks involved in this play. “To Sum…” is a sheer joy, all the way. Can’t wait to see your upcoming shows in 2015 and beyond.

{Read, Write, Listen, Express and Do} more

2015 is here. We are a full two weeks into the new year which allows us to commit to things rationally without the hasty decisions we take in the name of New Year resolutions. I have a mixed opinion on resolutions. I think, taken too seriously, they tend to be ineffective. But seen as a fresh start to our personal and professional life, every 365 days, they make much more sense. Especially coming off the year end holidays.

2014 was a great year – I achieved new milestones professionally, made a ton of friends in the community and spent good time with the family. My blogs had over 30,000 views for the year which might be its high water mark ever (more on this later) and I am thankful to all of you for reading all the stuff I write- good and the not so good. Now it is time to commit to goals not just for 2015 but moving forward. Maybe, just maybe, some of you might be interested in a few of the ones I highlight below. See them less as resolutions and more as ongoing experiments in personal improvement.

Read More

This one is fairly obvious. Reading makes us better. I used to be a voracious reader growing up and that slowed down during my early professional years. Over the last 2-3 years, I have been slowly but steadily increasing how much I read. I set fairly conservative goals for each year of 5 works of fiction, 5 works of non-fiction plus magazines, articles, the works. I far surpassed my goal for everything but non-fiction last year and I am out to correct that this year. My Kindle Voyage and local library are my best friends. The reading experience on the Kindle Voyage is remarkable. While the wait for good books in the library is a pain, I have gotten a good portion of fiction reading from my library. I have a whole pile of books I purchased over the past year to get to. For online articles, I favorite the ones I want to read and then use IFTTT to send them to Pocket.  I have Pocket on everything from my phone, Mac and tablets. The image below is the first batch I need to get to**.

Reading List- Q1 2015

Write More

Writing here refers to contributing more online and also to write more with pen and paper. With your support, my blogs have gotten quite popular over the years and while I am still very enthusiastic to continue writing, I would like to explore new vistas and new topics that require more research and introspection. Blog posts will be fewer but hopefully with something more to take with you.

His writing materials

My continuing obsession with fountain pens and good quality paper is the other part of the story. My writing with pen and paper has dramatically increased. This post was composed as a series of bullet points on a 80th anniversary edition of a Rhodia Classic Ice Top Staplebound Notepad with a Hero fountain pen (remember those?) using a Noodlers Ink Heart of Darkness***.This obsession will get its own post soon.

HearListen More

In my notes, I titled this section as “Hear More” but upon further thought, modified it to Listen More. There is the critical difference where I could hear but not really listen and pay attention to what is being said. My penchant for being the talker in the room prevented me for a long time from being a good listener. This is a work in progress.

The other component of “Listen More” is related to podcasts. Podcasts have enjoyed a resurgence in the recent years and thanks to Serial, many more people are jumping in. Podcasts are my daily companion during my commute and a huge source of knowledge. If you are into podcasts, drop me a note. I can recommend a few****. Some off the top of my head worth listening to- The Pen Addict (surprise, surprise), Techpinions (tech analysis), The Critical Path (tech analysis), APM Marketplace (Kai Ryssdal FTW), Accidental Tech Podcast (tech+Apple), The Web Ahead (web dev) and a whole lot more. On my Mac, I use iTunes to listen to podcasts. On iOS devices, I highly recommend Marco Arment’s Overcast app. On Android, I use Podcast Addict.

TalkExpress More

This is part of what is new for 2015. I would like to express myself better. This is through other forms of media beyond plain text online. I am looking to add more videos to my reviews. I started adding hands-on videos to my reviews in 2014. There will be more of this. I attempted adding a read-along version for my book, Mahabharata for Kids. Initial response has been good. I am contemplating more podcast type posts or maybe even an audio version to go with every post. I am open to feedback on this.

Do More

Twenty four hours is never enough. To read and write and listen and express more, 24 hours is definitely not enough. But there is an itch to do more. More local community events, alumni events, side projects for work, personal side projects, an Android and/or iOS app, finishing a full course on one of the MOOCs, and a new book. The list is long. If I can get to half of this list without spending one less minute with my family, it will be a very successful year. Onward march!

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


** On my choice of books:

I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and St.Claire’s when I was younger. When I saw them during my last trip to India, I jumped on it. I have not read Haruki Murakami before. This is my first attempt. Kurzweil’s book has been on my list for a long time. Finally picked up a copy recently. Walt Isaacson’s “Innovators” came in for good praise last year as did “Asura” in Indian fiction circles.

*** The first sign of obsession on any object, fountain pen, paper or otherwise is that you start documenting specifics. Type of nib (Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad), brand and specifics about the ink and so on.

**** I listen to a ton of podcasts on a variety of topics. Let me know your interest and I can recommend some good ones.

“Why Bhopal?” – A spoiler-free review of the play, BHOPAL by the Bay Area Drama Company

Thirty years ago, on the fateful night of 2nd December and into the wee hours of 3rd morning, 1984, all hell broke loose in the the city of Bhopal in India. Tank 610 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant, exploded letting loose 30 tons and more of toxic Methyl Isocyanite and other gases into the air. Over 500,000 reportedly inhaled it and while the death toll varies from 3000 to 10000, suffice to say, it is one of the largest industrial disasters the world has ever seen. The story doesn’t end there. In the years that followed, people across the world watched in horror as multinational corporations and corrupt politicians of various stripes came together to put a lid over the disaster.

Thirty years hence, the air is still foul with the stench of politics and money that lorded over human lives. Unlike other disasters, which got global attention by a mixture of activists and artists making stories and movies out of the human suffering, Bhopal has barely registered in the radar of many. If Bhopal were to have happened in today’s socially connected world, the reaction would have been swift and so much more different. The story of Bhopal needs many voices to tell what happened on that fateful night. One such is the Bay Area Drama Company.

BAD Company's bhopal poster

Bay Area Drama (BAD) Company is a newly formed theater group in the San Francisco Bay Area. It boasts of thespians with great dramatic pedigree who have come together to form this new entity that will hopefully offer interesting and compelling fare to the local community. Their first production, Bhopal, premiered on the 3rd of December, 2014 at the Sunnyvale Community Center, exactly 30 years from the day it happened. There will be additional shows of Bhopal on 13th and 14th of December at Lohman Theater at the Foothills College campus in Los Altos, CA. Here is my spoiler-free review from the premiere show.

The Setting

The Sunnyvale Community Center is an intimate auditorium and suits a play like Bhopal to the T. It offers seating for a sizable audience without getting unwieldy. Every seat had an excellent view of the stage. The audio was excellent and overall, felt like a good place for the premiere event.

BAD Company's Bhopal

The event began shortly after 8 pm with a brief introduction about the real life event that was the Bhopal disaster and a very short note on the BAD Company. The stage itself was sparse but for the occasional table or chair brought in during different parts of the play. There was little to no background music but for the haunting vocals of Subhapriya Srivatsan, set to the lyrics of “Ek Zahreeli Hawa (A Poisoned Wind)” by the late Habib Tanvir. Subhapriya’s voice and Sharmi Mukherjee’s graceful moves sets the tone perfectly for the play and in the 2-3 times when Subhapriya reappears, her voice lends gravitas of the situation at hand. Kudos to the director for knowing when to have music and when not to distract from the dialogues.

The Story

This play is not about the tragedy that happened on 2nd December. It is the story of the practical, occasionally selfish survivor, Izzat Bai. It is the story of the steadfast believer, the scorned and misled lover, Madiha Akram. It is the story of the NRI who had big dreams and an empty soul, Devraj Sarthi, CEO of Union Carbide India Limited. It is the story of the face in front of a multinational corporation, Warren Anderson. It is the story of the Doctor who knows too much and is repeatedly being silenced, Dr. Sonya Labonte. It is the story of the archetypal Indian politician who will sell his soul for money, Jaganlal Bhandari. And most important of all, it is the story of the 250,000 faceless people of Bhopal whose lives were irrevocably changed that fateful night.

The original script by Rahul Varma is brought to life by these characters, each of whom has a story of their own. Of ambition, of love, of power and of hope. The CEO who says, “Poverty is the biggest environmental hazard. ” goes onto to claim, “Carbide Thunder will roll out of their eyes. Like tears.” If only. If only.

BAD Company's Bhopal

From the early signs of a disaster in the making, to the pieces of the nightmarish puzzle coming together and hurtling towards destruction, the script is tight and the pace is rapid. As Warren Anderson proudly states, “Safety is our No.1 concern,” the viewer knows what is about to happen. And happen it does. The tragedy does not strike until after the first hour of the play. As soon as it arrives with a loud boom, disaster mitigation kicks in amidst death and chaos. And that is the ultimate irony of it all. When corruption and power blinded the eyes of politicians and officials even as bodies were piling up.

Suffice to say, the play is crisp and taut and time flies before you know it.

The Acting

This to me was the biggest revelation. Rahul Varma’s script is not new. It has been around for years. Bhopal was originally staged in 2001. It is the acting that elevates what is a solid script ot great heights. The seven key artists who potray the protagonists each bring their best to the table and leave nothing unexpressed.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Devraj played by Basab Pradhan is cold and calculating and every minute. His occasional weakness is his love, Madiha played by Neha Goyal. Neha does full justice to the character who is so much in love with Devraj that she cant see past his actions. Jaganlal, the CM is played to a T by Ravi Bhatnagar. Ravi lives and breathes the role of the considerate politician whose true colors are always under a cloud. Phil Wiseman as Pascal Sauve, the Canadian representative shows his political colors while rarely but definitely betraying his humanity.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Sindu Singh taking on the conscience of the play in the form of Dr. Sonya Labonte is a revelation. Her shock at everything that is happening and her utter helplessness is brilliantly conveyed by Sindu. Paul Costello as the villain of the piece, Warren Anderson is fabulous in his role of the true capitalist who cares for nothing more than his corporation and stock price. And last but not in the very least, Kamala Subramaniam as Izzat Bai is the representation of the victim of the system. She blows away anything and everything you come to expect from the role with a bravura performance. She is the chameleon whose true stripes are those of the real survivors of the system.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Quibbles

Maybe the fact that this was my first play in a long time or that I was really captivated by what was going on made me oblivious to problems. But I found the whole show to be free of any big issues. Sure, there were a couple of minor complaints. While I thought it was a great idea to have the singer sing live in front of the audience at the beginning and end of the show, having her on stage in between was a distraction, as good as her vocals were. In a couple of scenes the abrupt end of the scene took away some of the palpable tension that could have built into a higher crescendo. Then again, these are definitely minor quibbles in an otherwise well executed and well acted show.

So, should you see it?

Absolutely. This is my first time at a full length play (clocking at about 100 minutes) in the Bay Area. And if this is the kind of quality and acting I can expect, I am so going to so many more, not in the least the ones from BAD Company. Bhopal is a story that has found its voice. And what a tour de force it is. There are still some tickets left for the shows on the 13th and 14th. Don’t wait, rush to the website and get it while it lasts. That it one decision you will not regret.

Beyond anything else, this play “Bhopal” reminds you in the starkest way possible, the horror and tragedy of Bhopal, thirty years ago. One that still has unanswered questions and two generations of affected families. This play puts you in Bhopal on that cyanide filled night. It also gives you a ring side view of how bad things can get at this scale when left unchecked and unmonitored.

Disclosure

I was invited to attend the opening night by a friend and if interested, write an unbiased review of the play. I was not paid to write this in cash or kind. I wrote this because I felt like the play deserved all my words and more.

Life at 36

Last year, for my birthday, I made a list about the milestone and what it meant to me. I love traditions and figured I would make one this year too. So without further ado, here goes my top 10 list for the completion of year 36 of my life.

36

10. 36 feels a little less awesome than 35 only because it is an even number. Even numbers IMHO get way more attention than odd numbers. Unfair advantage I’d say.

9. While twenty somethings in the Valley continue to make millions selling their startups or going IPO, I am still yet to see something like that. Maybe this will be the year or miracles. Or this would be the year I continued dreaming but did nothing about it.

8. I got more of my articles printed by India Currents (and get paid for it). You should check them out if you have not already. I continue to blog as and when I can and continue to enjoy it.

7. I continue to over promise and under deliver when it comes to cooking at home. I have run out of excuses also. But there is always the next year.

6. Work continues to be interesting and we shipped a phone this year in addition to the best e-reader ever (it is seriously that awesome). Here is to year with more interesting problems to solve and complex technical challenges to overcome.

5. I am almost entirely pen and paper at meetings these days and as a result my handwriting is so much better( a personal goal year over year) and I treated myself to a Pilot Metropolitan which writes very smoothly. This is one of those things that makes me feel younger every year. For years, my handwriting suffered due to excessive computer use and going back to pen and paper makes me feel younger by the day.

4. The little guy continues to be the center of my Universe, not surprisingly. As he grows into a fine young boy, he reminds me that I am getting older. But just as that feeling starts to overwhelm, he treats me like a friend making me feel so much younger. Everyday is special with him around.

3. I continue to hit new milestones at the gym and feel my best in years. Many thanks to the awesome folks at Lifeworx Crossfit and my 7:30 crew. You guys rock! I still have miles to go but I’d rather do it no place else.

2. My first book, Mahabharata for Kids continues to do well – selling better digitally with every passing month. It has sold well over 1600 copies and has resulted in over $1000 to charitable causes. Many thanks to everyone who has supported and continues to support this effort. I am working on some interesting ideas and hope to discuss them in public in the coming year.

1. Finally I realize every day that I have been tremendously blessed to have everything that I do. I like my job, I have an awesome and supportive family that puts up with my quirks and an incredible set of friends (old and new) who are just awesome to hang out or interact with through social networks. And the community we live in seems to be coming together in a wonderful way. What more can I ask for?

36 you say? Bring it on!

The California water problem and how we can help

Update (Jan 16, 2015): After the promising rains in December, things have gone back to being dry. Here is an updated chart of the water levels across the state, courtesy Fusion.net.

As most of you are aware of, California is going through one of its worst droughts in the last century. This year specifically is on record as the third worst in the last 100 years. And there is no end in sight. We do not know if this drought will end next year or in the next 50 years. All we can do is to be smart and conserve as much water as we can. Startlingly, water consumption in the state this May was 0.5% MORE than the same time last year. That does not bode well for our water conservation efforts. We obviously are not doing enough, if any. We need to do more.

ca drought map-july 2014

In my native language, Tamil, there is oft repeated phrase which is literally and figuratively the best way to describe what we can do. It goes, “Siru thuli, peru vellam” which literally translates to “Small droplets, big flood”. In this context, it means that we all need to add our droplets so we can create the flood (surplus) of water that can then be used for farming, irrigation and all other essential activities. This post is a collection of suggestions and recommendations I have picked up over the last year from blogs, articles, radio and online videos. Some of them are easy and the others take time. Either way, it will help, however long and however much it is.

1. Talk to your kids about it. This to me, is the biggest and most important step. Kids love water and from the minutes they take to wash their hands to coming up with interesting ways to use water, they consume a lot of it. Some of it is definitely important- like washing hands. But it doesn’t have to take a fully open tap running for 2 minutes. It could be a partially open tap running for a minute to wash one’s hands thoroughly. The best part is that kids are smart. When you explain the real problem to them, they surprisingly get it. Unlike us, they are not cynical. If they believe there is a problem, they will work hard to fix whatever they can.

2. Reuse water– wherever and whenever you can. Here is a simple way. The water we use to wash vegetables and soak our vessels prior to scrubbing them can be used to water our small plants. We have been doing this at our home for the past 4-6 months. I am definitely using far less water for my garden from the hose without compromising on how much water the plants need and get. I cant imagine all the water we could have saved all these years if we had only done this earlier.

3. Turn off the sprinklers. Really. As harsh as this sounds, there is no bigger criminal in households than sprinklers. Most of them are highly inefficient. They run far longer than they should and far too often. If we can take the time to water our gardens and lawns conscious of the water scarcity, we will save a lot of water. There is also new regulation and fines in California for egregious water users. You can be fined up to $500 for wasting too much water in your front lawn or on the driveway.

4. Reduce shower time.  For a lot of us, our daily showers are one of the last bastions of being alone, left to our thoughts. And as much as we love it, we take showers a tad longer than we really should. And this is an area that can result in water savings aplenty. Also consider turning the tap off while brushing your teeth.

5. Save water. Save money. The Santa Clara Water district (for local South Bay residents) offers a bunch of rebates for purchasing and committing to water sipping fixtures. This is an added financial incentive on top of our moral incentive in saving water.

6. Rethink your kitchen habits. If you take the time to examine our water use for cooking, there is so much water that can be conserved. Many of us have the habit of keeping the water on while scrubbing dishes. Of taking more water than we need to drink and tossing the remnant in the sink. Of pouring excess water away in the drain without thinking of reusing it. Each of us have our own kitchen routine that can be optimized. Small changes can be big savings in water usage over time.

7. Do what you can to reduce water in every aspect of your life where you consume or use it. Everything but the water you use to drink is within bounds for consideration. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) has a lot of ideas on how you can conserve water. Give it a read.  The EPA has a whole slew of advice on how to conserve water. Give it a read too. Many of these ideas are simple and doable in small steps.

Finally and most importantly, don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing (or not). We have a responsibility to ourselves and the people around us to be judicious with our water use. Let not someone else’s ignorance and lack of awareness discourage you from making a difference. It all counts towards something.