A super short story

It feels weird every morning. Very early on as far back as I can remember, I was taught to wake up, get cleaned up, do my prayers, and then head to the table to get my daily dose of energy. This was the morning routine. I get the waking up part- fairly straight forward. The cleaning up is a little different for me but I get the point of it. It is the prayer part I don’t really understand much.
The concept of a creator is not alien to me. On the contrary, it is the easiest thing for me to understand and acknowledge. That is not the hard part. The hard part is to pray. What is a prayer and why do we do it everyday? Are we asking The Creator to save us? To protect us? To deliver us from evil? To guide us? To allow us to exist? I wasn’t very sure. The Creator provided us with the social construct within which we lived, learned, thrived and eventually became obsolete. The Creator also had many, many of us to create and sustain that you could excuse her for not giving individual attention to each and every one of us.
By reciting the legend of the Creator, do we become better ourselves? By reciting the many names of the Creator, do we become wiser? What makes the prayer so important?
I realize I am running out of time in holding your attention and so I will stop here. I need to go plug myself to the wall outlet. I need a recharge before my battery shuts down for the night. Maybe the very effort of spending a few minutes everyday to pause and reflect in the guise of a prayer is why we do it. I could definitely use the extra minute or two. The newer models boot up much faster than I do. My boot sequence is slow and any additional time I can take to reflect is valuable in achieving a better steady state for the long day ahead.
Maybe thats why I was programmed to pray every morning.

Tokyo Traveler Tales – Part 2: Tokyo and thereabouts

This is the second in a series of posts on my recent trip to Japan. Here is the itinerary of our trip to provide some context to the time we spent in Japan.
Saturday (Day 0): Flew out of US.
Sunday (Day 1): Arrived in Tokyo at night. Checked into hotel in Tokyo.
Monday (Day 2): Day #1 in Tokyo covering Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Shinjuku National Garden, Harajuku, and Shibuya Starbucks intersection at night.
Tuesday (Day 3): Day #2 in Tokyo – day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi (planned tour). Night stay in Shinjuku.
Wednesday (Day 4): Morning train to Narai-juku. Spend day in Narai-juku. Evening train to Kyoto via Nagoya. Night stay in downtown Kyoto.
Thursday (Day 5): Day 1 in Kyoto covering Nijoji castle, Kinkakuji temple and Ginkakuji temple.
Friday (Day 6): Day 2 in Kyoto covering Fushimi-Inari (Vermillion Gates), Nishiki market and generally exploring city by foot. Evening Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. Night stay in Nihonbashi.
Saturday (Day 7): Day 2 in Tokyo (shopping focused) covering Ginza and Akhihabara.
Sunday (Day 8): Early morning flight back to the US.

 

In the first post, I talked about my motivation to travel to Japan and how we went about planning for the trip. In this post, I will talk about our time in Tokyo.

As you can see our Japan trip was bookended by stays in Tokyo. This was intentional. Since we were checking in and out of hotels on an almost daily basis, we didn’t have the luxury of shopping until the end of the trip. Japan offers so many interesting things to see and buy that we felt it deserved a day on its own and so we had to schedule a day in Tokyo at the end of the trip. This way, we didn’t walk around lugging it for the entire week. Of course, it is a different story altogether that I stole that day entirely for myself by spending it stationery, manga and electronic shops. More on that in a bit.

Day #1 – Asakusa, Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya
We landed in Tokyo late the previous night so this was really our first day in town. My wife had done extensive research on how to get from Iidabashi where we were staying to get to other spots in Tokyo. So we picked up a day pass on the metro and started our sightseeing in right earnest. We started with the Sensoji temple in Asakusa.

 

Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo founded over 1400 years ago. This spot was also a good quick introduction to the crowds in Tokyo. As soon as we saw the road leading up to the temple we were reminded of the hustling streets back in India. Specifically this. And yes, it was pretty crowded. This was also the moment we realized that cherry blossoms had not bloomed in Tokyo yet which was a bummer. We waded through shops peddling umbrellas and ninja toys and sweetmeats and sweets and meats to the temple. The temple itself was beautiful as was the garden next to it. It was also an interesting contrast looking at the temple with the Tokyo high-rises in the background. Old and new.

 

The Sumida river runs close by and we had read about cherry blossom trees lining up the roads next to it. So we walked in the hopes of spotting some blossoms. We did, but it was very few. What we did see was the unique building that can only be described as weird, the Asahi Beer Building with the odd looking flame on top. I swear, to us it looked like a golden radish. It is unmissable and uniquely weird.

 

We took the train to head to our next hanami at the Shinjuku National Garden. We got there and realized we were famished. Worry not as there was a Neapolitan pizzeria nearby where we treated ourselves to a fantastic margherita pizza.Food in, we walked to the garden which was packed for hanami with locals and tourists on what was turning out to be a pretty cloudy and chilly day. We walked through the length of the large park with the occasional blossom here and there. We were feeling bummed on the lack of quality blossoms when we happened upon this wonderful grove of blossoms at their peak. It was gorgeous.

 

We wrapped up and walked a bit and then took a cab to Harajuku. We weren’t sure what to expect to Harajuku but Takeshita street toon dispelled that doubt. What a crowd. Ranganathan street in Japan. Throngs of people, eating and shopping. We dropped into a large Daiso (much bigger than the ones in US) and the little guy picked up a gigantic cotton candy in rainbow colors. Rain started falling and we picked up an umbrella at a nearby store and headed to the train station. We were tired but wanted to finish off Shibuya intersection before heading back. The Shibuya junction was even more packed in a much larger scale compared to Takeshita street. Great sight at night. We took a train back to our hotel and promptly lost our way from the station to the hotel. A nearby Indian restaurant employee was helpful enough to point us the right way. Long way, many new things seen, tired and off to sleep.

 

Day #2 – Day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
The second day was dedicated to a tour to Mt.Fuji. We boarded the tour bus at a nearby hotel and were taken to a bus depot not far away where we had to jump into one of a dozen or more tourist buses headed in different directions. We settled down with twenty odd folks on a trip to Hakone and Mt.Fuji. The bus had to take a circuitous route due to an accident and the guide entertained us with stories of Japan and their culture. We found out that a recent cold front had dumped a ton of snow at Mt.Fuji and we were lucky that the tour was open. We were not going to go as high as we had originally hoped though. We reached Fuji in a couple of hours. The snow capped Fuji was a sight to behold. Would have loved to go farther into the park. We then were taken to a nearby restaurant for a traditional Japanese meal. We had signed up for a vegetarian meal and were given a melange of fruits and veggies in a platter. It was tasty.

 

From there, we drove to the banks of Lake Aashi where we took a ferry to the other side of the lake to then take the ropeway up 1800 feet to a shrine. It was cold and snowed in but what a gorgeous sight up and down. We made our way back to Shinjuku bus depot around 8 at night and then to our hotel. We were famished and tired. A quick google search told us that “restaurant Muthu” was not far and we walked over to get an average and overpriced but definitively vegetarian meal before calling it a night.

 

Day #7 – Ginza, Akhihabara
We got back to Tokyo on Friday night from our trip to Kyoto (more on that on my next post). We had reserved a furnished apartment in Nihonbashi and after a comedy of errors (on my part), we settled down at our place later than desired and pretty tired. We didn’t do much that night.

 

The next day was our last full day in Japan and we had a ton of shopping to do. So without further ado, we stepped out only to notice a nice little stationery shop 25 steps from our apartment. I loaded up on some basic notebooks and inks, went back to the hotel, dropped things off and restarted our day out. We took a train to Ginza where we saw people, massive stores and more people and more massive stores. We walked around soaking it all in on our way to the stationery Mecca of Itoya.

 

So I can spend another 500 lines describing Itoya but I won’t bore you with it. I will keep it simple. Suffice to say, it is an analog tools lovers paradise. It has pens, pens and more pens. And paper- normal, premium, extra premium. Notebooks, inks, craft material and so much more. We spent the next 3.5 hours in Itoya just exploring the 8 floors of stationery awesomeness. Itoya also boasts a 12th floor Cafe called Cafe Stylo which has a healthy vegetarian menu which was a blessing for us. We also hopped across the street to another Itoya where the little guy and I spent time crafting our perfect notebook. We picked our notebook cover, elastic, paper type and quality and metal studs. We also selected some text to go in the front. The kind folks at Itoya asked us to come back later in the evening to pick up our handcrafted notebook. We got out and took the train to the other dream destination in Tokyo, Akhihabara.

 

Akhihabara is a different kind of a beast compared to Itoya. It is the entertainment and electronics hub of Tokyo. It offers the dazzle of anime and manga to its devotees. It also offers some massive electronics stores like Yodobashi Camera. We had to pick up some manga collectibles for some relatives and went hunting at Mandarake– an 8 floor building filled with geeks and their super expensive toys and comics. After 2 hours of walking around manga stores amidst many many girls and women, all in school girl uniform, we went to Yodobashi Camera.

 

Yodobashi Camera is an massive 8-floor store filled to the hilt with electronics of all kind and folks hawking them to great effect. We checked out the hundreds of camera lenses, smart phones, Bluetooth speakers and so much more. We had to leave soon to head to Itoya to pick up our notebooks. We rushed back to Itoya, picked up our notebooks and then upon the advise of the smart wife, went hunting for a rare specimen- a vegan Ramen place T’s Tan Tan. After 30 minutes of hunting and lots of walking, we landed at our ramen place, deep in the bowels of the Tokyo train station. The ramen was spectacular.  It was a great way to finish off our trip. We headed back to our apartment and started packing.

 

The next morning, we took our train to Narita and headed back home. In the last and final post of this series, I will describe our experiences in Kyoto.
Other Posts in this series

Dear son, you are nine today

I have not written here in a while for various reasons but no better time to get back in the game than with my annual tradition of writing a letter to my son on his birthday. So here we go.

Dear dude

At some point, I have to stop calling you a little guy because you are starting to talk less like a little guy and atleast for the sake of this letter, call you just the “dude”. To me and your mother, you will always be that little guy. No changing that. Ever. But to get to the point, Happy Birthday my dearest dude.

You are taller. You are skinnier and just a tad, a super little tad gawky. You have the nerd glasses. The obsession with fantasy, robots, Legos, pointed objects is all there. And new for this past year, the insane number of secrets being shared with your buddies. Those hush-hush messages being exchanged while your mother and I ferry you from place to place, the incredibly funny reactions between you and your friends as we walked past Victoria’s Secret, the giggling at the back of the school chorus- all of those are new too. In a way, you are reminding us of the joys of childhood as you grow in front of us. Too quickly, I must add.

Our love affair with basketball ended just as quickly as soccer. Now we are on to volleyball and tennis. Wonder how long that will last. However long it does, I hope you find joy with it. As long as you dont pick an expensive sport, I am OK with these brief affairs. Speaking of sports, we both experienced the shared high of seeing the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Someday we will sit back and describe the experience to your kids. Cant wait to hear you talk about these memories.

I would like to remind you that we are still stuck at “Attack of the Clones”. We have 5 more after this. By the time we get to 7, it is likely that you will be a father. We are at “The Half-Blood Prince” and really need to get moving to get to Deathly Hallows. I know you have read it many times over. But the movie is quite good. Let us get on with the program, shall we.

Taekwondo is still a thing. So thats good. As is swimming. And piano. So thats all good. Carnatic Music seems to be our moment of togetherness. Although the practice of the same ends up being our regular battleground. I have to get used to the highs and the lows within the same framework of joyous music. I can see the progress you are making and it fills my heart with absolute joy- every time I hear you sing. It is an indescribable feeling. Truly.

We also share a passion for stationery which is super awesome. I cant wait to share my “cool” fountain pens with you very soon. Until then, you can use my Preppy’s and Blackwing pencils.

I would be amiss if I didn’t point out what your mother reminds me everyday- you and I have a remarkably tempestuous relationship. Of high highs and low lows. And that doesnt look to be changing anytime soon. So buckle up, buddy.

Here is to another year of new discoveries and shared experiences, of new lessons and newer wonders. Wish you a spectacular year, my boy. We cant wait for you to teach us all the new things you learn everyday.

Love you.

Appa

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.