A Preview of Bay Area Drama Company’s adaptation of “A Doll’s House”

Last Fall, I had the pleasure to see the opening show of Bay Area Drama Company’s very first play, an adaptation of Rahul Varma’s Bhopal. It was a fabulous effort by the brand new drama company filled with local thespians who have donned the greasepaint and worked behind the scenes, many a time in the past few decades.

BAD Company's "A Doll's House"

This week, BAD Company is offering its second play, its very own take on Henrik Ibsen’s classic take on family and gender dynamics, “A Doll’s House.” Many of you are probably familiar with Henrik’s Ibsen’s timeless classic which shook and continues to shake the traditional patriarchic underpinnings of societies across the world. One of the most performed plays in the world, “A Doll’s House” is a one of those scripts and topics that has withstood the test of time.

Basab Pradhan, one of the founders of BAD Company, directs the play while Sindu Singh, another founder produces and takes on the critical role of Naina (Nora in the original play).

Gender dynamics has always been a hot bed for progressive thought and Ibsen was acutely prescient when he wrote this and presented it for the first time in 1879. While the environment around us has changed over the century and a half, much of the world is still predominantly patriarchal in nature. In the workplace and at home, the woman has constantly been challenged to prove her worth, much more than the corresponding man. Ibsen gives his Nora, a voice that was unheard of in 1879. Nora still needs a voice and Naina is that.

Having seen “Bhopal”, I am very excited to catch “A Doll’s House” this weekend at the Sunnyvale Theatre. Having heard from people who have seen it, this seems to be a must see event of the Spring. If you get a chance, you should check it out too. It might just be the right weekend entertainment for you- smart, thought provoking and timely.

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.

Dear son, you are seven today.

It is now officially an annual ritual – my open/public letter to my son on his birthday. I wrote the first one when he turned 4. I followed it up with one when he turned 5. Then one for his sixth birthday. Without much ado, here is my annual birthday letter to you, boy_who_will_always_be_my_little_one.

Dear little guy
Let us get this out of the way first and foremost. You are never too old to be kissed on your cheeks by your dad or mom. In public too. You have not protested. Yet. But I see the signs. You dare not. Not now. Not ever.

Now onto the main letter.

This past year was pretty eventful. A whole bunch of key milestones. Your first trip to the Principal’s office happened. Taking after Dad in that department, I must say. At one point, I considered maintaining an extra set of pens and notebooks in the Principal’s office. There is a teeny weeny bit of pride in seeing you follow my footsteps. But I dare not say that in public, ever again.

You lost your first couple of teeth last year. Your mom chides me that your tooth fairy is too generous. Here is what I told her. I didn’t have one. Mine was the maid in our house who gave me a cup of water and some sugar for the blood. I wanted your memories to be less colorful and more memory worthy. And so you had a rich tooth fairy who decided to be generous with you.

You inherited the one gene your mom and I didn’t want you to inherit- wearing glasses at a fairly early age. You hated the prospect of it but have surprisingly adapted quickly and I am thankful for that. With your penchant for math and science and now the glasses, you do risk the prospect of getting the “Nerd” tag. I really hope you figure out a way to deal with it at school. By the way, the glasses make you look much more like me than ever, or so they say. Your mother disagrees, of course.

Your imagination is a joy to behold, if only you have the patience to put pen on paper. We are all waiting in anticipation for the day you realize the pleasure in writing and enthrall us with your words. It will come someday. Soon, I hope. Basket!

 

Basketball seems to be a thing for you now. And that is pretty awesome. Hope this doesn’t go the way of soccer. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have better luck than me with the height gene.

For the longest time in your life now (12 months and counting), you have aspired to be a marine biologist. I really hope we take good care of the environment for you until you are ready to take care of it. I think you will do a smashing job if you choose to do it.

Your mother and I are old fashioned when it comes to reading and learning. We would prefer that you learn to read paper books (yes, I know, I know) and write with pen and paper. As much as our house is littered with laptops and tablets, we strongly believe that the right way to learn is through books and human interaction. So, if we do not allow you to have any more tablet time than the school work demands, forgive us. We think that is what is right for you and we are not willing to change our minds on this one. You will thank us later.

Then there is your music. As much as I love your willingness to sing everyday, in the car, in your bed, in the kitchen, on the phone to your grandparents, at our friends, at concerts, and yes, very much so in the bathroom, there is something I love even more. And that is your interest in listening to good Carnatic music. For your vocal chords may or may not be your friend, but the ability to listen and enjoy music is a habit that will take you far and wide in your life. It is the biggest gift my parents gave me and if there is one thing I ever hope to pass on, this would be it. So listen on!

Last but not the least, with every passing year, your mother and I are holding on to the threads of your childhood, not wanting to let them fly away from us. You have a wonderful life ahead of you. And we cannot wait to see you show the world what you are capable of. But to us, you will always be the little guy who snuggles up on weekend mornings and is willing to, in private of course, indulge us with as many kisses we want to give and receive from you. 

As the clock ticks twelve and you are officially seven years old, I wish you everything you desire and much much more. You zoom on. We are with you, always.

Happy Birthday!

Appa

P.S: More than half of your best friends (as of this evening, subject to change tomorrow morning) are girls. Yet another good gene, my boy. Yet another good gene.

P.P.S: If T.M.Krishna is reading this, I hope he will soon make a trip to the Bay Area for a concert. I promised my little guy that I will take him to his concert and convince him to sing “Manavyalakin” and “Mamava Pattabhi”.

Cricket World Cup 2015 in retrospect

Early yesterday morning, India’s Cricket World Cup campaign came to an end. They lost to a better Australian team who will go on to face fellow hosts New Zealand in the finals at Melbourne on Saturday. It was a long night punctuated by the occasional glimmer of hope but let us be honest. We over achieved our potential and peaked at the right time only to hit a wall in the form of Australia.

I could write a lot about what went wrong for India but I think that is beside the point. The Indian team was in tatters prior to the World Cup. It had a horrific Australian summer with very little to talk about. England, yes that very bad English team owned us in the tri-series. For that Indian team to win its first seven matches in this World Cup and bowl out every single opposition team was remarkable. Remember, this was the toothless bowling attack we shuddered to think about. This was the team that was going to start by losing to arch rival Pakistan and then follow up with a pummeling by South Africa.

team indiaI will be honest. This Indian team overachieved and gave me a very enjoyable World Cup. Every game was interesting and the team kept me engaged. The bowling was tight and significantly better than the one I am used to, the past few years. The fielding was solid. And the batting was reliable until the Australia game.

The Australian team was better than us in every regard. As much as I would have loved for the Indian team to have removed the look of arrogance in Starc’s face, we were simply outmatched. A total of 300 chase-able if we had kept the wickets. Dhawan, who was stroking the ball so well decided to give his wicket away. Kohli looked lost and Rohit Sharma never got into a reasonable groove. We didn’t rotate strike to keep the target run rate within reach and eventually collapsed under the weight of the chase. We could have played better but eventually we played a significantly better opponent and lost.

Dhoni did a miraculous job throughout the tournament keeping the team motivated and driven to win every single game. There were times when I thought his captaincy made all the difference. He will most certainly not play the next World Cup. For the 2011 championship and this year’s run to the SF,  I am most thankful to his leadership.

There will be a sizable churn before the next World Cup but there is a core around which a team could be built to compete. I am optimistic for now. Plus there is always IPL and Chennai Super Kings has assembled a formidable team to compete like every year. A fun summer lies ahead. Chin up, boys. You did well.

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. 

Dispatches from real India (Part 5): Mottai Mama, my first and latest barber

Note: This post was composed in India and published after I got back to the US.

Over the past few weeks, I have featured interesting people who we encounter in our day to day life in India. A tailor, an employee at a soda vending shop, a movie buff who runs an 85 year old beverage store and a virtual character in the form of a new take on sugarcane juice. In this penultimate article in the series, I talk to my very first barber, Mottai Mama Subramaniam over a haircut and a shave.

At the time of my birth, my dad used to go a barbershop not too far from home on Shastri Road, Ramnagar. The shop has no name and is identifiable only by the blue revolving door at the entrance. The shop was originally started by Mottai Mama’s brother and Subramaniam took over in 1971. Since then, he has offered affordable haircuts and shaves for customers of all ages and stripes.

A couple of years after my birth, when I was ready for my first haircut, I am told my dad took me to Mottai Mama. For the next decade, I trusted mama with my head as did my dad. I distinctly remember a couple of calendar posters that adorned the shop as was the pot of water in the corner. The pot offered cool water on a warm day without the need for a refrigerator. In 1989, when we moved to our own place, we discovered a new saloon, Bharath Hairdressers next to home and shifted allegiances. Fast forward to last year and Bharath shuttered leaving us in the lurch. My father knocked at the door of Subramaniam who welcomed him with open arms. When I went home and wanted to have a cut and shave, my dad pointed me in the direction of Mottai Mama.

I dropped by and instantly recognized mama. But for a white beard, he was still the same person I remembered from two decades ago. I reminded him that I was an old customer and while he didnt remember me, he knew my dad and pieced things together. We talked about the changes in our lives all these years and he was visibly thrilled to have me come back. When the next customer, another regular, came in, mama took a few minutes to talk about how an old customer had come back to his roots and what it meant to him.

The shop has not changed much. It has undergone a couple of paint jobs- but in the same color. The posters remain as does the pot. The shop is peppered with pictures of various Hindu deities. The old tape recorder in the corner blared religious music non-stop. The ambiance had not changed one bit.

Mama asked me how I was doing in the US and if I was happy. I paused and said, “I am doing good. Things are fine. I am happy. What about you?” He smiled. He replied, “My life has been the same for as long as I remember. I am very happy with what I have and what my job and life offers. I need nothing more at this point.” His answer blew me away. As someone who belongs to a “want even more” generation, it is hard to find anybody who is happy and content with what they have. One could argue about his lack of motivation to be and do more. But I would think that a contented man today is a very rare commodity. In a world where more money buys more things, here is someone who is happy with everything in life. It must be applauded.

I paid my Rs.100 (~$1.6) for the haircut and shave and dollops of advice on how I can tweak my shaving style to keep my skin smooth (unsolicited and good natured advice is a bonus everywhere in India). I walked away happy – not just with my shave and cut, but also with having met someone who was genuinely happy with life and had no regrets. For that alone, the Rs.100 was worth it.

P.S: Subramaniam insisted that I call him Mottai Mama in this article.

Other Posts in the series:

Dispatches from real India (Part 1)

Dispatches from real India (Part 2)

Dispatches from real India (Part 3)

Dispatches from real India (Part 4)