Living in a Blue Zone

Not too long ago Kiran visited Pune from Bangalore. He spent his day in Pune and ended it in Koregaon Park. Instead of taking a cab to the airport he decided to walk. The 1+ hour-long route for sure took him through pedestrian-friendly & unfriendly spots, but that didn’t matter at all to him. He made it and tweeted out his accomplishment to his many followers.

The prevalent assessment of living in a city like Pune or Bangalore are that they are pedestrian and cyclist-unfriendly. Some of the replies to Kiran’s tweets echo this sentiment. Sure, these cities are far from the idea of Blue Zones that encourage denizens to walk, cycle to work and getting around differently. Picture your self coasting on LA’s Venice Beach, or in Amsterdam with dedicated cyclist lanes, safely segregated from the surrounding traffic. We’re a long way from that.

In Pune’s commuting history there have been attempts to improve the cycling infrastructure and ridership. At one point segregated cycling lanes were built. Some still exist today with intact road skirts but neglected riding surfaces. Last year several bike-leasing startups such as Yulu have deployed several thousand bicycles across the city. Students continue to prefer to cycle to school. What I think deters ridership are the increasing distances, the growing population of 4-wheelers and large vehicles. Pune’s hot summers and monsoons push commuters to give up on two-wheels and take cars to work thus increasing traffic snarls and parking unavailability.

Having cycled to work and for errands over the last 3 weeks, I humbly submit that it’s fun to get around Pune on a bicycle and a tad tricky. The dangers include aggressive drivers that’ll cut across your riding lane, gravel on the street, inclined crossovers that your tires won’t grip, two-wheelers taking shallow rights, four-wheeler occupants who’ll flip doors open at you, bus drivers, impatient auto-wallahs and so on. Once I can get over the psychological hump of riding with them, learn to navigate them, I’ll be more open to the pure satisfaction emerging from long and short rides. Soon, I imagine I won’t think twice before getting on my saddle.

It goes without saying that if you haven’t already figured it out, err on the side of safety. Wear a helmet and maybe even protection for elbows, knees. If you’re riding early mornings or after dark, purchase an inexpensive high-visibility vest, add reflectors, or spend a little more on a USB-charged light that straps to your bicycle. Sundays and National Holidays the traffic is way more forgiving and long rides more enjoyable.

I guess it’s alright to want more. Mehuls’ bike ride to work is over 10 km. If city riding is not your thing you can head out or find trails inside the city. Bicycles are incredibly fun and should be the future of inner-city transport. If you’re not convinced, that’s ok too – just be cool with the riders on pedal-powered machines you’ll meet at your next traffic light.

PS. if you’re part of Pune’s growing cycling enthusiast groups and are open to riding together, tweet me.

Sunday Cycling Update

Today’s cycling route, 15 km:
* Agricultural College to Loyola High School Gate.
* Loyola High School Gate to Parihar Chowk via Baner Rd.
* Parihar Chowk to Symbiosis College.
* Symbiosis College to Agricultural College via FC Rd.

Total distance covered = 15 km at a relaxed 1 hour.

The original plan was to get to Venture Centre and then head back to Shivajinagar via Symbiosis hill. However, at Loyola High, traffic was held up for a marathon of school children. I switched routes to go through Abhimanshree instead.

A 3 km long designated cycling track has been laid out from Bremen Chowk to University Circle. It’s cost the city of Pune over INR 2CR to make this possible. It’s a work in progress as the bollards were placed too close together and are being relaid. This is an exciting step and perhaps next weekend the track will be fit to use.

#PuneCycling is alive and kicking. A number of cyclists were out this Sunday morning from Bremen Chowk to Symbiosis. It’s fun, physically demanding and will get to be a lot safer with designated tracks.

Symbiosis Hill

Sunday morning. The traffic’s eased up, a clear day, the weather is between 17°C – 20°C. Today’s route was longer and a fun 38 minutes. Starting from Shimla Office up the length of Ganeshkhind / University Road, left onto Senapati Bapat Road and then to FC Road through the connecting BMCC Road.

The route has both uphill and downhill stretches. The uphill was steep enough to have to use the lower gears all the way down to the large (1). The gears on the bike continue to be a learning opportunity. When switching down to large (1), I have to anticipate and switch the smaller gears up first or the pedals will spin with effort and low traction.

There were several other groups out today. Persistent Systems were out for their annual marathon, Ananda Foundation had a walkathon and there were a few other riders whose route overlapped mine for some distance.

It was a treat to see riders take on the uphill on mountain bikes and slim road bikes. The incline up Symbiosis College was hard and my legs screamed as I watched the other riders made it look effortless. I managed the climb up and the downhill from there was crazy fast and exhilarating.

The length of FC Road continues to be under construction and I think it’s shaping up well. The pavements are being rebuilt to allow for 2-wheeler parking and ample walking area for pedestrians. That’s our cities version of ‘smart’ pavements.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, bike riding has helped give a different colour to everything that’s around me. When city riding wears off, I’ll look forward to bike rides out in the areas around town.

I want to Ride my Bicycle

I’ve been bicycling to work. I’m getting better at it gradually. Commuting on a bicycle maybe slower than a quick 2-wheeler ride, but has other benefits. It’s helping me avoid driving to work. I also get a short workout twice a day. It’s a different way to experience the ride home, the shops, the route and promises a lot more freedom than walking to work.

Coping with the traffic on a bicycle is getting easier with experience. At the stop lights, the entire width of the road fills up faster than you would expect. Almost always, it’s faster to walk your cycle across the crossroad than it is to wait and get through with the normal traffic.

The downside is the deep potholes I have to watch out for that. I think they can easily bend the wheel rims if hit when riding quick enough. At night, these are harder to see so I’ve memorised the route. Having high visibility clothing is also a great idea.

The bike I’m using is a Schnell Sierra which I think is made in Pune. It’s quick, lightweight and comes with a 24-speed configuration. I’m still getting used to changing up and down. On a bicycle, gear-changing is about anticipating when you’ll need to change up or down. I’ll also need to figure out which gears to avoid riding on to lower the wear and tear on the chain.

The plan for now it going all the way upto 15 March. That’s when I expect it’ll get too hot to keep going.

2019 is here, wish you dear reader a Happy New Year!

Mr. Boland Roberts, Bishop’s School Pune

Mr. Boland Roberts was former principal of The Bishop’s School Camp from January 1973 to June 1999. Mr. Roberts as he was fondly known as passed away on the 12th of April 2018.

He was my principal for 11 years. I thought a note of how I remembered him would be my contribution in celebrating a truly incredible person’s journey.

The most amazing thing about Mr. Roberts was his beaming smile. It makes it hard to imagine the person who owned that smile was also a disciplinarian. If you knew the gentleness of his smile you’d have trouble reconciling those ideas too. When I remember him, he’s leaning over me as a much smaller boy, smiling down and asking me a tough, direct question to engage me. He often moved around the school grounds after morning assembly in his black cape, occasionally speaking to boys he ran into.

Other old boys will recall he personally handed out certificates before school gatherings, providing a firm handshake and verbal encouragement to every boy for every reward. I remember receiving a book at his hands in class VI and every time I went up there to meet him, it was special. He did his best to make it so.

Class X of ’93 had a serious run in with him. They were caught by him in the St. Mary’s annual fair despite having clear instructions that they were not to attend. This was a classic moment of rebellion and they were pulled up by Sir himself. Schools can go much easier now, but back then I believe Mr. Roberts genuinely wanted the boys of Bishop’s to be gentlemen ambassadors of the school.

He was my principal in class X of ’94 and continued to lead the school up to his retirement in 1999. He ran the school with vigor and I’m sure he enjoyed every day of it. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I believe his immense contribution in making Bishop’s an institution will be remembered.

Summer Cold and Arduino

I have a cold and it’s a miserable feeling to have one in the Summer. I tried to be careful when spending time with my Son this Sunday morning. The Arduino kit we were working on required us to work together in close contact.

We ran into a tiny issue that needed debugging. The Arduino IDE picks the default board and we changed it to the right one to get it working. He had a real blast changing the LED delay times and uploading the code to the board. I’m looking forward to the different experiments we’ll try together. I wonder if he’ll be able to read and change the code too?

Persistence is its own Reward

Are startups owed an exit? It sure felt that way when I wrote this piece. Somewhere down the line, my thinking changed.

All founders are desirous of the big exit. Be it a venture investment, IPO or maybe even being acquired. An investor and startup come together when it’s a win-win, right? The investor believes that the startup is a compelling story, that they would miss out if they didn’t invest. The startup believes taking the investors money and involvement has greater rewards than the trouble.

Then there are dire situations where founders are struggling and they believe they need a cash infusion to stay afloat. I know of many such journies. I too was at that point once. It felt then that an exit was owed. I denied myself the reward of persisting. A lesson learned.

You deserve an exit when a competitor believes they have to buy you out, an investor believes that you’re a must-have investment, a strategic investor thinks you’re going to deliver on a key priority, or it’s just simply too hard for you to go on. I imagine I might have missed some other rational or irrational scenario, but otherwise, there’s no exit.

Then there is future. There is always future. When we’re looking into the future, the exit goal clouds the constructive, path-finding attitude. So set it aside. You can build a future if you believe you have one. Surprise your self and those around you every day. Look to inspire and get that next customer, that next user, the next investor, the market and so on towards the larger more complex ideas. Trust me, as the future unfolds – you’ll see there are limitless possibilities to surprise you. I don’t say this trivially, I did find a future myself and I’m sure you’ll find yours.

Forty

I’ve turned forty! I really hope I’m getting wiser, some of the signs say otherwise hilariously.

The morning began with getting my son to the school bus stop. After we got on the bus, there was lingering anxiety for so many things. For instance, where did he lose his pencil-box? There are so many things that aren’t in our control. A dear friend called to check in with me. It didn’t take long for us to get around to his business, to trade ideas and to share advice.

In this past year if I’ve learned anything it’s that as I get older the debt that I owe to my parents, family, colleagues, and friends only grows. I’m glad to have such awesome people to share my journey.

How Goes the Running?

My average running times this year have improved from ~ 8:20 mins/km to < 7:50 mins/km. Today I posted a personal best of 7:20 mins/km over 3km. It’s great to follow my friends Shantanu and Sudhanshu on Runkeeper who’re posting times well below 6 mins/km. While I’m slow in comparison, I’m happy with the improvement I’ve been able to see and I think with the right plan I might be able to improve further this Summer.

This is me on Runkeeper.

Pune Angels

Angels who can trace a connection back to Pune and willing to invest in Pune-based technology Startups.

I know of *many* such stories.

The idea of Pune Angels has the potential to do tremendous good in our backyard. It came up in two different conversations. It goes to show you really can’t stop a good thing from happening.

I’ll continue to bubble the idea through the many digital back channels in our local eco-system.