What is Water?


“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace in ‘This is Water

This isn’t the first time the question “What is Water?” is used in a way to point to our beliefs. The central idea is that we all possess beliefs which may or may not be founded in true experience. For individuals, this is the same as living an aquatic life not knowing what water is. We don’t know of the existence of these beliefs. And yet we act on the basis of them. These beliefs are the source of our identity.

What do you do to learn what water is for you?

Confidence in Innocence

The other day, I was sitting on my Dad’s lap on a revolving chair and watching a movie. I leaned back and caused the chair to tilt. We were both in free-fall. Dad instinctively lifted me up in the air. On having completed the fall, he put me down on the ground to his right. For a brief moment I stood there surprised at the sudden turn of events. Realizing I was ok, I turned to Dad and said “I didn’t get hurt as I am Bheem“.

Greatly inspired by “It’s me, Saksham“.

A Hundred and Fifty Years of the Bishop’s Colours

This year it will be nineteen years having left school. In the years gone by I’ve done little to stay in touch with the school. In that time familiar teachers have moved on. Times have changed and old school friends have drifted away to be replaced by new ones.

Earlier this year, Principal Friese invited alumni to a special assembly. Bishop’s was going to turn 150 in 2014! At the assembly he asked for assistance for the upcoming year-long celebrations.  The assembly rekindled a deeper connection and natural curiosity. Had the school ventured to change their teaching methods? Did they still place great emphasis on all-round development? I had no excuse for having stayed away for so long.

At the sesquicentennial committee meeting I was surprised to see alumni from as far back as the 1960’s. Some had children who were studying at Bishop’s, others were simply there to help. I met alumni from the IT committee, Marketing committee, other old boys and teachers. The committee was chaired by the principal and the headmasters of each of the three schools in Pune.

The school appointed historian related her findings. She’d found verifiable documents (maps, plans, communications) that Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington had planned out an offensive against the Maratha’s (Second Anglo-Maratha war 1803 – 1805) from the bungalow that currently serves as the Principal’s residence. She’d also verified that the original underground Peshwa-era water supply pipeline did pass through the school grounds.

A couple of days earlier I’d met with the  historian who interviewed me for interesting anecdotes and to learn how the graduates of the ’94 batch had done in life. As I recollected details of the alumni I was still in touch with, the list consisted of entrepreneurs, industrialists and even a film director (ever watched Karthik Calling Karthik?). Everyone had done well. Recalling school days wasn’t easy emotionally. In my opinion, my teachers at Bishop’s stood out for their commitment to the general welfare of their students. I say that with great care and an educational background spanning two universities across continents and two schools. The old boys themselves are the greatest testimony the school could have.

As I watched the committees share their progress, their spirit was infectious. I headed back and I thought hard. I’d contributed to the history book and I felt I could do more. Although I wouldn’t be an effective contributor at this late stage I could help in other ways. As I reached out to my professional network to other old boys I was amazed by the enthusiasm with which they got back. Would they like to contribute their memories, reach out to other alumni? Yes, of course they would.

Today, Bishop’s has grown from one school campus in Pune, Camp to two new areas – Kalyani Nagar and Undri. However, they’re still constrained in their teaching methods. Having been around for a long time can be both a boon and a curse. Another entrepreneur Phil Libin Founder, CEO at Evernote shared his insight into the same paradox earlier this month – his dream is for his company to endure for a hundred years and to continue to innovate despite it’s age. The hope is that with this renewed connection back to the school and with the help of other parents, we might have a hand at influencing the course the school charts next.

As the celebrations shape up there’s a lot more that could be done. If you’ve attended St. Helena’s or St. Mary’s Pune, do get in touch. Our historian would love to get your views on the Bishopites you knew or met. If you’re an old boy and have photos, anecdotes or anything else you’d like to share – please get in touch as soon as you can. Your material will make it to a coffee table book that will cover the school through the ages. If you intend to travel to attend the celebrations in 2014, follow the school website for event dates and details.

A thought for Father’s Day

My wife and I were glad to be able to spend a Sunday together with my Mom and Dad. The day began innocuously enough discussing that it was Father’s day. My Dad had turned 60 a little while ago and it’s been a mixed bag to watch him change over the last few years. More time with his grandson, new patterns of work. So many other little things. The personal uniqueness of being both a Father and a Son puts experiences into a wider perspective. I would not claim to be the best son out there and I wish I try harder to be.

We’re always encouraged to learn to be good parents. When do we start learning to be better sons and daughters?

Playgroup Days Ahead

My son will be joining his playgroup in another ten days. We’ve never left Megh by himself before. For all of us here at home, this is certainly going to be an interesting turn of events. The folks at the playgroup have designed the first two weeks to be short play sessions. The first couple of days are thirty minute sessions, followed by sessions of forty-five minutes going all the way up to two hours. For the first few days, I’ll be playing the role of parent on duty waiting in ‘hiding’ while Megh settles in with the others.

If you’ve never watched kids getting settled into a playgroup, it can be a harrowing the first time. I’ve watched two little boys of about two, or two and a half wail away for their mothers. At one point, I almost felt as if they were attempting to outdo each other in the intensity of their cries. The mothers were nearby and hiding behind the classrooms with instructions to not get involved. One of the toddlers spotted me, or I guess he spotted the fact that I had car keys on me. He latched on to me and asked me to take him to his mother. Toddlers don’t need to learn, or to socialize. They simply need the love of their parents, family and near ones. Everything else that you think is happening, is really just a byproduct. Once they settle in to the playgroup, they learn because they have the attention of their teachers.

The one sure way to mess things up is to make a big deal of what are really  little things. I think Megh will fare well and adapt to his new environment. I’ve watched him play with other children and work with teachers before this. His behavioral response in an unfamiliar environment, like many other boys, is always a notch above his usual self.

For my wife and I, I hope we will take time off to celebrate this milestone.

The Unmatched Gender

Not so long ago, my wife let me know as to how upset she was that I was still differentiating between our Mothers. She’d asked me to call them both Mom and I’d always sneak off to find a way to make them more addressable in my head. “Could I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Mum’?”, I came back. “How would I know who’s who when I want to tag a photo?” I said frustrated. With that I’d escaped to the insensitive man-cave of logic. The surprise is that there is indeed a subtle rationality to what she was asking of me. I’ve pondered over and presented my case here.

We’re brought up in a world that values big goals over little ones, performance over uniqueness, scale over nurture, efficiency over engaged. Essentially we’re creating tradeoffs, but for women tradeoffs are absolutely useless. Imagine believing that you’re giving up on time with your child for time at work, or that you’re giving up your home for someone else’s? How would life work if these were indeed rational choices? In fact, how would things work at all without the simple belief that everything changes and the necessary encouragement this belief gives in making the choice presently? It is not that men discriminate more than is necessary. But it is that women are presented with truly difficult choices and they seem to be getting better at making them work. There is that inescapable argument that we’re missing out on developing this certain quality.

I face difficult choices as I go along and I do need to get better at them. Just the other day someone I respect stated with a razor-like clarity that if one were to build and take a product to market, the founders better be 100% committed. This is how the product startup eco-system works and it’s fair if we think about the expectations of those invested. Anyhow what’s right isn’t the point. Let’s look at it another way. The act of choosing could’ve easily dissuaded Zuckerberg, Gates – should I leave Harvard to build Facebook, Microsoft? and the Google founders – finish PhD. or start a Search company? If these choices appear to be straightforward through their eyes, think of the many Gates’, Zuckerbergs, Brins and Pages who did not build a Google, Microsoft, or Facebook in favor of a Harvard, or a Stanford. Reality is that we won’t know a good thing until and unless we see it through.

Women make such choices work out all the time. They’re figuring out how to be themselves and yet be a part of a workforce dominated by men. They’re figuring out how to be good homemakers and yet play a meaningful role in the world outside their homes. They’re figuring out how to be a good Mother and yet grow their career. They’re figuring out how to be a good Daughter and yet found a new family. They’re applying what is universally acknowledged to be a key Business leadership trait*. They’re doing this at the level of an entire gender that accounts for half of everything on this planet. Indeed, what if they were running things?

Dedicated to the Women who’ve helped breath life into this post. Wish you a Happy Woman’s day.

*Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking.


When you label your self,

… a Blogger, don’t lose the freedom to keep it to yourself;

a Visionary, don’t lose the freedom to spot the obvious;

in Love, don’t lose the freedom to be hurt;

a Leader, work hardest to hang on to the freedom to follow;

a Competitor, don’t lose the freedom to be inspired;

a Pragmatist, don’t lose the freedom to imagine;

Well-spoken, don’t lose the freedom to speak with silence;

a Father, always nurture the freedom to play;

a Founder, never lose the freedom to fail;

… Enlightened?

Feel for you. You will indeed miss the freedom that comes with ignorance and change.

Late Evening Chat with an Entrepreneur

The most amazing thing about experienced entrepreneurs is their ability to think effectually where instead of trying to predict the future, they make an honest attempt to invent it. Even if the future might appear to be uncertain or unpredictable, an effectual approach helps you quickly learn what you need to do now to change things. Earlier this evening, I had a marathon four-hour session with one such entrepreneur who carefully helped me draw connections between my background, aspirations and ground realities.

Over the last few months leading up to this conversation, I’ve researched books including the Startup of You, and articles on the web including my favorite Do What You Love. The writing merely helped by giving me a language to explain what it was that I expected from my future. Having someone to face and trade idea fits was unique in it’s own way. I came away with clearer options, and a bonus refreshed perspective on the same challenges that I earlier felt might be dead-ends.

There is still a whole lot of doing that remains before I can claim that the challenge has been won. This post is really to thank and to underline all that went into making this conversation possible. Common friends, common events, one-on-one discussions, email and phone exchanges that stretch out for well over a year. The threads of our journeys intermingle with so many different people we engage with at work and home. I can’t help but believe that this rich fabric might know some things about you that will surprise you as well.

Finally, both of us did not come into the discussion expecting this. It wouldn’t have been possible to have this conversation and its outcome if he did not firmly believe in the creative practice which teaches respect for intuition and encourages you to recognize that what we expect, and the practice itself are independent and yet interdependent. Without that freedom we make it difficult to welcome new objectives, or new goals that emerge out of any discussion on what is and what can be.

I hope that my own experience will convince you to see all those around you with a refreshed perspective.

Diaper Days Dad

My son Megh is now a little over 15 months old. What most experienced Dads will tell you is that these are the most incredible days of fatherhood. Right around 6 to 9 months, infants begin down the path of self-realization and pick up a sense of identity about who they are, that what they want is not necessarily what you might want and most importantly that they are the center of your universe. They can make you smile, laugh and at times they can make you want to cry out loud too.

I would say that it’s not possible to love you more than I do right now, but I know that it’s not true, becaue I love you more every day. I want to remember every minute of this, every joke you make, every smile. Time is moving too fast and I want to bottle this and have you be two forever. I know that that’s not possible, so allow me to write about you, the things I love, and the things I’ll miss.

A friend of a friend wrote these words on his blog and I can tell you that this rings out true every time I read it. Time flies by too quickly and babies grow up to be kids too soon.

It’s painful to have Megh take his shots. This weekend after he had his chickenpox vaccine, I noticed my hands shaking as I paid the clinic on my way out. I didn’t realize that keeping him still and watching the needle go in would have such a deep impression on me.

A personal favorite are those rare moments when he falls asleep in my shoulders. As he slowly drifts into sleep, his little body steadily eases out, his arms wrapped around me. In that brief moment I know then what being Daddy is, really, really. I renew my promise to always be a source of strength and inspiration for him to go further.