I hope it rains over Pune

If you ever have an opportunity to reconnect with your old school friends, make sure you take it up. This weekend at Flags (an international restaurant) I blew some serious money getting in touch with school-mates from Loyola high school for boys (Pune). Such meetings offer simple moments of epiphany – I am still single πŸ™‚ and a member of the minority now. More than anything – I like to believe that I am patient, patiently waiting.

By serious money I meant at least USD 20. For a couple of drinks and delicious food – I do not regret splurging. Just think about it, Des has to have come a long way to make you part with so much money in one night over just drinks and food for just me. I am sure my friends will rejoin commenting that I am just out of touch. As if they blow away Re 800 in one night just over food ;-).

The best part of the night was definitely Gautam and Vaibhavi's invitation to all of the Loyolites for drinks over at their house. We went over to their place for Scotch and Bacardi and late night conversation. We grudgingly halted only around 4 am. Thankfully the moral police cannot tell you what you can do in your own home. The rest of Pune shuts at around midnight or before 2 am.

This week has been the hottest week I can remember ever. The other hot enough week was when our landlord pulled the plug on our air conditioner at the house in Issaquah. I had guests over then (Nimish?), the heat trapped in the house made it hard to even go to sleep. Seattle had been edging 100 F in that month. Pune on the other hand spent most of its time in the 100's. As if that was not enough, local taps have been switched off today and so has the electricity. I guess we are all doing our bit for the environment – save water and electricity.

At such times, when I sit with my laptop in the sweltering heat with no power, or running water, my mind tends to wander and fixate on the stereotypical municipal employee, chewing his tobacco and replying in a heavy maharashtrian accent that the water or electricity is about to be switched off. As he turns around and flips the switch to the "on" position. I admire him for the tremendous impact he has on the lives of so many others in the city. From the high and mighty to the low and common. All in praise of the power this man holds.

As a rejoinder to my mobile office post a few weeks ago I want to urge the top thinkers in my company to move our office to either Mumbai – where the electricity supposedly is never switched off, or nearer to a Swimming pool – where I can justify multiple showers a day. Jokes aside – I don't think anyone can afford to simply run away from the problems.
The other area my thoughts inevitably keep gravitating towards is how popular John Abraham has become in the Pune and Mumbai area. The model turned Bollywood superstar has mesmerised everyone I know! I am sure I must have missed the mass hypnosis event – everyone I have met so far, especially those from the fairer side, have mentioned him at least once in casual conversation. The very fact that my blog should mention John should indicate what a serious threat this guy has become. He has set the standard wayy to high.

The frequency of my blog posts is certainly on the downswing. I don't want this to be perceived as a lack of material to write about. Pune offers so many topics – dangerous motorists, reducing tree cover, enthusiastic geek community, constant threat of receding into the stone age, the most amazing food, and a cosmopolitan culture, to mention a few.

Honestly, I have been overwhelmed of late and am trying hard to catch up to life. The range of emotions I have felt is something I want to capture forever. My family and friends here have made me feel so at home – I want to be able to return that. Friends abroad have made me feel missed – I sincerely miss you guys too.

Life here in India is a huge exercise in abstraction and relativity. I am sincerely grateful that nothing is hidden from me and that my problems are only trivial. As debt-burdened farmers commit suicide in the fertile regions of my state, I am concerned that we don't question enough what it takes to bring food to our plates. As students find that even more seats in the best colleges and universities of the country are going to be reserved, my more informed friends nationwide debate about under representation of minorities and dilution of the education that the institutions provide. I have to constantly remind myself that I am here for a very specific reason and that I need to work hard to fix the small problems first.

This week promises some excellent live music – Jazz perhaps? Pune also offers a number of rock groups – you can see them live all week at the Inox, over at camp. Or so I have heard from the grapevine. See you there!

My own Zeitgeist:

brokentooth: V for Vangibath

Original Story: "V for Vangibath", brokentooth. I thought I would share with you a hilarious story about a Tamil graduate student with University of Arizona (I think) who was shadowed by the FBI in Madras and back in the states. BTW what are the FBI (or CIA I imagine) doing in Madras? Thanks to Desipundit for the story.

V's at the supermarket one Sunday morning, doing some grocery shopping (actually, I think at the time, he was on all fours, groping around at the back of a freezer for a can of plain yogurt – since eating strawberry curd rice isn't very appealing – and generally being rather cutely desi about the whole thing). Whilst he goes about his un-fruitful yogurt pursuit with steely resolve, his phone rings. He picks it up, and a grim voice on the other end says Hi, I'm calling from the FBI.

I should mention, I think, that our confused friend V has just started his job search process. Even so, his immediate thought process is rather hilarious:

This is odd, V thinks. I don't remember applying to the FBI for a job.

We still want to believe that the consumer is King

An Indian summer: As first weeks go, my first week here has been exceptionally interesting. I am enjoying the fact that the systems here are geared towards a personalized experience. This is not to say that in the past the experience was missing. I also cannot ignore the fact that Indian bureaucracy is legendary. Getting anything done involved filling forms and travelling from desk to desk.

Re-integrating: Within the past week, I have purchased and setup various financial products, got connected with the world, assisted in the purchase of computing hardware and re-integrated myself into the day to day activities here. My bank even provides me with a personal relationship manager. Not that a personal relationship manager is anything new. For example, my father has a personal relationship with every staff member at his old time private bank. The only difference is, no one ever bothered to label that relationship, while the larger multi-national banks have.

I can hardly rival my experience re-integrating here with my experience in the US. I remember the US systems were quick and reliable. For example, the toughest part was getting to the bank branch. Opening the account was easy. As a student I could not afford a car, and if you don’t own a car then your dead in the water as far as getting around is concerned. If you hired a cab or took a bus, the time and money spent were unusually disproportionate to the distance you wanted to go. In contrast, getting around an Indian city is cheap, that is not what you have to concern yourself with. Instead, you really ought to worry about getting conned when you get on that bus or an auto-rickshaw.

The AirTel network: Back in the States, I was on a wireless service contract with a large US GSM provider. The contract had about 4 months left over on it. I never anticipated moving to India so soon when I purchased the contract. Needless to say the provider billed me an early termination fee (BIG $$) when I reneged on the contract and left me with a GSM/GPRS Nokia phone.

On the second day back here, I got ready to get reconnected with an Indian mobile number. My father suggested I could go down to the AirTel customer service store where I could purchase a no obligation, relatively cheap, pre-paid SIM card for the AirTel GSM/GPRS network and at the same time activate it. All I had to do was carry my proof of residence and a passport sized photograph. Within an hours time, an AirTel representative helped me get the right forms, buy the card, submit the documents and I was on the network with my original GSM phone. Cool! Had I decided to go with the post-paid solution, my contract would still have no obligation. Freedom!

Indian (un)reliability: The other experience was with a broadband provider in my area – Iqara. I called up their local office to schedule a connection (no 1-800 here). The person who answered the phone connected me to the individual who was responsible for a new connection. I actually had a real name and an extension number of one person who was responsible for my new connections. Within the next two hours I handed over money for a new connection to a representative (who drove down to my place) and I was promised a new connection before the end of the week.

I will not fail to mention that Iqara never delivered on their promise. I don’t have the money or the broadband connection, but I have receipts, a name and a number and I am going to call that person on Monday. Until then I have to imbibe the intensity with which my friends chase down service providers over the phone. Perhaps in the process I will also learn a little Marathi πŸ™‚ a popular local language that can open many doors. Which reminds me, I had once upon a time promised myself I would learn Spanish.

Problems of the people: Pune wants to become the first wi-fi enabled city. M.G. road and the University of Pune are already there. That promise could be a life saver for individuals who are stuck in a routine Pune traffic jam. If you ever wanted to cover the 10 kilometer stretch between my house and the University of Pune, carry a laptop with a wireless radio. In a few months from now, you can spend the 30 minutes your stuck there e-mailing all your friends not to drive down that same road.

If you think about it, Pune really does have a chance of making its ambitions come true ;). In the past, other urban planners (e.g. San Francisco) usually provide mass transit first and then aim for wi-fi. Pune on the other hand can skip the entire mass transit mess and go on to providing wi-fi. In fact, I imagine that in the near future Pune-ites will simply stop commuting and work from home over free internet.

The Google Story: I am reading an insightful book by David Vise on the quickest, largest, hottest Internet, Media and technology success of our time: Google. Google succeeded in its early days because of great feedback and support from friends, well-wishers and other users of Google beta. They were first users of the system and reported with intensity on how well Google (beta) solved their own problems with searching the Internet. Larry and Sergey kept up with them because they felt the feedback was very important. No doubt, many others also had a hand in its success in their own different ways. Professors helped make connections with Sand Hill Road, Google hired key employees from their network and a friend provided the garage space when they decided to move out of Stanford. I accept as a fundamental truth, that people make technology companies.

I am confident from what I know of Pune that any startup here can make the same connections. Not only are there enough smart consumers who will let you know what they want, people here are very social and will go out of their way to assist you. For my own startup, I promise to sincerely imbibe the Google philosophy – solve the problem really well first. Keep the feedback loop short. I don’t plan on making razor sharp deadlines that will decide when the product will ship. Instead, I believe the fun and learning in a startup’s journey will come from inviting and absorbing honest feedback.

Life is very different: And so is the market. My friend calls it the “Touch Factor”. It is these two words that decide the degree of success of any business model here. It has always been here.

Related Stories: Potential and Impact of Basic Public Services – Shrikant.

The Mobile office solution to load-shedding

For the uninitiated – Pune is undergoing year round conservation of electricity. The power plants cannot keep up with the city power consumption (or so we have been told).

To get around the 8am to 10am power cut in Shivajinagar, I will be working from our office space near Senapati Bapat road. When load shedding envelopes our office space (I suspect during lunch hours), I will probably be working from home.

Tickets for the most ridiculous speed limits

Blog Post:Teach a lesson, lawfully” – Pavan Kumar.

When you get ticketed for going 80mph in a 55mph zone, you just broke the law. But what if everyone else was going at 75mph in the same zone? What if driving 55mph was in fact dangerous inside 75mph traffic? Would that make you angry? Would you want to teach the law a lesson? Would 5 over be really that illegal then? Watch the video to find out.

Potty India

Original Article: “Devil’s Advocate: Go to Pot“. Sauvik Chakravarti for Times of India.

An excerpt to whet your appetite.

I then paid the priest some money. That is when I decided to perform ‘an experiment with truth’: I inquired of the priest: “Panditji, main is pavitra sthaan mein ek chillum peena chahta hoon.

In a follow-up to my earlier post, “Cultural Diversity, Harmony should be India’s strengths“, I wanted to highlight another aspect of Indian culture. Cannabis. One does not have to travel to Amsterdam [“Two thoughts from Amsterdam”, The Acorn] to enjoy this ritual escape of Sadhus, Rastafarians, and Mystics. It turns out, Hardwar will do just fine.Everyday I learn a new thing.