Indians – Have we no Pride?

I wanted to move to another table to save myself from getting upset and reacting, or maybe I was just saving said Mallu….the outdoors had been moved into the indoors, there were no free tables. And thus I had to suffer this kind of depiction of India for another half hour as I went through the soup and main course. Good meal, stupid India, didn’t gratify.

An Indian (unknown to me) set me off last night.

Between place of residence, place of work and business trips, I have done about forty countries. Give or take. Take away my outward appearance and a somewhat westernized style that has come out of extended and extensive international exposure….cut me, I bleed Indian. Therefore, the stupidity, the attitude and the content of the overheard discussion (I know, I know – eavesdropping – not good), but this guy was on a roll and a tad too audible. He cut me, indirectly, I bled. Indian. It’s that simple.

So the whole story….

A four-hour bus journey on the back of a red-eye flight (red-eye plus delay not a good combination), saw a sleep depraved self, extracting everything I had in me, to function optimally at work on the morning of the night before. So I knocked off work, thirty minutes before the usual nineteen thirty hours, and decided I needed to grab a bite before I hit the sack earlier than the norm. It’s altogether another matter that I managed to sleep but two hours before I was wide awake watching a Netflix original, The Outsider, before I went back to sleep at four am. Only to be up again at six thirty.

So this grabbing of a bite on the evening of the day after, took place at this open air restaurant at The Metropole, one of my favorite haunts. Beautiful weather, lovely breeze, and me seated at my preferred table, promised a good bite, and possibly deep sleep.

Chinese I decided, and proceeded to order, but the Maitre’D recommended against Chinese. “Sar”, he went, “Chinese chef nat well only”, and some more valuable input, “Sar, assistant cooking, nat gud”. So out with Chinese and in with a mix of continental Cream of Vegetable soup, and Indian Vegetarian Kofta Curry (red), accompanied with two butter rotis.

As I hungrily wait for the meal, it starts to drizzle (not the season, so some errant weather pattern), and I’m ushered into the indoor restaurant. I’ve been to The Metropole scores of times, but never ventured into the indoors. I just prefer outdoors.

So the gaps between the tables outside gave way to seating at closer quarters.

As I went through emails, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Hangouts (all work), and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (all personal), I glanced around to size up the rest of the dinner crew. A most uninteresting bunch, and so I went back to doing what I was doing. Part work, part passing of time, and then came the soup. Delicious, no regrets at this forced change from Chinese.

Halfway through the soup or thereabouts, I hear this voice, Indian, deep and distinct accent from one of the southern states, and I think, Mallu (referring to people from the state of Kekarala). I still haven’t glanced up, as my face is in the soup, and then I hear (a much softer), foreign accent (male). Ah! So I am thinking’ Mallu eats dinner with foreigner, and cannot but help marking the stark difference in the decibel levels, between said Mallu, and said foreigner.

Mysore, just like the rest of India, is no stranger to foreigners, but the foreigners who come to Mysore or pass through Mysore, are either into Yoga, or then are here to study or learn the beautiful culture. Mysore, after all is the home of art and culture in the state of Karnataka and indeed of The South.

With all the international exposure I’ve had, unlike a lot of us Indians, I don’t flinch, nor do I stare at foreigners. Well, sometimes I’m compelled to stare.

This time, no staring, but just a glance to my right to get first glimpses, of Mallu and foreigner. Foreigner, dignified. Mallu, nerdy and completely awestruck in the presence of foreigner (yes I’m judgemental). For those who know my five second rule, they won’t be in the least bit surprised.

As I said at the outset, I don’t usually eavesdrop, except sometimes I do. Its kinda fun!

So not merely snatches of the conversation, but due to the rather high decibel levels, I’m able to hear it all. I could probably write pages on the conversation, but I will give you a gist.

At a high level, it goes something like this, Indians are like…..(negatively depicted), a complete generalization, and made to sound by Mallu like….this is not about me, I’m not Indian, it’s just that my skin is a rather deep shade of brown. That’s like me at Daytona Beach, post tan, speaking in an American accent, passing myself off, or at least trying to, as an American.

Indians don’t know anything about Yoga he goes, we need foreigners to show us how its done, because they are so much better. Yeah, right. Isn’t that exactly why scores of foreigners come to India and in particular Mysore to learn Yoga?

Now Yoga is another thing that sets me off these days. Why? Because, everybody and then everybody else seems to be into Yoga. And the kind of Yoga they do, is something that will probably make a dead Yogi turn in his or her grave! It seems to have become all about exercise, a weight loss fad, and has mostly lost its philosophical and deeply spiritual roots. You don’t really know much if all you are taught are one mantra, or do you? And then just last night, I see a video on Facebook, posted by a friend, which shows a Yoga class or studio (as its called these days), where the students are sipping beer whilst doing the Yoga postures! Incredulous. The video says it helps people relax. What next, designer drugs and Yoga as a logical progression?

Leaving Yoga on the back-burner, for a more detailed dissection of the modern-day Yoga social scene (some call it Yoga class), lets move on to other negatives as explained by my Mallu friend.

Indians don’t like to spend money. Indians are miserly, not generous and so on….. Right again! I was about to jump into the conversation and comment, but did manage to hold myself in check.

I wanted to move to another table to save myself from getting upset and reacting, or maybe I was just saving said Mallu….the outdoors had been moved into the indoors, there were no free tables. And thus I had to suffer this kind of depiction of India for another half hour as I went through the soup and main course. Good meal, stupid India, didn’t gratify.

And so I ask. Why aren’t Indians proud of who they are? Why are Indians so completely in awe of the West? Why can’t Indians just be Indians and not try so hard to conform? Finally why can’t Indians realize that kissing ass, or running down “Indians”, is not a way to suck up to a foreigner. Are we so damn stupid that we think that by sucking up, by degrading anything and everything Indian, we will earn the respect of foreigners?

Said foreigner, did try of a few occasions to put some of the utterances from Mallu into perspective and even did try to refute some of them, but since the man was in full flow, he simply said, that the poor foreigner didn’t really know, and stuck to his guns.

That’s all well and good….this Why business. I decided that this buster needed to be set right, so I waited for him to leave the restaurant, and met him in the parking lot, just to tell him that he’s a low life, ass licking individual, not fit to be called an Indian. You should have seen the look on his face. I loved it!

I guess I should balance that out, by saying that there are some things we Indians do not handle well, generally speaking, that is. We don’t take criticism well. We take it way to personal. We don’t like to follow rules and processes, but we are good at a time of crisis. We don’t know how to say no, we would rather say yes, then fail, and then make excuses. We are excellent in saying that it’s “almost” done. We wait for a deadline, and don’t provide a heads-up that the deadline will be missed, until the penultimate moment. Yes, that’s us, generally speaking.

But, cut me I bleed Indian and that’s not going to change anytime soon.




Technological Revolution: No Internet aka The Dark Ages

For the generation that has seen technology in the palm of your hand almost from birth, boys and girls I would like to say that, there was a time when there was no internet, and even worse, no cellular phones, only landlines to contend with, not to speak of the challenges of actually getting a landline (at least in India, way back). Yes people, those were the Dark Ages, very dark.

The topic for the day, well actually night, is life moving from the dark ages into the light.

My journey with technology really started when I was a kid, as is usually the case. My professional tryst with technology, is nothing but fate and circumstance. Nowhere on the distant landscape did technology seem to be on the horizon, yet here we are. Sumir Nagar – Chief Operating Officer & Global Delivery Head.

The childhood skirmishes with technology mainly consist of me taking things apart, and more often than not, failing to put them back together in working condition. Radios, cassette players, cars and bicycles (of course) included.

It even involves, yours truly, trying to peel off the coating of a speaker wire, which was nothing but a live wire. Stick wire in mouth, to strip coating, wet tongue contacting bare live wire, bzzzzzzz, Sumir falling off rather tall ladder, and bringing down the stereo speakers he’s trying to fix. Fortunately no broken bones, just a strange buzzing feeling throughout every fibre of my being.

If only that moment could have been caught on film, it would have got a lot of eyeballs on You Tube and then some. Minor detail, no You Tube, no Facebook, no social, and even more ghastly, no internet. Really no internet? Did such a time even exist? How quickly we forget, don’t we? Well for those of us “old” enough. Here comes Minton, saying “how old are you bro?”, and Lisa saying, “you posted it I didn’t”. So lets set that little item to rest… I am all of 54 years old. Happy people?

For the generation that has seen technology in the palm of your hand almost from birth, boys and girls I would like to say that, there was a time when there was no internet, and even worse, no cellular phones, only landlines to contend with, not to speak of the challenges of actually getting a landline (at least in India, way back).

Yes people, those were the Dark Ages, very dark.

Those were also simpler times, when family actually spent time doing fun stuff, actually spending quality time together, actually having meaningful conversations with each other, face to face. But this is not about lament, it’s about my experience of seeing technology actually take shape and come into an age of self driven cars and delivery by drone.

Technology has changed every single aspect of our existence, from the way we write and run computer programmes, to the kind of cars we drive, to the kind of bicycles we ride. How we have seen the music scene changing, from valve based radios, to circuit boards, from vinyl to spool decks, to eight track, to cassette tapes, to CD’s to Blue Ray, to internet based music.

Have you ever used a box camera, that too black and white, and graduated to polaroid, to SLR, to DSLR, to phone based cameras, and now comes the Moto Z Play with the Hazelblad camera Mod attachment! What a fantastic journey. Have you ever developed roll after roll (rather expensive) and then moved to viewing the photographs on screen, with the ability to edit?

We now exist in the world of the app, and increasingly find that there is an app for every little thing we can think about, even down to how we date. Swipe left for no, swipe right for yes?

This is the year of ’78 or maybe ’79, and I am first exposed to computer programming. There was this kindest, sweetest, most learned teacher in New Phila High called Mr. Winn, and he taught me the basic tenets of programing.

I often narrate this to the current gen of developers (we call then coders when we speak unkindly of them). I tell them to imagine shading punch cards, which are then punched and sorted, and are then fed into a punch card reader, from where we cut a ticker tape, from where we record a cassette tape, which is then put into this computer called a Wang, and we actually run the programme.

If the programme fails, and mine almost always did, you end up shading the cards all over again, and going through the abovementioned rigmarole again and again till we got it right. Mistakes were expensive and time-consuming, unlike now, when all you need to do is delete/comment, rewrite code, compile and run the programme again, all in a matter of seconds. Better yet, with the modern-day UI and drag and drop features available with the intelligent developer tools, you can actually see the impact of the code changes you make in real-time or near real time.

Now this is not an old vs younger generation thing, but it has been my observation and experience, that due to the fact that you could ill afford to get things wrong (the cost of rework being high and time-consuming), you did tend to be more particular and diligent, and more often that not, get things right the first time, whereas in the current scheme of things, you can rework things really easily, and therefore are more careless, less diligent, and tend not to do things right the first time out. Also we weren’t on FB, WhatsApp, Snapchat and what have you, so we were less distracted when we worked.

How many of us remember the old idiot boxes and have seen them move from black and white to color, and now to smart TV’s dishing out content on demand?

Call me daft, but I would easily regress into a world devoid of cellular phones, but I don’t think I would do away with computers. I use the cellular heavily and even carry two, but that’s just to separate work from personal. I think it’s a respect thing as well, if I message you before I call, it is to see if you’re busy or are able to speak with me. I get real irritated when people tell me things like, I saw that you read my message a long time back but you didn’t respond until much later. What frigging gives? My response at the extreme is simple, the damn device was paid for by me, the bills are paid by me, so I pretty much will damn decide when and IF I message you back! Such is my aversion to unwanted intrusion, that my WhatsApp is on my Dubai number, and that is one I really don’t give to everyone. I also have a secret number which I give ONLY to family and those who I care about, respect and trust implicitly. That that’s a really small number. Attitude you say? I say YES.

I must say that my generation has been most fortunate to have seen the old world or Dark Ages), devoid of all the needless distractions, and in later years see the technology transformation changing the way we work and indeed live. It’s like we were on the cusp of the old world transcending into something fascinating. Our cup of fortune runneth over as we now are seeing the advent of technological advancement into disciplines like Artificial Intelligence, space tourism, and seeing the efforts of Elon Musk and his like, force yet another transformation of how we live, think and indeed live.

Then is the generation preceding ours who got kinda left behind, but there are a few of them who had and have a keen desire to at least understand, if not catch up, to an era that’s changed around then so very rapidly that they are shell-shocked.

I allude to people like my father, all of 88 years, who printed out the entire user manual of the smart phone we presented him, just so he could operate the damn thing, and how he only recently purchased a laptop and sits day after day to study it and get it to do what he wants out of it. I must say I’ve been impatient with him at times, when he asks questions that to me are so very basic, that we don’t even think about it. There are two people who get a vote of thanks and gratitude for my foray into computer science, my father and my buddy Harish. Harish, because he literally begged, if not bullied me into buying a PC XT, dual floppy drive et all. My father because he somehow cajoled me to enroll for a Diploma Course from NCC when I was but a teenager, or maybe just after.

The XT gave way to the AT, which stood down for the 386 and then the 486. Storage and memory at a bare minimum, from floppy disk, to mini disk, to hard drives, to flash drives. Amazing changes, and the advancements continue.

It seems to me that I’ve been spared the same disapproving looks from my kids, who have been kind enough on occasion to label me, “the most tech savvy father” from amongst my peer group. I guess I thank my lucky stars that my life did take me on a technological journey, most meaningful, even though I didn’t see technology anywhere on the horizon during my early years. And that fortune is even more amplified (if that’s the word I’m seeking), when I can say I’ve worked in the business, operations and technology, have lived and worked on four continents, and have worked for the vendor community and the captives as well.

I’m at a crossroads of sorts now, and I sit scratching my head to figure out what I’m going to do next. I just hope that my journey is as exciting as its been, reversals and all, and I continue to learn new things, have new experiences and continue to come up trumps.

Learning to Ski: Well trying to

True to form, I fell. I fell several times. I fell facing towards the front, I fell facing backwards, I fell sideways, I even somersaulted!

For the Life of me, I can’t ski. Believe me I’ve tried. Try and try and try again until you succeed, right? Wrong! Believe me I’ve tried.

My first visit ever to a place where it snowed, was to New Philadelphia, Ohio, USA. That was back in ’78 as a Rotary Exchange Student. I loved the snow, it was a totally new experience.

In India, where I’m from, it only snows way up north in Kashmir, and I’ve never been to Kashmir. I’ve traveled the world, but never been to Kashmir, one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in India.

So when I saw snow for the first time, I think I actually touched it to feel it. I even tasted it.

Even though I entered the US for the first time, and exited during the winter, thereby experiencing two winters in the US, I never got a chance to ski or then, maybe I just didn’t try or couldn’t afford it as a Rotary Exchange Student. I forget which it was, ’78 is way back.

The next time I saw snow, was about seven years later, again visiting the US for a couple of weeks on business, again in winter, but once again no skiing. This time it was certainly not about the money. I just didn’t.

I skid a car off the frozen freeway when driving back from a date with Gwen Lahmers and had to be winched out back in ’83 I think, but I guess that won’t count.

I then moved to Chicago when I was with HSBC and this time I couldn’t not ski, and so we made plans. We went to the Devil’s Head Resort up in Wisconsin somewhere around Christmas or New Year of 2006 I think. It wasn’t snowing yet, but was expected to. It snowed just a little, but not nearly enough to get the ski slopes going. Or so I thought. I was then told that they would spray artificial snow to top up what had fallen. Artificial snow! Wow, this was something new. Learn something new every day I guess.

I had Marianna as the instructor, and as patient as she was, I couldn’t get the hang of it! I don’t know why. I am and always have been very athletic…tennis, squash, cricket, running, cycling, but mostly tennis and cycling. To add to that list, I was one fiend on a pair of roller skates, so balance, and hand-eye coordination were certainly not the challenges. But skiing and I didn’t get on too well.

I fell so many times on the baby slope with barely any incline that it was embarrassing, and when Marianna was bending over in splits, I got angry. To the point that I asked her to leave and vowed that I will master this damn sport by hook or by crook. To be fair to her, at first she just smiled at my spills, then as the spills got even more bizarre, she may have chuckled a bit, and I guess after a while she just couldn’t bother to be polite anymore, and just had to laugh. Don’t blame her. At that point I was in the moment and was really pissed, but I can well imagine, what a funny sight this must have been..a grown man falling like it was the newest cool thing to do.

It was a sore topic for a long time, so when we were in Slovakia, a gentle suggestion was made that maybe we should go skiing? Take formal lessons maybe? By then I guess I wasn’t as sore about sucking at it, and I agreed.

We drove to this place, and spend almost half the day there. Gosh, I even fell while I held on to the ropes that took us up the slope. I would fall, the skis would come of, and I would put them on again.

Finally, the instructor is done with his other lesson and comes around to me and Marianna. See he can’t speak English, and I can’t speak Slovak, and therefore we had an interesting lesson session, and I’m not just talking about the language challenges. Marianna was a good translator, albeit, giggling as she passed my comments and grunts on to the instructor, and the instructors instructions, pleas, cries and yells to me.

True to form, I fell. I fell several times. I fell facing towards the front, I fell facing backwards, I fell sideways, I even somersaulted!

The instructor kept saying “plukh, plukh”, which translates to dig your heels in, spread your legs with the skis close in the front and spread out behind. I could have killed him, I swear I could. I’m thinking in my head, and maybe I even said it out loud, “if I plukh any more, my ass will tear apart”!

To know more about my visit to Skovakia, Click Here.

Sumir The Seeker in Slovakia

My friend, try and try and try again until you succeed, works only in spirit, it doesn’t work when I’m learning to ski.

Which is a great pity, because I love to watch people skiing, I love the ease with which people sashay down the slopes, the way they zig and zag.

I almost succumbed when I went to Bulgaria on business and actually spent a weekend at a beautiful ski resort. But since I was with potential investors, I decided prudence was probably the better approach and therefore I stayed off the slopes.

I don’t have many opportunities to learn, but if there is one thing I want to do, is to learn how to ski. So perhaps I will break out all my warm ski stuff and hit the slopes, this time with skis.

Also published on Medium: Learning to Ski: Well Trying To

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