Incomplete Me

This post has been stewing for quite sometime and I think if I don’t just write it up as it exists in my mind, I would never come around to it. So, here it goes.

Recently my boss mentioned a very dear book to my heart – GEB and it kinda triggered the thought that I need to write this up sooner.

Ok, so Godel is my hero. For some unknown reasons I stumbled upon GEB couple of years back and since then I am a big fan of Godel. Recently while we were on vacation in Hawaii I read the novel – “Mad man dreams of Turing Machines“. A fascinating book. The writing style is filled with metaphors and it will be an extra twist every para you read. It also show cases how *crazy* like literally Godel was. I don’t care about it. I think all Geniuses are kinda crazy and all successful people are kinda psychopathic. That’s fine.

Here is what Godel’s theorem says – in very basic terms. Geometry arose based on certain assumptions which are called ‘axioms’ in mathematical lingo. Theorems are proved axioms. So, geometry has this set of axioms which were crafted some 2000 years back and based on those axioms there have been further Theorems proved and accepted. This is an exception to Mathematics. Nothing in mathematics is based on pure axioms.

So, a lot of people took a look at it and said, Oh that works well for Geometry and I wonder if we can do something similar with another part of mathematics – say Logic. So, a lot of work has been going on either to prove the basic axioms to be true or to transfer this methodology to other areas of math in 1930s. Whitehead and Russell just wrote an epitome on Mathematics and basically tried to apply the Geometry’s method to Logic.

Godel comes around and proves that any system built on assumptions/axioms will never be complete. In other words – screw you Geometry and Bertrand Russell. This was phenomenal.  A lot of people were pissed because this means that it’s useless for them to try to perceive their ideas and make the system complete.

So, where do I come into picture here? All my life, I have been striving for something. That something is “Perfection”. In every aspect of my life, I have always wanted to be perfect. I know, I know – it has it’s roots in my childhood. My dad wasn’t happy with my education. If I close my eyes, I can see that day crystal clear where I was in my 2nd grade and we were doing some kind of show at school. I was part of this show we were doing. I think we were showcasing the animals. I was dressed up as some animal, I don’t recall. But we were supposed to go up on the stage and say something and stand back. I was nervous probably or confused – heck I was just 6 years old. They gave these soda drinks to us to drink before we went on stage. I still had mine in my hand and I wanted to drink it. My turn came in and I walked on stage with my soda and froze and forgot what I had to say. Someone stepped in and pulled me back and the next kid came up.

That night – my dad, mom and sisters were in the crowd along with all other kids’ parents. I am sure my dad was disappointed. I knew something was off and I know he would be mad. As we walked back home that night. I can still recall the path we took to walk home. My dad walked in front of me and talked to me how disappointed he was to see me froze and how unhappy he was about it. It went on and on. I know there have been many other put downs throughout my life but this incident is still fresh in my heart.

What happened after that was and is much more painful than that actual incident. I have always felt this gap, this incompleteness within me. I am never happy with myself. I am always thinking that there is more to do and more to achieve. I always talk to myself that I am not good enough – just like my dad used to. This is the prime chatter that goes on in my mind. I am never enough or perfect. I know it sound terrible, but believe me I have pushed myself to do some crazy things only because of that talk. Even still I don’t think I am perfect or complete.

Recently I started to notice the other effect of this. I would have normally lived the rest of my life with this chatter but I have noticed that my chatter is expanding to the most dearest thing of my life – my daughter. I have observed that I am using the same critical lens which I inherited from my dad and use it on me, onto my daughter. I was shocked. She is 16 months old!

I had to think really hard and shrug that scary moment off. I am becoming my dad to my daughter. I was shocked. I put it on a back burner and let it on and have been thinking. So, this is where Godel steps in. I think Godel’s theorem not only applies to Mathematics but to any system in the world. This system of ME. If you think about it, my self-image is based on the perception I have about myself. This is subjective and highly volatile. Which means that I have to assume somethings to be true to just live. Which in my case is – I am not perfect. And all the rest of my life has been setup in such a way that I am trying to prove that I am perfect. But if I apply what Godel said, I can never be COMPLETE.

This made me realize the fallacy of my logic. This shattered my illusion. Today I drop this assumption. I know it’s going to be very hard since I live with this every moment but I am bringing in awareness that I am not perfect and I can never be complete in a sense I want it to be. I am human and I will be a mix of success and failures from my point of view. And that’s fucking OK.

It’s like all my life I have been trying to be something like ‘Sri Chakra‘, but now I realize that it’s actually a ‘Mandelbrot‘. Oh if you think beauty is in the eye, then perfection is in the mind.

Today is Father’s day and I have been thinking of my dad too. I know I just portrayed my dad as the villain but he was the best. He is the sole reason why I am what I am – in all ways. The open mindedness he brought to me, the learning he encouraged in me and the faith he put in me are all allowing me to be the person I am. I am proud of myself and I am proud of my dad. His only thing was  – restraint love – which he believed to be good for various silly reasons.

I am thankful for you dad. I accept the way you were to me. I release all negative emotions tied up with that day and every day onwards. I need to let go of it to become the person I am to be to my daughter. I need to step out of that perfect circle I have been trying to built around me.

I am what I am and I love every part of it. I will be the best dad to my daughter because of all I am and because of all I am not.

Happy Father’s Day People.

How I became a “Pasha”

A discussion with the HR personnel couple of days back about how I have 2 date of births – official and unofficial, reminded me of how pain in my butt was my last name when I got to US 10 years back. I ended up having the rare opportunity of picking my last name as I ventured to fix my first name, last name mess.

You see, in India, we don’t spell out our last names after our first name. We usually abbreviate it in front of our first names. So, for example – “John Dorian” would be “D. John” in India. So, I am guessing by sheer accident when I started my schooling back in 1979 my dad didn’t think of breaking my name for the school system. So on my school records – my name always have been “Akbar Pasha”. It was missing my family name initials in the beginning. My family name is (or was) – wait for it – “Mohammad Abdul” – and I would have usually written it as “M.A. Akbar Pasha”. But something was off. Either my school messed it up or my parents didn’t think it was important. So just ‘Akbar Pasha’ prevailed.

The way Indian education system and further civic system is setup is – the name, you have at your passing of high school (Indian version) – which is a 10th grade – kinda sticks and becomes your official name. So, less did I know the future pain, when I passed the test with my name as ‘Akbar Pasha’.  And so it endured. My college, my graduation, my post graduation – everything just proceed with my full given name – Akbar Pasha without any last/family name. I never bothered about it either.

The trouble started when I was trying to get out the country for a job. When I got my passport back in 1998 – the passport office was flummoxed with my missing last name dilemma and they fixed it by leaving it empty. So I have a frigging blank in my last/family name place in my passport. That was ok. It didn’t pose me any trouble. I ended up happily in Singapore and worked my butt off.

The trouble started when I got my US work visa. You see back in those days to get a work visa to US, there was no need to face an interview. You apply with right paper work and if it works out, you get the visa. So, I think when the US consulate in Singapore was processing my visa application – they must have been confused about my missing last name in my passport and in order to fix it – they did something crazy. They made another mistake on top of it. They messed up my first name.

I think the software they were using usually *requires* a last name. And here I come without one and that threw the whole system off. So they decided to take the fix in their own hands. And it got f*ed up more. So, when I got my visa – they made my last name ‘Akbar Pasha’ and in my first name added an abomination – “FNU” – First Name Unknown. I kid you not. That’s what I have in my visa!

The real trouble started when I got to US. While getting a SSN, Driving License and every official document – nobody can find my name in the records because I was frigging FNU. There were many occasions where people – this is true! – called  me FNU (It kinda sounded like Fanhuuuu). They probably thought it’s some Swahili shortcut. I felt like when John Dorian tries to say Turk’s phone number using the letters on them in Scrubs! To all those crazy free software movement people – yes, the thought did occur to me if it were GNU instead of FNU I would have considered it keeping it!

So there it started for the next 4 years wherever it required me to show my ID – it was such a pain in the butt. I had to explain to everyone how I have a *missing* first name. Every time I went to DMV, every time I flew international, every time I had to give my first name officially. I was always “FNU Akbar Pasha”.

So, finally I decided I had to fix it – on my trip to India, I decided I would break up my name so that it’s easier for people to say it (Starbucks disagrees) and also break it down. I went to the passport office and got my name fixed. I officially became “Akbar” first name “Pasha” last name. I probably am one of very few people who get to choose their last name. But I wouldn’t recommend it!

As to having 2 date of births? It’s a whole another story and another blog post.

The number system of India

Relax for a moment and think about numbers. Everyone has certain feeling attached to them. There is something about them we feel but we can’t put our finger on it. If you treat numbers purely – just as symbols and remove all the meaning, feelings associated with it – then it turns into a whole new science. This is what Bertrand Russell was trying to do using numbers to define the fundamentals of Mathematics.

But today I am not going to dwell into that aspect. I want to talk about the peculiar Indian number system. Peculiar but useful in it’s own way. Different countries treat numbers in different ways and I believe that the meaning, feelings you associate with numbers is linked with the practices and culture around you.

I am going to list few (partial list) idiosyncrasies of Indian numbering system. Some are funny and some are mysterious. Here we go:

1. Age:  This bothered me a lot for a long time. Only recently I have come to add some meaning to this. Let me give you a visual with an example. Say a baby is born in India.

On day 1, when the baby is born. He is 1 day old.

The parents are happy and life goes on. Something magical happens when the baby crosses 2 weeks. Let’s look at it in a little detail. Here is the breakdown of 4 weeks.

As you can see (assuming 4 weeks in a month) there is a tipping point that tilts the age of the baby which kinda gets stuck with him for the rest of his life. Here is what happens.

As the baby crosses 2 weeks mark (sometimes 10 days mark) – suddenly out of nowhere the baby is 1 month old. I have no idea how this is logical (my explanation follows later). It also happens so fast that it’s impossible to detect. There would be some God motherly like figure in the family and some given day within the 1st month- she would use baby’s age in a sentence in such a way that she implies that baby is 1 month old! Trust me on this, I have a lot of these elderly ladies in my own family.

Now even before the baby is 1 month old, he is ALREADY ONE MONTH OLD. Here is another visual to give you some more perspective. This is the timeline for a typical year.

The thing you need to understand here is as the months progresses – the child is always more older than he technically is. When he is around 10 months old (I mean like finish 10 months) – the same old lady would be back and call the child 1 year old. WTF? Now immediately after his 1st birthday cake – he starts to be 2 year old till his next birthday cake!

So, when a Indian person tells you that he/she is 25 years old, you should always (98% of the time) assume that he/she is actually 24 years old and in his/her 25th year.

I know this is weird. We Indians might look like we are rushing to age and reach that nirvana our Gods have been promising us. But trust me – we are humans as well – like any other person we would like to be forever young! But why follow such a weird system then? What is the benefit attached to being always older than you actually are?

I can only think of only one reason. And here it is – India is a very religious country. I have met only few Atheists there. And with religion comes a lot of rituals. Every child has some ritual associated when they are – 3 rd month passing, 5th month passing, 7th month passing, 9th month passing, 11th month passing, 3rd year passing and on and on.

You see a pattern? There are rituals attached to the passing month, not to the end of the month. Meaning, I can shave my daughter’s head ONLY when she is in her 9th month or 11th month or when she is 3 years old. (Yeah you can’t get it shaved in any other months as it would incur bad omen on the child! and what parent would want it?). So, if you are following a lot of ritual associated with your child’s passing month then you would count his/her age in the same way.

I think that is the reason why our counting of age is so lopsided. There is a method to it’s madness.

2. Storeys: I am not sure whether you guys know it or not. We Indians invented zero. Prior to that romans had their crazy system which was useless when it came to division. Egyptians were smart and had something in place but no zero/nada/zilch. The arabs took our zero and created the decimal system.

So in India when we count the storeys in a building it’s always – ground floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor and so on. Some elevators (lifts) also have zero on them indicating that it’s the lowest floor. So imagine the Indian who is fresh off the boat – trying to get to 42nd floor. He is going to miss it by 1. This again, I don’t know the reason why it’s like that but I am guessing it’s because we like to use the zero. It’s also cultural. I bet Google India has the zero floor and all the geeks there grok that!

3. Temperature:  Ok, this one is weird. And I don’t know why. I have noticed that we follow metric system when we want to indicate cold and imperial system when we want to indicate hot. Like we would say – “It’s very hot today, the temperature is 108 degrees” – which is implying Fahrenheit. And we would say “It’s very cold tonight, Delhi is like 8 degrees” implying Celcius.

I have no idea about the disparity here. May be we want to use higher number for hot and lower number for cold! But everything else is completely metric – kilograms, litre etc except land. Land is still measured in Acres. Mostly the farm land. That is the only exception I have come across.

4. Distance: Ok, this one is funny. Ask any American the distance between SF and LA they would say “About 7 hours”.  Ask any Indian the same question they would say “About 350 miles”

This is a big gotcha for Indias. You see, you guys (Americans) measure distance using time because you have freeways. When you say ‘about 7 hours’, it pretty much takes 7 hours – depending on your bladder and eating habits of course. But for us Indians we don’t have the luxury to mesure distance in time. We can’t! Because our infrastructure is busted and half of our animals live on the road. There is no guarantee that I can go from point A to point B in certain amount of time. Because there are frigging way too many variables. All I am guaranteed is that I will reach point B sometime but don’t know when.

The ONLY TIME we Indians measure distance in time is when we use trains to travel. Unlike American rail, Indian rail is HUGE for the area it covers. Indian rail has 1.6 million employees, yes thats double the number of people who live in San Francisco. Take that Amtrak! So, anyhow – the trains pretty much run on time and there are a lot of trains which go overnight. So, in that context we Indians say – it takes a night to go from point A to point B.

It all boils down to – if we are driving, we don’t know when we will see you. If we take a train, we will see you tomorrow morning.

5. Time:  Finally the time. Our perception of time is very very different – I want to write more about it but I think it will take it’s own blog post because it’s connected at so many levels – philosophically, mentally, spiritually etc,. But I would say this – Salman Rushdie‘s quote in his amazing book – Midnight’s Children, sums it up.

“No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.” 

And the word he is referring to is – “Kal” in Hindi. Depending on the context it can mean yesterday or tomorrow! Go figure.

August 15th – The day I got my freedom

Every Indian is aware that August 15th is our Independence day – back in 1947 India became an Independent country as well as was divided up based on religion thus causing the bloody partition. It signifies freedom after 400 years of colonial rule. We may not be doing great things yet, but I am sure we enjoy the freedom that we have. Just visit India once to see how its been used and mis-used.

I will always remember August 15th not only for what it means to be an Indian but for what it means to me personally. Long time back (oh God, one sign I feel really old is that – this feels like a long time memory). After I finished my college/MBA in 1998 – I was like any other Indian student. Full of dreams and no sense of reality. I was sure that I would be able to find a job of my dreams and just find that ladder to climb up in the corporate world. So naive I was, but then who isn’t when they are 23.

You should know that India is a very populous country. I mean very. To get a sense of it – ask any guy who is trying to get a job. I used to go to an interview (publicly open to anyone qualified) and then find myself standing in a line with like 200 students in front and back of me. Forget getting to actually have an interview – after 4-5 hours of waiting they would ask us to go away. This was the situation (and sadly it still is for many) for me. I tried my best to find a job for about 6 months and nothing happened. But good thing I was hungry (think I still am). When reality dawned on me I realized that I will have to work it through the lower rungs to get to a place which I like.

And so it happened through my friend I got a very small job (paying about $65/month). The job was in an Internet Cafe. For those of you who enjoy un-interrupted Internet access now – an Internet cafe is a place where you pay hourly to browse internet. Since there was no way I can have my own internet access at home, as it was expensive – I jumped on the opportunity to work there. By work I mean, just making sure all computers are turned on and working fine – make entries about people coming in and sitting at the cash register now and then. I was ok with it. I was looking forward to what it means for me – an opportunity to learn so many new things.

The place sucked like hell. The job was hard – manual labor. I showed up at 9 am and left for home only after 9pm. Sometimes I slept over at work – because there were people who would come in to browse (mostly porn) after 12am. The cafe was open all 24 hours. More than that it was filled with politics. My boss was abusive and constantly putting me down to get more and more work from me. He was kind weird too. More than anything else I hated was the politics. Every employee there was kinda brain washed to manipulate someone for something. They took advantage of my naiveté and made me work like a donkey.

I was completely helpless. Here I was trying to make a career in software but stuck in a place where I have no control on anything and I couldn’t even get close to any programming environment. I spent all day (and sometimes all night) helping people to browse and learn what Internet is. How to use Altavista, Yahoo chat (messenger) and ICQ.

My only way out was to learn something on my own in my own time (I think this trait stuck with me till this date). So, I joined a course to learn Java every evening. My friends were making fun of me about how I am spending more money learning Java than making it on a monthly basis. I was un-deterred. I knew this would show me a way out. So for 3 months everyday I would leave work at 6 and go to a class and try to learn frigging Java (I despise it for various reasons which came up later).

This gave me some confidence that I can escape this crazy job and also make it on my own. So finally after about 10 months of abusive job on August 15th 1999 I woke up (It was supposed to be a holiday for everyone except for people who work there) and decided that I won’t be going to this pain in the butt job any more. I went right back to sleep. My dad was worried as to why I am not up – but I think he was relieved at some level that I am ending this painful experience. I got like 10 calls from my boss threatening me but I didn’t feel anything. I was so happy inside and just didn’t give a shit.

So on this day about 12 years back I became mentally free – which led to the transformation of my life. So powerful was change in my life – that in the following month – me and my friend took a gamble and went to Singapore for work and succeeded in establishing a career. It took me 40 days to do what I really wanted, but my mind was shackled for almost a year in a painful job.

Every year I feel more happy about the choice I made on this day and thank my stupid courage that pulled it off. I will never forget this day.

Jai Hind. 🙂

Mercurial is all about Sex!

At my new job we use Mercurial (for the non-techies but still interested in sex this is Mercurial <– click that). I have used Git in the past and liked it but it’s been long so it was kinda re-learning the basics. I was happy to jump onto it – because I really really really wanted to forget all about SVN. I don’t think I will ever want to use it again.

I know now you are getting restless – because you probably are reading this because of the word ‘sex’ in the title! Fear not, I am gonna give you a nice way to understand Mercurial. After that you may never choose to use it or forever love it.

I figured it out that Mercurial is all about sex. To go with the story lets define some terms.

  •  Under mercurial everyone has their own repository.
  •  You may or may not choose to have a central repository. Kinda free to be alone.
  •  Working directory is a piece of shit. Mercurial remembers whats in your working directory (if you are ”committed’) and then can swap it out with 1 command. So, don’t feel bad about your jewel code in there – mercurial doesn’t care.

To elucidate lets take an example of a guy and girl who are trying to date. Lets call them John and Jane. Here is how I can explain the concepts behind mercurial.

  • John wants to be in a relationship. He needs to initiate it and intend it: $hg init (the folder name could be- ‘one night stand’, ‘long term rel’)
  • May be John saw his friends making out with their girl friends – so John want something similar: $hg clone
  • John gotta work on himself. Build that 8-pack he has been thinking of and all those fat tires around his waist and neck: $hg add, $hg remove, $hg mv, $hg cp  and finally committed to look good $hg commit
  • It’s the same for Jane too.
  • Everything is all about the local repo. It’s like this ideal person John and Jane wants to be. It’s like seeing themselves in mirror and updating themselves: $hg update
  • $hg status – state of mind. John drunk and horny. Jane depressed and flirty. Pick a vice.
  • Now the fun starts – John and Jane are dating.
  • John wants to take Jane to dinner at his parents place! (I know lame). $hg pull
  • Jane wants to control John and tell him what she like and dislikes : $hg push
  • Once they meet after 6pm and both are needy. Irrespective of whether they pushed or pulled you would end up with 2 heads. Imagine John and Jane lying down on a bed next to each other. You see 2 heads right? If not run : $hg heads. Well for the adventurous one it’s possible to have more than 2 heads -but don’t be such a sicko!
  • Now the most fun part – once in bed they gotta do something: $hg merge – Woo Hoo.  It starts with a lonely init and ends with a climatic merge!
  • There are some other stuff which might help –
  • John wants to check whose his parents are : $hg parents
  • Jane checks herself out in the mirror and see what’s happening. $hg diff
  • $hg revert –  Jane wiping her make up off.
  • $hg rollback –  1 chance for both Jane and John to cheat on each other and rollback.
  • $hg backout – I think this might be about saying goodbye. Not sure.
Ok, I know it’s crazy but consider this. This post was written under heavy influence of fine Bourbon – so back out and chill. I am not making fun or Mercurial. I actually like it. Ooops there is a fly in my Old Fashion – Gotta go.

Journey of an Indian Consultant

On Saturday I was visiting one of my long lost friend who was in Sacramento for 1 week on some project work. He is trying to change jobs and as a part of the process, he was there to check out the new job for 1 week. In that process, I happen to meet another Indian guy who is a consultant too and also just moved to Sacramento for work.

Talking to them reminded me how I was like them only a couple of years back. A consultant moving from place to place. We also chatted about a lot of issues the usual Indian guys face when they actually come to US for work purpose. As I was speaking to them – I was fascinated by the journey any Indian consultant makes through his career.

So here is my (partial) list of things that a typical or standard Indian consultant goes through. To all those Indian consultants – “keep it going yaar”! For the fictional aspects as well as for understanding purpose who are non-Indian I am going to use a character name called “Babu” (Thanks Sienfeld)

Birth of a Consultant

Babu is born in some remote village of Southern India. His parents are farmers and they are very hard working people. His parents have learned from what they saw around them in contemporary India that Education is the best thing they can give to their child.

Babu ends up working hard in his school and college. Babu’s parents can’t afford to pay for all his education so they borrow money and send him to College. Babu secures an admission in one of the prestigious schools. But the problem is it’s not in his village/town. It’s in the capital city. Babu is very excited and so his parents. Let’s say he goes to ‘Hyderabad’ city for his education.

Babu goes to City

Babu makes new friends and starts living in a place which could be described as 2 room apartment with no furniture. He lives with 4 of his friends as they have figured out that more the number of students less the rent they have to pay. They do have a TV which they watch on a regular basis. Their eyes glued to the boob-tube and their dreams hitched on high hopes in Western countries.

Babu gets introduced to binge drinking. The perennial skill of Indian common man. Checkout Indian mythology to see how much liquor influences us Indians. Then follows terrible throw ups and not to mention the favorite acts of breaking the beer bottle.

Babu also gets introduced to movies. A lot of them. As movies consume his time, he wishes that he too has some super powers (Google Rajnikant on Youtube) like those stars. He wishes that he too want to get some “pretty”, “fair skinned” girl to fall in love with. This is the same time when Babu explores his amorous side. Since it’s been taboo with his parents and relatives to talk anything about Sex (Yes, we did invent Kamasutra), his friends are very much open to talk about it. Since none of his friends had a proper education  Babu ends up learning all the wrong things from them. He gets more adventurous and visits a movie theater which is far away from the city and watches his first ‘xxx’ movie. Which obviously was censored and he feels cheated.

This is also the time when his parents visit him. They bring him food and money. His room-mates eat away all the food in first few days and Babu throws extravagant parties with his money.

Babu goes to Consulate

This would be his first visit to the American Consulate. After Babu finishes his studies. With all the knowledge he gained about the ‘Foreign land’ from his Bollywood movies watching he decides to go to US of A for his higher studies. This is the phase when the seeds of so called ‘American Dream’ TM are sprouting in Babu. He is scared to go to Consulate all by himself. But he does a good job of hiding it.

After spending 6 hours in line and then finally getting inside the consulate. Babu with all his nervousness and broken English fails to impress the guy at the counter. His application gets rejected.

Babu does Higher studies in India

After 5 hours of binge drinking with all the sadness of getting rejected for Education visa, Babu decides to pursue his higher education dream in India. He applies for a local University and gets in. The saga contiues. He stays in a similar room with 4 other guys. You would expect for him to do mature things. But nah, he is the same and the same patterns repeat themselves.

Babu gets a job as a Progammer

After looking for 3 months Babu gets a job as a Programmer in a local company. But there is a catch. He is an intern for 6 months and gets paid in pennies. Zilch. He accepts it as the competition is very high and also he needs the experience.

Babu meets software

All during his college/University Babu was very good at memorizing stuff and ogling it out when required in exams. But the reality is a bit harsh. Here he needs to write programs and come up with actual programs that work. His project manager is an ass and sloppy. Babu never learns anything about project management. He learns some bits and pieces of software technology. He does want to improve though and he makes up his mind to learn everything about real life software development

Babu goes to Consulate

But he gets constantly distracted by his colleagues who are no more interested in doing their job but to just use the company’s internet connection. He forgets about his learning and just gets content with quick fixes. Time goes on and 2 years later, his dormant ‘American Dream’ TM wakes up again. This time Babu goes to consulate with all the proper paper work, good enough english and a confident outlook for ‘H1B’ work visa.

He gets the visa!

Babu prepares for America

Babu refers to the excel sheet which gets passed onto all Indians travelling to America. It’s the mother of all lists. It has all the things that a american newbie needs to know. What to bring? Winter clothing? What to say to the cab driver? How much to tip? Where to find cheap cigarettes? How to avoid black people? etc

Like all Indians be buys – ‘checkered full sleeves shirts’, ‘Indian camel leather made jacket’, ‘Thermals’, ‘Nike Shoes’ (china made). He splurges on himself. His parents borrow more money for his tickets as they know that once Babu is in US he would be sending money back to pay off their debts. Babu is talk of his village. He is the first guy from that tiny village of 1000 people to make it to America!

Babu comes to Boston

Like any other consultant Babu is picked up by the Guy whose company sponsored Babu’s work visa. Let’s call him ‘Ram’. Ram is a typical India Consulting firm owner who sponsor Indian talent to US, makes money off of them and gets rich.

Ram takes Babu to his 4 bedroom house. Babu is excited as he is in US and he is going to live in a 4 bedroom house. On arrival he realizes that there are about 16 people in that 4 bedroom house and he is back to square 1. Sharing 1 room with 4 other people. First chink in his American Dream TM

He brushes it off and adapts to the environment. He makes friends with the guys. There are groups within 16 people. There is a South India group, North India Group, ‘Gujju gang’. They don’t mix up much. These groups cook separately, watch TV till late night, whistle while watching ‘Basic Instinct’ and are ready to give Babu with advice about America

Babu starts his American Education

Babu starts to learn quick. It’s November in Boston. Frigging cold. He realizes that the Camel leather is not gonna keep him warm. He dons his ‘Monkey Cap’ from India and walks around. He get’s his SSN, learns to drive, attends interviews for jobs.

He is introduced to Costco, Walmart, Sam’s club. All 16 people use 1 Costco card to share and shop. He is introduced to ‘Chalupa’ at Taco Bell, Big Mac at McDonalds. His weekends are filled with travelling to New Jersey to meet other Indian friends and eat some more Indian food and driving to Rhode Island to go visit a strip club.

Babu get’s a Job

Finally after 4 weeks he gets a job. But as usual this job is not in Boston. He has to move to another place. All by himself. The journey he made from his village to the city in India is repeated again. He moves to San Jose for his new job. He looks up and finds a place where he can live temporarily.

He moves into a 2 bedroom place which is shared by 4 people again. He is happy that atleast this time he has to share the room with 1 more guy. He gets a closet for himself for the first time. He buys about 50 hangers even though he doesn’t need them all. As usual this room has no furniture, no internet, no tv. He irons his shirt and pants for his first day at this job.

Babu’s first day at Work

He is nervous. He thinks everyone asks him how he is doing, but don’t really wait up to hear his answer. He can’t understand most of their American accent. He says “Yes” to everything they say to him and does his ‘Indian head nod’ a skill only Indians are expert at. Indian head nod is a circular bobbling of the head which could either mean ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending up on the person who is interpreting. For 400 years British were so cruel to us that I think we developed a special way of realying our angst and disagreement without being lashed. It’s an Indian thing. Check with you local Indian friend if you want to find out more.

Babu’s first year in America

His first year goes well. He moves out to 1 bedroom apartment with another colleague at his work place. He buys a used ‘Honda Accord’. He has been sending money every month diligently to India. He has learned to cope up with some more quick fixes at work. His hiring firm promised the client that Babu is an expert in all the relevant technologies. But it was a lie. Ram just wanted to make some money. Since Babu couldn’t say no to the job, he just acts that he is an expert and learns the new technology in 1 week. He knows that he is good at remembering stuff. It comes handy to show that he is indeed an expert. But that was interview. In his day to day job Babu is just putting off new fires and using Google to find out answers to his technical problems.

He has a TV, bought again from a Mexican guy on Criagslist. His furniture is all bought from Craigslist as well. He buys his clothes from Target and groceries from Costco which he shares it with his room mate.

Babu visits India

After 3 years of struggling in America Babu decides to go visit India. In the mean time he has changed about 5 jobs and in 5 different places. He has learned the art of Indian living in US. Saving money and living on very few dollars per month. Some times he is reminded of his grand dream but he no more believes in it.

He has planned to go visit India as his parents are bugging him to get married. They have already setup about 5 meetings with would be bride’s parents in the village. As he is the first guy in the village to make it to America – they can demand high amount of Dowry for him. Finally all the investment they made in him is paying off. This is the day they have been waiting for.

Babu arrives, visits all 5 possible bride’s places. Ok’s 3 girls and his parents pick the one who is paying the highest dowry among the 3. He get’s married and brings the mail order bride to the US of A. Before he left for India, Babu got his single friend to move out of the 1 bedroom apartment so that he can live with his new wife now. Let’s call his wife ‘Babi’ (You know I like short names!)

Babu’s Honeymoon

Babu doesn’t know anything about Babi. This is the time to know more about her. Babi is scared to be with a new person and also in a new place. They both go to Las Vegas for their Honeymoon. Babu gets to know more and more about Babi. He decides to fall in love with his wife. He figures – it’s going to be just like his job. Putting out more fires!

Babi’s American experience

Babu is the new teacher of Babi. She is dependent so she can’t work. She be-friends all the other Indian dependent mail order wives in the apartment complex. They have potlucks during weekends. Babi learns to operate Microwave, dish washer, dryer. Babu teaches Babi driving which takes about strenuous 5 months and few minor accidents. For the first time Babu let’s his car get scratches after he bought it. He discards it off as she bought a lot of Dowry to his parents. Babi gets more and more friends and learns to shop by herself. Yes, she uses the same Costco card.

Babu’s new baby

Babu doesn’t waste time. Why waste money buying condoms? Babi is pregnant and this is a good reason to get his parents visit him. He sponsors his parents to visit them for 6 months. He takes his parents to visit Disney land, Las Vegas, NY, Grand Canyon, Florida, San Diego. Babu has a baby boy.

Babu applies for Green Card

After talking to Ram and paying him money to sponsor his own green card (I told you Ram loves money), Babu gets his green card process started. By now he is settled and his job is going good. He has not yet learned the Software in real world and project management which he wanted to. But he is happy. He knows how to make this work. He works like a robot. Totally forgets his dream. Now and then wondering was it worht it? He is just another cog in the wheel. Another modern slave to the capitalistic market. He is just happy that he gets to eat Indian home made food and takes his kid to Indian cultural programs.

Babu’s Future

  • He has one more kid. It’s a girl this time
  • He grows a beard and gets over weight
  • His kids make fun of his English Accent
  • His kids call themselves – ABCD (American Born Confused Desi)
  • He has a receding hair line, eventually goes bald.
  • He still shops at Costco
  • He goes out to eat on weekends with kids (not at Mc Donalds)
  • His kids grow up.
  • He is worried about their education
  • He wants them to excel him and NOT have any false dreams
  • His son turns out Gay (not that there is anything wrong with that)
  • His daughter is dating a black guy
  • He is speechless and shocked.
  • A fitting finale of ‘Nightmare’ to his ‘American Dream’ TM

That’s all folks. Thanks to my many many friends who have gone through most of these experiences and all the acquaintances who shared their stories with me. I could go on and on but my fingers are aching like hell.

That’s the journey of a typical Indian consultant. Next time you see one – just check how he is doing. There is a lot more going on behind that ‘Indian head nod’!

The Legend of Golden Star

When we moved to India, we had so much stuff to pack – I decided that I would just take 3 of my jeans and rest I can always buy them here in India. I usually get my jeans from Gap because they fit me so well. So, after I got here one of the jeans started to develop a hole in the back pocket area. May be it’s the wash here that caused it so I decided it’s time to buy a new pair of jeans.

There is no Gap in India(yet). So, I went to one of the fancy store here which carries all the major brand names. I got a bunch of them I like and wanted to try them on. So, here is the thing. My jeans size is 32. I take pride(sometimes) that it has been 32 in the past 7 years or so. Anyhow, I was trying this fancy Levi’s jeans of size 32 and I couldn’t pull it up above my knees! I was surprised and checked the size – it was 32. So, I asked the sales guy that if he had given me a ladies jeans. Nope. So, he asked me to try the next size – 34. Now, this I couldn’t get it past my hips! Whoa, did I put on so much weight in India already? So, after thinking a lot about it I reluctantly asked for next size – 36. Now, I was really embarrassed. I couldn’t get this past my hips too. I almost cried in the changing room. I kinda got pissed off at the sales guy, may be he is playing a trick on me. Finally after swallowing a lot of pride I chose size 38 and dang, they fit me. But fit me in a sense, that it got past my hips, but the waist was so loose that I had to hold it with my hands.

Now, I have a theory about this. Please bear with me:

1. Indians somehow like the jeans which fit them tight. I mean really tight. I am not just talking about girls, even guys too. All the Indian jeans are kinda …. ummm….how do I say this without getting in trouble? Anyhow, all the Indian jeans are kinda tight in crotch area! That’s very true. Here we like it to keep our ‘stuff’ kinda warm and sweaty by wearing ostensibly tight jeans where the center of focus is ‘package area’. I don’t know why? Seriously. I hate to wear those jeans, neither here nor in US. It’s already so hot here and sweaty and itchy. Aw. Let’s not go there.

So, one of my conclusion is that those ‘clutch my crotch’ jeans don’t suit me well. So in order to get some air in there, I had to buy 38 size jeans. Well, you wouldn’t know that if you look at that jeans because out of utter shame I tore apart the label on the back of the jeans!

2. I believe, we Indians have wide hips and wide feet. I blame it on all the squatting, sitting, shitting we do. Everywhere people squat or just plain old sit on the floor. Not many Indians wear shoes unless they are going to an Interview. We wear a lot of chappals growing up and our feet can get out of limits. Also we do sit down or squat a lot. Chairs & furniture were luxury items pre-1990 era when the Indian markets opened up for Globalisation. So we all sit down and are happy about it. We are so happy about it that we invented our whole Yoga, Meditation system which wholly supports the sitting on the ground thing.

So, anyhow that was not the story. As I was having trouble to wear 38 size jeans, I decided to get the old torn Gap jeans fixed. I asked my sister and she told me there is a tailor nearby who can fix it. One day I went to “Hanuman Alterzations” to get my jeans fixed. There was a old man sitting a pile of clothes mostly jeans with his hand run sewing machine. Even before I explained to him the problem, he took a sharp knife and slit open the torn gap in my Gap jeans! This is a very smart trick which most Indian business people employ – making sure that you won’t go to other tailors, now that you see the work has already started here even before you spoke a word.

So, this guy told me that he will get it fixed in 3 days. I got busy with my work and I didn’t get a chance to go to him for next 2 weeks to collect my jeans. Finally one day I went to him. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hi, I gave my jeans couple of days back for alteration.

Tailor: Huh? Who are you?

Me: I gave my jeans to get a patch on my pocket place where it was torn?

Tailor: What color is the jeans?

Me: Blue, kinda faded blue.

He looks around, you won’t believe me – his room is filled with blue jeans and theres jeans stuck in every closet, corner. He is actually walking on top of some of them.

Tailor: When did you exactly give me the jeans?

Me: Ummm, about 2 weeks back(?)

Tailor: Was this before holidays?

Me: Yes ( I was horrified by now, because I was worried may be his son/he used it for the holidays?)

Tailor: Long time back. Let me see.

So, he starts his search and after 10 mins of search he finds it lying in a corner with some million jeans on top of it. I made a mental note to wash is before I wear these jeans.

I take the jeans and open it up to see the horrifying thing on the back of my jeans.

Me (completely disturbed by now): What? What is this patch you have here?

Tailor: It’s not a patch. It’s a label.

Me: But I asked you to patch it up with some blue & white thread.

Tailor: I did that, on top of that zig-zag I put in a label so that it looks good.

Me: ??????

This guy had put a piece of cloth on the back of my jeans which says ‘Golden Star’. I was shocked and pissed.

Me: Why did you do that? I didn’t ask you to do it?

Tailor: It looks good with a label.


He was taken aback. I am guessing no one said anything like that to him before. He is kinda very popular ‘jeans alterzation’ guy in our area.

He looks squarely at my T-shirt and says –

Tailor: Well, I don’t like your T-shirt!

Me: What?

Tailor: You don’t like this label, then I don’t like your T-shirt

Me: That doesn’t make sense, both T-shirt and Jeans belong to me

He was very upset by now, he took that long, sharp knife which he used in the past and reached for my jeans. I knew that he is going to do something more bad this time and I hate pulling my jeans up every 30 secs in those 38 size jeans. So, I stopped him and decided to just take the jeans away from him.

Me: Ok, Ok. How much for this?

Tailor: (mutters something)..35Rs…(mutters again)

Now, that’s how I ended up with a jeans which has a patch on my bum which says ‘Golden Star’. Sangita calls me by that name whenever I wear it. When our friends Sarah, Lisa were here – they pretty much pulled my leg for it all those 10 days and called me Golden Star. They referred to it, whenever any sentence they uttered had a word ‘Gold’ or ‘Star’ in it. As for Sangita – she just calls me Golden star now. I am kinda used to it and sort of like it now. Here is a visual of my Golden Star.

Golden Star

Nostalgic Thoughts

Sometimes my thought wander into past. These are very different from the usual mind chatter. These are very nostalgic and remind me of a feeling that I had long time back. When I was in US, bright mornings would push me into my nostalgic thoughts and feelings. I would think about India and wonder how I wish I want to be there. I missed the morning coffee and the news paper. I missed the shade of our house falling on the dirt road. I missed the talk of the passerbys’.

Now that I am in India, sometime I am reminded about US. Weird enough, rain reminds me of US. The way sky turns dark before rain, reminds me of my days in US. I was surprised to find that I am missing my days in US. Today I was very deeply thinking about the days me and Sang spent in Oakland. I do miss those days. Devoid of all this noise here. Those were some wonderful days spent warmly with friends. Those were some amazing discussions we had among ourselves. Those were some beautiful evenings we spent together. Those were some good old days of Rotisserie chicken and some Yellow tail wine. Those were some very good days of fun, frolic and merriment.

Today while coming back from work I was reminded of those days. I am not sure when I will get to see those days again. But I was thinking how we decided to move back to India. One thing we miss though here is – people we meet don’t have any clue as to what it means to uproot our lives and move to another place. We feel lost sometimes in the things, crowd and noise here. I was reminded that it was our decision to move here. It was a sweet decision we took after we saw in our minds how this trip to India will have permanent marks on our lives.

I look forward to days filled with blessings. I look forward to days filled with amazement. I look forward to days filled with so many stories to write about here in India. I am looking forward to new people, new places and new friends.

People skills of a butcher

Today, as my mom planned to cook Biryani for all us, I got up early to go to a butcher to buy some meat. In India it’s not like the meat is sold in a store. There is your traditional butcher and usually there is one in your neighborhood. The meat is usually certified by some Govt. organization and almost all of the time it’s Halal – even though it doesn’t make a big difference for me.

At 7:00AM, the place is packed. As usual in India we don’t have any lines or the concept of patience. Everyone there just falls on top of the butcher and is demanding meat.

Mohan bhai, when are you going to give me my 1/2kg meat? Should I just leave?“, threatens one guy. Another guy, who is chewing pan and stinks says in his loud voice (in the process almost spat on me) “Mohan bhai, take the money first. I have calculated it to be 240Rs and give me the meat“. Employing the age old trick of paying first and thereby inducing guilt in the butcher so that he can get served first. There were couple of old people who stood in silence. You know by their silence that they are very well known by the butcher and also these are the people who buy large amount of meat.

In all this chaos – I was amused to see how the butcher – Mohan manages the whole thing. His public skills are amazing. No matter who asks or yells, he talks in a hurried but nice tone. He calls everyone “bhai”(brother) and treats them as the most important person for his business. He has 4 people under him working and he reveals that he is paying them 300Rs (7$) per day wages. He puts it out as if he has to pay them a lot of money. Playing the guilt card when some guy refuses to pay the price quoted for meat. There is not fixed price. The price is fixed by Mohan bhai and usually it’s cheaper on Sundays as there would be at least 1000 people who buy it from him. 1 kg (2.2pounds) is Rs.180(4.5$), probably cheaper than US. But he is going to sell at least 500kg today – earning more than what a Software guy can earn in 2 weeks.

I got out of my thoughts, as Mohan asked me – “Kitta hona bhai?” (How much brother?). I said, “2 kgs”. As he prepared the meat for me, I was holding back the falling of at least 5 people on top of me. One guy almost poking under my armpit.

The lesson one could learn from Mohan bhai is – Treat your customers with praise and love even though they yell at you. But be assertive when it comes to price.