Happy 60th Birthday, Amma!

Amma, you turn 60 today. On this momentous occasion, I want to wish you a very happy birthday. Any other time, we would’ve had a grand celebration but as the world stands today, we just have to settle for a virtual wish, despite being in the same city. So, to make it extra special, I am writing this letter to tell you how awesome a person you are.

You are my best friend, someone who knows me better than I know myself. You’re always watching ten steps ahead of me, for which I am so grateful. I know that I don’t always let you know how I feel, but I bet you’ve felt the love through our daily arguments 😉 I am your project child, who first taught you how to be a mum, and you taught me how to be a daughter. So our bond is too special for ordinary praises.

You’ve always been such a wonderful mum – always putting our interests ahead of yours. I am truly blessed to be your daughter. In fact, the one thing I’ve always admired about you is how you’ve done your very best to live up to every role – daughter, sibling, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, colleague, friend and every other role you’ve ever had.

I bet it wasn’t easy being the oldest one among 4 kids, being robbed of exclusive attention from parents pretty early on. Barbie and I definitely saw you compensating for what you missed by being a 100 times the mum we deserved. I can’t even begin to imagine how you managed your work, your household responsibilities, ferried us to all sorts of extra curricular classes, helped us study and still have the patience to tell us stories as you fed us every single day. You used to feed me breakfast before work even when I was 25, and married!!! haha.

You know, my most powerful moment with you was being able to talk about my relationships and heart-breaks during college. You constantly encouraged me to do my best in everything I did (although it felt like nagging then!), I don’t think anyone pushes me this hard. It’s probably your voice in my head that makes me constantly want to outdo myself now. The fighting spirit you inculcated in me and Barbie is what has made both of us strong and independent women.

Growing up, you provided us with everything beyond your means. You and Appa have always treated us kids so respectfully, and never yelled at us or hit us growing up. This is precisely why I remember the two times you actually hit me. You know something? I’ve never once held that against you, and I only share that story in jest. I probably didn’t understand what you were going through back then, but in retrospect, you handled yourself so well despite all the pressures you dealt with.

It was definitely not easy balancing demanding in-laws and your yearning to stay connected to your parents and siblings, and play the role of the eldest child. I know you tried your best despite your circumstances, and if it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough. You tried, and that’s all matters to everyone.

You may not be as close to all your siblings today as you would’ve liked, but time does that to us sometimes. You may not meet them together as often. It’s nobody’s fault. You’ve great memories with your brother and sisters growing up together, and sometimes memories serve us better than reality. If the universe is willing, we may all meet again, without the need for an occasion, sit down together and share some honest laughter. I’ll look forward to that day with you.

While you couldn’t continue to be a full-time daughter after marriage, you were the best daughter-in-law ajji thatha could’ve ever had, despite them never having had an opportunity to acknowledge that. When you’d nag Barbie and me to go downstairs every night so Ajji doesn’t sleep alone, I’d get so bugged, but now I can see how you prioritised her needs over yours, always. You are so selfless that it bugs me. I really wish you could think about yourself for once and not give a shit about anyone, including us. But I guess that is who you are.

May be that’s how you pampered and spoilt Appa to the point where he gets bugged when you don’t cook meals on time now. Obviously you were a great wife too. So much so that the feminist in me would never admit that you were a good wife. You took on more than you should’ve as a partner. You got so caught up in managing household responsibilities, you forgot to have fun.

It’s only after Barbie and I moved away did you and Appa actually have a chance to live with each other on your own. So, that sort of makes you guys a young couple who’ve started living independently only in the last 4-5 years, which means you should now focus on having some fun. The sink will be full of vessels, the kitchen will be a mess, the front yard will be full of leaves, Barbie and I will almost never “settle down” but so what? This time that you and Appa are sharing is precious, so cherish it.

Once this pandemic is over, make new friends and laugh a bit more. I love it when you laugh especially hysterically. It makes me laugh. I probably picked up wordplay and a sense of humour because of you. I definitely picked up journaling from you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be writing you this note, or have this blog. I’d love to spend several days with you listening to you read out all your old diaries because I don’t think I’ll be able to read so much Kannada on my own. 😉

In fact, Karthik once tried to get you to move your writing to a blog, where he diligently sat and typed as you dictated, but I suppose we’ll have to try one more time to get you started. While Karthik and you have orthogonal views on many things, you guys share a special bond based on desserts. Thanks to you, he’s discovered a whole range of south indian dishes he never had access to growing up. He sees a lot of you in me.

In so many ways I look at you to see what life will be like when I grow up because I am like you in many ways, although I may not look like. You didn’t teach me to be this way, I think I just am. I wish I’ll read as much as you do at your age. When I look at your Facebook posts, I think it’s crazy that so many people talk to you there. I wish I were as social as you are, and be able to talk to anyone with such ease. You have so many friends, and know so many people, it’s impossible to walk in our area without you stopping to chat with a few people on the way. It is definitely inspiring.

May be that part of your personality skipped me and went straight to Berry. She loves to socialise as much as you. She looks up to her Gramma so much. She feels so safe and comfortable with you. I try to parent her in my way, which is quite different from yours, but guess what, all she ever wants is Uppu thuppa anna and saranna. haha. She’s so sad that we aren’t celebrating your birthday today, and can’t wait for corona to be shot so she can have a party for you. 🙂

Party or not, remember that today is your day. You’ll be 60 only once, so enjoy your day. May the rest of your year, and all the years to come be blessed with a lot of good health, peace and happiness. We all love you very very much. Muahhh!!!

P.S. – I haven’t written about how you were always an asset to your employer in every branch that you worked, and how everyone, including all your customers had nothing but praises for you. It always made us so proud of you. If I could’ve have 10% of my customers talk about me like yours do, I would be amazed!

Is it me, or is recruiting really this hard?

For a while now, I’ve been trying to recruit someone to support me with M.B.A. I believe two people can help grow this much more than just one person. Some days I feel like I need help with tech to help improve the current systems in place so I can spend more time with people and less time dealing with the logistics. On some other days I feel like having a human to support me with these tasks can help open up other possibilities, thanks to the agility and diversity a human being brings.

I’ve tried to recruit a few times, but I haven’t been successful. I tried several different job titles – Business development manager, Operations Manager, Founder Staff, Executive Assistant, etc. None of them worked.

I’ve hired and managed people during my corporate career. It was easier taking risks on behalf of a large organisation. Having a big brand also helped attract people with an ability to fake the right amount of interest. But without any of this, it’s been harder than I imagined.

But hey, I also realise that I can afford to be “picky” because you will be the first person to join the team, not the 1000th and so the bar is very high. At the very least, you will need to know, and articulate very clearly as to why you want to do this particular job and how you can help grow this business. This is as much about the skills you bring as it is about the particular gaps you want to fill.

Like most things in life, I’ve decided to think out loud about this by blogging in the hope that someone who reads this might resonate with it and we may have a chance to talk.

ABOUT ME:

Here’s my LinkedIn Profile – as you will see I am someone who challenges myself constantly, but I also give things enough time before moving on. I value persistence and relentless pursuit of growth. I am supremely ambitious, but also equally lazy. I am constantly ideating to do things more easily, so I enjoy the company of people who can tell me exactly how they can help rather than giving me more work. I can be the best or the worst person to work with depending on who you are.

WHAT WORKING TOGETHER WOULD LOOK LIKE:

Who you are matters to me

This isn’t a mass recruitment drive where your individual skills or values mean little to me. You are not a resource or a commodity. I will not train you to do the things I can do by myself. You will bring unique value to this, which is for you to define from day 1. If you choose to lead the social media marketing piece, then I expect you to be the expert. If you lead operations, I expect you to tell me how we need to run the show better. You are going to be both my strength and my weakness too. Our communication will be open, we will be vulnerable and relentless with each other. Now, I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. But I just know it’s a thing.

Your values matter

My work involves working with deeply personal issues of my customers. Confidentiality is paramount here. Your integrity, your ability to be empathetic and build trust matters more than anything. Of course, respect for time and people goes without saying. So, if these values are part of your DNA, sky is the limit for what you can learn or do with this job.

Skills can be learnt

Your education, pedigree or certificates have no bearing on how well you can do this job. You need to:

  • Be street smart
  • Have an analytical and a logical bent of mind
  • Have sharp communication skills (spoken and written) in English (knowing Indian languages is a bonus)
  • Have an interest in learning
  • Be persistent

Everything else can be learnt on the job. You will learn about sales, marketing, operations, finance, technology, products, human behaviour, customer experience and everything there is to learn about starting and running a business.

You learn on the job

You will contribute from day 1. I will hover over you only until we are aligned on values and the mission to be accomplished. I give and expect autonomy as long as we’re faithful to the mission. It has taken me years (7+) to get where I am with M.B.A. and I haven’t even scratched the surface. So, I don’t expect you to learn everything in a few months but I am willing to share my learnings and experiences with you so we contextualise your contributions to growing this business.

Meaning or fulfillment is not on offer

I can promise you money, I can promise you learnings and I can promise you an experience that you may have never had. But I cannot promise you meaning or fulfillment in this job. It is for you to find or create. Watching your efforts yield results might help bring meaning into what you do, but it’ll be a while before that happens. Your patience is key in finding a sense of fulfillment. So, if you ever give up, I would understand because I know how long it’s taken me to trade money for meaning.

I cannot help you with your baggage

You are my first real partner in a professional context, and I’d love for you to not bring any baggage either. If you are a fresh college grad looking to gain some work experience, this would be a perfect first job for you. Openness to the possibilities of what this job has to offer will be sufficiently compensated. But if you’re coming here because you can’t find any other job or you couldn’t find meaning in your previous job or that you hated your previous manager, I may not be able to help you deal with your baggage.

It’s just a job

There are no perks, but there may be coffee and snacks when we can physically work together. There’s no health insurance. There are no frills that you would get at a large organisation that needs to pretend to treat their employees well. This is just a regular job that pays (pittance) and provides for some sort of an identity and purpose in life. You contribute, and you get compensated for your contributions. You can go tell your family and friends that you help people define and realise their relationship aspirations. That’s it really. Everything else is a massive bonus.

You start as an intern for 3 months

Although this is a proper full-time job, you start as an intern for three months. This will allow you the chance to learn everything you need to before you start leading one or several pieces of this business. This will also allow both you and me to understand each other, and assess if our values are aligned, and we can work with each other. As an intern, your responsibilities will include all non-client facing work such as social media marketing, content writing, internal operations, etc. There will be little to no client interaction during the internship period.

P.S. – This job is remote for now, but someday, I hope to work together from the same physical space which means if you’re based in Bangalore as well, that’s great.

Letters to my Berry#31

Happy three and three-fourth boo boo.

This is by far the strangest quarter of your life. Actually it’s the strangest quarter of anyone’s life, who’s lived the last three months. The entire world was hit by a pandemic, and almost all our lives came to a grinding halt right after you turned 3.5 years. The novel corona virus or covid-19 has affected so many lives, but I can’t imagine how little ones like you are feeling right now.

Sometimes you stop responding. Sometimes you say that you need me to stop telling you what to do always, and let you be. Sometimes you tell me you are either frustrated or depressed. Sometimes, you want to talk to nobody, and just always be with me. You keep screaming how much you love me, and that you want me to always be with you. While it’s nice that we get to spend so much time together but I always worry about the separation anxiety you will face going back to school.

Your school has been shut since 9th March 2020, and you’ve had an extended summer vacation. We still don’t know when your school will re-open. You can’t seem to wrap your head around what’s happening. We explained the story of the pandemic, and how you need to be careful about not shaking hands with anyone and so on. Every time you see someone in a movie shake hands or kiss, you wonder if they’ll get corona. 😦

You have to wear a mask everywhere you go, you have to wash your hands every time you go out somewhere and come home. You’ve been mostly playing along, but there are days when you’re so sick of all this, you want to just go back to school or go back to Maldives for a “beach holiday”.

To be honest, this break has been quite hard on all of us. Sometimes when Appa and I are a little frustrated and end up arguing about something, you feel very worried. We try our best not to lose it in front of you but it’s not always possible. You get scared when appa has a hard time managing his anger. For the most bit, you don’t like being with him when he behaves like that.

I’ve been trying to talk to you about it and assure you that it’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes but talking is more helpful than shouting. Being able to talk about your own feelings has been very helpful for you. I may not always be in control of the environment you are exposed to, but being able to express your emotions constructively through conversation is something I am trying to help you with, and it’s been working well so far.

Your school has a weekly connect so you guys don’t forget each other, and also have a chance to share what you’ve been up to with each other. You eagerly wait for the session every week, but are equally disappointed most days because you don’t get to talk much. There is so much pent up energy that has no release what so ever.

Sometimes, we set up 1:1 video calls with your friends but one of you gets bored midway and runs away. I worry about regression of social skills. I can’t imagine spending a 10th of my life in almost complete social isolation especially when I am beginning to develop social skills. I feel so helpless, because I can’t take you anywhere to meet anyone. It’s simply not safe for people to visit each other now. I just hope and pray that this passes soon.

But the freedom to what you want with your time has enabled you to learn several things.

GEOGRAPHY: You can comfortably complete your world map and India map jigsaw puzzles. While you are yet to identify all Indian states, you can identify 160-170 countries by location and shape. You can identify a few flags and a few capital cities. I was using this as a way for you to open up and bond with your cousin Vidyut. He challenged you to identify all the oceans, but you hadn’t learnt to do that yet. That afternoon, you came home and demanded me to teach you all the oceans and you learnt it in no time. So, I suppose you’ve more grit than Appa or I do. 😉

GAMES: You love playing Zingo and cards game. You can play all day everyday without ever getting bored. You can play chowka barah and monopoly (well, sort of), thanks to thatha who patiently plays with you. You’ve learnt all the moves in chess, can play a complete game and even win sometimes, thanks to Appa.

We got you a pool during the lockdown to keep you entertained, and you love hanging out in it, pretending to be at the beach. You keep remembering your trip to Maldives off late, and it’s so sad that we can’t go back there any time soon. So we let you pretend with your toy pool and your blue yoga mat.

You’ve invented some new games with pillows. You keep building houses in all the rooms with your pillows and creating massive havoc in the house on a daily basis. Appa and I spend every evening restoring order in the house. We’ve given up on trying to get you to see the benefit of keeping the house tidy as you firmly believe that one needs to make a mess if they want to play.

Barbie sent you a toy make up set that you love to play with. It’s quite cute to see you stand in front of your dressing mirror, brush your hair, dress up everyday after your bath. When you are all decked up, you need both Appa and me to compliment you, till which time you walk up and down in front of us strutting your face into ours.

LANGUAGE: You have been able to read in Kannada for a while although you can’t speak very much. We’ve been practising speaking a little bit this quarter as you seem to shut off and not interact when all conversation around you is in Kannada. You definitely try very hard to speak, but you don’t have a lot of exposure because unfortunately no one ever talks to you in Kannada.

READING: You can read all phonetic words on your own. You need a little bit of help when they’re not phonetic. You still lack the confidence to comfortably read a book on your own. We’ve just started playing this game called “Alternate reading” everyday where you read one line and I read another and so on. We’ve read 4 books so far, and you’ve been so excited to be able to do that. You told me that you had no idea you could read all the sounds, which is so cute. Believe me, once you can read books on your own, you will discover a whole new world. Appa and I spend a lot of time reading, and hopefully that will have some positive influence on you.

You’ve started learning to play a bit of scrabble, but can’t play a full game yet. Rather, we haven’t had the patience to guide you through an entire game. When Appa and I play, you hang around reading all the words. You are always on my team and get very upset when I lose. You take your plastic bat and beat appa for “beating” me.

WRITING: We’ve tried to get you to practice writing a bit, but haven’t really followed through. However, you can type on a phone and a computer quite peacefully, so we’ve taken it easy. I am sure not having enough hand control/ coordination might set you back in school and we should be spending more time trying to improve your grip, but hey, this lockdown has been quite challenging for us too.

LIFE GOALS: For the first time ever, you’ve life goals this quarter. There are a bunch of things you want to do in life. You want to be a doctor, make up teacher, musician, writer, chef, artist and an astronaut. All at once, that too. Apparently when someone comes to your clinic, and they look dull, you plan to treat them by doing make up and turning them into a fairy. You also plan to play a song and write them a story to cheer them up. While it all sounds so cute and funny, who knows..you might be all of this all at once when you grow up.

You want to be a doctor in America just like Barbie. You are apparently fine to leave mum and dad here in India and live in America with Barbie. As a doctor, you want to shoot corona virus and kill it. You are quite disappointed that Modiji (our PM) hasn’t been able to shoot corona yet. But then again, sometimes you just want to go back to England. May be it’s the extended stay-at-home that’s talking, I don’t know.

OTHER SKILLS: You’ve been a bit helpful around the house with cooking, cleaning once in a while when we ask you to and taking care of the plants. Sometimes you don’t feel like being bothered at all. You are happy to have us slave away. You are quite lazy or cheeky sometimes, I can’t figure out which one. But soon, we’ll have to start making you more responsible for your own work.

For instance, you’ve learnt to go to the bathroom yourself, finish business, flush, wash your hands and come out. We only need to find a way to reduce the pre-bathroom trip announcements. 🙂

You can independently operate the TV remote. This is a bit later than most kids, but hey, until this pandemic hit us, you weren’t a big TV watcher. But now, unfortunately, Appa and I rely on TV a lot to keep you entertained when we both need to get work done. In fact, you don’t like it that I work.

You prefer that only Appa works and I spend all my time playing with you. You keep making selfie videos on the phone saying things like nobody loves you and nobody plays with you, which really breaks my heart.

You love music. You keep learning to play new bits on your piano. You can sing a few metal songs, recognise a few bands based on the music. You can also recognise several instruments based on visual appearance and sound. You clearly have an interest in music, that we most definitely want to nurture. But unfortunately, due to covid, we’ve had to patiently wait to let you continue your music lessons.

You do a lot of physical activities like jumping, head stands, and so on. Although, I wish we could go outdoors and run around like we used to be able to in parks in London. But for now, we’ve got to make do with running around indoors playing running and catching the badman and things like that.

Overall, you’re growing up suddenly and I can see that through the various things you say, the questions you ask and the remarks you unexpectedly make. Sigh, can’t believe time flies this quickly. I’ve loved you at every age, and I will continue to love you always, babe. Yes, babe. Not bro, or dude. Ok?

Muah.

Breaking the Parenting cycle.

When Berry was born, I would aimlessly scroll through Instagram while feeding her. I was exposed to several different types of parenting gyaan. Quite frankly it was scary, especially to someone who’d just become a mom and didn’t quite understand the extent of the responsibility besides generally keeping the child fed and groomed.

Now, 3-4 years into the gig, I’ve started to make peace with the fact that everyone carries their own baggages as parents, and most of the time people are focussed on providing opportunities they didn’t have as children themselves. Now, this is not very different from what our parents did. Every generation is battling with their own set of issues, which get overcompensated for by the next generation.

Achieving a certain level of wealth was challenging given the opportunities that were available to our previous generation, and hence, it became a worthy goal to pursue. Naturally, this also became their parenting mantra as they didn’t manage to achieve it during their own time as young adults. Thanks to their grit, we are well-educated, financially comfortable and free to worry about newer problems.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology

We grew up believing that our sense of belonging and self-esteem was a result of good marks and high salaries. They were never considered independent entities. We’ve learnt that this is not the case. Belonging or self-esteem are elusive, which makes them irresistible and worthy goals to chase.

Quite frankly, we are ill-equipped to chase them, or even realise that they don’t require chasing anymore. This means, we’re going to expect our children to have much more self-esteem than we ever did, and we will focus all our efforts on building that.

Given that this comes from a place of overcompensation, will we ever do it right? Or, will our succeeding generation still be an unhappy lot chasing self-actualization? What would this look like?

As parents, we are focussing on virtues like freedom, seeking and cherishing small joys in order to build respect and self-esteem for one self. However, this also means that we may not equip them to push the limits. They might feel unsatisfied for not having explored their full-potential because they were happy enjoying everything within their reach. This might result in a deep sense of lack of fulfillment.

Is there a way to address this while trying to endorse freedom, and building their self-esteem? What if we didn’t do this from a place of overcompensation because of what we missed out, and instead did it from a place of setting the stage to help them achieve their full potential? Would that result in a different outcome? What does that even look like from a parenting perspective?

It’s not trivial to break the parenting cycle of overcompensating for opportunities we never had. To start with a clean slate means dealing with our own baggage first even before we begin parenting. When we start focussing on the setup that enabled each generation to out-do the previous, rather than why that wasn’t good enough, we might have more insight.

History, herstory and everyone’s story.

I don’t think I liked history very much through school. In fact, I remember not studying for my 10th boards social studies exam until the day before because that’s how boring I found history. It’s not until recently that I realised that it was probably the way history was taught at school that made history boring for me.

The teacher had summarised notes of every history lesson that she would dictate every class and we were expected to take notes. I never understood the point of it. To make matters worse, my parents suggested that short hand would help me takes notes faster, weirdly reinforcing the teaching methodology adopted by my school. I wish they’d said screw the notes, read stories of people from the past if you find them interesting.

Now, I find myself reading stories, albeit in the form of fiction. Over the last month, I’ve read quite a few stories of wars across the world and I can’t believe I didn’t know about any of them. I may not remember the details of the war itself, but I think how people in these stories experienced war will stay with me forever.

I wish we’d learnt history in school like this where the stories belonged to someone and not an average of so many people that you could hardly relate to them or take them at face value like they were black and white facts. I get that when I read stories, especially fiction, not everything is true, and that every story has many storytellers or sides to it. But at least I don’t read the stories under any illusions like we did back in school.

Every time I discover that I didn’t learn something as much as I would’ve liked, I keep wondering what would’ve been a better way to learn. While telling the daughter stories, I wonder how I can tell her a story and also make sure she knows its one story from one person’s perspective and that the way to learn about anything is through many voices and then be able discern which ones fit where.

Open to ideas if any of you’ve got any.

Lunchclub

Lunchclub is a new facilitator of introductions. Their official pitch is “Lunchclub is an AI superconnector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career. But as far as I am concerned, they help setup professional “blind dates”. It’s discovery-tech (if that’s even a thing!).

They enable you to either meet interesting people, find people to do projects with/ partner with, etc. I absolutely love the idea. I am a huge fan of intent based connections. Given that I am a “solopreneur”, I have fewer opportunities these days to meet new and interesting people. So, being able to outsource this task of facilitating introductions is much appreciated.

Anyway, I signed up a couple of weeks ago, thanks to an invite from a friend. I filled out some basic info, put in available slots and forgot about it until I got an email followed by an invite from my new match. I could’ve gone and looked them up on the internet prior to our call but I decided to take it chill and go with the flow.

It was finally time for my call, and I realised it was a 45-min call. Now, I’d budgeted 30min for it. To be fair, 30min is the ideal length of time for a call with a stranger. You see, it helps limit the downside. Call begins, I decide to break the ice by cracking an inappropriate joke about how I am so glad to not see a naked man on the other side. I confess my noob-ness, and turned out it was my match’s first call too.

I suggested we start with a round of introductions, and figure it out from there. My match vaguely told me a bit about what he does. We never got to the bit about me because we mostly spent the next 30 min talking about him. By then I was exhausted from interviewing him, so I called it a night, and we cordially ended the conversation. This definitely re-enforced my theory on asking questions on a date and how it helps you figure out if you ever want to talk to that person again. I contemplated if I should ever use Lunchclub again, but I decided to sleep on it.

Next day, Lunchclub sent me an email asking for my feedback regarding how relevant the introduction was. Then I figured I must give this machine some time. Now, all ideas are generally fabulous in theory. In reality, they take ages to take reasonable shape. Lunchclub doesn’t seem to have a fancy recommendation algorithm like Netflix or a massive user base like Facebook to make the most relevant introductions just as yet. But given that they have an “ai” in their name, I’m hoping their recommendations become more relevant over time.

To be fair, I’ve tried it just once, so I unfortunately do not have a verdict on whether I would recommend it or not, at least not yet. I decided to give the machine more data by booking in two more meetings for the week. So, fingers crossed, hopefully I’ve earned myself a conversation and not yet another interview.

P.S. – If you want an invite to Lunch Club, let me know.

My evolution as an aspiring reader

I’ve never been much of a reader. Books were a luxury when we were kids. We were a middle-class family with 6 people in the house on two incomes. We were sent to one of the best schools in the city although my parents could barely afford it. We always got what we asked for. We celebrated all the south indian hindu festivals at home with the entire family on my dad’s side since we lived with our paternal grandparents. My grandmother was a great cook and she loved making tasty snacks and condiments for her family, which meant that besides our tuition, all of the household income went into funding high household expenses.

So naturally, my parents couldn’t afford to buy us as many books. They only ever invested in “reference books” with a high ROI. You know, like a dictionary, Wren & Martin, etc. Most of the “story books” we had were hand me downs from cousins. I remember I used to love reading Tinkle as a kid, but it was 8 bucks(!!!) for an edition and my dad wouldn’t buy it for me because it was a terrible waste of money for something that would get over in 15mins. Instead, my parents got me a library membership where I could borrow a Tinkle for 50p a day. Given that I didn’t read a lot of books, I was a slow reader. So I was afraid to borrow books that would take me a long time to read because then I’d have to spend more money on them.

So, I only ever read Enid Blyton when I could borrow the book from our school library. We used to have one library period a week when you could read books but I think by 6th standard that became the time when “hardworking kids” started finishing off their homework so they’d get more time to study at home. Obviously this was a great strategy worth copying, so goodbye reading. Hello, brownie points from parents.

Summer holidays could’ve been a great time to read, but you see, my mum had spent all her holidays “preparing for the next academic year” as a kid. But I had friends to play with, so I didn’t need to occupy myself with anything else. Although my parents would’ve loved for us to be readers, I didn’t spend a lot of my time reading. On the contrary, I ended up running a library when I was 9 years old and made over a 100 bucks one summer. So you see, I was always meant to run a business. 😀

So you see, it was only when I didn’t have friends in life that I actually started reading. In 2007, I had drifted away from most friendships since I was deeply involved in a relationship. When this relationship ended, I was friendless. I tried to re-build some friendships, but it was really hard. So, I found my escape in books. I read the Harry Potter series from start to finish that summer (all borrowed, of course!) I couldn’t believe I’d read so much at a stretch. I absolutely loved it. These books helped me get through one of the worst times of my life. I knew that I could always escape into another world through books.

Then there was a massive period of lull for about 10 years. I was too pre-occupied with all the new relationships I was building in mu life. When we moved to London in 2017, I saw a lot of people on the tube reading all the time. That’s when I started reading again. May be it was peer pressure again, but beneficial to reading this time. It definitely made my commute a lot more interesting.

Given that I’d never discovered the joy of reading as a kid, I wanted Berry to experience it. You know, being a typical parent and all. I always bought her books that she asked for. They cost nothing in comparison to my income. Its an expense that’s never been a burden, unlike to my parents’, so why not. In fact, I buy books for Berry very regularly whether she asks for it or not because I want her to have a chance to experience the joy of reading. Now, if she doesn’t become a reader, it’s fine. It’s her loss really, but at least, I’ll know I tried.

Once I started buying books for Berry, I started becoming less afraid to buy books for myself. My husband has been great that way in showering me with books all the time whether I read them or not. Whenever I want to read something, he’ll be the first to buy it. In fact, he bought me a stack of books last week from Blossoms and I am binge reading them now.

Thanks to COVID, and all the isolation, I am reading again after a brief period of quiet since we moved back from London last year. Once again, I cannot believe I am on my 7th book of the month, but I am loving it so very much and making up for all the lost time in my life. To keep things interesting, I am trying to read books from different countries now. Having a friend or two from a lot of these countries helps in not building stereotypes in my head about these countries based on just one voice.

I might write a post about some of the books I’ve read recently at some point, but for now, I’ll be spending most of my time reading 😀

Post pandemic gastronomy

If there’s one good thing that came off the pandemic, it is that most people can now cook their own meals. In fact, we can’t just cook, but we’re pretty good at it. Even if we aren’t good at it, we are at least very proud of it. Look at Instagram for instance, it can be renamed “Foodgram” already!

Personally, I’ve also been cooking a lot over the last 3 months, and I’m loving it. I still hate cooking everyday, but once in a while, I enjoy it now. Ever since I moved back home last year, finding good diverse cuisine has been an issue. Being able to cook up that diversity in my own kitchen has been exhilarating.

In India, we’ve almost always had a cook and hence, never bothered experimenting at home. All the experimenting had to be at restaurants. But given that we’ve been experimenting with food so much at home over the last 3 months, my kitchen standards have gone up and I can’t help myself from nitpicking in the kitchen.

When I was younger, it was easy to appreciate restaurant food a lot more because we never ate such food at home. Restaurant food and home food were quite distinct and so they were seldom compared. Now, things are different with everyone cooking up international cuisines at home. The lines are starting to blur.

This means restaurants necessarily have to up their game in the post pandemic era. They cannot possibly serve rave idli in the name of ravioli. The taste and quality of food will have to meet a certain standard of taste and authenticity. Ambience and experience can make a difference, but they’ll almost never be able to compensate for the lack of taste. I hope the age old trick of dropping prices won’t do the trick because honestly, it doesn’t do anyone any good – not us nor the restaurants.

I feel bad for the restaurant industry. Besides take away, they’ve all been shut for dining in for the last 2-3 months, and I don’t see the situation drastically improving at least for the next 3 months. It’s not just safety that people are worried about, there’s simply little need to go out and eat. When gastronomy lives in your own bed, why roll out of it?

Personally, I live in an area full of the city’s best south Indian restaurants. We usually go out only for breakfast because we don’t make breakfast at home and the decision to go eat at VB, MLTR or BC is a no brainer. During the lockdown, we once ordered dose from Vidyarthi Bhavan and I can’t tell you how utterly atrocious it was – it was palya wrapped in a razzai that was pretending to be a dose.

Just like in a break-up, I first thought it was my fault for having dose-delivered home instead of eating out while it was hot and crispy. But somewhere deep in my stomach, I knew it wasn’t just me. The dose was undercooked, the balance of flavours in the palya were off and the chutney was just unnecessarily spicy. Something had changed forever – my standards had gone up and restaurants had to do better than this to get my business.

Pre-pandemic, despite having a cook, we ate out or got food delivered home fairly often – atleast 3-4 times a week. So, that is reasonable business you see. Post-pandemic, I don’t imagine I’ll be able to get myself to eat out nearly as often. Life will go back at least 20 years when going out to a restaurant will require an occasion like a birthday or an anniversary.

Post pandemic, when gastronomy is so accessible, nothing will ever be the same for the restaurant industry. If you are a restauranteur, and haven’t taken the cue yet, you are in trouble, my friend. You better use this quiet to re-think your game before people start getting bored of their cooking and stepping out to take a chance. If you lose them once, you’ll lose them over and over again – at least 3/4 times a week.

CX in the time of corona

UrbanClap is now Urban Company - The Urban Guide

After months of hibernation like a bear, quite literally that too, I decided it was time for a wax. As some of you may already know, I stopped going to salons sometime last year after I moved back, thanks to Urban Company or UC (formerly Urbanclap). They provide a salon-at-home service that is pretty good and I’d written about it here.

I don’t know if I follow one of their co-founders or something, but UC keeps appearing on my Twitter timeline almost all the time. In the last week or so, I’d been seeing raving reviews about how spectacular their service is especially in the times of a pandemic and what with all the safety measures their service personnel use, etc.

With some apprehension, I decided it was finally time to let a complete stranger into my home and even worse, touch my face. So, I went on UC to book a waxing and threading service. I was fairly certain they would’ve increased prices given the increase in demand and subsequent drop in supply, but no. Funded start-ups don’t have that luxury. Personally, I would’ve been okay paying a premium, but I suppose I am not their median user.

Just before check out, I noticed an additional fee as show below…

and I was relieved. I was glad that they were taking precautions to ensure the service is carried out hygienically. Although Rs. 39 seemed like a fair estimate of disposable PPE mentioned above, I would’ve been fine to pay a higher fee to ensure they used to the best quality gear.

I let them assign a professional as I thought that would mean the least amount of churn given the situation. Then usual protocol followed. Professional called and confirmed that I am indeed interested in receiving the “full service” and then promptly arrived at my door step on time. Unlike quality of delivered food (which needs a full blogpost in itself), I am glad I didn’t have to worry about a drop in quality due to the pandemic.

Being quite apprehensive about letting a stranger in, I was wearing a mask myself when I opened the door. First thing I saw was that the service professional was wearing a mask too. A disposable one. But definitely not a fresh one. I am pretty sure this had been worn all week. It made me slightly uncomfortable.

When I asked her if she’d like to wash her hands with soap, she insisted that she’d used a sanitiser, and would wear gloves and so washing her hands won’t be necessary. Alright. She wanted to start with threading, and very reluctantly I took off my mask, I closed my eyes and I started praying. You see, I have a 3.5 year old at home, and I was quite concerned about risking any infection because of my indulgence in our society’s crazy obsession with hairlessness.

An hour into the service, my professional’s left glove tore. She was midway through my pedicure and so she didn’t bother to stop and change her gloves. Then her right glove tore. I was torn between burdening this woman and worrying about my own hygiene. Nevertheless, I casually mentioned that UC could’ve provided better quality PPE for the money they charged.

That’s when the service professional told me that she’d paid Rs. 3000 for a PPE kit from UC that included 50 masks, 50 pairs of gloves, a bottle of sanitiser and goggles. She also mentioned that the masks provided by UC were of poor quality and hence, she had to buy her own mask. In any case, she reluctantly wore a new glove on her left and after some more prodding wore a new one of the right too, that too very close to the end of the service. I thought to myself that it must hurt really bad to be “wasting” money like this.

Through the rest of my pedicure, I kept thinking.

Simple math – Rs. 3000 from the service professional and Rs. 1950 (39*50) from 50 customers effectively means an additional revenue of Rs. 100 per customer to UC, thanks to COVID. Through some basic research on Amazon, I figured that UC may not be spending more than 30-35 bucks per customer on PPE. I couldn’t understand why being cheap trumps being “cheap”. Why would any company want to lose face by making money off PPE?! Or am I completely missing something here?!!

Once the service was complete, I saw the professional post pictures of both hands with gloves, a pic of the bottle of sanitiser, etc. onto the UC app. Ah, so that’s why the professional replaced her gloves when the first pair tore! Anyway, I was impressed with UC having built a mechanism to ensure their guidelines are being followed. This was definitely some level of sophistication in ensuring service quality and also having the nimbleness to adapt so quickly.

Then I saw the professional dab some sanitiser onto her hands and cleaning out her gloves and putting it back for re-use in her next service. That’s when I remembered that she’d dabbed some sanitiser onto her gloves even before she started my service. I was scared to even think about what those gloves had seen before my face. Sigh.

Job was complete, and it was time to rate my service. I was impressed that they’d even adapted their service rating to post pandemic conditions with separate ratings for service quality and ratings for hygiene. I rated the service well, and hygiene not so well. So, naturally, I will definitely go back to UC (rather have them come back to me), but surely not until things are normal again.

If UC ever decides to introduce a high quality PPE kit that is freshly opened, used and disposed off in front of the customer, I’ll definitely change my mind. In fact, they could make this optional, so people willing to pay the premium can get the service they pay for.

People might be losing jobs, people might be uncertain about their futures, but when you aren’t selling grains or groceries, you need to know that people aren’t going to be price sensitive, definitely not at the cost of their own health and safety. But you cannot be taking advantage of that, instead your focus should be on preserving CX and business.

P.S. Hey Urban Company, I did say I’d be nitpicking on you as I become a power-user, didn’t I?