Why not all siblings are Lakshmanas

thequint-2015-11-649610f3-d320-414e-969d-94545313733d-hero 1

Growing up, I was perpetually caught in the dichotomy of whether having a sibling was a good thing or not. Sometimes I was glad to share my life with someone around my age, but I was also sad to share my parents’ love and affection with another person. It’s an extremely strong bond between siblings even though it doesn’t always seem so on the outside.

I remember my grandmother making hErLekAi gujju (a dish with a certain type of orange peel) every single day, because she’d learnt somewhere that it would help cure her younger sister’s cancer. Now you can’t explain why someone would do this apart from unconditional love and affection. Dire situations call for some extreme emotions, but most of the time, their relationship wasn’t that great. It was more like the relationship between any two siblings.

The problem with issues and disagreements between siblings arises from poor expectations. Growing up, you are nourished on the stories of Rama and Lakshmana from Ramayana who were inseparable siblings that went to great lengths to be there for each other, and if you’ve grown up in an Indian household with a sibling, you would have been made to idolise this relationship between two siblings and strive to maintain this level of intensity throughout your life. You think if Lakshmana could follow Rama to the forest, when he was banished, why can’t my sibling come visit me every weekend, or even better, why won’t my sibling respond to my WhatsApp text on time. Lulz.

So here’s why I think Lakshmana followed Rama to the forest – there were limited forms of entertainment then, and the opportunity cost of going into the forest with Rama was quite low. It’s not like he could go to US for MS instead, right? So, we should all quit idolising this move of Lakshmana’s and get real. Younger siblings will not follow you to the forest, let alone come to JJ Buy and Save with you.

Everyone’s got their own lives now, especially as we move to a more individualistic culture where we thrive on space and freedom. Most of the time, younger siblings are tired of having grown up in the shadow of the older ones and are dying to break free from the shackles of not having their own identity. We have to learn to accept their choices and give them a little boost of confidence to let them know that they’re doing ok and they don’t need us.

A friend recently told me that he is upset with his younger brother’s choice for a partner and wanted me to speak to the brother, and as much as I could see the concern in the older sibling, I knew the right thing was that as older siblings, we all sometimes just need to sit back and cheer our younger ones as they learn to walk and run on their own. They might fall, they might cry, but there’s no need to run and catch them before they fall because we are all adults now and so we can all fall, and learn from our own mistakes. We just need to accept their choices and love them through these choices, no matter how contrary it might be to everything you believe on your own.

So many years of social conditioning is hard to break away from, but just my 2 cents to all older kids – love your brothers and sisters, be there for them when they need you but don’t lose sleep over them. That’s all.

Advertisements

Hidden suffering

FISHNonConformist5

We suffer when we think something happening to us should not be happening. But what if we accept what is happening to us as “okay” or “normal”, are we still suffering? We sometimes question things that happen to us and are shut down by others, even worse by the socially conditioned voices in our head. I think these are some of the worst sufferings that have always plagued our society and yet to be uncovered – The suffering of accepting things that have little reason to be acceptable.

I remember when I was in 2nd grade, my entire class sat together for lunch on this platform right next to the headmistress’ office. We were expected to sit in two parallel rows in roll number order or some such absolutely bizarre manner. I, for some reason, disliked sitting with the rest of my class. I used to go sit under this “ashoka” tree in the corner opposite where the rest of the kids sat. My teacher tried multiple ways to get me to comply with the rules, including tempting me with an incentive to make me the “class monitor”, but I simply wouldn’t comply. I can’t quite remember why, to be honest. I don’t think anyone ever tried to find out, as they were too busy trying to get me to comply.

Finally, they succeeded, and I can’t remember how, but I remember being quite disruptive once I sat with the rest of my class. I took a piece of fish from Mani’s lunch box and put it into Shruti’s lunch box, knowing well that Shruti was a strict vegetarian. Quite naturally, I was punished, made to stand facing my back to the rest of the class for one period after lunch so I don’t do such things again. No one tried to find out why I did what I did but they just didn’t want me to do it again. I think a series of such similar incidents where I was forcibly made to comply through my early years in school without questioning made me into someone who saw little reason to question and be heard.

Now, for the most part, I don’t question, atleast not outloud. Even if I do question, I don’t persist because a voice in my own head quietens me down. I have learnt to accept things that have no reason to be acceptable. I know that you have too, about things you never even think about anymore because it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Take for instance, if you have been in a stable relationship for years, have had kids, etc., it is “acceptable” to have changed as a partner. Surely, you don’t feel like your husband is smitten by you or that your wife looks up to you. No, don’t tell me your answer, look into the mirror and be honest to yourself. It’s acceptable to not have the same butterflies in your bellies because they’ve been traded off for wisdom and maturity. But have we ever wondered why they don’t co-exist? Have we ever wondered why we don’t trade the adrenaline rush for anything other than maturity?

No, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s what our previous generations have told us and so that’s how it’ll be. Have any of you questioned it? I know some of you have, and so you keep trying to recreate that magic through date nights, role plays and what not, but soon enough, you either accept your fate and give up or you go your separate ways so you can feel the adrenaline rush again with someone else. But, what if it didn’t have to be this way? Can you imagine what life would be like if you always felt the same adrenaline rush with the same partner even 2 years into your marriage if not 20 years hence? Have you ever thought about it?

I could think of a hundred other things that we question quietly in our heads but soon shush them down because of social conditioning. But these silent sufferings are where we need revolutions the most. Don’t let the society or even that evil voice in your head, tell you to accept anything as is, because the world isn’t what it is today by chance, it’s because people like you and me did something about the things they saw as being less than acceptable.

Tadaima!

tadaima

Tadaima! This is a japanese expression that people use to say “I’m home!”. Being home is that feeling when you come back to your abode from work. It’s that feeling you get when in that first moment when you step into your house after a long trip away. It’s that feeling when you run into the house soaking wet from the rain outside. It’s that feeling you feel when you are exactly where you want to be and you feel very secure. It’s a feeling most immigrants (or an expat) long to feel for years, or maybe even forever.

Ever since I have moved to London, a conversation I most frequently have with people who have recently moved to London (<3 years) is some variation of them trying to justify why they moved or why they’d rather move back to where they came from. People who have lived here for longer are probably people who feel home or who have made peace with the fact that this is their home now. But the recent immigrants can always tell you why a city/ country is especially hard to get used to. Now, I don’t know if this would change over time or be any different in another country because I have never lived anywhere apart from Bangalore for over 2 years.

Based on a conversation I had last evening with a friend who has recently moved to London for a short term stint, here’s why I think the culture here is especially hard for an Indian to get used to. Now, this may very well apply to any culture that’s closer to the Indian culture, which is probably most of Asia.

1.  Mind the gap

I am not talking about the gap between the rail and the platform here, I am talking about the social distance people prefer to maintain in this culture. People like to mind their own business and prefer the same out of others, even if they live next door. Unnecessary socializing is looked down upon. Now, this is the exact opposite of how it is with Indians. We are perfectly comfortable talking to strangers. While this might be a gross invasion of privacy in some cultures, this is to show how easily we open up.

2. No graduation from small talk

People here love small talk. This may seem contrary to what I just said above, but note that people only engage in small talk when absolutely necessary, like lets say you are stuck in the elevator together with someone you know. You talk about the weather, or how it’s still only Monday or thank god that it’s friday but little else. If you ever dare transcend the realm of small talk, people start feeling extremely uncomfortable and you quite easily tread the line of being civilised.

3. Tiny gamut of emotions

Unlike the weather, people don’t display a great degree of variance in emotion. No matter what you are feeling within, you are only allowed a tiny gamut of emotions you are allowed to display on the outside. If anyone catches you looking a bit morose, they don’t ask you what’s wrong, instead they ask you if you are alright. For an outsider, this might sound absolutely bizarre that you are being asked if you are alright when you obviously don’t look alright. The reason why it is not bizarre here is because you are always supposed to look alright, and when you don’t seem so, people attempt to remind you to keep calm and carry on. Showing any emotion apart from being alright is looked down upon as not being very proper.

4. The second grade immigrant destination

Unless you are a doctor, UK has never been top of the list when it comes to the list of places people aspire to immigrate to. US remains at the top of this list, due to various reasons including the amount of money you can make, save, resource to people ratio, culture (rather the lack of it), etc. So, it’s harder to find an Indian social circle here that represents the diversity you’d find in India or a place like the US. Not having a social  network where you can occasionally seek comfort in familiarity, makes it harder to settle in or survive. Point to note here is that people don’t always leave their countries to be away from their culture, they do so in the pursuit of better professional opportunities or quality of life and so it’s not strange to seek out an Indian network in a foreign country.

5. Weather

Most people would this on top of the list, but I think you get used to it quite quickly, thanks to ease of access to weather reports nowadays. Yet, it is quite depressing to go without the sun atleast once a day. It’s especially depressing during winters when it gets dark by 3:30-4pm. People stick to being indoors, not being able to socialise much is depressing for people who come from cultures where socializing plays a fundamental role. Lack of vitamin D from the sun does depress most people who have grown up in the tropics. This is the bit that makes living here unnatural and un-home like.

The Indian way is not better than the British way or the other way around. Not feeling at home is the story of any immigrant (or expat!) in most parts of the world. Now, one of the things I have learnt after being here for sometime is that even as an Indian, you can be more British than Indian but you’d always be more Indian than an average British. It’s probably the Indian in you that can relate to the above and maybe the British in you will flinch inside about what I have said but it’s okay. I know that if you are British enough, you’ll never tell me how you feel about what I have said and that’s probably the part I love most about you anyway. 😉

P.S. – It’s funny how generally, one is more likely to be called an immigrant if you move from east to west  but an expat if you move in the opposite direction. Just saying.

What’s in it for me in the #metoo movement?

metoo.0.png

Sometime last year, when I discovered the #metoo movement on Facebook, I was amazed by how it empowered so many women to come out to scream their lungs out about long suppressed frustrations about having been deeply violated either physically or mentally. I was overcome by emotion as I scoured through these stories, and so went ahead and publicly thanked the women who had listened to my stories for the first time. It didn’t matter that I was coming out long after a decade, but when I finally came out, I couldn’t quite understand what had taken me so long until today.

I was watching a show on NDTV earlier this evening, and one of the male guests on the show attributed men not confronting other male predators due to bro-code or some such thing. That’s when it occurred to me that we women have been brushing off such behaviour too, because we have grown up learning to work around what is “normal” male behaviour. We women have very much been a part of the society that has normalised this behaviour and we are at fault too – for taking it lying down for a long time. But you know what, I am glad we are attempting to challenge this normal and set better standards for our future generation.

Lots of people have come out with stories, some that make you cringe a bit more than the others and if you think about why that is, it’s because we all have different levels of tolerance. We all have been drawing our own personal boundaries, based on our own experiences. While I might be okay with some uncle being creepy with me, because I have seen much worse, but it’s not going to be okay for someone who isn’t as experienced as I am. The very fact that I am able to compartmentalise the trauma into different levels itself is a bit messed up. It is so ingrained in our society to tolerate a certain kind of male behaviour that women don’t deem it necessary to provide appropriate feedback unless there is a huge movement like this.

What’s important is that collectively as a society, we establish the importance of boundaries and if public shaming is the way to do it, so be it. If thousands of women came together to make even one man better for good from this movement, I am happy that the world will be a wee bit better for my daughter and all the other women in the future. But it’s likely just as any other outrage on twitter, this might pass and nothing might ever happen. In that case, the only thing I’d say is when someone comes and tells you a story of when they felt violated, just shut up and listen. They don’t need anything from you but to listen.

While I wish more power to women to come out, I also encourage you to have a conversation with the person who violated you, if it happens to be an ex, or a friend or someone you don’t have a great power distance with, because with great power comes great responsibility, even if the other person didn’t bother showing any on their part. Now, if they fail to acknowledge your gesture and continue to be jerks, then you always have social media. While predators suffer from social penalty for a bit, it does little to change male behaviour within our society, so if you have a chance, go talk to these men and help them get help wherever you can.  I am not assuming that you haven’t tried, but just a thought to consider.

P.S – I am not trying to judge your stories or be preachy, but there are tonnes of people out there who did something stupid in the past, understand the repercussions of their actions and are truly apologetic and do not have the tools to mend their behaviour. Woman up, and go teach them how to behave.

 

Do we know what makes someone successful?

240_F_91399105_PorlhgrUIndKfhJZmqeg3T4yRTYwSBNh

What makes someone successful? If you had asked a few centuries ago, the answer would probably be beauty or education or wealth depending on who you are. Education was the only means to socio economic mobility. Our education system evolved around this into making schools, colleges and employment, an important and necessary step to success. If you asked this question today? The answer is, I don’t know.

The internet came along and disrupted our belief of centuries, and probably for good reason. Access to information is now cheap and what we do with it is more important than ever before. Being educated or employed with a respectable employer or making a certain income is not enough to make you successful anymore. What defines success is changing so fast that we don’t yet have a template for what success means in our new virtual world.

Are we now being measured on the number of likes we can conjure up in 30seconds? Maybe. Are we being measured on the size of our online social networks? Maybe. Are we being measured on the amount of money we can make in the shortest time? Maybe. Are we being measured on the impact we have on the world? Maybe. We are being measured on how much more tolerant or inclusive or unbiased we are? Maybe.

We are in a time where we are actively defining the metrics of success in the world of internet. We are doing this through a lot of experimentation. As with any experiment, some results are desirable while some are not. So, it is painful sometimes, and hence, nostalgia kicks in and we want to go back to the pre-internet times where we weren’t experiencing these specific pains. Its okay to feel this way because it’s natural. But the important thing to remember is this – our generation is super privileged to be a part of defining the yardstick by which humanity will measure itself in the future to keep our species going.

As humans, we are curious and eager to be a part of every experiment, which means we also suffer the wrath of bad results. But as humans, we also have the unique ability to make a choice in terms of which experiments we want to be a part of and this will shape our own lives, that of our families and in turn the society too. This might sound a bit cliched but we all have hard and soft skills that are unique to us and uniquely beneficial to the world, so if we all just spent some time thinking about, defining our value and finding a way to share that with the world, the world will be a slightly better place.

Although trying to run experiments as a large entity might be more efficient, but in this very moment in time, the human race is not optimising for efficiency, we have only just begun to innovate and create the canvas of this new virtual world. Entrepreneurs or freelancers have the brush to do this more effectively than someone bound by the template of a large organisation in today’s world, but remember it’s a trade off each of us has made between dynamic recalibration vs temporary stability. These two exist orthogonally and if you try to optimise for both, the best case is you will end up only with one or the other.

Those of us who end up with neither are the ones experiencing mid-life crisis, like never before. So, before its too late, go find your brush and begin to paint the yardstick that will guide not only your own life but that of the future generations too, because we are all only just trying to figure it out now.

P.S – If you want to just listen to stories of how other people are painting the canvas of success today, this is a great podcast to listen to.

Shopping on Redrickshaw

shop

If you’ve followed my writing, you already know that I am not a big online shopper. Online shopping is incredibly useful for people who don’t have the time or access, but for someone like me who has always lived in dense cities with a good network of brick and mortar shops around, I prefer to touch, feel and mull over the things I buy. On rare occasions, when I am too lazy to make the trip anywhere to procure speciality (read south) Indian groceries, I go to Redrickshaw, an online Indian grocer in the UK. I don’t enjoy the experience one bit, but that’s the price I pay for my laziness.

I wanted to write a review of my experience. I’ll start by focusing on things they do well – their selection is decent, however, this is in comparison to a generic online grocer in the UK. Their layout is basic and easy to navigate, they seem to have got some basic call to action right – add to cart, quantity input, etc. The “Sold Out” message does much better than “Out of Stock” in terms of creating a false demand for the product. Finally, they deliver to a large set of zip codes which is commendable for someone of their size. Until recently, they had a terrible delivery experience, which has gotten better over the last few months since they outsourced their delivery to actual logistics providers. Now, that’s the way to go for a niche business without scale. You can tell from their instagram page, that they are really really small and might not be super fair to compare them to some of the biggies like Ocado, Amazon Pantry, etc.

For starters, Redrickshaw would benefit from fixing their CX – communicating very clearly what their minimum order value is or what the cart value is so customers who are already good at math know how far they are from the free shipping threshold. Today, the check out button doesn’t appear till a certain point into your shopping due to the minimum order value ( i am guessing) and you need to go into your cart each time to see how much more you need to shop in order to hit the free shipping threshold (clearly, I am cheap). They have lots of small brands and clearly their customer base is not brand conscious, so they could have a large share of own label/ private brands (like Ocado), which would enable them to offer greater value to their customer.

The reason, I think, Redrickshaw has gotten away with a slow pace of innovation for this long is because they don’t have any real competition in the speciality foods space, but the moment someone new comes in with a better CX, there is no way their customers will stick to them. The problem is – online grocers think of only customers who don’t have easy access to super markets and hence, would prefer to have their groceries delivered to their door steps. They are in the business of changing consumer behaviour, which means their competition is offline retail. If you can’t convince a customer to just shop with you instead of driving upto the nearest super market, you don’t have a customer base to start with.

What do you need to change consumer behaviour? You have to get the basics right – (1) communicating your value proposition well (like Ocado) and so the customer knows exactly why they are at your store (2) Building credibility by having the right selection at the right price and in stock, i.e. getting the tech right about demand forecasting and supply chain in a sustainable manner (I don’t think anyone has really cracked this problem yet) (3) Understanding that this ain’t 1980 no more and that the shopping experience has to be quicker and more seamless than in physical stores beyond the usual costs involved in physical shopping.

Everything I have seen in UK in this space seems to archaic, may be because India is miles ahead in this space? To be fair, I think the challenges in every region is quite different. Working in tech, I have seen the pace of innovation being drastically different in different regions, and it’s not surprising because in India, you can afford to throw people at every problem but given the high labour costs, innovation is really expensive in developed countries. Given the pace of innovation in Asia, bigger tech firms are best off trading their big monies to acquiring local companies to step change their game because at this point these companies are too large to be innovating at the pace of some of these smaller firms in developing countries.

If you are a small business anywhere in the world trying to get a $Bn dollar valuation without being beaten to death by one of the larger giants in the retail space, you are better off hedging on your core competence over scale. So do your thing, but be really good at it and rely on others for things you aren’t good at, including scale.

 

Disclaimer – All views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this post belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

 

 

Letters to my Berry#24

Berry, I am sorry that I have taken so long to write this special edition of you turning two. It’s been really hard for me to come back to this blog since my last post. Everytime, I come to my blog to write, seeing the picture with Mani aunty leaves me a bit empty and I can’t muster enough will to write. So, yeah, “Manty” passed away a few weeks before you turned two. And I have no idea how, but you seem to know that she is not around. Every time I ask you where Manty is, you promptly say “Manty gone!”. I don’t know if it’s because you’ve understood what we’ve said in the past or if you know things that we don’t quite comprehend. Or may be you are growing up? Well, you sure are. You turned two last week, love.

This means you are no longer an infant and you will finally get your own seat on an aeroplane. But it also means we become the victims of your “terrible twos”. I never quite understood what that meant until recently a colleague explained it to me. Its when you just keep saying “No” to everything we ask of you, kind of like how teenagers act. So, by that definition, you are complying fairly well to the terrible twos. You are gnawing at a ballon right now and I am yelling/ begging you to stop but you go on without listening. I guess, I’ll just give up already and not even bother saying no unless you are putting yourself in real physical danger. But that’s going to be hard because everything seems like danger to mothers, no?

I like how my life has changed so irreversibly after you were born and all I can do is close my eyes for a split second and pretend like I am not where I am, or may be not even because that’s all you really need to bring the sky down. So proud of you, my little champ. Lol (or do I mean, sigh?). Anyway, because appa and I are not big kids’ birthday party fans, we decided to keep it really simple and take you to the zoo, once again. We were hoping that you’ll enjoy the zoo much more this time around given that you know all the animals from the pictures. What we quickly realised is that you found pictures in the zoo more fascinating than the real animals. May be kids these days just don’t get “Real life”?

We bought you so many toys including a black board, a playkitchen, etc. and you also got presents from Barbie, ajji and thatha but you seemed to get over all of them quite quickly. So I decided we shouldn’t buy you any more things because you seem to have enough and more to keep you occupied for the next year or two. Appa got you a toy car that you like to play with, but I am not sure how long that interest will last. But day by day you are growing up into a full person with a personality of your own. You like being talked to, being negotiated with and that’s why you get so upset when we force a decision on you.

Growing up, I don’t ever remember being allowed to have a personality. So, I am sometimes curious to see what it would be like to “let” you have one as it is not something innate for an average Indian parent. You decide what you want to wear, what you want to eat, where you want to go, etc. and it’s very cute to watch. I am sure 10 years from now I might not find it so cute, but let’s see. Have I ever mentioned that you are apparently very popular in your nursery? This has been the case even in your previous  nursery. I think you have taken after Avva who is exactly like this. You enjoy playing with kids older than you and you have a way to make them enjoy your company too, which is is very cool because I don’t quite understand these things.

You speak pretty well now, or may be you did for a while but I seem to understand most of what you say now. You speak both Kannada and English. You have a little bit of an accent, which is what makes it slightly hard to understand you and hence, I try to speak to you in English so you don’t feel like we aren’t trying to understand you. Appa hates it when I speak to you in English because he worries that he’ll never understand what you say. He already thinks we hang up against him when I try to teach you alphabets, letters or countries, and so, he calls me a “tiger mum”. I think it’s a little unfair because that’s my way of spending time with you and I feel a bit judged, especially when appa likes to joke about it with others.

I recently learnt that you enjoy making play doh figures, so I’ll do that with you going forward and hopefully that’ll be sticking to my perceived “dumb papa” domain and that wouldn’t irk appa too much. I sometimes like to show you what I am cooking and explain every step to you and that’s my way of making conversation. I like to involve you in the cooking by asking you to bring me ingredients that are within your reach. You feel very responsible and important and that’s so important to your personality development because we all like the feeling of being needed. Remember that I am doing this to let you know how good it feels to help someone so that you will find your joy in giving as you grow up.

You are growing up to be a good kid (so far!) and I hope that continues.From now onwards, I’ll write you a bi-annual/ annual letter only unless you something very spectacular happens. For now, God bless Berry ma. Happy 2nd!