Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

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Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

I take my words back. When I referred to the book earlier, I had mentioned that it was a dry read. I take it back.

CA1Summary: Go read it.

Back in the early 90s, when I was a school-kid in Ranchi, I was fascinated by some of these guys who’d know fairly great details about the girls they had a crush on. They’d know the typical schedule they keep, their walk and talk times, their teachers, friends and foes, where they lived, where they ate, their parents’ history, blah blah blah. How? That’s the question I always struggled with. What I knew for sure is that their crush was supported by a huge volume of research painfully collected and organized over days and weeks and months of following the girl everywhere. On a cycle. On two feet. On a scooter. In the morning. Or the evening. Effort. Love. Dedication. Single Minded Focus. Oh… and there was heartbreak too!

City Adrift gives you a feeling that Naresh loves “Bombay”. He still doesn’t like the city being called Mumbai.

Over the years, I have had several fascinating conversations about the city of Mumbai/ Bombay with several people, most of whom I believe knew a lot more about this city than me. The landmarks, the emotions, the stories behind the daily places, and what-nots. And like most great cities’ history, Mumbai’s history is fascinating. And most of these conversations often become a rant about how bad things have become, and how the city is doomed. We, the all knowing, take prophetic stands, based on all the wisdom those conversations bestow upon us.

Alas, I knew not much.

As you flip through pages, the first few pages worry you. It seems like Naresh is building up on a rant about a depressingly true facet of the modern Mumbai– the real estate prices and the emerging “townships”. However, the deftness with which it starts unfolding layers after layers of the city’s evolution is remarkable.

Naresh takes you through the key moments in the coming together of the seven islands that form Bombay, the reclamation of land that’s still not complete, the cultural and ethnic evolution, the insiders and the outsiders, the haves and the have nots, the current and the forgotten, and the now and the future – with stories and anecdotes that only someone who’s done extensive research on the subject can provide. It manages to avoid the possibility of the book becoming a long rant about the current state of affairs. At the same time, it never gets stuck so deep in a piece of history which has become irrelevant that it remains of interest only for people who love history. The book is surprisingly contemporary in its coverage. One of the fun references in the book – the average speed of cars in Mumbai often is less than 10kph, which is about half the speed of the winner of the annual marathon in the city. And yeah – all the digs on the real estate adverts are fun.

As he navigates from the then to the now, you understand better what he means by the city being adrift – a tiny goal-less, direction-less, vision-less, rudder-less speck in an ocean of humanity – and a terrible heartache is all that you are left with. Like the cliche goes – beautiful girls marry dumb jokers. Mumbai has had her share of administrators and politicians.

Pick it. Read it. Enjoy it. Great investment if you want to understand the uniqueness of this city… And the uniqueness of its challenges.

Theater Watch: Aadhe Adhure is a tragic and touching play

Aadhe Adhure is a brilliant play by a brilliant author – Mohan Rakesh. You have to read some of his works to understand what you might be missing out on by not having read enough hindi literature.

The play was staged by Prime Time Theater Company and stars Mohan Agashe, Lillette Dubey, Ira Dubey, Rajeev Siddharth and Anushcka as the Nath family – Mahendra, Savitri, Binny, Ashok, and Kinny, a family torn at the seams.

Binny ran away from her home at a tender age with a man she thought she was in love with. Ashok is an aimless young man. Mahendra himself has been an unemployed man, and is a house husband. Kinni is a 14 year old girl not happy with making so many compromises in her everyday life, and crossing the threshold of being just a kid. And Savitri is the bread earner of the family, a woman with many wishes and desires from her and a woman who is perennially unhappy with the fact that the others in the family are not doing their bit. Not enough.

The first half of the play takes you through the threadbare relationships in the family, with Mahendra deciding to leave the family one day (which he does quite often apparently), and Savitri deciding to not care about anyone else’s but her own wishes. The number of times things are left half said makes the plot intriguing and you keep looking for the dirt that has been swept under the carpet. The secrets that every family has, the unexpressed emotions that often explain the expressed ones better.

The second half introduces two new characters – Jagmohan and Juneja. Jagmohan is from Savitri’s past and Juneja is a friend/mentor of Mahendra. How the endgame takes you to a very subtle understanding of human desires and how people keep looking for something more than what they have. The meaning of “Aadhe Adhure” is revealed here. That is what the play is all about.

As a cast, Mohan Agashe who plays 5-6 different characters (including Mahendra, Jagmohan, Juneja, etc.) , Lillette playing Savitri and the Rajeev playing the son are the pick of the lot. Rajeev has the angst of KayKay Menon, the way he carries himself. Lillette is the center piece of the play and is wonderful in her portrayal of a middle class woman, conservative in her life but liberal in her mind and actions. Mohan Agashe, with his subtle changes across the different characters that he plays is phenomenal. The personality swifts from the forgetful but lecherous boss to the playboyish Jagmohan, to the pedantic Juneja, and to the broken/frustrated Mahendra are extremely well played out.

It’s a two act play, and the set (which is the Nath household) is detailed but static. In fact, it is one of the more detailed sets that I have seen in recent times. Maybe, because, it must be a fairly old play. And the set is true to a low income household from a few decades back.

This one is not a comical fun play. Rather, it’s a play that makes you think too hard, and I am sure the Experimental Theater at NCPA (especially the side balcony seats) is not the best place to enjoy it from. But it’s an excellent play and must be enjoyed.

 

I would strongly recommend watching this one.

Day 8: Talegaon (Goa) to Mumbao – RoadTrip Conclusion

When we got up in the morning, we fell in love with the place. R&S live in a row house and in the morning, with a bit of fog still hanging in the air, their backyard opens into a field. The greenery, the freshness in the air. Oh it was so great. Last question was asked to confirm that the cost of living is actually very low. Biwi is seriously thinking about Goa as a settlement destination! But all business ideas in Goa end up vacation themed.

The drive started somewhere between 9 and 9:30 and ended at ~7:30-8:00PM at home. Distance covered -~600 kms. Route taken – Talegaon, Panji, Sawantwadi, Amboli, Kolhapur, NH4, Pune, Mumbai. The last 400 odd kms were on NH4 which made it quite a fast drive back to Mumbai. Quick queues – during the monsoon, Amboli and Sawantwadi should be beautiful destinations to relax. Even otherwise, driving through the desolate ghat roads here was good fun. On the other hand, crossing Pune was a bit of pain, as well as a sudden realisation that the city is changing or has changed dramatically. It is no longer the small beautiful town that seemed a good settling city given its lifestyle, development, education and so on. Right now, far as you can see, you only see construction happening. Apartments, complexes, malls, etc. The entire highway is surrounded by them. And their ad hoardings, of course. Somewhere, the small-townness of Pune has gone AWOL.

***

In the morning, after getting enough overt and covert abuses from R&S about the #eipcfail-ness of our plan to drive back to Mumbai, rather than stay over for another day to chill out in Goa, we left their place around 9:15 or so. And this was the first time in the trip that we actually left something at some place. My watch, a phone charger, biwi’s scarf, and my bluetooth headset. Why? Even I am not sure. I know that we wanted to leave in time, since the prospect of a 12 hour drive at this instant was not really appealing to me. The back had started troubling. Biwi wasn’t that well this morning either. And a day at Goa would have done nothing really to make the rest of the trip easier. Yeah. I know. Our fitness levels are at an all time low.

Till you exit Goa, the traffic continues to bother you. Its only as you start getting closer to Sawantwadi that the driving eases up. From Sawantwadi, you take the exit towards Amboli and enter the ghats. There is hardly any traffic on this road. This moves towards Gadhinglaj, Nipani, etc. before merging into NH4 between Kolhapur and Belgaum. Some of the road around Gadhinglaj etc is not awesome. The last stretch just before you hit NH4 is especially painful. And it lasts about 15 kms I think. Nevertheless, you hit the NH about 40 odd kms before Kolhapur. We stopped for a quick bite at McD on NH4 just before Kolhapur. Biwi casually remarked about the freedom with which four college students (girls) drove in on scooties to hang out at McDonald, and how that was so completely unimaginable back in the days.

From Kolhapur to Pune is a reasonable breeze of a drive. Pune was a little painful. We hit Pune at about 5PM, and had to brave part of the office traffic on the highway as well. It took us about an hour to cross over and hit the Mumbai-Pune expressway. After that, as you know, hitting Belapur is rarely ever a problem. Thankfully, today, even Belapur did not pose a problem. The only jam as we headed towards Powai was the road that connects this Thane highway to Airoli bridge. There is some construction work going on, and it took us about 25-30 minutes to finally get on the Airoli bridge. The Powai gods were smiling on us. They did not give us traffic today. In lieu of that, they gave us a scratch on the car as delivered by one of their devout bhakts – a cement mixer truck. It wasn’t major, and I was sapped out to get into an argument at that point. Plus, the car had to go to the body shop for some pending work anyway. We took the scratch prasadham and reached home.

A total of 2920kms over 8 days.

As biwi summarised – Excellent scouting trip. Gave us a lot of places to reflect on and plan vacations for the rest of our life around. Not the best leisurely vacation she has had, but she can live with the fact that this was required to plan the next one better. Biwis and planning, I tell you!! But for once, I actually agree. I guess I am getting older. Wait. I am sure I am getting older.

In a nutshell –

  • Everyone should do it.
  • Everyone should learn from our mistakes and plan the timing and duration of driving better. Avoid driving after sunset.
  • Unless you are four guys who don’t really care where you sack (including the possibility of spending a night in the car itself), make your hotel bookings before hand. Forces two things – quality as well as schedule.
  • More than one pro-driver is a good idea. Message for biwi – more practice and more practice before the next trip. Message for self – if not, identify which driving friend is also a good road trip company! 😉
  • And identify significant break points. Places where you will break for at about 36 hours. Helps “see” things.

As RoMa’s email signature said – Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

And yeah. Its December 13th – Happy Budday Didi!!

Next up – a back to back movie marathon featuring Hotel Transylvania, The Hobbit and The Last Act. Show Timings have been checked. Thursday the 14th, here I come.

Day 2 : Hubli to Bangalore

So, we stayed in the Deluxe room at Tirumala Classic (also known as Dhammanagi Comforts) at Hubli. Breakfast was included in the rack rate. And the biwi and I had crashed rather early last night. Getting up at 4:30AM in excitement of starting this trip was finally hitting us, apparently.
We got up rather in time this morning (as planned) and were ready to leave Hubli by 7:30ish or so. Except that the breakfast would get served not before 8, which soon became 8:15 as per the best guesses offered by the hotel staff. Rather than spend another hour or so all decked up to leave, we decided in favor of checking out. However, the hotel staff was very friendly and offered to send the breakfast to our room right then. The offer was availed, but the delivery happened at 8:10 or so anyway! Indian hospitality has a way of biting you on your backside, you know. More often than you realise. Like that extra mithai that you eat on Diwali.

So, by the time we left, it was 8:45 or so. And this time round, we asked for the way to the highway rather than depend on google maps (our yesterday story on gmaps is in writing and shall be shared in due course of time). We hit the highway at 9:05 and started breezing through Karnataka after that. The destination was Bangalore – 403 ams from here. The next 250-300 kms were a breeze, and I think we were averaging 100+ kms an hour till then. Things slowed down once we reached Chitradurga. Work on the Golden Quadrilateral is not yet complete here onwards. In layman terms, it means that every 3-5 kms, you would be getting off the highway to drive a km or so as a diversion. Anyway, to cut the long chase short, we took about 4-4.5 hours to reach Bangalore outskirts, and another hour or so to cross the last 30kms or so to reach Whitefield where we are being graciously hosted by dear friends Amit and Shubha. After resting a bit, we had an evening bite at Alila and dinner at Chez Mariannick. Both the places are strongly recommended. At CM, you should go with the La Bergere pizza. Their chicken pizza was not that awesome. The veg one (La Bergere) was brilliant. Desserts are mindblowing too.

So, what’re the key takeaways from today –

  • Outer Ring Road is a colossal mess.
  • Some idiot has taken a lot of pain to design the speed breakers in Bangalore. They have been designed for the sole purpose of damaging cars and ensuring that no one even thinks about spending a lot of money on cars like Lamborghini or Ferrari. Those poor bottom feeding vehicles wont last a week in this city.
  • Also, in addition to the fuel expenses, you need to budget almost one rupee per kilometer on this highway as the toll fee that you’d pay at great frequency.
  • (This is for Mumbai folks only) – The houses and apartment complexes in Bangalore are huge!
  • And lastly, Bangalore is the only city where there are hundreds of Kebab and Biryani corners that specialize in Indian Chinese or Chinese Tandoori.

Mumbai Roads, Autorickshaws, and Zen

I enjoy driving. Much as the city has tried taking the joy out of any kind of driving, i still am in love with driving. How? I don’t quite understand myself. So, I can’t explain. What prompted this post? This, I can explain.

See. This morning I dropped the car for servicing. It has suffered some body damage recently, but due to some problems with the RTO, I was not in a position to claim insurance, and hence the delay. That RTO problem will require a separate post. Anyway, since no car and break time implies that I shall travel and little more around the city, and shall have to take the auto rickshaw. This post follows as a zen like experiential memoir. You SoBo snooties, don’t bother with this post. You have too much money to worry about the problems of the commoners. Yes, we can eat cake if we have run out of bread. Kthxbye.

If you have ever felt any doubts about the exact shape, contour, smoothness, friction, etc of Mumbai roads, you should take an auto rickshaw.

The backseat of an auto is Buddha’s shrine. Or the antithesis of it. There is no need to say Om loudly, and feel its vibration, hence. Every inch of your body feels every possible vibration every possible measurable unit of time. Sometimes, your teeth chatter long after you have taken the customary pissing break in the middle of the movie (assuming you took an auto to get to the theatre). The silence inside an auto reminds one of Kiron Kher im Devdas. Shotti. If you needed something to focus on, you could use the auto’s meter. These days, it moves at a pace that reminds you of stationarity in motion. And then there is the fluidity with which an auto navigates this congested traffic. Great way of learning how to deal with life. Rules don’t exactly matter. If you are smart, you can scare the big guys. You can brake to slow down. Or not to let the other guy slow down. There is no harm in taking the longer route. Because the ever changing customer’s loss is the stationary in time rickshaw driver’s gain.  The customer is the king that rewards the prajaa. And once you have been in there for a bit, the Mumbai auto rickshaw has the capacity to drown out everything else from your life.

Yet the thing that teaches me the most is the Mumbai road. Life will not be fair. Yet it can be called so. Its ok to get it 50% right. Because the optimist believes in a glass that is half full. It also tells you that – Traveler, there are no roads. Roads are made by Walking. That the journey is sometimes more important the destination. Every day a large sea of humanity searches for the road less travelled. And a few succeed.  You will encounter a road bump or a pothole when you least expect to. That these constant up and down movements that seem to break your back are a blessing in disguise. Because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or stranger. That you can stop a cavalcade with the power of an outstretched hand. We don’t need roads that resemble hema malini ke gaal. We have hema malini herself in the city. So the road shall resemble not her gaal,  but her wholesome self. Smooth? Are the state operators. Those who plan skywalks that need to be demolished soon afterwards.

Musings: The Morning After the Blasts (13 July 2011)

We are the children of a comfortable generation. We sit in air-conditioned offices and houses, and we have quips for everything. And excuses too. And it includes me. And it includes you, reading this and making faces.

Around me, there is a lot of ranting. I don’t relate to it. Not much. Not anymore.

Though I liked the crowdsourcing effort that happened yesterday. Where individuals pledged help on a spreadsheet. I’d be curious to know if people were able to reach out to them and avail of the help. Financially, emotionally, locationally, whatever. My fear is that #here2help is a noble notion, but a rather useless one. I tried signing up. Someone a lot more cynical than I can ever be, had already shown (via @nithinkd) why he deserved to be spanked at the age of three, and why his parents should be sorry they didn’t do it then.

My cynicism has turned a new page. My resolutions today have nothing to do with the society. They only focus on me. Why? Because I don’t think I will compromise myself for others. While I am comfortable, I may host 4-5-15-20 other people at my place. So, I can sign up. If I actually do get 15-20 people over, I don’t know what I will offer. Do I even know the right words to say beyond – “I am sorry for your loss”?

It’s all momentary zingoism. You feel sorry for the grieving while you are not one of the grieving ones. If you are grieving, your grief is bigger than the social crisis. You want revenge. And that revenge has no desire to make the world a better place.

If you are safe, you want better systems because you are afraid you could have been on the line. Or, that you will be on the line tomorrow morning. Because, tomorrow morning, you would walk out, get drunk and debate about why you should not be allowed to drive a car and run someone down. Or, jump a light because you are in a hurry to get somewhere. Or, cut lanes. Or abuse someone because he doesn’t seem as smart as you think you are. Or, show utter disrespect to your parents because they just don’t get it. Or, think that you deserve a better salary because that fat lame idiot is getting it. Because, it’s about you.

Morality is the weapon of the enlightened who have not suffered a personal loss. At least, not recently. Several years of rationalization makes your personal revenge seem like a social goal. Eradicate this because it affects the nation, kinds. If it’s not true, then I have found God.  Forgive me for all my sins.

 

(Images courtesy: searches on images.google.com. Credit to the link owners. )

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