Rant on Mediocrity

Ladies and gentlemen, could you please fasten your seat belts, get that cup mug of coffee, hot chocolate, green tea, coke, lemonade or whatever your poison is, snuggle up in your comfy seats and gear up for the rant that is about to be unleashed in next few words. This one is special because this is against my arch nemesis - Mediocrity.

I define mediocrity as an attempt at doing things without putting any thought or any serious effort. I define it as not being true to the job and merely finishing it for the sake of getting over with it. I define it as a job done without any extra effort to push limits even if it were easy to do so.

Its that simple. All you need is to ensure that you ensure that that brick you are going to put on the wall, is the best brick that you ever put.

So, why the rant, on a lovely Saturday evening? Because, it just dawned on me that despite claiming that I have oodles of talent, I have been mediocre in the way I lead my life. There are a few things where I evaluate myself on. Family, friends, work, leisure, passions. And for some reason, on all the counts, despite hating the very concept of mediocrity, I have been mediocre, if not poor. And if I was poor, I would have let go but I know I am not. And I know I can excel.

Let me elaborate. And no, I would not talk about family or friends on a public forum but I can rant about work, leisure and passions.

Work. I really think that I put in a lot of effort when I am work. But then for some reason, no one appreciates the extra effort. No one seems to see the possibilities that I see. No one is ready to buy into the grand vision that I have. May be I am a big picture guy (like all others who merely faff). To be honest it doesnt matter if people dont  buy into the grandiose plans. But then when, to justify my salary and my position, I am forced to do mediocre bad work to please egos and accountants. There has to be a way to escape the trap, just that I need to figure out. If I was an artist, it could have been easy but I am not even close.

Leisure. I am one of those who are easily excited by that new shiny thing and I thus keep hoping off from one things to another. As a result, I am that proverbial Jack of all trades and master of none. And that means that I know enough about a lot of things and yet I am not an expert. This is a good and a bad thing at the same time. Good because I can do a lot of things to distract myself when I have to. Bad because I never stick to one thing for too long to start adding value to that discipline. Come to think of it, this is yet another curse of mediocrity. I look at something, get excited about it and then leave it when I see the next interesting thing. If I want to lead a full and spectacular life, I need to bring things to closure. I need to be able to bring things to a logical conclusion. Look at rstlf for example. The first three days were great and I have slacked since!

Passion. I dont think I have a passion. Wait, how do I define passion? Its something that could go up on your epitaph. Its something that becomes your identity. So far, if I was to pick that one thing that could go up on my epitaph, it would be what? Writing? Talking? Communicating? Exploring? Poker? sgMS? India? Starting up? What? Finding it tough Mr. Garg? Exactly my point! Though I feel very strongly about a lot of things I am no where close to calling one particular thing my passion. I am no where close to  getting anything etched on my epitaph.

Like I said in a previous post, over the next 90 days, I would reset my life. I am down ten odd days already. Next few days would be hard work but then its one life we have and if not now, its probably never. You, the reader, the voyeur at home, if you are watching reading this, you are in for a roller coaster ride of emotions, ambition, action, drama, fiction... and above all... a fight against mediocrity.

This post is a part of Project rstlf.

The best kept secret of Gurgaon: Roots!

Readers of this blog (all two of you) must be aware of my travails with Gurgaon. But then like every cloud that has a silver lining, even Gurgaon has some things that make up for all the hassles and a trip to Gurgaon worth the ordeal. No I am not talking about malls or hotels or that kingdom of watevers. I am talking about places that go under the radar because they are either too small or too simple to get eyeballs. In next few days, I would try and list those.

To start with, lets me talk about the best kept secret of Gurgaon - Roots, the cafe in the park. Roots is located in the premiss of the Rajiv Gandhi renewable energy park, close to the Iffco Chowk Metro Station and is bang opposite the famous Kingdom of dreams. So its very accessible and there is no reason why you shouldn't spend an evening there.

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Roots is a far cry from those commercial Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days sprinkled all over the country. For starters, the place is ecofriendly and everything is cooked by solar cookers. Then the menu is organic with natural ingredients. It has things like Sarson di roti and makke da saag and Nepali platter, things that you dont really get at most "coffee shops" in India. The staff is very unobtrusive and very courteous and they let you be

And the best part, when you are at Roots, all you can see is a lush green garden, trees, kids on slides and swings and such things. You can not see a single high rise and you can not hear any traffic. The air is clean and fresh. A visit to Roots always, without fail, invigorates the damn soul, if not the mind and heart.

And since its almost a weekend, you must visit this best kept secret of Gurgaon and experience the magic by yourself. And if you do, please share your opinion on it.

Update on the Eco Mode

via This Isnt Happiness 
You may remember a recent post about I going into the Eco Mode for the next few days.

I thought about it on the 14th of August and buxfer tells me that since then, I have actually spent more money than I spend otherwise. In terms of numbers, of everything I spent in August, I spent almost 80% in just the last week! (Or read this as... I spent 4 times more money in last week than in all the other three weeks combined)

How #fail is that!

And now what has happened has happened. All I can do is try and control my expense in the remainder of the month and then maybe, spend wisely in the next month as well. 

Introducing #rstlf

Yesterday, while aimlessly driving around town with Prateek, I realized that I need to do something about the  way I am killing time these days. Most days are drab and the net output of those days is not even zero. Better were the days when I was idle and yet reading and dreaming. Now, I dont even dream!

And since its been happening for quite some time. Need to take charge and do something about. #rstlf is one such way. Simple idea. Over the next 90 days, I would change things that have been bothering me and hopefully come out as a better person after these 90 days.

To start with, here is a list of things that I need to fix. Along with each, I've put tangible goals that I would achieve in the next 90 days. I would brainstorm and detail each over the next few days, and hopefully get a better understanding. But for the time being, here is the todo list and goals for the next 90 days.

  1. Life. Realize/discover/understand what would my epitaph say. And then start working towards that.
  2. sgMS. classified!
  3. Fitness. Reduce my waist size to 30". I am 36 point something as we speak.
  4. Business. Own a business. The one that I own is stagnant. May be move it, if nothing else. Maybe think more about what Regis did way back in 70s and 80s and maybe create something similar? 
  5. Writing. Finish one of the things that I have been writing. Could be Serai or GhantaGhar. Could even by the Mumbai Diaries that I have been thinking on. 
  6. Poker. Keep track of games I play and start winning more often than losing. 
Will close these by end of this week and will stick to em for the next 90 days. Ofcourse I would have irregular timing and I may have to travel for work. Or that long impending move to Mumbai may happen. The world may come to an end, few months sooner than the December deadline... whatever may happen, I would ensure that I stick to #rstlf. I would even use a few friends to help me stay on course. So, if you are reading this and you want to help, you know where to send that email! 

I have often wished to reset life. Here is an opportunity to do so.

Thats it. Today being the 90th day, I had a very good start. Got up at 5ish, went for a brief walk. So far havent had any trace of oil or sugar. Been eating small potions after small intervals. Plan to skip dinner altogether. And then repeat this tomorrow.

Oh, why is it day 90? Because while talking with Prateek, I realized that I start these things often but never seem to reach a conclusion. He offered a brilliant advice. Start the thing at 90 and go backwards!

Happy Independence Day

Credits: Wikipedia
Tomorrow Today we, the people of India, celebrate our Independence Day. It was 15th August in 1947 when we got free from the clutches of British rule. We are now a 66 year adolescent kid. Old enough to take our own decisions and yet young enough to not commit to those. Old enough to talk magnanimous things and yet young enough to not fathom the outcomes. Old enough to dare to do great things and yet young enough to hold on to things like castes and egos.

I think its time that our collective conscious needs to take a call and either come out as young or as mature. And this call has to happen now. We can no longer hide behind the tag of developing nation. We are more than a billion and we need to take charge now. At least I need to!

As I write this, I realize that I am damn lucky to have born in a free India. Not really the most ideal outcome of the ovarian lottery but I cant complain about where I ended up. I have inherited the quintessential Indian values, culture, norms and yet I have the desire to chase the Great American Dream (no, not move to US of A but chase the tenets of the american dream - opportunity for prosperity and success). There are these two worlds that tear me apart. On one side is my societal performance where I am constantly evaluated for being the obedient son, caring brother, moral citizen and trustworthy friend. Its a life that I live for others around me. And I am not sure if I am comfortable with it. On the other side is what motivates me from within, where I see myself as someone who takes risks, does things that he wants to do, follows those hunches that often end up as wild goose chases. A life that I would have scripted by myself. I am not sure if I have the balls to chase it but in an ideal world, the two would co-exist in harmony.

This dichotomy, is not merely restricted to myself as an individual. Its larger than that. On one hand, I want to be proud of the ability to take breath in free air without any fear of anyone. And on the other, its stifling to be just another unimportant cog in the giant machinery that runs the country. I want to believe that my vote counts but I am not sure it does. Hell, I dont even have great people to vote for. I want to make a difference but I am not too sure where to start from. Come to think of it, after all these years, the Independence Day has reduced to being just another holiday when busy people like me can catch up on all those long overdue errands. For others, it may mean a day to catch up on sleep. For our schools, it means unfurling our Tiranga by the principal. For the TV channels, it means they can re-run movies like Karma, Mother India etc. For News channels, it means special programming, debates etc around sacrifices that can get them most TRPs. For politicians it means yet another opportunity to speak up and get noticed. For me, it is yet another day when I must write something or the other that makes me happy.

Guess this piece is more inspired by my state of mind rather than anything else. But anyways, while trying to talk about the trivialities, we seem to have missed a very very important thing. Its actually a question. The same one that Sahir Ludhyanvi first asked in 1957 (text, vid). Jinhe naaz hai hind par, wo kahan hai?

The Eco Mode

I keep saying that whatever I know about life and things, I learnt it all at MDI. Take, Eco Mode for example. I define Eco mode as a time when you stop splurging and live on base essentials. Ofcourse none of the academic courses taught us the Eco mode. I learnt it while I was playing Counter Strike for 7 hours on the trot, night after night, for two years.

So Counter Strike is a simple first person shooter team game where you are part of either a terrorist team or a counter terrorist squad. If you are a T, your objective is to keep a guard on hostages or blow up a designated site with a C4. If you are a CT, you need to rescue the hostages or prevent the bombing. Each team can have as many players but the game is best enjoyed as a team of 5. The game is played in rounds where each round is a mission and you need to complete a designated number of missions to win the game. Each game requires you to buy weapons that come in all shapes, sizes and costs. Often, the kind of weapon you are carrying makes a big impact on the game play. And to make things more interesting, you have certain amount of money when you start and you warn money if you kill opponents, achieve objectives etc. A very common strategy used by teams is to not buy anything at all for a few rounds so that they may save up for important rounds later on. This mode, is commonly called the Eco Mode by the gamers.

When I played counter strike, most of the times, I loved playing as a frontrunner where I get a shotgun or a rifle and blast through enemy defenses. There were a few times however when I played as a Sniper. And that meant buying the most expensive gun. That in turn meant that I had to go Eco for multiple rounds before I could buy the Magnum, the gun of choice.

So, the decision to go Eco was preceded by expectation of a big round where you had to perform well to have a better long term impact on the game. Compare this with life. When you are expecting that the next few month/years would decide how you end in life, the wisdom from CS tells you that you need to go Eco. Eco in real life would mean stop spending on things that you are not required to survive. For example, all the expenses on fancy gadgets, expensive clothes, magnanimous hobbies, things to show off and pieces of comfort need to be completely stopped.

And that’s where I am. I got into the Eco Mode on 1 Aug 2012 and it shall remain enforced till I save enough to last me 18 months. If I was to put a number, I think it will be about 30K a month for next 18 months. About 5 lakhs. If I could stay in the Eco mode, I think it would take about 18 months to reach this goal. There we are. Eco for 18 months. Looks unlikely since I have to anyways make some capital expenses every six months, on things like clothes, computers etc.

Back then, when I played Counter Strike, somehow Eco Mode always worked out. A couple of us would go to the Eco Mode and save enough to get ourselves Magnums. And then once we had the fancy guns, we would shoot better and get more points. It would become a positive feedback loop that allowed us to do more with more and spiral into awesomeness.

So let’s see if this Eco mode lasts the 18 months and if the lessons that I learnt with Counter Strike hold true in real life!

Hello Neo. Hello sgMS.

This trip to Mumbai was unlike all other trips to Mumbai. There are two threads, if I may, that bind me to Mumbai. Neo and sgMS. This trip, both of them weren’t around. Both are as different as chalk and cheese and yet they are more important to me than anyone else in the world.

Neo and I went to MDI together and despite being in the same cohort, we were never friends. I knew him, he knew me and that was it. Time changed and we moved on. Somehow he landed in Mumbai for his naukri and I hopped around Chennai, Delhi and other such cities before I reached Mumbai. Mumbai has always been like that enigma for me. It has attracted me since I don’t know when and yet I never had the balls to go there by myself. Now that I was in Mumbai, I had to find my way around and unravel the mystery. I had to meet people and make friends – not that I had issues with it. I have always been very social. So, the first set of people that I met was classmates from MDI and there was this guy, Neo, amongst those.

sgMS and I are like that happy accident that you wish you met at every other crossing. To be honest I don’t even remember what our first conversation was like. But I distinctly remember when I first saw her. And I knew that I wanted to be with her. No, it was not really love at first sight but I knew we could be good friends at least. She is a typical Mumbai girl and has lived in Mumbai all her life. And like all Mumbai women, she knows how to dress well, carry herself around and has that confident air about her. She has this amazing smile that can move mountains. Her eyes are so brilliant that you could look into em for ages and get oblivious to the very concept time. Her hands, though tiny and fragile are that strong that if she held you, you can weather any storm. Nothing can trouble you when she is around.

Neo was like any other fresh MBA. Opinionated, well read and aware of the world around him. And he was like no other man that I had met. He had and still has really bad personal hygiene standards. He is lazy. He avoids all work like plague. He abhors taking responsibility. He was everything that I wasn’t. He was everything that I dint want a friend to be. And yet somehow, we became friends and got close. We realized that both of us loved to travel and loved the rush that being on the road gives you. We started heading out to small trips out of Mumbai and before we realized we were living for the weekend when we could head out of the city. There were times when we dint even know where we were headed till we reached a fork on the highway. And even there, we would toss a coin and decide. That time passed like a blur and we went to places that are not even on the map, leave alone, had amenities. We dint seem to agree on most of the things and we have had our share of arguments. But with time, these trips and the arguments, the friendship developed into something that cant be explained with words. People even started cracking jokes at us for our “love hate relationship”. Both of us loved to hate each other. We still do. Bastard.

sgMS on the contrary is miles away from being a MBA material and that’s probably why she knows more about life and people than most people I know. Very pragmatic and very good at what she does. She is probably the goddess of cleanliness and orderliness. She hates any kind of kachra and does not hesitate in lashing with her mile long tongue if she spots anything amiss. She is calm and has that serene air about her. Compare it to my excited-all-the-time countenance. If I am yin, she is the yang. She complements me. Completes me. It’s as if when God was making me, he took a part of me and carved another human out of it. sgMS. Individually we are great at what we do but if we could be together, we could redefine awesomeness. That’s how “made for each other” we are. But then she and I had the weirdest relationship in the history of mankind. She knew that she liked me but she hated the way I was. It was a classical battle between her heart and her mind. She obviously gives more heed to her head and we aren’t together. I on the other hand, I loved her. Still do. And I knew that if we were to end up together, I would have a tough time with my parents and other such societal shit. Again this was a typical heart and mind battle where my heart refuses to let go.

Neo loves Mumbai more than anything else that we humans are capable of loving. So much so that he has declared to himself and everyone around him that he would not leave this city ever. What is strange is that Mumbai is an epitome of everything that he dislikes – hunger, poverty and humidity. And yet he loves the city. More than even Milind Gunaji. Mumbai, though is a city that he has adopted (or the city that has adopted him, as he says), he knows it as if he himself was the chief architect and planted the buildings, the alleys, Marine Drive and other such landmarks of the city, at his whims. Everything that characterizes Mumbai – the dilapidated buildings, the tiny alleys, the food joints, the Parsi cafes, the crowded local trains, the Marine Drive, anything – Neo seems to know about the history and importance of each tiny speck, in the grand scheme of things. I at times wonder if those stories are genuine or are cooked up. Even if they are cooked up, they make for a fascinating earpiece. If only Neo wasn’t lazy, he could have written it down and shared with the world. In it, we have a sure winner on our hands and a bigger hit than any other piece of text written about Mumbai. Someday I need to cajole him into writing an anthology about Mumbai. And for the same, maybe I will ask him to use a Pseudonym (Bajirao Singham?).

sgMS probably loves Mumbai more than Neo does. Though with Neo’s unwavering determination, I couldn’t be sure. Her love for Mumbai probably stems from her lineage – her family has been in Mumbai for more than three generations. She was born and has grown up in Mumbai and knows the nooks and crannies like the veins on the back of her hand. She knows where you get that best pao bhaji, where is that perfect place to sit and stare at the sea, what gully to take to reach Bandra the fastest, what store to go to buy that perfect gift, which is the most happening night club, what shop would give the best bargains and other such things. And the best part is that she is not just attached to Mumbai per se but she is very fond of her motherland of Maharashtra and her culture. Her love for all things Maharashtrian is legendary. She is proud of all the great Marathas – from Shivaji to Ambedkar to Mangeshkar to Tendulkar and all the Kar’s of the future! She loves all the festivals that bring the spirit of Maharastrians alive – from Gudi Parwa to Ganesh Chaturthi to Bhau Beej to Diwali. And she loves to gorge on all the typical Maharastrian delicacies – from Kaanda Poha to Vada Paos to Puran Poli to Modaks and everything else. If there could be a title of The Official PR Agent of the State of Maharashtra, sgMS would do a wonderful job.

The comparison and contrast between the two faces of Mumbai – Neo’s and sgMS’s could go on forever. Both of them have made me experience their respective sides of Mumbai and I cant disrespect either by attempting to pick one. Too bad they don’t know each other well and they couldn’t compare notes – it would have made an engaging battle of opinions, if not anything else. Neo would sit with his back to the chair, legs on the table and arms folded behind his head. sgMS would be standing on her feet, her arms making those gestures that only she can come up with and her eyes more animated than her face. Neo would use things like "but hear me out", "you don’t like me", "kise pata chalega", "trust me" etc. sgMS on the other hand would say things like "you are kidding me", "balls" etc. And since both of them have really really strong opinions and both of them hate to lose, I dont think the argument would end but it would make for an awesome sight.

There is so much more that I could talk about here. I could talk about Neo, sgMS or Mumbai. Or about all three of them. But I honestly believe in the power of things that are left unsaid after a long monologue. I'd let the readers decide who this piece was about. To close this, I'd saay that Mumbai to me is thus this place that the thrifty Neo loves and fancy sgMS adores. With the two of them with me in Mumbai, I experienced life like I had never done before. Thank you guys. Thank you Neo. Thank you sgMS. Thank you Mumbai.

The King of Rivers

I have always known that I want to play some sport professionally. But then at my age and my physical fitness level, I am not too sure if I can compete on physical games with younger, faster and nimbler people. So that rules out most of the sports that are recognize universally. Had to find something else. So right now, poker seems like a good option. I am not that good with it but I think its a game of skill and if you work on it, you can improve it. Why do I think its a game of skill? Because like all other games of skill, there are a few players who consistently do better than everyone else. They have been playing for ages and there has been a gradual improvement in their game, again a hallmark of all skill based games.

But no one can refute the role that luck plays in poker. After all you dont know what those 5 community cards would be and you definitely dont know what hole cards do your opponent have. Even while playing, when you have seen the flop, you never know what the turn or the river is going to be. You need to rely on probability theory and, unfortunately, luck! And ever since I have started playing, I dont think I have ever been this lucky. I am hitting the river so often that its not funny. Its as if the God is on my side and is dealing the exact cards that I want. Its as if I am the King of Rivers and I command the cards to flip my way. 

I wish I could remain this lucky for next few years when I up the ante and start playing in poker tournaments around the world. Ofcourse I am not too sure if I would ever do that but I have all the plans to give my lifelong dream a very serious shot. And no, I refuse to get in the debate about poker being a sport! 

Just another Thursday morning

Wrote this on Thursday. Sounded depressing enough and dint publish. That time had decided to wait for a few days, do a review and then publish. 
It’s a Thursday morning. The entire country is celebrating rakhabandhan and I am alone in my office, staring at my screen for at least an hour now. It’s about 11 and I already look like a zombie. Actually there is a higher chance of someone looking like a zombie in the morning than at nights. Took two sleeping pills last night and yet dint get no sleep. Had a hearty breakfast and yet I am hungry. I have had gallons of water since 9 and my tongue and throat is still dry. So dry that I can barely speak. The temperature outside in Delhi is low 40 (Celsius scale) and its humid like Delhi is some equatorial jungle. The ACs in office obviously do not work and yet I have this bad bad cold. The whole respiratory system, starting with the nose, going up to the head, travelling down the throat to the lungs, is choked. I am breathing with my mouth and despite that, I am breathless. The head is throbbing like someone is kicking a football under the skin of my head. Every other muscle, tissue of my body is hurting so much that I can actually count the number of muscles in my body. Reminds me of Vipassana where it took all the effort in the world to gain equanimity and track just one muscle. Here I am, with a tacit awareness about each part, each limb, each muscle, each tissue. And more. My to-do list is miles long and yet I don’t know where to start. There are three exciting ideas that I can work on but I don’t want to. I am chasing greatness and immortality through my work and I have no clue how to go about it. None of my regular methods of distracting my head seems to be working. Poker seems like a game of luck, music sounds repetitive, cant seem to focus while reading, movies are just too long, eating does not give me that contentment any more. I have tried it all and yet I cant seem to get my head sorted. If I was myself, I would have been really excited and would have had a hard time sitting at one place. 
There is also this restlessness in my head and in my thoughts. I am snapping at my parents, friends, coworkers for no reason. Its like 2009 all over again when things really got out of hand. There is some kinda turmoil and I don’t know what is causing it. Everything is going well for me. I mean I make enough money to survive and take care of my responsibilities. My work, despite being bad, is better than what most other people my age are doing. My family is doing good and is thankfully sorted. My friends, though in different cities, are all doing well and I know I can count on them. And yet I am restless and I have no clue why or how. Last time around, in 2009, I left my job, came back to Delhi and then dint bother myself with things for a few weeks. This time, I am in Delhi and there is no place else that I could run to. I dont even have sgMS anymore who always gives me that peace, that contentment that I crave for all the time. 
To add on, its funny that despite all of this bullshit in my head, I am full of hope. Hope that the greatness that I chase is just around the corner. I have started making that extra little effort that is the gap between good and great. I can see the results already. All the lucky coincidences have started happening yet again. I am the new king of rivers (a post on this in a bit) and I have won more games on river in last few days than in my entire life. I somehow know that it’s that time when it’s either now or it is never. The next few months would define how rich would I die. I would obviously either die a pauper or a billionaire. There is no other way. There cant be. Things havent been designed like that. Its in the fucking air. I can feel it. I know its coming. May it is the expectation that is keeping me awake at nights. 
But then, thats not the point of the post on a Thursday. And here is the million dollar question. Is this what clinical depression all about? Frequent mood swings, sleeplessness, tendency to overeat, lack of concentration et al? Do I need to go see a Shrink?

I concede

There is this friend of mine who is probably a bigger sport fanatic than I. His wife is famous for feeding me her world famous Rajma Chawal. During one such feed-saurabh-rajmachawal session, I got entangled in this conversation about professionalism in sports and the future of Indian sports. The argument got out of hands and I staked a dinner at a restaurant of choice. I had said that India would win at least 10 medals in the London Olympics 2012. And as of today, the medal tally is a poor 1. I concede Parry. Next time I am in Mumbai, dinner is on me. 

More than anything else, I am dismayed at the performance of our athletes. To be honest, none of these athletes that went to the Olympics can crib about non-availability of money, infrastructure, training etc. Anyways, what has happened has happened. Time to look towards the next one in Rio. 

This is one of those things that I sincerely wish I could do something about! 

Coming back to the bet, I think that  Mr and Mrs Sarkar knew about our athletes all along and the bet was just a sinister plot by to get an expensive dinner out of a kanjoos baniya like me. 

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?