Entry to Write India 2

27 August 2017. This is post 2. And rather than a lesson, this is a piece of fiction that I am writing as an entry to Write India 2. The prompt by Ruskin Bond is, "I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop." 

This was triggered by SN. In case you are reading this, where's your entry, young woman? 

Here goes... 

“Life’s funny. You spend your entire life chasing something and when you actually get to it, you don’t want it. You know, you’re like that kid at a carnival who wants sugar candy trapped in the glass jar. The jar looks as intimidating as those tall buildings that you crane your neck to stare at when you are going past by them. The jar has walls as thick as the reading glasses of your school’s headmaster and it has a screw-lid that takes forever to uncork and open. And its stacked so far that you have to perk up on your toes and because you are just a kid, you can barely reach the height of the shelf and all you can do is, stare at it with greedy eyes. And when after all the effort and coercion, the old shopkeeper hands you the candy, you don’t want it! Kids are really funny!” Manas drawled over the sound of ice-cubes clinking against the whiskey glass.

Surbhi instinctively looked at Mira. 

Mira was oblivious to the conversation between Surbhi and Manas. At the other end of the room, she was busy sorting a pack of Cadbury Gems into tiny stacks -- each stack made up of little marbles of same color -- with as much attention a 6-year old could muster. She was born in a different era to know of the glass jars that Manas was talking about. 

Surbhi turned back her gaze towards Manas. She had nothing to add here. She was meeting Manas after almost 10 years and so much had changed, except the glass of whiskey in his hand and the long-drawn narratives. 

When Manas had called her out of the blue, she had initially said no. When he insisted, she reluctantly accepted the invitation for a lunch. After all she had to know what had made Manas walk out on her in the middle of the night without any explanation. And Manas just didn't walk out on their marriage, he left behind a friendship of more than 15 years! 

They've been at it for more than 2 hours now and the conversation did not seem to be going anywhere. She was beginning to question her judgment. And since she had got Mira along, she was worried if the 6-year old should be around the obvious alcoholic - he’d been drinking before they had arrived and not for a minute had left his whiskey glass alone.

Manas did not think enough of Surbhi’s silence. He continued, “You know, they say that more than 80% of Earth’s surface has been transformed by humans? The only places untouched are the mountains. And you know the tallest mountain that we are yet to set our feet on? The Gangkhar!"

Manas was talking about Gangkhar Puensum. Standing at an Elevation of 7570 meters on the Bhutan-China border, it's the highest peak still that is yet to be conquered. As with all mountains, the Gangkhar was shrouded in mystery, partly because the locals held a strong belief that the holy spirits of their Gods reside at the Gangkhar and the spirits wrecked havoc to any attempts to climb the mountain and disturb their sanctity.

This was the first time she was hearing the name of the place. But she could immediately see that the Gangkhar, whatever it was, was bothering Manas. She knew of his lifelong obsession with mountaineering and while in pursuit of his obsession, he’d often ignored other, far more important things, including Surbhi.

She merely said, “Interesting. Want to tell me more?”

Manas got up from his recliner, hobbled to a bookshelf that was overflowing with books and papers and other curios. He winced with pain but reached out to an upper shelf and after moving a couple of books and some papers, he pulled out a thin folder. The red cover had a photograph of a snow-clad mountain and a scroll in Japanese at the bottom. He thrust it towards Surbhi.

He said, “You see this? This is a memoir by one of the Japanese mountaineers who was part of the group that did everything they could to climb the Gangkhar. They tried for almost a decade. He says that even if political sanctions were lifted, Gangkhar would still remain unconquered. Its tougher than anything else. Everest is like a stroll in the park, in comparison. One side of Gangkhar is a sheer fall into a glacier; The other side has knife-edged ridges, a cover of unstable snow and spiky pinnacles. It's the ultimate test of a climber's skill and ambition.”

Even though they’ve been friends since school, lovers since their college and married for three years, she never really had any interest in his passion, except when one fine day he announced that he was going to give Everest a shot.

He continued, “The locals say that the holy spirits of their Gods live on the Gangkhar and since the Gods want to rest in peace, they've forbid any humans to come close. Each expedition has met with unfortunate accidents that cant be explained. And apart from this thin memoir, there are hardly any records or even maps of the place! It remains out of reach. Its the place that everyone has on their bucket list. Its something, Surbhi, that I have to conquer before anyone else does. I want to show to the world what real mountaineering is. Everest is bullshit. This is the real deal!”

He was beginning to get agitated. Surbhi instinctively glanced at Mira and to her relief she was now lying on a rug in front of the television and was watching an episode of Tom and Jerry. The pack of Gems was now missing, most probably she had eaten them all. 

When not around Manas, Surbhi was known for her fierce reporting and uncompromising journalistic ethos. She was the undisputed queen of the investigative, political reportage. She’s has had a couple of really big scoops already and the third was going to press later in the week. With the latest one about rich hiring wombs for progeny, her editor was sure that Surbhi will bring home a Pulitzer for Investigative Journalism - the only major award that had eluded her in a 15-year long career.

Career was something that Manas was not exactly proud of. He had little to show for his age except multiple stabs at various peaks - all of them unsuccessful. And like all others that had seen limited success, he made barely enough to scrape by. Since he lived in the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering campus at Uttarakhand and worked as an instructor for the Search and Rescue module, he could keep the passion going and expenses low.

"Everest is bullshit, Surbhi. Its just a huge selfie opportunity! All those 4000 people that have reached the summit in last 50 years? All of them are fucking tourists with no spine." Manas continued his monologue.

Surbhi was used to these monologues. She knew that since veteran trekkers and mountaineers spent a lot of time by themselves when they out and about, they often have this need to keep talking when they do get company. No wonder they make such good speakers!

“You remember my greatest ambition? The lofty goal? To climb the Mount freaking Everest. I wasted 12 years of my life. Saving for it. Preparing for it. And what do I have to show for it? Couple of attempts that failed -- I did not even reach Camp 3. Some broken bones, 2 missing fingers on the toe, and the damn thumb!” Manas nodded at his left hand that was pretty much useless, now that the thumb was gone. He still had a formidable grip on ropes and but that's all that he was left to without the thumb.

Surbhi stared at the ominous looking hand. She did not understand what made people chase mountaineering when it was so fraught with danger. She also realized that with that missing thumb, Manas will probably never get another shot at any mountain, leave alone the Gangkhar or the Everest. 

“And why did I fail? Because I fought with the company that controls the rights to all the ladders and ropes and oxygen that they put on the climbing route at the Everest! They have a climbing route Surbhi. Its like a highway. All you need to do is hold the rope and walk behind the guy in front of you."

Surbhi thought Manas was being that sour whiner that he had become in the last few months of their relationship. In fact it was his constant whining and baseless accusations against the world that had hastened their separation. She was beginning to regret her decision to come meet Manas; Thankfully, Mira was still engrossed in the cartoon.

“I hate that piece of useless rock. That's what it is. A giant useless rock. It's been romanticized for no reason. Ok, it was tough when Edmund and Tenzing went to the top. It was tough for the next few years or so when people found new route, new trails, new paths to the top. But now it's like walking on crowded subway. Messner says, ‘Like in Kindergarten, they go on Everest now.’ Thing is, its been bastardized. Its become a commercial pursuit. The way you can buy a ticket to the top of Eiffel Tower, today you can buy a damn ticket to the top of the Everest and come back with all the bragging rights in the world. Its just another selfie moment. They have no respect for the pursuit. They don't care about the ones who've tried in the past. You know the ones who die trying to climb the Everest? The path to the summit is littered with them. Some are used as milestones and landmarks. There is no respect in ‘doing’ the Everest. It's a sport for the rich. You pay money and you get ropes and ladders and oxygen.”

Manas was now almost yelling. He had all the anger pent-up and no place to let go. The only two people he could call of his own were Surbhi and Mira. He wasn't too fond of Mira -- she was born to Surbhi’s second husband.

“What pride would you get if you are merely adding your name to a long list of people who have done something before you? You are a nameless, faceless statistic. You don't move things forward like that. You have to pave new paths. Create new things. Gangkhar is what they ought to do if mountaineering is their thing,” he scorned. He continued, “Its tough and its remote and its cold. There is no highway to walk on, there are no Sherpas to walk ahead and put the ropes! There are no maps either! That's what a real man would do. That's what I wanted to do. Before… before... ” his voice trailed off and he stared at his hand.

Surbhi now had an inkling what went wrong with them! Unlike the rest of the world, the guy had his priorities clear but he had chosen a track that was going to be as tough as, well, climbing the mountain. The closure that Surbhi had wanted was just around the corner.

“I did not know about it when I started thinking about it. More I read about, more fascinated I got. I am so sorry I ignored you, Surbhi. I shouldn't have left you that night. But if I didn't, I could never have taken that shot at the Gangkhar. It was my life, Surbhi. Not you. Gangkhar."

With that, he started crying. 

For someone like Manas, who had held his head high and resolve higher, this was a rare display of emotion. And Surbhi knew that he was accepting defeat probably for the first time. This was not the Manas that Surbhi had made friends with all those years ago. Rather than seeing a rock-solid man that she had loved once upon a time, she was now looking at a man frail with age and burden of loss on the shoulders. 

In a different time, Surbhi could've been angry about the way Manas left. But now, she had her daughter, her career and the question she needed an answer to, she had it. She was surprised that she had remained calm and all she felt was a bit of pity towards him. 

Surbhi leaned in closer. She said, “Manas, I am not sure what to say. I am really sorry for this. It was important to you. You did it. But now that it has happened, can you do something about it?"

He looked up. “Not really, Surbhi. But wish I could play God and do something about it, Surbhi. I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop.” He paused to empty the contents of his glass. “You know to when? To just before when Edmund and Tenzing decided that they were going to climb the Everest!” and with that, he flung the empty glass at the wall that was decorated with a giant photograph of the Mount Everest shining in its glory. 

The End.

1000WAD_082017. Post 1. Time is limited.

22 August 2017. So I have accepted yet another 1000 words a day challenge. Knowing me, its gonna be tough to keep up with it. Unless I put a theme to it.

One of the themes could be writing a piece inspired by each alphabet. And I can repeat the vowels. So, I will have 30 odd pieces in 30 days (I did this some months back). Or the other option is to write 1000 words towards #book2, where I end up with 30K words. But then I am not sure if I have it in me to be able to do this – considering that the book is still in flux (and while a forced word count has worked well for me in the past, I want to do this one different). Or the third option is, I can write about things that I want to leave behind, should I die after a month. Things that have shaped me and my thinking. 

And after deliberate thinking, I have decided that I will write about the lessons, today being the first one.

So, lesson 1. Your time is limited. Everything else, including money, is unlimited. 
If you lose time, you will NOT get it back. 

Unlike other that is seemingly scarce, is not. What are the things that we think are limited? Money? Business opportunities? Access to loved ones? Number of chips in a bag? Battery on your phone? Parking slots?

Each of those things - EACH - is infinite (from the perspective that we are specs of dust on a blue ball in the vast infinite). You can make as much money as you want to. And if you exhaust the money you've made, you can earn it back. If you are lazy to put in the hardwork to earn money, you can beg, borrow, marry or steal. But you can always get it. And there is more than enough of it to fulfill every whim that you may have.

Loved ones is a probably the biggest myth propagated since the beginning of time. As I get along in life, I realise that love is probably the most overrated of things. More on this some other time. But the point is, you can always find opportunities to spend time with someone, if they matter. You need time for it. Nothing else. Time that is anyway limited.

Number of chips in a bag? Get another one. Battery on your phone? Carry a powerbank. Charge it again. Parking slot? Park a mile up the road. There is always a way out.

But the time that is gone, the seconds you've spent reading this (or on other frivolous things), is not coming back. And thus, you need to be VERY conscious of the way you spend your time. You need to eliminate time sinks from you life. Will talk about time sinks in a bit.

Your time is so limited that you need to spend is more wisely than you spend your money. This is counter intuitive. We are ok taking public transport because we cant afford a taxi or a cab but we "waste" probably 2 times the time in reaching the destination. While we saved 100 bucks, we had to spend that extra hour. Is that the worth of your hour?

I know not everyone has access to money, but once this thought about scarcity of time takes home, you find ways of saving time AND making money, that further allows you to save time. It becomes a feedback loop.

So, what has worked with me, when I think about the time vs money piece is putting a monetary value to each hour. Dont ask me how I came to this number but the cost of my each day is Rs. 20000. And thus, my hourly cost is about 1000 bucks (little less). Now all decisions of time become a simple maths equation.

If I need something done and its going to take me an hour to do so, I try and see if I can outsource it to someone who'd charge less than a 1000 bucks for it. If I can, I outsource. Or else I do it.

I am trying to implement this in all walks of life. And I have become so anal about my time that I have automate most things. My lunch is ordered by a colleague - she orders the same thing from same restaurant everyday at same time. I am not thinking about my lunch at all. If I have a meeting at 11 and I expect traffic on the way, I leave at 8, park myself as a coffee shop. If a certain thing at work can be given to a junior, I will. If I need to hire more people, I will. Of course I dont have infinite money either. But I am trying to do that.

Of course, there are exceptions.

My book for example. I am irrational about it. I know that I wont make money with it and the amount of time I put on it is unreal. If I were to put a value on it, say I need 2 hours everyday to work on it. Thats like 2000 bucks a day. Over the entire life of the book, I will probably put in 700 days. So, the financial value of writing a book (as of today) is Rs. 14,00,000. And no, no author makes that kind of money from the sales of the book. And my hourly "rate" of 1000 bucks will go up as I get busier in life (my time gets limited and thus attracts more premium). But then, somewhere at the back of my head I know that the book is going to have infinite returns if it does well. So the equation works out for me (see how I justify my irrationality about writing).

The other place where I make exceptions is people. I may spend 3 hours to get a 15 minute meeting with someone. I know that the opportunity cost of the meeting is about 10000 bucks. But I am looking at it terms of future returns. Can the lesson I learn from that 15 minute meeting help me make money or save time in the future? Same for business development activities. A meeting can potentially get me work that makes some money for me. Money that I can invest to make more time.

Third place, teaching. This (blog) to me is teaching. I probably took 3 hours to write this post. Am I making money from this? No. Am I getting access to people who can teach me things as I go along? Maybe. Am I getting better as an individual? Hell yes!

Fourth, some people (in my inner circle). Myra, Agony Aunt, sgMS, my folks, vvgg etc. I dont think of time when it comes to them.

I can give more examples. But you get the drift.

Thing is, time on the other hand is limited. Every second you spend, is gone. You are not getting it back. So, make it count! 

Thats about it, I guess. So, may be its time to move your ass and get shit done? There's nothing called the right time. The right time is now. And the place is here. Lets go.

P.S.: I talked about time sinks briefly above. Lemme talk about it briefly.

A time sink, by definition is a place where we waste time without realising. Classic example? Commute (unless you are the kinds to actually get things done while you are in transit). Can you eliminate commute from your life?

Here are more time sinks.

A. Societal constructs. Things like social functions, courtesy, norms and other such things. I think (no way to validate) that all the societal constructs were created when you lived in a time of unpredictability. You were not sure if you’d get hunted if you stepped out of the cave – and thus you travelled in groups. You were not sure if you’d get your dinner if you venture too far out – so you stuck to tribes. You did not know how to make inroads into a colony of strangers – you decided to use introductions and bribes. For each of our behaviour, we can trace if back to our prehistoric behaviour and learning. But, the world we live in, is little more open and smaller (thanks to the Internet) and we dont need to adhere to things that worked while we were in caves. Most times when I meet someone, rather than creating a story, I come to the point. Most people balk at it but I know I can get more things done.

B. Everyday decisions. What to wear, what to eat, where to go to hang out etc. Put them on autopilot. Become a creature of habit. Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same thing everyday. I am trying to get there. If I have to meet someone, I by default tell them to meet me at a Starbucks. My breakfast and lunch come from the same place, at the same time, even when I am not around. So far I seek help from friends but I am hoping to start using apps like Haptik to get things done (need to get independent - more on this in one of the next posts). If I need to celebrate, I goto the same expensive restaurant (by virture of the price they charge, the dinner becomes celebratory).

All things in the chores category must happen automatically. I am trying to design my life so that it runs on autopilot. I am far from it, but I will reach there.

C. Commute. I mentioned that already.

D. Productivity porn. This is a topic for a blogpost in itself. May be I will write on this tomorrow.

I am sure there are more. This is a great list for the time being.

Thing is, I dont know if these "hacks" will lead me to live a more fulfilled life but in my head, I am calmer and less anxious about things. Rather than worry about what kind of cuisine I want to eat, I can worry about ways in which I will reach my two ultimate goals in life.

I do understand that this is not for everyone. Not everyone is as "mission-oriented" as I am. I dont even know if there is a purpose to this obsession with the mission. But in my head, I cant do the maths of living and NOT doing something that makes the world a better place.

And how do you do it? By creating great work and by leading as an example and inspiring others to do the same.

And no, I still dont have an answer to quip by the lady.

Thats about it. Should you take inspiration, tell me what you did to save time. What are your time sinks? What do you do to save time? Help me become even more efficient. Please.

P.P.S.: I still suck at ending these notes. Look at this one for example! 

Untitled - 16 Aug 2017

Yo! Been some days since I've written here. More than 2 weeks if I am not wrong.

If you care, lifes been ok. There is still no money but theres been some work. And there's been some travel and some meetings and some getting things done. All in all, a mixed bag. The kinds that I think I like. Just that I need to get some more on the money bit.

Coming to an update (I dont even know why I do this -- there's no one reading these. May be I do these for giving my updates to myself? Who knows. Who cares. I love writing. Here it is.)

This time for the first time in life, I probably missed the Independence Day. The cynic in me is fucked in the head because of all that is happening around me (read communal tension, ups and downs in the economy, policies of Modi Ji, general confusion about where the country is headed).

If I were the kinds to get radicalised (if I havent been radicalised already), I'd be a prime candidate! I mean look at my character profile (blame the author in me for this). I have very little education, I am confused, I am an under-achiever, I hold strong opinions, I feel helpless (I dont know what to do to fix things; I dont even understand the problem) and I dont see a way out. You know what I am saying?

P.S.: The way out is to get out of the country. While I have always wanted to live in the Silicon Valley, this is the first time I am actually serious about it. A couple of friends are moving to Canada next year and from what they tell me, its not a bad place to be at!

And no, views are not of my employer. My employer will not endorse these. This is me. Personal. Individual.

The other thing that is happening soon is that I will be 35. At the age of 35, I was supposed to be a dollar billionaire. I am not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of that!

I have realised that I am not as cool as I thought I were - the good ones actually do well for themselves, the mediocre ones like me crib. I mean at my age, Zuckerberg is launching his bid to be the president of the United States and here I am crying about money. At my age Steve Jobs had done the cycle of getting fired from Apple, creating Next and becoming the CEO at Apple all over again. At 35... there is a long long list. For the time being, I know that I am poor. And I dont know where I want to be in life.

This piece caught my eye yesterday. See the following video.

The way those 5 people have been thanked for times than God, I want to be thanked as well. The purpose of my life, the reason why I exist, is to enable others to reach the peak of their chosen paths.

I wrote this on LinkedIn. Read if you are interested.

This also beings me to a debate that I had with a classmate from MDI. He said he is not in the race to go down the history. And rather, he wants to live it up here. He wants to experience as many things as he can, while he is here. He wants to enjoy life with his family. He wants to contribute to society and die a content man. Let me call him a Warren Buffett disciple. I on the other hand want to go the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk way. I am not sure if I want to enjoy life per se. Id rather push our collective understanding and enjoy that process, rather than going to national parks or something. While the friend made a very compelling argument in favour of going the WEB, in my head, I am still keen on being the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Elon Musk. I want to push the human race forward. Make that dent. Give our species a chance when shit happens. You know what am saying?

I am gonna be taking a break for a week in September. I want to go to a place that is cold, has good Internet connectivity on mobile phones (if in India) or cheap access (if abroad). I want a good writing table and a chair. A place where I can go for long walks. Access to clean water (lots of it) and cleaner restrooms. Budget is NOT a problem.

Where can I go? Recommendations anyone?

Book 2. So I've told myself that if I cant get the first draft of #book2 out by end of September, I will quit on the project. That means the next couple of months would be super hustle - there is a lot of work, C4E needs attention, other ideas needs attention, health needs attention and of course book2 needs attention. Lets see which bit of attention do I give into.

Thats about it. Do write in. Tell me how are things with you. Till I find time to write again, adios.

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?