What has been up?

So this is keeping in trend with the level of intermittency of my posts – apologies, mes amis. A lot has been going on. I ran my first half marathon – which was a beautiful milestone to achieve on my running journey. This was back in August, where I managed to do two races in a week, and then stopped for about two months until about 10 days ago.

Important lesson here – do not stop working out. The biggest factor in my doing well in running in the first place was that I kept going for whatever distances — large or small — but I did that consistently each day of the week. The resistance and struggle faced in building back up to your prior levels can be a bit much, and you miss out on the incremental gains stacked up over a long time. This Quora answer is pretty relevant too.

Next, my language journey has been going great! I took up an advanced French course, and finished the language tree on Duolingo. Struggling quite a bit on understanding native speakers speak it, but I guess I should hang in there. It seems more natural by the day.

Takeaway? Everyday. Compound interest is a strong force, young padawan.

That’s about it for now! I’ll keep posting more, and might even add some poetry/songs to this page! Like always, देर आएँगे लेकिन दुरुस्त आएँगे । The posts will keep coming, and I’ll try to keep the waiting periods as small as possible.

Cheers! (Raises a glass of Hoegaarden, a beer that yours truly has come to love recently. Figuratively of course, can’t afford to get kicked off the campus for possessing alcohol :P)


Breaking radio silence; Consolidated updates

Hello! नमस्ते! Salut! Hola! 你好! привет!

Well you can tell that I’m excited about my journey of learning languages. While I’m pretty fluent with English and Hindi, and have some 4 years of elementary French training (most of which I’ve forgotten), my learning basket now also includes Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian.

Why these, you may ask? What has “polyglotism” (is this a legit term?) got to do for me anyway? Well, I can’t quite explain it, but I find knowing many languages as empowering in some sense. Probably it came from an early fascination with spies being fluent (with native accent, mind you) in them. Now it’s farfetched, with movies going all out on their assumptions, but not too bad an idea to give it a shot anyway. Knowing French allows me one more way of communicating with people in Pondicherry, France, Canada, and some African countries. Spanish opens up Spain, Latin America, and the US! Mandarin gives me access to Mainland China, Singapore, and all of the China-towns around the world. And Russian, because hey, Space and Russia. Might come in handy if I need to operate a Soyuz one day. (You can tell I’m ambitious).

One thing that I’ve learnt from my language escapades is that you will forget one if you don’t keep up with it everyday. I’m looking at a time frame of a few years, with daily practice of around half hour for all of them. Let me tell you how it goes as I go along.

Okay! That’s for languages. Besides, I’ve been struggling with research this semester. One important thing that I realised is that wanting to make your unique contribution in a single year can backfire. It’s important to have a good amount of faith in your guide — that they know what’s best for you and them — and then carry on trying to learn and not cure all world problems. The emphasis on learning has an important implication in keeping you productive, motivated, and stress-free. For you realise that when you dive into a field, papers on the topic may go as far back as 90 years, and to digest them and put out something new, even when you’re skipping decades, takes time. So hang tight. And have fun. Easier to preach than to practice, but try, really.

Moving on, I’ve lost weight – 5 kg to be exact. Running works, although it’s slow. This semester has really built up my patience. Instant gratification is as addictive as some drugs out there (wait, that’s probably the premise of how drugs work), and keeping one’s expectations realistic is more important than one realises. Grit, is the most important. Fancy a TED talk? Here: Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit.

I’ll sign off with a neat album that I discovered recently. Deru – 1979 – hope you like it. It’s an instrumental.

Until next time!


Finally, I’ve managed to make running interesting for me and managed to keep it for over a month! Here’s proof for the sceptical among you,

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 16.22.51


When I started, my comfortable mark was around 1.6 km, which I’ve managed to now push to 3-3.5 km. I am now beginning to do over 6 km per day.

So what made it work this time? From plain observations:

  • I tried to go running in a group. Having a peer group around you helps. A lot.
  • I kept track of my runs through an app (I use Nike+). It gamifies it and rewards you. Again, helps.
  • I allowed myself to stop and not feel pressurised to hit that target always. Consequently, I injured myself less, and that helped to keep going.
  • Although I started with the objective of losing weight, now it’s more about pushing on for those extra kilometres and improving my pace. That, I feel, is a much better aim, and helps maintain patience.

Hopefully, this would remain a part of the routine. I’ll give any other interesting updates as I go along. Next step, a marathon!

Boundary Walls

This is an old piece I worked on for a competition in college. Found it while rummaging through some folders, and realised it never made its way to this blog! 

This scene takes us back many millennia …

Men sat huddled around a dying fire – its flames flaring up as it gave way to the cold. It had been a long day – catch was limited, and they had worked too hard. One of these men, tired as he was, lay down on the ground, and gazed up. He looked intently at the night sky – the stars, the moon, and the darkness – all the while wondering who he was, and who had made them all. He raised that question to the other men, “Do you not wonder who made us all? The forest is so big, and there are so many of us – who is responsible for all this?” …The next few moments were those of silence. Finally, someone spoke, “Must be very strong, whoever he is – for I can set fire to only a leaf when I strike two stones – but he burns entire forests with just one stroke of the skies!” Men introspected, and were filled with awe. They had just started dealing with the concept of God.

It was dawn, but darkness lingered. The skies boomed, and animals bounded across distraught – knowing all too well that disaster was on its way. One man said, “Have we made Him angry?” A woman, his mate, asked, “Made whom angry?” “You weren’t there last night, when we discussed how someone very powerful must be behind us all! He’s going to strike the skies again!” said the man. The woman was grief stricken, knowing that only death followed the spark from the skies. She shrieked, “What must we do?!” The man said, “He’s like a tiger, roaring that loud! Maybe he wants prey. Let us give him our best lamb!” The commune had by then joined them. They shouted, “Let’s! Let’s slay and offer the lamb!” And so it happened, a sacrifice – futile slaughter of an innocent lamb, which was fed to flames, surrounded by primitives yelling their apologies. Within hours, the weather simmered down, and the primitives rejoiced, yelling praises of their Lord.

“The Tiger is so kind. He didn’t devour us this time. We must keep making these sacrifices every day to keep Him appeased!” shrieked a woman. Everyone chimed in with praises of the Tiger. Hundreds of miles away, in the icy uplands, men clad in bear-skin prayed to the Wolf, for His howl was what they heard in the storm, and they had nothing to attribute to the thunder’s deafening roar!

Both these tribes prospered and spread out. One day, a scout of the Tiger’s sons reported a small village up north. A raiding party slipped in slowly in the night, and struck the village in its sleep. It was a massacre. The barbarians were quick to notice a Wolf drawn in what seemed to be their sacred place, and proclaimed superiority over the being they had discovered only recently. “The Tiger has slain the Wolf. All hail!” was the call. Whoever was alive was taken captive. Superiority was that of a strategy, but was attributed to the strength that their Tiger lord had given them. It was the Tiger’s victory – not of those men, who had battled the cold and the dark, and had borne the guilt of slaughter. It was the victory of an ideology, not of an idea. It was said, “They didn’t worship the Tiger, and hence they lost!” Tribesmen up north were belittled, and thought to follow a backward religion – they were called pagans. Fundamentally, there was no difference – both had attributed nature’s might to beings they thought were representative. Their circumstances were different, but their intentions the same – to have someone to guide them, to have someone to fall back to in hours of discomfort, and to feel as if their fates were in control – to have more order in their lives. Hence, they chose the Tiger and the Wolf, for they were the beings that captured their awe – beings perfect to attribute super-natural powers to and worship as guardians of nature. But, as is human nature, we value superiority, and found a competition in what religion one follows. We neglect the fact that
every religion is just a guideline, a relief, a route to catharsis in difficult times – and take prejudice against what is plainly diversity, and different kind of evolution.

The Lion and the Wolf are merely constructs. Over the ages, a plenitude of religions have risen, forced dominance, and faded away. Invariably, religions have become stringent – more customs to follow to the book, lest we be reprimanded by authority. Where did these customs spring from? Did someone descend from the heavens and lay down the rules? No, we humans did! Mark Twain has famously said*, “Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” Not to be very extreme – but it is highly logical that religion was a framework designed to control the masses – something that would be readily acceptable to them – something that could be used to impose order. Maybe that’s why, invariably, people of significance in religion tend to be control freaks…

Why do I write all this? Because despite all our advances, and all our accumulated glory, we have this one big flaw – that of blindly following a set of tenets so vigorously so as to not even question and improve them. I see billions worldwide sold to religion (or any other communal set of beliefs) – ready to strike for it if need be. Riots have happened in Myanmar recently – not targeted at bad people, but targeted at Muslims. That’s the stupidity – a few madmen will create havoc – and their whole “community” will face the repercussion. What happens to these few madmen? They probably get killed, but so do thousands others – for no mistake of their own.

This isn’t one isolated incident. The initial subject of this article was actually the situation in Gujarat in 2002 (Gujarat riots). I had planned on writing about Narendra Modi’s appropriateness as our next Prime Minister, but I ended up reading about so much communal disharmony while doing this article’s research that I found a political question a tad bit trivial as compared to the seriousness of the overall issue. There have been the Crusades, there has been historic prejudice, and time and again, there has been spite – there has been a whole big set of satanic acts for what people think is a sacred cause. What a waste.

What’s my purpose with this article? My purpose is to make people realise the truth – and to ask them to be more liberal, questioning and smart! We are in a modern age – and it’s time we took down the barriers in our mind and know that at the end it is nature, with all its bounty and beauty, that is God – and appreciating this God is what every religion on this planet boils down to. For too long now have the masses mindlessly followed stringent tenets – and allowed themselves to be exploited as vote banks, mobs and rioters. No longer shall we be judgmental, and no longer shall we be vain.

Let us take down the boundary walls in our heads – and make way to wide and beautiful avenues…

*not sure if this quote is actually from him, but nevertheless, it’s pretty good.

On stress, among other things

The past few months have been stressful, and filled with some sudden (but thought out) changes. I am sure many of my troubles were “first-world” in some sense – far more people have worse to deal with, and my experience will be trivial as compared to theirs. But, there have been important lessons for me, an improved sense of understanding and dealing with shortcomings, and as with anything substantial that happens – I figured I’d push it to the blog. Small ceremony, but an important one.

I am not one of the strongest people in terms of a work ethic. That’s where the problem started, I guess. Add to it a tendency to overload myself, and you have a situation close to the stall point. Sometimes there’s so much to do, that you feel that a headway is impossible, and curl up and go to sleep. Yeah, that actually happens! Distractions don’t help – they have such a high affinity for wasting your time that before you know it – it’s 11 in the night, and you’re looking at an all-nighter to compensate. That’s when you enter a vicious sleep cycle – you’ll gain 4 highly unproductive night hours in lieu of 6 highly productive morning hours. For a short while, your brain will put up with sleep cuts, but then it’s going to decide to stop reacting to the alarm and get those 8 hours nevertheless. There, the plane just stalled — you have no work done, or extremely poor work done — and world gives you appropriate feedback too – poor grades, angry team-mates, dissatisfied professors, and a frustrated you. Well.

One thing helped me though. It helps that I read. It helps more that I read non-fiction. About habit formation. About outlying behaviour. About good self-evaluation, and not the kind that fills you with guilt and self-reproach. As individuals, we need to look at things, particularly mistakes and what’s not working, in an objective sense. Bear with my academic terminology, but the ability to draw functional relationships between your behavioural traits, and the knowledge that ranting to yourself about the past does nothing – but fixing it in the present does, is profoundly important. I say that more assertively since I have seen both sides with me. And nothing has helped me more than switching to this approach – knowing growth is incremental, and the more objectively (and not emotionally) it is done the better. Take my word for it.

Case in point? Apps. While on one hand you may be engrossed in those pings, you can use it to work-advantage. Habit formation has rewards as its paramount component – and you can gain that by looking at your own data. Have you heard of pomodoro? It stands for tomato – those tomato oven timers, you know. A college student from the past pioneered it, and I just installed an app that helps me work distraction free for 25 minutes at a time, and see at how many pomodoros I got done per day. Reward! And  couple with time tracking apps, and you can see how a day drives you to work. What events affect you. Scientists aren’t crazy about data for no reason, and as an aspirational one, I think that has served as an important lesson for me.

And yes, you should get help for organising stuff too if you’re too involved with things. Get a cloud based notes app which you can access anywhere, and a similar to-do list. Helps a lot. Note down how you’re doing in a day, organise small or big ideas, and keep looking at what’s up next. I am still struggling with that part – somehow I still haven’t ingrained in myself a tendency to start 4 days in advance instead of 1. Hofstadter’s law is very real, and overcoming that remains my next goal.

Prioritise too. Something more important beckons, so I’ll now take your leave. Carpe diem.


I am sure you’ve felt it. That silent tugging at the back of your head. It’s as if an over-excited kid is trapped beside a college professor (read this article: http://qr.ae/QVw42 – not exactly the theme here, but the analogy!) And the funny thing is, with time, that kid is becoming more and more difficult to appease! Distractions, well you guessed it right, but I gave it away in the title so no points for you. Back in freshman year, I did not bring my laptop to IITB, but once I did halfway through semester one, all hell broke lose. So much content! There’s

  • TV Series
  • Movies
  • Youtube (thug life, vine compilations blah blah)
  • Facebook (Satan’s grinning in accomplishment now)
  • I don’t use it much, but Twitter
  • Reddit
  • 9GAG
  • Buzzfeed
  • Indian variants of Buzzfeed

Ugh, there’s too much. With time, the grip and reach has grown exponentially, and our productivity has taken a hit. A big hit! But I am not here just to rant; rather, I seem to have hit a solution.

Here’s how the next chapter in the story progresses. Non-fiction has grown on me recently – I’m still not a big fan, but am beginning to understand that it’s an essential component of the diet already loaded with David Baldacci and Jeffrey Archer. I’ve been reading this book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (http://www.amazon.in/dp/B006WAIV6M), and my reaction to reading the book fluctuates between being baffled to thoroughly impressed on the many aspects of the psychology of habit creation. Here are some excerpts that I’ve taken the liberty to reword, mainly because I’m too lazy to open the book:

  • “McDonald’s and all other fast food chains standardise their restaurants, workers’ dresses and their ways of talking and engaging with customers, the food shape, size, smell and taste – because it forms the cue in the habit loop. All habits can be boiled down to this loop of cue-routine-reward, with the driving force being a craving. Simple to state, but substantial to grasp. All thanks to a primitive structure in the brain called the basal ganglia, which loves this loop – maintaining which is its job.”
  • “Alcoholics Anonymous – although it’s debatable whether the origin of its practices is pseudo-scientific; the practices are very scientific in application. One component is identifying the cues (maintaining a craving journal, so to say) – and that actually goes a long way in shooting down the compulsion to drink.”

I recently also found this tool called RescueTime (https://www.rescuetime.com/). It basically logs everything that I do at my computer and mobile devices in terms of the time spent. Here’s what the dashboard looks like on an exam day, and the day after:

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 1.48.26 am

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.10.46 pm

(Slightly skewed statistics, but you get the idea). This is great! Before now, how I spent my time was implicit, but thanks to big brother, now knowing the proportion that goes unproductive at least nags me enough to do better. Knowing helps – identifying the cue at least puts us on a track to switch the routine (e.g., watch TED talks instead of Cat Vines, something that I’ve been trying). I’ll probably comment on how effective things have been a week after now. But, there has been a slight difference already, and it’s poised to definitely grow.