Category Archives: Work and Life

My thoughts on corporate life, work-life balance or the lack thereof and so on.

My Little Girl

My little speech when my little girl turned 21, and my little video, archiving on my blog. Apparently, these little things make most parents cry. Here’s hoping that some children also might find them touching. And give their parents a call, perhaps?

If I have learned one thing in the last 25 years or so, it is this: Never go right after or right before Kavita when it comes to public speaking. The comparison is never going to be good for me. 🙂

But that lesson notwithstanding, this day is special, and I will take one for the daughter this time. Let me start by wishing my daughter, Anita of the house Thulasidas, the first of her name, a very happy birthday, and a year full of wonder and happiness ahead. Today marks your transition to adulthood, with all the independence and responsibilities that it entails. Yeah, it sucks, but you are going to love it. 🙂

At this point, the father is probably supposed to recount cute stories. I have a nice video to do that. I made it for Anita when she turned 16, but as every year passes, it seems more and more appropriate. I will show it later.

As you know, I am educator now. So I educate; I pontificate; I profess. I would like to share a few words on parenting, for the young parents here, or those who plan to be, later in life. Parenting is a balancing act, an almost impossible one. You have to love your child, but not spoil them. You have to provide for them, which means work and time away from them, and you have to find the right balance. You have to foster the right values and character in them, which means strictness. Otherwise they may grow up unprepared into an unforgiving world. But not too much, or you will be robbing them of their childhood as well.

Of all these lessons of parenting, the hardest is this one right here. Your child will one day grow up, take wing and fly away. From your home, from your life. I did it. So has Anita. So will Neil. When that time comes, you will hold the door open for them, and step aside. If they don’t step out, you will have to kick them out. But when they leave, emptiness and pain will follow, through which you will smile. You will hope that, in time, your pride in their accomplishments will fill the void, assuage the pain, and bind and heal the cuts in your soul. I know it did for my father. So, if you do it right, when the time for this hard lesson comes in their life, at the very least, your children will remember you.

And you will hope that they will find their way back home. To your life. Someday. Again, I did it. So you will keep the door open, and leave the light on. And wait. And wait.

But today is not about the parent. It’s about the child. The child who as turned into a beautiful, intelligent, articulate, multi-talented and independent young woman. Lucky that you took after your mother, isn’t it? I just want to tell my little girl – how proud I am of you, and how much I love you. Though you think you already know…

Mud and Me

Life and death has been a recurring theme on my blog. Confronted with our mortality, a common stance we assume is one of anger. Hearing of such a stance recently, I thought I would expand on my notion of gratitude in this writeup, liberally paraphrased from Shelly Kagan’s lectures on this subject.

Gratitude is best described in mystical terms, where we have a generous, benevolent giver (namely God) and a receiver (such as ourselves). A mystic poem that Kagan quoted goes like this (paraphrasing again, of course): God was a bit bored, so he created the universe and all the beauty in it, like the sun and the stars, beaches and mountains, forests and lakes, snow and waterfalls, and so on. At the end of this creation, God wanted an audience. So he looked at some mud on the ground and said, “Sit up and see all this beauty that I have created.” And I sat up and looked. Then I saw. I saw the beauty, not only in love and life and pleasure and happiness and everything nice and great, but also in loss and grief and misery and struggles, in all things bad and mean as well.

I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am that I got to be the mud that sat up and saw it all. All this beauty. So much of it that it hurts if we allow ourselves to see it. I got to experience the pleasures and the pride, and the pangs and the anguish. I got a glimpse of God’s own thoughts, written in these immense volumes of beauty. Imagine, if my parents had gotten amorous a minute earlier or later, I wouldn’t have been, and all this beauty would have been lost to me. How can I be anything but grateful for this singular fortune, this supreme gift?

What does it matter that my awareness of all this beauty will cease in 20 or so years? Or tomorrow? I see it now. My experience at this point in time is etched in eternity. It is mine. For now. And for ever.

This little bit about eternity is my dim understanding of an old song, but it is also an oblique commentary on the different outlooks of life. The western outlook is that life is a gift to be appreciated, a container to be filled with as many great things that we can muster in this short blink during which it lasts.

But we, of the East, beg to differ. We view life as a burden or suffering (as in Buddhism), or as a difficult patch in the cycle of life and death. We deal with it by not getting too attached to life and its pleasures.

When I say “we,” I am not sure I include myself in it. Well, may be I do. I see the beauty in detachment as well, in actions performed devoid of any attachment to their fruits or glory, in kindness for its own sake, in a life lived to its fullest, but oriented toward a salvation that is the very antithesis of life. I see beauty in our petty fights and our noble gestures, in our worldly worries and our heavenly pursuits. In everything that adds a little piece to this grand collage, a little square to this magnificent Persian rug, a little shade to this dome of many-colored glass, staining the white radiance of eternity. And I am grateful that I get to see it all.

Binding Books

When I was about 15, oh so long ago now, I had this crazy hobby of book binding, which is like the process of turning a paperback into a hardcover, or adding a hardcover to an exercise book. With the mild OCD that I have, I do get a bit carried away with such things, and no books around me or in my dad’s collection were spared. I collaborated with a local printing press to access their cutting machine and local stationery stores to research on various techniques and acquire supplies. My crowning moment was when I did a “full-calico” binding on a rather useless book that my dad had recently purchased.
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Pointlessness

When my mother gave birth to me, it was a touch-and-go sitiuation. I was created with an abnormally huge head, which I would like to insist is filled with a brain the size of a small planet. Whether because of the head or some other medical reason, my mother had to undergo an emergency c-section. Remember, this was more than half a century ago in a remote hill station near Munnar in Kerala.
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Childhood Friend

When I was a child, I had a friend in the neighborhood. A smart (and slightly nerdy) kid, not unlike myself. We used to hang out, play badminton and do physics experiments. By the time we were teenagers, we kind of drifted apart, as our paths diverged. Later on, I went the IIT-USA, global-citizen-route and ended up in Singapore. He, of more modest ambitions, stayed back at home, and got a job roughly similar to what my father used to do. I kept hearing of him, although I never really ran into him. He got married, probably had a couple of kids, and everything must have been going smoothly, even a bit dully. But a couple of years ago he suddenly died of leukemia.

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American School Shooting

Another day, another American school shooting. The predictable aftermath will be “thoughts and prayers” (although people use different words now because of the current climate of skepticism), another pointless debate over gun laws, and a few “never agains” and “never forgets”. Instead of those exercises in futility, I thought I would write about some other curious aspects of America’s deadly romance with guns.

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When Your Child is as Big as You

My mom used to say that when your child is as big as you, you have to treat them with respect. What she actually said was that you had to address them using a respectful form of “you,” which doesn’t make any sense in English, but may work in Hindi or French. It worked poetically well in Malayalam. I was reminded of this maternal pearl of wisdom recently when I was watching a movie with my son.

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Contradictions

Life is full of contradictions.

I am attending a research retreat on mindfulness and contemplative practices at the beautiful Garrison Institute. I am learning a lot of interesting things, and meeting a lot of like-minded and excellent people – the kind of people with whom I could have deep conversation about the unreal nature of reality, unlike most people from other walks of life would politely and tactfully excuse themselves when I get a bit unreal.

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An Instructional Experience

I just finished my first term as a professor at Singapore Management University. I taught an undergraduate course called Computer as an Analysis Tool, which is on business modelling and data-driven decision support. I had about 130 students, in three sections of three classroom hours each per week. I have to say the whole thing was a very enriching experience. Of course, the reasons behind this statement will be expounded on, theorized and hypothesized – this is Unreal Blog, after all.

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