‘Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?’

I’m sure it takes time to find one’s bearings in any new city, but Mumbai is a tough nut to crack. I’m assuming that in most other cities, knowing the name of a particular area ought to be enough to find your way there. But no, in Mumbai, each and every area is suffixed with either an East or a West. And these four letters could cost you a couple of hours in traffic. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, as I tend to do whenever presented with an opportunity.

Everyone you meet in Mumbai will ask you (the outsider) a set of questions to calculate your GQ (Gullibility Quotient) – which in turn, determines how much of a chutiya you are. Some popular questions include “How much rent do you pay? What is the area of your flat? How far is the local station from your flat? How much do you pay your maid?” I have been told by certain people that I have a fairly high GQ. I beg to differ though.

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Travelling in the local trains is an extremely empowering experience. During rush hour, when I get a thorough full body massage, I console myself thinking of how much money I saved by taking the train instead of Uber. It also helps if you can hold your breath for three minutes. It helps deal with the stinky armpit that your face is inevitably going to get shoved into. Just don’t forget to take in extra deep breaths of fresh air when the train halts at stations.

To establish your presence as an alpha male, never forget to ask the following question to anyone standing between you and the door as the train pulls into the station, “Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?” It is best delivered in a menacing tone which subtly hints that you have been to known to shove people off the train at the slightest provocation. I haven’t had the opportunity to deliver this dialogue yet, in real life. (I have practised it to perfection, in my head though.) I don’t think I can either. Not with a straight face – because, as radical as it may seem, in my hometown, it is considered absolutely normal behaviour to wait for the train to come to a halt before attempting to disembark!

I have noticed that hairy old uncles standing at the train door have this annoying way of muttering, “Yeh first class hai” when I board the first class compartment in my ratty t-shirt and tracks. At first, I used to get a kick out of saying, “Pata hai” but maybe I should do one better. “Sorry uncle, I was in a hurry. Aapko dekh ke laga ki yeh second class compartment hai.” Or maybe I should stand at the door and give out PSAs myself (“Uncle, yeh first class hai”), especially to the well-dressed ones.

Six months into life in Mumbai, and I feel like a proper Mumbaikar. I can now find my way in the city on my own. I’ve reached a stage where I’m thinking of uninstalling m-indicator. Isn’t that the litmus test for judging if one is new to the city?

Related Reading: Check out Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’. A nice read on trying to fit into Mumbai. You can also take a look at Shantaram.

Book Review: Americanah | Extremely relatable on many levels

I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ this morning. It’s one of the many books that I bought off a sale at Flipkart. Before buying it, I had never even heard of it, but decided to go ahead with the purchase because it was being sold dirt-cheap.

On some level, I found the book similar to Murakami’s works in the sense that the central theme explored human relationships and how they change, especially as you grow up. However, several other themes come into play in this book – most notably, race.

I found the book and its principal characters (Ifemelu and Obinze) extremely relatable. On some level, I could understand Obinze’s obsession with America and his dogged determination to experience the American life. Very often, I feel frustrated with life here in Mumbai and wonder what it would be like to experience life as an expatriate in some other country. In my case, my attentions are focused on China for the time-being. (I am learning Mandarin at the moment!)

Ifemelu encounters race when she moves from Nigeria to America. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she is black. When I moved from Trivandrum to Delhi for my MBA a couple of years back, I felt something similar. From being surrounded by Malayalis, I went to being a ‘Mallu’ in a so-called cosmopolitan city. Everyone that I met measured me in terms of my Mallu Quotient. “You don’t have a Mallu accent. Did you grow up in the Gulf?” “Can I borrow some of your coconut oil?” “I like Mallus. I had many Mallu friends back in engineering college. They all smoke up a lot” I found most of this amusing. What bugged me was how nobody seemed to know anything about the geography of South India! (“You’re from Kerala, na? Which part? Are you from Chennai? I’ve been there” )

I could also relate to how Ifemelu feels like an outsider, both back home in Nigeria (where she is considered an Americanah) and in the US (where she is an American African, rather than an African American). I sometimes feel like I don’t truly belong either in Mumbai or Trivandrum. I’m stuck in limbo, somewhere in between – neither here nor there.

All in all, Americanah was an extremely enjoyable read. Highly recommended! I’ve decided to give Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books a shot as well.

The Pursuit of Happiness?

What is it with our generation? We always seem to be obsessed with making the most out of every single minute of the day! Life is all about multi-tasking, whether it’s listening to audio books while driving, tweeting rants during an EPL match, replying to WhatsApp messages while taking a dump or uploading stories onto Instagram while eating. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of being left alone with ourselves and our thoughts.

We seem to have burdened ourselves with this overwhelming task of making an unforgettable experience out of every fucking thing we do. Somehow we’ve managed to complicate almost every single aspect of our lives. Ordering in? Let me compare offers across Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and UberEats. Going out for dinner? Let me check out reviews on Zomato and Dineout first. Movie night? Let me check out what the Top 10 Movies of 2018 are on IMDB!

There was a time when I could watch Nayak a million times because it was pretty much the only movie that used to be telecast on Sony Max on weekends. I miss listening to the radio, eagerly waiting for one of my favourites to play. Ice cream used to be plain old vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. Nobody used to ask me to go die (or get a life) because I didn’t watch Game of Thrones or Sacred Games

Maybe I was just younger back then. Or maybe I was just happier.

L’Oréal Sustainability Challenge 2018

Recently, I took part in the L’Oréal Sustainability Challenge 2018 along with my friends, Rajeeta Prasad and Niharika Kapoor. The brief for the competition was to come up with an idea that would improve sustainability on campus. Our idea took inspiration from Richard Thaler (2017 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics) and his ‘nudge’ theory. In his own words, ‘a nudge is any small feature in the environment that attracts our attention and influences the behaviour that we display.’ Here’s a video that explains our idea and how we went about implementing it…

You can also read more about our idea in this report.

Kerala Floods 2018: You Ought To Know

Kerala is experiencing its worst floods in over a hundred years. The death toll, as on August 18, has been reported to be 324. The rains show no signs of abating, with strong rains expected all through the weekend. India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows that Kerala has received 257% more rainfall than usual between August 9 and August 15. To put things in contrast, during the floods of 2015, Chennai received 102% more rainfall than usual.

The lack of media attention regarding the Kerala floods has been quite sickening, as pointed out by Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor in this tweet.

An analysis of Google Search Trends reveals the extent to which the lack of media coverage has led to a lack of public interest in the tragedy that is taking place in Kerala. The data shows that the Kerala floods have received only 4.2% of the search volumes that the 2015 floods in Chennai generated.

The Central government has also been subjecting Kerala to step-motherly treatment.

To get an idea of how destructive the floods have been, please check out this Facebook post.

If you reside in the USA and would like to donate, click here.

To donate through Amazon India, click here.

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Comment and Say Hi on LinkedIn

I think we can all agree that getting an MBA isn’t easy. It’s a massive investment and there’s always a lot of uncertainty associated with it. There’s a lot of pressure to do well and get a good job, with a solid pay package, decent work-life balance, ample opportunities to grow and what not! The list is endless…

This anxiety has indirectly lead to thousands of posts on LinkedIn such as the one below:

You’ll find hundreds of such people on LinkedIn who claim to be recruiting through posts like this  and apparently, all you have to do is comment ‘+’ or say hi to land the role. Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I find it hard to imagine that any legitimate recruiter would scroll through hundreds of comments (saying hi), clicking through hundreds of links to profiles and then scan through them in order to hire someone. I could be wrong but it just seems extremely unlikely to me. If they wanted to look up a bunch of random candidates, they could just use the search feature on LinkedIn to do so!

What do these people gain through such posts? The answer is visibility. Every time you comment on such posts, there’s an extremely likelihood that it’ll show up in the feeds of all your connections. This just another form of spam that we all could do without. Break the cycle and put an end to posts of this sort.

And who knows? An actual recruiter might see you commenting like this and dismiss you as being extremely gullible or too lazy to actively pursue opportunities!

I’ve also seen posts in which people promise to send across PowerPoint templates or e-books. These posts are usually legitimate and I have actually received whatever was promised, in most cases. But if you think they’re giving away the books out of the goodness of their heart, then you’re mistaken. The hidden agenda, again, is visibility and building connections. Many of these people could also probably harvesting your email IDs and selling them off to spammers!

If you disagree with me and have proof that commenting like this actually helps, please do drop a comment below. As I said, I could be mistaken and don’t mind being corrected.


Please Stand in Queue!

I hate queues! The word in itself is hard to spell (for other people, not me), which is probably why they probably prefer to use the word ‘line’ in the US. If you are like me, queues probably weren’t your favourite topic from Computer Science classes back in school. Queuing theory from Mathematics isn’t particularly endearing either. And don’t even get me started about standing in queues. According to not-entirely-credible statistics available online, human beings spend approximately six months of their lives standing in queues, which works out to something like 3 days per year. They’re a glorious waste of time!

In an episode of the Freakonomics podcast titled, ‘What Are You Waiting For?‘ , Steve Landsburg (an economics professor at the University of Rochester and the author of the provocatively titled book, “More Sex is Safer Sex“) brings up the idea that ‘people are not fully accounting for the damage that they’re doing to other people when they make decisions. And likewise when you get into a line.’ You might think you’re doing other folks a favour every time you join a queue whereas you are actually imposing a cost on everyone who joins the queue after you – by forcing them to wait longer. Have you ever thought of this? No! You only think of yourself! I found this thought mind-blowing because of how counter-intuitive it seemed at first.

Indian moms, including my own, have perfected a strategy to game the system at supermarkets. The strategy is deceptively simple – my mom, my sister and I take our positions in different billing counter queues. In the end, the shopping cart is passed to whoever succeeds in reaching the counter first. Crude, but effective. I was under the impression that the underlying principle behind this strategy was, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. After one year at a business school (during which time, I learned the importance of using jargon to look smart) I looked upon it as a form of hedging.

I reckon that people probably spend less time waiting in queues now than ever before due to advancements such as fast food restaurants, ATMs, services like Amazon Prime & BookMyShow as well as the ability to make medical appointments and restaurant reservations online. Waiting can be fun and even profitable sometimes. For instance, I don’t mind waiting for Domino’s, Faasos, Box8, etc. to deliver my food, as I keep reloading the delivery tracker, hoping against hope that they turn up a little late so that I can get a refund! Food always tastes better after a refund, I can vouch.

Back in November-December 2016, following demonetization, queues even helped significantly bring down India’s unemployment rate. People were being hired to stand in queues outside bank branches and ATMs, as reported in this article by the Indian Express. Take that, all you commie libtards! This is how demonetization helped increase our GDP!

You often hear that ‘good things in life are worth waiting for’, which is what Apple fanboys keep telling themselves as they queue outside Apple Stores days in advance. Royal Enfield enthusiasts can probably relate as well. Not to mention middle-class Indians who waited years to get a landline connection back in the eighties.

When I was younger, my father often told me that I ought to have more patience. Being an insufferable pain-in-the-ass even back then, I used to retort, “I don’t plan on becoming a doctor. I don’t need any patients!” (*cue canned laughter*)

I also learned from the Freakonomics podcast that, according to economics, queues are a very inefficient way of allocating scarce resources. A better way would be to let people pay their way out of waiting in line. The highest bidder at any point would be served first. However, this would seem inherently inappropriate for moral reasons. This is why there are waiting lists for organ transplants, instead of auctions. A queue seems fair, because everyone gets served based on the amount of time they are ready to invest in waiting.

To conclude, I’d like to introduce the concept of a last-come, first-served queuing system. It is a queuing system in which, in the words of Landsburg, “Each newcomer comes to the front of the line and pushes everyone else backward. What that means is that if you are more than three or four places back, you have no hope of ever getting a drink because newcomers are going to arrive at some rate. There is going to be some point in the line where it’s hopeless to wait for your drink. And therefore those people will give up, and that’s a good thing.”

“It means the line will never be more than a few people long. The fountain still gets used because the stream of newcomers assures that. And the few people who are willing to wait in line assure that the fountain will be used even at the moments when no newcomer has just arrived. But not many people would be willing to wait in a line like that. And we want people giving up, because we don’t want them wasting their time in lines.”

“Well, you say it’s not fair but the number of people who get served is the same number that would have gotten served under any other system. And you know, you might think, “Well, this way some people never get served at all.” That’s true. But under the current system some people never get served at all, namely the ones who are not willing to wait an hour. The same number of people are being denied service either way. “

“And the biggest one is that if we were to implement this system you would have to have a way of preventing people from leaving the line and then re-entering at the front. It’s got to be only the genuine newcomer who gets the drink, not the person who was waiting in line and got out and ran up to the front. Enforcing that, I think, would be a nightmare.”

I hope this post has piqued your curiosity a little. For more interesting ideas from the world of economics, you can listen to the Freakonomics podcast. It is available online for free and a new episode is uploaded every Thursday. I’d also recommend the various Freakonomics books, authored by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

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Drive to Thangassery Fort Ruins

As George Orwell rightly quipped,  “All parents are crazy, but some parents are crazier than others.”

Parents are crazy, by definition. You’ve got to admit it! We all have this feeling, deep down inside, that our parents are crazier than those of our friends. Over the years, we have all come to terms with it. It’s akin to patriotism in many ways – it all comes down to the circumstances of our birth. We can’t help but love them despite all their craziness and idiosyncrasies. Now that I live almost 3000 kilometres away from home, I actually miss their craziness. They realize this too, I think. As a result, whenever I come back home, they try to make it up to me – mostly unsuccessfully.

As a result, they consider it perfectly normal to wake me up on a Monday morning and announce, out of the blue, “We’re going to Thangassery today to see the fort there.”

“But why?”

“Because it’s not raining!” (Parent logic at work!)

Click to access the route on Google Maps

We took the Kazhakootam – Perumathura – Varkala – Paravur – Thangassery route. This coastal route is extremely scenic, and doesn’t see too much traffic either. The road is mostly good as well, except a few stretches that have really bad potholes. You’ll pass through numerous beaches along the way and at certain points like Kappil, the road is flanked by the Arabian Sea on the left and pristine backwaters on the right. The funny part is that our final destination, the Thangassery Fort, wasn’t much to behold. It was slightly disappointing, to be honest, but sometimes, life is about the journey and not the destination!

To sum up, it’s an incredibly fun drive and I’d recommend it to anyone with time to kill in Trivandrum. Personally, I feel that it’s sad that I haven’t visited most of these spots despite living in the city since 2001.

Perumathura Beach
Perumathura Beach

Anjengo Lighthouse

Anjengo Fort
Anjengo Fort

Anjengo Fort
Anjengo Fort

Thangassery Fort
Thangassery Fort