Mother’s Day & remembering her the right way

Growing up, I cannot remember being aware of  there being a Mother’s day until the late 90s when Archies Gallery shops started selling greeting cards for this particular day. Americana had arrived in urban India.

It is probably an invented holiday and has now ended up as a day – my email, SMS and push notifications, all get inundated with various discounts offers.

But today is different. It is the first one I am observing without my mother being around.

Coping with loss has been incredibly hard. The last six months remain the most difficult months in my life.

She was discharged from the hospital – and on the way back home I was with her in the ambulance. I held her hand and we joked about something I cannot recollect now. She was in great spirits looking forward to get back home and we were talking about random things. There was nothing to be alarmed about. She only had a leg infection that needed treatment.

She suddenly complained about feeling a bit giddy on the way home.

And she passed out in the next few seconds. We frantically took her to a nearby hospital within the next few minutes. She was gone by then. Decades of memories, her voice, humour, laughter all coming to a halt suddenly in those 10-odd minutes in an ambulance. All ended by an embolism.

I was consoled by being told that she had me right next to her in her last moments. My face was what she saw last. It really did not matter to me. It did not feel like a consolation at all. It still does not.

Several weeks passed before I would actually manage to get any reasonable sleep. Most times I would sleep out of sheer fatigue. I cried to myself a lot, but it took a good three months before I felt any better after a good cry.

I still drift off, lose sleep, feel a sense of horror, desperation, fear, anger and so much more when I think of her last moments.

I have hardly spoken much about this, I write today because it important for me to be okay with. I want to remember ‘Aai’ better and not through the prism of my grief or her last moments.

That started happening when I was walking in a nearby mall and the speakers were blaring out a popular song from the 80s “Wake me up, before you go go”.

I remember her playing that particular song, on her red cassette player. I broke down in the middle of strangers hearing that song. But this time it felt good. It felt liked she was around. I was remembering her differently. I had for a few months stopped watching movies, listening to music she enjoyed because it was just too difficult.

Through songs she enjoyed and introduced me to, through movies we watched together, through books we exchanged notes about, through documentaries we watched, through discussing some creative writing done by one of her students, I started thinking about her life more from her perspective, her actions and choices rather than my grief.

Grief is difficult, it is also selfish and it takes time.

Today, on Mother’s Day – I wanted to think about how she shaped me as a person.

There are many stories but this one stands out from my childhood.

I was six years old. I had a fight with my childhood friend (we are still good friends). We had a major falling out, as major a falling out 6 years olds can have. But words were exchanged. Even though he said something nasty, I remember I was not exactly the innocent party.

I don’t remember what we fought over. What I do remember is going home and telling my mom sheepishly about it. I was feeling a bit guilty about my behaviour.

She told me to go over to my friend and apologise to him. I refused. It was a bit shocking, I expected my mother to support me. She always encouraged me to speak up, to fight for something you felt strongly about. She was always in my corner.

But she insisted I apologise. We lived on the fourth floor and my friend on the ground floor of the apartment building. The apartment building had no elevator. I told her I will do it the next day, his dad was home that day and I did not want his parents to laugh at me. That I was not willing to climb down 4 stories and back up home.

She opened the door and literally showed me out and stood at the door. Told me to get moving downstairs and come back home only after I had said “Sorry” to my friend.

I went down and rang the bell. The worst thing happened – my friend’s dad opened the door. I asked for my friend and he called out for him.

There father and son stood in front of me. I gathered some courage and said “Sorry” to my friend. I saw my friend’s eyes showed confusion, his father thought looked on with a smile I can still remember vividly. My friend barely said its okay and I ran up back home. I felt incredibly light hearted.

Sure enough mom was still at the door. She asked what happened and as I told her how I apologised, she conjured up magically some treat for me to eat. It was reward for learning to say “Sorry” she told me.

Yes, I did. I learned it feels good to admit mistakes and correct them. It taught me to think with empathy, even though I doubt I could have spelled that word correctly at that point of time.

My mother taught me and my sister loads through such words, actions and her own example.

A week after she was gone, a student of hers contacted me. This fifteen or sixteen year old was telling me he was thankful that she was his teacher. He learned a lot about from her about life and character apart from his studies. His words now give me some perspective of how others remember her.

It wouldn’t be fair to remember her through only the prism of my grief or through those last moments I was with her. I have to remember her as a person, with her imperfections, with her incredible laughter and joy. I have to remember her well. It will take some more time, but I will get there.

Happy mother’s day to all of you.

Day at the Kelkar Museum in Pune

Yesterday, I visited the popular Kelkar Museum in Pune.

Kelkar Museum is located in the old Pune city. A part of the city, I spent a lot of time as a child during summer holidays with my maternal grandparents.

The collection on display is pretty much sourced from the elite and well heeled. Much of it is from the 18th and 19th century.

The collection is primarily from Southern India – mainly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu.

There are some statues that do date back to a 13th century.

Loved these chess pieces. Some of the pawns carry muskets and some sword and shield.

Some of the pawns carry muskets while others carry swords and shields

And Mastani Mahal was ghostly peek into the past, in a good way.

Mastani Mahal at Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum

You can check out the entire album below.

My Album

Museum – Tips

They do not except electronic payments. Carry a lot of cash if you are looking to buy something there – like postcards, CDs, badges and mugs.

There are some nice historical places to see near the museum, like the Shaniwar Wada.

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Some books in my reading list for this year [2017]

Over the last year, I have sort of stopped reading books. I read a lot online. But there is something interesting about reading a book.

The stillness of reading a book is deliberate. The past year has been difficult personally and professionally. So stillness would be a good thing to find in everyday life.

So a few weeks ago I started putting away titles and collecting them for reading, partly inspired by this post.

I borrowed a book from an uncle yesterday – Demanding the Impossible – A history of Anarchism by Peter Marshall. It promises to explore key anarchist ideas and values throughout human history.

The other one I plan to read is Mao – The Unknown story – by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday. The book was recommended by my girlfriend. I know very little of China’s history over the last 100 years, and this could be useful place to begin.

Then there is the The Code Book by Simon Singh on the history of codes and encryption.

There is also P. Sainath’s Everybody loves a good drought. It is an important read to know about the systemic propagation of poverty and debt in India’s agrarian society.

I want to re-read Foundation and the Second Foundation by Asimov. Both of these books made me think about things and life differently. I want to see what happens this time round.

I have bookmarked Critical Theory since Plato edited by Hazard Adams, Leroy Searle. It is pretty heavy reading and expensive to buy outright. So if you know of a place in Pune or Mumbai I can borrow it from, let me know!

I should probably read more than just these books in 2017. But I am looking for suggestions right now.

Feature image

Get reviews of these books as and when I read and hit the publish button.

Capital “W” and “P”

There is something ugly in the mental image of a cricketer kicking the the stumps out of the ground, a tennis player smashing a racket into the ground, a golfer flinging the club after a bad shot.

They are desecrating their place of work, their profession and it is not just theirs. It is bad form, bad manners and disrespectful to others around.

One might argue, its a mistake – maybe it was a moment of anger, passion etc. But it looks ugly and most fans of the game find something snapping inside them.

Now a days when I see someone write “WordPress” without the capital “W” and “P”, I get the same feeling.

I feel like there is something sacred that is being disturbed, something that feels ugly like the mental images I mentioned above.

Do you who work with WordPress feel the same? Let me know how you feel 😀

Resources:

  1. WordPress – About Logos and Graphics
  2. 4 rules you should know about WordPress logo and Trademark

PS: I am growing older and hence a bit more cranky. I am not judging you but really do capitalise the W and P in WordPress.

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Finally meeting Detective Byomkesh Bakshy

Anyways, I happened to come across “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy”. I have had wanted to watch this one for a long time but for some reason, this detective movie eluded me. That was until last night when I came across it on Amazon Prime Video.

A click and I got to finally meet Bakshy Babu.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy
Source: Bollywood Mantra

Byomkesh Babu

The movie is based on charachters invented by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and mainly taken from the novel Satyanweshi. In many ways Byomkesh Bakshy is inspired by Sherlock Holmes.

The movie is set in the 1940s in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkatta). India was still under British rule and was hence by extension part of the war effort on the Allied side.

As Calcutta was an important port for shipping supplies to the war against Japanese forces in Burma, Japan had tried it’s hand by bombing Calcutta. Many of the bombings did not cause much damage. That said, Calcutta as a city, lived in fear of falling to the invading Japanese forces. This historical backdrop of Japanese threat and Chinese migrant population is beautifully weaved into the movie plot that is mainly a murder mystery.

The music varies from rock to heavy metal and for some reason it fits into the movie almost perfectly. The movie also takes a loving, caring look at the city of Calcutta of old. The characters are all odd, interesting and cannot be taken very seriously.

Sushant Singh, as Byomkesh Bakshy does not disappoint. The cast is talented and work well. Their costumes, their look are impeccable. The sets are wonderful and a lot of detailing is near perfection.

There is also a healthy dose of dark comedy in the film. The story has it’s moments of mystery, twists and turns but honestly at the end of it, I sat up researching more material to read on Calcutta during the second world war.

This is probably the first movie I have seen in Hindi which I really hope to see become a franchise.

I won’t give much of the plot away, watch it for yourself.

PS: I don’t like rating movies. I suspect, I will only write about movies that I personally recommend you watch.

Recommended:

Trailer

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The Future of WordPress in India

A few days ago I watched through Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address at WordCamp US. In it he mentioned about the WordPress growth council. The idea is interesting and got me thinking about the growth of WordPress or open-source CMS in India.

While the increasing number of meetups and WordCamps are great, the average person from lower income groups has no idea of WordPress.

It is not to say, they have no idea about the internet. They do, but they are extensively using apps, services by Google or Whatsapp (owned by Facebook). Most technology that is helping them work, give them an online identity or a gateway to the internet are walled gardens. The open web is increasingly becoming something people do not know about and as a result care about.

This lack of awareness is acute in India’s poor and lower income groups.

I was starting to write down a rant on Twitter with the following tweets.

I did have a lot more to write about but remembered that I own a blog and came across some nice advice by Mike Little (co-founder of WordPress).

Since I live in India and I am active in the local WordPress communities as a volunteer, I have some views on our community in India. Note this is not a critique of the community, it is not a critique of WordPress either. I am not qualified to do that. I am writing this as way to write down what I comprehend about the future of WordPress in India for myself.

Some tough questions?

  1. Why will the local cab driver, rickshaw driver, small sandwich shop owner, self-employed carpenter, electrician ever use WordPress?
  2. How will WordPress serve people who are not looking to publish anything or blog about anything?
  3. How could several thousands of local newspapers and journals in local languages use WordPress to go online?
  4. Is the current WordPress community in India doing anything to be make WordPress relevant to lower income population of India that is discovering internet services?

Future of WordPress

WordPress is probably moving away from PHP focus to a JavaScript focus. It will be a slow and sure process. WordPress it seems is a bit ahead of the curve in moving ahead to become more of an app like software and than remain a CMS.

This is a big change and it is a change that is going to be more inclusive and hence ultimately good for its sustained future.

But the other big reason for the success of WordPress so far is the community around it.

I love WordPress!

Who are we? Are we growing in depth? Do we really even matter as a community in India when it comes to technology?

Much of the community that meets at WordCamps and meetups, reside in an echo chamber. They take part in meetups, organise WordCamps and feel happy about themselves. Why do I get involved in open-source, in WordCamps, in meetups – the common and most popular answer is “I love WordPress!”

Love is a strong word but we must wait and listen to our answer to why we love WordPress.

I love WordPress – because I make money from it?

I love WordPress – because it’s easy?

I love WordPress – because it opens avenues to me?

I love WordPress – because I love Freedom.

The problems start not with loving something but why you love something.

Love involves hard work, pain, effort, patience, respect and a level of altruism. Love is a powerful emotion and it should stand for an higher ideal or a higher purpose.

The higher ideals of freedom, choice and inclusion. While freedom and choice are protected because of its open-source nature and the GPL licence, inclusion is often neglected or less thought about.

Call for inclusion and dialogue

We all have meetups, workshops and WordCamps where we discuss various WordPress related topics. Can we take some time out and have one or two outreach programs in our local communities?

Where we speak to people from lower income groups or school students from lower income groups. Can we explain to them the benefits of open-web?

Where we can talk to them and their unions and associations to negotiate and carry out dialogues with tech giants from a place of awareness rather than darkness. Can we try to atleast talk about such things in our community?

The WordPress community as a result will become more inclusive, more broader and those are good signs for the future.

Let me know in your comments what we could do as a community about inclusion, about trying to promote the open-web ideals to lower income groups, to people who do not earn their living from the internet.

Our favourite software WordPress might not benefit directly but the open-web might end up winning!

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Remembering …

aai

My mum, Pratima Kane passed away on Friday night. She had been in hospital for the past few weeks recovering well from cellulitis, a foot infection). The end came abruptly but she did not suffer, she did not spend time in pain. I write this only to process it. I write, because that is one thing she always encouraged me to do.

It hurts that we won’t be able to talk into the night ever again, discuss politics, philosophy, religion, current afairs or even football matches. It hurts intensely that I won’t see her infectious smile again or hear her loud hearty laugh.

She was a homemaker and in my twenties she once told me how she found life conventional and boring. She wanted to do more and she did.

She started to teach students over time. Mainly giving tuitions in English. Over the past decade and more, she worked hard, was busier than ever and taught well over a hundred students, some kids as young as ten or eleven and some well into their forties. Their calls and messages remembering mom fondly, will remind me of how many students respect her and remember her fondly. It is part of her legacy.

She never judged people, and could be the most open minded person in the world. She encouraged both her children to take unconventional decisions in our personal lives and careers.

She inspired me to read, and kept telling me to write more, she would follow this blog religiously, reading every single word on every single post. And like a good teacher, she would often point out the commas and spelling mistakes I tend to make when I write.

She was happy. A happy person who laughed, made others laugh. She was my sister’s emotional rock, her best friend and so much more. For me she was happiness personified.

This is going to be very hard. But I have to find solace that she was happy with her life, with her students, her eyes always lit up when she talked about some ex-student of hers calling her up or sending her a whatsapp message. She was happy right upto the last minute of her life. And I was able to be with her in the end.

How NOT to network at a WordCamp (or anywhere for that matter)

trumpeter

I recently visited WordCamp Nashik. Since I was on a panel discussion, I got a ID card with “SPEAKER” written on it. All this is fancy nonsense but that’s how it is at most conferences I guess.

On reaching the venue, I ran into Kapil Gonge, an old friend from where I previously worked. He was one of the co-founders of rtCamp, a place where I was introduced to WordPress. He moved along  a few years ago and started his own design and branding agency called PugMarker. I too moved along and joined some friends doing WordPress stuff.

We had planned to meet in Pune a few times but that never materialised and strangely, the both of us, who are now residents of Pune ended up meeting in Nashik.

In the morning, I was feeling a bit under the weather and Kapil had some fruits in his parked scooter. We walked along talking about life, open-source and in general everything that makes a conversation fun but usually very hard to remember after they end.

Watching us was someone who I think was drinking a beverage. He walked upto us and introduced himself. He looked up my ID badge that read “Speaker” and I suspect, that led him to start a conversation with us, because he opened with “Oh, so you are speaking here!”

Now, wait – until this moment, this is exactly how you should introduce yourself at a WordCamp to strangers. Say “Hi”, shake their hands, introduce yourself with your name and ask about the other person. I have had hundreds of such conversations and many people I met in this fashion at WordCamps are now very good friends.

But the man with the beverage did not stop introducing himself. He dropped few names, he dropped hints about how much money he makes, probably desperate for us to think of him in some reverential manner. The problem was my friend Kapil and I, love open-source for it’s irreverent nature. So this one sided conversation was not going anywhere.

But the man with the beverage never stopped. He continued talking about his businesses, trying to impress two guys who were quickly regretting they had chosen to take a break in the parking area.

Kapil and I exchanged knowing glances and tried to interject into this monologue of self promotion unsuccessfully a couple of times. Then I started to just counter him for the sake of it and made some sarcastic joke or two, thinking maybe he will find us not worthy of his time and leave.

No, luck! :-/

But finally, his attention moved to Kapil. He asked him what he did and as Kapil answered, he interrupted. Kapil then added about his work, that he helps people out with marketing, branding and design but speaks a lot less. I think Kapil was LOLing inside a lot while saying that.

Beverage guy refused to take the hint and suggested Kapil would never make money! Okay, that was enough – Kapil and I just walked away, not really bothering to continue the conversation or even wishing to keep up the pretence of coming across as polite.

Both of us were chuckling about the character we had just ran into.

All day we spent avoiding him and watching with a smile when others interacted with him and walked away dazed. Most of them with that look that say “What did I get myself into?”

I am not sure who this person was or what he was trying to do! Maybe he got bad advice, maybe he was having a bad day.

But it was a classic case of how NOT to introduce yourself at a WordCamp.

Talking involves listening

A lot of self-marketing literature will focus on things like elevator pitch and selling yourself. Honestly, if you want to pitch yourself, ideally do not come to WordCamps. Such conferences have other developers and designers around not venture capitalists or angel investors. Save your pitch for people who have money to invest, not who are making money as freelancers or run small businesses around web development.

So what works at WordCamps?

Talking works. But talking also means listening or letting the other person talk. Most open-source enthusiasts I have met usually feel more confident talking about their work than about themselves.

So ask about their work.

Some Do’s

  1. Introduce yourself in a single sentence – a more than one sentence introduction is usually a pitch. Something simple as “Hi, I am <yourname>, I design websites, what do you do?” is perfectly fine.
  2. Ask about their work. If someone replies I design websites or I code plugins, ask them about their products or their favourite themes.
  3. If you are new to WordPress and talking to someone who has worked on it for many years, do ask “How do I go about being an expert at WordPress?” – trust me, you will get a lot more helpful advice and many fruitful discussions by simple asking how to go about things rather than second guessing or dropping hints.

Finally

What ever you do, never tell someone how much money you make or that you make more money than the person you are speaking with. You are almost always are going to come across as an absolute jerk!

See you around at a WordCamp soon! (hint 🙂 )

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Fear of public speaking and WordCamp Bhopal

A couple of days ago, the WordPress community in Bhopal conducted its first ever WordCamp.

This WordCamp was organised by students and mostly from LNCT Bhopal. It was a short one day event and I came across some very hardworking and enthusiastic students who were exploring WordPress.

Saurabh and I  visited from Yapapaya. We both had a lot of useful and interesting interactions with several students.

For me, WordCamp Bhopal was special because it was the first time I stood on a stage solo and spoke. The previous time was WordCamp Pune but it was mainly as a moderator and I think I managed to be just about passable there.

The Fear, the shyness!

I suffer from extreme anxiety when it comes to speaking in public. So say there are more than two or three people in a room, I tend to clam up and not be very talkative or expressive for that matter. It takes me a long time to get comfortable and I suffer from extreme shyness which makes me simply prefer to not speak out or speak up in some cases.

I have a very strong case of anxiety and stress when I have to speak in front of people. I remember from childhood, I would dread being made to try out for elocution competitions, I would dread poetry recitations often to the point of becoming physically sick.

I would not be able to think clearly, nor collect my thoughts most times, and usually it ended up with disaster and the disinterested teacher marking me out as student not to spend too much time over.

I always loved to write and I felt more comfortable laying out my thoughts on paper or on a screen later. This fear of speaking in public is a constant companion, and pretty ironic when you think of it – because much of my career is about interacting with communities.

I thought that was how it would be all my life, and then I took a dive.

The Dive

WordCamp Bhopal was announced and the organisers were looking for a speaker. Since I had spoken to the organisers a few times, I knew there would be many students attending. Students still having doubts and possibly looking for ideas about their career choices. I felt “Why Choose a career in open-source?” would be a decent topic in this scenario. I applied as a speaker and got approved.

Thanks to the WordPress community, I have learned to speak out and speak up in public bit by bit. In a moment of confidence I applied. Then I sat contemplating what I had got myself into.

WordCamp in Bhopal

On WordCamp Bhopal day, I prepared well. My fellow travellers from Yapapaya, Ganesh and Saurabh helped with expert advice, tips and design magic. My slides were minimalistic and I knew I wanted to keep things simple and easy to execute. I knew what I had to say. I prepared over and over again but I was still stuck on having a good opening.

I knew that when I was nervous and froze on stage – it was usually following a bad start. If I started well, managed to keep calm for the first few minutes, I would feel less anxious and I could breathe a bit easier and basically manage to speak without sounding like Mr. Monosyllable.

Back in Bhopal, on reaching the venue early morning, I had an auspicious sighting of the [ya] papaya tree, that was outside the guest house of the college campus.

The event began with registrations and some familiar faces to me from Mumbai and Pune squatted on some stairs waiting for things to begin. The second from left with the white t-shirt is Vachan Kudmule.

A few almost by now mandatory delays to every WordCamp the event started. Then there was a nasty technical difficulty that had cropped up. The venue’s projector was not working.  I am sure the organisers were very anxious.

But the Batman in disguise, Vachan Kudmule had magically produced a backup projector from his utility belt. Jokes apart for Vachan to carry a projector when he was not even going to speak, shows he is insanely thoughtful.

Soon my session was up. I almost started to feel sick by then. I busily looked at my notes on my phone all the while, trying to tune out everything. Then I looked around and saw some in the audience a bit uninterested. I think many were hungry as things were delayed and by the time I was to talk it was lunch time.

I walked onto the stage, heart pounding. Alexander Gounder threw me a stress ball so I would keep calm. I walked up the steps to the stage and threw the ball back to Alex. All this was not planned and completely non-sensical.
I looked again at all the slightly bored and hungry faces. All those faces row after row.

I suddenly realised I was not as nervous as I had imagined. I was not feeling giddy or sick. Just my hands had gone cold and I was almost shivering. You’ll be fine I told myself and asked the crowd “Every one who is present at WordCamp Bhopal stand up”

Everyone did. I followed up with questions like “Who is still a student here?” and “Who is below the age of 25?” – I asked them to stand up each time instead of raising their hands.

Then I blurted, “Wow, I had never felt so powerful before.”

There was a bit of laughter going around the audience. For once they were not laughing at me, they were laughing at my silly introduction.

The rest flowed a lot more naturally. I asked questions during my talk, I got some applause too and at the end a few questions were posed to me. When I walked off, I thought I might have done okay.

But few people said, I had done a pretty decent job. I was suddenly feeling very bashful and confident.

The fear has been conquered. I have made a lot of progress since I have been involved with WordPress communities and this seemed about right.

I even put on hat after a while and posed like a thug. I am still walking around with a bit of swagger. And I have WordCamp Bhopal to thank for that. 🙂

My Slides

My slides are pretty useless by themselves as much of the content in them are single sentences.

Here is a list of some folks who were attended WordCamp Bhopal and blogged about it.

Yeah!! Yapapaya!

 

Early in July, I quit my old job of almost 7 years. Around the same time, Ganesh, a friend also quit and started to work on building a WordPress based company in Pune. It’s name Yapapaya. Among the folks at YapapayaGanesh Kerkar and Saurabh Shukla are probably the best friends I have in Pune.

Since I was friends with them, I started to enjoy watching their struggles (not in a Schadenfreude way), their discussions and philosophy around which they were building a company.

So sometime in mid-August, I thought, I would like to work for such a company. New, different and full of ideas that I was interested in. So I asked them if they wanted a partner aboard.

After some discussions we decided, I should be a part of Yapapaya. 🙂

And  thus, a new phase of life for me has started, and yes the name really is Yapapaya.

Chief Culture Office – The weird title!

One morning, Saurabh called me and asked me about what should be my title. I have always found job titles a bit silly. With a general dislike for strict hierarchies and pyramid style organisations, though I guess in some industries it matters.

I feel there is a lot of unnecessary reverence shown to titles. So  I thought it should be something irreverent and speak more about doing something rather than sounding authoritative.

Hence ‘Culture’.

I would be managing internal and external communications, interacting with the WordPress community, ensuring an environment that was open, free, safe and respectful of each individual and also helping at marketing by having a million interesting conversations with people around the world.

Here are my colleagues with whom I work with.