Back in school, in the 6th grade I had a friend. Actually, calling him a friend today would be not fair on my part. I was never really a friend to him. We sat next to each other for a whole year. I knew him since my kindergarten years. He was known to be a problem child. He would slack off from studies, would not do his homework, often get chastised by teachers, got into fist fights with other boys.
Sitting next to me for a whole year, I never befriended him. He was muslim, he lived in a place in Goregaon known popularly as a glorified slum but labelled as a colony. His life was surely nowhere close to the privilege I had.
This was back in 1992 – 93. Mumbai as a city was swept in riots. He had disappeared for several days. His muslim dominated locality was severely affected. There were many stories of killings and shootouts that had been talked about in school. I was scared if something had happened to him, to his mother and father.
I remember his mother, stoic looking, always worried about her son. He inherited her rosy red cheeks and the resemblance was striking between mother and son. I remember his father, bent, tired and ageing yet his posture showed a proud past.
One day he returned to school. I was happy to see him back. It made me think of his as a friend, as a person, as a human being more than some problematic kid who got into fights.
A couple of weeks after he was back to school, I was hit by a cricket ball. I lost vision for a couple of weeks in my right eye. I missed school for a couple of weeks. When I was back, he warmed up to me and showed a more considerate and caring side of his. We started talking more about life and the world around us.
With an extreme lack of tact and innocence that only a twelve year old could posses I asked him about muslims and how we (read middle class, upper caste Hindus) viewed them. He answered many questions and asked an equal number of them back to me.
But we never really got the time to become long lasting friends. He had a tough time in school. He flunked subjects and had to repeat 6th grade. I moved along to the 7th grade.
Our paths went along different roads. I did say hello to his mother a couple of times, who still had that worried look on her face. But I never saw my friend after school years had passed. I had heard from other friends, that he was still getting into a lot of trouble.
Today, someone told me he was found dead. Somewhere near Goregaon station and he had possibly become an addict. Society will shrug, school friends on their whatsapp groups will say “RIP” and move on to the next meme or joke.
We were sitting on the same bench together for a whole year. Why did I not become friends with him?
I often work while sipping some coffee at Starbucks. The coffee is admittedly expensive, but pretty decent to get work done. Mainly because they give decently fast WIFI and also they get the lighting right.
Once such day, someone approached me. He was wearing a “something very nice about Open-source” t-shirt. He introduced himself and asked if I worked remotely. He handed me a card very formally, told me that his wife runs a co-working space in the same building and I could check it out.
I took the card and later visited their website. Reserved-Bit came across as a very hacky, open and friendly space to co-work in. So I signed up.
Many days months later, I have had several good discussions with them over politics, feminism, equality, education and most often on open-source culture. They revealed to me later, the reason they approached me in the cafe was because I had “WordPress” stickers on my laptop.
The stickers meant I was a fan of “WordPress” and by extension possibly a fan of open-source. Long story short, the kind of people they wanted to co-work with.
My grandmother told me stories of her mother who participated in the Quit India movement, and got arrest warrants issued on her name for writing seditious articles in her journal. She was one among thousands who took part in a political struggle by publishing something in a small printing press, often clandestinely.
India’s political awakening during the freedom struggle was led by a press that essentially self published. The large established newspapers did not necessarily take anti-establishment positions.
In terms of number of consumers, capacity to print out journals, the 1940s India was nowhere in comparison to present day India.
Yet, the impact of the media that was loud and clear.
As early as in 1893, Reuters assigned a correspondent, S.H.S. Merewether, to cover the famine-hit districts of this country. Apart from his reports, this resulted in a book, A tour through the Famine Districts of India. In it, he wrote that his assignment came about after a request Her Majesty’s Government had made of Reuters. The Raj, among other things, wanted to counter the riffraff of the nationalist press.
This is back in 1893, a when journals were published in numbers less than 1000s. The number of people who could read back then were probably less than 10% of the population. Yet, this press (media) was writing and reporting with moral authority. And it had caused enough noise for the colonial powers that be, to dispatch a correspondent to counter their arguments.
Compare India’s media today. It is massive. Seemingly free but highly controlled through varying overlapping layers of ownership and conflict of interests.
Two days ago, I visited Pune Institute of Computer Technology for something called a FOSSMosis-17 festival. It was organised by the Free Software Movement of Maharashtra. I will write more about it in some other post, this one is about a conversation I had early in the morning with a Ola cab driver.
To reach quicker, I booked a cab and got into it. He asked me if I travel to the institute everyday and we got talking about Pune and cities we came from. As it turned out he lived back in 1985 in a Mumbai suburb of Kadivali. That was sort of near where I grew up as a kid (Goregaon, Mumbai).
He revealed that he was very young back then and joined the army. He then ended up spending much of the late 80s in Sri Lanka.
I knew what he was refering to instantly. He had been a soldier in the IPKF. Their mandate was the end the Sri Lankan civil war.
I asked him about his time in IPKF. He perked up a bit and was surprised I even knew about India’s role in Sri Lanka. I asked him about where he was posted.
He has served in Jaffna. A city held for years by Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka, and often heard and read about it in newspapers as a teenager, for terrible crimes.
He opened up about his time in Jaffna. The terrible things he saw there. He lamented if ever there will be peace in the world. He saw the role of the Indian army in Sri Lanka favourably.
He spoke of the roadside bombings and guerilla warfare they faced.
He also revealed that he was thankful to VP Singh as he was not entangled in looking strong and managed to recall the soldiers back.
He was happy to have retired.
We spoke about civilians who were around where he was posted. He simply said
“Civilains were the worst off, I have seen too many of them lose everything”
I asked him about the recent nationalism and jingoism on television and media in general. He shrugged his shoulders dismissively.
“They do not know what they are talking about. Such peope do not care for lives of young boys in the army who will die.”
There was pain, supressed pain at what he saw through a 28 year old career in in Jaffna, Sikkim and Srinagar. Suppressed pain at what he was probably forced to do, forced to see.
We had reached our destination but we chatted more, about family and life. He was happy to have retired. I thanked him for his time and for opening up with his life to me.
He thanked me back with a wide smile.
“I am an old man, nobody listens to me or asks me about my life. You made my day.”
That hit hard. Twenty eight years in the army, travelled all over India and a couple of years in Sri Lanka. He was still driving a cab to make ends meet and thanking strangers for listening to his story.
But why was’nt anyone listening to his story?
*The coversation was held in Marathi, I have translated some of his quotes.
Spoilers Alert! Do not read ahead if you have not seen Season 5
House of Cards Season 5 was already looking far fetched. Season 1 and 2 established that we had to understand that anything was possible and the Underwoods were terrible, horrible people.
The audience who the main character Frank Underwood, breaks through the fourth wall to lecture, hector and sometimes reminisces about his worldview – found itself amused, seduced and plain intrigued.
The intrigue being how longer can we root for a character who is ruthless, a murderer, self-serving and completely corrupt.
The characters on House of Cards always had depth. They were three dimensional. Frank Underwood the elected representative and then the unelected Vice President and President is has depth in his character. He was unpredictable with his wit, charm and schemes.
His wife, Claire Underwood is even more interesting as a charachter. Someone who navigates sexism, completely ruthless and professional but has some sort of ethical core that could be salvaged.
The other charachters like Doug Stamper who is Underwood’s fixer, Remy Danton the lobbyist, Peter Russo a Representative who is an addict and flawed but still quite likable, Zoe Barnes, the young journalist and Freddie, the man whose joint is often frequented by Underwood.
These charachters are complex and all add to a rich story telling experiance, even if it is a highly unlikely story.
Trouble with the series started with the portrayal of the Petrov, the Russian President. The character is at times hilariously two-dimensional. He probably fits into a Jame Bond movie from the 60s or 70s.
The problem with Season 5 is that every character gets the Petrov treatment. Everyone is flattened and ironed into two-dimensional cardboard pieces. The entire season is terribly predictable too.
We all know that Underwood will struggle to keep his Presidency, we already know he might have to step-down, because he is breaking a million laws.
His wife is already the Vice President and we know that she will end up with the Presidency.
We know they will blackmail their opponents to survive.
All of the above happens. So a full season of no surprises, no twists or turns and nothing really to look forward to.
Maybe Netflix should just cancel the series and not drag this out longer than required.
Slack is truly a wonderful tool. I find it a lot more engaging in building a community than say Facebook Groups or other web tools. One reason is the ability to add and have other apps interact with it.
I won’t go into the technical aspects of how Slack is built, why it works out great and if alternatives like Mattermost are better?
I have worked using Slack at both companies I have worked at in the past couple of years.
I conducted a very unscientific poll of Slack users, on how they used Slack.
There were 9 respondents (so not really a big number).
2 are developers, 2 write for a living, 1 in human resources, 2 from marketing background.
Almost all of them were and have been involved with the local WordPress community.
The Interesting Patterns*
How do you use Slack?
8 out of 9 used Slack for work and also for non-profit work.
So not surprisingly 8 out of 9 use Slack on a Desktop app.
Fun: Only 1 out of 9 used Slack as part of a fan club.
How is Slack a distraction?
Slack was considered a distraction for 6 out of 9 when working in a physical office.
By comparison only 3 responded that it distracted them while working from home.
All 9 respondents have had the option of doing both.
The Slack Admins
4 responded that the Slack channels in their teams were created by managers and bosses.
The other 4 responded there was no discussion before new channels were created.
Only one responded suggested there was some deliberations done before a new channel was created.
Again, 9 is not exactly a great way to find patterns.
Slack’s apparent anarchy
I have worked in a remote team for work using Slack and also worked in an office where Slack was used. I found that at a physical office, Slack is often used in the most irritating and distracting ways.
Managers use it to call people to their desks, people prioritize tasks based on their who is assigning them and chatting with them and worst offender is a simple message saying “Hello” with no further context.
Chat is realtime and decisions are taken often in realtime and often people feel left out. Sometimes people feel obliged to follow discussions incessantly which can lead to loads of distractions.
Slack advice for teams
Create a code of conduct for Slack. Yes, it applies to companies too.
Create specific channels with agendas and encourage people to discuss certain topics only in their related channels.
Don’t have bots update messages in channels where discussions are taking place. It happens a lot. And its irritating for people involved.
Create a channel preferably open to all – where everyone can discuss creating a new channel and it’s purpose. This means there is some though put to creating new channels and also is means people cannot simply create new or multiple channels doing more or less the same things.
At a physical office, use Slack only for meetings or for important messages so others who missed out can catch up. If you want to say hello, go upto the person physically. 😛
As a general rule – never give feedback or criticism in public, use DM. Especially when it is work related. Also always congratulate, thank and give credit in public.
Always speak out and point out bad behaviour and do that publicly.
The last two points are extremely important. It should discourage people from bossing around and projecting power and allow more transparent, valuable and ultimately productive communication.
Do you have some more advice or tips you want to share, I would love to hear from you.
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.