Disjointed threads… again

Gratitude and Humility, while not part of the Virtues should be or perhaps they are outcomes of Veritas, Garvitas and Honor

I felt like talking to you today and then wrote this (what was supposed to be a short post). This is a compilation of broken notes across a few hours over a couple of days. As context I was watching Kanye’s documentary throughout most of it besides the arguments between meals and other happenings at home. However, I am grateful for many things in life and want to be the ideal version of myself but I’m also struck by the amount of failure in my life. Failure on my part to evaluate situations, failure on the part of my parents, friends, society. Is this what life is? I hope not. I look at the sacrifices of people and the work they put in to achieve success and it exhilarates me.

A virtuous dog or a scheming dog

A few conversations I watched by way of podcasts or videos. The first one was JP’s conversation with Lex Fridman. I hadn’t heard a complete Lex conversation in sometime but this guest was important for me. A part of me wanted him to redeem himself and I felt he did ultimately. Jordan Peterson’s conversation with Lex Fridman was really great overall. I enjoyed the peeling of the scabs and the delving into different understandings of things. Scabs that had formed mostly for Jordan Peterson I think. While he is an introvert and has put himself out there at his volition, he does receive a fair share of bashing from the entities on the social networks (bots or not!). A few hours later I wasn’t in the greatest of moods right now and I’m feeling ridiculous. Even ‘ridiculous’ is not a genuine emotion. Maybe shame would be better. I hope I can be honest on this platform. What is the reason for this? Maybe home?

Then I also listened to Seth Dillon on Joe Rogan. Something that was said at the start of the conversation was to the effect that any comedy (or anything else) with an agenda becomes irritating. This guy (the “CEO” of Babylon Bee) seems he’s come on with so much going on. He seems disturbed and distracted and even looked defensive from the get go in the conversation. Maybe Joe does that to people in person perhaps because Joe is an imposing personality, I’m sure he is. Maybe it was just that Seth was nervous because this was a large platform. He was fidgety and jumped around on a lot of things to defend himself. A part of me also feels like I would perhaps be the same in some situations. I do unfortunately feel like he’s much like me with regard to the nervousness. Though the lack of eye contact though isn’t really much of my thing. Anyway, I don’t have the bandwidth to watch something that I’m not resonating with. And it’s not the ideas, I didn’t agree with the ideas from the get go. I wanted to see a strong defence of his position and that was not happening so I stopped watching it. Maybe I should continue exploring that thread about changes in my demeanour/ home. More on that later.

The background to this post was Kanye’s documentary… it was something that I watched and delighted me but left me in a dark state of mind. I will be biased in my reactions because I already appreciated the guy for his entrepreneurial spirit. However, it also left me sad because I was left drained by the reaction of the world around him. I remember a few years ago when I asked a close friend to watch one of his videos for what he had to say they were disappointed. They said “Don’t ever ask me to watch such a misogynist again”. This was a couple of years before the BLM walks throughout the US, during which the world came to terms with their lack of understanding of the various cultures around them. I don’t think misogyny has place irrespective of any culture and there are no ifs or buts about it. However, what might seem like misogyny might be a cultural misunderstanding. It might just be a lack of context to understand what the person is saying. At any rate the documentary jee-yuhs was really great. It highlighting an interesting take on a life that is going to be remembered for sometime and since this was one of the other things I watched I thought I should write about it.

Recently browsing through HackerNews I saw this post by an Indian entrepreneur who talked about how not getting the H1-B visa was one of the best things that happened to him. While that might have been a fair statement for him personally a lot of commentators on social media were commenting about how that is true and the tide is changing for India. India is now becoming a challenger to Silicon Valley. While reading all this all I could think about what the garbage dump right next to my house where people keep piling on just because. So then, I wrote a small revert which should be somewhere on the interwebs. So here goes… ‘Balaji recently wrote about a version of startup communities in his book The Network State. Although, he talked about first creating virtual communities and then agglomerating enough critical mass to enable people to demand physical changes in the infrastructure/ affect government in the real world. He also speaks highly of India in a related context because of the proliferation of technology supported by the fact that major technology shapers hail from India among other things.

I don’t agree with many of the views and feel like India is missing a key piece. We are not a single country (never have been as goes popular meme goes). It is hard for us as a nation to optimise for success because we have too many competing priorities at the local, state and lower levels. The exaggerated impact of diversity stemming from diverse cultures is too much to handle and optimise for one country’s leadership in my humble opinion. I want to think differently but unfortunately the ground reality is telling for e.g., if you only look at the garbage dumps across various cities despite a national campaign of cleanliness. We as a people needed to be made aware in 50+ languages that we should hesitate from destroying our surroundings and not trash them.

It is easy to think that a 5Gbps connection with air conditioning and organic rations just arrive out of nowhere as it sometimes does in many industrialised/developed countries in the West. There is basic infrastructure that is needed not just to stimulate the economy but also allows for those lowest in the social rungs to benefit and operate like normal human beings do in the West. This is nothing new of course and we all have seen the disparities in large Indian cities. Some even tend to compare it to what is happening in SF and other large cities in the US. My experience is that the environment I was in, both in Singapore and US brought out the best in me. I could spend my intellectual bandwidth on things that actually mattered to the larger society around me. One could say that the return on investment (action/thought ratio) was much higher because I was enabled by basic infrastructure. I didn’t have to care about rowdy neighbours or worms in chocolates or dysfunctional municipal services (comparing the occurrence of these disturbances among others to problems like gun violence is a bit ridiculous in terms of the impact they cause on day to day life for an average common person).

All this is not to say that India is doomed and there is nothing happening here or possible in the long term future. I’m just opining that it takes a lot of basic needs to be satisfied for a society to operate optimally. Without being too cynical, Kunal Bahl had a basic foundation to leave MS and build Snapdeal (after pursuing a great education in the US). It’s not impossible and is a worthy dream that many if not all should pursue but the popular narrative that India is now ripe to be the next Silicon Valley is not realistic. And to me it feels like most technology (only) solutions to societal challenges are like a band-aid. The solutions need to be deeper and cultural, and as much of a curmudgeon this might make me seem, Government needs to be involved in those solutions. Not just government marketing and branding as has become popular these days but actual government action. It will be hard for a large part of the population to see beyond the marketing so yes, it will be an uphill battle.’

Being back home has been a rainy trip

Coming back closer to more personal things, life has started to become not be easy at home. It never was, but I had been away from home to have an objective perspective. Remember when I was yet to come home? I remember it. I was so very much looking forward to it and I realise that even now it is a fleeting moment and I should cherish each moment of it but things are starting to get to me. These things are assumptions, ways of thinking, reactions to occurrences, etc. I know that this time will be gone and I will miss it but what of it right now? The mistakes one makes are mostly exclusive of what anyone else has done with/to/for you in life. It takes a little bit of self reflection, which also depends on very personal situations. Yes, externalities impact our lives but there are always options and sometimes we need to make choices whatever hand we are dealt. Sometimes when I listen to people around me talk it feels like an unreal conversation. Not bad, not good, just unreal and disconnect from real life. Opinions and realisations framed by personal takes that are so far from reality and sometimes just seem so bizarre. Empathy isn’t only a method for feeling kindness for another person it also is method to maintain one’s sanity. If gratitude and reality is forgotten life can become hard. There needs to be an effort to see situations from different perspectives in order to not get completely delusional.

A large part of my circle is not curious about many things. Maybe life has taken a toll on them and it has made them this way but it feels like they have just been living… They don’t understand how the world works and don’t endeavour to understand it either. Sometime it feels like they don’t want to understand and don’t really have the intellectual bandwidth to push themselves either. To them people are good or bad based on how they look, their family name or something of the sort defines others around them. Maybe it’s alright because they are a product of their environment and their environment has not been very conducive. I want to give them the benefit of doubt because they are family. A characteristic that I’m not too please about is when a strong willed person is not very bold but is aggressive. It can lead to streaks where enough conviction can lead ridiculous conclusions that are fed by self belief and it becomes a self perpetual cycle.

Contemplating the choices in life, mostly bad and fortune of having been in the right places

I was reminiscing about my first few weeks in ATL when I had just started with my first role post MBA. Yes, I was excited but I knew for sure that I wanted to start BJJ as well. I didn’t ask anyone about it and I was just drawn to it because of everything I followed on social media and otherwise. It wasn’t easy. I had a massive (relatively, by my standards) loan to pay off and I also wanted to send money back home. The pay wasn’t the greatest but it was something much more than I had ever been paid. The net effect of everything was that I decided to start BJJ and I remember the first few months when I used the local bus to move around. I caught the local bus down in ATL just to get to the BJJ gym right after work. Work wasn’t easy either. It was good office work that wasn’t paying as much as I should have been paid but whatever I still grit my teeth and made sure that I was doing what I needed to do… After all I was only going to get to the gym to get beat up. Haha… now three years later as a blue belt I can say it was all worth it. The bike falls, the broken ankle, the bruises and all the rest. Feels good to have achieved something. At least that’s the story I’m telling myself, what is your story?

Incomplete Reflection

Escher vicariously pondering about himself through you way after he stopped breathing

Ukraine got attacked by Russia and I can’t necessarily pinpoint the date because there had to be ongoing operations before the day that things became apparent publicly. This just looks like another event in the world that I’m not completely sure would impact everyone in the world but it is just another event that exposes the fragility of the human condition or the human experience, depending upon how you look at life. People will suffer, and many will even die on both sides of the war. Unfortunately, it is not the heartbreaking loss of life but how those lives are lost. For no particular reason and the will of a deluded leader of one side. Even if it was the other way around or my own country was involved I don’t think war is ever the solution to a problem. It is a thing to get everyone involved and mired in debate but it doesn’t solve many problems. It only pushes out the necessary decisions that need to be made. Also, now that people have moved away from the conversations about COVID it looks like there is another even to distract the world from their day-to-day life. Perhaps from my own life? I think the world is looking at the events like I am looking at life. In aggregate everything averages out. This last sentence isn’t the most simple way of saying this but I think as one goes through the posts here it will seem as if this life was just another human trying to understand things and that is what I mean. Now that I have veered this conversation into myself now is a good time to talk about what is going on with me.

I just got done with a few conversations about opportunities outside of my current firm. It was not the easiest but I managed to go through the conversations. In all honestly, I don’t think it went well. It felt like I touched upon all the topics that I should have during my conversations but my audience that is the people I was talking to felt like they were a little blank and lost, perhaps even disappointed with the answers to the issues. However, I will say that it was a good conversation and it was genuinely a conversation to get to know me unlike ‘interviews’ back in my homeland and many post-colonial regions in the world. Here is a short excerpt from a life long gone.

Six years ago I interviewed for an MBA school in Singapore. It was one of the leading schools that is usually featured on global lists of best schools in the world and I was excited about the conversation. Unfortunately, since the school is based in a country that continues to derive its processes from the English ways of life an interview is less of a conversation and more of an interrogation. Someone that comes from one of the countries that were previously a colony will relate to this sentiment. Interviews in the west are more like “conversations”. Interviewers will often even refer to them as conversations. This was one of the first things that caught me by surprise when I started my journey of applications to the schools in the US. At any rate, this interview was an evaluation and I thought I was ready. Somewhere in the conversations the interviewer’s second hand ( who I later realized was a second-year student) asked me what about other interests of mine, you know like outside of wanting to pursue an MBA? Innocently and in a rather forward manner I stated that I’ve always wanted to start a podcast. The moment I uttered the ‘t’ in the podcast I realized I had made an error. He raised his eyebrow and said “Oh! Podcast… Interesting. What do you like to podcast about? Can you share it with us?” I said it was an interest and I had not yet started publishing the episodes. 

Now in retrospect, I realize that many people can potentially give such an answer and use it simply as a filler or just as an excuse when you have nothing else to do. I could perhaps convince someone that I was genuine and I was true in my answer. I was genuinely interested in starting a podcast but no, I will not do that right now. All I remember about this incident is that the person asking the questions felt victorious. He had now cracked the accused in the interrogation. He had found out a fake and had a reason to eliminate the person from the roster. After all, that’s what the interviews are there for in the first place in those colonies. They understand the way to eliminate, dehumanize and demoralize. Heavy words for a simple conversation but worthy categorization that anyone who has been through a similar interview will relate to well. Interviews in most firms today, even those hedge funds which proclaim “pressure” interviews aren’t personally demeaning to the extent of my interactions with employers in the subcontinent and around. Maybe I just didn’t come across the best ones and hopefully, they have now changed their practices.

Back to the present, I realize the blog didn’t have a lot of posts recently. I had to stay away from the blog for a few days and it looks like the ‘muscle’ to write about things has atrophied which is why I had to force myself to get here. Not like in the previous times it wasn’t a struggle but it was more of a struggle this time. I tried external factors like coffee, music, and, location however nothing seemed to work until I got to Chris Hitchens. I don’t know if any specific combinations or everything I tried out worked but here I am writing away. Perhaps time to take a look at my drafts but now that I have talked about Hitchens perhaps a little bit about his impact or just him. But before I get to more about Hitch a little bit about my experience at the IBJJF Atlanta Open that took place on February 12th.

The question about blue is always lingering in my head. I know it’s not about the level but about whether or not I am capable of something on the mat. This test of being able to be tested without the nerves has always been there with me right from the start. I have started to believe it is more genetic but perhaps there are many things I can do about it. The net of it all is that I still need to grow in a lot of areas in life.

So I competed in yet another IBJJF competition. I wonder if I should say competed because the match lasted hardly 5 minutes. I struggled during the scramble but the nerves weren’t as bad as the last time or as bad as I had thought they would be. If I’m being perfectly honest with you I don’t remember if there weren’t nerves but I remember being confident about the scramble. I call it a scramble because in my head now it’s almost like a blur. Tugging and tearing at the opponent’s gi while trying to get a grip to pull him onto the ground.

What actually happened was that 2 minutes into the scramble I felt myself curve into a ball but, not a ball like defensive move and instead a very confident ball knowing exactly where I need to place my foot to get the next transition. I wish I could say that I won but perhaps it is not yet meant to be. Perhaps the lessons I am destined to learn are from the losses. 

I spoke to my opponent later and I was emotional about his state in life. He had a grown son who was at least 15 and he was proud to show me his family. He also mentioned his background in wrestling which my mind was quick to pick up on and justify as the reason for his strong sprawl. Oh no, now I know it wasn’t my weak arms tugging at him, it was his superior wrestling background. No, I won’t deceive you here, I was pathetic at it physically but my mentality was different this time. It was this latter part that I have come to take as my experience and learning from the match and experience. It is exhilarating to see people coming to terms with their challenges in life, getting out of their comfort zone, and trying to do something to prove to themselves that they will not just sit on the sidelines waiting for something good to happen to them.

I don’t want to fool myself or you by assuming that there aren’t harder challenges in life or that I would have achieved a grand accomplishment had I won this tournament. There isn’t much more deceptive than to say that this is one of the hardest things in life. The challenge is to set aside those hard things in life and make progress in multiple aspects at the same time. Now back to my inspiration about Hitch and how I feel about the world in this later part of February.

“It is only when you have grazed on the lower slopes of your own ignorance and began to understand the grand vistas of non-knowledge that you have, that you can claim to be educated at all”

Christopher Hitchens, Reddit AMA, 2009

As always, one thing that has disturbed me is the ignorance and attitude of people towards subjects. In school I wanted to spend time admiring the history behind the person who came up with the theories. The beauty of the equation impressed me more than the race to solve the equations at the end of the chapter. I sometimes took pride in being the first to come up with the answer but soon I found myself distracted from the subject by the stories behind the subject. People in general however are not interested in most things. Neither the outcomes nor the process and nor the process to come up with the process seems to be of interest to them. And yet they come to the stage with a confidence even if they are sometimes not aware of the subject completely. Even while writing this I am completely aware that the fault is perhaps completely mine because I am asking too much from un-interrogative minds. Perhaps they are not meant to be asking any questions in the first case. Among all of this Christopher Hitchens comes across as a balm – healing my soul and my intellect. I do not understand how much one needs to stretch themselves to match that intellect or the intellect of someone similar (for example Peter Thiel). I guess one things that I can do is calm myself to thing about one thing at a time and here is where my efforts to meditate come in to the picture. 

One hundred and eighteen days and I’ve not necessarily felt anything different. I have abandoned the the need to feel like I’m waiting for something to happen next. Sam Harris calls it waiting like a cat for something to happen next. I am making progress in visualizing myself floating through the ether with things happening all around me. At the same time I’m also facing a weird sort of degradation in my faculties operating as a sane member of society. I’m losing my strength of will and losing control over flow of my own conversations. Maybe there are many things going on at the same time or I’m not able to keep track of things or prioritize them. 

I have to keep trudging along and making sure that I don’t let my ship sink until all the tasks are done. There are miles to go before I sleep and the choice of the road in front of me is not even binary. Sometimes I think ignorance was bliss but then I quickly realize that if I was ignorant. I wouldn’t have had the realization that I’m ignorant. So perhaps if now that I think I’m not ignorant I’m more ignorant than ever? Perhaps a question for Escher!

Cafe Kerfuffle

This past Saturday I was at a lovely cafe in Minneapolis. It was bright and sunny outside but the looks of it were deceptive. It was -19C or -5F outside and this was without the wind chill. I didn’t hate it, I visited Minneapolis for exactly this. In fact, despite spending two years hovering around cafes in Minneapolis this particular cafe still was a new place for me to visit and I liked it. The coffee was local and tasted great along with the burrito that I ordered.

Picture by Brenda Johnson on Google Maps

The conversation that accompanied this breakfast was excellent as well. I didn’t know my friend was passionate about the subject of American values and global leadership. He wasn’t cynical about it and in fact, was very logical in the way he broached the subject. Acceptance of the flaws of any system, while supporting the system is an indication of a well-balanced viewpoint. We were only discussing why a system like that of the Chinese Communist Party could be a good system. Could there be a scenario in which authoritarian dictatorships are beneficial? A simple and non-controversial topic!

I was playing devil’s advocate as I often do and of course, the system that is beneficial for a people depends upon their culture. The culture shapes the values of the citizens, who then frame the politics of the future and this virtuous circle goes on and on. The Chinese government has played a significant part not just in Asia but in global politics and every year their influence seems to be increasing. Different populations react to this growing influence differently depending upon how they are impacted in the near term by China’s growing influence on the global stage. Some see it as a natural decline of an aging global power (the US), while others see it as a cycle that comes about for each country.

From my individual experience, I know that the Chinese people are very aware of their very rich culture. This is true for many Eastern civilizations. The existence of a long line of traditions that have been passed down through the generations plays an important part in the pride of the citizens for the nation. Even in the case of India where more than 80 million people live in extreme poverty, there still exists pride in the traditions and the culture of the various religions. Even if those religions and practices might have given us a divided and broken system in the first place. People might not understand how their economy, modern technology, politics, the sewage system, nutrition in food or government works and that might set them back from making positive change but they will not forget to continue religious practices that have been handing down to them by their elders, for e.g. a housewife living in dilapidated housing even though mistreated by her husband and prejudiced by society will not forget to water the Tulsi plant or visit the temple twice a day. The grip of religion is impeccable and it is not temporary. The Chinese people are in the group of an ideology that is very similar to a religion. Authoritarian regimes anywhere in the world are not a good thing in the long term. One could argue that at a certain age of the citizenry an authoritarian government could be a positive thing, but in the long term, it could never be a good thing. Not for that particular country and not for the world around it.

Abosulte power corrupts and does so absolutely

John Dalberg-Acton

I think a country as prosperous (from a cultural and human resources perspective) as China should be allowed to set the rules for its people but the incumbents who have enjoyed the thrills of power for as long have a responsibility as well. It might seem to the uninquisitive eye that the fall of the US is due to internal factors and a change in the culture but that is not the whole picture. Technology has helped the proliferation of foreign intelligence across physical borders and nefarious activities are not the doing of powerful nations but allies as well. I don’t think I can talk much more about this subject because I am uninformed about the details and much of what I say could be opinions and not state the facts. However, I am informed enough to have learned from history and aware enough to keep an open mind.

In other news, jiu-jitsu seems to be coming along well. There’s a competition in another 39 days and I can’t say that I’m feeling prepared but I’m feeling confident about my abilities. I don’t know where this will take me but it’s something I’m adding to this crazy life. Also, homesickness is a thing. So is everything associated with having people around that understand things. The reality is everyone comes into this life with nothing but has only their actions to speak for in this dream-like existence. Questions will be asked about the actions and to be honest to oneself about those actions is a Herculean task nonetheless.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; cblessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1:21

I am not much of a Christian or “Lord” fearing person myself but I think if you replace the Lord with the Universe it makes more sense. The entropy that causes the formation of elements and the combinations that led me to be sitting here today can all be encapsulated in one word and you could call that ‘the Lord’ if it pleases you or makes things easier to comprehend.

Maybe It May Not But, He Says That This Too Shall Pass

These days I’m at an intellectual refresher and this seems to be compounded by the fact that I’ve been meditating for 25 days continuously now. It might well be the longest streak that I’ve ever meditated for and I don’t think it’s going to go away. At the same time, this mental frame seems to be a bit restrictive and exhausting. I thought it should be liberating and serene.

Combining case studies with this frame of mind might do me good but I’m not 100% sure about this. I think the meditation sessions are going to have an impact over the long term. They’re not something that is so… immediate.

BJJ seems to be coming back up on the horizon. I say that all the while knowing that if I had ten extra hours in a day, I still wouldn’t be able to partake in the joys of that physical endeavor. I hope something good comes of all these things and efforts coming together. Many more unexpected miles to go. This phase seems intellectually stimulating but it is only a phase or maybe not.