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Monday, December 16, 2013

In Another Life

There is balance in my life, as in all things, even when I can't see it. It's not all bad - it never is. No matter how angry or full of hatred I come home in the evening, my grandparents - the shining light in my life - are always there to greet me with big smiles, like they're seeing me after years. I cannot stay worked up. If I hang on to the anxieties of the day, it rubs off on them and that is something I will not allow.

My Nani is the most amazing person. With bad knees and long trail of life-threatening diseases behind her, she makes me 4 meals a day. I'm not kidding. She makes me breakfast: cheese dosa / bacon and egg sandwich / maggi noodles and of course cereal every morning. Then as I shower and get ready for work, she packs me a lunch and an apple for tea. As steady as the north star, the highlight of my day is usually the incredible dinner that's waiting for me. She pains over what I like and don't like. "I don't you don't like this vegetable, so I've made some of this for you instead". I am not worthy.

In another life she would have been a CEO of a company, I just know it. She knows every little thing that is happening in the house. She wakes up the earliest and sleeps last. "Fun" for her is arranging and rearranging our cupboards. Like a CEO puts the health of the company over their own, my Nani puts the well-being of our home - her domain - first and foremost. She will always, always forsake the last piece of fish for someone else. She'll take more vegetables and only go for the meat when everyone else is done. I try and help lay and clear the table but some nights I forget and she does it herself, silently. Like the tide. Living alone at university has taught me how much effort it takes to make food and clear it up afterwards and like the tides comes in and goes out, she will prepare and clear dinner whether we there to help or not. For us, it's an afterthought, for her it's routine. 

I saw my Nani's passport the other day. She was born in 1941. I wonder how different her life would be if she had been born in 1981. Working for Forbes, I think I've understood a little about what being an entrepreneur is and I have no doubt in my mind that my Nani has the entrepreneurial bug. She never wastes any time. An empty afternoon is filled with stitching something, cooking something, creating something. It's dawned on me that my Nani is a creator of wealth. If something is broken she will fix it. If clothes are ill-fitting she will alter them on her trusted 1960's German sewing machine that's still going strong, trying to keep up with her. In Bangalore she would organise children's birthday parties. She can not sit still. If she was born today she would have founded a company and run it with the same focus she runs our house. Maybe in another life.

I am so happy that my grandparents live with me. We have seen each other often throughout our lives but we've never lived together. My granddad has this amazing ability to wake up each day and expect the best from the world. "He is a good man with a good heart" he says, about a young bank clerk who has helped him change some minute semantics on his pension. He's a naval man and so he expects efficiency and order from the world. Ha! Nevertheless, no matter how much worry fills him through the day, he wakes up an optimist. That's something I admire about Commodore Patnaik. 

He came into my room the other day, tears in his eyes. It was the day after his birthday and I'd just gotten home from a week in Vietnam. He handed me a envelope of money. I said "Nana, I should be giving you a gift!"

More tears. He said, "You are my gift". What do you say to that? His trembling words knocked me off my feet like an uppercut.

While he, perhaps, still sees me as a boy, I think my Nani views me differently now. I am a "working man" as both she and my other grandmum - my father's mother - point out every time they see me. I think they see my dad. Even though I earn a pittance, I am a different commodity. I am a long-term debt fund that they need to keep nurturing because when I come to fruition I will take care of them all. Or something like that. 

Some things are just more important to my grandparents' generation - things we take for granted. A job or profession is sacred. One's health is of absolute, utmost importance: there is genuine concern if I have a cold. Doctors, therefore, are God. Communication is magic: it is essential to get someone's phone number and writing it down and double check it. They love to write things down in their book. When do we write stuff? On our phones? I love my grandparents' hand writing. I still look back at the hand-written letter they used to send us when we were in Singapore in the 90s. They are more eloquent in cursive. 

My grandparents are my anchor. They keep me from drifting away just as they keep me from drowning. They remind me that I don't have it bad. They remind me how blessed I am. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Remembering Mhavu

I remember my sister asking innocently, "Dad, has Mhavu ever gotten angry?"

I don't really know how to deal with death, especially the passing of a loved one. Do you talk to other people about it? How can you? Do you internalise it? Is that healthy? Is that even polite? I haven't found the answers to these questions. So I do what I always do when I'm unsure of something: I write about it. Recently my grandaunt, fondly called Mhavu, passed away.

I do not remember a time when she was angry, upset or anything other than utterly, gracefully content. When I remember Mhavu, I smile.

I'll always remember her as the calm in the Gulwadi household - a home I truly love. It's a home filled with noise and bustle and manic activity in which Mhavu was always the calm breeze. I can't help but think that in the midst of countless people careening back and forth through the living room, she kept things balanced - on an even keel. Ever since I remember, her movements were quiet, elegant and measured. Like a ballet dancer, she would glide silently to wherever tranquility was needed and sure enough, it would follow close behind.

I don't remember her being as talkative as her sister, my grandmother. But she was a great listener and I suspect that in a house of vivacious, out-going, young-at-heart adults, that was exactly what was needed. She called all us grandchildren, "Munna", in her soft voice. She was so starkly different to our generation, that watched midnight football matches and went out partying even later. There was constant maelstrom of young men and women video-conferencing each other night and day about where to go and who to pick up and she would absorb it all without blinking.

But maybe that's just how she was when I was around. I can't say I knew her as well as I'd have liked. My grandmother told me about how beautiful she was in her youth. She told me how long her hair used to be and how envious everyone was. Mhavu's was a beautiful soul. I hope my grandmother will tell me more stories about her.

I think that's what our elders really want us to do. They want us to listen. I've had the privilege of all four of my grandparents' company all my life. I want to listen to all my elders as much as I can so that when the time comes, I can smile at their memories too.

Rest in peace.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Serene Homes of Northern Europe

I’ve been watching a brilliant, dark TV show called The Killing, which is set in Copenhagen. The almost clinical cleanliness and order and paleness of everything couldn’t be further removed from where I currently live. There’s no dust there. The independent houses are wooden and the apartments aren’t swarming with the maids and drivers and all the other unorganised labour that we in India enjoy. People wear jackets (jackets!) and the supermarkets are shitty (compared to Tesco and Waitrose, anyway). The men are tall and all of them are unwittingly camp. There are only three kinds of things on roads: hatchbacks, sedans and Volvo trucks. Everyone smokes.

I’m reminded of the time I spent in Germany (and I know that technically Germany is not classified Northern Europe, but then I’d argue it is much closer to the ‘idea’ of northern Europe than, say, the United Kingdom, which is). Not so much the student life in dorms and clubs, but the time I spent with my friends’ families in their homes. There’s a measured blandness about the streets and a feeling of general calm in the air. 

If I’ve learned one thing from my travels it is this: if you want to “experience” a city, you have to walk its streets but if you want to understand its people you need to stay in their homes.  


“We drive by train to the house of my parents” said Jakob, in that adorable European-English, “There we make a party”. Until I figured out which universal language mistakes Germans make, I couldn’t believe you could just drive trains around in this country.

He was kind but direct and assertive. He had a style of telling you how your day together was going to pan out, without you having any say in it – and you wouldn’t mind. “We go here, yes? Then we take some beers in there. Then we make some pictures.” And indeed, that is what we would do. But he wasn’t boring: he had tattoos and listened to Jonny Cash. His English wasn’t that great but he spoke uninhibited. He is one of those kind souls whose friendship you feel you don’t really deserve.

His family’s house was wooden and had carpeted floors. There was very very slow internet and no cable TV. The walls were packed with books and vinyl records. In the basement were a big boxing bag, a sofa and an ancient television enshrined in VHS tapes. From the quaint kitchen one could see down the wide roads to the level-crossing and the station that we’d gotten off at. His back garden was large and just across the mud track from his back gate was one of those classic, deep, dark, coniferous German forests. It made it seem like we were in the country side. It was dusk when we walked through the door. His family enjoyed a close relationship with the neighbours and their two boys and that evening, there must have been 20 people having dinner in the garden. A barbeque was going, beers were being popped open using every single thing in the house. It was a full-fledged Saturday evening get together.

One of the reasons my love for Germany endures is because even though I stuck out like a sore thumb, I was never once made to feel unwelcome. From the first time I ordered a sandwich at Subway in a deserted shopping mall on a Sunday evening and the attendant taught me how to say “cucumber”, I felt like I was an exchange citizen rather than simply an exchange student. No one made me feel more welcome than Jakob, whose family lived in the suburbs – 30 minutes by S-Bahn from the city centre. Berlin in late summer is really something. It was like a culturally vibrant household in 1960s America but instead of father and son playing baseball, 15 year olds and 50 year olds drank schnapps and smoked roll-ups.

After the adults went inside to listen to jazz music, the youngsters hung out in the – now chilly – garden. Jakob’s brother’s and sister’s friends were there too and they all eyed me up curiously before speaking to me in their best English. I was not paraded around like many proud people do their foreign guests. I played football with some of the younger kids who were amazed that I knew what football was. We played that “guess who I am in 20 questions” game that apparently all Germans play. Note: they ALL play that game.

Normally when you’re a house-guest – especially a foreign one – everyone goes out of their way to tend to you and you can end up feeling a little smothered. But the experience I had in Jakob’s house was the same that I felt at Julian’s or Paolo’s. It’s hard to put it into words. People would talk to you, smile at you and then treat everyone else in exactly the same way. It was so refreshing. What I appreciated was that I wasn’t the chief guest, just another guest at a party. It was like “Great that you’re here. Here are the rules - help yourself to a beer.” That’s what Germany is to me: a party where everyone follows rules. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Treading on Toes

The trouble with being a writer is that your output is out there for the whole world to see. In other jobs, you’re part of a larger collective set of cogs and clockwork and somewhat detached from the end product. But as a writer (or a journalist or even worse, a blogger) your work is you and you are your work; you pour your soul into cyberspace or printed pages and hope for the best. More often than not, I find, the responses are overwhelmingly positive and it makes the risk all worth it. Many people will write messages of solidarity and congratulations and many more silently resonate. In some cases, strangers will respond negatively and you have to take it on the chin and learn for next time. But sometimes, people who are close to you will change their opinion of you and worse yet, get hurt personally.

I only write when something inspires me enough to affect my emotions so much that I can’t do anything until I’ve articulated them. Those initial few seconds after you hit publish are fantastic because a great weight is off your chest and for a moment, you are totally self assured. But if the piece is serious or emotional (or seriously emotional) then you start to worry and second guess yourself.

“What if _____ reads it? What will they think of me?”
“Will ______ still like me after they’ve read what I’ve written about them? Or will they appreciate the guts it took to share those feelings?”
“Should I have shared something that personal?”

I think you always live in fear that, while 5 people may love your post there will be one whose perception of you will be dramatically altered even if he/she may not tell you. For example, my family inspires me to write. I wonder how they feel when they’re the subjects of a piece of writing that’s out there for the whole world to see. Am I allowed to write about anyone? No one has written about me so I don’t know what that feeling is - the feeling of seeing your name or your character being picked apart and observed by someone else. But there have been times when I’ve written things about them and it has affected small parts of how we interact.

I remember writing an email to my parents (who are followers of this blog anyway) which I thought was really from the heart. To me it seemed like any of the long emails I’d sent them once in a while, detailing my position on things. But this time it ended up causing a lot of pain to them and on hearing about their reaction, immense pain within me. I think one of the hallmarks of our family is our ability to share things – but is it OK if I share those feelings with the entire internet?

It’s the similar situation with my impressions and skits in my stand-up routine; people who I’ve impersonated have stopped the little idiosyncrasies that I picked up on and I feel awful. But at the same time, everyone wants me to impersonate them – I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.

I’d like to believe that the people who really care about me will continue to treat me the same way regardless because they know that the need to express myself is something I can’t fight. It’s a trade off: do you release something into the public domain that could benefit many, at the risk of alienating a few? Maybe this inertia is what holds most people back from expressing themselves artistically.

That’s why I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be a creative person who shares his or her work. Getting up on that soapbox isn’t easy and I think audiences/readers take it for granted. Unless you have put yourself out there, you have no idea how hard it is and how easy it is to criticise from the back of the room. When I see a comedian on stage or a blogger really writing from the heart, I immediately empathise because I know how long they must have struggled with themselves: wouldn’t it be more convenient to not express anything?

Stuck in the Middle with You

I’ve become an old man. Or at least, I’ve started thinking and acting like one. Maybe that’s natural; when you start working I guess you instinctively feel like you ought to be more responsible. What I’ve found is that I am vastly more uptight and conscious about how others will feel than most people my age. It has resulted in me being stuck in a weird place between my parents and my younger sister.

I think my parents treat me like an adult but don’t yet treat my sister the same way. I don’t know whether this is to do with age, gender, life-stage or what. But as a result, I’ve got one foot in each camp: trying to be a both a stoic, responsible adult and a carefree, fun young person is tough.  I don’t know if all older siblings feel this way.

What happens is that in trying to be “everyone’s friend” I am neither a kid nor a grown up. I don’t intentionally test boundaries or challenge authority or have fun for no reason like I did when I was at high school or university. Like my sister does now. At the same time, I cannot hang out with my parents all the time as my views and interests are very different.

When we come together as a family I find myself trying to be this bridge between them and her. This is a weird position to be in because I instinctively defend her if they decide to pull her leg or discipline her. Perhaps it’s not my place to interfere at all. But then when she’s out of line and there’s full-fledged conflict, I find myself “taking my parents' side" and trying to explain their logic to her. This makes things worse. As someone who has been there before, I try to get her to see their point of view but often I guess she wants a friend rather than an older brother/guest-lecturer.

My personality type is that of the peace-maker and so my tendency is to try and mediate. I guess I could use my “unique position” to try and get both sides to recognise the similarities they share with me and then through me, see the other side’s point of view.

I find myself lecturing my sister like I’m our dad and I don’t know what to make of it. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Survival of the Fittest

When men enter a gym, we go back 100,000 years. We stop being polite, modern human beings and turn into prehistoric hunter gatherers. Or in the case of those who oil themselves up for Mr ______ contests, punter latherers. Do you even lift bro? ROAR.

I've heard from lots of people - especially girls - how intimidating they found gyms and for the longest time I couldn't understand it. I've been going to the gym regularly and really enjoyed myself. After a long, shitty day, channeling your anger and frustration into an uphill bike ride is a great way of saying "fuck you" to the world. I find myself feeling lousy and bloated if I don't do some kind of physical activity by the end of the day - no matter how tiring my day has been. I love the post work-out high: the feeling of lightness and energy that gives you a great night's sleep.

But today at my beloved Gold's Gym at Elphinstone Road, I found that the entire bottom floor had been rearranged. The rowing machine - a piece of equipment I really love - was gone. The steppers had been moved and weren't plugged in for some reason; on battery power they restart each time you stop pumping your legs. The only two good cross trainers were taken. I was faced with only one option: leave the civility of the cardio floor and go upstairs to the weight room.

The weight room is an incredible place. It's a metal obstacle course full of giant pulsating limbs with bits of hair and human jammed between them. If you're not ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger then you're not welcome. The guys look at you with a mixture of pity (and hunger because you're probably decent sized for an evening snack).

And God forbid a girl stumble into there. It's like the Serengeti. Imagine David Attenborough narrating a scene where a young gazelle has strayed too close to the lions. 20 pairs of sweaty eyes track her as she tip toes nervously across the floor. But they only look at her for a second before their return their attention to the mirror and the glistening contours reflected in it.

The trainers are generally nice but I've seen them hitting on girls shamelessly. I've heard this from girls too. I think the best course of action if you're an unfit writer (who has experienced one moon-landing too many) is to walk in like a flaming diva and tell the trainer you know absolutely nothing about doing weights and have the upper body strength of a wilting daisy. Then they kind of take you under their wing. Even then, as you strain under the weight of the dumbbells, the juiced up guys continue to look over in your direction before glancing at the (much higher) number on their weights.

The neanderthals come in all shapes and sizes: some are short, some are tall, some have wide shoulders and some are just ugly as sin. You can tell that some of them were pot bellied accountants a few years ago. The only remnant of their love handled past is, in fact, their face. There is one guy who, if you saw from the neck up, would imagine is a retired milk man or something. He is balding, wears glasses and generally looks like an IT worker who got lost in the H1B visa queue. Yet he has the huge chest and biceps that pins back every torso in the weight room.

What is it about gyms that makes guys need to compete against each other? It is the last bastion of male narcissism - the macho men's version of "selfies". The atmosphere is generally one of "I am stronger than you, let me prove it by picking this heavy thing up and putting it down again several times".

Please, Gold's Gym, fix the damn rowing machine.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Shivaji Park Messi

Every morning I take a taxi to work. It's usually an uneventful ride. There's not much traffic going North and the journey is quiet and cool. I make it a point to explain the location to the driver thoroughly when I get in so I don't need to keep telling him. I want to zone out. The taxi ride is a great time in my day: when no one can talk to me and I can just empty my mind.

But one thing does interrupt my day dream. As I take the turn after Tamnak Thai, at Shivaji Park towards Dadar, I get a ten second glimpse of the people in the park. There are old men walking purposefully, taking life a step at a time, a day at a time. The drunks haven't yet woken and still lay sprawled across stone benches. There is usually a group of would-be cadets being put through their paces by a drill sergeant. Whether they are actual recruits or just a bunch of lads getting whipped into shape by an enthusiastic ex-armed forced uncle (we all have one), I'll never know. But the highlight of it all is the football game that the tiny little local school kids have going.

Because of the speed at which I pass the sliver of park, I get to see just a few moments of their game. The pitch is totally muddy because of the monsoon rains and the standard, if it could be any worse, is lowered further. There are 12 kids who look around 9 or 10 years old. Their are dark skinned and skinny and their uniforms are faded white-brown. They aren't wearing shoes, only modest sandals. The ball looks so big next to their little feet; it must hurt when they kick it. What I usually see is all 12 kids running towards the ball, screaming in excitement, with great big smiles on their faces. When any of them get near the ball, they boot it as hard as they can towards where they think the goal is. I passed a number of such vignettes and often wondered if they were ever able to score a goal. But one day, something new happened.

As I took the turn, the group of kids were spread out across the pitch and they were all looking towards the goal nearest to me. Bearing down was a thin little girl in a tattered skirt and pig tailed with white flowers in them. The ball must have broken her way because she was one on one with the goal keeper. She pumped her arms and managed to catch up to the bouncing ball about 5 yards away from the now terrified keeper. The ball was bouncing knee height, away from her and towards the goal. She cocked back her right leg and pulled the trigger. I don't know if it was because I was passing perpendicular to her run and the ball's trajectory, but it all seemed to happen in slow motion.

She walloped the ball (off her shin) and it flew in. She had done it! She threw her arms in the air and screamed and jumped with joy. It was the greatest 5 seconds of my life. I passed the park at exactly the right 10 seconds that morning. Had I taken longer to wear my socks, I'd have missed it. But I saw that girl's delight that day and it has filled me with joy ever since. I will never forget the happiness and satisfaction in her beautiful voice. She had done it! I don't presume to know what the troubles in her life are, but for those 5 seconds they didn't matter. She was the best. She had conquered everything. She must have kicked the ball and chased after it so many times without success. But for this moment, it was all worth it. She had won.

And then, I was gone - whisked away in an indifferent yellow and black cab. The taxi driver and the city had taken no notice and gotten on with their lives. But I saw her joy and a little piece of it will live in my mind forever and that's all that counts.

Thank You, Palladium Mall Mumbai

To the good folks at Palladium Mall,

This weekend I took my elderly grandparents to Gajalee at Phoenix Mills. My grandfather is partially disabled on his left side and moving around is not easy for him. It goes without saying that most private buildings in India are not well equipped to provide comfortable access to the disabled, forget public spaces. And I think most residents of Indian cities have come to expect nothing at all from staff, as far as service goes. When we do get something more than the minimum, we are pleasantly surprised.

This Sunday, I was more than pleasantly surprised. From start to finish, the staff at Palladium went out of their way to aid me and my grandparents. From the lift-man to the person coordinating pick up and drops near the parking lot, all the staff spoke perfect English, held doors for us and generally did their best to make the afternoon as painless as possible. 

Even though I have to hold my grandfather's hand at all times when he's outside the house, I didn't feel as helpless as I sometimes do. It was the level of service that I would have expected from a Taj or an office building where I'm expected for a meeting. 

The person at the car drop-off point, on hearing that we were standing at the wrong spot, offered to move the temporary barriers and allow the car to come directly to where my grandparents were seated. Every lift-operator stood and held the door open for us from 20 yards away and waited as we slowly approached. Perhaps it was the least they could do - but I wasn't used to it. 

Whatever training you had put your staff through, definitely worked on Sunday August 4th 2013 and I commend you. I've noticed a lot of disguised unemployment in India: superfluous house keeping and security personnel are par for the course. But for the first time, I found the staff at a shopping mall actually adding value. 

So thank you, Palladium. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

10 Reasons I don't have a Girl-Friend (and probably never will)

Today I read an intriguing blog about relationships called 40 Days of Dating. It is a social experiment where two single friends decided to date each other for 40 days and documented their feelings meticulously. Some people find it a bit bland but I found it thoroughly compelling and was struck by one thing in particular: how normal the concept of ‘dating’ is for seemingly everyone except me.

The two young people in the experiment were so ‘New York’, like something out of F.R.I.E.N.D.S: clean cut, white, artsy, good looking young people who went to Knicks games and navigated a constant barrage of sexual partners. I didn’t know lives like that existed and that actual human beings lived them. I cannot imagine, as a new member of the full time workforce, meeting so many people and having so many options about who to hook up with and who to say no to. Where are all these people that just magically meet hundreds of potential partners every day?

People always ask me how my love life is going and I usually shrug – I’ve never had one. For some reason they are surprised when I say that I’ve never had a girlfriend but when you think about utterly twisted I am, I guess it will make sense. It has been over a year since I moved back to India and, while I knew that meeting girls here would be harder than at university, I had no idea it would be impossible. I have not gotten remotely close to a girl for, what, 15 months? And that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. I’ve given up and don’t really care about anything anymore so I’ve decided to open the floor to the entire internet. I have become predisposed to relationship self-sabotage. Maybe I can explain why.

1. I have no idea where to meet girls

Where do you meet people after university? Book clubs? Salsa lessons? Coffee shops? At college, you are thrown together with a bunch of likeminded, young people from fairly similar socio-economic backgrounds. But as a graduate employee you are in a world where you have to interact with everyone. There are suddenly a lot fewer people nearer your age, forget your interests. At university, there are classes, there are parties and there are your halls: you’re never far away from someone you could picture yourself seeing. But now you spend all day in an office. You come home and have no energy to do anything but eat and sleep. Weekends are for family and domestic errands. The number of days when you can meet other young people has been cut from 7 to 2. Which brings me to my next point.

2.     Bars are a terrible place to try and meet girls. Clubs are worse.

The only time I even come in contact with girls my age is once a week when I summon the energy to go to a loud bar with friends. And I can’t hear what any of them are saying. (How old and boring do I sound?) The pretty ones are there with their boyfriends. There are at least two guys for every girl. I have never seen someone at a bar in India pull a stranger. I think the best chance you have is to go out with a group of friends and hope you can impress someone while you’re pre-gaming at home. I’ve seen this succeed once. People here don’t make out for no reason. What happened to making out for no reason? Making out is great. You don’t have to get married ffs. Clubs are so loud and expensive and full of old dudes and the only good looking girls already have a sizable harem of dudes behind them. I’ve never been good at bars/clubs.

3.     I don’t know enough people to go to house parties

The few girls unfortunate enough to have endured flings with me (who weren’t already friends with me) I’ve met at house parties. I think I have a decent shot at house parties. They are quiet enough to chat and I have/had decent game when it came to conversations. House parties are also great because the ratio of ‘guys : girls’ is closer to 1:1. But I don’t know enough people in this city to get invited to those kinds of soirees. Lots of young people live with their parents – like me. I definitely think I’m guilty, especially in the past, of going off the rails at house parties.

4.     Alcohol ruined my chances many times

After I got mugged while drunk earlier this year, I stopped drinking for three months. I have a drink now and then but I’ve cut down sizably and it’s really improved my life in many ways. However one of my major weaknesses is memory loss and forgetting what girls have said to me when I’ve been drunk. I’ve seen it play out so many times. It’s one thing to feign interest on a terrace, but if you can’t remember what a girl said the next day when she messages you on Facebook, you look like a fool. I am almost certain this is one of my most unappealing traits. Alcohol has ruined many potentially great nights for me (Prague on New Year’s Eve 2011 to name just one) but I feel a lot better now that I’ve cut down. I’ve been able to go to the gym every day, play football every weekend and generally lose a bunch of weight.

5.     I think I look terrible

When I look at myself in the mirror, all I see are flaws. This is probably down to being out of the game for so long. My own insecurity about my appearance is one of the many ways in which I’ve begun to believe my own bullshit – a recurring theme in this essay. My nose looks distinctly unfinished (especially from the side), I am hairy as fuck and have the hips of a middle-aged Tamil housewife. Why do I care about this shit? I imagine most guys don’t? I think my only redeeming physical feature is that I’m tall by Indian standards – though that clearly doesn’t count for much. What are Indian standards anyway?

6.     I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing in this country

I have never hooked up with an Indian girl. Not even gotten close. I peg my expectations for girls to what I enjoyed on exchange year in Germany. I think I was somewhat of a novelty item there. Back in India I’m just another hairy dude (cannot emphasise the hair enough. I have hair on my shoulders for fuck’s sake). I look at the kinds of girls that I got with there and the kind of girls that have rejected me here and it doesn’t add up. Even in England, when I went out to the pub I felt like I had a chance. It was nice. It made the whole experience of going out seem like it was worth something. I mean, why else do we go out? For the music? Pssht. We go out to meet cool people. Evidence of quite a few nights out in India has taught me that I have absolutely no effect on girls I consider in my league.

7.     I am obsessed with high-school bullshit like ‘leagues’

Anyone who knows me, knows that while I’m supposedly some heavy business journalist guy on the outside, I’m essentially a 9th grade girl when it comes to this kind of stuff. I size up how someone looks and wonder if we are worthy of one another. I find myself thinking nonsense like “I was hooking up with 7s and 8s at university. Now I’m getting turned away by 6s”. I evaluate how good looking my friends are and who they are with. I look at a pretty girl and all I can think is how much I’d have to change to ‘get’ her.

8.     Some part of me thinks about a girlfriend as an achievement one has to ‘get’

I find myself subconsciously still wanting kudos from others about the girl I’m seeing. Again, it’s probably some deep rooted craving for external approval. I think more about what my friends will say or how I will be perceived when I’m seeing someone, than how much I’ll enjoy her company. I mean, all that matters is how you and your partner make each other feel but I’ve forgotten how nice that is. I’ve forgotten how secure you feel when you aren’t constantly wondering what “the guys” will say about the girl you’re seeing. Subsequently, I ignore girls who would be great for me by focusing on someone who isn’t really interested in me just because of the whole absurdity of the “thrill of the chase”. Instead of actually experiencing companionship with someone who actually likes me, I’m looking the perfect girl.

9.     The ‘perfect girl’ doesn’t exist and doesn’t want me anyway

I tend to chase after the wrong girl. This has been the defining feature of my disastrous descent into relationship self-sabotage. I have in my mind, an idea of the kind of person I should be with, and then I pursue her even if she’s off limits. A worrying trend among girls I’ve had flings with is: they are at least 2 years older than me and are not exactly single. While it was all fun and games at university, it seems as if 25 year old girls are now looking to date guys for a couple of years with the intention of settling down. This means I’m competing with guys who are five years older and have money and aren’t kids like me. This inevitably leads to me being hung up about a girl I have no business going after and ignoring others I should be letting in.

10.  I make up reasons why I don’t want to see a girl who I know likes me

You should hear them. I dare not utter them. But they exist and they are getting more and more bizarre. Someone is not well travelled enough. Someone is too short. Someone cheated on their boyfriend and would probably do the same to me. Someone isn’t good looking enough (urgh). Someone’s voice is too jarring. Someone is too old. Someone is too young.

So there you have it. Do any of those sound familiar to you? I found myself without anyone to talk to about this stuff so I’ve poured it out for everyone to pick the bones out of. I feel marginally better knowing that it's all documented here in one place. Maybe some of those things are standard for guys. Maybe some are standard for someone living in a city that’s not really their home. But I think that this is me getting used to feeling sorry for myself and convincing myself that nothing will change as long as I stay in India. I have this pie in the sky dream that if I returned to Europe all would be well and I would pick up where I left off. I’m blaming this country for my own insecurities.

I watched a movie called English Vinglish recently and, for the first time with a Bollywood movie, a line really stuck with me. It went something along the lines of “if you hate yourself, then you will hate your life and the world around you”. This made me sit up and think. I hate almost everything about myself at the moment: the way I look, being alone, not doing that well at work and being talented in things that no one really cares about or is going to pay me bags of money for.

It started with my saying no to a delightful, beautiful girl who took a big risk by telling me she liked me way back in 9th grade. And I can’t help but think the wounds I caused myself through that mistake are still festering away today. I don’t have a plan about how I’m going to be happy. I am open to any advice you may have. I want to be the confident, smiling person I was in 2011. I had no trouble going up in front of 50 strangers and making them laugh at a comedy club. Now I’m just sitting here waiting for something to change. I’m waiting for the perfect girl to reach out again, like she did in 9th grade, so that I have the chance to say yes. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Shravan Tries to Read a Book

Until this morning, I’d read  a total of 18 books in my life. That is, actual 18 full length novels over 200 pages – and seven of those were Harry Potter. I simply did not “read” like other kids did. Unless it was The Life of Pi or The Hobbit, books could not hold my attention. Most knowledge I have of the world and the diction that fills it comes from TV and more recently, the internet. People always find it strange that I’m a writer who doesn’t “read” though I would not say I don’t read at all. I read 10 articles online every day. I can read when I feel compelled to – but the inherent desire to “curl up with a book” is simply not there. I’d say I’m intellectually curious: I watch a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music and love talking to people about them. But when I go to someone’s house and see an entire shelf of novels that I really should have read, I’m ashamed that I can’t sound smart and portray myself as someone who’s clued in on classic literature too.

“Have you read Catcher in the Rye, Shravan?”
“Haha yeah, those damn catchers! Gotta watch out for that rice!”

Plus I’ve discovered where girls hide during the day: book clubs. Apparently book clubs are a thing and there are a disproportionately high amount of girls at them. So there’s some motivation to “read” if ever there was any.

We read Love in the Time of Cholera as part of our high school English curriculum together as a class, and I only now realize how much I enjoyed it. Exchanging views on characters and plot lines every week with others was more fun than actually consuming the text. It never struck me then that spending time reading alone could be fun. I really struggle being alone and doing activities alone and so whenever I read something – online or in print – I feel I need to share it or discuss it and this was never something I could do with novels. So this morning I tried to become like you guys. This morning I took my first step into entering the world of unforced, unwarranted, self-driven reading. This morning I tried to teach myself how to “read a book”.

I’ve always found wonderful excuses for not reading but the most frequent one was my profound inability to find a comfortable position to read a book. How do you read books? I have so many questions. Like, do you sit down in a chair and rest your elbows at a desk? If so, doesn’t your neck hurt from leaning forward? Do you lie down? In which case, don’t your arms get tired from holding it up above your head? Do you hold your book in one hand with (your fingers separating the pages) or with two?

I said, “If I’m really going through with this, the conditions need to be perfect.” So I built a fort from pillows (a good way to start any initiative) that allowed me a 30 degree recline and elbow support. Also present was an excellent ambient dubstep playlist and Mountain Dew, for the inevitable moments when I stray from the novel and question the need of all this. I also kept the TV remote on the other side of the room, should temptation suddenly surge.  Having slain all my inertia, I began to read ‘Dave Barry Does Japan’. Not quite Dickens, I know, but a start nonetheless.

My parents are both serial readers and the process of moving house showed me just about many bloody books they have. Mountains and mountains and words that they’ve actually sat (or lay down or laid back or however you’re meant do it) and read. Dave Barry came highly recommended – other titles carefully nudged towards me by my hopefully dad were the various rose-tinted works on Bombay, intercultural communication and, wait for it, Mein Kampf.

The first hurdle I faced came as no surprised: after breezing through a few interesting paragraphs I began to wade through one which was more inane. It may have been a great, poignant piece of prose but I simply lost interest and my eyes flitted to the rain outside the window. On so many occasions in the past, at this very juncture, I’d have laid down the book and found something else to do. I can sit through boring periods in sports matches because I know what I’ll likely be treated to so I stick around. But with books, that later gratification was alien to me. Today I ploughed on, flicking through paragraphs on things I didn’t care about.

For example, Dave Barry loves to use hyperbolic rants and having read so many bloggers use similar techniques I found myself unimpressed. But I was rewarded with my first actual ‘laugh out loud’ about 50 pages into the book, when he talked about how the Japanese bow and how his family were ‘gang-bowed’ by hotel staff. I actually laughed! At a book! I don’t even laugh at sitcoms. This was exciting new ground, like discovering your parents used to smoke.

One of the things that always daunted me about reading books was the sheer number of pages. Spending an hour engrossed in a story and then finding you were only a tenth of the way through was always an instant turn off. Growing up weaned on the idiot box means my attention span is limited. I’ve checked Facebook twice during the course of writing this. (Let me have another check now... Ahh, as usual, absolutely nothing has changed. But I’m sure I’ll check it once again before finishing this piece anyway.) I mean, movies over 2 hours are hard enough! But I found myself a quarter of my way through the silly book in no time at all. “I might even finish this whole thing” I thought to myself, encouraged.

I didn’t read every word of the book. Do you? Are you meant to? Or can you sort of skim through tedious bits you kind of sense you’re not going to enjoy anyway? Are there rules to reading books? How long should it take you to read a 700 book?

As for Darry Barry Does Japan, well, I finished. It took me the entire morning to read a 200 odd page book. Isn’t that sad? Nevertheless, I feel proud. I spent a morning that I could have spent watching sports (in HD!) and it sparked an interesting internal discussion. Like all talented writers, he gets you to think about deeper issues through light anecdotes. His stories about quirkiness of Japanese social structures are a veneer hiding much larger debates that you tackle by yourself, only later on.

I enjoyed the book because it summed up very well the defining qualities of Japanese society: the rigidity of hierarchy, desire to conform, deep longing for creative cultural freedom, respect for the collective over the individual, the attention to detail, the exclusivity of the ‘club’ that’s not really open to foreigners and so on. It also made me realize how much Pokemon (stop laughing) has quietly taught me about Japan. The endless amounts of bizarre energy drinks available in PokeMarts seemed normal only in the game, until I read Barry’s bit on going into a Japanese supermarket. Even the way he described the Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto reminded me of the stark, dull buildings you have to navigate in the Pokemon Gameboy game. There were many “aha” moments that I experienced hours after putting the book triumphantly down. The Japanese fascination with monsters – how else do you explain Charizard? I’ll spare you the Pokemon nerdisms.

So today I find myself writing as much a book review as a review on books. I’m sure you felt this way when you started reading at the normal age of… eight? I guess? This must sound like your grandparents describing how they felt when they first made a call on a telephone.

I don’t know if this will spark a genuine interest in me. There’s still a tremendous amount of inertia I feel when choosing a title. It has to be on a topic that I’m already interested in. This isn’t true about movies or music. I can watch a movie on anything as long as it’s “good”. But I’m not sure I’m ready to pick up a book on Steve Jobs because I feel absolutely no affinity towards him or Apple, no matter how riveting the story may be. In the same way, the charm of India is totally lost on me at this point and I couldn’t read “Mumbai Fables” if you paid me. I don’t know whether I will ever find a book that I absolutely cannot wait to get to home and read. I don’t know whether I’ll ever yearn to know more about characters like I do in my favourite TV shows and movies. All I can say is that this morning has piqued my curiosity and I’m open to reading more books.

Well, as long as I have my pillow fort and there’s no HD sport on, of course.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Praise of Single Mums

I imagine our world-views are constantly changing, constantly molded by our experiences. I do however think that our worldviews are most receptive, most malleable and most fertile when we’re at university. Thrust into self-dependence, we naturally gravitate towards mother and father figures where we find them. People ask me why I sound so foreign; indeed, I've come to accept that I feel more European than I do Indian. My approach to issues and reactions to situations have been shaped by the Europeans I lived with and spent time with at university in England and Germany. I don’t think anyone had as profound an influence as Tatjana Cukvas. She is an amazing person and one of my heroes. Without getting teary eyed and sentimental about the challenges that single mothers face, I would go so far as to say that I cannot ever imagine having as much on my plate as she does. And in spite of being mother, friend and breadwinner to her two teenage children, she took me – a spectacularly adolescent, hairy, Indian kid – into her home and showered me with warmth and love that I will never be able to repay.

A colleague of my dad’s from yesteryear, she was my guardian and proxy mom when I was in England. The warmth that radiates from her frantic home greets me as soon as I got off the tube at Gunnersbury station in Chiswick. The posh London borough, to my mind, made up half of what her identity is. The other half was romantically, proudly and categorically Serbian. Seeing her straddle between these two very different identities was an educational and formative experience for me as an 18-21 year old. She held that house together and I don’t know how she does it everyday: she wakes up earliest, sleeps last and runs errands for everyone in between. What’s most heartening is when I see her making time for herself and enjoying it. It’s so much harder earned than any free ‘me’ time I’ve ever cordoned off for myself.

One of the things I’m most thankful for are the truly bizarre, international connections I’ve enjoyed growing up. Serbia and India? Who’d have thought it? I couldn’t pick two more different countries. While Tatjana’s everyday routine is oh so West London, the central pillar that she operates from is unmistakably European. She loves her coffee. She recycles. She has a compost bin in her garden. She eats cheese and drinks a glass of wine while watching stand-up comedians in the evening. She has raised two beautiful children in a liberal, hands-off manner. She spares no expense buying great quality cuts of ham from Waitrose. She watches her kids play their sports every weekend with an enthusiasm I wish every parent had. She doesn't spoon-feed you: she’ll make you do things for yourself but you always know she’s there for you if you need support.

Hey, you’re up early! Want some pancakes? How about some coffee?

Oh, you decided to sleep in? You want a sandwich? All the ingredients are in the fridge, knock yourself out.

I remember when I spent the summer of 2010 at her home. I was doing an internship in London. After spending 3 weeks in the Bombay monsoon, I had caught malaria. When I landed in Chiswick, trembling with cold sweat, Tatjana and the kids were on holiday and her relatives were at the house. This large, sick brown guy landed up, diseased, with suitcases. I was an alien – a potentially contagious one. Cut a wide berth. I remember the throwing up and the cold shivers. Malaria isn’t fun. I wasn’t even diagnosed yet, I thought I was just unnaturally sick and unlucky. She returned and told me to go to the hospital that very morning. She cut right past my inertia; I thought my body was recover on its own like it always does. I remember getting the call from the doctor and her relatives’ weary expressions when I told them. I was scared and she was with me every step of the way.

She came to the hospital and spoke to the doctor with me. She sat on the hospital bed and took my mind off things with stories about her bouts with malaria. She gave me tonic water which sped the recovery process along. After flying from Mumbai to London in freezing cold, cramped economy class and enduring the inhuman heat of Dubai in July during the stop-over, I recovered in three days. I remember taking the tube 12 of the 15 stops to work and having to turn back because the shivers and urge to vomit were overpowering. The pills were wonderful but her care was the catalyst.

Later that summer she cracked the whip on my inertia to go on exchange year. As I normally tend to do, I shuffled towards the path of least resistance and thought it would easier to go straight into the final year of university. Nothing doing. “Get changed and go to the embassy right now!” she said. And off I went. I got my German visa and spent the best year of my life on exchange. I was so close to not going. I was all prepped to do taking the usual Shravan shortcut and she made me realize how utterly lazy I sounded. I have many, many things to be thankful to Tatjana for but making sure I got on the bus to the German embassy tops the list. I shudder to think what I’d have missed out on had she let me meander on my own laissez-faire course. Perhaps this was the most life-changing thing she did to me: she would always discipline my instinctive tendency towards the path of least resistance.

I think saying she works ‘full-time’ is doing her a disservice. She sends her kids to expensive private schools. She packs a beautiful London home full of every gadget Steve Jobs has ever produced. She ensures her fridge is gourmet and her cat was treated like the royal he was. And amid all this running around London and Europe she found time to care for me and console me when relationships within my own family had reached a low point. Where does she find the time? Where does she summon the energy? Does she keep it stored up in jars around the house like her homemade cookies or potpourri? I get tired thinking about her day.

I love seeing her sitting on her sofa, watching Michael McIntyre and spreading Camembert on crackers with a glass of wine. I will always love Tatjana, Ana and Stefan. I will always cheer for Serbia and Novak Djokovic like I did so many times with them. I don’t know who her pillars are but she is one of mine. Thinking about mothers like her make me happy.

How does she do it? Thank you forever, Tatjana.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Capdase KLIA iPhone Screen Guard

iPhones have a lot going for them but external durability isn't one of them. As I stressed in my previous blog post, if you're going to be spending upwards of Rs. 40,000 on one, you may as well go the extra yard and make sure you're not going to be shelling out thousands of Rupees getting it repaired when it does succumb to a scratch.

The Capdase KLIA iPhone 4 and 4s Screen Protector is a simple, effective screen guard and at just Rs. 684.99, something you should definitely invest in. It's easy to put on and doesn't effect the usage at all.

Worth a buy. 

Review: Case-Mate iPhone Cover

For iPhones, perhaps more than for any other smartphones / gadgets these days, a case is a must. Users will tell you how flimsy and prone to damage they are and if you don't have a case or cover for your iPhone, get one now! 

I recently got the Case-Mate 'Barely There' iPhone case in Brushed Aluminium/Black and I would highly recommend it. If you're going to shell out hundreds of pounds on an iPhone, you may as well spend an extra 20 quid on a light, classy cover. Apple usually make their margins on selling useless accessories as add-ons and charging you through the nose for essential ones so this case is really good value at Rs. 1166.99. 

I really like the brushed look at the back and the classy silver outline etched around the side. The logo isn't too prominent and adds to the overall look. 

I did find it a little hard to press the volume control buttons, especially when the phone is in my pocket and I want to adjust the volume without getting my phone out.

My iPhone is white and the black case makes it look like something a storm trooper would use: what more do you want?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Something I wrote when I was 10

(I found a school project I wrote when I was 10, about how we used to trade food in our school canteen. I've typed it up word for word. Not much has changed I think :P)

Hopes and Ambitions

(I imagined that twenty years had passed and I had a job)

Now that I have a job I look back and think, where did I learn to become such a successful businessman. Ah! I got it. I learnt everything I ever needed to know about trading and the stock market at Willington. It all started when I was in year five… It hit me that we could exchange items in our lunch boxes so that we wouldn’t have to have the same food everyday. Ever since the idea hit me, it got stuck in my head and I have been trying to trade everyday. The things that fetched the lowest prices were drinks and sandwiches (fruit was loathed by nearly everyone so that was out of the question) that everyone was satisfied with. The next things up were dairy products that were reasonably liked. Coming towards the top, crisps were very popular. Right at the top, you got chocolates and sweets, those were what everyone wanted.

I think that our great, thriving economy was the only one not affected by September 11th. Though some mums got depressed and started giving their sons ‘baby-bells’ – those poor kids. But still something extraordinary had happened since then, some mums had taken the ORGANIC route. The very sound of the word sends shivers down my back. What once was a babbling brook turned into a barren desert. Those products silenced the very origin of our economy. I used to know all the people to go to get what you wanted on the Drake table at lunch (our house table). If you wanted the odd bar of chocolate then Luke is the person to go to, if mince pies were your liking, then it would have to be James, it went on like that. Though it dramatically changed. There was also another tradition called ‘scrambles’. This happened when one of us was not hungry and we felt like giving our food away in a fun way. What we did was clear space in our table where the scramble could be performed. Then all of us were asked to put both hands behind our back and wait. A scramble was when we dropped our food purposely on our table and said “go”. When this happened, everyone rushed to get the food that was on the table, thus the name, ‘scrambles’.

When I was young, I wanted to be so many things including a teacher, a cricket player and more. But now I know, I used my strengths well and became what I am now, successful.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Job Rejections and What I Learnt from Them

I love my job. I love the knowledge I’ve gained from being a business journalist. My days involve reading, speaking to and writing about the sharpest minds in the world and I'd like to think a little bit has rubbed off on me. When I tell people “I’m a writer for Forbes Magazine” they look at me with an expression of respect. My job is the most validating thing that’s happened to me. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to in school. I didn’t get into a “big name” university. I didn’t get a 1st class honours when I graduated. I don’t know whether it’s the Indian in me, but I always felt that I hadn’t done justice to the talents I was born with. Between October 2011 and September 2012, from the time I started looking for jobs to the time I landed this dream position, I heard a lot of ‘no’s’ from various employers and it was a pretty soul sapping period. 

When I look back now though, I realized that each job I got rejected from taught me something and changed me. I think it’s presumptuous to say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I may well have done any of those roles very well. What I can say is that each HR person I spoke to, each test I took and each “After carefully reviewing your application, we regret to inform you…” letter I received, has directly or indirectly put my name in this magazine and put my articles under the noses of some of India’s most successful businesspeople.

RBS: I am not a Banker

I remember when I wanted to be a shark – when I wanted to ‘work for the Goldman Sax’ as that hilarious Youtube video about wannabe investment bankers says. 

I passed one of those SHL tests and got called for an assessment day by the Royal Bank of Scotland in London. I went out and bought a shiny new suit. I spent the week reading and watching everything I could about the financial sector (not noticing that the fact I was doing this in the first place should have rung alarm bells). On the eve of my interview, my adopted mum from the Serbian family I was staying with told me with a look of bemusement that I looked like “a proper city-boy”. It was my 2nd investment banking interview, the first was with Morgan Stanley for an industrial placement that I well and truly fluffed.

I thought I was ready this time. I landed up at the shiny glass building late. I took my seat among the last group of candidates and nervously looked at the baby sharks: there was a Bulgarian girl, a Chinese guy, a German girl and an Irish guy, all sizing up each others’ shiny suits. We went into a room and the five of us were put through mental reasoning tests. I fumbled and trudged my way through the exercises my peers were racing through. There was an exercise where we had to put 24 different callers in touch with each-other across the correct 12 different time-zones in 2 minutes using playing cards. I knew the gig was up. I was not like these people. After the tests, all 60 candidates stood in the lobby and I started a conversation with some of them about the questions. I was making jokes about how fresh hires would have to spend the first year patching calls through and making coffee and I had an audience! A group of people listened to me in a semi-circle before the results came. A lady began announcing the names.

“Julie Adkins, Jamie Bains, Anushka Chatterjee…” she read. My surname had been missed. I hoped they were announcing them in random order but in my heart I knew I’d missed the cut. She finished reading and asked the sharks to step into another room for personal interviews while the rest of us were thanked for coming and asked to hand in our travel receipts for reimbursement. 

I realized this whole song and dance was something I had to go through to get the lure of being a shark out of my system. All the tests, all the suits, all the prep and all those names that weren’t mine had finally showed me that I was not cut out to work in finance. Maybe what they do isn’t meant for me? That day I was sure. It felt awful. It felt like failure. But now, when I talk to my friends who work in the City of London, I am somewhat relieved I hadn’t gotten that job. I’m not sure I would have lasted a day in the world. It gave me closure. I told the directors at Forbes the same story at my interview and I can’t help but feel it endeared me a little to that room of journalists. They weren’t sharks either.

Beiersdorf: Playing with the Grown-Ups

I wanted this job bad. Very bad. I thought I had all the bases covered. I had done an internship with them in Birmingham. I had the mentoring and recommendation of a senior manager within the company. I met all the requirements. My language skills were a perfect fit. I was best friends with a guy who had been selected through exactly the same scheme and had access to all his inside knowledge. The pot of gold was a 24-month traineeship based in Hamburg, on a great salary, for one of the biggest companies in Germany. I had gotten through the initial selection, the online tests and the 2nd round questions. All that was left was the phone interview – which I’d been told was simple – and then the assessment centre for which I’d be flown to Hamburg.

My friend told me exactly the questions that would be asked. I spent a week preparing meticulously. The truth is, I took the telephone interview too lightly. I did not account for the interviewer being a very, very, direct, German lady. I answered her questions too elaborately, using the best English I could muster. I didn’t understand whether she expected a longer or shorter answer because sometimes she would cut me off and sometimes she would pause and say “is that all?” after I’d given my response. But I was still doing OK. The spanner in the works was a question about strategy. She asked me how Beiersdorf had changed its global strategy and I did not have an answer. In all my preparation, in all my endeavor to sell myself the best I could, I hadn’t paid enough attention to the company and it killed me. She said, damningly, “this is something you should know”. And when she told me the answer, I realized I did know it. The head of the UK division had announced it during my internship but I wasn’t paying enough attention.

I went to London for the weekend because I knew I’d blown it. A few days later she called me again and gave me the inevitable bad news. She told me that I was competing against 20 others for 10 places in the assessment centre and all of them had Masters Degrees and 5 years on me. It taught me how much attention I need to pay to the company I’m applying to. Looking back now, it was a school boy error but every application I’ve earnestly filled in since then was backed by painstaking research. My interview with Forbes was no different. I read the magazine, I read up about the magazine, I read about the people who worked there and where they worked before, I made tables to group the kinds of articles it featured and the angles those articles took. It threw up many insights I’d have otherwise ignored. If I was going to get rejected again, it would not be due to lack of homework.

Demand Analytics: Bringing Ideas to the Table

After realizing that with the new visa regulations in the UK and EU, my lowly Bachelor’s Degree and I would stand next to no chance of being sponsored, I shifted my focus to the Far East. I looked for a way back to Hong Kong, the greatest city in the world. I chanced upon an opening in a company that crunched “big data” to give retail businesses consumer insights. I am no slouch on Excel and the company was a young start-up run by interesting people who stated explicitly that they would sponsor a work permit. I wrote a good cover letter, maybe one of the most buoyant, passionate I’ve ever written and it got me a Skype interview.

The head of the company was a lovely young Dutch guy called Mart and we had a new-age interview: he turned on his webcam, made himself a coffee and plonked himself down on his beanbag. For once during a job interview, was completely myself. I felt at ease speaking honestly and openly because he felt like one of the many friends I’d made at university. It was a fun, enjoyable chat and when we said our goodbyes and closed our Skype windows, I honestly thought I’d nailed it. I sang like a bird at lunch and told my parents everything that had happened. In my stupor I began imagining living in Hong Kong again. I imagined playing cricket at HKCC, walking down Lang Kwai Fong on a Saturday night and just sitting on the Star Ferry on a Tuesday evening, watching that skyline do its thing.

A couple days later, I got an email from Mart thanking me for taking time out to talk to him but politely rejecting my application. I was crushed. The pain was amplified because I thought this was the perfect fit: a young company, a great city and an enthusiastic Shravan. I asked Mart for some feedback and to his immense, immeasurable credit he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten – advice I’m still grateful for today. He said I was exactly the profile of person they needed and that I met the requirements but I did not do or say anything to set myself apart. I didn’t offer any ideas of my own about how I wanted to take the company forward. I didn’t seem as if I was 10000% confident that I would be a director at this company in a few years, leading it in a direction I was already beginning to plan for. I was far too focused on ticking off the bullet points on the job description and not invested enough in what I’d actually be doing there.

When I came to interview at Forbes, I came full of ideas. I came convinced that not only was I going to get the job, but that I was going to contribute actively in the way the magazine ran. I think I spoke with passion about what I liked and didn’t like at other publications and what best practices we could implement. I talked about my Excel skills and lo and behold, I’ve put them to good use so far.

I don’t know if I’m a good journalist, but I know that I’ve worked as hard as I possibly could to get here and stay here. After second guessing myself for the better part of a year, I’m going to allow myself to feel proud of my job now. 

(If you’re reading this as you’re a graduate, looking for a job in times when they aren’t really looking for you then I wish you all the best. I know what it feels like. I remember the warm, tingly feeling you get as you hit send on that email, having quadruple checked all your attachments and spell-checked each paragraph. I always spent the five minutes after sending off an application I’d spent days working on, naively imagining what life would be like if I landed the position. The optimist in me always saw myself a year or two down the line, looking back on that day when I sent off that email. I look back now in the same way. I didn’t get any those jobs and maybe I would have loved them. Maybe they would have been even better for me. But I’m sitting here at work at 8:21pm on a Friday night and I have absolutely no qualms. I hope that when you get the break I did, you remember the reasons why you received those rejection emails and not the disappointing emails themselves. Someone will realize they need you.)