Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Once you're behind by one pawn...

  • Some interesting tidbits I've learned recently: One, the 'Soap Opera' was invented by Proctor and Gamble as a substrate to advertise and sell... you guessed it... soap. Number two, Sherlock Holmes exhibited textbook characteristics of autism. Three, according to Rushdie Jodhaa was actually a figment of Akbar's imagination that he convinced everyone was real. These are the things you learn by listening to the radio folks!
  • There is this old kaka at Manav Sadhna (MS) who is notorious for talking people's heads off. People who know him warn the uninitiated to avoid him at all costs. He's one of these guys who loves to give advice to the point of being patronizing, and also seems to have been involved in most of the important events in human history. My friend Amit, a medical student from Canada, one day decided, screw it, I'm going to talk to this guy and see what he has to say. He sits down with him, and the very first thing the old man says is, "Ask." That's it. Ask. Period. What a way to start a conversation with a person you've never met! Ballsy! I was flabbergasted by the charisma this old man showed. Unfortunately when I tried it myself I only got confused (potentially dirty) looks.
  • Last weekend I was at MS playing games with the kids. I teamed up with a local dude, Nikunj, who was also volunteering. We spent most of that afternoon playing with the kids together and chatting it up in Gujarati. At the end of the day he offers to drive me home. On the ride I come to find out that he did his MBA in Florida, and he finds out that I'm actually an NRI from California. We could speak English to each other! Good, he told me, because he was concerned earlier. Why, I ask him. Because I assumed you had a speech disability based on the way you speak Gujarati. So slow and deliberate. :( First time someone's told me they thought I was retarded , I swear.
  • I've noticed that I unconsciously migrate to the right side of streets when I'm walking. Just feels more natural.
  • The other day I was talking with friends and told them I have come to realize that Nipun is a billionaire. He's filthy rich. It's just that all of his wealth is in social capital, instead of dollars.
  • Last night I was at Seva Cafe with Madhu and Meghna, Samir, and a few other friends to hang out, maybe eat, but generally to take in the vibe. Madhu and I are sitting on the swing when he remarks that this whole matrix, MS, Seva Cafe, etc. that they have moved from Bombay to be a part of is a 'bubble'. All the generosity, compassion, joy that really underlies this whole scene. Is it real? Is it wrong? I responded that I thought it was indeed a bubble, but for the world to change it's going to take a million of these bubbles sprouting up everywhere, so it ain't bad. Then I told him that I've never felt comfortable living in an existing bubble; I've always been of the mind of creating my own bubble for others to enjoy. Is it ego?
  • One re-occurring theme I've been observing around me since I got here is chess. It started when I was walking around the laris at Law Garden and noticed some of the street cooks huddled around a chess board behind their little food stall. Then this dude at DSC asks me how to play online and then we get to playing. Then folks break out a board at MS. Now at DSC we've got a physical set of pieces and a board we printed out on paper from the Internet. I've been playing with a couple co-workers. One of the guys I play with is really good. So far I haven't been able to crack him. I play well against him, but eventually I make a bad move and he never seems to make one. I can't find any holes in his game. After one match he tells me that in chess, as soon as you get behind your opponent by a single pawn, you've lost. After that it's just a matter of pressure and time, as Red said. It made me think of a story I heard about Harlem Children's Zone, a program which realized that to fundamentally shift their community away from the cycle of poverty, it's going to take more than an after school program or two with a few hundred kids. They would have to go big. So they decided to start a program which would include all 10,000 kids in Harlem. Wow. And on top of that, the program would begin for the kid at birth, and end when she graduated college. All the way through. Their insight was that it's the little things you do when the kid is age 0 to 3 which have the huge ramifications. They were inspired by a study which compared a family on welfare to a professional one, and found the number one difference was that the professionals' kids heard 20 million more words than the welfare kids from age 0 to 3. Also, the professionals' kids heard a vast majority encouraging remarks, whereas the welfare kids heard a majority discouraging remarks. So HCZ started Baby College, which talks to parents about not hitting their kids and reading to them, and how these little things make a huge difference. Results? The first batch of kids through the program, who come mostly from poor, single-parent families, had above average math and verbal scores in 3rd grade. Now Obama wants to replicate Harlem Children's Zone throughout the country as a model for ending poverty in America. The story reinforced Gladwell's point in Outliers that hidden head starts people get in society are the real reasons for success. Give back one pawn early, and it can make all the difference.