Sunday, December 15, 2013

Manav Sadhna Football 2013

After over three years, the Manav Sadhna Football Program continues to march on, driven by the enthusiasm and dedication of its players. Below is an update from the past year.



Sunday morning practices have remained an anchor-point for the program. An average of 20 players (out of ~25 total) come to practice and play from 7am-12pm. The practices follow a standard format: warmup/running, stretching, passing and dribbling drills, shooting/small sided games, scrimmage, prayer and snacks. Over the last year the players have shown significant improvement in their ball control and passing skills. Our team is small and physically weaker than most of the competition, so our philosophy is to play with higher skill. We cannot outrun our opponents, so we try to out-pass and out-think them. This is one of the reasons we have modeled our play after FC Barcelona, who became the best team in world emphasizing passing and teamwork.



In the past two months the team has participated in two local soccer tournaments. The first was hosted by Kaahani, one of Ahmedabad's top soccer clubs. In Kahaani's Sintex Cup, Manav Sadhna's team participated in the under-15 division, which prevented some of our best players from playing. Yet the team gave a strong showing for two matches. In the first match, Manav Sadhna conceded two quick goals in the first half due to lack of organization on defense. We struggled to keep up with the speed of the opposing players and the large space they were suddenly tasked with defending. After the second goal we settled down considerably. In the second half, we held the opponent to a 0-0 draw. In the second game, the team faced a superior opponent who picked our team apart. The score was easily run up to double digits, with our team having perhaps one strong scoring opportunity. It was a thorough beating. However, the team responded with resolve to improve and practiced hard for their next tournament match, which was held several weeks later as part of Gujarat's Khel Mahakumbh. It was a single elimination tournament with thousands of teams from all over Gujarat participating. Matches were only 20 minutes. In our first match, Manav Sadhna drew a strong but equally matched opponent. The game was intensely played and our team did well to keep organized on the defensive end. The game ended in a 0-0 draw, and went to a penalty shoot-out. In the shoot-out, our players were confident but ultimately came up short, losing 3-1. The players were absolutely devastated. They had come so close to their first victory! After the match, the players sat silently together waiting for the bus, not speaking a word for 15 minutes. They were very disappointed with the outcome. However, as has become a trademark of these children, they bounced back up. With the clear goal of winning their next match in mind and within reach, they have come much more prepared and focused to practice.


Challenges: Field and Equipment

The program continues to struggle with two main challenges: adequate equipment for the children and adequate practice facility. Some players still lack shoes. Shoes, socks, and balls especially wear out fast due to inappropriate field conditions. Currently the team practices in the abandoned lot area across the street from Gandhi Ashram, next to Vinay Mandir. This is a hard dirt area that is uneven and very rocky. The children are uncomfortable practicing in cleats on this hard ground for long periods of time. Also, the game's flow is interrupted because of the unpredictable terrain. It is unfortunate that the children still lack a proper place to grow their skills. With an open grass field, the children would be able to play in game-like conditions and also be able to practice aspects of the game that are difficult or impossible on hard ground/dirt (tackling, positional tactics, shooting and set pieces, etc.)

Personal Reflections

I continue to be very moved by participating in the Football Program. First and foremost, I am inspired by the children. They have developed a true love and passion for this game. They are dedicated to being better players. They go beyond what is asked of them to improve. In Jamalpur, for example, the players organize their own practices during the week. And they point out that they don't just play matches, they run drills and do exercises that they learned from Sunday practices. Despite having limited open space and lots of trash around, they are able to carry on their practice. One thing they especially work on is juggling the ball individually and in groups. When we first introduced juggling a few months ago, players could keep the ball in the air for a only a few touches. Now, almost all can juggle 10 and some up to 50 touches. Group juggling has become a fun and lively game.

It is a joy to be a part of a program where the children themselves drive things. We do not have to push the players to practice more; they are the ones pushing the coaches to extend practice for an extra hour or organize more matches. They have made it clear through their consistent commitment that they want to improve and grow with the game. One of the signature stories I tell about the dedication of these children is the Jamalpur players' Sunday morning routine. Living on the other side of the city, they wake up at 5am on Sunday morning to catch a bus by 6am, which brings them to Manav Sadhna for practice by 7. All by themselves, with no one other than each other to be accountable to. And this is on Sunday, one of their precious days off!

One of the most memorable moments I've had with the children was the practice we had two days after being blown out of the match at Sintex Cup. I was curious to see how the players would approach the practice having experienced a very discouraging loss. Would they see practice as hopeless and not put in the effort? Before the practice started, I reminded them that in sports, there is always one team that has to lose. The question isn't whether you will lose, because every team loses. The important question is how you respond to losing. Do you hang your head or do you learn from the loss and work on your weaknesses even harder? They took the message to heart and worked very hard that day. It was probably the best practice we had all year.

Going forward, it will be mine and the other coaches' main responsibility to offer more opportunities for these players to improve. Whether it is more tournaments and matches, better coaching and training, and/or better facilities and equipment, we have to make sure that we don't put a ceiling on the players' development and instead let them fly as far as their wings will take them. So far the players have shown real talent; it makes me hopeful that some day one of our players will make it to the national level.

Football (and sports in general) is a powerful medium to make better human beings. Having grown up as an athlete, I never recognized or appreciated the things football instilled in me until I began coaching these children. Football, in particular, teaches so many important life skills. Discipline, work ethic, teamwork, cooperation, communication, flexibility, even empathy and generosity. It is such a fluid game, each player is so interdependent on the other. My team will only succeed if I put my teammates in better positions to make a good pass or take a shot. So I have to care for and go the extra mile for my teammates.

Over time, I have seen a shift in the children. Most of these children have very challenged backgrounds, growing up in harsh environments. It is not their nature to cooperate with each other and communicate in positive ways. Early on, we often used to see teammates stopping to berate each other in the middle of the game, not realizing that they were doubly hurting their team by being negative and stopping their own play to do so. But over time, I have heard their vocabulary change. They are much more encouraging to each other. Nowadays, you are much more likely to hear "well done!" or "good defense!" than a negative comment on the field.

It is a blessing to be a part of these children's lives, to give them love and to receive so much love from them. This experience has shown me how important sports have been in my life, how much they have molded me to the person I am today. Coaching these children, I see how much influence my own coaches had on my personality. And I feel deeply moved to use the medium of sports to bring a positive influence on these children's lives.

Last but not least, I want to recognize and thank Rahulbhai. This program stands on his shoulders, he is the backbone. He is boundlessly dedicated to these children and supporting their growth. He comes to practice on his only day off from regular duties as arts teacher at Manav Sadhna. He never misses a practice or game, and is never late. He brings energy, tough love, and committed strength to this program. I feel fortunate and blessed to be working with him on this project.

Support The Team

We are seeking support for equipment and building a proper practice field for the MS Football Program. We welcome gifts of cash and in-kind. We would also welcome those who are moved to come and volunteer their time with the team. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help, please contact me at neilpatel AT gmail.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Last month I went on a 8-day trip to Ladkah. I went with Paras who was celebrating the end of his medical training. We spent two days in Leh, where we acclimated to the high altitude while visiting nearby Buddhist hotspots and Pangong Lake, the site of the final scene in 3 Idiots. After that we disappeared into the Markha Valley, where we trekked for four nights and five days through ~100kms of beautiful wild country.

We took about 1000 photos collectively, below I've compiled into about 200 to tell a story of the trip:

A few memorable takeaways from the trip not captured in the photos:

* In life we have to walk our path. While we tend to focus on the physical obstacles, the most onerous are mental. If you have fear and doubt as you walk your path, each step is made that much heavier and thus incrementally the destination becomes harder to reach or goes out of reach. On the fourth day of our trek, we walked the grueling span between Hankar and Nimaling. We were told the hike would take us 3-4 hours. After 6-7 hours, we began wondering whether we had taken a wrong turn. On one hand, the path was clearly marked out in front of us; the guide book described our scenery with the mountain on one side, the river on the other, the plains we were traversing, all exactly as we were seeing it. But fear and doubt had crept in all the way back during the third or fourth hour, questioning whether we were going the right way. And each step since then had chipped away at our confidence. I went ahead up the trail without my pack to see if we saw Nimaling's tent village past the next clearing. I went expectantly to look for it, but saw nothing. Coming back to Paras, we decided to head back along the trail and re-trace our steps, thinking we had gone astray. I started fitting the facts to the imagined reality that we were lost. Maybe we should have stayed with the river where there was a faint trail, maybe we were on a trail that was not shown in our trail maps. Fortunately after about 30 min going back we ran right into a group that had been trailing us. Their guide confirmed we were in fact going the right way all along. Relief! As it turned out, I had come just 3 minutes short of being able to see Nimaling when I had walked ahead. But I came short three minutes because of hours of doubt that had built up before that. Reflecting on that day, we had been on the correct path all along. Had we stayed confident and committed to that path, we would have met our goal. But we walked the correct physical path with a mental state of doubt and fear. And that was enough to change the correct path to the wrong one and almost cost us our destination.

* During this trip I read an extraordinary book, "Three Steps, One Bow" by Hung Ju and Hung Yo of the Gold Mountain Monastery in SF. It was gifted to me by Aarthi, who coincidentally had just traveled to Ladakh herself. This was one of the best books I have ever read, one of those rare ones where you never want it to end and despair as the thickness of unread pages dwindles thinner and thinner. It spoke to me clearly and deeply. The two monks chronicle their daily experiences during an 1,100 mile bowing pilgrimage from San Francisco to Marblemount, WA. The pilgrimage was amazing. It gave me great inspiration that anyone of us can do something great and meaningful. They faced incredible difficulties, from injuries to being arrested to being physically and verbally abused to nearly being hit by traffic. So many people tried to convert them or tell them they were crazy. But there were so many that were moved by the bowing monks. What I loved most about the book was how the monks themselves wrote and reflected. They were two just delightful, aware, humble, gentle, humorous dudes. I laughed so many times, and I teared up couple times too. I loved some of their reflections that were more spiritual:
  • To me, the river is a reminder of the ever-flowing stream of thought that runs in the mind. In Chinese, this flow is called wang syang (false thinking). This superflous cogitation is constantly making discriminations; dividing and categorizing, breaking up a fundamentally undifferentiated reality into myriads of pieces. Of course the pieces seem to be reality, too, but we become confused by these false projections, and greedily seek what we think is "good" and reject what is "bad". The superficial boundaries of "mine" and "others" are falsely established. From this arises quarreling and all manner of afflictions, up to and including world wars, and it's all simply because we are confused by this river of thought. -- Hung Ju
  • The Buddha says that in his efforts to describe the true mind, his is like someone who wishes to show a friend the full moon. He points to the moon with his finger, but the friend misunderstands and thinks that the finger is the object of attention. But he is doubly deluded, for not only does he not see the real moon, he doesn't see the finger for what it really is. Just as the pointing finger is not the moon, the language which is used to refer to or point out our inherent enlightenment is not itself enlightenment. One must be careful not to seize on language as ultimately true or real, of it is transcended by the fundamentally pure, clear Buddha-nature. --Hung Yo
I have a feeling I will keep these two monks and their journey in my mind and heart for a long time to come.

* An aha moment I had during this trek is that I have too much junk in my mind. I am increasingly growing disintersted in accumulating facts. At one point in life I thought being smart meant knowing the most facts. But there are so many useless facts in my head. Nowadays minimalism and simplicity are very popular design paradigms for physical and virtual spaces. I would like to take it one step further and apply minimalism to my inner space.  One of the most rewarding experiments I did on the trek was to completely empty my mind as I walked. For the entire five day trek, with the exception of a few hours here and there, we followed the Markha River through the valley that it had cut. The river was our loyal companion, and it Paras and I grew quite attached to it. I mentioned to him at one point that when we couldn't see it you could  sometimes feel separation anxiety. As I walked, I would try to concentrate so that my mind was totally empty of stray thoughts, and would try to fill my consciousness with the sound of the river and the feeling of my body as I moved. I found it deeply satisfying. What I got out of the practice was some experience in trying to be constantly aware and mentally still while doing intense physical activity. I feel that one ability I lack is taking deep mental stillness off the cushion and into daily life; this trek provided a good opportunity to practice in an intermediate context. I thank the Markha River for the help.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Living In India: Grow a Thick Skin, Desensitize

My uncle Babumama gives everyone this advice about living in India: "Never compare India to California. They are two different places. If you start comparing things between India and home, it will be a nightmare to live there."

Photo courtesy: Sameer Sampat

Over the years I've found this to be sage advice, and I repeat it to all would-be NRIs. Recently I stumbled into a corollary. I was in Delhi with Paras and Sampat. Sam has just moved to India from Boston, and he'll be here for two years. It was night and we were walking up the stairs to the metro from the street level. Off of the metro catwalk there was a row of large lights. Surrounding each light was a huge thick disgusting swarm of insects. It was so obscene all three of us noticed it at the same time.
Sam (Laughing in slight disbelief and disgust): Did you SEE that?!?
Me: I see it, but I don't see it.
If I had one sentence to describe what it's like to live in India, that would be it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Toilet And A Rainbow

Last week I was walking out of Patangyu with Anjali and out of a crack in the fence we spotted a woman limping up the hill from the dumping ground. Her ankle was wrapped in white gauze. A very old, very little woman was trying to help her walk. We went over to see if they needed help. The injured woman had a pained look on her face, squinting from her foot and the heat. She collapsed to the ground as we came over, exhausted from hopping up the hill. We offered to carry her back home. Rahul and I made a chair for her with our joined arms, we lifted her up and walked over to her house.

Once we got there Anjali got the story. The woman had taken a nasty fall and her ankle was badly sprained. The doctor had wrapped it up but given no medicine or further instructions. She was unable to walk on her own. She was so demobilized that she couldn't even go to the bathroom. And there was no one besides her mother, the little old woman, to attend to her. But the mother had a high fever herself, so was too weak to help. As a result the woman had stopped eating since her injury; that way she would not need to go to the bathroom. And since she wasn't eating, the mother stopped cooking, figuring there was no point to cook for just herself. None of her neighbors had offered assistance.

Clearly they were at a distressed low point. We walked out with Anji reassuring them that we would do something to help. She already had a plan. As we walked back to the car she said we would build the woman a toilet that she could use while her ankle recovered. We would get a plastic chair, cut a hole in the seat, and put a bucket underneath. We would also give her some sand which she could cover her waste to avoid odor. We would set it up inside their house; the mother would simply have to clean the bucket everyday. Once she had a way to go, she was free to start eating. Once she started eating, mother would start eating, and both would hopefully recover more quickly.

One of the things I admire most about Anji is that she is highly sensitive. In the sense that she has incredible powers of observation and awareness, and also in the sense that she has very deep empathy and willingness to connect with people in any circumstance. In this case most people would have stopped at helping this woman home and maybe listening to her sad story. Most people tend to keep chance encounters shallow. It's too messy to go deeper into people's lives, especially strangers. If you had to stop and get involved with every person you run into, you'd never get your work done! But that is Anji's work. She has an incredible fearless openness and curiosity to following threads, wherever they may lead. She recently shared how she was on her way somewhere, spotted a man eating some morsels on the side of the way, stopped to talk to him, and ended up canceling her other appointment to share a meal because "there was something interesting" about the man. Another time she told me she decided to walk home from Ganeshnagar through the Tekra and it took her three hours (normally 30 min) because family after family stopped to talk or invite her in for chai. In these and many situations she puts no self-imposed limit on how deep or how far she will go in connecting; she keeps it open-ended for fate to decide.

In this case fate had us building a toilet. After it became clear that there was nothing more to it than a bucket underneath a chair, I marveled at the elegance. This is what Ishwar Kaka must have fallen in love with! He would have been delighted and proud of this project. I was thrilled that something so simple could have a big impact on the woman. By cutting a hole in a chair and placing a bucket under, it would set off a chain of events that would help this woman live much more comfortably. It was reminiscent but seemed a lot less thorny than the time we tried to build a bridge for Ganeshnagar.

One thing I suffer from is tunnel vision. When I am doing a task, blinders go up so I can focus on the task and filter out the distractions. Linear thinker. It's good in a way, but one downside is I often miss elegant shortcuts or helpful leaps that I wasn't expecting. Anji has no such problem. She is a master at being aware of her surroundings and finding hidden resources everywhere. Spatial thinker. When we were walking down to the car with the chair and bucket, we were getting into the car and in front of us were some painters up on ladders doing some work on our building. Behind them was a pile of sand. Naturally it was spare, so we could help ourselves. Meanwhile she noticed the painters were carelessly splattering paint on the plants next to the wall. She asked them to be mindful because the plants are lives too.

We got back to Ganeshnagar and the Patangyu kids sprang into action to cut and deliver the toilet. We traced out a hole, which was done with much deliberation and with input from the females on the team. Rahul took the plastic chair into his house and heated up a small kitchen knife on the gas stove. When it got red hot he quickly pressed it into the chair on the traced line. He got the four edges started with the hot knife then finished it off with a saw. He was drenched in sweat working in a tight stuffy area with a hot knife and burning plastic fumes wafting around him. The cut came out perfect. It was magnificent work.

As a finishing touch the kids named the chair Santosh ("satisfaction" as in satisfaction of relief), drew a smiley and wrote the date to commemorate Patangyu company's first toilet prototype. We brought it to the woman who accepted it and agreed to use it and also to eat. We placed the chair and bucket in a carefully chosen place in her one-room home to conveniently sit, access water to clean herself, easily get to the sand, and not be in the way of other stuff. Anji checked on their food supplies, they seemed ok. She handed the woman some packets of Advil to help with the pain, but reminded her that she could only take them with food.

As we walked back with the kids one of them spotted a rainbow. It was faint, but it was definitely there. I thought it was a fitting way to mark the conclusion of the adventure.

To me this story is remarkable in many ways. If you asked Anjali, she probably wouldn't agree. That's what makes it so remarkable. This is her life, this is how she lives. Actually, this is who she is. I just happened to be there that day, but these sorts of episodes are a routine part of her life. This story captures Anjali in a nutshell. This is her essence.

I think for outsiders looking in it is an inspiration to see how living a life that is open to and even strives toward depth of interaction at every turn becomes a rich life, a life worth living.

Monday, August 19, 2013


My favorite shopping experience in India is at a store called Hypercity. It is a combination of Walmart and Safeway. The chain of stores originated in Bombay, there is one in Ahmedabad in Alpha Mall, the city's best mall.

I appreciate that Hypercity is spotlessly neat-and-clean, it has great selection of items, the store is arranged with space and planning, and is affordable. Lots of food items including organic, fresh produce, good quality household items and electronics, all at reasonable prices. But what I love most about Hypercity is that it has friendly and helpful staff. In India the concept of customer service basically doesn't exist yet. So it is a pleasant and welcome surprise to see that people at Hypercity actually want to do a good job and care about satisfying the customer.

Recently I purchased some furniture from Hypercity: two beds and two wardrobes. I had to pay by check, which I carefully wrote out and handed to the salesman. He went to bring me the bill but came back saying I had written Hypercity Ltd. as the payee, instead of Hypercity India Ltd., so the check could not be processed. Unfortunately this was my last check. The salesman acknowledged it was his mistake. That was a big step. Then he tried to figure out a solution, another big step. The store was far away, it wasn't easy for me to just come over the next day with a payment. We decided that I would go to the bank and get a new check the next day, and they would send someone to my office to pick it up. Meanwhile they would hold on to the items I ordered and not give them away. I thought this was risky, because it would be typical for something in this plan to go wrong. Either they wouldn't show up to get the check, or the items would disappear. But I had no choice.

So next day I get the check ready and sure enough a Hypercity boy comes to my office and picks it up. The next day I get a call from Hypercity saying the check didn't clear; my account had insufficient funds. It turned out that my bank had issued me new checks for the wrong bank account. This is a typical move by my bank, but the nightmare of personal banking in India is the subject of a whole other series of expose blog posts. I told Hypercity I'd have to go back to the bank and get the right checks, and they would have to send someone again. This time I apologized, and the sales guy (who was the same contact from the beginning so I wasn't stuck having to explain the situation to ten different guys) understood and said it was fine. At the end of the day he still felt bad that all of this happened because he botched the payee name for the original check.

Next day the I get the check and again the pickup happens by Hypercity. Later that day I get another call from Hypercity saying there is now another problem. Uh oh, I thought. I knew this was going to happened. No way so many steps were going to be taken without a setback that collapsed the whole house. Either my items were gone or the check had another issue or some other issue.

The salesman said problem was that the price of one of my items had changed since I was first in the store. When he said that I felt the frustration rising. There it is! Now these guys are going to use this disastrous situation which was their own doing to gouge me for more money. But what the salesman said next totally shocked me and took my breath away. The price of the item had gone down and that my new total was less than the original. He just called to ask whether I wouldn't mind taking the difference as store credit. The only catch was I'd have to go into the store to personally claim the credit.

This floored me. Never in all my years in India had such a thing happened. Hypercity was going out of their way to give me a discount! The guy didn't have to do it. How would I have ever known that the price had dropped? He could easily have pocketed the difference through some corruption in their transaction system. And after all that we went through, all the extra work and effort on both sides to finish this transaction, he may have even considered it justified.

But instead they made a customer into a loyal customer. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Later when I went to the store to spend my credit, I bought some chocolate for all of the sales team, many of whom knew me and helped make my final outcome happen. They were reluctant and humble, and very appreciative. Many of them now know me by name and I know them, and we greet each other with a smile when I'm back at the store.

There is hope for customer service to exist in India. Hypercity is a beacon of that bright future.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Made me think of Sam

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vehicular Liberation

I started driving last week. I haven't gotten my own car yet, but Maddog let me borrow his 2003 Maruti Zen. After the very first day taking the car out, I felt my lifestyle had fundamentally changed. It was a surprising shift. All of a sudden I felt liberated. I felt empowered to go where I want, when I wanted. It felt a lot closer to my life in California, where I feel the most free and in control.

I have been trying to understand why having a car has changed my life so deeply. After all, before I still could go where I wanted, when I wanted. In theory. Getting around by rickshaw isn't hard in Ahmedabad. They are plentiful, you can usually find one within a few minutes, and you can pay set prices by the meter. So what's the big difference?

I've come up with several reasons. One, you sometimes do have to wait, and in certain places or times of the day it's tough finding a rickshaw at all. Two, you can't stop or change directions as easily. Three, drivers never carry enough change, so there is always background tension about paying for your ride. Four, there is always a chance the driver will try to rip you off or take you the long way, which is another source of background tension. Five, you're exposed to the elements, especially heat, rain, and pollution.

All of these are small inconveniences that when aggregated together over months and years makes for a less pleasurable experience. One thing most of the above reasons have in common is they are inconveniences experienced each time you ride a rickshaw. They are the transaction costs of rickshaw traveling. And each of these transactions carries a bit of tension with it. I think it's the 5-6 extra transactions a day that wore me down over time. You hardly notice it during the act, but once you don't have to do it, you are aware of your new-found freedom. With a car the main transaction is paying at the petrol station, but of course that's one transaction amortized across lots more traveling.

I wonder how improved life would be if we made "minimize/eliminate transactions" a design principle for society.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Invisible Art

The other day in the office I was speaking with an engineering candidate for his final round interview. We were looking at some code and I was explaining our architecture. Later on Hemakshi remarked to me, "You were so excited to talk about code!". I didn't realize it at the time, but I really was. Since I'm the only engineer on the team, I rarely get to do it, nor does the team hear me talk about it. But once we got into the discussion and the guy showed interest and asked good questions, it was really fun and engaging to talk about this body of work I have been chipping away at for the better part of the last four years.

I take a lot of pride in writing code. I'm not an elite software developer, but I try very hard to write clean, maintainable, intuitive, well-documented code. Only after Hemakshi made her comment did I realize that all of that writing will largely go unobserved by the rest of the world.

Software developers spend countless hours on a craft largely invisible to a viewing audience. The outward manifestation is certainly visible as end-user software, but the code will pretty much never be seen. The only chance for significant amounts of your code to be seen/scrutinized/admired is if you are a core developer on a popular open source project. And even then it's only other hackers. Otherwise for all to rest of us slogging it out in our little corners of github, no one cares. Maybe you can organize a party with your college buddies where you take turns projecting up some stuff you've been hacking on for work. But who would ever do that? And besides, it would mostly be illegal. Jo can't show me his Pixar code, if he did I'd later have to be shot.

But to me programming is art; at the very least it is creative self-expression. It's sad that a genre of art that so many people pour themselves into isn't shared/shareable. Out of fear that I will die without ever getting a chance to talk about my code to a general audience, here we go:

This is a part of our software's data model definition. Our data model has been really successful; it's stood the test of time quite well. There is one major mistake I made in it early on (created two different models for a user at a time when I didn't know you can cross-reference models from different Django applications) and few deprecated fields, but all-in-all a very neat and flexible data model. 

Not only am I proud of what the code does, but I'm proud of how it's written and commented. I've not worked much on large software teams, so I don't have a sense for what is good commenting, but I try to comment as much as possible, especially in the last year or so as I realized other folks will soon be working on it.

I would love for there to be an art exhibit on people's code. The MoMa should have an installation where people put up beautiful codes on the walls. I would totally go and marvel at different hacks in different languages. The exhibit should include a snippet from Nipun's ServiceSpace code, who has spent over a decade developing a multi-100K lines codebase mostly as a one-man engineering team. From the little I've worked on it, I can say it is tremendous, and the same attention to detail he puts into everything he does shows up in his code.

I imagine the MoMa Code exhibit would have the ribbon cut by Knuth, although my personal choice would be RMS since he's the Rick Rubin of software.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Driving License

I recently got an Indian driver's license. People here call it a driving license. Getting my license took many steps and much time, combining hilarity and insanity.

The process of getting an Indian driver's license can be summarized as a big charade. A license is an official government document, so there has to be real process with a real institution behind it. But as I learned, that process is highly bendable and even breakable. What was even more stunning was how hard it was to not bend the process. In other words, going through the process by the book required going out of your way to such an extent that it made attempting it highly unusual and/or insane.

How do I know this? It just so happened that my friend Shital was attempting to get her license at the same time I was. Shital is from the U.S., so we faced similar technical difficulties in getting a license. My approach to address the difficulties was to work through an agent, who provided you instruction on how to drive as well as steer you through the process of obtaining the license with the RTO (India's DMV). Basically, an agent is a middle man who has special relationships with the right people at the RTO to get your license in a frictionless way. Agents are not illegal; in fact the RTO pretty much endorses them. Shital decided to try without an agent. She rightly argued that using an agent is participation in a corrupted system, and the system will not change unless people resist it. More on how that turned out later.

My agent was named Bablubhai. He has a driving school (code for agency) on Ashram Road. Bablu was recommended by my rickshaw driver Narendra. My main criteria for an agent were dependability, quality of instruction, and cost. Bablubhai said he would get me my license without any trouble or delay. He gives the best instructions in town; students from one of the competing agencies nearby even come to him for lessons after failing to properly learn the first time. The other agencies teach in crappy cars, he gives lessons in a  higher-end Honda Brio. He seemed professional and confident.

Bablubhai's driving lessons consisted of 15 sessions of 30 minutes each. My instructor was Bablubhai's 20-something employee Chirag. Chirag and I would meet in front of the driving school, hop in the Brio, and go meandering around the area, driving in normal traffic so I could get a feel for it. Lot of the complexity in learning was taken away because I knew how to drive stick-shift; I could just focus on learning the ways of Indian traffic.

Much has been made about the chaos of Indian traffic, how there are no lanes and people honk lustily while avoiding cows and carts and cycles. How bigger has right of way over smaller, the exact opposite of America. How there is no "letting someone pass" or regard for traffic rules, and the culture is dog-eat-dog. All of this turns out to be true. In fact, my instructor Chirag would remind me of this constantly. He knew I came from a place where there was order and respect for rules. His catchphrase was "Kai 'rules and regulations' nathi" ("There are no rules and regulations").

I got the hang of the roads relatively quickly. Overall, I learned two main tricks for driving effectively and safely in India. The first is to drive slow. There is so much stuff happening around you. If you're driving fast, you may not be able to process everything in time and so your chances of mishap increase. The easiest way around that is to just drive slow. No one will honk at you for it, they will just maneuver around you and keep moving. The second trick I learned was to not look at any rear view mirrors. If you start looking around, you will freak out because there's all kinds of shit happening. It's better to keep a narrow focus and drive straight. If you mind yourself and don't make any sudden movements, everyone else around you will basically do the same thing and you will all get through it.

In Indian driving, there are no mistakes. People aren't going to get upset when you linger after a light has turned green or you brake suddenly. There's so much chaos that anything "wrong" you do at the individual level just blends in with the rest of the chaos. It's all part of the game, and there are no mistakes.

One of the most important and non-intuitive things to realize about driving in India is that knowing how to drive is a totally different matter from getting a license. In the U.S., the system is that having a license proves you know how to drive. In other words, the system is set up so you can't get a license unless you know how to drive. That's not how it works in India. In India, it is possible to get a license without never having driven, let alone being comfortable on the road. In fact, many people get a license, and after that seek out lessons to learn how to drive. This ridiculous situation is borne out of the fact (or perhaps reflects it) that the RTO is corrupt and fundamentally broken.

A few lessons into my learning I scheduled a time with Bablubhai to go to the RTO and get my kaachhu license (learner's permit).

The RTO in Ahmedabad is a deceptively huge building on aptly named RTO Circle near Ranip. Inside, it is a damp dingy labyrinth. As I walked through the various dark corridors looking for Bablubhai, I glanced into room after room full of dreary gray shelves to the ceiling full of old stained papers and documents. Around these shelves sat agents relentlessly doing paperwork.  Stacks of papers all around them, not a single computer in sight. I met Bablu, who led me hastily through this and that corridor. Bablubhai is a little man who moves like a torpedo missile. I had trouble keeping up with him. As he walked he would engage people he knew with a warm smile and how-do-you-do chit-chat. He talked a mile a minute. It occurred to me that Bablubhai's job was predicated on maintaining as many good relationships with as many people in the RTO as possible. We eventually entered one of the stacked rooms and parked in front of a fat man doing paperwork. Before we went to him, Bablu had advised me to not speak unless spoken to, and to let him do all the talking. My case was a bit sensitive because I was a US citizen and so didn't have any local ID. But with some sweet talking Bablu got a signed paper through that let me take the test for a learning license.

A few days earlier, Bablubhai had given me a book to study for the multiple choice test. I would have to answer 11 of 15 questions correctly about traffic rules and regulations. Instead of giving me a book of rules, though, Bablubhai gave me a book of all the questions (with answers) that would be asked on the test. If I just memorized all those questions, there would be no problem passing.

And of course he was right. I got called into the test room with a group of others. The room had computers in cubicles against all four walls. We sat at the cubicles and took the exam. I sat down and got question after question, each of which I recognized. I didn't have to even finish reading the question or read all the answers; I had memorized the location of the right answer. It took me 3 minutes to answer the first eleven questions I saw correctly. I went outside and around the corner, where I collected a crudely laminated black-and-white postcard sized printout of my photo and some identification details. I had my learner's permit!

I had 15 guaranteed 30-minute lessons with Chirag, but ended up only going through 13 because I had gotten the hang of it and a month had elapsed since I got my learner's permit, so I was eligible to go for my paaku license (official license). So on a Wednesday I showed up at 8:30 sharp as per Bablu's instructions to the RTO to take my road test.

I walked into the RTO's big dirt parking lot and found a buzz of activity. There were clusters of people, maybe 100 total, around 5-6 parked cars that belonged to a number of agencies around town. I found Bablu's cluster, he was busily filling out forms for all of his students who had shown up for the test. I tapped him on the shoulder; the look he gave me indicated he'd forgotten he had asked me to come. He pulled out a fresh form and scribbled my details on it. He asked if I knew how to drive a two-wheeler (motorcycle/scooter). I panicked; why the hell was he asking me that? Is it a part of my driving test? I was thrown off because he should know the answer, he was the one giving me driving lessons. I told him no, and he hung his head for a second. Then he said, "Don't worry, I'll handle that part of the test for you, just stand where I tell you to stand." As he scampered away I caught him and told him I wanted to do the test the "right" way; I didn't want any special treatment. This was a promise I had made to Shital, who inspired me by not giving into the corrupt agent system. He brushed me off. Sure sure, you will be taking the same test as everyone else.

As I stood around waiting for Bablu or someone else to tell me what to do, I noticed that some people were there for a car license, others for a two-wheeler license. The two-wheeler tests began first. Bablu stood next to an RTO agent, handing him a form from his stack to test each of his students one at a time. The two-wheeler test was ridiculous. You had to drive a motorcycle in a small figure eight in front of the RTO agent. That was it. It took no more than 20 seconds. Some people couldn't even do the figure eight, one lady could only take the cycle straight and couldn't turn. She drove into a crowd of people, braked just in time, got off the bike, and walked it back to the instructor. I think she passed. At one point Bablubhai handed the agent a form and then got on the scooter himself and did a sad stunted go-through-the-motions figure eight. I was pretty sure he was taking the two-wheeler test on my behalf.

The car test was just as absurd. I was able to go first out of Bablu's students since I was the NRI. We formed a line next to Bablu's car and a path was cleared 100 meters long ahead. The test was to drive in a straight line for those 100 meters. I got into the car with an RTO instructor in the passenger seat and another in the back. The one in the back sat with the stack of forms and handed the front agent one at a time to administer the test. I got in and buckled my seat belt, and waited. The agent, with no preamble, told me to turn on the car and drive forward. I did that, but worked slowly to not mess anything up. He was in a bigger rush, so he kept urging me to speed up. I started driving forward gingerly, making sure that I don't stall out the car. The agent said, "Go go!". The car had the two sets of driving pedals since it was an instructional vehicle. The agent put his own foot to his pedal and carried us to the finish line. I asked him if I should reverse back; I had noticed from other tests going on that people went forward and back. "No, that is all. Please sign this paper, you are finished." I signed and got out of the car. I wasn't even sure if I had passed, the agent didn't indicate one way or the other. I walked over to Bablubhai and asked him if that was it. Did I pass? He replied, "Well, did you sign the form? You can go home now."

Three weeks later, I got my license in the mail. It felt triumphant, and I was proud. On the other hand I looked back at the process and it felt like a big joke. Any fool can get a license, you don't even need to know how to drive. I used low-level corruption, and even worse it seemed like it was the only way to do things. Poor Shital is still in the process of getting her kaachu license; the first time she went to the RTO, they refused to let her take the computer test because she didn't have a document proving she had a residence in Ahmedabad (even though she did). They said her rental agreement was invalid because it wasn't notarized. Unfortunately she couldn't get it notarized because her landlord was in the U.S.. She argued with a number of people until she made it to a hidden room in the RTO where the head man sat. He was sympathetic to her cause, but one of the lower-level ladies refused to let her go on a small technicality. Later Shital returned to the RTO with notarized documents, only to be refused by the RTO worker because the date of notarization wasn't within the required timeframe.

On the other end of the spectrum, another American friend of mine (who will remain anonymous) walked into the RTO and out with his official license in hand in a single day. His process even bypassed the agent. Without taking a single lesson, without taking the computer test, without even waiting for the license in the mail, this friend knew and paid off the right people in the RTO and completed the entire process (which took me two months, and has taken Shital 5 months and counting) in a few hours.

Getting official documentation to drive in India is just like driving in India. It seems broken and arbitrary, but in spite of itself it continues to work.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Manav Sadhna football program

Editor's Note: I wrote this a few months ago for Manav Sadhna's 2013 annual report. A shorter version may make it in there, but wanted to share the full version, which captures the program and children's stories nicely.


The MS football program began as a humble, informal practice organized by some football-loving volunteers with a small handful of children. Two years later, it has become a full-fledged program within Manav Sadhna. Many of the children have been a regular part of the program for over a year, with a deep commitment and a genuine passion for the game.

There are currently roughly 31 children in the program. They range in age from 8-16 years. The main activity of the program is a weekly practice on Sunday morning at Manav Sadhna. This practice has been happening regularly for over a year. The children warm up, stretch, work ball drills, play small sided games, and usually end with a match splitting all the children into two teams. Practice ends with a brief coaching session and nutritious snack.

As the children have improved their skills, they have also participated in city tournaments and other more competitive programs.

Going forward, we aim to provide the football program with a dedicated ground with enough space to practice all aspects of the game without disturbance. The children will also be given more chances to play in larger and more competitive venues. Finally, we will look to increase the number of children in the program, including younger children as well as girls.

Every Sunday morning, 15-35 children come for the main football practice. Another 4 children attend Sunday practice irregularly and/or have just started coming regularly.
The children come from various neighborhoods of Ahmedabad: Powerhouse, Jamalpur, Wadaj (Ramapir no Tekro), Ashramshalla (Manav Sadhna). Several of the children come from Jamalpur, a slum area on the opposite side of the city. To make the 7am practice, the children wake up at 5am, board a bus by 6am, and arrive at the Gandhi Ashram by 7am. It is the children’s commitment and passion for the game that drives them to wake up early on a Sunday morning to come and play.

Practice typically lasts for 3 hours. After a warm-up run and stretching, the children work on ball skills and passing through drills organized by the coaches. The emphasis is on ball control and teamwork. The children are then led into small-sided games and keep-away. Key aspects of the game, such as shooting and set pieces, are also practiced. Finally, all of the children are split up and play one large match.

Once a month, practice is shortened and a filmed professional match is screened for the children inside Manav Sadhna. Having little exposure to top-class football, these film sessions are critical to helping build the children’s model of how the game can and should be played.
At the end, the practice is recapped and the children get an opportunity to share about what they liked and didn’t about the practice, and how to improve. The coaches offer some guidance, and then a snack consisting of fruits and biscuits is served.

Outside of Sunday practice, the children informally (but regularly) practice on their own. Scrounging for balls around their neighborhoods (all of the program’s equipment is kept in a locker at MS), they find and patch old discarded balls and play. Committed to improving their skills, they organize themselves into drills they learn on Sundays, in addition to fun matches.

The Manav Sadhna football program is coordinated by Rahul and Neil. Rahul is a staff member at MS and also runs arts programs for the children. Since a young age, Rahul has had a deep passion for sports, especially football. However, as a child he was never given the opportunity to play. Now, as a coach, he plays through the children. His dream is to have a player compete at the Olympic level. Rahul is the backbone of the football program. He rides his bicycle from several kilometers outside Ahmedabad every day to work at MS. Whether it’s a weekend or holiday, you can always count on Rahulbhai to be there to help and put in effort with the utmost sincerity and care. He shows tough love with the football team, being strict when they make mistakes but being generous with praise when they show well. Neil is a volunteer from the US who grew up around the game of soccer. He is thrilled to have the game in his life through this program, and is committed to seeing it reach and benefit any child at MS who is passionate about the sport.

In March 2012, the MS football program connected with Kahaani Football Academy, the premier children’s football club in Ahmedabad. Kahaani’s director, Manisha Shah, has been a huge supporter of the MS program. She offered Kahaani’s large grass sports ground to MS for Sunday practice. This is a hugely valuable opportunity for the children, who normally play on confined dirt patches in the Gandhi Ashram. However, travelling to the grounds has been a challenge, with so many children to manage safely. When available, the players and coaches take MS’ Khushi bus to Kahaani for practices.

Tournaments and Exhibitions
Kahaani has also graciously included MS players in football tournaments that they regularly organized. In January, 6 players from MS (U-13) participated in the tournament. They played two matches on mixed teams with Kahaani players, playing against others from all over Ahmedabad. It was a great opportunity for the children to taste competition with players beyond their own teammates.

In March, Manav Sadhna organized an exhibition match at Abhay Ghat. All of the children participated, split up into two teams. The field was chalked out and goals with posts and crossbars were erected. Teachers, family members, and fellow MS students filled the sidelines and cheered both teams on with flags prepared by the coaches. The match was a rousing success, with high-quality play from all the players.

All of the children in the program have soccer equipment (1 pair shoes, 1 pair shin guards, 1 pair long socks, 1-2 shorts, 1-2 jerseys) that they keep and maintain themselves.

A significant amount of the equipment have come via donation from people around the world.
The initial donation came from Football Action in the UK, which sent balls, jerseys, cones and other equipment that was critical for the program to launch.

However, shoes were still in short supply. Later, an individual walking through the Ashram spotted the children playing barefoot, was moved, and spontaneously wrote a cheque to cover shoes for the first batch of players in the program:

Later, Andria Caruso, a volunteer from Michigan, was inspired to organize a clothing drive for the children. She ended up collecting over four large boxes of donated shorts, jerseys, shoes, socks, sweats, and jackets:

As the children play on harsh conditions, shoes and balls get worn down relatively quickly. Manav Sadhna has stepped in to keep the supply of these two critical equipments in supply for the children. In addition, Manav Sadhna has procured a first aid kit and has covered the costs of the snacks since the program began.

Program Successes
The most compelling indicator that the children find value in the program is their sincere dedication to practice and playing the game. Despite the difficulties of travel, playing on dirt fields with dust flying, being constrained by the lack of area, the children play on with no complaints. They attend practices very regularly, only missing them when they must study for important exams.

One shining example is Dasarath, a player from Jamalpur. Dasarath comes from a very challenged family background. To earn for himself, he works as a sweeper and rag picker. This work requires him to wake up early in the morning daily to do sweeping before he gets ready for school.

Dasarath is crazy for football. On Sundays, he still has to do his work. So he wakes up at 2am and works until 4am. He comes back home, gets ready, and goes around the neighborhood waking up and gathering the other children. He then leads them on a run for several kilometers to the main bus stand at Paldi, where they catch a bus the rest of the way to make practice on time.

The children have improved their skills as football players significantly since they began. Starting from scratch, the children could not dribble or pass, let alone understand spacing and movement. Since then, the children play with skill, combining discipline and creativity. They diligently work in drills as well as play matches. They listen to the coaches and take their advice seriously. They have truly become students of the game. During film sessions, the children used to grow impatient, only wanting the see the goals. Now, they patiently absorb full 90-minute matches, appreciating the subtleties of build-up, defensive positioning, spacing and movement, and set pieces. They model their style of play after FC Barcelona, using quick and precise passing to break down their opponent.

Robin, one of the program’s more talented players, was invited by Kahaani to join their academy. Our vision is to send one child from the MS football program to the Indian National Football Team.

Team sports certainly imparts many valuable life skills. These children have markedly improved in their teamwork, cooperation, patience, and communication during practices. They have become proud and self-confident as athletes and young people

Looking Ahead
The future is bright for the Manav Sadhna football program. With the successful development of our first group of children into formidable team players, MS will look to expand and improve the program in a few key areas:
  • Expose the children to more competitive playing opportunities. Enrolling them in camps, tournaments, and academies that let them grow their passion and skills for the game. This will require financial and human resources for coordinating participation and entrance fees.
  • Construct a dedicated grass field for the children to train and play matches. With limited space in the Ashramshalla, the children cannot fully develop their skills. They need a large dedicated practice field. Ideally it should be grass, since the dirt fields lead to the children breathing in large amounts of dust as they play. Manav Sadhna has identified a field and cleared some debris, but more funds are required to finish the project
  • Improve the nutrition of the children. They are served a snack after Sunday practice, but they require regular nutritious meals to keep their strength and grow at healthy level.
  • In the harsh conditions that they play in, the children require regularly replaced equipment including balls, shoes, socks, jerseys and shorts.

A blog provides regular updates about the football program, with videos and pictures:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Beautiful Day

I had a hall of fame birthday last Thursday. It started in the morning with Surya Namaskar and an hour of meditation with Nimo and Anji. Roshan kindly cooked a homemade breakfast of powah and sprinkled sev. There were grapes on the side. Mom called and sang me Happy Birthday in a very sweet way, I wish I recorded it. Jay and Dad sent their wishes as well.

I was instructed by Anji to cancel all work-related appointments in the afternoon for some surprise activities. Nimo and I left the flat and met her and Jose at MS. I was blindfolded and led into a rickshaw. Anji lost her chapals and in Gandhiji style wanted to leave them for the lucky prizewinner. But we circled back and they were still there. Throughout that great day the bounces went our way.

We took a long rickshaw ride and after a while of trying to track it I got disoriented. We crossed a bridge, but there was no traffic so I had no idea where we were going. When we got out I was led up some stairs, I thought we were entering a mandir. Then we passed a security checkpoint and entered a large A/C cooled room. Definitely a mall. But that was all I could deduce because by then Nimo had tied a mobile phone playing music over both of my ears. It was a wild experience hearing two different songs at once like that, like you're at the club and the DJ's mixing a transition that never completes.

We got to where we needed to go and I sat for a while waiting, still blindfolded. Then I was given some heavenly banana-flavored juice through a straw. I got confused thinking I was back at someone's house because it tasted like one of Nimo's homemade smoothies. But then I was led through some corridors and into a room and asked to lie down on a bed. When I took off my blindfold I found myself in a massage parlor!

Jose had gone to this place at Alpha Mall earlier and had raved about the massage. I had never gotten a professional massage, so I was curious. It was really awesome. The misuse was incredible. It was a full body massage. I had to strip down into some disposable underwear and this woman was touching me intimately, but I lost the shyness after she started loosening my calves and shoulders. She went neck to toe. I wanted her to focus extra on my right ankle, right groin, and shoulders, three problem areas for me in recent years. But after an hour session she had worked so hard, I felt it was selfish to ask her to do more. In general I felt awkward about the experience because there is a lot of taking and no giving. But I walked out feeling great. I really wanted Nimo to get a massage, he would love it.

Then we went for lunch at Creamer's in Prahaladnagar and did brain teasers on the menu while we waited for our food. I felt 13 years old again, which is always great on your 31st birthday.

Then we headed back towards home and I told the friends I wanted to stop by the office. When I approached I notice the shutter was down, which was odd, but I didn't think much of it. Then I opened the shutter and was met by a loud CRACK! firecracker. And the Awaaz.De team came out and surprised me. The office was done up very elaborately, a huge leap forward decoratively from what we had for Chirag's birthday. We cut a Ferrero Rocher cake and hung out for a while. It was great, I really appreciated the team's spirit.

From there I went to Ba's house and cut the third cake of the day with Ba and Gita phoi. First thing I did when I came in was touch their feet and get their blessings, which they gave. I got emotional hugging Ba, which was unexpected. I just love her a lot. Especially since Jay was here, I have come to understand, respect, and love her much more.

We chit-chatted for a while, and then I headed over to Seva Cafe for the last stop of the day. The AD team and other friends were going to serve dinner that evening. Little did I know but the entire menu for the evening comprised of my favorite foods. Anji and Roshni had done some background work with Jay to include some of my favorites. We had tacos with refrained beans, fresh pico de gallo and sour cream; pasta; mexican rice, khichu, FBI without the ice cream. I was a little embarrassed because I have the food tastes of a 13 year old. But again, that's good on 31.

There was live music by Sandeep and one of the guests serenaded me with a song in a semi-awkward moment. The 4th and final cake was cut in a special ceremony. Shital and I teamed up to make tacos in the back all evening, after some time we were really approaching Taco Bell efficiency. It was hard work since we were behind on orders the whole night, but people couldn't get enough of those little delights. The shells we used were called tacoz shells and pictured chef Induben giving the standard stiff Indian mean look photo face. We served 56 guests. At the end of the night after the volunteers staff had cleaned up and ate dinner, I gave each one a small Tulsi plant as their goody bag.

It was a fantastic evening. I went home and meditated to complete the day in style. It was a full and fun day. Most precious was the time with friends who have come to be family. I look back on my 31 years and feel most fortunate for all of the great friends and love I'm surrounded by. You all are truly my wealth.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

-- Maya Angelou

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Last week I had a mental meltdown. The night before, I got locked out of my apartment. I had my keys, but the door was jammed and wouldn't open. I called my landlord, who was indifferent. He couldn't be bothered by it, saying that I should just jiggle the key or find someone local to fix it. I am a hassle-free tenant, I never call him about problems. So if I'm asking for help now, shouldn't he assume it's a real problem? Plus I had a flight to catch the day after, so I needed to get into my house asap. Eventually he agreed to send a locksmith over the next day to have a look.

The next morning I went to the office early because we were launching an email campaign and had to get it ready on time. Roshni and I were doing final tweaking when I got a call from the landlord saying a locksmith was coming to the apartment. I couldn't be there, but MAM had a key so could the man just grab the key from upstairs? No, the man will be confused so better to have Madhu bring the key down. Odd request, but I called Madhu to ask him to help out. He always picks up his phone, but this morning he didn't. I called Meghna, but she also didn't pick up. I called both again, still nothing. Madhu texts he's in a meeting, but Meghna was home to give the key. But she typically is not near her phone because she's taking care of Reva.

Not able to get a hold of her, I thought about quickly leaving the office to meet the locksmith. Unfortunately there was a rickshaw driver strike that day so no driver was willing to take me. Then I tried calling Mom to see if she could go instead, but she wasn't home and also wasn't picking up her phone. I called the landlord back to say I couldn't get a rickshaw. He said there isn't a strike, there should be no problem getting a ride. So now he was calling me a liar. I told him to ask the locksith to get the key from Meghna upstairs, it's a simple thing to explain.

Meanwhile we're scrambling to get the email campaign ready. I get another call from landlord saying that the locksmith had gone up to get the key, but Meghna didn't give it to him, not knowing who he was. So the locksmith is now gone and I should not waste the landlord's time and to figure it out on my own.

This is where I lost it. All of the things that went wrong, combined with the fact that had even one of the series of things gone my way (Meghna picking up, Mom picking up, no rickshaw strike, the landlord caring, the locksmith calling before he took off, etc.), the worse case scenario would have been avoided. That with the fact that the landlord was being a jerk, basically calling me a liar, giving me a hard time for something that was his responsibility, the time-sensitive work at the office, the general frustration of being locked out of your place for a reason beyond your control, all of it combined made me totally flip out. I yelled at the landlord and stomped around my office, feeling pissed and helpless and dejected.

Eventually things calmed down. Later that day the door got fixed, the office work got done on time, and I later caught my flight. That same day I went to an office next door to ours, which belonged to an Uncle who ran an architecture firm. I had heard from Narendra that the Uncle's eldest son had recently passed away from an unexpected heart attack. I went up to pay my respects. Uncle was in his cabin with his younger son, who had come from Australia. I shook hands with both and sat in silence with them for a while. Both of their faces were dominated by an unmistakable striking look of utter shock. They were both looking at a reality that they couldn't fathom or accept. We talked a bit about nothing at all. I still remember Uncle vividly, whose eyes and mouth were painted thick with grief, sketching idly on a white paper with a black pencil as we sat in silence.

Meltdowns don't do anyone any good. They are a personal failure; all the time I invest in being a mentally resilient person are wasted if I can't be balanced when put to the test. Giving in to meltdowns tie deeper and tighter mental knots and set a precedent for future meltdowns. They also show a lack of perspective. Here I was getting bent out of shape over an incident that will be inconsequential in a few days time. It's a drop in the ocean of my life experience. Meanwhile there are much bigger and deeper challenges that I and others face. And finally meltdowns plant seeds of suffering in others around you.

What's the upside?