This is not something I ever tell myself. Usually at least.
In fact, I've often said the opposite in anger and sadness.
Being alive is such a lazy thing to accomplish, that it takes no effort to do it. But nobody is going to call it effortless. Often, it takes effort to find ways in which life is worth living; To raise your voice enough over the default drone of everyday life and tell yourself that "I'm alive!".
But for a thousand miles now, I've been hearing it loud and clear over the roar of my motorbike.
Maybe it is about gratitude. Every day I get on the bike and come home safely, I am grateful. There's a sense of relief to be released from that level of focus, which is overpowering.
I've got a California M1 license since 2015, but I've held off on owning a motorcycle because I have a long storied history with them.
Since I turned sixteen, I've loved riding motorcycles. My Royal Enfield was the most expensive personal posession I ever had. Actually it was almost as if I was posessed by it. All of my injuries as an adult are from riding motorcycles. Still remember every single slide in slow-motion, the world going round around me as I roll out of the way. My chin has scars, my elbow does, my palms too, my knee got torn & will never be the same. Very rationally, when I'm not riding one, I'm utterly terrified of falling off one.
But when I'm on one, I'm entirely occupied by the act. There's no room for any indecision, when you got in too fast into a corner. There are margins for error, but that's what you're trying to avoid. Every move is tied to everything else - your bike will go where you look. Look at a car that's in your way and the bike will clairvoyantly drive you towards the obstacle. And unconsciously you are always looking for the way forward and never at the obstacles. Stare at the abyss and the abyss takes you.
Panic and you do something stupid. Everything around you turns into smooth curves, even those little bumps in the lane you are splitting turns into a slalom between cars. Smoothly, slowly, surely turn your mind away from fear or anger. There's no room for hurry, but all the space for speed. There's forty horses to push you as fast as you want, ten seconds of smooth shifts to 60 through a merge lane. Easy does it.
Riding my bike home is like a high stakes version of meditation.
Calm down or die. And I know. I don't want to die. We all have to, but at least, not like this.--
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
-- Khalil Gibran, "On Death"
It is the summer of 1994, I'm in a room all by myself. And the room is bolted from the outside, for everyone's safety.
I'm twelve and angry, because obviously nobody loves me. In my anger, I've also bolted it from the inside. My father is outside, telling me to open the door, but go to the bathroom & wash my hands while he's leaving my lunch next to my bed. He's losing his patience, but I didn't have any to begin with. And that lunch he has, it's going to hurt to swallow - my throat hurts, my gums hurt and to make things worse there is no salt in any food. My mom has made a different dish for me with something like salt (ഇൻഡുപ്പ്) in it, but it tastes like licking copper (it's really magnesium and potassium, but who cares).
I've been quarantined, because I have chicken pox, a slightly virulent strain of it. And I had carried it home. This was my punishment (I thought, unfairly).
It is summer, it is very hot right now, a stillness in the valley that a hot day brings. I'm not feeling the heat, because I have a fever. I almost dread the time when the heat will go away in the evening as the sea breeze picks up, because then the silence outside will be replaced by kids playing cricket. I can't even watch, the windows in this room are for ventilation and five feet up the wall.
I'm not in my room - I didn't have a room anyway, I slept on the floor in the living room. But this wasn't that bed, this was an old folding bed that sagged in the middle and turned me over onto my back no matter which way I tossed and turned. This is the room where my uncle used as his storage room, some of his cardboard boxes are still in the room. There's no human contact, which was shocking enough, but there was also nothing else to replace it with. There's obviously no TV in there - it's not like someone could put one there either, it is all hard-wired from the antenna on the roof to the living room. There are exactly two channels, so it wasn't going to be enough anyway.
No books either. And that was really what drove me insane. I had spent the past two summers going through two books a day. I even had a check-list of every Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book, so that I could cross them off and my dad wouldn't bring the same book twice from the library. I was just graduating onto PG Wodehouse and my dad very decisively said "No library books, you're contagious". That wasn't idle speculation, I had already passed it on.
I wasn't quite patient zero, just the one at home. My uncle had returned from Bihar after a year, only to reach my grandparents' house & fall sick. I'd spent the past day in the same house and I got kicked back to my parents almost immediately once my uncle was sprouting whiteheads. I had my maternal grandmom's house nearby, but my dad pulled me home because that house had all the other kids as well. The drama wasn't without twists though. I had my mom's uncle from the other side of her family visit our house in the summer & head to the beach with me. His daughter is just a few years older than me and I was sitting in the backseat with her for the whole ride. Two days after I had symptoms, she did too. And she's already gone back where all my other cousins are, almost next door to patient zero.
So that now spread to two, through me (and more to follow). My dad had already suffered through chicken pox years ago and he was the only one who was immune at home. However he was even more afraid of being a carrier through the family, because there were three people at home who were not. His immediate instinct was to isolate and keep me away from everyone else, including authors from the 1950s, though I wasn't in favour of the second idea at all.
In a week, I had gone from eating icecream in Kochi to being locked in a storage room with a camp bed with served bland pre-mixed food. Oddly enough, the last part also hurt my sense of being "taken care of", because to sit down at a meal already served was considered a faux pas in Kerala. This is what happens to the untouchables (of which I was now one, at least temporarily), who got their charity meals after everyone had eaten their fill (which might not have happened to me, but how could I tell - I imagined the worst of everyone by then). Didn't matter to me that my meals were custom made to reduce my osmotic pressure inside cells (low sodium) and without any spice (sores all the way down the throat), I felt pushed down and oppressed. That indirectly feels like a turning point in my world view, giving me some humility at least temporarily.
By day 12, my dad's attempts at quarantine has failed. Everyone at home is sprouting poxes - I'm no longer sick, but merely healing from this. But by this time, the unit of isolation is the entire house and not the little storage room anymore. There is now a whole family sitting down watching TV every evening, the newspaper is read by everyone, the good bathroom open to all, all meals eaten together with food served on demand. The food still sucks for all the sick folks, but I'm angry enough that forgotten that's why I was angry - I have a little jar of pickle, salt in which tastes like heaven (I still buy the same brand of pickle 25 years later, had some for lunch while writing this).
I've never been so angry before - it took seven more years for me to stop being so angry at everyone unspecifically. As a little kid, I felt like I was owed at least an apology for being locked up and forgotten - which was not exactly what they did, but what I felt. Also that my sister didn't go through it despite having the same contagious disease felt like rank unfairness.
By now I was the healthy one, perhaps even a bit better than I was before. But what I faced next was another week of mandatory isolation, because the house was still under lockdown.
A few days before I was sick, I had gone for an intro class with a new math tutor who wanted to see me before accepting me as a student when the year began in June. He gave me a couple of algebra problems and proceeded to nit-pick my work out to hell, in detail and without stopping. I was doing the math right, but he had criticism I wasn't expecting at year 11 of my life - that I write my equals bottom line first, that I write my nines wrong like an upside down six from the bottom, that I write my zeroes clockwise (advice that wasn't wasted, look at my website's logo). On top of that now, I was bored out of my mind. My dad gave me some advice from Orwell, that the cheapest hobby is writing, pointed out Gandhi's best work was when he was in jail and handed some loose leaf paper & a pen.
So there I was, bored out of my mind, with a blank sheet of paper and thinking about nothing.
Until that very moment, I had never truly experienced the stillness before action. To truly pause, collect myself before pushing into a single direction with all my abilities. The fuel was the wrong one though, I was powered by anger, redirecting it into a singular purpose, turning the torchlight of my brain into a laser ready to cut through anything in its way. If I had encountered God on my way out, God would've been cut.
I've had those moments of silence again in my life, the pause and resurgance into life, but always in anger.
All I wish for as I get older is to burn something less polluting.--
Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of the opposite of ego.
You're so sure you'll do everything wrong you're afraid to do anything at all.
Often this, rather than "laziness" is the real reason you find it hard to get started.
-- Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
In 2018, I've have spent more time interviewing than I have ever done since 2004.
I went through the entire interview loop at five companies in total. At two of those places, I had two cycles of interviews as I got referred sideways by the original interviewers. Including the recon visits, lunches and phone screens, I've spent about two whole work weeks of my 2018 talking to recruiters, managers, engineers, architects and directors.
One half-hearted offer (pay-cut included) and one golden one (wow) later, I'm still working for Hortonworks till it doesn't. To make sense of this, I'm trying to distill those two weeks into something that can be bottled for the top shelf.
First up, the Bay Area is special and you are not.
Silicon valley pulls in technical talent from across the planet. It might be the most expensive place to hire people, but the companies I interviewed at can afford it. If you are looking for a low-level systems engineer working on performance problems who understands distributed systems, you might be looking a pool of high hundreds. Rejecting an almost perfect candidate isn't as much of a problem here, because give it a couple of weeks and the recruiter will dig up another prospect locally or at least, find someone who wants to move here.
From that perspective, there's no reason to hire someone like me to work on a CDN route optimization or large scale object store, when they can just snipe people burning out at Amazon or tired of being not promoted at Google. There's no need to find someone who will learn things quickly or grow - you can pick out people who've spent years completely conquering their niche and employ them for two years, four tops.
In short, if you want to do something new, amazing and interesting, find a startup, cut your pay to nothing and unbalance work for life - don't come looking at big company to take a bet on you, go to a VC or someone beholden to them. And there's nothing wrong with that approach, just that it is very different from the tech bubble over in India.
Second, I've got "advanced impostor syndrome". I've got enough knowledge to make myself dangerous, but not enough to be a renaissance man.
Performance and debugging are really wide fields where you spread yourself thin, except where you go way too deep. There's nobody out there who can know all of what's necessary to do that work and if they do, they're out of date in six months anyway. Actually you don't need to know it all, but you have to know enough to guide your search to narrow down a symptom to a problem. The real skill set is using your intuition to ask better questions and finding ways to test for those questions, temporarily hold mental models to work out what's happening in the time dimension across multiple layers of user code, virtual machines, system libraries, kernels and hardware.
At this point in my life, I probably know three things about everything anyone could ask me in an interview, but to the real expert in the field, that is good but never enough. I'm full of anecdotes about how a particular standard solution to a problem doesn't actually work, because there are other considerations which mess with some assumptions hiding in it. And then a lot of anecdotes about how theoretically impractical problems do have actual solutions, but only at the scale of the current use-case. And then some more about how approximations do work better, because they work well enough to be an answer in the real world (yeah, who care about a 0.001 pixel difference?).
My point being that the war story chest doesn't make me more employable, but to me, those stories represent instances where I learn new things. A small hint that learning didn't stop the day I graduated and I walked out with a clear recollection of all binary tree algorithms anyone would ever need for leetcode. If next week someone threw a bunch of Rust code at me and asked me to fix it, I'll find a way, but not in 45 minutes and probably not with code written on a whiteboard. However, as I learned that is not relevant to finding a job in Silicon Valley, at least not at places I interviewed.
In that perspective, my choices have turned me into an inveterate beginner. Being able to learn, absorb and get to answers on something completely new to me is exactly what my current job demands from me. And that means my skill sets are starting to leave the realm of classification or specialization. For anyone trying to box me in, I don't quite fill a box and I straddle too many.
That makes me feel like I don't belong - an impostor syndrome, but an advanced one.--
A company of wolves, is better than a company of wolves in sheep's clothing.
-- Tony Liccione
For the last decade, I feel inconsolably sad about my dad's death and its circumstances, as Dec 2nd draws nearer.
For some reason, this year was different. Perhaps, it is because my mother is here with me - it is the first time in a decade that I've talked to her on Dec 2nd. But it is not just that, there's been a shift, which I barely understood till I sat down to write this.
My sadness has changed over the years. I no longer feel that sadness the same way - it is not a soul sapping feeling of despair, but a different and new emotion, that is still sadness.
I feel sorry that my dad couldn't be here to participate in our lives. He would've loved to sit around and do literally nothing, on this other side of the planet he never saw. I'd have enjoyed sitting with him, drinking tea every few hours and arguing about the legal drama that surrounds today's political news.
For years, I imagined how my life would be better if not his death ... for a brief moment today, it dawned on me how his life would've been better, if he were still here with us.
The burden of my loss has suddenly has turned into empathy for his loss. Because I'm still here, a decade later, finding light in unexpected places.
Because for once, as a parent, I know what I'd lose if I wasn't on this planet when I'm done with my working years. I'm getting ready to spend my final years observing and rambling incessantly.
Actually, I feel old enough start already - the good old days when things were really uphill both ways to school, but we did it anyway - you kids won't understand it anyway, but we had to ask people who was calling when the phone rang and all that, except these days you all ask "hey, where are you ..." instead.
Just smile, listen and nod, because that's what I'm doing for my dad, in memoriam.--
If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
-- Lewis Carroll. "Alice in Wonderland"
August is the single month every year, where I go looking for a better job.
Because everytime August comes around, I'm reminded of a very specific day of my life - Aug 11th 2003.
Very clearly a bad day to recall, but first impressions are often very deep.
That was my very first day at work, but coincidentally was also the first time I felt like I need to go looking for a better job. It wasn't that it was a bad workplace, it was rather banal and mundane. However, until that day the pure transactionality of a job had never occured to me. Looking at my parent's generation, there's a certain symbiotic permanence that I had come to associate with finding a job.
There was a certain dispensability with which my employer looked at my skills, which turned my time into their money. And thus I kept interviewing, every month at a different company. Took twelve hour bus rides to Bangalore over weekends to arrive at 5 AM to show up sleepy at 9 AM job fair for IBM, for Oracle, for Cisco. Unsurprisingly, those days didn't see me at my best at 3 PM, when they had weeded through the univerisities they cared about and got to the other end of their pile.
Monday morning, I'd be back at my desk in Hyderabad, sleepy again from a bus ride in a cramped seat.
Looking back at my work at Wipro, it wasn't all mind-numbing tedium, because I'm not built to survive boredom. I was given several dumb projects to finish, but they all ended up with me automating away parts of my tedium and then just working through my Sedgewick for the next interview where they would ask me to delete a node off a binary tree.
They made me do a matrix of BUGs fixed against release versions, which ended up with me learning how CVS branches work and automatically extracting ChangeLogs from tags. I had to test the phones' address book full error messages, which involved filling up the address book manually over two days before I got to it, I built a GSM AT RS232 automation to push the buttons for me (thanks wvdial for forcing me to learn what ATDT is). I was asked to rebuild a GSM ROM which could keep failing linker with segmentation errors, which was solved by people brute forcing the build flags till the build went through, I ended up working out that it was a bin-packing problem (3 non-contiguous flash regions, move around the linker regions until no binary has address crossing the boundaries).
My desk used to have a poster which said "Never send a man to do a machine's job" (but with an Arnold next to it, which I'd argue is appropriate).
But what I did with my spare time was look for a better job. And writing cryptic entries in my diary about I'm underemployed and overworked at the same time - because the more problems I solved, the more came to me and I'm a sucker for a hard problem, it feeds my beast.
Many things that are different about me fourteen years later. That one thing hasn't changed, I'm still a sucker for hard problems - because they are hard, not because they are easy.
The world will never run out of hard problems - being in a position to work on them is a completely different organizational challenge. Sometimes a problem will be literaly above your pay grade. When you run into organizational struggles, it is better to move on - there are always hard problems elsewhere.
That was an easy lesson that I learnt the hard way.--
I don't know who you are.
I don't know what you want.
I can tell you I don't have money.
But what I do have are a very particular set of skills,
Skills I have acquired over a very long career.
-- Paraphrasing "Taken" (2008)
This is perhaps the darkest week of the year - every year since 2006.
A decade later, once again, I feel like nothing about me will be the same again.
This new sense of purpose I feel is a few months old, sleeping a few feet away.
The baton is passed, not quite yet and I haven't let go.--
"Life is effort, and I’ll stop when I die."
-- Rick & Morty
Today's the first day of year 5 for me in Hortonworks.
I've now spent more than a decade getting paid to do open source work. But until Hortonworks, all work I did was tangential to the business arm of the company. All my customers were internal, which meant mostly I got privileged access to the problems. The bug resolution for complex issues never had to deal with walls of customer solutions obscuring my insights into the system. There was never a day when I couldn't tell someone from Yahoo mail that I was working on another issue with Frontpage.
During my Zynga period, I learnt how to sell your ideas to a product focus team looking for solutions - to explain better, to justify my arguments with numbers, to convince and to persuade. To keep my sanity, I also learnt to pick my battles, drop issues and walk away when the friction gets personal.
I never had to sell to a customer direct - even at my best, on the books of the company I was a cost, an engineering expense. My work at Zynga or Yahoo, was helping the company bring down its bottom line by a fraction without ever touching the top line, except by accident (yay, faster load times).
This is generally an area of work with no real conflicts of interest built into it - use of APC for instance was mandated and in most cases, my code was the only available solution to the problem. Giving up on APC meant switching to HipHop, which also I worked on (never got the CLA signed by Zynga, which was sad though). The pattern followed me through out the period even through ZCloud build-out, through ZPerfmon, ZProf and pretty much everything I touched.
Hortonworks has been a completely different experience. I'm still a developer, but my contribution to the company has turned into a top-line enlarging investment in most scenarios. The work I was doing with Stinger was actively bringing in more customers and indirectly, more revenue in. This brings in some interesting conflicts for a developer, when talking to a customer about your features, because that particular transaction starts off as a zero sum exchange of money with the implicit declaration that the "solution" is a non-zero sum win-win.
This shift in the nature of my job has been interesting. The role now requires a completely different social skill set which I didn't need in any job before this. The goal is nearly the same, but conflicts fall onto my lap instead of being able to just say "Zynga first" to end a discussion.
Honestly, it's been a bit of a culture shock.
I feel like I'm astride an elephant, with my toes pressing suggestions of direction. The benchmark numbers are just numbers, unless someone else decides that those need some action. I cannot actually move the beast, but the beast does move, never to stand still.
As always, I've stayed on top of that beast here for the last four years to learn and cope with that process. The learnings are rather harsh, that while in a single company you get to deal with your users first, the actual users in this mode don't run the systems, those who run the system don't make purchasing decisions and those who write the checks don't really deal with either of those folks directly. And in the end, the check they write is eventually only fractionally related to my paycheck anyway.
In that world, it feels ultra depressing to sit in on a call where the dreaded phrase is said - "what the hell do we pay you for?" . There's the sub-text in your head going - uh, you don't ... I'm here because I am the only one who can help with this and this is not even my job, neither is it my turn on the on-call roster, so get off my back. But you learn not to lash out in knee-jerk fashion and close down the conversation, but continue debugging which is upto your discipline, a thick skin and the knowledge that your self-worth isn't tied up in that guy's opinion. I still don't know how to communicate that Insulting my commitment to your problem isn't helping - making it unpleasant might feel better, but you're burning good will here. Looking back, some of what I did never made any sense in the big picture, to feel the pressure from the sales cycle to deliver something over the christmas weekend and then get back on it through the new year weekend too. However hard those weeks turn out to be, the rewards for such heroics diffuses away as the company gets larger and as the customer base expands outwards - no deal ends up being the end-all of your work.
I still love solving those tough problems and solving them are their own reward, but the process friction is draining for your attention spans and your ability to take criticism for no fault of your own wears thin (I'm rarely the person who wrote the slow bit of code I'm fixing and I'm unlikely to be the one in the next case either, *sigh*). Collective responsibility is hard with open source, when this issue was because of someone back in 2009 who thought this was good enough, way before the YARN and Hive teams sat under the same roof. It's nobody's fault, but remains your problem.
There are some upsides to being thrown about into the rough and tumble of that process, you develop a lot of breadth in your skill sets out of sheer necessity - whether it's about something esoteric like Kerberos or the specifics of file listings in Azure or S3. There are technical savings you build up over the years, which work exactly the opposite of how technical debt works - readymade solutions which you refine through one customer aftet the other, to feed back into the product as much as you can. This is what a front-line engineer does in a small company, to carry a huge memory bank of all the problems cross-referenced to their solutions. A bigger company divides away expertise until no one person has the entire picture and start operating in managable fractions of expertise.
I came into Hortonworks, expecting to fix MapReduce and HDFS, possibly to dig deeper into HBase latencies - it is odd to say that right because instead of polishing old code, I got to work on brand new ideas with Stinger on Hive, ORC and Tez. But unlike my work at Zynga, I've never had to bury any of work (and to have the company salt the earth behind it) - my patents from Zynga are clearly dead-ends which I cannot pursue somewhere else, original ideas which I had and lost posession of. Putting up every little thing I build onto a github repo has been a liberating experience, being able to talk about my work in great detail to everyone including business competitors gives me a sense of autonomy which I have not experienced since college.
There have been so many mishaps along the way too. It was a horrible idea to work as a contractor in India when Hortonworks failed to hire me in time for the H1B cap - every bit of my immigration that followed has been a pain because of the fact that I was an Indian contractor moving to the US. Unfortunately it's too late now that I'm already here and is probably beyond recourse, I would probably have to quit or move out of America to reset that, in the near future. And that's sort of been the only regret of mine in joining Hortonworks the way I did.
But this is the second longest I've worked in my career and this journey has been very different from the Gumball years of the Yahoo. With Hortonworks, I joined a small company in Maude & Matilda four years ago and I now work for a company that is so big it has offices around the planet. When I interviewed at Hortonworks in February of 2012, that was way before the this company was - back before there was a packaged product or an installer, before the "do or die" phase of working for an underdog company.
And an underdog might be down, but always gets to punch up.--
Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.
-- Thomas Szasz
My grandfather passed away last week.
When I was at one of life's cross-roads, he rescued me with some advice I hold onto as one of my life's truths.
Sacrifice. It's a word that gets thrown around in the social context without any inherent meaning. Just like other things caused by peer pressure, the sacrificial act is a social demonstration of emotion, at the detriment of nearly everyone intimately involved in it. Mothers give up their careers to stay at home. fathers end up working longer and so on.
After my dad's untimely end, there was a choice left to me - envelope pushed under the door of my mourning, if you will. Move back to Trivandrum and try to support my mother & sister while they mourn the inconsolable loss. Social signals told me clearly that it's what's expected from a "good son".
I thought otherwise. I was wracked with guilt at the thought of staying in Bangalore, chasing my own life's goals which had been on hold for the couple of years my father was ill. And I couldn't bring myself to ignore the social pressures and was caving in to them, when I talked to my muthachan.
He got to right to the point.
"Is this something your mother asked you to do?" / "No". "Do you think leaving Yahoo and moving to Trivandrum is good for you?" / "No". "Is moving back home likely to be a disappointing thing for you?" / "Yes".
"Then don't do it. We're here to take care of your mother. She is my child." / "Ok, but ..."
"Your mother will need you in a few years, your sister will need you. Be there. But you will do this one crazy gesture they never asked for, because people pressure you into making it. When times are bad and your life isn't moving forward, you won't think of those pressures. You will blame the ones you really did it all for."
"And one day, you will get angry about something and tell your mother that you did it all for her. That your life's frustrations are due to her. Maybe it won't be your mother and it will be your sister - she will tell you that she didn't ask for it, that you did it all on your own. That your sacrifice wasn't necessary and then you'll feel hollow, because it was all for nothing, how you turned away from your self, silenced your wants and died a little for them. You will be truly angry with them for your thoughtless sacrifice and never let it go."
"If what I said sounds inevitable. Don't do it. Go do your thing now and whenever your mother or your sister need help they will not hesitate to ask. Be there for them without question. When it's the right decision to take, you won't feel yourself tearing apart."
That is how I got to today, half a world away mourning his death, knowing fully well I couldn't go & be by my mother's side.
And this time, I wasn't tearing myself apart.--
Much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.
Must be a strange coincidence, but I think nearly all of my farewell letters have been written in August.
As the days get a tiny bit shorter, all the energy that the summer brings turns into a certain impatience. Sitting in front of a desk, when the brightness outside is getting wasted.
Perhaps you don't feel it, but there's a general ebb of life that makes me acutely conscious of my mortality. A certain knowledge that summer is passing and I'm still indoors, to wait for another year perhaps to enjoy the summer sunshine.
And yet, it's not that I feel sad about the passing of days - those days aren't here. It's a call to freedom. A primal urge to make most of the days in the sun, without concern, because the winter that will follow is inevitable. To plant all the energy of the summer that's half-gone and reap the rest.
Need to just head out into the sunshine & high mountains, leaving work in the valleys.--
Your career is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.
Nobody commits suicide.At least, nobody commits suicide any more than they commit a diabetic coma or a cardiac arrest.
It isn't a crime to commit, it is the unfortunate demise brought on by years of accumulated damage - perhaps a less acceptable one than a surfeit of cheeseburgers.
If you're the one playing the devil's advocate for sinners, please rank it with gluttony and sloth.
I don't intend to minimize the act here, but nobody in their right mind goes that way. I want to talk about those that did, but I never know how to put my words together. But I talk about one death - the same death, over and over.
A loved one's suicide never quite washes off your mind. And it is never the day or the moment that just fails to fade out. What I remember vividly is the year before that, was a witness to it, from as up close as humanly possible. I saw the face of depression up close, felt the shadow if it touch my future.
Perhaps some of you can describe being depressed. For the lucky folks here, let me describe the sensation I had by proxy.
Imagine you're having an asthma attack - you can't breathe, your lungs are choking up and your throat is straining. Right at that moment, someone tells you that what you need is some fresh air in this beautiful garden of roses and shows you how they breathe in & out throwing their chests out. And then ask why you're ruining the day for everyone by reaching for the inhaler, before it was even 10 AM.
This isn't some pervasive sense of sadness, but an accute occurrance of hopelessness and despair. The weight of the world falls on your shoulders and you can't move - everyone's just asking you to get up and do things. The inability compounded by the knowledge that at least some of the world is your responsibility to move.
And there-in, Ophelia, lies the rub. Social conditioning and my personal observation tells me that's where being brought up to be a Man bites your head off.
Years of indoctrination has taught (me) that - Men are resilient, Men do things, Men have responsibilities and that when in a crisis, the rule follows that you save "Women and children first".
Imagine, after fifty long years of being that, you're stumbling for the first time. And there's a huge stigma attached to being a problem for the people who depend up on you. I suspect, the indoctrination goes to your heart for those who've survived long odds, like returning soldiers from a war front.
Except you haven't learnt to talk about your emotions. You've lived your life with rational thought and enlightenment, treating emotions as fickle pertrubances to be ignored, like fear or desire - talking about them gives them more credence than necessary.
And then there's the stigma of treatment. Treatment for the chemistry in your brain is considered somewhat different from any chemistry elsewhere. I've never seen anyone reluctant to take Insulin for social reasons. I have never seen anyone skip an X-Ray in case they need a cast for their swollen foot. I've never before seen someone dodge treatment or diagnosis for worry that they'll get caught up in it.
Insanity has a huge price attached to your sense of self, since it is the only scenario your own input into your condition can be disregarded. In fact, just worrying about your own improvement might be treated as a symptom.
I have to come to understand that death - the terminal condition of an untreatable depression.--
It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It's called living.
-- Terry Pratchett
It has been 7 years since my last conversation with him. Maybe it's only been six since I missed him.
Maybe I didn't say anything to anyone when he died, but with all the lack of orginality I posess, let me repeat something. If only as l'esprit de l'escalier, 8 years later if you will.
MY FATHER WAS AN EXCEPTIONAL MAN! He had his... shortcomings, but he took care of his family. He loved his family. He loved this house. He worked hard. All I wanted today was to show him how much we all loved and admired him. To give him the respect that he deserved... Is that really so much to ask? We all get so distracted by the... little things in life. We forget about the important things. Like the fact that we lost a great man. We don't know why a man makes the choices he makes. But I do know that my father made the best choices he could make. Life is complicated. We're just thrown here together in a world filled with chaos and confusion... and we do our best. He taught us to go for what we wanted in life, because you never know how long you're going to be here. So when you all leave here today, I want you to remember him for who he really was. A decent, loving man who never condemned anyone for how they lived. Who never cast disparaging remarks or held prejudices against race, gender... height. If only we could all be as giving, as generous, as understanding as my father. If I am half the man my father was, my child will be incredibly blessed. -- (paraphrased from) Death at a Funeral, 2007
My father was an exceptional man. He was exceptional in every way, in his strength and his weakness.
My mother taught me how to endure, to abide, to suffer the endless slings & arrows - my father showed me how to fight, how to lose battles and win wars. To take invisible swords upto invisible monsters and slay them. If my father taught me to fight, my mother taught me to never give up. She passed onto me, her endless source of hope. She taught, if not by words but example, that everything passes, including waves of troubles & sadness. Just hold your breath and dive, she showed - find the bottom and push back all the way up.
I learnt strategy from him - I very rarely played chess with him and he would reluctantly destroy me in calculated moves. I rarely put myself in front of that juggernaut because of what came after I lost, a clear description of why I lost, step by step of when I had an advantage & how I squandered it. I learnt patience from watching him - that patience isn't waiting, patience is observing, watching for the right moment - with a finger on the trigger, eye on the scope.
I learnt to listen and remember. Of all of my life's conversations (yet), he's the person I've talked the most to. I missed the conversations with him about fundamental human nature, sitting on a Bajaj Chetak, with him explaining to me in great detail the importance of understanding. Nothing more, just understanding everything. Perhaps, I learnt to be pedantic too - to understand what's different about wealth, value, cost, price. Understand that money is important, but never a goal. Understand that you should always engineer all-winner scenarios and never work with people who will still want you to lose. Understand altruisim & co-operation is just another word for long-term selfishness. Understand that help you give that is nothing to you, but everything to someone else is the best form of it. Understand that gender is meaningful, but not discriminatory (between me & my sister). That laws we have to obey are never entirely fair - that both the rich & poor are prohibited from sleeping on park benches in the night.
He didn't just talk about it, I saw his principles moving him - some of those came up because he was the Director of Social Welfare in Kerala government.
Not all his lessons were imparted kindly. I watched over my father for a year. I felt like the parent - making sure he ate food on time, took his medication, to make sure he slept, to run to his bed-side when he had nightmares. To stay up next to him when he slept in his hospital bed, reading, while the sedatives kicked in and kept him from tossing about in his bed. I had to deal with him when he threw tantrums and I know it hurt him more when I couldn't understand him or calm him down. I was filled with a homesickness that only comes to those who are already home and I wanted him to go back to being the same awesome father I always had. Deep inside his heart, he knew he could never be that person again. And he tried to tell me, but I didn't believe that - to believe him seemed like letting go of all hope. Never wanted to pass through the door inscribed "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here".
Years after, in mid-November I get angry about all that again, I remember that he was the most considerate of human beings even to the end - I found his paperwork sorted and filed in the order of use after his death.
I wonder about all our conversations - was he was leaving a part of him to live, even after he takes the rest to an early grave?
And just for that, I will always love him.--
All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
-- Helen Keller
I work from home and that causes more trouble at home than at work.
Today Kavi asked me if I wanted to come along for a 4 hour round-trip to the airport to drop off her sister. Now those four hours of that has to come out of my work hours for the day & is a distraction I hadn't planned on having, but that is really my problem, not hers.
But if I were in an office building approximately two kilometres away, doing the exact same thing today I wouldn't have been asked that question. There would've been no expectation that I can spare four hours from the middle of my work day for a car ride.
I didn't go, of course - I'm sitting here ranting about it while my cluster is rebuilding ORC tables. But I didn't really have a pleasant time saying "NO" either. Just having to say *NO* and having her drive back from the airport alone seems like a choice I'm implicitly making.
In reality, I'm spending more time with both of them today, while my cluster rebuilds. But the fact that the question is pursued implies that the people involved do not consider me "at work" and therefore unavailable for anything else. And that question hurts my commitment towards both parts of my life.
The real trouble is that occasionally I do take time out of my work hours to do things with her. It is no sacrifice, because we do things that can only be done in daylight - shopping for things, brunches which last till 2 PM and evening runs where I spend an hour in the middle of the work day clocking up some mileage. I did that yesterday, with my cluster churning profiles out.
I probably really only work 4 hours a day. But those 4 hours come in two sessions of 2 hours of uninterrupted work, when I do not reply to emails, my phone is in another room, I'm not reading HackerNews or tweeting anything interesting (people, now you can see how often I work). I keep every activity which involves staring at progress bars out of those hours - my maven repos will be upto-date, my unit tests are run later and my work setup is all done somewhere in the middle, preferably during a meal or a run.
For those hours I'll be in a state of mind that is fragile enough to be destroyed by someone just asking me a rhetorical question like "XYZ is in town next week, we'll meet them on Wed?".
The trouble is that people who inhabit my life can't differentiate between those four hours and the other four hours. You know, the non-work work hours that go into reading JIRAs, replying to threads, attending calls or setting up EC2 nodes. Some of those leaks into the weekends, but I deal with it if it means having more quality time to spend on a Monday. In those hours, I will not snap back when interrupted, even drop what I'm doing to look at something or get a coffee.
I do try to make it all fit in, usually with some careful & invisible planning. It is the invisibility that is its undoing - it is effort that rarely goes appreciated by people at home (people at work don't even know I do this). It is really hard to say yes to new plans when they keep coming up all the time, without sharing my carefully timed plans - "Yes, I need 10 minutes to setup something that will take 4500 seconds to run. Let's go in a bit, but can we back by 9?".
I love being able to say "Yes!" to a plan, but I rarely say out the rest of the above sentence. And that has repurcussions that affect my happiness over-all. If unexpectedly I have to spend two hours at CPK eating dinner (enjoyable time, of course), I have to catch up by staying up till 3 AM to get my four hours in that day. Perhaps people will come home and I will offer to cook pasta instead of going out. A part of it is selfish even, because if I stick at home, I might get to stare at a monitor while the pasta gets to al dente and get some of the scaffolding work in. Those are not really work hours - if I can cook pasta while I work, I'm not working.
Now, you might wonder about my deadlines when I talk about my time and work. I'm not slogging to meet some arbitrary deadline set by Hortonworks. I'm working because I get paid to do something I actually like. And I do like to take my time off and do other things I like. I want to spend about 9 days somewhere in the Himalayas next month, without cellphones, computers and with my camera, tripod and a stack of well chosen filters. To balance my work and life, I need to put in my time at work doing productive things and I do that without anyone forcing me to "SHIP CODE!" - what else counts as work? :)
But the trouble is that I can't seem to balance my work & life, particularly living with someone who's always up for new things by the hour (which is why I fell in love with her). And it is a question of expectations from the people in my life, because I work where I live, most of the time. Perhaps if I walk out of the home for 8 hours a day and go sit in Yoga House, the assumptions of my availability for plans will drop out of her mind.
I still love working from home. I do get to head out for an hour or so, eat lunch, drink coffee and spend quality time with people. I just wish they'd understand that I have a work schedule between those pleasant punctuations and make my life a little easier with fewer questions I have to say "*NO*" to.
Because saying "NO, I HAVE WORK" makes me sad. Very sad, indeed.--
Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
-- Anton Chekhov
I made a lot of fuss when I was turning 30. It seemed like a big deal.
There's something special about completing a revolution around the yellow star.
It is special to know that you spent the last year doing the important things - writing code, climbing mountains, running distances and sometimes just doing nothing at all.
But what overwhelms me is a realization that the more important anniversaries are elsewhere on my calendar now.--
Like most women my age, I am 28.
-- Mary Schmich.
To put a price on a thing is an odd thing to do.
I've never sold my photographs. I'd dreamt of doing a photo exhibition. I wanted to do more than show them only to take them home afterwards. I wanted to do something good along with it - to auction them and raise money. I didn't know what putting a price on one would feel.
But before I wade into my moral dilemma, let me thank the people without whom this wouldn't have been possible - Kavita, Tharak, Kritika, Pooja & Vivek. These five people were the hands, feet, brains, heart and occasionally filled in for all the other organs that were needed. Kavi was the mastermind of this project. I might've taken the photographs but she put on this show. Tharak for all the posters & the artwork in the coffee table book. But my gratitude really goes out to the last three, who flew in from Delhi & stayed the whole week to help!
Back to my dilemma. It wasn't as if people were paying for the photographs. They were paying for a visually impaired student's future & education - that this framed photo was merely a glorified thank you card, from me to you, all paid-for by me. But it did feel like I was making a sale.
Until that point in my life, I'd marked a large number of my photos online as CC-BY. All anyone needed to do was connect my photo to the original upload & use it as they please. They ended up on song cover art, safari brochures, treehugger articles, wikipedia and god knows where else. And if I cared, it was only to know that they were of use to someone.
As an auctioneer, I was conflicted. I wanted to give everyone the picture they liked, but I had to push the price up for the cause. Bidding wars may push the price up, but they do so by denying someone their wish to take the photo home. I wasn't happy to call up someone and tell them they weren't getting their photo of choice - I wanted to prevent people from outbidding others. At the same time, I wanted to hit my fund raising target.
I felt like I was the bad person here, keeping people from having what they want - for money. Generating artificial scarcity for something that was still available at no cost - I felt like I had sold out. Felt like I was doing something morally wrong, cheapening the sensation of having raised a whopping 1.3 lakhs for mitrajyothi. I might be feeling a bit low about the auction, but that money is going to go do a lot more good to a lot more people. But I do have something to re-iterate about my photos and your right to enjoy them.
My Creative Commons photos have always been available for anyone to download - use one as your wallpaper, take a print & frame it or paint a copy.
Just leave a comment or something, so that I have a reason to keep uploading more.--
The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.
-- Dale Carnegie
And I'm concerned.
I'm concerned that she does not understand the difference between marriage and love. That she does not understand the difference between love and sacrifice. That she does not understand the difference between loving someone and living with them. That she does not understand that marriage is not the finish line for love. That she does not understand marriage takes more than love.
And the more I think about it - I'm even more concerned.
I'm concerned that her apathy towards her career will be the death of it. That she will end up being a homemaker, after having a gold medal from NLS. That she will end up succumbing to the social pressures of being a Mrs Somebody. That one day somewhere in her middle ages she would regret her simple surrenders. That if she's wilfully ignoring the springboard of opportunity that so many of her peers don't have. That she might be decieving herself into becoming the role model wife and bahu - and fail. That she'll lose something precious and ephemeral - the fire to burn as bright as you can.
And in some way, I'm saddened.
I'm saddened that whenever she explains her idea of relationships it is to suffer for the sake of her partner, to be with him whatever it takes at whatever cost to her potential. That I couldn't pass off my own ephiphany about love and relationships - that it took me further ahead than I could've done on my own. That my efforts to fulfil my dad's hopes for her weren't enough - simple enough as they were, to see her "breaking through the limitations society might impose". That she won't see that in some way or the other, I've been on her side for twenty odd years in the case of Sister vs The World, 1986-present.
I'd don't think I'll ever stop being concerned about her - she's my baby (sister) too.
But in more than one way, I'm happy for her. And proud of her too.
She's marrying someone of her own choice - after six years of knowing each other. And it's happening out of co-operation between both the families. She's doing this completely out of her own volition, dreams and desires - which is what will truly give her the strength to push through when push comes to shove.
Also, she's been known for making me look very stupid - which this blog post might do in a couple of decades.--
Marriage has some thorns, but the alternative has no roses.
-- Vernon K. McLellan
Monday, August 11th 2003.
I will remember.
I can still feel it in my gut. The pointless despair, the rising anger, panic and the frustration of being at the recieving end of someone else's ego trip. Knowing that I was forever changed from that moment forth.
It was a valuable lesson - something I don't plan on forgetting.--
Experience is the most brutal of all teachers.
-- C.S Lewis