Friday, January 18, 2019

Window seats

pic courtesy: arpan, alan :)
(Originally published on my Medium page)

Things go smooth;
They sometimes do!
Like cruising on
Highway one-two.
Takes but a snap
To break the nap
And bring us back
To sober truths.

The view, in fact?
A tightrope act!
With people rapt
Like puny ants;
Clinging o’er a
Web of strands,
With their burdens
On their backs.

Like mongrels for
The morsels wait.
At times we must
To meet our fate.
Our love, our hate,
Our gain and pain,
E’er wonder, how
Much will remain?

The ‘lil child asks,
“Why me? Why me?”
“Who am I?”
“Pray, do what must we?”
Some spend their lives
In quests like these;
Some fold their legs
And smile in peace.

Some travel far,
Some venture near.
But glad are those
On window seats
Who see the trees,
Smell the rain,
Hear the birds,
And kiss the breeze!

0 | 2018

A journal on year Zero in my third startup journey/ life

As the last digit of this year is almost about to tumble on to the next, I thought I’d take this time to try and connect the dots I’d encountered in my journey over the past year. I’d probably be on the other side by the time I finish this longish journal. This, dear reader, be warned, is more an act of reflection than exhibition. You are, however, welcome to see what the mirror shows. Its gonna be long so you might read a bit, pause, leave and come back later to continue from where you’d left (that is, if you’d still be interested). I have tried to organize them month by month. The theme is Zero. This is what I brought to the table and reduced myself to in the hope of leaving soon with One :)


(Click here to read the rest of this story on my Medium page)


Image courtesy:

(Originally published on my Medium page)

We all love stories. We are stories. Some tales, we tell. Most others, we just live through, not a word being said.

Is a story just a sequence of events? At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. But there are perspectives that we miss because we are also the actors in our stories.

Its the spectators and the audience that make an actor, at the end of the day. True, the bedroom mirror might have instilled that spark of inspiration to begin with. It could very well have been that patient spectator to the countless hours of practice that went behind the one five minute grand entree on stage. But a mirror doth not an audience make. Or does it?

I’ve often tried to imagine an exceptionally talented artist who keeps her paintings hidden in the attic all her life. She paints because of an overwhelming force of expression from within her that compels her to. Is her life and work worth naught if her paintings remain hidden forever? What if she was Picasso?

How does she even sustain herself in the first place if her work does not fulfill her basic human needs? Will she be doing her creativity due justice if she spends her days toiling at some trade that feeds and clothes her but leaves very little time for her to spend on what she is prodigious at?

I know there are a lot of people who believe they are not special. What if it’s just that they never had an opportunity to discover themselves?

Is it a rule of thumb that most mortals must remain stuck forever in the lower rungs of Maslow’s need pyramid? That only the ambitious few and the lucky few can ever reach the upper echelons? Will this equation change over time? Is this what progress is meant to deliver, someday?

If we were completely self contained and infinitely self sustaining beings, things might have been different. But the truth is that we are not. We actually live off each other. We need each other. I guess that’s why incarceration and isolation are the most common punishments the world over.

Commerce is a codification of that need. In its most pristine form, the need was to merely barter. People evolved. Communities grew. Needs evolved. Methods evolved to scale with the needs. At some point in this story, profit came into being.

And then, profit became the sole driver. Things moved on from fulfilling something that was needed, to amassing something which was wanted. Sure, there still are communities that frown upon profit in ‘cash’, but then they too end up with other gains which may not be codified in cash, but as some other phenomenon. Most stories today therefore tend to be designed for profit.

What do all these do to our stories? The new world coda requires you to tell your stories in the way it wants to hear it, not the way you want to say it. You need to know your audience before you pen your lyrics and give it a tune and a rhythm. You need to fine tune your pitch for the investor. Ensure you’re a part of a mega-trend. For all you know, you could be making the best pizza the world has ever known, but sorry mate, it’s pasta season and everything else is passe. Because, that’s the only way to profit from it. Scratch that. Many a times that’s the key to survival.

All stories take time and effort. Both of which are extremely limited resources at our disposal. Most choices that we are offered are therefore biased decisions to be taken under such a duress.

Fulfillment is the rare phenomenon that happens when the story you want to tell is the one they want to listen to.

So, as far as I can read, life gives these options- You make your story, but then spend time to find an audience that loves it. Or you keep penning your stories till there’s one that strikes the right chord. Or you simply tailor your tales to suit them in the first place.

The attempt here was not to judge the way of the world but to reflect on and acknowledge one of the perspectives on it.

But then, what happens to our stories, if the tales we tell are always the ones they want to hear and not the ones we’d been yearning to tell? Will that still be your story? Or is it their story, merely being scripted and delivered through you? Will this lead at some point, in all tales sounding pretty much like each other? Like many a *wood movie lame? Or is it that a story always has you the story teller and me the audience and that makes it our story? And that every listener imbibes within her, atleast a small part of every story she hears, that resonates within her?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think so.

Meanwhile, what’s the kinda story that you’d like to tell? I’d love to hear! I hope you’ve found something, by being a part of my story by reading thus far.

You’re not broken

(Originally published on my Medium page)

You're not broken!
Even when you feel
The wounds; raw, open.

A fountain,
Blurred by subway motion,
Is just as real as the yonder mountain.

You can’t see, but
It’s the lens of this world
That’s cracked and frozen!

Fogged in the dew
Of dogged 'ol notions,
Timeless warps, mindless motions.

It’s tough to see
Your beauty, when
Mirrors are mere tokens!

You’re not broken.
You’re just detached,
From the world’s corrosion.

Reflections on being human

(Originally published on my Medium page)

We humans are a weird lot. All the other living species that we know of, subsist on, build on and die in their respective ecosystems in ways that seem absolutely ‘natural’. None of them make elaborate dwellings from materials that have undergone multiple levels of synthesis from their origins on this planet. None of them make food with multiple layers of complexity in taste, texture, aroma and nutrition. None of them wrap themselves in clothing; much less, in multi-shaped, multi-colour, multi-layered fabric derived from sources both artificial and natural blended together in what could best be described as marvels of modern manufacturing. None of them make energy beyond what their bodies produce. While we produce and consume way-way more energy than bodies strictly ‘need’ for its natural functions. All such things and more are manifestations of our humanness.

Now, many animals are territorial. They mark their territories. They do go to ‘war’ against others of their own species if they try to intrude. They go to war to expand their territories based on their need for food and sustenance of their clan. This, we have in common with the animal world. Wars. However, our wars are based more on our greed rather than our need. They are at times based on perceived moral high-grounds and moral low-grounds that our leaders choose to take up. Many animals are also extremely choosy about their mating partners. Many a war is fought just to establish the alpha identity on both sides of this divide. Ostensibly, an evolutionary trend that attempts to match the best pairs to produce the best offspring and thus the best chance to advance their clan. We humans have not lost this instinct either. But of course, over the years, we have built multiple super complex social structures in an attempt to codify this into a set of territorial rules: laws and morals and deterrents. Punishments, which fundamentally amount to banishment from this social structure into a super-restrictive and usually, a destructive one (despite their labels of being correctional).

We humans are weird because of this quirky combination where on one hand we crave to push the edge of creativity and consumption while still carrying within us some reflection of our primal animal instincts. The reason why we are what we are is because of our rather oversized spongy mound called the brain. It is designed/ has evolved to be able to make much better connections among disparate concepts based on what it learns using its senses than most other species. We also have the ability to build on past learnings by making connections among them. Most importantly, we have a sense of collective learning and are able to build upon it generation after generation. This is possible because humans have been able to preserve and pass pieces of this knowledge to other humans though speech, signs, symbols and gestures. We have even codified some of this transmission in a rather inefficient but arguably effective system called education.

It is argued that collectively, we have improved as a species. Heck, I’m recording my thoughts on a rectangular slab of carefully engineered layers of glass, silicon, lithium, plastic and metal. By swiping my fingers around. And my words are being transmitted in real time across multiple continents and oceans and being preserved as microscopic electric fields in some metal box with its own multi layer sandwich of materials, on the other side of the planet. Using energy that changes form many times from thermal to electrical to radio to light to electrical. All this, in a fraction of the time it takes to bat my eyelid! If this ain’t magic, what is? One of the many poignant manifestations of human progress.

Another simple metric that reflects this point is the average life expectancy, which has significantly improved over the recorded years.

However, one simple metric we have not adequately tracked and is unfortunately the one where we have failed as a species is sustainability. Closely linked to this metric is that of equity. It looks like what we have lost along our chosen path is the ability to think and act for the long term. It is amusing to think that our brains got the better of our thoughts on selfish self-preservation as a species by pitting us against thoughts of self gratification as individuals. Guess who’s been winning.

But this is where it gets even more interesting. The very fact that we as a species can reflect on ourselves and our actions is amazing. For instance, we know for sure now that our dependence on fossil fuels needs to end. There has been significant progress in harnessing alternate sources of energy. Evidently, such awakenings seem to happen only at the fringes of society. Most people are still comfortable in their ignorance and are gleefully oblivious of things much farther than the end of their noses. Hopefully awareness will percolate further. But will it spread fast enough and spur a collective correction of sorts in time?

It appears that we are now locked in a race against time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like reversing our technological advances to go back to a more primitive lifestyle is an option anymore. We are so firmly enmeshed in technology that it is bears some resemblance to the Matrix. So, we have no practical option but to bet on the same ingenuity to pull us out that we’d used to get ourselves into the mess in the first place. Bittersweet. The escape plan seems to be to keep moving forward. But faster, and with a keen awareness of the situation we’ve gotten into and we’re capable of deteriorating into.

Hope we can fix our future in time and preserve as much of the diverse and beautifully simpler life-forms around us. That would perhaps help our future generations to have a redemptive understanding of what being human is all about.

(I had begun writing this post about two weeks ago. It’s time now for some poignant reflection as I’m about to hit the publish button, after having spent a week surviving the #keralaFloods. Have resisted the urge to edit this post for now. More on this in a separate post, some time soon)

Annoying alliterations

(Originally published on my Medium page)

Bit big
Clearly confusing
Dearly departed
Ever early
Finally first!
Good grief!
Hyped hackney
International Indian
Jam jelly
Kind king
Little long
Mindful meditation
Not nothing
Open offer
Peaceful protest
Quaintly queer
Rigged race
Shrill silence
Tipsy teetotaller
Up under
Varnished veneer
War winner
X-rated x-ray
Yes you
Zoo zebra


Tax meets it’s match!

(Originally published on my Medium page)

Just wanted to share a rad thought I’ve been mulling over the past few months. I’ve decided to call it xat (pronounced ‘ksat’: which is almost like mixing cat and sat into one word). Why xat? Because its the opposite of tax. (And sorry this has nothing to do with the MBA entrance tests in India, also called XAT)

All of us pay taxes. Not that as citizens of a nation/ state, we have much of an option. Some taxes are direct (eg: income tax) and some are indirect (eg: goods and services tax). My understanding of the concept is that you pay a portion of the value you create for yourself, back to the state because of two purported reasons:

a. It (the state) played a part in enabling you to be in a position to create value for yourself. It built the road, funded the school, laid the railway tracks etc that should have surely contributed to you being you. So pay-up for your past and present.

b. It wants to create more enabling infrastructure and conditions that would enable a lot more of its citizens to create a lot more value for themselves and those around them (and pay more taxes as well, in the future). So pay up for your future.

There are harsh penalties for not paying taxes as prescribed. There are even penalties for not filing your returns, even if one has paid all taxes and expects no returns! (I think that in the digital age, these routines must be done away with completely. They are a huge drain on a very precious resource: the productive time of productive people. Taxes could be deducted automatically, returns filed automatically and people only need to indicate exceptions, if any. Or, even as some opine, do away with direct taxes completely and have a simple indirect tax regime… But these opinions are way above my pay-grade and are what they are, mere opinions of a man entitled to some)

My purpose here is to highlight an imbalance of powers as it exists between the citizen and her state. This is something so obvious that it has been always ignored.

The simple fact is that there are no direct penalties imposed on the state when it does not do its part as stringently as when a citizen does not do her part. Here’s a simple example: I cannot travel on a particular road if I do not pay the toll-tax. However, I am not paid a rupee if the road has pot-holes!

Money being fungible, once the tax is paid, it just becomes money in the government coffers and our elected representatives are pretty much free to do whatever they deem fit with it within the bounds of law and the constitution. This link is not determinate. I mean, a political party may declare in their election manifesto that they would focus on a public cause X. Then when they come to power, they may present a budget to spend Y on X. But actually, due to myriad reasons, Z may actually get spent. Also, since a nation has a zillion points of expenditure, it may not be practical to even try and keep track of all of this as an individual citizen. What we get is roughly this:

Infographic: Where the Rupee will come from and how it will be spent in 2017-18 - Times of India

So we roughly know that for every rupee that we pay on tax, x paise should get spent on a, y on b and z on c, for a given financial year.

However, the only way we can express our displeasure, pleasure or otherwise on the allocation, expenditure or its outcomes is through an aggregate electoral representation. We could either get our elected representatives to speak/ act for us or we could vote the incumbents out/ in depending on how we think they have performed.

Now notice how an individual action (paying taxes) for individual benefit (eg: establishment and maintenance of infrastructure) has remedies that are collective and have a very delayed or costly effect/ recourse (meet your rep/ wait for elections/ file a complaint/ lodge a legal case).

Let me recap. As a citizen I pay taxes. Determinate. Time-bound. Legally enforced. As a citizen, I expect certain minimum infrastructure; say, paved roads, water, electricity, public transport. If the government and the state machinery is unable to give me this, there is no determinate, time-bound, legally enforced and effortless counter routine.

Why am I highlighting this now? Let me explain. The infrastructure in this country, is far from adequate and we have developed a collective coping mechanism termed: kindly adjust. On the other hand we are in a state where a significant proportion of citizens have a digital financial identity. A tax paying citizen for sure has one. While this identity has traditionally been used to debit the customer, it is eminently possible and relatively trivial to do the reverse as well. Thanks to a robust inter-operable banking infrastructure that has come up here.

So we are now in a position where the state could technically be debited and a citizen credited in real-time if required. This is what I am proposing as Xat.

The other known instances of a similar monetary flow are either when you are a ‘beneficiary’ in a government benefits program or when you are owed a tax return. While the first is essentially a wealth redistribution program the second is a mere clerical adjustment for an imbalance in the information available to the actor and the state.

Xat seeks to be neither. It is intended to be a near real time penalty paid by the state to its citizens for not delivering on certain defined minimum that the citizen’s taxes should have delivered, had they been put to a proper use.

Here’s an instance. Imagine you are travelling in a car from location A to location B. As a citizen you are within your rights to expect a smooth road between these two points. Assume that your smart phone/ a special sensor affixed to the car can sense every time the road causes an unexpected level of vibration (pothole). Let’s say, it detected D meter aggregate bad road for the trip.

Now if the per capita spending on roads was X for the state and the total estimated road length is Y, as soon as the car reaches its destination, it submits signed digital incident artefacts to the Xat system along with location information. The Xat system calculates X*D/Y and credits it directly to your bank account, pushes you a notification and logs the incident.

As long as the shortfalls are quantifiable, the claimants identifiable and their act of availing a service verifiable, Xat should be applicable.

Say, a train you have booked a ticket for arrives late by T minutes. Garbage does not get collected from your neighbourhood for N hours. Police arrives M minutes late than their published response time after your phone call. Pollution level greater than L. Noise level>K in your residence. Street light not working for S stretch of road. No electricity for O minutes.

The idea is to kill the power asymmetry in the citizen-state equation by introducing instant monetary repercussions for inaction or inadequate action. I believe nothing would spur as much action as the sight of the treasury emptying itself!

Am also certain that even if the resource or service had been executed/maintained by a third party, the Xat must be paid directly by the state. Whether the state then recovers or remedies it’s shortfall from its contractors is purely it’s business.

Perhaps these Xats could be pulled off by the smartphones that most people carry nowadays. Perhaps they need a cloud of sensor networks. Maybe the system uses blockchain instead of central servers. Perhaps there are better quantification methods…

The point of this article was not to get into any specifics of an implementation. The intent was only to sow the seeds of thoughts on Xat into your minds. Because I think it’s time the humble tax met it’s match!

Of course I’m naive and foolish. So go ahead and critique my thought and punch holes in my logic. Or if you’re an app developer, could you make an app that quantifies your Xats? Just so that we have a sense of what this means?

What say?

Just let an angel

(Originally posted on my Medium page)

Smile when the road’s dark and the woods brown,
Someday you’ll look back and see no frown.
Cry if you must but with none around,
Lest your tearspill a near one drown.
Love someone with your guard down;
Trust is the stone that builds this town.
Dance with abandon, on the sea sand;
Let the waves wash your footprints bland.
Soar as high as an eagle flies,
All that you’ve built, you’ll see: are toys,
And when you slip and fall flat down,

Just let an angel pick you a crown.

Was is

(Originally posted on my Medium page)

On a table.
She was
A doctor.

And out;
He was
The captain.

In the haunts
It roamed
As the hunter.

Glam mag
And made

No lights,
No bells,
No farewell

What is
Had just
What was.


PS: Gibberish

(Originally posted on my Medium page)