Time Series II – Imbalance: blocks in the flow

Imbalance I: About one and a half years ago, I purchased a Scooty to ease the hassles and pains of commuting in Bangalore. In the initial months, I was constantly dogged by the fear of losing balance on the bike. My tendency to panic made my relationship with my Scooty even worse. I ended up in two accidents within a space of two months.

The fear of losing balance led to tremendous anxiety. I avoided taking the Scooty on the roads as much as possible. In the middle of last year, it became imperative that I ride the bike if I was to get around comfortably and cheaply. In that period, I turned fear into a source of zen. I started watching every moment when the sensation of fear and imbalance arose. In each one of those moments, I’d calm myself down by saying “move forward”. When I passed the rough terrain, I’d say to myself, “phew! negotiated”. This was an empowering experience – I had learnt to deal with that which was once a source of fear.

Imbalance II: When I started writing up my thesis in 2011, I was stricken by a terrible bout of anxiety. For the first time in my life, I was having trouble falling asleep at night. I was always in an anxious state, trying to define my research question and putting a finger on the most perfect way to articulate my arguments. I was stuck with concepts. I kept reading more and more books and journal articles to clarify my ideas. Each time I was left with feeling that I knew very little about my field.

In the meanwhile, I kept fighting the boundaries of my relationship with my husband so as to keep my focus and concentration intact and not be distracted by external circumstances. Each time I fought, the emotional fault lines got stronger. Eventually, I was neither writing my thesis nor was I happy about the state of my friendship with my husband. There was no flow in my words. There was no flow in our relationship. I was a loser on both counts until I finally decided to support my husband in what he was doing. This was also my way of reclaiming the spirit in my writing. In the first few months that followed, I regained the deep friendship between Kiran and me. I also triumphantly wrote an essay and moved forward in co-editing a journal.

These days though, the words have dried up in the (s)pool of my mind. I don’t have a fantastic relationship either. I have found my husband, but I have lost my friend. There is an imbalance in my life’s journey. There is imbalance inside me.

Imbalance III: Yesterday, the cycle at Devrayanadurga was an 18 inche frame Trek mountain bike. It was too high for me. In my mind, I decided not to ride it because I was afraid of falling. TBD insisted that I try standing and riding. I don’t know how to stand and ride. I had given up hope even before I even tried. I was in a state of panic, frustration and wanting to give up as soon as possible.

Eventually, TBD got me to practice pedalling with a single leg and learning how to tilt the upper half of my body and balance the bike. All the small lessons I learnt yesterday culminated in me being able to stand and pedal, and even stand and get on the frame of the bike. It was my moment of triumph, my moment of empowerment, my moment of having opened my mind and moved forward despite the fear of falling down and losing balance.

Seeking balance: 

The words have dried up.

My mind is not imaginative anymore.

I think of tasks and task lists, of missed and to-be-achieved deadlines.

Time is dead wood. The tree of my life is stunted.

Are the roots still there? Are they alive? How do I know? How do I nourish them?

What is the first step I have to take to find flow, to find balance, to seek comfort despite the discomforts within myself?

Will the words return?

Will they return if I let go?

– Dedicated to love, one of the most powerful emotions that humanity knows

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Time Series – I: I lost your watch, but I kept track of our time

Some days ago, I lost a wristwatch which was gifted to me many years ago. Needless to say, it had several memories attached to it. When I realized that I had misplaced the watch, these words came to my mind: “I lost your watch, but I kept track of our time.” Again, needless to say, I am not terribly happy to retain time and the memories associated with things, places, people. Memories can be very painful, especially when they build into layers of resentment and attachment.

I lost your watch, but I kept track of our time.

About one and half years ago, I decided to participate in running HasGeek. I started the company with Kiran in 2010 because I wanted my own independent research outfit. I was not actively involved with operations and planning at HasGeek until October 2011. I knew how to organize conferences (minus all the technology that we now have at HasGeek events) and work with people. I was interested in understanding communities. Community building was always at the heart of many activities and projects I had initiated and been part of: starting Phase Five with Les, Vinod and Ayesha; working with Gowhar, Idhries, Sarwar, Aabid, Altaf and others in Srinagar; ethnography of space in Mumbai; my PhD on property relations, share-holding and entitlements in squatter settlements and rehabilitation and resettlement sites. This attracted me towards the HasGeek model of learning and living.

What started out as ‘supporting the running of the company’ in late 2011 soon became full-fledged involvement by mid-2012. There was one other crucial factor involved here. About five months after working at HasGeek, I had a bad PhD review in March 2012. Here, not only did I get criticised publicly for (presumably) not moving forward in my thinking and central research question; my advisor also said things which implied to me that he no longer had confidence in my project. This, and the subsequent reactions, started the downward spiral leading to a state of morass that I now find myself in.

In the last one and a half years, I stayed away from academic life, thinking that this life is not for me. Add to that I got into a field whose language and concepts are completely alien to me. I kept nursing the hurt and anger since March 2012 and got into a self-deprecating cycle. I lost confidence in my own abilities and kept doubting my place and purpose in life. None of my achievements in HasGeek gave me satisfaction. Each time, I felt that something was sorely missing in every activity, in each accomplishment. Yet, I kept drowning myself into activity in the hope of finding a new purpose and losing my cherished dreams of writing and completing my thesis.

I also lost touch with the running group that I was part of from 2010 to mid-2011. This group had nourished me in the most difficult times in life and had helped me to move closer to writing up my thesis. I could not keep pace with the running schedules because of the hectic life of running a startup. I missed running and kept yearning that I will get back to it someday or the other. NOW was always the moment for responding to some email, for attending to some emergency, for dealing with some operational issue. But, fundamentally, NOW was the scary moment of confronting what lay beneath the compulsive frenetic pace of activity. Hence, NOW always became the moment of dealing with something else, and LATER was meant for cherished dreams. I became promiscuous towards myself.

I realize that the time has come to shed the layers of anger, resentment, stress and worry and to move towards something larger that my life is meant for. Two days ago, my PhD advisor and I got in touch. We spoke to each other after one year. I realized that both of us were each confronted with life situations that made us respond to each other the way we did at that time. This evening, when we chatted like good old days, I realized how vulnerable we are as human beings and that accepting vulnerability is strength.

For the last one and a half years, I have been fighting this vulnerability. I have masked my fears as hurt. Consequently, I have remained stuck and depressed. When I lost the watch that ‘I’ had gifted so lovingly, I felt a sense of relief because while our relationship was over, the residual hurt, anger and resentment had stayed inside me all these years. This evening, when I spoke to SV – my supervisor – I felt that I had loosened up and that we could still be the backslapping buddies that we were, and that we were companionate in our respective uncertainties, vulnerabilities and life situations.

I lost your watch, but I kept track of our time.

It is this time that I want to lose and live my life not as if time were a dictator, but as if time were flow. If I can go with this flow, my life will be worthwhile.

In the meantime, I remain bundled up in layers of hurt, vulnerability, beauty, resentment, desire and hope … … …

– dedicated to Anja, Muthu, Santhosh, @rakesh314, and the one and only @threepointone

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Dealing with depression and burnout

I cannot remember the date of my last post. Neither have I bothered to look at the last post to verify the date. All I know is that the last post made it aptly evident to me that I was suffering from depression, and that I had to find a way out.

Depression has taken root in me for various reasons. I think it is a pointless exercise to list every reason here because reasons can sometimes be rationalised, and rationalisations can be convenient lies. In the last few days however, when I came across Aaron Swartz’s post on depression, I was reminded once again that I needed to set myself a goal. Working towards the goal may motivate me and help me get out of the situation I am in. After writing my last blog post too, I realised the importance of setting myself a goal in the running programme if I were to stick to it. For the next few days, I decided that the goal will be to complete the 10k run at the Auroville race. However, I soon fell out of the rhythm with the running programme because of my inability to motivate myself to wake up early in the mornings and mile the runs.

In December, I felt that by trying to revive my academic career and moving towards writing, researching, lecturing, etc, I may come out of my depressed state. However, I soon realized that trying to run HasGeek and build my career at the same time could be fatal for my mental and physical health. I was also facing a burnout at that time because of the stress at work, and no rest despite a break from organizing conferences. The visit to Bombay in that period only depressed me further because of the pain I felt at being removed from fieldwork and ethnographic writing.

One of the best decisions I made in that period was to somehow reduce the pressure I was putting on myself about reviving my academic career.  I decided to go on the cycling trip which was postponed from the first week of Dec to the last week. The dates clashed with a panel discussion in Mumbai. I decided to drop the panel discussion invitation, thereby relieving myself from the pressure of building a career. Instinctively, I knew that the cycle ride would be good for my emotional health. And boy, two days of riding 100 kms did make a difference the next day! Having finished the ride, I felt accomplished. The workout also made me feel better about myself for couple of days until work stress got to me once more!

I have now been doing a cycle ride at least once a week. We did an adventurous 110 km ride the following Sunday followed by a shorter 50 km ride last Sunday. I also decided to do pushups regularly since I wanted to build on my core fitness and arm strength. Kiran helped me find an Android app which has a daily training schedule for pushups. I followed it as diligently as I could. I have now started doing squats as well. I keep hoping that I will motivate myself enough to get back to running. But this hasn’t happened yet.

I also started reading more voraciously since mid-Dec. I have completed reading three books in all – one about a mobile platform in South Africa, Catch-22 and Life of Pi. I am now reading an interesting history about the evolution of the modern computer with graphical user interface. I also read a lot of articles posted on my twitter timeline, thanks to the Pocket app and my new Android phone.

I have also taken to cooking. I have been thinking of getting more scientific with proportions and flavours, and getting back to baking. I decided to fix my food habits, in the hope that by eating healthier, I might get better with waking up early in the mornings to go for a run. I now eat breakfasts at home and also try and get home-cooked food for lunch. We have asked the office help to double up as a cook and make dinner at office. I have reduced my in-take of coffee, especially from Coffee Day and Costa joints. I have switched to drinking green tea in the mornings, and now prefer to drink lighter tea. It makes my body feel better. Also, reducing the intake of fried foods, especially chips, has made a world of difference for me. I don’t feel so sluggish anymore as a result of these changes.

I still feel goal-less though, and I have been wondering what kind of goal to set for myself.  Any goal that has to do with research and writing is demotivating, still. I find instead that setting a goal about improving my speed and times with cycling makes me feel more motivated. However, this does not seem like a tangible goal. What this makes me realize that I am still keeping up the pressure on myself to “do” something “substantial”. Unless I let go of this pressure and the mental talk that I feed myself, I will not be able to lose the handles that I have set out to lose in 2013, and understand the world afresh, anew.

Dedicated to Hobbeś the John.

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Hopelessness

I have rarely felt hopeless in my life. I can’t even remember when was the last time I felt hopeless.

When I first traveled to Seoul, I read a quote by a Korean actress in the newspaper on the flight: “When you feel down, there is nowhere else to go but the top.” I was very inspired by the quote. Since then, I have always motivated myself to feel hopeful about every situation, however difficult the situation may be. I am a driven person and I almost always try and achieve everything I have set out for myself, despite difficulties. I find that adversity is my best friend – I end up redeeming myself in adverse situations by standing up to them.

Currently though, I have been experiencing hopelessness. Every little thing I do – whether it is a goal I have accomplished or a milestone reached – I feel hopeless, as if nothing is going to change in my life and I will continue to rust and rot. I am not sure what is the source of this feeling. When I think over it, I feel it is the distance between me and my PhD thesis that is causing this state. For over a year now, I haven’t worked on my PhD thesis. Each day that passes by reminds me that I am moving farther and farther away from something I had set out to do which I haven’t accomplished. I feel a constant source of pressure inside me, the pressure to get out of my present situation and take charge of my life. But then, I feel hopeless because I feel I have no control over my life and that I am simply drifting from one day to another.  I am not sure if this is what it means to feel hopeless. And if this is indeed hopelessness, I now realize what it means for another person to feel similarly.

Running to lose hopelessness: Over the past few months, when I have tried to wake up in the mornings to go for a run, I have felt hopeless. I go to the park and begin to feel that I don’t know how to run. Then I start, unsteadily, and pick up and feel happy about the fact that I haven’t lost touch with running. I feel calmer after a run. Next day again, I wake up in the morning and tell myself I don’t know how to run. And I fall back to sleep. I have been very erratic with running in the past few months.

I started running this season in the hope that I will lose some of the flab that I have developed over the last one year, and regain fitness. It hasn’t been a great start to this season. I have already missed training sessions. I also realize that the training schedules are now designed to be more challenging than they earlier were, perhaps because many of the runners are continuing from one programme to another. If I lose even a single day of training, then I have a lot of ground to cover and that may be bad for my weak muscles and knees.

I also set myself the goal to be a strong finisher by training this season. By this, I mean that I literally finish strong. Often, when I run, I pick up pace and motivation in the middle of the run. But, by the end of the run, I get tired. I am panting and my breathing is terrible. Resultantly, I end up walking most of the last leg of the runs and then somehow push myself to finish. I feel I end up doing this even when I start a new writing project. I get anxious, I tire myself out and then I don’t end up with a happy, strong finish. So I thought that trying to establish this as a goal may change my present mental and physical state. When I ran by myself on Tuesday, I started with the same feeling that I don’t know how to run. But by the last lap, I was actually pacing well. That made me feel good about myself.

This morning, I again woke up feeling hopeless. I felt I wouldn’t be able to be do the run. At the venue, Kaiwan announced that the 10k runners had a bonus of an extra kilometer. This meant I’d have to run 6 kms instead of 5. I was already feeling terrible and this announcement did not make me feel any better. I thought I’d barely be able to finish the run because I felt I was not in the physical state to move from 3k the week before to 6k this weekend. I had bad attendance in the past one week because I was stressed with trying to finish revising a research proposal. I was skipping runs because of the stress and anxiety. Overall, I was only miserable most of this week.

The run began. I kept telling myself that I will not be able to finish it. I ran with few breaks in the first three kilometers, perhaps because most of the run was downhill. I managed the first two uphills decently, but noticed that I wasn’t able to lift my feet off the ground much. Perhaps this is because of the glute problem that I have or it could be because of the amount of weight I have put on at my hips and thighs. Or, it could also be because of my bad breathing patterns which make me feel heavier each time I lift my feet off the ground. I don’t know the exact reasons. I’ll have to run more to find out.

On many days I avoid doing the runs because I feel very uncomfortable during the runs – I become anxious, I feel tension building up in my neck region and muscles, my face and ears become hot and my head is hot to touch. By the end of the run, I sometimes feel nauseous and I am gasping for breath. These are aspects that I am trying to improve by running and trying to accomplish the goal of finishing strong.

In the second half of the run, I was terrible. I walked the first uphill and then I walked every uphill I came along, instead of making the effort to run. It wasn’t a strong finish, even though I completed the distance. At the end of the run, I did not end up feeling happy. I continued to feel hopeless. But one thing that did occur to me when I was doing the foot drills was that perhaps this is a good time to lose all the handles that I have on life – everything I have learnt now needs to be unlearned so that I can let go and start afresh. I am not sure to what extent I will be able to accomplish this unlearning. It requires letting go of ego, living in the moment and being introspective only when necessary.

For now, I have this much to log. Let’s see if I can motivate myself to run tomorrow.

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Work, Identity and Time – a little conversation with the Little Book of Kabul

Dear Fra,

This morning, I set off to look through the participant database for JSFoo and figure out what were the job profiles of the attendees. I had to compress the work profiles into a graph, which is to go into the event report. I was building a classification of work when I came across titles such as:

  1. Framework Engineer,
  2. Requirements Analyst,
  3. Manager of Interactive Development,

among other profiles. 

For many days now, I have been mulling – and complaining and writing – about work. I have been trying to define my work in HasGeek in order to build an identity for myself – and I have been very unsuccessful at that.

This morning, as I was trying to build the classification, I once again thought of work, and how work has become such an essential aspect of our self-identity definitions. I remembered two things as I was thinking about work.

The first incident that came to my mind was this book called Ishmael which I had read soon after I dropped out of Clinical Psychology masters programme in 2001. In the book author Daniel Quinn narrated the story of a young man who was excellent at everything he did – carpentry, farming, writing, music, art, you name it – and yet, he could not make up his mind about what he wanted to do in life. Unable to find an answer to the question, he eventually walked into a river and died. Quinn’s conclusion from this story was that if the young man was part of a community where everyone does everything and one gets taken care of even if one is not “working”, then the young man may not have met the fate that did.

The second incident that I still vividly remember is the first morning in Srinagar, Kashmir, where I sat down in the parlour, sipping tea, and that activity went on for nearly an hour. Gowhar sensed the restlessness inside me and gave me an impish grin: “you are looking for work, huh? This is the valley. Time passes very slowly here. Take things as they come.” During the next few days in Srinagar, I grappled and struggled with many things – time, work and self-identity struggles being one part of them. Time passed real slowly. Work was among the least of the concerns that people had (and yet it was the foremost concern). There was little meaningful work to do at that time – you either became an engineer in the Public Works Department or you end up with a teaching job in Srinagar university, or you kept on studying till you found “work”. And yet, all of this work meant little to the people of my age back then – work could be as oppressive as everything else around – family, conflict, state, citizenship.

This morning, when I reflected back on the social networks, groups and the world that I am part of, I was forced to think about the relationship between work, time and self-identity. I am seemingly living in a seemingly fast-paced world of information technology developments where things change so rapidly. I have come from a world of studying land, economy, society, practice and relationships where change takes place very slowly, even when things appear fast-changing on the surface. In the midst of these changes and pace of time are changing definitions of what counts as “work”, as “meaningfulness”, as “productivity”, as “livelihood”. Whose craft/skill/contribution values more and therefore, what aspirations and strivings do people have when they seek work or build work for themselves or define what their work entails? How does the software architect place himself/herself in relationship with the “software engineer” and how does this relationship and definition impact the self-identities that each of these entities builds for himself/herself?

This morning, I thought back on the time you are spending in Kabul and the narratives you are building from what you observe and experience. I remembered the post you made about the visit to the art school. I remembered the brief discusion you had with me about tailors, buttons and clothes in Kabul. I thought back on these, and right then – this morning –  began to wonder how work, time and self-identity issues are playing out in Kabul. I’d like to know more.

Among the last few thoughts I had this morning, I looked back on my decision to live in this neighbourhood in D C Road that I do. It is a village that has now become the hub of movement for vehicles, people and goods because it connects with Electronics City. Yet, if you look at the buildings – that represent what architects, planners and urban studies theorists will call “sprawl” – they appear as if from a different time. There is a temple, among many other temples, in this neighbourhood. This temple is situated behind the Veera Bhadraswamy bus stop. It has a courtyard like space where old men, mostly speaking Tamil, congregate in the mornings. One of the men there presses clothes – from 6 AM to 10 AM. He, along with other men, talk to each other. Their talk is usually gossip, or so I fathom. I think about them, their lives and “work”. I think about the men and women who run provision stores in this neighbourhood and how it was to run provision stores back in 1970s and 1980s where these stores were primarily information networks.

There is so much to be thought about and written about work, time and self-identities of individuals and communities – a philosophical treatise, historical accounts, reflections on knowledge and political economy. This could be a project in itself. And then, it becomes work. What an irony!

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Stillness

Last evening, the orange-coloured masoor dal boiled in water with turmeric and salt. I seasoned it with garlic, curry leaves, green chilly, mustard and cumin seeds, in ghee. All of this cooked in an terracotta vessel that my friends gifted on my wedding. The dal was a simple fare, but it had the elements of connectedness and rootedness, two elements that I have been desperately searching in my life.

Cooking dal in the middle of fever and body ache was quintessential because of the desire for stillness – awareness and calm in the process of movement.

I have been seeking stillness since Droidcon got over. Organizing events can be highly consuming. Usually, there is subtle stress – both happy and anxiety-laden. You are always striving to put things together, get people to work together, and complete tasks within a limited time frame. Often, you have to deal with limitations, move some steps forward before others are completed, and fix things that ought to have been done earlier in the linear scheme of organizing events. The process of moving forward when organizing events is demanding in this respect. The demanding nature is accelerated by the fact that you also have to manage relationships and people, with all their limitations and possibilities.

At the end of the day, an event is also the by-product of the organizer and his/her drives, motivations, personality. For me, it is essential to organize an event in the spirit of curiosity, questioning, enterprise and fun.

But that does not mean I am light-hearted all through the process of organizing the event. I wish I could be (and that’d mean I have attained the ultimate state of Vipassana). There are times when I am frustrated because I don’t understand every aspect of technology to be able to piece together coherent meaning into the event, let alone its content. There are times when I don’t know what is the research question I am asking when I am putting together a JSFoo or a Droidcon – what is the intersection between technology and society that is being revealed to me that I don’t know. And it is more frustrating after an event when it is not clear what is it I have gathered that I did not know before.

The search for stillness is driven by my mind’s constant strivings, fears, aspirations and frustrations. How do I respond to each of these thousand questions and aspirations that are in my mind without being frustrated by the hiddenness of the apparent? How do I keep moving forward in the face of what appears to be a slow process of learning? How do I not get bogged down by the fact that each event is a further revelation about relationships and processes, and not necessarily about technology and it’s implications on practice, structures and economy?

Stillness is about calm in the face of seeming frustrations, limitations and slowness. Last night, when the orange masoor dal transformed from it’s raw state into something that was as simple and heartwarming as a meal, it was a process of stillness combined with movement. In music, notes and rhythm are actually stillness, where there is movement without the sense of being ruffled or frustrated. In the act of running, there is stillness when the legs are bobbing up and down despite the aches and pains and without the fear of making it to the finish line within a certain time period. Stillness is about movement and the calm to work with time, not against time. Stillness is about movement despite the mind and its machinations. Stillness is the ability and courage to keep moving forward, perhaps with the faith and patience that the hidden will become manifest and that movement is the journey towards discovering the manifest in the hidden.

Stillness is like the process of combining elements when baking bread – knowing and yet not knowing what outcome will become manifest with all the ingredients worked together with the hands, elements of the self, and the alchemy of nature and technology … … …

Stillness 

Dedicated to myself,  and Santhosh Padmanabhan

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Roles, sacrifices and the “value” of “work”

It’s 5 AM this morning.

This is the first of few mornings in the past two months when I have woken up feeling somewhat relaxed. Else, 5 AM has often arrived after three hours of sleep and forcing myself to wake up to work that has to be done for either JSFoo or Droidcon.

What has this work involved?

  1. Writing emails to selected speakers asking them to send their slide decks for review;
  2. Planning for work that needs to get done on that day and for the next few days with respect to logistics and outreach;
  3. Writing emails to sponsors, raising either invoices or asking to expedite the PO/PR process;
  4. Writing to potential sponsors, asking them to respond with either a yes or no about their interest in one of the two events;
  5. Attending to the accountant about the status of taxation and tax filings;
  6. Understanding book-keeping and how to manage finances when running a company; 
  7. Chasing documents for internet connections at event venues;
  8. Fixing logistics for international speakers with my colleague Radha;
  9. Either following-up or asking the team to follow-up on equipment purchases, inventory, vendors, participant ticket booking/cancellation queries, etc;
  10. Writing a press release or publishing videos or making blog posts to push people’s interest in HasGeek events;
  11. Striking a collaboration or two with groups or communities to widen the scope of what can be achieved through each event.

It’s 5 AM this morning.

I am still unsure of the value of all this mundane, secretarial and accounting work that I have been doing since December 2011. I have more than often felt pained or been grudging towards my self about what direction I am moving my own life by taking on these responsibilities. Clearly, there are more exciting things to do in life than sending follow-up emails first thing in the morning, at 5 AM. This could well be somebody else’s job. Why have I chosen to make it mine?

It’s 5 AM this morning.  

Droidcon got over a day ago. I was physically and mentally exhausted yesterday, at 11:30 in the morning. I could only think of watching a movie to lift myself off the inertia, tiredness and adrenalin crash that was setting itself on me after two months of running around.

We decided to watch the James Bond movie, Skyfall. As the movie progressed through the storyline of revenge and anger, I was reminded of my life where I passionately thought and wrote of history – histories of space, histories of everyday practices and relationships, histories of economy and context – and how every history shaped the present and human relations. I was traveling through the lives and journeys of several people, discovering what spaces and relationships meant to them and how conflicts stemmed from these meanings and practices. 

Watching emotions of anger, passion, love and revenge in Skyfall reminded me of moments between 2011 and 2012 where I have harboured and expressed each of these emotions because of the confusion of what my life was becoming with an unfinished PhD, a business in its second year, a marriage in its fourth year, a relationship of friendship and love with my best friend who happens to be my husband, a desire to see him succeed, and uncertainty of what I wanted for myself in life. 

These confusions and the roles that I have subsequently adorned have often compelled me to rethink the “value” of “work” and what kinds of “values” society and people place on different kinds of work – secretarial, programming, research, writing, building technology, solving problems, care-taking, cooking, home-making, teaching, speaking, etc. I have often had to ask myself if I am undermining myself by taking on tasks in HasGeek that society often overlooks because these are not considered world changing or revolutionary. In the years when I was working on my doctoral thesis, my friend Salien used to talk to me about how a task such as “cooking” is looked down upon whereas if the doctoral student or the super intellectual theorist is not fed and taken care of, where will the nourishment for her/his works come from? 

It’s 5 AM this morning …

… and I am still struggling with questions about work, value, passion and desire.

I am still uncertain about where my life is going and whether choosing to sacrifice what one likes to do for what has to be done is worth it. And if it is worth, what is it worth for? Will it change the way we look ourselves and others around us, in the short- or long-term?

Last evening, when I was in the kitchen because my mother-in-law asked me cook another dish for dinner and I caved in to her demands, I wondered one more time whether sacrificing my moment to myself for the greater good of the family (or rather, the men of the family) was worthwhile at all? Whether her questions to me about my unfinished PhD are indicative of the excessive value that society places on on a certain kind of education and does not on everyday tasks of running around including cooking and feeding a family? Whether roles of motherhood, womanhood and care-taking will always be taken for granted because the world and the lives in it are changed by a faster browser or a better app development framework?

It’s 5 AM this morning. 

I am not sure what the day ahead of me is looking like, or the next few days or for that matter, the next few months and yet another year … … …

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Of dependencies, redundancy, plumbing, promise OR, what it took to create JSFoo Bangalore 2012

Dependency refers to the case when one piece of code or module depends on another piece of code in order for it to work. (noun, verb

 

I am not a geek. To answer the oft-asked question, which I find terribly irritating and irksome, “I am NOT a TECHNICAL person.” Many times, I feel out of place in gatherings when people are passionately talking about code, databases, technology frameworks and languages. I am still discovering and fathoming the process of individuality and freedom associated with being part of “geek communities”, “meetups”, and “discussion spaces”. It’s all interesting, and it is about dependencies. 😉

 

I find myself most unqualified to run a HasGeek event. I have no clue about tethering, throttles and all the complexities that go into making the internet connection work at conferences. I can’t determine the freaking difference between VGA cables, splitters, mixers and all that jazz that produces a reasonable conference video. I can figure out good food for participants, talk to the watchman at NIMHANS to ensure that the AC is turned off when it gets too cold inside the auditoriums, deal with the HR or marketing person from a sponsor’s company, and marry people with tasks that suit their abilities and personalities. Now, when I look back at JSFoo Bangalore 2012, an event that I think we successfully and lovingly delivered, I realize that it takes all kinds of dependencies to run an event, and to work towards the claim that we are creating “discussion spaces” around technologies. 

 

Dependencies are frightening to human beings, to most of our seemingly liberated selves, because society emphasises and values individuality (an erroneous concept when considered in absolute). But communities are really about this productive tension between individuality, consensus proceses and group decisions. I find it fascinating to observe and understand how “geek communities” function, the process of writing code as an individual and through “community” contributions, the disdain that folks like Vishal and Kiran have for “design by committee”, etc, and yet this keenness and interest that someone like Rakesh has in meetups, groups, local discussion forums and mentoring, and the drive for openness that leads Kiran to contest content decisions by jury.

 

Dependencies – I find them discomforting and disconcerting, and yet, I actively seek them when I run a HasGeek event. My strongest dependency for JSFoo 2012 was Sunil. I could never have dreamt of running such a successful event if I hadn’t had him by my side, shoulder to shoulder, at every moment in the three months leading to the event.

 

When Sunil walked into the office around the time of 5el for the first Skype call between Aditya, Rakesh and Kiran to plan JSFoo, he thought of himself as executing the website he had planned for JSFoo 2012. Over the next few weeks, it was evident to me that Sunil felt a great degree of ownership for the event, the vision of what a conference like JSFoo could be and do for JS developers, etc. I found him to be the most ardent and vocal guy in the programme committee, with Rakesh being the silent kinds whose excitement you can only figure out through his well-thought out emails, and Vishal chipping in with his strong opinions and zeal. And it also surprised me to find Sunil as organized as myself, calling me each morning asking, “Zee, what needs to get done today?” He has been a stabilising force for me through and through JSFoo. And above all, a friend I can treasure for the rest of my life!

 

Redundancy, refers to the inclusion of extra components that are not strictly necessary to functioning, in case of failure in other components. (noun)

 

I first heard about redundancy from a dev-ops guy who was describing how he had made three backup plans to ensure that the flowers and cake reach his girlfriend on her birthday.

I must admit that I am quite a redundancy person in the strictest sense of the term. My redundant strategies stem from my constant need to seek out dependencies and to be inclusive of as many wonderful people as possible when running a HasGeek event. 

I am pretty certain that Aditya will be amused when he reads about himself in this section – he was our most redundant component. Yet, JSFoo could not have been an event without him and without his free spirit, his opinionated opinions and his idiosyncrasies that go into making methods out of madness.   

 

Plumbing refers to installing and maintaining a system of pipes, tanks, fittings and other apparatus required for the water supply, heating, and sanitation in a building. (noun)

 

It takes a lot to build a solid system that enables you to perform an activity repeatedly – activity such as running events that can be detrimental to your health, to your desires to learn about something in-depth, and to your need for expertise. Running events is an asking job, and that too when you have to do it once every weekend. There are many tasks that are mundane, that require enormous amounts of patience and persuasion, tasks that seem too trivial for a thinking personality.

 

What do you need to build a system that will facilitate discussion spaces and communities? You need people, relationships, empathy, passion, tremendous spirit of initiative and tonnes of goodwill. At HasGeek, we are fortunate to have all of this, and a lot more. We had a rock solid programme committee for JSFoo 2012 that gave from their personal time, energies and projects to be part of the journey that made corridor.js and beer.js. We had the support of individuals such as Jon, Barbara, Ciju and Sreekanth whose beliefs, energy, enthusiasm and quirks led us all the way to JSFoo 2012.

 

I had a remarkable team of individuals at HasGeek working round the clock on the event – Ashwan, Sajjad, Krace, Radha, Haris, Praseetha and Kiran – each one of who I kept calling on to help me with tasks that interfered with their essential skills, interests and passions. Yes, each one of us made sacrifices in order to plumb a solid system. 

 

I cannot forget to mention all the folks who volunteered for JSFoo – Anenth, Sandeep, Kaustubh, Yuvi, Kashyap, Devin, QJ, Anand, Ashwin, Vipul, Yogandh, Nuthan and Ranga. It is most satisfying and fulfilling to meet new people who have a great sense of initiative and who are willing to put in hard work for the sheer joy of creating something together. This is the main reason why volunteers are such an integral part of HasGeek events – the personal growth they achieve through volunteering is what inspires and keeps the HasGeek juggernaut moving forward.  

 

Promise refers to an object that represents an operation that will complete in the future. (nounverb)

 

I have often rued about the fact that my PhD is on a hold because I have pushed myself to be part of creating something that has no immediate relationship with my interests and passion for research and writing. 

 

I do not understand geeks much, even though I am married to one and keep discovering different facets of him each day. It started off as a surprise to encounter software developers, engineers and what are referred to as “geeks” back in April 2011 when I began to understand HasGeek slowly and gradually. I did not understand the internet because it was a non-phenomenon in my life, except for writing and reading emails, or searching for research papers on scholar.google.com. I don’t understand the internet fully, yet, but it now fascinates me to watch group processes through mailing lists, “geek communities”, IRC, twitter, and what have you. More importantly, I am still trying to understand the relationship of these tools and interfaces with in-person meetings, conferences, gatherings, meetups and the overall process of learning.

 

For me, this is what HasGeek is about – understanding human interaction processes, and how these are evolving through technology, new regimes of regulation and governance, and how relationships survive or get fragmented over time.

 

In hopes, regrets, ruing, agitation, excitement, inspiration, initiative, and more … until JSFoo 2013 … … …

– Zainab 

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Downpour

On Thursday night, I went to meet M. M was close to finishing writing up her thesis. (She has finished as of day before.)

We were sitting tight, eating away at the potatoes and the meat, and chatting about everything going on in our lives. Suddenly, we realized that it was pouring. We thought it must be the usual rain that will settle down in some time. The first time around, the rain seemed to settle down a bit. We thought we’d move out in five minutes when the rain would completely stop. Then, the downpour began all over again. We sat down again and continued chatting. Again, it seemed like the rain would stop. It did not.

M was worried about my getting back home. I was without my bike that day.

Lately, perhaps since last year when I got involved with HasGeek, I haven’t been nervous about getting home by myself, late at night, without my own transport. On some nights, I ride the Scooty back at 12 or 1 AM, and it does not matter. I wasn’t so worried about getting home, all by myself, that night. I guess that when you organize events, you learn that you have to move forward even when there are constraints.

Finally, at 9:30 PM, when it seemed that the rains would not stop, M and I moved out. We left Queens’ restaurant and walked through the alleys between the buildings connecting Church Street and M G Road. It was after such a long time that I was walking through those alleys. The last time I was there was some days before my marriage in 2008, when K wanted to pick up a Discworld graphic novel. Walking through those alleys made me reconnect with Bangalore – the city that I knew when I used to come there in 1990s and early 2000s. 

On some days, I desperately want to reconnect with my field – the city – which has been the area of my research. I try to watch, but awareness happens in moments when you are unaware. Few days after The Fifth Elephant got over, I went to Shivajinagar to pay off the dues to the furniture rental company. The manager at the shop took us inside the alleys of Shivajinagar to connect us with a metal craftsman. While we were waiting for the craftsman to turn up from the mosque, I noticed a man climbing over the electrical transformer. As I watched the man climb, the manager explained that the transformer often went bust after a night of downpour. Workmen from BESCOM come the next day, climb the transformer and try to fix it. Some men die during this process because they get electrocuted. I kept watching the man working on the transformer. Then I’d shift my gaze to the open drains between the shops in that alley. Then my gaze would go back again at the transformer and the man at it. At that time, I once again thought of my own connections with the city, and what was becoming of me as I had moved off the trails of research into a world of business and media.

Cut back to Thursday night. M asked me to wait inside the alley while she went to get me an auto. She found me a driver who asked for twice the fare. I agreed. I got in. The driver began to drive the rickshaw. Close to UB City mall and Kasturba road, the driver said, “challenge” which meant that it would be a challenge to go forward. M called just then, asking me to back up and come over to her house. I almost thought of latching onto the offer. But then, I wanted to get back and sleep in my bed, close to K. So I said to her that I’d go forward until Lalbag, and if the traffic looked messy there, I’d turn back. She agreed to my decision. I kept moving forward.

At Shantinagar bus stand, the auto driver turned left and drove crazily through the lanes and alleys of Wilson Garden where I saw people huddled around shops, waiting for the rains to stop. At many points, the road would turn pitch dark and I would lose sense of direction of where I was. I must admit I was slightly nervous then. But the auto driver rode on, and I continued to see ahead, despite my feelings.

We hit Bannerghatta road finally. There were no major jams. At G D Maraa, soon after Shoppers’ Stop, we hit a major block. It seemed like the traffic ahead was completely stuck. The driver asked me in Kannada about mori. I knew he was talking about drains i.e., storm water drains. He meant to ask if there were drains ahead, on the road, and whether the water would drain out. He also meant to tell me that if there was flooding ahead, he did not want to risk driving his auto through the waters and getting stuck. Finally, he spoke to me in Hindi and asked his questions. I said I don’t know in response. 

Then, he asked if he could smoke. All along the way, he was singing. He was singing even when we were both getting splashed with water on the roads with cars coming from the opposite direction. I permitted him to smoke. Partly, I was inhaling through all the tobacco he was exhaling, and feeling high in the cold, wet weather.

The driver kept asking everybody, along the way, about the jam and flooding ahead. At one point, when the traffic did not seem to move further, he asked me how far away was my place. When I said two kilometers, he asked me to get off and find my way. He saw some BMTC buses and asked if I’d take them. I agreed.

I got off the auto and jumped into the closest bus. It was packed. The conductor let me in, but after sometime, when I said I needed a ticket, he said he closed ticketing. This meant that I had to get off and get into another bus. I got off, cursing the conductor, and started walking. There were other men walking on the roads. Some men were trying to move their motorcycles on the footpaths. The two wheelers were getting stuck with the occasional breaks in the footpaths which were opening out into drains.  

I kept walking until I hit the Bilekahalli roads. I am not sure what happened, but suddenly, the footpaths were broken into drains at three spots. This meant that if I wanted to walk on the footpaths, I had to leap across at every point where there was a break. I am often afraid to leap, because I fear missing out. Plus, with two accidents already this year, I wasn’t keen to take a chance with breaking another leg. So, each time I’d see someone coming from the other side, I’d ask for their hand. These were complete strangers, often workmen, who’d lend me their hand as if it were a matter of fact and then we’d all move on. At the last such junction where I had to leap, there was no one to ask for help. A man was walking his motorcycle on the road. He looked at me, standing in a lurch, and said “walk with me on the roads. It’s all clear here.” He was right. I walked with him and reached the end of the road.

K was supposed to pick me up from there. I was waiting for him. A burkha clad woman stood there, called an autorickshaw. The rickshaw took another passenger. The driver looked at me, asking if I wanted to jump in. I said no. Later, a man came there with a child on his shoulders. He stood waiting for a rickshaw, and watched as I waiting.

Finally, K came along and we got home. It was 11 PM, and all in all, it was an amazing adventure.

For many months now, I haven’t been running. I miss running, but I am unable to motivate myself enough to get down to it. That night was a completely unknown adventure where I interacted with several strangers, through spoken and unspoken language. For once, my sense of awareness had returned. For once, the city was offering me an experience that brought words back to my fingers. 

I don’t have a conclusive ending. All I have, is a sense of gratefulness for what my life offered to me that night. I hope I am at my life’s receiving end, in such ways, always …

Dedicated to 

M and her laughter!

My latest BFF – threepointone!

Ravi Rao who looks so different now!

James Hughman to who I am always writing emails in my thoughts and mind!

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Between uncertainty and running

This post has been brewing in my head since many, many days. I have been living with it as a possible medium of catharsis for the negative thoughts and doubts that have been dogging my spirit and mind since many, many days. Now, as I sit down to write it, the question arises as to where do I begin? What do I say or rather, how do I wade through the muddle that has accumulated in my head?

Let me start by saying that I have neither been running nor been writing since a long, long time. The last time I ran was about four weeks ago. The last time I wrote anything that I felt was meaningful and exciting to me was perhaps in late March. I feel miserable, as I stock take my situation.

So what have I been up to? Let me try and list down what has been taking up my time and my mental and emotional space. I have been trying my hands at doing accounts in HasGeek, trying to keep things in order, manage some of the processes of communication, and basically do some of those tasks which most of us would like to shy away from when running an organization. In 2006, when I had moved to Bangalore for further studies, I was part of a research collective that was in the process of formation. One of our respected academic colleagues who was also running a lawyers’ collective explained to us that researchers typically dislike the mundane tasks of administration, accounting and all that is needed to keep the office and infrastructure running. Five years later, as I recount this colleague’s words, I recognize that they possibly hold true for any kind of organization – for profit and non-profit alike.

In the last few months that I have been working at HasGeek, I have learnt that a fair number of people aspire to create something that will be of value to others, and which will earn them visibility and respect among their peers and/or within the communities that they are part of. People would like to speak, program, write code, build a startup, create a product or do something along the lines of these, which will make them feel a sense of ownership, belonging and/or pride in one’s self. (I am not stating this observation as a judgment. I am stating this to understand a world that I have been becoming part of, and to make sense of the doubts that surround my mind.) The process of creating is painful, frustrating and, sometimes even isolating. This is what I have learnt through writing and other people’s experiences. Sometimes, what you create is not even visible, or may not be given as much recognition and respect as something else done by someone else in an organization.

I am swinging in the arms of uncertainty as I now work with HasGeek. I am literally starting as a fresher in the area of understanding geeks, technology, the challenges involved in running a startup, and most importantly, the intricate dynamics concerning creativity, innovation, ownership, belonging, translating real life challenges into workflows and code (and the implications of these on societal processes and law), working with people, and the politics of knowledge and creation as property. On many, many days, I am unable to focus concentratedly on a single thing because there are so many things demanding attention and resolution such as accounts, email and communication. It is often overwhelming to come across so many insights and challenges on a single day and not have enough time and attention to sift through all of them carefully and make sense of them. On many, many days, I find it frustrating that I do not have the luxury of time to sit back and write carefully about all that I am going through and have observed because in order to be perfect, precise and detailed in my writing, I need a great deal of head space that is unavailable to me. On many other days, I feel afraid of not having finished my doctoral thesis yet, getting out of touch with my field of study, and entering the arena of technology where I am wandering around to make sense of the lingos, jargons, jokes, and the beliefs of value that different people hold.

It is this uncertain terrain that I have been charting since February this year, and I must admit that I don’t find it easy. I have been involved because I’d like to support my husband’s initiative. I actually do enjoy working with him because it is a great learning experience. At the same time, I find myself getting bogged with questions of self-identity, and what it means for me to be involved with something that is not of my creating. In late April, a man I was interacting with automatically asked if I was doing accounts when I explained to him that I was currently helping my husband run his company. I felt a severe jolt when he said so, wondering whether it has become stereotypical that women typically do accounting work in their husband’s ventures. At the same time, as I try to make sense of my life situation, I find these questions of self-identity also productive. They entail critical questions and insights about relationships, about ‘being’ in relationships, and what it actually takes to support a spouse’s aspirations, dreams and vision. Resolution of these questions demands a great deal of strength, patience, perseverance and confidence in one’s self because fundamentally, they imply that in a relationship, self-identity is not a matter of antagonism or struggle, but a matter of faith, growth and learning with time. I hope that this intellectual realization becomes second nature to me, over time.

I guess this point is  precisely a good time to sign off. I hope I can continue to write about these confusions, doubts, uncertainties and experiences so that I can learn better about myself and about the many worlds that I am connected with.

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