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!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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 … … …

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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 

Aside | Posted on by | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marked, mapped and moved!

In early February, just as I was recovering from the hectic bout of travel in Jan and the highs and lows of JSFoo Pune, we had to start readying for two events – JSFoo Chennai and Cartonama Workshop. Cartonama Workshop, as Sajjad pointed out, was a challenge because this was the first time we were trying out a small-scale-high-intensity event with ticket prices that were higher than what we had marketed earlier. This was an interesting challenge. I was not to be part of the Cartonama workshop, except for handling accounts and small details. But because Kiran was getting into the code mood and I felt that I needed to relieve Kiran of handholding Sajjad on learning how to manage an event, I decided to work with Sajjad.

I am best when I am working alone. To work with someone, especially to train a person, is a tough askance because it means that you have to be careful and trusting enough to let the other person make decisions. At the same time, the other person has to feel ownership and charge of what they are managing. The lines, in this case, are very fine and it requires a great deal of patience and maturity to handle such situations. Fortunately for me, Sajjad has enough ability to learn quickly and, above all, he is geohacker i.e., he knows his area well.

Cartonama Workshop was an even bigger challenge for me because it meant that I had two responsibilities: one was to stick to my PhD writing schedule and show commitment to myself and second was to ensure that I did just about enough to help Sajjad take off the ground. Both were tough challenges and there were many days when I was unable to meet a single one. There were days when I would be intensely involved with the workshop and was unable to focus on my writing. And there would be days when I was just about focussed on my writing, but was unable to carry the momentum through and through to the next few days. This was extremely frustrating. All the patience, wisdom and calm that I had gathered and learnt during my JSFoo Pune days was slipping off and there was nothing that I could do about it except to let each day pass and hope for a good next day. It was in these moments of frustration that I would lose my patience with Sajjad on some days, and would go off-colour on other days. Yet, we managed to work together!

Despite the seeming haphazardness of the situation, our focus remained on doing a good workshop. I was told by some of my wise friends that when you desire to see someone succeed, you do everything possible in your capacity to make sure this happens. And, it will happen! Thus was the case with Sajjad – the desire to see him succeed.

Sajjad and I are like kids together – we have always been childlike with each other ever since we knew each other from around JSFoo Bangalore. Some of the best relationships in my life have been those that are childlike – filled with mirth over the smallest and tiniest of things, full of guffaws over silly things, laughter, a great sense of connection, timing and tuning with each other. I guess that is what made things work for Sajjad and me.

Handholding is toughest in the earliest days of the event. I often wondered whether I was giving enough ownership of the project to Sajjad or was I making too many decisions myself? Was I being too tough on Sajjad or backing him up too much on various occasions? Was he learning enough for himself or was I leading the way too much for him? I think Kiran helped here. There would be nights when he would read email threads that Sajjad was engaged in, and explain how he felt Sajjad was learning and responding well to situations. As Kiran got more and more confident about Sajjad, the task for me was to learn to let go more and more. Closer to the workshop days, Sajjad was fully in charge and very wired. He would ensure that he sat me down and got all the to-do lists and details done.

Closer to the workshop days, I was getting more and more frazzled and hassled. I had an accident with my scooty about two weeks before the workshop. I had fractured the bones of my little finger on the right hand and bruised a good part of my upper body as a result of the crash with a SUV on the road. Part of the focus from then on was to find a way to stay spirited and to recover. I was also on a good road of writing before this accident happened. I lost most of my momentum after the accident as the focus was on recovery and healing. The challenge was to pick everything back and to continue life as normal. Part of the reason why I managed to stay spirited after the accident was because I realized that worse could have happened to me, but I came out with very little. It was a nice experience in the next two weeks as I learnt that a person is differently abled when she has something missing or broken on her body. With the breaking of my little finger, I learnt how to perceive my world differently and to make sense of it with four fingers on the right hand!

Closer to the workshop days, I was also plunging more and more into my writing than managing the workshop. Nigel began working to make things happen. He deserves a very special mention. I think Nigel worked very hard in the last week of the workshop and by the end of the second day, he was dead tired. Call this Mallu brotherhood (:P) or call this Nigel, the person who is a fantastic team member!

As much as Sajjad is generous enough to say that I was backing him up on the two days of the workshop, I really think backing is what Billy does best when the event is drawing nearer. I am glad that Sajjad and Billy worked to get things together and as usual, despite things coming together and breaking down, Cartonama workshop happened and it was great.

Two mentions are important here. First is for Mikel and Schuyler – the two workshop trainers. I had met Mikel and Schuyler in 2007 when they came down to Bangalore. Mikel is a much changed person since I last met him. He exudes a wonderful sense of warmth with his demeanour and his eyes. It is amazing to be around him. Schuyler, on the other hand, is a curious cookie. I had read Schuyler’s blog posts a few days before he came down. I felt a great sense of intensity in the man as I read his analyses of events and occurrences. Schuyler also has a great sense of humour and great timing. Combine his outward appearance of a tough, mean, funny and knowledgeable guy with the intensity and humility that he bears within and you have, really, a curious cookie! I was most touched when Schuyler announced at the close of the workshop how humbling an experience it was for him to be with people who desired to learn and that their curiosity to learn humbled him. I believe this is the hallmark of a good teacher. Someday, when I am able to get to where Schuyler is, I will repeat his words loud and clear (and with enough voice modulation that Schuyler does :P)!

The second mention goes out to the participants of the workshop. Everything about the arrangements was not perfect – but everything is never always perfect. The trick is to learn to work with imperfections and make the most out of them. The workshop participants did just that. They had a strong desire to learn and they were always helping each other learn. I often found people talking to each other, helping when the other person was stuck, and generally bonding. If Cartonama has been a success, it is because the participants were amazing – down-to-earth, willing to help, willing to learn, making adjustments when they were needed and overall, having fun!

A couple of weeks before the Cartonama workshop, Kiran was responding to a twitter thread about sexism and negative attitudes towards women in technology circuits. He responded to the thread by applauding Anupama Sharma and myself for organizing JS conferences in India. I was irked when I read Kiran’s tweet because to me, organizing an event is only one part of what defines my identity as a person, as female, as woman, as a risk-taker, as a daughter, as a researcher, etc. Attitudes towards men and women can change when we build strong organizational cultures where men and women are not restricted to doing things that are presumably ‘natural’ to their gender. In HasGeek, I do some bits of organizing and a lot of learning. I don’t know the ABCs of technology, but I am learning the skill of working with people and developing the ability to maintain an open and inquiring mind. This is what I place value on. I also place value on being supportive, caring and ensuring that everyone has a good time at an event. To an outsider, this might seem as part of the (presumed) ‘essence’ of being a woman. To me, this is the highest value that I would place on anyone in society, be it man or woman. I am going into this tangent here because I am taking on from a point in Sajjad’s blog post where he mentioned how he enjoys working in HasGeek. I believe that it is the onus on each one of us to consciously work towards questioning what is deemed as ‘natural’ and ‘essence’ of genders. Genders are roles that we learn in the proces of socialization. They end up defining us for the rest of our lives, unfortunately. And gender roles are extremely violent because they compel us to behave in ways that are resentful and harmful in the short and long runs. How do we move forward from what we have learnt through social conditioning to building an environment where we learn to trust and respect each other, no matter what our genders? This is a question that I’d like to stay with during my time at HasGeek.

For now, Cartonama workshop has ended and a year full of events is what we have on our plates. I still have my thesis and writing and what not! I hope I can make the best of all the worlds and become stronger.

In the meantime, all rise for Sajjad, Nigel, Billy, Schuyler, Mikel and the Cartonama Workshop participants! <clap> <hip hip hurrah> <clap> <hip hip hurrah> <clap> <hip hip hurrah>

P.S. A very special mention for Parag Gupta who came in at the right time and helped us with the website and logo design, and fine tuning the text for the website. Parag is awesome to work with! There is a lot more to be heard about him in the coming days! And oh yes, Millers Beer bottles are beautiful – I learnt this one from Parag 😀

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment