Nov 27, 2006

Pranayama Rocks

Last Saturday I got initiated into Pranayama once again after a long gap. Swami Ramdev the increasingly popular guru of Yoga, and champion of the ways it can improve the health of the nation, had his influence on me too.

It is wonderful what Pranayama does to you. Did it last evening for 10-15 minutes and again this morning for same duration. Evenwhile doing it I experienced serenity, felt my breath well after a long time and had a feeling of contentment: "This is enough. I am good as I am as of now." Such a feeling of contentment is only possible when the flow of oxygen is optimal to the brain and the lungs. I also noticed that the lalajalam (saliva) in the mouth created a nice slightly tingling taste in the mouth. It was not unlike the taste I get when the body gets ready to take a short catnap which soothens the mind and lulls it to sleep. In fact the Pranayama last evening must have helped me sleep well inspite of the banging lift sounds, furniture movement noises right next to the hotel room I am staying here in Pune.

What a great feeling and a way to start and end your day!

Rich Dad Poor Dad - Book Review

This book by Robert Kiyosaki was a fast read. I often have trouble finishing books I pick up, but this one was a relative breeze. The narrative is at times pulpish and repetitive but here are some messages:
  • Assets are stuff that generate lots of income for you (more than inflation); grow them
  • Liabilites are things that add to your expense column; limit them. Examples include a costly house that you are buying without a good asset base to back you with.
  • Taking on more and more liabilites with a rising income (due to 'Desire') keeps you in a never ending race to meet the resulting expenses (eg: mortgage payments). It is like a rat in a flywheel, runs all day but gets nowhere. Hence the term 'ratrace'.
  • It is key to overcome 'Fear' (of loss of income, stigma etc), which again keeps you in the rat race.
The take aways for me were:
  1. Learn to manage your fear and desire and get the hell out of the rat race before it consumes your life.
  2. Get wealthy - create recurring income from assets that exceeds monthly expenses. Then you can happily chuck that lousy job you are stuck at.
  3. 'Rich' is in the eye of the beholder (OR you can never be rich enough). I felt it is important to get wealthy (and not necessarily rich) since you get financial independence.
Apart from that Kiyosaki goes into a long banter about his real estate accomplishments (almost makes it sound easy how he made money out of thin air!), his child hood stories, his gadgets (Rolex, Porsche) etc which makes the book some sort of a novel. Nevertheless he has succeeded in spinning a best'sell'er out of the book with its curious title and racy reading. May be that is needed to grab the average buyer's attention who also gets some insights in the bargain.

Amazon Link to the book, 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money--That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!'

Nov 26, 2006

Syndicates in Operation

Our lives are dominated by syndicates of various hues. This may sound cynical but it is not. I started reflecting on this as I tried to negotiate with the auto rickshawwalas ('auto') of Pune. I am now here in Pune, for a few weeks and for various reasons we decided not to drive up in our car from Hyderabad. Now that has created some issue as we commute during the weekends for a movie or simply to shop.

Last month at Wakad, a Pune suburb, I hailed an auto rickshaw who just dropped someone and was on his way back to somewhere. As he started, all of a sudden two men got down from another auto. They claimed that they had sole rights to all customers from that area since they belonged to the 'auto stand' there and wait for customers. As I was about to find out, all they do they laze around at the stand whole day and rob customers with atrocious fares. Being naive I said ok, and boarded the other auto and asked the fare. Then he suddenly demanded Rs 140 for a fare which would have cost no more than Rs 75. I tried to reason but soon realised the futility. Pissed thoroughly I preferred to walk half a km up to the nearest bus stand and took another auto from there for Rs 80.

I saw this behaviour repeated several times over the next few days. So basically the auto walas want assured revenues at the cost of negative customer satisfaction. The customer has no choice, their mantra goes!

Now this pattern of 'syndicates' that restrict choice and make markets less free, is not just with autos. Try purchasing a decent apartment or house in Hyderabad with any of the real estate firms there. It is even more sinister with politicians and crooks deeply involved. And when was the last time you saw a movie star who started on his own and not get a free pass from his family into stardom?

Though we may think it is a democracy and a free society, it is also a reality that syndicates rule us.

Nov 24, 2006

Entepreneur to Employer

The transition from Entrepreneur to Employer may not seem a big deal but here is what was heard yesterday in a speech from one of the founders of one of the most successful startup ventures out of India - Infosys, at Pune.

"..We went through lot of sacrifices, turmoil, etc in the initial years. Of course now it is NOT expected from any one of you to go through the same pains.. but this is what we felt".

Well an employer does not expect entry level staff to go through tough times, which is very natural. By the same token the employer also does not expect the employee to gain the same rewards as does the employer. The employer essentially continues to reap the entrepreneurial success of the seeds he/she had sown years ago while the poor employee gets a measly salary in exchange for assuaging his 'fear of job insecurity' (as Robert Kiyosaki would put it).

The inflection point at which the employee 'loses' the opportunity for a significant share of the pot of gold can be one of many: When the company gets listed and goes public, when its products/services go real mainstream etc. More the risk, more the reward.

Shaan Rocks

During the last few weeks, I had an opportunity to see Shaan (Shantanu Mukherjee), the Hindi Film Playback Singer perform at two concerts, one in Hyderabad and the other in Pune. Shaan is a great singer and always makes it a point to engage with the audience, speak some nice words about his hosts between his songs and in between the lyrics too. The entry was always made out to be dramatic and long delayed, perhaps in an attempt to bottle up the enthu of the crowd and then uncork it like a champagne bottle.

Secunderabad's Delight - Marredpally

Reading this article by Anushya Rajagopalan in Times of India (Oct 01, 2006) made us feel good since we live here.

Being the only large residential hub that is a stone’s throw away from the Secunderabad railway station and the commercial bustle of Patny and Paradise, Marredpally is in a unique position.

Away from the buzz of prominent IT hubs, Outer Ring Roads and the new international airport, Marredpally has still retained its own charm.The rich and vibrant culture, which is evident in its religious activities and community gatherings, alongside the countless number of popular schools seem to be its USP.

Its real estate scene has altered in recent years, from one where old bungalows with huge courtyards dotted the whole area, to one that is dominated by towering apartments and infrastructure that can hardly keep pace with its vertical expansion.

Commercial activity

Essentially, the locality is residential , with commercial activity just enough to support the day to day needs of the people living there. So one can find super markets, dry cleaners, confectionery stores and stationery shops but shopping complexes and malls? You would have to go a bit farther to Secunderabad for that.

The property rates in the area escalated with the real estate boom in the city almost doubling itself in the last year and a half. But the boom has not been evenly spread all over this locality. While many parts of Marredpally have witnessed tremendous growth and development there are a few pockets where development and rates are now stagnant . This is mostly in those portions of West Marredpally which fall under the Cantonment area.

When it comes to commercial spaces, the rates are not the same everywhere. While some commercial properties in East Marredpally command Rs 40 per sft as rental, some others bordering near Picket have to be content with quoting Rs 15 – Rs 20 per sft.

Moreover, the area is so saturated that there is no space left for any large-scale commercial venture. “The commercial scene is not doing very well especially in a few areas . The lack of parking space could be one of the main reasons why nobody prefers to set shop here.Even a few complexes that are running hardly have any visitors,” says B Rasheed of SM Real Estate.

Development thrives

S Rajesh of Sree Laxmi Real Estate and Rentals says,“The residential scene in Marredpally is doing very well.There is a lot of demand from people in other areas who want to move closer to their children’s school. But because there is no land available there are many owners of independent bungalows who sold the plot to developers and have made huge apartments.” And the brand new apartments comes all furnished with all the facilities and charge nothing less that Rs 10,000 as rent.

However, with GO 86 restricting construction activity, this trend is seeing a down slide too. Rasheed explains,“A year ago, those who wanted to convert their independent homes into apartments hardly got about Rs 15,000 per square yard. Then during the big boom, everybody wanted to buy property but there was hardly any land available.That was when the owners of independent bungalows got Rs 40,000 per square yard to develop their homes into apartments. However, after the new GO has been passed, there are hardly any developers who are interested in continuing this trend. So the rates have come down to Rs 30,000 per square yard.”

Rental scene

The capital and rental values also vary from one locality to another within Marredpally itself . So while East Marredpally does a tad better, the Western half is yet to pick pace. “East Marredpally commands better rates because the roads are 40 ft compared to West Marredpally which has 30 ft roads and the plot sizes are bigger here too,” adds Rajesh.

Independent bungalows command very high rents almost touching Rs 40,000 per month. Their plots are big, with ample parking space and green gardens with porticos.

In fact, the trend now is to let out these bungalows to corporates who use it as their guesthouses. But in some areas falling under the Cantonment region, the rates fall because of small plot sizes, where only a certain portion is let out.

If you want to buy an independent house in Marredpally then you must change your plans because there are none available. Those who live in them don’t intend to part with their house, and even if they do they approach builders to construct apartments and pocket a few flats.

Marredpally residents are a content lot. They may not have all their requirements in their locality but with commercial hubs and shopping centres at an arm’s distance, they have nothing to complain about.No wonder it’s the largest and most popular locality in Secunderabad!

Indian Youth Amongst The Happiest

There was an interesting MTV study published in the newspapers last week. It goes.. "Indian Youth are more happier than US, UK or Japanese youth".. based on a poll of youth in various world cities. Argentina seems to be the happiest of the lot based on the study

I guess one can extrapolate this and suggest that folks in the villages are happier than those in cities. So what is the funda going on here? Does more wealth provide more happiness? Or does the pursuit of money puts one in a frame of mind of 'Accumulate now to enjoy later'; only that the latter always comes later and hence there is no happiness now. Some sort of horribly recursive algorithm ensues resulting in less happiness now and later.

Some recent articles on this topic I have stumbled upon are:
  • Time of India Ascent - an article by Dr Debhasis Chatterjee, Prof IIM Lucknow:

Dr Chatterjee says:

"Reality is an indivisible and integral presence in ‘the here and the now’. The rise and fall of business cycles, plans of succession and quarterly targets are just attempts to fragment one whole into conceptual bits and bytes...

"The richness of life is in the moment. The moment has an information density of a billion bits and bytes of live data. True happiness lies in the very depth of this moment. The moment is always present in our awareness...

"The less the thoughts that take you away from THE MOMENT, the happier you are. The moment has not arrived towards you as a succession of events. The moment is always there in the depth of your awareness. It just awaits your discovery; it simply wants to be born through you!"

Very Powerful!

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

The following speech was shared by a senior colleague. One of most inspiring ones I have read of late. Steve is an awesome role model for anyone. His life shows - true success needs neither degree nor pedigree.

The following is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.