Hybrid events

In general I’m short tempered and have a short attention span. One thing that annoys me more than anything else is if someone I’m talking to gets a phone call and moves away from the conversation.

In fact if I think about it more than 90% of my fights with my wife have been triggered by phone calls she gets while she’s taking to me, as a result of which she abandons me for the moment.

I’m writing this from a “hybrid event”. My wife is giving a talk at the Goa project, and this event is happening both online and offline. I’m offline, as are some twenty others. Another dozen people are online.

As an offline audience member I’m finding this damn annoying. The most annoying thing is that the moderator is online. And the way the event has been set up, online seems to take precedence over offline. The online moderator can interrupt. He can ask a speaker to repeat the last five minutes of her talk. And as a live audience member I find this insanely irritating.

The other problem with hybrid events is there is no scope for banter. Small offline events with 20 people can be rather intimate and have a high scope for banter. Like I cracked a wisecrack a few minutes back. People around me seemed to like it. And then one of the local moderators had to repeat the wisecrack to the zoom audience.

I wrote until this point in the first of the three talks. After that I decided writing this blog is not enough and protested (a tad too) loudly that the hybrid format was boring.

Then someone figured a simple nudge. They muted the zoom while talks were on. The remote people couldn’t interrupt as much as they used to. And the event became so much better.

So I guess, like everything else in design, its just about the defaults. Then again I don’t know if the online people were happy with the new default. Not that I care.

Though: the quality of CP is far superior from people in the room than from those who can hide behind a screen without camera on

A day at an award function

So I got an award today. It is called “exemplary data scientist”, and was given out by the Analytics India Magazine as part of their MachineCon 2022. I didn’t really do anything to get the award, apart from existing in my current job.

I guess having been out of the corporate world for nearly a decade, I had so far completely missed out on the awards and conferences circuit. I would see old classmates and colleagues put pictures on LinkedIn collecting awards. I wouldn’t know what to make of it when my oldest friend would tell me that whenever he heard “eye of the tiger”, he would mentally prepare to get up and go receive an award (he got so many I think). It was a world alien to me.

Parallelly, I used to crib about how while I’m well networked in India, and especially in Bangalore, my networking within the analytics and data science community is shit. In a way, I was longing for physical events to remedy this, and would lament that the pandemic had killed those.

So I was positively surprised when about a month ago Analytics India Magazine wrote to me saying they wanted to give me this award, and it would be part of this in-person conference. I knew of the magazine, so after asking around a bit on legitimacy of such awards and looking at who had got it the last time round, I happily accepted.

Most of the awardees were people like me – heads of analytics or data science at some company in India. And my hypothesis that my networking in the industry was shit was confirmed when I looked at the list of attendees – of 100 odd people listed on the MachineCon website, I barely knew 5 (of which 2 didn’t turn up at the event today).

Again I might sound like a n00b, but conferences like today are classic two sided markets (read this eminently readable paper on two sided markets and pricing of the same by Jean Tirole of the University of Toulouse). On the one hand are awardees – people like me and 99 others, who are incentivised to attend the event with the carrot of the award. On the other hand are people who want to meet us, who will then pay to attend the event (or sponsor it; the entry fee for paid tickets to the event was a hefty $399).

It is like “ladies’ night” that pubs have, where on a particular days of the week, women who go to the pub get a free drink. This attracts women, which in turn attracts men who seek to court the women. And what the pub spends in subsidising the women it makes back in terms of greater revenue from the men on the night.

And so it was at today’s conference. I got courted by at least 10 people, trying to sell me cloud services, “AI services on the cloud”, business intelligence tools, “AI powered business intelligence tools”, recruitment services and the like. Before the conference, I had received LinkedIn requests from a few people seeking to sell me stuff at the conference. In the middle of the conference, I got a call from an organiser asking me to step out of the hall so that a sponsor could sell to me.

I held a poker face with stock replies like “I’m not the person who makes this purchasing decision” or “I prefer open source tools” or “we’re building this in house”.

With full benefit of hindsight, Radisson Blu in Marathahalli is a pretty good conference venue. An entire wing of the ground floor of the hotel is dedicated for events, and the AIM guys had taken over the place. While I had not attended any such event earlier, it had all the markings of a well-funded and well-organised event.

As I entered the conference hall, the first thing that struck me was the number of people in suits. Most people were in suits (though few wore ties; And as if the conference expected people to turn up in suits, the goodie bag included a tie, a pair of cufflinks and a pocket square). And I’m just not used to that. Half the days I go to office in shorts. When I feel like wearing something more formal, I wear polo T-shirts with chinos.

My colleagues who went to the NSE last month to ring the bell to take us public all turned up company T-shirts and jeans. And that’s precisely what I wore to the conference today, though I had recently procured a “formal uniform” (polo T-shirt with company logo, rather than my “usual uniform” which is a round neck T-shirt). I was pretty much the only person there in “uniform”. Towards the end of the day, I saw one other guy in his company shirt, but he was wearing a blazer over it!

Pretty soon I met an old acquaintance (who I hadn’t known would be at the conference). He introduced me to a friend, and we went for coffee. I was eating a cookie with the coffee, and had an insight – at conferences, you should eat with your left hand. That way, you don’t touch the food with the same hand you use to touch other people’s hands (surprisingly I couldn’t find sanitiser dispensers at the venue).

The talks, as expected, were nothing much to write about. Most were by sponsors selling their wares. The one talk that wasn’t by a sponsor was delivered by a guy who was introduced as “his greatgrandfather did this. His grandfather did that. And now this guy is here to talk about ethics of AI”. Full Challenge Gopalakrishna feels happened (though, unfortunately, the Kannada fellows I’d hung out with earlier that day hadn’t watched the movie).

I was telling some people over lunch (which was pretty good) that talking about ethics in AI at a conference has become like worshipping Ganesha as part of any elaborate pooja. It has become the de riguer thing to do. And so you pay obeisance to the concept and move on.

The awards function had three sections. The first section was for “users of AI” (from what I understood). The second (where I was included) was for “exemplary data scientists”. I don’t know what the third was for (my wife is ill today so I came home early as soon as I’d collected my award), except that it would be given by fast bowler and match referee Javagal Srinath. Most of the people I’d hung out with through the day were in the Srinath section of the awards.

Overall it felt good. The drive to Marathahalli took only 45 minutes each way (I drove). A lot of people had travelled from other cities in India to reach the venue. I met a few new people. My networking in data science and analytics is still not great, but far better than it used to be. I hope to go for more such events (though we need to figure out how to do these events without that talks).

PS: Everyone who got the award in my section was made to line up for a group photo. As we posed with our awards, an organiser said “make sure all of you hold the prizes in a way that the Intel (today’s chief sponsor) logo faces the camera”. “I guess they want Intel outside”, I joked. It seemed to be well received by the people standing around me. I didn’t talk to any of them after that, though.

The “intel outside” pic. Courtesy: https://www.linkedin.com/company/analytics-india-magazine/posts/?feedView=all

 

Go East Policy

When you take time off work, one thing you want to do is to explore the world – go to parts of it that you haven’t been to before.

The original idea for this week was to travel – we wanted to do an impromptu road trip starting the past Sunday, booking only one hotel at a time on each day. As it happened, on Friday, daughter’s school sent an email that offline classes would begin on Monday, so we didn’t travel.

Instead, I decided to do a “staycation” – continue to be off work but be at home and vegetate. However, not going anywhere didn’t seem right. The whole point of taking time off is to go see parts of the world you haven’t seen before. And so I decided to set aside today for this purpose, apart from meeting people. Thanks to the pandemic and the latest round of lockdowns and school closures, I hadn’t seen too many people outside my family since the beginning of January.

And so I set off east, to parts that I hadn’t really seen or explored in a very long time.

  1. Bellandur
    First stop was Bellandur, to meet a friend who I hadn’t seen in over two years, and who’s recently moved back to “Bangalore”. We were to meet at a sort of a mall that’s part of this absolutely massive office complex.

    Despite all the metro construction going on, I got to Bellandur in quick time (the only wait being at Madivala checkpost). However, getting to Bellandur was only half the story. To get to the “bay” (as the mall was called) I had to turn off outer ring road, and into what felt like a strange road, with random barricades and private security personnel every 100 metres. Both sides were office complexes.

    Finally, at the end of the road (2-3 km in), I found the “bay”. It’s a sort of strip mall with a food court, and coffee and tea shops, and even an Apple reseller store. Maybe because most offshored businesses (which largely populate this area) haven’t got back to office yet, the place was largely empty. I had a bit of an embarrassing incident, though, as rather confusing signage meant I had opened the door to the women’s restroom (a janitor stopped me).

    I found the entire area sort of unreal and weird – even if the metro comes to ORR, it is going to be a massive pain to get to these offices and apartment blocks (and “mall”). There is no sense of redundancy in the roads. Security personnel every 100 metres is disconcerting.

  2. Windmills
    Next on the agenda was  Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield, where I was meeting someone for lunch. It was going to be my first time there, so I simply followed Google Maps.

    I was pleasantly surprised that this drive took only 25 minutes, again because most offshored staff have not returned to office. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a reasonably wide road that connects somewhere in the middle of nowhere in outer ring road to Graphite India.

    The location of the brewery is a bit strange – being located in a middle floor of a commercial building! The person I was meeting is a Whitefield local, and the thing that invariably happens in a microbrewery happens – he ran into others he knew. The food was good. I didn’t have much of the beer (since I was driving), but the IPA sampler was good as well.

    The valet was strange. When I got off the car, I was asked for my phone number and name, and got an SMS. When I was done, I simply clicked a link sent in the same SMS – by the time I came down, the car had arrived.

    On another note, I was thinking of all the places that were collecting my number – the valet, the restaurant above, some random shop I’d been to yesterday, etc. I was wondering what can be done with all this data. At one level, it scared me. At another, I thought it would be exciting to work with all this data and see what can be done with it!

  3. Sheraton Whitefield
    I was meeting someone at the coffee shop here. Being tucked away inside Prestige Shantiniketan, the hotel was a bit hard to find, and given that offices in the area have not yet been staffed, the hotel was empty.

    The hotel seemed nice enough and the coffee was good. And there was very little traffic in the usually rather busy road in front of it. I don’t expect this to last once people are back in their offices.

    _____________________________________

The way back was largely uneventful. Again I trusted Google, which took me on yet another random road to get from whitefield back to ORR. This was narrower and involved going through some rural areas.

Apart from some sections where the metro was being constructed, the drive back through ORR into Koramangala (I was meeting yet another friend after getting back to town) was quick and peaceful. And I noticed that the one-way systems in Hosur Road and Sarjapur Road have been reversed yet again. If there is a road (or pair of roads) deserving to be a “Tughlaq” in Bangalore, it’s this system. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve made these roads one-way and two-way (going back to at least 2004).

So the “exploring new areas” part of my week-long vacation is done. I want to step up on meeting people, but I’ll possibly do it on “home ground” in the days to come.

PS: The general convention I’ve settled on in life is that when one person travels to meet the other, the latter pays for the food / drink / coffee. As it happens, EVERYONE I met today offered to pay, and I simply let them without once insisting that I take the bill or we split it.

Ranga and Big Data

There are some meeting stories that are worth retelling and retelling. Sometimes you think it should be included in some movie (or at least a TV show). And you never tire of telling the stories.

The way I met Ranga can qualify as one such story. At the outset, there was nothing special about it – both of us had joined IIT Madras at the same time, to do a B.Tech. in Computer Science. But the first conversation itself was epic, and something worth telling again and again.

During our orientation, one of the planned events was “a visit to the facilities”, where a professor would take us around to see the library, the workshops, a few prominent labs and other things.

I remember that the gathering point for Computer Science students was right behind the Central Lecture Theatre. This was the second day of orientation and I’d already met a few classmates by then. And that’s where I found Ranga.

The conversation went somewhat like this:

“Hi I’m Karthik. I’m from Bangalore”.
“Hi I’m Ranga. I’m from Madras. What are your hobbies?”
“I play the violin, I play chess…. ”
“Oh, you play chess? Me too. Why don’t we play a blindfold game right now?”
“Er. What? What do you want to do? Now?”
“Yeah. Let’s start. e4”.
(I finally managed to gather my senses) “c5”

And so we played for the next two hours. I clearly remember playing a Sicilian Dragon. It was a hard fought game until we ended up in an endgame with opposite coloured bishops. Coincidentally, by that time the tour of the facilities had ended. And we called it a draw.

We kept playing through our B.Techs., mostly blindfold in the backbenches of classrooms. Most of the time I would get soundly thrashed. One time I remember going from our class, with the half-played game in our heads, setting it up on a board in Ranga’s room, and continued to play.

In any case, chess apart, we’ve also had a lot of nice conversations over the last 21 years. Ranga runs a big data and AI company called TheDataTeam, so I thought it would be good to record one of our conversations and share it with the world.

And so I present to you the second episode of my new “Data Chatter” podcast. Ranga and I talk about all things “big data”, data architectures, warehousing, data engineering and all that.

As usual, the podcast is available on all podcasting platforms (though, curiously, each episode takes much longer to appear on Google Podcasts after it has released. So this second episode is already there on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, CastBox, etc. but not on Google yet).

Give it a listen. Share it with whoever you think might like it. Subscribe to my podcast. And let me know what you think of it.

Reliving my first ever cricket match

Earlier this week, I came cross the recent Sky Sports documentary “spin wash” – about England’s 3-0 Test series defeat in India in 1993. That’s a rather memorable series for me, since it was the first time that I actually saw India win, and win comfortably (I had started watching cricket on my ninth birthday, with the 126-126 tie at Perth).

Prior to the series I remember chatting with an “uncle” at the local circulating library, and he asked me what I thought would happen to the series. I had confidently told him that England would win comfortably. I was  very wrong.

Anyway, one video led to another. I finished the series, and then remembered that it was during the same tour that I had gone for my first ever cricket match. It was an ODI in Bangalore, either the 3rd or the 4th of the series (depending on whether you count the first ODI in Ahmedabad that got cancelled). This came just after the “spin wash” and the expectations from the Indian team were high.

A granduncle who was a member at the KSCA had got us tickets, and my father and I went to see the game. I remember waking up early, and first going to my father’s office on his scooter. I remember him taking a few printouts in his office (a year earlier he had got a big promotion, and so had both a computer and a printer in his private office), and then leaving me there as he went upstairs to drop it off in his manager’s (the finance director) office.

Then we drove to the ground in his scooter. I don’t remember where we parked. I only know there was a massive line to get in, and we somehow managed to get in before the game began. I also remember taking lots of food and snacks and drinks to eat during the game. While entering the group, I remember someone handing over large “4” placards, and cardboard caps (the types which only shaded the eyes and were held at the back by a string).

Anyway, back to present. I searched for the game on YouTube, and duly found it. And having taken the day off work on account of my wife’s birthday, I decided to watch the highlights in full. This was the first time I was watching highlights of this game, apart from the game itself that I watched from the B stand.

Some pertinent observations about the video, in no particular order:

  • The outfield was terrible. You see LOTS of brown patches all over the place. When you see Paul Jarvis come in to bowl, you see a very reddish brown all over his trousers – you don’t really see that colour in (even red ball) cricket now
  • There was a LOT of rubbish on the outfield. Random paper and other things being thrown around. Remember that this was prior to the infamous 1999 game against Pakistan in Bangalore where the crowd threw lots of things on to the pitch, so I’m not sure there was anything to prevent things from being thrown on the pitch
  • The India shirt was sponsored by some “Lord and Master”. I don’t remember at all what that is. Never seen its ads on TV (and I watched a lot of TV in the 1990s).
  • There was a hoarding by the Indian Telephone Industries (state owned telephone manufacturing monopoly that collapsed once the monopoly was broken) that said “allrounders in communications”. I found it funny.
  • There were lots of hoardings by the local business Murudeshwar Ceramics / Naveen Diamontile. The business still exists, but it’s interesting that a local player got hoarding space – I guess TV wasn’t yet a big deal then
  • There was a hoarding by “Kuber finance”. I found that interesting since we’ve almost come a full circle with “Coinswitch Kuber” ads during the 2021 IPL.
  • The Bangalore crowd looked MASSIVE on TV. and the Sky Sports commentators kept referring to how big a crowd it was. Coming soon after Test matches in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, this is “interesting”.
  • Every time the camera panned towards the B stand in the highlights reel, I tried to look for myself (I was 10 years old at the time of the game!). No success of course. But I do remember stuff like Srinath getting his 5-41 bowling from “our end” (BEML End, going away from where I was sitting). And Sidhu fielding right in front of us at third man when India was bowling from the pavilion end
  • I remember leaving the ground early after India collapsed (from 61-1 to 115-7). I remember my father saying that there would be riots once the match finished and we should get out before that. One of my school classmates who also went to the game said he watched till the very end and I was jealous of him.
  • The highlights showed Mexican waves. I clearly remember enthusiastically participating in those
  • This was 3.5 years before the famous Kumble-Srinath partnership in Bangalore against Australia but from the highlights I see that Kumble and Kapil Dev had started one such partnership in this game. Again I remember none of it since I had left the ground by then.
  • I’ll end with a poem. I had written it on the day of the game, on the back of the “4” placard I had been given while entering the ground, and waving it every time it seemed the camera was facing my section of the crowd.

Graeme Hick
You’ll get a kick
From a mighty stick
And you’ll fall sick

He ended up top scoring in the game.

The Office!

For the first time in nearly ten years, I went to an office where I’m employed to work. I’m not going to start going regularly, yet. This was a one off since I had to meet some people who were visiting. On the evidence of today, though, I think i once again sort of enjoy going to an office, and might actually look forward to when I start going regularly again.

Metro

I had initially thought I’d drive to the office, but white topping work on CMH Road means I didn’t fancy driving. Also, the office being literally a stone’s throw away from the Indiranagar Metro Station meant that taking the Metro was an easy enough decision.

The walk to South End Metro station was uneventful, though I must mention that the footpath close to the metro station works after a very long time! However, they’ve changed the gate that’s kept open to enter the station which means that the escalator wasn’t available.

The first order of business upon entering the station was to show my palm to one reader which took my temperature and let me go past. As someone had instructed me on twitter, I put my phone, wallet and watch in my bag as I got it scanned.

Despite not having taken the metro for at least 11 months, the balance on my card remained, and as I swiped it while entering, I heard announcements of a train to Peenya about to enter the station. I bounded up the stairs, only to see that the train was a little distance away.

In 2019, when I had just moved back to Bangalore from London, I had declared that the air conditioning in the Bangalore Metro is the best ever in the city. Unfortunately post-covid protocols mean that the train is kept at a much warmer temperature than usual. So on the way to the office, I kept sweating like a pig.

The train wasn’t too crowded, though. On the green line (till Majestic), everyone was comfortably seated  (despite every alternate seat having been blocked off). I panicked once, though, when a guy seated two seats away from me sneezed. I felt less worried when I saw he was wearing a mask.

The purple line from Majestic was another story. It felt somewhat silly that every alternate seat remained blcoked off when plenty of people were crowding around standing. I must mention, though, that the crowd was nothing like what it normally is. In any case, most of the train emptied out at Vidhana Soudha, and it was a peaceful ride from there on.

40 minute from door to door. Once office starts regularly, I plan to take the metro every day.

The Office

While the office was thinly populated, it felt good being back there. I was meeting several of my colleagues for the first time ever, and it was good to see them in person. We sat together for lunch (ordered from Thai House), and spoke about random things while eating. There was an office boy who, from time to time, ensured that my water glass and bottle were always filled up.

In the evening, one colleague and I went for coffee to the darshini next door. That the coffee was provided in paper cups meant we could safely socially distance from the little crowd at that restaurant. The coffee at this place is actually good – which again bodes well for my office.

And then some usual office-y things happened. I was in a meeting room doing a call with my team when someone else knocked asking if he could use the room. I got into a constant cycle of “watering and dewatering”, something I always do when I’m in an office. The combination of the thin attendance and the office boy, though, meant that there was no need to crowd around the water cooler.

I guess this is what 2020 has done to us. Normally, going to office to work should be the “most normal and boring thing ever”. However, 2020 means that it is now an event worth blogging about. Then again, I don’t need much persuasion to write about anything, do I?

Railways and the military: an evening spent in ToK

Sometime this afternoon, when both the wife and I figured it was impossible for us to nap, she said that she wanted to “go on a drive to a part of town she hasn’t seen”. After some thinking I said that we could go to the “cantonment area” or the “towns” (Frazer Town, Cox Town, etc.), which we knew are not too far off from town, but where we had hardly been to.

Sometime back I had tried to imagine “symmetries” around the centre of Bangalore, whatever that means. It had started when I wondered which other areas in Bangalore are similar to Jayanagar, where I live. Having ruled out Banashankari and Rajajinagar, other areas I’ve lived in, because they are “too far from the centre of town”, I started looking at other areas that are nice and residential but not far from the MG Road area.

And that thought process had taken me to the “towns”  – Frazer and Cox and Richards and all that. I hadn’t thought much about it then. And I hadn’t wondered much about what sets these “towns” apart from Jayanagar. Today’s drive gave me the answer.

There are two defining features of the “cantonment” or “towns” area – the military and the railways. As we journeyed east from Frazer Town (the one part of this part of Bangalore we are vaguely familiar with) all the way to Kammanahalli, and the outer ring road, and Banaswadi, and then back towards Indiranagar (more on that later), we kept encountering large swathes of military lands, and railway lines.

Along the way, we saw roads and areas we had only heard about but never seen. For the most part, we didn’t use Google Maps, but just kept driving along the big roads we could find. So we saw Frazer Town. We saw what we first thought was Banaswadi, but later figured is some Ramaswamy Palya or something. And then suddenly, we decided we had heard about Kammanahalli, but never knew where it was, and decided to drive towards that. Halfway up a railway bridge, we saw a signboard to a detour that would take us to Kammanahalli.

And so we went there, and drove through it. Nothing spectacular. And then I had this “flash of inspiration” that this part of town wasn’t actually very far from Indiranagar, and so we could return home via a dinner stop in Indiranagar. So I entered the address of my office (which I haven’t been to yet, but which is in Indiranagar), and let Google Maps take over.

It took us to the Outer Ring Road. And seemed to suggest a route that was going through KR Puram. “Ring roads are boring to drive on”, I declared, and seeing a detour that was “7 minutes longer” I went off the outer ring road. This took us through Banaswadi, and the drive was great (the road was great).

In any road trip, there is a point where you think you are having so much fun by exploring. And then soon after you suddenly feel tired and exhausted, and start wondering what the hell you were thinking when you decided that this drive was a good idea. Soon after we had passed Banaswadi, we had this moment. And this had to do with the railways and the military.

We had driven past Banaswadi, and encountered the Baiyyappanahalli station (with 16 platforms) that is still being renovated. This was the time when we were still feeling excited, that we were seeing parts of town that weren’t too far, but we had normally not seen.

And then we hit a mud road, and a dead end (literally. Not a T-junction). “I don’t get a good feeling here”, my wife said. I turned around and took a nearby road. This took us to a railway gate.

It is the highlighted route here. The red section near the railway line. It’s interesting that Google has coloured it red, because the section just doesn’t exist now. Maybe as part of the work done to revive the Baiyyappanahalli metro station, a new railway overbridge is being built there. That means the road itself has been closed.

This, we figured after we had crossed the railway line (this happened after a 10 minute wait for the Mysore-Kochuveli Express to pass). We crossed the line and found that the road didn’t exist after that. Everyone was going left there, but the road didn’t look good so on a whim I turned right. The road was decent.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the other defining feature of cantonment Bangalore would come in our way – military areas. No sooner had I turned right after getting past the railway line that Google suddenly upped the time and distance estimates to Indiranagar. Soon there was a military gate to the left. “Trespassers will be fired upon”, said a board nearby. We drove on.

The size of the military area there meant that we had to go all the way back to Ulsoor Lake before going to Indiranagar. On the way, we passed a funeral procession that occupied the entire road (with lots of singing and dancing and flower throwing). We had a close shave trying to pass an auto rickshaw at an especially narrow stretch of road. At another point, we had to wait for two minutes for a cow to give us right of way.

And then, somewhere along the way, as we neared Assaye Road, I said something like “Ok, we are getting back to civilisation. Close to town now”.

The daughter, seated next to me, and supremely bored as we went round and round without stopping, asked “had we gone to a different state, appa?”.

“Yes”, I replied. “We had gone to ToK” (a tongue in cheek expression pioneered by Thejaswi Udupa (link possibly paywalled now). It can stand for either “Tamil Occupied Karnataka” and “Telugu Owned Karnataka”).

Resorts

We spent the last three days at a resort, here in Karnataka. The first day went off very peacefully. On the second day, a rather loud group checked in. However, our meal times generally didn’t intersect with theirs and they weren’t too much of a bother.

Yesterday, a bigger and louder (and rather obnoxious – they were generally extremely rude to the resort staff) group checked in. Unfortunately their meal times overlapped with ours, and their unpleasantness had a bearing on us. Our holiday would have been far better had this group not checked in to our resort, but there was no way we could have anticipated, or controlled for that.

The moral of the story, basically, is that your experience at a resort is highly dependent on who else is checked in to the resort at the same time.

The thing with resorts is that unlike “regular hotels”, you end up spending all your time during your holiday in the resort itself, so the likelihood of bumping into or otherwise encountering others who are staying at the resort is far higher. And this means that if you don’t want to interact with some of the people there, you sometimes don’t really have a choice.

Of course, it helped that the resort we were in had private swimming pools attached to each room, and was rather large. So the only times we encountered the other groups at the resort was at meal times. However, as we found during our last day there, that itself was enough to make the experience somewhat unpleasant.

My wife and I had a long conversation last night on what we could do to mitigate this risk. We wondered if the resorts we have been going to are “not premium enough” (then again, a resort with private swimming pools in each room can be considered to be as premium as it gets). However, we quickly realised that ability to pay for a holiday is not at all correlated with pleasantness.

We wondered if resorts that are out of the way or in otherwise not so popular places are a better hedge against this. Now, with smaller or less popular resorts, the risk of having unpleasant co-guests is smaller (since the number of co-guests is lower). However, if one or more of the co-guests happens to be unpleasant, it will impact you a lot more. And that’s a bit of a risk.

Maybe the problem is with India, we thought, since one of the nice resort holidays we’ve had in the last couple of years was in Maldives. Then again, we quickly remembered the time at Taj Bentota (on our honeymoon) where the swimming pool had been taken over by a rather loud tour group, driving us nuts (and driving us away to the beach).

We thought of weekday vs weekend. Peak season vs off season. School holidays vs exam season. We were unable to draw any meaningful correlations.

There is no solution, it seemed. Then we spent time analysing why we didn’t get bugged by fellow-guests at Maldives (my wife helpfully remembered that the family at the table next to ours at one of the dinners was rather loud and obnoxious). It had to do with size. It was a massive resort. Because the resort was so massive, there would be other guests who were obnoxious. However, in the size of the resort, they would “become white noise”.

So, for now, we’ve taken a policy decision that for our further travel in India, we’ll either go to really large resorts, or we’ll do a “tourist tour” (seeing places, basically) while staying at “business hotels”. This also means that we’re unlikely to do another multi-day holiday until Covid-19 is well under control.

Postscript: Having spent a considerable amount of time in the swimming pool attached to our room, I now have a good idea on why public swimming pools haven’t yet been opened up post covid-19. Basically, I found myself blowing my nose and spitting into the pool a fair bit during the time when I was there. Since the only others using it at that time were my immediate family, it didn’t matter, but this tells you why public swimming pools may not be particularly safe.

Postscript 2: One other problem we have with Indian resorts is the late dinner. At home, we adults eat at 6pm (and our daughter before that). Pretty much every resort we’ve stayed in over the last year and half has started serving dinner only by 8, or sometimes at 9pm. And this has sort of messed with our “systems”.

Ten pertinent observations, ten years later

It’s been ten years since this happened:

So we spent the morning watching our wedding video (yes, you might think wedding videos are useless, but they do come in useful once in a while, so you better get them taken) with our daughter. Here are ten pertinent observations about our wedding after watching this video, in no particular order.

  1. The whole thing seems way too long drawn out (the official wedding itself lasted seven sessions, or three days and a half). I remember being incredibly tired and stressed out by the end of it. A lot of things we did seem rather meaningless, in hindsight, as well.

    Given a choice now, I’d do it in a registrar’s office, followed by a party.

  2. For our reception, my niece, who was then barely a teenager, was wearing a “cold shoulder” dress. I had no clue that cold shoulder tops/dresses were already a thing in India in 2010, or that it had already gotten popular with teenagers.
  3. We had invited lots of people. It was absolute chaos at our wedding, especially since it was on a Sunday morning. Guests at the wedding included aunt’s school friends, my grandfather’s cousins (some of whom I didn’t know at all), the priest at a temple near my wife’s house, the bhelpuri guy with a cart down the road from my wife’s house, parents of a friend I’d long lost touch with, the  guy who supplies coffee powder to my in-laws, etc. Now you know why Indian weddings (pre covid-19, at least) are big and fat.
  4. Some of the guests whom neither of us know well – we have over the years tagged them by the gift they gave us at the wedding. “This is my dad’s cousin who gave us that clock”, or “this is the family that gave the plate”, etc. Sometimes we think that if we don’t know the hosts well, what gifts we give doesn’t matter. Not always true.

    On the other hand, you don’t remember the gifts that people close to you gave you. Your relationship with them goes far beyond a wedding gift.

  5. The funniest part of reception photos is when groups get mixed together. Given that we had long lines (see 3 above), taking a photo with just one guest was a sort of waste of time. So in some cases, people were arbitrarily (based on their position in line) clubbed together for photos. It’s fun to see these combinations, in hindsight.
  6. The only way we know that someone attended our wedding is if they gave us a gift (they’re all tabulated in a diary), or if they came up on stage (braving the crowds) to wish us during the wedding or the reception. So if you think that your “presence is itself a present”, then you need to make sure that you clearly register your presence.

    The evening of my wedding, I saw two emails, from friends saying “I was there at your wedding. I’m not sure if you saw me”. Smartphones weren’t a thing in 2010, but if you’re going to do this now, you better attach a selfie as well.

  7. There’s a reason I’ve put a picture from our wedding, and not from our reception, as part of this post. We both look absolutely atrocious at our reception. Both heavily over-made-up. Every time we look at our reception photos, we end up laughing loudly at each other.
  8. I’ve worn my wedding suit only once in the last 10 years – for my wife’s MBA graduation. My wife hasn’t worn her reception sari even once after the wedding (I had completed my MBA before we got married). At the time we bought them, they were our costliest ever suit and costliest ever sari respectively.
  9. It’s fun to watch these photos and videos to see how some people have changed over the years. A lot of people have visibly gotten older in the last 10 years. Many others look exactly the same. And some people actually look younger now than they did at our wedding (maybe a function of fitness?).

    The funnest to look at are those who were kids at the time of our wedding, but who are adults now. And those who had hair at the time of our wedding, and don’t now.

  10. Over the years, the influence of Bollywood has meant that South Indian weddings have borrowed a lot from North Indian weddings. Like mehndi is a common thing in South Indian weddings now. Maybe shoe hiding as well. However, we’re extremely proud of the one thing we “imported”, and which not too many others have done (even ten years down the line).

    On the eve of our wedding, at the wedding hall itself, we had a dance party. Yes, really. We had a DJ. No choreography nonsense. Just a good old post-dinner dance party. Among other things, we got to see a side of some relatives that we hadn’t otherwise seen. It was great fun overall.

 

Number fourteen

I killed another rat this morning. The fourteenth of my life. This came six years after my thirteenth. And it was also the hardest, forcing me to take the help of “unnatural support” to trap and kill it.

Unfortunately this was the best picture we could get, since I had decided to close the sticky mat after killing the rat on it

I first noticed the rat on Monday night when I was talking to a friend. I had stepped out of the bedroom to take the call, and we were barely done with pleasantaries when I said, “shit, there is a rat in my house”. “Oops, do you need to go? Are you scared?”, he asked. “Not scared, but I need to kill it”, I said, and ran.

As it happened, I was wearing my AirPods, and I ended up running too far away from my phone, and the call got cut. I had seen the rat going under the dining table, and then into the kitchen. By the time I fetched a stick broom (the one usually used to sweep outdoors – they are excellent for killing rats – see my left hand in the picture above), the rat had disappeared.

The fundamental principle of killing rats is to isolate it in one room, that is preferably “open” (without too many nooks and corners where it can hide). Our living room in this house is especially unsuited for this purpose since it has too many orifices, and many of these orifices can’t be shut.

In any case, I saw the rat hiding inside the back of the refrigerator. The idea was to move the refrigerator and whack it as soon as it ran out. Unfortunately, with my reflexes not being what they used to be, I wasn’t able to whack it adequately and the rat ran into my daughter’s room (she doesn’t sleep there yet).

This was both a good and a bad thing. The good thing was that the rat could be isolated inside this room. The bad thing was that there are too many things in this room, making it impossible to trap a rat there. I tried anyway, with a broom and a stick, for twenty minutes before giving up and calling back my friend.

Yesterday was an attritional battle. We woke up to the sight of the rat having tried to gnaw at the room door. It was nowhere to be found, though. I went to a nearby shop and got some rat poison (in the form of “cakes”), and for good measure also got a rat sticky board.

Representative image of a rat glue trap

I left some old potato chips in the middle of this pad, and spread the poison cakes throughout the room. Every two or three hours through yesterday I kept going in to check if the rat had eaten the cakes or otherwise been trapped. There was no luck.

This morning there was evidence once again that the rat had tried to gnaw the bottom of the room door. It was time for more proactive measures. The first step was to empty out the room. The amount of stuff (toys, dolls, games, etc.) that my daughter has is insane. Having made a mental note to “Marie Kondo her stuff” later today, I went on to finding the rat.

Despite mostly emptying the room, the rat was nowhere to be found. This reminded me of computer programming. Sometimes you know there is a bug, but you just aren’t able to find it. Finally, after more than an hour of search, I found that the rat had made itself cosy in the window curtains.

In computer programming, once you’ve found a bug, fixing it is relatively easy. With physical rodents, it’s not so straightforward. The rat started giving me a hard time.

Out (of the room) came the curtains. Out (of the room) came these boxes in which my daughter stores her toys. It was to no avail, as the rat cleverly used the mattress as a shield (irrespective of how I placed the mattress – horizontal / vertical / whatever). Finally, having made sure that the rat wasn’t in the mattress, that was pushed out of the room as well.

In general, catching a rat needs two people. One person prods from one side and the other person whacks from the other. My first ever experience of killing a rat (it’s counted in the 14) came as an assistant to my father, who had handed me a cricket bat when a rat had dared to come to our bathroom.

On subsequent occasions, I’ve used my aunt, my aunt’s housekeeper, my mother-in-law and others as my assistants. Today, there was no such help coming. My wife was too scared, and she had convinced the daughter as well that rats can be scary, so I was left to my own devices.

And it was my devices – one that I had purchased yesterday, to be precise – that came of use. I had noticed that the rat kept running under a chest of drawers every time I attacked it. So I strategically left the sticky mat under the chest of drawers, and kept chasing the rat under it. And one time, it stuck.

A couple of whacks with the broom finished it off. “Fourteen”, I shouted. I admit I sort of “cheated”, by using “unnatural aids” (the sticky mat) in this process. In my defence, I didn’t have any human support so was forced to use this.

Start the game already!