This year’s addition to the fountain pen collection…

Some of you who are close to me personally or professionally are aware that I use fountain pens almost exclusively for writing and also maintain a small collection. I wrote with my first fountain pen in fifth grade (1977) and in spite of all the messiness of ink all over my fingers, I have always preferred the feel of the ink-and-nib mechanism over the rolling-ball or simple gel mechanism.

While finding fountain pens became difficult over the years and certainly after I moved to the US of A, what became really difficult was getting the right paper that would neither bleed (most standard paper do) nor prevent the ink from drying (too glossy surface).  At the same time, it had to be smooth enough that the pen did not pick up any fibre from the surface that would muck up the capillary gap in the tongue of the nib. As a result, I normally stock up on writing pads once I find them to be fountain pen safe and almost always use a fine point nib only. I do have a very small cache of broad, italics and extra fine nibs for some calligraphic writing. (I am not very good at it though).

Annually, I add a few pens during the Fountain Pen Show in Atlanta. This year I went for some dual-toned bodies with bright colors. The total collection is starting to get close to the half century mark.

Missed my partner in crime Roger Whitney this year…

From the bartender’s corner – Esme Jasmine

Jasmine was the first cocktail I experimented with the Esme gin. The floral essence of the gin played rather well with the edgy bitterness of a Campari. To soften the Campari, I went with some Triple Sec and then some lemon juice to retain the citrus-forward gin’s character.

The nose was mostly carried by the gin and the Triple sec – junipers, orange and rose petals were the most prominent. The palette started with the citrusy taste but quickly the soft bitterness of Campari took over and settled down. The finish was mostly the junipers, the lemons and the rose petals.

Meeting Sri Ganesh

I was done with my India trip. 4 days with parents and 1 day meeting some folks from my past in Pune. All that was left was now a four hour drive to Mumbai airport and off to US I would be. Except that there was one more intersection point to be created.

I credit Sri Ganesh entirely for making this meeting happen. I had no time to get into the city. So, Sri Ganesh came to the airport to meet me!! That was awfully nice of him. We went in to a nearby hotel and grabbed a glass of wine and some light dinner.

Nearly 26 years back, I worked in the same office as Sri Ganesh in Mumbai. He was the head of Finances and Administration for our company. After 2 years, I was shipped out to the USA.  He really had no reason to remember me much.

There are well networked people and there are well networked people. And then there is Sri Ganesh. Not only did he remember me, he remembered just about anybody and everybody I enquired after. Most of our conversation went something like this…

Me: “Do you remember the gentleman who was in charge of the library?”
He: “Charles D’Souza?”
Me: “Yes. He is absolutely one of the most genuine human being I have ever come across”.
He: “You want to talk to him?”
And then he would get Charles on the other line and have me to talk to him!!!

He seemed to have contacts with and the contacts of just about anybody who was there in that company that time. I was pretty impressed how well he remembered so many people. Someday, I hope to grow a memory like him.

Equally impressive was how many times he had set of offices and businesses from scratch in his career. Now, he devotes a lot of time to charitable causes.

Some of the perspectives he gave of life while reflecting on our past was eye opening. He seemed to always accentuate the positives in every change. It is a pity that I missed him when he was visiting Atlanta a few years back.

I am told attitudes can be contagious. I want some of his to rub off on me…

 

Smart Alecs!!

That is what we were called – all the residents of our hostel “Alakananda” (shortened to Alak) in IIT Chennai. Don’t ask me why but all our hostels (that purportedly did not move) were named after rivers and our college buses (which, to the naked eye appeared to move at a ghastly gait) were named after mountains!!!

Thanks to Srinivas Aluru, this motley crowd of five Smart Alecs got together for a lunch and – as the other picture would suggest – some more!! You can always trust Srinivas to be the gracious host for these kind of things.

I saw both Ramesh Mantha and Ratnakar Rao after 28 years!! I can’t believe how Ratnakar remembers every person’s name and details from those years. Sometimes we would be like – “remember that guy – curly hair – good in hockey… ” and he would take another sip of his coke and go “his full name was so and so”. And all of us would go “how did you do that?”.

It was great to see Ramesh’s intellectual curiosity has not left him. And neither has the memory of losing the Sports Secy election to me by 4 votes 🙂 Truth be told he got elected the next year and was much more effective than me. We had played in multiple inter-IITs together and even won the 3-a-side volleyball tournament in college. I probably should mention that he was a regular player and I was a substitute in that team. But I got a gold medal that looked just like his, ha ha!!

It was great to see Ravi Ballamudi in my territory today. Last time I saw him was in a restaurant midway between Milwaukee and Madison on whatever that highway is in his home state of Wisconsin. Clearly, he had the most mature and astute observations of the evening!!

Can’t wait to see these guys again!!!

From the bartender’s corner – Gin #8: Esme Gin

First, let me admit that I have no idea where is the distillery that makes this gin. I know it is in France. And I have written multiple times to the distributor that imports it from France. But they had steadfastly, refused to respond.

When you open the bottle – which is pretty cute in shape – the first thing that hits your nose are the citrus notes. This is certainly what would be called a citrus-forward gin. I tried this with some Indian Tonic Water. The nose sure was citrusy and juniper. The palette initially is that of juniper but soon in the finish you sense something even sweeter – almost floral. And that is when you realize that you are drinking one of the rare gins that uses rose petals during the distilling process!

The base of the gin is neutral spirit made from indigenous French wheat. The infusion includes juniper, citrus, orange blossom, cucumbers and rose petals,

Try it some time. You will not be disappointed. Stick with a martini or a gin and tonic (or even gin on the rocks) to truly get a sense of the gin. The rose petal aroma can get very quickly overcome by the ingredients of most cocktails.

A really cool guy!!

I had kept the last meeting in Pune for one of the most interesting persons I have known – Dhananjay Nene. We called him Danny and in fact, still do. We have crossed each other’s paths many many times.

First, we went to MBA school together in IIM- Ahmedabad. Both of us had a passion for computers and programming those days. We both joined the same company after our MBA. We even worked in the same project for a year and a half!!

We came to the USA literally in the same flight! We worked in the same office in US. We stayed in the same apartment complex in Florida. We shared the same rental car. And then we moved to Dallas together too!!

As if that was not enough, both of us were – and still are – married to Architects – Supriya and Sharmila!!!

Somewhere around 1995, we split ways. He quit the company and joined a large telecom company in the Northeast. I quit a few months later and joined a start up in Dallas itself.

I knew what I wanted to talk about when I met him. Of course, after I was done with enquiring about his family – especially his mom who won the battle against cancer a few year back. The first topic was how he chose to stay with programming. I moved on from programming at some point of time. One might even suggest, with some grain of truth, that my programming was bad enough that I made the cut to be a manager 🙂 But programming was Danny’s passion. He stuck to it.

Moment I saw him, I had flashbacks of furious typing on the keyboard (he was probably pushing 100 keystrokes per minute those days – we used to joke behind his back that approximately 50 of them were backspaces 🙂 ).

“Are you still typing that fast?”

“Faster. Now I use a mechanical keyboard”.

Of course, for me –  a guy who pecks on the screen of an iPad to write something, it was a revelation for me that there were actually different kind of keyboards!!

“You are at a vantage point of having stuck to the same thing for nearly twenty five years. Few people can reflect on programming as a process like you can, I suspect. Forget the language and frameworks. I will not understand them any more. But tell me what beliefs have you formed around processes or teams after this long a time”.

“You are not going to like it. It is too contrarian”.

“Try me. I suspect that is the difference. It would take that much experience to negate common wisdom”.

“Well, I do not believe in separation of coding from testing”.

Essentially, he made a case of why creating a separation of labor between coding and testing passes the buck around. A coder has to be the tester. The creator has to guarantee the quality.

“But, what about inherent bias?”, I pressed on.

“Get a peer review done of your code”.

That did make sense to me. But I was not ready for the next one.

“I do not believe in timelines”, said he.

“What do you mean you do not believe in timelines?”

“Artificial timelines are what creates so many quality issues today”.

“But this is not a hobby, Danny. Business speaks in two languages – money and timeline. On what other basis do you create trust or benchmark of performance?”

“How scientific are those timelines? Aren’t those artificial to begin with? Somebody drew a line on the sand to release a product or launch a campaign etc etc – right? It is not like somebody is going to die or a competitor is going to take away the whole market next day, right?”

I will tell you what. I got his point that, essentially, all timelines are artificial. I also got the point that deadlines can drive taking shortcuts and slip ups on quality. But throughout his explanation, I have to admit, I struggled with how I can conduct business without timelines. I have also struggled with the essential definition of quality. Whose eyes is it in – the customer or the creator?

Anyways, this is what I have always admired about him. He has always chosen to take the road not so well travelled and that is why I absolutely love and respect his opinions.

Our final part of the session was talking about his other passion – motorcycles. He has four of them and does a lot of long distance motor biking in India. I hope some day to have one and do some pleasure riding here in America. I did pick up quite some safety tips and lessons for a hopefully-soon-to-be-beginner.

As you can imagine, with his intensely analytical way of looking at things, he gave some great insights into how riding a motorcycle needs you to train your brain differently. He brought it to life with a great example…

“Imagine a cow crossing the road… or in your case, a deer crossing your road. Your brain processes the animal as a danger and a threat. Your eyes are locked on the animal. Here is the thing. You will drive your motorcycle where your eyes are. You are going to run into the animal at that speed. Instead, you have to retrain your brain to focus on the escape route – essentially, the gap between the animal and the road. Preferably the gap that is behind the animal not in front.”

That actually made a lot of sense to me.

It was getting ready to take the four hour drive to Mumbai airport for me. I could have sat for another few hours and soaked in a lot of wisdom from Danny. But I had to take leave for him. Hope to get both of us and our wives together some time… just like the good old days when we had no kids!!

Breakfast meeting in Pune

During the various stages of my professional life, I have been impressed by and immensely admired different folks. I have learnt a lot from them and almost always I found them to be different from me. And it is that difference that I have tried to study and then learn. (and sometimes chose not to learn – after deciding that I am a very different person and not every thing will suit me).

In the first couple of years of my job life, when I was soaking in as much as I could and essentially learning from what I was seeing around me in my first brush with corporate life, there was an unforgettable gentleman that I had come across – Nandu Kulkarni. I was never really part of his team except for the last few weeks when I was on a holding pattern waiting for my papers to come to be transferred to our company’s Latino operations in Florida.

Above all, it was his demeanor that had impressed me. Extremely level headed and soft spoken, I used to marvel at how he used to deal with stressful situations with an absolute calm and unemotional approach. I had sought him out to be my mentor and used to often swing by his office to chat with him. He, in a moment of lapse in judgment, no doubt – had taken me under his wings and used to give me quite a few pointers.

After leaving India, I had tried to keep in touch with him. When I visited my old company in Bombay, he was the first person I sought out to meet. And then I lost touch over time. Eventually, I got back in touch and had called him a few years back. I learnt how he had grown a passion for music and that he had moved to Pune.

I was plenty lucky that I was able to meet him during this trip to India when I landed in Pune. He was in Japan with his wife and had returned around midnight the previous night. Graciously, he had agreed to wake up early and make the effort to come and have breakfast with me.

Just being able to see him and say Thanks for every which way he has influenced me was a great achievement already. But, on top of that, the breakfast session was another learning exercise too. As an example, the first thing that struck me was how young he looked. His stance was straight as an arrow and he appeared to have little to no fat. Mind you, he must be at least ten years older than me.

“What is the secret to your health and young looks? Exercise?” I asked.

Unsurprisingly, he keeps up with a routine of biking, walking and hiking. Pune has quite a few hills around it and he takes full advantage of it.

“How about food?”, I pressed on.

“I have no restrictions on food”, he said.

“Really? Portion control?”

“Not really.”

“Really?”

“Have you heard of Horace Fletcher?”

“Nope”

And from then on, I learnt about Fletcherism, which he swears by. I just downloaded the book today and I need to read it up. But what I liked is it does not ask you to avoid any kind of food. In fact, it encourages you to eat whatever you feel like. This is a little reassuring to me. I have always felt that each human body is too complex and too different to draw a broad brush on any kind of food as either definitely good for all or definitely bad for all. Instead, this focuses on eating only when you feel hungry (not by the time of the day), masticating your food till your saliva has fully processed the food (don’t gulp before it is ready), enjoy all the taste and feel of the food, and stop once you feel you are not hungry any more.

I found quite some similarity with another philosophy of Staying in the Now. One of the practices encouraged there is to slowly chew your food and focus all your attention to food.

After some time of doing this, apparently, Nandu has been able to get off all medicines. (He had a heart attack once before). His sum total medicine intake in a year is about a couple of paracetamols if he runs fever and such.

Another interesting story I heard from Nandu was his trip to Antarctica. The real interesting part was how he took the Polar Plunge. To be sure you have to dive into water at freezing point. And as Nandu pointed out, he can’t even take a cold shower. But apparently, he got over his fear and went for it. And swore that it was one of the most exhilarating and satisfying experience ever. I am pretty sure that the satisfying part was a post facto feeling 🙂 I have a deathly fear of heights. Maybe this will get me to do a skydive once in my lifetime.

One breakfast is too little a timeframe to catch up with Nandu. But I needed to go and he, I am sure was tired too.

“Next time, please meet again. Do not use your algorithm.”

The algorithm he is referring to is what I had explained to him a few minutes earlier. There are about a dozen people I know in Pune. I was going to be there for less than a day. I explained to him that I was prioritizing initially to meet teachers, parents of friends, elders, seniors and people who I had not seen for the longest time first.

I laughed out loud and promised that I will make an exception for him in my algorithm.