12 October 2020

Monday evening ritual

Usually, it is Amitesh and myself who get together for a glass of Mirassou on Monday evenings. We have tried multiple places but have gone back to Abbott’s Bar and Grill. Now Samaresh has started joining us in these sessions.

Feels familiar?

Another “Chalupa” like concept in the offing?

11 October 2020

Book Review: Why zebras do not get ulcers

This book took me a lot of time to finish. It is a fairly dense book and filled with too many medical terms that made me slow down to get the full impact. Even then, I suspect I caught only some of the major points.

The author – a neuroendocrinologist from Stanford University – tries to explain how stress messes up pretty much every system we have in our body. The funny title of the book is to highlight the point that humans are the only animals that get stressed about what MIGHT happen in the future.

There are about twenty odd chapters. Each chapter has essentially two parts. The first part explains how a system works – circulatory, nervous, sensory, reproductive etc etc. I found these portions fascinating since it helped me understand a little more about how our body works. The second part of each chapter focuses on how stress – or rather the specific hormone “glucocorticoids” plays havoc with the systems when over produced OVER A LONGER PERIOD OF TIME. I do not believe I could concentrate as much in these portions to follow everything.

Here are some interesting snippets…

1. For the vast majority of beasts on this planet, stress is about a short term crisis, after which it’s either over with or you’re over with. Not so for humans.

2. The diseases that plague us now are ones of slow accumulation of damage – heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases etc…

3. Our stress response system gets mobilized not only in response to actual stress but in expectations of them too.

4. A funny quote – The sympathetic nervous system mediates the four F’s of behavior – flight, fight, fright and sex. (Get it? 🙂 )

5. No cell in your body is more than five cells away from a blood vessel – yet the circulatory system takes up only 3 percent of body mass.

6. Only vertebrates gain acquired immunity as they grow up. Invertebrates do not. It is not exactly known why this is so.

7. Being under stress does make you more susceptible to cold

8. During stress, memory for emotional components is enhanced (although the accuracy is not necessarily all that good), whereas memory for the neutral details is not.

9. If you test young and old people and give them lots of time to complete an IQ test, there is little difference. As you stress the system – in this case, by making the subjects race against a time limit – scores fall for all ages, but much further among older people.

10. Genes are rarely about inevitability in humans. It is more about propensity and tendency.

I enjoyed the book. Hope you will too!

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10 October 2020

Saturday evening with Avi

It has been pouring rather generously this weekend in Atlanta. It was no mean feat then that Avi and I managed to score the best chairs at the local cigar shop. I am not a smoker at all – yet to take my maiden puff – but it is tradition for Avi and I to meet there once a month or so.

We tend to sit outside always. I do not mind the smoke inside for some time – but the loud music gets in my way of having a conversation with anybody. Last evening, we managed to get the two chairs that were farthest from the exposure to rain (and the strong wind made sure it had claimed half the outside covered area to splash zone) and then settled down for an Old Fashioned (how else does one start a cold, damp evening?) and wine. And a cigar for Avi.

And some outstanding discussions. That is the thing about Avi. I can have some in depth discussions with him. Partly because he is an intellectually curious person and learns a lot of stuff and reflects on them. And partially because he is a good conversationalist.

While we talked about quite a few topics – from music to running – two topics stood out in my mind. The first one was around how remarkable the US constitution is. It is that bit about “Pursuit of happiness” being an “inalienable right”. Strictly speaking, it was in the Declaration of Independence but this is an incredible attitude towards people and citizenry. The strict Creator >> People >> Government thought process resulted in an interesting approach to constitution framing in this country. While most countries have their constitution award certain rights to its people, the US constitution is built around limiting certain rights in certain cases (so as not to trample on others’ rights).

The approach is undeniably different in its fundamental presumption of the role of government versus its people. One interesting discussion point was why has the constitution stayed so unique? How much of it was the brilliance of the constitution framers and how much has been the conservatism with which the country has held on to the beliefs and resisted interpretations to adapt with passage of time.

Regardless, what a concept – Pursuit of happiness – for every person – being an inalienable right.

The second stream of conversation that got a lot of my energy was Avi’s (who is a recently retired top HP executive) articulation of culture in a company. I was explaining how experience has taught me that culture is created thru stories. And story telling. I then narrated a small story from my current job – what I had initially thought to be an innocuous action (fairly meaningless to me, at that) – that spread like wildfire in the company and overnight got the message of the culture we want to stand for well understood than any of those traditional communications could ever achieve.

In that context, Avi opened my eyes to an interesting way to understanding how employees experience culture. “It is what they cannot do”, he said. It took me some time to absorb the full impact of that statement. Eventually I did. And it has now enriched how I think about any environment I will work in.

People often experience a culture in a company in the form of the limitations that are put on them from what they can do. This is not to say the limitations do not have a good reason. But from an individual’s point of view, that hinders their pursuit of what they could have done. When employees describe their culture using words like “bureaucratic”, “slow”, “old boys club”, “energetic”, “innovative”, “chaotic”… (I have heard all of these in my past)… it is their way of articulating what in the culture prevents them from doing what they believe they need to do to perform at their highest level.

Great discussions! Unforgettable company!!

9 October 2020

Friday evening winding down

This was is from Hakim Momin Khan Momin. Commonly referred to as “Momin”, the poet lived in Delhi and was contemporary to Mirza Ghalib.

“Woh jo humme tumme qaraar thaa
Tumhein yaad ho ke naa yaad ho
Wohi yaani vaada nibhaah kaa
Tumhein yaad ho ke naa yaad ho

Woh jo lutf mujh pe the beshtar
Woh qaram ke thaa mere haal par
Mujhe sab hai yaad zaraa-zaraa
Tumhein yaad ho ke naa yaad ho”

Roughly translated,
“The agreement that we had between us
Maybe you remember, maybe you do not
That promise of being together
Maybe you remember, maybe you do not

That joy that was always with me
That kindness that was bestowed upon me
Every bit of those memories are still with me
Maybe you remember, maybe you do not”

9 October 2020

That is an incredible pencil drawing

The three photos below are that of my first cousin, once removed (at different ages). That is my mom’s brother’s son’s son. You might remember him from some of the stories I wrote about him during my trips to India.

The picture above is a pencil drawing – inspired by those photos – done by another of my first cousin, once removed. This time it is my mom’s brother’s daughter’s daughter. While I am no expert in the arts – it sure takes me a minimum two glasses of wine to appreciate Sharmila’s paintings – three, if it is an abstract – even to the untrained eyes of mine, this seems to be an outstanding piece of art.

I hope she will follow her passion and talent and someday, become a great artist.