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Entries in all part of life (177)

Tuesday
Jan012019

Happy New Year 2019

The 2000's turned 18. That was a big deal.. When it turns 21, we might subconsciously associate it with another "big year".. Turning 16 was a good thing.. in an American context.. 

19.. seems to be something we skip through! Don't exactly remember going through my 19th year. Hopefully 2019 goes by like that!

2018 was a monotonous year for us with the exception of four things..

1. A visit to India for my nephews Poonal ceremony and being with my parents, brother and sister under one roof even if for two days

2. A two week magical trip to Europe in Summer

3. Jr.'s dance Arangetram

4. A wrap up of the year in Belize for a week

The rest was a routine. Did manage to do yoga 224 times in 2018. As most of you know, the goal is at least 200. So checking that one off. 

The time outside of yoga was mostly spent in picking up and dropping off kids from classes. 

Did 10 trips to Asia this year instead of 12 but had three international personal trips to make up for that.

There was no major sickness this year and that was a big plus. The only negative or scary thing that happened was my father slipping and falling down in October and my mother insisting that I not visit till he is walking again.  He is improving slowly but steadily and that is a good thing.

One regret we did have was not being able to attend my sisters kids Poonal as it crossed with the pre planned Europe trip. We have moved on from that given both the Europe trip and the Poonal went very well. 

The job continues to be interesting and challenging and we are quietly ploughing through challenges one at a time. The hard part of working in a startup is to get a group of folks who don't waste time questioning the problems but just go tackle it. From that stand point, glad to have a bunch of folks who are all in that mindset. Feel the the time at work is being well spent. 

2018 was good on retrospect. 2019 is being welcomed with hopes of the kids doing well in school and work reaching significant milestones.. but what matters is to keep San smiling next to me and have good health throughout the year and cherish friendships old and new! One has to be really fortunate to have good friends and we are blessed in that department!

and yes.. resolutions.. now that yoga 200 times a year is not a resolution anymore (it is a habit), the wish and hope for 2019 is to learn to swim properly. Went for 10 classes in 2005 when Jr. was 3 years old as part of a parents and tots swim class. Could float and swim the length of the pool with two three stops. We went snorkeling in Belize and I stayed 5 feet from the boat at all times because of fear. The ATM trip was also scary going against the river in darkness. 

2019, overcome fear of deep water and waves.. Let's see if I can get that done..

Thursday
Dec202018

The perfect aftershave..

Yes..

Yours truly.. Dudeji Beardybaba, as I was affectionately called by friends and family alike over the last few months have had a setback of sorts in prepping for my next career move. 

To put it simply, the beard is gone. It just got to that point where letting it go, became an appeling option.

The beard survived for 7+ weeks and it was no longer patchy. It was an "official" beard that could enter into a beard competition.. it made it to Asia through multiple airport securities without being the cause for "random" security screening as was expected by the rest of the face.

It made it through multiple meetings.. it made it through rides in the Shanghai metro where it was the only beard on the entire damn train.. well I was the only Indian on the entire damn train, but the beard stuck out to the point where kids were staring at me non stop and their parents were politely teaching the kids "not to stare". The beard become a social education tool for Chinese parents.. it had value!

Having finished work in Asia, gave up on biz upgrade chances and flew back early on "premier economy", just to beat jet lag by sleeping in my own bed. The beard became "itchy and scratchy" during the return trip while attempting to sit and sleep by leaning on the plane window!  

It got completely messed up.Could have taught homeless hobos, how to look like legit homeless hobos after getting out of SFO. My Uber driver was not sure if I was the passenger or some guy trying to get a free ride, and was checking twice. Even that believe it or not, was not the last straw.

My lovely wife of almost 20 years, always greets me with an unreserved hug when I come back from Asia.. she is glad to see me because she knows the next pickups and drop offs from classes for kids,  will all be on me at least for a few days post my return.. Today she gave me a hug that said "yes, I would like to hug you, but without getting anywhere close to your face".. it was a hug that one gives their boxing match opponent or a hug your nurse gives you at the time of discharge when you are the huggy type and she too is the huggy type based on her other patients, but you are being discharged, after being treated for rashes.. 

That was it..a line was drawn and I decided to shave. It turns out that shaving a 7 week old beard is not easy. Having had no such prior experience, it was tricky. First you have to use a trimmer to cut it down and then shave, or you can cut yourself pretty badly. (note, if you need additional tips, will be glad to give you some).. 

After 15-20 minutes, the beard was gone.. but it is not easy to get used to its absence. Did not realize that I got used to the beard.. it kind of grew on me!

After coming home, had a severe migraine and stomach pain and did the only thing I could think of under such circumstances.. Go do Bikram Yoga. 

Went to the first class that was available after coming home and the class was awesome. Somehow my symptoms after shaving off a 7 week beard was similar to what folks describe after getting their limb amputated. It was weird. Standing in front of the mirror and breathing made my nose all hot. It was like running an airconditioner without the filter.. 

Then halfway down the class, while doing leg stretching head to knee pose, a few gallons of sweat just went straight into my nose. The whiskers and beard would not have allowed that.. It took me a few minutes to recover from the stinging in my nose and sinuses before rejoining the class. 

There is one good thing about having a clean face. I can actually see myself smile better in the mirror and it makes for great positive reinforcement. 

Also the yoga class did me a world of wonders. When you sweat like crazy, that skin smoothes itself out and all the itching and scratching is gone! 

San took before and after photos..the little one hasn't seen me yet and will possibly be thrilled that the beard is gone. She was not a fan..

Same smile, but one gets trapped in the beard. Now when the teacher in Yoga class says "with your happy smiling face..." there is a visible happy smiling face!!!

The beard did have the best run this time..who knows when it will come back?!!

Monday
Dec032018

The Rava Dosa of Asanas..

This blog always tries to cover multiple interests at one go.. today it will be food and Yoga.. I know those two don't mix well, as it is best to do Yoga on an empty stomach and thinking of food is the last thing you should do while attempting Yoga. 

That said.. please bear with me.

When this blog writing started a long long time ago, we used to go to every Indian restaurant and a week later, would write a review of the place with my own rating scheme. Half those restaurants are now gone. But the memories remain. On second thought, should start writing those reviews again.. Those were pre "Yelp" days. Once Yelp came out, the idea of putting out an elaborate review for like minded readers disappeared.. Once Trip Advisor showed up, the thought of trying to make the Travelog useful for others disappeared.. it started becoming a "writing for memory sake" journal.  

One way to rate restaurants, was to order multiple dishes but have a common denominator item to do a fair comparison. For North Indian restaurants it was Malai Kofta and butter naan and for South Indian places, it was Rava Dosa. One restaurant owner even named me Mr. Rava Dosa! 

If you are not familiar with a Rava Dosa, it is made with batter that is freshly mixed. It takes at least 20 minutes to make from the time you order it, and it is a real test for a south Indian chef. You can guage a lot of things about a south Indian restaurant by the Rava Dosa. If you go order it and don't hear "Sir, it will take some time compared to the other items? is that okay?" .. then you should seriously doubt the dosa quality. The crispiness of the Dosa is another thing.. too short on the stove, it sticks to the plate. Too long and it has a slight burnt taste.. you have a very narrow process window to make this one right!

Where am I going with this?

On Friday and Saturday PST, there was the World Yogasana Championship, held this year in Beijing. If I had a business trip, would have gone a day earlier to catch it on Sunday local time, but there were other plans for me that the higher powers had divined so stayed put at home.  Did manage to watch parts of it, thanks to a live feed on Facebook from the China Yoga Federation (which is real, and I hope they open more Yoga studios in Shanghai and Beijing).

The way the competition works (yes, yes.. yoga competition ? that is an oxymoron.. have heard that before.. have explained it also before.. ) there is 3 minutes per person. You get to do 4 mandatory poses in the final round and two optional poses. 

The Four mandatory poses are not the same asansa but rather picked from a certain category. The first is a forward bend compression, the second is a back bend compression, the third is a forward stretch, the fourth is a twist, then two optional poses. Within each category, you have different difficulty levels for different poses. If you do a Rabbit pose, which is a forward compression sitting down, it has a lower difficulty level than a standing head to knee pose which is a forward compression done standing on one locked knee..

I am not the expert here and you need to fact check the above, but think I got most of that right. If you fall off a pose, you can start again, but you lose points. Everything is marked by 3 judges and they give you points on a 1-10 scale. The poses have to be held for at least 5 seconds at the height of the pose (maximum). There are certain basic elements in each pose like a locked knee, or forehead touching knee or locked elbow etc. etc. which define the pose. So if any of those basic definitions are missed, you lose points. 

Basically, you start with 10 points and before you know it, you have lost it all!!! At least that was  my experience the one time I went to a yoga competition a few years ago. Just kidding. It is a lot more fun..

Now what has Rava Dosa got to do with Asanas? 

Well, there is this one pose that I have written the most about in this Yoga Journey, over the last almost 8 years. It is the Standing Head to Knee pose. Experienced Yogis (especially desis) who can do all kinds of complex poses like:

put their leg over their shoulder and stand up on the other leg,

get into lotus pose standing upside down on their heads in Shirasasana,

do a wheel pose effortlessly,

still falter when it comes to the head to knee. 

Why?

This pose is not about strength or flexibility or a tradeoff between the two. There is a third ingredient to it that takes time to develop. . . balance! Incredible physical and mental balance.!! You have to be able to tighten a select set of muscles while simultaneouly relax another set of muscles and breathe right or you cannot pull this off. The intense focus required, takes a lot of practice specific to this pose. 

There is also 4 parts to it (or so I thought, till Joseph Encina showed me there are 5 parts to it) and so far I have never gone past step 2 to successfully finish step 3 in the last 6 years.  Recently though,  I am consistently getting to step 3 which is a good sign. 

To me the six poses and all the rules in a competition are great, but mostly filler. They are like the other half dozen items we order to get an idea of the restaurant. If you have to judge all contestants with the least amount of effort, just look at how they do standing head to knee pose and you can pretty much get to the final ranking. 

It is the Rava Dosa of poses for me.. 

Really enjoyed watching the competition, although only for three or four 30 minute stretches. The best part of this competition was that my teacher and mentor Michelle Vennard won the Adult womens group.  My Yoga guru is a world champion! She smiled through the entire three minutes and was grace personified. I also got to see my friend Lee compete live and he did an amazing job. Have seen him on the mat next to me, have stared into his eyes during Yoga demonstrations, but to see him try his best the way he did gave me goosebumps. When you see folks you know transcend their usual, it is truly inspiring!

Have been very fortunate to be around champs in my life. My ballroom dance teacher was an International champion and I still hear her voice while doing Yoga, especially when the teacher says "breathe" with an accent. There are two things I still remember from my dancing days that she taught me. 

1. Sundar, you don't have to have your partner hang from the Chandeliers to win this one. You need impeccable timing and have a smile on your face the entire time.. even when you screw up

2. the trick to dancing effortlessly for round after round is to breathe right. If you know when to take a breath, you can dance for hours without any huffing and puffing

Same rules apply in Yoga! 

After watching the competition, it was time to do real Yoga..

There was a lot happening in the house over the weeekend and I was glad that there was no Asia trip. Our water main broke (service line) and San Jose Water came and shut our water down till we got a plumber to find and fix the leak. It was an interesting 36 hours. Brought back so many memories of  growing up in India when the Metro Water lorry would not show up.

Having to make some amends to schedules, using the handpump to get water from a borewell and rationing water for everyone in the house etc.. All those experiences came in handy. The inspector from the water company gave me a compliment "Sir, I am really going to do my best to help you because you are calm and not irate like most customers in this situation. Will try to jumper water from your neighbors garden hose back to your house".. He tried, but it didn't work. So we just adjusted till we got water flowing again.

It was a good experience for the kids as well, and a reminder of things we take for granted, especially when we are in a routine. 

All that said, seriously thinking about giving the competition another shot next year. For that to happen, one has to understand Rava Dosa.. I mean.. Standing head to knee..

On a side note, my beard experiment has crossed the one month mark. I am getting used to it, as are people who see me every day. The patches are gone, the gray looks dignified and as an unintended side effect, I am conscious of my breath .. every freaking breath, if I chose to be conscious of it.. because my moustache picks up the breathing. 

Even if I am not making loud noises or breathing loudly by previous standards, the breath going through the moustache literally whispers loudly. Trying to minimize that movement or sound has added a new complexity to breath control during asanas. You can't see it, but the faintest movement of those hair, makes me stop or slow down.

Even while lying down in Shavasana, the whiskers tell you the truth about how you are breathing. It is like an external meter that can give you a feed back loop.  It is interesting the way I am using it as a regulating mechanism. Maybe if I had whiskers around my knees that would do something everytime they came unlocked??? Was thinking along those lines today.

Think it is obvious that I am too eager to do that one pose which keeps evading me, but having waited all this time and seeing that  sometimes progress comes at the least expected times, will keep at it and see what happens.  My goal every year is to do yoga at least 200 times. The spreadsheet says I have done 212 this year and 1648 classes to date.. that is almost 6600 attempts at Standing head to knee (we do two sets on each leg)!

You can say "something is wrong with you", if I attempted something 6600 times and still failed at reaching the end result. While that is one way to think of it, the other way to think of it, is that this pose is not for everyone. That is why it is a mandatory pose in a Yoga Championship final.  

The yoga journey continues to be interesting..

ps. My house photographers are all on strike. So Yoga photos over the weekend..

Friday
Nov092018

Possibilities - a conversation

We were talking about the election results while driving back from school, when Jr. is suddenly all moping.. 

Me : What happened now?

Jr. : Everyone in my class will get to vote in the next election except me! I am the only one who will not be 18 by Voting day in 2020. Do you know how bad that makes me feel?

Me : you will get to vote in 2022. Big deal

Jr. : Who wants their first vote to be in a midterm election? 

Me : If I were you, I would be happy to vote in any election. Reminded her of the story I had already told her about my voting experience...

Back story: The only time I got to vote in India being an Indian citizen was when I happened to come home to Chennai from Varanasi and it was election time. I went to the booth and the guy there told me "you have already voted. now disappear before something bad happens to you!". My grandpa scolded me for going to the booth alone, instead of showing some rightful indignation. That was when I was 18 (Chandrasekar was Prime Minister..it was a short lived tenure). I came to the US when I was 20 and the next time I actually voted was in 2006 as a US citizen in a midterm election and voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger! Have not missed voting since then. No one has told me that I have already voted or turned me back. I drop my mail in ballot at the Cupertino City hall a few weeks ahead of the election and can even track my vote. However I do hear that people go through things like what I went through in India, even today in the US elections in many places. 

Back to our conversation..

Jr. : Could you not have conceived me two weeks earlier? This is all your and amma's fault that I don't get to vote. 

I was suddenly silent and upset. There are people these days who schedule C-sections so their kids are born on an auspicious birth star, a certain Chinese zodiac year, before Dec 31st so they can claim a dependent on their tax return, etc. etc. ( know of all above cases).. but trying to beat the voting cutoff?! That is new!

Then I thought,  she was not a planned C-section. Her poor mom pushed and pushed all day and finally after she almost came out, she got stuck and it ended up an emergency C-section. 

Me : You were two weeks late and past your due date. Your origial due date was Deepavali, but you showed no signs of coming out. We were in the hosptal instead where your mom had to go through a baby stress test. You were under no stress. So they sent us back home. If this is anyones fault, it is your own. You should have been on time! 

I knew that was mean, but there comes a time in a mans life when he is just plain tired of being the fall guy. 

Later I tried to make up for the outburst... with some luck.

Midterms are important.. sometimes even more important than the Presidential elections.. please keep saying that people. I have other reasons to support that statement now.

As long as Jr. takes her vote seriously, I am a very happy and proud father! 

Sunday
Oct282018

A toothbrush, napkin wrapper and an evening of shopping

Could have titled this post "three conversations" but that would be bland..

On recent Asia trips, I have started a new habit. Take the toiletries I use in the hotel room and put them in by backpack every day.. then bring them home, use them a few more times before throwing them. My little contribution to the "green earth" campaign? Actually not! 

A colleage told me that he saw a youtube video where the folks who come clean the rooms in star hotels in Asia, were caught on hidden camera, using the guest's toothbrushes in the toilet just out of spite. "Why take chances?" was my logic.

Came back from the trip and was about to throw the comb and brush (which had squished itself in my backpack and was not usable anymore) into the bathroom bin, and saw teh green glow of the sanitary napkin wrapper under the bin lid. Given my jet lag and my inclination to randomly burst out at my wife and kids for 24 hours after the trip, either when woken up or when asked to do pick up drop offs where I see myself unfit for driving, this wrapper put me on high alert. So the next day I was doing everything, as my usual being extra nice to my wife routine. Did not talk back, accepted last minute schedule changes, etc. I was tired and pissed off in general, but was okay with it.

Then we have a conversation where my wife asks me do take the kids somewhere, at the last minute and I said "fine!". My kids were genuinely suprised by this. After she left the house, they asked "what is going on?". She has asked you to do things quite at the last mintue since yesterday and you have been accepting this. This is the third time just today... Did you do something wrong? 

Me: Look, your mom has also been tired as I have been gone for a week. She is going through a busy time at work, has been doing all the driving by herself and also she is "aathula illai"!

"aathula illai" literally translates to "she is not in the house" and figuratively means "she is on her periods". The kids were rolling and laughing out loud. When I asked them why, they tell me that the only remaining box of pads was in our bathroom, and when they go to our bathroom to grab pads, they unwrap and put the cover and stickers in our bin.  The joke was apparently on me and I was being extra nice for no reason... I was going to ask "wait, how long has this being going on?" and was about to lecture them on the importance of using their own bin for their own trash as it is sending me wrong signals, and decided.. yeah, the joke was on me. It was okay to be nice to San even if for all the wrong reasons.

So I throttled back on the nice a little bit. I still had jet lag. An attempt to do yoga to fight jet lag ended up with me running out of the hot room to get rid of stomach acid and I really was unable to fight the afternoon nap, which ended up being more than a nap. 

I walk around after this "nap" in zombieland and overhear the wife and kids having a conversation about what to do on our 20th wedding anniversary. Instead of walking on by, made the mistake of blurting out,  "lets go somewhere local so we can have a day out and come back home by evening and celebrate dinner at home with family and friends"... the looks.. oh the looks I got in response! They were planning something else.. then the kids look at me and ask "wait ! isn't this YOUR anniversary as in both of you? so why is Amma planning something on her own. She said it is HER anniversary" . My response was "she is giving herself an award for putting up with me for 20 years! I might not even be invited to the celebration and won't be surpised if that happens!" 

This is shortly followed by me being asked to come along on a shopping trip. Went very very reluctantly because I was guilted into coming. Was answering phone calls outside a shop and was busy taking pictures of a crow inside the mall when we decided that one kid should go with each parent to shorten the shopping time.

Walked around with Jr. and found out through some Matlock / Colombo style detective work that she was going to go on a banquet with her Marching band and was planning to buy a "dress" for it. She tried some stuff and was not happy. Then I told her "it is cold out. you are doing straight to a dinner and coming back. just wear a nice shirt and a good sweater on top, which you have plenty of, no?" and she says "you are right. I will do that. it is a good idea!"  I was really surprised. Would I in this lifetime see my daughter become a value shopper like me? would she ever bargain with multiple vendors to find the base price and do a deal where they still make money and she would get a good deal? My head was racing with the possibilities!

Then we are having dinner and the little one says "I am Appa!".. I was a little confused. Is this some "We are with Paris" type thing she is starting, to make me feel better?! Turns out, she just realized that she eats just like me.. Her friends were telling her that she eats like a camel by moving her lower jaw out and she was watching me eat and realized she does the same thing. So, it wasn't some kind of solidarity movement. Just a bitter realization, but she was smiling and was giving me a "Guess there is no escaping the genes!" look. 

Later,  San shows me a few sarees online to see which ones I liked. Picked three on the a vs. b choices she gave and she said ...all those are old lady sarees. they are not "chinna ponnu" sarees... (Chinna Ponnu is little girl quite literally). On the one hand we have the bearded me trying to tell the world he is done with looks and has accepted his age while we have a chinna ponnu with two chinna ponnu's under the same roof. I did not even respond to that comment and just nodded, thinking "The generation gap between us is increasing rapidly!" 

Have realized over the last few months that it doesn't take much to make myself happy. I can be alone and reset myself. Can stare at myself in the mirror and come out with a "don't care" attitude. Feels more and more like I am forcing myself through the daily routines, as part of a responsibilty and commitment but take no joy in certain things like chauffering or even shaving anymore. San hates the chauffering equally as she does my beard. 

The life cycle was explained to us in middle school as a four stage process.. first stage, bachelor hood, 15 years of studying and being a good boy, then 15 years of married life and having kids, then 15 years of living in the forest and the last 15 of being an ascetic renouncing stuff. Now that retirement age keeps rising, even the Wikipedia entries for the four ashramas are being pushed to 24 freaking years each!!! I don't think I will live past 70 anyways, so the whole thing is messed up.

Maybe I have reached that stage in life where one is supposed to say bye to everyone and walk into the forest alongwith my wife, to live out our last years? Don't think "chinna ponnu" is likely to follow me into any forest anytime soon, or even a national park for that matter. It was my dream to rent an RV and just visit every national park in the continental US, go on long hikes and take time to photograph sunsets, with no time limit to come back to the parking lot. San used to share that dream, given we both liked long road trips before we had kids. I used to haul my camera bag and she used to carry my tripod and walk with me to watch / capture the sunset. Now I don't think all the time in the world is going to be enough for me to get to those same locations we visited before, from even the closest parking lots carrying that camera bag! 

My family tells me that my battery is low. I am not excited for anything anymore. I don't know why! Maybe I need a career change. Maybe all this travel has turned me into an emotionless lump. Maybe I am just too tired to fight the good fight on a daily basis. Maybe yoga has turned me into a very inward person who has become extremely selfish subconsciously (not my theory). Maybe I need some Glucon-D or Cinkara ?! (see, there is still a funny guy somewhere in there).

Still writing down these odd little conversations,  because this is what life is about in my eyes.. things kids say and do, how we evolve as children, as parents, how a mundane or not so mundane routine impacts us in ways that are deep, lifes little victories and defeats, perceptions right and wrong,  all over a span of few days, sometimes a few hours! 

A lot less grumpy today and the routine continues. Have to make an effort to find my interest in everyday things back to that stage where every little thing that my wife or kids did filled me with amazment and wonder. It is not their issue, it is clearly a waning of my ability to see the magic that is happening in front of my eyes. Need those special glasses back...

It will happen!