The Expatriate

Beyond the distant lands,
And across the vast sea,
He travelled forth for fortune,
Leaving behind familiarity.

In pursuit of excellence in skill
As when Apollo plays the lyre,
He wished to elevate his existence,
Follow his passions, his fire!

The months passed as he labored
So quickly that he couldn't keep score.
He was fulfilling himself spiritually,
And wished to do so evermore.

Soon enough came the call,
From his friend so close.
To be wed-locked in a ceremony,
Without him, would be morose.

With the joy of seeing loved ones
And excitement on his mind,
He travelled back in anticipation
To be together with his kind.

The reunion was ecstatic,
Many reasons to be merry.
Soon it was time to leave again,
For none can slow time's ferry.

Returning to the quiet house,
And resuming life's daily grind.
He reminisces the recent encounters,
What he has left behind.

While he was given purpose here
And life's satisfaction grew.
Family and friends who love
Were here only far and few.

Confusion over his feelings
Is the current state.
Such was the dichotomy
Of an expatriate's fate.

 

Happy Returns

31 minutes ago, I concluded my 24th birthday. I stare at the screen and begin to contemplate the last 6 years, during which I had set aside plenty of aims and goals and a lot has happened in this time. Strangely, I can’t help contemplate some questions, the biggest being “What is happiness and what does it mean to be happy?”

Looking back at the last 6 years, I can see that I achieved what I set my mind to. I got my research papers, my patents, my wins, my resume points and the self I saw myself as 5 years from then. I should be happy right? But then at age 24 I realize that I just have 6 years left to be featured in Forbes 30 Under 30, and that is just one of the many things left to do. I know it sounds ridiculous but no harm in dreaming right? I am happy and I am not. This is the strange conundrum which plagues my peace. Most of you would say I should live in the moment, but then some of us believe that the people who bring revolution are always ahead of their time and look to the future. The more I would think about such situations, the more it would seem that I am wasting my time.

However, yesterday I believe I realized something. It was my birthday and a fair number of people needed a little bit of prodding from my end to remember. In normal circumstances, that would upset anyone but my realization was different. Starting with my college friends to my friends in Hyderabad, that moment when they got up to hug me or picked up the phone to give me a call, it no longer mattered whether they remembered my birthday or no. All that mattered was that they cared, that they spoke to me and that good, fuzzy feeling inside! And this feeling was mutual. Today, where despite the connectivity, people feel lonely and apart, this seemed to be the difference maker. It’s a different kind of reassurance that makes you look forward to the next day when you are lying in bed and makes you want to get up when the sun rises.

Maybe that’s what happiness is, the ability to see past things without being selfish and simply enjoy the opportunities being presented to you. The ability to choose your state and enact upon it. I could have chosen to sulk, but you only get a 24th once right? The problem, as Neo said in The Matrix Reloaded, is choice. Perhaps this may lead to a new question to contemplate.

Let’s leave it for next time and relish this current state of happiness.

Learning To Learn

Jake had his first midterms, since joining college, coming up in 2 weeks, but he wasn’t too worried. He was a smart guy and he knew it. All the way through high school, he had been acing his tests with study right before the test date, cramming in as much as possible and using this honed skill to understand the concepts clearly enough to give the test. After all, sleep was for the weak. “Who cares about what I study in high school? College education will be more important”, was his usual excuse. Bad sadly, old habits die hard and this was the case with Jake’s attitude. Similar grading schemes and examination patterns did not bring about the realization in Jake that the learning environment was brand new.

Hence, with less than two weeks to go, Jake spent his time hanging out with whichever friend was available, frequenting the local karaoke place and playing basketball, basically everything that didn’t involve touching his study material. Whenever a pang of guilt would hit him, especially when he saw the others burying their noses in piles of books, he would take out a book from the library and make his best attempt to learn the material. However, after reading a couple of paragraphs, the queasiness would set in and he would constantly be checking his phone for messages from anybody as bored as him, or rather than researching his material, he would research what his old high school friends were upto on Facebook. On other occasions, the material seemed super simple so he didn’t bother touching it again, unless it was really necessary.

This is how it continued all the way till the night before the first midterm exam. Finally with the weight of responsibility, he buckled down to hit the books. However, after 5 hours of continuous studying, Jake was sweating bullets. The words didn’t seem to be going into his head, let alone the concepts. Forget understanding the material, he was barely able to not confuse two or more related concepts. This was not going well. College was a whole new ball game. Maybe he should have planned his study better.

A week later, Jake was miserable. All his tests went horrible and he was expecting poor grades for the first time in his life. While answering the tests, he often blanked out or muddled up the answers to two similar questions or related concepts. In other words, it was a complete disaster. He decided to go sit in the park to think about how to mitigate the damage. On arriving at the park, he saw his friend May there. She was sitting on a bench reading. Upon greeting her, Jake noticed she was her usual energetic, cheery self, a sever contrast to his current mood. May asked him how his tests went, stating that hers were a breeze. Jake was brutally honest. Seeing his despondent mood, May decided to help him “Learn How To Learn”, to which Jake readily agreed.

The first part of May’s program was to make sure Jake focused and relaxed his mind as needed. She would sit everyday with Jake for a fixed amount of time, usually an hour, in which they would have 2-3 focused sessions of study. This involved reading the material without making any assumptions of the ease of the topic or their own comfort with the matter. Even though it first felt uneasy, Jake persevered and would ensure that there were no distractions in that hour and his complete focus was his study. May showed him not just when to study, but how to study. She explained to Jake that he should space his study sessions for one topic with 2-3 days, interleaving different topics so that a typical week would involve studying atleast 3 different topics. This suited Jake well as he started realizing that he was less burdened by this approach. Also, May explained that he should spend enough time forming groups of related, logical concepts in his head, something she called “chunks of knowledge”. Then, whenever they learned something new, they would try to relate it to some pre-existing chunk.

After their study sessions, May always took Jake on a walk through the park She explained that this would help his brain diffuse and relax after all that intense studying, helping his neurons form the chunks more effectively. Also, she made it a point that Jake stopped staying up late playing video games and slept early, awoke early and got enough sleep. Jake didn’t complain. He took his college education seriously. Slowly but surely, this schedule became natural to Jake and he realized how he was earlier fooling himself into thinking he was learning and his illusions of competence, whereas his actual learning was coming now, and he was very grateful to May for her help.

Soon enough the term examinations came around. This time Jake was calmer and more relaxed. He and May were both able to pull the “chunks of knowledge” required at will and were easily able to grasp new concepts. However, they still kept up their study schedules. Without the burden of last minute study, Jake gave his term exams in a more confident state and had more energy every day. Answers came as naturally as breathing and he clearly knew what to write depending on the requirements of the question. At the end of the week, Jake was happy again. His terms exams went a lot better than his midterms and May and her study techniques were instrumental to this. And not just was it about the exams, but he felt he really was learning and his creativity was improving consequentially, something that was his overall goal when he joined college. He soon began performing quality research under some of his professors and continued to study diligently with May.

Jake had now learned how to learn.

The Long Night

Unable to sleep, restless and uneasy,
Awake through the long night.
With heavy eyes and heavier mind,
Looked through the window's dawn light.

Reminisced about the past few hours,
With neither vigor, nor great laze,
But my heart was heavy and sad,
And the world, a big daze.

Why do you do this to me?
Why all this sudden care?
Absent when you were needed, wanted.
Show your presence whenever you dare?

I need to lay rest, forever quell
The monstrous demons inside.
Insinuated by you, your callousness,
When you broke me and had me cry.

For now the night is done,
And the sun's rays shine bright.
But it is just the beginning for me,
The beginning of an arduous and long night...

Music For A Cause

Yesterday I wore a very special t-shirt. No, it wasn’t one of my typical superhero t-shirts that I tend to favour these days, rather it was t-shirt from an NGO named India Literacy Project. And yes, there is a very good reason why this seemingly random, innocuous shirt was special.

A few months ago, I was approached and subsequently recruited into a band here at Microsoft. A band that goes by the amazingly imaginative name, Out of The Cube, and boy, did I love it! Finally, some direction and collaboration with fellow musicians where I could not only learn a heck of a lot, but contribute in my unique ways. The music in me was invigorated.

Back to the point now, our first live gig as a band was for a fundraiser by the India Literacy Project (a.k.a. ILP) and there was already a planned evening of classical music and dance, so the organizers wanted some peppy music as well. Thankfully, Deepak (our “killer drummer”) knew Ragavan who was organizing the whole show, and Ragavan (who we call Raga-man) asked us to perform. Of course, we accepted.

One slight problem: We had only 1 week to prepare and had never jammed together before. So boom! We met up everyday at Deepak’s house, decided the set list, fixed up the tones and began practice. All this while maintaining busy work schedules (I can still hear Ansuman crying about his late night calls in my head). I, obviously, was sweating bullets! We were playing some not so easy songs, I was the youngest of the lot and had to use equipment like effects processors for the very first time in my life. For a live show. In one week.

That was, however, the beauty of the whole experience. We knew we were short on time and ambitious with our song list, so we all ground it out like this was the last time we would be able to play a song. Slowly, but surely, things fell into place and the songs started sounding better and better until we knew that all we had to do was just get out there. All this while having insane amounts of fun with everyone!

D-Day. We all pack up our equipment, load them into cars and set off for the venue well in advance to do the necessary setup and sound checks. We all had our bits of trouble with the sound and it took longer than it should have, but we got a decent mix going. Hey, this was an NGO gig. They were here to raise money, not blow it!

After some lovely classical renditions by Ragavan and a wonderful dance performance by some of the kids being supported by the ILP, it was our turn to bat. Things started out weird though. The mix was somehow messed up and my guitar was giving off crazy feedback (Deepak later told me that this was because I was inexperienced in live gigs, having only done one show before that), but we soon managed to get our groove together and perform quite well, not to mention get fans among the kids who loved singing “Hey Jude”. At the end of the show, ILP thanked us by giving all of us t-shirts with their logo on it.

After the show, we all headed back to Deepak’s house to reflect and review. When we saw the recording tape, we saw that we had performed all the songs really well and things had gone almost to plan (I am being modest here :P). Overall we were content with our showing and had a great fun night out to celebrate!

But that night, I was content about something more. All my life, I wanted to help society with my technological chops. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine contributing to society via my musical abilities. Just the thought that my playing guitar was actually helping fund the education, the most priceless gift ever, of poor children filled me with this warm, happy feeling which had been missing for quite a while then. Since then, whenever I wear the ILP t-shirt, I think of the way I gave back, how my passion for music helped improve atleast one child’s life and how this world still has good people in it. According to me, that is the most beautiful music to my ears.

This is one of the songs from our setlist that night. I think it captures all the emotions very well. 🙂