I read How to Write a Better Weblog couple of days back. It made me think about something else altogether. I wanted to study Creative Writing for some time now – I don’t know what that means, I think I have seen some movies (“My Girl” has some scenes) and got some idea into my head.

In my school days, for some months I had this crazy idea of writing a story and submitting it to a newspaper or magazine. I think I wanted to do it because they offered some money for it and I thought I could use some cash. So I used to think about stories and even wrote some horrible ones. The biggest problem is, I wound the story in loops, jumped back and forth in sequences (something like Pulp Fiction and other Quentin Tarantino films – with all sequences broken up, but mine was incomprehensible to anybody other than me) and tangled myself in all kind of loops. I start telling a story, go into something else, come back, say something more, introduce some other character, then go back to other – it was pure mess. I had taken part in some story writing competitions. I think I wrote something like that and got a third prize in school once. It was funny experience, though – you will be given some fixed time, all contestants will be in same room. At the beginning everybody will be looking at ceiling for a long time, searching for stories. Then time will be running out, so we will start writing something, tear some paper, write something else. I don’t how the evaluator made sense out of my stories – it will require some analytical skills to understand those. So I didn’t manage to write any decent ones, didn’t send anything to newspaper (I did some research and found whom to send etc, I even thought that I will send to some famous writers and they will give me comments, just like in movies – you must have got it by now – I do a lot of day dreaming), got disgusted at myself and stopped everything.

So once in a while, I will think about this Creative Writing course which will set me right. Sometime back I started stalking books on Writing – like John Grisham’s “On Writing” etc. Didn’t read any till now, but.

Let me jump on to another incident (Digression – that may be the mark of amateur. But I got a boost when Holden Caulfield said he liked that better in “Catcher in the Rye”). I have this friend who is a little cranky at times (but he is one of those I would like to be friends for life). He called me recently and played “Pehla Nasha” in keyboard. I asked “Good one – which is that cassette?” So he made me choose any song so he can prove that he is playing it. Later I went over to his place and he was passionately demonstrating his keyboard skills. He is really good, to tell you the truth. So he was saying this – that we should not start learning this directly from a teacher, you will never learn enough to play confidently for a long time, a teacher will take you through all standard steps, exercises etc and by the time you get around to real stuff you will lose the interest. So learn by yourself some and then go and get the formal training if you want. I think this is very true in many cases.

I am living example of this – I studied Guitar for two years. I should say I wasted it. Maybe it is because I didn’t have the talent. If I had, I could have picked up something. But just by practice, a decent level of proficiency can be achieved.
In programming also, they used to say the same thing. Don’t go by a book “.. in 21 days”. You will be wasting your time. I learned Java the other way. I didn’t have any training, was put into a project which was about to get completed in 2 months, did design, coding and everything and learned on the fly. If you don’t know how something is done – look in some book or ask somebody. Quality may not be good this way, but you learn a lot. Later do formal training to fill in the gaps – you can appreciate it better.

I just made up a theory from this – if you got a glimpse of the forest at least once, it will be easy for you in the woods. So, I want to improve my writing – just to give me more satisfaction in the output (one sure thing is – writing even crap is a pleasurable experience), but not with a course on writing. Let me experiment for some time and see where it goes.
Today I think there was a strike or something. Buses were very few and most were state transport. They don’t have collection based compensation, but a fixed monthly salary, so no street racing and no competition to fill the bus and all related tricks. Anyway, I got on one such bus. I was having some papers in my hand, a mobile phone, had a tie on. I already had the change for the conductor in my hand – so with all these papers etc, he had to take it from my hand. He wrote the ticket, didn’t play kite with that piece of paper and carefully put it in my hand. And he gave me a smile. You won’t realize the impact – how often do you get a smile from a bus conductor? I also smiled nicely back. Then he asked me something in Kannada – I don’t know a word – even though I have been living in Mangalore for quite some time. I said I don’t know – but he is smarter, he knew my language a bit. So he asked me “do you work there?” – pointing to my office. I said yes. And then he asked me “how much do you get? 10-15000 per month?”. He didn’t mean any malice, so I did some actions to say so-so. That’s it, I reached my stop. This is a little embarrassing question due to some reasons and it is not the first time somebody asks me the exact same way.

Small incident, I didn’t write it to infer anything. Just that our common public sometimes look at our new breed (wearing this tie and all and everybody having that ID card in some black string around our necks) in a little cautious manner. But don’t even imagine that they don’t know anything about what we do. My sister-in-law’s marriage was in Jan and I met a lot of elders in the family during the function. Couple of them was retired for 10-15 years and they are quite old. They searched for me, got hold of me and talked to me. I was really surprised that they know quite a lot of software industry. They talked to me about outsourcing, whether it is affecting us, whether there is going to be legislature against it, about politics in it and all. Luckily I was reading some articles recently and I could hold my ground. Next day one of them really bowled me out. He asked about Richard Stallman’s address in Kochin University about Open Source, its IPR issues, clash with Microsoft etc. I think many of us don’t even know who Richard Stallman is. Again I was reading furiously about Open Source recently, so I said something. I was wondering why I was surprised – I underestimated them. Another interesting observation is – Really old people are fascinated by this growth of the industry, but middle aged ones who are in other industries are slightly irritated by its growth. I got an impression that they regret their not getting into this bandwagon. I am not even saying that it is great or anything. As I read somewhere, real fast, this industry is also becoming as common as others and there will be nothing out of ordinary if you are a software developer.
It is so hot out there. It is like walking thru a hot oven or something. And to think that summer has not started its works yet. You can get roasted crisp if you stand still in that heat for one hour. But it is not so bad to walk out there, to tell you the truth. On the way to office, I was walking across this small playground constructed by industrious youth of that locality. They play cricket there. Some weird kind of cricket where they bowl underarm. They seem to enjoy it a lot. They have even tournament for that where they even display a trophy (complete with red ribbon and all) by the side of this small ground. They seem to be very passionate about it. They have flattened the ground, built a small basic room to store their things. One side of the ground is road, so they have put a net on that side so the balls don’t go to road often. They draw lines using this white powder and all. It is almost red earth; dust will rise like clouds at every step. I only wish those do something worthwhile with their lives and if they are so thorough in their life also, it would be good. Not that they are not, I just don't know. They seem to there every evening - not during the day time though - nobody will be there.

By the side of their recreation room, there is one small capsule sized play pen for small kids. Some small kids will be playing underarm cricket there too – dust hanging around them like mist. And there will be this small girl who yells “no ball” and fights like mad with the other boys over runs and leg before.

There is this small grocery store owned by a silent family by the side of this playground. Son, father and sister take shifts managing the store. Son is very calm guy. He will be out in front of the store watching those guys play - he doesn’t normally get involved. But he seems to know everybody who plays there. He stays directly above this store and plays old Hindi music at night (nowadays I am returning home when MTV starts playing “Graveyard Shift”) which seems to include all my favorite songs.

And there are million other small things around this peanut sized place. I used to walk in between these around two and half years back. Then I went out of the country for two years, came back, took an apartment in same complex and am walking through the same playground again with same guys playing underarm cricket. It felt like “Groundhog day” today, like I am taking this walk everyday and the calendar is not moving forward at all. It is like last two years didn’t change even one small thing in this place. Now I feel I haven’t even gone anywhere – just woke up from a deep slumber and happy to find the same old things around me. It is like at the end of a long hard day, you wonder whether something you did in the morning happened on the same day or not. It feels so distant.

I think sometimes we want to get out of this “Groundhog day” and sometimes you want to continue living in it.

I think I can as well write a boring book out of this, but enough of horsing around that one small place for one day.

One day, I am the soaring spirit, happy as I haven’t been in months. Next day, I am a crawling worm, not able to pull myself up. Yesterday, I was so content that I wanted to capture the moment, freeze and live it over and over again. I didn’t want yesterday to be over. But today, everything seems to go wrong. I have slipped on delivery dates, not able to motivate myself up to do something. Brain is simply refusing to function. Yesterday I was so creative that I planned a week’s activities for myself and the team, drew some charts with sequences and activities, brought a calendar and marked all important dates. I was able to design, analyze, explain, joke, convince, argue, teach – possibly everything. I was hyperactive and at the end of the day, I got to know that I got graded at the top 30% in year end appraisal – so much for my “initiatives” and “visibility factor” – after all just working might also fetch some goods (even though I still don’t know for how long). But today I am wondering how I ever ended up there.

I think that is one of life’s mysteries. Maybe stars have something to do with it.
But I shouldn’t explain it away as something “corny” as “life’s mysteries”. I am taking work personal and I shouldn’t do that much. It is not good for health. But frankly, I don’t seem to detach myself that much. Over time, I have learned somewhat, but still I won’t be happy at the end of the day if things didn’t go well. Even small things will be nagging at the back of the mind, then I have to think and find out what is that discomfort. That is one funny feeling – I will feel uncomfortable, then after sometime I will realize it, check back, what is it, what did I not like, find out and do something about it or console myself that it is not important enough to worry. Like some machine running a health check.

Hey, but I don’t know where this blog is going? I started with some elaborate agenda, but now it is just a barometer of my ups and downs. I ought to remove “software” from its title.
In office on Sunday, am supposed to finish something to meet a deadline for Tuesday. Irrespective of the deadline, I am feeling happy, eager, peaceful, and content to do it. I have already put around 60 hrs into work this week and still I am not feeling tired now. I had this small theory about taking a small break – getting recharged. I had a welcome break yesterday, didn’t even think about work. It is rather unusual nowadays, not to think about work. We didn’t do anything special, nothing at all, but it was a beautiful valentine’s day. No Hallmark, no Archies, no gifts, no candlelight dinner, no oh-so-good music. But still it was beautiful.

Ate twice at a new Punjabi Dhaba, where we are getting to know the owner cum waiter cum cashier. Honest guy, I like honest, down to the earth guys, with no pretense, their actions speaking for themselves, not even knowing that they are doing good. There are not many I like; it is something I want to explain a little more some other time – about some qualities which I think defines a man. Sometimes you feel to keep some things untouched or uncovered, lest it will lose its charm. It is good from this angle, this light, this distance – just don’t go near. It is not doubt about its charm, but feeling content to leave it at that. You may not even want to look at it later, but may feel the pleasure of seeing it once. It is all not related to that waiter, but my liking made me think a little.

Just finished Ayn Rand’s “Fountain Head”, which left me like land after a small storm. Shaken, not sure how to cope up. It is not necessary that I make sense out of it or have my version of explanations. It is not necessary that I have my own interpretations, whether I accept the ideologies professed. But still I will have its hangover for some days. Can’t stop thinking about some things. It won’t be satisfied until I give it some shape.

Just remembered a small incident – we had been to a temple in TamilNadu (big one – they have lots of them) – me and my father. I was 4-5 years old, I think. We reached there at wee hours of the night; there were no hotels near by. I think the plan was to have darshan early morning and return early. I slept a little, my father woke me up after some time and took me to take bath in the pool behind temple (“pool” looks modern – but I didn’t get a better word). It was pitch dark and the shapes around me were straight out of some gothic place. I think the shadows and trees and big rocks played a lot of tricks with me. At one spot, I think I saw some big animal ready to pounce at me. It had long horns, bulky shape and mean look. Whatever my father did, I wouldn’t move from that spot. Then he gave me this piece of advice. He said it is just a piece of rock – otherwise why would it stand in that same pose for so long. He offered to go over and touch it first to make me confident. He asked me to go over and touch it to make sure. Go on, feel it to take that fear completely out of your mind. It is one incident which remained with me for so long. I think about it whenever I have doubt like this about anything’s shape. Go on, explore it, it will surely feel less threatening and more friendly.
Open a notepad. Close it. Open it again. Feeling shy, close it again. These are open cubicles. Somebody will see. People come in without knocking and stare right into your monitor. They will see me writing trash in office time. But I am just waiting for lunch time, can’t start doing anything, I can’t finish it. List of things to do is growing, but I am exploring the meeting rooms. One after the other, I have used all the meeting rooms in this floor for hours everyday. So now I can’t work until I get into another.

This is another way of thinking, words flowing right out of mind into the notepad. Will it becomes a habit and I can’t think in any other way other than by writing it down? Will I be perpetually writing something in my mind? Have you ever thought about being crazy literally? I have heard this once, don’t remember where – “everybody is somebody else’s weirdo.” So who might be thinking I am weird? That guy in the lift when I was standing there staring at the corner of the ceiling lights with interest? Or could it be the other one who gave me queer look when I carefully dropped a crumpled bus ticket into the crack in the slabs on the footpath so it gives me the satisfaction of not throwing that to the pile on the road? Or could it be my colleague who looked embarrassed when I gave out a big time fundae about how something should be done ideally with such a conviction? Crazy guys are convinced that what they do or say is perfectly valid and nobody should have any doubts about whether it makes sense or not. It should feel great to be that way. That might be a gift to the crazy ones – to be oblivious of the fact that they are crazy. Then they don’t have to think that others might think that they are acting crazy. Like when I write this down. Are you getting what I mean?

One of my friends advised me to write something positive. But I guess writing negative or complaining all the time or looking at dark side of life, brings out the best words. It is a heady combination if you can enjoy the feeling. Being a cynic is easy also. Read some good quotes or inspirational material to get a dose. I used to do that, like medicine. Search for inspiration for today or something in google and read something about random acts of kindness, courage, great stories and feel inspired. It exactly acts like pain killer. Read enough, you can get a good feeling for two days. I have enough juice running to be more and more cynical and exploit that feeling and revel in it, but it is lunch time and I have a meeting too.
“remember to take these savings certificates, okay? Where shall I put it?”
“put it on the top of those other papers.”
“you will forget”
“no dear”
“it is 60,000 rupees.”
“okay”
“should I make a list?”
“no dear. It’s fine”
anyway she made a list.
.....
“..should I add that also to the list?”
“please stop. Let’s not start with this in the morning. This is the place where we start our little arguments. I can very well take care of myself.”
I am thinking about adding “I survived so many years before even I saw you.” But luckily didn’t.

Went out of the house. A bunch of papers in hand. Took 10 steps as if sleep walking. Folded the papers. There is no certificate! Is it a dream? Was it always there in my hand?
Retraced the steps. Two more guys came out of the building. They are looking busy, so they must not have found it. One guy is waiting for something on a two wheeler. Is he waiting for me?
On the entrance to the building, a lady bend down and took something in her hand and said “Who..”
I said, “Thank You. It is mine.”
I clutched the papers so hard till I reached office that my wrist started hurting.

So much for ““I survived so many years..”

Kiddish attempt at rhyme

Feels like a mule, dead tired
But carrying the weight of the world
Steep is the path, occasional lash
But thinks that the weight is gold

At times, heart filled with pride
Surges ahead, yearns to do more
More weight on top, trying hard to please
Panting at times, still trying to smile

Feels like Atlas, once in a while
Eases the pain, makes it worthwhile
Ride that wave, it will carry you a while
Until you wake up and see that darn slope

Dubious thoughts on project management

Project management is one pie which I don’t know whether I want to take a piece, but everybody is going for it and it is the aim for most.

In my narrow perspective, this is how I see managers (I haven’t yet become one, even though I am well on the course of becoming one some day in future): Some were basking in the glory of past successful projects. They have been part of two or three successful projects. It is like drinking a powerful potion of experience and then running on that fuel. I don’t know how long it will last. In some ways I think I have started practicing that. Symptoms of such managers will be frequent references to the best practices of those projects.

Some have an air of mystery around them. The team will not know specifics of what he has done in the past, but have heard this name. They had some colorful past experience in mysterious things like .NET, COM/DCOM, EJB. Some are lucky not to have faced a situation which tested their mettle.

Some of them come from onsite (client location) and automatically become a wise-man. If you are long time onsite, you are automatically considered as an expert and can be nothing less than a manager.

Some take “initiatives”, “energetic-active-enthusiastic facades” to get there.
Some continue being a manager because of the information they possess which they won’t part with. Information is the real power. That is what experience will give you. Information about different kind of situations. Even without contributing much, if you just be there in all kinds of situations, fairly intelligent person, can handle that situation later.

One essential quality which you need (which I don’t possess enough) is the art of “becoming noticeable”. Be somebody whom everybody knows, at least the name. It doesn’t matter if your peers don’t know you. If all those guys who might decide anything for you at any time (even if you think a person can become important in future and might be useful for you), knows you, then you have a good start. I often get comments like “very good, excellent work..but work on the visibility factor, make your presence felt”. There are lots of techniques to increase your “visibility factor”, I will come to that some other time.

I can go on an on painting a gloomy, immoral, hopeless picture about this. Complaining has become a habit now and I guess it gives some good feeling. The fact is, project management is definitely needed – there is no doubt in my mind. I have problems with the means to get there, antics one should perform to show that he is eligible, incompetent ones who got there, the fact that once you reach there it means the end of your technical career etc. On the last point – my fear is, once you reach there, you enter a state of coma when it comes to technology. “technology doesn’t matter” from there onwards. Successful delivery of a project, resource management, pre-sales, ensuring quality and all related jargon becomes part of life. How long will it be interesting? If I get there at age 27, for the rest of my life, will I be able run on the fuel I fill up now? From there onwards, you need to play more mind games and politics and “show business” to sustain your position and move up the “value chain”.

I think I am in a juncture where I need to decide whether I swim with the tide (Project management stream) or divert and go do some core technical work (which I believe will interest me, I may be capable of that, I have the smarts for that etc). But as usual, I don’t have the courage to get out the pre-set path or change the way things are going. Let it spin whatever it wants. I call it my “let’s see” attitude.

This kind of useless thoughts are spinning in my head. I think I will continue on this line for some more time.

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