Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Presentation went well..

I landed at the hotel where the conference was being held with about 45 min to spare, a laptop bag in which I had luckily stashed away a shirt and a razor. I checked in, ran up, quickly shaved, and changed to the one shirt I had. Ran down, just in time to watch catch the prelude to my presentation take off. After this, I was put on stage along with my colleague. This year I've been entrusted with revenue targets and so, as part of that foray, I have to train sales and field engineers. This presentation was the first of the many to follow, in trying to get buy-in from the field engineers. There were about 250 of them at the conference. Into the 2nd slide of my presentation, I was caught off-guard by a couple of questions, and then proved to have made a mistake. I accepted the mistake, and went on to put up more credible information/numbers over the next couple of slides. This finally got their attention, and then valuable feedback/constructive criticism started flowing in. Executing on the current revenue goal for me this year on a product which is relatively new to the target market segment, will be like going through an entire Marketing course for me. Starting from Marketing 101 to Marketing 999 :-). Learning the ropes of dealing with the product lines, application engineers, sales, customers and competition will be a great experience.

Apart from this stuff.. I've been noticing other stuff that I'd forgotten about the US!
a) How large a one-person serving can be at restaurants
b) What is "switch-on" position in any other country, is "switch-off" in the US for all switches.
c) Water fountains.. haven't found this anywhere else I've visited so far.

I also realize that I do miss the US in a lot of ways. It has become part of me in some ways. The amazing roads, the superb cars, the traffic handling, Bagels, pancakes, etc.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Back to the US

This week brings me to Seattle, San Jose and possibly Atlanta. It has been exactly 2 years since I left the US and set base in India. An internal company conference takes me back to the US over the next 2 weeks. I sit now on my flight to the US and type this post out!

One advice to everyone.. avoid flying out of Delhi International Airport like the PLAGUE! It was a nightmare. I had flown in to Delhi from Ahmadabad after the Ultimate Frisbee tournament. First, it's a 20 min ride taxi ride from the domestic terminal to the International terminal which costs Rs. 150 (why can't they have shuttles regular enougH?). Next, the whole international terminal is utter chaos! I stood about 35 min in line to get into the airport with ONE person checking everyone's tickets and passport! Next I spend 25 min waiting for my check-in baggage to be scanned. Then, I try and find the North West counter and that takes me another 15 min because there are no boards, and when I finally found someone to give me directions to it, it took me another 10 min to get there. There was no place to move my baggage in the direction I wanted to move! There were people moving all across the airport bumping into each other. Finally, I had to lift the baggage on my head and walk over. When I reached the NW check-in counter, to my dismay, I found to my dismay that there were about 85 people ahead of me. 40 min of wait later, I'm checked-in and I have my boarding pass in my hand. Next, I go stand in the immigrations line which took the LONGEST time! (Btw.. anyone ever figured out why only in India we have immigrations for going OUT of the country??). Geez.. we have a population crisis out here.. they should be glad that people are leaving the country.. infact, they should be paying people to leave! :-P. Anyways, I stood for the next 50 min in this line to get my immigration cleared. Just when I thought everything was over, the kind lady behind me reminded me that I still have security to clear. Another 15 min later, I clear security. I have exactly 10 min to get to my flight. I run and find that they're boarding. 10 more min wait, and then I'm finally seated in the flight. So, a grand total of 20+35+25+15+10+40+50+15 = grand total of 3 hours and 20 min almost! Heck, I could've flown back to Chennai from A'bad and then taken an international flight out!
From Delhi to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Detroit and now Detroit to Seattle, I am slowly reminded of my first flight 7 years ago to the US. My mental frame of mind during these flights reminds me SO much of my 2001 flight to the US! A feeling of emptiness, a feeling of having no purpose, a feeling of no enjoyment of what I'm doing. Every one of those flights was delayed, and I ended up running from flight to flight and barely made it on time! The last one was the closest, and I cleared immigration and arrived at the check-in counter with only 20 min to spare. They said that there is no way they could get me to Seattle on the next flight. So, I had to opt to let them fly my baggage on the next flight, and make a dash for the flight to get myself on board. I have a presentation to make at Seattle at 5.00pm and my flight lands there only at 3.00pm. I could not afford to take the next flight which will reach Seattle at 7.00pm. The primary purpose of my US trip would've been lost!
During this journey, I was reminded of some of the quirks in the United States. One, my flight from Amsterdam to the US, for the first time in 2 years, I had to ask for Water / Orange juice "without ice" :-). For the first time in a long time, I had to remove my belt and shoes for security checks. For the first time in 2 years, I had to be "finger printed" for entry into a country. For the first time in 2 years, I'm on a flight in which majority of the people ask for aerated drinks as opposed to fruit juices.
Thinking forward, the next 2 weeks in the US will be reminding me a lot of my past life :-). I'm meeting my ex-roommate and a bunch of NCSU classmates in Seattle. I will also be meeting my ex-salsa partner. I hope to meet with my other ex-roommate in San Jose next week and ofcourse, my cousins and nephews/nieces in the Bay Area. Nostalgia seeps in at the thought of Left-hand drives, automatics and high-speeds. I'm reminded of my super-car which sadly is no more today!
I await the next 2 weeks with mixed feelings. Mixed feelings of familiarity, feelings of alien-ness, excitement, nostalgia, and sadness. Now, gotta put them aside for a while. My travel agents screwed up and now I don't have a rental care in Seattle.. a taxi will have to do for now. Also, gotta go shave on the plane, wear the shirt I managed to stow-away on my laptop bag, and get ready for the presentation that I have to deliver in another 3 hours. 250 sales/FAE await to tear my presentation apart or be inspired by it enough to want to sell the product I will be marketing over the next year..

More later..

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The First Ultimate Frisbee Nationals

Ahmedabad 23rd, 24th Feb, 2008. Was a blast! Chennai, Ahmedabad and Delhi took part. Delhi landed there with a crew of 14. Ahmedabad had their crew of 12. Chennai with our own 10. Thanks to Roopal from Indicorps for organizing this. We had a blast!

Day 1:
5 of us from the Chennai team landed at around 12 noon at the airport to be promptly picked up by Karthik from Indicorps. We headed straight to the Sabarmathi Gandhi Ashram. We dumped our bags in the dorm right near the Ashram, where we met the Delhi team and Abhi (who'd landed there from Bombay earlier in the morning). The Delhi team was entirely a group of expats at this point (the only Indian in the Delhi team turned up later at that night). After a set of intros, we walked over to the Ashram. There we were greeted by a superb surprise! Boy what a surprise it was!! We turned a corner and suddenly we were greeted by the sound of heavy drums, clapping and tonnes of cheerful faces. Kids galore! We were all given the traditional indian farewell with Tilaks on our foreheads, a few grains of rice on it. Apart from this, we were also given smiley face neck hangingss, cute rag-doll clippings and newspaper hats which the kids had made for us! We were all overwhelmed.

Right after, we met Viren Bhai one of the founders of Manav Sadhna, the NGO based out of the Gandhi Ashram which works with 7800+ underprivileged kids. Viren Bhai lives 6 months in the US and 6 months in Ahmedabad and has been doing this for the last 15+ years! We were introduced to the Ahmedabad team. The Ahmedabad team consisted primarily of 21-22 year old boys. These boys had been taught Ultimate Frisbee 4-5 years back by Roopal and her brother Anand. Most importantly, they had been taught to be coaches themselves, and thats how they've kept the whole Ultimate initiative continuing! These first set of boys were now all grown up. Some of them taught in the Ashram, some of them ran the seva restaurant, some of them ran the dorms, etc. After saying a few prayers, we all sat down in 2 rows to eat. Boy oh boy.. what a lunch it was! I hogged the most delicious rotis I've had in a LONG time! There is a saying that if you eat Gujju food, you'll give up on meat! I totally agree! Why look beyond when every aspect of your taste bud can be satisfied by such amazing cooking!

After a sumptuous lunch, we headed back to the dorm and claimed our beds in the common hall. We relaxed for a bit, after which we were taken to the nearby ground where we saw Roopal talking to a bunch of kids. We could all play / teach the kids. Over then next 1 hour I watched with amazement at kids not even the height of my hips chucking the meanest forehands I've seen! For some reason, the kids from this part of the country seem to take naturally to forehands as compared to backhands! These guys were all comfortably chucking 40 yard forehands! And boy did they run all over the place with only chappals. Nothing deterred them! There were about 30-40 kids overall.

After running a few drills for the kids, then we proceeded to do a mixed game, with the Delhi/Chennai guys along with the kids. It was great fun, and we let the kids do most of the handling / passing, helping with defense and offence every now and then.
Finally, Roopal wanted us to show them how we'd play. So, we played a mixed Delhi/Chennai game. It was good fun. According to Roopal, the kids' main observation was that we could get a much better game/faster game without even screaming on the field. We were all very "silent" :-). Roopal explained to us that when the kids played, it was chaos, and there was a lot of screaming and yelling for the frisbee during the game.
After the game, we headed back to the dorms, had a nice shower, and then headed out to a restaurant which is run by Manav Sadhna. This restaurant allows people to pay how much ever they want after having a dinner. When we walked in, once again we were pleasantly surprised by the drums and clapping and smiling faces that greeted us here! The restaurant had a beautiful ambience, and the table was set up for all the players to have a superb dinner. The entire Ahmedabad team played host for us.. they either cooked, or served us. It was the most amazing experience ever. Finally after a 40 hour train journey, the rest of the Chennai team reached Ahmedabad and joined us at the restaurant. The sev-puri was the super-duper hit of the night! Andrew and I hogged most of it. All the while, we were complaining to Roopal and Shilpa from Indicorps that we finally understood their tactics. They were going to feed us with such good food that we wouldn't be able to wake up early next morning for the tourney!

After dinner, we headed back to the dorm, and Andrew tried to psyche out a couple of our players by planting carrots in their bags when they were out having their showers! :-). Needless to say, he need not succeed. Rajesh and Kaka were braver than that! After having a good laugh about "Squigly Psycho Sid" jabbing away hysterically at his Playstation DS (ask Subbu for this video), we all settled down to get a good-nights sleep!

Day 2 - The tourney!
All of us were woken up to different kinds of alarms all the way from 5.45am to 6.20am.. starting from suprabatham (from Subbu's phone) to random noises on someone elses phone! We woke up, wore the CUF blue tees and got ready for to leave by 7.00am. We went by the name Bessie Beach Boys. The Delhi team wore their red jerseys. They went by the name "Stray dogs in sweaters". Nick, the Delhi team captain, gave us an explanation of how there were many stray dogs in Delhi, but come winter, they would all suddenly be clad in sweaters! (no.. really!)
When we reached the field on the Indicorps bus, the Ahmedabad team was already there all warmed-up in their White tees, and black tracks. After Nick went over the rules with all the team captains, the games were underway.

Game 1: Chennai Vs. Ahmedabad
Chennai won the toss, and chose the upwind side (though there wasn't too much wind). We went on to score the first point.. and we were all pumped up. The Ahmedabad team had never played anyone else except themselves, and so they came into the tourney as the guys with least tournament experience. The Chennai team came into the tourney with the youngest side (in terms of having the most number of newbies). We quickly figured out that the Ahmedabad team were incredibly strong on their forehand side (just as we had observed the 7th-8th grade kids the previous evening). We put in force backhand strategy into play, and clearly pushed them out of their comfort zone! We were scoring with good confidence. We matched them well, and soon by half time, we had them down 6-0. We were comfortably able to get our long hucks to Abhi/KK/Mama/Kaka/Rajesh. AJ/Mama/Sid/Subbu played mid. Sukrit and I played back most of the time. In the second half of the game, we continued to force their backhands, and continued to score. The game ended 11-1.

Game 2: Chennai Vs. Delhi
This game was the big one for us. We knew that they had several players who'd played some serious Ultimate before. Delhi came into the tourney as clear favourites. They had the most experience, had been playing primarily on hard ground, and ofcourse had fresh legs every alternate point (14 people). The game started off, and Delhi went on to score the first point. This was the first time Chennai was playing against a stack formation. Quickly Delhi went up to 3-0. Finally we figured out how to handle their stack offense. We forced forehand, and covered the forehand cuts. In the next few min, Chennai fought back and evened the score out to 3-3. Then we scored one more to go up 4-3. From then on, Delhi started regularly switching their substitutes. They were clearly a much more disciplined team.. and somehow we made a number of unforced errors. Personally, I couldn't get my throws flat enough to our runners in front. The Delhi defense was top class. They had great vertical jumps and were able to comfortably defend all my passes. I also dropped one near our own endzone, and that proved to be an extra point. Finally, Delhi beat us 11-7.

Game 3: Delhi Vs. Ahmedabad
Chennai needed Ahmedabad to beat Delhi to stand a chance at the title which would be decided by points spread if all 3 teams won 1 game each. We gave Ahmedabad good feedback. We asked them to take backhand throws a little more so that the Delhi team could not easily decide if they had to force backhand or force forehand. We also provided input on how to play the stacked defense. Ahmedabad quickly raised their game to an amazing level. At this point, I was kind of glad that we played Ahmedabad first and not now! :-). They were able to get amazing flow on the field in the 2nd game. Forehands and backhands flowed beautifully. They runners were making amaaazing cuts and Delhi was on their toes. However, Delhi had the height advantage, and also the speed advantage. They finally beat Ahmedabad 11-6.

Overall, throughout the tourney, the Delhi team helped infuse the amazing spirit of the game. They insisted that instead of a toss to decide sides, we should play "pokey". Pokey is when one representative from each team steps forward with a pointed finger. The two then shake hands (while still sticking out their index finger) and then they attempt to do a sort-of arm wrestling manoever where they should attempt to poke (touch) the opponents body with their outstretched fingers. The best of 3 such 'pokey' fights decided winner of the toss :-). It was hillarious to watch fully grown men trying to poke at each others body with clasped outstreched arms.

The delhi team always played with atleast 2 women on the field. Delhi team also set the trend of creating a limerick that woudl be rendered to the opposing team at the end of each game. I think AJ or Mama probably remember the ones they made for us. Here's the one we made for them..

Who let the dogs out?? Delhi.. Delhi
What did the dogs have?? Sweaters.. Sweaters..
What did the dogs bring?? Speed.. Speeed..
What did Chennai forget to bring?? Leashes.. leashes.. (we let them get away from their mark all the time!)

Sukrit also came up with one for the Ahmedabad which was equally hillarious! :-). The Ahmedabad guys who mostly didn't speak English rendered a heart-felt Raghupathy Raghava Rajaram holding hands with both the teams.

Finally after the tournament, we played hat games for about half an hour with all 3 teams mixed. That was good fun too!

We headed back to the dorm once again for a well awaited shower, and then back to the Ashram for the super lunch of Pav Bhaaji!

After lunch, we sat around discussing the tournament. The Ahmedabad team guys spend a few min talking about their experiences (translated by Roopal). They were talking about how they were scared of the other two teams initially. They were expecting us to trip them/punch them/be stuck-up/etc. They were very happy that we mingled well with them. Both Delhi and Chennai players couldn't stop raving about the hospitality that Indicorps and Manav Sadhna had showed us over the past 2 days.. and we hoped to repay that some day. Anand from Indicorps brought up the point that we need to do this often, and should also look for sponsorship to subsidize travel the next time. In the next 6 months, we will be looking to spawn off more teams. We told them about the teams that can be made in IIT-Kanpur (Rajesh's bro & co.), Bangalore (Arunesh & co.) and Coimbatore (KK's brother and co.).

Overall, a great learning experience for all of us. Chennai.. we need to really work on our discipline. We were the guys with the weakest throws, weakest cuts, weakest defense, weakest strategies. Next time around.. we have a lot of work to do!

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Travel Travel Travel

Barcelona, Chennai, Ahmadabad, Seattle, San Jose, Atlanta, Seol.. all just mean places on the map to anyone else. But to me, these are places I'm going to be in the next 4 weeks. Sounds cool eh? :-).
When I was doing my undergrad, I didn't feel any big need to travel. I was very happy within my small microcosmic world. The first flight I took, was to the US. It was on July 26th 12.55am, the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. It scared the crap out of me. I had never felt more alone. I very very vividly remember even today how I peered out of the window across two other people from my aisle seat, when the flight was banking to land in Germany. The green lush trees and beautiful water ways. My eyes were starry eyed when I landed at the Frankfurt airport. I had never seen anything so big. It scared the crap out of me. When Ramanan and Vijaysarathy picked me up from the Raleigh-Durham airport and drove me back to my temporary stay accomodation, I was digesting how beautifully one road looped and flowed into the next seamlessly. I was in wonder of how spaciously well planned the entire road system was. Over the next few days at Raleigh, the word distance took a new meaning in my mind, when I walked up and down the whole of NCSU in search of an on-campus job. I needed a map to go around the whole place! I learnt what walking an entire mile in an alien land felt like, and I then learnt what it felt like to walk 4-5 times that distance as I kept hunting! The meaning of the word 'alone' changed once again. Three weeks later one of my cousins and his wife drove down from Washington DC 4.5 hours to help me and my room-mates set-up at my new place. I reflect now, and I understand the definition of going-out-of-the-way-to-help-someone else.
The first winter break, (Dec 22nd, 2001) another cousin and his wife bought me a ticket to Detroit. I landed at the Washington Dulles airport in transition, and then headed to the DTW airport from there. After picking up my baggage, I stepped out of the airport into the doors of my Anna's car. The meaning of the words familiarity, family, reunited, relief all took a new meaning. That winter, shuttling between 4 cousins' place in Detroit, and meeting one of my closest friends from college at his place at Ann Arbor, I learnt what the feeling of having support felt like.
Spring break, 2002, I headed to San Jose and looked around starry eyed when another cousin took me around San Fransisco. The Bay-bridge, the Golden-gate bridge, all engineering marvels. It is somewhere at this time, I think the seed of wanting to visit new places was planted in me.
From that time, every break I got, I travelled. I remember, I even kept track of which all airport I transitioned. I walked up and down each airport in every spare minute I got between flights. Moving to Colorado, having a job, being single and having my own car gave me new found freedom. Finding people who also liked to travel helped. Almost 2 weekends in every month, I travelled.. First few months, I took a flight out to different cities to visit friends on every long weekend. Then, it tended more towards exploring the beauty of Colorado and its neighbouring states. Unparalleled! Natural beauty redefined.
Once I had taken my GMAT and scored decently, I knew my days in the US were numbered. I travelled even more. Visiting even farther off places. All the while, when I worked as an engineer, and I travelled, I looked at the business travellers with a sense of curiousity. How would it feel to be a globe-trotter, to see new places on the job. To interact with people of different nationalities. To understand different cultures. When I left the US, to move back ot India, I wanted to have my base as India and then move around to visit other places. Inspiration redifined. Ambition redifined.
Today, I have done exactly that. But, I'm finding out that I don't really enjoy travel that much. The thought of leaving everything i have at home, leaving every schedule I have, to go stand in lines at the airports, to wait for baggage, to answer immigration officers' questions, etc, takes its toll. I am discovering more and more that I don't like to travel much. I'm finding out that I'm happiest with my family, close friends, daily routine, and doing one or two inspired things in a week (like my Ultimate Frisbee or Salsa). I'm finding out that my needs are actually quite simple. Looking back 20 years from now, I'd be happier if I spent a lot of time with my family & close friends, creating some value around me, and doing work in a position of responsibility where I can truly contribute something unique. I wouldn't really care for all the countries I'd have visited on the job. Infact, I'd even go back to an engineering position, if it gave me good responsibilities and a way to use my brains. Finally, all it is just work to me. Something which I need to be happy to do. Anything that will offer me a challenge. Be it engineering, marketing, finance or management. Maybe, I just feel this because of what looks like a daunting travel schedule ahead of me. It is indeed funny how experimenting/trying out really helps one discover themselves.

At this point, I realize that the biggest favour/help/support one can do/give for another person, is to give them the freedom to experiment. Thankfully everyone around me, has given me that.. and it has help me discover myself. I truly feel at this point, that I should encourage everyone to experiment. Learning from others' experience is only so much. Most of it has to come from one's own adventures!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chennai Ultimate Frisbee website!

The Club finally has a website. Pretty cool stuff.

Thanks to GAPP/Sagaro and Mayank Gupta! The website is looking pretty cool!

Check it out at

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