Sep 29, 2015

உனக்கென்று சில மணித்துளிகள்

பயம் என்னும் திரையை விலக்கலாம்
ஓடுதலின் வேகத்தை குறைக்கலாம்

பூக்களின் வாசத்தை நுகர
அணில்களின் செல்ல சிணுங்களை ரசிக்க
தூரத்தில் ஒலிக்கும் கோவில் மணியை எண்ண
மழைத்தூறலின் தாளத்தை கேட்க
உன் மூச்சின் ஏற்ற இறக்கங்களை உணர  
நேரத்தை கொஞ்சம் ஒத்திவைக்க

கைபேசியின் கூவல்கள் காத்திருக்கட்டும்
முகநூலின் தகவல் ரேகைகள் ஓடிக்கொண்டிருக்கட்டும்
வாழ்க்கை ஓட்டம் ஆமையாக சில மணித்துளிகள் மாறட்டும்

கண்கள் நோக்கி முழுமையாக உள்வாங்கும்
உரையாடல்கள் வேண்டும்
காதுகள் கவனமாக கேட்கும்
பொறுமைகள் வேண்டும்

எதுவும் உன்னை விட்டு போய்விடாது
உனக்கென்று சில மணித்துளிகள் ஒதுக்கினால்

Sep 21, 2015

Review: Bharathi Baskar's books

I should thank YouTube for introducing me to Mrs.Bharathi Baskar's works. On one of the bored Saturday afternoons, I stumbled upon her talks given at an Engineering college orientation programme as part of my YouTube recommendations. If you can understand Tamil, I highly recommend the two videos. My hubby who doesn't watch much of Tamil programmes loved them too.

Later I realized that she is one of the prominent speakers in various pattimandrams (debate shows). For me, pattimandrams remind me of my childhood when TV channels would play them on festival days at 10 AM. The elders in my family would be glued to them while we (kids) would be happily munching on some sweets or taking a nap. I was never a fan of such debates in growing-up years.

Anyway, coming to the topic, Mrs.Bharathi's speeches are multi-dimensional - humorous, contemporary, thought-provoking, passionate and most importantly, she knows exactly how to connect well with an audience. I have been listening to many of her talks and I've become a big fan of her. During my last trip to Chennai, I made a visit to Vikatan publisher's office and picked up a bunch of books written by Dr.Sivaraman, Nammalvar and Bharathi Baskar.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading her two books - Nee Nathi Pola Odikondiru and Siragai Viri!Para ; both have the same characteristics as that of her powerful speeches.

Nee nadhi pola odikkondiru is a collection of essays focused on women-centric issues at home, work and society. Her examples and anecdotes from her personal life make this book an interesting page-turner. She touches upon various issues such as lost friendships in women's lives, expectations from family, lack of appreciation, importance of personal care, taking ownership of finances etc. My most favorite example in this book is where she compares fridge and a ladies handbag and how we stuff so much into each of them :-) She applies the same logic to the various thoughts we dump into our minds and how they spoil our health, relationships and well-being.

It's a pleasure to read how she links each issue to that of a flowing river. So poetic and mesmerizing! Reminds me of the beautiful song - nadhiye, nadhiye from the movie rhythm.

Siragai viri para is a one-of-a-kind book where the author connects present challenges of the society with examples from mythology, literature, spirituality, religion and history. I felt like I was going back in time to my Tamil and History lessons from school. In one of the chapters, she talks about the story of Manuneedhi Chozhan and the cow and stresses on the leadership qualities and fair justice. It felt so good to rehear this story after a long time that I have started to narrate it to my 3-year old. The author's interest and knowledge across various subjects and her knack of beautifully stringing them together is very inspiring.

I'm so grateful to YouTube for a good recommendation that led me to hear, learn and get inspired by Bharathi Baskar and her works.

Sep 15, 2015

Why I decided not to be a Pavlov's dog


I came across this concept in my Science textbook in 9th or 10th grade. And for some reason I still remember it even after so many years. Ivan Pavlov observed how his dog would salivate when he would ring a bell and bring food for the dog. As days passed by, the dog would salivate just by hearing the sound of the bell in anticipation of the food. This observation led to his research on classical conditioning theory.  It gives good insights into how a conditioned stimulus can lead to a conditioned response.

We all experience this often in our day-to-day lives. Our smartphones have transformed us into Pavlov's dog. You hear a notification, vibration or even a blinking LED, your hands automatically reach out for your phone to check what's new. Mobile app makers understand this phenomenon and ensure their first and foremost user engagement strategy is "Notifications". They personalize these messages, make them variable, interesting, whacky and what not.

I started to realize that I was getting distracted a lot with these triggers and was not able to focus hard. It could be due to FOMO (fear of missing out) or seeking novelty but I decided to take some conscious steps to get back my focus.
Focus is THE precious asset these days, more than time, physical energy or money.
I went through the list of all the apps on my phone. As a first step, I uninstalled all the shopping ones. I'm not an avid shopper and the notifications - "25% discount on shoes" and "fabulous offers on branded clothes" are irrelevant to me.

Then I looked at the health and fitness apps that I installed long time back but still keep bugging me to track my food and water intake everyday. Got rid of them.

The remaining were the toughest ones - social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter. My most used ones. I disabled the notification sound and vibration first. But the LED light was bothering me. I finally disabled that too. FB started troubling me with notifications about a random person posting something on a FB group that I follow. (Seriously, FB?) The tweet below proved I wasn't alone in this assault.


Twitter is not too far behind either. It keeps notifying me on how 3 of the people I'm following have tweeted about a certain hashtag.Or how 2 of them started following someone.

I finally said "Enough is enough" and uninstalled both these apps. It's been more than 3 weeks now and the number of times I access my phone have gone down tremendously. I still use these products on the web but I control when I want to access them and not the other way around.

Are you feeling like a Pavlov's dog? Do try out some of these steps and see the difference it can bring to your productivity and your life in general.

Sep 14, 2015

A long weekend trip to Pondicherry

Having been born and brought up in Tamilnadu, my friends found it strange when I told them that I had never been to Pondicherry. "You must go, Anu. You'll love it", one of them recommended during an evening chai meetup. When hubby suggested that we go for a long drive to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I knew exactly where to go. Cleartrip somehow got a peek into our "offline" conversations and sent a hotels flash sale email on the very same day :-) We got a great deal in one of the CGH Earth Properties at Pondy, Maison Perumal.

Day 1
A light drizzle greeted us early morning and we left Bangalore around 5:45 AM and drove straight to Vellore - the route that has become very familiar thanks to our Chennai trips. We took a short detour inside Vellore to have breakfast at our most favorite place - Saravana Bhavan. Loaded ourselves with some amazing dosas, yummy pongal and refreshing filter coffee. After Vellore, we took a right turn towards Arcot (route SH5). That was a beautiful route with greenery all around, little villages and trees on either sides of the road. The weather gods blessed us with pleasant cool breeze throughout the journey. We reached Pondy around 12:30 PM and drove straight to Hotel Surguru for lunch. My friend recommended this place and the vegetarian thali was amazing with a good spread of kootu, keerai, sambar and rasam.


Immaculate Conception Cathedral Church
We checked into our room at Maison Perumal and relaxed for some time. It's a beautiful heritage property with traditional courtyards, paintings and pictures from yesteryears. In the evening, we took a walk on Mission Street, stopped by for few minutes in the beautiful Immaculate Conception Cathedral Church and then went to Bakers street for some pastries. Though the pastries were good, the service could have been better. The coffee that I ordered never came even after 20 minutes. When checked, they realized that they completely forgot.

Traveling with a toddler who refuses to walk and wants to be carried around all the time, we didn't have the energy for longer walks and so took an auto-rickshaw and came back to our hotel. The chef gave us a cooking demo of "brinjal gothsu". We ordered aapams and veg stew along with coconut ice creams for dinner. Loved the dining experience with homely food and friendly service.

Day 2
At Matri Mandir viewpoint
We woke up early and were all set for roaming around. The breakfast was a good combination of continental and South Indian, with fresh fruits, fruit juice, muesli, toast, eggs and dosa/idli. And not to miss the strong filter coffee. By the time, we finished breakfast, it was already 9:45 AM and we drove towards Auroville. The sun was at its peak and we could feel the heat and humidity, as compared to the previous day. We took the vehicle towards Matri Mandir and spent some time admiring the beautiful surroundings. If you want to go inside Matri Mandir, you need to book an appointment a day in advance. I spent some time in the couple of boutiques near the Visitor gate. The clothes and other products were handmade and very expensive and so I didn't explore much, apart from a few packs of incense sticks and scented candles. We drove back to Pondy and had Pizzas for lunch at Cafe Xstasy - these were thin crust and loaded with cheese. D loved them and so did we.

The evening was well spent at the clean and less crowded Serenity Beach. The colorful sky and the moon rise was a pleasant sight. We spent nearly 2 hours in the beach, playing in the waters and observing tiny crabs. Our growling stomachs didn't allow us to venture outside and so we decided to have dinner at Maison Perumal again. A sumptuous Tamil style thali with ladies finger masala, carrot stir fry, papads, paniyaram and curd made us feel completely at home.

Day 3
We started off the day with a quick visit to Aurobindo Ashram and then spent some time at Bharathi Park. Our little one was happy to discover the "play area". The sweltering heat didn't allow us to linger for more time there and so we compensated her with some pastries at Zuka Chocolate Cafe. We tasted the yummy rainbow cake and washed it down with some milkshakes and iced tea. It was around 12 PM by then and we were in two minds whether to go to the Chunnambar boat house then or later in the evening. We took the plunge and drove the 8 kms to reach the boat house. The boat ride costs 200 Rs per person. I imagined it would be similar to that of Kumarakom's backwaters but it was just a straight drive to Paradise beach. Being a weekend, the beach was crowded and I was so surprised to see so many people bathing and playing in the beach without minding the heat. We sat down in one of the shacks for sometime and then returned. After a late lunch at Hotel Surguru, we came back to our room and had a short nap.

While my daughter was extending her afternoon nap, I decided to take a walk by myself to Promenade beach. Very heartening to see the traffic police blocking the beach road from all motor vehicles post 6 PM. It was a memorable walk, with cool breeze for company, observing people - the younger and older ones brisk walking, cycling or just sitting and having a good time along the roads of the beach. If ever I spend a longer time at Pondy, I decided to walk down this road every evening.

After dinner, all three of us took a walk again in the very same road. D was excited to see a wide road completely free of vehicles. We sat on the rocks for some time, admiring the waves and a clear moon-lit sky. This was THE best part of the trip.

Day 4
It was time to pack our bags and head home. After a quick trip to Manakulla Vinayagar temple, we went to Zuka Cafe again. Too bad the rainbow cake wasn't there but we had some delicious blackforrest cake milkshake and bought some white chocolates for home. The drive back home was challenging, with the afternoon sun hitting hard and a huge traffic jam near Krishnagiri. The journey felt tiresome and exhausting. But the memories of Pondy made the effort worthy.

Sep 4, 2015

Design thinking talk at Institute of Product Leadership

A few weeks back, I was interacting with organizers of executive MBA programme at Institute of Product Leadership. They asked me if I could deliver a talk on design thinking and share some of my experiences from past projects. While I was thinking about the relevant topic, I also came to know from them that the students are already doing a course on design thinking, know the concepts and that it would be more useful if I can link the concepts they have learned to real-life experiences.

I observe that many startups do not seem to invest enough time in understanding the problem space, exploring the user/customer's context and diving into their motivations. This directly relates to the first 2 stages of design thinking process - Empathize with your users and Define the problem statement. So I structured my talk around these 2 stages and shared relevant examples from the two startups I have worked with so far. Here are the slides:



It was a good experience putting together the deck based on my work projects and delivering the talk.
Please feel free to share your thoughts/comments/opinions on how startups can maximize their research in these 2 stages and the strategies that have worked for you.

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