Backseat

 Aditya Kripalani 

Judging by the date of publishing, this is probably the prequel to the school of writing (not genre, but language skills) that has one Mr.Tripathi as its patron saint now. The word skills are right up there – my favourite would have to be “help her bare the night” which, in the context of dance bars, was unintentionally very funny. There were enough bloopers around to indicate that the above was not clever wordplay.

The plot itself is fairly predictable except for patches, and the pace makes it bearable. The characters are uni-dimensional, though on a few occasions, they get out of their skin and go roaming randomly. The language is Marathinglish, and it’s possible you might pick up a few non-English phrases by the time you finish the book. More

Immaterialism

I was in Kochi recently, and was quite happy to find Uber there! About four years ago, a similar experience led me to write about how malls create a kind of homogeneity across cities. This is probably an advanced version of that thought, because I felt as though these were baby steps towards living in the cloud. If the apps (services) I use become available across geographies, how long would it take before location became irrelevant?

“Of course geography is relevant. I have a home in Bangalore, what do I do with that?” leads me to the real point of this post – ownership. TC had a fantastic (guest) post sometime back (by Tom Goodwin) titled “The Battle is for the Customer Interface“. Quoting from the first paragraph – Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. The post, of course, moves on to the business impact of this, but I felt that it is absolutely applicable in a personal context. More

Gilly’s

First published in Bangalore Mirror

I’d been hearing about Gilly’s for  while now, and when I figured out that the crowd on Saturday nights would lead us to a Hoppipola-like experience, we decided to land up on a Saturday afternoon.  Despite that, the place was reasonably packed and there was definitely a peppy vibe about the place. There are two sections – the indoor area is dim lit and has more of a retro pub feel to it, and the outdoor is brighter, seems more cheerful, and if it weren’t for the bar stools, you could mistake it for a fun café. The walls are adorned with pop culture posters, typical pub humour, and occasionally glass paintings. The music is exactly what the 20-somethings would order and the decibel levels increased as the afternoon progressed. The focus on short eats, both in terms of menu items as well as portion sizes, ensures that you’ll not need to worry about your beer not having sufficient company. More

The Entrepreneur and the Professional

A fantastic article in The Atlantic titled ‘The Case Against Credentialism‘ traces the social-cultural and academic  roots of America’s current business dynamics. The part that interested me most was what the author calls the tension between the two cultures – the entrepreneurial and the professional. While both are cultures of achievement, the basic tenet of the latter is that he who goes further in school will go further in life.

It gave me an impetus to write about this in the Indian context. Nothing as exhaustive, but a little note based on my experiences thus far, with much generalisation. My skin in the game is that it affects me personally and professionally. More

Sons of Sita

 Ashok K Banker

The final book in Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series. It is also the concluding part of the Uttara Kaanda, and is set a decade after Rama banished Sita. Luv and Kush, her sons, grow up in the hermitage of Valmiki, and from the first page, set out, unwittingly, on a collision course with their father.

The author departs from the various versions I have read and puts a new spin on the events leading to the family reunion. I can’t be sure, but it would seem as though Banker’s version of Ayodhya is modeled after a superpower, complete with a political group called Republicans! Its acts of aggression, citing necessities that would seem selfish to an objective viewer, are easily comparable to what the US has been doing. Rama is portrayed as a king who takes on the mantle of an emperor on advice from a set of people motivated by their own vested interests. His relationship with his brothers has moved away from one of affection to more between that of a monarch and his vassals. More

Ends & Beginnings

A few weeks ago, I met the gentleman who was my first boss in Bangalore. We were meeting after a long time, and over a cup of coffee, he asked me for my visiting card. He looked at it for a while, and said, “I don’t know about you, but I feel very proud about this.” It was a humbling moment. He then smiled, and asked me if I remembered our interview conversation.

Of course I did, because it was one of those occasions that changed my life’s trajectory. He reminded me that when asked why I wanted the job, I had answered “..because my future wife already has a job in Bangalore and I need to move here from Cochin to get married’. He had laughed. The year was 2003, and thus began my life in Bangalore.

The conversation was a reason in itself for a bout of nostalgia, and as I made my way back home later in the evening, my mind was replaying the time I had spent in this city. But there was another reason too, and that’s what this post is about. More

Serafina

Serafina sounds like a fantastic super villain from the Marvel universe, but this is about a restaurant in Koramangala. (map) I think I could easily associate charming or pretty if I had one word to describe the place. The brick walls, decor, furniture, lighting and the fantastic music (classics, played at just the right sound for one to enjoy it and yet have a conversation without a megaphone) lend it a touch of classiness. They have seating on two floors inside, and an alfresco option that faces the 80 feet Road. On a pleasant Bangalore evening, we chose the latter.

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Remember that we’ll be forgotten

To my pleasant surprise, an old school friend commented on my breadcrumbs and Black Swans post. I continue to be amazed by how much digital has allowed us to find and discuss shared interests. The post was around a couple of themes – whether the set of digital breadcrumbs we are leaving now (courtesy everyone being a publisher) will allow generations later to have a better sense of our history, and whether, therefore, our species will be more anti-fragile thanks to this data and the predictive analytics AI can build out of it.

My friend shared an article that talked of Vint Cerf’s warning about us being a ‘forgotten generation’. (I had read the Guardian version earlier) Essentially, his fear is that the lack of guarantee in backward compatibility of software means that documents stored many not be accessible at all. Both led me to Digital Vellum and Project Olive, which aims to establish a robust ecosystem for long-term preservation of software, games, and other executable content. More

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan

William Dalrymple 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” This book brings that quote to life! More than the book itself, kudos to Dalrymple for choosing a subject that has so much of relevance in the contemporary era! In fact, I wish it were written a few years earlier. ‘Return of a King’ is the story of the British (East India Company) invasion of Khurasan (modern day Afghanistan) in 1839 in an effort to establish their man Shah Shuja ul-Mulk, (descendant of the Ahmad Shah Durrani, regarded to be the founder of the modern state of Afghanistan) on the Kabul throne in place of the incumbent Dost Mohammed. That was the easy part, but as one Afghan commented then, the British had gotten in, but how would they maintain this status quo, or even get out? In a couple of years, the Afghans, in an ever changing mixture of coalitions, rebelled against the British and massacred them on their way back to Hindustan. The British then created an Army of Retribution to avenge this, and ended up bringing things back to square one.

What set off this chain of events is something I have read about in some Sherlock Holmes adventures and seen alluded to in other works like ‘Kim’. The Great Game, an international milieu of intrigue that pitched the mighty powers of the time – Russia and Britain – against one another. Afghanistan, as per British intelligence, was where Russia was poised to strike next, to control Central Asia. This was supposed to be achieved with Dost Mohammed’s help. The Russian plans were far less threatening than reported by the British and ended up creating a war that need not have been. There is some amazing parallel here with what the Russians (80s) and the Americans (now) tried to do in Afghanistan! More

Algorithms of wealth

Some strange quirk in the cosmic order of things led to Landmark shipping me Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First century’ instead of Rana Dasgupta’s Capital! I kept the book (yet to read it though) because economic disparity has been an interest area for a while now, I had touched upon it in the context of AI and job loss in Artificial Humanity. Reading The Black Swan has only accelerated this interest.

Taleb divides the world  into Mediocristan and Extremistan to point out the extent of predictability in the context. Mediocristan can safely use Gaussian distribution, (bell curve)  but in Extemistan, that’s dangerous. From what I understand, given that there’s no real limit upper limit of scale, individual wealth will increasingly behave in a more Extremistan way. To quote his own example, “You randomly sample two persons from the US population. You are told that they earn jointly a million dollars per annum. What is the most likely breakdown of their income? In Mediocristan, the most likely combination is half a million each. In Extremistan, it would be $50,000 and $950,000.” He states that almost all social matters are from Extremistan. More