Craft Beer, Fandom, and Serendipity [VIDEO]

One of the things I haven’t talked to you guys so far is that I’m a craft beer fan. I really like finding out about local breweries, trying out what they have, and occasionally go out of my way and hunt for a beer that’s hard to find, or a seasonal exclusive. I wanted to talk about how I started this journey as a beer hunter.

Check out the video I made on this topic, and as always: like share, and subscribe.

The story of how I decided to get into craft beer

My story as a craft beer enthusiast began in the summer or fall of 2015. I was a 23 year old in grad school and it was just another weeknight- kicking it, shooting the breeze with some friends, some 90s Bollywood music on the TV, and of course, some run of the mill beer. The beer in question was a Corona which wasn’t particularly good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I still get video clips of 90s music starring Bobby Deol.

Anyway, I remember I hadn’t had the best day, and I was hoping to put it behind me. Unfortunately, this unwinding time wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. The tunes on the TV were mostly b-movie fare that my friend put on because they thought it would be funny in an ironic way (it wasn’t). Also, I was texting a girl but it really wasn’t going anywhere- you know when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and there’s just no substance, and you feel like just typing out words on to a screen and nothing has meaning? It was one of those dead-end conversations.

But I was about to put all those worries behind me, I had a beer in hand, a Corona, (no lime) and in just a few moments it was going to help me take the edge off and unwind.

…and the beer had gone bad. It tasted funny and it smelled like skunk. As I sat there, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong, I just kept saying to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.” I looked at the TV and I said there’s got to be something better than this, I looked down at my phone and I said again, there’s got to be something better than this, and then I looked at the bottle of Corona, the icing on this cake of misfortune, and I said

“There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!”

When I went back to my room that night, I decided I wanted to change something, starting with something simple, like the beer that I drank. Thus began my journey as a craft beer enthusiast.

Getting more into the enthusiast space

Shout out to Sun King Brewing, the first craft brewery I went to.

So I began to do some research about beer- watching videos, reading books about history, how it’s made, and the different types of beer that exist. I went to local breweries and started trying to chat up the employees there about the different beers they had and what went into them, I even have a spreadsheet where I write down what I think about all the unique beers I’ve tried.


All of this made me think about the enthusiast space in general- how you go from having a cursory knowledge about something, and how over time you learn more about it and there’s always just more to learn the deeper you dive into something.


My friends didn’t share this enthusiasm at first- they thought I was being a bit of a snob when I started bringing my own beers to parties. In time I was able to show them the way, though- now they too source their libations from the local brewery, by the growler, and sometimes even by the keg.

Serendipity

Being an enthusiast is all well and good, but sometimes it helps you in ways you don’t expect. A couple of years ago, I was giving a job interview at the company I work at currently, and my to-be boss asked me what I like to do for fun. At that moment, I decided not to give safe answers like reading or writing or being outdoorsy, I simply told him I was a beer enthusiast, and started talking about the experiential qualities of beer and how beer isn’t just beer, that it’s so much more. The gamble worked, it really resonated with him- turns out he was an investor in one of the major craft breweries in Columbus!

I like to think that the answer helped seal the deal for my employment.

In conclusion, I think that fateful night in 2015 was one of the turning points of my life in a bizarre way. Life takes unusual turns sometimes, and you never know how certain things will end up working with other things in synergy. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.

I’d like to end by repeating a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

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Life Update- I moved to a new apartment! [Video]

I uploaded a life update video to my YouTube channel recently, and I wanted to write a companion post for it. I moved to a nice apartment a few days ago, after three years of living next to a very large university campus.

When I moved to Columbus, I didn’t give myself enough time to do a proper “apartment hunt”- I had to make a decision within one week, and not having any friends or family in this new city added to the challenge. I bet on there being plenty of housing being available near a campus area, so I set out to search for one near the campus of the Ohio State University. Sure enough, I found a few and made a quick decision. It really was quick- I took a Greyhound bus from Indianapolis to Columbus in the morning, looked at about 5 apartments, picked one, gave them my application, and took the evening bus back to Indianapolis the same day. I moved to that apartment about a week and a half later.

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I was just out of grad school at that point, so all my stuff fit into the back of a minivan. I moved once, and I had a brief idea in my head that I’d move into a nicer apartment sometime the subsequent year. Well, life happened, and I ended up staying there for three years.

The apartment itself was good enough- the building was constructed in the 1950s and the interior was renovated, so in places, it was retrofitted to be contemporary, but the main framework was more mid-century. The real issue I had was the location. In my hurry to find a place to live, I had forgotten to have a look at the surroundings. I’d chosen an apartment with windows facing a busy street, right next to at least 5 campus bars, and within walking distance from a gigantic football stadium.

futon on wooden floor
Humble beginnings

For the next 3 years, I couldn’t escape the vagaries of campus life, even though I’d already graduated. I heard the drunken revelry of loud college students. I heard the babbling rants of drunk drifters and vagabonds. I heard every passing car on the street, and every skateboard on the sidewalk. I heard the game-day tailgaters and their loudspeakers blaring country music and top40 pop from morning through the night, every boisterous shout of “O-H” followed by every equally enthusiastic “I-O!”. I even heard the wannabe boy racers with their speaker systems cranked up to the highest bass setting, and my ancient windows rattled to the beats of trap music each time those speaker-towers-on-wheels passed by.

Despite all these sounds and the resultant disturbances in my sleep pattern, I continued living there, for a myriad of reasons. One was laziness. Every time renewal season came around, I began to half-heartedly look for places to live, but was discouraged by the lack of options in the time frame I wanted and was also discouraged by how I’d have to pay more than what I was paying at the time. Then there were also all the things I’d have to do, like move or change utilities, and of course, move all my stuff, which I had much more of and wouldn’t just fit in the back of a minivan anymore.

Another reason was that I had a protracted visa change process from a student to a work visa, which really pushed plans of moving several months down the road, and I had to stay a little longer as a result.

I ended up just waiting till the decision was made for me- campus apartments are highly sought after by students, and they immediately snapped mine up after I didn’t renew my lease in a few days after the renewal period started. That’s how I finally set in motion the plan to move to a new place- something I’d had in my to-do list since 2017.

I realized how overstated my fears were about the logistical aspects of the move after I began the process a few months ago. Porting over utilities was mostly online and a bit of being on hold on a customer service call. Canceling services wasn’t as much of a headache as I thought it would be.

The actual physical move wasn’t bad either- I was able to get help from a couple of friends (thankfully I was able to make friends and luckily some friends from grad school have moved to the Columbus area since I first arrived here), and renting a moving truck was simple enough.

What I got from all this was a great sense of “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Hindsight is always 20-20, but this does tell me I need to stop thinking of hypotheticals that are in my own head sometimes, some unknown obstacles that exist only in my mind. Perhaps I should stop waiting for decisions to be made for me, perhaps I should stop simply continuing to exist in the status quo because of the comfort that exists in certainty and deferring decisions and actions.

In the end, I’m just glad to finally able to live out a desire I have had for a long time. A nice apartment, a lot more peace and quiet, and the fact that it makes me feel like I’m more of a “big boy”, now that I’m completely untethered from the campus lifestyle.

Image of a desk and computer setup.

Pivoting to Video: A few thoughts

It has been a while since I have posted an update on my blog, and not without reason- I have been instead, as the title suggests, pivoting to video. After a few months of using the medium of videos on YouTube to speak about my thoughts and opinions, I have a few takeaways from it that I wanted to talk about through the medium of the written word.

This is a video I made that I’m particularly proud of.

Higher Fidelity

One of the key advantages of using videos is the fact that it allows people to put a face to the name and the words that they hear. Sure, I can put my face on to a blog, but there are verbal and nonverbal cues that the medium of videos helps to communicate, that a simple blog post cannot.

I have been hearing a lot more feedback about my videos than I used to get about my blog. This could partly be because of the novelty factor, but I believe that the higher fidelity of a video format helps to add a new layer of personability, that written words on a screen do not provide.

Write the way you talk, talk the way you write

One of the key goals I have for myself while making videos is to be a better and more direct writer. I want to stop being redundant in my writing, and that starts with me being more clear and concise in my thought and my speech. Practicing my speaking through the Toastmasters program was one step towards that goal, but creating and editing videos adds a new dimension to the process. While editing videos, I have to watch and re-watch each and every word and sentence that I utter. This helps me focus on the mistakes that I make, and also forces me to think of ways to improve.

Also, it helps me practice speaking on a regular basis. As the saying goes,

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

I prefer this quote to “Practice makes perfect” because it’s more actionable and adds the dimension of premeditated preparation to the act of practice. A goal of constant improvement necessitates the need for practice and preparation.

Garnering Feedback

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting a lot more feedback on my videos than I got on my written blog posts. Not only that, but the feedback has been a lot more detailed and specific. People tell me what they think about the content of my videos, and they also tell me about the way that I speak, the way that I edit, and so on. Garnering such feedback on multiple aspects of the work that I put out helps me act upon it and improve holistically.

The next step is to incorporate the feedback not only to the videos themselves, but to translate those insights into other aspects of life, mainly my written blogs.

The key insights I have gained

Clarity and conciseness of thought and speech is the first and foremost takeaway in terms of feedback. Another has been maintaining the balance between aesthetic or technical improvements and the content, in such a way that satisfies both me and my audience. The balance between self-indulgence and fan service is tricky but rewarding.

Another insight is not to ruminate on a concept for too long. There’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to introspecting on a topic for too long, and I have come to understand when I have hit that point more clearly now. The need to showcase something that is polished is still there, but there’s also the need to put what’s inside my head, out into the world, so the independent perspectives of the audience at large can help me see things in a light that I had not seen before.

What’s next for the Blog?

To conclude, I’d just like to say that I need to figure out a way to make the videos and the written blogs coexist. It could be to create a written post and transcript of every video that I put out. I could also make video versions of blog posts I’ve made in the past. I want to do this because I want a cohesive strategy between all the things I put out into the world, and I want both videos and blogs to grow and improve together.

In short, I want this “pivot to video” to be the first step towards being a better talker, as well as a better writer.

3.5mm headphone jacks

Why I am an audiophile

 

I like to think of myself as a bit of an audiophile. I’ve spent time and money creating a collection of headphones and some basic sound equipment. I wanted to write about how it all started, how my tastes and habits in music evolved, and where I stand now in terms of audiophilia.

Music in my formative years

My parents had a huge hand in molding my love for music because they are huge fans of music themselves. My parents always start their day listening to Indian classical and semi-classical music. They have quite the knowledge about the different artists and styles of Indian classical music, and my father always took the time to explain to me how particular ragas were best listened to at particular times of the day, for example.

My father has a cassette tape collection that took him years to collect (although he’s since moved on to sharing audio clippings on WhatsApp on a daily basis). I also learned Indian Classical singing for a couple of years and was always a part of the singing groups for events in school, so I’ve been around music ever since my childhood.

With that background in mind, I feel like my most memorable musical memories were formed in my teenage years when I had the means and the opportunity to really listen to music for long periods of time. Music inflames temperament, as Jim Morrison once said. It has the power to shift your mood around if you let yourself be swayed by it. Towards the end of high school and then through junior college and undergrad, my musical interests took shape.

College, earphones, and the internet

In the years after high school, I had a lot more time and opportunity to listen to music- I got my first mobile phone, and the ability to listen to music on the go. At this point, the goal was just to keep myself entertained as I was commuting- to and from college, or tuition classes, or wherever else I was going. I was usually walking or taking the train and needed something to pass the time.

I came up with some ingenious ways to make sure my in-ear style headphones didn’t get tangled.

As I started to listen to more and more music that wasn’t just whatever was on the TV or the radio, I began developing my musical tastes. I remember getting hooked on 60s era rock after I saw the news about The Doors getting the Grammy lifetime achievement award back in 2007. I think VH1 had some special programming for that occasion and played a bunch of their music. A few years prior, that would have been the end of it- I’d have to wait for the next episode to listen to the music on TV again. But I didn’t have to wait anymore, because I had the internet.

The ability to listen to and download music from the internet, and the ability to take it with me and listen to it whenever I wanted, was the genesis of my core musical tastes. Prior to having an internet connection and a mobile phone, I would have had to wait for the song to be played on the telly, or would have had to buy a CD. But now I had an internet connection, and the ability to search for artists similar to The Doors (shout out to last FM). Thus began my first “musical phase”- classic rock. I had plenty of musical phases after that- I remember I had a “Surf Rock” phase, a Shoegaze phase, and an alternative rock phase among others.

They say that you tend to find your favorite music when you’re a teenager. The increased accessibility to music that the internet provided, combined with the fact that it was made available to me in my late teens, formed the foundation of my music listening habits today.

Grad School and analytical music listening

Grad school is when the true audiophile in me began to take shape. As a part of my graduate assistantship, I was assigned to be a grader of an undergraduate level course called “Intro to digital audio”. It went into the basics of digital audio, from the science behind it to recording, playing, and editing audio files. One of the tasks I was assigned was grading the assignments of 50 or so students, which were always audio files of some sort. Listening to 50 audio files of the same recording, edited as per the requirements of an assignment was a form of aural torture the likes of which I hadn’t been through before, but it paid the rent. What happened as a result of this, however, was that I began to develop an ear for analyzing what I was listening to.

I received a pair of headphones from the professor I was working with- a pair of Sony MDR V150s. I didn’t have a pair of headphones before this, other than a dirt cheap gaming headset that I only had for the attached microphone. I mainly listened to music on in-ear style headphones. They were just meant to be tools to get the music from my phone and into my ear. I didn’t really care about sound quality back then, I was a broke student, and I just wanted something durable, portable, and I could buy for less than five hundred rupees.

The first pair of headphones that I had, that were worth anything- The Sony MDR V150s

I remember the first time I listened to music on the V150s. The song was the same, the source was the same, but it felt like there was an added dimension to the whole experience. A level of clarity I hadn’t had before, just by moving up from cheap in-ear headphones to over-the-ear ones. The V150s aren’t high-end headphones by any means, but the difference in sound quality was palpable.

Superlux HD 668B
The HD668Bs are still the headphones I use the most to this day.

After this realization, I began reading up on digital audio. Different file formats, different types of headphones and other audio gear. I began understanding about soundstage, imaging, and sound signatures that color the listening experience. I read forum posts, I watched youtube videos, and I even read articles about the various terms audiophiles used, like imaging, soundstage, and more scientific terms like frequency response. I started to learn about how you could modify headphones by swapping the earpads or modifying the sound-making components themselves. Analytical headphones, “fun” headphones, and high-end amplifiers to drive them- I read about it all, and I wanted it all.

I was still a broke student, though, and my only leap in terms of audio grat was getting a pair of Superlux HD668Bs because they were the best in the “under $50” category for both music and gaming. I still use those at work every day.    

Professional life and more professional audio gear

As I got a job and started my professional career, I finally had the means to fulfill some of my audiophile dreams. Not all of them, of course- there is no end to how high you can go in terms of audio gear. You just have to figure out what your “end game” is- at what point you feel like the money you’ve invested into your hobby is worth the returns, which diminish the higher you go.

I had already started to run into those diminishing returns when I bought my first “audiophile” gear that wasn’t just a pair of headphones. At some point, I picked up a DAC (digital to analog converter) and amplifier combination to see if it would be an improvement over my laptop’s inbuilt sound card. I got a good deal on it on a black Friday lightning sale, and I was really excited to expand my horizons once more. As I set it up and played song after song, however, it was clear that the difference in sound quality was meager at best. The difference was even smaller when I built my own PC. Either I’m at the end of my analytical ability, or there really isn’t that much of a perceptible difference in sound quality.  

The bigger difference was when I bought my third pair of headphones- the Phillips Fidelio X2s. The change was more of a lateral one for me honestly, the Superlux had more of treble emphasis and I wanted a warmer sound signature and more comfort, while also maintaining the soundstage (the ability to visualize where the sounds are coming from in a physical space, instead of it sounding like it’s right next to your ears, or inside your head.)

Another change I made was going from downloading music to streaming it using subscription services- internet connectivity is even better now, and I don’t need to spend the time downloading and organizing my music which is an added convenience. It also helps me discover more music, something I’m always trying to do.

What is all of this about?

My music listening habits didn’t just change linearly- I didn’t completely discard portability over sound quality, for example. I still listen to music on in-ear headphones on bus rides to and from work. It’s just that I’ve incorporated more music listening time into my life in general. Times where all I do is just sit down, put on some music, and listen to it without doing anything else.

I still plan on continuing on the path of upgrading the equipment I do have, though. Why? It all goes back to the first time I heard music on better equipment than what I already had. The experience of listening to a song you have heard hundreds of times before, and hearing something new in it that had gone completely unnoticed. The experience of hearing something you have heard before, the same aural painting, but in different colors, or under a different light. Hearing music happen around you as if you’re listening to a live rendition- being able to place where the drums are, where the guitar is, where the vocals are coming from, what sound effects the producer of the song has put into the mix…

Different seasons. Different perspectives. Looking at things in a different light. Looking back at things as you get older, and gaining new lessons from them. It’s all an allegory for life, really.

 

Rediscovering Intense “Wants”

Sometimes in life, I am inexplicably drawn to things. I just want them, and I don’t know why. I realized this when I watched a video review of the latest Subaru BRZ (Same as the Toyota 86 and the erstwhile Scion FR-S). I’ve gone into some detail about why I like cars and what they mean to me, but I wanted to talk about the concept of wanting something, in general.

 

“An artifact of an impressionable childhood mind”

When I was a child, I wanted a lot of things. A lot of different bits and baubles, a lot of shiny toys. My parents were nice enough to get me a lot of these toys, but I always

Batman Action Figure- Greg Capullo

This figure sits on my desk. 10-year old me would freak out if he saw it.

wanted the newest thing that caught my fancy. Now that I’m a little more grown up I realize it was because the advertisers were doing a great job at making their product look desirable to a young impressionable mind (perhaps that’s a little manipulative, but I digress).

I wanted a whole host of things as a child. Action figures, Hotwheels tracks, video games, and gaming consoles… the list goes on. I wanted it all; but I couldn’t have it all, of course— my parents didn’t want to spoil their child. I couldn’t have whatever I wanted, and the want was so intense— as childhood brains tend to work, it made me want those things even more. A huge part of my childhood was me wanting the latest Batman figure.

“It’s easier to brush these feelings away as a responsible adult”

I rarely feel that intense want of something anymore. Perhaps it is because I grew up and toys aimed at children don’t appeal to me anymore other than the occasional sentimental value. I do have a Batman figure at my desk at work, but I don’t feel intensely about it. Perhaps it was too easy to procure. Or, perhaps I’m not a 10-year old who wants to build a huge action figure collection anymore.

As I grew up, those feelings of temptation or intense wants grew fewer and farther in between. These days I only “kind of” want some things, and I mostly only think about the things I need. The last time I remember wanting something intensely was when Android smartphones were relatively new, and all I ever wanted was to be a gadget reviewer so I could have the latest phones without having to pay for them— the coveted “review samples”. But, that was when I was a kid in college— now I have a job. A combination of financial independence and Android-powered gadgets losing their novelty washed that “want” away.

“What we do here is go back”

The waning intensity of my wants is why I was so surprised when all of a sudden, I was in the throes of temptation once more, as I first saw a video featuring an orange Toyota 86. A rather beautiful looking car, close to some of those old Hotwheels cars I used to gawk at on store shelves. “Not the fastest car, but a fun car to drive,” the reviewer said. I kept looking at the car, and as I saw its badges and trim pieces, its sparse interior, and its little digital speed readout I couldn’t help but feel a mix of positive emotions wash over me. I didn’t know why, but I wanted it. I just wanted it.

So I watched this one video. Then another video. Then the next—and I kept watching others talk about this vehicle, its lack of power, its affordability, its fan base and before I knew it I was window-shopping online, looking at listings, imagining myself behind the wheel. I reveled in this sensation like I’d met an old friend. But then I stopped myself.

“A responsible adult”

 

callsaul

Like Jimmy McGill before he became Saul Goodman.

As I have gone over in a previous post, buying a car doesn’t make much practical sense. I am getting by just fine without one. I’m a grown up now, and adulthood is all about being responsible. About staying the course. About making a long-term goal and sticking with it till it comes to fruition. A moment of whimsy is nice to have once in a while but in the end, I have to put the blinders back on and focus on what’s important. What I truly need. I can’t just give in to temptation and live to regret it— I need to think about grown-up things now, like savings, and investments, and Demat accounts and credit scores and interest rates and rates of return, I need to make sure I have a plan for “wealth creation” and let the gods of compound interest help push me through life comfortably like a middle-aged man on a pool float, sipping a pina colada and soaking in some sun on a lazy river ride.

 

A car is to be bought only when I absolutely need one, and all it can be is a utensil, a utility, something that takes me from point A to point B, has a good resale value, great gas mileage, and the best reliability. I have to sit down with the child inside me and have a talk about the really important things in life. I have to tell myself that the joy of having overcome temptation is greater than giving into it.

 

But why don’t I believe it?

 

A Sunset

Thoughts after a sojourn in India

I visited India for the first time in nearly three years, and some of the experiences I had really made me think of the disparity between the Indian and the Western way of life, and what thinking about this difference taught me about myself.

The Bank

One of the first experiences I had after my arrival, was at a delightfully old school bank. Banking in America allows me the convenience of never visiting a physical branch if I so choose. But here I was, standing in line at the cash counter, having filled and signed two different forms, waiting for the grumpy middle-aged teller lady to hurry up. She didn’t hurry up, she just took her time, hunting and pecking at the keys on an archaic computer, getting up every so often to take a break or because she needed to get some more cash from the back room.

The bank could have had multiple tellers and the teller lady could have processed things much faster than she did but she didn’t— because in the few moments between you handing her the withdrawal slip and her giving you a wad of notes, she commanded power over you. In that brief time-slice, she had you looking at her in anticipation, waiting for your money, waiting for your deposit to go through, waiting for her “all clear”, like a defeated gladiator waiting to see if the emperor’s thumb goes up or down.

There is no reason for this bank to hold on to an outmoded way of doing business, but it does because they know they have their customers locked in. Customer Service starts and ends with just one quip—

“If you don’t like it, just open an account in some other bank”.

They know they have you locked in for life, they know you won’t go to another bank, and they know you will put up with an analog system of filling forms, attesting photocopied documents, and making sure you sign your photographs just the right way, with half your signature on the photo and the other half on the paper, just like they asked you to. And you will sign it exactly that way because you know they won’t shy away from making you fill that form out all over again.

Somehow, I found my experience with the bank more amusing than frustrating. Perhaps it was because I knew what to expect and I was in no hurry, but the fact that the cries of modernization just fell on deaf ears when it came to this regional bank was just a reminder of the realities of my home country, a grounding experience compared to the overtures of customer experience that the banks in the United States tend to have.

Travel by Road

I work with a lot of car related stuff, from infotainment to semi-autonomous driving, so I was looking forward to being able to juxtapose the “first world” vision of what driving is, with the realities of driving on Indian roads.

Here’s the thing— you can’t have your car keep you in your lane if there aren’t any lanes, to begin with. You don’t want to keep yourself in the middle of the lane, because nobody else is in the middle of their lane, because everyone is trying to either get ahead of you or to avoid larger vehicles. You don’t want to maintain a gap distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you, because you don’t want fifteen two-wheeled vehicles cutting you off. You definitely don’t want the car to detect speed limits and traffic lights, because you don’t want some dude on a motorbike yelling “Is this your first time on the road?” at you as he crawls up to the middle of the intersection before the light turns green, and completely disregards the posted speed limit as he zooms off into the distance weaving through traffic.

Screenshot_20180930-152626

Nobody wants to stop, and everyone wants to get there as fast as possible.

You don’t even want lane departure warnings, because most smaller roads have cars parked on the sides which effectively reduces a two-lane road to a lane and a quarter. You’re lucky if you don’t encounter a 3-row SUV coming towards you in the opposite direction.

 

Don’t even get me started about the potholes.

The truth is, if you want to create a semi or fully autonomous driving system for a country like India, you need to completely re-imagine what driving on a road is compared to what it is in North America. You need to understand the mind of an Indian driver— impatient, irritable, and under a constant pressure to be alert and get where he/she needs to be as fast as possible.

That’s a metaphor for Indian society as a whole— everyone wants to get somewhere they’re not, everyone wants to be better than everyone else, and there’s just so many people and obstacles in the way, that you really feel a compulsive need to do it as fast and as ruthlessly as possible, even if it means sacrificing your own health and wellbeing.

The Dermatologist

The most painful experience I had during my time in India, was at the dermatologist. My mother was concerned about my hair situation and decided I should get a professional consultation. I spent nearly three hours in the waiting room, watching some guys try to learn water buffalo racing before I was called in.

edf

The emotional pain I experienced can be summed up by the phrase

“This kind of hair would be fine if you were ten years older.”

Now, as a man in his mid-20s I already have plenty of things I worry about, but until now, my hair was not one of them. I returned to the United States with a new thing to obsess over and a year’s supply of hair care products.

I’m not going to blame the doctor for what she said and the effect it had on me— they were just doing their job and offering their honest professional opinion. I’m just going to use it to highlight another aspect of Indian society.

The fact that there’s a lot of people in India, and there are a million people waiting to take your place in case you falter doesn’t go well with the idealistic notions of only comparing yourself to yourself, and taking the time to discover yourself and what you really want to do in life. Combine that with parental concern that comes from a genuine desire to see their child “succeed” in the materialistic definition of the term, and you get a recipe for misery.

A night out with friends

Marine lines

An impromptu visit to Marine Drive. Pro tip- if you’re having an ice gola, ask for some extra ice to wash your hands afterward.

This was what I was looking most forward to. Meeting friends, reminiscing about times past, catching up on each others’ lives. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with some friends from my days in Junior College, a group of people who I managed to maintain great ties with and not push away with my eclecticism.

In the moments I spent with them, shooting the breeze at the shores of the Arabian sea, the sounds of fast trains rattling by as we sat on benches eating street food, I wasn’t some out of shape 20-something with a dad-bod and a receding hairline, I wasn’t some man-child with no vision for the future, I wasn’t some loser with no love life, I was their friend, and they were my friends, and all was right with the world.

The time I spent with them meant so much more to me than anything else I experienced in those few days. A group of friends for whom you are enough— just you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in life, whatever you are doing, just you, your banter, the same old topics, a conversation that never ceases, and ties much greater than just some quid pro quo agreement.

A distinct dearth of true friends in close proximity is one of my greatest laments about living in the Midwest. Making friends as an adult is weirdly difficult, and even if you do make friends, the ties are never as strong as the ones you forged in your childhood and adolescence.

Reflection

Going back to my home country, I was faced once more with the realities of what it takes to stay relevant in a hyper-competitive world— tenacity, impatience, aggression, a “go-getter attitude” (whatever that means), and trying your best to achieve the goals that either you have set or have been set for you, even if it means sacrificing your peace of mind, your health, and your overall wellbeing. There is no time to rest because every time you achieve something, you will be hounded by thoughts of what’s next.

You will have your faults constantly being pointed out to you, often by people who genuinely just want to see you get ahead of the competition and “succeed”. You will have to constantly work on things that are supposed to raise your standard of living and your place in society, but funnily enough, have an adverse effect on your mental and physical health.

But what are we to do? That’s just the grim reality of the modern world, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. You have to spin all of these things in a way that appears positive. Call it “personal growth”, “an achiever’s mindset”, or whatever you need to.

All this stems from the idea that at some level, you as you are, are not enough. Inadequate. You need something more to really give meaning to your own life. You need these objective material markers, these milestones of achievement, to truly become something more, something better, a “successful” person.

I don’t believe that at all.

One of the things I marveled over in the early days of my move to the United States, is the focus on individuality, and how some people took their own time to work on whatever goals they had, whether they be professional or personal goals. This was new to me because my whole life up to that point had existed under the tacit social agreement that was that “certain things needed to be done at certain times”. You complete your education at a certain age. You get married at a certain age. You have a family at a certain age. You must do certain things in a certain way because you need to “compete with these people— the best and the brightest, and they will not stop for you to catch up with them”.

This mindset meant that I had a genuine inability to truly be happy for others and their achievements, and that is an extremely toxic way to be. As I have grown older and am now on the other side of the mid-20s, I’m beginning to be more accepting of people and am trying to be genuinely involved in their happiness. Life is too short to be constantly jealous.

So what is the “right” way to live life anyway? Following an age-old tradition? Venturing out into the great unknown by your lonesome and facing things as they come? It is an interesting juxtaposition. Maybe there is no right way. All I know is, I’ve spent way too long beating myself up about things, and I want to spend some time focusing on what I’ve done right.

My tryst with the automobile

I’ve been on a real car kick lately. Watching videos, TV shows, and listening to podcasts about cars, how they’re driven, how they’re made, how people fix and maintain them— it’s all fascinating to me. All this makes me think about the idea of the automobile and what it means to people all over the world.

My formative experiences with cars

When I was an 18-year-old in India, I wasn’t very enthused about cars. They were just metal transportation boxes, liabilities, a headache to use and maintain. My experience learning to drive a car solidified that mental model. I learned to drive in an old beat-up Hyundai Santro, learning to shift gears on a gearbox that felt like it was held together by crunchy peanut butter, with an instructor screaming instructions into my ears as I barely managed to avoid cars, motorbikes, bovine creatures and callous old ladies on the mean streets of Thane. It didn’t help that I chose to take lessons during peak traffic hours and that the instructor made me go to traffic roundabouts at a time when I barely had a few hours behind the wheel.

This video closely resembles what I went through in my first few driving lessons.

 
I went to a “driving school” as most 18-year-olds do in India. That’s where I got behind the wheel of the aforementioned Santro. The thing about “driving schools” in India is that they only really teach you how to pass the driver’s test. Once you pass your test and get your license, you’re on your own. That’s the interesting and honestly scary thing about learning to drive in India—  having a driver’s license doesn’t mean you actually know how to drive.

The stresses of car ownership in India

From my point of view as a child and young adult, car ownership always seemed like quite the hassle. I lived in Thane which is part of the greater Mumbai metropolitan area (some might nitpick that but I don’t want to get into that). Due to this, some of the things I quickly learned to associate with cars were “stress”, “traffic”, “pollution”, and “the stress of parking”.

I remember whenever we had relatives over, or whenever we visited someone, one of the first questions was always about the drive itself. “How was the traffic?” “How are the roads?” “Which route did you take to get here?” , and so on. The discussion would go on for a few minutes before the conversation moved on to other topics, but the conversation about the journey was invariably present no matter the occasion or time of year.

Parking was another constant pain. I remember my father used to ask us to keep a lookout for parking spaces every time we drove somewhere. I remember the paid parking attendants, the merciless tow truck operators, and the moped owners chasing behind them to get their vehicles back. I remember parallel parking in a tough spot only to get bookended by cars parked bumper-to-bumper and having to go home in an auto rickshaw. Twice. It didn’t matter if you had a compact car or even a two-wheeler, parking always involved a bit of luck and a whole lot of patience.

The aspirational aspect

maruti

Source: Indian Express

In India, the experience of driving a car is wrought with stress but the idea of owning a car is still aspirational. Being able to buy a car with your own money is a sign that you’ve made it in life. I remember hearing anecdotes like “Sachin Tendulkar bought a Maruti 800 with his own money when he was 18”, as examples of someone to look up to. The anecdote aims to show people the success you should strive to achieve, and the car is a symbol of that success.

From Urban India to the Midwestern United States — a shift in perspective

Four years ago, I moved to Indianapolis. Indy is technically a city, but it was nothing like the city I was used to living in. Much fewer people, much larger roads, and much longer distances. All of this, and a nearly non-existent public transport system.

In the midwest, not having a car is like a handicap. Distances are measured in how long it would take to drive there. A small indicator of how deeply rooted car culture is in the American way of life. Throughout my life as a grad student living in the midwest, I felt this handicap every day. Calling it a handicap might be hyperbolic, but it was definitely a small pain in the side, a small hurdle I needed to overcome just to be able to keep up with people better equipped on the transportation side of things.

patelstore

Due to the long distances in the Midwest, a car is almost a must.

The nearest Indian grocery store was eight miles away. The nearest Starbucks was a couple of miles away. Getting around on the University campus was not much of a big deal, but I remember spending up to twenty minutes at the bus stop waiting for an Indy-go bus that was always late, riding the bus for fifty minutes to the Patel Brothers store, trudging through wet lawns of car dealerships on the highway to get to the Wal-Mart that was “next door”, along the streets near the I-65 that were built with cars and drivers in mind (no footpaths and barely any crosswalks!). Then, waiting for the bus again, heavy bags in hand, trying to balance six bags of groceries in two hands and trying not to spill anything, balancing some of the grocery bags on the handrails, trying to ignore the other passengers’ looks of confusion mixed with curiosity, trying to hold back the restlessness in the fifty minute journey back as the bus stopped on each and every bus stop spaced two blocks apart…

This experience was enough for many of us to try to get driver’s licenses. And indeed, many of us did. It was like a whole new world of opportunities presented itself to us. Enter “ZipCar” — a car rental service that charges you by the hour, perfect for those trips to the Indian grocery store. The nearly hour-long journey was cut down to about fifteen minutes. There was no walking through lawns or footpath-less highway roads— just drive to the store and find a parking spot. We needn’t balance heavy bags in our hands anymore,  just put them in the trunk. To an American, this was a mundane, everyday experience. But to us, it was like we were given the keys to the city.

Using ZipCars wasn’t always without its pitfalls, though. there were four cars for about four thousand students, and availability was limited. More often than not, the window of availability was only an hour to ninety minutes. That’s not enough time to go to both the Indian grocery store and Wal-Mart. Walking through the vast expanses of a Wal-Mart’s aisles takes at least an hour, and it takes fifteen minutes to get there. We were often found wanting more time, which more often than not, we didn’t get. The car needed to be returned to its designated parking spot on campus, where a new set of students lay in wait for a chance to get behind the wheel and do their own shopping.

Despite all these travails, it was still much better than taking the bus. Driving in the midwest was fundamentally different from driving in urban India. Wide roads, clear signs, everyone following traffic rules, and most importantly —  almost no honking. All of this meant that for the first time in my life driving wasn’t just a chore anymore. Dare I say, it was almost… enjoyable.

Uber/Lyft—  a new hope

In the midst of the revelation that was driving in the Midwest, I began using ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. I didn’t use it often as a grad student, but as a newly minted college graduate with a job, I use it almost every day. It hits the sweet spot for me. I can get to places I want to be but I don’t have to drive. Why wouldn’t I drive if I felt driving in the midwest was almost enjoyable? That’s because of the realities of car ownership and car buying, in the united states.

Wants versus needs

Getting a good deal on a car depends on a lot of factors, and there’s a lot of research that’s necessary. This car research is what got me on the car kick I mentioned in the beginning. I got so involved in research that I ended up spending my evenings binge-watching consumer reports videos. All my research points only to one thing— don’t buy a car unless you need to. I don’t need to buy a car. I live in an area well-connected by bus, and my ride-share app expenses end up being lesser than it would be to own and drive a car myself.

Despite arriving at a practical conclusion, buying and owning a car is still something I want to do. The answer to why that is doesn’t lie in the experience of driving, it lies in that aspirational aspect of car ownership. It lies in the fact that the car is a measure of success and personal responsibility.

It’s not the car, it’s just me

At times when I am in a pensive and introspective mood, I feel like having my own car will make me feel more like a grown-up, an adult, someone willing to take responsibility. Maybe I’m missing out on that. I feel like there’s this unending race towards self-improvement, “growth as a person” , all these things I’m seeing other people do, all these things that make me feel jealous of others with their perfect schedules and hobbies and interests and personal lives and successful relationships, maybe having a mechanical object that can transport me from place to place will placate this desire to fit in with the rest of these youthful individuals full of vitality and hopes and dreams, maybe I’ll feel like a responsible adult like so many people my age appear to be.

Maybe I need to get out into the world and cut myself a larger slice of this experiential pie. Maybe I’m hearing so much about cars all day that my mind is turning a corner on the idea of having a car. “The downsides are worth it I promise” I hear them say subliminally. Maybe I’ll go out into the world. Maybe I’ll drive down the highway for a few hours and go back to Indianapolis on a Thursday evening and go listen to some Jazz at my favorite Jazz bar. Maybe I’ll drive down an hour and go to that nature reserve that’s “super close” but I haven’t been to because I don’t want to drive a rental car.

Or maybe I’ll be a worry-worm just like I am today, but with one more sword dangling over my head. Maybe I’ll just drive around town with the windows up and the heater on, listening to some music loudly while screaming “look at me I’m not a loser”.

The modern automobile— the ultimate compensator.