STT: Speech to Text

Just realized the power of text to speech in smartphones. It was pretty accurate and possibly there is no going back now as it is so much easier than typing. This may be one of the biggest game changer for me in 2015. This post was entirely done using speech to text on my mobile phone, needed a little correction here and there but around 80% accurate.


How much money can you make by paying attention in your primary school moral science class? Well crores for sure and enough to break records all time bollywood box office records.

I have never been a big fan of satyamev jayate as is well known to people around me. The primary reason is, we don't need Amir Khan to tell us to be basically decent, kind, play and many other things. Though in reality, it seems a good number of people like to be told! It also doesn't give me any gratification to appreciate the efforts of others who are doing some great work. Not that i don't appreciate their work, but me seeing it and appreciating is not my idea of being a responsible citizen. Not pegging my efforts on any scale, I just feel, to each his own, and I am no one to judge anybody else for not doing anything about it except when it comes to hurting others, that's totally terrible and for that I don't need a show to tell me.

Anyway, continuing on that theme apparently there is another message you get in the movie PK which has gotten cash registers ringing non stop all over the country. There is some outrage from various sections of the society because of the usual - "I may be wrong, but you didn't show someone else' folly? and that gives me enough right to question and oppose and litigate you". Well, it is totally understandable to see why the movie showed what it did, and didn't show what it didn't. This was the most convenient story/themes they could bring in without any massive repercussions.

Well, I took some objection to the movie as well, but mainly because I felt there was a little bit of over-generalization. Few Babas being bad doesn't mean all are bad, people being forced to donate money in temples isn't something I have seen (so really doubt if it's common), general idol worship (well, that's an issue too?). Some of the practices are not fundamentally wrong. There will always be a case of bad sheep but that shouldn't be enough to rubbish a religion or a broader philosophy. Terrorists using Quaran as their guide shouldn't be used as a reason to rubbish their teachings or labeling all muslims as terrorists. Also, the movie has gone too literal when it looks at people visiting temples, may be a lot of them go their with their applications, but probably not all and they are meant to be spiritual symbols and people go their for experiencing peace.

The general population who takes all the godmen seriously good or bad will probably take the movie too seriously as well and will start thinking that "all" religious practices are bad. And to all those who want to argue that until science proves something it isn't to be believed, well, gravity existed before science recognized it and gave it a name and there may be such things. So, let's go with the middle path and leave a little room open for doubts, skepticism, questioning either way and keep it cool. Going to either extreme is stupid and in that the film falls in the same trap that it's trying to expose!

Music stuck at different times

A government bus ride in a small town will definitely lead you to listen to some songs from strange times in past. I end up hearing songs that were released 20 years back and yet, all the buses and some times cabs play them. Ashiqui and Dilwale are two hot favorites. It seems they just bought the music at that time and then nobody bothered to change it. May be that was the time the bus was bought and hence the songs remained stuck. Recently my barber's tv was broken and he ended up playing songs from his mobile and surprise surprise, he was playing Dilwale (and he is a south Indian!!)

I have a friend who listens to songs that were popular during our college years. Without revealing my exact age, that is pretty far back in past.

I recycle my collection a little more often and other than few solitary songs, most of the playlist consists of stuff from 4 years back. Today I made it a point to recycle my playlists to change the situation for myself.

I don't know what it is, but everybody seems to just get stuck to some point in the past and continues to be there in some way through the music and just can't let go of it.

Lies we tell ourselves

Kinley as a brand has always focused on themes involving trust, because in a way you trust them with your life when you decide to drink their water! Their most recent campaign is another case in point. The beautiful campaign stresses the importance of being truthful with the ones we love.

The ads feature kids telling their parents lies about their whereabouts but end up “confessing” for the sake of their peace of mind. The ad touches upon the emotional bond between parents and children and the importance of trust in it. It’s a big deal to break that trust, though at transaction-al level there seems to be very little to lose. The ads have definitely generated a lot of interest and has caught people’s attention because I have come across a few parodies and that’s one way to judge the public interest. One of them goes like this.

Boy: Dad, I told you that I am with a friend studying
Dad: yes?
Boy : I lied, I am having drinks with my friends
Dad : Why are you telling me now? 
Boy :I wasn’t getting high because I had lied

On a serious note, I think the ad takes Indian relationships to the next stage of evolution. Traditionally, the best way to ensure kids are on the right track was prohibition, so much similar to everything else in our society. However, we are turning a corner with many things and are getting it right on more fundamental level; bring in the internal moral compass. A kid should not break the trust of their parents because of fear of reprimand, but because it is wrong and I think the ad does a good job of showing that maturity.

The lies we tell people we trust are horrible, not because of their immediate effect, but their potential to break the trust that is far more valuable than the situation you are trying to salvage. Our conscience weighs on us, forcing us to blurt out the truth, and for a good reason. Our gut understands the value of upholding the trust as it forms the foundation of our relationships.

There is another class of lies that are dangerous equally, if not more. These are lies that we tell ourselves. And “trust” me we lie to ourselves more than anyone else because we are forever living with ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves can be in any form, can originate due to a variety of reasons, but in all cases these are things that take us away from who we are – they take away our authenticity. It can be a voice advising you in office that it’s dirty politics but sometimes we have to do it – so let’s play along and you do; or a voice telling you that this is how everyone is supposed to be and hence so should you when you don’t feel comfortable with it and yet you end up being that! You convince yourself to be what your gut tells you not to be.

It is far more common than you think though really subtle and usually influenced by people who are good and have noble intentions but end up hurting you deeply. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!

I have read sermons in the context of corporate lessons that being authentic has a value in the long run even if it means in short term you end up losing a little bit. It’s a good selling pitch but really unnecessary, authenticity is a reward in itself, it doesn't need any other crutch to sell it. Being truthful about you who are will form a stronger foundation of your life than pretty much anything else. It is far better to be happy and yourself than anything else, success, social status or any other form of social index is completely irrelevant. It’s easier said than done, as we have lived our lives forever bench-marking it based on others’ idea of success.

The way the kinley ad shows the next stage in the evolution of our relationships, moving on from prohibition to trust, we need to turn a leaf too. Take the target from success to happiness, from compliance to authenticity.

Your intellect determines where you start your life, being aware determines where you end.

This is it

Is this it?
well it isn’t
right now, isn’t what I want,
always the case, always the same

moments after moment
hoping another one will be right
stuck with “this isn’t it”

being stuck is the haze
you see in every sense, but then you don’t

the difference becomes clear
only when the blur is gone
you know what you are missing 
only when you get

The realization,
now is “the moment”
can alone bring that moment
that’s the only option

It's what you make of it

Poonaam Uppal's book - A Passionaate Gospel of True Love : A Mystical True Love Story deals with a sensitive subject that begs the question whether it is right to have pre-marital sex or not!

While all the questions on "morality" beg a simple yes or no answer, time and again, it is proved that it's usually the context that is important in deciding these questions. Is something good or bad, on its own, it's neither, yet it can be both based on the context.

Is Chocolate good or bad? Well it may be bad for you if you are diabetic, but if you like it and it puts you in a good mood, it's good for you. A limited consumption ain't for sure going to kill you and if it gives you immense joy, so nothing really wrong in it.

When dealing with matters of morality and in cases lack of it causing crimes, the talk is always about the incidents and their correlations and link them. However, it is pretty common folly to no realize that Correlation does not imply causation. (All the people who get divorces are married, does that imply marriage is main reason for divorce, it's good as a joke but inane as a conclusion) So, there we fall in the trap of blaming the "circumstantial" and not looking at the core. You see a rape incident by a driver employed by uber and you ban them! If a rape happens on road, would you ban building road, or if it happens in a house, will you ban houses? It's simply confusing the root cause, it was just circumstantial that the rapist happened to be a driver and was destined to face the situations where he just lost it, but the root cause is within him, not in the cab. Sometimes, if it's really the medium that makes it easy to do some crime, it may make sense to use a stopgap arrangement of making the medium hard to get or illegal, but the real treatment still needs to happen within. The real change should always come from something deeper.

The same logic can be applied to the question of pre-marital sex. Is it good or bad, it's neither without context, and it is both with some context. It is easy to dole out advice regarding it either way. There is one extreme, the right wing as it's known, that will bring in the question of our culture, modesty, the traditions and what not, to substantiate their claim that practically anything pre-marital is wrong and should be condemned. To them, I say, if all the people involved are happy, then what is the problem, as long as they know how to handle it and not trouble anyone for it, seems like a harmless exercise for everyone involved and how to take it forward is none of anybody's business. 

The other extreme comes from the "liberals" who will go to extra lengths to justify and even glorify it and can often go overboard. A case in point is the recent "Kiss of Love" campaign which started as a protest against moral policing and protesters felt completely justified in displaying "A" rated content on roads with no regards to who might be watching them. And among those liberals I am sure there are many who go astray or spoil their lives just because they couldn't handle all the liberty they got. To them, I would say, a little restraint will do you good.

Having spoken from both the sides, it is always a decision to be taken at an individual level. If you can handle it, go for it, if you can't, stay away. There are many other areas where there may be long standing evidence scientific or social to put a black or white label on it, but this is no such matter, far from it. So, the only answer I can offer you is in the form of a question, can you handle it?

Beyond fear lies the zone

When all the context is stripped off everything we want to and should do but don't boils down to fear. That is the only block to overcome.

You remember the feeling of finishing your exams where you slogged your butt off till the last moment and you are finally done with it. The time when you are in a run and it seems you couldn't possibly finish it and yet you do. The time, when you go for trekking and fight all the temptations of stopping mid way eventually to finish your trek. The satisfaction that you experience is not because of some kind of external achievement but something you experience within when you really gave your 100% percent to something and clear the hump without letting weaker emotions take over.

David Allen, the great productivity coach, in his ted talk, talks about how crisis evokes serenity. This is the serenity that comes from appropriately engaging with what you are doing, you really being present in the moment. Crisis demands it as he said it. I think in all our lives that’s precisely what we are looking for it, whether we know it or not. We are looking to appropriately engage with our current moment and that is the art of being present, the simple yet almost impossible thing to achieve.

You can take any of your ambitions and external parameters of a good life and you can eventually boil it down to being comfortable in your current moment as the only lasting invariant. You can look for successes in your professional life and more often than not those will be about doing a little better than the next person, but then in totality, you will have someone else ahead of you on that path. The tendency of all the external parameters to be relative and competitive strips off any possibility that it can give you lasting happiness and peace. It turns into a race. Momentarily, some of them lead to wins that may elate you but then it withers off. It is when you get your focus to the absolute; you will find a way out. That absolute, that invariant of this universe is being content in the current moment despite your circumstances is the cell on which a life of lasting peace can be built.

What are the stumbling blocks to reach the state we have above, because we run a race, we play by its rules and when we are in a race, there is fear of losing. In different areas in our life, we don’t break free because of fear of looking an oddball, fear of living in poverty, fear of getting ridiculed in public, fear of disapproval from the family, fear of failure! Going back to David Allen’s Ted talk, in a moment of life threatening crisis, none of these fears matter, you go beyond them. That’s when clarity hits and you realize what it means to be free. That’s the freedom, the zone we seek, and as David said we often stumble upon it but are we living in it?

The moment of greatest pain and discomfort is the moment of discovery. That moment of fear is the moment that will make or break. When you are doing a difficult pose in yoga, it is often hardest when the discomfort begins, you allow your body to take a few more breaths in the same pose and the pain eases and in some more time, it actually builds the capacity to reach there with ease. Same holds true for our lives, we have to learn to go beyond the fear the moment it strikes. Fear is the prime distract-er, that’s the first step that de-rails you. The moment you start second guessing, the flow is gone, the intense presence is no longer there. You have lost the zone.

All our lives, we are constrained by our fear. If you can only go beyond that, you will find freedom, peace and serenity. So find the fear, seek it, go trekking, push yourself to a seemingly impossible feat, challenge yourself, face your fear, you will know yourself a lot better at the end of it, and then go over the hump, it will be beautiful on the other side. Like goes the motto of Mountain Dew - “Darr ke aage jeet hai”!

Terrifying or Terrific Traffic? It is our first impression

Traffic in India is one of the first things that a visitor from a foreign nation (first world) would notice and needless to say, as a scary prospect. It is easy to see why, the first step you take in a country is to step on the road to reach to your destination. That’s our first impression and it is scary. Anyway, that’s not the main reason why I think we need to give our traffic issues a thought. A more worthwhile reason for me is the fact, that having spent all my life in India and in middle of this traffic, I too find it scary most of the times and annoying all the times. The fact that I always stayed within a couple of KMs from my workplace tells the story.
When faced with unpleasant circumstances, there are multiple levels you can try and solve it. I can think of three discrete levels at which thinking is warranted for our road safety and driving experience

Avoid: Why are we in the situation in the first place? Could we have done or do something to avoid it? Let’s forget what could be done in past. If I were a planner and I have zero experience in these kind of things, here are the rules I will make for myself for future

    - Adjust your calculations of projected growth to have a factor of safety. If you are building 2 lanes, make them 4 or 6
    - The underground ecosystem is extremely important, think as far ahead as possible. Ensure the roads can be opened any time you like without any need to break of the road
    - Build to Last: re-building roads seem like a massive waste of time and money
    - Public transport – buses/metros and trains need to form the backbone of city’s transportation. There can be nothing else acceptable.
        -- Either increase road tax or parking fees (and punish illegal parking) to achieve either less vehicles or less vehicles on road
        -- Remove the need for transporting people: Build self contained areas. Change the cities bit by bit to get to this model

Manage: Now that we are in it and can't escape it in the short term, what can we do to manage it so that while it remains annoying it doesn't lead to any real damage. Considering Bangalore traffic, here are some pertinent advice based on behavior here

    - Pedestrians: Please don’t challenge and annoy vehicles to come and get you.
        -- Some of them even hang their head down, clearly indicating that they have taken a leap of faith and will simply not do anything to save themselves relying purely on others to keep them alive. Please stop.
        -- Some of them are not able to decide whether to stop or proceed causing massive confusion. I wish confusion was a crime punishable by law
        -- Some try to play traffic cops by directing the vehicles to stop even though it’s the vehicles’ right of way.

    - Drivers/Riders:
        -- High Beams: Not sure of you ever realized that you are driving or riding on high beam. I am pretty sure you find the high beam coming from front annoying and it’s quite possible that you are doing the same without being aware. Please check. "Deer caught in headlights" is a phrase signifying inability to act for some good reason.
        -- Lanes: If you need to turn left, stay in left lane and so on, think ahead for God’s sake. Don’t be lame, follow lanes ;)
        -- No talking on phone while driving/riding, it’s worse than DUI.

Damage Avoidance: If the situation gives rise to a disaster are we ready to tackle it, if not, make amends, minimize the damage
    - Helmets: Rule number 1, helmets are not supposed to be worn as a symbol of respect for traffic cops. They are worn to protect “you”
    - Seat Belt: Same as helmet. Also, trying to clutch a seat belt to appease a cop while actually not wearing it is a lot more dangerous and obviously as counterproductive as it can be considering its objective.
    - Air bags: Apparently it takes only 50 dollars to put air bags in a car, if that is indeed the case, don’t see a reason why this shouldn't be a rule for every car in the country

If you have any doubts on the importance of any of the above, it will be good to checkout Nissan Safety Driving Forum, won’t be hard for you to judge for yourself how critical these simple things are. Great to see Nissan taking an initiative on this, now let us do our bit!