Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eight Guiding Principles of My Life

Thirty two years of life in planet earth has taught me a lot. Like all human beings I had so many ups and downs in my life. I was able to enjoy the ups in my life with a level head and downs with courage and determination due to some principles I adore. So what are the principles of life I follow? Here they are -

1-Life’s not a Bed of Roses:

I was in sixth grade and watching this interview in Doordarshan with the great Malayalam actor Prem Nazir. As a kid I was thinking that he may be one of the happiest people in the world. He had money, fame, a good family and everything else. In the interview he was talking about the hardships he had to undergo before and after he became an actor. He told in the interview “Life is not bed of roses”. Here you are listening to a person who owns a Guinness world record for the maximum number of movies as hero (whopping 600 plus movies) and telling in national television that life is not a bed of roses. I realized from then on how true that statement was.

If you think at any stage of your life, your life will become smooth with no issues you are living in a fool’s paradise. The life will throw at you a lot of hurdles, sometimes very brutal ones and how you overcome those challenges and move forward defines your “success rate” as a human.

2-Live Within your Means

This is one of the most important lessons my parents have taught me. Know your means and never live beyond it under any circumstance. It will land you in very big trouble. When I was a kid we had a lot of financial difficulties. Salary of my parents was just sufficient to meet the day to day expense. There used to be few days at the end of the month when we don’t have any money in the house. We couldn’t afford to buy lot of dresses. Other than the school uniform I had just one shorts and a shirt. Wherever I go I used to wear that and if someone asked me why you are wearing the same dress my mother has told me to tell them that “we cannot afford more”. If I cannot afford something I am not ashamed to tell that openly at that age or even now. If I cannot afford something I resist from it what ever be the temptation. I have seen so many people shooting their own foot by living beyond their means.

3-Plan for all Possibilities

Before you do anything major in your life, plan for all the possibilities especially the worst ones. You never know what is in store for you when you execute the plan. I have seen people who think only about the positive when going to do something major stuff in their life. I do think about the positives but I dissect the negatives more than the positives so that I will be mentally and physically prepared to face the worst. For example when I got admit for my Masters from Arizona State University (ASU), I was kind of apprehensive if I could do well in the US system of education. Before I resigned my job in India I thought about all the possible positives and negatives that can happen to me if I come to US for my Masters. That planning really helped me overcome the difficult six months of school in US as I had thought about the exact same scenario even before I left for US from India.

4-Compare Yourselves with Achievers

An example – you are an average student and you have 2 friends – one a topper in the class and another one who hardly studies and always fails in the class. It is easy and fun to follow your friend who always fails in the class but lot of hard work and determination to catch up with the topper. If you compare yourself with people who have achieved more than you, then you would work hard and determination will automatically come in you which will help you to climb ladders of success. But if you compare yourself with someone who has achieved equally or less than you a sense of complacency leaps into you and you will lose that urge to put on extra effort to fine tune your skills.

5-Never Complain

I have seen lot of people who are so blessed in life with almost all the physical stuff needed to live a happy life but always complain. I have written a blog “Complaint Maniacs” about such people. I have seen people who complain that they don’t have enough money when they earn a six digit salary. You may never see me complaining. Rather than complaining I always try to make the best out of the given situation. In Arizona I have seen a lot of people complaining about excess heat during summer. For me, the way I take that – even if a couple of months are extremely hot we have some very pleasant climate coming up winter. Again most of the times we will be in an air conditioned office/house/car. So why should we complain? If I was in a place like Alaska, I should have seen the good side of cold weather and lived happily.

6-Never Showoff

If some one who knows me 20 years back and sees me now they don’t see any difference in the way I talk to them. I have seen a lot of people for who even a small piece of success will go into their head and start showing off. There are people out there who buy for example a posh car even if they cannot afford just to create an “artificial impression” within the society. Once you are into the business of showoffs you need to do more showoffs to be in this business and there is a good chance that it will ruin you.

7-Know Your Limits

I believe knowing your limits is very essential to succeed in life. It has lot of advantages – knowing your limits will help you work hard on it or one can avoid it all together. For example if a cricketer knows that he is bad at playing a hook shot, then in the nets he can practice it and if he is still not confident, he can avoid that shot in the match. If he doesn’t know that he may be getting out to the same shot again and again. As a student I used to excel in math oriented classes and do badly in classes that have a lot to read. Knowing that beforehand helped me a lot. While selecting courses for my Masters and PhD, I tend to choose courses that have lot of math in it. Even if I had to take classes that require lot of reading, I know beforehand that I have to put in extra effort.

On a lighter note…this is applicable only for me

8-Food is for Survival and Not for Taste.

For me food is something to quench hunger and not something for taste. Give me a bowl of ice cream, a chocolate bar, chicken curry or bitter gourd juice - I never prefer one over the other and eat all the four dishes with the same enjoyment as long as it satisfies my hunger. The most embarrassing situation comes when someone asks me “how was/is the food?” and the answer always is positive for me. My wife, my parents and my close friends know that they should never ask me the following questions “which cuisine do you want to have food from?” or “how did the food in that particular restaurant taste”. Hope all who are reading this piece also don’t ever ask any questions concerning the taste of food.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Scenic Beauty of Myanmar

Also Read Religion in Myanmar – Through Photos
Transportation in Myanmar – Through Photos
Here are some more photos taken in Myanmar when my father visited there. Most of the photos resemble a typical village you could find anywhere in India.

Here is the statue of the famous King Bayin Naung who liberated Burma from Thai invaders. This statue is situated at the King Bayin Naung park at Kawathaung.

Victoria Point - The southern most tip of Myanmar.

Thailand – as seen from the southern most tip of Myanmar

An oil palm estate

An aerial view of a jail at Kawathaung.

Typical roads

There are lots of dogs in the street

Typical homes in the villages

Roadside shops

Ladies selling Fish

Kids going to school

A mother and a kid
An innocent looking kid

More later! For more photos of Myanmar click here and here.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exploring the Menace called QUIXTAR and AMWAY

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This happened in Fall 2001, almost one month after I came to US for my Masters. I was sharing the room with three other guys. On a Saturday evening, a guy about 30 years old dressed formally came to our apartment with one of my roommates. He was talking about the cars he owns, the business trips he frequently makes to India and all that nice stuff and was projecting himself to be a millionaire.

This guy had brought a foldable white board with him. There were like ten of us in the room. He unfolded the board and wrote on it, “What is your dream in life?” He then wrote down everything each of us said. He took from that list to own a house and a car and asked us – “How long do you think it will take to buy a car and a house?” Being students and just landed in US car or a house was the last thing in our minds. We were looking at each other. That guy continued – “I was just like you 2 years back and now I am a millionaire; I have my own business, car and house and soon I will be thinking of retirement; all because I joined this business called Quixtar; if you join, you will also be a millionaire like me in another 2 years”.

Hearing those sweet words from that guy five of them joined. It is seven years since those five guys joined. Forget being a millionaire; four of them don’t even have a second hand car. But still every day after work and all day during week ends they have dedicated their time for Quixtar. The greatest losers I have ever seen.

Joining Quixtar it is like joining an extremist cult. You think Quixtar, breathe Quixtar and eat Quixtar. They don’t know what shame is. One example – on my way from work I regularly go to a grocery store. Most of the time I go there I meet his Quixtar guy. He comes to me and asks the same question – “do you work in Honeywell?” He might have met me more than twenty times and all the twenty times he might have asked me the same question. Few times I got really irritated and blasted him. But next time again when he sees me he asks the same question – “Do you work in Honeywell?”

Another example of how shameless they can be – may be around two years back when I was doing my PhD I met a guy whom I had known earlier and now deep into the Quixtar. At that time I was almost 20 pounds overweight was seriously thinking about working out to reduce my weight. Seeing me he told “Hey man, you look so lean and tired; you should eat vitamin and protein tablets. My company has lot of tablets that can help you gain weight”, once into Quixtar they lose the sense of reality.

This menace is not confined to US. In India Quixtar is called Amway. While working in Chennai, I had an experience that speaks tons about the extent to which people go mad once they join Amway/Quixtar. This guy was my father’s class mate and a manager of a nationalized bank in Kerala. He took a year long leave to take Amway as a full time job. He met my father and was behind him for few days. Once he realized that my father is not going to get into the trap he some how got my address and phone number in Chennai. One fine Saturday morning he came to meet me in Chennai traveling all the way from Kerala. He came and met me around 10 am and even at night 10 pm he was talking about the greatness of Amway. With us asking him about Amway, he took 4 of us for lunch and in the night he cooked dinner for us. He stayed with us overnight and come next day morning he started the old stories again. By afternoon we lost patience and my room mate blasted him and threw him out of our house. These people once addicted to this business model will turn into a parasite ready to suck your blood with no shame.

Nowadays I can easily identify the Quixtar species that hang around to trap people into that. Take any supermarket or grocery store in US and you can find one representative of Quixtar species there. They will be well dressed, usually in formals, pushing an empty cart around the shop. One characteristic of Quixtar species – once they find a human being they circle around you and at the first opportunity smile at you, introduce themselves and start talking to you. As a rule of thumb, if a stranger pushing an empty cart comes and tries to talk to you, avoid him – he belongs to the Quixtar species.

Even if you take all precautions, these species will somehow approach you. Of late I do something that works pretty well. You can also try this. As soon as they start talking I will ask them “You are part of this Quixtar, right? I joined Quixtar two years back and already made millions. I have a million dollar home and a BMW and I am thinking of retiring. By the way how long are you in Quixtar?” Most of the Quixtar species will understand that I am making fun of them and walk away. The other day when I told this to a Quixtar guy he asked – “Really, Sir how could you make so much money in two years? I have been in Quixtar for more than 8 years and am still spending more on Quixtar than what I am earning from Quixtar” – Friends, this is the real Quixtar!

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food, Sports and India

India’s shooter Abhinav Bindra won an Olympics gold medal for 10 m rifle event in the Beijing Olympics. It took 108 years for India to win a gold medal in an individual event in Olympics. There are so many reasons for India doing really bad in sports – lack of infrastructure, lack of good mentors, insecurity among the sportsperson – are few of the factors. But don’t you think that food habits followed by majority of Indians plays a major role in preventing Indians from excelling in sports that require tremendous amount of stamina and strength?

Recently I was playing cricket near my home in a baseball field and the ball went to the other end of the field. There was a kid around 7 years old practicing baseball with his father. He took the ball and threw it back to us. The throw was so fast and accurate that all of us were shocked – Shocked at seeing a 7 year old throwing back the ball from such a far distance.

This American kid stays in the same apartment complex as I do and I had a chance to talk to his parents. I thought he may be doing some weight training but his parents told me that he doesn’t do anything other than running and some baseball practice. Then how come this kid has tremendous power to throw the ball so far? I asked his parents his food habits. He has either red or white meat for all his meals. I haven’t seen an Indian kid aged 7 years old who can throw so far nor seen an Indian kid following the same diet. So I cannot compare but if this kid decides to become a sportsperson in the latter stage of his life, it will be much easy for him as he has enough strength already in the body.

Another incident that come to my mind – I have a Chinese friend with whom I was working during in Masters in Arizona State University. One day my wife and I went to her house and from there three of us went for swimming. I was struggling to complete 25 meters but in one go she swam 2.5 miles without stopping even once. It seems she never had any formal swimming training. After swimming we went to her house for dinner and all the dishes she cooked had either beef or pork. She was telling us that she doesn’t know how to cook with just vegetables alone! She was not an exception. In the last seven years I have seen a lot of Chinese students with tremendous stamina. Mind you none of them are professionals in sports nor did they get any professional training. I cannot recollect an Indian friend who studied with me in engineering who could do something similar like swimming 2.5 miles at once.

Combine these stories with the medal tally of the Beijing Olympics – what does that tell you? Eating habits do play a role in developing the sportsman in you.

Now consider India. We have a world champion in chess in the form of Viswanathan Anand, top employees of the Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Google etc are Indians. But when it comes to sports we don’t find Indians excel at all, why?

Let us take the case of field hockey. We were the undisputed world champions in field hockey when it was played in grass turf. Come the synthetic track for hockey and to play in such a track you need more stamina and strength and we are no way near the world class. Are we lacking strength and stamina due to the food habits? Very much possible.

Take the case of China – of course the administration there provides necessary infrastructure for the development of sports but don’t you think the Chinese food – rich in meat makes a Chinese kid a better sportsman even at a young age compared to his counterpart in India?

According to 2001 census, more than 80% of the Indian population is Hindus and for religious reasons more than 90% of the Hindus don’t eat red meat and my guess is that at least 50% of Hindus don’t eat any meat at all. If my observation that eating meat helps in increasing the strength and stamina which in turn will help them become a better sportsman is true, then more than half of the Indian population is outside this criteria.

Talking about cricket, you may have wondered how cricketers like Mathew Hayden, Shahid Afridi, Inzamam-ul Haq get this raw power to hit six after six, it is mainly to do with the food habits they had in the early stage of their life. You can fine tune your muscles using scientific training but the initial stuff has to be in your body. I remember reading some where how Insamam-ul Haq got into Pakistan team. He was batting for some local team and Imran Khan was watching the game. Inzamam hit a six that went way out of ground and seeing that Imran Khan asked Inzamam to come and practice with the Pakistan cricket team and rest is history. Inzamam at that stage never had any formal physical training and all the strength he had to hit that huge six came from the kind of food he ate that essentially was meat.

Don’t mistake me – I am fully aware that eating excess meat is bad for health. What I am advocating here is, let the kids in India start having food that has more meat in it to improve their physical strength and stamina so that they can excel later in sports and compete with world class athletes and come out with flying colors.


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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Religion in Myanmar – Through Photos

See also Transportation in Myanmar – Through Photos
Majority of people in Myanmar (Burma) are Buddhists (about 97%) and hence Myanmar is famous for pagodas (temples) and is called the Land of Pagodas. My father during his visit to Myanmar was fortunate enough to visit a number of pagodas and take some amazing pictures.

Myanmar is known as The Golden Land because of its golden temples (Pagodas) all over. There are hundreds and thousands of pagodas all over Myanmar. The income for the pagodas is through voluntary donations. People contribute a lot and the government also encourages any form of pagoda development. People can construct pagodas anywhere they like with out permission because it is considered as a national need. If one travels through Myanmar the most striking feature is the pagodas constructed especially in hills and mountains.

Below is the world’s largest reclining statue of Buddha at Mudon. It is about 170 meters long. You can notice renovation going on in this photo and it is apparently pasting gold on the face of Lord Buddha.

Below you can see the entrance to this reclining statue. See how beautiful the architecture is.

On the entrance to the reclining statue you could see statue of Win Sein Taw Ya - a famous Buddhist monk- whom people worship now. There are many other statues of Buddha on the entrance to the reclining statue of Budha like this one. The walkway to the reclining statue is called Monks Avenue and here is the picture of that. Don’t think that it is the only reclining statue of Lord Buddha. Here is another photo of reclining Buddha at Myeik. This statue is in an island and this photo was taken from the mainland. If you watch closely this photo you could see pagodas on top of the hill. My father was fortunate enough to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, the world’s largest pagoda. The pagoda lies to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, on Singuttara Hill, thus dominating the skyline of Yangon city. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within, namely the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama, the historical Buddha. Here are some of the photos my father took in this pagoda. This pagoda was in the limelight during the September 2007 demonstrations against the military junta.

See the aerial view of this pagoda. It is like an inverted dome with lot of bells studded with world famous diamonds. It is about 200 ft in height, situated on a hill top, in the centre of downtown Yangon. There was lot of damage for most of the nearby structures during the cyclone Nargis, except this pagoda.
Here is few other photos of this beautiful monument. My father visited some other pagodas also. See one of them. The beauty of this construction just amazes me.
See a Buddha idol in one of the pagoda’s made of pure gold.
In pagodas one could find various postures of Lord Buddha and here is one of them.
See one pagoda at the Southern most tip of Myanmar. Here is a typical photo of a female Buddhist monk. Here is an entrance to a typical monastery where all these monks live. Monks lead a very simple life in a hut with just basic facilities like this one.
Don’t think that in Myanmar you find only Buddhists. Myanmar has 1% each of Hindus, Christians and Muslims. You could find Hindu temple like this one below. This is the Hindu temple in on top of Naga Mount. Churches and mosques too…
Will be back soon with more photos from Myanamar…

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