Thank you, Duke!

Most Indians do not traditionally conform to the laws of the world. Or the ones that were raised in the great land, anyway. The world follows civil laws, we scoff at them. Everyone in every other corner of the world wants to go to India, to ‘find themselves’.  Me? I was raised in India, and I wanted to leave to ‘find myself’. Graduate school was just a ticket to attempting to become a better person.

When we began graduate school, all I wanted to do was to get out. But, like all of my best-laid plans in life thus far, that didn’t go quite as planned. It took one whole Fall for me to get used to the TP-user lifestyle.

Doesn’t look like it here, but I didn’t really like my first Duke semester very much!
Yet, today, all I can think about is this Linkin Park (old,yes) song..
Sitting in an empty room
Trying to forget the past
This was never meant to last
I wish it wasn't so....

Like I did say before, things change. And so do people. In the middle of the spring, some among the best friends, and above all human beings I met through Duke were about to leave. Just like that, in a fleeting flash. However, self-absorption is an unfortunate consequence of personal failings. Somewhere along the countless rejections, I lost sight of what should’ve been crystal clear: it’s about the person you become, not the Consultant/PM/Data Scientist. It never was to begin with.  Life in graduate school is at its core, about what a dear friend and I concocted over coffee : Information, Inference and Impact. What you learn, how you take it, and what change you can bring to people’s lives (and your own) with it. And in that self-absorption, I never even paused to think about the fact that people’s lives were changing; for the better, for the greater. And to think that all I wanted, was an internship.

An ode to those whose lives changed before mine! I miss you 🙂

Going far, far away and living alone was an incredible experience. That, was the original plan – to push myself , to learn and become a less dependent person. California taught me about common problems such as lack of money (Upmanyu, anyone?), but something far, far bigger – lack of my community around. Having no one to share my cheap thrills with, barring a few days, made me appreciate Duke and the Duke MEM community on a deeper level.

What to me was always community!
Me: Universe, can you give me the greatest apartment of all time?
16: K.

To this day, in my view, coming back to Duke for the third semester was the greatest independent decision I’ve ever taken. Taking a step back (and some easy-peezy courses) gave me the chance to look around and feel the weight of my privilege. How many, even among the smartest people I have met in life, get to live this dream? To stand where history has been made, greats have lived, worked and learned!


Feeling some of that history!

And in this final semester, the real bagal blast began. Many of my supremely smart, sensible and talented batch-mates had had identical summers to mine, and truly begun to value and cherish everyone, and everything that Duke brought with it.

Thus ends a journey that made me a cook, a pseudo homeowner, an adult, a responsible man, a stressed grad student, a hair loss victim, a comedian, a mimic, a friend, and above all – a better person.

And, in hindsight, that is all that ever mattered!


Goodbye Duke, thank you for us. Thank you for everything we are, everything we’ve become. I am stronger today, and at the same time, weaker. Without all of you.

Dedicate this also to that one friend that sang a wildly emotional song, that ruined everyone’s mood. I hope, in my way, that I managed to do the exact same!

-Finally, a letterfrombetter!

Signing off!

#ForeverDuke

Image credits : Instagram!


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To losing battles and winning wars!

When I was growing up, there never was a genuine appreciation of how gallantly the adult population treated me, always wanting and hoping that our generation would surpass our predecessors’ wildest dreams. Perhaps one such far-fetched dream for anyone of my proponents was fulfilled when my lazy soul took the decision to challenge itself to the extent of a journey to Duke. It is almost impossible to fathom that this lifelong pipedream has been my reality for each day of the past year or more.

In doing so, the one word that inevitably comes up is ‘adulting’. I despised the word, the feeling it gave me, and its direct correlation with dhiraj-pattern-baldness. As my growth into the worst, most terrifying and alarmingly the longest phase of my life is now complete, the implications of this slang have begun to get clearer. As an individual, and even as a subset of the larger family here at Duke, my emotional evaluation process has evolved. Celebrating anothr person’s success is a feeling that had been quite unknown to me. While I do not expect most people to believe me- the humble machine/lion/beast – I have always considered myself to be quite unselfish. But, quite paradoxically, perhaps my generation and I never learned how to truly be happy for the achievements of others; to smile at the little victories; to laugh at the embarassments of the collective; in recent years, willingly being decimated by my adorable baby cousins at nondescript and mundane games has been nothing short of therapeutic. If, in the same vein, I view the whole experience of growing as a collective as an unimportant step in achieving the end game – being content, life becomes sensible, and frighteningly simple.

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Growing into adults.. apparently

There are days when the good things I see happen to other people sprinkle the positivity I need in my day, and the strange adrenaline that comes with it. With great adulting, comes great appreciation. Of each other, of those less fortunate and of those that will carry the torch ahead. Who knows, maybe I’ll ripen to a large enough extent as to take a moment to appreciate the people I stand to influence. It is a silver lining to shut my tired eyes to!

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Zenning!

In 2018, the appreciation hits; people that encouraged me back in the day weren’t doing it out of resentment, unrequited dreams or personal bias ; their evolution came earlier, and in being the zen, evolved beings they were, their ulterior motives were to live vicariously and enjoy our evolution from afar, even if it might have been ever so excruciating to watch.

Growth Mindsets

Starting this one off thanking a friend that got me to peruse through a book called ‘Mindset’. In the crazy few months that have gone by, if I have taken one thing away, it is the vitality of a persevering mentality. Far too often, we think, judge, comment and stress, without doing anything about it. Way too many opportunities have been lost because we dont allow ourselves space to breathe.

Over interview season this fall at Duke, (a fairly unsuccessful one in my case) I’ve had the opportunity to watch people’s ideologies unfolding before me, and realising with each passing day the varied talents within a number of my peers. How does this tie back to a mindset? In this now-long (ugh) life, the exposure to the world around me through peers, friends, cousins, parents, neigbours and in general, those at a different step of the life ladder the underlying theme has been this. The frequqency with which humans allow fear to make us immobile is alarming, and this fear can be so debilitating. Interviews, jobs, examinations, loans, weddings, children and the like..

Somebody rightly said, life is what happens when you’re busy planning something else. My take on fear is on the same lines: Fear is what hapens when you’re preparing to overcome it. I see my own loved ones, questioning others’ credentials, others’ capabilities and devauling themselves. Where do they go from there?nowhere. Where should they be going? Somewhere. Anywhere. In writing my latest peice, do I somehow believe myself to be above all these emotions or thoughts? NO. Habitually, I am these thoughts!An evolutuionary thought that came out of the book is that other cultures are more empowering than the one I surrounded myself with!

So what does the Fox say on this one? You’re fine and will be fine. Take that shot (literally and metaphorically). Go the extra mile. Grow, and never forget where you came from.

The last chapter is being written at Duke, and it’s an intriguing one.

-Letterforbetter

Owning the journey!

Learning is a continuous process. Every day, in my own way, I take baby steps toward being a less flawed individual. The world works in mysterious ways: One day it seems fuzzy, nebulous and to be crumbling around you. Other days, things look crystal clear and fate seems set in stone. On the days where tunnel vision kicks in, every single moment of life ahead looks like another series of  baby steps. The other days you beg for the signs, the directions… Why so serious? Why so vague? Is this a keyword-optimized post? Nope. Just a labyritnth of conflicting thoughts!

One year ago, when I was on the verge of leaving a person (yep I believe that) behind, the emotions I felt were: fear, excitement, happiness,sadness and a sense of accomplishment, in that order. Weirdly the contrast to the F1 version of me could not be clearer today. How is it a contrast? Because; every day, I still feel the same emotions, in that order. The journey has been such a life-changer that I relate to the same feelings differently. My fear then? Starting from scratch. My fear now? Being lost alone. Excitement then? Duke. Excitement now? Adulting. Happiness then? Forennn. Now? the choice of doing my own thing. Sadness then? Leaving it all behind. Today? I’m almost 25. Sense of accomplishment then? Realising a childhood dream! Sense of accomplishment today? Owning my journey. Good, bad or ugly.

If you try too hard to have that tunnel vision, and try to overexecute your ‘plan’, you’re just going to find more reasons to say “it’s this new shampoo”(shiny side up?). Trying too hard to upset the order will leave you a broken, battered person on a bumpy road to nowhere.

Doing things by the book = dejection. Doing things against the book = eviction. Somewhere along the road, you have to write out your own personal rulebook. What works for him/her, might not for you. There is never one ‘path of least resistance’ to becoming the best you can be. Every road you take, not because it is written, but simply because, deep down that’s what you’re best fit for. Find what makes you happy and do it. Stupidly, unabashedly and regretlessly(if that is a word). I’m still flawed, still annoying, and even the ones who made the mistake of reading this could hate, berate or resent me. It is fine. It’s a personal journey and it was never going to be straightforward.

-Letterforbetter

A summer in the Golden State!

My summer so far in California has portrayed a myriad different emotions: excitement, relief, an added degree of independence, 16-K-sickness, #blockchain (why not?) among others. On a proffessional level, the transition into my summer internship at Santa Clara-based Emergent Technology has been smooth, but far from comfortable. Every day, I ask stupid, unerudite questions, every day I embarass myself and feel out of place but more importantly feel like I am getting something done and learning a little bit.

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Two things have stood out while I have been in the Bay Area: how costly it is and how interesting people’s everyday lives are. First of, I was fortunately unfortunate not to have been able to find accomodation in time for my internship. The experience of sharing living space with someone who is from a culture differrent to mine, and learning a lot from my temp-roomie product-teammate was eye-opening (although that did have a little to do with sunbathers in downtown Sunnyvale!). Through the two weeks, I did hear, share and learn a lot about culture in Africa and the United States from him, and he got a earful of Bangalore-centered gyaan about mother India.

The World Cup, crazy as it’s been, helped in many ways: for me to socialize at work and learn and appreciate the differences in people’s cultures, education and thought-processes. Following this, my move to a house in south Santa Clara has been the opposite; in three weekends here, I was able to visit two temples; one from south Karnataka (home is where the heart is) where I felt more Instagram-inclined than I was in the fanciest places across the States. Personally, peace of mind has been much-needed in these times; something the temple went some way to freeing up more space in a pretty empty mind.

Did also meet friends and famiy, old and new in Los Angeles with my sister, and here in the northern part of California. One part of me is glad I made it here; the other is looking ahead to being a Blue Devil, one last time.

 

When failure hits

There are two kinds of failure – not being good enough at something isn’t one of them. Not being good enough just means you haven’t found your game yet – keep shooting balls, and eventually, one will swish, curl or swing. BOOM, you’ve met your match.

The two kinds of failure from where I stand today are these – giving up because it doesn’t work, and taking every shot, jumping every hoop and ending absolutely knackered – knowing you couldn’t have done more. In my current state, I relate to failing both ways. As a bearded genius recently said, at Duke we’ve learned to unlearn, be uncomfortable and accept. In this world, oftentimes we find that conspiracies run ragged in our minds. Why is X better or worse than me at this? How can Z be good at everything (another outgoing genius) and why am I incompetent?

The truth is, it could’ve worked out for me – for anyone. X,Y,Z, and Beta have all had their days of pain; their struggles led them to where they’re headed. That could’ve been me, but it isn’t me. I always wonder – if I’d grown up in the States, would I have known how to depict model substations on AutoCAD, known what that even means, even? Am I an engineer, at heart? In this conflicted state, pondering over tomorrow’s street address, it strikes me as completely plausible that my calling could’ve been psychology, environmental science or accounting. But I am an engineer, and back in the day I made those FCDs. Today, I know how to define or redefine a business from a strategic standpoint – all courtesy a beginning-to-heat laptop, and endless cups of coffee. Would Dhiraj Bhat have cared, in that alternate universe? Hell, there’s an argument to be made for not having coffee in that life – well, maybe this way isn’t so bad after all!

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Ends or beginnings?

Mimicking my way through the semester to elicit a few laughs, the end of this journey has taught me only one thing- that’s where the imitation game ends. It’s my way for me, and if I haven’t found my calling, perhaps the time hasn’t come yet, or better yet, tomorrow’s blank canvas has a different palette in front of it. Summer intern or jobless, I’ve grown and become a better version of myself. Taking more shots, trying to find my game, on my time. Better yet, the tired engine keeps on moving, through the curves, bumps and extending horizons.

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Good vibes only!

The Balancing Act

To move away from the comfort zone, into a strange, dark place, and ‘challenging yourself’ is perhaps what has increasingly moved toward a trend for people in their mid-20s. This transition can manifest spectacularly either way! A number of my friends, (through little to no fault of their own) had relationships with peers, friends, teammates that were tumultuous, challenging and oftentimes added on to the mountain pile of stress they were already under.

Intrinsically, I am unreserved, gregarious and cherish interacting with as many people as I can, maintaining a warm and cordial equation with pretty much all of them (well, whatever little I can actually see) and the ‘Woo’ within from my top Gallup strengths often takes over, letting me be myself, a borderline annoying but outgoing person. To keep things interesting, my flatmate – for the most part – enjoys the quiet company of his own thoughts. Having come here, a lot of things went exactly according to the plan – but most things DONT, ’cause life! People change, and the past few months made me realise the value of spending time with my own thoughts; the toned-down, mellow, insecure, weak or in any way negative parts laid bare for myself to accept.

 

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Chalk and cheese!

 

Balance is vital; he enjoys his chai, and I adore my filter coffee. He can grow a mean beard, I can try. He’s savage, I’m almost pushed over. One of us is tall; the other.. is also standing in the picture. Perhaps the biggest balance that I had to learn to live with after moving to the States was the balance between running after people to feed the need to Woo, and watching sitcom reruns after a long day of Strategy case work. Lack of balance led me down a weird and hitherto unseen road, and led to wounds and losses I’m still trying to dust off! Unbalanced, you fall. Trying too hard to go both ways leads nowhere good – it leads to disinterested, disillusioned and overall unenthused demeanor. In my experience, that ain’t leading anywhere good. Find what you love, and fills you with joy; Do it, as often as you can – like I am right now; find what hurts or inceses you; do that too, for good measure, so you can take the hit once in a while – life is too short to keep falling over.

Thank my lucky stars for the fact that I’ve been able to go through this experience – I call it the ‘life-balancing-act’! Every day is a new day, literally; 23 degrees yesterday and 8 degrees Celsius today? Nope, screw balance. Doesn’t exist in sunny/rainy/cold/windy/quiet/noisy/lovely/annoying/dead/lonely/homely Durham.

 

Human Biases

In my first semester, I took a subject called Designing Customer Experiences. There, I came across a concept they called ‘Human bias’. Things you and I are naturally inclined to like or dislike. The US has taught me to be unabashedly myself; to fight for what I believe I’m owed. At it’s own price- the price of uncompensated self-combustion. To get away from the shackles I’d installed around myself in the second half of 2017,I tried to escape what’s real. The changes, the lack of activity, lack of freedom, money and in general a sombre mood that made me feel unproductive, unhappy and close to the D word. I hoped going where I always felt I belonged would ease that doleful, sinking demeanor. All around me through my break, I collided again and again with people who had their own thing going; even the sun didn’t seem to care – it went into its hidey-hole at 4:30pm in ‘Murica. So I ran, as far as I could and as fast as the planes would take me. In the ten days I was home, 58954 people asked me what is wrong, where the spark has gone, and why I behaved as if I’d been carrying Thor’s hammer on my back. Instead of feeling better, I found myself being pushed further into the  abyss; At some point, I began to wonder what went wrong.

How does this connect to human bias? Here goes. Eventually, realisation came. Things had gone a little south and, for the first time ever, I’d allowed the pessimism to take over, letting myself and those around me feel the brunt. I either heard ‘What is wrong’ or ‘You crib’. Unfrtunately, the change had come; a different person had returned home – a person whose interdependence crossed the border to dependence. I was hit by a new bias – against who I had allowed myself to become. This blog perhaps is doing a better job listening  more than anyone or anything else did – blank paper (or blog writing) doesn’t judge,doesn’t bias,doesn’t tell you that it’s got its own thing going and that your thoughts are unimportant. All its done, is given me a medium.

People feel things. Oftentimes, people fail to understand what they are even if they’re internal. Today, people almost certainly bomb at recognising the next guy’s malaise; send veiled messages over social media – to 500 followers because why not show all those people instead of one, eh? It is better to have your own space because there is plenty of it for everyone. Eventually, state of mind matters. Willingly, I made an effort to change my outlook toward Durham, and to stay in my space every once in a while. Things, as (un)expected, are beginning to sort themselves out.

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Image source – upliftconect.com

To close out – human bias was explained to me as a natural inclination. But biases can be created, and more often than not, old biases come crumbling down. My need to be interdependent and constant desire to have pleasant conversations (and rapport in general) with everyone around was a bias (of loving the crowd) I had. With changing circumstances, it is bye-bye biases!

Hello clarity, Goodbye sanity!

Often in life, we’re left wondering how things passed us by. An up-and-down winter break made things clearer, by first making them awfully convoluted. On the one hand, I got a chance to live two experiences that have taken years in the offing: Quiet, serene, beautiful New Jersey I’d promised to visit six years ago, and some equally-awaited snow!

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Snow – “Pretty” depressing after a while!

 

On the other, I took a quick trip home, to recharge, relax and return. What I did do while home was to run, run, and return! In the throes of the frenetic anticipation of going to Bangalore, and that too at reasonable ticket prices, a “minor” detail I overlooked cast a shadow over my trip, and threatened, at some point to cancel it entirely. I spent my days in India running errands, fretting over an unnecessary Schengen visa because for some reason, with all our advancements in software and tech, a beautifully-written algorithm allotted me an air ticket that needed me to switch airports to switch planes! This fateful trip happened by virtue of being booked in a state of ultratiredness, which then extended to Bangalore.

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No time for the cool new logo 😐

 

The day I’d returned (with a one-hour flight delay due to TRAFFIC in Bangalore (home, eh?)), I ran to the visa office in Bangalore, with zero jetlag recovery time. Finicky and scrappy, I got that party started, had my vehicle towed off, got it back and went home fried, tired and glad to be back. And by the time I was settled in, I was already outsourcing major worrying to my parents –  whether I’d make it back to the States and how I’d make it from one airport to another! In between, I did get to visit the quiet, beautiful confines of my family home(s).

Ten days passed by in a blur, with everything thrown in there: food, traffic, friends, family and even a big fat Indian wedding.

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Fat wedding, thin dance skills

 

Eventually, I did come back, fooling myself for a couple of days that life isn’t that bad up here, flying into NJ. The time is here, however to talk, write, think and act upon another few months of the grind at Duke! I did a lot of things good during Fall’17.  Probably did a lot of things mind-numbingly stupid during Fall’17.  What the beautifully inconveniently planned India trip did give me, apart from fat, neck pain and a dazed tiredness, was perspective.

Dull as it may be, this is where home is now, and this is where the next chapter is being written. It is time to steer into the skid with left-hand-driven cars, and inexplicable temperature scales. As a new year resolution stronger than people’s gym memberships, I decided to skid into 2018 just like I skid into France: for what seems like a fleeting second, dragging my baggage along. But that’s how this game is played: Find the next plane, and get your ass on it.

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Pretend shit isnt going south XD

 

THAT was supposed to be the end of the blog that I wrote on the Amtrak – until there was a railroad accident and delayed my train for about four hours. So, skid onto the train, hope that train doesn’t crash, and if it does, grab a cup of coffee and do what you’ve always loved! Let the words flow, and eventually throw out all the baggage!

Of Winters and Winners

‘Tis the season to be jolly.. except the pall of the end of an eventful semester has descended upon us all! Christmas in America is beautiful; a spectacle one cannot miss. However, the old panic remains: What job, where and with whom! A funny thing about student loans, they keep growing, faster with each latte. All this, after a time that brought perspective, happiness, disappoitment and strength.

 

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Jerseyside feels!

 

New Jersey, a place that has been beckoning for a while now, is finally culled off the bucketlist. Cold, serene, quiet and filled with people and foods I’ve long yearned for. All this, in the wake of a bumpy month. Finals jumped at us from behind the gloomy clouds. Fighting finals is one thing, but my Durham family fought harder, and stronger to come past bigger tribulations. Winners do not quit, and I saw one born before my eyes. Support is all the weakest of us need, to find the fight over flight.

The roles of those heroes that sit nights to help us through these bad weeks are often undervalued, and perhaps none have hit a home run quite like C.J Skender, our dearly beloved Accounting prof. Life passes by in fleeting flashes of three-hour papers, and fifty years later, what matters most is whether your eyes still twinkle at your reflection, your grin still widens at the endless paper(less?)work, whether 14200+ days later you still love where your morning coffee comes from, and most importantly, if you’d go back and do it all over again!

 

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Cash is king.

 

The joke called life is what happens when you’re busy getting serious; the ride called a lifetime happens while you’re buying your ticket, and a strength called happiness shines through while you’re riding the highs and skidding through the lows.

 

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Snowy, freezy and breezy!

 

Winter is here, and so is tomorrow. Twin jacket up, and soldier on!