JohnC wrote a cute post over on his blog that filled me with nostalgia. I figured I’d respond with a counter-point and shamelessly stole the title from the original post :) So go read his post first.
Welcome back. I’ve been meaning to write a series of posts about my startup experience(s) and John’s post is good inspiration. If nothing else, I’ll try to post something to supplement or respond to his posts.
John makes a good point about being in a diverse environment surrounded by people who come from different cultures and backgrounds. I have seen myself grow personally and intellectually in similar situations. While I agree that US immigration law needs serious reform, let there be no doubt that there are very few countries that are as immigrant-friendly as the United States. Countless people from all over the world have come to the US, made it their home and contributed to all walks of society. I can not imagine Americans having the same kind of success in India as Indians have had in the US.
Another experience probably most Indians in the US would share is this: only when you are outside India do you realize how little you know about your country. Over the years I’ve been asked all sorts of questions about India — from naive ones about elephants and snake-charmers to hard-hitting ones about religion, freedom and corruption.
While we are on the subject of Kaju Barfi, do you see the silver material coating the surface of the barfi’s in the picture above? Here’s an advice — do NOT microwave that thing! Or any other Indian sweet that has the silver foil. It is a question that comes up often: what is it? what is it’s purpose? The silver foil is commonly called “vark” in India and yes, traditionally it is meant to be a super-thin silver foil. It servers no particular purpose other than to give a grandiose look to the sweets — it is edible and does not modify the taste of the sweets.
You may worry about consuming metal with your sweets and if you think that many people likely don’t use silver anymore, you’d probably be right. But relative to the challenges our world faces, I’d say its a minor concern. Hundreds of millions who are eating the silver foiled sweets daily are doing just fine.
John, I’ll bring you a box next time I’m in India!
I can’t claim that I know Mumbai: I’ve never lived there and the only times I’ve visited have been short work-related trips. Yet I always thought that all Indians should have some innate familiarity with that city of dreams, just by virtue of being Indians (not to mention the healthy coverage of Mumbai in Bollywood movies). Everyone is familiar with the Gateway of India, Bollywood movies and movie stars, vada-pav, local trains, monsoons, Marine drive and such. And thus, I felt a strange mixture of fascination, sadness and yes, a bit of betrayal recently, as I read two compelling books about Mumbai.
In Maximum City, Suketu Mehta rediscovers Mumbai as he returns (multiple times) to the city he grew up in. Through his eyes, we catch a glimpse of the lives of gangsters and foot soldiers, students and school teachers, bar dancers and prostitutes, yogis and Jainis. Names like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Tanuja, Preity Zinta are instantly recognizable and lend the book a voyeuristic appeal. At times disturbing, but always intriguing, Mehta paints a vivid picture of Mumbai, one that I did not know exist. And yet, the book felt “safe”, for Mehta was usually telling stories about others.
On the other hand, Gregory David Roberts as Shantaram is at once more intimate yet surreal. While reading it, I remember thinking to myself “fact is stranger than fiction” many a times over. Shantaram is as gripping as an autobiography of sorts can be, but probably contains a tad too many preachy one-liners and life lessons. It was even more fascinating than Maximum City because it is set in a time when I was just a kid — Mehta’s stories are far more contemporary. I found myself Googling for the various characters and places in the book, desperately trying to judge the fraction of fiction in the treatise. But it doesn’t really matter — Mr. Robert’s story is an incredible one nonetheless.
Meanwhile, I think I’m going to stay away from books about Mumbai for some time now, lest I feel completely alien to the city I never really knew.