Dangerous Drives

This week’s news of Tiger Woods’ SUV veering off the road down a slope on a curving road brought some memories of dangerous drives. More than a decade ago I took up a job that was based in Dubuque, IA. The place of work was about 90 miles from my home in Madison. While driving back and forth everyday was possible it would have taken ~ 3 hours or more of commute time everyday and during winter even more. The workplace was in downtown Dubuque, which is a nice little town in Iowa. There were quite a bit of out-of-towners who had joined and some of us probably added some color to otherwise lily-white Iowa πŸ˜€ Dubuque is just on the other side of the mighty Mississippi river driving in from Wisconsin. It’s got colleges and there is some mining history too. Main tourist attraction though is around Mississippi river and National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a cool place. There is one casino around and a few more in the vicinity. Driving between Madison and Dubuque everyday would have required quite a bit of concentration and with me working long hours preferred to stay in a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) place in Dubuque during weekdays, driving in on Monday and driving back home Friday evening.

The B&B I was staying in was on top of a bluff with a cool view 😎 of the river at some distance and other places around. I had joined in spring which is among the better times of year, in terms of weather, around these parts. With office being in downtown and no office parking available my daily routine was driving in from B&B, parking car at a public parking garage and then walking couple of blocks to workplace. Steps repeated in reverse in the evening. Of course on Monday morning would drive in from home to parking garage and on Friday evening drive from parking garage to home, come hell or high weather! The shortest route (through 3rd street) from B&B to public parking space and back is quite steep. During warm weather the somewhat floating feel while driving down to parking space was amusing. Came winter and the routine joy of driving turned into a scare, on snowy days especially. Each day my heart used to be in my mouth as I drove down to work and drive back to B&B literally required stepping on the gas 😊 Used to drive to work with prayer on my lips everyday, even God might have been gotten a bit tired of me πŸ˜‚ (It did my confidence no good that during the 2 years I stayed in this B&B my car hit a patch of black ice and skid off the highway while driving in from Madison on a particularly bad weather Monday morning, about 20 miles from Dubuque). πŸ‘Ž There was another route to work through 5th street but that was even steeper with added bonus of the road curving for more driving fun. πŸ˜‚ Suffice it to say the joy of rolling down the windows and driving the freeway on a clear, sunny day evaporated fully by the time winter came calling. 😒Upon learning about Tiger Woods’ unfortunate car accident I googled Dubuque steep roads and sure enough 3rd street and 5th street figured at or near the top of “10 streets you’d rather not have to drive in winter” under “Dubuque’s Most Treacherous Hills” in a local newspaper ( https://www.telegraphherald.com/…/article_67339e4c-d321… ). I guess driving from or to a place at an elevation with view comes with a price when driving conditions are not good. Consider myself lucky for escaping without an injury for the 2 years of heart stopping driving moments during winter. Tiger wasn’t lucky, hopefully he recovers fully quickly πŸ™

Journey through time

It was a cold winter morning. As is the norm at the start of the year around these parts temps were below freezing. I set out for weekend grocery shopping in masked glory. Shopping list wasn’t too long. Even with my tendency to check out for interesting stuff, not necessarily required, wrapped up shopping quickly by my standards. Stepping out of the shop I was greeted by cold blast of wind. After dropping shopping bags in the trunk turned on the ignition of the car. It was quite cold inside the car. While waiting for the engine to warm up turned on the heater too. Longing for warmer weather my thoughts traveled and I drifted back in time to my early teens back in India.

It was a warm summer day late in the morning in the Mumbai / Bombay suburb Mulund. Summer holidays time. After my lunch I was itching for some activity. My brother was quite engrossed in reading a mystery novel. Other friends in the neighborhood were either preoccupied with whatever they were doing or out of town for the holidays. I decided to go out for a walk. Stepping out of our apartment I headed right. There were some late morning devotees entering and exiting the nearby Ashram Temple (A). I soon discovered my sandals needed some work. Luckily there was a cobbler right near the temple. Waiting as he set about repairing my sandals I could hear devotees ringing the temple bells. Could also hear the sound of flour mill (C) nearby grinding flour for customers who liked their dough fresh for their breads/naans/rotis/chapathis. Repair work done I turned right at the crossroad. Walking at a leisurely pace I was just soaking in the surroundings. To my right were trio of shops: Coal shop, Milk shop and ration shop (D). Coal guy was loading bags for delivery in his cart, Milk shop was serving a customer hot milk in Patiala mug sized containers, there was a line of customers at the ration shop waiting to buy fuel (kerosene), rice and other essentials at Government subsidized rates. Business as usual. I kept walking ahead. Just ahead of the next crossroad were couple of interesting shops: Ice factory (E) with huge blocks of ice covered by sawdust to slow down melting and also serving cold drinks and a used book store (F) which always used to be chock-a-block with all kinds of books, in shelves from floor to ceiling. Those were the days much before advent of personal computing. Always wondered how the book shop guy managed to remember what books were where. While all I could normally see was madness the guy must have had a method to it as he had been in business for years πŸ˜€ I decided to turn right instead of going straight as the Sun was, at the top of the game around noon time, beating down mercilessly. I resisted the temptation of buying crushed ice from the streetside vendor (G) who was selling crushed ice of all kinds of colors and flavors. At the next crossroad I again turned right. Just ahead of me to the right was Balaji / Raghavendra temple (H). Always had a bit of complicated relationship with God, sometimes transactional (especially around the times school exam results were due 🀣), sometimes pally when prayers were answered πŸ˜‰ and sometimes angry when it seemed bad appear to be triumphing over good 😑. I did a mental bow and proceed ahead. πŸ™ By the time I near the next crossroad my throat was parched and needed liquid replenishment. Fortunately there was a sugarcane juice shop (I) right there and I thought nothing better than a freshly crushed sugarcane with a hint of ginger for quenching thirst. πŸ‘Œ I ordered a glass of the summertime favorite and closed my eyes. Suddenly I heard the loud ringing of telephone. Wondering where the sound came from I opened my eyes. πŸ€” Imagine my surprise when I found myself inside my car and it was wife calling me on cellphone to ask me what was taking me so long πŸ˜….

Broken out of my reverie and transported to the present I mumbled that I ran into an old friend at the grocery store πŸ˜‰ and would be back home shortly. By then the inside of the car was hot as I must have been lost in my thoughts for a good 15 minutes. I opened the windows to let some outside air in. Nothing like a cold blast of air to jolt one back to reality. πŸ₯ΆπŸ˜† Driving back home I was amused by the thought how my wife would react if she unmasked the “old friend” and learned I was referring to was myself, albeit younger. 😁 Was also hoping my marriage had a “can get lost in thought every now and then” clause for me to cover for reaching any place later than planned πŸ™

Cookie Points!

Living in Wisconsin means snow in winter is a given! There are some fringe benefits though. For example, you can earn cookie points. Lost? Let me explain!

When I blow snow from my driveway and sidewalk I clear snow for my next door neighbor too. My reasoning is simple: I get some physical exercise and if I can get undue credit for snow blower doing the hard work, why not? πŸ˜‰ Neighbor is a good person and feels guilty I do it for free. So, sometimes I get paid in kind. Neighbor knows I have sweet tooth and offers to make home-baked cookies for me in return. Of course it’s an offer I can’t refuse. Who says no to fresh, home-baked cookies, right? πŸ˜„

Couple of weeks ago I cleared snow and got a choice of 2 types of cookies: Peanut butter cookie with a little chocolate on top OR Chocolate chip cookies. Greedy me wanted to say “Make it a double order, I will have them both” πŸ˜‚ but sometimes even I feel shame. 😒 So, I asked my son what he would prefer. With a rueful look he replied “I will adjust with chocolate chip cookies” . I was enraged. 😑 No, not for any good reason. I immediately shot back in mock rage “Hey, that’s my line!” Γ  la that Seinfeld series episode where the main characters utter that line in a humorous way. 😊 Three dozen fresh, home-baked cookies were ready for dad and son to tuck teeth into by the time snow was cleared!

Today I was offered some more fresh, home-baked cookies as reward for clearing the snow. We still have some cookies left that we got as reward for our previous effort. Even though it was heartbreaking to say no I politely declined the offer and took a rain check instead. With the temps below freezing all week and for the next few days and a cup of joe always welcome in such weather the twisted side of me felt tempted to encourage the neighbor to become a barista. Another opportunity for neighbor to creatively express food and beverage art, what say? 🀣 Ultimately I convinced myself not to push my luck too far and be satisfied with cookies rain check.

Bottom line: My simple ambition in life is to do one good deed a day and crack one good joke a day. πŸ™
Snowfall sometimes helps with the deed part. πŸ‘
As for good joke, I still have some ways to go πŸ˜†

Three Cheers!

2020 is firmly in the rear view mirror now. As difficult and challenging a year as any many have seen or experienced in their lifetime. This piece is not about the difficulties and miseries that were witnessed throughout the year. It’s about my positive, uplifting experience on the last day of 2020. Three to be specific and one more later in the afternoon yesterday that was like chocolate on top of cookie! πŸ‘

Wikipedia is my go to website when I seek information about people, process, events etc in one place. When I think of Wikipedia I feel it must be one of the foremost agile projects of all time. Self-organized and highly motivated volunteers add information all the time. Remarkably most of the information is accurate and if there is something incorrect or erroneous governance kicks in and corrections are made based on feedback received. For the past weeks when I landed on a Wikipedia page after a search I was greeted by plea from Wikimedia foundation to donate to their cause for keeping the effort running and available for free for the general public. Finally I donated a nominal amount yesterday.πŸ™

Then my thoughts turned to United Way, another not-for-profit organization for good causes. Mea culpa: I have got more out of United Way than I have contributed. Let me explain. I keep getting calls repeatedly from folks claiming to be from organizations representing cops and asking for money. I am appreciative of the good work by cops to ensure safety and security of citizens. But the calls I get appear to be from individuals of dubious value. In times past whenever I got a call my usual response went something polite like “We donate to United Way and would prefer to continue with it” before hanging up. Nowadays I just go “We are not interested. Thank you”. As I checked my Email it appears United Way read my thoughts about donating to their cause: Sure enough there was an Email! I donated a nominal amount. πŸ™‚

In earlier posts I have lauded PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) as a favorite place for information and news. πŸ‘ I consider PBS as equivalent of comfort food. When shows in other TV channels offer fare that is not appealing I check out PBS and many a times I have learned something from the documentaries and other shows they have on. I was thinking about PBS after donating to United Way. When I checked my personal Email lo and behold! there was Email from PBS too. Donated a nominal amount to PBS. πŸ™

Hip hip hooray! Three cheers for Wikipedia, United Way and PBS. Three organizations that do good work and share useful information. πŸ‘

Later in the afternoon I got a text from next door neighbor who is a nice, retired lady. When there is a heavy snow I sometimes help out by blowing away snow from her driveway and sidewalk. Not a big deal and it’s the snowblower doing the hard work. Mind you she has helped out a few times by lending her lawn mower when has behaved like a recalcitrant teen and refused to start. I checked my text and she thanked me for taking care of her snow the day before. She is profusely thankful when I help and feels guilty that I do it for free. If not cash there are other ways of paying and she has found out the right one! On Christmas eve she gave us fresh, home-baked cookies that were just delicious. πŸ‘Œ She offered to bake some more of the goodies and gave it to us. While that offer was like chocolate on top of a cookie and kinda unrefusable I wanted her not to go through the effort of making them just for us. That’s when “the wise one”, my wife, offered her take. Neighbor is thankful and wants to express her thanks, don’t refuse it. That’s all a sugar-craving dude, yours truly, needed to say yes. 🀣
For wisdom there is always wife! πŸ‘πŸ™

P.S. Sorry for not donating to other good causes my friends and other organizations may have reached out for. I wish I were more generous and had donated to all. This year the focus has been on food banks πŸ™

The year 2020

It’s the final weekend of 2020. Boy oh boy, the year of COVID has been incredible. This is the year we all learned to value some of the things below that may be taken for granted during good times
1) Food
2) Home
3) Togetherness
4) Privacy
5) Work
6) Health
7) Vote
At the start of the year if that was the prediction of what we would learn the consensus reaction would have been “Deal!”. Little did we know learning the value for many would come from loss of food security/home/job/health/life of a family member or through forced separation/forced time together at home or with the risk of their vote not counting. 😒
2020 has not been real, it’s been surreal. Nothing illustrates this better than long lines of people outside food banks contrasting with booming fortunes of a few at the same time. Misery and prosperity coexisting together. Yes, that’s how it’s been.
Even 20/20 now sounds like a dystopian vision, not perfect vision.With all the pain and general misery the year is coming to an end with hopes of glimmer. πŸ‘All the folks in their lab coats, the scientists, doctors and nurses have been simply magnificent. πŸ‘Œ
People have been generous donating their time, money and food to those in need. This time of crisis has brought out the best in many. πŸ‘
Hopefully 2021 will witness humans reaching Olympian heights in their achievements and at the same time it’s a safer and gentler world.
Three qualities, with all their connotations, will be needed most for that:
Hope, Faith, Resolve πŸ™

Mahabharata: Lessons from the epic

Two major epics of ancient India are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In both epics it’s believed Lord Vishnu took on a human avatar, as Ram in Ramayana and Krishna in Mahabharata, to ensure that justice was served and peace and prosperity prevailed in the aftermath of wars that were fought by two sides involved in the conflict. Very righteous human manifestation can be found in Ram while Krishna is a more playful and adopting creative means type of human manifestation to deliver justice. A short summary of Mahabharata (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata) is as follows:
The Pandavas and Kauravas are cousins of a ruling dynasty. Hastinapur is the capital of this kingdom. When the time comes to choose a new king the eldest scion of the Pandavas, Yudhishtra, is considered as the rightful heir. Next in line is the eldest scion from the Kaurava side, Duryodhana. However, Duryodhana is not willing to accept this as he believes he should be the first in line as his father has ruled the kingdom. So, he engineers conditions which result in the Pandavas getting just a fraction of the kingdom. The elders had intervened unsuccessfully to broker peace and a proper split of the kingdom but Duryodhana’s quest for absolute power and intransigence prevailed. The Pandavas set about the task of building from scratch from the forest land granted to them. During a visit to the Pandavas’ new place Duryodhana is jealous of the success of the Pandavas and also the peace and prosperity around. He also feels insulted by an incident or two. Enraged, Duryodhana returns back to Hastinapur to plot his way to grabbing the tiny piece of land too from the Pandavas. He finds a willing ally in his uncle Shakuni. They hatch a plan and invite Yudhishtra to play a game of dice which he accepts. The game starts and the dice is loaded against Yudhishtra which he doesn’t realize. He loses his kingdom, wealth and even the freedom of him, his siblings and all their families in betting during the course of the game. Losing everything Yudhishtra, his brothers and their families are forced into exile. The elders in the court are aghast at the unfairness and try to instill sense but Duryodhana brushes them all aside. Wise minister Vidura warns that the health of the kingdom will suffer by the result, his words are ignored too. Ultimately, their sense of righteousness, morality and virtue is trumped by duty and loyalty to their king and they accept the result. The Pandavas go on exile and upon completion of exile period try to negotiate their return by sending Krishna as their emissary for discussions. The talks fail and the only way for justice is a battle. Duryodhana led Kauravas are a mighty force as they hold the reins of power and command the loyalty of reluctant but duty-bound warriors reknowned for their valor and battle-hardened skills. The rest of the story is about Krishna nullifying the military superiority of the Kauravas as he guides, encourages and inspires the Pandavas to victory in their quest for justice. πŸ‘

The lessons of the epic are still relevant in today’s world. There will be occasions when one’s sense of duty and loyalty may have to be weighed against what is correct and morally right. Each individual makes their own decision based on what they perceive to be the action the situation demands πŸ™

Happy Thanksgiving!

This morning I had visitors in my dream. As I lay on my bed I was greeted by multiple voices. Opening my eyes I saw a Group of Seven (G7). They go by the names Success, Happiness, Health, Wealth, Confidence, Knowledge, Power.
They greeted me “Hey man, wassup?”.
Almost reflexively I blurted out “You are a fickle and capricious bunch, aren’t you?”
Together they demanded “What do you mean?”.
I said “You don’t visit us more often and even when you do you don’t stay for long”.
With a smile they replied “Everyone wants us all the time which means we can’t stay in one place for too long. If you desire our presence longer cherish us and nourish us”.
I mumbled “Ok, will do”.
They added “By the way if you have loving family and friends you will find us without even realizing it”.
I thought “Hmmm…that makes sense”.
Then they suggested to seek out the G7 cousins too: Contentment, Kindness, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, Peace, Wisdom.
I gathered my thoughts and replied confidently “I have a loving family and good friends. I see G7 cousins in them and am thankful for that”.
Finally the G7 chorused “That’s good. Don’t worry, we will visit you more often and stay longer. Happy Thanksgiving!” πŸ‘

Wide awake now I wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving! πŸ™

My imaginary dream Jeopardy! show appearance πŸ˜‰

(Tribute to Alex Trebek below in the form of an imaginary appearance by me in Jeopardy! trivia game show)

Alex: Last clue of Double Jeopardy! round and…..it’s a Daily Double! in the category “Game show champions”. Raj, you buzzed first! How much of the $45542 that you have earned you want to wager?
Raj: I have always dreamed of saying this: Let’s make it a true Daily Double, Alex!
Alex: Wow, that’s a brave bet. Fortune favors the brave. Good luck! The clue is : “These are the winningest champions in Jeopardy!”
Raj: Who are Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter?
Alex: You got that right! You double your score to 91,084. Way to go! Incidentally 9/10/84 is the date I started hosting this show in its current format!
Raj: That’s cool! 😎

Final Jeopardy! round coming up after a break. The category is “Game show hosts”.

Funny Geico ad plays during the break. πŸ˜‚

Alex: We could potentially have a winner with over $100,000 today. The clue is “This Canada born game show host has hosted more than 8,000 episodes of a show, spread over 36 years”
First 2 contestants give correct answer and their final score is < $25,000 each.
Alex: Raj had the most money to wager. Let’s see his response and how much he wagered
Raj: “Who is Alex Trebek? (You are the best! πŸ™)”. Wager is $11,620!
Alex: That’s the right response and I see the amount you wagered is today’s date (11/6/20). Nice! The final winning amount is $102,704! Congratulations, Raj! That was a great game. So long, folks, hope you join us next time!

P.S. I guess some dreams are meant to remain unfulfilled 😭
But it was fun as long as the dream lasted πŸ‘

The Bellwether Corp story

About 250 years ago The Bellwether Corp (TBC) was formed with the charter to create products that bring happiness, produce them in adundance and in an unabashed manner. Over the years TBC products reached all countries of the world making TBC well-known and expanding its reach. TBC’s success was built on high R&D spending, innovation, stable management, ability to attract good talent and willingness to make big bets on new products and innovations. In short, TBC was both admired and feared, loved and hated in equal measure. The one undisputed fact was the impact of TBC on many lives across the world. The charter of TBC called for 4-year contracts at a time for the CEO of the company and another 4-year term, if approved by majority of stakeholders, for a maximum of 8 years.

Around the turn of the last century the leadership changed hands when a scion of a previous CEO of TBC assumed charge. The scion’s plan called for aggressive expansion of business overseas and mergers and acquisitions (M&As) within the country to fuel growth. The ambitious plan called for lot of money investment. While business grew for TBC its debt grew faster. Overseas investments got mired in low returns and internal M&As got bogged down due to the cost and complexity involved in integrating different products and cultures. This resulted in some of the divisions being shed and turmoil of the market due to the uncertainties and losses that ensued. After 8 years under the scion CEO it was time for change of leadership.

TBC’s next CEO came from within. A relative unknown and young person was heralded as the next big hope (NBH). NBH’s first priority was to bring calm and restore market faith in TBC and then fuel sustainable growth. NBH succeeded in the first priority but results were mixed in the growth aspect. There were notable successes accompanied by areas of frustration as the task involved a cultural shift which TBC was not fully prepared for or ready to embrace fully. TBC’s workers were also expecting more prosperity for the fruits of their labor and under NBH many felt it was not fully delivered. NBH’s 8-year contract ended with TBC more stable and secure and on a path of growth but with the dreams not fully realized.

For the next leader TBC looked outward for someone to spark more explosive growth. In came an outsider (OUTS), without a cultural connection to TBC, promising to change the way of conducting business by shattering established norms and doing away with what OUTS considered old shibboleths that were holding back TBC from fully realizing its greatness. Per OUTs the new approach would result in upgrading of infrastructure in a big way, usher in high growth, make TBC more safe and secure, reduce the debt burden of the company and increase the happiness and prosperity of TBC workers within the first few months itself. A tall order to achieve it all even in one full 4-year term but that’s what OUTS insisted would happen. For making it happen OUTS demanded absolute power and total fealty from all stakeholders of TBC. The first couple of years saw TBC grow at a rapid pace. TBC workers and other stakeholders saw their net worth grow. This was happening in the context of old, established structures for safety and governance being torn down and aggressive deals being negotiated with TBC suppliers and other 3rd party service providers and amidst whispers of malfeasance and ad-hoc decision making. Company debt also grew to alarming levels. Whistleblowers were silenced strongly and all competitive threats were dealt with lot of force. Disaster struck in the 4th year of OUTS’ first 4-year contract. A mystery illness swept through TBC affecting TBC workers. What first appeared as something minor soon spread like wildfire causing serious sickness and sometimes causing worker deaths. This caused consternation within TBC, prompting safety officials to sound the alarm about the likely far-reaching impact this could have on TBC workforce and potentially impact this could have on others doing business with TBC. The measures suggested to mitigate and contain the risk included shutting down TBC plants initially along with strict monitoring and putting additional safety plans in place to contain the fallout and reduce prolonged pain. This did not go well with OUTS who was daunted by the cost and consumed by renewal of a second 4-year contract due later in the year. With safety plans not implemented per experts’ recommendation the pain and economic impact spread far and wide. Loss of jobs and lives followed. When time came for considering whether to extend the contract of CEO for another four years, a majority of stakeholders, albeit small, voted against it and seem to have approved going forward with a TBC veteran (VET) insider steeped in company culture instead.

OUTs would appear to be on the way out but is not leaving without a fight. OUTS has filed lawsuit/s alleging sabotage from within and claiming to have majority support for another 4-year term. Will the courts step in and make a ruling or let TBC company board of directors and other stakeholders work it out? Like all stakeholders impacted directly or indirectly by the turn of events I am watching too, with concern.

The above fictional story could very well be a tale of real companies or even real countries πŸ™