Thursday, February 1, 2018

Delhi Diary

We are one month old in Delhi. :)
After living outside India for 12 years when we decided to be back in India, friends and family cautioned us that it is going to be a huge adjustment. A good friend in Delhi pointed out that there is getting reacquainted to India and there is getting used to Delhi. I wholeheartedly agree. Delhi is a different animal altogether.

Here are some good, bad, ugly, and just plain different:
1. Delhi Metro: The best thing so far. Second day in Delhi we got ourselves a metro card and it has been smooth sailing since then. First day it reminded me of NYC subway. Something familiar and so liberating. Since then I have realized that it is much better - it is clean, easy to navigate, and has pretty good signage.

2. No restaurants in sight: This one is specific to the area we live in. First day we wandered around trying to find something for breakfast. We still have tough time finding something decent. There are chaat corners, winter chaat vendors, chaaiwalas but just 1 restaurant in our area (10-15 mins walk) and another walking distance of half an hour that we found closed for renovation the day we decided to eat out. *sigh*
North Delhi I am told is the old culture while South Delhi is cosmopolitan. It sure shows in the food scene.

3. Expectation of man to man talk: It is extremely difficult to get anything done from anybody. The electrician, the plumber, the Bosch installation person look at Parag every time they answer a question, even when I ask the question. For the last 20 years I have done all these things myself so it is quite frustrating, infuriating. I have to keep pushing Parag to ask questions, negotiate or give ultimatums (which is part of a normal conversation here. More on the conversation/negotiation dance later). If you know Parag, it is the most difficult thing for him to do. This is, I am sure, very specific to Delhi or may be North Delhi (or North India?). I have never had this problem in Pune.

4. Security check in Metro and Malls: Every time you enter a metro station you have to go through a metal detector, get patted down, and put your bags through a scanner. Same with malls or big commercial buildings. There are separate lines for women with lady police officers and a 'private' space for the pat down. It may sound appalling to my friends in US but surprisingly I got used to it in a day (might be because of similar experience in Pune during the 2011 visit). Now it is part of the everyday rhythm. A family member of mine in Delhi who takes this as a given is appalled at the thought that NYC or for that matter any of the US or European city public transport systems do not have 'security'. 'How can you be safe without it?' is his bewildered question.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Good Bye NYC!

As we planned and re-planned the details of our move to India, one thing I knew for sure - we will fly out of New York City. I have no emotional attachment to Boston and it would be such a shame not to see NYC, the love my life, for one last time.

I thought a lot about what I want to do in NYC and scratched all the touristy things that we listed together. The only thing I wanted to do was to hang out with friends, walk the streets, eat whatever random street food we saw on the way and just soak in the city that I called home for a decade.

Met some of my oldest friends in NYC. Extended lunch over dimsum till we couldn't get up, warm bowl of ramen on a wicked cold night, gyro on the cart, ate our way through the Bryant park holiday market, managed to eat horrible Met cafeteria food as well just for old times sake.  ;)

Cigar making demonstration as we wait for some Cuban food near Washington Square park:

Walking the city was a hit and miss. The snowstorm and the arctic wave did not make it easy but we did good. :)
Peak into a random church to get warm as we wandered in UWS:

Walking around TC and Columbia campus was mostly about getting things done like the post office visit, popping in the Columbia shop to buy some memorabilia. TC was deserted due to the holiday. But Parag insisted on getting photos in the deserted corridors. So here is one just to say I was at TC:

I am content as I leave this city. Many memories, no regrets!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Butterfly needles, blood draws, and other things

Flebotomist: You are dehydrated that is why I can't find your vein.
Me: *Close eyes, take a deep breath and get ready for the dialogue*
F: If you don't drink coffee and drink a bottle of water we would not have this problem.
Me: I do not drink coffee actually.
F: *silence*
Me: I drank water yesterday and in the morning as you mentioned last time so this time it would be easier.
F: You are drinking too much water and diluting yourself. 

I have had this exact same dialogue with this one. I have had similar dialogues with other flebotomist. My entire life I have had problems where people can't find my veins. It has exasurbated after I came to US. In 2014 had a harrowing experience wher I was poked and proded 12 times on both hands, and back of my palms to the point where I was about to faint. I very curteously asked her to remove the needle (which was not drawing any blood) so that I can faint without hurting her. She was mad at me for botching her 12th attempt.

I thought it was because I am perpetually dehydrated since I moved to US or becaue I am now old. Untill I finally found a person who used to insert needle in a single swift movement and draw blood like it was no big deal. She also said encoragingly everytime - "you did really well". I really liked her. She moved to some other clinic and I am back to the dialogues. She told me to ask for butterfly needle. It hasn't helped with others.

In the meanwhile I went to India where my neighborhood doctor did a clean blood draw without any butterfly. with just a plain syringe that he emptied in the vial. It was one of the smoothest blood draws in a while.

Now that I have experienced two really good flebotomists, I have realized that it is not my age or being perpetually dehydrated, or the equipment. It is just plain skill. I wonder then if the whole back and forth about me doing this to myself by drinking coffee, not drinking water, or drinking too much of it, is their way to push the blame because they can't do their jobs to even a basic acceptable level.

The first one that made my hands black and blue, came to work after a weekend long training, I was told. I still can't get over the fact. Looks like she did not learn these Phlebotomist Commandments in her training. The most important for me - thou shall not prick more than twice. Back off and call somebody else.

I actually did not believe the weekend training thing. But just a quick google search opened my eyes. The site How to become phebotomist says that only two states need a certification to be a phlebotomist. what? 😨 So it is worse than I thought.  The certification, which is voluntury in other states, seems to be a simple 2 day training like this on

I cannot believe my eyes. My doctor looks at wikipedia to tell me about what ails me. My phlebotomists might be anybody that picked up the skill over the weekend. Who am I supposed to trust in this system?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mobile Etiquette

I was surprised during my recent visit to India to see how ubiquitous mobiles have become. I am not talking about mobile telephony penetration but how many people are constantly talking, chatting, browsing on a mobile phone:

  • People on two wheelers and cars in heavy traffic are regularly seen talking on the phone. They are not even on handsfree mode, either managing the motorbike with one hand or keeping the phone pressed between sholder and ear. 
  • My friends, family, aquaintances regularly answer the phone even though we are in a middle of a conversation or a meal. 
  • In public places people watch whatsapp or facebook videos without headphones, sometimes while listening to something else such as public announcement, flight security presentation, or television program.  

I will be shocked if I see any of this in USA, at least on the east coast where I have lived and worked. Some of these behaviors will be considered extremly rude.

While talking with a family friend, I realized that he finds answering mobile phone at all times obvious and American custom of not answering the phone immediately when it rings, rude and perplexing. What makes technology related customs develop in certain ways in certain places? Is it about the core cultural values or phase in technology life cycle? In India mobile phones were used as a means for urgent or emergency communication. Keeping a voice mail was unheard of. Even today few people think of leaving a voice mail or know how to.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Women in the workplace: office housework

That time when:
- a visitor asks if the coffee cabinet is open or locked and nobody except me, the only other woman in the room gets up to check and bring the key. Others (men) completely ignore the question as if it is not their speciality thus not their responsibility.  Interestingly I am the only one in the room that does not drink coffee.
- one of the men in the meeting leaves their coffee cup and spilled coffee on the table after the meeting. The only attendees who think about the mess and how to clean it are two women in the meeting, one of them higher in the institutional hierarchy than all the men who attended.
- in a meeting about collaboration possibilities with another group on campus, my male colleague is asked about his opinions about the plan while I am asked to book a meeting room.

There is a term for these kind of tasks 'office housework'. Tasks such as - taking meeting notes, making sure that office supplies are stocked up, a late request for service is fulfilled, gatherings to bring the team together are arranged - are necessary for the healthy functioning of the team. However, men and women do not share these tasks equally in the workplace. Disproportionately more women take on or are expected to do the office housework but do not get credit for it. It doesn't count when it comes to promotions.

A woman voluntarily taking notes in every meeting looses opportunity to contribute fully. It is not just the woman who looses opportunities but the team suffers as it does not get the unique perspective of one of their team members.

What can we do about this?
  • Women and men as allies: Now that you know this happens, observe what is happening in your team or organization. When you see a woman in the team being burdened with these tasks consistently, point that out and suggest taking turns so that the all members of the team pitch in.    
  • Supervisors (male or female) need to create processes that do not burden one person with such tasks. They can also create clear categories in yearly appraisals for tasks that helped keep the team together. 
Many people have researched this topic and written about it. If you want to read more here are some
readings to start with: 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gudhipadva and the Hindu New Year

Now that we have Whatsapp in addition to Facebook and a growing number of people back home using it, we don't need Kaalnirnay. As any important festival or religious day dawns in India earlier than in US, we start getting whatsapp messages the previous night.

It was Gudhipadva on March 28. I received pleny of images of gudhi and wishes for the new year. What surprised me this year was the number of messages that said Hindu Navavarshachya Shubheccha. When did Gudhipadva become Hindu newyear? At best it is Marathi new year.
Hindu Nav Varsh Ani Gudi Padwachya Hardik Shubhechha  
Gudhipadva is the first day of the first month (Chaitra) of the year, making it the new year's day. But this calendar is not The calendar of India or Hindus. To start with there are regions that follow the amaant system and others that follow pournimaant system. In north India the month ends with a pournima or a full moon day while in the south it ends with amavasya i.e. no moon day. This clearly makes the first day of month 15 days apart so how can we have the same new year's day?

Secondly, there are regions that follow a completely different calendar system other than the lunisolar calendar that we use in Kalanirnay for example. The Malyalam calendar is a solar calendar. First of each month is based on the movement of sun through the zodiac. When I started digging more I realized that there are other regions that follow a similar method. Read more details about different calendars in India here. I have not even started digging into conventions in different communities that start the year in different months or seasons.

People calling Gudhi Padva, hindu navavarsha or Hindu new year wipes out all these differences. These are not nuances. These are completely different practices.

I wondered where the 'Hindu nava varsha' nomenclature came from suddenly as I had not seen it before. Seems that RSS always referred to Gudhi Padva as Hindu nava varsha. I wonder if the copy paste and forward system of whatsapp made it so ubiquitous that it finally reached me. The question is whose new year is it then? Mostly Marathi upperclass hindus pretending that their practices are the practices of Hindus of all shapes and sizes.

You might think it is a small thing, it is just wording but for me it showcases homogenization of hinduism and what it means to be a Hindu. It is disturbing. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

MOOCs: Time flexible but no longer massive

MOOCs, specifically Coursera and edX are moving away from the cohort based model to self paced model. The numbers according to both organizations prove that the strategy has been 'succesful'. The primary reason for the shift is to move away from the traditional higher education semester based structure which does not work for a life long learner who might be at a stage of life where they cannot spend couple of months on a course and do not like to wait for the start date.

The flexibility of start anytime and work at any pace is fantastic but getting away from the
Cohort based model also has its problems. Cohort based model pushed people through the course and learning activities such that massive number of people were at a similar place with respect to the content at any given point. From the learning experience design perspective there are implications of  not having a cohort.

It has been four years since the MOOCs exploded in popular media but the platforms that are the basis for the instructional design have not changed drastically. They were less desirable versions of LMSs then and still are in spite of add ons/apps such as Talkabouts. The most important aspect of the MOOCs for learning which is different than the online courses is the massive number of people from all over the world, bringing their varied life experiences, attitudes, opinionsm and beliefs.
With the self paced model gaining currency, there is less possibility of having other learners at the same place as you are. That makes the most important aspect of the MOOC a moot point, reducing it to a less desirable online course.