Category Archives: Personal

A #contrarian’s field guide to New Year Resolutions

TLDR; This field guide helps you set new year resolutions and help you achieve them by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach towards managing your energy and hence managing your time better.

To achieve you new year’s resolutions, I propose 3 steps:

1. Top down prioritization.

2. Bottoms-up audit.

3. Planning and scheduling your energy.

You have to both do a top-down prioritization and a bottoms-up audit towards goal setting, because the top-down alone will tell you what you want to do, and the bottoms-up will tell you what you are doing right now. The planning will help you then figure out where you are wasting your time and energy and where you need to focus it instead.

Lets do the top-down first.

There are 9 categories of goals people have as individuals according to me.

1. Relationships: The need and desire to be connected as humans with friends, family and other people at large. Examples include, getting married, making new friends, or spending more time with your siblings for example.

2. Career and Work: When you are a student it will be around “what you want to be when you grow up”, but it is pretty much the same as an adult. Work goals include promotions, improving communication – public speaking for e.g. etc. Starting a new business falls into this bucket.

3. Intellectual: These are for you to learn. Many people like to learn new languages, read books and expand their mind as part of this category.

4. Health: Keeping your body fit enough and in shape to be able to achieve what you think you can. Losing weight is the most common goal in this category followed by promising to quit smoking.

5. Financial: Making enough wealth to be able to afford the things you’d like to have as part of your life. You might have other goals in this

6. Spiritual: The quest to find your inner self, and the meaning of life, the universe, god, etc. The most frequent goal in this category is to find your inner peace.

7. Interests & Hobbies: Travel, learning a musical instrument etc. fall into this category. Going to an exotic place for vacation is the most frequent goal in this category followed by learning a new musical instrument.

8. Giving back and Social Goodness: These are for individuals who want to give back and help the less privileged. Most people volunteer at charities or non-profits / NGO’s to help them in any way possible.

9. Self improvement: These are to better yourself as an individual, making time to grow as a person (not intellectually, but emotionally). E.g. I will not get angry with my kids, or will not blame someone else for my problems. The quest to be a better person drives this category of resolutions OR the willingness to correct a character flaw.

Now that we have a comprehensive category list, I suspect you can add your own resolution – such as “I will be a nicer person” or “I will meditate more”, which will fall into one of these buckets.

After you put your resolution into the bucket, write it down – both the resolution and your category.

P.S. here’s a contrarian tip – NEVER have more than one goal. More on that later.

The reason I think you should start with categories, is that it will help you focus on managing your energy not your time.

Then the second task is for you to do a time audit for a week. This is the bottom up approach. The best way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with 1/2 hour slots from the time you wake up to the time you sleep.

Then put what you are doing in that 1/2 hour slot for 1 week. This includes time to bathe, eat, work, etc.

The next step is to categorize the time audit items into your categories above as well.

It is okay to put sleeping into health category. If you listen to podcast or listen to music during your commute then put it in the health or interests or hobbies category.

Then take the categories you have and add up the time per category.

Plot the category and time spent on a pie chart.

Most people are absolutely shocked when they do this exercise at this point. They find that 25-35% of their time is truly “wasted” – they dont do anything else when the sleep – which is why many successful people apparently sleep less – god bless them, but I cant. Or they are spending time bathing or eating, etc.

So you have a top down priority and a bottom up use of your time.

Step 3, is planning and scheduling: The planning should help you find a way now to schedule time on your calendar for the one new year’s resolution or goal you set.

You can do the scheduling on your calendar by alternative or better time management.

If something is a priority for you, then you better spend more time on it than anything else.

My rule of thumb is that you need to spend at least 35% of your time on the one New Year’s resolution you set for yourself. If you are unable to do that, then prepare to fail.

If you find many other things taking up your time, deprioritize them and manage your calendar like a manic and NEVER let other things “creep” in.

Please let me know if this works for you, but remember you have to do the top-down and bottoms-up part (which might take you a week if you dont know your calendar yet.

How to avoid eating useless junk when you are bored? #CalorieStickerShock

There are 2-3 times in day when I get bored for about 15-30 minutes. Usually that’s in between my scheduled work. Mid morning at about 10 or 11 am and again at about 230 or 330 pm in the afternoon.

Since I had been eating much less than my usual intake, I’d get hungry pretty soon and was unable to determine if I was really hungry or just bored. Either ways I would end up eating junk food with many useless calories.

I dont think I really have a problem eating when I am truly hungry, but the “eating when you are bored”, really bothered me a lot.

There are a few tricks I adopted to avoid adding calories and prevent eating when I was bored.

First, I’d drink really warm water. Closer to hot water than warm. Initially I had to take some herbal tea with it, but after a few weeks, I avoided even the tea. The reason why warm or hot water works compared to cold was it would take me longer to drink, by which time I’d get distracted with something else. Cold water just went in really quickly and I was “hungry again” within minutes.

Second, I eliminated many foods from my diet, because I felt they were truly wreaking my system. These were cakes, chocolates, cookies and the like. Easy to eat, but really hard to avoid. The way to eliminate them is not to buy or stock them at all. I now keep granola (Kind, with no additives) or plain nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, etc.)

Third, I scheduled meetings during my known “weakness zones”. Being engaged in a meeting let me focus on the work, or talk to someone, eliminating my “boredom eating”.

Fourth, I removed small change and avoided carrying cash. I found that I’d go to a vending machine (most dont accept credit cards thankfully) and grab something at least once or twice a week. Removing cash helped me go to the vending machine, but actually buy nothing.

Fifth, before I ate, I’d first check the calories that it would add on MyFitnessPal. Since I was in a friendly wager with 2 of my friends on who would be under the calorie goal for the most # of days, it was easy for me to get the “calorie sticker shock” from eating junk food and avoid it all together.

Sixth, I am known to be very competitive, so I enlisted 2 of my friends, to help message me during 11 am and 3 pm (We were on WhatsApp) to encourage me to stick to the plan. I did the same for them, and they were in a different time zone, so it worked out well. Erik’s lost over 15 pounds and he’s super fit now.

Seventh, I’d schedule my walking “to gain steps on FitBit” around the time away from my desk or from any food during that time. Since I carried no cash, I could not eat out anyway. The walking was a scheduled conference call with my direct reports or calls with entrepreneurs.This was another competitive thing I was doing, so I’d highly recommend that if you are into that sort of thing.

Eight, I’d sometimes chew gum. This was rare, because I dont like chewing gum, but on a few occasions it did help. I wont recommend it though.

I did not use all these techniques at the same time, but depending on the day and my sense for what would work, I’d use one or two of them.

The thing that worked best for me over time was “Calorie sticker shock”.

I am going to trademark that actually. If only everyone could see the # of calories that is in the junk food they eat, I believe most folks would make the right choice.

If eating a small bag of chips, plus on regular soda and one small cookie (Or one samosa, one masala chai and two biscuits in India, ) during your afternoon snack was known to add 500 calories of your 2000 calorie daily intake, I think most folks would avoid one or all three of those items.

What do I eat to manage an intake of less than 1500 calories daily

As I mentioned, I lost over 50 lbs over 25 weeks last year. My primary strategy was to eat less. 1500 calories or less daily. That’s the #1 thing you need to do.

I am vegetarian and love food, so this was a lifestyle change for sure.

The first thing I figured out was there were many “useless” calories I was taking in purely for the acquired tastes I had developed.

If there’s one thing you really need to control about your diet and you don’t want to do anything else, then eliminate your intake of processed sugar foods.

That in itself will reduce your weight, with no other dramatic changes by 10-15% in 3-4 weeks.

To hit 1500 calories, with as “normal” a schedule as possible, i.e. 5 meals – breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner, you have to ensure no meal exceeds 300 calories.

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

1. Breakfast: I have largely eliminated many foods: processed orange juice, peanut butter, coconut chutney, muffins, jellies and jams, etc. from my diet already. Surprisingly I don’t miss them anymore. My breakfast was usually one of 7 items 

a) Old fashioned oatmeal – cooked in water with 1/4 cup of milk (preferably fat free or almond milk),

b) 3 egg whites (only whites either boiled or omelet stye),

c) 1 piece of toast no butter,

d) 1/2 cup of vegetable upma,

e) 2 pieces of idli with milaga podi,

f) 2 dosas (no masala),

g) one piece of fruit – any fruit, with the normal serving size,

and either fat-free milk or Almond milk (this has the least calories, all the nutrition of regular milk and still fills you up).

Some days I would eat cereal (any cereal with the recommended serving size – I eliminated ones with extra sugar), but they were limited to 1 day a week.

These items rarely contribute over 300 calories, unless you go over the serving size.

Since I had to manually update MyFitnessPal after every meal, I was happy to reduce my food options and stick to these 7 items.

2. Morning Snack: I stuck to either fruit (grapes, or apple were convenient for grab and go) or granola for my morning snack. Sometimes I would have another glass of milk. Sometimes I substituted nuts (almond or walnut, plain, not salted).

3. Lunch: My lunch in India was 1 chapatti, 1/4 cup of dal (any dal), 1/4 cup of any green vegetable – cooked, 1/4 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup of rice and any amount of cucumber and carrots.

In the US, my lunch is the same every day – 4 cups of leafy greens – spinach, lettuce, arugula, etc. 1/4 cup of firm tofu, 1/4 cup of garbanzo beans, 2 Tbsp of dried, sweetened cranberries, 1 boiled egg white, 1/4 cup of red beets, 1/4 cup of cucumbers or green bell pepper, 2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar – no other dressing or oil.

4. Afternoon snack – I would indulge in either nuts or I’d substitute a protein bar (290 calories max) – the ones I liked the most were Clif or Builders protein bar.

5. Dinner: This varied from one of 5 items:

a) Indian: 2 chapattis, 1/2 cup of any vegetable, 1/4 cup of any dal (rajma, channa, masur, toor, etc.) and 1/2 cup of yogurt. Some days I’d make some mixed rice (with vegetables or soy chunks). Once a month I’d eat a stuffed paratha.

b) Italian: 1/2 cup of pasta with more vegetables than pasta, OR 1 slides of pizza with limited cheese

c) Japanese: Vegetarian sushi 8 pieces and miso soup

d) Mexican: Taco salad, with no shell (lettuce, beans, salsa, etc), but I would not eat the taco or burrito.

e) Chinese: 1/2 cup of noodles, or 1/2 cup of stir-fried vegetables. Lettuce wraps were good as well, stuffed with Tofu or other vegetables.

This is pretty regimented. I know it wont work for all, but it worked for me.

I did have a nutritionist review my daily breakup of calories by food group (MyFitnessPal lets you do that) and she was pretty happy with the breakup of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.

How I lost 50 lbs in 25 weeks with no special diet or gimmicks

On June 23rd 2014, I weighed 174 lbs. On Dec 24th I weighed 125 lbs. It was a steady 2 lbs loss of weight each week, more or less.

I did not follow any special diet, like no carbohydrates, paleo, etc. There was no weight watchers or hitting the gym.

In fact I never once went to the gym the entire time except to check my weight on one occasion.

Moat folks who know me well, were not sure why I needed to lose any weight. I had a foot problem, though because of very poor footwear decisions which forced me to lose weight or stop playing sports. I chose to lose weight.

There’s one secret though. It was my discipline. Plain and simple.

I used two apps, recommended by my sister. One to measure my food intake and another to track my running.

First, I reduced my food intake from 2200 calories daily to 1500 calories daily over a 3 week period.

Second, I started running, starting at 1.5 miles daily to now consistently doing 13-15 miles daily.

Finally, I started to fast, all day on Thursdays. I only drank water. Starting with drinking only juices to milk and then over 4 weeks to nothing but water.

That’s it. I did not spend any money on diets, food, gym memberships or fancy weight loss programs.

Over 25 weeks of this helped me get down to 125lbs.

Enjoy tying the shoelaces. My new year’s resolution

I met a billionaire acquaintance a few days ago. This was my 3rd discussion with a billionaire this year. I was really curious what made them mega successfully financially, versus others.

Surprisingly all 3 were very humble, and very different from what you’d think of when you hear about billionaires. One of them said:

“Compared to the other centi-millionaires and millionaires, I was just pure lucky”.

Another said that his pursuit was that of being very successful, but becoming a billionaire was “accidental”.

As the year comes to a close, I was taking a run yesterday and thought about what separates the “ultra successful” from the merely successful.

Defining success purely in financial terms is very narrow and un-enlightened. Many people believe that success should be along multiple dimensions – relationships (friends and family), financial, intellectual, work, spiritual, health and fame (celebrity-style).

Then there are those that believe you have to choose from 3 of these.

There’s one thing that I learned from all 3 of the billionaires.

They focused on one of them, not more than 1 during a period.

All three of them have seriously under-invested in other aspects of their life for any given “period”. That period has been days for some, weeks for another and many years for the 3rd person. I cant argue that it was a good thing or a bad thing, since they made the choices consciously.

All three of them now have families, with kids and the things that life brings.

But they choose to put work and their pursuit of it above all else.

There’s one thing they did tell me which caused me to think more.

“Enjoy what you do. More than do what you enjoy”.

Late, yesterday evening I was going for a run. I have a pair of shoes that are relatively new and so the laces untie often. I am pretty scheduled and regimented, so not hitting my distance milestone bothers me quite a bit.

I had to stop for 2 minutes to tie the shoe lace, which knew will delay my distance goal by 2 min, which then would delay when I slept and hence to make up the “wake up on time” schedule, I would have to sleep for 2 min less.

I dont like tying my shoelaces more than once for that reason. I hate wasting those 2 minutes.

That’s when it hit me.

If you cant do the things that you enjoy and love, for whatever the reason, you better enjoy and love the things you are doing.

So as 2014 comes to a close I realized all those cosmetic resolutions I made over the years were banal.

I am going to live every single moment. Even if it means “enjoying to tie my shoelaces” by thinking about the shoe or the knot or that many others cant tie their shoelaces at all.

I wish you all a very happy 2015. I hope to write more frequently this year compared to 2014 and hopefully closer to my 2013 productivity schedule for blog posts.

So long and thanks for all the fish, but not really

We moved to India 6 years ago from the valley. I started BuzzGain and then wanted to start another company, but ended up at Microsoft instead.

Now we are moving back to the US in July or August. We are heading to Seattle.

I will still come to India every couple of months and the team here will continue to report to me, but I will live in Seattle.

Microsoft Ventures in India has 2 leaders – Ravi Narayan and Rajinish Menon. Ravi focuses on the accelerator and Rajinish on the community and engagement with the ecosystem.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in India and have made many friends and a few enemies as well. I have made more than my share of mistakes. So for all those mistakes and the people I have messed up, apologies.

To all the wonderful folks in the various cities that have hosted me and been such a source of support when things were going horribly wrong, thank you very much.

Most of all, thank you very much for being good friends and supporting me with your emails, tweets, blog comments and messages.

Why I published a personal social network app

I started blogging in 2006. It has taken me over 7 years to build an audience of 60K. When I started, I believed that the best content always won. Now I know that the best content with the best distribution wins.

In 2006-7 the prevalent method to distribute my posts was RSS feeds. I focused a lot of effort to get RSS subscribers. Then FeedBurner got acquired by Google and I noticed that my subscriber base was dropping slowly from 2000+ to under 1000.

I realized that SEO was another mechanism to get new readers to read my posts, but I was not going to do anything unnatural to optimize my content to be “search” friendly.

I focused my efforts on Facebook to distribute my content between 2007-2009. I grew my readership from over about friends and readers to over 4000 in 2 years.

I realized late in 2009 that the Facebook feed algorithm was being changed constantly. This meant fewer friend had a chance to see my posts on their news feed. From an average of 25% of my friends who would read my posts via FB, it started dropping to < 10%.

From 2009 to 2011 I got focused on getting more users on twitter to follow and read my blog posts. I have over 10K followers and about 10-20% of the users come to read when I post.

Some of my friends were in the US, others in India. To optimize time and delivery I created 2 accounts. On one, I’d post at the local US time and at local India time for the other. This was to ensure a better chance of delivery on their twitter feed.

In 2012 I noticed many of my friends and readers from twitter coming to my blog also started to drop. Turned out that most folks were following multiple people and unless you timed it right for that person, it was near impossible for them to see it on twitter.

From 2012 to 2013 I put a lot of efforts into building my email subscriber list. Which has helped me go to about 60K+ readers. Then Google tabs happened and my email open rates dropped from 25% to ~18%. Many of my friends asked me when I stopped blogging. Turns out my blog posts were going into their social or promotions tab in their Gmail. There were not seeing my blog posts at all thanks to the new Gmail tabs.

It was frustrating to see the effort I put into building a channel go waste in 2 years. The more frustrating part was that in all these cases I was not in control.

During the last 7 years I have been constantly posting my thoughts and have not significantly increased or decreased the # of posts per year. I still average 120+ posts a year or about 2-3 a week.

The other part I wanted to clarify was if the quality of my posts dropped, which may have been the reason my readership rose (expectation) and fell (reality).

I think there might be some truth to that, but  engagement with my posts has constantly risen throughout this period. I measure engagement by time spent on my blog, average number of posts per visit, the number of comments and the # of Retweets / Likes on Facebook.

By all measures except Retweets my engagement has steadily risen over the last 5 years.

Over the last 6 months I noticed that more users were reading my posts on their mobile phone than PC or tablet. I also wanted to create a deeper sense of engagement with my friends and readers, and since I like to build a deeper connection I thought the best way to do this was to build a mobile application.

It is available on Apple app store and the Google play store. The Windows phone version will be out soon.

The apps are going to be my primary means of engaging with my friends and folks in the startup community. I am giving up on email and slowly paring down from facebook. It’s lack of immediacy in a real time world bothers me a lot.

There are 3 primary features I wanted in the app:

1. Ability to post items and get feedback / learn from my friends.

2. Find ways to meet friends and readers when I am “close” to their location.

3. Create a close network of friends who can help each other.

The beta version is out now and I’d love for you to give it a spin and connect with me there.

The future of all education is hyper-personalized

As part of my looking ahead series, I will publish a few blog posts on what I see as the future of certain areas that I am really passionate about. These pieces may also appear in other media, so I will let you know if they are cross-posted.

Across the world, nearly 4.9% of our GDP is spent on education. In countries such as USA and UK, the % is much higher and in countries such as ours, much lower. As we look into the future to get our citizens more educated and informed, we find that the biggest change will be the end of the “one size fits all model”. The future of education will be hyper-personalized, catering to individual students needs and focused on learning outcomes that enable one to do something meaningful with their learning.

At the heart & center of the education, we tend to sometimes forget, is the student.

What would be the ideal learning environment for the student? From Kindergarten to 12th grade, higher education through graduate programs and finally ongoing learning for skills refreshment, what helps the student learn better?

If you ask a student, they’d like to a) be inspired to learn, by having the subject brought to life with examples and experiences, b) learn at their own pace and enjoy the subject and c) learn so they can apply it towards a task they want to perform.

Teaching can be broken into 3 elements – “instruction”, “application” and “review”.

“Instruction” is the explanation of the theory and concept with a few examples. Most of the sciences & math are taught this way already. The social sciences are largely taught this way as well, but the examples are replaced by stories in history, locations in geography and local government examples in civics. For languages the theory is replaced with a large dose of rules. Most are arcane and require rote memorization. Teachers, tend to force students to learn every concept at the same time, regardless of the student’s ability to learn. Inexpensive tablets and applications on those will replace the blackboard based teaching in the next 10 years. Currently instruction is also done in a linear fashion and uses the same tools and techniques for everyone. I know in my own personal case this is meaningless. My son, a 9 year old, prefers if I explain it to him using stories, but my daughter wants to watch videos about history.

“Application” is currently performed by repetition and practice. Instead of applying the learning concepts to a project (in some private schools they are given projects), students are asked to do the same “problems” and answer the same questions multiple times. The expectation is that repetition will ensure you will remember it. The future of application will be based on science kits, drama renditions of historical facts and real-world recreation of circumstances where you would use math. The student is more likely to remember a drama they participated in about the Mughal Empire than the multiple chapters devoted to them in the history textbook. This will also help counter the folks who claim that computing is making students “insular”. The fact that you are doing a project (or a drama) requires teamwork and cooperation.

Finally, “Review” is done by tedious and stress-inducing exams, with emphasis on how well you learned to “learn”, instead of learned to “apply the learning”.  Computing is already replacing the paper-based exams in the higher classes, and they will continue to do so even in the lower grades. Reviews might also get replaced by multiple “demo days” at the end of a semester – with the emphasis on “show me what you learned”.

The future, will feature personalized applications based on experiences with inexpensive tablets and mobile phones replacing the text and images of the 2D text book with voice, video, interaction and text.

While teachers won’t be replaced, the tablet will enhance the teacher’s ability to be a facilitator instead of setting the pace. While some favor setting the pace approach, research has proven that most students are motivated to learn certain subjects faster than others.

The teacher’s role will change to be a curator of great material and a person that understands the unique needs of each student. This obviously means, that not all students in a class will be at the same “level” during the class. Some might surge ahead in Math, others in Literature and still others in Art. Which is a good thing. It will help the students excel in “something”, rather than be ordinary at “everything”.

The future of all student education will be hyper-personalized. From Kindergarten to elementary, middle school to high and from undergraduate programs to post graduate and beyond, each student will focus on having their “own” teacher, their “own” curriculum and their “own” books.

Lastly I want to highlight the differences between hyper-personalized, customized and individualized. They are not the same.

Customized means take a curriculum, tweak it somewhat to the local “needs” of the school and then teach all students the same thing. This is followed by most of the private schools in India. They follow ICSE or IGCSE and “custom” tailor the curriculum for the entire class.

Individualized is what home-schooling is. The focus is on what the tutor (in most cases the parent) feels is best for the child. Individualized programs will work for kids with special-needs in the future, and those with learning disabilities. It requires in many cases, a therapist or instructor who understands how the child learns and only focuses on teaching that material in that particular way. In most cases they use the same curriculum as the mainstream programs, but tend to use the same techniques over and over again.

Is the bias against women in technology subliminal as well?

I know I’ll get into trouble for writing this, but I dont know any other way than to write what I think. Sometimes I have thoughts that I feel bad about. This is one of those. I am hoping that writing this will help me remember and correct my bias. Although I dont think I have a bias, I think I am trying to be politically correct in speech but my own thoughts need better refinement.

I have always considered women and men alike when it comes to technology of all sorts. There may be fewer women in tech, but most all of the women I have worked with (I have had 3 women managers as well) were as good as the men I worked with.

So before I got into my bias (or perceived bias) I have to say I am a big fan of Marissa Mayer.

This morning I read Marissa Mayer’s Tumblr post on their new logo. I read it in its entirety and was pretty thrilled with its content, and she did a great job on the storytelling. After I read it though, I wondered if the CEO of a large company like Yahoo should have spent so much of her time on the logo. My first reaction after that was, imagine if she spent that time in front of customers convincing them to spend more on Yahoo ads. Or with the product team on a new feature.

Then I remembered later in the day reading Vic Gundotra’s blog post on Steve Job’s icon ambulance a few years ago. I remember being very impressed with the line

CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

Then I wondered if I was as biased as everyone else.

Is it that she’s a woman, so I trivialized her obsession on the Logo and font? Versus Steve Jobs obsession of almost the same thing?

I dont know. I hate to think the answer is yes.

I felt awful for quite a bit thinking about this. I thought it was better to write this down than fight the daemons in my head.

Its okay for you to judge, but I would say that I have never felt that I have the bias ever.

How to be affectionate – From a shining example of one

My mom passed away last Friday. She was 65. She suffered from a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage caused by the rupture of an aneurysm in her brain. She was an amazing woman – and I am not just saying that because she was my mom. From reading the many messages that were sent to me and my sister over the weekend the one word that comes to mind about my mom consistently is, affection. She was the most affectionate person I have ever known – and to everyone she met, interacted with or had a chance to talk to.

She was born in a small town near Srirangam, and was one of 5 siblings. The only daughter to my grandparents, she was a twin. She has a younger brother as well, and the older brothers doted on her. There was nothing my mom wanted that she did not get from her family. Her dad was a functionary executive at a local temple, a very well read, endearing and disciplined man. My granddad would claim that my mom was the most-loved person in all of Trichy.

Most people make fun of me when they mention someone by name and I immediately find a connection with them – they are a friend of a friend, or a distant relative, or a college buddy or another remote connection – that’s my mom in me. She’d always have a connection.

Even if you have not heard of the term “people person”, before – close your eyes for a few minutes and think about what images come to mind, when you hear that word. You may have never met my mom, but most of the qualities & images that you associate with that word when your eyes were closed, would define mom. She was the original “people person”.

My parents were married in Trichy in the early 70’s. Dad was an urban city “Bombay” type and mom was from a traditional village. They moved to Bombay soon after the wedding and it took my mom several years to adjust to the hectic pace of the large city. She craved always to know everyone and took great pains to connect with as many people as she could even in the large city of Bombay.

There are 3 things that defined my mom – her immense belief in god and the power of prayer, her generosity and her love for music.

She would manifest her affection towards all people she met by one or all of these ways.

It would never take her too long to make you feel comfortable – many of my friends know her as a very welcoming, always supportive and easy to humor mom. I know many a time when we’d come home late at night after pretending to be “studying” together, when she’d wake up and make a full 3-5 course meal for all of us – from scratch – in less than the time it took us to wash ourselves!

One day a friend had come over to study with me at home. His parents were going through a rough patch and we had our exams in a few days. He went to to same school and grade as I did though, my mom had never met him or his parents. That did not matter though. The next few days he was told to concentrate on studying, while he was clothed, fed and sheltered from goings-on at his home, by my mom. She did not judge him or his parents, nor did she question. She just helped him get on his feet.

Prayer was one of the other ways that she showed you that she loved you and cared for you. I know a few of my cousins who believed her prayer was more powerful than any of the people they knew. I know of many other folks have mentioned that if she prayed, god would make it happen. After all, she prayed so much and so often and asked so little for herself, that god would keep all his reserve credits towards anything she asked for. I remember she would even pray for people she never knew. Simply because she that felt good things happened when you prayed.

Her generosity was another thing she was known for. Her generosity was selfless, all-encompassing and action-oriented. One of her core tenets was “paying it forward”. This was even before paying it forward was a meme.

I remember in 1987 a relative was suffering from immense pain, and mom traveled 8-9 hours by bus to take us to go and see them. All through the journey or the next few days, mom never mentioned to us that she was in severe pain her self, suffering through a very bad back. The only way we got to know about it was her favorite pain-killer – a heat rub, called Tiger balm, was finished by the time we got to the relative’s home. She’d  always think of you and do good for you. That, she herself, was in pain or need was largely ignored. The next 2 days she spent, in the kitchen, at our relatives home, cooking for her family, cleaning and helping out in many ways to ensure that she was able to rest through her pain, while my mom silently suffered through hers. She claimed that she was not in any pain, since she was serving others and their thanks were helping alleviate her pain.

She had no limits or bounds to her generosity either. From our help at home, to her relatives, to my own friends, my sisters or my dad’s friends, her generosity was all-encompassing. My dad would travel quite a bit during the 80’s and largely to Europe or the US. When he’d return, he would bring back loads of chocolates, clothes and stationary that in the 80’s, was largely not available in India very easily. My mom would first take about 40% – 50% of the stuff away and keep it aside for our help at home, relatives, her friends, friends-of-friends, an old lady, who lived next door to the neighbor of a friend, who she met 2 days ago. Then she would advice us to share the rest with our friends and folks that came home.

I remember distinctly a time when my dad bought her a very nice sari, which he wanted her to have. A relative came home that afternoon and loved that particular sari a lot. My mom gave it to her without any hesitation. When my dad came home that evening and asked her why she did that, she said, “I think she would look nicer in that sari”. Yes, she was that selfless.

Most every time she asked us for any money, it was because she wanted to give it to someone else. Another of her core tenets was “The more you give, the more you will get”. I dont think any of us comprehended it at that time, but looking back, we have been immensely blessed with simply because my mom gave away a lot.

Her generosity was also very action-oriented – not in words alone. She would do things – cook and feed you, pray for you or give you stuff to ameliorate your suffering. When she used her words, you would recognize her sincerity and motherly instinct immediately. Her way to show that she cared was to remove one of the things that was bothering you and do it herself, without either your help or direction.

Besides prayer and cooking, one of her life’s biggest passions was music. I remember my aunts and uncles telling me that she was a very accomplished singer and a person with a very sweet voice.  You did not need to ask her twice to sing – another thing I got from her (minus the sweet voice). She tried her best to get my sister and I into Carnatic classical music, but I guess that gene we picked up from my dad. Were were interested and eager, but were not blessed with the same innate music sense my mom was. She would travel wide and far to hear young artists, encourage them, buy season passes to their concerts, attend a few and then give the rest away.

You may have never met my mom, but in many ways you know her, because I suspect everything I have told you about my mom is like your mother as well. She was the most amazing living embodiment of mom that god ever created. I suspect your mom is the same. So, talk to her. That was the only thing she’d ask me for. “Call me”, she’d say. This text message, facebook stuff is not enough. I have to hear your voice. I can tell if you are in pain or you are happy just by listening to your voice over the phone she’d say.

So, to honor my mom I thought I’d help you – over the next couple of days I am going to write a blog post on a list of 101 things to talk to your mom about. Just stuff that I wished I talked to her more about. If you have a suggestion or two, drop me a note. More than anything, talk to your mom. Your mom would be happy you called (regardless of time or day) and so would my mom.

P.S. I know many of you tried calling me, emailing me or text messaging me. I thank you for it. I dont know how to deal with losing my mom – so I dont want to talk to you over the phone. I dont feel it is cathartic. That’ my way of dealing with it. So, if you want to know what happened, please read my blog post. If there’s a story of my mom you remember, please drop me a note. I may not reply, because I’d probably cry some more when I read it.