Mauritius, Son of a Beach

I had already spent four days at the Mauritian island. These days had been truly enthralling; comprising of scuba diving, underwater walk, snorkelling, beach volleyball, boat rides, tube ride, waterfalls and beach time at Ile aux cerfs. Add to that a couple beers, beach table tennis, early morning beach walk with a slightest of drizzle and you have for yourself the perfect recipe for bliss. Following this, we had reached the airport and my folks from work were set to catch their flights back to India. I had slightly different plans. While I had covered most of the touristy places, it was time for me to taste the real flavor of Mauritian life.

I headed to my Airbnb which was 8 km from the airport in Mahébourg at around 1830 hrs. Mahébourg is a small city on the southeastern coast of the island of Mauritius. My host had informed me that owing to the nature of his job and the time of the month, he’ll stay at work till very late and consequently suggested me to grab dinner on my own at a restaurant Chez Patrick; 15 walking minutes away. I left home at about 1900 hrs to explore around the town. I realized it was already starting to get rather dark. I walked around the town aimlessly and truly unwatchful of where I was heading; I entered a supermarket to glance at what they have in store. In addition to the stuff that you’d expect to see in a supermarket, was a truly mesmerizing medley of alcohol. Roughly estimating, they had at least a 100 varieties to offer. Took a mental note and headed to Chez Patrick and ordered Chicken in Kreole sauce with rice and banana rum to go with. I started walking back at about 2045 hrs and to a great surprise, the sky was pitch black and streets desolate. With chilling winds and dogs barking at a distance, the feeling was congruent to walking around in Delhi at 1 AM on a November night.

I reached back home and spent some time chatting with my Airbnb host, Nicholas; who was gulping Chinese tea; recipe as taught by a Chinese friend of his; who had BnB-ed at his place some time back. Nicholas seemed to be a chilled out guy. Nicholas offers his place on Airbnb so that he can meet new people from around the world. He likes to paint, cook, play the guitar; has a mini bar of his own.

Day 5

I had set out by 8 in the morning. Mission of the morning was to arrange a local sim and a scooty. I could have searched online but I found this as a golden opportunity to interact with the locals. I inquired about where I could rent a scooty in the vicinity. Some people directed me to an approximate location / place / shop; the ones who did not know of any, seemed rather upset about about the fact that they couldn’t be of much help. The thing that stood out for me was that most people knew Hindi! When you try conversing with them in English they would reply back in Hindi! – “Hindustan se ho?” “Sau-Doso rupye lagenge”. Now, conventionally speaking, Mahebourg isn’t a touristy town and my efforts to find a scooty were in vain.

I decided to go the traditional way of finding a rental on the internet. By 12 noon, I was setup with a scooty. I started out from the Mahébourg waterfront and headed towards South along the coast. My plan was to keep riding aimlessly along the coastline. I rode for about 7 KM, stopped at some places to click some pictures. I realized that while going in this direction, it was rather difficult for me to stay alongside the coast. The roads were repeatedly throwing me off, into the city. Post 15 Km, I found myself in the middle of farms with the seas nowhere in sight! I decided to head North instead; so I navigated to Vieux Grand Port, North of Mahébourg. Here onwards, I was in for a treat. I drove along the beaches for 50 KM straight. With some rock music in my pocket and one hell of a scooty, I rambled wherever the road would allow one to go – Trespassed into random valleys; needless to say “Private Property” and “Cremation Street” signs were not a deterrent.

It was 1800 hrs; I was at Bel Air and considering that it gets pitch black at 1930; I reckoned that it was in my best interest to start heading back. I drove back to Mahébourg which was 30 km if traversed without deviating from the route. Some stray dogs almost got both of us injured by suddenly appearing in my way. After a long and tiring day, I wanted to grab some familiar food, so I headed to KFC for Dinner.

Day 6

On this day, a solar eclipse was to happen which was to be visible only from Mauritius in the entire world. The nerd in me was screaming for me to head to a planetarium, but guess where I ended up reaching? A rum factory. In the morning, I had about an hour to kill, so I decided to head to the national history museum which was at a stone’s throw from my bnb pad. I learnt that Mauritius was colonized by the British from 1810-1968 and they brought in slaves aggressively from India among other countries. When in 1968, the British decided to abandon the island, because it was financially draining, the slaves were left behind which is why I gathered, Mauritius is abundant with people of Indian origin.

Rhumerie de chamarel is this big ass rum factory. At about 930 hrs I started for Chamarel. Navigation was a pain. GMaps was continuously losing the GPS signal. So I had to stop frequently and try to make sense of the directions. 40 KMs out, I started an ascend uphill. For some reason I wasn’t very confident about the fuel indicator and that was making me anxious, since I was pretty sure I will not find a filling station uphill. In the last 10 KM run, the roads became increasingly convoluted and turns rather sharp. I eventually reached Rhumerie de chamarel. The folks here offer a guided tour of the factory, entry ticket priced at 370 MuR.

90% of cultivable land in Mauritius is dedicated to sugarcane cultivation. Now, sugarcane juice, my friends, can be used to produce great rum. Our tour guide, Nathalie enlightened us about the rum production process while maneuvering  along the spectrum of industrial processes like fermentation, double distillation and aging in casks. Following that, we tasted nine varieties of rums. I bought a Vanilla liqueur rum priced at 600 MuR as a souvenir for folks back home. During the tour, I met an Indian happy go lucky couple with a great sense of humor. Along with that some folks from England who hailed old monk as the most superior rum! I loitered around, clicked some more pictures.

It was time for me to head back to be on time for my flight. I had just had rum. So, technically speaking, I drunk drove. On the hills. In Mauritius. Mauritius, you son of a beach; just wait and watch when I visit you again. Soon enough.

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TEDxHyderabad

I attended the TEDx event in Hyderabad today. With the second edition of the speaker event in Hyd; TEDxHyderabad carried the theme of “Crafting Our Future”. The event brought together stories and ideas that proudly announced that the onus of adapting the canvas of a blank future to a new set of colors is in our own hands. The talks put a special emphasis on aimpact*.

Kiran Kanojia, is a blade runner. A brave heart who had to have her leg amputated following an accident. Kiran said and I quote “I was never a runner. Prior to my predicament, I worked a nine to five job”. She fought against all odds to become a marathon runner. She crafted her future with an astounding persistence and adoptimism*.

Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator and pioneer of blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean. She is known for the Blue whale project. Ted TalkBeing laughed at for studying subjects that would never make her money; she continued to pursue marine biology. She claims that while we set on countless expeditions to search for life in far reaching corners of the universe, it’s greatly surprising how little we know about the marine life, here on our own planet. Oceanic flora makes up for 70% of oxygen that we breathe. Asha asserts that the answer to counter the deteriorating environmental conditions on earth lies in the mysteries of the ocean and she is dead set on unravelling those mysteries. Does she aspire to craft a sustainable future for the planet earth and humanity? Affirmative.

Srikanth Bolla is the first international visually challenged student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2012, Bolla started his career by founding Bollant Industries, which provides employment to several hundred people with disabilities.
Jasminder Singh Gulati, co-founder Digital-Desh. His company helps get businesses in rural areas online. Among a hoard of interesting stories to tell, he narrates the one about Pawan from Pushkar, Rajasthan. Pawan used to work as a middleman for desert safari operators. A benevolent tourist introduced him to the internet and guided him to put up the camel safari offerings on TripAdvisor. Pawan now owns 400 camels. A handful of people and the internet helped Pawan craft his future.

I often hear people say that whatever is destined to happen, will happen; and that we act as mere pawns to enable what has already been etched in stone. I beg to differ. I have always been a firm believer of “I write my own destiny”. We can choose to write it whichever way we desire to. Today at TEDx I heard folks narrate extraordinary excerpts from their life, wherein they not only wrote their own destiny and but are continually making efforts to craft the future of many other people by enabling progressential*; in ways that strike a chord with them and resonate with their heart.

*As folks at TEDx like to put it; aimpact* is “aiming to impact”, adoptimism refers to “adopting optimism” and progressential designates “progress that is essential”.

Water-melon, Pa-paya….

Teach For India brought in 130 kids aged 9-11 to our workplace. Our workplace is really fancy, has all sorts of fun activities and serves amazing food, so the Teach for India fellows thought that they could bring in the kids for a picnic of sorts while also giving them a glimpse into the corporate world.

The kids entered the office building, all dressed up in their uniforms, sorted according to their class and height; chirping with enthusiasm. While we were taking care of the security procedures; they enquired; “Bhayia what is your name?”“Didi what is your name?” We took them for some activities that we had planned a day before; some of which were drawing activities, musical chairs and an introduction to programming game. Though I must confess the programming game didn’t suit their fancy; instead they wanted to play a car racing game or listen to Honey Singh songs or Google about their teacher Sri Harsha on the internet.

They chorused a beautiful song; try to get the rhythm here:

Water-melon, Water-melon, …
Pa-paya, Pa-paya, ….
Chikoo, chikoo, chikoo, …
Chikoo, chikoo, chikoo, …
Fruit salad, …. Fruit Salad …

We took them around for a office tour in a really really long queue and they kept waving to all the Didis and Bhayias they saw working. I categorically remember them being dumbstruck and disheartened when one of the bhayias did not wave back. “Bad Bhayia”. During this time Shoib, a class 3 boy was holding my hand throughout and claimed within five minutes that I was his best friend – Which I obviously am.

He is the one with the hat. He nicknamed me “Pattu” – the meaning of which probably even he doesn’t know. “Pattu idhar aao”. “Pattu khana khao”.

It was lunch time and we served them food. They liked it I can recall from their expressions. While they were at it; one of them suddenly realized that I wasn’t eating, just serving them. So the girl hand fed me a mouthful of rice. Five of her friends decided to follow suit. “Bhayia, mujhse bhi”, “Bhayia, mujhse bhi”. Then one of them claimed that one must never eat just one bite – it’s not good luck. So I was fed by each one of them again. 🙂 At that moment, I felt that I was richer than I can ever be.

I think he didn’t want to stand with the girls.

Then Shoib approached me again and said he wanted a fresh plate of food, which I served and handed over to him. He told me already has a plate and the plate he just asked for is for me – since I am not eating at all! And then he took my hand and seated myself with him; gave me the plate and we ate together.

Soul satisfying? Yes.

PS. I could very well see how much the kids liked their teachers / mentors from  Teach of India. Amazing job Teach for India fellows. I wish someday I could do something half as noble as what you guys are doing by mentoring these children.

Week 1 at Google

Day 5. 1700 hrs.

Tech Team Lead, conducts a formal 15min presentation to familiarize us about the review and promotion process for Software Engineers at Google. During the course of the presentation, we are informed about a performance star rating awarded to employees by their manager, which cumulatively determines if you would be eligible for promotion. 1 download at any point during your career is an indication for you to start looking for a new job. He adds that us being Nooglers, will be star rated on the basis of a test, that will happen right now! We are looking at each other. Impromptu test? Really? What is this, college?

6 competitive programming questions (harder than the Google interviews) in 30 mins. Start! The invigilator leaves and we are being video-invigilated. 15mins into the test, invigilator walks in asks a Noogler to follow him immediately, snatches his paper, asks him to collect his laptop and hand over his badge. In a state of doubt and shock, we are asked to continue the test. Time is up, our papers are collected and corrected within 5mins. I already knew I had performed pathetically. A guy walks in with a very stern look and asks me and another Noogler if we had been appropriately informed that this test would affect our entire careers. He notifies us that there is an urgent need to talk to our manager right away. We are escorted to another room where our manager is waiting and are instructed to enter it. With shaky legs and spiked up heartbeat, we enter into the room. Boom!

30 people inside the room – including the guy who was taken away initially laughing their asses off. It takes us half minute to come to terms with the fact that we have been exquisitely moulded into a “Bakra”! We can’t help feeling embarrassed. We join in the laughter and watch the remaining Nooglers becoming nervous and contemplating our fates. 😀 The cake arrives; it says “The Google Bakra”! We realized that the entire floor had been decorated for us! Needless to say, the cake was used to smear everyone who was involved in the plan. Obviously, when cake fights begin, you stop caring whether the face you are trying to ruin belongs to your manager or your Tech lead.

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Google. Remember, how they say never judge a book by its cover and how everyone wants to be at Google, and how those surveys keep on screaming Hey, Google is the best place to work at! Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to inform you that those surveys are immaculately accurate and I encourage you to go ahead and judge Google by it’s cover :p . It is exceptional. Period.

I mean really? At least 50 different dishes, 5 desserts, exotic cuisine from the world around in a single day. Fully stacked refrigerators and micro kitchen at every floor. “Desperate Housewives” – That won’t raise eyes here, because wait! – Did someone say that was a name of a meeting room? Oh! and then there is Pink Floyd and Metallica and U2 and Batman and Spiderman. Need to relax? Head to the Games room on any floor – Have a game of Fußball, pool, table tennis or maybe XboX? Still need a break? Go get a massage. Need to work while on a break? :p Ok, occupy that massage chair. Still need to loosen up? Head to the bunkers have a nap on the full size beds.

The thing that totally blew me away was the people. The kind of diversity you will find yourself surrounded with is so enticing. Meet the geeks, the outspoken, the soft-spoken and the-ones who-are-always-inviting-you-for-a-coffee (in the company Cafe full of free Donuts, Lattes, Mocha, Cappuccino, croissants, muffins and cakes….I deviated a lil bit) and the one who are always smiling and the one to whom everything is “Awesome” and the bubbly ones who will bubble-pop happiness into your entire day with their energy. And the there is this lady, who is organizing all the orientation sessions and she turns out to be the one-who-punches-you-hard you tell her that all the sessions during the orientation were so boring (which obviously were not).

MacBook? Check. Fully sponsored trip to Thailand next month? Umm… Check.

TL; DR – Heaven on Earth.

Auf Wiedersehen

May 2015: Two weeks back I thought, farewell won’t be a big deal for me. After all, one must embrace change with open arms and sometimes it is alright to let go; and await future with a warm heart. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If life were a book, chords of emotion and sentiment would prevent me from turning this chapter close. How my heart knows that even though the book remains to be read, the climax has been revealed. The story intoxicates me with ecstasy. The flashbacks keep me stupefied and while I reminisce those gleeful faces of my juniors that put me in a trance; I realize I have reached an emotional pinnacle. As I look at my brothers and cry inside, I wonder what I would not give up to relive these four years. I take a look down the memory lane and realize how far we have come from the time this started on July 23, 2011. An impassioned journey so enticing that I never imagined would end. Never could imagine, could I? My heart breaks as I pen down my tears here and the harsh reality that my stay at IITJ is over crushes me inside.

I remember being a stark introvert, so insecure, vulnerable and withdrawn four years back.

I was so confused as a little child
trying to take what I could get
scared that I couldn’t find;
all the answers, honey*

But when I look back and though the details are hazy and clouded by emotion I see how the IITJ family was instrumental in helping me evolve and turn around my life. I never knew I was forging such divine bonds with people, tenacious enough to stand the test of time and distance.

Isn’t it ironic that, I had very fulfilling conversations with several juniors on the last day. Last day; when we were together for years. When I look at you and imagine you some years down the line, I see ladies and gentlemen brimming with confidence. Letting go becomes so difficult and emotion takes the best of you.

The road gets tough, I don’t know why. The road is long but we must carry on.*
IIT Jodhpur – Thank you for a walk on the wild side.*

An excerpt from the final Jodhpur – Delhi train journey.
Uncle: Beta, achha package hai, 1-2 saal naukri ka experience leke shaddi karlo; mummy ko aaram ho jayega.
Me: Uncle, akhbar mein ad dalva diya hai.

Signing off.

* The downsides of listening to melancholic Lana Del Ray songs is that you tend to pull lines from it into your blog post.

How I almost messed up my Internship

May 2014: I landed a work from home internship at a startup based out of San Francisco working on data visualization. I was being mentored by the co-founder himself; let’s call him W. I was supposed to implement several data structures and algorithms in the core analytics library and write code in C. The company being a startup was developing its product very rapidly and needless to say, preparing documentation on the fly was out of the question since that would have led to wastage of precious developer time. Days left to company launch: 21.

I am at my first project. I was supposed to make sense of the existing code-base, code the core component (heaps in this case), write tests in python, use Cython to interface and it goes without saying that the knowledge of git was indispensable. A curious mind may ask did I have the required know-how of python, Cython and git? – No. Not even a dime’s worth of knowledge. So, to bridge the gap between what I knew and what I was expected to deliver, I began browsing through a lot of literature on the subjects in question. Consequently, for 10 days I wasn’t able to make much progress. I kept bugging W to clarify my doubts (over chat) vigorously and persistently. What I did not realize was that I was gnawing away at his valuable time. He was the co-founder for Christ’s sake!
Days left to company launch: 11.

Then one fine morning, I ask something really silly (something which even a non computer science grad could have figured out[1]) and that caused W to reach his tipping point. He tells me that unfortunately he is very close to ending my internship because they currently did not have a support structure in place to help me with my frequent doubts.

Fortunately, I did not let the oops moment turn into a panic moment. I was calm. I was calm as fuck. Given the Quora addict that I am, I even posted a question on Quora on what should a student do if he is fired from his internship expecting some humorous responses. I told W that I am ready to do anything to save the internship; all he needs to do is tell me what I could do. He told me that I could ask doubts; but they had to be limited to only 1 doubt per day. If my performance improved after a week, I could continue.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not know whether or not you believe in sorcery, but I sure did start believing in it. From next day onwards, the doubts started solving themselves and the compiler stopped giving errors. Miraculously, I woke up with the knowledge of git, python became a no-brainer and Cython started making sense. One week and one doubt per day later, bang I made my first pull request[2]. Days left to company launch: 5.

The code went into production 5 days later. Obviously, my code was just a single spoke among the multifarious cogs that functioned together to make the launch day a success. W appreciated me for my efforts and said he was greatly impressed. 10 weeks whiz by and my knowledge became notches higher with each passing week. Did I mention about the handsome stipend? Woohoo!

Sometimes, all you require is a little push. From such dungeons to such heights, as my son[3] Aseem pointed out. Satisfaction of working with a silicon valley startup? #Priceless.

“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice”
~ Bob Marley

[1] I just remembered, I too am a non – CSE undergrad.
[2] If you are reading this, you are a layman. Pull request is simply put; submitting your code.
[3] Symbolic stuff, all right!

The Pompous Googler

I was chatting with a girl on facebook and simultaneously tweeted something about me being a Googler. The lady be like, Lol, you are so boastful”. That damn near killed me.

The last time you changed your profile picture to show us how drop dead gorgeous you are; that sure as hell is not boastful; is it? Now, if you said something like, “It’s just the real me” that would damn near kill me again. Yeah, ok, it’s the real you. I understand that you won some dimes in the genetic lottery and if that fills you up with the privilege to post your ‘hawt’ pics everyday, then ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I sure as seven heavens am entitled to show off what I achieved through months of hard work and was not showered upon me by God’s grace when I was born.

All the pretty ladies be changing their profile pics every second day and no one bats an eye. A guy tweets about him being a Googler once in a while and everybody loses their minds.
                                                                      ~ Joker, from the pompous city of Google

Quora is to me what Instagram is to you. I judge people on the basis of their content on Quora and not on the basis of their skin show on Instagram.

Doesn’t this post yet again reiterate the fact that I am a Googler? Probably, the post itself is a reflection of how ‘boastful’ I am.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; I summon you again to learn to; damn as well deal with it.

P.S. – Find me on Quora: Arpit