Friday, November 9, 2012

Blink - A Book Review

Angelos Delivorrias, an art expert, immediately recognizes a statue as a fake one which otherwise was confirmed as authentic after a thorough scientific investigation of fourteen months.

John Gottman, a psychologist, watches married couples (whom he has never met before) discuss a contentious topic from their marriage for about 15 minutes and predicts with a 90% certainty if the couple will still be married 15 years later.  

Nalini Ambady, another psychologist, goes through a 40 second taped conversion between a surgeon and his patients and predicts with surprising accuracy if the surgeon will be sued in future for negligence of duty!

Is there a common link between the above three narratives? If so, what is it?

Thin-slicing, according to Malcom Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point),  is what allows Angelos Delivorrias, John Gottman and Nalini Ambady to make accurate snap decisions when even a rational analysis of the problem using conventional methods doesn’t yield any result. Thin-slicing is the ability to find patterns based on only “thin slices” or a very narrow window of time.
According to Gladwell the subconscious mind has the unique ability to thin-slice by blocking out redundant data and extracting just the right amount of information from the surroundings to make a decision, which is what Angelos did while judging the fake statue. He was able to look at the statue and immediately feel something amiss, something not right.  He prevailed where fourteen months of scientific investigation failed.

Interestingly, when Angelos was asked why he called out the statue as fake he couldn’t give a definite answer. He said he felt an “intuitive repulsion” after looking at the statue; hardly a substitute for 14 months of rigorous scientific investigation, yet he was right. This is another point Gladwell makes in the book. Even though the subconscious mind thin-slices and provides an answer, we have no idea why.  It is very difficult to see what lies beyond the locked door in our mind where snap decisions are made. We may have a gut-feeling or an intuition about something, but we cannot pin-point exactly why we think so. That is probably why the subconscious mind cannot be relied upon completely to make snap decisions. In fact, there are lots of instances when our past prejudices affect our ability to thin-slice and lead us astray.  Gladwell goes on to give a lot of real life examples where thin-slicing has proved disastrous, including an instance where four police officers gunned down an innocent unarmed black man in a neighborhood notorious for its crime rate.

So even though thin-slicing is extremely handy when it comes to making snap decisions, things can go disastrously wrong. It is a double edged sword. How do we improve our ability to make snap judgments?  By practice, says Malcolm Gladwell.  We can train our subconscious mind to make snap decisions accurately by being in similar kind of situations and making similar kind of decisions day after day. We might not know what goes behind the locked door, but with practice we can make sure what comes out of it. Over the course of his life Angelos Delivorrias experienced countless ancient sculptures and learned to interpret his first impressions. John Gottman videotaped thousands of couples and studied each and every minute detail about their conversations to gain the ability to thin-slice a conversing couple sitting next to him in a restaurant and pass judgment about their future.  Nalini Ambady studied hundreds of hours of taped conversations between surgeons and their patients to identify the level of warmth, hostility, dominance and anxiousness present in their exchanges and determine which surgeons got sued and which ones didn’t.   

Blink is a very interesting book which explores the concept of thin-slicing, its advantages, its pitfalls and the ways to avoid them. A key takeaway from the book is that we should always be conscious of the subconscious mind at play whenever we make decisions. Once we are able to train and control the subconscious mind then we can take decisions in the blink of an eye; quite literally

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happiness, US, et al

When you are living in the US a common topic, especially among the Indian community, is the elusive Green Card!
"Have you applied for the green card"?
"When did you apply ? I just got mine" ( followed by a 100 watt smile )
"You better apply for one as soon as you can. Anyway, even if you get your green card you can still go back to India" ( hahaha ......)

The other day I read an interesting article about immigrants going back to India , which got me thinking about the reasons why people like to stay back in US. Are there any valid reasons? Does settling in US enable a person to be more happy in the long run, or even in the short run for that matter ?  Why do people think that living in US will make them more happy? Is there any truth in that?  And, at a broader level, what are the things that really make us happy ?

Coming to the first question; why does a person want to settle down in US? A major reason is the high standard of living the country offers. You can own a car and a house in no time. The infrastructure is excellent. You can travel 30-40 Km in less than half an hour without any hassle, which may take hours in a city like Bangalore. The luxuries that the country offers is definitely much better than what it is back in India and is a major incentive for people to stay back.

The second reason is the quality of work and the career opportunities the country provides, at least in the context of the IT industry. You have a lot of opportunities to grow in your career and also choose the fields you would like to pursue. Though some amount of workplace politics is inevitable, meritocracy is still the king. If you are good, nothing can stop you from climbing up the ladder.
The third reason why people want to settle down in US is somewhat surprising - independence. Independence may mean different things to different people. One of my married friends who came to US about a year back was relieved to be here because in India most of his weekends and free time was spent on attending various functions organized by his relatives!  For unmarried guys independence might mean something different.

There might be many more reasons, but off the top of my head I could think of the above points.

Now, coming to the second and probably the more important question. Does settling in US enable a person to be more happy in the longer run, or even in short term ? A simple way of answering this question will be to compare if US citizens are happier than others. Though there are no credible instruments to measure happiness index of a country , there have not been any studies/surveys that I am aware of which says that US citizens are happier than others. In fact on the contrary, the Gross National Happiness index says that people in Bhutan are the happiest !

In my opinion, whether we stay in US, India or Bangladesh, it doesn't matter. The mere act of living in a specific country will not determine whether you are happy or unhappy. Happiness, for me , is determined by dynamic things, and not by static things.
By static I mean things that don't change a lot over the course of time, like a big house, an expensive car or good infrastructure. If you live in a big bungalow you might be happy for the first 10-15 days or so, but once that 'honeymoon period' is over your daily happiness is independent of the bungalow. The bungalow has absolutely no role to play in determining if on a given day you are happy or sad. The same applies for a car.
Static elements will give you happiness for a moment or two and then disappear. The happiness derived from them cannot be sustained, they wither away. 

Dynamic things, on the other hand, are those that are unpredictable. They constantly change and in my opinion happiness can be derived only from them. One example of a dynamic thing is the work we do for a living. If the work is interesting and constantly throws up challenges, then nothing can be a better source of happiness.
Similarly, personal relationships - like the relationship with your spouse, friends, children or parents - are also dynamic and are a great source of happiness.
The dynamic nature of work and relationships allow us to derive happiness from them.Probably that is the reason why we enjoy sports so much, as sports is an unscripted drama and is the epitome of unpredictability.

Coming back to the reasons why people like to settle down in US, I think most of the reasons are static in nature, be it the standard of living or the feeling of independence. We might feel happy initially, but the happiness is not sustainable and we eventually come back to a steady state.They are like spikes in a graph where the value is momentarily very high and comes back to a normal value the very next instant.

I am not saying that settling in US is not a good idea or that you are better off staying in India, but just that it ultimately doesn't matter where you live. Whether you are in US or in India, your happiness is determined by the little things you do on a daily basis, how you respond to challenges you face everyday, rather than the Ferrari parked in your garage.  A Green card or a US citizenship is not the panacea for all the ills afflicting you. In fact, I would compare getting a Green card with India winning the cricket world cup. You rejoice for a day or two and from the third day normalcy is restored !

To be really happy we have to go after the dynamic things . Their dynamic nature will ensure that periodically we will experience bouts of unhappiness, sadness and frustration, which is precisely the reason why we experience happiness when things go right.
Unlike the big bungalow, which never shrinks, never expands, keeps staring at you the same way day after day, as if it doesn't even exist.

Friday, April 6, 2012

April Haiku Heights

This post is an entry in Haiku Challenge for April 2012 at Haiku Heights.

April 19 Prompt - HoneyBees

It stings,it dies
Sweet and Selfless
Wish I was a Honeybee

The above Haiku is based on the fact
that even though the honeybee knows it will
die after it stings, it still stings. 


April 18 Prompt - White

How bland
If life was pure white
Colors add spice



April 17 Prompt - Wonder

I sometimes wonder
How the hell I wonder
Isn't that wonderful



April 16 Prompt - Being

Its toughest
To remove the facade
Be yourself



April 14 Prompt - Aura

Walk in a way
That the Aura screams
Welcome the KING!!!



April 13 Prompt - Warmth

In the cold dark nights
The warmth of your touch
Ignites me



April 12 Prompt - Coherent

Coherence of lake
Incoherence of hurricane
Stems from water



April 11 Prompt - Possible

Is it even possible
To laugh your heart out
Without tears ?



April 10 Prompt - Summer

Boon for a few
Summer is bane for a few
Its the place that matters

April 9 Prompt - Seashore

Facing scary seas
Pushing back every single time
The shore stands tall



April 8 Prompt - Play

As kid I played
I still play now, but
the toys have changed



April 7 Prompt - Forgive

I forgive myself
For its the only way
to breathe again

Sunday, April 1, 2012

That Last Night

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 26; the 26th Edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The topic for this month is 'That Last Night'.

The last night was long, very very long.
As the night began, the moonlight guided me, showing the path ahead. But soon the clouds covered the moon and there was complete darkness all around. Not a soul was visible. I was in the middle of the forest, completely lost. Where to go? Which direction ? I was not able to decide. I gave up and sat down.

Then, I heard something - the sound of the river. I was hearing the sound for the first time. In fact, it was the first time I had ever heard anything. Earlier, I did not need to. During the light of the day my eyes were enough to guide me. But the night made me discover my hearing senses.
Now, even in the light of the day I hear, I hear the sweet songs of the birds, I hear the flow of water, I hear the wind blow.

I moved towards the river by following the sound, hoping it will take me out of the forest. But all of a sudden my head banged against a tree and I fell down on the impact. Blood started oozing out of my forehead. But staying down was not an option. I tried to get up and in the process my hands touched the tree, and I, felt the tree. That was the first time I had felt anything, ever. Earlier, I did not need to. During the light of the day my eyes were enough to guide me. But the night made me discover my sensation of touch.
Now, even in the light of the day I feel, I feel the wet grass, I feel a bunny's soft skin, I feel a stream of water brushing against my hands and trying to escape between the fingers.

I moved towards the river, but this time stretching out my hand and feeling any obstacle to prevent my head banging against it. I could hear the river louder and clearer as I went ahead. But suddenly my legs got stuck. I was unable to move. I had stepped into a morass and I realised, to my horror, that I was sinking. I got hold of the trunk of a nearby tree and tried to move out of the morass. After an epic struggle I finally came out. While I was still catching my breath, I realised something was different. Something which was not present earlier was present now.  Yes, it was the pungent smell of the morass. It was the first time I had smelled anything. Earlier, I did not need to.During the light of the day my eyes were enough to guide me. But the night made me discover my sense of smell.
Now, even in the light of the day I smell, I smell the rose, I smell the soil after the first drops of rain, I smell the morning dew.

I continued moving towards the river; hearing, feeling and smelling along the way to make sure I was on the right path. Right at the stroke of dawn I reached the river. Finally, I had come out of the forest !

I will always be grateful for the last night, even though it was long. But for the night, I would have never heard the song of a bird, felt the wet grass or smelled a rose.
What a boring life that would have been !

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

Monday, March 26, 2012


तेरा इंतज़ार मुझे आज भी है
अब हसरत यही है
की किसी मोड़ पर हम जब फिर मिलें
तो मैं ऐसे गुजरूँ
जैसे ज़माना मेरी मुट्ठी में है

हाँ , मुझे अब भी तेरा इंतज़ार है  ......

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tumhari yaad....

तुम्हारी याद को तो बस एक बहाना चाहिए

वो याद है तुमको जब coffee शॉप में उस बन्दे को देखा था हमने
तुमने कहा था जाना पहचाना सा है वो, उसे पहले भी कहीं देखा है
अब जब भी उसे देखता हूँ मैं , तो बस तुम याद आती हो......

 वो याद है तुमको जब park में  एक छोटा बच्चा खेल रहा था
तुम कैसे खिलखिलाकर हँस रही थी
अब जब भी किसी बच्चे को खेलते देखता हूँ मैं  , तो बस तुम याद आती हो.....

वो याद है तुमको जब चौराहे की बेंच पे बैठे, हमने चुपचाप  एक दूसरे से बात की थी
रात की ख़ामोशी बस साँसों की आवाज़ के रहम पर थी
अब जब भी साँस लेता हूँ मैं , तो बस तुम याद आती हो ।

तुम्हारी याद को तो बस एक बहाना चाहिए .... 

Friday, March 16, 2012

9.10 ki Train...

मेरे घर के आगे एक ट्रेन का स्टेशन है
मैं हर रोज़ 9.10 की ट्रेन पकड़ता हूँ
आज भी आया स्टेशन में मैं
पर शायद थोडा late हो गया

स्टेशन में रोज़मर्रा के मुसाफिर मुझे आज नहीं दिखे
शायद छुट्टी पर थे
स्टेशन मास्टर कुछ announcement कर रहा था
पर मेरा ध्यान दूर पटरी पे था

रोज़ 9.10 के आस पास स्टेशन में एक औरत कचड़ा साफ़ करने आती है
पर आज कूड़ेदान बिलकुल साफ़ था
शायद आज जल्दी आकर चली गयी 
स्टेशन मास्टर कुछ announcement कर रहा था
पर मेरा ध्यान दूर पटरी पे था

दूर से एक horn जैसी आवाज़ सुनायी दी
चलो ट्रेन आ गयी , मैंने सोचा
अगले पांच मिनट में भी जब ट्रेन न आई तो मैंने आवाज़ फिर से सुनी
एक बच्चा रो रहा था
स्टेशन मास्टर कुछ announcement कर रहा था
पर मेरा ध्यान अब भी पटरी पे था
स्टेशन के यात्री एक एक कर bus stand की ओर जाने लगे
हाँ, रास्ता थोडा उबड़-खाबड़  था, पर उसके पार एक बड़ी bus ख़डी थी
थोड़ी देर में पूरा स्टेशन खली हो गया
स्टेशन मास्टर ने फिर से कुछ announcement किया 
 स्टेशन अब  पूरा खाली था और speaker की आवाज़ कानो में गूंजने लगी
मैंने कान बंद कर लिए , पर फिर भी, किसी तरह, आवाज़ मेरे कानों के परदे पर जा लगी

वसंत नगर जाने वाली 9.10 की ट्रेन 
प्लात्फोर्म  नंबर 1 से रवाना हो चुकी है

मैंने कान साफ़ किये -  आजकल कभी कभी ठीक से नहीं सुनता,
अजीब सी आवाजें सुनाई देती हैं - 
और फिर से पटरी की तरफ देखने लगा

अब रात हो गयी है, दूर कुछ रोशनी सा नज़र आ रहा है
शायद 9.10 वाली ट्रेन का engine है


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life = Differentiation of Y ?

Isn't life same as differentiation ? No, not the  English 'differentiation', the Maths one; of the type dy/dx.

Whatever parameters you use to evaluate your success in life - money, fame or  happiness - if differentiation of these parameters is zero, 'success' is zero as well. That is, if dy is zero, irrespective of the value of y, you are not considered successful.

You might be a millionaire, but if there is no net addition to your worth compared to last year, a lot of people, including you, will consider that as a failure.

You may have everything in life which makes you happy; a wonderful and a loving partner, beautiful kids, great job, great friends. But if the 'happiness index' doesn't increase, you will still feel something is missing.

Take the example of Roger Federer.  The man has 16 Grand Slam titles, and last year he reached the semi-final of 3 of the 4 Grand Slams, though he was not able to win any of them. Even though reaching the Grand Slam semi-final is a big achievement, Federer still would not have been happy. For him, dy is a negative value, as last year was the only year since 2002 when he failed to win a grand slam, which makes last year a failure for him. Imagine, reaching the semi-final of 3 of the 4 grand slams and still considered a failure !!!

So, is the key to success focussing on dy and dx, as opposed to only y, which most of us focus most of the times ?When self-help books and motivation experts ask you to 'live the moment', are they referring to the dx in the above equation ? As dx tends to 0...

However, no one can afford to have a positive value of dy throughout their lifetime. If that is the case y will tend to infinity, which is impossible.

Is that why dy has to be a negative value sometimes?

Take the case of Roger Federer again. If Federer wins a Grand Slam next year, lets assume only one, it will still be a special moment for him and he will be more happy than he has been in a long time, even though he has done this ( winning at least one Grand Slam a year) 8 times before. The reason for his happiness, or success in this case, is a positive dy, even though his y is considerably less than the past values.

So next time you are going through a negative dy, don't be disheartened. Even mathematically its a certainty and no one can avoid it. But on the bright side it also means that you will require less effort than past to achieve the same value of dy/dx :)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Trench

Her and I - we were walking at the dawn. The sun hadn't come out yet, the fog covered the air and made it difficult to see the road ahead. Even otherwise I am not sure I would have seen the road. I was seeing her.

Slowly, I held her hand. Before I could interlock my fingers with hers, I was jolted. A big trench appeared, apparently out of nowhere, right in front of us. May be the fog blinded me of the trench. May be not. I lost my balance, my hands came off, I fell deep into the trench. I tried to climb up. With great difficulty I reached the other side.

I saw Her, still standing behind the trench.She looked angry. I stretched my hand, asked her to come.
You will not fall, I said, believe me.
She would not budge. Why did you leave my hand? Why did you go alone? She asked.
The fog blinded me, I couldn't see the trench, the shock made me take my hand off. Also, I hadn't interlocked my fingers with you, may be then my hands wouldn't have come off and I would have taken you along into the trench.

No, you ditched me.  She walked off with him and they crossed another trench together. No, it was not a trench. It was just a small depression.

I shouted to her.
But for the fog, I would have seen the trench, I would not have been jolted, my hands wouldn't have come off.
This is the biggest trench as far as I could see, if we cross this, we can cross any other.
How do you know he would not be as jolted as me if he encounters a trench as big as I encountered.

She did not turn.
Perhaps the wind carried away my words in the opposite direction. 
Perhaps she was relieved I fell in the trench.
Perhaps she had fallen in the trench earlier and the trench scared her.
Perhaps I took a lot of time climbing up the trench.
Perhaps it was always meant to be like this. She was an angel who wanted to alert me of the trenches. Show me the path.
Perhaps she is smiling now, realising her mission is accomplished.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Moving On

"Move on, there is more to life".

You must have heard this phrase many times before; you might have said it to your friends or your friends might have said it to you. Either way, moving on from a relationship is not the easiest thing to do. Why is moving on in life so difficult ? Even when people know that there is no other option, why do they refuse to accept the reality and cling on to something in the past ?

One reason why moving on is so difficult is because deep down at some corner of your heart, there is a small voice which keeps uttering the words - "You may still end up together". Though its a very feeble voice, you listen to it, and believe or at least "hope" that you will indeed end up together.Generally "hope" is a good thing. It gives a direction to life and gives us a reason to wake up in the morning. But when you are moving on from a relationship does this very "hope" become your biggest obstacle? Does this "hope" chains you to the past, prevents you from moving forward and cajoles you to wait? And you wait; sometimes even when there is no hope at all.

Though superficially it may seem that the refusal to accept the reality is due to the strong emotional attachment you may have developed for your loved one, is the real reason your ego ? Do you refuse to accept that a person for whom you care so much just doesn't give a damn about you ? A person who has become such an important part of your life doesn't have a place for you in his/her life ?

Another reason which makes people dread moving on is the fear that they will never feel the same way with anyone else compared to how they feel now. The comfort level, the connection, the attraction. What they have now is the best that could happen to them and they will never find anything even close to this in the future.This fear in turn wants them to hold on to what they have and "hope" things miraculously work out.
Why does this happen ? Is there an element of truth in it or is it just that a break up, almost always , diminishes your self confidence and makes you believe that the future cannot be brighter ?

For whatever reason - ego, drop in self confidence or even true love - if an artificial "hope" builds up in you, the best thing is to kill it. Time will eventually do that, but the sooner you realise and kill it yourself, the earlier you will get back on your feet and the more time you will have to enjoy life.

If at all we want to "hope" for something, let it be that the best is yet to come and that we will find something better. I saw the following Facebook post which succinctly tells the message :

Someday someone will walk into your life and make you realize why it never worked out with anyone else.

In short, Life is short. Move on.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Sapling

We sowed a seed, and expected a tree
We manured it, we watered it everyday
We gave it sunlight, we gave it our time
With a smile on our face, we waited.

The seed grew to a sapling
and our joy knew no bounds
we started dreaming of the tree
we started dreaming of the fruits

Then came a mighty storm
and ran over our beloved plant
Under the fury of the wind
lay the plant; crushed, senseless, dead.

With our dreams shattered
we blamed the storm
we blamed the lightening
we blamed the nature

But whose fault was it really?
Of the storm ? that was just passing by .
Of the lightening ? that was just doing its job.
Of the nature ? which never does anything without a reason

Or, was it the fault of the time ?
Did the storm arrive a little early ?
Struck the sapling when it was still young,
Cos it knew, it had no chance with the tree.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Is Love always Black or White or is Love always grey ? Or is Love sometimes Black or White and sometimes grey ?

Even if you break someone's heart whom you dearly love, for reasons you have no control over,  why do you feel uneasy when the person is happy with someone else ? Does it mean your love was not pure, not white ? It had shades of grey ?

If someone you love breaks your heart, why does your sadness increases if you see them happy with someone else ? And if they are as sad as you, why does it cheer you up ? Does it mean your love was not pure, not white ? It had shades of grey ?

Coming back to the question again, does Love have to be White ? If your Love has shades of grey, is it not Love at all ? Is it just an illusion which your ego wants you to believe ? If so, have I never, Loved at all ?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Phir wahi

वही नज़र वही शर्म
वैसा ही था खिलखिलाना
वही चाल वही ठहराव
वैसा ही था आँख चुराना

वही खुशबु वही आवाज़
उन आँखों में वही दास्ताँ
वही लोग वही एहसास
फिर से वही काला वीरान

वही हवा वही समां
हाँ सब कुछ वही तो था
वही घुटन वही जलन
हाँ सब कुछ वही तो था