25 April 2009

Legacy consultant: A thinly veiled advert

Are you wealthy? Do you want to leave a legacy that will be cherished and appreciated for countless generations? If yes, you may need my services.

Let's face it: you aren't immortal. Sure, if you believe in reincarnation you might think that you will live forever but say you were reborn as an Alligator, the only reason people would remember your name is if you were in a zoo and ate the keeper. Otherwise, you would in essence, just be another Alligator destined to become an anonymous yet wealthy handbag. My point is that no matter what your beliefs, if you want to be remembered, you need to leave a legacy.

The simplest way I see for any human being to leave a legacy is to be a parent. You leave your legacy genetically and culturally. The caveat is that this legacy is not permanent. Over a period of time the genetic legacy gets diluted as your children reproduce. Culturally also your legacy only survives till your children's generation. Unless, that is, you spawn a huge family business empire and leave millions to your family. But let's be honest, how many of us can become Rockefeller?

Right ho, so if you are realistic you would have to agree that given your resources and interests, besides having children you may have to consider other ways of leaving a legacy. Which is why I think there is a big market for legacy consultancy. As my client you have to let me know the amount you want to set aside for creating you legacy and, it will be my job to find you the best avenue to create and sustain that legacy. Ideally the legacy consultant should be a key member of your wealth management team but first, let's talk about your legacy - How long do you want to be remembered for? Do you want the legacy to be self-sustainable? Then importantly - Whom would you want to remember you? Dogs, Salamanders or pithy humans? if humans - what type and age group? Do you want to make it a one-time adventure or slowly build it over time? See how the questions add up?

That is why you need to hire me. I will provide responsible and impartial assessment of what type of legacy you can leave and advise on how best to execute that vision. It doesn't matter what your background or how much you want to set aside. What matters is realizing that your legacy doesn't build itself and it needs constant work. Let me help you with this journey and contribute my razor sharp engines of grey matter to realizing your dreams. Anyone can leave a legacy, so shouldn't you? Hire a legacy consultant today*.

* realizing of dreams not guaranteed. Must be over 18 to hire me. Smokers please excuse.

24 April 2009

Wish I was home

Today, I wish I was back in India so that I could vote. After all those annoying trips to government offices and tracking down various election officials, I was finally on the electroral list so it feels a bit impotent to just watch the action from afar. Well, I have another life goal: to cast my vote.

19 April 2009

The ride home

Manjula exited office with an unspoken sigh. It was Tuesday, a day of little consequence work wise but one that suggested a much longer time to go before she could forget the incessant air conditioning buzz of her office. As she approached her scooter she began to tie her hair behind her back. By the time she got to her scooter she had draped her dupatta tightly around her head and was ready for her helmet. The last act was to wear her protective gloves and socks; in the dusty route between her house and the office this garb was her insurance against getting dust in her hair and an uneven tan on her hands and feet.

As she turned into the main road her mind went into automatic and she followed the route she had been taking for the past four years without checking either mirror or traffic lights, stopping only when others did or, an angry honk propelled her to swear and weave out into a crater sized pothole. Today, her mind was on automatic but not bereft of thoughts. Time was short; she had to commit by tonight or else. "Or else..." she thought softly. Amma would be waiting for her with a cup of coffee and some evening snacks. She wasn't accustomed to these gourmet welcomes but they had increased in frequency as the deadline approached and she remained noncommittal.

Appa had asked her two weeks ago, exactly to this day, to take out a loan. She was the elder child, he said and was the only one practically able to pay back such a sum. He was willing to put up his plot in the village as collateral but it was she who had to sign the papers and liable to pay back the amount if Bopanna defaulted. The conversation has taken place after dinner, while she was reading the newspaper and enjoying a cool evening out on the portico, surrounded by jasmine flowers. She didn't want to be disturbed but her father didn’t notice and prattled from start to end without waiting for her response. Bopanna wanted to go abroad, England actually, to pursue higher studies in accounting. He had identified the college and was ready to apply. He only needed a loan to pay for the tuition; Appa had enough for travel and lodging. They had spoken to the bank manager and Appa could not take out the loan because he was retired. They needed a salaried person. She said she would think about it.

That was the start of a domino. Appa never expected her to register any opinion other than meekly agreeing. He didn't know how to respond and neither did Bopanna, who was quietly listening to the conversation from inside the house. Manjula had overheard this phrase several times in office while she marketed time share holidays and today, she felt she had earned the right to use it: "I will think about it." As she said this, she felt despair. Why did she have to shoulder this responsibility?

Manjula and Bopanna were four years apart. They went to the same school but after 10th standard their lives were acutely different. She worked hard to get into a good college, held a part time job to pay tuition and walked several kilometers to save on bus fare. She lived a life of denial convinced that once she graduated and got a job, she could enjoy a life of choice. Bopanna on the other hand, meandered through college, begging Amma for pocket money which she doled out from the house budget and with some effort cleared the B.Com final exam. She wasn't actively discriminated as the girl child but there was always a subtle expectation that she wouldn't be demanding. It was her salary that gave them a respectable lifestyle after Appa retired and an administrative glitch lost him his pension.

Manjula was stunned not because such an expectation was made off her but because, this time, she didn't want to yield. Her own brazenness shocked her. He was her younger brother, family, after all, and yet, she wasn't convinced that this was a good decision. After the conversation, an eerie silence descended in the house. The next day everything moved in routine but the air became heavy and communication, monosyllabic. Amma didn't talk about the 'conversation'; she went about her housework but conveyed her emotions by looking at Manjula from the corner of her eye. She didn't chastise or scold; she merely looked, a visual communication far more powerful in unsettling Manjula than verbal aggression. Bopanna avoided her.

Each evening after that day, Appa spoke to Manjula - sometimes softly, sometimes angrily, occasionally abusive but always pleadingly. He wanted this for Bopanna. A chance to send a family member abroad for higher education. A chance for their family to climb out of the lower middle class bracket. Why didn't she see how it would alter all their lives? Why couldn't she be generous? After all, it was only a signature and Bopanna would pay the loan when he got a job. Manjula just nodded through these tirades, benumbed and sad. Why didn't Bopanna talk to her about this himself? Why use Appa? and Why did they do all the groundwork without consulting her?

Today she had to deliver an answer. Yes meant a loan taken out to educate her brother at the cost of losing her choices. No meant a stifling home environment bereft of joy and togetherness. Devil and the deep blue sea? She prefers the sea; at least she could swim. As she rode home, the duppatta flying like a flag behind her, she knew this situation had to be resolved today, right after dinner. As the traffic light turned green and the traffic pulled out, she made the right turn to her home. Her selfishness may cost her sanity and there didn't seem any way out of it. She would have to say yes.

She opened the gate and parked her scooter. Amma came out and requested her to get some milk from the store around the corner. She obliged, her mind made up but her heart very heavy. The shopkeeper caught her eye and she mouthed, "Milk." The store was busy so she let her eyes wander over the neighborhood adverts: day care, Lakshmi temple fund, summer camp for children, paying guest accommodation, an endless display of a world that she never sampled. She collected her milk and headed home. Dinner was laid and consumed. She walked into the portico as was her habit with the newspaper tucked under her arm. Appa followed.

"Manjula, are you going to sign the papers?" No preamble to the discussion tonight, it would seem.

Manjula sat on the floor, opened the newspaper and laid it out.

"Appa, we shouldn't rush into this decision." She would buy time; that was her strategy before she ultimately relented. She averted her gaze back to the newspaper and continued reading from the back, as she normally would. "Maybe Bopanna should work for a year or two before moving abroad-- get some experience. I have heard that helps to get a better job." This line of argument appeared as she scanned the advert section.

Appa snorted and with a heavy breath unleashed a tirade of such magnitude that Manjula thought her newspaper would fly away in the gale force of such a speech. Ungrateful, selfish, modern, uncultured were some of the adjectives he liberally sprinkled his harangue with. Manjula just sat and read. An ocean of calm. Her brain already shut out Appa as white noise and she was busy listening to the symphony of her inner child, delighting in the comic strip and enjoying the printed word. Then the words jumped out at her, again: paying guest accommodation. No, she thought, what would her family think? But it seemed so simple. She could continue to support them but move away. A bold gesture: girls in her family were expected to stick around till they got married. But, if she did move, she wouldn't have to listen to this speech every night. Running away always seems like such a bright idea when it first occurs!

She looked up. Appa was done. She stood up, newspaper in hand and walked inside. Appa followed. Bopanna approached her " Akka, please." Amma implored her and upbraided her; all in the same look. Manjula was tired now, really tired but radiant. She handed the newspaper to Bopanna, " You should look for a job." Appa knew he was defeated. The eerie heaviness lifted in her heart and she felt free. Tomorrow she would seek out the paying guest accommodation.

Footnote - I conceived of this story while on one of my long runs. When I first thought of the story it didn't have an ending but my friend E encouraged me to write it without one and while I typed it out the end wrote itself. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I liked writing it. Comments and criticism on writing style welcome.

13 April 2009

Edinburgh Half Marathon

Another medal. This one for the half marathon I ran past weekend in the old and beautiful city of Edinburgh. 

I have missed writing the last few weeks and its mainly been because I have a job that involves wilting under the glare of computer screens all day long (they are not even macs; the horror!) and so, I have had no appetite at the end of the day to sit and type. In order to give my cyber life a buzz, I bought a new laptop and hope the excitement of learning all about it will force me to sit under its halo at least a few extra evenings more than what I have been accomplishing. 

Back to the race, if I may call it that because at the pace I run I definitely do not race, instead merely doing somewhere between a fast amble and a trot. It was a beautiful sunny day in Edinburgh and the course was all along the coast. The picture uploaded was taken right before we descended next to the water and basically the course hugged the coastline as you see it. I was worried about it being hilly but it was pleasantly flat. What was annoying was the wind which gusted with such ferocity from the North sea that it made me thankful for having donned everything short of my skiing jacket for the run. I enjoyed the regular things about such races: grabbing drinks from people's hand, littering the streets with half finished drinks and exchanging high fives with children dotting the route. For my efforts I was rewarded with a mars bar, a banana and a shirt which was two sizes too big for me. 

Although memorable as most experiences of such nature are, what I will remember from this race is an epiphany I had at about mile 10. Because the course was designed in such a way that you could see along the coast right back to the point you started I looked up from mile 10 and couldn't believe how far I had come. Translate that to a mushy life sentiment and I realized that I am so busy planning the future: is there going to be food at mile 6? What type of energy drink do they have? Should I take the orange or the lemon version? and so on, that I forget all that I have done in the past. At mile 10 I'm not congratulating myself on getting to the double digit or having successfully claimed an orange energy drink but instead plotting what run:walk ratio I should maintain for a under 2:30 finish. And that works in life as well. I have never sat down and congratulated myself on the the good decisions I have made and the meandering routes I have taken to get where I am emotionally and professionally. How often do you really stop to think about how far you have come rather than how far you need to go? It's probably an innate human tendency, hard wired into the way our synapses connect, that we devote little energy to remembering battles that we fought and won, as compared to the ones we lost. So, give yourself a pat on the back sometimes, you deserve it and when the journey seems too long, just look back and see how far you have already come; then, pick up your feet and start running!