Category Archives: Rant

I hate haircuts

For as long as I remember, I have hated haircuts. People who know me would think that I like letting my hair grow out, but that’s not true. I just hate the process of getting a haircut. If there was a device that would cut my hair exactly the same every few weeks, I would buy it in an instant and never go to a barber again.

Not me

I hate haircuts so much, I would rather look like a shaggy hobo than go to a barber.

I hate haircuts so much, I have actually shaved my head at home at least 10 times in as many years to avoid going to a barber for the next few months.

Why? Simply because

  1. I cannot stand the small talk. I have been to many-many different barbers over the years and they all seem to by infected by the same disease of yapping. They just can’t stop making small talk while they do the deed.
  2. Every single barber will try to push extra services on you. Some comment that your face looks dry and you can use a deep face something. Some comment that you have dandruff and your scalp needs steam treatment. However, the most common push in India is for a head/face massage. Why I would want my barber to rub his hands all over my head and face is beyond me. I am sure some people enjoy such things, however, I don’t. When you refuse these services, they look at you, judging you for being a horrible human being.

I would rather pay them extra just to shut up and leave me alone and do what they are told. The only barbers who don’t bother you with this crap are in high end salons, which is where I prefer to go (infrequently) now.

FASTag is a failure

A few years ago, the government introduced an ambitious project called FASTag-Electronic toll collection. On paper, this was a great initiative & long overdue – a simple RFID sticker affixed to your car windshield that sensors at toll collection centers on highways will automatically scan. The appropriate toll would then be deducted from your linked prepaid wallet. To make things even better, this prepaid wallet wouldn’t be maintained by FASTag, but by a few partner companies (Like ICICI Bank, PayTM, Airtel, HDFC Bank among many others). You can order your FASTag from any of the partners, stick it on your windshield by yourself and maintain appropriate balance in your wallet before passing a toll plaza.

Not Easy at all. PC: FASTag.org

This would ease congestion at toll collection centers because people wouldn’t need to fish for change, wait for balance, interact with a human etc. They only need to slow down at the toll center and the boom barrier opens automatically to let you through. Why would anyone not want to use this method as opposed to fishing for cash? A perfect arrangement, right?

Wrong. Indians being Indians made sure not to let a positive thing succeed.

I have been using FASTag for many months, but it was on a recent trip to Agra that I realised that this initiative has been a complete failure.

  1. Most highways still don’t accept FASTag. 7 out of 8 toll plazas on my trip to Agra didn’t accept FASTag. These were all on Western Peripheral Expressway & Yamuna Expressway.
  2. People have sworn not to use it. Typical Indian mentality is doing the opposite of what you are told to do, and in this case, the people did exactly that. People have sworn not to use FASTag and they have kept their promise.
  3. The government has been too lenient in enforcing its use.

The one toll plaza on my trip which did accept FASTag was backed up for at least 1km, and that too in the FASTag exclusive lane. It was evident that people were not using FASTag. I decided to note what the 10 cars ahead of me did while passings the toll (There’re electronic displays showing toll status).

  • Only 1/10 cars ahead of mine used FASTag.
  • 7/10 cars ahead of mine had FASTags, but insufficient balance. They all paid cash. I believe this is because by law all new cars are mandated to be delivered with a FASTag and these cars had one but the drivers never bothered to add balance to their accounts.
  • 2/10 cars ahead of mine didn’t have any FASTag.

The fact that even when cars come preinstalled with FASTag people don’t bother to use it shows me what a failure this has been. On top of it, the government seems to have backtracked on its claims that people who enter FASTag lanes without one will be penalised or charged double. The toll collector sitting in the FASTag lane booth didn’t even expect anyone to use a FASTag, he was quite casually taking cash from people and returning them change.

Why anyone would chose to use cash when there’s a much simpler and convenient alternative boggles my mind. It is a testament to how stubborn we Indians are and refuse to do something new even at the cost of convenience.

Beer, my friend

I have a long relationship with beer and our relationship has evolved over all these years.

A mug of “Child” beer

I clearly remember my first beer (or any alcoholic beverage for that matter) which was at Orchid Lake resort next to the pristine Umiam Lake in Meghalaya. I was around 12 years old at that time & was going to Shillong with my uncle and his friend for the day from Guwahati & had stopped at that resort for lunch. My uncle and his friend ordered beer for themselves and offered me some. My first reaction was that it was bitter. I obviously kept that information to myself & commented that it was very tasty so as to not embarrass myself as less of a “man” in the presence of 2 adults.

I had beer a few more times with that uncle over the next few years but didn’t enjoy any of it.

When I went off to college at Nagpur, I was suddenly exposed to a whole plethora of alcoholic beverages. Beer was reserved for those hot summer days when we didn’t have electricity or had an exam the following day & didn’t want to get too drunk.

I remember one evening when Sood Sahib was feeling a bit low. I suggested that we drink some beer & his spirits lifted immediately. We bought beers from a store and some policemen tried stopping us on the way, but we somehow escaped, got soaked in the rain, reached home, dried up and enjoyed our beers.

Sood Sahib Enjoying and Appreciating Beer

I also remembering going to Urvashi with Neeraj after our gym sessions to drink beer with Tandoori chicken to aid our workout recovery. Beer also accompanied our jam sessions on numerous occasions.

My first major incident with beer was when I bought what I thought was “Haywards 5000” from a seedy store in Nagpur, went home and drank it alone. My roommate came home from college later to find me passed out with my head shaved. Later, when I regained consciousness, he also reported some strange behaviour from me but I would refrain from going too deep into those details. Later everything explained itself when we saw that the beer I had was actually a “Haryana 5000”.

When I moved to Gurgaon, I was exposed to a new world of freshly brewed beer also known as “artisanal beer” or “craft beer”. We used to go to Rockman’s Beer Island at Ambience Mall very frequently to drink fresh brewed beer poured out for us from taps.

We used to order barrels of this stuff and get hopelessly drunk. I remember one incident when we went to Beer Island with Soniel’s German colleagues, everyone got sloshed on beer and they ran away without paying for anything and we were stuck with the bill.

Beer plus Laser

Another incident with beer I remember is when I had something called “Beer Buster” at an office party. It was beer mixed with Tabasco sauce and I had litres of it. When I came back home, I couldn’t sleep because the Tabasco was burning in my chest and stomach all night.

Neeraj at Beer island

One of my best beer experiences was during my Beer trip to Bengaluru. We went to a place called Biergarten which was a huge open air pub surrounded by beautiful palm trees. The weather and the colour of the sky were unlike anything in Gurgaon. Even the washrooms had a killer view.

Biergarten, Bengaluru

Not until the lockdown, when I was forced to stay without any beer for months did I learn the true value of beer (among other things). When the lockdown did open and I rushed to the nearest beer shop to buy some, I decided that I would start treating beer with more respect from then on. Yes, I would savour my beer more and learn to enjoy it.

I started drinking beer slowly, appreciating the textures and flavours and enjoying the taste rather than aiming to get hopelessly drunk.

First Craft Beer after Unlock

When I drink alone at home, I never drink more than 1 or 2 cans at a time and I make sure I enjoy every sip. When drinking out with friends (rare), all these rules go out of the window, though.

3 cheers to beer and here’s to many more years of friendship.

The Lockdown finally got me running

The first few weeks of the lockdown felt awesome. No need to go to work & lot of time freed up from the daily commute. I spent most of this time drinking and lying around. However, eventually the lying around became quite tiring physically.

Things were so bad, I went through most days with less than 200 steps. The less I moved, the more tired I felt. Eventually, I was always tired and even getting out of the bed seemed a huge challenge. I knew I needed some exercise. I tried Darebee’s daily workout for a few days, but I didn’t find it motivating and couldn’t sustain it long enough. What I needed was to go out and run, but with the lockdown, that was out of the question.

By the end of the lockdown, I was so eager to go out and run that when we were allowed to go out, I started running immediately and fortunately, was able to maintain the habit over many months.

My energy levels came back up, I felt much better after the workouts, I could focus more at work and I slept better. I also started watching my diet and limiting what I eat on weekdays.

Some other quantifiable gains over these 3 months of daily running

  • Weight came down from 70.4kgs to 64.5kgs
  • Body fat % came down from 14.5 to 11.7
  • VO2 Max went up from 39.3 to 46.8
  • Resting heart rate went down from 65 to 55

It’s not that I am fanatic about running. Since I can spare only 15-20 minutes daily between meetings, I run only 2km each time. But I do this with consistent pace and do it regularly without skipping days. Whenever I feel like skipping a day, I think about how lucky I am to be able to go out at all.

Schedule

I hope I am able to keep up the cadence, at least till the air quality here goes to shit, like it does each year and going out becomes impossible.

I miss my PSP

And I hate the fact that there’s no true sequel. No, the Nintendo Switch doesn’t count, because the type of games that were available on a PSP and the types of games available on a switch have no comparison.

Sony Playstation Portable. PC: Wikipedia
Sony PSP. PC: Wikipedia

I bought the PSP in 2008 as a gift for my 23rd birthday from Palika Bazaar, during a trip to Delhi. It was the second gaming device that I owned, after the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. It was the PSP-3000 with homebrew OS, capable of running pirated games from ISO files stored on the Memory Stick Pro II Duo. It could output the display to a TV at 720p, too.

Unlike the Gameboy Advance (& currently the Switch), the PSP had serious games, directly ported from the PS2 and PS3 versions. It could play multiple versions of Need for Speed, there were a few flight simulator games and it also had most Grand Theft Auto games.

I remember playing PS exclusives like Patapon & Flow. I also remember returning home from my night shift job at Aricent and playing Resistance: Retribution for 30 minutes everyday, before going to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. My friend KK used it to play God of War on my PSP at work.

Eventually my wife lost it.

The games on the Switch (which is portrayed as the successor to the PSP) belong to a different category. Insanely fun to play, but not serious console games like PSP. Especially, without a single GTA title, I refuse to accept the Switch as a PSP successor and buy it.

I think the demise of PSP type of devices stems from the shift of portable gaming towards cellphones. Why invest in a portable gaming console when you have a powerful processor and chipset right in your phone? Somehow, I can’t bring myself to gaming on my phone.

I hope Sony one day releases a successor to the PSP, or at least a cloud gaming service which has Sony exclusive titles.

The Unintended Chinese Racism

In my last job, I had to travel a lot, and very frequently to China. All in all, I travelled to China 8 times, multiple times each year.

Although my Chinese hosts and colleagues have been the most hospitable people I have met, I couldn’t help but notice the unnatural (to me) behaviour of many Chinese people on the streets whom I didn’t know.

A bit of background – most Chinese do not have much facial or body hair. This is not racist, just a fact. Chinese men with proper beards are very uncommon, mostly because they genetically can’t grow beards. I not only have a full beard, I also have a shock of (mostly) unkempt hair, which makes my appearance definitely non-Chinese.

Chinese men playing Mahjong. PC Uncycloedia

The first time I landed at China was at Xiamen., which is a cosmopolitan city with a lot of travellers and foreigners. Not till my second trip to China, when I left Shanghai Pudong airport to go to the railway station at Hongqiao, did I notice something odd: 2 old men openly pointing at me, smiling and discussing my appearance. I gave them a polite nod, smiled and went on my way.

Fast forward a few more trips later and I am leaving my hotel at Changzhou to take a walk around my favourite Xintiandi park. I hope there aren’t too many people there because I know what will happen.

  • The old men will openly point at me and comment at my appearance (among themselves)
  • The young kids will stare. Some will burst into tears, while others would keep staring without blinking till I am no longer in their line of sight. Their parents will hurriedly tell them not to stare.

The only people who don’t exhibit this kind of behaviour is young people between 18-40.

First timers to China will classify this is blatant racism. I, however, feel that this “racism” is borne more from ignorance and curiosity rather than bad intent, like in the west. I have had an old government official in Australia tell me openly that he didn’t like my face. I have had people ignore me openly at Vienna when I asked them for directions. This kind of racism is borne from ill will and hate.

I wouldn’t classify the Chinese behaviour in the same category. I believe most of them don’t know any better. Most of these people have never seen a full bearded man and it is genuine shock that they are experiencing.

The Chinese are a self contained people who don’t have as much exposure to western media (partly by choice, partly by force) as people from other countries. Also, these incidents are more frequent in the smaller (by Chinese standards) cities than bigger and more cosmopolitan cities. It is understandable that many will find my appearance odd and unnatural.

Overall, I can say that these incidents have not dampened my love for China and my desire to travel there again, in the near future.

Improbable things

I couldn’t sleep last night and my mind kept drifting between various improbable things that have happened in my life over the years.

Cardano, making the improbable, improbable
Cardano, making the improbable, improbable

Things that shouldn’t have happened (because, probability), but did. Some examples of these improbable things are:

  1. Once, when I was very young, I hadn’t completed my homework. While going to sleep, I kept wishing for fever or some other illness to befall me, so that I don’t have to go to school the next day. Sure enough, next day, I had fever in the morning and didn’t have to go to school, possibly avoiding a solid beating.
  2. The time I was returning home (in Nagpur) while drunk, riding my bike. I couldn’t spot the high tension electricity cable hanging in the middle of the road and my bike (along with me) was lifted 10 feet into the air. I fell on the road and my bike fell on top of me, all while electric sparks were shooting from the pole, the cable and my bike. That scene immediately sobered up my friends and me and we are all still in awe how I survived that incident.
  3. The time when I passed my engineering final exams because of a fluke. I have already blogged about it once, so won’t add details here.
  4. The time when I was hired at Aricent (now Altran). I lived at Kolkata with my parents. Aricent was holding a hiring drive in Kolkata and I went there just because I had nothing else to do. Somehow, I was selected in the interview and hired a few weeks later. The fact that
    • Aricent staff came to Kolkata for the hiring drive (Never happened before, never happened again)
    • I turned up and was selected
    • Got the right job (at that point of my career)
    • At the right location (I was already aspiring to move to Gurgaon) still boggles my mind.
  5. When I stayed at Kolkata, I used to watch a TV show called “Indian Rendezvous”. There was a part in the episode about Delhi which shows a balloon competition with a balloon sponsored by BT and I dreamed of moving to Delhi one day and working for BT. Years later, this would come true.
  6. How I was lucky enough to have the perfect child exactly like the one I wanted (I might be biased for this one).
  7. I had a friend “J” in college who introduced me to the song “Father & Son” by Cat Stevens. We used to listen to this song at his room very often. Years later, I was listening to this song on my own, when “J” called me and told me his father has died earlier that day.

Makes you wonder how probability isn’t always perfect and such things slip through its laws from time to time.

My Worst Purchases-Airtel Internet TV

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is Airtel Internet TV DTH set top box.

Airtel Internet TV Set Top Box
Airtel Internet TV Set Top Box

I used to have a regular Airtel DTH connection at my place; the non-smart ones where the Set Top Box connects to an external satellite dish antenna and you watch TV. One day the set top box straight up and died so I contacted Airtel for a replacement. They told me that they have an offer where if I pay a years’ worth of subscription fee at once, they will upgrade me to the new Airtel Internet TV set top box. The set top box was supposed to combine the best of DTH TV viewing and App based streaming along with:

  • 1G Ethernet and WiFi connectivity
  • 4K output with 4K Netflix capability (Along with Prime, Hotstar etc.)
  • Voice activated remote with touch sensitive surface
  • Internet enabled programme guide
  • DVR capabilities with storage on external USB devices

I bought it mostly for 4K Netflix capabilities. I was sceptical about getting it because it ran Android TV (Fagdroid), but decided to keep an open mind and give it a try.

It would be safe to say that this was the worst product (across all categories) I ever bought in my life & realised it the same day. Android TV (Fagdroid) is the worst OS ever to power any gadget in the world, period. Some of the complaints that I faced (On day 1) were:

  • Slow as fuck interface (Even with things like quad-core Qualcomm processor etc.). I blame this part entirely on the Android TV (Fagdroid) OS. Even changing channels took 2-3 seconds.
  • Apps crashing all the time. Even the TV app which showed content from satellite crashed regularly with no apparent triggers.
  • The smart Bluetooth remote control froze from time-to-time. The only way to recover it was to remove the batteries and insert them back again.
  • Doing a factory reset was not a straight forward job. After the reset, half of the channels would disappear and would require going into settings and entering some satellite related parameters manually.
  • Advertisements showing up randomly on the UI & also a perpetual, huge Airtel Logo on the corner of the screen
  • Software updates would fix some issues and introduce others.

After tolerating this for a few months, I had had enough & even with 8/9 months of subscription remaining, I threw it in the trash. When I asked Airtel to move me back to the old (non-smart) set top box, they told me that was no longer possible. Eventually, this brought to an end the era of DTH in my house forever & I moved to streaming services permanently; also cementing my resolve to never buy anything Android (Fagdroid) powered ever again.

Signs you live in a Bengali Household

The Bengali household is a unique thing, unlike any other household in the world (That I know of). The following symptoms indicate that you live in, or are a part of a typical Bengali Household. (Observed from cousins and extended family). People from Kolkata may be able to relate.

Bengali Household
Typical Bengali Family, PC: SBS AU
Signs that you live in a Bengali Household
  1. As far as your parents are concerned, you stopped growing when you were 6 & they still treat you like you are 6 years old.
  2. Your mother still tries to feed you forcibly with her own hands if you’re taking too much time finishing your meal.
  3. You have a unique, hard-to-spell name and you know very few other people with the same name
  4. Your parents have a photo of Rabindranath Tagore and/or topless photos Ramkrishna (and his wife) on their walls.
  5. You have a silly nickname that you can never divulge to your non-Bengali friends.
  6. Your parents have any/all of the below at their home
    • Boroline (Thick layer applied on the lips)
    • Digene/Gelusil (For acidity after eating fried food)
    • Cremaffin (Or any laxative, because Bengali diet is poor in dietary fibre)
    • Misri
    • Silbatta
    • Boti (A chopping knife doesn’t belong in a Bengali kitchen)
    • Kasundi
  7. You call and inform your parents every time you leave home to go somewhere and every time you reach back home safely.
  8. You keep your parents informed about every meal you had everyday.
  9. If you live outside Kolkata (or West Bengal), your mother constantly worries about whether you’re getting good quality fish to eat. (Without good river fish, a Bengali loses most, if not all his powers)
  10. You complain to your parents about every minor ailment that befalls you, including headaches, scratches etc. and you mother asks you to apply Boroline on your wound.
  11. Your parents call anyone who is not a Bengali “non-Bengali” or “Hindustani”.
  12. A football match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal stirs up feverish arguments in your household.

My Worst Purchases-Microsoft Lumia 950XL

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is the Microsoft Lumia 950XL, which was my 29th phone.

Microsoft Lumia 950XL, Dead on Arrival
Microsoft Lumia 950XL, Dead on Arrival

I was super-excited to buy this phone since the day it was announced by Microsoft. In the months leading up to the actual launch, I used to send my family members to the Microsoft Store at Ambience mall every Sunday (one-by-one) to ask about the phone’s launch date. I even had a Google search alert setup which sent me emails as soon as any news article were published about this phone. Although this phone was great on paper (Great hardware, huge display, excellent camera), this phone was my 7th Windows Phone overall and by the time this phone launched, Windows 10 Mobile was all but dead.

I remember the day this phone launched; I had just started a new job that week. I immediately dropped everything I was doing and went to Ambience mall to buy it (For ₹55,000; of course, I had pre-booked the phone months ago). The store employees told I was the first person in North India to get my hands on this phone. At that time I thought I was special. In hindsight, it is clear now, I was one of the few fools in North India to buy a Windows Mobile (at the tail end of 2015).

Within months, Microsoft announced the death of Windows 10 for mobiles. Within weeks after that, app developers abandoned the platform. There was still a small community online of loyal fans but we were more and more reliant on 3rd party apps for basic services. Uber, specifically, was a huge pain point. There was no easy way to search for destinations, you had to zoom out on the map, zoom in to where you thought you wanted to go and mark the location manually.

I also remember claiming some of the phone’s cost from my company (There was a company BYOD policy) and my manager laughing at me that I spent such a huge amount for such a phone.

Slowly and painfully, over the next year, the number of useable 1st party apps dwindled to almost zero and I eventually made the jump to Apple’s (Walled) Garden putting an end to my Lumia misery. If I could do things over, I should have bought an iPhone for the same amount and prevented myself from a year of misery.