Monday 9 June 2014

Walk the view

The view from the apartment

I am blessed with very generous friends. When I was in San Francisco recently, my friend Gautam offered his beautiful apartment in San Francisco to me to have some “me time.” I had a long list of things to do – walk to the Safeway on Marina, which played a central character in Armistead Maupin’s books, have dinner at Greens, walk down crooked street, enjoy the nightlife on Fillmore, Union, Chestnut etc., etc., The moment I entered the apartment, I was transfixed by the view. I could visit every place I wanted to just by looking at it. I did not step out of the apartment for the first two days. I made one bowl of brown rice,  another bowl of chana masala and bought eggs, sour dough bread, lot of fruit and yogurt. Along with the home made pickles made by our super talented niece, Sangita, I was all set. I could have spent a week or even two weeks just drinking in the scenery, writing, reading, and just thinking. I would sit quietly and let my thoughts crowd my head. I watched my thoughts move by, and at times a certain scenery would click and I would tuck it away in my memory.

After a couple of days, I realized that I did not do any of the walks that I had planned, or visited the cafes and clubs. I was so enamored by the view that I forgot to do all the things I had planned. It is so easy to forget that I needed to get down to the street level and walk to burn the calories to stay healthy. It was so easy to be carried away by the view that I had to discipline myself to go downstairs and walk the view. I understood why my friend Gautam would have this amazing apartment and not live here on a daily basis.  Instead of just having a room with a view, he is choosing to walk the view.  He is at a startup in Milpitas.  So, it makes sense to live in south bay and come back to this view over the weekend. Moreover, he gets to share this view with all his friends and family. It is such a great gift that he is sharing with everyone.

I realized that this is no different than what could happen in companies as well. When the leader is having an aerial view of the company, they might fool themselves  into thinking that they  have a clear view of the workings of the company but unless they come down and walk the work place, they might miss all the necessary details.

Gautam did come by one evening, treated me to the most exquisite dinner at Dosa, showed me his stash of wine and port and went back to work while I learnt how to walk the view as well as watch it for the rest of the week. On a couple of evenings, I invited my friends and most of the INK Fellows in the bay area for an after-dinner drink so that they could enjoy the view as well. On the last night of my stay there, I sipped the contents of a small glass of port and watched the city lights and the scenery beyond, thankful for the quietness that surrounded me as a soft blanket. That beauty, that quiet and mostly the ease with which Gautam handed over his precious pad to me, would stay with me forever.

The view from the apartment

Thursday 5 June 2014

Me time

I love collecting people, and as the curator of INK, my days are filled with meeting very interesting people. Even though I love every minute of it, on a periodic basis, I have to shut all human contact and go into some serious “me time.” And there are three ways in which I love to have this “me time.”

First is, alone time in familiar surroundings, once a month or so, on a weekday, I stay home. I drop off Arnav at his school bus stop, say goodbye to Rajat as he leaves for work, and ask our household help to leave early. I go for a long walk and then come home and sit in silence. No phone calls, no email, no talking to anyone. I may watch a show that I taped, have lunch, snack. There is no set time for anything. I eat when I am hungry, read or write when I feel like it and just have a totally quiet day. Arnav gets home around 3:30 pm and I resume my routine, get online, respond to calls, sit with Arnav as he does his homework etc.,

The second way is to do the same when I am traveling. This practice started when I was working at American India Foundation. I would be in India for close to 2 weeks, days filled with meetings, travel across India from metros to mini villages – staying with family, cousins, friends, or shared quarters. Typically, my day would start at 7 am and end at midnight. I would cram as much as possible because I was greedy to meet as many people as possible. I was completely captivated by the generosity of strangers, ability to form a family based on common passion and the beauty of the landscape as we traveled by planes, trains, and automobiles across India.  On the last day, I would come to Mumbai and stay at the Taj Gateway. My colleague’s brother used to work there and he would get me a discounted fare and a room on the 9th floor that overlooked the Gateway of India. On the last day of my trip, I would enjoy a clean, hot shower, total silence with a “do not disturb” sign, room service dinner, which would typically be spicy veg biryani with a side of sliced onions with lemon, salt and pepper, and raita. Even now, when I travel, I always make sure that there is one day at a hotel or a quiet apartment where I spend a day in silence at the end of my trip.

And the third kind, which I love the most, is to stay in someone’s home surrounded by comfort and beauty when no one else is there. There are so many people with “idle capacity” homes and I am the sole beneficiary of their idle capacity. My God parents have an apartment in cannon beach, a friend with an apartment with a view in San Francisco, friends with a farm house outside Bangalore and another one with a home outside of Montreal. I collect quiet spaces and have the generosity of friends who allow me to make it my space. This alone time in an already inhabited space makes me the happiest. There is a lot of beauty surrounding me and I don't need to worry about basic survival items and I get to make myself at home in a totally strange yet familiar place – so much so that after a day or two, I feel as though it is my own.  There is something amazing about making something mine and then walking away from it. I don't like owning too much and am way over my head with one home in Bangalore and another in the bay area. The way each person chooses to build the space and what they do with it, gives me a unique insight into them. It has become almost essential for me to have “us time” with family and friends and “me time” alone, each giving me the strength and perspective.

May be this is why Airbnb is so successful because there are people who are willing to share their space. Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be... if you had a couch in every corner of the world available to you and all you need to do is give a small thank you gift in return?


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