Monday, December 31, 2012

The Power of Irrational Optimism - Caine's Arcade

At the start, here's wishing you all a Very Happy New (Gregorian) Year. My first post this year is on the power of Irrational Optimism. Many a times, in life, we are at the crossroad's, in our career, relationship and with ourselves (midlife crisis?), drifting along and not knowing what lies ahead. The fear of the unknown is what stops us, many times, from chasing our dreams. Whether by providence or the universe coming together to help you to achieve your dreams (The Secret - Rhonda Brynes), The first article I came across this year was of a 9 yr old entrepreneur called Caine Monroy, from East Los Angeles. Now, this event took place in early 2012 ( the late latif that I am, I came to know if it this year only!) and true to following the American Dream, Caine's website ( was setup to crowd source his college education and raise money for creative kids.

Caine Monroy, a 9 yr old boy, was given a set of cardboard boxes by his father, during his summer vacation, to do "something" with it. This little boy had an obsession with Arcade Games, so he spent his vacation time making an entire Arcade with games made from the Cardboard Boxes. He visualised the entire arcade, the games and prizes and also implemented the business model viz $1 for some 5 tries and $2 for a "FunPass" for one month. Incredible deal. See the video that captures his journey to stardom. Caine's story has some interesting takeaways that are worth mentioning and reiterating:-

1. Just Do It:- I know this is the Nike Logo but I love it. It epitomises action over endless analysis and planning. Though analysis and planning are important, many times we get caught in a trap of "Analysis Paralysis" wherein, a thousand demons and obstacles prevent us from doing what we want to. This little boy was given cardboard boxes and some other items and told to do whatever he wanted to. Instead of wailing and whining and just wasting time, he decided to do what he liked best - Play Arcade games, and Lo! behold, the Cardboard Arcade was born.

2. Unstructured Playtime. When I was a kid, there weren't too classes for dancing, singing etc, so my friends and I would make up stories, make makeshift castles, do role play (king, robbers, pirates, aliens) and pass out time. Though we did not realised it at that time, that time to ourselves, where we had to make up stuff to keep busy, was incredibly creative and forced us to use our brains. Caine, being lonely, and having not much to do (other than play video games), was forced to think beyond his brief to create his arcade. His dad never expected him to come up with something like that (He just wanted to keep his kid busy and out of his hair), was astonished at his son's achievement.

3. Optimism. Caine, with his entire Arcade and  fantastic business model, did not get a single customer the entire summer. It was just chance that Nirvan, a film maker, dropped by for something and what he saw inspired him to make a movie on the little boy's journey. The sheer irrational optimism of Caine, forced the universe to take cognizance of his effort and sent Nirvan around to help him. What happened was just out of a fairytale. The movie went viral, a flash mob was organised to come and play games in his arcade and a website was setup to fund his college education- All at the age of NINE.

Lessons that one can learn are:-

1. Let kids be. Give them time from video games and classes. Let them get bored so that they are able to come up with a solution to relieve them of their boredom.

2. Never stop believing and hoping, because that the only thing you have - Hope. If you hit Rock Bottom, the only way is up and if you are at the Top, if you don't evolve, the only way is down.

3. Its never to early or late to start. Limits exist only in our mind.

By the way , Forbes has also come with an article why Caine Monroy will be a Billionaire in 30 Years. 

Rashmi Bansal has also written a book on entrepreneurs of different types and her latest one on "A Poor Little Rich Slum" about entrepreneurs from Dharavi (Asia's largest Slum, maybe the worlds also) is also enlightening.

So, Summing up, Let 2013 be the year when you followed your dreams, what you love to do, rather than what you had to do. Make 2013 count in your calendar!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Sum Total of Human Happiness

What a weird title!! If you feel so, believe me, I also feel it, but, that is what popped up into my head early morning today. What does it mean? You know..Sum- Total - a Tautology and Human Happiness.. !

What exactly constitutes happiness? and to what extent can we go to achieve it? Well, everything what humans have done so far, achieved so far, is to achieve this state of Happiness. So the question that naturally comes to mind is - Once we achieve this "Happiness" will we stop doing what we were doing and remain "Happy".  Hardly!! I would think -  Humans are not made for that!

Human beings are inherently un-happy when they are happy for a longish time. They feel dissatisfied, lost, unchallenged and whatever they did to achieve that "Happy State" is now relegated to the annals of history. I believe the day we feel Happy and contented, with wanting to achieve nothing else - that day is the Human race shall start its decline. The reason is simple - we need to keep thinking that there is something else that can make us happier than what we are presently and we need to achieve it.

The experts would have you believe that we are far happier than our ancestors - the cave men/women were. Why is that? Its because we live longer, healthier and in greater comfort (or atleast many do). Our lives are not in constant danger of attack by animals or left completely to the vagaries of nature. We have managed to control the effects these factors have on our survival. What, in effect, has been achieved is "A better survival rate" which has propelled the humans to increase their numbers to Six Billion People !!! But has this made us "Happier"?

Today, we hanker for happiness. We tell our kids - I shall be happy if you do this or just imagine How happy you will be if you to this.... and that.... and some more. So we keep slogging on, in search of that elusive Happy State that keeps showing us glimpses and then disappears, forcing us to work for it again. The employee working hard for promotion, the employer working hard to make more money, the student studying to get more marks, the salesman trying to sell one more item, the athlete trying to finish the race one second quicker.... we are consumed by these thoughts and all our efforts are towards achieving the Holy Grail of happiness.

Levels of happiness differ or have been made to differ, so that aspirations to achieve that one extra milestone shall always be there. I mean, if humans were happy with the animal cart - there would be no Bicycle, scooter, car, airplane etc. So If I owned an animal cart and so did my other neighbours, would I be happy for them? Chances are that I am un happy. If my neighbour has the same stuff as I have, whats the fun in that ?

The same applies to other possessions- There is always a better AC, Fridge, Car, Hotel, road, house, boat etc to aspire for. Our happiness does not stem from the fact that our peers have what we have, rather, its what I have and what he does not have, makes me happy!! Our level of happiness is relative to the other persons misery. The thought "I am atleast better off than that guy... look at his problems, he is sc*****, Thank god I'm OK , make us far happier, than " Wow, look at him/her, great car, house, wife etc", I too have all that but I am still not satisfied.

Can we stop feeling this way ? I don't think so. There is nothing that we can do about it- Its our natural instinct - The only people who are genuinely happy for you are your immediate family as what ever you do, it reflects on them too... :)

The concept of "Settling Down" is to achieve a steady state of Happiness. Get an education, Wife/GF/Husband, house, Kids, steady job/business- takes about 30 years, but yeah- one does get there and this steady state lasts for exactly maybe two months, after which boredom (read Un Happy) sets in and we start looking out for more. So thus follow movies, shopping, travelling, eating out, activities - in other words - Lifestyle. The bar for happiness keeps changing higher and higher ........

So summing it all up: The Sum Total of Human Happiness lies in being happy at this moment in what ever you do or achieve, because once achieved, the happiness derived from that achievement is a diminishing return. Children laugh a lot because they dont say that "I shall be happy when I achieve this or that" and then only shall I laugh. So, Be happy in the Moment , because that is the happiest you shall ever be.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

That Sinking Feeling - The Demons Within

Have you ever experienced "that sinking feeling"?, where in you feel that something bad is about to happen and that there is nothing you can do to prevent it? Your mind plays tricks on you, ghastly scenarios that  show you as a pauper, greviously injured or just wasting away at a hospital- cloud your mind. Your heart rate increases, your breathing is ragged, your eyes wander around aimlessly in panic and there is a feeling of total despair - There is no hope, there is nothing you can do- in short you're doomed!!!!!

Well, if you have, welcome to the legions of people who have and if you haven't , then its only a matter of time when it shall strike you. Sounds absolutely fatalistic, does it not? Well, the human mind is the ultimate reality that you shall encounter and believe me, the day it decides to take you on the trip mentioned above, you can only weather the storm and brave it out. The mind, brain, fantasy, reality - call it whatever you want to - the only truth is what it makes us believe. That truth is your truth. The reality may be different - like what is twilight to someone may be Dawn to another. If the majority of people call it Dawn, you accept and ignore the one that calls it twilight. This means what the majority wants, becomes the reality. If you want to protect your reality, then you need to start protecting what you feel makes it real. You need to have the force to ensure it by disposing off the disbelievers.

But what can you do about that feeling of total despair, hopelessness? The only way, my friend, is to weather it out. You need to accept the fact that the sinking feeling is due to many fears that exist in your mind manifesting themselves. Those very fears that lay deep within the dark recesses of your mind and work their way into your memories, just waiting to be triggered, could mean the difference between your life, sanity or death.

The mind is a strange and a wonderful thing. Can  you control it? Well If you can, the sky is the limit for you, you can achieve anything. If you become a slave to your mind, then your life can be hell because you can't control what you feel or what you want to do. In brief - That sinking feeling shall be more of a regular occurrence and you shall be miserable through out your life. Your negative thoughts influence the atmosphere around you and, in general, misery shall prevail.

So what is the solution? Its quite simple really. You need to confront your fears - What is it that is troubling you? Be honest and the answer shall surprise and liberate you at the same time.

Once you've confronted your fears, you need  ask your self "What is the worst that can happen"? Once you have got that answer(and it wont be something that you like!!) You need to find solutions to it. Dont try to go at it alone, Ask your friends, family, relatives... even your boss. You shall find people are only too glad to help you. In fact, they love it!!! and most of the advice they give you shall be reasonably sound.. :)

The takeaway from this post is simple - There is no where to run, no where to hide-especially when it concerns your mind. You need to buckle down, face the fact, accept the problem and then strangely enough- You shall be liberated from that sinking feeling. The demons shall no longer have a hold on you. You are free because you know what you want to do and what shall make you happy.. :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life of PI - Entertaining and Endearing

Life of PI - by Yann Martel is an old book (By old I mean 10 years at the least) - which won the Man Booker Prize. I remember reading it while on my way to Mumbai on Rajdhani express and was utterly fascinated and riveted by the book. So much so that, I did'nt even realise that the jouney was over and I was still in the train 10 mins after every one had disembarked ( I was alone in my coupe!!!!). Well, when the movie was announced, I dismissed it as one of those movies which cant be as good as the book... but when the movie was released, I was inexorably drawn to it and one fine WEEKDAY, I went to see it. The 3D version . And boy- was I glad!!!!

You can catch the story at this wikipedia page so It shall save me from making this a long and boring post. The movie begins with our protagonist - Piscine Molitor Patel (aptly played by Suraj Sharma) and Irrfan Khan exploring various religions, watched upon indulgently by his parents- Adil Hussain and Tabu. The screen play captures all the small nuances of the book in great detail and I was thrilled to see what I read coming to life on screen.

The shipwreck is captured beautifully in 3D and is one of the films highlights. The very picturisation of a zebra and orangutan swimming an climbing on to the life boat is a lovely scene. Pi's efforts to keep the hyena from attacking him are hilarious but not the killing of the Orangutan and Zebra  by the Hyena. Richard Parker (the tiger) is a magnificent beast whose instinct  to devour the dead animals and then turn his attention on Pi is captured with a realism that sends chills down your spine. But Pi epitomises the "Never Say Die" human spirit and works out a method to keep the tiger at bay and also keep himself alive.

The photography and visuals are stunning. One scene where the entire Pacific ocean is lit up at night with millions of blue Jelly fishes is a sight to behold. So is the depiction of the Carnivorous island with millions of Meerkats (which Richard Parker feasts on). The Sliver of hope on which a shipwrecked castaway lives on is beautifully captured by the director and his cinematography.
what also comes out is Pi's compassion for Richard Parker. Though he could've let him starve to death or even kill him, he keeps him alive.

The entire movie moves between flashback and reality, with Pi narrating the story to an author. All in all, watching the movie is a good way to spend about two hours +  and be enthralled and entertained.

Rating - **** 1/2