Every morning we meet this strangely affectionate young cat. Unlike most strays, this guy approaches us when we call him, curls around our feet; that thing cats do. So what does a doodler do in this case? Well, we study it to kingdom come! Sometimes, the beauty of the natural world is all that matters.
If I could grab a book
With time to kill
Pedal up a hill
It’s been ages
Spot a spot to devour pages
that weave a story
in all its glory
and takes me somewhere.
Such a dream to dare
Like it’s a crime!
Stare at nothing…
Reminding myself : It’s just a matter of time
It’s only a doodle
That inspired a verse
Not a poet nor a bard
No… Wasn’t trying hard
Just pedalling away from the news
Drifting is a drug it helps me cruise
Note to self : It’s just a matter of time
Let it go
This too shall pass
Enjoy the grass
By then the world
would have changed and curled
Snapped out of my dream
Huh… A wind flips the pages
Still under the tree with my book
Spotted a squirrel – a little crook
He’s darting at will
I just want to pedal up a hill.
“People want meaning, not just stuff.’
“Emotions, people-centricity first, intelligence next.”
“We are feeling machines first, that think. Not thinking machines that feel.”
“We recall messages in the beginning and the end.”
All this and more messages from marketing experts around the world were shared at the 2nd FLOW Festival in Gurgaon. Sonam Wangchuk’s presentation was the best. He transformed education in Ladakh. From teaching kids the way teacher’s taught, he switched to to teaching the way kids learned naturally. His presentation was the most impactful of all.
I do something called Visual notes at seminars and conferences. This way i am able to recall what I understood, and retain for a longer period. These notes can be pulled out anytime in the future for random inspiration and reference.
We had to get out of town for the year-end holidays and Kerala was on the cards. Holidaying in Kerala is typically expensive so we figured it would be best if we booked our flights and hotels atleast one month in advance. What one spends on a holiday in Kerala and Goa can equal to a trip to Singapore or Bangkok.
We clubbed our trip with our home town in Calicut with a sight-seeing trip to Alleppey and Kovalam.
From Calicut we took the train to Alleppey. This is the Jan Shatabdi that starts at 1pm and reaches Alleppey at 6pm. From the railway station we needed a cab since we had nearly 6 bags with us. We asked a local taxi how much it would cost us to get to the resort and he wanted ₹600. When I checked Uber, it showed ₹400. So when we chose Uber, the local taxi guy didn’t like it and he told his friends who were at the station. When our Uber finally arrived, he was waiting outside the station for good reason. When I asked him to come close to the station, he hesitated but finally came in. As he stopped to load our luggage, the local cab union guys warned the Uber driver not to pick us up and leave the station immediately. We asked the union for a solution and they suggested we take a local taxi or local auto. Uber is not allowed to work anywhere in Alleppey, though the app shows cabs! We took the auto for ₹250. So that’s how it works here.
We stayed for three nights at Alleppey. Our stay at Uday Backwaters resort was the best experience. The resort adjoins the backwaters. We spent day 1 at the resort. For day 2, We hired a cab. Our driver was Maxi Taxi – as he like to called himself. He drove us up to Marari beach and across town. On the way we picked up traditional Ayurvedic herbs and roots which are basic remedies for cough and cold. We payed ₹170 which would have easily cost us ten times in a city.
On Day 3 day we booked a houseboat from 11am to 3pm. The package included lunch in the houseboat. We floated quietly past rice fields, homes and business establishments. At many places, the water level of the canals is visibly higher than the rice paddy fields and homes. High embankments we’re keeping the water from overflowing!
We got back to the resort just in time for our train to Kovalam. Kudos to the staff at Uday Backwaters Alleppey for making our holiday amazing. The staff, rooms and food are all great!
Here is an interactive 360 degree video taken from the houseboat:
From here we went onto to Kovalam for the remainder of our holiday. This train is the Jan Shatabdi that starts at 6pm and reaches Trivandrum by 9pm. We stayed at Turtle On The Beach (7km from the station) next to Kovalam beach. The location was perfect – just 300 meters from the lighthouse. We were here in the mornings after our breakfast running across the beach.
The local fishermen are a photogenic bunch so naturally they get pretty fed up with being photographed by tourist so they ask people to help them with the fishing net. So I helped eagerly since I needed some exercise. After this, I tried out running shots with my GoPro Max taking 360 degree videos and photos.
Do make it a point to visit a restaurant called Bait – managed by Taj resorts. Another beautiful property to see is the Leela Kovalam.
One main difference between Alleppey and Kovalam is that Uday Backwaters is in a more rural area. It’s laidback and green with lesser stress. Turtle on the Beach in Kovalam is just 10 kilometers from Trivandrum so we could feel the city stress here.
Enjoy the food. Your appetite will swell in Kerala for many reasons – tropical weather, spices of Kerala and the infinite range of food. One can access most awesome seafood ranging from crab, prawns, muscles, king fish, mutton, chicken and beef. Beef is available on the streets of Kerala at any restaurant. Do ask for coconut water – and not Coke or Pepsi. Kerala is a bit anti-Coke; which started with an agitation that sparked way back in 2000 in Palakkad when the Coke factory started extracting excessive ground water for its processes.
At the end of the day, Kerala is a beautiful place and still deserves to be called God’s Own Country.
Day 10 was time to get back to reality. After enjoying 10 days of tropical weather hovering at 28 degrees C with sea breeze, we braced up for 4-5 degrees back home in Gurgaon.
End of Dream and back to work!
On day one we landed in Chicago airport, we called for an Uber ($40) Unlike last time, this time we were on our own for the airport to hotel transport. as we checked into the intercontinental hotel we dropped our luggage and went walking around to close by places. We spotted pizzeria uno, a famous pizza outlet. We got ourselves a veg pizza slice which took 45 minutes to bake, and one spaghetti meatballs with salad ($26) Both were difficult to finish despite us being so hungry. On board the Emirates flight we had already had 3 meals on one 13 hour flight.
The next day we had our breakfast and went looking for the hop-on-hop-off bus. Our receptionist tipped us to buy tickets only after 3pm so the tickets last till 7pm the next day.
But we spent the morning waking around a bit. We started with walking along the river for a while. We found the Millennium park which had Anish Kapoor’s cloudgate sculpture- a polished steel giant bean. From there we walked into Nutella’s flashship store and has lunch ($18) which didn’t really satisfy. We then walked into a McDonald’s and had a filling lunch of chicken barbecue chunks – $5. On the way back to our rooms we picked up two Coke bottles ($3.5) and rested a while till 230pm. We then walked across the bridge and got two tickets for the tourist bus ($83). The host on these buses and intelligent and funny, keep you informed and laughing along the way. We got off at the Navy Pier. Then took another bus to complete our trip. Went to check out the flagship store of Under Armor on Magnificent Mile. Picked up some meds from a local Walgreens. Chicago has a ton of history. There was the great fire in 1871 and October 8 was also the anniversary of the fire. Most buildings had the top floors all lit up in purple light to support breast cancer.
Homelessness is a prominent concern in the US. Most folks hold up signs to convey their states of mind. There are also a ton of talented musicians on the street who really are gifted and make their days money by impressing folks as they walk by.
Chicago is also Gotham city due to the dark knight films made here
Frank Geary designed the auditorium in millennium park
One day 3 we took the hoponoff bus and got off and got off at Alder planetarium. Watched the live sky show which was underwhelming to say the least. From there we went over to Macy’s at Water Tower , Sears tower – did the glass floor thing and went over to Macy’s. Grabbed a subway sandwich. Pretty unremarkable day actually. Despite everything the weather is amazing despite the traffic. Also stores like Walgreens and CVS are a godsend here. The range of products available is exhaustive.
We started the day walking down Magnificient mile. Dropped in at water tower to Macy’s, picked up gifts for family. For lunch we met Shetty’s at Tuscany in litte Italy, near Chicago university. Later we took the architecture tour in the river boat. David our host was very knowledgeable about all the buildings and trivia about the construction along the river in downtown Manhattan. This one is totally recommended on the bucket list. Our Uber driver James suggested we don’t miss it. Met Suresh at the Apple store. He is here for the Chicago marathon. All the best buddy! Picked up a mug from the Michael Jordan steakhouse in the lobby of our hotel – The Intercontinental Chicago.
Took the early morning 930 flight to Orlando via Uber. Left the hotel at 6 am so we skipped breakfast. We saw heavy traffic on the road to O’Hare airport and the airport was packed as well. Landed in hot Orlando and checked into the Hyatt Place. There is an indian wedding going on here. Run from all this and you land in the middle of it. Grabbed lunch at a local diner and picked up water and Coke from a 7/11 joint next door. Our store keeper is Pakistani. Good thing about the Uber’s here is one gets into different makes of cars every time; compared to india where we see only Maruti WagonR and Desire. Also Uber drivers here are regular folks while back home most at professional full time drivers. Walked down to Disney Springs from our hotel. Though Springs is free entry, your wallet will see action thanks to the large Lego store here and other big brand shops like Harley Davidson and Under Armour. Took a cab back to the hotel.
We took a Lyft cab ($13.94) to International Premium Outlets on international Drive. Our Lyft Driver Leo gave us a few ideas on what to do around the International Drive. Shopped a bit then took another Lyft ($10.42) to the Upside Down house. Our Lyft driver Ruben is from Porto Rico and he prefers going to Dominic Republic and spending quite days there. New York is a speeding life which is ok for a week max. We walked down the drive till the Titanic Shop. On the way we spotted the sky ride, Hulk Hogan’s Beach shop, Ripley’s Believe it or Not attraction and a S shop run by women. This kind of an establishment will never be seen in india. I tip my hat off to these women who had to courage to run this joint and Gave them a compliment they didn’t see coming. Had a pizza with a drink and went back to the hotel. Our Lyft ($12.56) driver is a management student with a major in investment advice. Grabbed a can of milk and water ($1.29 and $1.19) before we got back to the hotel.
We took the morning hotel shuttle to universal studios. We did the simulation at Despicable Me, Jimmy Fallon, Fast and Furious and roller coasters at Rocket, Hulk, and Mummy Returns. We then took the train from King’s Cross to Hogwarts. Quick tip here. Do the Harry Potter train ride to Hagrid’s bike ride first thing in the morning. Others are ok. Got back to the parking on time to catch our shuttle back to the hotel.
Took the shuttle to Disney world. We started with the Magical Kingdom Mickey Mouse show, People Mover, Monsters Inc, Carousal of progress, Prince Charming Regal Carousal, presidents of America, 2pm parade, Splash Mountain, pirates of the Caribbean, pandora Navi river tour, and avatar 3D simulator. This is surely the future of movies.
We took the morning United Airlines flight to Miami. We checked into a very colorful Dream South Beach hotel. This is party town which we learnt in the evening, though we are here in the middle of the week. We Walked down to National Hotel to check the rates but decided to stay at the Dream hotel. In the evening we walked down Ocean Drive and went to the beach for a walk. Had dinner at one of the road side restaurants. It cost us $70 for a steak and pizza. Walked to a local CVS to pick up milk. In one store the attendant heard asking for alcohol when I asked where the milk was kept. She warned me that there will be no alcohol sold after 8pm.
One tip on hotels – go for international chain hotels like Hyatt Place or the Intercontinental. The breakfast served, the design of the rooms is as per international preferences so you will have lesser complaints and readjusting to do.
We slept with the tv on and woke up a bit late. Had a filling breakfast and picked up our hop-on-off bus tickets from Monica next to our hotel. Miami has a lot of Art Deco all over the city. We took the hoponoff bus from the post office in Miami Beach area. Did the whole loop and got off at Bayside for our boat ride. Stopped at Whole Foods for dinner and took the Lyft back to our hotel. Though we had decided to check out of Dream South Beach hotel, we figured it wasn’t so bad after all. It never makes sense to bother about the hotel if we are sight seeing.
We took the early morning bus to Key West at 6am. The southern islands from Maimi to Key West are a string of islands connected with 40 odd bridges. It was very hot here , though the locals were ok with the hard sun. Reached at 11am. Since we had no idea about the place, we went for the hoponoff bus through our guide ($78). Key West is a laid back chilled out place which runs entirely on the tourism industry. This is also home for Earnest Hemingway. Dropped in at Sloppy Joe’s and then went walking around. Nick name for folks born here is Conchs – from the big blowing shell. Got back on the bus at 6pm, reached the hotel at 11pm. We picked up hand-made cigars from Ocean Drive – just for the heck of it.
Woke up at 4 for our flight at 830. Totally convinced on going for international hotel chains if we are unsure of our location and stay. The boutique hotel messed up our check out bill. Management in small hotels are like lala companies anywhere in the world – not just india. It’s best to go for hotels like Double Tree, Intercontinental, Hyatt Place. Atleast their kitchen opens early for breakfast- apart from other things like professional behaviour and room design.
Walked down to Niagara Falls today. The place is quite and peaceful. Also the air is super clean since the park does not allow cars. Walked down to a 7Eleven store to pick up milk and water.
We walked to the Falls and straight for the boat ride. This has to be the highlight of the trip at par with last years Grand Canyon. This is by far the most awesome experience in a long time- all time. Had a big ice cream and went to a local indian restaurant to eat something hot and spicy.
We took the early morning flight to New York. It was drizzling all day. We Dumped our stuff at the hotel on 58 street and started walking along Central Park till we reached the Apple Store on 5th Avenue. Since we got ponchos from Niagara Falls, we used it here also. Walked down 5th Avenue to Bryant park along flagship stores of Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, NBA, Best Buy LEGO and Cole Hann. Had dinner at Whole Foods at the live food counter and walked back to our hotel crossing Time Square. We did 15 kilometers on day 1.
We took the subway from Columbus Circle to Brooklyn Bridge and walked across. From there- Wall Street Bull. They have removed the brave girl statue from in front of it. Went over to the East Side Village across Washington park, NYU, China town and little Italy. Took the subway to rockerfeller center and tried ice skating for 30 minutes. It’s tough! Walked over to Joe’s Pizza in Times Square, and back to the hotel. We clocked 22 kilometers by foot only.
It rained all day today so we stayed inside Macy’s all day. Amazing how an entire day can be spent inside the world’s largest store.
The sun is out so that means we can do long walks. We walked from our hotel to Central Park starting 10am and walked right across to the Harlem side till 2pm. Took the local bus till the Empire State Building and walked to B&H Video, through Times Square and back to the hotel. 23 km today.
Suns out so that means more walking. We walked down to Adorama – another gadgets and photography store like B&H Video. This store is closer to the Flatiron building on 5 Avenue and 18th street. Walked all the way back to 42 street to see Grand Central Station. Took the train from Penn Station to Kings Cross.
We walked down to a handicrafts store called Micheals on 22nd street on Broadway. Later went to B&H and picked up the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Gimbal. At 5 pm up the Empire Stare Observatory ($126). This building has an amazing history and is all over American Media and culture. Walked around as usual and had dinner at Joe’s Pizza at Times Square.
A sick obsession for miniatures and action figures heightens during a macro photography shoot. One sees details which won’t show in normal view. Over the last 15 years, I have collected action figures from toy shops and McDonald’s happy meals. This is a collection of ‘two-of-a-kind’, cars from movies or just really loveable pieces – the DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future’ movies, the bike from Mission Impossible 2, the Mini Cooper from ‘The Italian Job’, batmobile from the TV series. There was a time I thought I’d get over this childish obsession till I realise today, its just obsession and there really is no need to grow out of anything. Really, or do you know if anything else is?
Before the 2008 recession, we saw really high quality McD’s toys. Spiderman toys came with McDonalds and what made most of these interesting is that the toys did something. The one on the right can stick on a smooth metal surface. The one on the right has a switch on the back which shoots off the web in front.
If you followed the toys release, you could get your hands on the villains as well- Sandman shot the ball from his hand via a switch at the back, and Dr Octavias could stick on the fridge. After 2010, the quality of the Happy Meals toys really dropped. The plastic was lighter and well, not so desirable. These babies are gems.
These two are the most lovable Lego characters. ACDC’s back in Black could play when batman steps out of the Mini Cooper.
In our quest to create that awesome product as writers, designers and content creators, we sub-consciously look at a checklist of three attributes – creative, functional and a compelling wow-factor. To represent these, this three-headed dragon toy is a favorite in my collection. It also inspires me at work. The three heads represent three attributes. All three together take the product to the next level. Your product may a physical product, video, animation, poster, written piece of work, or any craft.
Creativity is what makes your material look good. it gets you the eyeballs from the passerby or user towards you; be it in a social post, mall, magazine, pdf or a flea market. She is locked into the beauty of your design because its beautiful and has a certain aesthetic appeal to it. He may want to converse further about what it does, what it costs and how to get it instantly. But that conversation started because your product LOOKED great in the first place. She will pay for it instantly not because she needs it, but because she just wants it as part of her life. This is the reason $1000+ phones sell quickly.
Functionality is the on-ground problem-solving your product does for the user. It does the job. Its the reason the budget was okayed. No war room was created to make the product to tackle a major challenge. Then they decided to involve a designer. Or not. Aluminium foils, wires, paper cups, you get it.
Wow-factor: The tiara, cherry on the cake, which makes the product so amazing that users own it and make it their own. You didn’t have to do it, but you killed yourself a bit, immersed your heart in it to make the product special. It may come from some amazing collaborative effort from content owners, vendors and designers. The joint effort makes the product so amazing that no one can get enough of it. It gets talked about next year as well. People still want something ‘like’ that. It becomes the benchmark. The team sells it to kingdom come because the outside world, clients and customers also want it. But throughout its life-cycle, it looked great, was functional AND adorable. The world knows in a glance that you lost sleep, put your holidays, missed parties to make that crown shine. The wow-factor may be a sustainable solution which worked for everyone at many levels- budget, timeline and egos.
Getting all three right is the holy grail.
Challenges: Typically we end up creating the product which may have any two ‘heads’. It may be creative and functional but it lacks the ‘wow’ which could have made your product compelling enough for users to share ahead. Deadline based reports and brochures go through weeks of writing and editing, followed by many iterations of design. But when the report is launched, it fails to tell a compelling story to the reader or share unique insights.
Or your product may be functional but is simply not sexy enough to want to look at again. Content-heavy emails are a typical example. It does the job it was made for, then everyone forgets about it.
Sometimes, there is a wow-factor and it may be creative, but it doesn’t do anything after its initial release. So it lacks functionality. Users may not know what to do with it. Shockingly, many products are created without the end-use thought through. We have been in so many knee-jerk situations wherein business teams get a video scripted, shot and curated, but are unsure of where to screen them.
All great products look at getting the right mix of all three heads. That’s when you get to justify the price. The client wont care so much about the price tag that may not get in the way of closing. The user or client should be able to scream “shut up and take my money!”
This is a sick act of indulging with a few of my favorite things: writing about an idea, toys, photography and finally putting it all together with my 10-year-old Wacom Intuos tablet. So to apply things here, I may have the idea, but not an ideal visual icon to get it across. The toys are lying around forever but aren’t doing anything to communicate a thought. I may have the skills but may not have the inspiration to share the thought in a compelling way. Also timing plays a part here, considering our distractions, blocking out Netflix and putting the time into sharing the idea could be the 4th invisible head.
It takes a bit of digging to find gems. Truly remarkable books are getting rarer by the day; more so if one is more into non-fiction like biographies and behavior sciences. It took me a while to read these good ones this year-
1. Elon Musk
2. How Google works
3. Algorithms to live by
4. Screenwriting by Syd Field
5. Predictably irrational
7. No Logo
Some of these books have been on my shelf for over ten years (Screenwriting) till I decided to knock them off my to-do list. Ones that are quicker to finish are the behaviors sciences aggregators (Nudge, Predictably irrational). But it takes and amazing life articulated in an inspiring way that becomes a piece of work. Elon Musk will inherit from Steve Jobs the crown of stellar leadership in the technology space. Is bureaucracy in your office getting you down? Is your vision of your work being chained down by excessive processes, low budgets and non-believers? Read this book and then look at the challenges you face with your colleagues. Whatever it is, there is a high chance you may not have sacrificed as much as Musk has for his goals. Spanner in the works were tossed in by government, colleagues, collaborators, investors, short sellers, competition and cynical media. It’s not for anyone to come by with a vision for the future, a great idea for a product and funding to sustain the viability, and survive all the challenges Musk has.
Though he is compared with the equally admired Steve Jobs, Musk has gone next level with the size of his ideas and execution with SpaceX and SolarCity. Making Tesla a much-loved and awaited product took ten years of hell.
The other books are great but not as inspiring as Musk’s bio.
सपने छोड़ो सामने देखो (Stop dreaming, look in front). Some truck slogans are forever.
Four of us took a few weeks to get our act together and do a road trip for a day. Things have changed now, since we are all married, and well… organized with little timeout for ‘nothing’. We drove down to Sariska and settled in Utsav camp. This resort is an enclosed patch of land with hutments with attached toilets. We could hear nothing- not traffice nor people. It was fantastic.
Here’s a quick 48-second glance of the trip-
After lunch we drove down to Bhangarh fort. We walked to the higher balcony levels- a vantage point for the best view of the area. After an hour we returned to the resort. The roads here still need a lot of work. But then thats the whole point of getting away from it all! In the evening, the weather was pleasant and we could see a sky full of stars.
Other bits of knowledge we cook up on road trips: The sight of food changes answers.
25 December: We had to end the year with a road trip to… somewhere. The very thought of spending the last 10 days of the year at home was unbearable. on Christmas morning, we woke up at 4 am with the first goal- to get into the car in 2 hours and head out. We were on our way by 7am. When we reached the GT Karnal road by-pass, it was foggy and we decided to stop for breakfast at Amrit Sukhdev. After another 100 km at the McD’s in Khanna, we booked our hotel at Amritsar. We reached Ramada Amritsar by 6pm and walked down to Golden temple. It was cold and late so the crowd wasn’t too bad. Since we had the place to ourselves, we spent a good hour at the three levels of Golden temple. I bought a red turban from a shop outside for Rs 400. It was available for hire for Rs200. At the hotel, we booked our hotels at Dalhousie. All hotels were totally booked at Dalhousie for new year’s celebrations, so we were losing hope when we heard of one cancellation. We jumped on it and managed to book it by paying online.
26 December: The next day we logged out of our hotel and paid a visit to the Partition museum just next to our hotel, adjoining the Golden temple. We went next to Jalianwala Bagh. After a quick walk around, we headed out to the hills for Pathankot. Dalhousie was another 70km from here with a long and winding route on the hills. We reached hotel snow valley where we spent the night. All hotels and a heater pillar – a 4 foot tall thin rod heater. We parked on the slope outside the hotel which made us very nervous!
27 December: we logged out of here and headed out 7 km further up to Aamod resort. This area had snow on the roads and is much colder than town. This is a lovely eco-friendly resort. The place is much quieter than Dalhousie town. We stayed here for two nights.
28 December: The road was glazed with frozen mud so our car kept slipping on the road. Since we wanted to go to Khajjiar, we decided to hire a taxi – a Maruti Alto for Rs 1900. Our man took us to Khajjiar lake – also called mini Switerzerland. Though this place is beautiful my main thought was it needed lesser humans around. There should be a people filter to beautiful places like this. We got bored quickly of this place and drove up to Daikund. This place is also am army radar area. There was a separate route through the snowed out forest for tourists. Rubber shoes were on hire for Rs 100. We walked up to the temple -a 3 km trek. This was a much better experience since there were not many takers for treks like this. We walked back and headed back to Aamod resort. C;ick here for Google 360 photos:
29 December: we checked out after a filling breakfast and headed for Jalandhar where we have family. Here’s the route we took that covered 1300 km-