Monday, May 29, 2006

Update from Pondicherry! - The much awaited post!

So, what do you want to know?!

Am I alive?!
Where am I?!
What does my job here entail?!
So, what exactly am I doing now?!
Who are Kate and Scott
The office and people in the office
My time till now here in Pondi.
Photos from Pondicherry.
1.The beach
2.Sunday Market
3.Random Shots

Yes, I am alive.

I am in Pondicherry. People generally refer to it as 'Pondi'. Now don't start having ideas

What does my job here entail?!

I'm dealing with the Media and Publicity aspect of PlanetRead and
BookBox . PlanetRead and BookBox are now growing and the organizations need regular correspondence and dialogue with media. So, this Computer Engineer is more like the person who'd be taking care of that aspect. So, if you hear about PlanetRead and BookBox and know what they are working on, I'm doing my job well. That's in the long term. You obviously won't see PlanetRead and BookBox hogging headlines in the next few days or weeks. Well, they already have in the past though. Be it at the Google blog or
The Stanford Daily and at The NewYork Times(the link to which doesn't exist anymore) So, my job here basically deals with taking care of the fact that PlanetRead and BookBox are projected well in the media and that their brand value and recognition increase and get better by the day!

To make this happen I understand that there's lot of ground to be covered initially and lot of learning to do, both in terms of understanding of how things work in the organization and how best one can present it employing the most suitable media. There's also lot of learning on being adept in dealing with people cutting across different sections. You can't deal the same way with the kids on the street who you're scared will harm your camera, and the Regional Director of
This is where I believe devoting most of my time working with SPIC-MACAY in college, will keep me in good stead. Interestingly, the case is mostly the same at work here. But yes, a lot more serious finds it amazing as to how I manage to be comfortable dealing with different people! Who is Scott?! Read on. But then Scott already knows what SPIC MACAY is!

So, what exactly am I doing now?!

Right now, it's more of learning than working probably is the best learning I've had, both in terms of learning on how to go about things and the people that I'm spending my time with. I spend most of my day working, dining, arguing?!, discussing, wondering, contemplating, hypothezing, debating, shopping with Kate and Scott. Who are Scott and Kate?! Read here!

Scott and Kate bring with them a host of skills and ideas and my time involves picking it up from them and offer to them what I've to offer. Together, we intend to leave PlanetRead and BookBox with lots of assets, human or otherwise by the end of this summer when they leave for the US. Then, my job here involves leveraging on these assets to promote PlanetRead and BookBox all over the world! Yes!

PlanetRead is expanding into other countries, through its Global Outreach programme. Very exciting times ahead indeed!

Over the next two and a half months, we'll be traveling to all the South Indian states, Mumbai and Ahmedabad as well to meet and interview the people who matter in the IT,tech and the media industries. There are famous names. But I wouldn't want to reveal them now. Watch out for the final piece we come up with. Then you'll know. I'd be working with Scott on the field research, the camera and the editing work. With Kate my work would involve working on the communication aspect in terms of making and maintaining the blog and reaching out to a wider audience. My job also involves working with them keeping the long term requirements of PlanetRead and BookBox and how best we can utilize their work and stay for out purposes.

Who are Kate and Scott?!

I could simply say Kate and Scott are interns from the US who are working with me here at PlanetRead. To make things more interesting, I'd say they are students of Brown University which is part of the Ivy League. They took the class of social entrepreneurship under Dr.Brij Kothari and now, they are in India! That's how powerful Brij's interaction with them was! Brij's coming to India in the near future and I cannot wait to meet him! To spice up things a little more, Kate is very good-looking and I get to carry around her on the bike for our culinary needs or otherwise. Poor Scott has to bicycle around while I get to ride Kate around! [I'm eagerly awaiting for her reaction as and when she reads this!:)]

Kate works more on the design, visual appeal and communication aspects of presenting PlanetRead and BookBox's work to a much larger audience from a world perspective. She chronicles personal her experiences and those of people here, in this blog. Kate and I are also working on creating an official blog for PlanetRead and BookBox. Those will give you, the audience a better idea of what exactly happens here and present a human face to its activities. Now, do I write that episode, Kate?! Not now, will do sometime soon. Maybe when I'm articulate?! All this said, Kate has a power of keen observation which I believe is a great asset for a person dealing with the design aspect of an organization, or for that matter anything!

To define Scott, I'll use the same word he uses to describe everything in India- intense. This guy is awesome and amazing. Now, these are again two words which he uses the most to describe everyting here! The energy he brings into everything he does is mind-blowing. Be it when it comes to planning the schedules for the village trips, or in learning more about India and its people, or even it's simply talking about general things.

For sure you'll hear more about Kate and Scott in the coming months, as I'll be spending most of my time with them. All I can say now is that this is a huge learning opportunity for the three of us. Needless to mention, we'll also have lot of fun dong this!

The office/People in the office
The office is a bungalow with a small but beautiful garden and a terrace having a breath-taking view of the Bay of Bengal. Our workplace looks something like this

The best things about people in the office is that they tolerate me. Be it making The Bored Board, or putting up with my poor jokes! The bestest thing is that they understand my PJs and are able to appreciate my puns.! appreciate will be too much of self-appreciation, but yes, people here are definitely the ones I can relate to more than most people I've spent my time with. Ananya is my English teacher here. I get free English lessons everyday. Today's lesson was that using 'having to' is not right! Parthibhan is a 'hand'some cricket player with a safe pair of hands. We soon plan to start a PlanetRead cricket club with him as the President and the watchman and I being the Secretary cum peon. Mital finds me very cute and she's said that some 97 times in these ten days. Needless to say, she is equally sweet! Pappu is one person whom I'm glad to have met. He's one of the enthusiastic persons I've ever met in my life. He reminds me so much of Prabhakar from Shantaram. Everything about him is special, be it his contacts and his ability to get things done, his smile and even his body structure!Say this to him and he'll laugh. The laugh so funny that it'll cheer up your day! We have Maaran Sir, who is like a father figure to all of us here at PlanetRead and BookBox. Vinod's the co-ordinator and takes care that everything runs smoothly. Bobby is our in-house philosopher and poet! Francis and Amma make sure we do our work efficiently by giving us regular doses of coffee, buttermilk and snacks!

Nirav is now in Mumbai as we now have ten programmes with SLS from the earlier six programmes. Vikram, Vinay, Rajesh are in Mumbai. I had a great time with them in Mumbai. Looking forward to spending time with them when we visit Mumbai in some time from now.

My time in Pondicherry till now

It's been almost 10 days since I landed in Pondicherry.Landed?!Well not exactly. I arrived in Pondicherry in an ECR bus in which I was treated to almost a dozen Rajanikant songs and a proper, masala Tamizh movie with just the right amount of violence, songs, item song exposure and perhaps not enough comedy. It was interesting enough to have me look at the TV whenever I was woken up by the person next to me falling on me and trying to become my laptop.

So, I arrived in Pondicherry and not all at sea, though there was the huge expanse of the Bay of Bengal by my side. The office, where I stay as well, is just a road across the beach and I had no problems reaching here. Nirav's instructions were just perfect.No doubt, he's the Chief Operating Officer!:)

I've settled down comfortably here and I really do not find it surprising that it appears to me that I've known people for a long time now. There's a way I connect with people and I guess the connection's just right here! There's a nut who joins us for coffee in the evening, after dinner. Let's she how she reacts to being called a nut! Guess I'll have to buy a Nut and Almonds chocolate to make up for it!


Oliver is Scott's very good friend. They've been friends for a very long time now. It was quite amazing that they were meeting in Pondicherry after not having met for the last four months or so. That evening I spent with Oliver and Scott walking through the streets of Pondicherry, visiting the church, going through the meat and the vegetable market will rank as one of the best evenings I've spent with anyone. The discussions ranged from music to markets, politics to culture, religion to education and it was one of the most intellectually stimulating discussions I've ever had.

Oliver has seen more of not just the world, but even more of India than I have, having spent lot of time at Varanasi at the Little Stars School as a part of Where Be The Dragons. He's also been to Bhutan and Sikkim. It was his sixth visit to India and one could get the feeling that he exactly new what it was like to be in India and experience it. The very fact that he was checking out of a very luxurious and swank hotel to move into an Indian hotel is a testimony to this. He outsources animation work to Chennai and that is how he comes to India often. We hope to catch him when he comes to Varanasi in July. But what's most striking is that he's of my age and has done so much more. I'm sure the world will hear lot about him in the coming days, and not just from me!

Photos from Pondicherry.

1.The beach

3.Random Shots

Friday, May 12, 2006

Losing My Religion

[ This post is about I not taking up a software job and joining
PlanetRead. Read on for details!]

It was ironical (the best of the times?!). It was funny (worst of the times?!). Ironical because it was the last engineering exam of my life and the mail confirming that I was getting aboard PlanetRead effectively meant that I wouldn’t be getting into software. Ironical, more so because the last exam was Software Engineering.Funny was how I motivated myself to ‘study’ for that exam, which was only of academic interest, pun very much intended. I’ll leave aside the funny story for a while. Time for some serious discussion now.

Yes, I’m not taking up the software job I got through campus placements but joining PlanetRead instead. Why? Who? Where? When? How? What? Here are the answers!


- What is PlanetRead?

Well, PlanetRead is an organization setup by Dr. Brij Kothari, a Reuters scholar and an Ashoka fellow. Closer home, he teaches at his alma-mater IIM-A. Dr. Kothari is credited with conceptualizing, researching and nationalizing SLS in India. More on Dr. Kothari and PlanetRead hereand here respectively. Looking forward to meeting him! PlanetRead is funded by, the philanthropic arm of Google among a host of other organizations. Here’s how PlanetRead had its origins. In Dr. Kothari’s own words-
“So I used to watch a lot of Spanish films with English subtitles. One day, suddenly I thought: Why not Spanish films with Spanish subtitles? It'd be a better way of learning the language. Adding text to the audio, you could actually follow what the native speaker says. Then I exclaimed, 'Why not add subtitles to the popular film song programs in India? This way those who had rudimentary knowledge of the alphabets could learn to read! “

Dr. Kothari is also the CEO of Bookbox. Bookbox, again based on SLS is a web based jukebox of multimedia stories for children, and for those young at heart. Try the free preview. Almost everyone, whom I showed this to, was left agape. Chances are that you’ll be one of them to. Simple and so very elegant. Yet, equally powerful and effective.

- What will I be doing in PlanetRead and Bookbox?

I’m joining the PlanetRead team as Media and Publicity trainee. My work would involve lots of traveling, interacting with people, and the media. Publicity, brand building, mass media are the words. Hope you get the idea! Initially, I’d be traveling with Scott, an American film-maker. In the process, I’d be learning how to handle the camera, edit videos and make documentaries and short films. Glad, this’ll help me make better videos than the stupid hostel videos I had done and better documentaries than ‘de Young Basanti’. Over a period of time, I’m expected to perform varied roles relating to the publicity and the brand image of SLS and PlanetRead. Suffices to say that the profile is definitely exciting and interesting, and more importantly gives me lots of scope for me to learn and pick up new things.


This perhaps is the question on everyone’s mind. Not that I hate software or despise it. It’d be too frivolous on my part to ridicule it without actually being a part of it. I easily worked my way out though four years of engineering. And I could have done the same thing in software. Somehow, the working my way out business doesn’t quite appeal to me anymore. And PlanetRead gives me a chance to work to my skills, my strengths and more importantly my interests. Some more answers to why.

1. The whole concept of technology being used to make a difference to people’s lives appeals to me the most. I was ridiculed when I chose ‘IT in rural development’ as my final year seminar topic. I can probably identify more with that farmer in Haryana whose life has been transformed by e-choupal, than this classmate who just blabbers on some hi-funda tech term while others royally doze off. Ask me, someone who first touched a computer in Std IX and actually worked on it in Std XII about the joy of being ‘empowered by technology’. Do not know what corner of my heart that joy emerges from, when I see kids in my neighbourhood smile and thank me when I let them play games on my computer or when our Kaamwaali Bai’s daughter types her name on the computer!

2. I get a chance to leverage on my skills, my talent and my interests to make a real difference to the organization and the society at large. Yes, I did say the same thing (with a sly smile ;) ) in the campus interview though. But could I really have? I guess not, at least not when I’m crazy about quizzing, Web 2.0, making videos, writing, photography, traveling, movies, current affairs et al. I might not get to pursue all of these with the same vigour, but at least my work would have lots of scope for pursuing some of these. In software? I’m afraid not!

3. The team I’ll be joining. I haven’t met them as of now and will probably have met some of them in a few days’ time. A click on the Team link on will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

4. Finally, as silly as it may seem, I get to work in casuals. I remember asking Rohit Shankar (college senior from IIM-A, who's started his woen venture) as to why did he opt out of placements and venture out on his own. His straight-forward and terse reply was-“ Abey, tie-wie pehen ke kaun kaam karega? Main toh apne company mein chaddi pehen ke kaam kar sakta hoon!” . A tie or a chaddi isn’t all that important to me. But yes, I thrive and relish in an informal atmosphere.

5. The bestestest thing, I might get to write PlanetRead and Bookbox’s blog!!I definitely hope I will, once I reach Pondicherry!

- How did all this happen?

This again a story in itself. We had a four hour lab every Friday afternoon. During one such lab hour (of the four hours?!),my craze about Web 2.0 again took me on a tangential. I came across this piece on Dr. Larry Brilliant taking over as the CEO of There I stumbled upon PlanetRead and the fact that it is one of the only four organistions in the whole world being funded by Google. Silly as it may seem, it was a Blink! moment for me. I immediately mailed Dr. Kothari and he forwarded my mail to the COO and a few days later, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. I happened to speak to the COO in Sanskrit in our very first conversation. Those of you who still follow this beautiful language would understand my joy at such an event. Then a few more phone calls and mails followed, and here I am, writing a post on why I’m not taking up a software job and joining my multilingual boss. Funnily enough, most of the mail correspondence happened during the lab hours. I perhaps made the best use of the a.c comfort and four hours of hi-speed internet. What’s funnier?! The subject was aptly named ‘Internet Technology and Applications’! Our teachers couldn’t have been more philosophical, could they?!

- How did my parents react?

An important question again. Their initial skepticism was not totally unfounded. This was indeed something new. And when their excited son calls them close to midnight, telling them that he has plans of dropping out of a software job and instead joining an organization working for promoting literacy, would definitely have any parent thinking a thousand times about it. I’m indeed very lucky such wonderful and supportive parents who’ve let me pursue what’s close to my heart. I know it definitely wasn’t easy for them. That makes the load on my shoulders all the more heavy, with that added responsibility. Feel a little sorry for my mother though. She cannot possibly say-‘”Mera beta laakhon mein ek hai”. How could she?! I wouldn’t be one of the many lakhs of software engineers Kidding. She’s a very proud mother and I’m an equally obedient son ;) And thank you Sir, for talking to my parents .That helped so much

How was others’ reaction?

To be very frank, not too many people are really bothered. Even the ones you’d generally expect to be interested in something new and exciting aren’t all that keen. It’s fine. Most quizzers, movie freaks, music maniacs, literary bugs would understand what it is like. I being no different have been through this many times. Perfectly fine by me!


Initially I’ll be traveling, mostly in South India. Might just be at a tea- stall near you! PlanetRead has offices in Pondicherry, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. But it’ll be mostly Pondicherry I guess. Keep visiting this blog to know of my where-abouts and my travel blog about my experiences and my photoblog for the photos!


This is going to be fun. Soon after my college, I join PlanetRead on the 16th at Bombay as soon as I leave from Surat! Such a rush, definitely. But then again, that’s where I thrive. Something like, I did really well during this rush earlier. One mad rush that was!

I move to Pondicherry on the 23rd after a quick stop-over at home. Then embark on the travel with Scott. So much looking forward to it.

Anymore questions?! By the time this blog sees a new post, I’ll already be on PlanetRead’s team. More inside dope then! Till then, nothing more could convey my feelings better than the Red’s lines from The Shawshank Redemption-

“ ……… I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I imagine it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border… I hope to see my friend and shake his hand… I hope the pacific is a blue as it has been in my dreams… I hope ”

Related/ Unrelated Babble:

1. Getting swamped by four kid cousins as soon as you step into home, can relieve you of all the fatigue and pain of a continuous 20-hr train journey in a general compartment.
2. Re-discovered the joy of getting really involved in something and working for it. This time around, it happens to be my final year project. The last two days I’ve been totally immersed in Spam. Good mails by the way are called Ham. But bit Ham and Spam are safely edible items.
3. It is a little irritating though when you have Him-ass Reshammiya ‘poke his nose’ when you’ve to really concentrate. It is very irritating when he runs 24*7 not only in the mess, but also in autos, restaurants, tea-stalls. What is absolutely irritating is when he enters your project lab and half the junta absolutely ‘suroor’ him. So much for an unshaven face and a Fevicol glued cap. Will Somebody tell me what Suroor means?!
4. Might just get to meet the likes of Kiran Karnik, Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji at the IT investors’ meet in Hubli. The event manager has agreed to us(I and Bharath) being there to ‘interact with and learn from the dignitaries and the entrepreneurs present there’. Looking forward to that as well.
5. It’s a pain in the backside roaming through this huge campus to collect some 16 signatures for the No Dues Certificate. Can’t there be a centralized system to check the dues. Would rather stay back than get everything burnt in this shot sun. But what to do?! Professional hazards, you see.
6. I don’t have any time for all ‘one last time’ things . The one last trip to Shanivari, the one last trip to Chowk for chicken and Mava jalebi, one last trip to Varachchha: ;), one last visit to each of the rooms I stayed in previously, one last visit to Mansi and Sweety’s place, one last visit to GanGhor. The won’t be any end to these last lists! But yes, nothing lasts forever! Not even the last one?!
7. Last, but not the least least, least is next. This might be the last night-out of my engineering life. It’s 5:19 now and our submission starts from 10:00. How pleasant, my back hasn’t touched the ground since morning!
8. Last but not the least, another list! Of things I’ll miss
1. No miss to miss. So that’s a miss from the list of things I’ll
2. Garba: Vibrant Gujarat isn’t just a punchline. Come here
during Navaratri and you’ll know what it means. Haven’t
missed a single garba till now!
3. LAN and Internet in my room: Less said the better. I’ll start crying otherwise.
4. My room: esp. the graffiti and the huge rubbish board. It’s worth some $32445435 of information. Quizzers’ delight.
5. The HUGE campus. Walking in the campus gave some sense of pleasure.
6. Lots of people. They have all chosen to remain anonymous. But you know who you are [Joey ishtyle!]
7. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]
8. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]
9. [ To be filled later. When I find out what I’m missing]