An immigrant story

Nanaji told me a great story. When he landed in the UK after the Second World War the first piece of advice he got was that there are different toilets for men and women in the UK! The second thing he was told was that tissue paper in toilets is not the same as a handkerchief but for a completely different purpose so, he should not stuff it in his pocket.

Weird huh.

Apparently in 1963, India did not have separate toilets for men and women. Well… You really don’t need to and fancy places around the world are switching to unisex toilets just to ensure toilet equality for women.

The other interesting and heartwarming story is of when he arrived at Heathrow airport. He was supposed to be picked up by a taxi driver named Himmat singh. A Sardar, who was nowhere to be found. When he had all but given up, he was approached by a gentleman. He asked who he was looking for. Nanaji said, ” Himmat singh”. He said, “oh ok”.

Nanaji gave this gentleman a big hug because he was almost in tears and thought that Himmat singh must have cut his hair as all Sardars had to do in the UK. No one would hire a Sardar if he did not get his hair cut. The man was quick to correct his misconception. He was not Himmat singh but knew him since he was looking around for Nanaji as well.

Nanaji went to Nottingham. He knew someone there. This gentlemen just added a charpoy to his one room to accommodate him. There were other homes where immigrants like him booked a time to sleep and lots of people shared the same bed on rotation. He was glad he at least had a charpoy. Today this is called hot-bedding or hot racking in the army.

The next morning, his friend took him to a factory for a job the next day. This began the most horrible week of his life. 50 years late he still physically shuddered while telling me about dealing with hot oil, black and sticky and difficult situations. He was lucky to have
been able to apply for a post office job. They were th best jobs to get but only educated people could get these jobs. But even this was difficult. You had to get references for the last 10 years of your life from India to prove that you were not a criminal. He told me that at that time, post officers handled cash in the mail.

The interesting thing about this job was that the job was in London but he applied for it and was interviewed and tested in Nottingham and how his papers arrived from India, I have no idea.

Fifty years later he is a British citizen getting his roof fixed by Polish immigrants who are eager for his work. Unlike the resident Indian owned construction company that went bust and left his job in the middle.

He is concerned about Brexit and what that means for his son who is a teacher in Madrid and his Spanish wife.


Traveling alone for business

I’ve traveled alone a lot. Probably more than most people. I can tell you that it’s not fun. Especially when you can travel with other people. There is no one to talk to. No one to share experiences and no face to look at as I laugh at a good joke at a comedy club.

Everywhere I go, I see what I don’t have. Other people with company. People holding hands, kissing, talking and enjoying the simple pleasures of company.

Everyday I test my motivation and try to stay in action and do things instead of reading a book or just pursue passive ways to pass time. I also have to be ok not talking to anyone for six to twelve hours everyday. This is strangely meditative and not calming at the same time. I continually wrestle with my thoughts. I entertain fantasies where I make a real breakthrough and get clarity on life changing decisions in such times of loneliness. This never happens. Often the best decisions I’ve made are by talking to other people and not while engrossed in my own thoughts.

Often I have to actively stop thinking about work problems or problems at home so that I dont lose my mind away from home. I also have to find ways to fight depression as I settle to familiar patterns while traveling:

  1. Get up – search for places for breakfast on yelp
  2. Talk to the family
  3. Walk to work
  4. meetings ++
  5. Walk back to the hotel
  6. Search for places for dinner on yelp
  7. Eat (sometimes with local friends or customers)
  8. Watch TV or listen to comedy on YouTube
  9. Talk to the family
  10. Sleep

So yeah, its not always fun. Especially when you travel to the same place all the time.


Transitioning to a group product manager

It’s been more than a year and here are the things I wish I had known or had been told as I made this transition:

  1. It’s a completely different role
  2. Focus on getting things done more than doing things
  3. Be clear on what you are driving and what your team is driving
  4. Communicate! I thought I was good at it but managing a team requires more written communication, more documentation that I thought
  5. Read “Good group product manager, Dead Group Product Manager” 
  6. Accountability – be explicit. Folks don’t just do the right thing. 

Is this obvious? Probably to many but honestly it was not to me and I’ve managed a team before. 

One of the difficult things for me is to make good habits stick. With the amount of travel I do, it’s been hard to hold the team accountable for their tasks. I have started to use Trello to track tasks assigned to the team. I love that you can email directly to a Trello board. This allows me to bcc task emails to the Trello board. A little bit of housekeeping later, I can remember to follow up on these tasks in 1 on 1s. Travel makes it harder to follow up on tasks. This is why a Group product manager role is very different from other management roles. 

Also, you spend a lot of time prepping decks for internal pitches and driving alignment between various other groups in the company and championing your causes. Your wins and losses are public and drive team morale more than you think. 


Started selling my first two books

Finally, after months and months of work and about a year since the idea first came about, I’ve been able to finish and publish the two books I wanted to write about Delhi. These are in named under the experience Delhi brand.


I’m using gumroad. They made it really easy to sell these books and also made it easy to make the selling experience look good. Looking forward to the first sale.


Business travel tips and tricks as a traveler from India


As an employee of a multinational company in India, chances are high that in order to keep costs low, you are not traveling business class for work. I am not.

I have been traveling 1 week a month, every month for the last 2 years. Most of these trips have been to the US or to Japan, the two biggest markets for my product. While I enjoy travel, long haul travel to the US for a week generally involves giving up weekends on each side to get full 5 working days in the US. This meant that, broadly, of the 52 weekends in a year, I wasn’t with my family for 24 of them. This is almost half of the total weekends in a year and has been a significant disruption for my family. Thus, not sustainable.

Over the last few months, I have been trying to get more comfortable with jet lag so that I can leave Delhi on Sunday night and go straight to work on Monday afternoon, as soon as I arrive in the US or Japan. This is exceptionally hard if you travel economy and if you do not use sleeping aids like Ambien.

I have also been trying to get out of the US on Friday evening so that I can get home by Saturday night. This is generally not easy. Weekend travel seem to have better connections. I’ve had three trips where I had to choose to leave on Saturday or deal with spending 8 hours in Heathrow, which is no fun.

I try to use some tricks to make traveling in economy more comfortable.

  1. As much as possible, stick to one airline alliance like One world or the Star Alliance. This means that airlines like Emirates, Etihad, etc that are not aligned to any network are out. Sticking to an alliance helps you build status on them. Status helps with:
    1. Faster check in
    2. Faster security clearance
    3. Better pre-reserved seating options when you reserve online
  2. If your company does end up flying you Etihad or Emirates or any of middle eastern carriers, you should look at the Alaska Airlines mileage program. It is very attractive. I’ve been thinking about ditching American AAdvantage because Alaska allows you to combine Emirates, Flying Blue and one world airlines all in a single program! How cool is that.
  3. Pick aisle seats as soon as your tickets are booked by going to the “manage your booking” section at the relevant airline’s website. Exit row seats costs extra unless you have status with the airline. See if your company will let you expense that.
  4. If you have no trouble sleeping on planes, pick a window seat so that no one disturbs you while you are sleeping.
  5. Try to negotiate with your managers to let you pay extra for premium economy seats. The extra 6 inches between seats help. The seats are broader too, which means that you have more space around you and for your luggage in the luggage bins on top. Chances are, if you travel a lot, you will not check in any luggage
  6. Carry an empty water bottle. Fill it up AFTER you are through security. Most airlines will not give you a water bottle if you fly economy. This means constantly asking for water as you dehydrate breathing dry air on the plane. Having your own water really helps.
  7. Use eyeshades & ear plugs so that you can sleep easy inspite of noisy kids and general commotion and noise in the cabin. Think about investing in noise canceling headphones. I haven’t done it since noise does not trouble me that much.
  8. Inform the crew not to disturb you for meal service, if you are on <6 hour flights and plan to sleep through it. A meal service in the middle of such flights is very disruptive.
  9. Buy “Headspace”. It is a set of great audio lessons that help some people meditate. They just help me go to sleep. 🙂
  10. Sign up for credit card that gets to free access to priority pass lounges. Lounges are great for layovers. Free internet, food and drinks and comfy seats all add up if you travel a lot internationally. Citibank offers such cards in India.
  11. Starwood preferred guest is the most awarding hotel loyalty program. You should sign up and try to stay at their properties if you can.

Hope this helps



Impressions of Beijing – January 2014


My first business trip to Beijing in its most inhospitable climate and polluted environments was not as challenging as I thought it would be.

Amongst the expected challenges were:

  • Dealing with pollution
  • Dealing with the language problem
  • Being a vegetarian
  • Not having a working phone

So, really the biggest challenge was the language problem. Living in Delhi prepared me well for the pollution but it did get to me on the 3rd day as I developed a persistent headache.

I found two really good vegetarian restaurants near Hotel Wenjin thanks to . I had better food than I have had in Tokyo. This was just great surprise. Not having a working phone was ok since I was always with someone who had a phone. Plus, I could use facetime audio to connect with people. The worst unexpected thing was the stench of sweat and rot in early morning commuter metro and even in taxis. I was surprised that none of my chinese co workers were put off by it or even mentioned it. It was just unbearable. I would have preferred a 1 hour walk to being in that train or the taxi.

So, what did I think of Beijing… I can’t say I like it a lot. It really is too difficult to be alone here and navigate without having any help from waiters, people on the street or metro officials. I felt it was a lot like Delhi or Mumbai in terms of complexity. There is some glitz and modernization but it hides a stoic committment to tradition. The lack of attention to detail was apparent in construction and in design in general. I kept comparing it to Tokyo. Tokyo, though busy is so much cleaner and the attention to detail is simply outstanding, probably better than any in the world. The Japanese people seem nicer. Language is less of any issue and getting around is easier.

Of course, people here, as you get to know them, are just as nice but a stranger seems less open and less comfortable being approached.

I did see the sunrise screens at Tienanmen square right around the time this hoax was doing the rounds on facebook. I also saw the Mutianyu part of the great wall of China. It was great but definitely not worth going to again. Shared bus rides are the cheapest way to get there. You do have to endure a “cultural” visit to a jade factory in this trip so you do the “typical your time or your money” trade off.