Ghosts of Washing Machines past

I moved into an HDB flat about three weeks ago (for those who didn’t know, HDB stands for Housing and Development Board. Now you know. Don’t ask again). Although the house agent had advertised it as a 2 BHK house, I and my flat mate soon discovered that we were three of us in the flat. Needless to say, the discovery came as a surprise.
Week 1 – The Signs

They were subtle at first. Both of us stay out on our jobs for nearly ten hours every day. By the time we get back home, we are usually too tired to conduct routine drill inspections of the house. Hence the signs went unnoticed for about a week. But once we started noticing things, we became more and more intrigued.
The clearest sign was the washing machine tube. Our washing machine has an outflow tube that allows the waste water to flow out of the washing machine in to one of our two bathrooms. I regularly use the bathroom in question, and so it turned out that I was the first one to notice it. 
Notice the red circle

As you can see, the tube blocks the door and prevents it from closing. Normally, I keep the tube coiled up like this, so that I can close the door while I am using it.
Notice the red circle. Could you spot the subtle difference?
But I soon started noticing a strange thing. Every evening, the tube would mysteriously go back to its original position, leading back into the bathroom. For a couple of days, I dismissed the event, preferring to believe that I had absent mindedly replaced the tube after I was done with the bathroom in the morning. But the nagging feeling that something was not right persisted in the back of my mind.
I got through one week like this.
Week 2 – Acceptance

Then my flat mate started noticing things. We used to leave the grill outside our door unlocked as we left for office every day. It is not always easy to observe such precautions when you leave a quarter of an hour late in a state of semi sleep each morning. But in the evenings, we would be greeted by a mysteriously locked grill. Every single day. Uncanny.
Finally, both I and my flat mate decided to break away from our suspension of disbelief and broach the subject to each other. That was the night we first realized the full extent of the situation.  Until then neither of us were aware that the other had been noticing strange things too. We agreed that it was time to take a closer interest in the matter at hand. After all, it was our house.
Week 3 – Exorcism

I started paying close attention to the relative position of the washing machine tube every day. Meanwhile, my flat mate went 007 on the house. He started sticking hair strands between the door and the frame to see if anyone opened the door while we were away (of course, the hair would eventually be blown off by the wind every single day, but he took it as conclusive proof of illegal entry). We also kept objects in discreet locations around the house to see if they would be moved. And we started locking our bedroom doors every night. We don’t know about Bond, but we certainly are next to useless when we are asleep.
The results of this little experiment were disconcerting to say the least. Someone definitely seemed to be entering the house every day. The catch was that this person seemed obsessed with only one thing. The washing machine tube. Every day like clockwork, the end of the tube would be moved back into the bathroom. Nothing else in the house would be touched. By this time, my flat mate and I were both spooked. Although neither of us openly admitted it, the G word hung in the air around us. The closest we came to discussing the issue was when in a moment of weakness he turned to me and remarked, “It’s a good thing we don’t believe in it.” He waited for a reply. When none seemed forthcoming, he added tentatively, “Right?” “Yeah…” I replied unconvincingly.
Finally we decided that enough was enough. We phoned up the agent to discuss the issue. We went into a lengthy explanation of the various measures we had taken ,how we had gathered the relevant evidence and eventually came to the inevitable conclusion that there was a third party who also seemed to have signed the tenancy agreement without letting us know. After listening to us for about fifteen minutes, he offered hesitantly, “Have you guys tried changing the lock on the grill?”. My flat mate, who was on the phone with the agent, looked at me dumbly. I managed a weak smile. No, we hadn’t tried that.

We changed the lock on our front grill two days ago. The washing machine tube has comfortably remained in its state of rest for these two days. The ghost has been exorcised.
But the question remains, why the washing machine?

Domesticated Who??

Oh hello !!  Namaskaaram. So you are actually interested in knowing who I am. I am pleasantly surprised. Well, if you aren’t my HR manager trying to figure out how I spend my time, you are welcome to be friends with me.
My name is Sandeep Nair, and I welcome you to my blog, dear reader.
This blog has been a long time in the making, and consequently, has no ordered structure to speak of. Counter-intuitive, ain’t it? The reason is that I spent a long time agonizing over how to monetize my blog. Now, I could have written informative and highly authoritative pieces about  transformer wiring, business to business marketing, or automobile manufacturing. But since I have done electrical engineering, studied marketing at IIM Bangalore and worked for some time at Tata Motors, I knew for a fact that I suck at those things. Then finally, one fine day, I decided that enough was enough and I needed to downsize my plans for buying a Harley Davidson with my blog ad revenue.
Which brings us to the blog itself, and its name. Why did I choose it? Because of a heart rending story. Before I begin, let me ask you all something. How many of you (excluding anyone who studied in Mumbai, and err… Chennai) have had the opportunity to study with a fledgling film star? Don’t tell me the answer. I wouldn’t know what to do with your answer even if you told me. But, here’s mine. I have studied with a budding young actress. Any self respecting mallu guy has to write engineering or medical entrance test soon after finishing his 12th board exams. That’s how he paves his way forward to a bright, if slightly overcrowded future, parental bragging rights, and a decent social capital at I followed the same path, and ended up taking Civil Engineering at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. A very old institution; it is rich in tradition and history. But more on that at a later date.
The very first class was abuzz with the rumour that one of the girls in our trade and batch was a film personality. A “Cinema-nadi”. A living, breathing, actress amongst us. Ahh, the bliss !!! When she entered the class, all the guys stopped reading “Basic Principles of Civil Engineering(4th edition)” and actually looked at her for a few seconds before burying their heads in the book again. Okay, that may not be exactly what happened, but you get the picture.
It was the first time I was in close physical proximity with a girl who was comfortable in front of a camera. Usually there is an LCD or CRT screen that separates me from such girls. Anyway, I shall freely admit I was scared of talking to her. So I adopted the tried and tested, age-old method of fifth graders who suddenly realize that the ponytail wearing guy who used to sit next to them and give as good as they got till last year has suddenly undergone inexplicable changes over the summer vacation. I regressed into a blustering denial. But, to her credit, she was friendly and sweet to all of us, and quickly developed a friend circle.
Then one day, wonder of wonders, she talked to me ! She requested a favor from me !! As far as a guy is concerned,that’s a “double-whammy”. So I freely let her copy my paper during the Basic Civil Engineering exam. I hoped it would lead to bigger and better things. Like perhaps, we could solve the math assignment together. Such happy thoughts were a dime a dozen in my mind when one day at noon, she joined us at our lunch table. All of us were discussing pretty random things, when she suddenly turned to me and let loose a bomb-shell. ” You know something Sandeep”, she mused,” you are a domesticated kid”. I was flabbergasted, confused and err, confused even more. I had never before heard of something called a domesticated kid. But apparently I was one. Having established the who and what, I proceeded to the why. She explained, ” you have never left the comfort of your house and have completed your entire schooling at a single location. You are nice, sweet, caring and somehow, I don’t know…. domesticated. I love you.” Well, under torture I may admit that she never said the last line, but everything else was said for sure. I had never really thought of things that way, and it was a real eye opener for me. Here I was, all of 16 years old, and I had never even been to Outer Mongolia. Shame on me.
That day, I resolved to change things. The first step to that end was to appear for an All India Engineering entrance exam and complete my Btech from Nagpur (chosen for no reason other than its geographical position relative to my home town of Trivandrum). From then onwards, I have roamed cities like Pune ,Bangalore and Hyderabad, towns like Davengere, Kolar and Chikballapur, and God forsaken villages and hamlets spread across South India. The idea was to meet people, experience things and write something. Thanks be to the actress, she kick started me on a journey that is still continuing. Along the way I picked up a sense of humour, a little cynicism, and the realization that a lot of things in this world can appear really funny, confusing, pointless and sweet (in no particular order) if viewed through the eyes of a ‘domesticated kid’, who has had little exposure to such stuff before. And since I mostly write about such things which I myself experience or vicariously do through my friends, I decided to name my blog that.
And yes, I will go to Outer Mongolia. Once. In the meantime, if you are my HR manager, I am not the Sandeep you are looking for

Personal Productivity: 5 ways to make your subway ride more productive

Singapore government would ideally like everyone in Singapore to take the subway. So in all its efficiency, it has built subway lines that connect almost all parts of the country to each other. Next on the cards is a line that connects Little India to Tamil Nadu.
Interior of a Singapore MRT train. Image courtesy: Wikipedia
I try to use the subway as much as I can when I travel. Not only does it save money (cab rides are expensive in Singapore) but it also gives me chunks of time that can be used productively. People tend to react to subway rides in different ways. Newly arrived Indians always seem a bit unsure, confused by the unfamiliar terrain of an MRT station, myriad signs and instructions. But as soon as they become somewhat familiar with the process of boarding and exiting at their daily stops, they stop wasting their time reading signs and become engrossed in watching all the PYTs the subway has to offer.
After I had gone through these two phases (yes, you can get bored of seeing PYTs day in and day out. I pity studio make-up men) I started to think about how I could utilize the travel time more productively than standing near the door and staring fixedly at my reflection. Over the course of several days and several trips, I discovered a lot of ways to make the otherwise dreary rides more fun and productive. Here are five of them.

I shall admit here that I am a sucker for books. I love to read any spare time I can get. Over several years I have moved from comics to biographies to non- fiction to self-help to fantasy. Currently I have been reading a lot about personal productivity and personal finance. Having started a new career, I find that these two concepts are starting to carry more meaning and importance for me. I am nowhere near where I would like to be on these topics, but I am getting there.
And the key to doing that is to read. There are thousands upon thousands of websites, books, manuals and self-help lists out there that can help you out with acquiring new knowledge. Two of my favorite resources are The Simple Dollar and Wise Bread .They both offer sound, solid advice grounded in reality.
I get most of my reading done while I travel in subways. Having an iPhone is a great help in this regard, but you can pretty much use any device with an internet connection and a sizeable screen. Even a Sony PSP. Instead of whiling away time playing Angry Birds or Gears of War, try reading a new e-book every once in a while.
Listen to Podcasts

I was aware of podcasts for a long time, but somehow never got around to the practice of hearing them. Probably the act of buying an iPhone prompted me to try them out for the first time. iTunes can deliver the latest editions of the podcasts you choose to listen to, free of cost to your iPhone. And they can be incredibly useful. You can listen to the latest news analysis or to the audio version of HIMYM.
Here are three podcasts I faithfully follow
Language studies

Having a music player and a pair of good earphones can be a great boon during subway rides if you want to learn new languages. There are a wide variety of resources out there that allow you to listen to short pieces of audio lessons that explain foreign languages in easy terms. I am yet to try a few of them out myself, but they are definitely figuring on my list of resolutions for 2012, when I shall devote some time every day to learn a foreign language.
Solve puzzles

You don’t need to possess an expensive gadget to enjoy puzzles. Anything from a cheap puzzle book to a daily newspaper would serve the purpose equally well. The idea is to start off with easy puzzles which you can solve within minutes without taxing your brain too much. Once you get a hang of it, move onto bigger ones.

The last one is a slightly off beat suggestion, one that mainly applies to those who love to write or even anyone who is interested in human nature. There are few better places to observe the complex interpersonal interactions of human nature than in a small subway train, where people from a multitude of races, countries and cultures are forced to spend a significant amount of time in close proximity. Of course, this elicits different reactions in different people. Singaporeans tend to dive deep into their iPhones. Mumbaikars tend to evaluate everyone else as a potential terrorist or a pickpocket. New Yorkers tend to talk politics. The crux is, everyone reacts in a different way. And that provides a lot of food for thought.
The essential idea here is that subway rides provide you chunks of time during the day which you can benefit immensely from, if used efficiently. 30 minutes of commute daily adds up to 10 hours every month. That’s a working day.