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भगवद गीता के अध्याय 2 श्लोक 27 में कहा गया है:
“जिसने जन्म लिया है उसकी मृत्यु निश्चित है और मृत्यु के पश्चात् पुनर्जन्म भी निश्चित है।”

इससे कोई फर्क नहीं पड़ता है कि हम अपना जीवन कैसे जीते हैं, हम सभी का अंत एक जैसा होता है – खामोशी में। अंत में, सभी को जीवन के एक मात्र सत्य का सामना करना पड़ता है। मृत्यु निश्चित है, फिर हम चाहे कोई भी हों।
जैसे पतझड़ में पुराने पत्ते नए पत्तों के आने की जगह बनाने के लिए प्रकृति के नियमानुसार सुनहरे होकर झड़ जाते हैं, ठीक उसी प्रकार जो भी इस दुनिया में प्रवेश करता है, उसका एक दिन अंत होता ही है। जैसा कि लोग कहते हैं, जीवन एक चक्र है, जहां सभी आशाएं और सपने एक कहानी मात्र हैं। इस दुनिया में हर किसी को एक भूमिका निभानी है। वे प्यार का अनुभव करते हैं, ज्ञान प्राप्त करते हैं, ज्ञान प्रदान करते हैं, यादें बनाते हैं और अपने प्रयासों से दुनिया को बेहतर स्थान बनाते हैं। अंत में, इस बात से वास्तव में कोई फर्क नहीं पड़ता है कि हमने कौन सी कारें चलाईं, हमने कितना पैसा जमा किया और कितनी भौतिक संपत्ति हासिल की। जीवन का असल अर्थ उसमे निहित है जो हमारे जाने के बाद लंबे समय तक बना रहता है – स्थायी विरासत, प्रभावशाली कर्म, दूसरों पर हमारा सकारात्मक प्रभाव, जिन लोगों से हम प्यार करते थे, और वे यादें जिन्हें हम पीछे छोडकर गये।

कहा जाता है कि कोई व्यक्ति वास्तव में हमें छोड़कर तब तक नहीं जाता है, जब तक उनका नाम लिया जाता है, उनके गीत गाए जाते हैं, उनके शब्दों को याद किया जाता है, उनके साथ बिताए पलों को याद किया जाता है, उनकी विरासत को आगे बढ़ाया जाता है। जब तक एक भी व्यक्ति उन्हें याद करता है, तब तक वह उनके भीतर जीवित रहते हैं।

अपने दादाजी की यादों को लिखते हुए, मैं यह सोचे बिना नहीं रह सकता कि जीवन कितना अस्थिर है। एक क्षण हम यहां हैं, और अगले क्षण हम नहीं हैं। वर्तमान में जीना एक ऐसा उपहार है जिसकी हम शायद ही कभी सराहना करते हैं, हम केवल भविष्य के बारे में चिंता करते हैं जो हमारे नियंत्रण से बाहर है।

दादाजी, जिनसे मैं बहुत प्यार करता हूँ, उन्होंने एक सरल लेकिन भरपूर जीवन जिया, एक बड़े से परिवार के साथ, जिनसे वो बहुत प्यार करते थे – उनके 6 बेटे, 2 बेटियाँ, 16 पोते और पोती, और 1 परपोता है। 87 साल की उम्र में उनकी याददाश्त शानदार और दिमाग जिज्ञासु था। अपने छोटे लेकिन लंबे जीवन में, उन्होंने भारत की आजादी देखी, कोविड जैसी महामारी में वे स्वस्थ्य बने रहे, और उन्हें अपने सबसे बड़े पोते की शादी में शरीक होने का सौभाग्य प्राप्त हुआ। वह किसी भी चीज और हर चीज के बारे में बात करने में हमेशा खुश रहते थे, और उनके पास हर प्रिय व्यक्ति के लिए समय होता था। वह शायद ही कभी शिकायत करते थे, और जो उनके पास था उससे संतुष्ट रहते थे। दादाजी ने जो उपदेश दिया, उसका उन्होंने पालन भी किया और वे सादगी के प्रतीक थे, वे इस बात का जीता जागता प्रमाण थे कि सरलतम चीजों में भी खुशियाँ पाई जा सकती है। वे एक सम्मानित और शहर में एक जाने-माने व्यक्ति थे, उनकी प्रतिष्ठा उनसे पहले आती थी। 

दादाजी खाने के बड़े शौकीन थे। उन्होंने एक पूर्ण शाकाहारी जीवन जिया, और उन्होंने कभी भी लहसुन और प्याज के स्वाद का अनुभव नहीं किया। न ही उन्होंने कभी पान, सिगरेट, तंबाकू और शराब पी। उनमें चीजों के लिए थोड़ा कम धैर्य था, और उन्हें घर पर रहना उतना पसंद नहीं था। उन्हें हर चीज का शौक था। उनके पास अपना सामान रखने के लिए एक निजी बक्सा होता था, और विशेष अवसरों पर वो चश्मा, कुर्ता, पायजामा, सैंडल, फैंसी घड़ी और अपनी छड़ी लेकर खुद ही तैयार हो जाते थे। वह हमेशा कुछ नकदी रुपये लेकर चलते थे।

दादाजी की सबसे पुरानी यादों में से एक मेरे बचपन की याद है, जब स्कूल के रास्ते में एक छोटी सी नाली के कारण वे मुझे गोद में उठा लेते थे, जिसे मैं खुद से पार नहीं कर पाता था। कई अवसरों पर मुझे सुनाई गई यह कहानी समय के साथ कुछ धुंधली सी हो गई है, फिर भी यह मेरे दिमाग में स्पष्ट तस्वीर बनाये हुए है। दुर्भाग्य से, वे कोडक वाले दिन थे जब हमारे पास यादों को संजोने के लिए उतने पैसे नही थे।  

हर छह महीने में मेरी घर की यात्राओं के दौरान मैं हर रात दादाजी के पास बैठा करता था, जहाँ हम उनके दिमाग में जो कुछ भी आता था, उसके बारे में बातें करते थे। स्वभाव से जिज्ञासु होने के कारण उनकी जिज्ञासा की कोई सीमा नहीं थी। हम आमतौर पर अलग-अलग विषयों पे विस्तारपूर्वक बातचीत करते थे – भोजन, संस्कृति, समुद्र, हवाई जहाज़, सॉफ्टवेयर, लैपटॉप, विदेश, माइक्रोसॉफ्ट, अमेज़ॅन, और सबसे महत्वपूर्ण – उनके जीवन के अनुभव, और उनके करीबी और बड़े परिवार के बारे में बातें करते थे। कंप्यूटर कैसे काम करता है, और बड़ी तकनीकी कंपनियों के कार्यालय कैसे दिखते हैं, उन्हें ये सब पसंद था। वे उन्हें सॉफ्टवेयर फैक्ट्री बुलाते थे, जहां मैं काम के लिए रोजाना जाता हूं। वह लैपटॉप में कुछ टाइप करके अच्छा पैसा कमाने की संभावना से हैरान थे।
“विदेश में खाने के कौन से विकल्प उपलब्ध हैं? क्या मुझे वहां भारतीय मसाले खरीदने को मिलते हैं? तुम अपने आप सब कुछ कैसे कर लेते हो? रोबोट कैसे काम करते हैं? अमेरिका यहां से कितनी दूर है? क्या हवाई जहाज़ से उड़ने में डर लगता है? क्या माइक्रोशोफ्ट तुमको एक सर्वेंट क्वार्टर और अन्य सुविधाएँ देता है?”
हम कितनी ही देर बातें करते रहें, उनके उत्सुक सवालों का कभी अंत ही नहीं होता था। वह एक के बाद एक प्रश्न तब तक पूछते रहते जब तक कि मेरी दादी उनसे सोने के लिए नहीं कहती थीं।

मेरी यादें मुझे एक कहानी की याद दिलाती हैं, जिसे दादाजी ने कई मौकों पर गर्व से मुझे सुनाया था, जिसमें उनकी सादगी और मासूमियत के बारे में पता चलता था और वे भावुक हो जाते थे, यह बटवारे के समय उनके भाई-बहनों की कहानी थी। वह बताते कि कैसे उन्हें अपनी शादी में 17 सोने की अंगूठियां मिलीं और कैसे उन्हें सब कुछ छोड़ना पड़ा। उस थोक की दुकान के बारे में जो उन्होंने और पापा ने मिलकर शुरू की थी और अब मेरे चाचा चलाते हैं। कैसे उस समय के दौरान, मेरे परिवार के पास कुछ भी नहीं था, व्यवसाय बुरी तरह से विफल हो रहा था और सब कुछ एक साथ लेकर चलने में उन्हें कठिनाइयों का सामना करना पड़ रहा था। वो बताते थे कि बंटवारे में उनके हिस्से वो दुकान कर दी गई थी जिसको लोग अशुभ मानते थे, पर उन्होंने कभी हिम्मत नहीं हारी। उन्हें जो कुछ भी दिया गया, उसे उन्होंने इकट्ठा करके एक साम्राज्य खड़ा कर दिया। इसके साथ उनका गौरव और भावनात्मक जुड़ाव शब्दों से परे था, जिसे हम आज भी संजोए हुए है। 

जब मैं कनाडा, और बाद में अमेरिका में रहने गया, तो व्हाट्सएप वीडियो कॉल ने हमारे बीच की दूरी को कम कर दिया, जिससे मुझे उनके दूर होने का अहसास कम हुआ, और मुझे खुशी है कि ऐसा हो सका। “आप क्या कर रहे हैं, दादाजी? “, वह सवाल था जो मैं अक्सर फोन पर पूछता था। उनका जवाब हमेशा मेरी उम्मीदों के अनुरूप होता था। वह कुछ ना कुछ पढ़ते रहते थे जैसे रामायण, गीता, समाचार पत्र, और भी बहुत कुछ। पढ़ने के लिए उनका उत्साह अलग ही था और उनकी उम्र को देखते हुए यह असाधारण था। 

हमारी बातचीत में जब वो अपने अनुभवों के बारे में बताते थे, वह हवाई जहाज में सवार न होने के बारे में अक्सर पछतावा करते थे। वह हमेशा मानते थे कि उन्हें इसका अनुभव करने में बहुत देर हो चुकी है। भले ही यह सुनने में कितना ही सपने जैसा क्यों न लगे, दिल की गहराइयों में, मैं हमेशा चाहता था कि वह मेरी शादी में आयें, और अपने परपोते को गोद में खेलाएं। आखिरकार, एक आदमी सपना देख सकता है, है ना। पिछले साल मेरी मनपसंद जगह पर शादी के दौरान, जब उनका स्वास्थ्य बेहतर था, तो मैंने उनके, दादी और चाचा जी के साथ उनके इस सपने को पूरा करने के लिए उदयपुर की फ्लाइट टिकट बुक की। वे उत्साहित और डरे हुए थे। उपर उड़ने का मजेदार अहसास, और वहां कुछ अजीब होने का भय उन्हें अभिभूत कर रहा था। एक फ्लाइट में एस्केलेटर नहीं था, और उन्होंने उनसे सीढ़ियाँ चढ़ने के लिए कहा। जबकि वह ऐसा करने में शारीरिक रूप से सक्षम थे, लेकिन इससे बड़ी परेशानी होती। अंत में काफी समझाने-बुझाने के बाद वे उन्हें व्हील चेयर के साथ हाथ से उठाकर ले गए।

मुझे वे पांच दिन अच्छी तरह याद हैं, और हमारी हर बातचीत जैसे कि कल ही की बात हो – उन्होंने पटना एयरपोर्ट को मुंबई की तुलना में कैसे जीरो रेट किया, वह कितने खुश थे, अपने बड़े पोते की शादी देखने की उनकी इच्छा और उनकी आवाज़ में चिंता थी कि क्या उन्हें फिर कभी ऐसा अनुभव करने का मौका मिलेगा। जिस पर, मैंने उन्हें आश्वासन दिया था कि उनके कई पोते हैं और वे सभी उनके सपनों को पूरा करेंगे। लेकिन मैं नही जानता था कि भगवान की क्या इच्छा थी। वो पल इतने शानदार थे की मैं उसे कैमरे में रिकॉर्ड करने से खुद को नहीं रोक सका। वो वीडियो मेरे पास उनकी एकमात्र यादें हैं।

लोगों से बातचीत करते वक्त वो अक्सर कहते थे, “मेरा पोता का शादी है। बहुत दूर से कर रहा है। पता नहीं  हम जा पाएंगे या नहीं।”। मेरी शादी के दिन, जब वह विंटेज लाल कार में मेरे बगल में बैठे थे, तब वे अपनी पसंदीदा कपड़े पहने थे जो पीला कुर्ता, सफेद पैंट और वेस्टकोट, और स्टाइलिश भूरे रंग के लोफर्स थे, उन्होंने पूरी बरात में बिना रुके हनुमान चालीसा का जाप करते हुए डांस किया। उनके जोश ने सभी को हैरत में डाल दिया। पूछने पर उन्होंने जवाब दिया, “गोलू बोला की दादाजी आपको हमारी शादी में खूब डांस करना है। मेरा हाथ दर्द कर गया, लेकिन हम हिम्मत नही हारे”।
यह सबसे खुशी की बात है, और अब तक की सबसे बेहतरीन याद मेरे पास है। जिसे मैं हमेशा के लिए अपने दिल के करीब रखूंगा। 

दादाजी मेरी शादी में डांस करते हुए

मैंने 9 जून, 2023 को दादाजी को हेपैटोसेलुलर कार्सिनोमा और 500k लोगों में से 1 को होने वाली बहुत दुर्लभ बीमारी बल्बर पाल्सी के कारण खो दिया, दोनों ही अपने आप में घातक और जानलेवा हैं, लेकिन दोनों बीमारियाँ मिलकर उनकी उम्र के हिसाब से उनके लिए एक घातक संयोजन साबित हुई और वह हमें छोड़कर चले गए। वे संयुक्त परिवार में अपने प्रियजनों से घिरे रहे, जैसा की वह हमेशा चाहते थे। दादी कहती हैं, ”पता नहीं कौन सा अजीब बुखार हुआ जो उनको उड़ा कर ले गया।”। 67 साल साथ रहने के बाद उनकी अनुपस्थिति ने दादी को अकेला कर दिया, और कई भावनात्मक रूप से अकेले पड़ गये। उन्होंने अखबार और भगवद गीता पढ़ते हुए अपने अंतिम दिन तक अपने तेज दिमाग और दयालुता को बनाए रखा, और अपनी अस्पष्टत आवाज के कारण वे लिखकर बातचीत करते रहे। अपनी अंतिम सांस से कुछ दिन पहले, वह डोरी वाली नई पैंट मांग रहे थे। मेरे चाचा को कह रहे थे कि, रितेश, हमारे लिए वो नई पैंट ला देना। उनके जीवन के अंतिम सात सप्ताह बड़ी बेचैनी से भरे थे। गले की मांसपेशियों में कमजोरी के कारण उन्हें खाने पीने में कठिनाई होती थी, जिससे उन्हें खाने-पीने में खांसी उठने लगती थी। वे मुश्किल से खा पाते थे और कम मात्रा में तरल खाना खाते थे, जो उनके शरीर की आवश्यकता से बहुत कम था, जिससे वह कमजोर होते चले गये। जब भी मेरी दादी कुछ खातीं, तो वे अपनी उँगलियों से मुँह की ओर खाने के लिए इशारा करते थे जो उनकी खाने के लिए तेज इच्छा को बताता था। वह लिखते थे, “मुझे आम का रस दे दो”, “मुझे बेल (वुड एप्पल) का रस दे दो”, “मैं बिस्किट खाना चाहता हूँ”। 

सात सप्ताह पहले हमें उनकी बीमारी के बारे में पता चला, हम जानते थे कि अब वे हम सबको छोड़कर जाने वाले हैं। यह बात मुझे अंदर से खाये जा रही थी, खासकर पिछले कुछ दिन, जो बेचैनी से भरे हुए थे। लगभग हर रात सोने से पहले मैं दादाजी से वीडियो कॉल के जरिए बात करता था। यह एक सुकून देने वाली दिनचर्या थी, और जैसे ही कॉल कनेक्ट होती, वह मुझे तुरंत पहचान लेते थे। हालाँकि उनकी आवाज़ स्पष्ट नहीं थी, फिर भी मैं उनकी बातें समझ सकता था। मैं पूछता था, “आप कैसे हैं, दादाजी”। उनका जवाब होता “ठीक नही है”, और अपनी दवाओं के काम न करने की निराशा व्यक्त करते थे। उस स्थिति में भी, उन्हें पढना अच्छा लगता था। बेहतरीन और आधुनिक चिकित्सा साधनों के बावजूद, हम कुछ भी नहीं कर सके।उनके इलाज के लिए मैं जो कुछ भी कर सकता था मैंने किया। पूरा इंटरनेट खंगालने और सारे संपर्कों से पूछने के बावजूद कुछ नहीं मिला। इसका कोई इलाज नहीं था। जो भी दुर्लभ और रिसर्च में जारी इलाज की जा सकती थी, डॉक्टरों ने उनकी उम्र में उसकी सलाह नही दी।
और इन्हीं सब चीजों के बीच हमने उन्हें खो दिया। यह सब बहुत तेजी से हुआ, जिसकी मैंने उम्मीद नहीं की थी। कुछ देर पहले वे यहीं थे, और फिर वह चले गये – एक चुटकी की तरह। उनके जाने के 6 दिन बाद, मुंबई के एक प्रतिष्ठित न्यूरो अस्पताल ने मुझसे संपर्क किया, जिन्होंने स्टेम सेल पर रिसर्च किया था, जो उनकी बीमारी का इलाज कर सकता था।

उन्हें हिंदू रीति-रिवाज के अनुसार दाह-संस्कार के लिए ले जाया गया, जिसमें लोग केवल “राम नाम सत्य है” का जप कर रहे थे”, क्योंकि उनका यह कहना था कि अंतिम संस्कार उत्सव मनाने जैसा नहीं है। खाने के प्रति उनके प्रेम को दर्शाने के लिए हमने उनके कपड़े को आम और सेब से सजाया। उनके जाने के बाद हमें आकस्मिक रूप से उनकी डायरी मिली, जिसमें पूरे परिवार सहित उनके जीवन का हर पहलू लिखा था – वे कहाँ गए, किससे मिले, क्या किया, उनका दिन कैसा बीता, उनका स्वास्थ्य कैसा था, उन्होंने कौन सी दवाएँ लीं, कौन घर आया, कौन किसके घर गया, वगैरह वगैरह। किसी एक डायरी के एक पन्ने पर लिखा है – “10 अप्रैल, 2022: आज गोलू दिल्ली से आया है…”। वह इसे छिपा कर रखते थे, और कभी दादी को भी उसे पढ़ने नहीं दिया। बाद में पापा ने बताया कि उन्हें लिखने का जुनून था, और वे पाँच दशकों से अधिक समय से व्यक्तिगत डायरी लिख रहे थे। दादाजी को डॉक्टरों के यहाँ जाना कुछ ख़ास पसंद नहीं था। अस्पताल और सुईयों से उन्हें गहरी भय और बेचैनी होती थी। जब भी वह डॉक्टर के पास जाते थे, प्रश्नों की एक लिखित सूची लेकर जाते थे, और आवश्यक उत्तर प्राप्त करने के लिए इसे डॉक्टर को सौंप दिया करते थे। वो सभी मेडिकल रिकॉर्ड्स पर खुद ही हिंदी या अंग्रेजी में आवश्यकतानुसार हस्ताक्षर किया करते थे। वह अपने अंतिम दिन तक शारीरिक रूप से सक्रिय थे, अपने हर दिन सुबह 5 बजे नहाने के नियम का ईमानदारी से पालन करते थे।

उन्होंने अपना जीवन शानदार तरीके से पूरा खुलकर जिया, और उनकी  इच्छा थी कि वो और भी कई सालों तक उसी तरीके से जीते रहे। वो और अधिक जीना, और  अधिक देखना, और अधिक अनुभव करना, और  अधिक प्यार करना, और अधिक देखभाल करना और अधिक खाने का आनंद लेना चाहते थे। अपने जीवन के अंतिम कुछ दिनों में, उन्होंने फूड पाइप के बारे में विस्तार से पूछताछ की, इसको लगाने की तकनीक, इससे होने वाली संभावित असुविधा, और इसके रोजमर्रा के जीवन पर क्या प्रभाव पड़ेगा। 

दादाजी के निधन ने एक खालीपन छोड़ दिया है, एक खालीपन जो मेरे भीतर गूँजता है – जिसे फिर कभी नहीं भरा जा सकता, और अगर वो खालीपन भरा जा सकता हो, तो भी मैं इसे भरना नहीं चाहूँगा। क्योंकि वह मेरे जीवन का एक विशेष हिस्सा है, जिसे मैं अपने समय के अंत तक संजो कर रखूंगा। दादाजी के जीवन ने मुझे सिखाया कि सादगी, विनम्रता, दया, सहानुभूति और जमीन से जुड़े स्वभाव का बहुत महत्व है। कई विशेषताएं जो मुझे विरासत में मिली हैं, उनमें से सबसे गहरी हैं – खाने का एक जैसा शौक, पढ़ने और लिखने की तीव्र इच्छा, वही “मकर” राशिफल, वही रंग रूप, और वही कभी न खत्म होने वाली जिज्ञासा। यदि मैं आने वाली पीढ़ियों को उनकी विरासत सौंप सका तो यह मेरी सबसे बड़ी उपलब्धि होगी। तब मैं गर्व से कह सकूंगा कि मैंने एक उद्देश्यपूर्ण जीवन जिया है। अगर उनके जाने से मैंने एक मूल्यवान सबक सीखा है, तो वह है अपने प्रियजनों के साथ समय बिताना और यादें बनाना; हो सकता है आप उन्हें फिर कभी न देख पाएं। काम, पैसा, बाकी सब-इंतजार कर सकते हैं। 

मुझे आपकी बहुत याद आती है, दादाजी। आप हमें बहुत जल्दी छोड़कर चले गए। जब मैं आपके कमरे में जाता हूं तो मुझे एक असामान्य खालीपन दिखाई देता है, एक परेशान करने वाला खालीपन का भाव, जैसे कुछ गायब है, कुछ ऐसा जिसे बदला नहीं जा सकता। मेरे विचारों में आपके बिना एक दिन भी नहीं बीता। ऐसी अनगिनत चीज़ें हैं जो मैं चाहता हूँ कि मैं आपसे बातचीत कर पाता। यह विश्वास करना कठिन है कि अब आप हमारे बीच नहीं हैं; मैं अब आपको एक बार और नहीं देख पाउँगा, एक बार फिर आपकी आवाज नही सुन पाउँगा, और आप मुझसे एक और रोचक प्रश्न नही पूछेंगे। अलविदा दुःखद होती है, जिसे मैं वास्तव में कभी नहीं जानता था, जब तक कि मृत्यु ने आपको मुझसे दूर नहीं कर दिया। मुझे सदा इस बात का दुख रहेगा कि मैं आपसे आखिरी बार नहीं मिल पाया।
ॐ शांति, दादाजी ! 😭

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Dadaji portrait
9 min read

“Death is certain for one who has been born, and rebirth is inevitable for one who has died.” 

BG 2.27

No matter how we live our lives, we all end up the same — in silence. In the end, everyone faces the eternal truth of life. Death is inevitable, no matter who we are. Like fall leaves turn golden in autumn embracing the absolute magnificence of the nature, only to wither away and make room for the birth of new leaves, one who enters this world leaves one day, bidding adieu to the realm of existence. Circle of life as we call it, where all hopes and dreams are mere echoes of a tale cut short. Everyone in this world has a role to play. They experience love, gain knowledge, impart wisdom, create memories, and make the world a slightly better place through their endeavors. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what cars we drove, how much money we accumulated, and how many material possessions we acquired. The true essence lies in the elements that persist long after we are gone – the lasting legacy, the impactful deeds, the positive influence we had on others, the people we loved, and the memories we left behind.

It has been said that a person is not truly gone as long as his name is spoken, his songs are sung, his words are remembered, moments spent with him are cherished, his legacy is carried on. Even if a single person remembers him, misses him, he lives within them marking their souls forever. 

As I pen the emotional memoir on my grandfather, I can’t help but think how fickle life is. One moment we’re here, and in the next, we’re not. Living in present is a gift we seldom appreciate, only to worry about a future that is beyond our control. 

Dadaji, as I fondly called him, lived a simple yet fulfilled life, surrounded by the big family, he loved unconditionally – 6 sons, 2 daughters, 16 grandsons & granddaughters and 1 great grandson. At the age of 87, he had an elephant’s memory, and an inquisitive mind. In his short yet long life, he witnessed India’s independence, came out of Covid pandemic unscathed, and was fortunate to celebrate the wedding of his eldest grandson. He was always happy to talk about anything and everything, and had time for everyone dear to him. He rarely complained, and was content with what he had. Dadaji followed what he preached, and was an epitome of simplicity, a living proof that happiness can be found in simplest of things. Well respected and a prominent figure in the town, his reputation preceded him. 

Dadaji was a big foodie. Having lived a strict vegetarian lifestyle, his taste buds never experienced the flavours of garlic, and onion. Neither did he ever try paan, cigarette, tobacco, and alcohol. He had little patience for things, and never liked staying at home. He had passion for everything. He had a personal box for storing his belongings, and on special occasions, he would get ready by himself, adorning glasses, Kurta, Pyjama, sandals, fancy watch, and his walking stick. He would always carry some cash.

One of my earliest recollections of Dadaji dates back to my early childhood, when he used to pick me up from school due to a small drain on the way that I couldn’t cross on my own. This story, told to me on numerous occasions, has become somewhat hazy with time, yet it remains vividly etched in my mind. Unfortunately, those were the Kodak days when we didn’t have the luxury to have those moments captured for us to walk down the memory lane. 

During my usual half yearly home visits, I had a regimen to sit beside Dadaji every night, where we discussed about whatever came to his mind. Being inquisitive by nature, his curiosity knew no bound. We usually chatted on wide range of topics – food, culture, sea, flight, software, laptop, foreign countries, Microsoft, Amazon, and most significantly – his captivating life experiences around him, and his close and extended huge family. He was fascinated by how computer works, and how offices of big tech companies looked like. Software Factory, as he called them, where I commute daily for work. He couldn’t fathom the possibility of making good money by typing characters in a portable machine.
“What food options are available in Videsh (foreign land)? Do I get to buy Indian spices there? How are you able to do everything by your own? How do robots work? How far is America from here? Are flights scary? Does Microsoft provide you with a servant quarter and other facilities?”
No matter how long we talked, his innocent questions never seemed to end. He would keep asking one question after the other until Dadi (my grandmother) asked him to go to sleep.

My vivid memories remind me of a story, which Dadaji proudly shared with me on several occasions, emphasizing his simplicity & innocence, and got emotional about, was on his humble beginnings during the times of partition between his siblings. He would narrate how he got 17 gold rings in his marriage and how he had to give up everything. About the wholesale shop which was established by him and Papa, and is now run by my uncles. How during that time, my family had nothing, with the business failing drastically and his hardships in holding onto everything together. How he was tricked into getting the property, because of the superstitious belief that the shop was somehow jinxed, and it won’t bring anything, but misfortune. He collected whatever he was given, and built an empire out of it. His pride and emotional connection with this were beyond words, and are cherished by us, to this day. 

While I relocated to Canada, and later US, WhatsApp video calls bridged the distance between us, making it feel much shorter, which I am glad it did. “What are you doing, Dadaji?”, was the question I most frequently asked over calls. And his response was always as predictable as the passing of time. He would be reading something – Ramayana, Geeta, newspaper, and the list goes on. His zeal for reading was unparalleled, and given his age, it was beyond extraordinary. 

As he reminisced warmly about his experiences during our candid chats , he oftentimes regretted about not having board a Jahaaz (flight). He always believed that it was too late for him to experience it. As wishful as it may sound, deep down, I always desired him to witness my wedding, and hold his great grandchildren in his arms. Afterall, a man can dream, right. While conversing with people, he often mentioned, “My grandson is getting married in a far away location; I am not sure if I will be able to attend it.”.
During my dream destination wedding last year, when he was in great health, I booked my flight tickets with him, Dadi, and Sanjhle Papa (my uncle) to Udaipur, fulfilling one of his cherished dreams. Both excited, and scared, he was in rollercoaster of emotions. The exuberant feeling of being in air, and the fear of what could unfold were overwhelming him. One of the flights didn’t have an escalator, and they asked him to climb stairs. While he was physically capable of doing so, it would have caused great discomfort. Finally, after much persuasion, they hand-carried him along with wheelchair.
I vividly remember those five days, and every chat we had, as if it were only yesterday – how he rated Patna airport Zero, as compared to that in Mumbai, how happy he was, his anticipation to see his eldest grandson getting wed, and concern in his voice if he would ever get a chance to experience this again. To which, I had assured him that he had many grandchildren, and they will all fulfill his dreams. How naïve I was to question the will of gods. The intensity of those moments was so overwhelming that, despite not being a person inclined towards recording videos, I couldn’t resist capturing them. Those videos are the sole candid visual memories I have of him.

Dadaji dancing in my wedding

During his conversations with people, he often mentioned, “My grandson is getting married in a far away location; I am not sure if I will be able to attend it.”
On my wedding day, as he sat beside me in the vintage red car, adorned in his favorite attire – vibrant yellow Kurta, paired with white trousers & waistcoat, and stylish brown loafers, he danced non-stop in the entire Baraat quietly chanting Hanuman Chalisa. His energy took everyone by surprise. When asked, he replied, “Golu bola ki Dadaji aapko hamari shadi mein khub dance karna hai. Mera hath dard kar gaya, lekin hum himmat nahi haare.”.
This is happiest, and by far, the most powerful memory I have of him. Something, I’ll hold close to my heart forever. 

I lost Dadaji on June 9, 2023 to Hepatocellular Carcinoma (Liver Cancer), and very rare Bulbar Palsy affecting 1 out of 500k people, both of them deadly on its own, but in combination, especially at his age, they proved to be a rather lethal combination. He left in peace, void of pain, surrounded by his loved ones in the joint family, like he always wanted. Dadi says, “The weird fever took him away”. His absence left Dadi alone, after 67 years of togetherness, and orphaned many emotionally. He maintained his sharp mind and compassion until his last day, reading newspaper & Bhagvat Geeta, and communicating in writing due to his slurred voice. A few days before his last breath, he was asking, my uncle, Ritesh, for new pant with drawstring. Last seven weeks of his life were filled with great discomfort. Due to weakness in facial muscles, he had difficulty in swallowing solid food and liquid, leading to coughing while eating and drinking. He barely ate, and consumed liquid food in small quantities, far below what his body required. His physical condition deteriorated, rendering him frail and feeble. Whenever my Dadi ate something, he would point his fingers towards his mouth, expressing his intense craving for those flavours. He would pen, “Give me mango juice”, “Give me Bel (Wood Apple) juice”, “I want to eat biscuit”. 

Ever since receiving the diagnosis seven weeks ago, we knew it was coming. But it happened all too fast and much sooner than I had anticipated. He was just here, and then he was gone – like snap of a finger. The fact that he was going to leave us soon, was consuming me from inside, especially last few days, which were filled with restlessness. Almost every night before sleep, I talked to Dadaji through video calls. It was a comforting routine, and as soon as the call connected, he would instantly recognize me. Although his voice wasn’t crystal clear, I could still comprehend his words. I would ask, “How are you, Dadaji”. “Thik nahi hai”, he responded, and express his disappointment with the ineffectiveness of his medications. Even in that condition, he found solace in reading. Despite significant medical advancement, there was nothing we could do. I exhausted technology and contacts to search for whatever I could – treatment in every form. There was just no cure. Whatever rare and under research it was, doctors didn’t recommend it at his age. 6 days after he passed away, a reputable Neuro hospital contacted me, researching Stem Cell as a potential treatment on the condition he had. 

His body was carried for Daah-Sanskar – the Hindu funeral rites, in solemn silence, only chanting “Shri Ram naam satya hai”, as he firmly believed that funeral is not a place for festivity. As a gesture of his love for food, we adorned his attire with a mango and an apple. After his demise, we stumbled upon his diaries where he meticulously documented every aspect of his life, including his entire family – where he went, whom he met, what he did, how his day went, what was his health like, what medicines he took, who visited home, who went where, and the list goes on. One of the diary pages read – “April 10, 2022: Aaj Golu Dilli se aya hai…” He was secretive, and never let even Dadi read them. Later Papa (my father) revealed that he had burning passion for writing, and had been maintaining personal diaries for more than five decades. Dadaji didn’t particularly like doctor visits. Hospitals and injections evoked a deep sense of fear and unease in him. During his doctor visits, he would prepare a written list of questions, and hand it over to the doctor to get necessary answers. He signed all medical records himself, in Hindi or English, as required. He was physically active until his last day, faithfully adhering to his daily 5:00 AM regimen of taking a bath. 

He lived his life to the fullest, and harbored the desire to continue the same for many more years. He wanted to live more, see more, experience more, love more, care more, and taste more. In last few days of his life, he enquired in great detail, about food pipe, its installation technique, the potential discomfort it would cause, and the impact it would have in his everyday life. 

Dadaji’s demise has left a void, an emptiness that echoes within me – never to be filled again. And even if it could, I won’t want it to. For he is a special part of my life, which I will cherish until the end of my time. Dadaji’s life taught me that simplicity, humility, kindness, empathy, and down-to-earth nature go a long way. Among several characteristics that I inherited, the most profound ones are – our shared love for food, intense desire for reading & writing, same “Capricorn” horoscope, similar skin tones, and never-ending inquisitiveness. If only I could pass on his legacy to the generations to come, it would be my greatest achievement. I can then proudly say that I have lived a life, filled with purpose. If there is one valuable lesson that I learned from his passing, it is the importance of spending time with your loved ones and creating memories; For you may never see them again. Work, money, everything else – can wait. 

I miss you deeply, Dadaji. You left us far too soon. I find unusual emptiness when I enter your bedroom, an unsettling sense of void, like something is missing, something that can’t be replaced. Not a day has passed without you lingering in my thoughts. There are countless things I wish I could have chatted with you. It’s hard to believe that you are no longer with us; that I will no longer see you one more time, hear your voice one more time, and see you ask me one more curious question one more time. Goodbyes are rather painful, which I never really knew, until death took you away from me. It will weigh on my heart forever, that I couldn’t meet you for the last time. Rest in peace, Dadaji! 😭 

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5 min read

I was watching FlashForward – a TV show focused on high-concept narrative around a mysterious event, that caused nearly everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for 137 seconds, during which time people see what appears to be a vision of their own life approximately six months in the future: a global “flashforward“.
It boggled my mind. 2020 pandemic reminds me a lot like that. A black swan at global scale. Nobody, not even the brightest of minds on this planet, could have predicted that. Well, Bill Gates did. But that’s debatable.

As I survived through the pandemic, I feel fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by the people I love, who made the over-long lockdown worthwhile. The black devastating year was a great teacher, and a living testament of my emotional intelligence – patience, perseverance, pluck, and compassion. Someone once asked me, if I have learned anything at all. So let me tell you what I learned. I have learned that nothing in life is permanent. I have learned that nothing can replace the pain of losing a loved one. Life is fickle. Everybody dies at the end. But if we mean something to someone, if we loved someone, we are not truly gone. As long as our memories remain in the heart of those we love, our tales are told, our music is listened, our books are read, our paintings are admired, a part of us, though little, continues to live in this world.
I have learned that happiness can be found in darkest of times. I have learned that little things in life can be beautiful beyond imagination. Sitting on the porch, and watching the sun fade into the sky – lying on the rooftop, and counting the stars as they emerge from the blanket of darkness – strolling on the crosswalk, holding hands of a loved one, while they whisper something in your ear – enjoying exquisite delicacies someone you prepared only for you.
I have learned that nature always finds a way to heal itself. Covid19, while it deeply scarred the lives of people across the globe, there are things in nature which we never realized were there. Dolphins returned to Venice. Himalayan ranges can be seen from certain parts of Punjab. Clear blue skies, vibrant sunsets — colours that I so wanted to see in Hyderabad for the last 7 years– were all here.
I have learned that you can find love in weirdest of places in weirdest of ways. And that lockdowns can be beautiful. Nothing can really replace the feeling of spending the moments with someone you love. No materialistic thing in this world is, and will ever, be capable of that.
I have learned that sometimes we should follow our hearts, and take its guidance. If you want to meet someone, spend time with someone, never ever think twice. Life rarely gives a second chance.
I have learned that as you grow, the number of friends trims down. Fake and pretentious people leave, and those who are true remain. It’s a process of selection.

Having lived a good part of the year in silent contemplation of various aspects of life, I’ve come to realize that nothing in life holds permanent. A year filled with pain of losing a loved one, joy of finding new love, opportunities missed, chances not taken (which sometimes never come), decisions – good and bad, lost friends, regrets. I realized that life is fickle after-all. Humans are minuscule in grand scheme of things, and sometimes we don’t have a choice. All we can do is wait, and watch events unfold in mysterious unpredictable ways.

Last year was truly special because of two major events in my life. I met a wonderful woman, Keeya, my life partner, because of whom the lockdown turned out to be the best gift I could’ve asked for.
I also took a difficult decision relocating to North American shore. As much deeply as I want to pen about it, perhaps it’s a long story for another time.

When everything is over, when the worst has happened… there’s still one thing left in Pandora’s box — hope — hope that everything will be okay. It has to be. It’s a cycle of life.

March 23, 2020 – A date that still sends the shivers down me. I saw my net worth plummet like a rock to 47%. Nifty was at 7600, and I just didn’t know how to react. Wonderful businesses were selling at throw away prices, and I had no clue if I should buy or sell. As I reminisce those unprecedented times, I am fortunate to have held onto the businesses I believed in. I kept calm, and pretended I was living under a rock, as if nothing has happened. Albeit my floccinaucinihilipilification of the market bottom lost me a multi-decadal opportunity, the feeling of coming out of it unscathed is unparalleled, and can’t be expressed in words. Patience is the silent acceptance that things can unfold in a different order than planned.

As we’re at the fag end of an unfortunate year, here is a list of things I learned in 2020.

  1. It is often when one least expects it that fate arrives at our door. We can’t foresee it any more than we can escape it. No matter how hard we run or hide, fate, like death, will always find us.
    You can’t always plan for unprecedented times. Be flexible. Learn to adapt
  2. You don’t seek love. Oftentimes, you find it in weirdest of places in weirdest of times
  3. You don’t find excellence. You build it and then it takes you places
  4. Developed countries are not always developed in everything. The first thing that I missed in Vancouver is the disruption from Mukesh Ambani in India
  5. Loneliness is real. It’s hard to make friends abroad
  6. Stay away from pretentious, dishonest people. They suck all your energy and positivity. If you spot a pathological liar, run as far, and as fast as you can
  7. The colour of Autumn is worth all the hype. Despite being ephemeral, and a showstopper of destruction, it oozes positivity. I realize why writers have been musing over romantic October evenings, Cinnamon brown leaves, benches filled with dried leaves, for eons.
  8. Life doesn’t always give second chances
  9. Plan for FIRE as early in your life as you can. Timing the market is a futile exercise. Time in the market matters
  10. Lockdowns can be beautiful – if you’re stuck with the right person
  11. Be grateful for the good health you got. Other things in life may not hold much value, if you’re not healthy
  12. Never ever tie your happiness with wealth. Your wealth can erode in a single unfortunate day

Cheers to yet another year! And remember, Anni, amori e bicchieri di vino, nun se contano mai – “Years, Lovers and Glasses of wine… these are the things never to be counted”

Copyright © 2021, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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5 min read

Prologue

I am writing this, from my apartment, scared, and defiant, trying to adjust myself to the new realities of life and finding calm in the chaos. My brain still can’t handle the fact that we’ve been caught up, in-between what they call, once-in-a-century pandemic. Spanish flu, infamous as pandemic of twentieth century, infected one-third of the world’s population. And today, we are struck again by a novel virus.

Bill Gates — “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”

Interestingly, Bill Gates had warned us about an outbreak like this in one of his TED talks, dated April 3rd, 2015.

If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic

If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.
The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola.


Ebola killed about 10,000 people that year,  and nearly all were in the three West African countries. Because of nature of the virus, it didn’t spread more. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. 


So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse. 
In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned. 


In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic. 

From Bill’s Ted talk

How bad is this?

Covid-19, a name rarely heard three months ago, is on the lips, and in the mind, of every living individual on the planet today. Coronavirus fear is deepening in our hearts, with each passing day, forcing us to reassess our priorities. The panic is real. The threat is real. I am waking up to new heart wrenching numbers every morning. The day isn’t far, when it would reach every nook and corner of the world. Soon, each one of us, may know at least one infected person. We could have contained it. But we didn’t. USA downplayed it. So did Italy, and Spain. Countries with 2003 outbreak scars, seemed to control it well — South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong — until cases started rising again.

As I type this, USA and Italy have surpassed China’s numbers, with Italy — “The China of Europe” — accounting for one-third of world’s Coronavirus death toll. It has only begun, far from done, pushing the world into a fresh recession, as bad, or worse than, 2008, and challenging & overwhelming world class healthcare system.
If this is the situation in developed countries, I can’t seem to think what would happen in India, for it scares the hell out of me. I suspect the official numbers may be vastly dwarfed by the actual numbers. 21 days lock down is only a beginning. After effects will be far worse, and daunting. The blog — Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now — says a lot of things, things one should know.

Coronavirus cases worldwide

We can mitigate it

Exploding number of cases is blowing whistles and raising alarm across the globe. It took 67 days to reach the first 100k, 11 days for the next 100k and 4 days for the next 100k. Before it becomes catastrophic, uncontrollable (are we already there?) and renders us into history — like World War – II, 9/11 — it needs to be taken very seriously. And for that, each one of us, have to play our part seriously, patiently, and wisely. One infected person can reignite the sparks in regions where we have successfully extinguished the fire.
We still don’t understand the virus enough. It took nearly twenty months to find a cure of less 2003 outbreak. We have got one chance of saving the humanity, going into flames, by doing nothing. Let’s not waste the opportunity. Do what a hero does in situations like these. Please stay home. World War – II and 9/11 have given us enough scars. We don’t need a third one.
As they say, nothing lasts forever. We will come out of this, stronger and better. It’s a war of resilience, more than the fittest.

Is technology making it worse?

The advancement in technology has greatly eased our lives. But it comes with side effects. Coronavirus originated from Wuhan, a province in China. Before we took it seriously, we had cases in every other country and territory in the world. We are more connected than ever. Cheaper air travel and change in how we run businesses, exposed us to greater risk of spreading the virus much much faster. The question is not, who or what to blame. The question is, how do make best use of the technology in our hands, while avoiding its side effects.

Coping up with stress and anxiety

News channels and social media, flooded with Coronavirus, are polluting air with distress. With all these around, the question is, how do we cope up with stress, anxiety and fear. Once a hypothesis has become a reality. What-if is shadowed by Now-what.

I’ve been staying at home since March 20th, have stepped outside for groceries only twice for short while. I am writing, playing Piano and reconnecting with people I lost touch with. Most of the conversation I have over audio/video calls, revolves around the pandemic. I am trying hard to hold my sanity altogether — to not allow my mind to wander in distress. I am keeping my hope up — the darkness will clear up, and the sun will shine again.

Coronavirus is giving you a gift,
The gift of time —
To rekindle relationships,
To spend time with your loved ones,
To read a book,
To reflect on your priorities,
To realize there are far more important things in life than money —
A gift of self realization.
Use it before it’s gone.

How are you coping up with the situation? Let’s share and stay strong. This too, shall pass.

Copyright © 2020, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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3 min read

Years, lovers and glasses of wine must never be counted

Another year has passed. My quest to seek the meaning of life and true source of happiness continues. A question oftentimes pop up my mind, what would you do if you get a chance to design your life the way you want. Would you still choose to do the same work? Would you prefer more friends or solitude? Who would you want to wake beside to? Would you stop chasing money and start earning experiences instead? Possibilities are endless.

I wish life had a pause button so that I could enjoy precious moments longer. It has been said that when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to make it true. I wonder why it never works with me.

If I paint the picture of 2019 highlights, it would be rendered quite vivid and colorful. 5 countries, few photography accolades (invited for guest talk at photography exhibition and others) and encounter with a sweet girl.
Experiencing coldest day of my life, -13 degrees Celsius in the Swiss Alps and much awaited family vacation after 16 long years were icing on the cake.

However, there weren’t only sunshine and roses. I had my own share of rains and thorns too. There was a time when my life became directionless. I didn’t enjoy the work like I did before. The girl I was talking to vanished. Photography didn’t fascinate me anymore. There was nothing much to look forward to. I vividly remember spending days staring at the ceiling of my room doing nothing. These are the kind of days when you contemplate on missing aspects of life, chances you took, opportunities you missed, decisions you regret, people you lost, moments you wish to relive, successes, failures, so on and so forth.

Here is a list of 21 things I learned in 2019:

  1. People always leave
  2. You don’t find excellence. You build it and then it takes you places
  3. Financial knowledge is something you can’t ignore. You are gonna need it at some point in life. And when you do, you would regret how much you have already lost
  4. Sometimes you give your best and yet you fail
  5. Things can go well when you least expect it
  6. Sooner or later you succeed. You just need to keep trying
  7. Some things in life are inevitable. You can’t change them no matter how hard you try. But you can always prepare to minimize surprises
  8. Never lose people who were with you in the dark times. That’s when you know their true colors
  9. Life of chances always trumps life with regrets. Wear confidence, take calculated risks and be expressive. Had I done it 5 years ago, my life would have been different
  10. Trust is a rare thing in this world. Truth is, people who harm you are the ones you put most of your trust in. They change and so do their behavior towards you
  11. If you have a secret, don’t tell anyone
  12. You can be a nice guy and yet lose the girl
  13. When you feel left out, there is always a community out there you can connect to
  14. You always sacrifice one thing at the expense of other. It’s a zero sum game
  15. You are human. You can’t work with the same efficiency all the time. But people would expect you to
  16. Sometimes you don’t measure up to your own past performances
  17. Family trips are awesome. You should do it whenever you get the chance
  18. Buy only what you need
  19. Car is not an investment. It’s an expense at the cost of comfort and luxury
  20. Family, friends, work, hobbies — You get to choose any three
  21. Life rarely unfolds the way you plan and anticipate

Happy new year! And remember, Years, Lovers and Glasses of wine… these are the things never to be counted.

Copyright © 2019, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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3 min readFew years ago, a personality test revealed that I am an INFJ, the rarest of 16 personality types that exist in this world. Most of the time I was in senses, I used to ponder on why my brain is wired differently from the people I hang out with. Words that describe me are conscientious, determined, organized, planful, creative, thoughtful, introspective, value-driven, private and altruistic.

  1. I don’t quit. I work on my growth relentlessly until I achieve the goal I have in mind. I am my biggest critic. I always have a burning desire to achieve more. For me, it’s never enough. I have a purpose in life — To become better in my abilities and sharpen my skills with each passing day and I strive to make it happen no matter how long it takes.
  2. I choose friends carefully. I have few friends whom I trust. I don’t regret it. Less people I sit with, less bullshit I would have to deal with. And this gives room to pursue my hobbies and expand my horizon in personal development.
  3. More than people, I find solace in solitude and art. Be it writing or playing piano or do photography. But I also find it torturous to spend long time alone.
  4. I don’t share my knowledge in person unless asked. Instead my curious mind often comes up with zillion of questions for the problem the other person discusses. And sometimes, it helps them out. My contribution to the Tech community (GeeksforGeeks) is pure altruism.
  5. I give time to people who are worth my time and energy. Selfish, self absorbed, judgemental and negative people turn me off. I prefer to spend time on my hobbies instead.
  6. I am an easy going person because of good listen quotient and great understanding nature. I have been seen from many people at work as a great team player. Rarely have I met someone who didn’t enjoy a face to face conversation with me. From English literature to urdu poems, from politics to fantasy, from finance to technology. I can talk it all except sports. I don’t very much like talking about politics with serious people. I have seen it turning relationships sour.
  7. I choose who to travel with. Good companions make amazing trips.
  8. I walk out of an argument when it’s getting worse and not going anywhere. I cut off people when they sound judgemental and make comments unless they know me personally. It makes people think of me as a rude and arrogant person.
  9. I take constructive criticism very seriously and use it in my benefit. It has helped me in every aspect of personal and professional development in life so far.
  10. I am on open book if you know how to read well. Otherwise I might be the greatest mystery.
  11. Precaution is better than cure. I try my best preparing for a situation before it disturbs my calm mind and sleep. I like plans and value punctuality. I tend to be more of a meticulous person than a spontaneous one. My brain works like a decision tree and it likes to ponder on the various possible outcomes of a decision and decisions of that decision.
  12. I appreciate talent. You might not be the greatest pianist in the world. But if you play good, I feel fortunate to know you in person.
  13. I care for people I am close with. I usually put thoughts and conscience before saying something.
  14. I am fascinated by high quality things — Good food, nice cloths, great ambiance. I appreciate beauty and craftsmanship. I might disagree that looks don’t matter to me. But that would be a lie. I like beauty around me. Minimalistic by nature, I prefer to dine at finer restaurants twice a week than chilling out in below average eateries every alternate day.
  15. I am quite social and often come out as charming. I make friends instantly when they share some mutual interest.

What is your personality type? Have you tried rewiring your brain to improve it?

I am working on #8 and hope to come out of it soon.

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2 min readThe hobby I stuck longest in life is writing. The very first piece I penned was in 2002. A story narrated in the form of poem, of a goat and fox in a Zootopia type environment where animals lived in harmony. That was so much liked by my teacher that I was asked to read it in front of whole school in the morning assembly.
Writing is craft that requires years of patience and honing. Even after one and a half decade of efforts into it, I feel lacking many aspects and there are times when my words are inadequate to best describe the intensity of situation I find myself in. One of the biggest mysteries I’m to unravel is, how do not write myself into one of my characters. My mind keeps pondering on never ending questions. The more I dig deep, the more questions I am left with. How do I know my writing is good enough? What I am so profound of one night, throw away the next morning. Even my mind is shaky.
I write a lot and delete a lot. Many nights I have spent, lost in thoughts of an intriguing plot. Surroundings inspire me. I keep my eyes and ears open to pick slightest of hint. I often try to walk in shoes of others to understand their situation, to feel what they feel in the hope that the character I am working on would be more developed and mature this way.

I need to master the art of blowing words to silence. I need to excellent at walking into the imaginary scene and painting its perfect picture through my writing. In my pursuit of answers, I have been following work of great writers. What is it about their writings that made them great? What is the secret ingredient to keep a reader hooked till the end? How much detail should I capture with my words to bring a character into life?

In this journey of blowing words to my imaginations, thoughts and emotions, I’ve slowly blended into a character I never intended to. My self has transformed into a more compassionate, empathetic and patient soul. I understand things better than ever. And I’ve not walked very far from where I started. There is a long way to go. I wonder what this path holds for me. When an average human bleeds, all you see is red. When a writer bleeds, an astouding piece of work sees the light of the day. I’m ready to bleed as long as I can, as much as I can. I don’t know if would succeed. I am unsure it would work. What I know for sure is not every stone thrown fetches fruit. But don’t you throw second stone if first fails?

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12 min read

Vampires, we’re. Bright screens are our sun. In broad daylight, we love to stare at the geeky characters under shiny roofs. Caffeine is our rescue, in times of exhaustion.

Before I begin with my journey at Microsoft, let me tell you that the views and opinions expressed are completely mine. Please bear with me, as I speak, for my style is pretty inconsistent. Drowned in the pool of experiences, I am reinventing myself while writing all this. This post is bit long even for me. After all, squeezing 5 years of experience is difficult to fit in one blog. Go and grab a cup of coffee. I will wait.

Where do I start? Sticking to one place is no joke and I don’t expect anyone to stay this long, unless they are really happy. My chase for money faded away long ago and work contentment, for me, has been the driving force ever since holding the utmost importance in this agile Tech world.

When you reach the stage where you can afford all the food you want, all the travel, the cars, and the entertainment, you want, what else is remaining? It becomes a never ending battle to reach to the top. A rat race, I would say. A wise man once said, “Save nothing but experiences”. If not, you would end up having all the materialistic pleasures, but your life would be wrapped up in emptiness. It would lack the sense of fulfillment you seek. While slogging away in the name of money, a day will come when you’re gonna ask yourself, “Was this all worth it?”

It doesn’t seem long back when I set foot in the Microsoft campus. But when I look back over the years I spent here, I oftentimes, get overwhelmed. Microsoft, as a company, what has always seemed to me, is a great place to work at, while leaving my imprints across the globe as billions of users get to use its products.

My fascination for Microsoft products goes back to as early as 2002. In those Windows 98 days, we used to have sixty minutes of computer class once a week with one PC being shared between a class of ten students. I used to wait passionately for just 5 minutes of my hands on the PC.

May 2009 – When it all started

Memories of the tough time and the difficult decision while joining Graduation college are as fresh as morning dew. 2008 recession had plagued the software industry and associated opportunities adversely. The sheer fear of decreasing market demand of software engineers had panicked young blood to not pursue engineering in Computer Science. Despite the risk involved in those times and an admission in not so famous university, my passion & optimistic mind entwined their wings and somehow worked together, and here I am, penning half decade of my experience at Microsoft, in astonishment and all flabbergasted.

July 15, 2013

Fresh blood joins. All the vampires rejoice.

5 years it’s been and it feels like it were only yesterday, when I wandered the corridors of the humongous campus for the first time. Days bled off into years. I have seen people come. I have seen people leave. Life moves on. Everyone is replaceable. The higher, one is at the management hierarchy, lesser is the tolerance for mistakes.

The time I joined Microsoft, peers around me were celebrating 5 years of completion and I had one naive question — “How come they never thought of a switch?”. Spending long time at one place is quite a thing, and more than the place, it tells a lot about the person — Happiness, Patience, and sometimes they just let life go with the flow. Well, for me, it never really occurred to me that there is a world outside Microsoft that also builds awesome products and has huge user base. Having worked on world class products like Microsoft Excel and its underlying complex architecture, I feel my existence in this universe is making a mark upon people changing their lives through technology.

In this short span of time, I got to work on 6 version-1 projects each having different complexity and its own problem space. The journey has culminated in a great experience, adding a check to my learning curve at every stage.

The world of flow-charts and diagrams – Office Visio

My career started as SDET in Visio team, a part of Microsoft Office division. It was embarrassing that I was going to work on something I never heard of. Visio is an enterprise software not so famous among students. It captures a huge market for clients looking forward to create flow charts and diagrams. In a nutshell, it is something that simplifies tens of millions of human life. As a test engineer, I designed test suites and wrote automation for various features to make sure the regressions are caught early and help stabilise the product.

January, 2014

K2 phase: It’s Android baby

When I had a feeling that I have learnt enough that would help fasten my deliverable, a reorg happened and devalued most of the things that I worked upon. As they say, only skills acquired through the process matters in the long run, skills to understand and solve a problem. New team and new manager, it was a tabula rasa. Satya’s vision to focus on mobile and services landed me in Android team. Familiar environment and some prior experience, starting was as smooth as butter. Nightmares begun when I was assigned a problem to apply effects on an image. The office codebase is huge, medieval and it’s an ocean if you don’t know where to start. I still remember those hard moments when I was just looking through the code to pick hints, searching keywords like pImage, IImage in the hope that at least the naming convention would lead me somewhere. It was one of the fastest paced project and I was (un)lucky to be a part of it. Learning was great and sleeps were compromised. My team owned low level Graphics rendering stuffs, everything that you see on screen.

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It was an exhilarating roller coaster ride as I had never worked on a project of that urgency before. K2 is the second most dangerous mountain to climb and so was this project. Satya’s leadership and his vision for the company was as clear as a bell. We didn’t want to box ourselves in the Windows world. This was a big leap from our past rusted thinking and it was the beginning of reinventing the company. In Satya’s words, we needed to Hit Refresh. Even if we lost the war in Mobile Operating System, Microsoft could make a mark by releasing products on other platforms. SaaS (Software as a Service) was on the top of mind and Microsoft wasn’t behind. But to truly unlock its potential, we needed to annihilate the platform barrier. The world was transitioning at steep pace and the way users used the computing devices was reshaping. Desktop PCs and laptops were no more in trend and to succeed as a company, users needed to feel connected wherever they go. What is the benefit of all those technologies when users can’t edit a document on mobile while going to office and resume on laptop? Delaying this project could have been catastrophic. Decisions are good as long as they are taken at right time.

The idea of Shared code had always fascinated me and I got a chance to see how it works. The biggest challenge of developing apps on Android was device fragmentation. Apps you build might work like a charm on one device, while it might be completely screwed up on others. This project literally boosted my confidence as I was really quick when it came to building something on Android. It was an honor to be recognized as Subject Matter Expert. When I got empty hours, I contributed to Android community on StackOverflow and earned many medals. As of now, I hold 12 gold, 48 silver and 89 bronze medals.

July, 2015

Apple, A costly affair

Satya’s vision for efficient engineering annihilated the concept of tester & developer and rendered everyone a Software Engineer. I moved to Graphics team for iOS where I made core design changes and wrote code to be shared across various apps cross platform. The biggest challenge was to think of design that could sail well across multiple platforms and apps. Making changes at such a lower level was risky, heart throbbing and required solid understanding. Tolerance for mistakes was minuscule and the impact was so huge that making even a small mistake had big ripple effects breaking many features across the apps. Some of the nasty bugs gave me nightmares. It becomes worse when you have to fix the bug overnight and when you do it, you get response on the top of your fix mentioning that your change would be impacting twenty millions customers. Even 1 millisecond of performance regression raised eyebrows asking critical questions related to the design and the solution. I have learnt that this is part of life and as long as the learning curve is steep, things would just work fine. It has taught me the skill to never give up. Perseverance and grit are great virtues to survive in this industry.

Before the release of K2, shared code was a myth. As much fantastic as it may sound when discussed, it was practically not possible given the platform differences, language barrier at different end points and the engineering cost involved to bring the complex humongous codebase together. With the release of WXP on Android, we proved it to be doable and sealed it after moving iOS codebase to the same shared codebase.

Having got familiarized with both Android and iOS, I must say that I would choose Android over iOS any time of the day both as a developer and a user. Apple’s developer tool XCode hangs and crashes every now and then and sucks. Things that can be achieved in a straight forward way in Android can be pain when it comes to iOS.

October, 2016

Recalc or Die – Excel

About 30 years ago in a place far, far away, when C++ was still in diapers, Microsoft Excel was born. We even shipped Excel on floppy. We didn’t have much of C++ that time. So we wrote our own wrappers.

Shared rendering was over and I moved to Excel iOS team where I worked on Excel rendering component. Excel is one of the most complex projects and there are dozens of layers of architecture. Few of the bugs literally drove me crazy. I remember frying neurons of my brain for days without a clue on where in the code the problem might be. Some bugs were in the Apple library itself.

March, 2017

Excel on Mac

Another year, another project. Some familiarity with how Excel works, at least a part of it, landed me into another Excel endpoint. This time, it was Mac. It was way more complex than iOS. The quality was super important, for most of the people with big names use Mac, all of them being paid customers. A simple screw up could motivate one of the journalists to write and given how powerful social media are these days, it could have gone viral in no time. We did get good detailed feedback from a NASA scientist which reemphasized the impact we had been making.

February, 2018

SharePoint

While working on Excel and rendering technologies was fascinating because of the huge mass reach, lack of opportunities to add much design and code in Excel troubled me. The Data Structures and design used were fascinating. But they were written in 90s. Another good thing was that I never had to explain Excel to anyone. I remember meeting a college friend in Seattle who was widely surprised when I mentioned that we are fixing bugs in Excel. She always thought Excel to be super stable.

My restless mind, always looking forward to swim out of comfort zone to try and learn new things, found its medicine when a new SharePoint team in IDC was formed. I never realised the sheer potential of SharePoint until I started working on it. New technologies & tools, two decades old product, unknown territory, ownership of core components and never ending challenges, I couldn’t have asked for more.

As I reminisce my time here, I worked with 6 managers in 6 different projects. Lots of learning, challenges, obsession to achieve the best and never ending work. The journey has been no less than a roller coaster. I have sailed unfamiliar ships to unknown territories. I wrote and debugged code in more than ten languages (C, C++, Java, C#, Objecttive C/C++, Javascript, Typescript, Python etc).

Normal days at Microsoft

If you wonder how normal days as a Software Engineer at Microsoft look like, well it can be summarized something like:

  • You get a feature and are asked to come up with a design and various approaches to develop this.
  • You discuss various pros and cons and why one approach should be preferred over others.
  • You write code to develop the functionality. If the code is not shared, Bingo! your life just got easier. If it is shared across apps and platforms , you have to make sure it doesn’t regress anything. There are tons of test cases your code must pass.
  • If you get a bug due to your code and it is hi-pri, a hot mail thread starts overnight stating it impacted ‘X’ millions of customers.
  • If you get a bug not related to your code, well happy debugging. There are tens of millions of lines of code and you don’t have slightest of clue in what layer of architecture, the issue might be. I remember debugging a bug for 8 continuous days and at the end, I found that it was a race condition issue. The bug reproduced every once in 30-40 attempts.
  • Your code performance is super critical. I remember being part of a burning mail thread once because my code regressed the performance by 1 millisecond. I couldn’t see the difference manually as 1 millisecond is something your eyes can’t perceive.
  • You think you’re smart. Well think again. There are smarter people talking to whom is so much fun. You are stuck debugging an issue for 2 days. You don’t see anything working. You are pissed off. You send a mail to the people asking for help. They read your issue on phone, respond with a fix and it works.

In a nutshell, the emphasis is more on reading and understanding code than writing a new one. If you can’t understand well what is written, how are you going to modify it? This varies from team to team. Since office was released in medieval time when C++ was still in diapers, making changes in the code becomes a bit difficult, especially when you are making changes to an existing feature.
Microsoft is full of smart people. You can learn something from almost everyone.

Why I chose to stay at Microsoft?

There were many times I thought of a switch. The thing that always seemed to hold me was the thought that I would be doing the same kind of work that I am doing here. Besides, I am happy here, living life as I always wanted, trying out different things, exploring the world around me and pursuing my hobbies one after the other.

While we’re busy in earning money, life is busy in deducting time

If you ask me if I’m happy with the salary I get here. I would probably say, Yes. And I will shortly explain why. Pay is decent, but it is lesser than what competitive companies offer. Many of my friends have switched to other companies for higher pay. There was hardly a day in my 60 months of career at Microsoft that forced me to think of a switch, because of following reasons:

Work-life balance

The best thing I like about Microsoft is the work-life balance. The timings are flexible. If you get a good manager who knows how to handle pressure well, you won’t have to work overnight unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Company culture and vision

At Microsoft, we strive to build products that amaze customers within thirty seconds of usage. If we fail to wow them, we lose them for life. That’s the underlying principle behind every Office product. Productivity and efficiency are taken very seriously. Effort is important, but knowing where to make an effort makes all the difference.

Pursue hobbies

I chose to stay at Microsoft because while working here, I can pursue my hobbies. You get plenty of time for things you want to do. I travel, do fashion and landscape photoshoot, play piano and write blogs, all while writing code in week days.

Money is a good servant but a bad master

The money I earn here is enough to survive and buy things of interest. If I would earn more money, I would buy bigger car or dine in more luxurious restaurants. The standard of living will improve. But the question is, how far are you willing to go for the sake of money. Run for money never ends. Having lived my fair share of life, I realized that life should be made up of moments. As long as you are happy with what you have, you are living a good life. With more money, comes more responsibility. Yes, there are times when I regret not being able to afford a Grand Piano, but I can settle with a smaller version of it.

Brand value

Although Microsoft pays lesser than few startups, I love it. My granddad proudly says that his grandson works at Microsoft. Microsoft is one of few companies that has survived four decades while staying relevant. People are still crazy about it.

Impact

Products that I work on are used by billions of people. I can say that the part of picture manipulation code in Word/Excel/PowerPoint has been written by me. This kind of huge impact can only be felt by working at some of the biggies like Google and Facebook.

Hit Refresh

When Satya Nadella took over, the change was visible sooner than we had anticipated. The company was at the cusp of transformation and is going through a significant transition phase as we speak. It’s not just a Windows company anymore. The focus has gradually shifted to its mobile first, cloud first business. The reason is simple. With so many technological advancements and automated home & car systems generating a lot of data, the humongous data has to be stored somewhere. 90% of the world’s data has been generated over last two years. Microsoft is pushing hard to make a dent through providing cloud services and thereby, stay relevant.

Microsoft is in right hands. Its stocks are soaring all time high. Investors have confidence and they’re betting in its bright future. It’s far from pinnacle of success and there is a long way to go. But I believe in the company’s vision. And as an employee, it’s a great feeling and amazing place to be at, while being part of the major transformation. I can either watch it happen or be a part of it. Well, the former doesn’t excite me enough.

You might like my other posts along the same line:

Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 1

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.
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4 min readI never ceased to marvel at the astounding beauty of the nature. Of all the wonders in the world, night sky intrigues me the most, for it obscures the path I walk on, yet it shows me the reason to do so. That’s life, isn’t it?

Stars and milky way have fascinated me since I gazed the sky the first time. As a child, I always fantasized about far away untouched lands, bright night skies and galaxies millions of light years away. The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart. Night skies, as dark and gloomy as they may sound, reminds me of the pleasing childhood routine to lie down on the roof and gaze the stars, slowly drifting in space at the peak of night until I fell asleep. The time when gadgets were less and skies used to be darker. I must say I found that curious child in me again in these cold dark winter nights.

Continue reading The wonders of night sky – Part 1

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2 min readIt’s been a long time since I penned my last post. Few incidents in life wound you so deep that take lifetime to recover. The pain goes away. But the scar remains. And that’s what hurts the most. You are not YOU. Things aren’t the same. The coffee shop you loved stepping into, become your reason of mood swings overnight. All it takes a moment to tear your precious small world apart.

I travel because it reminds me that nothing in life holds permanence. One who is very close to you today might not be tomorrow. Life is a journey. You meet someone. strike a conversation, drink a peg or two, laugh and fall in love unknowingly. You see, falling in love is very easy. It happens at the speed of lightning. You don’t think much. You know why heart breaks are so painful? Simply because you think you are the luckiest. Thousands of unlucky people you have read about, yet you think your love is for life. And one day, she leaves you, with her wonderful memories.

Travel has enlightened me that I ain’t alone. There are many unlucky souls wandering in the beautiful world with their rusty heart.

I travel because there are memories I don’t wanna live with. I travel in the hope to reset my brain cells which home those memories. Each travel rejuvenates me with new positive energy to help me become a better individual and a more compassionate person. Meeting strangers and acquaintances on the way and listening their stories helps me forget mine.

I travel to feel alive, to see the unseen, to hear the unheard and meet noone whose story holds no value, yet it feels so connected. I travel to stumble upon another me, to share my happy moments, to share my grief, to talk about her. And it all starts with, “About her? Where do I start? I haven’t known a more perfect person in my life. She is crazy. The weather changes and the flowers bloom wherever she goes. She has the power to awaken the deadliest of souls and blow into them a purpose to live. Meeting her would make you realise that you reached the unreachable, achieved the unachievable and fathomed the unfathomable. You feel strong and weak at the same time. You know love to be the deadliest of all weapons, yet you don’t hesitate to put your neck under it. That’s her.”.

Farewell! Until we meet again.

Copyright © 2018, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.
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