Report Card – 2011 new year resolutions

I think new year’s resolutions are a good idea. To make them more effective, I think its even more important to review them at the end of the year. I had posted the resolutions below on Facebook almost exactly one year ago. Below is my report card for the year –

Resolution: spend less time on my blackberry and more time with my daughter.

Evaluation: A. I still work way too many hours and I’m still addicted to my blackberry. But I did way better than the previous year. And I spent much more time with Ria than I have previously. Given my choice of profession and the current economic environment, I think any further improvement in work/life balance will come at a financial cost that I’m not prepared to pay.

2012 Resolution: Need to get smarter about this – after all, I now need to give time to 2 children.

 

Resolution: spend less time updating my facebook status and more time meeting friends.

Evaluation: F. I spent way too much time on Facebook. Less than the previous year but still too much. And I was more anti-social than I have ever been.

2012 Resolution: Same as 2011. But this time, I’ve got to get it right.

 

Resolution: play lots of polo, and play really well.

Evaluation: B+. To be fair, I’m still a pretty lousy player. But I spent 12 days in Jaipur and 10 days in Jodhpur trying to improve my game. I played 3 tournaments during the year and won all 3. With a full time job and a family, I’m not sure I can give the sport any more time or energy.

2012 Resolution: Play as much as I did in 2011 but play a lot better.

 

Resolution: travel to places I have never seen and do things I have never done.

Evaluation: A+. Made it to Rio, Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Jaipur – all cities I have never seen before. And I did lots of cool stuff.

2012 Resolution: Given that we have a young baby in the house, I will need to be more modest with my aspirations – but I still want to go see some new places in 2012.

 

Resolution: collect memories rather than frequent flier miles.

Evaluation: A+. Awesome memories – the birth of my son, staying at the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, chilling on Ipanema Beach, Polo lesson at La Martina, the list goes on. And I earned less frequent flyer miles in 2011 than in any of the preceding 7 years.

2012 Resolution: Need to collect even more memories. And it would not be a bad idea to collect some frequent flyer miles as well.

 

Resolution: prioritize everything. watching TV does not qualify as a priority. Ever.

Evaluation: D. I spent way too much time watching TV. And I could have been far more efficient with my time.

2012 Resolution: Same as 2011. But this time, I’ve got to get it right.

 

Resolution: sleep less. workout more.

Evaluation: B. I slept less and worked out more. By October, I was healthier than I had ever been in my life. But then I screwed up my elbow in Jaipur and it all went downhill from there.

2012 Resolution: I need to develop more discipline. If I could only cut down my consumption of ice cream…..

 

Resolution: earn more money and waste less of it. maybe even try and save a little.

Evaluation: F. I earned less and spent more. I’m not going to beat myself up about this – you only live once, might as well live well. And the economy is in shambles, which hurts everyone’s earning power – I’m no exception.

2012 Resolution: I need to get smarter about this, especially given that the economy is unlikely to recover anytime soon….

 

Resolution: focus on doing a brilliant job by working smarter, not harder.

Evaluation: A- It’s been a brilliant year in terms of work. I must’ve done something right. But I genuinely think I could have done better.

2012 Resolution: Must do better than 2011.

 

Resolution: stretch more often. maybe even do yoga every once in a while.

Evaluation: A+. I stretch everyday. But to be fair, the credit for this goes to my physiotherapist, not me. Without the routine she put together for me, my back would have been an absolute disaster.

2012 Resolution: To keep up the momentum built in 2011.

 

Resolution: get a haircut. preferably early in the year.

Evaluation: A+. Unlikely that I can do anything about it but the hair I didn’t cut off has largely gone grey. I’m not going to fight it. Heck, if Pierce Brosnan and George Clooney can age gracefully, why cant I?

2012 Resolution: To shave off my beard. With this, I’m definitely going to get stopped at the airport…

My plan for turning 40

I reached out to my 2 closest childhood friends last week and made a pact with them – that when we turn 40, we are going to take an epic trip. We haven’t decided where to go – after all, there are 7 years left before we need to make up our mind – but its going to comprise places that we have always wanted to go – but could not – because it was too far, or it was not possible to take the kids, or it was too expensive, or some other such practical reason. This experience is going to take both time and money. By blocking 3 weeks on our calenders (on google / iCloud – our existing computers / smartphones will be obsolete by then), 7 years in advance, we wont have any excuses to spare 3 weeks. In terms of money, we’re all setting up SIPs and putting away $100 a month from now – a number small enough that it wont pinch but enough to add-up to something significant given the mathematical effect of compounding. In short, we wont have any reasonable excuses to pull out of the trip when the time comes. Places that may feature on the list are Tierra del Fuego, the Galapagos Islands, Mongolia and Beirut.

When I look back at my life, a few key key moments that come to mind – my first trip to London en-route to College, my week at a youth hostel in southern Spain, re-living ‘Lost in Translation’ in Tokyo, a polo lesson in Buenos Aires, counting Zebras in Kenya. With work-related pressures and a second child on the way, it seems like life is going by way too quickly and there is little time for gathering more of those stellar memories that frequently punctuated the earlier years of my life. The idea is, I guess, to go into our forties with a 3 weeks of mad memories. Look out for the photos in 7 years…

Looking forward to the next epic adventure...

What I learnt about polo in Jaipur

As some of you know, I recently had the privilege of spending 12 days in Jaipur – riding, playing polo at partying with some of the finest players on this side of the planet. Overall, it was an awesome experience and I am confident that I am significantly less pathetic player than I was a few weeks ago. All thanks to the other players – at the 61st Cavalry and Rambagh – who took time out of their busy schedules to share their knowledge with me. Much advice was shared over the many hours spent together, but I have set out below the top tips I brought back with me to Bombay –

Polo is a thinking game – the most successful players are not just the ones that can hit the hardest or ride the fastest – they are the ones that can stay one step ahead of the game. It is not ‘just plain luck’ that they happen to be positioned where the ball goes next – its their ability to predict where the play is headed next that gets them to the top.

There are no shortcuts to practice – my dad’s teacher, Maharaj Prem Singh, famously said that learning polo was like learning to fly a plane – there is no alternative to putting in the required hours. Lokendra Singh, one of India’s top players, allegedly said that learning to play polo is like taking a piss – there is no alternative to doing it yourself. Good instruction is important, but ultimately meaningless unless you also play lots of chukkers.

Don’t try too hard – my shots became significantly better when I stopped putting force into my swing. The trick is the focus on the technique and hit the ball on the right spot – the sheer momentum of a galloping horse does the rest.

Top-class riding skills are not optional – Even if your swing is strong enough to score a goal from 5B, it is meaningless unless you can be the first to get your horse to the ball. Not investing enough time improving your riding is possibly the biggest mistake a new player can make.

Avoid the politics – Polo must be the most political sport in the world. I haven’t yet figured out why. Don’t get involved with that side of it. Work hard, play fair, and have fun – on and off the field.

This is not the real world – Polo is madly addictive – be careful that you don’t get sucked in too deep. There is a real world far from the lush polo fields of Jaipur – and unless you were born rich, only the brightest and most hardworking people earn the kind of money that it takes to play this game – if you don’t prioritize your career over your polo, you may soon find that you can no longer afford this sport.

Hotels

Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

If you spend as much time as I do living out of a suitcase (over 150 days last year), the hotel room becomes your second home. As you would with your first home, you pick carefully – electing to stay at properties that cater to your specific needs. The kind of hotels one picks depends on (i) how frequently one travels, and (ii) how long that person has been living the frequent traveler lifestyle.

The evolutionary process is as follows – First one picks the best known properties in each city. These are frequented by millionaires, rock stars, or during the one’s first 6 months as a frequent traveler when one still enjoys the novelty of trying new things and is prepared to forsake seamless efficiency for pomp and show. Properties like the George V in Paris, The Grand in Stockholm, and the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabhi fall into this category. Travel feels like an opportunity at this stage and one is keen to make the most of it by staying where one can hope to spot a celebrity or try out a well know in-house bar or restaurant in the evening. After about 6 months of body-clock destroying travel, when staying in hotels has become a chore rather than a pleasure, the traveler shifts loyalty to the most efficient and convenient hotels – chains like the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons dominate this category. One elects to order room service instead of dining at the restaurant, no matter how renowned the chef may be. Amazingly efficient and easy to get used to, but after another 6 months, this gets stifling and boring. By this point, one has accepted that staying in hotels is a permanent part of their lifestyle and simply accepts it – it becomes as unremarkable as brushing your teeth in the morning – no long a pleasure or a chore but a part of life. After this point, one selects hotels that offer a good loyalty program and cater to ones specific tastes. My colleagues and friends who travel as much as me tend to selected hotel chains like the Hyatt, Starwood or Hilton. While these names may sound less prestigious that the ones in the previous category, they tend to have specific brands catering the discerning traveler – Hilton has the Waldorf Astoria Collection, Hyatt has the ultra-sleek Park Hyatt chain and Starwood has the very trendy W Hotel chain.

The frequent traveler will select hotels that allow him or her to preserve, to the maximum extent possible, their lifestyles at home. The first thing I do each morning when I wake up is to down an espresso – consequently, I have a strong preference for hotels that have an espresso machine in the room. Any hotels can send you a coffee in the morning but this means pre-ordering the night before or calling room service after you wake up and waiting – neither gets as close to my day-to-day routine as having a machine in the room itself. On a similar note, I like going to the gym as often as possible so give my custom to hotels that have well appointed gyms that are open 24 hours a day. These may seem like small things but they make it slightly easier to wake up in a different bed each morning.

The frequent traveler also wants to be seriously rewarded for his or her loyalty. We live in a constant state of jet-lag, give up time with our families and forsake any chance of having a normal social life – we want something in return. From hotels, that something is loyalty points – like airlines have mileage programs, hotel chains have point programs that allow their most frequent guests to be rewarded with free stays, upgrades and other freebies. Few people recognize that these programmes can be far more rewarding than frequent flyer programmes- I am spending 10 nights at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo later this year paid for completely with Hyatt points earned in just 3 months. That’s worth well over Rs. 2 lacs !

Over the past few years, several cities have seen the rise of small boutique hotels that offer interesting locations, interesting rooms and exceptional service. The best examples I have seen are the Dylan, a converted merchant house in the heart of Amsterdam with an in-house Michelin starred restaurant and the Hotel Bellechasse in the Saint Germain district of Paris with its quirky Christian Lacroix designed rooms. As loveable as these hotels are, these must be relegated to the occasional trip with a less-than-packed agenda. If I were traveling for holiday though, I would always pick such hotels over the chain properties. They are not the easiest to find but magazines like Conde Nast Traveller do a great job of finding these hidden jewels for us.

Originally published in Frappe (2009)

What to drink when you have the flu

As some of you know, I’ve spent the past week suffering from terrible health – I assume its the flu (or some virus pretending to be the flu). For the majority of the week I was crazing Indian comfort food – daal-chaawal, khichidi, etc and yesterday, I was craving Pizza (and ate two medium Meatzzas from Dominos to satisfy the urge). Today, however, I was strangely craving vegetable juice. Perhaps its was my body telling me I needed to top-up on the vitamin C. One way or the other, I hauled out the trusty blender (ok – fine – i had the cook haul out the trusty blender) and whipped up the following:

Tomato Juice – tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Blend. Thats it. Tastes way better than the toxic stuff they sell in cans/bottles, which I believe should never ever be drunk unless doused with copious amounts of Vodka and Tabasco sauce).

Cucumber Juice – peeled cucumbers, some yoghurt and a pinch of salt. Blend. In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed the concept from the menu at Suzette (charming little French creparie in Nariman Point). Very refreshing.

I’m feeling much better now – don’t know if its the juice or my immunity finally doing its job after a week of taking it easy.

Anyway, if I’ve successfully managed to get you to crave a glass of fresh juice, try one of the recipes above and let me know what you think.

The Best in Travel (or at least, ‘Manav’s Favourite’)

Ipanema Beach

Best Beach - Ipanema in Rio

To call something the ‘best’ is highly subjective – my opinion may differ from yours, in no small part because my needs / requirements / tastes may differ from yours. To that end, this is a is more of a list of ‘Manav’s Favourites’

Best Airline for Business – British Airways is the airline we all love to hate – the food is mediocre, the champagne is cheap, the service is patchy, the baggage handling dismal and the fares outrageous. But if you spend one night a week on a plane, let it be on BA. Frequent travelers prefer to fly at night, seldom eat or drink very much, and we never ever check-in a bag. BA gives us a comfortable bed, turns out the lights shortly after take-off and allows us to get a full night of sleep. The insanely high fares discourage leisure travelers and ensures that you are almost always surrounded by other business travelers, who are also trying to maximize sleep time. The new First Class cabin is mind-blowing and its well worth splurging some frequent flyer miles to get an upgrade.

Best Airline for Pleasure – Jet Airways – big comfortable beds, large TV screens with the latest from Hollywood and Bollywood, Don Perignon champagne and top quality Indian food – this is one flight where it almost seems wrong to forsake all the fun for a bit of sleep. I cannot think of a better airline for a honeymoon or an indulgent holiday.

Best Hotel – Park Hyatt Tokyo – the perfect combination of American excess (think massive rooms, luxurious bathrooms, great gym, etc), Japanese simplicity (in both design and delivery) and flawless service.  The New York Bar on the top floor attracts the most beautiful people in Tokyo and serves up the finest steak in the world. It gets a few extra points or being the set for the movie Lost in Translation.

Best Airport for business – London City Airport – location – 15 mins by cab from either of the financial districts in London. Size – tiny, which means no long walks to faraway boarding gates. Crowd – almost exclusively business travelers, which means fast-moving security lines. The only airport that allows you to leave the office 60 mins before your flight and still make it on time!

Best Restaurant for Business Lunch –  Zuma at the Dubai International Financial Center. There is no greater testament to the quality of the food than the number of Japanese people who frequent this restaurant. Classy without being formal, discreet without being cold and luxurious without being ostentatious. The set menus at lunch are great value and the bar attracts the very best of the jet set professional crowd in the middle east.

Best Cure for Jet-Lag – The Gym – If you have a few hours between getting off an overnight flight and your workday, don’t make the rookie mistake of catching up on sleep – An extra hour or two wont make any difference – the best way to convince your body that a new day has begun is to sweat it out in the gym (even 20 mins is better than nothing) and follow-up with a high protein breakfast (avoid stuff like fruit juice and breakfast cereal that makes your blood sugar spike) with lots of water and a large cup of coffee (just one cup though – a caffeine high is almost always followed by a caffeine crash !)

Best Luggage – Tumi – the strongest, most practical and longest lasting travel companions for the air-mile junkie. Dont bother with the designer brands or make the mistake of picking the nicest looking bag in the store – Tumi’s practicality and reliability is what is most important when you are on the road. If you want proof, look around any airline lounge – 90% of the business travelers will be carrying Tumi luggage – they all can’t be wrong.

Best reading material – a copy of the Economist (better yet, the iPad version) – conveniently available at most airports in the world with articles are short and punchy so ideally suited to sitting in a train, waiting in a departure lounge, between boarding and take-off, etc. Plus, you’ll sound intelligent and worldly-wise when you get where you’re going.

Best avoided conversations – anything to do with politics, religion or international conflict – don’t ever start such a topic. If someone else does, quickly change the topic or find an excuse to leave. Nothing good can possibly come from discussing these matters with strangers in a foreign land.

Best travel tip – The most important things you need to carry on any journey are patience, humility and a sense of humor. There is nothing more annoying than the traveler who takes himself too seriously. Screaming at the stewardess for a delay in takeoff or the baggage handler for lost luggage will not solve the problem. Smile, crack a few harmless jokes and even the most painful journey can quickly become a lot of fun.

Originally published in Frappe

Thoughts from a traveler

If god exists, he’s looking out for me

Karachi, Pakistan, Spring 2005, while watching the smoke rise from the bombing at the US Consulate, which destroyed half of the Marriott Hotel, 5 minutes after I walked out of the building. My room was on the other side of the building, so I continued staying there for the rest of the week. I figured, what’s the likelihood that this place gets bombed twice in the same week ?

If god exists, he’s still looking out for me

Islamabad, Pakistan, Fall 2008, after hearing that the Marriott Hotel had been bombed, one week after I checked out. This time, the entire hotel was destroyed.

What the hell am I doing here? I didn’t sign up for this when I became a banker…

Sana’a, Yemen, Summer 2005, standing under a massive sign banning people from bringing guns into the office where I was going to spend the rest of the week. There were some confused looking locals standing around and arguing in Arabic about where to keep their AK-47s when they went into the office to pay their phone bills. The security guard was friendly enough to offer to hold on to them. He offered them a ‘token’ as evidence, which looked similar to what you get when you leave your bags at the entrance of Shopper’s Stop.

There are a lot of racist people floating about this planet

Zurich, Switzerland, Summer 2010, after being the only person in the EU Passports immigration queue to be stopped and have his passport examined. Could it have been purely a matter of coincidence that I was also the only person with colored skin in the queue?

Are consular staff required to leave common sense at the door when they come into work or are they fundamentally stupid?

London, UK, Spring 2008, after having the Spanish Consulate turn down a tourist visa on the grounds that I had only 3.5 months left on my UK work visa. They had a letter from my employer confirming that my visa would be renewed and had copies of my bank statements and salary slips. Did they really think that an educated, qualified and highly paid professional would illegally immigrate to Spain and work at a petrol bunk if their visa extension was refused?

I must be dreaming, This cannot be real.

Prague, Czech Republic, Summer 2007, as the only Indian person standing in the Bombay Cocktail Bar where a large number of young and stylish Czech people were dancing the Bhangra to Malkit Singh’s Gur Nalon Ishq Mitha.

Some parts of this planet are incredibly beautiful

British Airways flight over the Himalayas, Fall 2004. Till you see it for yourself on a clear sunny day, you cannot fully comprehend the vastness and the incomparable beauty of the Himalayas.

That oversized double-decker bus with wings cannot possible fly

Heathrow, UK, Fall 2007, on first seeing an Airbus 380 aircraft. As it turns out, it could fly. I guess its no surprise that I didn’t make it as an engineer.

It would have been so awesome if I could have flown in that aircraft, even just once

Birmingham, UK, Fall 2003, while standing on the street and watching the last British Airways Concorde aircraft make its goodbye-lap over the city before being permanently withdrawn from commercial service. I hope that supersonic commercial aviation will once again become possible during the course of my lifetime.

It must be awesome to be a billionaire

Mumbai Airport Taxiway, on numerous occasions, while looking at dozens of gleaming luxurious private jets from the window of a crowded aircraft filled with a high proportion of people who have successfully ignored all the innovative advertising for deodorant spray.

Travel can me measured in many ways –  number of fights, frequent flyer miles collected, number of passports filled (5 ‘jumbo’ passport booklets in 5 years for me), number of countries visited. For me, I measure it by collecting memories of these various encounters and the resulting thoughts and emotions that have fundamentally changed the way I view the world.  In my view, travel is the most effective way to open your mind, develop tolerance for diversity, and appreciate how amazing life can be.

Originally published in Frappe