Count Your Blessings!

Count Your Blessings!

Hello Everyone,

Kapil here from Mishmi Takin. How are you? How is your week going?

This month I wanted to write about a different topic but life has a way of intruding when least expected. So, this email is about more topical things happening around me, things which have a tendency of making us focus on what is truly important in life.

Earlier this month, my wife returned from a Europe tour complaining of an upset stomach. Couple of days later, this became pain in the abdominal area. We thought it would go away in a day or two but it didn’t. We feared that it might be appendicitis and so we finally went to ER (emergency). The ER doctors ordered a CT scan and lo and behold, my wife had a tumor the size of a football growing out of her pelvic area and covering her entire abdomen. It obviously scared the daylights out of us. My wife was immediately transferred to a speciality hospital and operated upon a few days later. The cauliflower shaped tumor was taken out and a couple of her other organs also participated in the organ donation program. Eventually, it was found out that the tumor was mostly filled with mucous. It turned out to be benign and we collectively let out a sigh of relief. My wife is now on the road to recovery and all is well.

This wasn’t the only event of note. My brother and sister-in-law got into a major car accident last month. Thankfully both of them escaped unhurt. Someone else was not so fortunate though. A classmate of a young friend of our’s also got into a car accident and perished. She was an undergraduate student at MIT. She had just finished her spring semester and was at her home planning her classes for fall semester. She went out with her sister to get ice-cream when a drunk driver hit her car and she didn’t make it. A promising young life was taken away. One minute she was planning classes and a few minutes later she was no more.

All this has been weighing on my mind. As I waited to find out the results of my wife’s surgery, life seemed to be balanced on a knife’s edge. It had never felt so binary. We survived but it was a very close shave. It made me realize how unpredictable life is and how we tend to think in a linear fashion. We think that someone is there, so they will always be there. Or, we think that something is going in a certain way and it will always be like that. However, life is not a continuous, linear function. It does not always go in a straight line. Discontinuous change does happen and when it happens, it catches us by surprise and ends up having a far bigger impact on our life than we expect.

With all this in mind, just wanted to say that in the daily hustle of life, let us take a minute to count our blessings. Let us take a moment to hug our loved ones and tell them how much we love them and how much they mean to us. Even if a loved one has hurt us somehow and is estranged for some reason, let us reach out to them, let bygones be bygones and tell them that they are still loved. Life is too short to hold grudges.

That’s all for today. Have a great summer.

Peace,
Kapil

P:S – By the way, it is probably a good idea to get an annual checkup done. We take our cars for a checkup every 5000 miles or so. It is a good idea in my opinion to do the same for the most complex machine ever designed, our bodies. Good day.

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Gear comes second.

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Picture Courtesy: – Capt Suresh Sharma, Green Dot Expeditions.

Hello  Everyone,

Almost all of us tend to start a new year with some or the other health related resolution. In that vein, sometime back, a friend asked me, ‘What app do I need to get back into running?’. Apparently, he had not been running for a while and wanted to get back into running and hopefully train for a half marathon. All very noble goals, the kind of resolutions we make for ourselves on new year’s day. However, his question suddenly struck me and made me reflect for a while.

If we look at a modern runner, we see someone decked from head to toe as if heading to battle – besides the shoes, there is the GPS watch, heart rate monitor, the hydration belts with ergonomic bottles, gu gels, iphone arm bands, apps to track runs, ear phones with hand-picked playlists, compressions socks, sunglasses etc etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, all of the above definitely help and make for a more enjoyable running experience. However, I wonder if with this big focus on gear something gets lost in translation – the essence of running. Running is one of the simplest activities which can be enjoyed equally both by the rich and the poor. But, at what point does the simple joy of running gets replaced by the chore of tracking runs, monitoring heart rates, uploading charts and making sense of data.

My mind harks back to my childhood in India. Me and my siblings had a very middle-class upbringing in the 80’s and 90’s which meant that our family never had a lot of money. But somehow, I never seem to remember feeling the lack of money and proper gear being a hindrance in enjoying our childhood games. We used to play cricket with a bat which had a missing handle and a cork ball which was broken from so many places that it no longer looked like a sphere. Yet, trying to hit a ball making completely random movements with a bat you could not hold straight was so much fun. In fact, it was the most fun I have had in my life. My mind also goes back to our radio which had a broken cover and had so much static that at times it was hard to even figure out the words of the song being broadcast over the air. But I remember being moved to tears by those faint words barely standing out above the static. It was not the absence or presence of high-fidelity sound which produced a reaction in me. Rather, it was the meaning of what was being said and the connection which the almost inaudible words made with my heart which moved me. When I look back at those simpler days of my childhood, I realize that it was not the gear which produced the joy but the connection I felt in my heart which really made it memorable. In that sense, gear to me comes a poor second and instead, the most important part is to feel the joy and connection with the activity in its simplest form.

So, perhaps it might be fun to forget about the gear for a minute. For a change, let us forget the GPS, forget the heart rate monitor, not worry if we have the latest and greatest shoe, and forget about tracking the run. Instead, let us just get out there and just run and feel the wind in our hair, the sunshine on our skin and hear the sound of rustling leaves underneath. Let us first feel the joy in our heart and only then worry about our heart rate. For, in the end, it is not the app which gets us back into running, it is the thrill which keeps us going. To paraphrase Nike, let us just get out there and just do it.

Have a very happy new year in the great outdoors. Warm wishes for a healthy and prosperous new year from the Mishmi Takin team.

Thanks and Regards,
Kapil

An Evening with Santa

Hello Everyone,

A couple of days back, I ended up quarreling with a close friend of mine and felt miserable about it. With dark and overcast skies last week, the weather outside seemed to reflect my mood. Bored of sitting at home, me and my 4 year old daughter decided to visit the Tampa zoo to see their Christmas lights. It was Friday evening. It had been raining off and on throughout the day but as we got to the zoo the rain thankfully stopped. We made our way inside and were greeted by the sight of a huge, 30 ft Christmas tree pulsating with colorful lights. My daughter jumped up with joy and ran around the tree a couple of times. She found another girl of her age, they quickly became friends and ran some more laps around the tree laughing and giggling all the way. ‘Jingle bells’ played in the background providing a perfect backdrop to their joyous fun. Soon, it was time for the new friend to go and we bade her goodbye. My daughter decided that she wanted to pet the sting rays, so we set off in that direction. Along the way lay Santa’s Village. We were not planning on visiting Santa. My wife was away and we wanted to come back with her to go meet Santa. But, as we passed the village, we said, ‘what the heck, let us take a look inside.’ We sauntered inside, saw a cookie shop and grabbed some holiday cookies. We finally got to Santa’s workshop. Usually the place is full with dozens of exuberant kids waiting impatiently for Santa but that evening, there was nary a soul in sight. It seemed that Santa was waiting just for us. We had him all to ourselves. The brightly colored elves greeted us on the porch and quickly ushered us in the presence of Santa.

There we were, in front of Santa all robed in red and snow white. Santa gave out a joyous ho, ho, looked at my daughter with smiling eyes from behind his silver rimmed glasses and asked her, ’So, have you been naughty or nice?’. My daughter spread out her hands in her inimitable style and promptly answered,

‘My father, he fights with his friends and makes them unhappy. I play with my friends and keep them happy’.

Santa gave out a loud laugh, shook his head and said, ‘I see that you have been very nice but someone has not been nice.’ We chatted with Santa for a while, asked for our presents and someone promised Santa of nicer behavior next year. As we left Santa’s abode, the heavens opened up as if to wash everything away. The father daughter duo jumped, hop-scotched, slid and ran to our car and quickly made our way home.

The moral of the story being – be like my daughter and not like me, otherwise you won’t be getting a lot of presents from Santa. Did you make it up with everyone you made unhappy? There is still some time left.

Merry Christmas everyone. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then best wishes for Hanukkah, Kawanza or any other way in which you let god into your life. All of us can do with more of god’s warm and friendly gaze.

Check out some pics of my daughter’s time with Santa.

Best wishes and holiday greetings,

Kapil

When I had less than a dollar in my bank account!

When I had less than a dollar in my bank account!

It is almost a cliche that every entrepreneur has to often go through tough times. Irrespective of how much money s\he started with, the entrepreneur is always short of money, often running just on fumes and the business is often on the verge of going belly up. Today, I wanted to write about one such moment in my journey as an entrepreneur and in the life of Mishmi Takin as a company.

Since I was short of money to begin with, I decided to go the crowdfunding route to raise the money to bring our products to market. Team Mishmi Takin conducted a successful Kickstarter + Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in Summer of 2016 and raised $80,000. However, I made a critical mistake in our crowdfunding campaign; I had offered far too many products to our backers. As a result, at the end of the campaign, we found that even though we had raised a healthy total, we were obligated to produce too many products and we did not have enough money to produce all of them. This was a potentially business ending mistake.

But, both me and my wife were not ready to throw in the towel and we bravely soldiered on. Both of us maxed out all our credit cards, wiped out our retirement accounts and took as much personal loans as we could get from anywhere. A couple of family and friends also pitched in and over a period of 6 months, we somehow managed to pool together the money to pay for the production costs. We got the production done; but, there was the small matter of customs duties. We still needed to pay the customs duties and there was no where else left to turn to. On the very last day when the customs duty just had to be paid, we were saved by a kind friend who could not say no even though she wanted to.

We got the product, yay, but now it had to be shipped to all the backers and the cost of shipping turned out to be a killer. I had saved a credit card just to cover shipping costs but it maxed out in no time. I had no money left even to ship!! I was forced to wait for sales to happen on our website to get some money to ship.

Matters came to a head in middle of July, 2017. My wife doesn’t get salary over the summer. From May to July, we watched as the cash from her last salary payment gradually inched towards zero. I think it was July 17th, 2017. I made a loan payment from my personal account and realized that my balance was now less than $1. My wife’s bank account had already dropped to less than $1 and our business account too was below $1. Earlier in the day, Citibank had called and suspended my last functioning credit card because I was late in making my payment. Essentially, we were completely out of cash and had no credit left.

As this realization was dawning on me, my wife called from the kitchen to say that we were out of milk for our 3 year old daughter. As I sat contemplating the zero balances, she came over, saw my face and realized what was going on. She gave a short laugh and said, ‘I guess it is what it is’ and went back to her work.

The next day, my 3 year old daughter, who obviously did not know anything, kept asking for milk. So, I had to go around house, rummaging through things hoping to find some loose change. Eventually, I found $7 in loose change. I got my daughter the milk and we managed the next 4 days on the loose change. Finally, on Saturday, July 22nd, we got our next payment from Amazon and we breathed a sigh of relief.

We eventually got through the summer, shipped to all our backers and fulfilled all our obligations (except to the kind friend mentioned above). Mishmi Takin has come a long way since then, winning awards and great appreciation from our customers.  We still are not completely out of the woods. But, I learnt my lesson – to bite what I can chew and not to take obligations I can not fulfill. I also learnt that some things you can read about but you don’t really understand till you go through them. Some victories just have to be ground out. Finally, I learned that the things you buy when you don’t have money taste much sweeter than the same thing bought when you have lot more money.

To all budding and fellow entrepreneurs, carry on.

Kapil

 P:S – If you have stories of how you faced adversity, do write back. I would love to hear them.

Most Memorable Christmas

Most Memorable Christmas

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to take a few minutes and wish everyone a happy holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and every other way you celebrate the season. Hope you have a great time with family and loved ones. As we take a breather from the mad rush of the whole year, my mind wanders back to memories of Christmases past and all the fun we have had this time of the year. I thought I would share some of those memories with you.

One memory which stands out in particular is of Christmas day, 2006. Since we are Hindu by religion and don’t have much family in US, we don’t have a lot to do on Christmas day. So often the answer to the question, ‘what are we going to do on Christmas day?’ is ‘Let us go hiking’. So, me, my then partner (now wife) and a friend, Madhu, decided to go hiking in White Mountains, New Hampshire. Given the lazy bums we were, we did not leave Boston till well past 10 am. We got to Lincoln after noon at which point Madhu announced that he was hungry and we made a quick pit stop at McDonalds. It was 1 pm by the time we got to the trail head. For those of you keeping track, it was the East Pond trail off the Kancamagus Highway. It is an easy 10-mile hike to East Pond, a small pond nestled in the mountains. This was the very first hike I had done in White Mountains in 2003 and loved it and that is why we were back to revisit the hike this Christmas day. However, this was the very first time we were in white mountains in winter. We did not have much by way of gear and my friend, Madhu, was wearing his formal leather shoes. 3 clueless hikers, hitting the trail at 1 pm without any gear, what can possibly go wrong, right? So, we started.

The trail was beautiful, weather slightly chilly. A mile in, we got to a stream and joyfully hopped across it. The trail rose gradually and about 4 miles in, we reached the ridge. At the ridge, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and the surrounding forest was serene. We saw some animal footprints in the snow and wondered what animal it was. At this point, Madhu started complaining that he was feeling some pain in the right knee. But, we thought, the pond is right here, let us get to it quickly and then start back. So, onward we marched. We got to the pond by 4 pm. The pond is spectacularly beautiful, framed by the ridge on the left, Mt Osceola in the front and the forest on the right. We spent some time at the pond, took in the sights and then headed back. As we got back up the ridge, Madhu complained that the pain in his knee was increasing. It was about 5 pm by now and it had started getting dark. Madhu picked up a stick and we hurried down the path. Few minutes later, Madhu’s knee was jamming up, and his second knee was also now in pain. Soon enough, Madhu was not able to bend either of his knees, had sticks in both his hands and was waddling like a duck. On top of it, it had suddenly gotten very dark. We were shocked, ‘it is so dark so early’. We were obviously not prepared to hike in the dark. Thankfully, earlier in the day at our pit stop in Lincoln, I had bought a flashlight on a whim not knowing that we would need it the same day. So, there we were, 3 hikers with one flashlight, waddling down the trail wondering when we will get to the road. But first, off course, the stream. We got to the stream and found that the water in the stream had doubled by now. Some of the rocks we had hopped over earlier were now underwater. I was pretty sure that Madhu was going to take a dunking in the water but some-how he managed to balance himself and got over the stream. It was only a short distance now. When we finally got to the trailhead and heaved a sigh of relief, we were greeted by a most spectacular night sky. I have never ever seen as many stars in the night sky as that evening. The whole sky was bejeweled and glittering like a bride at her wedding. After taking in the sky, we hurried to the CVS in Lincoln and then straight onwards to Boston. You bet, the Aloo Paratha at Punjab restaurant in Arlington tasted heavenly that night.

Have a holly jolly Christmas and happy new year. I would love to hear what memories the season brings for you. Write back when you get a chance.

Thanks,

Kapil

Our Thanksgiving Tradition

Our Thanksgiving Tradition

Hello Everyone,

Hope you had a great thanksgiving with family and loved ones. Is there something special that you did this time? Do you have a family tradition for thanksgiving? I am from India where we don’t have Thanksgiving. However, living in US, we are fast evolving our own thanksgiving tradition. Every year, we as a family like to take some time off and spend the holiday enjoying the great outdoors in America. That is what we have been upto this week. Myself and a friend hiked into the Grand Canyon down the Bright Angle Trail to the Plateau Point for some glorious views of the river and the inner gorge. I loved seeing all the beautiful flora and fauna on the Tonto Trail and saw some mountain goats high up the canyon slopes. Earlier this week, my 3 year old daughter surprised all of us by hiking 4 miles in the Red Rock State Park. Not once did she complain about being tired or needing to be picked up!! And, we spent Thanksgiving scrambling over some Granite rocks in Prescott. Today, we are headed back to the Grand Canyon to watch the night sky. It has been one amazing week.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well. I would love to hear how you got to spend the holiday. Write back when you get a chance. Enjoy some pics in the meantime.

Thanks,

Kapil

How to slow down time?

Dear Readers,

It has been a long time since I wrote anything and we last got in touch. There was so much to write about but I never got around to doing it. There are so many Liberia stories which still need to be told. In addition, my life has seen lot of change in the 2.5 years since the last post. I have had a beautiful daughter who is a source of eternal joy to me and my wife and I left my job to start a new company. Changing diapers while trying to figure out the nuts & bolts of building a company and while steadily going bankrupt is a highly fun, stressful and chaotic activity. It has been fun to do conference calls discussing plans for world conquest with a wailing baby in one hand providing background soundtrack. I feel that I can legitimately claim to have some idea of the life of a single mom. In short, life in the last 2 years has not been short of drama and things to write about but the mental space has certainly been in short supply.

Anyhow, I am hoping to change it and start writing more. The posts now are going to be more diverse in character and draw upon my experiences as an entrepreneur and a dad. They are going to be less about far away places and more about the far away states of mind that lie within us. With that long backgrounder, let us get started.

As I spend my days running after my daughter, Kamakshi, it is fun to notice and think about the differences between the life of an adult and a child. We, the adults, keep talking about meditation and esoteric terms like ‘mindful living’ as ways to deal with daily stresses. Most often we don’t really know what ‘mindful living’ actually means or how to go about it. When I look at my child, I suddenly understand what ‘mindful living’ is. She has no conception of yesterday or tomorrow and spends no time thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. She is fully engaged in the world around her right now, be it the Northern Cardinal or Koel cooing in the background or the fire brigade passing by. Running after a fluttering butterfly or watching a caterpillar eat a leaf is a source of tremendous joy. A few days ago when we went out in our backyard in Florida, she showed me a black & yellow grasshopper. I had never seen that grasshopper before and after she showed me one, I suddenly realized that our backyard was full of them. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/lubber.htm. It actually shocked me and I realized how much life is around us, living right under our nose, but we never even see it. That is when I realized that the child actually lives in this world while we, the adults, live in our minds. ‘Mindful living’ is nothing but beginning to live like a child and engage with our natural world and the here and now and disengage with our incessant chattering mind.

The engagement of Kamakshi with the world led me to think about the paradox of how long and vivid our childhood seems to be and how life suddenly speeds up when we become adults. Growing up from 5 to 15 feels like forever but you go from 30 to 40 in the blink of an eye. (I admit to crossing the 40 mark and am still surprised how quickly i got there). Every year from 5-15 is etched in memory but 30-40 is an indistinguishable blur. Again, looking at my child, I realized that everything in the world is new and exciting for her. We were taking a plane to come to India and she was agog with excitement all day. Everything in the airport, the train and the plane was a source of wonder and joy. She kept observing every single detail – the colors, the metallic birds hanging in the terminal, the seats , the sizes of various planes and kept exclaiming, ‘we will sit in the plane and go shooon to India’. I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about anything. And, I wonder if that is the key to the paradox.

When we were young, everything was new, there was a sense of wonder and the thrill of discovery. We didn’t know what to expect and paid attention when something was happening. We didn’t have fixed ideas, instead learnt as new things came up. But, as adults we lose that sense of wonder and behave as if we already know everything.  I have a hunch that it is the loss of this sense of wonder and the lack of attention which makes the time speed up. When I came to US 13 years ago, it was completely new to me. Me and my wife were broke graduate students but just the simple act of walking through town and discovering new streets was a joy. It was like a second childhood and we have very vivid memories of simple things like taking a bus to the Middlesex Fells just outside Boston. The memories of those first 2 years are much stronger compared to the memories of next 10 years when we got a car and had more money to go to far off places.

So, coming to the question in the title of the post, how do we make the time slow down? I think that it is easy – be more like children, learn new things, do things which you have never done before, things which interest you and, more than anything else, pay attention and the time will slow down and we will make some memories that will last a lifetime.

Thanks,

Kapil

P:S – I think that it is the same thing which makes entrepreneurship exciting. Contrary to what most entrepreneurs outwardly say, the reality is that you actually don’t know what you are doing. Trying to figure out your path in the fog of ambiguity is what actually makes entrepreneurship fun. If you already knew everything before you started, it would be so boring.