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Atomic Essays by KP

Short, easy-to-read essays for busy humans.

#66 Choose happiness over sacrifice

When I grew up, mom never used to join us for breakfast or dinner. She'll be busy in the kitchen cooking for me and dad. Her logic was the breadwinner of the family and the kid should eat first and they should eat it while it's hot and fresh. She'll eat after we finish eating. I always hated the idea. As I grew up I tried to reason with her, said we could all eat together. But she never listened. She used to say that this is how women are suppose to be. I don't blame her. She was conditioned that way by her parents and the society.

The very definition of a woman meant sacrifice according to our so called 'ancestors'. Today, women are building successful careers and yet they're forced upon to follow the 'imaginary family women guide' - the imaginary guide that has lessons like 'a home maker should put other's needs before hers' or 'she should even be ready to serve a portion of her food to her husband or kid because their happiness is our happiness', etc.

I disagree. I believe that at some level, rules like these bring inequality right from our homes.

How long will women be happy from making others happy! They can instead be happy doing what they please, by eating their portion of the meal while its hot, and by having a meal together as a family. They don't have to please the nameless ancestors or the rest of the society.

After I got married, I came to know that my wife felt the same way about this issue, so we decided to change a few things. We made sure that the three of us (I, my wife and mom) eat at least two meals together. It doesn't matter if the food isn't hot! We wait until everybody is present at the dinner table. And we split the portions equally. Nobody gets special treatment. Everyone is equal when it comes to family.

I know it isn't much. But, we can only do what we can and one step at a time.

Sacrifice is a great virtue. It should happen because of love and not because someone said something a thousand years ago.

#65 Friendships die because of assumptions

We make a lot of friends. But most of them fizzle out during the course of time. This happens because of several reasons.

Unsaid words - There is build up of several opinions about the other person for a long time. We keep it to ourselves to a point and we stop hanging out. The other person would try their best to connect and will eventually give up.

Life happens - We go on our own paths, fighting our own battles, we forget to get in touch with those who are close to us. At one point everybody gets busy and we end up being alone.

Reason unknown - Some times, your friend stops speaking to you all of a sudden. No warnings. No conversations. No fights either. They stop hanging out just like that. I've lost a lot of friends that way. Till now, I don't know the reason they stopped hanging out.

But despite all this, some hold on. They pursue, annoy, follow-up, fight and force their way into our lives and make it better. Because they know us better. They know we need their company even if we think we don't. They love the parts we hate in ourselves.

The two biggest mistakes we make when it comes to friendship are 1) we assume friendships are easy and 2) We assume things about the other person instead of talking to them.

So, we don't try enough to hold on to our friends. We think we can make new friends. It's not as easy as it sounds. Good friends are hard to come by.

Celebrate the friends who stood/stand by you at all times. Have a problem with your friend? Didn't like them for something? Say it. Don't walk away. Instead, give them a chance to make things right. Giving and receiving genuine feedback makes you both a better person and a better friend.

And, take a minute to appreciate them for being in your life. Say it. Out loud! They deserve to know.

#64 The Promise I Made To My Bike

I bought my bike - a Discover 100 DTS-Si under difficult circumstances.

Even though I was working a full-time job, most of my salary went into re-paying the educational loan, paying bills, and managing the family expenses.

And a year later, I had to quit my job to do my master's degree and my pocket money for a whole month was ₹800. So, I never had a lot of money for fuel. I'll fill petrol for ₹50 and drive around. I never filled petrol beyond the reserve point. My bike always ran on reserve fuel back then.

Before starting the bike, I used to gently shake it, and listen to the sound of petrol crashing against the inside of the tank to know how much fuel was left.

Despite my best efforts, my bike ran out of fuel several times. But it never left me stranded in a random place. My bike would either run out of fuel in front of my house or in front of a petrol bunk. Every. Single. Time.

I still have no explanation on how it happened.

It was one of those days I promised my bike that once I start making enough money, I'll never let my bike get to the reserve point. And I started to keep my promise soon after. I switched to another bike five years back, but the promise I made to my Discover still continues.

Every living and non-living thing on this planet is made up of the same atoms. And, I believe all the objects in this world share a connection. Doesn't matter if it is a fellow human or a machine. The connection we share is genuine. I guess I had a such connection with my bike. It understood the situation I was in and managed to save my ass every single time.

#63 Anything But Lucky

I recently met a friend from college. We were en route to meet a few other friends, and we started catching up. “What do you do now?”, she asked. I said, “I handle product marketing for an enterprise software company”. Her reply was, “so, you work in IT?”

Even though we studied Biotechnology, a good chunk of us moved to IT and other jobs.

“Yes…I work in IT, but in a non-IT job”, I replied.

And that is when it struck me. I always wanted to be part of the tech space, but in a non-technical role. And I'm exactly doing that. It brought back memories of a row I once had with my environmental engineering lecturer during the third year of college.

Campus placements were around the corner and he said, “The only way to make it in life is by getting hired as a software engineer.” Associate software engineer was all the rage back then. I said, “It can't be the only way. I would work as anything but a software engineer”.

I had nothing against software engineering. In fact, I don't even know what software engineers do. But, I knew one thing for sure. Becoming a software engineer is not the only way to make it in life. Hearing my response the lecturer said “In that case, you won't get any other job. The only job you'll get is selling pirated CDs.”

I said, “Let's see”.

It's been 13 years and I've spent 8 years of it as a technical writer and marketer. And every day I work with software engineers. I'm glad I didn't become one. It is a tough job. And, I don’t have the skills to become a good engineer. If I had listened to others and landed a job on campus, I would've had a job. But, I wouldn’t have grown much. I was incredibly lucky to land a role in writing during my early years. And I’ve loved every day of it since then. Disproving my lecturer was just a bonus.

#62 Annachi Kadai Rasna Packet

I've heard so much from my mom and others about Chennai's weather. When I came here with my parents in 1999, I realized every bit of what I heard was true. The summer heat was unbearable and I was often amazed to see people in the city walking like it was nothing. And, the worst part was the weather remained unchanged for a good six to seven months.

We lived in an independent house and we beat the heat by sprinkling water on the terrace during evenings to wade off the heat and by keeping all the windows open for the entire night. We were always one step away from a power cut which could ruin our sleep for the entire night.

The only saving grace was the neighborhood 'annachi kadai' that sold rasna packets - flavored beverages sold in small plastic bags for a cheaper price. Back then everything right from drinking water to buttermilk was sold as packet versions. Whenever the weather becomes unbearable, my mom used to get 2 rupees to treat me with a rasna packet.

The annachi, who wore a white vest and a lungi almost every day, used to give me a rasna packet in return for that 2 rupees. I used to sit on the steps of the shop under the shade, bite off of the corners of the plastic packet, and sip the ice-cold drink. It used to momentarily transport me to a better place. Rasna packets were our go-to drink back then. It was the drink of daily laborers, traveling salesmen, kids who played cricket, fruit sellers, and middle-class households who can't afford an air conditioner to cool themselves.

Things have changed a lot since then. But, nothing can beat the pleasure of biting off the piece of plastic and sipping the artificially flavored fruit juice that kept me and a bunch of middle-class people alive during the Chennai summer.

#61 There is more to a car

My favorite pastime these days is having lunch in my car. I buy takeaway from a random biriyani shop, park my vehicle under a tree on some random road, turn up the AC, and eat the biriyani from the back seat of my car while listening to RJ Balaji's 'Naalana murukku' podcast.

A car to me is more than a vehicle. It is my personal space. An extension of my home. My ticket to freedom. Truth be told, outside of my home, I am my true self when I am in my car. I put on my favorite song and sing along as I drive through the empty roads. I drive to faraway tea shops at 5 AM in search of good medhu vada. I park my car at random places across the city to read pages from my Kindle. And, I've shared many amazing conversations with my wife during our drive to the beach.

A car lets you experience summer without too much sweating and rain without getting drenched. It takes you to new destinations - places that have been on your list for too long and sometimes to places that aren't on your list. It's a serendipity machine. It brings you in contact with new culture, people, and some amazing restaurants. If not for my car, I wouldn't have explored the beautiful lanes of Karaikudi, the pristine beaches of Gokarna, the marvelous ruins of Hampi, and the scenic roads of Mannavanur.

A car sees you at your best and your worst. And, it stands by you no matter what. This might sound silly, but a car eventually becomes your friend. A loyal one. I know it's just a machine and it is bound to be replaced. But, to love them and care for them as long as they're yours is the respect you give to the machine for everything it's done and doing for you.

#60 The vibe of Middle-class bars

I think about the weirdest things when I'm out on a walk. This time I thought about beer. "Some beer and fried chicken would be nice" I told myself. I then ignored the thought and continued walking. I stopped a few hundred meters from home to catch my breath. I looked up at the sky, but a neon signage blocked my view. The signage said "bar". It was a message from the universe.

I listen to the universe. So, I went in and took the corner table. The bar was empty, cold, and the entire place was filled with dull blue light. The place did not have a DJ, but had TVs playing songs from Isaiaruvi. It reminded me of Roshini gym which used to play songs from Sun music to motivate us.

I ordered beer and a plate of chicken 65 (Fried chicken wasn't on the menu). The waiter brought in a bottle of Carlsberg and poured it in a mug for my convenience. He also served small quantities of boiled kabuli chana, potato chips, some salad, fryumms, and rasa vada. They came free with every order, he said. The service was decent, the food was great, and I ended up having a good time.

Low-end bars are filled with lungi clad men, crushed plastic glasses, walls filled with hologram stickers from bottle caps, dirty tables, and spicy foods. High-end bars on the other hand are too clean, too expensive, and has a menu that you can't understand even while you're sober.

Middle class bars are the hidden havens of every city. You can spot them in every area. They are often situated on the first or second floors, have tinted windows, and a bright neon signage. They're nice, affordable, and let you drink at peace. A perfect place for the middle class crowd to wind down and have a good time. Nobody bothers you. They smile at you. Make small talk for a while and go back to having their drink. A nice place to escape reality and enjoy your own company.

#59 Having babies doesn't make you previleged

This is a rant. The small 'bhavan' restaurant was full by the time I and Suba settled in our seats. The waiters were frantically moving between tables noting down and delivering orders. We asked for the specials and placed our order.

A minute later, an elderly couple walked in with their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson who was not more than three years old. Since there were no seats, the family sat in the empty seats. The old man in the family waltzed to our table and asked his wife to sit next to my wife and he sat in the seat next to me. No permission was asked. No apologies were made.

He called for the waiter twice and then started shouting at him. The waiter said "Sir, let me serve water to other tables and I'll take your order". The old man replied "We have a baby! The baby needs food! You need to take care of that first!" He was rude to the waiter. The waiter patiently replied "I understand sir. Please give me a minute." for which the old man's reply was "No! I need you to take the order now!" He started making a scene. The manager then rushed in and took the order.

Having a baby doesn't give you the privilege to cut lines, boss around people, and be rude to them. I've seen it in a lot of places where parents and grandparents fighting with others, asking to put their kids first.

If you're planning to going out on a weekend and know its going to be late, you must be prepared. Come to the restaurant early. Or pack a snack. Screaming at an elderly waiter who is single-handedly trying to serve forty people at once isn't manners.

Always remember that the world doesn't work for us. Did it work the way you and I wanted? No, right? We always had to wait for our turn. The same applies to our kids as well. This way, they don't get shocked when things don't work in their favor later when they grow up.

#58 No experience is Irrelevant

Money - that's the only thing I thought about in 2013. I realized I was dependent on my parents for too long. So, I started saying "Yes" to creative assignments. I didn't know any skill. But, I was confident that I can learn anything over a weekend. And, most times I did.

The first time someone asked me if I can design a short film poster, I said yes. I also said I would deliver it in two days. But, I didn't know how to design a short film poster. I learned the basics of Photoshop over a weekend and delivered the poster on the said date. The client was happy. Two day later, I got another order from his friend.

I repeated the same framework and it helped me a great deal in my 20s. I've designed short film posters and logos, worked as a travel and wedding photographer,  and wrote ad copies and short stories as a freelancer. All these gigs paid me well. As a bonus, they gave me a great deal of life experience.

Today, as a marketer, I still use those skills to communicate better. Whenever I have an idea, I am able to communicate 100% of it with people I work with - in the form of mockups, storyboards, or wireframes. Sometimes, I don't wait for others to design a marketing collateral. I roll up my sleeves and design it myself. I was reading "Pour your heart into it" by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, recently and I came across an interesting quote to which I was able to relate instantly.

“Every experience prepares you for the next one. You just don’t ever know what the next one is going to be.”

No experience is irrelevant. If you have the chance to learn something new and exciting, do it without questioning too much about where would it fit on your resume. It would fit in, some day.

#57 The Sunset Constant

New cities can be overwhelming. The crowd, the culture, the food, the climate, the streets. Too much to take in when you're visiting a place for the first few times. I had a similar experience in Delhi recently. I've been to the city twice (my last visit was in 2016), but the experience this time was different. It wasn't like last time where I spent an entire evening sitting on one of the broken structures of the Hauz Khas fort that overlooked a small pond.

A lot of things were different this time. It looked as if the city got busier. Every part of the city underwent some kind of construction, the visibility wasn't great, and I could see tightly packed high rise buildings occupying every inch of the city. I was there for four days, and on a very tight schedule. It worn me out.

On the last day of the trip, I was half asleep in a van, on my way back to Delhi. I was tired. I badly wanted throw myself on a bed, tug myself under the sheets and sleep for two straight days. It was almost six when the van entered Noida and the sky started changing colors. I saw the sun setting behind the busy city scape. For a moment, I forgot every bit of pain and tiredness I felt and focused my attention on the sunset. It was beautiful.

However new or overwhelming a city can be, watching a sunset makes things better. It reminds us that all of us share the same sky. Irrespective of the city we live in, we're the same people underneath. As the sun fades into the darkness, it calms us down and cools off our anger and frustration towards a new city. It prepares us to see the same city in new light at dawn.

#56 It’s Okay To Be A Hidden House

I take the same walking route every day.

It's been close to a year since we moved to the new place and I pretty much knew all the shops and buildings in my street. But, yesterday I noticed something new on my street.

It was an independent house. A big one. It was hiding amidst the plants and the trees. From the looks of it, I would say it was there for a long time. But, I failed to notice it before. Independent houses have that quality. They hide in plain sight, in the middle of apartments and other high rise buildings. You can't find them until you really pay attention. You can't see them when you go for walks or when you're frantically driving up and down a street looking for an address.

You'll see them only when a moving truck stands in front of the house loading or unloading things, or when someone stands in front of the house. Sometimes we don't realize there was house until we see someone demolishing the house or see an empty piece land all of a sudden. Makes you wonder "What was here all along?"

The sight of the house triggered so many thoughts. A lot of us are like those hidden houses. We hide in plain sight. People walk past us without paying attention or realizing our presence. Our voices go muffled amidst others' loud voices.

But nothing stops those hidden houses from being someone's dream, someone's happiness, and someone's home. The same applies to us.

Being ignored by others doesn't make us any less. We have our own lives which we'd built with our blood, sweat, and tears. We're still someone's love, someone's pride, someone's best employee, someone's best friend or someone's support system.

We can be hidden from the eyes of the outside world. But, those who're destined to find us, will stumble upon us and get to know us. After all, this serendipity is what keeps life mysterious and amazing.

#55 The soul of Cafés

I've acquired a new habit in the recent times. Working out of cafés. After two years of working from home, I realized chaotic environments help me focus better. I was able to focus better when the noise of a crowd played on my headphones. But, then I thought "why play recorded sounds of a crowd when I can actually be some place that has the real crowd?!"

I realized there is a Starbucks five minutes away from where I lived. So, I decided to give it a shot. And, I loved it! The place was well-lit, had Wi-Fi, had high ceilings, decent coffee, and a decent crowd. It's everything I'd wanted and longed for the past two years.

I've worked from different Starbucks outlets since then, but the one close to my home is different. I feel that the place has a character to it.

Cafés have a soul. Have you ever wondered why we end up loving some restaurants or cafés than others? Of course there is the food and the ambience. I think every café has a soul that emits it's own personality. We end up liking a café when we start vibing with it's personality. We feel we belong to that place.

But, seeing through that soul is not easy. A café lets you see through its soul only during off hours - when its empty. Because it is often drowned in a sea of conversations, chatter, gossip, fun, and some drama. In a way, a café suppresses its own personality to give space for others to bring out theirs.

When you're at an empty café, you can hear it speak to you.

For me, more than focus, cafés give me inspiration. Even though I only see people who belong to a certain class, it gives me a chance to observe them. And as a writer, observing people and being around them are crucial for me.

Another reason I love cafés is because they're a bit laid back compared to our traditional 'Bhavans' and 'Vilas' where we're often in a hurry. When you enter a Café, you know you're going to spend a few hours there. I love that. I wish the world had more Cafés.

P.S. This post was ideated and written from a café on an afternoon.

#54 Evolution has been kind to us

Human body is extremely forgiving.

It forgives us of the abuse. It forgives when we have a few too many drinks on a crazy night. It forgives when we overeat in the name of fun and it forgives when we load our system with four times more refined sugar than what our body was built to withstand. It forgives us every single time, and manages to fix itself every time.

Thanks to evolution we are gifted with better survival and immune mechanisms to help us live a long life.

But, we mess it up in our early years. We tell ourselves that it is too soon for something to happen and we take our age for granted.

I'm no saint. I've abused my body calling myself a 'foodie'. There used to be a time where I used to overeat just to feel better. I thought eating was better than smoking or drinking. But, I was wrong. By overeating, I was equally abusing my body and creating damage that is equivalent to smoking or drinking. In order to temporarly fix my mind, I took the route that would potentially damage my body.

A lot of us do this. We think food is the easiest way to feel better. And since it is 'just food', friends and family often don't say much. If left unchecked, overeating could affect us very early in life. From 2001 to 2017, there is a 45.1% increase in type I diabetes and 95.3% increase in type II diabetes among young adults in the US. The trend won't take much time to catch up in time.

But, like I said before, our body is extremely forgiving. The moment we course correct, our body starts fixing itself and becomes healthy again. The key is to be in control of what we eat and how we take care of ourselves. We humans have come this far because of our ability to course correct. This is one more hurdle in a long road ahead of us.

#53 This is the best time to be a consumer

Ten years ago, being a consumer was painful. The auto-rickshaw wala at the airport will ask thousand rupees for a Ten kilometer ride. The shopkeeper would charge a bomb and show us the "Fixed price. No discount." sticker when asked for a discount.

The so called "consumer-centric" economy wasn't so consumer-centric.

We were overbilled. Were charged a bomb for home delivery. Return of items was unheard of. And hefty discounts were never on the cards unless it is an 'Aadi Sale' at one of those stores at T.Nagar. Also getting gold loans at our doorstep or flexibility of paying credit card bills in installments without interest were only a dream.

But, the rise of e-commerce single handedly tilted things in favor of us, the consumers.

Today, we use our phone to get an auto-rickshaw in one minute, get groceries delivered to our doorstep in 10 minutes, get food delivered from our favorite restaurant in under 30 minutes.

Gold loans are given to us at the convenience of our homes and you can now pay your credit card bills in three installments without any extra charges.

Every day, we're given discounts, coupon codes, cashbacks and scratch cards to get the best deal. And the moment we start hating a company, someone else launches a similar company in a month with more coupons, discounts and better customer support.

For the first time in many decades, we're spoilt for choices. Reason? Companies are becoming aware of our buying power. We make the "total addressable market", a term startups use while pitching their idea to convince venture capitalists that there are x million people who would pay $x if given the right discount or cashback.

It's good to feel pampered as a consumer. The only downside is we lose control over our spending. All of a sudden we feel like we want to buy everything.

Master control and this is the best time to be a consumer.

#52 The world doesn't remember

In 2001, the famous Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan reached it's 75th anniversary. In the event of celebrating the remarkable milestone, the magazine organized several contests - poetry, short fiction, nonfiction writing, art, etc.

I read a lot of prize-winning short stories and poems. It was fascinating to see so many talents (including thousands of others who participated but didn't win)

What happened to those amazing stories? They have been forgotten. Readers wouldn't have saved copies of those magazines except the magazine office and the writers who got published. The rest of the copies would've been sent for recycling.

Also, what happened to those writers? Did all of them make it to the big leagues? Were they able to make a living out of their writing? Are they still struggling? Did they quit writing?

The answers are hard to find. But, we both know that the answer won't be 100% in favor of those creators.

The half-life of someone remembering your work is decreasing every year. Content that was once discussed amongst the audience for a few days is now reduced to a few seconds (Thanks to tweet threads, emails, stories, and reels).

Creators get inspired, work hard, and try unique things for a 10-second attention span from someone who is already on their way to view someone else's creation.Being a creator has become hard with each passing day. The world doesn't remember us. It brings me to the question "Does it make sense to be a creator today? Is it worth putting so much effort and creativity?"

It is if you're creating for yourself and no one else. 'Aaranya Kaandam' fame Thiagarajan Kumararaja says in an interview that he writes a script purely for the pleasure he gets out of it and doesn't care if he couldn't make it into a movie. If you're running behind fame, you'd soon be frustrated seeing how little attention you get from the world. Create for your own pleasure. It doesn't matter if the world doesn't remember.

#51 Money can buy happiness

In India, whenever you decide to buy something - bike, car, or even a house, the first thing Indian parents say is "Will it be easy to clean? How often will you clean it? What if you don't clean it?...". This will be followed by the recollection of everything we've bought till then but not cleaned them enough. They might be suffering from Alzhiemer's or have poor vision. But, it never stops them from remembering the day you've not cleaned your car or spotting a speck of dust on the dashboard.

The same happened to me when I bought my car in 2016. Instead of worrying about my driving skills, my mom was worried about how often will I clean my car! And, being a lazy person, I cleaned the car once every three months. It was a quarterly thing for me. But, expectations were that I clean it every week. Also, every time I cleaned my car, it rained. So, I thought "Why do it twice?". But , I took real care of how my car looked inside. It doesn't smell, have used tissues, or have any garbage. It smelled fresh.

But, nothing stopped my mom. She reminded me to clean the car every weekend and used to scold me every time she got into the car. Also, whenever a shiny looking car passed by, she'd point out and say "I'm really not comfortable traveling in a dirty car". (Ma! We didn't have a car a couple of years back! Let's be grateful. Shall we?) It was a nightmare. Sometimes, it ruined the good mood of a trip.

So, when we moved into a gated society recently, I found a guy who cleaned cars for a small fee. Considering all the crazy things I spend money on, I decided to hire him. He cleans my car everyday (except for Sundays) and cleans the interiors once a month. The car looks clean and shiny now.

A lot of books and quotes say "Money can't buy happiness". But, in my case, it was the opposite. Money brought me happiness and peace of mind.

Woohoo!