GHCI 2018- Insider look

As I boarded my flight to Bengaluru on the early hours of the 14th of November, a little irritable with sleep and grumpy because of the Diwali vacations at home coming to an end, I had little idea of what to expect out of the Grace Hopper Conference that I was about to attend for the first time. I had a schedule marked up on my calendar in advance with the sessions I wanted to attend and the speakers I was excited about. But little did I know that these 3 days would give me a lot more than what I had signed up for!

As we saw the start of the GHCI conference 2018 at the elegant BIEC, the entire room that was filled with delegates representing around 411 companies was abuzz with excitement of what was to follow. The keynotes by Lori Beer- CIO of JPMC and Vaishali Kasture- Founder, Sounder Connect were instrumental in setting the right tune for the coming 2 days of the conference and also gave us some much needed insight and direction into where we, as women need to re-look at some behavioral patterns that instinctively come to us. While Lori spoke about dreaming big, staying relevant in the ever-changing tech industry, owning your career and the importance of identifying and projecting your brand; Vaishali shared her experiences of dealing with bias and the “Art of Selling” and networking in everyday life with Optimism as a force multiplier. Both the keynotes had the audiences rasp with attention and also raised a lot of questions in their minds which led to a very fruitful post session Q&A and discussion. The room was also addressed by Geetha Kannan- MD, Anita B.Org India, Jackie Copeland- COO, Anita B.Org- both of whom stressed on the need to make it to 50-50 by 2025 in terms of parity at the workplace and K.J George, the minister of IT in Karnataka. After all this, just as we had started stirring with all the information we had just received, we were hit with a gripping performance by ‘Urshas’ dance troupe, with the central theme of women who are constantly multitasking, yet, project that enchanting enigma that encompasses all. The dancers beautifully represented the strong and the delicate aspects of feminine energy. As a perfect closure of the conference day 1, we saw women who are living the dream and running successful companies across various disciplines getting rewarded for their efforts in an elaborate award ceremony for women entrepreneurs. This added the right touch of inspiration to the already motivated audience and everyone left the room with their own takeaways, eager for what was to follow in the upcoming days.

GHCI v team

Few GHCI V-Team members at the Microsoft booth

Microsoft Booth

See No Limits thought board at the Microsoft G3 Booth

Day 2 started with a session on understanding how the brain works. The speaker spoke about the cognitive processes in the brain and how they influence strong emotions and things like attention, negative thoughts. The expo had started off in parallel and the delegates were all set for a field day of demos and pitching for their respective products. The Microsoft booth had started buzzing with activity from the early hours itself with the Hololens demo being a huge hit among everyone. The tracks were interesting, spanning across design, infrastructure, machine learning, etc. One of the sessions that was highly impactful was “Inclusive design and technology for accessibility”, where the speaker- Swami Manohar from Microsoft Research, spoke about checking exclusion, mental dimensions and learning from diversity to design for all. The session was made even more relevant by an ISL interpreter, who was parallelly translating every statement in sign language. We gained more insight into the psyche of the vision and hearing impaired people and that designing for them shouldn’t involve thinking of them as any lesser. He also introduced us to the products that the research team are coming up with for accessibility. Some of them are: 1. CodeTalk- Visual Studio for blind programmers by incorporating speech to cursor functionality. 2. VG4VI- Video Games for the visually impaired, which incorporates audio description, spatial audio and body scan for alignment. 3. Headtracking and Gesture recognition. In a nutshell, the session focused on the following virtues: Accessibility. Enablement. Empowerment. The next session I attended was an extension of the previous topic- “Designing products that people will love” where we had a panel of 3 successful women who had shared their stories of what they kept in mind while designing and developing their respective products. The icing on the cake was the role play session by “Yours Truly” theatre group, where they explained the importance of assertiveness and making yourself heard at the workplace. They had a very engaging session with the actors performing a scene and the audience being called up on stage to enact what they would have changed had they been in the same position.

yours truly

Your’s Truly theatre group performing their piece

After all the madness and fun at GHCI finally came to an end on Day 3 and I remember smiling as the novel I was reading on the airplane on my way back home about a quadriplegic with some references to his tryst with everyday chores made even more sense to me now after the session on accessibility on Day 1. I remember trying to think up solutions to his challenges along the lines of what was taught in the session. “Do not sympathize, empathize” was at the top of my mind as the speaker had called out in the session when someone had suggested making the video games for the visually impaired with a slower pace. “Just because a person is differently abled does not mean they want gaming made easier for them. They want to compete like an equal”.  Most of Day 3 was spent at the expo, with me trying my hand at the quizzes and attempting to win the amazing goodies that were at display. The session by Arjuna awardee swimmer Nisha Millet was a useful lesson on how sportspersons thrive on pressure and manage to keep their cool even in the worst situations. She told us the importance of discipline, planning and visualizing goals, prioritization, handling bias, etc. and spoke about how she faced her fears with swimming after a scarring incident she faced as a child. She ended her session with a quote by Winston Churchill- “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”.

nisha millet

Nisha Millet on thriving under pressure like a sportsperson

Finally, after all the learning, we had some time to let our hair down and show the Microsoft spirit to everyone at the crowded expo. The flash mob was a definite crowd puller followed by the human train by the delegates around the expo area. I can safely say that we had one of the most crowded booths of all with students, delegates from other companies and entrepreneurs alike. In closure, I’ll just leave you with the lyrics of Sia’s unstoppable anthem.

I put my armor on, show you how strong how I am
I put my armor on, I’ll show you that I am

I’m unstoppable
I’m a Porsche with no brakes
I’m invincible
Yeah, I win every single game
I’m so powerful
I don’t need batteries to play
I’m so confident, yeah, I’m unstoppable today

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A love story of it’s kind

He sat by the coffee table, wearing his best shirt and her favorite cologne, he had ensured that every crease was ironed perfectly, singing their song while he was at it and thinking of the last time he had seen her before he left for unknown soil.. She had gifted him this shirt and cried in his arms, and he, in a moment of weakness had reconsidered the decision to leave… but today, so many years later, he was a proud man!

I had everything but this, he thought to himself. This was the purpose he burned the night lamp and studied, this was the reason he cut down on expenses and risked being called a miser by his university mates, this was why he researched night and day for the best job and used all possible networks to get through… many said he was wrong, but he saw the day beyond all this, and that day was today, albeit with a shadow of darkness..

He looked down at the gold watch he got her as a gift and imagined all her possible reactions.. “Oh my god! This is so expensive!!”, “I really didn’t need this”, “Please return it…”.. he smiled silently as he closed his eyes against the welling tears, the overwhelming emotions getting hold of him as he tried to fight them back, along with the guilt of not being with her on that tiring flight, not reading into her words and the well kept secret earlier and leaving everything and going back, stabbing him in the heart.

The announcement for the flight arrival broke him out of his thoughts and he ran, camera in tow, not wanting to miss a single moment as his mother arrived. She was weaker, with a thin cloth tied over her head to hide the damage done by chemotherapy, nurse in tow.. he remembered her strong voice over the phone telling him she would manage the travel alone with the nurse as she now timidly looked around for him. She wanted to see the life he was living, and he wanted to make this the best trip of her life.

The tree in my backyard

The wind blew wild, maybe because it carried your scent

That sweet-pungent fragrance of gloom and detest

Something I loved to bask in, to brood over in agony when the devil sat to work

And romanticize that my secret separated me from the rest

 

For no one could have crusaded the path I took, none could have endured the long wait

The lone tree in my backyard swayed in agreement, having stood through it all, reinstating my faith

 

Eventually I guess it was all meant to be…

 

For months ago, when I planted the sapling on you, I wondered if a tree would ever see the light of the day

And now it peered at me through my open window, as the gale blew your scent into my room

Engulfing me in the comfort of your coveted doom

 

Taking me back to vulnerability when all I wanted was to be brave

Tonight, though, I had to give in and let myself be led

To you, lying under the tree, in your early grave

 

And the wind blew wild, maybe because it carried your scent

That sweet-pungent fragrance of gloom and detest

All That Matters…

Her feet were tired, but the heart yearned for more,

The mattress held her captive, soothing all that was sore.

But alas! she had a dancer’s mind-

That wouldn’t seek rest without perfection…

Pain was just a sweet lullaby,

that silenced the demons shattering through her core.

 

A sole leg tore away from the blankets,

Almost like a war cry…

And in a flash she was up,

tucking the t-shirt in place while hunting for a hair tie.

 

One move followed the other, like the mindless symphony of waves.

Her shimmy was sharp, cutting through the nocturnal melancholy; her hands were a masterpiece painted with grace

 

And tonight, anything that would stir up in the imperfect universe that she had renounced hours before…

Would have to wait for it would hardly matter anymore.

Distant Mother

I opened the door and silently sneaked in… There she lay, in all her beauty, unaffected by the world around her. I made an effort to be wary of the slightest noise around- knowing she was a light sleeper. But how could one not be mesmerized out of his or her senses after seeing such distressed innocence! It was comical yet touching to me how I featured in all her bed time prayers, all the little secret letters she wrote to god, all her drawing assignments at school- even though she had barely even seen me. My heart ached to hold her just once, and cry for we could never be the complete family we both somewhere secretly ached to be.

For now, sadly, I just had to make do with these silent conversations once in a while that soothed my fire-lit, yet cold soul. How I longed to put her to sleep on my lap and caress her beautiful soft hair like all the other mothers did!

I remembered the time I had first held her as a baby, remembered her first steps, her first smile, like it was all only yesterday! These were the only figments of memory I had that I could hold on to…. That gave some purpose to my otherwise pointless existence… I could trade each and every ounce of my being only to experience the beautiful amalgamation of joy and pain I felt that night.

I wished this one-way rendezvous would never end, and the dark corner of her room seemed like the coziest place in the world to me but dawn had broken already and it was time to go back to the lonely grave I called home now.

In Between

The streets were lonely and dark as he sat on the divider, a mere reflection of himself.  Why did she have to leave him like that, he wondered amidst peals of self pity, the numerous sleepless nights stinging his eyes. He wandered around for a bit and settled down where he was bound. Tonight was the night years ago- when it had all ended- where he had lost her forever. The memory still came back to stab him in the heart almost everyday but sadly that was the only thing left to hold on to.

Time had lost track now as everything went by in a haze. There were occasions where a sudden glimpse or a memory would instantly transport him back to those days and by the time he got ruthlessly thrown back to the present, hours would have passed- sometimes even weeks. This phase of being “incomplete” seemed to last forever and his existence begged for closure of some kind.

The doomed drive that night- why did it have to happen! The fight, the disclosure of her infidelity. It still hurt- even after all these years! Only if he hadn’t lost control of the wheel along with his temper, his plight would have been different today.

He stood and pictured the remains of the battered vehicle near this very divider like he saw it that day- when she was taken to the hospital and he was taken home, wrapped in white. The memory still came back to stab him almost everyday but sadly that was the only thing left to hold on to.

Horror Story

An eerie silence filled the room as the pawn on the Ouija board moved in response to the questions. The tension was building up as people exchanged nervous glances, the candlelight casting their shadows on the walls. Every small sound and the slightest hint of movement accounted for a skipped heartbeat. They had not even come to the serious part and she was already repenting her decision of sitting near the window. The sudden wafts of cool breeze grazing the back of her neck occasionally on a warm summer night made it scarier. No one else seemed as scared as her though- She found out why soon enough when everyone else burst into peals of laughter. She was not amused. These were not things to be played around with-she argued, and left the room in a fit.

Walking back home at this unearthly hour was an ordeal, even though she lived right down the street. Even after knowing that all this was just a stupid prank, in her head, she had somehow messed with the supernatural- Something she had been curious about but too scared to investigate or get involved in all her life. And the icing on the cake was her having to stay alone at home that night with all her roommates out of town. She pulled the sling bag tighter across her chest as she paced quickly by the grim looking tree. It was weird how everything transformed in to prospective demonic objects in the moonlight. There was a low thud in the background. “If you look behind when a ghost is following you, they possess you easily”- her grandmother had said once in one of her fairy tales. Her heart almost stopped, and her throat choked so bad- she thought she lost her voice. She couldn’t make out whether the footsteps she heard apart from her own were for real or a figment of her imagination. The idea of turning and bolting back to the friend’s place paralyzed her with the fear of facing something she dreaded. She pushed the gate, that felt cold and solid against her palm, bringing in a sense of relief that she had finally reached home.

Little did she know that reality indeed had a ghost in store for her. She walked in to face him- cold and vicious, with a knife snuck into the back of his belt- which he used without batting an eyelid on being caught red handed. There was no place she could run or hide in that cursed moment, where the fears that lay outside were defeated forever.

 

 

 

 

The Owlhead

There were stories about her, no one knew where she came from and where she lived… Few said they had seen her sleep under the huge banyan tree near that old dilapidated library building, from where eerie noises came at night and no one dared going to after it was dark.

During daytime, she would sit silently in one corner of the road with a red cloth in front of her, and a doll on her lap, which belonged to her dead daughter, oblivious to all that was being said about her. A semi-transparent dupatta covered her head, that only partially revealed the huge kohl-rimmed eyes. She did not beg, she did not get up till dusk, and then, she just disappeared with whatever alms or food people kept in front of her through the day.

On one hand, she was fuel to many a lurking stories in the neighborhood- the result of idle minds and hyper imaginations… Someone said they had heard her singing one day to the doll and talking to it. The doll was possessed and talked back. The elderly said that she had killed her own child and the spirit was in the doll. The media combined the two stories and created a third story and flashed it on television. They branded her the “owlhead”, because of her huge eyes. Kids never even wandered near her-she was the boogie man for many a frustrated parents who just couldn’t put them naughty children to bed and desperately wanted a character to scare them with.

While on the other hand, she was just someone who was driven to borderline insanity by her very own people in her very own faraway little village who thought she did not deserve a life after everything and everyone she loved had perished in a fire and she was the only one unlucky enough to survive and be called a witch and be held responsible for everything. Running away from that place was an inevitable reaction more than an option. Landing here was an unforeseen occurrence, and survival was the only way ahead.

She was glad that she had found an empty space near the library building, where the street lights were ample and the huge tree shielded her from nature’s wrath. The huge tassels that hung from the branches initially scared her, making weird shadows on the ground next to where she slept, but she knew this was the safest place for her. People feared her appearance, and that kept her safe from getting into trouble with drunk goons lurking out at night and the resident territorial tramps who would terrorize and drive away anyone else who trespassed. She did not intend to harm anyone, but she did not want to be harmed as well, and hence she would put up the acts and make an effort to dress up like that- she knew people would mess with everything, but not some thing associated with the supernatural.

Today she does not sit at her spot, and the old library building has been pulled down, but the stories of the owlhead continue, and no one goes near the banyan tree at night.

 

The Walking Stick

The bony hands traced clear letters on the mud as the old man sat at his usual spot… on the bare ground under the huge mango tree, waiting for his grandson to come and pick him up. He seemed a little upset at being made to wait so long, though the sound of any car approaching made him look up expectantly, but he knew the kid would get late. He had other priorities in life too and the fact that he made an effort to come and pick him up everyday after his evening walk on his way back from work was a big deal in itself. This routine at least gave him some quality time with his only grandchild who was naturally, the apple of his eye.

“Why do you always do this! Why can’t you just sit on the benches and wait for me?”  The boy stood miffed in front of him as he looked up from the artwork and flashed a toothless grin. Even if it was in this way, he was sure that these little conversations, and his childish antics were what his little one would remember when he was gone, and he would probably tell his friends, hopefully with a slight tear. “Did you see what I wrote?” he asked, almost breathless, trying to keep up with the young man’s pace. “Yes, it was my name, but you spelled it wrong” the latter chided playfully, opening the front door of the car and helping him in. “Dada where’s your walking stick?” The reply was a moody shrug, “I spelt it right only… It’s a proper noun” Knowing that there was no use of arguing over this, Samarth raised the music volume only to his grandfather lowering it again… “My heart feels restless today, I don’t think it can handle your music”. Taking a deep breath and trying not to lose his cool, he drove on, while the old man rummaged in his handy bag for something, “I got you a chocolate… remember the one I used to bring home every evening? I didn’t know they still sell these” Samarth smiled, this made him nostalgic… he remembered running to the door as a little boy, and looking up at his grandfather’s pocket as he, without fail, pulled out the much awaited bar of chocolate everyday….They had really grown apart over the years, he thought. He looked sideways and saw his dada in a peaceful slumber. The rest of the short journey went by without a word.

He parked the car, still lost in the memories and walked in to see a lot of visitors. His company lay in the hallway under a white sheet, with everyone around mourning. A void filled his head as he half heard someone say that he had an attack while walking in the park, and he resisted the people reaching out to him and trying to console him. This was impossible…this couldn’t be true. He ran back to the car, and then to the park, his brain numb, his heart slowly coming to terms with what had happened. The pick up spot didn’t hold his incorrectly spelled name, but he did find the walking stick.

A dance in the rain

In a world of ideal relationships, theirs was a total misfit. Even their laughter had a tinge of guilt and awkwardness associated to it. Awkwardness of not being sure what was it that was between them, if this was it, or was there something else that destiny had in store. Yet, none of them spoke a word. No one questioned when the other got a call at 3 AM in the night… no one questioned the texts that separated them miles away even though they just sat across each other at the dinner table. The mechanical birthdays and anniversaries had the alarm clock ringing off at 12 AM, the sudden surge of affection, followed by the expected surprise the next day. There was absolutely never an impulsive decision made amidst all the meticulous calculations and planning. Nothing felt amiss, this was how everyone around was, this was the way it was meant to be.

There was almost never a story to tell, and all the responsibilities and obligations made it ever more impossible to create one.

It was not that they wouldn’t want to have it any other way, just that a dance in the rain was never given a thought.

Disgraced in honor

Does it even matter anymore that the dapper young man had many suitors in the small town he hailed from, a lot of them way more accomplished, yet ready to sacrifice all for the killer looks and effortless charm. The already well-to-do family though did not seem as interested in him, as much as they were in the return on investment he would get them. He was well aware of this, but he smiled to the mirror everyday as her thought came brushing past. He was of the blessed kind who could stop people in their tracks, make women turn around for seconds when he crossed their paths, while their insecure better halves reconsidered losing that extra inch of tummy, and yet he was humble enough to make anyone and everyone who knew him feel like they owned it.

But all this was not for showcase. He was on blinders for the lady who had been, at one point, the little neighbor girl with two pigtails for whom he saved his share of chocolates, the brash, college-going crack head who got into trouble all the time, and now the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.  There was, however, too much of convincing to do, since the family was not exactly pleased with his prospective bride; even calling her a witch, who had used the supernatural to get him under her wing, plus it really mattered that she was dark and belonged to a lower sect of society. Eloping was the last resort, but now they had begun seriously considering it. He wasn’t as educated as her, worked at a garage during the day and ran small errands by night. She was a pre-school teacher, and fought almost every day to get out of the house for the money because she knew they would need it someday when all would be against them. Both knew the destination, it was only the route that led to it that was blurred out by the rules of the society.

But as fate would have it, they had had enough of it one day, and decided to figure it out anyway. There was a plan, there were hard earned savings. There was hope, there was gut wrenching anxiety, there were plan B’s as well. The motive was to go as far away as possible from everything, but what the plan lacked was the manipulation of the extreme repercussions of the heinous crime they were about to commit.

But the fear of what’s ahead doesn’t faze them today when the dream sleeps with them as they lay on the wet ground, motionless, fallen prisoners of honor. No, It does not matter anymore.