Some mundane thoughts from my India trip

I have nothing amazing going on in my life. Just the mundane stuff that makes up a day, a night. Posting pretty and not-always-pretty pictures of my stay in India is fun and I like the likes on social media. But we know this by now that what is pretty to me is not so pretty to anyone else. I find my mother’s face without her dentures, trying to smile while she is crying, very pretty. Her shriveled skin curls up even more into her mouth and she shuts her eyes as she pretends she wants to sleep. She hates the night as she keeps awake. Maybe her life’s mistakes get to her and she wonders why she has to suffer so much. She is a totally new person in the morning reminding me to manage my time differently and also my attitude to things- you won’t believe the advice she continues to give. She is 86 and in great health except her legs that have stopped functioning since the last two years and are now avoiding damage. However, I won’t post pictures of my mother’s many wounds but only the ones that make me smile. The muggu aka rangoli makes her smile. And a house full of people. Fresh puris, aloo and halva make her happy and we had that for New Years Day breakfast. Staying in Hyderabad for four months is a treat but I miss being with my family and kids. It’s like I live in silos that I made to keep things separate. On a day when everyone needs my attention is a difficult one. Wisdom can deny its existence for me for some more time and I am good with that. “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise, the Fool tells King Lear”- said a Renkl in the NYT article my friend Svapna shared with me. It sums up most of the days with my mother except when some crazy infection gets her on an antibiotic and she can’t handle the heat that messes with her stomach lining, the skin scars and some mouth ulcers.

During one of her nap times when I ventured out, I met an auto-rickshaw driver who sweetly chatted up with me right from the moment I got in. You have to bargain your price when you ride an auto in Hyderabad but not so much with Uber. So I bargain with the auto guys down to the last tenner and feel good when I get my way. But I never give them a tip. The very American-Uber has forced a tip and also “peak-fares” which means the market decides how much more we need to shell out to Uber guys when it’s more effort to be in traffic and when the demand is high. I refused to easily give that same peak-fare or a tip to the auto guys. Yesterday though was different. When I bargained with him he said, give me 150 to King Koti and I’ll take you and I said I’ll give you 120 and you take me. He said okay, 130 de do, mai leke jatoon. Baitho. So I agreed at 130 and took the ride. We chatted further and he said to me, what’s happening with corona madam? I said the news reports are right, the cases are rising. The media is not reporting how people are not dying, I said. Then I realized I should mention to him that vaccinated people are the ones not dying and upon asking he said he did not take the vax. I said if you had told me you did not take the vaccination, I would not have sat in your auto. And I gave him a loud earful on why he should take it. And how his parents and my parents have taken us to the hospital 20 times in the first year we were born just to vaccinate us. My finger wagging voice is still ringing in my ears. Kya hai ki amma, ek saal me marte bolrai. I don’t know amma, they say, we will die in one year if we take it. This conversation made me wonder if I did the American thing, and spoke to a stranger nicely? I explained how it’s important to vaccinate himself and his whole family. I asked him to get it done. I said happy new year to him and gave him a big tip. Folks here will say that I am spoiling the underclass for giving ideas about bigger tips and expecting more in life and having more. My tip won’t do much for the guy. He might spend it on a good drink. He seemed like a good guy. Maybe he won’t beat up his wife after the drink. My karma won’t be about the tip going towards his drink or his wife getting beat up, or maybe it is. Where does my karma stop and where does it start? At my significant others’, my family and clan? Or does it extend to my community, my people in my social infrastructure that supports a good life? And what happens to my karma when their karma clashes with mine?

rubaee* means a poem in four lines. My mother has four daughters.

#indiaTrip #rubaee

A Micro History in Hyderabad

Hema Malini Waghray or Malini is the principal investigator for the archival research project on the Brahma Kshatriya Community (BKC) of Hyderabad. It is one of the thriving communities, with a syncretic identity, thriving for centuries in the diverse religious and ethnic landscape of Charminar, the Old City and new Hyderabad and is a progressive one to the present day. Primarily employed in the bureaucracy of the erstwhile Nizam, the monarch of Hyderabad State, (in southern India/Deccan) in the professions of medicine, law, banking, and education in the pre- and post-independence India, the community has expanded its presence primarily in Hyderabad but also outside of it. As a community before, during and after independence, it had and still has progressive ideals of supporting education, going beyond traditions to strictly enforce the abolishment of the marriage dowry and thriving in the geography that was not fully home to them. The Brahma Kshatriya Community was a group of 200+ families that came together in the mid 1700s and set up a formal structure to associate with each other and live together. In the background to their lives is the notion of nation building, modernity and an overall progressive outlook that came to lay the foundations of what the community is today.

Why the Brahma Kshatriya Community and why now?
One reason to study the BK Community is to highlight the people’s perspective of history.
That history up to now has been written top-down by those wielding power, whether economic, cultural, social or political and has been limited to books. Experiences drawn from common people provide insight to the real struggle and overcoming of the social and political challenges that a community has faced.

I propose to do this research interviewing members past 80 years of age and have been born and raised in the Old City of Hyderabad. Recording oral histories of ordinary people and their day-to-day lives as it existed back in the day enriches the understanding of the community and its history.

The outcome will be a digital/multi-media collection will be compiled as an exhibit at local cultural institutions in Hyderabad.

Choosing Wellness

The business stakeholders at Choosing Wellness gave a proposal to set up the site from scratch and I started with detailed immersive research into health and wellbeing. The initial site set up was with the program managers and engineers at WordPress, followed by my work to bring in writers. This involved 1:1 meetings, to talk about what this work encompassed.

As part of my user research conducted heuristic analysis of other related apps like My Fitness Pal, 7-minute workout, Fooducate, iPhone health-app, U-Biome, 3TandAi in an effort to log and use the devices to keep things in check. 

This exploration of how physical health is connected to a family, a school and the larger community but also to the planet as a whole. Sociology as a primary source of knowing the world thus became about looking at wellness in a holistic manner- individual, family, schools, community, planet, all of which are connected. The approach to study the users of wellness, the people to share their stories and Choosing Wellness does that.

Issues that trouble us, make us wonder what is the right thing to do and what is the right way to think about an issue- gender equity, traditional forms of ways of life, LGBTQ rights, the minimum wage workers and those below the poverty levels or the economically and socially disadvantaged segment of the population.

Choosing Wellness is about sharing the people’s wellness stories- about physical health, but simultaneously social and psychological wellbeing, about a community’s health. It is a way to navigate these issues and make sense of them through the stories and experiences of individuals.

I believe that the one-size-fits-all model for wellness doesn’t work. The struggles related to health have nuances that a simple usability test may not reveal. People learn from stories of others’ struggles the types of problems that they faced, the interventions that were utilized and the outcomes and overcoming of problems. This is what I am making an effort with CW.

Research on employment in Princeton area

This research was for a job-search-app conducted by Code for Princeton, a brigade for Code for America. There was a blackbox that needed to be unearthed before the job search app began. It came out of the user need to fill the gap for the low-wage work force in Princeton. Combining disparate elements of the ongoing employment efforts underway by many agencies in the area was a task in itself. Some of the work that is happening on unemployment, job-search and job readiness around town is listed below.

I first met with Elisa Niera of Princeton Township Human Services whose work dissects across various income levels for employment. She was the key figure providing the following details.
1. Latinos in Progress had a point of contact- Nina Lovado.
2. Committed and Faithful Princetonians (YMCA) (POC: Larry Sprull and Fern Sprull), mostly work is with African American populace.
3. Elisa Niera working with Stonehill Church- a non-denominational church with skilled patrons who are participating in a mentoring pilot program for job-readiness. December 19 is the 1:1 workshop/pilot and it caters to skilled workers. Niera works with GA (general assistance) and TANF (temporary assistance to needy families) folks to bring them into the workforce.
4. Library itself has programs for employment in terms of resume building, interview prep and mostly catering to white collar jobs.
5. Princeton University- POC is Christine Applegate is the Director of Community and Regional Affairs. She is always looking to engage with the community and this might be something that the university might be willing to take on.Continue reading “Research on employment in Princeton area”

Landing page- bike view

The location for this prototype was the bike view front page showcasing how the first page. This signifies the most critical aspects of what the users would like to look at based on their feedback after usability testing was done.

The application is able to use real time data from the NJ DOT dashboard and provide location insights about accidents, weather conditions and updates from Mercer county and the Princeton police.

Logo design with fiftythree

These are some of the logo designs created using the fiftythree app/ paper.

Full stack developer projects

Hema’s skill profile also includes  HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Bootstrap, Materialize, FireBase, GitHub, Terminal/Bash, Heroku.

She is currently working with a healthcare startup preparing website launch on AWS, front end work, API pulls for a user base concerned with healthy living.

A sample of her projects is listed below with links to GitHub for code and Heroku.

  1. Bootstrap  HTML, CSS sample
  2. Using Firebase for data and HTML
  3. JavaScript and npm modules
  4. NodeJS 


Mary jacobs library: a note

The Mary Jacobs Library Foundation works to find financial and community support for the Mary Jacobs Library, situated in Montgomery Township, New Jersey. “The Foundation’s mission is to provide a library building for the community. We strive to maintain an innovative, safe and welcoming environment that inspires learning, advancing technology and cultural engagement in the community.” I created a review document for the purpose of understanding and clarifying some ideas for the foundation. The research was drawn primarily from my long-standing association with the library while fundraising for Ootsav; the notes from a meeting and discussions with board members.Continue reading “Mary jacobs library: a note”

I am a dot connector, someone who loves to dig deep into pain points, find errant layers of details and connect them. I love working with people, understanding their contexts and listening to their stories (demographics and the sociologically significant data). Giving this sociological perspective to the stories has been the process I followed.  In the past, I have interviewed bikers, job-seekers, administrators, patients to understand their user pain points. I study their specific context, look into the related stories in other demographics, look at other societal contexts to understand how things are different and if there is options of adaptability in the current context. A contextual review, a heuristic analysis, a comparative assessment and data analysis is what is required to get to the pain point.

The work I do is possible due to an immediate empathy that I am able to advance to a context. I put myself in the users shoes then calculate and assess what their story looks like in terms of technology, time, need and usage. I then find what’s lacking in the context of an interface and a design and take it from there. To me clients/users are people first, always!

Some of the outcomes I provide are affinity diagrams, user flows, personas, journey maps and solution prototypes to developers.

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