Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Public School Guru

I remember walking out onto the Cal High football field. Much like many of the San Ramon basketball and baseball fields, that field has seen me overjoyed (like when I got to speak at Graduation) and has seen me utterly lost (like when I decided to move to Chicago).

On this day though, so many years after I left, I came back to pay tribute to someone special. I came back to see my high school counselor, who was retiring from Cal High. The graduation ceremony was his last day on the job.

Sure, Henry Bailey was a great high school counselor. There's no doubt he fulfilled all of those responsibilities. If there was a High School Hall of Fame, he'd be an anonymous selection. Over the years, he's advised thousands of kids included perhaps his greatest challenge; advising all three Kamath kids. But beyond being an academic advisor he's always had a special connection with the students.

The Switch:
I remember my first day of high school. I looked at my schedule and noticed I had been assigned on of the new counselors. My sisters told me to go to Mr. Bailey and tell him to pick me up. So I awkwardly went into his office. He usually smiles when you walk in and gives you a hearty hello. I told him who I was and asked him to pick me up as an advisee. He apparently had no idea how much trouble I would be and agreed to become my counselor.

Finding the right words:
There were numerous times in high school when a friend was extremely depressed or having some sort of life crises that was way beyond my teenage mind to comprehend. I would try to help but when things got really bad I would walk them over to Mr. Bailey's office, make the introduction, and walk away. I have no idea what he would say to them but somehow he steered them in the right direction. It's easy to see how counselors help us pick our classes and help us apply to college but I think we forget their role in helping a lot of kids survive high school.

Nostradamus Bailey:
I really didn't want to take calculus in high school. So I went to Mr. Bailey and asked him if I could take another class instead. He totally called me out! He told me I was trying to take the easy route and it would probably cause me problems later on. Of course I didn't listen and he was right. I also remember the end of my senior year too when I became so damn lazy in class. He called me into his office one day and said something like, "Vaman, you should probably start doing your homework in Miss Sater's class or you're going to fail. Your college can still take away your acceptance." Luckily that didn't happen. Whattup Miss Sater! Thanks, for letting me turn in that stuff so late!

His Weakness:
Listen, Mr. Bailey is human after all and all humans make mistakes. He happens to be a Cal football fan. I've accepted this fault.

The Conversation:
Above all else, there's one conversation that puts Mr. Bailey in the Small World. I used to visit campus every year to visit him. On one of these visits I told him how I was working for a startup in San Mateo. His look was almost funny. He said something like, "What are you doing? Why aren't you helping people?" And I replied that I wanted to learn about the corporate world and then get back into helping people. He didn't say I was full of it but I could tell that's what he was thinking. I think about that conversation ALL the time and it's one of the things that motivated me to leave my job in Chicago and move to India. I do love people and that was the first time someone had called me out on it. Amazing how one interaction can have such a profound effect on your mind.

As a society, it's amazing to me sometimes which professions we have grown to value. I don't know where I would be without the impact that the educators in my life have played. Sure they teach us a lot about specific subjects or often fall into their specific role but the good ones, the ones you remember, have a much deeper influence on what you do with your life.

So that day at Graduation, I stood next to Mr. Bailey, looked out at all the excited kids, and finally got to say, "Thanks."

Do you have stories about Mr. Bailey? Feel free to comment with your stories but don't feel limited if you don't know him. I'd love to hear stories about any educator that has had an impact on your life.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Small Stories from Small Worlds

Some say that two things create the unique way in which each of us views the world around us. One is of course our personal experience and the moral framework that creates. Basically the things that we've seen first hand and the conclusions we've drawn as a result. The other is the power of narratives and the meaning we extract from them. Basically that we find meaning in stories we've been told and apply those ideas to our lives. Deep right? =) I absolutely love hearing stories about my family. Even stories about relatives I don't know very well or in some cases have never even met. They give insight not only into the people in the story but by association about myself. Anyway, I wanted to add two short stories to the Small World. After all, what would this Small Word be like without at least some recollection of the past?

My Umi Says:
My grandma (mom's mom) has told me lots of stories over the years. Two of my favorite are her description of what the streets were like the day India became independent and a story about her grandmother's house. Her grandmother's house was (and still is) in Mangalore. It was common back then for a few families to be living in the same space. I think there were two or three families living in this house at the time. My grandma explains this and then this is the part of the story she gets a little choked up about. So they had little to no money. The men in the family had jobs that barely made enough for them to get by. I think they tried a few business ventures that didn't pan out. When my mom and grandma would go over there for dinner, they would basically only serve paz (rice with water in it) with not much else in it. The other dishes would be some sort of nonche (pickled vegetables) or dried fish (which tends to be much cheaper than something fresh). The women of the house were embarrassed by all of this but really had no choice. Here's the part I love. So they basically had nothing except the fact that they knew what they were doing with paz and they were creative with dried seafood. If you go to Mangalore today, there's a restaurant called Gangi Uta, where customers come from all over to eat basic rice with dried fish curries and strange fish nonches. They started serving fresh fish but the draw is still the dried curries. They still live in the same house and it's always a trip to visit them and think about how they came up.

The Top of the Stairs:
Udupi Ramesh lives in a small room in a small village at the top of about 30 stairs. By small, I mean it basically has four walls, no kitchen, and a ceiling that barely clears his head. He's originally from Udupi (where his mom and little sister still live). Ramesh is a local mailman. When he's not working he's almost always chilling in a loongi (traditional Indian "pajama" for a guy) next to his tiny fan. He must be close to 40 by now and is still single. So why is his story so fascinating? Well I think if you just walked past, he might seem utterly insignificant.

It's not that he hasn't had marriage offers. He has had many I think. Actually he wants to wait for his little sister to get married before he does. She still isn't married and might not ever be. For food, he eats at the same restaurant every night, where fresh fish is always on the menu. The owners wife cooks up the food to order and Ramesh, at this point, knows the family very well. It's basically like eating a family dinner every night. After dinner he returns to his room, which looks like a simple box but in fact it's quite possibly one of the liveliest places in town.

Ramesh has known me since I was born but ironically I've never spoken directly to him. He only speaks Kannada, Thulu, and Hindi. Yet he's one of the people I look forward to seeing when I go back to India. He has this presence about him. I usually run up the never ending steps to his place. It's difficult to leave your shoes on the doorstep because there's sure to be a handful of people in his room at any time. Could be townspeople coming to talk about life or my cousins to play with him. When I walk in the reaction is always the same, "OOH HO HO GURU!" then a huge smile and he walks over and grabs my face. Then he laughs and sputters off something in Kannada to my cousins and everyone laughs.

In fact, he is extremely significant. Not only to countless young people that come to chat with him about life but my cousin comes home everyday from work, showers and prays, and then makes his daily pilgrimage to the top of the stairs yelling Ramesh's name as he goes up. He's an integral part of the lives of people around him.

I hope there are two takeaways here. 1) Sometimes we don't understand the impact that we ourselves have on other people and maybe more importantly the impact that seemingly random people in our lives have on us. 2) A story is told for a reason. Someone found meaning in it enough to keep it alive. My great grandmother will never know how often I think about their predicament and their solution and who knows if I will ever be able to actually communicate with Ramesh. But none of that really matters because their stories can live on either way.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Kentucky Fried Kari

For those that have never seen the Small World Project, it is a way for me to highlight some of the amazing people I'm lucky enough to know and hopefully have some of the readers and people to meet one another. Post any comments about the person if you know them or feel free to ask them questions if you don't! Onward!

This was my first thanksgiving away from my family. The annual tradition is normally to get home on Wednesday from school and head to El Balazo and basically see every single person you've ever known. This is always both overwhelming and really awesome. You know how you have those people in your life that you could not speak to for years, and the minute you see one another, you get this deep excitement. They don't say, “Why haven't you called?” or some other sarcastic remark about being bad about keeping in touch. It's like nothing has changed. It makes your day. Well after this Thanksgiving in Chicago, I was driving home through the fall leaves and bumping a long lost country CD and started thinking about such a person. She's always been like a younger sibling to me and of all the people I know back home, she is one of the people that I have come to admire and be proud of the most. I wish everyone could meet one another but I shall do my best. My friends, I present the latest addition to the Small World Project, Kari!

The Hunter:
Kari and I grew up basically across the street from one another. Many a late night I would walk over and babble to Kari and her sister about my girl problems. I would come up with these dumb theories that they would just laugh hysterically at. I would pace around and try to work out the theories while they enjoyed the show. My favorite was the one about “the hunter.” You know when you are focused on hunting for a relationship you never seem to find one? But when you focus on letting yourself be attractive prey, people notice. Haha. Anyway, they laughed at me for a while and still bring it up sometimes. It meant a lot to me that they would listen to my nonsense and never judge me.

Walking Tall and Proud:
Growing up is a tough thing to do these days. Being a few years younger than me, I got to see Kari grow up into the beautiful person she is today. I also got to see her deal with the difficult things life throws at us and to be honest, I don't think I have ever heard her complain. Let at least complain the way you and I do. She's never been bitter about anything. She might complain for a second but always turns the complaint into a laugh and then shakes it off. I really really admire that about her. I wish I could be more like that sometimes. Even when our friends were being more dramatic than the chickidies on the Hills, Kari never let herself act like them. Badass!

The Honor:
Do people ever ask you what your greatest accomplishment is or what your biggest honor was in the past? In high school, Kari asked me to speak at an event and honestly, that was the greatest honor anyone has ever given to me in my life. When people ask me that question, that's what I still tell them.


Kari is one of the few people that will still a giant KFC bucket with lots of gravy, biscuits and mashed potatoes. DAMN THAT SOUNDS GOOD! Extra tasty crispy? or Original Recipe? I actually think that she only eats hot dogs, hamburgers and KFC. Maybe not the healthiest diet but hella fun for sure!

The Real World:
Our hometown sees lots of young folks aching to leave home only to see most of them return.I could name less than 10 that are not back in the area. There is tons of opportunity in the Bay and I don't blame any of them. When I was thinking about moving to Chicago, I thought about the few people that took the chance to leave home. Kari was one of them when she worked in DC for Senator Clinton. In a way, it was easier for me since my sister was in New York but for Kari, all of her family is still in the Bay (and most of her friends I think). But she took the risk and I think it changed her life. I keep telling her that she should not conform and push herself as much as possible. She's got some talent, let me tell you.

Her Affect on Me (and others):

Over the years, I have come to question myself a lot (about careers and life in general). Kari is always one of those people that reminds me of what I can actually do. Just her being around. She doesn't even really need to say anything to me. I don't think it's any coincidence that her friends hold her close and people tend to be drawn to her. She has this positive influence on all the people around her and the glowing smile to boot. She has a goodness about her that you just don't see in people that much anymore. At one point in college, I hadn't talked to her in years and she called me to ask for advice about which college to go to. I was seriously touched that she thought of me. She just always reminds me that I should push myself to do ridiculous things.

Over the years, I have been bummed about my lack of communication with Kari but fortunately for us both we can run into each other anywhere and it's like things haven't changed one bit. Here's to you Kari! You deserve to be a princess like every princess you love in those Disney Movies. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Biscuits for EVERYONE! Pour some gravy out girl!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Jungle Book

It's been awhile since another citizen has been added to the Small World but that's because I have trouble figuring out exactly what I want to say about each person. I should just make the entries shorter and hope people enjoy posting comments more and more. I think stories are a great way to learn about someone's character. Anyway........

You know when people just have something special about them? Like they're almost magical and you wonder how they could actually be like that? Well this week's citizen is one of those people. See we're all made up of something like 98% water and a whole bunch of other chemicals and blah blah blah right? Well I swear this girl is made up of only rainbows, puppy dogs, hello kitty stationary and childrens' smiles (maybe candy too, I'm not sure). There's really only one person that could mean. Yep, the Sagers.

Sage rocks because she just exudes this love for everything around her! It's like being near her makes you feel better about things going on in your life, which is pretty amazing (those that know her know what I'm talking about!). Over the years I've lived in a dorm with Sage, lived across campus from Sage and then lived in the same house with Sage and a bunch of other people. Even after all that time spent with her, I wish I had made more time to kick it with her. She's one of those people that you would be down to travel long and far just to spend a few minutes with.

Sage is living in New York right now and when I come out there during the summer I hope all you other folks that are there get to meet her.

Since moving I've been thinking a lot about the people that mean a lot to me that I've done such a bad job of keeping in touch with and Sage is a great example. When we see each other it's like nothing has changed but it just reminds me that I need to be better about staying in touch with folks that are important to me.

I could write more about Blue Planet Marathons or Soupoffs or a whole lot more but I'm hoping some of you readers will offer some of your favorite Sage stories! Tell the (Small) World about her!

Here are a couple of my favorite throwback stories:

Sunshine Anderson:
Now it's no secret that over the years BA and I have wrecked some dance floors all over the place but when Ben wasn't around Sage and I basically served everyone around us. The song that still reminds me of freshman year and getting jiggy with all the people is Sunshine Anderson's "Heard it all Before." Sage, Bearman and I were also seen numerous times busting out with the "white boy wiggle" in a timely fashion.

151 and Coke:
Many, many 151 nights in college. Most ended with Rones falling asleep in his window seal but one tradition that I always looked forward to was walking over to wherever Sage and the other girls lived on the last day of school and throwing back rum and cokes all afternoon in the warm sun. I also remember an amazing meteor shower we all watched on the roof of Roth that was just plain ridiculous.

Sister Sister:
I guess sometimes I notice strange things that other people don't. One of my favorite things about Sage is the way she talks about her brother. Her face gets all excited and you can tell she absolutely adores him (and what's not to adore, he's dope). Totally reminds me of my sisters when she does that.

Sage is definitely one of those people that I wish all my homies could meet but alas that's the purpose of the Small World Project. So those that know her, spread the word about her on here!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not living large... he's the Biggest

First off, thanks to those that sent me emails or messages about their interest in the Small World Project! Please feel free to post stories, comments and questions about the Small World Citizen of the Week! That's what this "world" is all about. Bringing YOU ALL together.
Now on to this week's citizen....
Do you have someone in your life that is hard to describe? You know that they're a special person but when people ask you what they're like, you can't find the right words? When people talk about athletes, we often talk about the intangibles that someone might bring to their game. They're not the flashiest player on the court but they bring something to the players around them that no one else could. So why don't we think about these same intangibles when we're talking about the people in our lives? This week's special human has impacted so many people around him and amazingly he probably doesn't even realize the importance he has played. The people around him are all better off today because of the positive influence he has had on them. This man is larger than life..... in fact he's the Biggest. I'm talking about Vijay. (I thought it would be funny to post a serious picture of him, since he's always smiling)

Now Big V and I go way back. When we were super young I didn't spend so much time with him because he was a few years older than me. When we has in middle school, I was in elementary school and when he was in high school, I was in middle school. For the longest time I had trouble connecting with this dude. My main interaction with him would be at family parties where him and other older kids would go outside and cause trouble. I had no idea what they did when they went outside until one night where they told me to join them. They were going to light a bunch of leaves and branches on fire in the street. I was super scared so I went to ask my mom if I could go. Like any other kid I said, "Mom, I can't go outside with them right?" Fast forward over a decade later and not only would I go anywhere with this dude but he is also one of the people I miss the most in the Bay. Big V brings so much to the people around him that I just think of him as the master of the intangibles.

In the Small World, all people are interconnected. We were at a party at BA's place one night (the picture above is from the same night!) and Big V became obsessed with a blow up monkey at the house. He made it his mission for the night to steal the monkey. He snuck around the party with the monkey. He even tried to walk out of the front door with it I think. Anyway, everything seemed to fail. As we walked out of the party he began to laugh uncontrollably. Alas, in the bushes like 4 blocks away from the party, he had stashed the monkey! He was so proud and it was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.
8th and Ocean: One night a bunch of us sat through basically every childhood variety show we had been in. We sat through ridiculous violin performances and dances where some of us had our pants up to our necks. Oh but Big Big, goodness. Dude was wearing Polo sweaters and creased khaki pants in every show. His hair was clean cut and he was straight pimping in his dockers.

Happy Birthday: I've always felt pretty fortunate that my birthday is January 1st because it's easy for people to remember. Over the last maybe five or six years, I have spent a few memorable New Years with this guy but it's the ones that I didn't spend with him that stand out. One year he was in Dallas and another year he was in Egypt. Other years he was who knows where but for every single one of those, he has been the first person to call me EVERY year. It's almost like I just wait for him to call and that makes my birthday real. Even when he was floating down the Nile River on a cruise, he called me a few seconds into the new year. How do you even do that math? Weirdo. It's remembering the small things that makes Biggest a really different person.
The Manager: Do you know that Vijay has time to workout, work on side projects, have hobbies, go out on the weekends and watch every TV show he wants? I am always baffled by Big V's ability to balance his time so well. Maybe he's a vampire?
The Chatter: About two years ago, in a hotel room in Chicago, we had the idea to create an online community for Konkani (the Indian cultural group we're both a part) youth around the world. For those that know me well, I am always yapping about this and that. No one really takes me seriously. Well, Big Big acted right away and setup a message board that now has over 500 members and over 15,000 posts. While others talk, he's getting things done.

I've had conversations with some of you about how people cannot truly be selfless. Well, if that's true this guy is probably the closest I've ever seen. I could go on and on about this guy. I could talk about how he's woken up and cleaned up for everyone after basically every party we've thrown or about how he loaned out his car to a friend in neeofd but I would rather have some of you share your stories, comments, or questions for the one they lovingly call Big V.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Poppin' and Lockin' Puppet Master

It's taken me a long time to think about the right person to start this whole Small World Project off with. The impetus to write such a crazy thing was to bring together the different groups of people I have in my life. For the people around me to get to know one another, since unfortunately most of you won't ever hang out with one another. Within the last couple years though, one person has actually gotten to know all my groups of friends and through that shown me that all of them can mix really well. Anyway without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the first person I'd like to marinate is none other than BA aka Ben.

In high school, I basically lived two lives. In class I was pretty serious and when I was at home or with my friends, I was super goofy. I didn't really think I would ever be able to reconcile my two personalities. I arrived at my dorm and immediately noticed one of the RAs that was goofy as hell. The first few weeks of school, he basically wore the same lime green sweater and dark horn-rimmed glasses. This seemingly simple dude, would go on to show me (and a lot of other people) that you can be true to yourself in any situation. No matter who was around him, he was always the same person. I feel like a lot of times we think about how others want us to act or about how we're going to be perceived. This guy doesn't care about any of that.

Those that know BA, also know that his sense of humor has rubbed off on everyone around him. A lot of peoples' mannerisms and humorous stylings are definitely things that have rubbed off from him. After college, he stuck around for a while then moved out to San Francisco. For those that have ever been to a party at BA's old place know that he was living in a super nice place. When I first went over to his place, I saw that he had an elevator, a bathroom bigger than my room, and a movie theater in his house but then I went in his closet and what did I spy....... NOTHING. Just the same lime green sweater and a Mariners jersey. He hadn't changed at all. About a year ago when I was living in San Francisco, we dance battled the entire night in my kitchen. Song after song we battled like we were two great warriors. Needless to say the kitchen floor was ruined but the walls saw moves only future humans would even be able to describe.

So since this is the first entry, I'm not sure what to do with it. Perhaps people that know BA can rag on him here? People can agree or disagree with what I've said or add more comments or stories about BA. People could post questions for BA to answer. The ultimate goal here is to inform people about some other awesome folks I guess. Anyway, below are some claims to fame.


We're Number 1: While waiting in line for a Stanford basketball game, BA once told us all that if you pull the chest of your shirt in and out with your left hand and throw up a number one sign with your right hand, you're guaranteed to get on TV. During that game, we threw up the “We're Number 1” shuffle and must have been on TV 10 times. Ever since then the Number 1 dance has been seen on freeways, in the hottest dance clubs, and of course during college basketball games.

Secret Sauce: We once marinated tri-tip over night in a paint bucket. People thought we were crazy until they smelt perhaps the finest marinade ever concocted with human hands. Did we share? Just enough to let them know what they were missing.

The Poppin' and Lockin' Marionette: you ever seen someone in the club manipulate their feet as if they were the puppet master on their own legs? You think I invented that shit? Some people even asked him if his legs were made out of rubber.

Mangina: It's a little known fact that BA, Taplin Thomas and I were a part of a popular underground acapella group on the Stanford campus. We were so underground in fact that most people deny we even existed. We went by “Mangina” for we were the ultimate balance of street credibility and emotion. During a “Mangina” concert in 2000, the entire audience was crying and the show had to be stopped. It was at that point that we knew, we were way ahead of our time and the people were not ready for us (when we came together, it was similar to when those five kids summoned Captain Planet).

Legend has it that one LIVE “Mangina” concert exists on someone's laptop somewhere in North America. Those few that saw us live have never been the same, I would know, I was there.

Being an RA, being a mentor to a lot of people, and at home being an older brother, Ben's a pretty dope guy. Hopefully some of you get to meet him at some point.

Monday, February 19, 2007

One At a Time

As I get older, I feel like uniting the world is getting increasingly difficult. I consider myself a rather driven person (as are most of you) and I think our minds get ahead us sometimes. There's a proverb that says something to the affect of: "If you want to make change in the world, make change in front of your house." Well, I wanted to take that even closer to the individual. The idea here is that I want to "Unite My World." What is my world you ask? Well, it's my family, my friends, my interests, basically all the things that make up ME!

I'm glad you don't understand what I'm talking about. We all have special people in our lives. Well I am tired of them not knowing one another. I don't want disparate groups of friends. I don't want people not knowing my family. I want to "Unite My World." So what if you could introduce your college friends to your high school friends? What if you could Arch in Eastern Canada to Remi in Normandy, France? What if they became lifelong friends? What if they became life long business partners? Well I'm going for it. I may be a slow process but I'm trying to "Unite My World."

Here's what's been on my mind lately. I am fortunate enough to know some awesome folks. Many of them have some amazing interests and some of them have done some amazing things. We don't get the chance to talk about ourselves enough and many of you are super humble too.
But it's not just an opportunity to make people I know blush, it's a way to get them known. To tell the world what they're all about.

Think about it. Rones spends his time after work promoting his brother 1865 to the Bay and I know Tunde has already sparked a movement in the Bay so maybe Ao could promote Esface at his concerts and Tunde could advertise on his shirts. Speaking of shirts, Jay loves everything about Hip Hop culture and he might be down to design some shirts for Tunde. What about Swati? She's looking for a job soon and could design when she has time. Hegyi doing a Flaco's fundraiser soon for FaceAids. Maybe the Konkani Cooking club would want to help him? My sister has been going to El Salvador a lot for medical volunteer work. If more wack Indian doctors my age heard about that would they do the same? Arch has some awesome music taste. Damn, I wish her, Rones and Vik could all exchange music. And what about Fatty Dave. He is working so hard to get into med school and someday he wants to do lots of service overseas. What if I put the trip together and got all the doctors I know to join?

So The Small World Project was born. The vision here is to highlight one person in my life a week. I might write different things about different people, who knows. At worst, all my readers will learn at least a little bit about my loved ones. At best, people will email me wanting to contact the person that week and maybe ask them about something that interested them.

Hopefully this is just the start and I can think of someway to create a better website or maybe even readers can send me profiles of people they want to highlight. Imagine that!

Without further ado, I present to you....... The Small World Project.