What I gained by switching from #Uber/ #Ola to the #MumbaiLocal

 

One of the small joys of living in a metro is the ability to hail a taxi easily and go about one’s business without requiring too much logistical planning. The advent of #Uber and #OlaCabs on the Mumbai public transport landscape made this even more convenient. For somebody (like me) who commutes upwards of 50 kilometres daily, this availability is a blessing. What, then, made me give up this uber convenience (pun fully intended) and regress, in many ways, to the popular yet infamous #MumbaiLocal train?

The answer lies in yet another characteristic of modern urban living – a sedentary lifestyle and…sigh… the resulting lower back pain. I realised I needed to change something drastically in my daily routine to overcome this situation. The solution came to me easily but I still took over six months to implement it.

I’ve come to the wonderful realization that those 30 extra minutes each day have been well worth the time.

Now, the commute to and from my place of work is not a tough one, by Mumbai standards, but the workplace being located at one end of the linear public transport route map of the city means that the nearest suburban railway station is about a kilometre and a half away, a 17-minute walk (as per Google Maps). This number is not frightening for the average Mumbaikar, I know, but to somebody who had happily adjusted to the ‘no-local-train-travel-in-the-past-10-years’ status, it did seem a tad challenging, not to mention the ‘adventurous spirit’ that one has to cobble up for the local train journey itself. Add to that number, the 10-minute kilometre-long walk from the train station at the other end to my residence, and I was looking at an increase of about 60% to my total one-way commute time, an additional 30 minutes. The math should not have made sense. Yet I lumbered ahead, all in the hope that my lumbar, at least, would applaud the decision. I decided to undertake at least the return leg of my commute by local train each workday.

I’ve kept up the practice for over a month and a half, and I’ve come to the wonderful realization that those 30 extra minutes each day have been well worth the time. I’ve gained in mind, body and spirit.

Mind

I am able to use the time on the train to (finally) catch up on my reading. Books were always a close companion on the train. These days the Kindle does just as well.

I also use the time, when I don’t find space convenient enough to read, to mentally organise my to-do list and prioritise my activities for the next day.

I’ve discovered parts of the city that I never knew before in my search for the shortest/ fastest/ cleanest route to and from the train station.

Body

This was, of course, the primary reason for making the switch – to get some exercise for the limbs. The lower back pain is history. The heart and lungs seem to have become stronger. A flight of stairs doesn’t seem daunting in the least anymore. And did I mention the mildly pleasant 3-lb weight loss?…

I also get some weight training in because of the 10-lb backpack I carry since it can weather the jostles and shoves of fellow train riders better than an elaborate office bag.

I feel more agile and alert since being on any Mumbai road requires you to be mindful of the next passer-by rushing past you, the large automobile merrily threatening you even at pedestrian crossings, the stray dog that decides to leap across exactly the same puddle at exactly the same time that you are about to hop over it, or the water tanker backing into a no-vehicle one-way street.

Spirit

I am able to use the time on the road to talk to myself and go over the events of the day/ week, introspect on what went well and what needs to get better.

I get to experience and enjoy the elements, whether it is the marvellous sunshine or the refreshing monsoon shower. It reminds me of how much natural wealth we have as residents of a tropical coastal city and how much of it we miss being ensconced in our air-conditioned cars and taxis.

I also get to mingle with the ‘average consumer’ of this large economy, who often becomes the subject of my work-related study and writing. I not only get to observe their interactions but also partake in the commercial activity in daily essentials that occurs on this critical lifeline of Mumbai, away from malls, e-commerce portals, and, I daresay, GST worries…

While these are the most critical takeaways for me, there has also been a side benefit – the substantial savings in travel costs. For the cost of a single Uber ride, I get a two-way unlimited use season pass for a whole month!

What’s not to love about the #MumbaiLocal?!

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The Two Sides of a Random LinkedIn Connection Request

I am certain that I am not the only person on LinkedIn who has received a random connection request from a complete stranger. Over the past few years, I have received several hundreds of such requests and, yet, at each request, I can’t help but wonder why anybody should send me a blank connection request.

In the initial days that I noticed a sizeable number of random requests in my mailbox, I would ignore them. If I came across a profile that resonated with my own interests, then I would write them a note not unlike the one here. Most times, I would never hear back from the sender of the request. But every once in a while I would receive an answer.

The senders could be classified in three major categories:

  1. People who ran networks of experts on specific business areas and wanted to expand them
  2. People who wanted some help, usually some consulting advice, career advice, connection with somebody I knew, a new job in an industry that I was familiar with and such
  3. People who were ‘impressed’ by my profile OR thought this was an alternative to Facebook and Twitter where random people called each other ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ OR ‘just wanted to add connections to their network’ OR believed that LinkedIn is meant for ‘getting to know people’

 

Let me first talk about ‘MY side’ of this story – how it began and how it evolved.

As one can imagine, the last category was reminiscent of the times in lower secondary school when schoolmates would run up to one and say, “I want to make friendship with you!” I usually politely diverted requests from this category or simply ignored them.

With the first two categories, however, there seemed to be merit is considering the requests with more than nonchalance. The first one was easy to deal with – I’d check out the authenticity of the sender with a visit to their website, understand more from them about their model, and, after a couple of exchanges, ‘Add’ the connection…or not.

With the second, however, I often had a mixed bag to handle. The requests seemed carefully thought out at best (“I run a VC fund and often require the help of consultants with the companies in my portfolio.”) And immature and naïve at worst (“I am a graduate of instrumentation engineering – could you help me find a suitable job?”) Err…What?!

The interesting statistic here is the split of requests across the three categories: 15% | 60% | 25%. While my eventual interactions with these ‘random connections’ drove to their respective logical conclusions, I learnt something very important from the analysis – There are a LOT of genuine people out there that I CAN help.

From then on, I made a simple but significant tweak in my first-response strategy. Instead of asking these random connectors, “How do I/you know you/me?” I began to ask, “How can I help you?” And that tiny change in perspective and tone has made a HUGE difference to the quality of my network.

At the most trivial of times, it has led me to a lost connection from my past life or exposed me to a whole new cohort of potential clients. At the most significant of times, it has set off a series of conversations that converted into a business relationship or helped me hone my skills in an area from the level of a practitioner to an expert. Talk about seeing the world differently…

Despite the richness in the quality of network that I’ve been able to derive from random connections, I do have a tip or two that I think the other side – ‘THEIR side’ – should use. When you do feel the need to connect with a complete stranger via LinkedIn, PLEASE follow these steps, and follow ALL of them:

  1. Add a brief note to your request (yes, LinkedIn does allow you to do that even in its Basic version)
  2. Say something meaningful in that note (‘hi, can we connect on LinkedIn?’ does not cut it!). Explain who you are and what (help) you are looking for. Even if you went to the same University as that person, don’t assume that (s)he would want to add you to their network for that reason alone.
  3. Mention briefly why you would like to connect with this person in particular.

 

If your need is genuine and the person you write to is even remotely concerned with the area in which you need help, you are far more likely to get a cogent response to such a request than to a blank one.