In memory of my father, Dr. Arun N. Shah

Jay Shree Krishna. Thank you for coming to pay your respects to Dr. Arun N. Shah. I am Dr. Shah's son.

My father was, to say the least, a remarkable human being. He was a talented surgeon, a wise teacher, a supportive husband, a loyal friend, and doting father, grandfather, and uncle. Those of you that know him, know that my father was rather understated, and sometimes referred to his life as a "failure". If this is failure, then I hope my failure is as spectacular as his. This humble eulogy can hardly capture in words the true measure of this man and the innumerable lives that he touched. 

Today, I want to share a glimpse of my father, what I learned from him, and what I carry forward. My father led by example, and his life is the quintessential example of the Hindu principle of "dharma" or duty — the duty of a son, the duty of a brother, the duty of a husband, the duty of a father, and the duty of a teacher. I'll share a brief history of his life — perhaps a history that is unfamiliar to you. And, even if it is familiar, I’ll share it from my unique perspective as a son. 

Like more than 80% of Indians of his generation, my father was born into a humble family in a village, the village of Sardav. Sardav is an agricultural community. Growing up in the village, he partook in his share of mischief with his two best friends. They were his older brother, Suresh — I call him “Suresh Kaka", and his close-in-age uncle, Krishnakant — I call him “Krishna Kaka". I've heard many stories of these musketeers. For example, they once slept all night in a cemetery to catch ghosts because someone told them if they caught one, he'd give them a gold car. When they were teenagers, Suresh Kaka and Krishna Kaka convinced my father to cheat by posing as Suresh Kaka and taking his high school matriculation exam. He passed. My grandfather knew that my father was extraordinarily talented and urged him to pursue a career in medicine.

My father went to high school in Mumbai and medical school at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He earned his bachelors of medicine in 1968 and his masters of surgery in 1973. My father was the first to earn a doctorate in his family and still remains one of few. More importantly, he was a professor of medicine at the Orthopedics Medical College in Gorakphpur, U.P. from 1973-77. In 1977, we moved as a family to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and he held positions such as chief surgeon in hospitals and ran his own medical practice. He was compassionate and charitable with his practice. He often provided services and surgeries pro-bono to those in need. 

He spoke fondly of these years. He was young, accomplished, well-respected, and his career and stature were only accelerating. When my father walked into a room, he didn't say much, but people paid attention when he spoke. He also was well-respected in the family, and we enjoyed an upper middle-class life.

Then, my grandfather asked him to take a step further and move to the U.S, and as a dutiful son, he listened. We moved as family to the U.S. in 1980, and he struggled in the early years. He took odd jobs until Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD offered him a position as an assistant surgeon in 1982. Still life was tough, and I remember he continued with multiple jobs and double-shifts at drug stores to make ends meet. While he did not ever show it, these circumstances hurt his pride. For example, I remember that he once applied for a modest car loan and was denied because of his low income. He also refused to let me pay reduced prices for school lunches even though we qualified for them. There are many more stories like this. He eventually gained more credibility, earned more money, and didn’t need to take extra jobs.

Growing up, I remember he was indefatigable and had an unparalleled work ethic. Life moved along fast with two children. My sister and I graduated high school and went to top-tier universities. He needed to pay off college loans and later wanted to pay for our weddings. Again, he worked extra hours, nights, and weekends. And if he wasn't working, he was doing construction: building his deck, remodeling his basement, installing tiles, replacing toilets, and building furniture.

His is not a typical immigrant story. He had a promising career, and mid-career around the age of 40, with a few hundred dollars in his pocket, he started from scratch. I want to pause for a moment and reflect on the courage this took. He respected his father so much to listen and give it a chance without much evidence. Although he still commands respect from his colleagues as one of the smartest surgeons in the area, and young residents and assistants look up to him as a trusted mentor, his career never regained the trajectory that it had in India. 

So why did he sacrifice his career? He did it for his children. He did it for me. We grew up in a cleaner, healthier, and more just environment with more opportunities in every way. 

I still remember how proud he was of both of me and my sister when we got into college. After applying, I remember struggling to choose between Caltech and MIT. I asked him for advice, and as a supportive father, he simply told me that he trusted me to choose. Thanks Dad. In reality, my guess is that he didn't care because inside his head, he was doing "the happy dance" just knowing those were my choices. Once at MIT, he bought a sweatshirt with “MIT DAD” embroidered in huge — let me emphasize huge — letters, and he wore it everywhere and all the time. I was embarrassed then, but now I understand. I wear a "Carnegie Mellon DAD" sweatshirt ... all ... the ... time. He was also proud that my sister went to Wash U. and later earned a masters of public health. And yes, there were sweatshirts involved there as well.

While quiet and understated, my father was also eloquent and wise. He knew exactly what to say and when to say it to comfort you in your most insecure moments. I remember buying my first house in Fremont, California, then the next in Saratoga, California, and then embarking on a complete renovation. I remember founding my startup with no salary, no prior experience, and family to support. Each time, we stretched ourselves, and I was nervous that we'd go bankrupt. To comfort me, he always used to tell me, "Why do you worry, when I am here?". And each time, the outcome was well worth the risk. He'd repeat that phrase, and with him as a backstop, I felt free to take risks that otherwise would seem out of reach.

Duty encompassed sacrifice, compassion, charity, work ethic, respect for elders, and mentorship. These were among the many principles of Hinduism, also shared by other religions and ways of life, that I learned from my father. Beyond that, he was also a scientist. He taught me how diaphragms drive lungs to breathe, how hearts pump blood, and even how car engines work. As both a man of faith and a man of science, and he also taught me to balance and reconcile these two perspectives weaving them together as if they fit together naturally.

In his latter retirement years, if I can call it that since he still continued doing surgeries, he enjoyed his time. He loved his work. He loved traveling to India and embarking on all kinds of pilgrimages. When he was healthy, he would travel to India for months, enjoying time with his brother, sister, and extended family. He would also spend time with us — his family and grandchildren in California and Chicago. Then, he would quickly rotate back to Maryland to do more surgeries. This continued until he suffered his first stroke 3.5 years ago. 

These past 3.5 years have been excruciating for him both physically and mentally. It is fair to say that he lived for us and not for him. He battled back, learning to speak, eat, walk, and care again. He especially lived for his grandchildren, who gave him unbridled joy. But, his spirits were pulled in opposite directions. He was especially frustrated with his new handicap. He sorely missed his family in India, and wanted to visit them and die there. He could not.

Now, I'd like to share a perspective from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, verse 22):  

As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one.

Dad, you've done this before in this life, as you shed your life in India for your life in the US. While your sacrifice pulled your spirits apart in this lifetime, this new transition will bring them back into balance, and you will no longer suffer.

I am reminded of a bhajan, a devotional song, with the refrain:

Paramatma ae atma ne shanti sacchi aapjo

which means

May the almighty creator bring your soul true and everlasting peace. 

You will no longer need to worry about where to be, because I believe you are now with us all, everywhere, and part of the supreme being that permeates.

And, although you are no longer here, I am not worried. This is a farewell from your body, but the —sanskar — or principles and values that you taught are instilled in me. I will do my duty as a son, as a brother, as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher. I will uphold and carry these values forward in your name, as you did in the name of your fathers.

Jay Shree Krishna

Remembering Nathan Binkert

Thank you for coming today. For those of you that don't know me, my name is Mehul Shah. I am Nate's friend and colleague from HP and Amazon, and more importantly, his co-founder from Amiato.

Nate, Stavros, and I started Amiato almost exactly 6 years ago. Building a company is an intense and unique experience. In your journey to make the future, the bonds that you form with the early people transcend professional boundaries. People say co-founders are like spouses, where trust must be unconditional, and family, friends, and work all blend into one. Today, I'd like to share with you the three most important things that my friend – my co-founder – my brother – taught me.

Nate taught me to be fearless and take risks. As you all know, Nate was an adventurer, and this leaked into every aspect of his life. Several months before we started Amiato, Nate had an enormous offer from Google. We discussed it endlessly. Eventually, he decided to flip a coin. We went into an abandoned basement at HP – the first flip landed on Google, then the second, then the third. We must have flipped the coin half-a-dozen times or more until he admitted that he was craving a larger adventure. He did not want Google, just yet. Later, even when I got cold feet, he convinced me to take the plunge. Here was this guy, with three kids, one still a baby, willing to abandon a secure job and to go without salary, into a completely unfamiliar area – databases – and trust me to help change the world.  I *had* to take the plunge. Perhaps we were naive, but I was extremely lucky to have found him. It was worth it. In our 2 ½ years at Amiato, I learned more than I had in my previous seven years at HP.

Turns out, more than adventurer, Nate was just plain crazy. One time, in our annual Amiato ski trip to Lake Tahoe (which we did just once), we found ourselves at the shore of the lake in 40-degree weather. Nate dared us all to swim, but then backed out because he didn't have a towel to dry off. Then, a random passer-by who overheard us was willing to lend a towel that he had in this trunk. Nate stripped to his underwear, dove in, swam about 100 meters, and dried off. Nate seized every moment he could. While I didn’t take the plunge this time, I do regret not seizing the moment with him.

Nate taught me to be relentless and never quit. Six months before the end of Amiato, Nate found out that his father was terminally ill with cancer. By that time, the company had stopped growing. Were I in his shoes, I would have capitulated. Nate had an out, but he refused.  Friends, family, or colleagues, he was going to honor his promise and stick it out. Even in our final few days, when he felt Amiato should end, he insisted on sticking it out, if we still wanted to run the company.

Finally, Nate taught me to be generous. For him, generosity was an unconscious act that spread with everlasting effects. When Bennett and Alex had outgrown their bike trailer, he knew that I had bought a bike, and my second daughter, Diya, could use the trailer. Without asking, he brought it to work, left it in my cube, and told me that I would need it. Diya loved riding in that trailer, and today she loves biking because of it.

Nate was a phenomenal technologist, a generous friend, and a loving father. Professionally, Nate was well known, especially for his remarkable breadth. His impact crossed many areas of computer science and touched many people. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the greatness of his personality and the greatness of the person.

I cannot help but reflect on the fact that Nate was taken from us too early and too quickly. Those who knew him, knew that he was both a man of science and a man of faith. So am I. Although I never got a chance to explore this context with him, I want to share with you my perspective.

There's a quote, often attributed to Einstein:

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous

To me, this says that random things happen, and the universe obeys the laws of probability. You see, there is a universal scorecard, if you will, that has to have a certain balance of miracles and tragedies. Otherwise, our creator would reveal himself, and that cannot happen. Imagine, for example, if there were only miracles, then everyone would know exactly what to do and fall into line. There would be no mystery, or adventure, or the need for faith: the things that Nate thrived on in this world. So, it is within this randomness that the almighty must architect his plan.

Today, we mourn a son taken from his mother, a husband from his wife, a father from his children, a brother from his siblings, and a friend from all of you. There is a dark blemish on the scorecard, and it is tipped heavily in one direction. So, whether you are a person of science or a person of faith – for Him to remain anonymous – it is certain that untold miracles will be performed in the name of Nate.

I dissent

(I posted this on Facebook on 9 Nov 2016. I publish it here to avoid the echo chamber that social media is.)

Many of you might have seen me go through the Kubler-Ross phases on my posts today. Usually, in these situations, I have a more nuanced position. But, as a father of three girls, it's difficult to see a balanced view.

Trump words and actions have definitively shown that he is dangerous to women. From name calling to boasting about molestation, this man drives fear and anguish in women. Its hard for me to believe that his affronts to women will or have stopped there. I would never let him into my home or near my wife or daughters. Some of my female colleagues stayed home from work today, literally due to physical sickness induced from the election result. The next President is exactly the kind of creep that they avoid, flee from, and unfortunately for too many, have been victimized by. A stomach churning sense of helplessness ensues from this realization. While Trump has other deleterious characteristics, these are unfathomable in respected members of our society, let alone our President.

The influence he has as a role model is the most dangerous to our society. Young boys and men will invariably mimic him. Young girls and women will then need to live with the harassment and repercussions. Sadly, this will change what is deemed acceptable by both.

Equally reprehensible are the innumerable well-intentioned people that look the other way. Many rationalize their support for him by decoupling his actions from policies in hopes for a brighter future, as if basic human decency towards half the electorate is not a prerequisite for a better America.

There have been calls for a peaceful transition of power from both a gracious Hillary Clinton and Obama, in the name of stable democracy. Others have said that it's time to stop protesting, start accepting, and look to the future -- to heal the polarizing division among our people. After all, he won fairly. I dissent.

It does not matter if he won by a slim margin or by a landslide. It does not matter that America's electoral college prefers him to Hillary. I can and have lived through the deep xenophobia and racism in this country -- I am an immigrant after all. I, however, tirelessly will protect my daughters and family. Therefore, I refuse to accept him and will relentlessly oppose his Presidency.


Yesterday, 16 April 2016, was the scariest day of my life. I saw my father have a stroke. It was a violent affair. Things moved quickly, it was hard to tell what was happening, and timelines were not linear. 

Our entire family was in South Lake Tahoe on a vacation to celebrate my father-in-law's 75th birthday. My parents were sleeping in the room next to ours on the bottom floor.
At about 7AM, my mother shouted for me while I was in the bathroom. After the third yell, I knew something was wrong, and I jumped out and ran over to my parents room. I found my father on the floor between the two beds, face down, convulsing. His right hand was pinned behind him as he was trying hard to push with his left to flip around. He didn't have the strength or motor control to do so. His head was bruised from the fall with two large burns on his right forehead.

I tugged to turn him around, but he was too heavy. He was trying to say something, but I was focused on flipping him. His words did not register. Somehow, I pulled him up by hugging him from behind and lifting. Someone else may have helped; I cannot remember. I turned him around and layed him down on some pillows.

At first, I thought it was a heart attack. His right side was paralyzed from face down. He was mumbling at best. I yelled to have someone call the paramedics. Nupur, my wife, did. My mother was hysterical. Maya, my daughter, was alert and helpful. All I could remember to do is give aspirin, so I asked for it, and I think Maya gave it to me -- even against the recommendation of the paramedics over the phone. My dad swallowed the pill and barely washed it down with water.

The paramedics arrived around 7:15AM, and I moved out of the way. I gave them the information they needed. They gathered as much as they could from observing my father. They carried him out on a carry cloth and onto the stretcher. They put him in the ambulance and I rode in front. The driver told me that it was a stroke.

Sitting in the ambulance, I was terrified. I was completely unprepared for my father to leave us now. My father is my hero. He is my superman. How could someone so calm, so sure, so strong, and so alive, now be so completely helpless? The week before, he had helped me move furniture. The day before, he enjoyed a full day with his family, grandkids and all. 

I called my sister and told her. I prayed.

We arrived at the hospital around 8AM. The driver had told me that because of the stroke's recent onset, they could provide a medicine to help, tPA. They took my father in, took a CAT scan, and settled him into a bed. The scan showed a clot in the left brain. The ER doctor observed him and asked me many questions. Most importantly, he was trying to assess wether to give him tPA.

It's a dangerous medicine. It could lead to a hemmorage further exacerbating the damage, especially if given too late after onset. If given early, however, it is supposed to improve recovery. I told him that I was almost certain that the stroke had just happened. The ER doctor was unconvinced and warned me of the failure (~ 1/10) and success (~ 1/10) statistics. He did not think the trade-off was worth it.

I did not protest. 

I got a sense that his position was largely to "cover his butt" rather than in the best interest of my father. He was looking for reasons to not administer the tPA. I could have pushed him harder. I could have convinced him to take the risk.

But, I was selfish. 

I thought that it was better for my father to be incapacitated and alive rather than dead. I wanted him around for me, not necessarily considering the life that he wanted to live. This decision may haunt me forever.

My father was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital in Reno. It left South Lake Tahoe around 9:45 AM. The nearest hospital with a stroke center, the ER doctor believed that they might do more for him than he could. I got a call that they had admitted him around 10:30AM.

For some reason, my sense of urgency was suspended for a short time. My mother and I didn't get to the hospital in Reno until around 11:30AM. At that point, the stroke had already set in. The doctors in Reno had opted to not administer the tPA; it is unclear exactly why. Moreover, we found out that the clot was in one of the main arteries in the brain causing extensive damage. There was no possibility of surgery to save any tissue. He probably lost about 40% of his total overall gray matter, all concentrated in the left half of his brain.

My father is no longer the same. The regions that were affected controlled motor skills, speech and language, personality, reasoning, and more. He cannot talk or swallow. He cannot urinate. His motor control on the left side is limited, and nonexistent on the right. He is also not through the woods yet; the days immediately after a stroke are quite precarious with potential swelling, bleeding, and other complications. Nonetheless, he is alive.

Although my father has aged and changed over the years, right now, I know that I have lost the father that I once knew. My extended family has lost their beloved Doctor. We have lost the greatest orthopedic surgeon in DC. I have lost my safety net and original protector. This terrifies me.

It's going to be tough road ahead for all of us. Recovery will be tedious and many times disappointing work. The choices that were made give him the best chances to live. I am certain this is not the way he wanted to live -- he is alive for us, not for him. Still, this same certainty gives me hope that he will not settle for a life without independence. He will fight for it relentlessly. After all, he is my superman.

India 2010 vs. 2014

(I wrote this blog post last year, forgot to post it.)

Ever since we moved to the US from in 1980, my family and I have visited India every few years. The last 15 years I have noticed dramatic growth and changes in India.

Most recently, we went in late July / early August 2014 to meet family and attend my eldest daughter's performance at The Music Academy in Chennai. The last time we went was in July 2010. Since then, some things frustratingly remain the same, and some things show that we are at the cusp of dramatic change.

  1. Mumbai International Airport. The entrance is huge and welcoming. Immigration used to be a smelly, sticky, and poorly air conditioned room. Now, it feels like the lobby of a international 5-star hotel.
  2. Trains. They remain the same. The bathrooms are disgusting at stations, and in the trains themselves. The coaches have not visibly improved in the last 30 years. The conductor asked us for an increase in fare after we had already purchased the ticket. I felt like he was leveraging his authority to extract a few more Rupees from us. I did not have the energy to protest.
  3. Inflation. It costs us Rs. 600 ($10) for the porter. Perhaps we didn't bargain well. Lunches cost us Rs. 800 per person in Chennai, and were ordinary by most standards. These prices are just plain unaffordable by the Indian middle class.
  4. Mobile devices. We used Google Maps on a smart phone to find a local restaurant that the auto rickshaw driver did not know how to locate in Chennai. This is a harbinger.
  5. Corruption. Police in Bangalore do not seem to be taking bribes. Things are computerized, so people pay the fines as expected.
  6. Pollution. Garbage pickup exists, but citizens have terrible aim. The garbage lands somewhere within a 200 yard radius of the bins. This problem was there in 2010, and still there in 2014. Gandhinagar is getting more polluted, although Ahmedabad and Chennai are cleaner. 
  7. Public facilities. There is lack of good public toilets, the same as it was in 2010.
  8. Bureaucracy. Getting a VISA on time was near impossible. Another story for another post at another time. The outsourcing arm of the embassy, Cox and Kings, are imbeciles.

Overall, I am optimistic. Although the public sector is static, a free-er economy combined with technology is helping India inch forward.


People measure success along many dimensions in their professional and personal lives.

  • How much money do you make ?
  • How many people do you manage ?
  • What's your title ?
  • How many papers have you published ?
  • How long have you been married ?
  • How many children do you have ?
  • How big is your home ?

and so on.

For me, success isn't measured by any of these. Rather, success is measured the stories that I can tell. 

I try and take decisions everyday with this in mind.

Modi's High Expectations

Narendra Modi is now the prime minister of India.

Modi has yet to address his critics that implicate him in turning a blind eye to the atrocities of 2002. In addition, he is lauded for driving economic growth in his home state, Gujarat, over the past decade by ferreting out government corruption.

I am convinced, as is a significant fraction of the human population, that we are at cusp of dramatic changes for India.

We will either experience unprecedented growth and prosperity or unprecedented calamity. I hope it's the former, and this time, I hope not to watch from the sidelines.

Mindy Kaling is my hero, but ...

Mindy is the star of The Mindy Project. It's the funniest show on TV today. Or, should I say funniest show on Hulu, because since I started watching with Hulu, I lost track of what is and isn't TV anymore.

She's got wit --- that's rare.

She's my hero because she's breaking all barriers and taboos with success. She's Indian, in real-life and on TV. She's Hindu, in real-life and on TV.  She's a female comedy star. She's plus sized. She drinks. She eats. She has boyfriends, with an 's'.  All in real-life and on TV.

I admire her in many ways. But, as a father of three witty, Indian, Hindu girls growing up in the US, I have to ask. Mindy, do you really have to kiss so many boys, and must you do it on TV ?

Welcome to my musings.

I am a father, a husband, a techie, a data nut, and an amateur philosopher. 

I have so many thoughts and observations that derive from daily life. These crisp idea nuggets sit in my head and often wither away in a few days, before I really get a chance to share them. So, instead, I thought I'd put them in a place that I can return to and a place where others can go.

So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.