Dec 30, 2008

Make way for the Competent Communicator!

This post is just a reflection of the one thought that's on my mind since afternoon today.

I completed the Competent Communicator series of the Toastmasters program today. And I'm so glad I have :)

CCTM, my home club, has brought me the best in more ways than one. I'm glad I've wrapped up at least one of the things that I took up here. I'll just work harder and keep my fingers crossed for getting the others to work!

The last of the 10 project series is one where you need to inspire your audience! I tried my best to inspire and move the audience. I'll post the script in my next post maybe, but for the moment I just wanted to brag a bit about my achievement of the day!

I am now Priya S, CC!!! :)

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Dec 26, 2008

Another year slips by...

2008 is slipping away. Another 5 days to go. Each of you probably have your own way of bringing on the New Year. Some like to keep it simple. Some hit the dance floors. Some keep their pitchers full. Some seek blessings from the Gods above. And for some January 1st is just as ordinary as any other day on the calendar!!! In the end it all boils down to ushering in the New Year on a note that appeals to you the most.

For me, it's that time of the year when I take stock of all that happened to me and all that brought me a smile or a tear (usually works the plural way!!!).

Here are some of my
bestest moments of 2008...

A little princess made her way into my family and all our hearts. My li'l niece , Harini, was born on the 13th of February 2008. She's a darling and is by far one of the best things that happened to me in this last one year. She's the reason I'm officially an 'aunty' :P... but she beautifully covers up for that with her smile and by doubling up as my punching bag :). That's a recent picture of hers alongside... post-processed and touched up by me... stuff I picked up from her dad.

Toastmasters happened to me in 2008. A special thank you to Swastika for introducing me to the Covansys Chennai Toastmasters Club (Covansys Chennai Toastmasters Chapter now... name changes I tell you :D). I am so glad I joined Toastmasters. Improving communication and leadership skills maybe its USP, but for me Toastmasters means a lot lot more... I met the most amazing bunch of people at CCTM and the times I've spent with them will always be cherished.

My short stint with Rebelz - a Chennai-based English theater group - for one of their shows. I know I didn't make as much of a contribution, but the few weeks that I spent with the Rebelz junta was by far the most fun weeks in my two years at Chennai. All the best guys for all your shows in the future.

My trip to Munich and the awesome experiences it brought along - the places, the people, the special moments by myself - was a perfect trip... away and yet not away!!! Given a chance I'd love to go back to Munich... quite a few incomplete moments to complete!!!

This was one year I spent watching a lot of movies. Some of the movies that left an impression - A Wednesday, The Bucket List, Fashion, The Pursuit of Happyness, Bridge to Terabithia (on someone's recommendation!)... and a few eye-sores like Yuvvraaj and Karzzz!!

iGoogle and Google Reader - my 'kill sleep at work' pills for the year :P News, views, interesting blogs... all of them RSSed in one window... read on endlessly!!! Guess that's made me more regular on my blog space too :)

Five of my really close couple friends got married in 2008. I felt just as happy for them as they probably felt themselves. I could not make it to any of the weddings in person and I still regret that... but I wish them all great lives ahead with a special mention on my blog :). Congratulations jodis... Ramya and Suman, Jay and Vrunda, Ojas and Shital, Sheetal and Sachin, Amrit and Rutvij.

That's about all that comes to mind for the moment. A lot of not-so-happening events also happened during the year but I've ranted a lot about all of that in my earlier posts.

The one thing I want to say before I wrap up this post... some things missed the list above coz they chose to stay incomplete in 2008. So be it. I choose to believe that they'll feature on my 'bestest moments of 2009' list... coz am not giving up on them!!!

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Dec 20, 2008

My list for Santa...

Christmas is just around the corner... and so are cakes, pastries, Christmas trees and Santa Claus :)

I did my schooling in an English Convent. Christmas was as much a part of my annual festival calendar as Diwali, Pongal or Ganesh Chaturthi.

Christmas at school meant singing Christmas carols, putting up plays on the life of Jesus (played the role of a shepherd in the manger where Christ was born - this is what happens when you're in an all-girls school :P), wearing coloured clothes to school on the last day before the Christmas holidays and secretly working out a Santa wish list :)

Somehow Santa Claus seems just as real as he is imaginary. Somehow I wish to believe he's packing his bags somewhere in the North Pole with stuff for me and all of you who believe in him.

Here's a sneak peek at my Santa wish list this year... in no particular order :)

  • Return Tickets to Bombay... i'm missing my frens there like crazy!!!
  • A yummy chocolate cake (like the one's Enid Blyton spoke of in her books) with zero calories... :P
  • A super-natural power to go kill those who master-minded the Bombay terror attack and other acts of terror.
  • A laptop of my choice... Dell's Studio 17 in Tangerine Orange is my choice for the moment :)
  • More of Abhishek Bachchan on the silver screen... and less of Katrina Kaif :P
  • Big time hits on my blog space... the new look better work ;)
  • The power to dream or wish for things that are possible... it hurts when your dreams remain incomplete... :(
  • On second thoughts Santa, please make that last one... the power to believe that incomplete dreams are only dreams that take longer to realize!
  • Additions to my Lucknowi Chikan suit collection... i can already sense one of Santa's elves coming along with them:)
  • A nice boss at the new job... i wonder if bosses feel just as weird when they're going to have a new subordinate!!!

Ten items on the list!!! I've been moderately good through the year :P... so Mr. Santa please start packing up my stuff right away :)

Merry Christmas all of you!!!

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Dec 11, 2008

Kochi Trip - Toastmasters Style

(Had to write about the trip for the company intranet... was soo lazy to edit the content and reduce the levels of being formal and professional :P just did a few changes here and there.)

I am a proud Toastmaster since January this year. It's surprising I never came across anything about this organization in the past. But like they say... 'better late than never'!!!

I am part of CSC Toastmasters (Chennai), which is a corporate club managed by the organization I work for. The club has been nurturing its members to be better communicators and leaders for over 2 years now. The best part about this club is it's member mix - the perfect combination of beginners, good speakers and experienced Toastmasters.

Participating in several contests and competing with Toastmasters from outside our club only helps evaluate ourselves and raise the bar even higher. We did exactly that when the Area and Division level contests came along in November 2008.

Nageshwar Sahu, a fellow Toastmaster from my club, won the second prize in the International Humourous Speech contest organized by the Toastmasters International at its Division G contest held in Kochi, Kerala on Nov 9th 2008.

Nageshwar kept the audience in splits as he recounted extremely hilarious experiences of his first time in the United States of America. Being funny and keeping the laughter meter high throughout a speech is not easy. Nageshwar had worked really hard for this under the mentorship of Janaki Prasad Pattanaik and some of the other members of the CSC Chennai Toastmasters Chapter. This helped him win both in the CSC Toastmasters club-level Contest and the Chennai Area Contest to qualify to participate in the Division G contest at Kochi.

Shadan, another member from my club also participated in the Humourous speech contest. Manikandan and I progressed to the Division contest in the Speech Evaluation contest.

We were accompanied by veteran Toastmasters Janaki Prasad Pattanaik, Kumar Viswanathan and Jayan Narayanan from CSC Chennai Toastmasters. Their presence and constant encouragement boosted our confidence.

Participating in the contest was a learning experience in itself. It was an honour to be part of the Toastmasters Division Contest where some of the stalwarts from the Toastmasters fraternity were present. We got an opportunity to interact with many eminent Toastmasters from Ernakulam, Bangalore, Chennai and Sri Lanka.

Our train journey to Kochi was a wonderful experience. I am sure none of us (and perhaps our fellow passengers too) would ever forget all the fun we had while travelling.

The journey from Chennai to Kochi was a meals-on-wheels experience. We feasted on samosas, idlis, biscuits, puris and chapatis (in that order if I remember right) through the evening. We were so full by dinner time that we had to skip the burgers we had packed!!!

We munched and laughed our way to Kochi. We reached the venue at around 3.00 am on the 9th of November, 2008. We had to put up at the contest venue itself - which was a beautiful resort called Sarovaram - excellent accomodation, delicious Kerala cuisine and a great ambience for the contest too.

After the contest was over we hired a van to take us around the city. We did not have much time as we were to leave the same evening. Being a Sunday most of the shops were closed. We managed to take a one hour ferry along the Cochin Shipyard though. It was a fun experience. Aditya and Lalitha from Chennai Toastmasters were also with us.

We headed to the station after a short stopover for tea and snacks. The return journey back to Chennai was equally interesting.

The entire experience was one memorable package. We learnt so much from the senior Toastmasters who were there. Many of them were kind enough to give us one on one feedback on our participation. Tips and ideas that will surely stay with us forever.

The Kochi experience was fun in more ways than one... more importantly it marked the completion of one more milestone in our Toastmasters journey!!!

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Dec 10, 2008

A Salute to the Heroes

(Here's the script I used for Project 8 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. I have used excerpts from my earlier post in this one. This speech project is supposed to use visual aids. I prepared a presentation using the pictures below. Do read through and leave me your valuable comments.)

When was the last time you did not grumble when the railway constable frisked you and your baggage?

Can’t remember??

Did any of us raise a voice against the delay in the effectiveness of the 6th Pay Commission for the Armed Forces?

I doubt!!

Policemen, army jawans, commandos and other such people who we rarely care for… were the true heroes during the Mumbai terror attack. We owe them a salute!!!

Policemen, army jawans, commandos and other such people who we rarely care for… were the true heroes during the Mumbai terror attack. We owe them a salute!!!

Bombay witnessed terror in its cruelest form at over 10 places on the night of November 26th.

Never before had Bombay witnessed this kind of 'on-the-face', 'live', 'real time' terror!!! Also, this time it was not just the average middle class that bore the brunt… but even the rich, elite and the international who were affected.

I believe that the insensitive cowards behind these terror strikes are not even worth a mention. I am instead dedicating this blog post to all those who emerged as winners in those horrifying 60 hours… true heroes!!!

I have a few pictures here to remind us of what happened.

A taxi blew up at Vile Parle. The local residents immediately gathered around to see what was left of the taxi and whoever was inside… here’s what was left...

I wonder if the people there had the faintest idea of what their city was going to witness next.

Victoria Terminus

Two terrorists made Bombay’s Victoria Terminus their war zone. They fired at people just like that. Over 50 people lost their lives in an instant... innocent people who were heading back home after a long day at work... innocent people who were waiting to board trains back to their home-towns. I wonder if those dead travelers knew that it would be last time they packed their bags!!!

Nariman House

After the successful massacre at Leopold’s CafĂ© the killers stormed into Nariman House. We all know what happened there after that. They put up a fight for 2 whole days… killing the Jews who lived there, including the young Rabbi and his wife.

The Taj Burns

With the stage set, panic and chaos at its highest and a sense of achievement the killers took the Taj and Oberoi hotels under their siege. There was maximum damage and loss of life at these two hotels. The terrorists killed guests at random, opened fire at people in the restaurants and also targeted foreign nationals in particular.

We cannot forget...

Horror stories like these bring forth the real heroes.

I have prepared my list of heroes from the 26/11 tragedy. We cannot forget any of them. I may have missed out a few more. I think they all deserve our sincere appreciation.

Mumbai Police

Officers from the Mumbai Police department were the first to take on the terrorists.We lost many senior officers from the Mumbai Police that night. Many other constables and police personnel laid down their lives or got injured while fighting it out.

It is clear that the police were not at all equipped to deal with the heavily armed terrorists. A lot of us are making noises about how our policemen have archaic weapons. It’s easy to sit back in the comforts of our homes and offices and come up with intelligent observations and opinions.

Our policemen, especially those who fought for us that night, deserve our gratitude for not hesitating or giving up just because they were ill-equipped. I want to make a special mention of constable Ombale who took around 30 bullets only to ensure that the terrorist is captured alive. I see Ombaleji as a true hero.

I salute him and the rest of the Mumbai Police!

Armed Forces

India’s jawans have always been there for her in times of troubles… whether its war on the border or natural calamities. This time too the army, RAF and the NSG commandos did their best to contain and capture those who brought terror to Bombay.

I read about this injured jawan who was interviewed in the hospital. He said that there were only two things in the minds of the jawans… ‘marna ya maarna’ which means to kill or die. It moves me to see the passion these young men have for the country and our lives. They deserve our gratitude… not just this time, but always.

I salute the Indian Armed Forces!

Mumbai’s Firefighters

Mumbai’s firefighters were the patient, silent heroes at the Taj and Trident hotels. They helped in the rescue operations and also risked their lives while trying to help the guests in the hotel climb down from their windows. They had no weapons… just the spirit to help despite the risk of losing their own lives.

I salute Mumbai’s firefighters.


However much we may want to criticize the media for their over-the-top coverage of the Mumbai terror attack, I think our young reporters, camerapersons and other media staff who were at the terror locations deserve applause.

They brought terror right into our drawing rooms… but then so what!!! I think this media coverage to a large extent is responsible for stirring up the conscience of the average Indian.

I salute the media for, inadvertently, waking us up!!!

Hotel Staff at Taj and Oberoi

Every survivor from the Taj and Oberoi had a word of praise for the staff of the respective hotels. They truly lived up to the spirit of 'Customer Service Comes First' even as they knew it could mean their end. It is touching to hear how they valued their responsibility towards their guests even more than their own lives. They deserve a special mention because serving the customer under terror was not part of their employment contract nor were they paid for it.

I salute the hotel staff at Taj and Oberoi.

Doctors/ Paramedics

It must have been the busiest week for most of the doctors, nurses and other paramedic staff at hospitals across South Mumbai. Bodies of the dead and casualty cases poured in. To be able to hold on to ones senses in the midst of all the chaos and bloodshed, and above that help with the casualties is a service that is commendable.

I salute our doctors and paramedics.

The Ordinary Mumbaikar

This is one entity that is faceless yet something that I have very high regard for. This terror attack on Mumbai was one more occasion where the ordinary Mumbaikar stepped up to help those in trouble.

I read about this Radio Jockey who was chilling out with friends near VT when all the chaos began. He and his friends did not speed away in their cars; instead they rushed to Cama hospital and helped the staff there with the bodies that were pouring in. To me these boys represent a cross section of the ‘Spirit of Bombay’ – a phrase that has been much abused in the last two weeks.

Mumbai’s New Voice

This terror attack has got strong reactions coming in from the non-political class of our society. We need something as massive as a Civilian Revolution to get ourselves out of where we are. Terrorism is a global disease. We have a lot more ailments within our country to set right before taking on something as deadly as terrorism. We need to start from the basics.

I salute Mumbai’s new voice and the ripple effect it has created across the country.


Here’s something that a friend passed on to me when he thought I was being depressed after this terror attack...

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven
- Eric Clapton (Tears in Heaven)

It is tough to get philosophical and be optimistic when we are angry and sometimes helpless. But somehow we need to get things moving… if not for us at least for…

… the future of India… our tomorrow!!!

(PS: I got these pictures as a mail forward... Terror captured by someone on camera!!!)

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Dec 3, 2008

Let this not pass...

Bombay witnessed yet another terror attack last week. For a city that has had over 15 terror attacks in the last 15 years it may seem like a matter of fact. But this time things are different. Let this not pass...

Terror never had a face before. Never before has Bombay witnessed this kind of 'on-the-face', 'live', 'real time' terror!!! This time things are different. Let this not pass...

This time the common man is shaken, anguished and ready to revolt against terror and its perpetrators. This time things are different. Let this not pass...

The 1993 serial bomb blasts in Bombay triggered Bombay's tryst with brutal terrorism. From then on Bombay's terror graph has only progressed (???!!!) diagonally upwards!!! The last one week has been traumatizing. For those who lost their lives - victims of terror. For those who lost their lives trying to save a few other lives - our saviors, true martyrs. For those who mourn the deaths of their near and dear ones - a grief that cannot be consoled no matter how hard we try. For those of us who were miles away from the epicenter of terror - helplessly glued to our TV sets for 4 whole days!!!

I am overwhelmed by this latest act of terror in the name of God and religion. I am lost for words to translate the millions of thoughts and questions that are zipping across my mind like a rollercoaster. This terror strike in Bombay (my nth attempt to show extreme contempt, disgust and zero respect levels for sick politicians who are nothing but opportunists indulging in selfless self-growth and silly meaningless acts like creating regional differences and renaming by-lanes, roads, airports and cities among other things!!!) has scarred me just as it has scarred every one of us who has a conscience left.

I have been meaning to write out what I feel about all that has happened and all that is happening as an aftermath of the terror strike. But with each passing day there are so many stories that I come across - stories about the acts of bravery of our commandoes and policemen, stories about the selfless spirit personified by the hotel staff at the Taj and Oberoi who lived up to the spirit of 'Customer Service Comes First' even as they knew it could mean their end, stories about power and attention hungry politicians who cannot resist seeing an opportunity even in something as gory an incident as this!!! These stories have only tangled my thoughts further.

Bombay witnessed terror in its cruelest form at over 10 places on the otherwise usual Wednesday night on the 26th of November 2008. The terrorists had an agenda. They had a plan that was worked out almost to perfection. Their choice of targets, planned distractions and months of training and planning - all culminated into Bombay's most brutal and fatal 60 hours.

Colaba Causeway is Bombay's favourite among those who love to shop, bargain or simply take a stroll. The numerous vendors who dot the Causeway have loads of stuff on display for everyone who drops by - locals and tourists alike. I have spent so many hours shopping along the Colaba Causeway.

Leopold's Cafe always attracted a glance - that many times ended up as a stare in awe. The Cafe had an aura about itself - even for someone like me who experienced it without ever stepping in. I could not miss the ambience that the dim orange lights created, the 'always packed to the brim' look, the variety of foreigners and their constant chatter as they wined and dined. This image of Leopold's would have stayed that way forever but for the terror it witnessed last week.

I have read a lot of articles about the bloodshed at Leopold's - about how almost everyone in the Cafe were killed, about couple of survivors who lay down in the pools of blood amidst the dead for as long as 45 minutes pretending to be dead till help came by, about how a waiter who worked at Leopold's for over 20 years got killed and also about how his brother (who also worked for a long time at the joint) managed to escape only to hear this when he made a numerous attempts to reach his dead brother - 'I took the phone out of this dead body's pocket, who is speaking?'!!!

Leopold's was back to business after 4 days of the incident. I wonder if they can somehow arrange for a fine dining experience for the captive terrorist right there at Leopold's tonight. It will be a slap on his face and on the face of the many spineless creatures behind this and every other act of terror!!!

Victoria Terminus - affectionately known as VT, forcefully known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or CST (with no offence meant to the Great Maratha warrior - my childhood History book hero!!!) was the next on their massacre agenda. If local trains are Bombay's lifeline, VT is its heart. Lakhs of Bombayites cross paths at VT every day. Lakhs of people from the rest of India enter Bombay at Victoria Terminus. What a perfectly chosen spot to spread panic, take lives and leave the blood stains forever!!! Over 50 people lost their lives in an instant... innocent people who were heading back home after a long day at work... innocent people who were waiting to board trains back to their home-towns. A lot more lives could have been taken. We must spare a moment to appreciate and thank the presence of mind displayed by the announcer at VT station and his team who continuously relayed messages for 25 minutes cautioning the many passengers who were alighting at VT and those who were on the premises to run for safety through specific exits or stay put in the trains. They continued making the announcements even after the terrorists shot at their office. This time things are different. I urge brave men like these to let this not pass!!!

Another target was the Nariman House - a building in one of the packed by-lanes of Colaba. This building housed a Jewish Synagogue and attracted a lot of Israeli visitors. It took our commandoes two whole days to put an end to the battle at Nariman House. I am not qualified to comment on the logistics of the commando operations. But I also appreciate the delay and slow process keeping in mind the fact that our commandoes need to think twice about the hostages, the neighbouring buildings and the people around. This makes it a lot more difficult when compared to the fidayeen mentality of the terrorists. Five people including the young Rabbi and his wife were taken hostage and killed later. Their 2-year old son Moshe, who was rescued, is an orphan now!!

With the stage set, panic and chaos at its highest and a sense of achievement the killers took the Taj and Oberoi hotels under their siege. The Taj was where they had set up their control room. It reflects so poorly of our security system to realize that four of the terrorists were living in the Taj for four whole days prior to the incident, stocking themselves with arms, ammunition, strategies to kill and dry fruits to live on so that they could kill for longer!!! All of this went on unnoticed. How??? Is this a reflection of how weak we are or is it just that they're simply many steps ahead!!!

Over a hundred people were killed at the Taj and Oberoi. The toll includes a large number of foreigners as well. This was part of the agenda too - target foreign nationals to create international panic!!! My blood boils when I imagine how the vicious minds behind all this would be celebrating their success. Nine of their men may have been killed, but does that even matter to them!!!

We lost close to 15 policemen - including brave men like Karkare, Salaskar and Kamte. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the NSG and another commando also met their end while fighting the terrorists. Some of the brave men are badly injured. Here is something I read about what an injured NSG commando said even while he was recovering at the hospital...

"There were only two things that crossed my mind that day. Marna ya maarna (kill or die)," he says without batting an eyelid. "When you take a vow to protect the pride of Bharat Mata (Mother India), death doesn't scare you," he says even as the hospital staff brings in a stretcher to move him to another room.

High time we (more importantly our so-called leaders) learn from brave men like these!!! The spirit to serve the nation was not meant to be limited only to our brave jawans!!!

After every disaster, natural calamity or terrorist attack is over India has always witnessed a dirty blame game. Loads of controversies and finger pointing began right after the commandoes won the battle and returned to New Delhi. Politicians who had locked themselves up for four days began surfacing once the coast was clear. It is really sad to see that we are being led by a bunch of people who do not even have the guts to own up responsibility, accept their failures and look at options that would never allow something like this to repeat. Instead they are busy passing the buck to make sure they get themselves a clean chit!!!

Maharashtra's Home Minister R.R. Patil had the audacity to refer to this incident as a small one that happens once in a while in big cities like Bombay. Gopinath Munde was at the Nariman House area immediately after the commandoes had done their job. For what??? I only wish he got beaten up that night!!!

Where were the Thackerays when their 'Mumbai' was burning??? Where were the Thackerays when the Marathi manoos was weeping to see his city being torn apart? Where were the self-proclaimed saviors - the Sena and MNS activists - when the city witnessed its darkest night??? Are our saviors and protectors only potent enough to burn effigies, indulge in rail-rokos, ransack shops that want to spread the message of love on Valentine’ Day and burn up taxis run by non-Marathis!!! It is time the real people of Maharashtra wake up... our saviors need help!!!

Politicians stink across states. It will be unfair to only point fingers at the Thackerays and their hooligans. I fall short of expletives to react to the disgusting and cheap remarks made by Kerala's Chief Minister. 'But for the slain Major, not even a dog will go there' - is what the CM said only because Major Unnikrishnan's father expressed his anger and grief against politicians. I believe that the distraught father's decision to not let the politician inside his home and his fury only mirrors what the rest of us feel. It is ok to be offended and hurt but the CM passing a remark as cheap as that only shows how much he even meant to offer his condolences.

Another politician who deserves a severe bashing is BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who commented on Bombayites raising a voice against his clan by saying that 'lipstick and powder-coated women' were busy abusing politicians on TV. So what Mr. Naqvi?? What makes you more insecure - the fact that the masses are raising a voice against you and the rest of you or the fact that women have an option to adorn themselves with lipstick and powder??? Cheap and irrelevant remarks like these in the midst of a tense situation - shameful!!!

The police department is the first one to tackle any act of violence anywhere. It is clear that our police departments are not at all equipped to deal with the kind of terrorists we have today. Why does this inadequacy go unnoticed and unchecked? How difficult is it to have someone audit what is available and what is lacking in terms of skills, weapons, ammunition, protective wear etc.

I read somewhere that Vijay Salaskar - the encounter specialist who died last Thursday - has never worn a bullet proof jacket in all his successful encounter shootings in the past. This time too he was not wearing one. This is because bullet proof jackets available with the police serve no purpose. He had apparently raised this matter with authorities as well as in the courts. But nothing happened. Why can’t we have an external, non-government agency to look into such complaints and issues? Is it against a democracy in any way? Don't we as a tax paying people have the right to audit and ensure that our taxes are being utilized in the right way?

A lot of people say if you're not happy with politics, join politics and set things right. Why should that be the only solution? Not everyone can lead anyway... but that does not mean he/ she cannot raise a voice against the mess our politicians have created. When India can produce world class professionals in every other field why have we failed to produce honest men and women who can lead our nation from the front!!!

Asking the Patils at the Centre and the State to step down will make no difference. They will only be replaced by someone equally corrupt, if not more. It's not just the ruling party to be blamed. A dignified Opposition party would be one that steps forward to work hand in hand with the Ruling party to deal with this national catastrophe. But here we have leaders from the Opposition giving more priority to their election campaigns and distributing pamphlets with chronicles of the ongoing incident and how the Congress has failed!!! It is not just a failure for the Congress or the BJP. We have all failed miserably as a democracy. It hurt when I heard someone say that 'we are unfortunately a democracy'. But somehow that is the sad truth!!!

Every cloud has a silver lining. This cloud that had overcast Bombay was one real dark cloud. The silver lining appears to be the reactions coming in from the non-political class of our society. We need something as massive as a Civilian Revolution to get ourselves out of where we are. Terrorism is a global disease. We have a lot more ailments within our country to set right before taking on something as deadly as terrorism. We need to start from the basics.

We must also not let ourselves get carried away by emotions. The war against terrorism should not let us create divisions based on religion. This is not a Hindu-Muslim war. This is not an India-Pakistan war. We are all victims of terror. The strong statements made by the Maulanas in Bombay that they would not allow the bodies of the killed terrorists to be buried in their crematoriums speak volumes.

I am glad to have been born and brought up in Bombay. I have cribbed endlessly about how much I miss Bombay ever since I have moved out of it. I am proud to see my fellow Bombayites raise a voice this time. I am hurt to see the 'Spirit of Bombay' being criticized as nothing but a compulsion of life. I only pray that these reactions and stimuli last long enough to clean us up of all the mess. I only hope that what has begun as youth rallies against terror, candle-light movements, mass outrage on the blogosphere, email and SMS leads to something much bigger and more concrete. This time things are different. Let us get ourselves to let this not pass...

Lastly, what kind of God do these terrorists have? What kind of faith do they follow? What kind of God would be pleased to see innocent lives been taken... brutally!!! I have heard from learned men and women that there is only one God, that God is above all other and that he somehow sets right the wrong!!! Why is God silent over all that has been happening on the terror front then??? I am not ruling out our failures and responsibilities as a people. But if there is a God above are these unfair imbalances not visible to him??? The people of Bombay and the rest of the world who care have risen above this crisis to try and put an end to terrorism... somehow!!! This time things are different. Help us God... Let this not pass!!!

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Dec 2, 2008

This time I will remember

(Another poem I came across that once again reflects what we all feel about what happened at Bombay. We want answers. This time we are ready to take that extra step to not forget this incident. To take that extra step to not move ahead in life and call it the 'spirit' of Bombay. To take that extra step and ensure a safer tomorrow for ourselves and our generations to come. I found this poem written by Sanjay Trehan on

This time I will remember
A mother caressing her dead son's forehead
Preparing him pre-maturely for his final destination

This time I will remember
Innocent diners lined up and shot at point blank
Caught in somebody else's war

This time I will remember
Blood splattered walls with grotesque imagery
Freshly burnt flesh shattered mirrors and broken lives

This time I will remember
A mother and her two young kids charred beyond recognition
While the Dad put public good ahead of the personal

This time I will remember
Gun totting terrorists creating mayhem on the streets
Target practicing at a railway station

This time I will remember
Backpackers at a cafe or receptionists at a hotel
Reduced to pieces for no reason

This time I will remember
How like vultures our politicians encircle dead bodies
And feed on the rotting flesh

This time I will remember
How netas usurp Z class security at our expense
And let us be killed like flies

This time I will remember
How our oily babus clamour for promotions
While a plane for commandos is buried in files

This time I will not forget
I will let my wounds fester
I will continue to rage against these parasites
I will demand accountability
I will not allow countless lives to be broken
I will not allow politicians to divide us

This time I will remember
And I will prevail.

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Dec 1, 2008

is baar nahi...

(Lyricist Prasoon Joshi wrote this poem after the Mumbai terror attacks. Says the ad guru and film lyricist, "I believe it should reach as many people as possible because it is our collective pain and voice". I was moved by what he's written... it's truly what every one in Bombay and the rest of India feel... poet or non-poet!!!)

Is baar jab woh choti si bachchi
mere paas apni kharonch le kar aayegi
Main usey phoo phoo kar nahin behlaoonga
Panapney doonga uski tees ko
Is baar nahin

Is baar jab main chehron par dard likha dekhoonga
Nahin gaoonga geet peeda bhula dene wale
Dard ko risney doonga,utarney doonga andar gehrey
Is baar nahin

Is baar main na marham lagaoonga
Na hi uthaoonga rui ke phahey
Aur na hi kahoonga ki tum aankein band karlo,gardan udhar kar lo main dawa lagata hoon
Dekhney doonga sabko hum sabko khuley nangey ghaav
Is baar nahin

Is baar jab uljhaney dekhoonga,chatpatahat dekhoonga
Nahin daudoonga uljhee door lapetney
Uljhaney doonga jab tak ulajh sake
Is baar nahin

Is baar karm ka hawala de kar nahin uthaoonga auzaar
Nahin karoonga phir se ek nayee shuruaat
Nahin banoonga misaal ek karmyogi ki
Nahin aaney doonga zindagi ko aasani se patri par
Utarney doonga usey keechad main,tedhey medhey raston pe
Nahin sookhney doonga deewaron par laga khoon
Halka nahin padney doonga uska rang
Is baar nahin banney doonga usey itna laachaar
Ki paan ki peek aur khoon ka fark hi khatm ho jaye
Is baar nahin
Is baar ghawon ko dekhna hai
Gaur se
Thoda lambe wakt tak
Kuch faisley
Aur uskey baad hausley
Kahin toh shuruat karni hi hogi
Is baar yahi tay kiya hai

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Oct 28, 2008

Gate Crashers

(Here's the script I used for Project 6 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. Won the Best Speaker prize for this one too :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments.)
Has any one ever gate crashed a wedding reception???
Something I thought could be very exciting!!!

Our lecturer for Operations Research Madam Phansalkar’s son was getting married that day. My batchmate Prashant was also a faculty for undergraduate courses in our college. Phansalkar Madam had sent an invitation to Prashant for her son’s wedding that day.

That day was a usual day at college. Lectures were over and we were lazing around in the canteen over poha and chai. Prashant too was there with us. He read out the invitation … ‘You are cordially invited with family and friends…’

Now, when you are away from home for a long time, things like good food, dressing up, mingling with guys other than your boring batchmates are things that turn you on... ‘Cordially invited with family and friends’ struck the same chord among all 10 of us.

Prashant called out… 'Those who want to come for the reception, please raise your hands'... (the professor effect :P). Shamelessly I raised my hand… then I saw 9 other shameless people around me.

My friend Shagufta, a typical tomboy, and a total extrovert did the head count aloud. Prashant was visibly baffled; he was just being formal... Shagufta was just being normal!!!

Poor Prashant had to maintain that friendly gesture and said 'Yes yes... why not' and turned to the rest of us... one by one people started making excuses and began dropping out.

I badly needed a feast. Shagufta had been away from home for her graduation as well. Probably that made her hungrier for good food. She gave me the sternest look and said… 'Priya... you are not dropping out... We'll just be eating a tiny portion of the food from soooo much food... wont harm anyone'. I was game and thought it will be fun to try out. Gate crashing was something I always wanted to do. I accepted.

She gave the pleading 'please don’t drop out' look to another close friend Jay. Guess what… boys always agree and so did Jay.

Finally we got ready by around 6.00 pm and headed to Jay's house. We could hear sounds from inside his place...
'Oh no!!’
'Aah that looks better'...
Shagufta and I thought Jay was definitely deciding what he should wear!!

We rang the bell... and banged the door... Jay called from inside... 'Come in... Door is open'. We went in to see him playing some super fast car game on his PC - dressed in shorts and a tee shirt!!! We were irritated!!!

Shagufta switched off the PC and in her usual tone said... 'Jayy... chalna nahi hai kya' which means don’t we have to leave now?

Only then did Jay actually notice us. After all boys will be boys… switch off the TV or PC… only then their minds open up. He pushed back the chair and sprang up the moment he saw us... to him we were overly dressed for a usual evening - he least expected that we would actually dare to barge into the reception… uninvited.

Jay tried the ‘hurt the ego’ stunt on me. 'Priya!!! I never expected this from you...class topper doing such things just doesn’t suit you'. Shagufta came to my rescue... 'Jay, good food is waiting for us... but its not waiting for us forever... are you coming... now!!!' I stood there smiling at him with a 'serves you right' look.

We helped him find something to wear. Actually to make sure we don’t look overly dressed we dug out his most ethnic kurta and made him decide on that.

Jay is someone who was very conscious about his looks.
He looked at the kurta and at then at us… 'Are you girls sure I should wear this?'
Shagufta said 'Of course yes Jay... simple yet elegant'.
'Absolutely... all the girls at the reception would go crazy over you', I added.
That did it. Jay was ready in a minute and we were out with Prashant in the next 5 minutes.

Seeing only three of us, Prashant looked a lot more relieved than in the morning. He got the company he wanted instead of the crowd!!! Prashant called for an auto and gave Phansalkar Ma’am’s residence address.

We reached her house… but there was no activity. It was dark and quiet… no sign of celebration… no sign of food!!! And it was not April First. Only then it struck us that receptions are not normally held at people's homes. In all the excitement and enthusiasm, we did not read the venue details on the invite... 'Cordially invited with family and friends' did not let us look beyond.

The boys were embarrassed. Shagufta was angry… may have been hungry too. I was lost. Prashant rushed to the security guard to find out where the reception was happening. It was happening at a hall just behind Jay's house. Jay could not hold back his anger. We could not hold back our laughter. Jay sighed 'Aaah!!! Too much', Prashant the perfect host said... 'Come on let’s rush no more delay'... Shagufta promptly agreed with a 'Yes yes!!!'... I was more practical... 'Bhaiya, Shivaji Nagar'... I called out for an auto.

We finally reached the hall and stepped in. The big fans at the entrance, the red carpet, the potted plants along the walk way, food counters visible at a distance - this was the wedding venue!!!
The strong scented air that the fan blew on our faces shook us up... Shagufta and I exchanged looks - guilt struck both of us - but it was too late... Jay was already prancing around the hall in his new kurta and Prashant was mingling with the other faculty members... we had been abandoned!! Shagufta and I were embarrassed – now!!! After a couple of moments both of us exchanged looks again – as if telling each other - 'Big Deal!!'. We started having a good time - pulling Jay's leg, checking out the other guests, what the others were wearing etc.

After a while, our course coordinator walked in. We began hiding ourselves behind each other, in the process revealing all 3 of us. Sir smiled at us and spoke very normally. Some other staff members were also sweet enough to speak to us. We are sure... behind those smiles they were thinking... 'How come these people are here’?

Finally the inevitable happened. Phansalkar Ma’am spotted us. She saw our pink faces and tried to calm us down... "I'm sooo happy you'll came for the wedding... Don’t you'll leave without eating" she said pulling my cheeks like a typical aunty. "Tell her that's exactly why we're here' Shagufta whispered in my ear... I was confused how to react... and simply nodded. Prashant and a couple of other staff members were laughing at us for the rest of the evening.

Finally after all this, we headed to the food counter... and ate to our fullest. We were so shameless we did not even wish the couple, nor did we present them anything. We just ate and ate and ate.

The next day at college was good fun. We told long stories about our act of bravery. Our batch mates realized we were lying when we skipped Operations Research lectures for the rest of the term.

(PS: We never dared to tell Phansalkar Ma'am that the food was simply mouth-watering at the reception... Ma'am if you happen to read this... I'll be happy the message got conveyed :) Prashant thanks so much for reading out the invite that day... and Jay and Shagufta... a big thank you to both of you for matching my Shamelessness Quotient :P)

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Sep 22, 2008

Colourful Chaos

(Here's the script I used for Project 5 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. Won the Best Speaker prize for this one too :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments.)

Two dozen eggs… three bottles of coconut oil… 10 packets of natural colour… water as required. No, I am not demonstrating some delicious egg-based recipe, I am just reviewing our checklist for the next Holi celebration.

Holi as we all know is the festival of colours. It is a very popular festival up North. It is usually celebrated over two days starting with the burning of the demoness Holika in a huge bonfire at night. The next day is called Dhulhendi – where people spend the day throwing coloured powder and water at each other. Thandai is a popluar refresher that people prepare and drink during that day. Bhang – an intoxicant made from hemp leaves is added to the thandai – to add more spirit to the festive spirit perhaps!!!

I think that is enough of an introduction to a festival which probably by now quite clearly comes across as my favourite festival. Well… before I continue let me say that Holi is not only NOT my favourite festival but also it is one festival that I dread the most.

Holi was celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm in our residential colony in Bombay. Kids of all ages along with the parents would have loads of fun throwing coloured powder on each other and spraying coloured water with their pichkaris. Teenaged boys would get this tank like box filled with coloured water and would literally pick up everyone and throw them into the tank. It is an unwritten rule about Holi – no one can be less coloured than the other. Some of the coloured uncles and aunties would go around visiting homes to apply the traditional tikka of gulal or red powder… never once did I oblige them. What begins as a tikka on the forehead ends up leaving you all coloured… cannot really blame them… must be the bhang in action!!!

As a kid… well to be honest… even as a grown up kid, I would literally lock myself in my room or sometimes the bathroom to stay away from all this chaos in colour. All that I’ve described is what I managed to see from behind the curtains of my closed windows. They say that time is the best healer… but for me this fear of Holi just keeps increasing every year. I would like to share one recent Holi experience at this point.

This happened when I was studying in Pune. My roommates Jyoti and Kavneet – both from North India – were fretting over the fact that they were not able to play Holi that year because we had an exam on the following day. I was so secretly happy!!!

We were busy with our books. It was around 2 pm in the afternoon when Jyoti’s mobile rang. She picked up the phone. It was another batchmate, Mayank. He wanted some book for the next day’s exam. Mayank was from our group… but you know when it is Holi I do not take any chances. Seeing the fear on my face, Jyoti covered the handset and checked if I thought it was a hoax. I nodded my head even before she finished asking. But Mayank sounded genuine on the phone. He said they had already finished playing Holi in the morning and that he had just finished his bath and lunch and was walking towards our house to collect the book. Jyoti was convinced. Though she missed playing Holi she was in no mood to get wet and coloured because she had loads to study. But she was convinced.

I still had my doubts. Boys - you can never trust… and trusting them on Holi is like a huge gamble!!! I took the lead in helping Jyoti pack up the book. We wrapped the book in a lot of newspaper, fastened it with a rubber band and then put it in a plastic bag.

In Pune, landlords come up with these silly rules for female tenants… one of their favourites being ‘Boys not Allowed’. Our building was a little inside the compound with a long narrow stretch of road to walk to the main gate. Jyoti was supposed to meet Mayank at the gate and hand over the book. I watched from the balcony as she approached the gate. I do not know what prompted her to be cautious, but when she reached the gate she slowed down and took a peek outside on the right side first and then towards the left. I was proud of her for being so cautious. The next moment she turned back and began running as fast as she could. In the same moment some 20 coloured creatures were chasing her. The next moment poor Jyoti was drenched in colour. I was stunned and I began yelling for help. Kavneet also rushed to the balcony. She was able to identify those boys… they were our batchmates – Mayank included. All I could risk for my room mate was to stay put in the balcony and call out for her. It was a well calculated risk – they could not get me coloured even though I was in an open balcony without curtains - we lived on the fifth floor… if nothing else at least gravity would save me from getting coloured.

Poor Jyoti came back home in some time. It didn’t look like she was out only for a few minutes. They had even broken eggs on her head and it was dripping all over. The boys waited for some more time… outside the gate. They were forcing Kavneet and me to go down and get coloured for 5 mins to avoid fatal consequences later. For me, those 5 minutes were fatal and we did not relent. ‘Boys not allowed’ made sense for once!

I definitely appreciate the spirit of fun about Holi, but when it comes to all this colourful chaos, please count me out. If you have your checklist in place… advance wishes to all of you for the next Holi and the many more to come. I would never risk wishing you in person anyway.

(Special thanks to Jyoti, Kavneet, Mayank and the rest of the coloured creatures who let me use their names without their permission :P)

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Aug 20, 2008

Munich Moments

July 2008 – one month that I’ll always remember. I was out on my first trip abroad... all by myself!!! I visited the beautiful city of Munich in Germany. There’s loads to write about the trip, but there were some really small (some may seem silly too!!!) yet meaningful things that I just cannot forget. I thought it will be better to simply list them out without getting into the details. These moments lasted only for a couple of seconds or minutes… but they bring a smile on my face even now. Read on and hopefully you would be smiling by the time you’re through with the list...
  • The weird first timer feeling I had on my first international flight – the travel pillow, the blanket, the headphones and the built-in TV with its retractable remote!!!
  • The strange feeling of not feeling different when I got off at Dubai airport
  • The even more strange feeling when I didn’t feel lost or home-sick at Dubai airport and during the trip in general
  • The pleasantly enchanting feeling when I first stepped out of Munich airport… there was something in the chill air that gave me a warm welcome
  • The real life phoren experience with foreigners all around me… actually I was a foreigner this time round :)
  • The cool feeling of being driven around in a BMW
  • The promptness with which Sabrina gave me an agenda for my time at Germany – agenda of what they had planned out for me to do each evening and over the weekend :)
  • The fantastic roadways with really fast cars speeding along
  • The clean broad roads and the trees that lined them
  • The apartment hotel room with a built-in kitchenette… my home sweet home at Munich
  • The smart corridor lights in the hotel that would light up every time I stepped into the corridor :)
  • The Maggi noodles and other ready-to-eat stuff that I cooked up for dinner sometimes
  • The whole breakfast experience at the hotel every morning – all kinds of breads, cheese, marmalades, juices and the serve yourself arrangement
  • The whole ‘I am a traveler and I have a map to help me around’ experience
  • The train travels and the English-German instructions for boarding/ alighting on every station
  • The escalators at all the stations – the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t too :)
  • The huge sprawling Allianz campus at Unterfuhring and the sparkling glass exteriors
  • The perfect work-life balance that the Germans maintain – when they’re working they’re working… when they’re not working they’re living life!!!
  • The huge canteen at the Allianz office with so much of food… the pure vegetarian in me had to settle for the salads and fruit juices though!!!
  • The wonderful company of colleagues at Allianz and how they tried their best to converse with me in the little English they knew
  • The almost every evening visits to beer gardens around the city
  • The health conscious Germans walking, jogging, cycling, skating or playing football while the others drank beer
  • The funny and otherwise unimaginable importance that beer got over water
  • The enthusiasm and general spirit of every localite I came across and the sincere attempts they made to make me feel comfortable
  • The effort Mr. Grimm made at the Johanneskirchen beer garden to translate everything on the menu from German to English – helping me make sure that it was vegetarian :)
  • The baked potato and cream that I finally ordered – took me to my Enid Blyton days where all her characters had potatoes baked in their jackets with cream and herbs :)
  • The chill in the air and the occasional rains
  • The funny experience of having daylight up to 9.30 or 10.00 pm
  • Christopher Street Day and how I was dazed at all that I saw!!! (I know what you’re gonna be Google-ing next :P)
  • Roaming around the streets by myself in my attempts to explore the city
  • Viktualienmarkt and its awesome spread of stalls selling everything from fruits, flowers, cheese and beer to handmade dolls, straw dolls and all kinds of cute and colourful wooden dolls
  • The street-side musicians and acrobats who entertained the crowds
  • The beautiful flowers outside windows and balconies of most of the buildings – the uniform pattern added so much charm to it
  • The awesome architecture all over… the churches, the town hall, The Residense, Odeonsplatz etc
  • The contrasting architecture of the old buildings and the ultra modern shopping complexes along Karlsplatz Stachus
  • The small packed shop Max Krug – that had a huge collection of cuckoo clocks and other Munich memorabilia to choose from
  • The tall enchanting church towers and the beautiful glass paintings on their glass panes
  • The special feeling inside the churches I visited – Frauenkirche, Peterskirche and St. Maxmillian Church
  • The walks I took along the River Isar... never knew I could give myself such good company :)
  • The beautiful refreshing green landscapes at Olympia Park, Hofgarten and Englischergarten
  • The fairy tale kind experience of visiting the Nymphemburg Schloss Castle and the sprawling gardens behind it
  • The fun ride I had with Sabrina in the open top double decker tourist bus on the weekend sightseeing tour
  • The ride down Maxmillian Street – the most expensive street in Munich where the world’s costliest brands sell their stuff
  • The pista, vanilla and hazelnut ice creams that I had for 1 Euro each :)
  • The visit I made to Prasad’s house at Bonner Platz… felt great meeting his wife and daughter Madhulika and enjoyed eating Indian food in foreign land
  • The visit I made to Karsten’s house in Gauting… meeting his wife Karen, kids Lhasa and Maya, the pancakes and vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries for dinner... strolling around in Gauting was a wonderful experience too
  • The visit I made to Jurij’s house… meeting his daughter Milianna, eating the delicious home-made pizza and the rest of the Bavarian delicacies that his wife Tanya had made for me... can't forget the cake too :)
  • The BMW World and BMW Museum visit – am not so much of a cars person, but seeing so many cars of one of the most desired brands was an experience by itself
  • The Kinetic Sculpture demonstration at the BMW Museum and how we simply couldn't take our eyes off it
  • The chocolate shopping that I did at ALDI for my family and friends back home… never shopped for chocolates like that… ever!!!
  • The good-byes I bid to every piece of furniture in my hotel room on the day I was leaving (please excuse the senti factor :P)
  • The strange feeling I had on the day I had to leave…

Munich never once made me feel lonely, lost or home-sick… that surely means there’s something about the place that makes it really special. What I’ve tried to do here is to list out my moments in Munich that I would never possibly forget…. I’m sure I would have missed out on many such moments in my hurry to post this article online… I will add to the list as and when they come to mind :). If ever you have enough money and time on hand… Munich is a must visit… I truly love the place and would not hesitate to take the next chance I get to be there!!!

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May 20, 2008

Tales on Rails

(Here's the script I used for Project 3 of Toastmasters at the Chennai Covansys Toastmasters Club [CCTM]. Won the Best Speaker prize for this one too :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments)

Chennai’s sweltering summer is draining us all out!!! We’re all complaining about the rising temperatures!!! Summers – however hot they were – somehow always brought a lot of cheer and excitement when I was schooling in Bombay. Summers meant summer vacations. Summer vacations meant visiting my grandparents in Chennai which also meant the fun-filled 36 hours of train journey from Bombay to Chennai.

We have so many micro societies formed within society in general. Societies that get formed in residential colonies, societies at work, jogging track societies and the like. All of them have their own charm and personify a sense of belongingness. For me, the 36 hour train journey every summer was nothing short of a society on wheels.

Bus journeys are too short. Flights may get you frequent flyer points and pretty airhostesses, but traveling long distance by second class is one of the most entertaining experiences and I’m very sure all of you would agree.

We used to travel by the Madras Mail almost every year. We’re a family of five and the first thing that would be debated over before any journey would be the luggage count. We always had a minimum of 7-8 bags, plus of course the last minute additions like the big basket full of breakfast, lunch and dinner, the water can and an extra bag for all our footwear!!! Dad tried really hard to explain how one pair of footwear would be good enough for the two month vacation. Somehow that never worked with us.

I have come across a cross section of all sorts of people during my journeys. It’s like a stage on the move with people of all types making an appearance!!! As kids we would strike quick friendships with the other kids in the compartment and have a good time together. We would come up with interesting games to play - right from ‘who climbs up to the upper berth first’ to ‘count the tunnels as they pass’!!! As I grew up, I became more of an observer. Constantly munching something seemed to be every passenger’s delight and only pass time. We were quite a hotel-on-rails ourselves. The big basket had everything from yummy idlis for breakfast to packed tamarind rice for lunch. Not to forget the be all and end all of every South Indian’s meal – the curd rice – mum would have it all in place for us.

While traveling by train, you have just two interesting things to do… eating and watching others while they are eating!!! There was once this Gujarati family traveling along with us. Small eats and snacks are an absolute must for them. The ladies in the group actually prepared an elaborate bhel puri for their entire group – complete with all the ingredients. We had fun seeing them make it and they had fun as they ate it all up.

There was this other occasion when there were a group of Marwadis traveling to Chennai. They were busy playing cards throughout the journey. Never seen more enthusiastic card players after that!!! So much that after a while almost everyone in the compartment had joined them in their game of cards!!!

When we’re talking about train journeys, we just cannot overlook the vendors selling all kinds of stuff – right from eatables to toothbrush and toothpaste for the forgetful travelers. It would be an interesting sight to see little kids blackmailing their parents to buy them something from almost every vendor who caught their attention. I did that too, as a kid.

There’s this small town called Daund on the Bombay-Chennai route. This place is supposedly notorious for dacoits and train thieves. All the elderly men in the compartment would ensure that the window shutters are closed before sleep time. They would advice everyone else to be careful of their belongings. On one such night journey, when we were all asleep there was this thief who got in somehow. I was asleep on the middle berth. All of a sudden the train screeched to a halt and I woke up with a start to see this hooded person running away from near my berth. Apparently, Mr. Thief was trying to snatch my chain just as someone else who had been robbed had pulled on the train’s emergency chain!!! The entire compartment woke up. Some people tried to chase the thief. Others helped to check if everyone’s belongings were safe, while a few others offered to stay awake and keep vigil for the rest of the night.

The best part about all these journeys would always be when we reached Chennai. No matter how absurd our first impressions about our fellow travelers were, we would have struck quite a few good friendships through the journey. I’m surprised about how we would feel sorry to be parting after that brief stint together. But that’s the way it is. We tend to gel beautifully with our co-passengers on the move. Irrespective of where they’re from or what religion they follow. Wonder what makes it so difficult to respect and accept people as they are in the journey of life!!!

Have we become an intolerant lot? People living together for decades just can’t stand each other now. The recent attack on north Indians in Maharashtra, the attack on Biharis in Assam and other similar incidents of regional intolerance are not something we would want more of. India has often been quoted as a burning example of unity in diversity. Are we failing to live up to it? ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ – is an ancient Sanskrit scripture from the Rigveda!!! Literally translated it means ‘the entire world is one family’. This term has been coined nearly 5000 years ago when nationalism as a concept didn’t even exist – leave alone regionalism. It surely subscribes to mutual coexistence and respect for each others beliefs and values. Think about it… can all of us together help make Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum a reality – train journey or otherwise?

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Apr 9, 2008

To Wish or Not to Wish

(I used this script for completing my Project 2 of Toastmasters. Had a couple of goof-ups while delivering the content but managed to win the Best Speaker prize for this one :-). Do read through and leave me your valuable comments)

Valentine's Day, Women's Day, Mother's Day, Doctor's Day, Grandparents' Day, Send-A-Hug Day, Bubble Bath Day, Respect Your Cat Day - browse through the internet or walk into a nearby novelty store and you will find almost every day of the year tagged as some interesting, sometimes bizarre day!!! Do these days really add cheer to our lives or are they merely money making gimmicks of the commercial world around us? To wish or not to wish, is the question.

Are you a Valentine's Day critic or do you love it's 'love is in the air' feeling? Do you care to stop by and wish your family doctor on Doctor's Day or do you prefer to munch down an apple and keep the doctor away? Do you appreciate the idea of having these designated days? Do you need to have these designated days? Till a few years ago who cared about all these days? I've asked myself these questions often and probably so have you!!!

Today's consumers, like teenagers are a confused lot. Extremely vulnerable and easily exploited by the media. Television, radio and print media are giving bloated publicity to these special days and events in their own interest. So far they have been successfully exploiting us.

TV serials and reality shows ensure such days and events get coverage. It is interesting how they pretend to connect with their audiences whilst they are busy cashing in on their rising TRPs. In Bombay, I've seen the Times of India selling print space to its day-struck readers to convey their wishes in print. You'll get to see 2-3 pages of crammed up greetings on most of these days. Just imagine... Valentine's Day morning and you're wading through scores of sweet nothings that are best kept private.

All this media hype has definitely left a strong impression on the minds of the youth. We tend to attach more importance to these coined days than to our festivals and cultural events. When it comes to Diwali or Pongal, I’m curious about its origin and history. When it comes to Women’s Day or Daughter’s Day, I don’t really care about their origin. For me, it’s more an opportunity to expect designer wear and diamond accessories!!!

Special days and events are heavy on the wallet too. But as long as the money is taken care of do we hesitate before getting those roses and rings at a premium? A special occasion say some… mindless consumerism say others!!!

Days like Friendship Day and Rose Day are a big thing on college campuses. They can create quite a psychological impact on young minds. Just go back down memory lane and you’ll most likely find yourself sulking about how you did not get as many Friendship Ribbons or Red Roses… unless of course you were the reigning Rose Queen or Mr. Popular!!!

Specialized treatment for some could also create a feeling of being left out for some others. For example, doctors get truck-loads of cards on Doctor’s Day… imagine how you would feel if you were a paramedic, compounder or personal assistant to a busy doctor!!!

There’s a lot of hysteria around these days. To be a part of the crowd or not is a tough decision to take. The retail industry has exploited fatter pay packets of the consumer by endorsing these events. Hotels and resorts come up with trendy ideas and packages to celebrate special occasions. Shrewd florists, greeting card and gift shop vendors – they all just add to the commercial chaos around us!!!

So should we put a stop to all this? Well, maybe not. There are two sides to every coin. I also look forward to these events for a variety of reasons.

They give us so many more opportunities to celebrate – so many more avenues to express our feelings. Forgetful husbands often bear the brunt for forgetting their wife’s birthday. Women’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to calm down your angrier half!!!

Days that recognize specific professions have an interesting pull factor. Vocational courses could attract more students – imagine having Plumber’s Day or Vegetable Vendor’s Day!!!

Another positive out of all this is the booming retail industry. Income generation has become a lot easier for smaller players like flower farmers and suppliers. A lot of employment opportunities are generated. Including chances for idle politicos, self appointed moral police and thugs who go about vandalizing flower shops and hotels!!!

Celebrations to me are a way of life. To celebrate or not is a personal decision. What and how to celebrate is also a personal decision– these should be respected. Special occasions and days can be celebrated in a sober way too. It’s the thought that matters... we do not need to be thinking out loud to express our feelings just because everyone around does it. Do it your way – is what I feel is best!!!

And here’s something interesting. Today, the 8th of April happens to be ‘Paint a Picture of a Bird’ Day!!! I’m all set with my drawing sheets and paints. Go grab yours quickly… coz tomorrow could be another special day!!!

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Mar 18, 2008

Southern Sojourn

What is this life if full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare!!!
The above couplet is what William Henry Davies mulls over in his poem, 'Leisure'. I have recited these lines endlessly as an innocent school girl memorizing her poems. Little did I realize then that I may be repeating those exact same lines to myself today.

Life today has become so fast paced. It is almost like those high speed rollercoaster rides at the theme park in town. We are running around all the time - school children, working women and men, homemakers, senior citizens - all of us in a hurry all of the time!!! And when we are not running around we are busy setting our alarm clocks and popping vitamins and calciums down our throats. All this to stay one step ahead in this rat race called survival!!!

There's so much around us that we fail to appreciate or maybe we have simply taken them for granted. Mother Nature has blessed us with so much... but somehow we have forgotten to stop by, stand and stare!!!

Fortunately for me I had an opportunity to break away from the urban chagrin this last weekend. I joined my parents on a trip to my father's native town in Tamilnadu - Mayavaram.

Mayavaram (or Mayiladuthurai as it is called now) is a small town in Nagapattinam district. It is located in the historic Thanjavur area on the banks of the infamous Cauvery!!!

My trip to Mayavaram and a couple of nearby villages was a wonderful experience. Truly refreshing and a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Chennai. What follows is an account of this trip, quite clearly one of my favourite trips!!!

We took a bus to Mayavaram on Friday night. The bus was headed to a place called Karaikudi. We reached Mayavaram at around 4.15 am after a six hour journey. The bus ride was quite comfortable. The lodge where we were to put up was 5 minutes away by walk from where we got off. We dragged ourselves and our luggage to the lodge. Sleepwalking with a twist, I should add!!! To our surprise - the lodge was shut!!! We were amused and irritated at the same time. I have always been the urban pampered customer variety enjoying the pleasures of 24X7 services and the like - and now this kind of reception at an unearthly hour!!! This was my first brush with life in a non-metro. We finally knocked our way into the lodge and managed to catch up with some sleep.

At around 8.00 a.m. we went to a nearby hotel for a sumptuous South Indian breakfast - hot steaming idlis, mouth watering vadais and delicious pongal - served on the traditional banana leaf. Breakfast was heavenly and the early morning experience was long forgotten!!!

We were to visit our ancestral temple during the day. It is located at a village called Anandatandavapuram and is about 7 kms away from Mayavaram. We bought some flowers and fruits as offerings for the deity and began our drive down to the village.

The drive was simply enchanting. It took us around 30 minutes to get to the temple. The roads were good. There were some rough patches, but on the whole were a pleasure to drive on. The journey through the countryside was refreshing in every sense. The green pastures on both sides looked like soft green carpets spread all over. Goats of all sizes were running around the place. Young girls with stacks of hay on their heads were walking along the roads. We passed by some sugarcane fields in full harvest. Coconut trees laced the roads on some stretches. There was this sweet pleasant fragrance of freshness in the wind that blew against our faces as our car zipped by the fields and villages.

We reached the temple after a while. It's a really small and simple temple compared to the fanfare that bigger temples like the ones at Tirupati, Sabarimala and Vaishnodevi attract. We were the only devotees for the day. You have to actually inform the temple priests in advance that you would be visiting. The head priest was getting all the arrangements done for the abhishekam. We finished offering our prayers to Lord Ayyanar, had our prasadam and spent some time inside the temple premises. The temple has a stone elephant and mahout on one side. This elephant has always been my star attraction at the temple right from when I was a kid. I was so happy to be there again and took a couple of pictures too.

There is a small pond just outside the temple. The water in the pond had a soothing blue-green colour and a constant shimmer with the sunrays reflecting on it. There was nothing more to it, yet it looked so beautiful, so serene. I took my time to stand and stare - at the pristine waters, at the refreshing green trees and at the clear blue skies. Davies and his poem crossed my mind! I continued to stand and stare - this time with a smile on my face!!!

We began our return journey after a couple of hours. The weather was really pleasant and the drive back to town was just as rejuvenating as the one in the morning. Neatly piled hay stacks were a common sight along the fields and even outside the small houses we passed. I was tempted to get a couple of pictures taken between those haystacks and managed to convince our driver to stop near one of them!! It was an exciting moment... I was finally in the middle of a green field with hay all around... just like in the movies!!!

We traveled though some village inroads too. Small little boys clad in shorts were playing marble outside their homes. They stopped their game when our car passed by them. They had smiles on their faces as they stared at the car and at us - they had their time to stand and stare!!!

Cattle and goats were taking their post lunch stroll alongside the occasional vehicular traffic. There was one point when this really cute puppy dog was walking towards our speeding car. Our driver gracefully hit the clutch and brake and patiently waited for the little one to pass by playfully. So much for the small little pup - a must share experience with all our rash auto and bus drivers and the rich spoilt brats who probably list out their hit and run achievements at their Page 3 parties.

The small thatched huts, the twigged fences, the grazing cattle and the hens and chickens running around - the phrase 'Home Sweet Home' fits in here perfectly. Bungalows, pent houses, multi-storeyed skyscrapers may have it all, but the thatched huts had a charm of their own.

We got back to Mayavaram and left for Chennai after a couple of hours. This southern sojourn was one of the most refreshing experiences I've ever had. The fresh air and the beautiful greens have left a strong impression on my mind!!! Looking forward to many more such journeys that give me an opportunity to be one with Mother Nature in all her splendour!!!


PS: You can check out pictures of this beautiful experience right here:

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