Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear 2015, a couple of things before you go...

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I have been pondering over what to write about for today's post. I think the optimism of the year gone by is giving way to the impending expectation from the coming year. I went back and read the post I wrote around this time last year. And that's not me anymore. I am nowhere near that optimism that I had last year. That was just a temporary bout of optimism and motivation that had hit me and I became a very different person. I liked being that person but she left a few months later. And I went back to being my impatient, paranoid, non-calm self! Don't get me wrong! I am not crazy - just a bit, maybe - but I just became my pragmatic self again. I know that life will just go on. And everyday is not going to be a party. That the time for romantic firsts is gone. And some things aren't meant to be in life. I went back to being my gauche self forever struggling for life to behave well the way it seems to for others. Yeah! I have gone back to yearning and hoping - again!

On the other hand, what thrills me is that I lived outside my comfort zone for an entire year and survived it! I have never been this dedicated and patient to any project in my life - building my online presence. The hard work and passion that I pour into my work gives me purpose and satisfaction in life. People let me down, I went through several bouts of self doubt, I felt inadequate and unsuccessful at times but I have lived through all of it and still dared to continue to be different. I stuck to my conviction that brick by brick there will be a palace someday and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of building the foundation this year. And I know the journey ahead is going to be beautiful and I cannot wait to get started with the new year!

Thank you 2015 for bringing me all the happiness you did and I hope you've already told 2016 to bring along whatever you failed to! :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top 3 posts of 2015 on my professional blog

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I spent a lot of time this year working on my professional blog and building my online presence. Over the year, I have about 80 posts on it on communication, soft skills, coaching, training skills and language tips. It has been quite an important project for me. It has taken me a lot of hard work, self-motivation and patience to get all of it up and running. Since I have already done the round up of popular posts on this blog in september this year, I want to share the top three posts from my professional blog here.

1. Since I started my professional blog, I have got some calls from people asking me how to become a corporate trainer in soft skills. After I spoke to a couple of them and shared my experience, I decided to write a post on it. Little did I know that it would become so popular! Read on:

How to start a career as a corporate trainer

2. I got myself certified as a coach this year and realised that the term isn't understood clearly by most. We roughly understand the word to mean what a sports coach does - grooms the team for winning. But coaching, as used in personal and executive scenarios, is very different and enables people reach their goals through the help of the coach. The coach is just the enabler here who might use some tools to help you gain clarity about your goals and how you's go about achieving them. The short video in the post facilitates better understanding:

What exactly is coaching?

3. Communication in difficult situations can be quite challenging. And we all seek to get better at it. This could be the reason why the post on tips to convey bad news in a nice manner was read and widely shared across social media platforms. It talks of practical tips to follow and let the other person down easy in such a situation:

How to convey bad news to anyone

Do read these posts and tell me what you think about them. Also, look around blog and tell me if you like any others. Looking forward to your feedback.

Monday, December 28, 2015

4 Firsts of my life in 2015

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As this year is coming to a close, I am surprised at how many things these posts have helped me discover about this year. I had dismissed this as just another uneventful one. But now I think there have been a lot of seeds sown this year and hopefully will bear fruit in the coming years.

Today I want to talk about some things that happened for the first time in my life this year.

1. First friends in Mumbai: 8 years in Mumbai and no friends. This status definitely changed this year, thanks to Twitter and a few events offline.

2. First set of muscles: Though I have been in and out of gyms over the years, I seem to have found my perfect workout place this year. No boring gym equipment - just group exercise with music and the count of the trainer. The different kinds of workouts have ensured that I developed some muscle mass this year. Though I am far from toned, I look forward to being active for an hour a day and work towards fitness.

3. First blogging challenge: Having been a busy year with setting up my professional blog and promoting it on social media, I still decided to jump into my first blogging challenge. And the experience could not have been better than it was. It has made me so much more confident as a blogger and I think finishing a challenge is such a boost to one's self esteem.

4. First open session: At the fag end of the year, I decided to take the online action offline with my first open session on blogging for beginners. It was taking the plunge after being at the edge for sometime. From making graphics to promoting it on social media and designing session content - it was almost a one woman army all the way! I did have friends who have always motivated to go ahead. I made a few mistakes, learnt a few lessons and I feel confident about taking on more such adventures in the coming year.

How has your year been? I am sure you can also think of new things that you did this year. I'd love to hear about them. Do share your experiences your comments.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

5 awesome events I went to in 2015

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Continuing my countdown posts, I want to talk about some great events I went to this year. In fact, like I already mentioned in an earlier post, 2015 has been a very social year for me. Thanks to social media that kept me abreast of various events around me, I managed to catch up with quite a few. So here are the top 5 of them:

1. The year began with Social Media Week in Bangalore. I was on the official social media team and was part of the work and fun right from the very center of where it all gets organised. Not just my first time as a volunteer, but also the first time I met so many people from Twitter in real! You can see the pictures and the full account here:

My experience at the Social Media Week, Bangalore 

2. One of my dreams is to be part of the live audience at TED talks. I started on the journey this year by attending TEDxGateway Women, an event for women only speakers. From the inspiring Leila Seth to the very charismatic Natalie Di Luccio - each woman had touching stories of their successes to share. Read all about it here:

TEDxGateway Women: A day with inspiring women

3. It is always fun and learning at blogging events and #WIN15 by Blogadda was no different. A day full of exciting talks by experts in blogging and social media and the energy of the host Siddharth Kannan kept us going for the day!

#WIN15: the brilliant blogging event by Blogadda

4. Just as we were getting over the frenzy of #WIN15, Indiblogger had the much awaited blogging event of the year ready for us. #BNLF was undoubtedly the baap of all blogging events this year with speakers like Jeff Bullas, Arnab Ray, Purba Ray, Bruce Dickinson and Christophe Trappe. One whole day of networking and learning followed by master classes by Jeff and Christophe the following day - this was the best way to end the year on the blogging front.

#BNLF: My review of the most disruptive blogging event of the year

5. Though the event I most looked forward to, I seem to have not done a post on it! The Sheroes Summit was a the highlight of the year for me. I have been following them on Twitter for sometime now. And it was a great experience to meet so many women passionate about fulfilling their career dreams. The speakers shared their journeys of having set up businesses with the star guest of the day being none other then Shilpa Shetty herself. (Maybe I should do a post on this later)

As the countdown is moving towards its close, I am glad I thought of writing these posts. My new year eves are generally trying to resist the temptation of pinning too much hope on the new year. But this one has been a great experience looking back at the new year recalling its best moments in tjhis unique way!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

6 things that shook my faith in the world this year

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No, I am not going to rant about how bad the world is and that we have no hope for the future. But once in a while, there are things that make you sit up, shocked - and wonder where's the world going! Here's the quick list:

1. The juvenile rapist being set free tops my list. He, who was brutal beyond words, is set free!! What more, his future is being taken care of as if he's a victim of incarceration.
2. Sexual abuse of kids in schools. I can only imagine how heart breaking it is for parents to realise their kids aren't safe even in schools.
3. Drunk drivers, even the ones who have killed people in a state of inebriation, are free to lead normal lives. Human lives no longer have any value.
4. Shah Rukh Khan is still romancing on screen! He's 50!! The only redemption is it's not someone half his age this time.
5. Porn con is the new genre of comedy, thanks to Ekta Kapoor. And I thought the dialogues of her other movies were suggestive and bold. This one breaks all records of crassness.
6. The Paris attacks - brought back all the memories of CST and Taj attacks which left us all feeling so vulnerable and unsafe.

As the new year comes to an end, what are the good and bad events that stand out in your mind? I'd love to know what's on your list.

Friday, December 25, 2015

7 books I look forward to reading in 2016

I took the Brunch Book Challenge this year and managed about 25 out of 30 books we were supposed to finish to complete the challenge. I realised that reading as part of a challenge was killing the joy of reading. I'd feel miserable when the counter wasn't moving fast enough. Actually, with all the other work, sometimes the counter wasn't moving at all! It felt like being a part of a race and losing all the time. So for next year, I have thought of books that I want to read in no hurry. Some of them are big, fat ones but I can take my own time to read them and actually enjoy reading.
So, here's the list:

1. Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg (Yeah, this one's still pending!)
2. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo (His Talk Like TED was sheer brilliance!)
3. Presence by Amy Cuddy - The woman behind the inspiring research on power pose
4. Authentic Story telling by Christophe Trappe - (just released)
5. Marilyn Atkinson's 3 books on coaching - to further my studies as a coach
6. Re-read The Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
7. The Social Animal by David Brooks (I need to go back and complete reading this one)

To me, all this books have meaningful learning for me rather than just numbers to complete a challenge. Apart from these, I also want to try and finish the Middle Earth series by Tolkien and the books of Ken Follet that I haven't read yet.

What does your reading list for 2016 look like? Share with the readers and let's inspire each other!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

8 People Who Made My Year

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Not that I won an award this year, but there are people who made my journey of self-discovery worthwhile. And I think gratitude is one of the best ways to acknowledge what we have in our lives. So here's the list, starting from the beginning of the year:

1. Darshan Gajara for being the tech genius in my life! My professional blog looks the way it does solely because of him. I am sure it has been challenging for him to deal with a tech novice like me but he has been patient through all my challenging, "Why is it not possible" phases! Thanks, Darshan! I am glad I found you on Twitter!

2. Ankita Dhawan, my first girl friend in Mumbai (not to confuse with all the SMW friends I mentioned in my earlier post where most are guys!) and a blogging inspiration in my life. Sweet and helpful, she was the reason I kicked myself out of my blogging lethargy and took up the 30- day blogging challenge this year. Thanks for being around, babe! Also, she's great at beauty and lifestyle blogging which solves a lot of my make-up woes! :) (check out her awesome blog here)

3. Blogchatter, the blogging community handle on Twitter that turned my blogging fortunes around when they made me the #superblogger of the week sometime in September this year. I hadn't done anything to deserve it since I wasn't really blogging much. But this brought me back to my love of blogging since I posted for 7 consecutive days that week to justify the title I was given. And the rest, as they say, is history!

4. A big thanks to my friend, RK for suggesting to me to the ideal co-working space! To find your own space in Mumbai and one that's fits your budget is next to impossible. But this place has been a gift from heaven...sorry RK! :) It's helped my productivity go off the charts and been able get some ideas up and running from that space!

5. Gratitude is also due to Milind Kher, who has been very helpful and motivating. Endless emails with him to bounce off my ideas have kept me going during some times of self doubt.

6. Social media is a mammoth to conquer and making your place in it is a herculean task. Akathmadevi, the social media dynamite, has been my go-to source for a lot of concepts I couldn't understand and had questions about. She has always been kind and found the time to help me out on phone, msgs or even Skype! Thanks, darling! Couldn't have done it without you!

7. I believe that selfless deeds are the ones that have kept goodness in this world alive. And how could I forget my #FF and RT angels from Twitter. Thank you, Kunjal Kamdar for all the #FFs over the recent months when I needed them and Gurudutt Kamath for the RT sprees! I also want to thank everyone who went out and RTd my tweets to share information even though they did not have to!

8. Not to sound too cliched but credit is definitely due to my better half who's made everything in my life possible! Not just this year, but all the years I have been with him have been awesome times of learning to believe in myself, exploring my passions and stepping out of my comfort zones knowing that he's around to cover me for blunders I might make in the process! :)

This post turned out to be longer than I thought! But bear with me for a couple of more minutes. The year would not have been this awesome without all the people who decided to follow me on Twitter, like my FB page and encourage me to keep at it. I also met wonderful people like Vishal Kataria, Mitu Samar and Ajay Kontham, my Twitter friends, in person. I also made new friends on Twitter and I look forward to knowing them better next year.

Can you think of people who made a difference to you this year? Even if it is just one person, make an effort to thank them! No one? Hug your mom! You probably did not realise but she has been the only selfless person caring about you all year long! :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

9 valuable lessons I learnt in 2015

2015 has been a pretty adventurous year for me. I tried a lot of things - failed in some while I got some others right. So I thought instead of indulging in elaborate pontification on what works and what doesn't, here are quick 9 things I learnt this year:

1. Yes, being happy is in my hands
2. True friends will always be around
3. Tough times tell you who your true friends are
4. If people let you down, you were wrong in expecting that they won't
5. Twitter is a great place to make friends
6. Everyone wants to succeed but the paths can be different. So it's ok to be different.
7. First impressions are usually deceptive
8. You may be an influencer online, but the neighbour will still ask, "So, what do you do?"
9. Count your blessings and you'll find more than you expected to

Each one of these has a story behind it. But the important point is to take these lessons with me and hopefully make the next year better because of them.

Can you think of the top thing that you learnt this year? I am sure even if there is one big learning every year, we are becoming better people with passing time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

10 memorable clicks of 2015

Countdown to the new year (photo credit)

Since this has been the most social year (actually the only, so far) in 8 years, I have quite a few awesome moments captured in photos! This turned out to be much harder than I thought! I have been poring over the photos for hours and had to zero in on the ones I could include here. I had to leave out many due to time and space (and your attention span constraints!). Watch out, you just might get lucky next time! :)

ONE - New friends: My first set of friends in 8 years of living in Mumbai! My 4 am friends who I shamelessly use sometimes for social media advice ;) And I also realised that if you are with the right people, a woman can feel the safest among a group of guys! Thorough gentlemen, these!

The social media team for Social Media Week, Bangalore, February 2015
TWO - Social Media Week - has to be my favourite part of the year! I worked with the best team ever (see the pic above!). I wanted to include every memory of the event but I shall spare you. Rest assured, it was a memorable time meeting influencers, making new friends and more importantly, learning what goes behind social media campaigns for events.

Fun moments from Social Media Week and being featured among the top authors for the event
THREE - Coaching certification: An important milestone in my professional life, I am now a certified coach to help individuals with their personal and professional goals.

Mandatory group photo after we all got our coaching certificates from Erickson International in July 2015

FOUR - My first open workshop: A milestone to end the year with a bang! It was a simple and short workshop on blogging but managed to achieve all its goals and created the impact it intended. Looking forward to many more to come!

My first open workshop in December 2015

FIVE: Wagah border: One more destination struck off my list this year - Amritsar! And here's a picture from Wagah Border. The pride one feels for the nation can be felt only in that moment when you are sitting amidst history at the borders of the two countries.

Wagah Border, May 2015

This year was also the year of rubbing shoulders with a lot of celebrities and well known personalities

FIVE -  Sean Gardner: The Forbes No. 1 social media influencer and a very humble person. He took pictures with everyone who went to talk to him about his brilliant keynote speech!

With Sean in February 2015

SIX - Mandira Bedi: I have always been a fan of her fitness levels. I got into the wrong room during a blogging event and there she was hosting another event! This proves that it pays to be wrong sometimes! :)

With Mandira Bedi in November 2015

SEVEN - Purba Ray: How great is it to run into one of your favourite celebrity bloggers and have her recognise you? Yes, 2015 has been nice to me!

With 2 of the best bloggers I know, Ankita (Left) and Purba (Right)

EIGHT- My date with HR influencers: Some nice things in life happen by chance and this was one such event. I saw a conversation on Twitter and jumped in to see if I could join this esteemed group of HR influencers. And here I am! 

With HR influencers from Twitter
NINE - Sairee Chahal of Sheroes: Her frail physique is just the opposite of the determination she carries in it! I have been following Sairee on Twitter for sometime now and really looked forward to meeting this inspiring woman! Thank you, 2015!

With Sairee, Shweta Pathak And Rakshita in Decmber 2015
TEN - Old friends: Here's to old friends I caught up with during my visit to Delhi in October this year. Friends who know you since ages are the best ones to appreciate the awesome people we have grown up to become! Thank you for your time, Tony and Supriya! (And Tina, who we missed taking a picture with!)

Old friends are like stepping into your pajamas after a hard day! 

I truly believe that you'll find your life a lot more blessed than you think only when you sit down to count your blessings. This seemingly uneventful year turned out to be a pretty awesome one as I went through old blog posts, pictures, chats etc. I am so looking forward to the other countdown posts. Do stick around and read the others too. And also, leave comments! :)

(Pardon me for not tagging individuals in this post. That would have been one heck of a job!)

Monday, December 21, 2015

11 reasons why 2015 was awesome for me

Countdown 2016 (Photo credit)
Starting today, I am doing a countdown to the new year with a new post everyday - just a fun way to make the end of the year more fun! So, for today I thought of 11 reasons why this year was awesome for me.

1. I made my first set of friends in Mumbai during Social Media Week earlier this year
2. I got into the routine of regular workouts and it feels great
3. My training blog has 80 posts and I took up a 30 day blogging challenge on this one
4. I became friends with a visually challenged person and learnt to appreciate life through her eyes
5. I got to train in Srinagar, which was a pretty unique experience
6. I was featured among female entrepreneurs on We Are The City
7. I met blogging stalwarts like Purba Ray, Arnab Ray, social media geniuses like Jeff Bullas and Sean Gardner
8. Lost my blogging mojo and found it back, thanks to @blogchatter on Twitter
9. Got myself certified as a coach
10. I discovered co-working spaces and have a so-called office I can go to and work from
11. I should reach 1800 followers on Twitter by the end of 2015 from a paltry number of a few hundred at the beginning

Actually, there are more awesome things like sitting through the creative writing class by Natasha Badhwar and the master class by Jeff Bullas. So, it was a great year in many ways.

Can you think of reasons why this year was brilliant for you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

5 Lessons I learnt from #NaBloPoMo - the blogging challenge

Yes! I am back! I had planned to write this post on December 1 under the delusion that since I could write 27 posts in 27 days, continuing the streak would be easy peasy! But yeah! I learnt a few lessons about blogging 'after' I finished the challenge. So here are all my lessons from the blogging challenge put together:

1. It takes a challenge to kick us into action: It is so easy to rest on the laurels of past work! We need to constantly challenge ourselves to keep the blog going. And I think that's what the challenge is - finding time amidst the overwhelming chaos of everyday life. So, keep your motivation going. Set the least possible goal - say once a week - so that it's not too much and anything more is an achievement! And take up challenges once in a while. They really revv up your blogging mojo!

2. Plan your posts: I can't emphasise on this enough. I also mentioned this in my post about beating writer's block. By plan, I don't mean have an elaborate editorial calendar with due dates and ideas etc. If that works for you, great! But I sure haven't stuck to any calendars so far. But I have started jotting down ideas in my little book for some time now. And then I put them in the drafts of my blog. So now, I don't have to hunt for ideas - in my head or my little note book. I just go to my blog and see what I'd like to write about on that day. If I have ideas on some topics, I jot them down to so that I can develop them when I choose to write on it.

3. Prioritise - Is writing really important to you? Or would you rather do something else with that time? During the challenge, writing was absolutely important to me. I am a stickler for sticking to plans and schedules, well, in some ways! So, I wrote consistently and squeezed in time during the challenge. But after that, other things took priority. So, if I connect this point to the previous one, decide your post idea for the week and ensure you find time through the week to keep working on it. This way, writing is at least in the schedule of your week and you will find the time for it.

4. My writing has gotten better - I have been writing for a few years now and have always felt inadequate. I toiled to put together words I'd be impressed with and felt that others had a better way of putting things together. But with this writing challenge, I have actually noticed my writing get better gradually. We are usually unaware as we move from consciously incompetent to unconsciously competent. I struggle a lot less to string words together now. Earlier, it was an effort to put an idea into a perfect sentence that would convey the same message as my thought. But surprisingly, practice did make me, well, close to perfect. So, write more to write better and faster.

5. Passion sustains all: When I first missed posting for the first time on 28th November - I faulted on points 2 and 3 - I let it go thinking it's okay to miss one day since I was traveling and had limited net access. But once I stumbled, it became easier to skip the next day too. I think there's something about letting our guards slip. Every time I skip gym for a couple of days, it just becomes easier to do more of it. (Any research behind this?). And it just gets harder to get back. I never thought I'd not be able to write for an entire week after the challenge! So, yeah, keeping the passion going and staying focussed on your reasons for writing are very important. Forced commitment is hardly a commitment. You need fuel to keep going. Find the reason for yours!

And before I finish this post, I will shamelessly use this space to promote my blogging workshop for beginners. Do let your friends know about it. Please find the details here:

I'd love to learn from your blogging experiences. Share them in your comments and lets help everyone learn from here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 30 - And the challenge ends!

NaBloPoMo November 2015

The 30 day blogging challenge comes to an end today. After 27 posts in 27 days, I skipped the last 2 days due to travel. So did I miss the perfect 30 day streak at the fag end of the challenge? I don't think so. 27 posts in as many days has been great enough for me. Sure, I could have done the perfect 30 but perfect is so boring. Who's interested in perfect! It's the I-just-missed-it-and-yet-I-am-happy stories that are human. It's the vulnerable that we connect to. It's the imperfect that makes us feel better about our foibles and weaknesses.

Also, I think it's fun to break rules sometimes. It's liberating to take on a 30 day and do the unexpected - not do the perfect 30. I kept for all these days - through insanely busy days and pretty tiring nights. But if I tried to do it just to make a perfect 30, it wouldn't be me. I knew I couldn't have blogged during the weekend because of logistical issues and so I let go. It's great to take up a challenge. But it's also important to be able to let go. To not make things matter so much to us that we lose perspective. So what it's worth for, I thoroughly enjoyed the blogging challenge. This is definitely going as an achievement in my writing life. Stay tuned for the wonderful things doing this challenge has taught me - coming up soon.

I'd like to thank everyone who inspired me to write, left comments on my blog, shared my posts on social media and made this enjoyable journey even more delightful! Thank You!

(Btw, I am writing on a train from Delhi to Mumbai with limited connectivity. But I had to write this post and express my love for this wonderful blogging month of my life)

Friday, November 27, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 27 - What is your passion?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

For the post today, I decided to borrow one of the daily challenge prompts - Do you think it's better to be a recognized expert for one thing, or known to be really good at lots of things? I think being an expert in one thing is important. You may know a lot of other things or have other interests. But there should be one thing that defines you because you are the expert in it. Here's why:

Expertise in one area, for me, is connected to your passion. It could be anything. A sport, movies, music, academia. A lot of us have a profession but our passion lies elsewhere. We are really good at something that's a hobby. And so we know pretty much everything that is there to know about it. If your passion is your profession, you hit jackpot in life. So, I feel it is important to be passionate about at least one thing in life. Knowing that passion gives a lot of energy to keep going in life.

It is important to have one thing you want to be known for. Practically speaking, you need to prove your expertise in one thing to be able to get a job or promote yourself for. If you can do a lot of things well, it is great but might get confusing beyond a point. There has to be one thing that you can do the best. And the other things become transferable skills which bolster your passion.

Being the best in one thing also adds to credibility. I could pursue a lot of hobbies - sing, dance, read, write and play an instrument. But I wouldn't be able to do well in all of them at the same time. There will be one thing I am better at and also love doing. Focus on one (or two at the most) will help me have a command over the skill/subject giving me confidence and credibility in the eyes of others.

What do you think? Have you had many interests which you have pursued successfully? Or you, like me, believe that expertise in one thing is important? Share your thoughts and I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 26: Are we safe?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

No, this is not another post paying tribute to people who gave up their lives during the terrorist attacks. I am too small to do that. Neither is this an indignant backlash about how irresponsible the govt is. When I think of the attacks, the first thing that comes to my mind was the initial shock. And the lingering feeling of insecurity after everything was over.

I was at home and I got a message from a friend which said there was firing in CST and it wasn't a good idea to venture out. I messaged a few of my other acquaintances who might be on their way back from office. I was just a year old in Mumbai and wasn't familiar with the places or the implications of it. I told my spouse, who was at home, and we sat glued to the TV late into the night. For the next 3 days, we'd tear ourselves away from the news at 2.30 am and rush back in front of it by 8am. It was shocking to see every morning that it had not ended yet. The casualties were many, it was definitely a black letter day in our history. And it also showed we have people who laid down their lives for their country and the staff of Taj did it for the guests!! We know the rest of the story.

For days after that, every time I stepped out of the house, the only thought that came to my mind was anyone could jump out of corners and start shooting at us. That's what happened at Leopold, at CST, at Taj. There was no safety anymore. There was no guarantee that people who stepped out would come back home safe. Walking through CST after the attacks felt strange. I looked at the platforms and thought this is the very place where a normal day like this turned ugly. Defenceless people just shot dead! It was hard for a long time to go to Marine Drive and not think of what happened there. The recent Paris attacks have fanned this feeling further. People just ventured out to watch a concert and little did they know that they'd encounter something like this!

Terror has no face anymore. It's hard to say who the next victims are going to be. And like I said yesterday, I am not a political commentator and have no authority to analyse who's fault it is or what could be done to make things better. Blame game doesn't help either. When high profile places like Taj become the targets of attack, we know that the enemy is quite powerful. And the danger looms large, still.

The question that comes to my mind now is, after so many years, the feeling of danger has faded but are we safe? Yet? Aren't we still as prone to step out one evening and probably never come back? Or never see our loves ones again? I know this sounds really morbid but remains a fact. Is there something that we can do to make this world a better place? To promise to our future generation that they'll have peace and love instead of blood and gore? Any answers? Anyone?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 25 - Are we intolerant?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Going by the debates on social media for the last few weeks, it seems so! But aren't we against Aamir Khan because we think we are tolerant? So, are we tolerant? This is so confusing! I'll need to take this argument apart to make sense of it.

I am not a political or social commentator, I don't follow the news and do not want to read up on every controversy. And no, I am not going to run you through the whole Aamir Khan episode again. But using the word 'intolerant' even in the right context makes me conscious. The word has been used a million times in the recent past that it seems to have acquired a different meaning altogether.

According to Google, intolerance means:

unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one's own.

Let's look at a few things in the light of this definition. Please bear with me since my memory isn't very sharp either. I remember writing an article in college about the furore over the film, Fire - the first Indian film to portray lesbian love. The theatres screening it were attacked and all shows were stopped. The debate was something about this being against Indian culture. The film wasn't filmed anymore due to these protests. This means we Are intolerant.

Another wave of protest that I remember was Shiv Sainiks bashing up couples on Valentine's Day. The argument here also was that such festivals were not a part of our culture. Later, the improvised threat was that if any people of the male and female species were found together on 14th February, they would be forced to tie Rakhi. I don't know if this was actually enforced. But all people were doing was to just sit down by the sea or amidst nature in a park for a peaceful chat. This means we Are intolerant.

Pardon my lapse in memory when I jump to recent times. Pornography was banned for about a month or so. 50 Shades of Grey never got released in India, thanks to the censor board. You can't see kissing onscreen. Or hear the cuss words in films anymore. Not just that, that state decides what you are permitted to eat. Beef and Maggi are out of the menu. (Maggi, after political motives were fulfilled, has been allowed to make a come back). This means we Are intolerant.

Our morality is protected. Our health and nutrition in monitored. Now, watch out for what you say. Oh! But this time it's not the government. The people of this country have learnt to sit in judgement of other people. We decide whether what someone said was in tune with our beliefs or not. And if it wasn't, how dare someone say it? Only we have the right to lash out at people and make an issue where none existed to begin with. Only we have the freedom of speech. And only we can use it. Criticism is unwelcome. And arguments won't be tolerated. Just stick to cliches about the country and you are good. You cannot feel or perceive on your own. Let alone talk about it. Even if it is about your own country which is as much yours as the next person on the street. This means we Are intolerant.

If we go back to the definition on top, I think we are highly intolerant of what we feel people should not feel. As a woman, if I feel unsafe on the streets of this country, I should be able to say it. That's how I feel and perceive my country's safety standards. Someone else cannot tell me what I should feel. And if I am not allowed to do that, this means we Are intolerant.

But then what's wrong when Aamir Khan said it. Our reaction to his statement proved him right.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 24 - 6-word stories

I recently attended a writing workshop by Blogadda as part of Social Media Week, Mumbai. The session was in one of the classrooms of Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI). And after the session, I noticed one corner of a wall that had 6 word stories posted by students of some course. I took pictures of some of the interesting ones. (Most were too high up the wall to take pictures). It also interested me as a concept because we did an activity around this in our session. We had to introduce our partners in just 6 words. I have never participated in flash fiction activities which involve writing stories in 6 words. But I think I am going to try doing that now.

Have you tried to write 6 word stories? Or express what you want to say in just as many words? Go on and try writing some thoughts in just 6 words. Share them in your comments and let's get this started.

Monday, November 23, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 23: Can I confess?

I am scared. Shit scared at times. Life feels like an empty zone where I can't make sense of anything. The future seems dark. What did I do wrong I wonder. But then I think the world changed too. And too rapidly at that. Garbled thoughts whirring through the dull ache in my head. (Yes, these frequent, dull headaches. Stress? lack of sleep? Tumour in my brain? I should find out soon). It's like nothing I know or did all these years matters anymore. I am suddenly thrown into this alien, fast paced world that I can’t seem to make sense of most of the times. I think it's the difficulty in relating to the world around me. The change is so rapid. The rate of new information rapid. I schedule my tweets to stay in the race. I revamped my Feedly thrice to make the content relevant. I have 13 years of professional experience. But kids a decade younger are challenging the beliefs I have held all my life. And they are succeeding, aren't they. They are born in this world. They can move at break neck speeds. I am just thrown into this world because there isn't any other. The feeling deepens as I sit with a 24 yr old revamp my modules for me by making them more appealing. Just information isn't enough, he says, people want to have fun. In training programs which will give them important life skills, I ask? This is how things work now, he says. I feel old sometimes because these youngsters have better ideas and so attuned to today’s world. I decide to jump into the bandwagon hoping it will make sense soon. I am smart and intelligent and educated. How hard can it be? These kids do it! I tweet, write updates, set up a blog. I read for hours for months to make sense of this new world. I think I am making good progress. But then what dents my belief in my capabilities? In my confidence, in my courage and strength to fight on?  I do a great job at projecting that calm, tough exterior while I am making sense of this world. No one can see the struggle that goes into it. It’s all ‘social’. We just project what we want to, not our real selves. I look at the opportunities of the new world. I frantically swim to keep up with the tide. I can see that I can do anything I want in today's times. But then I find that they are doing it better than me. Am I obsolete? Am I old? Does my experience count? Do I stick to what I do? Do I become like them in the new world to be accepted? And there is nothing new left to do in this world. There's no 'unique' anymore. Anything worth doing has been twisted so badly and done to death that my simple ideas look mundane in comparison. The world is so used to tinted glasses of fancy marketing that my sane voice of reason seems out of place. So what is left to do. I look down at what I have been working on and wonder will there be any takers for this? The treats at others' stalls look so much better. And that's what we do when we buy stuff - we decide based on how things look. I am not sure how good my treats are. And I am filled with self doubt. I still put on a brave front and decide to plough through life. Come on! I don't believe in giving up, I tell myself. Let's do what I do best and things will work out. Edison too failed 10,000 times and this is my favourite mood lifter! I get online, start connecting with people. They say they know their work and have done great at their jobs. I go out there and talk to them. But soon I am left standing at the periphery of a crowded room where everyone knows everyone else. I am the only outsider. And I thought it was a 'community' to help people out. Why isn't my voice heard then? Why am I invisible? Why did people promise to help and then forget about it? Is it because I don't know the right people? Connections matter, you see. But then I don’t understand their conversations either. The communities are closed. Successful competitors talk about marketing and money. They seem to be achieving milestones after milestones. Their life is so sorted, I think. And I am still missing something. I can't seem to find a method to the madness. But not someone to be disheartened with this, I tell myself that I will make it - with their help or without them. I spend days, months building my presence brick by brick. I pause, often, to think what I want. I ask, frequently, what do I want to be? In my quiet moments of contemplation I realise that it's an identity I am looking for. Who am I? is what draws a blank. My school friend is an Asst VP with this MNC bank, I tell my spouse. He just grunts knowing where I am going. I could have a full time job and a successful career, I think aloud. You are successful, he says. But in a unique way like no one else is, he reiterates. I am still not convinced. I go back to contemplating about it. Turning words around my tongue. The things that I think I am. Some terms sound familiar to my tongue when I say them aloud. Some sound even more exciting. But I not sure which one of those I really am. None of them fit the conventional roles. I go out and meet people. What do you do, they ask. I am a corporate trainer, I say though not very convincingly anymore. There are other exciting things in the world that have begun calling out to me. And I have realised I can be so many other things. And this only adds to the confusion. I share my dilemma in my conversations with friends. I eagerly wait for someone to say - you are fine as you are. I secretly wish someone will take this burden away from me - the burden of not knowing who I am. Some people wonder why do I need an identity of my own. Your husband earns well, they say. Why do you need to be someone, they ask. You don’t ‘have’ to do it. I tell them, No I don’t but I love doing what I am good at. They shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes and move on. I go out and meet people as a wife. That’s an identity. And I like it. But what do You do, is the emphatic question. Do I need an identity of my own, I wonder. I am a strong support to him, I venture. Come'on, you are more than that is their answer. And I wonder what is it that they are looking for. No, I still don't have answers to my question. You can be whoever you want to be, my spouse says as I melt into his arms with tears of frustration in my eyes at desperate times. He pats me and says, just do what makes you happy. That's the most important thing. That does feel a lot better. But the quest for an identity continues. Some days are bright with ideas and I love what I am doing. Some other days bring along waves of self doubt. But like I bounced back so many times in the past, I know this too shall pass. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 22 - Why I hate Whatsapp groups

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Whatsapp is like the most fashionable place to be today. People who do not understand social media in general say - I am very active on Whatsapp and feel better for not being on other platforms. I thought Whatsapp was bloody good because one could send messages free of cost. No more paid SMS. But then came along Whatsapp groups and there was chaos in my paradise.

The tech-challenged person that I am, I was blissfully unaware of groups on Whatsapp for sometime. And then I joined a Zumba class which had groups for each batch. My notification alerts used to be on at that time. And the phone started beeping incessantly at night and early mornings. When I checked to see what was being shared, it was mostly each member saying - Good morning, Chirag or Good Night, Chirag and the others wishing each other the same.

(Chirag was this 20 something Zumba trainer of our class and the kiddo was surprised to see one of us turn up in salwar kameez for a session obviously due to exposure to spandex covered chicks in his training classes. I wanted to inform the shocked kiddo that this is our national dress and he would have seen it being commonly worn if he were born about 2 decades before he actually did. But I digress here)

I had an instant dislike for this Whatsapp group business right from the word go. I was like why do I have to be notified of a message which is not even for me! Well! Times moved on, other people caught on to the trend. And I was added to my Yoga class group. Which was worse because most students were older, Gujju ladies (no offence meant) and more often than not the conversation would be in Gujarati - a language I do not understand to this day. It was just a nuisance to stick around for an occasional announcement about class schedules which I would anyways get on my personal message too. I quit the group. (And I was surprised that people were surprised that I quit!)

I guess I had a happy life for a bit since I did not anyone who may want to add me to a group. Nor did I want to be in any. And then started training groups which I chose to join hoping to meet like minded people and get into some stimulated discussions about training. Fat chance! People in one group argued for 2 days if new members should be asked to introduce themselves!! We are joining a virtual group to become a part of the team, not planning to bombard Paris for ISIS - why would you not want to introduce yourself?? I almost doubted if these people could even be taken for intelligent trainers! And there is something about herd mentality that makes everyone argue - whether right or wrong. Silence is so underrated in today's times. So I have quit pretty much every group where people have added me. Especially groups where people have added me, without asking me. Sometimes more than once. I quit. More than once.

So why am I so allergic to Whatsapp groups? Now I remember this was supposed to be where I start my post. But I guess writing is so cathartic that sometimes it's hard to stop the flow of thoughts.

1. I am more of a one-to-one person. It is hard for me to form connections with invisible, faceless people on a phone chat group.

2. The phone is too small a device to scroll down an entire discussion or to hold one in the first place.

3. Ironically, the inspirational messages all day long is what gets my goat the most. I have had someone post entire chapters of a book each day on the group. Why??

4. The inspirational images will clog your phone if your auto download is on. I had to just disable the feature before my phone was full of these messages/images.

5. I prefer chats with individuals where there is a point to it. Almost all my chats on Whatsapp are with individuals I have something to talk to.

6. By the time I manage to look at chats, the zillion notifications make it impossible to respond to any of the conversations, most of which are over. And I salute people who contribute to those zillion messages! It's as if some people are paid to yap on Whatsapp or how can people keep messaging all day long!

These are a few reasons off the top of my head for not liking whatsapp groups. So if you need to reach me, please send me a message directly. I will seldom see anything addressed to me in a group.

PS: These are my personal views about my dislike for whatsapp chats. No offence meant to people who love being in groups and have found a happy social life there.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 21: 5 Marriage Myths Busted

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I ranted quite a bit on marriage on my 7th anniversary last year. I wrote a serious post on whether being married was worth it at all because of some friends' failing marriages. And I also went on to give gyan on lessons I learnt about marriage and that love, respect and shit like that keeps two people together. But since 8 is better than 7 and I am a year more qualified to dispense advice on the topic, I thought of busting some marriage myths. I'd like to thank everyone who've bombarded with questions and insinuations about married life - which are none of their business, in the last 8 years. You serve as my inspiration for this post.

1. Newly married people live in a scene out of your favourite romantic movie, with sexy negligees thrown in. Nope! You may find yourself with a woman with thunder thighs and find yourself struggling to even get through the act. So, yeah, it isn't actually how internet told you it is. So, while it may feel liberating to finally get a legal license to get down to business, it isn't all about mood lighting and kinky stuff.

2. Marriage is having an available sex partner for life. I don't know why all single people think that all married people are mandatorily having sex every night! And then there are innuendoes about what you did last night. Sorry to burst the bubble, my dear friends, but sex isn't a sure event sometimes even on anniversaries as years pass along. What's the point of getting married then, you ask? The love and togetherness shit I spoke about last year that takes the place of lust.

3. People married for 8 years should have a couple of kids. Moving on from the emphatically miserable intimate lives of married people, it seems like a given that if you are married for about 3 years, it's safe to ask your kid's name. (Kids' names, in case of more years). No, it's perfectly normal to be married for a few years and have no kids. And no, that does not give you the right to speculate about the medical condition of either spouses.

4. Every anniversary is a champagne popping occasion: This is for all friends who start jumping before even the people involved, to know the plans for the anniversary. As years go by, I think only people who did not hope to make it but made it are the ones who pop champagne bottles. The rest of us are ok with an impromptu dinner.

5. We are best friends: No You are not! Please find some one else to crib about your respective in-laws! This precious advice could save your marriage. 

These are at the top of my mind for now. I am sure more will occur to me later and I shall definitely come back to update you guys. Meanwhile, can you think of something that is a myth about marriage in your experience. Share it here and let's have a good laugh about it :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 20: Why concision is important in writing

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Ernest Hemingway was once challenged, as the story goes, by his fellow writers to write a 6 word story that could make people cry. The bet was for $10 which Hemingway won for coming up with - For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. A perfect example of a poignant story which does have a beginning, a middle and an end. And a whole lot of possibilities you are left with. True work of a genius!

I attended a creative writing workshop today sponsored by Blogadda as part of Social Media Week in Mumbai. It was titled Spinning content: Writing for the Web. While the workshop threw up no specific learnings, we started with an interesting activity. It was similar to the story I just narrated. We were supposed to draw, not write, our place of origin, favourite food, hobby and where we see ourselves in 5 years. And we were to pair up and introduce our partners in 6 words which would include the information we got from the drawings. Challenging, at first. But some of us got it pretty well!

The terseness could be achieved only by stripping all the additional articles, pronouns and sometimes, even verbs. I think the more scope we are given, the more verbose we get. Concision is always a principle I have believed in and one of the important concepts that William Zinsser talks about in his very inspirational book, On Writing Well. By actually doing this activity and trying to fit everything in 6 words was a memorable lesson in the concept. And the result is quite brilliant because every word has a solid place in the sentence. It is not diluted by supporting syntactical structures.

Can you introduce yourself in 6 words? Preferably a sentence that makes sense rather than a string of adjectives? I am going to try writing mine tonight. Do share yours with me in comments so that the other readers can read too.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 19 - Throwback Thursday from 7 years ago

I ran into this picture while looking for a Throwback Thursday idea. This also makes sense since this is from the first year of our marriage and in a couple of days we are going to complete 8! Looking at this picture is like looking back through the tinted glasses of time and thinking - Woa! We look so different! And younger! :) I did write a post for our 7th anniversary last year and will do one for this anniversary too.

It is from our first (and my only, so far) trip to the US. We took a boat ride in Chicago. It was a nice, summer evening and we went around as the sun set leaving the sky with gorgeous colours. We went on to visit Portland, Pittsburg, New York and Las Vegas during the same trip. What a journey it has been! I mean both, the trip and our relationship! :)

Have you run into old pictures sometime and memories came rushing back? I'd love you to share that with the readers. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 18 - Does writing have the power to change the world?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

This post is inspired by a chat I was a part of on Twitter today. The chat got into a heated discussion when I pointed out how blogging can be used as a powerful medium of change and not just a personal goal of posting once a week. I have been active on a few blogging communities, learning from others and getting to know the issues that other bloggers face. I understand a lot of their issues but also disagree with a few like writer's block.

One of the issues that we all face as bloggers is lack of time or motivation to fit in regular blogging into our schedule. Life takes over and we are left with guilt for not writing as much as we thought we should. Being able to stick to our plans and write regularly is definitely a personal achievement. And with each of us meeting that goal, it sure makes blogging stronger and more of our thoughts go out there hoping to make a difference.

But I am thinking about blogging for the sake of making a difference. I believe that blogging has the power of changing the world. When someone can use the power of social media to become the Prime Minister of the country, I think the time is ripe to use online activism to  bring about real change. Write to build awareness. Write to change attitudes. Write to bring injustice to notice. Write to throw light on social parity. Write because you can use the power of words. Write because pen will always remain mightier than the sword. Write for the larger good of the world.

There was no social media or blogging when Gandhi was struggling against the British. Hence he organised a real Dandi March and launched Quit India Movement. To me, blogging can be that medium which can galvanise a nation into action. Words have the power to move. And when enough of us use that power, we will make a difference. We will force things to change. We will rope in more support for our causes.

I am reminded of the inspirational end of Purba Ray's speech at BNLF when she said that blogging can go to a level where when people ask you what do you do and you reply, "I blog", they respond with "Thank you".

You have the weapon of blogging. How you use it is your choice.

(I quote Purba from memory and I hope I have brought out the meaning and context in the right manner)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 17: Social Media Week, Mumbai - An evening to remember

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Social Media week always holds fond memories in my heart. After having discovered this event in September last year, I seem to have come a full circle with my 3rd SMW last evening. I was a novice last year, a learner who parked herself at the Learning stage - a venue dedicated to beginners and was in total awe of this mammoth event which had social media titans milling about. By the time the second SMW came around in February this year, I had a lot better understanding of social media and was in the official social media team for the event. And it will remain some of the most memorable times of my life. I made great friends with the team, understood the hard work that goes in the making of such an event and had a great time working for the team.

I was really looking forward to the interesting sessions and catching up with my social media friends. Though a couple of things did stump me right at the start. And this is in comparison with the last two times when the scale and volume of the event was at its grandest. The choice of venue was a little odd. With Monday evening traffic, Lower Parel did not seem like the most conducive venue for people to travel to. Also, this might sound like a tiny glitch, but when people arrive from work, they do look forward to a snack before the event. And to me, cookies and coffee don't make the cut. Another think that struck me was the limited number of events in one venue as opposed to the usual spread across locations, event bumping into each other grind of this event. But I like the scaled down version better. One can focus on the talks without having to worry about missing the others or moving through locations.

With Ummehaani, all set for Day 1 of Social Media Week, Mumbai
Well, to give the event its due credit, it did live up the high standards of quality it has always had. Ummehaani and I settled down right in the front row. The venue was done up very well. The huge screens on either side of the stage ensured all of us felt as if we were sitting right in front of the stage. The sound system was brilliant and worked seamlessly all the time. Once we got started, it was one event after the other at a brisk pace with a certainty that only meticulously planned events can have. The live streaming option covered quite a few people who could not make it. And I think audience like that justifies all the effort put into such events a little more.

We started behind schedule but with this powerful brand campaign of Tata Motors who just signed up soccer superstar Lionel Messi as their brand ambassador. While this was really a sponsor thing and not much to do with social media, it was a brilliant case study on how a real campaign went live. Delna Avari, the marketing manager of Tata is this passionate woman, well versed with how marketing is linked with ROI. They tracked the whole campaign from genesis to the future path during the discussion.

Up next, the social media insights from Bobby Umar were absolutely useful and brilliant. Every word he said made sense. And he walked the talk later during dinner when he went around meeting people at different tables striking conversations with the participants.

Bobby Umar: A slightly blurry pic of the man himself
And then came the much awaited women-only discussion with women who have used social media effectively to create a presence for themselves. I feel there was a lot of potential to this discussion which wasn't explored to the maximum. The audience seemed a little non interactive and the questions to the panels weren't burning enough.

The panel with Social Media Hackers discussing what it is like to be a woman online
The final event with The Suhel Seth was passionate and hilarious as usual. But he seemed to have ruffled a few feathers by taking a dig at the sponsors and suggesting to a social media novice to start with Tinder - a lady at that!

To sum up, the talks were inspirational and full of learning. I can safely say that any time spent at this conference has to be well spent. I caught up with people I knew from offline and online. If you haven't been a part of this magnificent event, I suggest that you look up their website or hit them on their Twitter handle for your passes for the rest of the days. The event ends on 20th November and has loads of promising events till then.

Discliamer: This is not a paid post by the event sponsors and are my own views of the event as a participant.

Monday, November 16, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 16 - Half way through the blogging challenge

NaBloPoMo November 2015

So here I am half way through my november blogging challenge! Has it been hard? Yes. Has it been very hard? No. It's something I have to remember to do every day. Though it's not as simple as that! Read on.

For me, blogging challenges have been stuff that legends are made of! Writing a post every single day for a month? You must be kidding!! And that's the response/attitude with which I dismissed the whole idea. I did feel guilty too when I knew that my friend Ankita is taking these challenges with a full time job and a little kid. But since I was setting up my professional presence online, it seemed to stressing to take on something like this. Plus, to be honest, I was just lazy! But this November I decided to kick myself into some action and get some blogging done. I was mentally preparing myself for the daily marathon and there's something about a challenge that gets all of us going, doesn't it!

What made it worthwhile is that I always keep jotting down blogging ideas that I get and this seemed like a great opportunity to get my writing out on all those topics. I have just been running into that list and wistfully wondering if I'll get back to writing. Also, to me a blog post is something that has to be a substantial piece of writing. I am bad at writing small articles and feel bad when I do that just to tick my day off for the challenge. So, the ideas were ready and I had to sit down and hack away at the keyboard.

Well! The whole challenge about blogging is to be able to do just that - type all your thoughts out, apart from structure them well, proofread and put it out for people to read. And the first bit itself is a challenge with online and offline distractions to fight against. I have managed so far, sometimes scrambling at the last minute to get that post out. (One of them was the result of realising at 11.50 pm that I hadn't blogged that day and it was indeed 12am by the time technology acted up and let me finally post it!). I have blogged about 6 ways to beat writer's block based on my learning from the challenge so far.

I think the easier way to do the challenge is to follow prompts by BlogHer. That way you don't have to think of a new idea every day. You will need to think of something only for weekends since the prompts are only for week days. The bigger challenge for me is to explore my own ideas. I need time to structure my thoughts and write the whole thing down. It can't be a last minute, rushed affair. I have tried to find time to do that on some days. I have not been able to pick ideas, jot down points for them and type some of them out as buffer. I hope to do some of that for future posts since the Diwali madness is over and I have time for more serious work now.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of doing this challenge. Will I continue posting everyday after this is over? Probably no. But I know that it is possible to put out a decent post every other day at least. I just need to keep up the passion and sense of achievement I feel through the medium of blogging. We just drop blogging from our priority list and take it as a chore. And no one likes chores. :)

Before you zonk out of my preaching, I'd like to end by giving credit, yet again to @blogchatter who has been doing such a great job of encouraging bloggers and keeping them on track. If you are an aspiring blogger, currently a blogger or a successful blogger even, you should follow them on Twitter. I'd also like to send a warm hug and thank you to my blogger friend, Ankita (@LifestyleProBlog) for inspiring me always with her passion for blogging and writing. She is the only real person I know who takes blogging challenges and that felt something real than unknown people who do challenges.

If you have been sitting on the fence, just take up the challenge. For yourself. You may stumble but that's alright. You just get up and get going again!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 15 - Looking through the eyes of the blind

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I met her on a hot afternoon in her house. I got in touch with her through Twitter. Upasana Makati, who runs the only lifestyle magazine in the country for the blind, tweeted for readers to help the visually challenged with their notes. Since I had time to spare, I tweeted back and offered to help. Emails and phone numbers exchange later, I got a call at the time I specified. I spoke to her and her mother on the phone and they explained what I was supposed to do. I agreed.

This was a first for me. I always wished I could be of some help to people with the skills and time I have. But never knew what to do. This seemed to be a great opportunity where I could put my time to good use. It felt a little odd to be going to someone's house. I haven't gone to people's homes even to socialise in a long, long time. But I couldn't let that be a deterrent. I got the address and the directions from her - and I was astounded at the accuracy of the directions - and went to her place on the assigned day. And that is when I met Ummehaani for the first time. She is this tall, smiling, innocent kid - well, a final year Sociology student - but totally an innocent kid in her own right.

And thus began my journey of sitting with her couple of afternoons a week, reading her printed notes which she could type out on her Braille type writer. Now, the background story goes like this - she is among the minority physically challenged student in a very normal kids' college, Mithibai. All students are given printed notes by the professors and the visually challenged students get them too. No, the college isn't concerned that printed notes for these differently abled kids is as good as just blank pages. So while the normal kids sleep, socialise, chat on phones, watch movies, study or while away time on social media, students like Ummehaani spend hours together converting normal people notes into Braille just to be able to read them. And I can vouch for the solid number of hours it requires to type out even a single booklet of 4 sheets. This is clearly apathetic on the part of the educational system which charges all kids the same fee but doesn't ensure everyone gets facilities that help them study well. Here is what I tweeted sometime after I started working with her:

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to get on with our task at hand. What was more shocking and frustrating was the number of errors - even grammatical - in the notes that the college professors give to students. I'd correct them as I went along and a lot of times Ummehaani herself would be quick to point them out. She is a smart kid despite the lack of exposure that other students her age have. Also, I was made to feel comfortable right from day 1. Her mom, a gem of a person, always ensured that I had eaten something during my session. Her attitude towards life is pretty practical. She never insists that Ummehaani wear the traditional burqa or observe fasts. It's refreshing to come across people who are not staunch believers just for the sake of it but are pragmatic enough to not make religion a matter of inconvenience.

Ummehaani - happily answering questions for a magazine in Qatar
I have a great time with Ummehaani! She is this angel who is so full of questions about my life and how things work in my world. I can understand her fascination since her exposure to the outside world is limited. It's hard for her to step out on her own like you and I do. She is naturally curious and loves to know the world. I did promise to take her out for a meal and have some fun time together. I am yet to fulfil my promise for which I totally feel guilty.

But I am trying to make up by taking her to the Social Media Week tomorrow, which is another thing I had promised her. I am sure she is excited. But I am all the more excited. It will be a great opportunity for her to be a part of such an event. I am sure it will open more avenues for her and she can consider better career options in the future.

Spending time with her has given me a new perspective to life. Looking at the world the way she sees it (no pun intended) is so different. Things we take for granted are a challenge for her. It feels unfair but we are just blessed with sight - something we did nothing for. We just turned out to be lucky. She, not so much! With such few supporting systems to help people like her, I hope you and I can make some difference to her as enablers of better future for people like her.

If you wish to help Ummehaani or other people like her, you can become readers - read out notes while they type or writers - write an exam for them at the venue of the exam. Feel free to drop me a comment or look me up on Twitter at @Suman_Kher

#NaBloPoMo Day 14 - 6 reasons why this week was awesome!

NaBloPoMo November 2015

In our everyday busy lives, there are only a few times that we cherish. There are different reasons for doing that. This week was one such time for me. This week has been pretty awesome one in a long long time. Reasons:

1. My most favourite festival, Diwali
2. I could do the whole ritual of Diyas, Lakshmi pooja, decking up in my fineries and with my better half with me
3. My ever traveling spouse was home for an entire week
4. We set up our new speakers and spent some quality time listening to them
5. I let myself indulge in sweets since Diwali is not Diwali unless you eat Indian sweets. And without guilt
6. I gave my work some rest and slept like I haven't in a long time.

Can you think of times you count memorable? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 13 - The Spirit of Mumbai Autowallas

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Why do rickshaw guys cheat? This is a question I have pondered over for a long time now. Why do they have the distinction of being untrustworthy, taking a circuitous route, being unfriendly? We all know that the reasons are rooted in our travel experiences in the past. Just like the people in uniform, we have a certain distrust of people who ply on roads promising us to take us to our destinations - but terms and conditions apply.

Having live in three cities of India (and traveled to others on work), I have a fair idea about the 'autowallah' scene in different cities. After living in Bangalore and Delhi, taking the rickshaw in Mumbai was a welcome change! I can safely vouch for the fact that the auto guys in Mumbai are very humane and well behaved people. There are instances where you run into problems with them but those are exceptions rather than the norm - like in other cities. And I will also accept that they do get a little choosy about taking passengers during monsoons.

What struck me when I newly came to Mumbai was promptly getting back a rupee for a tenner since the minimum fare was Rs. 9. Now, this was a surprise after Delhi getting the rickshaw guy to travel to your destination at a decent fare is as easy as answering the question - What do women want?! (I've heard that question is quite a bitch and no one knows the answer to it!) I remember choosing to wait for a bus to office than muster the energy to argue with a rickshaw guy.

The ubiquitous mode of transport for Mumbai middle class (Photo credit)
This post is actually dedicated to the autowallas of Mumbai. I have never come across rickshaw guys who thank their customers, apologise for the wrong turn and take U turns to get you right in front of your destination except in Mumbai. I have never missed not driving because of the ubiquitous rickshaws in the city. And not going by the meter, thankfully, is not yet an option here. Mumbai is a safe city for women and there are rickshaws on the night beat - both of which make it super convenient for women to step out after dark without having to worry about travel back home. What takes the cake is that I have had a rickshaw guy taking a 10 rupee note and leaving one rupee when the fare was Rs. 11 and I handed 2 tens! This has got to be the best thing to happen to anyone traveling by this mode of transport. It's not about the amount but about the intention of the person here. While, drivers in other cities are known for fleecing passengers, here is an exemplary workforce willing to charge below meter!

The work ethic of Mumbai rickshaw guys sets me thinking about the other cities. Are the govt fares in other cities really so low that they have to resort to arguing with customers to make the cut? Do these guys not want to make money like the others? Why do the rickshaw guys in some cities refuse even though they seem to be jobless and chatting in groups of drivers? I don't have answers to these questions. I can only thank my stars that the city I live in has honest men who are willing to work hard for their living and honestly so.

Do you have any good or bad rickshaw experiences in your city? I'd love to hear about them. Drop me a line in your comments or hit me on Twitter at @Suman_Kher.