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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 12 - Does charity really help?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I was sitting at Marine Drive with a friend when a street kid came begging. I'll commend his cheek for saying that he wanted money to have some ice cream. Now this was new compared to the usual demand for money or food that comes form such kids. I was a little wary. The heart does melt when a sickly, unkempt little thing comes around like this - especially when you just spent for a dinner for two at Pizza By the Bay without batting an eye lid. Doesn't the kid at least deserve an ice cream! I usually chat up with such kids just to figure out what's up. Just my way to find justification in indulging a random kid. My friend was flabbergasted that I was even holding a conversation with him instead of dismissing him right away. What would you do if you were in my position?

Last evening, we stopped by the road and my spouse went into the shop to get some crackers - a first since we got married 8 years ago. I was sitting in the car when 2 kids accosted me and asked for money to have dal-chawal (rice and lentils). They even knew what one plate cost and said if they buy a full plate, both of them could have dinner. In this case, my guilt kicked in again because we were planning to give away food to street kids this Diwali but never got down to doing it. As usual, I began my drill with them to understand where do they live and what will they do with the money. And I think we also generally give in to the guilt of squandering money while these kids may not have a proper meal on a festival. What would you do here in my place?

I gave money - I think a 100 bucks each time! (yeah! I am that mushy)

What each one did with the money is his Karma. But I still like to believe that I did a good deed and my intentions were honest.

I also bought a whole bunch of stuff for Kashmir flood relief - in hindsight, I think I overdid it - to do my bit for people in need. Only to be told by a friend in the army that they did not need relief materials - a lot of which was taken away by people in charge before it reached the actual beneficiaries - but they'd appreciate if people would volunteer to help them rescue people.

I have often wondered whether our charity matters. Who deserves it? What do they do with the money/materials people get? Where does this distrust come from? What is the kind of charity I should be doing to make a real difference? While it's great to feel bad about people living on footpaths and guilty about being blessed while they are not. I think I am just conditioned with stories where people take old clothes and sell them to go back to begging in their tattered clothes. Or kids being sent to beg where all the money is taken by parents and the kid is really not the beneficiary.

Apart from my brush with street kids and other sporadic attempts at charity, the first time I really started giving away stuff was to this charity organisation called Goonj. It has proven credentials and does a great job in this area. I still gather clothes that don't fit or I won't wear and send it to their collection centres. I like the fact that they have their needs specifically marked out. Since they are serious in what they do - they need clothes in wearable condition and not as if you meant to throw them away. Humanising things you give away is touching.

I am still always confused about who is the right candidate for charity. We all find people hanging outside eateries/restaurants making you feel guilty the moment you get out. Some of them have kids in tow and I really don't know what to do.

What do you think about giving away things? Do you believe in charity for random kids, like I do? Is there an annual system you follow and ensure you have done your bit towards the less privileged? Would you like to do more for such people? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Drop your comments here or hit me on Twitter at @Suman_Kher. Waiting to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 11 - Happy Diwali

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I always thought Diwali was celebrated equally among all Hindus. But as I went through experiences, I realised that each community has varying degrees of importance for the festival. There are other important ones - like Navratri is bigger for Bengalis while Keralites actually give Diwali a miss. The latter fact painfully dawned on me after I got married to one. Lighting diyas for diwali which is considered auspicious in my tradition has no significance to Keralites. Left to me, it's taken me years to trickle in the tradition bit by bit into my current life. But this Diwali turned out to be the best in all these years. Lighting the diyas, Lakshmi Pooja, hogging on sweets and even crackers thrown in. (Despite the whole Diwali should be cracker-less debate) It's like all the things that Diwali stands for in my mind magically came together. I had hoped it would and it actually did! Lights, for me, are the best part of the festival. I just love looking at lights all around during Diwali.

Tell me about how you celebrate Diwali? Is it all about sweets and visiting people? Or are you ritualistic and believe that lighting diyas and saying your prayers is the focus of your festivities? Or do you celebrate with online shopping and card parties all night? I have realised that there are different ways in which people celebrate this festival. I'd love to hear about how you all do it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 10 - What is the hardest part of a project?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

The prompt for today is - what is the hardest part of a project - To muster the energy to begin it, to find time to continue or the emptiness after the project is over? As someone who set up her professional blog last year, I will say that the energy and motivation to get started is the hardest for me. It's not for nothing that they say  - Well begun is half done. At every stage of setting up and making changes in my blog and social media strategy, it was the hardest to get started. There were times when I knew I was outright avoiding tackling the main questions and was beating about the bush instead.

Even with the blogging challenge, I knew about such blogathons last year, but the thought of having to write a post every single day seemed so arduous that I did not want to commit. I let 2 blogging challenges pass by my notice. But this year I thought it would be a good idea to kick myself out of my complacence and dive right in. And true enough, I have enjoyed writing everyday. I have ideas brimming over more than ever. I look forward to picking one of the ideas from my basket and get writing for the day!

Though, I will also say that it is important to sustain your plan too. There are people who begin a lot of things but lose steam and not complete tasks. So, it is equally important to stay true to your plans, modify them if needed but hit the target you set out to achieve.

Which is the hardest part for you? Are you an eager beginner who loses steam? Or do you go all out and get tasks done only to feel drained at the end of it till you find the next best thing?

Monday, November 9, 2015

#NABloPoMo Day 9 - 6 ways to beat writer's block

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Writer's block is an often discussed topic in blogging communities. I am no writer and I haven't been writing for years. But as I understand through our discussions, it is the inability to come up with new ideas and blog consistently. It's either lack of ideas or not being able to write well about them. I think it also includes not having enough motivation to actually sit down and produce some work. It's a strange procrastination that grips us once we keep stalling the act of writing.

I have been through the "What the hell do I write about" phase during the early days of my blogging. In fact, that was a such a large thought bubble that I did not blog for a year and gave it up as a lost cause. I reluctantly came back to write sporadically about something that caught my eye or something I felt strongly about and had to write. But as time passed by, I realised that there are a lot of things I could write about. I just had to be alert to things around me. Over time, I have learnt a few things that can keep the steady flow of ideas going and you could actually sit down to write about. Here's my secret recipe to beat writer's block:

1. Carry a tiny notebook: Or notes app of your phone will do too. When I first came across this advice, I pfffft-ed it and thought who can carry a book all the time. But an extra Moleskin book that I did know what to do with ended up in my hand bag became my write-ideas-as-they-occur-to-you-book. And you can see that I have used just a couple of the #NaBloPoMo prompts so far. I have so many of my own ideas!

2. Planning the posts: I don't mean create an editorial schedule of which post goes out when. I haven't done it even for my professional blog, let alone the personal one where I want to be my own unbridled self! I mean - pick an idea that appeals the most to you at the time and jot down points that come to your mind. For instance, I have thought of writer's block and points have occurred to me at different times - and the little book to the rescue. (I am also someone who needs some distance between writing and posting. New points will mostly occur to me when I let my ideas stew a bit) So when I sat down to write today, my points were ready. I am less likely to think of more after I have posted this. And the structure is ready for me to follow.

3. Posts can be short/varied: For years, I have believed that a blog post should be long. Or I think I have had so much to say about any topic I feel strongly about that short posts never worked for me. But as I read other people's blogs and was exposed to ideas like microblogging Mondays and wordless wednesdays, I realised that all posts need not resemble a thesis. I could talk about a quick point I had to make and be done with it. I did not have to research a lifetime worth of material to get a post done. And posting pictures and writing about them is so much fun. I guess it's fun reading them too. Though I still believe that blog posts should be meaty so that people aren't disappointed.

4. Write in the morning: Another piece of advice I thought was buhawkee! But then I still don't mean you need to be up at 4 am to finish your post. I don't do that either and am mostly struggling to meet the 12am deadline for the day (like today!) But the output is a lot better and stress free if you get some typing done in the morning. Not much - maybe arrive at work 15 minutes early and start working on the post of the week. You can add a bit during lunch too. Writing at the end of the day can be tiring and harder to stick to. (In fact, I am so used to racing against time that I forgot I had written in the morning on Nov 1 and was ready to chase the deadline the same night!)

5. Type straight on the blog screen: I have started doing this only recently - for the blogging challenge actually. I used to keep jotting ideas and partial posts in a word doc, almost finish writing there and then paste into the blog. I think the editing work increases because the look changes from a word doc to a blog screen. For some reason I haven't properly figured out yet, it just seem easier to straight away type here. Even the future drafts. That way I know what's in the pipeline.

6. Write when inspiration hits you: I am sure the best of writers never got a brilliant idea every single day of their lives. Everyone goes through a dry spell once in a while. Especially so when we are a burnt out generation mostly juggling jobs, family, kids, taxes, social media, traffic and a lot more at any given point in time. So, if you find yourself swamped with life around you, relax! Let it be for a bit. If you are scared people might forget you or you don't want to leave a gaping hole of your absence on your blog, you can reblog/repost stuff from the internet. Add a quick introductory paragraph to it for context. Your readers come to your blog to read interesting stuff and they will get it any which way. You can always find stories related to your blog which you can share.

Do you agree with what I said here? Do you still think there's writer's block? Feel free to send me your comments. I'd love to know what I might be missing in my understanding of the phenomenon.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 8 - Why do I blog?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I started this blog in 2009 - a time when blogging wasn't a great phenomenon it is now. My knowledge was also so limited that I only knew about blogger and promptly made my blog on it. I just wanted to explore what blogging was all about. The only thing behind the venture was the pure love for writing. Even today, what keeps me hooked to blogging and I keep coming back even after breaks is the love of putting down what I think. And there's nothing more satisfying than a well written piece. (Sometimes we do run into our old posts and wonder - Did I really write this?)

Blogging has changed so much since I started here. There are ways to drive traffic to your blog, key words to worry about, blogoversaries to be planned and give-aways to attract more people. I have never celebrated a blog anniversary or planned a give away. But that’s just because when I started my blog, social media wasn’t an overarching, dominating presence in our lives. Well! It doesn't interest me even now. Although, now I know a lot more about how blogging and promoting content works, I still refuse to get into the rat race. I am also active in a lot of chatting forums, including the amazing @blogchatter where we discuss various aspects of blogging and learn a lot in the process. We often talk about the right frequency of blogging and how we all struggle with our every day routine to find the time, inspiration and the inclination to write and post regularly. I always think we make a big deal of it. Unless you blog for professional reasons or for your clients where you need to ensure a certain frequency, worrying about putting a post a week is futile. I agree with Purba Ray when she said, during BNLF,  that it's best to write when inspiration hits you. Otherwise, I feel, it's all forced labour. And if you truly love writing, you will be drawn to it sooner or later.

So, yeah - the love for writing still remains the primary reason why I blog. And I will write only when I have something worthwhile to add here. Let me know what are your reasons to blog. I'd love to hear about them.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 7 - 10 Things To Remember When You Hire A Co-working Office

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I have already shared my experience of how co-working spaces helped me afford an office in Mumbai. While that was fun, it was only a short term thing for trial. But I once again went looking for a new space in a better locality. And what better than Hiranandani in the heart of Mumbai. But can individuals like me really afford a place in The mecca of great architecture? You will be surprised at the deal I got at Regus! Even though it's obviously not a huge, posh office of my own but just a pod in the lounge, it works out to be a great space to move away from the din of life and get some work done.

Since I looked around this space and finalised in a matter of hours, there were things that came to me as an after thought. And that made me want to put it in a blog post where others could learn pointers when they go out looking for co-working spaces:

1. The space should be easy to travel to
2. Timings of the space and holidays list - I'd expect such places to be open all days since entrepreneurs don't follow a schedule. But apparently not.
3. Is there a contract or can you move out after a month (this one has a 6 month contract)
4. Eating options around the office - unless you live with mom 
5. Do they let you eat at your seat - especially if you are in a lounge like me? (this one doesn't)
6. Do they have a separate pantry where you could eat? (this one doesn't have that too. Bummer!)
7. Check out the loos - just in case. That, to me, is the touchstone to any place
8. The proper terms and conditions- the pods at Regus are open and you can occupy any available (and they are mostly gone if I arrive late)
9. Check plug point compatibility with your devices. With so many types of chargers, this is critical. The American one that I have needs an adaptor and that's a pain. 
10. Check for customer service - do you have a number if you need to contact them, would they help you with adaptors in case you forget yours, will they make exceptions if you need help. 

These are the things that came to my mind. I knew about some of these limitations before I decided to rent it. But then with the rate of offices in Mumbai, price was the clincher for me. 

Have you worked out of a co-working space? Do share your experiences. I'd love to hear them and learn more. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 6: My biggest fear as a child

NaBloPoMo November 2015

This blogging challenge seems to be bringing all my secrets out. First it was my childish dreams of being a school teacher when I grow up and now talking about my biggest fears as a child!

As children, I don't think we fear failure or other serious things in life. I remember the fear of darkness and ghosts to be the strongest as a child. I would be scared if the electricity went off suddenly - which was a common thing in Bangalore, where I grew up. Since I am the youngest in the family, I thankfully had elders in my family reassuring me that there's nothing to be scared and they were around.

I don't know how and where kids get the notion of ghosts from, but that was the second thing I was scared of. The thought that something that isn't alive could be lurking around scared the daylights out of me. I remember that there was a thriller series on TV at 10pm and I had watched the first episode. It was about a fort where people went in and came back with hand prints on their back even though they hadn't met anyone there. Spooky? I was so scared that I was put to sleep before 10 on the day of the program.

Have those fears gone? Not entirely. I still prefer to have a little light on at night if I am in a new place. It's just reassuring to know my way around the place. I am fine in my own house since I know the place. Also, I steer clear of all kinds of spooky things - even movie trailers with 'ghostly' content. It's just not something I want to watch/hear or read about because I know it will disturb be later.

Well! It wasn't exactly fun revisiting my fears. And I think this is quite a personal post compared to the kind of things I write about.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 5: Book Review: Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

Much Ado about Nothing (Photo Credit)

The Brunch Book Challenge by HT Brunch is about finishing just 30 books in a year. Any books of your choice. A very achievable number, right? Wrong! When one is hard pressed for time and keeps postponing reading because the book she started is too boring to pick up but has to finish it, it becomes a huge number to finish. And I am still on book 19 with 11 books to go in only about 9 weeks! So, I changed my strategy - read simpler, shorter books but at least keep reading. And that's when I decided to buy the famous and much talked about Mrs. Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna. I guessed it's just fluff and it isn't hard for someone like to her get media footage and celebrity endorsements for her first book. (And I was right) Anyways, since it suits my purpose, I went and bought a kindle version of it. (I have turned into an ebook reader, at least it's easier on the move).

My review in one line would be - Much Ado About Nothing!

First, the good

True enough, it was a breeze to read! You can put your brain to rest and sleep walk through it. We all are familiar with her columns. When put together as a book, you tend to see the pattern in her life. It's like a peek into her life that resonates as the story of any woman. I know she has a lavish lifestyle with a lot of staff to help her. But deep down her issues are pretty much the same as any woman's or mother's - getting her son to do her homework, tantrums of her younger child, managing packing on her own, the banter with the spouse, the love-hate relationship with her mother-in-law, getting stains off the sofa, dieting and weight issues, fears of what her daughter-in-law will be like, balancing between work and home, to name a few. The A-Z chapters give it a semblance of structure as a book.

The book is interesting only in tiny bits. The monotony of talking about her daily routine is broken only by her pontification about the topic of the chapter. For instance, when she talks about how despite Karva Chauth, Indian men are nowhere near the top of the highest life expectancy list or when she sadly ponders over the rising suicide cases in the country and hopes she will be able to teach her son never to give up. Some of her quips hit the nail right in the head. For instance,

"A punjabi mother, her son and food form a triad as sacred as Brahma, Mahesh and Vishnu".

Actually true or all mother-son duos :)

Also, my favourite one is her take on people who forward inspirational messages every morning and think that their good deed for the day is done. Her suggestion instead is -

"Go out there! Sweep a pavement, plant a tree, feed a stray dog. Do something, anything rather than just using your fingers to tap three keys and destroy 600 people's brain cells in one shot." And I so agree!

The funniest line in the book is when she says that it helps to have the man of the house cook sometimes so that you can relax on your couch with enriching books "like this one" - truly hilarious and I am sure the irony isn't lost on the intelligent readers.

Now, the bad

Firstly, I did not realise that it was a collection of her columns and not an actual book she wrote to make a book. I actually remember reading some of those chapters before. So, it was a dud for me. The chapters made sense when they were stand alone columns about a topic dealt humorously. It does not make much sense as a book. It just feels like a series of chapters about her daily routine which gets boring pretty soon. The transitional notes between chapters make no sense. The font is too small to read on my kindle and I think this is important since considerable people read books on ebook readers. The book has no meat, nothing to ponder over and exhibits no literary prowess. For once, I am going to say that Chetan Bhagat deserves credit since he at least cooks up a plot and thinks of characters. So, you can imagine where this one stands.

Unless you have lots of free time and can spare for a book like this or need something to speed read through to complete a challenge, you can give this a miss. There will be more columns you can catch up with instead.

For your reading pleasure, here are 12 hilarious lines from the book and you can safely add this book to your list of 'finishes reading'.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 4: What did I want to be when I grow up

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Recalling what I thought of my parents' profession as a kid is a hard task! My dad ran his own business and my mom ran the household. Going by what I wanted to be when I grow up, I definitely did not aspire to be either of them. From what I remember, 2 things come to my mind. Like most kids of my generation, I had a strange attraction to becoming a school teacher when I grow up. We all love our teachers as kids. I think us wanting to become teachers is a manifestation of the love and respect we have for them. After a mother, it's the teacher who takes care of us, imparts us values and ensures we are safe outside of home. I had my own set up at home. I would write on the door of the cupboard and hit pillows which were propped as kids. Yes, it sounds so silly and embarrassing now but teaching was serious business to me back then. Actually even now since I am a soft skills trainer and do a pretty similar job.
It was hard not to aspire to be like these immaculate speakers (Photo Credit)
The other thing which I thought I will be when I grow up was a news presenter. I am talking about a time when Doordarshan was the only news channel and we held on to every word of the presenter. We knew each reader by his or her name and they weren't short of national celebrities. They looked stern and business-like like our teachers, with impeccable diction, flawless fluency (I did not know about a teleprompter then) and absolutely professional  presence. As a kid, I think it was hard not to aspire to be like them. I'd memorise lines from the newspaper and try to present like them to my family. I did not understand a word of the front page English but it was fun to emulate them.

Thank you #NaBloPoMo for this trip down the memory lane! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 3: This Diwali, clean the cobwebs of your mind first

NaBloPoMo November 2015

I stayed home today to finish some errands and work from home the rest of the day. I had just sat down to work and warming up to whatever I was doing. Just then the maid came and asked me to move from the bed so that she could clean the fans. I moved to the table on the other side and just about began my work when she was there too. A quick wipe and the fan in the bedroom was done. I had to move out of the balcony so that she could clean that area. I packed my stuff and left home to find a more peaceful place to work in. But that set me thinking.

The first thought that came to my mind was why such thorough cleaning? Scrubbing everything clean for Diwali has always been the most cliche concept I know. If you are really that keen on being squeaky clean and spotless, once a month will help achieve better results. Once a year is too infrequent. Plus, doing everything once a year needs more time and effort. Wouldn't it be more intelligent to spread it across the year?

The second thought that jumped at me was that there’s no point making our homes look pristine if we can’t get rid of the muck and filth in our minds. Even though I had a specific person in mind when I thought of that, I think it applies to all of us. I was also reminded of this picture that Gurprriet Singh, who I follow on Twitter, had posted a while back. And to me, this is the real cleaning for any occasion. Why scrub our homes to purity while we still nurse grudges, feel jealous of the neighbour's prosperity and discriminate against the poor!

Clear the cobwebs in your mind first! (Photo Credit: @JoyAndLife)
A spotless house is of no use unless the people living in it make it a home with uncluttered thoughts of pure love for each other. Why wait till the new year to let go of the old and make a fresh start? Look inside, peep into dark corners you’d like to light up this Diwali. Wipe out the dust of indecision, scrub out the hatred and suspicion you have held on to, make peace with things that’ll never be and make space for the beautiful things that life has to offer instead.

Scan your thoughts and think of what is it that you want to get rid of this Diwali. And what would you like to bring in. Dare to clear the cobwebs and look forward to new things you’d like to decorate the space with instead. Maybe share one of your blessings with the less fortunate. Try to support someone who's a poor performer at office. He may just get better with your help. Thank the woman in your house who puts your comfort and needs first. Be patient with the elderly in your building who take their own time to go down the stairs. Maybe lead a helping hand. Look eye to eye at someone you haven't spoken to in years. Maybe they are just waiting for you to break the ice.

Or call that long lost friend you always think of. Enrol in that hobby class you thought you’d pursue when you have a job and the money but never found the time after that. Let go of petty grudges you take home everyday. There will be so much less cleaning next Diwali. Like I mentioned, if clearing out clutter and dirt is important to you, do it regularly. In your house and in your mind. Don’t pile it for a year and try to frantically get rid of in one shot.

Try this new form of cleaning this Diwali. Feel the weights lift and your soul unburden itself!

(Thank you Yash Mahadik for the very appropriate word, cobwebs, that just stuck in my mind)

Monday, November 2, 2015

#NaBloPoMo Day 2: #BNLF: My Review Of The Most Disruptive Blogging Event Of The Year

Blog Now Live Forever, the blogging event by Indiblogger was a 2 day mega fest with an impressive line up of Indian and international speakers. Learning, knowledge, networking, food, catching up - it was a great place to be a part of the blogger community this weekend. This was my second Indiblogger meet and third blogger meet in all.

The venue was close to where I live and there's nothing like a cool Mumbai morning to look forward to an event like this. 15 minutes and I was there. There were serpentine queues to register but the efficient Indiblogger crew took charge of the situation and the lines vanished in minutes.

Ready for Day 1 of BNLF, Mumbai
As I got in and registered, I instantly recognised Purba Ray chatting up with people. It was my fan girl moment! And I was surprised that she remembered me and many others from Twitter. Now that's called being down to earth! And it goes without saying that a selfie is mandatory!

Selfie with ace blogger, Purba Ray
After all this excitement, it was a damp squib to find out that not only was there no breakfast but we had to wait for 2 keynote speeches to be over before we even got coffee! It seemed like a repeat of Karva Chauth for many women who fasted the day before and had an early start even the next day. Pushing our hunger pangs away, my friend Ankita and I found seats for ourselves and started milling about. The rocking start to the day was with a live rock concert - just the kind of energy we wanted!

And then started the key note speeches by the impressive line up of speakers for the day. The first session by Purba Ray who spoke about the hilarious responses one gets on telling people that we are bloggers. And Purba brought in all her trademark humour and we were in splits by the end of it. Arnab Ray was next, talking about how blogging changed his life. He traced back his journey of blogging from a time when it was a lesser known concept. Anshul Tewari's speech, though uninspiring was relevant in driving home the power of blogging and the difference it can make to the society. On the other hand, Kanan Gill seemed to have forgotten that he was supposed to talk about content in videos. We all kept waiting but he never got to it. Jeff Bullas and Christoph Trappe were at their professional best with useful insights on social media and story telling, respectively. (Although Jeff's session seemed to drag along and people got a little tired since it was post lunch too). Preeti Shenoy's session seemed like her standard marketing presentation which dutifully ended with - ps: please buy my books (!) and did not add anything new to my knowledge of blogging. Or publishing after blogging. I think the highlight of the day was Bruce Dickinson, the former lead singer of the rock band Iron Maiden but then also a successful business man and commercial pilot. The sheer volume of things this guy has managed to pack into his life is beyond inspiring!
Selfie with Ankita (@LifestyleProBlog)
In between the sessions, we had our much awaited and looked forward to lunch. We caught up with people we knew on Twitter but now got to meet them in person. My friend, Ankita introduced me to bloggers she knew and was in touch with. I met a lot of new people and it was inspiring to know the their stories of blogging. We also stayed back for a quick peek into the back stage party. The speakers were all so down to earth that we caught up again with Purba, Arnab and Jeff. Day 2, likewise, had masterclasses from the best! Christoph had great points on how one could use story telling to make an impact on others and get a buy in. His session was particularly interesting since drove home most of his points through stories. So it was like actually looking at how stories work. It kept us all riveted to the session. It was also inspiring to hear him share personal stories of how he makes time to do all that he does and still ensures he has time with his kids. (I missed Jeff's session since I had to leave early)

Day 1: Backstage party - with Ankita, Sahana, Puneet and Arnab
The event was definitely a winner for networking and learning, which I will get to in a bit, from the brilliant minds of blogging and social media. However, I found glaring gaps that dented the impact of the great event this could have been. To begin with, there wasn't anything disruptive about it. There weren't any path breaking ideas that would disrupt our way of thinking about blogging. No talk about bending rules of blogging or a revolutionary, thought provoking insight of how blogging can be newly approached post the event. It was a series of experts offering insights into how blogging should be done, which is informative at best, definitely not 'disruptive'.

The event sorely missed an energetic MC/host/compere that could have kept the event together and the crown energised. The energy was flat right from the start. Not that we weren't excited but there's only so much energy we can muster during an 8 hour event without some boost from the hosts. We had a semblance of a compere who introduced a few speakers and then we were told that she hadn't prepared the introduction of the next speaker! That came across as so casual and unprepared on the part of Indiblogger. Technically too, the clicker kept getting stuck and the guests had to check for the slides to come on to continue speaking. The audience was seated such that people in the front had more chances of getting noticed and asking questions.

I may be overly critical but that's because an event that includes esteemed speakers from other countries is expected to be glitch free. It's the reputation of the organisers at stake. With the kind of speakers Indiblogger managed to get, this could have been the best and the biggest of the blogging events.

Not robbing Indiblogger of the credit for organising an event like this, I think all of us had something to learn and take home. And when you have the best brains on stage, I guess there are some personal meaningful lessons which speak only to you. Since I have been blogging and active on social media, it wasn't the basics that interested me. The valuable lessons for me were:

1. Jeff Bullas' "Done is better than perfect". And this applies to so many other aspects of my life. And also, as bloggers, we wait for that elusive bout of inspiration and creativity to hit us so that we can come up with that perfect post which we secretly wish will go viral. When that does not happen, we come out with half hearted posts we aren't happy about. So, getting things done as a goal is a valuable lesson for me. If we just went ahead and did things, we'd probably have much better results too.

2. Christoph's session was about story telling but I learnt valuable lessons on time management from him. During the masterclass, he shared his routine which involves waking up at 4.30 am so that he can hit the gym in then morning to be able to spend time with his girls in the evening after office. His story of how he has blogged typing with one hand while his other hand held his one year old while she slept on his shoulder left an indelible imprint on my mind. So, it's all about really making time for things you really want to do. And I was quick to apply this lesson too. I ran into a blog chat as I looked at Twitter first thing this morning. I found myself browsing through it along with making my bed and brushing my teeth. At other times, I would have just ignored that chat as being too early in the day!

3. Bruce Dickinson's prolific career as a musician, commercial pilot and businessman takes the cake in inspiration. While Christoph inspired me to use every minute and every opportunity to do what I love, Bruce showed how much we can pack in one life! We are never too short of time to pursue things we really want to do.

To sum it up, #BNLF was a power packed event with something for freshers and experienced bloggers alike. It did add to strengthening community bonds through meeting and learning from each other. More power to you guys and more support from the blogging community.