Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mumbai Madness - Slow Down!

Slow Down. Life's not a race.
Copyright: http://www.alifechangingjourney.com
To me, home has always been Mumbai. While in college, I remember a friend of mine laughing at me because I had assumed that the Mumbai Central station falls within the Central Railway line. Pardon my ignorance for thinking that the word Central really means Central; it actually is a station along the Western Railway line. So what if I was not aware of some of the best restaurants along Masjid where the city’s best biryani was served? Mumbai is still home to me. Coming back here has always been accompanied with a sense of belonging. I could stay away for years and yet come back to the familiar hustle-bustle, the fast-paced no-time-for-anyone crowds, and the callous yet expected attitudes of the multitudes around me and settle right in. Sure, the first couple of weeks would be a jumble of complaints and never-ending criticisms, but then I would eventually ease into the familiar knowledge of how things work. Every city, every country has these know-hows. You just have to know how to work the ropes.

Over the years though, these city specific eccentricities have become a part and parcel of daily life. So much so, that there are things we take for granted, or things we have long stopped caring about. A recent conversation with three other fellow joinees at this new job of mine, opened up an interesting mine of observations. While waiting for our trainer, the four of us got into an ice-breaker conversation exchanging work histories and personal pleasantries. As it turned out, I and another guy, Umesh, were the only ones who had been in Mumbai for most of our lives. For Aditya, it was his first stint in Mumbai, having been in Gurgaon most of his life, except for a short four years at Mysore. For the other guy, Srinivas, Orissa had been home all these years. This is how the conversation goes once we get beyond introductions and other pleasantries.

Aditya: “This is my first week here and I have noticed that everyone is so unfriendly.”
Srinivas: “I swear man, I was always told Mumbai is this, Mumbai is that. All show-baazi and awesome friendly city and everything. City of dreams kind of thing. But this doesn't seem to be anything of that sort.” 
Me: Why? What makes you say that?
Srinivas: People are so busy here all the time. 24 x 7 they seem to be busy. No time even to smile at others. 

Aditya: Yeah, I have been here for one week. Am still trying to settle down both from the personal and professional front. At work, I am trying to get access to the systems – no one wants to answer any questions or even entertain my questions. Everyone just keeps sending me from one person to the other. The only thing they say is ‘I’m busy right now. Come later’.
Srinivas (excitedly turns to Aditya): The other day I dropped my pen. Before I could pick it up, someone picked it up and handed it to me. I started to say ‘Thank You’. But by the time I got to ‘You’, the person had already gone. How come everyone’s always in a hurry?
Aditya: And I am trying to find a place that I can move to. A roommate arrangement kind of a thing. People at work just tell me – go post ads, do it online, your work site should have a bulletin board where you can post such ads. But people don’t want to interact face-to-face. I call the real estate agent – those guy talk to you for 30 seconds and put you on hold for 30 minutes. In that time, they will answer 30 other phone calls or their mobiles or other land lines. I can hear entire conversations. And they last for 10 seconds. No courtesy. No time for a hello either. Just bark into the phone, talk and slam the phones down. 
Srinivas: You try to talk to someone, they have a train to catch. They need to get to the cab in time. They have some work they are running to. People back home are usually much slower. And they seem to be so much calmer and peaceful. And, they smile. Why is everyone always so impatient?

I have no answers.

And then, as I walk back from work to the railway station later that evening, I see people striding along. Some talking on their phones, some texting. A large majority with earphones swinging around their necks. Even as vehicles whoosh past them, none of them break their stride, they stare straight ahead and walk mum. And suddenly the conversation replays itself in my mind. I wonder what they are thinking, I wonder what the hurry is? If you aren't originally a Mumbaiite but you've been to Mumbai, is this how you see Mumbai too?
What have your experiences in this city been like?

I remember taking a trip to Sikkim and coming back amazed at the way every auto-rickshaw driver, every vegetable seller, even people walking on the streets would smile at you or wave while you pass. It was a very different feeling, one that stayed with me for a long time. And then I see us, like automatons – performing a task like we've been forced to do it. I am equally as guilty. I love brisk walks and even as I walk from my house to the railway station or from the railway station to work, I try to maintain my pace and keep walking. I fret when I cannot balance work with reading, blogging, catching up with friends, emailing people, downloading and uploading pictures and a bunch of other household tasks. But I am no superhuman. And maybe it’s OK to slow down every once in a while. Stop and smell the roses. Well, not literally. There are no rose shrubs along my route, and construction sites don’t smell so good. But you get the point.

Life’s no fun if we don’t look around and soak it all in. There’s so much more to life than performing daily functions by rote. Breathe in. Breathe out. Take it slow. Pause. Smile. More.

LIVE.

I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

5..4..3..2..1..Surprise!

WOW Post for Blogadda.com


This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda


WOW Post by Blogadda.com

“5..4..3..2..1..Surprise!!!”

Alisha woke up with a start, looking around the room with droopy eyes. Soft yellow light bathed the walls, candle lights flickering softly in the mild breeze that the curtained windows let in. Squinting at the silver and gold streamers shimmering on the wall across from her, she gasped. Large lettering shone off the wall ahead, though she could only see the first bits and the last, thanks to her parents crowding her and blocking her view. ‘HA … Y’ stood tall over ‘BIR …DAY’ at the bottom. Confetti floated around her and settled everywhere – in her hair, in the folds of the bed sheets, on the cake that her mom held in her hands. For a second, her face fell. Why had she thought her friends would be here? She was three hundred kilometers away from home. ‘Ex-home, Alisha.’ she said to herself. This, here, was home now, thanks to her father’s official transfers as part of an active army life.

And then, her eyes fell on the cake. Thirteen little candles flickered, hot wax slowly melting in the heat. As she moved close to it, heavenly aromas – chocolate and berries, she decided as she sniffed the air – wafted up to her nose. Looking up at her mom, a pang of guilt suddenly seized her. Her parents had been trying hard to get her settled in, filling in the void left by friends, trying to make her feel comfortable in the new alien land so she wouldn't feel left out, and yet Alisha had been acting difficult. But deep down in her heart, she knew her rebellion was simply an act she was putting on to prove her point that the move was a bad idea. In reality, there were bits and pieces here that were starting to interest her.

Happy Birthday, beta! You’re going to love this! Here …” Her father sang, as he handed over a guitar to his daughter. Alisha's heart sang with joy at the sight of the guitar but she couldn’t bear to meet his eye. Her first report card at the new school, a mix of Cs and Ds, had been the worst so far; she had barely scraped through. She had been so mortified that she had hidden it under her pillow as soon as she had come home from school. Now, she felt the stinging sensation of shame deep within. And she knew she had to confess, get it off her chest.

There is something I have to tell you first. I lied to you. The report card …” She started, unwilling to look up at any of their faces.

“But it’s your birthday today. We can talk about all this later.” Her mother replied softly.

“But Ma … I feel so …I’m … I’m sorry. The report card … I didn't …” She stammered.

“We already know about it, Alisha. Tough to keep secrets from your Mom.” Her father remarked with a chuckle.

Alisha’s eyes opened wide at the realization that her embarrassment was out in the open.

But how … and still you bought me the guitar?” Her face was a mix of expressions – incredulity clouding the shame underneath.

Her parents exchanged a knowing smile.

“Because your teacher also told us about your school trip to the Heritage Elder care home. I heard you sang for the seniors? And you didn't want to leave them even as the others couldn’t wait to get out? Ms. Kannan couldn’t stop talking about you – she was so full of awe.” Her father answered.

I’m not too worried about your grades, Alisha. I trust you, and your Dad and I are always around to help you. I know you will figure it out. Knowing you, you will catch up pretty easily. But you got to be a good human being first. Compassionate and helpful. And that trumps everything else." Her mother said softly.

Literacy comes easy. Education has got to be earned. And you, my child, you've made us so proud today.” Her father remarked.

Now come on, make a wish and blow the candles out. Otherwise, I’ll make you eat the wax too.” Her mom said with a smile.

Alisha felt warm inside. No wonder she had resonated with the elders at the old age home. It was a beautiful feeling to be cared for. She still missed her friends and it would be tough to fill the void, but she also knew she would be fine. Leaning forward, she closed her eyes and made her wish. Sooner or later, she would fall in love with this place too!

I would love to hear your views!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Saluting the will to stay upbeat!

A cacophony of sounds waft out the kitchen to the living room. Sounds of vessels being scrubbed, water being poured into the pots on the window sills, a joke that she shares with whoever’s around to listen, a song from the latest blockbuster that she hums enthusiastically and more. From the minute she arrives, her constant chatter and the hustle-bustle are impossible to ignore. Her talks are peppered with daily anecdotes or Santa-Banta jokes. Her eyes light up whenever she talks about the five year old she cares for in her other job. You can see the twinkle in her eye as she recounts tales of his naughtiness.

She is our domestic help, Reshma. Her own unique self, but one who undoubtedly represents many other such women. With her cheerful demeanour, it’s hard to believe that this girl who’s been working along with her Mom to contribute to her family income, is only nineteen. She’s someone who dropped out of school to work so she could earn and her brothers could study. When Mom volunteered to help tutor her after work, she politely turned down the offer. She couldn't afford the time.

Street smart, extremely efficient, bubbly and young at heart, there’s little that holds her down. When I left for Australia last year, she gifted me a farewell note that she had painstakingly put together alphabet-by-alphabet. Not knowing English, she had conveyed her feelings in Hindi and her brother had helped her with the English words. An avid learner, her un-quenched thirst of learning new things is what, I suspect, keeps her going. When she learnt riding her brother’s motorbike, little could she have imagined what she would use the skill for! She now enjoys riding our two wheeler, taking my Mom pillion with her, to get veggies from the market! It wasn't a surprise then that Reshma became Reshma the trainer, when our neighbour approached her to help learn ride the two wheeler!

It’s hard to find little things that can keep you upbeat especially when you have to do a lot of mindless drudgery day in and day out. When my ‘foreigner’ cousin stayed here for a week, Reshma had a blast. For about a month after they’d left, she’d still drawl ‘Excuse Me’ and ‘Oh, Thank you, How sweet of you!’ in perfect American accents and then giggle like a child! To have none of the churlishness or boorishness that is often exhibited by so many individuals on a daily basis is commendable. She is someone with dreams of her own. I can see the quest to learn, the passion to do, the want to fly high in the sky. And yet, without letting life become a string of regrets, she keeps on going. Here is a girl, a woman, who is as beautiful as her work. Someone who truly believes in spreading the cheer around. How then, could I not dedicate this post to her?

This is my entry to the Mia - As Beautiful as your Work contest, hosted at Women's Web for Tanishq



I would love to hear your views!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Top 10 Writing Hurdles: Featured on Storizen

Top 10 Writing Hurdles - Combating the Writer's Block
Image copyright: jacksmumontherun.wordpress.com
Storizen, an Indian literature magazine, showcases newly released books, book reviews, authors’ interviews and almost about anything and everything to do with books. Catch the latest issue of July 2013, featuring an article of mine - Top 10 Writing Hurdles - based on my experiences. If you write fiction, regardless of what topic/genre you write on, you must have faced at least one of these! None of these will zap you or surprise you. In all probability, these are already familiar to you. But many a times, we forget the simplest of things; the simplest of rules. So here's a simple reminder, a revision of sorts.

At the end of the day, remember.
This is how you do it. You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard. – Neil Gaiman.

You can access the July 2013 issue here. What are your thoughts?

I would love to hear your views!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Keeping Busy

Nothing like a song to get you back into the mood. Right now, the radio’s playing ‘Humma Humma’ from Bombay and I feel rejuvenated. I feel like I want to write, to dance, to sing in the rain, to feel the pitter-patter of rain on my fingers, to swing my legs in the ankle deep water swishing outside our building right now. The volume of water swishing around on the roads out there, continues to rise. Bombay rains, staying true to their name, continue to pour incessantly outside the window and I reminded of bhuttas (roasted corn on the cob) and hot chai. I call Amma and she worries if it would be another July 26, 2005. I have no idea, I wasn't here then. Well, I do have an idea and heard all the stories, but living it is a whole another thing. On the phone with my husband, we talk about a family trip to Malshej Ghats. The waterfalls around the Ghats would be a sight to behold in this season. My sister and I talk about more possible trips. At this rate, all weekends of August and September would be booked!

The radio has moved on to ‘Yaaron’ – a soft number by KK. Another of my favourites. And strangely, as I listen to the radio and type, I no longer feel the pull of the internet. When I moved back home from Australia, the only part I had been dreading was the loss of internet for the first couple of weeks as we shift into a new house, settle in , buy furniture, get daily services up and running and such. But surprisingly, with the amount of work that moving entailed, I never missed it – not even for a second in all those three weeks! Didn't even have time to miss it. I mean, when could I? When I locked all of us out of the house with the keys inside, and then had to wait for my husband’s sister to come over with the extra set of keys that she had in her house?

Locked out of home and car

Or when, I didn't learn a lesson from that episode and proceeded to lock us all out of the car at DMart with the keys inside? Any other day, I would have found that funny! But it was pouring cats and dogs. And it hadn't been that way when we had reached DMart, so we had left our umbrellas inside the car. So there stands the entire family, with several other people, struggling to fit under DMart’s awning– me, my husband, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and her two kids. We had to finally call my sister-in-law’s husband to come pick them up while my husband and I went looking for a garage to get someone to open it. I tell you – if his looks could kill, I would have been dead by now. It’s a good thing I ignored those looks and focused on the fact that how easy it would be for someone to go steal a car. I mean, how did the garage guy even know if it’s my car or not? 

As if that wasn't enough, my Dell laptop and the Apple laptop which I had shunned, decided to play games of their own. They took turns shorting out keyboards! After spending precious hours spread over three days with the Dell customer service executive who was extremely courteous and helpful, I ended up ditching his recommendations and decided to take it in to the Andheri service center. Why did you think that would have solved the problem? I wasted a whole day only to discover that because we had purchased the Dell in Australia, the service center people won’t accept the laptop unless the service tag is transferred to India. Well, that was a wasted trip. I bet it took every ounce of the customer service executive’s will to not say ‘I told you so’. He must have sniggered behind the scenes for sure! So while the Dell laptop service tag transfer was initiated (something that takes about 3-4 days), I resigned myself to using the Mac and promptly shorted out that too. Initially pegging voltage conversion to be the issue (because the same happened back in 2012 too!), we finally zeroed in on the surge-protector we had been using. What an irony that the very device which was supposed to protect our devices turned out to be the very death of them! Well, a week later, the Dell laptop breathed a new life again. It was a huge relief that the technician actually came home to replace the keyboard. And throughout the entire episode, the very first customer service executive I spoke to called every day to check on the status and was extremely helpful! I highly recommend Dell customer service! And I'm not being sarcastic!

Some of my powers would have undoubtedly rubbed off on my husband too. Imagine our plight when one fine day, engrossed in watching TV in our living room, I feel a slight warmth under my feet. I look down to see some water on the floor, immediately I scoot down on the floor to look for the errant uncapped bottle only to find the entire living room and the bedroom flooded with water. Used to washing machines being hooked to the plumbing and draining systems in the US and AUS, he forgot to let the drain pipe into the bathroom. We spent 45 minutes mopping up the water. The effects of Murphy are being passed from individual to individual. Now tell me, how and when could I have missed the internet? 

Dooba Dooba’ by Silk Route’s on! Have a beautiful rainy day ahead, people!
PS: (Inspired by TF's comment below) There's much more of Murphy that I have endured. Those experiences have been written about here

I like people who smile when it's raining

I would love to hear your views!

Monday, June 10, 2013

To Sisters And The Sisterhood

Sisters And Sisterhood
Nostalgia Revisited!
My first memories of her are from a day when I used to tease her mercilessly about her pudgy, almost invisible neck. I remember jokingly suggesting to Mom that we should hang her upside down by her feet, so that it would make her neck elongate and materialize. In the years since, my sister and I have been in a whirlwind of experiences – laughing at the happenings around us, arguing and fighting, ganging up – sometimes against each other and sometimes together against the rest of them, crying together and then making up and smiling through our tears. We were born almost seven years apart which would often put us in different time eras, where lifestyles and social conventions would be poles apart. With me in college and my sister still at school, she was a baby to me. And to her, I was yet another adult with my own understanding of rights and wrongs to pitch at her. But I guess when you cross a certain age, life blends the years together and the age difference doesn't appear to exist anymore. You understand and relate to each other more and become more accepting of decisions taken by the other as an adult. More often than not, the experiences you now encounter on a daily basis are not so different anymore. Experiences and incidents make more sense to us and talks seem less like lectures and more like perspectives now.

Which is why when I wanted to give my parents a surprise and not give them even an inkling about my husband and my moving back to India – bags and all – it was executed so flawlessly! We had made our decision a month back and through all that time I fibbed on every single phone call, letting a little bit of upset seep into my voice at my not being able to come back. But the star of the charade was the little sister – she deserves an Oscar I tell you! To live with them day in and day out and to put up with the charade, to not give away the surprise, to witness Mom pine for her elder one, sometimes even cheekily instigate the topic so it would appear more ‘genuine’ and then message me on WhatsApp saying ‘Mom’s almost crying that she’s not been able to see you – I don’t know if I should console her or laugh!’ And she kept up with the acting for one whole month; I couldn't have done it for a day. I stopped responding to Mom on Skype only doing voice calls instead. I knew she would take one look at me and figure it out! By the time we landed – about a dozen more people knew – our neighbours, my sister’s colleagues, my in-laws and even our house help. Unable to keep it in, she had been revealing the surprise to all these people and swearing them to secrecy! It’s a miracle no one leaked it! She had even concocted a story about inviting her three colleagues to lunch and got my Mom to cook food so there’d be something to eat when we landed!

Landing at the doorstep and watching my mother’s reaction was priceless. I now know literally what it means when you say ‘jaw dropping’ surprise. It was a good one though, considering she broke into happy tears a few seconds later. Fifteen minutes later she still couldn't digest it and pinched me twice to make sure her first born is actually sitting next to her! Dad’s was even funnier. He walked in the door at lunch time – my sister had ensured that he would be home for lunch – she’s a master at emotional blackmail! So in he walks, looks at us, and goes ‘Hello’ and continues walking. My husband, seated next to me, goes ‘Hello’ himself! And I’m thinking what a waste, he knew! And then two seconds later, it clicks in and he does a major double take!!! And then he couldn't stop laughing and smiling! I’ll never forget those moments. My failing memory is also aided by the fact that my sister filmed both these scenes!!!! We must have been the metaphorical chief guests of the day, but in all honesty – my sister was the star of the show! I couldn't have pulled that off!

Yes, sisters are truly a special breed. Close friends as well, who've become sisters over the years. And while on this topic, there are two other groups that I have recently come into close contact with, that deserve special mention. One is a group of women bloggers of indomitable spirit, women with grit, compassion, a huge heart, the attitude to lift and support one another and much, much more. The other is a group of us who came together because of our love for a common sitcom! These are women I can laugh with, tear up with, bitch with, vent my frustrations on, share my fears with, bond with, and argue with (and there have been heated arguments too, trust me!) knowing it would still not be held against me personally. Intellectual, well read, accomplished women from all different fields of life, women who can confidently offer perspective on various topics. I have learnt from their experiences and been moved by their life stories. And I have seen myself change, learnt to be more accepting and less judgmental. These are women I do not have to be conscious around, I can just be myself. And these groups, Indiblogeshwaris and Arshifans, are the groups that have taught me the true meaning of the word ‘sisterhood’. Life may take me in different directions, we might drift apart someday (I do hope that doesn't happen!) but I know in my heart, that the time spent with them is something I will truly cherish all my life!


To sisters and the sisterhood – You rock!
I would love to hear your views!

Monday, May 20, 2013

10 Reasons Why I Didn't Post

Copyright: www.simplifiedblogging.com
The latest post on my blog is dated May 2. It’s been three weeks since I posted anything. Two weeks back, I thought of writing on a particular topic. Then I put it off. And then I put it off some more. And then some more. Until it became three weeks and here I am. So finally, here’s a post on why I did not post! 
  1. Block – Writer’s, thinker’s, dreamer’s, contemplator’s, observer’s. Every possible kind. I would think of something – a particular topic and yet nothing-worth-putting-into-words would come to mind! I know it is so easy to simply use the block as an excuse but scripting a word and then following it up with another and yet another seemed like a Herculean task! Of course, the block could have been a by-product of any of the following combinations. 
  2. Chaos Theory. The past month felt like I was caught in a twister of sorts. So many options to pick from. So many pros and cons to pick through. Our professional lives were throwing us googlies and it was affecting everything ahead. Where to work, where to move? Stay here? Go back? Shifting. Buying. Returning. It was as if I was playing ‘Deal or No Deal!’ all the time! 
  3. News equals Depression. I hate to be insensitive and I know that shutting my eyes doesn’t mean that evil isn't out there anymore. But anything I read – from print media articles to blog posts to articles shared on Facebook had depression written all over it. Crimes against women, children, and government let downs so much so I had to stop reading the news for a while to hold on to sanity. 
  4. In pursuit of perfection. Yes, I did it! I waited for that perfect topic to write about. For the perfect moment when lightning would strike. That perfect sunrise. The perfect day of the week, for the perfect hour of the day. The perfect minute to start. And guess what, it never came! 
  5. Fiction Rules. What can I say? I love fiction! Now, that, I did doodle a lot of! All in my notepad and on my computer. Just not on the blog. Yet. 
  6. Facebook. That’s right I blame Facebook. And Google Talk. And the internet. And while I am at it – I blame work too. I spend too much time at all these places – time which could have been better spent writing. But boy, is it addictive! I will myself to stick to 10 minutes and before I know it, two hours are up! 
  7. Master Planner. I am not always meticulous, but just sometimes I am this master-scheduler person – who loves to use Google Calendar, sync her phone with the one online, schedule all sorts of things – specifically time for writing, blogs, reading etc. If only I spend some time on execution too! 
  8. Pick a niche. Now this was one reason I dilly-dallied a lot with posting. Speaking to a couple of close friends, a recent bout of ‘what does my blog even stand for’ took over. It’s not a review blog, nor a travelogue. Not a tech blog, not a foodie one. It’s a jack of all, master of none. Spent a lot of crazed moments going back and forth. Final decision? It is a personal blog and it will continue to be. I might as well shut it down if I have to force myself to write to one particular category. 
  9. I blame the weather. What?! If the Khaps can blame chowmein, mobile phones, skirts and education for the rise in crimes against women, I can’t blame the weather for my drop in writing? I hate winter. After spending eight years in MN, you’d think I’d be used to it. But no! And now, as Oz land welcomes the chill (ahem, well in the double digits and never any snow) – even the subtle drop in temperature makes me want to cozy up with a bowl of steaming hot Maggi Noodles! 
  10. I really couldn't think of #10. But, if you've been here before, maybe you got something that applies to me and I haven’t thought of yet? What’s that? I should have been creative and thought of #10? Hey, don’t blame me! Blame the block! 
PS: I haven’t been to any of my favourite blogs either this past month. Now you know why! BTW, this post took only 10 minutes. I don’t know what to make of that!
I would love to hear your views!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The 'Bloody Desi' syndrome


Desi Indians indulge in racism as much as anyone else.
Judgmental, aren't we?

Being slated as an 'outsider' in a foreign country is bad enough, but what if your own shun you too? A post from the heart, based on some personal experiences while away from the homeland. Read the rest of it here. What's your say?

I would love to hear your views!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 4

Click here for Part 1. 
The next day, the morning dawns bright and sunny, albeit with a slightly chilly undertone. But, by now, having spent two days in NZ, I have realized that the morning chill is largely deceptive. It sticks around for a couple of hours and then ditches summer for the rest of the day. Thus, in contrast to the past two days of wearing warm clothes and then complaining or having to change mid-day, I dress myself more in tune with the weather. Today, our first stop is the souvenir shop. You must be wondering why we’re making a souvenir stop mid-way through our trip. Here’s where I rake up the mistakes from NZ Part 1 (remember the flip flops and the office formal footwear?) A half hour later, armed with decent walking footwear, we make our way down to the Fox Glacier. 

Directs from Punakaiki to Queenstown via Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Driving south-west from Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to Fox Glacier and finally to Queenstown
Just like we have our very own Siachen Glacier in North India, NZ boasts of two huge glaciers – Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. However, as opposed to the Siachen’s 70 km length, Fox Glacier is only 13 kms in length and Franz Joseph - 12 kms in length. We head down to Fox Glacier and park a distance away. We are told that there are many ways to experience the Glacier. Interested parties can enlist for an eight hour guided hike atop the Glacier (See the tiny people below? That’s what they’re doing!). Those pressed for time have an option of hiring a helicopter which drops you on the Glacier and then you can hike with a guide for two hours and, I presume, the helicopter brings you back. Obviously, the second option will be expensive. In both cases, hiking shoes, protective gear, torches and the like are provided. (To a friend who loves nature hikes, you’ll absolutely love this experience!

Tourist guides lead hikers through the crevices at Fox Glacier
Tourist guides lead hikers through the crevices of Fox Glacier
I am not interested in ice anymore. My husband isn't very particular either. Having lived in Minnesota - real life Narnia - for eight years, I have walked on all the ice and snow I would like to walk on in a life time. I can easily go a good dozen years without ever wanting to see ice and snow again. You’re probably arguing – but it’s a glacier! That’s different! You know - how you fall in love with an image, and then when you come face-to-face with it, initially you’re mesmerized, you probably even fall in love with it, and then when it goes overboard you kind of lose interest? That was the story of my relationship with ice and snow. 

A snowy morning in Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Snow covered Minnesota
I loved the first couple winters – went crazy building snowmen and having snow fights. Then, when I started getting tired of having to wrap myself in bales of wool and warmth even to step out to the next building, I couldn't wait for the snow and dirty ice to melt away! But, even as I moved out of Minnesota, I still loved the first snow of the season. Some experiences and memories are just too precious, they never fail to enthrall you! So anyway, back to the glacier. Those who do not wish to hike on the ice, still need to hike about a km uphill (steep) to get to the face of the glacier. And so, off we go. Loose rocks and gravel crunch below my feet. 

Hikers on their way back from Fox Glacier, New Zealand
The guided tour makes its way back, down the mountain
Towering mountains stand upright on both sides. To our left, moss and grass cover up the face of the mountain. To our right, the cliff falls away, steep and scary. Thin roped barricades have been put up, but if someone were to slip, it would not hold their weight. Every morning, depending on how the glacier advances through the week, barricades are adjusted. 

Safety sign boards up on display at the hiking path of Fox Glacier, New Zealand
A 'Red for Danger' sign board warns trekkers to stay well within the safety limits
The strange fact about the glacier is that after having retreated for 100+ years, it has now been advancing for the past few years. The guide at the spot tells us two Indian tourists from Australia lost their lives recently when they stepped ½ km into the safety barriers to click pictures and fell into the icy chasms. It makes me shudder for a second, but we drudge on well inside the safety barriers. I see the elderly walking with canes and matching us step to step, and it reminds me how much I need to work on my fitness. 

We get to the closest access point possible and the cool air drifting in from the direction of the glacier makes me shiver even in the warm summer heat. We watch people beginning their hike atop the glacier. We have come armed with Styrofoam cups of coffee, and though they have lost some of their heat, sipping hot coffee at the top of a mountain right next to an ice cold glacier can be a high in itself! Perched on some makeshift boulder seats, we take in the views for a little while. Surrounded by nature on all sides can be an exhilarating and a grounding experience at the same time. By the time we get back down on level ground, it’s past lunch time. We grab a quick snack on the way and start our drive down to Queenstown. 

Lake Wakatipu stretches out on the right on the way to Queenstown, New Zealand
Driving down to Queenstown with the lake stretching out on the right
This is how every little town in NZ is. Little singular attractions on which the rest of the town thrives. Incomes flow in through these tourist attractions and most employment in these towns run to support these attractions and related establishments like coffee houses and trek gear rentals. The drive down from Fox Glacier takes us a good portion of about five hours as we make a few scenic stops along the way. 

Dainty diners on the way to Queenstown, New Zealand
A diner, ensconced among the mighty mountains, one of many on the way to Queenstown
Unlike the little towns we have witnessed so far, Queenstown is a major bustling metropolis in itself. Built mostly around one part of the huge lake Wakatipu, this town is every bit a nature lover’s destination and an adventure seeker’s paradise. From bungee jumping to white water rafting, from sky diving to jet boating, Queenstown is a complete 180 degree turn from the quiet serenity so far. The streets are crowded, there are roundabouts in the middle of the city – a traffic setup not experienced in NZ so far and people! East Asians, Caucasians, Indians and more East Asians! Parking is at a premium and we drive around for a little while, finally deciding to simply check in to our hotel. Karauwaki by Hilton, the first actual ‘hotel’ on our trip so far, turns out to be on the other side of the lake – away from all the hubbub. It takes us twenty minutes to get out of the traffic and drive down to our hotel. We chuckle at the thought that maybe 4.3 million of the 4.4 million might be from Queenstown. (This, until we encounter Dunedin!) 

Lake Wakatipu as seen from the Gondola Ride, Queenstown, New Zealand
A view of the Lake Wakatipu
The meticulously groomed reception staff paste on a plastic smile and suddenly I find myself missing the friendly motel owners. Declining the offer to add on internet for $30 a night, we take our credit-card style key cards and trudge along to our room – one in many, along a long dimly-lit, classy, well-polished, un-ventilated hallway. We decide to freshen up and step out for dinner. The ‘travel booth’ near the reception, offers us options – considering that parking is a problem in the city, we can either avail of a boat ride – a jetty or a bus. We’re given timetables of the jetty rides and the buses, instructed on when the last bus leaves from the city, informed about one-way versus two-way rates and then sent along our way. Since it’s late already and we do not want to try our luck with the last bus back, we decide to drive and scour around for a parking spot. Luck favours us and thus parked, we walk along the streets peering into shops, adventure rides agents, haute couture boutiques and debate cuisines. Thailand wins hands down on Day 3 and thus, with the scrumptious flat wheat noodles, coconut flavours and spicy curries playing havoc on my taste buds, another beautiful day slowly draws to an end. Day 4 tells me about a beautiful legend, much like the fairy tales I used to listen to in childhood – about the Lake Wakatipu. Come back here to read about NZ’s very own Rakshas!

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 3

The series starts here
Driving back, by the time we reach the tiny little one-street town of Fox Glacier, it’s almost sundown. We find these little NZ towns amusing in that sense – except for three cities – Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin – the other towns that we encounter as part of our trip, are mostly one-street towns. To both sides of the street are various shops – mostly souvenir shops that sell t-shirts, books, trinkets and little odds and ends. Typical touristy stuff. Apart from souvenir shops, there are a few motels, a couple of restaurants, one supermarket, a couple of cafes and that’s about it. The streets themselves are hardly a kilometer long, if at all. The road to our motel intersects the main street of Fox Glacier at right angles, so after a quick glance at the street, we drive off towards our motel.

The one-street town of Fox Glacier, with Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in the distance.
The one-street town of Fox Glacier
Except for cities that are of the bustling metropolis variety, most towns in NZ will have motels, not hotels. In addition to being cheaper, motels are smaller – about a dozen rooms or so on an average, compared to a typical hotel with hundreds of rooms. They are mostly family owned businesses, run and maintained by the family or its delegates. Motel managers are typically friendly people and take a personal interest in ensuring that your stay is extremely comfortable. They often like to interact with people who stay with them – helping them with places to visit, maps, providing amenities in the room etc. – but they also do know that you appreciate your privacy, so in most cases, this will not feel like an intrusion. Another advantage of staying with motels is that added services like internet, cable TV etc. would often be free in motels compared to hotels which would charge you a hefty fee for the same. Motel rooms also come with kitchenettes stocked with utensils, crockery and such for those looking to cook in. And of course, wineglasses and such for those looking to unwind after a long evening! After having stayed in motels for a few days, when at Queenstown, we ended up staying in a hotel, we hated it even though it was the Hilton! At the time of our travel, an average motel room cost us about $80-100 a night.

A motel room - Fox Glacier, New Zealand
A quaint little motel room, offering privacy and solace.
The manager at our Fox Glacier motel enquires if we would like full-fat milk or fat-free milk to be stocked in the fridge and proceeds towards our room as we stay back in the office and talk to the lady behind the counter. Deciding that the glacier would have to wait till tomorrow, we take her suggestion and drive towards Lake Matheson, barely a 5 kilometer drive away. Towards the end, the gravel road turns into an unpaved path. Judging by the cars parked haphazardly, we figure it’s a parking lot. From here on, it’s about a 300 metre walk to the first point on lake. The walking trail is so built around the lake’s circumference, that there are lookout areas built every two hundred metres or so, aimed at providing breathtaking views of the lake. Lake Matheson is a famed lake, often seen on the cover page of magazines and books that cover New Zealand territories.

And when we and a few others stand there in the silence, looking up at the twin peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in the distance, flanked by nature on all sides, the soft ripples in the water serenaded by the gentle breeze, the shimmering reflections of the peaks in the water - we can see why this place would be a photographer’s favourite. With the passage of time, the setting sun lends various hues to the reflection of the twin peaks so much so that every few minutes, the click of the camera comes up with a different shade of the same picture. I am instantly reminded of a client of mine in the US, who is a photography buff. She had set up her camera on a tripod in her office, so that it faced the east window – where the sun rose every day. Every morning at the same time, she would click a picture. And in a year’s time, she had a full year’s worth of shades – every single morning different from the other!

Lake Matheson showing reflections of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook in the distance
Mount Cook and Mount Tasman forming perfect reflections on the rippled waters of Lake Matheson
We sit in silence for a while, my husband and I, and a few others around us. Conscious of the presence of others yet unwilling to breach the calm. Australian flies buzz in the distance building up a cumulative drone. There’s nothing else around, for kilometers. My mind wanders – what if someone were to get lost? What if someone needs medical help? 

Lake Matheson showing the reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, in a different hue.
Lake Matheson showing the reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, in a different hue.
Farmers and their families stay far apart. For farmers living far away, the NZ government is known to arrange for airlifts to the city hospitals, if the need arises. It amazes me and irks me simultaneously. How does a government care so much for its citizens? And then I think, why does it? Isn't it the individual farmer’s decision to go stay so far away where medical help might not reach in time by road? So, how long and how much should the government give in to – irrational decisions taken by individuals risking their own and their families lives for the want of privacy? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be insensitive. But to me, that feels like a selfish move - because in the time that the medical team gets to and from the remote site, maybe they could helped x more patients?

The waiter at the restaurant near Lake Matheson where we have dinner, gets into a conversation with us. Now that I think about it, staff at cafes and restaurants all through NZ seem to be the chatty, friendly kinds – often getting into conversation, wanting to find out how you like the country and such. She tells us that farmers’ children often study in the city and stay at boarding schools through the week, returning to their homes only for the weekends. NZ colleges also have specialized farming courses, and dairy farming technologies developed in NZ are world leaders in farming methodologies.

Post sunset, daylight falls rapidly and the roads are bathed in darkness. There are no streetlights and the only light to guide us back to our motel are the headlights on our car and the vanishing red tail lights of other cars in front of us. It’s the end of yet another day in the so-far picturesque trip – the one trip where I haven’t yet tired of taking ‘people-less’ pictures!

To be continued. 
Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A New Age Telling - Beauty and the Beast

How would 'Beauty and the Beast' be, if the setting were to be the 21st century? Are fairy tales possible in the contemporary world too?

The sixth edition of the Indifiction workshop requires a contemporary retelling of 'Beauty and the Beast'.
The plot for this edition can be accessed here. Please read the plot before you read the entry.
My entry to this edition can be accessed here. Feel free to leave your comment here or at the Indifiction link!

Every edition’s winners define the succeeding plot and judge the next edition’s entries. The winners of the previous round Medha Kapoor, Prasanna Rao and Janaki Nagaraj would be judging this round. This plot has primarily been coined by them in conjunction. Conceptualized by two popular bloggers TF and C. Suresh, Indifiction is a workshop for writers interested in fiction.

Disclaimer: Considering that this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I have kept the basic premise and the ending the same, even though it is a modernisation. It does not portray my views.
I would love to hear your views!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kaleidoscope!

That the blog is called Deepa's Kaleidoscope is no secret. But the fact that the second of my stories 'Domino Effect' has got published in an anthology called 'Kaleidoscope' - What is it if not a good omen? 


Also, proud to announce that the 'Domino Effect' has been chosen as one of the top 5 stories in the book! Available at offline retailers like Landmark and Crossword, you can also order your online copies at Amazon.

Click on Goodreads for reviews and more.

Shaurya says: A fresh breeze along the book comes in the terms of The Domino Effect by Deepa Duraisamy. The theme is how a chain of interconnected events started by the unaware protagonist changes the life of those who get involved in it. To weave so many different plots into a single story is not an easy task but the author justifies her work here. Click here to read the complete review. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 2

Part 1 of the New Zealand Chronicles can be accessed here.
Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, seasons here are inverted as compared to most other nations in the world. January is the season of peak summer. Temperatures are usually in the high thirties during this month. Back in India and Australia, summer mornings are balmy – hot even. Which is why, the next morning around 9 AM, when we wake up to a slight chill in the air, it confuses us momentarily but does nothing to hamper our plans. The next few days on our itinerary are about touring the west coast. Having checked out of our motel (more on motels soon!), off we go driving from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. 240 odd kilometers.

Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, New Zealand
Driving from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast
Pamphlets picked up from the motel tell us that the drive through Arthur’s Pass is spectacular. Sure, we think, a tad skeptically. It’s their way of promoting tourism. Everything’s got to be spectacular.

A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A scenic stop along the way to Greymouth
But then, when we drive through it, we’re left spellbound. Driving on sinewy roads, magnificent scenic beauty creeps up on us every now and then, from behind mountains and beyond plains. Every few kilometers, there are detours – special trails for walking, hiking, biking and driving. Along the way, we take a detour and drive in to the riverfront – a section of the Waimakairi River – where there’s absolute solitude. Peace, calm and quiet.

A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
A serene lookout stop along a one-lane bridge on the way to Greymouth
I wonder aloud if the roads have been built that way intentionally – to keep paradise veiled until the last moment and then to spring it on us in such a way that we’re rendered speechless by the resplendence. It’s a powerful feeling - the serenity.

A dried up lake, along the way to Greymouth, New Zealand
Once upon a time, glaciers ruled the earth.
There’s one more car there and no passengers. A biker on his bike, soaks in the view. You’ll find many similar locations in NZ – where there are no humans. Putting it in perspective – the population of the entire country – North AND South Islands put together is 4.4 million. The population of Mumbai alone is 20+ million. 

A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation, Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
A lone biker spends some time in solitary contemplation - a detour along Arthur's Pass.
About 300 meters away, a rope bridge calls out to us. On the other end of the bridge built over the river, are hiking trails which lead into the mountains. We see an elderly couple walk into the woods. And then our mistakes flaunt themselves in our faces! No walking shoes. No running shoes. What good are a pair of flip flops or formal shoes if you set out on a hiking trail! Dejected, we stroll along on the foot bridge. The scenery on both sides of the bridge are remarkably different. To the west, the river opens out in full splendor – a yawning gaping water body with no end in sight – shaping itself to the contours of the land masses around it. To the east, it reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Kerala backwaters – constrained water bodies with greenery on both sides. I almost imagine a house boat moored to the side. I love the west view, my husband loves the east! As usual. Some photography sessions later, we make our way back to the car and get on with the drive. 

The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's Pass, New Zealand
The east view - at a detour stop along Arthur's pass
The first stop at Greymouth is for lunch and this time we stop at an Indian restaurant. Indian? Yes. The reason I need to pen this down here, is for a friend, who had recently written about her troubles finding good Indian vegetarian food abroad. Jaish, no food worries here! We find it surprising that every decently sized town seems to have an Indian restaurant. Strangely, New Zealand doesn't seem to have enough Indians to warrant the number of Indian restaurants we find in NZ. We’re told Indian cuisine is a tourist favourite in that part of the world – liked and appreciated by Asians and non-Asians both. The fact thrills me! NZ vegetarian food has a lot of ‘Kumaras’ in it. Even road junctions are called Kumara. In Maori, it essentially means a sweet potato, which is a local delicacy. But there’s the usual menu too. Our plan is to drive south from here but the restaurateur suggests Punakaiki instead, about 50 kilometers in the north instead. 

Parked outside an Indian restaurant at Greymouth, New Zealand
Stopover for lunch - Greymouth
Ours is not a strict follow-a-checklist touristy plan, we do not have points to cover in a day and rush through everything. We have a fair idea of where we want to go, but we have time to be flexible as well. And so, taking his suggestion, we drive off to Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. 

Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Layered pancake rocks at Punakaiki
As the name suggests, vertically compressed layers of huge rock formations formed over millions of years give the appearance of giant stacks of pancakes. And midst these rock formations, exist blowholes – huge holes through which the raw, powerful ocean is seen beneath. With high tide, the ocean rushes into the rock formations and with tremendous pressure comes gushing out of the blowholes almost like a volcano erupting. Waves continuously crash along the rocks, water and mist splashing at you every now and then and it is always windy. If you plan to visit, do carry a light spring jacket with you at all times. With the wind and tides playing games, weather shifts here can be quite unpredictable. The sides of the cliffs can be slippery and with constant erosion, quite risky too. But stick to the path, and this is not an experience you want to miss. 

Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki, New Zealand
Powerful waves lash out from amid blowholes at Punakaiki
The cold water and the mist make me crave for a cup of hot coffee. Resting at a nearby cafeteria, we chat for a while with the girl at the counter. She tells us that NZ, except for the four most populated cities, essentially shuts down once summers are over. Tourism drives most of these smaller towns and with no tourists, people here shift focus to other businesses – like farming, or international visits. She tells us NZ folks travel a lot – because NZ is a small nation and most people having grown in farming families quite content in themselves, they have this insane urge to travel and see the rest of the world. NZ youth take off for six months or more at a time, touring different nations as backpackers, getting odd jobs and soaking in the local flavor of the city they live in. I wonder what NZ people, with their pristine natural beauty, think of other cities and nations. And then I remind myself the grass is always greener on the other side. But as a friend had recently shared – If the grass is always greener on the other side, the water bill has got to be higher. 

The next destination on our itinerary is another 240 kilometers down south along the west coast. And so, after spending some more time along the rocks, we take off again, this time towards Fox Glacier. A real glacier? Yes. Not one, but two of them! Ice Age meets New Zealand. Click here for Part 3.  

Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests - If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there's no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 
I would love to hear your views!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Aarambh - A beginning - Educating mindsets and more

In October 2012, while at a friend’s house, we sit chatting about what each of us does professionally. Conversation inadvertently moves to social causes and to what we do for the community that has laid the foundation for what we are today. (I know there will be arguments to the contrary, however, I do believe that community always has a role to play, however minute it may be, in grooming every individual). And giving back to the community in their own way are two such individuals – Shobha Murthy and Anuradha Padmanabhan. Anu is a freelance soft skills trainer who often lends her expertise to and works with multiple NGOs in the area, Aarambh at Turbhe being one of them. Run by Shobha Murthy, the founder, trustee and director of Aarambh, the Turbhe center is one of 10 community centers - across all of Navi Mumbai. Each center caters to about 15 pre-primary kids and 20 children in the class 1-10 range. 

Caring for others beyond your immediate family and friends circle is something that really needs to be appreciated in this time and age. After what we go through with the proverbial grist mill, who has the time or inclination to look beyond our daily routines and chores – much less spend that time on kids and youngsters – none of whom are your own? When iDiya and Indiblogger come up with a social change contest as part of IndiChange, I am instantly reminded of Anu. On call, I want to know what Aarambh is all about and she explains patiently. Aarambh centers are essentially community centers that work with underprivileged children and women from all backgrounds of life – children of sex workers, day labourers, house help etc.

A volunteer at Aarambh helps children draw and paint.
A volunteer helping children with Art.
The divide between the rich and the poor continues to expand. But looking down at the so called lower class with scorn or apathy is going to lead us nowhere. Speaking to Shobha Ma’am, I get a sense of the helplessness that courses through her, even as she does the best she can with the resources she has at her disposal. In response to my question, ‘What are the expectations from the educated/general public?’ she says: ‘There are people who come forward to help. But with such a large urban population, it is disappointing that there are so few volunteers. Today, I see two Indias. One which is full of educated urban youth who have the best of everything but are enclosed in their own little world. And the other which is composed of the underprivileged who have the desire to learn but do not know how to. We have Indian businessmen making it to Forbes lists and earning thousands of crores, yet that’s the only section of India which is advancing. What’s the point? If the country has to advance, shouldn't we all be moving together?’ I do not know how to respond, I feel saddened by the veracity in those questions. The shame of not being able to do more lingers in my mind, yet here’s a lady who’s doing so much yet feeling guilty that she cannot do more.

Mid-day meal time at Aarambh, Panvel
Mid-day meal time
She tells me about children who drop out of school due to circumstances at home, yet come back after 2-3 years later wanting to pick up the threads. Aarambh helps with providing affidavit certificates, education gap explanations and such. It helps children get enrolled in school but Shobha Ma’am tells me how, because of lack of volunteers, she feels like she’s setting up these kids for a ‘sink or swim’ situation. Of how it feels to encourage the underprivileged community to educate their children, to show them hopes and promises and yet not have the required backup to keep up to those promises. When we talk about how parents react to their efforts, she says ‘You have to see them Deepa, even they have so much faith in education now. When waiting for their children to finish class, they’ll sweep the classroom or clean the place because that’s their way of contributing. And the children; they know they are from the weaker strata of society, that they’re getting a chance at something better. So they are well behaved. When both parents and children are so enthusiastic and we are unable to provide them the support that we promised them, we as a society are the ones failing them.

15 years ago, when a few scientists from BARC volunteered at Aarambh, they set a new record. Teaching evening classes after work, they painstakingly worked with children who were only too eager to learn. The result? For the first time since its inception, students of Aarambh passed their standard 10th exams in their very first attempt! Up until then, students needed 2-3 attempts to clear their exams, if at all. The volunteers have long since been transferred to other locations, but they still call up to enquire about ‘their children’. I ask about funds and she tells me, inflow of funds is decent but not steady. Conglomerates like JP Morgan do pitch in. ‘Money is money. If not today, it will come in a few months. But how do we spark interest and initiative in individuals?’ She asks forlornly.

Education is a powerful medium by which slowly and steadily, the gap can be reduced if not bridged completely. But urging the underprivileged comes with its own set of challenges. When my mother tried to encourage our house help to study, even opting to take classes for her after work, she refused. She does not have time for it. Compared to education which can give her a good future tomorrow, she needs the money today.To pay bills and run the house, to pay for her brothers’ education and such. But let not a few such obstacles bog us down. For every person unable to attend school because their circumstances don’t support, there are still many more who have the un-quenched thirst to learn and are willing to!

Aarambh children participate in a dance show, Panvel
Aarambh children participate in a dance show.
For the most part, Aarambh centers are not full-fledged schools or overnight stay facilities. These are for children born to parents who are unable to provide for them, yet do not wish to see them lose out on better opportunities in life. For tiny tots at the pre-primary level, the center doubles up as a school and play area. From colouring to singing songs, storytelling to play times, children are kept busy by dedicated staff and volunteers. For children in grades 1-10, a typical day starts with school. Aarambh centers are strategically located close to municipality schools. Once school lets out, children come trudging in. The centers provide mid-day meals to children and then follow it up with extracurricular activities like singing, dancing, play time etc. This is where people like Anu come in. Working with the elder kids in the batch, she conducts workshops that teach children about team building, leadership skills, personality development and such so that children are able to conduct themselves better in school as well as out in the real world.The teacher-student ratio is not fixed; it depends on how many children need help with the skill which the volunteer/staff is knowledgeable in. Many of the volunteers or staff are individuals who have grown up through the center themselves. College students often teach in return for a certain amount of ‘pocket money’. Several of them, who step in to help, come from the same backgrounds as the children and recognize the need for education. However, a challenge for Aarambh today, is finding people who can provide specialized subject teaching to elder children who need some help with specific concepts or subjects. Like someone who can help them with Math.

At Aarambh, women learning to sew and knit.
At Aarambh, women learning to sew.
In addition to furthering education for underprivileged children, Aarambh also works with underprivileged women teaching them basic skills like weaving, bag making etc. thus empowering them and making them financially independent. Many such women go ahead to become success stories and come back to the center to help teach others. Several times, post the conduct of awareness programs in the city, help troops in, but it is the temporary kind. Celebrities step in for a little while, garner publicity and leave. And children are left feeling confused. They have started to form attachments, they have started receiving love, attention and affection; something they are not often privy to in their own homes.

A young aspiring painter at Aarambh calling out to volunteers!
A young Picasso calls out to you!
When I ask Anu about children at Aarambh and their reactions to volunteers, she says, and I quote: “They have high aspirations Deepa. They have this spark in their eyes and somewhere, due to their circumstances, they are unable to do more. It was only a one week workshop but the day I was saying Bye to them, they couldn't resist tears. For so many of them, their mothers are sex workers, their fathers are drunkards, they don't get attention at home. But they have this craving in their eyes, in their heart, in their minds to do more, but we are unable to help them more. That is why we need more passionate people, who are willing to be more regular.” For this reason, Aarambh is looking for individuals who could attend on a regular basis. Let not the word ‘Regular’ scare us. Even a bi-hourly Math class, conducted twice a week is regular. Let us not be afraid of commitments. It isn't fair to the children that they form a routine, a schedule which they get used to, only to be left stranded to fend for themselves.

For six centers which are located en-route to major IT parks, the centers should ideally attract more educated youth and adults – considering that they’re open from 9 AM to 9 PM. Shobha Ma’am tells me ‘The kids all live in the vicinity. If we tell them to come for a class at 7 PM, they’ll be there. 8 PM, they’ll be there. They’re hungry to learn. And people don't even have to teach 100s of students. It's 15-20 max. Not like schools.’ Thoughts churn around in my mind. For interested individuals, an extra hour after work – twice a week or so shouldn't seem like such a bad option, should it? She asks me then, what is it that stops people from volunteering? If they want to be paid monetary benefits, then it isn't really volunteering, is it? People don’t communicate their expectations from the experience. She tells me, Aarambh is ready to pay for conveyance, provide certificates of experience and such if that is what is required. But people are still not interested. In the end, she leaves me with a question. ‘If the educated won’t do, then who will?

So, I ask you today, what is 3-4 hours a week? It’s akin to giving up 45 minutes of TV time a day. Is that so difficult? To face a book instead of spending that ½ hour a day on Facebook? If not for anything, do it for Karma. What goes around, comes around. Do good unto others; good will come back to you. Do it for selfish reasons. But do it. And be serious about it.

Mundane chores often consume our day and we find that we have no time for anything else. But a few years down the line, when you look back at your life, wouldn't you rather feel good about having done something effective?  If we set our hearts to it, we would start loving the effort too! A child from a slum is waiting for your helping hand eagerly. Let not the reluctance of visiting a slum hold you back. Organizations like Aarambh help bring them and you together under one roof. Take that first step, you will not want to let go of the little hand. Go out there and put in a few hours each week for a cause close to your heart. You will not regret it.

Enquire about such initiatives in your vicinity. Take that first step. Aarambh. It is a beginning.
For more about Aarambh: 
Contact Number: 022 27680965
Cell: +91-9820616940

Note: The above post is based on true conversations (quoted verbatim) with the two exceptional women. Image credit for all images rests with aarambh.org
I would love to hear your views!
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