Monday, 13 December 2010

Joint families revisited

When I was in school, I had one class mate in the whole class who was part of a joint family. It was a real joint family with lots of people - not the 'two brothers staying together with their families and parents' types. It seemed very different to me as joint families were unheard of in cities. I don't know if I liked it for the novelty of it. There was another joint family in my mother's town - it was my mother's cousin's family. Everyone stayed together in a huge house with a big kitchen, a big hall, a huge front yard and a backyard, a common bathroom where all the kids bathed together, a big well, a cow shed, etc.. There was a hierarchy that was understood and respected by everyone and work was shared without any visible hassles. There was something intriguing, almost mystical about the joint family. I liked spending time there, observing how things worked - my favorite place secured in front of the Ole (Chulha in Hindi), with a cat sleeping in my lap. Hmm.. those were the days..

Now, why am I suddenly reminded of a joint family? I think the power of joint families to bring people together comes out strongly during extremes - during good and bad times. The tragic loss of a neighbor would probably have been felt less by the near and dear ones, had they lived in a joint family. Things are definitely better in our locality with everyone supporting one another. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about the advantages of being in a joint family. Historically, joint families came to be joint families because of economic reasons, or occupational reasons to be precise. The whole family was into agriculture or some joint business. The ladies had lot of work on their hands as everything was made at home - from papads to sambar powder. And kids had the most fun. Sharing came naturally and this applied to both materialistic as well as non-materialistic things. Of course, there were disadvantages such as lack of privacy, or one member contributing less or more, but people were generally good and honest and the head of the family resolved the issues before it could spoil the harmony.

These days, with the society moving towards individualism, the closest we can get to a joint family is parents living together with their grown up kids. I do know of a joint family of a friend, but it is more of an exception than the rule. I would love to be proved otherwise though I myself am quite skeptical about families - joint families or otherwise - with generation gaps and the complicated lives that we lead.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Chicago connection..

One thing that I have learned on this whirlwind trip to the US is to “Never say never”. Firstly, I never wanted to visit the US because I thought about it as being a very materialistic place. But, as luck would have it, I have completed 2 trips to this free country. Freedom is very relative and I would like to reserve talking about it, to a separate thread.

Secondly, I always thought lasting friendships are created only during school or college, but this myth was debunked when I made some real good friendships at work. One of them is the reason for my one trip to Mumbai and two trips to Chicago, so far. I made the trip to Mumbai a few years back, just to visit her, thinking that it would be the last time that I would see her as she was moving permanently to the US – something that she thought she would 'never' do. Couple of years back, I made a trip to the east coast of US, courtesy some of my good friends from college and I couldn't miss the trip to Chicago to visit this friend from Mumbai. The timing was perfect too – she had just had a baby. She took time out and we went around Chicago downtown where I was introduced to Panera Bread – an uptown alternative to Subway sandwiches. Chicago, I got to know from my friend, is known for its architecture. I did notice that the buildings were different from one another – unlike in New York City where everything seems like a tall rectangular structure. Chicago is home to the famous Bean by Indian born artist Anish Kapoor.

How the next visit to Chicago happened is something I cannot explain – just as I cannot explain how my other friend and I started on the crazy road trip from Indiana to California. My friend from Mumbai calls it a “karmic connection”. I guess it must be true. We were treated like family as we chatted heartily over yummy food and the little one entertained us throughout our stay. It was a very short stop-over, but a memorable one. My friend told us that she was jealous about us making the road trip – I guess true friends are like that; they do not hide anything :)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Public transport in the land of the automobile

In the land of the automobile, the thought of taking public transport raises many eyebrows. Except for known, straight forward routes, very few venture to hop onto a bus/train. When I wanted to go on my own, my friend was concerned, but I was adamant. I thought nothing is impossible when I have the power of Google. I was very impressed with Google maps providing even the cost difference between public transport and car; next should be carbon emissions.
I spent a good part of the day researching on how to travel from Fremont to Stanford and then onto San Francisco for Critical Mass(CM) and then back home. This trip involved taking the BART train, AC transit bus, then a free shuttle bus, then Caltrain, then BART and then BART again after CM. It was quite a lot to write down; but I noted contingency plans as well.
Since I had to take my borrowed cycle on all these modes, I researched on that too. It looked pretty easy to take it on a bus and even easier to take it on Caltrain. I had already taken the bike on BART, so that was no longer an unknown.

Everything looked fine, till I realized that the tickets are different on every mode of transport. And, everything is automated - there is no one to ask too. I googled and was happy to find a combined ticket for all modes of transport - a clipper card - even my friend did not know much about it. My happiness at my discovery lasted only a few hours since we found that the clipper card was not easily available. And I was too stupid to ask her for her comments on my itinerary. Well, I missed a bus - but I had plan B. So, I took BART, but had already missed the connecting bus to get to the other side (SFO side). The next bus was an hour later. When the bus finally arrived, I handed out a 20$ bill, the lady said 'no change' (You have to bring in your own change all the time - luckily, BART stations have change vending machines). I learnt the hard way - by losing a dollar - that you have to give 'exact change' . I still had to load my bike onto the bus and the bus driver gave me a grumpy look at my struggles, but who cares! Loading the bike was damn easy, but I was not very confident. I always had an eye on the bike and missed watching the sorroundings, until someone put another bike in front of mine. I was now able to take my eyes off the bike and completed the first leg of my journey without any more events. It was relatively easy to find the way to Stanford from Palo Alto. I cycled on the wide bike lanes in Stanford, trying not to make any comparisons with IISc.
As I approached the next leg of my journey, I stopped looking at my notes as they longer made any sense. I went around the Palo Alto transit stop but not even a small info kiosk, nothing.. just a couple of automated ticket vending machines and a map of Caltrain and a whole lot of other transport 'companies'. I so much missed mapsearch and SBB of Switzerland - just one ticket that lets you take any mode of transport - train, tram, bus, boat.. u name it. But, here, you just cross the bay and its a new transport company and a new ticket. The train to SFO did not have proper naming too - just a number on the front - how do they expect new comers to know all this! I finally reached SFO and a native American girl asked me if we had reached SFO - I was happy to be treated as a local :). She also had a bike, so it was now my turn to ask her if she was going to critical mass. Yes, she was and she knew the route to the meeting point. We cycled on the narrow bike lanes along with trams, buses, cars, sharing the same road. Critical mass was exciting - I expected nothing less - and then I was back to the familiarity of BART.
So far, BART has been the most efficient and easy to understand. Still a long way to go for public transport in the US of A.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Meter Jam? or Please, Thank you?

The Indo German film festival gave me an opportunity to catch up on the bits and pieces of German that I knew - or so I thought. The horrific killings and lack of humanity during wars - the movie that I saw was based on the Japanese attack on a Chinese city - overshadowed my literary quest. Reaching the venue was quite an adventure though.

For a change, I left home on time. But the first obstacle delayed me by 10 min. I had to drop my mom to the bus stop and as I got into the bus to help with the bags, the driver started the bus and wouldn't stop. The reason - CCTV would capture the images of the bus stopping at unauthorized places and he would be penalized! I did not know we had progressed so much. I thought to myself - Common sense is anyday better than mindless application of technological advances. Thankfully, the bus stopped at the nearest traffic signal and I got out - was lucky that the driver opened the door at the signal; some don't.

The next obstacle was fuel - Reva was not fully charged and I had to choose between leaving the car at my friend's place and take his vehicle and taking a risk with Reva. I did not like the option of using a petrol vehicle. I could charge the car at one of the many malls that support free charging, but the nearest one was too far from Ulsoor. Got to know from Reva service center that the Reva showroom near MG Road provides charging facility. That was perfect. So, we managed to reach there by 5:45 (the movie was to start at 6:30), left the car for charging(and parking ;) ) and set out on our next mission of finding an auto to take us to Ulsoor. One, two, three.. and I stopped counting.. none of the auto drivers would want to come to Ulsoor! We ran till Brigade Junction and I decided to try one last time. I stood adamantly and asked twice. He wouldn't come. Then I said Please and it worked!! We thanked him and paid 5 Rs extra.

I do not use the auto much, but in the few instances where I have used them, I have had more positive experiences than negative ones. I remember when I had once asked an auto driver if he would charge extra and he got offended. He proudly said that 'he is not like the others' and charged the right price. There was another guy who talked at length about his agricultural struggles and why he started driving an auto and how he has finally managed to settle down. I was once coming home from the railway station and I started a conversation with the driver about what will happen to them when the Metro comes to the city. He was grateful for the empathy which resulted in not picking up a fight over the price at the end of the journey. I have even got free and partly-free rides as well. There was an instance in which I wanted to get down 100 mts before my destination since I did not have enough cash, but the driver dropped me till my destination and even asked me to 'keep coming' that way - all because he was fascinated by my folding cycle :). I was once lost in HSR layout and I asked an auto driver for directions. The driver was going the same route and he said he would 'drop me' till there, for free!

So, a little bit of empathy, a please and a thank you will get you there more easily than threatening to call the police (which I have done once and itz not fun) or swearing at them.

The recent meter jam seems like a cool campaign but I doubt if it has met with much success. No, thank you, I would stick to Please, barthira?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

One night in a telephone booth..

Long long ago, there was this girl who had a small wish of seeing Paris. Since she was in the UK anyway, she feels this is her best chance to make that wish come true. She speaks to some of her friends who have already made the mandatory trip from UK to France, does some research on the net and sets out on her journey. Wait a min.. being an Indian, she needs a visa (why can't we just travel freely??). And back then, there were no telephone appointments, so she is told to go really early (as in the night before) and stand/sit/sleep in a queue outside the French Consulate in London in order to get a visa appointment. For most people, this would be a pain, but for her, it was the beginning of an adventure. So, she finishes her work for the day, gets into many layers of warm clothing - it is mid Dec; it is not snowing, but it can get really cold in the night - and sets off, without listening to her worried manager's advice of taking a blanket along.

She reaches the Consulate to find a whole lot of people already queued up, with some of them bringing their tents along.. those who hadn't, were gathering cardboards, newspaper and such to make their place on the footpath a little more bearable. It dawns on our protagonist how ill-prepared she is; sometimes, our managers are right afterall! With the Euro-star tickets already booked for Christmas Eve, there was no looking back. She finds her place in the queue between a Chinese girl and a Pakistani family - talk about being neighbours :)
The best part about travelling alone is, it is much easier to strike a conversation with strangers than when in a group. There is no other go, actually. So the neighbours start talking about why they are making this trip - the Chinese girl wants to meet her mother who is in Paris and the Paki family is going on a vacation. Unable to bear the cold, the Chinese girl pulls out a cigeratte and starts smoking - this is the first time the Indian girl is seeing a girl smoke - and from such close quarters. Even with her Bangalore upbringing, she had only heard about women smokers but had never seen one. Without Orkut or Facebook, the only way to share this new discovery of hers is to call up her dear friend in Bristol and give an update. And there was more to come.

Now, the Indian girl is unable to bear the cold, what with frost all over the place. She looks around for shelter and finds a telephone booth - ah! what an idea. By this time, the Chinese girl has left. Having told her new neighbour to keep her place, the Indian heads to the telephone booth and makes herself comfortable - she even manages to stand there and catch some sleep. She is woken up after a few hours by some guy who wants to use the phone. Wonder why all those other people in the queue did not think of this idea! On second thoughts, good that they didn't. There weren't enough booths to accommodate everyone.

It's finally morning.. a hot cup of coffee brings some warmth. People have started moving around; a desi manages to pick up a fight with his Q-mates and the police have some work to do. Our girl eventually gets her visa appointment for a couple of a days later. It is afternoon by the time she heads back to work - with her hands and legs pink due to the cold, and the manager red due to his concern mixed with anger!

I don't know if I would go through another adventure like this.. but whenever I think of it, it fills me with new energy :)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The elusive tea-like compost.. not anymore

After months of patience and trying to deal with maggots, I finally harvested tea-like compost from our kitchen waste using DailyDump.

I had started using DailyDump quite some time back, but had given up at the last step many times as I could not stand the sight of maggots, but over time, managed to convince myself that they are also doing their job. The thought of using 'home-made' compost for our plants kept me going as I finally transfered contents from the pots and sieved them using the crude sieve that dad made for me on my request. The remaining stuff after sieving has been kept away for aging and further decomposition.

One of the pots had rich, black, powdery compost at the bottom, but it also had too many maggots - more than what I could handle. So, had to bring in dad for disaster management. We picked up half the compost and threw away the remaining half to road side plants. Seemed ironical that the best compost also had the most number of maggots.

Here's the story in pictures.

1. Our handy little kitchen-waste bowl. Almost all our vegetable waste after cutting/peeling goes directly into DailyDump saving the need for a separate bin.
2. Before and after sieving.
3. Compost of different ages.
4. Packed and ready to be gifted to neighbors (possibly next adopters of Daily Dump)

Thanks to the handy tips from Deb and a whole lot of info, FAQ and trouble shooting help from Daily Dump, I finally cracked it! All said and done, the right procedure that suits our family can only come from our own experience.

With some chilli powder for the maggots, dry leaves and saw dust for the right moisture, vinegar for the ants and a mouse trap for the rat that eats away our earthworms, the next harvesting experience should be much better!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

To take the plunge, and when?

OK, this is not about marriage - am yet to find any luck(?) there :)

I feel India is going through a phase where people - however few in number right now, but surely growing - are looking at doing more of what they like than just working for money. It could be working for social good or fun jobs like for example, bar-tending.
This could just be my feeling because I recently quit my job and as a result running into/reading about more of this kind of people. But nevertheless, it is an interesting trend and will do a lot of good for the people, and the country in the long run. People are becoming entrepreneural, taking risks and venturing into areas where the previous generation probably would not have thought of going into or bothered about. We have people leaving their plush/respectable jobs and becoming a Sarpanch in their village, some planning to take up photography full-time (resemblance to 3-idiots is coincidental, I actually know someone who wants to do this), some even wanting to get into movie-making without much to show in their bank accounts (again, someone I know).

So, whether it is for social good or just following your passion (sometimes they could be same); how do you decide when to take the plunge? This is for the vast majority of us who end up in jobs that we not necessarily enjoy. For those others who are already into what they love doing - you are lucky people :)
If one is in the wrong job, we are mostly frustrated - except for some intellectually challenging moments - and always looking forward for something exciting to happen. I used to have this feeling of probably taking away someone else's job.
First is to identify that this is probably not your thing. If you already know what you would rather be doing, it helps. And the sooner you know this the better it is so you can start saving as much as you can from the corporate salaries. It is very important to know what you will be doing next and not leave something just because you dont like it. There are some who just leave their current jobs and take some time off to figure out what they want to do in life - works with some people!

Coming to money, how much money is enough before taking the decision? One of my friends says 'the need will always grow to meet the income', so you will never have enough. I would say it is the 'wants' that grow. So, cut down on the wants and keep needs low. Once you start practising this, you realize how much money one could have saved had you started this earlier. It happens, it has happened to me and it is important to go through it once so we know how it feels.
Talking of needs, most people who have moved out their plush jobs to follow their heart or for social good, are usually near the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They have climbed up the pyramid, some quicker than others by virtue of their upbringing/exposure to influential people, etc. We need to find where we are and how fast we can reach the top.
I like this concept as it answers a lot of questions on why some people behave the way they do.

There could be moments when you are in doubt after taking the plunge - have a support system, talk to friends, family, etc. I am assuming you have already spoken to them before taking the decision :)
I usually think of people who have inspired me - one small piece I read when I need strength is Steve Job's speech on finding what you love doing.

So here's putting it all together:
- find a cause - sometimes the cause finds you. Travelling is a good way of finding one.
- keep needs low and save a lot. Build/buy a small house (easier to clean as well), a small car (if it is a desi car, better, for multiple reasons). These are the 2 biggest liabilities that we get into - until you have kids :), and there are other little things like spending less on fuel, eating out only on special occasions, etc. that we can adopt in our lifestyle which can help save a lot.
- dont forget to get a medical insurance. I am yet to get one! Any recommendations on which is a good medical insurance would help.
- go for it, before the society makes you change your mind :)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Hope and justice in an unfair world


As I sat through yet another simple yet inspiring session in some tribal areas of Orissa, I realized that apart from 'awakening the entrepreneural spirit', the TATA jagriti yatra has given hope - hope that things can be changed, inspite of all the bureaucracy, hope that once u hv a committed set of people with you, you can do the seemingly impossible, hope that you will get such a team if you hv a good idea and u hv the leadership to pass the message across, hope that at the end of the day, there is justice in an unjust world.

All the role model visits have had some common streaks.. a pinching or a tipping moment that prompted them to take up a cause, strong ethics and values, lots of dark nights - some of them have recurring ones every year, the ability and willingness to dream BIG, a great team/support system, persistence and above all, a great deal of humility.

The learning so far has been tremendous - simplicity from the Mumbai Dabbawalas, the courage to dream big and not stopping at hurdles from G. Vijayaraghavan - the man behind Technopark in Trivandrum, the need for a 'vision' not vision from Paul and Sabriye (International Institute of Social Entrepreneurs - a.k.a the 'Dream Factory'), the joy of doing something beautiful at Arvind eye care, Madurai, owning a problem from Elango at Kutumbakam village, Chennai, emotional returns v/s monetary returns at Industree, Bangalore, outsourcing from the government to Naandi foundation to solve problems like hunger and basic education (what is 2/3 + 4/5 ?) - yes, it is shameful that we have the world's largest number of hungry people, empowering people to shape their destinies by Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas at Orissa... this is a long list of all that I have been touched by so far.. hope to write in more detail about each one of them soon.

AT IISE, we took some time out to put down our dreams in a piece of paper and that is what we see here in this pic - a box full of dreams.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Day 1 of the TATA Jagriti Yatra


Itz been 3 days since I left Bangalore and I have already lost track of the day of the week/month..
After having met 50 very interesting people with varied backgrounds the day before the yatra as part of the facilitator's workshop, I dont know what to expect from the 300 others who have joined us today.

An interesting thing that came out during the workshop was that atleast 30 to 40 percent of the people had quit their jobs to either start something close to their heart or to just plain experiment.

The actual proceedings started in the evening with a session by the Mumbai dabbawalas. How they started - some Parsi loved his wife very much and missed lunch prepared by her - , what is their structure, how they have been running successfully at six sigma level for the past 119 years and how they suddenly shot to fame when Price Charles visited them at the Church Gate station - they call him their brand ambassador :)

Now, Mumbai Dabbawalas form case studies in big B schools - it was the case study for our group as well.

Gowri, Shashank's (Yatra founder) better half and part of the Jagriti Yatra team, gave a magical and artistic touch to the evening by teaching us a few and effective dance movements to the Jagriti geet (Yaaro chalo by Prasoon Joshi). The beauty of these movements is that they are so simple and can be done while seated. Interestingly, these movements were created by her for some senior citizens who cudn't get out of their wheel chairs.

The symbolic flag-off was very creative.
The excitement was mounting as we boarded the buses to Mumbai Central. The train was delayed. Some people started singing random songs and soon the foreigners were singing Christmas carols joined in by other enthusiastic folks. It was very sweet. We finally started at 3 am on 25th Dec, after a wait of 4 hrs.

We knew we could expect the unexpected on the rest of the trip.