Blog Addiction!

Recently, a few of my friends asked me to recommend a few blogs, probably since I gush about “that post..!” every other day or so. Not just that, they seemed rather curious as to how I got into this habit of waking up and checking my WordPress reader quite like how I check ‘The Hindu” and ‘Mathrubhumi’.

Alright then, I’ll wait till you’re done laughing.

Done? Okay. So like I was saying, try as I might, I can’t recollect the day I got addicted to reading blogs. It’s kinda like some of those friendships we have – the one where neither of you can remember how (or when) you started hitting off. All you know is that one day you woke up… and bam! You were best friends. Now before I go off topic again as I am prone to (but you know that already!), I’d love to share with ya’ll some of those blogs that has kept me up quite a few nights and still has me craving for more.

  1. SHE in China: I’ve written about this blog many a time simply because it is THE best one that I’ve ever read. Jonna Wibelius (yeah, it took me a few days to get that right too), the Swedish author of Seen, Heard and Experienced in China has this amazing style of writing – though the blog is basically about her life and experiences in China, her readers often get a glimpse of life in Sweden and Australia (arguably two of her fav places) as well. Usually travel blogs include long explanations on the wonders of the Forbidden City or the story behind the Great Wall of China. But Jonna wrote about actual life there – about the cost of living, the process of apartment hunting, finding a gym, snippets of conversations with taxiwallas and her attempts of learning Mandarin among other.
  1. The Shooting Star: Another fav travel blog. Yup, I’m a bit obsessed with those. The Shooting Star is written by Shivya Nath, who describes herself as (and I quote) “Just a girl who travels”. That she does and how! To travel solo and “live with the White Thai tribe in a remote Vietnamese village, hitch-hike along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, swim with black-tip sharks on Malaysia’s east coast, spend a night in the highest inhabited village of the Himalayas” among many other memorable moments – not everyone’s cuppa tea. Apart from the mind-blowing pictures and Shivya’s very visual style of writing, the reason I adore TSS is how every trip she writes about is easily replicable by you and me (provided you have the will.) And as I’ve personally taken her advice many a time while booking a holiday, I’d say that Shivya knows what she is writing about.
  1. A Quest On Overdrive: Now now…how does one write about one’s own? Well, to be brutally honest, the only reason I started reading this one was ‘coz it was written by my former English teacher (Erm…actually she has never taught me in the conventional way, but that isn’t pertinent to the story). The first few posts I read didn’t mean all that much to me…don’t get me wrong – I liked what I was reading, but it was more of an ‘in awe’ kinda like. And then, to quote Hazel Grace, “As I read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
  1. Freebird: Now this one was recommended to me by one of the kindred spirits. I remember reading the very first post and rolling on the bed, doubling up with laughter. Tongue-in-the-cheek takes on current political scenarios, movies, trends…you name it, Alka Gurha has it. Occasionally, I have been surprised by a few nostalgic posts as well (Remembering Enid Blyton). Considering that she is a regular contributor for the Gurgaon Times, her sharp wits and list of accolades shouldn’t surprise you.
  1. Ashish Shakya: Now this one you might have heard of. Ashish Shakya is…well, he is a humour columnist for the Hindustan Times, co-writer on ‘The Week That Wasn’t with Cyrus Broacha’ on CNN-IBN and a stand-up comic. His ‘About me’ describes him as “Too lazy to type out full sentences.” I. Adore. His. Posts. Never politically correct, they make me laugh, think and laugh some more. That level of sarcasm – it’s a gift, I tell you.

 

So that’s a few of my favourite blogs. Any good ones that has caught your fancy lately? If so, do drop the link, will ya?

Happy reading!

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#Inspire – Sparks by Chetan Bhagat

Speech given at the orientation program for the new batch of MBA students
Symbiosis, Pune, July 24, 2008 © Chetan Bhagat

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Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated.  The first day in college is one of them.  When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

Where do these sparks start? I think we are born with them. My 3-year old twin boys have a million sparks. A little Spiderman toy can make them jump on the bed. They get thrills from creaky swings in the park. A story from daddy gets them excited. They do a daily countdown for birthday party – several months in advance – just for the day they will cut their own birthday cake.

I see students like you, and I still see some sparks. But when I see older people, the spark is difficult to find. That means as we age, the spark fades. People whose spark has faded too much are dull, dejected, aimless and bitter. Remember Kareena in the first half of Jab We Met vs the second half? That is what happens when the spark is lost.   So how to save the spark?

Imagine the spark to be a lamp’s flame. The first aspect is nurturing – to give your spark the fuel, continuously. The second is to guard against storms.

To nurture, always have goals. It is human nature to strive, improve and achieve full potential. In fact, that is success. It is what is possible for you. It isn’t any external measure – a certain cost to company pay package, a particular car or house.

Most of us are from middle class families. To us, having material landmarks is success and rightly so. When you have grown up where money constraints force everyday choices, financial freedom is a big achievement. But it isn’t the purpose of life. If that was the case, Mr. Ambani would not show up for work. Shah Rukh Khan would stay at home and not dance anymore. Steve Jobs won’t be working hard to make a better iPhone, as he sold Pixar for billions of dollars already. Why do they do it? What makes them come to work everyday? They do it because it makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel alive Just getting better from current levels feels good. If you study hard, you can improve your rank. If you make an effort to interact with people, you will do better in interviews. If you practice, your cricket will get better. You may also know that you cannot become Tendulkar, yet. But you can get to the next level. Striving for that next level is important.

Nature designed with a random set of genes and circumstances in which we were born. To be happy, we have to accept it and make the most of nature’s design. Are you? Goals will help you do that. I must add, don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.

There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions.

You must have read some quotes – Life is a tough race, it is a marathon or whatever. No, from what I have seen so far, life is one of those races in nursery school, where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same with life, where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.

One last thing about nurturing the spark – don’t take life seriously. One of my yoga teachers used to make students laugh during classes. One student asked him if these jokes would take away something from the yoga practice. The teacher said – don’t be serious, be sincere. This quote has defined my work ever since. Whether its my writing, my job, my relationships or any of my goals. I get thousands of opinions on my writing everyday. There is heaps of praise, there is intense criticism. If I take it all seriously, how will I write? Or rather, how will I live? Life is not to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? It’s ok, bunk a few classes, goof up a few interviews, fall in love. We are people, not programmed devices.

I’ve told you three things – reasonable goals, balance and not taking it too seriously that will nurture the spark. However, there are four storms in life that will threaten to completely put out the flame. These must be guarded against. These are disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loneliness of purpose.

Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask. You will feel miserable. You will want to quit, like I wanted to when nine publishers rejected my first book. Some IITians kill themselves over low grades – how silly is that? But that is how much failure can hurt you. But it’s life. If challenges could always be overcome, they would cease to be a challenge. And remember – if you are failing at something, that means you are at your limit or potential. And that’s where you want to be.

Disappointment’ s cousin is  Frustration, the second storm.  Have you ever been frustrated? It happens when things are stuck. This is especially relevant in India. From traffic jams to getting that job you deserve, sometimes things take so long that you don’t know if you chose the right goal. After books, I set the goal of writing for Bollywood, as I thought they needed writers. I am called extremely lucky, but it took me five years to get close to  a release. Frustration saps excitement, and turns your initial energy into something negative, making you a bitter person. How did I deal with it? A realistic assessment of the time involved – movies take a long time to make even though they are watched quickly, seeking a certain enjoyment in the process rather than the end result – at least I was learning how to write scripts, having a side plan – I had my third book to write and even something as simple as pleasurable distractions in your life – friends, food, travel can help you overcome it. Remember, nothing is to be taken seriously. Frustration is a sign somewhere, you took it too seriously.

Unfairness – this is hardest to deal with, but unfortunately that is how our country works. People with connections, rich dads, beautiful faces, pedigree find it easier to make it – not just in Bollywood, but everywhere. And sometimes it is just plain luck. There are so few opportunities in India, so many stars need to be aligned for you to make it happen. Merit and hard work is not always linked to achievement in the short term, but the long term correlation is high, and ultimately things do work out. But realize, there will be some people luckier than you. In fact, to have an opportunity to go to college and understand this speech in English means you are pretty damm lucky by Indian standards. Let’s be grateful for what we have and get the strength to accept what we don’t. I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai, but I have two boys who I think are more beautiful than her. It’s ok. Don’t let unfairness kill your spark.

Finally, the last point that can kill your spark is Isolation. As you grow older you will realize you are unique. When you are little, all kids want Ice cream and Spiderman. As you grow older to college, you still are a lot like your friends. But ten years later and you realize you are unique. What you want, what you believe in, what makes you feel, may be different from even the people closest to you. This can create conflict as your goals may not match with others. And you may drop some of them. Basketball captains in college invariably stop playing basketball by the time they have their second child. They give up something that meant so much to them. They do it for their family. But in doing that, the spark dies. Never, ever make that compromise. Love yourself first, and then others.

There you go. I’ve told you the four thunderstorms – disappointment, frustration, unfairness and isolation. You cannot avoid them, as like the monsoon they will come into your life at regular intervals. You just need to keep the raincoat handy to not let the spark die.

I welcome you again to the most wonderful  years of your life. If someone gave me the choice to go back in time, I will surely choose college. But I also hope that ten years later as well, your eyes will shine the same way as they do today. That you will Keep the Spark alive, not only through college, but through the next 2,500 weekends. And I hope not just you, but my whole country will keep that spark alive, as we really need it now more than any moment in history. And there is something cool about saying – I come from the land of a billion sparks.

Thank You

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#Inspire series comprise of speeches/quotes that I, personally, have found exceedingly inspiring. They’ve often had me wondering about the power of words, so if you find it as inspiring as I do, please pass it on. 🙂

The Beauty and The Beast

Every summer, we had this routine.

In April, we’d (i.e. my sister and I) hang out at our home, playing with amma’s saris, teaching the various trees in our garden the toughest words we know, fighting over who gets to be ‘Dad’ in the game of ‘House’ and generally making a nuisance of ourselves, Presumably as a result of this, in May, our parents would, with much glee, pack us off to my grandparents’ place to wreck havoc there with our equally troublesome set of cousins. That was, looking back, the best part of all summer!

As my mother is the eldest her 5 siblings, my sister and I were the official shepherds of the rather large brood of boisterous kids. I’ve personally overseen the arrival of each of my siblings, (with the exception of my elder sister. But you know that already :P) into this world. I’ve been there to drive my aunts crazy by asking ‘vavakku tanukkunundavuo?’ 50 times a day, to dance/sing/make faces to make them eat their dinner, cry even louder than them when they hurt themselves as toddlers (lest I get blamed for not taking enough care of them!), to make up stupid games just to get them to drink their milk…I’ve been taught to count from one to ten 9 times. I’ve feigned not knowing how to write ‘A to Z’ and been profusely grateful on being taught the same. Again 9 times. I’ve pretty much seen it all.

Anyway, my memories of those days always begin with the same scene. I’d storm into the house on a run; pounce on my grandma who’d be in the kitchen, preparing one insanely delicious dish or the other. She’d squeal in delight and scoop us in before it dawns on her that we are hungry. Like all grandmothers, my grandma’s sole aim in life was to ensure that all her grandkids were stuffed with enough food to end world hunger 24 X 7. Well, that and ascertaining that we had all been studying well during the past year.

And then there was my grandfather. A tall, well-built man, dressed in starched white khadi shirt and mundu, with a long kaalan-kuda and alarge purse in his armpit. An intimidating man whose face breaks into the widest smile whenever he sees his grandkids. A man of considerable stature, infinite willpower, a tinge of crookedness…a man who built everything from scratch by rolling up his sleeves and toiling day and night. A man who tried to do his best, who lived life by his principles.

My grandparents have the weirdest life story. On second thought, it’s pretty simple actually. As was common in those days, my grandma was married off at 16 to a considerably elder man she barely knew. Her only request to the groom was that she be allowed to study further. And so the groom supported her, financially and otherwise, through 2 years of Pre-degree, 3 years of Degree and a year of TTC, which was practically unheard of in those days – at least at the place where they hailed from. Further, when she requested (requestedbeing the keyword, taking into account that the heroine of the story is one of the most timid, petite person I’ve ever met!) that she be allowed to work, he readily agreed to that too. Rumor has it that he, on learning that the working conditions at the school where she worked was exceedingly poor, went on to build a few classrooms free of cost! A poor man’s Taj Mahal, you could say. Aah…the number of times we kids have pulled his leg about this!

They were always a queer pair. Incredibly open-minded on certain issues, infuriatingly conservative on some others, they always found a way to balance out each others’ virtues and vices. They’ve stuck by each other through some exceedingly difficult times, not the least of which was when he was down (more than once) with multiple cardiac arrests & brain clots. They sometimes have terrible fights over the most mundane things (a recurring villain was an old, Jaambavan-ish radio) – harsh words would be spoken, tears might be shed…but somehow, when the day dawns, all would be forgiven. Achachan would be back to calling ‘Kanakam…’ every 5 minutes and Ammumma could be found shadowing him saying ‘Athey..noku…’, for that is how she always addressed him – we found it rib-ticklingly cheesy, to be honest.

Then again, when they had kids, the one thing they always agreed on was the necessity of educating their babies, irrespective of their gender. On this issue, grandma had the upper hand. She was a teacher – she knew the importance of being well-educated. So did my grandfather who was not as educated as he wished he was (and that remains as one of his life-long regrets). She ensured that all her kids made schoolwork their priority. My aunts and uncles often recollect their school days when, instead of the prayers that you chant at the dusk, they used to chant the multiplication tables and ‘A for apple’. Once they completed their studies, they were all prodded to work for a living. No marrying off the girls right after their studies or without a job. We kids often joke that the only reason my aunts (my amma included) found a job immediately after their Masters was because that was their only hope for getting married! In those days when the education and freedom of boys were prioritized over that of girls, my grandparents have often had to bear with the social stigma of treating their male and female heirs equally. Not that any of that deterred them – big crusaders of gender equality my grandparents were. Are.

What prompted this sudden outburst of memories, I’m sure you wonder. It’s just that I met with my granddad yesterday. He isn’t well. To be honest, he is as unwell as one can be. He doesn’t recognize me. Nor his children. He doesn’t recognize his better half. He doesn’t open his eyes. He is being fed intravenously. His condition fluctuates from bad to worse every few hours. I look at the flabby figure in the hospital bed and can barely make out the silhouette of the man I worship. I laugh at myself for expecting him to spring to consciousness when I touched his cold hands. When I hear his unconscious grunts, I hope that they are ghosts of his trademark booming laughter.

I’m 21 years old. I’m a pragmatic, sensible adult. I know better than to expect a humongous miracle. I am aware of the futility of tears. I have no illusions about where this situation is headed to. And at the moment I know not what I should pray for.

I just don’t want him to be in pain.

Living Your Dreams

One day, a long time back, I was hanging out with my kid cousins at my amma’s tharavad, bone tired after a session of rigorous hide-and-seek. We were chatting about anything and everything under the sun when the topic turned to what you want to be when you grow up. Hari, the most serious and focused of all my cousins from the moment he first opened his eyes, wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. You have to keep in mind that he was around 9-years-old then! I mean, when I was 9, I wanted to be an airhostess! I had no idea what that meant – all I knew was that you get to travel around the world all the time. (Of course, at that time I didn’t know that airhostesses are supposed to look like Deepika Padukone’s first cousin either.) The younger one, (he was 7 then) who lives, eats and breathes computer games, wanted to be a JCB driver. Well, I personally don’t understand what is so glamorous about sitting in a 2 metre tall vehicle all day long, but hey, who am I to judge?

After a pretty long break, we met again a few weeks back and (again!) stumbled on the same area. This time, we were a bit more serious and, in their case, a lot more mature. Hari was still big time into space and stars and rockets and aeroplanes and a lot of stuff which, I acknowledge, is beyond me. Dev, the gaming genius, had moved on from the JCB driver to the cab driver in New York (he was very specific about the place) to a race car driver or a footballer. The discussion kinda spiralled from there because he started singing praises about the Brazil team and I about Spanish side which, inevitably, ended up in a fistfight. (A word of caution – an enraged 12-year-old is not someone u want to pick a fight with. They are competitive and mean and don’t know what ‘Compromise’ means. Even if you shout it at the top of your voice.) I, on my part, had moved on from my airhostess phase to much better (?) places.

What amazed me, even then, was that they both had an ambition, however ridiculous it is. When I was a middle school student, I still remember how stumped I used to be when we had to write an essay or prepare a speech on ‘My Ambition’. I’d take a blank page of my notebook, write ‘My Ambition’ in capitals on top of the page and peep into my neighbour’s book to see what he is writing. Then I’d go “Oh my..! That is exactly what I want to do!!” I was a lost girl who wanted to do a lot of things, caught in between worlds. The dreams I had were high on the risk factor and had questionable success rates. And I, like many kindred spirits, wasn’t sufficiently well-off to take that gamble.

Does that mean that you resign yourself to fate and blame your stars or horoscope for being born at the wrong time? Not anymore. The times, my friend, has changed. And how! The youngsters of today (including me) are well aware of our limitations, strengths and weaknesses. We know the importance of having good educational qualifications, a stable degree to fall back on. This decade has witnessed a new breed of teenagers who know what they want and how to achieve it, intelligently. They are pragmatic. They have their soles firmly planted on the ground even as they reach for the stars. I’ve gazed with admiration at Shankar Mahadevan (a software engineer by profession), Khaled Hosseini (who was a doctor before he turned into writing. And what fantastic writer he is!), Gautham Vasudev Menon (civil engineering graduate) and such. Closer to home, there is Nivin Pauly, Vineeth Sreenivasan and a whole bunch of newcomers, who are all engineering graduates.

Much closer to my heart are a number of my friends who are in the process of soaring to the heights they are meant to reach – Susmi, an electrical engineering graduate from NSS, Palakkad (who was, incidentally, the 4thin our school for 12th Boards) who has recently taken up sari designing; Kailas Menon, a senior from school who is now a successful music director (he came up with the catchy jingles of numerous ads like Bhima Jewellery, Seematti Silks, RMKV Silks and Lulu, to name a few and is now doing BGM for movies); Sandeep Warrier who plays for Rajasthan Royals and is a graduate from FISAT; a mentor who is a mechanical engineering graduate and currently works as a journalist at The Hindu; a bunch of juniors at college who are passionate about short films; the countless buddies who are into professional photography – they’ve all found ways to pursue the one thing that they are passionate about.

Recently I read about an IIT graduate who is deeply zealous about photography and has chucked his job as an engineer to follow his dream. He inspires me. All those people who do what they want to do and succeed in that inspire me. The engineers who want to be engineers, the doctors who want to be doctors, the engineers who’ve tossed their caps to do what they want to do – their determination drives me to do what I want to do.

I don’t know if we’ll all reach the stars. I’m not sure if our talents will be sufficient, if we have what it takes. But as they say, there is no harm in trying.

The stars are still far away. But we have rockets now.