Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Intolerant, Misinformed Us

NASA makes it “official” that the earth would slip into 15 days of darkness. Using an app and changing your DP would automate some code which will count as a vote towards internet.org & against net-neutrality. The France Flag-gate. That Jasleen Kaur incident. The selective morality of Media & People. The Intolerance debate. Outraging against Outrages. 

The era we live in is often referred to as the Information age. Personally, it increasingly feels like a misnomer.

Yes, we are inundated with information from a zillion sources. The indexed web contains approximately 4.77 Billion pages, and then we have the Deep web too. Add to that a billion and a bit Social Media accounts. The rate at which information flows is fantastically ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with it. Information truly is wealth. But only if we know how to use it right.

For a race that is becoming increasingly educated, we seem to be losing the art of making informed choices. Any post, article, or image that looks or sounds remotely scandalous or "cool", goes into our Social Media pages, without a second thought. Diffusion of information has become more important than the legitimacy. And when the information is a bunch of unsubstantiated rumours, false claims, half-baked news, or just poorly worded to get the clicks, it makes the entire scenario all the more cacophonous. Even if the information is legitimate, the multitude of opinions formed by junta ends up making it exasperating. We just can’t seem to handle our Right to Speech. 

The Truth
How else do you explain Snapdeal's app being given a barrage of 1 star ratings by our "informed" junta, because its brand ambassador had an opinion that they don't buy? Yes, the method of outrage nowadays is just tweeting or uninstalling apps, but that's a story for a different blog.

The natural instinct of a human is to be a part of a community. And this extends to Social Media. The idea of virality is based on this psychological need of human beings. This flaw and our gullibility, in general, has made it easy to manipulate us. A hashtag, a picture, a post, or an article is all it takes for us to form opinions, and outrage if a different set of opinions arise. Our race has never been more egotistical.

The emotional need for a human being to be socially relevant, the ease of sharing information on Social Media, and the sheer abundance of information available on the internet (Legit or not) together has led us to the age of Misinformation. The only way past it seems to be shutting down Media and Social Media channels for a couple of months, and let the human race simmer down. Pretty confident we would still find a way to outrage though. A candle-light vigil every other day maybe?    

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Evolution of Social Media - From Friend Requests to Business Enablers

Post Originally shared on LinkedIn

June 30th was the 6th Annual Social Media Day. Mashable, one of the leading Media companies in the world, initiated the idea of Social Media Day in 2010, as a way to recognize the Social revolution that has engulfed the globe over the past decade. And it has been a revolution of gargantuan proportions, witnessing exponential growth on a daily basis.

Read further on my post in LinkedIn

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Travel Guide : Sri Lanka - The Resplendent Island

If you’re looking for a quick, short international vacation and don’t want to dig deep into your pockets, Sri Lanka is a good and worthy option. Sri Lanka is an unheralded, unblemished tourist spot which doesn’t have much airs about it but is extremely hospitable and welcoming. Beaches, hill stations, monasteries, tea plantations, wildlife, and lots of local life, there is enough to keep your travel flames burning. Oh, and they worship cricket here, making it ridiculously easy for most Indians to strike up a conversation with a local.

How To Reach

The Bandarnaike airport in Colombo is the gateway to the Island of Ceylon. Technically, It is nestled in a suburb called Negombo, around 30km from Colombo, and is approximately an hour’s drive to the main city. With some shrewd ticket hunting and a pinch of good luck, you can get return tickets to Colombo from Chennai for an absolute bargain of less than 8k.

For short visits to Sri Lanka, tourists can apply for a visa or ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) online. These visas have a validity of 30 days and can be obtained for a nominal fee of 15 US$.

What to see / do

Well, a lot. Sri Lanka is the epitome of diversity in terms of its geography, weather, history and people. With tourism bringing in close to 2% of the Sri Lankan GDP, it is a service taken seriously in the isles, and is evident in the great experiences it offers.

Apart from being the gateway, Colombo has lots to do in terms of shopping, food, and partying. It is home to the famous Cricket Club CafĂ©. There’s also the Galle Face Green, a renowned place for watching the sun calling it a day, and for a quick snack or drink by the beach.
Mt. Lavinia Beach
The beach at Mt.Lavinia is dotted with shacks aplenty
A few minutes’ drive from Colombo city is Mt. Lavinia, or the Goa of Sri Lanka.  A small, peaceful small town, it is the ideal place for hanging out with friends or your loved ones. With a panaromic view of the Colombo beach and waves crashing at your feet, it is an idyllic setting for you to waft a lazy evening away.

Then there is Kandy, or the pearl of Sri Lanka. A tiny hill station, 3 hours’ drive from Colombo, Kandy is home the temple of tooth. A highly sacrosanct place for Buddhists, as it is known to house the tooth of Buddha, this temple is located next to the Kandy Lake. A walk along the calm premises is a must-do. Kandy is also home to the Seat of Arthur and Kandy Team Museum. A short distance from Kandy is the Pinawalla Elephant Orphanage, where you can experience firsthand the magic of being around elephants.
Sigiriya Rock Castle
The Majestic Sigiriya Rock Castle

Or you may want to head to Galle if visiting an UNESCO World Heritage site is in your list of things to do. A 17th century fort built by the Portuguese overlooking the magnificent Indian ocean is sure to overwhelm and humble you with its grandeur. Or, how about being dazzled by the imposing sight of the ancient palace of Sigiriya and its massive rock column. What makes it better is that all these places lie within a 3 hours’ drive from Colombo.

Superlative beaches, World heritage sites galore, and amazing, cheap food (Don’t miss out on the Sri Lankan rice and curry), Sri Lanka will dot your vacation with amazing highlights and memories. And, you can do all of this for less than 15k INR. So, I don’t see much stopping you from booking the tickets.
Fun Fact: Mirissa, Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the World for Blue whale watching.    

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Travel Guide : Andaman and Nicobar Islands - Revisited

It’s been more than two years since that wonderful trip to the Andaman Islands. And I feel it warrants an ode to it.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal are a group of 572 islands, only 34 of which are inhabited. Being far away from the Indian mainland, the Andaman Islands were established as a penal settlement by the British in mid 1850s, with the infamous Kaala Pani being set up in 1906. One will find a few remnants of the bygone days, but the serenity and exquisiteness the islands exhibit transcend the miscellanies of the blemished history. A place that was relegated as a hub for the ostracized is now an immensely welcoming vacation spot.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Serenity much?
How to Reach
Veer Savarkar International Airport in Port Blair, the capital city, is the gateway to the Islands from the Indian mainland. Flights operate from Chennai, Kolkata, and Delhi on a daily basis. For the slightly adventurous and the ones with oodles of time, you could take a passenger ship from either of Chennai, Kolkata or Vishakapatnam. The voyage takes 50-60 hours, and is generally not advisable.

What to see / do
As you begin your descent towards the Port Blair airport, you will lay witness to a plethora of small atolls and islands filled with greenery. Akin to a freshly broken Lego construction, the sight will be pleasant to your eyes and filled with promise. The first thing that would hit you about the city is that it is slow-paced, and about 20 years back in time, an escape from the hustle of a metro but just the right amount of jazz to keep you moving. That’s exactly what you would look for in a vacation, right?

Beaches and History galore, there is a lot to do in Andamans. Hit yourself with a bout of history by visiting the Cellular Jail memorial in Port Blair. A dark, depressing peek into history, this will give you some understanding on the significance of the islands in India’s march to independence and an elevated respect for our freedom fighters. There is also lots of scope for island hopping, beach surfing and museum vaulting. Give the Chidiya Tapu (30kms from Port Blair) an early morning visit for some bird watching. The tranquility of listening to the variety of bird-calls will give you the most soothing start to a day. Then there’s the Corbyn’s Cove beach where you could do some water scooting for cheap.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Sights like these are in abundance !!
Ross Island, a Japanese settlement in the early 1940s has an abundance of trees, squirrels, deer and dogs. I say this because it is also home to one amazing lady, Ms. Anuradha Rao, who is the sole guardian of the island and its furry inhabitants. She would make it a worthwhile experience.
Then, there is the North Bay Island which will be your one-stop for some exciting water sports. Banana boat rides, motorboat rides, water scooters, and scuba diving. Most operators are locals, and you can hand yourself an awesome deal with some negotiation.

For every vacation spot, there is always a crowning jewel. Havelock Islands run away with that title here. A 2 hour ferry ride from Port Blair, Havelock is the closest you will get to Hawaii in India. Radha Nagar beach, rated as the top beach in India, with its crystalline waters and unblemished sands would nuzzle your minds into complete submission to its untarnished splendor. An experience not to be missed. 

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands is close to the perfect location for a week-long vacation. And it is much better experienced than read. So, go book your tickets.

Fun Fact 1: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are nearer to Thailand and Burma, than to the Indian mainland.

Fun Fact 2: It is home to the Sentinelese tribe, the only surviving pre-Neolithic (before 10,200 BC) tribe in the world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The "My Choice" video - A Pseudo-Feminist Platitude

My Choice – To love temporarily, or lust forever". Imagine the outrage if a Playboy or Maxim featured a man thumping his chest and voicing this line.

Deepika Padukone has risen to become the undisputable face of Feminism in India. She bashed the Times of India, deservedly so, for their naughty cleavage act, and the whole of India saluted her (Why so?) for her bravado and standing for what she believes in. She then spoke up on her issues with depression, which was indeed a sign of a strong human being. And now, we have the Vogue Empower video with her voice booming in the background, claiming quite a few things to be “My Choice”. And we have jumped on the bandwagon again, spamming Social Media feeds with the salutes and “take a bow”s.

The Pretty Face of "Feminism"

Here’s where we should probably take a moment and actually hear out what the video is trying to put forth. Quite frankly, there is absolutely nothing new that the video teaches us. As the video bellows “My Body, My Mind, My Choice” right at the beginning, it gives the feeling of something evocative coming your way. But as we dwell deeper, it is not dissimilar to the pseudo-feminism propaganda that floods our Facebook and Twitter feeds almost daily, only neatly wrapped, packaged, and camouflaged as a “powerful” video.

The video talks majorly about a woman’s physical appearance, choice of clothes, and her sexual priorities. So, are these the sole choices that matter for a woman to feel empowered? I know quite a few women who’d disagree. 

How about equal opportunities in senior management roles in a corporate? What about a woman wanting to represent the nation in a sport, but not being afforded equal opportunities? What about a single mother striving hard for financial freedom in absence of the “sole breadwinner”? What about a daily wage earner who carries bricks on her head in the scathing sun to be able to afford one square meal? Or, what about a woman subject to domestic abuse but without access to the resources or confidence to lodge a complaint with the authorities? Pretty sure their choices would be related to education, financial refuge, psychological empowerment, and the power to upkeep a family.

Yes, women have been shown the short end of the stick for a long time. Yes, Women Empowerment is an important concern and needs to be spoken about in our country and across the globe. But, Feminism doesn't equate male bashing or proclaiming female superiority with brazen arrogance. Feminism stands for equality, and not superiority. 

This video though has it covered all wrong. The people who conceived, conceptualized, and embraced the video are in many ways similar to an all-female, contemporary and literate form of the Khap Panchayat. Deepika’s booming voiceover gives one a false sense of the video having a profoundness about it, but it turns out to be nothing more than a poorly thought of, hastily scripted bunch of one-liners.

Kudos to Vogue for touching upon a sensitive issue, and having a major celebrity endorse it. You have managed to reach out to a wider audience, have succeeded in getting the desired reach, and probably have spiked your magazine sales for the next few months. Yes, it is absolutely your freedom of expression, but, does the video have a meaningful impact on viewers? No. Does the video actually address the issue of woman empowerment? No. Does the video promote Gender Equality? Umm, No.

As a fellow blogger writes, the video is probably aimed at the select few urban elitists (probably only the Vogue subscribers?), for whom financial security, Education, and such issues are available on a platter. The video has an extremely caved in focus, which doesn’t have any realistic impact on the actual issue of Gender Equality. It doesn’t touch on the sensitivities of millions of women for whom their sexual priorities or freedom of clothes may come much lower in their priority list. It doesn’t touch on the sensitivities of the less privileged. And No Vogue, It just doesn’t seem to hit the right chords.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

5 Character Traits of Most On-Site Returnees

As soon as dreamy eyed kid enters into one of the gazillion engineering colleges in India and looks up in the sky to see a jet flying in the skies, he pictures himself flying in one of those to Amreeka a few years down the line on an “on-site” visit. Joining an IT company and getting an on-site opportunity is the ultimate goal for most of these sheeps. It doesn’t really matter if they’re asked to clean the desks, every morning, at their client location or design & build the next big software to help the US Government clear their debts. As long as they get to go to the US, it floats their boat. Because,it is their holy grail, their makki di roti & sarson da saag, their reason for existence, their cappuccino with 3 shots of espresso, you do get what I mean..

I don’t have much against the idea as such. It helps people travel for free, get a chance to go to most of US tourist spots for dirt cheap, lets them post statuses of them “partying in Vegas”, “Awed by the Grand Canyon”, “Enjoying my first snowfall” or “Chilling in Florida”, post pics with bikini clad girls in their background, and basically give their “less successful” friends an immense inferiority complex. Good for them. It all starts going haywire when they are done with their assignment there and pack their bags back home. They, along with their new found antics, start becoming a pain in the posterior. So, before I become a pain up the posterior section of your anatomy, let me cut short on my relentless bitching and get to the point.

So, apart from an increased value in the matrimonial market, these are a few distinctly annoying character traits of these on-site returnees. I’m pretty sure anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in an IT company will be able to relate to these.

1 . Drinking Coffee in mugs: Now, this isn’t annoying per se, but the change in this aspect of their personality is, let me call it fascinating? They believe not using the paper cups that the free coffee machines in their office has to offer will help them in their pursuit of impersonating a sophisticated “US Return”. These mugs usually have “I <3 NY” or a Mount Rushmore photo imprinted on it. Their justification to it is “Dude, I’m being environment friendly here”. Oh yea? I saw you smoking a cigarette and throwing the stub on the road after you had done a bit of Graffiti on the neighborhood wall, if you know what I mean. So, STFU, “dude”.

2 . Random, Multiple Accents: Ok, now this is annoying. Personally, I firmly believe that it is next to impossible to naturally cultivate an accent after just a year or 2 of staying in the US. Well, I get it that you are in the pursuit of impersonating a sophisticated “US Return”, but will you stick to one accent to make it look a bit authentic? If you swing between a Mid-Western to a Texan to an Irish accent all within a few sentences, even Alia Bhatt can find out that you are faking it. Just like the last girl you were with was. BURN.

3 . The” Last time I was in” syndrome: “ Last time I was in New York, I was dazzled by the Times Square”, “Last time I was in Vegas, I won a fortune at the Ceasar’s Palace”, “Last time I was at the Death Valley, I was awed by its nothingness”.  These stories are repeated so often that they become a part of office folklore. Well, a couple of things. One, you have been there just once, so your “Last time” charades, is grammatically wrong. Secondly, the “last time” you were at the Niagara Falls, why didn’t anyone push you into it?

4 . They swear by the dollar: Heads to the sabzi mandi to get some potatoes, his wife has to listen to “Honey, we used to get potatoes for a dollar and 50 cents in the US”. Heads out for a drink with colleagues, “You know beer was dirt cheap in the US, you got a pint for 2 dollars”. Out for Diwali shopping with family, “Ah c’mon, we used to get a 50 inch tv for just 400 dollars in the US”. Ok, News Flash. We understand you were in the US, charming your clients with your antics. But now, you are in India. So, just stop, mate, because the only thing dollar about you currently is the brand of the undergarments you wear.

5 . Random spurts of Patriotic Fervour: I believe in giving credit where it’s due. Quite a few of these phoren returns tend to come back a bit more socially and politically aware. Despite all their shenanigans and the pursuit of the sophisticated US return look, deep down they tend to get a bit more attached to their motherland. How many times do we hear from them “Man, all said and done, it’s not quite like India there. Woh baat nahi hai”. They may still not do much shit about things, other than talking. They may still talk in pathetic accents and voice their US stories to anyone who would listen. But their heart gets a bit more Indian.

Anything else you guys can think of? The last time I checked, the comments section is the place to be for you.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wabi-Sabi and 2 Sporting Legends

I recently came across Wabi-Sabi, which is a quintessential Japanese aesthetic or frame of thought. It is based on accepting and embracing transience and imperfection. Among many other things, it is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. I couldn’t help but relating this to a couple of recent sporting stories. One that had The perfect ending, and the other which left people wanting.

November, 2013. The West Indies cricket team visited the Indian shores for a concocted test series that originated out of the blue, cutting short a mouthwatering showdown between India and South Africa. The reason being that Sachin was on 198 tests, had announced his retirement, and it was supposedly fitting that he get his farewell in his home ground, Mumbai. And quite conveniently, 2 test matches were scheduled enabling the Little Master to finish on exactly 200 tests.  

So, when it was all said and done (which didn’t take much time, thanks to West Indies’ abysmal capitulation), we had the customary lap of honour, trophies and mementoes from all possible organizations,  a truly emotional farewell speech, and a “why was this series played” trophy presentation ceremony. Sachin Tendulkar had called it a day with 200 tests and 100 international centuries to his name. Perfect numbers. The chase for which had a billion of us on the edge of the seat for a year or 2. The ending was perfect and beautiful, but not quite.

July, 2014. Wimbledon Finals. Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer. It wasn’t quite the dream Fed-Nadal finals, as unknown Aussie teenager, Nick Kyrgios, played the game of his life to knockout Nadal in the Round of 16. But it was a dream that Federer and millions of his fans had chased together since the magical Wimbledon win of 2012. An 18th Grand Slam and 8th Wimbledon. It was just the Djoker lying in between the elusive landmark.

This Wimbledon, Federer was at his vintage best. The artist was painting the greens of the center court with the most delicate of strokes and elegance, as his foes felt the privilege of losing to him, one after the other. Federer had reached the finals with effeminate ease. But, that was to be it. In spite of a valiant effort, the artist couldn’t quite give the finishing touches to his canvas. The Djoker was at his gritty best, RFed was at his beautiful best. But that day, Endurance overcame skills; Doggedness overcame artistry; Djokovic overcame Federer. The number stays at 17 and 7. The picture of Roger Federer looking on as the events of the day unfolded with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek has to be among the most sadly beautiful moments in sporting history.

Federer knows who Sachin is. 

Now, both these sporting icons are legends of the game. Arguably the best ever to have graced their respective sports. One, whose story has come to an end, the other, who is probably past his best days in the sun. The twilights of both their careers have been a story of a chase. One chased the perfect numbers of 100 and 200, while the other is chasing one more Wimbledon, One more Grand Slam, after having reached close more times than one can count. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he never reaches that elusive, make-believe brass ring.

Yes, I say make-believe because Federer winning that 18th Grand Slam, or rather not winning it will not make him any lesser a player than he already is. The chase for it and falling short is indeed sad, but if we look back, those are moments that will live with us forever.  

Similarly, Sachin not scoring that 100th ton, or not finishing on 200 tests wouldn’t have made him any less a player than he already was. His 100th ton was an abominable innings in a match against Bangladesh which we lost, and the 200th test was against a weak team in a series that no one will remember with any fondness. The numbers are a testimony to his greatness, legacy and longevity. But the moments, not quite so. Personally, I would’ve preferred for him to finish on 99 international centuries or 198 tests, than be a part of a meaningless chase along with a billion of us.   

A sport is about moments, not chasing milestones and numbers. Don Bradman immortalized 99.94. Federer might end up immortalizing 17 (or 18, one more Grand Slam, please?), Michael Schumacher immortalized 7. None of these numbers are perfect. But they’re beautiful because they are flawed, imperfect and inadequate. The Japanese have got it right. Wabi Sabi should be the essence of life.