Kind Knight amidst Public Transport Battle

Nowadays, boarding a public bus or local train is almost like getting ready for an epic battle: battle for getting in, for getting a seat, for getting exact change from the conductor and finally for getting out. In such a hostile environment, receiving kindness is almost like meeting an Angel in times of need. And I am fortunate to have met one such Angel once in middle of a public transport battlefield.

Few years back while working in Pune, I used to commute to office by public transport bus. One hot summer day while returning home from office, I tried to board a crowded bus. I had barely managed to keep my foot on the last landing of the bus that the bus jerked forward. Someone behind me pushed me inside, and I tumbled on the stairs, bruising my ankle. After some more pushing & shoving, I found myself in the middle of the bus.

Being vertically challenged, the overhead hand rail was too high for me and all nearby poles were covered with many hands holding them. I knew what it meant. It meant that I will be thrown around just like a cloth in a washing machine. Apart from the minor bruises & cuts, I will also have to deal with annoyed glances & abusive words of people on whom I fell. So I desperately prayed that the driver doesn’t apply brakes till I get something to hold on to. Obviously it was like praying for rain in a desert, since our roads have more craters than the moon.

The driver applied sudden brakes, and almost half the people standing in the bus were thrown forward. I was almost crushed. My face hit the back of the person standing in front of me, and I fell on my knees. I managed to get up quickly, and was frantically trying to hold onto something. The person on whom my face hit looked back with an irritated expression. I apologized many times and his expression changed. He gave me an understanding look, and took a step away. He was wearing a black windcheater jacket and I kept wondering: why would anyone wear it in a hot summer day? I was perspiring from head to toe from the heat and I wished to reach home fast and have a cool glass of fresh lime juice.

 At the next stop, a seat near the windcheater guy got vacant. He immediately pounced on it and looked at me and said, “Madam, please take the seat.” I was taken aback.  I felt I heard it wrong. After standing for so long, who would in his right state of mind would offer the acquired seat to a stranger? Looking at my confused expression, he again stated, “Please take the seat.”  Still surprised by his words, I feebly said, “Thanks. But you take it.” Just then, two men jostled to have the same seat. The windcheater guy fought with them & shooed them off. He then looked at me; I didn’t need any more compelling, his look was enough, I quickly took the seat, and offered feeble thanks, still choked with amazement. I couldn’t stop wondering: why would anyone do such a thing?  And then I almost started getting suspicious of him. Strange thoughts corrupted my mental peace. What if he is a pickpocket or a stalker?

 A lady’s shout disturbed my chain of thoughts. The lady was trying to get the conductor’s attention. It was apparent from her distress that she had to get down at the next stop and she wanted to get the ticket before she got down. Since she was not able to reach the conductor because of the crowd, the windcheater gentleman stepped in and helped her pass on the 20 rupee note to the conductor. The conductor handed over the ticket worth ₹15.  As soon as he realized that the conductor didn’t return the change (most conductors try to keep the change for themselves), he requested the conductor to return the five rupees. The conductor hesitated and told him that he didn’t have. The windcheater gentleman argued with the conductor that he had passed him 5 rupee coin from another passenger few seconds ago. And yet the conductor refuted. It was clear that he had no intention of giving back the change even if he had it. After much coaxing and cajoling, the conductor got irritated and finally handed over the change reluctantly. Our windcheater gentleman then passed on the change and the ticket to the lady. The lady smiled and thanked him profusely. He reacted as if it was nothing and he got down after the next stop.

At that moment, all my suspicions evaporated. He genuinely cared for others. I asked myself: would I bother to fight with the conductor for a stranger? Would I go out of the way to help strangers? No, I wouldn’t have cared, but, after the encounter with this gentleman, my perspective changed.   That day he not only just showed empathy and helped us but also reminded us of the value of kindness and our duty of helping others in need. A part of me changed from that day, I am now more mindful of my surroundings and more empathetic to others.

 

Window Seat Movies

It was pitch black. The only sound we could hear was of the rattling wheels & the creaking joints of the train carriage. In just few seconds, we were enveloped with blinding light all around us, as the train carried us out of the tunnel. There was a collective gasp all around as we saw the breath taking sight emerging before us. It was as if the entire mountain range had worn a beautiful green robe, which was sparkling like emeralds due to the drizzling rain. Among the mighty mountains, waterfalls emerged here & there, making the sight even more magical. The dense mist floating among the trees added a dream like effect.

As I sat near the train window, enchanted by the exquisite view, a cool breeze carrying rain drops kissed my face. Neither Avatar nor The Jungle Book could have evoked such a thrill, as watching the wilderness through a train window.

And hence, I am a hard core fan of window seat movies. You can never guess what you will see next. There is drama, action, comedy & sometimes tragedy as well…

The lady was holding a 2 year old kid on one hand & her other hand was pulling the shirt of a man. He clearly looked drunk. Another kid was clutching his leg. From their torn dirty clothing it was apparent that they were very poor. The man was pushing them away & was trying to lie down on the adjoining railway tracks. The lady & the kids were crying. All 3 of them were trying hard to push him away from the tracks.

Our train had moved on, leaving that station behind, but that sight stayed with me. That sight broke my heart into thousand pieces. I was choked with emotions. I craned my neck out through the train window, to catch one last glimpse of that family but our train had picked up speed. I felt sorry for that poor mother & anger for that drunken idiot. I felt helpless & sad.

As the train sped away, my eyes spotted a bunch of monkeys perched on the trees along the tracks. I saw a monkey with a child clinging to her stomach. She was feeding her child whatever little food she got. IMG_2673.JPGAnd for some weird reason, I saw the similarities between the two mothers, both mothers fighting their own battles for giving a better life to their little ones. I saw their determination beneath their fears, their courage at the time of challenging situations & that gave me inspiration. The cute little fellow suddenly left his mother & jumped to catch a butterfly… he fell flat on his face… making me smile.

While shuttling between Pune & Bengaluru on a bus, I get to watch many interesting short movies… kids jumping into the rivers, enjoying in the hot sun… sugarcane plants dancing & swaying to the melodious rhythm of a gentle breeze… hard working farmers enjoying a quick nap under the cool shade of a mango tree… the yellow mangoes looking enticingly at me from the mango trees… the blazing red Gulmohar trees in full bloom announcing cheerfully that its May… the sun glasses wearing scarecrow looking handsome in his blue jeans & blue shirt amidst the jowar field… the wind mills interacting with the winds on top of mountains at a distance…

Apart from the countryside, I also get to watch the good, the bad & the ugly of both the cities… roads overflowing with vehicles… war of words among the vehicle owners in traffic infested roads… ladies busy in bargaining on the street side markets… group of people standing around the pani puri wala as if he is the eighth wonder of the world…the drizzle on Bengaluru roads…the hot dry air on Pune roads…cows walking proudly on the roads as if they own it… people dangling from the doors of overcrowded local buses like mangoes dangling on trees… the graffiti on the pillars of the flyovers… movie posters of regional languages showing heroes with 3 ponytails & scared looking heroines… posters of fans alongside the poster of the film hero…the dazzling city lights…the illusion of  flowing golden river created by the moving vehicular headlights reflecting off the wet roads…

I call the window seat a magic seat which allows you to take a sneak peek into the lives of others. Lives which are ordinary, but when observed carefully can inspire us to lead extraordinary lives! That’s why I really get pissed off when I see people who fight hard to get the window seat, only to doze off…

Heavenly Time Machines

I was returning home from office, when something wet landed on my forehead. For one dreadful moment, I thought a bird blessed me with its droppings, but to my relief I discovered that it was just a drop of water. Just then, another drop landed on my hand & then another on my right foot.

I looked up & saw several threatening shades of grey. With a child like grin on my face, I quickened my pace. A strong fragrance erupted from mother Earth, which transported me into another realm…

I am six… I am playing with my friends… we are playing with mud… it starts toIMG_20140720_103339 pour… we run for shelter… the earthy smell… the smell is soo sweet…we run out into the rain…we make paper boats…my boat gets stuck…I free it with a twig…we chase our boats down the stream…

The honking horn pulls me back to the present. A car drives past me, splashing muddy water all around. I jump sideways, but it’s too late. I look at my feet covered in mud. It makes me smile, as I am taken to another point in time…

I am eight… I am proud of my ultra white canvas shoes & my crisp white uniform… I see a huge puddle in front of the school gate… I see others leaping across it… I leap… I land… not on the other side of the gate but into the puddle itself… I am horrified to see my white shoes turn brown & my white uniform spattered with mud … just imagining my mother’s face makes me sweat…

The huge drops falling on me bring me back to the present. I quickly take out my umbrella & several timelines flash before me. Some sweet… some bitter…

I am returning home from school… its pouring… I don’t have umbrella… there is lightening & thunder… in some places water is ankle deep whereas in some places water almost reaches till my knee… I am scared of open man holes hidden in water… I move slowly & carefully…I am shivering…just then I see my mom… the mere sight of her fills me with warmth… she is running towards me, umbrella in hand… I grin…she takes my hand… I am safe…

I switch to another timeline…

I am frantically searching for my dark pink umbrella which has black spokes…it’s my favourite…I love the colour & it is strong… I had forgotten it in class… it’s not there when I return…I mourn its loss…

The pain brings me out of my reverie. I tightly grasp my current umbrella. Just then a gust of wind blows, it blows away the pain & reminds me of a funny time.

I was small & the umbrella was big… the wind tries to snatch away my umbrella…but I hold it tight…the wind blows so hard that it almost lifts me along with the umbrella…I pull back with all my might…the wind is frustrated… it upturns the spokes of the umbrella…and I am left standing with an inverted umbrella…everybody laughs…

A strong smell of bhajiyas frying in oil at a nearby stall bring me back to the present. It takes me to yet another point in time.

We are on top of a mountain for a family outing…we are surrounded by mist …the air is chilled…it starts to drizzle…hot onion bhajiyas are served in a plate…they vanish in a second as everyone is hungry… I take a sip of my hot tea…it tastes like heaven…

A loud thunder pushes me back to the present. I manage to enter my flat just as it starts pouring. I make myself a hot coffee. As I stand near the window, the smell of coffee & the cool spray of rain on my face, takes me to a memorable time when I was working at my previous office…

IMG_20140715_153002I am staring at my desktop… I hear pitter patter of rain on the office window… I ping my friends for coffee…we are at the terrace garden with coffee cups in our hand… we are mesmerized by the rain…momentarily forgetting our worries… the air is cold but the coffee is warm…we chat…we giggle…enjoying our warm conversations in the cool rain…

The magical drops from the Heavens truly are remarkable time machines. They have the power to take you back in time & also help you create memories of the present time so that you can visit them from the future point of time!

My public speaking adventures

 

When I took the mic, I traveled back to the year 1997. Hundreds of kids were staring at me. I was shivering from head to toe. I had surrendered myself to the Fear Dragon. The Fear Fire emanating from his mouth spread through me, destroying every single ounce of courage I had within me. I thought I will faint. But, I had a task at hand. If I didn’t finish it, I will be scolded by the class teacher. That would be even worse.

With shaky hands I took out the piece of paper from my pocket & stood before the mic stand. Tears threatened to trickle down from my eyes. I realized that the Fear Fire was so intense that I wasn’t able to breathe!

“Read it quick! And finish this” Screamed my sub conscious.

I was so choked that no sound came from my throat, even though I was trying my best. I thought I was reading out loud but someone at the back prompted me to be louder. It seemed nobody was able to hear my voice in spite of me standing near to the mic.

The Fear Dragon became stronger & bolder. His Fear Fire grew in intensity. He was laughing and I wanted to cry. I wanted to run away, away from this madness. I was ashamed of myself. Tears started running down my cheeks.

I tried to be loud. But I could hardly recognize the voice which came out of my mouth. It was not mine. It was the voice of Fear. I tried to see what I was reading out but the tears clouded my vision.

The Fear Dragon roared with laughter, which sent more tears down my cheek. I blinked & blinked to clear my vision.

Here is what I had scribbled on the piece of paper, which I was trying to read for the morning assembly in front of the school:

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:

Where there is a will, there is a way.

MEANING:

It means that if you are determined enough, you can find a way to achieve what you want, even if it is very difficult.

‘Just 3-4 lines and that too to be read from paper’, smirked the Fear Dragon. I read as fast I could, simply because I could no longer tolerate the heat within me. I could feel myself burning inside.

When I was finished, I looked up. I saw my class mate standing in the front row, she looked concerned. I couldn’t hold our eye contact for long & turned my gaze down. I felt ashamed.

Even though my part was over, I was still reeling under the attack of Fear Dragon. It was as if I was cut off from the rest of the world. I was physically present but mentally I was fighting a losing battle with my inner demons. I lost track of what was happening around me. It was only when my classmate put her hand over my shoulder after the assembly that I came out of my reverie.

“Are you OK? You were shivering? Are you sick?” she asked.

“I am OK” I mumbled not looking at her.

I come back to 2008.

I am holding the mic. Some 40 faces are looking up at me. The Fear Dragon was amused about the fact that I had volunteered myself to be the anchor for a paper presentation competition. I was determined to defeat the Fear Dragon this time.

And so the battle began. I was welcoming the students who had come from other colleges, when the Fear Dragon attacked my right hand which was holding the mic. My right hand started shaking. I tried my best to control the shaking but the right hand; it appeared to me, had suddenly acquired a mind of its own. So I shifted the mic to my left hand. I quickly ended my welcome speech & requested the first participant to start the presentation. This way I thwarted the first strike by the Fear Dragon.

Even though I was still burning from the Fear Fire inside, I had managed to gather enough courage to lower its intensity. By evening, I had completely doused the Fear Fire within me and I felt proud of myself. Just then, the Fear Dragon glowered, “Being an anchor, you just had to call out the participant’s name! It’s no big deal! If you have so much guts then give a 10 minute presentation next time.”

“Challenge accepted” I shouted back to the Fear Dragon, still glowing under the accumulated courage.

It’s 2009. I am about to start my presentation. The judges & the audience are looking at me. I hold the mic with both my hands. But this time, the Fear Dragon doesn’t attack my hand, he goes for my throat. My throat gets dry & I am almost choked. The voice which comes out is hoarse. I could hear his sinister laughter ringing in my ears. I take deep breath & cough a little, and then I begin.

I knew that the Fear Dragon would try to blank me out during the presentation, so I had prepared my power point presentation in a smart way. I had prepared well for this battle & hence courage blossomed inside me in spite of the Fear Fire.

The claps from the audience & the smile on judges’ face filled me with warmth, warmth not from the Fear Fire, but from joy of the battle won within. I along with my friend, who jointly presented, eventually won the paper presentation competition. Of course, I was overjoyed!

I realized that, if it had not been for the Fear Dragon, I would not have worked so hard. The trick is in taming the Fear Dragon. If you let it loose, it will wreak havoc inside you, making you weak. But if you are able to control its intensity with your will, it can aid you in bringing out your best.

It’s 2016. As I look back, at the little girl, who had tearfully read the thought for the day before the school assembly, I wish I could tell her that one day she will exercise her will to find a way to tame the Fear Dragon.

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My Date with Mr. C

My heart was beating fast. I was nervous. My adrenaline levels were soaring sky high. I had never been so excited about seeing someone. This guy was mysterious as well as dangerous, & maybe that’s why I found him so enchanting. I had mostly seen him on TV, but I was about to meet him face to face.

I was on a round boat called a coracle. It was made of bamboo, straw & was sealed with tar. I was sailing on the calm waters of River Kaveri, trying hard to catch a glimpse of him. I looked around but couldn’t find him. It was a hot afternoon, but the cool breeze helped me feel comfortable.  There was silence all around. No honking horns, no loud music, no loud speakers, no chattering, nothing. It was very peaceful. The water surface looked like a thousand sparkling diamonds wherever it was touched by the sun light.

“THERE HE IS!” yelled the boatman, bringing me out of my trance. I stood up looking at the direction he was pointing, but couldn’t see anything, except couple of rocks.

“I can’t see him”, I said.

“That’s him! You are looking right at him”, he said pointing at a huge boulder on the river bank.

I was yearning to see him.  I knew that he has knack of hiding in plain sight, which made me scared and fascinated at the same time. I looked and looked but nothing seemed like him.

Suddenly, my eyes caught movement among the rocks. There he was! I was shocked, happy and scared all at once. He was simply lying on the shore and yet I couldn’t see him until he moved. I had assumed him to be the boulder. I was fascinated when he started walking along the shore, because that’s when I saw the entire length of his body which was more than 7 feet long. His skin was dark & rugged which resembled the texture of rocks, and thus I was not able to spot him earlier.

My heart started making somersaults when he slipped in to the water stealthily. I was shivering with part excitement and part fear. He was coming towards me. I was perspiring.

I could only see his eyes above the surface; his rest of the body was submerged under water. All of a sudden, he disappeared. Fear embraced me in a tight hug. I had seen him startle people using guerrilla tactics on TV. It’s thrilling to watch on TV in the safe confines of my home, but now, sitting in a small coracle, I was scared out of my wits. The boatman assured that he won’t trouble people on boats and he usually hangs around the opposite shore of the river, but my mind was not convinced.

Just then, I heard a splash and I almost jumped. My heart was up in my throat.  I looked frantically out in the water, fully convinced that we were being followed. I was terrified at the possibilities. What if he overturns the boat? What will I do? I couldn’t even swim! I sat there paralyzed with fear. I heard the splash again. This time I saw a glimpse of something red jump in the water. I heaved a sigh of relief, as I watched a school of red finned fishes making a splash, mocking my fear.

Till the end of our sailing trip, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that we were being watched. Maybe this was the reason which kept my adrenaline levels high. The rocks in the river kept playing with my mind: is it him or just a rock? He made me observe & not just see, he made me listen to each & every sound & not just hear. He kept me alert and maybe it was for the first time in my life that I was actually living fully in the present moment. He made me forget all my worries and just focus at the present. I could feel my survival instincts kick in, every time I heard a sound or saw something move.

Looking back at that wonderful trip to Galibore Nature camp, I surely have captured some of the best moments of my life in my memory. It was surely a date to remember. A date with ruggedly handsome, Mr. Croc O Dile.

Foo Foo Ki Kahani

Few months back, my cousin forwarded me a video on WhatsApp with this message: “Did you make this? Your name is mentioned in the credits at the end” To my amazement, I found that it was the same video which I had created while in college for a competition 4 years ago. It was about life of an engineering student. It was a funny video. Memories of the good old college days came rushing when I saw that video. The entire audience had laughed out loud while watching it. Even though the audience response was tremendous, it failed to fetch a prize. But for me the audience love was more valuable than any prize.

I asked my cousin, “How did you get this?” She said,”It was forwarded to me by my friend who had received it from another friend. The video is being shared everywhere!” I was thrilled, and annoyed at the same time. Thrilled because so many people loved the video, annoyed because it was leaked to the world without my knowledge! Curious to know, how far it has reached, I couldn’t stop myself googling it. There were many hits on YouTube. I went through each one of them. I was half laughing & half angry. Some claimed that it was their idea and when they were asked why “Sneha Bangera” was mentioned rather than their name, they said that they had asked Sneha Bangera to edit it and they didn’t bother to add their names. Strangers claimed that they were close friends of mine and hence posted it on their YouTube channel on my behalf. It was really hilarious to see the extent to which they went to cover one lie.

Couple of days back, when I googled my name (don’t tell me you don’t google your name), I saw Google prompting “sneha bangera foo foo” It put a smile on my face. I felt as if I have attained some kind of celebrity status on the web. I clicked on “sneha bangera foo foo”. As usual there were many YouTube channels showing it. But there was one which caught my attention: “Sequel to Foo Foo Ki Kahani” I checked out the video, they had continued the story in the same video, using the same music & images which I had used. I almost thought they would remove my name from that video, but to my delight they didn’t remove. They kept my name and added theirs as well.

While creating the video, I never imagined that it would go viral over the internet. I had made it by keeping engineering students in mind, but I was amazed to see that Foo Foo spoke to students of every stream not just engineering. It feels great to know that through Foo Foo, I made millions of student forget their exam pressures for a while and made them smile. I also thank all those YouTube channel owners for posting my video & making me famous! 🙂

How I met the writer in me

Being in an IT industry has its own share of ups & downs. There will be times when you won’t even have time to breathe, you will be working late nights, over the weekends and so on. There will also be times when you won’t be having any work for weeks and you will find yourself fighting boredom.

I was in ‘fighting boredom’ phase, when one of the emails caught my attention. It was a mail regarding the Technology Festival which will be starting in the coming week. It had a list of events. There were two events which I found interesting: one was the one minute video event and the second one was writing a Tech Fiction. I was a champ in Windows Movie Maker application, so I had made up my mind in participating in the one minute video event. I was hesitant about participating in Tech Fiction, because even though I was an avid reader of fiction, I had never tried my hand in writing.

I had already finished the one minute video and was not sure what to do next. I then remembered the Tech Fiction event. So I thought let’s give it a try, and that’s how I stepped into a Writer’s shoes.

Having read tons of mystery, thriller, sci-fi themed novels, I had learnt that the main ingredients of fiction are the characters and the plot. Since the last novel which I read was related to crime fiction, my thoughts kept revolving around murders, detectives and criminals. I thought about a daughter being kidnapped and her father finding her using technology, but this was too similar to the Hollywood movie “Taken”. So I decided to change the characters. When I changed the characters, the plot too changed.

The more I wrote, more ideas flew towards me. Once, I was so engrossed in writing that I missed my cab to home. I didn’t realize how the time flew and ended up staying late in office! I enjoyed the challenge writing gave me. The process of creating a story was exciting. You learn & re learn many things in the process. You need to cross check each fact that you include in your story and sometimes while researching for your story you learn many things. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of creating my tech fiction.

 I didn’t have much hopes of winning the event, since it was my first time and I believed there would be many people who were better than me. I didn’t even tell my friends that I had sent my story, as I myself wasn’t too impressed with it & I felt it wasn’t worth sharing.

I didn’t even feel like going to the prize distribution event at the end, where they were going to announce the winners, because I knew I would have butterflies in my stomach when they would announce and I was equally sure that I would feel disappointed when other’s name would be called out as winners. It’s only because my friends wanted to go that I obliged. Of course I had butterflies but as I was convinced of not winning the butterflies weren’t at their usual best.

It struck like a bolt of lightning when they announced my name as 1st prize winner in tech fiction. From the outside I had a calm demeanor, with a big grin on my face, but inside I was screaming with excitement, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, I WON, I WON….. 1ST PRIZE!! THIS IS CRAZY!!” My heart was jumping with joy, but my head told me that maybe you won because there were not many entries for the event. This thought calmed down the excitement. But it was an amazing moment. My friends were dumbstruck. “What? When? Why?” screamed their expressions. But when they saw the ₹10,000 gift voucher, all they said was, “PARTY!!!”

Even after winning & receiving overwhelming praise from those who read my story, I was still not convinced that I had a good writer in me. It was only after I learnt that there were 10 entries for the event not just three or two, that I realized that I wasn’t that bad! And that was the moment when the writer in me smiled!

By the way, I won in one minute video too (2nd prize), and yes, my friends went crazy!