I was happy until I watched a news channel

The news anchor was screaming: “A cyclist bled to death while the on lookers simply took videos of him dying”. The channel kept showing the same videos which the on lookers took. The irony of it wasn’t perceptible to the over excited news anchor.

Another instance when I got really depressed was when the news channel kept airing the CCTV footage of girl being molested by two men. It was disturbing to watch it the first time but watching it in loop makes you feel miserable. I can’t even imagine how the victim would feel watching it being aired again & again on national television.

Over the time I realized that every time I watch a news channel I get depressed. Why is it that the major portion of news is always related to killings, rape, suicides, scams, corruption, molestation, riots & terrorism? I don’t even remember the last time any news channel aired something related to happy news. We have become so accustomed to hear about the bad things that we always think negatively. And when the news about ‘presstitutes’ broke out, I lost all faith in the news industry.

We are always surrounded by negative news; hence, it’s no surprise that we as a nation are among the most depressed nations in the world. This again was cheerfully reported by our news channels.

I have stopped watching the news channels these days and I am quite happy. I am no longer cynical about our country, but hopeful. Apart from Bollywood, Cricket & Politics, there are whole lot of other areas which have been silently progressing and very few know about it.

Nobody reports about a villager who grew a whole forest in an attempt to save our planet. No news channel is interested in reporting about young volunteers in our country who help the needy. News channels don’t care much about everyday heroes in our country who save lives. Very few journalists report about the good things in our country.

I am not saying that journalists shouldn’t report about the bad things. They should. But report about the good things in equal measure. Exposing corrupt ministers is necessary but attention should also be given to those who make our country proud. It will help inspire others rather than only feel bad about our nation.



Joy of getting pink note from the ATM

Demonetization has forced a millionaire, a sweeper, a house wife, software engineer, a house maid, a laborer to stand shoulder to shoulder at the ATMs & banks. I too was part of that queue. It was nothing short of an interesting experience. Complete strangers start chatting up with you, sharing their joys & woes. It doesn’t matter whether you are an IT professional, or a sweeper, or a VP of a company, or a laborer; in that moment, you are simply an Indian who is getting an opportunity to be a part of a national movement against black money.

A cute girl with a Punjabi accent standing behind me spoke, “it’s such a big line! In my native place in Chandigarh there is no such line. Only here there is such a mad rush. Yesterday I stood three hours in the queue. But when my turn came, the ATM ran out of cash! There is not a single penny in my wallet.” I could feel her helplessness of not having cash. I gave her an understanding smile & said, “Let’s hope for the best.”

I was quite at ease when I joined the queue, but her remark about cash running out made me anxiously count the number of people standing before me. I silently prayed to God that such a thing shouldn’t happen to me. The long serpentine queue moved at such a pace that even a tiny snail would outrun us. The queue was too long but we consoled ourselves by looking at the growing line behind us. At least we were way ahead compared to last person in the line.

A group of girls were standing near the ATM waiting for their friends to come out of the ATM. They wore anxious expressions & kept checking their watch. The moment their friends stepped out of the ATM, they yelled, “Hey come fast. The lecture has already begun. Ma’am won’t be pleased if we arrive late! Come on run!” The girls hopped onto their two wheelers & sped away. A smile escaped my lips as I fondly remembered my college days – the reluctance to enter first when late, pushing our friends to go first to face the wrath of the teacher.

Two guys ahead of us were pretty excited when they finally reached the entrance of the ATM. They couldn’t stop themselves from taking a selfie at the ATM door! A lady tried to enter the ATM without coming in queue, the security guard politely refused her entry. The guard stopped all those who cunningly tried to enter the ATM saying they wanted to print their pass books but actually wanted to withdraw money from ATM. He politely took all their pass books, printed & returned them. I didn’t see him lose his temper even once. Handling the crowd from morning till evening is no easy task. But he did his duty with a smile on his face. I felt immense respect for him.

When finally I arrived near the ATM entrance, my heart beat rose considerably. People who came out of the ATM clutching the pink note had huge grin extending from ear to ear. When I entered the ATM, I saw a man struggling with his card. The guard helped him swipe the card, but the machine couldn’t read it. The guard asked him to wait. He allowed the short man in dirty clothes in front of me to try his card. Instead of coming forward he gave his card to the guard asking him to swipe. He swiped for him & asked him to enter the PIN. To everyone’s amusement, the man said that the PIN is written on the backside of the card. It seemed the guy was illiterate. So the guard entered the PIN, entered 2000 as amount & gave the cash & card to the man. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that whoever steals that card with PIN written on it will be the luckiest thief.

The guard allowed the earlier person to try his card but again it didn’t work. I felt bad for him. I couldn’t decide which was worse: ATM running out of cash at your turn or your card deceiving you. The guard gestured me to come forward. I swiped my card, had a mini heart attack when it didn’t read my card too. The guard simply took my card from my hand & swiped it hard. I could breathe again when it read my card. I entered my PIN & amount. It was such a melodious sound to hear the magenta pink note popping out of the machine and such an amazing sight!

I stepped out of the ATM clutching the note with a 100 watts smile plastered on my face. I wanted to show the note to everyone around as if it was some trophy achieved after a hard fought battle. I couldn’t stop taking a selfie with the note & keeping it as my Whatsapp dp. Seeing me showing off my 2000 rupee note, many friends commented how wealthy I am. Truth is, yes, I had become wealthy, wealthy with joys & hope for a bright future which I share with billions of Indians standing at the queues.

Coming Home for Diwali

It is that time of the year again when we promise God to light thousand diyas if our bosses approve our leaves to head home for Diwali. The joy of seeing the words “approved” next to our leave request is unparalleled for those of us who stay away from family. We know exactly how Lord Ram would have felt when he returned to his home town after 14 years of vanvaas. And one of the reason for celebrating Diwali is just that: family reunion.

The warmth of the joy we feel seeing the 100 watts smile on our mom’s & dad’s faces when they see us is enough to light the thousand diyas we promised to God! When mom hugs, we feel as if we have been blessed with all the riches & wealth Goddess Laxmi has to offer.

Diwali excitement begins months before the actual festival: the race to book the tickets before it gets sold out, trying to finish off all tasks assigned by boss well in advance so that it doesn’t jeopardize our plans of tasting mouthwatering laddoos prepared by mom at home.

Helping mom in preparing the delicious sweets & namkeens for Diwali has its own share of sweet & savory moments: Has the sugar syrup reached the right consistency? There should be two taars (threads) when you stretch the sugar syrup between your index finger & thumb. Has the oil reached the right temperature? Why don’t you write down the right proportions? The chaklis are not crisp… add more rice flour. Noooo… don’t put raisins in the laddoo, I hate raisins. The fight over the consistency, ingredient, quantity, and ratio may look trivial but these are the moments that we will carry on in our hearts & laugh over it on future Diwalis.

Every street & every corner looks alive with colorful lights & people thronging the shops for Diwali purchases. Every shop is decorated to entice customers. Even as winter slowly approaches, the festive spirit & enthusiasm warms the cold October air.

Goddess Laxmi who is known as Goddess of Wealth is worshiped during Diwali. We do all the rituals & poojas to please Her. We pray to Her for wealth & prosperity in the coming year. But what exactly is wealth? The first thing that comes to mind is money. Then comes gold, silver & jewels. Now let’s imagine Goddess Laxmi blesses us with lots of money, gold, silver & jewels. Will that make us happy? Yes of course! But will that happiness be equivalent to the happiness we feel when we see our mom’s 100 watt smile when we come home for Diwali? Or when our friends throw a surprise party on our birthday? Or when our families & friends applaud us when we win a competition or an award? Or when our neighbors bring mouthwatering delicacies for us?

I believe unconditional love is much more valuable than all the gold & jewels of the world. And if you have someone who gives you that then you are undoubtedly the richest person in the world! So this Diwali, I wish you dear reader that may Goddess Laxmi bless you with wealth of friendship, wealth of affection & wealth of unconditional love. Happy Diwali!

My Lung’s adventure & Heart’s love affair with Ladakh

At eighteen thousand three hundred & eighty feet above sea level, my lungs protested at my every movement. I fumbled through my backpack to get the camphor. My lungs, which were fighting to get oxygen from the thin mountain air at Khardung La, eased a bit when I sniffed the camphor.

In spite of wearing two overcoats, hand gloves & woolen cap khardung laI was shivering as cold wind blew. I should have been scared, but I was bubbling with excitement. I couldn’t believe that I was actually standing on the highest motor able road in the whole world!

The colorful prayer flags fluttered everywhere, the wind carrying the message of peace & well being to all the living beings. Snow melting from the mountain tops trickled down towards the valley. Bikers stopped by to have a hot cup of tea. Armed soldiers observed the comings & goings of the civilians. The Indian flag waved in the wind, filling warmth in the hearts of the Indians around.

On our way to Khardung La, we were greeted by couple of landslides. In spite of the cold & the harsh sun, the laborers toiled hard to remove the boulders from the road. Their skins were red due to sun burn. They wore single jacket, whereas we were shivering under double jackets. The oxygen was low. And yet they carried on with their work. They used hammer & chisel to break down big boulders into small stones. I was on the verge of tears looking at their hardships.

The melting snow brings rocks & mud onto the roads due to which the roads must be repaired all the time. Hats off to the hard working laborers of Border Road Organization, who maintain the roads even at such harsh conditions!

After seven hours of traveling across gigantic Himalayan Mountains peppered with few poplar & willow trees here & there, little did we imagine Camelsthat we would find ourselves among sand dunes replete with camels in Nubra Valley! Those camels were not the usual type. They were shorter than their Rajasthani counterparts & had double humps! They had a thick coat of fur covering their humps as well as their well muscled short legs. As per our local guide, Nubra Valley was part of the Silk Route, which was used by traders from Afghanistan & those camels are the descendants of Afghan camels.

apricotsWhen we saw a tree full of yellowish orange fruits, we never realized we were actually seeing an apricot tree. That is because till then we had seen & eaten only dried apricots. I will never forget the sweet & tangy taste of the apricot that we ate freshly plucked from the tree!

A year ago, if someone would have told me that I would be spending a night in a tent in the remotest valley of our country, I would have laughed & asked that person to have a mental health check up done.Tents Nubra Valley It was thrilling to sleep with only a thin layer of cloth protecting you from harsh cold winds & hungry wild animals at Nubra Valley. Though I didn’t hear any howling of wolves or growling of snow leopards (I was not at all disappointed by it), but I did hear a bird like chirping all night long. No matter how hard I tried I failed to figure out what it was.

While watching Kareena drive the yellow scooter towards Amir in 3 idiots, I didn’t know nor imagined that one day I would be taking selfies at the same spot! Pangong LakeWhat a spot it was! Pangong Lake hypnotizes you with various shades of blue. I was mesmerized by the lake’s changing colors (the colors changed due to the shadows of moving clouds). It was fascinating to know that the other half of the lake was in China! We met our soldiers camped near the lake. I tied a rakhi on the wrist of one of the soldiers (He resembled MS Dhoni). rakhiI was so overwhelmed with emotions that I couldn’t speak. I managed to say a simple thank you to him. Though I didn’t speak much, I compensated by taking a gulab jamun & stuffed it in his mouth. And in true brotherly fashion he fed me too!  It will remain one of the most cherished moments in my life!

On the way to Pangong Lake, there was a gut wrenching moment when we saw charred remains of three Army trucks lying on the mountain side below. Apparently, they were landslide victims, reminding us how helpless we are against the might of Mother Nature.

We mostly spend our 15thAugust holiday by getting up late & watching patriotic movies. But celebrating Independence Day with cute rose cheeked Ladakhi children under the watch of armed Indian soldiers at an altitude of war memorialeleven thousand five hundred feet above sea level is something which you can never forget. We later visited Hall of Fame, which is a war museum. It houses a memorial for all those soldiers who set out to serve the nation’s cause but never returned. There were thousands of names engraved on the wall and cement blocks around the memorial. My heart was filled with profound sadness thinking about the sacrifices made by so many of our country men.

The trip to Ladakh was no ordinary vacation tour. It had been an adventure & that to a life changing one! The low in oxygen air of Ladakh didn’t allow us to run or exert too much. It forced us to take it slow, to cherish each moment & live it fully. Even though the air had less oxygen, it was pristine & pure. There was not much vehicular noise or machine noise. It was so calm & peaceful that I could hear every breath that I took! All these years I was simply living. After being in Ladakh, I understood what being alive is like!

After experiencing some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, I now understand the hardships our soldiers have to endure at high altitude battlefields like Siachen. I am in awe of the hospitality of Ladakhi people. During my seven day stay, I never came across any person who was rude or arrogant. They would greet us with smiles & “Julley“. I love that word because it can mean many things like: Hi, bye, thank you, congratulations, welcome etc. depending on the situation.

Even after writing more than one thousand words, I still feel I haven’t fully described what Ladakh is like. I am running out of words! And then Ladakh is not supposed to be described, it is to be experienced!

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!