Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blog Updates

It has been close to a month, since I wrote my last blog entry. During the second half of November, I have been mostly on vacation, so when I got back, I got too busy with work (I am a full-time employee@Oracle :-) and hardly had anytime to update my blogs.

Sorry folks, if you have paid a visit to my blog in recent times and went back disappointed. But just give me couple of weeks time, there are plenty of anecdotes to be shared with my readers. 

If you are really bored, you can always check out some of my other blogs that I have written recently 

 http://ritusays.wordpress.com/          (Writing with pseudo name Don)
 http://manvantarablr.wordpress.com  (Oracle Toastmasters Club Blog)
 www.blogdefined.com                      (Guest blogger with Author Name Sumanjee)

Hope you enjoy reading my other blogs, as much as you enjoyed this :-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stone Age Techie

In one of ToastMaster sessions, fellow TM Venkat happened to share his exploits with Smart-Phones and Social-Networking-Websites. Venkat belong to one of those rare breed of techies, who has a fan-following large enough to convince him to do Mobile-Tweeting. During his Project 2 speech, he managed to convince all of us, including me, into believing that we all are living in a networking age : age of Google and Facebook and how its essential to be connected not only to your neighbour or to your friends, but to the entire world !!

But of-late I came across another incident, which surprised me a great deal and forced me to rethink whether Venkat was right.

I happened to invite one of my friend along with his gorgeous wife on dinner. My friend is also from IIT Kharagpur, the same IIT I belong to, and currently holds a plum-post at one of the startups (he doesn't believe in cooling off his heels at big corporations and prefer small companies). Armed with excellent technical skills but somewhat pulled down by below-par communication skills, he is earning as much as anyone else.

During the dinner, we had our usual talks, Bollywood, Cricket, Office Work and all those jazz. I shared with him one of the ugly incidents that recently happened involving my blog (this very blog ;-). He was somewhat surprised to discover that even blogs can create trouble at work place and asked me "Do you blog ??". I said "Yes, I used to do it intermittently, but of-late became a regular at that". To this, he replied "Haan, You work for a big corporation with plenty of free time, so you can afford blogging. Waise bhee Blogging to wahi log karte hain jinke paas bahut sara khali time hoga" (Blogging is mostly done by only those people, who has a lot of spare time at their disposal !!)

I was shocked.I couldn't believe what I just heard. An IIT graduate working in software industry for about 6 years just rejected blogging (the biggest take away from Web 2.0) as merely a time-pass. I asked him "How about those CXOs of  corporations, as big as Google and as small as Cleartrip !! Even they blog. Does that mean they have more spare time than a senior software developer working at a mobile startup ??". There was no answer from my friend, he could have given one, only if he had one !!

I started wondering, how on earth these techies are surviving the test of times ?? But then I realized, may be India's silicon valley doesn't disappoint anyone, not even these stone-age techies :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Is In A Name

I was following Cricinfo Live-Commentary on 1st test-match between Sri Lanka and West Indies. As rain stopped play and the commentators got tired of providing weather-updates, the followers themselves decided to have some fun  by discussing some interesting anecdotes not related to Cricket. Somehow a topic involving persons with long names came up for discussion. Here are few interesting ones.

Some of the Sri Lankan players, who have the longest name in Cricket History, are
  • Amunugama Rajapakse Rajakaruna Abeykoon Panditha Wasalamudiyanse Ralahamilage Rajitha Krishantha Bandara Amunugama popularly known as Rajitha Amunugama. He boasted 11 initials - a fitting number for a member of a cricket XI, but nothing sort of a headache for scorers and journalists.
  • Arya Kastriya Takurartiya Dawaditya Gadyawasam Lidamullage Asitha Suraj de Silva popularly known as Suraj de Silva. Total 10 words.
  • Manampeli Mahapata Bandhi Ralalage Supun Tharanga Coory Wanigaratne popularly known as Supun Tharanga. Total 8 initials
  • Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanga Welegedara popularly known as Chanaka Welegedara. Total 7 words
  • Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas popularly known as Chaminda Vaas. Total 6 initials
Imagine a cricket team, featuring all of them and few more that I may have missed. What a day for the scorekeepers and journalists, you can be sure that they will be cursing them forever !! 

I went ahead and googled for the person with the longest name and found that the award for the longest name for a person belongs to a German immigrant to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The name he was given at birth, and which somehow fitted on his passport started with 26 words followed by 588 characters and finally ending with Senior.

First and Middle names had a total of 26 words, one apiece for every alphabet in English

Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvim John Kenneth Loyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor Willian Xerxes Yancy Zeus

His Last name had only 588 characters :-)
Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaf
tschaferswesenchafewarenwholgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschut
zenvonangereifenduchihrraubgiriigfeindewelchevorralternzwolf
tausendjahresvorandieerscheinenbanderersteerdeemmeshedrraums
chiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefah
rthinzwischensternartigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelshegeha
btbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevanver
standigmenshlichkeittkonntevortpflanzenundsicherfreunanleben
slamdlichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurchtvorangreifenvonandere
rintlligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum

Finally the last word (Sigh ...)
Senior

Thankfully, the gentleman had "shortened" his long-name to Mr Wolfe Plus 585 Sr !!


Do you still want to know What is in a Name ??

Sunday, November 07, 2010

State Bank Of India

SBI, even though it is the largest bank in India, never inspired me enough to open an account with them. Every time I heard this acronym SBI, all I could think was the Slowest Bank Of India rather that its actual expansion, State Bank Of India. But I was in for a surprise, when I went to open a savings account recently. I had already mentally prepared myself for a long haul, running across different counters, filling out numerous forms and all those classic red-tape things, that one could expect at a PSU. But things were different this time around and I soon was to find that out.

As I enter the branch, I notice a gentleman greeting me with a gentle smile on his face "Hello Sir, How are you ?? How can I help you ??" I told him, I am in for opening an account. He offered me a chair and handed over a one-page form to me. As I was filling this form, I enquired about the mandatory documents. The gentleman said "Sir, all we require for your account is an identity proof and an address proof". I said "I have a Passport and a Ration-Card, will that be enough ??". Gentleman replied in affirmation and handed over another 4-page form to me and instructed me to fill in all relevant details. After about 10 minutes, I submitted my form to him, he duly checked all the details and said "We are done with form-filling and documents verification, now just pay 1100 Rs at cash-counter and collect all your details like Debit-Card, PIN, Cheque-Book at New Accounts Section Counter No ..".

Before he could finish his line, I interrupted him "How about a guaranteer ?? Is not that also required for opening an account@SBI ??" The gentleman replied "Those were the days, Sir !! We don't mandate a guaranteer for new accounts any more" I said to myself "WoW". Since I didn't knew anyone having an account in this branch, this was a huge relief for me.

I am sure, not just for me, this must be a welcome sign for anyone willing to open an account in SBI. Otherwise, you would have to literally beg in front of other account-holders, that you could spot in the bank at that time, to become a guaranteer for you. I had to show off my identity card that I work for so and so company, all my certificates, xeroxes supported by originals, that I am not a terrorist by any stretch of imagination. And even then, guaranteers were hard to find. If you are lucky, you may very well find a generous fella, if not you may have to run across many of them, before anyone of them agrees to become a guaranteer for you.

After this I moved on to the cash-counter. It took me another 5 minutes to complete the formalities at the cash-counter. I filled a cash-deposit form, took a token and waited for my turn. In almost no time, my turn had come(here again my prejudice had recommended me to wait, wait patiently for a long time, after all it was a "Sarkari Bank", but I was again proven wrong by this new avatar of SBI).

After I paid 1100 Rs at cash-counter, I walked across to "New Accounts Section" and showed them my account-opening-form along with the payment-slip. The lady there  at the counter asked me to produce the originals. I promptly took out all originals from my folder and showed it to her. She verified all the details provided against the same and offered her hands for a handshake "Congrats !! You are now an SBI customer ?? After the hand-shake, she handed me over an envelope and informed "Sir, you will be receiving your Passbook after 3-4 days. I opened the envelope, it consisted of almost everything that a new-account-holder would want, an ATM card, its PIN, a cheque book,a mobile banking pin etc. I was amazed with this show, put up by SBI employees. All it took me was mere 15 minutes to open an account with a Sarkari Bank, WoooooW !!

Way to go SBI, you impressed me and won my heart many times over. In a span of 15 minutes, my notion of SBI being a Slowest Bank Of India changed to a Superfast Bank Of India !! It will be some time, before we can call them as a Supreme Bank Of India in terms of agility and nimbleness, but its definitely changing, changing for the good, not only for itself, but also for all its customers.

I wish BSNL could also adopt similar attitude for its broadband operations(not many of us would be interested in their landlines and mobile-connections any way). I heard it offers the best internet in terms of connectivity, speed and reliability, but only if you manage to get one :-)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

3G Life

3G - The moment I heard this word, one question immediately came to my mind : what is 3G? Is it 3rd generation or simply GGG which could possibly have meant God Gifted Gizmo.

I remember the day when I was in college and had to miss my home-trips on Diwali, owing to exams scheduled right after Diwali. Yes, we did burst crackers, we did lit diyas, we did had delicious sweet dishes, we still had those laughs and moments of joy with our friends. But, somewhere something was missing. I tried visualizing my parents how ecstatic they would be on Diwali, what are the dishes my mom would have cooked, how many types of bombs and rockets my brother had bought. But I failed, failed miserably in doing so. I called them on mobile and talked to them at length endlessly. In fact  I pampered them with questions. Yes, I got to know all I wanted. But I was not satisfied. The sense of missing them and not able to see them was hurting. I was depressed, sitting in my room all alone, dreaming about the day, when I would be with them on Diwali. I wish I could have 3G back then. Well, it would not have felt the same, being at home with family members and friends, but it would surely have given a sense of "being there". My sweet mother's loving face would have been just a video-call away. My brother's adventurous bombing and tricks with crackers would have been playing in front of my eyes. My fathers' concerning voice and anxious face would have visible too. 

Only if, I had 3G !!

This diwali, Tata Docomo is launching 3G all across India. More details can be found at their official 3G Life website http://www.3glife.com/.

PS: This is my entry to 3G Life IndiBlogger contest organized by Tata DOCOMO, please vote for me, if you like it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Save Our Planet

When the global recession was at its worst, out of all industries, Retail was the worst-hit lot.This was the time to innovate. Retailers had no choice but to come up with various innovative ways, in which they could extract maximum money out of whatever little foot-falls, happening at their stores.

One of them happened to grab my eyeballs only recently. I will not take the punt of naming them, because if I do so, almost certainly I will be slapped with a defamation suite for maligning their reputation/brand-value and all that jazz. One small hint that I can drop about them is - Their name matches that of one of the nick-names for the greatest leg-spinner, India has ever produced, who is also currently serving as captain of one of the most-talked about IPL teams, which has a not-so-famous-yet-commanding-a-celebrity-status badminton-player as its lucky mascot/brand-ambassador.

I happened to visit their store after a long time. I shopped around at a leisurely pace(this is where I am different from most of other creatures from Mars and similar to those from Venus), bought a handful of stuffs and stood quietly in the long queue at the cash-counter. When my turn came, I promptly took my credit card out of my wallet, got it swiped and waited patiently for the lady to finish her packing of goods. As the poor lady was busy packing stuffs, I decided to do a cursory verification of sorts for my bill. This was when I happened to discover one product that I was convinced, I had not bought, with the following description

             "CARRY BAG - SAVE 5 No 5.00 Rs"

I enquired about this from the gentleman@cash-counter. He explained that this was the cost of all carry-bags, that were used to pack all the stuffs that were bought. I was shocked, I just couldn't believe what I heard. A retailer charging its customers for carry-bags !! But then for a moment, I gave them the benefit of doubt and decided to understand the rationale behind. This was when, the gentleman showed me one of the carry-bag covers, which had the following printed in the middle
            "PROUD TO CONTRIBUTE"
followed by
            "SAVE OUR PLANET"
            "I care! Do You ??"
at the bottom.

So 1 Rs per carry-bag from the customers in the name of saving environment. Nobody would mind "contributing" one Rupee to earth's cause. So this request to sounds reasonable,right ?? Well, not really. I noticed that out of 5 carry-bags, 4 were only half-filled and the last one had just one item in it !! I told the cashier that you could have effectively packed all of these stuffs in 2 or a maximum 3 bags, why did you use 5 ?? Is not that unfair from his part w,r,t his "contributions" in saving our environment ?? Cashier stayed mum. He couldn't give any answer. He could have, only if he had one !! But I got my answer. The poor fella must have been instructed by the management to maximize the number of carry-bags !! I felt disgusted. I didn't say anything to the poor cashier(it was not his fault, so no point blaming him) and left the shop.

As I made my way out of the shop, I started wondering is that really a sincere attempt to save our planet or a somewhat desperate attempt by retailers to save their business in the name of going green !!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who is a Yogi ??

Some of us talk about spirituality and being a Yogi at some point of time in our life. I was talking to one of my close friends recently and during our conversation, somehow the word Yogi popped up, don't quite remember the context though. He gave me a very different perspective as to what makes somebody declare himself as a Yogi.

He said, there are two reasons one chooses to become a Yogi.

One who doesn't have any desire at all, so no wonder he becomes a Yogi and the other who does have desires,in fact many of them. But the difference is he goes about fulfilling every single one of them and once he is sure, he doesn't  have any desires left to be fulfilled, only then he declares himself as a Yogi. So the choice is yours, which type of Yogi, you want to become, if at all you decide to become one !!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

North India Vs South India

I just came across couple of interesting observations, made by few eminent personalities, regarding cultural habits prevalent in north India and south India.
  • Poor people in the north drink tea while poor people in the southern parts of India drink coffee.
  • Women in the northern parts of the country pierce the left side of their nose whereas women in the south pierce their right.
Who decided that things should be like this, I don't know, but it's like this, ever since I have woken up. I am sure there are many more such comparisons.But my intention is not to provide the seemingly exhaustive list of such comparisons. My goal is to pay tribute to the author of two books, that I recently went through !!

First one is noted by Aravind Adiga in his booker-prize winning master-piece "White Tiger" while the second point is made by Kishore Biyani in his somewhat unconventionally written autobiography of sorts "It Happened In India".

PS: Some of the readers of my blog have complained about the length of my blog-posts, so I have deliberately kept it short :-). Hope this makes them happy at least for the time-being ;-)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye

Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktaye

Do you know, what this Sanskrit quote mean ?? I don't know either. This was the famous tag-line for my college(some people may want to call it a school), where I completed my +2 education(In our state board, +2 was called as an intermediate program and I had opted for science discipline). We happened to realize this only when we came out of the college and that too by an outsider, Alas. A classic case of a diamond being discovered by outsiders after being ignored my its own people for years !!

It just so happened that on occasion of "Saraswati Pooja", we invited a celebrity to visit our college. Mind you, celebrity word is always relative. For Ambani brothers, Bachchans are just another family next door, but for an ordinary man, even a District Magistrate can be called as a celebrity. So we had an SDO(Sub Divisional Officer) joining us on the occasion as a chief guest.

We had a not-so-nice brick-coloured 6*5 gate, built during British Raaj, with these sanskrit-sholka in a not-so-large font-size inscribed onto it. This gate marked the entrance to our college main building, Oh by the way there was just one building in the entire college :-). As we made our way through the entry-gate, the gentleman asks the rickshaw-puller to stop. The rickshaw-puller immediately puts the brakes on and rickshaw comes to a griding halt. For a moment, we thought that he probably doesn't want to torture this poor fella, hand-pulling this rickshaw, anymore. The rickshaw-puller was looking exhausted, busy wiping out loads of perspiration accumulated over his forehead and other body-parts with his towel, waiting for the money from the gentleman. But when he got down, in stead of paying the rickshaw-puller his due, he requested all of us to stop. He stopped at the entrance, looked at the concrete-wall surrounding the gate. He notices that there are some scribblings written on those bricks in Sanskrit, which couldn't probably be read using naked eyes. The poor gentleman had forgotten to bring his specs, so he asked one of us to read out the sanskrit-shloka for him. I put my hands up for the same (I used to be a good student when it came to languages Hindi and Sanskrit, not any more though, English has taken over all my senses ;-)).

As I finished reciting those lines, the gentleman asked "Can any one of you explain the meaning of this great shloka from Vedas ?" All of us had no clue what those words meant.  We tried our level best to decipher it. But we didn't succeed. Finally, we followed an incremental-approach and tried explaining the shloka, taking one word a time. Sa means She, Vidya means Knowledge, Ya means That and Vimuktaye means Freedom. So the team-work succeeded and we had a meaning. I was the one, who explained this to the gentleman. He was not entirely happy with the fact that we couldn't get the real meaning, rather stayed at the peripherals trying to explain every single word. Nevertheless, he was not too disappointed either, after all students had at least gave it an honest try, in fact they had tried hard, as hard as they could. So the gentleman went about explaining the underlying meaning of this shloka.

"It is the knowledge which enlighten us and education which liberates us from this materialistic world".

The moment, he finished explaining the shloka, one natural question arose as to what liberation and enlightenment meant ?? We were too naive and our knowledge was too shallow to understand those heavy words-of-wisdom. The gentleman replied back with a question "Forget about these words. Tell me what do you want to do after your I.Sc is over ??" We all replied in unison "We plan to appear for IIT entrance examination". To this, gentleman replied "The day, you get through India's most-difficult entrance exam, you should think  you have achieved enlightenment and liberated yourself.

These words were etched into my memory, very much similar to these sanskrit-shlokas were on those age-old bricks. I gave IIT JEE my best shot and got through with a three digit rank. I opted to study B.Tech(H) in IIT Kharagpur with computer science as my specialization. While in campus, I came to know that the definition of liberation aka enlightenment had changed. Now its like "If you get through a high-paying job during placement season, you will attain nirvana.OK, point taken. I started preparing for the same. Although not  in campus, I did finally manage to find a job at one of the highest paying MNCs in Bangalore. I started my exploration of software industry with a fortune 500 firm. But after spending three years in the organization, I realized that the meaning of liberation had again changed. Now it was getting an MBA in one of the ivy-league schools or IIMs.

Now I started questioning what the gentleman had said long ago. Does education really result into enlightenment and help us in achieving moksha ?? For a moment a weird thought crossed my mind - More education meant more ambition and greed, thereby ensuring that you are always chasing something or the other and making us more and more materialistic. May be education does bring prosperity and success, but not nirvana. But another school of thought suggested - Is that freedom still elusive, because I have run after degrees/qualifications, rather than educating my self. I don't know, may be , may be not. So my quest for attaining nirvana continues. The question is still wide-open and I am yet to get an answer to the same.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Introduction@IndiBlogger Meet@Bangalore

Good afternoon, IndiBloggers. My name is Suman. I am a software builder by profession, people builder by choice and story builder by passion : software builder, because I work for a very small company, popularly known as Oracle, people builder, because I am a part-time soft-skills trainer, story-builder, because I am a self-proclaimed writer. My blog URL is sumansays@blogspot and I mostly blog about personal life and a bit of story-telling. I call myself a half-writer and there is a story behind that too. Ever since childhood, it has always been my dream to be a writer. But while I was busy dreaming, my mother interrupted and woke me up half-way through. So the dream remained incomplete and that is how I ended writing in cyberspace rather than on paper.

PS: This thirty-seconds-of-fame style introduction didn't fetch me an HP Inkjet Printer, but it was fun giving such a nice introduction for myself and my blog in front of 250 odd Bloggers. Thanks to ToastMasters, that's where I heard stories about great speakers like Ian Faria and Vijesh Hegde and their catchy introductions. BTW, this was my first ever IndiBlogger meet. I went there out of curiosity and excitement and to say that it was exciting and fun-filled would be an under-statement of sorts. More updates regarding this event to follow ..

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Master Of Ceremony @ Toastmasters

Couple of weeks back, I had to shoulder the responsibility of being an MC( before you jump the gun, let me clarify at least for the sake of those dirty minds, its Master Of Ceremony and not M****C***) during one of Toast Master special sessions, featuring a table-topic-contest, consisting of 9 participants. I was the first one to speak and it was probably the first time, I was doing anything of this sort. Here is a short-story (cooked up of-course) which I used for my introduction about our Club and ToastMaster as a whole.

============================================
Good afternoon everybody. After having a not-so-satisfying lunch@ our cafeteria, you might be wondering where you have landed up. Another post-lunch session, oh my god, I just hate post-lunch meetings. Don’t worry; it’s a meeting for sure, but with a difference.  Let me tell you a small story to lighten up your mood(or belly, up to you whichever you want to pick).

Couple of months back, I happened to come across a gentleman, while shopping in Forum. He looked very impressive on first sight, well dressed up in a suit and a matching tie. I couldn’t resist myself and said hello to him and asked, hey what is your name? The gentleman responded “Murali”. He asked the same from me and we had a formal handshake. After the ice-breaking, He asked me “what do you do??’. I answered, with a touch of guilt and remorse, as if I am in the worst profession one can be, “I am a software engineer working for a Fortune 500 company”. I asked him “what do you do??’ Murali responded “By profession, I am a builder, by choice a body-builder, by passion a people–builder and by default a good human being”. I was like “Wow … What a nice introduction!!” I was awestruck, I had heard many introductions in my life, but nothing came close to what I just heard. For a moment, I thought I had just seen a monster. I knew, this gentleman was special, he was different.  I gathered my senses and had the gumption to ask him “Murali, Would you mind having a cup of coffee with me??” He said, Yes sure. Where shall we go?? We finalized on CafĂ© Coffee Day (commonly referred as CCD amongst CCD lovers/ frequenters). For me this was going to be the first time, I was heading to a CCD. I had heard from my friends that a coffee in CCD, as people love to call it, may very well cost upwards of three figures. So as we are making our way towards a nearby CCD, I secretly checked my wallet, how much money I have. You know these broke software professionals, who carry nothing but peanuts, barely enough for survival, but a plethora of virtual money (read credit cards). I also belong to the same class. When I was sure, I had enough money, I heaved a sigh of relief.

So we went into a nearby CCD, ordered coffee and started with our conversation. I asked him, what do you do apart from my work? He said, I am part of Toastmaster, a non-profit organization. For a moment I thought Toast Master,it must have something to do with bread and toast and that too as an organization name, he must be joking. Ever since Steve Jobs named Apple Computers, this was the funniest name that I had heard. So I got curious, as to what this Toast Master is all about. He talked about toastmasters for about half an hour and said plenty of things. I didn’t catch many, just like we do when we are forced to attend a technical presentation. But I caught the work Public-Speaking!! I asked him, can you tell me “How to be part of Toast Master”. The gentleman asked me “what company you work for??” Remember, I had not revealed my ORG name. I said “Oracle”. The gentleman got terribly excited and said “You have a ToastMaster club right in your office, go and talk to this fellow..He started searching his wallet for something, not sure what. He is a very good friend of mine, he will be able to guide you. In case it doesn’t, please give me a call @ my mobile and he handed me over his business card.

But I still hadn’t got my answers. I wanted to know, from where he picked up such a catchy one-liner. He said, in TM sessions, we also have an impromptu-speaking section, where you will be given a topic and you have to come to the podium and speak about it for 2 minutes. And believe it or not, he claimed to have discovered this catchy introduction during one of the table-topic speeches. I got my answer. I quickly finished my coffee and said bye to him. 

Dear president, fellow toastmasters and guests,

A week after this incident happened, I joined this organization called Toast Master Internation(TMI) and here I am in front of you to talk about Toast Master and what a table-topic is all about:-)
============================================

PS: Although it was a cooked up story and no such person Murali exists in reality, it was liked by most, if not all, of members and guests present at the contest. Some of them even called me up afterwards asking about Murali and his identity and whereabouts :-)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Humourous Speech @ Toastmasters

Somebody famously said "Perception is Subjective". Yes, I agree, but only to a certain extent. After all, an idiot will remain an idiot, irrespective of our perception. A red rose will remain a red rose, irrespective of what we think. But on the contrary, without this subjectivity, the same half-filled glass of water would not be called half-empty by others.

Dear Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests, let me share with you a small story. There was a religious gathering happening in Supaul, a remote place in north Bihar, in a jam-packed playground. It was a highly awaited gathering, so people flocked, flocked in big numbers. There were people sitting, standing, hanging by walls, clinging onto rooftops, literally everywhere. It looked like a typical Kumbh-Ka-Mela, that we frequently get to see in our Bollywood movies. The only difference was, here we had real characters while in movies they are there just for the money. I myself happened to witness this Mela. But I noticed that people were doing all sorts of unproductive things, one can imagine. Here are the samples

Some of them were yawning, yawning with their mouth wide-open, proudly showing off all of their 32 teeth, as if rest of us have none. Some of them were busy releasing green-house-gases to the atmosphere, forcing nearby people to run for cover. But some of them had thought this out in advance and were well-prepared for such adverse situations. Immediately, they took out their towels and handkerchiefs in open, made a mask of sorts and wrapped them around their nose. How thoughtful, thinking on your feet !!

There were few climate-change evangelists also ,who were furiously taking notes, notes on what ?? They were planning to publish a white-paper on how these type of religious gatherings result into global-warming by virtue of increased emissions of green-house gases !!

In some corner, some of these so-called devotees were busy discussing a daily saas-bahu soap. “Hey, do you think Abha will be rescued by her ex-boyfriend Mihir in “Uska Pati Sirf Mera Hai” ?? Hope, Swamiji does something for her. I just love the jwellery she wore on her husband's death-anniversary. I wish, I could have all those jewelleries. I would die any day for those jewelleries, not for my husband !!”. Somebody whispered slowly into his neighbour's ears “You know what, even Swamiji is very fond of daily soaps. I have heard him talking to few of his disciples about this upcoming ZeeTV serial “Mujhe Es Swami Se Bachao“. But please don't tell this to Swamiji.

Seemingly oblivious to all these happenings surrounding her, there was this old lady sitting in a corner. She looked pretty relaxed, trying to grasp all things on offer. She religiously came to attend this Satsang every single day and used to listen to Swamiji's teachings very carefully. But for some reason, every time Swamiji uttered some verses or Sanskrit-Shloka, she cried, she cried bitterly. Everybody around thought, perhaps she is a bit overwhelmed with emotions, very typical of a senior-citizen. No wonder, she is unable to control her tears.

On the day, when this satsang was coming to an end, Swamiji walked to this old lady and asked her “You have been a true devotee in all aspects. and have been a patient listener all through. I have never seen anything like this before. I can understand your emotions, but I was wondering as to what made you cry like a baby during all my sessions". This lady replied back with an empty stare, as if Swamiji had asked her to donate both her kidneys. Unfazed by her first reaction, Swamiji repeated his question. But even on second attempt, there was no answer, except for a wry smile on her face,no emotions at all. Swamiji tried again. Despite repeated attempts, this lady remained unmoved, very much like a cow standing in middle of a busy road in Bangalore, despite being honked around from all different corners. Swamiji was growing increasingly frustrated with her attitude, but she remained as cool as a cucumber.

He looks around and notices one gentleman making his way to the scene, offering his helping hand. Swamiji asks "What is wrong with this lady ? She is not responding to my questions ?” Gentleman replies “What ?? Whom are you talking to ? This poor lady is stone deaf. She can't hear even a single word !!”. Swamiji was aghast, he just got the shock of his lifetime. He felt as if he had just accidentally got in tough with a naked electric wire, left loose by BBMP authorities. He didn't believe what he heard. He pinched himself to make sure, all his senses were at the right places, especially his ears. She can't hear a thing and yet she sat through all my teachings for full seven days and in fact cried on many occassions without understanding even a single word. Oh My God.

Swamiji recollected his senses and thought to himself. There is a another angle to the same, a different perception. Probably, my speech delivery was so amazing and mesmerizing that it suited even to deaf persons. Swamiji took out the mike and announced it in front of all his devotees "My teachings are out of the world, I just made a deaf lead listen to all my teachings for past 7 days and understand all of it. That's a super-natural power that I possess. This is nothing sort of a miracle". Swamiji boasted this in front of every body. Everybody thought "Wow, what a great Swami ??" and they started clapping in appreciation.

But Swamiji's joy was not to last long. The moment Swamiji finished, Gentleman took the mike from  his hand  and made an announcement “She used to have a female goat, which was always ready with her bleating and generous in her milk yield. She was very happy with her life. But few months ago, the goat died. Unfortunately, you happened to sport a French beard, which looks very similar to the one hanging from goat's jaw. So every time you spoke something, your jaw went up and down and that reminded her of that goat sitting in front of her. That was the reason, she cried so badly.

I was amazed at their perceptions.Swamiji perceived the poor old-lady to be her most dedicated devotee, while the old-lady perceived Swamiji as being reminiscent of her dead goat.
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Later on, I happened to invite Swamiji on a Pooja at my home. During our conversation, he exclaimed “If while eating rice, a piece-of-rice happens to land on your moustache, it means you are going to die very soon”. Ok, fine, point taken. After performing the Pooja, it was time for dinner. Swamiji started eating as it there is no tomorrow. When we realized that we are going to run short of food, we became anxious. We said “Swamiji, please have some water also”. Swamiji replied “I always follow a rule of taking water, only when I am half done. But suddenly we spotted something which made all of us forget this food-shortage and in fact feel gloomy. I noticed that a piece of rice was sitting pretty on Swamiji's moustache. I felt sad about the fact that Swamiji will be no longer with us for long. Swamiji was ignorant of this and fully focussed on matar-paneer and sweets on offer. But then I broke this sad news to Swamiji. He thought for a moment and then said...

  It depends on you. If you remove this soon enough, nothing bad is going to happen. See... and he wiped out the piece of rice from his moustache.
(Due to time-constraint, I had to remove this section, when I delivered my speech for the second time at a different club. Hope to fit it in as part of some other speech)

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I was left amused. I had seen both faces of the coin. We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. How true. I had my answers. I was left with no choice but to believe that “Perception is indeed Subjective”.

Over to you ToastMasters.

Update : I have now uploaded the video for this speech on YouTube. Here are the URLs
 Part I   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roBIDOxk-PQ
 Part II  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejvbDjcV_C0
My cameraman fumbled for a moment during the speech, due to which ~ 1 minute recording is missing. Nevertheless Thanks a ton to Venkat for doing the camera-man job :-) and having successfully recorded it. Thanks a lot to Abhishek, who provided valuable tips on improving the content.


PS: Although its delivery was less than perfect,I still managed to grab the Best-Prepared-Speaker Award in today's toastmaster session :-) Please feel free to put your comments w,r,t my speech-delivery.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Power Of Free Will

About a month back, I delivered my Project 3 speech in my ToastMaster Club and here is what I spoke

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Paul the Octopus had the entire world in his tentacles for over a month. I am pretty sure, there are people in this room, who cannot name 10 international footballers but know all things about Paul.

Paul's seemingly spooky psychic abilities made me think - Are our destinies predetermined ? Is the universe heading towards a foregone conclusion. Are we really wasting our precious time thinking qualities like hard work,honesty and sincerity will help  us?

Dear Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and Guests, I am here today to share with you why I think the answers to all of the these questions is an unequivocal "no", and share with you whatever little knowledge I have about the power of free will.

If you look up the dictionary, free will is defined as the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine intervention. Let me tell you a story. Jessica Cox was born without arms as a result of a rare congenital disease. She did not understand why she had no arms like other children. She frequently felt oppressed, downtrodden and on the verge of breakdown resulting from anger and frustration. For Jessica, the main challenge was the constant perception of outside world more than the physical adversity itself. But one day she said to herself "enough is enough" and decided she would be everything that others presume she cannot be!

Today she is a holder of a degree in Psychology, holds an unrestricted driving license, fills gas for her car on her own. She is able to write 25 words per minute, dry her hair, put on her make-up, and wear her contact lenses with the same ease as anyone else. All of these not with artificial hands, but with her legs!! Jessica is the first lady in history to have piloted a plane without arms. She said in one of her interviews - “Most of the times, fear starts from the lack of knowledge of the unknown. There is a universal fear, that of lack of self-confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to ??" Surely Jessica could not have been destined to live normally in our society, let alone pilot a plane and have the lives of many people in her hands (or should I say legs)! This is a true example of the power of free will.

"Free will" also refers to the type of decision which is uniquely humane: a moral choice. But let's not mistakenly think that morality is the choice between "good and evil." What is good for you could be evil for others. Everyone chooses to be "good" - even the most evil, immoral people. Hitler rationalized that the Jews were the enemies of the world, so in his mind he justified whatever he did as doing "good." Osama Bin Laden opined that America is a threat to Islam and should be destroyed. His conscience propels him to think that this is not evil. But these actions can't be called as exercising one's free will , can they ??

So what exactly is free will? Friedrich Wilhelm defines will as "any internally motivated action", but more of a "creative spark," a certain independence and stubbornness. It helps us believe "If you want it, you will get it". But it requires focus, it requires channelizing  all your energies towards thought motivated actions , so that you can achieve what you aspire to. The vedas say "yad bhavam tad bhavati" meaning whatever you think so will it be. If you think positively, you have created a sphere of positive energy around you and you are guaranteed to succeed. On the other hand, if you constantly let yourself taken over by negative thoughts, you are destined to fail.

We, as human beings, have a power - the power to judge ourselves, the power to analyze our actions and do what we think is good for us, good for society, good for humanity. But to exercise such free will, one needs discipline, the discipline to resist the evil forces that try to distract us from our path.

If you ask me, life is nothing but a simple mathematical equation. Its just like swimming against the tide. If your force is greater than that of the stream, the next movement is in your hands, else otherwise. Your force here is symbolic to your free will, and the speed of the stream is symbolic to what we blame on circumstances that life puts us in and the restrictions that life inflicts upon us.

Mahatma Gandhi one said - "Strength does not come from physical capacity it comes from indomitable will". Shimon Peres, a noble laureate referred to Gandhi in one of his interviews as - A man without an army, without a head quarter, without a state, without a party, a single person equipped with a moral strength, there is no other person in recent history who possessed such a strong will, and we all know,how he shocked the entire world with his actions !!

Unlike other creations, only the human beings are blessed with free will, within which lies our potential to shape and change our lives and make a difference. So I urge all of you to exercise your free will. If you are low on confidence, just because you happen to be an overweight fella, stop eating those not-so-healthy potato-chips and onion-pakodas by the road-side. Try to find time for some jogging. If possible, join a gym, do some workouts and try your level best to reduce your weight.If you are scared of public-speaking or sort on communication-skills, come and join Toast Masters. Remember, proper usage of free will beautifies and perfects, misuse of free will plunders and destroys. So use it judiciously, go out, be what you want and stun the world !!

Over to you Toastmaster !!
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Some of the content has been copied from Pavithra's Blog and most of the content about Jessica Cox has come from SlideShare

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

India - A Fake Democracy

Often we pride ourselves with the fact that India is the largest democracy in the world. Theoretically, it is true, but practically, is there any democracy prevailing in India ?? Dear Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests, you might hold me guilty of being too cynical. But when I look around, I  start having serious doubts, about the relevance and meaning of democracy in this country.

Abraham Lincoln rightly defined Democracy as, 'Government, of the people, for the people and by the people, shall not perish from the earth'. He was indeed very prophetic, for the government, where people have a major say in  its working is bound to succeed and be popular. But does this definition hold good for Indian democracy ??

Is India really being governed by its people ?? A democracy means rule in accordance with the choice of the majority. While majority of our elected representatives are millionaires, close to 80% of our population still survive on less than one dollar per day. If you look at the statistics, these so-called people's representative holds approval of merely 10% of Indian mass. We project ourselves as a Young Country on world map with 70% of our population below 35 years, but two-thirds of our political-class are above 50. Some of them, including our prime-minister, are well above 70 and truly past their sell-by dates. But there is hardly any sign that they going to give way to younger generation.

Does the Indian government work for its people ?? When the entire country is reeling under double-digit inflation, we are still worried about fluctuating stock-market and Foreign Direct Investment in Insurance sector. Who cares about FDI in insurance sector, when thousands of children are dying of malnutrition every single day. When sugar-prices are shooting through the roof, our ministers are busy advising people How Reduced Consumption of Sugar is Good For Their Health. We want to ensure mobile connectivity to all parts of India, yet we don't have any plans to provide the poor with basic amenities like housing, food, water and electricity.

Is it a Government of the people ?? Three areas on Indian map stand out. Kashmir, North-East and Mineral-Rich Naxal-belts. We have tolerated  68,000 deaths in Kashmir over past couple of decades. We have a 700-thousand strong army calling the shots in valley, patrolling every single cordon. Even though, we have a democratically elected state-government, its powers are  severely curbed by highly undemocratic laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. To most Indians, North-eastern states are not even part of India. They feign ignorance, when quizzed about the problems faced by people belonging to these area. All of these states conduct elections and have installed democratically elected governments, yet all of them are policed by Indian Army. Can you imagine life being cut-off from outside world not for one day, one week, but for full 45 days ?? That's the plight of people belonging to one of the states in North-East, yet I don't see a single soul being moved. One third of India, mostly mineral rich forest land, is partially or completely under the control of Maoists, who have been left with no choice but to fight the mighty state to protect their dignity and freedom. We talk of having a society in peace, yet we are sending thousand and thousand of para-military forces to fight these so-called Maoist Insurgents. They have not descended from heaven, have they ?? They are nothing but our own people, the poor of the poorest. Yet we are trying our level best to annihilate them, if possible.

The pillars of democracy - Judiciary, Bureaucracy and Media are all in shambles and have failed miserably in performing their duties.

We have one of the lowest rate-of-conviction amongst all developing countries. In serious crimes, its merely 5 percent. There are cases, where our premier investigative agency have spent more than 30 years to investigate a genocide, but are yet to come up with a probe report. There are no signs either, of them completing the probe anytime soon. Our so-called fast-track courts take 5 cool years to deliver justice. We have more than 3 Crore cases pending in Indian courts. In some cases, poor people arrested on frivolous charges don't even get to see the light of Indian court-rooms and are left to die in prison, without ever being convicted. Yet, when it comes to resolving a billion-dollar  family-dispute involving Ambani-brothers, the same judiciary settles it within months.

Our media houses are more like corporate houses running after money and TRPs rather than following the 9is of investigative journalism. If a techie commits suicide, that is flashed as a breaking news. We have 10 farmers committing suicides every-day in Maharashtra, yet we see none of it being covered by Indian press. How many times you have noticed our media-houses busy covering a celebrity marriage and irrelevant news-items, side-stepping serious issues, which matter to public. When close to 1 lakh people died of flood in Bihar, we only had head-lines of it, but when an innocuous bomb-blast happens in Bangalore, supposedly the beehive of talented yet selfish IT-Professionals, media-houses make a beeline covering it. Media is living in a state of falsehood, reporting only the shallow exterior of face of nation and silently ignoring the dark underbelly.

About our bureaucracy less said the better. Its full of inept and corrupt civil servants, whose only aim is to earn more and more money by hook or crook. We have close to 50% leakage in all our government schemes, most of which have been converted into a honeypot around which these corrupt people have flocked. According to a World-Bank-Survey, out of 183 countries across the globe, India ranks 133, when it comes to ease of doing business. Even our troubled Jihad-affected neighbourhood country Pakistan is ranked 85, a cool 50 places above us, all thanks to this big-red-tape called Indian Democracy.

Should we still call India as the largest democracy in the world ?? I have my own doubts. To me, it looks more like a oligarchy, disguised as democracy. At best, Indian democracy is in  a state of emergency, urgently seeking attention of its people. If you stand at Greater Kailash in Delhi, it may look like a democracy, but if you go to Dantevada  or Vidarbha, its anything but democracy.

Over to you Toastmaster.

PS: This was my P2 speech@ PBC Orators  Toastmasters Session, which fetched me the Best Prepared Speaker Award :-)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Dream

It was mid of May. A tiny little girl, about 10 years old, was sitting with her friend Jyoti under a small cottage. It was built in the middle of a mango orchard in a remote village in North Bihar called Jagatpur. This non-descript village came under the very district Supaul,which attained nation-wide-media-coverage few months ago owing to the devastating floods, dubbed as a national calamity by our own prime-minister Dr. Manmohan Singh (Or should I say glorified care-taker of a real PM sitting in 10, Janpath !!)

The only middle-school that was existing in this village was founded by  our own Chacha Nehru during his hay-days. Although, he never came back to found another one. The end result ?? Even now there was no intermediate school in and around the radius of 10 k.m from this village !!

Here is how the conversation goes

Small Girl: My friend, Do you know today it will be decided whether I would be a special girl or a simple ordinary girl?? I do not know what God is going to do with me ??
Jyoti: Why ? what will happen today?
Small Girl: My father went to Supaul(near by town) to see my Navodaya entrance result.

Jyoti was somewhat bemused at this question of her friend. Apparently, she was thinking that since she already belongs to a socially affluent and financially well-off family in this village, this girl is already destined to succeed. Oh.. By the way Jyoti has never got a chance to attend any school !!

Jyoti: If you would pass your exam then what will happen?
Small girl:You do not know,it will change my life dramatically.it will be like I would go to heaven from hell.Please pray to God for my result.You know very well there is not a single good school in Supaul district except Navodaya(just to add, its a free govt school with all facilities including Fooding,lodging and all your academic expenses). Papa will not allow me to go to Patna because first thing that I am too young a girl to go outside. Secondly, our family won't be able to afford the hefty cost of my stay in a decent hostel.
Jyoti: You do not worry, you will surely get your goal.

Looks like God was also listening to this conversation, after all he is ubiquitous, isn't he ?? So God answered to the pray of these two little girls. We could see Papa coming towards her. Even though he was far off, we could see a great smile written all over his face(Probably he is not that good at hiding his emotions and so he was not at all able to hide a wide-grin). At that very moment, the girl I knew she got through it, yes she got it !!

Papa: Hey,dear do you know today you fulfilled my dream.I was not at all expecting it from you because you were looking youngest among all other students sitting in navodaya examination hall. Today its your day. You have made me and this village proud. Tell me, what do you want ?? Whatever you want, you can ask for, anything !! Today I am really very happy for you.
Small girl: I am also too happy.I want to do what you never allowed me to do. You never allowed me to take bath in pumping set water with my village girl friends. I want to do it please papa. This is what I want as my reward.
Papa: Ok dear. As you wish, I am sure you could have asked for more. Today you can do whatever you want.
Small girl: Thank you papa,You are so sweet.

AFTER ONE MONTH
The D-Day finally arrives and everybody from girl's family is inside the school-campus. The girl sees a very big school in front of her eyes,it was really like her dream school and she just stood  there, looking all around, trying to let the feeling of accomplishment sink-inside. She was very fascinated with the fact  that she is going to be part of school's hostel, where there will be a proper routine and school dress. Almost everybody from girl's family was crying profusely at the thoughts of being separated from this charming girl. Even her father's eyes were full of tears. But she was too naive to understand those high-emotions running through. Almost oblivious of all these happenings, she just goes ahead and starts running towards hostel gate like a horse and then returns back with equal speed. She does this round few times. Finally its time for her parents to leave. She looks back only once at her parents and siblings and swings her hand to say good-bye to them, before disappearing in the crowd of new students, all lined up to join the school on that very day.

This episode was shot at a time, when parents all over Bihar were so fascinated to Navodaya Vidyalayas. A typical middle-class family was not having any choice for their children, except Navodaya.

Thanks Navodaya.Thanks for all that you have provided. You provided the turning point when a girl stepped outside from the village and got a change to "Go, Kiss The World". We are not sure, if anything can be done to revive its fortune and flagging health in wake of mushrooming english-medium private-schools and people's obsession about these schools. But We owe our life, our success to you,Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Supaul !!

PS: I tried three times for Navodaya examinations impersonating as three different students :-) First time as Suman Kumar, Second time as Sumanjee and Third time as Suman Saurabh. But I was deemed not-good-enough for Navodaya Vidyalaya. But that doesn't stop me from admiring it, though !!