Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Technology: do we possess it or does it possess us?

Recently, I read an article about the wonders of technology. It was a good article, well written. It highlighted how technology has made this world a smaller place, and the near-magical things that could be achieved with their onset. Now, there was little in this article that I could disagree with. It’s true, isn’t it? Technology has done wonders for the developments and achievements of mankind. It has made the journey of progress easier than it has ever been before.

But then, in a way, I couldn’t help wonder if technology really was all that it was cracked up to be. The dependence on it has increased tremendously, with people relying on it blindly – forgetting that man made machine, not the other way round. They forget that machines and other gadgets were invented to make our work EASY, not to DO our work. They forget that whatever machines can do, our brains can do a lot faster. There are people I know, who have forgotten mental math because the use of calculators has been so rampant. Children I know, who cannot even begin to imagine cameras that didn’t show them the photograph instantly. Everybody has become impatient, because technology has let everyone take speed for granted.

Another thing that strikes me about the advance is this: the fact that “getting away” has become so hard for most people. And what shocks me more than anything, is that the whole thing is not even technology’s fault. The thought of just leaving technology behind is unthinkable and unbearable for people. It’s not like the old definition of vacation is tarnished with the onset of phones with internet, which let you work from anywhere anytime and work beckons no matter which corner of the world you are in. I mean, that is the case sometimes. But more often than not, these days people find it near-impossible to just let go. It’s almost like it’s oxygen they’re letting go off, or something equally vital to living and breathing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hobbies and Careers

The dictionary describes a hobby as “an activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure or relaxation, typically done during one’s free time.” It is something that people have been doing for many years, over many years. The point of a hobby was mostly to distract from the pressures and stress of work and academics, and to make sure the passion and interest in a particular activity did not get lost somewhere in the pressures and stress.

Nowadays, however, things have evolved quite marvelously. Career options are changing and expanding, incorporating hobbies in ways that have never been imagined. Hobbies and work no longer have to be separate; they can be one and the same thing. It only depends on how you decide to take your hobby to a professional level. There is a growing demand for people in the field of design, and the field of media, ensuring that people don’t have to give up their love and passion to pursue jobs they may or may not enjoy. A hobby can become a source of income, a source that can be enjoyed thoroughly. A source of income that doesn’t feel like work at all, instead feels as breezy and enjoyable as a hobby – because that is what it is. They say when you truly enjoy something, time flies by quicker than you can say fly. Careers have come a long way today with careers like dance, jewelery design, culinary art, etc. Careers that were once considered offbeat are now slowly becoming mainstream.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Closing the Loop" by Ashish Kulkarni

It’s almost too easy to communicate these days, isn’t it?

I could email you, if I had your email address. Or perhaps I could SMS you, if I had
your phone number. Send out a tweet that I knew would come on your Twitter stream,
perhaps, or send you a message on Facebook. A fax machine is quickly becoming
redundant, although we have that option still, if we so desire. All this, and of
course, I could still call you on your phone. Your landline, even – assuming you
still have one!

And yet, even with all this paraphernalia available, why is it that companies are so
unwilling to talk to their customers? Why is that practically everybody we speak to
seems dissatisfied with the level of customer service that they get? Just the other
day my neighbour was complaining about a rather reputed consumer electronics
company. It turns out his TV had gone on the blink less within a week of having
bought it.

All calls to the complaint department either went unanswered, or he had to go
through the (literally) life draining process of “press 1 for English, Press 2 for
Hindi”. And at the end of it all, he still hadn’t got a human response, let alone a
solution to his problem?

How difficult would it be for these guys to set up a Twitter account, or even a
Facebook page that could actually talk to their customers? Even if was just to say
something along the lines of “hey, we hear your problem, but we’re sorry – we can’t
solve it right away. But trust us – we’re on it, and somebody will get back to you

Of course, you don’t want to do that all the time, but it would be an improvement
over banging your head on a brick wall – because at the moment, that’s what it feels

Of course, there are many firms out there that are doing a more than respectable job
of talking to their customers. Quite a few have twitter handles (Cleartrip, for
example), while the head honchos fo some firms are active on Twitter (Anand
Mahindra, for example). But these are the early pioneers, unfortunately – we need
these examples to be the rule rather than the exception.

- Ashish Kulkarni

(Ashish is currently working on his PhD from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. He teaches Economics and Statistics at various colleges in Pune. He runs a boutique consulting firm, BPD Consultants, specializing in data analytics and training.)

Friday, September 24, 2010


It’s in listening to your favorite song; it’s in tiny drops of rain,
Sometimes it’s even present in the right amounts of pain.
It’s reading and rereading your favorite book,
It’s the thing that you feel when the one person you care about gives you the look.
The look that you love and adore,
And the one that you yearn to see a lot more.

It’s in meeting your friends and knowing that someone cares for you,
That someone knows something’s wrong without you having to give them a clue.
It’s in finding money in your pockets when you’re broke beyond belief,
It’s in letting go of rationality and giving your heart a chance to speak.
A chance to say what you truly feel,
A chance for the broken part of you to heal.

It’s in looking out the window and seeing the big round moon,
It’s in babies, rainbows, butterflies and the pleasant weather of June.
It’s in receiving that thing that you really, really wanted,
It’s in finally completing that seemingly impossible task, undaunted.
It’s everything you choose to be,
It’s everywhere you choose to see.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Vento: The Talk of the Town" by Ashish Kulkarni

It’s amazing what can be done with technology nowadays. If you pause to think about
it for a minute, you’ll be surprised at how far we’ve come in 2010. Checking mails
on the go, talking (on video, no less!) with friends while traveling on a bus, and
editing documents off your phone – things that would have seemed the stuff of
fantasy a decade ago are now fairly commonplace.
Of course, there’s one teensy-weensy problem with technology being so ubiquitous.
Standing out has now become a real challenge! Everybody has a blog, and everybody
has a twitter account. Everybody gets the new forms of marketing, so what’s a new
product launch to do, hey? Standing out from the crowd is a big challenge nowadays,
and one that not every product or marketing department has come to terms with – or
shows signs of coming to terms with, for that matter. So, to come back to the
original question – how do you stand out?
Well, you could get a newspaper to talk, for starters.
Sounds outlandish? Well, that’s just what Volkswagen did earlier this week with
their new car – the Vento. They went and embedded a tiny pre-recorded message on to
the last page of every copy of the Times of India with a little touch sensor on top.
As soon as the unsuspecting reader unfolded the newspaper, the sensor went off, and
a pre-recorded message played out, extolling the features of the Vento. To get the
newspaper to stop talking , you just had to touch the top of the sensor. And if you
didn’t, well, it would play in endless loop until the battery ran out.
The stunt did what it was supposed to – columns, blogs and tweets abounded, with
anybody and everybody jumping in to praise or castigate the move.
Those in favour couldn’t stop raving about the unique marketing move, and about how
it was sure to get a high recall value with everybody who had seen (heard?) the
advertisement. On the other hand, the detractors were quick to point out that this
was little more than a marketing gimmick, and you needed much more than that to get
a product off the ground.

- Ashish Kulkarni

(Ashish is currently working on his PhD from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. He teaches Economics and Statistics at various colleges in Pune. He runs a boutique consulting firm, BPD Consultants, specializing in data analytics and training.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunrise, sunrise.

Everyone has a soft corner for landscape. There is no one who can escape the special warmth that goes through the very being, when witnessing scenic beauty. And the most commonly available scenic beauty has got to be the sunrise.

Waking up before the sun rises, and realizing that being able to witness a miracle of Nature has its own happiness. It isn’t very often that one is able to say they are up in time to see the sun rising. Sitting with a cup of steaming coffee, looking out the window and being a part of the beauty is breathtaking. What makes the sunrise even better is when it is viewed from the top of a hill or the top of a tall building. There are no obstructions to the view and the wind in your hair makes it an even better experience.

When in Rajasthan, "thali" it.

When people travel, there is a list of things that they do. It’s universal and almost everyone follows it through. If it is a place that speaks a different language, they learn all the expletives that are present in the dictionary of that particular language. And the next thing that they do is sample the food of the place. One such place to visit purely for the food it has to offer is Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is known for its rich and exotic cuisine. Some of the local delicacies it has to offer are Dal Baati Churma, Pyaaz ki Kachori, Ghevar and Gazak.

While all of these are singular items that are available, the most famous thing to consume in Rajasthan is the thali. It consists of a variety of simple vegetables, usually bhindi (ladyfinger) or potato, dal-baati churma (hard, unleavened bread eaten with ghee and/or jaggery), a tiny portion of pyaaz ki kachori (an onion dish) and bhakris (made of bajra/jowar). For sweet, there is typically a helping of gulab jamun or ghevar (a sweet made with more ghee than norman). Along with the thali, comes a big glass of lassi (buttermilk).

All in all, a Rajasthani thali is a wholesome meal. It is simple, no doubt, but it is more than finger-licking good and there is no doubt that a person will order a second round of buttermilk, after which moving will seem an impossible task!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just keep swimming

We always talk about relaxation and rejuvenation techniques, ways to release all the tension that collects over the day or week. And we always talk about exercises that can keep us active in spite of the desk jobs we have. I don’t know why we don’t talk about the one thing that is a combination of both. Swimming, the one form of exercise that has a double function of relaxation.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise. It is less stressful on the limbs and joints, because the density of the human body is similar to that of water. Although it tires you out more than any other form of exercise, it is not strenuous and can be enjoyed. It reduces the effects of stress, and even improves posture.

The reasons for choosing swimming as a daily form of exercise vary from person to person. It could be that a group of friends have fun in the pool together. It could be the knowledge of the benefits of swimming on the lungs and heart. It could be because other forms of exercise are boring. Whatever the reason, swimming is widely chosen as a preferred form of exercise.

So I say, thank you for the music.

Music is a means of entertainment for most people. Listening to it gives us joy in a way that cannot be expressed. There are different songs for different moods, and more often than not music speaks to us. Songs that describe your feelings and emotions in a way you couldn’t describe yourself. Actually, to be more precise LYRICS speak to us. They say that if you pay attention to the lyrics of a person’s favourite song, you will find out what they’re thinking and saying. A person’s favourite song tells a lot about their personality, providing a window through which you can peep directly into their soul. Eyes? Yes, those too. Music? Maybe more than eyes. Eyes can be deceiving, foxing you into thinking other things. But music, music cannot and will not be deceiving. It is the one thing that will remain true, the one thing that will never lie.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Often, when families wonder what to do in the vacations, they think along the lines of hotels and flights and the like. Traveling is obviously one of the most popular things to do, and most people prefer to do it comfortably. But roughing it out in the outdoors is a trend that is fast catching on with a lot of families.

Camping is basically a recreational activity that involves tents, boots, sleeping bags, etc. it requires participants to leave urban areas and spend several days and nights outdoors. It often also involves activities like hiking and mountain biking, which begin in the early hours of the morning. The level of roughing it out in the outdoors varies from campsite to campsite. Some campsites have basic amenities like electricity, barbeque grills, heat and bathrooms; while some campsites are nothing more than a patch of dirt and ground.

Today camping equipment has evolved, and become much more comfortable than they were a few years ago. Today campers have comforts like mattresses, compact chairs, solar heaters and satellite locators.

Camping is the most ideal from getting away from it all. It provides us with a multifold opportunity to do away with our usual surroundings and it helps us understand Nature a little better. It has a positive effect on a person’s health, not only physical but also mental. Family camping presents quality family time with no disturbances from the technology of today, with fun camping activities like swimming and bonfires.

Things that make us smile.

Most people live very hectic lives, in which little things are enough to agitate them. But at the same time, it is also the little things that make them happy. Many people tend to take these things for granted, not appreciating them when they occur. Listed below are some of the common things that make us smile, no matter how small.

• Eating food that is finger-licking good.
• Listening to songs that are reminders of our childhood
• Receiving flowers
• Getting a good night’s sleep
• Being able to accomplish a deadline, with time to spare
• Watching raindrops on window panes
• Being able to catch those raindrops in our hand
• Long drives to far off places
• A good, hot bath
• Chocolate in any form
• Laughing with friends so hard that our stomachs hurt but forgetting what originally triggered it
• Seeing photographs of ourselves that do not highlight our self-perceived flaws
• Singing along loudly to a happy song on the radio
• Spending a Sunday afternoon with a good book
• Decluttering
• The sound of babies laughing
• Playing with puppies
• Holding hands
• Receiving hand written notes and letters
• Being told we’re pretty/handsome
• Getting pedicures
• Owning a new piece of jewellery
• Being hugged out of the blue by a person who means a lot
• Traveling
• The smell of wet mud
• Long conversations with friends about everything and nothing

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Something fishy.

How many of us have spent many minutes staring into fish tanks as children? A lot, I’m willing to bet. I, for one, used to love tracking the movement of the fish and sometimes teasing them, whenever I came across a fish tank. Visits to the aquarium were always looked forward to, and completed with much excitement. It’s something every child does, for the aquatic world is a fascinating one. One thing that I always noticed was that the waiting lounge of my dentist’s office had a fish tank, the only reason I liked going there.

Today I understand why. Studies have shown that observing fish in a fish tank has a calming effect on people and lowers blood pressure. The movement of live fish and the calmness of the water make them feel stress free and have a similar effect as that of a mood-enhancer. Hence, many physicians and dentists set up fish tanks in their waiting lounges, to work as a natural anesthetic that numbs and reduces the intensity of the pain. It’s funny how simple things, that seem to be present only for the purpose of decorating, have a much higher meaning in the bigger picture. Whoever would have guessed that the pretty fish tank was actually hypnotizing you into not feeling pain?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Evolving work environments.

Think back about five years. Imagine job interviews and work environments then. What comes to your mind? Stuffy offices with a panel of formidable looking seniors asking a host of questions? Work stations and cubicles with telephones ringing off the hook and the whirring sounds of photocopy machines filling the air?

If we pay close attention to the changing trends, we’ll realize that even jobs and offices have undergone transformations. Job interviews today are conducted in coffee shops, with an informal environment. They’re not structured to be intimidating and pressurizing. They’re structured to put the interviewee at ease and facilitate normal conversation. Work environments too, have undergone a huge change. It is no longer office restricted either. Some jobs are designed to be worked at from anywhere in the world. All you need is a laptop with wi-fi and you’re good to go. The jobs that are office bound too are more employee friendly than they were in the past. Staff lunches are not unheard of, nor are staff picnics. The employer-employee relationships are fast becoming more informal, while maximizing output results tremendously.

Pampered selves

One of the most rampant things to do nowadays, in a bid to relax, is spending a day at the spa. Pampering themselves is the one thing that people do not hold back on and go all out. Other than wanting to, the need for being pampered has made its presence felt in everyone’s lives. In a world where competition has become more than cut-throat, the level of competence has to be up high. While trying to achieve this level of competence, people never have time for themselves. So when they do, they really pay good attention to themselves. Manicures, pedicures, oil massage therapy, facials, everything.

You would think that this practice is rampant only in the female gender, but that is not the case. In today’s world, it doesn’t matter if you’re female or male. Indulgence is universal, appreciated and practiced.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Pune Mirror. Sunday 22nd August, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

From on top of the world.

The skyline of a city, any city, is a fast disappearing thing. With the onset of skyscrapers, the sky is something that cannot be seen. But what is exhilarating about these skyscrapers is the view that they present from the top most floor. Unless you suffer from vertigo. Then it’s just a scary thing, not so much exhilarating.

A lot of people would argue that the advent of skyscrapers has made urban life into a concrete jungle. And I have no argument to contradict that. My love for skyscrapers is only about the terrace, nothing else. Imagine standing on the last floor of such a tall structure.

The wind is stronger up there than it is anywhere else in the city. The view is spectacular, the city seems never-ending. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe what you see, and invincible doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. After all, in a way, it’s almost like you’re on the top of the world, looking down on creation.

The newness of things.

People always say that the best things in life are the ones that are intangible. I respectfully disagree. Not ALL of the best things in life are intangible. Yes, happiness does come from immeasurable avenues, but imagine walking out of a store with a brand new item. The joy that comes from owning something new is incomparable. Personally, I am not a big fan of shopping. I find it extremely boring, which a lot of people find very weird. But even I go through the process of shopping solely for the end result of owning something pretty and new.

Anything new gives the purchaser joy that cannot be described. It could be the tiniest pair of earrings, which just makes you feel good about yourself. It could be a new shade of lipstick, which you cannot wait to begin using. It could be clothes, shoes, bags, ANYTHING. It could also be inspiring, owning new things. I mean, if Paulo Nutini wrote an entire song about the joy that new shoes bring him, somebody like you and I could most definitely incorporate that joy into our own preferred form of art.