Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Mere Mann Ki Baat, Narendra Modi ji

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As an Indian, the decade leading to 2014 had generated a lot of cynicism in me about where the country was headed. May 2014 saw a sea change when the UPA II Government was trounced by the Narendra Modi wave and the NDA's landslide win in the general elections.

The year that followed by and large reinforced this newfound optimism.

The first half of 2019 will see the nation facing a general election once again. Has Narendra Modi led NDA cemented its position or has it allowed the opposition to make fresh inroads?

Firstly, let's assess the positives.

Undoubtedly, under Modi's leadership, India's stature has gone up by several notches on the global platform. Leaders of major nations have lauded his vision and leadership. On the economic front, things finally turned around. Foreign investors also showed renewed interest in mega projects in India. 'Make in India' saw several manufacturers from the world set up base in India, some choosing India as their largest manufacturing hubs globally.

The first two years sort of raised hopes that this Government indeed meant business and the ambitious plans that were rolled out such as 'Smart Cities' and 'Swachh Bharat Mission' appeared to be putting India on the right track.

The ambitious GST (universal indirect taxation scheme across all of India) being implemented also could be said to a feather in the cap for the Govt although this was put into motion by previous governments. This important tax reform has the potential to be a game changer in the long run.

Recently,  'Ayushman Bharat'
the mega health insurance scheme has been launched. Touted to be the largest such scheme in the world. Well, it has its share of critics but at least a much neglected area, that is healthcare for the needy, has been addressed. Key lies in successful implementation across all states.

What went so horribly wrong then?

Nov 8, 2016 was a day that reversed the momentum abruptly and with great adverse impact. The PM appeared on television to announce Demonitisation of high value currency notes, effectively sucking out the life blood of what is primarily a cash based economy. What ever had been the intention of the move, it failed miserably in execution.The worst hit were those from the hinterlands of the country, farmers, daily wage labourers and small enterprises. In fact, many small scale enterprises collapsed under the burden of what became known as notebandi.

Whereas the Government shouted hoarse that this would wipe out the black money hoarders and spare the honest Indians, this was not borne out in anyway by the final outcome of this exercise which brought the booming economy to a grinding halt. The GDP numbers reflected the colossal damage to the economy.

Promises had been made by the PM that at every step progress would touch all sections and the minorities of society. However, the Government's silence and lack of visible intent to deal with zealous Gau Rakshaks (protectors of the cow) and the series of lynchings by mobs told a different story.

Initially, the PM's narrative was centered around progress and a dynamic vision for the nation. As the opposition parties tore into its various failures, the narrative has subtly but surely shifted onto the defensive.This is most clearly indicated by the controversial Rafale fighter aircraft deal between France and India~ while accusations of corruption and cronyism fly thick and fast the PM has maintained a studied silence in the whole matter.

To me, though, the biggest single disappointment has been the PM looking the other way when the Minister of State for External Affairs came under the spotlight because of claims of sexual harassment. This claim has not been made by one single woman but is now backed by twenty women. Propriety demands this minister's immediate stepping down from Public office immediately until he is cleared of the allegations.

The PM's studied silence in this sensitive matter makes me wonder whether Indian politics is headed the way of the US where a rape accused has been appointed judge of its Supreme Court?
I have been your admirer. Your talk show on Radio 'Mann Ki Baat' is probably heard by hundreds of thousands, Modi ji. Dear PM, will you please listen to Mere Man Ki Baat?

The buck stops with you. You have an opportunity to take a stand in this matter which in clear terms states that men who do not respect the dignity of women have no place in either your party or government. If the said minister does not have the decency to step down on his own, will you remain a silent spectator? Your predecessor was often criticised by you for being silent when the nation wanted him to speak up.

It is now your turn to speak up for what is right and just. And act.

If this obnoxious minister is not asked to step down immediately by you, I think it is time for a #WeToo campaign asking all Indian women to boycott you come 2019. Let's see what 'BetiBachaao' actually means to you.

Thankfully on the very evening of my publishing this post, M J Akbar resigned.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

I Am An Invitation

I am an invitation...
to creativity and resourcefulness
to generosity and giving

I am an invitation
to curiosity and learning
to personal development and refinement

I am an invitation
to all things good and glorious
to all the positive energy of the universe

I am an invitation
to wisdom and prudence
to dignity and self respect

I am invitation
to compassion and empathy
to love and bonding

I am invitation
to a passion for excellence 

to growth and progress

I am an invitation
to good health and vitality
to serenity of mind
I am an invitation
to energy divine
to inspiration universal

I am an invitation
to spiritual upliftment
to a connect with the Higher Being

I invite you
to join me in my journey glorious
So, Let's Walk Together...

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

I Am Vulnerable~ Redux

Being a Bipolar Disorder afflicted, I need to constantly remind myself that I am vulnerable. Without making this a limiting statement, it bodes well to ensure one does not get ahead of oneself.

I have another major vulnerability too~ my chronic Asthma. It has been a partner since over forty years now and have learnt to live with it, in fact, it hardly is the monster it once used to be.

However, there are times when I am more susceptible to it. This time the trigger was the renovation work happening at our home. The air was a cocktail of cement, sawdust and chemical fumes of adhesives and so on. Much as I tried to shield myself from the chaos, the outcome was inevitable.

Last week, my Asthma began getting out of control once again. Went through the agony of breathless nights after a long, long time. When I was at my weakest, my Aunt passed away in nearby Vasai. So, when I was least fit to travel, I had go through the rigors of attending the last rites on May 24th. On coming back, I decided to check my temperature. That was because I had been suffering from severe chills, a possible sign of fever.

So the thermometer read an alarming 104.1 F. When I called my Physician, he was least helpful. His receptionist 'prescribed' 4 Crocin tablets per day for the fever. Was the underlying infection being addressed? No. But then that's how lackadaisical support has become even from a long trusted family physician.

Since my fever showed no signs of abating, nor was my breathing getting any easier, I decided to be hospitalised. We were advised intensive care for the first 48 hours. Investigations revealed a patch on my left lung that was Pneumonia. Aha! That's where the high fever and sore throat came from....

Five days in Hospital under the care of an excellent Doctor, and I am back on my feet. A time to remember: I am no super hero and am as vulnerable as anybody else, maybe more so with my myriad health challenges.

Am taking it easy right now and thanking the Almighty that despite the Pneumonia, which aggravates Asthma severely, I a managed to pull through without much damage done,
Onto nurturing myself back to robust health.


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Mahabaleshwar: A Holiday in the Hills

Mahabaleshwar is a place we had fallen in love with as children and our love affair with it continues to grow. I wouldn't call it a holiday destination because that does not not do justice to the affinity we have developed for it over the decades.

Our reasons for adoring it have changed. From a fun place which meant horse riding, boating and adventures as kids, our relationship with it has evolved. It is now more of an escape to nature, to mother Earth herself. For nowhere else have I felt that connect with such intensity as here.

So, Diwali time it was and a time to escape the firecrackers into the welcoming arms of this green haven. Everything about our visits is so right...It begins with the pleasant six hour drive Mumbai via the expressway to Pune and thereon from the scenic Wai onward to Mahabaleshwar. The monsoons have just ended and the landscape is lush green for most of the journey. We halt at one of the food courts for Maharashtra's favourite snack, the Wada Pav with its spicey chutney. A warm welcome awaits us at our hotel which is located just right~ amid a thick forest yet not too far away from the main town area either.

In fact, our hotel rooms housed in a bedroom apartment were quite massive with the high ceiling typical of older M'war hotels. The secluded, spaced out rooms and our being among all the trees was reassuring in a tourist town where demand for rapid expansion has changed entire hotel layouts. It had all the trappings of a resort such as a swimming pool, games and activities..not that I care much about these. Give me serenity and nature any day! And for that I didn't have to look far. There's an old world simplicity about the place, the innocence of the locals and honesty in dealings with travelers. Despite rapid development (Mahabaleshwar is a top 10 tourist destination of India), it retains its quintessential hill station charm, thankfully because it falls under a protected zone. The locals continue to live in tiny, picturesque villages, some of them miles away from the main town.

And what does one do if not a lover of the trees, birds, clear blue skies and cool, fresh mountain air? Well, there's a lot to suit everyone. So you have para-gliding (seasonal), water sports at two places, Dhom dam (Wai) and at Tapola, the fair by the Venna Lake and even Go Karting. For me, however, long walks among the words, listening to bird calls and spotting them, letting my camera lens talk and just dissolving into the serenity is my nirvana! We just can't get enough of the lavish views of valleys, rivers and the rugged Sahayadri ranges which melt into the distant horizon.

As the town does not have much of street lighting, the action shifts to two night spots after sun down~ the Venna Lake and the Market place. The lake is a shadow of its former self, what with the work done to increase the capacity of the reservoir. However, a walk down the Market place remains a favourite activity for the aroma of roasted channa, corn, food stuff and bright sight of familiar street vendors and shops. The leather shops are famous for their handmade shoes, bags and belts. Just window shopping and ambling along is such a rich experience. Vehicles are debarred from this street, which makes life easier.
And while walking along, munch on roasted corn or pick up fresh strawberries~ the fruit that empitomises Mahabaleshwar. Also, so many dishes have either corn, strawberries or mulberries as ingredients~ corn patties, strawberry/mulberry with fresh cream, ice creams, milk shakes and other such concoctions. In fact some desserts are so rich, they are meals by themselves! The roadside eateries on the Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani road are our choice for dining. From local Maharashtrian cuisine to delectable berry based desserts, nowhere else have we eaten such good stuff! 

After a week of being spoilt by good food, the quiet and freshness, on the last day of our holiday we experience withdrawal symptoms. We linger at a viewing point overlooking the valley, watching the sunset paint the skies in glorious hues.. one positive is that the drive back is also a joy. Just past Wai, we halt at a roadside sugarcane juice stall. The cane is fresh produce from an adjoining field.

Divine! What begins well ends well too.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Writing is Easier than Public Speaking

A few of my friends on Social Media got in touch with me recently. They needed my advice and assistance in learning writing. It is much easier to write well than to be a good teacher of writing, I realised. In order to create a basic template that might help others too, I decided to write a post on it.

If you are petrified of public speaking, writing is much easier. I believe that unlike painting or music, which might not be everyone's cup of tea, almost anyone can be a good writer. There are of course those highly gifted among us to whom this skill is innate. For everybody else, it is all about practice~ write, write and keep writing.

1) Journaling ~
Before you have the confidence to share your writing with others, you could write for yourself. Maintaining a daily journal helps bring clarity of thought. Your journey as a writer begins with understanding yourself. This is very important if your writing is non-technical content. It also inculcates the discipline of writing regularly and gradually you begin to get the feel of it.

2) Reading ~
When I set out to be a writer as a blogger in 2012, besides my mentors who gave me timely tips, reading well written posts became my best teacher. I became a voracious consumer of tips on importance of the headline, visuals, keywords and length of paragraphs in a post. This inspired me to raise my own standards, and I tried to their match their felicity in communicating.

3) Well etched out characters ~
If you recall the movies which are your all time favourites, besides being well written and directed, they all have strong characters. Characters so strong that they have stayed with you decades later.  From literature, can you easily forget Howard Roarke (The Fountainhead) or Michael Corleone (The Godfather)? A writer has to be alert and observant. Notice how people from various walks of life converse and emote to pick up mini stories from them.

4) Emotions ~
Stories are about emotions otherwise they would be bland and insipid. The emotions can be nuanced or piercing as the turn of events in a story demands. Emotions build empathy with your reader.

5) Audience ~
Who is your audience? Are they teenagers or a mature audience? What are their expectations from you? As a film maker once said, 'Making Art house cinema which runs to empty houses is self indulgence. I make movies for real audiences.' A well defined audience brings alignment between your writing and their tastes.

6) Purpose ~
Why am I writing this? Is it just to enjoy myself (which is perfectly okay on a Blog) or is it with a clearer aim that I have not defined? Is it a social message that needs to be conveyed with authority? If it is meant to stir an audience to action, you would do well by incorporating a 'call to action' hook at the end of the article or story.

7) Genre ~
You might be versatile, however, by and large writers develop their predominant style and are known for a genre. So you might be adept at humour, satire, light romance, erotica, mysteries or non-fiction writing. You don't need to be reminded about who became a legend as 'the Queen of mystery novels'. Maybe she could have picked up some other genre with equal ease. She stuck to that which had become her unquestionable brand. This applies to almost all forms of writing.

8) Voice ~
Watch two good actors playing similar roles, each one leaves his own stamp on it. Besides each one's acting style and mannerism, it is inner creative expression that's making a mark on us. A good writer similarly develops his own voice. The subconscious mind is a treasure trove of wisdom! Meditation and introspection brought my inner voice to the fore.

9) Simplicity ~
The other day I was reading a story by an Indian writer who seemed to have an excellent command over English. Initially, I was thoroughly impressed by her vocabulary. One paragraph into her otherwise fascinating story, I lost interest and quit reading it. The complexity of the words used marred the flow of narrative. My favourite Authors of all time have used lucid, easily understandable language that lends to the flow. Also, very long winded sentences can be chopped into a few shorter ones.

10) Detailing ~

Genres, stories and situations define the amount of detailing required. Accordingly you etch out the character, establish the settings and so on. A great writer makes you smell, feel, listen to and visualise the scenes of his story as if they were playing out right in front of you.

11) Compelling narrative
We live in an era when mini stories are narrated in 140 characters! The advent of the internet and social media has made the average reader impatient. Meandering aimlessly in the narrative is a sure way to lose the reader's interest. Whether it is with twists and turns or with interesting happenings in the story, the reader must be kept engaged all through. Is the writing full of energy? Use of 'power words' lends conviction and authority to your writing when justified.

12) Ebbs and highs ~

Master writers create nuanced change in pace and mood of the story. Creating an appropriate build up before hurling the reader into frenzied action. Nothing is as off putting as monotony of pace.

13) Length ~
According to the format you are writing for, the length of your write up has to measure up to match that. A blog post typically is 300 to 500 words in length (although if the subject demands so you can write much longer posts. A post I wrote yesterday was 1178 words long). I decided to keep my book length to under 250 pages.

14) Editing ~

The initial draft is all about getting your thoughts out on paper (or onto your computer). The grammar and composition does not really matter at that stage. Most writers begin with drafts and then land up with finished articles after a series of corrections, chopping and changing. I, for instance, kick myself when I locate typos or a word out of place in my published post. It signifies that I do not care for my readers enough.

The list goes on and on but I have shared what I felt was most relevant. Hope this post has whetted your appetite enough to go on a writing spree!

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