29 Aug 2015

Why We Loved Jasleen Kaur

By the time you read this, the dust will almost have settled on the Jasleen Kaur-Sarvajeet Singh incident. Mainstream media has already torn the guy to pieces, and social media has torn into the girl. People are bored now, and must be busy oiling their ‘outrage’ guns to point and shoot at someone else.

When Jasleen posted about Sarvajeet Singh on Facebook, it didn't take long for the post to go viral. Yes, we supported Jasleen because she was (is) a girl. Apparently reality was exactly the opposite of what she posted. But this gender bias is not exclusive to India. I remember reading about an outrage caused by a woman who tweeted about a guy. Apparently he cracked a sexist joke while sitting behind her at a tech conference. The joke was not aimed at any gender. It was something innocent and typical that guys would laugh over. But her tweet led to an outrage and cost the guy his job. He was married and had three children at that time.

Let’s look beyond this gender bias. There is a deeper layer. We stood in support of Jasleen for the same reason that we loved Rahul Dravid and Manmohan Singh. The same reason why, even now, there are many supporters of Arvind Kejriwal.

They play the victim card.

Image courtesy: MensXP

See I think mediocrity and internal dissatisfaction are deeply rooted in us because of the way we are treated. Whether while travelling to work, or at our workplaces, we are constantly exposed to situations and people we don’t like, and feel disrespected. Somewhere, everyone of us has felt, or still feels, victimized. And when someone appears to be victimized, when we feel like the person is helpless, our protective instincts go into overdrive.

We believed Dravid was a victim when Ganguly was dropped from the Indian squad after altercations with Greg Chappell. We believed Manmohan Singh was a victim when politicians around him indulged in scams that bled our country dry. We still believe Kejriwal is a victim because of his relentless rants of not having control of Delhi - who cares about the fact that he is busy plotting against the government rather than taking care of his own constituency! We believed Jasleen was a victim because she said that she was harassed by the boy. Arnab Goswami went insane (went?), India outraged (#FightBackIndia), and a police case was lodged against the boy. Well done outragers. And this is precisely why leaders like Narendra Modi and MS Dhoni have countless haters… because they stand for what they believe in, and refuse to answer for their actions to idiots. They refuse to be victims, and that makes us uncomfortable.

Do we know the real story before we outrage? Do we think about the possible repercussions on people before slinging mud on them? Haven’t we shamelessly forwarded WhatsApp jokes like ‘God Bless Sunny Leone’ when Abdul Kalam died, or during the bomb blast in Bangkok, or the crash of MH370? What gives us the right to point fingers at someone else and demand that they be punished? What gives us the right demand that people get scarred for life? 

The media simply sensationalizes these cases for ratings. And we, who have nothing better to do than peek into others’ lives, play along, living our days one outrage after another. All this while the media laughs its way to the bank, politicians quietly indulge in hopelessly immoral acts, and real issues lie suppressed and unaddressed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we must ignore issues. But there is a difference between an outrage and a protest. In the former, we simply say slanderous things and call for punishment of those whom WE consider guilty. In the latter, we step out of our houses, leave our phones behind, and do something that makes the relevant people sit up and take notice.

If you want to place your faith in people, place it in those who work quietly, rather than those who keep complaining, or leading outrages, or Cinderellas waiting to be rescued. Remember the proverb you learnt in school: ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’? Maybe our teachers were preparing us for today so that we could behave like mature individuals rather than play ball with people who whip out the victim card more than Arnab Goswami says “The nation wants to know.” Start by looking at your own life and improving it. Reduce looking at the lives of others. Stop whining. Do things that make you happy. You will find that you don’t have the time or patience to participate in outrages. Gradually, you will prefer keeping whiners at a fair distance. And yes, choose your role models carefully. Make a poor choice and you never know when you will wind up at the wrong end of the outrage trend.

I was deeply disturbed when people started sharing the video where a TimesNow journo misbehaved with Sarvajeet Singh. But I was heartened by his courage when he didn’t back down and stayed calm throughout. And gradually, I was also heartened by the fact that websites and people were critical of the appalling behavior of the journalist. Just like the tech conference incident mentioned above, where the woman got a fair bit of flak too, people fought back here, showing that good sense does prevail sometimes.

Jasleen, if you are reading this post, I want to ask you one question: Are you a bully? And you, dear reader, I want to know what you are going to do to stop siding with those who demand sympathy and choose to look at both sides of a story.

25 Aug 2015

Thank You Indigo Airlines

It’s appalling how businesses treat their customers these days. Ponzi sites, hate-selling, shoddy after-sales service - we see and read about them every day. Social media is rife with so many complaints that it appears businesses look at customers simply as tools to make money.

Often however, employees or brands take amazing care of their customers and try to bring smiles on their faces. But we rarely hear about those instances. Negativity has been so deeply ingrained in us by the media that everything positive is seen as ‘expected’ and trifling matters often get perceived as negative and are blown out of proportion. The positive experiences are forgotten. Well, not always. Rachna wrote about an awesome initiative, and I am writing about another. This post is to thank Indigo Airlines for the exceptional care that they took of my 92-year-old grandmother.

Granny was staying with us since the past 6 months, and wanted to go back home to Varanasi. She had never travelled by plane, and it was one of her wishes. So mom and I booked tickets on Indigo Airlines. Granny and I would fly on 19th August on flight 6E 578. I didn't book a wheelchair or airplane seats online; I always do that at the airport. But the sound pasting I got from mom left me somewhat unnerved. Until we entered the airport, I thought that it would have been better if I had sorted everything while booking tickets itself. 

How wrong I was! As soon as we entered the airport, someone from the Indigo team - Gaurav - rushed to me and asked if granny required a wheelchair. “Okay, this should sort things somewhat”, I thought as I said she did. Little did I know that he and his team were just about to make this a stroll in the park for us. I asked him to help her onto the wheelchair while I waited in line to check in. No need, he said, and took me to an empty counter. I asked the lady who was checking our luggage in for seats in the 12th row so that granny would get more leg room. But wheelchair-bound people aren’t allotted those seats since that’s where the emergency exit is. Instead, the lady suggested that she would allot us seats in the second row, and if the flight was empty, granny and I could sit in the first row, which offers ample leg space too. I am sad that I forgot her name. In fact, I interacted with so many people that I’m feeling pretty sucky about not having noted their names so that I could include them in this post.

Right before getting onto the plane

Gaurav wheeled granny right to gate number 9 and informed the ground staff about her. They kept a watch on her while I brought tea. A crew member took her to the bathroom right before our flight arrived. Another ensured that she got on to the bus headed for our flight before everyone else. He wheeled her up the ramp right till the entrance of the plane. And even before I could take a good look at the faces of the pretty air hostesses, they had offered the first row seats to granny and me. Even melted butter cannot slide as smoothly as things were here.

Selfie clicked on granny's request

The flight was comfortable. It’s unbelievable how fearless my granny is. Not once did she flinch when the plane took off. And she was totally at home when we were airborne. Looking outside the window, studying the air hostesses… time flew by for her.

Granny is quite a fit woman for her age and often complains that we don’t let her walk enough. So when we were alighting, I thought we could walk to the taxi stand. But the air hostess said that she had radioed for a wheelchair, and it arrived before she completed her sentence. Again, granny was wheeled right out till the taxi stand, and the Indigo staff member stood with us in the sweltering 2:00 pm heat of Varanasi until a taxi came along. I loaded our luggage in it and helped granny sit. The man quietly folded the chair, shook my outstretched hand and walked back to the airport to do his duty.

Not once did even one person grimace, let alone complain. Not once did anyone ask for money (although I tipped everyone who helped). What appeared extraordinary to me because of the ease with which it was done, was regular for them. How many businesses take such good care of their customers?

I don't need to harp on concepts of customer service here, do I? Neither do I need to analyze what they did right and what they could have done etc. I just want to leave you with the feelings of warmth and genuineness that the crew of the airline displayed.

Dear Indigo Airlines, you have made a loyalist out of me. I don’t fly often, but whenever I do, I’ll fly with you. You guys may be setting high standards for yourself in customer satisfaction, but what you do is far more than that. It is service to mankind. Each member who was part of the team of flight 6E 578 on which PNR O7VYZ7 flew made the first flight of a 92-year-old woman a delight. You treated her like a queen. Here is a heartfelt thank you from my entire family.

23 Aug 2015

Will Indiblogger's BNLF Prove Disruptive?

I started blogging early in 2011, way later than most. Just like you, it was on a whim. I started writing, but didn’t know how to make more people read it? A friend suggested that like most bloggers, I should go to others’ blog posts, leave comments and interact with bloggers. “Okay”, I said. “But how am I going to find good blogs to begin with.” “Simple”, said the friend. “Register on Indiblogger.”

“What’s that?”

“Register first. You will figure the rest out yourself.”

What lovely advice it turned out to be! Within a few weeks of registering, I was addicted. I spent hours interacting on the chat forum, reading people’s blog posts, leaving comments on the ones I liked and promoting them. As a result, my traffic saw a spike, and I got in touch with amazing bloggers. The IB (Indiblogger, not Imperial Blue) platform provided me with the foundation to get more visibility on my blog. But it also taught me the most important lesson - to get meaningful interactions, I had to build relations with the right bloggers.

image Source

Which is why I am excited about the Blog Now, Live Forever event being organized by IB. One doesn’t often get to hear (or read) about blogging conferences being held in this part of the world (let alone international speakers coming over). Often we read about such events with high profile speakers held in US, and are left thinking “when will something like that come here?” Indian blogging is still in its adolescence, where most bloggers still do not understand the significance of creating content for users, and promoting it effectively. I interact with many bloggers, and one thing noticeable is the lacking understanding of building relations and an outreach. “I write for myself, not others. Whoever is interested will come and read”, is a popular belief. And then they complain about barely getting traffic (let alone shares or comments) on their blog. Guest posting, content distribution, relationship building etc. are terms that we bloggers despise as much as we despise corruption.

This is where the BNLF event will prove disruptive. With speakers like Bruce Dickinson (Up the Irons!), Jeff Bullas, Christoph Trappe and Arnab Ray (astute viewers of the content creation and sharing scenes globally) sharing their experiences and insights, it will stimulate many bloggers to evolve. I also look forward to hearing Kanan Gill, whose insights on adding humor and story telling to one’s content can improve its quality in leaps and bounds, will prove invaluable. Mind you, keeping audience in peels of laughter for 8-12 minutes when our attention span is less than 8 seconds today is no mean feat.

Of course, apart from listening to globally renowned bloggers, the highlight will be seeing Bruce Dickinson live again, this time on a different platform. The last (and only) time I got the chance was when Iron Maiden came to Mumbai, and I had stood in the second row from 3 (they hit the stage at 8:30 that night). I had to hold myself from weeping when Bruce ran on stage and started singing ‘Aces High’. I hope I can contain my emotions this time around too. “Your time will come”, sang Bruce in The Wickerman. I hope that my time to see him again has come. IB holds the key to this hope.

But let’s leave my personal fandom of Bruce behind and get back to the blogosphere. If you are a blogger, or are even looking to pursue a career in social media, the BNLF event sounds like a wonderful event to not only hear renowned speakers, but also meet popular bloggers and pick their brains (worth its weight in gold). I will be going. Hope to see you there.

16 Aug 2015

Where You Lost the Plot of Life

“Oh, he always had my hairdryer in his hand”, my friend’s mother said. “As a child, he was always singing. My hairdryer was his mic, his dad’s expensive goggles and my scarf were his costume, and he was a rockstar. Jumping around to his father’s rock music collection,” she beamed, as we flipped through the family album (yes, some of us still have them).

Today, he spends 14 hours a day working in a software firm. No weekends, no family time, dismal pay hikes…

“What happened”, I asked. “Life”, she sighed.

Forget what we wanted to be as children. We all still want to be someone. And I have used the word ‘all’ here because every person, regardless of who she is or what she does, aspires to be someone or something. We want to live on our own terms, recognition from the world for having done something amazing, and the adulation of people around us. What stops us? Guilt.

Guilt of not being able to give our family the comfort they deserve if we dive into something new. Guilt of not being able to make enough money for our family to roam in malls on weekends and buy things that they don’t need. No more fancy phones for our children and partners for a while. No more feeding them junk food every week. Today, this is as good as poverty… no - starving.

What we love doing is certainly not worth the risk, is it? Now we have a family to take care of, which depends on us to bring home the bread (and smartphones, and iPads). Our duty is to take care of our family, and ensure that our children fulfill the dreams that we couldn’t.

Where did this guilt come from? Surely we were not taught to think about family and money from childhood! This guilt came from social pressure, from the status quo. We had dreams to pilot airplanes or land on the moon some day. Then society mellowed us down. It said that we were fools to think of something that was ‘impossible’ (we learnt this word when we integrated ourselves with society). It instilled the fear of being ostracized if we didn’t toe in line. Our job was to study hard, get a job, earn money and feed our families. We had to fit the frame that society made for us. If we stuck out by even a few inches, we were looked down on, and brought shame onto our families. This is what brought about the guilt.

Gradually, we lost our mojo. We believed the liars, the insecure ‘leaders’, the people who made the rules so we would toe in line. And boy, did we toe in quickly! We looked around for acknowledgement, which we never received. Because no matter what we did, society always demanded more. We gave our families all that we could, but we never really gave them true freedom, because we never had it ourselves. Life sucked, and then we died.

"Whatcha lookin at, hater?"

And then there were the other kind. The kind whom we considered arrogant and stubborn. The kind whom we found too weird to play with us, to be a part of this well-knit society. The kind who were probably pulled up by their teachers in front of the classroom, and whom we (and our parents) sniggered about. The kind who couldn’t stay put at a job long enough.

They went on to do something remarkable. No. I’m not talking about scoring good marks in academics or being model students. They went on to become someone we always wanted (but never deserved) to be. Envy made us turn greener than a chilly. Surely they must have done something wrong… surely they just got lucky or found someone who did everything for them.

No. They believed in what they wanted to do. Despite the world telling them that it wouldn’t work, that they were fools, that it has been tried before and all others had failed. They soaked up whatever the world had to say and continued working. In the process, they became masters at handling pressure and criticism. They stopped watching the news and reading newspapers. They could weed out the sense from truckloads of bullshit and learnt to back themselves even when the whole world counted them out. They believed in the outcome, and that they would eventually prevail. Life eventually gave up trying to pin them down and hoisted them on its broad shoulders. They achieved true freedom - from the shackles of society, from stereotypes, and monotony. They never truly succeeded in being free of fear - every person still faces fear in her life. But they mastered the art of facing it head-on and destroying it before it caused damage.

I had attended a 'Go-Diamond' event organized for the people of Amway (I worked for a company which organized these events). There, a Diamond (someone at the top of the Amway chain) shared an experience. When his wife and he moved to USA, they had little money. They had to choose between 2 apartments: one without a balcony, and the other with a balcony which had a rent of just $5 more each month. The Diamond convinced his wife to choose the one without the balcony, because that meant they had $60 each year to spare for Amway products. She agreed. They worked hard together. Today they own a palatial house, never think about budgets, and serve as role models to hundred thousands of people the world over.

You can take flak from society and family in the initial years while you work towards doing what you love. Or you can remain unhappy the rest of your life sucking up to people that you despise. In the first case, you can use the four magical words: At least I tried. In the second, you still will use four words, but they will sound like: If I had tried.

Which life do you want to live? The choice is yours.

I have resolved to pursue real personal freedom. Freedom from what people say, from being conned by the media, from being a slave to my mind. And I intend on making the most of this journey from fear to freedom. Care to join me?

4 Aug 2015

How a Butterfly's Wings Caused a Hurricane in My Life

I was 18. I had fared poorly in Std. XII and somehow got admission into an Engineering college because my parents wanted me to. I understood nothing - maths, BEE, mechanical engineering, engineering drawing… even computer science. I flunked miserably (13 out of 16 subjects in the first 2 sems). If this was how I would fare in the first year (which is the easiest), what was I going to do in the coming years. More importantly, how would I complete the first year? Something unfortunate had happened in my personal life that compounded my bad mood. Each day I woke up hating the world, hating myself, and feeling invisible.

That’s when, one afternoon, in our college library, Huzefa introduced me to Metallica. The album in his walkman (yup, it was a cassette) was ‘Symphony and Metallica I’. I liked what I heard. And then Master of Puppets blew my mind. In the days when Enrique and Britney dominated the charts, here was some music that I liked. I bought some cassettes. My friends started sharing their MP3 collections, through which I got all of Metallica’s albums. And I loved them! I was also introduced to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses. And then, I wanted to play guitar.

Huzefa had a guitar, and he didn’t play it. So he lent it to me. I kept playing the guitar for about 8-10 hours a day (when I should have been studying for my KT papers). Then I met some pro musicians trying to put together a rock band. They offered me the role of a bassist. I was ecstatic. My mom wasn’t. She said “If you want a bass guitar, either clear your papers or buy it yourself.” I wasn't going to clear even 1 paper, let alone 13. So I did something that horrified everyone in my family. At the age of 19, I quit engineering and started working at a call centre. With my first pay, I bought a bass guitar and amp. Huzefa was there with me again. Unfortunately the band disbanded even before they could play a show.

Until I was 18, people said that I behaved like a 10-year-old. Within a few months of turning 19, people said that I sounded like a 25-year-old. I will never know how it happened, but am glad it did. I kept achieving at work, which started repairing my damaged self-image. I got promoted, changed jobs, got rejected by girls I really liked, made stupid decisions, failed, succeeded, laughed, cried, rose, sank... I really lived. Life tested me, and each time I came out stronger. Whenever it punched me off my feet, I got up before the count of 10. Sometimes at 9 1/2, but always before 10. Today I look forward to life more than I have in the last 31 years. I hope the only time I won't get up before the count of 10 is when I am dead.

All this time, I never stopped listening to Metallica and watching their videos (I’d watch them on CD initially because we still had dial up internet and YouTube didn’t exist). I was captivated by James Hetfield’s (Metallica’s frontman) stage presence. He stood at 6’2”, broad shouldered, blue eyed, blond hair and a trademark mullet, holding a black guitar, the first button of his black shirt always open. He ruled the stage like a Alexander ruled the world. Undisputed dominance. I wanted to play guitar like him, to have a stage presence like him, I wanted to be like him. My pseudo name (we have to use them in call centers) was James - spelt ‘Jaymz’ because that’s how Hetfield spelt his. Hetfield was my hero during the most troublesome years. He kept me going long after I felt like I didn’t have any strength left.

Today is James Hetfield’s birthday. Happy birthday rockstar! God knows how many lives you have touched and made a difference in. I don't know why but the last 14 years of my life are flashing in front of me today. If it wasn't for you, who knows where the f**k I would be rotting.

Huzefa is no more. It’s been over 4 years now. Every year, on his birthday, I post a message on Facebook and hope that wherever he is, he is happy. He introduced me to Hetfield. He was the only person who encouraged me to stay true to my dreams when all others thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, and Huzefa was too. It takes one crazy man to recognize another. Heard of the Butterfly Effect, a principle in the Chaos Theory? The effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China. A small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state. Huzefa, with his walkman, that afternoon in the library, was a butterfly who flapped his wings. He unknowingly helped me evolve as person, helped me find my true calling. He set the wheels in motion in my life. R.I.P. Hufu. Return If Possible.

image courtesy: Metallica
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