The SMILE Deck game

Every trip to Ahmedabad gives me something new to write! There is so much that I receive there that I can just not let it pass without sharing and giving back 🙂 I shared it on Volunteer Weekly, but like the Seva Cafe volunteering experience, I wanted to share it here as well. But this one is a shorter version of the original article.

Last month when I was in Ahmedabad; Mihika gifted me a SMILE deck.

SMILE deck, SMILE cards, random acts of kindness, pay it forward, little acts of kindness

Four suits of the SMILE deck

The smile deck is like any other deck of cards – 4 suits with 13 cards each and 2 Jokers – with a twist that each card has a unique kindness idea. These decks were created by a group of volunteers, people just like you and me.The four suits are four categories for kindness towards people you know, stranger, yourself and for the world. You can view all the ideas here:

    Clubs: For People You Know
    Hearts: For Strangers
    Diamonds: For Yourself
    Spades: For Our World

My SMILE deck has become a game now. I started with the Joker card as soon as I opened the deck – telling a joke to the person who gifted it to me. For a week I thought about how to use it. And then I decided to pick one card at random every day and do what it says. I have to confess that I haven’t been able to stay one-a-day with them as I had initially thought but the game is on till the deck gets over and it has been fun and rewarding. Here are some that I have picked till now and what I did :).

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My work and my life

When I worked in Texas Instruments, I could switch off the work after leaving office. It was easy to forget office in office. Moreover what I did, did not influence or tried to dictate how I lived.

But working in development sector is different. To begin with its not easy to forget about work after 6pm. In most cases the work affects you as a person; when I go and meet children in orphanages and they cling to me when I am ready to leave asking me to promise that I will come back tomorrow; I cannot forget about it. I cannot let it not influence me as a person. I have always been humbled after visiting the homes. I have always been thankful for what I have and I have stopped complaining for what I do not have. In my day to day life, I have started to waste less, give more, bargain less, trust more. In a way I have let my work dictate my life. It has impacted my choices; I choose to buy from the local vegetable vendor, I choose to buy seasonal, I choose to buy cotton, I choose to buy fair trade, I choose to walk shorter distances.


Should it mean that I am wrong in wanting luxuries in life? Should it mean I feel guilty for wanting Nike shoes, Tommy jeans, BOSE speakers, for having a big car and a driver and etc etc?

Does it?

Should I be guilty?

Some of my colleagues from the NGO, I last worked at, were from the school of thought that yes, it is ‘ethically’ wrong to live a luxurious life when you are working in development sector. That when you see so many people suffering, how can you splurge. So in their opinion, a small car is a necessity but a big car is a luxury; a domestic help is a necessity but a driver is a luxury; shoes are necessity but a big brand is a luxury. They also during the discussion implied that they are a little wary of people who are working in development sector but sport a silk kurta and get down from a big car.

My question would then be where do you draw the line? Should it be between cycle and car or should it between small car and big car? I agree one shouldn’t flaunt luxuries, i respect those who live a minimalist life; but if wearing a branded shoe makes a difference to me, should I be judged for it? A friend told me that an unhappy person can never make another person happy so let me draw that line based on my ethics, don’t judge me; don’t question my intentions and dont mistrust me.

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Moon quotes

I don’t know of many people who welcome a Monday morning. In fact, I, and most of my friends, start dreading the Monday morning from Sunday evening itself :o. I think this should be very common, for ‘Monday Morning Blues’ is never out of fashion!

I need inspiration to start work on Monday Morning. That was one of the reasons why I started a Monday morning quotation series on iVolunteer’s facebook page. Whenever I come across an inspiring quote that is somehow related to development, I make a note of it so that I don’t have to look for quotes at the last minute. And definitely not on a Monday morning! For me having that quote ready to share with our followers is the inspiration to start work on Monday! 🙂

So yesterday when I read about Neil Armstrong’s death (May his soul R. I. P.); I knew I should post a quote by him. But I didn’t want to use the “giant leap of mankind” one. It is so common; I wanted to find a quote that not many people would have read earlier so it will be something new… and I found a perfect quote in this one:

It gave the message of not wasting your time and to do something worthwhile (to volunteer!)… though the full quote says “I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”; the truncated version fits best as an inspiring thought.

Searching for more, I found another one, which I felt was more apt. Without giving any direct gyan, the quote said it all:

It’s not a Neil Armstrong quote, but it reflects the mood which, back in 1969, Apollo 11‘s successful flight created. It’s a quote by James Lovell. James Lovell (Tom Hanks’ character in Apollo 13) flew on Apollo 8 and commanded Apollo 13. The walk on the moon showed that nothing is impossible for mankind! That’s why this is now my favourite moon quote.

What’s your favourite moon quote?

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My very own ‘Chalo Dilli’ experience

For those who have seen the movie, this is the story of my very own “Chalo Dilli” experience. For those who haven’t, this is the story of how it took me 11 hours to reach from Pune to Lonavla (a distance of ~60kms).

Last Sunday I was to travel from Pune to Lonavala by the 6am Sinhagad express. Don’t ask me how but at 6:05 am I found myself on the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi express. Not only does it go in opposite direction, it has very limited stops. The next stoppage was only at Sholapur 3 hours later. Within the first 10 minutes, all passengers in the two cabins and all of railway staff (except the TT) knew my misfortune and everyone were forthcoming with questions and free advice. I also tried pulling the chain but the train would just not stop. One passenger suggested I should request the driver directly to stop the train momentarily on an intermediate station. Since there was nothing left to do, I thought why not give that a try. So I started towards the driver’s cabin. Before the driver’s cabin was the generator cabin where I was told that the driver’s cabin is inaccessible and that I could not go beyond that room. I resigned to my fate. Thought it’s no use fighting so let’s just go and sit in the cabin and pay the fine and figure out at Sholapur.

The AC attendant, Anupam bhaiya, then asked me to sit on the attendant’s berth, I didn’t question. The AC engineer came later and told me that the TT has done his round and has gone back. I should just stay here and not go inside the cabin else the TT will fine. I made myself comfortable, removed my shoes, sat cross-legged, opened a book and started reading. Anupam bhaiya got me the day’s newspaper and morning chai. At regular intervals someone or the other would come and strike a conversation. Later on Anupam bhaiya gave me proper Shatabdi breakfast tray. About 30 mins before Sholapur, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. On the opposite track another train (Bangalore-Delhi express) stopped at the same time. Anupam bhaiya and the AC engineer quickly helped me switch the train and told me go up till Daund in the train and switch from there.

The coach I boarded was ladies general. While there was no seat, it wasn’t very crowded. It was a small coach of only 16 sitting seats and in all there were 24 people. Everyone sort of knew each other by that time and I was the newcomer, who boarded in the middle of nowhere. So I narrated my story again. After some time I learnt about a lady’s recent stomach operation; another lady’s troubles with teaching his son English; another one who was going to attend a wedding and her husband is posted in Sikkim and many more. There was Aparajita (~3-4 yreas old) who refused to talk to me but once I took out a biscuit packet she was all the more friendly!

Everytime the train stopped I would look out to see if Daund has come because i didn’t want to miss this stop and go in a third direction. Aparajita’s mother told me “Relax, we will tell you when Dound comes!”.

From Daund onwards there was not much adventure, I took a passenger train to Pune and then a local from Pune to Lonavla and finally reached Lonavla at 5:10pm. As if to mock me the announcement at that time was: “Sinhagad express from Mumbai to Pune is arriving shortly at platform no. 2”.

Till Daund the journey was quite exciting. I was amazed at how everyone helped in their own capacity and how easy it was to converse and be part of people’s lives in the general compartment. I usually travel 3rd or 2nd AC, where it is most difficult to strike a conversation with even your neighbour. Rarely does one get fortunate enough to receive random acts of kindness. And when it happens it leaves us so happy from within. I was humbled by the troubles the railway staff  and the ladies in the Bangalore-Delhi express took for me. It strengthened my belief in the inherent goodness of people and somehow I feel this could happen only in India (I know it’s clichéd, but it’s true). If I ask myself, ‘Do I regret it?’ – No; but ‘Do I want to repeat it?’ – No!. Despite all the discomforts, I will always remember this 11 hour journey with a smile.

Categories: around us, Travel, work | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Volunteers V/s Professionals

“Noah’s Arc was built by Volunteers

The Titanic was built by Professionals”

I read this quote about volunteers sometime back on a website and the next moment I was drawing this cartoon! This is my very first attempt at cartooning and though I took the arc and the animals and the titanic from different places, I really like the end result ; therefore sharing with all.

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13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times

13,000 teachers put on Census duty – Hindustan Times.

Different departments of the state need to work in tandem for realistic development. This fact has been again and again emphasised by many working in the field but rarely is it taken into consideration by our state machinery..Here is a perfect example to show that development does not happen in water-tight compartments. Primary school teachers are put on census duty in the months preceding the annual examinations. Teachers to stay out of school for almost a month from Feb 14th to March 5th. Municiple corporation says education does not fall under their department and education department says Census is national duty.. who suffers? the children and their education.

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From volunteering to volunteering…

I’ve been asked this question again and again. Why did I switch my career from engineering to development? Well I thought I’d better answer that now!

Graduating from IIT, a job in a well-known MNC was an obvious choice. I was designing circuits for various mobile applications. The job was challenging, interesting, I learned a lot but the most important thing, which made me stick to it for 5 years, was the opportunities my company provided towards community development. Before TI, “giving back to society” for me, mainly meant donating money/material. It was only later that I saw how important and how much more difficult (and thus more satisfying) it was to donate my time and my skills. Writing a cheque was easy, but it was easily forgotten as well. TI India Foundation gave me an opportunity to volunteer my time at various NGOs. I was a companion to old people, a teacher to under privileged children or a friend to special kids. Sometimes a fundraiser, sometimes a marketing help for an NGO. It allowed me to take up so many different roles and go beyond my daily routine of being a design engineer. The impact was observable immediately; the satisfaction was delivered just as soon.

But it wasn’t easy being a volunteer every time. It’s different to see poverty from outside and think about doing something about it than to experience it and work within it. I would just like to recount an instance here, which made me question my efforts towards volunteering as well as strengthened them.

I was once trying to convince the parents of a 10-year-old slum girl to allow her to continue school. I gave all the regular arguments of the vicious cycle of poverty and that until she gets good education, there is no way out for her. The father of the child, made his 6 children stand in line in front of me and simply said, if she doesn’t work the rest go hungry.

I was dumbfounded by that response. That time I just left, went to my mentor and cried my heart out. However, she insisted that I go back and try harder. I did and I succeeded and it gave me such pleasure that no other achievement of mine could stand in front of it.

I’ve had my share of disappointments as well, but in this field one success is worth tens of disappointments.

While the desire to contribute more grew, time was limited and that’s what triggered the change. From a part-time volunteer, I became a full time volunteer with save the children and then a full time employee with iVolunteer, where I get to manage and interact with volunteers from different walks of life eager to give their time and skills to change lives. Along with ensuring that their skills are best utilised, I am back to part time volunteering again!

PS: I’m sharing this post for the alternative’s Bucket-a-hope campaign.  Grab your “bucket”, fill it with hope and share your giving story with

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Butterflies in my stomach…

Yesterday I felt almost like a fresh graduate out of college, who has her first day at work the next day. Preparing what to wear, what to take.. I was both excited and anxious. New sector, new people, new roles and responsibilities. Getting back to work after 3 years wasn’t easy..The only thought I had the whole day yesterday was  “How would tomorrow be”.. But just thinking couldn’t do much anyway.. so I slept saying “I shall cross the bridge when it comes”..


Come today morning, I was up at 5:30 am! (I had to leave home at 9!). tried sleeping again.. no use. So kept on tossing and turning till 7 when I finally woke up, did some general time pass on net, got ready and left at 9.


In the office, the scenario mirrored “throw the baby in the pool and she will learn to swim”. After a brief orientation about the organisation and the centre.. I was left on my own, as everyone was busy preparing for a big event the next week. However 15 minutes into my ‘free time’ I saw my name on a board against events plan and activity leader for child welfare and elderly welfare during the weeklong event with the plan due COB today. And so the work began and the butterflies stopped fluttering around.. 🙂


Welcome Ashima Goyal Siraj, Regional Manager – West, iVolunteer, India


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