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Reliving the past: Jallianwala Bagh

“I passed my whole night there. It is impossible for me to describe what I felt. Heaps of dead bodies lay there, some on their backs and some with their faces upturned. A number of them were poor innocent children. I was all alone the whole night… nothing but the barking of dogs, or the braying of donkeys was audible. Amidst hundreds of corpses, I passed my night, crying and watching. I cannot say more. What I experienced that night is known only to me and to God”

        – Eye witness account of Ratan Devi after the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar

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Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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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Categories: around us, go green, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Step back in time – The Royal Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara

front facade of Laxmi Vilas Palace Vadodara

In front of the grand Laxmi Vilas Palace

Laxmi Vilas Palace is my most visited place in Vadodara. Initially I knew of only a few places to see in Vadodara, so whenever somebody visited us, Laxmi Vilas Palace was the one place where we definitely took them. Last week was my 5th visit to the palace. Every time I go there, I come back thinking I should write about the palace and soon forget about it. But not this time :).

Named after the wife of Maharaja Sayaji Rao III, Laxmi vilas Palace combines the architecture of 4 religions – Hinduism, Sikh, Christianity and Islam – as you can see on the front façade itself! The clock tower of the ‘church’ is visible from long and far across Baroda. The tower, though, built for a clock, didn’t end up having it as the architect thought that the tick-tock of the clock will be very irritating for the royal family living in the palace. It has a red light which is lit up when the royal family is in the residence letting the people of Baroda know that the king is in town! 🙂 Continue reading

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

I dream of a library…

Growing up, my first library was the local kirana(grocery) store that used to keep a big stack of Hindi comics like billu, pinky, chacha chowdhary, phantom, commando Dhruv etc.

Characters of Diamond Comics Indian Comics Magazine

Characters from my first ‘library’ books!

Then from 2nd grade onward it was school library, where I got introduced to Noddy, Ruskin Bond, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Heidi, black beauty, little women and many more. That was also when the nearby book club had Tinkle, Champak and Chandamama. In junior classes we had to sit on the ground around a low table and in senior classes there were proper table and chairs… I so looked forward to library period, half an hour of stories! 🙂 Continue reading

Categories: Books, digital living, Old times | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

We read in a F or an E?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

Reading pattern: F? E? C?

I’m sure content managers must be aware of this fact, but for me it was an interesting find! I have recently started working on a blog on volunteering and I was reading a few articles on what and how do people consume content online. I didn’t quite care about SEO for Lime ‘n’ Lemony or even Weekend Kitchen but for Volunteer Weekly I wanted to know at least some basics. Keywords, meta-description, analytics, web master tools etc were all bizarre buzzwords until now! Anyway one of the studies that fascinated me was that we read a website in a F!
It comes from Neilsen Jakob’s eye-tracking study. What it means?F shaped reading pattern
  1. We first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area – forming the letter F’s top bar
  2. We then move down a bit and read across in a second horizontal movement which is typically shorter than the first one – forming the lower bar of the letter F.
  3. Finally we scan the left side of the content vertically, thus forming F’s stem.

I was relating it to the way I read all the academic papers also. Most often we used to read the introduction and conclusion and would scan through the rest of the article, reading the heading and sub-headings and would read another one or two sections that would have the analysis. I guess that would make it like an E! and if time was really short we would entirely skip the middle.. making it a C pattern! 😀

Anyway however we read, I guess the point is to put important things right in the beginning! 🙂

Another interesting thing which a web-designer friend of mine told me was on the width of a website – he told me that 980px (or 960px) is the ideal width for a webpages, because that is the width the eye can read without moving from left to right. Any bigger than that and you can’t read it in one go.
Isn’t it interesting how different fields bring out human behavior! Do you know of any other such study? would love to read about them 🙂
Categories: Books, digital living, education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are we stuck in a Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Prisoner’s Dilemma makes an interesting case study because the equilibrium solution (Nash equilibrium) is where both players are worst off.  While it’s in collective interest to cooperate, it’s in individual interest to defect. Read more on Wikipedia or the cartoon at the end of the post explains in just two lines! 🙂

Prisoner's dilemma - Nash Equilibrium

Are we all stuck at the Nash Equilibrium?

A discussion on the draft drug pricing policy 2011 between A and S led to a dialogue on why our government is in huge deficit. S said something which A directly linked to something she had read a long time ago – Prisoner’s dilemma.

The dialogue and the linking was inspired A to share it here and carry on the discussion.

S: … but where will the government bring money from? Our government is already in a huge deficit.

A: But that’s because there are so many poorly managed subsidies.

S: We have subsidies on things like kerosene, diesel, farm electricity which is again for the same common man for whom you are asking for low-cost medicines. So why should you say that subsidies are not required.

A: Well because they are mismanaged. A rich farmer also gets the same subsidy as a poor farmer so the rich becomes richer. There should be means of ensuring that only the needy get the subsidy.

S: How do you do that? A western country subsidy model will not really work in India.

Take for example, in US, diesel for farm vehicles is subsidized. The subsidized diesel comes with red dye and hence called Red Diesel. People come and fill their own tanks – normal vehicles with the non-subsidized diesel and farm vehicles with red diesel.  The Department of Transportation (a.k.a. our RTO) randomly stops vehicles for checking and if any vehicle other than farm vehicle is found to have the red diesel it is fined hefty.

But efficient monitoring of any such subsidy is difficult if not impossible in India. For starters, the ratio of police force to the population is fairly skewed and on top of that police is paid so little that corruption is easily justifiable.

It is in our collective interest to not misuse subsidies, if we have the means we should not use the subsidy but what happens in India is that people pay to get the BPL cards. People pay to get a caste certificate so that they can also use the reservation system.

The gap between the rich and poor is only increasing, so its every man for himself. The rich are busy getting richer, the poor are still in survival mode and the middle class stands divided. We are all looking out for ourselves. When the rich businessman is doing it, why shouldn’t I? I am anyway not making enough money; I don’t have money to give to the government. However if we all pay taxes, we will have better infrastructure and we will all be able to probably make more money. But, as prisoner’s dilemma shows, individually, paying less tax has a higher payout for me.

For our collective good, we should not defect but we seem to be stuck at the Nash Equilibrium where everyone defects. Do the game theorists have any suggestion of pulling us out of this Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemma

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemm

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are just personal opinions. Neither A nor S are economists or management students. They just happen to be interested in their country’s economy and also just happen to know Prisoner’s Dilemma 🙂

More debates and confusions on my mind:

Development – the debate –No approach in development is a clear right or wrong and so often we see opposite approaches for the same ends.

Storytelling for change – It’s important to tell the happy stories so that we don’t lose faith in each other but one bad incident, one negative story takes away the good done by other 99 positive incidents.

Categories: development, education | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

An inclusive RTI Act

I think I’ve already said this in my earlier post that I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. The Act is true power in the hands of citizens and till now it has been used very effectively, however at times it has also put RTI activist’s at risk. But that hasn’t deterred them. However, as I also wrote in the earlier post, RTI application isn’t very easy.. and a step to increase it’s accessibility was taken earlier when government announced an interactive website and a call center.

In another positive move, recently Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (SIC) took the initiative of responding to Visually handicapped RTI applicants in Braille! This means that the blind no longer need to  depend on others for filing applications and receiving replies. The Tamil Nadu SIC is doing this with the help of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped. The Institute had earlier also helped the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in translating the RTI Act in Braille. The copies of the Act in Braille may be obtained from their office in Dehradun.

Such initiatives give positive hope! As a friend of mine, Shruti, had said “It’s really good to see so many people doing such good work! makes one hopeful for the country.”

Categories: development, digital living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kindness in Strange Quarters – Encounter with an Auto Walla!

I should say it upfront! I think this post is fairly long.. but I do hope you will have the time to read it through 🙂 I didn’t want to cut anything from the post after I re-read it to shorten it a little 😮

Long time back when I had attended a workshop on storytelling as a means of communication in development, I was amazed to see how most participants when asked to choose and tell a real story (with a message in the end), picked up a story where an act of kindness from a stranger had led them to question their distrust on strangers.

Sometime ago when I went to Gandhi Ashram, I met these young enthusiasts who have been helping people with no expectation of return and living lives on the principles of pay-it-forward or the gift economy. It brought forth so many random acts of kindness… kindness to strangers… an effort to renew our trust on each other, a belief that not everybody out there is going to cheat us.

As kids we used to trust people so easily. Just yesterday I was telling my friends how me and my sister used to walk back home for 2 kms (after a 14 kms bus ride) from school in scorching heat and we would wave at strangers, we would stop at anyone’s home and ask for water or just shade, we used to take lift from strangers without thinking twice. But today every mother will warn her children to be careful of strangers, not to talk to them, not to take anything to eat/drink from them. And rightly so, I’m not saying they are wrong. This caution is off course stemmed from the various child abuse/ abduction stories that get highlighted in media and are told over and over again. One story is repeatedly used to magnify our fears manifolds.

I think I’m digressing too far… What I wanted to say was we need to share more and more ‘good’ stories… We need to remind ourselves that the world is after all not such a bad place, that we don’t need to keep looking for monsters under our bed! The unknown is not always dangerous… Off course caution is necessary but distrust is not.

I shared one such story of how I was moved by kindness from Indian railway catering staff when I boarded the wrong train at Pune station. Yesterday a friend of mine, Prarthana, shared her own experience of kindness from strangers on email and I thought it needs to be told further on. We all take it for granted that the auto-wallas are out to cheat us.. But this one experience shows that’s not the case always! Below is her encounter with an auto-walla in Bangalore:

Today when I left from Adugodi at 7.15 pm (a difficult time to get auto:)) here comes an auto whom I ask “Old Airport Road starting Sir” and I get a reply after a pause of many seconds… “Madam naanu nimge Bidtini adre Madam bejar padako bedi naanu illi swalpa munde hogi ondu parcel collect mada beku, bekandre U turn tagondu illindane meter start madtini”; meaning “Madam I would drop you but if you don’t mind I need to collect a parcel a little further on this road, I would start meter once we take U turn and cross this place”. I readily agreed.

He collected his parcel and appreciated the fact that I didn’t say No and I wasn’t rude like many other customers he would get 🙂 On our way we shared our stories in short. I got introduced to Mr. Murali, who owns this auto, owns a small site and a small house has supported many of his brother and is loking forward for good education for his 2 boys studying in 5th and 7th Grade, does good to his best in life and very important he doesn’t charge a single extra penny from his customer except when he has to go in outskirts where he would not get any customer in return, he stressed saying his meter fare too is accurate:)…

When I reached my destination I realised that I had just missed my bus…. He slowed down and asked me “Madam how much is the meter reading?” I said “Rs 57 Sir”. It was his reply that took me by surprise… “Madam I am switching the meter off here, I am anyway going further to wish a good friend of mine for his Birthday and I would anyway go with my auto empty. So I will drop you to bus stop close by for no extra charge” and started moving further. I had no words….I was feeling so privileged and happy to see his kindness. He dropped me at the bus stop, I asked him how much to pay, he saw chart and new rate applied to Rs 57 was some Rs 75. He said I would want to stick to my commitment Maam, so pay me Rs 75:) I was very much moved by his act of helping and kindness and paid him Rs 80 and 2 Alpenliebe chocolates I had in my bag and lots of heartfelt thanks to show my gratitude and in turn I also got a lot of thanks and his contact no.:) that I didn’t want to miss saving in my phone book!!!

Not all Auto drivers are bad; there are many good people too!!! We crib about few asking more money but please appreciate good ones 🙂

Prarthana is an avid volunteer with a number of NGOs in Bangalore. She is also running the TCS world 10K marathon to raise funds for the NGOs she supports. Check out her story here: http://prarthanarunappeal.blogspot.in/

 Have you ever been humbled by kindness from a stranger? I would love to hear your experience!

Image credits: http://bottom-of-the-glass.blogspot.in/2012/03/drawn-in-quarter-ii-iii.html

Categories: around us | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Right to Information

I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. Imagine I can ask the government anything (well almost!) and they have an obligation to respond to my query within a stipulated time frame!

It’s such a big power to citizens to ensure participatory democracy… and undoubtedly a lot of scandals and injustices have been brought forward by people through the exercise of their Right to Information. One of earliest such example that I had read was of MKSS fighting for workers and peasants rights. I was so proud when we were discussing MKSS campaign during one of our class on Governance in LSE. I don’t know of any other country that has such a law. At least no one spoke about any such law in their country that time… and we had representation from at least 30 countries in our class!

There have been a lot of times that I have asked/ told people to use the RTI act to speak up against injustice to them but I could never say it with complete confidence… The reason being I have myself never used this Right. Not that there weren’t time when I wanted to use it, but just because it’s too much of an effort to send an RTI application. First you need to write the application in the given format, the send it via registered post/ speed post and pay the fee of Rs 10 via post office, DD, IPO etc…

So when I read in yesterday’s paper that government is soon planning to launch an interactive website and a call centre for RTI, I was very happy. (I liked it! Tweeted it, facebooked it and the works J)A call center will ease the application process so much; almost everyone has access to a cell phone and RTI is just a phone call away! No more fretting over if I wrote the application correctly or not or about payment options.. They can simply make the phone call to that number expensive…

But then on second thoughts, would making it easier to access, increase its misuse? More prank calls, more people trying to access the call centre for random queries and as a result the genuine ones will suffer… I can just foresee hearing the recorded message “all our RTI executives are busy on other calls…please hold on or call back later.” While it’s a step in right direction, I hope the implementation will be robust enough to ensure accessibility to the rightful applicant.

You can read the official act in almost all official Indian languages at: http://righttoinformation.gov.in/

The details of the RTI Call centre and Portal Project are available at: http://rti.gov.in/rfp.htm

 Image credits: mandla.nic.in; lawctopus.com

Categories: development, digital living, LSE | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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