Vinayaka Chavithi

Today is a festival which everyone in my family and yes, many, many others enjoy too – it is Vinayaka Chavithi or Ganesh Chaturthi. Whatever you may call it in your language, it is a celebration for one of the cutest Gods in Hindu mythology. One of the primary components of this festival is to celebrate it along with my Dad’s birthday. This is an element that makes it even more fun for us.

Staying so far away from home, one misses these festivals even more. But, we did manage to re-create some of the festivities here. We performed the puja and I dished out some of the goodies, but what mom makes back home is definitely missed.

It got me thinking of how monotonous and routine oriented life has become. The festivals and the preparations along with it are more of a strain for someone who has to keep up with working routine. This is more the case for us living away from home. May be along with all the modernization, social networking, keeping in touch and so on and so forth, the routine and fast paced existence is but obvious.

There are days when I like to re-live those precious moments in my childhood in Doon, where I had many lazy afternoons to spend. No TV to sit in front of, beautiful town with lovely trees all along for lovely cycle rides and long sessions of badminton or carroms or craft making. I am sure each one of us have our own memories of beautiful, peaceful childhood where rush hour was not a part of our lives and neither our parents’. A lot has changed in the last 2 decades and my daughter’s childhood would be quite different – in fact it is with laptops and smart phones.

There are no complaints for any of it – but festivals do make one nostalgic and tad philosophical.

To all – Vinayaka Chavithi Subhakanshalu!

 

Ruminations…

Most days run past with least concern towards what is happening in the country or world at large. It is pitiable at times but then it is something for which one cannot be taken to task. Well for one, I come under the category of a common (wo)man who belongs to the middle class income level (or may be lower, with the inflation)  of this world. I have my own worries and interests to cater to. I have a desire to earn more for my loved ones and to have a house of my own. As far as I see it, it is not a sin to be selfish. Yes, our scriptures and culture per se preache altruism, but then if it was being practiced in earnest, India would have been lot better.

After my stint in the US, I feel even more bad at the state of my homeland. But let us talk about some of the positives first. I came back home to a lovely airport with a runway that is longest in the Asian sub-continent (till a little while ago) which made a perfect touchdown an every day’s job. The Hyderabad airport reminded me of the some of the international airports that I have been to in the recent past. It goes to show what privatization can achieve, if left in capable hands and with corruption kept at bay. The Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro are some of the other stellar examples. The optimist in me is delighted to see all this happen and has a hope that yes, India would be a super power. But the realist in me asks time and again as to how is this going to happen. I have lived in a Super power and seen their infrastructure and facilities. The common man is untouched by corruption. The smallest of the Universities have facilities that can attract one to start studying all over again.

How long then will it take for India to achieve this? We see people who have never stepped out of India, proclaim the smallest milestone in development to be the fact that India would be a super power. Are we really making that kind of progress? I know I sound so pessimistic, but then dealing with the high inflation, ultra crazy traffic on the roads, insane prices of onions and other basic needs makes me wonder many a times, if I want my daughter to grow up here. As long as we have nothing to do with any government entity, life seems fine, but when we have to get in touch with the ‘sarkaari’ places there is an extreme amount of disgust within. I was never this person to compare India, but when I know the possibilities and realize what all can be achieved it gets frustrating.For a country with a large amount of land available for cultivation and agriculture, it is a pity that the farmers have to commit suicide. All this brouhaha about development seems to be untouched in the areas where it matters most. Technology and development are alien words in most of Indian villages and many have no access to even the most basic amenities that we- the lucky few take for granted.

I am in awe of all those entrepreneurs who built empires in spite of all the problems they had to face – how did these people do it? On the brighter side, we probably have it easier than the previous generation and with determination a change on an enormous scale is possible.

It is a month into the New Year but I would like to hope and wish, each one of us achieves our personal milestones and also work towards making our country a better place. By the end of this year, I hope we get closer towards becoming a true super power.

Festivals of today, do they really mean something?

Diwali at our place
Diwali at our place

This question comes to my mind time and again. I love the fact that I was born an Indian and the only country which has maximum number of festivals celebrated and moreover one gets holidays for them too. Festivals do make life very colourful and Diwali probably tops them all with Holi coming in second for me. There is a lot of hope, excitement and activity all around you. The definite thing is one misses this fervour when one is away from India. Diwali is never the same, even if we do celebrate it with other Indians in an Indian temple. I feel what we miss is the family and close friends more than the activities related with the festival.

After all, these festivals were an occasion for family gatherings and coming from a family that is quite obsessed with gatherings, I am one for get-togethers, especially on important festivals. But, other than this, a festival doesn’t mean too much to me personally. Yes, there are some rituals and pujas to be performed. Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi are probably the only two for which I do that; but what about all the others? I love decorating my house for Diwali and arranging the little pandal for Ganesh ji at home. But many other festivals have lost their prominence and relevance in today’s modern setup, at least in the cities, with fast paced lives and hardly any time for others. I think that they are probably still prevalent in villages where life primarily revolves around agriculture.

This Diwali, I was in two minds. What with all the smoke that comes out of the firecrackers should I really be spending money on crackers and two what is Diwali without them. After all it is just one day in a year. All the pollution that the festivals cause makes my heart bleed. So do the extravagancies of Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja and so on and so forth.

I feel that with the changing times, we should revamp the way in which the festivals are celebrated. Maintaining the essence of a festival is crucial for continuing our age old traditions and customs, but extravagance can be curbed in order to preserve our fast depleting ecology. For example, one can decorate the house for Diwali and light beautiful Diyas, but curbing on the extravagance of excessive fireworks would do us all a lot of good. Else, we will neither have a culture nor a planet for our future generations.

All said and done, festive greetings and wishes for a wonderful Diwali with a prosperous year ahead.

August Break

The last one year has seen a series of things happening in our lives and the question of a vacation or break seemed sometimes impossible and sometimes untimely. We set our new home and yes it did take up a lot of our energies and efforts and the saga continues. Ask any home owner and they would concur. But all said and done, we did plan out a week’s break away from home. My husband and I love travelling and with areas around Hyderabad being so deprived of proper weekend getaways, we were dying to be out of Hyd.

We decided to plan our own trip itinerary with the primary push of finding of (mind you) cheap air-tickets; took a flight from Hyd to Bangalore and then immediately a train to Mysore. Our first stop was in Mysore, for two days and we were staying in the Infosys – Mysore campus.

Mysore Infosys Campus
Mysore Infosys Campus

Infy employees can avail a weekend’s accommodation in the campus, subject to prior booking and availability. I have visited a number of Infosys’ campuses around the country but this facility takes the cake. I am pretty sure that it must be one of the best training facilities in the world. The accommodation is 4 star with stylish, modern and comfortable designing. Our guest house was styled as per Spanish villas and the facility has – four screen multiplex, bowling alley, umpteen number of tennis courts, pool tables, shuttle courts, basket-ball courts, volley ball court  and squash courts. Added to all this a spa-like swimming pool, football ground with running track and a complete cricket ground with a pavilion. May be the only thing missing was the night playing facility for the cricket ground ;). We spent the better part of our first day touring the campus.

Our acco on the Mysore campus
Our acco on the Mysore campus

Each of the training and development building is in itself a lovely piece of architecture and added to all this, some of Infy’s trademark landscaping. I suppose for the trainees, once they are done with the initial phase the saying of “picture abhi baaki hai yaar” would start when they are moved to others development centers ;).

In spite of all this, we had to get out of the campus to see the city and Mysore was a delight in itself. The public transport facility is pretty good, but we went by a cab, as we had a single day to cover all the places. We visited the Chamundi temple, atop a hill and then the Mysore Maharaja Palace, via the Maha Nandi statue. It could

Maha Nandi
Maha Nandi

be one of the younger Indian palaces, re-built in early 1900s after a fire that burnt down the original palace. It has influences from Hindu, Muslim and English architecture. The marriage hall/ceremonies hall is a spectacular stained glass arena, with beautiful Indian motives. I especially liked the main hall where the King entertained his chosen guests or the Diwan-e-khas and didn’t quite feel like coming out of it (unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the palace).

Mysore Palace
Mysore Palace

We then proceeded to Srirangapatnam and saw Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. His fort in Srirangapatnamhas been in ruins for long and it was a little depressing and heart wrenching to see the place where Tipu’s body was found after the final battle.

It was now time to move on from history to nature and we went to the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary. This lovely sanctuary is located on the banks of the Cauvery River and tourists are taken on a boat ride in the river. Due to the higher water levels that day, boating was not permitted, but I must still say, the place was

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

divine. Beautiful tall trees, sounds of various birds chirping away and the quiet and peace of it all rejuvenated us completely. After a well spent time, we proceeded to the famous Brindavan gardens. To its credit the gardens are pretty well maintained, but I felt they could do much better. Probably having seen so many other places around the world which are of much larger size and magnitude has spoiled me ;). This is surely no place for any kind of peace and tranquility as the gardens were swarming with people. We chose to see the lighting at the Mysore Maharaja palace and without much ado, bid a goodbye to Brindavan gardens. I must admit, the palace lighting is worth the sight. Do not ever miss it. The moment one sees the whole palace lit up in one go, the sense of energy and happiness that one enjoys is beyond words. Even after a long day’s sight-seeing, this last sight made me feel suddenly very alive.

Mysore Palace - All Lit Up
Mysore Palace - All Lit Up

The next day we proceeded to Ooty via Bandipur Wildlife Reserve. This forest is called Mudumalai Forest Reserve by the Tamil Nadu Government. One can take up cottages here and stay in wilderness for a few days or just stop by on your way to Ooty to take a 45 minute jungle safari.

We managed to spot some animals – deer, langoor, elephants, mongoose, etc, but were not so fortunate to see a tiger. The Safari timings are from early morning 6 to 9 and then start from 4 in the evening to 6 P.M. It is said that one should take the safari either at dawn or dusk to see maximum number of animals. We had to take the 4 ‘o’ clock safari as we had to reach Ooty by nightfall. We had our own adventure here, because we opted for public transport instead of a cab and finally managed to reach Ooty,

A view from Hotel Sherlock, Ooty
A view from Hotel Sherlock, Ooty

negotiating the 36 hairpins on our way by night fall. We had booked Hotel Sherlock in Ooty. A nice, quaint, small cottage like hotel with just nine rooms and each room being named either after Sherlock Holmes’ characters or places. It is a very nice hotel, with a brilliant view and a very well maintained garden. The breakfast buffet served with the room reservation was pretty good, as per the hotel standards.

We checked out of Sherlock before 11:00 AM and took a cab out to check out Ooty. The Botanical gardens and the Rose gardens were very well maintained. They stand a testimony to imperial Ooty and it was nice to see the tall trees and lovely gardens all around. The rainy season and the cloud cover made the whole experience worthwhile. We also went to Doddabetta peak which is supposed to be the second highest peak in south India and then did the typical filmy – Dil Diwana kind of thing – went boating in the Ooty lake. It was fun and yes, please don’t miss it.

Our final destination was Coonoor where we spent the better part of our vacation – 4 days, doing nothing much, but taking in the beautiful weather and the amazing hospitality of Taj hotels. We were staying at the Gateway Hotel – Coonoor or the erstwhile Taj Garden Retreat.It being an off-season, we got an upgrade in our room too.  I have been to

The Gateway Hotel - Coonor
The Gateway Hotel - Coonor

numerous buffets at various Taj hotels, but I must a say, we came to know why the Taj hotels reign supreme and are raved for their service. One can never ask for more as you are always so well taken care of. The a-la-carte meals prepared were excellent and the hotel premises and the setting was simply divine. You can’t help but unwind completely. It was one of our very first Taj holidays and we are pretty sure it won’t be the last :).

Coonor in itself is a lovely place and one can see Tea Gardens all around. We visited the customary tourist places and liked them pretty well. The highlight was the Sims Park and then the toy train ride from Coonoor to Ooty and then back to Coonoor. Took a first class on our way up and then came by the general. This toy train is

Toy train
Toy train

another lovely experience and once more a must do in the Nilgiris.

We flew back from Coimbatore and I must thank the weather for it being so absolutely perfect – cloudy, pleasant and hardly any rain all through. At the end of the week, I was completely recharged, dying to get back to home 😉 and ready to start my work.

The Indelible Sign of Democracy – Voter’s Ink

We exercised our franchise and then upon a relaxing day, a talkative set can get into numerous discussions. Chief among which was the composition of the Indelible Voter’s ink. We thought that the civics book of the school days had supplied us with that trivia, but then do have some consideration, it has been many years since we left school, so memory fades.

I remember seeing the index finger smeared with a black ink, but at the voting center, the lady applied a purple colour ink. I thought that there might be some change in colour, due to the excess of ink requirement. But then the colour of the ink changed to black in due course. Though the exact composition of the ink is not out in the open, I assume due to fierce demand and competition, but the basic compound used in Silver Nitrate. If you remember your Chemistry from school, Silver Nitrate was always stored in dark brown bottles, as AgNO3 could react with ultraviolet light and change composition. So coming back to our Indelible Voting ink, it is also transported in darkened bottles, to prevent any composition disruption.

Tentative composition: Distilled Water + Silver Nitrate + Diluted Alcohol and Dye (colour). 

The Voter’s ink or Election Ink is a simple and effective way to ascertain that a person has already cast his/her vote. It is applied on the left-hand index finger at the cuticle and this time onwards slightly extending upwards. It is a semi-permanent ink and remains on the skin from a period of 72 hours up to 30 days also.

An interesting in Business Today about the facts and trivia about one of the leading Election ink manufacturers can be got from this link – http://businesstoday.intoday.in/index.php?issueid=53&id=10763&option=com_content&task=view

 

I Cast My Vote :)

 

My Vote
My Vote - Pic taken by: Sunil Ayalasomayajula

So I exercised my franchise and cast my vote – for the very first time. It is definitely surprising that I have not done it so far. For the last elections, I must confess I never thought that one vote would make any difference, plus had zero awareness. Thanks to the campaigns this year, I got a lot my fundas cleared and I finally did it.

It felt awesome because of two reasons:

  1. I participated in the largest democracy and exercised what is my right and also a duty to my country – first time vote.
  2. I voted for worthy candidates.

Ideally, one should vote for the candidate, but many of us are either unaware of the candiddate or even if we knew, care more for the party at large.  In India, things do move based on the party in power and for many voting for the majority party that they would want to see in power is more important than the candidate in your constituency itself. People have their perspectives and one can’t curtail their right to choice – after all it is a democracy we are talking about. 

I had my doubts upon Loksatta being represented at the Parliament level and was contemplating whether to go for TDP or BJP. The thing is that I feel Mr.Chandrababu Naidu did a lot for A.P than any one else, in recent times. He made Hyderabad visible on the global map and thanks to him, with all the IT boom there was an explosion of not just IT related jobs, but a lot of other people found employment too. For example, cab drivers (one can see Hyd filled with them), cooks, maids, apartment booms and so on. But, this time, I couldn’t get to vote for him, because of his alliance with TRS and Mayawati. If TRS thinks they can only make a difference to Telangana if they have a separate state, I think that’s the biggest blunder. You can make a difference to your motherland, without the need to create a separate state! Just another gimmick to make more money. And coming to Mayawati, well, let me not even pollute my blog with starting to write about her. 

So, I voted for Loksatta party in both the Assembly and Parliament polls and their candidate for Assembly from my constituency was Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan and for the Parliament it was Dr. Rattaiah.

I have had my say and hope that Loksatta wins, at least some seats. 

Hoping for a change – if not today, someday in future.

To Vote or Not to Vote?

This year’s elections have seen the maximum use of media that one could not have imagined previously. Apart from the usual means of propagation by the usual political parties, we have seen a rise in the number of new parties who claim to be different from the regular politicians. They claim to be different and promise to do things differently. One thing that is definitely in their favour is that most of these parties are formed by educated professionals, who believe in making a difference. Among the parties that I know in Andhra Pradesh is Loksatta. About their leader and party initiator:

Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan is a physician by training who went into the Indian Administrative Service in the aftermath of the Emergency and failure of the Janata Experiment. He was a topper in the IAS exam. During the 16 years of distinguished public service in various capacities, he acquired a formidable reputation in the State of Andhra Pradesh.

To read more about him, please check this link

For all these years, the educated middle class was never considered important by our politicians and it has come to this that the word politics is considered a dirty word. No one from respectable families, without any kind of political lineage would enter politics. You might be interested in changing the system and have tons of ideas in order to improvise the existing systems, but your voice was never considered so important, as to even give it a minute. NGOs and other voluntary organizations are and have done their bit, in spite of the discouragement and the apathy they face from the people in power – let me not call them Government.

If today there are movements like Jagore, which is doing its best to educate and bring this middle class to vote, especially the first time voters, then it is due to a bunch of passionate and educated people, who are working very hard for this. The recent globalization, exposure to the world at large post the liberalization era has done a great deal of good to our country, but we still have miles to go before we sleep. When I, as an Indian step out of India and see what people have achieved in their land through proper planning and most importantly a love for their motherland, it makes me wonder as to why we – Indians –

  • the largest democracy in the world
  • the nation which develops the best technical solutions for the world
  • the country with the largest English speaking population

Cannot do good for itself. It is not because we cannot do it. The answer simply lies in the fact that either we do not love and take pride in our motherland or as we know it, corruption and sloth is so in grained from the license era that our politicians and babus cannot get themselves to work again.

A good case in example would be the Andhra Pradesh Government’s Chief Electoral Officer’s website that can be used by ordinary people to check if our names are part of the voting list. If you look at the site, it is not even of third rate standard for which I am sure the Government, oops, the exchequer that’s us, most have paid a ton of money. The search criteria by which one can find their names is based on one’s house number. I must enlighten you here that Hyderabad (am not aware of other places) is renowned for some of the most complex house numbers. An example would be: 12-4-149/B/L.  It is not something that one can remember very easily and having moved into a new apartment, I am not sure what could be the house number that the Government records would take for mine. I am totally lost here. Coming back to our website, when I went over to visit the office to submit my voter registration form, the place was extremely chaotic. The person who gave me this website, I could clearly make out, had never used a computer. There was another lady sitting in front of a system, but did not even know how to browse. I am not blaming the individuals, but just looking at the system made me feel so sad.

I am hoping to vote this time and yes – Loksatta is my choice. But I was doubtful till a few days back, if I could actually vote. The problem is the website never showed up anything when I tried to search and the helpline number I called, the folks were polite strangely, but I couldn’t get any info. Fortunately, my parents had registered my husband and my names sometime way back last year and it is due to that that our names are now in the voting list. The irony is that the same folks had visited our home again in October and took our photographs, but those never did make it to the list. I wonder what happened to those applications. My concern is that things need not be this disorganized. Agreed our population is huge. But, if some private company, lets say Infosys or Wipro or TCS were given the contract to take care of developing a robust site with a good search and made online application (which by the way is available in the site I mentioned, but never worked) workable, we could have achieved a lot more.

The Lead India campaign is another pertinent one and the questions they raise are so hard-hitting, that I hope this time on, the Governments do respond to some seriously good governance.

After all, if India is one of the youngest countries, then why on earth does it have the one of the world’s oldest parliaments?

The urban middle class forming an important chunk of voters in this year’s Lok Sabha polls, with 22% of 543 LS seats being in the urban areas, it is time each one of us votes. Every vote counts and it is one of our primary rights towards making a difference in the way our country works.

Jai Hind!