Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Driving 101

So, add to the list of my moving adventures my latest project: Driving!!

Driving in India is CRAZY, I mean cuckoo bananas, psychotic, rambunctious, hysterical, unorganized, unpredictable! Everytime I would visit the motherland and watch people drive, I would be in complete awe as to how can any one ever predict what is about to happen next. It's like a roller coaster ride but with no fixed route. Just goes. Ha.

Since my move here I have been deliberately postponing my "driving lessons" secretly hoping that I will be better prepared to blend in the craziness over time. Turns out the time was a few days ago.

I have been taking driving lessons and it was my third lesson today. I remember taking driving lessons when I was 16 in Valparaiso, Indiana. There was so much attention to detail in something as simple as a driving class. We had to take hours of lectures and finally got the pleasure of taking the car out with an instructor who gave us his utmost attention while we were learning. Mr. Johnson (that was my instructor's name) took the painstaking duty to explain every traffic rule or sign or crossway that I passed as I drove so that I understood the significance of making a wrong or premature move.

Well, fast forward nine years later to my driving lesson in New Delhi and its a 180 to say the least. Of course, the cars here are manual. So aside from the fact that you need to pay more attention to the reckless, non traffic rule abiding drivers that account for 98% of the drivers on the road, there is the gear box, clutch, and the right hand side driving to pay attention to. It was amusing to me though to notice that my instructor didn't even ask for a learner's permit or even have a brief conversation about my experience with driving before he handed me the keys.

He simply put me in the drivers seat and literally threw me in traffic. Instead of explaining the rules of the road, he simply gave me 'pointers' such as "every time you see a cycle rickshaw, move over" or "if someone is in your way, just honk and push your way through". If this wasn't chaotic enough, it was hilarious when he would answer his cell phone while I was 'in class'. Being on your cell while driving is a ticketable offense in India so I would think that a driving school instructor doing it while training has got to be illegal as well. Oh well. It wasn't a brief 30 second conversation either. He took his time to make sure the person he was talking to was completely satisfied with the conversation and would occassionally turn to me to make sure I wasn't hitting a pedestrian or something.

Bottom line after my sessions so far: Nobody is obeying any traffic rules whatesoever, so you best watch your back! There is no organization in traffic rules here, its simply defensive driving ALL the time.

Watch out Dilliwallas, I'm about to join the wacky driving club!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Down the Street

Coming from the land of giant supermarkets where there is a one stop shop for everything grocery and kitchen related, it is quite a transition to adjust to the bustling street vendors in Delhi. Instead of having to go through dozens of aisles and shopping carts and choices, it's quite opposite here. When you leave the house, for the most part, you know what you need to purchase. You also know that even when you are done with your shopping for the week, and suddenly realize you need some immediately, there is always the option of just walking down the street and picking up whatever you like, since there are specialty stores for virtually any item you could need. The convenience of street shopping in the motherland is a boon to say the least.
Or is it?
The local street bazaar accommodates for everything a household requires without having to shuffle through thousands of products. There is an electrical store, a vegetable and fruit vendor, a local dairy store, a "chemist" or drug store, a doctor (or two or three or more!), a cigarette pit stop, video rental store, etc. A couple turns from any apartment building, there exists a local market that will contain all of these facilities and more. However, as convenient as they appear on the surface, they can be detrimental to the local consumer as well.
The false pretense of having a doctor so close by at your service might seem like a blessing, but each physician is available only during their local hours of operation, with long waiting lines, that barely understand the concept of an emergency. These doctors don't think you can really get too sick aside from their regular visitation hours and if requested, usually refuse to service their sick customers, aka patients.
The vegetable vendors are indeed selling fresh vegetables, but they all buy from one source that injects their produce with various fertilizers and growth boosters that are actually detrimental to our bodies.
The one pit stop cigarette or "paan" shop is selling cancer sticks with the great convenience of round the clock service. You might not be looking to buy cigarettes, but they are right in your face even when you just want to buy tomatoes. Good luck quitters!
Other stores that make shopping look easier also come with similar side effects. Chemists are selling various strong allopathic medicines that are often self prescribed by patients and don't require a prescription for most medications. So much for the patient turned doctor trying to eradicate the symptoms of maybe a much bigger issue at hand than what seems obvious.
I don't believe the solution to this dilemma is opening various Walmarts across India, but I guess it's just a realization and to proceed with caution. It is important to realize that take everything just for what it is, and rely on such conveniences on a need basis only. Going on a shopping spree down the street is accommodating, but sometimes is harmful as well.
Everything that glitters is not gold, indeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Serious Oxymoron

Honor Killing.

Two small words with a very big meaning. Since I've been here in India, these words appear in the daily newspaper on a regular basis. When I first read it a couple times, I had a startled reaction. It was unfathomable to me that your own family members would go to the great length of killing you and being proud of it. Just to prove a point. This phenomenon happens in various parts of the Islamic world (no disrespect) due to several reasons but mostly pertaining to adultery, secret affairs and relationships, disagreements on family matters, etc. It was something that a lot of people turn away from because nothing can be done about it, and frankly most of us aren't around it enough to concern your every day emotions to it.
But moving to the biggest democracy in the world and seeing how often this event takes place has just dazzled me.
Most of the time, families will kill innocent couples on the basis of inter caste relationships. The word "caste" sounds so outdated to someone who lives or has lived in the Western world. However, in the lower income class in India, this very word leads to inhumane actions and murders of hundreds of lives every year.
The law upholds in such matters and the people who commit this horrendous crimes do get their share of brutal punishment, but that doesn't solve the true issue at hand. The issue that needs to be addressed is HOW to stop these events from actually happening. Torturing and brutally killing innocent people on the basis of culture is absolutely unacceptable.
I don't think that I have the solution to this problem, but I do have a big problem with the term itself. Why do the media and rest of the society call these ruthless murders honor killings? Does honor really reside in killing your very own family members just because they didn't agree to your simplistic view of the world? The term in itself provides solace to the people who commit them because they think they are doing it for honor. I thought honor is about respect and merit and credibility. Since when does killing someone and unjustly and cowardly taking a helpless' life become honorous?
People need to stop being accepting to such happenings, and giving these killings this oxymoronic term only adds to this acceptance. India is a free country and being free to love someone is a basic freedom endowed from something beyond society and culture. People who believe in such ridiculous ideas are nothing but selfish, hateful, vicious cowards who deserve the worst punishments law can offer.

Got It Maid?

So most Desis living abroad secretly envy local Indians. Even an average income middle class family can afford to hire a maid that will come do the daily house chores that take so much time and energy from one's day.
Especially with the growing trend where both the partners are working, who wants to divide up the daily to-dos after a hectic day at work? I know I don't.
Aside from making time for cleaning the house, to doing the dishes, to laundry, etc., these tasks just add stress to a household. Like there's not enough to do already! But it's not as easy at it sounds.
Being here for around three months now, it is interesting to see how much energy and stress is actually added because of having a maid. It is becoming harder to hire people that will come in a timely manner on a regular basis and do a good job up to your standard to do your house chores. Having been around so many "domesticated ladies" or housewives rather, it is commonly noted that most of their conversations and rants surround this very issue.
I think its rather ironic that they would hire someone, whine about the quality of service and attendance (or lack of), rant about how expensive they are, yet always somehow succumb to the pressure of having one.
I remember when I would jokingly tell my American friends about this concept and they would just raise their eyebrows and go "What? You guys hire someone to come do your dirty work? That's not fair!" Well, my friends it is becoming increasingly difficult every day to find someone dependable and trustworthy to do such work.
Maybe its time that we shift to the Western trend of being efficient at our own house work. It's not so bad after all. Besides, no one can clean your house better than you can (this statement might not be true for all of us!).
So if your parents have found a reliable person to come and do the every day chores that we all oh so dread, then you're lucky, but if you are part of the majority that are always asking for better service, then is it really a blessing if you got a maid?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What'd you do with my money?

Just for the record, this is not an America bashing blog. I just like to share interesting facts that might change opinions that people have about the "world superpower".
BBC reported today that 96% of the 9 BILLION dollars that the US government awarded to the Iraqi government in reconstruction efforts is unaccounted for. A whopping $8.7 billion dollars goes missing and no one knows where?!
You would think that with all the corporate big whigs and great financial cream of the crops that exist in that side of the world, the American defense would hire a decent accountant to handle this job diligently.
Of course, all the funds were spent during the 2004-2007 time frame. Hail Republicans!! Isn't this the very party that promotes freedom of capitalism and a non regulated government? Oh why yes it is! Of course they would want deregulation in all sectors concerned with any kinds of financing. They are incapable of handling the tax payers money in a responsible manner. I am infuriated that they vote against government aided programs for the unemployed and needy of their own country when they have little value and show utter recklessness towards public funding.
Most of Obama administration critics have a problem with his policy because they believe in respecting corporate privacy and don't believe that government should be completely transparent.
Well, I think we can all see what that leads to. I paid thousands of dollars in taxes in that time period just like millions of Americans, and I deserve to know, what'd you do with my money Big Brother?!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

WANTED: Entrepreneurs!

Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page. These billionaire entrepreneurs all had one thing in common: they lacked a formalized business education. They also had in common a genius idea combined with excelling in their field of interest and an ambitious entrepreneurial spirit.
It is commonly and wrongly thought by many people that in order to succeed in a business, it is necessary to have some sort of a business administration degree, or graduate in a field related to business. However, looking at teenage and young successful business owners, it is safe to assume that it takes not that but indeed a much more specialized understanding of their own field (whatever that might be)and a strong ambition in order to do gain financial prosperity through business.
A formalized education does many things: it enhances your analytical ability, creates more useful, intelligent people, and creates workers, not necessarily employers.
America might lack a lot of bullets in their educational system, but somehow or another, they manage to vest in their students the ability to dream big. They promote taking risks and don't shun overwhelming optimism. Indian schools are quiet reverse in this aspect. They respect (and most of the time unreasonably)pieces of papers known as degrees and view them as a guarantee to attaining success. In reality, those who graduate with the most difficult degrees are the ones that are grossly underpaid for their labor, and has caused ingrained pessimism when it comes to future plans. What classrooms here need is to instill in students the possibilities they can pursue once they realize a great idea. We need to promote the risk taking, go getting attitude that correctly enforces that being successful is not denoted just by graduating from a good university, but from excelling in your field of interest and enhancing people's lives through a business idea that promotes these skills.
Including an entrepreneurship course work based curriculum starting from 7th or 8th grade can promote the "out of box" thinking that is the key to being a successful business owner. The heavy coursework and endless curricula that is the current standard in Indian schools might not have the space and time to include such activities, but undoubtedly this is the most important gap that needs to be filled in order to produce the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs. All in all, aren't the entrepreneurs of tomorrow in schools today?
That is the exact message that Indian schools need to incoporate in their curriculum today. A program that casually teaches young students the possiblities of dreaming big and using their ideas in a commericial theme so that they can acheive economic as well as personal success and satisfaction. It's time that we catch up with our American counterparts. Teenage entrepreneurs are growing in numbers everyday simply by employing the principles taught in this program. Let's get to business, already.

:Good riddance:

It's extremely hot
It smells weird
There are numerous homeless people
The traffic is insanely chaotic
The pollution is out of control
The population is not in control either

And the list can go on, as to why India isn't the most ideal place for so many people...But there is another list that is often overlooked

People have high hopes
Even a homeless person has sparkling eyes
Multiple religions coexist in the same city and region
There are over twenty different languages with more than ninety dialects
A dollar to charity will go further here than in any other Western nation
There are more opportunities to benefit the greater good
Being here makes you realize the small idiosyncracies that make our life convenient are actually all unnecessary and just fringe benefits

I've been in India for about two months now, and I've had plenty of people ask me "why in the world would you move to India from the States?" It is very difficult for me to answer this question, mostly because it is going to be biased, and also because I don't want to do injustice to either of the two countries. However, one thing I will say is that even through the numerous inconveniences that exist with living in a third world country, there is a weird sense of 'homeness' and 'belongingness' that lacks in Western countries. Even though there are times when I get frustrated with the everyday annoyances, I have never questioned my decision to move to India on a permanent basis.
I have learned more about myself, people, life, relationships, culture here in the last two months than I have in all my years combined so far. Perhaps it is because I was too young or naive to realize this earlier, or maybe I have too much time on my hands here (ha), it has been a very interesting transition and has met all my expectations so far.
If you're reading this note and haven't ever stepped out of the Western cocoon, I really suggest you do so. Moving to another country is not necessary to learn these lessons, delving in it for a few weeks will suffice. It might change your life in bigger ways than you think. Seriously.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Can Brown Do For You?

Ignorance is piss. Some incidents really teach you that. This post is not meant to be a complaint or a rant, however, I do believe that sharing this little blurb could be beneficial to at least one person.

So couple days ago I decided to visit my friends Jennifer and Jesse in Plymouth, Indiana. It's about 40 minutes away from lovely Chesterton and who doesn't want to leave town once in a while. So I get on the road and was peacefully driving on Route 30 going East. Half way to Plymouth, about 20 miles out of Valparaiso, the ride was starting to unwind smoothly. I see a police car in the opposite direction about half a mile up and I stayed in my lane and left my cruise on.
About half a mile after following me, the cop puts his lights on. As every good citizen should, I immediately pulled over to the shoulder lane and stopped. He walks out of the car, asks for my license and registration. I had it all on me (thank god). I passed the documents over to him, he looked at it and asked me "Where are you from?"
"Chesterton," I replied.
"No, I mean originally," he continued.
"Oh, yeah, originally I suppose I am from India, as in my roots," I answered.
Mr. Officer seemed confused. He goes, "oh, okay. So do you comfortably speak and understand English? I mean, do you know what I'm saying to you right now?"
hmm... If I answer no, wouldn't that still answer his question?

This incident reminded me of something similar that happened a couple years ago. I was at a bank in Michigan and the teller couldn't look up my account number as I had printed it on the withdrawal sheet. She looked at me and said, "I can't find your account in here. I mean, do you even have a social security number?" Lol.

Ah, the joys of being a minority in America.
By the way, the answer to both of the above questions was YES! JIC someone's still wondering...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Education Revolution Is In Motion...

Babysitting has it's joys. I've been around my 5 and 7 year old niece and nephew lately. It's interesting to see how children learn how to socially interact and associate cultural inferences to what they learn in classrooms and from peers. The important topic of the 'kind of education' comes to mind when evaluating well-roundedness and social intelligence.
Being brought up in both India and the States has brought to my attention the significance of academic versus social intelligence. There is a thorough and distinct difference that exists in ways how children are exposed to new ideas and topics. Granted it is next to impossible to beat years of solid academic foundation, but it is also crucial to note that a well-rounded and multifaceted training technique has its perks and advantages than to just having a sound academic background.
Because the academic base in Western school systems is weak, there are plenty of third party services available to weaker students for help with basic schoolwork and comprehension (i.e. Kumon, Sylvan) . The American education system, however, does an excellent job in providing students the opportunity to excel at sports, music, school government, hobby and social clubs, etc. which in turn leads to creating more opportunities for pupils to grow socially and pursue passionate arenas for expertise.
The Indian school of thought is a little reverse in this aspect. No doubt that the Eastern culture focuses more on the mathematics and sciences, sometimes mixed with rote learning techniques, but in turn the overall populace is much more sound in solid academic principles. However, students lose out on social and passion driven activities that eventually lead to more rounded individuals overall.
With the reverse of the American case in play, third party institutions that provide such skills within the Indian education system are the pillars needed to fill this gap for young students. One such institution is Discover Life based in New Delhi. Working with private as well as public schools, they seek to provide the training and skill set that can be of great asset to youth in today's highly competitive and fast paced industries.
The answer to a perfect education is a complex one and requires restructuring and reprioritizing on several levels of the education sector, but perhaps the first step towards acheiving this ultimate goal is to address the weakest links of the system. A confident and goal-oriented group of young individuals have the power to focus their energy and interest given the right direction through an organized learning experience like Discover Life.
The extra effort that will be required to fulfill the program successfully will in turn be an asset to the participants involved and pave the path for a well prioritized and real world applicable education system in the future.
Having been lucky to experience both, I truly believe that these types of goal-driven and leadership programs are the answer to India's intelligent yet confused student base. Do you get it? A revolution is in motion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Side Effects May Include...

It's been an intense last couple months in the political arena. It ended relatively well for the supporters of the bill in the recent health care reform craze that has swept and divided the country.
Given the current state of the economy and rate of bankruptcy due to health care expenses it had become quiet clear that a sea change was required. So thanks to Obama and his Washington friends, 32 million Americans previously having no health care coverage are now under some sort of a universal plan. Additionally, this bill has freed us all from the cranky insurance companies rejecting or dropping claimants due to preexisting health conditions or a sudden disease that pops up unexpectedly (can't believe this took so long!!) Granted there are a lot of unhappy Republicans who don't believe in the cause and effects of the plan in discussion, but in a democratic society we should all do our part in supporting the whole so the additional Medicare taxes will hurt less than help.
One issue that perhaps requires immediate attention is the free and deliberate use of prescription drugs among various facets of the population. Fulfilling the legal requirement of stating all disclaimers and side effects, drug companies have used amazing marketing and psychological techniques to convince the masses their need and dependence of various unnecessary and exaggerated pharmaceutical drugs. It is amazing to see how personalized and tailored certain commercials are on print and television, and how boldly they attempt to convince millions of people that their problem (whatever that might be) is indeed a disease and needs immediate chemical attention to cure.
Makers of psychological drugs, do this particularly well by spinning stress related from actual life happenings as a chemical imbalance and mental disease. Engulfed in their pool of confusion and depression, people buy into these theories and later end up buying the drugs that will eventually desentisize their emotions and create a "balance" in their brain to make their boo-boos go away. On a particularly stressful day, beware of the "you might be suffering from blah blah" gimmick. Everyone is not sick! Sounds like legal drug use to me, but ah, the beauties of free market I suppose. Buy at your own risk.
I believe that a tighter monitoring of the standards that doctors use to prescribe certain (actually all) medications is needed. If it is illegal for tobacco companies to advertise on television due to the addictive nature of cigarettes, isn't it time we regulate how pharmaceutical companies aim and direct their advertising since prescription drugs have addictive tendencies as well? I guess I'm more concerned about their strategy in attempting to convince a set group of people that they have some type of a brain related disorder (depression or biopolar tendencies or lack of sleep or XYZ), and a regular legal drug intake will solve their issues. Maybe the answer to people's depressed states is not a $20/pill-popping schedule, but better management of stress and resources. Side effects may include clarity of head, sober decision making, and decreased intake of chemicals (darn).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Purposeless Focus

Entertainment news has a special place in my heart. The corner reserved for unconditional, permanent bias. I guess I have never really understood the point of taking ordinary people and highlighting each and every aspect of their lives. Celebrities and other television personalities are ordinary people, really. For some reason, however, our society is obsessed with getting to know each and every little dirty detail about various aspects of thier lives. Do we really want to portray the image that being 15 and enrolled in rehab is a cool thing?
The 90's kids and beyond, mostly, have lost touch with reality and tend to lead their lives and draw their standards based on what the People Magazine or Us Weekly has to comment about someone they relate to in the limelight. Journalists and writers need to focus on grabbing the attention from all age groups, not just 40s and above, to educate them on the current status of the globe. It's amazing to me that news magazines such as Newsweek and Time have such a targeted audience by age. Mr. Zakaria, can I get an ay on that?
Foreign affairs and political environments is what we should focus on for the younger generation, instead of the newest diet on the block or who has the most cellulite in South Beach. Luckily for government and tricky politicians, their oversights and bad judgments often go unnoticed due to distraction.
Drug addictions and love affairs, marriage settlements and sloppy relationships shadow true facts and reality. I guess the point I'm making is that by focusing our energy and attention on useless, inconsequential, brainless dramatic facts, we are doing exactly what the corrupt state officials, or skewed lobbyists want us to do - not focus on them. Some sort of a wake up call to hold our voted officials accountable is needed. Perhaps the gossip columnists can 'give back to the community' by contributing an article of two of substance and actual information.
Wishful thinking is better than disappointing acceptance, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Perhaps a Detour, Toyota?

Moving Forward.

Quiet an appealing slogan as long as the arrow is pointing in the right direction. In the case of Toyota, our Asian manufacturing friends, the arrow has been pointing in the wrong direction for a while now. The recent outburst regarding possible ETCS (Electronic Throttle Control System) failure is proving to be pretty detrimental to the image of this super reliable, immigrant favorite, "economic" automotive brand. The problem started when a number of "incidents" got reported to Toyota that their cars were mysteriously accelerating out of control while in drive mode and the driver being unable to control the car, in turn causing bad and even fat accidents.

To prevent stock prices from falling and eyebrows from rising, Toyota brushed these issues under the floor mats (no pun intended) and stated that there was some hardware issue that is being addressed. However, in further scratching the surface it became obvious that these accelerations were indeed pretty mysterious and may have some software issues and glitches which can be equally probable for any Toyota vehicle on the road produced around 2002 to current. It is quiet mind blowing to know that the Quality and Reliability Department (every automaker has one) was unable to pinpoint the cause of the problem initially, and waited until a massive recall had to be issued in order to address the issue.

The question of 'corporate responsiblity' is the most applicable one here. The fact that Toyota has all it's auto defects in a super secretive computer somewhere in Japan with no US access is samuraitastically 'non-global'. Being an international corporation, the limitation of the problem solving department being in only one location in the entire globe seems quiet ironic. Consumers pay thousands of dollars to buy a reliable and safe car for their families and an aggressive accident preventing proactive team is the least that we should expect from our car makers. Sure, government regulatory bodies have a huge role to fulfill as taxpayer salary recipients but at what point do corporations not need to be baby-sat? Isn't moral and ethical responsiblity shirked when millions of dollars of profits are made from sales of a product?

We question the ignorance and ineffectiveness of the government sector, but perhaps a much more responsibility and safety conscientious private sector needs to emerge in exchange of high stock prices. This isn't an issue of domestic or foreign manufacturing, this is an issue of global safety and responsiblity that should have been highlighted in the education coursework for the exectives that board the top selling consumer driven industries.

Maybe Toyota got their own slogan misunderstood; moving forward doesn't have to mean just moving up the profit chart.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Passion or Success?

Interesting topic of discussion - having brought up in America by an Indian Air Force pilot turned perfection-seeking businessman has its perks and discussions. My dad is an extreme overacheiver - by all standards. He runs two independent businesses simultaneously, can fly MIG's, graduated top of his MBA class, got a full ride to any school he ever went to, and was in fact invited to every institution he went to, and he has majored in Physics, Mathematics, Economics, and now Restaurant Management (lol, seriously; although the coursework was 100% practical).

Our discussions stem from a random statement of observation, but lead to debates about the definitive and practical nature of the topic involved. We try to keep it as civil and impersonal as possible, but considering that the topics discussed contain all the ingredients that we are so so passionate about, it does in fact surface some interesting observations and opinions we have about each other and the phenomena in question.

Our most recent (and recently most often) topic of discussion has been putting a good passion to a good professional use. Clearly this has a direct correlation to my leaning career switch from engineering to writing. I have always believed that passion cannot be defined. It's something you feel towards an activity or hobby and you can be either naturally gifted or uselessly horrible, it is nonethless something you truly enjoy and are most comfortable doing. My dad puts forth that no matter what, to some extent you have to be putting your interest to practical use for it to be a true passion.

This is a good stance when given its practicality and nature of my current state, but I still disagree on the count that it defines the intensity of your liking towards the subject. There are millions of people that work in monotone paper pushing jobs just to pay their bills, and they are indeed passionate about something or another. One might be instinctively good at painting or reading or dancing, but just because they might not have a practical use for it yet, doesn't mean that their passion is not valid. There are perhaps some logisitical and reasonable barriers that prohibit them to put this hobby to practical use limiting the applicability to their current professional state.

It cannot be argued that if there is a way for you to convert your passionate hobby to good monetary use, you should pursue it whole-heartedly and aggressively. But aside from the lucky few, most of us have to subside our true passions and resort to logical avenues that can assure job security and a steady income; mostly because that is how success is measured in today's world, and success is more profitable than passion.

The true question when making career decisions and professional choices is to answer what is more important to YOU? Passion or success, because initially, it is not always possible to redeem both at the same time. It takes baby steps in either direction to incorporate both these elements. If you're lucky enough to let success wait its turn, then I would suggest that pursuing that true hobby is a much better route - it makes for less confusion later on when professional and passion fronts are in full swing, and making either choice seems completely unfair to the other.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Got Stress?

If I had to summarize today's surroundings, it would go something like this: fast moving world, fast moving people, fast paced relationships, crash diets,crash dates, crash meetings, email synced blackberries, super crashed wonder the amount of new diseases discovered are growing each year..
I mean where does this insanity finally end? I don't consider myself extremely stressed per se..pretty average "chick"...maybe a little more free spirited than usual, but overall have led an average life..and there are enough pressures in my life to make me go "please everybody just SHUTUP for a second or two (or maybe more depending on the day)"...It's bad enough that now a days just a Bachelor's degree in any discipline won't suffice.. If I could get a dime for everytime I hear "Oh, you've done your engineering, so now what's the next plan of action; higher studies?".. Just stamping on degree after degree buys you some sorts of societal rights of respect and privelege..Oh yes, you are smart after all, not like those underacheivers with just a 'normal' college education...The word "over acheiver" has vanished out of our dictionary these days...You just can't do too much..There is always room for more..and the only way to prove yourself is by continuing to grow through education and making yourself available towards your work and career..What happened to the good ol' simple life...What if I want to just have my family and raise my kids and be happy with a decent paycheck..But then I would be selling myself short..
There are two sides to every coin though (even if it's a trick coin)...Fine, I'll go the career "smart" route...but now what happens to my family priorities? As an Indian girl, if I could get a penny for every time I hear "You must think of marriage now, you are of marrigeable age", I'd be a millionaire!! Marriageable age in Indian culture seems to be right around 25. I mean if you're past that, you're getting really old. I guess we must decide what we want...Independent career driven, education infatuated, self fulfilling-proud-equality-seeking women or well rounded, house duties driven, domesticating house wives..The shadowy area in between is starting to get really really blurry...
For one instance, let's keep the whole "feminine" side out of it. People in general these days are stressed to the nth degree. Education stress, family expectations, societal limitations, traffic laws, civic constraints..We need a breath of fresh air to prioritize and sync our lives to what we really want..I'm not sure I know what I want, but it sure isn't to run around and put out fires for the rest of my life. Can I get an advanced course in Breather for Stressers 101??

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

For Community Profit

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” This analogy worked for Rohit Sharma, a recent law graduate from Delhi University, who had been exposed to the local laborers’ plight around his neighborhood. An avid member of several NGO’s in his area, he had done his share of not-for-profit work. He wanted a profitable venture that didn’t take up too much of his time while helping the ones truly in need of extra cash. That is when he came up with the idea of a small scale car washing business. Based out of Sector 9 in Rohini, he offers his car washing services to several apartment building residents for a monthly fee of Rs.250 per car. This includes washing and waxing on all days of the month except Sundays and his clientele has grown from a few dozen to a couple hundred in a matter of a few months.
Through this venture he was able to accommodate to his labor needs while still benefiting his employees. The local cycle rickshaw wallas outside his building had been complaining of not making enough money to enroll their kids in schools. He had noticed that they work hard for every rupee they earn, and bingo – he got his labor needs resolved; a win-win situation for both parties. He started with three guys (who complained the most) initially. Since car washing is a bright and early morning affair, their availability wasn’t a problem. The pay was decided not on quantity, but on quality. He openly stated that the pay structure would be based on how well they do the job, not on whether they did the job or not. He also promised them increasing salary as business grew – another motivating factor for them to ensure attention to detail.
Nine months and three hundred cars later, he now employs seven rickshaw wallas, and his business is still growing. He intends to move to other areas within Rohini, expanding his revenue and workforce. Starting with around Rs.2000, he pays his workers up to Rs.5000 a month depending on how business is going. The difference in pay scales is openly discussed and factors on attendance, quality, and “double-work” – that is, once the car is done, it doesn’t need to be looked at over again. Rohit’s business model has been of great help to the local workers and these extra bucks a month mean an extra child being enrolled in school, or someone at home who can now afford regular medical care that was not possible earlier.
Perhaps, the for-profit entities can have a bigger impact than they think. When asked on what drives him for this working model, Rohit says, “Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we all need to have some value to our work. Financial value is the biggest motivating factor, but finding a way to be beneficial to the society around you, now that’s my idea of ‘true value’.”

The Park Bench

Chilly winter evenings or warm summer nights, the combination of good conversation and a comfortable bench midst the breeze at a small park in the local suburban areas of Delhi is a common and familiar sight throughout the city. For thousands of citizens across town, an hour or so they spend each day in the company of old neighbors turned good friends is the one thing that defines normality in their everyday lives. Coming from an independent neighborhood outside of Chicago, this uniformity is truly fascinating. This is the guaranteed one on one interaction that whoever partakes in can use to exchange daily stories, get opinions on important decisions, gossip and exchange laughs. This is also a very simple phenomenon that distinguishes the feel of being part of a community versus an exclusive set of activities that is contained within just one’s home and closed doors.
It is a reminder that what you do, does in fact affect others around you and nothing you do goes unnoticed. Be it the recent wedding arrangement between neighbors, or the new girl in the block that every guy drools over, or the newly wedded bride in the neighborhood who dresses less than traditional. In communities where such an interaction is lacking, there is a sense of belongingness that is absent - the feeling that no matter how happy or dire my current circumstances are, there is nobody outside of the house to share that with.
For so many old retired couples that miss the presence of their loved ones in their homes, walks after dinner with their similar counterparts makes them feel less lonely. For the housewife who feels that she has to refrain from actually voicing her opinions at home, meeting with others in her situation makes her feel less burdened with her own secrets. Delhi is progressing rapidly, and new activities and places are coming up everyday, but the continued existence of parks and fenced gardens can never be replaced with anything more spectacular than the mere idea of their presence. In other parts of the world where an appointment is a pre-requisite to pay a visit and converse, these unsaid and customary meeting places are absent in their culture.
Some locals might view these daily meetings as mildly irritating and a breeding ground for gossip, but when scratched under the surface, they are a representation of the community enveloped lifestyle that is present throughout the country and what foreigners love about India the most. No matter how different we are from one another, there are common threads that bind us together for what we do and the culture we follow. Traditions such as park bench conversations and daily walks give an excuse to come out of your shell, make yourself feel vulnerable without being stripped, and openly understand what’s accepted and expected around you without always having to put yourself on a stage for everyone to judge.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Home is where the Heart is...

It's been over six weeks back in the motherland now. After much "soul" searching and passion hunting, I think I have figured out that this is where I want to be.

Looking around and being here is nostalgic. I can reminisce about my childhood memories, my first bike ride, my first best friends, my first crush, it could go on. As I've grown, though, coming back here is also eye opening. It's heart breaking to see so many people in poverty, so many children who may never go to school and receive the gift of education and knowledge, of women who have and will probably remain helpless for the rest of their lives.

But being in such a place and witnessing such times also provides the opportunity to make a difference. To leave a mark somewhere in someone's (or multiple people's, hopefully)life while I can quench my thirst for sharing, writing, contributing to the greater good of society would be incredibly satisfying. I'm not sure how, I just know that this is where I can do the most good with however little I have or want to give. Besides, how can I not sieze an opportunity to be a part of this dynamic craziness. The colorful people from several religions speaking multiple languages yet witnessing the same thing is beautiful. I feel like a part of something so much bigger than myself, yet so integral at the same time.

The route to my ultimate destination will be a scenic one, no doubt. My life back in the States and my new beginning here in India, when juxtaposed, might seem obscenely different, but really are quiet tightly knit with a common factor - my need and want to pursue my true passion and find my ultimate purpose.

Thank you for the warm welcome, New Delhi. Instead of just metaphorically though, I think it would be nice for a little bit warmer weather as well. These new few weeks until my return will be setting the mood for my future plans. Tasting this new yet familiar place is now officially in session and I shall record my progress here. Cheers!