July 29, 2007

Taxi No. 3837

Mumbai cab I've always wanted to write about Mumbai's cab/taxi drivers. Firstly, I prefer using cabs over buying a car (convenient, ubiquitous, maintenance free compared to the latter and I don't add to the madness of the traffic with another honky, polluting machine). Secondly, it's fun talking to the cabbies who always have a million things to talk about!

But today specifically, I have strong reason to salute Mumbai's cabbies. Having dropped my grandma to my aunt's place in Goregaon, I was about to get off from the cab after paying him, and at that precise moment in recent history, the skies decided to cry out loud and it started raining heavily. The station was about 30 feet away and I was bound to get drenched. The cabbie however, asked me if I had an umbrella. When I answered in the negative, I was pleasantly surprised that he got off from the cab, took his own umbrella out and ushered me into the station's shed!!

In hindsight, it was something which really saved me from falling ill as I was already down with cold and headache since Friday night. Perhaps my collected karma of being good to cabbies paid off, but hats off to Taxi No. 3837, and all the cabbies of Mumbai!

July 25, 2007

An Akanksha fulfilled Sunday

This weekend I had one of the most rich Sundays I've ever had.

A quick flashback first - Not too long ago, I made friends with a Harvard student via Facebook, Karina. She's in India for 2 months working with NGO Akanksha and helping to empower kids who come from lesser privileged societies. While I've been hearing a lot about her fantastic work here all the time, I really wanted to experience it myself and help in some way too.

So, waking up way too early for my Sundays at 8 am, I joined her and met up with her kids at the Nehru Planetarium. There were about 15 kids and they were split into groups which were given projects to work on. One group was given the topic of importance of education, the other was working on curbing bullying in their community and yet another was given the task of helping reduce garbage and promoting cleanliness.

Akanksha's Green Planeteers

First, the kids made posters pertaining to these topics, even as I watched with awe, how Karina was managing the kids so beautifully - adding some inputs, being stern sometimes and helping in streamlining their thoughts.

Joy Spreaders

After this activity, it was 'action time'. The activity of the day was to visit the kids' community right behind the Planetarium and address the issue of garbage and promote cleanliness. To that, one team had written a letter to the BMC (the policy part of the strategy...) and all of us were then going to go from door to door to spread the message (...the social change part) and conduct a signature campaign against garbage. To set a precedent in their community, the kids were armed with gloves and trash bags and would be collecting 'token trash' from homes which we were going to visit and later dispose them in the right place - the garbage dumpster.

Lady Captain Planet Water Canal (aka Sewage Drain)

The biggest irony of the garbage issue in this community was that people were used to throwing garbage in the 'naala' (water canal) which ran along the area, even as there were proper garbage dumpsters provided about 50 meters away!

Mission Accomplished!

It was heartening to see the passion with which the kids spoke to their own community, put up the posters to promote education, cleanliness and a responsible community. At the end of a 2-3 hour exercise, we had collected 50 signatures, 6 full bags of trash and a hell lot of learning.

I also got to know how much of a difference Akanksha is making for these kids and the awesome work my friend has been doing there.

The debriefing session was pretty interesting too - Karina asked the kids a lot of questions about their experience and their answers were very mature for their ages! The bonhomie, attitude and sparkle in their eyes were all things you had to see for yourself! I was pleasantly surprised, yet happy to see that positive social change is possible.

Train, Trainer and Trainees

We later treated the kids to a show at the Planetarium and later took them to the Nehru Science Center, both of which the kids loved. Some strong mentions I'd like to make here...

Wheels in Motion

1. The new Planetarium show sucks. I've been a BIG fan since I was a kid, but I think this is the worst, most boring show ever. I didn't know there was a change (the earlier one had a great start with a 3D city tour, great music and content) and was a bit disappointed, but K & the kids liked it apparently.

2. Nehru Science Center on the other hand has improved SO MUCH! The staff was way too nice - they insisted on a students' discount since we were from Akanksha. The installations are brand spanking new. Gardens are well kept - parakeets, rabbits and some great flora. A fantastic 3D show (for just 20 bucks more). I couldn't get enough of it... nor could the kids!

Overall, a super Sunday it was indeed. Next Sunday I'll be joining them again for a video-edit session courtesy of my ex employers Hungama.com

Read Karina's notes on her blog | Photos from the day

July 07, 2007

Cheers to 07.07.07!

Another update at 3 AM :)
In case you haven't noticed, today's date is in triplicate - 07/07/07!

My friend Shilpa in London tells me she's going for the Live Earth concert which is a special event to raise climate change awareness with 20+ various artistes. Check out www.liveearth.org and make a pledge like I did, to help make a difference.

Additions to my favorites
With thousands of awesome new websites mushrooming every week, my bookmarks - both local as well as the ones on del.icio.us, Spurl and Google Bookmarks have been flooding. Here's some of the best ones you may wanna check out...

Expensr - Log and track your personal expenses. Much needed for me!
Flixster - Write and share movie reviews (and more awesome features!)
Traineo - Fitness community
Vimeo - New and improved video sharing community (prefer it over YouTube)
Burrp - local restaurant, cafe and club reviews from India.
Check out my current reviews or bookmark my profile for updates

July 05, 2007

Random Notes at 3 AM

* Nick is coming to India again!! :)
* Megan's going back to the US just before her birthday :(
* Love the new drinks from Yogi Vita - imli, amla, nimboo, kokum
* Picked a new book - The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara
* Workout schedules have gone awry. I need discipline!
* Personal travel plans in a mess - too busy to have fun right now.
* Upgrading my system after ages this week! From an AMD Athlon XP with 512 MB RAM to a Intel Pentium CoreDuo processor with 1.5 - 2GB RAM and a flat screen monitor. Next on the cards: Windows Vista!

July 03, 2007

Review: "It Happened In India"

by Kishore Biyani & Dipayan Baishya

The business biography/autobiography of Kishore Biyani is a refreshing, inspiring and entertaining book which is related in a manner someone in the family would talk to you to pass on the wisdom of their experience in life and business.

For those who came in late, Kishore Biyani is the owner of brands and businesses such as Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central, Bare, Food Bazaar and many more!

Personally I was eagerly anticipating the book launch – since the Big Bazaar at Phoenix Mills has always been my favourite hangout since day one of their opening. If I was not at home or in the office at Hungama (which was right next door at Raghuvanshi Mills back then) – anyone could tell I was at Big Bazaar! This was a few years back. Today, I’m helping associate MTV with Futurebazaar.com, the e-retailing arm of Biyani’s group. So honestly, I already was a ‘fan’ of the business and the man. My review might therefore be less of a critique and more of a rave.

From the word “Go” this book oozes enthusiasm, passion and creativity in the true sense of the word.

Ashni Biyani sums up her dad’s book best from the youth viewpoint “I realise that India needs role models who will make it believe that it can happen right here, in this country”.

Dipayan Baishya does a wonderful job at synchronizing the content into chapters and creating a captivating flow of things.

Why I loved the book:

  • KB (as Biyani is called by those who know him) is extremely candid and non-superfluous.
  • The language is common-man friendly.
  • KB is a deviant, not a formula man.
  • Contains tons of stories of successes and failures of his life.
  • Inspires entrepreneurs and yet doesn’t paint just a rosy picture.
  • Most importantly, it’s an INDIAN business story so you can relate to pretty much everything. I haven’t come across very many books by Indian businessmen who have shared their life and business story.
  • Being a designer and an ideas person, I appreciated how much emphasis the Future Group puts on these otherwise intangible assets of a business. I also particularly liked his theories of memetics, consumer behaviour study and (sic) “life is about timepass” :) and learnt a bunch of things I would want to apply in my own life and business.
  • A zillion noteworthy quotes, words of wisdom, philosophies and musings by KB.

On a sidenote, the timing of this book is perfect since the group is coming out with an IPO soon – and I have no doubt that the best seller will only add to the oversubscribing of this issue. Oh I’m buying!

(Will try to update this with a more detailed review later).