Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jack Nicholson Oscar Speech - As Good As It Gets

There are three Hollywood actors who have always inspired me; Jack, Bob De Niro, and Di Caprio. I was just browsing through You Tube and came across this award winning speech by Jack Nicholson for his role in As Good As It Gets.

Sharing the joy with you!

Redefining India: The Power of Social Media

The Youth of India is tech savvy. College going students and even school students know how to make the best use of Social Media, or at least that's what they think. Bypassing security protocols over a college network, online promotions, gossiping, networking, they know all about it.

However Social Media is much more than that. Just sample this.

On the same lines as Delhi Traffic Police on Facebook, similar initiative was taken by our District Police head in Himachal. Surprisingly, in Himachal with comparatively less internet reach, the Facebook Page started by District Police became popular overnight. The youth was the main propagating medium of this page. They saw any law-and-order problem on the road or at any public place, they made it a habit to take a picture and the rest was the job of the District Police. Our Police with limited manpower got its social cops and the youth was actively participating in the change. That's how Social Media helps.

It makes you a part of the system. It helps you add pace to the system. It helps to voice your opinion. And that's why the Youth must vote because that's when they can ask questions and seek answers responsibly.

Edited They said AAP is just Social Media hype and Social Media doesn't vote. It was a challenge to the Youth of India blaming them of not taking part in the greatest event of a democracy. And now we all know what happened. AAP simply defied the conventional rules of politics. A debutant defeated a three times CM. That is the power of the youth. That is the power of Social Media. And nobody knows it better than the defeated candidates in Delhi. 

Community Participation in Policing | The Power of Social Media 
Now the best thing about Social Media is that it spreads like fire in the jungle. Another Facebook Page was started in Shimla. The Youth of our state got a way to participate and express themselves.

One of the major reasons why our youth hesitates in voting is the lethargy of the system. It works very slow. And this laziness often becomes the excuse to not do anything. Social Media works fast, nearly at the speed of the light. And with these fancy Social Media apps around, it becomes even easier to learn and spread the word.

Facebook, Twitter, WeChat are some of the most popular Social Media apps these days. You want to share images, or audio files, or video files; all can be done merely at one click. Our politicians fear Social Media because anybody can talk to anybody on the Social Media. You can't hide or suppress the truth here. Everybody is equal here. You don't need permission to tweet to the Prime Minister of India. And if you are mishandled by the high and mighty, you can always share the links or images by using Social Media Apps, say WeChat.

Create a group, and spread the news. It's that simple. No permissions, no approvals, no nothing. That's Democracy!

And we have seen of late how Social Media helps. The Delhi Rape case, the Anna Movement, the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party, and the list is just swelling with each passing day. Two of the major National Parties have hired Social Media agencies to reach out to the Youth of India.

Gone are the days of fake promises and nonsensical caste based politics. The Youth of India has found its voice in Social Media. They discuss things, they think about their future, and above all they know why voting is important for them. The recent high voter turn-out in the Delhi election (post 5 P.M.) is a positive outcome of these discussions and social media effect.

The Social Media is here to stay and the Youth of India knows this.

Here are few things that must be done to ensure a healthy voter turn-out in the upcoming Loksabha Elections

1. Discuss: There is a popular saying of the modern times, "Baat karne se hi baat banti hai". The Youth must realize the importance of healthy discussions because its 'our' future we are talking about.

2. Share Share the news of good or bad governance with your friends in your group chats. Sharing means more people will get to know about the good or bad deeds of a particular party. Political Parties these days are brand conscious, they can't afford to anger the Youth of this country. If a bad deed catches attention of the Youth, the party will have to take corrective measures.

3. Set the Agenda Social Media is not about gossips and sharing anymore. It sets the agenda for the Main Stream Media. What is being discussed in the Social Media is often picked by the print and TV Media because that's what the Youth of this country wants to talk about.

We have been often told that Social Media doesn't matter because those who use it do not vote. The times are changing now. The Youth of India is no more indifferent. It knows what matters and what does not.

With all these social media apps around, hopefully the 2014 Loksabha elections will set a new precedent in the history of Independent India. The democracy will get redefined next year.

By the people, For the People. The Youth no more indifferent. 

This post is a part of #VoteforIndia Campaign by Indiblogger in participation with WeChat

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Old Delhi Motorcycles - A Short Movie

Those who ride a Bullet (Royal Enfield) will love this short film.

Those who do not ride a bullet will first love this documentary and then they will fall in love with the Bullet.

Directed and conceptualized by the brilliant artists at Colorblind Productions.

Feel the Thrill!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Supermen of Malegaon

Story of a bunch of dreamers from a smalltown.

I would like to quote just one line from this movie.

"Main apne peeche mudke jaane ke saare raaste khud hi blast karta aaya hun. Ab sirf aage hi jaana hai"

This movie is a must watch for everyone who dreams and wants to accomplish something in his/her life. Smalltown or a Metropolitan city. Doesn't Matter. All that matters is dreaming and conviction. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

That Day After Everyday - A Short Film by Anurag Kashyap

That Day after Everyday is a short film directed by Anurag Kashyap and his team. This is a brilliant take on the burning issue of rapes and women molestation going around in our country.

A must watch.

Let's Fly Kualalumpur - Air Asia Travel Fair

K.L or Bangkok.?

Wikipedia says that both are the most populous cities of their respective nations. And If I am to believe my traveler friend, he claims that the population in these nations doesn't mean crowd or chaos or mind-numbing noise. For a traveler, this massive population means vibrant colors of life, obviously from a traveler's point of view.

The most difficult thing for a traveler to do is to make a choice. To choose between two exotic locations to travel to! To make one destination your choice and burying the other one into a safe corner of the heart. However, the choices must be made and that's the way of life.

If I were to make a choice between Bangkok and Kualalumpur , I would certainly choose Kualalumpur. Because it is a perfect blend of a changing world we live in. Ancient temples and historical trails that take us back in time. At the same time, the city of K.L. is blessed with some modern age engineering and tourism marvels that force you to visit this city time and again.

If I were to visit the city of K.L. I would certainly include the following attractions in my Must Visit list
The little vibrant Indian community of Brickfields (The Little India) that will make any Indian proud of the diversity of our great nation. India in Malaysia, minus the madness and chaos that sometimes gets on your nerves when you are in the actual India. Imagine, how cool is that!

You can take an Indian out of India but not India out of an Indian. Howsoever cliched it may sound, that's the way we Indians are designed. No matter how much we criticize out country in our country, when we are outside it, we always look to meet Madrasis' or Bangalis' or Pahadis' because that's what makes our trips memorable.

And that's why the Little India in K.L is a must visit. 
Little India, BrickFields | Wikipedia Image
The beautiful lime caves of the Batu Village overlooking the serene Batu River. And wouldn't it be awesome to meet the Lord Murugun in Malaysia? Blessing you before you step inside the caves.  I bet it would be!
The blue lights sparkling through the openings of the ancient lime caves would certainly give a feel of an Arabian adventurer risking his life to find a treasure trove.
Batu Caves | Wikipedia Image
A visit to the mysterious world of Islamic artists at the Modernist National Mosque taking you back in time rejuvenating your faith in religion as a unifying force and not a divisive one.

The Lake Gardens of Perdana. The Bukit Bintang. The Bird Gardens. An engineering marvel of 452 meters, lasting 88 storeys high; the Petronas Twin Towers.  The list is just endless. And they rightly say about the city of Kuala Lumpur; One visit is not enough.

And last but not the least, a visit to Kuala Lumpur is not complete if you don't taste the food here. The delicious sea food that brings foodies from across the world to K.L. Cheap electronics is another attraction ;)

The mind-boggling delicacies of the streets of KualaLumpur can always take care of your jet-lag and physical exhaustion. For instance, Nasi Lemak. Or maybe the Chettinad Banana Leaf recipe, or probably tasting the flavors of Nepal in Malaysia. And not to forget the seafood of K.L. You name it and they will serve it.

In case you are not fond of history, or walking, or roaming around in the streets, you can simply step inside any restaurant in K.L. and eat as much as you can. That's another specialty of Kuala Lumpur.

So what are you waiting for? 

And then there is the World's Best Online Travel Fair to help you out with getting cheap flights to land in the beautiful city of K.L. Statistics reveal that a huge number of Indians like to visit K.L., they are just sending you there with less burden on your pocket.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Delhi Manifesto: Fix the Broken Windows

Chandigarh is the city beautiful of India, and rightly so. This city never ceases to amaze us because of its near-perfect planning, thanks to the genius of Le Corbusier. As a child I used to wonder what makes the city of Chandigarh different from its close neighbours like Mohali, Ambala, or Ludhiana, and Jullundhar.

No doubt planning of the city is one big factor but there is something more than planning to the calm and beauty of Chandigarh. But you look around, no traffic hassles, no encroachments, no black-marketing, and Chandigarh looks like a no-nonsense city. 

Is this just planning? For a country like India, just planning wouldn't suffice. It is implementation of the laws that makes Chandigarh a good and love-able city.

For instance, take the case of the Police Traffic Management. The Mohali, or Ambala, or Chandigarh Police recruit the same fellows. They have the same grade-pay yet we can see the difference between the traffic management of these cities.

Same people, different modus-operandi. 

While in Chandigarh you can't even think about driving a two-wheeler without a helmet. At the same time, driving a two-wheeler with helmet in other cities is considered old-fashioned, cops included. 

Same goes true for seat belts, over-speeding, and every other nuisance which looks like a Cancer grown beyond cure in other cities adjacent to Chandigarh.  So it can't be just planning. It is more about implementation

It's more about nipping the evil in the bud. 

It's more about fixing the Broken Windows to avoid theft. Fixing the Broken Windows will require us to challenge our comfort zone but that would save our time and energy.

That's what Delhi Manifesto must look like. Fix the Broken Windows first. Nip the Evil in the bud. If a young lad is driving without helmet or indulges in drunken driving, call his parents. Get him involved in traffic management. Set the record straight.

If an auto-guy is overcharging his passengers or misbehaving with them, make it mandatory for him to take the passenger for free.

If a chemist is selling fake drugs, cancel his license. This will end the problem of fake suppliers as well as fake sellers.

This will certainly mean employing manpower and resource allocation but that is far better than fighting your own people in the Ramlila Maidan. And certainly much better than getting your daughter raped and kids killed in mid-day meal programmes.  

And there has got to be stricter rules for public as well. With freedom come responsibilities and if someone is shying away from his/her responsibility, he is actually committing a sin.

Sadly and truly, we the Indians understand the language of constant monitoring and fear. Install CCTV’s, send challans to home and we will start behaving responsibly instantaneously.

If I were to add value to the Delhi Manifesto, I would include the following policy to be implemented strictly.

Education Awareness: There is a difference between education and being literate. What we need today is education. The entire country, Delhi included. Educate the young ones, the teenagers; make them responsible for what they do. Bring accountability into the picture. If a young kid is educated, he will understand that nationality doesn't mean Pakistan bashing only but it also means no honking on the streets, keeping the cities and streets cleaning, and a lot more.

This is My Delhi Manifesto in association with

Friday, September 27, 2013

Before the Continental Drift - A Journey Back in Time

Planet Earth, Mother Earth as we call is a treasure. The more you see of it, the less you know about it. And the treasure an adventurer seeks is not monetary. The desire to know the external, which ultimately leads to the discovery of the self, is what drives a true adventurist.

The oceans have been dissected. Columbus did it. The mountains have been conquered embraced. Tenzing and Hilary did it. Offroading - Jungles, Swamps, Wild Streams. A quest to find a link between two far-off lands. And that’s what a Tata Safari Storme is designed to do. This Offroading Beast is what makes these exploratory journeys awe inspiring.

The mission is simple. Go Find Yourself. Like the mountain Gods’ do. Mountains Gods - The good old shepherds in the Himalayas. They find a way, always. Atop the sky reaching mountain passes and at never-seen-before lands, they always find a way. Why? Because they consider themselves a part of the Mother Nature. Inseparable.

What should a new ride feel like? The sandy dunes of Kutch? The vast barren fields of Ladakh? Or the unheard roads of Pangi Kishtwar[cue: Sach Pass and Beyond] What about a combination of all three? A long sandy road that suddenly turns into a Ladakh like miracle, which then turns into a forgotten land of Pir Panjal Himalayas.

Road Less Traveled?

What about a journey that takes you back to the time when this earth we live on was unified. Prior to the Continental Drift. Back in time.

You might say that humanely such a place is not possible. Who is talking about humans here? An adventurer is a Spirit, Storme is a Machine God, and Planet Nature is the Creator. Creator is not bound by any rule.

So be it. The game is on. A road never seen before. A story never heard before. The Continental Drift.

Submerged in the Oceans

A journey back to time when probably the Himalayas were surrounded by Oceans, Oceans by deserts, deserts by grazing grounds. And in between meeting new people, new cultures. So much to learn from, so much to see.

Snow Bound Desert

A new culture, which is often called primitive. What if that myth is broken? What if they were not living in the caves? What if they could actually speak to animals and plants alike? There is no bound to imagination. 

There is no bound to the miracles thrown at us by the Mother Nature.

The Colors Of Nature - Magical Mother Nature

The journey would be difficult. Every new journey is difficult. But it’s only these difficulties that make a journey memorable. In retrospect, without difficulties, road-blocks, obstructions, even a journey to the heavens will sound boring.

Like walking across a 4700 meter (15420 feet) after surviving flashfloods was a problem when it happened, now it sounds nothing less than an achievement.

Driving with a worn-out car to the treacherous Spiti Valley and leaving the car behind was a pain when it happened, now it all sounds like fun.

Like riding to the Pangi Valley was a nightmare, but now all it brings back is smiles and happiness.

And that's how you meet new cultures, new people. By facing difficulties only, something valuable is achieved. 

Travel, as they say dispels our illusions and that’s what a journey like this would certainly do. A journey like this happens once and that’s what it must do, dispel all your illusions. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mittal Patel - Empowering Indian Villages, Strengthening the Idea of India

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on - John F. Kennedy"
I watched TEDx talks given by Mittal Patel, Shree Bose, and Arunachalam Muruganantham and all these were inspirational and motivating, to say the least. However, I chose to write about Mittal Patel's cause.

Because she is a woman working in the villages and myself being from a village, I know how hard it is for a woman to change mindsets.

"The Wildlife Protection Act protected snakes but what happened to snake-charmers? Nobody knows!", says Mittal Patel in one of her TEDx talks. She took up the task of empowering poor villagers in a distant corner of otherwise affluent Gujarat. And she fought her battle real well.

Mittal Patel at a TEDx Event

She helped nomadic and de-notified tribes of Gujarat to get recognition from the Government. It took her quite some time to do so but she never gave up. In between she fought against two of the deadliest enemies of the idea of India; bureaucracy and caste-system. She bridged the gap which was actually duty of the government. She is a journalist by profession and she did what a journalist is supposed to do; never give up until justice is served.

She even rescued village girls from the clutches of prostitution, which they believed was the only thing they could do.

I can easily relate to her story because in Himachal too nomadic tribes and naive villagers are often taken for a ride by the cunning politicians and bureaucrats. Even nomadic tribes living in the remotest regions of Himachal Himalayas are not given Schedule Tribe status. In the name of constructing roads, they are shown global warming and deforestation warnings. It doesn't matter if they walk 20 kilometers just to reach the nearest school.

We were told that India resides in its villages. It does even today. Just that we all have turned a blind eye towards our villages. Let me tell you a story in this regard.

Pong Dam Kids returning from School
Pong Dam was built in the year 1974. It generates 360 MW of energy which lights up millions of houses in the state of Punjab. Those living in the wetland region were given compensation money and land as well. Money always lives a short life but land outlives every other material possession. However, the then government played smart and awarded these Himalayan natives a piece of land in Yamunanagar (Rajasthan). 
Imagine, someone from the foothills of the Himalayas settling down in a furnace called YamunaNagar!
Those people obviously refused to leave. The power plant became functional. Millions of households were lighted in Punjab. And a village of 27 families was pushed into darkness. They continued to live in their village, which was soon surrounded by the largest man made lake of India. Decades have passed since then, the Pong Dam has generated tremendous amounts of energy; lighting lives across the country. 
Yet, 27 families live in the darkness, just a couple of miles away from the Pong Dam. They have no roads and boating isn't a fashionable hobby there; it's a necessity to get in and out of the village. 
And above all, they have no voice. They live in the darkness, even today. 
I think we need Mittal Patel in each and every village of India. And these stories need to be told because positivity too is sometimes contagious. You never know when someone might stand up for a cause and marks the beginning of a new tradition. What Mittal Patel did in Gujarat needs to be done in every village of our country. If we want the Idea of India to be implemented well, we need to empower our villages. Just what Mittal Patel did.

I have known TEDx talkers (Jodie Underhill & Akram Feroze) and I also volunteered for the TEDx Dharamshala event in the past. I know how it feels to be in the presence of the 'doers' who unlike most of us believe in the art of converting speech into actions.
This is my entry for Indiblogger with Franklin Templeton Investments that partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Anndata - A Token of Love for Beloved Mess Workers

The Challenge: Fundraiser for Mess Workers at my Engineering Institute

Nobody likes the mess food while studying in the college. However, it’s only after you leave your college you realize the importance of mess food. Yellow Dal is a Universal Truth across the country, no matter which college you are studying in. Be it Engineering, MBA, or Medicine, you will rarely find someone praising the mess food.

However, once you have left your college, mess food always reminds you of your good old days. But did you ever think about those who cooked your food?

Let me tell you a story.

“It was the farewell party of our seniors. Everybody was thanking their professors, friends, and lab technicians. Then we saw one of our seniors on the stage asking everyone to pay attention. He was standing with two mess workers. We all thought they were there to help with some work to be done. However, the senior on the stage started his ‘Thanks Note’ by honoring those two mess workers. They had been serving the Institute since its inception. They were the unsung heroes of our institute.

After a couple of month’s soul-searching, we realized (a group of three friends) that these mess workers were not entitled to any post retirement benefits. Although we were living in 2004 yet their salaries were still stuck in the 1980s. An old mess worker died and his little kid had to drop out of the school. Just the other day, he had asked my friend to give him a CD of new songs for his son. We couldn’t do anything. A life was lost, that too of someone who had fed us for four long years.

We decided to take up this challenge and formulated a plan to facilitate a centralized funding scheme for them. Simple mathematics it was. 20 rupees from every student, 1200 students in the institute meant INR 288, 000 per annum.

Mathematics is simple; making things work when Sarkari Babus are involved is difficult. Old school guys love sticking to conventional stuff. They asked us to go to the Board Of Governors, get the proposal approved from them, and then they would think about it.

But we didn’t have to work hard. Some of our Professors understood the problem these mess workers were facing. After a round of discussions and heated arguments with our babus, we were able to incorporate the new rule in Institution’s Constitution. The practice of contributing INR 20 for Mess Worker Welfare Fund started from the very next semester.

In Indian context, the one who feeds you is called ‘Anndaata’ and is considered an incarnation of God. We felt great after we got the job done. It was a real challenge that we faced because helping those who fed was not a heroic job we did but it was our duty. 

It’s been 5 long years since this happened and even today we feel proud that we did something for those who remain Unsung Heroes of our society.

I blogged about this incident in September'09 (Ignore Poor Writing Style)

Relishing the Challenge: It was an amazing experience writing for the AIA and Relish the Challenge Campaigns well conducted by Creativeland Asia. I am grateful that I was given a chance to be a part of both these campaigns. I would like to thank Cinthol and CLA both for giving me this opportunity. And special thanks to Rahul for being extremely supportive throughout the campaign(s).

This post is my eighth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sarita Vaidya - Spreading the Light of Education in Slums

"She transformed a community on her own, singlehandedly. Despite the fact that she had to walk as much as 6KM everyday to reach her slum-school. Six years and she is still willing to work as hard as possible to spread the light of education in the lives of a forgotten  section of our glorious society."
Meet our real-life hero (sic) Sarita Vaidya, a slum-teacher who taught slum kids for six long years and helped a community understand the value of education in life. And she is still going strong. 

She started her journey on a December day when a social activist contacted her to be part of this noble cause. Sarita's husband had undergone a surgery and they were fighting a long 'land-battle' in the court where nobody but the lawyer(s) win. 

She had to support her husband, her son, and her daughter. Despite all this she said yes. She agreed to be a part of the campaign because she had seen little kids in her neighborhood growing up to be roadside-romeos because they didn't study. Many students would drop out of the school after a couple of sessions. She had to personally visit their houses, pull them out of the house, and then make them sit through her study sessions. On top of that drunkards wouldn't spare her. She was often mistreated and teased by the drunkards. But she marched on. 

When she started in 2006, problems and a shabby classroom was all she had. Add to it alcoholic fathers and cacophonous mothers. Even kids weren't interested to be inside the classroom but you can't blame them. 

Her first challenge was to convince parents to send their kids to the classroom. What started with 2 kids soon became phenomenal success. Not only kids but their parents too joined in.

Imagine a classroom where kids and parents are studying together. Sounds cool doesn't it?

But if you have to manage such a classroom on your own, it isn't easy. 

Sarita called for volunteers, many people joined in and then left too. But she fought her long battle alone. She has helped many kids complete their school education. Few of them even joined college and graduated successfully. 
In her own words, " I expect more people to step up and take education as their career. We all complaint about the education system claiming to know its problems. If we keep mum and do not show the path then things will remain the same forever. If one has faced the problem and knows the right way to fix it, then the best way is to step up and provide a solution."
Dedication and hard work are synonyms with Sarita. When I met her and conducted an interview with her for a regional newspaper, she was busy with her kids. Her classroom was shabby, there was more kids than the space in the room.

But the room was glowing with the light of faith and belief. Her kids were the happiest school-going kids I had ever seen.

Living up-to a challenge is something we all can learn from Sarita. She has indeed relished the challenge of life.

This post is my seventh entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Bus Painter who was awarded Padam Shri

“I used to paint buses. I started at an early age. And then I fell in love with colors. I never thought that I would win an award someday, let alone a Padam Shri.”

Meet the PadamShri  Awardee from Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Vijay Sharma from Chamba.

I met Mr Vijay in the year 2012 while I was trekking in the Chamba Himalayas. I was just glancing through a newspaper cutting and there I saw his photograph. The newspaper cutting read , “First Himachal Artist to get a PadamShri Award.”

That's how I got to know him and eventually meet him. 

I interviewed him for a Regional newspaper in the same year. [Read here]

His father served as a driver with the State Transport department. He used to often take his son along on his long drives across the state. A young Vijay was once spotted by a Senior Officer writing on the route boards during one of these journeys. He told his father that your son is God Gifted. He knows playing with colors. You must motivate him to carry on his colorful little tricks.

Who would have thought back then that this guy would win the prestigious Padam Shri award one day?

He never had any formal education. He dropped out of school to bear the burden of his family. His professional life started as a clerk in the State Transport Department. He slogged halfheartedly in the department but soon he realized that it was going nowhere. He couldn’t leave the job because he had a family to support.

He continued his painting work in his little workshop back home with a hope to find out a way one day. And as they say, “Fortune favors the brave.” His fortunes too changed when a Young IAS Officer spotted his paintings. He immediately asked him to drop everything else and focus on his paintings only. A special post of an Artist was created for young Vijay in the ‘Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba’.

Padam Shri Vijay Sharma at Chamba Museum
Now life looked bit colorful but the struggle was far from over. His real challenge had just begun.

Without a formal education, establishing yourself in the world of art, that too without a Godfather is not easy. 

But Vijay was in love with colors. He marched on and soon he was living a dream life. He attended many International Arts and Culture Workshops abroad that made him an Internationally Renowned artist.
Today he trains people not only from India but from across the globe. Last time I paid him a visit, he was training a young foreigner girl who had been his trainee for more than a year now.

Mr. Vijay Sharma is an exemplary personality who made his way to the top from ground level. Even today when he can indulge in commercial activities he has dedicated himself for the promotion of Chamba Arts and Crafts across the world.

“I love colors and stories one could tell using them. I want to paint more than to be a painter.” said Mr. Vijay to me.

In House Workshop of Mr. Vijay in Chamba 
Mr. Vijay has relished every challenge that life has thrown at him. He is indeed a real life inspiration for me.
What I understood from his story is that one must stick to his dreams and then there’s no need to bother about anything else, no matter what the world says.

What did you learn?

This post is my sixth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign

Rise of the Garbage Girl | A Real Life Story

We know about Steve Jobs. How he started a company and later got kicked out of it just to come back a couple of years later to perform even bigger role. It all sounds like a dream, Bollywood Style. But it did happen. 

And another similar incidence happened in the hills as well. I was lucky to witness this one.

Jodie Underhill, popularly known as the Garbage Girl started cleaning up the streets of Dharamshala during her visit to India in the year 2009. She liked the place but not the garbage spilled all around it. Rather than cribbing about it, she took up the job of cleaning the streets. She started out as a One Woman Army; motivating kids about the importance of garbage management. Soon she was joined by like minded people; some foreigners and few Indians.

I got to know about Jodie in 2011 when I met her during one of my trekking expeditions in the Himalayas. I wrote an article about her in and also interviewed her for a leading regional newspaper. [Read Here]

She started out her NGO called Mountain Cleaners and continued her good work with part-timers, volunteers, and full-timers, as and when they came to her. Her NGO even participated with the Kings XI Punjab in the IPL Dharamshala matches. Soon her NGO was a popular brand. Volunteers started pouring in. Even funds were not a problem anymore unlike the first few years when she was really struggling to get funds.

She even got few people onboard to expand the NGO, which meant expanding the scope of work and spreading the awareness to a larger audience.

Now this is what you call a dream come true. Don’t you?

But then I did mention Steve Jobs in the beginning of this post. The new board members managed to oust her in no time. After she had given all her youth to Mountain Cleaners, she was no more a part of it. But Jodie wasn’t going down easily. Halfheartedly she left India with a promise to come back.

You can read the gut wrenching piece she wrote when she left Mountain Cleaners. [ Read Here]

Why and when, she didn’t know. But deep inside she knew that India wouldn’t let her go. Not like this at least. After working for a while in Clean Up Britain in England,  the Universe conspired again and she got a call back to work in India again. Not with Mountain Cleaners but with Waste Warriors in Dehradun.

She founded Waste Warriors to start afresh. To keep India clean and green. She picked right from where she had left. No regrets, and no surrenders.

If life is all about Relishing the Challenge, then nobody knows it better than Jodie Underhill. 

Many volunteers who had worked with her in the past joined her in her new endeavor. Here she is back in India, starting from the scratch again. Getting off the ground for a startup is always difficult. And many people relinquish their dreams in the initial phase mostly.

But not the types of Jodie Underhill. They surely know the art of fighting.

Jodie Underhill is an inspiration.

This post is my fifth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign

Relishing the Pakistani Challenge

The Challenge: Traveling solo to Pakistan, Crossing Border On Foot

How is it like in Pakistan? Do they bomb each other all the times? Do they all look like Taliban? Is it safe for Indians? Did you meet Hina Rabbani Khar?

That’s what people asked me when I came back from my visit to Pakistan in November 2012. Before that they asked, “Why are you going? Where are you going? Don’t talk to people there. Keep our eyes and ears open.”

And when I told my parents that I had decided to hitchhike from Attari to Lahore (29 KM), they were flabbergasted. Now with so many questions thrown at me from all the directions, even I started to doubt my decision.

Walking across the border alone, does that sound a sane idea? I knew this was once in a lifetime opportunity for me. And the best way to see Pakistan and its culture was to travel like an ordinary fellow. Indo-Pak trains and buses are luxury affairs. Escorted by security personnel with stoppage only at two points made no sense to me.

The decision had been made. I was ready to Relish the Challenge of traveling solo to Pakistan and feel alive and awesome about it. But the question remained how to do it.

As I was going for a Youth Conference, getting a VISA was not difficult for me. However, crossing on foot surely was. I asked other delegates of the conference to come along with me. Nobody wanted to cross on foot. Moreover, they also advised against the idea of walking alone in Pakistan.

There is an old saying: “If you do travel conventionally, you will miss most of the fun.” And I did not want to miss any fun. Not one bit. On foot permission was granted and after seeking the blessings of Baba Nanak at the Golden Temple I embarked on a journey of lifetime.

Those 29 Kilometers from Attari to Lahore reminded me of Amrita Pritam’s poems and Manto’s stories. Bhagat Singh’s war cry against British Empire kept ringing in my head. This land once was a part of the Great Indian civilization.

And Pakistan is not all about bombs and guns. It is also about M2-Motorway, one of the finest highways I have ever seen in my life. Delhi – Chandigarh Highway is 250 Kilometers and it is covered in 4-5 Hours. The Lahore – Islamabad M2 Motorway is 358KM and it takes 4:30 Hours flat to cover this distance. Pakistani food, culture, and even their driving habits resemble ours. It’s hard to tell the difference between Lahore and Old Delhi.

Islamabad – Rawalpindi reminds you of Secunderabad – Hyderabad. People love riding on pavements and scaring the hell out of the pedestrians. Bribing and faking American accent is common on both the sides.
And If I may add, visiting Pakistan once is not enough. There are so many aspects of a Pakistani society that are yet unknown to younger generations across the border. Nankana Sahib, Hinglaj Shakti Peeth, Shaheedi – Jor Mela; the list is endless.

I did Relish the Challenge of visiting Pakistan on my own. Crossing on foot made me popular at the conference too. Now again, I am waiting for my opportunity to visit Pakistan. Probably, the disturbed region of Balochistan (Hinglaj Shakti Peeth).

Hitchhiking in Pakistan. My first Lift!

All this reminds of Anurag Kashyap, the modern age dynamic director of Hindi Film Industry. Once when questioned about his struggles and challenges he graciously replied, “The challenge lies within. When you have realized that you don’t have to do things for others but for yourself, struggles soon disappear and you start relishing every challenge that lie throws at you.”

Come April and I hope to walk in the mud volcanoes of Balochistan.

What will you do?

P.S. I did not meet Hina Rabbani Khar as I was busy doing something far better. I stayed at the border for a night, on their side.  

This post is my fourth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Washed Out Bridge Challenge

The Challenge: Manually lifting a Royal Enfield across a washed out bridge at Pangi Valley

Himachal Pradesh is a hilly state and there are many regions in Himachal that can (arguably) be called the remotest in the country. One such region is the Pangi Valley in Chamba district of the state. Now the travel bug that bit me in 2009 took me to the Pangi Valley in 2012. There are three road approaches to this valley; Sach Approach (200KM), Kishtwar Approach (500KM), and the Keylong-Rohtang Approach (300KM). Sach approach is the most difficult one but the shortest one.

The Challenge

We had gone to the Sach Pass in 2011 but couldn’t go beyond it because of extreme weather and unfaithful roads. In 2012, we decided to hit the Rohtang approach via Manali. After fighting hard against the weather and bad roads, we managed to reach Killar, the headquarters of the Pangi Valley.

However, there was a minor problem. The bridge that served as the lifeline of this road had gone away last night. Flash floods had wiped the road away. Although BRO and GREF was employed there but it wasn’t possible to go with a motorcycle across the bridge.

At the first sight, we decided to let go and cancel the trip. But then there is something special about the Himalayas and its people. They live in the harshest conditions and that makes them strong, mentally and physically. There were Pangwal laborers (natives of Pangi valley are called Pangwals) who assessed the situation on their own, inquired about the weight of the motorcycle, and concluded that it would take 5-6 men and 20 minutes to get to the other side.

We were in a state of shock. All I could see was a gorge beneath. But optimism of those Pangwals made us hopeful.

Optimism, you see is contagious. And in the Himalayas, pessimism never survives long. Now was the time to accept the challenge and relish it. The GREF Major deployed at the site gave us free hand. “Use my men and my equipment. You are the in-charge now”, said he. Within moments strategy was put in place. And the strategy was simple, “Don’t look down. Keep Pushing.”

Amidst all this tension I managed to turn on my camera on video recording mode. A couple of Pangwals volunteered to hold the camera for us. Now the real mission started. The first hurdle was a huge rock angling towards us as if asking us not to mess with it. The second hurdle was to get down the slippery slope while balancing the weight of the motorcycle. 180KG of steel is not an easy thing to handle, especially when its engine is turned off.  The third hurdle was to push the bike towards the road.

The Pangwals did a fantabulous job. They said 20 minutes but the job was over well within 15 minutes. The job was done. The expedition was still alive. The feeling was awesome. And we did relish the challenge.

We could have turned back and that would have been a safe option. But accepting a new challenge head-on is what life is all about. And when you are willing to walk an extra mile, even the Universe conspires with you.

This post is my third entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Relishing the Challenge in the Himalayas

The Challenge: How to enjoy trekking in the Himalayas after losing track and walking in the wrong direction for 13 Kilometers.

“This is Rahul from Creativeland Asia. I would like to talk to you regarding another Cinthol Campaign. Is it the right time to talk?” Rahul spoke in his graceful voice over phone.

I looked around. It was about to rain. Me and my friend were en-route a mountain pass, 3500 meters above the sea level. We had lost our way.

“Yeah Rahul. This is a good time to talk”, said I.

Then Rahul went on with his stories. How Alive is Awesome Campaign was a huge success. Why did they choose Virat as their brand ambassador for ‘Relishing the Challenge Campaign’. I listened but could not understand a thing.

It’s not easy to concentrate when you have lost your way in the Himalayas. Especially when you realize that you have walked 13 kilometers in a wrong direction. Did I mention that we were 13000 feet above the Mean Sea Level?

We were en route Waru Pass (14000 feet) that connects Chamba to Palampur region. Both these destinations are popular tourist spots but not much is known about this mountain pass. Nobody but the shepherds use this pass. Every year scores of shepherds cross this pass during summers. Their cattle graze in the Himalayas while the shepherds play flute and talk to the mountains.

It all sounds fancy but it isn’t.

Before We Lost Our Way!

We lost our way because there were no trail marks. After walking aimlessly for 5 hours we couldn’t figure our way out. But then there is saying in the Himalayas, “When you are lost, follow the shit.” Sheep shit to be precise.

Shepherds camp at several places before settling finally at the grasslands. If you find no grasslands then follow the shit. It always leads to a better place. And this is a Golden Rule in the Himalayas.
We walked down a steep slope and spotted a Power House. It looked close but it actually wasn’t. 

And this is second rule of the Himalayas. “The mountains and the clouds always appear close. Never underestimate the distance. Never overestimate yourself.” We made the mistake of underestimating and overestimating simultaneously. We walked another 5 KM dragging our feet. Finally we camped at the Power House.

And then we were told that Power House Station was the point where from the trek actually starts. And the Power House was connected to the main road. So effectively, we had covered only 6KM after walking for more than 15KM. Soon it started raining adding more to our misery. We couldn’t complete the trek. Or rather, we couldn’t even start the trek.

When We Completely Lost It!
And then comes into picture the third rule of the Himalayas. You have to be patient with the Himalayas. These mountains have been waiting since times immemorial for someone to scale them. They can wait for another summer. We have to incorporate that quality in our lives. Relishing the Challenge of trekking in the Himalayas is an ‘Alive and Awesome’ experience. But you have got to be patient.

You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in the Himalayas.

We couldn’t complete the trek but we visited another interesting place dating back to the Mahabharat Times. Temples submerged in the Pong Dam. These temples remain drowned underwater for more than 10 months in a year. Only for two months these temples come out.

Probably missing the trek was meant to be. The Himalayas will wait for us. The temples will soon go down. And they wouldn't be visible after a week, at the most two weeks. 

A lesson well learnt!

What We Relished!

This post is my second entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign