Wednesday 27 June 2007

Magic

I read a recent interview by Gregory David Roberts - perhaps you would know him better as the ever popular Shantaram - in which he quoted that the most overused word in literature is 'magic'. I was somehow taken aback when I read that. If magic is so talked about in the world of words, then why is our belief in it so sparce in our lives? Why do most of us instinctively get defensive whenever we are faced with attributing anything to magic? Who is not skeptical of astrology, of alternate methods of treatments, of love at first sight and of premonitions.

Magic to me is something that does not have a logical explanation....something that has so much beauty in it that it would be marred if we tried to find an explanation. Magic is in the myriad of colors in the sky, in the smile of a street child. It is believing in the goodness of people and not being proven wrong. Magic is that one soul-mate who will live through life knowing that you are thinking of him/ her somewhere in the world even if you never meet again. I wonder how many of us still believe in it? I am in this tiny minority I fear. But how does one explain the 'knowing that this is right' when we meet someone for the 1st time.

Magic is what helps me go on, almost like the air I breathe. It gives me a reason to wake up everyday with a smile on my lips. If I could gift anything to the people I love, I would gift them a little bit of magic in their lives....

Monday 25 June 2007

In the search for contentment

Sometimes I wonder why we seek our happiness in others. One too many philosophers have reinstated that the only true happiness is being content with yourself. Then why do we look at the world for filling spaces in our hearts....

And what does it take to be content with oneself? Often I do small things that I believe will make a difference to someone in this world...give a hungry child food, smile at a stranger, help an ailing in need...but if I speak my heart, the truth is that somewhere deep inside, I perhaps do these to feel better about myself. To avenge the wrongs I may have done somewhere along the way...and to reinforce to myself that I am, in truth, a nice person.

Does it work? I'm not sure. Its too early to say. Life is long....what goes around, comes around...

Matheran and the sound of the wind

Travel for a large proportion of us refers to a luxurious hotel, room service, dinner in formals in the classy restaurant downstairs and a short walk around the resort thrown in. I must confess I am a sucker for luxury too. When I went camping to Mashobra near Simla for the first time, I thought there would be beds and ACs in the tents…regardless to say, I was a tad bit surprised to find stark bare tents in the middle of a forest with sleeping bags as beds and a fire for protection against wild-life. But then that’s another travelogue.

So as one can imagine, I was quite wary when I heard that Matheran, a tiny hillstation in Maharashtra was known for scenic beauty and wilderness alone. Yet, this time I was pleasantly surprised.

In my opinion, Matheran is a popular hill station largely for 2 reasons : its proximity to Mumbai and the popular toy train that leads you to the town. Though the train was out of service, the rash taxi driver on unbelievably steep roads was a distant second in terms of a comfortable ride. Yet, we made it in one piece to Matheran. The Taxi dropped us at Dasturi (the place till where vehicles are allowed). Somehow we managed to find our way through the mob of touts selling hotels, horse rides and just about anything and found our way to the ticket counter. One needs to purchase a pass to enter Matheran. This is valid throughout your visit.

A few facts that no travelogue is complete without:
It is the smallest hill station in the world
It is also the cleanest hill station
No vehicles are allowed inside the town. None whatsoever

Wildlife includes monkeys(lots of them) and horses trotting along the path as the local means of transport. Jokes apart, Matheran is known as being an abode for various exotic birds. I would probably attribute that to the pollution free air and lack of vehicle sound.

I call these facts because the first three are displayed on posters at the entrance to the MTDC resort by the government of Maharashtra. The MTDC resort was another good find. The deluxe cottages at a double accommodation rate of Rs1,100 were quite reasonable. The resort itself is built on a large expanse of land surrounded by forests. One does not even mind the 2 hour powercut everyday as it gives you the opportunity to sit on the swing in the veranda and just absorb the entire experience. It is also the most convenient resort as it is located at Dasturi, right next to where the taxi drops you. one can make bookings locally in Mumbai at their office in Nariman Point (# 022-22026713)

Leaving my dainty image behind in Mumbai, I did what one should do in a hill station – trek. Take any path and start walking along it, here is where the beauty of Matheran lies. The quiet paths with tall trees on both sides – invariably leading to some “point” or another are a wonder in themselves. Right after breakfast, we set off trekking towards Sunset point. Being 1o’clock in the afternoon, we were obviously ill timed for the beauty of this point but it did offer us a spectacular view of the valley. Monkey point on our way back was –as can be guessed- full of monkeys and little else. For lunch, there was a tiny eatery behind the mosque in the main bazaar that seemed to be well known for its non-veg dishes but we opted for Diwakar – a garden restaurant that the locals recommended. I’ve often found that one should ask locals about the best places to eat in a new town; they are the best judge and a reasonable sample of people you ask takes away the element of promotion or bias. Diwakar has surprisingly great food and also offered chilled beer. The Chicken Biryani and the chicken lollypops left us licking our fingers.
The experience of trekking in Matheran is not like the usual treks in hill stations in Himachal and others. For one, the town is not too high above sea level. And more importantly, the fun of trekking here is not climbing difficult rock trails but in walking along narrow paths with a green canopy above you. Another interesting opportunity is walking on the unused track of the toy train. It’s a beautiful walk from Dasturi to Matheran market (around 2.5 kms). Locals have also realized this and at regular intervals you will find them selling refreshing lime water or cucumber to munch.

Some travel related info:

How to get there: Take the local train from Dadar to Neral and take a taxi from Neral station to Dasturi (The entrance to Matheran)
Money involved: Not more than 1,000 per person per day on a twin sharing basis
What to buy: Fudge and Chikki (Try the chocolate walnut fudge)
So whenever the travel bug bites next, and you are ready to leave the city behind just for a while, here is where you should head. Don’t take my word for it – go try it out for yourself.

A Slice of Nature, A Sip of Wine!

The best part about India is that there are so many breathtaking nooks and crannies in this country that are still unexplored and unexploited. My idea of a hill station is not exactly a commercial hub like Shimla or Mussourie. I rather travel to smaller towns hidden in the heart of the hills, known for nothing but the warmth of the people and the clean fresh air.

One such place, I discovered, is Palampur. Most of us wouldn’t even have heard of it, and those who have would attribute it to the military cantt area there. For others like me, Palampur is an unexplored jewel.

A six hour drive from Chandigarh and a long 12 hour drive from Delhi with stops, Palampur is a little out of reach for the quick getaway seekers. Yet, I would recommend one taking out the time and making this trip. We did the wise thing and stopped over at Chandigarh for the night. We set off for Palampur the next morning at 6am and were on our way. The drive is beautiful- Long winding roads with the typical lush green fields of Punjab on both sides and barely any traffic. On our way, we stopped at a dhabba near Anadpur Sahib (A famous gurudwara where Khalsa was started) and had mouth watering Aalu paranthas. The best part of dhabbas in the north is that you spend a total of around Rs.100 for delicious food for 4 people and leave feeling completely satisfied. Finally we moved on and crossing Nangal (Of the Bhakra Nangal dam fame), we entered the ghats. The gradual climb suited even a person like me, being one of those who always gets vertigo in hills. Finally, right in time for lunch, we reached the beautiful town of Palampur.

We had the good fortune of knowing people in CSIR, a renowned research institute there and got ourselves booked in the guest house. Lovely big suites with windows opening towards the mountains, it was an experience. The only way of getting a room here is if you know anybody in CSIR. At Rs.150 per night, the rooms are not open to the general public. There is also a Hotel Yamini that is supposed to be the best here for others. The tariffs average around Rs.3000 per night for a double. The first day, we just decided to relax and take long walks. The one thing about Palampur that people don’t know is that there are large expanses of tea estates here. Acres of land growing leaf tea not only perfume the environment, they really are a feast for the eyes too. My 3 days in Palampur left me addicted to this tea!

During our walk, we discovered a Naturotherapy centre called “Kaya Kalp”. Excited at our new find, we returned there the next day to be pampered and rejuvenated. I went in for their full body massage and steam bath (At a total of Rs 100 per person). I must confess, those 50 minutes were nothing less than pure bliss. When we stepped out of there, I truly felt lighter and more beautiful!! The centre is relatively new and does not have internet presence yet. The best way to contact them is to walk in, you don’t really need prior appointments. The evening was spent by visiting the museum of Sobha Singh, a famous artist who is best known for his paintings of Guru Nanak. In a room within his own house, now run by his niece, it was a lovely collection. The sunset in Palampur was worth dying for. Snowcapped peaks, pine forests and the sky ablaze – it was a moment of pure silence and beauty.

Another thing to take back from here is the fruit wines they make in this region. You can get beautifully presented and lovely to taste Kiwi wines, Peach wines, Apple wines etc. They range from Rs.150 a bottle to Rs.400 for a 750ml bottle, quite a steal even in comparison to Indian wines like Sula. A perfect evening in Palampur is about putting up your feet, sipping wine and watching the sunset between snow capped mountains. It makes one realize that this is what life is about!

Finally, on our last day, we packed our bags and looked back at this quaint little town one last time. It was with a heavy heart but rejuvenated mind that we started on our journey back to the hustle bustle of city life. What we carried with us though, besides the famous tea and wines, was almost a sort of humble gratitude towards nature that she allowed us to witness her in all her glory.

As simple or as complicated as that

I believe, somewhere along the way, we all forgot that our careers are a means to an end. The reasons one worked used to be money, power or at the best – fame. Slowly, there is a change being observed and these reasons are being overshadowed by reasons like personal gratification and a sense of achievement. What is fading away is the concept of “shared goals”. It is more “I” versus the previous “We”. Ayn Rand finally has the world dancing to her tunes.

The ends of the whole ‘work’ exercise have now become the ‘means’. The big car that was once a milestone, is now often just a faster way to reach office. The ‘vacation’ that the family used to save for has now been transformed into a quick ‘getaway’ to re-energize oneself for next month’s targets. Birthdays, anniversaries and occasions are often sidelined due to late hours, pressing deadlines and numerous tours.

I often wonder if it all is worth it. What will one get by living her/his life as a self-sustaining island and only reach out if they need momentary reassurance. Marriages are breaking up by the dozen, people are putting off having children, women are as much in the workplace as men - leaving home just an empty house to sleep in. It concerns me that we increasingly don’t give enough importance to taking time out for people we love, that we don’t sit and gaze at the stars anymore….that we just always seem to be in a tearing hurry.

Sure, I like my job and I love the money I make. But somewhere deep inside my heart, lives a woman who almost wishes that times were different. Sometimes, we need to slow down…stop for a moment and look around. We may find that the important milestones in our life are not necessarily paydays or the first promotion…but rather the first hug, the sound of a baby’s heartbeat or as simple as a rose on a special day. It is in these simple joys of life that we fine the true meaning of life and if we look hard enough - ultimately find ourselves.

Why I chose a residential B-School

It is often debated whether B-schools are actually an effective platform to build future leaders. That is an entire controversy in itself. Yet, one debate left untouched is the difference between a day boarding B-School and a residential one.

A day boarding B-school allows one the opportunity to lead a dual life- To be a part of the ‘college’ life as well as have a life beyond that. For most, it allows the opportunity to live with their families and continue with the pampered lifestyle that they have grown up with. Having spent half of my undergraduate years as staying in a PG and half staying at home, I made a conscious decision to opt for a residential B-school. Though, a day boarding in my hometown Delhi would have allowed me to stay with my family, have my friends nearby and eat wholesome meals at home, why did i decide otherwise, you ask?

Me, I prefer the concept of a residential institute. They often say in their pitch that it is only in the wholesome experience of staying 24 hours in the campus, that one does learn the skills required as a manager. Though I am person who compulsively argues with any stated fact, I have no choice but to agree this time. The true education a B-school lends is not in the classroom. The days are filled with endlessly long lectures interspersed with yet another presentation given by the students themselves. But the true take-away of B-schools is not knowledge of Maslow’s theory or the Ps of Marketing (Whether they are 4…or 17 as I think last argued). The true take away is the spirit of team-work. It is the art of managing and understanding other people and at the same time, getting your work done.

Some may argue that projects are a part of the life in day-colleges too. But there is a difference that I have noted in my interactions with others. In a residential college, making presentations often took us into the wee hours of the morning. Not only did we need to manage schedules, we also needed to juggle moods, appetites and priorities of every one in the group. My learning was not in the books I read to make that presentation, but rather in the making of those long presentations in the library at 1am and grumbling about that at the canteen at 2. Living with all those people was not easy, there was a lot of cut throat competition and associations were often for interior motives only, but it was a sense of kinship that developed in little things like waking the entire hostel if you are the first to get up or being woken everyday if you are the last; in attendance proxies (and getting caught), in controversies and in friendships. It was in the understanding that everyone needs their space but no one minds a smile either.

To every coin there are 2 sides. Campus life was not exactly hunky-dory. There were days when the cafeteria food was so bad that we would rather venture out to the nearest dhaba 20 kms away. Also, as I have grown older, I have noticed that friendships have gotten more artificial and this hit me in my post-grad. Most of one’s batchmates would take the 1st opportunity to side-step you and move forward even if it takes underhand means. There were a few people I thought to be good friends, but they turned around and betrayed my trust. Friends turned enemies and enemies turned harmless. All these instances and more may be generic to all B-schools or particular to mine. But MICA was a unique experience for traits that are particular only to it. It is the only B-School (we often argue that it is a C-School: Communication School) that has an equal proportion of both genders. Thus, not only was the equality discussion thrown up in all classes, but on a lighter note, we also attracted the maximum number of attendees for fests and sports matches too. IIM A with its meager population of women was always a ready contender be it cricket, volleyball or even basketball despite being defeated more often than not. Also, largely due to the Director Prof. Atul Tandan, MICA viewed its students as grown up individuals and did not impose overt rules like hostel wardens, no-smoking, hostels cut off for the other gender etc. It recognized that the individuals moving into the MICA campus were capable of making their own decisions responsibly. Responsibility was handed out for those who wished to take it and students managed everything from contractors for the cafeteria to being allowed to choose their professors on the basis of feedback.

My 2 years in a Management school taught me more than I had bargained for. School had taught me the importance of friends, of unconditional relationships and that there could be nothing worse in life than getting caught by the teacher bunking class. Then came college where I learnt that it takes all sorts to make this world; where for the first time, I could choose to study what interested me and I learnt that learning can be fun too. But my real education happened during post-graduation. Not because of what the faculty taught me. Frankly, very little of what was taught in those 4 walls has been used by me at my workplace. But for the fact that it geared me for the real world, a world where you have to compete to stay afloat, one where the person who helps you out of a tight spot turns out to be the last person you expected. When I look back, I do not see the projects I made, but instead remember the preparation of those projects-working day and night in a group, taking it for a fact that everyone is not going to give it as much priority as you will, and yet getting them to do the best they can. I have also found that brainstorm sessions are much more effective when they are over a cup of hot tea in the middle of a cold night than they are in lazy afternoons. I don’t remember the people who cut my path for their own good, but instead recall how I learnt to deal with them-and eventually rise above petty retaliation. I do not think about the few sleepless nights I spent pining for home or the grumbling about the cafĂ© food. Instead, what comes to my mind are friends who dropped in for a chat-just like that, and those who brought back goodies for me from their outing for no apparent reason. All this and much more I learnt only because I chose to live with those 68 people day in and day out.


Education, to me, is not about classrooms and grades. In terms of my CGPA, I would probably have done just as well if I was a day scholar. Education, I believe, is about gaining a mature outlook towards life. About understanding human relationships and in the process, getting to understand oneself too. For it is in these 2 years, that I truly grew up. But for the bird to learn to spread its wings and fly, there is one thing it must do--it must step out of its mother’s nest.. and take those first steps towards uncertainty..and that, it must do on its own.