Sunday, 21 February 2016

Never Do Nothing : Blog # 263

Never do Nothing!

            I don’t know if the title of this blog is a widely used phrase. But I heard this for the first time from Madhu Trehan, senior journalist of the media-observer cum commentator Youtube channel, ‘NewsLaundry’. I am yet to come across a more inspiring phrase which conveys the message with such brevity. Many a time, people try to inspire others by talking to them. But at times, the conversations go in circles and for durations longer than the gestation period of an elephant. In this day and age of 142 characters worth of twitter eloquence and conversations that are reduced to whatsapp emoticons, one shouldn’t expect one’s audience to be very attentive and patient. Therein lies the relevance of this phrase.

                  In the times that we live in, it is very easy to think that we all are doing something worthwhile. Thanks to the social media, it cocoons us in to the false belief that we are all leading constructive lives. Often, one needs to step back and see if we are really taking an effort to evolve over time. It is about making oneself better than one was the previous day, month or at least the previous year.

                  Being a better person means different things to different people. For some, it is to stop doing something. For others, it is to start doing something. It could be to learn a new language, earn more money, coach oneself to a new skill, explore new places, start a hobby, be part of a cause , play a sport or anything that your imagination gifts you with. The point is to change by oneself before a change forces itself on to you.

                  By putting oneself continually through such experiences, we become more open and willing to let in newness – be it of people, challenges or experiences. We gradually reduce our mental inertia and resistance to change.  Being part of new experiences helps one tide through the monotony of life. It also gives us small milestones to conquer in this long journey thereby providing pit stops of contentment. In less euphemistic words, by never doing nothing, Life becomes easy!

Arun Babu

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Big Bear Hug to Nivea! : Blog #262

A Big Bear Hug to Nivea!

If you haven’t seen the new Nivea deo Advertisement, watch you must. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy it made me to see this refreshingly new and different Ad. I have always loved advertising. All you get is a handful of seconds. In that, one need to convey a story or a message AND make someone buy your product or at least make them think about the product. The sheer joy of creative challenge! In many ways, Indian advertisements are rich in content and portrayal. The abundance in content might owe to our varied cultural ethos – the advantage of having many little Indias within India. The portrayal or the visual nuances should have evolved over time.

One product space where there was an acute lack of creative talent on display was the deodorants. All that our prolific Ad agencies could come up with were a bottle of gas, a few naked women and these bare chested men drawing those women to them like moth to fire just because they have used the deodorant. The very same concept repeats only change being in the surroundings. Oh yes, one product did try with a horse and then molecules and awesomeness et al. Frankly, I missed the point. I couldn’t GET that Ad at all.

            And comes, our dear dearest Nivea. Just when I was about to press ‘Skip Ad’, Nivea takes me right to the beginning of mankind. I wondered why and was curious! It goes on to say Eve snubbed Adam with a hand wave because of body odour. Then it talks about Maharajas and the handshake, long lost friends and the high-fives and fist pumps etc. The Ad implores the audience to #Banbodyodour and get back to the endearing and sincere bear hugs.

            It delights me to see so many little things woven in to a minute worth of time. They have touched up on how human interactions have evolved (of course on a lighter vein), what we can do to make them more intimate and why we should use their product. Thank you Nivea for liberating us from the oft repeated monotony of humans hurling at each other among smoke just because of some scent! Thank you Nivea for giving some sense of meaning and soul to the story line. A big bear hug to your team!

Arun Babu

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Indian Railways – One hell of a ride! : Blog #261

Indian Railways – One hell of a ride!

India has the world’s third largest rail network in the world. To know how great this organization is, you also need to know that we are the second most populated country in the world. A whopping 1.25 Billion Indians use this network to commute.

Now usually, large transport networks around the world make a booklet available to help passengers. We do not under estimate our passengers that way. We know they will learn things on the fly. Come on! what is life without some adventure and adrenalin rush? There are a lot of things you need to know if you were to use this mammoth of a service. There are some hidden tacit knowledge which Google might not be able to tell you. There might be some interesting questions that come to your mind like “Who is that guy in black blazer in the train and which disco is he going to? Is he Barney?” This blog is an attempt to answer such questions.

How do I get started on a train journey? – Well if you are among those who believe in travelling with dignity, you will need to have a ticket. You may book it either through a railway station or through the website – .Now, if you are trying to book it through website, get some Chinese bamboos, a laughing Buddha, arrange your table as per feng shui - all that will bring luck to you because you need a hell lot of luck to book a ticket through this website. Am I being too harsh on them? Yes! Ok then, it works wonderfully well during normal hours. The problem occurs when you want to book a ticket on short notice. But isn’t most of our travel on short notice? So I am not being too harsh on them, am I?

How to book tickets on short notice? – Through an option called ‘Tatkal’ for booking tickets a day before your travel. So if you are travelling tomorrow, you can book a ticket today under ‘Tatkal’ option for a higher price. Timeslots are allotted on the website to book Tatkal tickets depending on the class of travel you choose. For AC (Air Conditioned) classes, booking is from 10:00 – 11:00 AM and for Non – AC classes, it is from 11:00 AM.

There are classes of travel? – Yes, in AC compartments, there are three types – 1st AC, 2nd AC and 3rd AC. They are also known as 1 tier, 2 tier and 3 tier AC compartments. The tier is indicative of how many berths are present in a coupe. If there are 3 berths on one side of a coupe, it is a 3 tier compartment. If there are 2 berths, it is a 2 tier compartment. You get the drift, right?

Now coming to the Non AC compartments. This is interesting. Take a notepad and pay close attention. There is a first class,sleeper class, a sitting class and a general class. A first class is one where you have the privacy of a closed room and it is luxurious .A sleeper class will have berths on which you can lie down. This is essentially a 3rd AC compartment with the AC taken away and the glass windows replaced by iron grills.

The sitting class as the name implies is to sit and travel. You won’t be able to lie down. This has 2 variations – CC and 2 S which stands for Chair Car and Second sitting respectively. Chair car will have AC and 2S will not have AC.

The general class is one when you travel without reservation. If you are one of those who love to travel on an impulse, this is the class for you. You take a ticket from the counter at the railway station, hop on and travel. Statutory warning – This class will be extremely crowded and travel will not be a very pleasant experience.

How do I spot my train at the station? - Each train has a 5 digit number and a name to it.
Names will be mostly with the cities between which the train commutes like the one is picture here is Chennai Express. The name will be written on a board on the first and last compartment of the train. If you are lucky, there will be an electronic display of name on all compartments. At the station, it will be mentioned as to on which platform does each train arrive. You need to look for 'coach position' chart which indicates where exactly on the platform does each compartment arrive. Many a time, this chart will be missing at the station. How do you figure then? Ask the shopkeepers on the platform. They will be more than happy to tell you.

Ok I have found my train. Now, how do I know which is my seat? – There is a train attendant for each compartment who will guide you to your seats. Yeah right! Are you kidding me? It is a complex set of codes which one needs to decrypt to understand where your seat is located among the 1000+ seats in a train. All we will tell you is S11, SU 64. Now you know why all the Indian kids are great at coding & decoding? ;). The meaning of this alpha numeric string is as below:

S11 -  Sleeper coach number 11. If is it B2, it means Third AC coach number 2. If it is A1, it means second AC coach number 1. If it is CC4, it means Chair car coach number 4. If it is D5, it means second sitting coach number 5. FC stands for First class.

SU is Side Upper. It has other variations – SL is Side Lower, LB is Lower Berth, MB is Middle Berth and UB is Upper Berth.

64 is your seat number. If you are 6 feet and above in height, pray and hope that your seat number is not a multiple of 8. If it is a multiple of 8, it would mean that your seat is side upper which is shorter than other berths and you will find it difficult to sleep.

Why do other people come and claim my seat? - There is a PNR number which you can use to check the status of your ticket. The status of your ticket will be any of these three – CNF (Confirmed ticket), RAC (Reservation against cancellation) and WL (Waiting List).  

If it is CNF, rejoice and revel; you can travel with a berth/seat allotted to you. If it is RAC, you are sharing a berth with a fellow passenger. This is when another person comes and claims that it is their seat. Calmly and patiently, tell him/her that it is RAC. If there are any other seats vacant, then the TTR will come and allot the free seat to either one of you and the berth becomes yours. If there are no free berths available, you will need to sit and travel.

Who is that guy in the black blazer? – Good question. He/She is the Ticket Examiner(TTR). If you see a person in a dashing black suit and a crisp white shirt, don’t ask him which disco he is going to. Because, he is not! He is just doing his job of the ticket examiner and that is his uniform.

How will you know that you have reached the station that you want to get down? – Other rail networks around the world might be resorting to usual methods like announcements or electronic displays. But not Indian Railways! We do things in Swag! What the passenger needs to do is to ask people sitting next to you, pray and hope that they were keeping a watchful eye on the stations passing by. If this doesn’t work, look outside. There will be one yellow board somewhere with the station’s name on it, like the one here. So if it is night time, how do you know which station it is? Follow the same process except asking the person sleeping in the next berth.

            Is this blog an exhaustive description of the wonder that is Indian Railways? Absolutely not! These are some of the many queries that occur to a first time traveler. Inspite of all its foibles, Indian Railways have kept our vast country connected and on the move and continues to do so. We are mighty proud of our railways!

Other useful railway sites :
A one stop shop -

Site for passenger trains' information -

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

1942, A Love Story : Blog # 260

1942 , A Love Story

Having got some quiet time amidst my travel, I was listening to this Hindi song, ‘Ek ladki ko dekha to…’.It is composed by R.D.Burman for the film, 1942 a love story. The Lyrics are by Javed Akhtar and the voice is lent by Kumar Sanu.Adding to the beauty of the song is the effervescent presence of Manisha Koirala & Anil Kapoor.  

Being someone who is striving to become a writer, what amazed me is the depth of Javed Akhtar’s vocabulary. I must say it a vast ocean of priceless pearls. I mean how on earth can a person describe a girl so beautifully!!! The similies used here are hold your breath, 24 in number. And the beauty of it is that it is written in the simplest of words.

Javed Akhtar goes on to write that he saw a girl who is like

A blossoming rose,
A poet’s dream,
A rising sun’s ray,
A doe in a forest,
A moonlit night,
A sweet conversation and
A divine lamp……

 If you thought that is it; it is just the first stanza.

The song goes on to compare the girl to a wonderful morning, a winter's sunlight , playful waves, the musical pleasantness of Veena, a dash of all colors come together and  to the fragrance that a cool breeze brings along.

We are not done yet! The final stanza of the song talks about the girl who is like a beautiful dancing peacock, a thread of silk, a fairy’s song, a sandalwood flame, an ornate beauty, an unblemished mist and a slow and gradual engulfment of intoxication!!!

Javed Akhtar went on to create many more master pieces. But none else has managed to create as much wonder and admiration in me about the creative magnificence of this artist than this particular song.

Many a time, we set boundaries for what we think we can achieve. All one needs to look at is brilliant creations like these to know of the boundless power of our blessed minds. All we need to do is to set the imagination free,

Like a drifting cloud,

Like a gliding feather,

Like a rising fume,

Like a hovering eagle,

                      Like a twisting whirlwind,

                        Like a mid-summer rain,

                                    Like a child’s prayer,

                                                Like a mother’s love,

                                                            Like a lover’s gaze…

Arun Babu