Friday, November 13, 2015

Light(e)ning event

It so happened that I was walking back home and I got struck by lightning. Or the remnants of a lightning. My umbrella sparked. I screamed and rushed to the side of the road. As I waited for the rain to subside, which never happened, I just thought about what happened. The sound, the scream,  the spark. I tweeted about this because I thought this was so cool!

Meanwhile, as I continued my wait, I saw a kid trying to extend his hand out to check if it was raining. His dad yelled at him for doing that! According to the dad, the kid could have just looked at the road, and seen the rain drops falling, bouncing, or whatever. And there was another instance where the dad yelled at the kid for trying to be experimentative. While I controlled my views about this kid's dad's behaviour, I decided to walk home. I thought about the physics. I thought Benjamin Franklin. I also thought about the need to have plastic  wood umbrellas...

I walked home. Looked it up on the internet, if such things occur. Apparently, yes.

I then told this to some friends and some of them suggested that I should start experimenting if I have acquired any super powers. This blog post is to report that no super powers have yet been discovered. Maybe I already have some. (Yes, I agree we all have our own super powers). Anyway, what are some super powers that I should test myself for?

"Kuch na kuch toh hote hi rehta hai tere saath", as said by my dear friend Ruju.

"Yes amma, I am alive. No, my height hasn't reduced"

"Okay, but in exchange I get to take you to the ceiling and throw you off to see if you can fly", another friend. Oh god!

Me: "My umbrella sparked"
Asid: "Haha. New souvenir"

"You qualify now! Quit your job right away, I say : P"
- sent by my dear Bhuv

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scribing for the blind

This weekend I had the opportunity to be a scribe at the Little Flower Convent School for the Deaf and Blind. I found out about this volunteering opportunity through an email in the CTC (Chennai Trekking Club) group. As I work on weekdays, I signed up to volunteer on Saturday.

I just knew that I would have to write the Computer Science exam for a student studying in Class 12. I did not have any more information. I thought this was a nice opportunity to interact with blind children and know more about their lifestyle.

On Saturday, I found myself sitting under a tree in the school compound. The school is really beautiful. Lot of trees, play ground and classrooms. It was green and breezy! At 10 am, the teacher directed us to the examination hall. There were eight 11th standard girls and seven 12th standard girls. We were 16 volunteers (I think).

As I entered the exam hall, at the start of the exam, I looked at the smiling students, and smiled. The way we smile to say hi or to acknowledge someone. And then the truth dawned upon me. This happened several times in the span of 3 hours.

The teacher had printed the questions on papers, spread them on a desk (blank side facing up) and the students had to pick one of the questions. Remember our good old science lab exams? The teacher told them which question they had picked. Some of them were disappointed at the question which they happened to pick. Again, remember those lab exams? One of them was super happy for what she picked. Ha, every class has such a student!

I accompanied one of the students, A, to a classroom. Once we got to know each other a bit, she instructed me how she wanted the margins on the paper. Then she told me where to write the date, the page number, her name, subject etc. She knew what she wanted! Heading in the center, date on the left and name on the right. Top margin needs to be wider than the other three.

After this, I read the question to her. She asked me to repeat it a couple of times. Apparently, she did not prepare too well, but she wasn't nervous at all. She dictated me all the steps involved in the program and chatted away as I wrote. Mind you, headings in black, figures to be drawn with pencil and other text in blue ink!

We chatted and enjoyed writing the answer. After this, we had one more question. She did decently well. After we gave the paper, I sat and spoke to another student, P, who was very enthu to talk. She showed me the stories that she has been typing on her computer. She has partial vision. She used a black background and large white font to be able to figure out if she was typing correctly.

I asked the girls what they wanted to be.. I asked about their hobbies, We became good friends and I stayed back to chat for some more time. We discussed Harry Potter, Wikipedia, gender based treatment, music, amongst other things. This girl, P, wants to write more and hopes to publish a book. She did have some gadgets to help her with reading and listening to books. She told me how they got one from US, but it was really expensive! There is so much scope to use technology to assist these wonderful kids to learn more. This got me thinking about all the "technological advances" that we see around us. Yes, those countless mobile apps which help in getting food at our doorstep, those mobile apps to count  the calories that we have consumed, and then those mobile apps to tell us how much one needs to burn (if any). Sigh.

As I left, I gave a hug and wished P all the best. She memorized my email id and promised to write me an email in April, after she is done with her exams. I smiled at her.. only to realise that she wouldn't know that. It took some time for me to let this thought sink in.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chennai Coastal Cleanup6

"On June 7th, early in the morning, 5500 volunteers cleaned up 29 tons of garbage from the beaches between Marina and Pondicherry as part of the 6th year edition of the Chennai Coastal Cleanup, an initiative to create awareness among the public on the environmental impact of the increasing garbage footprint and health hazards of plastics. 120 major Corporates, NGOs, schools and other groups participated in the event on Sunday morning between 6-9am. The volunteers segregated garbage in three major categories: 13% glass, 32% recyclable waste (plastics, sandals, cardboard, fishing nets, etc.) and 54% of non-recyclable waste. 45% of the total volume of garbage collected will be recycled by Earth Recycler and the remaining garbage will move to the garbage dump."

Every year in Chennai, we have a Coastal Cleanup. This was the 6th edition. I had signed up for the 5th edition last year, but due to some reasons (maybe laziness) I did not go. I would say I wasn't aware about the activities and how awesome it would be.

This time, the Chennai Trekking Club initiative, had a prequel to it. NoPlasticChallenge! I was challenged by a friend. It was an eye opening experience. I wrote about it here.

This prequel along with infographics, videos, just like movie trailers, generated a lot of awareness amongst people. CTC also designed mugs to replace paper cups, bottles to replace the usual plastic bottles that we keep disposing. This motivated me to start giving deeper thought on how I am using plastic in my daily life.

The videos, blogposts, the flash mobs and mime acts across Chennai got together a lot of people and united them in working for a cause.

So for the D-Day, there were several beaches that were identified. Each beach had an incharge. Those who signed up for a particular meeting point contacted the incharge and figured out the transport. Several cycled, and car pooled to reach their allotted beach.

I had a friend along with me. So we just took a bus to one of the meeting points. It was a little late and we couldn't meet the incharge. Luckily he answered our call and we figured out that the beach was elsewhere. I think this aspect could be improved next year. So T and I decided to just go to a very familiar place, Besant Nagar beach. Chennai has a huge coastal line. So we were a little away from the commonly visited beach.

Once we reached, we saw several people with yellow gloves and huge white sacks. We tagged along and started picking garbage. We initially picked plastics. We found several interesting things! Broken toys, toothbrushes, foam, chappals, glass bottles and what not! Yep. Luckily, it was cloudy! This enabled all of us to pick the trash peacefully while engaging in friendly and thoughtful discussions.

Before leaving, we got a nice matka, some refreshments which made us forget the fact that we didn't get to see the sunrise. We also got a lot of information from one of the volunteers on how they intend to separate the waste after the collection. He told how this was not a one day thing and about the post processing.

I am just glad that I could play a small part. At the same time I was amazed at how selflessly these volunteers were working for a cleaner environment. We should definitely think twice before throwing that piece of paper on the road or a plastic ice cream wrapper on the beach. It doesn't hurt to roam around, find a dust bin and then dispose.

To know more about this- visit this page-

Get started! Small initiatives could lead to a peaceful living.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No Plastic Challenge

So I was challenged by my friend projected for 5 days No Plastic Challenge. She shared a sheet with set of rules and stuff.
What is this challenge?
It has been initiated by CTC, Chennai Trekking Club. Here are some more links that will give you relevant information!

I already avoid plastic as much as possible. I had to think quite a bit to come up with new things. I told my mom about this challenge and the enthu in her was encouraging.
She was telling me about how some decades ago, they would follow a lot of these practices. Composting, minimum usage of plastic, less wasting of stuff. So I just went ahead, observed where was plastic being used in my daily life and here are some instances.

For me, it is not about throwing away all the plastic that I own/use. I wanted to focus on recycling. Have you heard of plastic being used to lay roads? Yes, that happens here in Chennai, thanks to some organizations like CTC!

I hope to continue these practices as it has given me more awareness about the whole issue surrounding plastic. Also, check out this Ocean Confetti video which talks about the dreadful plastics-

So, are you going to take up the challenge or sit around throwing plastic, in spite of knowing about the ill effects? Let me know!

Here is what I did for 5 days-
Day 1: ‪#‎ChennaiCoastalCleanup‬ ‪#‎NoPlasicChallenge‬ instead of ordering food, went to Andhra Mess and ate in a banana leaf. Avoided plastic. Also cycled to that place.

‪#‎ChennaiCoastalCleanup‬ ‪#‎NoPlasticChallenge‬ 
Day2 - reusing sweet dabbas and shoe dabbas to store my colours set. Instead of buying plastic dabbas use existing cardboard dabbas. Also carried my own water bottle when I went out.

#‎ChennaiCoastalCleanup‬ ‪#‎NoPlasticChallenge‬ 
Day 3: plastic segregation box at office. Hope to give it to some organization which can recycle. 
And of course I designed my own mug.

Day4 and Day5 #‎chennaicoastalcleanup‬ ‪#‎noplasticchallenge‬- subway in a cloth bag. Using old cartons as book shelf. Paper bag to collect plastic waste at home. Walk or cycle or bus instead of auto or cab.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Slightly more confident noob

Coding. "I love coding" say some while others shout in a louder voice "I hate coding". No points for guessing that I was in the latter group. I did not do well in the first basic computer science course. And that set the tone for hatred. I had this mental block. I somehow survived five years of college in ways that I am not very proud of..

In July'14, I joined a healthcare consulting firm. Well, I was sure that I would not have to code.It was in the domain of my interest. I was put in the sales analytics team where we did segmentation and targeting for a European market. I had no clue until work actually started that numbers are crunched by running codes! They trained us in SAS and a bit of Excel. I found myself reading code, tweaking it, and generating reports from the analysis. I found it interesting every now and then but mundane most of the times. But then, I realised I could write some code and make the computer crunch numbers while I crunched Lays.

I kind of lost that fear of coding. I would compare this to those initial days of venturing into a swimming pool and realising that with bit of effort, one can breathe under water..

I joined a software company here in Chennai and happily resigned my first job, the healthcare "consulting" gig, in 4 months. I was kind of clear that I did not want to code "all the time". I was given a role that satisfied this ignorant criteria of mine.

It has been 4 months here and I have started learning how to code, totally because I was intrigued by it.. I did a teeny tiny bit of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python. I am in love with this new found joy in coding. I could not believe that I have been so rigid all these years. Well, better late than never.

A dear friend suggested that I should solve some problems using Python. I always wanted to do those maths problems from I struggled. I used google and followed the path that it laid. I was so happy when I cracked the first problem. I did not do anything else till I cracked it. It was like a new friend that I could talk to whenever I wanted to!

And then I started exploring other things. I am still a noob. Very much a noob. But a slightly more confident one.

Well, does this strike a chord with you? Do you fear/hate/not like/dislike coding? Maybe you could give it another shot. This time, just keep your mind open. Be open to learning. Be open to the idea of finding your way on your own. Learning is fun.

Codecademy is a great place to start. The odin project is a good compilation of various sources. It lets you explore other tutorials and lectures. Once you cross the threshold, you will find your way based on your needs.

Have fun! Happy coding. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Now it is

On a Sunday evening, after a duathlon, after eating nutella, nutella with bread, murku, I found myself talking to my friend about how we come up with so many excuses. And how important it is to put ourselves out there. She was nodding, reflecting, smiling. I was talking about how I have my set of excuses at times- how I have been avoiding writing a particular blog post and a thank you note..

That was it. I just got up. I couldn't stand the paradoxical situation anymore. I got my laptop. Settled down comfortably. Music plugged in. Opened the Gmail tab. And then YouTube. Blogger. Web WhatsApp. Facebook. Thanks to the duathlon today, I have the urge to check the social media site for photographs. Well, it has been good so far with the pictures that I got. Oh come on! It was my first duathlon. It was also 'enlightening' to see how I looked when I was on my cycle. A tiny chubby person. (Nevertheless, the nutella jar shall be consumed.)

Getting back, I closed some of the tabs. The thank you note hasn't happened yet. But I figured out a better approach to get that stuff done. So, yay!

So yes, the "NOW" factor is a very tricky one I feel. We have so many excuses popping up in our head. Excuses for not getting physical activity, for not calling up someone, for not doing grocery shopping, for not learning something that we have always wanted to and so on. But then, if we really want to do something, I think one needs to shut up and get to business! If I really want to do something, I should be able to battle the wars, rather issues that keep cropping up before they take the form of well worded excuses.

In this context, I am reminded of what a friend once told me.. Do something about it or stop complaining. True, right?

Personally, this approach has been helping me. Whenever I find myself in these kind of situations, I try to make peace with the facts or I just get them out of my way. Or else I sit and write about them and gain some insights.. What do you do? 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Running encounters

 I am at home today. Leave. I have cold and feel a bit weak and sick. I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday as well. But I totally loved yesterday's run. Because I was running after a long time. It was a run chat with a friend and I think that's good use of time!
I saw this pepper haired lady who was cycling on campus. She had a helmet and a headlamp mounted on it. It certainly grabbed our attention.

After a good 4.8km run and some ballet stretches, I headed back home. This cheerful lady parked her cycle on the side of the road near ED Dept. I went and said "Hi" and began chatting with her. She told me she is an alumni. Chemical Engineer, class of 83! Wow. I have always wanted to meet female alumni and here I was, with her. She told me about some women's cycling group when I told her that I just started my cycling journey. She had so much positive energy! I just couldn't stop smiling. I asked her to run with us and we joked about body parts that hurt when cycling/running.
On the way back, met a junior and it's just the second time that I am meeting him. We quickly made plans about our Sunday run. I also told him about this encounter with Sujatha, the alumni.

I came home. Same levels of excitement. I told my flatmates. I open facebook to search her profile. Google helped me out and there, I found her. What I also found about her was that she is the mother of Akash Dube, the kid who started the Chennai Chapter for Terry Fox run. Akash was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. They started the Terry Fox chapter that year. The annual run was held in my campus, IIT Madras. It was phenomenal. They raised ~50 lakhs. This has been a tradition now. Akash passed away few years back..

This incident, somehow had a deep impact. It was a reminder to forget about all the petty things that bother us. It was a reminder to look at life from a big picture view. To ease off and explore.

Terry Fox has been a special run for me as it kind of marked the beginning of my running journey. It was then my longest continuous solo run with probably 10000 others running, cycling, skating on the same road. I had also dedicated this run to a very dear friend of mine, who was diagnosed with symptoms similar to cancer.

To me, this is the essence of running.. And well, cycling. Rather, being out there on the roads. With people. Sometimes all by myself. To be a part of this planet and to know different stories. Stories that help us in exploring the plethora of emotions within us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The other world

Why do they run? Why do you run? Why do I run?
These are questions that keep coming back to me every now and then. Maybe when I see someone running on the roads. Maybe when I catch myself out of breath with my legs pleading me to stop. When I see people complaining that they missed their target by 43 seconds. By 43 minutes. By 43 minutes and 43 seconds. Surprisingly not many complain for overshooting their target. I wonder why. 

People say that human feet are not meant for running. Yes, some have said that to me. Early men and women used to run to hunt their food. You can a read a lot about that everywhere and  here .
Now that we have established that humans did run, I will go ahead and say that everyone can run. Yes. Look at this for example 

What is running? What speed classifies as running? Maybe 9-10 kmph is running. Maybe the guy who does a 1:30 HM might say that 13 kmph onwards is running. Any speed less than that is jogging. Well, I would say these are just tags. How does it matter what the world calls as running. Does it? Not after you answer the question that opened this dialogue between us. 

In case you don't run, you might be wondering how you will answer this question. That is if you are generous enough to read through this. Or else you might just close this tab and move ahead to catch up stuff on reddit. Wait, will you? Do you walk sometimes in spite of having an option of taking a vehicle? Do you take those stairs at times? Do you care about what food goes down your food pipe? Why?

Ah, I think I run to stay fit. I think that exercise is necessary for the human body. Well, not just me. A lot of people say that. Even a kid in Class 2 would say that. You can find more proof here. That would have also told you why exercise is important, what are the perks, what are the downsides etc. Let us not get there for now. I have come to believe that exercise is necessary and fun! 

So yes, there are a lot of reasons to run. I started running in an attempt to rectify hypothyroidism. I also started running to beat loneliness I guess. No no. Other way I guess. Never mind. After I started running, I realised that it is awesome, in spite all the struggle. In spite of not being able to run 200 metres. Yes. I did not feel lonely in spite of running solo. Maybe because I could now connect with millions who run. Yes, millions. I could now feel happy and smile at a stranger and even hi-fi as we run past each other. It is a big community out there. A very warm and lovely and vibrant and super excited community. To believe you should go watch a run, hang around near the finish line if you are too lazy to move. 

You know, I felt pretty special when I could run 3.5 km (one of the loops in IITM campus) without a stop. Because none of my other friends could do that. Because I was the chubbiest of the lot, least athletic and I could still do that. Later I did make friends who could run 110 kms in the Rann of Kutch!
I did not feel as special when I ran the first 10km run because that was when I saw thousands of others running! People of all sizes and shapes. People wearing all sorts of attires (read sarees!). And when I went to Stanford, I saw how common it was for people to be out there on the roads and running. It was super common.

So why do they run? Well, a hell lot of reasons. The most basic one being- to stay fit. To be healthy. To delay the onset of health issues. To drive away existing health problems. And only after one starts running, will they discover a whole new world. A world where it is very easy to get lost. A world where people cry for missing their targets by 43 seconds in a 42.195 km run. A world where people cry out of happiness as they run. A world where people push their targets and conquer miles.

So tell me, dear friend, why do you run? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hidden you

 I had a tiring weekend. I was at the lit fest. I want to write stuff that I jotted down in my notebook. I don't know when..

Do I really want to write? Why do I want to write and for whom do I want to write? I want to use writing as a medium to express. Same with painting. But I am lazy. I am not writing. Or drawing. Does that mean I am lazy? For now, yes. Maybe.

So what happens in these situations? There are a lot of questions in our heads. We encounter things. People. Experiences. But what do we do with all that? We have that want to share. We usually want to. With people. With faceless people. Nameless people. Unknown people. With ourselves. And how do we express and share? By talking. All forms. Texting. Chatting. Blah. Not often do we have people around us to talk. We tend to miss people. We begin to feel lonely. We feel ununderstood. Misunderstood. Helpless. Frantic in search of something and someone. That's when we resort to other forms of expression. Art. That's what most of us do. That's what we should do.

I guess eventually, after all the loneliness, boredom, depression strike us, there would be a state of calmness, equilibrium, peace where we find ourselves. And there would be that hidden artist, out of the shell.