Sunday, February 25, 2007

the role of role models

can you think of a single choice that you make where you are not influenced by some role model?

think about it!

whether we acknowledge them or not, and whether we are even aware of them or not, all of us have role models. and the way we think, act, speak and behave is largely influenced by our role models we have chosen for ourselves!

this might be difficult for some of us to swallow. but if you pause to think and ask yourself honestly, we model ourselves on people we look up to. and this basic truth reflects in almost all aspects of our lives - trivial or significant.

why do you choose a particular brand of toothpaste? why do you wear a particular type of dress? why do you read certain books, listen to music, eat in specific restaurants, and do most of the things that you do? why do you color your hair a particular shade, or decide to go bald?

why do you opt for a specific career path? why do you want to marry a certain kind of person? why do you want a particular lifestyle?

why do you want to go where you want to go? and be what you want to be?

in most cases there is a role model who is inspiring us to reach out and go beyond the boundaries drawn out by our own minds. i guess this is why our scripture/teachers/elders exhort us to choose our company well. because my choice of company, to a large extent, determines the quality and direction of my journey!

i'm so glad to be journeying with you :-)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

our new-age children!

bringing up children today in today's world is definitely not child's play. when i think back to my childhood days (which is too far back for comfort) it seems as if i had a fairly easy time growing up and had a ball while at it! (some people might remark here that it definitely shows in the way i've grown up... and not in a generous sense :-) ).

let me list out a few things that starkly bring out the differences between our own childhood and that of our kids today -

1. i learnt to swim in a 'nalah' or an irrigation canal, where a friend taught me how to breathe and stay afloat. we used to have a whale of a time during our vacations where a group of enthusiasts used to travel on our bicycles to this nalah next to the empress garden in pune. i was in the 7th or 8th standard/grade then.
my son started his swimming classes right from his play school days. he agonises over it, refuses to let go of his floats and kick-board, knows all about various strokes, and takes a shower before and after he's done with the swimming session.

2. i used to walk to school and back with a gang of neighbourhood friends. i would look forward to school each day just for this walk. each day used to be a new adventure. and then when i reached secondary school (6th standard/grade) we used to drive our bicycles to school. which gave us a whole new sense of freedom!
kids go to school by the school bus and i doubt if most would ever ride their own bicycles to school.

3. i never attended any hobby/activity classes till my 9th standard/grade. i used to be part of the school choir and was also on stage every year for plays, dances, choir-singing, etc. once we got back from school our time was occupied with completing our home-work and playing scores of games with all the neighbourhood friends.
kids today attend all kinds of classes almost every day of the week. these include music (instrumental & vocal), dancing, chess, karate, swimming, art, etc.

4. during our summer vacations we used to travel to someplace within india or to our own native place (where my parents were born). we used to travel second class, bear the brain-sapping summer heat, and reach our destinations grimy and smelly. but the journey would always be memorable and fun! (i never travelled in an aircraft till i was 23.) and all the local travelling at these places was usually by whatever public transportation was available.
kids nowadays usually vacation abroad. travelling by flight is fairly de rigeur, even within india. public transportation is largely avoided.

5. toys and books were rare luxuries which we got for some special occasion like birthdays or doing well in an exam. (similarly, eating out was a rare treat!) we climbed trees, made up our own games, caught fish in bottles in nearby streams, made mud-castles, got wet in the rains, ...
most kids today have more toys than they can remember. eating out with friends and family is a very frequent phenomenon! they play games on their x-box, don't play in the mud or get wet in the rains, have never climbed trees, easily get bored in spite of all the games/toys they have, ....

don't get me wrong. i am in no way advocating that we deprive our children of all the good things they are getting exposed to.

but i somehow can't help feeling i had loads more fun when i was my son's age. do you feel the same? any answers why? and i feel, we ourselves are to blame... do you agree?

Monday, February 19, 2007

mumbai local - II

i got the overwhelming go-ahead from innumerable people which prompts me to continue with this series. and if you think i am going to share more details of the numbers, you can think again :-)


many non-mumbaikars might wonder why any sane person in their right senses would want to inflict such torture on themselves and willingly contribute to the 'Super-Dense Crush Load' (SDCL) by commuting in local trains everyday?

no, its not mass-masochism! it just happens to be the most reliable way of commuting across the two linear stretches of mumbai city (known as the central & western lines). let me give you an example of what i mean.

just last week i had to attend the wedding reception of a friend, in a suburb called kandivali, which happens to be the next station to malad (which is where my office is located) on the western line. i left office at about 7 pm and all i had to do was cross over from malad west (all of mumbai is divided into west and east as bifurcated by the railway tracks) to kandivali east. the distance which is about 3-4 kms should have taken me all of 30-45 mins by road, given the rush-hour traffic. well, i walked into the reception at 9.15 pm! give me the SDCL any day!

coming back to the rule book of local train travelling in mumbai, here goes -

1. if you are a male traveller, never make the mistake of travelling by the ladies' compartment. you will most probably be told off by the ladies and some might even pull the alarm chain to stop the train and have you hauled off by the local constabulary, who would only be too glad to do the needful, if only to earn a few additional rupees from you!

2. if you are a lady traveller, never make the mistake of travelling by the gents' compartment. you would most propbably be told off by some of the men for doing something as rash as this. (it is not exactly a pleasant experience to experience the SDCL, even if all the men around you are paragons of virtue and are ignoring the fact that you are a woman in their midst!)

3. during rush hour (which happens to be almost any time of the day) when the train (especially the virar fast) pulls into the terminus at either end of the suburban line, wait at some distance from the door and allow the people scrambling in to such in and grab whichever vacant seat is available. you should also try getting hit by flying hands, elbows and office bags.
but at all other stations in between, you should allow the people to alight first before you allow yourself to be swept in by the crowd. (the trick is to position yourself such that you enter at an angle to the door; else if you position yourself bang opposite the door you will only get swept away by the alighting crowd leaving you with little chances of boarding the train).

4. at each station the train halts at, you should remember to get in or out only from the rear-half of the door (which is demarcated by a vertical bar for people to hold on to). the 2-3 men/women standing in the front-half will just not budge if you are trying to alight or get in.

5. if you have to alight at a station you have to start inching towards the door from the previsou station itself. you keep asking the person ahead of you if they would be alighting at the next station. if they are not, they will automatically make way for you till you reach the person who will be alighting at the next station.

6. if you are travelling in the second class compartment you can ask the 3 people seated on the seats to squeeze in and perch yourself on the edge of the seat. but if you are travelling first class, you don't do that. even if you do try, you will only get scowled at!

7. if you are carrying a bag, you can ask the persone next to the overhead luggage rack to help keep your bag on the rack. nobody ever refuses.

8. and if you have dozed off, somebody will shake you by your shoulder to wake you up once the train arrives at the terminus. and most people around you will nod and smile understandingly.

9. an altercation in a second class compartment could end up in blows while in a first class compartment it usually ends up in loud vocal fights. but 9 times out of 10 the situation is defused by the other travellers who will ask both parties to cool off.

10. it is acceptable to ask a fellow traveller for a sip of water (if he is carrying a bottle) or his newspaper if he has finished reading it. very rarely you will be refused.

11. and it is completely acceptable to sing aloud if you are travelling in one of those compartments which has a group of singers. these singers usually travel together by the same local every day. you get a choice of bhajans (devotional songs) or film songs.

so that was my own version of the survival guide for mumbai suburban train travel. if any of you have more tips to contribute please send in your comments.

(in some future posting i will also list out some of the major benefits of suburban/local train train travel in mumbai!)

Monday, February 12, 2007

mumbai local - I

would you like to live life on the wild side? rough it out for a while? try out some dare-devil stunts? you can experience all these and more and you don't even have to travel too far (well, at least not if you are a mumbaikar - a mumbai resident)!

no, i am not talking about bungee-jumping or hang-gliding or fighting the leopards from the sanjay gandhi national park bare-handed. all you need to do is travel by the 'mumbai suburban train' during peak hour!

you have led a secluded, deprived life if you have been to mumbai and have not travelled by the 'local' as the suburban train is called by the locals.

but first let's put things in perspective. to give you a sense of what i am talking about, let me share some statistics from some credible sources here.

"Along with its neighbouring suburbs, Mumbai forms the world's sixth most populous metropolitan area with a population of about 25 million. According to the BBC, Mumbai is certainly set to outstrip Tokyo as the most populated city by 2020."
(source -

"Bombay suburban services are run by CR and WR. Both run many hundreds of trains every day, and carry around 6 million passengers a day, roughly evenly divided between them. CR services connect the eastern suburbs to the city, whereas WR services connect the northern suburbs to the city. [4/02] CR runs around 1090 services daily, whereas WR runs around 980 services. Supply has not kept pace with the demand, however, as the number of passengers grew about 2.5 times as fast as the capacity of the system through the 1980s and 1990s."
(source -

"Due to its extensive reach across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, and its intensive use by the local urban population, overcrowding has grown to be a compelling problem (4,700 passengers are packed into a 9-car rake during peak hours, as against the rated carrying capacity of 1,700). This has resulted in what is known as Super-Dense Crush Load of 14 to 16 standing passengers per square metre of floor space.
(source -"

you might think that commuting by these trains every day is a horrifying experience. but for the seasoned veterans (viz. the season pass-holders) the daily grind actually is an uplifting, spiritual experience of sorts!

and if you are a first-timer, and for a moment lets assume you actually managed to overcome the panic gripping you when you actually see the 'Super-Dense Crush Load' of people, and you actually manage to get into the train (maybe you actually changed your mind about getting in but then you got swept into the train by the rush) you will very quickly realise that there are some unwritten golden rules that everybody follows. and the sooner you learn them the better the chances of your surviving the trip! (and till then you stick out like a sore thumb even though you don't have enough leg-room to place both your feet squarely on the floor! not to mention that you, and not just your thumb, end up feeling sore all over after the trip!)

so here's my own short & sweet rule-book (or survival guide) on how to commute by the local and live to tell the tale!

but i'm running beyond my self-imposed 'post length' here. so i'm going to have to share these 'life secrets' with you in my next post.

p.s. other 'travel-war veterans' among the readers here are requested to send in your list of rules so that i can filch them and include them in my list :-)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

i'm an englishman in new york!

i'm an alien, i'm a legal alien
i'm an englishman in new york

these are the lyrics of a song by sting. these words came back to me recently during a discussion with a friend (who was not born in india but whose fore-fathers/mothers were indians about 2-3 generations back). she mentioned that even though she feels uncomfortable with the crowds and the noise and the pollution in india, she still feels home when she is in india. she feels safest when she is in india. she doesn't feel she is an alien.

another good friend recently visited pakistan and was also in islamabad on work. his older relatives, when they knew he was going to visit islamabad, had asked him to visit certain places that they could remember of when they were still living there. now my friend was born in india and had never been to pakistan before, but he mentioned that visiting this place of his fore-fathers was an emotional moment for him.

my wife and i get asked often, especially when our friends coming visiting from abroad, why we did not choose to emigrate to some other country. when we looked at this question and analysed what we truly felt about it (beyond all the obvious answers like 'india is today the true land of opporunity' and that 'we can afford a much better lifestyle here than in any other place in the world') we realised that the one single most important reason was that we did not want to live anywhere we would feel even remotely like an 'alien'.

now i can understand people like me (and i am sure there are many of you who feel similarly) feeling so strongly about this. i think it could be explained by the fact that i was born and have been raised on concepts like patriotism, pride for our country, etc. but what i cannot understand are the feelings that my friends were talking about!

1. do you think if i spent enough time in a foreign land i would be able to overcome the 'alienness' that i believe i will feel?

2. do you think that after a few generations the individuals born in another country will slowly lose their 'indianness'? would india only be a vague notion in their minds but a place they would rather avoid visiting or moving to?

i am sure many of you who read this posting are either first/second/nth generation indians living in other countries. i would like to know your 'take' on this. and i am sure the others would also like to know. so please send in your comments.