Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Money, Money, Money

The other day I was introduced to a term I had not heard before-VUCA. The world today is apparently in a VUCA state. Not wanting to let on that I had no clue what my colleague was referring to, I waited to get away from him so I could google the meaning. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain (or was it Unpredictable?), Complex and Ambiguous. Basically we are sitting on  volcano that is waiting to erupt soon, but the exact timing is uncertain and it would lead to some ambiguous complexity or complex ambiguity. I was advised by my colleague that life in time of VUCA was to be lived with utmost caution and  methodical calculations. We needed to be prepared for the VUCA!

Just a few days later I was scolded by a friend for being too naive about the future. I was earning too little, not saving enough and spending disproportionately to my income. I needed to 'get serious', 'live in the real world' and 'get out of my la-la land'. I took the criticism rather harshly, though it did have some element of truth in it. So in the spirit of always learning and because it was a VUCA world, I decided to introspect.

Lessons from Self-Reflection

1) Easy Come Easy Go- that is the relationship that Money and I have always shared. I have had to live on an income that would be considered below poverty line by professional urban folks where I have written cheques that have bounced because my account had insufficient funds. A concept that I was alien to until that moment. And then there have been times where I have spent without a care on lavish travels and bought clothes and shoes like they were going to be rationed the next day.

On both occasions the lack or the excess of money mattered little to me. It was a matter of fact. I don't have enough to pay for groceries, I will stop eating out. I have more than enough after all my obligatory expenses, I will splurge.

In hindi there is a saying "Paisa haath ka mel hota hai". Loosely translated it means "Money is like dust on your hands". It comes, it goes.

2) Six digit credit card limit- Yeah that's want banks think I am worthy of. It can be intoxicating, but I feel I am rather grounded. Plastic to me is convenience, and bills are always paid in full, on time. Unfortunately for my bank, I am not a revolving credit chic.

That does not mean however I don't overspend on my card. This happens often when I travel. As money spent in foreign land is not an expense. It's an investment that ensures you are having a holiday of a lifetime. I won't be going back to Paris anytime soon, so the holiday needs to be maximized. Simple logic.

3) Coffee, cakes and wines- If I cut these from my diet, I would cut calories and credit card bills. But then how empty would life be?

4) 6 month or 12 month?- It's year end! While I look at my expense-income excel sheet (yes I religiously enter my expenses  and calculate my meager savings), most of my friends are banking their bonus cheques. Bonus- A concept practically unheard of in the advertising world. No stash at year end to invest, pay bulk of the home mortgage or even keep aside for a rainy day. Which only makes it even more important to stretch the monthly salary. Note to self. Save more. Spend less.

5) Beyond Dreams- I just got back from Lonavala, and my parents and I spotted a hotel we had vacationed in years ago- Sayadhari Resort. I had forgotten how simple our holidays used to be, not to mention the choice of destinations. My last short vacation- I take at least two short and one long vacation a year, not including my annual Bombay pilgrimage- was in Phuket, where we got upgraded to a room with a private pool which overlooked the ocean. A far cry from Sayadhari Resort rooms.

I thank God regularly for giving me much more than I had ever imagined. I did not think I could afford buying my own place or take fancy holidays without support from someone else. And here I am. Some believe that if you don't dream big enough, you will always be satisfied with the little you have, never realizing how much more you could get.

Which brings me to the external question. How much is enough? And who decides its enough?

I believe you can have unlimited money. You just need to have the hunger, be reasonably smart and not care about the other valuable currency- time. Money can be earned and multiplied if you give it time. Time to work extra hours, time to study the investment options, time to accelerate your career.

Time is what we have limited of. A day only has 24 hours. A year only has 365 days. And the time you have left in this world could be one second or fifty years. No one knows.

So between money and time- and yes it all boils down to this choice- I choose time.

I choose to take up a part time job and learn considerably less so I have more time with Sanil.

I choose to take a vacation to see my old friends because I don't know if I, or they, would be around when I finally come around to planning that trip in the future.

I choose to enjoy the present instead of constantly worrying about the future.

Yes I may be naive, silly even. And may be I live in an Alice styled wonderland. But I take books over bonuses, surprises over stocks, art over assets (unless the art is the asset), babies over bank accounts and time over everything else.

My prudent friends would say that I don't have the required ammo to face the VUCA. And may be I don't. May be I will struggle more than others, may be I will fail, may be I will realize my folly.

But if money does really make the world go around, don't you still need the time to go along on that merry ride?

Here's wishing you my version of the VUCA new year- Vibrant, Understanding, Caring and Adventurous. Happy 2014 folks!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Books that changed my life

Is there anything more promising than flipping over the first page of a new book? The rustle of the fresh paper. The smell of the print. The quick peak to the last chapter, and immediate retraction. Re-reading the back flap. Checking out the list of other books by the author. It all holds such promise. Promise of hours of pleasure.

Is there anything more fated than picking up an old book at a second hand store and it becoming one of your favorites? The dog-ears that greet you. The yellow in the pages. The wonder at how many other people would have touched and been touched by the book.

Is there anything more delightful than picking up a random book in the library without knowing anything about the book or the author? And then discovering the sheer joy the book gives you. Recommending it to all those who you know will appreciate it. Buying the book so you have it in your collection after you have returned the library copy.

Is there a more intuitive salesperson than the one who looks at the books in your basket and confidently recommends one that you will love? 

Is there a truer friend than the one who knows the kind of books you like and gifts them to you on your birthday?

Is there a more faithful partner than the one who knows you enough to gift you a book you would never pick up, but will definitely enjoy? 

Is there anything more wonderful than a book that changes your life?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)

I read Fountainhead when I was 16 or 17. When I read it again almost two decades later, I was amazed at the fact that I understood the concepts in the book when I was mere teenager. It's tough to comprehend all the messages in the book even now, but the key ones always stayed with me. And they shaped a lot of my world views in the years to come.

The simplicity of Howard Roark's philosophy about work was what made it profound. It all boiled down to you must love your work. And you must do it with utmost integrity and unmatched passion. No compromises. Too idealistic you ask? Perhaps so. But it's what I have always strived for, even if not always achieved.

It was because of Fountainhead that I got fascinated with Architecture. Being terrible at both math and design, I would never qualify to make it my profession. My secret hope always has been to find a partner who is an architect- just like Roark. Roark even won the title of my Dream Man vying it away other fictitious characters, even as illustrious as Mr. Darcy himself.

Aamir Khan spoke about this same philosophy about choosing a career that you have a passion for in the movie 3 Idiots- which came many years later. Subconsciously I had been following it since I first 'met' Roark. Growing up in the 80s in India, academically bright students like me used to opt for either medicine or engineering. I refused to even consider science as a stream. I opted for Commerce and Economics even though my inclination was towards Art. Guess practicality won over idealism there. For my Masters, when majority clamored towards bank and consultancy roles, I preferred marketing as a career. Highly disappointed that I didn't get a job in marketing, I chose advertising, or rather advertising chose me. And here I still am. I love everything about this industry- the creativity, the passion, the irreverence, the eclectic mix of people. I have learned so much and have gained so many beautiful experiences...but that's a story for another time. Or perhaps a book :)

As it's said "Love your work and you will not need to work a single day of your life". 

Encapsulated beautifully by Ayn Rand in Roark's quote:

“But you see," said Roark quietly, "I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.” 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 

I love thee for giving the world a story which became the foundation of almost every

other love story since. I love thee for introducing me to Mr. Darcy. A man who single handedly is responsible for all my romantic illusions, or you could call them delusions. I love thee for glimpses of innocent love in form of Jane and Bingley. I love thee for making me understand the naively and silliness of Lydia when I was her age. But most of all I love thee for bringing Elizabeth Bennett in my life. There has never been a heroine I have felt more connected to. How could a character be written so fabulously that women 200 years later find themselves in her? It is amazing power of words. And magic of Austen.


Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989)

A historic fiction book based in the 12th century set against the backdrop of the building of a cathedral. The book explores themes of intrigue and conspiracy against the civil war, religious conflicts, and shifting political loyalties. Architecture is a big part of the story too. See the pattern emerging here? Pillars of the Earth introduced me to the notion of challenging religious dogmas and coming to grips with machiavellian mindsets. Strangely, from the nuns in the story I learnt about the concept of feminism. It's still one of the best plots I have come across. A book I can re-read anytime and still be surprised at the twists and turns. 

Love Story, Oliver's Story by Erich Segal (1970, 1977)
Love Story is one the best love stories ever. Period. There is no debate.

And Erich Segal is one my favorite authors. His every book is a masterpiece- Doctors, Class, Acts of Faith. All my favorites. But Love Story is something else.

The very first line of the book has you hooked. 

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?

Yes Jenny dies. You know that at the beginning of the book, so you are well aware that you are going to be crying buckets at the end of it. Jenny was Oliver's soulmate. Polar opposites but meant to be be together. And they were. Until she died. And he had to carry on living in the sequel. The book is a timeless romance. Oliver and Jenny's love formed the cornerstone of my feelings about love. I still believe love like that exists, but only a few lucky ones find it. 

Oliver's story offered me a more grounded reality of love. Mature love. Love which was born out of reality, but was still hopeful.

Whatever romantic illusions Mr. Darcy had set, Oliver Barrett IV cemented. And I have been screwed ever since.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (2007)

Much before Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt made salmon sexy, I picked up the book from the library after reading a review. I had no idea what to expect. It was the authors first book. So there was no baggage there either. It was a book about salmon fishing. My least favorite fish. And about Yemen. Country I knew nothing about. 

Yet I count it as one of the most delightful stories. Wiki describes it as a "romantic comedy" which is the same genre as "Confessions of a Shopaholic". Seriously!? It is not a story about romance, though romance is a part of the story. It's not a comedy, though the writing is very humorous. It's a book about breaking norms, following your instincts  and never, ever stop believing.

The book came to me at a trying time of my life and showed me that there is always a place for hope. And miracles. You simply need to believe. 

Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2009)

Mahabharat is an epic. The story, the characters, the plots, the lessons all have been a big part of my life's philosophy and beliefs. The difference here is that this story was written from the perspective of Drupadi, the principal female character. It bought to forefront the deep male chauvinism that is steeped in Indian society. It questioned the righteousness of some of the male protagonists. It raised doubts on certain age-old beliefs. It sympathized the plight of Drupadi and made readers realize her pain, while the epic always only focused on her anger.

The author took one big liberty with this ancient tale which forms the key foundation of the entire book. This one departure makes you look at the epic rather differently, especially as a woman. Divakaruni uses nuances from the take to scratch beneath the surface, uncover hidden intentions and present them in a new light. What comes out is a fresh perspective and if nothing else at least offers food for thought. 

For me it reinforced my admiration for Drupadi and it made me realize more than ever fighting for your right can never ever be wrong. 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

I read this other Ayn Rand's magnum opus more than twenty years after The Fountainhead. The book simply cannot be classified into a genre. It's a thriller and there is mystery. It is a science fiction to some effect. It has romance and lots of sex. It's about business and politics. It's about ideologies and philosophy. It educates, it warns. It instills  fear and then hope, or perhaps the other way round. But most importantly it makes you think. It makes you question. 

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent".

In simpler terms its not wealth that is bad, but the relationship one has with it. Is it wealth gotten my honest means, or is it looted in some way, shape or form? Is it used to indulge simply in ones hedonistic pleasures or is at least part of if given to the less fortunate? Is it the centre of ones existence and feeds ones constant fears of losing it? Or is it spent selflessly to give joy to others? 

Atlas Shrugged renewed my faith in capitalism. Capitalism not materialism. The two concepts could not be further apart. I have always maintained that inefficiency is a bigger fault than stupidity. Don't blame the smarter, sharper and more intelligent ones who have made more money than inefficient, stupid and ineffectual ones. Each unabashedly deserved what they have received. 

 I wrote this for you by Pleasefindthis (2011)

"I need you to understand something. I wrote this for you. I wrote this for you and only you. Everyone else who reads it, doesn't get it." 

How can you not pick a book that says this? And I spotted the last one on the shelf, and only because I would get a free bag if I spend more money. It was fated. As it's said, a book chooses you. And comes to you at the time you need it most. 

This book is a collection of writings, poems and photographs that showcase a relationship between two people which once was deep and intense, and has since then ceased to exist, but it's effect still lingers. It's about soulmate and lost souls. The words touched my heart like not much has in recent times.

What is most heartening for me is that books have always been a huge part of my life, and will continue to be so. And their power to change my life is never changing. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Yaad- a poem

Yeh kaisa aaj ka din guzra
Ki tumhein yaad karna bhool gayein
Kahan beh gaya yeh waqt ka dariya
Ki tumhara naam lena bhi na yaad raha

Guzartein din, guzarti raatein
Bhoolein geet, bhooli saugatein
Bhoolein woh lamhe, bhooli woh baatien
Pur phir bhi dhoondli si hai kuch yaadein

Ek tha woh zamana
Jab aati thi tumhari yaad
Ek tumhare aane se pehlein
Ek tumhare jaane ek baad

Lekin ab toh yeh aalam hai
Ki tumhari yaad hi nahin aati
Yaad tumhe zaroor karti
Agar kabhi bhool pati

Sunday, September 15, 2013

That thing we call love

Is fleeting, is flighty
Is forever, is mighty
Is calming, is exciting
Is grounding, is intoxicating

Makes you smirk, makes you cry
Makes you gasp, makes you sigh 
Makes you swoon, makes you cling, 
Makes you glide, makes you sing 

Makes you weak, makes you strong
Makes you cheat, makes you wrong
Makes you  laugh, makes you scream, 
Makes you still, makes you dream

Full of generosity, mixed with desperation
Full of passion, mixed with affection
Full of kisses, mixed with hugs
Full of hopes, mixed with shrugs

Craved by all, trusted by none
Indulged in many, complete with one
Elusive to few, baffling for some
Easy to lose, difficult to come

Filled with warmth, riddled with fear
Resides in smiles, gets stronger in tears
Found when not looking, hides otherwise
Lives within us, is sought outside

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Illusion we call Control

It is said that to make God laugh, tell him your plans. So here goes God, chuckle away....

Yesterday's plan- Office + surprise Sanil at his school field trip in China Town. 
Yesterday's Reality- MRI at Mount E

Weekend plan- Satyagraha or Shudh Desi Romance followed by a nice meal with mum and dad
Weekend Reality- Homebound and walking around on crutches

Thursday's plan- New business meeting + coffee at my favorite café (recent favorite as the Barista is quiet cute and a charming flirt) 
Thursday's Reality- Rude visit by an old injury. Followed by paramedics and ambulance

When you read in books or hear people say how their world turned upside down in matter of seconds, you know how it could happen, but you understand it truly only when you go through it yourself. Till then you blissfully feel that you have control over your life. Well some aspects at least. Like I never worry about recession, earthquakes, critical illnesses, death, war in Syria. I really don't. Because these things are too big for me to control. So I simply leave them in hands of God.

However when it comes to 'smaller' things, like my own health, my work, my family, my weekend plans, my meetings, I believe I can control the process, if not the outcome.

So when an innocuous routine moment changes the course of your months to come, it's a rude awakening on how powerless we really are. We only have the illusion of control. An illusion that is blinding as it makes us believe that we are the directors of this blockbuster called Life. When in fact, as Shakespeare had said ages ago, we are merely actors and we have our entries and our exits. 

Like in Singapore we say, "So how?" How do we go on with our lives knowing things may never go as we desire them to? And we may never reach the destination we are planning for. We may not even exist the next minute!

So how?? What do we do now??

The key words here are "desire", "destination" and "exist"

1) Desire- The core philosophy of Vedanta is 'You get what you deserve, not what you desire". I have been trying to imbibe this for a few years now, but keep failing. Especially when I feel my desires are very ordinary. I am not asking for life's riches, fancy cars, cool yachts (though that would be on the nice-to-have list), stunning penthouses or even designer hand bags. My desires are simple, at least in my head they are.  

I am slowly coming to grips with this. My simple desires would be ambitious for many others who have less than me. So what makes me think I even deserve what I have right now? I must have done something right to get all what I have. I need to learn to appreciate that, while working towards what I want, but not clamoring after it. No easy task! But then if self-actualization were easy, then the world would not be such a screwed up place.

2) Destination- Since childhood we have been taught to reach a certain goal. Be it being at the top of our class, or getting in the school play, or winning the Gold medal at sports day. The end or the destination was the focus. Some of us who were lucky to have the right influences or it was inherent in our nature, learnt to enjoy the journey. We understood that it was more important to love what we learn (history and geography for me), rather than our grades. We learnt the joys of being a part of something big, as opposed to playing the lead. We relished the thought about bonding and having fun with friends and team mates instead of merely competing in sports. But somewhere in the practicalities of life, we lose these precious lessons. It's time for a refresh.

If we don't enjoy the journey, it's very unlikely we will savor the destination. Because we would in all likelihood be irritable, bored or worse still disappointed with the journey to bask in the destination experience.

3) Exist- As I have mentioned in my previous posts, we don't know where we come from, we don't know where we are going and we certainly don't know how long we are here for. So it's time to stop existing and start living.

As for me, I have to realize that blips in life can be guiding lights for the changes I need to make to lead a much fuller and more content life. I intend to put this into practice, slowly, but surely. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stop the change. Accept.

Since childhood we have been taught to build and mould. One of the first toys most children play with are building blocks - cheap plastic ones during my time, and fancier not laced with lead and not made in China ones for our kids.

Lego was a prized commodity when I was a child. I remember my bother and I had one big Lego set to build a house which we used creatively to make various other things. Imagination was always put hard to work. Barbie dolls were also special. Customizing the clothes and accessories of dolls was an ever enticing prospects. 
Building, moulding, fixing and ,changing things was big part of play time. And grew to be something that came naturally to us. And then stayed with us even as grown-ups.
Now as handy as these skills are in relation to objects, they can be disastrous when used on humans. More disastrous for us than human in question.

Why do we have this inane urge to change others, rather than accept them?

Lets start with our kids. Yes we love them. Unconditionally. However you would be lying to yourself if you say that there aren't things you would want to change in them. I read somewhere that we all have 'fantasy kids'- our vision and dream of how our kid should be. So in various ways we try and mould them to be closer to the fantasy kid we have been raising  in our head.

And if you turn tables around, kids too love their parents, most of the time unconditionally too. But I can guarantee there are things about me that Sanil wants to change. There is always a friends mum who is 'far cooler', 'way thinner', 'much kinder' than me. Hopefully it's not all one person, else I would surely hate her. 

Now looking at our beloved spouses. My agency in India had done an ad campaign years ago for an ice-cream brand, think it was Vadilal (only kids raised in the 80s in India would recognize this name). The headline for the vanilla flavor said "A good husband is like a good vanilla ice cream- soft, sweet, dependable...and can be garnished anyway you like". Isn't this the way many of us treat our men? We like the vanilla, but can't wait to ply on the garnishes- strawberries, chocolate sauce, M&Ms, butterscotch sauce, maple syrup, sometimes to the extent that its masks the original flavor entirely.
This trait is not restricted to the female species alone.  A guy friend once told me "Apne bachchein aur doosron ki biwiyan, sab ko achchci lagti hain". (Everyone likes their own children, and other people's wife). So true! A husband whose wife is working laments how she has no time for him, whereas the one whose wife is a stay at home mom, will whinge that she nags to much as she has 'no work'. 

Our friends are probably the people we are least likely to change. Guess that's why  friendships last a lifetime. Because we accept them as they are. And they offer us the same privilege.

It's a known fact, but most often ignored. We can change only one person- and that's ourselves. Everyone else we need to accept. It's a like booking an all-paid-for-non-refundable holiday. You either enjoy it, or give it up. Because money-back is just not an option.

We need to fight this impulse to mould and change people. Sometimes we feel we are doing them a service by trying to improve them. But actually we are doing a disservice, not to them. But to ourselves. As we are pinning our hopes and joys on changing them. Neither of us can change the other. Both of us can change ourselves.

So next time I am about to tell Sanil that's wish he read more books, I shall bite my tongue and compliment his soccer kick instead.

When I feel sad that old friends do not keep in touch like I would like them to, I will pick up the phone and tell them I miss them.

When a guy tries to impress me with flattery, I will accept it graciously, instead of looking for the ulterior motives.

I will accept people as they are. And if I don't like what I see, I won't let them be a part of my life. Because life is not a store with a no-return-policy. You do have the power of choice. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Date a girl who...

I am so not the one for joining the proverbial bandwagon. However the various posts by different bloggers on "date a girl who" are pretty interesting and funny.

The very first one I read was 'date a girl who reads'. Brilliantly written. And it's about girls who read. So I am naturally biased. Then there is one 'date a girl who writes'. And 'date a girl who blogs/runs/travels'. And even one 'date a girl who eats biryani'. Very true once again for me. I am the only girl I know who can tuck into a mutton biryani with gusto at 2 am. (It was after several rounds of drinks, so it was perfect valid. Necessary even). 

But hey! I digress. Google these posts if you have not read them, especially Date a girl who reads

So I thought of writing a post on something I love the most (besides books and food)- movies. Date a girl who watches hindi movies? But then I thought that any Indian girl who does not watch hindi movies, is so not worth knowing, forget dating.

May be its better to be more specific. Once a friend gifted me a book which was a true, sad story about plight of bar dancers in Mumbai. He said in between Yash Raj movies, girls should read such realistic books also. I reminded him that unlike most girls I watch Anurag Kashyap movies, so I need my Jane Austen fairy tales to balance things out.

That's it! My post is 'Date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies'. And if you are wondering 'Anurag who', don't bother reading even a single line more.

Here goes...

Date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies.  Date a girl who spends her money on original Dev D Blu ray disc, instead of pirated copies of Chennai Express. Date a girl who knows every movie ever written, produced, directed by Anurag Kashyap, who watches Black Friday  over Black. 

Find a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies. You know she does because Udaan songs will be under the most played songs on her iPod playlist. She's the one who understands Gulaal is not merely a Holi color, who quietly cries when she watches the last scene in Lootera. You see the weird chick standing in line to watch 'Mumbai Cutting'. That's an Anurag fan. She can never resist any of his films. 

She's the girl who gets every 80s reference possible in 'Gangs of Wasseypur'. She does not flinch at the abusive language. She does not shut her eyes when Sardar Khan gets shot. If you take a peek at her popcorn, you will find its untouched because she is totally engrossed in the movie. Lost in a world of Anurag's making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who watch such films do not like to be interrupted. In the interval, ask her if liked the movie. Buy her another popcorn. 

Let her know what you think about Faizal and Mohsina. Ask her how she felt when Paanch was banned from release. Understand her point of view on Dev D. Ask her if she loves Paro or would like to be like her. 

It’s easy to date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies. Give her his older movies for her birthday, for Christmas. Give her the gift of stories. Give her Bombay Talkies, Luck by Chance, That girl in yellow boots, the unedited version of Gangs of Wasseypur 2. Let her know that you understand that stories are life. Understand that she knows the difference between stories and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite story. 

Girls who watch such films understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in Karan Johar tear-jerkers. 

If you find a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies, keep her close. When you find her up at midnight watching Udaan again, weeping, make her a cup of coffee and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the story are real, because for a while, they always are.

Date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most genuine life you can ever imagine. Who wont judge you when you watch the Godfather trilogy back to back with your mates. Who won't merely feign interest when you talk about world issues. Date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies because she has a voice, an opinion and she won't hold it against you if yours differs from hers. 

If you can only give her Shahrukh Khan blockbusters and Ayan Mukherjee candy floss cinema, then you’re better off alone. If you want real and real lasting, date a girl who watches Anurag Kashyap movies. 

Or better yet, date a girl who watches Gulzar movies. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Give a Litte

Life is for giving- Vedanta

We have a lot to give. We really do. For those who don't have  enough money, could have time, for those who don't have time, could have resources, for those who don't have resources could have special skills. And the ones who don't have money or time or resources or special skills, well, they are the ones who we need to give to.

Living in a bubble that is Singapore, one tends to forget that there are many unfortunate people who need our help. The expat life in Singapore comprises of condos for luxurious lifestyle, cars despite COE prices, coffee mornings with other expat mommies, credit card for branded handbags and yes, a careless attitude towards others. Don't understand why we say Singaporeans clamour after the 5 Cs (or perhaps  it's not restricted to 5 anymore).

The "real" poverty

India is home to 63% of all slum dwellers in South Asia. Coming from India poverty is stark, visible and makes to either look away or become immune to. An estimated 3 million people are homeless in Europe. And this is a stat from 2010. With the Euro crisis, this number is bound to go up. The UK has one of the highest levels of homelessness in Europe with more than 4 people per 1,000 estimated to be homeless (as at 2004). Statistics from 2007 indicate that 63% of homeless women in the UK have experienced domestic violence and 40% have been sexually abused. Homeless people there live in subway stations, on the streets and sometimes outside your favourite pub. It's all out there. It's apparent. 

And here is the shocking state of affairs in USA when it comes to wealth distribution.

So its understandable that expats look at Singapore as a wealthy, first world country where poverty does not exist, or its at least negligible. There is no "real poverty" here we think. The only poor strata of society are the immigrant workers and the foreign domestic helps. An average Singaporean  is well do to, has a roof over his head and a decent job. 

The real situation

Let me tell you the story of Mr. Ang. Mr Ang and his wife, both in their 40s, live in a four-room HDB flat with five children. Their ages range from eight to 23 years old. Mr Ang works as a driver, earning $800 a month (one-fourth the cost of any average designed bag I may add), while Mrs Ang is a homemaker. Four of their children are visually-impaired. Two of the oldest children attend daycare at the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped. But paying the daycare fees is a constant struggle for Mr Ang. While their fourth child is studying in polytechnic, the third and youngest children have behavioural issues, and are unable to pursue further education. 

Meet Wan Zaleha. For the last six years, from Mondays to Saturdays,  this 72-year-old has served as a volunteer, making tea and coffee for residents living in one-room apartments in the neighbourhood. She lives in one of the one-room apartments - which average 30 sq.m and is not employed and receives groceries worth S$70 from individual donors every month.

These above stories are true. And there are more families faced with similar (or worse) situations in Singapore. While most Singaporeans are able to benefit from Singapore’s success as a fast growing economy, there is a segment that gets left behind, living from hand to mouth, struggling to stay afloat.

A small effort by R3

On Saturday my company volunteered for "Grocery on Wheels" a food donation drive by NUSS. Bags of groceries were delivered to the less fortunate. Goods were donated by NTUC FairPrice, Nestlé and other companies. There were hundreds of volunteers packing and delivering these bags. 

At the onset it did not feel like a big deal. The groceries came in a lorry, while we went comfortably in a bus chartered by the NUSS. Seemed more like a picnic than a charity drive.


And because even charities need some PR angle, there were volunteers on Harleys making deliveries too!


However when we reached the HDB block we realised the task before us, and we understood why NUSS needs volunteers. We had 198 bags to be delivered, individually, to each house. And boy were the bags heavy! I skipped the gym that evening as my arms and legs had enough exercise for a day. 

We were advised that this is not just about delivering. We should engage with the residents, many of them live alone or don't get out of the house much due to old age. They like the human contact and we should spend some time talking to them.

And so he head off. With my colleague expert navigation skills-HDB unit numbers and floor are so confusing- we walked up and down stairs, or took elevators that stank of pee. We delivered the bags to families with 6 kids ranging from one to 12, to an old couple who took 10 minutes just to come to the door because of their ill-health. We chatted at length with an ex-police officer who lamented how once his sons got married, they have stopped looking after him. He said he was glad he still had four daughters who he was confident would not abandon him.

We met kids who opened the grocery bags with more enthusiasm than our kids open their Christmas presents. They were grateful. They thanked us profusely. And we left feeling wish we could do more.


This volunteering activity was also a great way to show our children about life on the other side of the tracks. It left them with more appreciation with all that they have.

All in all a Saturday morning well worth spent.

Parting words

Yes Singapore is a developed first world country. People by and large are doing well, have homes, reasonable wages. And yes there are exceedingly rich people here too- like everywhere in the world. Singapore is MUCH better off than most countries in the world. The government has done a fantastic job. No doubt.

But no matter where you live, there will always be people who have less than you. Always. You don't even have to look too far many times. You just have to open your eyes ...and your heart. 

Learn to live beyond yourself. 

I urge all my expat friends to find a cause that you can relate to, and give it your time. With kids at school and helpers at home, we surely have some time to spare. Substitute one coffee morning with an hour at an orphanage. Or one barbecue with feeding the needy. Or one shopping spree with a donation.

Give a little. And you will live a lot more. A happier healthier life filled with one thing money can't buy- blessings.




Sunday, July 7, 2013

The value of YOU

The value of You lies in your heart, your mind and your soul. The operative word here is YOUR. Not mine, or his, or hers or theirs. Just yours. Yet we constantly use the views of others to judge and consequently value ourselves. 

People who earn more than us are quizzical about our career choices that don't rake in the moolah and suddenly we question ourself "Should I be doing something more lucrative?". Others who have made different life choices than us make us doubt about our choices even though we know in our heart and mind the reason as well as the need of our choice. Girls with killer abs make us feel conscious of our flabby bits. Guys with motorbikes and toned biceps make us wonder why our husbands/ boy friends are not more like that. Neighbours in big apartments make us look around our lovingly built home and sigh. Twentysomethings make us realise that we don't have the energy and gusto that use to.

It is not these younger, thinner, prettier, richer and more successful people who make us doubt ourselves. We do it all on our own! We revise our value depending on how other make us feel. 

An unreturned phone call means you are not loved. An ignored invite equates to you are not popular. One failed project equals you are not successful.

You need to reevaluate the value of you, by you. What makes you special, what makes you unique, what makes you desirable. YOU are the best judge of that. Not your mum, or your friend, or your child, or you ex-boyfriend, or your husband or even the love of your life ( in case the two are not mutually exclusive). 

So prepare a balance sheet of you today. On the right-hand side list your liabilities- your anger, the envy, the self-doubt, your regrets, your fears. And on the left-hand side list your assets- personality, attitude, ability to love, willingness to give, goodwill generated over the years, your dreams, your hopes. Keep on writing till your assets far outnumber your liabilities.

You don't need VC or even a CPA to evaluate you. The value of You can only be found by you. And you need to start looking on the inside. Not outside.