Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Private India by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi

Private India is a collaborative effort between James Patterson, the New York Times bestselling author and the conceptualizer of the Private series, and India's own Ashwin Sanghi, a name associated with historical and mythological thrillers.

It is a fast-paced fictional thriller set in the forlorn streets of Mumbai; a novel that acquaints you to the issues plaguing modern India such as gambling, prostitution, smuggling, corruption, and violence against women.



Introducing the Main Protagonist


Jack Morgan, the main protagonist of the Private series, is a former CIA agent who heads the fictional Private Inc., one of the finest Private Investigation agencies in the world. Jack's heroics took him to Berlin, LA, London, etc., but for his current mission, he hands over the reins to Santosh Wagh, a top agent in Mumbai.

The USP


The USP of Private India is the alliance between two minds, mingling of two distinct cultures, and jaw-dropping suspense. Sanghi manages the "Indianness" well through his deep-rooted knowledge and admiration of the Indian mythology. He provides a vivid description of the Navratri festival and Goddess Durga in the novel, and Patterson weaves an intricate plot around the same through drama, keeping everyone on tenterhooks.



Central Characters


All the central characters are well-developed. Santosh Wagh, a former cop turned private investigator, heads the India operations for Private Inc. A host of supporting characters – like the corrupt cop, the immortal Godman, the underworld Don, the wily lawmaker, the Bollywood star, or the singing sensation – take the story ahead with finesse and detail.

Jack Morgan versus Johnnie Walker


Santosh is a brilliant investigator with a strong sense of reasoning. He has a pitiable past though, having lost his entire family in a bizarre road accident. Partly holding himself responsible for the ill-fated event, he battles a drinking problem – often torn between drink and duty. This is referred in the book as "Jack Morgan versus Johnnie Walker".

His aide includes: Nisha Gandhe, an enviable head turner; Mubeen, the team's medical expert; and Hari, the quintessential techie.

The Plot


The story begins with the murder of a female Thai plastic surgeon in an uptown Mumbai hotel. Her dead body is found in the bathroom by a housekeeping staff.

A prima facie case of murder is established only when the victim's hands are seen tied with strings. Other noticeable clues include: a yellow scarf wrapped around her neck, a flower in one hand and a fork in the other, and a small Viking helmet tied to one of her toes.

Eight similar murders of supposedly unrelated people shake Mumbai one after the other. Much to the team's surprise! The serial killer follows a similar pattern for every victim.

For Santosh and team, it is not only important to catch the serial killer and put an end to his killing spree but also crucial to avoid an impending terror attack on the city.

My Verdict


We travel to every nook and corner of Mumbai with the team trying to figure out the mystery.

I must admit that Sanghi's mythological links do feel irrelevant and unnecessary at times. Ditto with some unfitting theatrics that he's tried to infuse in the book.

Patterson's trademark gusto – of describing gruesome murders and crime scenes – is also missing. Nonetheless, it still is a good read.

The book has a powerful and intriguing beginning but the events struggle to maintain the level of tension and suspense.

Rating (3 out of 5)






[This book review is a part of the Book Review Program of Blogadda.]

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Evading A Painful Past By Rising Above Fear

I don't know how to start today's post or where to start from. Probably afraid of revisiting the past. 

A painful, inglorious past – one that I wish to erase permanently. 

I'm equally aware that unless I share my story with a larger audience, it'll continue to haunt me for the rest of my life. To heal completely, I need to evade every bit of negativity that has surrounded me for years.

So there, I was a victim of verbal and physical abuse during childhood.

You heard it!

Only my wife and a few close friends know about this bitter truth, and now you. Time to bury the hatchet maybe. 

Here's my tryst with agony, consternation, and triumph.


The Beginning


I was an average Joe in school. Extroverted, talkative, and naughty. But never the kind to harm anyone intentionally. As someone who grew up on a staple diet of typical middle-class values, I was privy to all the nuisance I now wish no kid should ever indulge in while growing up.

My Childhood Ended Even Before It Started


The struggle to make ends meet implied that both my father and mother were required to be in full-time jobs. My upbringing was rather strict. Considering the culture and environment I grew up in, it would be deemed completely normal to raise hand on boys or expect them not to cry when they get beaten up. I never really understood that popular notion back then.

And I still don't!

At school, I was timid for the large part and avoided clashes of any kind ... perhaps, as a result, was bullied a lot. I don't exactly remember for how long did I endure all the name calling but I do remember telling myself repeatedly every night "sticks and stones can break my bones but name calling can never hurt me."

I Was Wrong. Dead Wrong.


One should never live with an illusion that the hurt will vanish just like that.

To illustrate the deep-rooted psychological effect it had on my own life – I stopped believing that I could be "macho" like other boys. It broke my ability to believe (in myself), eventually getting to a point where nothing else mattered anymore. The tears, the suffering, the people. I gave up on everything!

The psychological effect of cyber bullying (Reference: http://www.fizzandtattle.com/)


Biggest Turn Around


For me, the greatest challenge was to rebuild that esteem. I needed to believe in a power greater than myself to get through.

As luck would have it, I met Sadhna (my better half now) at an interesting crossroad. She taught me how to let go. She urged me to speak up about issues that truly mattered.

Exploitation of any kind will continue to exist only and only if we accept being silent. It is basically like you're saying "I allow to be taken advantage of; I allow this to happen to me."

Bully Free - It starts with me (Reference: http://www.nea.org)

Counseling Alone Will Not Help


We've got to stop this culture of bullying right away. I had to travel down a long road to get to this point. Imagine those who are probably not that strong.

Where will they go? Who will they look up to?

I'm leaving you today with a food for thought, hoping that you'd be able to rise above fear!



#IndiHappyHours 
@IndiBlogger 
@MountainDewIn 
#RiseAboveFear]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How Gillette Secured My Date With Rani Mukherji

A mustache in India is often associated to a man's virility and pride. We are so obsessed with our mustaches that we even hold a Mustache Competition annually, a popular feature of rural fairs in the state of Rajasthan.



Not surprising then, the Guinness record for the World's Longest Mustache is also held by an Indian, Ram Singh Chauhan, who started growing his mustache from 1970 and hasn't cut it since.



Just a couple of months ago, I got an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Rani Mukherji, a successful Indian actress. I was one of the few lucky bloggers from India who were invited by the BlogAdda team to visit the Yash Raj Films (YRF) Studios in Mumbai.

Moi at the Yash Raj Films (YRF) Studios, Mumbai

The word excited cannot sum up how spectacular it felt


Flying to Mumbai on an early Friday morning for an exclusive movie premier of Mardaani, followed by a face-to-face meeting with the lady herself. Can't get any better, right?

It dawned on me that I wasn't looking spiffy. My flight was about to depart in an hour, and there I was – in the middle of a swanky airport – contemplating how I could get rid of an effing stubble.

I dashed out for razors at a nearby convenience store.

Shinning Bright - Synonymous to Male Grooming


Gillette came to my rescue yet again. Affordable, easy to use, convenient, and lifesaving.

I looked dapper. With my confidence in tact, I met and congratulated the diva, and even took a groupie with her.

A groupie with Rani Mukherji

On reaching home late that night, my 2-year-old ran into my arms and stroked my face with her tiny little hands.

Heaven!

She loves smooth too.

******************
I tag the following friends to take up the #WillYouShave Challenge.
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#WillYouShave
[This post is a part of #WillYouShave activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette]

Friday, December 05, 2014

Lufthansa A380 - Making Bigger Better

They say "Marriages are made in heaven and consummated on Earth."

Our very own Simran decided to tie the knot with Ralph instead of Raj. Her folks were left with little choice but to welcome their German Damad (son-in-law) and his family with open arms.

"The wedding will happen right here, in Delhi, according to our local Punjabi traditions." reiterated Beeji (grandma), half-heartedly agreeing to the alliance.

Thereafter began a frantic scramble for booking a wedding hall and caterer, lodging for the groom’s family, etc. The biggest concern for Simran, however, was to get Ralph’s BIG FAT family and friends to India.

While searching for cost-effective alternatives, she came across an announcement by the best-in-class Lufthansa Airlinesthe commencement of a daily flight from Frankfurt to New Delhi.



Perfect Timing!


Lufthansa launching a direct flight – lo and behold – making Delhi the first Indian city to welcome its flagship aircraft, the A380 a.k.a. the world’s largest commercial airliner. Did you know that only 10 of Lufthansa's 260 destinations worldwide are serviced by the "Green Giant"? Delhi is one of them.

Lufthansa A380

Grand Wedding, Grand Welcome, Grand Aircraft


The A380 is a gigantic, one of its kind machine, which is both the largest as well as the heaviest in its league. This megaliner houses 526 seats for passengers with 8 in first class, 98 in business class, and 420 in economy class.

Not many know that it is also the most expensive passenger plane ever made. Its four Rolls-Royce engines are capable of generating 70000 pounds of thrust, an equivalent of what 3500 cars could produce.

Ecologically Raising the Bar


Popularly hailed as an eco-friendly "Green Giant", the A380 is surprisingly quieter than other aircrafts that are currently operational and burns 12% less fuel.

This "smart" carrier has a mind of its own, for it can "think for itself" and automatically apply breaks during landing on the runway.

Lufthansa brings to India this largest commercial passenger jet, offering an unparalleled luxurious flying experience.

Airport Congestion - Killing Profits


The A380 could possibly be an answer to the major concerns of Indian aviation industry. India is densely populated and is currently facing shortage of both flights and airports. Although with an increase in the number of travelers opting for air travel, India has seen a rise in the number of private operators in the past decade. Thus resulting in the issue of air traffic congestion.

This double-deck, wide-body, innovative product of the Airbus, can alleviate traffic congestion at busy airports. No wonder, Lufthansa India is betting on it for maximizing profits.

With 40% more capacity, the A380 can carry 526 passengers in a typical 3-class configuration and around a whopping 853 in an all-economy configuration. The Airbus manages to accommodate more passengers than three aircrafts collectively. Thereby, offering the lowest seat per mile cost.

An Inside View of Lufthansa A380

Lufthansa proudly owns more than 10 of these mean machines and has been operating them since May 2010 to various destinations like Tokyo, Singapore, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, and Beijing.

Most Indians have modest earnings and will definitely benefit from the low-operating cost. Travel to Europe will no longer be a dream! Given the number of passengers who can now travel on an everyday basis to Germany at a reasonable price, both countries will see enhanced tourism and improvised socio-economic, cultural relationships.

Thank Babaji for the "Big" Mercies


Picture the Singh family again - all decked up this time - to receive the would-be groom at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Saddi Dilli (our Delhi) … and with them 100s of airport officials ready to give the "king of skies" a ginormous welcome.

Good things do come in small packages for some but for us huge-hearted Indians "The bigger the better".

[#LufthansaA380
@indiblogger]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Pledge Towards Clean India

My father works as a government official for a leading university in Delhi. He has served the university for nearly 40 years.

I don't remember seeing him with a broom ever. You heard it … never!

I felt so proud of him recently for being part of an "intensive cleanliness campaign" at his workplace this year. He is above 60. At his age, he has not only set a precedent for the children and adults in the Prabhakar household but has inspired so many outside his sphere of influence as well.

Many thanks to our Prime Minister - Narendra Modi - as well, who kick-started a nationwide cleanliness campaign called the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' or 'Clean India Campaign' on October 2 this year. October 2 is celebrated as Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary (or Gandhi Jayanthi).

The campaign has inspired many Indian bureaucrats and government officials, including my father, who took a Swachta Shapath or cleanliness pledge the very same day. 

Modi has urged India's entire population to join the campaign and promote it to everyone. That's 1.25 billion people for record.

For a country like ours, a campaign of this nature can only be successful if there is enough participation and action by everyone.


Swachh Bharat Mission or Clean India Campaign (Image Courtesy: http://inbministry.blogspot.in/p/canvas.html)

Here are my top recommendations to promote the 'Swachh Bharat Mission' or 'Clean India Campaign'.

Create Public Awareness


A massive public awareness needs to be created to clean – you could start from public places like streets, schools, colleges, hospitals, railway stations, bus terminals, markets … and gradually move to government offices, monuments, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc. Immediate results will attract more people to enroll in the campaign.

You can create and display posters and banners in shops, restaurants, cafes, bus shelters, factories, community centers, and public notice boards. You can even distribute mini posters, stick-up strips, leaflets, pamphlets, and car-bumper stickers. All postal items and cinema tickets should bore stamps with the Swachh Bharat Mission slogan.

Just as you'd clean your home regularly, don the responsibility of keeping the country clean.

Involve the government and public sector officials at every level 


Don't underestimate the power of voice to clean India. Authorities need to know about places that require cleaning. By voicing your opinions and informing concerned departments, you can do your bit and make a difference.

Eliminate open defecation by building toilets and modern sewage systems


A few weeks back, I wrote a blog post about how we can eliminate open defecation from the world.

As part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, over 800 million toilets will be built by 2019 and modern sewage systems will be set up to make India an open defecation free nation.

Why 2019? Because the same year marks the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. What better way to pay tribute!

Build a website for voicing concerns or suggestions


A website can provide a communication outlet to voice concerns or post suggestions to the relevant authorities. A classic example is the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) that has a website, http://www.mcdonline.gov.in/. The site is further trifurcated into three portals – one each for North Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and East Delhi Municipal Corporation.

You could use the site for promoting events, registering complaints or grievances, etc.

Install dustbins or trash cans at every nook and corner


In most developed nations, one can spot a dustbin every 500 meters. But not in India due to concerns related to blasts and causalities. The government agencies should install dustbins or trash cans on highways, markets, and residential areas. Also, increase staff to maintain the bins regularly.

Penalize anyone found littering or spitting


Singapore is one of the cleanest and greenest cities in the world today. But it wasn't so until 1st October 1968, a time when Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched the Keep Singapore Clean campaign to address the problem of inconsiderate littering.

Owing to littering, morning walks on the most beautiful beaches in our country are not pleasant anymore. It is shameful to see men urinating in public or people of all age groups throwing garbage on the streets.

If you throw trash on road, it doesn't go away ever. Empathize with roads.

Municipal bodies in India should also take a leaf from Singapore and penalize anyone found littering or spitting. By making it an offence, authorities will have a better handle on the situation and the sanitation will further improve. Also, on-the-spot challans can deter people from littering in public places.

Don't be a silent spectator


Finally, raise your voice and make a difference. It is all we have. Join the conversation with Montu using the hashtag #AbMontuBolega and work towards a cleaner India.

[#AbMontuBolega
@indiblogger
Join Strepsils on Facebook and Twitter.]

The Stubble Trouble - An Almost Missed Chance

Talk about a "radiant face" and what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Quite honestly, a woman, err, a beautiful woman. 

Let's face it, one would never associate a radiant face to a man. Doesn't matter if you're a Greek God, it is never going to happen. 

Partly due to our own fault! 

What is touted as a woman's prettiest jewel and perhaps every woman's dream, we men play it down as an inside job. So we pay, and pay big time.

In this post, I'll make an argument that a radiant face is no longer considered a luxury just for the femme fatale. Men too need to pay as much – and on certain occasions even more – attention to how they look.

First impressions can at times be the last


Be it your first date or first day of college, a meeting with your prospective father-in-law or an interview with your prospective employer, you need to look great in order to walk the talk. Men, like women, spend a lot of time in front of the mirror – setting their mane, choosing the right cologne, and gearing up perfectly for the occasion.

With selfie becoming the new age mantra of communication and self-expression, looking chic is no longer a matter of choice. You've got to perfect that effing face!

Moi sporting a stubble

Clash of cultures - Shunned if unshaven


According to an estimate by Irish author and philosopher Charles Handy, the average working man will spend nearly 100,000 hours of his life at the office shaving just to look professional.

I could probably get away with a stubble at an Indian workplace. But in South Korea where I stayed and worked for over 6 years, sporting a beard could've resulted in public embarrassment. You are expected to shave before meeting a client or someone high in the ranks.

Clean-shaven or bearded - Choose your pick

A dark-colored business suit coupled with a tie is given attention to in all business meetings but almost every time the emphasis shifts to a clean-shaven face. There is a certain distinction about the clean-shaven look which the wearer of whiskers may never possess.

South Koreans neither enjoy nor admire an unshaven face, look or style. For them, it symbolizes a state of depression or even neglect of personal hygiene in some cases.

Missed chances


Rewind to circa 2010. Exhausted by back-to-back meetings and a late night conference call, I once reached the Lionbridge office - my second employer in Korea where I worked as a Solution Architect - sporting a stubble. Suddenly I realized the growing density of whispers around and felt like all eyes were on me.

Sporting a mustache

It was humiliating!
"Are you fine, Rahul? You look unwell." a colleague needled me with his sarcastic, offhand remark.
"Am I hearing this right?" I mumbled.
"Yes. I'm fine and dandy. What makes you think otherwise?” pat came my reply.
Hectic work days were a routine for me, but clearly something wasn't quite working for them.
"We're leaving for the Samsung headquarters in an hour in case you forgot." he said.
"Of course I remember, Kim."
He literally dragged me to a quiet corner.
"The stubble. You have an hour to get rid of it."
When I explained him that I couldn't shave just so we could leave on time, he sighed and suggested how grave the consequences of not shaving could be, especially on the business.
"You need to look sharp, not worn out." he stressed.
The very next minute I rushed to a convenience store located in the office basement and started hunting for a shaving kit.

And there it was. Gillette, the most trusted name worldwide. The best a man can get.

I looked no further.

Another five minutes in the Men’s Room. I returned ... looking dapper than you'd imagine.

******************
I tag the following friends to take up the #WillYouShave Challenge.


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#WillYouShave
[This post is a part of #WillYouShave activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Eliminating Open Defecation from the World

Today's post is about a young Indian girl called Babli. She must be around the same age as my 6-year-old son Rishab. Like any other girl of her age group, Babli too wants to enjoy childhood. One could tell merely by looking at her that she is raring to take on the world.

But Babli is poor, er, very poor.

When I first met Babli, I asked her what she wanted to become when she grew up. She choked with emotion speaking about her biggest desire.
"I would like to be a teacher, but I have to be able to live long enough."
She is often forced to miss her lessons due to diarrhea. Children like her frequently fall ill because of the lack of proper hygiene and sanitation. Her problem is made worse by the fact that she doesn't even have access to a toilet. Left with no other choice, she gets up every morning - before the crack of dawn - and is forced to defecate outside. Making it even harder to stay healthy and safe.

And you'd hope Babli's case was probably one-off. Now picture this. 
  • According to an estimate by the UNICEF, almost 594 million people in our country - that is nearly half of India's population - defecates in the open. The situation is particularly acute in poverty-stricken rural areas like the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh.
  • It is observed that toilet shortage, especially in rural areas, is fueling rape scourge, as women often become "easy prey".
  • The recent news of rape and killing of two young girls aged 12 and 14 in the Katra village sent shivers down the spine. The girls had walked to the wheat fields at night to defecate, only to be abducted by three men who gang-raped and killed them. The brutality didn't end there; the men hung the girls from a mango tree by their head scarves.
  • A top police officer in Uttar Pradesh reported that most women raped in the region were found defecating in open.
  • Among all the countries of the world, India tops in open defecation*, a fact that should put our heads down in shame.

[* Reference: The Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation report — 2014 update — released in Geneva.]


Why Defecate in the Open?


There can be several reasons why someone would practice open defecation: 
  • Lack of other alternatives like toilets not available or not attractive.
  • Toilets are available but they continue to stink (often true in case of shared or public toilets)
  • Toilets are filthy, dark, or unsafe.
  • People are culturally or habitually inclined towards open defecation.

Open defecation. Unimaginable in 85% of the world. The only option in the remaining 15%.


Let's start by understanding about open defecation. Most people who defecate outside have no choice. They often do it in the open spaces with little privacy.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

According to statistics released by the United Nations, around 1 billion people worldwide are forced to practice open defecation, causing diseases like diarrhea, worm infestation, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, reduced physical growth, impaired cognitive function, and under nutrition. Undoubtedly, one of the most apparent manifestations of extreme poverty.

Why it is that no one talks about it?

Let us break the silence


In 2013, for the first time, World Toilet Day was celebrated as an official UN day. Not only that, the term "open defecation" was introduced at the highest level, which drew attention to this issue.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

Open defecation is clearly an indication of a global sanitation crisis staring us in the face. Ending this practice is the need of the hour, and can help reduce hospital visits, missed school days, and worst of all, child deaths.

While speaking to Babli, it occurred to me that maybe every day children like her drink water mixed with their neighbors’ feces.

Did you know that The Ganges, which happens to be the largest river in India, is considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world? Every minute 1.1 million liters of human excrement enters this river. Disgusting to say the least!

What can we do to help Babli?


It is estimated that lack of access to proper sanitation and water supply, including the practice of open defecation, costs the poorest countries in the world a whopping $260 billion a year. What's even more concerning is that one third of the entire human population (2.5 billion people) still does not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or restrooms, with dramatic consequences on their health, dignity, and security.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

If you build a public restroom, you can prevent a child from dying every two and a half minute from a preventable diarrheal disease. You can also educate children and adults about the benefits of improved hygiene and sanitation.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

By doing your bit in spreading awareness about open defecation, you can help vulnerable population - including people with disabilities and women - from falling prey to sexual violence.

You can even urge school authorities to build private toilets, so that girls do not have to discontinue their education once they enter puberty.

Image courtesy: http://opendefecation.org/

I am happy to report that Churu, a district of Rajasthan state of western India, will soon become an open defecation free district. UN has also vowed to eliminate open defecation from the world by 2025.

Finally, let us try to help young girls like Babli who can one day put all their worries related to proper hygiene, sanitation, and health to rest.

[Participate in the "You Click Domex Contributes" initiative at http://www.domex.in/You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing your support for the Domex Initiative. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.]

Friday, November 14, 2014

Honda Amaze is Amazingly Indian

Ever been to a blogger's event not knowing what to expect? Well, sometimes that could be disappointing OR effing great. In my case, it simply turned out to be spectacular!

On November 7, I received an invite from Bloggers' Mind – a social media agency that works with various brands across the Automotive, FMCG, Technology, and Lifestyle sectors – to come and celebrate the completion of the "Longest Drive through Amazing India", part of Honda's "Amazingly Indian" campaign.



Not only did I graciously accept their invitation, but I also volunteered to cover the event for them as a return gesture.

What I didn't realize was that I'd get to witness a Guinness Award Ceremony firsthand.

Mr. Hironori Kanayama, President & CEO of Honda Cars India Ltd receiving the Guinness World Record

Also, get to click selfies with Chetan Bhagat, author of bestselling novels like Five Point Someone (2004), One Night @ the Call Center (2005), The 3 Mistakes of My Life (2008), 2 States (2009), Revolution 2020 (2011), What Young India Wants (2012), and Half Girlfriend (2014).

A Selfie Moment with Chetan Bhagat

Have I gotten you interested yet? Here's the scoop on the event as it happened.


Event Date: November 9, 2014

Event Day and Time: Sunday, 10:30am

A Punjabi Folk Dance Troupe

A North Eastern Indian Folk Dance Troupe

But first about the Guinness World Record.

Longest Drive through Amazing India with Honda Amaze


Bunny Punia
(Associate Editor at Gaadi Web Pvt Ltd) and Shantonil Nag (Content Writer at Gaadi Web Pvt Ltd) created history for covering the longest journey by car in a single country.



Together, they covered a distance of 23,823 Kms in 1 car (Honda Amaze) across 400 towns and cities of India.

Bunny Punia (Left) and Shantonil Nag (Right)

Bunny sums up his out of this world experience in mere one sentence:
“53 days, over 23000 kms, one amazing country, thousands of pictures, hours of video footage, millions of memories, and one capable car.”
Longest Drive through Amazing India with Honda Amaze

The unsung heroes, however, were the following folks:
  • Rajender Singh Negi - for capturing experiences in the Video format.
  • Deepak Dhojia - for editing and making live videos.
  • Kanika Sood - for playing the quintessential multitasker in this epic drive event.
  • The Gaadi Web Pvt Ltd team (including Abhishek Chaliha, Shivank Bhatt, Jeo George, Siddharth Motu, and Kanupriya Bhatnagar) - for handling everything else.

This drive was flagged off from the city of Jodhpur on September 15, 2014 and culminated at Greater Noida.

But the celebrations didn't end there ...
 

Honda revealed that the family sedan, Amaze, has seen a tremendous response from customers in India. In just 16 months since its launch, the product reached the 100,000 sales milestone. Undoubtedly, the fastest in the history of Honda Cars India Ltd (HCIL).

Discover Amazing India in Honda Amaze

The Honda Amaze was also declared the “Car of the Year” and “Compact Sedan of the Year” by leading automobile magazines, clinching 12 major automobile awards in 2013-14. HCIL celebrated this success by organizing the "Longest Drive through Amazing India" initiative.

Chetan Bhagat Signs In for Webisodes on Drive through Amazing India


The "Longest Drive through Amazing India" is followed by a series of webisodes on "Drive through Amazing India" led by the renowned author Chetan Bhagat. In this web series, Chetan will travel to unexplored places of India.

His first destination will be a church submerged in the waters. No kidding! Not explored by many, the ruins of Rosary Church lie unscathed in Shettihalli, Hassan, Karnataka.

The ruins of Rosary Church in Shettihalli, Hassan, Karnataka

The water recedes during summers, a time when you can get to see the church up close and personal. Even when the church is submerged - half under the water - you can go near it on a coracle.

You too can be a part of this exciting journey with Chetan by participating in the upcoming contests, wherein you'll be asked to post stories or photos about unexplored places of Amazing India. The shortlisted candidates get to travel and explore the most remarkable places of India, just like the man himself.

A Group of Enthusiastic Bloggers (From Left to Right: Shubham, Jatin, Yogita, Rahul, and Harsh)

It DEFINITELY pays to be a blogger! Sometimes the perks come in the form of opportunities and can be enough to justify the trouble like waking up early on a lazy Sunday morning.

#AmazeLongestDrive
#AmazeWorldRecord
@hondacarsindia
@bloggersmind
http://amazelongestdrive.com/

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Igniting Hopes of Countless Indian Women via Sheroes

I'll start today's post with a heartfelt ode to a courageous woman - someone I know and continue to admire every day. Someone who left her country and sacrificed a flourishing career in teaching just so she could be with her man. Someone who understands motherhood and the challenges that comes along. Someone who always puts family before herself. 

I wish I could go on and on about Sadhna, and how she has changed me for the better. She is not just a life partner but my entire existence.


Sadhna - An Extraordinary Human

It hasn't particularly been easy for her to give up everything just like that. There were days when I'd return from work only to find her reeling in pain. It wasn't her struggle with the children that bothered me the most, but the loneliness that had started to build inside her slowly.


Sometimes she would talk about getting back to her feet again but then drop the idea altogether looking at our 2-year-old daughter Saanvi.

Her story seems no different to me than the several others we hear often - of hapless educated women in our country who end up leaving the workforce permanently, depriving themselves of a fulfilling career and in turn the financial independence that comes along with it.

To bridge this gap and empower women like Sadhna in general, Sairee Chahal started Sheroes in January this year. The idea is to build a community of working women and connecting them to mentors and other resources.

Sairee Chahal

So who exactly is a Shero? Every woman who makes a choice and makes it work for her is a Shero.

Thanks to Sheroes, women seeking a career now have a platform to voice their concerns openly. In fact Sheroes has become a gateway to the finest opportunities, resources, and conversations for women especially, promoting work from home job options. Perfect for a work-life balance!

Diversity and Inclusion

I was in awe of Sairee ever since I heard her speak on Diversity and Inclusion at my office on International Women's Day. It was during her speech only that I got to know about the Sheroes Summit 2014.

By a stroke of luck, I received a bloggers invite (courtesyBlogAdda) to cover Sheroes this year - India's largest opportunity scape for women. The event was held at The Suryaa Hotel New Delhi on November 4, 2014.

Sheroes Summit, Delhi

Curating the Sheconomy


After a quick welcome and introduction by Sairee, came the keynote session by Deep Kalra, MD, Founder, Makemytrip.com.

[Deep Kalra is the Founder of India's leading online travel company, MakeMyTrip.com. Launched in India in 2005, MakeMyTrip offered the convenience of online transactions coupled with great value prices, revolutionizing the way Indians research and purchase travel services. MakeMyTrip is today the largest e-commerce business in the country. Having steered the MakeMyTrip business as CEO since its inception in 2000, Deep took on the role of Group CEO in August 2013, to focus on Strategy, M&A and international businesses. Deep continues to lead the Group's strategic developments and overall execution excellence.

Deep has been associated with TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) Delhi Board since 2007 and took over as the President in January 2013. He served on the NASSCOM Executive Council from 2010-2013. He is also an active Angel Investor in the Internet space.

Keenly interested in contributing to society, Deep is a founding member of "I am Gurgaon" - an NGO focused on improving the quality of life in Gurgaon. He is also closely involved with Udayan Care and GiveIndia.]



Deep Kalra

Main takeaway for me from his wonderful and thought-provoking session:

Deep on Past versus Present
  • MakeMyTrip was founded in 2005. However, it took 8 years for the company to be something meaningful.
  • The game changer now is technology.
  • Two events that changed travel forever: 9/11 and the dotcom bust.
  • When venture capitalists threatened to back out of the business back then, MakeMyTrip had a choice to close up shop or sustain heavy losses. Deep chose the latter - the best decision of his working life to date.
  • Every entrepreneur needs to ask himself: do you really believe in your business?
  • He took zero salary for 18 months, the same time when 18 out of 42 employees in his company had tendered their resignation.
  • Three years ago, two major airlines decided to sever ties with MakeMyTrip.
  • MakeMyTrip made a dream debut on NASDAQ in 2010. Deep's mantra to success: take the plunge and stay on course.
  • For MakeMyTrip's NRI offering, there were lookers but no bookers.
  • After the entry of low-cost carriers and low fares and the opening of Indian railways website, MakeMyTrip got the first-mover advantage.
Deep on People
  • He urges all, including womenfolk, to put your doubts on the table.
  • He took the plunge at 30. Yesterday's 30 is today's 20.
  • Self-evaluation: No one knows you better than you OR No one knows me better than me.
  • Play to people's strengths. Everyone has an X-factor. 
  • Everyone cannot be a pinch hitter or a slogger. There is a reason why Dhoni is such a good match winner, especially during the death/slog overs.
Deep on Entrepreneurship
  • The best entrepreneurs in the world never work for anyone. 
  • It takes two dots to make a line; you need resilience and gut, but most importantly you need to be stubborn.
  • For every new venture, you need a confidant and a mentor who can steer the business in the right direction.
  • Read the market right.
  • Bring disruptive ideas to the market.
Deep on Teamwork
  • It's always the team (Case in point: Snapdeal's journey from being a deal site to where it is today. How it changed course is commendable.)
  • Hire someone who is better than you; don't hire a mini-me.
  • Hire someone who questions you, competes with you, and most importantly, disagrees with you when you're wrong.
  • It's right to be wrong.
  • Your best friend at workplace is the one who irritates you the most.
  • Evolution of the team: A team with all-rounders versus a team with specialists.
  • Innovate all the time or perish (Case in point: 4 million MakeMyTrip apps downloaded to date).
  • Encourage risk-taking by hiring Young Turks.
  • Choose guys with spark - spot them and take risk.
Deep on Best Places to Work
  • Company believes in sharing wealth (70% are covered under employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs)).
  • Preserve culture with growth.
  • Concept of egalitarian or equal is encouraged within the company.
  • Transparency + Accessibility = Trust.
  • Happy employees make happy customers.
  • Obsession on customer, not competition.
  • Back your instincts with Analytics.
  • Measure week to week - Excel is all you need to master.
Deep on Empowering Women
  • 1000 Home Experts in 8 Cities: For the most part, these experts work from home and are required to report at office for a week only. They earn 27k INR per month on an average; the best can even earn up to 1 lakh INR per month).
  • Reiterated what Jeff Bezos once said: Work hard, have fun, and create history. Two out of three is not an option.
  • Transition from an order taker to an order maker.
Women's Market and Changing Trends in Business and Society

The next session was a tête-à-tête with Paresh Nath, Editor, Founder - Delhi Press, largest publisher, distributor for women centric magazines and content.

[Paresh Nath is Editor and Publisher of Delhi Press magazines. Delhi Press, a media conglomerate, has always been proactive in catering to new and emerging market segments with special focus on the needs and aspirations of young people. Paresh started his mission with the group at only 22 years of age and has seen the group rise to a leading publishing house in India with 36 magazines spread over 10 languages commanding a readership of over 30 million. Among the highly respected titles are Grihshobha, Caravan, Sarita, Saras Salil, Women’s Era, Alive, Mukta, Suman Saurab, and Champak.

Besides his editorial accomplishments, he is associated with many social organizations in various capacities. He served as President of the Delhi Junior Chamber in 1978. He is Trustee of Indraprastha Education Society and Hindu College Education Society.

On the professional front, he is the Founder President of Association of Indian Magazines (AIM). He is President of Indian Languages Newspapers Association (ILNA) since 2009 and served for two years as Deputy President of Indian Newspapers Society (INS). He also served as Chairman of the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) for two years.

He is a Political Science postgraduate and has a degree in Law, both from Delhi University.]

Paresh Nath, Editor, Founder - Delhi Press

What promised to be a fireside chat turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Nath's opinions about Indian women were dated and smacked of hypocrisy to say the least.

And you'd seriously expect us to read magazines like Women's Era, Grihshobha, Caravan, etc. after this? No effing way!

Grihshobha
 Main takeaway for me from his utterly boring session:
  • We are a nation of "illiterate" educated.
  • Delhi Press is primarily an editor's magazine <sigh!>.

Mobility and Sustainability - Trends We Need to Know

The next session by Tavleen Mehendiratta, co-founder i-mobility.org, brought the audience back to its feet and infused some energy back into the event.

[Tavleen Mehendiratta has a Bachelor in Engineering (Hons) from Brighton University, UK with Professor Morgan Heikal Student of the Year Award. Working as an auto journalist for 2 years, she interviewed head honchos of the auto industry until she started looking at the sustainability side of things. Intrigued by how the cities were evolving, pollution was contesting to set new records and the cities were bursting at seams, her career started to make a transition from motoring journalism to sustainable urbanization. She started to look at how the world was looking at smart cities, smart mobility systems, smart energy as answer to challenges of massive urbanization, energy security and formation of mega cities, thus she co-founded i-mobility.org.

She's also worked with Mahindra Electric Vehicles as an evangelist and her speech on her journey of interviewing experts and naysayers of electric vehicles, at the launch floor of their electric car was much appreciated by Anand Mahindra. At Mahindra Electric Vehicles, she was primarily in the virtual ownership team; her profile was uniquely placed in the company where she looked at the changes in vehicle ownership patterns, rise of car sharing and its impact and also worked with a leading brand consultant to work out a strategy to identify the electric car’s target audience through ride sharing communities. As a passionate individual, she contributed to Group Strategy Office on future of mobility under their overarching theme of ‘sustainable urbanization’.

Currently her focus is on targeting the bottom of the pyramid that means the citizens of these smart cities; she engages with students on issues that are of grave importance like urbanization, internet of mobility, smart policies, smart cities etc. She's also given an inspiring talk to students of 'Masters in Business Economy (MBE)' of the prestigious Delhi University, South Campus on 'smart cities and smart policies' and has been a speaker at the IEEE meet 2014 and a guest speaker at the Birla Institute, Pilani on 'engineering cities of tomorrow'.

i-Mobility.org is shortly launching short-term courses for students on 'Smart Cities and Mobility 2.0' and 'Smart Energy and Policies 2.0' for educational significance; the courses already have the Govt. of India approval (VSkills). It has inputs from organizations like Bosch, Tech Mahindra, EBTC etc. and universities like MIT (Dr. Ryan Chin, Carlo Ratti), Tufts, Leeds and more. The courses will be ideally suited for professionals working in energy and mobility companies and consultancies, also for students studying engineering, economy, social entrepreneurship and environment.

On the corporate side, she's consulting Tata Motors to reposition the Nano as a smart city car in the country through a pan-India movement and Mahindra & Mahindra to start a conversation on their electric car.]

Tavleen Mehendiratta, co-founder i-mobility.org

Main takeaway for me from Tavleen's interesting session:
  • A day in jam = 70 lakh man hours lost.
  • 20 lakh cars ply on Delhi roads daily.
  • 1200 new cars keep adding to the mess every day. 
  • Delhi is by far the most stressful city for parking.
  • The big question is: Are you driving to work or working to drive?
  • 13-day traffic jam in Beijing. Is Delhi next to follow?
  • Air Pollution Masks business in India: No takers yet but a strong need is anticipated.
  • Roads are a shared space but often abused.
  • The solution could be Nanolution, that is, the power of compact and smart.

A leaf from Tavleen's session

Championing Remote Work

This session from James Joseph, author of God's Own Office, was an instant hit with women - most of whom either took a sabbatical or left their job completely after marriage or children.

[James Joseph is the founder of JackFruit365™ - an initiative to create an organized market for Indian Jackfruits in India, 80 percent of which is reported to be wasted every year and to create an engine to support free midday meal program for poor children at school.  

James has over 20 years of Sales and Marketing experience in North America, Europe and India with globally reputed organizations like Microsoft, 3M, and Ford. In his last role as the Director, Executive Engagement at Microsoft India, he was responsible for strengthening Microsoft's relationship with the senior executives of top 200 enterprises in India and he managed this role from his home office in a village in Kerala.

Prior to this role, James was responsible for the manufacturing industry marketing for Microsoft UK. Before joining Microsoft, he held business development, sales and marketing positions at 3M, Ford Motor Company, i2 Technologies and Informatica. James is a recipient of several awards including Circle of Excellence, the highest award for Sales and Marketing employees across the world at Microsoft, Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year at TiEcon Kerala 2013, New Age ICON d' YOUTH Kerala 2011, etc. In addition, James serves as a mentor for the Startup Village in Kochi.

During his work across three continents James had the rare opportunity to design signature dining experiences for his clients with several internationally renowned Chefs which helped him to develop JackFruit365™.

James is also an author and his first book "God's Own Office" will is published by Penguin Books in October 2014.

He has a Masters in Engineering Business Management from University of Warwick, UK and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram.]

James Joseph, Author of God's Own Office

James is a recipient of the Highest Professional Performance Award from Steven Anthony "Steve" Ballmer, the ex CEO of Microsoft.

Main takeaway for me from his session:
  • He started his presentation with these three questions: 
    • Why should mothers work?
    • Why work from home?
    • Why work?
  • Don't be a 'Frog in the well' or a 'Kue ka mendak'.
  • Stay away from pushy people. Was forced into believing that he possessed the remote control to "red light" button.
  • Who can work from home: 
    • Creative people
    • Experts
    • Helpless (mothers)
Marriage, Mentorship, and Careers

Post lunch, we were invited to be part of a Power Couple chat with Nikhil Mehra and Vidushi Mehra.

[A former banker with ABN AMRO Bank and American Express and GE Capital, Vidushi also holds an MBA in marketing and finance. She is a musician, theatre artist, film actor and entrepreneur. Vidushi Mehra is a multi faceted, dynamic performer, she has performed in over 45 productions on stage and has also forayed into Hindi films. She is a mother to 7-year-old twins.

Nikhil had been ingenious right from the school days. He had joined the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, California. He has been awarded with some of the most prestigious awards and scholarships. Nikhil was invited to design a collection for a prestigious store "Georgio Beverly Hills" in Los Angeles and was featured in L.A.Times to be the only Indian designer to have had a show in Universal Studio, Hollywood.]


Power Couple Chat with Nikhil Mehra and Vidushi Mehra
Main takeaway for me from this session:
  • You cannot attach a monetary value to happiness.
  • From the age of 10, Nikhil knew exactly what he wanted to become (he even ripped his jeans apart in front of his father). 
  • Many modern-day marriages break up because both husband and wife demand a fulfilling career yet no one is willing to compromise.
  • Their marriage works because of simplicity, pure intent, love, and respect for each other. They are also great friends first.
  • Important to remain who you are after marriage.
  • Marriage isn't nearly as simple and requires patience and practice.
  • Any time you think of giving up, look at your children first.
  • Give up a project if it doesn't raise you to its highest bar.
  • When in conflict, let go of the ego.
  • There can only be one Diva or Superstar in the family.
  • Couples should not discard who is earning more.
  • Conversations ignite great romance.
  • Children don't differentiate between mother and father, and they shouldn't.
  • New age parenting is different due to technology.
  • Earlier women did not allow men to participate in raising kids. But now their expectations have risen.
  • Couples are getting married for all the wrong reasons. Worst, they are having children for all the wrong reasons.
  • Don't be let down by your own insecurities.
  • Fix the problem, don't aggravate it.
  • Get away from the self-inflicted pain.
  • Don't feel let down, let go instead!
That's moi asking many questions

Launch of the Big Sister Mentoring Program 

Sairee unveiled the Big Sister Mentoring Program, which essentially acts like a conduit between mentors and mentees.

Big Sister Mentoring Program
Main takeaway for me from this session:
  • Your relation with yourself is far more important than your relation with others.
  • Happiness is honoring yourself.
  • Holistic pregnancy: Joy in the womb, joy in the world.

Women Owned Businesses - Entrepreneurial Showcase 

The penultimate session allowed women-owned businesses to showcase and present their entrepreneurial ideas to a three-member jury comprising Prajakt RautSwati Bhargava, and Ankur Warikoo.

[Prajakt Raut is an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship evangelist. He helps startups to start up, and has founded http://applyifi.com and http://www.thehubforstartups.com.

London School of Economics alumnus Swati Bhargava quit her job at Goldman Sachs to start Cashkaro.com - the largest cashback site in India. She also started Pouring Pounds in UK, a B2B business where they set up and manage cashback and voucher websites for large partners. 

Ankur Warikoo is the Head of Groupon APAC Emerging Markets comprising India, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines - part of the 48-country portfolio of Groupon Global spanning 250 million subscribers and over $7bn in annual sales. Ankur has been with Groupon since April 2011, when it entered India and is the CEO of the India Operations as well.]

Three-member jury comprising Prajakt Raut, Swati Bhargava, and Ankur Warikoo 

The day ended with a story from the community - of entrepreneurship and transitions by Natasha Badhwar.

[Natasha Badhwar is a columnist, media trainer, and entrepreneur. She writes on love and relationships in the context of the modern Indian family in her column "My Daughters' Mum" in Mint Lounge. Natasha has worked with NDTV for 13 years and was India's first female news cameraperson. She quit as Vice President, Training and Development.

As a freelance trainer, she conducts Media Training workshops with corporate CXOs as well as journalism students. 
In her entrepreneur avatar, she is the co-owner of the online fashion brand, 'Ochre Sky.' This is a role that brings together her love for design and composition, her media background and passion for creative challenges.]

A Groupie with Sheroes

As I was just about to leave the venue, I couldn't help but think about Sadhna yet again. But this time around, I felt hopeful. Not all is lost - for her and million of women like her.