Smart Idea?

sprawl cartoonAfter all the debate, various meetings, a lot of input and work, Nashik hasn’t been selected in the list of 20 Smart cities. Just to put things in perspective for a few oh-we-are-so-swag-youngsters, it is as bad as your 8th prospective girlfriend turning down your proposal on your 64th attempt. Yeah! While some are quite openly disheartened, some are relieved, some mocking the whole thing (like they mock everything anyway), others are just wondering what they should talk about in awkward social meetings here on!

What is a smart city?

Wikipedia describes smart city as -“A city equipped with basic infrastructure to give a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through application of some smart solutions. There should not be any difficulties for the general public or things that they find hard to get in the smart cities.”

profiling_participatory_budgeting_cartoon_large.previewBasically, the aim is to provide great sanitation, transportation facilities, and adequate water supply, build an ecosystem, manage waste, etc. Well, isn’t that what any city, smart or not, supposed to grow into? Or have we elected a government, just so that they can throw a mega birthday party with our money?

Smart city uses information and communication technologies to enhance the quality of performance, increase interaction between the people and government, digitize the entire planning and development process. Well, in our country, literacy is an issue, let alone digital knowledge. So, one has to be very very very lucky – you know, born under the perfect planetary positions (consult your jyotish)- to be in the cream 5% population who understand what it is, and will be able to use the facilities the way they are intended to be! Oh, by the way, if you are reading this on some device, congratulations and be grateful.

Basically, each town/city/state is allocated with some funds for development, expansion and growth. Then, the government comes up with some schemes under which, a few cities get extra funds for development. As the trend has been, we know who all have developed and prospered. And now with more money flowing in, oops, I mean funds being allocated, we can sort of foresee who all are going to flourish!

Oh this topic reminds me, the funniest thing that happened this week was rumours of a certain “Mr. Power” being no more. Hang in there guys, what’s the rush? Well…

Anyway!

Amidst all this economic hoo-ha and political jargon to the smart city concept, I hope a few things are taken care of during the implementation of these plans –

  1. Reservation quota for developing tribal areas, inhabited by SC/ST/OBC. (Here it is important, just for your information, government)
  2. Addressing local needs, culture and architecture, and not just block-printing the same idea across the nation. One shoe doesn’t fit all. Never.
  3. No cheating, or we will…umm, forget it, we are busy vacation-ing!

Well, as for me, I am just awaiting Mr. Kejriwal to announce his own rule of “over-smart city”, since Delhi isn’t on the list. Oh, you get the pun!

Karmic Cleansing Retreat

So, Nashik is all geared up for probably its biggest event – the one where you would wash off all your sins in the most unhygienic way possible! So much for cleansing your mind, only for being able to do exactly what you have been doing all your life, with revived gusto and a clean slate!

Nashik has gotten its 12-yearly makeover done, which probably – according to me – is the only good thing of this fanfare. With roads widened, temporary structures in place, portable loos adorning the city, river cleaned (erm?), ghat extended, we are all-set for this mega event – by booking ourselves on vacation and vacating the town for people with purpose. Just the kind of thing to do on an extended weekend, right?

Now that the dates are so close, people have started pouring in in the city – by which I mean all the photographers are already here to get a “feel” of the place. They are just trying to capture one image, without a person with DSLR in it. This Kumbh Mela will be witness to the first time ever air traffic issues during the “snan” – with all drones bumping into each other. It’s going to be a new learning experience for the officials, and next time they will have a special team and an ATC set-up right next to the ghat. After all, documentation of people taking selfies as a proof of their purity cannot be missed, you know!

Besides, this time it is going to mark a great example of technology-meets-devotion. Around 700 CCTV cameras will keep vigil to ensure better security. LED screen have been installed to keep giving live updates to people. Community radios have been set up in buses to disseminate information to pilgrims and travelers. Of course, not mentioning the coming of age Sadhus, who have renounced even their clothes, but an iPhone! iPhone 6 to be precise.

One of the exciting things in the last few weeks was to visit Sadhugram and see the structures come up. One drive through these temporary colonies is enough to know the stature of these godmen – from corrugated sheets to air-conditioned tensile structures, everything speaks of their respective grandeur. They have now started to be occupied with various people coming in from all over the country. Numerous events and sabhas have been organized, where people lose themselves in this high intoxicating energy. It is of course devotion at work. We all know that.

Another interesting thing will be to see a lot of tourists – oops, “travelers” – coming to Nashik, and combining their holy dip with a trip to the vineyards! And why not? What is important is to attain Nirvana, one way or the other!

Amidst all the religious pomp, people like me are content having a shower of Godavari in our humble abode. At least our body is washed, if not our sins. Perks of staying in Nashik, I say!

PS – Have fun in Goa, by the way!

(This is my column in Deshdoot Times, Nashik – 22 Aug, 2015)

What Freedom Means To Me

I spent a whole hour yesterday trying to “google” the words freedom and independence. And lo! There is a long list of various meanings and connotations that these words have. Of course, the meaning and implication of these words is very subjective, and depends largely on the context it is used in, but personally have we ever tried to define it for ourselves? We read about freedom, dream about freedom, rejoice and celebrate it, even advocate it, but do we really know what freedom is?

What does freedom look like? Is it the voter’s ballot, or permission for a late-night party? Is it to be free from any debt or a person walking out of prison? We must know what freedom means to us, if we are seeking it every single moment!

We often confuse the word freedom with independence. Independence, in no way, means freedom. And freedom is not dependent on independence. Since the time we have come on this planet, we are all inter-dependent on each other for our well-being. It is practically impossible to do everything ourselves, at work or at home.

The first time I thought I was “free” was back in Junior college- a decade ago! I had my vehicle, could meet my friends whenever I wanted, and could sometimes bunk classes as well! This started to look so immature when I shifted to Mumbai for my undergrad. That is when I thought I was really, in true sense, free! No permissions, no deadlines, and my own ATM card! Also, the pride of living “independently” was unparalleled. The feeling when I earned my first ever salary was supremely incomparable. When I look back now, I wonder whom was I kidding?

I have realized that the trick is find freedom in our thoughts, while ‘life’ is happening around us. Right this moment.

We often feel trapped – sometimes by destiny or circumstances, other times by some external force or our own mistakes. In most situations, we react in an auto-pilot mode. We are not even aware that we are letting our mind make a choice at that instant, besides ultimately blaming others or situations for our misery!

Freedom, for me, is being able to choose my thoughts and actions as a response to any situation thrown at me, without getting influenced by external negativity or my internal conflict! Freedom is a state of mind. We ourselves are responsible for our freedom. No body forces us to think in one way or the other; nobody can get into our mind except ourselves.

Freedom begins with us. Our actions. Our decisions. Our choice.

On this Independence Day, let us free ourselves of our past actions, bad memories, fears, conflicts, old patterns of thinking and behaving, and let go of everything that is trapped within us or has trapped us. Why should we stay in prison when the door is wide open?

Freedom is just a thought away. Let us create the thought today!

(This is my column in Deshdoot Times, Nashik – 15 Aug, 2015)

Anti-(alcohol)-climax

Saturday Night! Wohooo!
We all know what it is, right? We sort-of struggle through an entire grilling week with this meek ray of hope. It absolutely is that time of the weekend, where we make grounds for a terrible Sunday headache. Those few hours are just so magical, they are such a bliss, that we voluntarily invite the hassle of next day, in a life that is a hassle anyway.

But I really do not understand the entire hoo-ha around it!
I mean we all have that one friend who is against alcohol and suddenly starts drinking – the ceremonious welcome they get and all the cheer from others who live in a beer drum is priceless, just like a proud father watching is son all grown up! Suddenly, this friend becomes “cool” enough to “party” with, as well now!

I don’t get any combative reactions when I tell people that I do not have coffee, while sitting in a coffee-shop. Or that I do not like the taste of raw onions, while at a chaat-stall. But try telling the same people I do not have alcohol! Woah! The expression on their faces change and every single of their muscles is yelling, “WHAAAAAAT?”

And generally it follows with an hour full of trying to understand why do I have such “offensive” behavior. Yes, offensive. They see it as offence on my otherwise modern attitude, an offence of their preset judgement of me, an offence on their idea of our beer-date, an offence on my liberal and urban upbringing, an offence on me attending SulaFest, or even coming from the Wine capital of India! Some of them even start doubting their choice of friends, since a non-alcoholic, a teetotaler is on the list! This ends with them taking the responsibility on themselves of showing me the world on the other side! (PS – None of them have been successful, just FYI!)

There are a lot of judgements, a lot of labels attached to the drink that you are holding. Not that it matters to me. But writing this post in the hope that it stops mattering to everyone as well, and the jauntiness around alcohol mellows down. It signifies absolutely nothing else, but that you don’t like drinking, and I hope the subject becomes as irrelevant as a person confessing that he doesn’t like lauki-ki-sabzi.

PS- Let a few of us be. After all, we take you back home in the night! 😉

i(am)MAD

Oh yes totally! iMAD – I Make A Difference – is a Nashik based youth organisation, working hard to bring smiles on the faces of the lesser privileged kids in the society, and are striving to equip them to retain the smiles for the rest of their lives.

Simply put, it is really only that!

But there is an entire process to it. The beauty of this process, because we are relatively new, is the flexibility of the ideas and their execution. There are no set rules or pattern in the way learning is delivered – it is done in the best possible way that we know at that moment. And that not only is fun, but is much more productive than a pre-set traditional unidirectional way of doing things.

How is it different from any school or tuition out there, you may ask! The program is driven by 20-something volunteers, who even now are victims of the dull monotonous education system. We all have 20 years of experience of being ‘schooled’, and hence are well aware of what not to do with these children. With that out of the way, it is just innovation and creativity in making learning fun, making it a dialogue, a discussion, in injecting the thirst for knowledge, in all-round development, in exposure to the ways of the “real” world, in empowering the kids, and fabricating them to be passion driven human beings.

And this  organisation is led by someone who practices what he preaches, since Siddhant was merely 20 year old civil engineering student, when he started this organisation, and made it tremendously successful in very less time. It grew from a 5 volunteers organisation to a 150 volunteers organisation is less than three years!

We currently have three centres in Nashik, and have been invited to start a fourth one as well. We work in seasons of 3 months, twice a year, considering the exam and vacation schedule of the kids. In the remaining six months, we analyse our methods, discuss our ways of tackling different situations, and how can we better them. These are more crucial months, because this is where our foundation for the next season is laid, not only in terms of syllabus planning, but also in the way it is delivered.

Apart from all the sessions we have at personal level once a week, we are trying to make an impact in their lives on an everyday basis. Consequently, we are working on installing iCOMP – a computer with all the relevant data included, and made accessible in more fun ways to the kids in their hostel premises. More on that later.

All I can say, with personal experience, is that it really is just a farce thinking that we are making a difference to their life, while in reality, those few hours are just an investment to a fulfilling and enriching experience we have, which in due course shapes us as leaders, as people and makes a world of a difference to our lives. I bet every volunteer will second that.

PS – If you are in Nashik, and are interested to join us, or can help us in any way possible to you, please contact the president of iMAD Siddhant Borade – 9545861100.

Womanhood or Woman-hudd?

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A friend of mine, recently, shared a status on a social networking site (whom am I kidding? – Facebook) outraging about a page – Charming faces in Nashik. A lot of comments posted below suggested, that are is not one but many such pages, only for Nashik. I am sure there are enough for each corner of the world.

It got me thinking.

Frankly, I found it really stupid. It did not stir strong emotions in me, unlike many others, detesting the existence of such pages. Also, some others said there is no point in fighting a battle you cannot win – so ignore and move on!

I think it is a deep-rooted mind-set, that is common in every nook and corner of the world. It manifests in different ways, subtly sometimes and boldly most times. While woman are not entertainment packages, the need to be universally liked, the longing to be “longed for”, the kick that one gets on appreciation leads to them themselves exhibiting their “beauty”. While such pages must be administered by few, I am sure they work and exist because they have a demand from so many subscribers and supply by equal many “charming faces”.

Outraging over it, means fighting for people who don’t want you to fight for them. It’s like a forced service. These are the same people who celebrate Woman’s day! How can one not see the hidden mock that woman’s day is all about. Point being, we need a major attitude shift. How many such pages can we remove? How many songs can we ban? How about beauty pageants? How many jokes can we ignore, or not forward?

But just that one change in our thought – collectively, and making the whole idea of rating uncool, will do the trick! Amen.