Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The year that was...

The year 2011 is slowly breathing its last. I am sure many important events have transpired this year for many of you.
For me personally, 2011 has been the year of liberation. I feel braver than before to go after what I truly desire rather than what I should be doing to be safe. I have started asking the question, "So what?"
It feels liberating. It feels right and comforting that things will eventually be alright. Even if they do not turn out to be perfectly according to my expectations, something else will turn up along the way.

Some of the best things, just like the worst things, happen to you when least expected. That is the beauty of the serendipity of life. Every event offers a chance to grow stronger and wiser and see the world from a different perspective.

I have explored many avenues of self-development including neuro-linguistic programming, yoga, discovered sites such as ktotheb and No Meat Athlete, Ivan Campuzano's blog, the and new stuff on old favorites such as RealAge (check out their yoga and workout videos) and read quite a few inspiring and eye-opening books.  I've shared several of these on my blog for others to enjoy.

I have realized something valuable: When the chips are down, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself -
Eat healthy foods
Pray if you are religious though not in a fatalistic manner but to ask for Divine guidance, courage and wisdom to do what needs to be done (I believe in the adage, "God helps those who help themselves")
Find your own passions
Indulge in your favorite hobbies
Cherish the good relationships in your life even as some others may not be working
Be grateful for all the good things in your life
Perform some acts of kindness or charity

Much of this is cliched advice that one might see in many forums or read about in books and I have picked it up from other sources, too. However, what I say has been tested by me and therefore, has the merit of actual experience.

On the social side, I would label 2011 the year of weddings. Many people in my circle of family and friends tied the knot.

2011 also saw a few illustrious people leave this world for the Great Beyond. Steve Jobs and Amy Winehouse were people who passed away too early, especially Amy. She was barely 27 and a bundle of talent that the world would have loved to see more of. I have heard probably just one or two songs of hers on the radio but her voice and her personality left a unique impact. I hope her soul rests in peace. A young person's demise is, indeed, a sad event.

As for Steve Jobs, what can I say? I was never an Apple user and had been on Windows throughout my career.
However, since I hopped on to the iPhone bandwagon reluctantly when my husband bought one for each of us, I've never looked back. Steve Jobs may not have invented the MP3 player or the computer or touch screen or even the graphical user interface, but his genius was in 'connecting the dots' as he says in his famous commencement speech at Stanford.
Apple was the first company that actually thought of the concept of a personal computer rather than the behemoths used in research and industry.
The iPod's sliding, simple interface and immense storage capacity coupled with the iTunes concept where you could legally buy a song online for a cheap price rather than shelling out several bucks to purchase the entire album made it very popular. Added to it was the 'coolness' factor as well. The iPod did revolutionize the digital distribution of music when practically the entire music industry was up in arms against the digital world, especially after Napster.
Similarly, the iPhone was the first phone that combined a music player, computing facilities such as browsing and email with a revolutionary touch screen and the ability to add applications to the phone. It was certainly not the first smart phone and may not even be the best in every department but the phone industry has never been the same since.
I read his biography by Walter Isaacson this year and it is absolutely fascinating. Steve was a complex personality with lots of annoying and probably baffling quirks and some people thought he was a jerk.

However, with all his flaws, he still inspires me because of the simple fact that he followed his heart in everything he did to impact the world in a positive way. He showed that doing what you want to do (not illegal, immoral stuff of course) will pave the way for betterment of others. I wish that he lived to a ripe old age.

If you haven't listened to his commencement speech, please do. It is one of the speeches that will wake you up, like throwing cold water on a person who is half asleep. The text of the speech is also available here.


In Bollywood, two beloved legends passed away - Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand.

Shammi Kapoor's movies never failed to cheer me up. He had a rare knack of performing comedy and sad scenes, all the while evoking pity from the audience and adoration over his somewhat chubby good looks. He was not the guy with ripped abdominals like today's stars but his good looks were wholesome and reminded one of a well fed, nice man with some innocence still left in him.
Above all, his signature traits were his boisterous, over-the-top onscreen antics that wooed viewers all the time.

His death saddened me. My favorites among his movies are: Brahmachari, Kashmir Ki Kali and An Evening in Paris.  I love the songs of Teesri Manzil and we performed a couple of them on stage back in our college days. I have to yet watch the movie though. Even if I did watch it in my childhood, the memories are quite hazy now. Who can forget his ruckus in the song, "Yahoo!" from the movie, Junglee, or the audaciously flirtatious yet funny "Badan Pe Sitare" from Prince.

He was a member of India's most famous film family, the Kapoors, and maintained a website about them.

Dev Anand was the evergreen hero who hopped from romantic hero to patriot to international spy and everything in between. My favorites among his works are Jewel Thief and Guide. I still get carried away by many of the songs which were picturized with him such as "Main zindagi ka saath" from Hum Dono and "Lena hoga janam hame kai kai baar" from Prem Pujari. Most of his movies are still on my list to watch. Dev Anand had a distinctive air and some unique mannerisms that made him the cool, unfazed, optimistic guy.
He did not stop making movies or playing an important role in them even when he was well past his prime hence the nickname of evergreen star.

In fact, thinking about yesteryear's stars and the way the scenes were shot, barring the song-and-dance sequences with playback singers that somehow made themselves the staple of every Indian film, old Indian movies were very similar in look and feel to Hollywood oldies. Whether it was the curly hair and classical features of their leading ladies or the studio sets and the suits of the gentlemen, they just seemed to be cousins from different parts of the world. In fact, Indian characters in black and white films could pass off for Caucasians because the medium shielded shades in complexions pretty well.

Time slowly chugs on, what we can do is make the most of each moment and do all the things that we want to, not by hurting others but by finding fulfillment and spreading happiness. A truly happy person spreads joy around, an unhappy person drags down others, too.

This blog has completed seven years now. This year, there are more posts on it in a single year than in the past so it is an important milestone.
To those of you who are reading, thank you and wish you a very happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Environmental Blog - a 'green' gem in the blogosphere

I have discovered a new blog recently -
This is a blog that is definitely worth following as they have great content related to environmental issues, small and big, and how our actions can impact the earth positively or negatively.

I have become more aware of how much my very existence costs Mother Earth daily. Every time I see a plastic bag, bottle or cover that is about to be tossed away, I think of where it is going to land up and choke up the waterways or poison the earth in some manner. It is amazing to see what our species has singlehandedly managed to achieve in terms of overconsumption of resources and environmental destruction.  
Right from the chemicals and plastic used in our toothpaste and the tube to the heater/air conditioner we have on while asleep, each and everyone of us is using up energy and other resources while also generating waste that sometimes cannot even decompose naturally.

I live in a city that is reverential towards the environment and recycling is a way of life here so I can still toss in all my recyclables in a bin to be collected weekly. Recycling should be popularized every where in the world. Plastic and other non-biodegradable waste is particularly a problem in developing countries that are far less organized when it comes to garbage management and are either lacking in knowledge or apathetic towards environmental issues.
Even if citizens are educated and aware, they sometimes feel helpless if there are no available systems to enable them to act responsibly when it comes to sorting out their garbage and handling it better.

My last post talked about the plight of farmers in India. Here is a post on about the desertification of Africa. It is a highly enlightening read and I learnt about 'environmental refugees' for the first time.

Imagine the population of even a part of the world that is still dependent on agriculture and animal farming for its livelihood being forced to relocate when it has no means to sustain itself. I doubt governments and international organizations have thought far ahead to plan for such disasters.

Hope all of you have a 'green', joyful Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The farmer's daily gift to us

Those of us who live in cities and work in software companies and other white-collar professions sometimes lose touch with the ground realities of everyday life, the things that we use and consume on a daily basis but require very hard labor from many who may not enjoy all the things that we do.

I was reading this article in 'India Today' about the plight of the long-suffering farmers in Vidarbha, the dry eastern part of the Indian state of Maharashtra. To give an idea to non-Indians, this is the state whose capital is the city of Mumbai, India's financial capital, home to Bollywood and beauty contests, Dalal Street (India's own Wall Street) and thousands of other businesses, big and small. This is also one of the alpha world cities, truly one of the world's biggest cities in terms of population, variety of industries, educational institutions, cultural activities and probably GDP if you look at it not just by the dollar measure but by the sheer volume of economic activity.
Young people from Mumbai and also those who migrate here from other parts of India and even neighboring countries dream of becoming Bollywood stars, models, designers, bankers, businessmen/women or landing a good, cushy job in one of the many organizations here. A large percentage do end up making a decent living with upward mobility leading to at least a decent flat (apartment) and possibly a car with all the other modern utilities that money can buy.

Yet, drive or take a train a few hundred miles to the east and there is abject poverty with children still dying of malnourishment, farmers committing suicide because they are unable to pay their debts and lawlessness that aids in perpetuating the worst in Indian society including the rigid caste system practiced in its most exploitative form and the safety of women and children endangered.

Newspapers and politicians wail about the plight of the farmers, big sums of money are donated either through bank loans or government aid but the fundamental issue remains the same.

Here, some of us are, living abroad, thinking about what is the best post-workout snack, how many servings of fruit and vegetables we get, contemplating whether brown rice or whole wheat or gluten-free, high protein quinoa is the best and buying pricey handmade organic cotton goods from Whole Foods and feeling great about our healthy choices.
Please don't get me wrong here. I am a big fan of Whole Foods, The Body Shop, Starbucks and the fair trade coffee they sell and everything organic, whole grain, etc. I will always buy such products as far as I can afford because not only are they good for my health and my family's but also good for the environment. Also, fair trade products do help farmers both in the United States and the developing world by making sure they get a fair share of the profits.
I just think more about those people who toil all day in fields through whom we get our daily bread and lots more to sustain us as well as keep us healthy and glowing.

I don't completely know the economics of agriculture and how much percentage of the profits actually reach the farmer but I do know that the lifeblood of India - the monsoon and its mood swings along with other factors that influence crop yield do decide the income of the farmers to a large extent. There may be other factors, too, for example, farming of cash crops versus food crops, over-farming, etc. which are complex issues that I am not delving into in this post.
As for agricultural loans, that is another issue altogether. The reasons for someone not being able to repay their debts may be manifold.
There are two very good articles here on this topic - one from the Daily Mail (UK) and the other on the Huffington Post.
Rapid, large scale industrialization and aggressive, yield-centric farming with genetically modified crops, pesticides and fertilizers along with other human intervention in the environment have all been blamed as per these articles and some of the enlightening comments.

What if farmers had an alternate source of revenue and growth in many other ways rather than just the hard drudgery of agriculture? Right now, most rural folks send their children to good schools and colleges, hoping that they can secure a good job in a successful company and move up in life. In short, the only certain way out of poverty seems to be a good education, a white collar job and moving to cities.

I am thinking about rural industry - investments in alternative energy sources and local industries that use farm products to create innovative, eco-friendly products.
Agro-based industries supply the world with many basic and ancillary necessities right from food, clothing, footwear, cosmetics and accessories such as hats and bags and even has immense scope for the pharmaceutical industry and natural medicine. Here is where the agro retail sector can help agriculture, just as the latter directly sustains the former.
People from villages could receive training in management, economics and environment-friendly practices and this would result in a more well-educated, happier, more ambitious populace.
Indians and the Indian government should focus on creating jobs and industries through agriculture by encouraging private investment and rural entrepreneurship.

The agro-industry sector needs people just like Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji who revolutionized the Indian IT industry with Infosys and Wipro, respectively.

The fundamental issue is that the rural poor need to be empowered with education and innovative, environment-friendly industry, not just forced to migrate to Asia's already burgeoning cities, rampant with their own problems of pollution and overcrowding. We need less government bureaucratic involvement and more job-creating initiatives from the private sector.

India's and probably other developing nations' future lies in the empowerment of the most vulnerable sections living in far-flung villages.