Ganapati Utsav: Creating special bonds and shaping personalities

As the evening unfolded families from the neighbourhood slowly started moving towards the mandap. One at a time, each family seeked blessings of the elephant god, making their offerings as their favourite Bappa was all set for the journey.

Elsewhere someone was helping decorate the cart, making flower arrangements, helping elderly seek darshan of the Bappa, uploading food for people on the way…. this camaraderie amongst the glitter of decorative lights is what has made Ganesh Festival special since my childhood.

Ganapati vacations were more sought after as we could participate in so many activities – sports, fancy dress, poetry & elocution, attending Ganapati aarti. Volunteering for prasad distribution, managing queue at the mandap, conducting cultural activities. Cherry on the cake was if you win some prizes.

It has unconsciously shaped me as a person – team work, community bonding, skills and interests. Probably the only sales job I have done till date is to sell lottery tickets. Lottery was star attraction of our sarvajanik Ganapati. As a kid, sitting at the counter, convincing people to buy that ticket for Rs. 2/- was excitement of another level. More so when you could sell more tickets than your friends!

I always associated some of the popular devotional songs, traditional renditions in Marathi only with Ganesh festival. In the era of 2-in-ones and cassettes one could hear contributions of stalwarts like Sreedhar Phadke, Arun Date, and Anuradha Paudwal only during the 10 days of Ganapati. Mornings started with Suresh Bhosle’s Omkar Swarupa followed by the aartis…evenings were for listening to Mehendi Chya Panavar and other popular songs.

Over the years celebrating this 10 day feast changed- for good & bad. Came under the influence of other external circumstances as Mumbai started grappling with so many other issues around it. Our personal involvement also changed as life moved on.

But what remains undeterred is the spirit of togetherness that Ganapati Bappa brings along. It brings so many people together, creating special bonds and lifelong friendships. Last five decades, people moved houses, changed cities… the visarjan miravnuk is like an iron that holds them together as they seek Bappa’s blessings for one last time.. Ganapati Bappa Morya!

When a rainy day meant happy memories

Sitting in office I was yet again seeing social media feeds of Mumbai’s flooded roads. Uprooted trees, railway tracks flowing with water, cars submerged, colleagues and friends struggling to reach to work. Helpless citizens monitoring the rain situation on social media and WhatsApp groups.

I thought to myself. These are not the memories of a rainy day I had as a kid growing up in this city known for its monsoon. The month of June meant reopening of school, classrooms and corridors filled with the smell of new raincoats and gumboots. We use to look forward to the month of July, a chance to get that one mandatory rainy day holiday.

Staying at Dadar West, travelling to my school in Hindu Colony, Dadar East use to be fun during monsoons. Then too, the low lying areas of Dadar TT, Hindu Colony, Matunga were prone to water logging. On the days it rained heavily and school bus service was suspended, we use to eagerly wade through the water and walk home. Crossing the famous Tilak Bridge, connecting Dadar East and West, on a rainy day with friends is my everlasting school memory. Enjoying corn on cob, tamarind and other roadside picks was our feast.

At home the rainy day meant pampering and playing with friends. Grandmother’s nudge was all it required to bunk school and tuitions. Listening to pitter patter of the rain against our roof, watching the rains lashing against the window was my favourite timepass. Some days we use to venture outside to get wet or watch local boys play football at a garden nearby.

This badaas attitude continued during college as I joined Ruia. Later a long drive to Marine Drive, Worli Seaface was added to the rainy day plan. Then I started working and 26th July happened. The deluge that gripped Mumbai has completely changed what monsoon meant for this city.

Memories since then are flooded with instances of severe water logging, loss of property and lives. While the popular ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ is high, every monsoon has increasingly started affecting the mobility – bringing the city to a standstill. More so, the earlier badass attitude is now clouded and I have to think twice before travelling to my office on a rainy day, which is barely 10 minutes away from my house.

Ladakh – The land of grit and determination

Over the last few years Ladakh has become the biking capital of India. Come June, social media timelines are buzzing with people going for their Ladakh adventure – exploring the hilly terrain and getting mesmerised by its natural beauty. So did I – but by chance.

I was planning a trip with a friend when I read an advertisement of a Ladakh tour package. From that moment I decided Ladakh it is. I started planning a family trip to Ladakh – not a group package but an individual itinerary. The first pit stop was to understand if my parents can manage – most importantly when we are not opting for a group tour. My mother had completed Chardham Yatra many years back, but father had never travelled to the hills. Preparations were in full swing of finding the relevant information, medical precautions to be taken, knowing Dos and Don’ts, etc. My brother was so inspired that he planned his long cherished dream of a bike tour the following year. Hence my second chance of visiting Ladakh came exactly a year later – this time accompanying my brother in a support car.

While we city dwellers are awed by the chilly hill tops, gigantic passes, changing nature, for me the visit to Ladakh is that of grit and determination. Completing the journey requires psychological and physical good health. My parents enjoyed the trip, but I took a little time to acclimatise to the climate. Travelling through the narrow passes, seeing army posts, workers paving the roads, observing the local life gives you a glimpse of what grit must be required to survive in this region. More so, during the winter.

This belief was more strengthened during our second trip. Another lesson on how weather gods are so crucial in the region. Once we crossed Jispa, one of the last points in Himachal, it was rainy and weather started changing fast. As if we were trying to race with the nature to reach Leh in time. Indeed we were lucky. Another group reserved at the same hotel did not reach Leh and returned to Manali. Seeing my brother and his friends cross the icy streams on the bike, sometimes dodging the fiery winds was another proof of strong determination required to navigate through.

This essence was visible in many subtle ways like listening to the tales of our driver, understanding how they cope with the harsh climate and circumstances, striving to protecting the topography and witnessing many labourers working along the way to keep the roads in good condition. What I took back from Ladakh was the people’s will and determination to withstand natural and other calamities and forge ahead steadfastly in their lives.

 

New Age Consumer: Caged in Convenience

Cambridge dictionary describes ‘bad hair day’ as a day on which everything goes wrong. Contextually it could mean skipping an assignment deadline, running late for an important meeting, no electricity at home or anything else that interrupts our daily lives. But on thinking about this blog topic, I thought for today’s consumer a bad hair day is symbolic to lack of convenience. We, new age consumers are caged in convenience.

The month of May was a bad hair month for many of us. Our house helps were on their annual village trips. Couldn’t give clothes for ironing as the boy who collects clothes was enjoying summer vacations and his phone was switched off. While one house help came back, another help went on leave the following day. Travelling to work was little easy with less traffic. But the biggest pain was surge price of Ola and Uber. While some drivers were off-road due to holidays, others were vocal about their issues on incentives and payments. My conversations with friends and acquaintances revealed the same story.

Why we were so affected by helpers, iron man, watchman, driver, etc going on leave? Why not travel by public transport if Ola and Uber were unavailable or too expensive. On thinking it occurred to me – we have become caged to convenience.

Traditionally Indian society is known to have used the services of servants and cooks. As a girl growing up in a metropolis like Mumbai I was witness to this underbelly who keeps our lives going. But something else happened over last 4-5 years. Technology became such an integral part of our everyday life that we forgot our old habits and got comfortable with this new convenience.

For a working professional in Mumbai travelling meant hailing Ola or Uber. The carpooling was much convenient than struggling to get inside the train or waiting for a BEST bus. Ordering food on Swiggy or Zomato is much easier than calling the restaurant. Our medicines, vegetables, groceries, ironing, tailoring, paying utility bills, almost everything is just a swipe or a click away. It’s our bad hair day when we are robbed of this convenience even for few hours. We are ready to pay extra if it means saving time or easy delivery, in spite of several issues. It’s a circle of access, service, price, delivery and ease. What will it mean even 2-3 years down the line? It makes me wonder…

Almost two years since I first wrote this..technology has further gripped and disrupted our lives. From exploring Swiggy and Zomato, they have become my default choice when I am lazy to prepare breakfasts. Like Google it, Swiggy has become a verb…

#SonamKiShaadi:An online streaming feast

Last couple of days I was checking Instagram too often – while travelling, in between meetings, before going to bed. The live updates and videos allowed me to follow #SonamKiShaadi on the go. Insta feed of a well-known Bollywood and fashion photographer was my window to this online streaming feast.

Conversations at work were around the same topic. Who’s Insta Feed to follow for updates, which fashion designer was pushing content? My Twitter timeline was buzzing with comments of following Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on social media. The day after her wedding I got a WhatsApp joke about attending Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on WhatsApp. While media was not allowed to directly cover the functions, Insta stories, videos and social media updates from the star studded guests was the feed for media and photographers.

#SonamKiShaadi on social media
Sonam Kapoor’s wedding was an followed on Instagram, WhatsApp and social media

My thoughts went back to 2001. As a college student, I was glued to the television watching live telecast of the famous Agra Summit between Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. My interest in political science and media didn’t allow me to move away from the TV screen for those two days. My tired eyes slept and I missed the final outcome of the historic summit, also known as India’s first televised summit.

General discussions with friends and colleagues didn’t mention about following Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on TV or seeing pictures in newspapers. For an on-the-go consumer, it meant checking social media updates, Insta feeds of celebrities, stylists, media houses, photographers, fashion designers. While media was not allowed inside the wedding venue, they had access to videos from the functions and guests. The social media and smartphones made it a digital wedding for everyone to follow at their own convenience and personal choice. These conversations and comments made me think – Is #SonamKiShaadi India’s first online streaming celebrity event?

Hey someone called to wish Happy Birthday! What happened next?

Three friends were chatting and laughing at a suburban mall on a Saturday evening. Next to them was a girl smiling and enjoying her husband and his friend’s talks, memories and banter. A quick meeting turned into 3 hrs of fun as night fell by and it was time to head home. This memorable evening was thanks to one phone call…

It was usual birthday morning with wishes from some family and friends. Amidst receiving birthday messages and managing work I noticed one name flashing on my phone. It was a call from one of my university friend I had not met since eons… if, I was right at least a decade. As I received the call he said, “Faceboook reminded that it’s your birthday. Thought instead of saying HBD on your wall, I will call and wish you.” What followed was a conversation like old times, with promise to meet on the weekend along with another friend.

Retro Birthday Card
Sheer joy of Personal Birthday Wishes is like eating an ice-cream !

A little later, another friend called to wish me. More than a decade back, we came to know each other as industry colleagues. The friendship grew over years from calls, to Orkut, Facebook and occasional messages on WhatsApp but we haven’t met for many years. She said, “I have decided to call and wish people on their birthdays. We generally message or wish on social media and then no one talks to each other.” We promised to meet with a set deadline… which we did not meet.

Both these calls made me think. When was the last time I called a colleague / friend / acquaintance to wish Happy Birthday? Have we all become so caged to social media? There have been times I have decided not to wish someone on Faceboook, instead call. Day turns into evening, it’s time to head back from work and the exhausted mind remembers the forgotten wish.

These thoughts were lingering on my mind when I got another phone call. This time it was a colleague I haven’t spoken to for long. Somewhere back of mind I have been thinking of her but did not connect. Here she was talking to me on the phone, taking the opportunity to wish Happy Birthday!

These phone calls truly made my birthday. Felt blessed to have such relationships in a world which is far more connected, yet disconnected. I was cherishing this Birthday gift for next couple of days, sharing the joy with some friends. My phone buzzed again on an early Saturday morning. “Are you still sleeping?   We are meeting today evening, all three of us,” it was the same friend calling to confirm our plan.

In a typical Mumbai style, after some changes, we finally landed at a mall in the evening. Window shopping, chatter, old memories, food & coupled with drive in friend’s new car. An evening spent together with friends I had not met for 10 years…thanks to one phone call.

Breaking the psychological barrier of fitness

Turning point was the shift in attitude to start enjoying the process

As a child I was thin. Weight gain started towards my teens. What followed was a constant habbit of answering questions related to my weight, listening to tips on right exercise, ‘friendly’ guidance and special attention to me because I was overweight etc. Over the years I tried different forms of exercise – walking, yoga, joining gym, alternate forms of exercise, avoiding outside food. Some close family and friends tried their best to motivate me to exercise seriously, suggesting to join, help, train, whatever. The motivation was not enough for me to take that plunge one more time. Perhaps, because my previous efforts had not shown any results.

But the wheels were changing within. My friend Suvarna and brother Abhishek adopted a healthy lifestyle for different reasons. Their dialogue and persistence continued in different ways. Meanwhile I was introduced to Shibani Gharat the runner. I always knew her as a journalist. Following her Instagram feed was subconsciously impacting my attitude towards exercise. Some other things were making me think of health goals. At this time another friend Yash and his wife Amruta convinced me to join their new venture Slimpossible. This was the true test of my intention to take that big leap.

Joining this wellness programme was test of my determination to make my health my priority. My family wondered why travel to Thane on Sundays when there are so many options available in Dadar. That one month actually helped to break that psychological barrier and bring joyfulness in this exercise. The four weeks of understanding how to strengthen our fitness goal and control our mind was the next step towards staying healthy, not just weight loss. In doing so I was also improving my culinary skills as we were introduced to simple healthy recipes. That month was a big shift from looking at weight loss as an obligation to enjoying it.

I began eating healthy, restarted my walks, woke up early for 20 mins of exercise, and manage other duties and responsibilities to accommodate exercise. For the first time I was complimented for weight loss, glowing skin, looking toned, etc. The days were more energetic and further strengthened my health goals. This week I complete a month of exercising at a new fitness center. What’s more gratifying that I haven’t missed the session once because of lack of motivation. This journey will become more beautiful with consistency. All set to conquer that too!

Inspire me with your stories of breaking psychological barriers !