Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When 'The Best' is Not Good Enough!

The other day I decided that it was time to get some portraits done of my toddler son and set about the task in earnest. After asking around, I managed to pinpoint 'the best' photographer in town for kids’ portraits and decided to fix an appointment at the earliest.

This was sooner said than done! The man’s office assistant repeatedly stressed that ‘sir’ had a busy schedule and hence we would have to be content with just a short session. Though I had a full-blown photo shoot in mind, with a few family portraits thrown in, I decided to agree to their conditions so I could first get a look at his work and then go for a second session.

She first suggested a time when my son usually takes a nap, and I told her as much. The next available slot was for 12.30 pm on a Saturday. I thought that to be a very awkward time, especially for children’s photography—usually the photographers prefer to shoot at a time when the child is likely to be in a good frame of mind.

Against my better judgment, I decided to go ahead and fixed the appointment. The chosen day dawned bright and sunny. On Saturday mornings, our household hardly stirs before nine in the morning. However, on this particular Saturday, we were up early and rushed to complete all our chores quickly.

Around 10 am, the photographer’s assistant phoned to confirm that we would indeed be at the studio on time. I assured her that we would. She also added that ideally my son should wear a sleeveless outfit and if there were to be any costume changes, they would be chosen by ‘sir’.

I estimated that it would take about an hour for the photo session. So, by noon, I had lunch ready on the table so there would be no waiting once we returned home hungry. I dressed my son as suggested and tried to get him to have a snack, which he predictably refused.

Sharp at 12.30 pm, we were at the studio where the assistant asked us to wait in the lobby. We waited, and we waited, and waited. Every time we asked, she would say that ‘sir’ would be here in a few minutes. Half an hour passed, and still there was no sign of ‘sir’. By then my toddler had taken to scampering around and wiping the floor clean with his nice clothes.

I began to wonder how much longer I could keep a check on the kid when the power went off. I sat in the stuffy room expecting the generator to be switched on any minute—nothing happened! Then I thought maybe they were conserving the backup power and would turn it on only when the shoot began.

By then, we had been waiting for almost 40 minutes. Then, the photographer sauntered in and I breathed a sigh of relief—happy that we could finally start. But no, that was not to be! Turns out that the studio relied on the generosity of MESCOM to ensure that they had power supply during photo shoots!

That was about all I could endure on a hot, sultry, afternoon! We decided to call it a day and told the photographer and his assistant that we would reschedule at a convenient time during the upcoming week and went home.

Imagine my shock when, on the following Monday, the man’s assistant calls me at 5 pm and says, “Ma’am, this is to confirm that you will be here at 5.30 pm for the rescheduled photo session!”

I ask her why I was not informed about this in advance and she casually says that we had fixed this time slot during our visit on Saturday. I firmly told her that we had done no such thing and it was not possible for us to be at the studio at such short notice.

I was fuming as I disconnected the call and wondered if the woman had any idea how much time it took to get a toddler ready without upsetting his good mood!!

That was when I realized that if I wanted to get some professionally done photographs of my son, I might have to settle for less than the best. And after my experience with 'the best’ in town, it did not seem such a bad thing after all!!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

In The Summer Time...

Today, the photos shared by a dear friend of her family trip to Mysore brought all the memories of childhood summers spent in that city of kings and palaces flooding back! Seeing my friend’s children at the Mysore zoo took me back to a time when my cousins, brother, and I posed for similar pictures each year.

Every summer, the moment school closed for the holidays, we would all converge upon our grandparents’ house in Mysore, with or without our parents for company. My grandparents’ quiet abode would turn into a bee hive of energy and activity for the next few weeks. The ruckus that would spill out onto the streets was enough to put to shame even the boisterous spectators at a cricket match!

A ‘tonga’ ride through the city streets, a trip to the zoo, a visit to Chamundi Hills with its famous temple dedicated to the Goddess Chamundeshwari, a glimpse of the musical fountains at Brindavan Gardens, and at least one evening spent taking in the breathtaking splendour of the Mysore Palace with its twinkling lights, all topped our list of activities to indulge in during the languorous summer.

Our favored mode of transport during the entire summer would be the tonga and not just any tonga, but the one with Gafoor and his horse Moti !

The Yezdi Children’s Park with its miniature buildings and children’s traffic park as well as the Railway Museum with its toy train were some of our other usual haunts.

When we were not traipsing around town pretending to be tourists, we spent the day playing card games, board games, and all kinds of outdoor games. A couple of summers we even built a ‘tree house’ of sorts and spent the days pretending to be jungle-dwellers!!

And, of course, on Mondays, without fail we would all be present for the evening ‘puja’ at the temple next door.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me set the record right. It was not any divine calling that took us there; rather it was the delicious ‘prasadam’—a type of salad with ‘moong dal’ and cucumber with a garnish of mustard seeds, curry leaves, and a dash of tangy lemon—the very thought of which still makes my mouth water!!

If only I could relive those splendid summers all over again!

(Thanks Reks, for inspiring this post!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

My view that the cell phone is proving to be more of a bane than a boon was reinforced over and over again this summer. Having had to undertake quite a few train journeys over the past month or so, I had ample time to realize how inconsiderate and insensitive quite a few fellow travelers can be!

Imagine this – You board an afternoon train, after lunch, with a toddler in tow, hoping for a short nap before it is time to alight at your destination. No sooner are you settled into your seats than the kid starts nodding off and you put him down for a nap.

A short time in the cool, air conditioned comfort of the coach on a hot, sultry afternoon, combined with the gentle swaying of the train is enough to leave you drowsy and longing for a little shut-eye as well.

You blissfully close your eyes and drift off to sleep only to be rudely awakened moments later by a shrilling cell phone, which is answered by an equally loud-voiced individual from the seat across the aisle.

As if the irritating ring tone, which sounds even louder in an otherwise quiet coach, were not enough, the one-sided conversation which follows is enough to make you want to get up and stomp the cell phone to teeny-weeny bits and pieces.

Sample this: “Yes, I am on my way….caught the train by the skin of my teeth”…. *sinister laugh* “Yea, I am in the AC compartment….its pretty cool in here.”

Duh! Isn’t that the whole point behind traveling in an air-conditioned coach in summer??

Mind you, this is all being said in the loudest of voices without the slightest consideration that there is a child sleeping nearby, and who is stirring restlessly because his nap is being disturbed by an uncouth lout!

The civilized thing to do in such a situation would have been to step out for a while and finish the conversation, instead of disturbing all and sundry around.

But no, that would mean that the people inside the coach would not have been privy to your boastful conversation or the fact that you had one of those fancy phones with the capacity of emitting the weirdest ring tones!

I breathe a sigh of relief that the conversation is finally over and I can perhaps return to my beauty sleep once again, when lo behold! the blasted instrument begins ringing again! Yet another equally senseless monologue follows with no decrease in the volume.

By now I have given up any hope of being able to get back to my nap and instead decide to derive some perverse pleasure from eavesdropping over all the other such conversations that ensue

During one of the brief pauses that follow, I hear another strange sound which I realize is the ring tone of yet another phone elsewhere in the coach!!

To my utmost horror, yet another conversation begins in the loudest of voices drowning out the voice of my neigbourhood nuisance!!

When the train reaches my destination I am sure no one is happier to jump off, not just because I have finally arrived but more because I no longer have to put up with people bent on turning my journey into some kind of torture on my auditory nerves!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Radio Idli: Binding Together a Community

Dabbling in photography, a flair for the internet, and a desire to bind together a community with the help of technology, are some things that Nagesh Pai and Krishnanand ‘Sankalp’ Nayak, the founders of Radio Idli, have in common.

Radio Idli began as an audio blog and today, the site has numerous contributors from Mumbai, Bangalore, Mangalore, Goa, US, UK, and the Middle East. Volunteers from around the world are more than happy to use Radio Idli as a platform to share their talents and experiences.

Popular festivals, local events, noteworthy achievements by community members, are all regularly featured on the website.

The site is primarily run by Krishnanand and Nagesh. The former has his strengths in managing back-end technology while the latter’s forte is content editing and administration of the site. The designs are a collaborative effort.

Nagesh works with SBI Mutual Fund in its head office in Mumbai and manages internet marketing communication.

His chief hobby and profession pertain to social media and blogging. Apart from this, he is a student of classical music and ‘bhajans’, besides being an amateur flutist and violinist. His interests in videography and digital photography have helped him in the Radio Idli project.

Sankalp works with Accenture and is a discerning software testing professional currently posted in the US. He is also a semi-professional photographer with his photography site at Sankalpsphotography.com. His penchant for the internet and back-end technology powers the Radio Idli project.

Here are some excerpts of an interview with Nagesh and Krishnanand:

How did you zero in on the name ‘Radio Idli’?

The name Radio Idli actually zeroed in on us. It came to us naturally because of its origins.

The ‘Idli’ comes from Idli House Council, an informal group of young Saraswat youths that met frequently at a Saraswat restaurant—Idli House. The site started off with talented contributions from this group and then spread around the world.

The site started as an audio blog and to make it more appealing to people across age groups, we called it ‘radio’ and hence the name ‘Radio Idli’.

What inspired you to come up with the concept of Radio Idli?

Vivek Pai , one of the members of the Idli House Council, expressed the desire to start a music band of our own.

Getting together and jamming regularly is tough amidst the busy schedule of Mumbai. Incidentally, I (Nagesh) had experimented streaming audio clips through free services on the internet, with hosting on Google’s free Blogger service. The same concept was used to create a stage wherein each of us could record his song and post it online.

One fine day, a surprise meeting was called and the site was inaugurated as RadioIdli.blogspot.com at Nagesh’s residence, with the first recording by Archana Kamath.

In due course, Krishnanand came in and voluntarily provided Radio Idli with its own hosting and domain and today we have www.radioidli.net.

How do you juggle a hectic work life alongside a demanding passion/hobby?

The site is updated mainly over weekends and free time in the evening. The open source Wordpress online publishing platform used for our website helps us update the site with minimum time and effort.

The cause of our Saraswat community, and the joy that we see in people’s feedback fuels our passion and efforts. So far we have been able to manage the site alongside our full time jobs and with God's grace it has worked well.

What is the estimated size of Radio Idli’s audience?

In comparison to many general portals, our traffic is very small since we reach out to a very niche community of Saraswats.

Our unique visitors per month are in the range of 1000-2000, with a good amount of time spent and with numerous page views per visit. The popularity of our site also shows through our fan page on Facebook which has a steadily growing fan following.

How do you decide on the content which goes online?

There are few simple rules for this. Participation is open to Saraswat members only. The content has to be original and owned by the contributor. In case of concerts, permission is sought from the performer to put the content on the website. A basic check of recording quality is also done. The idea is to get as many people to record their talent from their own comfortable homes and share with all through Radio Idli.

How is Radio Idli funded?

The cost of running the website is funded mainly by the two of us. There have been occasional generous donations too. The site runs Google ads, but is yet to get its first cheque. We also had an event hosting a young upcoming artist's concert in Mumbai. Donations towards running the concert were raised overnight through generous viewers.

Anything else you have to say ?

Radio Idli invites each and every Saraswat to showcase his / her talent through the website.

We would like to use your medium to convey and invite all Saraswat brethren to share their talents or community content from wherever they are in the world.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Playing the Race Card

The watchword for the New Year seems to be ‘racism’! The latest race row involves James Cameron’s blockbuster ‘Avatar’, which is accused of promoting the ‘supremacy of the white-skinned people over the natives’.

Strangely enough, racism was the furthest from my mind when I watched the movie and it was the spectacular special effects and the stunning sets that stayed with me long after I left the theater.

Before this controversy hit the news, the other major headline was the ‘racism’ going on Down Under. Every television news channel worth its name was out to get the ‘racist Aussies’ who were targeting us innocent Indians just because we had the audacity to pursue higher education in their country; or so the media would have us believe!

The media circus was so great that the Australian authorities were forced to caution the Indian media to adopt restraint in the matter. It only added more fuel to the fire.

Interestingly, no one seemed interested in investigating thoroughly and finding out if there was more to the story. For instance, everyone seemed to conveniently gloss over the fact that almost all the Indians targeted were students. No one even stopped to think why only Indian students were being attacked and that too just in one part of Australia.

There are thousands of Indian immigrants in the Australian workforce—doctors, engineers, and other professionals. Many of them have lived there for years.

If the attacks were purely racist then these people would not have remained completely unaffected and for sure, the attacks would have spread like wildfire. Remember how it was in the US soon after 9/11.

Yet none of the news channels covering the story thought of scratching the surface to see what lay beneath! A former diplomat, appearing on one of the news debates, put forth the theory that it was more likely to be the result of some visa scam gone kaput or a faulty immigration and work permit policy that was at the root of the issue.

He pointed out that the victims had similar profiles—they largely hailed from a particular region of India, hailed from poor families, they were pursuing vocational courses rather than studying at universities, and worked part time during odd hours at restaurants or local gas stations.
He suggested that the attacks were a backlash as many of these students were willing to take up low-paying work in exchange for being paid in cash. Obviously this would not sit well with the locals who would lose jobs since employers willing to bend the law would prefer cheap labour over them.

It made perfect sense to me, yet the anchor, with a show of righteous indignation, preferred to swiftly wave away any such possibility and continued to harp on the theme of racism. The sole voice of reason went unheard in the cacophony.

Given that witnesses have claimed that the attackers were accusing the victims of ‘stealing jobs’ and ‘working cheap’, shouldn’t this theory be given more credibility? It is a fact that many Indian students see the Australian government’s immigration policy which lets them work part time as a boon to be cashed in on; especially those who have migrated with the intention of helping out their families back home.

There may even be more than a few visa agencies which are exploiting this loophole to lure people with hopes of a permanent residency in Australia, and lining their pockets in the process.

Maybe a couple of incidents were simply racist. But then who can blame the Aussies when we Indians are no less when it comes to racism. In fact, we are a couple of steps ahead in this matter—we are racists even on a regional level!

The North Indians call the South Indians ‘Madrasis’ and Bollywood makes them the butt of jokes, blissfully ignorant that the southern region of the country comprises more than one city and state! And how can we forget that we are a nation obsessed with fair skin. The dark-skinned are discriminated against more often than you think. The list can go on and on!

With so many biases, we should be the last to jump the gun on such matters. Investigating all possibilities and getting to the root of the problem is the only way such issues can be resolved. Mere speculation and shifting the blame is definitely not the answer!
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