Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The empty spaces

In the last three or four odd months when I sat at home dwindling my thumbs after quitting a great job (great because of the people, the team, and the culture) on a mere whim (just because one fine day I thought I had to), I’ve become quite familiar with the empty space. I started with liking it in the first few days because it gave me time to just be, then slowly disliking it (because of the boredom that crept in), then outright resenting it (because it drained me of all the energy and motivation I thought I had had to create things), then opposing it (by looking for another job!) and then slowly, ever so slowly accepting it and finally just surrendering to it.

This cycle took me almost two months to pass and by the time November rolled in, I was ready to do nothing. I mean literally nothing in life. All the lofty ideas and thoughts I had just a few months back, of making a difference by joining a nonprofit, of becoming an entrepreneur, of freelancing full time, just vanished into thin air. However much I tried to force myself to think, to think back to those highly motivated times, I came back to the empty space. I just didn’t have the enthusiasm anymore….for anything. One could call it depression but I beg to differ. I am not capable of being depressed. I was not unhappy at all the last two months. Quite the opposite. I was in this sublime state of existence that is neither sadness nor joy. I let each day pass and did all the things routine life demanded of me. I ignored the computer and the Internet. I ignored the phone when friends and family rang at times. I sat staring into nothing for minutes together and sometimes hours. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to craft, I didn’t want to read. I ignored it all. I just ceased to care.

Then I got into thinking.

Just because I went into non-existence in the constant chatter that is this universe, it doesn’t mean life won’t go on, right? I mean other than the few mails, tweets, and messages here and there, people went on with their lives and so did I. Least importance be to the brand of me that I had built up. Let it crumble. I don’t have an ego to care.

And I wondered. Why all the busyness then? Why all the pretext of a purpose then? Is purpose all that important as I used to think? Why the stress, why the hurry, why the rush, and why the timetable? Why oh why the to-do lists? If you drop them all one day, perhaps the effect will haunt you for a week but post that? The universe is going to realign and put something else, somebody else in your place to continue the game. So why play the game?

Why can’t I just let the empty space consume me?

For the sake of the lofty thoughts, dreams, and wishes I had once cultivated, maybe I will be born again. But this lifetime? No, this is just for being me. No self-expectation, no goals, no wanting to go places. And the best thing of all? I didn’t feel bad at all thinking all this. When I examined my armor, there was not a single dent or scratch that is my self-esteem. I was as confident as ever. As confident as ever of being me. I didn’t need to be ‘some one’ to feel good about myself.

On an aside, for each of us who are doing something – whether you are employed with a great company, whether you are working for something or somebody’s welfare, or whether you are just proud being self-employed to satisfy whatever motivates you – take that role away for a minute. Take away the title, take away the role, take away that identity. Meet a stranger in your head and see how you will introduce yourself. Remember you are no more that employee, employer or do-gooder. You are…..just you with no prefix or suffix or taglines. Describe then what you do to that stranger. See how you feel.

Now coming back where we left off before the aside…

I’m not saying I became enlightened. I am saying I decided that enlightenment is not as great as I thought it to be. And I realized the one thing, the one single reason that I think I am here in this life. It is to discover myself. It is to be in this empty space, devoid of definitions and still being happy enough not to affect other’s happiness around you. It is being in a state of nothingness yet carrying on as usual as if there’s nothing going on inside you (which is true!) so that the others around you are free to slip in and out of their own empty space without having to worry about you.

Perhaps I sound confused. Perhaps I am self-contradicting. Perhaps it’s all a temporary phase of madness (considering that I got back to that ‘busy life’ that gives you the purpose of catching a cab every morning lest you miss it and all the troubles that follows assails you).


But the one thing I do want to leave you with – “Take the time to step back from life once in a while, the empty space can do you a great deal of good.” :)

And of course this post by Ollin which inspired me to write about the empty space I befriended in my own life.

"Surrender” by Ollin, Courage to create

You know what empty space I’m talking about, right? The empty space that comes between the end of one phase, and the beginning of another? That empty space...

If we are not busy talking to someone, we’re texting. If we’re not texting, we’re twittering. If we’re not twittering, we’re facebooking. If we’re not facebooking we’re watching TV, or listening to music, or surfing the web, or watching YouTube, or working, or exercising, or reading and if we’re not doing any of those, we try to frantically search for the next thing to do that will fill in the empty space in between one thing and the next.

We are desperate to fill in every silence, every piece of stillness, with something–something we deem more desirable, more worthy than that stillness. Something we think is more important and urgent than that damning quiet underneath everything–that damning quiet that always exists. That quiet that starts to drives us crazy when we first notice it, in those brief moments when we accidentally drop our guard, and all the clamor we worked so hard to create dies down
. ....”
Just be!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh, those giant stars!

When your daughter hums jingle bells everyday for over a week, you know Christmas and the holiday cheer is here. Her school is celebrating Christmas today and she is totally excited about the Jingle (The tree as she calls it!) and the small gift boxes they have placed underneath it. Seeing her so worked up over this festival that invariably seems to bring a smile to everyone’s face (either because they believe in it or they are just plain happy with the holidays), I can’t help but feel all happy myself. Thinking about it in the fuzzy state between sleep and wakefulness this morning, I suddenly remembered a time when I used to be equally if not more excited over Christmas.

It must be almost two decades back. I was this quiet kid who always observed the things outside and then lived them inside her head. And my sanctuary was the beautiful, if a little unkempt, garden full of Gooseberry, Lemon and Badam trees behind my house. It used to be my very own ‘secret garden’ though I didn’t read that until much later. I also loved visiting my granny’s place that was really far away (meaning you have to take a bus!) because she used to always listen to all our demands. We all liked her a lot because she never hesitated to sacrifice half of her one litre milk to make sweets for us kids. And of course, I associate the holiday season with this subconscious memory of happy times because that’s when we used to visit her more often.

Amongst all these nice memories are ones of Asha aunty. She was my granny’s exotic Anglo Indian neighbor who wore gowns and made cakes at home. And she used to put up these giant Stars outside her door and light them up every evening. Oh, did they look utterly pretty to my eyes or what? When I became a little older, I decided to drudge my courage and ask my mom for my very own giant star to hang outside our house when I learnt “that’s for Christmas” (and unsaid in that “which is not for us”). I was greatly disappointed. How can anyone not celebrate this beautiful festival where you get to hang stars in your house? And those yummy cakes that Asha aunty used to spare us kids sometimes….how can my mom not know how to make them? I was crestfallen!

So when I became a wee bit older and the next Christmas season came along (when people started hanging stars), I knew what I had to do. Just because my parents don’t celebrate the star festival doesn’t mean I can’t. And just because they can’t buy me those stars, it’s no reason to not make one (or many) of my own, right?

So off I went to my garden one day with my homework notebook to make quick use of its till then useless papers. I cut out over 10 small stars and hung them on the low branches of the Badam tree with my thatha’s binding thread. I then ran back to my mom and begged her to buy me some cake from the nearby bakery. After a few hours, armed with a delicious smelling plum cake and accompanied by a small hoard of friends I had invited to ‘celebrate’ with me, I went to the garden looking for my mini giant stars. Ha! there they were ….so pretty even if I say so myself. I puzzled over the fact that I won’t be able to light them up but quickly forgot the worry when one of the other kids nudged and pointed towards the cake.

So what next? I had the cake and I had the stars. But how does one celebrate Christmas? Growing up in an orthodox Hindu family, the only common way I knew to ‘celebrate’ festivals is to make sweets (in this case buy), and then by way of a pooja offer it to the gods after which the prasad (the offerings) is distributed to all the family gathered around. So I took my cake, cut it into little bitable pieces, took some water in a tumbler and after closing my eyes for a few moments to mutter some ‘mantras’, I ‘offered’ it to my stars! (Water is usually sprinkled over the Prasad before offering to God to ‘cleanse’ them symbolically in Hindu households) And within a few moments of that, the cake vanished into the hungry mouths of all the kids sitting under the watchful eyes of the stars. My Christmas wish was complete. I didn’t need a santa!

Thinking back now, I marvel at the industriousness of that quiet kid who made her own Christmas stars and shared her plum cake. Grow up to today! If there’s no one around, there won’t be a crumble of the plum cake left for anyone! The giant lighted stars don’t look so great anymore too but am happy I thought of them so once.

Ha! This is indeed a special time of the year, isn’t it?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wisdom on the bench!

It’s been a month. What was once crystal clear has now become as hazy as puddles disturbed by running feet. I look back and wonder about the confidence that has since vanished. I sit at parks, alone on benches that have no backs, and worry about my aching spine. I swat at mosquitoes that are as big as the bees that I tend to religiously every morning over at my farm. I look at the kids playing around me and as clichéd as it may sound envy their simple joys. What has happened? Why on this sweet earth did I decide to return to a state of chaos?

The other day… Replace the mighty mosquitoes with the noise of traffic, playing children with shopping adults. In the middle of a busy complex, I sit on a bench again, this time with no worries about the back. I am trying to pass sometime, waiting for someone that is taking their time. I worry how I might look to passersby. I worry about my worry and wonder when my worries have become as simple as they are now. Everyone seems to be with someone – arguing couples, languishing thathas on their evening walks, or moms & daughters out to buy something. How did I end up here? Alone on a bench in the middle of the week worrying about silly things? I desperately reach for my cell phone and call a friend from another town. Unfortunately, or fortunately for her, she is not sitting on a bench. Unable to just sit and keep worrying about appearances, I abandon my prime slot to a lady with kids who’s been trying to inch her way to get more space. As I move away, I hear her sigh of relief as she finally gets to spread her wares, and kids, all over the bench.

Fast forward to present day. The mosquitoes are not letting me sit in peace. I try to distract myself by thinking of days past. I recollect sweet memories of sitting on benches that are very similar to these ones a couple of years back. I wasn’t alone then. And I was always holding hands with the father of my progeny! The most pestering thing in my mind those days was how to ensure I eat home cooked food every day. But I am not sure if he had the same thing on his mind! Ha, romance has a way of making your life look rosy and all you worry about are stealing some time together and the next restaurant you must frequent. I wonder about the romance now and all I can think of are new M&Bs that I must buy to pass lazy hot afternoons on foam beds that radiate heat like it’s their birthright. I think back a little more and remember days spent sitting on benches at the beach with my best friend. What on earth did we talk that made sitting on those hard benches for hours and hours together worthwhile? I can’t quiet recall but I do remember we had the best times of our youth on those benches by the sea.

Before I know it, I am all nostalgic. I take out my notebook and pen from the handbag that I carry at all times. I start to write. I wouldn’t have gotten past more than a few sentences before I sense a lady wandering close by. From the corner of my eyes, I see her missile like gaze zeroing in on the empty space next to me. Before I know it, she is sitting on the other corner and chewing her way to glory on salted sweet corn. I look up, trying to appear startled, when a dozen or so kids appear out of nowhere with their mouths wide open. She coos to them and feed them the corn. My mouth waters and I force myself to look away. I was never the one to like corn too much anyway.

I wonder idly why I don’t look intimidating to her. I would have liked to have the entire bench to myself this evening. In fact, that’s exactly one of the reasons I had armed myself with a notebook and pen – to ward off well-meaning lonely strangers out for a conversation. I don’t talk to strangers very well. Why, I don’t even talk to myself these days very well! I think back of all the benches that I had ever sat on and try to remember if I have ever had to worry about warding off company. No, I was always with someone, male or female and that used to be intimidating enough to scare off the best of voyeurs. Whereas now that am alone, funnily enough, I am always surrounded by so much company on these benches. Let me have you know that contemplating wisdom on a bench is very very hard if you don’t have that entire bench to yourself. Especially, if you are always distracted by loud conversations, wafting aromas, and big mosquitoes.

Oh well, wisdom is hard to come by in a state of chaos, yes?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Saturday morning totally well-spent - Startup Saturday Bangalore on “Social Entrepreneurship”

Originally posted at the HeadStart! Network blog.

Many of us entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs have frequently thought about how we can make a difference to the society we live in while at the same time improving our lifestyle through a profitable business. While admittedly all businesses are social in the sense that they create opportunities for employment, improves stakeholder livelihoods, and engages with the community, Social Entrepreneurs are different because their primary motive is social change coupled with income generation. But is that possible? Can we create a positive social impact and drive change while still pursuing the entrepreneurial dream? But how?

To answer these questions and more, and to move us all one step closer to our socio-entrepreneurial dreams, we had based this month’s Startup Saturday in Bangalore on the theme “Social Entrepreneurship”. The session started with our first speaker of the day, Mr. Vikram Rai, Co-Founder & CEO of Sattva Media and Consulting ( elaborating on the What, Why and How of Social Entrepreneurship.

Till a few years back, social development was predominantly perceived as the focus area of the Government, Civil Society Organizations and NGOs. Today it is no more so. Everyone can contribute to the community’s development may it be individuals, associations, companies, non-profits, NGOs or the Government. This has created an enormous amount of interest and a new breed of entrepreneurs has evolved who are keenly interested in creating a social impact.

While both entrepreneurs and Social entrepreneurs are primarily bothered with solving problems to generate the company’s revenue, the latter’s problems are larger and his/her solutions to them are more benefiting the society. They are as equally worried about revenue channels as they are about measuring social impact. They use new ways and models to solve social problems, or new ways and models to do business which also has significant social impact.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An endless quest for company?

Go to the woods alone and let the trees and squirrels watch for you :)

Watch video here.

HOW TO BE ALONE by Tanya Davis

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you've not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren't okay with it, then just wait. You'll find it's fine to be alone once you're embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You're not supposed to talk much anyway so it's safe there.

There's also the gym. If you're shy you could hang out with yourself in mirrors, you could put headphones in (guitar stroke).

And there's public transportation, because we all gotta go places.

And there's prayer and meditation. No one will think less if you're hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Today is a magical day!

Today is a magical day and I am getting to play the part of a monster! How cool is that?

My left eye has shrunk (I kept rubbing it), the left cheek has swollen (thanks to tooth extraction), the chin is bruised (internal bleeding from the extracted spot), the hair is unkempt (I forgot the comb), my right leg is shorter than the left (part of the heel from my sandals broke), my gait is slow and painful (the broken heel sticks to the ground), and I look like a joker on top of it (my horse-riding pants and short tops).

What a blessed day indeed!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bring on the superlatives. Mediocrity is boring, they say!

One of the things that have always perplexed me about myself is my lack of "high fi ambitions", "long term planning" and a LACK of discontentment with the way I see my life moving. From as long as I remember, I've always been content with the way things are and doing things that come my way rather than seeking out the extra-ordinary. Perhaps there are one or two exceptions. But even the other stuff that has happened that look seemingly different have all sought me out rather than the other way round. I'm happy to float along and get swept into the sandstorm to settle down on the surface once everything quietens down. And if the wind leads to mediocrity (meaning common, insignificant, “no great shakes”), why not?

Sometimes I do try to shake it off and try to fly by myself influenced by the insuppressible mad chatter of the inhabitants of this universe. But that doesn’t last long. There is this wisdom that doesn’t quiet belong to this mind and body which tells me that everything is a sham. You know, Maya? What’s the point of striving to do something and be something when at the end of the day all that matters is nothing? That’s right! Nothing matters. There is no memory and there is no account. But that doesn’t fit in with the Karma thing. Maybe that’s a sham too conjured up by human minds that are desperate for judgment.

Oh well!

PS: Ironically I appear and come across as a very ambitious and aggressive person to some! I guess its all in the perspective! Another Maya that!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Where do babies come from? From Eggs of course!

Now the kid is almost three, she has started asking us questions. Questions that aren’t always easy to answer. For instance take the one from this morning. The three of us were lazing around on bed, in that beautiful state between 'just waking up' and 'fully awake'. For once, the husband wasn't nagging me about the time and issuing dire warnings and predictions of me missing the office cab. The said fellow was instead busy rubbing his stubble laden cheeks wondering whether to shave or not. This must have piqued my daughter's curiosity. Out she popped a question.
Appa, why do girls not have moustaches and beards like guys? Like you?
The guy took his time to answer. I was happy to just observe thanking the sun that she didn't direct that particular question to me.
Hmm, that's because girls' moustaches and beards go in to their head and come out from the head as long hair. See, appa doesn't have long hair whereas amma has long hair, right? And amma doesn't have moustache!
Ah, good answer I thought (me not having a moustache I mean ;) ). Before I could finish that thought, she went again.
But I don’t have long hair! And I don’t have moustache too!
Identity crisis? I can’t believe my almost-three daughter is on the verge of an identity crisis. How is he going to handle that one?
Oh, you have to grow up tall to get moustache and long hair. You drink your milk then you shall get your long hair.
She seemed satisfied with that explanation and got distracted by something else. Thank god I have a husband who thinks quickly on his feet.

The other day it was my turn to be at the receiving end of a question. Fortunately, it turned out easy thanks to lessons in ABC.
Amma, where do babies come from?
While I was desperately trying to whack my brain to come up with a suitable, non-biological answer, the kid really really made me proud by coming up with an answer herself.
From E for eggs, right?
Of course! Babies do come from eggs, don’t they? I happily smiled my agreement and escaped from the spot before she came up with other additions to it.

I do love this stage though – I’ve been waiting for her questions and I just decided that I am going to document all of them here at the blog if possible :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Finally.....I did it!

After writing posts like this, this, and this, and hoping things like this and this will help me to stop talking and start acting, I've finally found the impetus to do the inevitable - I've resigned to become a freelancer! I wouldn't exactly call this decision the one. Who knows I might chicken out and join the corporate bandwagon again after a few months of trying to be on my own but at least I will die knowing I did it. Knowing I tried hard, very hard I hope, to make a living independent of corporate restrictions and sorry bosses. Monthly salaries and false securities. Misplaced loyalties and misunderstood sentiments. Matching skills and mismatched ambitions. Stolen coffee breaks and hushed conversations. Oh, that last one really gets my goat - hushed conversations. For a loud mouth like me, restrictions on how loud I can talk and how loud I can't really really turns me off.

So ya, I am going to be a freelancer post July. I shall be undertaking assignments in Writing and Marketing communications. I might do a bit of Editing/Proofreading too to bring in more money. But I'm really hoping that I will improve my writing portfolio - get a few articles published in papers & magazines and get rid of the ever haunting writer's block called laziness.

I also want to get involved in creative projects where the role is hazy but satisfaction immense - perhaps content work for a film or documentary. I can imagine that will be nice.

I am thinking of consulting for startups too - primarily in Marketing Communications and Sales Support. You know, the whole marketing plan and execution thing mainly on online mediums? Helping them respond to RFPs and tenders and other sales support activities they might need help with. I shy away from calling it Social Media consulting as I don't want to be slotted into that particular peg for some reason.

And what else? Oh yes, how can I forget? I want to start working for a non-profit or NGO, preferably working with children, on a part-time basis. I will probably approach the Parikrma Foundation and ask them if they have something for me.

Hopefully, I will find my sweet spot and make this work for me. But it does look daunting when I think of the money. When I think of not having the 31st to look forward to every month. When I won't have to update the credit/debit in the Excel sheet that I maintain oh so religiously (only the debit part it :P ) on the 5th of every month. It is a bit scary too when I consider that my dream of creating a 'mini-forest' and 'angel circle of flowers' might not be feasible on a freelance income. I do so want to have my own garden to plant some Mangoes, Tomatoes and Jasmine. But maybe I should be content with being independent and reserve that garden for the next birth. Maybe. And then there's the company - I'm sure I am going to miss those coffee breaks and lunch chatter. :(

Meanwhile, the heart insists on being unafraid. The mind is the devil trying to bring in negative thoughts and fear but the heart's refusing to listen. The mind then gets scared - oh shucks, you must be afraid, you must! Else unspeakable things might happen, listen to me, listen to me you. But no, she is on her merry journey, no backward glance ever dear, she says.

I hope so.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stories to share

I have two stories to share. Stories that speak of hope, enthusiasm, empathy, a little greed, and of possible, suspected selfishness. The first one is because I wanted to help someone else and the second one was because of trying to help myself. I must warn you that both have a bad ending as stories go. The first one is longer because I always have more eloquence at the beginning of a post and the last one is smaller because I always get impatient when I’m nearing the end of something. Read on now.

It must have been mid-morning and as usual I am being social with my mobile on the way to an office that is an hour and half long far commute. It does get boring at times and I am usually looking for ways to entertain myself. Suddenly, I see a tweet that goes ‘I’m desperately looking for someone in Bangalore who has a PayPal account and who is willing to help me.’ On this particular day, the ‘social’ angle of the personality is spiking and I shoot a reply saying “me, me, how can I help?”. Before I know, I’ve been requested for a small sum of money – could I give it to this person in INR in exchange for the dollar equivalent which will be transferred to my PayPal? Well, yes I can but…No, I need it urgently, you know I have to pay my son’s school fee? And tomorrow morning is the cut-off – so could you please withdraw the INR and keep it ready for giving it to me? And no problem, I shall come over wherever you are to collect it. Um, okay, I guess I can….I just transferred the $115 to your PayPal, can you check and confirm? Oh yes, it’s there in my account …okay then, all set. I shall come over tomorrow.

I’m obviously not giving you all the details here but suffice it to say that the money exchanged hands the next morning. But I’m missing two important things I did do to ensure some sort of authenticity to this deal. I did check my PayPal account to verify if the said dollar has reached my account. And I did tell the person that I did not want to withdraw the dollar to my bank – can I just send it back to his PayPal account, and once he gets the money in INR, he can just transfer it to my bank here? Agreed, signed and executed.

Two days goes by. Can I please share my bank account details? The person has got the INR and would like to give it back but wait don’t give back the dollar just yet (remember this – this may very well be the saving grace at the end of this story). So I give my account details after a couple of reminders and then wait. And wait some more but no news from the other end. Then one fine morning at around 8:30 I get a SMS. I’m urgently in need of a big sum – some 15000 bucks – I’ve been hospitalized and I’m just short of this amount for a surgery that has been scheduled in a few hours. Please, can you give this to me? Hold on, hold on, something tells me. I reply back, with a little regret, ‘Sorry, I do not have that kind of ready cash on hand which I can give you in three hours’. I’m not sure if I received a reply or not. I write him another message, with a little concern this time, ‘please take care of yourself, I will withdraw the dollar after all, you get well soon.’ No reply to this one, I’m sure. He must have already been wheeled to the theater or something.

Fast forward a few more days. I realize I have 115 dollars lying in my PayPal account gathering cyber dust. I decide to withdraw it. I login and to my rude shock find that 5 dollars from the amount has been deducted as some sort of fees to PayPal. And it says that if I return back the money to the sender, this charge will be reversed. I quickly calculate what a 5 dollar is worth and decide that it’s not worth it to withdraw the money to my bank (there are more charges to withdrawing the money too – I will eventually lose some Rs.250 in the entire transaction). I send the person a Direct Message asking him to inform me when he is back in action – I would like the INR after all and would like to return back the dollar. I wait a few days – no reply. Then I check his stream – he does seem to have come back to form going by some of his personal tweets. So why isn’t he replying? I get impatient. I withdraw the money to my bank because I’m running short of some money this time and in the process I lose some money in banking transaction charges.

And till date, I haven’t got a reply from this person. All I got in return to the favor is a tweet that went ‘she is such a nice person, you must follow her today being that this is Follow Friday day’. That was when I gave him the 5k. So thank you, awfully nice of you but where is my reply?

Cut to the chase. I describe this to a few friends over lunch one day and everyone laughs at me for being so gullible. What if this guy was trying to con me? Did I know the source of this dollar amount – what if it was from illegal transactions (meaning not accounted for at India) and this person was just trying to convert it to INR in the safest means possible? Didn’t this person have relatives or friends here who could have given him 5000 bucks? Why all the dollar-INR game? And hear hear, the request for the bigger amount later turns the entire thing sinister. Didn’t I get even a little suspicious? Sharing bank account details with a complete stranger? Unheard of!

I did get suspicious. After hearing these from my friends. So that’s the moral of the story. Which I am not really sure I understand fully. So is trusting someone blindly a fault, especially if I’ve never met that person before? Or is suspecting a person a fault entirely based on trivial discussions over lunch? After all, he might very well have missed seeing my single message to him for returning the INR. Oh well, I just wrote that off as another stupid thing I have done in my life. I don’t really want to go back to him and check what happened. Just not interested. Only that Rs.250 could have been given to someone who needed it more – but that is my ‘oh ye of superior moral and generosity’ speaking.

Let’s move to the next story.

I get a message – ‘hey, you look to be very interested in all this entrepreneur things. I’m an E myself and would like to send you an email, can you share the address?”. I reply back blandly with the address. I get an impressive email asking me to help connect this person to other co-entrepreneurs who might be interested in starting a venture with him. But mind you, the language of the email never once says ‘start a venture with me’ – it just says ‘I’m looking for people with these kind of skills’. I hit the reply – “sure, will pass on the message’. “No, no, the email is meant for you too. From what I’ve observed online of your activities, I think you will make a great co-entrepreneur. I’m looking for someone who can take care of my entire marketing need for my business’.

Yours truly gets excited. The two of us meet a couple of times. The man has a way with words, I must admit but unfortunately, so do I. At the end of it all, after a particularly candid email from me saying ‘marketing is marketing and not business dev’ he walks away with an email ‘Uh, I’m actually looking for a business development guy who can help me sell and you can’t be that person if you can’t envision yourself to be a co-creator’. Ya, right sirjee, it’s your dream, your idea and you want me to help you achieve it but I should not call myself your employee but your co-entrepreneur’? You got to be kidding me?!

The moral of this one is that everyone is out to get their dreams fulfilled and they will use fancy words to get others to believe in them. But I wish they will be more honest and forthright like me. I hate dealing and wasting time with people who talk all vision and balk at the first sign of reality.

So those are the two stories. Hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed going through the experience. I did warn you that I get impatient when I’m nearing the end!

Adios till the next lot of them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

If I ever write a book

If I ever write a book, I want it to be like "The Immortals of Meluha" by Amish Tripathi. Though when I started it the words of the first few pages appeared disconnected, by the end of the book I have become an ardent fan of Shiva and Amish! The beauty of the words lie not in the words themselves but in their magic in conjuring up images in the readers' mind. In their ability to make the reader forget the words and think only of the world it writes about. Amish has brought this out oh so beautifully - so inspiring when you know that this is his first book.

It does feel like Mahadev himself gave the words to Amish to write the book and get the truth to the world. Truly feels like the words are from the ether. Just the kind of book that I want to keep reading forever and ever.... :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fear, Failure and the Face of Desire

They are huge. They are colorful. They are scary. They are the butterflies that hit my stomach when darkness begins to fall. My mouth goes dry, the mind quietens into an almost meditative contemplation of fear, and the hands and legs prepare themselves to rebel. It’s funny really – I never thought something as mundane as learning a new skill will change my entire mental makeup so much. I have gained a whole new respect for the words, fear and failure. And of course, I’m thinking hard about desires. Desire to succeed, desire to compete, desire to accomplish what seems like cake walk to others. My mind insists on conjuring up childhood experiences that I can’t quiet recall. I’m not sure if I can trust what it’s trying to give me as an excuse for that adrenalin rush, the bad sort of it.

How hard can it be? I know am smart, am quick and am pretty determined – but when am in the water, I become all that I am not! It’s terribly scary – to think a side of me exists that’s ready to accept fear and the imminent failure that will go with it if I don’t overcome the former. I stand in the water watching people swim by like pretty fishes in their colorful suits, splashing water in my face in direct mockery of my fear. Their every hand movement taunts me – see, no one is holding me and yet am able to do this… what of you?  Maybe you should attach an artificial set of hands to your own so that you can pretend am holding you, someone says. I laughingly agree on the outside and cringe inside. No, this can’t be me. Or is it?

I vaguely remember reading that the first step to overcome fear is to accept it. Then take its hands and ask it to accompany you – ask the fear to give you company, make it your friend. Talk to it and tell it to give you a free moment. Don’t ever try to deny it.

So okay, I’ve done that. I’ve accepted it, embraced it, and am taking it along every day with me to my classes. But it’s yet to give me a moment free. The mind is so silly – it fancies having been born as a cat or some other water-hating creature in the previous birth. Leftover Karma, it offers. I am not able to dismiss it as silly though. I frantically grab it as I do my instructor's hands inside the water, hoping that I will be able to learn swimming without ever having to float alone inside the water. What did I tell you? Silly it is!

Ha, I do hope I don’t embrace what might follow the fear. I don’t think I want to make friends with failure. The mind is actually clever too – it immediately retorts, why have the desire? Maybe it is just not meant to be!

Oh, I tell you…they are quiet a killer team. Fear, failure and the face of desire.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Organizing a nonprofit event – Finding and working with sponsors

Finding a sponsor is as good as selling your event. And it’s not just a Rs.500 ticket that you are selling but a Rs.500 ticket at a premium of Rs.50,000! You are selling a place at the venue (logo displays, standees, banners), time with a captive audience (to talk about their products, to distribute discount coupons, giveaway goodies/samples to experience), brand association (to be known as a cause supporter), online footprints, organizers’ time and efforts, your personal time and efforts, your commitment and support to their brand…. You get the drift? Admittedly, the most important of these to the sponsor is the time with the captive audience. To get a sponsor signed up, all you need to do is tell them how you can help them sell their products/services to your event participants! It’s as simple as that – you sell telling them how you can help them sell! Of course, it’s easier said than done. I should know – I sent out some hundred of mails three weeks before my event to potential sponsors when I discovered that we don’t have a committed sponsor for our events yet. And out of that hundred odd, just one converted to a sponsor and that was by pure luck!

Thinking back about my efforts, I don’t think I struggled enough. Perhaps if I had started a bit more early, or perhaps if I had used my network of friends and colleagues a bit more better, I might have got more sponsors. But that’s water under the bridge.

What I would like to do is share some tips from my limited experience of seeking out sponsors and from the knowledge gained through the many advices kind folks gave me over LinkedIn. In retrospect, I wish I had known these tips before starting out – because each one of them is/was applicable to me – I followed some and didn’t take up others. But hopefully, if you are new to seeking sponsorship, this will help you to work better with sponsors!

Also, I’m sure the following tips will be equally applicable to events, nonprofit organized or otherwise. But it is especially important for nonprofits because they are so much under pressure to keep their event operating cost as low as possible.

Please do add to this list or feel free to disagree with any of it. This is for the collective good for all of us who are working to put together events for causes.

Finding and Working with Sponsors
  • First things first. The minute you know you are going to hold an event and that you need sponsors to cover your operating costs, start putting the sponsorship proposal together. People are always going to ask you to send them ‘something’. 
  • Your sponsorship proposal can be a presentation, a word/pdf document, or even an email. What is more important is its content, look and feel. Brand it with your event guidelines, and verify that it provides only the correct facts about your event. If event details are not yet confirmed, make a bold note drawing attention to the same. Lastly, get it proof checked before sending it out.
  • Your sponsorship proposal must contain these details: the event details (venue, date, time – confirmed or tentative), a little history or reason about why you are holding the event, the demographics of people who are going to attend it (i.e. the captive audience at the event who the sponsor can target to sell their products/services to), the estimated cost of your event and a small budget note if available, clear benefits to the sponsor (which they can in turn use to sell within their organization), tax benefits (applicable or otherwise), and your contact details.
  • Always have multiple options to sponsor. Both cash and in kind. And for cash, though you can fix an amount for different levels of sponsorship, don’t be too stuck to it. (For example, if you have only one sponsor who paid you 30k but your platinum level is 1 lakh, it’s okay to make them your platinum sponsor – that is if you are not expecting any more sponsors to come onboard). Another strategy is to seek a number of sponsors each pledging a small amount finally adding up to what you require.
  • At the same time, be careful about accepting too many sponsors – kind or cash. You won’t be able to service all their requests at the event and you don’t want to dilute your event image. 
  • Start approaching potential sponsors as early as possible. Don’t wait for the finer details of the event to be finalized. If you know the event is going to happen, and know roughly what it’s going to be, go ahead and start sending those mailers and proposals out.
  • Explore all channels and mediums to find sponsors – online (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, Mailers, etc.), and offline (friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, somebody you met at another event, etc.)
  • Stop trying to find just the ‘right’ contact in the company. Don’t hesitate to approach anyone and everyone – from your friend’s friend who worked there a year back to your 3nd level connection on LinkedIn. You never know who they know in their company.
  • It’s okay to initiate the process with multiple companies that are in the same market space (aka competitors). But make sure you handle your communications with them very well. And be clear that it will be first come first taken. When talking to competitors simultaneously, give them a cutoff date for confirming their sponsorship – that way you can follow up with the ones that showed interest and let the ones go that didn’t even reply.
  • Always approach the previous edition’s sponsors first. Give them an opportunity to say no before approaching their competitors.
  • Give enough time for potential sponsors to respond once you send them your proposal. Do send them a reminder or two after a week but do not ‘stalk’ them.
  • Once a sponsor commits, be very attentive to their needs. Find out their expectation from the event and lay down what you can offer early – get these written and acknowledged by both of you. If you can’t service something they want, be very clear in vocalizing it. This won’t necessarily mean losing them - there will always be ways to find a middle ground.
  • Keep in regular touch with your sponsors from their time of commitment until the event. In fact, it’s a must to send them a thank you note after your event along with a small feedback form. Will work wonders for your next edition.
  • Beware of sponsors who would want to bring in their own ‘cause’ and ‘conditions’. Being attentive to sponsor’s needs does not mean bending over backwards. Never compromise your event image.
  • If things did not go to the expectation of the sponsor at the event, please apologize after the event and work together to find how you can compensate.
  • Never ever forget to ‘time-bind’ the sponsorship proposal. After all, your event will be just a day or even a week, not more. Same way, promotional benefits can be provided only during the time leading to the event and just a few days after it. Do not commit to promoting their services after the event – even if you do want to do it, do it personally, not through your event brand.
  • If a sponsor who seemed very interested suddenly drops out at the last minute, don’t lose heart. Give them a call or send them a mail to find out why. Be frank and let them know that you have depended on the money they agreed to bring in and that you have made your own commitments to pay event costs from that money. They may have a change of heart!
  • Ask other event organizers for their advice and recommendations for potential sponsors. Though it’s unlikely that you will get the very same sponsor, it doesn’t hurt to approach their sponsors.
  • If a company hesitates to part with money, talk to them about sponsoring gifts or give aways at the event. At the least, you can ask their permission to put up event posters in their cafeterias or to send a promotional email to their employee distribution list to sell tickets.  And don’t forget to include them in your event invitation list!
  • Clearly differentiate the benefits you offer to different level of sponsorship – don’t treat them all the same. After all, your platinum sponsor will want to be treated special.
  • Avoid very last minute signups. It will become a logistic bottle neck and take away precious event organizing time.
  • Don’t approach the wrong brands for sponsorship. For instance, approaching a hard liquor brand for an event where children are expected to be part of the audience is not a very good idea. Ateef, a friend who also helped with a few tips, recounts from his experience – he was successful in getting a very big amount from a company but at the end had to turn it away because his event board didn’t want such a brand’s poster on their event campus. And guess what that brand was? Underwear!
  • Once sponsors are signed up, find out their branding guidelines and make sure you follow them when you use their logos and other artifacts on your event sites, banners and in other places.
  • Lastly but most importantly, remember that though sponsorship deals are made between your event and the brand, the relationship between the people at both ends determines which direction the sponsorship proposal will swing. 
Your thoughts?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The words...

It's been so long since I wrote something. That something which floats to me and teases me to put it into words. That something that compels me to give it a shape though there's no clay around. That something that keeps me away from the love of my life. It's there...I can sense it. But the mind is not quiet. Too much was going on and then now there's nothing. The constant need for the worry, discontentment, and seeking is distracting me. And then there's life.

But I want to write. Especially when I read other's words and feel the beauty in them. The words...I need to write.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Twestival India - It's tomorrow!

Make a difference to 72 million children worldwide

On March 25, 2010, in more than 175 cities around the world, thousands of people will demonstrate social media's power for social good through the second annual Twestival. The global event is a worldwide fundraising initiative that uses social media to focus participants' talent and resources to benefit one cause for one day.

This year, Twestival Global is supporting Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organization, with operations in India too, in aid of Education for the underprivileged children of this world.

Twestival will happen on the 25th of March across seven cities in India including Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Goa, Kolkata and Mumbai. These cities will host particular events where over 500 people are expected to participate and rally for education for underprivileged children.

Join them and take part in this global movement to connect people online and offline for a cause.

There are multiple ways to help support this event.
-  Attend the event
-  Donate directly to the charity through one of the India City blogs
-  Sponsor gifts and prizes for the event participants
-  Buy a T-shirt from 100% of the profits benefit Concern Worldwide
-  Simply spread the word! Blog, tweet and write about us

Bangalore: It's the right time to say Thank God it's a Thursday! Twestival Bangalore gives you the right reason to have an hangover on a Friday morning - Charity! A special night with music, dance and drinks. Rock show by the Galeej Gurus and Repsychled. Nakul Shenoy's Beyond Magic. DJ Eldin at the dance floor. And more. If you in Bangalore, Twestival Bangalore is a must attend to meet your friends as well as to contribute to a social cause. From 7 pm at Opus, Palace Road.

Chennai: A meet and brainstorming session on how to use Social Media for Social Good anchored by Kiruba Shankar. From6 pm at Amethyst, Gopalapuram.

Cochin: ELECTROWESTIVAL, exclusively for Kerala Twestival, by Cochin’s Electro Boy DJ Arvee; Stand Up Comedy by Siddharth, KochiVibe; Techno-Humour Geek Extravaganza by Binny the blogger. From 5 pm at Somewhere Else Café.

Delhi: An entertaining evening with Stand Up Comedy acts, and Rock Music Performance by Five8. From 6 pm at Café Morrison.

Goa: Goa is ready to show the world that it has more than the sun, surf and sand with Twestival Goa – Music and Party too! Music by Back 2 Basix will be followed by an after party and a DJ night with Joel , Ryan Nogar and Claudio. From 6 pm at Lava Lounge, Chicalim.

Kolkata: Great Bong – an international figure, reputed blogger-turned-writer and Twitterati, will participate and share his thoughts on Twitter for a Social cause.Also will feature a Painting Exhibition, Cultural Programmes and a networking session. From 5:30 pm at Natya Bhavan, EE – 8, Sector II, Salt Lake.

Mumbai: An evening of fun, delight, games and networking. From 7 pm at The Coast, Fifth Floor, Crystal Paradise, Off Linking Road, Bandra West.

Are you attending a Twestival in your city?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twestival India - An Indian Feast in the making

Originally posted on

It must have been serendipity. I can’t explain getting involved with Twestival in any other way. There I was, in July last year, sipping coffee while wondering how to make my life more meaningful. A chance mention to a colleague, a couple of emails and a Skype call later my life completely changed – I had become the regional coordinator for Twestival in India! At that time, I had little idea of how satisfying, responsible and fun the role will become. Or how almost a year later I will feel so proud and privileged at what we accomplished in 2009, one tweet, one event, one rupee at a time. Though a small amount when converted to dollars, at India, we raised a decent amount for the charities we supported in Twestival Local last year.

In fact, I can safely say that it must very well have been the first time in India that the power of social media for social good was realized.

Today, with Twestival Global just around the corner, we are all ready to make a positive difference to the world we live in. Bigger and better. With a jakkas (as we call it India meaning superb cool) team in place.

This year, seven cities from India will host confirmed events in support of Concern Worldwide – Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Goa, Kolkata, and Mumbai. And possibly Hyderabad and Pune too. Look them up at the globe here.

Being a regional coordinator for these nine cities is like becoming a master chef and helping prepare a full course Indian meal – you want to savor the experience but at the same time you can’t wait to see how tasty the dishes will turn out to be. The bad part of it? The chef can’t eat all the dishes he helps prepare. I can’t be at all the nine events however much I want to be!

Here’s a sneak preview of the wonderful dishes my super specialty chefs (the lead city organizers!) are working on. I have no doubt they will make us go ‘yum’ by the end of March.
Bangalore, well-known as the IT capital of India, true to its young and happening nature will be hosting a mega party on the 25th and a fundraising Cricket tournament on the 28th. Ya, I know. We love Cricket in India and how can Twicket (Twitter/Twestival + Cricket) be far behind?
Chennai, also known as Madras, popular for its music, art and culture, will be hosting 'Evening with a Poet' -a dance drama appreciation festival of an acclaimed Tamil poet.
Cochin, a city in the state of Kerala (we call it the God’s own country for its splendid natural beauty) will be hosting the first ever Twestival of the state. They are just about getting the ingredients ready – the event details will be out soon.
Delhi – If you’ve been to India, you know this one – our capital city. Secret dish in the cooking! Wait for more news.
Goa – oh yes, sun, sand and the magic of Arabian Sea. Goa is all ready to spring a wonderful surprise and I’m guessing there will be magic in the dish along with a hint of drama too!
Kolkata, noted for its revolutionary history, is hosting Twestival for the first time. Secret dish in the cooking again! Let’s wait for more news.
Mumbai, the home to Bollywood, is preparing an evening extravaganza. Maybe a bit of star dust too? I’m waiting to know too!

I can’t be more proud or feel more privileged to be part of the movement called “Twestival”. The things that bring real meaning to your life sometimes start really small and this one did too – with just 140 chars :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

When you forget the Cause, and just see the Institution

Two years ago, I started supporting a NGO in Bangalore that works for the visually impaired/disabled children. I first came to know of them during a corporate event when these kids performed on stage in gratitude to the donation the company had made. I was totally moved. There was absolutely no need for this nonprofit to bring these kids and make them sing and dance before a crowd of ‘gifted’ (yes, gifted with sight) people to say “Thank you.” They could have simply sent a representative who would have said a few words and saved them the trouble and efforts in arranging logistics, preparing & rehearsing the song/dance, etc. Yet they did. The kids were at their best dressed and were very eager to showcase their talent. And I admired the NGO because they accomplished many things with this action: say thank you to the company, give these kids a chance to exhibit their talent and feel good, and show the people gathered at the venue the immense amount of courage these young ones have to live in this society and happily at that.

In the next two years, I made several passive small-time contributions (meaning no volunteering or even visits to their centers/schools but pure cash donation) to the NGO. The first time I donated, it was purely voluntary - I donated the money by myself without any effort on their part. Thereafter, every time, it was solicited by the NGO through phone calls. In fact, it came to a point where the NGO regularly started calling me every three months thanking me for my previous contribution and asking me to contribute again. And it was not necessarily at the end/after my contribution ran out – For instance, I usually donate towards the cost of mid day meals for 4 children for six months. So it was not necessarily at the end of these six months. In fact, they just called me up today and told me about a new program they have launched for these kids. I recall that I gave them a cheque three months back. And this is what has brought me a little soul-searching. Let me be frank here and thank you for not jumping to judgment.

So when I got a call from them this morning, my first reaction was irritation. Man, these guys can be persistent and annoying. What’s worse, their lengthy sales pitch (yes, sales!) is very convincing and definitely pulls all the right strings. And even worse? I end up feeling a complete moron when I try to put them off for a few days. You see, I have not really figured out my philanthropic side yet – I really don’t know if I want to keep donating a sum every month or every other month to the same charity. I do support other charities who I occasionally contribute to (but who never so actively pursue me!). And admittedly, this particular NGO is just asking me a few thousands which is not that great an amount of my salary. But I couldn’t bring myself to say an instant yes. It’s like I need some time to think and look at my financial position at the time of my month before I commit to them. When I tell them that, you know what’s the reply I get? Ma’m, we accept post-dated cheques. That annoys me even further!

So, on one hand, I have a high regard of them for all that they do and enable. On another, I get really annoyed with their constant solicitations. Conversely, I even admire their fundraising efforts! It does take quite a bit, resources and otherwise, to track your supporters, keep calling them and make them part with the measly amount they are willing to, to make a big fund for new programs.

But to do it so actively? So intrusively? Like making a telephone call on a Saturday/Monday afternoon when you know for sure the person will pick up. They probably also know that their supporters aren’t really the type of people to store the NGO’s number and not pick the call the next time they call (yes, that has occurred to me :( ).

I know they have limited resources which they are employing to call me and call me again when I tell them to call me another day. So they do listen, it is not like they are exasperating. But…but I still have this itch. Something is not right. Why am I feeling cornered? Why am I feeling pursued? Why am I feeling forcibly compelled? Am I not supposed to continue feeling the way I felt when I first donated to them? Why are they calling me so many times? Why can’t they just send me an email or a card? Will that cost them more? Or will that be less effective? Probably the latter because I do know that I am going to donate to them next month in spite of all these questions – because they called. But why is there this resistance to an instant decision?

In all this thought process, I forget to think about the cause that made me give in the first place. I forget the children. It has become more about the institution and not anymore about those children who I saw perform that I fell in love with.

What is a good duration to give your supporters before you call them again? Do NGOs just rely on a small set of supporters who give periodically continuously? What about getting new supporters? What can be a non-intrusive, yet effective, means of soliciting donations?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The elusive bird

Guess what was the most exciting part of a fun day outing from office? Sightings of the elusive paradise flycather :) I've been wanting to catch this little fairy for the past four or so years and he decided to bless me this fine saturday afternoon. I was trying to photograph my fav little one, the Green bee eater, when I heard this sudden swoosh, and there he was. He flew in right in front of my eyes and sat for a long minute on the branch right above my head. I felt so blessed.

Here is the little fellow as seen from my lame camera.

The hands are just itching to get dirty

2010 shall be the year, I hope. All this and yet am missing something...
  1. Regional Coordinator for India for Twestival. Working with an amazing team of volunteers and trying to pulling them all together for @Concern
  2. Active Volunteer with Startup Saturday Bangalore. Working towards realizing the joys of entrepreneurship... and hoping it will rub off on me.
  3. Starting out working with Trupti on We are Children, a six-month media to raise awareness on the impact of child sexual abuse. At last a chance to get up from the armchair.
  4. Covering the #Anganwadi mela at Mangalore on this Saturday, which is being organized by @breakthrough and @bell_bajao. Hoping to get inspired.
  5. Being part of a Fun team to promote fun at work. In charge of making people have fun! Can get scary at times. And boring.
  6. Being a mommy and getting all the special hugs and kisses reserved just for moms :)
  7. The words are starting to bubble. The pot is ready to be opened and I do hope the writing starts soon. Can't take the silence too long, however eloquent I imagine it to be.
  8. Self-employment is coming nearer and nearer...just a few more months and I shall be there.
So what is missing?

The farm of course! If only I can get that up and running quickly. If only I can start planting my tomatoes and Mango trees. If only I get to find a nice farmland up for grabs, conveniently located between Chennai and Bangalore somewhere...if only Life can get better. The hands are just itching to get dirty.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stranger in the house

There is a stranger in my house
Who looks in on everything I do
I can feel her eyes at times, sometimes her whole presence
But no one can see her, not even the family’s rockstar of a dog
She remains mostly hidden

I wonder what she does when we go out
She doesn’t feel bothered at being left alone, rather must rejoice
I hear her speaking to herself in the night, wondering why she is here
I would like to know too
I think

She disappears when there are too many people around
Probably can’t take all that noise
I feel her strongest when there are hushed conversations, and
And all faces turned towards the TV
Must be lonely to be unnoticed

I look into the mirror and ask myself how it must feel to be unnoticed
I ask the kid to give me a hug and a kiss
To shake the lingering gloom off
I wonder who she asks
For a moment close

On a particularly bad morning, with leftover unpleasantness from difficult confrontations
I muster the courage and turn towards her
How long do you plan to stay, Stranger in the house?
Shouldn’t you be leaving, I ask
Not yet, no not yet, I tell myself.

Stranger in the house.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Please! Enough of these impersonal wishes now!

So many new year wishes...some forwards, some originally written, some on email, some as sms, some thru Twitter, some thru Facebook, and very few (none really) through a phone call! Whatever is happening to this world? No one is sending a real greeting card out, no one is picking the phone to make a call!

On the other hand, I am not really feeling enthused to reply to any of those smses, direct messages, scraps, or posts. Seems expected. Seems boring. Seems like lip(?) service! Its just another day, isn't it? A day is as you make of it, so what difference does the Earth returning to its original (?) position make to us mortals? As humans, we are always, ALWAYS looking for reasons to be merry! Seems stupid...why should there be a reason to let go and have fun?

Enough of the verbal (written?) diarrhea. Just an excuse to post really!