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Monday, December 26, 2016

The magic of Hauz Khaz fort, New Delhi

" Where journeys end, stories begin".

As a student of History in college followed by Mass Communications as a post graduate subject, I firmly  believe in this beautiful and intriguing phrase. And from the time I actually started writing fiction as a novelist, I've had a wonderful opportunity to have free reign over each of the characters, places and situations that I've first created in my head- then put on paper.

Have I tired of it? In two words, absolutely not.

So in this short piece where I focus on the oft neglected, yet popular with the college going crowd, the  Hauz Khaz fort, I'm going to use that same creative licence and hope you like it.

Emerald green waters, a mysterious walkway, boat rides for those who want to and a place to let your imagination run riot.

You never know who you might meet.

You see, some people claim that they have heard sounds of voices, tinkling of anklets and mysterious shadows in the deep of the night. And with that intriguing thought, its time to focus on the whys and hows of this fort.

Walking into the Hauz Khaz fort and marvelling at the magnificent trees

Established by Alauddin Khilji  in the year 1284, unfortunately, this fort hasn't been maintained or looked after with the respect it deserves. Sadly, the  walls are broken and many of the the engravings faded. 

Built in the ‘medieval history’ era, this fort marks the beginning of the rule of Delhi as the capital of the first Muslim rulers in India. The word 'Hauz' comes from the Urdu language and means a 'pond'.  The  King  of that  time, Alauddin, had commissioned a large pond in this area for the convenience of the inhabitants of Siri Fort, the second city of Delhi. Initially named 'Hauz-i-Khas',  later Firoz Shah Tughlaq got this tank rebuilt as the royal baths and renamed  it 'Hauz-Khas.'

Despite all the odds, and a degree of neglect, this fort still fascinates tourists and locals alike. Its wide lawns are great for kids to play on. With a host of alleys and secret passages, people absolutely love the feel and atmosphere of this fort. For photo enthusiasts, the fort is a great  subject, particularly during sunset and sunrise. The fort overlooks a wide pond which is home to many birds and flowers, adding to its overall charm. 

The beautiful pond

To get a real feel of the fort, please click on my You Tube video just below.

The stories these walls could tell- unending.

As I started by saying, "Where journeys end, stories begin."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why we love life's little boxes

We all love them, those little boxes that we like to keep our lives organised into because that gives us a semblance of control over our lives. Or so we like to think and believe until something or someone comes and shakes us out of that belief. As I learnt to my discomfort, just the other day.

Life's Little Boxes
( Image from  the internet)
My life is planned to a very large degree and I have certain days of the week allocated for different activities that I’m involved with. Since most of them entail leaving the house by about 8.30am, the cleaner has been clearly informed that the car must be cleaned and ready by 8 am, (just in case I decide/have to leave home somewhat earlier).

And this is an arrangement that has worked rather well for some time. That was until last Tuesday when I reached the car and to my surprise found him just about starting to clean it. The time was already about 8.25 am and I had to leave, with or without that cleaning. Approaching him, I probably had a certain kind of look on my face, and he knew exactly what had caused it. So in anticipation of what I would say to him, he started to apologise, but I wanted to tell him once and for all that being late the next time was a complete ‘no-no’. 

All he did was just lift up his trouser leg and show me a huge bandage covering his foot and right upto his ankle and tell me, “Madam, Yeh chot lag gaya hai.”(Madam, I’ve hurt my foot.) I did not know where to look, let alone tell him anything more. Managing to barely mumble words to the effect that I hoped that he had shown it to a doctor, I got in and started my car. 

But not before I heard him say, “Madam, I’ll finish the job right after you return.”


Then there was this other time when I saw a well to do individual approaching his vehicle in a public parking and start shouting at a poor man cleaning his vehicle. The reason for that - apparently the man was cleaning the car with water that was not too clean. 

That moment will remain etched in my mind and heart forever. The sheer anger and contempt on the man’s face as he shouted at the cowering thin and tired man. But even more, the look of shame and humiliation on the victim’s face as I passed by... 

Life's little boxes-inexplicable sometimes and very hard to forget most of the time.

( Excerpt taken from my column 'My Take' in Muscat Daily.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Truth is often stranger than fiction-Trump wins the American Presidential poll

Truth is often stranger than fiction and no where  has it been more apparent than what the world witnessed a few  hours ago when Republican Donald Trump defeated the front runner Democrat Hillary Clinton to win the elections.  Accordingly Trump will become the 45th US president after a stunning victory, which had political pundits al over the world reeling in what can best be comically described as 'shock and awe.'
The Republican nominee defied pre-election polling to claim swing states, winning the key battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Standing at the Trump election headquarters in New York after the results had been announced,  he  told cheering supporters that Americans must now unite and "bind the wounds of division", after a gruelling, acrimonious campaign.
Global markets plummeted, with the US dollar diving and gold prices surging.
As poll counting went late into the night, it was clearly Trump's shock victory in Wisconsin that put him over the 270 out of 538 electoral college votes needed to win the White House.

Trump with his running mate Pence

In what might be described a a possible moment of stark realisation, just a few hours earlier, Hillary Clinton had  suggested that she might be going to lose the US election.
The Democratic candidate posted an Instagram tribute to her staff and supporters as her chances of winning plunged on the election night.
                                Hillary Clinton on Instagram
"This team has so much to be proud of," she wrote on her official profile. "Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything."
Millions of pages will be written in as many magazines worldwide over the coming days, weeks and months on the hows, whys and whats of this shock election victory but my top of mind thoughts as I close this piece are:
Changing times clearly demand changing solutions - as to whether Trump will be the harbinger of that change remains to be seen.
Can't help but wonder - what were Hillary's thoughts as the final results came in- when she realised  that she had lost and picked up the phone to make that congratulatory call to Trump- who then started his thank you speech with that very same thought and in a complete turnabout, actually thanked Senator Clinton and her family for their contribution to the US of A.
And finally, the year 2016 and another American Presidential election has concluded, but the world is still waiting for the day when a woman will become the President of the USA.

(NB- References and pics from BBC News website)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Moments that matter

Talking to your friends, and really 'listening' to what they have to say.

Or sharing your own 'real' thoughts with them, without couching them in polite tones. 

Because one does so much of it in maintaining a 'public face' anyway.

Taking a walk on your own. 

Or with a friend - on the beach, in the hills , in a park or even in your own neighbourhood.

A walk on the beach (Muscat, Oman)

Stepping into another person's shoes, and just for a moment realizing where they are coming from, and why they think, feel and behave the way they sometimes appear to (sometimes to your irritation, perhaps?)

Standing up for another person's rights, because you realize that they aren't able to get what they really, really deserve.

And having the courage to and persistence to ensure that you finish what you started.

Giving some of our time, and some of our enthusiasm to those are lonely.

For reaching out to a lonely person is probably the one of the things make us realise how thankful we really ought to be for all those who we have today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

According to the Urban dictionary, the phrase 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence', refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives and things that we don't have in general, through rose coloured glasses.

In literal terms, this comes straight from the idea of looking at a neighbour's lawn and seeing it as better looking, healthier and overall greener then your own when in reality you’re just ignoring anything negative about it and downplaying everything positive about yourself.

Hmm, could it be greener perhaps?

Here's a classic instance which really puts it in perspective.
Friend1- 'You’re so lucky, you went to a great college, have money and you’re so smart and will probably accomplish more by the time you’re 30 then I will in my entire life.' 

Friend 2- 'Are you serious? I’ve always envied you. People expect so much out of me. I’ve never been able to have a life because of studying and other schoolwork. If I get less then an A, people freak out like I got an F. I may accomplish that much, but with all the pressure on me I’ll probably be insane by the time I’m 35. In so many ways, I wish I could just be a regular guy with normal expectations and a normal life.' 

Friend 1- 'Wow, I honestly never looked at it that way. I guess it's true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence!"

Looking at it from a very personal perspective, I always wanted to wear spectacles when I was a girl in middle school. In particular, the large, square, black framed ones which I had seen someone wearing in a movie- Quite possibly, Ali Mac Graw, the heroine of Love Story or someone very like her. I begged and pleaded with my parents for a pair and one day they finally caved in. I guess i must have been so painful that they actually took me to an opthomologist's clinic and asked if I could get a pair of those spectacles with zero power.

The man was clearly puzzled and asked me why on earth did I want to wear spectacles when I didn't need them? 

'Because they look very smart', I answered in a flash.

'Beta, don't you know that even if you were to wear a pair of spectacles with zero power, they will slowly, but surely lead you to a pair with real power. So its much better that you learn to live without them and believe me when you are older, you will thank me for this piece of advice.'

I hated listening to him but eventually I did. 

Many decades later ,I (mentally) thank him every now and then. 

Sometimes I wonder was  it really because of him?

As it happens, till date, I am not using even a pair of reading glasses...

Then there was a time I wanted long, straight  hair. Simply because my favourite Hindi film  actress Simmi Garewal had hair like that. Now that wasn't so difficult to achieve as I was naturally blessed with long, straight wavy hair and with a little bit of professional help, Ive managed that. 

Does that give me happiness? A definite yes!

Then again, many of my friends with long, straight hair have told me time and again, how they long for curly/wavy hair. Over the course of years, many of them have done exactly that and are happy with their choices.

The same can be said for one's height, weight, colour of eyes, colour of skin...the list is an endless one and its really difficult to draw the line. After all, where does all this end? Exactly where it started or does the goal post change somewhere along the way?

Questions, questions, questions, with few if any real answers.

And so I come back to where I started- "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Revisiting the Euthanasia Debate

It's a very difficult time for the family of a terminally ill patient under any circumstances, and it is even more difficult if that same family is called upon by doctors attending on the patient to take the final call on whether the patient should be allowed to continue suffering or take the option of letting that patient go- slowly but surely..
All these thoughts as well as so many others crossed my mind some time back as I stood inside Medanta, the Medicity in Gurgaon, India, (after my mother had been through a minor surgery and was being discharged that same night) and listened to a conversation between some doctors as well as the family of what was clearly a terminally ill patient.
I heard one of the sons tell the doctor how he didn't  want to come back home from work in the evenings because he was faced with the sight of his ill father groaning in pain, day after day. At that point, a friend of theirs chipped in with the comment that despite all that was wrong with that older gentleman, it was their duty to ensure his life was prolonged as long as possible.
“‘To what avail,’ asked his older daughter, “when all my father can do is look at us from his hospital bed and ask all of us, 'Why are you crying'?”
And that really was the crux of their dilemma to hold on or to let go? Not something that many of us are even prepared to think about as it seems so far away. And if I might add, far fetched as well, until it impacts one directly. 

(Image source-

But Mark Twain once said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” And I agree with him completely! Ten years ago a British man with terminal cancer travelled to Switzerland and drank a lethal solution of barbiturates to end his life, with his son and daughter by his side.
He was the first of more than 180 Britons to be assisted to die at Dignitas, a Swiss organisation founded in 1998 which helps people with terminal and incurable illnesses to end their own lives.
While euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in the UK, other countries, like Switzerland, do permit assisted suicide in specific circumstances and Dignitas is the only Swiss facility to accept foreigners.

As far as I’m concerned, this is an extremely personal decision and choice and I can understand that some people with a terminal illness might be tempted to use this route.
Then again, many others would definitely have exactly the opposite point of view. I am not there to sit in judgement either way. Suffice it is to say that each family knows what is best at any given point in time.

And the debate over euthanasia- to do or not to do, will probably go on and on...

(NB-These are excerpts taken from my piece in the Muscat Daily Oman.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Friends- Some reflections

Like many of us I love the thought of having friends-Truly something warm and comforting.

And have thanked God and my good fortune for the many good friends I've had as I've gone along life's journey.

The fact of the matter is that we can only really grow and flourish when we have the love and support of our friends who truly care. Care enough to tell us straight up when we happen to be going off track.

Or if we have really done so, helping us get back there.

Again and again.

Then again, if the need be.

Friends Forever

So pause for a moment and reflect-How many real friends do you think you can actually count?

Even more importantly- How many people are you a real friend to?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Two days and a whole lot of learning at the India Affiliate Summit 2016

Its a great time to be in India and being an advertising, public relations and marketing professional with many years of experience in the Middle East, I'm enjoying the opportunity to be a part of the 'new India' which is surging ahead by leaps and bounds in every field. 

The India Affiliate Summit 2016 was  designed to revolutionize the Affiliate marketplace in India. Held at the Leela Gurgaon on the 1st and 2nd of September and with an opportunity for   networking and observing innovation in its best avatars,  the Summit was segregated to provide all participants the opportunity to hobnob with fellow affiliates and  brands alike, with the Affiliate Street being one of the main attractions.

An Overview- Day I at the India Affiliate Summit, Leela Gurgaon

Initiated by IAMAI to bring affiliates and the performance marketing industry together, it provided  educational sessions on the latest industry issues along with networking opportunities for affiliate marketers.

One of the panel discussions 

Starting off with the  interesting theme    'Demystifying New Age Marketing' with the Theme Address by Ms Parul Bhargava, Co Founder and CEO V Commission Media, followed by the Leadership address - 'Constructing a Good Affiliate' programme where the Speaker was Mr Anurag Gupta, Founder and MD, DGM India, the programme elicited a great deal of attention from the packed audience who then followed it up with related  questions and feedback. 

Interspersed with visits to the Affiliate Street, I thoroughly enjoyed the  first day and ensured that I attended each of the sessions.  

The Affiliate Street was a  section completely dedicated to Affiliate marketers and gave all the participants  a chance to immerse, converse and disperse insights on performance-based marketing. - wouldn't be too far fetched if I said that it was a great opportunity  to experience the future of marketing

With publishers, brands, ad networks, bloggers and agencies in attendance, the setup
At Affiliate Street and loving it!
sought to replicate a “marketplace” which  had ‘streets and vendors’ with the main aim of furthering  business’ opportunities through affiliate marketing.

This innovative setup was  intended to encourage healthy competition and bring together the 1500+ delegates and 100+ companies at the Summit.

Affiliate marketing is not a novel concept in India.  However, the proliferation  of the internet and digital mediums have given a new life to affiliate marketing by making it more effective and easy to adopt.

Definitions of affiliate marketing vary from 
'a broad performance based marketing in which one or more affiliates is  rewarded for each customer influenced by the affiliate's own marketing efforts' to a narrow one like ' affiliate marketing is the practice of an advertiser paying a third party to publish ads on their web page.

As monetary compensation, various payment structures exist such as the percentage of sale and a fixed sum for conversion.

Based on the white paper released by the IAMAI at the conference,  currently affiliate marketing accounts for less than 10% of digital marketing spend against 15% in some matured markets. Growth of affiliate marketing spend would be driven by three key factors-

Increasing digital marketing spends

Adoption of affiliate marketing by new industries

Improved ecosystems for affiliate marketing on marketing platforms.

According to Ms Parul Bhargava, CEO V Commission Media Pvt. Ltd, 'Currently the technology in the mobile space is not able to effectively attribute sales to the affiliate which drove the last click. I strongly  believe  that with the power of the media, performance marketing on mobile platform will gain further prominence and the mobile ecosystem would evolve to mirror the internet based ecosystem for affiliate marketing"

All tweets came up on this large screen 

I'm detailing some of the sessions in no particular order of preference so that you can get an idea of the diversity and range a the India Affiliate Summit.

Cracking the Affiliate Marketing Code 

 Featuring Panelists like Ankur Singla, Founder and CEO HelpChat, Rajat Garg, Founder, Shimply, Neha Surekha,VP Marketing and Innovation, Airtel, Abhijit Banerjee, Head Affiliates, V Commission, Nadeesh Ramachandran, Vice President, Sales and Strategy, V Serv, and Saurabh Khemka, Business Head, Affiliate Marketing, NetCORE soltions, it was moderated by Sourabh Gupta, Engagement Manager, Technology and Digital, TATAStrategic Management group. 

Some key points of discussion-
From driving sales to building brands through affiliate marketing
How to identify the right affiliates and incentivise them for improving the brand
How can affiliates position themselves to become an attractive proposition for brands and networks.

Means or the end-Last Click vs Multi Click attribution

Moderated by Ms Parul Bhargava, and panelists like Gaurav Arora, Head, Acquisition Online marketing, Nearbuy, Sharat Krishnan, Vice President, Marketing, Blue, Praveen Meloth, Head Marketing, Shop CJ, Ashish Bhatnagar, Head, Mobileand Affiliate Marketing, ShopClues,and Prasad Shejale, Co Founder and CEO, Logic Serve Group, the session covered a wide range of relevant topics, viz.

Is the current norm of last click wins unfair to affiliates?
How feasible is multi click attribution?
How can emerging technologies help in solving this puzzle?

Harsh Agarwal, Founder Shout Me Loud, Day 2
Definitely, one of, if not 'the' most popular speakers at the IAS 2016.

One of the more hard hitting sessions was Ordering its way to growth- Affiliate for E Commerce and Food Tech.

Moderated by Pankaj Gupta, Senior Practice Head-Consumer and retail,TATA Strategic Management Group, and with panelists like Meera Iyer, Head Marketing Big Basket, Shekhar Sharma, National Director, Group M Interaction, Sourav Shah, Head Digital Marketing and CRM,Jubilant Food works and Pramod Rao, Senior VP Marketing and Growth, Zomato, it was really useful!

Another session that I really must mention was the closing one.

Titled 'Into the Crystal Ball, New Age drivers for affiliate marketing' it started off with a packed audience and by the time it was half way through, there were more people standing in all the aisles and listening intently.

With panelists like Sumit Kumar, VP Digital, Oxygen Wallet,  Himanshu Periwal, Vice President , Ixigo, Rohan Bhargava , Co Founder, Cash and moderated by Sourabh Gupta, Engagement Manager, Technology and Digital, TATA Strategic Management Group, it clearly showed all the path forward and closed on the very positive note that affiliate marketing is definitely set to be the  'next big thing' as a marketing tool in India.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Violin- my favourite musical instrument

There are some musical instruments and then there are some others.

One of my personal and perennial favourites is the Violin, often truly called the 'King of the Orchestra'. Going back in time and recalling the effect of it's music on my mind, I clearly recall numerous moments, some of them in some of my all time favourite movies, Thorn Birds, Gone with the wind, Love Story, Dr Zhivago and Junoon, where the violin has been magnificently used to convey a 'completeness and range of emotions, love, tenderness, pathos, sorrow, or then quite simply, happiness and joy.

The violin is a bow string instrument with four strings usually tuned in perfect fifths.It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the 'viola' and 'cello'.Usually, however, the strings are not plucked; instead a bow is passed over them to make them 'vibrate'.

Spotted at a metro station in Paris

No instrument can do all the violin can do.At different times these are some of the emotions that I have associated with the violin. It has made me feel sad, or then, at other times, warm and good all over. 

By playing slowly or fast then faster,it has sometimes made my heart feel a whole host of emotions that are sometimes quite difficult to define. Because there are simply just so many of them.All at the same time, or then, one following the other, in rapid succession

At times like these, I simply let the music flow over me, taking it in, and can't help but marvel at the skill of the player whose music has such a major impact.

I'm sure I'm not the only one and what are  the chances that you feel the same way too...?

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Magic of Photo Apps and some musings on restaurant staff behaviour

Let's say that I ordered a cup of coffee at my favourite coffee shop last week. If I know one thing about the coffee at that place, is that it's always spot on and made exactly the way that I like it - hot, very strong and with a nice design drawn on its surface. But this time it was even better, for it had a ‘smiley face’ on it. 

So of course the lure of clicking it instantaneously was irresistible, and I succumbed. A few great photographs later, I sat back satisfied, finished the coffee and went on with the rest of the day.

Sometime later that evening, when I looked at it, I remembered that I’d been presented with an iTunes Gift card recently and quickly downloaded a few free photo apps, in addition to purchasing a few. And that was how my journey into the magic world of photo apps commenced. A month lat-er, I must have spent a few hundred hours experimenting with photographs that I’d clicked earlier, with some truly amazing results!

For instance, if I take you back to that original smiley faced cup of coffee, it's now travelled through exotic places such as the Niagara falls, Paris and Australia. Going one step further, I then managed to take that same photograph and put it up on the wall of a conference room where US President Obama and his aides had just settled down to a meeting.

Sounds unreal? Well, let me assure you that all of the above and much, much more is now possible via the magic world of Photo Apps. Try it and once you get a taste of it, I strongly suspect that like me, many of you might get hooked onto it for life! So to help you get started, here are a few of my best ones - iPhoto, Pixlromatic, Pic Collage, Dyptic frames and Adobe PS Express. Of course, there is a whole wide world out there and once you really start with it, you will fine-tune many of your personal favourites. But do remember to write in as I’d love to know more about them too.

Moving onto a subject that I feel very strongly about - the behaviour (or in some cases, the misbehaviour) of service staff on duty at a restaurant. One of the main reasons that we all choose to visit a restaurant is quite simply because we like the ambience, food and the overall feeling of bonhomie around that particular place. But imagine your dismay if you were to visit one of your favourites and find that the atmosphere and, therefore, all the fun that you associated with it earlier has just disappeared because of just one ill-mannered waitress.

What would one do then? Well in my case, it was clear, walk out as soon as possible and make sure that I told everyone I could possibly about keeping away from that place. So here it is all ye managers of restaurants - please do keep a sharp eye on your staff at all times, for you never know what potential sales/customer loss you’d be causing for your outlet just because of that ‘one’ bad apple!

NB- This post was originally written for my column My Take in Muscat Daily