Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Where the mind is without fear ...

Shireen came in my dreams yesterday.  In my dreams, I was happy I heard back from her. She is one person who keeps pricking  my conscience from time to time. I wrote a part fiction, part fact version of Shireen’s story with a happy but cynical ending for one of my previous blog post 

This time around I really want to speak up. And say it all as is…

TRING … TRING the phone rang …
Shireen has just finished her dinner when her mobile phone rang. It is about 9.15 pm. That must be her Cab driver.

Shireen has had a good day ( night) yesterday and she is happy.

Yesterday, during the quarterly Rewards and Recognition ceremony she was pleasantly surprised when she won the ‘soaring eagles’ trophy for best performance across North-West region. Her client manager had specially recommended her for the award citing her outspoken qualities and leadership abilities during the last three years with the team.

The cab driver is waiting outside on the main street. She looks out of the window from her first floor window to confirm the car number. Shireen pulls up her Burkha over her salwar kameez, slips into her sandals and walks towards her cab. Her fellow cab mates are already asleep in the cab. She is usually the last to be picked up.

The cab driver, mumbles something about the traffic and the delays, and how he would lose half of his day’s wages for no fault of his and zooms the car past the narrow alleyways of her street into the main road. From the middle of nowhere a motorbike emerges and stops in front of the cab.

B****c****d  shouts the already frustrated cab driver, peeping his head out through the window of his vehicle to the two riders on the motorcycle. The motorcyclists are unperturbed. One of them quietly walks over, opens the door of the cab and pulls Shireen out.

Shireen protests and screams. The fellow passengers are woken up by the sudden brakes applied and screams emanating from the only female member of their cab.  Before they realize what is happening, Shireen has been pulled out of the cab onto the ground and is being kicked around by the two gentlemen who alight from the motorcycle.

Here is what I wish should have happened:

I wish she had smart suraksha. 

I wish her colleagues in the cab had smart surakasha. 
With Smart Suraksha they could have alerted the transport helpdesk, her family ( although in hindsight we knew that would not have helped) and kept a record of her movement over GPS when she went missing for the next two hours. I wish it was a straight case to solve.   

Here is what actually happened :

Her family, her colleagues (that included me) did not know where she was for the next two hours.
The cab driver was instructed to go to the police station and report the case.  The police came down to Shireen’s home and the rest of the puzzle was to easily fall in place.

Shireen was not contactable over her cell phone. When a badly bruised Shireen with torn clothes re-emerged at work, she was not at all coherent with her version of what happened in those two hours.  

There was one thing that was evident.  She was being blackmailed and threatened and asked to show her face at work inorder to clear up the police records.  

By whom ?  For what ?

It was all easy to guess for those who had known Shireen all along. 

But she maintained her version of the story. It did not make sense. 
She sensed that others knew, it did not make sense.  
But she stubbornly maintained her version of the story. 
But then, what options did Shireen have ?

 Ideally what Shireen needed was 'Suraksha'. The kind of 'Suraksha', that would have let her have the guts to press the right buttons.  The 'Suraksha', from the police, from her employers and from her family, that if she spoke up, she would be protected and not attacked.

The right buttons included the support of her family, her employers and the police.
None of those buttons worked at that point in time.

She was taken to the police station by her family, the next day to withdraw the FIR. 
She was asked to quit her job.  The reason, it was not safe to ferry her for her night shift, from the place where she lived. She could have changed her mind and stuck to her job. She could have shifted places and changed shifts. But she did not. At work, she was assured that when her ‘personal problems’ were sorted out, she could get back to work and her organization would happily rehire her.  

Speaking up against violence: Sexual, verbal or emotional is the fundamental button that we all need to push. 
It is easier said than done.
And I should know.

I write this piece as I was witness to the turn of events that happened after that fateful night in  Shireen’s life. It pricks my conscience even today. I do not know where she is and what she is doing.

I tried convincing her not to quit her job. I tried telling her that it was her abusive relationship that she needed to quit and not her job. She needed to take that giant leap in confidence and stand up for herself.   

But she did not.
And I instinctively understood. 

To console myself,  I let her go and then googled to read Rabindranath Tagore's

Where the mind is without fear …

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at in association with Smart Suraksha App.

 Smart Suraksha Contest

Saturday, October 26, 2013



 The most memorable of my travels have been the solo travels that I have undertaken.

Actually a good deal of my travels have been solo.  Going solo, I have discovered over the years is what I am best suited for. It is not that I shun company, but Going solo nurtures the free spirit in you, helps you enjoy your own way and keeps you free from the hassles of going dutch with other travelers. On many such solo travels I have discovered plenty of women travelers like me who prefer going solo.  

Wanderlust and lipstick is one such site to women globetrotters who go solo. Check the out over here.

Going solo is not any less safer than it is to go with a partner / family / friends. After all your own safety is a matter of sheer common sense. I am actually an over cautious traveler.  I have a reputation of being careless and the one thing that freaks me out is the thought of getting into trouble when I am travelling solo.

Here are a few things that any solo traveller should do when setting out for a destination , whether on holiday or for work. 
1.      Travel light. As much as possible keep your luggage minimal.  Just a cabin baggage would do. That way you steer clear of lost baggage and its nasty consequences.  

2.   BACK-UP    Keep atleast 3-4 copies of your contact numbers and emergency numbers, email id and physical address and spread them out in your hand baggage, purse, wallet, jeans pockets and pasted on the back on your mobile phone.   Scan your passport, visa, credit card, tickets and all other essential details and send them to your own email and to someone close to you before you set out to travel.
3.      Bling: Here is an interesting advice that a much-travelled woman gave me during one of my Himalayan Treks. Always wear some gold jewellery. A gold ear ring, finger ring or a gold chain can actually protect your life. In rough hilly terrains where landslides, earthquakes, road accidents  and avalanches are common, more often than not, it is the poverty stricken locals who would come to the rescue of the trapped victims.  It costs money to transport the traveler to a hospital and no good Samaritan would be able to take quick action, if he /she does not have the  money.  You can ensure that he/she does not feel the pinch in his pocket if, on your body, there is something that can take care of the costs of rescue operations. This is true especially in India, where pizza arrives faster than the police,  when there is an emergency. 

4.      Money matters : It really helps if you keep some cash along with the wallet and stick a note saying, ‘ if found please return the contents to XXX  and feel free to take the cash’ .  If you have lost your belongings out of your own carelessness, the finder would usually be a good Samaritan who would want to return it you, only if he /she knew your whereabouts and does not have to spend through his/her nose to reach you.

5.     Danger :  Most muggers only need some Beer money. Your life is of no significance to them. Be generous :) 
6.      Plastic that protects : Keep a thin pouch preferably a water proof plastic one, pinned up or stitched across between the insides of your Jeans packet and just over your undergarments.  Inside it stuff your passport, some cash, a credit or debit card and a spare mobile phone if you have one.  Unless you are stripped naked and raped, this protection serves anyone well. You can be knocked unconscious in an accident, can drown in a sea or be mugged on the streets. Your basic essentials are still intact for help to reach you and the rest of the losses can be made up.                     

7.     Anytime ... anyplace : If you are staying in youth hostel or any such place where you share accommodation with fellow travelers, keep this pouch close to your body even when you are sleeping. An earthquake, fire emergency, terrorist attack  or flash floods can occur while you are fast asleep in your pyjamas.     

8.      Trust and mistrust : Beware of strangers, but trust people. Most people are usually helpful in a selfless way. Trust your instincts and keep away from lonely places, being alone with a stranger especially if he /she is overly helpful.

9.      Technology helps : With GPS, you can keep yourself  abreast with your location map and therefore the need to ask strangers for directions is pretty minimalized. Constantly call your folks and let them know what you are upto. Tweet, update your facebook or send irritating messages and pictures of the exotic places you are visiting to all your close contacts at regular intervals. If something goes amiss it will ring a bell in your well wishers, the world over. Use Smart Suraksha apps to the hilt and send level one updates to all your smart suraksha contacts letting them know you are safe. That way you do not have to trigger your level two emergency buttons on your Smart Suraksha app ever.  

10.   Fun and safety : It is not like a solo traveller cannot have fun. But if you plan to get a little tipsy, make sure you are not among strangers, do not have to drive, take public transport or have a flight / train /coach to catch immediately afterwards.    
Being responsible for yourself and exercising moderation are the two mantras that can make ‘Going solo’ a very safe, fun and liberating experience.           

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at in association with Smart Suraksha App

This is my second submission for  ‘10 Tips for your Smart Suraksha’.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ten tips for Smart suraksha


Here are my top 10 tips that can help in most cities. Especially in my city Bengaluru, the IT hub where business runs 24/7.

1.      Ask the driver ( auto-rickshaw or cab) his vehicle registration number ( even if you have seen it and noted it down) and text it to your Smart Suraksha contacts. 

2.      If you do not want to ask the driver just note down the registration number and text it to your smart Suraksha contacts. ( minus the police)   

3.      If you have failed to do step one and two, call up or pretend to call up one of your friends and let them know you are travelling in an auto/ cab and that you would reach in …. Pause for 10 seconds and then ask the driver how much more time it would take to reach via <mention a road that your GPS map shows>, thus signifying that you know the route well.

4.      Engage in a friendly conversation with the driver and let him know about Smart Suraksha.  He will let other drivers know and thus the news will spread and act as a deterrent for potential miscreants.

5.      Keep two levels of Smart Suraksha contacts. One for low level alerts for routine activities like    ‘I have left from office, will be home in 45 minutes’ OR  ‘ I am all alone at the bus stop, contact me if you do not hear in another 10 minutes’  and another one for high level alerts where you are in real danger.   

6.      Always have your local police station and nearest hospital number on your level 2 Smart Suraksha contacts. Just in case you are with your family and friends who are part of your Smart Suraksha contacts and meet an emergency situation, the local police station and hospital number will come in handy.  

7.      If you are alone and approaching a sparsely lighted parking lot, travelling on a two wheeler, alone at home or a potential vulnerable situation, send a low level alert via Smart Suraksha. Something which says  ‘I am navigating through a lonely strip. If you do not get a ‘I am safe’ message from me in the next 10 minutes please call back. Make sure you send the ‘I am now safe’ at the end of 10 minutes.   

8.      In much the same way you see notices in public places saying  ‘ This area is covered by CCTV surveillance’ , carry a note in English or your local language that says ‘ My phone has Smart Suraksha apps installed’.

9.      Smart Suraksha – please note. You could enable a voice feature that beeps at regular intervals and says, ‘Welcome to Smart Suraksha.  For your safety you are now currently accompanied by Smart Suraksha.’    All users can turn it on, in advance whenever they subject themselves to a potential vulnerable situation. With the voice enabled feature, even if you have been knocked down unconscious, either in an act of violence or because of an unfortunate accident, the people around you will be alerted that you are being tracked.  That way, your emergency contacts are available on the press of a button.

10.   At all times, men, women, children, all young and old should make sure their emergency contact number is updated as ICE.  ( In case of emergency).   Emergency numbers can be dialled even if your smartphone is password protected.   

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at in association with Smart Suraksha App.

I am sharing my Smart Suraksha with  The Favorite community of Indian  in association with Smart SURAKSHA

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Behind every successful woman...

Kokarako … ko ...cried out the 'cock sound' from her mobile phone morning alarm. It was 4.00 am and Shantamma stretched her arms out and shut it out to snooze about a little bit in her tiny hut besides the construction site .
Ghrrr... her husband was snoring and peacefully asleep besides her. She was happy for him and for the fact that he was sleeping peacefully.  Poor fellow ... she thought, life has not been easy on him for the past few weeks.  

Let all this pass...she prayed.  
It was pouring outside her hut, besides, she was feeling cold. At the stroke of the next alarm she knew she could not laze around any more. She looked at her mobile handset. The mobile handset was a gift from Preethi Madam.  

Preethi Madam lives in the apartment complex down the road. She works in a big air-conditioned  office and leaves for work by 7.00 am. Shantamma works as a domestic help at her place.
By 6.00 am she would be at her place, wash the utensils, sweep and swop the apartment and make Rotis and sabji to be packed in lunch boxes for Preethi, her boys and her husband.

By 7.00 am she would repeat the chores at Nitya Madam’s apartment and then at Meena Madam’s  apartment, before heading to Anusha Madam's apartment. 

Preethi Madam is very benevolent. Last year when she got her promotion she gave her a good pay hike without Shantamma even having to ask for it.  Preethi Madam invited Shantamma for a function in a five star hotel where she was given some award in a big hall lit with chandeliers. 
Shantamma went with her. It was very grand.  She had never seen anything like that before. Preethi  madam gave a speech in English in front of everyone and they all laughed a lot during her speech. When she got down from the stage, many people clapped and came to her and shaked hands with her and then with Shantamma. It was all so embarrassing and confusing for Shantamma.

 She asked Preethi madam what was happening.  Preethi madam laughed. Then, someone translated it for her from English. That is when she understood it all.

Preethi madam had dedicated the award to Shantamma and proclaimed in front of so many people in the hall … saying
Behind every successful man is a woman . Behind every successful woman is a ‘bai ' ( in this context … a domestic help).

And thus all the attention turned towards Shantamma. She was embarrassed but very happy.   

She feels she is very lucky. Unlike her husband who works at the construction site, where sometimes there is no work and no pay, she gets to work on all days.  All her employers pay her on time.

 They are not without their quirks. As much as they praise her cooking, they get very angry when she comes late or takes unscheduled leave. They say it screws up their timings and getting late is not an excuse they can give to their bosses at work.

 Over the years she has learnt that they are not angry with her not coming to work, but angry because she does’nt let them know in advance. How can she tell them that she cannot come all the way to tell them that she would not be coming to work, when she is  shivering with malarial fever or has gone to her home town to attend to something.  

But somehow, Preethi madam understood. She gave her this mobile handset so that she could use it to call her if she was not coming to work.  Preethi madam had already got herself another new handset.

With a little extra money, Shantamma bought a prepaid SIM card. But her hut does not have any electricity. She secretly charges the battery of her mobile when she baby sits little Arnav and his sister Aradhana at Anusha Madam’s house in the afternoons.

Kokarako …ko

Cries out the 'cock sound' from her mobile phone morning alarm after the 10 minutes of snooze. 

Cabs ferrying the BPO workers of the morning shift, zooming past the main road, have already woken her up from her sleep. This time around she stretches herself and gets up to begin the day. Yet another usual day.

Shantamma is not in her best of moods. Money has been a little tight for her and her husband.  Off late, her husband’s debtors have been approaching them very often and at all odd hours.  Ever since her husband fell down, when the scaffolding gave way at the construction site, he fractured his leg and it has been on a cast. It would be another three weeks before the cast would be out.  Even after that they were not sure if he would be able to work as before. It would be atleast another couple of months before he could get around on his own, leave alone  getting back to work and bring home some money.

The income was now solely hers, and it was getting difficult to make ends meet. She had already taken advance from  Nitya Madam, Meena madam  and Anusha  madam to meet the hospital expenses.

Please... let  all this pass soon and I will come break 108 coconuts, prayed Shantamma to Santoshi Mata, the all powerful deity, whose photo was framed and hung on the corner of her hut.

She got up and filled up her bucket of water. Thankfully the rains had stopped.

She walked past the roads into the residential layout where there were few plots left unconstructed . The thick undergrowth of bushes over there is where women like her living in the huts go for their morning ablutions. It is sort of an unsaid rule. The men go about their morning ablutions soon after sunrise and so the women do it well women before sunrise.

These days they are left with very few vacant plots in the layout. Construction has begun in many of those vacant plots and the shrubs  and bushes there have been cleared up to give way for cement and concrete. Shantamma knows a vacant plot that is about 10 minutes away. It is quiet all over, except for the chirping of the birds and occasional traffic of cabs on the road. Few people are up this early, unless they are women like her out for their morning jobs.  She walks with her small bucket filled with water .

It was not yet the end of the month. Pay day was more than a week away. She was thinking of asking Preethi madam for some salary advance.  The usually generous Preethi Madam is very strict in this matter. She does not encourage loans. But Shantamma was hopeful she would be able to explain and make her understand the present condition.

With that advance, she may not be able to pay off all the debtors, but some money would atleast keep that letcher, Chengappa away for a while. There was something about the way he spoke to her and looked at her that troubled her.  Everytime he spoke to her, in a slow, understated, slimy voice, especially when her husband was not at a hearing distance, she felt like a poisonous snake hissing at her.   On normal days she would have hinted her husband. But these days, her husband was wallowing in self-pity and depression. In any case there was not much that he could do with him being so immobile.

There is a thick growth of shrubs and bushes . Shantamma makes sure there is nobody around.

Shoo … shoo .. she whispers, to shoo away puppies, kittens , snakes, insects or any other creature that may be snoozing around in the dark.  Once she makes sure the piece of land beneath her feet is devoid of all creatures, she pulls up her saree, covers it over her knees and squats on the ground.  

Vroom …. Whizzes past a motorcycle on the road alongside  the plot.
A few seconds later, it takes a U turn and comes back. She can now hear it very close.

Shantamma is worried. This place, especially at this time in the morning is her secret hideout. Nobody really comes by in the morning. Not definitely at this hour, that too on a motorcycle. She turns back to reach out for her bucket for some water to clean herself quickly.

Her heart skips a beat.  Behind her, stands Chengappa, the letcher.
This time around there is no mistaking the evil intent in his eyes.

She stands up and lets go of the bucket.
Dhoom … the bucket falls down and the water splashes  all over.

On the other hand is her mobile phone. The one Preethi madam gave her when she switched over to a new Apple phone.

Shantamma is illiterate, but knows the right buttons to press.
She had SMART SURAKSHA with her …

 This is what she does .. click to know more... but do visit this post to know what happened further.


A badly bruised Shantamma walks up to the ambulance.

A police van screeches past and chases the only  motor bike on the road.  It would not be too long before Chengappa would be behind bars.

Shantamma is not worried about missing work today.  Because this time around, the illiterate Shantamma managed to message Preethi Madam at the press of a button.  That is how they were all alerted. The local police station, her husband ( he managed to read the message in kannada).  Preethi, Nitya and Anusha.

 It was Preethi’s pay back time.  She called up her boss and let him  know that the ‘successful woman’ had an emergency at home . She would not be coming to work.

In the afternoon  Preethi, Nitya and Anusha visited Shantamma at her home.     

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at in association with Smart Suraksha App.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Looking for Wiki Donor ...

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

I said I am looking for Wiki Donor …
You probably mistook it to be... Vicki donor ...

That is Rhymed confusion .

Write Over the Weekend theme for this week

She said WIKI DONOR.

He /She mistook it to be Vicki Donor .

 Thanks to the Rhymed confusion ... I have now caught your attention.

Please read on ...   

I really am looking for Wiki Donors.

FLASH BACK ...It all started like this.    

 A few years ago, on a cold, grey depressing morning, I called my folks in India from abroad.

 I did not know it was Vijayadashami, an Indian festival celebrating the end of the festivities after nine days of Navaratri. 
The celebrations were in fulll swing at home.

Vijayadashami is the tenth day after Nine days of Navaratri celebrations. In the southern part of india, the day before is Saraswati Pooja, when Saraswati, the Indian goddess of learning is worshipped.

On that day, books, musical instruments, spanners, ledgers, autorickshaws, cars, driving license   and virtually anything that has helped you or will help you  make a living is kept before the goddess and worshipped.

As children it was a day when we did not have to feel guilty if we did not study or do our homework. Because all the books that you needed to study or do your homework were kept before the idol and are being worshipped. 

 The next day, on Vijayadashami, is the day when all learning begins. VIDHYARAMBAM - is how it is traditionally denoted.   All that has been kept for worship from the previous day is taken and put to use. 

Most children start their school on that day. The first alphabet is taught to them on that day.

 On Vijayadashami, Students study, musicians play their instruments, dancers dance, drivers drive,  a mechanic uses his tools to start his work, an accountant makes a new entry to the book of accounts, a programmer writes a line of code and an aspiring author writes a few lines of her work. J

 Vijayadashami is also the day when you visit your Guru ( the teacher), pay your respects and give gurudakshina. A gurudakshina consists of a coconut, betel leafs with areca nut and sure enough some cash or gift for the guru. Students prostrate before the guru and give him/ her their offerings.

It is an ancient tradition. It reminds one to pay gratitude to the source of knowledge, art, tool or whatever that is which helps you earn a living.          

I woke up on one such Vijayadashami day, cold, drepressed and utterly home sick. I did not want miss out on the spirit of the day. There was no music instrument to play, no art to worship and no Guru to visit. I truly felt home sick. I had to cheer myself up. I prepared some sweets and an elaborate lunch to get over the lack of festivity.

After lunch, I opened my laptop.
Having grown amidst the world of information technology, my laptop is what I would consider my basic tool that helps me make my living.   I checked my emails. Nothing much. Just the routine stuff.

And then out of sheer boredom I hit the Wikipedia page to look up what it had to say about Vijayadashami. 
Like most people, I look up the Wikipedia for anything that I want to know and do not know where to ask and whom to ask ?

 Wikipedia had this about Vijayadashami.

But that is not where I stopped. 

 It was this appeal from Jimmy Wales – founder of Wikipedia that caught my eye.

I am not usually very prone to charity.

But this one was a fitting tribute on Vijayadashami day.

On an impulse, I clicked and made an online payment.
I hit Wikipedia everytime I need to know something. 
This was my Gurudakshina for all the knowledge that I have gained in the last few years from Wikipedia. 

Since then, every year I donate online to Wikipedia on Vijayadashami day.

That  makes me a WIKI Donor.

Wikimedia foundation took note of me.  They contacted me. We met and exchanged ideas and information.
Since then I am a fundraising volunteer for Wikipedia.
This is my fund raising effort for Wikipedia.  


Wikipedia runs on donations from users like us.

If it has to be kept free of any commercial and advertising interests, it needs to be sustained by donors like us.

If you are a frequent user of Wikipedia like me, make a pledge to donate to Wikipedia and offer your Gurudakshina on this Vijayadashami day.

The link is simple and easy to use. Just pick up your credit card or debit card and make the payment.If you are a donor who lives in the United States, you can also get a tax exemption.


From Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia is the #5 site on the web and serves 500 million different people every month – with billions of page views.
Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn't belong here. Not in Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others.
When I founded Wikipedia, I could have made it into a for-profit company with advertising banners, but I decided to do something different. We’ve worked hard over the years to keep it lean and tight. We fulfill our mission efficiently.
If everyone reading this donated $3, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. But not everyone can or will donate. And that's fine. Each year just enough people decide to give.
This year, please consider making a donation of ₹100, ₹200, ₹300 or whatever you can to protect and sustain Wikipedia.
Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder


 According to Patricia  who works for the fund raising division of Wikipedia, Indians are the heaviest users of Wikipedia followed by the Japanese.

 NOW .. don’t be a free rider J

Donate generously by clicking here.   

Knowledge is free. Let it stay that way.


Be a WIKI Donor.           


On this Vijayadashami day do a good deed. Forward this portion of the content to anyone who uses Wikipedia  and urge them for the Gurudakshina.


Lessons in Humility at the Golden temple

To call it a structure symbolizing classic minimalism would be an oxymoron. The Harmandir Sahib or the Golden temple of Amritsar...