If something has to end….


The Blue Marble (NASA)

If something has to end, let it be the notion of greed and haste, so that the world becomes a more balanced place.

If something has to end, let it be the pain and the suffering, so that the world becomes a happier place.

If something has to end, let it be the hatred and the insanity which eliminates the last vestige of rationalism and leads us to a path where the gun becomes the only way to let the frustration out, so that the world becomes a much safer place.

If something has to end, let it be the apathy towards everything, from education to corruption, and the general disregard towards quality, so that the world becomes a lot more valuable.

If something has to end, let it be the fanaticism over religions, so that the world becomes a lot more serene.

If something has to end, let it be the rampant pollution, so that the world becomes a lot more green.

All this, in an ideal world. In a practical sense, however, none of the things mentioned above are likely to end soon. None more so than the world itself which houses them.


Con + Science

‘Con’ = Swindle, dupe, deceive, hoodwink.

‘Science’ = The body of knowledge to accomplish it.

Enticing, thrilling and lucrative, albeit only for a short while. Hiding breeds hiding, mistakes breed mistakes. Easy? Not really, especially if you want to strike it big (in all the wrong ways) and still stay away from the bars. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Surprisingly, no, though you would require the following ingredient to recognize this last fact.


Judging yourself. Surrendering to an honest and ethical inquisition. Possessing and utilizing the same body of knowledge and to know whether to go for it or to refrain from it. Thinking breeds thought. Difficult? You bet it is, but it is also more rewarding in the long run. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Almost always, yes, that is once you pass the initial hurdle of self-denial.

Irrespective of your beginnings in life, and contrary to what some people believe, whether you end up with the former or the latter is not a lottery. More a matter of choice if you ask me, and often it is your choices more than your abilities and talents that show who you truly are.

Hope, for a change

Among news of unemployment and financial meltdowns,

Among unsavory scenes of protests and forceful clampdowns,

Among reports of corruption, self-denial and government lethargy,

Among batting failures in Cricket and mismanagement in Athletics and Hockey,

Among wars between nations and fights to decide which is a more peaceful religion,

Among rising costs and declining quality in all domains, from farming to education,

Comes a message, though an advertisement, that provides a glimmer of ‘hope’ to the conscience which is on the brink of extinction.

Hindi (Indian) Version


English Version

‘Winds of Fate’

I begin my blogging activity for this year with this fitting poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Diana Scharf had once said: “Goals are dreams with deadlines”. Here’s hoping that each one of us manages to gather enough wind in the sail of our dreams to reach the goal we’ve set out to achieve this year.

“One ship drives east and another drives west,
With the self-same winds that blow,
’Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tell them the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate,
As we voyage along through life,
’Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife.”

Here’s a YouTube video of its recitation by veteran English actress Maggie Smith (Prof. Minerva McGonagall of ‘Harry Potter‘ fame).

(Photo credits: http://insights.betterphoto.com/2007/06/tall-ships-in-v.html)

The Japan Odyssey

The Japan Odyssey

The last couple of days of the year are upon us, and what do we tend to do as we near the end of December? We evaluate how the year has treated us based on our own criteria. When I sit down for this task, among other memories I recall two big events that occurred this year: My wedding and the subsequent tour of Japan in October. This is not a blog post about “What is Japan”, but an account of some of the totally unique experiences me and my wife enjoyed among the people of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

The Japanese geography test

Having researched and prepared for the tour for nearly 3 months, you would expect that you’ve left no stone unturned. Its the inherent nature of travel, though, that the unexpected can be definitely expected! We landed at the Narita International Airport near Tokyo late evening on a Thursday and took the train to Shinjuku where our hotel was located. The route to the hotel from the station had been chalked out on Google Maps and had been studied well during the tour preparation stage, so even though we failed to purchase a network data connection for my cellphone there wasn’t much reason for alarm. I’ve been good with geography all my life and people have lauded me sometimes for my sense of direction. Still, there comes a time in life when you’re rendered speechless even while holding a dictionary in your hand. My time had come!

It was about 8:00 PM when we alighted the train and walked up to the road, looked around and….. BLANK. We stood there under the Japanese Anime neon signs flashing all around us, with absolutely no idea which direction to take. We asked around, but when a couple of persons pointed to two opposite directions, it was time to get real serious. There was a Japanese police station, or ‘Koban’ as they are known locally, nearby. My wife’s knowledge of the Japanese language came in handy here. The cop inside got out his maps, fussed over the postal address we were spelling out to him, and later pointed to a street after giving some route instructions. We walked along the street, towing our baggages behind us, with elation in our hearts for being in Japan and trepidation in our minds for our present state of being ‘lost’. The maps along the road were terrific though, and the ‘You are here’ arrows brought down the levels of trepidation slowly.

Japanese Koban

After realizing that we might be walking around in circles, we again enquired with a young couple about the route. The lady brought out her iPhone and after confirming our fears about waking in circles, guided us towards what she thought would take us to the destination. Another round of “Arigatou Gozaimasu”  (“Thank you very much”) with the customary bow ensued and we set out along the new route, with the lady saying “Genki de ne” (“Take care of yourselves”) as we left. We eventually reached the hotel at 10:00 PM. The walk which should have taken us 20 mins, took 2 hours! It wasn’t as if the hotel brand was less popular, it has a worldwide chain of studio-apartment hotels after all, but probably in a big city and a tourist hub like Tokyo not everyone knows every place by heart. Japanese people help a lot though, a fact of life that manifested itself many times during our stay there.

The Shibuya road crossing

Its odd to include a simple road crossing in the list of must-see places in a city, but that’s just what Japan is about. Its astonishing. Nearly all the clips available in various TV documentaries about the Japanese people walking on the road (Tokyo being one of the most densely populated cities in the world) have been shot at this place in Shibuya. This video will tell you why (note the sheer amount of people crossing the streets at a time):

Tales of the people, by the people

Being an Indian I am fairly used to westerners often mentioning about the welcoming nature of the people of my motherland. When you go to Japan and interact with the local populace for any amount of time, you know you’re dealing with a level. The warmth of the Japanese will floor you. Almost all the people we met knew about India and many had visited parts of the country, Taj Mahal in Agra, Qutb Minar in Delhi and other major tourist places in Mumbai and Rajasthan being the most popular.

Everywhere we went the Japanese themselves came forward to strike a conversation. Of the incidences I remember fondly is one where a young lady went out of her way to help us with a public telephone at the Utsunomiya train station, another one where a lady at a bus stop in Kyoto checked on us if everything was fine (“Daijoubu desu ka?”) when she saw us fidgeting with some coins for the bus fare, an elderly lady we met on an elevator at the Kyoto train station who after enquiring which country we originated from wished us good luck during our stay in Japan, and another one in a Hiroshima tram who chatted with us for a long time and even knocked on the window after she got down at her stop to wish us goodbye. Then there was this elderly lady at the Nijo Castle in Kyoto, whom we just cannot forget. After conversing with my wife for a while and finding out that she was an Indian, she was so pleased that she gave my wife a tight hug!

Perhaps the best experience was that of an attendant at the main Tokyo train (JR) station. This was during our last final train journey there, from Tokyo to Narita International Airport. My wife purchased the tickets and we started making our way through the crowd towards the platform, when suddenly this attendant scampered towards us, again through some fairly heavy crowd, and caught us just in time. Panting heavily, she explained that she had made a mistake with the original tickets and exchanged them with the correct ones. The mistake, as it turned out, was a tiny one, and it would’ve in no way affected our journey to Narita Airport. However, to the Japanese it wasn’t the ‘right thing’ and this lady took all the trouble to run this 200m sprint to rectify her mistake. Both me and my wife were absolutely speechless and while she was apologizing by saying “Gomennasai” (“Sorry”) about a million times, we couldn’t thank her enough! It was the most sincere bow I had done while saying “Arigatou Gozaimasu” (“Thank You”) during the entire tour.

Practicing English

Japanese people are a proud and hardworking lot, that’s what I had heard from childhood and can now personally attest to it. Their urge to learn English and be proficient in it is something that stands out. During a visit to the Kyoto train station we came across a few groups of school kids who had taken up speaking English to visiting foreigners as an assignment. Starting with questions like “What is your name?” and “What game do you like?”, the interaction would quickly switch to a round of ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors‘. The little paper cranes they used to give us at the end of the interview would feel like prizes!

School children at Kyoto JR station, practicing their English language skills

We encountered similarly enthusiastic individuals at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where a volunteer explained us the entire history related to the place and the A-bomb dropped there during WWII with the passion to rival that of a fanatic and the knowledge to rival that of a National Geographic Channel documentary. On the sidelines, I must admit that the Japanese make wonderful museums.

With our volunteer-guide Akemi Kitagawa san at the A-Bomb Dome inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Train travel

Even though the people of Japan ensured that our tour remained unforgettable, the real highlight for me personally was their travel system, especially the network of trains, whether intra-city or inter-city. Home to the world-renowned Shinkansen (Bullet Train), their efficiency, punctuality, range, frequency and the sheer quantity of the trains will hold you in awe. They aren’t cheap, mind you, but the infrastructure is in place. It makes traveling to a city 200km away as easy as going to your local convenience store. The Japan Rail (JR) Pass proved to be one of the most important documents during the length of the tour.

Shinkansen (Bullet Train) at Tokyo station

Another little touch that I liked was the way the timers on the traffic signals for pedestrians were marked. There were two bars on the top of the ‘walking-man’ which got shorter and shorter as time progressed. In a country where computer and handheld gaming is a religion in itself, this might have symbolized the ‘life’ becoming lesser and lesser as the playtime goes on.

Pedestrian crossing timer bars on a traffic signal in Tokyo

Learning to cook

Even a tepid traveler would acknowledge the variety and the uniqueness of the Japanese cuisine. Though there are other factors involved, its not for nothing that the Michelin Guide has awarded Japanese cities more Michelin stars than the rest of the world combined. Our fascination with it led us to do a cooking class in Kyoto with Taro Saeki san at his home in Kyoto. It was also an opportunity for us to see a traditional Japanese home from inside and converse with the family. Preparing the dishes was fun, and even today a simple mention of the cooking class reminds us of their delicious taste. Not surprisingly, Taro san with his wife, Yoshiko san and his sweet little daughter Haruko san were charming hosts. At the end of the class it felt as if I had made a permanent friend in Japan.

Cooking class in Kyoto with Taro san

Dinner at Ginza

Pleasant encounters with locals didn’t end there. We also had a dinner at the Sony Building in Ginza (Tokyo) with Hiroko Miyata san, a former student of my wife during some of her French language classes. We were joined by another of my wife’s friends who is on a scholarship in Japan, and together we had a great time. The chocolate cookies that Hiroko had brought with her were toothsome to say the least.

Dinner at Ginza

Shinto, Buddhism, Technology

If you say that Japan has only two main religions viz. Shinto and Buddhism, you would be doing a great injustice to the country, for it has another religion: Technology. Perhaps this third religion is one that transgresses the boundaries of the earlier two main traditional religions and unites everyone.

Buddhism: Gate at the entrance of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Kyoto)

In one sweeping view you can capture a beautifully adorned Shinto shrine or a Buddhist pagoda made of wood as well as a spectacularly lit modern tower or a state-of-the-art railway station made from iron and steel.

Technology: Kyoto JR Station

Japan’s accomplishments in the realm of electronics are already phenomenal, and the effect can be seen in the hi-tech cellular phones in the hands almost every person walking on the street. The quality of the services offered on them has been miles ahead of the rest of the world for some time now. Places like ‘The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation’ (Miraikan) at Odaiba in Tokyo, housing Honda’s humanoid robot ASIMO, and areas like Akihabara and Ginza are a ‘must-visit’ for science and technology buffs.

Kobe’s surprises

Being a port city, and a huge one at that, you would expect Kobe to have a good maritime infrastructure. It also has a huge open space in Meriken Park which looks spectacular at night. However, it was visiting the Earthquake Memorial Museum that was a one of a kind experience. The recreations of the Great Hanshin Earthquake on that horrific morning in January 1995, made using a light and sound show, were amazingly lifelike and quite scary. Practical explanations of why and how earthquakes occur were very informative. To top it all, they even had a 3-D theatre in there. It was easily the best 3-D movie viewing experience we’ve had till date.

Earthquake Museum in Kobe

Now, would normal fire hydrant covers ever grab your attention? Probably not. But when they are adorned by designs depicting the city’s history and culture, they certainly would, won’t they?

Man-hole covers in Kobe

It must be said here that in the past Japan has been on the receiving end of many devastating earthquakes and resulting tidal waves along its long coastline. No wonder they are called ‘Tsunamis’, a Japanese name. Our trip was just seven months after the massive earthquake in March off the Tōhoku region and the deadly Tsunami which wiped out much of the city of Sendai and almost caused a nuclear fallout at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Still there was absolutely no amount of anxiety or fear amongst the Japanese people, probably because over the years they’ve perfected the art of starting from scratch and rebounding to the no. 1 spot among contemporaries in almost all sectors.

Breathtaking beauty

Visiting at the start of the fall season meant that we were able to witness the changing color of the leaves, and the sights that greeted us at places like Hakone and Nikko were magnificent.

Tree leaves changing their color at Nikko

The sight of Mount Fuji (‘Fuji san’) was the icing on the cake as far as the Hakone trip went.

Lake Ashi with Mount Fuji in the background (Hakone, Japan)

I think the best way to round of this article is a four minute video of some of the pictures captured during the tour. So here goes:


I came across these lines last month while clearing up some old newspaper clippings from my room. They are part of an advertisement for the ‘Magarpatta City‘ township that appeared in The Times of India (Pune edition) on October 14, 2010.

These words struck a chord somewhere deep within me, and I thought it best to share them on this blog.

Change (Image)

Change is inspiring.

The best thing often starts as one simple thought.

Change is positive.

It brings an enduring transformation.

Change is progress.

The smallest decision can make the biggest difference.

Change is inevitable.

The sooner we open up to it, the better.

Change is the essence of life.

If we don’t change, we don’t grow.

Change is future.

And it is here, right now.

Be the change you want to see.

In the ‘company’ of a ‘companion’

Today I lumber out of my 6 month blogging hiatus with an article in the domain of linguistics. As the title suggests, its about the meaning and the origins of the word ‘companion’, and it was brought to my notice by my fiancé. Aptly so, don’t you think?

Right then. Why did the origins of that one word strike me as interesting? Here’s why.

‘Companion’ has its origins in the French word ‘compaignon’, which literally means ‘one who breaks bread with another’, based on the Latin ‘com’‘together with’ and ‘panis’‘bread’. This, I think, is brilliantly logical. In a way it means that a companion is a person with whom you share something you’ve toiled for – your bread, or to be more generic, your food. Its the most basic of the necessities that you share with someone, and therefore has the most value, which in turn means that you should really value the person whom you share it with. That person may be your partner (husband or wife), friend, colleague, neighbor (I know, that’s pushing it!).

The New Oxford American Dictionary too puts the meaning as:

“a person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels”

which generally corroborates the original meaning of the word and applies a modern connotation to it. A companion now would also mean a compatriot, a comrade, a person with whom you share your most inner thoughts and experiences, a confidant, or as the Spanish would put it, an ‘amigo’.

How much of all this still holds true, is a matter of debate in today’s world of treacherous alliances, cut-throat competition and a race for ever expanding profits.

Case in the point: The word ‘company’ is naturally derived from ‘companion’. Considering its usage as meaning a firm, corporation, enterprise or consortium, there you are in the company of like-minded individuals, or at least should be. Various job descriptions e.g. ‘company secretary’ have in turn been derived from ‘company’. Its the contemporary usage of the word in some cases that amazes me. We take the word for granted without thinking about its depth.

The very fact that you are amidst like-minded people pursuing a common goal should mean attributes such as trust and loyalty are obvious. The spirit of teamwork and notions such as watching each other’s back and sharing information honestly should come naturally. Its not always the case though, because some of us treat the ‘company’ like a building made of stone and cement, where you only work, or command work from others. A place for personal gains, attempts to claim personal laurels, set selfish goals, convene water-cooler talks and gossip meetings, conduct rat-races, and eventually malign the origins of the word like hauling down the statue of a great old forgotten and misquoted leader by pulling in different directions. A by-product of ‘growing big’ and inter-departmental rivalries, you might say, but isn’t everyone (at least theoretically) supposed to collectively propel the ship of the ‘company’ forward?

Some food for thought. Wanna share?