Thursday, April 16, 2015

Trip report – Mykonos, Greece

It has been six months since we visited Greece. The details are now blurry, but the stories from the vacation need to be here. And so it goes.

The symbolic windmills in the beautiful town of Mykonos. 

Lovely views

We had to take a ferry from Santorini to Mykonos. It was the first week of October and I had read stories of ferries being cancelled at the last minute. Thankfully, the weather was fine and we set sail to what was a an extremely beautiful beach destination.

Now Mykonos is the party capital of Greece. Unfortunately for us, the party ended in August. The most famous beach there – Paradise beach – has thousands of visitors shedding inhibitions and dancing all day in the summer months. We went to Paradise beach twice, only to enjoy the tranquillity and the beautiful sand.

Our hotel was in the centre of the town. But the GPS fooled us and our first outing was a disaster. We were going to the centre and it took us from ‘the shortest route possible’.  It was dark, the road was narrow, cars were coming from all directions, and we were walking to find restaurants!

When we did reach the area, it was absolutely beautiful with lots of narrow walkways, shops and restaurants all around. Our friends wanted Indian food, so went to this desi joint and encountered a horrible waitress. She kept glasses on our table with a loud bang. When we asked for chapatis, she came and said with a disturbing attitude,“We don’t have them. What will you do?”. When we look back, it was absolutely hilarious. That ‘what will you do’ has become a famous quote in our house!

The next day was another adventure on its own. Again, I must say, the GPS was at fault. We hired a car and went beach hunting. Our first stop was the pretty and simple to reach – Paradise beach. The ocean was cold and so we just lazed around on sun loungers with beer and good food. The waitress was the cutest! Close to the beach there was a cliff where they had an Indian restaurant. We called the owner to ask about it before driving there. He asked us to come after a couple of hours!

The sandy beach of Paradise!

The Boy - exposed!!! :p

Yes, October was not a peak season and people were relaxing. Now these Indian restaurants in European cities usually have two people managing a small restaurant. One serves, the other cooks. This guy was no exception. Only thing is he was having a conversation with someone back home and expelling BC/MC with ease!

We had a laugh with that too. And then we thought of going to Super Paradise beach. If we would have taken a U-Turn and gone to the highway, the road to the beach would have been easier. We didn’t know. So we asked our GPS for help. She took us from mountains and pebbly roads which were extremely dangerous. It was the most adventurous ride we’ve had in our life. It was steep, it was uneven, it was long, it had blind turns, it was a SINGLE road on a mountain…hmm!

But we managed to laugh that off as well and went to two more beaches after that. They were mostly empty because the water was cold. Even then, there lay a couple of topless women and the boys were happy!
We imagined how those beaches would be in summer. They were absolutely gorgeous. The clubs were amazing. The bars were superb. We thought we’ll go there again sometime..

In the evening we went for dinner at an Italian place in an area called Little Venice. The water from the sea splashed on the banks and the place was a beauty. Nobody asked us ‘What will we do’ and they even gave us blankets because it was a tad cold. We felt welcomed.

Little Venice in Mykonos

The next day we thought of not taking our chances and visiting Paradise beach again. We have lots of fun with the couple we went with, so it didn’t matter. The vacation was chilled out and we had nothing to tick mark. The people at the beach were humble and it was another feel-good outing. In the evening we went to eat Doner kebabs at a smallish restaurant. The owner was clearly stoned! Our friend couldn’t find him and so, he started tapping the counter mildly. The guy appeared from nowhere and started saying ‘What are you doing? Have some respect. You have to respect me.” Man, what was up with these people in Mykonos? Summer had been long it seemed!

We walked around the beautiful market area again in the evening and discovered little corners. Our hotel room was perfect, their breakfast was huge, and the beaches were blissful. Even with some rude encounters, our trip was perfect. We thought we’d go again.

Loved these lanes in Mykonos

Our plane out was a very small one, with sort of a ladder to the door! We went to Athens for a flight back to Bahrain. The next day was Karwachauth, the friends were going to stay over-night before going to their home in Dubai, there was supposed to be a party at my place that night… I loved every bit of it!

Sunset from our Hotel
Read about Athens and Santorini in previous posts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Asus Zenphone 2 - Redefining Your Smart Phone Experience.

In a market where a new smart phone is launched every few weeks, one is compelled to look at different ones to compare. The latest one that is all set to redefine how we look at phones is the Asus Zenphone 2. The Taiwanese brand Asus is launching its flagship Zenfone 2 in India on April 23. It will have two variants of ZE 551 ML and one of ZE 550 ML.

The Zenfone 2 ZE 551 ML model with Full HD display will be available in 4GB RAM and 2GB RAM choices while the Zenfone 2 ZE 550 ML will come with a 720p display and 2GB RAM.

So what is it about these phones that you must look forward to? Well, here are five reasons why and how it could redefine your smart phone experience:

1. Faster speed – Now this one is an obvious reason to go for a Zenphone 2. The 4GB RAM means that the processor will be much faster making switching between tasks quicker. With new applications launched every day, a common complain that we make is that our phones become very slow. This is a first in Smart Phone category and something to look forward to.

2. Metallic look – Zenphone 2 has the curved metal look that we all love. The plastic rear has a solid metallic finish giving the phone a premium look. It will be available in Gold, Red, White, Silver and Black. The phone is also sturdy and compact.

3. Panorama Selfies – Let’s face it – we all love to take selfies. Asus is introducing panorama selfies which means you can take the picture of the entire surrounding along with your face. That would definitely be interesting to see and comment on once the phone is in the market. The front camera comes at 5 mega pixel. The rear camera seems good as well with 13 mega pixel configuration.

4. Fast charging – Asus is claiming that this phone will be charged upto 60% in just 40 minutes. That would definitely be a boon to the Smart Phone users since we are always running short of batter life. You can charge your phone while commuting and that should basically solve your problems!

5. Pricing – Now we don’t know what the price of this phone will be as of now. But considering how the first generation of this phone was priced at, we should be expect a reasonable amount for this as well. As of now, Zenphone 5 is priced at less than Rs. 10,000 and since my mother uses it, I can safely tell you it is a very good phone with basically everything. In fact the screen is so huge that it really satisfies all her needs.

The industry is expecting the price to be between Rs. 11,999 and 17,999 for the three variants. Let’s wait and watch!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Good Karma with #DilKiDealOnSnapdeal

Two years back, Seema, the help at my maternal place, told me that she was saving some money to buy a laptop for her two girls, Prerna and Prateeksha. They were 11 and 13, respectively, and Seema was leaving no stone unturned to provide the best education for them.

I was happy to see her exuberance. She is one of the few women who got her uterus removed after having two daughters. She knew that she and her husband, Vijay, won’t be able to handle the expense of having more kids and this was the intelligent thing to do. I was also proud to see that in a world where parents think that a girl-child is a burden and their only responsibility is to get her married, she and her husband were raising career-oriented girls.

Not only this, they were making sure they got the best schooling. I remember how a few years back they moved the girls from a lesser known school to a better one just so they were at par with the others. Their total household income is not more than Rs. 15,000 a month, still they wanted to put their girl’s education before anything else.

Since this whole family lives in a small apartment on our terrace, these girls have grown up in front of me. They’ve played with my niece and nephew every single day. My niece learned to play running games from these girls because they were both so outdoorsy. Sometimes my sister-in-law would go out of her way to teach them for their exams. At other times, my niece would yearn for their company.

These girls, who ran around the house saying didi, didi, are now teenagers. Now they can even wear my pre-loved clothes and shoes! I’ve grown attached to them and so, when Prateeksha passed her class 10 exams with good grades, I promised her a surprise gift.

It wasn’t difficult to think what she would like. I wanted to buy her a laptop with good specifications that would last for sometime. There were many in the market that qualified as a laptop. But there were only few that would guarantee longevity. I looked up Snapdeal and found a HP Notebook with core i3, free DOS, 2GB RAM, and other fairly decent specifications . My heart was set on that.

Now this laptop was for Rs. 25,000 and I am a housewife. The Boy would have agreed to do his bit, but I wanted to do this on my own. With good intention comes good fortune - I managed to win two blogging contests that won me an iPad and a Rs. 5000 gift voucher. I immediately decided to sell off the iPad and buy the laptop.


I did think a few times before writing this post for I didn’t want to sound like I am bragging about a good deed. Well, I am not, and that’s all I can say. What I am really trying to do is encourage others in using a fraction of their salary to make a difference - just like I learnt from an aunt.

The day Seema received the laptop she was jumping with joy. She called me up and thanked me a million times. Like a typical help she blessed me and said, “Jijaji din dugani aur raat chaugni tarakki karen.” (roughly translating to - may your husband prosper). Her happiness did bring tears to my eyes and my purpose was fulfilled. In no way this was a selfless good deed because it made me very, very happy.

That's Prateeksha, now in class XI, posing with the laptop.

I really hope her girls can use technology and are able to do well in their life. I’ve seen their parents struggle every single day. This gift was nothing in comparison to how they help my family in day-to-day life and the example they are setting for the society. It was indeed a #DilKiDealOnSnapdeal and I am so glad I made it.

 I am participating in the #DilKiDealOnSnapdeal activity at BlogAdda in association with SnapDeal.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Purpose of their Life

There are some of us who are the thinking types. We look at the clear blue skies and wonder ‘what is the purpose of life’. I am one of those. I am also one of those who finds her answers by typing the thoughts down.

I have this house help who lives in the Middle East to provide for her family back home in India. She must be around 30. She got married to her late sister’s husband because the sibling died leaving a daughter behind. After getting married, my maid had another daughter. She lived with her for 1.5 years and then left her with her grandmother so that she can earn money and provide her a comfortable life. It has been four years now and she has not seen her daughter.

There is another maid who has daughters who are now 16 and 20, respectively. Last year the 20-year old got married. My maid spent all her life’s savings to ‘give’ her away. Not only this, she had to spend six months in India to sort out some issues. When she came back she had lost her previous jobs and had to look for new ones. Fast forward nine months, her daughter was now expecting her first baby. Of course there was no one else who would help her daughter give birth. So it has been two months and she is again in India, spending all her hard-earned money on rituals.

My taxi driver got married and came back sans the wife because it is costly to bring here here. Also, he has a mother back home who needs a 'care taker'. He went for a short vacation and after nine months his first child was born. Since then, he has seen his child once and hasn't got the resources to bring his family here. 

It is the same with almost every person working in homes, driving taxis or working as a labour here. I wonder what inspires them. I wonder if they have ever thought ‘what is the purpose of their life’.

If we were animals without dreams, aspirations and thoughts, I would have considered this normal. The purpose of life would be to make another life, help it grow and your job is done. But I live in an over-populated earth. Although I have enough resources and my sacrifices wouldn’t be as much, I still think it is a huge price to pay.

Our society has ingrained certain beliefs in us. It has laid down a certain course of action – study, work, get married, have multiple children, die – everything else is secondary. If some of us decide to do something out of the ordinary, we are made to question our own decisions. That is how society f***s up our mind.

To me, the purpose of life is to be happy and take care of what God has given you. Our first responsibility is to take care of our own body because it is really a gift. Everything else is secondary. These people who live here and work for their children’s upbringing don’t eat enough. They are dying a slow death. They are not even living with their kids who can give them the ‘happiness’ they must have aimed for when they gave birth. Some of them even have extra-marital affairs here to get emotional support from another human being. Needless to say, their spouse back home indulges in the same.

I know that it is education that makes us question the norms. They probably did not have the chance or ability to go against the system. We may not have a reason not to have kids, but seeing them miserable is definitely a reason to question the whole process.

Isn’t it time people started advocating both sides of the coin? There may be a lot of happiness in having children, but there may be more joy in not having them. It is time our world started seeing childfree as a normal thing rather than a selfish act so that these people, who sacrifice the most to adhere to the world’s established rule, are enlightened.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trip Report - Santorini, Greece

We went to Greece last year because there was a direct flight from our city and we had little to do during Eid holidays. A friend asked us, and we didn’t have a reason to say no. And well, who doesn't have Greece on their bucket list?

Deciding on Athens, Santorini and Mykonos was easy. All three are extremely diverse towns with a good mix of beauty, culture and entertainment. We saw varied landscapes of Greece all through our vacation and that is what made it so interesting.

Now we’ve all seen Santorini in movies. We all want to go there. The blue and white is alluring and every picture that you have seen of the place is so romantic. Well, it is all true. The place is picture perfect – nothing more, nothing less.

Freshly painted structures of Santorini

I love yellow!

The city is divided in two parts – Fira and Oia. The hotels are all on a cliff with a lot of steps to reach them. We decided to stay in Fira because it had more places to eat! And we chose a hotel that had no steps (which was hard to find because there are only 2-3).

Our hotel was at the beginning of a long pedestrian-only stretch that had shops and restaurants on each side. The grey and white floor, freshly painted structures, light music coming out from each place, tourists mingling and laughing – it was all wonderful.

Fira and its hotels. 

Unfortunately, that was it. You walk around that street, walk up and down the steps, look at the sea, do some window shopping and hog on. It was a perfect holiday for people who are stressed out and need nothing more to do. But for people who look for entertainment for three nights, there was little choice.
In no way I am saying that the beauty of Santorini has any parallel. It is absolutely gorgeous. At the same time, it is extremely touristy. It is so picture perfect that people just want to click all the time. Sometimes it got really annoying seeing everyone with a selfie stick trying to capture the blue and white. Whatever happened to living in the moment?


Along the street in Fira

Fake pose! Someone hates the camera
and this someone did not like tourists in Santorini one bit!

Not to forget, the sunset is the selling point of Santorini. It goes down completely into the blue ocean and looks beautiful. The best views are from Oia. So we went there to check it out. Trust me, we couldn’t stay till the actual sunset happened. There were thousands of people gathered to watch in a very small place and it got claustrophobic. Frankly, I think we never watch the sun set at home. It is equally beautiful in any country facing the sea!

Will do anything for a picture with the sunset

Beauty and drinks in the less hyped Fira!

When it got claustrophobic in Oia

It was cute to watch new brides walking around in there gowns. Apparently, it is a perfect place to get clicked after the wedding. We had lots of fun in our hotel’s balcony watching, guess what, the sun go down! We sat there for hours playing hindi music, drinking, eating and dancing with friends. I just have to mention the doner kebabs we had there - they were to die for! We love our Turkish street food and this did not disappoint us.

Devouring the Doner Kebab!

My advice to people on Santorini will be that you must go for a couple of days at max. I also think it’s a good trip to make when you are, maybe, 50 so that you can completely enjoy the beauty and not be bogged down by the lack of entertainment. It is a pretty place (as you can make out from the pictures) and you will love it. Also, you will click the best pictures of your life here - like we got this one!

Oh yes, why should we be left behind!
Read about Athens here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Journey to Remember

Sometimes, even when you are at home, the days fall short. For me, that time is when I am planning a holiday.

Travelling inspires me. It makes me want to do things I’ve never done before. It makes me want to stay fit to walk around every corner of the globe. I know resources are important, but even if you have the money, you may not be able to travel for several other reasons. I don’t want ANY of those reasons to come in between my plans to tour the world.

So, last few days have been crazy. We have two vacations coming up – one in July and one in September. Before that, we are going home for a month next week. That meant that I needed to chalk out my plans and book hotels so that we get the best rates. And we did.

Did you know there is no better thing than chalking out a plan for a holiday? It makes me visit a place even before I go there. Pictures never do justice to a town. So both the experiences are totally different. Whoever said that planning before going is not important, missed out on breathing the air of a destination before reaching it.

I’ve been visiting Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Cyprus since the last few days. My days start on the laptop, and end with a dream of the destination. We needed to find out the cities we wanted to visit. We had to see which towns had easier connections. We had to book hotels that were both quiet and centrally located. How do you do that? - By researching, reading and asking. I’ve now reviewed, asked and answered so many questions/destinations on Tripadvisor that people send me private mails asking about things. That makes me very proud actually!

Speaking about Tripadvisor, it is one of my favorite places to visit before and after venturing out. I spend hours on it planning my itinerary. And then I spend some time giving it back – by reviewing the places and filing trip reports. The map that I have there, oh well, I wish I could take out a big print out of it and stick it on my wall.

That’s the dream really - to stick a pin on every destination possible. Everyone around me seems to carry a Louis Vuitton or wear an Omega; but my motto is simple – I’ll rather buy a holiday than spend the same amount on materialistic luxuries. The same Rs. 20,000/50,000/2,00,000 (Yes, that’s how expensive these bags and watches are!) can give you immense pleasure on a mountain than carrying a man-made, society-driven, branded rubbish.

So take a weekend off, look into your bank account, open Tripadvisor, and breath-in the air of a destination you have never visited. Then go there and make your life a journey to remember.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Billion in Binary - a letter from the future

The following letter is a fictitious piece of writing. Some of the ideas below are a work-in-progress, while others are a figment of my imagination waiting to become a reality.

                                          17th November 2020
To Whom It May Concern

It started with a tryst with destiny
After a hard struggle the pledge was redeemed
India awakened to life and freedom
Development? – far-fetched it seemed.

The Indian government is trying to be in the mobile of each and every citizen. A lot has been done in the past few years to enable the common man reach out to the government, to cut the middleman, to simplify processes, and most of all, to curb corruption through greater transparency. e-Governance, through technology, has enabled this change, and I am glad to inform you that our country has indeed become a better place.

A lot of technological advancement also took place to streamline the changes -

*Internet facilities: Connecting rural and urban India alike, a grand plan of National Optical Fibre Network is underway.

*One-point Identity: The identity of more than a billion was stored in one big cloud in the form of binary digits. One-point online identity was created for every citizen which had all his information - Name, Date of Birth, Past and present address, blood type, drivers licence no., etc. He could store his important documents here as well in a secure way (Digital Locker).

*Easy navigation: Websites were made user friendly. They were made easy to translate in user's language. They were also integrated under 10 broad categories to avoid the confusion of multiple point of contact.

*Application development: The Urbanized Indian was moving towards smart phone applications for each and everything. The government left no stone unturned to keep that vote bank on its side.

*Cyber Police: The civilians were under a threat from cyber crime. A proper 'defence' budget was allocated and Internet security was tightened.

*Technology at a budget: As for the lower strata, laptops and tablets were provided to them at discounted rates. Internet was made widely available.  Cyber Cafes were built in areas where laptops could not be provided.

*Connecting with villagers: Video conferencing between leaders of the Panchayat and State ministers was given a lot of importance.

*Innovate for India: Tech companies like Intel took upon themselves to educate all about technology to people from the lower income bracket.

*Preparing for the Future: A special course on e-Governance and technology was introduced in IIT Delhi to hone skills of candidates who would consider it a viable career option.

*Online classes: Global online courses conforming with International standards on e-Governance were taken up for those already in the government.

*Doordarshan and All India Radio: National Television had a daily class for one hour every day to teach the common man how to use a computer. National Radio also had a half an hour class each day. IT trainers were hired in regions with low literacy rate.

Engineers, doctors, bankers
We shared our intellect globally
When it came to developing our nation
We worked hard, we worked relentlessly.

With continuous technological upgrades, government was able to come up with new, innovative policies for the common man. The main purpose of these policies was to provide basic necessities to the common man, to stream line processes for the Urban Indian, and to curb corruption at every level.

A few years back the capital city of Delhi became the first place to launch e-ration card service.

This news led to reduction in delays in preparation and delivery to the beneficiaries. The end user got the real advantage rather than the ration card distributor who tends to hold and misuse the card. Since the information on the website was public, users could file a report if they found a non-eligible person misusing the services. Not only this, the work of officers in 70 ration offices was checked by the users through the website.

With a billion mouths to feed,
Come twice the hands to work,
Some call it a liability,
We are working towards making it a perk.

This was indeed a welcome change. Corruption was eating up tax-payers money and hindering development at all levels. The next news item that caught my eye was in the field of infrastructure:

What the news really meant:
According to this scheme, the citizens could apply for a road construction/development. As soon as his application is approved, he will be notified via SMS or E-mail and assigned a builder. If a builder doesn’t start his work in stipulated time, the citizen can complain directly and give him negative rating. This will apply to any large scale, government authorized Public works around the area as well.

How will it bring about change:
We have heard how roads take years to build. They disrupt traffic, delay access to villages, and are not up to the mark many times. Through this, the common man can directly ask the government to provide him this basic infrastructure. He can complain against a corrupt builder. He can also rate the quality of the work done on a public platform i.e. the respective website.

Another concern that most of us have is the cost of a project. A Rs. 500 item is declared as a Rs. 1500 piece thereby showing the cost of the project three times the actual. The middlemen enjoy the benefit and the citizens are helpless. The portal will show the cost of the project in real time and the citizens can have easy access to this information.

The role of technology:
*The citizen can apply for a development project online.
*He can rate the work of a builder which will ensure quality.
*He can even access information on the project work going on in his area and critique the activity.
*The cost of the project will be updated in real time and the citizen can question the procurement of goods.
*The Gram Panchayat can hold Video Conferences with higher authorities in case of a larger project being delayed.

The change:
Remember the fly-over that was promised 10 years back and is still in its initial stages? No, you don’t - because the builder was negatively rated by the citizens and was banned for the next 2 years. A new one was assigned and the project completed in good time.

A lot of people did not get the roads they wanted because their application was still on hold. But a greater number benefited from the scheme and now have access to cities. I must say, this has indeed improved the quality of infrastructure in our country and builders/corrupt government officials are scared of the citizens. 

Our minds are not in fear
And our heads are held high
We embrace the new with open arms
To the old, we say good-bye.

Citizens were very happy with the changes. Quality of life in India was improving. With Food and infrastructure in decent state of digitalization, it was time for a health initiative. This news was a sigh of relief for the entire country:

What this news really meant:
According to this, the health data of a person can be at one place. Whenever he/she goes to a doctor in a government hospital, his details will be available online. 

The needy who have applied and are entitled for cheap medical services, will be able to get quick approvals whenever necessary. Also, the name of the doctors and hospitals who treated a particular individual will be entered making it easier for any future health practitioner to access information.

How will it bring about change:
We all consider ourselves doctors. But when it comes to actual fact related to our health, we don't know anything. So much so that some people don't even know there blood type, blood pressure levels and history of diseases in the family. With access to online information like this, it will become easier for doctors to treat a certain patient.

How technology will help:
* Citizens can enter all their data online hence making treatment easier.
*Prescriptions, appointments, diagnosis - everything in one place.
* Beneficiaries will not have to do paper work in times of emergencies and can get access to resources in a lessor time.
* Doctors and hospital facilities will be rated. This will help patients to find the best possible option in the area.
* Organ donation will become more clear with all details of the deceased in one place.
*If you donate blood every year, special credits will be added to your online profile.

The Change:
Health of the citizens in a country plays a pivotal role in its development. E-health services made the process easier for doctors of the country to provide the best services. A few bad fish in the huge pond of doctors tightened their belt since rating was becoming increasingly painful for them. This portal was painstakingly monitored because in certain cases the relatives of the patients who could not be saved made unnecessary, derogatory remarks on the authorities. It became important to filter the real grievances from the slightly fake ones.

The biggest news came in the field of education from the land of Odisha:

What the news really meant:
According to this scheme, the citizens of the state can enter their educational details on the website. If they are in an area where schools and teachers are not accessible easily, they can apply for new ones. Their applications will be addressed directly by the right authorities instead of a citizen running from pillar to post for one. 

Since Internet is pre-requisite for all the e-governance services, citizens can ask for cyber cafes and Internet in their area. They can also ask for specialized trainers who could visit a town/village and teach the citizens.

How will this help:
The first and foremost thing in a Digital India is this - education. Only when people know how to read, write and actually use these services, will they be able to help in the progress of the nation. This change will be the most important one for the future of Digital India campaign.

How Technology will help:
*Citizens can put their educational data in one place. When they apply for jobs or scholarships, everything is accessible at one platform.
*Real certificates can be identified from the fake ones.
*Schools that are already there will improve their services since citizens can complain at a state-level platform.
*Citizens can learn how to use laptop, tablets and Smart phones in the cyber cafes and training facilities.

The Change:
According to 2011 consensus, Odisha ranked 25 amongst 29 states in order of literacy rate in India with a percentage of 73.45. Within few years, its ranking improved and the quality of education became better. It paved path for many other states to introduce radical changes in their educational structure. 

The #DigitalIndia dream was now becoming a reality for the entire nation in true sense of the word. In 2014, India ranked 85th among 175 countries in terms of global corruption. This rank has drastically come down in the recent years due to more transparency...

Our challenges are new, our goal is clear
- transparency and efficiency in our machinery
With exuberance and renewed pledge
Very soon, the entire 1.2 Billion will be in Binary.

Yours Truly
Future India.