When Thoughts Took Off

airportTwo weeks ago, I was stranded at the Jakarta Airport for almost a day with an unconfirmed ticket. Along with the flights going full, there was my mind willing to squeeze one thought after another with a willingness to process observations. I’ve read and heard of people making the most of their experiences at airport and taking to pen and paper to immortalize the moments. Of the most notable, certainly, is Alain De Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel.”

Here are a few thoughts that kept my mind occupied at the airport despite my eye-lids failing me often –

1 – I understood why many people celebrate the success of an expedition with a travel partner. While travelling is a fun and adventurous experience that keeps you occupied, some circumstances eventually make you realise that man’s happiness is a reflection of the company he shares. A traveler’s misery can reduce greatly if accompanied by a trusted comrade who shares the discomforts in times of uncertainty.

2 – I understood the wisdom in the Islamic teaching of giving Zakat (alms) to a traveler to help him/her financially. This charity can be addressed to both Muslims or non-Muslims. While a man may live a comfortable life with community support back in home, he could face unforeseen difficulties during travel. Though a man would like to flow like the stream, he may be forced to remain stagnant like the pebbles underneath. The reasons could be many – the traveller may have prepared for limited number of days with limited money, the currency he carries – though abundant – may not be accepted for exchange, he may have been robbed during travel and so on. Act of kindness is not affixed to national priorities to help fellow citizens, rather it lies in your heart which understands a traveler in need as a brother in humanity.

3 – When there’s a technical glitch in an aircraft mid-air, the pilot does not lose his cool and manhandle the control. That’s an option that would not make it to the pilot’s conscience and common sense, leave alone a manual book. A passenger is no less a pilot in ensuring a smooth travel for his co-travellers. Either a traveller could be peeved with a  situation to the point of making the discomfit contagious, or he / she could empathize with the situational demands and cooperate with those who work to rectify the issues. During the testing times at the airport, I came across a bunch of crass, rude, loud and indecent passengers who faced the same situation as me and others. Their uncivil behaviour with the staff of the airline suggested that travel methods of the modern world have failed to command their respect and dignity for the humankind. With the fear of stereotyping, I couldn’t help but wish that such people be limited to their ancestral vehicles marked by camels and horses. Even then, I wondered if an unsettled camel would have to be at the receiving end of their ire and whimsical nature. When you lack a travel companion to comfort you, it helps to adopt all your co-passengers and staff as if their comfort depends on the words that leave your tongue.

4 – Economic  differentiation does not fail you anywhere, including the airports. Passengers are divided into Economy, Business or the First Class, and with the new schemes of Frequent Flyer Programmes (FPPs) – into Platinum, Gold and Silver. We have internalized differentiation based on wealth, and are never surprised when we are not necessarily treated the same as our co-passenger.

My stay at the airport has to it a poignant build up of some unfortunate events in the history of civil aviation. And another fact – as real as economic discrimination –  stares us in our faces. However rich we may be as an individual and as a traveller, and how so every the airline’s services may have favoured our clout, an unfortunate accident would leave us as a trivial residue in the same debris that constitutes every other passenger – be it from the Economy, Business or the First Class.

Maybe the best of human values can be applied every day, in or outside the airport. After all, the most celebrated of all travels, is the journey of life.

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Thank You UNESCO, friends in Bali, and that passenger who cancelled his flight

Rafting on the Ayung River

Rafting on the Ayung River

I suffer from massive post-Bali blues as I write this post. For someone who’s recent past has been marked with minimal activity, the period between the 20th and 30th of August, 2014 will certainly be one of the memorable times spent in some useful activity.

Writing on the learnings from the Asia Pacific Youth Training in Media & Civic Participation which was followed by the Global Media Forum in Bali would require a separate post altogether. This post is a gratitude to the people I met and interacted with at Bali, members of UNESCO, and as the title suggests, a passenger who indirectly helped me reach home.

Up until this training programme, UNESCO to me was a subject of a few articles I read, part of college notes in the last semester and a twitter handle I followed. I had, however, read about its goals in development of societies and recognition of cultures. This training programme gave me a first hand experience of its ability to gather admirable youngsters from various parts of the world on a common platform for exchange of ideas and experiences. Any university could do that, but it is UNESCO’s ambition to put youth at the forefront of substantial work that justifies its heavy investment in a programme of this kind. Thank you Charaf, Mikel, Ailsa and others from UNESCO for giving me this opportunity, and also Niwa and Iman of the Young Future Leaders group for tirelessly taking sessions during the training.

Working for the Youth Newsroom was an awesome experience, and I extend my gratitude to the editors who worked on my articles. I also thank Nick, Mr. Michele Zaccheo and Mr. Noel Boivin for supervising our efforts.

People are becoming increasingly mobile these days and very few live in a bubble. If the young are set to become ‘global’ citizens of tomorrow, their success depends greatly on the kind of people they meet and interact with who don’t belong to their countries. During this programme, I met people from more than 20 different countries. While I could not spend enough time interacting with each representative equally, I would like to thank them simply for representing their nation at the platform. Your stories have helped me and others build a reservoir of information about places we have not visited so far. Some youngsters are already inspirational and have dome great work in the field of development. I would like to thank everyone for sharing their work with us and giving us a lead on what could be reproduced back home to address local challenges.

I would like to particularly thank the host participants from Indonesia who played their part in upholding their country’s hospitality and kindness. Honestly, I’m not sure if Indians would go far into gifting souvenirs to their guests. You guys are certainly the future and I hope the next time I come to Indonesia, I meet at least some of you again.

I spent a lot of time with some great desi (a world usually used for Indians and Pakistanis) friends. Meeting, interacting and spending time with those lads from Pakistan, I honestly feel sad for those millions of people from India and Pakistan who have never interacted with each other, and worse, wish that an interaction never takes place. The only way forward for a peaceful world is greater tolerance between the two different countries who are rich in culture, tradition and history – things that they ironically share with each other to a great extent. While politicians from our respective countries spill vile at each other, UNESCO could be at the forefront of insulating the youth from such hatred and providing a common ground for interaction and brotherhood.

Lastly, I would like to thank the passenger, who I obviously have no clue of, for cancelling his ticket for Emirates Airlines flight 357 from Jakarta to Dubai. After being stranded at the Airport, I could replace the passenger on the flight and finally head home while flights flew full capacity.

Thank you all, once again. Hope all of you are back home safely and resuming from where you left before this training programme.

 

The Perfect Internship

I agree that I do get easily moved by kind gesture, and many times I find myself recollecting some things for longer than its impact on my life. But a month long internship experience that I had during my college is something that I fondly recollect even after a year of its completion. The  images of those days at internship flash in my mind  these days since I am on a hunt for job openings. And to begin with an allegation, the Perfect Relations office in Mumbai should be held guilty for a grave offence.

Or let me spare the other departments in the office and focus my allegation towards the Digital PR team that I was a part of as an intern. This was a closely-knit team with an energetic spirit. They may have come from different walks of life with varied experiences, and maybe the only common string between them may have been that all of them braved the horrendous travel ordeal in Mumbai to arrive at office. The ones to be charged with the offence me go by these names – Nicole, Purva, Yuvraj, Ankit, Vishal, Tanvi, and Sushant. Amit Sir can be let off with minor charges as he graced our college once as a guest lecturer to redeem himself. And I request for the severest punishment for Urvashi for reasons too many to  mention. (Surnames have been withheld to protect their reputation.)

Their offence – providing me with the best internship experience a student could have asked for and spoiling me to such a degree that I cannot imagine a better work environment than the one they created for a stranger like me.

The background of the internship is as important as the internship itself. This was a phase when I, like other students from college, was on a relentless quest to get the first industry internship. So much was the desperation that I was mentally prepared to make-do with even an average opportunity or less. Turned out that landing up with this internship (for which Urvashi had been instrumental; but she should still be charged) was not the only lucky thing to have happened, my luck would introduce me to some of the best people I have come across.

I was a studious observer of their ability to strike a great balance between work and fun, the success at each supplementing the other. While I came across admirable professionals who knew their job well and worked to excel at what they do, I also witnessed their vibrant side marked by friendly banter and mutual care. Tracking the social media meant that each of them had come across a hilarious meme or some ridiculous activity by the Indian users of social media. Loud laughters were interspersed with pronounced silence as they went about their way in getting their work done, possibly driven by individual aims of earning for their families or progressing in the industry. They weren’t all too consumed by their work or incessantly bogged down by the pressures of work load. They always made time to inquire if the interns were comfortable, often advising me to leave office early and visit a doctor when my blocked nose made me sound like a breathless toad. Taking work from them was more like helping them in playing a sport rather than sharing burden. They greatly appreciated the little work I could do as an intern, and even today I would say that what I did for the team fell way short of what I gathered from their affection.

In a city like Mumbai. there are difficulties posed by travelling in local trains, harsh weather, rampant crime, cramped spaces and people at times literally trampling over you. I believe part of what keeps a Mumbaikar going is the mutual effort of colleagues and friends in ensuring that the hours of work in the office leave them refreshed and energised for the fresh set of challenges on their way home. While work can be very stressful at times, it can be diluted with some helping hands with genuine care in the well-being of each other. Looking at the positive attitude of the team, I would often feel bad myself for not being able to match with their enthusiasm in life and at work.

Any cynic, including the one in myself, would joke that this sounds like some PR move for a PR agency. Disregarding the poor joke, this post is less about the organisation than its ability to attract such great people into their work ethic. Or maybe it’s the ability of the current employees in the team in bringing out the best in an otherwise less enthused member joining them. I wouldn’t know if this culture that I grew fond of runs beyond the Digital PR team and is all pervasive in the organisation. But this is something I wish every young, aspiring communications person comes across. The level of respect amongst the team members is exemplary and something that needs to be cultivated in a world which is marked by arrogance and harmful slander. Being in the midst of a team like this one would compensate for the headaches of surviving in a chaotic and help sport a strong mind and a gentle heart – both at work and outside. In this respect, to use a PR jargon, this agency has certainly gathered some ‘earned’ PR.

Beyond a few tricks of the trade, what I learnt from the internship was that it is, after all, human beings that make up a workplace.  All goals at work, though translated into statements and monetary figures, are met with ultimately to make some other beings happy who have a stake in the goal. And while financial incentives may bring delight towards the end of the month and carry on for a few days, humans are innocent beings that absorb happiness at an given moment. Nothing is more frightening than the fear of grief. The rattling of the keyboard keys in the office will always be dwarfed by the crackling laughter of employees. A sharp mind at work will always need a tender heart to deal with individuals. And many times, the most expensive meal bought from ones salary may fall short of the gratification one receives from sharing a meal with a great team.

And while I am yet to experience the former, I can boast about having lunch with a bunch of people who, possibly without their knowing, left me with some food for thought.

The Parting Gift

My parting gift from the team at the end of my internship

Out Of My Comfort Zone

This is something I had written a little more than 2 years back. As college has come to an end and I’ve left what I believe is certainly one of the best cities to be in, this article helps me jog my memory to those wonderful days. It’s a revelation to myself to, what I thought about the new city in the first few months. This is for you, Pune. (Minor changes have been made from the original one)

The sun rose again, my room inviting the warmth to fall upon its interiors. But how different was this morning from the ones that went by, greeting me with the shimmering light while I lay flat with laziness? It was the same sun, but I was not in Dubai anymore. The sun rose to greet me thousands of miles from my home, in the city of Pune too. Out of My Comfort Zone. Inspired from the title of the autobiography of former Australian Cricketer – Steve Waugh’s, there is a difference in the implication of the same in the two lives. While that man achieved heights in cricket that are now lauded in the world, I am an 18 year old Media Student who can only speak in great volumes of his decision to give up (perhaps temporarily), the great peace and leisure of living a life dependent on family, familiar surroundings, tantalizingly delectable food and greater insulation from hardships.

But after almost eight months of my life as a student of SIMC UG, I wonder if looking at that morning differently can be justified. Pune for me has turned out to be a home without unnecessary attention, a lifestyle that enables me to choose between the a modest pace of activity with ample time for introspection and a pace devoid of rapid work, self-development and success. Noises, noises that I hear throughout the day from home to college and back whirl in the head like it’s an integral part of my sanity. The distinct noise of the Auto-Rickshaw amidst the crowded streets of Pune brings vibrancy, while some are in cars, and many more on bikes. The six-seated rickshaw (‘Tum Tum’ as is locally known) cannot go unnoticed on the roads. Running mostly on main roads that link important locations, these ‘Tum Tums’ help people of all economic strata commute with convenience (not if you mind squeezing in yourself and your ego). Simply hearing the conversations of the commuters portrays the cosmopolitan aspects of Pune. One will find people speaking in Hindi, Marathi, English, Tamil, Malayalam, and so much so even Persian.

My favourite element that goes in living out a day in Pune, however, will always be the tea-stalls (As every interesting thing carries a local name, this one’s ‘Tapri’). In corners where an establishment is unimaginable, one comes to term with what keeps these Punekars charged up throughout the day – Tea, with ‘Vada Pavs’ devoured for good measures. A few taxing months and I’ve already started seeing my fuel in those ‘cuttings’.

Source - marketplacehandworkofindia.wordpress.com

What Pune runs on

In this admirable and eclectic city, why would one not interact with the populace one comes across? When I’m not slogging my way into flagging down the atrocious fares, I’ve spoken to Auto drivers asking them about their life and daily routine. It’s simple, I’ve learned. They wake up very early in the morning, launch their ride on the roads, and return home late. In the process of this seemingly simple routine, they have dropped numerous passengers to their respective destinations, most of the time arguing against bargains in the process. Speaking to students of my age, I’ve gathered from many that they sleep at the stroke of dawn, and wake up when it’s dark. I still reflect upon the first day of my college.

Then and now, has Pune already become close to home? Have I judged this city in haste, and probably there’s more to what I see? Will this phase of moderate inner bliss remain the same as years pass by? Are there major parts of the city that are yet to be discovered? Will I finally become adept at speaking Marathi, and probably boast about successful attempts of haggling down the Auto-Rickshaw fares in the driver’s own language?

These questions probably instil within me the drive to explore Pune beyond the perception of an average NRI. It’s not very sunny anymore; looks like the sun would like a nap. As I draw the curtains, the tapri outside tempts me with its tea. It’s time to refuel, perhaps within my new comfort zone.