Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Photography with the White Knight

That's what I call my bike.

I just tried my first hands with the so-called "photography", which I have never really understood. Why people go crazy after some photographers? Except for some typical Discovery, Nat-Geo pics they all are the same! They pitch for their brilliant sense of "seeing" things which looks so obvious to me :) No offence, I just couldn't understand. So I said, okay, let's give it a shot, a power shot.

As a wannabe newbie, I'd say it's broadly of two types - static and dynamic. If you insert the device categorization then ramify each category with an analog and a digital. That's it. Capturing millionth of a second moment frame-by-frame through burst mode would go under dynamic. Rest Static. Obviously, I had the latter in mind.

Now, I don't have a DSLR or even a digicam. Also I don't plan to buy one in next two years, at least not untill I really need it. The 5 MP camera of my Samsung Nexus S seems good enough. Especially after reading some really impressive photo-blogs running through just a mobile camera, I didn't need any more excuse.  So, this birthday I took a break from work, and roamed in the city with the White Knight and here is what I could click.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

12 Inspirational Songs that held me Up

Songs are the catalysts of our moods. Sometimes they bridge the scattered emotions and build a story. Sometimes they answer the old dormant questions lying at the back of our mind. They have now built their own space in the brain, a special place. They command a greater control than language. They have better retention abilities. They stimulate thoughts and emotions like no other communication channels. Can I safely say that they have become a necessity?

No matter how avid listener you are, you must have bonded inextricably with a few of them- old, new, rap, rock, classic, trance or just plain music. You have changed, evolved, restructured, worsened or bettered by the bondage. 

Sometimes the change happens before the encounter itself. Have you ever revolved your entire music library to embody your current mood, looking for that very very specific perfect song? Yes you have. This is a "decoration" habit induced by your brain. The fitting songs shelve and organize the feed data and you happen to like this decoration. A favourite song is thus like a friendly librarian who knows the location of the relevant books in the huge huge library.

Long story short - songs DO help in need, in happy, sad, romantic, stressful or drastic moments.

On that note let me share few of the songs that have helped me. They are listed in random order of likeness:

1. Wind - Naruto 
Naruto is a small kid, kind of ostracised from his community. Every one hates him. He fights and fools around to prove himself. Fails a lot. But he never puts his head down. 

This song was a big reason that I watched the whole mega-series of Naruto. Thanks to Siddhartha Kotru who offered me to watch this beautiful series.

2. Fix You - Coldplay
Coldplay not just touches the heart but supports it. This band might have inspired and saved a million dejected lives. "Fix You" is THE masterpiece that can make a dead up and running. A lighthouse in pitch black night.

3. Everybody hurts - The Corrs
I first saw this HD video back in college and was caught in admiration by the lead singer's beauty and expressions and didn't pay much heed to the lyrics. Only years later I understood the source of those expressions. Title says it all.

4. Chand Taare - Yes Boss
This one is for Hindi song listeners. Every time my small or big desires don't manifest I'd play this one. It reminds me that everyone desires for more. For stars. A process that mostly never ends. But it's good to dream big. Even if you didn't achieve it, you lived big.

5. Lose yourself- 8Mile
Before becoming the king of Rap, the only famous white Rapper, Eminem went through a nightmarish life. He even attempted an unsuccessful suicide. 8 mile, a road separating rags from riches, depicts only a portion of his story. "Lose yourself" in essence symbolizes the ONE jump he could take to get over that threshold. A blinder and arguably the best rap-song ever. Thanks to Abhijeet Khinchi who kept Emitating this song around my room in second year.

6. Gladiator Theme OST
Hans Zimmer is the Mozart of today. He levitates you, he elevates you by stimulating the deepest hidden emotion. Gladiator theme by itself won't say much at first. Even the whole movie needs to be watched 2 or 3 times to REALLY receive the bigger message conveyed by this Academy Award winning movie directed by the legendary Ridely Scott. THAT bigger message (of love, duty and sacrifice) is summarized in this instrumental song without words.

7. Dream on - Aerosmith 
Yes. I had to add it. It's just MADE for this list. No more words. 

8. Patience - Guns n' Roses
The era of GNR was a magical era when Rockstars surpassed Stars as the symbol of popularity. That period was devoid of bullshit materials such as 21st century electronically modified pop songs. Patience, though largely a romantic song, appeases the racing heart in other contexts as well. Listen it when you feel like everything is receding away. 

9. Subah Subah 
Again a Hindi number. Somedays you wake up and feel just happy without any apparent reason. Give that feeling a lift with this song. 

10. Back to you - Bryan Adams
How could I not include Bryan Adams, a singer who has a song for every emotion possible, with whom we grew and with whom we sang from the summer of 69 till date. The best way to live this piece is to sing along with Bryan on top of the voice and the magic will happen. Try it!

11. Eye of the Tiger - Bon Jovi
Oooh... the song that you were waiting for. Though the original is sang by Survivor, I like the Bon Jovi version more. Only the start of this song sets the ball rolling. Add to it the superb motivational lyrics and you get a recipe of an all time best inspirational song. Enjoy with the scenes from Rocky. 

12. Remember the name - Fort Minor
Now this one has all the ingredients of success properly and exhaustively listed in percentages. A thorough quantitative analysis done on the subject and sung by the then emerging group Fort Minor in an emphatic way makes it one of my regular playlist songs.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Swimming and risk taking

Just a week ago I resumed swimming after a pause of two months. Though water in there is getting colder day by day but it’s ok. In fact it’s great as each day I discover a bit more and enjoy a tad more. After perfecting freestyle I’m into breast-stroke now. Inch by inch I’ll continue to learn more techniques and flairs. However, learning to swim for the first time is THE memoir. Some guys do it in 2 weeks, some folks in a month and some just never learn.

It’s a well-known quote that “If you wanna learn swimming, you gotta jump into water”. Now every time a newbie jumps in, there is a certain risk involved. The risk is big – one may get drowned! You don’t get a second chance here. That’s why the economics of swimming is far from cycling which you learn after n iterations of falling and balancing.

To put more sense to it lets shift the canvas to a riverside village. You’re a 16 year old boy who never swam and one lazy afternoon you decide to “just do it”. So you run to the riverbank with your buddies and do a survey.  You observe the pattern of waves, whirlpools, boats, swimmers, weeds and hanging tree branches. You convince yourself that it is doable. So you jump in – you touch the water with your feet and run back home.

That boy just laid the foundation for tomorrow. During this night his sub-conscious will check and validate his learning and impart him courage in addition to another important attribute – CONTROL. It's important here to understand control. Control is the underplay of cognitive and subconscious abilities to perform a task at will - without risk. Sigmund Freud vouched for the higher role of sub-conscious in both daily and rare circumstances, a theory that most scientists previously disbelieved. Only the psychology-research of last two decades have re-established his theories. Role of sub-conscious is probably the biggest reason why one cannot learn swimming in a day. 

Next day the boy enters to knee level, runs back home, day next to waist level, next shoulder, next nose and next full into the water. Remember there is no life guard in place, only his friends watching the show. The river howsoever placid is an enigmatic snake. In next few days he paddles while holding the weeds or hollow branches and in next few starts breathing in and out. The whole learning process becomes a [x] graph of controlled risk taking. The subject's confidence fights fear and stamina matches exhaustion. Key is to keep playing according to these balancing points. But it's all not that smooth. 

Like driving-accidents there are mishaps in swimming too. Tragic drowning incidents happen not only in rivers or sea-beaches but also in swimming pools. Contrary to that of driving, swimming's control path is disrupted by mainly an internal factor- PANIC. Its the main reason why scuba diving is considered more dangerous than sky diving or bungee-jumping. So what causes panic? Panic is just an acceleration of neurotic activity that is automatically triggered to handle extreme circumstances. It's basically a sub-conscious defence mechanism. When in panic swimmers start paddling fast and exhaust early. That's where cognitive senses come into play. If properly practised they judge and forewarn one of a panic-situation. They override the sub-conscious and let you assess. There comes many a times when a newbie falls into a dilemma at 80 percent of pool's length to finish till the deep end or not. Well, don't. Don't trust your new-found stamina. Just back out!

The psychology of risk aversion is worth mentioning here. In that same riverside village, meeting a swimmer would not be rare. Considering the big risk involved, why did so many people learn it? In a noble-prize winning study it was found that people tend not to make bet when chances of gaining wealth is more than chances of losing a comparable wealth. On a toss of coin if there is a 50 percent chance to win 10 bucks and 50 percent chance to lose 8 bucks, people averse the risk. Whereas if there is a 70 percent chance to lose 10 bucks and 30 percent chance to win 10 bucks, they do take it! It's a startling contrast to the rationale but true. The expected gain to swimmers is the useful skill, health benefits and fun while expected loss is you know. But many do take it. Humans on an individual level do tend to engage in an activity of uncertain outcome. [ Though It's a completely different case with an organisation of the same people. A whole another blog topic]

After months of practice, I've realized that effortless swimming is all about rhythm, consistency and a stable mindset. During breast-strokes feel like a frog end to end without jitters and that's it. During freestyle feel like a free weightless soul end to end. So on and so forth. It is no doubt the best exercise both for body and mind. To all those who are yet to learn this beautiful skill, just approach it slower and let it seep in. More importantly stay consciously in control.

P.S. - It might have sound too meticulous and loaded with checkpoints for a seemingly simple activity. Well, you're right. Forget it all. Just go in there and have fun.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A day at TEDx Gurgaon

Picture courtesy - IILM Blog

Providence. On 31st August I googled ideas and events in the city and what did I find- TEDx Gurgaon on 1st September on the theme “Taking Road Less Travelled”, an event that happens once a year in the city! Hints like these just say out aloud that there are things outside the cause-n-effect loop, lying around you but playing a little hide-n-seek, waiting to be discovered. So I followed the white rabbit and registered for the event.

The next morning was a Saturday (sadly a work-day for me). I woke up at the same getting-ready time and drove off to IILM campus, the venue. Now it’s been a long haul since college. So every time I step into one, I get a kick of nostalgia and a wave erupts off the plain and placid self. And if you put a nice cloudy weather, heartily welcoming volunteers, a cheerful college crowd, open spaces between buildings for cultural activities, lawns, trees and a lively cafeteria in the canvas, one just can’t stay on foot. A lovely setting to explore the ideas and their power.

So I was escorted to the Auditorium, one with an optimal size to accommodate the audience and to support proper acoustics. I was an hour late but the event hadn’t kicked off yet. India! Be it TED or Metallica Concert, we always follow the great Indian tradition of “buffer time”. Hereby, I’m taking nothing away from the organizers, for the 9:30 time on a Saturday morning could be too much for some, including me :0.

I quickly grasped a comfortable seat in fourth row. It was my first attendance in TED, so I waited with closed hands and open mind. The anchor greeted the audience and made us aware of the agenda for the day. Following the tradition, the event kicked off with an audio-visual wherein Chris Anderson, the curator of TED conference explains – “Why TEDx and what it means”. In short, TEDx is an independently organized TED event, where eminent thinkers and doers of the society come and speak their mind for the greater good. Anyone licensed under TED can organize it.

Image courtesy - IILM

Soon after the AV, the first speaker, Abhinandan Chatterjee took stage with a slide in background – The road less taken. Abhinandan, who works as an iTrain consultant in the field of learning development is a great story teller. Every next sentence in his story reveals a bit and puzzles a bit. But this little speech was even special and more engrossing as it came straight from heart. He shared how a person who did splendid in his career, tumbled and lost the edge due to health problems, but kept toiling for a better life only to lose breath in the end; the person being his father. The event changed his outlook of life and guided him to a road of his own. He worked himself to identify his past accomplishments and to categorize them according to different parameters- easy, hard, common and unique. The “unique” ones, he said, defines you and is important part of self-assessment. The highlight of this speech was captured in this little story: A decent fisherman was advised by a fellow to go early in the morning to fish. Fisherman asked why? Fellow said to catch more fish. Why? You’ll buy more boats and more fishes. Then what? You’ll be rich. Then what? You’ll be able to relax and be happy. What do you think am I doing now? The message was: do unique and enjoy it RIGHT NOW. I took a note to thank him for this candid and moving speech during the tea break.

The breaks are an important part of TED. Students, entrepreneurs, corporate professionals, tech geeks, hackers and social enthusiasts all converse together on varied topics. For me that is the USP of this event. And yeah, unlimited snacks and coffee are also available.

Image courtesy - IILM

After another filler of TED video, arrived an ever-energetic Ashish Sachdeva, founder of Green Dream Foundation, who talked about “going green as a road less travelled”. He said it’s all there in the media and in our talks. But do we really understand and follow the concept? What forbids those who are not going green? He said some of us are so overwhelmed with environmental problems that we feel our efforts won’t contribute much. We need to change this feeling. He stressed upon changing our costly habits, which are costly to environment, to simpler, cleaner and cheaper habits. His green speech was centered upon getting the public aware about little things – switching off lights, using organic products, conserving water, taking a stroll to market etc. that contributes to a better environment, a better future.

The next presentation was from Abhijit Bhaduri, Chief Learning Officer of Wipro. He delivered a powerful presentation over how should one go about making choices- especially professional choices in life. According to him, it is very easy. Here goes the formula. Talent is the ability to CONSISTENTLY perform something at a competitive level. Now, one’s choices must lead one to identify and build upon one’s talent. If he is confused between something he enjoys and not very good at and something he is good at but doesn’t enjoy much, he must choose the former because skill is the easiest part to learn. “You first identify what you enjoy and then get trained in it.” And there is no age to this identification and changing the course of career. He remarked that he himself did it 3 or 4 times in his career. On first glimpse this idea seems too brave but if thought carefully, it seems more logical and ensures higher guarantee of success in the long run. He shared his story from childhood to present and boasts now of being “in love with what I do”. I thought “Did he just solve the most confusing problem of life”. Right after this speech, I ran up to him and thanked him for his insights.

Image courtesy - IILM

Image courtesy - TEDx

With that we left for lunch in the college’s canteen. The food was too good. I reserved myself to a light and talkative lunch with few friends that I made on that day. Soon after the lunch all TEDers assembled in the lawn in the T-E-D formation posing for the overhead cameras. [Anyone who has these pictures of better quality please notify in comments]

Image courtesy - IILM

On the way back to auditorium, someone told me that next presentation was the most special. It was from the “Tiger Woman of India”. Blessed with a voice full of sympathy, touch, affection and humility, Dr.Latika Rana narrated her story of tiger conservation. At the start, I must confess, I didn’t understand her passion and perspective. I’ve been inquisitive towards few pet dogs but rarely felt a CONNECTION with animals. On the contrary I’ve felt anger towards some as monkeys pestered me a lot during childhood. I understand now that I greatly misunderstood them. She started by showing several snapshots of jungles, tigers and their habitat which were collected over a long period in her research. Tigers like to assemble in groups and socialize, she said, removing the anti-social tag associated with them. Everything from how cubs play, cuddle, tease, compete, and get trained by their mothers showed they are not so solitary predators. They are exquisitely beautiful, definitely important for the ecosystem and India must be proud of this elegant animal. Then came a slide with numbers. The number of tigers in India has decreased from 40,000 in 1947 to just 1700 in 2012. I felt the pain and agony in her voice when she said “….and no one is bothered”. She says we all talk about tiger conservation like it’s a rocket science but it is not. They just need their habitat as it is and be left aloof and nature will take care of their growth. Caging them is not the solution as that way we would be losing the WILD tigers. She detailed how poachers and nearby tribes are killing them illegally just for money. There is just not enough law enforcement in place. She, through her foundation, took steps in coherence with government to rebuild the lost habitat, to provide employment and health facilities to nearby tribes etc. She is still delivering for the cause. I’m certain everyone present in the audi felt a trickle of unformed tears for the condition of our national animal. A stunned silence was followed by a congratulating applause.

Image courtesy - IILM

The last speech was an overwhelming surprise. No, it was not a speech embellished with profoundness but a simple talk that percolates your heart. The anchor called upon Vicky Roy and all eyes set upon a humble boy may be in his early 20s who took stage with deep eyes and greeted all with a Namaste. He delivered in Hindi, the struggling story of his lifetime. When he was very young, his parents couldn’t afford keep him. Vicky fled away from his grandmother’s home who put him to strenuous work when he should have held a copy and pencil. He roamed around railway stations in Delhi and was caught by a social service community. Again, he was captivated and again he fled. He stumbled places to places, did nightmarish work for a boy of his age- picking bottles and doing construction jobs. As fate took a turn he hooked onto a job of assistant to a cameraman. He learnt camera-skills and some English too. He beautifully amalgamated this serious story with humor and made us laugh. In next few years he had clicked numerous photographs that depicted his past life. And were they admired! His efforts saw him host his first photo galleria for public and it was very successful “kyunki papa bhi dekhne aaye the. Unka ladka ghar se bhag ke bigda nahi tha.” said an emotinal Vicky and all TEDers erupted with an emotional applause. Vicky was one of the four international photographers who were called to shoot the Ground Zero and was the only such Indian. He was even summoned for a lunch with Prince Harry! Phew. Indeed the story is a Bollywood flick and Vicky an instant hero. Junta rushed to pose with him!

Image courtesy - IILM

Next were entertainment sessions - first was an awesome performance by the lovely Jasleen Royal, semi finalist of India’s got talent and the second was a Bhangra Dance. I’ll upload the videos that I captured though the quality is not that good.

Later the young junta (including me) joined the Bhangra dancers on stage just like college and danced like mads :) After we drenched ourselves we assembled to cut the TED cake. We even had a B’day boy who held the knife to celebrate his most memorable birthday.

Yeah, the memorabilia was pretty and useful for lately I’ve turned into a coffee addict. Thank you organizers!!

Waiting for the next TEDx !!

For more pictures visit - this page and this page. And if anyone has my pic please share especially while I was dancing :P