Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Digital India - A Better India

At a sea beach, were sitting two people, a young boy, and an elderly man. Talking to each other, they were discussing their worlds. How much they liked their worlds.
the old man to the young boy - "let me take you back to show you how we did things you people find so easy."
The boy was astonished.
here we go, the old man exclaimed.
and both went down a few decades to 1980's. the era of telegrams and letters and postcards.

The old man took the boy to a yesteryear post office. people there worked happily. There was no cellphone, or computer, or anything of that sort once can find in these days. Just while they were taking the stroll in the post office, one of the postmen packed up his bag to ride down to the nearby village to distribute the articles. They joined him. riding the bicycle, a vehicle of the masses which, not everyone could afford in those days. Cars were a rare sight. The young boy was astonished at the sight of a yesteryear's India.

All three of them reached the village the postman was to deliver the letters in. Those days postmen were a respected lot. As soon as the postmen entered the village outskirts, news would spread throughout of his arrival, and almost everyone who was expecting a letter or postcard or a money order would flock to the seat of the panchayat, where the postman would rest after cycling all the way through to the village to distribute the letters. He carefully sorted out the letters of this village, called out names of people whose letter or postcard or money order had arrived. The boy was amazed at the efficiency with which they worked. Handling over the articles to the right people, on the day the mail arrived. Knowing people of so many villages by names and faces was no easy task. The boy mumbled - these days we can't even remember people's phone numbers and this guy knows so many people. The postman continued distributing and reading the letters to whosoever asked it to be read. At that time it was not that easy to find people who have studied enough to read or write, especially in villages. So, the one who knew these was a respected person.

From here, they left the postman to do his work, and came back to the city. They visited a school. Many children were studying in their classes, a number of them were playing in the field as well.  The boy was again astonished to see class rooms without digital learning aids, projectors, smart classes and smart boards. He thought how boring it would be to carry books and copies in bags and study through these. No internet, computer or printer, to help the people get over with their homework and assignments quickly. The old man told him, it was actually fun, as this was something most students of the era cherished. Reaching school, meeting friends, studying together, coming home, and again playing in the playgrounds. He got nostalgic remembering his days of childhood, when he played  and studied and ate without any worries of the future.

From here, both of them moved down to a government offices complex. A number of government offices dealing with public were here. This was a quite congested area. Wherever they could see, they found people, in lines, holding papers and documents in files, waiting for their turn. One line went to the Driving License counter, other one to the Passport office, another one for the Ration card, and so on. This was something the old man hated about his era. Being in long queues to get various services of the government. Be it booking tickets to go somewhere by train, or getting an electricity connection, the thought of the long queue one would have to stand in sent shocks down the spine.

The boy took this as an advantage to show the old man, his era of computers and internet and e-governance. They zoomed past in the year 2015. A lot of citizen services were now available at the click of a button, sitting down in your home or office. The boy took the old man to a computer, opened up the Online portal for Transport Department. He was amazed to see that one could get an appointment for getting a license online. No standing in long queues, waiting for their turn to come. The boy further took him to the municipal corporation's website. Seeing the host of services that were available like registration of property, payment of taxes and bills, application for birth and death related certificates and such was being done from a computer from the ease of the home.

The old man thought to himself - "how much the technology has advanced? getting all these things done took months and numerous visits to departments and offices. Had this been there 25-30 years ago, life would have been easier."

He got curious to know more about the Digital initiatives taken up by the government for providing e-governance and services to the citizens of the country. He asked the boy to tell him more. Now the boy opened up in front of the old man, a bag full of wonderful initiatives the government has been taking, in partnerships with both public and private sector partners, under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to bring about a transformation in the country, to bridge the digital divide, to provide best of services to citizens in the least amount of time, to improve the learning and infrastructural gaps between the metropolitan cities and the very remote places of the country. This was time the old man took a look at a lot of initiatives the governments have been taking.

Hole in the wall - An e-learning initiative setup under the Public Private Partnership model, developed by NIIT Ltd. and first adopted by the Govt. of NCT of Delhi, to provide path breaking learning methodology to children of the underprivileged sections of the society. Multimedia content is served via audio-visual learning stations available in a number of areas with underprivileged population to provide better, and collaborative learning that was fun.

He took him to once such station. While the old man was still peeping through the screen watching that amazing piece of content aimed at making children learn, the boy pulled him to take him to his school. A school where the learning methods had evolved much more than what was there just a decade ago.

Interactive Teaching - The method of textbook learning had gone easier with the help of audio visual contents served right in the school, along with the text books, to help children grasp better, way better than what they could understand from the textbooks and 2 dimensional images. The old man recalled how he, as a child used to get excited at the sight of an image in one of his text books, and if it were a colour image, it was very much cherished, and here, they are teaching with 3-Dimensional graphics and animation, taking the process of teaching and learning to a whole new level.

Even before the old man got over with this amazing piece of technology in education, he was in for more surprises. The boy took him to a computer, and over the internet, he opened a few websites. One of them was of Aadhar.

Aadhar - The Unique Identification Project launched by Government of India aimed at creating a centralised database of the entire population, capturing key details and biometric information as well, like retinal scans, thumb impressions and such. The site allowed the citizens to book an appointment for getting their Aadhar cards generation, and one could also use to download an electronic copy of the card, till the original copy was delivered.

Other Online services from various Government Agencies - The old man was further taken to another site, this time, that of the transport department. One could easily apply for a Driving License, or to get a new vehicle registered. Once registered, it was easy to track the status of the application. Given the implementation of the notification for timely delivery of services to citizens, the processes got faster. One could apply online for a Driver's license, take an online test at the nearest RTO, and get a license, no need to bribe anyone.  Application of Electricity connection, water connection, Bank Account, Refill of cooking gas cylinders, application of Voter's ID Card has been made much more easier. Now one could do a lot of these things online from the convenience of their homes. Something, the old man thought, was a dream in his time.

The boy told him about the Intel's Digital Skills for India programme (#DigitalIndia), in view of the Government's vision to bridge the digital divide among the population of well developed cities and the remote, under developed villages. Something, the government envisions, will make the country a much better economy, much more capable of competing with the other developed countries of the world, The Digital India vision. The old man, though not knowing much about computers and stuff, knew Intel, the one that produces processors that power a majority of the computers manufactured/ assembled and sold in the country. This was a welcome move by a corporate, towards their social responsibility.

The old man paused for a moment, thinking what this initiative could achieve? Well, for whatever he had seen of the young boy's era, most of it was amazing. He knew this digital initiative holds a lot of potential. Thinking to himself, he imagined a world where those who needed it, will find almost all the basic information of someone, not having to carry different proofs of identity or residence, or something that could get them access to a particular service. The digitization of education system was something, he wondered could be improved a lot. With the improvement in the digital contents for e-learning, and improving the infrastructure to reach even the remotest of the locations, it would be easier to connect with people even in the most far flung areas of the country, giving them too, equal opportunity to learn and grow, not leaving anyone behind. He thought, what would happen if all the services were made available online? Long queues for obtaining citizen services would be gone. That means a full stop to corruption, and unnecessary paying of bribes to get the works done faster. Services would be available at fingertips. Just around this time, he was nagged with some thought.

Online Public Grievance Redressal - This is amazing, the old man cried euphemistically. But what about grievances? Not all government departments work that efficiently. One may have grievances with one department. How will their grievances get sorted out. The boy took him to the online public grievances portal. And showed how it worked. This was again an eye opener. One could actually put up their grievances online, with a number of government departments and its functionaries. With the proper redressal mechanism in place, it would be easier to track the status of the grievance, and get it resolved faster. This in turn meant, faster delivery of public services, much more efficiently and transparently.

The digital world has a lot of potential. The governments are increasingly understanding the need to bring it down in the governance arena, to help the government connect with people and to help people connect with their government, in building a better nation, with all stakeholders working in tandem, this can be achieved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Breakfast with Guptas

With the healthy and always active Guptas, there had to be something that made sure that they stayed fit, looked great and be healthy. Ofcourse, we all have food, go for exercise, gymming and all, but there had to be something the Gupta family did differently. Since they came here in the colony, around 3 years back, we have seen them like this throughout healthy and happy. While for me, I know the food I have gets me wonder about what Mr. Gupta and his family eats. For me, my palate doesn't accept anything less than paranthas. So, one morning, while being out for a morning walk, I met Mr. Gupta, who, as usual was in the park sitting with Mrs. Gupta while the kids were playing. After usual pleasantries, I got down to asking him the secret to the fitness of the family, while pointing towards the flab I was carrying. :P

What he told me was nothing short of a surprise. He told me that they have Kelloggs cornflakes in the breakfast, and for snacks, cornflake snacks had replaced their usual snacks. This was something I  did not expect, as I too sometimes have cornflakes, for the benefits it holds, but having it the same way everyday is boring. I can't have it with milk everyday, so, most often, I get back to having my regular breakfast, paranthas with butter. Seeing me surprised, Mr. and Mrs. Gupta invited me for breakfast with the family. This was something I was looking forward to. After finishing my workout, I went back home, finished the morning chores, got ready, and reached their home for nashta with Guptas. Getting invited for a breakfast with them was nothing short of an eye opener. Indeed the Guptas had Kelloggs cornflakes for breakfast. The change was that they didn't have it just one way, as I have been doing. Mrs. Gupta had infact invented a lot of innovative recipes that made the regular cornflakes appear tasty, and new everyday.

Mrs. Gupta, indeed was a masterchef at creating dishes with cornflakes. I was served laddus made out of cornflakes, coconut and dry fruits. This was something I had never had. Interesting. I instantly knew that I was up for a lot more surprises. We were served a bowl of what they called - Jagah Banane wala Naashta. I was awed at the presentation. The red sliced strawberries with banana slices, yellow cornflakes and the cold milk appeared tasty. As they say, presentation is the most important part of any food preparation. The presentation was just awesome. It was tasty. Though it had milk it was cold, and the one I used to have had warm milk, that spoiled the crunchiness of the corn flakes. The bananas and strawberry slices added taste to it. It was a fulfilling breakfast. Now I knew how they managed to stay fit and have cornflakes every morning in breakfast. Something like this is much better than having the paranthas.

Mr. Gupta invited me for an evening tea as well. This time around, I was in for another surprise. With tea, Mrs. Gupta served us snack made out of cornflakes. This was awesome. I asked Mrs. Gupta of the recipe which she happily told me. I decided that I would replace the oily and fried chips and papads with this healthy, tasty and crunchy Chatpatti Cornflakes Chidva. I thanked both of them for their hospitality, and was happy to learn new and healthy recipes.

I hope they call me again and again, if nothing, then atleast for an evening tea with chatpati cornflakes chidwa.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Happy days are here to stay

A couple of friends to hang out with, is something, almost all of us lookup to. When you have your close friends along with you, you need nothing else. Well, almost.

After completing my graduation in Delhi, I continued with my Software engineering course, and the following year, the course got completed and after that the lookout for a job started. After getting rejected and dejected by the rejections, I got a job, fairly easily, though, not as per my qualifications, but it was still a job, and I was getting paid for working. A few months into my job and a batchmate from the graduation class informed me about a Post Graduation opportunity. He and a couple of his friends had earlier conducted a reki of the University and were fairly impressed. We decided to check out, and reached there.

The University, with its location, the surrounding areas, the historic and religious importance of the place (Kurukshetra, in the city of Haryana, which has quite an importance because the epic battle of Mahabharata is said to have been fought here) it is in, makes the place quite a good one to explore, if you want to go for an outing, not far away from Delhi. Going back the memory lane, with the help of photographs, we clicked, thanks to the cameras integrated in cellphones, (God bless those who thought of this idea) just remembering the incidents that took place gets back the sheepish grin on my face. We still have a good enough laugh, talking about things we did, and said or heard, ofcourse, we were there for study. :P Spending some days at the University's hostel, thanks to the Hostel warden's kind consideration of our situation, to snatching each other's bedsheet, as not everyone used to be so wise to carry one.

Normally, we took a train from New Delhi Railway Station that started at 6:15 am and I used to be the first one to reach the station. And then series of phone calls to get the others reach the station, before the train leaves, and still, there were instances when some of them almost missed the train, and were able to catch it after running for some distance on the platform behind the train. At other times, a couple of them had to come over by a bus. Sleeping at 3 am in the night, while talking nonsense through the whole night, to being late to the class, when we were there to attend that only. Some taking bath with cold running water because there was no way to warm it up in winter, to hearing nonsense while in the bathroom. Something, that I can share a part of, but can't go on to share it completely, and we still have a good laugh over it, while we talk over phone or when we meet each other. The thing that we (I and one of my friends) overheard while we were in the hostel's washroom, someone asking - "Abe tu ke kar riya tha?" (What were you doing?), the dialect being Haryanvi (the mixture of Hindi with Haryanvi). For obvious reasons, I can't tell you the answer that came next. Those were happy days, and those days are here to stay (even if it is memories), no matter how many years pass by.

When you are with friends, the world seems to be happy. During all our visits to the university, whether for class or not, it used to be fun, and happiness was everywhere. Adjoining the university was Brahma Sarovar, a huge artificial lake, deemed to be sacred to Hindus. We spent time there in the evenings, went to visit some places of historical importance like the tomb of Sheikh Chehli, Bheeshma Kund, and such, and those of religious importance. 

A couple of my friends, trying to launch themselves in the sky, only to find themselves on the land, within seconds.
A couple of my friends re-enacting 3-idiots
Even after you had those happy moments years ago, just recalling a small incident from those memories is enough to get back the times, chuckling and getting a wide grin on your face. At times you end up laughing your heart out, recalling some incident that unfolded, and how it unfolded, and what resulted from it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Together, they started a new life

This is second part of the story A new beginning-A new life.

They began meeting again, in Mumbai. It was more than hard staying away from each other, even a single day. This continued for a couple of months. In the meantime, Neelima completed her graduation, and as she had already decided, she had to study further. For this, she had to shift away for a couple of years to Bangalore. But she didn't want to go, leaving Nikhil here. But, she couldn't tell about him to her parents too, as she knew that they were very conservative and wouldn't like her being in such a relationship with anyone. She had to go. Nikhil, since he loved her, didn't stop her pursue her dreams. They loved each other, so much so that they knew that irrespective of the distance and time, their love for each other would only increase. They kept in touch with each other for the next couple of months. Whenever Neelima had vacation for a couple of days, she used to come back to Mumbai, and Nikhil used to be on the lookout for chances to visit to an offsite location, which meant, he had to go to cities other than Bangalore as well, but whenever he had the of chances to go to Bangalore, he would sieze the opportunity to reach out to her. They talked over phone everyday, and if one somehow missed calling up, the other one would give a call, and they talked for hours.

While they both used to click their pictures, they were careful enough not to upload any pictures on their social networking profiles, which might create suspicion among the family members or relatives. No one except, a couple of close friends of both, knew about their relationship. They were awed by the way they met, and seeing their love for each other, and their dedication for each other. However, when events turn, they can turn for both, good and bad. It was just around a year since Neelima had been to Bangalore for her further studies. One of her friends, inadvertently uploaded a picture of both Neelima and Nikhil, on a social networking site, a photo she clicked while they both met the last time in Bangalore, with both of them unaware of that photograph. The photo was up, and just a single line - "Awww... Cute Couple." wreaked hell in both their lives. The news spread like wildfire among the friends, relatives, and finally to their families. Both their parents were furious about this. While Nikhil's family wasn't that conservative, the same was unfortunately not true for Neelima's family. Both Nikhil and Neelima got a lot of restrictions levied up on both of them. Neelima's family's next move was sending Neelima's mother to Bangalore, to stay with Neelima to check out her moves. All their communication stopped all of a sudden. They couldn't talk to each other on phone, neither could they meet each other. Nikhil's parents had warned him about going to Bangalore on any assignments. Neelima's phone was changed all of a sudden, so she no longer had Nikhil's phone number. None of them had any way to reach out to each other.

Both of them were separated. The only person to have a soft corner for them was Neelima's younger sister, Preeti. She was the only one with whom Neelima shared her emotions. Finding no way out, Neelima asked her sister to go and meet Nikhil. Afterall she knew which bank and branch Nikhil worked in. This way, she could pass on her message to Nikhil and also get news about him, without raising suspicion for her parents. As Neelima asked, Preeti went and met Nikhil in his office, told him all about what was going on and gave Neelima's message. All Neelima wanted Nikhil to know was that she loved him a lot and that she would try to convince her parents and asked him to do the same. They exchanged their numbers, and again, thanks to Preeti, both got a way to talk to each other. Neelima used to call up Nikhil during day, from her college, so that her mother won't know about it. Nikhil did the same. Afterall, all they wanted to do was stay in touch.

Months passed by, Neelima's study was completed, and she was back to Mumbai. In the meantime, she managed to get her mother on her side. She had agreed to their relationship, but she still wouldn't go ahead to talk with Neelima's father about them. This task, she handed over back to Neelima only. Every day Neelima would try to convince her father about her and Nikhil's relationship, and everyday he declined to listen. This continued for days, and neither Neelima would give up trying nor her father agreed. Gradually, he felt that all the members of the family were in support of Neelima. They all tried convincing him in their own ways. He gave up! Still he didn't speak up. He decided to write a letter to his daughter. A small one, to tell his daughter how much he loved her and how happy he was to know that his daughter has found someone who loved her more than him and she too loved him that much. He wrote it, and silently slipped it in her diary. This was the first time he opened his daughter's diary in his life, not to read, but to tell her what he felt. Today, again, Neelima came and pleaded, trying to convince him, he didn't listen, and went away. Disappointed, Neelima went back, to give another try again, the next day. When she went to write her diary, she found the letter. Just a couple of lines were written.

"Beta, I know I have pained you a lot. Earlier, I was angry, because, this wasn't something anyone has done in the family before. You can say, I was afraid of the society. In the last few days, seeing your perseverance, to try and convince me, against all odds, I think I must give up now. I love you a lot, and I know you have found someone who loves you more than I do, and I can see that in your eyes, everyday. So, I guess it's time I should give up the fear of the society. When should I expect Nikhil to come and meet us at home?"

Reading through the letter, Neelima was in tears. She ran out to look for her father, he was sitting in the drawing room, waiting there, knowing this was about to happen. As he felt Neelima entring the room, he stood up, with both his hands stretched out, and Neelima just got her loving father back. She went and hugged him as if she was meeting her long lost father. And this was it. Neelima had achieved what she's been trying for months now. She had her family standing beside her, in full support of her decision. She joyously called up Nikhil, who too was overjoyed, and so was his family. The very next day, Nikhil was at Neelima's home, to meet her father, as he had asked in the letter.

With both the families now completely supporting their children, both Neelima and Nikhil were together, for rest of their lives.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A new beginning-A new life

This is their story, a story which comes straight out of from some Bollywood movie, one that has action, drama, romance, and most of all, two lovers, fighting out the world, the society they were a part of, just a couple of hours back, till an unforeseen incident brought out their feelings for each other, out in the open, for everyone to comment on it, everyone trying to explain and put forth their expert opinion on a subject they rarely or never pondered over.

He was a lone wanderer who happened to like travelling down to distant places, all by his own. She, happened to be a bubbly girl, out on a summer vacation to explore the beautiful snowcapped mountain peaks of Kashmir, a place, they call, A Heaven on the Earth. The guy, our hero, was a bank professional, in his mid twenties, working with a reputed bank in Mumbai. The girl, our heroine, was a beautiful girl in her early twenties, out on the summer vacation with a group of girls from her college, out to explore the beauty of Kashmir valley.

As if they were destined to meet, it was a beautiful day, when Neelima, our heroine decided to hop off the lodge room she was staying in with her friends, none of whom wanted to explore the beauty of the small sleepy town. Just at the same time our hero, Nikhil was already exploring and capturing the beauty of the landscape in his camera. He was capturing the locals when his eyes got stuck on Neelima, who was playing with a lamb a local boy was walking with. He captured a couple of her shots while she was busy playing with the white little lamb. After a few shots, he moved on to capture the scenery. While she was playing with the lamb, Neelima saw Nikhil clicking her pictures. She stopped playing and moved towards him to ask him why he clicked her pictures. Afterall, she was a girl of the modern day, she didn't like some stranger clicking her pictures. Nikhil was busy shooting when Neelima reached her. She asked him why was he shooting her pictures. Nikhil didn't realize she was the girl whom he captured in his camera. He was puzzled at first, and suddenly realized that she's the girl who was playing with the lamb. He told that he's an amature photographer out on to explore the beauty of the valley, and wants to take back home, as much as he can, and that's why he clicked the beautiful lady with that cute little lamb. At this, Neelima was angry, as she thought he was trying to flirt with her. She tried to snatch his camera, but he didn't let that happen. She demanded him to delete her pictures, to which Nikhil replied that if he deletes her pcitures, he will lose the pictures of the cute little lamb too. She was still adamant that Nikhil should delete her pictures. He didn't want to do that. So, he tried explaining her that he captures at wish. To prove that, he showed her a couple of pictures he had clicked of the locals, the landscape, the animals, mountains, and hers too. Neelima now realized that he didn't have any malicious intention, and apologized to him for her rude behaviour. Nikhil understood her, but still, he didn't delete the pictures. He offered her to compensate with a kahwa (a popular Kashmiri beverage, made out of Green tea, saffron), to which she agreed.

They spent the rest of their trip together. Over time, none of them noticed they both had fallen in love. Both of them found themselves restless whenever they were away from each other. Neelima's friends had noticed the change in her behaviour and her being missing from the group, most of the time. She had to tell them. A few more days went by with Neelima and Nikhil both meeting each other everyday, and going to explore the beauty of the Kashmir valley, more than that, both were exploring their love for each other. Days passed by, and it was time Neelima and her group of girls went back to their homes. Their trip had come to an end. Though, Nikhil's plans were to stay there for longer, and he had made his travel and lodging arrangements accordingly. The end of Neelima's trip meant he too had to leave his, in between. He hurriedly made arrangements to get back.

After a couple of days, both were back home in Mumbai. This was a new beginning to both their lives. Their life was bound to change a lot, not because of something, but because they had met someone, someone, they were destined to meet, and when they met, they began writing their own destiny. This was a new life for both of them. A life, a lot of us wish to start afresh, leaving behind the past, looking up to the beautiful future.

This is not the end. Not yet. Do check out again to see the story continue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

First time in my life: The story of how optimism gets you do things

I was in class XII then, studying in a school in Delhi, away from the loved ones, my parents, my sibling, and the environment I was used to, since childhood. No matter how brave you are, how much you endure, you find it difficult staying away from the loving mother whom you would always wake up to, or the caring father who acted up hard to get you back on the track if you did something wrong and woke up all night to care for you when you fell sick, more importantly when it was your first time. For me too, it was difficult.  Though I was staying at a relative's place, it was still a new place, new relatives (afterall, those who gave you a visit once in 5-6 years, for a couple of hours, and you met them at the railway station, while you waited down there for the next train to take you to your destination), no friends, and a new school, and I was not even prepared for what was coming down my way. The new school was just like the other schools I went to, so I found almost no problems switching, except the problems I faced as a result of changing schools in the middle of the session.

The mornings went by getting ready for the school, boarding the school bus and reaching school, reaching back home in afternoon, completing the homework and then, by evening, I started missing my friends, and family. The evening time, in the environment I was used to live in, was for recreation. Children would run down to play with friends, adults would huddle up for gossips, and here, there was nothing. I used to sit secluded, missing everyone, still trying to hide up the sorrow, so as not to hurt the relatives (who were to be my guardians for the next couple of months). After many sleepless nights, I somehow settled in. Being self sufficient, taking care of my own, being strong, even though I missed important parts of my life. Then came Dussehra break, I got a chance to go back home, 600kms north of Delhi, situated in the lap of the Himalayas, a place where my father was posted at that time.

The excitement of meeting your loved ones, fills you with optimism, brings out the best of you, makes you brave. And this is what happened with me. Since my father couldn't get any more leaves, since he had already spent a lot of them trying to make me settle down at Delhi, and I had to get back home, down in my mum's laps who would gently and lovingly massage my head, to the loving brother, with whom, I had a love-hate relationship. Love, because he is my brother and we grew together, fighting, playing, eating and studying together. Hate because he, at times became a reason for me getting beaten up, confessing about my latest fight in the playground to my mother, complaining about me opening the only Audio-cassette player we had. Going back to the loving father, who would get me the sweets I liked, or the toy I once asked for, even if that meant him doing away with the plan to purchase himself a new set of clothes, since he could only afford one of them at that particular point of time. This made me brave, so much so that I went to the railway station, got myself a reservation, all by my own, then on the day of journey, took the bus to the station, found out the platform my train was on, located the coach and the seat, and then travelled down 600kms, to the last railway station, only to have to do a three hour journey in a bus, cutting steep corners on treacherous mountains, to reach my home, where people were eagerly awaiting my arrival, longing to see me for the last three months, and I did that all alone, for the first time in my life.

This is the power of optimism. Long for something, and see yourself getting it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Photographic experiments

Since the inception of photography, people have been doing experiments with photographic equipments. As many as the elements worth considering in photography, people came up with ideas to make photography more than just clicking pictures and sharing them. It became an art, a passion, which, today, thousands and millions of people share, and thanks to technology, we have the ability to click pictures in devices that we carry the whole day long.

Since I too have been practising photography for some time now, thanks to the cellphones that enable almost everyone, these days to click pictures at ease. A rule of thumb, most photography enthusiasts would agree with, is that one should click pictures without any special in-camera effects whatsoever, and all the post processing be done on regular colour photographs, preferably on a computing device., after taking backups of the original photographs. This is the safest method to get perfect pictures. I too have been trying ways to add the element of creativity to my photography. Since I use cellphones, that do not provide too much capability, my photography is quite limited, but you will find awesome photographs clicked by professionals.

One such photographic wonder is Selective Colouring. Selective Colouring is a photo post processing technique in which a photograph is processed such that except a few colours selected by the photographer, all other colours are converted to black and white, more appropriately called monochrome. This post processing method has got the ability to bring about stunning photographic effects, where the entire picture is black and white, and a small part is in colour, and at times, produces breathtaking photographs. Presenting here are a few photographs I clicked and post processed to add selective colouring to create some good shots.

I hope you will find inspiration in one of these pictures, to try out selective colouring with one of your pictures.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I am Dead!

Queeeek...... I heard a loud screeching sound coming from my right side. I was quite familiar with that sound, as I had heard that sound a number of times before this. As I tried looking in the direction from where the sound was coming, just before I could see anything, thud; I heard another banging sound, followed by a sense of pain on the right side of my body, my right ear had gone blank, and I couldn't hear anything, maybe because of that deafening sound.

After a while, I found myself standing on the side of a busy road, looking at my friends who had already reached the other side of the road. We were supposed to go to play in the newly dug soil, in the lands on the other side of the road, where huge machines were engaged in constant excavation, and had dug out yellow warm and moist soil, mounds of it. I, just like my friends, loved playing in soil, and freshly dug soil is just a treat for us, to play with. I saw my friends on the other side of the road shouting out to me. They were all shouting, and since it was too much traffic, I wasn't able to hear them properly, just see them shouting, in response, I too shouted.

I was waiting for the traffic to ease a little bit so that I could cross the roads. Gradually, I saw the number of vehicles falling, and knew that this is the only chance I could cross the road, or atleast, reach in the middle of it. Just before, I stepped down the footpath, my eyes got stuck in the middle of the road. One poor guy was lying unconscious in the middle of such a busy road. It appeared that I knew this guy. This black guy wasn't any of my friend's, but still, I strongly felt that I knew him. Taking a chance, I reached him and saw that poor guy lying on the road. The strong feeling of knowing this guy grew even stronger as I was staring at him from so close. Shiny black skin, white patches on the right foreleg, and a white coloured tip on the tail. What? Is it sounding odd? Why? What did you think I am? A human? A child? A man? If yes, then you're mistaken. I'm one, whom humans call one of their best friends, a dog, a playful street dog. With shiny black skin, white patches on the right foreleg, the tip of my otherwise black coloured tail too, was white. Atleast, I was famous among my friend circle due to that beautiful shiny black skin and that white tip on my tail. I too was quite proud as none of my friends had such a beautiful skin. Anyways, coming back to what I was talking about, seeing this guy, from so close, I was shattered. Shattered, not because of the similarity I and this guy had in the features, but, because this guy was dead now. I never had a chance to see myself such clearly to know each and every feature of my body, but had heard things from my mom, friends and relatives. The striking similarities in the features like the white patch on the leg, and the white tip on the tail had me thinking.

Anyways, the traffic started coming again, I took a look at this guy, and then saw a white patch on the upper side of the neck too. Though, I knew about the patch on my leg and the white tip of my tail, no one ever told me about a white patch on the upper side of my neck. This relieved me. I was now convinced that this poor guy has come from somewhere, and unfortunately has died here. I moved on to reach the other side of the road, where my friends had already moved on and were going towards the site of the excavation, the place where we used to play for hours and hours, and when we got tired, we used to sleep there, in the soft cool soil. There was a lethargy in their walking, as if they were waiting for me to catch up with them. I ran and reached them, and started shouting, telling them to hurry up as we had to reach the site and start playing. I was too excited to paly in the mounds of soil, dig it up with my claws, and then sleep in it to have a sunbath. This was one of my favourite activities. I asked them repeatedly but, none of them responded as if I wasn't there at all, or if they didn't hear me. I hurried my way and reached the site, and saw mounds of freshly dug soil. I didn't feel the need to dig up the soil, so, I went there and sat down on the top waiting for my friends to reach there. After a while they all came, but no one seemed to be in a mood to play. They all sat down, as if they were in sorrow of that guy's death in the middle of the road. I too felt bad about that poor guy, and thus, didn't want to force them to play with me. I waited there and don't know when I slipped into deep sleep. I came out of my sleep with a loud sound, and as I saw in that direction, the huge machines came back with loads of newly dug soil. I ran away from there, and the machines offloaded the soil on the top of the mound. I then reached my friends, who were still sitting silent away from the mounds. As I reached them, I again shouted, but, again none of them responded. I reached and sat with them. One of them said, "He was a very playful guy." Others nodded in agreement, and still no one was noticing me, as if I wasn't there at all.

Disappointed, I ran back home, and no one still tried stopping me. While crossing by, I again watched that guy lying on the road, but now, in a very bad condition. It was unrecognisable, had been mashed up completely. I hurried to my mom. She too was crying. I asked her why was she crying, what happened, she didn't reply, as if she didn't hear me. I found it odd as no one replied to me, as if I was not there. I wanted to cry, cry a lot, so ran towards the market, to the jalebi stall. Did I tell you I love jalebis a lot, in the evenings, when people come here, I get to have some. The shopkeeper is a gentle man. He too gives some to me, when he prepares it, hot jalebis with oozing hot sugar syrup, yum. But, for now, it was still not open, it is still afternoon. I went there and sat under the stall on the handcart. I don't remember when I passed into a deep sleep. All the sorrows gone, it was pretty silent there, no sounds, no one disturbing me, nothing. Then suddenly, I woke up, it was evening and the owner had come, and started preparing his stall. I sat down there, away from the stall, waiting for him to start preparing hot jalebis, and give some to me. He worked and worked, in between looking around, as if he was looking for someone. He has been talking to me ever since I started coming here, though, I didn't understand what he used to say, but, he talked to me everyday, and after that, he used to give me hot jalebis. Today, he didn't talk to me, as if I was not there. He made jalebis, took a few out and kept it aside. I waited and waited that he will give it to me, but he didn't. This was turning out to be a very bad day. Everyone ignoring me. I ran away from there too. Back home, I found everyone surrounding my mum. I ran to check out what happened. As I reached them, I heard them consoling my mum. And my entire life came crashing in front of me. They were trying to console my mother about my death. I was still alive. I shouted and shouted, no one heard. This was when I realized that they all were correct. It was me who had died on the road. That was the reason the body that lied down on the road appeared so similar to me. I had no words to tell how I felt. I had nothing to do, no friends, no one who could see me, talk to me.

I was dead!

P.S.: Every year thousands of stray animals - dogs, cats and other animals die after getting hit or run over by our vehicles. While it is not possible for us to avoid these accidents every single time, but we can still try avoiding this as much as possible. Even if you are involved in such an accident, please consider the life/death of such an animal with compassion, and if the animal is injured, please try getting in touch with some NGOs working towards such causes, and get the the animal hospitalised as soon as possible. Even if the animal dies on the spot, please show some respect and if possible, move the animal's body away from the spot (if the accident happened on the road), so that the body is not run over by other vehicles, and, if that too is not possible, please inform some NGO or atleast the Municipal corporation to remove the body of the animal from the spot. Indian Animal Forum is one such awareness group working towards the welfare of stray and pet animals. IAF's compassionate volunteers are always there to help animals in need. In case you come forward with such a situation, please get in touch with IAF volunteers. You can reach out to them via their Facebook Group (which is a closed one, but you can apply for a membership and it will get approved almost in no time and you can report such emergencies). If you can not connect with them via FB, and want to help an animal in need, you can let me know via a comment on this post, and I will try getting in touch with IAF admins and volunteers, ASAP.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Of growing toy cars

Some things in our lives are such that when we try and take a look around at them, in the past, we find those things absolutely hilarious. Memories from your past, many-a-times, leave you spellbound at what you did, knowingly or unknowingly. Recalling memories from past, even if you don't remember doing something, and only know the incident as told by someone else, say, your parents, things you did as a child, or one of your demands that were just outright impossible to fulfil, will leave on your face a long grin of a smile.

As a kid, I too have a lot of these incidents, I look back and have a good laugh at. Ofcourse you don't expect a 1 or 2 or even a 4 year old to remember what he or she did at that age, barring just a few incidents, so, you have to believe what others tell you about your actions. Not all of mine are shareworthy, a number of them are. One such incident, in which I was the main actor, was something you'll find really amusing for a child to demand and almost, the same for the grown up's responses. So, starting off with the incident.

This happened when I was around 3 or 4 years old. Once I happened to go shopping with my parents. Being one from an Army background, with my father being in the Indian Army, it most probably would have been a Sunday. Markets around Army establishments, cantonments are typically found to be self sufficient for whatever an army man, or his/her family could need. Sunday used to be a day when people got a chance to take their family for shopping. Even then, not everyone used to be that lucky to get a chance for recreation, be it shopping, sight seeing or movie. And it used to be fun, going off to a place, where you could see people of different backgrounds, as this was something almost impossible in the accommodation provided by the army. Everyone wore the same dress, had the around the same income, moat of the kids going to the same school and so on. I guess I have deviated a lot from the topic, let me get back to it. So, back in the story, while in the market, my parents took me to a toy shop (maybe, because I demanded a toy). We were inside the toy shop, with the shop owner showing us various toys. I didn't like any of the toys he showed me. After a while, my parents asked me which toy I wanted. To this, I showed them a black car parked outside the shop. And their reaction? Well, you might have guessed it by now. Everyone in that shop burst out laughing. Infact, when I look back at that incident, it indeed appears to be one which is bound to make everyone laugh. A kid, sitting in a toy shop, is asking for a real car as a toy. I'm told that I was adamant that if a toy I wanted, it was the car parked out of that shop. My parents, and the shopkeeper, tried convincing me but I didn't rebuke. The shopkeeper still had a trick up in his sleeves. He said - Beta, jaise tum khaana kha kar bade hote ho waise hi is chhoti car ko bhi khaana khilaoge toh woh bhi badi ho jayegi. (like you have food and grow big, when you feed this small car too, it too will grow bigger like you). And this, convinced me to take that small toy car, believing that it too will grow big.

Now when I look back and think about that incident, it leaves back a smile on my face. How innocent we were back in our childhood days, free from any of the world's problems and nothing to worry about except how many spoons of Horlicks or Bournvita your mum added in the glass of milk, or whether your sibling got more milk than you?
Did you enjoy the incident? I took you back by around 23-24 years back in my life to share this incident of my life with you. I believe you too must be having many such incidents. Do share yours with us.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Taj from my Phone's Eyes

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal, the symbol of love, which gets to see thousands of visitors from all over the world, who come here to get astonished by the awesome beauty of the monument, a mausoleum, that was build by a husband for his beloved wife. On my second visit to the Taj, I tried looking at the Taj from a different perspective. And the output? Well, it's in front of you.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

5 techie things to do with your Android smartphone

A lot of us, these days, use smartphones, without even realising the fact that we hold in our palms, and carry in our pockets, devices which are a lot powerful than the personal computers we had at our disposal just a couple of years ago. The introduction of full fledged operating systems that run under the hoods of our smartphones, and the apps (short for application) that have been developed to make use of the hardware our smartphones boast of, and the software capabilities of our smartphone OS's, has made the deal as sweet as it could have been.
Today, cellphones have become an outright necessity for us, to keep us connected to outside world, our loved ones, and whoever you name it, relies on cellphones to be connected. The introduction of better smartphones and the penetration of internet and associated services, social networking applications, photo and video sharing services have substantially increased the demand for smartphones.

The situation today seems like almost everyone who can afford a cellphone has a smartphone. Though, this is far from reality, atleast here in India, but the fast penetration of smartphones and affordable internet in cities and towns of the countries supported by a number of local players to the likes of Micromax, Karbonn, Lava among a number of other re-branders, who, import phones manufactured by OEM players in countries like China, rebrand the devices with their brand identity and sell the devices competing with some of the biggest international brands like Samsung, Apple, Sony and Google, trying to take a bigger share of a price sensitive market, one whose economy is rapidly growing, like India. This competition among brands to get a bigger share of customers results in consumers getting devices in a varied number of configurations and price points.

While the smartphone market share has increased, the services and features, both free and paid, associated with smartphones are also increasing and getting better day by day. For example, the Global Positioning System (also known as GPS) in almost ubiquitous, and is present in almost the cheapest of the smartphones available in the market. Similar is the case with imaging sensors (popularly known as cameras), which too are available in almost every cellphone, barring a very few dirt cheap feature phones. The features have become increased and become better, but the same is not getting used by many. This can be ascertained from the fact that you can still find people on bikes and in cars, stopping by and asking for directions to places from people, even though, today's navigation technology is capable of providing you door-step directions. Though, some make use of stand-alone GPS assisted Navigators installed in their cars which helps them in navigating, the small GPS chip embedded in the smartphone lying idle, or at most, helping you stay connected to your social buddies and sharing your selfies online, but not for getting directions to your destination. Well, this is just a small example. There area number of uses a smartphone can serve you, and that too pretty efficiently, with almost no added costs. I'm going to reveal some of these, as, being a techie, this is something I've been tinkering with since late 2011, when I bought my second smartphone, one that though being not very expensive, was worth the caption - "Smartphone".

5 techie things you can do with your Android smartphone

1. Photography: Well, everyone does that, what's new with it? Yes, everyone does that, there's nothing new with it, but then, if you change your perspective a bit to see what I am talking about, you might understand the point. The imaging sensors inside our cameras have improved a lot in the recent times. With some manufacturers selling high end smartphones featuring huge image resolutions - 41MP (with 38MP effect resolution) for the Nokia Lumia 1020 or other devices boasting of high resolution sensors like the Nokia Lumia 1520 or its somewhat cheaper cousin Nokia Lumia 930, both of which feature 20MP sensors with high end optics and featuring Optical Image Stabilization, to some featuring Optical Zoom capabilities like the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.  These days, some of the newly launched devices pack a punch with great hardware with awesome photography abilities. Devices like Motorola Droid Turbo aka Moto Turbo, or Xperia Z1, Z2 and Z3 from the Sony stable, all featuring 20.7 MP sensors, which has been known for their great camera phones, thanks to their CyberShot technology. Though, you need not go such high end to get you great pictures from a decently priced smartphone camera, that too without any post processing, and frankly speaking Better Photography is not all about having high megapixel count in your camera, as there are a number of other factors working behind the scenes. Just take your smartphone, turn on the camera, and press that button to click something you liked a lot. Like that flower in the park you went around in the morning for workout, or the sunset in all its glory with the crimson skies and orange ball of fire. All you need to do is tinker around with a few settings, if you can, like contrast, brightness, exposure and saturation, and such to get awesome pictures. I have been using some smartphones for some time now, and infact, all I've got are smartphones, for now for digital photography, and I think people do like my photography works with smartphones. Here's a link to my gardening blog, and my flickr profile. You can go and check the shots for yourself. Though, I'm not much of an outgoing person and like shooting the flowers and plants I grow over in my rooftop container garden. The pictures will give you some idea of the capabilities of a decent smartphone's photographic capabilities. Just to let you know, none of the smartphones used by me here are more than 15K (250 USD), which can be considered a decent and affordable budget for purchasing a smartphone here in India.

2. Navigation (Free of cost, almost): You read it right, Navigation. Using your phone to go from one place to another, and that too absolutely free of cost, though, you still need to bear a one time cost of some things, I'll tell you in a while. While most of us know that there is a small feature called GPS that is available in our phones. Some phones these days do feature an alternate navigation feature called GLONASS, and some devices feature both GPS and GLONASS. You might also be knowing that you can use your phone to show you directions to go from one place to another. But did you know that you can actually make use of that inbuilt GPS or GLONASS feature to navigate in a much efficient way? Well, some of you who might have used older Nokia Smartphones, in the prime days of Nokia Corp. might know the capability of GPS and it's use in navigation. Okay, let us decode this a bit in detail. GPS, an abbreviation for Global Positioning System is a Satellite based Navigation system operated by the United States of America and GLONASS, short for Globalnaya navigatsionnaya sputnikovaya sistema or GLObal NAvigation Satellite System, a Russian alternative for GPS operated by the USA. 

Here Maps
A screenshot of Nokia Here application for Android, in action

Basically these are Navigation systems based on networks of satellites orbiting the earth in the space, more precisely, constellations of satellites that help compatible receivers to get a reference of their position that is shown as per the imaginary grid of Latitudes and Longitudinal system called coordinates and helps it set up a near-precise latitudinal and longitudinal location of the receiver. This is done with the help of a method called triangulation that takes into consideration location information from atleast 3 navigation satellites to help establish a precise location. The more satellites, the better. The reciever "locks" the signal with the satellites and requires a clear line of sight, that is, no obstruction in between the reciever and the satellites, which means, it works best outdoors, and with clear skies. Both these services are quite precise, and while highest levels of precision being restricted for military use by both these countries, with the US operating a constellation of around 32 Global Positioning Satellites while the Russia operating a constellation of 24 satellites both the countries' navigation systems provide free civilian navigation access using their satellite systems.

There are applications like Google Maps and other navigation such applications that can be used by the user to help them go from one place to another. An application like Google Maps primarily makes use of Internet data and Telecom network location infrastructure to ascertain the approximate location of the reciever, further using data from GPS satellites to establish a precise location in conjunction of telecom network location infrastructure and the GPS satellites' data. Further, it loads the map information from its Google Maps servers, since, it operates an awesome mapping service via its products - Google Maps and Google Earth. This results in consumption of internet data to establish the location and loading of map data on the consumer device, i.e. the smartphone. Earlier, Nokia Corp. in its prime days had acquired a Navigation and Mapping service called NavTeq, which was engaged in satellite based mapping of the earth and gathering of such other navigational data. This acquisiton helped Nokia build a robust mapping and navigation application, which they initially called Ovi Maps, then renamed it as Nokia Maps and these days it is rechristened as Here Maps. This application, was initially available for Nokia devices and last year was made available for Android devices. The application uses map data that is can be downloaded once, and then can be used in conjunction with GPS satellites and network data to establish a location and navigation information for the device. The best thing about Nokia's Here maps is the fact that this is free, and can be used even when accessing the Internet is not possible, which means, you can actually use here maps in a remote location where there is no internet connectivity of mobile phone network infrastructure , while in such a scenario, Google Maps will be useless. So, all you have to do is, go to the Google's Play Store for Android devices, download Here Maps, install it, and then, from within the application, download the offline map data and the turn by turn voice navigation sound packs to provide you a sound based navigation system, which, is another advantage of Nokia's navigation application. Windows phone users and Apple iOS users too have the same available at their respective app stores.

3. Web Development: Yes, you read it right. I am actually saying Web Development. Around a year back, while I was working on an opensource web development platform, PHP, an idea clicked me. Why not look for something that could help me do this on the go, i.e. on my cellphone, since, it in itself is a pretty capable computer running on a 1.5GHz dual core processor, a GigaByte of RAM and enough space to see me through in my day to day life. I looked up the Google Play Store, and found applications that actually did the very thing I was looking for. I downloaded them, installed them, and voila, I had a PHP local development server running on my smartphone. 
AndroPHP Local PHP Server App for Android
A screenshot of the AndroPHP app for android, that lets you run a local php server on your phone

PHPMyAdmin running on AndroPHP server for Android
A screenshot of the PHPMyAdmin login screen running on AndroPHP php server on your phone

PHPMyAdmin running on AndroPHP server for Android
A screenshot of the PHPMyAdmin homepage running on AndroPHP php server on your phone

While programmers (essentially Web Developers) use Local Web servers like IIS (Internet Information Service), for windows based web development, XAMPP or WAMP servers for PHP based web development, there are apps that run as miniature versions of PHP web servers capable of being installed on android smartphones and allowing you to start programming on the fly. These servers feature almost all PHP features and databases too, meaning that you can actually do a full scale PHP web development right on your smartphone. And believe me, it actually works. I have installed a couple of such servers on my phone and have ran some PHP codes successfully. If you too would like to try some of these, you can take a look at these apps on the Google Play Store for Android devices. Though, using a small smartphone and the soft keyboard is a big headache in writing codes, if your phone supports external Keyboard and Mouse via a compatible USB OTG (On The Go) cable, you can attach a keyboard as well to write code on your phone.

4. A Small Computer: ? Indeed. It packs so much hardware inside the hood, why can't it work as a small All-In-One (AIO) computer? Just plug in an external keyboard/mouse and you have got yourself a computer with a keyboard. The Onscreen Keyboard on our android devices are one of the hinderances that make using the power inside our smartphones a task in itself. Well, you can go and get yourself a USB OTG cable to try out your luck with an external keyboard, and as some theories suggest, you can actually use multiple external input devices with a USB hub connected to your smartphone, to give you a complete PC experience, with a small screen. I made a video out of this functionality of my smartphone and I guess, this should work on a majority of Android powered devices. In case it isn't, you can reach out to the play store and download an application called External Keyboard by Medion, which might help your phone connect to an external keyboard. Just for information, not all devices come equipped with support for an external keyboard or mouse, or a gamepad, so, some of you might end up disappointed for the lack of it. This small computer can be used for light stuff like composing your next blogpost, writing a story or a poem, which won't need turning on your computer or the laptop.

5. Turn your smartphone into a Server: Most of our smartphones, these days, are connected to internet almost 24x7. With the increased penetration of internet and Social Networking, we like being in touch with our friends on the social networking platforms almost all the time. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp updates are being provided to us almost all the time. If our phones do these things, can't we use them to work up as a server? A Web Server, an FTP Server or a Media Server? Yes we can. With the help of some dedicated applications for Android devices, we can actually make this happen. There are apps like Servers Ultimate, Web Server Ultimate to make your phone a Web Server and run your websites via your phone. Apps like Wifi Media Share, Pixel Media Server - DMS can help you make your device a media server to share media files off your device. Be it pictures, videos, or audio files, your device can work up to do much more than what it is being used for. Similarly, there are apps that open up the possibility for your device to be used as FTP servers for your web projects, or in case you need to share files over the internet. You can actually use an app to make your phone an FTP server. FTPServer by Andreas Liebig and another  FTP Server by PCSalt.com are such applications that can make your device an FTP server to share your files over the internet or intranet.

WiFi Media Server App
The WiFi Media Server application in action
Servers Ultimate App running web and PHP server on Android Device FTP Server running on Android Device
The Servers Ultimate app, running the webserver and PHP and Lighttpd Server on my phoneFTP Server app that can transform your phone into a portable FTP server
There are a tonne of other functionalities that your smartphone supports and that these functionalities help ease your life, like doubling up as an exercise/workout buddy. Just download an app from the the app store, configure it according to your physical profile and it will help you out track your daily workout regime, almost free of cost. I will go over to some of these things you can do with the help of GPS/GLONASS free of cost, something, that many of you didn't even know, was possible.

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