Saturday, January 9, 2016

Highlights of 2015!

I wanted to write this on 1st of 2nd of Jan but could only manage this now… In fact I am writing this as I recover from the only lowlight of 2015! I came down with Dengue on 16th Dec. Also spent couple of days in a hospital – still recovering from it as I finally write this! :-)

Recently, at a reunion, where many of us were meeting after 25 years, late at night after a few drinks, somehow we got talking about the highlights of each of our lives….What have been the highlights of my life? So many things have happened; some really big and some that didn’t seem very important at the time they occurred but have gained serious significance over time.

But this manmade juncture, where we end one year and start the new one, is probably a good point to reflect on the past twelve months for highlights… I really needed to reflect on 2015 since it has been a year without gainful employment – a year very different from the last many in that sense.

In Feb 2015, I visited Tapasi in Singapore – I had visited the city twice before, but both the times it was on work and I had not had a chance to be a tourist. I roamed around the city on my own for a while and then Tapu took me around to show what appealed to her.  While I enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the splendid city, the highlight of the trip was the long conversations with Tapu.

We talked at home, over cups of coffee, over wonderful meals, over wine… Early in the morning and late in the night… We talked while driving around and on long walks by the bay; at fancy restaurants and small coffee shops…. We talked about places; about people; about cultures and rituals; what we liked and what we hated; frivolous matters and important subjects. And yet somehow, it seemed like we didn’t have enough time – to talk!

In July, Reading Hour published my short story ‘Lost Friend’. My first published work! I was asked if I was thrilled, and I couldn’t really say no to that but what I felt most strongly was contentment! And then my novel (The Ripple Effect) got accepted by Vishwakarma Publications! It is in works to be published and it is definitely one of the things that makes me look at 2016 very positively! :-)

Every year, I look for opportunities to go away around Diwali time – someplace away from all the razzle-dazzle and more importantly away from all the fire crackers! I have been managing that more often than not. Yet, Diwali of 2015 was unique – went to a small village in Konkan with family. Stayed right by the sea, watched the waves, first thing in the morning and the last thing at night! Watched the sunset every evening and walked the beach collecting shells! During the day, we went to nearby villages and out of the way temples – temples that one could go only on foot by climbing down and then climbing up a hill – place so quiet that there was no one else other than us!

I have been interested in spirituality for a while now; have even ventured into a few spiritual adventures. I had heard about Isha Foundation some time back and then I read and listened to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (Isha blog, youtube). So finally I signed up for their Inner Engineering program and went to their Ashram near Coimbatore. The place is just amazing! Saying that it is designed beautifully, architected well and is a wonderful experience, somehow does not seem enough! It is a lot more than what I can describe in words.
The course itself was very good. But it is not just the course – but what I want to do beyond that – how I want to practice what I was taught and the change I feel in myself. I can’t really describe it; one needs to experience it…

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why Travel?

Travel is adventure; it is a chance to get away from every day and normal. It forces you to go beyond your comfort zone and expand your perspectives. It teaches you to respect other lives, places & cultures and makes you more open minded. Even without making any conscious effort, you end up absorbing some of the things you come across; they become a part of you.

To sit in a vehicle (Bus, Car, Train or plane!) and go from one place to another is to transport yourself into a different reality. Or to suspend your reality and enter a different world for a short while.  A new place or even an old place that you have visited many times earlier or sometimes a place where you lived for some time a while ago, feels different in many ways. It looks different of course, but it also smells and sounds different.  Those sights, smells and sounds become part of you.  

I love to travel. I love the journey from one place to another and I love to go and experience different places. I love to travel to nearby places and be surprised by the differences in landscape, language and people’s perspectives. And I love to plan and visit distant, foreign places and be surprised sometimes by many similarities that I can find with people there and people back home.

In London, I want to take the tube, ride the London buses and taxis and I want to walk! Walk by the Thames, looking at the Big Ben and walk even in the small suburb of Hammersmith, where you will come across pubs that are more than 100 years old. Go into those pubs and have beer with fish and chips; oh and even CTM (Chiken Tikka Masala) – I was completely surprised by CTM the first time. I want to go to the theatre and watch a play/show. I want to walk into different book stores and just browse, and be surprised by the knowledge of the attendants. I want to ride the train and go to Oxford and learn about the different colleges there. 

In a small village near Blackburn, I visited a farm and saw a typical English barn. I saw these big, fat, pigs and sows and revised the image I had in my mind of Empress of Blandings. The BBC TV show I had watched had not made me do that. Seeing things on TV or even on big screen are no match to seeing things live. When you see it on the farm, you walk in the typical English weather and you smell the farm, it’s a combined smell of the wet greens and the animals. You can see how the animal walks across slowly, almost awkwardly.  I always enjoyed reading the Blandings books and like most PGW fans, found Lord Emsworth to be this bumbling and yet lovable character, but looking at those big, fat pigs gave me a different perspective. I find Lord Emsworth’s obsession over Empress funnier now; I can almost see her!

Visiting small villages in Provence, I understood the fascination I had come across in literature and movies about regions such as Provence and Tuscany. I could feel the romance of these places. The old houses, narrow, cobbled streets, small bistros and ice cream shops and village markets  – all very well maintained but not showy. I couldn’t help marveling at how things are very modern, yet so traditional and simple.

Closer home and still far away from Pune, in Assam, on the Majauli island, visiting different Satras and trying to understand the lifestyle there, to visit the local artists, see their creations and end the day by watching a dance performance in one of the Satras before retiring to our rooms in another Satra, is a day that will forever be part of me. A cherished memory.

Trekking in Himalayas, surrounded by majestic mountains, you can find out how life moves at a different pace there. You learn firsthand that the people of the mountain are a sturdy lot; they are cheerful in face of the inherent risks and challenges of their lives. The mountains give you a sense of freedom and at the same time make you understand the importance of discipline. They can be the most beautiful, most magnanimous presence one moment and the most furious and scary the next! 

In presence of the humongous mountain ranges; sometimes intimidating, yet sometimes almost soothing, you understand your insignificance in the big picture of the nature. It does not make you feel bad about your insignificance though. In fact, you feel an acceptance and a sense of peace. 

So many places, so many experiences and so many memories! Each journey and each trip makes me richer and a better version of myself!

Monday, January 12, 2015

How to be a successful Pet Cat

I managed to mesmerize my slave about a month back and she took me in. I am sure there are better cat slaves than her, but she is getting trained and I hope that one day, I would be able to proudly say that I have the best cat slave!

I am giving a few pointers and guidelines on how to be successful as a pet cat and how to train your slave and keep her/him in line.

There are three steps to becoming a successful pet cat.
1.     Be born as a cat
2.     Become a pet cat
3.     Master your slave and rule like a real pet cat!
I don’t know anything about how to achieve the first step. But I know that only the creator’s favourites are born as cats.

Becoming a Pet Cat

There are a few different paths that can be followed to becoming a pet cat. Let me describe some –

A.     You are born to a mother who was already a pet cat. Which means, you are born into pet catdom!! Born with a silver bowl, so to say… Lucky you!!! It does not get easier than this, because this means you are in a family that is already trained to be ruled by a pet cat.

B.     Your mother was what they called a stray. You ended up losing her and your siblings. But you are a survivor!! You need to move about looking for someone to adopt and find someone who you can manage to mesmerize!

C.     You were separated from your mother and are taken to a place that they called a “shelter” though it looked like a jail to you because you were put in a cage there. There were other cats there and a lot of bickering going on. When some family/person comes looking for a cat, you need to hypnotize that person so that he/she will pick you over every other cat. It helps to be playful at this point. Look happy, even if you are not. Another trick that has been known to be successful sometimes is to look really desperate to get out of the place. But this really helps if you are exceptionally good looking. Going with being playful is safer. That is a sure shot way of hypnotizing humans.

D.     Then, there would be others like me, who are born to a pet cat mother but got lost. However, you then managed to find someone to take you in. Like I found my slave. You have to mesmerize/hypnotize this person. In my case it turned out to be quite easy. She was a goner in just three pitiful meows!!


Master your slave and rule like a real pet cat!

Once you become a pet cat, you need to spend some time to get to know your slave. If there is only one person in residence apart from you, that person is your slave. When there are more people, first step is to identify your slave – remember, it is the person who feeds you, talks to you the most and tries to make you comfortable.

Once identified, you need to start training the slave. Following are some things that should help in training the slave and then keeping him/her in line.

First and foremost – Never be predictable! Be it about the place you like as your sleeping abode, the food you like to eat or the toys you like to play with!

When they feed you something you like, first let your slave know you like it. Eat it with gusto. Look all pleased after having a tummy full. But, make sure you don’t let the slave become complacent and keep feeding you the same thing. For this, after eating it happily for about 5.24 times, you start turning away in disdain. Let them try to figure out why you are not eating it. When the slave is in the kitchen, walk around her, with your tail up and meow asking for food. Let the salve go crazy trying to figure out what you would eat.

They will give you some toys to play with. There are two different things you need to do with the toys – for some brand new toys, don’t show any interest what so ever. In some other toys, follow the same principle as the food – play with them for a short while before turning away in disdain. New papers, good paper bags that the slave is trying to save – they are the toys you want to play with – tear them, crumple them, jump on them with dirty paws! Plastic bags are excellent, especially the ones that make a lot of noise – that noise can drive the slave crazy easily.  If there are any plants then eat the flowers, pluck the leaves and bring the soil from the pots in the house. This is another thing that would drive the slave crazy. After all the slave needs to learn that what you want to do with all the things is what is going to happen and you are not going to change your ways to suit the slave!

Few other tips for the toys and play –

1.     The slave’s hands need to be scratched with nails and they need to be chewed on – this you need to do on a regular basis to keep them in line. But don’t make them realize that you are basically training them when you are scratching their hands or chewing on them. Make them think you are being playful!

2.     If there are curtains, make sure to climb those – they need to be climbed on and the slave or the others in the family can’t do it. The responsibility of this task lies with you solely. When you climb to the top, get onto the curtain rod and start meowing pitifully, let the slave think you can’t climb down. They will rush around to raise something for you to jump in or they themselves might climb on a chair or something. Make sure to scratch the slave in a few places as you climb down.

3.     When the slave is trying to sleep, jump onto their face, asking them to play. Start biting their hands; that generally would get you the attention.

4.     When you are wide awake and playful, they will play with you and let them for some time. Then walk away looking down upon them. Let them know that you decide when you will play, how much, with what or whom. Don’t let them make you play when they try to “make you”.

5.     Bird feathers are excellent toys. So are decorative items that the slave and others would try to keep you away from.

6.     Cupboards, refrigerators, washing machine – you need to get into all of them! If by chance, while trying to keep you out of these, they are even close to trapping you or you feel your foot might get caught – bellow like they are trying to murder you. Run away looking hurt. Then keep giving them a look to remind them of their guilt.

7.     Once in a while, just for fun, go into a different part of the residence from where they are and start meowing as if you are stuck or in a lot of pain. When the slave comes running to see what has happened, be standing on a bed or a chair, and on seeing them, jump down with a satisfied “meow” and walk away!

Remember that you need to do these and keep coming up with newer ways to keep your slave in line. There are many other things one can do based on the slave and the exact situation, but these should be good to get started.

The most important thing is to have the right attitude. You are a cat! You are superior to every other living thing. Your adopted family and most importantly your slave needs to be made aware of this and you need to keep reminding them from time to time to keep them in line.

It is a lot of work but once you train your slave keeping them in line is not too bad. A well trained and kept in line slave is really worth it. They make your life so much easier. You can then have the choice of food, the choice of place to sleep and relax or play as you wish!!


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stupid Idea!!

I have been on the Idea network for more than 7 years now. And generally speaking their service is not too bad – or more specifically here in Maharashtra, they are probably better than others like Airtel and Vodafone. So even though there have been times in the past when I have had frustration with the speed of the data connection on a 3G network, I have not switched my service provider. Also, I know firsthand that their customer service is better than some others like Airtel and so much better than Tata Indicom (docomo).  Having said that, I do feel that people handling customer service (in general) have been trained to be stupid! Following is my recent communication with Idea, that I absolutely love for stupidity of it all!

My first mail to Idea customer care:

Since yesterday, whenever I make a phone call I hear a message that says that my information with you is incomplete and it asks me to dial a number for details.

First of all, the message is not very clear and I can't understand what number I am supposed to dial to get details.
Secondly, I have been an Idea customer for over 7 years now - so I am curious about what information is not there with you after seven years. And why is it that for last 7 years you didn't ask me for this informaiton.

I then called customer care, and told the person that I want it in writing from Idea, what information you don't have and need from me; he told me he cant help me - I should write on this email adress to get that - that he can't ask Idea to send across the details in email.

So can you please explain to me what information that needs to be with you, is not with you?

Secondly, why can't Idea ask for this in writing, in the first place?

My account details -
 Phone number – 98XXX- XXXXX in Name of Sonali Gogate - I also have a add on card – 98XXX- XXXXX.

No reply from the customer care for more than 24 hours, not even to acknowledge the email. Hence, I wrote again -

I have sent this mail yesterday but I have not even got an acknowledgement from you!!
How is one supposed to communicate with Idea if they do not even acknowledge your emails??
Idea customer care reply:
Dear Ms. Gogate,
Thank you for contacting Idea Cellular Customer Service.
We regret the delay in reply.
This is with reference to your e-mail regarding below given concern for your mobile number 98XXXXXXXX and 98XXXXXXXX.
Further to your below email, we wish to inform you that as per TRAI guidelines you have to submit your documents for reverification purpose at your nearest My Idea.
We request you to submit following documents at your nearest My Idea:
  • ID Proof
  • Address proof
  • One passport size photograph
We have attached the list of My Idea for your perusal.
 We greatly value your patronage and look forward to an opportunity to delight you.
My response to Idea customer care:
Can you please tell me WHY I need to resubmit these documents when I have been an Idea customer for over 7 years?

Also, I finally figured out that the number I was being asked to call was 53596. On calling this, I got the message that Idea has all my valid documents and that if needed they will get in touch with me.
Idea customer care said:
Dear Ms. Gogate,  

Thank you for contacting Idea Cellular Customer Service.

Further to your below e-mail, we wish to inform you that as per the TRAI guidelines the you are required to re-submit the documents at nearest My Idea.

To know the document status kindly dial 53550 from your Idea mobile number.

We greatly value your patronage and look forward to an opportunity to delight you.
Now I was really annoyed and I wrote. (I like to call this Sonali’s attack.:-)) And what is this about "opportunity to delight you" anyways.....???!!!!
So the message I hear when I am trying to dial out gives a different number to call (53596) than the one you are giving in this message. Why is that?
Secondly, when I call 53596, I am told that my documents with you are vaild. But in your message here, you are asking me to submit the documents again!!

There is a MAJOR discripancy in what Idea is telling me!!

You need to fix this - I want to hear a consistent message to BELIEVE that, I need to do that.

I hope I have made myself clear.

Idea’s response: (This is where the training in being stupid was well utilized :-))
Dear Ms. Gogate,  

Thank you for contacting Idea Cellular Customer Service.

Further to your belo e-mail, we wish to inform you that to deactivate your pre tone service request we would need the request from your registered e-mail id.

We greatly value your patronage and look forward to an opportunity to delight you.
I was actually laughing when I wrote this final email to them (Sonali saying “you idiots!!”)
This communication that we are having, is from my registered e-mail ID. If this email thread is not good enough for you to turn it off, I suggest you keep it on.
Anyway, I would MISS it now if I didn't hear the annoying, unclear announcement every now and then!!
Idea (finally) relents:
Dear Ms. Gogate,  

Thank you for contacting Idea Cellular Customer Service.

Further to your below e-mail and telecon dated 5th January 2012, we wish to inform you that the Pre-tone announcement has been deactivated with effect from 5th January 2012.

Kindly note the docket number XXXXXXXXX for your reference

We greatly value your patronage and look forward to an opportunity to delight you.

Idea wishes you a very happy and prosperous new year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 - The year that was...

It’s a new year once more…. At the beginning of the year I look forward to the year with a lot of hope and expectations. I find that I also tend to look back at the year that is over to see what it did in my life…
2011 was really a mixed year.

At the beginning of the year (Jan & Feb), my mother went into the hospital couple of times – she underwent a procedure on her right knee the second time. But from that point onwards, slowly her health improved.

We celebrated my father’s 75th birthday in June. To start with, he didn’t want us to celebrate but we managed to convince him on the condition that we will not do anything religious. So we had a small function where his grandson sang for him, his grandniece gave a dance performance and we had a poetry reading session. A lot of people came over to meet him. Overall, it was a very good function and the celebration was the kind that suited best for the kind of person he is.

My cousin got married at the beginning of December. This was just about a month after my grandmother’s death… We all were coming together just about a month after her death and we kept remembering her… we all went first to Nagpur and then from there onto Raipur – which is where the wedding took place. This was the first time that we all got onto a bus (a bus hired just for us) as the “marriage party” and went from one place to another, in a typical Indian wedding style.  It turned out to be quite an experience! And while we had a lot to complain about in the journey (the bus was not comfortable, the roads were really bad, the driver was driving very slowly and stopping quite often; oh and while returning we got stuck in bad traffic, which meant we reached Nagpur around 2:00 AM etc.), it gave us some wonderful memories of having had fun together. We will be talking about it for years to come… “Remember when we were going to Raipur….”

I made two wonderful trips in 2010 –
In the month of April I went to Assam with Motiya, Girish & Ojas; It was just so awesome. I wrote about that trip on my return (Awesome Asssam).
Then in August, I went on a trans-Himalayan jeep safari and visited the land of thousand passes – Ladakh! This was a trip that I had been looking forward to for years…. I was supposed to go in 2010 but thanks to the cloud burst, that had to be cancelled.  The trans-Himalayan safari was definitely an experience like no other and Ladakh was everything I had expected and more – its a place of start, heart wrenching and stunning beauty. I wrote about the safari (Trans-Himalayan Jeep Safari) and about Leh (Leh). I think I should write about our visit to Nubra Valley – the high altitude desert where we saw double hump camels and the surreal Pangong Tso (lake).

Looking back at the year, it also seems like the year of death… We lost so many well-known personalities from various fields - Just way too many of them. The two deaths that I felt most saddened by were those of Bharatratna Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in Jan 2011 and Yahoo man,  Shammi Kapoor in August 2011.

But the one death that affected me the most was that of my grandmother’s. I lost my grandmother in the month of November, but she had been very ill since the beginning of the year. While I (and others around her) knew that it was time for her to go – she was bed ridden for over 1.5 years –  and while there were times when we all had felt that God should relieve her from her state… when she did go, it made me (and others) very sad. She had been an important part of my life for a long time – and it was such a positive presence! She was someone who loved unconditionally. 
She passed away early morning on 4th of Nov, very peacefully, surrounded by her son, daughters and grandchildren. I miss her so much!! Someone saw an old photograph of hers and said that I looked a little like her. I was so pleased with that! But I wish to be more like her in more ways than just the looks…