Routine

An old weighing scale, probably rusted; a mat; notebooks and pencil: That’s what she carries everyday when she leaves home for school at 8 in the morning. As the school bell rings at 2 in the afternoon, all the kids run towards the gate barging each other. She is calm. She wouldn’t run. She has a brunt on her shoulder; not of the weighing scale but of her siblings, her senescent mother. So she can’t afford even a single scratch on the scale lest she falls. She marches to the same spot she’s been sitting on for last 4 months, earning whatever she could with that old machine. She sits on the mat she brings with her and keeps the weighing scale in front of her. Her elder brother sells balloons. At 9 in the night he picks her up and both of them return home.

This is her routine. She didn’t choose her life to be this way. She has dreams. But she cannot curse fate for where she is. In fact she’s glad that her destiny isn’t worse than this girl she was friends with, who was abducted and never made her way back home.

She sits beside her weighing scale and finishes her homework whenever she is free. She is dedicated to studies. Some days she would see customers, some days she wouldn’t. Strange gazes caught her, some of pity and some of sympathy. Some try to help her by offering food. She doesn’t like to accept offers for free, for that makes her feel like a beggar which she doesn’t approve of. She may not have money but she has self-esteem. Sometimes she has to keep her dignity aside for the sake of her family. So she keeps the offerings. But ever since her father abandoned the family she has promised to herself that she will stand on her feet to see her family in a position better than ever.

Apart from pity and sympathy, she receives gazes of lust as well. Shady lechers would pass by, sometimes even brushing up against her. She’s 12 years old but is mature enough to perceive the secret abductions going on. “Who knows what’s on the other side of this veil of expressions the random strangers have covered their faces with”, she thinks.” Is there a cliff of ‘child labour’ one can be pushed off to? Or even a worse trap from which one is never coming back?” She’s alert and conscientious. That’s all what she can be. Life’s not easy. But she has faith that one morning when she wakes up, this routine of hers will end forever.

This is not just her story. A huge population is vulnerable to poverty and illiteracy. Many kids are under the risk of child trafficking, child labour and sexual abuse. Unless an effort is made to educate them and spread awareness, they will continue to suffer due to their state of naiveté.

भाषा: Language

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“When people fall into servitude, so long as they cling to their language, it is as they it held the key to their prison.” I remember the quote from the story, ’The last lesson’ by Alphonse Daudet from my class 12th English textbook. It says, the only nexus that binds the people together when they’re slaves to a colony is their language. I relate to it as I’ve gone through the Indian history texts- slogans by our leaders, writings by Indian authors have remained the subjects of our study. From freedom fighters to our Prime Minister, everyone has been trying to endorse our native language, Hindi, to bind the country and to use it as an antidote against any external threat.

The other day while I was teaching Ankit and Shrawan, I asked them to study their Hindi textbook. To my surprise, they refused to do so saying they don’t like studying Hindi; and English is the only language they are good at. I simpered, because I know that they recite numbers or mathematical tables in Hindi and they can’t write or speak number names in English. So if I write 56 and ask what it is they’ll speak “chhappan” instead of “fifty six”. In fact I even mocked at myself for not realizing how important it was to stick to a language that’s in your roots, no matter how well-versed you become with your second language. I remember once my Hindi teacher was chiding us showing us the mirror of reality. She said, “You think English is superior so you won’t study Hindi. But if I make you stand here and ask to speak, you can neither give a proper speech in Hindi nor in English.” That’s true. In a race to become a classy English speaker, we turned a blind eye to the language we’re brought up with.

Hindi doesn’t have an official recognition as the ‘National’ language, simply because India celebrates various cultural and ethnic diversities. But I do press on the fact that one’s native language, whatever it be, needs to be felt proud of. You’re not expected to profess a second language when you’re born.  Your language binds you with your community, makes you stand out in the crowd of unknown people. That’s why, I remember, Mr. Modi once refused to give his speech in English even though he might be good at it. Various world leaders such as Xi Jinping, Francois Hollande, Shinzo Abe and Angela Merkel prefer to give speeches in their native languages. What is it then that makes us reluctant to accept that we might not be a pro English speaker? Why aren’t we proud to be conversant with the languages our country represents?

Of course one needs to be familiar with a language everyone follows globally to walk shoulder to shoulder with the world but should subsequently represent the locale he comes from.

Do you remember the first day of your college/school when one of the batch mates was speaking the same regional language you do? If yes, then you know the sort of happiness I am talking about.  As Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.

 

Kharab Chai

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We’ve seen sellers fighting to be the best in the competitive market, trying to serve the best of products and services at customers’ disposal. But how many of you have observed sellers trying to sell the worst?

Years back I was traveling by a train to the holy city of Varanasi. We had entered the borders of Uttar Pradesh and I started observing vendors selling different specialties of their cities. While some offered the famous ‘Agra petha’ others resorted to tea/coffee. Needless to say that Indians, who start their day with tea, wouldn’t deny for a sip or two. Myriad of sellers came to offer tea claiming to be the best. Some accepted the offer, some didn’t.

Then came a vendor shouting,”duniya ki sabse kharab chai”,”kharab chai le lo” (Try the worst tea of the world). Everyone started staring at him. After all, what sort of image was he creating for his product? He was actually using REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY to intrigue the passengers. Reverse psychology is a technique involving a behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject to do what actually is desired: the opposite of what is suggested. Everyone ordered a cup of tea out of curiosity to know how bad the taste of tea could be. This would work for the seller in two ways- first; nobody could claim their money for bad taste because he had already apprised them of it. Second; if they liked the tea, they’d recommend it to others or easily identify him the next time they travel by that route. With loyalty of customers it also provided him an edge over his competitors. I had the chance to taste the ginger flavoured tea and I indeed recommended it to others. I even heard a passenger praising him and advising not to claim his tea the worst as it could be misleading. Now when I recall the conversation I realize little did the passenger and I know how these sellers used smart marketing in a common market to survive. The strategy might have been copied by a lot more train vendors but I never saw any other line of business taking such an intrepid step.

A while back I was traveling via Madhya Pradesh when I heard a tea seller shouting ‘Kharab chai’. I smiled; reminisced the incident that took place ten years back; ordered a cup of tea appreciating the existence of this gimmick; looked through the window as the fog covered the stalls; and enjoyed the ‘kharab chai’ voraciously.

 

THE BLUE

“It’s a good day”,

You come to me and say.

You shine like the sun

Laughing all the way

Vacillating,

Whether to jump or fly?

Fear adulates both

But so do you.

So what if you fall

Into the ocean of misery?

I’m standing

Right where you began

To help you swim through

To the shallow end.

Again you stand, you rise,

For you were destined

To seek the ether of wise.

Standing right there

I look up at you

For success is surmised

From the beginning to The Blue.

 

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The piece is written from the perspective of a teacher, a mentor, a guide who always stays by your side to catch you if you fall.

BREAKING BREAD @ TONY’S


If you’re a DU student living in the north campus, Tony’s is undoubtedly one of your favourite food joints. Those two slices of toast would give you a totally distinct delicious experience every time you try a new flavour. I’ve been observing Tony’s grow with the blink of an eye. To be everyone’s favourite takes a lot. If you kick off a startup and people start recognizing it, it’s then when you know you’ve done it the right way.

THE IDEA

“There are times when your life becomes so mundane that your conscience forces you to question yourself, “what the heck am I doing in my life?”, and mulling over that you start getting closer to your passion. In our case it turned out that we’re elated when we explore food while we travel across countries and that’s how we came up with Tony’s”, says Harsh, the owner of Tony’s when I asked how the idea of starting a food joint hit upon.

In setting up a brand, you haven’t succeeded if you haven’t faced a problem. Tony’s was funded with personal savings of the co-founders as they didn’t have any significant sources. Harsh also reveals that one of the biggest problems while arranging quality ingredients is that 9/10 people sell sub-quality products and when you go out in the market without knowing people, they cheat you, give you second-hand products, half the quantity at double the price. Moreover you’ve pestering police to deal with- they would charge you unnecessarily, ask you for monthly fine and still call for free snacks from your shack.

TIME TO LEARN

A business enthusiast can learn even from the smallest organizations. Tony’s, knowingly or unknowingly had some appreciable strategies which in my opinion led them grow:

  • PRODUCT SEGMENTATION– Its core theory is that an organization can produce a single product with minor variations. Tony’s experimented with breads and it succeeded because it offered the same old product in a different way adding new flavours. Harsh describes it as a snack which can be consumed any time of the day-
  • 8:00 am for breakfast (how about our Peanut Butter Protein Crunch!)
  • 2:00 pm for lunch (how about our Might Ham or Tomatina!)
  • 6:00 pm for Tea (how about our Wonder Cheese!)
  • 8:00 pm for dinner (how about Amritsari Seekh!)

 

  • TARGET AUDIENCE– An area where most of the start-ups fail to identify who their customers are, Tony’s succeeded. It chose University area as the young generation would be least reluctant and least hesitant in trying out something different at an affordable price. Plus you get the advantage of a contagious Word-of-mouth vine in a campus. You tell one and ten others will know. After the incredible success of “ Pulse ” candy,this has been one of the most effective market strategies.

 

  • SWITCHING LOCATION AT THE RIGHT TIME– When Tony’s realized that it needed a comfortable elbow-space to work; it switched from Patel Chest to Vijay Nagar. While in Patel chest there was just a shack at the footpath lacking seating facility for customers with a vulnerable and unhygienic environment, Tony’s anticipated better growth prospects at Vijay Nagar. Now it has its own enclosed café with proper facilities – a hygienic space with AC and seating facilities. Reminds me of the story of Tata Nano plant shifting to Gujarat- a smart move by PM Modi, the then CM.

 

  • INNOVATION IS THE KEY, MY FRIEND: When a magnate like Nokia can fail on the grounds of innovation, what is a start-up in front of it? Innovation isn’t always developing something new; it’s also how you zero in new ways of doing the same. That’s how Flipkart bloomed. It acquired Myntra and Jabong and is giving a cut throat competition to the 2-decade old Amazon. Had Tony’s not experimented with the cliché mayo or nutella sandwich, it wouldn’t have flourished so well. It keeps on adding new flavours to the menu.

 

  • CUSTOMER IS THE KING: The reason why Patanjali proved to be a success was because it could convince people of the quality ingredients it offers which other companies might not. When Tony’s could not get good quality bread, it started baking its own to ensure that no customer suffers from a sub-standard product.

 

  • PRICE PENETRATION– When I talk of price penetration, Maggi is the best example. Price penetration is a technique where the price of the product is initially set low to strengthen the goodwill of the product thus capturing a myriad of customers, and subsequently increasing the price. In case of maggi, goodwill came out so strong that even the hottest controversy didn’t move its customers and maggi continued to sell at Rs.12/- after a price surge of Rs.2. Tony’s took the risk, being confident about the product,  and surged price due to an obvious increase in the cost of production.

 

 

A TINGE OF GAME THEORY? If you’ve survived the game theory, you’re in a win-win situation. Nonetheless deciding your actions dependent upon the actions of other participants is risky. Tony’s hiked the prices to a limit which would still be lesser than its competitors so as to retain its customers (not everyone is confident enough like Reliance Jio when it comes to defeat the competitors).

If you get to visit Vijay Nagar, do try the amazing snacks. You yourself will witness the small organizational structure such vendors follow. There’s not denial that risk is directly proportional to the profits you earn.  If you risk and win, you’ll be happy. If you lose, you’ll be wise.

TO BE AN ICONOCLAST


My periodic meetings with the pupils have let me observe certain similarities amongst them. Everyone seems to have a yearning for art in some way or the other. In the refreshment time everyone would go and fetch colours of their choice and start drawing their imaginations: some would draw houses, some would trace silhouettes on the paper, but some are consummate sketchers. Ankit is one of them. The sketch I’ve shared is his magnum opus-The Ironman. I asked him where he took help from, to which he replied he drew it on his own without looking at any pictures. At the first instance nobody would believe him, neither did I. It was then when he drew a sketch of doraemon in a jiffy that left me awestruck. By doing so he defied the belief that children from marginal family groups can only make good workers. I sensed a scintilla of iconoclasm. Do you sense the same?

While I was talking to them, Nisha asked me, ”ma’am, do you wear jeans when you go out?” I said I do. She smiled and said that she wears jeans too and that she loves wearing them. I was baffled, perturbed with this incident. Is wearing jeans a luxury for her or a sign that she’s free?  Long back when jeans were introduced girls were not allowed to wear them, for they were western and could be revealing. But I never knew that we’re still struggling to oppose the harsh society norms set for women. I can never crack the logic of restricting jeans but being completely fine with blouses. I was still pondering over whatever happened, completely oblivious that another such incident was waiting at the door. Tanya, another art lover, was colouring what she drew. When I appreciated her work, she said,”I want to be an art teacher but my mother won’t allow me to. She doesn’t want me to work but marry as soon as I grow up.” Needless to say I was disheartened. It’s hard to draw a picture of a happy nation in your mind when you see dreams shattering in front of you.

The society is a hypocrite- it’ll question men and women exchanging their workplaces- making it difficult to let a man survive in the kitchen and a woman in the office. The society is a malefactor- it’ll try to kill your dreams, demoralize you, ask you to follow what’s being followed since ages.

Not everyone is courageous like Galileo to challenge the society belief, but not everyone becomes a legend like he is. It’s up to you how you raise above all, be an iconoclast and jump up the ladder of your aspiration.

 

 

The Grin

 

The beginning of the blog was accompanied with the beginning of a new day for me as a teacher. Yes. My penchant for kids was so irresistible that I decided to teach the children of lower income groups. There’s no denying to the fact that kids are always filled with  kind of energy that intrigues you-intrigues your eyes while your eyes start to press you to smile-a complacent grin.

The first two kids were Monu and Nisha. Now if you think such kids are intellectually weak or uninterested in studies, you are in a universe of nescience. They are bright, diligent and I confide in their capabilities. I would be  proud to see what my nation could be like in the years to follow,if we manage to abate the high-school dropout rates by diverting a trifle of funds from the sectors like the nuclear sector for a better education system.
While talking to them I asked what they wanted to be when they grow up. Their eyes shined, eager to show me what they could see through their eyes for their future. I was hypnotized by the constant wide grin on their face. “A pilot!” Monu answered. I couldn’t have been more overwhelmed. I didn’t want this statement to be an irony in any way – a child from lower middle class, with meager facilities but intense curiosity, dreams to fly and explore the cosmos of what all he could do from up there. In fact I was right in believing that every child dreams and rejoices in a similar manner and hence,each child is equal in the eyes of God.I recalled one of my train journeys when I was looking through the window and saw a village girl waving a goodbye to all the passengers from her little beautiful hut. The village was remotely located so I’m not sure if she had ever been to school. After an hour I reached a town. It was sheer co-incidence but enough to make me gape when I saw a school boy going back home. While going home he saw the train coming and started waving his hands bidding  goodbye-his face lighted up with euphoria while playing this game.At the same time I could sense his happiness of going home, reflected  through the gleam in his eyes. It was thought-provoking how every child finds happiness in more or less the same trivial matters unbiased of  gender, caste and race. Who is man to categorize or disparage them and choose aspirations for them?

Nisha yearns to be a teacher-an art teacher. Again, I saw the similar confidence in her to paint her world herself and to guide others paint theirs, to choose the flamboyant colours from the palette of her life and not be intertwined in society norms to end up drawing an incomplete silhouette.

The next time I met them, I gifted them pens of their favourite colours to motivate them to follow their dreams. Their reaction was priceless. Their facial expression filled  me  with content  and satisfaction. It was the curve that made all the difference -their grin.