Thursday, October 13, 2011

Murphy's law ;)

I don’t know whether to call this series of events a mere coincidence or a strange divine intervention or a simple sign…
It all began on the 8th of Jan 2011. I was searching for an interesting project or internship to do my major thesis. I had been looking for one (hopefully with pay for obvious reasons) since August 2010. I had written to a lot of people, contacted many companies and sent my profile to a number of contacts with the hope of hitting something hard.
The new year (Jan 2011) dawned with a hopeful telephonic interview call from GE, Bangalore (which was one of my dream places). I was quite happy. But then, I did not manage to crack it. Something didn’t work (I had apparently not convinced that lady enough to give me an opportunity). But then, I seem to be having a strangely contorted luck with interviews. This has happened now many times over. Ofcourse I have succeeded many times too. ( Still, conclusion: I need to work on my soft skills and interview facing skills. Well, point taken).
However, since that didn’t work out, I had decided I would get back home for the delayed vacation and then keep trying till I crack it elsewhere. So I booked to return on Jan 8th. My father said he wanted to come there and help me as I had a lot of hostel-room-vacating luggage. He came and the day when I was about to start, just a couple of hours before I started from my cousin’s house, one of my friends messaged saying my train is delayed by an hour. I thought this was quite common since it was biting winter in Delhi.
And then after an hour, again a message: further delay. “Well, so far so good” I thought. But after that, the third message conveyed about 8-9 hours’ delay due to fog. Ok. Perhaps not out of the ordinary, still a wee bit strange. But right then, my friend sent another message saying, “I told you not to leave Delhi. See…”. Hmmm, A small ‘ringing’ inside me. I ignore it.
So we finally boarded the train and reached Chennai after a monotonous 19 hours’ delay. So after I reached and settled back here, the very first evening: my scooty tyre tube broke (Ok. No big deal for a vehicle kept idle for quite some time). I changed it that evening. Next day I went to drop my mom. The same tyre’s tube again goes psssstttttttt… phew. Changed that too…
I kept looking for opportunities. But it was quite similar to the first tyre experience – didn’t work. Just before I left the university, one of my faculties said that a company accepted to take me as an intern. But the stipend wasn’t great. Looked like I will have to spend more than what I will earn there. But that was not the only reason I was not very keen in that offer (Given that, I had expressed interest when they first asked. Still I didn’t seem to be very comfortable). I tried to explain to the staff that I wasn’t very sure I wanted it. But they said I had to take it up.
So, I did take it up (more out of having no other choices at that time). I had booked my tickets to go there by train. My father was to accompany. But the confirmation didn’t happen till the last minute. On the day of my scheduled journey, we went to the station and came back. We knew it wasn’t going to work. And I wasn’t allowed a don’t-have-a-confirmation journey. When we were returning, I got the news that a friend’s father passed away. So I went there. I thought maybe this is why.
I had an extra day and that day, we decided to buy a jewel because of an offer going on. We chose something to buy and came back home. It was apparently for me. I took it out at home and it went pssttt… broke right in the middle. I think, “Gosh, will this ever end? “. So we had yet another task for the next day.
We tried going to the booking office early next day morning for tatkal train tickets, while people tried the net.
No luck with either… so all we were left with was air option (which I wanted to avoid, given the expense). So we took the flight (that too not to Pune but to Mumbai. Took a cab from Mum to Pune) and reached Pune finally. I began my work there. Happily, I got it at least in the department I had asked for. People were friendly and most of them I knew already, due to early visits.
Yet, there was a constant void. A kind of incompleteness. Something didn’t still fit in. So all this was going on. There was a short 3 days’ vacation after a month. So I came home that time. I mean that was the plan. I reached on Friday mid night and was supposed to board a flight back to Pune on Monday. In between I had to travel to Madurai. But Monday morning, though we reached home before 6.30, I (unlike any other day) slept for a while and got late. I missed the flight (again, unlike any other time. I have had really close calls before also).
I felt really bad. This was the second time I went to the departure and came back home. Remember? the first time for the train. So since I anyway had to go, I was told to take the next day’s flight. I felt guilty because that was very expensive (world cup was on. I even met Nasser Hussain in the airport). So I sort of convinced dad to allow me take a bus to Bangalore and then from there I would take a flight. (Perhaps not a clever decision - but at that point of time, nothing else seemed economical). So I took the bus to Bangalore.
I went to my aunt’s place there – reached quite early actually. Was talking with them and just sorted out the bag to pack a few things given by aunt. (My gran and bro were there)
I had taken out the ticket to just check the timings and had absently left it in the table. Next day, I was supposed to start very early. You know the airport in Bangalore right? So, while leaving I forgot to take this ticket. (Urgggggggg… grrrrrrr… Hadd hai yaar) Came back again. Detour from Hulimavu to Kamanahalli.
Of course one obvious reason was I was quite sleep-starved. But I have been through this kind of situations before. Even when there was no body to wake me up or drop me off, I have managed to take all essential stuff and reach the station/ airport on time before.
But somehow, this time it all had to go wrong. (Murphy’s law :P)
Phew. Finally I reached Pune the next day. But ever since I stepped in that time, it was Murphy’s Law the whole squared.
I try to make dinner. My cooker’s safety valve broke. My phone fell in water and I was out of reach for two days (I had a duos you see. So both sims locked in one phone. No spare handset). My internet connection was suddenly not working. Not that these are very big issues and difficult to sort out. But all these - in the same week that I returned – in a matter of five days. Especially since I had been in 4 cities in 4 days: Pune, Chennai, Madurai and Bangalore. As a matter of fact quite unnecessarily.
I was a little freaked out.
First, it was as if, I was stopped in every possible way to not go there. Second, even after I sort of managed through all that, I was being bombarded with little inconveniences to create diversions.
And just after two more weeks, I couldn’t continue my work there any longer (due to some other reasons better left alone) and I packed my bags back home. I continued my thesis work here and completed everything.
The notable facts here are that, I had gone twice before to Pune the same year. Once in Oct and once in Nov. To the same company. Both the trips, I had a very memorable and happy journey, stay, etc.
In fact the Oct trip ticket was also not confirmed that time. RAC. But I got through easily. Only when I was trying to go there during my internship, there were constant obstacles. First, the delay in Delhi. Second, from home I had to go to Bombay and reach that too after a train attempt already. Third, I had to go to Bangalore and then reach - also after a missed flight.
And in the end, I had to come back home without completing what I went there for.
That is what I found to be strange. Do you get what I mean? This is what got me thinking. Do these little signs really have value? This has also happened a lot of times before.
When I take my scooty out to do some task, when the bike starts immediately I haven’t had problems. But whenever the bike gives a trouble starting, more often than not, my work is never completed.
It seems like a vicious circle. Is it the negative thought triggered by the first mishap that cascades down to a lot of further mishaps? Or is it the ignorance or refusal to acknowledge the first signs that cause so many continued inconveniences? I was as much optimistic as possible (or at least I think I was :p ). I tried to convince myself that, “Hota hai yaar. Koi nai. Could have been worse”… Still… ???
Besides, there is also another school of thought. All this can just be an unrelated but unfortunate set of events with no significance altogether. But my mind refuses to accept it that way. Can’t help thinking they are linked.
Moral of the story: Har ek friend Zaroori hota hai…  (what if I had only listened to my friend earlier. Wink wink)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Just wanted to share the wisdom I got by looking around me. Hope it will make a difference.

The whole world is trying to analyze how to overcome the energy crisis and all the other problems associated with it – global warming, climate change, exhausting fuels, carbon emission, etc. which form a rather vicious circle. A lot of knowledge base (colorful PowerPoint presentations) has been developed and alternative energy sources and technology have been patronized like never before. Many huge multi-billion dollar investments are at stake, for large scale power production using renewables, subsidies, policy-changes, phew...
Yes, all this is now quite passé. Old news, rotten bread…
Indeed, every second sees development of magnitudes, by far unknown to man. Exponential !!
Yet, all these efforts are like the proverbial ‘single step’ that begins a journey of thousand miles. But in the midst of all this, it has been also observed that, centralized system of anything is not a very effective cure-all.
DECENTRALIZATION is the key of sorts. Thinkers world over have started realizing this and efforts are on to reach out at a much smaller level.
So, what can actually be called the smaller level? What kind of sample population are we looking at…
It, according to my understanding goes right to the very fundamental subset of any population – an Individual element.
Or to say, a single person or even a group of two and three…
How? Every element should actually belong to the set right? Similarly, the idea of sustainability and conservation should be understood and accepted by all.
Utilization is the best way of conservation. Just like it is said that, money that is saved is as good as money earned, utilizing anything and everything fully is the key to conservation.
Not an epiphany good enough right?
Well, here are some of my observations and what kind of things could probably help. Trust me it is at a very very basic level.
1. Use paper cups but crush it fully while throwing it in the dustbin.

Reflection: you have anyways wasted a paper cup. Atleast do it in such a way that, unlike an uncrushed cup, a crushed cup takes up more space and can hold more trash. So, one trash bin in the place of two will do.

2. This is especially for some – please don’t take it rudely.
Try first not to actually throw your litter FRIVOLOUSLY. There is a place where it should go. Leave alone separating trash based on nature of stuff. First, develop the mentality of SERIOUSLY throwing them where they should be thrown.

Reflection: It is absolutely disheartening to see even the Gen Nxt not doing this.
But, why???
Because, they grew up seeing their previous generation doing something else of throwing it as it is and they have learnt to do that too.
Agreed. No blames on you.
But then, You just DON’T do the same thing and spoil even your Gen Next. Atleast let them live better.

Just simply DON’T put litter away like that, at least when there are kids around you. Apparently you can’t keep glancing back to see whether there are and so don’t do it by default.

3. As long as you can help it, never lose your pen. That is by far easily the most produced and wasted without even having been used fully.

Reflection: I mean, try to not buy a new pen when you can still use refills on your old one. Or for that matter fully use your old one. The humble white and blue reusable Reynolds I would say is like the Ambassador car - has stayed through all its glamorous and stylish counterparts. Use and throw is not ours… nah

4. When you can actually go out and play, then just go out and play.

Reflection: Why think about being virtually present when you can physically be. And when you are at it, SHUT DOWN your comp, disconnect your internet and turn off the lights.

5. Do tailor shops generate a lot of extra waste by gathering all the cut pieces of cloth?
Can’t we improvise?

Reflection: By gathering all of it to make cushion/ pillow/ soft-toy stuffing, instead of foam/ sponge stuffing? Kabaad se Jugaad has been our practice for like ages right?

So, the question is, do you as an element, belong to the set?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

NOSTALGIA… I had written this for my school's 25th year celebrations...

It has been four years since I stepped out of this second home called “school” to pursue my “engineering education”- A transition from pampering to maturity, fantasy to reality and playfulness to responsibility. A second home indeed it was to me, since the day I set foot here when I was still a thumb-sucking four year old. The days when my teachers saw me grow up from a stubborn little kindergarten student to a self-motivated individual are perhaps the best thirteen years spent by far. A lot of cultural but religious beliefs and traditions followed here, right from starting the day with invocations to the almighty to singing in unison on auspicious Friday mornings have always spread an aura of positive energy to the inmates.
The motherly care and concern of teachers along with their dedicated tutoring routines are factors that have made me what I am today. Of all the places in this small but beautiful campus, my favorites are the little temple of Lord Ganesha, the physics lab which stills leaves me nostalgic when I think of the days I was fascinated by mercury and prisms and the library which opened my horizons to a wider world and made me comprehend the pleasure of imagination. It influenced a lot of students’ development. Thanks to our good old librarian and the school management. The volunteering days in school were fun, as it involved accompanying little kids to class, taking care of primary classes from mischief during lunch breaks, pulling out pranksters who are responsible for the flat tyres in cycle stand and so on.
With school annual day come the welcome days of cutting classes for practice and rehearsals. The participants feel mighty important as they actually belong in it. Activities like scouting and guiding have transformed so many students’ perceptions about life outside home. Away from the vigilant eyes of parents, along with just friends and spirits out in the open, teaches many valuable lessons in life. Another interesting aspect of our school is their system of “value education” where we were made to follow a value every month. I still remember the month of cleanliness and the way we cleaned my class and made it look like a miniature wedding hall. Patience, politeness, punctuality, discipline and many more to add to the list contributed to improving the outlook of students.
Appreciation is always encouraging to those who deserve and there is no dearth of it in my school. Plenty of competitions, prizes and scholarships continuously drive the students in pursuit of excellence. Excursions and recreations emphasize the importance of joy and togetherness. Ultimately, be it the daily news in the assembly or the pledge or daily thoughts, every activity is carried out with the students’ development as the primary motive. Academics, co-curricular activities, sports and cultural events in right proportions can transform the students to confident and independent individuals ready to face the world. On this 25th year of its relentless service, I extend my gratitude to all those people who have contributed tremendously in my formative years in this school.
With all my prayers and wishes for the continued development, improvement and success of my second home…
-Lakshmi. S

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An unforgettable miracle

It was the end of a busy and tiring day at college. Rather hot too, as Chennai was slowly getting into its scorching summer heat. Besides, it was a festive day in some of the Tamil Brahmin houses, called the Karadayan Nonbu or the Saavithri Viratham, the day when women, particularly married ones pray for the well-being and long life of their dear hubbies. Girls, especially little ones get to eat some nice goodies made at home using rice, jaggery, coconut and lots of ghee. What more? Don’t you need to go to school/ college or office next day and flaunt something that will identify that you have celebrated the festival? So, there is also a thin but sacred and powerful yellow thread tied around the neck after the pooja. (Hehe… Now I wonder how many are going to chase me for saying that. Nevertheless, it is a very auspicious occasion with its sanctity and I dare say no more.)

Well, yeah. So I got over with my college for the day and came back home and had to rush to go to my GRE classes, which I was attending in Mylapore, about 8-9 kms from Thiruvanmiyur, where I used to live. People at home told me to get back home soon that day as I had to come back in time for the festival. Though I didn’t want to miss the fun of making those yummy goodies and preparing for the festival, I was not ok with the idea of missing DEJ sir’s class (Donald E. James, taught us verbal in our GRE class and I don’t generally like to miss his classes which are too good and engrossing). So, off I went for the class like I go any other day. And never once did I even dream about what I was going to face that particular day.

Mylapore, as any Chennaiite will know is the hot spot when it comes to religious occasions and for Brahmins, the place is a must-visit-at least-once. With the famous Kapaleeswarar temple’s silhouette in the dusk, with the four side streets of the temple tank abuzz with activity and the pretty women folk with nicely braided and beflowered heads chattering away in Tamil, the very air is fragrant and vibrant. You really can’t help stopping by and appreciating the energy there.

So it was quite natural that I got into the festive mood when I was returning back from class and I stopped my Scooty to call up people at home and ask them if I had to get some Mylapore special things for the pooja. I was just told to get some fruits and flowers.

Now before I proceed, you need to get introduced to this little talisman of mine. It was a denim wallet gifted to me by my brother, which had a small pouch to hold my cell phone as well. But at that exact moment, the cell phone was not in its compartment. Obviously because I was on a call and more importantly, the wallet itself was not with its owner – that’s me.

I had got down from my Scooty to haggle a little with the nearby fruit vendor for bananas and being very pleased with myself for the deal I struck with her, I was about to get the money out of the wallet and EUREKA!!! The wallet is gone. I started searching frantically in the vehicle, trying to remember the things one usually tries to remember. “Where did I use it last?” I had taken out my phone to call home from the wallet. And that is the last I saw of it.

Seconds were ticking and it was already getting late for me to go home. Luckily I had the phone with me. My eyes welled with tears already. Not because I had much money in it – it had just a hundred and five bucks to my knowledge. That’s TO MY KNOWLEDGE. (I will tell you something more shocking later) But the wallet itself was very dear to me.

I just rode all the way back home and once I had parked the vehicle and went inside, my mom and granny came running to tell me to buck up and get ready for the pooja. But there I was, hopelessly standing and recounting to them what had happened. They were just trying to console me and tell me it happens and it was ok. The usual, very true and slightly irksome dialogue came up. “It is ok. It could have been worse.”
But my mind was just refusing to shut it off. All through the ride back home, the only thought that kept me going was that, it belonged to ME and it will and has to find its way back to me somehow. So when all the drama was unfolding, the Nonbu was quite forgotten and those hot goodies just lay there, waiting to be offered to God. Just then, the phone rang tringgggggggggg……

Now, let’s rewind back to one day in my college lab, where I had done my experiments and got my friend Sharmi’s phone number scrawled in a bit of paper for some trivial reason. That little piece of paper with her number lay there in my wallet. Didn’t I say earlier that everything happens with a reason? Now this little bit of paper will explain it.

Coming to the present, back in the market, when I had taken my phone out of the wallet, I had dropped the wallet absently and I didn’t notice it falling down under my vehicle. A guy who had been standing near the bike had taken the wallet and before he realized what was going on, I was gone from there. So, he had like anyone else, opened the wallet to see its contents and found its little money. And the many little photos I had, along with my tattered driving license copy. And he also found two things which were of the most significance. One was this little bit of paper with the number in it and and…

(The shocking thing I was going to tell) Six crisp hundred rupees notes in an interior part of the wallet – which even I didn’t know existed in it. So, this good hearted guy immediately tried calling that number from the chit and asked for a Lakshmi. Sharmi, recognizing who it was meant to be, dutifully gave him my number and that explains why my phone went tringggggg…

I was overjoyed that my wallet was found. But this finder of my purse, (let’s call him Serendipity for now), asked me a hundred questions to make sure it indeed belonged to me. I recounted every single thing I knew of in the wallet. But the six 100 rupees notes – I couldn’t explain it. I suddenly realized in a flash, how it came into my wallet and that is quite irrelevant here. So, finally Serendipity got convinced that it was mine and decided I can get it back with all its contents if I go there. But my people were not going to allow me at that time.

I had to wait for another 24 hours before I could lay my hands on it. My neighbor uncle, who was kind enough to not let me go alone, accompanied me and helped me get it back from Serendipity. Serendipity was rewarded with extra hundred bucks (He had already taken a hundred for the phone call he had made.) for his deed and I was back home fully euphoric and relieved. I felt a very strong sense of gratitude – for Sharmi, for the neighbor uncle, for that bit of paper and most of all to Serendipity and that magical moment of candor, which urged him to make the call to make the wallet reach its owner. After all, it wouldn’t have taken him long to just pocket the money from there and throw off the wallet.

The rest is history – as in, the lectures I had to hear about the importance of being responsible, careful and very importantly aware of what is happening around you. But what mattered to me the most was – Serendipity. They literally call it chance-findings and in this case, what I found was something invaluable – goodwill of everything around me that made this happen. It was quite a miracle to me.
Every year, during this festival, I thank God – for all the miracles he plays around us every day, which we are too busy to notice.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A memorable return journey to Delhi

The-back-from-vacations-to-work is one of the toughest and most irksome feelings to handle. I was already doing it, reluctantly leaving my home-sweet-home, after a proud moment of my convocation, to catch my morning flight back to Delhi (the city which suddenly seems like someone sprayed super hot lava to it. Trust me, it is so hot). I stepped into the airport and I figure out that I am already running very late for my security check in and other procedures. Still I managed hurried goodbyes to my parents and alas! I was left with a middle seat between two serious looking men. Still, since it was a connecting flight, which passed through Hyderabad, I expected some interesting people will board later. Wink wink

Little did I know of the kind of people I was going to meet. Well, so the flight took off as usual with the mute in-flight safety precautions being demonstrated by pretty looking but indigo-colour-eye shadowed ladies aboard. I kept gazing out quite longingly, wishing my trip could have extended for a couple of more days. Then I slowly dozed off to a short siesta. An hour later, the flight landed in Hyderabad and the two serious looking men also got down. I was wondering who were going to board near me next. Just then, one short, not very plump or lean old lady, perhaps around 60-65 years old, all alone by herself, with a typical Indian big shopper (stuffed to its brim) entered the aisle.

Dangling around one of her shoulders was a small brown bag and there she was, clad in a maroon saree, chattering away in rapid Telgu to the ground force men who had assisted her in getting her bags and in fact herself aboard the flight. She was very reluctant to part with her big shopper. Dear old thing it was to her and she insisted the bag be kept saamnewaali kursi ke niche (the space below the seat in front). So did the people and she got seated. As she was settling in, the other passengers were boarding and having occupied the aisle seat, she was requested to move so that her fellow passengers can get in.

The crew people asked her which language among Hindi, English and Telgu she could understand easily. She was such a sweet, cute, old, dear lady and she replied with the typical old people’s pride that she could understand and speak all three and that she had served in Delhi for 15 long years. The guy, who was to be sitting next to her, was also amused at her display of expertise. The crew members were also equally surprised. She was protesting that she wouldn’t get up from her seat. It was so much like how little kids protest and ask a hundred questions before they become reassured of what they have been asked to do is right. May be she didn’t clearly understand what was being said to her. The passengers tried to go across her to their seats and they finally did. Once they all got settled, she started her typical rapid chatter with her fellow traveler in Telgu. It was lucky for her that he was a Telgu speaking person.

So, I was watching all this and was so busy admiring this brave lady, who reminded me of my own granny and many old people like her in general, that I didn’t realize who was sitting next to me. In the aisle seat next to me was another old lady, this time more to herself. The flight started and I went back to my book and music. After a while, I heard some commotion nearby and suddenly woke up from my slumber and saw that our dear old granny was finding some difficulty in getting up from her seat to go to the restroom. The guy sitting near her was quite helpless, as he couldn’t move without her moving. Actually the seat in front of her was pushed back, which was causing all the confusion. So the old lady next to me was pointing that out and I got up to help granny. Granny then looked more relieved and I waited till she got back to her seat before I went back to mine.

Before the flight just landed, when the usual instructions were being given and trash collected, our granny did something which was all the more amusing but very sweet. She was frantically digging her bag for something, like how a child searches for its most precious toy in a bag of toys. And bingo! She found it. I thought it was perhaps going to be her specs or something and there… She took out a pack of polo… ah yes. The mint with a hole.

And the best part is, she took out the first one from it and gave it to that guy sitting next to her. He was giving a very puzzled but surprised expression (you know what sort of expression I mean right?). She took one for herself so that she can keep chewing it (apparently she did not have teeth) and carefully put it in its place. The lady next to me was asking me if I should help her out. But by then we had landed and when we were about to get out, the airhostess told our granny to wait and she was up again, asking in that same childlike, curious and a little irritated way in English, “Why are they telling me to sit? ”. I couldn’t suppress a smile. Just felt like hugging her and telling her that everything will be ok.

I had boarded the bus to reach the arrival and there again my neighbour old lady sat next to me. She struck a conversation with me, asking me about my course, university and my Chancellor Dr. Pachauri. Apparently, she had been in the teaching field and she was curious to know about my university and Teri. She was also telling me that our ‘granny’ should be only as old as herself. I turned towards the bus window to see if I can spot granny for one last time but I couldn’t. So, I didn’t really notice and the lady next to me also got down from the bus. But I met this old lady again near the conveyer belt and simultaneously, granny was wheeled to the belt by the ground force men and guess who was along with her. Assisting her with her baggage was her fellow traveler, with some quick Telgu phrases.

I was very excited to see her again. Just then, my bag came and along with it were my neighbor’s. I helped her out with her luggage and saw granny leave. My neighbor then offered to drop me nearby from where I could take an auto. I couldn’t refuse and so I went with her. Her driver had come to receive her and I helped her get her walking stick and assisted her to the car. On our way, I got to know that she was none other than Prof. Ratna Naidu, a former professor of Sociology, University of Hyderabad – a Bengali married to a Naidu.

She was very interested to know about the course I am into and said that it is a very relevant one for the current scenario. She also exchanged her phone number and told her driver to catch a good auto waala for me to get back to the university. What more? Prof. Naidu blessed me for a bright future when I got down from the car, before I waved her goodbye.

Travel, as I have always presumed of it, is an enriching and educating experience in itself. There is always something or the other around us that is admirable or sometimes even adorable. it is definitely worth living for. The places we go to, the people we meet, the things we see – everything has a reason, a story to tell and a lesson to teach. Even at this age, the spirit of these two interesting old ladies I met in the flight was truly inspiring. Their independence and courage to travel alone, ignoring a hundred possible things that can go wrong is indeed very appreciable.

That was when I realized that I can’t meet such interesting people from my home-sweet-home every day.
Here are a couple of Prof. Naidu’s works.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Experience at Cape Town - Dedicated to my father, friend Sowmyalakshmi and cousin brother Varadarajan for their constant encouragement and support.

21st birthday is a special occasion for anyone. I had not the faintest idea of how special mine was going to be. All I can say now after having found out is that IT WAS SIMPLY i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e and a-m-a-z-i-n-g..

I was told to apply to attend an "international" conference in South Africa as one among the four from my college who did it. It was to try and be one of the 10 students, who would be sponsored the whole trip by Infosys, provided they get selected. I just did it for the sake of it, sans great interest or motivation. Perhaps I was more keen on enjoying the b'day surprises. Never for a minute did I realise the biggest b'day gift that was in store. And then it came when the whole world was saluting one great Indian leader, the "frail-by-look" but "stronger-than-my college-idli" kinda person. Wanna have a guess? I bet you will get it right. Mahatma Gandiji's b'day, Oct 2nd I got a mail, about my selection for the conference. I was indeed one of the ten from our country who will be travelling to the beautiful city of Cape Town. Did I believe it? No way. My head shot at me a volley of questions. Confusion and questions of authenticity primarily. Why me? How me? Why not others?... endless.

I knew I will have to find answers to them before I can explain it to anyone else.

Even after the selection and confirmation, there was this constant skepticism of "Is it safe to travel to South Africa?" "Is it not this crime ridden area?" and above all, "Don't you have to travel alone?". Yet, a faint voice from within kept cooing that I had to take it up. So that gave me the necessary determination to fight through the odds (though only a few) to reach the tip of Africa. The rest of the fortnight which I had before people wished me Bon-voyage now seems like a dream. The pressure of exams, uncertainty of Visa, navratri festivities, excitement (afterall, it was going to be my first trip across the seas) and above all the pace at which days dragged without giving me the answers. I never knew of my resilience and persistence before. Nor did I appreciate the concern of friends and family so much. Thus, the fourteen days of which I remember literally every minute, passed before I was actually ready to discover why the world is big.

By the way, I never mentioned what the conference was about right? Well, it was an ensemble of students, teachers, industrialists and educationalists from across the globe who had one common thread to unite them. ENGINEERING. All the attendees were in one or other way associated with this interesting field of education. A diverse population of students from various geographical, cultural and social backgrounds left me wondering where I would fit in. But I was fitted like in a jigsaw puzzle, with all the ease. Besides, the other nine students from our country proved what it means to be together, when alone. Desi fun with the hilarious Indian gang along with my kharab filmy hindi made a rocking combo.

Out there in Long street (which is perfectly rightly named) I had the most educative, informative, refreshing (and add whatever possible adjectives you can) experience. The sights, sounds, smell and people were entirely new. The clean roads, organised traffic, friendly people and unique wildlife that I saw made me oblivious to the fact that crime and poverty have also inhabited this place equally. Similar to India in many ways, this place also has its traditional and historic culture, replete with many different tribal settlements. In an inaugural evening, I got to witness one of their splendid native dance performances. High pitched singing, accompanied by their Djembe drums and Marimba (the wooden piano) synchronised only too well with their fleet-footed fast beat dancing. Huah... I think these people are born with talent as a finger.

Social issues are a part of this place as well. Informal settlements (slums) which the government is trying to convert into better living areas and a lot of people still trying to make both ends meet, stroll around asking for alms in a strange way, making you feel you do a mistake by not giving them any. Nevertheless, having been a country with not-a-favourable past, the country is still quite pushy about education and tourism promotion. The very landscape is the abode of nature. I also had one opportunity to visit the Life Community Welfare Children’s Home, in the community of Elsie’s River, which was someplace like the orphanages here. It houses children with physically, mentally or socially neglected past. Over there, I met Mama Ivy, who runs the place and understood why it still rains. Some human hearts are still bountiful in their love for fellow human beings.

The party culture of the place leaves the people crazy till very late into the nights. One can never miss out the noise, glee and joy of the midnights in Long street. Party buses go around the place as well. Yet, most of them are completely fresh and geared up for the next day as ever. Unlike us, for we would sleep for ages even after just 14 hours of air travel and a day of hectic work. It made me wonder what made that difference. Where do we err, that makes our hunger for knowledge quite extinct at times.

Mera Bharath mahan kind of feeling was aroused, looking at the Maharaja Indian restaurant right opposite the backpackers where I stayed. Yet another Masala Dosa made me long for home food a couple of times. But I have absolutely no complaints. I am all praise for the contract lady there, who arranged for special vegetarian dishes to be served for some of us.

The highlight of the whole event was the closing banquet dinner hosted at Moyo, the brilliantly illuminated garden and party destination, completely African in every possible dimension. Many international evening gatherings are held here. The beautiful lighting, cool evening breeze, typical African music with endless varieties of sumptuous dishes to choose from make the experience very special. The people there also draw some strange designs on one's cheeks and forehead. That, combined with their native spirited music instills that tribal or Zulu feel.

So, are we done with it? Not yet, as our official tour around the city was scheduled only for the next day. Refreshing blue waters of the beach, African penguins having a gala of their own and the breathtaking view from Cape Point leaves one gasping. This city is very special due to its coastal as well as elevated topography. The Table Mountain is a paradise for any photographer. With its incredibly flat nature, which has brought the name, it keeps alluring the tourists further through the rocks. To add to the splendour of the mountain, on every side are the sparkling waters of the ocean, glistening in morning glory. The cable car that takes people up, has a unique feature, which makes it rotate. Tourists can thus, never miss the fantabulous view of the cape from the top. Through the tricky and rocky mountain one can spot the view points that are a compulsory treat to the eyes. One never feels content, shopping for native artifacts and souvenirs. The endless array of wooden masks, multi-hued ostrich eggs, long legged tribal black ladies and African wild life in metal are simply irresistable.

But, good things always have to come to an end right? Thats why people treasure their memories of good things and times. So did I. With a reluctant spirit to leave the place and yet with an overflowing satisfaction and happiness, we bid farewell to all our international friends. But what I should not forget is the taxi driver who also contributed a lot to our memories while on our way back to the airport. He was all praise for India and Indians and is hoping to lay his eyes on the Poetry in White marble (Taj Mahal) soon.

More than being just an educative and fun-filled trip, the travel on its own has been a great experience. One realises one's own strengths and capabilities. Be it a wonderful and favourable one or one with all unexpected twists and turns, travel brings in a change in the outlook of every individual and for that matter, it is priceless.

So was that not a perfect 21st b'day gift???