Sunday, 24 January 2016

Esperanto to the Rescue!

We often hear words such as 'fantastico', 'perfecto', 'classico'. We know similar sounding English words and hence, can easily arrive at the meaning. But do you know that these words are not just colloquial or slang, they actually come from a language. This language is called Esperanto.

Esperanto is interesting and forward looking in many ways. It happens to be one of the youngest languages in the world. It came into existence in 1887 and is recognised as a constructed international auxiliary language. This means that the language was deliberately designed. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto wanted there to be a politically neutral language which everyone could understand and which would be easy to learn.

He lived during a time when the relations among Russians, Poles, Jews and others were caustic. Europe was divided by language and political turmoil. Esperanto has a lot of words from Spanish, English, French, Greek, Latin and many Slavic tongues as well. It is written in the Latin script, which most of us can read without much trouble. We even have braille versions for texts in Esperanto.

Learning foreign languages is the latest fad

Esperanto is yet to become any country's official or even second official language, but it is recognised by UNESCO as the 32nd language of Europe. Most of Esperanto speakers are from Europe. San Marino even offers a course which is delivered in Esperanto. Most of the speakers learn this language on their own through online material. It is said that about two million people actively speak Esperanto and almost 2000 have been learning this since birth. Isn't that fantastico? :-)

My first interaction with Esperanto was through a cartoon series on Cartoon Network. I would watch roadrunner and the coyote for hours on end and hear the coyote exclaim a lot of words in Esperanto. I used to think he was speaking Spanish, but I found out later (when I actually went to Spain) that Spanish was quite different. I heard this language many times on different shows - mainly on Nickelodeon and Star World and Zee Cafe. A lot of the English sitcoms would regularly pepper the dialogues with Esperanto words.

My friends and I also started sprinkling our conversations with a nice doze of Esperanto. We thought it sounded cool. Besides, it was incredibly easy to form new words. For adjectives, we would only have to append an English adjective with the letter 'o'! Fantastic would become fantastico, drastic, drastico, and so on.

If your resolution this year is to learn a new language, and you are struggling with French, Mandarin or Russian, give Esperanto a shot. You will certainly have learnt an entire language before the year ends! I think the idea is absolutely fantastico! :-) Don't you?

How many languages do you know? Is Esperanto one of them?

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

CSR - Jest or Just?

CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. The Indian laws make it mandatory for companies with a net profit of 5 crores or more to spend at least 2% of its profits on CSR. This came into effect in April 2014, and ever since, companies have been scrambling to meet this guideline in any way they can. This directive has proved to be a bonanza for NGOs as they can now access corporate funds without lobbying too much.

I have been in the working committees of the CSR groups in both of the firms that I have worked with, but I have been disappointed by the kind of impact we have had until now. So far, the trend among corporates has been to on board a bunch of NGOs, do the due diligence checks and get them approved by the legal department, and start doing whatever the NGOs recommend.

Three years ago, I participated in a railway station cleaning campaign in association with one of our empanelled NGOs. I thought we were going to do a spectacular job and inspire all the commuters and vendors to keep the Andheri Station clean. But alas, I was wrong. We spent most of our energy organizing the AC bus that would take us to the spot, fretting over how filthy the situation actually was, and complaining that the food ordered from McDonalds was not enough. Many colleagues just wanted to get their pictures clicked in aprons and gloves.Very few actually held a broom or did any real cleaning. The rest just turned up their noses and thought they were wasting a Saturday.

Do companies really wish to make a difference?

Even when the situation does not require us to get down on our knees an scrub, we (the corporate lot) are lazy. I now arrange volunteering activities with schools so our colleagues can go over and teach the kids a thing or two. Here also, most people worry about how many CSR-hours they can book. If they can count the commuting hours too. They want to have the entire class plan and material pre-designed for them. They also worry about the questions they may get asked by the students and insist that a teacher be present. And when we provide them all of this, they simply forget to show up! All because they woke up late or had a splitting headache or their cat vomited on their shoe.

If this is the sort of impact CSR is having on society, then it is farcical! We might as well just donate money and do nothing else. We need to stop measuring CSR performance of companies based on the money they give out or the number of people they impact. Impact should be measured on quality. If a company volunteers to teach students. Do not rate them based on the number of students or classrooms reached, but the test scores of the very students they interacted with.

Our approach to CSR must be just. 

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Some Tastes are Cultivated

Do you remember the first time you had beer? Did you like it? I hated it. I couldn't think of one reason why anyone would put up with something that tasted so horrible. My friend who was already a year into beer told me it took him some time to get used to the taste. I wanted to know why he wanted to get used to that in the first place.

Today, I love trying out craft beer. I make it a point to sample the locally brewed alcohol of every interesting place I visit. This transformation has taken time. But I have realized in this process that some things need time. Some tastes have to be cultivated deliberately. This is true not just for beer but for other alcohol as well.

How many people do you know who identify wines as red and white only? They do not know the discernible difference among wines produced from different wine regions or from different variety of grapes. Even the cask you store your wine in makes a lot of difference to the flavour. This sort of appreciation comes only with time and experience (with wines). You must be patient. You will not be an expert at identifying flavours or enjoying the bitterness in your drink the first few times. But you will certainly improve.

Not many like alcohol the first time

This cultivation of tastes is not limited to alcohol, but also applies to other beverages such as tea and coffee. The ordinary person likes to mix milk and sugar in his hot beverage. He tastes only what he has always known. He does not know the real flavour of the tea leaves or the coffee beans. An experienced tea drinker, on the other hand, never adds milk. She adds very little or no sugar. And she sips her tea like she would her wine. She does not gulp it down in one shot.

Liquids are not the only things which ask you to have an acquired taste. The same goes for solid food too! Not everything tastes peppy! As kids, we are taught to enjoy sweet, salty and tangy tastes. Our taste buds develop this way. But this peppiness is not sufficient to enjoy many other kinds of food. As we grow older, we start enjoying blander varieties of dishes. I remember how I grew up tasting the masaledar peppy food, spiced with a lot of chilies. But today, I like cheesey and more neutral flavours. I do not miss spices in my meals when I travel abroad. I love their salads and bland rice preparations. I absolutely adore mushroom dishes - especially risotto. I certainly have acquired a taste for blandness. I still retain my love for those peppy flavours though.

Have you cultivated a taste for something new?

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

5 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

This won't be another listicle on how to enjoy the world outside. This one is for your inner pleasure. You do so much to keep your body fit. You exercise, you control your diet and take appropriate rest. You also know how to look good. You follow fashion trends and buy new stuff almost everyday. You know how to travel the world, what to eat where and which activity to pursue. But how do you take care of  your mind? Do you know how to relax? How to unwind? Today, I will share with you my personal list of songs from my music collection that help me feel better.

Some songs should relax your soul

Song #1: Set Fire To The Rain by Adele

This is the ultimate breakup song! When your wound is still fresh and you are longing to go back to your ex, you feel one with Adele's song. You are reminded of the pain and the love you lost. What makes this song so beautiful is the powerful music and the strong voice of one of my favourite singers.

Song #2: Party For Two by Shania Twain

This is my favourite hot date song! The tempo of the music is upbeat and Shania and Billy Currington do a great job with the singing. This song should ideally be played when you are a few dates down and are hoping to get to the next level. A nice number to play if just the two of your are going to dance.

Song #3: A New Day Has Come by Celine Dion

Celine has been one of my favourites since childhood. She taught me to love music. 'A New Day Has Come' was released when she had a baby. This song is so uplifting, it is perfect for when you learn to love again after your heart has been broken. The song's redeeming factor is the power in Celine's voice.

Song #4: Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus

This one came out way back when Miley was still a teenager. The song is a perfect party track and excellent if you want to create a club atmosphere at home. The song sends out a signal of courage. Listen to it when you are about to try something new or when you have to go a new place on your own.

Song #5: My Sacrifice by Creed

I love the amazing combination of chords and drums in this song. The lead singer of Creed is also a guy I have a slight crush on. He gets bonus points from me for his sexy baritone. This is a love song, and one of my favourites again.

What are you listening to at the moment? Don't forget to share your playlist with me!

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Navigating Through Risk

When people find out I work at an investment bank, they assume I am a high roller and my job involves attending a lot of fancy parties. My mum thinks all I do is dress up for office, spout jargon all day at work and come home to plan my next foreign vacation. Only an insider knows my plight and how taxing it is to have a job like this! We don't lift heavy weights like masons do, but the kind of brain-work that is extracted out of us day in and day out, is enough to tire us. This is why we need so many vacations to recharge our batteries!

Big banks deal with lots of money. But they also navigate through a lot of risk. You are probably not interested in knowing how a bank works, but will you listen if I tell you I can help you better manage your money by applying the methods of the biggies?

Banking is not all about lavish parties and disco-lights

Whether your corpus is big or small is irrelevant. You are exposed to some amount of risk even if you do not invest in the stock market. Did you know that inflation erodes your wealth over time? India's annual inflation hovers around 6-7%, but retail inflation is much higher. Think about it. If you spent a thousand bucks on a formal shirt a couple of years back, you will be paying two thousand for something similar as of today! When you plan for your retirement, you tend to calculate most costs at present rate and save up accordingly. But if you account for inflation, the reality will hit you. Most of our grandparents are poor because they simply did not expect inflation to persist, or chose to ignore it. But you must be smarter.

Institutions have different methods of analysing capital risk. One is to classify them into credit risk, market risk, liquidity risk, funding risk, etc. On a personal level, do not dismiss this step. You might argue that you have no credit risk as you don't lend money. But think again. The money you put in your provident fund is money that the government owes you. You are exposed to sovereign risk here. If your country defaults, you will lose your money. Sovereign risk happens to be the safest among all risks, as the chances of a country defaulting is rare. But the Greek debacle will warn you that such cases are not impossible, even if rare. Countries can often print more currency to pay back its dues. But that again stokes inflation and reduces the worth of that same money.

If you have fixed deposits, recurring deposits or simply a savings balance with a bank, you are exposed to credit risk on that bank. Now, if you invest in the stock market, you are really dealing with the world of risk! Market risk becomes immediately prominent in your collection of risks. Investment banks measure their risks on a daily basis and set aside sufficient capital to tide over these risks more often than not. Take a leaf out of their book and start a contingency fund of sorts, especially if you are a high roller in volatile markets.

Risk is only something you are unaware of and do not understand. If you know it, you will do something to deal with it. Do not be scared of the financial markets. This is where a lot of money is made. Master the tricks of risk navigation instead.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

My Dream Husband

I am twenty five. And even though I am lucky to not be pestered by parents or nosy relatives to get married, I thought I would draw up a list of qualities I would like in my future husband. :-P Only if the lucky boy meets all of the things in my list will I exclaim, "Fantastico! You can now propose to me." ;-)

Requirement #1: Must be intelligent

I don't think I will enjoy talking to someone who doesn't have at least my level of intellect. I might be happy with a cute looking guy for a few years, but what when he starts getting wrinkly and old? I will have to have real conversations with this man, won't I?

Requirement #2: Must believe in gender equality

This one's a no brainer. I won't stand a guy who thinks males are superior to females. Or even someone who thinks women should be put on a pedestal and worshiped. Gender equality in our case would mean respecting each other's ambitions and choices and believing in each other's strengths. I don't need my man to carry my luggage. I am a strong woman and can take care of myself and my stuff as well. And I want him to be able to do the same. We will not favour one person's career over another's. Equality also means I won't change my surname. If we need to keep one surname, we will both adopt a completely new one. :-)

I want someone who will spend lazy evenings with me

Requirement #3: Must fall in love with me

Now this is a tough one. It is very hard to find someone who truly loves you for who you really are. Most people who have a crush on you have their own image of who you are. My man must really understand me and accept me with all of my quirks and craziness. And I too will have to learn to do all of that. I don't believe in sacrifice. So, I will just keep looking until I find the perfect fit connect.

Requirement #4: Must love the environment

I have asthma, and I absolutely hate anything that pollutes the air. The air quality in my country is pathetic as it is. I don't like people burning incense sticks, or polluting the house in the name of purification. I also detest smokers and people who burn crackers during festivals. I will walk out of the relationship if my man forgets to even get the PUC check done for his car.

Requirement #5: Must know the art of handling money

I am a total pro in money matters, and I don't want the guy to ruin my credit prospects by the simple act of getting married to me. If he has unpaid credit card dues or similar things, he'd better look for another girl. Joint application for home loans consider the credit history of both the woman and the man. Despite being a darling saver, I don't want to live with a bad interest rate on my house because my man has been careless. When I demand equality, I truly mean it. I am not the type who will take her husband's wallet for shopping and everything else. By the same token, I don't want someone who doesn't take care of his health or has smoked so much he'll be spending the rest of his life paying medical bills. I lead an active life and make smart dietary choices. I won't be happy paying for the husband's hospital dues. If he has ruined his health, he must be prepared to pay for it!

There are a million other things I want in my guy. But once he clears these 5 hurdles, he'll have the opportunity to take me out on a date. I shall disclose the other hurdles if I like the place, the cuisine and the ensuing conversation. :-D

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Style Tips for a Fun Party

New Year's Eve party is over, but the year is long. There will be many parties and you will fret over what to wear and how to dazzle the crowd with your charm. I understand that the stock market is not doing so well these days and you are short on cash. This is why I have got some simple and affordable tips for you to style for those peppy parties and look dapper in 2016! :-)

My friends and I at a lunch party

Style Tip #1: Reuse Your Old Clothes

Looking great doesn't have to mean burning a hole in your pocket. If your old tops and trousers have gone out of fashion, learn to mix them up and create a whole new look. Remember those ponchos which went out of style many years back? Wear a strappy spaghetti underneath and don that see-though lacy poncho on top. This will surely pep up the tempo!

Style Tip #2: Add Colours to Your Eyes

When wearing makeup, we often ignore how creative we can get with our eyes. I have seen so many women dress wonderfully, only to fail when it comes to eye makeup. Why do we always wear a black eyeliner and leave it at that? Pep up your windows to the soul with eyeliners in pop colours such as blue, green, purple, pink and even white. You will be thrilled with the look you create with just a dash of colour in your eyes. Bright colours highlight your eyes the best.

Style Tip #3: Don't Be Shy to Try Red

Your lipstick doesn't have to be so neutral all the time. It's a party, not a boring office meeting, girls! Learn to go bold with a dark shade of red. Red looks lovely in the otherwise dull winter. Get inspired by mountain girls who wear only bright shades of red. I noticed this on my recent trip to Sikkim in December.

Style Tip #4: Make Your Nails Look Peppy

Are you still satisfied with plain, solid colours for your nails? That is so last season! Watch some quick YouTube videos and learn to apply nail art. You can wear different shades of the same colour on a nail, to give a liquid look to it. Experiment with polka dots and use anything from bobby pins to earbuds as dotting tools. Learn to dust glitter or other fancy material on your nails to go with your outfit for the party.

Style Tip #5: Accessorize Carefully

You cannot nail a look if you accessorize wrong. Do not make that fashion faux pas of carrying a random bag with a classy dress. You will not be holding your bag all the while, but you will get noticed when you walk in with that bag hanging from your shoulder. Your jewelry and shoes should complement each other, even if they do not match your outfit. You will be surprised how you can transform a look simply by changing the accessories.

You have the whole year ahead of you, so get out there and experiment! Be peppy this winter!

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

How Did You Make Them Feel?

It is that time of the year when our year end appraisals at office are done, and we are waiting with bated breath for the announcement of potential hikes and bonuses and perhaps promotions. When you look back at the year and recount all the work you have done for your organization, you are overcome with mixed feelings.

You know there have been days when you have put in long hours at work and gotten home in the middle of the night. Some of us have not gone home at all, spending the entire night at work. We have had hundreds of mugs of coffee - decaf for some, extra strong for some others. We have slapped water on our faces to keep us awake when all we wanted to do was get some good night's rest in our cozy beds at home. We have argued with colleagues to get our work approved, lobbied to senior management to get our stuff recognized, mentored new joiners so they don't flee the crazy corporate world at the first sight of a challenge.

You think again and realize that you haven't been all that effective all this while. You have had days when you did nothing but spend all your time on online shopping sites, buying things your house has no space for. You have bought flights and hotel rooms for the entire year, not thinking once if you'll get those many leaves. You have used office chat to flirt with that cute guy on the floor and share random jokes with your office friends. You have even dozed off during long meetings and conference calls.

You think of all this, and get incredibly scared. Will you be the next one to get laid off? Will you have to take a pay-cut? Will you get poor projects in the coming months? Will that inexperienced bloke who joined after you did snatch your promotion from you? I cannot help you with what has already happened. But there is something you can do to better your chances next year!

How do you make people feel at office?

Instead on solely focusing on your hard deliverables, put some thought on the soft deliverables also. Your impact at office depends more on how people perceive you and your work, and less on what you actually do. Trust me on this. I have seen random people climb the corporate ladder because their bosses have liked how they handled a particular situation or kept their calm through a difficult project. For everything you cannot actually do, you can always learn. If you or your team are not equipped for something, you can outsource that piece of work. But you cannot outsource soft skills. That has to be developed within.

The next time you finish a task, ask for feedback. Don't let people go without getting a note from them on how they felt about your work. Do not sit still after you have accomplished a goal. Talk to your manager about it. She will remember how serious you are about your career when you are consistent. Logging a story on your annual performance portal won't quite have the same effect.

Make a resolution this year to focus on how you make people feel. You will have tackled 50% of the problem just like that!

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Find Your Own Way

Do you use Google Maps? You will answer in the affirmative without a doubt. I love technology and how easy it has made our lives. But I also feel navigation technology is a double edged sword. Shall we explore how?

I remember how when I was a small school girl, we would stop at every turn en route to a hill station and ask the locals for directions. This stopping at every turn though, would come after a lot of debate. My father would pride himself on his navigation skills and drive without wanting to halt. My mum, on the other hand, would be sure we were heading in the wrong direction and insist on second opinion. I used think stopping to talk to the locals was an integral part of the travel experience. But that was a mere necessity, I would learn later.

When I was a little older and on my first solo international trip to Europe, I made it a habit to collect maps of every new city that I would visit. These maps were mostly free and sometimes, cost a few cents. Some were as small as an A4 sized sheet of paper, and some, as large as a bedsheet! But they were all very useful. My first boyfriend taught me how to read maps properly, and how actually to use them to find my way. Before his help, I would keep staring blankly at the confusing grids before me and try to spot where I actually was. Funnily, studying Geography in school did little to help me read a map. Despite knowing and getting some good practice of using paper maps, I would still have to stop to ask the locals many things. Sometimes, it was just to be sure. Then again, sometimes, I guess I just wanted to talk to them. :-)

Some roads have no maps to navigate them

With the advent of half a dozen digital map providers such as Google, Nokia and some Indian variants too, we have changed the way we commute. I cannot deny that it is incredibly easy to find your way a new place now without having to talk to a single stranger. Just key in the destination, and the GPS system detects your current location and shows you multiple ways to get where you want to! You also know exactly how long each route will take and when you will finally be there.

But these digital assistants are making us increasingly solitary. We don't stop as much on our ways to say hello to the indigenous people walking by. We remain smug and ignore well-wishers when they pipe in with their advice. We become so overconfident at times that we tell other tourists how they should be getting to a certain place. We have become a dangerous tribe, thanks to digital maps.

But this technology fails to help us when there's no data connectivity or wi-fi in remote and inaccessible locations. I remember once how when I wanted to reach the entrance to the Gir Interpretation Zone (Gujarat, India), my cellphone showed me a way that was through the middle of the forest! I would have been mauled and eaten by over 400 Asiatic lions had I not used my common sense and switched off the internet.

There are times when you just have to trust your instincts and do things the way our ancestors have done. You cannot always have faith in technology. On many roads, you just have to find your own way.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Music in Our Lives

What is music? Is it merely a compilation of tunes, a set of strings strummed together, a dalliance of different octaves? Or something more? Does music help us feel the way we feel? Does it change or affect our mental state? I will explore these and more questions in my discourse on music today. Join in the reflections!

I feel music enhances our experience of life as a journey. Music helps us remember events, ideas and people. We have a better chance of recalling arbitrary ideas and conversations when we have inextricably linked them to a song or a tune. Ever wondered why a certain song gets into your head when you are looking at a certain part of a wall or thinking of that certain someone? ;-)

Aside from reinforcing our memory-associations, music helps us define ourselves and what we stand for. The influence of music stretches farther than mere stereotyping of characters. We realize with time that a death metal lover need not be a drug addict, or a soul music lover a peace activist. The kind of music people listen to in public also differs from what they enjoy in private. I for one, love Latin ballroom tunes and pop dance numbers at parties, but listen to soft country sounds on a solo trip.

I found music in the middle of the night in an otherwise empty street in Prague

If you understand music well, you learn to refine your taste in it. You search for better music beyond the chartbusters. You learn to look for unknown artistes and unique tunes. You appreciate music so much that you pity those who haven't cultivated a taste in it. Music becomes just as luxurious, if not more, than vintage wine, rare art or an exotic vacation.

Music lovers are seldom lonely. Whether they are driving across countries, dining out alone, solo-kayaking downriver or taking that day-long flight. They know they have a friend in music. Sometimes also a lover. Perhaps they enjoy the music playing on their laptop more than the actual lovemaking they do with their partners. And they certainly are stirred by the background scores of movies more than the action on the big screens.

Music is not just a companion. It is more. It has unforeseen power. Foetuses have known to respond to music from the womb! Babies have a stronger sensory system if they have listened to classic compositions. Research gives a thumbs up to Mozart and Beethoven for making babies intelligent. Marathoners have attributed their perseverance to music in many cases. Music is also famous for bringing people back from death! Well, almost. There have been instances of people coming out of coma when they've listened to their favourite bands or tracks. The power of music also extends to love. You have a higher chance of falling in love with someone if you have a nice score playing when the two of you meet.

When music has been together with us through everything - our birth, pain, love, struggle and death, can it be reduced to a "background" score? Music takes the centre-stage in our lives. And we must recognize it for what it truly is.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.