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Auroville – The Drive Down and Stay

A few weeks back I travelled to Auroville. The trip had multiple purposes – I wanted to explore the possibilities of Auroville and I wanted to take a break from work too. So off I went on a split second decision to meet my friend Jos who was staying there for a bit.

The trip was great; I had a good drive down with Siva and Raji, met some lovely people and learnt a lot. Its been a while since I did a travel log and don’t want this to be long, so I’ll break up this post into sections and try to make it pictorial. If you want any specific details, please feel free to ask.

Drive Down

On a wim when I decided to go to Auroville, I checked with Siva if he was driving to Pondicherry to meet his family. He was; so I decided to go along for the drive. On 19th Sept 09 we started at 3:30am and on the way we picked up Raji at Chennai airport (she flew in from Mumbai). Next stop Tiger Caves on ECR (East Coast Road) just after Mahabalipuram.
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This is some really old architecture. What I found amazing was the similarity with the Spinx in Egypt.
Do you also see the dolphin rock and the whale?
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(One reference to these stone works says they were constructed by Pallavas. Mahabalipuram about 60kms from Chennai was the port city of the Pallavas during 7th – 9th century)




After that I got off at the Auroville turn-off and Siva and Raji headed into town towards home. I made my way into Auroville; I had to find Evergreen Community where I was to meet Natasha and Dave and wait for Jos to return from a meeting.

The Stay

Auroville is a community set up by the Mother (the spiritual partner of Sri Aurobindu). It is a space where the peaceful people of the world can live together is harmony. You can read up more on Auroville on their website and on Wiki.

I walked into Evergreen and surprisingly met Jos (pronounced Yos) at the gate. Jos walked me in and introduced me to Natasha, Dave, Zea and Jasmine – my hosts. I would be staying at Amir and Tamar’s home though, house-sitting for them while they went to Kodaikanal with their two kids.
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(From left) Zea, Natasha (From right) Jasmine, Me, Jos






I had a very interesting three days. I visited the Matrimandir, saw quite a bit of the work being done and ate a lot at the Solar Kitchen. Almost all the time I was talking and discussing ideas with Jos, Natasha, Dave and everyone else I met.

I got there on a Saturday afternoon which I mostly spent reading and talking. Sunday morning was spent with the family playing Pictionary and understanding a little more about the workings of Auroville. I was to hire a moped but nothing was available so I borrowed Dave’s cycle and off we went to lunch at the Solar Kitchen (so called because all the food is cooked with solar energy). After that I headed into town to book my return ticket. The rest of the evening was spent talking and we also watched a movie ‘Home’.

Monday saw me head to the Aurore office to speak to Rishi and Hemant. I wanted to understand the work they did with renewable energy. It was an interesting time spent understanding the different projects they ran. Want to know more check out their website.

After lunch again at the Solar Kitchen, Jos and I headed to watch a movie in the late afternoon. ‘The Climate Game and the World’s Poor’ a documentary by UNESCO about how the developed countries have cause climate change but the poor countries like Bangladesh, Bolivia, Kenya and Vietnam will pay the price. It questioned how these rich developed countries would compensate the ones suffering. It’s interesting and I recommend you watch it.

After the movie all those who were there sat and discussed it. That I saw in that circle was that even after watching a movie where it was made clear who was to blame, people thought it was the under-developed countries that had to change their lifestyle. Very few saw that the developed countries need to make drastic changes, especially the US.

Post movie Jos and I had dinner at the Solar Café (a lovely vegetable soup and toast) before heading to the Community Center for a concert. The theme was the world, its people and saving it. The songs were from all over the world and it was fun to listen and watch. Adults and children danced away together. Kids in Auroville are treated as adults. They are not mollycoddled or sweet talked to. They can stay up late for concerts, etc. (this helps parents have a social life) and they interact with adults with child-like maturity.

Tuesday saw me head to the Matrimandir for a short tour and some meditation in the morning. We had lunch at Aurelec and spent a lot of time there talking. Then we cycled back to attend the inauguration of the Auroville Film Festival.
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Zea (center) had made a short film that was a part of the festival.



After the festival we headed to the Pizzeria (New Creation Corner) for some dinner. Zea, Jos and I were on cycles, so Natasha and Jasmine went ahead on the motorbike while we took the inner trails with Zea leading. Zea ‘Butterfly’ or my barefoot butterfly knew those routes in the dark. The trails two feet wide wound about through the forest that Auroville is today and she could see in the dark. Jos had a small headlamp and I had a pen torch. Using the pen torch as a guide light I blindly followed Zea. This was the most fun thing I had done in a long time. My heart was beating fast and the adrenaline rush was heady as I almost fell and almost ran into many trees and bushes. Please note though that I did not fall or run into a bush.

By the time I reached the Pizzeria I was on a high and completely in awe of Zea, who lived the wild carefree life. Also I was very proud of myself, not only had I survived the jungle trails at night but had cycled about 15km everyday for three days. That’s something for lazy me.

Dinner done we headed back home to have some desert before I was to leave to catch the night bus back to Bangalore.

A special thank you to Natasha, Dave, Zea and Jasmine for being such wonderful warm people. Thank you Amir and Tamar to letting me stay and getting a real feel of an Aurovillian house. And Jos, words aren’t enough to say thank you for all you did. : )

The following parts will be about the work I saw being done in Auroville, insects and animals, the houses and the Matrimandir. So hang in there : )

October 15, 2009   11 Comments

Inglourious Basterds – My Review

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Went to watch Inglourious Basterds last night and enjoyed myself.

The movie is well made and has a lot of Tarantino to it. The characters are well cast and chalked out. Their motives are well defined and hatred portrayed strongly. There is dark humour too. Some big names and faces but it’s not just that that keeps you glued to the seat waiting to know what happens next. A good background score and fast paced action will keep you wanting more.

A lot of blood and gore but that’s the Tarantino signature.
Not the best Tarantino movie but according to me a must watch and preferably on big screen.

***Warning: Blood and gore galore. Weak hearted stay away!




BTW my favourite character are Shosanna and Landa. What about you?


Photo Credits – Poster 1, Poster 2, Official Trailer

More reading: ***Spoiler Warning***
Official Site
Wikipedia
IMDB

October 7, 2009   2 Comments

Is your health covered? Think again…

The last week has been quite a ride. What with Che getting admitted to be operated for stones, Cuckoo needing to fed 4 times a day and work, I didn’t have time for even a breath. But this post isn’t about my sleepless nights; it’s about making sure you’re covered with company health insurance and trusting the company you work for. This is our story…

We rushed Che after 4 hours of excruciating pain to Apollo ER. A few rounds of painkillers later he was sober enough to discuss further action with his doctor. The doctor recommended surgery; they’d use laser to powder the stones and try to remove whole if possible for analysis. Che was asked to get admitted immediately and they planned to schedule surgery the next day. As the paperwork started we called his company to check on his insurance details. (I am not naming the company or insurance in this post, just in case they think up something to sue me but if you want to know please ask.)

We were given the policy number and told total cover was for 4 lakh. Just before the HR guy hung up he mentioned a limit of Rs.20,000/- for kidney stones. We went ahead and gave this info to the hospital who said it was fine as most insurance companies have small pre-approval limits. As the paperwork was getting sorted we got to know that the OT was not available the next day so they would operate on that day itself. This sounded great as it meant less stay at the hospital so we closed on the paperwork and prepared for surgery. (I shuttled between home to feed and walk Cuckoo and the hospital).

Che was taken into the OT at 6pm and the operation went way beyond the expected 1 ½ hour until almost 9pm. That had me worried for a while until I was told that they had started 45min late. The operation went well and 2 stones were removed, 2 powdered and 2 left to come out on their own. (He had 6 – 2 in each kidney and 2 in the urethra – largest being 6mm and smallest 2mm) He was moved to his room by 12 and I got back home at 1am. (We didn’t stay over as he was in the general ward thanks to hospital running packed).

The next day the doctor came by at about 10:30am and we started discharge procedure. The paperwork was faxed over at 12 noon and the chase started. We started calling the insurance company and checking on progress every 1 hour. At about 3:30pm we called his company to ask them to put some pressure. To our surprise we were told we would be paid only Rs.18,000/- (insurance pays only 80%). When asked they said it’s a capping or limit set. We asked how they thought it possible that an operation, any operation can be done in 20,000. To this we were told that we should have found a hospital that would have done in it in that much. (That means we only could have gone to a Govt. hospital).

So now the company helping us was out; friends said not to worry as it’s the insurance companies call at the end; but then the insurance company declined it 4:30pm. We then approached the hospital to see if they could speak to the insurance company and help us out. The hospital guys checked and came back with an explanation. The insurance company would not pay and nothing could be done. It wasn’t their fault. The company Che worked for had wanted to cut down on premiums hence they had struck a deal with the insurance company and capped or limited payouts for almost everything. This meant low premium. So on paper when joining Che was told he had a 4 lakh cover but in small print is insurance was worth small change. His company had short-changed him; something supremely unethical I think especially since it concerns life.

Anyway the bill exceeded a lakh and Apollo hospital gave us a discount. The insurance company paid 18K and we paid the rest. A big lesson learnt.

This is our story and the reason we wanted to share it is to tell you to please check on your company provided insurance policies. Check the fine print and question it well before you ever need to use it. Don’t assume that you are fully covered and for safety get a personal health insurance too. If you belong to an Indian company double check for tricks. In recession MNC are less likely to cheat employees but then again don’t take my word for it. Check!

Photo Credit: Cartoon Stock

September 29, 2009   No Comments

Using Twitter for promotion – Part 2: How to engage and interest tweeple with your tweets

Tweeple In my last post on How Twitter is like a Newspaper we talked about choosing a target audience for your promotion and researching their needs and wants. But, just posting what they want isn’t enough. It is important to build variety, connect with tweeple, not spam and balance your tweets along with promoting yourself.

Variety

Don’t limit yourself to what you are doing or your area of work, look at how you can build-in variety. For e.g. Apart from tweeting about what Outdoor Corporate Training you are doing, your tweets can be about –

1. tips on outdoor activities
2. your learning from your programs
3. latest developments in your field
4. quotes on the outdoors and training
5. humor based on outdoors
6. good blog posts
7. recommend others who are good in the field

These are some examples but you should not limit yourself to them either. Look at all that your audience would be interested in; and remember that they would also have varied interests.

Connect

Don’t be a robot and just post headings and links. Share information about yourself and what you are doing; but in an interesting manner. People may not be interested in knowing what training session you are doing but they sure would like to know how you overcame a certain challenge.

Follow and watch what tweeple talk about. Reply and start conversations with people. Make your presence felt but tweet meaningfully not just because you have to say something.

Search on twitter with keywords related to your field of expertise and help tweeple out with answers and suggestions.

If you find an interesting tweet or information, retweet it. Passing on information helps your followers and also builds a connection with the person who posted the original tweet. E.g.

RT @devakishor The best tutorial/guide as to how we can use Linkedin http://bit.ly/okko7

Use the ‘@’ symbol not only to reply but to also draw attention and connect. (Read my post on ‘How to use the ‘@’ on twitter to your best advantage’)

Use hashtags to help people find your tweets. Hashtags are just like tags on blogs only add inline to your tweet. To create a hashtag simply place the ‘#’ symbol before a relevant word. E.g. #outdoor

For finding relevant hashtags being used in your field search hashtags.org or what the hashtag ?! – both are hashtag directories.

Use the #FollowFriday hashtag to recommend people. When suggesting people remember to include the reason for recommending them.

Watch your twitter stream for questions or someone asking for help. If you know someone who can help or answer the question make sure to recommend them. Connecting people is a great way to network.

Spam

No one likes to listen to only one person talk in a discussion room. Hence remember tweet but don’t overdo it. If your tweets clog your followers timelines there is a high probability they will unfollow you. I personally think you should tweet between 10-30 times in a day and no more.

If your tweet is not relevant to everyone and just one person – DM (Direct Message) them as there is no point in telling the world about it.

Balance

The last but most important point to remember is to balance your tweets. A good mix of information, answers, replies, retweets and promotion will keep your followers happy and bring you more followers.

I recommend only one promotional tweet in every 10 tweets and about 5-7 retweets in a day. The rest of your tweets can be a mix of information and replies.

How do you twitter? Please share your best practices in comments. Thanks.

September 22, 2009   2 Comments

Using Twitter for promotion – Part 1: Imagine Twitter to be a newspaper…

Twitter's like newspaper It’s not about what you are doing or what you want… Promotion done right is about what your audience wants and needs.

A couple of days earlier a friend asked me how he could use twitter to promote himself and his work. Our long discussion motivated me to write a series about twitter and how to use it right. With no further delay, here’s the first…

Imagine a newspaper. It has headlines, news pieces, editorial, advertisements, etc. All of this gets divided into local, regional, national and international. Another way it gets split is politics, entertainment, sports, finance, etc. There are a lot of sub-divisions in one newspaper.

If you walked down your street in the morning you would see different newspapers lying at your neighbours doorsteps. There are a large variety of newspapers available and people choose their paper based on the kind of news and reporting they are interested in.

Do you see how twitter is like a newspaper? – Its has 140 character headlines with links to more, a variety of tweets depending on the persons interest, self and other advertising and followers who can choose tweeple to follow depending on interest.

So how does a newspaper decide what news they would run and how they would report it? And how do you think they could increase their readership? Newspapers choose news based on the areas they have experts in and what their audience wants. But if they want to increase their viewership they first need to look into what kind of readers they want. After deciding the target audience they need to find out what their new audience wants and deliver.

Twitter works similarly; if you want more followers you need to first list out the kind of audience you want for yourself and your work. Then research the interests of your audience using a tool like Twitter Search to understand their needs.

Now that you know what information to provide to capture interest and give people a reason to follow you, remember that too much information can also turn people off. So my next topic in this series is how much to tweet and how to balance it.

So what do you relate twitter to?

Photo Credit: Xeni

September 15, 2009   3 Comments

Cuckoo: Puppy Power – Training our Puppy

cuckooWe adopted a puppy two weeks ago and from then on it’s been quite eventful and fun. The very first day she jumped of the balcony (we live on the 1st floor), thankfully into the arms of our apartment security guard. We had decided to name her Silk Smitha (after a regional actress) but after the jump we changed her name to Cuckoo – The Bird Brain.

Having a round cute fur-ball of a puppy at home is fun but it’s also frustrating with the increase in chores. Cleaning up after her was not easy in the first week but we have finally managed to have her almost potty trained. A good night’s uninterrupted sleep is yet to happen as we still wake up to her chewing our hands, feet or faces. Her chewing maybe fun for her as she’s teething but it is pretty painful when you feel her teeth on your flesh.

Ok am going to stop complaining because all said and done I love her. So why the post you ask? Well, these issues must be sorted, so I started doing some research and here are some helpful websites and videos I found. So, this post is to help all other puppy people :)

DogTrainingClassroom.Com – A comprehensive site that covers almost all questions you have. Its has good detailed information on how to train, training mistakes, behaviour problems, potty training, obedience training, games, etc. They also have a newsletter and recommend some books.

I found Melanie McLeroy’s videos and tried them. They are really helpful so here are a few I watched –
Teach Your Puppy their Name – This is an important start point and a good video.
Train Your Puppy Not to Bite
How to Housebreak Your Puppy
Train Your Puppy to Come
Teach Your Puppy to Stay
Teach Your Puppy to Walk on a Leash: Part 1
Teach Your Puppy to Walk on a Leash: Part 2
How to Crate Train Your Puppy

For more videos search YouTube for How to Train Puppies and Melanie McLeroy.

Am off to try out some of these tips. Do you have any tips for me…

Photo credit: Chenthil

September 3, 2009   2 Comments

How to use the ‘@’ on twitter to your best advantage

At @ on twitter Twitter is a great tool for marketing, promoting and advertising if you are using it right. It offers you an opportunity to deliver crisp messages and your listeners or followers are not over burdened; and if they feel so all they have to do is a simple unfollow.

Well, it isn’t as simple if you are the one losing followers, hence here are a few tips to use the ‘@’ reply in an engaging manner to create conversations and retweets.

The traditional use of the ‘@’ symbol is to reply to someone’s tweet. For e.g.

My Tweet thru @freya3377: Trying to figure out Linked In to see how I can use it for marketing and promoting myself and my work. Anyone have tips?

Reply by @devakishor: @freya3377 The best tutorial/guide as to how we can use Linkedin http://bit.ly/okko7

However this reply can only be viewed by the recipient and those who follow both of you. It does not show on the public timeline. But if you put the @twitterID anywhere but at the start of the tweet or just added a character like ‘>’ at the start of the tweet, it would show to everyone.

E.g. – Hey @freya3377 The best tutorial/guide as to how we can use Linkedin http://bit.ly/okko7
OR
> @freya3377 The best tutorial/guide as to how we can use Linkedin http://bit.ly/okko7

This is a good way to reply and yet involve more people in your conversations. Remember though that this is best done only for conversations that you think would be relevant to people else use Direct Messages to avoid overloading peoples streams.

Another way to engage your audience and also let people know you are talking or sharing about them is to include their twitter ID’s in your tweet. So when you are tweeting about a blog or article you are reading, use the authors or company’s twitter handle in your tweet.

E.g. – Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn by @guykawasaki This post was a great help! http://bit.ly/okko7

This does multiple things –

1. It connects your followers with interesting people and your tweets become referrals.
2. The people whose blog or article you have shared knows you did so and you make friends!
3. The author or writer retweets your message to their followers.
4. Your followers can ask questions or reply directly to the author or writer with ease.
5. Most importantly you have become an initiator of conversations.

Twitter is not just about ‘What you are doing?’ but rather about creating a comfort space where people can share and interact. Do you use the ‘@’ in other ways?

Photo credit: Jeff Turner

August 26, 2009   2 Comments

Two lost weeks & Three recovery books

The last two weeks had me in a daze as I felt lost in my mind and just didn’t seem to be able to find a way out. Ever been here?

My directional or route map in these circumstances are books. Actually books are my escape route always and all the time. To me books are a way to escape reality for a bit and go into fantasy as the plot unfolds and the characters live out their lives. The story feels like am watching a movie only I seem to be in it while it runs. I pick up books based on how am feeling and over the last two weeks I read three feel good books – Shadow of the Moon, the Bride and P.S. I Love You.

Shadow Of The Moon

Shadow Of The Moon by M.M. Kaye is set in pre-independence India around the time of the first mutiny. Winter de Ballesteros who was born in India but sent off to England after her parents die, comes back to be married. Her guardian on her return journey is Captain Alex Randall, and there starts their love story. Of course they do not realize it until much later and by then Winter is married to Commissioner Conway Barton. Around all of this the mutiny of 1857 is slowly unfolding and despite Alex’s efforts, suddenly Alex and Winter find themselves in the middle of it. The historical bits are well researched and as Kaye was born in India, she has added the real Indian touch. A good book but not as good as Kaye’s ‘Far Pavilions.’

The Bride

The Bride by Julie Garwood is set in Medieval Scotland. Jamie by order of King Henry must marry Alec Kincaid of Scotland (who has been similarly ordered by King Edgar). The story revolves round Jamie and Alec getting to know each other and falling in love despite the different cultures and customs. There is also mystery as Alec’s first wife had been killed and now Jamie is a target. The story is interesting and gripping and again the history has been well researched and woven in. A good light read.

P.S. I Love You

Cecelia Ahern’s P.S. I Love You is a modern day story set in Ireland unlike the previous two. The story is about Holly who has lost her husband and soul mate Gerry. Holly is devastated and can’t seem to snap out but just before her 30th Birthday she receives a bundle of notes from Gerry that gently guide her towards a new life. With help from Gerry, friends and family, Holly starts off on a journey of finding herself and a new life. This book is also a movie of the same name but I recommend reading the book first.

These books certainly helped me get out of the mind maze but even otherwise I think they are a good read. So what do you do when you’re lost?

Photo Credit: Amazon

P.S. – If you like the book and want to buy it; the pictures link to the book’s Amazon page and the text link leads to IndiaPlaza for those in India. : )

August 25, 2009   No Comments

How to Write an Authentic Review

Don't be quick to judge.

Don't be quick to judge.

Have you ever looked back and felt stupid about your initial judgment of people or things? – I have. There have been times when I have been quick to judge without giving time or opportunity for explanation and later realized that I was wrong. I should have given the person more time before I categorized and labeled them.

Few days ago I received a nasty review of BookBuzzr. (BookBuzzr is a free Online Book Marketing Tool for Authors and I am currently promoting and marketing it). The review said the tool was no good and well a lot of other things but this post is not about justification, so am keeping the review aside.

When I first read the review I was upset, some of the things said were untrue, some true and some just quick judgments. After the initial upset I re-read the post and realized that my getting upset was silly. Here’s why. The reviewer had based his judgment on a 10 minute test and had not read the instructions at all. Now am not saying he’s not entitled to his opinion but maybe he should have delayed judgment a bit.

Am sure am not the only one who has had to face a bad review, most of us have for books, products, work, etc. So here are a few tips for the next time you are trying out, reviewing or judging something new.

1. Follow instructions – if you don’t then you have no right to say it doesn’t work.
2. Be patient – Sometimes you are asked to wait, be patient and give it time. (Especially if you are told something would take time)
3. Ask questions – if there is something you do not understand, like or feel is lacking, contact the person or company. They may have a very good reason or may be working on the issue already.
4. Give suggestions – Contact the person or company with ideas and suggestions.

The above would work for everything from products to books. And before you pass judgment you’d have given the other person a chance to have their say. This would avoid bad reviews, hurt feelings and hasty judgment.

This does not mean that you do not rate something badly but do it only after knowing the whole picture; else you might just realize later that you had made an error in judgment.

Photo Credit: FadderUri

August 25, 2009   6 Comments