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Thought and Reason

From London to Uttarakhand – Journey of a Social Entrepreneur

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Empower her, help her taste Independence!

Ever imagine giving up city life (in the heart of London!) and relocating to an isolated village deep in the hills, where even electricity and roads are a luxury? Not many people can do it. I certainly couldn’t! But one particular woman – Saritha Thomas – has made this arduous journey from London to Uttarakhand, with the sole intent of achieving independence and empowerment of rural communities! Who is this gutsy Social Entrepreneur, and what does she do? Read on to find out.

The beautiful community

Community Radio – a quick background

Radio was a part of my childhood (and perhaps yours too?) I remember our family tuning into radio every day, even during rushed school mornings. One niche area of radio is ‘Community Radio’ – radio fully owned and managed by the local community that it serves. In cities, Community Radio (CR) might not be popular, however in villages, CR assumes great significance. Villages and less empowered areas in India and across the world obviously do not have access to the mind-boggling medium that we call the Internet. Mobile networks are more prevalent in India, even in rural areas. This is where Community Radio stations can come handy. Villagers can create programs that address issues that directly impact them, not just entertain but also educate and thereby empower.

But where do they go to build their own radio station? Radio stations cost money, licensing procedure and other long-winded formalities. But once a Community Radio station is set up and is fully operational, the benefits to the community are both immediate and enormous!

Achieving Independence at the Grassroots level 66 years later!

This is what Saritha Thomas, Founder/Director of People’s Power Collective is trying to achieve through her NGO. With a fantastic background of 13 years in Radio (including the BBC), Saritha gave up her regular industry job, undertook a program at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in London and subsequently founded People’s Power (Participatory Ownership Empowerment) Collective, a charity that works towards setting up a community owned radio station from scratch. Saritha’s aim is three-fold:

  • Stay on the field (Uttarakhand being her first project) with her team, undertake extensive ground-work in order to set up the radio station from scratch (including licensing, etc)
  • Train the local community in technical and functional aspects of running the radio station, including how to record and air programs, thereby helping them achieve true Independence
  • Empower the community by helping them find their voice!
Disappearing roads!

Saritha and team were infact on the field in Prithviraj Nagar, during the recent Uttarakhand disaster caused by unprecedented rains in June 2013. They were in the process of research and recording programs when rains battered the villages and caused massive devastation. Team PPC stayed on the field, and supported the community battle nature’s fury. One can’t help but think, if the Community Radio station was already in place, the villagers could have perhaps been forewarned about the calamity that was about to strike them. Or atleast have continuous and accurate information about the extent of damage and accessibility of relief camps!

A special salute on Independence Day

While Saritha and team help the community at Uttarakhand build their lives again, I would like to take this opportunity to salute my friend, this strong woman who has indeed sacrificed so much, so she can achieve her dreams for empowerment of communities in rural India.

Being an entrepreneur is not for the light-hearted. Being a social entrepreneur is an even bigger challenge as personal gains or profits are not the driving force here. What keeps the spirit of People’s Power Collective alive is the passion and commitment towards the cause of Empowerment and Independence itself. One can easily see how passionate Saritha is about her selfless dream to build a Community Radio station. I have worked with her closely over the last year, and can vouch for a fact she is incredibly passionate about what she is doing in Uttarakhand.

Saritha Thomas with the local community that will ultimately benefit from their own community radio station

What started off as a little idea in Saritha’s mind, has now taken shape and is throbbing and pulsating in a rural village, waiting to unleash its power across the community in a way they never imagined would impact them.

To put it simply, as Saritha says, People’s Power Collective is ‘helping 150000 people find a voice’. This community radio station project will generate employment in the local villages and will help build technical skills and confidence of even the vast illiterate sections of the community. Having their own radio station would mean they connect with each other in a more structured and effective way.

To me, this voice of empowerment is the sign of real Independence.

So here’s a special salute to the woman behind this lesser known cause. Here’s to an highly talented and admirable Social Entrepreneur – Saritha Thomas. More power to you, Saritha (People’s Power Collective).

Written for the Indiblogeshwaris Ladies Independence Special Contest in association with http://womenentrepreneursinindia.com/

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Thought and Reason

Airport manners

What makes people think they own a public space? ! We’re sitting at the airport now. . Catching up on sleep inbetween flights. .one of which is long haul.

And this mega family of ten plus members lands at the pepsi Booth. . Kids screaming and whining and fussing about what drinks they want. We give them looks. . They don’t bother. .. we request them to quieten down. .they don’t care a damn. And when the screaming and shouting doesn’t stop I am able to hold it no longer. I get up and ask them. ..’can’t you see people are sleeping. . We all have flights to catch. .is this the way to behave in a public space? ?’

No. .I wasn’t expecting an apology for the nuisance. .. but I thought they would Atleast try to be a little quiet after that.

Surprise! !!! The mother. .I guess. .a hefty woman in her thirties. .just yells back saying they are kids and are adamant and they can’t do anything about it. And shouts to her husband that they will do what they want and I should leave if I want to.

Thankfully the airport staff arrived within minutes and told them they should get ready to board their flight.

I don’t know what would have happened if they had stayed.

Now. ..
1. If you can’t manage kids then don’t have them. If you have had them then you bloody well tell them off when they are behaving like a bunch of country brutes.

2. The moment you step outside the four walls of your home.. you do realise it is not your private space anymore and that you are expected to have some common sense and be considerate towards others.

3. When you are clearly in the wrong. .. the least you can do is apologise. Your Kids are watching you. By acting like a complete Bi*** the only thing you are doing is teaching them that it is Ok to be inconsiderate and get away with it.

4. For heavens sake try a Bullock cart instead of a plane the next time. You and your damn kids can scream with all your might. . Chances are that the noise will just dissolve on the road and not cause a pain in the wrong place! !! My sympathies towards the poor animals Ofcourse!!

5. Lastly. ..If your lovely family gets thrown off the plane for being a public nuisance. … don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Phew. .. it took this to break my blog hiatus 🙂

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Thought and Reason Short story Poem Incidents MommySpeak

Chup, bad girl

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‘Bad uncle...’ the child whispers, shifting uneasily.

Mother glances at Neighbour – kind and respectable. No, he wouldn’t!!

She nudges her 6-year old irritably, ‘Chup*… Bad girl!

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(An attempt to tell a story in Haiku form)

Innumerable cases of child abuse are not stopped simply because we do not believe our children enough. We brush their fears aside, thinking they are baseless. They aren’t. They never are. If a child feels that there is ‘something wrong’ or ‘something bad’ – a touch, a comment, or even a look…  that just makes him/her feel uncomfortable, but is unable to express it, it is our damn duty to take up the matter seriously and investigate, and protect our children.

This post has been written for the Child Sexual abuse awareness month theme run by the Chennai Bloggers Club.

* ‘chup’ – ‘quiet’ or ‘shut up’

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Thought and Reason

Meaningfully Mindless

You are tired after a long day.. whether you work from an office or from home, whether you do a lot, or nothing. The daily grind does suck the life out of you! Tune into a ‘meaningful’ news channel, and all you get to see is scams, scandals and unimaginably horrendous crimes that make you lose faith! This is where ‘mindless’ television serials step in, to rescue us.

Tune into ANY Indian entertainment channel.. Star, Sony, Colours..etc. there are all the SAME!

The same glamorous bungalows, where nobody seems to have a 9-5 job like the rest of us mere mortals do, the same women dressed in all their finery, wondering who is plotting against who!

Watching the same shocked expression on every family member (in slow motion) can actually be quite therapeutic. Because it is in these moments, that I do not have to think! I get to ignore (albeit temporarily), the bills lying on the table, the books yearning to be read and the empty dishes that will soon have a dry crust!

How much effort can it take to watch a ‘mother in law’ dressed in finery, authoritatively telling her meek son and pretty daughter-in-law with long flowing hair (who by the way, is also decked in jewellery like she is a walking banner advertisement for a jewellery store!) what to do. How much do you really exert your senses to watch another grandiose creature ‘plotting’ to kill her own sister or sister-in-law for some vague reason that nobody remembers?! See, that is where Indian soaps can help us unwind. Watch it in zombie mode, and you will eventually realise that your office related stress is perhaps preferred 😉

So what is wrong with Indian television? (asked HT, and loads of us bloggers replied). Here’s what:

  1. ‘Super-women’: Almost all our programmes are women-centric. ‘Now what’s wrong with that??!’ The problem is, every protagonist is not just an average woman but a super-woman! Quiet, ‘docile’, woman of ‘inner strength’ (how do you even measure that???!!), dons a pallu and covers her head in the presence of elders, addresses her husband with a ‘ji’ suffix! Whatever happened to women who need not be perfect, and who need not be on a pedestal??! How about a normal women, perfect with all her imperfections?!
  2. Sense and sensibility: I know I said Indian television is therapeutic. Even in that ‘paradise’ however, we do need some semblance of sense and sensibility. Will it harm us too much, if we made more programmes like ‘Satyameva Jayate’ or ‘Laakhon mein ek’?!
  3. REAL problems: In the same vein, I wonder why every second story depicts the ‘trials and tribulations’ of a new bride in a joint family, or a girl who is unable to find a ‘suitor’ at all?! What about REAL problems like eve-teasing on the roads, gruesome rape in a moving bus, the ability to balance a good career with family-life? Will we ever get to watch a programme made about people like you and me?!
  4. Mush overdose: Ok, I’ll confess. I like M&Bs. I think they score much better than the over-rated ‘fifty-shades-series’. But the mush in our serials is a serious over-dose! Imagine copying some of romantic scenes – the gazing in eyes –soft background score – caresses in ‘slow motion’. Euuuggghh…gaze into my eyes for 2 minutes and I’ll wonder if you’ve lost it!!!
  5. Ancestral property: I have seen just one bungalow in my entire life. And even that was minuscule in comparison to the HUGE houses that feature on television! Can we get more real, please?
  6. Mini-Bollywood scenes: Forget the trauma of watching an overweight Ram Kapur romancing ‘oh so perfect’ Parvati bhabhi! What’s with soaps aping Bollywood romance? Show some creativity, folks!
  7. Hair: Yes, you read it right. Hair. I really do not get the point about every female protagonist having long, luscious, shiny black hair. How do they go about their daily life? Cooking? Cleaning? Just .. living?!! You want to make a woman-centric programme? Go ahead, do it. But please, show someone with normal dry/limp/frizzy hair! I promise you, it will not affect your TRPs!
  8. Where are the children? : Nobody is ever prepared for parenthood. When it strikes, it sucks you into an endless cycle of nappies, runny noses, bruises! Where have all the children disappeared from our television serials? The few kids that are infact around, only do a cameo! (But hey, to be fair, I guess being a parent myself, if I had to watch one more crying baby on TV, I might just suffer a breakdown!! Okay, I’ll leave the kids out!)
  9. Regressive dressing: One look at the attire of the artists, and you know exactly what is wrong. Heavy silks, light chiffons, matching heavy jewellery – makes me wonder if we are indeed living in the 21st century or some medieval era?!
  10. Recession, really? One unique feature in every soap that never ceases to amaze me is: None of the actors EVER has a 9-5 job. What is the scene? Recession or Ancestral wealth?!

So yeah, our soaps are absolutely mindless. However, since they do help the ‘unwinding’ process, it would be nice to infuse a teeny weeny bit of sense into these programs,. That would just ease our way back into the ‘real’ world the next morning!

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Thought and Reason

Snow… snow. . Magical snow!

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Thought and Reason

Please Give 40000 families a voice!

Hola People,

First, listen to this AWESOME trailer of ‘Mountain Echoes’

And now, I’ll come to the point!!

Villages/rural areas in India are hardly connected the way we are. There is no question of Internet/Google/Facebook. They live in a ‘media dark’ area.

One really strong medium of communication is RADIO. It changes the way people live. Local radio stations, in particular, address local needs, local information/entertainment/education/etc. and bring about social change in many ways.

Lots of rural communities are incredibly passionate about making Community Radio happen, but are strapped by funds and lack of technical know-how.

My college friend, Saritha Thomas – who has a strong background in Radio – has set up a NPO called People’s P.ow.er Collective, that will help rural/isolated communities build and run their own Community Radio station.

In 2013 they will be building a Community Radio station FROM SCRATCH in Uttarakhand.

We are fundraising for this project, and ANY contribution from you would be awesome!!!!

Even the littlest amount that you can spare would go a long way. You will be helping 150000 people find a ‘voice’ that would influence their lives in a great way.

So please, please do contribute. Even the tiniest amount would do.

To donate from India: visit our page on Wishberry
To donate from UK/other countries: visit our page on Buzzbnk
And please, help spread the word. If you are a blogger and are reading this, then would you consider helping by adding a Widget in your blog?
Thank you SO much, folks!!!
Categories
Thought and Reason

Five tips for effective social media strategy

I spent much of Christmas tweeting and re-tweeting posts on micro-blogging platform Twitter in the hopes of winning a Sony Tablet or iPhone (none of which came my way, in any case!) But yes, the use of social media was extraordinary!! What was more interesting was the fact that retailers did not ‘PUSH’ their products by ‘Selling’. To the contrary, they ‘PULLED’ a huge audience by ‘NOT selling’ but ‘engaging‘ the vibrant online buyer community!! Apparently, research has also proved that products recommended by friends/acquaintances on social networks fare better than those that aren’t!

Social Media platforms

There is no denying it. Social media is here to stay. So all you lovely entrepreneurs and independent retailers, please do consider these points in your strategy:

Don’t just sell!

1) Back to basics – Integrate your social media channels to speak in one voice. It should brandish your USP (unique selling proposition) that can be as simple as ‘hand-made jewellery’ or as exotic as ‘Himalayan rocks’!

 

2) ‘Engage’ and ‘brainstorm’– As a customer myself, I would be annoyed if a retailer used social media to ONLY Sell. Simple community engagement initiatives like seeking feedback/opinion using Polls and posting pictures of not just celebrities but even the common man endorsing their brand make you endearing!

‘Brainstorm’ with your audience – they are a storehouse of ideas! For example, hold a Twitter contest to solicit brand TAGLINES, thereby ‘engaging’ customers with more than a mundane sales pitch.

3) ‘Extra’s  – Can you use social media to offer that ‘little something extra’? For eg., a Facebook offer of 20% discount or ‘Cash on Delivery‘ could be a deal breaker.

4) Financial and non-financial targets – Let’s face it. You are not running a charity. Ensure to set targets, eg, 500 new Twitter followers.

5) Don’t stop –Most retailers/small scale entrepreneurs do not have the bandwidth to persist with social media initiatives. But do keep the buzz going. Cross-posting a Blog post a week could do the trick.

Social Media strategy is not to ‘sell’ but to ‘Engage’. Speak the voice of the customer, and they will look after you!

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Uncategorized Thought and Reason

King-size Chess, anyone?

At a time when iPads and Nintendos rule the roost, it can be quite difficult for a parent to get children to sit down and play a ‘real‘ board game. I have always had a soft corner for board games like Othello, Monopoly, Connect 4, etc. because I feel they enrich us. Games like Chess, for example, help us develop not just concentration but also strategic thinking. And what better age to introduce this, than childhood?

Believe it or not, I did not have the fortune of learning to play Chess during my childhood. A neighbour once offered to teach me, but I guess I found it intimidating! Add to it, a problem of ‘butter fingers’ and this game was out of my league!

I definitely wanted to introduce my 6-year-old to this timeless classic!! However, as you can imagine, expecting a child of this age to sit still and understand the complex rules of Chess can be quite challenging!

Therefore, what better way to do it, than present him with a KING SIZE version of the game?

I was very excited when I came across ‘Big Game Hunters’ (specialists in garden/outdoor toys and giant play equipment). Their ‘standard chess set’ is actually rather huge! My son’s eyes lit up when the box was delivered. He couldn’t wait to arrange the pieces (as per the very handy instruction leaflet) straight away.

As a parent, I am glad that this set has rekindled interest in playing real (touch and feel) board games, as opposed to a rather sedentary Temple Run and Subway Surfer!

The child in me was reminded me of the wizard chess that Harry Potter and Ron Weasley played 🙂 Just that in this case, the magic was not a ‘philosopher’s stone’ but the exciting life-size experience of the game itself 🙂

However, do be aware that (as displayed in the website and Facebook page), the sets are quite big, and take up space, even when they are boxed.

As regards the product review goes, I would rate this 4.0/5.0, the rationale being as follows:

Pros:

  • Sturdy and robust pieces, especially for little hands. Butter fingers welcome 🙂
  • An innovative take on a classic game, definitely kindles interest, especially for kids.
  • Excellent delivery (super fast timeline and efficient tracking)

Cons:

  • The mat is a little thin and slippery, and crumples easily. Realised it only when a toddler crawled over it, and by the time we could yank him off, the mat had already crumpled. Perhaps a matte finish would have worked better?

I would definitely recommend this product (if you have the space, that is), both for its intrinsic value, and also as an alternative to watching TV indoors or smashing insects on an iPad!!

(PS: I received a chess set from Big Game Hunters for the purpose of this trial. No other consideration was received for this review. The review is entirely personal and not influenced by Big Game Hunters in any way whatsoever).

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Thought and Reason Incidents

Sizzling South Indian Mela(m)

It is always tricky to plan weekends here, thanks to the lovely British weather (by the way, I do like cold n grey weather!). The last weekend was thankfully sunny, though a little chill. That didn’t deter us from making a quick trip to see what the South Indian Melam (an initiative by ‘INDIA NOW’) was all about. Actually, blame the TV adverts for luring us to it! All those pictures of steaming hot dosais/vadai, and ofcourse the cultural events 🙂 (lest I sound too shallow ;-)) were so inviting!

We reached the Mela venue by around 2 pm, and had originally planned to leave in a couple of hours, but ended staying till the very last show, which was a completely dhamakedaar performance by Shiamak Davar‘s team in London. (Will come to that later, as one sentence in passing simply doesn’t do justice to the amazing performance that it was!)

We were greeted with a mellifluous rendition of ‘Vaishnava Janato‘. Sadly, there was no encore 🙂 The compère Ms.Ambika, conducted a lovely little music exercise with all the children. There must have been atleast 20-30 participants, who sang along to Sa-Re-Ga-Ma with gusto.

It was a delight to hear, and an eye-opener too, about an art that we must not let die, but instead try to pass on to the future generations.

There were more performances – vocal, Bharatnatyam, etc. (I can’t review those as I’m not much of an art connoisseur) and an impressive ‘Kalari Payattu‘ performance too, that the boys were particularly interested in!

There weren’t as many ‘stalls’ as one expected. However, there was a great little massage offered at very reasonable prices. Another hot-dog/fries/coffee booth, that served awesome french-fries at delightful prices 😉

The stall for the ‘Save the Tiger‘ campaign, in my opinion, could have benefited with more prominence. The Diabetes UK team was strategically placed a few stalls away from the one with the droolworthy hot South Indian food 🙂

State Bank of India who were one of the Sponsors, held an exciting Raffle contest, with the prize being an iPad!!! Sadly, the winner of the raffle wasn’t around. Sigh!!! I wish…er.. never mind!)

Hot Dosai in the making… and different varieties of chutney to go with it… yummm…

Needless to say, the ‘food’ staff, hosted by Turmeric Spice (I hope I got the name right!), saw an endless queue 🙂 And it was well worth the wait. We ordered hot dosais and simple yet delicious lemon rice!

As they say, the best things in life come to those who wait! The last event was a Bollywood dance performance. I wasn’t expecting much, and the delay was putting me off.

However, when the troupe finally arrived, they took us by storm!!! The Shiamak Davar team in London pulled off a spectacular performance, making even the audience dance to the tunes of Chikni Chameli and Chammak Challo!

The compère /host, Rohan, did an OUTSTANDING job of drawing the audience into the performance.

Even the man behind the show, Mr.Manish Tiwari (Managing Director, Here&Now365) couldn’t escape grooving to the tunes of Chammak Challo 🙂

The audience learnt some easy steps, particularly some Shahrukh Khan motions, and the delightfully funny ‘nodding Indian head‘ 🙂 Team Shiamak had the entire audience spell-bound, and hungry for an encore (which again, they delivered beautifully).

We truly believed their quote – ‘Have Feet – Will Dance’. Add to that, they gave a gift voucher (‘free dance session’) for all the participants.

So, that was a truly scintillating finale to an exciting event.

Well done Team South Indian Melam 🙂 I think this was a good start, and do hope we see many more such events, that bring us closer to ‘home’ and help showcase our arts and culture.

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Thought and Reason Short story Incidents Awards

Long overdue – Bagful of peanuts and more

This happened a couple of months ago, and I only remembered to write about it now (thanks to my friends on an online community).

Remember the innovative ‘Blogsplash’ conducted by Fiona Robyn (author of ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’)? My contribution to the Blogsplash was a little story about a touching incident that took place on my last trip to India. I’m very glad to say that of all the entries, mine was chosen as the top entry!

I’m very happy about this, particularly because it was the gesture of one humble man that has moved people (across the globe) to tears. Please do read it. Here: https://writerzblock.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/a-bagful-of-peanuts/

God bless such simplicity and humility. Need I say more!!

Once again, thank you Fiona for conducting the event, and many thanks to the One and Only: Shail for inviting me to it. It was a learning experience.

(Comments disabled. Thank you all so much for your warmest wishes :-))