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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nature’s bounty in a 17 Mile Drive

The best way to spend a boring weekend in a foreign country is to go for a long drive. And if the long drive is as beautiful as the 17 mile drive in California, your day is well worth the effort. We started on a Saturday morning and spent a few hours at the Bay Aquarium. But the drive proved far better. Though it was only a 20-minute stretch, there are so many scenic spots along the way that we were transported to a different world each time we crossed a few miles.

17 Mile Drive is a fabulous, scenic drive that takes you from Monterey to Carmel, winding its way through Pebble Beach and Del Monte Forest. Most of the way is covered with fabulous coastlines and breathtaking views. The name is thanks to the 17 mile circular strip that makes up this stretch.

We began our drive by paying the $9.25 entry fee and receiving a map at the entrance. With the map it was easy to drive around the 21 marked spots. It was a simple way to enjoy this beautiful expanse of land and take in the sights and sounds of 17 Mile Drive. Each stop was on a well marked route and had a landmark of interest along with paved parking for your vehicle.

17 Mile Drive has it all - seascapes, flora and fauna on land as well as sea and gives the observer unimaginable variety in the form of nature here. Many of the landmarks are right along the coast where you can have a picnic or just enjoy the feel of sand of your under your feet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Relationships that cross barriers

The Kite Runner is one of those novels that transports you to a different world altogether. In this world you will empathize with the characters as though they were your best friends. You revel in their happiness, feel their pain, laugh with them, cry with them. And finally, when the novel ends, it’s as if you are parting ways with a dear one, knowing full well that you will never meet again. I have cried after watching movies before, but this must be the very first novel which gave me a lump in the throat.

The novel starts in the Kabul of 1960s, capital of Afghanistan. It is narrated as a first person account by Amir - the protagonist of the story. The initial chapters explore the friendship between Amir and Hassan (some of the best parts of the novel) and Amir’s rather uneasy relationship with his father. Amir’s father - who once wrestled a black bear with his bare hands - wants Amir to be more like him, someone who stands up for himself, likes sports and does other stuff which he considers the deeds of ‘real men’. But that is precisely what Amir is not, and Amir knows this fact well.

That is why when the annual kite flying competition is announced – one of the very few interests shared by the father-son duo, Amir decides he will ‘redeem’ himself before his father by winning the kite flying competition. Though he wins the competition, he also does one thing or rather ‘does not’ do something that not only shatters his and Hassan’s lives, but haunts him for the rest of his existence. Soon after, the Soviets attack Afghanistan and Amir, along with his father, are forced to flee to San Francisco, America.

Two decades later, Amir is married, is a successful writer and has more or less exorcised the ghosts of his Kabul years, when Rahim Khan – his long deceased father’s old friend – calls and asks him to come to Kabul; a Kabul taken over by Taliban. And just before he hangs up, Rahim Khan, almost as an after-thought, tells Amir, “There is a way to be good again”, which gets Amir thinking. Why did Rahim Khan say this? What is the real reason for Rahim Khan to call him up? Does Rahim Khan know what he ‘did not’ do that day? Amir’s return to Afghanistan and answers to these questions forms the rest of the story.

The Kite Runner is a sensitive story which truly touches your heart. I was wondering how to end this review with a summary, when my eyes fell on the one line review by The Times on the back cover of the novel, which I think best sums it up.

"Hosseini is a truly gifted teller of tales… he’s not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Colors of life

Colors are very important to us. As a part of our lives, they bring out a unique meaning. Each color has different shades and our life is meaningful only when it has colors with all its various hues. The way we visualize these colors reflects our personality and makes us unique individuals and displays our morals. When we are in our mother’s womb we have no clue on the many shades of color we are soon going to experience.

Once we are out of the womb and start growing we are always fascinated with the bright colors like red, blue and green. Father, who is always worried about fulfilling our needs and is so protective of us, is also strict, just like the color red. Our mother who is always so caring, loving and possessive is like the color blue. The rest of our families are like the green of the environment and we love these colors as they are play an important role in our lives. Without these colors our lives would have drawn a blank – just like white or black.

As we grow, we discover many colors, we see orange in our teachers who show us the right path and fuel our lives. The values they teach are remembered when we need to make decisions on the paths of life. Our relatives are in shades of blue and red, some are just so sweet and humble while others always look for a reason to put us down.

Friends are of different colors like yellow, pink and brown. As time passes we usually tend to spend most of our time with pink as they are kind and gentle and are always with us. Friends of a yellow shade flit in and out of our lives. They can be compared to a traffic signal. Browns are often the hypocrites and always fail to understand themselves. They are just like the cat that closes her eyes when she drinks milk and believes no one is watching her.

As we grow older we are better able to visualize colors. When we grow a little more and are able to visualize these colors, we tend to change our views on them. Red becomes our favorite as it stands for love. Though we forget red also stands for danger. While some people may be lucky when it comes to love, for others it could be a sign of peril. Many have trouble moving ahead in life after this. It’s always advisable not disturb the natural order of things when it comes to colors.

Then we come to a phase of life where we understand the true meaning behind each color and its place in our lives. At this time we may even start inventing shades to associate with the people we come across in life. There may be something different for the boss, our career, the children and our in-laws.

No matter what the colors of life we come across, there is one constant shade that remains with us. This is one shade that denotes faith and need not be seen for us to believe in it. I am sure that this color is always with us and we are aware of its presence only when we are in need.

Then comes a time in life when we have to leave all these colors of life behind and bid sayonara to them. Life comes full circle and we are back in a state where we are unable to distinguish one color from another. As we come out of our mother’s womb we go back into another (the earth) and finally our resting place – heaven or hell. Where we end up depends on visualized these colors of life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The "SHE" In Me

Often the monotony of work gets to you. It did to Preety Sachdeva. She tells you how SHE overcame it.

I have always believed in the simple life. But I didn’t really know how to lead one. Life for me was a piece of cake; I enjoyed every slice of it without really caring where it came from. At the age of 22, a few months into my first job, I was nothing more than an amateur engineer. The child inside me was finding it difficult to get a place for myself in this fast paced world.

I was reluctant to change and adapt. Very soon, my immaturity landed me in a cesspool of dissatisfied managers, complaints and finally a poor appraisal. It was now high time for me to look for guidance. And before I could initiate a plan, I needed to be clear in my wants and needs. It was time to have clarity of thought in terms of self-assessment. An effective plan for me would be something that would help me strike a balance between my professional and personal self.

The introspection pointed out the obvious - I was not sincere and honest in my efforts. I was not giving the assigned tasks my best. This left me at a loss. I felt low. Soon the big question popped up, what was stopping me from putting in my 100 per cent? Was I really dumb?

Hours of pondering yielded that I lacked interest in my work, may be because I was placed very low in hierarchy. I discussed this lack of motivation with my mentor, who made me understand that no work should be considered menial; that your position in the hierarchy does not really matter until you give your job your best. For this, some change was needed.

I started with weeding out unwanted activities, things and people from my life, work and otherwise. I developed a willingness to complete my work and this kindled an enthusiasm for the job. I realized that unless you are willing to put your best foot forward, no matter how hard you try your efficiency will remain wanting.

Soon, I was utilizing my time better. I refrained from office gossip and useless reading. I managed to halve my problems in a month's time. My new found honesty and willingness became my motivation. My concentration on work rose and I was happy with my professional life. I had grown from a lackadaisical individual to a hardworking, honest and enthusiastic professional. My outlook towards my job changed. I was happier than before.

Days and months passed by and soon my hard work and long hours began to seem monotonous. My hard work resembled that of a donkey’s, going about its daily business. Enthusiasm had taken the shape of a forced smile. It was time to strategize again. Hard work needed a new perspective. A step up to smart work was the need of the hour. I focused on optimizing my time and efforts.

However, smart work practices cannot be achieved overnight. It comes into existence only after a lot of hard work has been practiced. It is the next natural stage. An example in understanding would be executing manual tests first to understand the functionality of the application and then moving on to automation.

Hence, the new mantra of my professional life revolved around (S)mart work, (H)onesty and (E)nthusiasm - SHE. In no time the three became my friends, who changed me not only as a professional but also as a person. I had brought out a new facet in me. I was exposed to the "SHE" in me. And “SHE” made me believe that any work done with honesty, hard work and determination never goes in vain. Even God will not let you down once you have given things your best shot.

This may sound a bit preachy, but I am sure you identify with what I have said. Try it and see the difference.