Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vacation Redefined With Kids

Vacations are always fun but what makes it all the more enjoyable is the company of kids. They bring an extra dose of cheer to any trip. Their energy level is unmatched and with them, you never have a dull moment in your vacation. There were few places which we covered with our friend's children and without doubt, those vacations were the best. Our trip to Point Pleasant on Jersey Shore this summer scores high on fun quotient, courtesy the presence of children with us and around us. Instead of sitting and soaking sun or strolling on the beach, we participated in all the fun activities. I felt as if their presence have redefined the meaning of vacation. We had truck loads of fun riding these along with our friends' kids - Moby Dick, Super Himalaya and Swing and Wave Swinger. Had we gone alone, we would have strolled and ate pizza. In their company, I revisited my childhood that day!

Moby Dick

Super Himalaya

Swing and Wave Swinger

And the Train Ride which goes along the entire boardwalk area just adds 'Alice In Wonderland' effect to the whole experience. You have to stop when the train passes in any interaction. This trip to Jersey Shore was just magical, with kids bringing music with their laughter and their excitement keeping the fun level always on the high. This is without a doubt the best vacation I have had till date. All because of the presence of children, which added a magical effect to it.

Train passing through the boardwalk

Not only in the amusement parks or in arcades, children add a whole new meaning to the vacation with their presence even in places like aquarium. With their never ending desire to learn more and never ending question list, they can make even 'Seal Feeding' a complete activity in itself. When we went to Jenkinson's Aquarium, we had the most fun at 'Seal Feeding' activity, where children were asking questions to the trainers. It kept us hooked to that place for nearly half an hour. 

Seal feeding at Jenkinson's

But it's not as easy at is seems. When you are planning a trip with children, you have to keep them occupied and entertained so that you can also enjoy yourself. When we went to New York City along with our friends and their kids, we made sure to visit the Bryant Park before going to Times Square or shopping at Macy's. We spent enough time in the activities they enjoy - we let them skate at the ice skating ring in Bryant park, gave them carousel ride till they had enough and fed them ice-cream. In addition to the games and rides, one must treat the kids with their favorite food, that will make it a perfect experience for them and for you as well. 

 Ice skating at Bryant Park

Carousel ride and ice cream at Bryant Park

If you take them to the places where they don't enjoy, then your trip won't be that much fun. In fact, it will be more of a task, then a vacation. We went hiking with our friends and their daughter, it was so boring for her that we had to bribe her with a chocolate even to pose to the picture. It was a task to keep her moving and entertained. 

Bored Nakshatra during our Blue Hills trip

Afterwards, whenever we planned a vacation with kids, we made sure that we did all this -

  • Keep them occupied in the fun activities. Even if you are going site seeing, make sure to take them to some kids places, like we did in our New York trip.
  • Bring their favorite toy or gadget to keep them busy during the travel. Else they will be bored during the travel time. And pack their snacks too.
  • Choose interactive games and activities, where the entire family can enjoy. It will make it all the more memorable and fun.
  • Feed and pamper them with their favorite food, like ice cream, candies and pizza.
  • Keep on asking them what they want. Keep them involved and let them choose
  • If possible, choose hotels which have some play area in them. There are many resorts and hotels which have special swimming pools and parks for kids. Make even the stay enjoyable for kids.

If you take children on any vacation and make sure to keep them entertained with their activities, even your vacation experience will be amazing. You will feel that your vacation experience is redefined with more fun and laughter in their presence.

*This post is written for #TravelWithKids campaign sponsored by Club Mahindra.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Road Safety - A Collective Responsibility

When we read such headlines in the paper, we feel sorry for those who lost a loved one and criticize our system. Little do we realize that to change any system, all of us have to make a contribution. The responsibility is collective and we all have to do our bit to make roads safer to drive and for pedestrians. Here are some of the ways I feel can bring positive changes and lessen the number of accidents on Indian roads -

Separate Paths for Rickshaws and Bicycles -

I grew up in Chandigarh and I love the road network there. I feel, every city in India should have a separate lane for man pulled rickshaws and bicycles. This way we can reduce the traffic congestion on main roads. As the speed of manually operated vehicles is far less than the motorized vehicles, it creates chaos on the roads. By making a separate lane for such vehicles, there will be smooth flow of traffic and will add to the road safety. This has regulated traffic in Chandigarh and if other cities follow the suit, we can definitely have more safety on roads in other parts of India. 



Improve and Build More Footpaths -

Footpath system should be improved and more footpaths should be added. Though we already have footpaths but they are not maintained. Also, road-side vendors and street hawkers should not be allowed on busy interactions during peak hours. I understand that they have to earn their bread and butter, but if they take a break during peak hours, there will be less chaos during that time. Since not all footpaths are maintained or are in a bad state, pedestrians have no option but to walk on the main road. This causes a lot of confusion for both the driver and the pedestrians. A separate and marked area for pedestrians can ease off the congestion on the main city roads and lessen the number of accidents.



Zebra crossing and Push Button at Major Intersections -

Zebra crossing should be added to all major points of the city. I have hardly seen zebra crossings in India. Most people cross the roads when the signal turns red. This causes a lot of accidents. There should be more zebra crossings in each city on major intersections and most importantly, there should be a push button which the pedestrians can press when they want to cross the road. This way there won't be any mishap which occurs when pedestrians try to cross the roads through busy traffic. I've witnessed a fatal accident when a lady was trying to cross the road amidst traffic in Delhi. Had there been a proper zebra crossing and a push button to help her get passage, it could have saved her life and hopefully many other lives which are lost while attempting to cross roads through busy city roads.



Special Laws and Regulations for Construction Zones -

Special emphasis and rules should be made for construction zones. When Delhi-Chandigarh highway was under construction, I lived very close to one of the construction zones and I witnessed at least 4-5 accidents every week and most were fatal. There must be special laws and regulations for driving in construction zone. When Delhi Metro was under construction, there used to be a lot of accidents in the city. Better safety measures, such as better and more warning signs, diverting traffic to other routes and construction during night can minimize the risk to the motorist and pedestrians. 


Cautionary Signs and Boards -

This may sound a bit normal but it has a lot of effect on the people. I have witnessed drivers becoming more cautious after reading the warning signs. These days signs have become interesting and bring better influence on the driver, not to forget the amusement to the journey. Such sings not only bring more awareness among the drivers but also alert them to reduce their speed and take necessary precautions for that particular terrain. Cautionary posters and signs are very useful in hilly terrains and it reduces the roads accidents, specially the ones suggesting the road type, intersections and steep curves. Warning signs do help to reduce the number of accidents and the civil authorities must place them at accident prone areas and also in crowded areas.



Mandatory Training for Experienced Drivers -

We all know how easy it is to get driving license in India. I have heard many stories where people boast about getting license without even appearing for the test. Not only we need strict regulations while issuing new licenses but we also need to make 'Road Safety Training' a regular feature even for experienced drivers. Let's say, in a gap of 3-5 years, they should attend 2 hours training lesson to update their knowledge and learn more about road safety. This way we will have better drivers on the roads and a significant reduction in the number of accidents. It would be better if in addition to the theoretical training, they also have a stimulation training to improve their driving skills.



Automatic Fine and Challan System -

We all know how easily we can avoid challan in India. We bribe the traffic cop and pay him a lesser amount. Many people don't shy away from breaking rules on roads as they know they can get away with it by paying as low as 50 rupees to a traffic cop. We need an automated fine system where the traffic cameras will capture your offense and people sitting at the back-end can spot them and send the fine to the address where the vehicle is registered. I heard this system being effective in Chandigarh. When people will know that they can not escape their faults on roads, they will be more responsible and there will be fewer to very less accidents on roads. Now, this system is present in some metros in India but we need to implement it on a larger scale.



Strict Rules for School Zones -

Sadly, there have been many accidents in school areas where many children have lost their lives. Most of our schools are inside the city where there is huge traffic. My school was on the main road connecting Ambala with the main market area. I have seen the chaos and sadly, many accidents due to the jam and rush of peak hour. We have incorporated some rules regarding the school buses and vehicles carrying school students. I think, it would be better to have better rules when the school is open. It will help in regulating the traffic and making roads safer for our children.



Campaigns by Automobile Companies -

When those we belong to the particular industry raise an issue, it is all the more effective. It would be great if automobiles companies can conduct programs to educate people on road safety. Even when someone is buying a car, they should give them a small introductory program on road safety. One such initiative - Nissan Safety Driving Forum is introduced by Nissan India where they are educating people on road safety measures. The program which was initially launched in three cities - New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, has expanded to 8 more cities in 2014, including Chandigarh. After their awareness program, they have witnessed a whopping 126% surge in the number of sensitization of wearing seat belts. What's interesting is that - they conduct stimulated experiences to show how safety measures help during a car crash. I personally feel that such an experience would have greater effect on the minds of drivers. NSDF is a part of Blue Citizenship Corporate Social Responsibility, Nissan's vision and commitment to enrich people's lives while spreading awareness about road safety.

Safety Driving Stimulator

Rollover Stimulator

Implementing these changes will make our roads safer to drive and lessen the number of accidents on it. We have to educate people, bring awareness, bring strict regulations and do our bit to the cause of making roads safer. Bringing safety on roads is not a one man or one agency task, it is our collective responsibility. 

*This post is written to support Nissan Safety Driving Forum.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai!

Few things are simply hard to do. Something in us pulls us back when we try to attempt them. We call it 'fear', a feeling that simply overpowers us. I too had a fear of few things. Gladly, I have overcome some of them and working on the others. In my journey of conquering the fears that I have had, adventure has played a major role. I love doing new and exciting things, anything that sets my adrenaline high would be best to deal with my phobias, I thought. With the help of few adventure activities, I have overcome two fears - fear of being in the dark places and fear of swings. 

I had an acute Nyctophobia, fear of darkness. I couldn't go out in the dark or do anything in the dark. There has not been a single day in my life that I have slept with lights off. But in January 2014, I made a list of things I wanted to do and purposefully included many such things which would help me overcome my fears. So, in October 2014, I did cave exploration at night. It was the most daring thing for me. I did the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves Tours in New Hampshire. We were a group of 22 people including 2 guides. We only had a head lantern to guide us through the woods and find our path on the broad walk alongside the river. We had to pass through those caves which ran along the river. A part of the caves was underground where the river mystically disappears from the surface of the earth. And, as you might have guessed, that's why the river is called - Lost River.

There were close to 16 caves that we had to cross before reaching the camp ground. While some of the caves were easy and we just maneuvered our way through them, others were so difficult and tiny that we had to crawl on stomach to reach from one end to another. One cave was so intricate that we had to find our passage all by ourselves - we climbed the steep stairs, ducked many a times to avoid hitting the sharp hanging rocks and walked sideways for most part of it. What made all that extremely difficult for me was the eerie darkness inside those caves.

Our guide explained the techniques to be used before we entered each cave. Like to enter Squeezer Gauge, we had to take the upper body first. Also, he also asked if anyone wanted to skip any cave. Some caves looked so scary in that secluded New Hampshire cold that I was so tempted to say no. But then, I asked myself - wouldn't you not be disappointed later on? And I knew, I would be. So, with courage from my husband, I just entered each cave, braving through each and every fear I had about darkness. Since I am claustrophobic too, I was doubly scared. It was pitch dark and the caves were so small that we had to squeeze ourselves many a times to fit into the opening of the caves. I can't explain in words, how good it felt when I exited each of those caves. It was like a big big victory. Now, I know why people say - Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai! There is no other word than ‘victory’ to describe the feeling of joy when you overcome your fears.

Here are some pictures from the adventure - 

Our Guide explaining the details

Walking down to the river from the grounds

On the board walk

The most difficult cave

Squeezer Gauge 

Walking down to the underground caves

Me, quelling my fear

Celebrating at the end with fire and marshmallows 

Though I still sleep with lights on but now,  I can go out at night and I don't panic when there is a power cut. Fear, I realized, is a state of mind. Braving through it, you have to risk few things but conquering your fears brings many happy changes in your life. If you have any fear, face it and win over it. That's the only way to quell them.
*This post is written for #RiseAboveFear campaign sponsored by Mountain Dew India. Check their Facebook page for more action.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Who bells the Fat Cat, wins!

I am not a big fan of lottery. Luck has never been on my side, you see. But I love games and crunching numbers; it sets my adrenaline high. So, when I saw Lucky 6 by Fat Cat on Indiblogger, I was intrigued. Why Lucky 6, I wondered? I downloaded it on my iPad to unravel the mystery and boy, I was thrilled! It's a dream game for all those who love to trade in stock market. If you are bored of racing cars, killing pigs and crushing candies, it's like a breath of fresh air.

After I downloaded it, I created my account using my email. This is how my profile looks - 

My Dashboard on Lucky 6

Next step was to figure out 'how to play' this game. It is quite self-explanatory, I would say. All you have to do is select 6 brands. From international corporations to Indian multinationals, from auto majors to FMCG companies and from Dabur to Coca-cola; all well known names are on the list. After you've selected 6 brands, the wait begins... This game runs on the day stock market opens around the globe. It's called - The Game Day. For player's convenience, App shows how much time is left till the next game.

Day 1 - Selection

So, the next question is - how the top 6 brands are selected? Is it because that particular brand performed better in stock market OR that brand was picked by maximum number of people? Answer is - top 6 brands are the ones with the highest move in their stock price on the game day. If your choice matches the top 6, you win. Simple, isn't it? Sadly, none of the stocks I selected were among the top 6. And my score was 202. Like - I selected ICICI Bank from Banking sector but that particular day, Kotak Mahindra Bank performed better and was among the top 6. 

Play 1 - Result

While I was searching more about this game, I landed on this video on Have a look at it -

Fat Cat™ - Crowdfunding Proposition from Fat Cat Gaming on Vimeo.

In the video, CEO of SHM Entertainment Ltd, explains the simplicity of this game. It's a step ahead from the traditional lottery system. Instead of picking numbers, you pick your favorite brands. This game is launched in India first and I brimmed with pride to hear that they are using bloggers to help them market it. Also, I learnt - it's more of a social game. If you invite your friends and family to play with you, you can win more. The more, the merrier - as they say. So, instead of sending Candy Crush Saga or FarmVille request, invite your friends to play Lucky 6 on Facebook. No one will curse you for sending request of a game in which they can hit a jackpot. You see, who doesn't like to win money while tapping their phone a few times. Share it on Facebook, Twitter or simply email it to your friends. Play, share and be a real game changer!

In their words... 
"If you introduce a friend to the game, they automatically become part of your ‘Crowd”.  When it comes to the Jackpot, if one of your “Crowd” is lucky enough to have picked the correct combo, you will still win … a bonus prize equal to 25% of the Jackpot paid to your friend.  Now that is worth sharing."

Now after understanding its working and concept of Crowdfunding, I was all set to play it better. I rested heavily on my intuition and kept my fingers crossed while selecting brands for play 2. This time I played with different stocks and when I was writing this post, there were couple of hours left for the game to begin. There is also QuizApp, a game where you have to answer few simple general knowledge questions but it is an upcoming feature. Anyway, I played and answered 3 simple questions for fun.

QuizApp - Coming Soon...

The most important thing - what do we win? It's cash and vacation around the globe. How very tempting!

So now, I will play more, invite more friends and hopefully win a jackpot. This game is exciting and for a stock market buff like me, it's thrilling to witness the movements of your selected brands and finally knowing which stock performed better at the end of the day. Even if your selection doesn't make it to the top 6 list, it increases your knowledge. While trading stocks online, play this game and add fun to your experience; not to forget the chance of hitting the jackpot. A win-win situation for me. It's a game meant to change the way people spend time on their phone and I am so looking forward to play it daily. And it's much more better than the traditional lottery system, it keeps the player on the edge when the game is in play. 

So, what are you all waiting for, download and play it. Who knows, you'll be the next to hit the jackpot! 

Click here to download.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#ToiletForBabli - Paving The Way For Healthier India

How many of us feel disgusted when we spot people defecating in open? We curse our system and move on. Do we really care about it? No, we don't! Honestly, even I didn't. We live far from such places to affect our peace of mind. But unfortunately, I knew someone who had a terrible time because of lack of sanitation facility. I am talking about my mother's maid in Ambala. I knew she had a proper pukka house; but one day when she told me that she didn't have a toilet and goes out in open, I was shocked. Not that defecating in open was new to me but she lived in a nearby developed village, which by no means showed a sign of backward India.

Later, I discussed this problem with my mother, who revealed that many people in our village in Himachal defecate in open and such a practice is quite common. I always associated defecating with slumps and it presented a harsh reality to me of people I personally knew. For me it was a difficult thing to fathom what those women go through. It goes without saying that defecating in open has health issues but think how difficult it is for those women when they have having their menstrual cycle. And what about the children, they are more prone to diseases spread by such unhealthy environment. Later, I read that hundreds of people die of preventable diseases each year which are caused due to lack of proper sanitation. It came as a bigger shock to learn that 2.5 billion people defecate in open according to a UN report and the worst part is India tops the list with 600 million people. 

Now we all must be thinking why our government is not doing anything about it. Well, there are programs but all lack proper implementation. Funds allocated for improving sanitation conditions hardly reach those who need it, sanitation facilities run by government are not maintained properly and as usual, there are more people than the number of toilets available. There are portable toilets at some places but they have the same issues as with other government programs. Later, I observed while commuting to college that even good administrations like that of Union Territory Chandigarh can't handle this issue efficiently. So, now the question is how can we deal with it? We can't leave something which is causing health issues and staggering number of deaths in our country.

Answer to this lies in spreading awareness and launching a larger campaign where all can join hands to work towards the cause of providing proper sanitation to all those who can't afford it. We need to educate people of health hazards associated with defecating in open and teach them the importance of maintaining cleaner toilets. We also need to tell people how to use public toilets and leave it clean as a courtesy to the people who will be using it next. We have to imbibe cleaner habits. Recently, Domex India launched a campaign called #ToiletForBabli where their goal is to make villages in India 'Open Defecation Free.' We all can contribute to this worthy cause, just click on the 'Contribute Tab' on and eradicate open defecation from our country and pave way for healthier and cleaner India. 

I believe that with proper implementation of government programs, well structured campaigns and more awareness, we can make India cleaner, healthier and open defecation free. Let's make India clean and build enough toilets for children like Babli. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Health is indeed Wealth

There is an unparalleled joy in the company of a sibling. You grow up together, you scheme against each other and most importantly, have fun together. My brother is seven years younger to me. When he was born, I was on cloud nine. I always envied those friends who had their brothers and sisters for company. Now, I played with him and rocked him. Oh, it was the best time of my childhood. It was so much fun. Everybody was joyous but it only lasted a few months. When he was 3 months old, he developed an eye infection. Doctors thought it was normal and would go away with medication. I remember, no one was allowed to touch him. We didn't take him outside. We followed the hygiene and medicine routine, and it did went away.

But again after a few months, we noticed that whenever he was lying down and tilted his head in one direction, tears would flow non-stop. First we thought that he was weeping. But even when he was sleeping, it won't stop. We took him to doctor and there was a major problem with his tear ducts. It is pretty common and usually happens in newborns but at his age, it was rare. 1 out of 20 newborns suffers from it. Doctors told us that it would require a minor surgery and will clear the passage with the help of a needle. Inserting a needle in a baby's eye is such a painful thought, not only for my parents but for everyone. We prepared ourselves and thought it will be alright after the surgery. I was also hoping to play with him again and take him out in the park. Surgery went well, it was fine for a couple of days but again we noticed the same thing. His tears won't stop when he titled his head in one direction. It was such a painful period for my family. 

We again went to the doctor and he said my brother needed another minor surgery. He assured us that he would be fine after that. I remember going to the hospital with my mother. Even when I stayed at home, I waited for them eagerly. I never understood much of it but all I could feel was that everything was so sad in my home. When he was born, we had guests almost everyday. There used to sweets in the house and it was so good. But when he was sick, there was no happiness. With a double assurance from the doctor, again we went for the surgery, praying this would end his misery. Even now it's so hard to even think about it but during the next many months, we went for a total of seven minor surgeries. It was the most difficult time for my family. My parents were distressed, my brother was in pain and I was sad, there was no fun to have a little brother who can't play with you. After his seventh surgery, things started to improve. My parents was over cautious, why wouldn't they be, I now think. After a month or so, when they had him checked by two specialists, they allowed me to play with him. And finally, things started to change. Again, friends and family started visiting us, we went out in park, I played with him and he reciprocated; there was again happiness in the house. 

Then, my parents took that experience as a learning lesson and went great lengths in taking care of both of us. Regular doctor check-ups and a proper diet became their priority. As a child, I was happy when they allowed me to play with my brother but they became happy when they made sure both their children are healthy. Health is not only wealth but a great source of joy, we learnt

*This post is written for 'A healthy child makes a happy home' campaign sponsored by Dabur India. 

**Image Source - Here

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sorry… Again? Can he purge his sins? ~ Amit Singh

A small town boy who lives in a parallel world of goodness. He refrains from using the word 'breast', he conveniently addresses it as upper part of the body. He is so cautious in the presence of woman he loves, that he won't utter the word 'sex'; though she knocks at his door late at night and asks for cigarettes. This is our protagonist - Sid. Yes, he is a good boy with an ordinary life but he has done something which he terms as sin. Now, this book is about that one thing he has done wrong, and his ever-so-lost girlfriend, Mallika.

Mallika or Anushka is an enigma. She has a shaded past and a present, which looks very contrived. She is a lost soul and seems like holding so many things within herself that author has even written a chapter titled - Mysterious Girl for her. Between the two of them, the narration moves - sometimes it arouses your curiosity, sometimes it seems unrealistic and sometimes it's just plain. But one thing that keeps you hooked are beautiful parts of writing, which not only shows the author's ability to bring beauty to words but also charm. Read these -

"Memories not so old that warrant manifestation of their existence, yet not so recent as to manifest themselves in my pain, but they left behind indelible scar"

AND, my favorite -

"You should not continuously keep the spotlight on a particular incident otherwise its shadow will grow and one day it will become so large that it will eclipse your present."

In the opening pages of the book, author writes about his stay in Kolkata in such moving words that it almost seems like he is leaving his better half. And as you reach to the last pages you will find all the answers to the mystery and a happy ending, AND between that you can excuse the typing errors and low moments for a wonderful weekend read this book is.

Recommendation - Yes!

Happy reading,

P. S. - I so love chapter titles in this book.