Mustseeindia.com : Helping travelers travel India

Mustseeindia.com claims to be the largest travel information website in India, as well as one of the most reputed and trusted tour operators in the country. In this guest post, the website tells us all about itself and how it can be of use to travel enthusiasts.

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How it all started

Mustseeindia.com is the brain child of three engineering graduates from IIT and NSIT who share a common passion – travel. The foundation of the company was laid in the year 2008, when Vikas Rana joined hands with his college batch mate Sanjay Goel and work colleague Karan Nahata to convert their passion into a successful business model. This was how Mustseeindia.com, a travel guide for India, was born.

The website’s entrepreneurial journey

The website was started with the goal of being a one-stop travel guide for tourists in India, covering all aspects of travel, from destination to transportation to hotels. In the past five years, the company has not only built a good reputation for itself among travelers, but has been able to garner various accolades and awards for innovative methodologies and operational tools employed by it.

The company focuses on simplicity and quality, and that has taken them a long way. Travel is a dynamic industry, which is constantly evolving, and the team at mustseeindia.com works hard to cater to these changes.

Mustseeindia.com presently receives five million visits per month. Weekend Getaways and PDF guides are among the many tools provided by mustseeindia.com, which have become very popular.

Create your own travel package!

The company launched its innovative ‘Create Your Own Packages’ tool in the last leg of 2013, which is fast becoming a favorite with travelers. This tool gives users the ability to create dynamic tour packages which they can customize as per their needs. The tool has been introduced with the aim of solving the major problems faced by travelers in India.

The company has tie-ups with several vendors and hotels across a variety of budget ranges, and offers a comparison between them over seven different parameters. Technology has played a major part in bridging the gap between travelers and hotels, thus curbing any miscommunication and ensuring smooth transactions at all ends.

This tool has helped travelers book their holiday packages in an easy and reliable way.

What’s next?

After the successful implementation of their ‘Create Your Own Packages’ tool, the mustseeindia.com team is busy at work again, to create something new and out of the box.

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Disclaimer: This is an on-request guest post by the mustseeindia.com team. Though I think the website can be of great use to travelers in traversing the colourful country that is India, I have never had an opportunity to use it myself.

What’s in your bag?

If, like me, you are a child of the 80s and 90s, you will surely remember good ol’ Potli Baba from our very own Doordarshan. 🙂 Nabila is a travel blogger whose blog name, Potli Baba, was inspired by the show. In true Potli Baba style, she pulls out envy-inducing tales of awesome places, one after the other from her bag. She seeks Potli Baba’s blessings and knowledge to accompany her on her many travels, and, in the process, inspires me and many newbie travellers like me. And, oh, I have to tell you that the pictures accompanying her travel posts are just WOW!

Nabila very kindly agreed to do a guest post for my blog. What else can it be about but travel? 🙂 She chose to write about the must-haves she does not travel without.

Go on, check out what she has to say!

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What’s in your bag?

I’m extremely good with packing. I always pack a book to read and do my research before going to a place. But that doesn’t make a travel guru, does it? What I can tell you for sure is that after having wandered here and there quite a bit over the years, I’ve come to realise that there are a few travel essentials that I do not journey without, and which, I reckon, one should never journey without. Everything else is, well, just there.

So, here’s my list of must-haves:

Willingness to make multiple stops on the way

So, you might get delayed reaching your destination by a couple of hours. You might miss the sunset on the horizon or a jungle safari or shacking on the beach. So what? It’s impossible to make a train or bus or flight stop mid-way (that might be dangerous too!), but don’t be afraid to make multiple stops on your road trips. Some of the best adventures are waiting to greet you during unplanned, unexpected halts, I can guarantee you that.

A good camera and extra batteries

It’s a boring bus ride in a rickety government Volvo bus in the ghats, and your eyes are drooping shut when, suddenly, the bus screeches to a halt. There’s commotion in the front. Wondering what it is, you move to the driver’s area and realize that there’s a herd of bison leisurely making its way across the road ahead – there’s even a little baby bison! It’s a sight you’ve never seen before. You reach into your bag to capture that moment and, what do you know, your camera is missing. Or, worse still, it’s out of charge. Yes, you will be right to slap yourself hard at such times.

A small medicine pack

Nothing can be worse than going to someplace fully excited, trying the local cuisine or doing a Shahrukh Khan-style outstretched-arms-wind-in-the-hair routine, only to fall sick soon after. Here’s a true story: I’m a big fan of seafood, especially prawns, but every once in a while, I develop a mighty allergy to prawns. The first time this happened, I felt an allergy coming on, but didn’t have any meds handy. And I was in Goa. And the sea was inviting. And the shacks were beckoning. And the music from the all-night discos was tantalizing. But where was I? In my room, alternating between itching and running to the loo. Please don’t be like me.

An open mind

To me, this should be the core of every journey one makes. No open mind means no willingness to let go, no desire to explore that animal trail with overgrown grass, no curiosity about what rabbit meat tastes like, or no thirst to learn about places from locals – often, the most knowledgeable guides. Things might not go according to plan sometimes, but that’s alright; holidays that deviate from the plan can turn out to be even more fun! But only, only, if you have an open mind and are ready to go with the flow.

Toilet paper

Saves the day, believe me!

A smile

It’s the best social networking ploy in history. If you use it, more often than not, you will end up meeting extremely interesting people from diverse walks of life on your travels, with several stories to share. A piece of friendly advice: If you’re travelling alone, be sure to follow up the smile with pepper spray and run like hell – depending on how the other person responds to your smile, of course.

A scribbling pad and pencil

There will be moments when you’ll be overwhelmed by something or the other. Pour out how you feel on paper. Sure, you’ll have your phone, but by the time you finish selecting the right words on T9, that feeling will have passed. With paper, your hand will just string one word to the other seamlessly, flowing alongside your thoughts.

That pretty much sums up almost everything I take with me on my holidays. And of course, Potli Baba, my trusted companion who makes every journey a remarkable one. Try out this list at least once in your lifetime. You might hate me for it, but it might make you live a little too!

When Harvey saved the day…

Bubbly, cute, witty, happy-go-lucky, mature, talented, romantic are some of the adjectives you can use to describe Visha. Author of the blog Zack and Visha, she is all that and more. She loves writing about her hubby Zack (of course!), her travel tales, work highs and lows and introspect on life in general, not to mention setting up her readers for tough mathematical puzzles. 🙂

So, the lovely Visha has written a lovely post for my blog, which I present to you without further ado. Thank you so much for this beautiful guest post, Visha!  Hope you guys enjoy it as much as I loved reading it.

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When Harvey saved the day

When he was about to drop her at her office, she asked him out for a date. The look on his face was incredulous.

“At this time? At 10 in the morning?”

“Only half an hour. Say that you are stuck in traffic”

He agreed, and the two of them went to a mall nearby. They spent time with each other, laughing and smiling.

“This is known as bunking. And we are no more college students!”

“I know, but it’s fun!”

“You are one crazy girl!”

***

Time flew. All too soon, it was close to 2 hours since they had entered the mall.

“Shall we leave now? Unless you want me to eat the lunch that you packed for me here itself.”

“Very funny! Let’s leave.”

***

But Murphy’s law seemed to be playing with her that day.

As soon as she opened her e-mail at work, she saw a couple of emails from the HR and her manager.

Reading through, she mused, of all days, today was when the manager had wanted a telephonic conversation with her in the morning. And to top it, it had been an urgent call. She had been unavailable.

“Damn!”

***

The HR was known for her grumpy nature – ever serious, never laughing. Unless she talked to Ms. I-will-never-smile-until-I-live, she was sure she would get a notification that she had been marked ‘half-day absent’.

So, our brave girl pinged the HR on the office messenger with a smiley and a good afternoon message.

Surprise! The HR’s reply was two smileys.

She wondered if it was the calm before a storm.

But the chat conversation went on amicably. She ended it with an upbeat mood, thanks to the fact that nothing had gone awry. She had offered to compensate with extra working hours in the coming days. After a couple of exchanges, it was clear that she had won over Ms.Grumpy.

What’s more, her HR surprised her with a radiant smile during the day.

She mused, a smile has enormous power, but, dear smiley, et tu! 🙂

***

So, Murphy hadn’t been playing with her after all! All thanks to Harvey!

Of change, adapting to it, life and kids

I have been reading Aparna for quite some time now. I enjoy her posts about her kids, Ads and Y, on her sort-of-mommy blog and those on books, travel and other things on her non-tot blog. I have always found her posts interesting, informative and thought-provoking. She comes across as an intelligent, balanced, informed individual, who clearly values her kids but loves to make time for the other good things in her life as well. I admire her for that.

Today, I bring to you a guest post by Aparna on the subject of change, and how it has affected her life. Read on, folks!

Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Aparna! 🙂

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I was chatting with a friend and neighbour some days ago when she mentioned that her husband had gotten an offer, the acceptance of which would require him to move to Belgium, with his current company. She wasn’t too keen on the move. Her elder son is moving to 8th grade soon, the kids will find it difficult to make friends in a new country, they don’t know the language, it’s an entirely different culture out there, it would be so tough to deal with the harsh winters there….yada yada yada… she rattled off her reasons for not being all that interested in the offer. True, true, all true, I admitted; yet, I tried very hard to convince her to move. Why, I would have moved in a flash!!

She smiled. Really?, she asked. After all you’ve moved around already?

I’m not sure if my roving childhood has anything to do with the fact that I’m always up and ready to move every couple of years. It feels to me that my current restlessness is a logical result of my early circumstances, even though there are plenty of real-life examples to the contrary as well. Friends who have moved around a lot in their early years have now settled down in one city, and do not want to ever want to move out of their home, not even to the next street.

I’ve been a nomad all my life, except for a few years of stability during my high school and college years.

It has been a life of constantly letting go and moving on.

It has been a life of very short-lived friendships, a whole lot of acquaintances, and a very few old friends. It has been a life of 11 schools, 12 cities, 2 countries, at least 20 houses we called ‘home’, and more moves than I can keep track of.

It has been a life of belonging nowhere and feeling at home everywhere.

What have I missed? I’ve missed friends who grew up with me in the same street, friends who were part of my life since kindergarten. I’ve missed the luxury of living in and loving a city or town with my whole heart, knowing every street and landmark like the back of my own hand. I’ve missed speaking in the typical local idiom of a native Chennai-vasi or Bangalorean or Mumbaikar. I’ve been asked if I ever felt rootless, and I answer that my roots have always been with my family and where they are is where I root myself!

And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing up in states culturally very diverse from my austere South Indian roots taught me tolerance. Being the perennial outsider gave me perspective. Navigating a different school every year and a new city every other year taught me self-reliance. Being ridiculed and singled out every now and then (for example, because I always wore a bindi to school) made me grow an extra layer of skin! And knowing that I was moving on made me tolerant and empathetic. After all, I had nothing to lose by being nice!

If there was a downside to that life, it was that it made me too nice. I was so used to adapting that I adapted and accommodated even when I did not need to, bad habits that I am trying to discard to this day!

In sum, what I gained is far more precious than what I never had. Therefore, exposure to different cultures and milieus is something I crave for my kids, too. I believe it will make them much more self-sufficient, independent, empathetic, flexible, risk-taking, tolerant and interesting people. Our world is on the cusp of powerful socio-economic changes, which are rocking the boat everywhere; learning that change is the only constant is probably one of the most important things the new generation needs to learn in order to successfully navigate and flourish in this tricky, uncertain world.

A morning in Ranakpur

Itchy Feet, as the name suggests, is a travel blog. I came across it a few months ago, while I was looking for information on weekend getaways from Bangalore. I soon fell in love with the blog – all thanks to the author Charukesi’s evocative writing, her beautiful pictures, her passion for travelling, her zest for life, and the fact that she seemed to be a fellow foodie. I started reading her blog regularly, and we soon began interacting on e-mail and chats. Charukesi is a seasoned traveller who has stories to share from around the world, with her travel articles published in several newspapers and magazines – an inspiration to beginner travellers like me.

In time, I invited her to write a guest post for my blog, and she gracefully agreed. She chose to write about her visit to the temple at Ranakpur, Udaipur.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you….Charukesi of Itchy Feet! 🙂

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A morning in Ranakpur

A couple of years ago, I was in Udaipur during winter, staying with an extremely warm and friendly family at their homestay. My host was perplexed when I wanted to see the Ranakpur temple, and suggested other “sightseeing” options around the area, and if I must see temples, then why not these and those Hindu temples? But I had seen photographs, and was sure Ranakpur was what I wanted to see.

I started early one morning, hoping to come back before the day got too hot. The town of Ranakpur is 95 km far from Udaipur, a couple of hours by car. The temple façade itself is beautiful, and I was not expecting to see the grand and imposing structure that I saw. I read later that the Ranakpur temple is the best of the Jain temples in Rajasthan (and the country, I guess), even grander than the Dilwara temples at Mt. Abu, although not as famous. That is good in a way, I suppose, since it keeps the loud weekend vacationing crowds away.

Now, guidebooks say that the temple opens at 7 AM, but I knew only after reaching there that entry for non-Jains was only after 12 noon, after the morning’s pooja and ceremonies were over. I had, thus, over three hours to kill, and spent some time wandering around the complex. There are a couple of other small shrines inside the complex that you can visit; if I remember right, Parsavanath, Surya, and some form of Amba. I also chatted with the locals who had come for prayers, as always trying to take candid portraits, making them giggle and blush.

Finally, at noon, I walked inside. The temple interior was stunning. The carvings were lush and intricate, covering every inch of the temple, built in the 15th century with cream-coloured marble that has a slightly golden glow. In the hour or so that I spent inside, I felt like the pillars were changing colour constantly, depending on the amount of light falling on them.

As I stood looking around in awe, a priest saw me and offered to take me around. It seemed like every statue, every pillar, every corner of this temple has its own story, and I found it difficult to keep track of them all. The temple is said to have 24 pillared halls, and a total of over 1,400 pillars supporting the roof. Then, there are the countless statues, each of them facing another statue.

There are a few stay options in the area, including an RTDC resort. It is, however, better to stay in a hotel in Udaipur or Kumbalgarh, since there is nothing else to do in Ranakpur. The temple has a bhojanshala (dining hall), which serves very simple but delicious food that, if I remember right, is free or comes at a nominal cost.

Coming home to Goa

Most of you know HAAthi, the talented cook, who loves to blog about food and life in general. I say cook first because cooking – and food – is such an important part of her life. That comes through from her blog clearly enough.

I have been reading HAAthi for quite some time now. As much as I enjoy her recipes and her food-related posts, I love her other posts, too. She writes posts that are flowing, reflective of her deep thought processes and her belief in living life consciously.

Some time back, I had asked the lovely lady for a guest post, and she kindly obliged. She chose to write about finding ‘home’ in Goa, after a long time in Bangalore, which left her feeling tired and listless. I found the post interesting because it gave me a glimpse into life in Goa, which people usually see as a tourist destination.

So, here’s presenting to you… HAAthi! 🙂

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Coming home to Goa

There are some people who have criss-crossed cities all their lives. Hopping from one place to another, settling in only long enough to find their feet. But the minute even the slightest roots begin to sprout, it’s time to pick up and move. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. And each time they restart life from scratch with perfect ease. Changing cities, like changing clothes. Out with the old, in with the new. Almost seamlessly, almost effortlessly. And they embrace the unfamiliarity with open arms, and have multiple cities to call home.

I am not one of them.For 25 years, I lived in one city alone – Bangalore. At every point that life threw up the opportunity to move, I have almost always chosen to stay. I didn’t move for college. I didn’t even move for a job. I didn’t move for higher studies either. Heck, I didn’t even move for marriage. Bangalore was all I knew. And yet, I no longer think of Bangalore as my home. I cast away the title like an old pair of socks. And slipped into a shiny, bright new pair. The move and the acceptance of it was startlingly easy.

Even as the husband nonchalantly applied for a job in Goa, fine-tuning his resume and getting the words down pat, we chuckled at the absurdity of the situation.

“Who goes to Goa, to work anyway?” we said. But just 6 months later, I realised we were just the kind of people crazy enough to do that.

Packing my life into three bags and 13 boxes, we moved. Before I knew it, I was frantically calling brokers, choosing homes, picking curtains, buying a washing machine and doing everything in my limited capacity to make Goa my home. It’s hard not to, when you find yourself in a place where everything is just so warm, open and welcoming. Three years down, there are still moments when I stop in my tracks and wonder how this came to be. Often people ask us how adapting to a small town has been, coming from the fast-paced life that is Bangalore, and it does make me wonder even more.

What makes a city home? For me it has been an amalgamation of many things, but above all it was the sense of liberation from the chaos that was my life in Bangalore. In Bangalore I was restless, and in Panjim I found a steady pace. I found my feet, dug my heels in, and have since stayed there with a sense of purpose, sense of self, and a feeling of having finally come home.

Coming to Goa was like falling in love with a stranger, at first glance. Knowing nothing about him, but just a mere glance from a distance is enough to turn your knees to jell-o and give you that inexplicable feeling like the air has been sucked out of your stomach. You don’t know him, but you know you love him. Has that ever happened to you?

As a city, Panjim is the diametric opposite of everything that drove me away from Bangalore. After months of commuting through jam-packed streets, the sheer pandemonium that is just getting through life in Bangalore, and the palpable pseudo-race whether on the streets or at work or in social circles that I felt trapped in, in Bangalore, were undone in Goa.

Sometimes I find the worst clichés to be the perfect words to describe a feeling, so pardon me here, but Goa was like a breath of fresh air that welcomed me just the way I hoped it would. Surreal, therapeutic and just everything Bangalore was not. It forced me to be still. It gave me a kind of freedom I would never have known in Bangalore. It has taught me to enjoy and crave solitude. To use my time well. And it has given me a simpler life.

But the real proof that Goa is now where I belong hits home every time I visit Bangalore. Much as I love going back to what was home, being pampered by  parents, spending quality family time, going back to all my favourite restaurants, I realise that that is all really left of the good old Bangalore I knew and loved. And within a couple of days, my heart longs for the peace and quiet of my cocoon in Goa. From the moment I land back and begin the gentle drive homewards from the airport, that sense of calm comes rushing back. My pulse slows down, my head declutters itself, and I feel at ease again.

So, if my equation with Goa began as a baseless infatuation, a love-at-first-sight kind of encounter, then the wonderful three years that have passed here have been nothing short of an amorous love affair. The perfect balance.With just the right amount of give and take, space when you need it, intimacy when you need it. Of sneaking silent kisses in undiscovered alleys. Of whispering sweet nothings on full-moon nights. Of discovering something new about each other every single day, and feeling young, free and alive. Of feeling that flutter in your heart, and the spark that never dies. Complete with the heartache that comes with being separated, even for a few hours.

Bangalore was once the city I belonged to. It was the city that housed me for a quarter of my life. But the ease with which I slipped into life in Panjim, and the beautiful three years that have followed, make me sure that Goa is where I always belonged.

Bangalore is the city I came from, but this right here is home.

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Note: All pictures in this post have been provided by the guest blogger.

Going beyond ‘positive’ nomenclature

The lovely, very sweet, and very talented Kismi Toffee Bar is another blogger I would say I began reading quite recently. Soon enough, I found that she is a great writer, who loves to pen down things that are close to her, in a heart-felt and sensitive manner. The similarities between both of us amazed me, and they still continue to do so. The fact that she helps in the care of patients in her usual cheery, sweet way made me proud to know her.

I had requested her for a guest post some time back, and she obliged happily. She chose to write on something she sees every single day at work and around her, a subject she feels strongly about. I must say, her post made me think a lot too, into dimensions earlier unexplored by me.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you…. Kismi!!

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Going beyond ‘positive’ nomenclature

I write this as a mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, wife, husband, grandmother, grandfather, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend, aunt, uncle, cousin, caretaker, caregiver, helper, teacher…. I write this as someone who feels and values relationships. I write this because it is on my mind every single day. And every single moment, even if subconsciously.

I request you to listen. After all, no matter how much we assure each other that it is his or her life and making any choice is her/his right, someone’s choice in some corner of the world is definitely touching our lives. In some way.

Today, I sat in another meeting. Sat through it all. Like I do every other day. But I am feeling extremely happy. Something about today’s meeting made it different.

I am one of the members of the rehabilitation team in a multi-rehab set-up here. I focus on communication, intellectual and cognitive areas and on swallowing disorders. Because we work with people with a wide range of disabilities, we are a very diverse team of professionals as well. And one of the highlights of any meeting is goal-setting and basically deciding the future for the child/teenager/adult who has the disability.

If you were to look around, you would find happy inspiring posters of children or adults with disability around you. If you read these posters or watch some movies, you will also notice that the term ‘disability’ is avoided or you are advised to avoid using it.  Many opine that disability comes with a ‘negative’ connotation. They would probably not write or say ‘disability’. And hence, you find a variety of terms floating around – differently-abled, special, unique, and so on and so forth. When I was in university until early last year, I liked these terms. They made me happy. They made me feel good. They made me feel hopeful. Now that I work with disabled people independently and see them onsite, I have learnt to comprehend and appreciate their issues with a wider perspective. While it is good to see the optimism and euphemism hovering around our little hearts and mind when we use these terms, I have learnt to agree to disagree.

Aren’t we all differently abled? Don’t we all revel in the fact that we are unique (like the rest)?

We are all differently abled. I take pride in my ability to multi-task. I am pathetic with directions on the road. You may be a great swimmer, but heights may scare you immensely.

Does reality change if you change the name?

No matter what you call the person, the need of the hour is to address her/his needs and desires, to some extent. And I am referring to all of us.

Do perspectives change if you change the name?

Perspectives do not change if you change the name. Perspectives change when there is awareness. When you try to educate someone on the real issue and present and share views in a friendly manner, that’s when perspectives change. Or widen. My best friend calling me a superstar will not make me one. Much as I hope it does. Perspectives also change when your life strongly intertwines with someone who has a disability.

Do health approaches change if we call them differently?

Not at all. An individual with hearing impairment still needs a hearing aid and/or a surgery. Or another line of treatment. It is not like you will encourage his ability to ‘not’ hear.

Are we trying to make them happy by calling them with a nice name?

Why should you use a ‘positive’ terminology to make a person feel good? You are still differentiating her/him anyway. You are basically making two groups – one without different abilities and one with different abilities. Now, that is a confusing situation. Why do we need to look at things, interpret it as a negative aspect, feel bad about it or worse still, sympathetic, and then go on to make up by coining a ‘positive’ name? I will tell you what makes me happy. Your calling me by my name. You may call me as a person with some disability, but I will refuse to be called, a disabled person. There is one big difference. It is always the individual who holds prime importance. She/he is at the zenith. By calling someone a disabled person or, worse still, as just disabled, your prioritization suffers gravely. It means you just chose to put the disability on top of the person. The individual has a disability. A little more than is common, maybe.

There is no need to shy away or be extra nice. Trust me, that would make me extremely uncomfortable if I were in their shoes.

So, because they are differently abled, will you be happy and let them be?

This one of those questions that has so many dimensions to it that finding answers becomes one lifelong journey. No matter what you call them, let us all admit this: We try to make them ‘normal’. I am ashamed to type this, but it is true. One moment we elevate disability to different ability, and then, we want to make them ‘adapt’ and feel ‘as normal as possible’. Or in some cases, give up all hope and just cling onto the euphemism.

Does that mean we leave kids with disabilities to be happy in their world? Does it mean we let the adults seek solace in the existing state of affairs?

No! Though it sounds ideal, it is highly impractical.

Firstly, we all live together, as one society. Secondly, we want their safety, and, sometimes, choosing to let them to be themselves is not safe. Thirdly, let’s admit it, it pains our heart to see them unattended to. Fourthly, every child/adult has something to say, and it is human to listen and respond.

However, enabling them to live with us cannot be single-sided. We need to constantly questions ourselves – “So, what can we do?”

I ask this because we are so focussed on getting them to acquire motor skills, communication skills, resolve weight issues, address that respiratory issue, modify that nasogastric feeding, repair that palatal cleft, improve that failing long-term memory, increase their reading ability, help them achieve the tripod grasp and then worry about a vocational attachment. Where in between all this do we all think of how we can modify our lives so that entering our lives becomes easier for them?

I speak for all of us. There are parents who have modifications in place at home for their differently abled children and teachers who help address education for such children in powerful ways. However, unfortunately, this is a small number that stands meekly, camouflaged by the huge number that corresponds to people who do not step back and think of how they can change their lifestyle a bit.

How many of the buildings around us have that much-needed ramp? Are the elevators working? Are the buttons way too high up, making them inaccessible for a person on a wheelchair? Are the toilets friendly to differently abled people? Does the public bus have a ramp leading into it? Is there sufficient space for the wheelchair to park? How many websites are friendly to persons with visual impairments? Are the taxis flashing their status in red and green only? Do all schools know of the aids available to help children with learning disability and help them excel before branding them and sending them off to ‘special’ schools? Are employment policies disability-friendly and not just limited to quota? Did you ever wonder how you could manipulate and make changes to that pencil so that a differently abled child can hold it better? Did you ever think of drawing lines on the notebook or answer script to aid his visual tracking? Are the benches in class placed in such a way that everyone can hear the teacher well? Is the teacher standing on a raised platform so that a child with hearing impairment can see her lips move?

All these are not very easy issues to handle. There will not be ideal solutions for many of these. What I am trying to emphasize is that accessibility issues have ample room for improvement. Sometimes, we overlook simple issues, but focus on developing new skills. There is a strong need for the entire process to be bi-directional.

A couple of weeks back, I met parents who had spent years and thousands of dollars trying to teach speech to their child, who is now a teenager. I asked them why they did not introduce signs or communication through pictures. They just shrugged off and said “Ah, well, others won’t understand what she expresses.” Why is our environment encouraging disability instead of enabling everyone?

Coming to today’s meeting. After innumerable meetings on how we can help children/adults with disability, today was the first time we discussed as to how we can help ourselves understand them better and make life easier for them. Ramps, wheelchairs, big signages, colours that are friendly for those with visual impairments are things you know of but, by no means, common. Not to the extent that they ought to be across the world.

Today, one of the potential employers ( of a multinational company) for students with intellectual disability, decided to put in place some small but wonderful measures to make the environment (definitely people included) friendly for all. I have this huge grin on my face now.

I can breathe a bit easy. I feel like I shouted my happiness out to the big, big world.

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A note from Kismi:

 A big thanks to TGND for having me here. I know how much I have procrastinated through drafts, but she has been an absolutely wonderful person by being so understanding and sharing her special space with me. Being a huge fan of her blog that is a medium for her to speak her heart out, I did not want to do anything less. This is one of my constant thoughts, and I don’t think I can write that clearly enough. TGND, thanks so much, and sorry for such a long post! 🙂

Music that divided, yet united

I began reading Jas’s blog quite recently. I love the topics that she writes about, ranging from funny and everyday to serious and political matters. I love the way she puts her thoughts forth in simple and clear terms, in easily understandable posts. It has always been a pleasure to read her, and share ideas and thoughts with her.

Some time back, I asked Jas if she would like to do a guest post on my blog, and she gracefully agreed. I had a finished post sitting in my e-mail pretty soon – about a very interesting observation: how music can divide and yet unite. Thank you so much for this, Jas. 🙂

Without holding the mike any longer, here’s presenting the guest post to you, guys and gals.

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Music has always rated high in my list of leisure sojourns. A pair of headphones and my mobile are enough to invigorate the dullest of my days. The world around me moves in slow jazz; the only thing I can hear at times is the guitar in the background rather than what my son is demanding with flailing arms. Music merges the boundaries – that’s what they say.

I am surprised, though, why I have never attended any concerts. Maybe it is the calm that comes with music that I like and not the huff and puff that one usually encounters at concerts. However, last Saturday was different.  While I was nursing my broken back (an old injury beckoned me), the rope of spoiling the weekend fun was strangling me slowly. Hubby was sitting close, reading the newspaper, when he casually mentioned the jazz festival at a stone’s throw from our house. The location in question is an amphitheatre inside a humungous mall, with ample space to sit, without any pushing and shoving. What’s more, it is beautifully surrounded by a sidewalk and is full of places for fine-dining as well as quick eating. I bounced back to life hearing that, but not without a painful shriek, thanks to the sudden jerk to my already bereaving back.

“Let’s go,” I said with shining eyes and pursed lips. After all, who gets to hear international jazz musicians just around the corner? Free entry and a place full of wonderful eating-out options were the key instigators, in case you thought that I am a curly-nosed jazz fanatic.

Hubby’s conked-out expression called for me to explain it further. “I will manage,” I reassuringly said, adding, “That’s better than eating your head and you suffering my bad jokes, right?” He liked the latter part, and we zoomed off to the mall in question.

Apart from the soulful music, I enjoyed the people watching at the concert venue. It was the perfect place to see so many varieties of people. The place was beaming, and it was not just youngsters who had dropped in to the amphitheatre to dance along. There was a whole generation of stiff upper lips and raised eyebrows who looked at your crying child as if you have committed a sin bringing him to an up-class musical do.  What I found most annoying was that the same bespectacled people, in their stiffly ironed and neatly folded clothes, who pretended that they understood jazz, were unable to give a thundering applause when the artists belted out one wonderful piece after the other. Their hands were glued to their armpits.  It was the youngsters, whom people mostly say don’t understand the ethics and sanctity of places, were the ones going all out with arms in the air, clapping and cheering to make the artists feel worth playing. Jazz – now, who says one needs to understand the type of music to appreciate it?

When the men on stage broke into an impromptu gig, the whole amphitheatre took notice and, perhaps, the passersby too. At that point, the lead pianist, who was actually the star of that evening, let the percussionist take all the limelight while just providing enough support with the right chords. The percussionist then handed the baton to the guitarist with thundering beats and then on to the vocalist – the atmosphere then had the synergy to transport you into a world free of dominions and umbrage. Applause and smiles broke out every which where.

I realised then that the air, the power, of music to lead you into a different world and the connection that you feel with the people around you, whether you know them or not. It does merge the boundaries – I know now why they say that.

The singer, the nurse and the brick

I am sure Amit of Mashed Musings needs no introduction here. He calls himself a movie buff, a book lover and a male feminist, and his posts reflect these aspects. He is an awesome writer to boot. He writes about subjects of such intensity in a humorous tone, but in a way that never fails to make you think.

I was introduced to Amit’s blog by R’s Mom, and I was hooked to it from the first post that I read.

I am very happy to present to you the guest post that Amit has so kindly written for my blog. Without further ado, here you go….

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Image Courtesy: Here

Living in apartments is an experience in itself. You are like a chimpanzee in a zoo. You know what happens in the next cage. You know why the lion (Mr. Chawla) is sulking because the lioness (Mrs. Chawla) roared at him in the morning. You know when the family of baboons living downstairs have again littered the stairway. You know when the eagle (Mrs Juneja) is keeping an eye on you. But sometimes certain incidents happen when you seriously start believing that a zoo might be a better place to live, when the mere thought of living with humans is like a stone on your heart.

The Singer

The singer lived in the ground floor flat. He was actually a property dealer but considered himself to be the reincarnation of Mohammad Rafi. He lived with his wife and a son and they seemed like a pretty decent family. The wife was a nurse. When they moved in, she was pregnant and soon gave birth to twins, the most beautiful girl and a handsome boy. They were like two beautiful dolls.

The singer was a specimen for whom God could be dethroned by passing a no confidence motion. He would bore his customers with his songs which he would play with a harmonium kept in his office. Somehow his customers were as bad specimens as him and would appreciate him. Soon he had a mike and loudspeaker installed in his office and would practice at night. The whole colony would stay awake listening to distortions of old songs. The singer was so happy that the colony appreciated his vocal capabilities because no one complained. You see, we were very polite people.

Soon his mentor started appearing at night and they would have a harmonium and taanpura duet. Over the loudspeaker. His basic criteria for hiring a servant was that the guy should know how to sing. Soon we had a whole brigade of singers entertaining us as we switched off the lights and prepared to sleep.

His elder son was a good singer too. His wife was a good nurse and had night shifts because she was a smart lady. And where was I during this daily concert, you may ask? Well, I slept right above his temple of music. Unfortunately, my family possessed an apartment above his. Dad started keeping a long iron rod in the bedroom and when the going got tough at nights, he would bang the rod on the floor three time, just like Gandalf smacking his staff on the ground for some magic. The sound would turn full-blown group songs into murmurs.

I was in 6th grade at that time, and this went on for two years. Studies were getting tough and it was hard to concentrate with someone singing Raag Deepak with a twanging taanpura over a loudspeaker. My parents were frustrated.

The Nurse

I had never seen the singer and his wife as a ‘husband and wife’. They were never together publicly and I had never seen them passing even a smile to each other. The twins were now two years old and were the cutest kids I had ever seen. The singer used to fight with his wife at times. I know this because their bedroom was right below mine. The fights were usually a few heated words and banging of doors.

One night I heard the nurse screaming. My parents were immediately up and had their ears on the ground. Dad contemplated using his iron staff, but was not sure. There were sounds of thuds, slaps and more screaming. Mom and Dad did not want me to hear all this, but there I was, getting my first lessons of life.

The nurse was constantly screaming and cursing her husband.

“That is all you can do, you pathetic loser!” she kept saying as he hit her again and again. the children were crying in the background.

Then we heard a crash, and suddenly, we were a part of the whole fight.

“Sharma ji!!!! Save me please!” the nurse screamed. It took dad a moment to realize that he has been addressed and need to save the damsel in distress.

Mom and dad immediately went downstairs and urged the children to open the door. I was asked to stay in my room, but I was able to listen to everything from the window in my room. My heart was thumping in my chest. Dad held the singer away from the nurse while mom got busy wiping tears off the faces of the kids as she took them in her arms.

Mom told me a few years later about what she saw that day. The nurse was badly bruised when my parents rushed in. Her one eye was swollen and completely shut, her lips were bleeding and her upper lip was swollen. There were bruises on her forehead, back and arms. The singer had hit her with a folding chair when she screamed and called out to dad.

She moved out after a few days with the kids. Thankfully, she had a job. The singer continued to sing on the loudspeaker and entertain us.

The Brick

A few days later, I had my 8th board exams and was studying really hard, trying to filter out the sound of music coming from the ground floor. Mom was very very angry mainly because of what happened to the nurse and because I was not able to study at all. Something snapped inside her. And when mom is angry, you better dig a deep hole in the ground and hide inside it. She picked up this brick lying in our balcony and sent it flying towards the entrance of the singer’s shop. It crashed and broke into two, which lead to the notes coming out of the harmonium freezing in mid-air. The singer came out and looked at mom.

“It could have landed on someone’s head,” he said.

“It didn’t,” mom said and came inside.

Somehow, he mellowed down after this incident, and the loudspeaker was removed. The singing completely stopped in a few weeks.

I never saw the nurse again. I saw her kids a few years back. There faces were how the faces of kids are supposed to be. They were saved at the right time, or were they?

That was not the last incident of domestic abuse I witnessed as a teenager. A few years later, another family moved into the adjacent apartment – a husband, wife and their two beautiful kids. My parents again saved the wife from flying chairs and wiped tears from the cheeks of crying children. The wife never left because she was not doing a job.

Looking back, these incidences robbed me of my innocence. I was not supposed to have had these experiences. I shudder to think about the children who actually saw their father mercilessly beat up their mother. As they grow up, will they be capable of love or of an emotional attachment of any kind?

Yes, a zoo might have been better. I don’t think animals are capable of doing what I saw humans doing to each other.

Guest Post: Melanie Bowen

Melanie Bowen is an awareness advocate for natural health and holistic therapies for cancer patients. You will often find her highlighting the great benefits of different nutritional, emotional, and physical treatments on those with illness in her efforts to increase attentiveness and responsiveness on like topics. Here, she will be writing about the benefits of tracking your thoughts and goals—thoughts are merely thoughts but writing is the first step to taking action, organizing oneself and being proactive.

The fragile and fleeting nature of life is what, in large part, makes visible its beauty.  The time that every individual has is worth cherishing. Learning how to set goals that truly mean something to you is vital to finding purpose and enjoyment in your days.  Creating blogs that chronicle your journey through your most trying years will enable you to persevere in your efforts to make the most of you, in spite of the troubles that come rolling your way.

The secret to living a fulfilling life is learning how to remain positive throughout negative experiences.  Creating a blog that allows you to work your way through tough places  will help you to find a positive mindset that will enable you to foster your dreams most effectively.  People who have successfully mastered this skill are able to courageously forge on, in spite of any negative prognosis they receive.  Whether dealing with the loss of a loved one, have forms of financial stress, or learning to live with a major illness such as mesothelioma, individuals must maintain the need and discover how to keep their minds and hearts focused on the positive aspects of life.  This mindset allows them to proceed with determined action towards accomplishing their personal goals in spite of the obstacles that lie in the way.

Refresh Your Mind And Help Others

Much like journal-keeping, blogging enables people to unload their fears and share their thoughts.  Without a doubt, hardship has the ability to transform the mind and as people weather their personal storms in life, they can share the inevitable growth that occurs with others like themselves through their blog entries.  A single, heartfelt blog entry can dramatically alter another individual’s life and so in many ways, blogging is also cathartic in that reminds people that they are still invaluable additions to the world as a whole; able to contribute to it and improve upon it.

Staying The Course

Not everyone is able to remain uplifted everyday, regardless of diligent efforts to stay positive and to view the proverbial cup as being at least half full.  Life is never without its ups and downs.  A comprehensive cache of blog entries can remind you about the journey that you have taken and the accomplishments that remain important to you.  It is generally the case that staying the course becomes easiest when people use their own records of their personal journeys as their continual personal guides.  Goal setting through blogs is one of the best ways to continually reassess your priorities in life and make certain that you are taking the right steps for fulfilling your life dreams.   Accomplishing the things that matter to you most is the easiest path towards a healthy and fulfilling life and one that will be richly rewarding.