The Freedom to Write. Responsibly.

Responsibility is the price of freedom” – Elbert Hubbard

People demand freedom of speech as compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use” – Soren Kierkgaard

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes” – Mahatma Gandhi

As I celebrate India’s 67th Independence Day, I am amazed at the freedom kids and adults have, to speak what is on their minds. And text, tweet and email it. Even before a thought appears on their tongue, it seems to have appeared in their social media accounts.

So when engagements get broken and friendships take a back seat due to free speech, what is our responsibility as a free society that gets to gab all we want, online and offline? Can we say the first thing that comes to our mind? Or should we think through, calculate the pros and cons and then message it out? Sure, some thoughts don’t need any filter (“Good morning! How are you?”), but what about the ones that hurt, assume, implicate, exploit or anger?

Hmm, tough one, isn’t it? How do we know what will cause negative emotions, and what will not? How do I know if a simple message like “these politicians are morons” will not cause a state-wide bandh and an arrest? How do I know if what I sincerely feel does not set off a ticking bomb? Does this mean I do not voice my angst and my anguish? Does this mean I keep quiet when injustice happens? How else can I share and support the good things happening around me?

Questions are endless. So probably are the answers. The only person who can answer this honestly is you. The freedom to write brings with it the bondage of responsibility. We are accountable for what we write, and every word we write has to be weighed against facts and common sense.

Write every word as if it reflects your integrity. Therein is the true freedom of expression. And probably why great men’s words continue to be spoken time and again.

Wishing you all a year filled with love, freedom and mistakes! And the floor is now open for responsible discussions!!!

 

 

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The “Call It As I See It” content marketing update Google must adopt. Now.

Alternate title for SEO:  “Rants from a content marketer about content marketing”

Cartoon from andertoons.com

It was bound to happen. Content marketers (the good ones, that is) spent time and money creating quality content while content farms went laughing all the way to the bank. Then came Google (hero/villain depending on which side of the SEO fence you are in) and turned these content farms out of the playpen. All is well with content marketing.

But Google’s work is not done. Panda, Penguin and other wild animal updates have not touched the real issue in content marketing today. To cut a long rant short, is it just me, or are content marketers looking to make things as complex as possible? Have we ended up creating a hyper- demand for content, and thus become the victim of our own scam? Are we creating content for the sake of creating it?

So here is my update to content marketing that I insist everyone (including Google) need to adopt. Immediately. Presenting the “Call it as I see it” update. Drum rolls please…..

  • Content will no longer be classified as tweet, FB update, LI status, blog, case study etc. All content will be classified based on the purpose – to hoodwink, to sell, or to bore you to death.
  • If content is not original – that is, not rewritten from at least 3-5 different “expert” sources – please call it rehashed.
  • If content is really original and relevant, and cannot be copied, lifted, rehashed, or plagiarized, don’t bother. We marketers see no use for it. Go write a book. And win the Booker.
  • Move over Google. Bing and Yahoo too. We are tired of you dictating what we see. I want a new search engine that brings me only 1 result – exact answer to what I asked. If I ask “When is the next full moon day in January 2013”, why in heaven’s name do I need to see 350,86,456 results in .00002 seconds? Just give me the frigging date for God’s sake.
  • And no, when I ask this question, I DO NOT want to see ads to “Orgy at Newcastle on Full Moon day”. Nor do I want to see “How to create a new full moon?”, “Tired of the current full moon and want a change?” and a list of news, information, images, and events related to full moon. I know I am stretching here, but you get the point, don’t you?

What say, mate?

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The trials and tribulations of working from home

Work from home? Easier said than done. No matter how many smartphones, ipads, laptops, and wifi you arm yourself with, nothing can make working from home easy. That’s because we forget a small factor called “Life”.

Think I am exaggerating? Hmmm, methinks an illustration is in order.

9:30 AM: The Palak lady – Spend 10 minutes searching for 18 Rs – she needs exact change, and since neither my cook nor the maid has any, they invite me into this. At this point, since my laptop is starting up, I don’t mind the invite.

10:15 AM: Caretaker – to give receipt for the check I had written that morning. Ordinarily he does not ask for me, but the receipt is incorrectly worded, and he wanted to check if that is okay. I say, fine. And then spend 5 minutes chatting on the issue of finding good gardeners and security guards and iron men. (of the ironing kind, not the WWE)

10:20 AM: Call from courier service asking for the exact location of my house. Spent 7 minutes describing the location from every possible direction, since he was not sure where he was going to come from. Sigh!

11 AM: Call from my daughter’s school: Report card is posted online, please check before coming for Parent Teacher meeting on Friday. Additional appeal for donations for the local musical that the students are planning in January. I try, very ineffectively, to prevent my cash outflow, but end up promising to to do “something”.

11:AM to 11:15 AM: Rushed online to look at my daughter’s report card. Could not log in initially, and once I did log in, the report card was not updated. Sent an email reporting the problem.

12:30 PM: The caretaker again: He had corrected the receipt (even though I had assured him that the earlier one was fine) and wanted the other one back. I had already balled it up and thrown it in the trash can, so had to retrieve it, dust it, smoothen it and give it back.

1:30 PM: I call my cook, tell her to tell anyone else who calls or rings the bell that “I am not there”

2:30 PM: My daughters rush in, one excited as I was working from home, the other equally disappointed since she cannot watch “Grey’s Anatomy” on Star World. After explaining in minute detail of their escapades at school, they rush off for their lunch and bath. Time to really get my work done.

3:30 PM: The cook rings my room bell from downstairs, and when I come out of my room, she asks loudly – “Madam are you there or not? The courier man is here.”

I switch off my laptop, sign the courier receipt, join my kids for lunch, and launch into their homework, table tennis, yoga, and music lessons the rest of the day.

Please do keep in mind that the above schedule is in addition to the multiple bathroom breaks (I am a firm believer of the “2 liters of water a day” school), snack and chai breaks, and stretching my legs in front of the TV. Also do keep in mind that not all days are like these. There are worse.

Still think I should work from home? Hold on, there’s the door bell. I’ll be right back. But don’t hold your breath.

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Lessons from my flower seller’s daughter-in-law

When the bell rang at 6:15 am on Monday morning, I sighed. It was my flower seller again. At least her daughter-in-law. She has been ringing the bell at that ungodly hour for the last 3 days with one excuse or the other – which flower do you want, when am I going to get paid, you forgot to keep the puja plate for the flowers. I desperately wished for her mother-in-law to come back from her vacation soon. She never bothered me about such details, and accepted money whenever I paid, without even checking the account book I maintain.

As I held my temper and opened the door, she stood in front of me with the usual jasmine flowers. She dimpled and asked, “Do you want a couple of lotuses also for your Krishna?”

The surest way to my heart is to talk about Krishna, and here she was offering lotuses. Ignoring the possibility of my kids missing the bus and going without their hot lunch boxes, I smiled and extended my hands greedily.

I showed her my new Krishna idol I had purchased just the week ago from Guruvayur, and then asked her if she sells in that temple town. (Her husband buys flowers in bulk from Coimbatore and sells to nearly most of the well-known temples in and around Kochi). She said she would love to, but she does not have the time.

I asked her how she could not have time when she finishes her door-to-door selling by 9 AM. Her schedule for the rest of the day shocked me into sitting down on the doorstep. She wakes up at 4 AM, starts her door-to-door selling from 5 am, wraps it up by 9, then boards the inter-city train to Coimbatore at 10 AM. Reaches there by 2 PM or so, then starts buying up flowers, loads them into an auto, and reaches the station by 6 PM or so.  Boards a return train to Kochi to let herself into her home close to midnight.

Why do you work so hard, I asked. What about your children? Don’t they help out? Her first daughter is doing her final year (Bachelor of Science) and wants to go on and do her B. Ed. and get a lecturer job in a good college. Her second daughter is doing her second year Engineering, and her youngest (a son) is doing a Diploma in Engineering. “I do not want them to work the way we do. I am doing all this for them.”

By now my second daughter was reminding me about lunch boxes and I hastily thanked her for the flowers. She smiled back and went her way.

I have not stopped thinking about my flower-seller’s daughter-in-law since then. Sincerity, hard work, love for her children – these were the easier lessons she could teach me. But her attitude (no expectations of anything in return from them) and her sense of duty and responsibility?

It put to shame my daily grumblings. It exposed my ignorance of a “real day’s work” in the real world. It touched me in a way no status update, tweet, or email from my friends or family could.  It taught me that life’s real lessons will hit me when I least expect it. I wonder how many of these real lessons have passed me by as I huff and puff my way through a day’s work in my world-class office inside an IT park in urban India?

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If you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man

Warning: This blog is part of my ‘Rant and Rave’ category and contains sarcasm, disappointment, anger, hurt to my ego, and sheer frustration in huge doses. Not to be read by idealists, optimists, and all those human beings who have never called a toll free number to complain to a ‘Customer Care’ (ha!) representative.

I sincerely hope this experience never happens to the worst of my enemies – the Communist Party of India included. Here goes..

Act 1, Scene 1 – March 23

It is more than 16 months since I forked over Rs 12000 towards a 2 year preventative maintenance contract to Electrolux authorized dealer in Kochi. Since the engineer’s phone on the contract was “not reachable”, I decided to call the 1800 number on the back of the contract.

Shock 1: The authorized dealer no longer deals with Electrolux products – so they gave me a new 1800 number.

Shock 2: The 1800 number did not make me wait more than 2 minutes. I was promised a service visit within 48 hours

Act 1, Scene 2 – March 24

I called and was politely told 48 hours not over. What was I thinking!

Act 1, Scene 3 – March 29

I was told that my problem has been escalated to the next level and prompt response will be forthcoming from the Electrolux customer care team.

Act 1, Scene 4 – March 30

Now I was fuming, and my voice indicated clear anger at being ignored. This time I insisted on speaking to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has left the office”. The time – 6 PM

Act 1, Scene 5 – March 31

Spoke to the local authorized dealer who mentioned that they will come without fail on April 2 to service all 3 air conditioners. Called Electrolux customer care – and asked to speak to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has not come in”. The time – 11 AM. Can I get a job as supervisor at Electrolux Customer care?

Act 1, Scene 6 – April 2

Waited all day for the local dealer to send his technician. Called Electrolux customer care and asked to speak to Supervisor. Finally spoke to him and he assured that the technician will visit. Called local dealer, and she mentioned that the technician is on his way

Act 1, Scene 7 – April 4

Called Electrolux local dealer and she apologized for the no-show – apparently both her technicians were involved in an accident. (Why am I not surprised?)

But the biggest shock was when I called Electrolux Customer care (1800 number) and they said my ticket was closed. Apparently the technician came to my house and did not find any Electrolux air conditioners.

By then I had only one hour to get to the airport for my vacation. Decided to let go. For the moment.

Act 2 – Scene 1 – April 12

Electrolux customer care and local dealer – but ‘Madam did not pick up her phone. We tried calling numerous times.’ This was after I had specifically told them that I would be out of the country and will be back only on the 11th.

Act 2 – Scene 2 – April 14

Spoke to the supervisor at Electrolux customer care and was promised that the technician would come next day. Since next day was a state holiday in Kerala, I asked if he was sure. He swore on his mother.

Act 2 – Scene 3 – April 16

No technician. No supervisor. The 1800 number no longer working. I called back on the number stored in my cell phone (long distance/STD) and was now told that this was the new number.

By now, my husband was tired of hearing me whine and complain about the lack of care in Electrolux customer care. He called the number, spoke in this dead calm voice that my kids recognize as the ‘calm before daddy dances his Shiva Thandavam dance voice’. I nodded off to sleep, but when I woke up an hour later, he had received a call from the supervisor’s supervisor, who again promised him the heaven. Or at least repair of our air conditioners.

As I watched in disbelief, 4 days later (after 3 more phone calls to the local dealer), the technician actually arrived, cleaned,repaired and left.

What can I say? Except, if you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man.

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The best car for Kerala roads filled with potholes

I have been shopping around for the best car to buy. But before you recommend the Ford Figo or Volkswagen’s Jetta,  you need to know what I expect from my new car.

I have analyzed and categorized, and come up with 3 things my new car has to do, before I will even consider taking it out for a test drive. Here goes –

  1. My car should have the ability to fly over potholes – Anyone who has lived in Kerala knows that there are only 2 seasons in this State – rainy season and pothole season. The rainy season covers a period of 6 months, and the pothole season the rest of the 12 months. Yup, I know the months do not add up or make sense, but neither do the potholes…. So I need a car that can literally rise above crappy roads (and crappier politicians and road contractors) and fly over the potholes.
    1. If you think I am making a big fuss about such small holes, read the following statistic that I carefully made up – 89% of cars undergo an emotional trauma when heaving in and out of a pothole. The other 11% become so emotionally distraught that they have to be carted away by ambulances.
  2. Not only should my car fly over a pothole, it should also scan it from a distance, gauge its height, width and girth, and then smoothly take off without jerky or abrupt movements. And to facilitate that, I have already categorized the 4 potholes it is likely to encounter on Kerala roads.
    1. Pothole 1 aka Babies – These include potholes which are slowly emerging from the freshly tarred roads due to rain. The cracks are just beginning to appear, the stones are slowly getting scattered, and the hole can barely be felt by the car.
    2. Pothole 2 aka Teens – These potholes are a menace to cars. Wider than 1 meter, and deeper than 1 feet, these potholes surface unexpectedly on an otherwise smooth road. You and your family are coasting along, and this “Teen” pothole jolts you back to reality. And spills hot coffee and your mother’s “kaya varathathu” all over your lap
    3. Pothole 3 aka Grandpa – These potholes have hidden depths to them. You think it is only a 2 feet deep pothole, but when you fall neck-deep (okay, car roof deep), you realize these dangerous potholes are best avoided. (Or if you have my car, best hovered over). These potholes cover 3/4th of the road, and if you pay close attention, you may be able to avoid these crabby, mean-toothed holes.
    4. Pothole 4 aka Corpse – The mother of all holes, you can actually bury a corpse in these holes.  At least 6 feet deep, 10 feet wide, these potholes are spread across the width of the road and no amount of manuevering will help you avoid it. Your only option is to slowly slip into it and get it over with.
  3. Finally, my perfect car for Kerala roads should be environment friendly. As it hovers over the potholes, it should at least water the plants and trees that the thoughtful citizens (or “too -sozzled-for-words” drunkards) have planted in these holes to warn approaching traffic. It is the least I can do for the environment as I drive into my garage in an emotionally healthy car.

So if you know a car that will do all of the above, please send me an email immediately. Until then I am going to wince every time the Benz jumps into a pothole. And it is not even mine…..

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Are we running for our life?

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.  ~Leon Eldred

Yesterday, September 26, was World Heart Day. I decided to do my bit by taking part in the Kochi Marathon.  Since I am fond of living, I decided to stick to the safe 4 Km run instead of the main event – the 21 km mini-marathon.

Though I registered early, I was still worried about how well the run would be organized. If Delhi can goof up, why not my small home-town Kochi? So I got up well ahead of time, stretched my sleepy muscles and headed for the grounds by 6:30 AM on sunday morning. An amazing feat considering that the last time I woke up this early on a Sunday was when my 12-year-old was a colicky infant…

I was in for a very pleasant surprise though. When I walked in, there were millions, sorry thousands, sorry hundreds of energetic men and women ready to do their bit for their Heart. What was even more surprising was that the event started on time.

The first batch to be flagged off were the mini-marathoners – fit athletes, mostly cadets from the Southern Naval Command. Ladies, sight for sore eyes indeed! If nothing else, waking up early was worth it for this breath-taking view alone!

Ahem. Moving on, I found out that individual women were clubbed with senior citizens and children under 15. While my friend was grumbling about this “ranking” I was grateful since it meant I would not be the last one at the finish line. But let me tell you this, I was no match (not even close) for the bubbly children and the even bubblier and competitive senior citizens who almost crushed me in their haste to get going. 

Imagine my horror as I found out that the ambulance (crawling at snail’s pace) was always right behind me. To heck with cramps – I picked up my pace and started leaving the ambulance behind when this senior citizen bounded past me. Adding insult to injury, he turned and waved to me and said, “Come on, buck up!”

I drew satisfaction from the fact that at least my 79-year old dad was way behind me. Ha, that should teach him for making fun of my walking habits all these years. (He walks 5-6 kms everyday from 5 AM to 6 AM. Without fail. Ever since I can remember).

The last stretch was over this beautiful, old drawbridge (Venduruthy Bridge) that connects mainland Kochi to the Wellingdon Island and the Southern Naval Command center. I have gone on this bridge thousands of times, but this was the first time I was running (well, crawling!) over it. As the sun rose on another beautiful day, construction workers banged on the new train track coming over the bridge, the fishermen were  returning from the sea after their early morning fishing session, and the world looked beautiful. I completely stopped in awe when I saw this white-beaked eagle swoop down to the waters and carry away a wriggling, pink fish. This is what they mean by poetry in motion.

I waddled in through the finish line exactly 7 minutes before my dad (who had his quadruple by-pass surgery 4 years ago) sauntered in. I nearly had my first heart attack! While he chatted with his friends and exchanged time/duration/speed statistics, I ran towards the snack counter and downed a couple of gallons of lemonade. Luckily for me, everyone else seemed to prefer water!

As I said goodbye to my fellow-runners, we promised to do more for our hearts. And our health. A retired teacher (who ran the 4 kms) dropped us back to the grounds so my dad and I could pick up our cars. As I waved good bye to my dad and limped back to my car, I prayed for everyone to have a healthier and a nicer heart in the coming years.

So what did I learn from the race yesterday? Apart from the fact that you can never underestimate a senior citizen’s zest for life? Apart from the fact that there is something about being with a group of like-minded that energizes you instantly?

As I watched the laborers race to catch the bus so they could reach their work place (on a Sunday), this is what I learnt. While I am one of the lucky few who gets to run for their hearts, there are still millions out there in this world who HAVE TO RUN (or fly or swim) for their lives. My measly 4 km walk is dedicated to their health.

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Stop all these meaningless surveys about Facebook

Yesterday I blogged about the meaningless surveys produced by companies all over the world that adds no value to our life.  I decided to replace those meaningless surveys and conducted one of mine instead. I surveyed the one person whose opinion is of paramount importance to me. Me.

Want to know more? Read the complete blog at our Content Crossroads Blog and let me know what you think.

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With all due respect Prof. Hawking, you are plumb wrong!

“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something,” Prof. Stephen Hawking asserts.

He adds: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

With all due respect Mr. Hawking, you are plumb wrong! And here is why…

Mr. Hawking claims the Universe was created from nothing. From total chaos. And God did not have a hand in this random and totally unplanned creation.

Hmm, I think not. Out of chaos and nothing? Totally random and unplanned? While this could be true of politicians, religious fanatics and rock bands, I sincerely think he is losing it by applying this theory to the creation of the Universe. And if you agree with him, then please tell me how the following were created out of gravity and nothing?

  • Over 10,000 known species of birds
  • Over 30 million insects
  • Over 4 billion people of whom it is said no more than 7 people may look alike
  • Over 100,000 known varieties of trees
  • Over 250,000 known varieties of flowers

And my biggest counter to his claim – newborn babies! How in the world can you create newborn babies, such cute, shriveled, perfect human beings out of chaos and nothing?

 One of my daughter’s favorite books that we must have read over a zillion times (and I am not exaggerating) is “Pa Grape’s Shapes” by Phil Vischer, one of the many in the Veggie Tales series. I still get drawn in by the opening lines –

“This is Pa Grape. He loves the outdoors! He loves what God made – the mountains and the shores!

He’d like to go visit the stuff he admires. But look! His old car doesn’t have any tires”

Now imagine if all of you buy into Prof. Hawking’s theory and starting tomorrow we replace all these books with the “truth”. Read the new version –

“This is Pa Grape. He loves the outdoors! He loves what gravity, nothing and chaos made – the mountains and the shores!

Does not read as well, does it? And even if (yes, a BIG IF) he turns out to be correct in a million years from now, is there any reason why we have to remove the mystery and romance of God from our life and subject it to such dry philosophy? Mankind has always believed in so many lies – that sportsmen always play fair, that politicians dedicate themselves to serve the country, that parents know all, that children will take care of their parents when they are old….

Why can’t we add one more lie to this – that God is somewhere out there watching over us? That He will protect his lazy and atheistic children, no matter what? That no matter what this big, bad world throws our way, He is always on our side? Why not, Prof. Hawking?

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