Wisdom, by Sheryl Sandberg

I remember reading a beautiful piece by a woman I admire very much – Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, written shortly after the sudden death of her husband Dave, on coping with the death of her spouse.

In her article, she mentions about an incident after Dave’s death where she had to come up with a back-up option to fill in for her late husband, at an activity at her children’s school. Telling a friend how she didn’t want ‘Option B’, her friend, in an attempt to comfort her, put an arm around her and said “Well, since option A isn’t available, let’s just kick the hell out of Option B’

And like it hopefully inspired Sheryl, this statement also sent a light-bulb in my head.

This happens so many times – to me, you, in our personal and professional lives. We have our heart set on one thing – our BIG plan. We do everything in our abilities for it. We dream of achieving it , of conquering something we very much coveted. And then something happens, and it all comes crashing down.

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Alternatively, it could also be that it was something you always had, but never thought you would lose – a tangible object, a person, anything. And then one day, it all gets taken away from you.

Yes it was unfair. It shouldn’t have happened. But that is when you realize one of the harshest truths of life – that life as a whole, is unfair. And then you have to make a choice – either to give in to the pain of the loss, or pick yourself up, put yourself together, and move forward.

Undoubtedly, and more often than not, it’s natural to give in the first choice, mostly because the pain of loss is often greater than the optimism of what the future holds. And there are multiple ways of how people choose to express themselves. Some cry. Some crib, and complain. Some get frustrated. And there are some who let the pain consume them, physically and emotionally.

But there are some, who despite the the loss, choose not to let themselves get destroyed in the aftermath. They know that it will never be the same again, but they also know that life, despite it’s complexities, hardships and struggles, goes on. And that it is in these very phases that, you will need to pull out strength from your innermost self, but it is that very strength that will help you find happiness again.

And that what’s make them survivors, heroes and inspirational figures, for anyone who’s survived a storm will tell you, that moments and incidents like these are an ultimate test of your patience, courage and tenacity.

This reminds me of a quotation from Rudyard Kipling’s “If you meet Triumph and Disaster, and treat those imposters all the same”, along with something my mother once told me, “Life is a test of your ability to face the sunshine, and the rain, all at once”. Yes, it takes a lot, in the phase of grief, pain and loss to pick up the pieces and smile. But that’s where you need to make a choice – Would you like to spend the rest of your days lamenting the loss of option A, or would you rather pick up option B, and kick the blood shit out of it?

Do I have an answer? I think I do!

(This piece of writing is dedicated to Sheryl Sandberg, someone I have admired ever since I read ‘Lean In’. Her spirit, courage and never-say-die attitude never, ever fails to inspire me.)

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She Thought, and so she did.

She was a rebel, always had been,

A woman of her own mind, a free spirit,

For within the depths of her heart & soul,

Lay many dreams nurtured & kindled.

She believed she could bring change,

She knew she’d tread her own path

And within the realms of the physical world,

She believed that she’d find her own place.

The world laughed when she told them of her dreams,

Reminded her of her vices,

Discouraged, Exploited, even humiliated her.

But alas, they failed miserably

For within her softness, lay nerves of steel.

Every wall they created, she climbed over

Every glass ceiling they made, she broke away

To them she never spoke a word,

But with all she did, nor could they.

She stood above them all,

An example, an inspiration, a story of all her wins,

And when someone asked her where she found the strength,

She smiled and said ‘It comes from within’.

They’ll come and tell you’ll never do it

They’ll try to break you all apart

But the one thing that always must stay lit, ‘

Is the flame of hope, within the heart.”

An Ode to the Lipstick

For every lady worth her style, there’s an artillery of accessories the fashion world blessed us with, to carry us through the day with aplomb. There’s the shoe, an item that surpassed its mere functional utility decades ago, thanks to the Mr Choos and Mr Blahniks of the world, becoming the I-need-to-have-it-or-Ill-die accessory for every fashionable woman in town. And then there’s the close cousin, the handbag, with women choosing to become social only so that they could flaunt their Vuitton’s & Pradas & Guccis at every ocassion.

And then there’s the lipstick.

There’s a special relationship we women have with these little babies, truly. Whether it’s spending hours, days, even months scouring for the perfect shade, obsessing over why that fiery red that our neighbour wears makes us look tarty instead, feeling like we just won the Olympics when we finally do find the shade we wanted, trying every trick in the book to keep it on throughout the night, and then worrying the evening away about leaving a stain on the glass or his shirt.

I personally remember being besotted, enamored, even obsessed with lipstick for as long as I remember. I have fond memories longingly stare at my mother puckering and pouting when she got ready for a party, and then copying the action as soon as she was gone, my promises to not touch any of her cosmetics forgotten instantly. And when I was finally old enough to buy my first piece of makeup, any guesses what it was?

I have come to the realization that the quest to finding the perfect shade of lippy is an experience in itself. Enter a makeup store, and you’ll feel like you’ve just walked into colour Disneyland. Every shade of red, maroon, pink, orange, nude, and these days you even have black, is broken down into versions enough to make you feel that you’ve almost gone colour blind. The saleswoman convinces me to try just ‘one’ shade, tries five instead, and then advises one. Umm, I couldn’t really notice the difference, you know, they all looked the same to me!  And if lipstick isn’t your thing, there’s the new-age cousin, Gloss. And today you’ve even got scientific make-up miracles in the form of new-age babies that promise you irresistible combinations.  moisturizing feel of lip balm, the colour of lipstick, and the shine of gloss. The make-up industry’s been at work, I see!

Ask me, what is it about the lipstick that makes me partial towards it. I’m not saying that I love my eyeliner, or my blush or my mascara, or any item in my make-up bag for that matter, but there’s a special place for my lipstick, or rather, my lipsticks. For there’s nothing like a dash of my favourite lipstick to act as the perfect pick-me-up. To make me feel that I’m ready to face the world. And were it just me, you could have said I’ve been exaggerating. But centuries and decades of women have testified to lipstick not only being their beauty staple, but also their secret weapon and armour in disguise. Just try imagining  Marilyn Monroe in that flowy white dress without that gorgeous red pout. Or Audrey Hepburn without her rosebuds.

If you ask me, I think what makes make-up so special in my opinion is its versatility, the fact that amongst the endless sea of countless shades, there’s only a few that come across as the ‘perfect fit’. The pleasure of finding the shade that makes your face look a million bucks. And how the shade that you wear will probably never have the same effect on another, for when worn effectively, every lipstick looks different on every lip.

Just writing this article has made me want to go on an inspection of my make-up bag. And my red suddenly looks too red, and my pink looks to too pink. I can do with something in between. Umm,  excuse me, for I’m off to buy, you guessed-it-right, another shade of lipstick!

Travel, or tourism?

I’m a self-confessed travel addict. And equally fortunate to be quite well-travelled for a 24 year old, thanks to my travel-obsessed family and our trips over the years – traveling extensively, both within the country and abroad. And I’ll credit my family for introducing me to the art of what I’ll call ‘eventful travel’, for our style of travel was anything but conventional. From a tiny unheard-of European town to a jungle in Africa, we went all the way when it came to exploring the globe.

Despite this, if you asked me a few years ago – my definition and understanding of the term ‘travel’ would encompass a journey to so
me place on the planet, the idea of being in the place itself and few activities – shopping, sightseeing, adventure sports – depending on the place e visited. Travel meant a holiday, a break for a temporary period from the routine of everyday living, and an activity I enjoyed being part of.

However, particularly over my last few travel jaunts, my understanding of travel has come to mean something else altogether. I’ll say I’ve gone from enjoying travel as an activity, to appreciating the life-changing impact it has on me personally. I’ve gone from being a tourist to becoming a traveler. Which means that I don’t enjoy only ‘seeing’ new places. Seeing new places is tourism. Travel to me, has now become an experience, not an activity. One where you don’t just see places. Travel is ‘feeling’ places. Getting to personally appreciate the uniqueness of each place and taking that back with you, is the true gift of travel.

Feeling the organized mayhem when you’re riding the London tube. The coiffe & culture when you’re in the quaint sidewalk cafes in Paris. The undying vibrant chaos on the streets New York. The old-world charm of New Delhi, You get the idea.

travel or tourism

In my books, there’s a marked difference between a tourist and a traveller. The tourist is the person you’ll spot at the so-called tourist spots, all armed with a map, camera and an itinerary with a clear agenda and idea of what he’s looking for. The traveller, on the other hand is the person you’ll find aimlessly walking around, seeing everything and everyone, soaking in the place and not knowing what he’ll find next. The tourist takes back pictures, the traveller takes back learnings and memories and experiences. I’m not saying that one should be only a tourist or traveller. Be the tourist, but also be the traveller. By all means visit the famous places, but also take out time to explore the place like a local. Walk the streets without knowing where you’re going, try the local cuisine at a restaurant you’ve never heard of, strike up a conversation with locals if you can. If all you’ve done over your trip is visit tourist spots over the day and then stick to McDonald’s for meals because it’s a ‘safe’ option, then you might as well have done this by seeing pictures of the place in the comfort of your bedroom.

Travel isn’t about being in your comfort zone. Rather, it’s quite the contrary. Travel is about accepting the challenge of physically taking yourself to a place that you’ve possibly not been before, and experiencing what it feels like to be part of a different culture, even if temporarily. Travel is about taking the opportunity to expand and grow your horizon. Travel is the realization that there is just so much more in the world beyond the radius in which you exist, work and live. And while the tourist may return with more photographs, souvenirs and shopping, it is the traveller who truly comes back richer.

United We Stand?

Today, my nation turns 70 years old. Seventy years of freedom. Yes, this does call for celebration, for our freedom from 200 years of British rule didn’t exactly come easy. And if the price of what you get is determined by what you had to give up to get it, our freedom came at the cost of many wars fought, lives lost and sacrifices made. As a 20 – something Indian living in a modern day free India,  I can’t possibly imagine what it might have been to live in the days of the Raj , where you were a either a servant or an opponent to the British.
While I thank my stars that I was born in these times,  there’s something that doesn’t exactly make me very happy about staying in today’s India too, and calling myself a ‘free’ citizen. Because if there’s one thing that I have to come to realise, it is that freedom is a relative term.

The Indian Constitution describes the country as Sovereign, Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic . In other words, a country that is wholeheartedly committed to the well being of its citizens, ensuring fairness, harmony and equality to all. Also,calling Itself the world’s largest democracy clearly implies that the country belongs to no one person,  rather ‘of the people, by the people and for the people. ‘

Then why is it today that there are politicians getting away with corruption, scandals and in some cases even heinous crimes?
Freedom to choose who runs the country, not to question them when they don’t deliver on what they promised to.

Where at one end of the spectrum,  we have farmers committing suicide as their last resort to dealing with extreme poverty,  and at the other end there are so-called ‘Godmen’ with luxury cars , designer wardrobes and 5 star lifestyles financed clearly by black money? Freedom to earn money, irrespective of the means.

Where in one part of the country, female deities are worshipped, and in another they are also regularly dishonoured in the form of infanticide,  rape, domestic violence. Freedom to exist, but not to live safely or with  respect.

Why is it that that we have multiple states religious and castes to divide us, but the only thing that unites us is a cricket match or a terrorist attack? Freedom to decide our own level of patriotism,  to our country.

And there can be so many more such instances and examples,  where in one India,  live many Indias. And no, I’m not blaming the government,  neither I am blaming the people. I am blaming an entire system of thought, beliefs and practices, where everyone including myself is to blame,  a system that unfortunately has gotten so deeply embedded in our society that it’s almost led to a vicious cycle of freedom misuse.

As Spiderman said, ‘ With great power, comes great responsibility‘. Same with Freedom,  I’d say. In my opinion, the misuse of freedom is even more detrimental than the misuse of power. For the misuse of power is usually by a person or persons at the top, but the misuse of freedom can be by masses. Also , the misuse of freedom is a far more contagious one. It starts from one, spreads to a few, and then it is only a matter of time before we’re all engulfed.

And that’s when and where i want to step back and ask myself , Yes, its a free country, but are we really free. And at the cost of sounding pessimist, will we ever be?

The Life & Lies of Harry Potter

At the age of 13, I fell in love. True, serious love.

No drop-dead gorgeous hunk, but a shy, demure boy next door. Dreamy, introvert, but with his own unique charm. A thin frame ever more prominent thanks to his oversized clothes, glasses and scruffy hair, quite average looking, otherwise, but what made him so different from anyone else were his shiny green eyes, and a scar shaped like lightning, right across his forehead. His name was Harry. Harry Potter,

When I first met him, I barely knew the impact he’d have on my life. I wasn’t sure if I’d really like him, but the more I got to know him and his world, the more I found him irresistible. Harry and I grew up together. When he faced triumph, I celebrated for him. When he felt pain, I grieved with him. And over the seven long years that I got to know him, there wasn’t a single emotion I hadn’t experienced with him.

And I’m certain that the affair would’ve continued, if only he weren’t a character in a book.

Created by JK Rowling , Harry Potter could have possibly been another fictional, magical character. Except that he wasn’t. True, he was a wizard, and he went to Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, where he learnt to fly on brooms, transform toads into cats and what-nots, and . His magical make-believe world, the catchy jargon (Quidditch, ButterBeer, Hogsmeade, and my favourite – Muggle!) and the fantasy might have been the initial fascination that drew readers in, but that’s not what kept us coming back for more, devouring book after book, and clamouring for more.

What made us all ardent fans of Harry and his world were the ease with which we felt as if we were a part of it. How every summer, we were the ones boarding the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 3/4, learning Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, Defence against the Dark Arts and all other ‘magical’ subjects, and dining in the Great Hall, living in the house dormitories, and belonging to one of the houses – Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. We felt as if we knew Harry inside-out, as if he lived with us. But besides everything else, we loved the books because of every single thing they taught us, about life.

Which is why I firmly believe every person, irrespective of age, place and choice of reading must read Harry Potter. Because sugar-coated in the form of fantasy – lie multiple lessons of life to be learnt. The value of good friends, who choose to stand by you, when no-one else does. The magic of smiling in the face of adversity. The courage of standing up for someone and something you truly believe in. The power of unselfish love, trust, loyalty and sacrifice. And above all, to not judge anything or anyone, for nothing truly is as it seems, especially where the greater good is concerned.

I’ve been a bookworm since I was a kid, and every good book I’ve read till date has taught me something. But few have had the deep-seated impact that doesn’t go easily. For after reading all the books almost countless times, followed by endless marathon-sessions of the movies, I’m sure of one thing. That the long seven year journey, right from the beginning when the magical world celebrated the birth of Harry Potter to the moment where Harry bid his son farewell as he left for Hogwarts for the first time, with everything in between, will stay with me for a while.

Who exactly is an ‘entrepreneur’?

I was born to a first-generation entrepreneur, with my father having started multiple ventures, failed in a few, succeeding in most. I belong natively to the ‘baniya’ community – a population typically known for their shrewd business & trading prowess, having given the country, even the world, some much-revered business personalities. And as a 21st century millennial, I was fortunate to have had hands-on experience of the dynamic start-up movement in India, having worked with one myself. And after all of this, when I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, it didn’t really come across as a surprise.

And so began my journey to understand what entrepreneurship was all about. Once I began to unravel the term ‘entrepreneurship’, I was surprised, even overwelmed by the various interpretations of what the word represents. Technically speaking, the Oxford dictionary describes entrepreneurship as the practice of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

So then, does anyone who starts a business become an entrepreneur? I’d have to say I disagree.

Because in my eyes, you can be an entrepreneur even if you don’t have a business. Yes, while in the general sense an entrepreneur has come to mean someone who is involved with the ownership, management and execution of business-led enterprises, in the larger sense, an entrepreneur isn’t just a person. Rather, entrepreneurship is a thought, attitude, and personality much before it becomes a company.

If you’re driven by the thought of taking an initiative because it means a lot of money, then you’re a businessman, not an entrepreneur. Not to say that financial gains aren’t a motivation behind choosing to become an entrepreneur, but if that’s the only driving force, then I’m not sure you’re on the right track. For one of the key rewards of entrepreneurship is being able to bring to life an idea that’s disruptive enough to break through the clutter, and acceptable enough to find its place. Which is why I’d say the primary step towards entrepreneurship is the thought of an idea that you believe is likely to work.

Time and again, I meet people with brilliant ideas, which if put into execution through the ideal combination of strategy and a well chalked out plan, are likely to find their ground. But the reason such ideas never see the light of day, is because the person didn’t think it would work. Or he was unwilling to take the risk involved. He had the idea, but lacked the entrepreneurial attitude.

And there of course are people who’ve got the idea, and  the attitude, but can’t sell their idea to their close kin, to the right people, or  the market. Because they couldn’t get people to believe in them. If you’re getting people to put their time, effort and money on your idea, you’re indirectly getting them to invest in you. Which is why there’s absolutely no way you can escape the personality part of being an entrepreneur.

And coming back to what I said about the link between entrepreneurship and business, I strongly believe that while we do end up correlating the two, the two can in reality be very far apart. For a businessman is someone who driven by the money, the entrepreneur, by the idea. An entrepreneur can be a businessman, and a businessman can be an entrepreneur, but when it comes to being an entrepreneur, you can be one, anywhere, in any situation. For it all takes to start is a thought, an idea and a belief.

An Ode To the Shoe

Once upon a time, there was a Cinderella, who went to a Ball, and found her Prince Charming, and lived happily ever after. Yes, we know she was hardworking and that she deserved to go the Ball, but let’s face it, what got her Prince were her sandals. Without them, she’d probably be scrubbing floors all her life, for all we know.

Such, ladies, is the power of the shoe. There was a time when the shoe was the poor cousin of the handbag. Who’s going to see those feet anyway, splurge on the handbag instead, we thought. And before we long realized that the woman may carry the handbag, but it’s the shoe that carries the woman. And shoes became celebrities in their own right.

Just as we began to appreciate the shoe, like sheer serendipity, came Sex and the City, where our very own Carrie Bradshaw took shoe love to another level. Carrie’s open adulation for Manolo Blahniks taught us that after cosmopolitans, stilettos were the modern girl’s best friend.

After the episode where Carrie gets mugged, and lets her mugger take her purse in return for her shoe, we decided that if our favorite fashionista adored stilettos to death, then so would we. A pair of Blahniks suddenly found their way into every woman’s wish list, and the brand, which has been credited with the revival of the stiletto in the 1970s, has chosen to keep the stiletto as its mainstay till today. Because classic six-inches are to our wardrobe what diamonds and blue denims are, timeless.

It’s probably no wonder that when shoe conjuror Christian Louboutin opened his Flagship store in India at Mumbai’s Horniman Circle, an entire bevy of Mumbai’s crème-de-la-crème ladies turned up, wearing his signature red-soled pumps, just to show how loved and popular he was even before he decided to enter the Indian market.

Closer home, Malaysian shoemaker Jimmy Choo knew he’d struck gold when Princess Diana’s patronage and open admiration for his creations made him the toast of Fashion Town. It wasn’t long before, throughout the world, a pair of Jimmy Choos became the epitome of effortless, chic style.

We love heels. And we despise them. We proudly flaunt them with our best LBDs, and dance the night away, and then after soles that hurt and toes that cry, we promise ourselves how we’re never wearing them again, only to find ourselves yet again, in another outfit, but the same heels! And the entire cycle of ‘I-know- I promised-I-wouldn’t-wear-them-again-but-what-to-do-they’re-so-pretty-starts again.

What is about these six-inch beauties that make them uncomfortable, painful, yet so irresistible? Some say, you feel taller. Some say it adds that extra glamour to your outfit. One woman even proudly pronounced her heels as her secret savior. ‘Why do I need a man to protect me when Im wearing stilettos?

If you asked me, I’d say that the stiletto is what makeup is to the face, what nail polish is to our nails. We can surely do without them, but life wouldn’t be the same. It’s that sheer pleasure of seeing those beauties on your feet. Of feeling that sweetish pain when they hurt, yet knowing that they bring out a more glamorous, confident you.

When I was little, I had dreams where I was (you guessed it right) Cinderella! Where my Fairy Godmother came, got me lovely shoes, I went to the Ball & met my Prince Charming. And then I grew up. My dreams remained the same, only now, I say, forget the Prince, I’d rather keep the Choo, oops, sorry the Shoe!