Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The God of Small Things

I was relaxing at home last night, listening to Michael Bublé's new Christmas album when the recollection of a past incident brought a smile to my face. Now when I say past, it seriously was a long time ago, so you'll have to stay with me for a bit while I take you back in time. Yup, fifteen years ago, all the way back to 1996.

I was a twelve-year old kid (I know, the years have totally flown by!) living in a small quiet town in Kerala, India called Trivandrum. The incident I'm gonna tell you about is my first actual visit to the cinemas. Now don't go "Aww man I wasted two minutes of my time reading this?" Stay with me, its not your typical story. Being the youngest of three children, brought up by our mother who was a typically strict school-teacher, let's just say that I never had a lot of the freedom I wanted, which perhaps was good for me, looking back now. I was also especially envious of my older brother (six years older) whom according to me was always having a ball, hanging out with his set of motor-cycle owning friends who'd stay out late, eat out, do all the "fun" stuff. They seemed so cool to me. Me on the other hand was the nerdy boy who'd sit with his books all day and then was given permission to read his Tintin comics or Hardy Boys fiction books after I'd finished homework. Sometimes even that was too much to ask.

So imagine my excitement one day when my mom magically gave me permission (okay maybe I cried, screamed and threw stuff - but just a little) to go with my brother and his cool friends to watch "Independence Day", the new blockbuster starring Will Smith, that everyone was raving about. I remember wearing my favorite tee shirt and waiting eagerly for my brother to come home after college to pick me up. As usual the boys were late, but soon enough a bunch of six or seven motorbikes vrrooomed up to my front gate, with my brother shouting at me to hurry up. Imagine the scene, a 12-yr old kid finally going out with a gang of 18 or 19-yr old boys: this was my big day! I was nervous yet so excited, and I think it was evident on my face, cos all my brother's friends found it very amusing that I was tagging along as well. They decided to thus "set" me up; they told me to hop on the back of one of the Yamaha RX100 bikes, who's rider was known to be the most fastest and daring of the lot. I can never ever forget that 20 minute ride to the theater. I was clinging on for dear life as we zoomed in and out of heavy traffic, scared out of my wits yet extremely excited. I remember thinking, "God, this is the best day of my life, don't make it my last day though please!" My brother's friends made sure I had the ride of my life, all of them laughing jovially at my plight as they raced their way to our destination. As we made our way into the cinema halls and took our seats (we'd missed the opening credits), I remember my heart still pounding within my tiny chest. The movie turned out to be one of the best movies I'd watched till that day and I was smiling throughout - still overjoyed that I was actually living my little dream of hanging out with my brother's cool friends. As Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum punched and flew their way out of trouble to save the human race from alien invasion, I kept thinking to myself that this was in a way, my Independence Day as well. I truly felt like this was my first day of freedom and ended up beaming all the way to my house, rushing inside to tell my mom and sister all about the movie. I could not wait to go to school the next day, just to tell all my friends what an awesome day I'd had. Since then, I've had the highest gratitude to my brother's friends for that day, a day that was just another ordinary day in their lives, but not to me.

Perhaps it was not a co-incidence that yesterday, another fourteen year old kid had a pretty good day. I'd won Platinum tickets to the Maple Leafs' Fans night in a contest last week and gave them to the young kid (one of my favorites!), whom I knew was a huge ice-hockey fan, but had never been to a game in his life before. The fact that he had to skip school for it might not make me a favorite of his parents, but his thrill and excitement was extremely evident, once his elder sister said she'd take him to the game. Based on his texts after the game, it definitely seemed like he had a great time! Maybe, just maybe, one day, fifteen years in the future, he'll suddenly smile thinking about his experience yesterday.

Cos when its all said and done friends, it's neither the size of your pay-package nor the number of cars you own that will make you sit back and smile. It's moments such as these in life, that are innocent yet so precious in nature that will always remain with you. I'm sure the Almighty above us would love us to think the same way too. There's a saying that's so cliche now and has totally being replayed a million times but I'll say it - "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away..." Ouch, so cheesy but still kinda true. Remember that surprise party your friends threw for you? Guys, remember your first video game console? Girls, remember your first barbie? Remember that the day your parents brought home your first pet? Your first time at an amusement park? Treasure them, because as your grow older, your innocence maybe lost but the memories remain. It's up to us to just reach out to them.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Looking at life from two sides of a coin.

It's been one year since I've blogged seriously, but there are certain situations where life just surprises you, or rather frustrates you. In these cases you can't help but vent, and today's post is about one such incident that took place today afternoon.

I was on my way downtown for an interview today and just like the past few days, Toronto was as hot as an open furnace. Imagine me sitting in a moderately crowded bus decked up in a suit and tie. Saying that I couldn't wait to get to the subway would be an minor understatement.

The ride usually takes 15 minutes or so on a normal day. Ten minutes into the ride, a little cute black kid got onto the bus with his two younger brothers. I was sitting towards the front of the bus so I did get a good view of them. Super cute, all three of em'. He must not have been more than ten years in age and his brothers definitely just four or five years old.

The kid put in the money for him and his two brothers but then I felt something was wrong because the driver seemed pissed. He wouldn't go on he said because the kid hadn't put enough money for their bus rides. That's when I noticed the driver - an old white guy, probably around 60 years of age. He had this stone cold mean look on his face, which made it seem like he couldn't smile even if he wanted to. He was like "Get off the bus kid, you cannot ride in here until you've given me the exact amount". I realized that the kid had calculated a lesser rate for his brothers but the driver wouldn't allow it cos they had to be younger than two years or something. Obviously the kid was embarrassed and he tried joking it off by telling his younger brother "Hey, you're more expensive than I'd imagined!" But the driver would have none of it, he told them he would drive on to the next stop and they would have to get out if couldn't cough up the necessary change.

My initial feelings of frustration that the bus wouldn't move cos of these kids by now changed to sympathy for them. The older kid genuinely seemed embarrassed and helpless. His younger brothers just looked scared and confused. So off we went to the next stop, and once the new passengers had got on, the driver didn't move on. Instead, he started yelling at these kids again to give him the necessary money. The kid said he had nothing more so the driver told them they had to get out. He even started yelling at them along the lines of them trying to cheat him and what not. And based on how the TTC works, he couldn't give them back the cash they had put in as well, which means would have to lose their money and miss their ride as well.

I looked around now expecting some of the bus passengers to help the kids out, but nobody made a move. Everyone was too busy on their smartphones or talking among themselves. By now I was furious at the driver for acting so inhumanely towards the kids. C'mon old man, let these kids be! Don't ask them to step out into the sweltering heat with no money! But those were only my thoughts, and I then realized I was doing nothing as well, just like the rest of the passengers. And so I decided to take charge. I looked into my wallet, took out a 2$ (toonie) coin and called out to the kid, "Hey, take this, is this enough?" OMG the look on the kid's face just melted my heart. He looked shocked and shyly said "No, it's too much." I asked him how much was he short by and he whispered "35 Cents". And so I dug into my wallet again, and I'm not kidding, this is what I came up with. Two dimes, two nickels and four pennies. I kid you not. I had exactly 34 cents left and I was short by one cent! ONE friggin' CENT.

And so I had no option but to offer the toonie to the kid again. I was "Hey, just take it, it's fine." But for the life of me, I still don't know why, his pride wouldn't allow him to take it. He again shyly spoke up, "No thank you sir, that's nice of you but it's still too much." I insisted saying "Hey kiddo it's totally fine, just give it to the driver" and his face seemed so embarrassed that it just broke my heart. But he still didn't take the money, cos his heart wouldn't allow it I suppose.

I was aghast. Here I was, in my suit and all, worrying about my future job and whether I would get it, how much would I make, etc. while this little black kid who was about to thrown out of the bus along with his brothers, wouldn't still take my toonie because he didn't think it was fair. And that's exactly what happened then. The driver forced them to get out of the bus and the three kids went sadly trudging off into the heat.

I felt emotions of pure anger, rage, sadness and bewilderment run through me. Suddenly, life was thrown into perspective. On one hand I was mad at the driver and felt like I could beat him up. On the other hand, I think my heart had shattered into a million pieces for the little kid and his brothers as well. My mood was destroyed and as I got into the subway and saw hundreds of passengers again merge into the distance, I didn't even feel like going to my interview. It just didn't seem fair - Life just didn't seem fair!

We all move on with our lives though. I went on to complete my interview, come back home and go out and enjoy soccer with friends. I don't know what happened to the little kid and his brothers. All I can say is that God bless that kid, his honesty and his self-pride. He'll be rewarded some day, I'm sure of it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Social Media Metrics - Platforms and Tools

Hey guys, check out this preso from my Social Media class today, led by Rob Kozinets. Let me know in case of any questions or comments!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To the TTC, with love.

I was lucky enough to be part of the #TTC Customary Advisory Panel’s Communications Round-table that took place this week at the One King West Hotel. Hosted by Julie Tyios and alongside 15 or so very smart and passionate people, it truly was one of the most interesting yet insightful experiences during my 10-months-to-date stay in this beautiful city.

Now it’s no secret how much beef Torontonians have with Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) - the public authority that operates buses, streetcars, subways and rapid transit lines in the city. For example, here’s a quick snapshot of a few tweets that came up with a search for the hashtag “#TTCFail”.

So no #TTC subway. How freakin nice. We're now trapped in the city. #TTCFAIL #G20 Idiots.”

“Finally on a 54 west bus and after waiting only 37 minutes for one! Go #ttc go! #ttcfail”

“Pretty sure this is the same bus as yesterday & that is the same McDonalds garbage on the same seat as yesterday. Our tax $ at work #ttcfail”

As you can see, it definitely is one of Toronto’s most complex issues. We discussed personal experiences we’ve all had with the TTC; it’s most crucial problems and then brainstormed about ways to improve the state of the TTC. Problems associated with the TTC seemed to revolve around bus/streetcar delays due to driver slack, lack of communication concerning these route delays, impolite or even outright rude drivers, unclean interiors etc. Below is the summarized version of the ideas discussed:

1) Re-branding the TTC externally as well as from within: Most Torontians just hate the TTC, some without even proper reason. The problem is that people tend to only remember that one bad experience; any normal day that is unremarkable just fades into oblivion. Right now the TTC focuses on good functionality such as making sure you get from A to B in time (something they often fail to as we all know). However, we felt it was time the TTC made an effort to emotionally connect to the customer too, just like any well-loved brand or product does. What if they gave a free ride to every 100th passenger that greeted the driver? Wouldn’t things become much nicer? Creating a change internally is very important too since it’s usually those employees that are not inspired enough to be working for the TTC that end up slacking off or being rude to passengers.

2) Innovative usage of Real Time Information to aid Transit users: It’s 2010 and well, even though those idiotic FIFA officials think otherwise by not using goal-line technology (I supported England if you’re thinking why the anguish!) , the TTC shouldn’t follow suit. Why not draw some inspiration from the YRT / VIVA buses? Each YRT bus-stop has a subway-like electronic display providing information on the next incoming bus that I feel makes a huge difference to transit passengers. People do not like being kept in the dark. Knowing a bus will be 10 minutes late is better than not knowing at all. Other great ideas that came up were the use of Twitter feeds for each route, so that users can just “follow” those specific routes they use daily to get real time updates on their smart-phones about delays or such.

3) Setting levels of expectation: This goes both ways again. TTC should be the Toronto’s Transit Corporation instead of the Toronto Transit Corporation. It’s yours and mine. Each of us should strive to make a difference. If you see McDonalds garbage on the seat next to yours, don’t just tweet about how gross that is, dispose it off as well please! Many observed that gone were the days when people used to offer their seats to the elderly…where is the love people? If you and I start acting as if we do care and aim to set things straight, people will follow, change will take place.

To be honest, after what’s been a long, long time, I offered my seat today to an elderly woman in my crowded 196B bus. And it felt nice. In the words of a legend that passed away just over an year ago,

"I'm starting with the Man in the Mirror,
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

I believe we can. Please do feel free to add your comments and suggestions about your experiences with the TTC or on how the TTC can be improved. Here's hoping to a great ride forward!

Monday, December 14, 2009

True Story: A Thank-You Card to Thomas

Wow, it's been 3 months since I posted anything! As always, that isn't my fault - I blame my grueling 1st MBA term for robbing me of all my spare time! I'm serious - when you have watched just one movie (and that too at a Malayalee association movie night) in three months, you definitely know that something has changed. Especially for a person like me who's average movies/week ratio used to be between 2-3, just like a decent Debt/Equity ratio - err, sorry for the lapse, my brain still switches into totally-unrelated-jargon from time to time. The doctor says that's the due to the side-effects of business school, and that victims are usually scarred for life :P

Anyway, now that classes for the first term are over and I've got just two exams left (within 2 days - which makes me wonder again why I'm blogging now), I guess I just decided that I finally have some spare time to write random stuff.

My OB project this term involved doing an organizational-culture analysis about a Toronto-based company. One thing that we found to be really cool was that at every monthly employee lunch, each employee wrote a thank-you card to some other employee, thanking him/her specifically for a deed that didn't go unnoticed during the past month. Therefore, taking a leaf out of their page, I want to give a Thank-You card to Thomas, a random passenger I met on a bus to Mississauga around 2 weeks back.

It happened just over two weeks ago. Me and my roomie Naveen were on our way to a Mumbai-Mallu party at Payal Banquet Hall in Mississauga. We'd decided at around 7pm (rather stupidly) to make the journey ourselves all the way from our University Campus, instead of hitching a ride. I had a rough idea of how to get there via Google Maps, but we'd never traveled to that side of town before (which later made my cousin Anita retort - "I can't believe I'm related to you!!" :P). Anyway, two hours and two subway trains later, we were sitting in a bus that was going in the right direction, the only problem being that we didn't know where to get off and what to do next. It was already past 9.30pm. That was when this scruffy old man got into the bus...

I usually like sitting alone in public buses, so you can imagine my displeasure when this old man, wearing shoddy clothing, came straight up and sat next to me, even where there were empty seats nearby. He looked Indian and he seemed to be around 60 years old. After 2 mins, he asked me the time which I curtly told him. He then asked me where I was from. I said India, and his face changed at once. He seemed so happy to meet someone from his own country! He said his name was Thomas. He asked me what I was doing here to which I said I was here for studies and I'd just landed 3 months ago. He seemed very surprised to know that I was new to the place and told me to be careful traveling at night. He then went on to tell me how he'd come to this place around ten years ago and how he had struggled because didn't have a job for a long time. He told me to be happy about whatever job I got and just do my best without being ashamed about it. Here I was, sitting next to an old shoddy man, feeling very humbled, especially after frequently listening to people say "Oh! You're doing an MBA? You should treat me after getting your first six-figure paycheck!"

He went on to tell us how he'd been content with whatever he had all his life - he was not lying, you could see it in his face. His English was very poor and I had to listen carefully, but by now I felt for him and was listening intently. He told me about his son and daughter; how they'd got married but were now far away, he told me about his wife who passed away suddenly two years ago. I was lost in his story till I remembered that we had to get down somewhere. So I asked him where Payal Banquet Hall (PBH) was. He was very surprised that we didn't know where we were going and seemed genuinely concerned.

What he did next was what blew me away. He first told us that we were still pretty far away and we had to catch another bus if we wanted to get there. He was supposed to get off at the next stop, but he was so anxious to make sure that we poor boys didn't get lost that he didn't get down. Instead, he decided to stay back with us in the bus till we had reached the last stop. He then got down with us and told us that we had to take the #6 bus if we wanted to reach PBH. Even though we pleaded with him that we would be fine, he was adamant that he would wait with us in the dark till the next bus came.

And so after some time, the next bus did come. He entered the bus with us and tried telling the bus driver that we were new here and that to make sure we got down at PBH. Now the driver was a native of this place and he'd obviously had a long day. He couldn't understand what this brown guy was mumbling about and told him to just shut up and get out or pay the ticket and stay in the bus. Thomas' face fell but he still tried to explain, with his limited vocabulary, that we didn't know where to get down and so the driver had to help us. The driver had enough then and started yelling at Thomas to get out cos he didn't make any sense. My heart broke and melted into many tiny small pieces. Here was a guy, who had no reason to be helping us and was getting into trouble just because he was trying to be a good human being. I tried telling Thomas it was okay and we would be fine, mainly because I couldn't stand the sad sight of him retreating out of the bus, yet refusing to go way because he kept trying to make the driver understand what he was saying. Finally though, the driver did get an idea that the Hall was near a church or something. The bus then took off, before I could shout out a 'Thank you!!' to Thomas.

We finally did reach our destination at almost 10.30pm, had a great time gorging ourselves at the Indian buffet, met our friend Neil and made some great new friends including Shiny, Julie, Darly, Simi, Praji, Sanish etc. Got to see my awesome Screwtape friends do their dance number too. We danced, made merry and finally got home past 1.30am when Neil dropped us off in his car.

Therefore I just wanted to say:

"Thank you, Thomas. Thank you for helping us that night, when you had absolutely no reason to. Thank you for striving to help us even when you were getting an earful of abuse. Humans like you are rare to find in today's world. When most people today only care about themselves and their sorry lives, you decided to make yourself an angel and help us out. I'm sorry about your wife and I hope you will be reunited with your daughter and grand-kids some day. Have a happy and blessed life."

Yours truly,