Diwali – Festivities, Fireworks and Folklore in India and beyond

Diwali – Festivities, Fireworks and Folklore in India and beyond

Diwali, the festival of lights is here again. This is the much awaited time of the year when houses, shops, temples, and malls adorn the decorated look, lit up with lanterns, candles, earthen lamps (diya) and electric bulbs. While Diwali is the celebration of “good over evil”, “light over darkness”, “knowledge over ignorance”, and “right over wrong”, the festival has largely come to be equated with the bursting of crackers. So much so that Supreme Court’s ban on crackers in Delhi NCR region in view of the rising pollution levels has drawn a lot of flak, with some people even suggesting the ban as an anti-Hindu decision. Notwithstanding the pollution that follows, people have protested the ban by bursting crackers in front of Supreme Court.

For many people, crackers are a source of joy, and some people believe that loud bursting sounds and lights would ward off and scare evil and notorious spirits away. If this is the case, then I would say that the spirits return the very next day in the form of pollution to harm our environment and our health.  In the row over the firecrackers, we also tend to be forgetful of the different ways of celebrations, the myths, legends, beliefs, and festivities associated with Diwali, prevalent among the different communities in different parts of India and in some other countries as well.

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Ten food quotes and a Bibimbap bowl

Ten food quotes and a Bibimbap bowl

Food is always associated with festivities in most cultures. Among the Bengalis, eating out is a norm during the Durga Puja. At the pandals, stalls are set up that sell a variety of food from different parts of the country. The trend of eating out continues on and off till Diwali and then peaks up again during the New Year.

These are the times when I usually try out different cuisines. Though my food choices are rather limited by the virtue of being a vegetarian, I look for the vegetarian version of various cuisines. Last week, during a lunch-out at Hitchki (the word means hiccup in Hindi), a restaurant in Powai,  I spotted a dish on the Menu card, with a rather strange sounding name – Bibimbap.

 

Seeing the unusual name, I checked out its composition.  It looked like a rice dish cooked with carrots, mushrooms, and some other ingredients. I found that the restaurant served the dish both with and without meat. I opted for the vegetarian version, which we ordered along with dim sum and bough for starters. While waiting for the order, I surfed the net to find out where this cuisine came from.  Read more

Improve indoor air quality with Royale Atmos

Improve indoor air quality with Royale Atmos

Masks have been used since ages for both ceremonial and practical purposes. I have always had a fascination for different types of masks. Whenever I go to some new place, along with the other knickknacks and souvenirs, I generally bring home a mask, which finds a place on the wall of my living room. However, lately more than the decorative masks, I have been buying face masks for protection against the rising pollution levels.

Masks
Masks – from decorative to practical

I got an anti-pollution mask when I went to Delhi last year in November. After Diwali, the air pollution levels in Delhi had reached a phenomenal high. The schools there had declared a three-day holiday during what was being called as the Great smog event, and people were advised to stay indoors. The premise was that inside our house, we were safe from pollution.

 

It was not until recently that I realized how wrong that perception was. My sense of safety from pollution inside the house was severely challenged after I heard that indoor air can be 5 times more polluted than outdoor air.

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6 ways to grow your Instagram followers

6 ways to grow your Instagram followers

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Well, not 1000 but 60,000 words to be precise. That is because our brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

 

This is exactly the premise on which Instagram has been created. The seamless combination of technology with visual content has made Instagram, a very popular platform. With 700 million followers worldwide, Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform.  That people like to spend time on Instagram is apparent from the fact that Instagram is now twice the size of Twitter and has surpassed Snapchat.

Though I had an Instagram account, I had hardly ever engaged on it for 2 years or so, as I never really understood the platform. Once in a while, I would post at random, and naturally, I had only a handful of followers. It was only in December 2016 after I started uploading the pictures from my trip to Jaipur that I started paying attention and figured out how to the engage on Instagram.

Within 8 months, I gathered 6000 followers organically, plus an average engagement rate that is more than 10%. By no means, I can claim that this is a great number as there are several accounts that have millions of followers. Yet, having discovered the power of Instagram in the high traction it garners, I can categorically say that Instagram is a platform that a digital influencer should not ignore.

So, how do you build and grow your Instagram account?

Of course, the easiest is to buy followers, but when people buy followers, they do not necessarily engage with the account. So, when you come across accounts with ten thousand or more followers and a very low engagement rate (1- 2% of the followers), you know that the followers are most likely fake.

Engagement Rate = [(Likes+Comments)/ No. of followers] as %

Engagements (likes, comments) can also be purchased. But again, if you go on purchasing interactions for all your pictures, you’ll most likely end up spending much more than the benefits that accrue from your account.

 

Here’s how you can boost your Instagram presence in an organic manner

1. Post consistently on Instagram

The thing that attracts me (maybe others too) about Instagram is that it encourages quality over quantity. Posting only one to two pictures in a day is sufficient to start building your follower base, provided you post on a regular basis.

When you post regularly, the Instagram algorithm that detects your posting and engagements (likes, comments, shares) rewards you by making your post appear in the feed of your followers or in the feed of those you engage with. If your pictures have a rich visual appeal, it increases the chance of people liking your pictures while scrolling through their feed.

Pay attention to the timing of your posts. Posts on times when the traction tends to be the highest.

In my experience, I can say that Instagram rewards consistency more than any other platform.

 

2. Improve the aesthetics of your feed

On Instagram, many people generally tend to like pictures that stand out while scrolling through the feed.  Pictures with higher exposure, warm temperatures and higher contrast have been found to have higher engagement levels.  Use of certain filters that create these effects is thus likely to increase the engagement level.  Apart from the filters that Instagram provides while posting, filters can also be applied using filter apps. My favourite filter app is Aviary. Some other good filter apps are Snapseed, VSCO, and Instasize.

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Red Square Kremlin – A walk through the heritage sites in Moscow

Red Square Kremlin – A walk through the heritage sites in Moscow

A sense of secrecy, power, awe, and Lenin – these are the images that cropped up in my mind at the mention of Kremlin in my itinerary. The Red Square and the walled complex adjacent to it have been associated with almost all the important events in the history of Russia. These were the first spots that we were to visit during our city tour.

I had briefly touched upon these places in my post Tour of the Russian Wonders: Moscow and St. Petersburg in 5 days. But that doesn’t do the slightest justice to these magnificent places that are steeped in history.  So, here I revisit the two places in greater details:

 

Red Square:

Lined with sturdy red buildings on one side and Alexander Garden on the other, the Red Square dates back to the 16th century.  Back then, the square was meant to serve as Moscow’s main marketplace. It was a place where people congregated for public ceremonies, coronations, parades, and also for executions. Now, it is a heritage site, which is closed to traffic and filled with visitors and tourists. Rock concerts, cultural performances, competitions, bridal parties etc. are held in the square. The Red Square lights up with fireworks and festivities on the New Years Eve.

We enter the square through the Resurrection Gate. The gateway built in 1995 is an exact replica of the original gateway. The original gateway first appeared in 1534 and was reconstructed in 1680, only to be destroyed on the order of Stalin to make way for large-scale Soviet ceremonies in the square. Between the twin arches of the Resurrection Gate is a little Chapel with a blue star studded dome. A compass embedded in the ground near the chapel marks Kilometre Zero, the point from which the main streets of Moscow originate and branch out. Read more

Tour of the Russian Wonders: Moscow and St. Petersburg in 5 days

Tour of the Russian Wonders: Moscow and St. Petersburg in 5 days

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than in miles – Tim Cahill

We had met in Delhi after a gap of 25 years on the occasion of silver jubilee of passing out of college. It was then that four of my classmates and I had decided to go on an all women’s trip to relive our old camaraderie in a new place, in a different city, maybe in a different country.

 

Thus, began the search for a tour company and we got in touch with SOTC holidays for their World Tour Packages.

For us Indians, Russia generally does not come across as a top destination of choice for tourism as it is perceived as a cold and distant place, off the radar. But, that was precisely the reason why we chose Russia.

As Aldous Huxley has said –

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.

SOTC Holidays suggested a customized tour package for us to two Russian cities – Moscow and St Petersburg. We decided to grab this opportunity to see the present capital and the past capital of Russia. It took us about a month of planning and coordination to finalize the tour and finally in the 3rd week of August, we set off on a five day trip to St Petersburg and Moscow. Our itinerary included 3 days of stay in St. Petersburg and 2 days in Moscow, with guided city tours scheduled on the 2nd and 5th day of the trip.

Delhi was the starting point of our group tour (three of my friends stay in Delhi). Boarding the early morning flight from Delhi, we landed in Moscow. From there we got onto the flight for St. Petersburg. Strangely, we had to check out our luggage at Moscow and after completing the immigration, check in again on the flight to St Petersburg. It was a short flight. In one and a half hours, we were in St. Petersburg, the city known for its art, splendid architecture, beautiful gardens, magnificent cathedrals and the largest museum in Europe,

Arrival at St Petersburg

A young lady named Jane received us at the airport at St Petersburg and accompanied us to our hotel in the van. On the way, she briefed us a little on the city. The driver spoke only Russian though. The weather was pleasantly warm. We reached hotel Marco Polo by 1.30 pm and checked into the two rooms that were booked for the five of us. By 4.00 pm, we were all set to go out and explore the port city, which is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North.

Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum across River Neva

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10 Quotes that will prompt you to reconnect with old friends

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.  ~ John Leonard

People change, their priorities change and yet there is a common thread that binds old friends. The thread of shared memories. The year 2017 marks the 25th year of my passing out of college. It started with a nostalgic reunion with my old classmates from college at the silver jubilee meet in Delhi in February.

 

Connecting on social media had smoothed out the initial awkwardness of meeting after such a long gap as we got to know what each person had been up to in life since we were last together. With joy and anticipation, we planned to meet a day before the reunion.

If you’re old enough to have a job and to have a life, you use Facebook exactly as advertised, you look up old friends. ~ Jaron Lanier

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. ~ Elisabeth Foley

Nostalgia struck as we reminisced about the times we had spent in the old campus during our college days. Delhi Technical University was then known as Delhi College of Engineering. The campus where we studied was at Kashmiri Gate in Old Delhi. A new sprawling campus was coming up at Rohini, in the outskirts of Delhi. We had been to the site of the new campus a couple of times with our professors to study the design of the foundation. Three years after we had passed out, the college shifted out of its old premises into the new campus.

While they talked they remembered the years of their youth and each thought of the other as he had been at another time. ― John Williams

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We remembered our teachers and the projects and training that we had done together. We burst into laughter recollecting the stories of the monkeys who resided in the campus and frequented our classrooms from time to time. We recalled a field trip to Nainital and Dehradun when a massive earthquake shook up the whole state in the middle of the night; it had left us completely shaken up.

A good friend is a connection to life — a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world. ~Lois Wyse

Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. ~Francis Bacon

On the next day, we had the opportunity to meet some of our old professors and some distinguished alumni the felicitation ceremony was held at Air Force Auditorium.  

However, sometimes people drift so apart that after the initial euphoria has fizzled out there’s nothing more to talk about. The next quote conveys this uneasy thought.

It’s always hard when you’ve known a person a long time and then you have to recognise that you have nothing left in common but your memories.” ~  Eva Heller

But then, chances are higher that reconnecting with old friends will rekindle your inner spirit. 

Old stories are like old friends. You have to visit them from time to time. ~ George R.R. Martin

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

We had parted with a resolve to meet again to make new memories. Five of us have teamed up for an all women’s trip together to Moscow & St Petersburg. So, yes travel stories are to follow. 

 

PS: This is a scheduled post.

5 Ways to prepare your blog for Content Marketing

5 Ways to prepare your blog for Content Marketing

In the post, What is Lifestyle Blogging? Why is it ideal for content marketing?‘  I had promised to come up with a post on how to prepare your lifestyle blog for content marketing and improve your chances of working with brands in India.

With the trend of digital marketing picking up, brands are increasingly looking at lifestyle blogs as vehicles for influencer marketing that can digitally spread the “word-of-mouth” about their products and services. Content marketing presents monetizing opportunities for bloggers. In this post, I have elaborated upon how I have geared up for content marketing, and how can you too.

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Interview with Jillian Haslam on her inspiring journey from Adversity to Success

Interview with Jillian Haslam on her inspiring journey from Adversity to Success

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”  ― Haruki Murakami

The story of Jillian Haslam is that of a woman who has faced and overcome adversity and has risen above the despairing circumstances that destiny had willed her, to emerge stronger and transform her own life and that of her family. Incredibly unique and inspiring is her journey from the slums of Kolkata to being a motivational speaker, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and a celebrity author. 

 

Born to British parents who decided to stay on in India after Independence, Jillian grew up in abject poverty living under a flight of stairs and then in the slums of Khidirpur in Kolkata. Living in poverty would have never been easy; the problems faced by the Haslam family were further compounded by the prejudice that people harboured on account of their different looks, colour and language.

At the age of 17, Jillian left Kolkata for Delhi.  After working in the Delhi for a few years, she got selected by the Bank of America, where her projects for corporate charity earned her accolades and eventually a passage to England, where she now lives with her husband and two of her sisters.

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Invest Befikar with Bajaj Allianz Future Wealth Gain

Invest Befikar with Bajaj Allianz Future Wealth Gain

Rarely do we come across anybody who gets excited about watching a show or reading an article that reminds them to invest systematically or to insure their lives. Long term investments sound like a smack of wisdom and insurance makes a rather uninteresting proposition. On the other hand, the news about a trader who traded in stocks with borrowed money and became a millionaire makes thrilling headlines.

Best Investment advice is often boring

We tend to forget that what is exciting now can be terrifying later and the best advice is often boring. Perhaps Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance realizes this psychological barrier very well, so when the company launched its Future Wealth Gain plan last month, they tried to make the event as interesting and creative as possible.

I was invited to the event and had gone with the idea of hearing some serious talks. Instead, I found that the team had organized peppy talk show and games centred on the theme of saving money, to engage the audience while educating about the concept of the product. I will also try to keep this post as simple as possible.

Bajaj Alliance Future Wealth Gain launch

As you have rightly guessed, this post is about: 

Future Wealth Gain: a Unit Linked Endowment Life Insurance Plan

In an earlier post, I had elaborated on why preserving and growing money are two key investment objectives. Our other investment goals could be to create income from the capital base, to save tax, or to save for big expenses like buying a house, planning vacations abroad, or discharging financial responsibilities like funding children’s education or marriage.

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