24 Dec 2013

NumeroUnity.Com - An Inside View

Beautiful are those people
Who leaves their marks,
on sands of time
As dew on flowers
in zest of sunshine
Sweet as nectar
holy as divine

These lines are part of NumeroUnity, the blog under the microscope as part of the Indiblogeshwaris' Naughty and Nice programme. It is owned and handled by Ekta Khetan (hope I've got the surname right), a resident of Mumbai and a pretty girl.

The blog is impressive, just as the lines penned above. The design is clutter-free and simple, with share-on-social-media options at visible places encouraging the reader to do so.

NumeroUnity's Landing Page, with the author Ekta Khetan
The blog site (which I assume is hosted on blogger.com), is separated into 5 pages as follows:
  1.  Blog with NumeroUnity – A page which informs readers about the areas where Ekta can help businesses/brands improve their online presence. She states that she’s well equipped to handle writing projects, book launches, reviews of movies, restaurants, spas, white goods, etc., promotions, advertising, polls, giveaways and more.
  2. Blog Awards – This page talks about the accolades Ekta’s blog has won. They include winning the Microsoft Office 365 Contest, We Chat’s pan India blogging contest and one from Kitchens of India, among others. Plus she is a Mia Top Blogger for Tanishq and has featured in Spicy Saturday. Her article on Curry Bashing has been featured in MumbaiMirror too. Way to go, girl!
  3. Review – As the title suggests, this section includes reviews on films, books, food, products, and more. The page has links of the reviews posted, which means a reader can browse through the entire list of reviews at once. She can click on the link she chooses and not have to wade through content that doesn't interest her.
  4. What is NumeroUnity – This is the website’s About page. It briefly describes the owner's journey through the blogging world and talks about her likes and skills.
  5. Poems I Penned – It looks like Ekta loves writing poems. Almost every post of hers has a few lines of poetry. This section, however, has just 2 poems so far. You can bet more are coming soon.

Ekta's writing is fresh and unconventional. Unlike many bloggers, she doesn't rant about how unfair life is and how the world is not what she imagined it should be. She prefers using photos and humor in her posts. And it seems she is dead against men sporting a stubble, which is evident from the jab she’s taken at Shahid Kapoor & Ranveer Singh. The way she portrays an appalled Deepika Padukone and Sonakshi Sinha is hilarious.

Ekta could revamp the layout of her blog page a little. Archives, the option to subscribe and some good posts like the tribute to Michael Jackson and her interview are at the bottom of long pages. Plus, it takes a little effort of maneuver to one of her latest posts if you’re on another page. The Feedjit widget can make way for something which will ensure readers stay looped in on her site. And as is the case with all of us, writing skills can be further sharpened.

It’s a great blog site on the whole. One with 243 followers and 3, 00,000+ visits, she definitely is doing things right. Ekta is popular too – she gets at least 20 comments on each post. Awesome, isn't it? So guys, if you’re looking for your dose of humor, follow her website and Twitter handle. Rest assured, you won’t be let down. Cheers.

13 Dec 2013

5 Tips For Becoming A Better Writer...

For those who know me well, I read a lot. Ramya developed the habit in me, I think. Be it The Harvard Business Review magazine, mainstream or unconventional insights, books of aspiring authors or established ones, or simple blog posts... I read everything.

One thing evident, though, about us amateur bloggers and authors is our quality of writing. Our language leaves a lot wanting. There is a glaring valley (the Grand Canyon in fact) between us and established writers. 

As usual, I've been reading about it and pondering. Here are 5 tips I've come up with to improve our writing skills:

  1. Number of words: Keep your sentences below 12 words. When possible, make them really short. Research shows that a reader pays 100% attention to a sentence which comprises of 10 words. Thereafter, the reader’s attention span drops 10% per word. So if your sentence has 18 words, you've already lost your reader long back. Also avoid writing two or more sentences meaning the same thing. I remember reading a short story which went like ‘I was apoplectic. I was annoyed. I was hopping mad. My anger knew no bounds.’ OK, we get it. You were angry. But you don’t need to write 4 sentences to state the same thing, do you?
  2. Active Voice: Write in active voice. We Indians especially have the habit of adding the gerund (‘ing’) to our verbs. Constructing (see, I just did it) a sentence in active voice takes care of that concern. Also, it shortens your sentence. Writing in active voice significantly reduces the size of your post, allowing you to pack more content.
  3. Reduce adverbs: As far as possible, get rid of adverbs like ‘a little’, ‘very’ and the likes. There is no person who is ‘a little’ sad – he’s sad. No person is very humble – are you indicating that he’s more humble than a humble person by using the term ‘very’? Brian Clark (of Copyblogger) goes to the extent of asking us to replace each adverb with damn. If you can skip using damn before the verb or noun, then you can make do without the words it replaces. There is no difference in a person being polite and very polite. If he’s very polite, you can probably use ‘submissive’.
  4. Simple language: Using the word ‘coquette’ when you mean flirt or ‘agnostic’ in place of cynic will make few readers revere you. Most won’t enjoy opening a dictionary along with your post/book. Simple words which people can understand are easily accepted. Remember, a person thinks in images and pictures; not words. When she reads, you want her to create the image in her mind which you have sketched. And that can be done by using simple, yet effective words. Also, refrain from ambiguous sentences. Make sure your matter tells the reader exactly what you want to say.
  5. Grammar is King: No! Not content, grammar is king. Grammar comes first, then content. Nothing turns readers off more than poor grammar. Not knowing the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, ‘there’ or ‘their’ or missing out on pronouns like ‘a, the, an’ really puts readers off. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer/blogger, make sure your grammar rules are in place. This point doesn't need elaboration, does it?

Thus, you have 5 tips for writing better. What about you? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

3 Dec 2013

Helping Others Too Much Hurts Them...

Garud, Lord Vishnu’s favourite devotee, was enjoying the sound of a sparrow singing on Mount Kailas. He noticed Yamaraj looking at the bird and frowning. Worried that the bird would probably suffer the wrath of Yamaraj, Garud picked the bird up and carried it over mountains and across the 7 seas. He left it in a dense forest on a tree full of succulent fruits. When Garud returned to Mount Kailas, Yamaraj was still there, but he was smiling. Garud asked him the reason for his amusement. Yamaraj said “The sparrow was supposed to die today, but not on Mount Kailas. He was to die at the hands of a snake on a tree filled with succulent fruits in a dense forest, 7 seas away from here.”

Often we try to help people because we know what’s best for them; decisions we take for them will do them good. While the intent is noble, this doesn't generally hold true. In fact it proves detrimental to the person more often than not. Just like my mom who tried to help a pigeon which frequents our house. The pigeon was trying to break a twig from a plant in our balcony – maybe for its nest. My mom broke the twig and kept it on the ledge. The moment the pigeon tried to pick it up, the twig fell down 22 floors. The bird lost the twig and had to start from scratch.
Lessons from Garud on helping people

“But if I don’t help the person, who will?” you may ask. Most people don’t need the help we offer. What we offer is what we want them to do; what we would've done if in their shoes. But we must help, mustn't we? We aren't animals. This trait of helping is one of the aspects which separate us from animals. So how should we help someone?

The answer is – by being there. A person doesn't need hand-holding when trying something new. She needs the reassurance that someone is there to fall back on needed, and that you have faith in her abilities. This not only gives her morale a boost, but also lets her tackle situations and challenges head on with a clearer mind. She gets to learn much more than she would if you were helping her out with every aspect. What is your motive? To let her learn to handle life herself or make her depend on you for everything? Take action accordingly.

This behavior of ours is not just valid for humans, but for animals also. A friend’s pet mouse was staying at my home for a few days. He was occasionally let out of his cage to roam around. On day one, he was terrified; he refused to jump even as high as half a foot. Rather than helping him out every time, I was merely around, letting him climb on me and using my slanted feet as slopes to descend. We repeated this exercise daily. By the end of day 5, he was happily jumping sofas, tables and heights with the finesse of a gymnast. He had conquered his fear through his own actions. And yes, I’ll take some credit in saying I helped him conquer it.

We often get emotionally attached when we decide to help a person, whether we have asked for help or not. As seen in the first 2 paragraphs, helping when not asked is more damaging than helpful. If we really want to help a person or animal learn, we have to let go of emotion – we have become detached. We have to let go of the feeling that the person will not be able to survive without our help. If someone asks you advice (the best help we love to give), ask them questions and let them come up with answers themselves. Don’t get impatient and try making them understand your point of view. Letting people (and animals) learn things themselves while having the comfort that you’re around not only makes them sharper, it also increases their respect for you. What’s more, detachment will give you peace of mind. That’s something we all need today.

25 Nov 2013

How Intelligent Are You?

I've hugely been inspired by Sir Ken Robinson ever since I heard his TED talk. I also ended up reading his book. It wasn't as inspiring as his speech, but that’s another point. But there are some amazingly insightful points on creativity he touches upon. I’d like to discuss one of them here.

Often when Sir Robinson asks a group a question “How would you rate your intelligence from 0-10?” he gets a patterned response. Very few people rate their intelligence between 9 and 10 and as many rate them between 3 and 4. For saving some people the embarrassment he doesn't go below the rating 3. But the vast majority of the group almost always rates its intelligence between 5 and 7. A typical bell curve is formed.
Bell Curve on people rating their intelligence from 0-10

Sir Robinson believes that this method of gauging intelligence is flawed. Intelligence cannot be measured by a SAT, GMAT or JEE score. That’s simply a mark of how well you can study. It isn't necessary that people with low IQ scores are not intelligent. I know – it sounds like a paradox, right? After all, IQ does stand for Intelligence Quotient.

So what is intelligence? A common way to define it is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Most people think intelligence is tangible, measurable. But intelligence is also linked to different aspects like logic, abstract thinking, understanding, self-awareness, communication and more. Can intelligence be measured in those aspects too?

It can’t, can it? Intelligence is not just about how good you are at mathematics, logical reasoning and language. It’s also about how good you are at solving problems; even ensuring they don’t arise. Or how brilliant you are in your field – be it advertising, marketing, finance… even cooking! Or your ability to gauge situations… see what is not seen by others. Or your ability to manage people well.

These aspects cannot be quantified. However, it doesn't mean that people possessing these skills are not intelligent. Yes, floating news is that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had IQs of 160, but their intelligence was not defined by how much their SAT scores were. Also, it’s unlikely that Sir Richard Branson would score well in an IQ test. Will you say that he, Sharad Pawar, Dhirubhai Ambani and the likes are/were not intelligent people? Or would you say Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar are not intelligent because they weren't great at academics?

We believe education makes us intelligent. Unfortunately, education is often assumed to be the curriculum taught in school. Ever wondered why maths and science are given more weightage while arts and music take a back seat? Because the industry needs the former… maths and science are more likely to get us a job. But creativity and intelligence are different. They demand you think and act beyond more than what this world expects of you. And each one of us is intelligent; each of us is creative. We've just stifled that side of us for fear of ridicule from the world. And we try to curb that intelligence in kids also, thinking that being different won’t get them anywhere. Apart from not being fair, this robs the world of many opportunities to improve… in art, culture, technology, education and more.

Remember, the question shouldn't be “How Intelligent Are You?” Instead, ask yourself (and anyone else) “How Are You Intelligent?” What makes you special, not how special you are.

image Courtesy: Google Images

16 Nov 2013

Thank You Sachin

I've worshipped you for 17 years... Whatever I say isn't enough. So just like the 100 crore Indians out there,  all I can say is

Sachin Tendulkar - The Legend... The God... Never Say Goodbye

10 Nov 2013

Honda Amaze - Test Driven for a Whole Day

I hadn’t given the Honda Amaze much thought just yet. We don’t see as many of them on the road as the Swift Desire or the Verito. Maybe because the Amaze was launched just this year. Honda had finally added a diesel horse to its Indian stable and that created quite a buzz. But as I said, I hadn’t formulated an opinion about it. That was until I drove one.

Honda invited a few of us auto enthusiasts and Twitter addicts to drive their Brio and Amaze from Navi Mumbai to Aamby Valley City, Lonavla, and back. You don’t get such opportunities often and so sane people don’t decline. Well, I’d like to think I’m sane.
Honda Amaze VX

I had never driven the car nor had I been inside Aamby Valley. This event would let me do both. I got to drive the highest variant of the Amaze – the VX (petrol) both ways. The 1st thing that struck me on getting in was the air conditioning. It was so powerful that I leaked more water than I drank during the day. In fact, as evening settled in, my friend sitting at the back asked us to turn the A/c off. And mind you he’s the guy who complains why rickshaws don’t have air conditioning. That speaks volumes for Amaze’s in-car cooling. It’s especially useful in India where the summer is boiling hot and winter is just a word. As you start driving, you notice how nimble the car is. As one who drives compact hatchbacks (Santro, Polo and Swift), I thought I would have to be careful lugging a car with a boot around. But you don’t feel the weight of the boot or the extended wheelbase at all. It didn’t strike me until the end of the day that I had been driving a sedan effortlessly. The bootspace and rear leg room in the Amaze borders on levels of 'obscene'. The tallest and widest of people can sit comfortably. And you can load 2-3 dead bodies in the boot and still have space for luggage. Of course, smoothness doesn’t need a mention. That’s expected from Honda; Honda and refinement are synonymous.

Amaze-ing bootspace! Don't you agree?
As we hit the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the 1.2 litre powered Honda finally got to stretch her legs. There we got to experience how planted the car is. It isn’t often that you average 130 kmph in an entry level sedan packed with 5 people and camera equipment. The expressway has a many fast sweeping bends, which the Amaze lapped up with Amaze-ing stability. I didn’t have to lift my foot off the gas. Plus the car did a top whack of 145. Bet she would’ve gone faster if the load was lesser.

Once we reached Lonavla, I got my wish. The camera crew got off. No more camera, no more restrictions... just the Amaze, my friend and me. I’ve always loved the road from Bushi dam to Aamby Valley because it’s filled with twists, turns and slopes. You get to test the limits of a car/bike (or yourself). And the Amaze didn’t disappoint in handling. The front end entered every corner with confidence and the car went exactly where she was directed. The ABS offered one of the best feels while braking, allowing me to complete turns shuffling between the brake and throttle. We also took the car off-road a little, and she was fine there too. The McPherson struts and Torsion beams hauled the 965 kg vehicle decently over stones and gravel. The height adjustment option of the driver’s seat was a blessing at this time, giving me more visibility of the road (or gravel). Priced between 6-8 lakhs on road Mumbai, this is the perfect entry level sedan. It has everything a family can want.

The only drawback of the vehicle is the sluggishness while accelerating. The car takes a few moments to gain momentum, as if the engine has a turbocharger with some lag. Lifting off from the 2nd gear is difficult; you have to use the 1st gear if you’re standing still. The people at Honda say this is a rev happy vehicle, and she did sound throaty at high revs in lower gears. But you wouldn’t want to push the car to 6k revs in the 2nd gear. Plus, like the Honda Civic (which, sadly, Honda doesn’t plan on bringing back soon), the gear lever feels woody. Not like the Hyundais or the VWs. But I guess that’s trademark Honda by now.

We had a great time at Aamby Valley. The city is a township in itself. Beautiful roads, plantations, houses similar to those in Bali and auditoriums... but that’s a different point altogether. We were given a presentation on some ‘Wow’ aspects of the Brio and the Amaze. It’s amazing to know that while the Brio is more spacious than the Maruti Alto, it has a shorter wheelbase. The management of Honda were patient in answering all our questions. Lunch was great too, contrary to mediocre food dished out at most events. And then there were the events. The slalom course challenge in the Brio and Filled Tumbler challenge in the Amaze. Glad to say that yours truly won the Filled Tumbler challenge, spilling a mere 100 ml of water while driving through the cones. The event was perfect. Hats off to Anmol, Songita, Diwakar, Subesh and Shweta from Bloggers’ Mind and to others for organizing an awesome event. The challenges were designed around the strengths of the cars. It was an event focussed on showcasing the abilities of the car instead of just creating hype. It was great to meet and interact with Shivani san, Shakeel san, Siddharth san, Sen san, Aneesh san and others from Honda. They were warm, approachable and hospitable. As the saying goes “You meet the nicest people in (a) Honda.”

4 Nov 2013

The Badge Idea - Coz You Deserve Better!

Your badge is your identity. It is all about you. Unfortunately, in today’s mass culture, badges lose their uniqueness. Every badge looks just like the other. So what differentiates you from someone else?

Nikhil has a solution to this problem is mass-customization – in form of ‘The Badge Idea’. Whether it’s a snap, a bio, a slogan/quote, or your website link – or even all of them – The Badge Idea (TBI) makes each badge stand out. Conceptualized in 2013, TBI’s USP, though, is the presence of a theme. You can have a badge with your own theme – one that defines you. Whether you’re a sport lover, a foodie, a coffee addict, a geek, a marketing professional, a social media wiz... let the world know about it through your badge.

Nikhil’s aims to provide badges for tweet ups. It becomes easier for Tweeple attending tweet ups and events to introduce themselves to others. Not just their names and company names, but also aspects which they’re passionate about. He also provides badges for events and corporate functions. The event’s theme can be incorporated onto the badges, giving them a different touch. Scannable bar codes can also be printed.
Simply log onto the website and fill the form, which asks for what you want on your custom badge. You will receive a preview in your e-mail, and only after your approval does the badge go into printing. You can even gift these badges to loved ones or friends. Plus the badge will be delivered to any address across the world. 
For now, you will have to bear the courier charges for addresses outside India. Pay via cash or bank transfer.

The Badge Idea - Your badge is all about YOU
The Badge Idea will soon incorporate a payment gateway on the website itself. So you will be able to pay online. Also, as earlier stated, Nikhil aims to start providing badges for events too. Corporate entities and event management firms will get badges customizable for their events, something which delegates will enjoy wearing.

A lot of people have already ordered and received badges from TBI, within timelines promised. And they’ve flashed them on Twitter. iTannu, AnahitaIrani1, CarpeDatAss, Muskurahatein, NashiliAnkhein, KishMishnaiyatweetz, LunacyRedefined... the list goes on and on. These badges are a whiff of fresh air compared to the simple, staid and similar ones available everywhere else. A theme, a snap, a slogan, a website link and everything else that defines you goes onto your badge – your identity. If anything, this concept is going to scale up real quick. So go ahead, get your own badge. And tell me you loved it. It’s hard to believe you will have any other opinion.

8 Oct 2013

The Science Behind the Art of Giving...

How Giving & Helping Others Makes Us Better Humans

Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, talks about an unnamed government official who pissed him off when the former won his second term as clerk. The person made no bones about the fact that he was strictly against Franklin winning, often announcing it known in public. Unfortunately, Franklin noticed, the man was a “gentleman with good education.” He would be a man of influence in the government one day. Rather than taking the fight to him, Benjamin Franklin delved into the man’s personal life and found out that he was an avid reader. Franklin asked him for a book, which he said was not easily available. The man obliged. A week later, Franklin returned the book along with a ‘Thank You’ note. The man suddenly turned into a staunch supporter of Franklin, and they remained fast friends until the former died.

While the above incident is a commonly cited example on the topic of converting foes into friends, the focus here is not on Ben Franklin – it’s on the other person. How did the man, who often publically lambasted Franklin, turn into one of his stalwarts? Was it because Franklin asked him for something? Or was it the ‘Thank You’ note? Neither. It was because he gave something that he had as sudden change of heart.

The world’s selfishness quotient seems to increase every day. Trust is dwindling, the hunger for power and dominance is on the rise; people are ready to trample others to get what they want... giving, sharing and selfless work are such rare commodities. What will we achieve by giving others when they won’t appreciate what we do? In fact, they may take us for granted and demand even more. Giving today is an art practised only by a select few.

The Art of Giving
Giving, however, is more than an art... it’s a science. Without delving into neurological studies, here’s the deal – the fact that we do things for someone we like is a misconception; it’s actually the opposite. We like people whom we do things for. Don’t believe me? Think about your daily life. Noticed how you tend to like the new recruit at office who regularly asks you for help and guidance? It’s because you’re regularly giving the new guy advice that you like him. Do you feel closer to your family when you are involved in household chores or when you’re painting the town red with friends? Do you feel a certain warmth for a stranger whom you’ve helped on the streets?

When we do something for someone (or give them something) our subconscious mind forms an opinion that the receiver is worthy of our time and effort. This makes us develop a liking for the person. Benjamin Franklin’s oppressor started liking him because he gave Franklin a book. His mind thus covertly told him that since he had made an effort for someone, that someone was a good guy.

The Bhagwad Gita talks about rendering selfless service. Now I won’t get into whether it’s good for cleansing the soul or not – each person has her own beliefs. But selfless help, giving and sharing enable one to look at her surroundings differently. She realizes that knowledge she shares isn’t reducing; it’s multiplying. We hear of people who provide water bottles to traffic constables standing in the sweltering heat; who go to slums and remote villages to distribute clothes and food, and to teach. Are they losing knowledge? Are they wasting and precious time? It may appear so to many. But those who indulge in these actions start seeing the world differently. They witness abundance; that resources like knowledge and money don’t disappear. In fact, the more they share, the more there is. They start seeing the world from an angle of compassion and empathy. When people start trusting them, they start trusting the world. They become vulnerable, and voluntarily so. They don’t mind the odd person hurting them; they focus on the greater good. Their egos take a bashing, and their self-respect is fuelled. And of course, people love them. Not just superficially but intrinsically.

So get off your chair. Turn off your TV and shut out that media which keeps talking about how bad the world has become. Stop looking at the world from the eyes of a grumpy 95 year old. You don’t need to become a social activist... just be more sensitive to people around. Don’t hesitate when someone asks for help. Do the best you can without expecting something in return. Because when you expect and you don’t get, you’re disillusioned again. There are millions out there who are trying hard to make the world a better place. Help them restore faith in mankind. You’ll suddenly see how beautiful things are, and how negativity kept you bogged down all this time.

image Courtesy: Google Images
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