Monday, January 6

India and these Manto-esqe times

This summer, whilst drowning in pension accounting and yield curves, I was tempted time and again to turn the pages of the ever growing stack of books I had been dreaming to read ever since I acquired them. Finally, one lazy afternoon, saturated with finance formulae, my brain ever so sneakily guided me to a recent acquisition, a book of Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories translated by an author whose books I’d read and liked, Aatish Taseer.
Some books fail to stimulate you even a tad bit, some keep you thinking for a day or two, from some you learn and some have the power to change your life. This story I read that fateful day, called Khol Do (open it), a controversial piece by Manto in his heyday, and even now many years after his passing, left me feeling downright exploited. He is of course notorious for that – and never fails to hit the bull’s-eye. What took the book a mile further, in my opinion, was its relevance today. It has now been a year since that diabolical incident in New Delhi, the brutal rape of “Nirbhaya”, outrage to which was almost exceptional. The crime unfortunately has become the norm, the unexceptional.  
In Khol Do, a young girl, Sakina is separated from her father, the only surviving member of her family, in the chaos of partition of the country. The group of young men who her father had sought help from, to hunt her, literally hunted her. She was raped by her protectors. In the last scene of the story, she is re-united with her father, who eventually finds her at a hospital. The doctor indicates to the nurse to open the window on the warm day, saying “khol do” (open it), when a somewhat unconscious Sakina undoes (opens) her pants and lowers them.
History has repeated itself time and again. The helpless in the society have been humiliated, hurt and harmed. There has always been an inherent violence that formed the very fabric of our society, leaning on the modesty and honour of the women and the cultural codes of integrity. We have lived in denial for too long. Manto, a brave soul, had challenged the status quo by writing Khol Do almost half a century ago. His writings, Khol Do and Thanda Gosht had created such a furor that he was tried six times for obscenity.  How could he have the audacity to call a spade a spade, right?
We lived in denial then. But I think most of India (and perhaps other places) still does. Yes, we’ve had a woman serve the country as president and the Congress Party is virtually run by one too, but this really means nothing in terms of the way women are treated on a day to day basis. Our society continues to be predominantly patriarchal, even in the light of women breaking barriers and advancing towards greater accomplishments.  And while it can’t be denied that has been enormous progress in the face of adversity in recent decades, I don’t think it is even the tip of the iceberg. Broad attitudinal shifts are vital, culturally and socially, even more than legally.

Here’s hoping that the rage brewing in the minds of Delhiites, and of Indians brings about change.  
Harleen A.

Sunday, October 28

The change of the constants.

Sometimes you have to see it to believe it. Last year, my sibling upon her return from the motherland, reported to me how dadaji's health had deteriorated drastically, to the point where it was hard to recognize who he was. I did not believe her, for only two years before that I had seen him in pristine health. Plus I am a habitual victim of denial.

This year when he came to visit us, I was shocked. I did not know the man who I so zealously greeted our doorstep. Even though he has always been a slight man, he looked considerably weaker than before- so frail that I feared he might fall at any moment. A healthy face had become so weak, that there was a natural pout indicating the weight loss. He is now merely a shadow of the man I remember fondly. Who thought old age could change the very constants in our life? That afternoon, I kept hoping he'd be back again, back to the man I loved very dearly.

Out of all my grandparents, he is the one who I've spent the most time with. In fact, to my mother's significant disappointment, my first was dada rather than the more popular, mama. He was the only adult in the family who championed our wish lists, full of candy and toys. He took us to the Gurudwara every Sunday, let us climb on the trees there to pick ripe mulberries and never once raised an eyebrow at our careless frolicking there. After that, we'd go out on our much awaited weekly ritual of buying unlimited chips and chocolates from the neighborhood grocer, who we fondly called lalaji. He was the only admirer of my fervent singing, which to all others sounded more like croaking. He'd let us dip rusk (Indian version of biscotti) in his morning tea. He'd take us for long morning walks, which to our delight would make us miss the early morning glass of milk we so detested.

I felt special when he told be stories of the partition of Hindustan into the three independent states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He, with numb eyes told us about how he was orphaned in the process. How he lost all his family. How he gallantly escaped the enemy's swords with his presence of mind. He told us about how the journey led him to meet my grandmother. We- him, my sister and I, would always end up hopelessly in tears by the end.

He told me enough for me to write a book on it. I've written three chapters so far. It's harder to write than I thought. I get up with either a headache or end up on Expedia, all ready to book a flight to Delhi to see him. But now that he is here, I still can't seem to fill the pages easily. It's hard to understand, because writing comes easy to me. I love to write about everything under the sun. But somehow, his story is so much harder to tell, so hurtful, so close to my heart, so intertwined with my life. My heart aches every time I see him now. I want my dadaji back, with the eyes twinkling like they would we he called out my name. I want to hug him tightly without the worry of hurting him. He is my first love.

An ode.
Harleen A. 

Sunday, April 1

Patriotism Or Simply Frivolity?

Maple syrup dipped snow cone versus a sweet and salty colorful chuski. This is what zoomed through my head while I sat for my Canadian citizenship ceremony. The pictures of the two flashed again and again.

Johnny Depp once said, “If you love two people at the same time, choose the second one. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” Now, I don’t get the truths of life from Mr. Depp, but this particularly got me in a state of turmoil at first, and then, plain panic.

I love Toronto, but does that imply…? This is not betrayal?! Or is it? But I love Delhi, or maybe I loved Delhi? I tried to talk to my sister, who was sitting next to me reading for her economics test that afternoon. She hushed me, saying “Are you crazy? Don’t talk like this HERE!!”
Wait! Did I not make sense to her? Or did I not make sense at all? Or perhaps that tattooed Johnny Depp was simply no brains all brawn.

Fast forward to that night. Completely convinced that I had forgotten my beloved hometown of Delhi, I searched for a rutilant answer. Now, I’m more of a treadmill person, but that night, I quietly slipped out of the house for a long walk. A long walk would help me introspect, I thought. One hour later, I realized life is really not that dramatic. Long walks only help actors in movies. In real life, there is no answer to such frivolous matters, as my mother put it. I can’t believe her! A matter of my loyalties is definitely not frivolous to me, mother! This morning I spoke to my friend, a Canadian born Indian. I told her how I felt about somehow betraying my country by choosing to be a Canadian citizen. She laughed loudly!

Well, the answer I was looking for was right in front of me the whole time while I was treading on the absurd antipode of the truth. I had forgotten that food helps me think better. Rather, it helps me think. As I took the first bite of my sister’s heavenly home made peanut butter cup, I realized, I am not losing or betraying India, but am inheriting a whole new country. A country of warm, spirited people, a country of la meilleure poutine, a country of fine rye, a country of magnificent maple trees to adorn your backyard, but most of all, a cultural mosaic that welcomes individuality, that welcomed me. Thank you Canada, for the big bear (moose) hug!

Loving cricket and now, hockey too!
Harleen A.

Thursday, November 17

All Inclusive: Yay or Nay?

This is the first draft of a piece I wrote for The Investment Society's publication at the University of Toronto.

Are all inclusive deals for you? Read on...

"I can make more generals, but horses cost money. "
-Abraham Lincoln

Wallet free environment awaits
Most of us live on a budget and would love a chance to leave our wallet at home and live like a king! When it comes to travel, “all inclusive” is probably the most often used term. And free booze is the most exploited of all its features. It cannot be denied that when you are on a budget, and don’t want any unexpected expenditures to pop up- all inclusive deals turn out to be great. With travel agencies springing up left, right and center and competition till the neck, deals are getting better and better with time. Just like fine wine! When penny pinching is on your agenda, it is the suggested way to go. So, whether you’re packing your bags for Cuba or Greece, the vote here is Yay!

"Charm is a product of the unexpected."
-Jose Marti

Wait, what? Only one bagel?
I disagree with what activist Jose Marti says above. Unexpected is not always charming, at least in this one instance, it certainly wasn’t. Last year, I attended a business conference through university. All inclusive. The hotel, the food and of course, the competition were all included in the cost. It was a great conference, and I did have a fabulous time – but it was also an eye opener to the term “all inclusive”. The breakfast included in the “all inclusive” was one pick from the bakery – bagel or muffin and two picks from fruits – yogurt or an orange or an apple. It was not the breakfast any of us at the conference had expected. The hotel was great, so when instead of the restaurant we were guided towards a foyer, where we had to line up with a paper plate in hand to pick one bagel, none of us were particularly pleased. Here the vote is Nay.

"A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work."
-John Lubbock

Lock your worries and lose the key!

Isn’t it true? Worrying is exhausting and should be banned on vacations. There should be a way to escape any hassle that might come your way or simply for every whim to be taken care of. Why not be spoon fed everything? All inclusive packages to rescue! From your flight, to taxi to sightseeing to spa, everything can be fulfilled, without you having to move finger. All you have to do is sit back on the beach with your piƱa colada in hand and bask in the glorious sun! The vote here is Yay.

"We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey."
-John Hope Franklin

The World is a book

…so, take advantage! Most vacations where all inclusive resorts are booked are spent inside a resort. A colleague of mine has frequented Latin America and now does not have learning about the culture on the vacation agenda. This is why she tends to lean towards all inclusive packages. But when you plan to visit a new place, don’t give up on the opportunity to learn something about its culture. Travel is an effective way to learn something new, so why not explore every nook and cranny of a brand new world! Unfortunately, all inclusive packages focus only on the major tourist sites and in resort experiences. While they offer a great way to unwind, exploration is limited to the different varieties of cocktails the bartender can mix. Here, the vote is Nay.

All inclusive can be great or disappointing – it all depends!

So, as Mark Twain famously said, “Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Bon Voyage!
Harleen A.

Sunday, September 25

Rain Dance

The sky was not dismal, but generous. The wind was not a tangled beast in the woods, but an explorer. The rainbow was awaited. The quiet was gone, but who likes quiet anyway?

As my colleague and I walked in the rain to the subway station from work yesterday, and I began to tell her about my love for this weather, she turned to me in surprise to ask what it is about the rain that I liked so much.

I read somewhere that anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain. Dancing in the rain is a feeling like no other. The rain, to me, brings a fresh start. It washes away what we want to forget. It brings with it a second chance. It ruined my suede boots, but I got a chance to buy new ones ;) See, chances!

Why I love the rain? Was it the rainbow? Was it my “second chances” philosophy? Was it the playfulness of the raindrops as they trickle down my face? Or was it riddance from the heat?

Having lived in the Indian heat for over seventeen years, any change from it was welcome. The end of summer in India is marked by the monsoon- we danced in the rain, made little paper boats to float in the water, ate the customary pakoras and celebrated! Monsoon is celebration. That’s what I love about the rain – it feels like celebration to me.

"Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you?”
-  Eurythmics

Raindrops are falling on my head and I’m loving it!

Harleen A.

Thursday, July 21

Heat and Hope

Hot and humid, every Torontonian's topic of the day was the heat. The absolutely unbearable heat. They say they love the summer, but really, that gets harder to believe when the temperature almost touches fifty degrees. While the day went by slowly today, on the way back home from work, a soft breeze started blowing - reminding me that tomorrow will be a better day, a friendly nudge to think beyond the present. To think beyond the heat.

If today is good, why worry about tomorrow? If today is not as great as we'd like it to be, then tomorrow will be better. Happy endings, believe in happy endings. They are not merely a way of Bollywood movies or Danielle Steel novels, but reality. Plain and simple. It's just sometimes we limit our horizons and refuse to look beyond constrained by our myopic vision.

Optimism should replace realism sometimes. On hot, muggy days. On days when you crack a rib. On days when your cell phone gets stolen. On days when you realize a your favourite milkshake has a thousand calories. Hope can be our secret friend. Our loyal friend, which gives us hope in times of distress and keeps the games of life going. It helps us see the light at the end of the tunnel. And it's that light that puts things into perspective sometimes. It helps people like me to touch base with reality after my wild imagination has taken me on a rollercoaster ride.

Glass half full, cherries on the pie and birds in the sky - the world is a beautiful place. Keep reminding yourself that.

Henry Ford said - "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." This is the power of attitude. I think tomorrow is going to be a great day. Don't you?

Back in my pink bubble,
Harleen A.

Wednesday, June 15

Nostalgia and True Love...

It’s been four years now…but somehow the connection I feel with Delhi has not faded one bit. On the contrary, I feel it is stronger than ever. 

They say true love is hard to forget. Well, Delhi is home, it was my cocoon – a place I know inside out. I miss it terribly, especially when I begin to tell somebody where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. Delhi to me is magnetic, to my sister – a quicksand. At least we both agree it’s pull cannot be ignored. 

This morning as I was reading one of my favorite blogs on the city today, nostalgia hit me again. 
It is a city that can never be boring, always full of spice. When I imagine Delhi, I imagine colours, a mosaic of bright colours. It’s a place where everyone has a different meaning of it, and the only thing they agree on is – “Dilli Dilwalan Ki”. Plus there is the unanimous love for tandoori chicken!

Can't wait to be back!

Harleen A.

Sunday, May 22

Meet the Joneses, everything you want to be...

Remember the age old saying that all that glitters is not gold. Or maybe, what looks good from far is far from good?! Well, this movie I just finished watching just hit the bull’s eye. It’s called “The Joneses” and you’ll see Demi Moore and her fake family display an exaggerated version of this saying. It touches on various topics of materialism, consumerism, marketing and finally, human emotions entangled in the spider web. The “Joneses” is a movie about a unit of four sales reps who pose as a family to sell a lifestyle. From a marketing and sales perspective, it’s a genius idea. But is it really ethical to make people believe yourself to be someone you are not? And to fiddle with their minds and exploit them? To sell a lifestyle based on frivolity?  To make them desire something you want to sell to them? Well, that is a form of marketing alright, but don’t you think a line should be drawn at some point?

The human mind and its lack of complexity showcased in this movie will keep you entertained, here is a glimpse:

Till my next blog,
Harleen A.

Sunday, March 20

The Spring Sprint

It’s that time of the year again. I can almost feel a smile form on the lips of everyone I lay my eyes on. Spring is the time that the whole of Toronto awaits eagerly and welcomes with a big bear hug! But if there is anything my lessons in finance have taught me is that there really is no free lunch. Spring comes bearing gifts, gifts of warmth, sunshine and a floral landscape. In Toronto, it also gives us respite from the stretched season of spine chilling cold. And so, dear spring gives us all a reason to put that smile back on our faces.

I can see my potted peace lily get a spine once again. Its droopy form is now gone. Maybe that’s how this season really works. It puts us back on track, the one that winter made waver one too many times.

They say what does not kill us only makes us stronger. If we survived that winter, then that beloved spring of ours will replenish us for the next winter. And we will go into it armed with greater strength. It is our optimism that allows us to conclude such. What would we really be without it by our side? It is something we can hold on to on the rollercoaster of our life. Life is really a rollercoaster, is it not? One day what we are on the top, the other we are nowhere to be seen. One day we are ecstatic and everything seems to be making sense. And somehow the morning is incapable of retaining that feeling, which somehow gets lost in the noise we can’t help but be surrounded by.

Let us promise we will make the feeling of this spring, the spring of 2011 stay with us forever. Let us promise we will never let the smile it puts on our faces fade away. Let us promise we will face every challenge that life will throw at us with a bucket full of optimism.
And no, promises are not meant to be broken!

Harleen A.

Saturday, February 26

Let's play the blame game

Something is skyrocketing, and it’s not something made by NASA. Just the word “oil” is making everybody flinch. The price has shot up like a rocket on fire, putting us in the same boat as the summer of 2008, right before the economy dove into a recession. Flinch, flinch and flinch some more.

But who is to blame! Ah, that is a tricky question. It’s you! No it’s you! No it’s not me, it’s you!! Everyone has a different viewpoint on this. The most popular doing the rounds these days is the unrest in Libya. Really? I personally don’t think this argument carries much weight considering the Libya is a relatively small oil producer and pumps only about two-thirds of Canada’s output. So this is a short term explanation at best.

So who is responsible for this? The world is becoming thirstier by the day and the resource is limited. There is the recovering West on one side and the rapid development in China and India on the other. The thirst for oil is at its peak. So is it that even the slightest of shortage leads of magnified effect? It is being said that the high watermark of $147 a barrel will be revisited again. Cringe, cringe, and cringe some more.

Is it the big oil companies? From what I read, Saudi Arabia has an estimated 4 million barrels per day of spare capacity and since they are the biggest oil producers in the region, they could be crucial in bringing down the oil price. The problem here is that the quality of the Libyan oil is superior and the Western refineries on be able to handle the spare oil that is of a lower quality. Umm, I believe what the correct terms are “sweet” oil (Libya) and “sour” oil (Saudi Arabia’s spare). So it’s a quality versus quantity war, is it?

So what is being said is that there is oil, but since it’s not the right kind, the refineries won’t be able to deal with it- hence rising oil prices. Refineries do not have the ability to refine sour crude and hence cannot switch from Libyan sweet crude to Saudi sour crude. Hmm.

Middle East is engulfed with social and political unrest when the higher prices of oil should result in a lot of dough. Now why is that?

This problem is far more complex than I or I think anybody imagined it to be, for it’s not only our daily budget for gas that has increased. The problem goes deeper. It is our fragile economy that is in real jeopardy here, and by the looks of it, we might be heading into a zone of inflation and interest rate increases. At least that’s what I can say from what I learnt in the past four years in my economics classes.  

Till my next blog,
Harleen A.

Friday, February 11

Star Wars and cute?

Every year while my father waits for Super bowl, I wait for its commercials! This one below is my favourite this year- I have watched it umpteen times and still can’t get enough! Even behind that mask, the kid is brilliant. The Darth Vader act tugged on my heartstrings...I wanted to go there and help the poor little kid out!
It's sad to see when his face drops when his Force does on work on the washing machine and the dog...
And then it finally does (with a little help from his dad), we have a hero in Volkswagen!
What makes this commercial a success for me is that it has a Star Wars character, which I'm sure would appeal largely to the audience of the Superbowl. Also, it's absolutely adorable and not too long!! 
It definitely gets my "awww" vote!

Till my next blog,
Harleen A.

Saturday, September 18

Hey, Soul Sister!

 “If you don't understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you were probably an only child.”  -Linda Sunshine

I know what the writer means by that for it’s something I experience on a regular basis.
When she eats the leftover chocolate mousse that I saved in a corner of the fridge. When she borrows my favourite bag and spills coffee on it. When she almost burns my hair while curling them. When she says that she’s mom’s favourite child. That’s when I  hate her.
And then, sometimes she gets me a chilled lemonade when my head is aching. And she explains what Aioli means by making it for me. And her blueberry pancakes are a piece of heaven I tell you (Yea, my sister loves to cook)! She tells me what makes me look fat (who does that, right?). She made me a “My sister best-est” mug when she learnt pottery. She lets me borrow her sunglasses. She is a solid leaning shoulder when I cry for the girl in Afghanistan in the Time Magazine. She listens to my non-stop chatter about herbal teas or any such thing for that matter without complaints (Ok no, not without protesting, but at least she listens while my mother chooses to completely ignore me). See, now that’s the part I love.

She’s a Capricorn, and like all goats, she is stubborn as hell. I’m the opposite. She is also snobbish and a bit too ambitious. And again, I’m not quite. But yes, she is wise (Capricorns live the other way around- wise as children and wild as adults) and quite stable. And me being a typical Libran, I’m not quite. But we manage rather well. She deals with my laziness (she has no choice actually). She gets irritated beyond measure with my indecisiveness but helps me out (we flip a coin mostly). And “takes my side” when mom is scolding me for being such a procrastinator and then later, makes me feel so guilty about shirking work yet another time.

To my every “there’s a rainbow around the bend” and “every cloud has a silver lining”, she’ll respond with “ok, let’s not get too carried away here”. It’s what sisters are for. While I manage to quietly tint her seriousness with pink coloured bubbles of hope, she helps me get around with my dances of indecision.

To my friend and soul mate – Salute!
Harleen A.

Wednesday, July 14

Can't Decide

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

I don’t remember when I first read this poem, an outstanding piece of literature if you ask me. And the impact, needless to say was profound. I am always reminded of it whenever life brings me to a crossroad, and that does happen quite often.

I’m a Libran. In other words, I am literally in hell whenever I have to decide anything, even choosing between pasta and pizza at the neighbourhood Pizza Hut. Yup, that bad. You can imagine what I must have gone through when I had to decide the subjects I had to take up in grade 11 (in India, we have to choose a stream after grade ten- commerce, science and art). And being true to my stars, I first thought of commerce and the day of submission, convinced by my father, chose science. And my poor mother then had to bear the brunt of my indecisiveness and my father’s quick input and deal with the school bureaucracies and shift me from science to commerce. Then, in university, I was first in the Mathematics program as I have always believed it to be my first love ( Don’t raise your eyebrows, I’m an Indian!). But then as my restless brain’s bickering with me lead me to check the job market in the field; I decided it was time to make a switch. And so, my undergraduate degree now is Business Administration or in the U of T jargon, Management. But can I ever rest in peace, No!!!!! I had to choose a specialist field within Management. Damn! At the crossroads I was beckoned again. The journey from here on is pretty interesting as well. I was first in Accounting as my father thought it was one recession-proof field and companies always needed nerdy accountants or puppets with no life. (No offence intended, it is my personal opinion as it made me absolutely miserable). But then unable to handle the blood-sucking balance sheets and cash flow statements, I decided it was time to choose another stream. Enter Human Resources. I absolutely loved intro HR class, Organizational Behaviour, loved everything about it. And so, not knowing how much difference the teaching style of a professor can make, I made my pick. Then as I took some more courses in it, I decided I could not live a life of boredom. And switched again- this time to Marketing. And what brought on this? Advertising. I took a course on advertising and the relaxed atmosphere of this class, the funny videos we watched and the cool teaching style of my professor lead me to my umpteenth switch. Wait! It’s not over yet. I am now in Finance and have taken enough courses in it so technically, it’s too late to switch if I want to graduate on time. So, I have decided to stay. Finally! Phew. Not that I never get tempted by International Business and Strategic Management. I do, as being indecisive is what I am unfortunately best at.

Right now as I am currently immersed in Financial Economics and Money and banking, I do smell the irresistible smell of Interior Decorating (I think it’s my dream job, but I really can’t trust myself for obvious reasons). Oh yeah that’s a whole other topic, which I’ll tell you about later.

Back to my books now,
Harleen A.

Thursday, July 8

To Dilli

“People who love only once in their lives are...shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde

When I told my mother that I am writing a blog on Delhi as I feel I am being disloyal to my hometown when I titled my blog “The Chit-chatting Torontonian”, she quoted the above to me. Lack of imagination? Lethargy? Ouch.

They say- Dilli Dilwalon Ki, which loosely translated means the city of Delhi belongs to generous, large hearted people. It sounds very poetic but there is history behind this term. Delhi is the oldest place in India which has been invaded by several kingdoms from Kurukshethra to Sultans, Mughals, the East India Company and the present seat of government and it has embraced or accepted all of them and their people with open arms.

What is Dilli?
Dilli is  a game of politics and power and somewhere down the lane, there is helplessness too.
Dilli is Lassi and idli in one meal.
Dilli is sufi and rock in one concert.
Dilli is a beautiful home to mandirs and masjids.
Dilli is Janpath and Emporio mall.
Dilli is the hometown of a Gujrati and a Bengali, a Punjabi and a Tamil.
Dilli, though a city of great contrast, is a monument of love, of devotion, of respect and honour.

Quoting the great Amir Khusrau-
 “Delhi, the refuge of faith and equity. Delhi is the garden of paradise. May its prosperity be long lived. If Mecca happens to learn about this garden, it may circumambulate around Hindustan.

Born and brought up in the capital of India, a place with an ample summer, a winter too short and breathtaking spring and autumn, I never knew I’d miss it so much once I moved. It is the most interesting city. On one end there will be slums with no water and electricity and on the other, a man in an Armani suit will roll up in his chauffer driven Bentley. You will see extraordinarily beautiful malls and the incredibly colourful street markets. A city of contradictions, a city of rich history, a colourful palette with people from all over the country.

Many books have been written on it, but none can do justice to its vibrancy, its warmth and its grandeur. This blog is my dedication to a city of love, life, laughter. A city that makes me smile and tear up at the same time.

A toast.
Harleen A.

Deeply involved in soccer, has eight legs, yet hasn’t kicked any balls?

After hearing about it all soccer season long, I finally Googled it. What exactly is Paul the octopus? It’s an octopus that predicts the outcome of soccer matches!!! Wow, I mean, what has the world (or should I say soccer fans) come to? This is pretty bizarre, don’t you think?

Yesterday, just as Paul the Oracle Octopus predicted with his arbitrary clam picking, Spain beat Germany 1-0 to proceed to their first World Cup final. That makes Paul six for six in picking the outcome of Germany's matches. Before the match, nervous Germans, doubting Paul’s genius physic held up signs of "Also octopus can be wrong.” As it turned out, nope, it cannot.
The tentacled oracle, who resides at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhauser, Germany, broke the hearts of his countrymen. Paul has been correctly predicting results since 2008, but he has made one mistake. He selected Germany to beat Spain in that final, which the Spaniards won 1-0.
Apparently his owner has received death threats and even recipe suggestions from football supporters who have found their teams on the wrong side of his predictive powers.
The internet these days is overflowing with comments, especially now that Paul is to predict the final result - the first time he'll prophesy about a match not featuring Germany. Google him and you get as many as 2,630,000 results.
Will doubting his powers lead him to liquefy your intestines and blow bubbles while he does it. Because blowing bubbles is the closest thing to laughing maniacally an octopus can do. Or will he now appear on the specials of the German soccer team’s menu?

Harleen A. 

Saturday, July 3

Historic commitment: G20

An institution that has met only four times, created enough drama around the world esp. in Toronto, with leader from countries as as disparate as Germany and India, is now astonishingly close to achieving its objective of rebalancing the global economy. Kudos!

By contributing to the strengthening of the international financial architecture and providing opportunities for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation, and international financial institutions, the G-20 helps to support growth and development across the globe. In the recent summit that took place in Toronto, Canada, countries have promised to explain in some detail how their domestic policies are helping to achieve the G20’s goal of reducing the excessive mismatches in spending and saving that exacerbated the financial crisis. With the help of the IMF, members can access whether each partner is doing enough.

Trust, credibility and transparency increase as the leaders put their cards on the table and peer review each other’s economic policy. Since the review remains a voluntary exercise without penalties, success will depend on G20 members taking the process seriously, both by submitting credible policies and showing the courage to offer tough, but fair, criticism. Given how these countries allowed the global economy to get out of control in the first place, there is reason to be doubtful of their capability to improve the shape of the economy.

In Pittsburgh, the G20 acknowledged that self-interested policy making had fashioned the conditions for the global recession that was sparked by the 2008 credit crisis. In was unclear whether the G20 was fully committed to create a forum in which they would shape their domestic policies in way that would ensure “strong, sustainable and balanced” global economic growth.
As we know, uninhibited spending and borrowing led to the recent recession which was happily exploited by the major exporters all around the world. China underwrote the spending as it purchased US debt and hence kept its currency low against the dollar. This in turn lowered the American interest rates. Instead of investing in their domestic economy, oil exporters bought US bonds. Continental European countries refrained from confronting rigid labour markets that inhibited investment and productivity.
Previous failures led economists and policy makers to doubt the success of sovereign nations to tailor domestic policies for the sake of the greater good. Going into Toronto, some countries, including China, were reluctant to accept country-level reviews under the framework, saying instead that G20 members should be divided as surplus countries and deficit countries.
A noted economist remarked that the framework introduced at the Pittsburgh summit would only be a passing phase, a temporary political convenience that will help leaders’ intentions to unite at a time of global crisis.
The confidence in the summit increased as the IMF and World Bank submitted studies that showed the G20 could generate GDP of $4-trillion, create tens of millions of jobs and lift even more out of poverty if countries actually made the changes necessary to achieve more balanced growth.
Any boost in credibility the G20 gets from embracing country-by-country peer review will be lost if the promises the process accepts lack ambition or commitment.
PS- This is a summary I made for a course in International Business about the G20 summit. Hopefully it will give a good idea about the most talked about issue of the year.

Sunday, June 27

The Fountainhead

“I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict–and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unrevered or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard–one can imagine him existing forever.”
This is a quote from The Fountainhead, a book that changed my life when I first read it at the age of 15. I’m not really a philosophical person, rather quite the opposite. Since most family dinner conversations tend to be fairly philosophical, and that is all I have had as my side dish for years, I have unconsciously developed a dislike to them. They are thought provoking, screw with my ignorance (they say ignorance is bliss- and I vehemently agree) and make me lose my precious sleep. So maybe not unconsciously, but I have developed an allergy to philosophy. But sometimes I come across something which I can personally relate to, that has to power to change me, to shake me up, to leave a permanent scar, and so I let it burst the pink bubble I usually tend to live in. This is one such example.
This quote has more depth to it than I had at first imagined. Peter Keating says this about Howard Roark, the protagonist of the novel, two architects completely different from each other.
The characters in the novel struggle to act independently from society and their desire to assert themselves becomes the single greatest virtue each of them possesses. The novel ends triumphantly not because Roark defeats or converts his enemies, but because he wins the right to act according to his own principles. The thesis at the heart of The Fountainhead is that society has a herd mentality, and individuals must act selfishly in order to be free. He has in a way achieved immortality as he has risen above the bounds of emotions and societal pressure which cage us and stunt our growth.
The frivolities we live in, the emotional appeals over logical agreements and sentimentalism which I believe to be like quicksand confuse the mind and compromise individualism.
In a battle between emotions and logic, one that wins determines our growth. Our destiny, our mortality is in our hands.
Harleen A.
PS- If you haven’t had the chance to read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, the next thing you should do is visit Amazon and order it. It is bound to leave a mark on you (the impact it had on me was so profound that it was all I could talk about for months, and hence resulted in me being nicknamed “the fountainhead” by friends.)

Saturday, June 26

Toronto: A charming city and a Benetton Ad

The day my dad decided to move to Toronto, I took an oath to hate it for eternity. And have stuck by it ever since...until now. It’s just you can’t escape the charm of this city, its enthusiasm for ice hockey, an absolute addiction to Tim Horton’s and pride for being the most multi-cultural city in the world. It’s a colourful tossed salad quite with people from all walks of life!
Actually, multiculturalism is a laughing matter in Toronto as ‘Toronto Life’ put it. A major share of the credit for this goes to stand-up comedian Russell Peters! His jokes comprise of wry observations on the Toronto’s favourite subject of race and culture to illuminate our human shortcomings with laser sharp accuracy. His mimicry allows him to create characters of all races and cultures and forge a bond with his audiences, which are as colourful and varied as his comedy. He teases just about anyone he lays eyes on: white, Mexican, Jewish, Jamaican, Chinese and of course Indian!
Another trophy in hall of fame of Toronto is its support to same sex marriages, and did you know over 5500 same sex couples have got married here? It’s pretty amazing! I believe Toronto to be gay rights beacon, especially to Americans weary of their country’s patchwork of indecency laws.
Our flourishing Bay Street, our safe and solvent banks, our Jay’s are off to a winning start, the amazing CN Tower, the St. Lawrence market (those who do not agree on this one, try the scrumptious sandwiches and the super cheesy poutine there), the Art Gallery of Ontario and oh, did I mention, University of Toronto?
To new favourite cities and old,
Harleen A.
PS: If you don’t know what Benetton is, as I think most Canadians don’t, just Google “United Colors of Benetton” and you’ll see what I mean!

Friday, June 25

Free Lunch

My horoscope this morning:

LIBRA (Sept. 24 - Oct. 23): Someone has taken a shine to you and wants to help you make the most of your talents. That’s all very nice but make sure you know what it is they expect from you in return. There’s always something. Nothing is ever truly for free.

My first day at The University of Toronto, Professor Mike Krashinsky shared with us the thumb rule in economics- “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

There is more truth to that statement than anything else I was taught subsequently. Really, we always like to think that we can surely get something for free or for a lesser price. Or take from someone without giving back. Almost never happens.

To get that laptop for less on Boxing Day, you probably sacrifice a night’s sleep and before that, some time checking out the deals at various stores.

To get your parents to pay for your university education, you abide by their rules and cut down on the wild partying and careless drinking.

To get a free hotdog at a school barbeque, you stand in line for an hour, listening to the stories of french manicures, of the new Jordans, or what rating the hot phychology prof has on ratemyprofessors. 

To make a profit in the stock market, I have seen my father lose his sleep debating whether to short sell a certain stock or not.

So is there ever a free lunch? I really don’t think so. If there is, probably the entire field of economics will collapse and so will our way of making market (or other) transactions.

So, as I was religiously reading my horoscope today, I was reminded of the golden words of wisdom my professor kindly shared with us, something on which our relationships are also based. It’s always a two way road we drive on. One way increases the risk of accidents, doesn’t it?

Till my next blog,
Harleen A.

Tuesday, June 22

Business Lessons taught by FIFA

Business Lessons taught by FIFA

1. The importance of a competitive stance
As we all know, Brazil defeat North Korea 2-1. Don’t you think it’s shocking for such legendary football-playing country (#1 FIFA world ranking) to win by a minimal margin against the Korea DPR team, #105 in FIFA world ranking.
Starting and running a business, regardless of how difficult they are, are even more challenging today. More established countries – business-wise, such as the United States shouldn’t overlook how China and the rest of the world are catching up to grab their share of pie in global business.

2. Manage your ego, look for a collaboration to make your business stand out
Strong football countries such as England and France, consisting of outstanding and probably the world’s best players that often come with ‘better than thou’ ego. To get the players to play as a team is a real challenge. Players from weaker football countries, such as New Zealand, are most likely to be more than willing to put their ego aside and think team-working above anything else. From what I’ve seen so far, teamwork does beat talent.
This lesson applies to the young entrepreneurs who even though have the energy and zeal to win the world by themselves, should make use of everything and anything which the globalized world makes available to them and to all those who think they can do it themselves!

3. Your business might be small, yet its impact can be huge
New Zealand might be a ‘weak’ at football, but the team performance inspires others – the small guys CAN do something big in the biggest stage of global football.
Owning a small business is probably the coolest thing on the planet. In whichever part of the world you are living right now, you – a small business owner – are one of the agents of change – you, along with the other small business owners, are the real driving force of your region’s economy – you create jobs; you better your local community; all in all, you add value to the community.

Monday, June 21

India to become a NSG member?

Hot topic of discussion in India is the proposed China-Pakistan nuclear deal which could spell trouble for India's own membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, severely upsetting the calculations of the government here.
India had hoped that the New Zealand plenary meeting might move the process along for India to be eventually recognized as a formal member of the group. It's about time it should!
There is a growing anger, albeit impotent, within the NSG as they confront a virtual fait accompli by China "informing" them of its decision to build two new nuclear reactors for Pakistan, a proliferation rogue. But such is the growing clout of China internationally that there is a lot of grumbling, but little outright opposition as there should have been.
The US so far is the only country to openly oppose the proposed arrangement, but that too happened after the Iran sanctions vote in the UN Security Council, where China's cooperation was crucial.

China is unlikely to ask for a full waiver for Pakistan from the NSG, along the lines of the India deal. That would require a huge amount of political investment of the kind the US made for India. Instead, China is likely to push these two reactors through under a kind of diplomatic amnesia because there is a paper trail that says only two reactors in Pakistan had been "grandfathered" by China.
With China becoming stronger by the day in international politics, this kind of a "thin-end-of-the-wedge" kind of deal might just go through. Fingers are crossed that it does not.

Source of news- TOI

Wednesday, June 16

And Google scores with the "Parisian Love Story"

This year this commercial was aired during the Super Bowl and is my favorite advertisement till date. I consider advertisements to be a piece of art, just there is more at stake here than other forms of art. In an economy coping with the recent financial crunch, there is no room for a bad bet.
This commercial is a thoroughly entertaining medium to convey Google's simple message of the difference it makes in our lives through its search engine and to me a fine piece of art.
This ad definitely has a chance at to win the Cannes Lions, atleast my vote definitely goes out for it!!!
What makes it a riskier bet and hence deserving of the bigger return is that it is not even faintly related to football or technology/IT but is a heart-melting love story instead.
It tells the story of a romance helped along by a series of Google searches conducted by (one is left to imagine) a young man who finds love after a simple plan to study abroad in Paris turns into love, marriage and a need to know how to assemble a crib.

It made our entire advertising class break into an "AWWW"

Saturday, June 12


Them thousands smiled at me in glee
Luster and light, they filled my day with
From lowlands to mountains and sea
Fair and tender, they are my kith
With charm of love they make me bait
All praise for their beauty would not be great
With beauty so pure they ornate
The world so poor has a changing fate
Golden time then lost its prime
The rustling leaving become a tomb
Their bliss with them was lost in time
Deprived of happiness, loomed the gloom
The spring shall return and summer will come
Voices so sweet shall perish the glum.

-Harleen A.