Monday, March 28, 2011

A Father`s Heart

Starving for space, I was sitting towards the edge of the seat of the auto rickshaw we were in. From my position, I had clear view of the streets of Jodhpur city, which I was visiting for the purpose of travel. Jodhpur seemed to be a small town in contrast to the cities I have spent my life in, but nonetheless, it was lively and rich in its heritage.

In an attempt to avoid a long detour, the rickshaw driver drove down in a direction opposite to the normal traffic flow. With all his attention focussed at the traffic coming from his left hand side, he did not notice that a father was trying to cross the road with his infantile daughter.

Sensing the opportunity to get to the U-turn, he accelerated. The father, who was not expecting traffic from the opposite direction, stepped forward to make the crossing. In moment, all I saw was the face of the child come real close to the body of the vehicle. Impulsively, I pushed the father away with my hand, causing him to loose balance and fall away from the rickshaw.

Realizing what just happened, the driver stopped and apologized to the father. He helped him get his chappals which had slipped off his feet due to the fall. Ignoring his own injury, the father immediately checked up on his daughter. Realizing she was unhurt, he told the driver "You are lucky only I was injured. Had anything happened to my daughter, you would have had it."

My first reaction was that of shock. Had I not pushed them away, the daughter may have been severely injured due to the impact of the vehicle on her forehead. However, after sometime, what remained on my mind was only the father`s response. And then I wondered how I do not know what exactly I am taking for granted today.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Giving by Volunteering

This is a blog post for the online fund raising campaign Twestival being conducted for NGOs across five cities. I am writing for the NGO Aashayein in Hyderabad working to create better education opportunities for children.

NGOs in India are trying to bring about a change at the grass root level. Many among them (like Aashayein) aim at connecting the growing professional population of the country with the segments of the society that are struggling to break through the barriers of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. The educated middle class has opened up to the idea of giving a part of their earnings to these NGOs for various social causes. As noble as the gesture is, NGOs today need more than just funds to make a lasting impact.

Monetary and material donations are important. However, their effectiveness is only determined by the ability of the NGO to leverage these contributions to serve better the cause it is working for. This ability is indirectly dependent on the available volunteer hours and volunteer skillset that the NGO has at its disposal. Considering the scale and sheer quantity of problems in our country, the higher the quality and quantity of volunteers available, more effectively can the NGO function in its respective area.

Moreover, in case of monetary and material contributions, many willing donors are tentative about supporting new NGOs/causes for their lack of credibility. Giving by volunteering allows you to see for yourselves the impact your contribution is making. One may later also choose to support the NGOs they volunteer for through other means.

As the secretary of the social initiative club at MDI, I had initiated a tie-up between the NGO Deepalaya (the NCR chapter) and my institute. In my interactions with the director of the NGO, Ms. Sudha Parthasarthy, she expressed a strong need for more volunteers at their centres with the purpose of providing children with more than just traditional school learning. She wanted the children to build better vocational skills, learn creative arts and become more aware of the opportunities available to them. It is not that the available staff at Deepalaya was incapable of providing them with value added learning, however they were too stretched with meeting the basic needs of the children to be able to take learning to the next level.

Considering our hectic schedules at a b-school, the only solution I could offer her was monthly visits by students from my institute. In each of these visits, we tried to focus on a particular aspect of learning which went beyond academics. However, what helped the most was perhaps the fact that we built a bond with some of these children and were able to mentor them through their doubts and anxieties. I do not know if the impact of what we began is going to be long lasting, but I can say with certainty the children were better off with our participation that without it. We were able to supplement their learning in our own small way.

Being in the position of a decision maker for my club, I had the easier option of raising funds for Deepalaya using the resources at my disposal at MDI. However, considering the need of the NGO, I think it was only right that we contributed to the cause with our quality time, whenever possible.

When I talk about volunteering, it is not about working for an NGO full time, but being consistent in the time you give - a few hours daily or a few days every month. In the hectic lives that we lead, volunteering is a productive way to take a break from the monotony of work life.

The beauty of being a volunteer is you gain much more than you give. The personal satisfaction that you get by putting a smile on those faces is of a rare kind. Besides, you learn to better interpret problems, create innovative solutions, work better in teams and even become a better leader. The hands on nature of the learning ensures it is deep rooted and permanent. Thus, volunteering is as much a process of helping yourselves as helping others. In this light, I am forced to rethink if the title of the post is apt.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Light Painting

On the insistence of Vishy, I have decided to pen down the recipe for a photography technique I just learnt - light painting. For a layman, light painting is essentially capturing shapes drawn in the air using a light source. Though there are incredible works in light painting available online, I will only explain the most basic technique used when you want to combine photography with fun and friends.

The most basic ingredients for light painting are a camera with manually adjustable shutter speed, high ISO (800 and above gives decent results), a tripod and a light source (LED torches are the best option but practically any intense tiny light source would do, like cell phone torches). Besides equipment, you will need people willing to draw/pose as subjects for you.

Follow these seven steps to produce results as seen in the photographs (though we were not meticulous with them) above.
  1. Decide upon the light shape to be painted and the position of subjects of the photograph.
  2. Set the camera to a high ISO. The shutter speed is adjusted according to the intricacy of the shape to be drawn. Higher the complexity, lesser the shutter speed (we used something between 4s to 12s). But higher the time the shutter is open, tougher it is for people who are posing to remain still!
  3. Adjust the camera on the tripod at the height at which the painting is going to be drawn.
  4. Get the painters/subjects in position. You may want to focus the camera on the light source initially and then lock focal length manually to avoid blurring of the light source.
  5. Keep the flash on. You want to capture the faces of the subjects when you click. However, be careful to keep the light sources and the painters out of the frame till the flash turns off.
  6. Once the flash is off, then all the people in the photograph are supposed to do is remain still. It also marks the cue for the painters to begin their work.
  7. With the light source concealed, painters must first get to their positions in the frame. After unveiling the light source, they must draw as continuously as possible, with minimal crossovers (to avoid problems of alignment with previously drawn lines in the frame). Moreover, if there is a break in the painting, the light source must be concealed in the interim. While drawing alphabets, keep in mind that they are written in a manner that they do not appear laterally inverted in the frame.
It is not as complicated as it sounds. The only challenge is managing everything/everyone in the limited time frame of few seconds. If you make a mistake, start over. A few tries are enough to get the first decent shot.

Improvisations can be made with multiple light sources/painters. An advanced level application of the technique is in stop motion films involving multiple light paintings.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Journey

A journey is not defined by:
  1. where you come from
  2. where you go
A journey is defined by:
  1. how you get through your time
  2. how much fun you have
  3. how you manage crisis
  4. who joins you on the way
  5. who walks away from you midway
  6. who seeks your help
  7. who you seek help from
  8. who promises to call you back once it is over
  9. who calls back once its over
  10. where you take breaks
  11. where you run out of your supplies
  12. when you almost quit
  13. what you take back home
  14. what you forgo
  15. why you took the journey in the first place