Sunday, January 24, 2016

Best Navigation Apps for India

Gone are the days when the tea vendor at the corner of the road was the most reliable navigator. Gone are the days when you had to call XYZ uncle to ask where that place is, because they live nearby the destination. Remember when you had to ask every rickshaw puller "Bhaiya, ye ABC kahan hai?" and even if they had no idea about it, they told you some direction and at the end you ended up circling around.

Well, thankfully technology has replaced all these for good. Nowadays, navigation apps are the go to resource for finding locations, routes and alternate routes.

Here is a list of the best navigation apps in India:

1) Google Maps: Google Maps is probably the most trusted, most used and most relevant app in the market. They cover not only rural areas but are also quite accurate. This app can be downloaded on any platform and comes pre-installed om most android devices. Best part is that it is free. It allows the user to switch between walking, private transportation and public transportation routes. It includes metro train timings and bus timings as well. Moreover, it also allows voice navigation and traffic conditions. It highlights the areas of high traffic and even suggests alternative routes.

2) Sygic & Map My India: The biggest drawback of Google maps is that they work only when the device is connected to the internet. It does not work offline. This is where Map My India comes to the rescue. Sygic and Map My India combined forces to provide the best maps for offline users. It works purely on GPS signals and does not require internet connectivity. It has features such as house number search, places of Interest, sign post info, city guide, location sharing and geo-tagging images. It also gives speed limit warnings. It was earlier priced at Rs1399, but, now has been made free for users in India. Map My India not provides the most detailed maps in India but also provides 3D city views. Th application can be downloaded through Google Playstores and is compatible with Android 2.0.1 and upwards.

3) Nokia Maps: Navteq is the biggest mapmaker in the world. Since, Nokia owns Navteq, their maps show the world class quality and accuracy that Navteq stands for. This application comes pre-installed on all smartphones by Nokia. It is free. It works even in offline mode, however, some fatures such as terrain maps and weather forecasts might not. In high-end devices it uses GPS to locate the position and give turn-by-turn voice directions. Now, it has also added the traffic feature.

4) WAZE: This one is fast becoming a global favorite. Waze was recently acquired by google and since this acquisition, its service has improved significantly. Waze is primarily a community-based traffic and navigation application. It uses community tips to provide real tie traffic conditions and other such notifications. It also give turn-by-turn voice directions along with traffic density notifications. It suggests alternative routes depending on the community reviews. Each location has its own groups like Delhi Roads etc. The users can select anyone depending on their location and get instant access to real time conditions. While routing, it sources information from various other Waze users.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Peppy Books for Reading On the GO

In my opinion, traveling is the best time for reading. It not only utilizes the time which I would have probably wasted but also makes the journey seem less daunting. For the past five years, I have been reading while commuting via metro. I read about forty books each year and most are read on the go.

So, here is a list of peppy, light and engaging books for reading on the go, tried and tested by me.

1) Dan Brown Books, especially the Robert Langdon Series. I read all the four books in this series while traveling. The best part about these books is that they are easy to read with easy to understand vocabulary so one doesn't need the dictionary very much. Also, being thrillers, they shift one's focus from the travel to the story, so one may feel as if the journey just began and ended. Highly recommended for long travel.

2) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This book by Cheryl Strayed is a first person account of the journey she undertook while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The story is about how Cheryl hikes the longest journey she had ever undertaken while dealing with loss and emotional turmoil all alone in nature. It is an all-time bestseller and highly recommended from me.

3) The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson: This consists of the books: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It is a great example of best contemporary writing which breaks the clichés of society and challenges its norms. It is the story of a young but genius girl who has her own ways to deal with the world and her friendship with a well-known journalist. It is my favourite book series ever and I promise it will entertain you, engulf you into its world and you'll forget everything else.

4) Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. This is a funny yet true account of the life of Allie Brosh. It is very engaging and very relatable at times. The writing is easy and very funny without trying too hard. Allie talks about her childhood, how she coped with depression, how a bird terrorized her house, and other such stuff. It was a bestseller when it was first launched and is highly recommended for the truthful nature of Brosh’s writing. It is a light, peppy read, great for reading while traveling.

5) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This book was hailed as the latest “Gone Girl” when it was introduced first. Paula Hawkins is a well-known journalist and her writing is engaging and crisp. The book is about messed up people and at the centre our protagonist who is an alcoholic. AS the story continues, the people one liked before do not seem so likeable any more. It shows the ugly side of humankind and what we are capable of.

6) Runaway by Alice Munroe: This is a collection of short stories by Nobel Laureate Alice Munroe. Munroe being the literary genius she is, crafts detailed, crisp stories out of ordinary people. And the best part about short stories is they are perfect for reading while traveling.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Jagjit Singh: A Musical Inspiration

Jhuki Jhuki see nazar bekarar hai ke nahi,
Daba daba sa sahi dil mai pyaar hai ke nahi,

tu apne dil ki jawaan dhadkanon ko gin ke bataa
meri tarah teraa dil bekaraar hai ke naheen
dabaa dabaa saa sahee dil mein pyaar hai ke naheen
Jhuki Jhuki see nazar...

It is verses like this that made music by Jagjit Singh immortal. Simple language yet immense depth was his style. 

Jagjit Singh, born in Rajasthan as Jagmohan Singh, one name everyone associates with Ghazals in India. Coming from humble roots, he became the Ghazal King of India. He brought the dying art of Ghazals in India, back into the limelight and the popularity of Ghazals soared in his time. He consciously chose poetry that was relevant to the masses, instead of being elitist or prosaic. He chose music such that it highlighted the meaning of the words and key phases in the Ghazal. In the context of Indian Classical music, his style of composing and Gayaki (singing) is considered as Bol-pradhan, one that lays emphasis on words.

Jagjit Singh is considered to be the most successful ghazal singer and composer of all time in terms of critical acclaim and commercial success. With a career spanning five decades and a repertoire comprising over 80 albums, the range and breadth of his work has been regarded as genre-defining. He is the only composer and singer to have composed and recorded songs written by former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee – also a poet – in two albums, Nayi Disha (1999) and Samvedna (2002).

The fact that I like most about his ghazals is that they are timeless. They were relevant ten years back, they are relevant today and will be relevant maybe hundred years from now. Unlike contemporary composers today, he never used complex, never heard of before words in his poetry. His words were simple yet powerful. They reach the depth of one’s heart and evoke some deep emotions. Composers today use difficult words but their poetry lacks depth. It is shallow and comes with an expiry date. I doubt even two generation from now, if anybody will be singing their songs.

Jagjit Singh’s voice was his most invaluable possession. It was deep, with a slight husk, yet so melodious. His voice complemented anything he sang. It provided the words a whole new dimension. His voice in songs like “Who kagaz ki kashti” and “Mere Dukh ki Koi Dawaa na Akro” brought tears in eyes of even the most emotionally reserved people.

Jagjit Singh worked with many top artists of his time including Lata Mangeshkar, Ravi Shankar etc. Mirza Ghalib was the main influence in his life and he even composed a TV serial of the same name. Most of his poetry was inspired by the works of Mirza Ghalib.

I wish we had more artists like Jagjit Singh today. Real music has taken a back seat these days and only mindless cacophonies are making the big bucks.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Impact of Baby Boxes

Parenthood is hard, especially, for new parents. Many are ill-equipped to deal with it. Many don't have the right knowledge. And, all get overwhelmed at some point or another. But, the effects of is felt only by the new born. This is also a contributing factor to infant mortality rates.
The first year is the most difficult year (except for teen year’s maybe!). After the whole process of nine months, the mother is tired and help may not be easily available. The pressure might get to the parents, especially in western families where the grandparents do not live in the same house.  Moreover, not everyone can afford paid help. Hence, we see high infant mortality rates and high rates of postpartum depression, especially in the lower income group. 

However, Finland has found this ingenious idea for helping out new parents with the changing dynamics. It is called Baby Boxes. It is a revolutionary idea. It was first implemented in 1930s and since has helped countless new parents into parenthood. It is an ingenious idea which has greatly helped to reduce the mortality rate amongst infants in Finland.

So, what is a BABY BOX?

A Baby Box is a cardboard box which contains everything a parent may need for their new born. It is a box which comes fitted with a mattress so one can use it as a crib for their baby. It contains supplies like diapers, baby wipes, clothes of different sizes, winter clothes, a thermometer, a baby book, and loads of other baby stuff. The clothes are gender neutral, so they can be passed onto the next kid irrespective of their gender. The clothes are of various sizes to accommodate the growth rate of the new born. A lot of instruction manuals are also provided with the baby box to guide the parents onto the right path. There is a baby book too, in which you can note down the key developments of your child. It also has helpful notes for the parents.
To get the baby box, the parents have to pick them up from a health centre any time before the birth of their child. When they do so, they are asked to fill a questionnaire and are also allocated a local community parent mentor. This mentor provides personal guidance to the new parents.
Moreover, the commendable part of this program is that all people get the same baby box. That is, it does not matter which income group you belong to, or religion, or race; you will be given the same baby box.
Studies have shown that 95% parents pick the baby box over a stipend in Finland. And, the infant mortality rate of Finland is one of the lowest in the world; all because of the baby box.
This has become such a huge hit that Canada has now decided to implement this and many places in the USA are also thinking to implement this. I think that in a country like ours, with high infant mortality rate, it is something we can look into.  

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Essential Books for Navigating through Life

Everyone needs guidance when it comes to life. Life, being the unpredictable thing it is, throws curveballs at us when we least expect it to. More often than not, we find ourselves at crossroads where the wrong decision can seriously change the entire course of our life. Then who can we trust for savage advice? Some look to their parents, teachers or friends but even they can fail to help sometimes.

My most reliable advisor when it comes to life is books. They are trusted by thousands and reachable at all times. You can go back to the same thing any time you want. And over time they are really been tried and tested and proven their worth. Here is a list of my most reliable books for navigating through life:

1) The Vedas: I'm not religious; I'm an atheist. However, knowledge has no religion or it is a religion in itself. The Vedas are the key to life. They cover everything from mortal ailments of the body to the spiritual ones of the soul. There are four Vedas namely- Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda is the oldest and answers Metaphysical questions such as "what is the origin of the world?" or "what is life?” It is about spirituality. Sama Veda also is an extension of Rig Veda and deals with spirituality. Yajur Veda talks about life and structure. It accounts the various rituals of the Vedic era. Atharva Veda talks about remedies, herbs and practices which can heal the body. I have not been able to complete them but I'm confident one day I will.

2) The Art of War by Sun Tzu: This Chinese text from 5th century BC has been a guiding manual to the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Pretty Little Liars. It consists of thirteen subsections and each section talks about different war strategies. But these strategies are also relevant to business, politics etc.

3) The Fountainhead: I'm a fan of this book. It is a work of fiction but in my opinion it is the best book out there. It talks of a man who cares about nothing but doing the best he can. He cares not about fame, money or craves any such materialistic desires but he wants to be great at what he does. It is noble goal and a personal one for me. I just love this book.

4) Tuesdays with Morrie : It is about an old man, at the end of his life, passing on his life lessons to the next generation. This book got pretty real at times but it is an insightful read.

5) Any Book by Dr Seuss. I know it sounds childish but even Dr Sheldon Cooper, in his time of doubt, refers the great doctors’ texts.

The above mentioned books are very close to my heart and I recommend them to anyone who needs guidance in life. Hope this helps.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Losing our Bookstores: Impact of Online Mega Stores

Not a long time ago, in a major national newspaper Ruskin bond wrote about how bookstores are closing all over the country due to the rise of online sellers which offer considerable discounts to lure customers their way. While this switching makes perfect sense economically for the consumer but for an ardent book lover this may not be the best news.

Many of my favourite memories as a child are related to bookstores. My grandmother used to take me to this small cosy bookstore near our house every Friday. I was allowed to pick up any two books and one Champak. I would look at the shelves stacked with books. My grandmother would take me to the children's section and ask me to pick up any two books. I would play "Icky Mickey Monkey" to select the books. This introduced me to the fabulous world of Panchtantra, Nancy Drew, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and many more.
The kindest thing the bookshop owner did was he allowed me to read the books before I bought them, so I could decide if I wanted to buy them or not. He himself was very well read and recommended books to me.  
Bookstores owned by people like that are a joy to visit. They are cosy and personal. One can wander and let destiny help pick the next favourite read. The romance and joy of buying and rushing home to read that new found friend is difficult to put in words.
However, these days most people are buying books online, mainly because they offer substantial discounts. It is not anomalous to find up to 70 or 80 per cent off on popular books, especially during big sales. Some would argue that money is the most deciding incentive for decision makers or consumers, but it makes the process of book buying very impersonal; almost mechanical. You just type the book you want, hit buy and voila book is yours. This convenience comes in exchange of the pleasure of browsing countless books in bookstores and discovering a new author or a new genre. Or reading the first chapter of a completely obscure book and finding out that you like it, then buying it.
Not only are the online stores taking the experience out of book buying but as more people switch to buying books online, the less money small book stores make. They can’t offer such discounts and due to decreasing sales they are forced to close shop. In fact, the bookstore I mention before also went under about six months back (and that broke my heart).  
In conclusion, the impact of online retailers might have been a blessing for people who want to save money but for the lovers of books who value the whole experience of buying a book, it is not so great. I miss my little bookstore.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.