Looking at the past through rose tinted glasses

Live in the present, be like a child

As photos of the Indian monsoon flood my Facebook timeline and news feeds, I find myself in the grip of strong nostalgia. After a long, hot and dry summery spell, monsoon is a time of celebration in India. Childhood memories of thundering rain clouds, the cool breeze filled up with the earthy smell of the first rains, mom made ilaichi (cardamom) tea and aloo pakore (potato fritters), all come alive in a flash and make me long for ‘home’. I look out of my window now and see a thick grey cloud in the sky. There’s no dearth of rain in England but the dull, achy drizzle fades in comparison to a full blown, scented downpour.

Nostalgia – a constant companion
As a first generation migrant living away from my ‘home’ and family, nostalgia is my constant companion. It catches me unaware when I least expect it. Amid the quiet of my home in a leafy suburb here in England, I particularly miss the ambient sounds made up of vegetable sellers, people talking, traffic (yes, even traffic), and chants heard from the nearby temple that I grew up listening to.

The past wasn’t perfect but somehow seems rosier. As a child, I hated to be dragged to meet the large number of relatives during festivals, but memories of those times seem joyous. The mind doesn’t remember details of getting stuck in traffic jams after rain, all it remembers is the scent of the first showers. I guess the longing has no logical basis but is more of an emotional need to connect with the people, places and events associated with the younger, carefree self.

The old is comforting but the new is reality
While memories of younger days have helped me stay connected to my Indian roots, I am not entirely sure if I always like the nostalgia as it evokes very strong emotions, when I would prefer to be more rational.

Logically, there should be no room for the kind of nostalgia that holds us back. We travel to home countries far more often now, and are in touch with immediate and extended family on a daily basis thanks to Whatsapp and Skype. The presence of strong multicultural communities mean our children can absorb the best of both worlds, without any of our emotional baggage.

Still, most of the first generation migrants I know perpetually oscillate between missing the old and adjusting to the new. We moan about how our children don’t get to play on the streets like we did at their age. At other times, we indulge in self-pity about how our children are somehow deprived of the affection and company of cousins and large families that we enjoyed. The result is, we are in a constant state of flux, and neither completely belong here or there. The children, thankfully, do not know any different and seem content with their lifestyle in the present.

“I miss my home,” I casually tell my four year old.

“But this is your home mummy,” she replies.

“But I miss my family and friends,” I say.

“But papa and I are your family mummy and you have so many friends,” she concludes.

I secretly hope the child’s pragmatism always wins over my nostalgic overdrive.


Cyberattacks emerge as real threats in digital world

In an increasingly digital world where organisations and individuals store more data virtually, cyberattacks and misuse of data have emerged as real threats.

Last week, a global cyberattack affected nearly 200000 machines in 150 countries. Computers running on the older version of Microsoft operating system were impacted. Users were locked out of accessing their files and the hackers demanded $300 in ransom for providing access, resulting in disruptions and delays at workplaces. Imagine being locked out home of your home and being asked to pay up to access your belongings.

cyberattacks may 2017In the UK, healthcare services were affected as the ransomware locked up computers and equipment storing patient data, which means doctor appointments and routine operations had to be cancelled or postponed. This was such a severe event that the highest government authorities held crisis meetings that take place during national emergencies. In other countries, telephone giants, carmakers, universities or even police services were disrupted. We don’t yet know how much data was accessed and stolen by the hackers but thankfully no such reports have emerged yet.

At the individual level, newer dangers have emerged. We are living our lives increasingly in the virtual world and hence leaving a massive footprint that can be misused to manipulate us. In what seems like the plot of a thriller, there are reports that political parties rely on analytics based profiling and manipulation of user data to target their messages and gain voter support. For example, if you are profiled as a blue collared worker, you might end up seeing both real and fake news about spoils of the rich or a nationalist might be bombarded with messages about the perils of globalisation.

Apparently, the seemingly harmless and fun quizzes on Facebook that reveal your personality traits or even your ‘likes’ help analytics firms to draw a personal profile of the user, which can then be used for targeted campaigns. The danger of such messaging is that it only reinforces your beliefs without making you aware of the other points of views, thereby altering your reality.

Imagine how uncomfortable it would feel if someone were to stalk you all day and make a record of everything you did ranging from where you went, how you went there, how well you slept, what you ate etc. The nearly 30 apps on my smartphone do precisely the above and strangely enough I have given them access trusting my data is safe.

Study abroad loses sheen due to employment hurdles


Studying in foreign universities and building a suitable career abroad has long been the dream of the aspiring and ambitious middle class. A degree from a leading university in the US or UK has been seen as a sure shot ticket to a better life. But not so anymore.

It all started after the global financial crisis in 2008. Stories about lay-offs and hiring freezes had replaced news about strong economies and global workplaces. Recent world events such as a vote for Brexit and Donald trump’s election have indicated that many perceive increasing global mobility (of foreigners) as a threat.

Amid economic certainty about the future of UK in a post Brexit world, recruiters have been shying away from hiring people who require work sponsorship. College students reveal that whether one requires a work visa is a qualifying question for nearly all the companies they aspire to work for.

UK higher education Brexit Indian studentsMy brother-in-law who is pursuing a Masters’ degree from a prestigious London-based university recently interviewed for a global technology firm. Despite having a great work experience and strong grades, his discussion with the recruiter lasted all of three

minutes and ended abruptly when he mentioned he required visa sponsorship. Closure of post study work route since 2012 aimed at curbing the abuse of student visa category had already made it difficult to find jobs in UK after completing studies and last year’s Brexit vote has made things even more uncertain.

A one year degree from a university in England can cost up to Rs 50 lakh (including living expenses and tuition fees) and undergraduate would cost even more given the longer duration of the course. But for most Indian middle class families, spending on education is seen as an investment for securing a professionally successful life. According to a global survey published by HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management in 2015, most Indian parents ranked professional success for their children over being healthy or happy.

After investing substantial sums of money on a coveted higher education degree, hoping to work in the host country is not a totally unreasonable desire to have, but in an increasingly closed world, fulfilling that dream is likely to be more difficult. That said, all is not over.

These countries need skilled workers as much as the workers need jobs. It also helps to think beyond finding a job (difficult if you have a huge loan to repay) view studying abroad as an opportunity for cultural exchange and exposure.

It is also time to re-evaluate one’s choices and look for alternatives. For long we have focused only on building skills in IT to support the booming requirements of overseas firms. Perhaps it’s time to explore other subjects, build different skills and focus on working in India. Becoming an entrepreneur and creating jobs for others might also be the way to go.

Rote learning makes way for interactive lessons

When I went to school a couple of decades ago, learning was a largely passive and linear experience where the teacher instructed and the student listened. Intelligence was mainly measured on how much information we could memorise and reproduce on paper. Nowadays, hands-on and practical teaching that encourages one to observe and question has opened up endless possibilities for acquiring knowledge, making rote learning methods seem outdated.

My 4 year old daughter is yet to perfect her reading and writing but can be quite chatty while explaining how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly or what Saturn’s rings are made of. “A caterpillar turns into a chrysalis, and not a cocoon, before it becomes a butterfly,” she corrected me when she was only 3.5 years old. I later learnt that she had seen the process of a real caterpillar growing into a butterfly in her preschool classroom.

Concepts of mathematics and science are now taught through games and play, more so during the early years before children start formal schooling. For instance, young children aren’t expected to remember the names of different seasons but explore them through activities like nature walks and learn about capacity during sand play.


In England, mandatory guidelines regulate all schools which means all children can benefit from a similar approach to learning, irrespective of whether they attend state sponsored free schools or fee paying ones.

Practical learning is not limited to classrooms and places of interest also cater to children with fun activities that introduce concepts. Last week, my husband and I took our daughter to the planetarium in London at the Royal Observatory Greenwich where the famous Prime Meridian is also located. We had booked tickets for a show that was aimed specifically at children of my daughter’s age and revolved around a teddy bear’s journey to find the Big Bear in the sky. The interactive show was led by an astronomer and involved singing and rhyming as it talked about the sun and various planets in a simple yet engaging tone relevant for young children.

There are more chances of children retaining some information about the solar system through an engaging story of a teddy bear rather than having to learn the names of planets in order, as we did in our days.

London’s world famous museums with their vast collections of artifacts from across the world are also full of exploratory activities for children. According to an official statistic, nearly 4 lakh young people (11% of total visitors) visited London’s science museum alone in 2015-16 as part of a school or educational group.

During a recent visit to the Science Museum, we were fascinated to see flight simulators and Apollo’s command module. There was also a 3D animation about Apollo’s lunar missions that brought alive the feeling of rocket take off, landing on the moon and even enjoying a bumpy ride on its surface. Now a 3D movie is hardly innovative but using it to experience science concepts definitely is.

Brightly lit-up London dispels wintry gloom



Christmas has just gone by and one can’t help but admire the beauty of Christmas lighting that brings cheer to the cold and dark winter days. December marks the onset of winter and the days in UK are short with darkness setting in from even earlier than 4 pm. The days can feel particularly gloomy in the absence of much light and near zero degree temperatures requiring one to stay indoor. Thanks to the festive season, excitement starts building up a few weeks in advance as people start readying their homes with lights and other decorations that brighten up the otherwise dark days.

You can see Christmas tree decked with baubles and fairy lights peeking at you through room windows or more extensive outdoor lighting. During my childhood days, mainly my Christian friends and neighbours would keep a decked up Christmas tree adorned with string lights in their living rooms. But now, it is common for people across religions to put up Christmas decorations in their homes as they try to embrace different cultures and celebrate the festive spirit.

in vey elaborate displays by putting up tens of thousands of lights and other embellishments such as an illuminated reindeer, handmade sleighs, fake snow and so on in their gardens. Walking or driving past such homes is a treat to the eyes. People with quirky light displays are covered well by the local and national media. I read about a house that has over 50000 light bulbs on. There was another story about a 22 year old who spent nearly £15000 (Rs 12 lakh) to create a snow scene (among other things) in his garden where children could be pulled by a sleigh. Across the country, there are many families that not only brighten up their neighbourhoods through their glittering displays but also raise money for charities through donations given by visitors.

Towns and major shopping streets also come to life with fancy fairy-tale light displays. For instance, the lights adorning a popular area in Central London are powered by a biofuel based on cooking oil collected from London’s restaurants. There are reportedly 750000 LED bulbs lighting up the snowball-like decorations on the popular shopping destination Oxford Street. No wonder then, the switching on of Christmas lights is an event in itself across the country. The switching on is marked by lantern parades, fireworks displays and musical and dance performances by local children or even popular artistes.

With so much creativity and lighting on display, it is hard not to feel warm inside even when it’s freezing cold outside. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.


Does grocery shopping confuse you? You are not the only one

Having too much choice defines our lives in 2016 but when simple chores like grocery shopping feel like complex decision making exercises, you really begin to wonder. My first grocery shopping experience in the local supermarket in UK was overwhelming (and unforgettable) and this chore remains a mental exercise even till this day.

Picture this. I wanted to buy eggs and went to the relevant shelf and what I found was varieties that I had never seen or heard of before. Barn eggs basic, Free range eggs large, Golden Yorked free ranged eggs, Free range eggs rich grocery-shopping-column-sep-2016in Omega and so on. Add to this multiple brand options and pack sizes to choose from. For a person like me who was used to simply buying eggs worth Rs 10 (irrespective of their brand, background or colour) from the neighbourhood shop before multi-brand retailing took off in India, this was and still is nerve wracking. I am almost tempted to move on without buying but then I pick up the one offering most value for money.

The mind boggling ‘choice’ extends to all household products you can think of. Yoghurt comes as 0% fat Greek, 0% fat natural, fat free Greek style, low fat Greek style and plenty more. I feel like little Alice in Wonderland, going around supermarket aisles instead of a rabbit hole, far from having an adventure. Supermarkets with their multi-brand offerings provide lots of choice to their customers but the effort required to make a sensible purchase outweighs any potential benefits of having that choice in the first place.

Online shopping is supposed to make the experience more convenient and cheaper at times but by offering even greater variety than the store it simply adds to the confusion. As I write this, a browse through one supermarket chain’s website throws up more than 100 options for bread, 90 for milk and nearly 200 for shampoo. Then there are also marketing led deals and you are tempted to buy more quantity than you need or worse be tempted to spend on things you never intended to buy. There goes any saving. It can easily take me a few hours to browse through the options for all the things I need. My only solace is that there are people out there who spend so much time each day thinking what to wear.

Market research confirms that people are bewildered by so much choice. According to an extensive research about food trends conducted by British retail chain Waitrose last year, most people who participated in their study said they felt overwhelmed by the choice available to them in different aspects of their lives.

The next time an interviewer asks me how I navigated a complex situation or what kind of decisions I find difficult to make, can I describe my grocery shopping experience, I wonder.

Things you can do without in your hospital bag

Packing a hospital bag during late pregnancy is exciting and it is easy to go overboard (with raging hormones and emotions). I had spent hours browsing through online posts and magazines and packed and repacked my suitcase endless times before I was finally admitted. After spending a couple of days at the hospital with my newborn I realised how a lot of things I had stuffed in my bag weren’t needed at all while there were many others that we needed urgently now.

Here’s a list of items from my hospital bag that I didn’t find of much use:

Breast pads
These might be useful for some but I always found them difficult to wear. Also, given it took me a few days to establish breastfeeding I could have easily done without them in my hospital bag.

Books and music
After 3 days of labour that didn’t progress, I was finally admitted when I was totally exhausted. The gas and air couldn’t relax me so it is highly unlikely that books and music would have helped.

Make up and lip balm
Honestly, these were nowhere on my mind after a long labour. At that time, I was relieved to have safely delivered my precious one and was totally enamoured with her.

Multiple packs of nappies 
The first few nappies that my daughter wore were provided by the hospital even though my bag was overflowing with them. Simply because my full term baby was too tiny for the Pamper New Baby Size 1 nappies I had stocked.

Toiletries for baby
Baby soaps, shampoos and powders definitely don’t have to be in your hospital bag. In my case, the hospital nurses gave a water bath to my daughter four days after her birth. They also advised us not to bathe her too frequently in the first few weeks.

Maternity mats
Started placing them on bed in the weeks running up to my due delivery date but never found them useful as they always used to move to a side while sleeping

Instead, soon after the birth of my daughter we realised how much we really needed the following:

a breast pump, formula milk, a thermometer and a baby sling.