Ushering in 2015 with a bang!

(Article published in Hindustan Times Next) We are halfway through the cold month of December and the new year is just a couple of weeks away. London is one of the many cities across the world that welcome the new year literally with a bang, by organising massive firework displays at the city’s centre. Running in their eleventh year now, London’s new Year eve’s fireworks are a sight to behold and remain etched in one’s memory forever. Every year since 2003, the mayor of London organises a spectacular firework display on New Year’s eve around the London Eye alongside river Thames, overlooking the British parliament and the famous clock tower Big Ben located across the river. The cold and often rainy weather that is typical around this time of the year does not dampen visitors’ enthusiasm who usually start gathering near the venue to block a good viewing spot from late afternoon onwards. The fireworks are launched from and around the London Eye as the Big Ben strikes midnight. It is difficult to describe the scale of the show but imagine watching grand and colourful fireworks taking over the clear winter night sky as far as you can see. The sight is overwhelming to say the least and evokes a multitude of emotions at the same time. Given its popularity, the event has emerged as a unique space for companies to experiment with creative marketing concepts. For instance, last year’s display was promoted as the world’s first multisensory event where flavours and aromas of fruits were infused in the form of mist and snow over thousands of the people in order to create an association between firework colours and tastes. Vodafone had partnered with the organisers of London’s New year fireworks to create the theme as an effort to promote one of their initiatives. Newspapers reported that nearly 12,000 individual fireworks were set off during the 11 minute display last year, costing the organisers nearly £2 million. As many as 500,000 visitors are believed to have gathered around the venue last year. Nearly 14 million viewers watched the event live on BBC channel. To control the rush, a £10 (Rs 1000) ticket was introduced this year and almost all of 1,00,000 tickets are believed to have been sold out. While some question the big spending for this show in times of austerity, most people feel a sense of pride to watch their country host the spectacular fireworks show that evokes feelings of all things positive.
December 2014
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Growing up with my little girl !

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During the first year of her life, my daughter was hardly ever sick. I used to feel satisfied that by staying at home for my daughter I was able to keep her healthy even while the kids all around were falling sick. This year was different. My daughter has had all kinds of infections – tonsilitis, multiple chest infections, ear infection, tummy bug and the list goes on. In fact, I can easily count the last few months of 2014 with the infections she had. June-ear infection, tonsilitis, August- chest infections that lasted all through aug-september, Oct-tummy bug, Nov-chest infection again, Dec-viral (ongoing). Phew! This, when she stays at home with me.

Now I have been told endless times that these illnesses are a common part of growing up and helps children build immunity against the viruses and bacteria out there. Despite knowing this, I sometimes feel that I am failing in keeping my girl healthy. Am I not keeping her clean enough? Am I not able to give her nourishing meals that would boost her immunity and prevent her from falling sick frequently? Was it my mistake to take her to the playgroup? Would she do better if she was being looked after by grandparents who have more experience? Would she be healthier in India? I am also aware that some of these are just overreactions.

Over the last two years of being a first time mom, I have accepted that guilt and doubt are and will remain my constant companions as a parent. My daughter is not the only one growing up, we parents are growing up with her too!

Arty tribute that beats history books

(Article published in Hindustan Times Next)

Most of us grew up learning about the First World War through history books and documentaries. Around a million Indian soldiers from colonial India also fought in the war on European lands and many more millions of European soldiers lost their lives. In the UK and all over Europe, remembering war soldiers is a national tradition and also a moment of reflection.

It has been 100 years since the Great War began in 1914. To mark the centenary year and to honour the British and commonwealth war dead soldiers, London exhibited a massive art installation at the Tower of London, a fortress located alongside river Thames with great political significance in Britain’s history. Nearly 900,000 poppies were planted in the moat of the Tower of London creating a visual impression of the “Blood swept lands and seas of red,” true to the title of the exhibition. Each ceramic poppy represented a British or colonial soldier who had lost his or her life during the First World War. The installation process driven by volunteers lasted a few months the last poppy was planted on remembrance day, November 11, itself.

The massive display reminded one of the scale of loss in a way history books never can. The number of visitors that turned up for the Poppy display over a few months surpassed the number of visitors received by popular tourist spot London Eye in a year. On the day of my visit, crowds of people across nationalities had gathered outside the Tower of London to watch the poppies. Notably, the atmosphere was largely serene and reverent despite the huge crowds that had gathered.

The poppy ‘s association with remembrance day goes back many decades. According to a BBC report, the poppy is the only flower to have grown on the barren battlefields of Northern France while the war lasted. It is believed that the excessive amounts of lime from rubble mixed with the soil and allowed red poppy flowers to bloom. Apparently, the growth of poppies dwindled after the war was over. It was in 1921 that a charity dedicated to the armed forces adopted the artificial poppy as a symbol of remembrance and created a Poppy appeal to help returning servicemen and their families.

The symbolic association of the poppy with remembrance has clearly carried on to this day. For a few weeks up to the Remembrance Day, people wear artificial red poppies on their clothes as a sign of respect for those who lost their lives. Everyone from politicians, news presenters and the locals can be seen wearing remembrance poppies during this time.

Wars or conflicts have a devastating effect but forging a connection is sometimes difficult for those who did not get directly impacted. A public tribute as a mark of respecting the war dead connects everyone to the fallen and gives them a moment of reflection.

column Nov 2014