Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My cheesy brush with Indian cartoon legend

Exclusive to The Gulf Today
SHARJAH: India’s most eminent cartoonist RK Laxman is no more.
Having worked in The Times of India news desk for over 17 years during the 80s and 90s, I had a fair chance to exchange an occasional word or more with the fascinating man. 
They were both brief and revelatory.
Jan.26 was usually a holiday for the newspaper and employees used to arrange their own picnics. On one occasion, though we were juniors, my late colleague Denzil Gudinho and I mustered the courage to enter Laxman’s cabin and tell him, “Sir, please join our picnic.”
Laxman was quite choosy when it came to talking to people and hence there’s little surprise that he was surprised.
He swiftly glanced at us and looked at the door.
We both rushed out in seconds.
The most glaring incident I recollect is the fact that I almost lost my job as a chief sub-editor, when I was night desk in charge and a designer repeated a cartoon of Laxman that had been used earlier.
The designer was purportedly checking the size of the cartoon so as to adjust a pending news item above the famous “You Said It” cartoon. He forgot to replace it with that day’s original cartoon and that was a Himalayan blunder.
I was told that the great cartoonist himself forgave us both, though I had a harsh reprimand in the form of a stinging memo from our editor.
Unlike the present days, the news desk in the 90s had a noisy ambience. Though Laxman hardly complained about that, I had to face his anger one day when I was chatting loudly.
Suddenly, his cabin door flung open and he gave a piercing look. I instantly zipped my lips.
Mysore-born Laxman was a man of few words, but his “You Said It” cartoons packed a powerful punch against erring politicians and leaders even as it brought smiles to millions.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A reporter at work

At the Ripe market in Dubai.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ramping up a wheelchair-friendly drive

(My article in The Gulf Today)
Sharjah: When the wheel of  misfortune rolls over, many a people crumble. But not Dubai resident Shobhika Kalra, 24, who was diagnosed a decade ago with a rare inherited degenerative disorder, Friedrich Ataxia, which pushed her onto a wheelchair, forever.
Though she struggled initially to come to terms with her condition, the BBA marketing graduate from the American University of Dubai has now turned out to be a source of inspiration for millions across the globe who are forced to endure life on a wheelchair.
She has teamed up with her sister, Ruchika Kalra, to start a global non-profit social campaign called “Wings of Angelz” that aims at making the world wheelchair-friendly by building ramps.
Shobhika was reportedly the first case of Friedreich’s Ataxia in the UAE.
“My mission is to have at least 50 access ramps installed in Dubai this year,” declares Shobhika, who works with her mother, a well-known psychologist.
The results are already showing in Dubai. The list of places that the campaign has helped build a ramp in Dubai in 2014 are: Entry route to the Dubai Metro stations (8 ramps built, 15 in progress), AGMC (Volunteer- RZ Samuel), Deira and Beee’ah (volunteer G. Chacko).
“RTA officers like Eng. Hussain Al Banna (Director of Traffic department) and Eng Helal Al Sahi (Traffic safety manager) were especially encouraging,” she points out.
Places that have committed to the ramp and work is in progress are: Bab Al Shams Hotel, Sumo Sushi & Benito , Town Centre, GMC, Deira.
There are also locations that have found an alternative route for wheel-chair bound people.
The sisters identified important places that do not provide access for the disabled. They clicked photographs of the entrances and contacted appropriate authorities requesting a ramp.
The “fabulous” response prompted the two to start their own Facebook page Wings of Angels. (http://www.facebook.com/wingsofangelz)
“It all started after my sister and I went to a cinema in Bhopal. Seeing my discomfort to enter the seating area, my sister went and spoke to the manager about it. The manager replied that there are not many people on the wheelchair. This upset us and turned out to be the major reason behind the initiative,” explains Shobhika.
While in Dubai there is already a lot of contribution from volunteers, the initiative is gaining global support.
The team now has over 35 Wing-eers spread over the UAE, India, Sri Lanka and China.
“Our Wing-eers have recently done amazing things,” Shobhika explains. “My sister ran a full marathon and skydived last year wearing the Wings of Angelz T-shirt to spread awareness; Cebie recently completed a trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), Nepal - 4,130 metres in a week; Mohan Ramdas did a trek at Roopkund at an altitude of 16,000 Ft for 5 days to promote the cause.

“The mission is rolling on smoothly, but is far from over,” smiles Shobhika. “There is no rest until the world turns wheelchair-friendly.”

Monday, January 5, 2015

Nuggets of joy

It is small things that multiply our happiness.
I love every minute of my weekly off day.
A nagging toothache last weekend meant the evening had to be spent on a dentist’s chair. When I entered the clinic, I was told my number was 15. That meant a waiting time of minimum two hours.
I was also informed that the doctor was going on leave for two weeks from the next day.
Patience and I are poles apart.
I booked my number and went out for a walk. After more than an hour, I returned to the clinic.
When in a minute the assistant said, “Your turn,” I whistled in joy. When the dentist let me off in two minutes saying a “minor cleanup” was all that was needed, I hopped out of the clinic in such a joyful mood that the waiting patients thought I had lost my head.
What a feeling of joy!
My nephew gifted me a wristwatch last week.
When I mentioned it on social media, some creative comments from friends included, “Timely start to New Year,” “Careful, you are ‘watch’ed,” ''Timepass'' and even “Wish we all had a nephew like yours!”
The pun and fun made it a delightful day.