Thursday, 30 October 2014

Winter Activities

My first winter in Canada is almost over now. The snow is melting away, the sun does not shy away from coming out everyday and the temperatures have started to go above the freezing point. In relative terms, yes, it is starting to get warmer. Apparently, this has been the worst winter in a lot of years with North America experiencing new terminology weather conditions - the 'Polar Vortex'. For me, it was definitely the most severe winter I have seen, having grown up in Mumbai which sees an average low of around 17 degrees even during the coldest times. And now, there were days with temperatures hovering around *minus* 30 degrees without the wind chill. So subtract another 6-7 degrees from it and that is what our faces were subjected too. I made sure my body stayed warm and wore 3 layers of warm jackets, mittens over gloves, a toque, muffler, and high boots meant for -30C.

However, the severity of the winter did not make it the worst winter for me. It was my first time seeing the snowfall, walking out in so much cold and seeing lush green slopes now covered in pure white snow. Early mornings in November were one of the most beautiful as I noted in one of my posts, "...". It was a new experience which made it delightful. Besides the snow, the weather also brought with it a variety of sports which I had not explored earlier. I do not claim to have become an expert in any of these sports but at least I can do them decently well as a beginner.

Skiing, a sport I had only seen on television where skiers went down steep hills with high dexterity. Ironically, I had my first experience Skiing not in Canada but in California during my visit there towards the end of December last year. One day of skiing with an instructor and it was tiring. Exhilarating, when you just shoot down a small hill with no turns at all but at the same time frustrating when you still have no control over your skies and you want to go down or want to be like all the experienced players making smooth turns on their way down. My second opportunity came in the month of February when I went with a bunch of friend to Blue Mountain ski resort. I was much more comfortable and confident then. I made sure to practice turns, control my speed and avoid hitting obstacles or people. I could move a level up from the magic carpet and get on higher slopes using the lift. I had such an adrenaline rush by the end of the day that I said on for skiing even at night with a couple of friends.
 
Sledding, I had heard is great fun, inexpensive and doesn't require any skill. So it was one Saturday, Cecylia, Valerie, Jack, Stephen, Dean, Oliver, Aaron and I went to Victoria Park for sledding with our Canadian Tire sleds. Soon we were running up to the top and sliding down the hill in different formations, upside down, holding hands and one behind another. And we also made a snow angel at the end!

When the winter term started I decided to buy my own skates and finally take the learn to skate class because I had to be good at at least one winter sport expecially when friends around me were ice hockey players and figure skaters. It was too late into the term to register so I would go to the open recreational skate hours at least twice a week to practice. After some accidents and falls I could skate (but obviously still did not know how to stop :P).

In the middle of the term, the CS Commons committee also organised a Curling event for CS grads and faculty. I remember being horrible at pushing the ice blocks and instead just tumbling all over and hurting my knees. I did eventually manage to get some shots right but honestly, it requires a lot of skill.  To top of the list of my winter activities I attended a Quinzhee making event in front of Columbia Lake. It was 5 of us, digging up the snow first and piling it. After letting the snow stick well for 2 hours we dug up for an hour after. Digging the entrance was the most fun part since we had to lie on our backs and carefully remove snow so that the entrance did not crumble down. It was actually really warm inside once it was ready. We even had tea inside. To end my winter activities, I took a Wilderness First Aid course at Conestoga College. The first day consisted of all theory and wasn't as much fun as the 2nd day when we went outdoors and actually practiced making emergency shelters, and treating serious injuries.

So this winter went quite smoothly, and I can't wait for all the snow to melt away. I don't think i will be looking forward to the next winter though. Hopefully some more fun activities will keep me occupied!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Baking at home

 Since, I do not have a frying pan and frying in North America at home doesn't seem like the safest thing to do, I decided to make baked Samosas. They were definitely not as delicious as a Restaurant's crispy spicy fried samosa but they were good enough to satisfy my craving.


Next, I wanted to do some desserts baking and even though these muffins were not made from scratch but from a box I was happy to have baked something at least. :)



On another day, with some left over muffin mix I made apple cake sandwich. First I cooked the muffin mix like a cake and also made caramelized apple. I layered the cake with the caramelized apple in between and sprinkled some sugar cinnamon mix on top to add flavour.






Another Country, a New Experience

It was only towards the end of February, 2013, that I was told I had been accepted to join the University of Waterloo. The only condition being, I should join in the Spring instead of Fall. A couple of rejects in from other universities and excited by the thought of travelling sooner than I had expected, I had my heart set on being in Waterloo for my Masters. Yes, I was going to have to say goodbye to DA-IICT soon after completion and yes, I was not going to get any family time at home. I had my apprehensions, which soon faded away with an extremely supportive family.

So 12th May it was, when I landed at the Toronto International Airport (YYZ), after an excruciatingly long flight. Anxious but excited by the challenge, tired but full of curiosity, I was greeted into Canada by broad highways, green, beautifully stretched out farmlands spotted by town houses with the attic, I had only read about or seen in movies, light rain, and open air. In the following days, Columbia Lake Village, became more and more like home. I stocked the kitchen with groceries, knew the bus schedules, finally had all the official formalities complete and had a new office at Davis Center to work from during the day. My neighbours, a kind and helpful Kenyan family, were the first people I met in Waterloo and I knew I had people to turn to if ever I needed any help.

Today, nine months later, when I look back at that time, I feel the foremost thing that helped me adapt so quickly to such a change of environment was the nature of people I met. Every time I walked into my supervisor's office he would ask me how I was. Just that little manner of greeting told me that he there to only help me for things beyond research. Stephen and Hella, in my office, were so welcoming. They would call me for lunch, invite me to out of work activities that they were doing, to birthday parties, and were the kind of people I loved being around because of their enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities. They introduced me to their other friends Jack, Valerie,  Dean, Cecylia, Marianna, Oliver, Laura, David, Nika, Zak, Curtis and so many others. It felt nice to be accepted so quickly by a group of people who had known me for not more than ten days. It was a  gesture that makes one realize how important it is to get out of your comfort zone, meet new people and welcome them into your comfort zone.

Now, SAC at DA-IICT had been replaced by PAC at University of Waterloo. I joined the Outer's Club and took up Rock Climbing at the small bouldering wall in the PAC. I met Georg and Kevin here on my first day of climbing. They were brilliant. Hanging of the roof, swinging their bodies out of the cave, delicately making their moves, having highly technical discussions about how to proceed with some advanced level route, they made you want to be like them some day. It so happened that after climbing they were going to the regular trivia night at the Grad House, which I had been told about by Hella. They invited me to be a part of their team and even though I did not contribute much to the final score, I really did enjoy myself a lot that night. I started going climbing regularly with the two of them and every alternate Wednesdays, I would join them for Trivia. The bouldering gym was one place where everyone helped everyone else. You would never feel alone or frustrated because even complete strangers would solve the problem with you or at least encourage you. I feel proud to say that it is because of them that I always make sure to help out any beginner that I see at the gym and encourage them to come often.

I soon  joined the KW Salsa Club at the University and went every Monday evening for the beginner salsa lesson. Having danced a lot as a child, I was very comfortable with the fast steps and the dance form seemed to come naturally to me. I thoroughly enjoyed every lesson. The Cooking Club was another club of my interest and I regularly went to their pot-lucks and cooking classes. Attending events like these made me learn about the kind of cuisines a general population would like to eat and other dishes that I should certainly try out myself.

My first big purchase was my beautiful red and black cycle. I was definitely not going to buy anything expensive when I had left that day to buy a bike. But, I could just not let go of this one and got it home without too much thinking. I loved biking around the parks and to school (yes, that uphill from Columbia at Westmount to UW at Columbia has been a pain).

I had two courses in my first term, one of them being a seminar course called Advance Topics in Privacy enhancing Technologies. Frankly, I felt very intimidated in the class with everyone being super knowledgeable and having long discussions about security and related technologies. Even though I had the technical knowledge to join them, I always felt too shy to speak up most of the times. But, that has been one of the best courses I have ever taken simply because there was so much to take away from it. I did become a lot more privacy conscious after this course. I cherish that time too, I just wish I had participated more.

The first term ended too quickly. After a week long trip to California and my first backpacking trip, which certainly deserves another post, I was soon back to school and in my second term of studies. This term did seem a lot more slower than my first but besides academics, I did keep myself occupied with climbing, cooking, another dance lesson in Cha-Cha and Jive.

I was by now comfortable, content and yearning to learn more and more each day. I have only wonderful memories to take away from these past few months. An experience that only comes rarely in one's life and needs to be lived to the fullest. A lot of factors have made me grow as a person, made me more aware of myself and my surroundings, and make me want to explore as much as I can. I do feel lucky to have had this opportunity and want to make the best of it in the coming months.




Friday, 24 August 2012

Learn the rules!


Like the germinating seed, looking up into the sky, facing the sunlight, absorbing nutrients from the soil, wanting and needing nourishment, water from a protector from outside, the rain, and sometimes competing with our very own to succeed. Like the plant which the seed growns into we forget that we too can be uprooted. Sunlight and water doesn't last forever. We are like that germinating seed growing into a plant. Sometimes we forget or refuse to look back and see where we came from and sometimes the sunlight turns us away from our ground. 

We as humans are ambitious, more ambitious than our ancestors. We aim to achieve the best and better than the rest, to surpass everyone. We are taught to compete, we are taught to win. What we are not taught is to handle failure. We are blinded by the sunlight, we don't know where we are going and if that is really where we want to go. We refuse to accept anything against us, we have blinded ourselves not only to others but also to ourselves. The presence of the other, the society, the environment is crucial for anyone to survive and survive happily but we've forgotten the importance of it.

We have got ourselves caught in the rat race, running towards something, most of the times we don't know what. Forgetting to ask ourselves what we want to achieve from the final destination if there is any and we do not know what to gain from the whole process. We are trying to outdo the others running with us. The run I believe has some rules to it, help others and tehy will help you in return to move ahead. No pushing around, stay in your path. Look around, enjoy the run. It's going to be long, you will be exhausted if you don't let your mind wander and do something else. Don't take the shorter path, thats not fun. Prove yourself by taking the longer path, you will be at least appreciated for it. And most importantly, don't forget the presence of yourself, you will trip on your own tail and fall otherwise.

We have got to learn to appreciate and love others and ourselves. We have got to show empathy and understanding. Till we dont show understanding of those like us and different from us it will only be a failed success. Acknowledge the other, you are yourself because there is another different from you. Lastly, acknowledge the presence of yourself, understand what you want and aim to achieve that. Do it honestly, with understanding and love.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Paragliding

                                I believe I can fly,
                                I believe I can soar high,
                                Beyond the clear blue sky,
                                Where my dreams take me every night.

                                Just like the birds,
                               Gliding through the wind,
                               Rising above the fields,
                               Where it's just me and my wings.
              
                              "Shreya, pre-flight check done. Ready for take off."
The glider behind me swelled as the wind gushed into its cells and shot up into the sky. The A-risers were released as I still clutched the brakes tightly in my hands. Trusting the glider I took off from the edge of the hill and there I was flying into the wind. Straight ahead, the sun gleamed with brilliance as it formed a golden canopy over the looming mountains. The green fields, spotted with colourfully painted houses were far beyond to the left. I was seated comfortably on the harness, directing the glider using the brakes. This time, the winds completely in my favour, did not let me descend much. I looked all around, enjoying my view from 45 metres above the ground while going for an 'S' landing approach. Keeping all the instructions in mind, I was careful not to look at the obstacles(read buffaloes and thorny bushes) and aimed for the target. As I came closer to the ground, applying 100% brakes, I ended my last flight of the Elementary Pilot course.

Four days and I could fly. A total of 8 flights from the top of the hill making it an airtime of approximately 8 minutes. I had got my wings, Mojo 3, orange and blue in colour and Boogi, my glider when I was still a fledgling. From a fledgling to a bird mature enough to fly on its own, the transition was an experience of a life time. Till now my world was confined to my nest. My limits defined by the edges of the nest. My eyes could only see the sky above and my wings were still eagerly waiting to flap. My world was limited to others like me and the ones who fed me. Unaware of the great expanse outside.

After a long wait on the 15th of December, I was at Kamshet, a small town 11km from lonavala. Known as the paraglider's paradise, the picturesque Kamshet sees hordes of foreigners and Indians visiting it every year, either to learn or share their experiences with other paragliders like themselves. I was there with four others to join the 'Elementary Pilot Course'.

It is as easy to paraglide as it is difficult and vice versa. The initial phase was 'Ground Handling' which consisted of introductory sessions, pre-flight briefings, inflation and direction control. This was indeed the most difficult stage as we had to direct the glider by ourselves while we were still on the ground. It was only on the next day that we got our first baby flight, 3-15 meters above the ground. Left with the spoils of war, we returned back to the native place every evening. The native place is the home where we were stationed with other paragliders like ourselves and a bunch of tenth standard students who were there for a study camp before their prelims. (We are still trying to figure out why!)

Away from the hustle-bustle of the city life, the tranquility of native place provided us with the much needed peace and seclusion. Overlooking a lake, the home consisted of small common rooms, an area for artificial rock-climbing, terraces, tiled to play hop-scotch, held barbeque nights every Saturday and plenty of sitting areas with hammocks. We were made to stay in tents and given the most fantastic homely food. Jenga and card games filled up our free time, not to forget the some educational and some hilarious videos on paragliding. Rappelling was an unexpected adventure sport we got to experience. The most striking feature about this place was its people. People from all walks of life, from an army man to an Indo-Austrian model, a lawyer to a biologist, converged here to fulfill their dreams. In fact, the biologist, an avid mountaineer, was currently a scuba diving instructor and was now here to learn paragliding. It was truly inspiring, to say the least, to interact with such an eccentric group passionately pursuing their dreams.

Dreams truly touched the sky every night. As we gazed at the innumerable stars, tried to figure out constellations, the shooting stars carried our wishes with them.      

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Redefining our awesomeness - walk 2.0

It was the last leg of the walk. One left turn and one kilometre left. All the pain, struggle, tiredness, exhaustion seemed to vanish and excitement, madness, vigour and joy was taking over. We looked straight ahead into the lush green fields, dotted with red and brown brick huts and the clear blue sky above.  The fields with cows and buffaloes grazing, and the chirpiness of the birds made the atmosphere even lighter, a drastic change from where we had left and where our homes were. The sun, at the peak of its power, sparkled with energy sucked in from others like us. It had tried its hardest to stop us and had now given up on us. We felt invincible, intrepid and magnanimous. We were on the verge of completing and beating our previous record of 25 km. The feeling is indescribable. Our hearts filled with enthusiasm, our minds told us the little distance left, our legs refused to stop moving, taking each step almost unconsciously and our eyes could only see the destination. The final stop, it stood there on a mound, awaiting our arrival, waiting to be touched by us. We had moved closer, at a distance which was nothing compared to what we had covered till now.

Everything comes with a fee and so did this. The entry into the Thol Bird Sanctuary was Rs. 25/- per person. That was unimportant, what was important was it gave us a receipt which became a certificate of achievement for us. It mentioned our names, told us we had come from, Gandhinagar, and our mode of transportation, by foot. We ran, we ran the last 20 meters ad climbed the last 20 steps to reach the highest point on the plains and we were there. We were high. The sense of achievement is inexpressible and can only be felt. It was crazy. The joy had overcome the fatigue. We screamed, we hugged. We wanted to shout it out to the world about our feat. And then we looked back. Looked back for the very first time throughout the walk to see what we had conquered. There had been no looking back till now. We could not have given up at any point of time. We just had to keep moving ahead and we had done just that. Everything was behind us then.  1:00 pm, 15th October, 2011. 7 hours, 36 minutes of walking and 36 kilometres covered.

Yes, we achieved something. It might not be something impossible or unachievable, but it was that for us until now. Marathon runners run 42 km for every race. Recently, a hundred year old man, Fauja Singh, ran the full marathon and set a new world record. We are twenty and had walked 36 kilometers. We had not broken any records, just personal records.

Why?
I do not have an answer to this. It did not give us anything materialistic. There is no substantial reason to why we did it. We did not get up one fine morning and decide to walk. Maybe we did it to test our limits and how far we could stretch ourselves. Maybe it was to experience something new. It could have been all futile. We just  did it because we wanted to do it.

How?
Determination is all it takes. Physical strength is required, undoubtedly, but it cannot happen unless you actually want to do it. You have to know your aim and then do anything to achieve it. Push yourself, it is difficult, but not impossible. Before starting, I did not once think about how I would achieve this and what I might have to face. It just had to be done. Along the way we kept motivating ourselves, always kept our spirits high and kept moving. Never did we once think of giving up.
Whenever our legs tried to give up, we kept telling ourselves we can do this.

In terms of the items you need to carry, it is three bottles of water, one bottle of juice/lemonade, glucose, salt, biscuits, chocolates, cap, road map, good shoes and a good bag to put all this in. Take a piece of paper to mark off landmarks and distances to give yourself motivation with minor accomplishments. And of course, company of two great friends. It might sound clich├ęd but honestly we could not have done this without each other. There was always one person who kept the other two going.  It was the support of the other which kept one going.

Doesn't it hurt?
It hurts a lot. The blisters scream at every step you take and the heat exhausts you. For at least one-fourth of the walk we were talking about the comfort of the home. The only respite was the short five minute break after every 1.5-2 hours.

Do we have to walk 36km to prove ourselves?
No! You do not even have to walk to prove yourself. Just do something which you have not done and which would make you feel great about yourself. How many of us remember anything significant we did in the last six months? We always want to do things, we have plans, we have ideas but they are never implemented. If you are not doing what you love doing, stop yourself. Stop and think. Think about what you have done till now and what you want to do. It could be the most trivial thing for others but it is the greatest for you. Doesn't matter, just follow your passion. We did that, we had an idea, and we just followed it.

Walk 2.0 completed. Memorable moments created. Newer dreams formed.  Awesomeness redefined. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Strange and Beautiful


Something very strange and beautiful happened to me today. There are quite a few things which catch my attention quickly but this was something which will not get out of my mind for long. It had been a normal day, I went to IITB, met my crazy but cool professor, did some timepass with a bit of work and so on. It had not even rained until I was leaving for home when all of a sudden it started raining cats and dogs. I somehow managed to reach Kanjurmarg station(which is another adventurous story) and catch a train till my next stop. Rains got me really high (water does that to me). As always in a local train, I was listening to the radio and reading a book when at some station a girl got onto my coach.

There is always someone or the other entering or leaving the coach and it is very unlikely you will remember any of them long after your journey is over. Not everyone catches your eye unless there is something distinct about them. Usually, these distinct characters are either overdressed or dressed differently as compared to the rest or are talking loudly on their phones. They will have some quality which makes you notice them throughout the journey till either they or you get off the train after which everyone is back to their own business. Now, this girl I previously mentioned was wearing an ill-fitting men's shirt over a dull, khaki brown, loose, ankle length skirt. She was bald with only slight hair growth. She was obviously not well-off but also did not look like a beggar.  Carrying just a polythene bag in her hand, she did not seem bothered about travelling in a first class coach without a ticket at all. She stood their quietly, leaning against the wall with her eyes roving from one end of the coach to the other, sometimes outside the door and sometimes towards the floor.

Initially, I tried to ignore her and tried to absorb myself in the book but I just could not help but lift my head every few seconds to see what she was doing. I did not want to make eye-contact with her which could have made her self-conscious and feel out of place. There were two or three other women in the coach, all very well dressed, but none of them really seemed bothered about anything, it was just another page for them out of their book of life. About five to six stations passed and that girl still stood there confidently but now I realised she too had gazed at me as I was trying to avoid staring into her eye. I became very curious. Curious to know about her, about her life. Curious to know her story. Curious to know how she got there. I wanted to talk to her. I had not turned a single page of my book since the commencement of my train journey. A lot of thoughts, a lot of possibilities, a lot of questions were continuously crossing my mind. I just wanted to call out to her and ask her to seat on the seat next to me. I was feeling uncomfortable seeing her standing there for so long. I did not know if it would be right to do so. I might just be behaving awkwardly. I was just waiting for the right moment to call out to her.

Then, as if she had read my mind, she came down and sat next to me. It had made one of my tasks easier. Really, thank God for that. She was staring away from me. After a bit of hesitation, I asked her which stop she was going to and got “VT” as an answer. There was a little ‘Yay!’ in my head as I was going to the same stop, the last destination of the train. She was back to gazing in the other direction.It was only now that I realised she was barefoot. I asked her if she belonged to Mumbai so I could help her out with directions in case she did not. She said she had been staying here for long. Next, my question was about her home to which she just nodded. Her family lived in some place elsewhere. She was much older than what she looked, she was thirty six years of age. Gradually a smile came upon her face as I moved on with my series of questions. I asked her what she did for a living. She was jobless and was travelling from one place to another in search of a job and a roof. After a long pause I asked her about the reason due to which she had to shave off her hair. She said she got “phoda” or “dana” to explain further. She did not know what it was in English. That was the end of my questionnaire as the train halted at the CST station.

I wanted to say one last bye before she left and accompany her till we got out of the station. Expecting her to get down with me from one side of the coach I got off only to realise she hurriedly got off from the other door. Something came over me and I just climbed back onto the train and got out from the other side to quickly follow her. I had to almost run a bit to catch up with her. And the next thing I know, I was asking her if I could help her in any way possible. I had avoided asking her that to escape hurting her ego. I did not want to sound pitiful of her condition. I could not have let her gone without knowing if I could help her or not. I had to ask her. I had to help her if it was in my capacity.  She said, “naukari ya rehne ke liye jagah chahiye”. I did not know how to provide her with any of that at that moment. I told her I would surely try. She was leaving for Pune from the CST station to look for work there. There was no way I could have contacted her. As we moved out of the platform I took out a piece of paper and scribbled my name and phone number on it.

I could not have let her gone without knowing about her safety, health, food, living, money et al. I offered to buy her some food but even as she refused I was reluctant and bought her two packets of biscuit.  All along she appeared so confident that she would live through all of it. Her family had abandoned her. She had no money. But she did not seem concerned. She was just plain confident that she would travel to Pune even without a ticket, spend time there looking for work and if nothing worked out she would go to some other place.  I was scared about her but she was not. She was confident she would survive  through all of it. I wanted to sit with her, question her further, make her eat a full meal but she just wanted to leave as soon as possible without wasting a single second. As I bought the biscuits she enquired about trains to Pune from the people around. For the job she told me about her qualifications. She knew counting and had studied till tenth class. I offered her fifty rupees to which she replied that she wanted to earn big money, fifty would not help her. Beggary was not how she wanted to earn. This was the first time when she addressed me as “Beta” which straight touched my heart. She left promising that she would call me up if she could not find a job. I just saw her walk away into oblivion.

I felt a sudden sense of joy in my heart. I do not know what she did but life seems so much more beautiful to me since then. These are the sort of little things which make me happy. I was high, high on life. I do not know if I had helped her with that little conversation but I am hoping it would have definitely made her feel a little loved. Everything I have, the materialistic and the non-materialistic things, it all gave me a sense of satisfaction. There was so much pain she was going through but it was all taken over by her confidence and determination. She lived a completely different life from us, struggling even through the basics of life. We crib over the most insignificant things in life but do not realise the value of the things we have been blessed with. We are really blessed to be able to even eat our daily meal and sleep securely. Our dreams touch skies but forget that there are people who are not able not even put their foot down on the earth. There are scams running into thousands of crores of rupees. There are politicians who loot money from the ‘aam janta’. There are laws which are made just for the sake of making them. It has just become a game of power, where no one cares. No one cares even about the person sitting right next to them. I do not even want to get into the nonsense going on in the country at the moment. All we can do is improve ourselves.   

I have not stopped thinking about her even for a minute since then. I am not pitiful but hopeful that she would be safe and would get some work. She will not be out of my mind for long now. I hope I do not miss her call when she calls me and I hope I have an answer to her questions.