Come on in!

Hi! I’m Justin Raj, a stock broker by profession, is also a freelance Journalist, an amateur Filmmaker and an enthusiastic Marathoner who possesses the ‘bad habit’ of writing too much. And as long as that ‘bad habit’ stays with me, I keep on posting to my blog.

A blogger is basically a tech-savvy writer. He is a keen observer with a sharing mind, not a silent spectator to all events which happen around him. If a reader is a person who loves to gain knowledge, a blogger or writer is one who loves to share his knowledge and dare to speak out his opinions and ideas. Like a singer expresses by singing, dancer by dancing, actor through acting, a blogger blogs his feelings and ideas out. Literally, Freedom of Expression is his shield and the blog is his Sword.

Here in my blog, write-ups are archived in 9 labels. In ‘Sweet and Bitter’ you can read about my diverse life experiences and valuable lessons I learnt from it. ‘Published Articles’ offers you my articles which have been published in Daily Newspapers. In ‘Random Brain Waves’ you can meet up with my random (or at times, weird) ideas. Poetry writing has eventually become a new hobby as well as a part of my blog. You can read my poems in ‘Verses’. In ‘Marathon’ label, you can read about my marathon experiences, challenges and how running a marathon can shape a man’s life.

‘Vlog’ is a recent addition to my blog as I realize the potential future of visual media. Sometimes, a 3-minute video can do the magic of expression than a 3000 word article. In this label you can watch the short films, documentaries, advertisements et al I have made. ‘Favorite Articles’ consists of articles which have influenced my outlook and attitude on life. Being a tireless traveler, ‘Travel’ label takes you to various travel experiences of mine. Conducting researches is a part of Journalism. In ‘Research Articles’ label you can get articles which throw light on various researches I have conducted.

Every life meets with various challenges, diverse experiences and at the end, all those teach us valuable lessons for our future. Wise men learn by other men's mistakes, fools by their own said H. G. Bohn. I learn more by my own mistakes than others. It doesn’t mean that I’m a fool! I learn from other’s lives too. My blog is a platform for sharing not only my life experiences but also the valuable lessons, ideas and poetry triggered by them.

To my mind, blog is a thinking man's tool. Blogging is more a passion than a hobby for me. It is as if talking something to someone somewhere in world. My words keep on talking to the visitors of my blog. I can feel the magic of words! And that’s the power of blogging!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Action Speaks Louder Than Words.

When American president George W Bush made a farewell visit to Iraq, he might not even thought in his mind that a souvenir was waiting for him in the press room: a pair of size 10 dark brown Iraq-made shoes. It was 29 year old Muntazer Al-Zaidi, a journalist did the daring yet heroic act of throwing his shoes to the wicked American president ever.

“It is the farewell kiss, you dog!” he shouted by flinging his shoes which is considered as the ultimate insult in Arab culture. It was not an instant outburst of anger or frustration, but was a well thought and planned feat. He bought those shoes deliberately for the ‘shoeing show’ from a shop in Baghdad’s Al-khyam street.

Indeed he didn’t hold any personal grudge towards Mr. Bush. He did this for his Iraqi people. In much more broader sense, he represented the mindset of the whole Arab community.

Applauds and praises poured from all over the world to this heroic journalist who is awaiting seven years of imprisonment. Did this world ever rolled out red carpet to real life heroes? I will say, no. Nelson Mandela had to spend 18 years in prison just for the ‘sin’ of holding his principles close to his heart. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was gifted with a bullet on his forehead. Bhagat Singh was hanged till death after being ruthlessly tortured. The list is so long and if I go on, it may flood my blog.


Fortunately, Al-Zaidi is not alone. His employer, Al-Baghdadia television urged authorities to release him immediately and also suspended normal programming to play messages of support. Arab media too made an immediate positive response.

After reading about Al-Zaidi’s lionhearted ‘shoeing show’, I haven’t had any other option other than blogging to express my admiration to this brave young man. As a communication student, I have one more reason to proud of. He is also a communication graduate from the Baghdad University.

Unquestionably, he is a role model for youth, especially to communication students worldwide who not only displayed fearlessness but also perfectly showcased freedom of expression. Thank you so much, Al-Zaidi!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Great Failures In One Year.

The year 2008 welcomed me with a blast. A horrible blast guised as a bike accident.

I was heading back home from a New Year party at one of my friend’s house in a reserved forest area. Intoxicated, I wasn’t able to see clearly the jungle along a curve. A sudden brake; that’s what I could and I did it. My bike and I rammed into the bushes and got stuck in terrible silence and ghostly darkness. Only light available to me was from my mobile phone display. I stumbled out of the bushes with a bleeding face and injured elbows and started waving my mobile to the passing vehicles through the road.

Two cars passed by without stopping. Finally, a biker stopped near to me. I showed the mobile display light over my bleeding face to show him that I met with an accident. He also understood that I’m drunk. With the help of the mobile light, both of us took the bike out of the bushes. He also helped me to kick-start it. Thanks to that unknown ‘God-sent’ biker. I returned home with those bloody midnight kisses.

Next day dawned with a great news: I passed the Combined Defence Services Examination (CDSE). I jumped up in joy and informed all of my friends and relatives about my achievement. My physical pain from the previous night’s drunken biking adventure vanished while enjoying the spirit of success.

It may sound ridiculous a person who got graduated in Visual Communication, plans to join the armed forces. But, my desire to join the Army is well thought and meticulously planned one. My love for an adventurous and thrilling life is the catalyst behind this aspiration.

Subsequently, I received call letter for attending the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview. I went to Bangalore for attending it on 08 May 2008. My confidence soared when I screened in. Everyone felt that since I have passed through the first phase, I would easily get through the whole process. Their confidence on me made me ultra confident. I blindly believed that I will definitely pass the interview. But, all the expectations and hope went fruitless on the conference (final) day. I failed.

My dreams got shattered. I saw hopelessness and gloom everywhere. I hope, it happens to everyone who dreams a sensible dream and fails in the course of achieving it. I found no place to escape. Library is where I spent most of my troubled times. Books told me great success stories. All the success stories of great personalities have a thing in common: failures. I got company!

I passed CDSE again in the month of August and I went to attend SSB on 28th November at Allahabad. Although screened in, SSB rejected me.

Final day of the interview, Group Testing Officer (GTO) told all the candidates:”Approximately, 1.7 lakh Indian youth write CDSE. Out of that merely 8000 pass out. Out of that 8000 just less than 50% are screened in for the interview. So, whether you get through or not, be proud in becoming a SSB candidate.” He concluded his motivational speech by saying that “If you can’t make it to army, it doesn’t mean that you are useless or unintelligent; it just means that you are not fit for this particular profession. So, whatever profession you choose, try to excel in it and do your best!” He went back to his car and drove away.

Impact of second failure on me was comparatively smaller than the former one. I’m trying to deal with my failures and learning a lot from them too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

God, The Baker.

Uncle Jacob is a shrewd businessman. Quick-wittedness and funny ideas are his forte. His silver tongue is capable to flatter his customers and induce them to purchase goods that can’t be put in use in their entire life! People love, as I do, to talk to him and hear his humorous imaginary stories. He is never out of witty ideas. But, he is quite a loser- both in life and business.

The story I’m going to tell is born out of sheer imagination of uncle Jacob which I consider worth quoting. Through this story, I don’t have any intention to defame any religious doctrines or ethnical theory of origins. I love laughing and after hearing this story I couldn’t control my laughter. Let me start with a hope: you might also laugh your lungs out!

Galaxies, Planets, Stars and Comets were born. God created all. He was happy and proud of all His marvelous creations. But, at some point of time He felt so lonely. He had taken Himself to drinking wine to escape from loneliness. He had chosen Planet Earth as His cozy haven, where He can live, roam around and drink good wine.

It was a usual day on earth. But, for God, it wasn’t: He took a decision which would change the course of universe. Looking out at this beautiful world He yelled, “I’m going to create again something which will end my loneliness; I’m really fed up with that”. He couldn’t resist his emotions and opened the cork of a wine bottle. “I need company of someone who looks exactly like me to roam around on this exotic earth. I can also make them play around with my ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ game” He became very content with His idea.

Human beings: He named them. By smiling, humming and enjoying His daily wine, He readied clay for His ultimate creative adventure. He perfectly carved out human bodies out of clay. In order to bring those human clay models to life, He placed them in His oven and started baking!

Gulping down bottle after bottle of wine, He waited until the clay models were baked. To get them well baked, He waited quite a longer period. God went wrong! Wine took control of its drunken master and He went fast asleep.

Dark fumes and unpleasant smells welcomed poor God when He woke up from His deep slumber. “O! hell! What have I done?” He shouted in agony. The lively human clay models appeared blackish as they were over baked! Feeling ashamed of His error, He threw away those blackish humans to African continent. This Godly act resulted in the origin of Black African people.

“Wine spoiled me!” God understood where He went wrong. Out of anger and shamefulness, He broke the wine bottle and vowed not to touch it ever in His life.

Now, God is determined. He cleaned up his oven and filled it with another set of lifeless human clay models. “I’m the one and only God, I shouldn’t fail this time”, He told himself and meticulously started baking.

After few minutes, something unexpected had happened. “Shit! I need to shit!” God said impatiently. Even God can’t resist Nature’s Call! Out of desperation, He ran to woods and hidden amidst bushes, did the needful.

“Oops! Now I’m relieved” He sighed. After washing arse, He darted back to the oven.

God opened the oven as soon as He reached back. He couldn’t believe His eyes and it took some time for Him to accept His second failure. This time the clay models which were full of life were half baked! He didn’t have any other option other than discarding them too. “What a fucking God I’m!” He told resentfully and threw away those half baked clay models to the European continent. These half baked, whitish human clay models are the ancestors of Europeans and Whites.

“I created the whole universe with ease and devoid of complications. But, what is happening to me now?” God started pondering. “Impatience is my drawback” He said to himself sadly.

Second failure didn’t deter God. With more vigour and patience, He dared to try one more time. He cleaned up the oven again, filled it with another set of human clay models and started baking.

Anticipating troubles on the way, God waited with extra patience. He learnt a lot from his previous mistakes and stayed very vigilant throughout the process. Fortunately, nothing unexpected came along the way. “Creating humans is such a complicated process!” He said in His mind.

Finally, the time has come to open the oven’s lid. God did it with great expectations in His mind. “Alas!” He jumped out of joy. The clay models were well baked and were glowing with wheatish complexion.” Hooray! I did it!” He exclaimed. A sense of achievement filled His heart. He understood that the real success comes after a series of failures.

Tears rolled down God’s cheeks as He kissed all those well baked human clay models. “I call you Indians! My favourite people...you are born after two of my foiled attempts to create human race. You are the ultimate race. You are the best! I promise, one day you will rule the world!” He announced to those final creations and instead of throwing, placed them gently on Indian subcontinent.

Thus, the legacy of both mentally and physically well baked, wheat-skinned Indians had begun!

I set to leave uncle Jacob's shop by holding my laugh deep under my belly. “Whenever possible, spend some time with me dear and you can hear more stories, okay?” he told me. He always wants someone to listen to all his funny stories and appreciate his story telling skills. I fit perfectly for his requirement. “Yes, I will be back uncle!” I smiled back at him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Idea That Transformed Me & My Life.

A hardcore book hater I was. Reading, writing, and books were to me as if Holy Cross to Satan. To me, they were the activities only idiots and jobless people indulge in! All these wrong convictions of mine took a U-turn while I was doing my diploma in Loyola College during the year 2006. Sometime I think it took a long time in my life to know great things. Anyway, it’s better be late than never.

Mr. James, Head of the English Department was our instructor for communication skills. Usually I set myself in hibernate mode during class hours but that day I was very attentive. He told to class that if we read 1000 words, only 50 words will remain in our mind. He kept on asking us, can we remember all we read? Can we comprehend all that we heard or seen? Will we put all the knowledge we gain into practice? Our answer was big no.

The theme reflected in his words is the limitations of human memory. He reminded that geniuses and intellectuals are made by hard work not by birth. That’s interesting. It was a revelation to me because till that day I had thought that geniuses are super human beings who possess great memory power and comprehension skills by birth. In fact, they are common people who are highly observant, regular readers and doers. After his class I came to understand that all the geniuses and intellectuals who took birth in this world had gone through their own trials and errors.

That idea was powerful enough to take a person who hates books and reading to news paper reading. I considered reading as a habit meant only for geniuses and not for common people like me. However, it was just a beginning. I became a regular newspaper reader and gradually took myself to book reading. Freedom at Midnight authored by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins was the first book I have read completely in my life.

We say, there are seven wonders in this world. But we always miss one: book. I, once a book hater, now know the value of books and their power to transform human mind. Books taught me what my aggressive yet intelligent father and my sweet sweetheart mother hadn’t taught me. They revealed plenty of mysteries and secrets that my friends haven’t shared with me. Reading made me exposed to new ideas and thoughts which refreshes each day of mine.

Reading changed the way I look at life and people. It transformed my restlessness to patience and outspokenness to soft spokenness (I hope so!) Now, I’m into blogging. It is such a pleasure making a post to my blog. Reading is above all, food for thought. And obviously, thoughts lead to action. Action in turn determines our character and character decides our destiny. So, will reading ascertains our destiny? Yes, I think so!

I could attend only a very few classes of James sir, but I still remember and grateful to him for his idea which by knowingly or unknowingly changed me and my life.

Are Jeans and Tees Symbols of Modernism?

During a talk with my going-to-be brother in law, he pointed out that it would be nice if my cousin (his would-be) would wears jeans and tees. My cousin, though well educated and being very idealistic, prefers to wears traditional costumes such as sarees and churidar. Jeans and tees or so called ‘modern’ attires are a big ‘no’ for her. She already expressed her discontent in wearing those to her fiancée.

But, he requested me just to persuade her to wear those ‘modern’ wears. I asked him why? He, who had done his education in different places in India and also fluent in prominent Indian languages, declared that he is ‘modern’ and prefers his would-be too-modern.

I, as a messenger of love between them, deliver her fiancée’s much desired wish to her. She saddened in hearing that repetitive request which she had already rejected. She asked me: are jeans and tees symbols of modernism?

My answer was negative. She agreed with that.

Never in the world history, have a person who admires and wears proudly so called ‘modern’ wears never been reckoned as modern. Then, what makes a person modern? Attire or attitude?
Attitude counts. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi was a real messenger of modernism. He had never clad himself in Raymond suits which always cloths The Complete Man. Above all, he was merely half naked. E.V Ramaswamy Naicker though bearded by making his face hardly visible and always wore cotton dhoties and shirts was an ultra modernist. These great people valued attitude and not attires.

Most of my friends had flown to UK for pursuing higher education and also to make out a great career. They also have another aim: to learn culture. I can’t understand what they mean by that. Shilpa Shetty, a talented and pretty Indian actress went to that cultured place for participating in a popular reality show, Big Brother. After few days Indian media has shown her shedding tears. The reason is nothing other than racist bullying. It is quite contradictory for a nation which brag their citizens as ‘modern’ and well cultured, dwelling on racism or bygone white supremacy theory.

I used to wonder about the ‘modernistic’ activities people undertake nowadays. When it comes to lifestyle, weekend partying, tattooing, piercing etc added with unwanted shelling out of money on expensive cosmetics and makeup rules the roost. In the relationship realm, dating and living in relations became a common phenomenon. All these are nothing other than just a mere aping of western culture.

When we turn our head to Westside we can see even westerners who got fed up with their disastrous lifestyle are in the pursuit of eastern philosophy and embracing eastern ideas. But sadly, our poor ‘modernists’ still haven’t woke up from their deep slumber.

Our world is changing in a feverish pace. Science and technology are at their zenith. Man is no longer a primitive being. But still, racism, untouchability, superstitions, denial of women’s rights, human rights violation, child labour and et al plagues our planet.

Modernism comes from within. It can’t be build outside. It’s high time to embrace modern ideas and thoughts. A person becomes modern only when he dares to think beyond his preoccupied conventional mindset. Let our fight towards the elimination of all those anti social or primitive elements be called as modernism. It is not as easier as buying and wearing ‘modern’ outfits. So, jeans and tees wearing hypocrites; beware.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Let’s Go Vegan!

In reality, they are a minority but they are the part of a global community which envisages a great objective and dreams a great dream alike. These like minded people love nature and raise voice against cruelty towards animals. They walk their talk and show the world how to live like a human being and displays a constructive paradigm for human life- a life that shuns cruelty, violence and exploitation-and world calls them Vegans.

Mr. Donald Watson was the person who created the term Vegan or non diary vegetarian. He also founded Vegan Society in UK on November 1st 1944. Today, vegans constitute 0.2% to 1.3% of US population and between 0.25% and 0.4% of UK population. Observing November 1st annually as the World Vegan day reveals its popularity and significance in the contemporary world.

Although Veganism has originated in West, most of the Indians who are traditionally vegetarians or lacto vegetarians are turning themselves to Vegans. Vegan population in India is approximately 300-400 and the figures are ascending owing to the recent surge in fitness and health awareness among Indian population.

The Indian Vegan Society started by Madhya Pradesh based chartered accountant Manish Jain is one of the popular vegan communities in India. He became a vegan in the year 2003 owing to his deep feeling for all living organisms. He is running and maintaining a website-www.indianvegan.com-for propagating Veganism through the web world. “Web world has a wider reach and it is an apt medium for spreading Vegan philosophy as number of people accessing it is increasing day by day” he said. “Apart from online activities, our society conduct poster exhibition, distribution of CDs and leaflets for getting more people into it” he added.

When asked whether it is expensive to become a Vegan, 22 year old Niranjan.S.Amarnath, a Madras University student and also a strict Vegan says that, “Not at all! Vegan food is cheaper and of course healthier. Similarly all sorts of Vegan accessories like non leather shoes, bags and wallets are very cheaper which are made from denim, canvas and rexin. An avid animal rights campaigner and an active member of PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), he declares that: “The best part is that I contribute less towards world hunger, pollution and animal suffering and it make me really happy and proud”.

“At places where you don’t get coffee or tea without milk then people around you might raise their eye brows since it looks baffling to some” says 38 year old Mohan Santhanam when asked to point out any difficulties in being a Vegan. “Vegans need to be an ‘ingredient reader’; as the products we use need to be free from milk solids like butter and other substances like gelatin. So, we must read the ‘ingredients’ carefully” Niranjan says.

“Poorly planned diet invites health problems” warns Manish Jain. “One has to be very careful about the intake of proper diet and especially vitamin B12 as a supplement because usually Vegans are deprived of vitamin B12” he also opined.

Next time when you walk into a restaurant and hear someone asking for tea without milk or in a foot wear shop anyone prefers rexin shoes to leather ones, remember he or she may be leading a life free from cruelty and above all, merging their lives with transcendental universal soul. “we have no right or need to use animal products” Manish Jain firmly puts in. This passionate Vegan strongly believes that if we take care of nature, nature in turn protect us”.

In this era of global warming and atmospheric pollution, this life style is worth considering for those who aspire to create a difference to the world we live in and set an inspiring example to billions of other world citizens.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

One day @ Chennai Egmore Railway Police Station.

“Ticket please”, a railway police constable in civilian attire asked me.

I showed my railway season ticket and thought he just wanted to check out whether I was a ticket less commuter. But, the issue was not over with that.

“Don’t you know that you shall not walk over the railway track during commuting hours?” he questioned.

Oh, I was trapped! I just walk over the railway track by evading the nearby over bridge. Yea, it’s a worthwhile reason to book anyone. But, after some time, I came to know that, I wasn’t alone. Around twenty souls were there for my company.

Gradually, I understood that Railway Protection Force (RPF) had beefed up the security and checking owing to the regular deaths of commuters who recklessly crossing the railway lines.

Though, I had bitter experiences with Traffic Police, it was my first encounter with RPF. They took us to the police station and filed charge sheets against all of us. Senior citizens were there, laborers were there and young students were also there. First of all, they told the penalty would be Rs.500. Oh gosh! What a heavy fine for a petty offence like this? What they will do if I would have committed a bigger crime? Will they send me to gallows? I pondered.

The police man who was preparing my charge sheet was a mallu (Keralite). He took most of my personal details while talking to me in Malayalam. He kept on talking to me in my mother tongue while I replied in English. I smelled a bribe deal.

“Sir, it’s getting time for me to go to college and I eagerly wanted to attend the class”, I requested. “I’m ready to pay the penalty but please don’t take away my precious time”, I added.

“O.K”, he said. “Do you have money with you now?” he enquired gently. “If you allow, I can take the money from ATM and pay” I answered. “O.K give your mobile phone to me and go to the near by ATM and come back as early as possible”, he told.

I gave him my mobile as security and went to the ATM and brought the money. He asked me to come and meet him at the backyard of the police station. Yea, as I had guessed, it was going to be a bribe deal.

“O.K Justin, you can pay Rs.300 to me now and leave the station”, he said with a mischievous smile.

It wasn’t for the first time I’m confronting these sorts of money thirsty vultures like him. They do anything for anyone who can stuff their mouth fully with currency notes. Real M*t*h*r Fu*k*rs!

“What about the charge sheet?” I asked. “If I pay the money, I need it to avoid future problems”, my request was genuine.

He smiled and said, “I can’t give it but I promise that I will throw it away to waste bin soon and don’t worry about future problems”.

“No, sir”, I grinned. “Give it to me or destroy it in front of me” I put the deal forward.

“O.K you can wait for the magistrate then and pay the fine in the court” he replied.
“Surely, you are going to miss your classes” he also reminded me.

A dead deal in itself. It was 1130 hrs and as per the information got from police officials the magistrate comes only at 1600 hrs. Anyway, I decided firmly in mind that I won’t pay a single penny as bribe. In fact, I was fed up with that. On the road, on the railway platform and even everywhere this bloody word-bribe-comes above all.

It made me recollect an incident that happened last year. When two of my friends and I had some drinks and was walking back home, suddenly a police man jumped on us like a frog and asked, “where you buddies are going after lavishly having drinks?”. What a stupid question? Yes. We had drinks with our own money, gulped it down into our own stomachs and walking by our own legs without even making any nuisance to fellow human beings. Then what was his problem? He took us to the police van parked nearby and handed us over to his senior officer. The senior officer, a decent at least a no-nonsense man, scolded his idiotic subordinate and let us goes.

I waited for the arrival of magistrate by engaging myself with my favourite past time activity- newspaper reading. Most of them in our group were gifted with charge sheets in spite of their pleas. While few of them escaped ‘brilliantly’ by bribing.

At 1530 hrs, they had taken us to the Railway Special Metropolitan Magistrate Court like prisoners-excluding jail uniform and handcuffs. One of the elder men in our group even puts it, “why they are taking us like this, are we murder convicts or what?” I didn’t have a proper reply. I just smiled.

Magistrate arrived at 1630 hrs and after waiting outside for 30 minutes, we had taken into the court. After making a serious look on everyone of the ‘innocent’ offenders (including me) standing helplessly in front of her, she gave out the final verdict: a petty fine of Rs.150! Just half the amounts of the scrapped forenoon bribe deal.

What the heck! Had we been waiting for more than 6 hours for this absurd event? What a foul drama it is. I can’t understand why these people are so silly.
Laws are laws. Rules are rules. Any attempt to break it should be penalized whoever or whatever it might be. I agree with it. But, what about citizens’ valuable time? Leave my case aside. Today, I hadn’t much work to do. Since I’m a late admission to course, I just needed to make up with my poor attendance rate. That’s all. But, what about the working class, especially laborers? Rs.150 may be their single day wage. Today, unfortunately, they might have lost a bread winning day together with the hard earned wage for a simple mistake they had committed. I really feel sympathetic for them.

In true sense, I enjoyed the day which bestowed on me my first ever court room experience! I don’t have any regrets or holding any shameful feeling. But I just wanted to make my stand clear: implementation of laws shall not be in the cost of citizens’ valuable time; laws are not made to harass or bring trouble to citizens; ultimately, laws are made for the smooth functioning of the society.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Marg-Chennai Marathon: I Ran For a Cause…

Quit the rat race, join the human race! The time has come to put our best foot forward. Get your sneakers out. Join the MARG-Chennai Marathon for Give Life. Let’s run for something good. Lets run for the under privileged children. Let’s run for hope. Let’s run for life. Let’s run for something. Let’s just run!

That was the newspaper advertisement which took my attention couple of weeks ago. Chennai is going to host the third richest marathon in the world and in addition, the richest half marathon in India because prize money 6 million INR is involved. But what aroused my interest was that it is being organized for a great cause- the profits from the marathon will go towards Give Life, a charitable organization that supports around 13,600 under privileged students across Tamil Nadu-. No second thought. I decided to join.

While registering for the marathon I was trapped in a dilemma: whether to opt for 7Km Great Chennai run or 21.09 km professional run. 7 Km is okay but what about 21 Km? I haven’t ever run this much distance ever in my life. Anyway, I didn’t want to settle for something doable. So, I made up my mind to take part in 21Km professional run.

On august 31, 2008, at 6:45 AM Union Minister for sports M.S.Gill flagged off the run. Thunderous applauses, hooting, screaming mixed with vibrant band music were sufficient enough to propel a runner’s mind and body. Enthusiasm filled all over among runners and also among the cheerful crowd gathered there to witness this magnificent event. I was really thrilled as it was my first marathon run in my life.

I only had a single aim in my mind: to finish successfully the 21Km mark at any cost. I didn’t tried (nor dared) to speed up or over take anyone. I kept on hydrating my body and just sustained the momentum all through the run until I reached the half way point- 13 Km mark at Besant Nagar beach- for registering the chest number. I took to walking for a few meters by drinking enough water and also washed my body with water sponges to resist the merciless sun. All these were fresh experiences for me, and it was real fun.

But, the fun side of the marathon began vanishing when I reached the 18 Km mark just 3 Km away from the finish line. My legs started showing the signs of severe fatigue and I even felt really hard to breath. After witnessing the scene of other runners lying on the foot path out of breath or might be owing to muscle strain, I even diverted my mind to quit the marathon. 3 Km still lying ahead and a little energy left in my body, I again resorted to walking for a few meters, meanwhile, took a ‘mini bath’ on road!

What have started as fun ending up being a torture itself? Weak thoughts started pulling me back. It made me think that even our life is akin to a marathon, isn’t it? Plenty of pull backs and set backs. It is nothing other than a test of patience, perseverance and endurance. Finishing with those philosophical thoughts, I took myself back to running slowly and consistently just enough to reach the finish point. Finally, after a long struggle with my tightened muscles, I successfully reached my destination at 9:25 AM. After taking stretching exercises I proudly took the hard earned rest. Phew! I hadn’t thought of successfully finishing my first marathon in life. Accomplishment of the task brought me a great feeling. A great feeling of achievement and runner’s high as bonus!

Did I run for an accolade? Absolutely, no because while registering I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to reach the 21 Km mark or end up in one of the 15 ambulances parked along the marathon route. Then why I did that? Was it for fun? Partially, yes because for me, running is freedom. Actually why I ran? Was it for a good cause? Absolutely, yes! Different from my regular morning runs, to boost up confidence, health and well being, running and sweating out for a good cause make ourselves feel special, isn’t it? So, I ran for it. I stand for it!

Last but not least, I’m expressing my heartfelt condolence to the grieving family of M.Santhosh, 2nd year student of Msc Applied Geology, Anna University who collapsed and died close to the finish line of the 21.09 Km professional run.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hindi, I miss you!

Today is an important, moreover, an exciting day in my life. Today, I became an ‘outstanding’ graduate as I took 5 years to complete my 3 year graduation course. Though I had a small party with few of my colleagues there was neither an official convocation nor a graduation party. Everybody wonders and ask me why it took two years more than the course required. That is where Hindi played a very mischievous role.

For graduation it is mandatory to select an optional language. While most of my friends had chosen our mother tongue Malayalam, I opted for Hindi as I thought it was easier to get passed. I also wanted to make a different move too.

Eventually, I came to know that the different move I had made is making all the difference. Hindi classes were not as easy as I thought. Its standard was higher than that of higher secondary level and also hard to learn. I lost interest in studying Hindi and began to skip classes. I spend those class hours either in library or in the college canteen without even caring what is going on in the class.

Even though, I was a ‘guest’ student in Hindi class, I was Hindi teacher’s pet. She always advised to study well and also warned not to miss the classes otherwise I will surely lose the exam. Wholeheartedly, I had taken her warning and hadn’t ever attended a single Hindi exam during those three years of graduation! But the truth is that even had I attended it, I wouldn’t have passed. In fact, Hindi got blanketed under lethargy and fun.

I still remember those Hindi examination days during which without even entering the hall, I used to spend my precious time either in my friend’s bike garage, movie hall or in bar. Actually, those unwanted activities provided some sort of escapism.

As my attendance rate was low, I was barred from attending two semester examinations. So, during the last semester exam, I had to clear around 18 papers including Hindi. Again I showed the same lethargic attitude and skipped Hindi. Fortunately all the papers got cleared but the four Hindi papers remained without passing.

After my regular graduation classes were over, I had joined a diploma course. As I was ‘busy’ with my diploma classes and ‘extra curricular activities’, I couldn’t give much attention to Hindi again. After completing diploma, I decided to join the armed forces and started preparing for Combined Defense Services Examination (CDSE). Minimum qualification for joining Army is graduation but I won’t be a graduate unless I clear Hindi papers.

It was a real challenge. After opting Hindi as my optional language, it is for the first time I’m taking it as a serious affair. I started going for special classes to mug up the load of four semesters. My new Hindi teacher helped me a lot to understand the difficult words and confusing phrases.

On April 2007, I entered the examination hall well prepared. I had seen some of my friends who were still struggling with their arrear papers. I was so glad to see at least some people in similar plight as mine.

Two days. Four exams. It was a very exciting experience as it had been for a very long time since I had written an exam well prepared. My defense examination and master’s program are hanging on Hindi paper results. So, the most restive and tension filled days had begun: awaiting results.

After two and a half months of prolonged waiting and anticipation, the D-day had dawned with an anticlimax. Out of four Hindi papers, one got stuck and remaining three got cleared.

As a result, I couldn’t join for master’s degree. I had only one option nothing other than preparing for CDSE. After CDS examination, again in October 2007, I got the next chance to attend Hindi exam and I wrote it well.

Although I had successfully cracked CDSE, Hindi’s condition was as same as last attempt. I failed again! To compound the situation, somebody told that due to the failure in Hindi, I couldn’t even attend the Service Selection Board (SSB) Interview. Some how, it got settled.

Semester exam in April 2008. My last chance to clear Hindi. This time I entirely changed my strategy. I prepared well by writing each and every question in the textbook. After preparing for two months by writing and mugging up, and under great pressure, I entered the hall. Mean while, I came to know that all my colleagues have passed out of the college and I’m the last man standing! Once even the college receptionist sarcastically told that, “Why you are coming again and again here like a school kid for writing this silly Hindi exam?” Little bit ashamed of myself, I took pen by firmly deciding in mind that this would be my final Hindi exam. Anyway, exam was comparatively easy and I had written well by filling as much papers I could. Success is imminent but uncertainty prevailed.

Today, though I’m experiencing an inexpressible bliss and satisfaction, I strongly feel that, something is missing somewhere. It doesn’t need any thorough introspection for me to understand what is missing. Undoubtedly, the missing factor is the Hindi challenge. It may look simple or silly to others if I say that it took two years to pass my graduation optional language paper. But it was not an easy going affair for me. Those two years and especially Hindi papers taught me a lot of things in life. I understood the meaning of hard work and the prominence of patience. It was a real challenge and also a ‘speed breaker’ of my carefree academic life. It made me taste the bitterness of failure and finally, the feeling of real accomplishment. Moreover, it is an end of a span in my life which taught me that there are no failures in life; only lessons. I really miss you, my dear Hindi!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The pen and paper magic…

If I’m asked, what is the most marvelous process in this world, my answer would be writing. Ideas sprout and emotions flow out when we stroke our pen through paper. Only human beings are blessed to hold a pen, write, convey and store his/her ideas. Ideas to design an aero plane to creating a movie come out from the tip of a pen.

Writing is a wonderful art akin to sculpting. As a sculptor meticulously polishes his work, a writer patiently pre write, write and re write his text in order to bring it into a good form. Patience and clarity of thoughts are needed for clear and precise writing. If the writer is not very clear about his thoughts and ideas, the reader will get more confused than the writer.

Ideas are like flashes. It will not stay in our head for long. Geniuses are those who can feel and catch those flashes. For developing a small idea, we have to scribble it on paper. In fact, paper is the training ground of ideas. Our ideas flow and grow by further writing. By each pen stroke, we are further digging our mind and bringing our hidden ideas out. Greatest books and literature works take birth from simple scribbling. We will really wonder how our ideas develop and form a good shape and style. A well written powerful idea can make revolutions. Famous revolutionaries like Ernesto ‘che’ Guevara was motivated by writers like Garcia Marquez and father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi got inspired by Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. That is why great people have told pen is mightier than sword

Recently, I read an interesting article about journaling. Nowadays, most of the therapists suggest keeping a personal journal and also recommends making daily entries. Latest researches have proved that stress levels are very low in people who write journals compared to the persons who don’t. Whenever I take my pen to scribble something for my journal, I feel as if I’m holding a magic wand which can work wonders. I’m really amazed to see how this simple things-pen and paper- bring positive vibes in my life. More we write, more we can convey our emotions and ideas. It will help us to understand the real problems and challenges in our life. Journaling won’t be effective, if you are not truthful to it. Never try to hide anything from your journal. Just open up your mind and let the pen do the rest. Warning: keep it safe from others!

In real sense, pen is the tongue of the mind. If you want to write, take a pen and start writing and everything else will just follow. If you want to feel the pen and paper magic, don’t hesitate, just go for it!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

World, my son starts school today!

World, take my child by the hand, he starts school today!

It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently. You see, up to now, he has been king of the roost. He has been the boss of the back yard. I have always been around to repair his wounds, and I have always been handy to soothe his feelings.

But now things are going to be different. This morning he is going to walk down the front steps, wave his hand and start on a great adventure that probably will include wars and tragedy and sorrow.

To live in this world will require faith and love and courage. So, world, I wish you would sort of take him by his young hand and teach him the things he will have to know. Teach him- but gently if you can.

He will have to learn, I know, that all people are not just- that all men and women are not true. Teach him that for every scoundrel, there is a hero; that for every enemy, there is a friend. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest people to lick.

Teach him the wonder of books. Give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hill. Teach him that it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong. Try not to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when every one else is getting on the bandwagon. Teach him to listen to others, but to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and to take only the good that comes through.

Teach him never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears on the howling mob and to stand and fight if he thinks he is right. Teach him gently, world, but don’t coddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

This is a big order, world, but see what you can do. He is such a nice son.

-Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let’s break the cancer stick!

Long back in 2003, during a cool, wind blowing night, hidden in the darkest corner of my bed room, I did a deadly, yet, innovative act: lit a cigarette. I had tried it twice before but it didn’t made any impact as I hadn’t inhaled the smoke. But this time I had done the job perfectly and the aftermath was unexpected and also bit horrible. I puked! I haven’t come across any smokers yet in my life who had a ‘puking’ experience akin to mine. My experience is very unique. So, I love to call it ‘legendary’ and this ‘legendary’ puking marked the beginning of my smoking odyssey.

I always love to visualize me with a cigarette on my lips. To me, smoking was an insignia of manliness, strength and maturity. It took only a few months to transform me from an occasional smoker to an ardent one. The number of cigarettes which I had started with two, eventually, ended up with twenty two. My ‘care free’ smoking went well until I fell prone to smoker’s cough in 2005.

I felt as if my lungs would burst out. It prompted me to consult doctor immediately. He said,” Mr. Justin, you should better quit smoking.” he might knew that his advice was like doing painting on ice but surely, he wasn’t aware that he had given advice to a person who even couldn’t stop smoking while coughing! However, owing to the effectiveness of medication, cough subsided.

I kept the medical prescription safely with me as a weapon to eliminate future smoker’s cough ‘attacks’, which, I knew were imminent. I was ready to face cough but quitting smoking was not in my agenda.

Again, after few months, smoker’s cough started pounding my lungs. I faced it boldly and treated successfully by self medication in accordance with doctor’s prescription. In 2006, cough conducted its third ‘attack’ mercilessly. This time, it was comparatively severe and unfortunately, prescription didn’t work its magic too.

I settled down on patient’s chair consulting a doctor who is very close to my family. He opined that nothing could be done with my cough unless I stop smoking at least during medication. I was compelled to stop smoking during medication which went for a fortnight. I understood one thing: any idiot can try, start and develop habitual smoking but quitting; it’s not a child’s play!

One day, in 2006, during workout, I even nearly fainted as I had a cigarette just minutes before entering the gym. Sadly, I understood that my overall performance got affected. It is from that day, I started thinking about a ‘quit smoking’ regime and also started visualizing myself as a non smoker. I couldn’t find anything good in smoking. It could only end me up in losses and depression. My frequent common cold, coughing, sneezing, loss of stamina, which in turn, developed an inferiority complex ; fatigue are the results of my smoking. So can it be called as a symbol of manliness, strength and maturity?

I understood the bad effects, decided to quit, but the only problem existed was a solution or technique to quit. Proper implementation of my strong decision was not possible as I couldn’t find a substitute for smoking. At first, I tried chewing gum; it was a disaster! Next substitute was coffee. It also ended up with hopelessness.

Everybody needs hope. Hope imparts liveliness to life. It brings meaning to life. Everyone lives with hope. A smoker too lives with hope. His hope is nothing other than the next cigarette. Lighting one after another, cigarettes become an indispensable part of his daily life. It is a cyclic process which repeats itself and never ends. He waits eagerly to light the next cigarette and he cannot concentrate on anything as his craving for smoking sustains in his mind all through the activities which he undertakes. Only thing in this world he enjoys most is smoking, nothing else.

In the year 2007, after a series of failures, I discovered the real substitute for smoking: reading. World’s best habit versus world’s worst habit! After starting smoking, my loo moments were not satisfactory without a cigarette. In fact, a toxin (nicotine) was needed to flush out other toxins from my body. I experimented by reading newspaper while in loo. At first, it hadn’t proved to be efficient but gradually it started yielding results. Whenever, any activities feel to be boring, I will switch on to reading. That made all the difference! By the end of 2007, after 4 years of smoking, I saved myself from that habit. Later, more substitutes cropped up as bonus like running (for more details, visit www.runningandliving.com), swimming and even chocolate milk shake!

Dear reader, if you are a smoker, let me tell you that you are special! But, keep in mind that you are digging your own grave too. Nicotine is not as addictive as you think. There are lots of alcohol anonymous (AA) centers but why there are no smoking rehabilitation centers? This is just enough for proving nicotine is not an addictive drug. 85% of the world’s smokers wanted to quit, but, why they can’t accomplish their goal? It’s because most of them fails in finding out any other activity which can replace smoking. Developing a healthy habit not only boosts your confidence but also helps to strike out bad habits to a great extent. Unless you can’t divert your mind to any other activity other than smoking, like I diverted my mind to reading, running etc, you are trapped! If you start thinking beyond smoking and find substitutes, you will definitely succeed! I promise!

There is a widespread misconception that creativity and intelligence is rooted on nicotine and alcohol. People who are thinking that way should understand that only a healthy body can accommodate a healthy mind. A creative and an intelligent person should not only mentally fit but also should be physically fit. You have only one life on this planet and you should live it to the fullest, and never compromise on your health goals. So, quit smoking and enjoy your life as you have never enjoyed before.

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