Tag: Everyday Living

What’s Cooking?

What’s Cooking?

Don’t be surprised if your olfactory senses get stimulated by the sweet aroma of cakes and cookies the next time you pass by Siddhachal Complex. The source of the sweet smell might be the premises of the Jidd School for Special Children, where about 50 women are learning new cooking and baking recipes.

What's Cooking at Jidd School for Special Children

Since August last year, these women enthusiastically look forward to participating in the cooking workshop held every month. What’s unusual about this workshop is that it is that the participants comprise of parents of the school students and the school’s teachers. Jidd School is run by the Thane Municipal Corporation with the objective of providing education to disabled children from the underprivileged section of the society. Parents of these students are usually very poor and can hardly afford a square meal for the family. The workshop aims to hone their culinary skills and teach them skills such as baking, which they can then use to earn money. Besides, it also provides them with a respite from their monotonous, and often difficult, routines.

It was Sheila Sen Thomas, a social worker from Thane, who first put forth the idea of imparting baking skills to the parents. She even managed to get an Oven-Toaster-Griller (OTG) sponsored by a local NGO and thus the first baking class ensued. Soon not only parents and teachers, but even students began to take interest in the classes. “What started as a one-time session for parents soon became a regular workshop, thanks to the received a terrific response we received,” says Shyamashree Bhonsle, the principal of Jidd School. The parents enjoy the workshop and have been regularly attending throughout the year, reaching the school before time. Today they are taught not just baking, but also a variety of other food items such as dals and puddings. What’s more, everything they are taught can be cooked at home, using normal pressure cookers too. Cakes may take longer to cook at home, but it’s possible. Even so, parents have been told that they are free to use the school’s OTG whenever they wish.

Mark Twain once said, “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” At Jidd School, learning co-exists with formal education, not only for special students who receive vocational training along with formal education, but even parents and teachers, who are learning new things.

Net Assets

Net Assets

If there’s one old economy sector that has undergone a complete transformation completely in the past few years, it is without doubt the Banking Sector. Take online Banking. Where earlier, just to withdraw some cash you had to wait for what seemed like an eternity just to withdraw some cash, you can visit your net-banking website today, log on to your account using a secure gateway and accomplish a number of transactions online, minus the long queues! Online banking is akin to a revolution. It has been hailed by many as the second greatest boon of the Internet, after email. And not without reason, considering that the extent of flexibility, convenience, speed and control it offers to the consumers was unconceivable even a few years ago. Many feel that online banking is the way forward for both financial institutions and customers alike and consequently this method of money management is continually gaining popularity and credibility.

So what’s so great about online banking? Lots. For one, with Internet banking, you can do everything that you can do at a traditional brick-and-mortar branch, only more conveniently. For another, it has completely changed the way we carry out our banking transactions. Today you can pay bills, download up-to-the-last-minute statements, transfer funds, pay for stuff, and even apply for loans, all from your desktop at any time of the day (or night!).

If you transact with the traditional open-four-hours-a-day type of a bank, consider this: In the middle of the night, you get an urge to find out the status of a certain important cheque that you have issued/deposited, you have no option but to wait for the next morning to find out. But, online banking is accessible 24/7. At time of the day, you have to simply log on to your bank account midnight and find out the status of that all-important cheque. Similarly, if you remember that you must pay your credit card bills just minutes before the due date expires, there is little you can do except for paying the penalty, unless you bank online and make that payment at 11.50 pm!

But in spite of these great benefits, there are many who are shy of banking in the web. The two major issues that prevent people from banking on the internet are security or safety concern and technology readiness.

How safe is online banking?
Before considering how secure online banking is, think about how secure your current payment methods are. If you write a check, use your credit card over the phone, carry it with you when you leave you your home, or use it at a restaurant, you have taken a financial risk much greater than online banking. With a check, the cashier, store managers, and check processing representative not only can get your name but also you bank account number. A credit card carries less risk but giving it over the phone to an unknown person, or to a waiter, who could easily copy down the information before returning it to you, also carries more risk then online banking. With online banking the information is not available to anyone but you and your bank, and online banks use passwords, encryption, and firewall security measures to protect your account. This is more security then you have when using traditional checks or credit cards.

Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with online banking too and it is better to be safe than sorry. Never store your online-banking account details and password in a place which can be accesses by someone. It’s advisable to store it in memory and keep changing the password occasionally. Also keep cryptic passwords, which are not easy to guess. For God’s sake, please do not store your birth date or anniversary or even your children’s birthdays as passwords. Try to have a combination of characters and numbers.

Worried about technology?
Many people are scared of using online banking because technology intimidates them or because they don’t want to learn new ways of doing old things. If you are one of them, I earnestly suggest that you spare some time and make a serious attempt to use this method of banking. Online banking helps you become more of a banker, running your accounts like a small business that you control every day. Once you get started, you’ll be hooked. Soon enough you’ll be checking your bank account as often as your e-mail. The Internet, and the technology that powers online banking, are both very user friendly. Try it – you will never have to worry about a bank holiday then.

How do I get an online banking account?
To utilise online banking services you need a PC with Internet access and either a bank account with a traditional bank that offers online banking, or an account with an Internet-only bank. Those interested in online banking should make enquiries with their usual bank. There are many useful resources online to help you do this and which provide a listing of links to many banks that offer online banking. You can then access the banks’ details and view information regarding the services that they offer and their terms and conditions for opening an account.

Freedom and responsibility

Freedom and responsibility

During morning peak hours, a local that starts from Thane is usually full of people even before it reaches Thane, because people get in at Mulund and Bhandup and travel backwards. Now this is nothing new for daily commuters. But on Monday, this regular phenomenon caused a bit of confusion among a couple of fresh-out-of-school College kids. These kids had assumed that they will easily get a place to sit in a local that starts from Thane. But when the train arrived and they boarded, the poor kids were disappointed and perplexed, wondering aloud why the train was crowded. What the girls probably didn’t realise was that this was just a precursor to what lay in store for them out there in the real world.

The kids were in class XI in the reputed St Xavier’s College in South Mumbai and had passed out from Holy Cross Convent High School, an all-girls school in Thane. From their conversations, it appeared that they had lived and studied all their lives in Thane. The freshers were curious about college life and speculating about the unwritten protocols of the college life – the speculations pertained to everything from class attendance, professors and assignments to dressing styles, dealing with the opposite gender, college festivals and other co-curricular activities. I could emphathise with these girls because many years ago, passing out of St John the Baptist High School, I went to Jai Hind College. And just like me, these girls from Thane were undoubtedly entering a whole new world – a world that they are totally unfamiliar with, a world full of surprises, some pleasant and some not.

Each year, as the new academic year begins, the students who are most eager, apprehensive, and excited are the ones who are going to college for the first time. These girls were not any different. The change is more exotic and sweeping for students who have lived and studied only in small, self-sufficient city like Thane and suddenly find themselves in an alien environment of a south Mumbai college. The change is even more extreme if students have been never been to a co-ed school back home.
In spite of these major changes, most students look forward to college life. After being in the protected and restricted school environment, you want to enjoy freedom that college life offers. Finally, you can do away with your boring uniforms and wear what you like. You can enjoy the loose schedule and the freedom to decide which lectures to attend and which to skip. You get choose your electives and thereby decide which way you want to go with your education. In short, college is the most exciting time in your life – a time of freedom, a time of choices. But it’s is important to understand that with freedom comes great responsibility. That’s the important thing about college. It prepares you for the real world, where you take responsibilities for your own actions. Nobody’s going to be looking over your shoulder. You are finally going to make independent decisions – decisions which could shape your whole life. College is a place where you can discover your own vision of the future, your dreams. For those who are sacred at the prospect of suddenly being on your own and surrounded by new teachers, new students, new subjects and new a totally environment, think of it as an opportunity, not a threat. An opportunity to learn, grow and ultimately conquer your dreams.

Buy the best you can

Buy the best you can

When deciding to buy a PC, it is easy to get fooled by the tempting offers that computer sellers make. Therefore, before you make an investment in your new PC, it’s a good idea to scan the market and find the best options within your budget instead of simply getting carried away by a free Printer, scanner or a Web Camera.

Most home PCs are used for general tasks like word processing, spreadsheet, home finance, some basic windows games, e-mails, browsing the Internet and listening to music. So look for a mid-range PC with high performance.

The two key factors that determine the performance of your PC are the processor and the memory. The processor governs the speed at which your PC processes information, which is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). The memory, also known as RAM (Random Access Memory) is where your computer stores the information while it works. Like the processor, RAM also determines the speed of your computer, albeit in a different way. RAM is measured in megabytes (MB).

The hard disk is another key determinant of your PC’s performance. Hard disk space is measured in Gigabytes (GB). A 40 GB Hard Disk is more than sufficient for most people.

Since you’ll be staring at the monitor for hours, it’s important to make sure that you get one that’s comfortable on your eyes. Monitors come in sizes ranging from 14" to 21". We suggest you go in for a 17" monitor as the difference in price from a 15" one is only marginal.

When you buy a branded PC, you will receive integrated peripherals like keyboard, mouse, floppy disk drive and CD-ROM drive as part of the standard equipment. A 56K external fax modem is a must if you wish to connect to the Internet the old fashioned way – using a telephone line. You can also use it for sending faxes.

Once you zero in on the options, follow this general rule: and you won’t regret: buy the most powerful computer your budget allows. If you’re short on cash, put off buying those fancy gadgets or that printer if you will, but do not cut corners on the main system unit – processor, memory, hard disk and monitor. You can always add other contraptions later, when you have spare money. Remember, you will use your PC for at least 2 or 3 years, maybe more and you definitely don’t want to find yourself running out of disk space or memory in the first few weeks of your using it.

Some brands bundle gadgets like the web camera, hi-fi speakers, CD Writer or DVD-ROM drive to make the offer attractive. Although a CD writer can come in handy for copying large files and taking back ups of important files, the rest of devices should be considered only if there cash left over after you take care of the main components.

Some people buy a PC because it looks attractive. Remember, a PC’s performance has very little to do with its looks. Therefore, do not invest in a machine simply because it looks good.

Finally, carefully read through the terms and conditions of the warranty and after sales service policy of the seller. How much free support do you get when you buy this PC? Is the warranty onsite, or will you have to take your PC to the service centre? Make sure the terms and conditions suit you.

Keep in mind

  • When taking the delivery of your computer, insist on driver CDs for all the hardware – particularly the mainboard, display card and sound card (also known as motherboard)
  • Prevent electrical voltage fluctuations – use a voltage stabiliser or at least a spike guard for supplying power to your PC
Dialling Despair

Dialling Despair

Mobile phones have made travelling by train noisier than ever before. Cell phones do not stop ringing and commuters do not stop talking. Those of you who travel regularly by suburban trains have surely encountered co-passengers talking loudly into their phone about big business deals. And it’s not just the people talking loudly that causes annoyance, it’s also the weird ring tones based on the latest Bollywood hits. What’s more, each time there’s ring or a beep, which happens invariably almost every 10 seconds, everybody around who carries a cell phone checks to see if it was their cell phone that is buzzing.
Cell phone woes do not end here. If you happen to carry a cell phone and commute by train, be discrete about it or someday soon, you may have to lend your phone to a fellow traveller to make a call or two.

The other day a lady colleague, a Thane resident, was travelling back from work in a Thane-bound local. The train came to a halt before Kanjurmarg Station – the usual two-minute halt for signal, people thought.   But when the train refused to move even after 20 minutes, discomfort among people grew. Seeing trains moving freely on other tracks, some began to speculate that the train had probably developed a technical snag and would therefore probably not move for a long time. It was nearing 10 pm and our colleague, who was in the ladies compartment, was approached by an anxious looking young college student. She looked very reluctant at first, but finally managed to request our friend for allowing her to make a call using her cell phone. Our friend obliged and the girl called her folks to inform them about her being stranded in the train. She also asked her father to pick her up from the station as it would probably become late by the time she’ll reach Thane. No sooner did she finish talking than the train started. After a couple of minutes, the girl again approached our friend, wanting to make another call – this time, to tell her folks that the train has started and they need to bother to pick her up. Our friend accommodated her second request too.

When it rains, it pours. As if kindness is written all over her face, the next day our colleague once again received a request to allow a call to be made from her cell phone – this time from an elderly lady. Compassionate that she is, our friend helped yet again. The lady spoke for less than 30 seconds in which she informed the person at the other end (speaking in Gujarati) that she’ll be reaching her destination in half an hour. After the call, the lady bowled our friend over by asking her how much she should pay for the call. She even offered the standard three-rupees-per-call to our bewildered friend who, politely declined, trying her best not look embarrassed.

Modern technology has its uses – it’s made a huge difference to our lives. But then roses always come with thorns.

The Reform of MTNL

The Reform of MTNL

MTNL’s pitiable customer service has been largely responsible for the notorious branding Mera Telephone Nahi Lagta associated with it. But if my experience is any indication, this label will dissolve soon – or so I reckon.

A few weeks ago, just a day before we were to shift into a new apartment, I visited MTNL’s office, anxiously of course, to submit the required application for shifting. But the feeling of discomfort did not last long. Right, from the time I submitted the application, my old view of MTNL began to disintegrate. To begin with, I was surprised at the smiling faces that greeted me in the reception area. Everyone there seemed ready to assist and facilitate. Upon meeting G B Wagh, the commercial officer in charge of Powai area, I was convinced that this once insensitive and inconsiderate PSU has undergone a massive personality transformation.

I have rarely seen a more helpful office holder anywhere, in any organisation, leave aside a PSU. While in the commercial department, I witnessed Wagh and his entire team serving people in the most courteous, efficient and accommodating manner I have seen. The numerous distressed subscribers who had come to the office with tricky problems – most of which had to do with surrendering the telephone – were all attended to, with equal consideration.

Market forces are forcing MTNL into becoming a customer-centric company. What else explains the major shift in the attitudes and behaviours of the once complacent office bearers of this monolithic, bloated PSU? But, whatever the basis of MTNL’s makeover, we subscribers have reason to smile; for we are its direct beneficiaries.

Looks can be deceptive

Looks can be deceptive

A friend and former colleague was travelling back from CST to Thane in the first class ladies compartment at around 7 pm on Wednesday. At Matunga, a lady, described by my friend as someone who looked like a typical train-type vendor, boarded the first class compartment. She was not selling anything. From her clothing, it seemed like she belonged to the lower middle class echelons of the society. She was draped in a low quality sari and was carrying a big bag which appeared to be completely stuffed. She was not wearing any kind of ornaments and had a weary, drained out look on her – one that you get after a hard day’s work.

No sooner this lady boarded the train than another lady, apparently a regular first class passenger, began complaining and objecting aloud to the vendor woman’s presence. Those of us who travel regularly in the first class will know what I am talking of. It’s a common occurrence in the first class section of the suburban train of Mumbai – when a regular, season ticket holder catches sight of someone who doesn’t "look" like a first-class passenger, he or she is promptly told, "This is first class" as if it were a warning. Sometimes, when such a person still boards the train, some people begin to think aloud and also comment on how inefficient the ticket checkers are; that they never board the train during peak hour rush and thus encourage second class ticket holders to board the first class compartment without fear of being caught.

Coming back to our story, at Kurla, a constable boarded the train and the complaining lady’s verbal protest against her fellow traveller grew even more intense. At first she was making general statements about how bona fide ticket holders like her have to suffer because of ticket-less passengers. But now she began to point openly towards the poor, tired woman hurling accusations and even asking her to get off the train. The woman, who was up till now, standing quietly, finally retorted asking the complaining lady what her problem was and why she was fuming and babbling endlessly. The complainer grabbed this opportunity and pounced upon the woman demanding that she show her the first class ticket. The woman, in spite of the tired look, smiled and said calmly, "I am not obliged to show you or anyone else my ticket. If a Railway TC asks, I will show it." But the complainer refused to give up as she egged on saying that if she had a valid ticket, why was she so reluctant to show it. At this, the woman reached out to her stuffed bag, removed another, smaller pouch out of it and from which she took out an even smaller purse. To the surprise of all present – the onlookers, the constable and of course the shocked and embarrassed complainer – the woman pulled out a legitimate, first class season ticket from the purse. The complaining lady was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to react. The accused woman, who was now acquitted by the public as "not guilty" for a crime she had not committed, then said, "I am a businesswoman. My work as a vendor involves lots of travelling and so I travel first-class."

The complaining lady later apologised to the woman but not without justifying her behaviour. She said to her, "Though you are an exception, there are many who commute without a proper ticket, causing inconvenience to others. How were we to know that you had a proper ticket?"

As the train arrived as Thane, both the women alighted. But the look on the vendor lady was that of pride, while the complaining lady looked discomfited. She had learnt her lesson that appearances can be deceptive – and they sometimes deceive big time. Which is so true! After all, have we not seen even people who are impeccably dressed and yet get caught travelling ticket-less?

Trials and tribulations of local train travel

Trials and tribulations of local train travel

A friend, who recently travelled in the CST-bound ladies special, related an interesting episode that only goes to reaffirms the belief of Mumbai’s suburban rail network being its lifeline. Our friend boarded the first class compartment at Thane station and soon found herself amongst a group of enthusiastic ladies, who were mostly in their middle ages. Needless to say, they were all working women, travelling to their respective offices. They travelled together every single day, though each one boarded at different stations, were headed towards different destinations and worked for different organisations. For these ladies, their morning journey a time to unwind, a time they relish with their "train pals."

As the ladies special halted at Mulund, the compartment was suddenly filled with the sound of greetings and good wishes. Apparently, one of the ladies who got in was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary on the day and was an integral member of this group. A well thought-out celebration then followed. She was immediately offered a place to sit and then everyone then sang a song for her. The atmosphere was euphoric – and to think of, it was after all, a ladies first class compartment of a suburban train! Then, the group presented the anniversary-girl with a gift (an idol of a Deity) and an anniversary card, who in turn distributed sweets (Prasad) to everyone in the compartment, including our friend. And that was not all. She then presented a return-gift to every member of her group – a nicely wrapped steel jar for their kitchens! Well, the celebrations continued throughout the journey and the women seemed to enjoy themselves completely. The camaraderie they shared was visibly contagious and also symbolic of the undying spirit of the vibrant twin cities of Mumbai and Thane.

As for the train travel, however much we despise it, whine about its poor services and criticise the sorry state of its facilities, we cannot do without suburban train services. Proof of this is evident in the fact that suburban trains of Mumbai endure the highest passenger density in the world! Isn’t it remarkable then, that these frazzled passengers figure out such fantastic ways of putting up with the travails of travelling in the red-yellow coloured, wheeled coaches?

Cuisine Crazy and Phone Woos

Cuisine Crazy and Phone Woos

It is said that English food is like English weather – dull, grey and wet. In the same vein, Indian Food is also quite like Indian weather – warm, bright and sunny with diversity at its core. The multiplicity of Indian cuisines is fantastic. From Punjabi to South Indian, Bengali to Gujarati, Rajastani to Malwani, delectable Indian fare whets the appetite of people all over the world.

Now, the grand mixture of cuisines from around the country is all set to tempt Thane residents. Between May 02 and May 04, 2003 a mega food exposition called Food Fiesta 2003 will be held at Ghantali Grounds. The organisers claim that this is the first time such an exhibition is being organised in the city. It will be a complete food exhibition which will not only display an assortment of recipes, but also food supplements, modern cooking appliances, kitchen sets and everything else related to food and cooking.

The highlight of Food Fiesta 2003 will be the food stalls allocated for special diets for the health conscious. So we’ll have stalls such as "Cholesterol-Free", "Diabetic Diet" and so on.

"What is food to one man may be fierce poison to another", said a first century Roman Philosopher named Lucretius. A poster exhibition will spell out several such foods and poisons based on the different constitutions, health issues and lifestyles. Visitors will get a good opportunity to learn about the pros and cons of various diets. The poster exhibition will propagate good food habits among visitors, especially those suffering from various ailments.

Cuisine competitions, demonstration sessions on cookery and quiz programmes on Food & Diet will add to the flavour. The fair will be thrown open to the public by Thane MP Prakash Paranjpe. Many other local politicians and celebrities are also expected to visit the exhibition.

For more information to participate as an exhibitor or simply visit the exhibition, readers may call the chief organiser Tushar Pitale on 25400399.

Busy Tone
According to a survey of 400 pre-teens, "youngsters are on the phone early in life, and by their middle teens years, are yakking nearly 12 hours a week". No wonder, phone addiction among children is surfacing as a major concern among parents. Besides the nuisance factor and soaring phone bills, there’s another problem that such phone mania inflicts on parents.

Thane’s Assistant Commissioner of Police, Nandakumar Chaugule relates an interesting little episode. He has two landlines installed at his home. In spite of that, when he recently tried to reach his wife, he just could not get through to her for an extended period of time. Assuming that his phones might have gone ‘dead’, he finally resorted to calling on his neighbour’s line and requested the kind neighbour to call his wife so he would speak to her. Turned out that both the lines were working fine – his son was speaking to a friend on one and the other line was connected to the Internet!

This little story goes to show that phone addiction plagues all parents alike – doesn’t help even if you’re a top police official!

Ticketing Woes

Ticketing Woes

Daily, about 13 million passengers travel with the Indian Railways. No wonder, long queues are typical at railway reservation centres in our country. Especially in large cities, people often wait in queues for a very long time, sometimes as long as three hours. Come peak season, and this waiting period reaches its peak too. People line up from the previous night, to ensure that they get their seats/berths. Needless to say, that booking long distance railway tickets is a nightmare for most of us.

In view of this, it is surprising that it took the authorities this long to introduce a basic system that would ease up the chaos at the booking centres. But it’s better to be late than never. The Railways have finally put into action something that was long overdue. After introducing the LED-based token indicator system at the computerised reservation centre at CST, the same is soon being introduced at Thane. The arrangements are in place: LED screens, digital token screens over each window and long benches in front of all the windows, the last one is for people to park themselves comfortably while waiting their turns.

The token system would make "first come, first served" a reality at the reservation centres. This means it would be impossible for anyone to get a ticket issued out-of-turn. This out-of-turn business is particularly annoying when, during closing hours, the one who genuinely deserves the ticket is refused because of someone who broke into the queue.

The token system will certainly go a long way in reducing the discomfort faced by people. For one, the seating facility would be especially helpful in case of senior citizens and physically challenged persons. You can save time too. For instance, once a token is issued, you need not get confined to the booking centre. You could roughly estimate the amount of time it would take for your turn and go about attending to other tasks.

Although the token system would reduce the discomfort faced by the public at the reservation centres, it does not eliminate it completely. But there is good news: for those who have access to the Internet, you could book your tickets online through the IRCTC website. Just log on to www.irctc.co.in and register yourself. Once registered, you will be given a unique user name and password which you could use each time you wish to book a ticket. The ticket is dispatched to you by courier and normally reaches within 24 Hours.

Filmi Chakkar
A friend recently decided to venture out for a movie. He and his wife decided to watch American Desi. On scanning the day’s newspaper, they found that it was being screened at Vandana. They invited a few friends to join them too. It was the last show on Friday, and the couple reached there well before time to ensure that they get the desired number of tickets. On reaching the theatre, the couple found the ambience a little suspicious. They noticed a few "shady types" moving about the premises of the theatre. For a Friday night, there were hardly any crowds. Most importantly, the posters of American Desi were conspicuous by their absence. The duo soon found out the reason for the absence of the posters – the theatre was showing was some x-rated flick and not the film they intended to see. The newspaper they referred had made a blunder. Suddenly, the couple realised why they were the centre of attention – people around were wondering what such a decent looking couple was doing there!

Embarrassed, our friend quickly began calling all others he had invited, to warn them in time, of the faux pas he had committed. In the end, though all was fine. They succeeded in preventing the others from reaching the theatre, diverting them to a restaurant instead, where all of them shared a hearty meal and a hearty laugh at what had happened.