Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye, 2013. Hello, 2014!

2013 comes to an end, and boy, what an eventful and interesting year it has been!
This year, I witnessed plenty of happy moments, exciting occasions and downright sucky times. Here's a random list of the most important events that occurred this year for me:

1. Partnered with a good friend to set up a food based business that was bound to work.

2. Shut the whole plan down after investing 4 months into it to finally figure out that it wouldn't work at this point of time, not with the finances that we had.

3. Went for the last 'army' holiday with the family to Manali, Kasauli, Shimla and Chandigarh.

4. Won the Subway Global Challenge - was one of the 5 winners from around the world, and seriously, this is the first time that I've ever won anything on such a large scale.

5. Dad retired after serving in the army for 34 years. Got a cake for him that looked repulsive, but he didn't care. He was completely gutted about retiring though, all of us were. Being in the army life made all of us who we were.

6. Lost my hale and hearty grandmother the day she left Bangalore. She was staying at our house for the past year and was the one who was most excited about my win. One of the nicest women I knew, she commanded a lot of respect from everyone in her city and society. The oldest of 9 siblings, she worked 5 jobs (first woman to work from her family) in the 1950s, to feed her entire family and educate all her nephews and nieces. 25 years later, she became the Headmistress of a school that always had a male Headmaster. She eventually became a speaker of women's rights in her town until my grandfather passed away. The past year with her was lovely and my only regret was that I missed out on spending time with her all these years.

7. Went to the U.S. for the very first time for the Subway win and travelled internationally by myself for the first time as well. It was one of my best trips ever. I met a lot of fantastic people, and learnt so much more than I could have ever imagined. The entire experience was very enriching and I was grateful that I was picked as one of the winners.

8. Met a close friend after 7 whole years. It was almost unreal, because she moved to the U.S. and her chances of returning to India were slim. I never knew when I was going to see her again, and I did this time. We spent only 2 days together, but it's like nothing ever changed. We simply picked up where we left off. We were still the same, just that we had a lot more to talk about.

9. Watched one of my best friends get married, and soon realized that marriage was all that my friend circle was discussing lately.

10. One of my best friends had a baby girl, and I became her godmother. Also, here's a fun statistic: 14 of my friends got married this year; 9 are now pregnant.

11. My work as a freelancer was expanding and more clients started to come in.

12. Moved after living in the apartments at MG Road for 13 years. That's more than half my life.

13. Collaborated with a friend who set up his company and handed one part of his business. This allowed me the independence and flexibility in my work, yet get a fixed salary and company protection in case clients don't pay up (as has happened with me before).

14. Wrote a blog about how Shahrukh Khan blatantly plagiarized from an earlier speech by J.K. Rowling. Got attacked, received threats, lost my mind, ended up having a nervous breakdown. Ended up in the news and 'went viral' for all the wrong reasons. Went underground for a while till the chaos passed.

15. Landed my biggest client yet, an international one. Expanded my work, worked endlessly, worked hard. Amazing experience so far.

16. Ended the year today with closing another big client and have clients give me excellent feedback on my work so far, and that they're looking to continue working for the next year as well.

It's been an interesting and a highly eventful year. Here's hoping that 2014 surprises me much more.

That's 3 generations of women in one picture. One of the last photos we took with my grandma.
She's in a better place and watches over us everyday.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When I was Cyberbullied

So I'm not sure if many of you know, but I was under fire recently for writing a very controversial blog post where I accused Shahrukh Khan on plagiarizing from J.K. Rowling's speech. What started off as an innocuous blog post to simply point out similarities on two highly acclaimed speeches turned out to be a massive hate campaign where I was heavily cyberbullied.

I didn't expect the story to go viral the way it did. I thought a few friends would read it, and simply say, "Well, that's a shame." But more than that just happened. People were sharing it all across Facebook and Twitter and the social media space was abuzz with it, and I thought that I didn't write anything wrong. The media soon picked it up, and I still thought that there was nothing wrong with what I wrote. People were just sending me random messages on how irrelevant the post was, or that I was a Shahrukh hater and I couldn't care less. If I really did hate him, I wouldn't be stupid enough to post a blog with my identity out there. I would have written an anonymous post and written whatever the hell I felt like about him. But I didn't.

Then came a blog post from Shahrukh Khan's representative that seemed to give wings to the desperate Shahrukh fans who really couldn't figure out a way to defend their idol. Instead of logically arguing with me on Twitter, I had fans who splashed that link all across Twitter while spewing all kinds of inappropriate words at me.

At first, I tried  to not let it bother me. I simply ignored the comments on the blog post, hate tweets and Facebook messages. But within an hour of that post being out there, I lost count of how many messages were actually coming my way that attacked me for not just being a woman, but on my looks, my age, my other blog posts, my education, my body type, my skin tone, and the quintessential accuse of 'wanting my 15 minutes of fame' (famously instigated by the Chief Digital Strategist herself).

I couldn't for the life of me believe the magnitude of hate and threats I received for writing a post on a PERSONAL blog wherein I was allowed to express my opinion. I reported several users, and I later found that many took down their  tweets as they realized that the media was also scrutinizing the backlash I received. I found a couple of the kinder tweets though:

I could only take in so much, and after a point, I ended up having a nervous breakdown. I have never been subjected to hate in such a heinous manner before and somehow, I couldn't cope with this kind of bullying. I apparently wasn't strong as I thought it was, and I was suddenly filled with fear.

Someone created a fake email ID under my name and sent out inappropriate mails to people (don't ask me HOW they did this, I'm still trying to figure this out, already reported this user to Google). I deactivated my Facebook account the moment someone sent me a message about my family member's workplace details. People were looking me up on the internet, waiting to get any iota of information to use against me. I received threats that were hurtful enough to not share here.

Sure, you might think they were empty threats, and I really had nothing to worry about. But did you forget about the episode where the two girls got arrested over an innocent Facebook status? I was paranoid. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. I didn't leave my house for a good ten days, I'm not even kidding you. My face was everywhere, and it only took one crazy person to act in a deranged manner to do something if I was easily recognizable in public. I wouldn't rest until my family was back home in the evenings. I was checking up with my friends (whose pictures with me were on Facebook) whether they were alright. I asked friends who were rallying with me on social media channels to stop doing so in case they became victims of this callousness.

The last two weeks were honestly the most traumatic weeks I've undergone and I still can't believe how I was attacked by a plethora of fans for pointing out some basic facts against their idol. No one wanted to logically argue with me, but found it far simpler to attack a 24-year-old helpless blogger instead.

With social media today, it's so much easier to simply gang up on someone and traumatize them, without actually realizing what one is putting them through. I'm certain that none of those deranged fans who attacked me would have actually had an argument with me face-to-face defending their star, but found it convenient to sit behind a computer behind an anonymous identity and send hate messages instead.

Bullying's latest avatar is cyberbullying and it is even uglier than its previous form. It's mind numbingly easy to form groups and target people on the internet and bully them mercilessly. It's a collective effort, yes, effort, and that means actual work that these bullies put in to intentionally hurt the victims. This includes anything and everything from spamming the user's walls, creating fake email ID's, harassing the user online, gathering information about them and try to use it against them.

The experience was painful and harrowing but it was more depressing to learn that this is what free speech in this country means. It means that you cannot express an opinion that shows an actor/politician/cricketer/godman in poor light. It means that if you want to write about something that irks you in the society, you wouldn't be allowed to write it. It means that you need to keep your mouth shut about issues that need a voice. It means that if you lend your support to anything that is morally right but remotely controversial, you will be forced into silence.

I probably faced less than 1% of cyberbullying than most other victims around the world did. But that was bad enough for me. Enough for me to go into 'digital hiding'. Enough for me to stay locked inside my house. Enough for me to experience, for the first time, to fear for my life.

But I'm trying to put it behind me, and moving on. Still, I am cautious about where I go, what I do online and try to protect as much as information about myself that I can. This whole incident has been a huge learning experience, and I'm just trying to grow from it. To all of those people who supported me and stood by me through this ordeal, I just want to say a big thank you. That was a ray of hope that kept me together and I appreciate it immensely.

I just sincerely hope no one else here gets cyberbullied (or has physical action taken against them) for expressing a personal opinion ever again. Please think twice before sending out a hurtful message to anyone on the internet. It might seem completely innocent to you, but the victim experiences hell. You might not even realize that what you're doing actually constitutes cyberbullying.

No one deserves targeted hate. Bullying/Cyberbullying is NEVER okay. Period.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

From J.K. to S.R.K., word sure travels uncredited!

Yes, we've all been talking about Shahrukh Khan's inspirational speech at AIMA. Some claim that it was one of the best speeches of his career, and the humility and honesty expressed in his speech and demeanor make him the true superstar that he is.

I'm not a big fan of the man himself, but when I began to read the speech, I thought that it was mighty impressive (I was still on page 1 of a 3 page article). Then I read the second page, a part of which sounded eerily familiar, but I could not place it. When I finally came to the third page where Shahrukh Khan was concluding his speech, I was certain that I had read some bits of this somewhere.

It was from J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard in 2008, 'The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination'. I would have to say that this is one of my favourite speeches of all time, largely because Rowling talks about failure, and how she learnt to accept it and most importantly, how she learnt her lesson from it and grew to be a better individual. She talks about poverty, about her family, her broken marriage - about her failures, and the benefits that came with it that made her who she is today.

Mr. Shahrukh Khan also talked about his family, his poverty and also about his failures and the benefits that came with it in his speech, which were a little too similar to that of Ms. Rowling. No, scratch that. They were exactly the words of Ms. Rowling.

Excerpt from J.K. Rowling's speech where she talks about poverty:
Source: Harvard Magazine
While Shahrukh Khan also talks about how poverty is not an ennobling experience at all:
Source: The Times of India

And J.K. Rowling concluded her speech with these wise words:
Source: Harvard Magazine

And Shahrukh Khan decided that he will too:
Source: The Times of India
I hope your humility is helping you survive your failure's vicissitudes, Mr. Khan. Because this is B.S.! Stealing someone's speech is deplorable and keeping mum about its source is downright disgusting.

I know many of you are probably thinking that it's just a few lines that have been ripped off, but the man literally quoted those lines verbatim and didn't even credit her for it. He came across as this humble and honest guy who spoke from his heart, while a couple of parts of his speech were clearly stolen.

I don't know if his speech writer messed up or he intentionally stole it; either way, I don't like this one bit. And even if he did want to use parts of Rowling's speech, the least he could have done was credit her or maybe paraphrase some of those lines, but no. The man concluded his speech with the choicest of words plucked from Rowling's speech that earned him a standing ovation.

Maybe he did have an impoverished childhood. Maybe he did live in poverty. Maybe he became the best that he could be after his failures. But does that justify blatantly stealing someone's words without giving them due credit? This to me, is despicable and is honestly very insulting to Rowling. I hope the media stops singing praises of his speech and actually points out where the parts of brilliance in his speech actually were from.

You can watch the original speech of J.K. Rowling here (I highly recommend it):


*disgruntled* *annoyed* *needs a hug from a fellow Potterhead*

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

God bless Miss America!

Yes, we've all been talking about it. It's on the news feeds of our social media pages, and there is no escaping it. Nina Davuluri, an American of Indian descent was crowned Miss America 2014 and some Americans took to Twitter about how upset they were. Let me emphasize on 'some'.

These were some very classy tweets.


This whole story went viral, probably because of Buzzfeed's post. But the number of Indians and Americans both equally upset over this was something to really see. Americans were upset that this is how they were portrayed - racist, bigoted and highly ignorant. The Indians were upset that a beautiful woman of Indian origin was humiliated online.

To be fair, both sides do have a valid argument, but there were some pointers I just wanted to add.

1. Not all Americans are racist and ignorant. These were 20 odd tweets that made the news, but that doesn't represent the entire American population. If we're trying to avoid generalizations, we shouldn't be associating the racist tag with all Americans.

2. My Indian brethren, while it is right that you're upset over Nina Davuluri receiving online hate, do realize that if the Miss India winner was the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslims/Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants, we would be having much worse things than just racist tweets in our country. It's very likely that we'll have a certain party protesting against crowning a Muslim the Miss India title, and there would also be a good chance of the pageant getting boycotted.

3. Also, we all know very well that Nina Davuluri's gorgeous dark skin tone would have served as the first obstacle towards her winning the crown. Since we are a country that are obsessed with fair skin, the poor girl would have been frowned upon in the first round itself. She's not even 'wheatish' which would make her skin tone acceptable to most Indians, but dark. Sorry, Nina. No chance for you here. Unless you're willing to undergo skin bleaching treatments and apply Fair & Lovely five times a day.

4. Let's not hate on America about how intolerant they are. These tweets by some people might make you make that general assumption, but it isn't true. Let's remember that all these racist idiots are only a small part of the country that crowned her Miss America in the first place, respecting her individuality.

5. I am mighty surprised that this show is still watched by many Americans. With all do respect, I thought the fad with beauty pageants ended a decade ago, but I guess that's just me.

 You go, Nina! You're awesome. Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate.

Source: USA Today