Monday, March 25, 2013

Aarambh - A beginning - Educating mindsets and more

In October 2012, while at a friend’s house, we sit chatting about what each of us does professionally. Conversation inadvertently moves to social causes and to what we do for the community that has laid the foundation for what we are today. (I know there will be arguments to the contrary, however, I do believe that community always has a role to play, however minute it may be, in grooming every individual). And giving back to the community in their own way are two such individuals – Shobha Murthy and Anuradha Padmanabhan. Anu is a freelance soft skills trainer who often lends her expertise to and works with multiple NGOs in the area, Aarambh at Turbhe being one of them. Run by Shobha Murthy, the founder, trustee and director of Aarambh, the Turbhe center is one of 10 community centers - across all of Navi Mumbai. Each center caters to about 15 pre-primary kids and 20 children in the class 1-10 range. 

Caring for others beyond your immediate family and friends circle is something that really needs to be appreciated in this time and age. After what we go through with the proverbial grist mill, who has the time or inclination to look beyond our daily routines and chores – much less spend that time on kids and youngsters – none of whom are your own? When iDiya and Indiblogger come up with a social change contest as part of IndiChange, I am instantly reminded of Anu. On call, I want to know what Aarambh is all about and she explains patiently. Aarambh centers are essentially community centers that work with underprivileged children and women from all backgrounds of life – children of sex workers, day labourers, house help etc.

A volunteer at Aarambh helps children draw and paint.
A volunteer helping children with Art.
The divide between the rich and the poor continues to expand. But looking down at the so called lower class with scorn or apathy is going to lead us nowhere. Speaking to Shobha Ma’am, I get a sense of the helplessness that courses through her, even as she does the best she can with the resources she has at her disposal. In response to my question, ‘What are the expectations from the educated/general public?’ she says: ‘There are people who come forward to help. But with such a large urban population, it is disappointing that there are so few volunteers. Today, I see two Indias. One which is full of educated urban youth who have the best of everything but are enclosed in their own little world. And the other which is composed of the underprivileged who have the desire to learn but do not know how to. We have Indian businessmen making it to Forbes lists and earning thousands of crores, yet that’s the only section of India which is advancing. What’s the point? If the country has to advance, shouldn't we all be moving together?’ I do not know how to respond, I feel saddened by the veracity in those questions. The shame of not being able to do more lingers in my mind, yet here’s a lady who’s doing so much yet feeling guilty that she cannot do more.

Mid-day meal time at Aarambh, Panvel
Mid-day meal time
She tells me about children who drop out of school due to circumstances at home, yet come back after 2-3 years later wanting to pick up the threads. Aarambh helps with providing affidavit certificates, education gap explanations and such. It helps children get enrolled in school but Shobha Ma’am tells me how, because of lack of volunteers, she feels like she’s setting up these kids for a ‘sink or swim’ situation. Of how it feels to encourage the underprivileged community to educate their children, to show them hopes and promises and yet not have the required backup to keep up to those promises. When we talk about how parents react to their efforts, she says ‘You have to see them Deepa, even they have so much faith in education now. When waiting for their children to finish class, they’ll sweep the classroom or clean the place because that’s their way of contributing. And the children; they know they are from the weaker strata of society, that they’re getting a chance at something better. So they are well behaved. When both parents and children are so enthusiastic and we are unable to provide them the support that we promised them, we as a society are the ones failing them.

15 years ago, when a few scientists from BARC volunteered at Aarambh, they set a new record. Teaching evening classes after work, they painstakingly worked with children who were only too eager to learn. The result? For the first time since its inception, students of Aarambh passed their standard 10th exams in their very first attempt! Up until then, students needed 2-3 attempts to clear their exams, if at all. The volunteers have long since been transferred to other locations, but they still call up to enquire about ‘their children’. I ask about funds and she tells me, inflow of funds is decent but not steady. Conglomerates like JP Morgan do pitch in. ‘Money is money. If not today, it will come in a few months. But how do we spark interest and initiative in individuals?’ She asks forlornly.

Education is a powerful medium by which slowly and steadily, the gap can be reduced if not bridged completely. But urging the underprivileged comes with its own set of challenges. When my mother tried to encourage our house help to study, even opting to take classes for her after work, she refused. She does not have time for it. Compared to education which can give her a good future tomorrow, she needs the money today.To pay bills and run the house, to pay for her brothers’ education and such. But let not a few such obstacles bog us down. For every person unable to attend school because their circumstances don’t support, there are still many more who have the un-quenched thirst to learn and are willing to!

Aarambh children participate in a dance show, Panvel
Aarambh children participate in a dance show.
For the most part, Aarambh centers are not full-fledged schools or overnight stay facilities. These are for children born to parents who are unable to provide for them, yet do not wish to see them lose out on better opportunities in life. For tiny tots at the pre-primary level, the center doubles up as a school and play area. From colouring to singing songs, storytelling to play times, children are kept busy by dedicated staff and volunteers. For children in grades 1-10, a typical day starts with school. Aarambh centers are strategically located close to municipality schools. Once school lets out, children come trudging in. The centers provide mid-day meals to children and then follow it up with extracurricular activities like singing, dancing, play time etc. This is where people like Anu come in. Working with the elder kids in the batch, she conducts workshops that teach children about team building, leadership skills, personality development and such so that children are able to conduct themselves better in school as well as out in the real world.The teacher-student ratio is not fixed; it depends on how many children need help with the skill which the volunteer/staff is knowledgeable in. Many of the volunteers or staff are individuals who have grown up through the center themselves. College students often teach in return for a certain amount of ‘pocket money’. Several of them, who step in to help, come from the same backgrounds as the children and recognize the need for education. However, a challenge for Aarambh today, is finding people who can provide specialized subject teaching to elder children who need some help with specific concepts or subjects. Like someone who can help them with Math.

At Aarambh, women learning to sew and knit.
At Aarambh, women learning to sew.
In addition to furthering education for underprivileged children, Aarambh also works with underprivileged women teaching them basic skills like weaving, bag making etc. thus empowering them and making them financially independent. Many such women go ahead to become success stories and come back to the center to help teach others. Several times, post the conduct of awareness programs in the city, help troops in, but it is the temporary kind. Celebrities step in for a little while, garner publicity and leave. And children are left feeling confused. They have started to form attachments, they have started receiving love, attention and affection; something they are not often privy to in their own homes.

A young aspiring painter at Aarambh calling out to volunteers!
A young Picasso calls out to you!
When I ask Anu about children at Aarambh and their reactions to volunteers, she says, and I quote: “They have high aspirations Deepa. They have this spark in their eyes and somewhere, due to their circumstances, they are unable to do more. It was only a one week workshop but the day I was saying Bye to them, they couldn't resist tears. For so many of them, their mothers are sex workers, their fathers are drunkards, they don't get attention at home. But they have this craving in their eyes, in their heart, in their minds to do more, but we are unable to help them more. That is why we need more passionate people, who are willing to be more regular.” For this reason, Aarambh is looking for individuals who could attend on a regular basis. Let not the word ‘Regular’ scare us. Even a bi-hourly Math class, conducted twice a week is regular. Let us not be afraid of commitments. It isn't fair to the children that they form a routine, a schedule which they get used to, only to be left stranded to fend for themselves.

For six centers which are located en-route to major IT parks, the centers should ideally attract more educated youth and adults – considering that they’re open from 9 AM to 9 PM. Shobha Ma’am tells me ‘The kids all live in the vicinity. If we tell them to come for a class at 7 PM, they’ll be there. 8 PM, they’ll be there. They’re hungry to learn. And people don't even have to teach 100s of students. It's 15-20 max. Not like schools.’ Thoughts churn around in my mind. For interested individuals, an extra hour after work – twice a week or so shouldn't seem like such a bad option, should it? She asks me then, what is it that stops people from volunteering? If they want to be paid monetary benefits, then it isn't really volunteering, is it? People don’t communicate their expectations from the experience. She tells me, Aarambh is ready to pay for conveyance, provide certificates of experience and such if that is what is required. But people are still not interested. In the end, she leaves me with a question. ‘If the educated won’t do, then who will?

So, I ask you today, what is 3-4 hours a week? It’s akin to giving up 45 minutes of TV time a day. Is that so difficult? To face a book instead of spending that ½ hour a day on Facebook? If not for anything, do it for Karma. What goes around, comes around. Do good unto others; good will come back to you. Do it for selfish reasons. But do it. And be serious about it.

Mundane chores often consume our day and we find that we have no time for anything else. But a few years down the line, when you look back at your life, wouldn't you rather feel good about having done something effective?  If we set our hearts to it, we would start loving the effort too! A child from a slum is waiting for your helping hand eagerly. Let not the reluctance of visiting a slum hold you back. Organizations like Aarambh help bring them and you together under one roof. Take that first step, you will not want to let go of the little hand. Go out there and put in a few hours each week for a cause close to your heart. You will not regret it.

Enquire about such initiatives in your vicinity. Take that first step. Aarambh. It is a beginning.
For more about Aarambh: 
Contact Number: 022 27680965
Cell: +91-9820616940

Note: The above post is based on true conversations (quoted verbatim) with the two exceptional women. Image credit for all images rests with aarambh.org
I would love to hear your views!

Ten Shades of Life!

Elated to announce that my story 'Where did you go?' written under the 'Suspense/Thriller' genre has made its way into an anthology 'Ten Shades of Life'! The first of my stories to get published in print!!! Watch this space for more!



Roshan Radhakrishnan, a co-author, puts together teasers of the stories in the compilation on his site. Click here to get teased!  

Available offline at Landmark and Crossword! 
Or, order your copy online from any of the following e-retailers:

  1. Amazon
  2. Flipkart


Click on GoodReads for reviews posted on the story and the book:

Review 1
And the first review is out! Vinay Ravindranath reviews 'Ten Shades of Life' - claims a neat 8/10! Yippee! And one among others, 'Where did you go' written by yours truly, has also been slated as 'really enjoyable'! (Note to myself: Got to stop plucking character names from random Hindi serials! Got it.) So, did you order your copy yet?! Read the complete review here.

Review 2:
Can I just say that I am thrilled! Nabanita Dhar reviews Ten Shades of Life - and it claims a neat 4/5. You can find the complete review here.

Press coverage:
Ten Shades of Life gets a mention in the Indian Express - Mumbai and Pune Editions. Click here for the article!

Review 3:
Himani @ Review Station calls it 'A must read story.' - Well, what can I say?! I am thrilled! 
Read the complete review here.

Review 4:
Sandeep Nair of SandySpeak who works on commercial screenplays, motion picture subtitles and also runs his own photography business, reviews in detail 'Where did you go' from Ten Shades of Life! Click here for more.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Liebster Hat-trick!

Who doesn't like to be appreciated? We may deny it all we want, but there’s this little child inside each of us that does feel happy when someone acknowledges or appreciates something we do. And I am just a normal human being who feels happy and humbled to be receiving three such happy thoughts! I received them through Feb-March, but couldn't get around to posting them because of technical issues like a dead laptop and a faulty internet connection! A big thank you to Karan, Surya and The Fool who have bestowed upon me, the blogger appreciation award, the Liebster. I also learned that Liebster is German, for beloved or dearest. So, the Liebster is used by bloggers to appreciate other bloggers dear to them!
The rules of the Liebster are:
  1. To post something about yourself. (Usually 11 points)
  2. To answer the questions you have been asked. (Usually 11 questions)
  3. To nominate other good bloggers for the award. (Usually 11 bloggers)
  4.  To ask them questions. (Usually 11 questions)
I will go in random order. I would like to nominate the following six young, enthusiastic bloggers for this award! They are every bit deserving of the recognition and I hope they continue doing what they love to do!
  1. Siddharth Parmar, owner of Musings of a Bookworm, a sweet little collection of experiences!
  2. Shriya Shashikanth, owner of Musings of a Tween Mind, an engaging mixture of fiction and poetry!
  3. Shreeya Sharma, owner of Shreeya’s Blog, where words and pictures come together beautifully!
  4.  Vidur Sury, owner of Vidur Sury, a charming mix of cultures, folklore and mythology!
  5. Sruthi Srini, owner of Whispers of the Butterfly, a complete mixed bag of interesting topics!
  6. Scarlette, owner of Fantasia, who writes some exciting stories for Blog-a-ton!
Congratulations! You can download this award image and publish on your blog!

The Liebster Award gifted to Deepa's Kaleidoscope
The Liebster
Now to the next part. Here are 10 questions for you. It would be great if you post answers to these on your blog, but they are not mandatory. Also, if you do nominate someone else for the award, it’s your choice if you want to ask them any questions or not.
  1. Describe yourself in one sentence.
  2. Of all the posts on your blog, which is your favourite?
  3. Of all the books you have read so far, which is your favourite?
  4. Do you have a favourite celebrity? Who is it and why?
  5. What do you dream of doing someday?
  6. If you could go to any place in the world, which would it be?
  7. What’s your favourite part about a train/plane journey?
  8. What is one thing that you do not like about school?
  9. What’s the best gift you ever received?
  10. Share a joke!
A note to the young winners: You can stop here if you wish to! If you wish to read on, you're most welcome to!
Moving on! Here’s 11 points about me.
  1. I dream of acting in a play someday.
  2. Math was never my favourite subject. Still isn't.
  3.  If you didn't know this already, paani-puri is my first love!
  4. I am terrified of dogs. They look good in pictures or better yet, 20 feet away.
  5. I am a huge believer in the force of Mother Nature! But I am not a nature lover.
  6. Purses don’t like me. I have lost wallets more number of times than I can remember!
  7. I love to sing. I prefer to sing Indian (Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi so far) songs though.
  8. I hate eating cooked brinjals (eggplants). Makes me think I am eating snakes. Don’t know why!
  9. I feel horrid because I have a bad long-term memory. I forget incidents I shouldn't be forgetting!
  10. I would rather play outdoor sports with my friends than sit inside and gossip or, God forbid cook!
  11. I have a lot of admiration for people who take the path much less traveled, to follow their dreams!
The last section is answering questions posed to me as a part of this award. 33 questions in all. Surya, Karan and TF – in the same order that these happy thoughts came my way. Surya, who blogs at Flawed, Cracked but Rare, is a friend from school. But then we lost touch along the way! Today, she’s this amazing woman who started out an engineer but is well on the way to cherishing her dream. She is a freelance designer and modeler – her models ranging from houses to cars and more! Here are the questions she asked me.

Why do you blog? To write about (and possible share) the experiences that affect me more than others!
A favourite quote and why? Why pick a favourite? I’ll give you five favourite quotes J  Link here.
What’s your greatest pet peeve? That people do not honour their own word and commitments, time commitments or otherwise.  It’s become a fashion these days to arrive late for any meeting – formal or informal!
What’s that one thing you appreciate the most? Comes back to the pet peeve. The one thing I appreciate most is when people are considerate of each other’s time and stick to their commitments!
Productivity or Creativity? What’s more important to you and can the two be combined? I pick Creativity. Productivity is more tightly aligned with efficiency and time management. Creative souls cannot be bound by time constraints, schedules or deadlines. When the muse strikes, short term productivity usually follows. But it cannot be consistently combined with creativity.
Are you a day-time person or a creature of the night? I do think I am a day time person. But when I am deep into writing (be it a post or a short story), I sometimes do feel obsessed so it can stretch much later into the right.
What does the word ‘Speed’ remind you of? Keanu Reeves! Unfortunately, that was the only movie I liked him in. And that’s the original Speed movie, not Speed 2!
How long have you been blogging? I dabbled with writing a couple of posts between 2005 and 2007. But I started blogging in the true sense only in 2011.
What’s your poison? I don’t think I crave any particular one or even have a favourite! But metaphorically speaking, stress. For some reason, I can’t seem to live without it!
Do you have a nickname (not a pet-name) and why are you called that? Unfortunately, I don’t have one. It would have been fun though!
The topic / category / label you find yourself blogging the most about? I call them Reflections. They’re my thoughts about happenings around me, mostly experiences that affect me more than others do.

When, Karan who blogs at Scribble gifted me the Liebster, I was pleasantly surprised. Karan wasn't someone I interacted with on a daily basis. Knowing that someone outside your usual circle appreciates your blog, was a very powerful feeling! And here are the questions from Karan. 

What made you start your blog? In 2011, I happened to overhear a conversation involving children that left me dumbstruck in the end. I just had this insane urge to write about it (Link here). That was my ‘true’ start to blogging and defined the need to blog. To share with others the experiences that affect me more than others!
Do you encourage others to start blogging? Absolutely. But I don’t think it would be blogging specifically. It’s more an encouragement to express oneself in some mode or medium, whatever works for them!
How many incomplete blogs you have written that you somehow couldn't complete? Why so? I have about 4 posts saved as drafts because I am still in the process of putting information/thoughts together on those!
Do you have any childhood dream you want to accomplish? If yes, what it is? I remember being fascinated by Mr. India and wanting to be like him! I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon! J
What is your most embarrassing moment? Sigh. There are so many. But the one I remember the most (and it’s kind of a sweet memory nonetheless) is when I was in the sixth standard and there was this stream behind our school. It had a thin rocky bridge, which you could cross, walk about 6-8 steps, to get to the other side in. The problem was only one person could get on at a time. I remember seeing this girl get on and yet got on it myself. Needless to say we fought and there I went! Splashing into the water with a huge audience laughing at me! J I still remember her name, though I have no idea where she is now!
If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose? Aah, how about being Mr. India here? Wear the cloak of invisibility just like Harry Potter did!
The best compliment you have got till date? There was something an ex-Project Manager of mine had told me when she was leaving the company. And this was when I was in my first year at work! I still remember her words “You have a lot of enthusiasm and dedication to do everything. Make sure, that in the mundane run for life’s little things over the years, you don’t ever lose that zest for life.” It was a compliment and advice rolled into one!
Craziest thing you did? I have to say – Skydiving! Jumping out of a tiny airplane at 13,000 feet. Especially after the shock you get when the jumpers in front of you jump out and literally disappear into thin air. It feels like they have been sucked into a vacuum! But it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, must-try experience!
Which possession of yours you can’t tolerate to be touched by others? I am not really possessive about any of the things I own. So I have to say, none.
Define yourself in 4 words. Impulsive. Self-confident. Emotional. Dreamer.
What does this award mean to you? I consider it a genuine note of appreciation. Thank you. 

And finally, the most recent Liebster came my way on International Women’s Day! Using the pen name of ‘The Fool’ he blogs at Lucifer House Inc. For someone who I see making headlines in the realm of science-fiction and/or fantasy fiction, he can be highly philosophical and extremely realistic at times. Needless to say, I am finding his questions the toughest to answer.

* Disclaimer * Everything that has happened so far has led to me, the nation and the world as it stands today. And while they might not be ideal situations today, I do think that they will be lessons instrumental in shaping tomorrow. So ideally, I wouldn't want to change anything, even if I had the power. However, just for the sake of this post, here goes.

One event in your life that you would change if you had the power to do so. The first time I cowered down to a person who treated me less than deserving. I know better today.
One event in the history of our nation that you would change and why. Just like countries have a cap on the number of visas given out to travel abroad, I would have liked to set a cap for the number of Indians who can work on outsourced projects even while they are in India. By force or by rotation, we would probably have had more people work to improve our nation’s various systems.  
One event in the history of the world that you would change and why. Nip the very source that first thought about racism / whites vs. non-whites.
One book that you would wish unwritten from the world and why. Thinking ... thinking ... thinking ... I can’t think of a single one (Other than controversial ones which I would rather refrain from naming!).
One famous historic personality you wish unborn from the history of the world and why. Adolf Hitler.  He must have played an important role in how the world stands today, but that does not warrant the loss of human life and atrocities carried out.
One famous scientific discovery or invention that you would like to un-invent and why. Can Apple computers be counted here? J Why? The link here, is just a trailer!
If you had a chance to be in some other era, which would it be and why? The future! I do want to see if artificial intelligence takes over mankind someday. (Got to be precise timing!)
One fictional character you wish had existed in reality and why? Mr. India! I really love that concept, don’t I? To be able to do what real, existing, ‘visible’ people cannot!
One imaginary invention or scientific discovery that you wish existed today. Mr. India’s watch! Except – I want it to work against ‘red’ colour too!
One historic personality you would like to bring back from dead today and why? I have to say Nelson Mandela. I do admire those who fight for equal rights even as they have to brave extreme opposition.
If you could get into the shoes of a historic personality or fictional character, who would it be and why? Sometimes I think Tintin and sometimes I think Jasmine! From Aladdin. Flying around the world on a magic carpet, that’s got to be something isn't it! 

Phew. Never knew answering 33 questions would take so long! But they made me think, look deep within and remember some fun days and memories! J And with that, ladies and gentlemen, the award ceremony comes to an end! Have a beautiful day and a great year ahead! Until next time, farewell, adios, sayonara!
I would love to hear your views!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The New Zealand Chronicles - Part 1

Our bags are packed, our passports and tickets laid out neatly. Our plane leaves in a few hours. I am happily unemployed and have time to while away. But he has to go to work. For a little while at least. He promises to be back home by 2:30 PM so we can take a taxi to the airport. It’s 2:00 PM. We talk again. He’s caught up. Unplanned work has a way of popping up at the most inopportune moment. We decide that I should move ahead and get us checked in; he would meet me straight at the airport. Padding around comfortably in my flip-flops, I take our passports, tickets and our suitcases down to the curb and hire a taxi to the airport. Mistake #1.

The airline staff member messes up my middle name and surname. Nothing new there. I spend five minutes explaining her that I do not have a surname. I sweet talk the other airline representative to issue me a boarding pass for my husband too because “he’s running late” but we don’t want to miss the flight and “I’m sure there would be a long queue for security too.” She accedes and whips out the second boarding pass. On the flip side, she demands to keep his passport but tells me “Come right over when he reaches, you do not need to stand in the queue.” I grin and thank her. We retrieve his passport and proceed to security when he arrives. Wearing formal shoes. Mistake #2.
And then in a few minutes off we go. To Middle Earth. To the land of Hobbit. And Lord of the Rings. And yes, I Hate Luv Storys too from Bollywood. But I don’t find out about that until much later. And so, apart from a few screensavers and desktop wallpapers where I have seen New Zealand appear, apart from the NZ cricket team – I do not know much about New Zealand until then. On the five hour flight, I read ‘Culture Shock New Zealand’ and learn a bit about Pakehas and Maoris, their history, culture, customs and traditions. If you’re planning to visit New Zealand, do pick up a copy of the book. There are times where you’d feel that the writing or everything about “my country” as the author writes is a little over the top. You might even wonder what’s the big deal, that’s how it’s done everywhere! But on the whole, it’s a good read; gives you some good insight into the country. And yes, Culture Shock series comes for a whole bunch of nations.
We land in Christchurch around 10:30 PM. New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia. Fellow passengers tell us that NZ is very green but right now everything outside just looks pitch dark and black to us. We go through the normal routine of filling out the forms, collecting the keys for our rented car and make our way to the motel (For those who asked, rental car expenses for the complete eight day trip was almost $1000 including insurance, excluding fuel) And thus starts our 2000 km seven day road trip in the South Islands of New Zealand.
Christchurch is touted as one of the four largest and most populated cities of New Zealand. But the next morning, the sights that meet our eyes tell us a completely different story. In early 2011, earthquakes shattered the heart of the township and ravaged the city for the most part. Christchurch is now being completely reconstructed and we are surrounded by debris on most sides. There are many cars on the road, people still walk around but there’s a ghost town feel in the city. Our motel owner tells us a bit about how it affected their lives; how their friends had to close shop because structural engineers determined that the surrounding areas weren’t safe anymore. Streets close to the epicenter have been closed down entirely after engineers were sent around to study potential impact, businesses had been hit. The Cathedral is one of the main structures that has been majorly demolished by the quakes. I try not to associate Nature and God.
Christchurch being rebuilt after the devastating 2011 earthquake.
Christchurch being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake. 
It’s been two years since but the city is still fighting to get back on its feet. And through their conversations and actions, we see the city’s fighting spirit, working together against the treatment meted out to them by Mother Nature. City center buildings, where multi-storied malls once stood, are now being rebuilt as single storey strip malls because New Zealand continues to be a “possible target” (Read more here). Walking through the City Center, a very innovative fundraising idea catches our eye. The Kiwis have decided to use the earthquake to raise money for the city’s reconstruction. They have shows comings up where people can pay a fee to live the earthquake experience! And of course, it’s uplifting to see how someone still managed to maintain an excellent sense of humour through the years!
A restaurant signboard at Christchurch, New Zealand attempts to infuse humor and strength through tragedy.
A restaurant signboard attempts to infuse humor and strength through tragedy.

The other thing the earthquakes failed to dent is the sporting spirit of the nation which considers rugby as its main religion and the rugby coach and captain as Gods. All through the parks, we watch various rugby matches in different stages of play. We now drive towards Hanmer Springs, which is a quaint little town about 140 kms north of Christchurch. 
Driving from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, the land of the hot water springs.
Driving from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, the hot pool place.
Hanmer Springs is famous for its natural hot water springs. Hot as in from 38 degree Celsius up to even 42 degree Celsius. Absolute natural heavenly spa treatment! (Well, except it’s filtered and cooled – because the originating waters are upwards of 100 degrees)! 

A scenic lookout on the way to Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
A scenic lookout on the way to Hanmer Springs
We have an early supper at the township and then follow it up with some New Zealand ice cream. Though I haven’t heard it elsewhere, New Zealand ice cream is relatively famous in Australia. I honestly don’t see any difference though. Again, usual dine in lunches cost about $15 or so per head. The NZ dollar at the time of this writing is about Rs. 44. Take away dishes like Mexican, Chinese or Greek are relatively inexpensive – about $10 per head. New Zealand does have a cuisine of its own but most of it is non-vegetarian. Deer meet or venison is considered an absolute delicacy and you then realize why there are so many deer farms along the routes from one city to the other. Venison pies are very famous and for a non-vegetarian, there are many different kinds of meat that could be tried.
The beautiful peaks which tower over one end of Hanmer Springs create a feeling as if the town were born out of a valley. But the other sides are all level. We roam around for a long while soaking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful little township. Our fellow passengers were right. Everything’s so green. Different shades of green. And blue. Skies. And white. Clouds. And clean and clear. There’s no pollution. The colour contrasts create some stunning views. 
Motels and residential houses line up at Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
Motels and residential houses line up at Hanmer Springs.
New Zealand sits in the southern hemisphere, because of which, even as many other places face harsh winters, at this time it's peak summer in New Zealand. I see some Indians playing mini golf on a course nearby. Cart type family bicycles are available on rent and I see a family of four peddling by on a yellow one. There are park benches and lots of trees where families are having picnic lunches. On Day 1, lazing around in the lap of nature, I am definitely smitten by the idyllic lifestyle. But how much longer until I start missing city life?
For Part 2 of the New Zealand Chronicles, click here.
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