south africa 7: durban—sun, sea, sand, and the indian connection

Self portrait—Artist: Me; Location: Golden Mile.

Sun, Sea and Sand and a bit more

Durban is South Africans’ choice domestic holiday destination. It is the most African city in the country. It is also the most Indian city in Africa. Not many foreign tourists come here. Another one of those slips. Continue reading

south africa 6: kwazulu-natal adventure—from sani pass to its game reserves


The thrill of Sani Pass

Aah, that adrenalin rush! That sense of adventure in exploring unchartered, gruelling terrains and then coming back to tell the tale. For many travelling to South Africa, and to me, it simply means the Sani Pass.

Once a rough mule trail, Sani Pass is now a notoriously dangerous mountain road to Lesotho via the Drakensberg Mountains which can only be traversed by a 4X4. Lying between the border controls of South Africa and Lesotho, the 8-kilometre-long gravel road through no-man’s land starts at 1,968 metres above sea level and ends near the summit at 2,873 metres. The journey is marked with steep ascents, hairpin bends appropriately named “suicide bend” and “big wind corner”, loose gravel, and beautiful views. Some walk this road. For the adventurous, the thrill is in the 4X4 drive. Continue reading

would you give away 50% of your wealth to charity whilst alive or in your will?

I just did. That is, I pledged aloud to give away 50% and more of my savings to philanthropy. And no, I am no billionaire. I am just an ordinary, working woman. This pledge is my birthday gift to myself. It is my birthday today. 🙂

It was not a spur of the moment decision. The idea to give away my hard-earned money was made subconsciously many years ago. The fact is, life has been pretty kind to me. I make way more than I need and so I figured I owed it to life to be kind in return. To pass on the blessings. What better way could there be than to pass on what I have received. But it felt nicer to acknowledge it publicly. Like I was setting myself free.

What made it doubly right was that I was not alone in my decision. I was joined by a score of others, all professionals like myself, guided by a desire to give back. Many more are giving it a serious thought as I pen this article—fighting both inner and outer battles. After all, it goes against the very grain of our social fabric to give away half of what we own.

The promisers so far:

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The inequality of wealth distribution globally, and in India is no secret. Oxfam’s recent study makes the differences even more ugly. Of the total wealth generated in the country last year, 1% of Indians got 73% whilst 670 million citizens received just 1%. And the gap just keeps getting wider and wider. And more repugnant.

It is easy to demand the uber-rich should give away their wealth to the poor. It is in fact expected. But why wait for this group to be the torchbearers. Why can’t we, those who have slogged to amass our savings into a respectable pile, be those who bring a semblance of equality back into the equation? Don’t each one of us also have a social responsibility? Why can’t we be the change we keep talking about?

Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge initiative in 2010 was designed as a philanthropic initiative for the super-wealthy in order to create a more equitable world. To be able to make the pledge one needs to be a billionaire and be willing to pledge half of it to charity. Which excludes 99% of India’s population, namely, you and me.

Inspired by it, and more within one’s reach, is Bangalorean Tanu and Girish Batra’s #LivingMyPromise, ideated around Daan Utsav, India’s week-long festival of giving. One needs to have a crore [10 million] Rupees to qualify for this, and like Giving Pledge be willing to commit half of that wealth to charitable causes whilst alive or in one’s will.

Remember, when we were little and we pledged to serve our country? Somewhere down the road we forgot all about it and decided to just fend for ourselves, pass the buck, and turn a blind eye. Nothing wrong with that. It is what we all do. The charm is when we do the opposite. Go against the current. When we care. And give. Not bits and pieces, but large chunks. Reconnecting with our country and its people. #LivingMyPromise is the ordinary Indian’s pledge, turned real.

So, we have an Amith Prabhu, a reputation management specialist who pledges because he has come to believe, “We come with nothing and we go with nothing. We are merely custodians of materials that we either earn or inherit.” And then there is a Venkat Krishnan, a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, who gets a literal kick out of giving and thinks giving is a complete “no-brainer.” Sridhar Rajagopalan, an entrepreneur, on the other hand states it is luck, and the hard work and benevolence of others which plays a large part in our success that we can hardly call it “ours.” Pledging is, thus, only fair.

Wrapped in my dead-end questions, my decision to pledge my wealth was a natural one, like those of many others. My decision to go public with it, in the hope it may inspire other ordinary folks like myself, is where #LivingMyPromise fitted in.

May I ask you again, fellow Indians. Would you give away 50% of your wealth to charity? And if yes, do say it out aloud. Our country needs to hear it. ❤

Oh, and yeah, happy birthday to me! 😀

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[Note: My above post first appeared in Business World on 26 September, 2018 in its online edition. The original article can be read here. This post forms part of my blog’s Giving Back series which explores giving back initiatives in India.]

south africa 5: kwazulu-natal history—from rorke’s drift to kamberg to shakaland

At the historic Anglo-Zulu battlefields in northern KwaZulu-Natal. What you see behind me, to the right, are sand storms in action. 

Day 1: Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift: Where heroes were made

An endless expanse of dusty plains and stunted thorn trees sprawls for miles in front of me. We’ve been driving for five hours now. I’m on my way to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift and am told it is just beyond the last mound that shimmers in the horizon.

It is incredible that these barren expanses in the middle of nowhere, absolutely nowhere, were once the scenes of key battles fought during the Boer-Zulu, Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars.

The few travellers who trickle up north to make this journey tend to be British, military buffs, or those tracing their family tree. But you don’t have to be any of them really. Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are a celebration of the human spirit during war, of courage against all odds. In the former, the valour was that of the Zulus. In Rorke’s Drift, the heroes were the British. Continue reading

south africa 4: kaap staad aka cape town, the most beautiful city in the world

Looking down from Signal Hill: The Green Point Stadium built for FIFA is on the right and on the horizon, towards the left, is Robben Island.

Cape Town: A world travel destination

Ask anyone who has been to Cape Town what they thought of the city and you will receive a smitten response. Even if it is their umpteenth visit, or third as in my case, its stunning scenic setting, glorious beaches, and rich history does not fail to captivate and make one a bit more besotted. 🙂

The “to do” list is simple and straightforward. The cable-car ride up Table Mountain; an afternoon at Kirstenboch, the most beautiful botanical garden in Africa; a ferry ride to Robben Island to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell where he spent 18 of his 27 sentenced years; and dinner at the V&A Waterfront as dusk falls and the sky turns into a glorious Turner work of art. But there is more. So much more! Continue reading

south africa 3: cape peninsula, the company of nature and wine


Day 1: The company of nature in Cape Peninsula

There is a rugged poignant beauty to the Cape Peninsula, what with its indigenous fynbos draped over age-old sandstone rocks, colossal crashing waves, and foraging seabirds. I had put aside a whole day to explore the Cape of Good Hope and Boulders, which together with Table Mountain, comprise Table Mountain National Park. A whole day in glorious, unsullied nature! By far, it was one of my best travel decisions in life. Continue reading