Sunday, 26 March 2017

Go for Free-Range

Many of us may not be aware - that the supply of meat and eggs at industry scales is done from huge factory farms. In the typical battery cages that are used in such chicken farms each bird gets the space equivalent to an A4 sheet of paper. That is where they spend their entire life. The diet is also largely uncontrolled, and typically consists of antibiotics and hormones.

The stress undergone by these birds cannot be explained in words. Definitely this pollutes the meat and eggs. And yes, the stress pollutant acts alongside the chemical diet that these chickens are force-fed.

When we consume the burgers and muffins at the popular fast food outlets around us, we often feel that the taste is incomparable. These outlets are very popular especially among the youngsters in India. I personally know of people who feel that something is missing in their life when they did not get to go to one of these popular restaurants for their favorite burger for sometime. But, do we realize, that places similar to the above farm is where this 'very tasty' food comes from..?????????

​​The long term damage that this food can do to the human body does not need explaining, I hope. Numerous researches done on broiler hens have established beyond doubt that hens rared in poultry farms suffer impact to their physiological functions at multiple levels, all caused by high concentrations of stress hormones in blood. Click here for one such article.

The Indian philosophy of 'karmic chain' makes a lot of sense in this context: where the stress suffered by the animals and birds invariably gets passed on to those of us who consume their meat and eggs.

Please note, this is not about vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism. It is about taking responsibility for what we knowingly or unknowingly encourage by our action or inaction. It is about doing our bit to make the world a better place. Every living being has to face death at some point. However the animals have the right to a decent life for whatever short span of time they live on the face of earth. None of us hold the right to make this period miserable. Especially under the guise of profit margins. Whether a vegetarian or a non vegetarian, we should definitely take the step and do our bit to end this nonsense.

Like you and me, the animals are the happiest when they are free and get to follow their natural behaviors like nesting, walking free under the sun, eat their natural food, and so on. Lets not deny them that! Its definitely not a big ask, but most certainly a step to a happier, healthier tomorrow.

Inline image 1

My earnest request to you is to join me in submitting the subject petition to the biggest players in the field - McDonalds and KFC - encouraging them to lead the way and source all their products only from cage-free and humanely raised chickens.

As you go through the petition text you will find that the 'cage-free' movement has been quickly spreading across the world and McDonalds and KFC have already committed to cage-free products in the United States during 2016. The lack of awareness and popular demand has lead to the rest of the world being left out and still consuming the products of the inhuman, blind and irresponsible money. Come on people.. Lets join hands and change that!

I have seen cases of many a change being brought about by the petitions floated in the website and I believe that we can get the corporate houses to listen if we are able to gather the required number of signatures. Lets target a 100,000 signatures at the earliest possible. The sooner the better!

You can help by sharing this information and/or the below petition link to ALL your contacts and friends; after signing of course. The intention is solely to generate awareness on the issue and force change for a better tomorrow.

[Born out of the disgust and anger felt when witnessing cases of inhuman handling of hens for meat consumption, this is a post that is close to my heart. Here I have attempted to look at things with pragmatism instead of emotion and have chosen a step that is much easier to implement compared to more ambitious and wider goals like 'stop all animal violence' or 'world go vegetarian'. A baby step, if you may. I sincerely hope that you are able to connect, appreciate the intention, and contribute to the action that is called for ]

pictures courtesy: Internet

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Today I Crystallized Something Larger than Life

[An article written last year. Just realized that I never got around to publishing it. Better late than never! ]

The revelations that dawn on us as we progress in this journey called life - those are the items that enrich us as individuals. They add to our intelligence, and they shape us as good human beings. In Psychology it is referred as crystallized intelligence, which increases with age. I got richer in it by a few points today.

One of the elder grannies in our large family passed away today after being bedridden for a few years. The death was an expected shocker; but even so, I realized that the news brings with it a bout of emotions. It looks like no amount of preparation will do for this one worldly adversary called death. You have to go over that moment when you finally deal with the fact that she is gone!

One revelation that I had amidst the roller coaster was that.. when one passes away, its the little things they did for us that first come rushing to our minds. And more than the material things, it is the immaterial stuff that steals the scene. For instance when I think of the occasion where she gifted me a dress, it is her smile and the loving pat on the back that comes to my mind, and not how glittery or colorful or costly the dress was.

Also death has a way of crushing all vices. When confronted with death we realise that those do not matter, none of it ever mattered. Its the good deeds that we are going to miss.

I now question myself - where do I stand? Other than immediate family, do I take time to do the small nice things for others? The acts which linger on and create that positive ring when they think of me! Am I too busy living life to notice others or spare time for any of this?

Well, this was some meaningful time I spent with myself. And I think all of us ought to do this and give the matter some thought. One of the things that our elder generation taught us is that life is not all rush and no reflection. That is so not the way life works.

It is alright to be a little selfish for our family, to be possessive about what is ours. All our small vices will be forgiven... as long as we let love fill our heart for those around us, occasionally spare a moment of thought for them, and sometimes go the extra mile to support them when we realize they need a hug.

All of us are capable of infinite love. This is a manufacturer's secret. Only we need to realize that life is much more than our day-to-day strifes. Try to plan it well so that we leave time and energy for the things that really matter, to us and to others. Leave that golden mark in someone's heart today, to remember us by, when its finally time for us to move on!

From that timeless poem, Death the leveller.
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

He is Here..

The world around us as a figure of unknowns is indeed difficult to conceive and accept. The rational mind seldom accepts anything without the scientific proof. But to our ancestors in India this was no impossible feat. For they lived in the world of acceptance and spiritual surrender, never demanding proof.

While talking of the ancient accumulated knowledge in India, I remember my grandfather once explaining the beliefs that the astral bodies, those tiny pieces we see in the unending cosmic jigsaw puzzle, exert an influence on human life. He was talking of the moment I was born as a lone tiny cell in my mothers womb. And then also the moment when the tiny head came out of the womb to the first breath of the earthly air. My grandfather firmly believed that there was an external (cosmic) influence in these earthly moments. Fingers that left a mark!

This finger print is what our ancestors tried to capture in kundlis and jatakams of the new born. Take in the date, time and place of birth of an individual and generate an elaborate Astrological chart! One which defines the positions of the significant stars at the moment of birth. Someone had obviously done a study linking the planetary patterns to human life. But in typical Indian style, no documented proof or evidence.

Till date modern science could not prove this link, neither has astrology attempted to prove it.

During this week (Feb 2016) however, something happened. The scientists of the LIGO consortium made a surprise announcement to the world that

Image Credit: The SXS Project, LIGO

Hearing this announcement, the scientific world shuddered in disbelief! How can two black holes merging billions of light years away alter the distance between 2 mirrors placed somewhere in earth? That when we did not for a moment believe that 'distance' is something alterable!

But there he is... the absolute proof that the 'absolute' is as unreal as the rest of them! Just the way the scientific community always demanded to know. Rational, repeatable and perfectly fitting the theoretical model! Only that it took the focused mind five decades and a few million dollars to get us there.

People now talk of windows opening into a whole new world of science. And I am able to sense my grandfather smile from yonder, beyond the world that science has ever known. You wouldn't believe me when I said so earlier. Now patiently wait for the much bigger world of unknowns that are about to unfold!

Footnote: Here is what Prof Alberto Vecchio of University of Birmingham, one of the researchers at the LIGO, had to say about the surprise scientific discovery:
"We have observed the universe through light so far. But we can only see part of what happens in the universe. Gravitational waves carry completely different information about phenomena in the universe."

Friday, 18 December 2015

Chennai and Damascus - All about Hope

[Penned during the 2015 floods in Chennai when the rain refused to stop for three days]

The world outside is dim and dark
Sun is hidden behind the clouds of disdain
Chennai is hit by the strongest of storms
As ¹Baby Jesus smiles from beyond the seas

Draggled minds as dark as the outside
Set the eyes on a tireless search
Nothing is visible in the darkness, but
a tiny ray finally finds its way through the thicket of trees!
O my beautiful ray of hope!
Filling minds with the colors of a bright sunny day

The ordeal definitely had an end
But the nebulous mind had to
see it,
feel it,
to be at ease.

*  *  *

As my finger slides through the smart phone screen to close the weather app
The ²story of Syrians in a news channel catches my eye

There is an instantaneous connect.

I could see myself sitting stolidly in the room with seven of my kids
I was looking at the floor while my husband described the plight
I quietly wondered how much the stitches on my torn plastic basin can endure.

The ordeal definitely had an end
But the nebulous mind had to
see it,
feel it,
to be at ease.

*  *  *

I realise...
that death of hope is the most terrible of states.

No amount of reading or visuals can reveal it to you
As when you sit astride your favorite comfy chair in the Chennai home
Straining your eyes to catch a glimpse of that tiny ray of hope!

(There is a purpose to all suffering)

¹ The ocean current considered responsible for the rains is El Nino, meaning Baby Jesus
²  The documentary on Syrians referred here can be found at this link.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Happy Teachers Day - 5 Sep

This should have been my first blog post. Because this is the introduction to me, and my dream. Forgive me earthlings, this is how things have been in my world, first things come second.. 😀

Call it starter's trouble or blogger's block or whatever - In spite of how the list of stuff I wanted to write about kept growing, I could never get to it and start a blog. As time passed, the first post finally happened the night former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam passed away.

Looking back now, it seems just an ordinary night. Many of our Presidents have passed away in the past, this was just another. There was no specialty to the day other than this event. But things were not to be that simple. The kind of thoughts and emotions the news triggered inside me swept me off like a whirlwind and churned out a beautiful blog post that (today I see) bagged 180 page views in just a month's time. Not bad for a first-time blogger, eh? :)

Here is how it came about.

As I watched the news channels announcing the unexpected death that evening I realized how short life was. In spite of leading a life so fulfilling and not wasting a moment with things unproductive, APJ still had so much left to do. In this momentary stopover he had had on earth, to be able to touch so many lives from different walks of life is an enviable achievement. Which lead me to wonder, was I using my life effectively?

Things of great meaning often start with baby steps. So the notes I had taken during my Income Tax Returns filing process took birth as the first post of "the musing dreamer".

There was no welcome, no fancy introduction, just an abrupt beginning in a DIY post. Quite like the Big Bang, eh? ;)  Here it was only because the prenatal pain was unbearable, considering the impact the evening's news had on me.

The dream

I always wanted to be a teacher. Wait a minute, that's a lie. When I was a kid, there were always those odd fancies like the policewoman, air hostess, pilot and even the priestess. But never a teacher! In fact, my mom specifically asked me many a time about considering the profession and I was crystal clear that I did not want it. Then when did this fancy catch on?

As the majority of kids out there during my time I was a reluctant school goer who was pushed into academic bulimia. My school or my parents could do little to kindle my interest. In spite of the general disinterest there were tiny sparks here and there that had me going. I always managed to figure in the top 10 in the class so things were hunky-dory, with not much complaints from anyone.

Things were fit and fine until that big examination came along, called Life. I realized the difficult way how short the school prepares us for this event of events. How much better we could have done!

The first taste of unsuitability-for-life could be witnessed at the end of the four years of graduate study. Yes, there was the coveted Engineering degree to adorn our hats for the rest of our lives, but those who had sluggishly dragged themselves during the four years of study could be seen pulling and pushing and tossing and turning after completing the degree. And not in just one situation!

They struggled to:
- clear the entrance examination to the Masters degree (the inevitable, coveted GATE),
- face job interviews,
- teach students (after they managed to procure guest lecturer positions in their alma mater or other Engineering colleges),
- and even adjust to the corporate jobs that they had earlier often dreamt of.

All this because the four years spent at college were mainly an exercise at laying their hands on the degree certificate rather than imbibing the knowledge and other skill sets (I am reminded of the movie 3 Idiots here. The film smelt of life!)

Worse still, the 16 years of studies never taught them a speck on how to deal with the personal or interpersonal challenges one faced. If most of the academic shortfalls could be conveniently blamed on the student, who do I blame this on? The academia? Policy makers? Of course, there was never an item in the curriculum that prepared one for such events as dealing with a difficult colleague or parent.

Well, these schools that I am talking about are not the Vedic Pathshalas or Madrasas where philosophy is taught as a subject. These are Government-recognized educational institutions that teach you science and languages. By law that is all they are required to teach. (Thanks to Lord Macaulay!)

After all is said and done, there is this one person who could have made a sea of change to our experience at these institutions. The teacher! The teacher could have done the magic in spite of all the curriculum and other constraints. Also, the school administration could have made it a lot better for us if they had maintained a good teacher-to-student ratio that facilitated individual attention and nurturing.

After I walked some distance in life, I began to realize where people faltered. A teacher is a very important person in a student's life. In the context of the academic studies, the teacher can make or break a subject. In a wider world, the teacher can make or break a young mind. No wonder the Sanskrit adage goes "Mata Pita Guru Deivam". And no wonder the great man who influenced a billion minds wanted to be known as a teacher more than any of the shiny posts he held. I understand you there fully and completely, Kalam ji.

My dream is to start a school where kids will be turned into perfect citizens, from both within and outside the curriculum. No academic bulimia for my kids! If they are to write an answer in a test paper they would have clearly understood the concept behind the topic. They will be molded in a variety of dimensions:
  • to not be scared of authority and still show respect. 
  • to appreciate a piece of art, a cultural performance, or a work of literature 
  • to be ethical and clear-headed in all their decisions.
  • to be able to express their ideas clearly and concisely
  • to be emotionally intelligent
  • to question and learn why a rule/law is in place and abide by it fully aware. 
  • (May this knowledge also help them make wise decisions if ever in a dilemma to break the rules!)

To be able to achieve this the key ingredient I will need is -- the best teaching community. While corporate India has matured to a stage where talent is looking for more meaningful and fulfilling things in life, I can see a huge pool of untapped resource out there. With a little training the wanting mind can make the best teacher. This will effectively complement a dedicated teaching community, thus making it richer beyond words. My school will build the BEST pool of teachers that ever existed in the face of earth.

That, earthlings, is not just my DREAM, it is a promise!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Done filing your Income Tax Return Yet?

I had come up with this post on July 2015 using the notes I had taken as I filed my Income Tax returns to the Government of India during Assessment Year (AY in short) 2015-16. As on July 2016 I am updating this post to make this more generic, up-to-date and helpful.

A note before you start to read:
1. This is for those who want to do electronic filing of the IT returns, not the paper-based filing or ITR excel sheets.
2. This is for those who use ITR1 - salaried professionals with no additional income to declare and a zero refund. Zero refund stage can be achieved after e-Payment of any tax that is due.

Other than the information from the necessary IT forms, i.e. Form 16, 26AS, 16A etc, all you will need to go ahead:
- Netbanking account
- loads of patience!!

Some banter before we start.
How did this post come into being?
I had done e-filing during AY 2014-15 and as I remembered, it was without too many glitches. As I was getting ready to file ITR for AY 2015-16 I was basking in that confidence and I lazed around until just a week was left to file the returns. Contrary to my expectations, it took me half a day (a full 4 hours) to finally get through everything and be done with the returns submission. Some of it was because I did not keep track of a few things I did the previous year and some because the IT department had introduced a couple of new processes like e-Verify returns, link to Aadhar, etc. During the filing for AY 2016-17 I found that there was further learning about the process which could potentially be useful to others if shared. More so because I could not find a single website that was 100% helpful in resolving all my questions as I was going through the filing process. So there, let me maintain this page as a running log of all the learnings and I hope this will be helpful for people like me (DIY) who attempt to file the IT return on their own and that too the easy way (well almost easy.. after all our IT Dept is still learning her game in the digital world), without going through the hassles of the paper-based filing process.

Some gyaan before we proceed to efiling.
About the ITR process:
  • First point to note is that the given steps are applicable only for those who do not have any other income apart from Salary and interest income. Capital gains (sale of property, stocks, mutual funds, bonds, other such assets) if any will have to be dealt with differently (using ITR 2 or above)
  • First step to do is to check your Form 26AS which is available in the income tax efiling website. It shows what all income has been recognized by the IT department, including any interest payments on your Savings accounts or Fixed deposits. The details that you fill in the Quickfile ITR format online or Excel sheet should be decided on this basis rather than just the Form 16. Form 16 captures only Salary income unless one has declared all other possible income from other sources to the Employer, including Interest income.
  • If you have ignored other income, there is a chance for getting a demand notice from I-T department (that is why online returns are preferred by them because calculations are automated in this case. Manual returns are more difficult to track from their perspective).
  • If you have any additional exemptions or rebates to claim, that you had not submitted to your employer (it could be even your last month Insurance premium for example that had not been considered by the employer), then your chance to claim it is during returns-filing. Possibly you may receive a refund. Refunds are really fast these days.

Steps to efiling:

1. The website you will need is
[I saved the URL this time for good. Because initially I went to and did some looking around ;) ]

2. Dig up your ID / password to login to the e-filing site.
[When I was not able to locate it,
I had to use the "Forgot password" option. FYI - there were multiple options for how I wanted to reset the password, the likes of OTP and secret question. The rules for setting a 'strong' password were not very transparent too. So there, save the login details for good.]

3. If you have to reset password, ensure that you pick a 'strong' password.
[In spite of abiding by all rules given, i.e. upper case and lower case letters, number and a special character the website somehow would not accept the passwords I gave. It kept showing up as 'weak'. This could b
e because of my choice of special character. (I hate pressing the shift key when typing passwords). Finally I got a 'strong' password after multiple tries and promptly saved it; it is not something I would want to repeat every year]

4. The "Quick e-File ITR" is the quicker and easier process compared to the excel worksheet. It saves me the extra step of generating the XML and uploading it. So choose it if you qualify.
[The only hitch here is that you have to save the d
raft periodically. Also the session times out frequently so it helps to have all information handy before you start]

What do you need handy?
- Form 16 issued by your employer
- Form 26AS from the IT efiling website
- IFSC codes and details of your bank accounts
- this blog post for reference, of course!

5. Once you click on quick e-File, choose the ITR1 option and assessment year. Unless you have a digital signature generated by a service provider, you do not want to check the last option.
[It helps to opt to fill in the address details from your previous return. More than half of your initial tab will be prefilled in this case.
One item where I have goofed up is the assessment year. It is NOT the same as financial year, i.e. the year for which you are submitting the data. This is rather the year when the assessment is done. If you check your Form 16, it has the assessment year clearly printed on it.
Also note that if you time out your session and come back to re-open the form in progress, you only need to select the same inputs as the first time (i.e. ITR1 and assessment year) to be taken to your last saved draft]

6. First tab has the instructions (didnt help me much!) and second tab onwards have your personal information (prefilled if you opted for it), income details, tax details, info about taxes paid and the 80G deductions.
[In personal information tab, the main updates were to the filing status section, as the rest was prefilled. Not much confusion here]

7. On income details tab, the figures need to be filled from your Form 16. Mainly B1 and B4.
[The first time I spent some time figuring out B1 - Income from Salary/Pension. This is your gross salary before deductions and should match the 'Total Amount Paid' reported by your employer in Form 26AS

8. Verify your net tax payable, if it matches the figure printed on your Form 16. (This is how I came to know of the mistake mentioned above)

9. In Tax details tab verify the details of tax paid by your employer. It would be prefilled

10. In Taxes paid tab, again mostly prefilled, verify the details. Refund will be zero for most of us. Add here any other bank account you may be holding.
[I have wasted time getting the bank details everytime. So save info l
ike IFSC code, account number for faster processing next time]

11. 80G tab - fill in all details depending on entitlement for the donations.

12. Now for the additional steps if you have income from other sources, say interest income from banks. The bank in this case would have submitted the details of TDS (tax deducted at source) to the IT Dept, so the details will be prepopulated in the 'Tax Details' tab. If you can view this entry you most likely will not be getting a zero refund amount during the steps 1 through 11. The tax amount deducted for your interest income will show up as a refund amount due to you from the IT Dept. This is because you have not declared your interest income just yet.

12a. Enter your interest income against 'Income from other sources' in the 'Income Details' tab. You will now see that the 'Tax Payable' amount is auto-populated if you are in a tax slab higher than the default 10% that the bank has used. This amount needs to be paid to IT Dept before the form can be submitted.

12b. Click on 'E-Pay Tax' on the left hand side, and you will be redirected to another website. 
12c. Select Challan 280. The webpage for filling details will open up. When filling your details note the below.
Tax Applicable should be '(0021)INCOME-TAX (OTHER THAN COMPANIES)'
Type Of Payment should be '(300)SELF ASSESSMENT TAX'
12d. Once done you will be redirected to the selected bank's website to login to netbanking and complete the payment
12e. After the payment is done, login to the netbanking website and generate the challan. There will be a 'BSR Code' given there as reference.

12f. In the 'Tax Paid' tab, make an entry for this self assessment tax payment using the BSR Code and the date of payment.
12g. Now, your refund amount will be updated to ZERO!

13. If you have reached till this point, you are almost there. Go ahead and press Submit.
[Upon submission if y
ou get a message that your disclosed salary is less than 90% of the salary reported in TDS1, you can double check the figures and continue to submit. The message is only informational and pops up when the difference between the two figures mentioned in #7 above is high. For instance, where your rent claim is high]

14. Next step is to e-Verify the return. This is something that was newly introduced in 2015, and works instead of printing a hard copy of the acknowledgement form and sending it by post to the Bangalore CPC office. There are two ways you can do this. First is to use your aadhar and the second using an EVC ((Electronic Verification Code). If your income is below 5L, the EVC can be generated to your registered mobile number and email ID. For income above 5L, you have to do it via the registered bank. The options are presented to you on completion of submission.
If you are one of the few whose details in PAN match your Aadhar, you can follow a different set of steps than what is explained below. I was one of the unlucky many whose 'Link your Aadhar' did not work, hence I had to generate an EVC to complete the e-Verification process. Assuming this is the first time you are trying, you should choose the option to Generate EVC at the screen given to you post submission.

[Note added on 2017: After the many hiccups on aadhar linking is sorted out, the process is now a breeze. I did not have my initial expanded in my aadhar, and yet the linking went through successfully without an issue. Further the e-verification of return took just a few seconds as I chose the option to generate OTP via aadhar. Things do get better with time.. ☺]

15. If your income is above 5L, you should choose to generate EVC via Netbanking. Again assuming here that your account whose detail is with the IT office is netbanking-enabled.

16. On choosing the option, a list of banks will be presented to you from which you can choose yours. From here you will be redirected to your bank's netbanking portal. You will need to talk to your bank if you are unsure of how to complete the e-Verification process.
[I hold an ICICI account and I can explain the steps for that. Login -
-> Payments & Transfer --> Tax Centre --> Income tax e-Filing. Once you click on submit you will be taken back to the e-Filing website for completion]

17. You have to click on e-Verify to complete the process. You will recieve an email and sms with the generated EVC.

18. Yes, now is the time to do that happy dance. Finally you are DONE!

Note: If you are stuck at any point there is the IT e-filing call centre you can contact. The Bangalore number worked for me, and the person was quite helpful too. So there, Happy Filing!

As a Footnote, here are the Minor(!) irritants that I have faced with the efiling process. You might want to keep an eye out for these:
  • While preparing the ITR, very frequently the session expires and then you have to click "Quick eFile ITR" and enter all required details like 'ITR-1' and Assessment Year before the form opens up again for editing. Remember, it doesn't mean that your login session has expired, it refers only to your editing session
  • Many a time after painstakingly logging in (c'mon there are 4 fields to type in, none of them allow copy-paste), I get the message that "session is expired" as double clicks are disabled. Then I started to hit Enter key (slowly and carefully) instead of using the mouse.
  •  In my notebook screen, each time I click a different tab on the ITR page it opens at the top left corner of the page. I then have to realign the page so that all required details are visible and continue editing. Can't be helped if you are using one of the small screen devices.