Spirituality is merely a journey from the mind to the heart – Swami Gnantej

swami gnantej‘Life is a Celebration’ smiled Swami Gnantej. A young computer science engineer by education, he left his job at HCL technologies after a year to be a full time volunteer at the Art of Living center.

‘I attended the AOL courses while studying and they were good learning but when I met Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar, I felt that so comfortable. Like I had come home and I was taken care of…’ he explains his move from corporate world.

He says that ‘in the normal sense after a celebration, one tends to feel tired but after the joining Art of Living, he celebrates life and feels great every moment’ Swamiji shared stories of his early days at the ashram and the spiritual guidance by SriSri himself.

Swami Gnantej is in Jakarta to conduct workshops on ‘mindfulness, mantra and music.’ ‘Every individual should have knowledge about their mind. It is a skill to be learned, as most of us are either in the past or the future so we are never a 100 percent in the present. Simple methods can bring your mind to the present, he said.

A small technique he shared was to observe your breath. ‘Breath has a pattern, if you are angry, the breath pattern is fast, sadness is characterized by deep breathing and when you are happy, the breath is light.’ So with his guidance, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and observed as the breath filled me and then exhaled. The process of observation was very inward and intense leaving no room for any thoughts, just a warm feeling of being.

swami gnantej2‘The flow of thoughts has different modulations. Many a time we might be physically present but our mind, which perceives, is wandering. The heart, however, is a seat of love where there is no perception or judgment. Spirituality is merely journey from the mind to the heart.’ He answered regarding the nature of spirituality.

When we meditate do we think or do we feel? ‘Neither, we just let go,’ he replied. ‘It is a common misconception, that meditation is focus. But meditation is to be in the nature of a se-er (the observer). Let the thoughts appear and let go. The highest form of prayer is meditation. It is a way to connect with our inner consciousness. Meditation is food for the soul.’

He pointed out an interesting aspect, ‘when we go to a temple and stand in front of the beautiful deity, adorned with flowers, we close your eyes. Why do we not feast our eyes on the deity instead? Gurudev  says that it is because God is within, which is why we close our eyes to connect.’

‘The first phase of any puja is when we invoke the divinity within to be present in all the idols and symbols. So any puja is not complete without mediation – the connection to the self’ he elaborated. ‘Mantra and music are techniques to go deep within and gather ourselves back. Many a time we go for puja when we are disturbed. While in a prayer, the mantra chanting enables us to gather ourselves and be stronger to face the challenges.’

‘Mantras should be understood, learned and chanted with proper pronunciation, as in Sanskrit, a slight change can result is a totally different meaning. One can use simple mantras which are just as powerful’ were his concluding remarks.

It was indeed interesting and enlightening to be in conversation with Swami Ganantej. Look forward to his workshops in Jakarta.

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The Spice Goddess: Bal Arneson

Chef Bal Anerson with Poonam SagarChef Bal Arneson (known in some circles as the Spice Goddess) is a Vancouver-based author, educator and TV personality, was a delight to meet. Along with her were her two children Anoop Virk, 20, and Aaron Arneson, 10, in Jakarta, while on a tour promoting her latest show, Spice of Life with Bal Arneson, exclusively on the Asian Food Channel where she takes her family on one-of-a-kind adventures in the kitchen and outdoors!

‘I involve my children in everything that I do. They are my family and this is most important to me,’ she says. Her daughter is now her executive producer. ‘My mother is phenomenal’ says Anoop.bal and kids

Bal (aka Bal Jit) immigrated to Canada from India after an arranged marriage and then separated from her husband when her daughter was only a year old. With no money and little English she started cleaning people’s homes.

She remembers ‘Anoop used to sit on top of the vacuum cleaner as I cleaned people’s homes.’ She was not allowed to study after standard eight and had to ‘learn all that was required to be a good housewife’. Coming from an Asian background and understanding that education is the key to development, she focused on education ‘I went to school and graduated. I also completed my Masters in education and now teach children with learning disabilities. To support my college education, I started giving cooking classes never imagining that it would lead to my own international TV show on AFC,’ shared Bal

Bal mentions her mother and her childhood kitchen every bal n kids 2time she talks about the spices that she loves so much and where she learned to cook. ‘My parents have since migrated to Canada and are based in Toronto. They were very disappointed with me when I separated from my husband and disowned me. I have tried reaching out but it has not worked,’ she shared.

‘When I was young my role models were Mata Gujri and Rani Jhansi. My personal life experience came from falling again and again, and continuing to keep getting up and learning from my mistakes. My Masters in Education gave me the ability to think critically and have an open mind to many different viewpoints.’ She has emerged victorious and strong from her hardship through her determination and positive outlook. ‘I want for my daughter to be independent and strong’ she adds.

She recounts when no publisher wanted to publish her healthy Indian cookbook as she had had no formal culinary training or experience. She approached a local publisher, Whitecap Books, “I told him that I’ve been cooking since I was six! I took my no-butter chicken to for him to try and got the book deal.’ “He loved the idea for the book and my passion for it.” she says. To promote her book she did some TV promos and the ‘TV loved me and the rest is history,’ she says with a big smile.

Her first cookbook published in 2009 Everyday Indian: 100 Fast, Fresh and Healthy Recipes and now she is promoting her third Bal’s Spice Kitchen. In 2010, Bal Arneson’s series, Spice Goddess, was launched on the US Cooking Channel and Food Network Canada. She has not looked back since and is now on a tour promoting her latest show on AFC across SE Asia with her children.

Bal at NYCRecently she had the pleasure of attending the “The Hundred-Foot Journey” New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theater and meeting Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey with her children. ‘Shake Aron’s hand as he shook Steven Spielberg hand,’ she urges.

Her rags to riches story is an inspiration. Her journey to becoming everything she is today began a long time ago as a little girl in India. From a small village Tibbi in Punjab cooking in a clay kitchen, she is now a world renowned chef, author, educator and TV personality. Very authentic, warm and most admirable is her engagement of her children in all facets of her life.

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Karan Berry – Hard work is at the heart of the glamorous hospitality industry

Karan Berry Bolstered by a healthy economic outlook, the hospitality and tourism industry of Indonesia is booming. ‘I like the Jakarta traffic,’ says 41 year old Karan Berry with a broad smile, ‘as it means that guests have to stay for a minimum of two nights when they come for meetings.’

His mantra on hospitality is inspired by Gandhi: ‘A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.’

‘This is a great industry and has come a long way in Asia, with the growing economy and business travel,’ says Berry, who is very passionate about his work and is a senior hospitality professional, well versed with all operations and functions related to Hotel Management with over 17 years of managerial experience with top hotel brands in India and now here in Indonesia.

Family values are the building blocks of Berry’s management philosophy. ‘A good family life percolates to your work,’ he affirms. His father is his role model and has instilled values such as honesty, mutual respect and empathy, as well as, the importance of balancing family and work. ‘The philosophy that I follow is very simple to be fair, truthful and transparent in my personal and professional relationships,’ add Berry.

For Berry, management is more of an art than a science, and it is essential to have clearly articulated goals. ‘Start with the overall goal and then break it down into what each employee/leader’s responsibilities and roles are. Daily, weekly and monthly actions take time, but when it’s done, all will gain productivity, innovation and engagement,’ he says. ‘It is important to be open to feedback from the team in one-on-one meetings and better understand what motivates each employee/ leader.’ ‘Communication is the key to staff engagement and participation. A continual feedback loop and coaching is implemented to enable associates to reach their full potential. The shared experiences and learning are very impactful and create a sense of pride and satisfaction. Recognition and a rewards system instill in each individual the drive to excel,’ he adds.Karan Berry

 Berry’s keen interest and experience with playing cricket ‘taught me the importance of team work and achieving our potential goals.’ The Marriott ethos ‘if you take great care of your employees, they’ll take good care of the guests and the guests will return again and again’ is in sync with his thinking of leading by example. ‘I have also done baggage service,’ he shares, ‘people respect you if you are knowledgeable and apply your skills effectively.’

Berry manages his time through careful task management and prioritization. ‘Planning is a priority. I schedule daily, weekly and monthly meetings to review the activities, so I can plan, prepare and review accordingly. Learn and trust the tools, like Outlook and Blackberry. I keep one good notebook at a time for all my notes so those important freehand notes can be easily located when they are needed.’

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Focus On Action Not Results to Be Successful: S L Uttam

SL Uttam PT Busana Remaja AgraciptaWhat do the world’s top intimate brands like Victoria’s secret, DKNY, Spanx and others have in common? Many of these are manufactured in Indonesia at Shyam Lal Uttam’s PT Busana Remaja Agracipta (BRA) a top 10 fused garments manufacturer worldwide.

PT Busana Remaja Agracipta was established in 1993 by Uttam in a partnership, specialising in the production of a wide range of underwear and body garments for export markets worldwide such as the USA, Europe and Australia. ‘After 1999 I began directly managing the company on a day to day basis following the economic crisis in Indonesia’ says Uttam.

‘We have grown from US$ 3 million to an over US$ 75 million company with 5000 strong staff and 3000 machines exporting to 16 countries’ says Uttam with a broad smile, an incredible growth by any standards. From his original factory in Tangerang, which is still in production and also his head office, Uttam also has two manufacturing plants in Yogyakarta in Indonesia and has now diversified to a factory in Bangladesh which is managed by his son, Vijay Uttam, a graduate from Wharton.

Primaniyarta 2013 awarded to SL UttamThe company was also a recipient of the prestigious Primaniyarta export award 2013 by the government of Indonesia, and recognizes the constant and ongoing quality consciousness of successful Indonesian exporters who are then role models for other Indonesian exporters. ‘The jury was very impressed by the company’s performance’ narrates Uttam.

‘We successfully compete with China and our success is on account of three key dimensions: Full compliance to buyer needs and all the rules and regulations. Secondly, we have diversified our product range – from intimate wear to sportswear, and finally we are constantly upgrading our technology to foam cup development and bonded garment manufacturing.’ The high quality standards are maintained by the in-house research and design unit at PT BRA.

Uttam believes in honest business practices with adherence to guidelines. He says ‘there are 2 types of people – workers and managers. The managers are empowered to identify issues and find appropriate solutions, whereas workers merely follow directions. It is all about adding value.’

He leads by example with a personal approach and through motivating his staff. He encourages them to be in constant pursuit of excellence with integrity. While he has setup stringent systems and standard operating procedures, Uttam believes in being open minded, pragmatic and being supportive of the his mostly young employees. ‘Success is meeting self made challenges and to excel. I have always dreamed of an organization where the people are self motivated and dedicated and this is what I have created.’

For all young entrepreneurs Uttam’s message is brief ‘Believe in yourself. Do it honestly with no shortcuts.

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Making Art Difference – Painting To Give

The Volunteer Artists Group with the school Principal

The Volunteer Artists Group with the school Principal

The ‘Volunteer Artists Group’ is an informal group of women that got together with an idea to give back. It all started with Pavan Kapoor, a long time resident of Jakarta volunteering at High Desert International Foundation that had headquarters in Jl. Pintu Air. ‘I chose this charity organization as it was close to my home. It was wonderful to teach the children how to do magic with just a piece of yarn with crochet at a school Pulo Gadung area of East Jakarta,’ says Pavan

The school is a dismal structure which stands in the middle of ‘Kampung Sawah.’ This ‘kampung sawah’ is incidentally a small forgotten piece of land by the river, surrounded by gigantic factories Pulo Gadung.

‘During the heavy rains last rainy season reports of how high the flood waters reached inside the school constantly sent shivers down my spine. Every time the thunder rolled, my thoughts went to the school that existed just a hundred meters from the clogged river’ Pavan narrates.

She took up the cause with a few like minded artists and a lot of good hearts to come forward to paint murals on the walls of the Kampung Sawah classrooms. Some of the volunteers had never painted before and just came along to help with whatever they could. They too landed up painting and getting in touch with their artistic inner self. ‘I was initially scared as I had never painted on walls before, but once we got started it was so much fun and we did some good work,’ shared Vijaya Birla

The Happy Schoolkids Wall

The Happy Schoolkids Wall

‘The children would peek through the doors while we worked and many a time I wanted to interact with them,’ says Sunita. They now plan to volunteer some teaching sessions at the same school and interact with the students.

Tanya Alhuwalia at 22years is the youngest member of the group and is proud to be associated with it, ‘It was so much fun and I actually used my talents to give back.’

‘Most of the members were artists from the existing Indian artists group called ‘Different Strokes of India’’ says Meera Joseph. ‘We planning another exhibition of our works and the proceeds will be used for more charitable causes’, she added.

Once the rains subsided the work started in full swing and the artists could go in with their paints and brushes and let their creative juices finally splat themselves in vibrant hues.As the idea took root the HDI foundation also volunteered to fix the roof, scrape the paint and fix the broken walls.

Jungle Themed Wall

Jungle Themed Wall

The five classroom walls painted were outstanding and not only did the artists do something meaningful with their talents but also whet their appetite for more giving.

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Honesty and Trust are the Foundation of Success – KK Agrawal

Primaniyarta Award to Bitratex for the 8th timeThe Primaniyarta export award 2013 was awarded to PT Bitratex by the government of Indonesia, and recognizes the constant and ongoing quality consciousness of successful Indonesian exporters who are then role models for the other Indonesian exporters. Since the award was instituted in 1992, PT Bitratex has been among the shortlisted companies every year and has won the award for the 8th time this year. ‘We are in the top 3 similar companies in Indonesia’ says Mr KK Agrawal, President Director of PT Bitratex.

Pt Bitratex Industries, manufacturer of quality spun yarns has grown four times under Agrawal’s leadership since he joined the company in 1990. He has since turned it around and grown to be among the best in Indonesia with 70% of the yarn produced is exported to 40 countries globally and 30% is for the domestic market.

Mr KK Agrawal, President Director PT BitratexHe started his professional journey as a graduate from the premier Benares Hindu University, India to join under Aditya Birla of the Birla group in Calcutta. ‘Aditya Birla had just returned from his studies in the US and had a dream of expanding overseas. Aditya Birla selected me to start the first overseas plant in Bangkok in 1968. I was still a very young at that time and it was a wonderful learning experience. IndoThai Synthetics was established in Bangkok to supply to SE Asia and Indonesia was one of the markets of the yarn produced. Indonesia was seen as a potential market for growth due to its market and large population – the same economic factors that hold true even today.’

Relocating to Bangkok to establish a company overseas from scratch set the foundation for the young Agrawal, who was just 23 years old at that time. ‘It was total mindset change to move from a protected domestic market in India to an International market with global competition and a long term view’ says Agrawal. The focus was foremost on quality – quality in human resources, raw material and machinery. This learning and focus made their enterprise successful where other Indian companies making forays overseas failed due to the stark difference in attitude towards quality.

In 1973, Agrawal moved to Indonesia and two years later launched the first Indian Joint venture in Indonesia despite a lot of challenges. ‘It was a very different Indonesia then. Very remote, with no taxis and a short supply of electricity’ he reminisces. They received electricity subsidy from the Jatiluhur hydroelectric power station and this led to the first manufacturing plant being set up in Purwakarta, although ‘it used to take 4 hrs to Purwakarta from Jakarta at that time’ remembers Agrawal. He has worked for 35 years with the Aditya Birla group and left the company at the demise of Aditya Birla in 1995 to seek other opportunities.

The three major learning points that have led to his success have been firstly, relocating overseas to establish a company from scratch amidst challenges in resources – raw material and human, machinery. ‘The second change was when we started to export. To find new markets competing with developed markets and their high quality standards. We have been expanding our production facilities constantly. The third is to not only to maintain quality but to keep increasing the benchmarks and strive to be the best in the world’ explains Agrawal

Honesty is the bedrock for success’ he asserts. ‘Honesty towards the work we do and towards our customers.’ ‘We deal with customers who are 10,000 km away and they keep coming back to us. If ever we make a mistake we accept and make amends. This develops customer confidence and establishes reliability.’ For sustained growth, investment people and technology is required. With a twinkle in his eyes, he says ‘Japanese customers are our benchmark as they have very high quality standards. If we can export to them then we are reaching our quality standards. We compare ourselves with best globally and that is how we maintain quality year by year.’

Mr Agrawal’s role model is Aditya Vikram Birla, whose admirable business acumen and way of thinking made him force behind the success of his group of companies. The internal control systems that he learned with the Aditya Birla group have been emulated in his current company and all aspects of production and up to profit and loss can be monitored in real time is available to the relevant staff members in a structured manner. ‘Our goal is to maintain the company growth and remain at the highest quality levels’ he emphasizes.

Agrawal practices ‘participative management by consensus, where every team member participates and commits to the plan of action. In this system, reviews and decisions are taken in groups. A group of people get together, to review the working of the company periodically. They go into the various aspects and problems and prepare action plans. In the taking of a decision, instead of one man taking a decision, it is done as a consensus decision, which emerges out of the discussions in the group. This to him is the key driver of progress, prosperity and economic health for the company.

Mr KK Agrawal at 72 years is very active and starts his day at 4.30am with daily Yoga followed by a walk. The family then breakfasts together and this is their important time together. With his work in Jakarta and Semarang, he travel plans include 12 overseas and 12 domestic trips every year. ‘Personally I would like to continue working as long as I can and stay on in Indonesia with my family, he elaborates.’ Harmony and balance is his relationships be it with family or at work with his colleagues is very evident. His secretary has been with him for the last 35 years.

His mantra is to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

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Effective Teamwork with Online Collaboration Tools

Online Collaborations Tools - my top 7In the technology empowered world, businesses are no longer confined to their offices and meetings are not always face-to-face, Now, you can grab your BlackBerrys, laptops or iPads, find wi-fi access, and are good to go at anytime and anywhere … with the help of online collaboration tools to get the job done. This is especially great to increase productivity with growing traffic challenges, especially in big cities like Jakarta.

Collaborating online is the perfect way to diminish the distance between project teams and clients, as they can work together on the same documents, at the same time as if they were all in the same room. This means that projects can be done much faster, as there is no need to send documents back and forth between offices, and it helps create a sense of teamwork and transparency, it can even help improve client relationships.

The three key features that make the many online collaboration tools stand out and which can help your team accomplish its goals, are usability, security and suitability.

So if you mainly want to hold online brainstorming sessions, for example, it’s important that the tool you choose has good whiteboard functionality. Other useful features are the ability to upload documents, a calendar and notifications by e-mail when changes have been made to a document.

All reputable online collaboration tools have security features which ensure that anyone who is not invited to your workplace can’t see the documents that you are working on. In addition, most tools offer encryption, which is an additional layer of security that makes your documents unreadable to those with malicious intentions. A good, secure tool, will also allow the owners of the online collaboration workspace to set authorization levels for its participants. This means that while some people will be able to only read the documents, others can make changes but not everyone can delete documents.

My pick of the top 7 collaboration tools based on usage and functionality are:

1. Online Meetings and Interviews with Skype

Skype (www.skype.com), an online tool with free video call facility is my sanity saver by filling the communications gap with my children away at University. It’s free, and it works well for text, audio and video chats. Desktop sharing, sending files and group video conferencing in premium accounts makes this my favorite tool.

For many Skype users the tool is simply a phone replacement or a way to make international calls without a charge. While the direct communication uses are obvious, there are so many other ways to use this tool as well. I really enjoy Using 3rd party Skype recorder add-ons like Call Recorder (Mac) or Pamela (PC) for online interviews. These can be easily edited and then e posted on your YouTube channel.

2. Document Sharing and Collaboration with Google Docs

Google Docs (www.google.com) is a great online collaboration tool. For those who have Gmail, no sign-up is necessary, as it automatically links to your Gmail account. Otherwise, sign up only takes a few minutes. One of the coolest features of this tool is that it allows co-workers to see each other’s changes to documents in real-time, as they are being typed. If more than one person is making changes to a document, a colored cursor follows each person’s changes, and the person’s name is above the cursor so there is no confusion with who’s changing what. Also, Google Docs has a chat facility, so as a document is being changed, co-workers can chat in real-time.

This is an attractive platform for teams looking for a free web-based tool with basic collaboration capabilities giving you the flexibility to be productive from your desk, on the road, at home and on your mobile phone, even when you’re offline.

3. Project Management with Basecamp

Basecamp (www.basecamp.com) is a popular, cloud-based project management and collaboration app used by over five million people all over the world. It’s a fast and efficient tool for keeping your to-dos, files, messages, schedules, and milestones all organized in one place. The basic package can manage up to 10 projects and includes 3 GB of file storage. With this tool you can keep your projects, people, and data organized in real time

Basecamp even sends a digest email, reporting on the previous day’s activities, which makes it easy to track the progress of a project. Like most online collaboration tools, it keeps track of every version of each file uploaded. Basecamp is also great for companies that have employees in multiple countries, since it is available in many languages.

4. File Sharing and Storage with Dropbox

DropBox (www.dropbox.com) is the easiest way to share and store your files online. Think of it as a shared folder on steroids, used to share images, videos, and documents with clients and team members. When you collaborate on files that need to be updated and changed often. Giving team members access to the latest versions of files that can be checked out and checked in to ensure accurate revisions is handled nicely by tools such as Dropbox. A free account gives you 2GB of secure storage space “Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and AES-256 bit encryption” and additional as required can be purchased.

Many 3rd party integration with Dropbox are possible including integration with your Google Drive.

5. Web Conferencing and Webinars with AnyMeeting

 AnyMeeting (www.anymeeting.com) is a full-featured web conferencing product designed and priced for small business, including a completely free ad-supported option that lets you hold unlimited meetings for up to 200 participants. It is browser-based and features screen sharing, live polling, and session recording. It provides all the features small business needs – including 6-way video conferencing, conference calling, built-in VoIP, screen sharing, presentation sharing, video sharing, recording, mobile, social media integration, webinar ticketing, and more – in one, easy-to-use package. Now also as iPad and Android Tablet apps, so that mobile attendees can join the meetings as well.

6. Remember Everything with Evernote

With Evernote (www.evernote.com), you can save almost everything, as you scan the Web from any one of your devices. Evernote allows you to view your saved items on any of your devices, at anytime from anywhere. In a personal setting, Evernote is fun for keeping items in your life organized and on tab. With professional colleagues and team members, Evernote is a great way to quickly share your ideas in an open forum.  It’s free for individuals and the premium subscription gives you more file storage and the ability to allow others to edit your notes, an important feature in collaboration.

7. Online Brainstorming and Mind Mapping with MindMeister

Mind mapping is the process of using visual diagrams to show the relationships between ideas or information. Its popular uses include project planning, collecting and organizing thoughts, brainstorming and presentations — all in order to help solve problems, map out resources and uncover new ideas – a great way to build resources and tap the collective knowledge of your entire staff.

MindMeister (www.mindmeister.com) facilitates collaboration for mind mapping and brainstorming, with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. You can collaborate in real time; discuss changes over live chat, exchange ideas and even view the change history of a mind map. Projects can be accessed via mobile devices as well as online and offline, securely with data encryption and daily monitoring.

There is a growing range of online collaborations tools available and many of them are free to use. Although online collaboration has the potential, there are still reservations and technical challenges that companies must address when investing in online collaboration. The way people collaborate in an online environment may be very different from how that same group of people would work together if they were in the same room. So try out the various options available for suitability, security and usability to increase collaboration and productivity without needing to be in the same room at the same time.

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Vikram Hazra – A Spiritual Rock Star

Vikram Hazra is like a finely cut diamond with multiple facets, each distinct yet collaborating to sparkle.  He is a writer, philosopher, spiritual guide, teacher and programmer associated with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AoL). He is however, foremost a musician, who doesn’t just play music – he opens up a doorway for his audiences to touch their own soul. A spiritual rock star with the ability to effortlessly blend spiritual songs with a contemporary sensibility. Since his first album release in 1997, his urbanized devotional music mesmerizes packed concerts in over 40 countries.

Vikram was once a journalist and when he filed a story on the AoL, his curiosity got the better of him and he ended up doing the Basic course. Today he serves as Program Director for the International Art of Living Foundation, conducting workshops and initiating community development projects across the world.

It was indeed a pleasure talking to him and he came across as a very warm and open individual. “I do have a specific mission and that is to present Indian culture and deep devotional philosophy in a beautiful way to the rest of the world” said Vikram. This is evident in his lyrics which take from the simplest of Indian folk bhajans to the poetry of Amir Khusrau, from Buddhists chants to African and African-American spirituals, from the philosophy of poet-saints like Kabeer, Meera, Raidas and Jaydev to contemporary blues and jazz, Vikram’s concerts seamlessly meld diverse styles into an organic whole.

In between his various activities, reading, traveling he has ‘miles to go before he sleeps’ and shares that ‘sleeping is my hobby.’

I am looking forward to Vikram Hazra and his band members, perform in Jakarta. An evening that promises to combine the beat and rhythm of a modern concert with the spirituality of a satsang.

Music is the biggest unifier of the world. So we invoke the sense of a one-world family through music’ said Vikram. We look forward to his style of music. As Sri Sri Ravishankar says “Broaden your vision and deepen your roots” and this kind of music really exemplifies the quote.

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Rishi Vidhyadhar, Living in the Present with Total Awareness through Sudarshan Kriya

Rishi Vidhyadhar, faculty of Art of Living rganisation

Rishi Vidhyadhar

‘Existence is a fact but living is an art,’ said Rishi Vidhyadhar when I met him at the The Art of Living Center, Jakarta, last week. With his flowing salt and pepper beard, twinkling eyes and smiling face, dressed all in white, he is the epitome of a spiritual guru.
Rishi Vidhyadhar in the universal quest for wealth, health and happiness, has been a successful businessman, aerobics instructor, interior designer and Ayurveda. The first breath he took with awareness at the Art of Living course in 1998, gave him his life’s mission. As he puts it, ‘The feeling of Emptiness gave way to a sense of completeness and fullness the moment I experienced the Sudarshan Kriya‘, the profound breathing technique gifted to the world by Sri Sri RaviShankar. He found ‘the fountain of inner pace and joy. A sense of fulfillment 24×7 – sense of –  and is it and I don’t want anything further’ says Rishi ‘Wealth is essential but is useless without health and happiness.

The Power of Now with Rishi Vidhyadhar

He found the practice of Sudarshan Kriya transformative and ‘When you find something wonderful, we want to share.’ So began Rishi Vidhyadhar’s journey to teach this amazing technique to bring the fountain of happiness within reach to thousands of people, as a faculty member at Art Of Living organization, founded by Sri Sri with centers in 155 countries around the world.

The mind like a kite flying with our breath

The mind like a kite flying with our breath

The Sudarshan Kriya is a breathing exercise based on rhythmic breathing that anybody can learn through a course at AOL. As Rishi Vidhyadahar said ‘You only value something if you contribute something to attain it. In this modern day, the most precious thing is time.  It only takes 3 hours a day, for 3 days to learn this technique. In just 9 hours, we learn something so natural and easy, which brings you the profound knowledge of being in the present.’
Every emotion is defined through a different breathing pattern. Anger and fear leads to rapid and shallow breathing, whereas calm and peace leads to deep and long breathing. He used the beautiful and visual analogy of a kite and its string to describe the relationship between the mind and the breath. So when the string is short, the kite falters and is unstable, whereas when the string is long the kite can soar high ‘just like the mind – composed, centered and creative. The world is a beautiful place.’
This breathing practice allows us to be in ‘total awareness’ or being in the present and thereby plugging into the power of now. He explained that most of us are always living in the past, which is ‘dead’ and worrying about the future which merely ‘an imagination of the future in the past,’ and leads to stress.
Rishi Vidhyadhar defined stress ‘as the difference between imagination and reality.’ And further explained that stress needs to be eliminated, not managed. The only way to eliminate this difference between imagination and reality is to be present and accept reality as it is. ‘The self inside us has the power to accept anything and everything if you can get into touch with it. It requires courage to accept reality.’

Poonam Sagar in Conversation with Rishi Vidhyadhar

In Conversation with Rishi Vidhyadhar

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Student Hostels in Singapore: Reality Check

Merlion at SingaporeOur latest trip to Singapore with my daughter was a real eye opener. We were there to find student accommodation for her first year undergraduate studies in Singapore as the college dorm rooms were limited and she had not been offered a place there. The student accommodation we found was generally expensive, poorly furnished and sometimes just unpleasant.

First stop was at the college student services who gave us a long list of alternative accommodation options registered with the institution. We mapped out the options on a map based on price (from SGD 400/mth – 1200/mth) and proximity to her institute – LASALLE College of the Arts.

Early next morning after calling all the identified hostels we set off, guided by Google maps guiding us on our tablet PC.

The hostel is the pink building on the right and NOT the tall condos.

XIN Residences: The hostel is the pink building on the right and NOT the tall condos.

The first stop was the most recommended option by the student services staff and it was for lack of a better term – a dump. A long 15 minute walk from the closest MRT, it had 3 floors of double and triple sharing rooms. The door opened to the all-in-one service area with a washing machine, cooking stove and wash basin adjoining a tiny bathroom. In fact the bathroom was so tiny that one would need to stand really close to the pot to shower. Further ahead was the

service area at XIN Residences

Service Area at Entrance in XIN Residences

main room with metal framed beds, study tables and wardrobes and barely any space to move in between. It was really depressing. Free Wi-Fi was provided, but in addition to room rent required shared utility bills. It had no common areas and was managed by just one lady in the management office.

Some other places we saw were even worse with cramped, dirty rooms and varying stages of disrepair. It seemed as if the oldest buildings had been converted into money making hostels. The one

Global Residences of the Katong Group

Global Residences

that we felt was better than the other choices, Global residences at Tiong Bahru (managed by the Katong Group of Hostels), consisted of 3 double sharing bedroom apartments with a large living room and  separate kitchen and service area. The only downside was that it had only one bathroom between six residents. For lack of a better option, we booked a room here as it had easy bus and MRT access with shopping facilities just 5 minutes away.

While sharing our experience with friends we were pointed to an online site www.easyroommate.com.sg. With the stress of sharing a single loo with 5 other roommates, we decided to try this online service and signed up for a month’s subscription. From the very next day my mailbox was flooded with interest from prospective roommates/housemates. As I had signed up on behalf of my daughter as an 18year old looking to share room, there was interest from a lot of men — Eeeeeks. Also there were a lot of ‘small’ rooms available in great condos with facilities such as pool, gym, BBQ pits etc. On closer inspection, these small rooms were in fact maid rooms, for which SGD 700 upwards excluding utilities was being charged to house-sit the condo with the owner not in residence.

Other apparently attractive options – Salegie apartments were being offered which are only 2 mins walk from the school. On closer inspection and site visit by a friend in Singapore, learned that these were the smallest rooms she had ever seen. The already small rooms of the apartments had been further divided into two with a plywood wall such that the single room air conditioner was divided into two with the remote kept outside. It was so cramped that if the folding table fixed to the wall was setup, one could not move around.

HDB apartments and condos that offer ‘common’ rooms for rent also need to be vetted with respect to other residents, locality and finally the mystery roommate. These are generally on yearly contracts. It is indeed a roll of dice and you stand to lose the usual one or two months deposit if you choose to move out before completion of the contract period.

The other disadvantages of the online sites is the lack of real photographs and complete information. Currently due to scanty information, one needs to personally visit the room, meet the other residents, see the locality and then take a decision. Whereas, Information on student hostels online is misleading with beautiful photographs and requires personal time and effort to decide on a suitable place to stay.

If you are planning to look for student accommodation in Singapore, my recommendation would be to:tips

  1. Search online and create a list of student hostels in Singapore
  2. Register at easyroomamte.com.sg or any of the other similar sites specific to Singapore and make a list of relevant listings
  3. Plan at least 3-4 days in Singapore for room hunting
  4. Get an EZ-link card and check out each place starting from the ones closes to the school. The distance of MRT stations and Bus Stops is a major criteria for decision making.
  5. Also note proximity to shops and places to eat

In a stroke of good luck, a couple of days prior to moving to Singapore, we received information that the school dorm room was available, and we jumped at it. The room turned out to a really large airy room on the 5th floor. It was clean, comfortable and the bus stop outside the campus connected it to the school with a direct bus. Utilities are included in the room rent along with free Wi-Fi and the comfort of being surrounded with fellow students.

It was definitely a learning experience and totally at odds with my earlier information on student boarding in Singapore for school going children, that I received from parents, students and online research. Live and learn.

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