Monday, 6 February 2017

Life is a bitch!

“He who binds to himself a joy, Does the winged life destroy.

He who kisses the joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
William Blake


Or is it? For the last some years, life has been a bitch to me. It feels like nothing is going my way and every moment, every second feels like a struggle.  Why does it feel that I am being deceived, cheated and fooled by life?

Why does it feel that I have lost my laughter, the mirth I found that life had to offer? Why am I moaning and grousing about what and how my life is?

Or at least that’s my perspective. Is life really a bitch?

As I walked back from the gym today as usual complaining to God about how he is so unfair to me, not helping me in my quest to lose weight once again (this would be the third time that I have gained weight to unhealthy levels) calling life a bitch, a small voice in my head spoke up…who is the real bitch here? If you use me and abuse me and have totally unreal expectations from me, and can’t handle me, can it work?

And then it dawned on me, isn’t it also true that life treats you the way you treat it?
For two years I ate like the world was coming to an end, didn’t exercise either my body or my brains, held really unrealistic expectations from God, life and people, didn’t look after myself, didn’t learn any lessons and didn’t like the person who was staring back at me in the mirror. So, well really who is the bitch here?

I treated life like a bitch and don’t they say you get what you give! I blamed everything and everyone for what was happening to me except myself. Jonathan R. Wachtel says that “Your relationship with everyone and everything around you is a reflection of your relationship with yourself,” and no doubt that goes without saying about ‘our relationship with our life”.

Everything we are and where we stand today with respect to our families, our work life, our friends, our society is all a replica of how we treated life. I didn’t treat it well for some time and I see it now reciprocating.

My unhealthy and impractical habits, choices, expectations be it from people, friends and family or life and decisions is why I see my life as a bitch and not the other way around. If I want to find myself again, my smile, my laughter and get back to what I was I need to begin treating myself with love and care. I will have to identify what beliefs and outlooks and actions I have been concentrating on and to change those that have harmed me.

I have to stop mistreating myself, my life and see it to be what it’s supposed to be seen as,  a beautiful life filled with love from my family, other people who make my life worth living, and situations and events that depict the marvel that is life.
If all I can say to myself about life is that “life is a bitch” I really need to look inwards and change myself. I have to realise that it’s only me who is making me feel it so. I have to choose what I want from life and how I want to experience it.

Life can be a joy that I need to catch hold of by catching hold of myself. Life is not a bitch until and unless you treat it like one.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Published Author! Who Me?


There’s a very clichéd saying that computer engineers are all Geeks and perhaps that was always true in my case. I left a lucrative career in IT to become a full time mom and along the way I wrote a book. My name is Sapna Bhog and this is a slice of my journey.

My love for books started when I was introduced to Enid Blyton at age 9. And since then there has been no turning back. Be it racy thrillers to urban fantasy to super natural to simple romances and many young adult books, I read them all. But I think my ‘all time go to’ books have been romances. They are my happy books. I totally enjoy the happy ever after at the end of such books. They are my stress busters. I was always the type of girl in college who had M&B’s in her bag at any given time. Most of the time I used to face so much flak from friends when they heard that I read romances. “Oh you read those M&B types”, “It’s all fantasy, how can you tolerate them?”, etc, etc. So you can imagine my apprehension when I started writing a romance.


To be honest writing wasn’t a planned endeavour from my side. It just happened. It’s really hard to explain because one day I just woke up with the idea of the book and it took off from there. The characters of my book came fully formed in my head and it’s like they kept talking in my head until I decided to sit in front of a laptop and started typing.

It took me almost a year to get the story in shape and I think I surprised myself when I read the whole story for the first time. My book, something that I had written, actually made sense. That feeling was undeniably euphoric. I just couldn’t believe it.

I sent the finished book to a few close girlfriends to read it and give their opinion and they all encouraged me to publish it. I think writing the book was the easier part of this journey. Finding a publisher was the most challenging.

I researched on the net on various publishers and their requirements for submission of finished manuscripts. Every publisher has a different set of requirements for submission and so many times you just never get a response back on your submission.

But the major problem as I saw it was that romance as a genre is not that big among Indian publishers. If you compare to the West there are publishers whose biggest business comes from selling romance books. But unfortunately that’s not the case here. I tried, unsuccessfully to find a publisher interested in my book and I didn’t find any takers.The book then went into a hard drive on my laptop and remained there for two years or more.

In 2014 I became friends with Nirja Sharma who was from the publishing world and already had tons of experience in publishing. She read my book and loved it and decided to help me find a publisher through her various contact. She tried but she wasn’t successful either. At this point she decided to fulfill her own dream of becoming a publisher and launched Aarahan Publishers and she wanted to print my book as the first book of her publishing house. We faced several challenges together right from struggling to get ISBN numbers, getting the book edited and re-edited so many times till we both were satisfied, designing the cover page and finally launching the book in November 2016.

It took us a year but now my book “Take a Chance on Me” is out there available on Amazon in both paper-back and kindle versions and is available on select crossword stores across the country.
I had asked Nirja so many times before we got the book printed if she was sure about this and she always replied her is usual calm manner than she had full faith in my story and my writing and she wanted everyone else to also read it and love it as she had.

Today I am happy to receive lots of positive reviews on whoever has read my book and I am working towards the second novel in this series, which is already sold to Aarahan Publishers to print in 2017.




Saturday, 31 December 2016

Taking a Chance on Me



Knowing that I was in the publishing industry a friend approached me with her novel. It had been three years since she had written the book but didn’t know what to do as far as getting it published was concerned.

She asked me to first read and give my opinion as a professional. I did that and I loved her proof. I decided to help her get it published but all my contacts failed and none of the publishers wanted to come forward with a new author. They needed established authors who could bring in the money for them.

Not to give up on good talent, I then decided to publish it myself. A tough task indeed. I had no idea about what it takes to become an entrepreneur.  I was also worried if I had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But I read somewhere that all it takes to begin is the desire and the initiative. And whoever wrote it was right. I had two goals, one to ensure that my friend Sapna Bhog’s words and story was read and the other was to do it myself.

                                  

I took a chance on Sapna’s book “Take a Chance on Me” and decided to take control of both our entrepreneurial destinies. Many hurdles and impediments later which mostly involved obtaining the ISBN from the authorities, getting rid of all the errors in the book and making it almost perfect, and then printing it in paperback and creating an ebook, I was at last a publisher. Of course the day I got my company AARAHAN PUBLISHERS (the name derived from my children's names Aaryam and Ahan) registered under the Shop Act was also a big day and now I truly was an entrepreneur on paper and most importantly in reality. A proud moment indeed.


My journey as a publisher began the day “Take a Chance on Me” by Sapna Bhog was launched amidst much fanfare among family and friends. The book has been well received and has been loved by all lovers of romance. It has been quite a journey becoming a publisher. Well, I finally did it and what a book it is. An astounding success for the young and budding author.




I have a hard road ahead. This one book was just a start... more books, more authors, more stories, humour, tragedy, love, loss, food, portraying life in general in its many hues and shades and maybe just maybe reaching out for the stars is how I see my journey ahead.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Investments and Us

My friend an investment specialist bowing to my entreaties has become a guest blogger on my blog to give some special investment advice...


Just the other day I was trying to help a friend with a serious medical condition he was diagnosed with. I was entrusted the job of finding a good but “decently priced” hospital for him. Just to get things cleared up, I asked his wife if he was medically insured. Being self employed, obviously, he had no company paid medical benefits to fall back upon. Fortunately, his wife knew that he had taken a medical insurance policy. When I asked how much medical insurance cover he had, she said he had a cover of Rs.2 lakhs. Seeing the look on my face, she thought maybe she was wrong and then corrected herself and said, “No, sorry, it’s 5 lakhs.” Clearly, she didn’t know how much it was. I asked her to show me the policy and she didn’t know where it was kept. With a figure between Rs.2 and 5 lakhs to work on, I was confused which hospital I should choose. Ultimately when she finally found it, it was neither of them. He was covered for Rs.3 lakhs.

My question is - how many of the ladies here have any knowledge of their husbands’ investments, his life insurance policies, his medical insurance etc etc? If not, one should take stock of it today itself. While we always hope for the best but one must be prepared for the worst. Please understand that, God forbid, if he’s unwell you will have to take charge of the situation. So, starting today, start taking interest in the financial future of the family as well.

By now you must be thinking, who I am. Well, to be short and precise, my name is Vikas Sharma and I’m a financial consultant. To give you a longer introduction, I was born to an army officer in the corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME). Being the son of an engineer, like all children, my mindset too was the same that I also want to do what my father did i.e. become an engineer. So, I chose science subjects in my XI and XII. That was my biggest mistake. I wasn’t made for science and I couldn’t understand it one bit. And obviously, couldn’t qualify for any of the good engineering colleges. But good sense prevailed and I didn’t make it a bigger mistake by going into one of the second rung colleges. I did hotel management (it was a diploma back then) instead, worked for three years in a hotel and did my graduation by correspondence. B. Com this time. I wasted 7 years of my life for that one mistake.

Doing my B. Com was the beginning of life for me. Soon after that I went to Australia to pursue my MBA in finance. And when I did that and was studying the subject of investments, and portfolio management, and security analysis, I realized that this is what I was made for. I finished my MBA and came back to India and started my own financial consultancy business. It’s been 17 years now and I still love it. We help people plan out their financial future, suggest them a model portfolio of asset classes based on their life stage and their risk appetite.

Nirja, my friend, asked me to contribute to her blog by writing some articles for the readers of her blogs and I readily agreed. Though, I have my own blog too at http://www.sharma.es but that caters to an audience which is regularly investing in shares. Here I would be sharing my little knowledge in the form of simple, easy to understand articles. Meanwhile, I would also like to encourage you to post any questions in the comments that you might want me to elaborate on and I’d be happy to answer them. In case of more personal queries you can mail me at vikas@sharma.es.

Thank you, Nirja, for giving me an opportunity to write for your blog.
  
So, after I have introduced myself, it comes to how this blog will help you? Well, I would say, it is what you can take from it rather than what I can give. I believe that financial plans are like clothes. Like the same size of clothes doesn’t fit all, similarly, the same financial plan doesn’t fit all. It has to be tailor-made from individual to individual depending upon various factors. However, to keep this post general, I would just like to focus on a few thumb rules that I usually follow when I make a financial plan for anybody.

But before I can go into the details and the “nitty-gritties” of investments, I would like to classify investments as the following:
(a)    Secure investments: By secure, I mean ones who invest only in sovereign bonds like the RBI bonds, the Provident Fund etc. , which give you a very low rate of interest but give you a fixed rate of return, usually tax-free.
(b)   Safe investments: Are those which fetch you a decent rate of return but are still fixed and are considered safe investments like investments in the money markets, the bank fixed deposits etc. Such investments are usually taxable.
(c)    Medium risk investments: In such investments you get a higher rate of interest but are again taxable, such as company fixed deposits, and bonds issued by companies.
(d)   Risky investments: People who invest in the US dollar and precious metals like gold and silver are called risk takers, even though these investments are considered to be the safe havens for people who invest. They give you a higher rate of return, but the profits are again taxed.
(e)   Very risky investments: Investments in properties, in stocks, in equity linked mutual funds “can” give you phenomenal returns but are considered to be very risky as you can even depreciate your capital by investing in such products.

But in all of these, one should remember, that the riskier an investment is, the higher returns it can generate. But it’s not as easy as picking out what an investor needs, high returns or low risk? It has to maintain a fine balance between preservation of capital and high returns. Now, coming back to the thumb rules, it all comes down to calculating how risk averse an investor is. And it all boils down to how risk averse an investor is, or can be, which can depend on various factors:

  1. Individual preferences: It depends on how much risk a person is willing to take. What is of more importance to him? Higher returns or preservation of capital? Usually, my experience tells me that old people, and housewives value security more and don’t bother about the returns while younger people, especially DINKs (Double Income No Kids), don’t mind taking an extra amount of risk, because it can fetch them higher returns.
.  2.  Age bracket a person is in: I generally feel that not all your investments should be low risk or high risk but again it is a fine mix of both. And it usually depends on the age bracket a person is in. My thumb rule is that (100 minus the age) is the percentage that one can afford to invest in risky assets. Thus, a person who’s 30 years old must invest (100-30=) 70% of his money in risky assets and only 30% in low risk assets.
   3.  Family commitments and responsibilities: As I said, it’s not as easy as just seeing the age and applying the thumb rule. A 50 year old unmarried man with no family responsibilities can afford to take a lot more risk than a 50 year old man with four children who are yet to be married.

Anyway, there is a lot more to know and lies outside the scope of the article. As time goes by we’ll learn everything in greater detail but for now if anybody has any questions, you could just forward them to vikas@sharma.es or post your question in the comments section.

This series on the blog is designed to make the ladies and the housewives readers a lot more finance savvy and will help them take informed decisions and make them more financially independent.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

LIVING LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS!

"What other people think of me is none of my business."

"Life is too short to waste time on speculating what other people think about you.

"If they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn't have the time to sit around and talk about you."

"What's important to me is not others' opinions of me, but what's important to me is my opinion of myself."

Heard these before? All the time right! Yes, living life on your own terms is what all of us should aim for. After all true happiness lies within us and not outside. Happiness dependent on the approval of others, being a people pleaser at the cost of your own peace of mind is surely not the way to go.

However, what strikes me as a little selfish and egocentric is the fact that all these quotes say that your bliss may just be at the cost of someone else and their happiness. Time and time again I read about not caring about what other people think of you or I’ve heard the statement “just be yourself” so much. It sounds like a remarkable thing to do but what in the world does it really mean?

What if living on your own terms signifies, never compromising, never bothering about how hurtful you are, never being empathetic, or in plain simple words, what if you are a jerk? What if you never care about other people’s feelings because you need to be yourself? What if your tag line says “that’s how I am folks, take it or leave it”?

Does that really sound right? Aren’t all relationships supposed to be full of compromises, caring for each other’s’ emotional states and being there for the other at all cost? So, if all you care for is yourself, when and how do you take time out to care for others and pay attention to their needs and challenges. Doesn’t your family need you, don’t your friends expect something in return, and doesn’t your boss want you to work in a certain way? Are all these expectations wrong? But what if you are just “you” and are never there for anyone in your life? 
Thinking about all this made me realise that if “being you” is hurting others and making them sad it’s time to take a good look at what you are up to in life and make some changes. Be yourself, live life on your own terms but not at the cost of your own or other’s peace of mind.

Your true self is who you really are when you let go of all of the stories, labels, and judgements that you have placed upon yourself. It is who you naturally are without the façades and pretensions. I read somewhere discovering your real self is to get in touch with your inner child, having fun, playing with your kids like a kid, and following your intuition. But most importantly it is about becoming aware about your thoughts and the quality of your thinking and getting rid of your negativity. Allow yourself to sit quietly for just five to ten minutes and observe your thoughts.

“We have so many unconscious beliefs that we have taken on over the years that were probably handed down to us from somebody else, and that we believed to be who we are. Becoming more aware of the quality of your thoughts, letting go of the old beliefs, and becoming more present can help in revealing your true nature.”

Therefore get inspired by the lovely thoughts out there, be yourself, don’t hide behind a façade, don’t conceal the real you but remember to be empathetic, kind, considerate and compromising above all else.

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Some of My Favourite Men

There are many men in my life. My two boys, my husband and my father are the most favourite of them all. However, there are some others who have stolen my heart.  

                          
Just the other day I came across an article about the very debonair and suave Prime Minister of Canada.  I said to myself now this is a man I would love to know more about. The Canadian Prime Minister has held office for less than a year and he is dominating headlines across the globe.

Justin Trudeau may have been born with a silver spoon but he sure knows how to hold his own and make a statement. His popularity increases each day. He doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on controversial issues, shaking a leg on the floor doing a bhangra wearing a kurta pyjama, or striking impressive yoga poses and even flirting with the Queen on Twitter and most importantly being a family man. 
There are websites galore on the internet enumerating how special and different he is from lots of other men especially prime ministers. Justin Trudeau is a feminist who believes “poverty is sexist,” going on to add that “women and girls are less likely to get an education, more likely to be impoverished, and face greater risk of disease and poor health.” Adding to this he said, “I accept your challenge to lead. As a feminist, I know that women must be treated equally everywhere.” Sigh, a male feminist. Wow!
And if that doesn’t melt your heart this next snippet of information will.  Trudeau announced that during a visit to Japan, he'll take a day off from work to celebrate his 11th wedding anniversary with his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. “This is the kind of work-life balance that I've often talked about as being essential in order to be able to be in service of the country with all one's very best, and that's certainly something I'm going to continue to make sure we do," Trudeau said, according to Canada's CBC News.

When he is not busy doing one hand push ups and balancing babies on one hand he is involved in inducting women in his cabinet.  Trudeau appointed women to 15 of his 30 Cabinet spots, after vowing to do so during his swearing-in. When a reporter asked Trudeau why gender equality was important, he responded, "Because it's 2015."
He has a large fan base and why wouldn’t he, especially when he goes to the airport to personally greet Syrian refugees and help hand out warm winter coats, pokes fun at himself, has degrees in Engineering and Literature, might be one of the only prime ministers to sport a tattoo on his very fit body and has pledged to fight climate change.

The above reasons are just some of the reasons why people want to migrate to Canada and why I  felt I had to make a mention of him on my blog. And now that I have gone and written about him, I feel I need to write about all my other favourite men.

Hmmmmm…my next blogticle will have to be about Dev Anand.




Friday, 9 September 2016

A pushover; who me?

Very very confused and muddled I have attempted a write up about being nice vs being a pushover...

A pushover as per the dictionary is a person who's easy to fool or influence. Someone who is easily taken advantage of and is easily defeated.

A pushover in other words is a person who is pushed to do stuff he really doesn’t want to do and is actually uncomfortable doing. Why then are pushovers so common?

A young mom I was speaking to yesterday told me how frustrated she was because being in a joint family was not as easy as she had thought it was. She had had to quit her job, look after all the other members of the family with no support from her other family members especially her younger sister in law who wouldn’t lift a hand to help her. She had to even shop for her most intimate needs because she was too lazy to step out of the house. While I stared at her with my mouth agape wondering what I would have done in a similar situation she continued, “Yes, I am a pushover”.

How do you have the strength to take it I asked her and she said I just let it be …I can’t handle confrontations.

As a pushover one learns to take things the way they are, avoiding at all costs to stand up for one’s opinions, perspectives, or ideas. My acquaintance had somehow convinced herself that not speaking up about what she was going through was much better than making an issue about the whole thing. She had learnt not to put herself first, even at great personal expense.

This made me think about it the whole day. Are pushovers nicer people, more spiritual, more in tune with the spirit of humanity? Are they just plain nice, wanting to make people happy without expecting anything in return? Or are they just afraid of the consequences? Consequences such as losing friends, not disappointing people and being known as a mean person.

However being too nice can be harmful especially when your forbearance is taken as stupidity. And when your principles are compromised and your kind hearted gesture may actually be hurting you, you need to say no.  

So, now all this got me thinking. Am I a pushover? Well let’s see…I have never been able to say no to anyone, be it my friends, my boss, my colleagues, the rickshaw driver, my beautician, I have a hard time asserting myself, always first thinking “what if I am hurting this person”. Oh no, I shouldn’t say anything, they will hate me for saying no, he is my boss, my senior I cannot on any grounds not heed to his wishes, they will be so upset with me for pointing out the poor service I received. The reasons are manifold and the cost of not saying only one, my peace of mind.  

Well, yes then dear God, I am a pushover. But I never thought it was wrong. Yes I had expectations, my peace of mind would be disturbed but in the end I was a pushover since I wanted to be one. I didn’t do it because I wanted people to like me (a tad bit yes) but because I didn’t want them to be displeased and disappointed or to be unhappy.


Is being a pushover good or not? I am confused. I also realise most people are not fond of pushovers. It is also true that most of us consider ourselves to be pushovers just like I do. But are still disliked by some percentage of the people we know.

Thanks to some valuable lessons I have learnt recently I know that the world is full of negativity, pessimism, cynicism, distrust and gloom, so the problem is not in being appreciative, kind and friendly, the problem is in letting yourself be harmed and losing your peace. I have also learnt that getting the approval of others through being nice is a waste of time.

I have thus decided being too nice is not the problem being a pushover is. So, though till my dying day I will try my level best to help and turn my other cheek for those who will appreciate being helped, it will not be at the cost of my principles and my family.

NICE: YOU DO NICE THINGS BECAUSE YOU WANT TO

PUSHOVER: YOU DO NICE THINGS EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO