Three Reasons Why – you should join Toastmasters

public-speaking, toastmasters

Public speaking – as a concept – has fascinated me ever since I was a child.

They say the heart yearns for what it cannot get – and growing up as a timid child and watching people around me engage in deep and meaningful conversations in social settings and at major public events, pushed me to emerge out of my shell of solitude and master the art of public speaking.

Years went by and I took up opportunity after opportunity to hone my presentation and communication skills – and all the while I was unaware of a certain global organization that has existed since 1924, and specializes in giving a voice to the voiceless.

It was in January of 2017 where I was first exposed to a Toastmasters meeting. As it was something novel to me at the time, the premise fascinated me – a meeting conducted by a club every week with the singular goal to give members the opportunity to build self-confidence in themselves and the way they communicate.

‘So cool’, I thought to myself. This was something I could really get into.

Two years later, and I am a full time member of one of Bangalore’s finest community clubs (HSR Toastmasters – feel free to swing by if you’re in the area). And over the course of my last one year as a Toastmaster, I’ve been able to identify three main reasons why Toastmasters is the right place to be for anyone unaware of it.

Ready, stranger? Well, let’s just jump right in –

A platform to develop your communication skills

Little Johnny is always the forgotten soul at every party he attends. Or maybe he is missing out on promotions at office because, irrespective of his hard work, his poor communications skills have left him helpless – as more charismatic and vocal employees overshadow him in the eyes of his boss. Or maybe while waiting in a queue at a McDonald’s, a rude woman cuts in front of him and, in an attempt to not make a scene, decides to let it slide and let her get her Big Mac first.

Toastmasters provides a platform on a weekly basis to take up roles in a meeting (such as delivering a speech, keeping track of the usage of grammar in a meeting, evaluating other speakers, etc) that allow you to not only grow as a speaker, but build your confidence to the point where your speaking skills can be utilized to good effect in real-life situations like the one faced by Little Johnny.

In addition, given the organization has over 350,000 members across 143 countries and around 17,000 clubs – you are bound to run into mind-blowing speakers every now and then who inspire you to push yourself to new heights.

Still not convinced? Watch Mohammad Qahtani’s winning speech from the International Speech Contest in 2015 and jump into the big massive rabbit hole of everything Toastmasters-related from there on out.

Getting accustomed to an environment where critical feedback is the norm

Nobody enjoys getting criticized. Yes, that dress doesn’t suit you. Yes, you need a haircut. Yes, your performance in the last quarter at office was not upto the mark.

But the point of criticism isn’t to entertain – but to give the receiver the opportunity to grow. At Toastmasters, you are given positive and constructive feedback for every role you take up at a meeting. Absorbing the feedback and implementing it in future meetings allows you to climb up the proverbial “ladder” – both as a communicator and as a person – because receiving feedback on a weekly basis gets you acclimatized to an environment of doing, listening, implementing and doing again.

A fantastic platform to network

I’ve made a lot of friends in the Toastmasters fraternity in the last year. Whether it is at a club meeting or even outside of one, you are always guaranteed a good time when it comes to Toastmasters because you’re spending your time with like-minded people with a similar set of goals.

Also, Toastmasters is also an excellent way to build your professional network, as you invariably end up meeting people from all walks of life.

So what do you think?

Is Toastmasters something you’d like to try out? If so, read up on it more on the internet and find a club near you.

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Age is just a number (A review of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ by Ray Bradbury)

Books, Fiction, Literature
The silhouette of Mr Dark can be seen in the above cover art.

I’ve been a huge Ray Bradbury fan ever since I read ‘Fahrenheit 451’ a couple of years ago. The prevalent theme of censorship in the book captivated me and it pushed me to dabble into more of Bradbury’s works – such as ‘Dandelion Wine’ and ‘The Illustrated Man’.

Today, I got the chance to read ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ – the second book in Bradbury’s Green Town trilogy (the first being ‘Dandelion Wine’). The book, however, merely serves as a spiritual successor to ‘Dandelion Wine’, as no characters from the first book make an appearance in this one.

Like ‘Dandelion Wine’ however, this book is once again set in the fictional ‘Green Town’ in Illinois, which is visited by a traveling carnival led by a sinister looking man named Mr Dark in mid-October. However, with the arrival of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, the town finds itself drowned in a mood of fear and self-doubt. Most notably, two young boys by the name of Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade decide to visit the carnival at night to see what’s up. Also, Charles Halloway, father to Will, is notably affected by the arrival of the carnival, as his insecurities over his old age begin to seep through and take over him.

This is a fascinating book in which Bradbury expertly crafts an unsettling experience for the readers – as the book slowly dives deeper into darker territories ad it is revealed that Mr Dark and Mr Cooger possess powers which allow them to reverse the age of anyone who desires it – at the price of their freedom.

What really moved me in this book, however, was the constant state of turmoil which Charles Halloway finds himself in. Torn between wanting to be younger to get a second chance at life (the age difference between him and his wife always made him uncomfortable) and coming to terms with the fact that age is just a number, Charles’ journey throughout the story keeps readers engaged and constantly questioning whether Mr Halloway would give in and approach Mr Dark to regain his youth.

All this leads to a fantastic conclusion that sees Mr Halloway, Will and Jim take center stage.

The book is a thorough exploration into one of man’s deepest insecurities – old age and death – but establishes a powerful message in the end that it doesn’t matter when death takes you.

What really matters is how you spend every moment of your life leading up to your last days among-st the living. Bradbury brushes aside the terror posed by death as something that need not be feared – in a chilling conclusion that each and every one of you must experience by picking up this book and giving it a read.

One of the best books I’ve read in a while – 5/5! Cheers!

Are spicy food lovers masochists?

Food, Kerala

I’ve always had a soft spot for Kerala cuisine.

A traditional Kerala sadhya

Of course, my bias lies in the fact that I’m a Malayalee by birth, and hence, for the most part of my life, I’ve been exposed to a lot of great traditional meals from ‘God’s own country’.

Fish curry and aviyal? Yum.

Naadan beef fry? Double yum.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor during Onam while a kind young man places a huge banana leaf in front of me laden with two dozen different curries and a hearty helping of rice at the centre?

Yum to the power of infinity.

But if there’s one thing that Kerala cuisine (and South Indian food in general) is notable for – it’s being spicy.

Now I’ve met people on both sides of the fence – the people that love spicy food, and the people that detest it. I fall under the latter category for one very clear cut reason…

… spicy food hurts.

Now of course, everyone’s threshold for spice varies – and unfortunately, I’ve been burdened with a taste palette so sensitive, that even the mildest of sambars can make me tear up in pain.  

Hurray! *sarcasm*

Let’s put on our geek glasses for a minute and jump into some science.

Now the spiciness of foods is attributed to a class of compounds known as capsaicinoids. And the sensors in your tongue and mouth that react to hot temperatures and pain are the same sensors that are driven nuts when you eat spicy food.

And geek glasses – off! Now to an interesting story…

All my worst enemies in one picture

I have a notable experience wherein me and a friend of mine (let’s call him John Doe) went to a Kerala restaurant near office on a weekday for a nice leisurely lunch to relax after a long morning of work.

Boy, was I in for a hell of a ride.

We ordered the usual Kerala sadhyas (a vegetarian meal consisting of rice and an assortment of curries served on a banana leaf) and a side order of beef fry.

Our orders arrived – and we immediately dug in. I reached out to the dish containing the beef, scooped up a handful and stuffed it into my mouth.

I began to chew – and I noticed that the beef was a tad bit spicier than usual.

Five seconds passed – and my mouth just kept getting hotter and hotter.

My goodness – I thought to myself – did Satan himself take a dump on my beef? Because I feel the fury of hell inside me.

Things progressively got worse – and a minute later, my eyes were tearing up like I just stepped out from watching ‘Inside Out’ (Hey, that movie made me cry happy tears, ok? Don’t judge!) and I was sweating profusely from every orifice in my body.

I looked up to the heavens (well technically, the ceiling of the restaurant, but that doesn’t possess as much of a dramatic flair, now does it?) and questioned my life decisions – and begged God for mercy.

Two minutes went by – by now I had ingested every liquid and cool drink possible to quell the flames of Sauron on my tongue, but nothing seemed to have helped.

Accurate depiction of me after eating spicy food

In a moment of utmost curiosity, I shed my pain aside for a moment to look up at John who had also eaten from the same plate of beef.

He was unperturbed, and possessed such a calm disposition. Yes, I could see that his eyes had a tinge of water in them too, but overall, the deluge of capsaicinoids did not affect him as much as it affected me.

“Are you enjoying this?” I asked him as a stream of tears ran down my cheek.

“It’s awesome” he replied. “Don’t you think so?”

And that’s the day I stopped being friends with him.

Ok, just kidding. Of course we were still friends. But the fact that he enjoyed his food even though the spice did hurt him a little too made me wonder – are all spicy food lovers masochists?

Personally, I do not consider spicy food a pleasure at all. Anything that brings me pain does not belong in my mouth – regardless of taste.

But hey – that’s just one man’s opinion. What do you think? Drop a comment below and let me know.

Chai

Everyday life, Tea
how about a cup of heavenly Chai this Sunday afternoon?

The alarm goes off.

The piercing sound of a rooster echoes throughout my bedroom as my arms instinctively scramble to my sides – searching for the source of that annoying sound.

I tuck my right hand under my pillow – nope, not there.

My left arm grazes the chequered blue bedsheet covering the left side of my bed – nope, not there either.

What madness drove me to choose the sound of a rooster as my alarm tone? It’s driving me insane.

Wait – wasn’t that why I picked that tone? I don’t recall. Right now all that matters is that I find the source of that grating sound.

My right hand now slides out from under my pillow in a slow, calculated manner as I take a second to ponder what my next move would be. Being hasty in this matter will not help – stop and think!

It’s not under my pillow – it’s not on the left side of my bed – did I check the right side of my bed?

I flail my right arm to my right side only to find emptiness.

Ah that’s right – I sleep at the right edge of my bed.

My arms quickly choke the pillow under my head and pull it from underneath me. I, then, gently smudge the soft exterior of the pillow onto my face.

As the pillow engulfs my senses, I can feel the sound of the deafening alarm wither away. It’s still there – but it’s not as effective anymore.

I win.

But before I can soak in the glory of my victory, a grim realization dawns upon me.

It’s Monday morning – and nobody wins against a Monday morning.

I lift the pillow off my face and suddenly jerk my body upright. As I sit dazed on my bed and look around my room – the ceiling fan above me that is never switched on (Bangalore is cold enough, thank you very much), the dark red curtains to my right shielding the sunlight penetrating through my windows, the mobile phone at the base of my bed loudly blaring an alarm right next to my left foot – I ponder over the day ahead. I start thinking about how things at work aren’t going so well and –

OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – THAT DAMNED ALARM!

My right arm shoots itself at my phone and snatches it away from my foot. I press my thumb against the scanner (unlock, you fiend!) and gently swipe the screen of my phone downwards to bring up the notifications tab.

ALARM (8 am). Snooze or Dismiss? – my screen reads.

Snooze? That way I can get another 10 minutes maybe?

NO! Be strong!

Dismiss?

I sigh and frown at my phone. Being an adult can be a chore, can’t it?

Dismiss it is.

The cursed sound of that rooster finally stops and a sombre silence falls upon my room.

Now where was I? Right.

I start thinking about how things at work aren’t going so well and how I’ll need to clock in some late hours to get my latest task done.

No wonder the silence was so depressing. Because at the least, the piercing sound of the rooster made me forget about my day ahead.

I need to talk to Shilpa too. We had a fight last night (God, why are women so hard!).

Oh crap, I didn’t do my laundry this weekend!

I slowly bring my feet from the base of my bed to my floor (Wow, that’s cold!). I stand upright and slowly walk to my cupboard and gently pry it open.

What shirt looks the least dirty? – I ask myself as my eyes scan past a dozen shirts hung up in my cupboard.

The blue striped one? It’s been a month since I washed that one. But it doesn’t seem like it.

What about my bright red one? No, I hate that one. It makes me look like a tomato. Why did I even buy that shirt?

Ah, blue striped one it is.

A minor sigh of relief escapes my mouth as the thought of me having a decent shirt to wear to office brought some semblance of comfort to me.

Looks like you haven’t won completely, Monday!

I slowly walk to my kitchen. Once inside, I open the bottom shelf and take out a vessel to boil some water.

I place the vessel on my induction cooker and turn it on. Ah, just a few more minutes and my tea will be –

Oh wait, where’s the water? Idiot.

I slide the bottom shelf open again and this time pull out a ceramic mug with a picture of Naruto on it. I fill it with water and then proceed to pour the contents of my cup into the vessel.

Just a few more minutes and my tea will be ready.

Christ, work is terrible! Things aren’t going great with Shilpa. And I have nothing clean to wear to office.

The bubbles begin to surface on the hot water in the vessel.

That’s my cue.

I open my top-shelf cabinet and pull out a sealed container of tea powder. I place it on my kitchen platform, lift the lid open and take a spoonful of tea powder. With one quick movement, I dump the spoonful of tea powder into the vessel.

My drowsy mind wanders through a sea of negativity – Should I quit my job? Maybe Shilpa deserves a better friend. I can’t even do my laundry on time – what makes me think I can handle my job and my friends then?

No, stop! Just a few more minutes – we’re almost there. Fight it!

Finally, the smell of fresh black tea permeates the entire air around me. I can slowly feel the drowsiness and the negativity in me recede.

That’s my second cue.

I turn off the induction cooker, and move towards my vessel to pour the contents into my –

WAIT! The tea strainer. Idiot

I open the bottom shelf and frantically search for the strainer. Dang it – we’re so close. Don’t make me wait anymore.

It’s not there?

It’s not bloody there!

My life is so effing misera –

Wait!

Didn’t I leave it in the top shelf last night?

Hope blooms in my heart as my hand grabs the handle of my top shelf once again and I impatiently swing it open. Lo and behold – there she was!

(Is this what love at first sight feels like?)

I grab the tea strainer and place it on top of my mug. I pour the tea into my ceramic tribute to shōnen mangas’ most beloved protagonist. Once I did so, I reached out to the already open top shelf once again to grab the containers of sugar and powdered milk, placed them on my platform and lifted their respective lids open.

Three teaspoons of powdered milk.

Can I sort things out at work?

Two teaspoons of sugar.

Can I sort things out with Shilpa?

I begin to stir the contents of my mug with my spoon.

Is the shirt passable for office today?

All done.

I raise the mug towards my lips. Inches away. I take one last whiff of the beautiful concoction beneath my nose.

Hope has arrived.

I take a sip.

I let it settle in. Then I take another.

A minute passes by in silence – no longer the sombre silence it was like in the bedroom. Rather, a more uplifting one.

Work’s going to be fine.

I take a deep gulp this time.

God, it tastes so good.

I’ll sort things out with Shilpa too. It wasn’t that big a fight anyways. And my shirt will do. I’m not going for a fashion show. I’m a software developer after all.

Sorry Monday – but my cup of chai tells me that you’re not getting the best of me today.

Try again next week.

Lord Of The Flies – and why it’s a must read!

Books
Lord Of The Flies

Over the course of the last 2 years, I have read several books that have moved me in several different ways. Either they push me to the brink of rib-piercing laughter – or they make my face sag with a frown of sadness – or they render me paralyzed with fear when my favorite character suddenly finds himself or herself in a serious predicament.

In a similar vein, there are books that occasionally set my neurons ablaze and stimulate the juices in my head to intensely ponder over what I just experienced – and one such book just so happens to be William Golding’s ‘Lord Of The Flies’.

‘Lord of the Flies’ tells the story of a group of boys who land up on a remote island in the middle of nowhere after their plane crashes.

With not a single adult in the vicinity to rally them up and get them rescued, a young lad by the name of Ralph – and the other surviving boys – band together and decide to take matters into their own hands and figure out a way to get off the island.

Soon after they land up on this desolate rock, on finding a conch (a fancy term for a sea shell) near the shore with the help of Piggy (another young lad), Ralph is automatically flung into a position of high leadership – as all the other boys vote to make him chief of the group.

This upsets a young boy by the name of Jack, who disagrees with Ralph on several pertinent issues throughout the tale.

For example, while Ralph believes that keeping a fire lit at the top of the mountain to produce enough smoke so that a ship can detect them is of top priority, Jack’s fascination for hunting pigs leaves him devoid of any form of rationality or common sense.

Yes, little Jack wants to hunt pigs instead of being rescued. Somebody needs to find this kid’s parents and have a talk with them.

Soon enough, the boys find themselves pitted against each other, and that is when their short-lived society slowly deteriorates into anarchy.

And here we stumble upon what is the prevalent theme of the book – and that is the boys’ constant struggle to retain their humanity. With no adult to guide or supervise them, some of them quickly have their minds drowned in savagery, most notably Jack, whose constant urge to hunt and spill blood takes precedence over trying to get off the island. Ralph quickly finds his position of leadership in turmoil, as Jack rallies up the boys to side with him, and see things from his view.

“They walked along, two continents of experience and feeling unable to communicate.” 

Lord Of The Flies
William Golding: Lord of the Flies

The novel is an allegory of what being disconnected from society and the real world can do to the human mind. Back in England, these boys would never dare to resort to such fiendish acts – but on an island which seems far away from the fabrics of time and reality, all forms of pragmatism and common sense fade and give way to man’s more primal desires.

With no one to shame or judge man, man is free to resort to becoming an animal, because there are no longer consequences. The lust for power, the lust for war, the lust for blood – all these thoughts permeate through the boys one by one till finally, only the toughest of minds (or mind, I’m not going to give that away) were able to retain their sanity by the end.


“Which is better–to have laws and agree, or to hunt and kill?” 

Lord Of The Flies

My takeaway from the book is this – sometimes there is no benefit in thinking straight. What does one get from being rational when the entire fabric of rationality fades before you? You get to save face amongst an army of savages – is that really worth it? When life brings you to a point which seems bleak and dire, and to a point of no escape,what do the laws and rules of society matter anymore? Rules, laws, society – all this keeps us from succumbing to the power of the savage within each and every one of us.


“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” 

Lord Of The Flies

This book will have you think a lot once you read it. And I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to read a classic and is ok with a bit of a dark theme (there is blood and death, and some of you may not be okay with all that).

Unless you’ve read it already? What was your takeaway from this book? Did it move you in a similar way? Drop a comment and let me know.

Cheers!