Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Toastmasters Icebreaker Speech

I am Abhi. My story is a tale of three cities – Mumbai, London, Sydney.

My first chapter starts in Mumbai.

I had a lower middle class, fairly problem free childhood. Till the age of 5, I lived in a house this big. Living in such small spaces was very common place back then. Everyone lived frugally. You don’t crave for what you don’t know. I was good at academics, but not exceptional like Einstein, with whom I share my birth date with. I was good at sports, but again for that generation of middle-class Indians, the focus was to study, and become a doctor or engineer. So I became an engineer. A Chemical Engineer. Then I did what all chemical engineers in India do – went into IT.

Living in Mumbai is not the easiest thing though. Have you seen the traffic that scrambles brains, the deadly rains, and the packed trains. I have traveled in those trains. When people here complain about crowds, I just laugh. Have you been in a train where you are unable to see where the rest of your body is for the rest of the journey? Sweat can’t escape you!!!, Things are that tightly packed.
Mumbai is tightly packed with incredible people, but it was not the place for me.
Work in IT took me to UK. After living through 3 cities in the UK, I decided to settle in London. This is where my second chapter starts

By then, there were three of us – wife, a tiny 1 year old daughter and me. From better career opportunities, wanting to stay in a cosmopolitan place like Mumbai, and being able to find typical Indian grocery items like brown chickpeas, black lentils, and bottle gourd, we decided to settle in London.

London was amazing. May it was that specific time in my life, or the place – but I discovered who I truly am. I took jobs that played to my strengths. At different times, I started a running club, kids’ quiz club and a cycling club. I realised the power of perseverance. To start or create anything new, don’t expect quick returns. Plan, persevere, adapt. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when things GO your way.

We lived in London for 10 years. Just as we bought a house, spent all the time, and money doing it up, I got a job offer here in Australia.

Well the thing is, my sister lives here. And so DID my two cousins. So, I was open to opportunities down-under. When I landed the job, wife and I looked at each other – Leave behind all our friends, good school, well-settled jobs??… our new home, ??... to venture to completely new place.

But we wanted to be closer to our family. So, Sydney it was.

Here starts my third chapter – Sydney. In Sept 2017, I came to Sydney alone. Family would follow later. Living like a bachelor, finding a new place to rent, sorting out the furniture, it was like turning the clock back a decade. Work at first also threw some weird curveballs. I came as an IT Architect, but was working as a coder. If you don’t know what both the roles are, well then….IT Architect is like an actual Architect, and coder is like a brick layer. Both needs skills, but I did not come all the way down here to lay bricks. Fortunately, this was only a short-term issue and I am glad I got hands dirty.

However, there was a much bigger upheaval coming. Remember, I told you I had two cousins in Australia. Yes, siblings of my youngest aunt. One of them was studying in Queensland. Hemant graduated on 13th Dec that year. I and daughter spent 5 beautiful days with him during graudation time. It was an extremely proud moment for us watching him get his degree.

A few weeks later, Hemant went to visit his sister in Melbourne for the first time in Aus. They were out at Philip Island. It was Christmas Day. Hemant got into the water. We now know it was very rough out there. He got sucked in by a rip current. It was Christmas day, so no life-guards or that many people around. Hemant was lost forever to sea.

As you can imagine, it was a truly devastating time for the family, especially his parents, who travelled to Australia for the first time for this.

However, we decided that something needed to be done. From all the funds that were donated after his death, we started a non-profit in his name. So far, we have raised awareness through radio, TV interviews, talked at universities, worked with local surf life saving clubs, sponsored CPR session for new arrivals. This is what keeps his memory burning bright in our minds.

So. So far…Australia has taken some, but it has given some… Us relatives are much closer and its great for kids. The weather is awesome. The land, life-style, the people, they are all great.

We are not at home yet. But one day, we will be. And then, it will be the best of times.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hemant Govekar Memorial Event - Brisbane - Kangaroo Point Brisbane - 7th Jan 2018


Opening Speech 

Thank you all for coming.

I am Abhi Toraskar, Hemant’s first cousin. The closest family of Hemant Govekar is here – his parents, his sister and first cousins, and their spouses. Some of the best friends, colleagues and bosses that Hemant had in Brisbane are here. Hemant would have been so happy. He should have been here.
Frankly, the last few days have been extremely surreal. It’s just weird talking about Hemant in the past tense. Talking about Hemant, rather than Amol as the close family knew him. Time standing still while the search and rescue were looking for him. People from far and wide praying for him to be found alive and safe even after so many days. The youngest of all us cousins just starting his life, gone in the blink of an eye.

Hemant, was from Mumbai and graduated just 4 weeks ago from University of Queensland in Master of Business. He was tragically taken by the sea at Cape Woolamai, in Phillip Island, Victoria, on Christmas Day. After a long investigation, the identification of his remains was finally concluded on Thursday. It was him and he is no more.

We conducted his funeral as per Hindu rituals two days ago. His ashes were scattered at Chelsea Beach on Melbourne Bayside.

I have held Hemant as a baby, played with him as kids. Though he was much younger, we were friends and brothers. Growing up, people said he looked like me, which was a great compliment for me, but a slight for him I feel, given how dashing good looking man he was.
We are 10 cousins on the maternal side, but he was the closest of all to me and my family. We looked forward to spending summer vacations with him, playing cards and gully cricket, going on trips, running around in the sun. He was a shy, fun, but an always caring person right from the beginning.

He never threw tantrums. He never picked fights. He never complained. He was someone people could rely on. He never expected anything in return.

At my parents’ home in Mumbai, we celebrated Ganesh festival. After I moved abroad, my mum needed someone to help with the decorations and the occasion. He would be the one to turn up without asking, however, busy he was in college or work. He was the one who added colour to the festivities at home.
What struck me most was how he matured into a dynamic, confident, creative, but still always a very kind human being. Back in Mumbai, he led cultural events in his locality and college, he was a great dancer, he was a brilliant artist. At work in India, he was recognised many times for his dedication and drive.
He was keen to learn and do more. Given that a lot of his close family was here, he decided to come to Australia to pursue further studies and hopefully settle here.

He really came into his own and became the person he was in Brisbane. This amazing city, the university and the people gave him an opportunity to flourish and showcase his talents. I got glimpses of his personality and involvement in numerous activities - Dancing, business competitions there, charity events, cultural events, drums squads. It is just incredible that in a short time, he made such a deep and ever-lasting mark amongst his friends and communities. All the while not succumbing to wild, unbecoming behaviour that sometimes is part of uni life. I got to see his close bonds and camaraderie when I and my daughter came for his graduation. How did SO MANY PEOPLE end up knowing and LOVING my litte brother?

The family visited the places in the university where Hemant studied, hung around with friends, did dance practices, had quiet time, got his graduation degree. It is certainly great comfort to us, that he spent his final at such a fabulous university with fantastic friends and teachers.

The outpouring of support from people everywhere has been humbling and gratifying and speaks a lot about how much Hemant meant to all of us. Though he is physically no more, in this world of 7.5 billion people, he was a singular individual and it is his love and affection that now binds us in a uniquely astonishing way. Let’s keep that bond going. Let his kindness be our guiding light in connecting with each other and being better versions of ourselves.

We have pair of 28 balloons here. 28 being the age that Hemant will always be. A pair to represent the places that he made an inedible mark – Mumbai and Brisbane. If you have any photos of Hemant with you and your group, kindly tape it to the balloons. Please take Sheny’s or Arundhati’s help to attach. After the food, we will all release the balloons together into the sky.


2nd part
Thanks for all your touching and thoughtful speeches. It was really good for us to hear what a multi-faceted and remarkable individual Hemant was. I would like to thank the people who helped organise this event. The family was in Melbourne busy with other arrangments for the last week, so your help is even more appreciated. Amol, Nitin, Bhushan and other members from Brisbane Maharshtra Mandal. Ananya, Sheny, Susmy, Bhagya, and Akash. Thank you so much guys!! Samira and Alicia from University of Queensland and Vinayak, his roommate and fellow student showed us around the university yesterday. Thank you guys for taking the time out. Apologies if I missed any names. Thanks Mr Prasad for letting us see and eat in the restaurant Hemant worked in.

Such tragic accidents serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of the waters, especially in Australia. Hemant wasn’t a reckless person. I know the number of times he didn’t go in the water while I and my daughter swam when we visited Brisbane start of Dec. That fateful day, the stars aligned all wrong!

Drownings this year have gone up substantially, with 30 drownings in Dec alone, significantly up year on year. We want to focus especially amongst vulnerable groups within which such coastal accidents seem to happen with painful regularity. We want to create awareness on the issue and work with the authorities to ensure that such entirely avoidable casualties don’t happen. 70% of Australians – yes ALL Australians - cant identify a rip. There are photos of how some rips look like that we have here. Kindly have a look. 

We would be glad to answer any questions. If there are any organisations that would like to speak to us or would like to support our initiative on raising awareness on water safety, kindly get in touch with me or someone from Hemant’s family. Do share within your family and friends. Hemant did good things when he was alive. Lets make sure that we do good things to keep his memory alive.

अमोल हेमंत गोवेकर अंत्यविधी - स्तवन

अमोल माझा मावस भाऊ होता, पण खरं तर तो माझ्या सख्या भावा सारखा होता.

सतत हसतमुख, मदतीला धावून येणारा, प्रेमळ आणि  सर्वांगाने एक भला मनुष्य.

तो आताच मास्टर्स झाला होता. संपूर्ण आयुष्य त्या पुढे होते. त्याच्या बरोबर Birthday, Diwali, सुट्ट्या आनंदाने आणि हसत खेळात घालावायच्या होत्या. त्याच्या लग्नात नाचायचे होते. त्याच्या मुलां बरोबर खेळाचे चे होते . त्याच्या बरोबर म्हातारे व्यायचे होते. आता सगळेच राहून गेले.

पण त्या च्या आठवणी आमच्या साठी सोन्या सारख्या आहेत.

तो आमच्या स्मृतीत नेहेमी तरुण, आनंदी आणि प्रेमळ मुलगा म्हणूनच राहील. तो आमच्यातला बेस्ट होता, आणि सदैव बेस्टच राहील.

We love you Amol!!

Hemant Govekar - Woolamai Surf Life Saving Speech - 1st Jan 2018

Thank you all for coming

We are the family of Hemant Govekar – his parents who flew in yesterday, his sister and first cousins, and their families.

Today, Hemant was supposed to travel with his Melbourne relatives, who are here, to my place in Sydney to celebrate New Year’s all together. Instead we are all gathered here to mourn his loss.
Hemant Govekar was tragically taken by the sea five days ago on Christmas Day.  Police have not yet informed that the remains they have found are his. Investigations are still ongoing, but we have come to accept reality.

Hemant Govekar, was from Mumbai and graduated just 2 weeks ago from University of Queensland in Master of Business.

Hemant was a kind soul. He was the most caring, intelligent, and hardworking person. Apart from being academically bright, he was an asset to his community - both in Brisbane and Mumbai - leading and volunteering in cultural activities, college clubs, dance events, charity events, and mentoring programmes.

The outpouring of support from people everywhere has been humbling and gratifying and speaks a lot about how much Hemant meant to all of us. He will be sorely missed.

Thanks for all your help and continual support in difficult times. Many people here worked on the search and rescue, and then on recovery. Special thanks to emergency services – Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club, Victoria Police, Victoria State Emergency Services, divers, helicopter team and others – many working on voluntary basis and during holiday period. We are deeply grateful to Jessy who went to save Hemant on her surfboard, and searched for him for the longest time and her mom who offered comfort while the emergency crew arrived.

Such tragic accidents serve a stark reminder of the dangers of the waters. We want to focus especially amongst vulnerable groups where such coastal accidents seem to happen with painful regularity. We will create awareness on the issue and will work with the authorities to ensure that such entirely avoidable casualties don’t happen.

That will a fitting tribute to a remarkable human being.

Thank you.

Additional Info - ripcurrents

Friday, December 22, 2017

Best Films of 2017

Best films seen this year (not necessarily released in 2017) - no particular order
1. Baby Driver - simple, fast, stylish film - all the tropes of an action movie with little twists, and executed very well.

2. Qissa - atmospheric, and hallucinating - will linger for a long time.

3. Hacksaw Ridge - For all his weirdness, Mel Gibson is a supremely accomplished director. Visceral war stunts, charming romance (rarely depicted nowadays, and great acting by Andrew Garfield

4. Spiderman Homecoming - Just a well made superhero caper

5. Wonderwoman - Just a well made superhero caper with the ethereal Gal Gadot in it. Who can resist!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From Greehorns to Dragon Slayers - L'Etape Dragon Medio Fondo – 11th June 2017

Just as the post L2P (London to Paris) blues were striking last September, Uthi suggested the Wales L'Etape Dragon race. A number of new members had joined DCC, a lot of us hadn't done distance more than 20km at a time, and certainly no one had done any big mountain climbing before. Dragon was a daunting prospect - 153km, 2400m climb with long endless climbs one after the other.

However, bravely or foolishly, seven of us decided to take on L'Etape Dragon Medio Fondo - route

Immediately, the gravity of the challenge was clear. We kept the rides going throughout winter where people started to slowly build up their mileage and stamina and getting a hang of technique and pacing.

First meetup to discuss the training plan happened in Feb at Matthew's Yard. People started getting to hear slightly technical jargon such as hill training, speed sessions, heart rate zones, chainset configuration. Discussions became more serious.

A minimum of 3/4 sessions per week were needed, however, given varying time pressures, it was difficult to co-ordinate during the week. However weekends, people generally rode together.

All this while, people were also helping new DCC riders getting started with their slow/steady rides. The club is geared towards beginners and amateurs, so helping people to ride regularly takes precedence over serious training.

Sanjay was also training the kids and their parents for the Big Foot Croydon to Brighton challenge. That was one amazing accomplishment.

In April and May, our mileage and elevation soared - all the major climbs around Kent, Surrey, and Sussex were shortlisted and scaled. However, nothing of the magnitude of dragon ride was still attempted. We remained sceptical!

Matthew dropped out after a medical diagnosis. And then just a week before the event, Ganesh had to drop out and travel to India due to family emergency. Magnificient Seven became the Famous Five. New dad Uthi was also unable to train due to parenting duties. In general, our training left a lot to be desired. Many were looking at avoiding the DNF status rather than setting time goals.

All throughout the last week, all eyes were on the weather. The weather in London was awful and that in Wales was worrisome. Saturday (D Day - 1) showed heavy rains, but Sunday showed 16 degree with 50% chance of rains... and significant winds.

The forecast was spot on. It was raining incessantly throughout the day. Before reaching Cymmer (where we were based), we took a detour along the start of the route (Margam Park going towards Tata Steel works in Port Talbot). The climb started almost immediately going until Cymmer and beyond.

Our cottage was awesome – rustic, well equipped with cyclist friendly facilities. We had a lovely dinner in the converted station pub. Venu, Sanjay, Pankaj decided to recce the first big climb. I had seen enough on the way to Cymmer and didn't need more putting off.

D-Day - Thankfully, the overhead taps were off in the morning and it looked cool and calm. First setback was encountered when I tried to fill air in the tyre however the pump head saliciously took my virgin tube's top off. And to reaffirm its lecher credentials, it did the same with Sanjay's tube. Thankfully, both tubes were replaced soon and we headed to the start location.

We all started together at around 9.30 am, but soon I, Sanjay and the rest spread out. First big hill Blwch started immediately after Cymmer (our base). About 7 km of climb with 5% gradient. All the cyclists ahead were looking like ants reaching up to the sky in search of nirvana. We were back of the queue.

The descent were extremely treacherous due to the gradient and weather. Wind and rain were really taking a hold now. There were some causalities who lost control due to the slope and cross winds.

The second climb Rhigos was 9 km with 4% gradient. Again non-stop spinning, but still the legs were fresh so no major concerns at this point. Also, the first feed station was at the other end. The station was well stocked with Jaffa cake, baked potatoes, and nut bars. With stocks replenished I set on my way. I met Sanjay on the way who needed help with wobbly camera mount, so lent him my rubber bands (always handy). Few meters down, however, I got cramps so stopped. Sanjay stopped to help but I had the cramps in control, just needed some rest. And then he stopped with the same problem ahead (remember the tubes).

We caught up at the second feed station. This one had lovely wraps, sausage rolls, banana etc. Again, well stocked and staffed. Rains got heavy, so the break was longer. We started together, but Sanjay slowed down again due to cramps, but not aware, I kept going. The big one Devil's elbow lay ahead.

Devil's elbow is the only timed segment in the race. From the bottom, it looks like the way to the top is made of steps. On closer look, realised it was a road with cyclists riding at almost walking pace (and some actually walking). I paused before the climb, got some liquids. Sanjay passed me by again. As I started riding, realised that the only way to complete this is to not look too far up. First hair pin gone, looked down and wondered how the hell I climbed so high. Kept going after that, desperately trying not to get blocked by two abreast riders, else I would be off the bike with no chance of getting on until the top.

After that, it was fairly easy for a while. Then suddenly, two long stretches of unexpected climbing (thanks to not studying the route + focussing too much on the Elbow) came up in the closing sections. Shoulders and back was sore, and legs were heavy, but finish line was closer, so I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Was so glad to cross the finish line. Sanjay came a few minutes behind. We got some pasta and (non-alcoholic) beer. Took photos at the podium and with the Devil (who was put off by the weather to be standing as usual at Devil’s Elbow cheering the riders).

After a while, Uthi, Pankaj and Venu came one after the other. They had done the entire 153 km ride in a group. Incredible to stick together in such awful weather conditions.

More photos at the podium opening Spanish ‘champagne’ to celebrate many months’ worth of hard work culminating in a very memorable achievement!

Here’s hoping for more rides and races!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Croydon We-Desi Quiz Club

Last year, I conducted some friendly quizzes in order to liven up family and friends' get together. Having been through a gamut of typical party games such as Dumb Charades, Pictionary, Uno, Zenga, people were ready for something new. Also, I was looking at getting parents and kids involved together, which was not quite happening with other games (no idea why).

The quizzes were well-received and kids seem to be keen for more. So, this year I decided to start a quizzing league from local desi kids. It's called Croydon We-Desi Quiz Club.

The age group was 8-13 years (exceptions allowed). Focussing on desi kids allows the quiz to have some level of India emphasis.

Full list of all the quizzes so far is here

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cycling in Croydon, London

As a keen cyclist, I am asked cycling related questions on a regular basis, so thought I should write up an FAQ. The answers (some obvious, others not so) are aimed at those who want to use cycle for commuting to/from work or shopping or just leisure rides. Following is Croydon specific, but also applies to elsewhere in the UK.
Q -Is parking free?
A - Cycle parking is free everywhere. Massive free 2 tier cycle parking facilities at East Croydon station. Loads as well in the city centre and high street.
Many shops (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose) will allow you to keep the bike inside if you forget the lock (like I have smile emoticon
Q - Is theft an issue?
A - Cycle theft is a problem, especially in Croydon. Park in visible spots, lock both wheels, use locks with gold/silver rating. Cyclists leave their stronger locks where they park frequently, so they don’t have to carry the heavy locks back and forth (I do at East Croydon station).
Q - Are helmets compulsory?
A - No, but strongly recommended, especially for kids.
Q - Are lights compulsory?
A - Yes, in the dark. Front white and rear red.https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/…/izn20130902-Buying-bike…
Q - Is it dangerous?
A - Cycling has become safer over the years in spite of rise in the number of cycle journeys .
In Croydon, there are loads of cycle and bus lanes so even on busy roads, you are surprisingly safe. However, you have to be careful along tram lines.
Q - But the weather is bad – cold and rainy always!
A - As they say, there is nothing like bad weather, only bad gear (clothes). Anyway, for short journeys, the gear doesn’t matter much. 5 minutes intocycling will banish all the cold and you will actually enjoy the rain. However, most days of the year, you will need gloves.
Q - Can you carry kids on a cycle?
A - Yes, you can carry kids from toddlers to older ones as long as the cycle is “built or adapted” to carry “a passenger.”
I carry my 8 year old daughter around on a normal cycle with a strong rear rack, a seat mounted on the rack, and footrest.
Q - Is riding on footpath illegal?
A - To quote - "...new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway (legal term for footpath, pavement). However ...FPNs should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others".
Q - I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid?
A - Start slow, on quieter roads, build confidence. Ride regularly. Become a kid

Nationalism and Religion - Opium to fool the masses

There is no dearth of bigoted people in politics, but they flourish because they are smart enough to give credence to the thoughts of a sizeable populace who are themselves bigoted and ignorant. These politicians are using the weapon of nationalism to distract citizens from talking about fundamental issues (poverty, pollution, drought, economy) and brand those who don't tow the line as anti-nationals. Forcing people to say, "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" is one such instance. 

BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Baba Ramdev (brother of Baba Kamdev) are two such specimens of Reptilia Bigota.

Can these two please clarify the following
1. How frequently should we say "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Can we just say once (say in the bathroom)
2. Who will record that we have said "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Does it have to be in front of BJP/Sangh/RSS Office. Is a selfie video ok.
3. If there is a foreign born person who is now resident in India, does he have to say it?
4. What if someone says "Bharat Mata ki Jai", in a sarcastic tone (say when India loses in a game, when they see huge mounds of garbage, when they are bribing a government babu in a hospital to allow carry out life-saving operation on their loved ones). How will you know the difference and who will judge that the statement was heartful or sarcastic?
5. What about the Indians who don't want to say anything positive about India but have no other passports. How do you plan to deport them?
Mr Vijayvargiya you are general secretary of the ruling party and Babaji, you are the 'owner' of the fastest growing FMCG brand in India, so would expect your statements to be logical and actionable. Don't see that being the case. EVER. Any party for that matter.