Jul 27, 2013

Support me to fight world hunger with the Google Fast-a-Thon?

Dear Friends and Family,

I am excited to let you know that I am participating in a Fast-a-Thon at Google on August 6, 2013. We are raising money for world hunger relief through Action Against Hunger (a top charity with a four-star rating from Charity Navigator). Last year, we were able to raise over $230,000 through the fundraising and pledges to fast of 1,200 Google employees, and with the support of Google's Social Responsibility team.

To provide some context, we are currently in the Islamic month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast (abstaining from both food and drink) every day from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, and people of other religious traditions fast as an act of submission, solidarity, and remembrance. One of the primary reasons for fasting is to call attention to those who go hungry every day, not as an exercise of religious expression, but as a fact of life.

If you have any interest in philanthropy, you should look into Action Against Hunger because they focus on the long-term. There are a lot of organizations that dig wells, but if that’s all you’re doing you’re only helping for as long as the well is maintained. When Action Against Hunger digs a well, they also form citizen committees who look after the well and collect token fees to pay for its upkeep. This also helps fosters a sense of ownership among the people who use the well.

How you can help

I’d love for you to support my fast by making a donation of any amount to this charity on my personal fundraising page, where you can donate directly to the charity OR send me the money directly if you want Google to match your donation (Google will match 100% of all donations above $50 USD that are donated by a Google employee). I have a goal to raise $100 by August 30. Please help me meet it!
  • To take advantage of the gift match program and maximize your contribution, please do not click on the “donate” button on my fundraising page. Instead, let me know how you would like to send the money to me (i.e. cash, check, bank transfer, Paypal, etc.). I will then make your donation to Action Against Hunger and process the Google matching. 
You can get in touch with me via Google+ or leave a comment here.

It costs just $50 to save a life by providing a malnourished child with treatment. Thanks in advance for your support!


Saptak Mohanta

Jan 30, 2013

How to get a Google Nexus 4 in India from US!

Yes, Nexus 4. We all know all about it. We all badly want it! And we also know we can't lay our hands on it! Going by the market reports and rumours, LG isn't launching Nexus 4 in India any time soon. Even if it does, do you know what's it's price gonna be? Not Rs. 20k my dear ... going by the trend of Nexus 7 ($199 in US & Rs. 19,999 in India), one can safely assume it's going to be somewhere around ~ Rs. 28-30k for the 8 GB model and ~ Rs. 31-33k for the 16 GB version. So the question remains - why would wait for it endlessly and then pay a huge premium to buy it?

Here's a solution. Get it from the US and get it shipped to India using mail forwarding services. Only thing you'll be missing out on is the India warranty, but end up saving around Rs. 10k.

Update: My sincere apologies but Google hired me to prevent exactly this kind of abuse of its accounts and I can only explain the mail forwarding (shipping from US to India) part!

Selecting a shipping method:
There are many methods availabl
e. The basic concept is these international mail forwarding services provide you with an US address along with an unique identifier. So, whenever a package arrives with that identifier, they send you a notification along with payment options. As soon as you pay them, your product is on its way to India. Some of these also offer free storage and compilation option where you can ship 2-3 packets together and save on shipping charges. 

I've updated a list originally made by an user called iamvarkey in the Nexus 4 Indian Thread at XDA Developers. Here is a comparison of the total cost for a Nexus 4 (16 GB) through different forwarding services.

Assuming USD to INR @ Rs. 54 + 3.5% Foreign Transaction charges + 12.36% service tax on Foreign Transaction charges. 

  • Nexus 4 (16 GB) - $395 (Incl NY Tax) 
  • Shipping + customs for 2lbs - Rs 2,400 (Can be insured only up to $200)  
  • Total : Rs 24,400 

  • Nexus 4 (16 GB) - $363 (no taxes here - their address is a tax free state!) 
  • Shipping 0.5 kg - $25 (CG)/ $23 (HSG) incl insurance, fuel surcharge etc. for Standard shipping (HopShopGo is offering 10% discount for PayPal customers!) 
  • Customs - Rs. 2000 incl FedEx handling fees
  • Total : Rs 23,900 (CG) / Rs 23,700 (HSG) 

  • Nexus 4 (16 GB) - $388 (Incl OH Tax)
  • Shipping + customs - $77 (Customs is prepaid and you need to pay the complete amount to Borderlinx along with the shipping cost and includes insurance)
  • Total : Rs 26,100 

Local (Known!) Issues:
  • Maharashtra: 5.5% Octroi charges extra apart from customs
  • Delhi: Customs are being charged at higher rate (2% CVD + 4% SAD), irrespective of whether FedEx or DHL!
  • Bangalore: Extremely slow customs processing, 3-4 business days

Note that during customs they might open your phone and check. So don't be surprised if you receive an unsealed box. Just make sure it's working all right and there are no damages. That's why insurance is so important.

If you select HSG, their only accepted payment method is via PayPal. So go ahead and sign up for it. It's safe and secure. Note that it takes about 4-5 days to get your PayPal account verified, among which the most time consuming is PAN card verification.

Shipping to India:
Once your Nexus reaches your US address, your shipping/ forwarding service will give you shipping options. Select the option that suits you most. They'll again provide tracking details as it leaves its facility. Customs charges (unless it's prepaid in package - i.e. for Borderlinx) will be notified to you by email and/ or SMS. You've to pay these charges in cash once your Nexus reaches. 

Note that it's important to check the package contents for damage or missing components since your shipping provider's insurance covers these and this should be done during accepting the delivery.

And DONE! You're a proud owner of a brand new Nexus! Enjoy!

Review: I'm in some serious love with this phone!! :D Here's my two pence for new buyers:

1. The phone is s#!t awesome - worth every penny and effort! Go buy it!
2. ... unless you're a rough user! Mind it, it's not a Nokia, not even an Xperia Go, or not even an S3 that it'd survive falls all the time! She's a princess and you need to treat her like one!!
3. And do order a 16 GB, or you might be regretting with ~5 GB user accessible memory (for 8 GB model) for the next 2 years!!
4. Battery isn't great - but then again most of the high end smartphones barely take you through the day with moderate data usage. Use battery saver apps and all to control data flow and save battery.
5. Don't order accessories from US. Why do you want to take such a huge risk of paying huge customs (it's 16% for accessories against 2% for mobiles and often when there are products with diff customs rates, they apply the higher rate overall!!) when you can get decent cases and screen guards from eBay India! Plus - with only phone, you'll have to pay for shipping of 0.5 kg while it'll be 1 kg for with accessories.
6. Go with HSG Standard if you don't mind an unsealed box. It's the cheapest option out there. For me, from phone being delivered to HSG to phone at my doorsteps = 1 week in Standard (FedEx) shipping!! Mind it, you need PayPal for HSG and PayPal account verification takes 4-5 working days, otherwise head to comGateway which the same but you don't need PayPal - cost is only ~ $3 more.
7. PPOBox is faster (2-3 days sooner?), and boxes are mostly left often unopened, but it's more expensive since you end up paying $33 NY taxes extra!! Moreover, their insurance cover is up to $200 only!

For further information or discussions, you can head to the Nexus 4 Indian Thread at XDA Developers.

Jun 18, 2012

7 Little Known Facts about Kashmir: Sappy's Guide to a Safe & Memorable Trip

Mughal emperor Jehangeer once said, "If there be paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!" He was talking about the incredible Kashmir, a huge valley comprising a massive part of the northern-most state of India, Jammu and Kashmir. Here's my secrets to a safe and memorable trip to Kashmir, with keeping the budget in mind.

Myth #1: Kashmir is torn by war, terrorism and violence and is not safe to visit!

Fact #1: While its true that Kashmir faced a lot of war and terrorism in the recent history, but it's nothing more than part of history now. Kashmir is Safe! Peace has prevailed since last 3-4 years and tourists can feel really safe to visit without any headache. You'll find armed military personnel stationed every few hundred metres along the roads. Since the main economy of the Kashmiris primarily depend upon tourism, they're extremely hospitable and even in case of any problem, tourists are rarely harmed.

However, for foreign nationals, it's important that you get yourself registered with the Foreigners’ Registration unit of the Tourism Department. The registration counters are at Tourist Reception centers at Srinagar Airport, Srinagar City, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam and other places. In case of an emergency you can contact the nearest tourist police office or police station. The emergency number of the Police Control Room is 100.

Myth #2: Kashmir is expensive!

Fact #2: Kashmir is easily affordable if you know where to spend and where to save! If you want to spend lavishly, there's no dearth of 4 star or 5 star hotels across the valley. But if you'd like a budget travel, here's my tips:
  • Avoid those ponies/ horses at Gulmarg or Sonamarg. While the touts would attempt to scare you telling it's 10-15 km walk and one can never complete by walking, it's a fairly comfortable journey. It takes about 20 min by walk at a medium pace from the parking to the Gondola (Cable-Car) at Gulmarg and about 75 min by walk (and 1 hour by pony) to the Sonamarg glacier. The 75 min walk might seem apparently long, but walking through the heavenly Sonamarg, you won't even realize how time flew by. Note that the walking route is different at Gulmarg than that of the ponies. While touts would like to misguide you to the longer pony route, the shortest route is to walk on the vehicular road along the meadow.
  • Dal Lake Houseboats are fancy. But they are about Rs. 1000/- or more costlier than a hotel of equivalent quality. Nevertheless, one should not go back from Srinagar without staying in a houseboat.  Best advice is to split your stay between one night at a houseboat and the rest at a hotel.
  • When it's time to buy souvenirs or those traditional Kashmiri handicrafts, don't go to those bustling markets! Rather, choose those shops beside highways. They'll always give a better deal. And yes, products are highly overpriced and your bargaining skills would come handy!
  • Visit in the off-season period of Winter and early Spring to get off-season discounts at hotels. ☺

Myth #3: Houseboats are unhygienic and facilities are limited; some even provide water from Dal Lake in the bathroom!

Fact #3: There are about 1400 houseboats in the Dal Lake, each with 2-4 rooms and a common dining-cum-living room. They vary in quality just like hotels. But in general, houseboats are clean and  hygienic! And ALL houseboats have a direct municipal water connection, so you need not worry about the water you want to wash your face with! However, just to be safe, it's advisable to bring drinking water of your own.

Myth #4: Kashmir is best approached by air!

Fact #4: That's true only if you've a very strict time schedule. If you can spare an extra day, it's always advisable to take the scenic route via road! There are overnight trains from New Delhi and other trains from all major cities in India that'll take you to the nearest train station from where you can hire a car to Srinagar. The journey may be tiring but you'll never regret taking the breathtaking route once the Kashmir Valley first emerges at the Titanic View Point after the Jawahar Tunnel. However, since the road journey is really long, it's better to make the onward journey via road and train while taking a flight back from Srinagar.

Myth #5: Jammu is the best approach for Kashmir Valley by train/ road!

Fact #5: Wrong! The scenic, tiny station of Udhampur reduces the long road journey to Srinagar by 1.5 to 2 hours! Udhampur is a small station further ahead of Jammu. There are a few good direct overnight trains that'll take you to Udhampur from New Delhi. Even the train journey after Jammu to Udhampur is through a scenic route. And railway line construction is underway to connect Srinagar directly from Jammu, which would make the one of the most scenic train routes of all time. It's expected to be operational within 2-3 years.

Myth #6: Kashmir is best visited during the summers!

Fact #6: Kashmir can be visited round the year depending upon what you're looking for! If you'd like to see the tulips at full bloom and don't mind the snow, Spring is the time to go! On the other hand, if you'd like the snow to remain only in the glaciers and a more comfortable weather, Summer is suited for you. But keep in mind that the Summer brings tourists from all over India to Kashmir and it's highly overcrowded at that time. Moreover, there are occasional showers during May playing a spoilsport. If you'd like to avoid the crowd, get off-season discounts and play some winter sports, you'd love the snow covered Kashmir during the Winter!

Myth #7: You'll need at least 8 to 12 days for a memorable trip to Kashmir!

Fact #7: Even 5 days can be sufficient to visit all these places, if you're willing to make a tight schedule! Sample itinerary:
  • Day 1: Fly in from New Delhi at an early morning flight to Srinagar, go out for local sightseeing. Night halt at Srinagar hotel.
  • Day 2: Day trip to Gulmarg. Night halt at Srinagar hotel.
  • Day 3: Day trip to Sonamarg. Night halt at Srinagar houseboat.
  • Day 4: Travel to Pahalgam (early morning), local sightseeing upon arrival. Night halt at Pahalgam hotel.
  • Day 5: Start early morning to get back to Srinagar, take a late afternoon flight back to New Delhi.
However, a more relaxing itinerary is recommended to do justice to the beauty of the Heaven on the Earth!

Must see places:
  • Srinagar (Dal Lake and Mughal Gardens)
  • Gulmarg (Gondola ride to LOC - Line of Control between India & Pakistan) - day trip from Srinagar is sufficient
  • Sonamarg (Sonamarg glacier) - day trip from Srinagar is sufficient
  • Pahalgam (Chandanwari, Aru and Betab Valley) - try to get a hotel beside Lidder River among the pine woods, not in the bustling main town. Note that you'll need to use a local Pahalgam vehicle for local sighstseeing.
Note that this article is exclusively about the Kashmir Valley and doesn't cover other beautiful areas of Jammu and Kashmir such as Ladakh. You can visit Wikitravel for further details on Kashmir Valley! Bon voyage!

Feb 2, 2012

Sappy's CRY Journey - ensuring lasting change for children

As my journey with CRY - Child Rights and You nears to an end, I'm looking back and reminiscing the golden days. It all started with an internship with CRY Kolkata after my freshman year at IIT Kharagpur. I've come a long way since then. From starting our own university chapter of CRY to building a team to see it taste success like never before.

During the summer break after my freshmen year, rather than spending time with family or going for a trip, I wanted to make a better use of my time. I approached CRY Kolkata office with a request for internship. A few days and a half-an-hour long intense interview later, I bagged the internship. I always wanted to contribute towards the society and this was the ideal platform.

I had many ideas. I was a teenager with a dream and a will to change the world and become a hero. However, I started realizing the ground reality only after an induction program. Things were easier said than done. I understood the difference among charity and rights. When we stop the charity, the person we helped becomes helpless again. But when we help them earn what's their right, the impact is forever and on a much, much bigger scale.

Article on The Times of India supplement South Kolkata Plus
on our success towards making Kolkata Metro disabled-friendly
My internship experience was thrilling. I got to work with Sruti disAbility Rights Centre mainly on Access Audit of schools and other public places of Kolkata. Visiting schools for surveys made me realize how little people care about physically challenged people. While they constitute of more than 2% of the population, barely any school has any physically challenged students, let alone proper accessible infrastructure. Most of the school authorities are not even aware or bothered by the problems faced by this section of the society. However, the real success of the internship was through making Kolkata Metro North-South extension region disabled-friendly. After a lot of initial hiccups and requests to P.R.O. of Kolkata Metro falling to deaf ears, finally through an RTI and media campaign, we finally caught the authority's attention. Finally our voices were heard and we were invited to an official inspection by the Senior P.R.O. Not only they took our recommendations in making the extension region accessible, they followed them and we ensured a big step towards Universal Access.

MDM success story
on The Times of India
Then, in my junior year, I came to know another individual, Ramanuj Lal, is planning to start a university chapter of CRY at IIT Kharagpur. Along with a few other motivated friends and acquaintances such as Monish Salhotra, Saswat Kumar Sahu, Nikky Pathak & Himen Doley among others, we set up a core team to develop the chapter. Soon, we realized starting a chapter from scratch is no easy task. After months of planning and preparations, our baby was born. In the beginning of 2010, we kicked off with our flagship event - a photography contest, that was later rechristened as Focus Right. We recruited a group of highly enthusiastic volunteers from across the student community - from undergrads to b-school students to law students. Thus, the journey began that grew at a rate faster than any of us would have imagined.

After a reconnaissance survey of the neighboring villages, we took up different projects such as ensuring Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme in schools, campaigning about Right to Education and other opportunities through education, and making IIT campus disabled-friendly. Success arrived at our doorstep faster than we would have bargained for. Within six months, through a strong campaign and effort, we successfully catalyzed the implementation of Mid-Day Meal, appointment of two teachers, and improving the drinking facility at a primary school named Mirpur Primary Adivasi School. That feeling was truly epic. There are some things that can't be described in mere words and this was certainly one of those. The team that spent hours cycling to the villages and municipal authorities repeatedly to make it happen was jubilant to say the least.

Access Audit covered by campus
newspaper, The Scholars' Avenue
Since then, CRY IIT Kharagpur has never looked back. Due to our impressive work record, when we approached the Dean (Undergraduate Studies) of IIT Kharagpur requesting him to make the campus disabled-friendly, we were right away inducted into the Committee for Physically Challenged Students and were later invited to conduct an Access Audit of IIT Kharagpur. Working with the young minds of IIT Kharagpur made me realize how much passion they put into the cause. Moreover, my prior knowledge and experience came useful in this exercise, as we completed the Access Audit of the entire academic complex and nearby halls of residence in a very short span of time. Following the submission of our report along with our recommendations, a ramp was built in the Main Academic Building of our institute. Even as I write this blog post, after a fruitful meeting with the Committee for Physically Challenged, steps are being taken to finalize the plan to make our campus disabled-friendly and accessible for all. I hope, one day, we can proudly say, yes, we made IIT Kharagpur barrier-free!

Meanwhile, our Right to Education campaigns in villages helped a lot of people know about their rights and how to demand those. The second edition of our annual photography event, Focus Right 2.0, went international and attracted over a hundred entries. Its third edition, Focus Right 3.0, with the theme 'We are the Future', is expected to be an even bigger hit. Recently, we also conducted a social case study event called 'India Calling' at Spring Fest, the social and cultural festival of IIT Kharagpur, with huge success. Participants from all over the country came with various interesting proposals for solving our problem statement.

Change does not happen overnight. At least not in most of the cases. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to remain committed and positive to see the long-term results. Over the last two years, I've seen our baby CRY IIT Kharagpur grow into one of the largest college chapters of CRY, or any NGO for that matter. I'm proud to say presently almost every student is aware of our work and I feel proud when people say that CRY is really doing some great work in campus. We always tried to maintain a very flat organizational structure where everyone would contribute on the same level. It was pleasure seeing final year students working with juniors three years younger on the same survey or same project hand-in-hand. I've seen some of the timid juniors to go on to become great leaders because they believed in the cause.

The CRY journey defined me who I am today. The internship laid the foundation of my belief, as Paulo Coelho said in The Alchemist, "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." It got only stronger as the determination of CRY IIT Kharagpur volunteers led to the achievement of feats others couldn't even imagine. The journey taught me dealing with situations - from handling disappointments to directing energy of the team to fruitful direction. Last but not the least, the CRY family brought me some of my closest friends, who made the journey ever so wonderful and memorable. Today, I take pride in seeing the socially responsible leaders of tomorrow, juniors bursting with enthusiasm, taking great initiatives and taking this baby to newer heights.

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