The Reading Habit is a Leading Habit – Random Forays by Vivek Atray

In this visually expressive era, with video inputs fast becoming the norm rather than the exception in everyday life, those who adopt the reading habit clearly have the edge over others.
Youngsters who have read books while growing up and older people who continue to do so are markedly different in their thinking and easy to recognise these days. A rare bird is the avid reader who can speak with equal felicity about Wodehouse and Rowlings. Voracious readers constitute a dying breed that needs to be nurtured and quarantined. Such persons may become extinct in the coming decades!
These days we are continually fed videos of global and local happenings on our smart phones, and people are watching whatever they can, little realising that if they are avoiding the written word, they are blundering immensely. Agreed, the value of visual content cannot be undermined to any extent, so powerfully graphic is its potential. What one views is easy to relate to and appreciate, one way or another. But how many videos can you watch of people playing silly pranks on each other? They may entertain, but they do no more than that.
In the scurried existence of the digital era, Youtube and TV channels as well as social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp are streaming videos at us left right and centre. It is only the discerning user who is able to stave off most of such feed and spend quality time living his life. Reading, on the other hand, even on digital platforms, gives us a calmer and steadier series of thought generating inputs.
Language in its written form provides the sort of canvas that the realm of videos cannot quite match. Many people are heard opining that a particular book was much better than its celluloid version. What was missing in the silver screen version was perhaps the romantic or poignant descriptiveness that the author was able to bring out in the printed version. A film maker may wow his audience with his craft, skill and imagery. But he or she has little opportunity to go into absolute detail in a 2 hour film and portray each nuance of the protagonist’s persona to his heart’s content, which an author can well do in a book.
The written word verily has a place in every field of human endeavour. Leaders who read more stand out in the corporate world and in government. They are not only well informed but also have a cogent and well thought out point of view on most subjects. The top honcho of any organisation can easily be found out and exposed if he does not possess in depth understanding of his organisation’s processes, which can only come by reading about them.
The intricacies of an economic crisis cannot be understood by watching a television debate. One has to read about the issues involved in depth, in order to get to the heart of the matter. However, endless rummaging of newspapers alone does not give one the edge in life. The reading of well researched books or blogs written by renowned authorities gives one insight unparalleled.
Digital reading is here to stay, but discerning forays into the ocean of verbiage that exists online are required. One has to know which pages to access and which ones to leave aside. Subscribing to endless numbers of digital channels will not help.
But the sheer charm of sitting in a garden, an old classic in hand- its pages shrivelled with time- just cannot be matched. And then shutting one’s eyes, to ponder over what one has just read, perhaps even snoozing over it! As Edmund Burke said, ‘Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.’
Families that encourage their young ones to fall in love with the written word are doing the right thing by them. Several youngsters are enamoured with creative writing too these days, and that is a great sign. Writing is perhaps an even more fascinating pursuit than reading, but the two are intricately linked.
Benjamim Franklin had this bit of unforgettable advice for us- ‘Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing!’

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Emotional Intelligence and the Law of Success- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Most of us go about life focussing on our own problems, our own goals and our own happiness. While this way of thinking is rather natural for most human beings, people with superior emotional intelligence seem to centre their thoughts on others and the bigger picture of life. Peter Stark puts it rather starkly when he says “Emotional Intelligence is when you finally realise, it’s not all about you!”
The possession of qualities like empathy and balance is an essentiality if one is to find and retain that elusive inner peace. And clearly it is the individual who retains that calm in the face of turbulent times, who finally wins the battle of life.
Daniel Goleman, the guru of emotional intelligence, declared that social skills-managing relationships and building rapport with others- are vital to our effectiveness. He declared that emotional intelligence is a much more likely predictor of success than IQ.
A recent crisis situation at a local high school tested the leadership qualities of the principal in no uncertain terms. Three of the dozen students who’d gone trekking to the faraway hills were missing and their phones were inaccessible. The local police had swung into action but the parents of the children were worried to the extreme, as there was no news of their wards.
The principal could gauge that the situation was about to explode, as tempers were rising in her room, and understandably so. She held her calm though, and through her own sensible words and deeds, by being quietly effective, she was able to instil in the parents a sense of belief.
And when the much awaited call came, late into the night, the room erupted in joy. The young ones had been found, and were hale and hearty. And one of the parents was effusive in her gratitude.
“Ma’am it was you who gave us the confidence to have faith in the face of uncertainty!”
Leaders, who are able to transmit that quiet confidence into their team, and maintain a solid unshakeable demeanour, are more than likely to win all round praise. A shaky ‘sheikh’ may not make for a natural captain, whereas a humane and cheerful boss is always the crowd favourite.
“When we focus on others, our world expands”, states Goleman.
The quality of our interactions with others-our people skills- become important, particularly in a largely automated world. With lifestyles being dominated increasingly by technology, most people find it difficult to interact effectively with human beings, although they are very adept at handling gadgets!
Mike Brearley, former England skipper, was said to have a ‘degree in people’ and thus played and won far more Test matches than he would have on batting merit alone. His ability to extract the best from temperamental geniuses like Ian Botham meant that England was able to win 17 Test Matches and lost only 4 under his stewardship.
Successful people have the emotional intelligence to understand that life is not about self-centredness but demands an ability and willingness to appreciate others and retain their calmness in all situations.
A brilliant techie would thus do well to look around and enhance his understanding of human situations, by raising the levels of his connectivity with not-so-skilled others. A scientist who excels at robotics, for example, must also possess the pizzazz to raise his hand when able bodied individuals are needed in an emergency like a road accident.
That hazy and unfathomable goal of ‘success’ becomes clearer to the person who smells the earth after the rains and realises that he may never feel as happy as he just did, even if he accumulates all the wealth and fame that the world has to offer.
Test tubes or mathematical units cannot be used to measure success anyway. The quantum of success is unidentifiable. Even public acclaim cannot be a concrete parameter, so fleeting it is. We may feel successful and content at having achieved only moderate goals in life, or totally dissatisfied despite having conquered the world.
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the Autobiography of a Yogi, has the last word. “It is what you have attained within that determines your success”

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Governments Are The Greatest Entertainers- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Arun Shourie writes in his book on governance, of how a tiny statured individual joins a government job but cannot sit comfortably. His chair is too high and his feet do not touch the ground, you see! He asks around for a foot stool and is told that he would have to write out a note with a requisition. On doing so he is bombarded with a series of queries by the Finance Cell asking him in writing just how he was managing till now, what are the precedents and whether a budget provision had been made for the purpose!
On sending a detailed reply with complete justification he hopes that he would finally be presented with the prized object, but he has no idea of what lies in store. He has to send an endless series of responses over the next few weeks, and predictably, the foot stool remains a utopian mirage. Eventually he realises that the file in question has become so thick that it would fit the bill very well, and he duly plonks it onto the floor in front of his chair!
Yes, Governments are serious organisations, with public welfare usually being their stated objective, but they are also great entertainers, especially for the observant amused onlooker.
I have had occasion to delve deep into governance mechanisms and have discovered a whole bunch of quaint oddities that need to be shared in these columns with the discerning reader and perhaps in a book some day!
Firstly, the ubiquitous file, which is spelt with the same letters as ‘life’, and ends up being exactly that for all sarkari types. Files provide humour unparalleled at times. Spelling howlers and grammatical mistakes are the norm rather than the exception. Thus the word ‘snacks’ often becomes ‘snakes’ on a file of the Hospitality Department, and the word ‘institution’ often becomes ‘intuition’ on any file.
Secondly, the frequency of meetings is so high, that one becomes aware of certain patterns about them. Thus, some meetings are just for the sake of formality, and everyone goes through the motions. Others are high voltage affairs with a pre-planned assault on a particular officer being the main objective. Yet another type is the largely attended day-long marathon, with lunch provided for to satiate appetites, and everyone nodding off in turns, when they are not in the firing line.
Thirdly, the large numbers of holidays, including anniversaries of personalities one has scarcely heard of, are a source of mirth to friends and family. Since the corporate world scarcely believes in shutting shop except when absolutely necessary, a lady with a career in the private sector whose husband works for the government is sure to crib about the ease of doing ‘business’ on the other side!
Random incidents from years bygone come to mind and inspire a chuckle even today. Once I was driving a gypsy as a young SDM with the DSP seated beside me and a posse of constables at the back. We were on a tense mission and the road was dark. Spotting an unusual switch I pressed it on reflex, wondering what it was for. The very loud sound of ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ emanated suddenly from a speaker, and loud guffaws followed, thereby easing the atmosphere a great deal, and reminding us of Raveena Tandon instead of the criminals we were looking for!
On another occasion we were waiting for a Minister at Pinjore Gardens with bouquets in hand, when we were told that the said Minister would not be coming. A cop ran up just then to inform us that the Governor had decided to stop over on the way back from Shimla. And without any further ado, His Excellency’s cavalcade zoomed in towards us. As he alighted from his car, the Governor spotted the flowers in our hands, at the ready, and showered praise on us for being so swift in welcoming him. We handed them to him silently, of course, not wanting to burst his bubble!
Yes, there are several glum faced people in government and they always appear so. If only they knew how effortlessly entertaining they are!

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Love’s Unique Avatar in These Frenetic Times- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Love has always been a “many-splendoured” thing; but has it lost some sheen in recent decades? The whole concept of romantic love centres around the fact that it requires quality time to be spent with the loved one. In recent times, however, time of any sort of quality has become the rarest of commodities.
Our grandparents would vividly recall each moment of their “courtship” (which happened after they were already married!) Those were the days when even a lone instance of the meeting of eyes was considered momentous. There was hardly any opportunity in that era for them to lay their eyes, let alone their hands, on each other before wedlock!

There are even stories of just one glimpse, just one fleeting gaze, just one little look, which made the heart flutter for decades thereafter.

Our parents were not really much better off. They too were excessively shielded from the (supposedly potentially scandalous) influence of the opposite sex. There were some smiles exchanged in college perhaps, and a few love letters here and there, but no real contact. Love was more about pining for the other, about longing and yearning.

Then came a phase when our society became somewhat more permissive. Holding hands was no longer a “sacrilegious” act, even in public. Thus when our generation was “at it”, so to say, we could really plunge into romance headlong. Romance bloomed, especially in urban areas. Dates meant day long outings with no mobile phones to bother about. We could really spend quality love time with our respective beloveds.

The sheer sense of independence that came with being bold enough to date someone without bindings was short-lived though. The smart phone put paid to all such states of unfettered existence. Nowadays those long hours of gazing into each other’s eyes have been replaced by long hours of gazing into mobiles! The result is that the mode of expression of love has been altered irreversibly. There is no longer the unhindered drive to the hills or the uninterrupted walk along the lake side. A distant aunt or a long-lost friend will always call just when a young couple are about to declare undying love for each other!

Personal letters of course became passé years ago. Only a rare charmer writes long-hand love notes these days. The act of writing and then tearing up a letter, and then re-writing it, while biting one’s nails, may seem filmy, but it used to happen!

Our movies too reflect our changed mores of loving. A sense of matter-of-factness has replaced emotional and sensuous love in most of them. Jumping into bed together has become the norm rather than the exception for heroes and heroines, with very little left to the imagination. The charm of ‘what could have been!’ seems to have been lost somewhere along the road.

Unrequited love has been a subject of much analysis by litterateurs and film-makers alike. Even in “The Great Gatsby”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby loves Daisy to the point of madness, but it is not to be! The best line from the book is perhaps this: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”

In Hindi cinema, examples of love that could not be abound, right from the times of Pyasa to Ek Duje ke Liye. Current films somehow reflect a business-like sense of love. While it is surely true that young lovers feel very deeply about each other even today, the cake seems to have been taken out of the pudding somehow, with only the icing left to taste.

As Emily Bronte put it, so majestically, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same!”

The whole concept of love is thus about soulful feeling and heartfelt magnetism. But our whole existence has become peripheral in a way, with our spans of attention being the greatest sufferers. We feel anchorless at times.

Divine love seems to be the only recourse then. God does not seem to be in a hurry to hear from us, but it may be a good idea to write a letter in pen and ink to Him once in a while!

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The Need to Educate the Educators- Random Forays by Vivek Atray

“There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other, how to live”, said John Adams, and he had a point. The real purpose of educating young minds in their growing up years seems to have been eclipsed somewhere along the road.
The Gurukul system of yore was practical and inspiring. Even a few decades ago, teachers would take pride in their profession and many of them were deeply revered by their students. Often, in the classrooms of the present era, information and rote learning have become the main objectives. Inspiration and life skills have taken a back seat.
The individuals who exit the hallways of institutions of learning nowadays are thus well equipped with skills related to number-crunching or software coding, but they know little about life itself.
Teachers have somehow lost the motivation to make a mark in the hearts of their students. They tend to treat their job like any other office goer does, little realising that in their case they are preparing the future of humanity. Every word that they say matters, every anecdote has the potential to inspire, and every rousing lecture is worth its weight in gold.
Aristotle hit the bulls eye centuries ago. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, he emphasised.
A school teacher (from the old school!) who retired after 35 fulfilling years found out one day what really matters in life. Standing at a buzzing railway station one evening awaiting his train he found a young couple striding up to him accompanied by a pair of toddlers.
“Sir”, said the young lady, “I’m so delighted to meet you today. It’s been years! I must tell you that you inspired me no end as my class teacher.” And as she proudly introduced the elderly gentleman to her husband and wide eyed kids, there was a tear in his eye. He realised that the real earning of his life was not the salary and pension that he earned, but the goodwill that he had generated amongst hundreds of youngsters over the decades.
Unfortunately, our system has been encouraging sheer numbers over real qualities and raw marks over refined knowledge. Thus while teaching shops and tuition centres thrive, high school students are loath to even attend regular school. The goal of securing admission in top institutions and then careers in blue chip companies usually obfuscates the true purpose of education and even life!
Thus men and women who graduate into the real world from our portals of learning are usually not ready for it. And the reason is usually the example set by parents and teachers. The latter have not found motivation enough to instil in the youth the values and balanced qualities that they need to tackle their future with wherewithal and grace.
Also, it is well known that teaching is not one of the sought after careers these days. Thus there is a need to glamourise and propel to the forefront the supposedly namby-pamby role of being a teacher! This can be done inter alia by improving incentives for true performers and laying emphasis on quality over statistics in teaching assessments.
And once top drawer professionals start making a beeline for teaching as a career option, the scenario would certainly change. In a country of India’s vastness this is easier said than done, but endless dithering will never get us anywhere.
The example of hundreds of well placed young pros who have spent a couple of years at the “Teach for India” or “Make a Difference” programmes, not with the aim of earning money, but to educate the underprivileged, is path breaking.
What is needed is to utilise to the fullest the Faculty Development Programmes that most institutions run these days. Then, if an educator wakes up in the morning with burning zeal within him or her, even 15 years after being in the teaching line, will the real objective be attained.
Without that kind of fire within them today’s educators will never appreciate what Robert Frost meant when he said so beautifully, “I am not a teacher but an awakener!”

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Six Minutes for Parents with Vivek Atray

Parents! Please keep your calmness intact and bolster your kids by staying positive…

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Six Minutes for Students with Vivek Atray

Students! Be calm and positive! Life is about inner peace…

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The Champion Does Not Ask, “Why Me”? Random Forays by Vivek Atray

The Titans are falling, one by one. In recent years several gigantic personalities, the latest one being Vinod Khanna, have left us for their heavenly abodes. Some megastars have, in a way, been a part of our very existence but have departed in quick succession.
Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Manna Dey, Nanda, Sadhana, Suchitra Sen, Feroz Khan, to name a few, left us in recent years, to leave an immense void in Bollywood.
The legendary Amitabh Bachchan has been writing with sensitivity and emotion about his former co-stars who have been leaving the firmament. His latest blog post is on Vinod Khanna and includes tales of how Khanna would offer Bachchan a ride in his car, and would generally look after the tall gangling new comer, since the former was an already established star in the early nineteen seventies. Bachchan’s post on Khanna includes a telling tribute- “No one walked the way he did…no one had the presence he had in a crowded room…no one could lighten up the surroundings he was in, like him…no one.”
The mutual respect that such towering figures have for each other and the warmth which they exude in each other’s company inspires their followers to act likewise. It is not easy to be a renowned celebrity, and be unable to partake of the plethora of flavours that life offers the ordinary individual. Thus going out for a walk or run can be a project for a film star or sports star, as we can well imagine.
And when the time comes for them to be treated for ailments that are bound to beset each human being in his or her later years, celebrities find themselves being scrutinised by public glare, even on their hospital beds. Privacy has never been an easily attainable domain for them, but at the closing stages of life, when the curtain is about to come down, they surely deserve some.
Thus society at large and the media in particular would do well to exercise restraint and grace in posting pictures of such icons in states of frail health, or of anyone else actually. Updates and brief reports of an ailing beloved star’s medical condition should suffice.
Another important lesson for us mere mortals to learn from some champions is – how to tackle illness with fortitude and grace. The most inspiring story is that of Arthur Ashe who, in 1975, became the first black player to win Wimbledon. Years later when he became terminally ill, he received fan mail from across the world, wondering why he was the one to be afflicted so critically by the disease. Ashe famously responded by stating that when he was the one to win Wimbledon from amongst millions of tennis players, thousands of them professionals, and when he held the coveted trophy aloft giddily at the hallowed centre court, he never asked God, “Why me?” What right did he have in his moment of despair to ask the Lord, “Why me?”
As I write these lines, typing away at my laptop, seated in a popular cafe, with the younger world zipping around me, I realise that the sooner we learn the true lesson of life, the better. The moment we stop asking “Why me?” whenever something goes wrong, we are elevated to an entirely different level of subsistence.
The real champions of life are the ones who can hold their own in the face of adversity and not crib constantly about being down in the dumps. Life is a roller coaster, but even when its final chapters are being unfurled, as they must be one day, it is a sense of thankfulness which keeps us aloft.
Langston Hughes said, “Life is for the living, death is for the dead. Let life be like music, and death a note unsaid…”
Mark Twain, of course, had the most erudite way of putting things in perspective. He said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time…”
Indeed, while we watch our idols leave the stage in sequence, we would do well to live life just as fulsomely as they have done.

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Daughters Are Love-Filled Blessings! Random Forays by Vivek Atray

Those of us who have daughters- and I am blessed have two of them- know just how priceless and beautiful their love is. A home with daughters is a home of joy and laughter, of care and giving.
As the son of parents who also had two daughters, I often wondered while growing up whether I could ever be as loving as my sisters were. I wasn’t exactly an enfant terrible but I certainly did not have the sensitivity or empathy towards my parents that my sisters did.
Men can indeed be emotionally intelligent beings and some can be outstanding examples of humanitarian values, but women clearly have the edge in the ‘feelings’ department, and there is no point in the male of the species disputing that fact!
I often discuss with my wife, Neena, the fact that our two girls have grown up so suddenly and matured so quickly. They leave us spellbound at times with the manner in which they speak and carry themselves. We also marvel at how understanding they are of family values and issues; how early in their lives they were able to contribute to conversations at home which usually would have required a ‘grown-up’ perspective.
So much so, a stage has now been reached when our girls actually advise their folks about this and that, instead of it being the other way round. Some of the lighter aspects of this counselling concern our dress-sense, especially mine, and the movies that we should watch. In earlier times we would be very careful about which films to show them, as all parents are. These days they go and watch new releases with their friends and then tell us which ones are ‘suitable’ for their dad and mom!
Thus the normal dinner-table banter at home revolves around how ‘funny’ Mamma and Papa are! They tease us fondly and we often laugh at our own inanities. A game of scrabble or an episode of ‘Friends’, for which the four of us settle down after supper, bring us much family-time bliss.
A report from The Telegraph confirms the fact that homes with two daughters are the most harmonious sort and are usually happiness permeated. The said research does not imply that sons scuttle happiness with ease, but the general trend is evident.
The learnings from daughters for us parents are also tremendous. The millennial of today actually thinks of others much more than some of us used to when we were growing up. Thus I often find myself being mildly chastised by the three ladies at home for being ‘insensitive’ towards a lesser privileged person. I used to think of myself as being rather high on the Emotional Quotient scale, but I have had a re-think of late!
The efforts of the Government as well as several other organisations to challenge the age-old mindset which favours male progeny in our society have started showing results. But even today most young couples who have a daughter first up, secretly long for a son thereafter due to societal norms and pressures.
Indeed the unseemly bias in our society towards the male child has still not sufficiently eroded and it is only through large scale counselling of families as a whole that results may be achieved. Outstanding young women who are achievers in their own right will have to be roped in to tour the hinterland and spend time with communities to inform them that this is the year 2017 and the world has recognised that girls are just as good as or better than boys!
The number of women centric seminars that are held regularly- ‘Women’s contribution to the Economy’ for example- actually strengthen the notion that their parity with men is still a far cry. Who has ever heard of a Seminar on the theme of ‘Men and Industrialisation’?!
Be that as it may, let us all consciously feel the glow of the loving ladies in our families, let us appreciate their warmth and let us learn to value their love.
A popular quote could not have been truer. “All my life’s problems have just one simple solution- a hug from my daughter!”

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Sense and Sensibility On Our Roads – Random Forays

“The 6 o’clock Test” is something that I often flag during my motivational talks. I ask respondents to declare honestly in public whether they would stop their vehicle at a red light at 6 a.m. if no one were watching.
Surprisingly, most of them announce (with full transparency) the fact that they are prone to being dishonest that early in the morning, whether they are headed to the railway station or to a Yoga class!
What exactly happens to perfectly genteel people when they hit the road? Seething bouts of road rage are often the result of the tiniest of scratches, life-long enmities or even loss of life are the outcomes of rashness on the part of perfectly sensible people, who just lose their collective cool on the road for some unfathomable reason.
Statistics tell us that in India’s northern States alone approximately 11,000 people lose their lives every annum in road accidents. These numbers are not as high in other regions of the country, but there is definitely a malaise pan-India that needs to be controlled.
Two-wheelers and make-shift tractor-trolleys account for a large number of these accidents with drivers of cars, buses and trucks being almost equally culpable. One note-worthy aspect of the cause of these mishaps is that many of them are likely to happen at certain black-spots which dot the region. Minor engineering modifications and adjustments can help avoid many of them, and States really need to gear up in this regard.
The couldn’t-care-less attitude which typifies us Indians at times is also a major factor. Vehicle users are willing to dart in from nowhere and risk serious danger in order to save a few minutes along the way, at times with tragic results.
The really shocking aspect is that the race to reach home or wherever is often propelled by a TV serial that one loves, or some equally frivolous aim.
An experiment was carried out in some parts of the country to try and alter the mindsets of the bus drivers a few years ago. A picture of the driver’s family was compulsorily affixed near the dashboard, so that the man would think many a time while overtaking rashly, or speeding up alarmingly. To what extent it worked is not known, but it may be worth trying for some people.
Drunken driving is of course a phenomenon that just has not been curbed. Although the number of challans, fines and even arrests in related matters has gone up appreciably, many fatal accidents are still caused by inebriated drivers.
One way to force people to think a hundred times before driving under the influence of liquor could be to get their children to carry the message home. Some communities have tried this with outstanding results. Parents, particularly fathers who used to risk a drunken drive, have vowed never to do so again, ever since their little ones got after them!
There is also a need to make reflectors compulsory for all bicycles and unmotorised movable objects on our roads. Huge carriers of hay etc. are regularly found impeding traffic on highways and they often prove to be the reasons for mishaps.
Another really serious trend is that road users are increasingly being distracted by their phones and risking lives. Texting has been reported to be even more dangerous than speaking on the cell phone. Many have lost their lives due to the disastrous decision to use their phones while driving.
The question which arises is whether we realise the gravity of our acts when we are on the road; perhaps not. In India it is said that vehicle owners must not only avoid their own mistakes while driving but must earnestly be on the lookout for others who are liable to err.
On a lighter but still alarming note, amorous couples are known to forget road-watching altogether, leading to calamitous situations. According to an internet quote, Albert Einstein of all people said “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl, is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves!”
But road safety is ultimately a really serious matter and we may shrug it off only at our peril!

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