Things they don’t tell you about your Disney program

P. S. This post was written at Orlando airport when I was heading back home, to Mumbai, India, after having spent 13 months at Walt Disney World, Florida. I started crying before I got to the airport and cried almost all the way home. This has probably shown in the piece in the form of typos and grammatical errors.
Walt Disney World (WDW) hires a few thousand American and international students/young graduates to work at their theme parks and resorts for either one year or a semester, so as to add to the diversity on property as well as to provide these youngsters the opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected to do one such program, the Cultural Representative Program (CRP), at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) theme park. My job included talking to people about my country, sharing my culture and telling stories from my life to the thousands of guests that came to the park. When the opportunity came to me, I was looking for a gap year. I needed a year off to travel and step outside my comfort zone. I took it up and now, here I am, a whole new person!

When I interviewed with Disney’s recruitment team, they promised me and all the other applicants that this year will be the stepping stone in our careers that we are looking for. Working for one of the biggest companies in the world would add value to our CV like nothing else. And it sure did! But there’s a lot that they didn’t tell us. I’m only listing some of those things below.

Things they don’t tell you about your Disney Program:

They don’t tell you that this program will teach you more about the world, cultures and people that any textbook ever will! When I was being interviewed, I was asked what was the one thing I was looking to take back from this program. I said friends from across the world so that I could go visit them and travel the world in that process. I got all that and more! I found family; family in pockets of Europe, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Asia. You will meet and even share room with strangers who will go on to becoming the most important people in your life. Over the year, I shared room with girls from South Africa, Canada, Peru, USA and China. This taught me that no matter where we are from, we have more in common with people from other cultures that we think. They don’t tell you you that over the time you spend on the program, you will become lesser judgmental and more accepting of different ways of life. In the process, you’ll also pick up phrases (mainly cuss words) in multiple languages. My list includes Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, German and Portuguese. Living in that kind of cultural diversity and speaking to people about your country all day long will also make you immensely proud of it. I probably learned way more about my country in the one year that I was at Disney than I did in the 22 years that I lived in there. I’ve never been prouder of India than I was while speaking to guests about her and celebrating Indian festivals at Disney.

They don’t tell you that your patience levels will increase many fold. People on vacation are the most difficult people to deal with. Anyone who has ever dealt with a Brazilian tour group at any point will know exactly what I’m talking about. They don’t tell you that this program will teach you more about what not to do and how not to behave, thanks to all the people watching you’ll do, when in the parks. If your job doesn’t include talking to people, the College Program (CP) buses will teach you patience. Oh sweet Jungle bus! Sigh.  The program is waaayyy more frustrating than you’ll ever think it to be. This is also why we have the best parties!

They don’t tell you that you’ll go nuts trying to figure out abbreviations. Disney looooovess abbreviations. The first month of my program was spend trying to figure out what MK, DAK, ICP, CRP, CP, DHS, ADO, RDO, FH, EPCOT, CM and all the many others stand for. As if these aren’t enough, there are radio codes! 101, 102, 103, 10-4, 10-9, Signal 70, Signal V and what not!

They don’t tell you that you will perpetually be poor. Thursday (payday) will be the most important day of your week. How you spend your week will depend on Thursday, unless you’re a server. In that case, you’re rich. Be prepared to be broke and in anticipation on the next Thursday throughout your program.

They don’t tell you that Disney will spoil you rotten. Who else gets to spend one whole year in the parks!! Through the course of my program, I met innumerable people who told me that they had saved up for years to vacation at Disney and here we would go to parks almost everyday post work, just to watch the fireworks or eat funnel cakes or ride the tower of terror just to take a specific kind of picture on the ride. They don’t tell you that Disney has a lot more than just the parks – The resorts, the golf courses, Downtown Disney!! And all these spaces have their own hidden gems. My personal favourite was Jellyrolls, a piano bar at Disney’s Boardwalk resort.

As much fun as it sounds, they don’t tell you that your job will drain the life out of you. If your job is anything like mine was, it will include standing for 8 hours outdoors, in that burning Florida sun. The job includes talking with people (most of whom lack people’s skills) all day long. It’s tiring. Florida summers will be your worst nightmare come true. And after a long day at work, you’re most likely to hop on to the party bus, have a mad night and then go to work on two hours of sleep. You’ll know exhaustion like never before.

They don’t tell you how much you’ll miss everything about the program once you’re done with it. As my cousin, who has been on the program before, puts it; Mickey will be that ex-boyfriend you can never stop thinking about. The whole idea of going back to reality from the happiest place on earth is the worst feeling ever! Goodbyes are the most heartbreaking. And there will be at least one such goodbye every month. You make friends from all over and when it’s time for either them or you to leave, it will crush your heart! These, till then, were the most important people in your life and you don’t know when you’ll see them next or ever see them at all. Sure, social media is great but it will never be the same.

They don’t tell you that this is going to be the best year of your life!
They don’t tell you to live up. You are probably never going to be a part of such an international crowd ever again. Somewhere between chugging four lokos, flipping cups and cheering for your Happy Monday team, you’ll realise that these nights are never going to come back. Value every guest you meet, every magical moment you create, every time a child hugs you and says that you were the best part of his/her Disney vacation. Do all the rides multiple times, go eating and drinking around the world as often as you can, check out every single 105 with your girls (attractions cast members will know what I’m talking about), stock up on every souvenir you lay your eyes on, stay in the resorts, go pin trading, explore Disney Dining; do it while it lasts. While you’re in the states, make friends and travel with them. Gamble in Vegas, party like there’s no tomorrow in Miami, get lost in the Grand Canyon, walk the crazy streets of 5th Ave NYC, go to Disneyland in California, eat great southern food in New Orleans, watch the Aurora Borealis in Alaska, take a cruise to the Bahamas; do it all! It’s all way more fun to do with someone who comes from halfway around the world as you and speaks a totally different language. Take loads of photographs! With the castle, with Mickey, with friends, other cast members, guests you want to remember, eating the Mickey ice cream bar. Create and collect memories, enough memories to hang on to for the rest of your life. You’re never going to live the Disney life again.





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Bring back the hippies!

The Vietnam War was undoubtedly one of the deadliest wars fought in the 20th century. The 1960s, a time when the war was at it’s peak, was also a time when television had made it’s entry into the houses of people. The influx of television in the lives of people and the birth of war journalism and photojournalism slowly started changing people’s opinion about the war. The blood and gore that people saw in their homes along with the reports of the loss of millions of lives from the war started an anti-Vietnam War protest in the United States. People came out on the streets in thousands and pressurised the American government to withdraw troops from Vietnam and stop the violence.

This was a time when a unique cult of youngsters following a subculture began to form. These youngsters started moving out of the cities to live on their own. This was a cult that rebelled against society and societal restrictions, to ‘find new meaning in life’. This cult rebelled against consumerism. This cult rebelled against war. They rebelled against mainstream organised religion. While many of them discarded the idea of religion and continued their search for spirituality, some embraced Eastern religions. This cult believed in the idea of free love. They believed in the idea of communal living. The members of this slowly evolving cult dressed up noticeably different as compared to the rest of the society. They wore bright colours, glaring contrasts, ornate lettering, symmetrical compositions, rubber-like distortions and psychedelic imagery. They found escape in rock music. They renounced alcohol but endorsed drug use, believing that LSD and cannabis expand your consciousness and help you find consciousness and ecstasy from within. They believed in travelling across lands with little or no belongings. They questioned the man-made concepts of family, education, economic success and careers. They redefined sexual relations. They disregarded taboos like homosexuality and promiscuity. They offered a new ‘authentic’ lifestyle to all those who wanted to break away from all social norms. This was the hippie cult. Born in The USA in the 1960s, they slowly started spreading across the world.

This cult had its own political ideology. They believed in war being the worst form of capitalism and political power play. They longed to see the world in colour and peace. They believed that the Vietnam War was the hitherto failure of the American democracy.  Many say that this kind of an attitude was the result of the trauma some of their families had gone through in the Vietnam War. The hippies went to all extents to show their longing for world peace. Music was a major form of expressing dissent for the hippies. The 1960s and the early 1970s was in fact a time the world witnessed some of its best music. This era also gave the world some unparalleled music festivals. Woodstock, Altamont, anyone? Even the biggest music festivals in the world are struggling to meet those standards today.

The hippies believed in an unusual sense of freedom, which to many who weren’t a part of the cult, seemed as an effect of the drugs that these hippies endorsed. They believed in non violence, honesty, joy, open relationships and mysticism. To society, however, hippies were a counter culture that indulged in crime and were low on morals.

Sadly, this peace loving cult saw it’s dying down in the early 1970s. By the 1970s, much of the hippie culture had been passed on into the mainstream culture. An entire generation of neo-hippies was formed. A generation that joined this cult only for the glamour of it. As a result of this, hippie fashion and the drug culture was passed on but the ideology was lost. Even today, hippie fashion is very much alive and brings millions of dollars to the fashion industry, globally; but the purpose of global peace is lost.

Also, with technology starting to make it’s way into the lives of people, it was becoming impossible for those of the hippie cult to live with complete disconnect from society.

Even though the term hippie had a very derogatory connotation for the average American in the 60s and the 70s, the hippie cult managed to leave it’s influence on society.

However naïve one may find the hippie ideology of ‘free love’ and ‘make love, not war’, one must understand that this was the generation that produced birth-control pills, fought for feminism, queer rights, the liberation and idealism of the civil rights movement and questioned capitalism. The hippie movement could be considered as a serious attempt to attain utopian socialism. This cult actually followed pacifism and participated in all kind of non violent methods of bringing about world peace.

Mystic or utopian, whatever it is perceived as, in today’s world of widespread violence, war, communal hatred, sexism, politics governed by vested interests and exploitation, bring back the hippies, I say!

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Considered the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, Palestine has always been the centre for religion, culture and a long, interesting history. Palestine has been ruled by innumerous foreign powers including the Egyptians, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Sunni Arab Caliphates, Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans and the British. Since ancient times, Palestine was a hub of politics and economics. A region so rich in history and culture started witnessing it’s downfall post the second world war.

After the Second World War, Britain was still in conflict with the Jewish community. The Jewish parliamentary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine had launched an armed struggle against the British. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jews from Europe, all the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust needed to be given refuge, away from their destroyed past in Europe. In mid 1948, after the official end…

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Time to change, India?

All this happening in our country at the moment, not cool at all. An entire section of the population, almost 50% feel unsafe, not knowing what will happen of them once they step out of their homes, not that they are entirely safe within their homes either. A woman brutally gang raped in Delhi, a woman ‘mistakenly’ attacked by a sickle by a man in Mumbai in broad day light, a woman in West Bengal was raped and set on fire, a 20 year old set on fire over a Dowry dispute. Apart from these few cases that managed to make headlines, countless stories of molestation, acid attacks, infanticide, domestic violence, dowry deaths, blackmail, assault and violence continue to haunt women.

A very unfortunate, brutal gang rape took place in Delhi earlier this week. In spite of the much talked about Gujarat elections that took place around the same time, the results of which could probably determine the next Prime Minister of India, we need to give it to the media to have stuck to giving a good amount of footage to the Delhi case. But soon, the media seemed to be doing what they do best; getting random people on their panel discussions to scream pointlessly at each other, going to any extent for the sake of TRPs. One news channel actually got the mother of a rape victim to ‘share her experience’ with their viewers. And then of course, we have opinion leaders and opinion makers who go out in the open and say that rapes happen because of the influence of ‘The West’. Some also go to the extent of saying, that rapes happen because of eating ‘Chowmien’. While others say that rapes take place because men and women interact freely. And the authorities of course, play the blame game. The opposition blames the ruling party, the ruling party blames the police, the police blames the courts, the courts blame the citizens… I mean, WHAT THE FUCK!

However, one positive outcome of whatever the media is doing is the kind of outrage it has managed to generate among the people, hopefully all of that not being short lived. Today, as I type, thousands of people, youngsters, more or less my age, are protesting in Delhi. Brilliant, I say, and not sarcastically at all. My only problem with these protesters is that they all appear with candles when things go wrong, but when it’s time to vote, they conveniently say ‘Arrey ksiko vote kare? Sabhi toh chor hai!’ As these protests were happening in Delhi, a woman was publicly stripped and gang raped in Tripura. PUBLICLY! Most of these people who watched all the ‘tamasha’ are the ones most likely to go and attend the next candle light march to protest this kind of an act. The country has seen similar protests and agitations in the past; post terror attacks, to get rid of corruption, to tackle the reservation issue and what not. And then, the government comes out with a set of template promises to ‘set up a commission’  and ‘probe into the matter’ and ‘suspend all those involved’ and God alone knows what. And what happens then? We believe them. And they do nothing.

Thousands of people protested today. And not one ‘elected representative’ showed them any respect. Not one came out and showed the decency to speak to them. Not one! Instead, the cops attacked the crowds with lathis and tear gas. And our Home Minister came out and spoke to the media hours after all that drama and promised to take action against those few cops that violently attacked the crowds. This is what the Home Minister had to say, apart from of course, the template promises; very conveniently digressing from the main issue. His statement diverted the entire media attention that was being showered at the protests all of today. The media is now talking about the cops suspended. The media is doing it’s job of course, I would say without being too cynical of it. Being a media student myself, I understand how difficult it is to broadcast news 24/7 without irritating (or trying to irritate) the viewers with the same news over and over again.

I am not against protests, in fact I will happily be joining the next one to be held in Mumbai. My problem is with the way we deal with the matter. My problem is protesting and then forgetting about it. My problem is not tackling the problem ourselves. My problem is with the people who rant and rant, update Facebook statuses, change display pictures to black dots as a ‘sign of protest’ and then go to Lonavala when it’s time to vote.

But all that aside, I do not want to politicize this  issue of crimes against women. It is something that has existed in our country irrespective of the people in power. Of course we should have more stringent laws. Of course the guilty need to be punished without any waste of time. I strongly believe that those who torture, should be tortured in return. Those who rape must be castrated. Do it the ancient Greek way, I would say, crush their testicles using two stones. Those who attack a woman with acid, need to be attacked with acid in return. Those who kill need to be sentenced. Extremely strong views, i know. But hell yeah! Mind you, I am not a die hard feminist. And this is not a ‘women’s’ issue. It’s human rights, God damnit! Whereas talking about the human rights of the guilty, I believe they lose their human rights, the very minute they violate someone else’s. But this of course is entirely my opinion. You are free to differ.

One thing about the way this issue was dealt with that completely blew my lid, was the way it was dealt with in the Parliament. Only women leaders reacted strongly towards the issue. Didn’t the men find it to be a case serious enough to be spoken about? Or is it that the men in Parliament only speak when the debate involves ‘much serious issues’ like the FDI and the Quota Bill? Also, most of the panelists on news channel debates were mostly women. Of course, there were a few men, but mostly women. Why is the media also propagating this as a women’s issue? Just yesterday, a certain news channel came to our college to take our opinions and views on the rape case ‘because we were a women’s college and they wanted to see what the women felt about this thing our country is going through at the moment’. Shouldn’t  the media be focusing a little more on what the men think about this? I mean, after all, the men are the offenders here and the women, purely the victims.

Apart from all this, as a society it is important for us  to change mindsets. Any number of laws and punishments will not help until the mindsets change. Nothing can change till we uproot patriarchy from our systems. Our laws are partial towards women, the entertainment media portrays women as ‘items’, (I am not against celebrating a woman’s sexuality, but there needs to be a certain grace, a certain dignity in doing so) even the way our mythological stories are told need to be changed. It’s time TV shows stop depicting Sita as the oppressed, voiceless woman. It’s time they stop bringing Draupadi in the picture only when it’s the Vastraharan scene. It is time TV shows stop revolving around stories of the evil saas and the helpless bahu. Even our gaalis degrade the woman, God damnit! Not to say that I don’t use them too often, not quiet possible while driving on the roads of Mumbai. But I do make a conscious effort of avoiding the gaalis that degrade the woman folk.

This will take time, a hell lot of time. But it needs to start somewhere. The Delhi case happened because this didn’t start before. Now is the time. There is still sometime before things get out of hand. Though the geniuses running our country have solutions to this problem that vary from the women folk dressing up ‘better’ to getting the women married off at 15 to shutting down nightclubs at 1 am. In my opinion, nothing will change till we make a small effort. A small effort to teach our little brothers better. A small effort to go out there and cast our vote. A small effort to know our rights. A small effort to stand by another woman while she is being harassed. A small effort to genuinely want to solve the problem rather than just sitting at home and changing display pictures to ‘don’t rape’.


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A crowd of thousands gathered on the streets of Mumbai on Thursday, the 19th of July 2012, to bid adieu to India’s first superstar.

Rajesh Khanna lost his battle to cancer on the 18th of July 2012. His funeral was a rather grand one. His body was taken to the cremation grounds in Vile Parle from his home in Carter Road, Bandra on a truck. The truck was decorated with white flowers and had huge, fully blown up images of Rajesh Khanna from his young days.

What added to the funeral and made it so remarkable were the mourners that mobbed the truck when the body was being carried for cremation. Thousands of fans and admirers gathered on the streets to catch a last glimpse of the superstar. I happened to be crossing Pawan Hans, Vile Parle (probably the closest landmark to the cremation grounds) on the day…

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World over, art is becoming the new language for protesters. In the form of graffiti, cartoons, advertising, morphed and edited photographs, more and more people are showing discontent against governments, superpowers and corporates. Basically, anyone in power. Apart from this, religious beliefs are also a favorite among these ‘protesters’. These ‘protesters’ include anyone and everyone who want to make a change. It is done mainly to make people aware of the reality around them. Art is a convenient yet effective way to raise a voice. It is accessible to one and all. Anyone with an imagination can use art to put forth a message. And if used effectively, it can be used to put forth a message better than any other means.

Messages against the war written on Egyptian prison walls to protest against wars, graffiti against paid media in America, fashion brand advertisements against Hijabization in France, morphed pictures…

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You haven’t had your complete ‘Mumbai experience’ if you haven’t visited Prithvi Theatre. Located in the suburb of Juhu, Prithvi Theatre is probably Mumbai’s friendliest corner.

The theatre is a small one, with a limited capacity. It’s probably this, that makes the theatre so special. Because of the limitation of space, the audiences feel a part of every performance that takes place at Prithvi. ‘This works both in favor of the audience and the performers,’ says Lalit Sathe, the manager of Prithvi Theatre. ‘The performers don’t need to stress their voices. The audiences are right there! Even the light and sound technicians have it easy. They have spacious, well equipped rooms that overlook the entire stage so that they can carry on with their work without goofing up. And for the audiences, from any corner of the theatre, irrespective of which seat they are sitting on, they can see the…

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