destination india

Thursday, September 30, 2004

dealings with new delhi

The visit to Delhi in 1986-87 will remain etched in my memory forever because of a number of reasons.

I had just earned a promotion a few months earlier and was suddenly deputed to participate in an investigation at an Air Force base near Delhi. A Russian specialist would do the investigation; my role was that of a co-coordinator. In those days there used to be a direct flight from Nasik to Bombay – hardly a half an hour flight in a turboprop aircraft. I was authorized to escort the Russian specialist right from Nasik to Delhi and back. I was given to understand that it would be a couple of day’s affair. So, I dumped an additional set of clothes in my attaché and boarded the aero plane. We left Nasik at around 11 in the morning, had our lunch in Bombay and arrived at New Delhi airport in the evening at around eight. It was the middle of summer and 8 pm in Delhi in summer is difficult to tolerate. However, a car was waiting to pick us up. Dropping the Russian at his Hotel Vikram, I went to our Guest House in the Asiad village.

Next morning I picked up my companion from his hotel and, we went to the Air Headquarters for the necessary discussions with Air Force Officers before proceeding to the bases for actual on-the-spot studies. The discussions went on for the better part of the day – as a result, the planned visit to the base did not materialize on the first day. We just drew up an action plan, obtained our entry passes (since we would be entering restricted areas) and dispersed.
The next day, after breakfast, I picked up the specialist and left for Hindon. Situated on the outskirts of New Delhi, it was about an hour’s journey. The car we were traveling in was driven by a young man around twenty years of age. In his enthusiasm to, reach Hindon as early as possible, his foot was always pressed hard on the accelerator and, in order to get the right of way, he would put on the headlights whenever he wanted to overtake the car ahead! All this was too much for my companion. He was terrified. He implored me in broken English to request the driver to control his urge to over speed. ‘I have a little daughter at home,’ he said. ‘I want to go back to her in one piece!’ I relayed his sentiments to the driver who nodded and, did lower the speed – but, only for a few minutes. Again his feet trod on the accelerator….

In this fashion we were forced to spend nearly one month at Delhi shuttling between the Air Force bases at Hindon and Chandigarh and back to Air Headquarters.

My condition was miserable. With only two sets of clothes at my disposal, I was compelled to send one set to the cleaners daily since, the summers in Delhi are noted for perspiration also!! I also ran out of money and had to borrow from our Liaison office, to be adjusted against my final traveling expenses. By the time the investigations were over and we landed back in Bombay, we were both famished. We had some light refreshments at the airport and took a cab straight to our township.

Subsequently, I have visited Delhi a number of times – mostly in January to attend meetings with our Russian counterparts. During these visits, I took time off to take advantage of the local tours conducted by thr Tourism development Corporation. But, the memories of that first visit will never be erased from my memory. I still hear the trembling voice of the Russian – ‘I have a little daughter at home,’ he said. ‘I want to go back to her in one piece!’

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

like father like son

It is a well chronicled fact that the Sun never sets on the British Empire.
It is also said that Japan is ‘the land of the rising Sun’. The Japanese have proved it time and again by their excellence in each and every field.

The Aztecs worshipped the Sun.

We Indians perform the Surya namaskar every day early in the morning to express our gratitude to Suryadev (or the Sun God) for giving us all the ingredients necessary for survival like the air that we breathe or the water that we drink. The Sun is the symbol that our cricketers display on their headgear and, whenever one of them reaches a landmark, he looks up to the sky to seek his blessings on his way to a second landmark.

India is also known as ‘the land of the rising sons’. The English have a saying – ‘like father, like son’. We have something similar – ‘baap ka beta, sipahi ka ghoda/ kuch nehi to thoda, thoda.’
It all probably started from the silver screen when Prithviraj Kapoor inducted his son Raj Kapoor into his fold. Raj became an instant hit. Until his last breath, he carried on the legacy of his father, subsequently, passing the baton on to his sons Rishi and Randhir. Similarly, Sunny Deol has been able to emulate his father Dharmendra and, even surpass him on a few occasions whilst Prasenjit followed in the footsteps of his father Bishwajeet to capture the imagination of the Bengalees.

In the business world, sons are normally expected to continue the good work started by the fathers so that continuity of purpose is maintained. Here, such a situation is possible because in this profession, the sons grow up in an environment where they can assimilate the various aspects of how to run a business empire. Of course, they have to have a basic business sense, understand the needs of the market apart from the nuances of mergers and acquisitions. They must also have the ability to manipulate decisions in their favor! Examples are the families of the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis.

The sports world has its share of ‘baap ka beta’s! Mohinder Amarnath, the elder son of Lala Amarnath, left his mark in the field and is now following up those good innings with his attendance in front of the TV cameras. Sanjay Manjrekar did make an impression of sorts. Apart from them, there are a very few ‘sons’ who have been able to gain acceptance because one must have a certain amount of talent to shine in these branches. Being the son of a footballer or a cricketer of yester years does not guarantee success to the successor! He must possess the ability to capture the limelight on his own!

When it comes to Politics, many of us do not relish the idea of the reins passing into the hands of a son. In spite of that, there have been exceptions like Naveen Patnaik and Ajit Singh as also the sons of Om Prakash Chautala. Recently, a whole lot of youngsters have entered the fray. They have many factors in their favor – they are young, they are educated, they have a futuristic vision.

Let us hope that they can become powerful leaders like their fathers.

Monday, September 27, 2004

the heaven of the south

The first time I came to Bangalore was way back in 1975.

I had gone on TD to a nearby Air force base where I received the message about an interview in our Head Office in Bangalore. Immediately, I returned home, repacked my bags and, due to shortage of time, decided to travel by road. Accordingly, I came to the CBS (Central Bus Station) and boarded a bus for Pune. The bus dropped me in Shivajinagar from where I took an auto rickshaw to Swar Gate. Long distance buses normally leave from here. By the time I could gulp down some food to keep my machine in running condition, I spotted a bus about to leave for Hubli. Hubli was en-route Bangalore so I got up, boarded the bus and was pleasantly surprised to find only a handful of passengers. It was an uneventful journey and, early next morning, I took a bus from Hubli for my final destination – Bangalore. This last lap of the journey was miserable for me because the bus was jam packed, I did not get to sit and the crowd understood only the local dialect!

It must be remembered that the period was in 1975 when, even in Bangalore city proper, those who could not interact in the local dialect were viewed with suspicion. However, all said and done, I landed in Bangalore bus terminus towards evening and rushed to the first available hotel in sight in Chikpet. A room with attached bath and toilet was mine for a daily rental of Rs 8.00.
The sprawling bus terminus that one sees today was not even on the drawing board of the city bigwigs! Neither was Majestic and its hustle and bustle. The space in front of the railway station was a huge water hole surrounded by corrugated tin sheets!!

Over the last thirty years, the city has transformed dramatically.

Affectionately called as the Silicon Valley of India, ,it has attracted foreign investments unparalleled in recent times. Another Southern city, one of Bangalore’s close competitors, apparently lost out due to lack of adequate infrastructure.

During this 30 year period, I have had quite a number of opportunities to visit this wonderful city. My family and I have fallen in love with it. Making Bangalore as the base, we have traveled to various Southern destinations like Mysore, Ooty and Sravanbelagola. And – of course – we have never missed the conducted tours of the city proper. Shopping in the Cauvery Emporium for genuine sandalwood products, bargaining in Chikpet for Mysore silk saris, strolling aimlessly on Brigade Road or getting an overview of Ulsoor Lake – your time flies. A highly conservative city where non vegetarianism was taboo today offers innumerable varieties of fish, chicken, mutton and egg dishes. Hindi and English are the link languages. The city of idli-dosa has embraced chana—bhatura with equal ease. This itself speaks volumes for Bangaloreans.
I came here last in December 2002. A flower show was on in the glass house in Lalbagh. It was an unforgettable experience. The sheer variety of flowers and plants on display was mind blogging.

The city really deserves its name - the Garden city. It is the heaven of the South.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

drinks of india

‘One for the road’ is normally associated with hard drinks, a popular item in any party. An adult is supposed to consume at least eight liters of water every day to quench his thirst and to compensate for loss of water due to exertions and fatigue. In Western countries, drinks mean a liquid that provides energy and keeps the body warm. In tropical countries, on the other hand, drinks are meant to cool the body. Hence, we drink chilled water, iced lemon tea, different types of fruit juices and a combination of aerated drinks endorsed by cine personalities and cricketers. Ad spends run into crores of rupees and participants include old timers as well as up and coming stars who keep chanting lines like ‘yeh dil mange more’ – what their actual demand is remains an unknown entity shrouded in mystery. Storylines keep changing with the changing scenario and moods of people. A second group tells the viewer what ‘thanda’ actually is by having a village as the scene of action. Here the bottles are kept immersed in the water of a well to preserve its cool and to come to surface as and when demanded! Starting with 200 ml bottles, these cold drinks are sold in up to 2 liter bottles and are a rage with young and old alike. In order to keep pace with these MNCs, some fruit juices are marketed in polypack containers and are quite popular for those undertaking small journeys. Then there are the seasonal fruit juices like mango, orange, pineapple and sugar cane that are prepared and served in front of you.

The ‘lassi’ however, is a totally different kettle of drinks!!

Originally a north Indian product, it can today be found in any part of the country. I still remember my experiences when I first tasted this wonderful drink. Its preparation used to be a ritual of sorts. One person would pour some curd, sugar and water into a vessel. He would hold it tight in between his feet, insert a cylindrical shaped wooden ladle into the vessel and start churning the mixture vigorously. Another person would put some pieces of ice in a leather bag and, with the help of a flat wooden mallet, would crush the ice into tiny granules. When the churning was complete, the lassi maker would add these granules into it and serve.

Today, the complete process is mechanized.

In some restaurants, lassi is prepared once a day, in the morning, and preserved in a deep freezer – for withdrawal and issue based on demand. Unlike earlier days when it used to be prepared and served on demand to retain its freshness.

But the drink that is bound to steal a march over all others is pure coconut water. Untouched by hand, preserved in its natural surroundings till such time a demand actually arises, the water of a tender coconut is fresh, nourishing and need no endorsement by any screen or sports personality, young or old!

‘One for the road’, in the Indian context, is, undoubtedly, a tender coconut.

If you are lucky enough, you may be rewarded with the soft sweet kernel deftly scooped out of the shell by the vendors and offered back to you – to munch in leisure.

Friday, September 24, 2004

affairs of the heart

Let us have a heart to heart talk about how to have a hearty laugh after eating to your heart’s content knowing fully well that there are some adhesives in the market that can mend everything except broken hearts!!

Hearts relate to the non-human kingdom with only two species – the lion and the chicken. The lion hearted person is one who is generous and the chicken hearted is one who suffers from the fear psychosis.

Once upon a time, children were encouraged to learn their lessons by heart especially poems and multiplication tables. The charm of multiplication tables has vanished with the arrival of pocket calculators. There is hardly any child today who has heard of poems like ‘leisure’ and ‘the rhyme of the ancient mariner’, let alone recites them! Don’t the lines ‘we have no time to stand and stare’ and ‘the skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe and a scornful laugh laughed he’ rekindle old memories? Frankly speaking, I think that no one has any time today to see ‘where squirrels hide their nuts in grass’.

The heart is a commodity that has extremely good business potentials – a whole breed of experts of the medical profession thrives on their ability to exploit innumerable aspects of the heart. Since the heart is an organ without any standby system, and since we all know so little about it (including the doctors!) we gape and gulp when faced with an illness remotely connected to the heart. This encourages those who have mastered the art of pressing the panic button at the slightest pretext. The minute a patient complains of symptoms that could have links to affairs of the heart, the doctor asks for the family history – to ascertain if it can be attributed to heredity. In case the history is positive, the medico recommends all conceivable examinations to eliminate that option. The examination starts from the simple ECG to angiography, with a thallium test thrown in for good measure, if considered necessary. By the time these are completed, the members of the noblest of professions have succeeded in instilling a fear into the mind of the patient and, in the bargain, have lined their pockets!! The patient and his family, on the other hand, are in tatters. The niggling uneasiness one feels in the chest near the vicinity of the heart could very well be attributable to other causes and could make a swift exit with a couple of Hajmola tablets!!

The heart has always been a marketable product.

Movies on heart related subjects like ‘dil’, ‘dil tera dewana’, ‘dil diya dard liya’ etc. have always been block busters from the times of Kundan Lal Saigal and Guru Dutt. Remember Raj Kapoor’s ‘har dil jo pyar karega, wo gana gayega’, or Johnny Walker searching under the table for the broken pieces of his ‘jigar’? Well, Valentine’s Day is a day when all associated products take on the shape of the ‘dil’ – be it a card or a balloon or a sweet. The exact point of time when V-day started gaining popularity in the sub-continent is not on the agenda tonight. The point to note is that it gives an opportunity for fanatics to come to the fore and for decorators to jump into the business of replacing broken glass panes and furniture of outlets which have been vandalized by the ruffians. All for the sake of the heart!!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

the super struggle

‘Sangram’ translates into ‘struggle’; ‘maha sangram’ therefore can be termed as ‘a super struggle’!

Right from birth, we all struggle. A new born baby struggles first to turn over on its side, and then it graduates to the belly. Next you know, it has promoted itself to crawl, followed by stand and walk. In continuation to all these activities, the child then struggles to climb, to run and then, throughout its life, it struggles to remain standing on its feet!

The salaried individual struggles t\o make both ends meet – the salary he takes home is seldom sufficient to cover all his expenses. He can very well write a treatise on deficit financing. At the other end of the spectrum are those individuals who roll in money and struggle to keep out of the clutches of the IT net. His struggle for survival changes when the political equation does not go in his favor. He has, then, to restart the exercise of acquiring new and useful contacts. In between these two extremes is the BPL category (not to be confused with the MNC giant!) – they struggle to get a meal a day. These poor souls are identified by those in power as ‘below poverty line’ persons. In order to look after their welfare, plenty of money is regularly sanctioned – where that money vanishes is anybody’s guess.

Of course, struggles are depicted in different ways on the silver screen. Here we have make-believe situations where college students are continuously falling in love. To prove their love, they sing and dance in large groups in college corridors, college compounds, road side, and mountainous terrain and so on. The heroine struggles to maintain some sort of decency in exhibiting her physical assets so that the censors are unable to use the scissors. In comparison, the hero struggles to earn several crores of rupees within a few days time to earn the acceptance of the would-be father-in-law. Villains struggle to look more villainous and menacing whilst the comedian struggles to appear more comical.

As age starts telling on the hero, he has to struggle to remain in the limelight and, to do so, he resorts to any number of gimmicks. For instance, pulling the wrong strings so that the hemline of the model billows a-la Monroe style displaying a whole lot of feminine charms!

What then is a ‘maha sangram’?

This is a super struggle to retain power by one group and recapturing it by another. Battle lines are drawn, swords are out. We are all waiting breathlessly for a Kurukshetra to begin. The warriors have already descended on to the warfield and the Generals are busy drawing up strategies. Support groups wait at the periphery – ready to enter the field provided a proper deal is struck. Whilst one flashes a card on religion, another hoists the flag of separation. Addition of one more state means identifying one more set of golden opportunities for all concerned.

Is this what ‘maha sangram’ is all about?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

chips do not come cheap

Couch potato is a term coined in recent years to aptly describe an addict of the IB (Idiot Box, for the uninitiated!)

His world revolves around the couch and the remote. He loves to curl up on the couch and stray away only for brief moments to attend to other more necessary and mandatory duties like having his lunch, dinner, releasing excess pressure etc..

Potato, in many Indian languages, is called ‘aloo’.

The episode in a cricket match in faraway Canada, where a cricketer was referred to as ‘aloo’ and the ruckus it subsequently created is still not erased from memory. This multi purpose vegetable can be readily converted into any number of eatables in the hands of experts.
Let us start with the simplest – the potato chips.

Sliced into wafer thin pieces after peeling and cleaning, these are allowed to soak in a salt solution and then deep fried. These miraculously transform into crispy chips – a heavenly delight, as some may say.

In olden days, when the matinee and evening shows attracted young and old alike to the cinema halls, sharing a packet of such chips inside the darkened hall trying to ensure that the sound of munching did not distract others, posed a tremendous challenge. If you had persons of the fairer sex for company, it was all the more necessary to suppress their giggles because girls have a habit of giggling whenever something unusual happens. In this case, trying to stifle the munching sound, when a certain amount of sound is inevitable!!

Today, a similar offering of potato chips are disbursed in attractive packages and marketed via the electronic visual media with the help of popular personalities who keep trying out new story lines to bring home the point that – ‘nobody can eat just one!’ The amount of money spent on such ads could provide full lunch for a couple of villages in Andhra or Orissa for at least a few days.

But, then, this is the world of consumerism and glamour plays a vital role in promoting the goodies. Many cannot afford such luxuries but the central idea is to create a desire for such products. That itself is half the battle won. Once a desire is created, the individual is bound to discover ways and means of fulfilling that desire. That is the second half of the battle!

Banana chips also have a certain amount of appeal, especially to the Southerners.
It is high time someone started an ambitious project to popularize this chip globally. A new set of personalities can descend on the scene to deliver the goods as per a fresh agenda – and, in turn, increase our Foreign Reserves. The new slogan could be – ‘banana ko na nehi bolna!’

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

brides on test

True to tradition, Indians bite the dust yet again.

This time it is in the ICC Champions Trophy in Edgbaston ODI.

The defeat was a foregone conclusion from the moment the toss went against the captain. His body language read abject surrender. Be it cricket, football or hockey or any other team game, it has been established that, as a team, we deliver very seldom. As individuals, there have been some remarkable exceptions like in chess, billiards etc. but the fact remains that Team India, as an entity, has yet to emerge even after more than fifty years of independence and a variety of political combinations experimented with at the centre!

However, Indian bites can become a rage of sorts and can capture the imagination of millions if marketed aggressively. We can be assured of the highest of honors should such a competition ever be organized. The offerings on ‘khana khazana’, ‘mirch masala’ and so on pale into insignificance in front of the ingenuity of simple village women who have to churn out dishes with the barest minimum of ingredients in the shortest possible of time.

A favorite question put to would be brides of yore was aimed at trying to ascertain the extent of creativeness the girl was endowed with.

The question would be a simple one – ‘suppose some elderly relatives suddenly descended upon you and planned to stay over for the night, what would you serve for dinner?’ It has to be remembered that the scene is a remote village where bullock carts are the only means of transport, where kerosene lanterns provide the only source of light after sunset, where shops are absent hence, getting something off the shelf is also absent and where no one would venture out in the darkness to pluck vegetables from the field or throw a net in the pond to land some fish! The girl had to, perforce, rely only on what was physically available in the kitchen at that moment. Naturally, her options were extremely limited. In some cases, the girl would be told what ingredients were to be used, in other cases, the choice would be left to her. If she was able to conjure up some good recipes and managed to obtain pass marks, she would be assured of favorable placement in her new house – after marriage. In order to pass such examinations, these girls were taught how to make umpteen plus one preparations out of a simple vegetable like potato. It can be fried. It can be boiled, mashed and converted into quite a number of mouth watering dishes. Small freshly removed potatoes can be boiled and cooked with green peas to present a fantastic dish called ‘aloor dum’.

Girls today do not have to face such critical examinations and undergo humiliation. Questions asked of them would probably be like – ‘do you know where pizzas originated from?’ or ‘how many varieties of pizzas have you tasted? Which is your favorite?’ or ‘how many pizza outlets are there in your locality?’

Thursday, September 16, 2004

tiny drops of ecstasy

‘Chhola’ (or gram) is a variety of pulse found in abundance in all parts of India. Also known as ‘chana’, it is extensively used in various delectable preparations of both the sweet and the non-sweet categories. The latter category normally uses the grains as available in the raw condition – namely, golden yellow spherical seeds. For preparation of sweets, however, these are ground into powder called ‘besan’ which transforms into beautiful artistic forms once they pass through the experienced hands of the experts. The most savoury of these is the mihidana. Mihi in Bengali means ‘fine’ and dana means ‘grain’. Mihidana, therefore, literally translates into ‘fine grains’. The process of preparation starts with a batter of besan and water. This batter is passed through a sieve into a pot of boiling oil. The holes in the sieve are such that the batter falls into the boiling oil drop by drop! These are then fried to obtain the required color after which these are removed from the boiling oil and transferred to a pot of syrup made of sugar. Within a few minutes, these are again moved and heaped on to a large flat tray (preferably made of wood) for drying. Finally, dried fruits and flavoring agent like nutmeg are added after which the mixture is ready for the artists touch! By the deft movement of the palm and fingers, the artists convert this mass into round balls simultaneously arranging them on trays for the final garnishing with chopped pistas and kish-mish.
At one time, ready made mihidana mix was a rage in Calcutta. One pouch contained the tiny globules (akin to Homeopathic globules) whilst the second one had the ground sugar. All one had to do to have a mouth watering dish was to dissolve the powdered sugar in water, bring it to boil and add the ingredients of the accompanying pouch – and, presto! Tiny drops of ecstasy were waiting to be pounced upon.
One more sweet variety is the darbesh.
The holes in the sieve here are of a larger diameter. The process is similar to that explained earlier except that color plays a significant role. Three colors are popular – red, yellow and green. Boondies are prepared in each of these colors separately, allowed to absorb the sweetness of the syrup separately and are mixed with dry fruits and flavoring agent on the flat wooden tray. Since the consistency of the syrup is lighter, penetration into each globule is more. In areas other than Bengal, coloring is absent and the boondies are drier. The finished product, in these cases, is called Boondi-ki-Laddoo.
For non sweet varieties, salt and red chili powder is mixed in the batter. The boondies are not soaked in syrup but are preserved dry for subsequent use in raitas as required. Boondie based raita garnished with chopped coriander leaves and green chilies are something one can seldom refuse!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

chariots galore

The Chambers Twentieth Dictionary defines the chariot as: ‘a pleasure or state vehicle’, ‘a god’s car’, ‘a car used in ancient warfare or racing’ and ‘a light four wheel carriage with back seats and box’.
The magnificent chariot of Lord Jagannath is really ‘God’s car’. Taken out once a year, tourists from far and near converge on Puri to catch a glimpse of the royal chariot and, if luck permits, touch the rope! TV crews in OBVs located at strategic locations give live coverage of the complete proceedings starting with the sweeping of the floor of the chariot with a golden broom by the King!
The chariot, otherwise, is normally associated with warfare and aggression.
We were fascinated by scenes form the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as depicted by Ramananda Sagar and B R Chopra respectively. The chariot races, fights and ‘vishwaroop darshan’ by Arjun on the chariot piloted by Sri Krishna are forever etched in our memories. Like the scenes showing Ravana forcibly taking away Sita in his Pushpak rath – the forerunner of our present day airplanes! We have seen the chariot races in that all time great cinema Ben Hur. With such a glorious tradition behind it, interest in the chariot was rekindled, if our memory serves us right, by the TDP Supremo N T Rama Rao. The basic intention was to mobilize public opinion because it is easy to influence those who are illiterate, live below the poverty line and reside in rural areas. We are used to idiosyncrasies of Politicians who nurture visions of holding the highest office in the land. Therefore, there emerged on the scene modern variations of the chariot replete with the latest hi-tech gadgets. These chariots carried with them the VVIP along with his retinue of mobile wielding chamchas dressed in designer outfits - for the benefit of millions of hapless TV viewers.
In villages, even today, one can see the replicas of chariots (made out of old broken down automobile bodies) with plywood cutouts of horses. These are painted, decorated and given out on hire during the marriage seasons to convey the bridegroom to the mandap for tying the nuptial knot.
When a political bigwig announces a rath yatra today, for whatever reason, the complete administration has to swing into action. Since the days of single party rule is now a thing of the past, the route of the yatra often has to pass through opposition strongholds. Utmost caution has to be exercised in such situations to ensure that sensitive locations are avoided. In order to maintain peace and harmony, flag marches are conducted apart from enforcing section 144, if needed.
When the world is going supersonic, we still patronize the ancient.
The mind set of our leaders appear to be rooted in the Ramayana era because, ignorance of the masses pays rich dividends! Unless there comes a drastic change in this outlook, the taxpayers’ money will continue to be squandered on vulgar shows of exhibitionism. Such actions serve no purpose except to divert attention of people from serious matters which need to be addressed, whip up tension and generate opportunities for vandalism.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

milky way redefined

Milk is normally identified as the raw material necessary to make butter, cheese, ice creams and condensed milk. Pizzas are considered to be incomplete without a generous topping of grated cheese! In India, however, milk is the basic ingredient of innumerable varieties of delicious sweets found from Kolkata to Coimbatore. In the sixties, Dr Kurien and his ‘Operation Flood’ created a revolution of sorts and gave rise to a phenomenon called ‘Amul’! It has, since, become a household name associated with practically all types of preparation involving milk, except, possibly, rosogollas! Gone are the days when the milkman would milk the cow or buffalo right in front you and transfer the fresh warm frothy milk from his bucket to your container. The complete system of storage and distribution of milk has undergone a tremendous change – with pouches being delivered at your doorsteps today along with the newspaper!
One of the simplest of sweet dishes that can be prepared with milk base by anyone is ‘payas’ (in Bengali) and ‘payasam’ (in Malayalam). It is the end product of raw rice being boiled in milk. When the mixture starts to thicken, sugar is added apart from cashew nuts, pistas (pistachios) almonds and kish-mish. Bay leaves and ground cardamom impart a heavenly flavor. The preparation should be allowed to cool to room temperature before serving. This special dish is a must in birthday parties. The Malayalam version adds grated coconut.
Another simple dish involves a great deal of time and patience and is to be attempted only if you have an abundance of both. All you have to do to have a helping of ‘kheer’ is to take about two liters of milk in a large vessel and simmer for at least four hours over a slow flame. After four hours, you have to ensure that it does not start to stick to the walls of the vessel hence you must continuously stir the contents. The final product also should be served when cool. In Bengal there are innumerable moulds made of clay or wood which are used to give attractive shapes. No flavoring agent is necessary because, when two liters of milk is reduced to two hundred grams, it automatically acquires a distinct flavor of its own.
Other popular milk preparations in the North and the East are made from ‘chhana’. This is nothing but milk intentionally curdled by using lime or alum or some sour substance. The curdled mass is drained of all traces of water and used to prepare mouth watering rosogollas. Recently, these are being compressed mechanically and marketed as slabs of paneer. The preparations with paneer very seldom fall in the category of sweets. They are used to make tasty wholesome dishes with plenty of spices. Alu paneer, matar paneer and palak paneer, to name a few, taken with tandoori roti or roomali roti are relished by young and old alike.
And, of course, a brief on milk products will be incomplete without a mention of curd and raita.

Monday, September 13, 2004

sex programs in schools

The scene is the chamber of the Principal of a School which runs on Government grants. The Principal Sri Sada Prakash is a learned person, well known in academic circles. He was nominated a couple of times for the best Teacher award but, somehow, failed to make it to the dais! The teachers were assembled in front of him, faces grim. E.T.Hash, the history teacher sat beside V.Gyan, the science teacher. To their right sat the three ladies - Mrs. Martha Matrix, expert in maths along with Lajwanti Sonar, the computer software specialist and Sangeeta, the music teacher. On the other side, Naveen Lohar, the computer hardware teacher sat with Pitti Mastaan (no relation to Haji Mastaan), a one time state level hockey player and presently, the sports Teacher. There were also Praveenji, the geography teacher and Noel Know-all, the English Teacher.
Sri Sada Prakash looked at the group and cleared his throat.
‘Ladies and gentleman, I must at the outset inform you that we have to understand and appreciate the serious nature of discussions that we are about to embark upon.’
No one bothered to respond since no response was necessary. They stared back at him in stony silence.
‘I have received a message from the Education Board, hence I have asked all of you to assemble here immediately.’
Still the silence remained unbroken. When a superior spoke, it was always prudent to maintain silence as long as possible!
‘They want us to plan a very sensitive program in our school,’ he said. ‘We have to tread with the utmost caution and must positively ensure that we do not slip up on any aspect whatsoever and become the laughing stock.’
‘Excuse me Sir,’ Praveenji broke the silence – ‘but unless we are made aware of the subject, it will be difficult for us to organize our participation.’
‘They want us to plan a SEX program in the school,’ Sada Prakash said.
The ladies squirmed in their chairs.
‘I think we will have to submit a skeleton proposal first,’ Praveenji said.
‘Yes. Within a week we have to do that.’
‘Then we should form a committee?’ Praveenji queried.
‘But naturally,’ the Principal said. ‘You are the oldest member here both in terms of age and experience. You will recollect the earlier studies we undertook while introducing computer subjects. We finally recruited Lajwanti and Naveen. Then they wanted our boys to be trained in hockey so we conducted another study and inducted Pitti Mastaan into our folds. Now also, we must proceed on similar lines.’
‘Our focus must be on knowledge and experience,’ Praveenji looked from over his glasses towards Martha. She was a couple of years younger to him. ‘The faculty members should be mature enough to explain to the children both sides of the coin.’
‘I fully agree with you,’ Sada Prakash twirled the pencil in between his fingers. ‘Youngsters will be unfit for this role.’
‘But, we could certainly involve them,’ V.Gyan did not want to be left out of the discussions. ‘Young persons view the world from a different perspective. They very much need to participate. After all, they are our future.’
‘My dear Gyan-ji, we have to handle students from outside our state and even from neighboring countries. We have to focus our attention on experience and maturity.’
‘Other states?’ Pitti was visibly upset. ‘That will disturb the quota system!’
At this point Lajwanti raised her hand.
‘Yes Laju?’ the Principal looked at her.
‘I don’t think it will be correct to involve outsiders until we acquire the necessary confidence,’ she spoke barely above a whisper.
‘I endorse her views,’ Naveen immediately chipped in.
‘But my dears, this is a Student Exchange program. Our children will go elsewhere, other students will come here. It is all a part of Project Dosti Badao.’
‘Oh!’ Praveenji looked crestfallen. ‘I was under the impression that ….’
‘That it’s all about the birds, bees and storks?’ Martha glared. ‘It is most unfortunate that we have to tolerate persons who are waiting to take advantage of situations.’
A ripple of silent laughter lightened the atmosphere.
Lajwanti heaved a sigh of relief.
‘Let me clarify,’ the Principal said. ‘In this age of acronyms, Student Exchange Programs has been communicated as the SEX Program. Birds, bees and storks are the preserves of Natgeo – we will not into their territories at present.’

Sunday, September 12, 2004

sweets of india

In spite of consumerism having a field day, in spite of DINK philosophy ruling the roost and in spite of Yuppie culture having spread its tentacles far and wide, it is a sorry state of affairs that sweetmeat vendors are left stranded high and dry. They are facing a really tough proposition. Apparently, a vast majority of diseases are related to the heart (of which people know precious little!) and news items continuously caution that such diseases can be directly linked to the intake of sugar. Hence, everyone but everyone is wary of sweet dishes – leaving the poor sweetmeat vendors to fend for themselves.
It is not that sweet dishes do not find any takers or that they have become outdated in the era of hamburgers and pizzas. Only, the nature of dishes has undergone immense changes in the last half century or so.
Bowbazar Street in Kolkata used to be known once upon a time as ‘chhana patti’. On this street there used to be any number of sweetmeat shops proudly displaying mouth varieties of their products. These used to come in all shapes, sizes and colors. There were the cylindrical ones, the round ones, the conical ones and the cubical ones. Some had a yellow tinge, others a flush of pink or a dash of green. Whilst one was as smooth as the shell of an egg, the one in the adjacent tray was covered with sand like particles. Some were of the wet family, others dry or even semi-dry! My vote always used to go to the ‘tal-shash’. Shaped just like the tender kernel of the palm fruit, it boasted of am extremely hard exterior with a deliciously soft centre. How the moyras managed to insert the sweet liquid into its very core is, even today, a mystery.
I am referring to the period of the late fifties.
My brothers and I used to stare longingly at the showcases as we waited for our route bus to arrive – longingly because we were not entitled to any such thing as pocket money which could have been diverted to soothe our desires. The concept of pocket money, in those days, was non existant. When we left for school in the morning, Mother would give me one rupee towards the up and down fare for my three brothers and me. There was no question of any emergency fund because emergencies were unheard of and one rupee was quite adequate – the bus fare being twelve paise per head!
Marriage festivities, in those days, were considered incomplete without an abundance of rosogollas, ladykenis. Even sandesh had its ardent followers.
Such celebrations, today, present a totally different picture. Invitees arrive with gift cheques, bouquets, books and smiles. At the entrance, they are served soft drinks. Caterers guide them gently but firmly to their respective tables and dispose them off in a swift and efficient manner. Additional helpings cause raised eyebrows all around, hence not in the menu! And, the sweet dish has been virtually reduced to a cup of ice cream or a bowl of fruit salad.
Women today are more conscious of their figures and men of their cholesterol levels. The basic approach to gaining and guaranteeing satisfaction is not that sweet any longer as it used to be in the good old days. Bhim Nag, K.C.Das, Ganguram and Jalajoga are just a few names that have become history. Today, cheap imitations rule the roost. True sweeties, alas, can now be discovered only in memories.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

creating writers

I never knew that I had it in me.
When my first story (‘the mortal combat’) was published in the Sunday Statesman in 1958 and when I received an honorarium for it, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that some day I would really be enjoining literary pursuits. Even when my second story (‘The second attempt’) saw the light of day in a Sunday edition of the Times of India in 1962 and a second honorarium came knocking at my door, I never expected to take up the pen to write in Bengali!
I was studying in an English medium school and, even though I was a Bengali, I learnt the Bengali alphabets only in the final years of my school. That posed a serious problem because, after school, I had to go to a College which came under the purview of the Calcutta University. And, there, Bengali was a compulsory language which a student had but had to pass. The pass marks were just 30 – and, how I struggled to score those few marks still makes me blush whenever I think about it. However, all said and done, I finished my college and moved into the Engineering branch. Then followed an employment of sorts. Somehow, that first employment was not to my liking. So, I started looking for something more interesting. At that period of my life, I was picking up various types of experiences, meeting different types of persons, reading all types of books – mostly related to crime and its investigation. From Agatha Christie to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Ellery Queen or James Hadley Chase, Frederick Forsythe – I was absorbing knowledge from whatever source it came. Apart from that I loved to mingle with people from various strata of Society. Once, I gambled my month’s earnings away just to get the feeling of what it felt like to lose money! And, these found releases in my writings.
Yes, I broke the shackles and got my first Bengali short story published in 1969.
It was the day I was leaving Calcutta to come to Nasik. At the Howrah railway station, I was browsing through the books in the Wheeler bookstall when I picked up a magazine and was pleasantly surprised to find my story in the Contents.
That was the starting point.
Since that day, I have written more than 150 short stories, novelettes, poems and have also been the Editor of a Bengali magazine published from Nasik. It was possible because it was computer based. Yes, in order to prove the point that publishing in any language is possible, I along with a couple of my friends created history of sorts by publishing not just a magazine but also as many as four books. And, with these books, we participated in the prestigious Calcutta Book Fairs of 1993, 1994 and 1996. Subsequently, with more and more job responsibilities having to be shouldered, I had to take rest from writing of all sorts. Until, my son introduced me to ‘blogging’! A really fantastic pastime I must say. I have been at it for the past three months and, one of my blogs had crossed viewer ship of 425!! This particular set up indicates the number of viewers of the blog – which gives an indication of whether the direction you are progressing in is right or not.
My message to all those who wish to see their names in print is : be sincere in your efforts, do not copy others styles but develop your own and never lose heart. Writing may not pay but it does give satisfaction.

Friday, September 10, 2004

bearding the lion

A beard imparts an identity of its own to its owner.
Glittering examples are Lenin, Abraham Lincoln, Zakir Hussein, I K Gujral and Prannoy Roy! Amitabh Bachhan, the big ‘B’, lent a certain amount of glamour to the sixty plus beard and ‘Bal’ Thackery has emulated him to reinforce the point that trends in fashion can be set even by septuagenarians!! Reasons for starting to keep a beard are of no consequence. It is a fact that beards are coming back in fashion – the backlash will have to, obviously, be faced by all those FMCG-wallahs who market umpteen and one types of product associated with shaving. ‘Sat-a-sat’ shaves has become a rage of sorts smashing the myth of generation gap.
When the first traces of beard make their appearance on the chin of a boy, he realizes that he is growing up.
Every passing day and every new strand brings enormous joy to him. He is elated and experiences an unexplainable feeling of ownership. By the time he passes out of school, he more or less sports an even growth of soft silky hair on his cheeks and chin. If he had lived in the 14th century, he would have had no option but to allow the growth to continue. Shaving was probably not practiced in those days. (It would be interesting to find out just when people started shaving!)
If one belongs to the Sikh community, one never shaves. If one wants to become a poet like Tagore, he also would not shave. There are others who possess growth restricted to the chin only. Such beards are called ‘goatee’s since there is a striking resemblance to similar growth on goats!! Sailors grow beards because it is difficult to shave when the ship is in motion or the boat rolls or when the sea is rough. You cannot think of pirates without beards! Sideburns were very popular in the fashions of the West. In India also, our Maharajas used to sport enviable sideburns. Unfortunately, the blitzkrieg of ads on TV relating to shaving blades, after shave lotions, shaving creams and safety razors do not encourage growing of beards. When a fair damsel gently strokes the freshly shaven cheeks of a young man, he automatically surrenders to the charm – of both hers as well as the shaving cream’s or after shave lotion’s or the shaving blade’s or whatever is being advertised!
Beards are also a convenient means of disguising – especially in Indian films. When the hero wants to meet his lady love without anyone being the wiser, he resorts to putting on a beard. In this way, he is able to conceal his identity and, at first, his lady love also fails to recognize him. Ridiculous, no doubt, but the public loves it, the film earns applauses and the producer laughs all the way to the bank.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

the centre of power

When an apple fell from a tree into his lap, Sir Isaac Newton discovered a phenomenon called the centre of gravity! Centre of gravity is what attracts everything to the centre of the Earth. The gravitational pull varies from planet to planet. If a high jumper can cross six feet on the Earth, he can easily cross sixty feet on the Moon. Centre of pressure is another centre associated with keeping an aero plane in the air. Due to the aerofoil section of the wings of an aircraft, an upward force is created which keeps the aero plane airborne. A centre forward in any football or hockey team is a very important player who has to execute the strategically laid down plans to ensure victory. We have heard of centre fresh and of soft centered sweets. A volcano has an epicenter where all the action originates and the centre spread can make or break a magazine – example Playboy!
But, the centre of power is something unique to India!
The political scenario in any country today is similar to the domestic scenario - compromises and adjustments are the order of the day. Gone are the days of bull dozing. Everyone from ma-in-law to ‘beti’-in-law lives on borrowed time. If a newcomer to the family is not able to adjust, she is at liberty to leave. As individuals, they all have identities to protect no matter how Ekta may like to present them! No one is willing to budge an inch. Hence, in order to maintain peace and harmony, it is but natural to look for compromises.
The very concept of a boss holding the centre stage and cracking the whip has vanished.
Therefore, it was surprising to listen to leaders complaining of there being four different centers of power in New Delhi. In layman’s lingo, the centre of power can be termed as a euphemism for someone who exercises total control over the machinery that rules. We have seen its implementation in one of the states where the CM handed over the baton to his better half but held the reins in his own so that the vehicle did not go astray. It is understandable when the incumbent is a person who is suddenly thrust into a position of power. She would never be able to handle situations due to inexperience. For survival, she has to be given guidance and the guide must obviously be more knowledgeable and experienced. In this case, her husband!
Drawing a parallel in New Delhi smacks of hypocrisy. The personality under attack is a learned one, is knowledgeable in affairs of governance and is a confident individual. Being a coalition of political parties with divergent interests, each constituent is bound to have his say. The previous regime blamed all its ills on ‘the compulsions of coalition politics’ but when it comes to the present set up, they see the hands of as many four different centers of power! They conveniently overlook the fact that, in their days also, there existed quite a number of power centers and poor ‘mukhota’ had a real trying time to find out acceptable solutions.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

the weight watchers

There is hardly anyone who has not seen or used a weighing machine strategically located at Railway stations, Bus terminuses, cinema halls or large departmental stores. Such machines invariably draw the attention of especially the children who are fascinated by the flashing of lights that endows it with a psychedelic effect! You must have, at some time or the other stood on its platform, waited for the wheel to stop turning, inserted a coin into the designated slot and waited for the machine to deliver a small card with your weight on one side and some forecast on the reverse side. The forecasts would be like ‘today you will meet someone who will mean a lot to you’ or ‘be careful while moving on the road’ or ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
The point to note is that we have always been conscious of weight.
Regular feedbacks allow us to get an indication if things start going wrong! Putting on weight has always been considered an evil practice. Weighty persons are invariably at the receiving end of jokes. Hence, the news of the death of a part time model in New Delhi as a result of Anorexia was, to say the least, shocking. We have heard of starvation deaths. The authorities play superb blaming games on account of such deaths. A standard explanation is that such deaths are not starvation deaths but are deaths due to the victims trying out tastes of new roots, berries and insects found in jungles to identify those that can be considered as alternate foodstuff! But, death due to Anorexia is something new.
In order to maintain slim bodies and participate in Fashion shows or Beauty pageants, girls go to the gym, do aerobics, have steam baths, eat as little as possible and pop weight reducing pills. Ads on TV channels promise to deliver the magic pills at your doorstep. The prime intention behind all such activities is to ensure a generous distribution of womanly assets in right proportions in the right places! No one wants to become a Tuntun; they all want to become pretty Zintas! Those who are unable to make it to the ramp discover enough opportunities to join the dancing brigades of video makers and churn out remixes. A few lucky ones even land minor roles in films.
It is most unfortunate that our slim girls do not have any interest in gymnastics.
It was a pleasure to watch young girls from Russia, USA, Italy, France etc. perform gymnastics at the Olympics. It looked as if they had no bones in their bodies! In this context it may be mentioned that Malkhamb is an art unique to India. Our Malkhamb girls could compete with these gymnasts and show to the world that we also need to be counted. Probably, no one has thought on these lines.
Of course, weight takes on a different meaning in the boxing world. We all know that boxing is a game that runs for a few seconds and is capable of generating millions of dollars. But, how many of us are aware of the fact that there are at least seven categories of boxers? Starting with the light flyweight (48Kgs) it goes on to the heavyweight (81 Kgs). The in-between categories are the flyweight (51 Kgs), bantam weight (54 Kgs), feather weight (57 Kgs), light welter weight (64 Kgs) and middle weight (75 Kgs)!!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

just for laughs

Laughing is good for the health, so the doctor prescribes.

Laughter has many forms like grinning, smiling, laughing and guffawing! Whilst the first two types exercise the muscles of the lips and a tiny portion of the jaws, a guffawing laughter exercises the whole body. It literally activates all your muscles. Knowledgeable circles advocate hearty laughter to keep in the best of health. As a result, laughing clubs have sprouted in posh localities. Also, magazines regularly run sections like ‘laughter is the best medicine’, ‘grin and bear it’, ‘humour in uniform’ to make living more relaxed.

King Arthur had his court jesters and Akbar had his Birbal.

Court jesters were an integral part and parcel of the King’s inner circle occupying a position of considerable importance because, as and when the need arose, they were duty bound to rise to the occasion and lighten the atmosphere by narrating interesting and appropriate anecdotes. The concept of the King is not there any longer but that of a comedian remains in every ruling party’s cabinet. Long ago we had a gentleman who used to sport a green turban! Later we had someone who was forever putting his foot in his mouth. Last reports reveal that he is pursuing some studies and has apparently taken sanyas from politics! Today, we have another gentleman who exhibits a fantastic growth of hair on his ears!

Let us now come to the cinema. In the fifties, there were great comedians like the one and only Charlie Chaplin and the duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. They used to make the audience roll with laughter without laughing themselves. Superb examples of slap stick comedy! That was the secret.

They were great artists because they could generate side splitting laughter by a mere change of expression. In the Indian scenario we had unparalled comedians like I S Johar, Johnny Walker, Mehmood, Mukri, Om Prakash, Keshto Mukherjee, Robi Ghosh, and Bhanu Bandopadhaya. When the situation demanded, regular actors like Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutta in Gol Mal or Amitabh Bachhan and Dharmendra in Chupke chupke or Farookh Shaikh and Deepti Naval in Chashme Baddoor played the roles of comedians. TV serials like Wagle ki duniya, Hum Panch, Ghar Jamai were examples of good comedy serials. Farookh Shaikh, Anantha Mahadevan and Satish Shah produced memorable performances. In comparison, todays so called comedy serials are too loud for comfort. Out of the present day screen comedians, the pair of Johnny Lever and Govinda has become popular along with Kader Khan and Saif Ali Khan. But, all of them tend to forget that an able comedian should have the power to generate spontaneous laughter. Laughter is something you cannot force upon somebody. The only point to note is – there is a dearth of women comedians. Comedy appears to be a male bastion. I think it will make a good subject for further research!

holy matrimony

As children grow up, the Indian families start worrying about how to get them married off. Especially, for the girl child who is invariably considered a burden and a serious liability if not married off in time. In bygone days, when the joint family system was in vogue, the responsibility was shouldered by the grand parents or the aunts and uncles. Their decision was binding on the child and parents alike. They elected suitable matches from among eligible candidates from known families and such marriages usually lasted a lifetime. However, with the gradual disintegration of the joint family system, even though some popular Hindi TV serials would have you believe that such families do exist even today, other players emerged on the scene. The matchmakers (or ghataks, in Bengali) and the dotcoms and interactive internet sites. But, what is the real picture like?

A cursory glance through the matrimonial ads in the Sunday edition of a popular Bengali newspaper indicates that girls marry late. 25 to 30 years is passé, some wait even up to 35 to get settled in life. 90% of them are computer literate and are in possession of innumerable qualifications so that there is no dearth of matches! Many of them are single child of their parents and, this may be shocking to some, quite a few of them are divorcees!! The ads do not hide such facts but mention ‘married for 15 days only’, ‘mutually divorced within a few days’, ‘divorced due to impotent groom’ etc.. Once upon a time, brides were expected to be fluent in the fine arts like music, painting, embroidery – today’s scenario does not entertain such thinking. Ads openly invite alliances for the boy to stay on with his in-laws!!

The complete outlook has undergone a sea change.

Whilst the parents search the papers to locate a suitable match, the boys and girls themselves scout the matrimonial sites on the net and, more often than not, link up with like minded individuals. How long these alliances will last is a question that can be answered by time only.

stone age revisited

It has been reported in the Press that Britney Spears created a sensation of sorts when she tried on a 'T' shirt in a Los Angeles store in full view of all people. Shoppers were treated to a fantastic view of one of her breasts popping out of her bra! Janet Jackson gave a nipplegate twist to her 'wardrobe malfunction' by blaming it all on poor Bush and saying that poor Bush wanted to divert attention from the Iraq war.

I presume that it all started with that famous query –‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ We have heard of the Elphinstone College and also of Sharon Stone, the actress. In our school days, we were taught that a rolling stone gathers no moss but, when we grew up, we came to realize that a pop group called ‘the Rolling Stones’ was a craze! Similarly, we were told to leave no stone unturned to reach your objective – whatever that may be – and that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, for obvious reasons! We are acquainted with cinemas like Phool aur Pathar, Pathar kay sanam,. Geet gaya Pathro ney, Kala Pathar and so on pathar being the Hindi equivalent of stone. An entity called ‘the stone man’ created havoc in the night streets of Calcutta in the seventies by bashing up the heads of sleeping pavement dwellers with stones. And there is hardly anyone who has not come across one or the other type of stones like the kidney stone, the gall bladder stone and the precious stones. We also have the Flintstones on Star TV regaling us with their antics and realize that, even in the electronic age, we are obsessed with stones and are really and truly going back to the Stone Age.

In prehistoric days, might was right. The caveman, armed with a club, would protect his tribe and, when he wanted a woman, he would go out and find someone who looked o.k. and just lift her. In case of opposition, might would be the deciding factor and the stronger of the two would sling his catch on his shoulders and make a beeline for his cave.

Similar scenes are re-enacted regularly in Bollywood presentations.

The hero holds the heroine from the rear and both spread their arms as in the Titanic. Then they keep going round and round finally ending when the hero holds on to one leg of the heroine and lifts her off her feet, swings her around and ends by tilting her whole body as Big B did with his sweetheart in Hum. The only difference is that in Big B’s case, there was a genuine reason to tilt the heroine (to make her part with a coin she had deftly hidden in between her cleavage) whilst in other cases there does not seem to be any apparent justification except to show off the strength of the hero and the legs of the heroine! Added scenes of the heroine getting wet either in the rains or from the spray of the adjacent waterfall or being pushed in the swimming pool make for greater appeal which readily converts into the pleasant tinkling of the cash registers!

The final nail in the coffins of modernity is exhibitionism. Hem lines are on the way up and neck lines on the way down. The fairer sex has done away with practically all support systems that used to be related to decent dressing. Designers are now concentrating on identifying alternate dress material and, we may, in a few years time return to the fig leaf culture!

the sexy sixties

Focus : Nasik of the late sixties….

When I came for interview, I stayed in a tiny hotel just outside the railway station. What prompted me to select that particular hotel were two large portraits of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa Deb and Goddess Kali on either side of the Manager’s table. The room rent was Rs 8.00 and the accommodation comprised a single cot, one side table and a chair. The location of the hotel is where the auto rickshaws are now parked. Hotel Raj had not seen the light of day till then. Pavan was a still later addition, after Muktidham came into existence.

After my selection, when I joined service, I used to stay in Deolali with my friends. Most of us were into our first appointments and were bachelors. We stayed in a huge three-storey bungalow just adjacent to Sansari naka – it was affectionately known in the neighborhood as the bhoot-bungalow! The rent for the complete accommodation was Rs 420.00 and was shared by the occupants. For dinner we patronized Vijaya Lunch Home situated just opposite the Municipal School on the main road. We paid Rs 35.00 per month for full non-vegetarian dinner. Rice was 85 to 90 paise and wheat 60 to 65 paise per Kg.! A basketful of onions could be had for only 10 paise – the basket would contain 1 to 1 ½ Kgs. Ten grams of Gold were available for as little as Rs 160.00. The ST bus fares were in denominations of 15 and 20 paise – you were not permitted to travel standing. Also, boarding a running bus or alighting from one was not tolerated by the bus conductor who was and, still is, the Supreme Commander of each ST bus. In fact, I was once reprimanded by the conductor for boarding the bus before it had stopped. The most popular two wheelers of the sixties were bicycles. There were only two varieties of Scooters – the Lambrettas and the Vespas - which were driven by a chosen few. Motor cycles were of the Harley-Davidson types of the Military Police. To commute short distances, the common man relied on the ST bus or on his own pair of feet. I have lived through such days!

Deolali of the late sixties was one of the most attractive summer getaways for Mumbaites. With the onset of summer vacations, all the Sanatoriums would be occupied with the young, the not so young and the old. They would bring with them the latest fashions from Mumbai. In the evenings, they would stroll lazily down the streets in groups, stopping to exchange pleasantries with acquaintances. Some of them would settle in the Bharat Cold Drinks House where a bottle of the original Coca-Cola could be had for only 20 paise – the same price as that of a glass of fresh limejuice! BCDH was also famous for its mouth-watering faloodas! Its patrons never seemed to be in any hurry. Other vacationers would walk down to Cathay or Adelphi – the two cinema halls, which ran English films. Or spend the evening atop the Temple Hill, an experience not easily forgotten – this landmark of Deolali was in a world of its own where time literally stood still. No fumes of auto-rickshaws. No dust hovering in the air. No obnoxious gases to destroy the freshness of the colorful bougainvilleas. There was lovely greenery all around and concretisation had not set in. The silence would be broken by the occasional clip-clop of the tongas or the sudden passing through of the State Transport bus en-route to South Deolali or one of the bicycles clanging along with its load of milk pots. Milk in pouches was something nobody could have visualized! However, the memories of Deolali that I had cherished for so long were shattered a couple of years back when I visited the place after a very long absence. It was a Deolali that I could not recognize. The smell of fresh green grass and horses at the bus stand had given way to the acrid stink of burnt petrol – auto rickshaws had taken over from the tongas. And the roads were filthily crowded with hawkers at every step.

Talking about cinema halls, the other popular ones were the Regimental and Bytco Talkies in Nasik Road and the Circle in Nasik City. And a favorite haunt of the younger generation was Bhagwant Rao’s right on the Main Road. The Regimental and the Bytco Talkies are no more. Modernization in the shape of the first ever flyover of Nasik has taken its toll!!

Of course, city dwellers had another option. That of sitting on the banks of a pollution free Godavari and dreaming their hearts out because the sixties were that period in ones life when one could expect ones dreams to be fulfilled –unlike today, where ones dreams are likely to remain dreams only.

rally in bareilly

There are two Bareillys in UP – one is Rae Bareilly, the constituency of one of our late Prime Ministers, the other is plain and simple Bareilly minus ray of any sort. The Bareilly sans ray was immortalized in the foot tapping dance number Bareilly kay bazaar mein jhumka girah re of the sixties.

Whilst the former boasts of a unit of the Indian Telephone Industries, the other is proud of its Air Force base. I had occasion to visit Bareilly on official duty in December 1982. I had been first to New Delhi and from there took a night bus from the Inter State Bus Terminus. The bus left ISBT at around 10 pm along with armed guards as escorts. The reason was the fear of dacoits since the route from New Delhi to Bareilly passed through dacoit infested territory and caution was the watchword. As our bus proceeded to its destination, I could make out mounted Police and Police jeeps at regular intervals on the road. My friend, who was accompanying me and who was a resident of Bareilly assured me that nothing untoward would happen and, nothing did happen. After an uneventful journey, we reached Bareilly some time early in the morning.

I remained in Bareilly for three days. My work was confined to the Air Force base, it was December and the roads emptied very fast.

On the third morning having finished my work, I received instructions to proceed to Tejpur, another IAF base via Calcutta. Air passage was authorized from Calcutta to Tejpur and back. Therefore, taking leave of my companion, I took a cycle rickshaw and landed in the railway station at around 3 pm. I could feel another wintry evening fast descending. Straightway I made a beeline for the reservation counter. The gentleman sitting on the other side of the counter was deeply engrossed in one of those ‘whodunits’. Even though I was the only person at the counter, he did not bother to look up until he had finished reading whatever interesting portions of the book had attracted his attention.

I asked for a sleeper ticket to Howrah by the Doon Express leaving that night.

He was chewing paan and, with his jaws moving slowly, he surveyed me, trying to size me up as to my worth. Then he reached up to a rack behind his chair and brought down a huge ledger. It contained details of reservations made in various trains passing through Bareilly. He flipped the pages until he came to the date we wanted. He glanced through the page and looked at me.

‘Naam bataiye,’ he said.

I gave him my name.

Without any hesitation, he struck off an entry and added my name, prepared a journey-cum-reservation ticket and handed it over. I checked the ticket – it was in order. The fare was seventy odd rupees. I tendered a 100 rupee note – he did not bother to return the change. Putting the note in the drawer, he went back to his paperback. I also did not wait for the change. I wanted the reservation and he wanted a few extra rupees. We were both satisfied individuals. I sauntered on to the platform and headed for the restaurant. The train would arrive at 3 am and I had nearly 12 hours to kill.

I took a meal of chapatti and mutton curry and washed it down with a cup of real hot tea. Then I purchased a James Hadley Chase novel from the railway bookstall. I made some mental calculations - it would take around three hours to finish the novel. By then it would be time for dinner. Some more cups of tea, a few cigarettes and roaming on the platform should ensure that the time up to 3 am would be easy to kill. How wrong I was!! I had not reckoned with the bitter cold of a December night in the city called Bareilly. I was 22 years younger, I was wearing woolen clothes, I had a muffler tied around my ears and nose, my hands were in gloves but, as the night progressed, I became more and more miserable. A thoughtful railway porter kept a small fire burning in the waiting room to generate some form of warmth but, every time someone opened the door, a fresh blast of cold wind would enter the confines of the room and literally sent shivers down my body. My teeth were chattering, my knees were knocking and it was the most terrible night I had ever spent in my life.

At last, the train was announced and it arrived on the dot.

With much difficulty, I staggered into the railway compartment and collapsed in a heap on my reserved berth. With my arms nearly frozen, I somehow managed to remove the blanket from my suitcase, wrap it tightly around me and go to sleep.

I awoke next morning when the train was leaving the other Bareilly – Rae Bareilly!

rape of a beauty

Calcutta, rechristened Kolkata, was founded by Job Charnok and celebrated its tercentenary a few years back. Having been a red bastion for nearly quarter of a century, it is gradually wakening up to the reality that the city needs a lot of more attention to compete with other Indian cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai or foreign cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. The Metro rail infused some blood into its dying arteries as did the circular rail, the second Hoogly bridge and a number of flyovers. But the fact remains that people who matter shy away from investing in the city.

Bengalis are basically intellectuals – a thinking not necessarily shared by others. Bengalis are fond of white collar jobs and abhor any activity where intelligence is not required. Most Bengalis consider themselves to be poets and novelists par excellence. They adore good foods which very seldom match with their constitution. Proof is in the number of medicines available in the market to cater to various types of illness associated with such disorders. Bengalis also love fairs and exhibitions – book fair, textile fair, and leather exhibition. You think of a subject and lo-and-behold, a fair or an exhibition is there to satisfy your needs.

But, this is not about the likes and dislikes of Calcuttans (Kolkattans sounds ridiculous don’t you agree?)

If you have visited Calcutta, you could not have missed the Maidan – a really large expanse of open land housing any number of sports clubs. It used to house any number of sports clubs and was considered to be the breeding ground of footballers and cricketers. The Chuni Goswamis and Pankaj Roys surrendered to the Baichung Bhutias and Sourav Gangulis – who, in turn, followed the dictates of the likes of the Dalmias. Way back in the fifties and the sixties, a tram ride through the pollution free environments of the Maidan was a really satisfying experience. Greenery and open space on one side and the landscape of a bustling city on the other side!

Then, one fine day, the Ochterlony monument – a landmark of Calcutta – lost its color! So did the Maidan – the maiden of Calcutta. It was abused no end. Invaders ravaged its innocence and choked its breath. Unauthorized stalls cropped up everywhere overnight which subsequently attracted enough official patronage to become authorized. The silence of its surroundings was broken by the din and clamour of rickety State Transport buses. Burnt diesel created mayhem to its natural beauty. Trees and bushes that were once planted by the city fathers to maintain the equilibrium of Nature just rotted away. Then, further calamity struck – of course, for a noble cause. The construction of the underground railway system fondly known as the Metro rail began. In the bargain, the Maidan became smaller and smaller. To compensate this loss, parks were set up on the banks of the Ganga.

Calcuttans have lost the Victoria Memorial and the horse drawn carriages that used to be in attendance there until quite recently have vanished. The Victoria Memorial used to be a place where young and old alike could jog along and inhale fresh air in the mornings. Alas, nowadays, one has to pay an entrance fee to enter its grounds.

In spite of innumerable adversities, the Maidan even today retains its uniqueness and is proud of an identity of its own.

Plans are now afoot to gift to the Calcuttans an alternate transportation system akin to that in vogue in Venice. It will require a tremendous amount of cleaning up. Not just the basins of the near extinct canals like the Keshtopur khal or the Tolly’s nullah but also the culture of those who will be involved.

on the banks of the godavari

Originating in the mountains of the Brahmagiri in Trimbakeswar, the Godavari wends its way through the Deccan plateau and flows into the Bay of Bengal, bisecting the country into two halves. Starting as a trickle, it grows from strength to strength till its confluence in the Indian Ocean and, the first important city on the banks of this mighty river is Nasik (also called as Nashik). Till thirty-six years ago, Nasik was known to the outside world more as a pilgrimage center where kumbhmela was held once every twelve years.

I arrived in Nasik in 1967 – just one year before the kumbhmela of 1968. I was employed in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and, whilst I stayed in Deolali, my work place was in Ojhar – a distance of nearly 30 Kms.. I used to travel by our company bus and, the only memory I have of the 1968 mela was that I had to get myself inoculated since the bus would travel touching Nasik. The inoculation was a precaution against spread of epidemics. The next kumbhmela that I witnessed was in 1980. I am not much of a believer in the fact that just by immersing oneself in the waters of the Godavari, one can wash off all of ones sins! Moreover, I was still a young man and my idea of cleansing oneself of sins was not commensurate with the thinking of others. Therefore, I did not involve myself much. However, in the next kumbhmela in 1992 I decided that enough was enough. Staying in Nasik and not witnessing the kumbhmela was an unpardonable offence like visiting Paris and not taking in the Eiffel Tower. My relatives saw the makings of Satan in me. A non believer in the Holy Scriptures deserved to be isolated in Society. Hence, throwing caution to the winds, I prepared to take the plunge. And, what a plunge it was!!

People from all over the country come here to participate in kumbhmela. But, today, there is the added incentive of participation in a very different kind of mela – the mela of Industries, the mela of IT revolution. Thirty-six years ago, one had enough leisure time to relax on the banks of the Godavari, atop the Hill Temple or amidst the Pandu caves. The only worthwhile industrial activity in those days was confined to the village of Ojhar, situated approximately 30 Kms. from the Railway station, where an aircraft factory was being set up to manufacture the sophisticated MiG class of fighters. And, of course, the India Security Press which printed currency notes and the Government of India Press which printed Stationary. The villages of Ambad and Satpur were not even in the map of the Nasik of the sixties.

Times have changed. Several million cusecs of water have flown down the Godavari since then.

Nasik today is a tremendously busy industrial center, which does not have time to even sleep. Fairly well connected by road and rail, industries are localized in the two villages of Ambad and Satpur in Nasik and Sinnar on the Pune highway. Sanction has also been granted for the setting up of STPs (Software Technology Parks) under the aegis of MIDC. The wide range of Industries, which have found permanent footholds and have become the pride of Nasik, range from Plastics to Transmission Towers. Some products have become household names like VIP suitcases and MICO spark plugs. And, to cater to the needs of people who have migrated to this part of the world, any number of eateries, shops and such subsidiary establishments have mushroomed all over the city. Not to mention a full fledged Engineering College and a Medical College. To meet the continuously rising demands of local transportation, bus routes are being extended and new ones are being introduced. Even then, during peak hours, one will have to, more often than not, travel standing. A situation which the old timers could never have imagined!

This tiny hamlet town of Nasik, situated less than 200 Kms. from Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, is poised for even further growth. Its wonderful environment used to, once upon a time, attract vacationers. Today, it attracts entrepreneurs.

stranded at manmad

And then there was the case of being stranded in Manmad railway station.

I was not involved directly but was a mute witness to the miseries of the traveling public who rely on the railways to see them reach their destinations. This time it was the vagaries of Nature.

We are used to the vagaries of Nature. Boulders get dislodged and come rolling down the mountainside and crush the railway bogies – cutting many a journey short. It had happened with the Karanataka Express and, more recently, with the Konkan railway. Whenever we travel by train to Bangalore, we revel in the breathy taking scenario all around – the mountains standing majestically with boulders of all shapes and sizes. Some of the boulders rest on the ground – boulders of huge size which once nestled in some crevice is today in peace with the world, lying on a flat surface!!

Until a few years back, I used to travel to Bangalore practically once a year to have a darshan of Lord Balaji. There are a number of routes to reach Tirupathi and the Tirumala mountains, the abode of the Lord. I always preferred to go via Bangalore by taking one of the package tours. Sometimes I went alone, sometimes with my family and relatives. And, every time, we took in some of the other sights in and around Bangalore. In all I must have made twenty odd trips out of which twelve were continuous annual rituals. With the blessings of the Lord, I was able to perform the objective of visiting Balaji for twelve continuous years in the second week of June. I never fell sick, I never encountered disruption in traffic, I never faced any hurdle. The first package was of forty rupees, the last was around four hundred rupees!

This is not about Balaji darshan but about the pitiable state people find themselves in when the unexpected happens. I am reminded of an essay I wrote when in school – ‘the charm of the unexpected’. In real life, the unexpected does not always carry with it any charm. Experience has it that when one is in the last leg of ones journey, one relaxes weaving dreams of meeting ones near and dear ones on alighting from the train exchange pleasantries, have some snacks and move towards the comfort of ones home. If, suddenly, you realize that with five odd hours remaining to reach your destination, the train grinds to a halt and is unable to budge, what does one do? He would have, in all probability, have exhausted all his money. Any eatables that he might have been carrying would, also, have been finished. He would be at the mercy of the elements. To meet the needs of his basic survival, he would have to sell off his wrist watch or some such valuable. That is just the situation I witnessed at Manmad station.

People were literally stranded. There was heavy water logging of tracks leading to Bombay and, hence, all trains en-route were halted at intermediate stations.

I was going to Bangalore for my annual ritual and, luckily for me, the Karnataka Express arriving from Delhi was not affected. But the conditions of the stranded passengers were something I will never forget. People were lying on the platform and, inside the waiting rooms with lost expressions on their faces. Normally used to a cushy life style, some of them were at their wits end. The enterprising ones had managed to book rooms in hotels and lodges by paying exorbitant rates. Some of them took taxis, at a premium, to complete the remaining part of their journeys. Those who were unable to exercise any of these options just occupied the stations waiting for services to normalize.

destination india

of trains and poets

It was in December 1966 that I landed in the city of Nasik – to attend an interview. And I stayed on.

The time was when the West Indies visited Calcutta to play a Test match. ODIs were unheard of in the sixties! The day I landed at Howrah station, after attending the interview, I was greeted with front page photographs of a West Indian cricketer running for his life along Outram Road – with his bat raised in the air!! Apparently, something had gone wrong in the course of play.

Coming back to Nasik – in 1966, the train fare from Howrah to Nasik was a measly Rs 34.00 with reservation charges of just 25 paise! This nominal charge entitled the ticket holder to a really pleasant journey. Unauthorized passengers never dared to enter reserved coaches. Payment of 25 paise meant that one berth of the 3-tier compartment was yours till you reached your destination. Seventy-five berths and seventy-five passengers. Simple mathematics. In order to cater to the culinary needs of the valued passengers, there used to be Dining cars attached to, especially, the Super-fast trains. The attendants of these dining cars pampered the passengers no end. They never had any ulterior motives. They wanted to make the journey as pleasant as possible. They knew that, on reaching Howrah, every one will go his way – chances of a second meeting were as remote as the flowering of a lotus in the desert! In case such an incident did take place, the dining car attendant would display his second identity – that of a poet-cum-philosopher-cum-politician. He would recite modern poems or wax eloquent on the Marxist movement or even try to enroll you as a subscriber to his very own little magazine. Yes, Bengalees have always been like that. Several identities rolled into one. The very concept of little magazines is a unique example of true Bengali culture. As and when any Bengali starts to mature, the poet in him awakens. He recites poetry, he dreams poetry, and he thinks that he is the next Tagore!! He sends samples of his literary works to Editors all over and, when such samples fail to see the light of day, he decides to go it alone. With a couple of like minded individuals and by pooling a couple of hundred rupees, a magazine is born – to cater to the literary works of the core group. Little magazines started in the sixties and, a few have really stood the tests of time and survived. Some astounding poets have come up via this silent revolution. But then, these are the exceptions and they form a different story altogether.

We are in the process of rediscovering India…..

Today the fare from Howrah to Nasik is in the region of Rs 450.00 and possessing a reservation does not, necessarily, guarantee you the comforts that you would normally associate with long distance travel. Throughout the day you would be disturbed by the entry and exit of short distance passengers and an assortment of vendors who sell anything from air-pillows to cold drinks. The friendly dining-car attendant has been replaced by pantry-car waiters who are professionals to the core. They tempt you with innumerable concoctions and no love is lost between these waiters and the passengers – to them, hungry and thirsty passengers have very little choice and accept whatever is dished out without a whimper. Breakfast and lunch come in casseroles and tea and coffee are dispensed from thermos in throwaway cups. With new Ministers at the helm, alternate methods of dispensing tea, coffee, cold drinks are being considered. Of course, the number of trains through Nasik has certainly increased over these years and you have options of traveling in ordinary three-tier sleepers or in the three-tier AC sleepers. Also, prestigious trains like the Gitanjali have regular halts now at Nasik, thanks to an earlier Railway minister. But, that is a different kettle of fish altogether.