destination india

Friday, November 26, 2004

health consciousness

Allergy is a major irritant to residents of large metros. In India, nearly 200 million people spend Rs12,500 crores annually for the treatment of allergies. Allergy affects people from all walks of life right from the President of India to Sachin Tendulkar to Amitabh Bachhan. Studies have shown that about 80% of asthma patients began their descent into ill health with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) characterized by an itchy and running nose, sneezing and congestion. It is reported that 33% (the all India average is around 25%) of Delhiites suffer from one form of allergy or another. In order to treat these, they spent large sums of money on medications. The main reasons for allergies are pollution – traffic pollution, industrial pollution etc.. Allergy is basically the body’s way of rejecting that which it feels will be harmful – it could be an eatable or a cosmetic or the atmosphere. I know of persons who are allergic to sea food. Then there was a friend of mine who suffered from skin diseases when in his place of work but the complete thing vanished immediately he went back to his native place.

Obesity is another subject that attracts a lot of attention not just in medical circles but also in our living room talks. Practically every day there is some write up in one of the print mediums – whether it is a local language newspaper or not is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that all of us desire to possess a figure like that of a cine-star. Statistics from an American study pegged the number of deaths due to obesity at 400,000 per year – this was a bit of an exaggeration, they admit. But, those concerned about obesity cite it to show that being fat is almost as bad as smoking! Simultaneously, a Swedish research has revealed that women who are obese for many years are likely to suffer brain cell loss linked to dementia.

A notion exists that sexual activity can trigger a heart attack. The belief that physical exertion in the bedroom puts the heart into strain prompts many heart patients to reduce such activities, if not abstain totally. A Harvard study in 1996 suggested that the chance of sex causing a heart attack was remote – two in a million – even in subjects who had already had at least one attack! The study did not look at the intensity of the activity or whether the activity was extra marital. A similar Swedish study in 2001 found that the risk was small but highest among patients who were sedentary.

On the subject of heart related diseases, an interesting news item caught my eyes – a scanner is entering the market. It will try to remove the concept of angiograms to identify blockages of the heart. With these scanners, it takes seconds to diagnose the problem and the pictures are clear, they show every clogged artery in detail. These scanners are expected to cost around $700 as compared to $4,000 for an angiogram. Most people coming to an emergency room complaining of chest pain may have a pulled muscle and not a heart attack – still, they are admitted to the hospital and kept under observation for at least 24 hours – which may not be necessary at all. Use of scanners will do away with such wastages.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

in the wonderland of blogs

Once one gets addicted to this hobby, one is doomed to be a regular netizen for the rest of his life.

When I ventured into this unknown territory, I was apprehensive – surfing the net was something that needed to be learnt and understood. There were net etiquettes (netiquettes) that were to be captured – there were abbreviations that were to be used – there were icons called emoticons that ranged from the funny to the bizarre to be understood. The basic logic of the blog culture is that you are at liberty to post on any subject under the sun and release it for comments from far and wide – you must have the guts to accept honest criticism and be able to post replies, if the situation demands. Once you create a blog, it is like your own child – you have to nurse it and own responsibilities of its shortcomings.

I embraced this culture in July-2004.

Starting with one USA based site, I located a number of sites Indian and International and was surprised to notice that the taste in blogs vary from place to place. To quote an example – one of my blogs on ‘sweets of India’ was given a 5-star rating and has had a viewer ship of 239 in a non-Indian site whilst it has yet to reach 100 in the Indian site. Similarly, Indian fast foods attracted 107 eyeballs on the Indian site but 262 on its non-Indian counterpart.

Regarding comments on blogs – as already mentioned, this is a part of blog culture. The forum members give suggestions based on their experiences – these help the ‘newbies’.

For example, initially I used to post one blog on each subject. One of my forum friends advised me to combine similar posts into one blog and keep on increasing the number of posts. His logic was that if surfers found the blog interesting, he would keep on searching the net for the same blog again and again. I accepted the advice and, all my posts now fall into four major categories. Regular monitoring of the viewer ship patterns indicate the areas where one needs to improve upon.

Since freedom of speech is guaranteed, all comments posted against the blogs must be welcome. After all, those who post comments do it with some objective – the bloggers should accept such comments in the proper spirit. In some of the sites where I contribute, removal of comments is considered a serious crime. Other sites have options of removal of comments. Sensitive bloggers can resort to this option but, in my opinion, once a blog is posted it should remain on the net, intact, till the site itself closes down due to whatever reasons.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

blast for the blasters

We have heard of rockets blasting off from NASA airbases – journey to distant planets presupposes that the rocket carrying the payload of the spaceship will blast off immediately on completion of the count down. We have seen such jubilant scenes enacted in India also when our own rockets blasted off from coastal venues in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. However, when the rocket refuses to blast, it becomes a ballast weight – useful only to keep high flyers anchored down!!

Similar is the scenario in cricket.

When our favorite blasters fail to blast off, it spells miseries for hundreds and thousands of addicts – yours truly included. No amount of healthy tonics or planned diets can boost their energy levels – hence, mountain treks with kids in tow fail to create any impression on the viewer. Dwelling on the virtues of ayurvedic potions containing gold and silver to prove one-upmanship appear to be drab and lack charm. Ointments that guarantee immediate relief from pains fail to drive home the point since the individual himself is always prone to falling in the clutches of that devil called ‘accidents’ – one day it is a twisted ankle, next day it is a muscle pull or dislocation of some organ or another. It has to be remembered that legends remain legends as long as they can boast of differences that one can normally perceive.

Cricket is a game of fools – this observation is not mine but borrowed from what I had read way back in the fifties!! It was written that ‘cricket is a game in which one fool throws the ball, one fool hits the ball, ten fools chase the ball and hundreds of fools watch the ball’. Those more knowledgeable than me can certainly clarify who the author of this piece is. In today’s scenario, some more line needs to be added – ‘and millions of fools conduct research on the ball as to why it has lost its shape or why its seam should face in a certain direction or how it should be polished to retain its spinning characteristics’.

Apart from the ball, the leg also plays a major role in any cricket game.

There is a square leg, a fine leg, a long leg, a deep fine leg. And then there is the leg slip, leg gully and the leg glance. Of course, the most terrible of the legs is the ‘leg before wicket’. As it is, the batsman’s complete body is before the wicket – but, the reason as to why only the leg is singled out for unfair treatment needs to be studied. In fact, this single subject has spawned a large number of cricket accessories like stump cameras, third umpires, animation sequences of how the ball traveled, how the leg did not respond etc..

Thanks to TV, we have discovered that cricket is not only about legs but about balls as well. It certainly is an educative medium. Yes – it has helped all of us to acquire more knowledge. Unfortunately, they are still not able to predict as to which opening combination will click. Or whether our lovable cricket heroes have switched their preferences to roasted chicken legs rather than long legs and square legs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

mango vs coconut

Every country has its national flag followed by its national flower, national animal, national bird, national fruit and, of late, a multitude of national heroes! A Google search reveals that there are umpteen plus sites devoted to these subjects – the national animal, tiger (tiger panthera tigris) – 1,450, 000; the national bird, peacock (pavo cristatus) – 707,000; the national flower, lotus (nelumbo nucifera) – 525,000; and the national fruit, mango – 651,000. However, just as the national animal sometimes gets mixed up – is it the tiger or the cow – similarly, there seems to be a mix-up about the national fruit – is it still the mango or is it the coconut? The reasons are not far to see – where the animals are concerned, at every opportunity we bring up the bovine animal into the picture and weave all sorts of controversies around it while we seldom talk about the dwindling population of the canine counterpart – the tiger.

Mango is no doubt, the King of fruits – whether it is the Ratnagiri hapus of Maharastra or the chausa of Lucknow or the Fajli or Himsagar varieties of Bengal, these wonderful creations of God are unparalleled. Before ripening, these can be converted into pickles – both of the sweet and the sour varieties. Once ripe, they serve as refreshing desserts. Chilled Mango juice is gaining popularity. Some varieties taste like heaven once the juice is squeezed and sugar is added to the resultant semi solid along with a few spices. Some prefer to dry these semi solids, layer after later and preserve the final product that goes by the name of ‘amsatta’.

The coconut pales into insignificance against this backdrop. But they are also climbing the pop chart – slowly but steadily. Once upon a time, these were grown only in the sea coasts of Kerala and Karnataka apart from the river banks and waters of Bengal. It was given to understand that salty water was good for these trees. To prove the point, visuals of the Caribbean islands can be referred. But, the fact remains that today the coconut has spread its tentacles. Coconut trees are a common sight in practically every new bungalow constructed in different parts of the country. And – ad jingles promoting coconut oils as the best for shiny hair add more weight to the subject.
The debate would be an interesting one – mango versus coconut!! It would provide food for thought for a section of the people who are certain to argue that apart from catering to the taste buds, there is no other reason to vote for the mango. The coconut, on the other hand, serves as a source of pure drink, is a good food, its shells are made into toys, the fibers of the coconuts are used to make ropes etc etc..

And, of course, Bollywood has lifted the coconut from the category of an ordinary fruit to something special by naming a character as Narielpaniwallah!!

Can the mango boast of any such connection?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

education system in india

A recent news report makes a startling revelation that it is easier to get admitted into one of the best business schools in the world (like Harvard, Stanford and Kellogg) rather than trying to sweat it out to secure a rank in the CAT examinations for admission into one of the IIMs of our own country! In the foreign schools, the applicant to student ratio is of the order of 7 to 10 per 100 whilst for IIMs it is of the order of 1 in 100!! More shocking news follows: IIM Ahmedabad, the only Indian business school included in the rankings ranks as low as 64th in the world – the reason? It is not international enough.

In order to reach this level of education, one has to travel a really long distance.

Let us start from the very beginning – getting admitted into the nursery!!

Here again tension prevails. Once again, referring to recent news reports, it seems that many young parents spent their Divali holidays trying to sharpen up on their general knowledge, brushing up on their ability to converse in English, sending out feelers to the local political strong men for help and arranging to keep ready large sums of money for donating to the noblest of noble causes – namely, their children’s primary education.

Preparatory schools that are affiliated to well known schools are in great demand and they charge donations from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2.5 lakhs while the tuition fees are in the region of Rs 400 to Rs 2,000 per month. Some schools refuse admission to children whose parents are not graduates or are not able to speak English fluently enough or are not aware of etiquette and manners.

And what do these children do once they get admitted?

Well – Delhi has the dubious distinction of the country’s first parlor especially for children under 12 – little girls with dreams of walking the ramp are getting waxing jobs done as early as eight!!
These are real eye openers.

In this connection, the fear factor comes into fore – child molestation cases are on the increase. Who are we to blame? We seem to be at the mercy of the Frankensteins that we ourselves are creating. I remember a short story by the great Bengali author Sri Sunil Gangopadhaya, way back in the sixties, where he had painted a vivid picture of an Indian mother in America who used to give pills to her teen aged daughter regularly at bedtime to prevent unwanted results.

Friday, November 19, 2004

change the cricket outlook

Some things just do not change – like the stripes of a tiger.

The enfant-terrible does not convert into a stubborn character over night but over a period of time. When a child misbehaves, it is the basic responsibility of its parents to admonish it – whether by chiding or by inflicting punishment is immaterial. The ultimate aim is to make it see reason and mend its ways. It is but natural for a child to throw tantrums but, because it looks a darling with its dimples or is a cuddly little creature is no reason to allow it all types of liberties. The message must pass on to it loud and clear that its antics do not evoke the kind of emotion that it once used to.

Yes – I mean the recent episode involving intentional wastes of time in that exhibition cricket match. Every one is now busy propping up the case with umpteen numbers of crutches but, the fact remains that the golden touch is lost. It happens in every one’s career – it happens when one reaches his level of incompetence. The wise one realizes in time that he has become a spent force and withdraws gracefully from the arena. After all, physical strain does take its toll – so why not give the machine some rest? That would be a sensible thing to do rather than trying to push you to the limits and wait for a catastrophe to happen. Players who are not able to perform are liabilities.

The worst part is that not just one hero but all four of them are involved in regular flop shows – viewers who urge them on to attain greater heights feel terribly let down when they fail to deliver.

While no one wants to pull down his hero from the pedestal, no one can tolerate mediocrity either. By achieving milestones one after another, the heroes glow with satisfaction and we, the mortals, feel proud of them and pray for more and more. It is for the player to understand when he has reached his zenith. Throwing tantrums and blaming factors other than one’s own ability smack of hypocrisy of the highest order.

No one is getting younger. It is agreed that records are made to be broken but one should not try to keep on playing hoping to break one more record. Ours is a large country with any number of really good players waiting in the wings – keeping the future scenario in mind, we have to take a bold decision of turning our attention elsewhere. We have to anoint the next generation players who may bring back memories of Kapil’s devils.

The time is just right for effecting such changes.

Let us be bold enough to accept facts and introduce what is required to bring back our lost glory. In the process, some individual may lose out on creating new records – that should not matter. What should matter is our national pride.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

poles apart

There were two very interesting news items involving air travel.

The first one is about an incident involving an Indian Airlines Airbus-300 plane with 160 0dd passengers on board that hit a tractor during take-off from Goa airport. The impact damaged the nose undercarriage which takes the load of the aircraft on landing. Apparently, the plane took off without carrying the mandatory inspection that normally should have been done on such occasions. As per the information reported in the newspaper, the incident took place at around 9.15 pm on 6th November. ‘Had the safety officers been informed, they would have taken an x-ray of the nose wheel and a whole round of inspections would have followed before the aircraft was deemed fit for flight,’ an official said.

Luckily, the aircraft made a safe landing at Mumbai.

The second incident that has been reported from China…

A China Eastern Airlines passenger jet flying a daily route between Shanghai and Singapore was grounded for three days as crews tried to locate and exterminate a stowaway rat. The rat was spotted by passengers on a flight to Singapore … after the plane returned to Shanghai’s Pudong airport the following day; it took ground crew three days and 36 mousetraps to capture the unwanted guest. Following further safety inspections and a thorough disinfecting of the cabin, the plane was put back into operation.

Air travel safety cannot and should not be left to Luck.

In this connection, the dedication of non Indians deserves applause.

I remember my school days when Chinese shoes, Chinese dry cleaners and Chinese restaurants were a rage. There was a large dry cleaning shop in the building where I used to stay. The Chinese manager named Victor was a calm and quiet character who used to man the shop whole day. He had a Muslim assistant who would locate and retrieve the woolen or silken dresses that would come to Victor for dry cleaning. Every evening, his assistant would move the newly received clothes in a covered van rickshaw and, next morning, would bring back to the shop the clothes that were ready for delivery. Every thing used to move like clockwork precision. One fine day, Victor gave his shop a new look by installing a huge aquarium at the entrance. Then he followed it up with a pair of stuffed animals – a snake entwined around a mongoose. Residents of Bhupen Bose Avenue in Kolkata may recollect the scenes that I have described. I remember the Peiking restaurant on Park Street as also Chung Wah. Chinese food had not yet taken us by storm. Similarly, Chinese shoes were real bargains. An aged person sitting at the entrance would invite you with a nod and a smile and you were at liberty to go through his complete collection to find a pair that suited your pocket as well as your taste.

The unhappy incidents of the sixties were replaced by a never ending handshake that is still in our memories. Practically every hotel or restaurants offer Chinese food. Chinese lamps light up our Divali celebrations.

If they can do it, why can’t we?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

the copy cat culture

There is a beautiful reality show on the small screen in one of the Hindi channels where the common man is made the butt of joke. The central character is a Sardarji who keeps getting into problem situations and who seeks the help of the common man on the road or at the bus stop or in a shop to pull him out of trouble. For example, the time when he ‘discovers’ that his feet are stuck to the ground. He finds it impossible to lift his feet. Passers by try to give him a helping had but his feet will just not budge. If, by chance, he is able to move one of his feet, it again sticks to the new location when he puts his foot down!! Such episodes are hilarious, generate quite a lot of fun and have the audience in splits. The complete show is a clone of a similar program that once upon a time used to run on an English channel. And – the crowning glory is that it has been adopted by a couple of language channels as well.

Similar is the case with Hindi films.

There is any number of films that have been ‘inspired’ by foreign films. In this connection, there used to be some popular TV serials where the audience would be treated to visuals of both the versions, side by side. The presenter of the show, with his inimitable tongue-in-cheek humour, would draw the attention of the viewers to the specific cases so that you could not miss the similarities – they were so prominent. Film makers never acknowledge these and shrug them off citing them as coincident. Obviously, due credits are never given where it is due.

When we venture into the territory of songs, the similarities of tunes between an English one and its Hindi clone are too pronounced for comfort. Some haunting melodies of the 60s and the 70s stage a come back in our Hindi filmdom and, subsequently, move on to the language films.
The recent release of a repackaged block buster of the 50s and its immediate acceptance by the cine-goers is conclusive proof of the fact that those who deal in the finer forms of arts are starved of ideas. New story lines are absent and the song and dance (SAD) sequences necessary to support a weak storyline appear to be repetitions. Actors have become stereotyped, the dialogue writers have run out of quotable quotes and every ation seems to be predictable. With the fairer sex willing to plunge into murky waters and producers available by the dozens to finance one-off ventures, the final offerings of Bollywood fail to create any impression on the discerning public. Securing nominations for prestigious overseas awards does not guarantee an extraordinary movie.

Of course, we have to thank our lucky stars that the Copy Cat Culture has not yet encroached into the territory of children (like ‘Baby’s day out’, ‘Home alone’, ‘Monkey trouble’ and ‘101 Dalmatians’) or into real action packed films (like ‘Speed’, ‘First blood’ and ‘The Rock’). I leave it to your imagination to visualize desi versions of such films.

Monday, November 15, 2004

platinum jubilees

Platinum is one of the costliest of metals – even costlier than gold.

I remember when I was in school (in the fifties!) and it was necessary to have a thin filament of platinum wire to carry out analysis of different types of salts in the chemistry laboratory. If I remember correctly, my father paid Rs 25.00 for a tiny piece of platinum wire about two inches in length and diameter like that of a paper pin.
The precious metals are like that – silver, gold, platinum – in the order of increasing value.
Ads on the small screen coax you to go in for necklaces of platinum, embedded with diamonds. The height of affluence, if I may say so. Knowing fully well that a majority of viewers do not possess the power of the purse to acquire such novelties, the ad makers believe that regular viewing of such ads create a desire in the subconscious mind – and, that itself is half the battle won.

To come to Platinum Jubilee celebrations, it is normally held in the 75th year. A ‘Google’ search of ‘Platinum Jubilees 2004’ revealed 12,000 cases of Jubilee celebrations in 2004 out of which most of the sites were devoted to BCCI and cricket. The recently concluded exhibition match between India and Pakistan hogged the limelight. The game has certainly become a crowd puller. It was a real achievement for all Office bearers of BCCI led by the greatest leader of all times – Sri Jagmohan Dalmiya. His efforts to popularize the game put Kerry Packer’s efforts in the back burner. Whoever would have thought that a country like Holland would embrace the game!! Of course, this exhibition match left a certain amount of bitterness in our mouths, which could have been avoided. Cricket has always been a gentleman’s game – however, ever since cricketers started waving their shirts to rejoice a victory, the game has lost some charm. Roping in beauties to offer comments from time to time cannot compensate the loss.

One more Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2004 is for the famous comic character Popeye – the very depiction of the skinny sailor Popeye becoming a real real strong man just by gulping down a can of spinach was a revolutionary concept in itself. Whenever his darling Olive was in trouble, Popeye would descend on the scene and send her tormentors fleeing. Spinach, as we all know, has tremendous food value – but, children do not like it. So, a character like Popeye was created. It is reported that the consumption of spinach increased by nearly 35% after the Popeye series was released.

Some other notable Platinum Jubilee celebrations of 2004 are those of the Annamalai University, the Indian Railway Administrative Services, the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, the Vivekananda General Hospital, Hoogly and the Siam Beauty Saloon in Nepal.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

the sixty plus brigade

‘Men get naughty at four-zero forty’ is a favorite phrase of all those who have ever played a game called Housey or Tambola. I learnt the game when in Kanpur and honed my skills in the Airport club and the Fair-weather club in Calcutta. Today also, I participate in mini Tambolas in picnics.

This is not about Tambola but about the sixty plus brigade. Sixty plus in terms of age!! Aging is a natural process which is difficult to arrest but which can be accepted with grace. In Life, as in cricket, attaining a landmark of fifty urges you to try for the next landmark – the hundred. If you have the willingness and the stamina, no one can prevent you reaching the second more memorable landmark. However, if you feel that you are a spent force by the time you cross fifty, you are likely to perish unsung!!

In India, as in other countries, the sixty plus population is on the increase.

With better medical facilities available, with people more concerned about their health, with friends and the media continuously harping on the need to have a balanced lifestyle (meaning balanced diet with proportionate exercises to burn up excess calories and fat), we discover that people have come to love the post-sixty years. We are treated to a completely rejuvenated AYM (Angry Young Man) jumping with joy at managing a tongue twister or in the role of a boatman unplugging left and right to quench his thirst of his favorite cold drink. Screen personalities never seem to get old –we marvel at the way these celebrities of yore attend awards presentation ceremonies even today.

Same is true of Politicians.

Apparently, to succeed as a leader of the masses you need to be old enough to sit in judgment. Obviously, the more experience you gather, the more mature you become and the better are your chances of success. The present generation of Gandhis and Scindias has Politics in their veins. By the time they come of age (in Politics, that is!) they would most certainly be past their prime.

Gone are the days when retirement meant the end of the world – the retired person used to be converted to a persona non grata not just in his own family but in society as well!! To everyone, a retired person is supposed to be one who should be seen, not heard.

Times have changed.

Today, retired life does not necessarily mean a walking stick, monkey cap, muffler and sympathies. Retired life does not also mean chewing the cud of young age memories. Retirement has been redefined as a new beginning. Retired executives look for part time jobs, open consultancy services, and start coaching classes. Travel concessions are available to them and senior citizens are encouraged to travel and share their experiences with others simultaneously gathering newer experiences. Very few Senior citizens today depend on others to pull them through tight situations. They have realized that with the vast experience at their disposal, they can compete with the very best.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

celebs of november

November, the second last month of the year, has thirty days and the star sign assigned is Scorpio. It is interesting to note that on each and every day of this month, celebrities were born – a search on ‘’ revealed 948000 entries under the category ‘November birthdays’!! Just for the record –

1st - Aishwarya Rai – the doe eyed beauty of India who has taken the world by storm
2nd - Shah Rukh Khan and Burt Lancaster – both great actors. Remember SRK in the TV serials ‘Fauji’ and ‘Circus’?
3rd – Charles Bronson – another actor
4th – Laura Bush – the first lady of America.
5th – Vivien Leigh – an actress of yore
6th – John Alcock - the 1st English pilot to fly non stop across the Atlantic
7th – Madame Curie and Billy Graham
8th – Margaret Michel – the author of ‘Gone with the wind’
9th – Carl Sagan – the author who shared his love of astronomy with his audience
10th – Richard Burton, the actor and Oliver Goldsmith – the author
11th – Demi Moore – another actress
12th – Grace Kelly – the actress who married a King
13th – Robert Louis Stevenson and Whoopy Goldberg
14th – Prince Charles, King Hussein of Jordan and Jawaharlal Nehru
15th – William Pill
16th – Tiberius Claudius Nero
17th – Rock Hudson
18th – Alan Shepard, the 1st US Astronaut
19th – Indira Gandhi – India’s Prime Minister who was shot dead by assassins
20th – Bo Derek and Robert F. Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy
21st – Goldie Hawn
22nd – Billie Jean King, the tennis pro and Charles de-Gaulle
23rd – Boris Karlof – who played the part of Frankenstein
24th – Dale Carnegie
25th – John F. Kennedy – President of America who was shot dead by an assassin
26th – Charles Schultz, the ‘peanuts’ cartoonist who created the characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy
27th – Bruce Lee
28th – John Bunyan
29th – Louisa May Alcott – the author of ‘Little Women’
30th – Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift – none of them need any introduction

It can safely be assumed that Scorpions love to create a world of their own – they never bow down to pressure and believe in themselves. May their tribe increase. In case some important names have been omitted, such omissions are purely unintentional. You may add to the list.

Monday, November 08, 2004

googly on the hoogly

Googly is a special type of bowling where the batsman is deceived by the grip of the bowler – obviously, he experiences difficulty in playing to such bowling since he does not get the type of ball he anticipates.

For quite some time now, criticism has been heaped on West Bengal in general and Kolkata in particular - namely, Bengalis are losing out on the favorite saying ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. There is no need to go into the reasons for arriving at such conclusions. Suffice it to say that the authorities are turning corners. During my recent visit to Kolkata, I asked the taxi driver – what is new in Kolkata and pat came the reply ‘flyovers!’ Yes, these massive structures have certainly eased the terrible traffic snarls that one used to face earlier.

Now for some more googlies –

A horse drawn tram car is planned to be introduced shortly in order to bring us closer to Nature. Its station will be located at Babu Ghat and, initially, a 1 Km track will be laid. The facilities will be available from 4.30 to 6.30 in the evenings –the 15 minute ride will take you past the pagoda and let you have a wonderful view of the Hoogly River. The horses will be taken from the Kolkata Mounted Police and the body of the tram will be of fiber glass while its wheels will be of wood. Plans are also afoot to have a Botanical garden, a Nature’s trail and a Jogger’s park in the Eden gardens. Entry will be chargeable and season tickets will be available. If everything goes as per plan, the tram car can be thrown open to the Public by mid 2005.

Simultaneously, a Heritage Park is planned opposite the Rabindra Sadan and adjacent to the Victoria Memorial. To be laid out on a 5 acre plot of land at a cost of approximately Rs 5 crores, there will be statues of the Victorian era positioned in the park like the light posts which will also be of the vintage types, with subdued lighting to recreate the era of gas lights!! There will be a podium and a stage with seating arrangement for conducting open air programs. To make the layout more attractive, there will be three lotus ponds and five fountains. This park is expected to be released to the public by April 2005.

The above two projects involve the State Government, the Central Government and the Kolkata Corporation – since the three entities sing different political tunes, let us hope that in the larger interest they bury their differences and give to Kolkata its dues. It is understood that sponsors will be welcome.

To come to some more googlies –

Plans have been finalized for the construction of a 5 storied building to be situated opposite the VIP market in Kankurgachi. To be called the ‘Food House’, this unique building will house cuisines from different continents in different floors!! The atmosphere of each floor will reflect the culture of that area – all these will be depicted through music, murals, paintings, dress etc..

Similarly, a new company with private funding is making its debut – it will launch river services to transport food products from different districts of Bengal to the centralized markets in Kolkata. Potato from the Hoogly district, mangoes from Maldah, paddy from Burdwan, fish from Digha – all will come to Kolkata via water. It seems this will be considerably cheaper than the existing road transport systems. The service is planned for launch with a fleet of three steamers by March 2005.

These two projects are with private funding and expectations of Kolkattans are high. Let us hope that they are not disappointed.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

management of time

Time is a very slippery character.

We have heard umpteen numbers of times that time and tide wait for no one. When one is in sorrow, it is customary for us to console him by saying ‘time is a great healer’. The time machine conceived by H G Wells had the ability to transport us from one era to another. We try to squeeze out of tight situations by saying ‘there is a time and place for everything’. And, of course, in India time bound programs always exceed the boundaries of acceptance limits leading to cost over runs and revision of estimates – a project initially sanctioned for a certain amount of money finally gets completed for ten times that amount.

It happens only in India.

Time is an entity available to each and every one of us in abundance, be he a prince or a pauper. It is completely free of cost and obligations. There are no hidden strings attached! A day has 24 hours out of which at least 8 hours are earmarked for attending to regular work that result in monetary gains. These need to be recycled back in to the system to fulfill the basic needs of life – roti, kapda and makaan! The balance 16 hours is at our disposal to be spent as we wish. A lot has been written on how best to manage this mercurial element called time – no one seems to have enough of it. Seminars are held, books are published, experiences are exchanged but there does not appear to be any solution in sight to this perennial problem.

Take a simple activity like going to office.

If you are using your personal transport, you would normally do a couple of things before leaving – check the tyre pressure, fuel availability, serviceability of indication lamps, horn etc.. In spite of these precautions, when you are half way, suddenly one of your cable snaps or the air hisses out of your tyre. You are stuck with a genuine problem, no doubt, that will disturb your beautifully worked out schedule of the day. A similar situation may arise when you are leaving town either on business or for pleasure. You have to take a long distance bus or use the services of the railways or depend on an airline. Here also something unexpected might happen. A probable solution in such cases would be to leave a bit early.

Once you arrive at office and settle down to work, you have the day’s schedule in front of you. Your planning appears to be perfect – you have allotted time slots for individual activities. Suddenly, you are disturbed - Boss is on the line. He takes up some of your time. By the time you return to normal, your friend is on the line – long distance. He just called to say ‘hello’ and exchange pleasantries! Some more of your time goes in the unplanned bracket. There could be disturbances of unruly staff, adamant subordinates, and friends in need of advice or consolation. Therefore, your schedule for the day must take into account all such situations. Obviously, out of the eight hours, an able administrator of time would plan a certain portion as non productive. Those who fail to do this have to overstay in the office and, occasionally, carry office work back home!

Why do we fail to recognize the value of time and acquire the ability to manage time? After all, this ability is what efficiency is all about – it differentiates the achievers from the also-rans. We have not learnt to respect time. We love to arrive at functions much after the scheduled start – is it to get noticed? We enjoy waiting for the bus or train to arrive – is this not most unfortunate?

We aim to become Super powers in this part of the world, our leaders are trying their level best to become permanent members of the United Nations – but we do not believe in setting examples.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

journey with a difference

Once upon a time, there used to be a Party with a difference. There also existed a Team with a difference. Both felt themselves to be invincible. Both were like balloons blown out of proportions waiting for catastrophe to strike. Alas, today they are licking their wounds. This is the way the cookie crumbles, to borrow a phrase from the inimitable James Hadley Chase.

I recently undertook a journey with a difference!

I had some lapsable leave to my credit as well as an unconsumed LTC. Therefore, I decided to visit Kolkata. I wanted to see for myself whether a change of name (from Calcutta to Kolkata) had really any influence on the populace and whether there was any likelihood of flow of dollars and yens into the economy of the state, as is being envisaged in certain quarters.

Thanks to computerization of the Indian Railways, I was able to obtain both to and fro reservations by the dream of a train – the Gitanjali. Normally, all other trains to Howrah originate as night trains from Mumbai – but, the Gitanjali is an exception. It leaves VT at the crack of dawn. Hence, we were treated to sights that we usually do not encounter while traveling by other trains. Suffice it to say that the journey in the comforts of 3 Tier AC was uneventful. We arrived at Howrah a few minutes after the scheduled time and it was a surprise to put my foot down on a relatively clean platform devoid of hawkers and vendors. The stall of Hyderabadi dum biryani at the entrance appeared to be new, it was chock full of hungry mouths.

During my very brief stay I went to the Science city and loved the 3-D Theater. I was given a pair of special spectacles to wear and was repeatedly warned not to bend or twist the equipment since it can break and, if broken, I will have to pay Rs 150.00!! And then once the 12 minute show started, I had sharks and lizards jumping from the screen right into my face. An experience not recommended for the weak hearted.

Then I visited the two City Centers.

The one at Theater Road is a massive affair complete with brightly lit shops displaying the latest in what have you. Right from imported suitcases to lingerie to chocolates, the CCs had them all. Escalators take you from one floor to another – trying to influence your decisions. The City Center at Salt Lake is smaller in comparison but it boasts of a departmental store where you could get anything from bananas to soft toys. The Food court on the roof top is amazing. Looking around, it is difficult to visualize that this city was once weighed down by load shedding and power cuts.

One can safely conclude that Calcuttans have learnt the art of living life king-size.

It is high time that the Ochterlony monument gets a new coat of paint – preferably of a color other than red! Red does not do justice to it any longer. What was the in-thing in the seventies does not have any charm today.

Monday, November 01, 2004

welcome to tipsyland

The other morning I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (one time Radio Ceylon!) is still a charming radio station. Its ability to select and present songs of yesteryears every morning with extremely few repetitions speaks volumes for the dedication of the staff. The radio station possesses an excellent collection of songs that are catalogued and preserved to be presented on specific occasions. It is one of the few radio stations that keep track of birthdays and anniversaries of past singers, actors and all those associated with the field of entertainment. Thereby, it helps the audience to relive those lost moments – the start of the day owes a lot to these songs.

The morning I am talking about, it was the turn of drinks and drunks to come centre stage!!
It is an accepted fact of life that drinks, hard drinks that is, make one tipsy.

I first tasted hard drinks in Kanpur. I and a few others were civilian employees among a group of Airmen. When we were assigned a task and it was completed, we used to celebrate by going for a picnic to the nearby Wilson Forest. In this picnic, there used to be one Sergeant Chakravorty, a teetotaler, who would man the drinks counter. Drinks would be a cocktail of XXX Rum, XXX Rum and XXX Rum mixed in a huge barrel. No one kept count of the number of refills and, at the end of the day, young men who were bubbling with energy only a few hours earlier could be seen trudging with difficulty to the vehicle. Some of them would have to be located and bodily lifted into the transport.

When I landed in Maharastra, I was introduced to the mosambi and narangi. The kick they gave was stronger than that of a mule. You would have considerable difficulty in making contact of your feet with the ground beneath your feet and would not know whether you were coming or going. I speak from experience.

However, when it comes to depicting such scenes on the silver screen, our heroes and heroines fail to do justice. Invariably, the heroes hit the bottle to drown their sorrows thereby presenting an opportunity for a song sequence. The heroines, on the other hand would pretend to be drunk just to prove a point. In this context we cannot forget Asha Parekh in ‘Ziddi’ dancing to that beautiful number – ‘raat ki samay, jhume chandrama’. We also had Rekha alongside Farookh Shaikh in ‘bibi ho to aisa’ performing on similar lines. Other heroines like Helen and Bindu were forever imitating drunks and dancing into the hearts of the cine goers via sizzling dance numbers. But, one of the most memorable performances was by the duo Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz in ‘aap ki kasam’ – the number? Jai Jai Shiva Shankar. An unforgettable rendering of a couple of intoxicated souls – the intoxication was not a result of hard liquor as we know it but of an indigenous version called ‘bhang’.

Among the heroes, Amitabh Bachhan, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar have impressed with songs like ‘chal mere bhai’, ‘sawaan ki mahine mein’, ‘mujhe duniyawalo sharabi na samjho’…. And, I have lost count of the number of times that legend of a man Keshto Mukherjee enacted the part of a drunk. But, in my opinion, one of the most impressive rendering of a drunk was by Lee Marvin in ‘Cat Ballou’. The way he would draw his pistol and shoot down bottles thrown up in the air, while tottering drunkenly on his feet, just goes to show how good an actor he was. There are very few artistes who can deliver such memorable performances.

Is anyone contemplating remixes of such songs?