Sunday, October 14, 2012

Driving, Swimming, English Vinglish...

English Vinglish is India’s answer to Shirley Valentine.  
It is a must watch movie for every woman. Young and old, single and married. Every woman who goes to watch this movie may do well if she takes her man along. You never know, with some luck he may be able to relate to it.
A touching and sensitive movie of a homemaker running a small home business of  making sweets( laddoos) and a seemingly happy family of Husband , two children and a mother in law.

Sashi, the protagonist of the movie comes across as this selfless, naïve and innocent and ignorant woman that we all so easily associate mothers with. Beneath this stereotype of being the selfless homemaker lies this human being, whose emotional  needs are repressed and taken for granted  in the daily grind of serving her husband, a teenage daughter , a son and a mother in law.
A solo travel to New York to arrange her niece’s wedding before her family comes over, her complete mess up  at a café in Manhattan, a secret enrolment for an English crash course in NY and all the rest that unfolds is funny, sensitive, gripping and most importantly inspiring to anyone who relates to the Sashi in themselves.
When you learn to love yourself, you will never need to look for gratification from those around you. Thank you for making me feel good about myself … 
It is what Sashi says  in the climax of the movie.

I swear I am not the senti type, but I must confess I wept in a movie hall after a long long time.
Because it  touched a chord in me and took me down the memory lane almost 10 - 12 years ago.  

Almost ten or twelve years ago , I took upon myself to teach swimming to a middle aged housewife  who was going through the early stages of ‘empty nest syndrome’ since  her children were growing  up and did not seem to need her around as much as they did a few years ago. She lived around the place where I went to swim and would often sit near the pool and watch me swim. One day while I stepped out of the changing room, she came up and asked me if I would teach her to swim. She was a stranger to me and that was probably the first time I had a conversation with her. I had nothing to lose and I was happy to teach her as long as she came to the pool at the same time I did.
I learnt swimming when I was well into my adulthood and know how unnerving it feels to overcome your fears and learn something at that age.  I was the lone woman student at the YMCA where I had enrolled for  swimming lessons   and my coach was too cautious  (or may be shy)  and reluctant to push me harder the way he pushed his other male and younger students.  
I instinctively knew how handicapped it feels to be an adult and a woman and still hold on to a child like desire to learn something new without the fear of being ridiculed or laughed at.   

Her husband was a fitness freak and was a regular at the pool. But she wanted to learn swimming when he was’nt around. I think I Understood.
 It took her a couple of months to get the hang of the whole thing. I think I really was a patient teacher.  J
But finally  when she did manage to take the plunge ( literally) I could feel and sense the  triumphant self  in her.  It was not about having overcome the fear of water or of  having successfully learnt to swim. This feeling of triumph was well beyond that.

I remembered her today when Sashi  said,
’When you learn to love yourself, you will never need to look for  gratification from those around you. Thank you for making me feel good about myself. … 

It was a triumph that comes from feeling good about yourself , letting go of yourself and believing in yourself.   
I experience that triumph , that feeling of being in love with oneself,  everyday when I Drive my car to work. Drive my car to buy groceries and vegetables, Drive my car to do window shopping, Drive my car to go and see movies and meet up friends. May be some day even Drive my car to a different city on the highway...

After years and years of failed attempts to learn driving,  all it took was a giant leap of self confidence for me to shut out in my mind all the silent discouragement, ridicule and dismissals that I had conditioned myself to believe over all these years and take my small baby steps towards what I then perceived as freedom and mobility.
Very often when I go out for a drive I remember to  count my blessings and I feel thankful. I feel thankful not so much  for having learnt to drive but for having learnt to  love myself and believe in myself.
That is all that matters.

Driving , Swimming, English, Vinglish are just different by-products that manifest themselves when a woman learns to believe in herself and love herself.        

Friday, October 05, 2012

Unusual occupations : Grocery shop owner

Chottu runs Bhavana general stores ,which is situated  round the corner from where we live. It is a decent sized grocery and general shop that sells everything that one would need to run a day to day  household  from milk to mosquito repellants all under one roof.

Chottu’s uncles and relatives run many  grocery shops all around the city. When Chottu’s uncle invested in Bhavana general stores, the only customers around the place were construction workers who had pitched their tents and lived on the daily wages building out the apartments and houses in the vacant plots around the area. This could have been around 10 years back. Ours is a locality that has seen abundance of construction and new development in the last 3-4 years thanks to being close to the IT hub.

The business model was simple. Staples like rice, wheat flour, oil and pulses were available in as little quantities as was required for two square meals a day till the next daily wage arrived. Occasional credit was given if the customer  found himself  out of work for a day or two due to illness or some other interruption.  The margins were obscenely high when you convert wholesale prices to retail prices in this kind of a business model.    

Over the last few years, the constructions took shape and landscape changed. Dotted with Apartments and some independent houses this concrete jungle is  now a highly sought after  locality to rent  for the Tier 2 workers of the IT and BPO hub situated just a few kilometers away from Bhavana general stores.      

Chottu , unlike what his name suggests is no more the little boy that he was when he freshly arrived in Bangalore from Gujarat after failing his class 10 exams. He has grown up along with the city.   His uncle set up and then handed over Bhavana general stores’ proprietorship to him as a part of his family obligation in a joint family of five brothers.
Chottu’s father, the eldest among them trades in wholesale pulses market  at the Agricultural produce market corporation ( APMC) in Navi Mumbai.  He procures his wholesale produce from Traders and farmers in Gujarat. His brothers and their sons are all scattered all over India especially in bigger cities.
Chottu’s uncle is the youngest of the five brothers and migrated to Bangalore much before it was coined the silicon valley of the east. Over the years many of Chottu’s cousins have apprenticed under him running grocery shops of similar kinds all over Bangalore much the same way his other cousins have taken over or expanded family business from their fathers, uncles and other relatives.  Their's is a close knit large family with firm traditional roots.             

There are few customers of Bhavana’s who are now construction workers. Most of them have moved away to other construction sites after construction work dried up over here.  In keeping with times Bhavana has also changed its looks and the way it deals with customers. We moved into this area about 3 years ago when about 50% of the vacant plots were still under construction.  About 700 meters from the corner where Bhavana’s is situated, is Hypercity, the one of its kind supermarket that  stocks up international brand items including packaged foods from the Marks and spencer.    When we looked out for a place to shop for our monthly groceries the choice was between Reliance fresh, Hypercity and Bhavana general stores.
While I would have chosen a Reliance fresh, if not  Hypercity, my parents chose Bhavana General stores. They were a product of the 1970’s India when being frugal was not so uncool , but a neccessity.  

Having been used to huge supermarkets abroad I have explained to them many time over that it is a myth that a big supermarket like Hypercity or Reliance fresh would sell their products any more expensive than Bhavana general stores. If anything, their mass volumes made up for their bargaining power with suppliers and things were bound to be cheaper in supermarkets than at small corner shops like  Bhavana.
Like with many other things  we have agreed to disagree on matters where we think it is a ’generational gap’, with them firmly rooted in their age old wisdom and me in my new age exposure of how things will come to shape over the next few years in a more modern India.

 For example, a decent level of affluence assures us not to have to depend on the ‘pay day’ and to on anyday of the month for our monthly groceries. Yet my parents unfailingly draw up the grocery list on the last of the month and order for it on the 1st of the next month. (1970’s licence raj hangover) .
Chottu delivered our monthly groceries at home this afternoon as unfailingly as he does on the first of every month after he is handed over a hand written list jotted down by my  mother in the morning, handover over to him when my father ventures out for his morning walk.   

I asked him about what he thought about the Foreign direct investment and impact on small traders like him .  In what ensued to be a 10-15 minute long talk was a much more insightful  conversation than what I had come to believe reading half a dozen business magazines covering the pros and cons of FDI in retail in India.  
For starters  I did not fathom Chottu could have been known by a more formal and respectable name like  Suresh Aggarwal .  Everytime I accompanied my mother for her ad hoc grocery shopping, she always reprimanded Chottu for this and that… for not stocking up her favourite pooja item  or for not attending to her as quickly as he could have instead of ranting over on his mobile phone ever since he got engaged, for keeping his shop closed on every amavasya ( new moon day)  without caring for lost business or for not keeping a strict vigil on the boys who worked in his shop ( there were many more Chottu’s who were now his underlings).

 He did not look the kinds who took her rantings as serious customer feedback.  Rather he behaved like he was used to reprimands and nudges from matronly middle aged women who were old enough to be his mothers.

Suresh and the rest of the Aggarwal clan believe that while the FDI may change the retail landscape in India, it does’nt worry them and they are confident their business model will survive.  He went on further to say that the members of Aggarwal clan go out to survey products and costs at the supermarkets all over the city.

While reliance fresh or Big bazaar give the customer big discounts on onions and potatoes or other such frequently purchased items, they make up for it by inflating the cost of oil, pulses and grains like rice and wheat. The  not so smart  customer remembers the price of onions and potatoes she bought last week, but tends to forget the cost of Toor dal, tamarind and Atta that she stocked up a couple of months back. 

My mother interrupts  perhaps to prove a point here or may be genuinely  to corroborate the fact that,  Tamarind is 26.50 in Reliance … whereas it was 18 at bhavana last month. 

That is a trick game small traders like the aggarwals need to fight with the onslaught of Retail giants like big bazaar and Reliance  fresh and the likes of walmart. ( I can understand Reliance and Big bazaar , but I  was surprised that a 10th class drop out would mention wal-mart. For wal-mart is not even an existing brand in india at this point in time. ). He then went on to explain how they differentiate themselves from the supermarkets.

Hypercity that is just 700 meters away from Bhavana , is situated at on the main road  where you could only shop if you got your car because no residential complex exists in its vicinity. Not all people own cars and not all people who own  cars might want to take their cars out to buy themselves some adrak-mirchi from hypercity .

At 7.00 am in the morning when hypercity’s shutters are still down for stock taking, morning walkers, busy workers go to the corner shop like Bhavana's to buy doodh-dahi – adrak – mirchi in as small a quantity as they wish. This is how they establish customer relations.  Once a customer trust is established and they understand the value of the relationship, their business with the customer is a repeat business.

Now my mother is getting a little insecure and thinks he is getting a little headstrong. She interjects saying she does have to worry about the cleaniless of rice or tamarind at reliance fresh but there is every chance that the boys in Chottu shop will palm off poor quality stuff onto her were she not very vigilant.

The Aggarwal’s or other people who are into this business open their shops very early in emerging areas where a supermarket will not get built for atleast ten years. They also look at the kind of people who live in that area and choose to open their shops in what modern day economists would categorize as an area with a demographic profile of  lower middle class / below poverty line people.  As affluence starts kicking in, they would loose customers to big retail giants, but sooner or later people would come back to them.

There exists an abundance of population in this country that would do business with small shops because their prices are competitive and they are more friendly. I would assume he means flexibility with credit that shopkeepers like him would extend to customers, affluent or otherwise which a more formal set up of a supermarket cannot afford to extend.   

I asked Suresh, if he was not concerned about the money power of the retail giants that would help them  mass procurement and supply chain networks  that enable them to bargain and get deep discounts directly from manufacturers .

He answered saying all the money that they would save by direct dealing with wholesalers  would get  spent on  overheads such as an airconditioned infrastructure, till boys and girls, huge advertisements and other overheads. 

I got a feeling he was being Naïve… but that could just be his lack of articulation.   Afterall he comes from a family of traditional businessmen whose diaspora is spread and firmly connected all across  the world.

He went on to add that small shops like his can afford to remain competitive with their retail prices because of their family and clan networks that enables them to have the supply chain linked directly with traders and  producers. His father traded at the APMC, his uncles and other relatives retail all over the country. Their shops may be small, but the collective worth of their business is certainly not.
I asked him if he would mind if I took a photograph of him for a blog that I was writing.  Not very sure if he understood what I was saying, my mother explained  to him how I wrote about all ‘non sense ‘ everyday things and put them on the internet along with silly photographs for foreigners to see.   :) ( That being a very inaccurate description of my simple passion for writing about everyday things ... i let it pass ... )
 On noticing that he was very obligingly posing for my camera, she once again nudged him saying his wife was going to give him good when she saw his photograph on the internet.    

Many times when  that  sullen, battered  looking black woman swiped my card at the till in the supermarket  before finalizing my purchases and wished  me a mechanical  ‘good day Ms. Gopal’  after reading my name on my credit card with a plastic practiced smile, I would smile back at her, quickly read the name tag on her uniform and give a reply ‘thank you Maria’ or thank you <name tag> … depending on what the name tag read.       

I realized today, customer relationships could run far deeper than that. And it is not going to be easy to break that away. ..  

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS - Work from home - data entry operator

Manjunath ( Photpgraph withheld to retain confidentiality) grew up and graduated from Hindupur near Anantapur.  His father owned  some land there that they cultivated . Ever since his father fell ill, they have leased out the land and live out of the income.

Inspired by his grandfather’s words, Manjunath set out to Bangalore the city of prosperity and growth, 150 kms away from his home  to find a corporate  job.

While at home he attended  V R Reddy’s spoken English classes where he learnt among other things practical life skills such as confidence building, how to answer interview questions , spoken English, the art of networking and making contact with high officials and such things.  

After many failed attempts to get through an interview in the BPO companies in big bad Bangalore, despite all that education from Reddy Sir’s tutorials, Manjunath’s finances started dwindling. 

Proud young man that he is, he could not take any more money from his ailing father.

Manjunath chanced upon an advertisement near Majestic that called for data entry operators who could work from home.  He applied and after a few back ground checks, was given an assignment to type 250 pages . Upon good quality and timely delivery of the work he would be paid Rs. 12 per page.

Thus started Manjunath’s career as a data entry operator. He typed pages and pages of scanned manuscripts sitting on his second hand laptop in the PG accommodation that he shared with other boys from Anantapur.   

Manjunath specializes in motivational books. Among the many short stories he has typed, he narrated a first hand version of how selfless workers in Japan staked their lives to close down a nuclear reactor after the  disastrous earthquake, despite personal hazard of heavy nuclear radiation to ensure greater good for mankind.

There are similar stories of unsung heroes from all over the world that he uncovers when he types these manuscripts.   The cover page of these books is unknown to him as his contract agency does not disclose those details. 

Unbeknownest to Manjunath, I discovered he was the man who  typed the pirated copy of ‘Chicken soup for the soul at work’ or one such version in the Chicken soup series  for a client from Kenya.  

Manjunath takes pride in the fact that his manuscript is proof read in Kenya and published there. That makes him a qualified international BPO worker.

Many years ago , I was patron of this extremely knowledgable street side hawker who sold the pirated versions of all bestsellers  in the market near Churchgate station in Mumbai. These books were not without their flaws. Sometimes they had the crucial pages of the thriller missing and that could seriouly irritate an engrossed reader. The Pirated books network was suaully so strong that there was literally no bestseller that did not find its way at the pavement shop a few days after ( or sometimes even before)  it was officially released.          
Manjunath and many of his friends make it possible for a wider audience across the third world to read books at throwaway prices on pavements in big cities that others would go to the bookstores to buy.   

I met him when he had come for a job interview and we got talking about his current job as a freelance data entry operator.  It was then that I uncovered some interesting facts during the conversation.  I liked him and his small town optimism.

With a heavy heart, I scribbled a ‘rejected’ onto his interview evaluation sheet.  He could very well have passed our ‘Criminal background check’ required for the job.  But my conscience would have objected.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Come early next year …
Ganapathy Bappa has not been generous this year.  Not atleast to us Bangaloreans.
What is supposed to be a thanksgiving celebration after a good monsoon, hardly feels so this year.

This year’s Ganapathy festival marks the beginning of a year long drought as the monsoon spell normally ends with the Ganapathy visarjan.  
This year, the newspapers were abuzz with pleas from corporators and the government requesting people to buy eco friendly Ganapathy and immerse them in artificial tanks and not pollute the water bodies.  


Here is the total count of Ganapathy idols at our apartment complex that were kept for visarjan.
Not bad - about 50% of people have heeded to the call and have chosen to buy an unpainted clay version of the elephant god rather than go with the painted version. 

In the south; ok atleast in my family we always got home a clay Ganapathy.  Those were the days when painted ganapathy idols were expensive.  Over the years as affluence increased and more importantly since neighbours got home more colourful versions home we started feeling left out. Call it peer pressure or keeping up with the Joneses . We joined the gang.
The social wisdom behind Ganapathy idol being made of clay was lost in the interim.
After many years, the unfashionable clay version is back in fashion again and we made the eco-friendly fashion statement by getting the Ganapathy made out of Clay .

There was not much by way of pandal hopping in the area that I live in.  I am not sure if this speaks of a lack of community feeling or just sheer urbanization with an influx of migrants who are yet to find their roots in the neighbourhood. BEML layout had a couple of sarvanajik Ganapathy pandals like last year. 
Our Apartment had one and this was the time for residents to contribute, come together and socialize. The response including mine, was luke warm to say the least.    




The Ganapthy at the entrance of Hypercity supermarket was the one that took the cake this year.
This GEMS Ganapathy was irrestitably sweet.   
Nevertheless … Miss you Mumbai
Ganapathy Bappa maurya !!
Pudchya varshi laukar yaa !

Come early next year
At this rate we really need the rains early next year. Our borewells are drying up.

And the water Mafia is sucking us dry. Ganapathy Bappa - come back and save us.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Unusual occupations - Coconut tree climber

Coconut tree climber
Bangalore is never short of coconut trees. Coconut trees were everywhere before the concrete jungle took over. In apartments like ours where  a few lucky trees survived the axe when the builders started construction are today a welcome respite to the little greenery left in urban spaces. The coconut trees are not maintenance free. They need sprucing up.  The coconut produce is big business . It is normally leased out to the person who also climbs up to fell the produce and trim up the tree.    

He was at work this morning and so I gave my swimming practice a miss.
The coconut tree climber.
Muniyappa climbs coconut trees. He fells the coconut, cut the dry leaves off the branches and makes a living out of the per tree wages and by taking a portion of the produce that he plucks.
His is a dangerous job.   It is not just about the danger of climbing these heights. Coconut trees  abound with insects like scorpions and many of them go helter skelter when the branches are cut. A scorpion sting can be excruciatingly painful, poisonous and sometimes fatal.
He probably has no medical insurance or disability insurance. 
A free fall from a tree can paralyse the person for life.

For those of us working in comfortable airconditioned office spaces here is a blessing to count.
Or Maybe there is a lot of fun that we are missing out on. 

With rising literacy levels and a wide choice of safer occupations, it will not be unfair to say that the occupation is on the verge of extinction and soon enought machines and robots would replace the coconut tree climber.   

A search on google and youtube throws out abundant number of indigenous inventions primarily from Kerala to overcome the shortfall in the number of coconut tree climbers.  

A diesel operated motor used in yet another indigeneously Indian way. Click  Here to watch one of them . 
Is this what they call ‘Jugaad’? :)






Saturday, September 01, 2012

Puttu pazham

This wholesome breakfast of puttu pazham on a lazy Saturday morning  has some history to it.

This puttu maker was one more of my impulsive buys somewhere near wayanad on a long drive from Bangalore. 

Made out of two simple coconut shells, this is the medium that steamed puttu for a long time until the stainless steel kozha was invented. 
I had no intention of actually making puttu out of them. I only wanted it to be ornamental piece in my drawing room or my kitchen.

For months it has been lying around unused.  Today I decided to use it for what it was originally crafted for.   And wow , what was otherwise called kozha puttu did come out just as well if not in teh same shape  it would have in a stainless steel funnel.

With a small hole on one corner of the coconut shell it fits wells into the steam rising out of the cooker. A 5 to 8 minutes of  steaming  and a quick, filling and healthy breakfast is ready .

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mavalli Tiffin rooms

More famously known by its abbreviated form MTR is synonymous with the garden city and it old world charms. 
A 100 meters from the Lalbagh botanical park, it is certainly not the fine dining place you would take an ‘unindianized’ visitor to.
Or so I thought. 

My brunch today was with a dozen or so fellow walkers from USA, Germany, France & Romania at MTR after an amazing ‘Green Heritage walk’ just across the road at the Lalbagh botanical gardens.  

More about the walk in yet another blog, for the heritage and history of MTR is itself worth a blog.

There were no forks and knives, just the spoons and some paper napkins since the visiting were not used to 'hand wash'. 
The fanfare served for the brunch was MTR’s signature dish – the Rava idli, a Masala Dosa and a Plain Dosa with generous helpings of ghee. 

This was preceded by a Bangalore grape juice and followed by the Chandrahara a sweet from Karnataka and summed up by the south Indian filter coffee served in Real Silver tumblers. ( A privilege exclusively reserved for the Bangalore walks customers)

A motley mix of curious tourists, software professionals from all over the world overseeing the work get ‘Bangalored’ and a couple of new age bangaloreans like me were out discussing the prevalence of
‘ Arranged marriages’ and the relevance of ‘caste system’ trying to demystify present day India over a sumptuous Brunch at MTR.

The Bangalore around it has transformed and come a long way since MTR was established in 1935.
And yet the Mavalli Tiffin rooms in Lalbagh remain unchanged over the years. 

That would not be a fair statement to make.  There are a few changes since the last time I came here over 12 years ago. The silver cutlery in which the feast was served is now replaced by the stainless steel. Apparently as the cost of the precious metal made a steep rise northwards, many pieces of the silver cutlery started disappearing for they were worth far more than the meal that was being served on them. 

The traditionally dressed waiter with a red turban and dhoti has disappeared and had given way to the uniformed boys. The meal is a set meal unlike in earlier times when you expereinced a slice of traditional indian hospitality where the helpings were heaped upon until even if you helplessly protested worrying about the gastronomic overload and its after effects on your digestive system.      
Over years the crowds still throng and wait outside for an average of about 30 mts on weekends and slightly lesser over weekdays to be called upon by the efficient staff for their meal of the day.
MTR takes no reservations. Online or otherwise. You book your table by presenting yourself in flesh and blood  and are given your wait time in minutes before being ushered for your standard meal of the day through a mirage of small 'Tiffin' rooms with simple granite tables and plastic chairs. 
No compromises there.
What makes the meal special is possibly the wait time. For without it a long drive to the tiny, ambienceless MTR is not worth it.  
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
When you set foot into MTR,it just makes sense to set aside all western notions of high calorie food and stop worrying about hygiene concerns and healthy diet and enjoy the experience.   

Calorie laden ghee ( clarified butter) is a part of every preparation and is also served as an accompaniment with brunch and lunch. 

A blog on MTR is incomplete without the mention of their Rava idli. When world war II broke out, India went through its worst famine. All the rice production was exported for the soldiers of British army fighting the wars in faraway lands in  Singapore, Burma (now Myanmar) and other far east countries.
At a time when all home grown rice was getting exported, MTR invented ‘Rava idli’ a dish made of grounded wheat fermented with yogurt, and mixed with appropriate spices like coriander and cumin seeds. Richly garnished with peanuts and cashew nuts they make for a tasty breakfast substituting the traditional idly made with ground rice and lentils.

More than half a century later MTR’s readymade 'rava idli mix' is now famous with the Indian diaspora that lives way above and below the equator in colder climates where fermenting the rice and lentil batter is a time consuming and frustrating task owing to the lack of heat and sunshine.

MTR over the years retains its ambience (or the lack of it) and refuses to adapt to the more hip and flashy culture that is prevalent in the city that has grown around it. Its brand popularity and repeat customers have earned it a reputation that could have easily allowed MTR to move up the value chain in a city that is plush with new found wealth and heaps of disposable income. 

Other MTR restaurants do have presence in upmarket malls and eating joints across Bangalore. However the original Mavalli Tiffin room in Lalbagh still offers the same value for money food in the same ambience for possibly a much wider range of curious customers from all over the world who arguably cannot stop raving and ranting about the experience.  

Here was a sample that expreimented eating Masala dosa without a fork and a knife. .     

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tick tock tick tock chimes my cuckoo clock

I am not the one given to splurging and impulsive buying. 
But today was an exception.
I saw this grandfather’s clock and fell in love with it.

Like Laila (Katrina Kaif) would have said in ZNMD ‘Mujhe afsos karna nahi aata’, I went back, said to myself WTH and paid for this one.  

Grandfather clock gets delivered tomorrow.

I have now begun to wonder if my lovely little cuckoo clock will feel intimidated and neglected with the arrival of this Big ben of B-102. I just realized that he will be competing with her to chime in every half hour.

Now; that was not a sceanrio I thought about when I gave in to my temptations this evening at the antique exhibition.

The cuckoo clock came into my life on a similar surge of temptation about six years ago.

I was on this solo - soul searching trip to Europe with a bunch of strangers that I never cared to befriend.  It was a  warm summer afternoon at  Munich’s central Marienplatz square where I watched the Glockenspiel – chime and dance to the tunes for the royal wedding and the ritualistic dance at the stroke of midday.       

I fell in love with the charm of the old world mechanical clocks and the art and science that goes behind creating them.  

That evening  the tour took us through the meandering Rhine valley along the black forest to this quaint village called St Goar  where according to my tour guide , was the place where the original cuckoo clocks were made by families  that had the craftsmanship passed on to them generation after generation.     
At the cuckoo clock shop in St. Goar  were clocks big and small, grand and understated. Each clock spoke of delicate craftsmanship and the pride and passion that goes behind creating these simple works of mechanics with such precision and beauty. 

I just knew, I wanted one of them .  

On a shoe string budget Europe trip, this was certainly not the one thing I had budgeted for.

But then …   

I am not given to splurging and impulsive buying. 

But that day had to be an exception.

Years later Laila (Katrina Kaif)  would say in ZNMD ‘Mujhe afsos karna nahi aata',

 I think that is what I said to myself that warm summer evening at St. Goar in Rhine valley.

At 120 euros this was the cheapest cuckoo clock and the only one I could afford.  When I now think of it, it was steal. Although at that time it did burn a big hole in my pocket.

September 6th 2006. That was the day I got her. 
Instinct told me she would occupy a special place in my life.

I lugged her from the Rhine valley to Normandy and then to Paris and then from Calais to Dover across the English channel and all the way to London on the coach and then in the tube and then the train all the way to the house in Croydon.  
I carefully assembled her into working condition soon after my return from the Europe trip. 
She chimed for a while at our Croydon house and then fell silent. To be fair I was out in India for six months and decided to pack her up since I would not be able to wind her up every week to keep her chiming. 

Then we shifted houses. Considering she was not given to harsh handling (Oh-so-much-like-me), she stopped chiming when I reassmbled her at the hounslow apartment although she always showed the right time and was hung right in the middle of the entrance of the apartment.

With a three year warranty still running, I could have taken her back to St. Goar in the  Rhine valley , to the cuckoo clock shop where she could have been  mended.

She badly needed the mending, but so did my spirits. 

I did not do anything about either of them. 

Perhaps reflective of my own spirits she was never really unpacked  when we shifted houses once again, this time to Egham.  
One never gives up hope. I lugged her back to India when I decided to relocate to Bangalore. I made a special trip just for her and made sure I checked her in as a hand baggage. She was too delicate to be handled in a check in baggage even if it was marked fragile.

She got the much needed mending at an upmarket cuckoo clock specialist in Indira nagar in Bangalore.
Once again, reflective of my own spirits, she started chiming again and has been doing a great job adorning the center stage of my drawing room. The Cuckoo chimes reverberate all over the house.
Her cuckoo chimes have given me company through many a sleepless nights in the past and also give me company when I sleep  like a baby, only to faintly hear her chime away a seven or perhaps even an eight in the mornings, starkly reminding me to get out of bed , strut my butt and begin the day.        
For the last two and a half years she has kept me company chiming happily and  unfailingly.

My darling cuckoo clock, the grandfather clock is not here to intimidate you. He will be here to give you company. I am sure you will complement each other
 You and I, have been on a long journey together.  And you will always remain the special one.        


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pista house Hyderabadi Haleem

'Aiyo shiva shiva !!! HALEEM ...aa . Non-veg theriyuma,  Aattu kaal soup' ... shrieked out amma, when I called her from Hyderabad airport to let her know I was packing some Pista house haleem for dinner.
It came ot me as a surprise that Haleem by itself could be a familiar recollection in a Tam bram household. Atleast I had not heard of it before.
 No, not really this is the vegetarian version,’ I pleaded over the phone, cautiously adding that I had it yesterday for dinner and it was delicious.
She sounded upset over her wayward daughter going astray eating non-vegetarian food and god alone knows what else and would not have any of it at home. She said there was no way she would take a chance and declared the war against Haleem.  Vegetarian or otherwise.

Not expecting such a ferocious reaction, I had already lugged three packed boxes of vegetarian Haleem in my checked in baggage with the hope that I would convert my folks at home into relishing something different. No luck. Such are the ways with my folks. More about them in another blog.  

  Vegetarian uh - you are missing out on real Haleem,  rich with mutton and ghee’, pitied friends who apparently seem to have tasted the better variant.
 I always hear similar judgements drawn upon me everytime I dig into a vegetarian version of Hyderabadi  biriyani.
I have rather become immuned to all this. The vegetarian in me has refused to budge and for all rightful reasons.  There is so much variety in the vegetarian world to relish, so why bother killing animals.

When the customer is ready the product shall appear .. as the almost familiar saying goes.
In 2010, Pista house, known for having patented the Hyderabadi Haleem bowed into popular pressure from the Hindu friends who would’nt eat meat in the months of Shravan . Shravan month would coincide with Ramzan in the following years and that would leave  many Hindu customers  out of bounds from tasting haleem. And thus out of good business sense and innovation,  the vegetarian version of Hyderabadi haleem  was born.   

Pista house at Charminar - the place from where Haleem is exported all over
The Haleem was oozing out ghee which would have normally sent me scurrying for a weighing machine if not for an angiogram. The lactose intolerant me, was almost beginning to regret having ordered under influence of peer pressure.  Not wanting to be a spoil sport I dug into what was a container oozing with ghee and a semi solid syrupy dish. 

Spiced mildly and flavoured well, you can tell when a dish has soul in it.  Cooked for 12 hours in slow wood fired containers, only the purest of ghee and spices are used for the cooking of  Pista House Haleem. I can tell when a food contains transfats or artificial preservatives. Pista house Haleem passed the test in flying colours. 

And thus the Pista house (vegetarian version ) haleem won me over.  It did not feel the least bit heavy and it was delicious . More importantly it was nutritious and wholesome.

I am told the vegetarian version is available in Hyderabad alone and in limited quantities. 
I think it should gain more acceptance. Some purists feel that Haleem should he had only during Ramzan.  Making it available on other months takes away the anticipation and nostalgia associated with it.
I rest the case, so be it.

Just make the vegetarian version more widely available .  You have a brand ambassador in here.

P.S : For all the lugging around in checked in baggage i was left to myself to polish off all the three boxes of Pista house Haleem. To be very honest, the refrigerated version does not taste as good as the original one served hot.  Not sure if it is the Refrigerator or the Microwave or both that kill the taste.

Lesson learnt in inclusivity and diversity

Boarded the metro at Baiyappanahalli  this afternoon. As the train approached the station, was pleasantly surprised to discover that the driver on duty was a young  (and pretty) woman.
Made a mental note to Google it up.
A google search on ‘Namma Metro drivers’ and here is what it threw up.

Picture courtesy – Hindustan times
Turns out that there are atleast two of them ( Priyanka and Rashmi) if not more.
Way to Go …Namma Metro. 
There are lessons to learn in diversity and inclusivity for us in the corporates to emulate.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Colour , colour what colour do you choose ?

What is your favourite colour ?

I skip the question if it I am asked to remember this as the secret question to remember a password .  

It is a question for which an answer has always eluded me.  

It is green… on second thoughts it could be blue .. sky blue …no i am equally partial to lavender or to be exact mauve. Now Mauve is not even a colour.   

Actually, I do not have a liking to any colour in particular… that is an easy answer.
I am in awe of all those people who are so sure of what their favourite colour is ...

Really .. how do you determine your favourite colour.

A colour that is close to your heart.

A colour that sets your imagination wild.

A colour that soothes your senses.    

Here is my attempt to describe my favourite colour.

It is not the pink .. the baby pink that is associated with girls and all that is girlish.

It is not even the pink on the other extreme .. the one that borders on magenta.

It is the pink that unfolds itself when you cut this variety of guava.

Guava pink … that is my favourite colour.
Final answer.

Fragrant flowers

In a world where nature’s bouty in getting reduced to tasteless, odourless packaged products anything that is naturally fragrant and excites ones olfactory senses is always welcome.
Sambhangi, Champak, Sampige. Shenbagam …Telugu ,Tamil, Kannada, hindi and Marathi.
On a Sunday morning standing under a grand Sampangi tree in the compound of East Parade church near Trinity circle, Bangalore evoked these very nostalgic memories.

With a very strong fragrance, sampangi can somtimes cause a mild headache, if it grows too close to your backyard in abundance.  On the other hand a flower or two can create a waft of a refreshing odour that can freshen one up and seduce the passer by.    

 Fragrant flowers like Malli poo, jaadi poo , mullai poo are a refreshing welcome to the bottled perfumes oozing out synthetic fragrance .

My favourite is  JATHI MALLI (PITCHI) Jasminum grandiflorum L. Oleaceae.
Courtesy :

Jathi  is a variety of Jasmine with a purplish tinge with a very strong refreshing  fragrance . 

A creeper of Jaathi Malli adorns my terrace garden and it has started flowering ( albeit two or three a day) . It fills me with joy seeing it grow and flower every morning. 

It has been my long cherished dream to have a garden with fragrant Jaathi malli  flowering in abundance and wafting through the cool morning air from the balcony along the living room along with the early morning sunlight.

Jaathi Malli, evokes nostalgia of school days when dorning a long braid of stringed Jaadi malli or plain malli to school  on a double plaited hair was not so uncool.  Needless to say I would think it ‘oh-so-lacking –in-fashion-sense’ to wear flowers to work these days.

Times have changed … or is it me …     


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