Wednesday, February 28, 2007

going, going,but not yet gone.

my friend david in melbourne will love this.some pictures of the rickshaw and its pullers.three of them were taken in matheran and one recently in cannot take your car up the hill to reach this beautiful hillstation. it is not allowed. the only convenient way of reaching the top is by rickshaw or on horseback. otherwise you have to slug it is a tough pull for the of them pulling from the front and two pushing from the rear. and they charge you about rs 500 for the to and fro ride,half an hour each way. the ride up is very fast to keep up the momentum.the ride downhill is slow with intermittent braking.

during my latest visit to kolkata,i did see a lot of rickshaws on the road but surprisingly very few with passengers. rather an unusual scene. has buddhababu converted the commoners of kolkata or are they getting prepared for the days when no handpulled rickshaws will be around?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

the 'kala ghoda' arts and culture festival

every year this south mumbai arts and cultural festival takes place in february at kala ghoda,rampart row.this year it took place between feb3 and feb11.i have seen some earlier ones.over the years its popularity and stature have been continuously going up.many foreign participants took part in this year's festival.and there were lots of international visitors expected,even when i visited the fair last sunday which was the last day,i found lots of people enthusiastically visiting various stalls and soaking in the art and culture which was being displayed.

the organisers had drawn up a master plan for physically upgrading the kala ghoda precinct and make it the art district of mumbai about ten years ago.the first festival was held on feb1 1999.there has been substantial progress in the restoration of the heritage buildings since then. i.e. elphinstone college,david sassoon library,the university buildings,prince of wales museum and the recent extension of the premchand roychund galleries.there are new stores which have come up in these heritage buildings and many swanky restaurants are attracting patrons on the rampart row.there is an open-air amphitheatre and street furniture designs along the pavements have also been has been a great less than ten years the whole kala ghoda area has been virtually transformed into a bustling art and culture centre.the city seems to have got its art beat back!

there was a writing workshop,a heritage walk,poetry reading,various films based on william shakespeare's plays were shown,a 41 member naval band including 42 string instruments like violins,and sitars created a fusion of indian and western music.folk dances,odissi,lierature readings,theatre,environmental documentaries,et al.from feb 3 to feb 11 the elphinstone college seminar room,the regal circle parking lot,the david sassoon library gardens,the k cama hall,the max mueller auditorium,the amphitheatre,rampart row,horniman circle garden,the national gallery of modern art,the bombay natural society hall,were the venues. all within 10 to 15 minutes walking distance from kala ghoda.

a major attraction was the 'aamchi hali cop took',a helicopter made out of a autorickshaw shell.'comet media' displayed its unique educational toys,'maya bazaar' had on display baubles that socialites wear to look bohemian,the ngo for rights of farmers had a stall,and 'raw works' which had created bric-a-brac with bollywood stars(i had half a mind to pick up an amitabh bacchan stool;the idea of siting on him or standing on him though didn't appeal to me).there was even a limbu mirch installation for warding off wars and terrorism.'fragile tree'to respect nature and 'in dog we trust'to empathise with the problem of stray dogs.candles were also lit for bystanders to pass it on to promote global peace.the 'mouth and foot painting' artists whose artistes draw with the brush in their mouth or between toes attracted large was fascinating to see a very talented artist draw the figure of 'srinathji'.there was arun dabholkar's water-colour painting on canvas particularly some beautiful portraits of shirdi sai baba.'sacred art' from pondicherry presented lost wax bronzes,gold-leaf thanjavur paintings and some stunning stone sculptures.

there was even a parantha festival.strawberry paranthas,gajar ka halwa paranthas and masala chicken paranthas were in great demand.this year a new item was could write a poem on the parantha one is eating,find something interesting in the parantha or create an art work from the parantha.chetana and a host of other restaurants including tibetan momos provided the much needed refreshments in the form of snacks and drinks.

the times of india sponsored festival concluded with a bang on sunday 11th feb with abhijeet and jassi singing before a huge crowd in front of the asiatic library.brinda miller,the motive force behind the exhibition,said that the festival was a huge success.there were more than 70 stalls lining up rampart row and a host of artistes performed various dances and plays. the highlights were the fiction writing workshop,a heritage walk,sonal mansingh's performance and poetry reading by the husband wife duo of javed akhtar and shabana azmi.

it was really the week of the dark horse.and the exhibition of mumbai's demonstrated what the power of the citizen can do in improving a city.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

" 'blood diamond' takes the sheen off diamonds"

a new hollywood movie,'blood diamond',has raised very tough questions about the mindboggling $60 billion diamond industry.stooped low in knee-deep muddy rivers,thousands of miners search for diamonds in sierra leone,angola,liberia and congo.they belong to an army of one million such african diggers who earn a few pennies a day.and what drives them to work so hard for a tuppence that will just keep their body and soul together? in eastern sierra leone,in the hot sun,they dig.with hope lying eternal in their breasts. if they find a diamond,their lives would change for ever.the young ones will go to school and then the whole family's and perhaps their village's fortunes would change.

how many of us realise when we see these glittering diamonds in the jewellery stores that it comes out of unimaginable toil and under most inhuman conditions. no electricity,no clean water,dirty roads and residents living in is a wide chasm between the diamond digger and the ultimate user.many diggers were amputated and many innocents killed by the rebels who funded their mass killing with the illegal sale of diamonds when sierra leone lived in a state of civil war.

koidu is the place where the action is in this stunningly well made bollywood is two and half hours political-action adventure starring leonardo dicaprio,jennifer connelly and djimon hounsou and directed by edward zwick.a south african amoral gem smuggler,danny archer(leonardo dicaprio),tries to recover a big pinkstone from a local fisherman(djimon hounsou) who has found a diamond stone and hid it while digging in the diamond american journalist,maddy bowen(jennifer connelly)is doing investigative journalism under un auspices into the problem of conflict diamonds which are stones exported out of war ravaged countries.

the three meet and each has his/her own agenda.danny who is born and brought up in south africa is in deep debt and the only way he can pay it off and live safely is by getting hold of a diamond.solomon vandy living in abject poverty needs it for his son's schooling and improving his finacial state of affairs.his son has been taken away by the rebels and the only way he can see him and his family is through the help of maddy who has the un badge on her.and maddy wants to be where the action is to make her reports as accurate and informative as possible. and in this search for the hidden diamond all the three become interdependent.

leonardo's acting is absolutely fascinating and hounsou's acting is superb.particularly his expressive eyes and body language.the last scene where in a grey suit he enters the hall when he is commended for his courage takes your breath away.jennifer connelly's performance is just about good. massive blood spilling and excruciating violence is shown not in a nauseating manner but in a way that drives home the point that there is so much of bloodletting in the diamond industry of which all of us should a friend of mine said,blood spilling diamonds and diamonds spilling blood.we should be aware of this fact and that the international community should work towards bringing peace in these war-torn countries and ensure that they improve their standard of living and that they do not get exploited by diamond traders and others.this brilliant movie has garnered five academy award nominations and we will know the outcome this saturday.

'blood diamond' has created ripples in the diamond trade in india and has rattled the african diamond states.the publicity preceding the release of the film has had an adverse effect on diamond exports.the book titled "the heartless stone",king of rhyme kayne west's "diamonds from sierra leone" and the vh1 documentary "bling" have all been significantly covered by the media in the run-up to the movie.the de beers group,the world's largest diamond trader, has criticised the movie.they claim that such conflict diamonds are now a miniscule part of organised diamond trading.

40% of india's diamond exports are to usa.the industry claims that more than 99% of diamonds are now from "conflict free sources" and out of diamond revenues thousands of african children go to school and people get health care benefits.on the other hand,the activists who have got a shot in the arm are vigorously campaigning for un intervention and to stop the illegal smuggling of blood the midst of all this acrimonious debate a new generation of high-quality diamonds is shaking up the jewellery world.

while the controversy is raging,for jewel lovers alternatives are now available in the market.cubic zirconia stones which are priced at $10-$25 a carat and lab produced diamonds which have colour and clarity matching and is some cases exceeding the quality of original diamonds.and these are available in the range of $2000-$7000 a carat against the $10,000-$100,000 a carat range of natural which enjoyed star status seem to be falling to the ground.the signs are ominous.what happened to naturally occurring perals could happen to diamonds as well.cultured pearl destroyed the natural pearl industry.cultured pearls now constitute about 95% of all pearls sold globally.the same could happen to natural diamonds.

actor terrence howard wants to make a statement.he plans to wear a custom-designed pin with several "flawless" lab produced colourless diamonds when he appears on stage as a compere for the academy awards this saturday."consumers can be sure that nobody was harmed in the process of making them" says howard. another buyer of lab made diamond says that he is "driven by heightened awareness of blood diamonds and the cartel-like grip of de beers on diamond pricing".and he says the diamonds are "absolutely gorgeous".his wife was so happy when she got this present that she burst out singing "twinkle twinkle little star,how i wonder what you are;up above the sky so high like a diamond in the sky"

gem traders in mumbai are sanguine that demand will pickup and prices will rise.after all diamonds are put through the kimberley certification process to make sure that it is from a conflict-free,buy with a clear conscience they say,your much desired "solitaire"."this is the best time".

though corruption,poverty and unemployment are the main reasons for the war and peace has come now,there is no guarantee that another war may not start.the industry,the un and others are trying to bring sanity in the whole trade.though a billion dollar worth of diamonds have come out of sieera leone,the prosperity which should have beeen there continues to remain a mirage.a story in the making for "blood diamond-2".

Monday, February 19, 2007

where there is a will, there is a way

we saw two movies diuring the toronto international film festival at mumbai last was 'away from her' and the other was 'st ralph'. this ninetyeight minutes film was a pure delight to watch. an engaging plot,witty dialogue,a touching story and very thoughtfully directed by mc gowan. he is also the screenwriter.

it is the story of a fouteen year old boy,ralph walker(adam butcher), who has lost his father, a soldier,in world war II and who lives with his mother emma(shaune macdonald) in hamilton,ohio. emma becomes seriously ill and goes into a state of comatose. ralph is thoroughly shaken up and everyday visits the hospital and keeps talking to his mom as if she were in her senses. when he asks the nurse,alice(jennifer tilly) as to when his mom will be ok, she says that only a 'miracle' can now bring her back to life.

the boy decides to run the great 'boston marathon' and win the rally. that would be a miracle. and his mom would become normal. he works hard at it .the rally is the world's oldest marathon where more than 20,000 runners participate in this annual spring event .it is held every year on the third monday of April,known as the patriot's day.the rally is tough.the terrain is hilly and the weather in spring is quite unpredictable.

the prefect of the jesuit school in which he is studying played by gordon pinsent is totally against the boy's decision.he is very strict and punishes him for yet another offense by asking him to run with the cross-country team of the school. he calls him and asks him to give up the idea of running the 'boston marathon'.he cannot imagine ralph becoming a saint. after all only saints can perform miracles!.the prefect's admonition turns out as a blessing in disguise. ralph is now more than ever determined to win the 'boston marathon' and bring his mother back to normalcy.

with encouragement and coaching from another jesuit father hibbert(campbell scott) who had also run the rally earlier and support of his girl friend claire cllins(tamara hope) who wants to become a nun and another class mate,he is totally focussed on his target. nurse alice even teaches him weight lifting to acquire physical strength and endurance.

ralph wins hamilton's 'race around the bay' and fires the imagination of all his admirers.he is now all set to win the boston rally and achieve the impossible.a social outcast in school for his bad habits, he gets encouragement and support from unexpected quarters.the same classmates who detested and riduculed him now pray for his success.

ralph doesn't win.he finishes the 'boston marathon' as a runner-up. but that is not the point. the message from michael mcgowan is clear. we need to reach for something beyond ourselves. there are immense possibilities around us which we neeed to see and experience.

an underdog drama,the picture shows that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.through willpower and a little help from friends. the impossible can be accomplished. the power of faith is extraordinary.

"the mind is a place of its can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven". these were john milton's words in 'paradise lost'. no matter how bad conditions may be, the human being has the ability to turns things to his/her advantage by hard work,determination and perseverance. the rest is left to god and his grace.

Friday, February 16, 2007

'sandwich from kent'

the credit for inventing the sandwich probably goes back in history to the jewish sage 'hillel the elder'.however,in 1762. the earl of sandwich,john montagu, conjured up of what today has become an international food. rumoured to be a great gambler,he was loath to soiling his hands while gambling and thought of 'bits of cold meat' in between slices of bread. thus was born in the town of kent,england, the now famous sandwich.

the royal sandwich has undergone many innovations and transformations in the last 245 years.there are about 2315 types of sandwiches which you can find if you browse the net for is the webpage of the sandwich india, besides the normal tomato/cucumber filling or the cheese sandwich you have the vegetable,chutney and the grilled chilly varieties too. it has become a very profitable and popular product.and you can get it in every nook and corner.

no wonder then that mcdonald's wants to own the rights to how a sandwich is has applied for a patent relating to the 'method and apparatus' used to prepare the snack.the burger company from usa wants to own the 'intellectual property rights' so that its hot deli sandwiches look and taste the same all over the world in its restaurants.and also it wants to serve the sandwich in a 'jiffy'.

the patent application runs into 55 pages and it has been filed simultaneously in us and covers the 'simultaneous toasting of a bread component'.garnishes of onions,tomatoes,lettuce and salt and pepper and ketchup are inserted into a cavity in a 'sandwich delivery tool'. the bread component is then placed over the cavity. the assembly tool is now inverted to drop the contents.lastly,the filling is placed in the 'bread component'.

it is believed that mcdonald's or anyone else cannot get retrospective exclusive rights to making a sandwich. what mcdonald's hope to achieve is that no one copies their novel device.but would it not be quite easy to make a sandwich in a similar way without infringing their is ingenious and i am sure someone will come out with something that avoids getting slapped by patent infringement.

our cook gb prepares delicious sandwiches which i have for breakfast quite is the typical roadside toasted and cheese/onions/tomatoes/cucumber filled sandwich which she prefers to call 'toashty-phosthy'.it is prepared in a special toaster with a handle which is kept on a flame after filling the bread with all the stuff.served sizzling hot,i love to have it also when i have a throat goes down hot through the gullet and soothens the throat and also it is quite substantial and keeps me going till lunch time.

poor john montagu must have never imagined how popular the sandwich would become the world over.otherwise he might have even patented it then and his family would have continued to receive the 'royalties'.probably, turning in his grave,he may be regretting it today.

Monday, February 12, 2007

every dog has his day

dogs are on a roll.alongwith the booming economy.the burgeoning middleclass and the rich upper class are looking for additions to their family in the form of pet dogs. and if they are not available locally they are importing them.some time back, the managing director of a public bank brought for his young daughter a terrier from london.another ceo brought home a golden retriever.beagles and german sheperds too are coming in hordes.and many people want chihuahuas.and the cost? ranging from rs 10,000 to rs 100,000 depending on the breed.

realising that there is a big market for imported pups some enterprising businessmen have jumped into the bandwagon.if you want an imported pup all you have to do is to place the order with the local petshop.your pet,in all probability, will be flown in from thailand or from russia .customs rules allow you to bring two pets without duty.hence the imported pups come as pets and no duty is levied. animal rights activist maneka gandhi says that uzbekistan is a big exporter of dogs.on an average about 50 dogs walk out of the dutyfree channel.

but having goodlooking and cute imported dogs is one thing. and to train and take care of it is another. a recent incident involving writer and columnist tavleen singh is a case in point. she got into hot waters when her dog eased himself on the new marine drive promenade and she just walked off. when accosted by a bmc official, she refused to clean up and started throwing irrrelevant issues at the officer.the officer wanted to fine her rs 500 but she outright refused to pay. her logic.? when bmc has not made any provision for disposing off the poop,how could they fine the owner?

bmc additional commissioner quickly reacted by gifting tavleen singh a poop scooper.he says it is cheap and easy to clean up after the dog does the job. bmc,he says, is seriously trying to implement the sanitation bye-laws."apne shahar ko swaccha rakhiye". tavleen may not have an excuse next time if she is caught redhanded. many sympathetic residents of south bombay have offered tips to tavleen singh.carry a newspaper,carry a plastic bag or carry a scooper they have suggested.

rattty javeri,secretary of the mumbai kennel club, was recently spotted using a scooper and a plastic bag to clean up after her dog tracy. if ratty can do it,why can't tavleen. when bmc is spending a whopping rs 130 crores on beautifying marine drive, the least that citizens could do is to try to keep it clean. no arguments on that.

we too have two of them in our family.they are cocker spaniels.cherry and mango.they are the most adorables in the world!

whither the desi burger?

lovers of street food are in for a rude shock.the latest order banning cooking at street-side eateries has come like a bolt from the blue.this order was given by a bench of the supreme court while finalising the hawking plan for new delhi. no doubt the honbl'e court is driven with the desire to make the streets of delhi clean and to insist on more hygienic street food.will preparing the food in their homes by hawkers,prepackaging them and then selling it in the streets reduce the incidence of health problems? i am not too sure. the populace of mumbai are so addicted to their favourite vadapav with its mashed batata and vada in a bun combo prepared sizzling hot right in front of their eyes that nothing else is going to satisfy them. i am sure that applies to delhiites as well.

the solution does not lie in banning streetside cooking.but in bringing in some checks and controls for ensuring safety and hygiene. there are many more fundamental changes which have to be brought about before the common consumer is deprived of his favourite snack nay food. would it not be better for the judiciary to stick to the knitting and not intervene in what clearly is the job of the executive.

will the honb'le judges in their black robes condescend to walk just a short distance from their hallowed benches and try some desi burgers? maybe there could be a change of heart.

Monday, February 05, 2007

catch them young

i was in madurai a week back for a few days.i had plenty of time on my hands and i did a lot of reading besides going for long morning walks.on my return home,i would invariably stop for a coke or pepsi for was tender coconut.

the drink that is a most nutritious and wholesome beverage provided by is very suitable for the tropical countries to fight the is a diuretic and it also promotes kills worms in your intestines and keeps the body has a high potassium and mineral content and used for intravenous is fatfree and an excellent remedy for flatulence. low in carbs and low in sugar,it even controls diabetes.the list is is not only a drink; it is a wonder food. no wonder,our ancestors considered coconut to be a sacred fruit.

after your workouts just go for tender coconuts.catch them will get all the water that this wonderful onemonth old fruit has. it will rejuvenate you like no other drink can.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

jallikattu kaallai

this is a very ancient dravidian sport, perhaps dating back to the sangam period.held on the next day after pongal. i.e.,on the maattu(cow) pongal day when the cows and bulls are thoroughly washed and dressed up and fed.a cloth having many hues is wrapped around the cow and bull and sweetened rice enhanced with juicy sugar cane is offered to them. they are decorated in bright colours.the horns are painted in a brilliant vermillion, a tilak is placed on the forehead and a garland of marigold is strung around their necks.they are revered and is their day.

compared to the bullfights in spain where it is a do or die for the matador, jallikattu kaalai is a milder version and a test of the 'macho' factor of the person who takes on the the olden days,a suitor for the girl to be married was selected after being put through this test. jalli(salli) or coins are placed in a bag and tied(kattu) to the horn of the bull(kaalai).then the bull is given some alcohol and let loose in a barricaded place.the matador,who also consumes arrack, is expected to safely control the bull.if he is successful, the prizemoney is the bag tied to the bull's horn. it is a winner takeall. a very popular sport,it is watched by thousands of people and held mainly in alanganallur and a few other villages near madurai,about 300 miles south of chennai.i visited chennai and madurai this week and read in the local tamil papers about this interesting sport.

during this competition,some fighters lose their lives and a few innocent spectators too. there has been a public outcry oflate and a demand for banning this sport.both for the cruelty being inflicted on the bulls and the dangers to which the fighters and public at large are exposed.a pil was filed in the local court for banning jallikattu.the court intervened and though has not banned the sport it has placed some restrictions.officially there have been no deaths this year though unofficial reports claim at least seven lives.

there was a poignant incident during this year's jallikattu.chinnaveeran,hailing from kuyavarpatti of melur district,madurai, was rearing a kaallai for many years .his kaalai had been participating in the annual jallikattu festival at alanganallur every year for the last many years.the kaallai had won many the competition held this year on 17th january,this kaallai also participated. but this year he was contained by the "heroes". on 19th morning,chinnaveeeran gave fodder to the kaallai and went to work in his agricultural land.when he returned in the afternoon he found the kaallai dead.chinnaveeran was inconsolable.the next morning he consumed poison and was found by his villagers in a critical condition.they rushed him to hospital but on 22nd he breathed his last. it is suspected that the kaallai was poisoned by jealous competitiors.

the villagers said that chinnaveeran had brought up the kaallai like his own child. kaallai's sudden death was a tremendous shock for chinnaveeran.the whole village was immersed in sorrow.a family member said that the kaallai was like one of them and that chinnaveeran would never even lift his hand on fond was he of kaallai.

jallikattu is not unique to alanganallur.there are many parts of the world where similar bull sports are practised.bullfight is a very popular sport in spain.a few days back at almeriya in spain a bull fight took place where the matador had a close brush with death.he literally flew in space to escape from the fiery bull.

Friday, February 02, 2007

the end of an era

in november 2005,i had posted a blog on "jin rikisha",lamenting the decision to do away with rickshaws in kolkata.with the outlawing of rickshaws by the cpm government in west bengal recently,through the calcutta hackney carriage(amendment)bill 2006,the last nail was driven on the coffin of the hand pulled is a great irony that a supposedly people-friendly government decided to throw the baby with the bathwater.

rickshaw,the ecofriendly transport was introduced by the chinese to calcutta in the late 19th century.a few years after it was introduced in simla in 1888.we calcuttans,can now only bid adieu and remember and recall the good old days when the friendly,honest and loyal rickshawwalah transported us from home to school come strongsunshine or heavy rain.for a city interspersed with lanes and bylanes the rickshaw was a boon.and for a city which gets flooded often during the monsoon,the rickshaw met a very important transport requirement.

films like 36 chowringhee lane,amar prem,do bigha zameen and city of joy thrilled cinemagoers with the spectacle of rickshawallahs.especially the race in do bigha zamim where two two riders ask the rickshawwallah to go faster by incentivising them with offering to pay more.this was surely a negative aspect.many years later it has shamed buddhababu and compelled him to remove what he called beastly and inhuman for a man to carry another man.

shankar,one of bengal's wellknown writers wrote an ode to the rickshawwallah in the toi some time one of his novels-'gharer modhye ghar'(a house within a house),he writes about a rickshawwallah standing near free school street and soliciting customers to take them to the red light district.when shankar pulled him up for such behaviour,the rickshawallah retorted," babu,ke kothai jabe ami theek korina,je jaikhane jite chaay, taake ami sheikhane paunchchedi.keu church e jite chai,keu mandire,keu shurikhane tey, aar keu khali barite." (sir,i do not decide who wants to go where.wherever they want to go,i take them.some go to the church,some to the temple,some to the pub and some to empty houses.) that aptly sums up the philosophy of the rickshawwallahs.

buddhababu has promised rehabilitation along with removal.he said they will go hand in hand.let us hope that the two lakhs rickshawwallahs are properly compensated and that new windows of opportunities are opened to these unfortunate people.