Thursday, April 26, 2007

'cul de sac' for the kolkata richshawwallahs?

in november 2005 and february 2007 i had posted about the dying breed of the rickshawwallahs of kolkata,thanks to the west bengal government's apathy. considering the act of man pulling man as barbarious,handpulled rickshaws have been taken off the kolkata streets. what happens to the poor and unfortunate rickshawallahs does not seem to be really anybody's concern.has not a kind act been done to him,so the powers that may be,ask? during my recent kolkata visit, i tried to see whether they were really out of bounds.not really.the moment i entered into park circus area, i could spot the familiar sight. and then as i drove into ballygunge, i saw many more of them. out of the 20,000 and odd rickshawpullers, many have left the trade and have changed their vocation. but quite a few still hang on .like a drowning man to a straw. because that is the only skill that they have.passed on from one generation to another.

jyoti basu who was the longest ruling chief minister(25 years) and who retired in 2000 tried to ban rickshaws in 1984.then two more attempts were made. which also failed. but this time around the government is serious and will definitely phase them out according to government spokespersons. the alternatives for the rickshawpuller is driving a bicyclepulled rickshaw or an autorickshaw .their skill and dexterity in manoeuvering waterlogged and narrow lanes is wellknown. and of course they are very cheap.25 cents(rs 10) a kilometre.

most of the rickshawwallahs hail from bihar,the poorest state in india.they were earning about100-150 dollars( rs 4000-6000) per month and supporting their large families back home. while some have educated their sons many others have not done so.though the government claims that there are many schemes for self-help,the rickshawwallahs have clearly lost hopes.they feel that the government is no more listening to them and are blindly pursuing the path to rapid industrialisation at the cost of the poor.nandigram and singur are recent examples.

and when i was leaving kolkata for mumbai,i saw an eyecatching ad in the 'daily telegraph'inserted by "malayala manorama". the humble kolkata richshawwallah was the centrepiece. "mithya,mithya,aapni ki bhabhe boltepaaren je bhaarater sabcheyi beyshi bikriya praadeshik bhaasha pratidin baanglate noi." lie!,lie!, how can you say india's largest selling regional language daily isn't in bengali".the truth is that malayala manorama which is a malayalam daily has a circulation of 15.14 lakh copies! it has the largest circulation among regional language dailies.

what a tragic irony that a kolkata rickshawallah has to be used to express surprise that the largest selling regional language newspaper is not in bengali!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"vegemite vindaloo"

when i first read that my friend david mcmahon had written a book with this title,i wondered what it meant. i, therefore, did some research. vegemite is an australian concentrated spread made from yeast extracts. it is generally taken alongwith toast. it is dark brown in colour. it has vegetable spice additives and has a salty,bitter and malty taste. vegemite is the cultural icon of australia.

vindaloo is the king of curries. it is a preparation of meat,vinegar and garlic, it is a goan speciality and generally made using pork. the fiery hot vindaloo has even inspired an english football song for the 1998 world cup. and it is a very popular food amongst footy supporters in uk and australia.

vegemite + vindaloo = vegemite vindaloo. now, i started seeing the meaning for the title of the book. the author is an anglo indian and a football lover, who lived in calcutta for many years working as a sports journalist before deciding to migrate to australia.he has an intimate knowledge of the calcuttan and australian way of life. their characteristics and their idiosyncracies. and i suspect that he is very fond of vindaloo curry. he decided to write a novel. an expression of his command over the written language as well as his sharp perceptions on people and society. he tackles the issue of adoption in an emotive manner rather than getting into technicalities .the result is a 326 page absorbing book of fiction(near truth in many instances) centred around the lives of an anglo indian couple who live in calcutta and later migrate to australia.

steve cooper and hillary are looking for a maid as their 'fatty ayah'(maid) has left them. steve accidentally meets ismail who is a carcleaner in the new market area. ismail and his wife zarina who have fled from their village in bihar have an infant son azam with them. when they land up in howrah station,it appears to them to be an alien world.they live literally on the footpath and go through a harrowing period till dame luck dawns on them.ismail's chance meeting with steve.and that changes his life completely.steve offers the job of a live-in 'ayah' to ismail's wife.and ismail and azam can live in the servant's quarters too.

steve is an up and coming pilot in the indian airlines.steve and hillary have a son called clive.when ismail,zarina and azam move in to their flat, the drama gradually unfolds.steve develops a soft corner for azam and treats him like his own son. hillary is at first reluctant and hesitates to give such a status to azam.but then seeing steve's sincerity and sense of fairplay and justice, she has a change of mind and heart. she starts liking azam and he becomes an addition to their family.there is a lot of opposition among many of their friends for what steve and hillary are doing.unimaginable and crazy.they get socially stigmatised.inspite of the objections of most friends and wellwishers, they plan their emigration to australia alongwith azam whom they adopt.

steve wants azam to get the same opportunity in life like clive. he is apprehensive that due to azam's parental background and ismail's weak financial position,azam will be discriminated against. steve uproots himself and his family and starts a new chapter in his life in australia .for the sake of azam. anything new and unknown is fraught with risks.hillary questions his decision.but steeve has the resolve of steel and tremendous self-confidence. and guts. he convinces hillary that under the circumstances that would be the best decision for the family. steve and hillary shine as a lovable and model couple. their love for each other,tolerance,empathy,sensitivity and kindness are all written boldly in their characters.

having lived in kolkata for nearly 15 years and being even now a frequent visitor,helped me to quickly understand and appreciate the several characters who have been portrayed so realistically. e.g.dr wotherspoon,a committed english doctor who works for the needy and poor and runs his dispensary on the footpath. biplab,the rogue. mrs ghosh,the school teacher. sailen nath banerjee,a senior commander in indian airlines. the son of a jutemill worker who speaks and writes english thanks to fr. dennis taylor of st.mark's church and perhaps does so better than many englishmen. besides, he has excelled academically and is skillful in navigating the latest commercial aircrafts. the suave charmer and fixer,govindarajan kutty,who helps steve and hillary with all the emigration formalities as well as the procedures for adoption of azam.his greed and cunningness.prabir guha, hailing from an aristrocratic family but just an officer in the customs department.likes the good things in life and falls for tempatations to fund those cutting a deal with kutty to blackmail and harass steve and hillary after they have reached australia. steve's mother bertha who is in her eighties and has a mind "as sharp as a bowbazar housewife's tongue" and who burns chillies on steve's head to ward off evil. south australians frank walker and wally bennett and many more interesting characters.

some of the chapters kept me glued to the book.the drive to the dum dum aiport in the midst of heavy rains and flooded streets(haven't we kolkattans done it so often?). will they reach the aiport on time or not? will they get through the emigration authorities? was kutty's paperwork good enough for all the money he had taken? will there be any last minute glitches? what will be the emotional situation with ismail and zarina? and would azam just walk away with his fostermother? would zarina create a scene?

all these aspects are brilliantly covered by david.for a debut novel, it is a terrific piece of work.very funny in certain situations and extremely poignant in others.a potpourri of feelings and emotions of different characters from different cultures. and the ensemble turns into a vindaloo. thoroughly enjoyable .the novel was in the bestseller list for long. written in a simple,lucid and readable style,the novel depicts in chapter 2 a football scene where essendon and collingwood play the finals of the australian football league. "excuse me',he said,as steve and hillary embraced."paul murray for the football does it feel to see your son kick the winning goal in the first ever grand final,after the final siren?"

and then in the end of the last chapter, steve dials the number of the coach who had informed him that collingwood wanted to make an assessment of their son. because clive had met with a car accident,steve says that "it's going to be a few weeks before clive is back on his feet". to which the coach responds "did you say clive? steve,you got me's not clive that collingwood's your teenage's azam".that was a super climax.

i liked the analogy of the 'hakea' tree. only bushfires can open its seed pods. that is the only way the tree can survive and propagate. it applies to corporates as well. constructive destruction helps it to loose excess fat and become lean,mean and healthy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"puthandu vazthukal" and "poila baishak"

i am a tamilian and have spent a good 15 years of my youth in kolkata.i can call myself a 25% bengali.and then for the last twenty years or so i have been visiting kolkata ten to twelve times a year at least.hence i call myself a 50% bengali.i celebrated on 14th the tamil new year's day and the bengali 'naboborsho' on the 15th.both at kolkata. as per the tamil almanac,the new year is called 'sarvajit'.the same name gets repeated after 60 years.i don't know whether there is any such almanac system in bengal.'sarvajit' means one who conquers all.let us on this happy occasion look forward to this new year with love for all and hope that we work towards conquering all the negative and dark forces and make our planet a safer and greener place to live in.

it all began on saturday morning with my laptop receiving emails from family and friends flashing the "puthandu vazthugal"(new year greetings) and my cellphone incessantly ringing.i had come to kolkata on work and missed very much the fun of celebrating the new year with the family.

last night on the eve of 'poila baishak'(first day of baishak)my colleague and me went out to enjoy some good bangla food.we decided to try itc's "sonar bangla".i was visiting this hotel for the first time.built on 16 acres of marshy land on the eastern express highway and about 8 km from the city,i was very impressed with the architecture and the ambience. exquisite italian marble has been used for the is one big expanse of halls,bars and restaurants and water bodies.the several restaurants,the bar and the coffeeshop are generously spaced.we drank 'mojito' at the bar and then moved to the coffee shop where some fantastic bangla food awaited might think that for vegetarians bengali food does not offer much,as it is heavily oriented towards maach and mangsho(fish and meat) doubt,but still i couldn't complain.besides the tasty and delectable vegetable biriyani,i had a variety of veg preparations like 'begun shiraji' and 'patol sorse' followed by all the bengali mishtis that you could think of! my colleagues loved their 'pabda maacher jhaal' and 'panthar mangsho'.and the bonus was a close view of actor soumitra chatterjee and his wife dressed for the occasion in traditional attire.

only a fortnight back maharashtra and karnataka celebrated gudi padva and ugadi repectively.and on friday in punjab, baishaki was welcomed with songs and dances.these are different names for the same festival in different parts of the country.but the commonality running through these festivals is very apparent.start the new year with a pooja,meet family and friends,exchange gifts,prepare the best and tastiest of food and sweets.also importantly, eat something that is bitter and follow it with sugar or a is a combination of the good and the bad.bitter and prepared for both.take each in your stride as it comes with eqanimity.conquer the evil and dark forces and spread love and cheer all around.after all this is the year when one conquers all-'sarvajit'.i wish my blog friends a very happy new year.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

'brain on fire'-options for improving quality of life

yesterday was the the 252nd birth anniversary of james parkinson,an english physician and surgeon. april 11 is celebrated every year as world parkinson's day. he was born on 11th april 1755. dr james parkinson wrote "an essay on the shaking palsy", in which symptoms of this disease were documented which later on came to be known as parkinson's disease.

parkinson's is a disease of the nervous is manifested initially by the trembling of one hand followed by the other as soon the disease is one of the most dreaded diseases associated with old some cases it even strikes those who are aroound 50.this neurological disorder produces muscle movements that are uncontrollable and dramatically reduces bodily motions like walking. the body becomes so stiff that the person cannot walk at all. in the worst case,the upper body inclines to a right angle i.e.90 degrees to the lower body. for some unknown reason women are less afflicted by parkinson's.

depletion of a critical brain chemical called dopamine has been traced to be the root cause of parkinson's.certain drugs taken for other ailments can also destroy the dopamine producing cells in the brain leading to what the experts call as simulated parkinson's. it is pathetic to see some people trying to walk a step or two and then halting. they become as stiff as statues.

but then things are not hopeless.if the person has an intention to walk,the brain can be awakened.on the first attempt, the person may again freeze. but then if another attempt is made, the brain is likely to respond and give the instructions to the leg to move. extending this analogy,using simple mind-body exercises,in a few sessions,a racing heartbeat or asthmatic wheezing or any other physical disorder can be converted into a natural and normal response.

when people become old, they resign themselves to the fact that they have to decline.a strong belief to that effect is instilled in the brain over time.if that can be changed by a positive attitude and by using the power of intention then the brain can be reawakened.what it requires is to constantly programme your mind to remain young. deepak chopra,the well-known health guru, addresses this issue in 'ageless body,timeless mind'. it is a recommended read.

science is making phenomenal progress with advanced technologies in the world of medicine. a new technique called deep brain stimulation(dbs) has been discovered. it is a revolutionary surgical technique in the war against neurological symptoms that disable human beings.the surgery is a two-step the first step an electrode is implanted in the brain. in the second,the wire and pulse generator are implanted below the collarbone. in a period of about three months,the patient recovers significantly; so much so, that the tryst with parkinson's becomes a forgettable memory.

at mumabi, a yoga programme was conducted at bombay hospital on world parkinson's day for those afflicted by parkinson's. many claim that the debilitating symptoms associated with parkinson's disappear with daily doses of yoga. bks iyengar,the internationally known yoga guru,highlighted the power of yoga. many persons with bent shoulders,poor gait and drool have managed to gain control over their movements, according to a doctor of iyengar yogashraya. one cannot underestimate the influence of mind over body. it plays a very dominant role. while the relief and cure that allopathic medicines provide is substantial, mental and yogic exercises done concurrently can do immense good for the body and soul.

sage patanjali,the propounder of yogashastra,about 2500 years ago, in his yoga sutras(aphorisms) says,"naabhi-chakre kaya-vyuha-gnanam"(hyphens for breaking up the words only). nabhi means navel,chakre means in the energy centre,kaya means the body,vyuha means orderly arrangement or system and gnanam is knowledge.according to yogashastra, the root of all the nerves is in the navel. from the navel 72,000 nerves branch out. it is considered to be the pivot of the sympathetic and the brain of the parasympathetic nervous system. by samyama(integration) on the navel area, the yogi(one who practises yoga) acquires perfect knowledge of the human body.through concentration,meditation and profound absorption. he alone understands the fine dividing line between body and mind and mind and soul. he becomes a master of himself.

the fire in the brain can be doused.modern medicine and yoga both can put people back on their feet.

Monday, April 09, 2007

vini,vidi,vici(i came,i saw,i conquered)

that is what shilpa shetty would have probably said when she was declared winner of the "celebrity big brother" bbc live show. when she was seen initially in this programme, she was considered a write-off and the odds were heavily stacked against her winning the show. as her good luck(looks?) would have it , jane goody(good for nothing) helped her to become a winner. with those racist remarks. shilpa became overnight the underdog. and in one brilliant sweep she got the indians,paks and bangladeshis supporting her. her tears melted their hearts. while some sceptics said how can she now cry when she knew what she was in for when she agreed to participate in the show in the first place. 'volenti non fit injuria'. when you knew the risks you cannot claim injury,they said.many others rallied behind her. "didn't we tell you that she is a good actress?". well-known feminist germaine greer who was in india recently paid her a left-handed compliment by saying that she is manipulative and a very good actress.

there was lot of debate on the racial overtones and britain itself came under attack for being racist. their leaders had to run for cover and do some major damage limitation exercises. tony blair wanted to meet her and the queen extended an invitation for high tea which shilpa graciously accepted. keith vaz,a labour mp took up cudgels on her behalf and it looked as if there was a groundswell of sympathy. shilpa magnanimously said that she did not think jane goody was a racist and it was only an off the cuff remark. goi gave the no-gooder jane a visa to visit india and see the truth for herself. jane goody apologised and made up.shilpa emerged the winner.and with it came a lot of money and goodies.

her friendly rapport with jermaine jackson earned her a special viewer.michael jackson.he saw her and called her to congratulate her.she literally swooned when she heard michael jackson's voice.that is one of her happiest memories in an otherwise bitter slugfest.

winning the 'celebrity big brother' was not just a coup for statuesque shilpa and her mom. she has come a long way from a young limca model at age 16. she has endorsement deals from scents to jewellery,a tv documentary,host show offers,a role in a tv series,a part in andrew lloyd webber's 'bombay dreams' and so on and so forth all neatly tucked under her beautiful arms. but then, success can be punishing too.while some love you for your achievements there are many more who hate you for your success.they dig into the past and pull the skeletons out of the cupboards.shilpa had to face that ignominy.screaming headlines in newspapaers said that akshay kumar with whom she had had a six-year romance had claimed in an interview that he had bedded her. she responded that akshay would never say a thing like that. and he too said the same thing.

like superstars of the silver screen,she has been visiting temples of late. after siddhivinayak came tirupathi to thank balaji for having showered so much fortune on her.she has now a battery of professionals helping her to deal with her new found stature.her london apartment in the trendy hoxton area of north london bought for about 1.5 million pounds, is abuzz with activity round the clock. her uk publicist,max clifford,predicts that shilpa will earn a million pounds this year and "the sky is the limit after that". he said that shilpa is considering a career in theatre. and don't good fortune and social work go hand in hand? a shilpa shetty foundation has beeen established with a corpus of 500,000 pounds sterling,towards the aids campaign in india. and she has her pet 'peta' project too to be funded. yes,the lanky lass has a big heart!

we have to accept certain things. like growing is inevitable.the rich and the poor.the haves and havenots.racism is one such is a part of every day reality, whether we like it or not. and it is not restricted to uk. it is there all over the world. in different forms. another way of discrimination.

all is well that ends well.shilpa is in and jade is out.jade's career has taken a plunge inspite of her public relations efforts on her india tour. she was hounded out by the media. she is not getting any tv offers. atleast till all this noise dies down. shilpa's comatose career is back on track. she need not worry about success in bollywood(she has clocked 45 turns on the marquee!) anymore. hollywood is beckoning her. and an unknown man too.after all amma knows best.she wants her favourite "mulgi"' to settle down.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

favours and flavours from four southern states

it looks as if one new restaurant crops up every day in would be worthwhile to dig into the stats and see whether it is true.
'south indies' is the latest addition to that long is a south indian vegetarian eatery. you get tamilian,keralite,kannada and andhra food. and the different varieties in each ethnic group.the fare adds up to a huge choice.there are around 3000 authentic recipes on their platter.there is more to south indian cuisine than upma,masala dosa,onion uttappam and conjeevaram idli.

i had guests from toronto and l's inlaws who have moved to bengalooru from muscat and l's aunt too. when i suggested 'south indies' , none of the bengaluruians had heard of this new restaurant and they wondered how come i who live in mumbai knew about it. the fame of good food combined with a beautiful ambience spreads fast and far and wide, i said.

nothing could be closer to the truth.from the time we entered this upscale veg eatery,we were pampered like some royal patrons.this fine-dine restaurant is excellently furnished and it has got a five- star feel about it without its trappings. a long felt need fulfilled. you get a home-like can sit out and enjoy the greenery while eating or like us, eat in a private dining even has a mini library,wifi,tv and an international wine can even sit on high stools and watch the chef preparing your meal,teppannayakki style, often supervised by venkatesh bhatt(second picture from the top). one can even conduct a business lunch in privacy.

master chef and ceo venkatesh bhatt met us and suggested that we have the vegetarian thali.what we got we did not bargain for.the kerala favourite aappam and stew,tamil and authentic kal dosai,paranthas(some hyderabadi influence),tomato pappu from andhra pradesh,paneer gassi from karnataka, hot andhra sambhar and rasam,karnataka vegetable curry and dry vegetable,curd and pickles.and of course followed by steaming white rice.and a fruit dessert.the food was delicious.the selection of this hotel was the right choice. my guests were overwhelmed. and i got value for money. the cost of a plate came to rs 175 plus taxes. food unlimited.

while leaving,i picked up a book titled "the four flavours".it has a collection of images from all the four states.published by "south indies".and who said software and gastronomy don't go least the entrepreneur behind this authentic south indian food joint has shown that your mind has to work like a geek to achieve such a unique blend of south indian food.

next time you are in bengalooru head straight from the airport to indiranagar,hundred feet road.close to the post office is located this lovely place. the epicurean's delight. have a good meal and it will see you through the day or night. you will have no regrets.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

desserts-in the twinkling of an eye

who doesn't want to end up a hearty meal at home with a homemade dessert? but then, aren't desserts difficult to make? "no", says indu jain. she has come up with a nobrainer.instant eggless dessert mixes.the company is called 'abind' foods.she is now the unofficial national champion of vegetarianism overtaking maneka gandhi.such split-second desserts have not come easy.

a lot of hard work.patience and perseverance. the result is very sweet. chocomousse mix,doughnuts,eggless cakes and even tiramisu and marzipan.many indians who travel abroad carry these mixes with them which come in packets of different sizes.

indu jain has big plans.sugarless cake for diabetics for instance.differntly flavoured puddings.these diy(do it yourself) packets contain simple instructions which are very easy to follow.

making desserts is a distant dream for novices no more.and if your better half is not cooperating ask her to step aside and whip out an easy to make eggless wonder.

indu jain has plans of franchising 'abind' to about 20 outlets in chennai initially.she belongs to a generation of young marwari female entrepreneurs who are now making it big on the business scene.

Monday, April 02, 2007

'the last king of scotland'

when idi amin assumed power in uganda in the early 70s,a young scottish doctor decided to travel to uganda by impulse to serve as a member of the un mission.he happened to meet idi amin by chance and the chance meeting ended with amin taking him in as a close adviser.nicholas garrigan(james mcavory),the young doctor, was swept away by idi amin's charisma but then later had to suffer his brutality.

forest whittaker won an oscar this year for a superb performance as the ugandan dictator idi amin.kevin macdonald's debut direction was a brilliant start to his adaptation of the novel of the same name written by giles fiden.

the movie begins with idi amin getting injured in a car accident and the young scottish doctor who happens to be there is asked to treat him.distracted and pained by the suffering of a cow which was hit by the car,the doctor takes hold of idi amin's gun and mercykills the cow.impressed by garrigan's guts and chutzpah,idi amin makes him his personal physician and advisor.little did garrigan know then what he was in for.

admiration quickly transforms into hatred,as the brutality of idi amin surfaces every now and then.a comment by garrigan on the health minister leads to the minister's killing.garrigan wants to throw in the towel.idi amin would have none of it and confiscates his passport.a britsh diplomat encourages garrigan to poison idi amin which he tries later with disastrous immature youngster, garrigan enters into a liasion with one of idi amin's wives.he even impregnates her.idi amin finds out about the affair and mutilates her.when he is caught red handed trying to poison idi amin,amin feels he has had enough of the doctor.the doctor is brutally ugandan doctor saves him but the doctor is killed.
the entebbe episode is shown at the end and along with the hostages who are released garrigan escapes in the time idi amin realises and rushes to the airport,garrigan has given the slip and is safely cruising at high altitufde.

the picture is not is mix of history and fiction.forest whittaker immereses himself in the role.for five months all he did and thought was idi amin.he went to sleep ,he says,and would be dreaming like idi amin.the east african accent which he cultivated later he found it difficult to shed off.he also says that he took showers to get the guy to leave him as he wanted to wash off those darker passions away.playing the role of his lifetime as the barbaric and charismatic ruler who killed an estimated 300,000 people,whittaker is on fire throughout the film and keeps the audience rivetted to their seats.the tension and camaraderie between the brutal amin and the brazen young doctor has been well brought out.

an extremely well directed film,strong performance from whittaker and wonderful music are the highlights of this history cum fiction movie.

mumbai's dabbawallahs cross the 'atlantic'.

mumbai's dabbawallahs are on a high.having perfected the art of reaching lunchboxes(dabbas)to their correct destinations to lakhs of people on time day in and day out in the metropolis of mumbai,they attracted the attention of royalty,ceos and management institutes is it that a group of illiterate people(relatively speaking)get six sigma certification for their operations was the question that confounded prince charles,branson of virgin and the management institutes and many academicians.

they visited their operations,headed by raghunath medge and sopan mare. they studied their style of functioning and returned very very impressed.prince charles became a great friend of medge and mare and even invited him and their families to london for his wedding with camilla parker bowles.maverick billionaire richard branson of the 'virgin' group rode on the mumbai local trains along with the dabbawallahs,dressed like them,just to get the feel.and many institutes of learning are falling head over heels to invite them for lectures,which they do with panache. carrying laptops with them they do power point presentations which stun the audience.theirs is a huge success story.

no wonder then that now they are set to conquer the hearts of americans.a seven minute documentary has been filmed and will be screened at the palm beach international film festival in florida in april.the documentary is directed by indian-american simone ahuja.she had interacted with some of them when she ran the mumbai marathon three years ago along with them.minnepolis based simone says that she was so impressed that she decided to make this documentary titled 'lunch on the run-bombay's dabbawallahs'

having become pastmasters in efficiency and punctuality, don't be surprised if they now become brand ambassadors for omega or taghauer.after all with the debacle in the worldcup,our masterblaster sachin is down and out and can one think of another icon for mumbai other than the dabbawallahs? i am sure they will be lapped up soon after our overhyped cricketers are quickly buried.