Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2009-year of eclipses

we had a lunar eclipse on 7th july followed by a solar eclipse yesterday and there will be another lunar eclipse on 6th august this year. three in a row. how should we view this natural and interesting phenomenon? one cannot ignore the fact that throughout history cataclysmic events have occured after such manifestations.

as per hindu mythology, during 'churning of the ocean'(smudra manthanam) episode in the puranas,the amritam that was stolen cunningly by the asuras was taken back by mohini(lord vishnu's form) by enticing and enamouring them by her beauty.not so easily undone, rahu an asura took the form of a deva and sat between chandra and surya when mohini started distributing the amrita to the devas. when mohini came near rahu,chandra and surya realised that the person next to them was an impostor.mohini cut the head of rahu which flew into the sky.rahu lived as as severed head and decided to avenge surya and chandra. thus from time to time rahus gobbles up the moon and sun (lunar eclipse and solar eclipse) who fight to free themselves.

this rare celestial phenomenon ,astrologers say could be a percursor of natural disasters.the mahabharatha yuddha, world war II and indira gandhi's assasination all these events followed solar explanation is that eclipses charge the atmosphere with negativity. hence to neutralise it poojas and yagnas are performed.yesterday's solar eclipse was the longest of this century,lasting 6 minutes and 39 also coincides with the international year of astronomy.scientists dismiss the views expressed by the astrologers as myths based on superstitions and that it is just a plain and simple natural phenomenon. a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth.thus the sun is blocked and its rays do not reach the earth. that's it. period.

dk hari and hema hari who are founders of 'bharath gyan' have written a book entitled "will history repeat itself?". the first recorded eclipse took place in 3067 bce when the 18 day kurukshetra war took place. in 3031 bce,36 years later,the ancient city of dwaraka went under and between 1910 and 1945 during which a series of triple eclipses took place,according to the authors,world war I and II,hitler's holocaust and the the hiroshima bombings took place. six sets of triple eclipses will be taking place till 2020 following the current triple eclipses.the authors are not doomsday predictors but are raising questions based on actual events.the authors have used planetarium software which precisely dates the movements of various astral bodies for thousands of years in the past and also the future.they have juxtaposed the earliest observations of eclipses found in ancient texts with the actual events.they have tried to see the correlation between the events in the sky and happenings on earth.

the discussions and debates will go on.the astronomers and the astrologers will slug it out. there is no perfect explanation to this natural celestial occurence and the effects need not ridicule what the astrologers say. but view it with a scientific temper like what the 'hari' couple have done.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the friendly 'hotelwallah'

kamats are well known in mumbai.for their restaurants which serve idlis,dosas,vadas and other delectable south indian snacks at moderate prices.their cafes are neat and clean and very functional.when i first came to mumbai fifty years ago upon my father's transfer,my first visit to a udipi joint was near sir p m road in fort area where we lived.i liked the taste of the masala dosa and filter coffee and spent many memorable hours there during my first year in mumbai then called bombay.

in those days,television had not arrived.we followed the cricket test matches on the radio.after returning from st.xavier's college,i would rush to the 'udipi',order some vadas and idlis and hot south indian coffee and listen to the cricket commentary.there was always a huge crowd outside;they were the cricket fans who preferred to stand out and cheer loudly when some indian cricketer scored a boundary or a six.there would also be a deafening silence when team india lost a wicket. later we moved to backbay reclamation near churchgate. this time my favourite was 'satkar', another udipi mcdonalds in usa, kamats and other udipi restaurants have built a loyal clientale around them thanks to their quick and efficient service,neat and functional ambience and consistently good food and importantly reasonble rates.the udipiites are an intelligent and industrious father was very close to the tma pai family,the founders of the syndicate bank.i realised quite early in age that they are very shrewd businessmen and no wonder that they have excelled in banking and finance and in the hospitality industry too.

last monday when i was on a flight to bhubaneshwar,i happened to meet v v kamat,the pioneer of ecotel hotels in india. i had met him earlier once in a similar situation.we recognised each other and exchanged some pleasantries.we also exchanged our business cards and expressed our desire to remain in the back of his card in a small pouch lay some tulsi(holy basil) seeds.that conveys his care for the environment. kamat is a very modest,self-effacing,kind and helpful man. he is proud of his creation of the 'orchid' chain of hotels and rightly who had the chutzpah to tell the chairman of the oberoi group of hotels that one day he would excel them.that needs tremendous self-confidence,courage and an ability to lead,motivate and see things through.

when i returned to mumbai,there was a pleasant surprise awaiting me in my was a nice letter from v v kamat's office enclosing the book(seventh edition) he has written which i am currently reading. the book is titled-'idli,orchid and will-power!', translated from the original by sanjit narwekar. it's a book by a self-made man,his trials and tribulations,the support from his parents and his better half,the sibling rivalry that took him very close to committing suicide. surely i'll come across many more such anecdotes in his interesting book written in a simple and breezy style.

we see environmental degradation all around.we need many more kamats to make people sensitive to nature and not to treat it with disrespect.what you give you will get back.if you preserve and protect the environment,the globe will be a better place to live in. then the efforts of people like v v kamat and his ilk will not go in vain. we owe this to the coming generations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

the bandra-worli sea link (rajiv gandhi setu)

last sunday when i was returning from the airport my driver had a good suggestion. why not drive over the new bridge he asked. and there is no toll to be paid,he added. that was enough motivation for me to ask him to go ahead and go straight from the point where one normally takes a left turn to go to south mumbai via mahim. after all,i had read so much about this new bridge(5.6 kms long) that i wanted to experience the feel of cruising along this one of its kind sea link which has cost the exchequer Rs 1600 crores and which took ten years to make as it was mired in controversy almost from day 1.the bridge weighs a staggering 250,000 tonnes! i must say that it was an exhilarating experience.the fantastic view of the skyscrapers and the sea around you gives you a feeling as if you were on a cruise.

firstly, it is an engineering marvel.hats off to our engineers and hcc for having done such a good job.secondly,it is very functional and aesthetically pleasing to the eyes.only four lanes have come up now another four are to be added and then the worli-haji ali link has to be completed.once all this is finished,it will cut driving time very substantially from bandra to mumbai downtown. a speed limit of 50 km/hour has been enforced on the sea link.the whole distance takes about 8 minutes in normal traffic and four minutes if the traffic is less as i experienced it on monday when i was heading for the airport to take a flight to bhubaneshwar.the inlet and outlet points become bottlenecks as the traffic slows down substantially while approaching and exiting.

i have experienced the difference in kolkata when the vidyasagar setu was commissioned. earlier we had to cross the howrah bridge every day while going to work at andul road in howrah and even take the ferry many times to cross the hooghly river due to perennial traffic jam on the bridge. now,going over to howrah is a breeze. the rajiv gandhi setu is also likely to provide similar relief to harried motorists coming in to the fort area from the western suburbs.

there is considerable scope to reduce the pressure on the roads and local railways by using the waterways for transportation.though such ideas have been discussed many times in various fora,no proper feasibility study seems to have been done for making it economically viable. or is it caught in the usual bureaucratic red tape? i only hope that this idea too sees the light of the day soon.we must explore this option before rushing to construct an underground railway system.

let us hope that the second half of the sea link with connector to worli gets ready soon.estimates are that it might take 18 months for the 1.6 km connector to be fully operational.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

akkaaravadisal (rice and bengal dal dessert)

now this may be a tonguetwister for those who are not familiar with the tamil language.but for those who are,it is the sweetest delicacy on earth.a close sibling of chakkarapongal(sakkarai pongal),only experts can tell you the difference.a friend of mine referred to akkaaravadisal as the vaishnavite chakkarapongal.he was probably close to the is a typical iyengar(vaishnavite) sweet dish.last month when i was in chennai,i visited my cousin sis j's home and what awesome food she had prepared! and to top it all it was akkaaravadisal that took the cake.

my mom used to make fantastic akkaaravadisal.hence, i was not surprised that her niece and my cousin sis even excelled her.i did some research on this supersweet from the south. i googled to know more about it,read some blogs on it,referred to books by authorities on south indian veg cooking- viji varadarajan,chitra padmanabhan and andal rangaswamy for the right combination of ingredients that make a perfect pudding.i consulted my wife,sis,co-brother's wife and even my cousin-sis who had prepared this sweet specially for me with her own hands, to understand the finer points of difference and the best way of preparing this wonderful dessert in the authentic iyengar way.

having armed myself with all the theoretical knowledge required to cook this lord vishnu's favourite sweet,i ventured into our kitchen to soil my hands and try it out myself.i have cooked sakkaraipongal before,so it was not, therefore, going to be some very difficult job.and i also decided to offer this as naivedyam before the family consumed it. the mystic srivaishnavite saint andal who was in love with lord krishna had vowed to offer him 1000 vessels of akkaaravadisal with tons of clarified butter if only he would appear before her:

"naru narum pozhil maalirumsolai nambikku
naan nooru tadavil vennai vaay nehzhndu paraavi vaitthen
nooru tada nirainda akkaaravadisal shonnen,yeru tiruvudaiyan
ivai vandu kollumgolo?"

this is what she sang to lord vishnu at the kalazhagar temple in srivilliputtur.and many hundred years later sri ramanujacharya fulfilled that vow at the same temple.andal moved by ramnujacharya's fulfilment of her vow came out of her garbhagriha and addressed him as "anna"(elder brother).in a tamilian wedding the "seer" (offering from the girl's side) is made by the bride's elder brother.because ramanujacharyar did it by offering 1000 vessels of akkaravadisal, andal the would be bride of lord krishna addressed him as elder brother.

and for those who would like to try it out ,here we go:

take 1 cup of rice,4 cups of whole milk,1/4 cup of chana dal,2 cups of jaggery,i tbsp of grated coconut,ghee 1/2 cup, cashewnut -100 gms,raisins- 50 gms ,saffron strings -10 nos and cardamom powder-1 tsp.

lightly wash chana dal and rice and drain the water.add saffron strings to the above in a cooker for pressure cooking after adding about 5 cups of water.remove from cooker and mash it up nicely(in the form of a soft pulp). add jaggery and keep on adding ghee. stir continuously until the mixture solidifies.add cardamom powder and mix well. fry cashewnuts and raisins in ghee and also fry the grated coconut till golden brown. add to the soft pulp.serve it really hot with oodles of ghee.and don't forget to offer it to your lord krishna and seek his blessings.

so how does it differ from sakkarai pongal? only some difference in the ingredients.instead of chana dal you use moong dal. and skip the grated coconut.don't make it into a pulp.cook it a little more have now learnt to cook both chakkara pongal(sakkarai pongal) and akkaaravadisal. what a melange of taste, flavour and fragrance!

forget the weight that you will be adding to your waist. you can knock it off next morning on your treadmill.
gb who helped me to translate my theoretical inputs into practical reality was herself very thrilled with the endproduct."cchaan hai",she said in marathi. which when translated into english means "super". and that was what it turned out to be.three cheers!