Monday, August 15, 2011



It is a stunning debut novel by the author Jamil Ahmad, a septuagenarian and a retired member of the Civil Service of Pakistan and a gifted storyteller whose hallmarks are restraint and brevity. He takes us to the tribal areas where Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran seem to converge. These inhospitable areas are today hotbeds of conflicts and conspiracies. Mahsouds and Wazirs are two among many nomadic tribes who often clash with each other. It is the survival of the fittest. The protagonist is a young boy called Tor Baz (black falcon). He is the hunting falcon. He mingles with people of three different nationalities. Men who are fighting for their countries and women who have to honour their society’s code of conduct if they wish to survive. Who is Tor Baz.? From where did he come? And where shall fate take him? Is he a device or a metaphor than a character? It is a tightly plotted and engaging novel, superbly crafted by a writer who brings a high degree of tenderness and sensitivity in dealing with a complex subject of which he shows extraordinary knowledge and understanding.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Varalakshmi Vratam

This is a very important and sacred observance (Vratha) followed by pious Hindu married women seeking the blessings of Goddess Mahalakshmi (Varalakshmi-boon granting Goddess) for longevity for their husbands and wealth and happiness for the family. It is observed in the month of July/August in the Tamil month of Aadi on the Friday before the full moon. This year it fell on 12th August. It is a very common observance among married women in the Southern states and to some extent in Maharashtra and Orissa. According to Skanda Purana, Lord Shiva recommended to his wife Parvathi to observe the vratham to obtain wealth and prosperity.

Starting with cleaning of the house in the early hours of the morning, women decorate the entrance of their homes with mango leaf festoons and beautiful garlands. New clothes are worn on this occasion and women deck themselves with their best jewellery. The ceremony begins with Kalasha puja. A sacred pot (Kalasha) is worshipped,filled with water and kept on a mount of rice placed on a plaintain leaf. A thread is tied around the the kalasha. Sacred symbols are made on the kalasha by the purohit using vermillion paste. A coconut is placed in the centre of the sacred pot surrounded by mango leaves.Then the puja commences by worshipping Vishwaksena or Ganesha as the case may be. After completing the Vishwaksena Aaradhana or Ganesha Puja, holy water from the kalasha is sprinkled on all those present. After that, Mahalakshmi stotram, Laksmi Sahasranamam and Sri Suktham are chanted.Various food and fruit offerings are made to Mahalakshmi. Then an aarathi is performed.In the evening women are invited to get Mahalakshmi's blessings and partake of the prasadam.

Mahalakshmi is the consort of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu means pervading everywhere. And Mahalakshmi is symbolic of the forces pervading everywhere.There are eight forces of Mahalakshmi (Ashtalakshmi). These are known as Bhuh (earth), Sri (wealth), Saraswati (Learning), Keerthi (Fame), Shaanthi (Peace), Tushti (Pleasure), Preeti (Love) and Pushti (Strength). By worshipping Lakshmi we obtain good health, wealth and happiness which depend on these forces.

We were invited last Friday to a Varalakshmi Vratam evening by a good friend of ours.Her mother( her name was Lakshmi) observed this ritual every year from the time she was married till she passed away a few years back. Her daughter has picked up the mantle and has been continuing this tradition.

Monday, July 18, 2011



The author researched for seven years while simultaneously writing his in-depth debut novel on Akbar who was considered to be the best of the Mughal Emperors. While researching the Spanish Inquisition, Dirk Collier, a Belgian historian and writer, first came across references to Akbar who had invited Jesuit priests to his court to learn about Christianity. Written in the form of a long letter from Akbar to Jehangir, the book is a compilation of all that he wanted to convey to his dear son who was a rebel. Well-known for his secular outlook which led him to attempt a fusion of three religions- Hinduism, Christianity and Islam which he named Din-e-Illahi which unfortunately failed, Akbar held a modern vision of a prosperous and tolerant country with rich diversity and unity. He conquered the strife and intrigues in the palace and rose spectacularly to absolute power. He had a harem of 5000 women out of which 300 were his real companions. Dirk Collier refers to Akbar as basically “an eclectic, a rationalist as well as a mystic”. His Hindu queen Jodha amassed huge wealth derived from her commercial skills of trading in silk and pepper about which Akbar often discussed with her. Akbar ruled for 49 years till his death in 1605. Jehangir valued his father more when dead than when alive. The conflict between father and son was bitter and never fully resolved. Akbar’s favourite wife Salima personally travelled to Allahabad and brought about the official reconciliation between father and son. Jehangir who held his father with the highest respect often visited his father’s tomb, dismounted, knelt down and rubbed his forehead on the doorstep of the mausoleum. The book is well written and a compelling read. It relates the true story of Akbar’s life and times and can be considered to be an authentic genre in historical fiction.



Only two years back Anuja Chavan’s debut novel “The Zoya Factor” was a runaway success. She has done an encore with her new book, a romantic comedy. She has mastered the right mix of ingredients that go to make a novel a hit. Bittora is a constituency in the state of Pavit Pradesh caught in an election frenzy. Jinny and Zain are childhood friends who contest with each other in the Lok Sabha elections. Jinny(Sarojini Pande) is from a political family but has very little interest in politics. She works in Mumbai in an animation studio. Her opponent is the handsome Zain Altaf Khan. The opponents belong to BJP and Congress in disguise which are named IJP and Pragati Party respectively. Drawing inspiration from her mother-in-law Margaret Alva, the author’s characters and incidents are very real which give the book a touch of reality. Anuja Chavan carries this chicklit book beyond the parameters of a love story. Her message is that there is place for youth and idealism in politics. And she conveys all this in a breezy and humorous style.

Sunday, July 17, 2011



It is a memoir on the author’s two years’ stint at one of the topmost investment banks in the world - Morgan Stanley. It is a saga of the trials and tribulations of a young woman interning in Wall Street. Equipped with four cheap suits and two pairs of Payless shoes, she makes her beginning and by sheer hard work and performance she gets an offer in the coveted Corporate Finance Division on the completion of her internship. It is an insider account of the masochist culture in the world of investment banking and the extreme biases against women.

A decade earlier, Michael Lewis had written a similar book on the goings-on at Salmon Brothers and how their cigar smoking, high-flying executives fraternized among themselves forming an exclusive club and bullied the others. After interning with J P Morgan for a short period, the author joined Morgan Stanley on a two-year scholarship programme. It was a high-stress and male-dominated work ambience.

Nina is one of three children of Zorastrian immigrants from India (Parsis) who settled in Houston, Texas. She was driven by a burning ambition to succeed and prove her worth and win the respect of her father. This book gives an alternate view of children growing up in a Parsi household while the debate over “Tiger Mother” is still raging. She describes her grandmother’s cooking in delicious and mouthwatering detail. A brilliant student who walked into the world of high finance so to say, found the office atmosphere stifling and disgusting due to overtones of gender bias and class consciousness. Unable to accept such an environment, she walked away from her job to pursue her dream. Not that she did not know of what lay in store for her when she accepted the Morgan Stanley offer. She had heard and read all the horror stories from middle-aged women who bitterly complained on how they were sexually harassed; even ordered to wear short skirts. But things were changing as it was not easy anymore to get away with harassing co-workers. However, inappropriate behavior still prevailed and to add salt to the wounds, these high-falutin bankers were callous as well.

Though brought up by parents who insisted on hard work, long hours of study and holding the Parsi culture, the author did not exactly fit the mould. She was in a way a rebel. She dated and even brought a blind date home during her New York days. She drank but now she has reduced it as she has a baby. The irony is that she is married to an investment banker but he understands the fat-boy culture. Nina has started her own company which offers stress-reduction courses to professionals. Her rich experience of dealing with the stress in the almost all-male culture in Morgan Stanley must be holding her in good stead. The book is a gripping read. It is funny and heartwarming. There is a strong message. Ask yourself what are you working for. Is it worth it? Money is not the only goal.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Nammaazhwaar, the 9th century Vaishnavite mystic saint had composed in
Anthaadi style, eleven paasurams which are part of the Thiruvaaimozhi, on the
Lord of Thiruvananthapuram.

Starting from

kedum idar aaya ellam, kesava enna, naalum
koduvinai sheiyyum, kootrin tamargalum kurukakillaar
vidam udai aravil palli, virumbinaan shurumbu allattrum,
tadam udai vayal, ananthapuranagar pugudam inre. 10-2-1

and ending as

andam il pugazh, ananthapuranagar aadi tannaik,
kondu alar pozhil,kurugoor maaran shol, aayiratthul:
aindinodum aindum vallar, anaivar poy amar ulagil,
paintodi madantaiyar-tam, vai maru tol inaiye. 10-2-11

All our difficulties will disappear when we chant the name Kesava. The
dreaded Yama's messengers too will come nowhere near us.
Let us, therefore, all go to Thiruvnanthapuranagar, surrounded by
fertile fields, where the Lord reclines on his poisonous serpent
couch. 10-2-1

This composition of thousand songs composed by Kurugur Satagopan
on the Lord of eternal glory will ensure the embrace of well-
bede,cked women in the celestial world. 10-2-11

In 10-2-7, Nammaazhwaar says that even sweeping the yard there will
undo all the karmas. In 10-2-9, he urges everyone to worship Vaamana's
feet as that would end the seeker's woes. And in 10-2-10, Nammazhwaar says
that those who worship Him with sandalpaste,lamp,incense and fresh
lotus petals will attain eternal glory.

The Aazhwaar says that the Nityasuris living in Paramapadam come to
Thiruvananthapuram for service. 'Sarveshwaran' is sleeping here. Thiruvanantha
Himself is praapya. The Lord has made HIs 'Nitya Sannidhi' here and therefore
whatever kainkaryam I would like to do when I reach Paramapadam after leaving
this mortal coil, I can do it here says Nammaazhwaar.

It doesn't matter if you have been a sinner. It is better to repent now than never.
Without hesitation take his name. Not necessarily only the name Kesava.
Take any one of His thousand names. Before you leave this body hasten to
Thiruvananthapuram; the Lord who has Vamanatva and Madhavatva will remove your 'samsaarabandhanam' (worldly attachment) and make you a Nityasuri
(a permanent resident in Paramapadam)
says Nammaazhwaar.

Rush to Thiruvananthapuram and chant one of His thousand names. You
will attain Moksha.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram is literally in the eye of a storm with the discovery of an estimated Rs 1 lakh crores (Rs 1 trillion) in the temple's treasure trove on June 30th. The discovery consists of gold, silver, gems and precious coins from the vaults of the 9th century temple. As per temple records, the temple was built around the 10th century by the Ay dynasty who ruled prior to the Travancore royal family. There is a raging nationwide debate on what should be done with the treasure which has got accumulated over thousands of years. The Kerala Government insists that the assets belong to the temple and that it should not be relocated outside the temple premises. It has also beefed up security to protect the temple's wealth. The treasures have immense heritage value and under constitutional obligation these objects have to be preserved.

The costliest of the treasure found is perhaps a multi-gem studded golden icon of the deity Lord Vishnu. The kallaras are the six chambers around the sanctum sanctorum. Out of these four are routinely opened and shut while two have not been opened for centuries. Most of the treasure found was offered by the Travancore kings and their family members to their family deity Sree Padmanabhaswamy which is substantiated by the temple records which is preserved in the Kerala Archives Department. Marthanda Verma (1729-58) is known as the founder of modern Travancore. He was a dedicated devotee of the Lord unto whom he surrendered his kingdom and sovereignty making the Lord the sovereign Head of Travancore. Thereafter the rulers were called Padmanabha Dasas who ruled the kingdom on His behalf. Marthanda Verma, Swati Thirunal Rama Varma and the last king Sri Chitira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma continued to gift the Lord with precious gems and gold . Situated in the southwestern tip of the country, the temple was safeguarded from marauding invaders.

Why this sudden flurry now? After all, the residents of this holy city and particularly the Lord's ardent devotees have been aware of the wealth lying in the temple's vaults (Thiru-Aras) for hundreds of years. It is one T P Sundararajan,70, a retired IPS officer living just 100 feet away from the temple,and an advocate who literally set the ball rolling. He filed a petition in the High Court alleging mismanagement of the temple's funds by the Trustees and asked for an inventorisation of the wealth lying in the vaults. The High Court issued an order to the State asking it to take over the temple, its assets and management. Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the 89 year-old king who is fighting a battle in court and is striving to hold on to the last vestige of his empire, the Padmanabhaswamy temple,moved the Supreme Court which stayed the High Court order and asked for a detailed inventory to be listed of all the valuables in the six vaults of the temple. On June 27 when the vaults were opened for stocktaking, the treasures saw the light of the day. Sundararajan was one of the seven member panel formed by the Supreme Court that inspected the six vaults.Sundararajan, a bachelor, who takes his father to the temple every day and prays in the temple thrice a day, has indicated that there is a subterranean vault full of copper pots containing gold coins.His motive for taking the matter to the court was to prevent the royal family from siphoning off the huge treasure.The head of the erstwhile royal family said that he nor any of his family members were not making any claim to the temple wealth.

One vault, the kallara B, has not yet been opened.There is a sign of 'serpent' visible at the entrance and it is felt that it is inauspicious to open it as it may invite the wrath of the Lord. A 'deva prashnam' which is an age-old religious custom and practice may have to be conducted so as not to incur the displeasure of the Lord.

The questions that crop up are:- a) who owns the treasure, b) who will manage it, c) what will the apex court say, d) why is the government unsure of taking over the temple and e) how are the enormous treasures going to be secured and preserved for posterity? And simultaneously there are many who have offered various suggestions for utilising the staggering wealth for the benefit of the temple, the poor and the State.

The eighteen feet long idol of Lord Padmanabha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu cannot be viewed in one glance. He is shown as reclining on the five-hooded serpent Adisesha, whose body is coiled thrice. The idol is made of a special material and there are about 12,000 saligramas collected from the bed of River Gandaki in Nepal which have been placed inside the idol. Some say that the the idol is made of gold and that it has been covered with soot. Nammaazhvar, a Vaishanavite mystic saint has sung eleven paasurams (verses) on the Lord which is part of the Thiruvaaimozhi section of the Naalayira Divya Prabandham.The temple architecture is a fusion of the Kerala style with the Dravidian style. Before the reorganisation of States after India attained independence, the Travancore kingdom consisted of the modern day southern Kerala and Kanyakumari district and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu.

continued in part II

Sunday, May 22, 2011


During my latest visit to Bhubaneswar last week, I stayed at the Trident. I usually stay here because I love the ambience around. It gives one a calm and serene feeling. Trident has a large swimming pool, gym with masseurs and a 900m jogging track. Two rounds early in the morning gives you a one-mile walk which prepares you for the day.The breakfast spread is huge but the southy stuff is my preference. Hot steaming idlis and vadas. And of course, I start with fruits supposed to drive away the toxicity in the body. I top up my breakfast with a large cup of yoghurt. I have a very light lunch and a light dinner too. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a commoner and dinner like a pauper is my motto.

This time though I couldn't stave off my hunger pangs at around 3pm when I was back in the hotel after my morning meetings. I decided to try a mulagutanny soup, urli roast with two chapatis and a bowl of yoghurt. I must admit it was a very satisfying lunch. The urli (urlakazhangu in Tamil and potatoes in English) roast was a big dish with plenty of baby potatoes with their skin, nicely tossed in a spicy curry-leaf masala. It was delicious. For those interested in cooking it at home, here is the recipe:


Baby Potatoes with skin
Chilli Powder 1 tsp
Coriander Powder 2 tsp
Turmeric Powder ½ tsp
Mustard Seeds 1 tsp
Urad Dal 1 tbsp
Oil 2 tbsp


Heat oil in a pan add mustard seeds and allow to splutter.
Add urad dal and fry until light brown.
Add chilli powder,coriander powder and turmeric powder.Stir it for 3 minutes.
Add baby potatoes and salt.Mix it well.
Cover and roast on a medium flame.
Keep stirring in between.
When they turn brownish and crispy, remove from stove.

Easy to make, urli roast goes well with chapatis.

Monday, May 16, 2011




The British author is 31years old, of Indian origin, an award winning science journalist and daughter of a chemical engineer. She is also an engineer by training. She is a self-professed geek. The svelte woman with a chic haircut calls herself a “pretty girlie geek.” She argues passionately that the nation of her ancestors is geared to become a scientific superpower. Her book is a journey through the colleges and laboratories of India to discover the scientific capability of the students and researchers and the changing scientific landscape.

She considers Indians and people of Indian origin as swots, nerds, dweebs, boffins and dorks. Words many of us had not heard before. Neither did Narayana Murthy of Infosys. Nor the legendary U R Rao of ISRO. She refers to Jawaharlal Nehru as the other important geek after Vikram Sarabhai. They pushed us into frontiers that were held earlier by the likes of Aryabhatta and Bhaskara. Though not equipped with the best of hardware for their research, the Indian scientists are using their mental software (read creativity) to compensate for the lack of quality equipment and they are developing cheap technologies for day to day applications. This is bringing about a scientific revolution. Indian science is according to Angela definitely riding a crest.

There are many who do not agree with her line of thinking. Her critics say that she is being carried away by the large presence of Indian engineers, doctors, technologists and forensic experts and IT professionals to jump to such conclusions. Undeniably, her book is an interesting travelogue. She visits ISRO, BARC and the IT corridor in Bangalore. Her interactions with Dr Manish Gupta who heads research at IBM India are very interesting. IBM is working on a new technology called the Spoken Web which put simply is a voice-based web which lets people use spoken words to surf spoken information on their mobile phones. With a large mobile subscription base coupled with large illiteracy this invention could create a large number of internet users through the mobile phone. She praises our TB research at Chennai and the work on mind-reading machines. She is excited with superstition and scientific temper in the same mindset of Indians.

After her visits to these centres of excellence, Saini’s optimism takes a hit. She is disappointed as she does not find them the hothouses of intellectual curiosity and innovation. The flip-flop of high praise and disenchantment goes on almost continuously. She calls Lavasa the hi-tech new township in the Western Ghats and as a Geek’s paradise lost to the poor. She is very impressed with our competence and achievements in international chess tournaments and physics Olympiads. She even visits the Vaishnavite stronghold in Karnataka where Ramanujacharya lived for many years to observe how scholars are interpreting ancient Sanskrit esoteric texts in the Academy of Sanskrit Research to show to the world that our rishis knew a lot of what we term as modern science. There is no doubt that India is emerging as a scientific superpower. But Angela Saini, a part of a group called Girl Geek Dinners, a kitty party kind of group where science is the common interest, needs more clarity in what she is looking for in the New India. It is a fascinating, weird and wacky world allright for this science journo who thinks she has the best job in the world. She is making her own little bit contribution to science writing in a domain of masculine imagery where women are very under-represented. She must know that people being in the thrall of science does not make their nation very scientific .

Sunday, May 15, 2011


In July 2008, I had posted in this blog on the wonderful fruit Lychee also spelt Litchi. It is one of my favourite fruits. I am happy to post again on this great fruit because this year there has been a record production. Nearly 300,000 tonnes against last year's 225,000 tonnes. Lychees are grown mostly in Bihar and that too near Muzzafarpur. 80% of the country's production is concentrated in Bihar. The flowering in lychee trees was good this year and showers in March and April helped in their growth and ripening.

Lychee has a firm and rough skin which is bright pink-red in colour. Lychees are grown abundantly in China. The fruit grows in bunches of 5 to 30 pieces in trees. The trees are very tall and in the range of 30 to 60 feet. The inside consists of a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh. The texture is somewhat similar to that of a grape. The centre contains a single glossy brown nut-like seed.The fruit is commonly eaten out of hand. Lychee is also put in salads, pie and made into jams and jellies. Furthermore lychee is used to make tea. The seed can be eaten after roasting it. Lychee is also called ‘Chinese Strawberry’. In China, lychee is a symbol of romance and love.

Good production is a double-edged sword for the poor farmer. Shelf life of lychees after ripening is only a couple of days. They have to be despatched to the markets immeditaely after plucking. If smooth and fast transportation is not available, the advantages of a bumper crop are lost. If there are lychee-processing factories near the fruit plantations, it solves the dilemma of the farmers. Also Shahi lychees are the best among lychees. There is a huge demand in the export markets for this variety. Why can't Bihar produce more of these high value lychees?

Nitish Kumar's government must seriously look into increasing lychee production, in particular the Shahi variety, reduce tranportation bottlenecks and establish processing facilites in the vicinity of the lychee producing areas which the Government has been promising for many years now.

Friday, May 13, 2011


JJ (J.Jayalaitha) is back in power after a long hiatus.The people of Tamil Nadu fed up with the Himalayan corruption of the DMK patriarch and his family had to choose between the devil and the deep sea.They have chosen to give another chance to JJ hoping that she would have put her bad ways behind her and that this long Vanavas would have chastened her and that she would be a true leader for the people,by the people and of the people. This is the last chance that JJ is getting. If she can capitalize on this unique opportunity provided by a combination of her own popularity and the negative votes cast in her favour due to a groundswell of public opinion against Kalaignar and his family, she could get elected and reelected for many more terms. Whether she will grasp this moment or squander the chance away is difficult to say. She was ferocious,revengeful,diabolic and untrustworthy in the past. For the sake of Tamil Nadu and her people, if she is a transformed person now, it will be a great blessing. But if she lives up to her past performance, it will indeed be a sad day for Tamil Nadu.

I am reproducing below from the web, a reaction of a youngster to her recent success. I think it reflects the mood of her fans very well.

"Kowsik 14 hours ago
Madam JJ

Dedicate this victory to the People of Tamil Nadu
Make your swearing in Ceremony as a grant Public Function
Make common people close to you.
Put in your head that YOU ARE A PEOPLE'S LEADER

Make one poor old elderly person come to the dias and garlend you with a blessing for you.

These are the thing people like Madam, always do not forget that the one vote that one person put in favour of you only made you the CM here now.

Remember this always and make always your public appearance with a poor person, let it be a elderly lady, elderly man, small child etc.

People really love it and like it, be a MGR hereafter madam JJ, you will see the love overwhlem you all around and all the while.

When in office you are a CM, but when you come out to the Public function, you put yourselves as MGR to people, they love and like it from you.

People wave to you, you also wave, do not site quite, it may be paining but they are your supporters

receive garlands from them, mingle with them, they want to see you close and affectionately

We write all these because, we know all the section of the People really love and like you to be their leader and CM

Do not fail us, Do not fail them, Do not fail Tamil people.
You are really a gift of God to this good Tamil People
Be a good gift to them always for many more years to come.
Good Luck Madam JJ"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011



It is a very noble attempt by two brothers to teach spiritual/Islamic life lessons through the medium of comics. It is an amazing collection of comic strips, forty in all, each on a single page, illustrating key spiritual concepts and teachings. Relevant excerpts from the Koran are shown on the page facing each comic. The age of the reading audience could be anywhere from six to sixty of any religion. It is likely to appeal to them all. Life’s lessons are taught in a perceptive, subtle and humorous way. A short comic is a preferable medium these days for many to read and assimilate new subjects. One can go back to it as often as one wants because they are not boring, They convey esoteric philosophy in simple language and cartoons without compromising on content or quality.

The Vakil brothers work together with their father in the family business of developing residential properties in Bangalore. They started with an e-newsletter called “our monthly dose of inspiration”. Then it became their company blog named the “Arif and Ali blog”. The Sufi Comics is a project which they started in 2009.

Sufism focuses on the spiritual dimension of Islam such as faith, respect, piety, love and truth. The brothers learnt to draw cartoons from the bare basics after they started this venture but they learnt the techniques of drawing very fast from some Youtube videos and books. To speed up the process, they used a Tablet PC. They were aware that their project had started off around the time there was such an uproar over the Danish cartoon of the Prophet. Islamic art does not draw the faces of revered personalities. They have respected that tradition.

The book has been published by opening it through the “ Creative Commons” license. This allows anyone to make copies and distribute them. There is one caveat though. No changes are permitted. The print version of the book was published using which is an company. The book can be bought online from & The good news is that the Vakil brothers will be soon working on Volume 2 of 40 Sufi Comics.

Sufi music has been popularized among the youth by Bollywood, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and A R Rehman. I hope these comics will generate the interest among the youth to know and learn more about Sufism, a subject of great interest to me.


Dear Readers
I have decided to post on my blog the reviews of books that I do for a monthly magazine called Dignity Dialogue meant for senior citizens.
I have been doing book reviews for a couple of years or more now. The first of this series will be on '40 Sufi Comics'. Look forward to your comments.
I will of course continue on other topics of interest to me as well.
Best regards.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The simple, delicate, delicious plant asparagus is referred to in Germany as the Royal vegetable. Grown initially extensively around the now Stuttgart area around the 16th century,this vegetable was meant for the royals. The whole of Deutschland has caught on to it and it is the favourite vegetable of every person high or low. And now is the season till end June. I used to visit Koenigse, a small town in the East of Germany for many years. Coinicidentally, I would be in Germany every year during the "Spargel saison" (Asparagus season). My hosts knowing my vegetarian food habit would stuff me with asparagus- either in the form of a freshly cooked vegetable or as puree or soup. It was Spargel for lunch and Spargel for dinner. In India, it is called Shatavari and is also a seasonal vegetable.

I decided to post a blog on this subject when I received an email from my daughter's mom-in-law on the medicinal properties of asparagus. During the Renaissance, asparagus was valued for its many medicinal qualities against a variety of ailments. It is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C and folate, and the stalks are high in fibre. People who have consumed it have sworn by its efficacy in curing fully-blown cancer and also in dissolving kidney stones. If you don't take butter sauce along with it, asparagus can be considered to be a low-calorie food.

'Asparagus officinalis' is a leafy plant whose young shoots are known to us as the vegetable asparagus. In Europe, it is one of the first vegetables of spring. There are two varieties of asparagus, the green and the white. The green one is more common in USA. The Germans prefer it white. German farmers keep the sun away so that they don't turn green with the growth of chlorophyll. Germans consume about 70,000 tonnes of this vegetable every year. Most of it is grown in Germany.

Passionate consumers of asparagus make this a passionate vegetable too!


This was the comment an expert foreign player had made before start of the World Cup. He had to eat humble pie when Mahinder Singh Dhoni proved his detractors wrong.No doubt, Captain Cool had his fair share of luck. He was in poor batting form till the last match,the team fielding was sloppy almost throughout the entire tournament and the bowlers never posed a serious threat to the opposition. With all these apparent weaknesses, how did the players in blue win? That is a natural and interesting question.

The answer lies in self-belief, good coaching by Gary Kirsten and excellent leadership by the Captain and of course the backing of the home crowd.Under pressure,the team performed well.Though backed by punters for winning the championship their performance in the initial matches gave no scope for such optimism. But then all the abovementioned factors helped them to neutralise their weaknesses and win the coveted World Cup.

A good lesson for everyone who wants to achieve. Believe that you can do it. Work towards your goal and you will succeed.

In the recently published list of 100 most influential people in the world for the year 2010 by Time magazine, our captain fantastic was placed higher than global football icon Lionel Messi and US President Barack Obama. At world ranking 52, Dhoni is 9 notches above billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Hats off to Captain Hope.

Jo jeeta wo hai Sikandar, Jo haara wo hai Bandar.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Vamos (come on or get going)

Vamos is a Spanish word.It means ''come on' or 'get going'. Bhupathi while playing the quarter-finals alongwith Paes in the Australian Open recently used this word against his opponents, one of them being Spanish. This upset the Spaniard. But the Spanish fans were more upset. Bhupathi got hundreds of 'tweets' riling him for using bad words. It is like sledging in cricket when you make faces and curse your opponents and look aggressive to put your opponent psychologically on the defensive. It works many times and it backfires sometimes as well. Like in the case of Andrew Symonds and Bhajji. Our cricketers have learned this art very well. The Australians really started all this. Srisanth,Bhajji and a few others now do it well. While Srisanth will be missed at the World Cup, let us hope our cricketers show their prowess with bat and ball and with face and mouth to win against our opponents. Let them give the Australians a taste of their own medicine.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Vande Mataram is the national song of India and is sung on Republic Day. It was written by legendary Bengali author Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in a mixture of Bengali and Sanskrit in his novel 'Anandamatha' published in 1882. It was a hymnal tribute to our imprisoned mother India. Vande Mataram was first sung by Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore in 1896 at a political session of the Indian National Congress. Vande Mataram gave the much-required fillip to the struggle for independence. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari,men, women and children sang this hymn with patriotic fervour and courted arrest. After India gained independence, the first two verses of Vande Mataram were adopted as the national song to be held at par with the national anthem.

Muslims however are not happy with the song as it is in praise of Durgamata.T hey refuse to sing it as they consider it to be against the tenets of Islam. Ironically, Oscar-winning music composer, A. R. Rahman, a Muslim, rendered another touching version of Vande Mataram that is regarded as the second most famous song in the world.

vande mātaram
sujalāṃ suphalāṃ
śasya śyāmalāṃ
vande mātaram

I bow to thee, Mother,
richly-watered, richly-fruited,
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests,
i bow to thee, Mother!

śubhra jyotsnā
pulakita yāminīm
phulla kusumita
sumadhura bhāṣiṇīm
sukhadāṃ varadāṃ
vande mātaram.

Her nights rejoicing
in the glory of the moonlight,
her lands clothed beautifully
with her trees in flowering bloom,
sweet of laughter,
sweet of speech,
The Mother,
giver of boons, giver of bliss!
I bow to thee,Mother!

Let us all sing this hymn in praise of our Motherland every morning!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Sabarimala Tragedy-It Could Have Been Avoided

The tragic stampede at Sabarimala on Makara Sankranti day this year when 102 people were killed and 55 people injured caused by a jeep which crashed into them could have been avoided. It has once again brought to centre stage the phenomenon of the flash of light that appears three times every year without fail on this auspicious day. Every year thousands of devotees throng Sabarimala to witness the flashing light across the eastern skies off the shrine. It is generally held by devotees that it is a divine phenomenon, whereas rationalists see it as a hoax on the gullible people committed by the Devaswom Board authorities. Even the Kerala High Court has asked the TDB to clarify the cause of this happening- whether there is a human hand behind it or whether it is a divine dispensation. Undoubtedly, this whole subject cannot be settled legally as it falls under the zone of belief and traditions. People often confuse between Makara Jyothi and Makara Vilakku.Makara Jyothi is supposed to be natural.It is the appearance of a star in the evening of Makara Sankranti day, while Makara Vilakku is admittedly man made.It is a fire which is lit in a hill neighbouring the Sabarimala Hill. It is an unnnecessary controversy hiding the real issue. Why did this stampede take place? It was not because of Vilakku or Jyothi but because of lack of proper facilities for pilgrims.

Interestingly, eminent architect late Laurie Baker had prepared a report about fifteen years back on how without damaging the environment basic amenities could be provided for the pilgrims.He travelled from Pampu to Sabarimala Hill through the thick rainforests when he was 79, no mean a task at that age.In a 36 page report full of illustrations and drawings in his own hands,he had warned that if the roads leading to Pampa ,the base camp, is not made into a fourlane walkway,we would be waiting for a disaster to happen.His prophecy has come true. He emphasised on drinking water,sanitation and cool and shady trees on both sides which would provide relief to the pilgrims who undertake this steep climb to the temple atop. All this was to be done with minimum disturbance to the environment. About 50 million pilgrims visit Sabarimala every year and about 1.5 million pilgrims watch the Makara Jyothi. The Devasom Board and the Kerala Government earn huge revenues from this massive inflow of people. The least that they could do is to follow Laurie Baker's recommendations.

Let them learn from this Makara Sankranti's tragedy and create the basic infrastructure and facilities required for safely enduring an arduous journey by the Ayyappa devotees.

Hopefully the Travancore Devasom Board will wake up and follow what Laurie Baker in his brilliant report has recommended so that another tragedy of this magnitude can be prevented in future.

Sharanam Ayyappa.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Aamir Khan has been three times unlucky in the Oscar so far. It was 'Lagaan' first,then 'Tare Zameen Par' and now it is 'Peepli LIve' which is this year's India's official entry to the Oscars. It has failed to appear in the final nine list.There were 66 films vying for the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language film category. The list will be pruned down further to five nominees by the Academy voters for January 25 Oscar nominations.The 83rd Academy Awards will take place on February 27, 2011, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood.

Peepli LIVE is a telling satire on how the media trivialises the suicide of farmers.It was directed by first-timer Anusha Rizvi.
It focusses on politicians, bureaucrats, television reporters and the local people. PEEPLI LIVE makes a scathing attack on the functioning of media in India and how they would go to any extent to improve their TRP ratings.
Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), is a poor farmer from Peepli village in the heart of rural India. He is about to lose his plot of land as he has defaulted in paying back a government loan. Natha chooses to commit suicide so that his family may benefit from government's aid to farmers who commit suicide. His brother (Raghubur Yadav) is glad to push him towards this objective.

Local elections are around the corner and what might have been another tragic but innocuous incident turns into a big tamasha, with everyone wanting a piece of the cake.All descend upon poor sleepy Peepli to push their agenda. Natha's mother (Farrukh Jaffer]) and his wife [Shalini Vatsa] are perenially quarelling,while his young son urges his father to go through with the suicide so he can use the money to become a policeman. One TV journalist, in a desperate search for a new angle, tries to examine Natha's faeces to determine his emotional state. Nobody seems to care how Natha really feels.

It's a well written and well executed film that deals with a serious issue in a humorous manner. It keeps your attention on the screen all the time. Anusha Rizvi does a great job as a director and handles the subject in a very mature manner.Music is ethnic and cinematography excellent. Manikpuri is brilliant as Natha. Raghubir Yadav as the opportunist brother does well. Malaika Shenoy,as the television reporter, is refreshing. Shalini Vatsa, as Natha's wife puts up a great performance. So does Farrukh Jaffer,Natha's bed-ridden mother.The constant bickering between the two adds humour to the plot. Naseeruddin Shah as the shrewd politician is exceptional. Others in the cast put in good performances.

This brilliant film produced and directed by Aamir Khan,I thought, was a sure winner in the Oscars this year for its original story and outstanding acting by Natha. Hope Aamir is lucky the next time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jumbo Onions

Onions are dangerous vegetables for politicians.They have caused collapse of governments in the past.They threaten to do so today.They also bring lots of tears to the common man.

For more than a month onions have ruled the roost.At Rs 70 and Rs 80 per kg,unheard of and unimaginable.But then as they say who cares.A sensitive government should have anticipated the bad crop in Maharashtra which produces 80% of the country's onions and taken positive action.Exports of onions were allowed to go on when an imminent shortage of onions in the domestic market was expected.As usual,the bureaucrats slept and caused lots of pain to the aam aadmi.

Knee jerk reactions like importing from Pakistan were taken. That also did not last long.Then we rushed to China and imported some quantitites. Meanwhile what arrived from Pakistan were rotting in the port. Now, people may like the Chinese onions.They are twice the size of our normal onions and weigh about 250 to 300 gms each.The Chinese believe in big sizes.Whatever they do is huge.But will the imports continue? And stop the tears. Or will the stapled visa controversy stop the Chinese imports?

Union Minister Sharad Pawar was blamed. Rahul Gandhi had a subtle dig. And NCP reacted by saying that they can go alone.BJP accused the PM of being a bad economist as he allowed the prices of onions and other vegetables to shoot up to dizzy heights.

Meanwhile,the crop this time around seems to be good. The prices have fallen and might reach normalcy in another month.Let us hope the Government learns a lesson.Luckily for them the elections are not around.Otherwise,they would have got a solid thrashing.Onions may not remain in centre stage anymore.

Just a thought. Why can't we think of jumbo onions? Has it got something to do with GM vegetables? Then Jairam Ramesh may jump into the fray and not allow it to be grown like he did with brinjals.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A 'Marathon' Walk

For the last few months, I have been suffering from intense pain on my right leg. Right from the hip upto the calf. After lot of medical investigations,including MRI et al, I was told that I was suffering from LSS (lumber spinal stenosis). It is a narrowing of the spinal canal carrying nerves down to the feet. This causes the nerves to touch the wall of the spinal canal causing pain and inability to walk. I was advised surgery to enlarge the passage in the canal. I was given drugs for reducing pain. I took them for a week and then stopped them. I went surfing wildly on the internet to know all about LSS. I visited many ayurvedic sites and acupressure sites.They claim that they can cure my problem. I read books on Yogasanas and even bought a DVD on spinal health presented beautifully by Yogacharya Dr Ananda Bhavnani. I haven't yet decided what to do.

I decided to take an half-hour morning walk with my two dogs and my Ipod every morning before starting on a disciplined regimen. Management experts would call this multitasking.The dogs are happy to relieve themselves, I listen to some spiritual music on my Ipod and get a bit of exercise by walking. The results so far have been short of miraculous. The pain has considerably subsided,I am confident of walking long distances once again and I am seriously considering restarting my tennis. What has helped me in this remarkable change? Right posture? The morning walk? Some basic exercises? I don't know. I am not saying that the diagnosis was incorrect. After all Xrays and MRIs don't lie. Maybe this is only a temporary relief and the pain may resurface soon. Well the jury is still out.

This morning I decided to take a long walk right upto Nariman Point to watch the Mumbai Marathon runners. My s-i-l and his brother were also running.That was an added attraction.The excitement in the Marathon seems to have died down. Unlike in the past there were very few people who had come to watch the Marathon runners and cheer them up.The policce had made huge bandobust but frankly lt it was quite unnecessary.There were lot of foreigners particularly from Africa who were participating.

Walking the distance to NP and back home was a breeze.Totally about 4 KM. But it was a marathon walk for me. I felt no pain and I enjoyed it. So,it is going to be more of walks for the next one month before I start on probably a planned Yogic regimen for strengthening my hip and leg muscles.