Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hunger Strike at Kasi Vinayaga Mess

When I was in Chennai, the Kasi Vinayaga Mess, a bachelors paradise in Triplicane, hiked their meal prices. Some regulars approached me to ask whether I will participate in a hunger strike in protest. We skipped lunch on a Sunday and spent the whole afternoon in the tea shop in front of the mess. The guy lost his revenue, but didnt give up and went on a return fast. Soon the mess-runners association joined him and cancelled dinner. His wife, annoyed that he didnt bring home that day's collections, went on a hunger strike. Her mahila sangam joined treating it as a twin offence of violation of human rights and economic harassment.

As you naturally expect in argumentative hero-worshipping democracies anywhere in the world, more restaurants and mahila sangams joined and there was food (or lack thereof) crisis in Triplicane. Food prices plummeted and was offered free along with the second-hand books sold on Triplicane platforms, but people would only satisfy their intellectual hunger and use it to hold on to their protest with determination. The Parthasarathy Swamy, overlooking the Bay of Bengal, suddenly discovered to His helplessness, that the Madapalli (temple kitchen) was closed without prior notice and his daily dose of Chakkey Pongey and Iyengar Puliyodharai had been withdrawn. The priests, who ran many Braahmanaal Messes as part-time, treated the Divine Temple Kitchen as an extension of their mess, and for all their namams built up with devotion, put a bigger one to the Lord that day. The Madisar Maamis quickly used the opportunity to declare 'mess-closed' for their agrharam kitchens too and happily settled down to watch the Malini Iyer serial, starring Sri Devi as a Tambram bride in a hindi-speaking household, so that they can take a dig at their Mylapore counterparts. As if a Manjula Iyengar would have made a better bride and a better serial. Being without a mess, people realised, became a big mess.

And then hunger struck. I mean, it STRUCK us. In chronological order. First, it struck me, actually. That is real hunger strike, when hunger strikes you. How long can you stand in front of a mess and not have food, particularly, food being a primary component of happiness index for Brahmacharis, what other earthly pleasure did they seek in life, after all ? Are we not the ones who treat the payasam given by the neighbourhood aunty after Satynarayana Pooja with maximum reverence and effortlessly devour it as if it was a glass of buttermilk ? We gave up all the principles that we held dear to our heart since the afternoon and stomached a cardinal teaching that was right in front of our dangling eyes in broad daylight waiting to be acknowledged.

That was this: Right there, somewhere near the Ice House Bus Stand, Swami Vivekananda had declared, after the Darshan of Lord Parthasarathy, Vedanta was definitely not for empty stomachs. No, not for you Madrasees, in particular. I think, he might have actually insisted you have atleast one sambar idly in Ratna Cafe before you picked up Ashtavakra Gita. A session of Ashtavakra Gita can be so strenuous, it can consume a lot more idlies. This part must have been edited by his translators to avoid the ethnic reference to a regional cuisine and to avoid sounding as if he was promoting a particular brand of Idlis. So much intensity there was in the speech to his disciple Azhasinga Perumal that they named the bus stand as Vivekananda House. Not knowing a Kannaki Statue will come up nearby on the beach and there will be nomenclature clashes about Kannaki and Vivekananda. (But why do they still call it Ice House ? I mean neither of them stand to benefit).

'I like Vedanta', I thought, 'I don't want to give up Vedanta', but that would also mean, I shouldn't remain with an empty stomach. Isn't Vedanta the crowning jewel of all the principles in the world, before which all other principles fade into oblivion, my mind and stomach justified, in partnership. That knowledge, when known, you dont need to know anything else. That sambar idli, when eaten, you don't need to eat anything else. Clearly, I was beginning to see the similarities between the ephemeral and the eternal and how to put Vedanta into daily life, sincerely taught by Ashtavakra and sumptuously sponsored by Rathna Cafe. It's amazing, if you deter the metabolism and deny oxygen to the brain for a few hours, how it constructs an equally beautiful, alternate logical structure mixing up gods, swamijis and their disciples, treating letters as speeches and quoting the right sentence from the wrong source, dotting all 'i's in the idlis and dashing all the 't's in Vedanta. And justifies with a simple conclusion, whatever needs to be done, just do it. I was a new man, with new logic, new metabolism and a newly washed old tumbler in my hand.

I entered the mess and force fed the owner first with a 'single tea' and pleaded with him to force feed all of us at the tables.

You know what, the snowballing effect of what would have turned into a public movement led by a Naishtika brahmachari, surpassing the ahimsa movement led by a not-so-naisthika brahmachari, was averted and the cascading reversed. He force fed his wife, who in turn, force fed him back in reciprocation of affection. Ooooooo, it was a sight for all the hungry Gods of Triplicane to see. Both of them started force feeding the mess owners and mahila sangams on either side of the gender divide. They also force fed the second hand book sellers, who were already fed, since they had not yet joined, but were fed up to see the spoilt food causing the books to smell. Though the books had their worn-out paper smell that resembled the fragrance that emanates from the beach sands after a mild shower, the additional ingredient to the odour had sent wrong signals to the intellectually hungry elite and their book sales had been suffering. The F & B industry and the Publishing Industry in India, both got the lesson in a single session: 'Dont mess up with a bachelors mess, they are already a pre-fabricated mess by design, otherwise it will take a messrs of all messes and their mrs-es to clear up the mess'.

The KVM owner still calls me up every Saturday night to assure me the prices are the same. When he called today, however, he sounded worried. It seems the PMK party in Tamil Nadu wants the state to be divided. 'Thambeeee ,', he said, 'will they go on a hunger strike like your folks in Teloongana ?' he enquired with his eye brows already drawn like the borders of bifurcation. He didnt know that I no more lived in such a nice place called Samaikhya Andhra Pradesh, which Bharathiar praised as Sundara Telunginil Paatisaithu, but in a newly carved state called Greater Rayalaseema. The greater name sounds a bit like Navi Mumbai or Burj Dubai. Why don't they just call it Royal Seema or something rhyming and poetic like Rathnalaseema. Why don't I go on a hunger strike on this issue and feel off as if I am some Prakasam Panthulu ?

He insisted that I intervene, lest the Pandya Kingdom south of Dindigul is split off as a separate state. Now that really touched me, it immediately transported me on Rani Mangammal Transport Corporation to the rock fort and 'Aranmanai Kulam' (Palace Pond) of that sleepy tobacco town. If you touch such a sentimental, emotional, territorial chord, how can I refuse ? Further, he extended his imagination richly to surmise that, if I allowed the split to happen, the new territory upto Rameswaram, may, in due course, quit India and float off on Sethu Samudram, to become a state under Sri Lankan sovereignty. Given their recent modus operandi of establishing sovereignty, the word wont mean much anyway, I told him, they might just send them all back as refugees to Triplicane and you would have a roaring business. May be you should start a Kandi Kadhirgaamak Kandhaa Mess.

However, to allay his secession fears, I asked him if there was any tea shop in front of the PMK office. 'Alone-aaa Thambeee ?', he asked, thinking I might borrow a few volunteers from KCR and use it for a similar cause. 'Don't worry Anney', I told him, 'there will be surely some college nearby, that will do for additional troops'. Just provoke some students, and show them how their entire green pastures and futures lie in just foregoing a lunch and crowding at the tea shop and drooling at the girls. Nay, first provoke the teachers, our students respectfully follow the illustrious teachers on all the wrong things precisely, and then they will all do a repeat performance of Kasi Vinayaga Mess. What more do bachelors want to start a hunger strike ? And for what else do you want to use all the youth and passion and intensity ? After all, were we not told, they are clay and they can be moulded. Just use the clay part in their heads. Any volunteers ? I promise you, we'll be back for dinner, we've dunnit before.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What to do with Twitter ....

Just joined Twitter, but wondering what to do with it ? :)

Will it mitigate my tendency to write 10 words where one is enough ?

Or will it provide a window of expression for the short quips and gyan bubbles that don't make it to my blog ?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who wants to blog and who wants to read ??

Few years ago, one day, a point about online writing was brought up during a discussion. This was much before I started blogging and was more in the context of writing at forums and the like, a bit extending to discussion-type writing. The point was :

Online writing suits only people who have lot of time in their hands. People who have important things to say or do will not be frequenting online forums and blogs, they will be busy doing such good work on the field, dirtying their hands to transform the world !! Even in the case of some well-known forums or blogs, interest wanes with time in spite of a initial spurt. In short, It is the jobless people who are creative !!.
The last phrase wasn't exactly voiced, but you should know by now, how much in this blog is fact and how much is my own spicy sauce, particularly since I updated the disclaimer just yesterday.

I think certain parts of this are quite true. How many blogs or websites, will survive, say 15 years ? Like SlashDot, whose interface pre-dates even the word blog, but is still quite famous in its segment. Whether blog as a medium will survive itself is a different question. How many now-famous websites will stand the test of a decade ? And if around, would they just continue to be famous or continue to just exist or, worse, go through a series of takeovers to be merged into one of the biggies, like AltaVista ?

I find it interesting that, for many bloggers, interest in blogging does wane after a while, may be goes through a lull and then strikes back or takes a different form (or most often dies). I often wonder what kind of frame of mind, may be a periodic wave, pushes you to blog and at other times, pushes you away from it ? Is it that, you are at a particular level of seeking intellectual stimulation or creative expression but later graduate to something higher or degenerate to something lower ? Or life just gets busy ? Would you still blog at 60 as much you did at 30 ? Gazing at the moon from the riverside bench, a friend recently asked me : You went to Orkut, you went to blogging, you went to StumbleUpon, now you want Facebook and Twitter, what do you seek and when will you stop, having found what you sought ? I was suddenly struck by the question, he was right, and I had to put up my patented heheheheh face and change the topic to elections. May be he was just adapting Bhartrihari's Vairagya Satakam to the internet audience. There are not many blogs in the Vedanta segment, so he could start one.

Before I took to blogging, my own views about this may not have been so well-formed , since I was more of a devouring consumer of online writing than of a contributor. As if all my views got formed just last night :) :). But they were on these lines, during that on online writing :

There is always a section of people who are creative and have the urge to write. These are folks who will find time to write, no matter how busy they are or whichever high position they may be. For them, it's not like 'do it if you have the time'. Since they enjoy doing it, they will find the time anyway. Like some people have a natural inclination towards gardening. The Net gives more impetus for people with even the faint urge to write (though they may do it in SMS lang) . Authenticity, relevance and good-evil-mix-up of Internet phenomena like blogs and citizen journalism are still being disputed heavily but most agree that it has indeed thrown open the doors of creative writing to far more people than who used to write only to newspapers and magazines and then wait for Mr.Editor to garland them. The Net is also a place, where someone can start writing though he is diffident or ruffian in his approach, but hope to refine on the way by learning and improvising. The not-yet-edited entries in h2g2 that need editing help are examples of these.

The Net also provides for bi-directional feedback and a far more lively discussion than other media provide, including the radio and television where interactions are limited by air-time. Can you have a television debate, that is open-ended until settled ? Not that anyone asked for it. There is also this view that, instant writing, does not necessarily result in thoughtful writing, but then that can be said about newspaper writing too. Editors from the traditional print media, hold that Internet writing is not so authentic, reliable etc. I agree on this, but then traditional print media isn't bidirectional either. If I am allowed a strong opinion, I feel, the reluctance of traditional media to accept the Internet as a far more powerful medium with its unique benefits, is parochial, as time, tide and technology (and markets) wait for none. As I have said before here, Technology denied, just means, Technology delayed, You can't deny it for long. How many newspapers have websites that allow discussions, how many of them are able to exploit even just the commercial potential, even if you forget the crowdsourcing and ideas-potential for a moment ? How many have helpful, in-line text links, even to their own earlier news pages or to non-competitive pages like government websites, which even an average blogger will explore to provide ? Some of them don't have advanced search and certain others, it seems, do not want to do any more extra work than convert the print paper into the e-Paper. For all the rightful glory of The Hindu Classifieds pages in print, the online presence is offered as a freebee, so a search on Classifieds across, say a few months, either has an extremely poor interface or disallows searching the archived classifieds. Such indifference towards the Net as a medium, as if it would cost that much more or the bride found her groom after the first ad :) . From their perspective, I think not all of these may be commercially viable, with margins in the print business not that attractive any more, but I think that should only encourage them to explore the usage of the medium even better. If there are other news aggregating websites who are able to make money without getting news from the field themselves, the news gatherers should try it themselves and beat the algorithm of the techie aggregators.

As for visitors, I think spending time to visit a forum or news site, is similar to (and takes away) the time spent in reading a newspaper or a book. The time spent and thinking process remains the same, only the medium has changed. The flip side, however, imho, will be not, "who wants to visit these blogs and sites", but about the fact that, the Internet is open only for english-literate + net-friendly + writing-urge type of people, though the language insistence has begun to change in a small way. There are, I am sure, hundreds more of potential bloggers, who still have plenty of ideas, like the vernacular-medium students who are masters at trigonometry, and do a good job of sharing these ideas in face to face in their gatherings, but still far away from the Internet, because they arent net-write-qualified. Well, that is the nature of the Internet, so we have to live with the limitation. Imagination and interactive zeal, I think, is far more bigger than what technology can capture and the distance can reduce but may never be eliminated. And who knows, may be they are better off in the brick-and-mortar world than in the click-and-mouse world !!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Will the Nano click ?

My only concern is: I hope there are no quality issues in an effort to cost-cutting, since the Tatas are under cost-pressure nowadays from all sides. Political decisions, Costly acquisitions, Industry downturn, Expectations from dealers and vendors [and even bankers :) ]. If the first few batches hit the roads and then turn out with some defects, that will be terrible. But if they are able to deliver the quality they promise for that price (which the Tatas have always been good at), then, I think it's going to be a huge hit, both in India and very soon, abroad.

As to going global, they may have a tough time fulfilling local demand, but when they do, their timing might just be right. People would just be emerging from bad times and the need to look for cost-effective products with comparable utility will be one of their top-of-mind concerns. At last, some engineering-based Indian product will arrive in the global scene !! If it clicks, I really hope and expect it to rock !! It would make US and European carmakers sit up and get worried, (if they are still around), although, actually, from their perspective it would be just another, age-old-concept, cheap car, except for the price shock they get. (I can't say the same thing about Japanese, however). It might be no match to the premium range excellence and finesse of the Germans, gadgetry of the Japanese or the lavish feature-kill of the Americans, but, the starting line for the race is not in that segment. Unlike the Chinese electronic goods, it would be a world-class, yet frills-free utility car, at the Indian prices (!) which India has so far been able to deliver in service sectors and some manufacturing sectors like textiles. We should really appreciate Tata's daring to attempt that. I often wish something like that happens for India in the products market in software, unlike the ITES and BPO where all the focus (and the tax sops) seem to be. As to environ and cars-per-road issues, they are industry-wide regulation issues and a single brand can't be isolated to be responsible for the flooding the roads in its sincere and determined attempt to create value for money.

Is Maruti listening ?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chardham 2005

From my Travel Diary, here is an account of a trip to the Chardham shrines, Badri, Kedar, Yamunotri and Gangotri in the Himalayas. This happened in 2005 and these are excerpts from a letter to a friend.

It was the call of the Himalayas. Six of us went to what is popularly called the Chardham Shrines, i.e., Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. We had hired a Sumo from Haridwar through these shrines back to Haridwar and Rs.5300 per head for the 12 days. It was a mix of Adventure, Nature, Fun and Pilgrimage. This belt involves lot of trekking. The best part is throughout the trip, you travel right along the Ganga and its tributaries like Bhagirathi, Alakananda and Mandakini. Sometimes the river is at a stone's throw while in other places it is few hundred feet away vertically. All the other members trekked wherever trekking was required. I didn't trek much, I took ponies or human carriers in all places for a charge. It was a total of 80 km trek in the 12 days. We took dips in the many prayags on the way, thanks to some guys in our group, who used to gently suggest that may we please stop at this prayag and that, for a dip and darshan at the riverside shrine. We stayed in the GMVNL chain of Government Tourist Bungalows in middle-level accommodation with moderate facilities.

Vasudhara Falls

Let me tell you, if you are one who loves nature, Himalayas is the place to go. I feel it's heavily undermarketed when compared to other foreign destinations (though this may be a skewed opinion, since I haven't been abroad). Add to it the sanctity which the Indian cultural psyche attaches to the Ganges. (Forget about the lower ganges which brings up the image of pollution). This is about the Higher Ganges, beyond Haridwar, where we can actually take the water from the stream and directly drink and it would be absolutely pure. In fact, we actually drank from the stream during our trek to one Vasudhara Falls. This is a rarely visited place beyond the Mana Village which is the last village in India before the Tibetan Border. Vasudhara Falls is 5 km beyond Mana and I also had to trek because no ponies were available, since it isn't a popular destination. Our stay in Badri extended one more day because we went to Vasudhara Falls. Though the trek itself was fascinating to me, the Falls Proper turned out to be a anti-climax, since during the time we went, the Falls was a faint shower contrary to the fierce downpour it is in winter. But since that was only the stretch I trekked, it was a wonderful experience for me.


Beyond Gangotri, there is the Gaumukh peak where Bhagirati actually originates. It is a 19 km trek up from Gangotri. All the others went for the trek. I started too, but within 5 minutes, I just changed my mind instinctively and asked other members to go ahead and I would pick a room in Gangotri and stay till they are back the next day. Unfortunately, they were able to make it only upto 16 km upto a place called Bhojbasa and they had to return as there was a hailstorm. They had to actually walk when it was snowing to reach the Bhojbasa camp before the evening, since otherwise they would be stuck in the dark. The next morning the Uttarkashi Central School kids who had gone to Gaumukh told that it might be dangerous, so they returned from Bhojbasa. This was the most picturesque stretch with snow-capped peaks on all sides, streams to be crossed on logs put across and you can actually jump around in the snow. Looking back, I feel may be I should have made it, but all the friends say, it was a perfect decision for me to stay back since I would not have been able to make the 32 km trek without gasping, collapsing and downed by the fatigue. Everyone, particularly me, was very much worried about one of our friends who was frail, whether he will be able to make it. I was calling the Bhojbasa Camp by the wireless in my hotel to find out if our boys have reached, since even in Gangotri there was a mini hailstorm and there was this talk about it being more fierce in higher places. The temperature was around -3 degrees. But contrary to my worries, this friend was able to make it in fine condition. In fact, throughout the trip, while all of us used to be worried about him, he would always make it in good stead. He would exert and stretch himself for difficult situations, no doubt, but he would invariably make it well, no matter how difficult it would be for others. Well, some are stronger than what they appear to be.

While my brethren were up there battling the snow, I had a nice time in Gangotri. The Ganga had always fascinated me since childhood. So I felt really egggzzzzzeeeee to be on the Ganges. The hailstorm had just calmed down and there was not a soul to be seen by the Ganges, except for a stray sadhu here and there who were on their evening walk. I put on my jerkin and went for a long walk along the Ganges. In fact, I even ventured a dip at Gangotri immediately after hailstorm, but there was a Mouna Sadhu who gestured me to keep away since there was a hailstorm up there and ice cubes would be coming down the Bhagirathi. I had to postpone the dips to the next morning. I visited the Ashrams around, met a few sadhus and sages, was chatting with them about life in winter at Gangotri. All these shrines close down in winter to re-open only in mid-April. But there are sages and sadhus who have stayed for decades, summer and winter, at Gangotri, being brought provisions by someone in summer. I must have appeared to them as a very unlikely candidate for sadhana, what with my jerkin, goggles, sports shoes, track pant, hand-gloves and monkey cap with every part of my body covered with some kind of winter clothing. But once I break ice for a conversation, I would make it mutually enjoyable, well, you know about that part of let me skip the trumpeting....

Badrinath and Kedarnath

While Gangotri and Yamunotri are not frequented very much by people, Badri and Kedar are popular destinations and have more facilities. Badri is the most popular since it does not involve trekking. So there are many facilities and a strong South Indian presence, including the south-indian delicacy Masala Dosa, for which we were hankering after ten days of only north-indian dishes, Aloo Parota and its equally monotonous sister, Gobi Parota in the other places. Kedar involves a 14-km trek, it's actually walking up the slopes and is not trekking in the sense of adventure sport. But even elderly people walk slowly chanting 'Hara Hara Mahadev', 'Hara Hara Gange', 'Jai Boley Nath' etc. Ponies are available for elders (like me ! haha). Also available are woodden palanquins carried by four people, which are more comforatble, and naturally more expensive. The 5 km trek to Yamunotri is the steepest of all, though it is a short one compared to Kedar.

River-rafting at Kaudiyala

If you have wondered what was the fun part of the trip, except for the bounty of Nature, here it is. Near Rishikesh, we went for what is called the White Water River Rafting on the Ganges. You row your own boat, wearing life-jackets and being taught safety instructions for danger and damage, through the whirls of the fierce Ganga, with rowing commands given by a Guide who is in the boat and gives instructions. We saw the boys and girls from Kendriya Vidyalaya start the rafting, so we thought it shouldn't be too difficult. After a few minutes, comes the exciting rowing, that you just jump into the Ganges Proper with your life-jacket on. I had heard about this from one of our friends who had gone the previous on the same stretch. So in the beginning of the rafting, I was the first one to ask the guide, 'Are you not going to allow us to jump ? '. 'Well, ' he said, 'every one of you is going to do that'. The Guide had rafted in 25 rivers across the world and said Brahmaputra is the toughest of all. when the Guide gave the go-ahead, we went for the plunge and let go of the boat. First we held on to the rope tied to the boat, but then, we let go of that and were freely floating in water. Of course, you have to be a bit cautious with danger lurking in the whirls and the rocks that may be on the banks and you may know about them after you hit your head. But then, the mix of caution, a bit of nagging fear and the bubbling excitement is what makes it an adventure. The previous night we had stayed in tents that were put up, right next to the Ganges in Kaudiyala near Rishikesh for the rafters of the next morning.

We completed our Chardham with the famous 'Har-ki-Pauri' Ganga Arati at Haridwar, when all the ancient temples in Haridwar on the banks of Ganga offer Arati simultaneously at around 7.p.m. So do the hundreds of pilgrims who leave small lamps on leaves in the Ganga co-inciding with the Arati, which makes it a sight for the Gods to see.

So much for the Chardham. Apart from these we also had included Amritsar, Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan and Delhi in our itinerary. From Haridwar we went to Amritsar. Of course, we were in Delhi only for a day, but each of us had some kind of individual agenda like visiting friends and relatives. So we got back together after we finished our respective works and we did a bit of shopping at Palika Bazar.


In Amritsar, we went to the Golden Temple, Jalianwala Bagh Memorial and to the Wagah Border with Pakistan. The Golden Temple was really wonderful, with the huge water tank surrounding the temple. They give free food as prasad for all visitors ( and so it is, I believe, at all gurudwaras in the world). The voluntarism there also impressed me a lot, what with volunteers involved in all the activities like cleaning shoes, canteen works, cleaning the shrine etc. Of course, you have to wear this scarf on your head. Scarves are available for free at the entrance.

At the Wagah Border in Amritsar, which we included after hearing that the Indian Cricket team had gone there, the specialty is the Change of Guard Parade which takes place at 6.30 in the evening. This side is full of Indian Visitors and the other is full of Pakistanis. The parade takes place everyday at the same time amidst heavy shouting by visitors on both sides. While fellows and fellis on this side shout 'Vande Mataram', 'Hindustan Zindabad', 'Bharat Matha Ki Jai' etc the other side matches the pitch with 'Pakistan Zindabad' and the like. There is also a commentary by the armies on both sides as the the parade progresses.

We had to dash through Mathura and Vrindavan quickly since we had only one day for Mathura, Vrindavan and Agra. At Mathura, Right next to the temple sharing a wall with it, is the mosque built by Aurangazeb. The temple itself was destroyed and re-built 6 times during the various muslim invasions. The jail where Lord Krishna was born has been made into a shrine. A very serene place. Vrindavan is just a few km away. While the pestering guides and money-minded priests make it a bit funny, the shrines are very good. The thick and delicious Lassi sold in earthen pots needs a special mention.

The Taj Mahal

We had only a couple of hours spend at Agra. But I was amazed. The Taj is indeed imposing just as you step into the premises, with huge domes touching the sky and sight of sheer marble everywhere leaving you stunned. The dash of Mughal Architecture is evident on every inch, though the Yamuna was not as impressive as I expected. That may be because, we had seen the Original Yamuna in all its splendour, gushing and galloping down the rocks, so anything on the plains looks so mean. Thankfully there are no constructions behind the Taj, so the Taj with the backdrop of greenery looks like a giant lonely lover reaching out to the skies as the manifestation of the anguish that once haunted a rich and a melancholic king.There is high security. Video cameras are not allowed beyond a point. Even our portable hard disk in which we used to dump all the high-res digital photos, was not allowed. Tourists throng the place, particularly young couples and lovers, probably with the million-dollar question 'Kya Hamara Prem Bhee Aisa Amar Rahega ?'. But if you are going ( I mean if someone wants to go), I would suggest you go with your wife or fiancee. Of course, if you are a guy who enjoys different kinds of architecture, then it is a must-see case study in Architecture. And that it is one of the 7 wonders is not without reason. Someone remarked that after all it is a tomb or mausoleum and should be of little interest to spiritually-inclined half-monks, but I would say it is a parochial view. You should appreciate good work where you see it and this piece is undoubtedly among the finest of art.

From Agra, we dashed back in Tamilnadu Express to down south, moving from cold temperatures to our good old temperatures in the South. In all the trip costed around Rs.10000 per head including all expenses. If you include the shopping for the sake of and during the trip, it would be Rs.15000 per head.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The price is not right.... For whom ?

In this piece by Thomas L Friedman before the G-20 summit, he compares the mispricing of risk between financial systems and the environment...

My comments :

Firstly, he discusses more of market and less of environment and the line seems to be to draw parallels between two deteriorating systems, though one system does not have operational similarities with another, except for the generic "risk underpricing" phrase.

If it's a straight carbon tax, it's feasible.

If it's a regulation that directs the companies to include environ costs as part of their costing, it will be complex to get implemented. It would be difficult to fix which is which in costing, particularly when you leave it to the companies.

Either way, something on similar lines is much required and will have some benefits. Among other things, at least, it will enable environ friendly technologies to sound at comparable costs, not because their costs have come down but the environ-hostile energy options would become costly. Which eventually, by rise in volumes, might bring down the costs of environ friendly technologies.

Assuming it gets implemented perfectly, which might require a cost overhaul, may be in some cases, bloat the costs by a few times, it will push up the costs of goods and services. Should be fine for developed countries or even emerging economies like BRIC , who anyway are resource guzzlers. But, I think, the Third World countries will be at an undue disadvantage.

That is the reality anyway, might as well face it, we might say. True, but we want everyone to raise up and face the reality to which we have suddenly woken up to, and we want it to happen with the same suddenness. Most often in practice, people put survival before nice things like environ care, those who are struggling for survival that is. Survival as an individual is a more basic instinct than the more philanthropic priority of survival of the race.

Every infrastructure plan to reach the last mile in those countries will present before us, the "green" version of the costs, which are high, and therefore, both the pace and quantum of benefits will become inversely proportional to such high costs, making it slower to reach those miles.

It will be like the grown-up daddies, expecting their kids to learn all that they didn't learn in their childhood, plus what they learnt as they grew up plus all the great things all kids should know, ignoring that the such persuasion itself can affect growth !!! Only till the kid asks the grandma, 'what did papa do when he was like me' ?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Top 10 favorite A R Rahman songs

On the day A R Rahman received the Golden Globe Award, I decided that, if Rahman went on to win the Oscars, I would blog about My Top 10 Favorite A R Rahman tracks. So here they are.

The first comment I received from most of my friends, is that, Top 10 is too small a thing to contain the full Rahman. Even the Oscars had to catch up so late, so what can you say about an upstart blogger's ad-hoc listings ? So so true, I knew it before I listed them. When I pulled a piece of paper and went on to scribble 'top-of-mind-recall' tracks, the list came to 35, in the first two minutes. Yet, there are so many Top 10 lists, let me just add one more. Not that my list matters, particularly since my music sense is well-documented on this blog before. But after all, as Munnabhai put it, apun public hai public, kya ?

If you don't like Rahman, simple, I don't like you. :) :) . But, since the world is so vast and has unnecessary room for all of us, and I also want to pride about balanced perspectives even when they are irrelvant, I still have stuff for people who don't like his music: I'll make a mention of the few things that I don't like about ARR's music, towards the end. It so happens, some of my favorites in this list are from Tamil, because I also relate to the lyrics. But, I am sure, most of these are equally enjoyable in their Hindi and Telugu or even Swahili equivalents.

Most links point to : Wikipedia/Youtube/Dhingana

10. Kannum kannum kollai adithal... The Artham Song from Thiruda Thiruda....

I can only start from the time I started listening to A R Rahman's music. Unlike so many others who proudly mention today that they knew him from the good old days when he was known as Dileep, like this movie director I had dinner with. I arrived rather late into that world. Life had been busy, juggling between college, part-time/summer jobs, service activities and competitive exams. I hadn't watched movies for the previus 7 years. The comfort of touching a 4-digit salary for the first time (particularly when you started with 2-digits) allows you certain indulgences. Roja, in all its glory, had come and gone, taking the music world by storm while I was busy in chinna chinna velai. I would catch up with it later.

I was staying at my friend's place, who was preparing for PG Medical Entrance and I was surprised to see that, about once in two hours or so, he would, take a break, play a couple of songs, jump around and get back to serious study. One of them was, Kannum kannum kollai adithal. It's exam time, try it out, may be with companion track, Putham pudhu bhoomi vendum. When I last heard, my friend had made it big, both in medicine and in music. :) :) If you try it with some other song, I am not responsible. (As if otherwise I am).

9. Radha Kaise Na jaley.. from Lagaan...

There are some tunes which infect you and infect all others who come in contact with you all through the day. Because, you began your day singing it when you came out of the bathroom, having taken your cool time, insensitive to the subtle needs of the waiting roommates. It used to be Hariharan's 'Pachai Niramey' for one of my friends, and the hum for him and haunt for the others used to be so much that, others would cry out and plead for change of track or change of bathroom ... 'hey.. please da.....' . For me, it is Radha Kaise na Jaley.. Oh, how many times, I have looped and looped and listened to this....

8. Nilaa Kaaykiradhu... from Indira

If you are still under the myth that Rahman is all about Shivamani's drums and western-sounding music, you should hear this kiddu song from Indira, almost carnatic piece. So melodious, so soothing, so relaxing, you won't read the rest of this post because you will fall asleep. If you are the fast-track type, replace this rank with Kannodu Kaanbhathellam from Jeans.

Pachai Kiligal Tholodu... from Indian...
There was a time, for 10 months, when I was (literally) jobless, and if carrom board can be considered keeping busy, one of my hobbies (?!) was to re-write the lyrics of my favorite Rahman tracks to my favorite devotional themes and share it with friends. One from that time, is this, rendered by Yesudas, who, well, actually knew ARR from the time when he was Dileep. I would love to give this remix-friendly slot to Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali, which even the Japanese liked, but, no, this is not about Kamal vs. Rajni or about SPB vs. Yesudas, its ARR vs. ARR.

6. Bharat humko jaan se bhee pyara hai.... from Roja

It's now well-known that Patriotism is Rahman's best and favorite forte. No cultural event or a programme on patriotism would be complete without this piece from Roja. For a change, I like the Hindi version much better, because it sounds much more unifying. I have heard it being used and re-used again and again in patriotic plays and everytime it sounds as inspiring as it did the first time.

Bombay - Theme Tune - Instrumental :

There are some tunes for which you don't need lyrics. It's as if the tune can convey the context and the sentiments of the moment. The theme tune instrumental of Bombay is one such. Less luck for Kadri Gopalnath's saxophone, because I had to push out Mettu Podu from Duet and make way for this popular choice for the instrumental slot.

4. Yeh Tara Woh Tara... from Swades...

If there can be a very simple-sounding tune, as if straight out of a school annual day programme, yet one that flows gentle and cool like a river into your ears and make you forget those 7 minutes and 53 seconds, and bring with it a message for change, you need a track like this.

3. Maa Tujhe Salaam from Vande Mataram :

If someone could re-ignite the interest of youth in patriotism through modern music, ARR would be sure on the list. The rendering of Vande Mataram, should make you join the crowd and hum or sing out aloud. If it doesn't, you could have been born anywhere, not necessarily in India. :) :) Even the halls in Los Angeles do it, when ARR performs it live, though he mostly does it as Maa Tujhe Salaam instead of Thai Manney Vanakkam which has equally inspiring lyrics.

2. Iswar Allah Tere Jahan mein.... from 1947 Earth...

This is one song that mesmerized me when I heard it the first time, introduced by a friend. It was much before I saw the movie, even before I knew it was composed by A R Rahman. It still has the same effect on me.

And the Nams-car award goes to... :)

1. Pray for me, Brother

The best track, gets the least number of words in tribute, because, when you listen to good music, you don't talk about it, you don't blog about it, you don't go gaga about it and jump about it. You just listen. If you have done all that, you come back and listen once again. And may be pray thereafter. Silence can bring out the music in you, and, such music, can bring about a silence in you. This is one such piece.


Irony, no ? Jai Ho is not among the Top 10. I think, far greater music has been composed by A R Rahman, and the worldwide recognition was long due. It had to happen through Jai Ho, and it did, because of the movie's Englishwala visibility or whatever. I do like the track a lot, however. I agree once again with the many-faced blogger, who is attributed to have said, that if ARR gets the Oscar for Jai Ho, it would be like Einstien getting the Nobel Prize for explaining Photo-Electric effect.

Even for my own favorites, the list is grossly incomplete. There is no Sapnay, no Rhythm, no Taal, no Water, no Jeans, no Guru, no Yuva, not even Alai Payudhey? What kind of a funny list is this, without Chikku Bukku Railey, Muqabla and Masti-ki-Pathshala ?

Change the topic....

Jaane Tu is not there, because I was put off by the accidental, but obvious, resembling in the first few seconds of the song had with 'Appudo Eppudo' from Bommarillu. That the rest of the song follows a totally different tune should, of course, be mentioned in the same beat.

I don't like when the excellence of lyrics in one language gets diminished when it's re-written in another language. Vennilave Vennilave's is way better than Chanda Rey
, but no other language could match Rangeela Re in Hindi, with which Rahman made his Hindi debut. I also don't like it when Rahman, re-uses one of his earlier tunes in a different context, for the sake of adapting it to Hindi or English, particularly when the earlier version was so wonderful. 'Poraley Ponnu thaayi' in Karuthamma was so beautiful, demonstrating ARR's music for a rural setting. Gurus of Peace in Vande Mataram is good, but I think the Karuthamma song was better though it may not have had the same reach as Vande Mataram. Taal's famous Ishq Bina ,reworked for "Love isn't so easy" in Bombay Dreams, made it only worse...

I also like it better when old friend Shivamani is felt but contained, like in Roja jaaneman, though the roaring success of a lot of songs including Azeem-o-shan-shahenshah and Chaiyya chaiyya, is precisely because of the domination and flawless delivery of drums.

Put your agreements and disagreements, your choices that were left out, and my choices that look like eccentricities.... May be we should have a commenters' (or dissenters' ??) Top 10....

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Layoffs and Scams...

Hate as I do to post forwards on my blog, here is a "value-added" exception :) :)

Someone sent me a funny story as forwarded email, and I kinda continued the story....

(Part 1 is the forwarded story on Layoffs, Part 2 is my addition....)

Part 1 :

Once upon a time the government with Ruling Party XYZ.. had a vast scrap yard in the middle of a desert. Ruling Party XYZ Said..
- "Someone may steal from it at night."

So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job. Then Ruling Party XYZ Said..
- "How does the watchman do his job without instruction?"

So they created a planning department and hired two people, one person to write the instructions, and one person to do time studies. Then Ruling Party XYZ Said..
- "How will we know the night watchman is doing the tasks correctly?"

So they created a Quality Control department and hired two people. One to do the studies and one to write the reports. Then Ruling Party XYZ Said..
- "How are these people going to get paid?"

So they created the following positions, a time keeper, and a payroll officer, then hired two people. Then Ruling Party XYZ Said..,
- "Who will be accountable for all of these people?"

So they created an administrative section and hired three people, an Administrative Officer, Assistant Administrative Officer, and a Legal Secretary. Then Ruling Party XYZ Said..
- "We have had this command in operation for one year and we are $18,000 over budget, we must cutback overall cost."

So ....


They lay off the night watchman.

Part 2 :

Irritated, the night watchman stole things from scrap yard and vanished.

So, the CEO sacked all the rest of the staff for dereliction of duty.

The shareholders were happy that the CEO has taken stringent action. Share prices went up.

The company had excess cash and wanted to diversify into "security agency" business to de-risk the "scrap" business and also to find a good watchman, because HR companies were having a bull run.

The insitutional investors found out that the security agency was owned by the night-watchman and they raised serious corporate governance objections and stalled the deal. Share prices tanked.

Within a week, the CEO resigned, admitting deliberate fraud to the extent of 7000 nuts and bolts in the scrapyard.

The government arrested the CEO and put him behind steel bars (recycled from scrap) and directed the Economic Offences Wing to investigate the matter.

By the time they discovered the whole truth, the scrapyard had vanished, no, actually the desert had vanished, i mean rivers flowed, civilisations flourished and apartments were built.

However, for the record, let us state the truth they discovered : that the scrap yard never belonged to the CEO and he stole it from the night watchman in the first place.

What they didn't discover was : the CEO and night-watchman partnered once again and started a real-estate business and software companies, which were now flourising in the now-green-but-once-barren desert.

And then, it all started once again.... Jai Ho !!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The value of Tenacity in Youth

Recently, I had attended a Music Programme by the University Brass Band of my alma mater. The programme, I think, might have been, part of the farewell season. The stadium stage was very elegantly decorated. Lemon juice was being served optionally, to riverside walkers like me who insist that music, cool winds, gang chat and late evening moonlight should always be accompanied by a glass of drink. I thought of insisting on pop-corn, but I dropped the idea, thinking that they may be forced to put a footer in the email invitation next time, saying attendees may please bring their own pop-corn. The performance was electrifying and included a couple of spiritual remixes of my favorite Rahman tracks, and was probably one of the biggest in the few years. In the end, they invited one of the veteran singers in the community, to speak a few words. I think, he must have been invited ad-hoc from the stage after the performers spotted him in the audience. He was full of praise for the way in which the Band has consistently grown over the years saying 'We may not participate in the inter-collegiate competitions which is held elsewhere, but the talent we have at the Hostel is one of the best.' However, this post is not about how great a particular band is and some other is not. It's about the connection between music and college education in our times.

Many of these students hadn't had a formal training in music before they were picked up to train for the band, that's the beauty of the event and a demonstration of the value of tenacity in a right learning environment. There is usually a little test of music sense held a couple of weeks after you join the degree course. If you clear the test, you would be picked up for being groomed for the brass band or other music groups. I remember very well how I flopped terribly at this test, for all the music I thought I always had in my heavy head. While I had conjured up non-existent questions like the difference between Ada Taalam and Adi Taalam, the test turned out to be a simple but effective one, just to quickly check whether you had a music sense, not whether you were a musician. The examiner asked me to sing or hum the first few lines of a popular Ganesh Bhajan, which he confirmed from me that I was familiar with. I messed up the beat right in the opening word. The next flop was even stupid. He asked me if I can hum a tune that is played by a band during March Past. As I raked my brain to recollect that tune which was just below my throat but refusing to bubble up, he probably thought I didn't know what a March Past was, and helpfully hinted "you know, the music they play when they march left-right". Hehehehe, I had heard it, but again hehehehe, I sheepishly gave up. He didn't have to comment regarding the result. That day, I also understood the inner significance of why my violin teacher, eight years earlier, had told me that I will flourish well in tabla instead of violin. Ahaaa, why did he have to be so diplomatic to a teenager ? May be, he didn't want to hurt the sentiments of someone who purchased a second-hand cycle and a second-hand violin and travelled 3 km each way for 3 months to find out that certain areas of interest should be earmarked for future births. However, this post is not about the ones who failed, but about the ones who succeeded by their tenacity.

I remember my room-mate and classmate during my MBA, who went through the same test. No one even faintly guessed he had a musical streak in him but he was selected to train for the band, on cymbals. I am not sure if he still continues his interest in music while working with SAP. I used to admire the way in which these guys would apply themselves regularly and consistently, starting almost from nothing. Most of the time, the 'teacher' would be mostly a college senior, a member of the band who plays the same instrument and may be in his final year. Other times, you were your own teacher. They would be found practicing in groups or repeating and perfecting what they have learnt earlier, sometimes near the library, sometimes at the stadium, sometimes on the Hanuman Hill and all the time humming at their cupboards. Their public performances would have to be of impeccable quality and they would leave no stone unturned to see to it that it was. Not that the hostel schedule was any lighter, they would have to go through what we called "life is an interval between two bells". Starting from nowhere, from a hum test, by the time their stay for 3, 5 or 7 years in the Hostel gets over, they would have mastered the instrument, become adept at performing as a band and given quite a few public performances in glory. Quite often, at the farewell functions, both the artists who performed for a jugalbandhi would be introduced as "both learnt the instrument on their own after joining the first year".

Youth is clay. It gets moulded the way you shape it. It applies itself to what you point to it. It succeeds in whichever skill you inspire it to learn. Our small towns have lots of it and waiting for the proper direction and bringing together. If the best of our institutes can incubate the start-ups seeded by their management graduates, in the small towns, all the hidden potential talent in music, sports and literature can and should be incubated and groomed in those three years, the best prime time of our youth. I know students who joined as dwarfs, literally, but would apply themselves at sports so rigorously and regularly, finding time between Yoga and learning Vedam and few other varied skills, and would finish by captaining Basketball and the Volleyball teams in their final year. Application, Focus, Tenacity, the mantras of success, are sown, learnt, tested and demonstrated, best when you are in college. This is true, not just about music, but about any area which you choose for yourself. Like in this post from Randezvous Perceptions which mentions decoration.

I remember the small town college in which I had done my UG. For a sleepy little tobacco town, we had all kinds of extra-curricular associations, the Toastmasters Club, a Tamil literature club called Thamarai Vattam, a Personality Development course all of which I would juggle with. There were many after-college courses, in addition to the village camps of NSS, the Adult Education campaigns and the free eye camps organised by Arvind Hospitals with volunteering from students. Some colleges had courses on Arabic, Gandhian Economics and Agarbatti making. I remember explaining about a computer and taking Rs.100/- from my mother for a WordStar course, for this "new computer cheej", 100 rupees for 10 days-10 classes, everyday one hour. It might have been glorified typing at the time, but it led me to the next Rs.100/- course in the Basic language, a field that would catch my fascination and I would settle in. In contrast, however, the band wasn't a great place. It would mostly consist of people who already knew how to perform, played a few jumping numbers and the only occasion I remember they played seriously was after the college union elections. That I failed at the music test even there is something you should not ask about. If you conduct a test now, I would fail, but I would show up again at the next test, until you notify Security to disallow losers. Even then, since I wouldn't call myself one, I might take a printout of this post and try to convince the gatekeeper.. May be I believe, if I fail all tests in this birth, success will be instantaneous in the next birth and my opening cry will be a Thyagarja Kirtan ??

It's not just about extra-curricular interest and development of a versatile personality, it's also about the direction at which these talents are directed and the shapes they take after the skill is mastered. The value of tenacity invested at that time of life, is invaluable in the later years. Ironically, as life would have it, those who skipped it would realise it only in the later years and those who apply themselves in concerted self-development will fondly remember those days as the most productive as well as enriching phase of their lives. The excellence streak in Youth is ready to proliferate if we can create a culture that promotes positive action and a formal or informal reward environment that recognises positive application of such effort. This YouthCurry blog post makes a passing reference on how bands in colleges have a short, rocky existence and interest wanes after a while. May be there is nothing much we can do, is it ? No. Band or not, one of the things that a college or university, should do, is to create an environment or culture that promotes versatility, tenacity and recognising the value of higher inspiring goals for application of such effort, whatever you define such noble goals to be. If our colleges continue to just exploit the energy and passionate zeal of the youth to the benefit of frivolous areas, waste them into controversies and be chaltha-hai about irresponsibility, instead of focussing on developing richness in their thinking patterns and preparing them to be responsible citizens, desh ka band bajega.

P.S. As to those millions of readers who are pining to know the answer to why I haven't blogged for long... I won't feel off as if I was Stephen King and attribute it to Writer's Block. I would instead take refuge in this many-faced fellow blogger's succinct reference to a famous punch dialogue : Sneeze, Cough, Hiccup, Yawn, blah blah blah and Blogging Ideas do not come when we demand it. We cannot stop it when they come and we cannot hold them back when they leave.

THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.