Days of our Lives!

October 16, 2012

Book Review: Following Fish – Samanth Subramanian

Filed under: Books,Travels — Santhosh @ 7:14 PM

Book:  Following Fish: Travels Around The Indian Coast
Author: Samanth Subramanian
Genre: Travel, Food, Culture

I’m a fan of narrative journalism and Samanth Subramanian’s Following Fish is an excellent example of such long-form writing as he weaves a beautiful, eidetic narrative about the Neithal hinterlands. As much as this book is about the karimeen and the hilsa, it’s also very much about communities, cultures, histories, tales, recipes, social commentaries, fishing, boats, travel, and people. I had picked up the book expecting it to be a travelogue through some of coastal India. There is however a larger theme to the book as Samanth explores each place he visits and speaks to us from research, experience and the voices of the locals.
I loved Samanth’s vividly descriptive writing that ensures your vicarious presence as you taste the hilsa in a roadside shack in Kolkata’s Diamond Harbour, feel the alive fish wriggle down your throat as you hope for your asthmatic cure in Hyderabad, speak about the challenges to belief and tradition with the last surviving jati thalaivan of the Paravas of Manapadu with some fish podi and Portugese culture thrown in, embark on an odyssey through southern Kerala’s toddy shops in search of the perfect pungent karimeen, stroll lazily dreaming about rawa fry and Mangalorean meen curry, set out on an Enid Blyton approved fishing trip ‘in search of the fastest fish in the ocean’ in the place-that-shall-not-be-named Xanadu, reminisce wistfully about a sepia-tinted romantic pre-tourist Goa of after-school fishing, take a walk down history with the mill workers of Bombay, and spend some days in the fishing-boat building towns of Mangrol and Veraval in lower Gujarat.
One of those delightfully perfect Sunday afternoon reads!
My Rating: 5/5


September 20, 2012

Book Review: Holy Cow! – Sarah Macdonald

Filed under: Books,Travels — Santhosh @ 10:50 PM
Book: Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah Macdonald
Genre: Travel, Religion

The first third of the book is fantastical poverty porn and reads like Borat attends Ripley’s! There are lepers begging at the airport, ash-smeared naked aghoris at traffic signals in central Delhi, earthquakes that claimed hundreds and yet ‘hardly is in the news’ because it’s common in India, Apollo is ‘the only good hospital in New Delhi’ but is ‘half a city away’ and has a ‘For Poor People’ special entrance, her boyfriend has to stay with her in her hospital room since rapes are very common in Indian hospitals, hijackings, dead cows, dowry deaths, female infanticide, child marriage, girls not allowed into schools, vomit, urination, pollution, population, brown skin, phlegm, crowds, beggars, astrologers, green goo, paan, etc. Her “you know what, I am in a strange foreign land where everything is strange, so up your’s” narrative is one where anything strange (and only strange) that may have happened is mentioned (a model shot dead in an illegal bar, a superstar hitting his actress girlfriend, a monkey causing panic in Delhi, etc). Crass, cheap, voyeuristic, patronising, and just plain fantasy.

The rest of the book, though better in terms of content, still suffers from her over-the-top recital. Every hotel she checks into is filthy and without water or power, trains and flights always seem like crashing; all Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Christians she meets seem to be unhappy with India and either want a separate state or join Pakistan or China. Indians are very shy about public displays of affection, the parental bond is very strong, social mores are very critical, the traditions are strange, there are festivals of colours and lights, wedding rituals and last rites, all of which seem very eccentric and queer. It’s called a different culture, goddammit.

As mentioned, the book does become better in terms of content once she starts actually living in India, as she transforms from tourist to resident, and as she starts trying to experience and understand the religions, the spirituality and the people. The hyper voiced news reporting morphs into some decent long-form narrative journalism. She visits, experiences, lives with and learns about Vipassana in Dharamsala, Sikhism in Amritsar, Islam in Kashmir, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Buddhism in Dharamsala, Judaism with Israeli backpackers, Zoroastrianism with Parsis in Bombay, “Amma” Mata Amritanandamayi, Sathya Sai Baba, Our Lady of Velankanni, Mother ashram in Pondicherry, Sufism in Pakistan and some Jainism. She learns from Buddhism about controlling the mind, from Hinduism about respecting other paths, from Islam about surrender, from Jainism to make peace in all aspects of life, and from Sikhism about the importance of spiritual strength.

Sarah Macdonald does end the book with the expectedly patronising lines on how much she has changed as a person, how she’s realised how much privileged she is, how much she’s learnt and irrespective of how much exasperating India is, she feels a force pulling her and somehow India feels like home for the soul. However cynical that may make one feel, one does get the feeling that she’s really had a life changing transformative experience and the changing narrative of the book is a reflection of how she’s actually growing as a person over the course of the book. And for just that, she gets an extra star.

My Rating: 3/5

May 23, 2009

Vivek’s Engagement @ Cochin – Fort Kochi – Alapuzha

Filed under: Travels — Santhosh @ 8:13 PM

February 9, 2009

The French connection

Filed under: I at IIM I,Travels — Santhosh @ 3:26 AM

“Neenga endha college?”
College aa? Naanaa?

Remember the face of the girl who asked that question in the ad? Now replace it with a crestfallen face of a once hopeful looking guy who’s just heard the response. That pretty much sums up how us guys feel about our French tutor. Some bugger got lucky.

The classes are all in French with not a word of the Queen’s language, so that it pretty much resembles a kindergarten class with us 20 somethings repeating after our instructor’s sing-along voice. And I’ve started realising how beautiful French is. Especially since Jennifer Decker in Flyboys happened.

French is such a soft language though – no harsh consonants or abrasive phonates. So it’s no wonder that French men are considered sex gods. I mean, all he would have to do is wonder aloud if he’s about to fart, and the lady he’s with, if she can’t understand the language, would start giggling away with “Oh, naughty you”s. Even “oru romantic smile” Goundamani needn’t have to give orae oru romantic smile if he spoke a little French.

Now, why the sudden love for the French language? Two words: Student Exchange. I’ll be in Germany for their fall semester and well, a bit of French isn’t going to hurt, is it? Wink, wink!

A few classes have gone by and the number system is what has me pretty interested. Take a look at the table below and you’ll also join me in wondering how two drastically different civilizations could have such similar phonetics for numbers.

French pronunciation


The craziest part is the number system. I mean, how lazy should the Frenchman who thought their number system up must have been to make his entire countrymen use addition and multiplication tables to spell out half of it. The numbers have individual names only upto 69 (yeah, 69’s a pretty important number in the romantic language) and after that you either add up from the 60s for the 70s, or in the case of the 80s, multiply from 20. For example, 80 is 4 times 20 (4*20), 81 is 4*20+1, and so on.

But, what’s with the French and not ending anything fully anyway! I mean, why have such long words if you’re just not gonna use the final consonant?

For all that I’ve said here, though, the classes do seem to be progressing pretty well. In fact, I think I know more French than I do Hindi, which isn’t necessarily saying much, but still!

January 26, 2009

Jaipur Trip – Snaps

Filed under: I at IIM I,Travels — Santhosh @ 9:10 PM

Slide along chronologically:

January 17, 2008

Salaam Bombay

Filed under: Travels — Santhosh @ 11:59 PM

My first look at the actual capital of India (Delhi has always seemed like a Manmohan-size figurehead to me) was the Santa Cruz Domestic Airport from the air. Having been used to the Madurai airport where the Bangalore-Madurai flight, an ATR that looks like a KPN volvo with wings, lands right next to the car parking, the Mumbai airport really looked like the ones in books. Huge aeroplanes (why doesn’t anyone use this word any more?) lined up for take off row after row after row, baggage carriers ferrying all over the turf, a pair of flights taxiing for take-off on two parallel strips. But otherwise it was all the same : the checked-in luggage was late, the restrooms were awful, the administration was pathetic, and no airhostess looked at me.

The autokaarans are a dream though; they even ask you to get in before asking where you want to go. For example, there was this guy who drove me from the airport to Venks’ place. All I had to do was get into the auto, tell him the destination and off we went with the meter chugging along. We even had a wonderful conversation in Hindi where he kept talking about the finer points of East Andheri traffic and I kept encouraging him with “Haan, Haan” and “Theek Hai“! Such fun you know! After a drive of about 30 mins the auto meter showed 6.80 at the destination. Yes sir, I swear. However, when I asked him “Kitna rupiah bhaiyya“, he gave me a number in Hindi that was out of syllabus (I can count only till 10). That day I also learnt that we have a Saat(7) and a Saath(60) in our Hindi number system. In the end we went to our basics with “chae dhus aur saat rupiah“(67) which was pretty much what Venks had told me the auto fare would be. And since I’m such a good-natured guy by heart and because the autokaaran had the body of a Vijayakanth padam northie terrorist, I didn’t want to get into the funda these Mumbaiwallas have worked out, and handed over a 100 rupee note. The autokaaran suddenly got out of the auto and just when I thought I was going to become part of the Mumbai landscape, he went and got me the change. Yeah, HE, the autokaaran, went and got the change for ME, the passenger. For which I, with all of my high-school 3rd-language Hindi, told him a “Dhanniyawaadh”. I think he was impressed. He even gave this rather strange look at me as he drove away.

Two years and a bit in Bangalore have also made sure I’ve lost touch with reality. Nair came over on Saturday night around 10.30 and when it was suggested we go out a bit, I came out with the now immortal line – “But it’s already 11 now”. We went to this Aura place that had all these old audio cassette covers in mounted frames in the name of ambience. Well, to each his own and all that; but I still think that’s a pretty dull bit of imagination. The things that one can do in a pub in general are :
1) Drink
2) Talk
3) Listen
Even if I don’t drink, I’ve been in enough pubs as one of the better drinking-companions around. There always is something soothing about the atmosphere with the dim lights and good music, there is always Pepsi and people can just have a good talk. Not to mention all the OC side-dish I can eat. But here, when I asked for a Pepsi, I was given a look that we usually reserve for a guy wearing pink undies. See, in Mumbai you don’t drink Pepsi. You drink Red Bull (for the drinkers, it’s the Taurine liquid even for the mixing).
And then a couple of Nair’s friends joined us and suddenly the good conversation that was supposed to happen was happening in that Hindi language. It was like a proper engilees padam watching session while I tried to be intensely interested in the TV where a guy with a beard and cap was hollering away. To add to all this, there was a group of 3 guys nearby who were slowly getting themselves into a major high. And suddenly I discovered what Mumbaikars do when they’re drunk – they stand up and start dancing. They were at it non-stop for the 3 plus hours that we were there and one of them even accommodated me by shoving his elbow right up my nose every few minutes.

The Monday night was also spent with me and Venks in a wonderful restaurant by the Juhu beach catching up. It really does make a difference to know that you don’t need to hurry through your food with the clock nearing 11.

For the first time though, I understood what the papers mean by there’s no space in Mumbai. I predict that in the next 5 years people will be living in their new Tata Nanos with sleeping bags. However, I couldn’t quite see the famous ultra-fast Mumbai life. From the tales that we’ve read I half-expected the roads to be smoking with bicycles reaching 100kmphs and 90 year old gujju aunties footboarding. If I was blindfolded in Bangalore and set loose in Mumbai, I would still have thought it was Bangalore. The burgeoning economic and IT booms have made sure the cityscapes all over the country have become the same.
However, the Mumbaikars and the Mumbai Cars have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about when they tell their traffic is bad – 11kms took me 20-25 mins at 9am and 5.30pm. Now try that even on the dedicated lanes of the outer ring road here. True, there are way too many cars in Mumbai (almost as many as the number of stray dogs in Bangalore), but I personally found the traffic to be pretty organised.

More on why I came to be in Mumbai for the weekend in the next post.

November 1, 2007

A day at the Holy Gates

Filed under: My Dayz,Travels — Santhosh @ 2:18 AM

October 31

One thing about the American Consulate – them guys have a nondescript entrance. And I dutifully passed it and entered the church premises next door, walked all the way past the garden, and right through the thattungal thirakkappadum doors when a kind lady enlightened me with “America ku ticket vangura aapiceaaa? Adhu pakkathu building pa“. Two guys with huge thuppaakkis glared at me from 40 feet above when I tried to give a thought to scaling the church wall and so jump right onto the America kaarans. So much for the creativity that my company keeps wanting me to come up with. I had to walk all the way back outside to the road, walk some more with a right turn thrown in, and find a small cubby-hole entrance at the foot of the Gemini flyover – right where my driver had dropped me.

The first security check was at the booth on the road where they just checked if it’s going to be me who’s going to be entering as me. Entering through the small entrance gave me images of countless jail movies – the size of the entrance was about the same and they shut the door the moment I had both feet inside. The sudden change to semi-darkness from the harsh Madras sunlight outside only made the feeling worse. The next check was right here, where they check that any electronic/potentially hazardous substances aren’t taken in. Well, atleast that’s what they told me, but there wasn’t any pushing-up-against-wall frisking. All they did was ask if I had any mobile phone or memory devices on me and with some patting on my pockets I was waved inside.

The next step in the process of getting moksha was the VFS desk. Surprisingly, of the 10 counters, 5-6 were empty and this got over quickly (they take the HDFC yellow slip and do some basic sanity checks on the covering letter and the DS-0156 and DS-0157 forms, scan the photograph on DS-0156 and read the barcode). And this is where my luck ran out. There are a few guys all dressed up in black and white who act as the ushers and in my case as bouncers. It’s up to the whims of these guys to decide on when to send along which batches to what levels. One of these guys was stationed here to help people choose a counter by showcasing his proficieny in 8 Indian languages. He allowed the 2.15pm batch to pass on at 1.45pm but stopped me (2.30pm batch). I tried being confrontational, joking with him, cajoling him, begging him, acting out the no-Tamil Bangalore corporate type. None worked. In the end I had to wink at him every 3 mins or so, twice with pouted lips, before he thought he’d had enough of me and sent me on to the next level – at 3.25pm.

And Siddharth enna yemathitaan. There wasn’t a single specimen of the fairer sex who was fair. I’d have liked it better to have had someone like that girl who stands behind Siddharth in Ayutha Ezhuthu and apart from not noticing that he’s jumped queue, even tells him, “adhuku mudhalla visa vaanganumla“.

For the the next stage we moved to an adjacent building – and found people even from the 1.45pm batches still waiting outside. Bless that fella in black and white. At this point some Mark guy who announced himself the head of the consulate came out and tried to cheer us up by putting some mokkai but quickly got unnerved with our stony-faced responses and went back in. The next step was the biometrics check and we used the time waiting to float around a few rumours as to what they ask us to do. One of my theories even got some support when we saw couples with small children being ushered right in. Was fun out there, I tell you.

Around 3.50pm our batch finally made our way inside – to wait in yet another serpentine queue. Around 4.20pm I got a chance to say “Hiiiii” to the American lady behind the counter and give her my fore-finger prints. Thankfully I don’t have a mole or scar on my forefingers because they ask us to remove them surgically and re-apply for the visa. Back to the waiting part once again, till the queues for the interview with the consul officers become shorter than 2 kms. Now is when I realised that Americans may also be reading Kumudham in government offices. Of the 10 counters available, each with provisions for both interviewing and fingerprinting, only 2.5* counters were functioning for the interviews apart from the one counter solely for fingerprinting.
* the 0.5 is for the counter set for language-dependent people who need interpreters.

Around 4.50pm I could finally join a queue and at 5.30pm had even got near enough to see the counter if I stood up on my toes. It was now that them Americans proved that the world was really but a global village by filling up all 10 counters to speed up the process of issuing/rejecting visas (which I suddenly remembered was why I was there). That they had to close shop and leave at 6pm was but a trivial detail.

And suddenly I was standing in front of counter 8, giving the firang my file and a tired smile. His “How’re you?” was answered with “Great, but more than a wee bit hungry!”. He laughed. I smiled back, weaker. “How many months in IBM?” – “Don’t remember the number, but I’ve been in from May’05”. “Who’s your client?” – “AT&T”. “Thank you Mr.Santhosh, your visa application has been accepted and we’ll be sending you your visa in a couple of days”. “Thankoo”. Now, the only possible bit of information I gave him that he and his computer wouldn’t have already known about me was that I was hungry, and for that I’ve been issued a visa. Hmmmm. Bleddy, I didn’t even get to tell him about this blog.

October 22, 2007

Indha Bush paya irukanae…

Filed under: Travels — Santhosh @ 12:55 AM

…from the DS-0156 form (part of a few hundred other forms to be filled for an US visa).

And after having filled the very same damn details a few hundred times in the said few hundred forms –

October 19, 2007

Kuppanna Goundar Ponmalai Goundar Natarajan, take a bow!

Filed under: Travels — Santhosh @ 1:53 PM

I’ve been watching with fascination at the business model that KPN Travels follows and uses to remain the de facto leader. The KPN fleet of buses are by no means the most comfortable (I personally feel KSRTC is way better), their drivers are never polite, they take more time than others to reach the destination, and their website sucks. Inspite of all these, they’re the ones we think first of whenever we want to travel. This is because they’ve succeeded in creating that dream of any business – a brand name. And one word that keeps jumping out at me when I think of what they’ve done is “common sense”.

Opening more booking offices is a simple but highly effective idea. A small room located at a prime spot in each locality accomplishes the most basic principle of any business – making available your product to the end customer faster and easier. In the metropolitan setup that we live in, it takes away a whole lot of concern when one knows he can book tickets on his way to or from office/market and not need to spend any extra time commuting just to book a ticket.

At a time when most operators were content with filling their buses for the regular timings, KPN has come out and started a mid-day service to quite a few places. As opposed to these not being filled to capacity, this has created a whole new option for people travelling (especially for businessmen). I once travelled on a Wednesday afternoon from Madurai to Bangalore and the bus was full.

If you go to Koyambedu on any given night, you’ll find brokers hawking tickets to any place and of any travels – except KPN. Because they’ve realised that an extra office in a locality gives better returns than the security of seats being paid when they go for brokers. And it’s never a good publicity stunt to resort to rough looking hawkers when you’re advertising about comfort, luxury and safety.

Sharma Travels was the first to introduce a Full Sleeper service – the Bangalore-Chennai route. KPN has not shied away from being called copycats and has quickly jumped in. In fact they’ve gone a step further and confidently introduced full sleepers in quite a few routes now which are all resounding successes, while Sharma has stuck to just that one.

Initiatives like trips to Sabarimala during the season provide two prime returns to the company – solid profits on account of there being enough people from the new Indian economy wanting to make the trip in some comfort, and a feel good name about the company among the people.

Like I’ve said, their website sucks, but the online booking section of the site works like a dream. Still one of the very few Travels to offer online booking, they’ve hit a gold mine. The burgeoning broadband industry which is placing every household on the internet highway, coupled with the ease of confirming tickets and choosing seats from the comfort of your desk is tailor made for the now of the country. And if you notice, the non-AC buses of any routes won’t feature in the online booking section, which once again is great business sense.

All this of course, in no way takes away anything from them. They really are safe and their accident record is truly exemplary, while their service is very good if not the best. The next few years should be interesting, especially if a worthy competitor comes into the picture.

September 2, 2007

Sir des gutenabends!

Filed under: My Dayz,Travels — Santhosh @ 12:03 AM

There is this friend of mine who goes for German classes on weekends at Max Mueller Bhavan on CMH Road. He called up today and asked me if I was interested in accompanying him to some event there today. I tried to explain to him how busy I was, and how this MNC I work in could go bankrupt if I neglect them for a few hours, and how it could rain which would then play havoc with my increasingly deteriorating health. But then he appealed to my altruistic side – free German food and drinks.
And so after starving myself for the day and running around to all the 4 messes in my neighbourhood to announce that I won’t be coming there for dinner as my wonderful, dearest, bestest, most-intelligent, most-brilliant friend was taking me to a German gourmet supper, we made our way to Max Mueller Bhavan.

There were a few events in place – slideshows, powerpoint shows, some wonderful speeches by visiting Germans, certificates distribution for the outgoing batch. Then there was a rock show by a band of 4-5 Germans. After an initial couple of pieces to tune up, they really turned it on with a few supposedly blockbuster numbers from their fatherland which drew ooh’s and aah’s from the German audience. Music transcends all barriers, and today was but another example of that. Just about everybody, Indian and German, in the hall was soon swaying to the beat. I also found to my horror how small the world really is. It’s not just music that transcends barriers of geography and culture. The fairer sex in Germany also sport these hand-bag thingies, wear way too many accessories, and from the way they wore matching everything (footwear to ear-studs to bracelets) I’m sure German men also should have a hard time of it all.

We then proceeded to do what we’d set out to do – show them Germans our Indian hospitality by sampling their food. The ‘refreshments’ were on the third floor and as we made our way in, it slowly dawned on me that these people had maybe already sampled our India hospitality – there was no dinner in sight, just a few bonne-bouche and Kingfisher and Red Bull for the interested. You have to see to believe the size of the mugs these Germans have a beer in. The titbits were some 4-5 varieties of these toothpick screwed food – like a kodamolaga, a piece of chicken, and a grape pierced onto a toothpick. Just think how many times we’d have to make your way across to even start feeling like you’ve taken something. The German gentleman sitting at the refreshments stand mistook me for Michael Ballack on my fourteenth visit and spoke something in Hitler’s tongue which ended with ‘Freund’ which is German for ‘friend’. I think I’m sure he didn’t mean “You have sauce dripping from your wrist and egg crumbs sticking down your nose, my dear friend”

How many times would we have seen party scenes on tv where elegant looking people holding glasses of wine mill around making small talk to everyone (you know, the scene before the hero turns up drunk and starts on a dappanguthu). I learnt today that this walking around business is because there are no damn seats available in the vicinity. The one or two that were unoccupied happened to be next to the genre of people I refer to as the imagine-me-as-ur-mother-in-law-lady. You know, the forty-fifty-ish young lady who’s in charge of an organisation, bob-cut hair, more than a few extra kilos, printed shirts, talks only in peter, laughs a lot and cracks jokes which make her laugh even more. And so I grabbed a Red Bull (needed the taurine energy) and walked around too, trying not to look awkward by standing rooted to a spot, telling a few hello’s to random people who I’m sure felt the same way.

And thus ended my attempt at trying to be the gentleman. I called up Andhra Mess and asked them to pack a few chappathis for me to pick up, and which am munching on as I type this. Nothing beats namma ooru samaiyal. Trust me.

But if anyone’s interested in German language courses, you may want to check these guys out. The basic classes are taken by Indians and as you go up the levels the Germans take over. From what I saw for the evening, these people look pretty capable and I know from personal experience that they are fun. Apart from the classes that run for 4 hours ever Saturday and Sunday, there are also a lot of events organised in the evenings – German film screenings, plays, puppet shows, music and dance shows, orchestras. So if you’re looking for some German culture (vaanga pazhagalaam) along with learning the language, this is the place. And even though I know you wont be interested in this, it seemed like every figure in the city had signed up for language classes.

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