Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Talakona Trek

I alight at the ‘IN’ gate at Koyembedu looking for souls with portly backpacks waiting to escape the urban madness and head into blissful wilderness. I spot this petite lady with a backpack half her size and shout out: Me: Chennai Trekkers Club? - Her: Yeah! /  Me: Where’s every one else? Its close to departure time! Her:  No clue ..  looking for them!

After the regulation head counts, enthusiastic introductions and distribution of our dinner packs we start out on our way. It takes quite a long time to beat the Ambattur traffic and after a few snarls, we are finally on National Highway 205 en route to Talakona. The journey has begun.

Our first pit stop was on the T.N – A.P border where we stopped for the toll tax. It was here that our CTC member Arul Kelvin spotted an Indian Krait. Alas, it was run overL. Irony that CTC had organized a Snake walks earlier that day. Arul dutifully shifted the snake to the edge of the highway. Good work mate.

We continued with our drive. After Tirupati, the real fun starts! For those of us who know ‘Sai’ – he kept our group rolling in laughter and everybody indulged in wholesome leg pulling sessions! Every few kilometers were punctuated with calls to our guide asking ‘Talakoa ekkada?’ Given the fact that our destination was deep routed it was indeed an arduous task finding our reserve forest destination. But like everything else, CTC pulled it off and found its way to the base camp at Talakona at 2.00 A.M Saturday morning. After a tiring journey, our sprits were no way tired and we chatted till about 2.45 A.M deciding whose gonna sleep where before we finally retired for the day..err.. previous day.

The next morning, post Idly, Vada, Pongal and some tea, we started the trek.

A 1 k.m. pathway leads to the base from where you start the actual ascent. Once the ascent started, the entire group split into 3-4 groups and of course everybody fell silent, conserving energy to the stepped climb. The climb was an all in all a good one, except for may be a few paces, but still moderate by CTC standards. Mid why through our ascent, the sounds of water fall greet us and pepped up our sprits. A few moments later, we are greeted by a small stream that joins the bigger water fall down under. For many of us, we were tasting water from a running stream out in the open for the first time and everyone sweared that they had’nt tasted water better than this! It was yummy. After drinking to our tummies content and some photo ops we headed to the first water fall.

'Wow' is the word. Picture post card perfect may be an alternative word. 

A pool of magnificent turquoise water with a beautiful water fall greeted us. Surrounding it from three sides were 100 M high rise and sharp edged cliffs. Of course, the next had to happen. All the 28 of us jumped into the pool and waded like a bunch of happy water buffaloes. Such bliss! The little dose of tiredness that any of our group members might have had vanished. The water was freaking cold and people seemed forget this in the wave of infectious solitude that the group experienced. Poor Arun had a cut from one of the sharp under water rocks dotting the entire pool. A good one hour plus later we managed to pull our selves out of the water and head higher up into the small hills. Post lunch, we walked close to 2 km up there to visit a colonial bunglow, but a passing forest official played spoilsport. Anyway, we began our journey downwards. It was a stepped descent and a bit steep at places.

The water fall that greeted us now was the mother fall! Yeah! Again, we wasted no time in getting our skin under the mighty fall.

Now folks, you have to take every word that I say now literally. The forceful water chunks hitting our backs from over 100 feet felt like some one walloping you with a blunt pieces of iron! We screamed our lungs out and held on to each other. We were drenched to the bone. And further more. It was exhilarating. It was a moment that bowled everyone over. The expression of child like enthusiasm and sheer gusto upon being in all watery wilderness had to be seen on the faces of out CTC members to be believed! Added to this were gusty winds that sprayed water all over you like no other. I am short of expressions at this moment. It was like facing a good thunderstorm in a radius of 20 feet! (Oh, there is where Shubha did a smart thing. She came under the water falls wearing a rain coat. Not that it made a difference, but beat that I say J )

We started our downward ascent now and headed back to our base camp to start our onward journey to Chennai. We caught dinner at Tirupati and after a few pit stops on NH 205 reached Chennai at around 2.00 A.M  (I didn’t notice a single remotely tired soul. The water sure is therapeutic and fools your muscle into believing they did nothing all day)   

We were hit and drenched to the bone. And did we enjoy it! 

Trek pics:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cafe Leopold

Have been wanting to visit Cafe Leopold ever since I read Shantaram.  Sample others like me here. And now this. Am sad. Also read what another visitor has to say. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


An average grub spot is not motivation enough to review. But it’s been a while I’ve updated my binge blog. Guilt pangs strike. And I write.

We’re reviewing Giorgio today.

No specific reason for walking into this place. Except that it’s a known devil. And was a previous jaunt for the friends I was catching up with. So we knew what to expect, order and pay.

For the killer location they are in they’ve made rather drab use of it. You are greeted by a hut that is supposed to resonate a beachy touristy feel. It doesn’t. There is so much they could have done to pep this place have. Have a roll counter, have shawarma’s, have a kebab counter. But they had none.

They looked like they were on a budget when they did the interiors. An orange coat on the wall and average lighting is what you will get. But like they say, ‘Location, Location and Location’. They had that and could’nt bother about the rest.

Now some food talk. What do you get? They are sizzler specialists basically. World food is what the menu states. They have flags of most GCC and Latin American countries and they look exotic enough. Every dish has a country prequel to it. Libyan Lamb Chops, SudaneseSea Fish, Timor Tiger Prawns. Ok, not quite, but that how they are named. And of course they have the ingredients mentioned. But I noticed that they do not serve Shawarma under Lebanese fare. Not happening. And Fish and Chips are 3 fillets? Excuse me!

Anyways, myself, Sid and Vatsa are seasoned eaters. We were having none of this globe talk. We were not expecting the real taste of the cuisine anyway and had zeroed in on some thing chickeny. And in the fare they had we were pretty sure they would taste all the same.

So we asked them: Which one of your dishes has the maximum serving? ; Attendant: Er.. umm.. He mumbled a couple of dishes with his eyes down and it was clear he did’nt know/care what he was talking. He was basically repeating from our suggestions I thought. Anyway, we settled for 2 Jamaican Jerk Chickens and a Veg platter.

Now, how do you define jerk chicken?  Its basically what the cook decides is a ‘jerk’. So we got some thing that was between boiled and light fried and tossed in some random herb. Bet not one of Bolt’s favorites. They served boiled vegetables and some casuina rice. It was just Haldi Rice I tell you. That too without the flavour. I enjoyed the fried cabbage though. Not worth the 300 bucks.  

The Veg platter was good. I forget what rice it was, but the crispies and the veg Manchurian were regulation and good.

Would I recommend? At this price, not really. If prices correct by about 30% its probably worth it. But then again most places in Chennai that serve sizzlers rob you. Opal Inn is one. I remember the early 90’s, they used to serve mega portion sizzlers that were really a delight. Its average now. And sizes have shrunk by half. Tangirene is a good option though. We’ll review that another day.

Giorgio, T-29, 7th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai, Phone  42040202

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Terracotta look alike flooring, catamaran wood work (every inch of the place), swaying palm trees and a majestic ocean front view (its like 300 Meters away) and white sail boats. So Mediterranean. Except that we’re in Chennai. 

L4. Thats what they call the place. 

Firstly, this is a good piece of real estate. Wonder if they got some good rentals on the terrace lease. What ever. Great concept. Expect that you really can’t sit out indoors at anytime before, say, 6 in the evening, by when the view of the ocean front is drab. But they’ve got a covered seating area on the right with very comfortable seating and depending on the angle of the sun you should consider sitting there. There’s an indoor air conditioned seating area as well. You are greeted by multiple black and white portraits and while they look good I fail to make the connection with a restaurant.  

We were having a quick meeting and I couldn’t focus on the food. They were clearly very reasonably priced and had quite an exotic spread. Service was quick. I’ll really have to get back and sample their main spreads to get into reviewing the food.    

Where? 4th floor – Citi Centre

If you are treating a visitor out of Chennai, you must consider taking them to this place. Chennai, as you will concur does not have a great sky line, but the ocean front stubs every thing out and irrespective of what you eat you will recollect a snapshot of the majestic ocean front for quite a while. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Landing

I was checking into a Jet flight sometime this year and had to sign something for excess baggage. I was given a Kingfisher pen by the Jet staff. I smiled at them and they broke out laughing. If only I knew this was coming :)

As an aviation enthusiast I like both these guys for what they have achieved. At a time when you were made to feel obliged for boarding an IC came around Naresh with an unseen class of service. And when you thought that was the pinnacle came around this beer man giving travelers a reason to fly beyond just reaching a destination. And its remarkable what thus guy's achieved. Kingfisher is one among the World's five 5-star rated airlines. Giving her company are the like of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines - all of which are state funded.

This looks like a great study on branding. Both carriers have a distinct brand equity and it'll be interesting to see how they avoid trampling over one and another's feet. But I guess when you bleed theres no spaces for Ego's.

I hope both of them just stick to benefiting from synergies and continue to operate under 2 distinct entities. Otherwise, am gonna miss the competition. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for Paramount to go Pan India.   

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rock On

Fresh. Just like Eau De Cologne.

Those of you who still smile to yourself watching Dil Chahta Hai and like the non Punjabi hurling subtlety of Lakshya, you would probably want to watch this movie.

The script though loose at places has an over all nice and pleasant feels throughout and the execution is superb.

I have always rued at the lousy sets we put up for performing artists in our country. Any of you remember that ghastly set they put up when Michel Jackson performed in Bombay? I was embarrassed. And then there were the sets at the rock shows in this movie. I enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed the music and the rest of the movie.

The ‘rock star’ do was’nt over done – just perfect it was. In their bid to touch on realism, the background of all the characters was very well depicted. My personal favorite was “When have the Mascarenhas ever done anything of substance?! This sure did clear a lot of my doubts on Anglo’s :) Farhan plays an investment banker and can be seen advising his clients to invest into infrastructure. Clearly, the scriptwriter was clued on in the mid 2007 rally. So what if my ICICI Infra fund is down 20% now? Of course, the scene where he switches on the NSE screen ‘just like that’ was a bit too much. The attention to detail was again missing when the ‘long lost’ music notes are found. It looked as though it was just torn from a new matrix note book. But come on.. these things don’t matter.

The sets are wonderfully designed, and Farhans apartment was wow! I notice the Buddha statues quite often in the movie and am wondering if I missed a clue. Like the ones Google leave here and there. This has to be one of the better designed rock show sets I’ve seen in India. Very aesthetic and the sets were clued on to the signature of the entire movie. The lighting was good, very nicely capturing the intensity of the scenes and you can see all the work that’s gone behind this.

Farhan - Farhan’s rock star do would make you smile just like DCH did. I notice though, the dramatic and intense scenes had the camera cutting away from his face. They focused on him in short bursts and had several back to camera portions. But otherwise, his do was great. Remember, its not the easiest of things to capture the energy one associates with a live performances and look natural at that. It was superbly captured and could easily pass over as a real professional rock concert. And Farhan the singer? He was awesome and you have to hear him croon!

Purab Kohli – Without doubt the film’s stand out actor. Most of the time it looked like he was doing his usual Channel V stuff. Super screen presence.

Arjun Rampal, probably it was his toned down character that didn’t quite add to his screen presence. But nice stuff as the lead guitarist. Except that I didn’t notice his fingers strum.

Luke Kenny – This dude was awesome! Very subtle and marvelously held his own against the other three.

Prachi and Shahana the lady leads were very good.

On a microscopic view, maybe the sum of the parts didn’t quite convincingly add up, however the parts in toto very brilliantly executed.

The entire rock concert scenes were very will shot. Not only did they bring out the naturally contagious energy a rock concern usually serves up but used the different zoom in tone they use at the real rock concerts to capture the crowd enthusiasm.

The last cheer among the audience was when the movie ended rolling - “Don’t download the music, buy the CD”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

JC Cafe

Non descript – decent food

Two reasons for checking out this place: (a) Reviews by fellow burrp’ers and (b) its close to my office.

The first question on seeing this place was ‘Whoa! This is good real estate.. whats a non descript café doing here?’ Of course, then came the missionary back ground and things fit onto place.

The interiors are pistachio green and furniture a mix of plane Jane diners and a sofa set. It was after office hours and I crashed on the sofa. They had some good reading material and lot of biblical literature. They had nice gospel music playing. ‘Its South (U.S) so the lyrics are good’ I was told. Oh, like ah? I thought.

I began chatting up the owner and ordered my food. I ordered a club sandwich and lasagna.

Club Sandwich – the menu screamed ‘tough to handle’ or something like that. ‘Good’ I thought. I was hungry and nice portions were welcome. But what came was a disappointment. Though the French fries were good, the sandwich in itself pretty ordinary. A club sandwich is well…. a CLUB sandwich! Mammoth volumes of fillings with an evenly toasted exterior is what a clubbie is – not three toasted slices with mid some filling’s! Was’nt too happy.

Chicken Lasagna – Remember that last ball six that Javed Miandad hit at Sharjah? The chicken lasagna was some thing like that and came just in time to salvage what ever the sandwich had let me down on. It was sooper awesome. The portions were great and no kanjoosi with the chicken. And honey, garlic bread is not ‘modern bread’ toasted with butter with a garlic essence. It’s a wholesome piece of bread by itself. Anyways, it was good and nicely priced at Rs. 125. If you go for the combo you get some more stuff @ Rs. 150/-

If any of you want to ‘get lost’ and don’t want to be seen, this is the place. Catch up with all the magazines, listen to some music and generally laze. Am a bit confused with the rating.. between 3 and 4 is what I would say. I don’t wanna give 4 coz at that price the sandwich was lousy, how ever the lasagna deserved a 5. So I’ll be good and give it a 4.

Oh, yours truly could not resist giving the owner a few tips on what menu should be like J “Lebanese and Arabic would be exotic” said me. “Oh thanks, we’ll keep that in mind”.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Seasons - Review - Yummmm

This easily is one of the most underrated restaurants in the city. We opted for the buffet, and after a brief discussion on why its ‘buffey’ and not ‘buff-ett’ I maroed my ‘It’s a proper noun’ funda and we started with the soup. Note: Never ever stuff thyself with soup while on a gorging trip. We dutifully stuck to the note and after a few sips set aside the soup tanker.

The place is nicely done up with minimal woodwork, but some how does’nt resonate the old world charm its meant to conjure. I somehow feel tastefully done up wood work should go with minimalist lighting.

The staff were very friendly and efficient. They served crisp medu vada’s with the soup. We had a formality bite at them. The spread was, well, very well spread. The south Indian variety screamed a lot of varieties and we gave them a miss, heading to the continental counter. The counter had good helpings on red meat – and I was very impressed with the Ice Base – all the servings were atop ice rocks. Not sure if Ive seen this before, looked very appealing and nice. While we were gorging on this, the friendly staff served us grilled chicken and grilled fish. The grilled fish, I must say was good. My friend pointed out they ought to have been marinated to give them a more succulent flavor. Point. This was a good marketing tactic as well –when ure served with something in addition to what’s on the spread and the live counter, the feeling of ‘ahh.. what value.. what service’ is conjured. Very clever :)

I had an overdose of my old fave ‘Augration – with just Corn and Spinach’. The chicken meguri was good and the afgani murgh was standard fare. I gave the crushed lamb, aarthuri fish and sarsoonwali machi a skip. In between, I don’t recollect what we had. We asked for the grilled fish refill once again. The rest of the fare included an array of lentils, north Indian dishes, south Indian fare, subjees and the like .. nice elab dressings and toppings... and much more. Oh I forgot, we were served Pizza in the middle and we asked for a Aapam and cheese (i think) Omlette at the live counter. The desert options were on the lower side I thought. All the standards were there, though what stood out was a a simple Nawabi dish - Shahi Tukda. It was rusk thoroughly drenched in think malai and was yummy. Approximately 4 hours, and we were finally done with our lunch. Given the duration of our luncheon, I wish they had more comfortable seats :)

Over all, great food, good service and good value for the dough.

Ps - here's the kicker for those who drink - on Sunday's, ure served unlimited draught beer for free.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The helium surrounding the release of Dasa took me to Sangam theater on a very drab Sunday afternoon. Considering the group reviews it looks like I'll be the only exception. If it has to, so be it - I was much saddened by the movie.

I had the opportunity of working with him on Hey Ram and Anbe Sivam and learnt from him and his crew a few aspects of film making like Continuity, Sets, Lighting, Scripting etc. I defended him after Hey Ram (to my friends) and blamed them for not being able to understand the concept of the great man.

But he's clearly tried to stretch his definition of creativity once more.

The pure novelty of getting to don 10 roles carried him away. The script connecting the 10 characters was very loosely done, bad movie sets, unconvincing background extras, pathetic voice overs of extras, bad make up. But bad make up? Is this not the USP of the movie ??

His makeup was nothing to write home about. He has stretched his novelty with plaster of paris on his face a bit too far. I remember gasping at his do of Indian Thatha and Avai Shanmugi. But the potches on his face in this case seemed very artificial unless you wanted to keep your eyes shut and not question the great man's sense of asthetics of make up.

Thank God for the 12th century priest part of it - he was the Kamal I wanted to see in all the remaining 9 roles.

But why am I looking for sense in a movie?? Ain't I just supposed to see it and forget it?
Well, differentiation has been used by us in every sphere of life... Commercially (WTO Vs Non WTO), Socially (I'll refrain from examples), etc.. and its exactly this that makes us want to set apart a Kamal from the crowd... and chant his name in the same bracket as one would associate a Satyajit Ray or a Akiro Kurosowa. So I guess it was not him, but me, who let myself down.

But yes, if quantity is king then the 10 roles are classic. Period.

Allow me the luxury of a cut and paste job from rediff:
"To tide over the disappointment of watching Dasavatharam, I am going to watch again the DVDs of timeless classics like Nayagan, Moodram Pirai, Sagara Sangamam, Michael Madana Kama Rajan and Pushpak. Let me see the Kamal Haasan I missed in Dasavathaaram."
I would add Anbe Sivam to that list.

The middling Kamal fan,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hi ToI

More than 50% of the countries English speaking population is south of the Vindhyas; and a bulk contributory to that is Chennai. I’ve always been intrigued by the absence of the worlds biggest English daily in Chennai. The Times of India (ToI) finally caught up with the times and launched on the 14th of April ‘08 and I caught up with their Chennai edition last weekend.

I picked up the copy after my daily skim of the Hindu and I was fairly convinced that I wouldn’t find additional news worthy stuff (although what is news is fairly relative). I approached the ToI with a view to compare and contrast it with The Hindu. For an old ‘Hindu’ite, I may be forgiven for having approached the new one with a sense of contempt.

1. In a bid to get Chennai centric, they head lines was dominated by news of a robbery in a prominent Chennai Temple; where as The Hindu covered the India leg of the Olympic torch relay while relegating the news item on the temple to the bottom half of the front page.

2. Every thing else in the ToI cover page was Chennai centric (not exactly warranted of a national daily when u have a dedicated regional content) except one item – Prez Vladimir Putin’s girl frieds pic! Having known the ToI I was’nt as surprised. They showed her in a cheer leader’s attire, and to repeat, on the cover page. Just in case you’re wondering where the Hindu places the pic – it was on page 19 with a close up in formal attire – that’d pass for being a first lady or a diplomat. Hindu’s depiction is not because they perceive the region as conservative - going by the absolute trash Kollywood’s generated over the years its anything but that. It’s just editorial modesty.

3. With the overdose of the IPL in the media, ToI or Hindu or otherwise, it was nauseating to read anything more about the league. The same set of facts across different publications had begun to give me eye sore. It was the day before the IPL inaugural and the ToI had an entire supplement complementing the event with aggressive postures of the 6 team captains. They threw in a six pack flaunting Andrew Symonds as well. The Hindu restricted its coverage to 3 pages with the ‘now-boring-high-adjective-column’ of Nirmal Shekhar (to the uninitiated, Nirmal Shekhar is probably India’s best tennis correspondent and his columns post any of Leander Pace’s Davis Cup heroics make good reading), the ever articulate Peter Roebuck and some other guest columns.

4. This apart, most of the news worthy items was on par in both the papers. There were pics of beach wear clad women in the mid pages of ToI and I gave up figuring out their relevance.

5. Lastly, there was a mega page entertainment supplement with a rather average write up on Rajnikanth. The writer was apparently marveled at his stardom and threw in quotes of what his Bollywood cousins thought of him. Was a tad clichéd I thought.

End of day, am not sure what ToI’s trump cards going to be. It’s difficult to wean away reading habits of people and more so ever for readers of the Hindu as it offers a high level of visual and editorial differentiation when compared to the ToI, Hindustan Times, Statesman or the DC. I guess there’s space for all to survive and do well. Would I substitute my subscriptions to the ToI? No.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


The past month has witnessed a plethora events that’d make great writing material… the birth of Kosovo, myriad run up to the budget, the sinking sensex, Aussie apology to the Aborgs and the consequent brick bats … .stuff I’ve witnessed in Bangladesh.. and sooo many others…

While am contemplate putting my thoughts down on each of them.. Virat Kholi and Co. have done it! I think Whatmore’e played a very big part in this. It was very professional of him to have agreed to coach a national U-19 considering his illustrious CV… Even otherwise… Its been a great period for Indian cricket… barring performance, it was great to see the on field confidence of the Indian team.. and above all their swagger .. something never ever remotely associated with India.

(Im commenting very late on the below... nevertheless..)

Post retirement, I think the North Block should seriously consider grabbing Kumble for the Diplomatic Corps. His handling of the entire tour has been simply marvelous and am sure he’s left a very many in awe with his articulate off field statesman like skills.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Budget Gab

In what could be P.C’ last for the next few years, he’s kept his Gab on the whole positive, sans the Rs.60, 000 Cr. Drubbing he’s given to his PSU Banks.

My favorites:

1. Hell with other tax chops – my favorite is the Rs. 50 Crore grant for the Tiger Reserve force :) Yayy... these beauties deserve more.

2. Although I detest to imagining what our roads might look like, the excise duty cut on the Motor segment is welcome. Apart from a little boost to domestic consumption, I think it will give a good fillip to our export competitiveness.

3. We can breathe easy for the first Rs.1.5 Lacs… Ummm.. four thousand bucks..

4. Women power re-enforced with a cool tax break for the first Rs. 1.85 L

5. Removal of dividend distribution taxation b/w subsidiary and holding cos.

What he could have done:

1. Ease the FBT mess for companies by exemption a little more services

2. That he’s increased Short Term capital gains to 15%, he very well could have increased the 80-C investment options to Rs.150,000

3. Rs.44 Crores ain’t enough to attract talent to our defense forces. He ought to have increased marketing for recruitment on this sphere. I hope the next pay commission does more for the defense forces.

4. While a lot of investments been promised for Agriculture he should have encouraged lending for Modernization of Agri. India’s agri productivity has been diminishing over the years and apart from power and fertilizer subsidies, more needs to be done on the mechanization front. I am on purpose not commenting on the whopping Rs.60, 000 farmer write off’s due to want of enough facts on the social .

5. Excise on Tobacco’s and liquor ought to have been increased

Lost his mind:

1. Excuse me for sounding blasphemous but Rs.1,000 for modernization of Madarsa’s ? I remember my colleague Chinmayee quoting a bureaucrat from Assam making this demand and I laughed it off. If only I knew what was coming.

2. Infrastructure’s been feeding a huge part of our 9 % growth rates. Nothing for them? The IT and ITeS is in a large way responsible for where we are today. No reference to any breaks for them? While P.C’s been very benevolent with Auto and FMCG this lack of apathy … especially for Infra beats me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lost and Found

My Mom always harps on the fact that I need to learn to read and write Bengali. While I enjoy reading translated version of Bengali literature and while ‘my heart goes mmmmmm’ listening to Tagore, my disciplined laziness ensured that I got no where beyond comprehending a few Bengali letter’s that resembled their Devanagari cousins. Besides, as a bong far tucked far south of the vindhiyas with no plans whatsoever to pursuing anything in the east, I never really pushed myself to get literate in my mother tongue. Over a period of time, the need and my yearning to do so also diminished…

…… until I was lost!

Cut to Dhaka, national book fare for Bengali literature where the only lingua franca in a radius of over half of kilometer was Bangla. I was dutifully toeing my Bengali colleagues who were in search of Bengali classics until an enthusiastic rush of crowd from one particular stall saw me part. Underestimating the efforts needed to trace them I continued my leisurely strolls looking at colorfully decorated book shelves and kids with bright face paintings. I did so for close to half an hour eventually discovering that there was no way I could end up finding my local contact without risking a phone call. I was carrying only my Indian SIM and was in no mood to shell out INR 50 / min to share my co-ordinates. .

(20 Minutes later) I was still doing the rounds and my hopes of finding them without having to speak to them was diminishing. But 50 bucks a call… no way. I remembered reading on how friendly Bangladeshi’s all over the country were and thought this was a perfect opportunity to ‘test’ the national testimonial. I began looking for a guy who’d let me use his phone! It wasn’t a very expensive proposition considering that local call rate are less than 1 taka (INR 0.63 paise).

1st call: So I approach this guy and he readily obliges to let me use his phone. My colleague says ‘look for the Mukto Bahini stall’. I could vaguely figure out how Mukto would spell in Bengali so armed with this confidence I set out to do the rounds again. But 15 mins hence, their fancy fonts ensured that it wasn’t the easiest of things for a novice to read.

2nd Call: I approach another guy (I’d mentally decided that this would be the last time I’m taking a mobile favor and next time it would be my own Aircel for sure). He readily offers me his phone and this time my colleague sensing my utter inability to locate him asked me the stall number I was close to. A few seconds later and after a lot of strain I figured out it was # 318. I figured Hindi and Bangla share similar #’s but the stylized and
fancy fonts and ensured that it was’nt the easiest of things for me to do.

In perspective, while the entire incident was no big deal it left me guffawed on how vulnerable I was in not taking to native tongue seriously. So will I take to learning Bangla seriously now? Will let you know :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Assam Calling!

To the uninitiated, the very mention of Assam conjures an image of expansive greenery and seamless scenic splendor and relentless anxiety to explore the bounties of nature … an indeed rightly so… Assam is a splendiferous paradise on earth for all those urban stressed souls.

A dreamy journey takes off as one moves from the hustle and bustle of Kolkata. The contrast of the noisy melting into a silent rendezvous with nature highlights a magical trance to leave anyone spell-bound in ecstasy. On the hinges on North Bengal and spilling well into Assam, begins the majestic spread of rich tropical greenery with little hillocks regularly spurting up from the vast tracts of plains replete with a thick canopy of bottle green landscape. Complimenting the luscious mix of shades of green are swelling water bodies which would take one by surprise… a smoothly blended contrast of nature’s best shades of greens and blues to soothe the eyes of every onlooker. And well, this is just the beginning.

As one reaches the destination of this eventful journey, Assam, the grandeur, gets bigger and greener. Roads carefully maneuver through the deep vegetation and the never-compromising thickness of the vegetation engulfs you making you feel meek in a cacophony of emotions like excitement, curiosity, contentment and happiness. A look in any direction reveals only a lush expanse and a bounty of greenery with little hills poking out in regular intervals. And then there is the mighty Brahmaputra gushing along its way with an insatiate fervor and fury, completely unmindful of its surroundings. Its frightening to imagine the reckless fury it unleashes in the monsoons.

In a gist, it is the beautiful blend of vivid range of terrains with the terra firma and of course, how could one forget the ever smiling faces of the locals which gives Assam a distinct identity… an identity which at the end of the day restores a well needed sense of serenity on ones self. Of course, there is the question of man poaching on the territories of the Branhmaputra… which does seem contrasting to the all pervasive serenity and calmness…but that’s another story.

The variety in the Culture of Assam is rich too, with various forms of arts and music emanating from the traditional and tribal groups…this is indeed an art connoisseur’s paradise…

In the midst of all this beauty there are signs of an economy in its infancy, with real estate activity in the form of glass structured buildings and mini malls… and with 'Aid' money pouring in it has a long way to go until saturation..

Well, if I have left out anything, then it’s the Rhino’s at Kaziranga …(There’s an exclusive write up on that coming)

But I must conclude that at the end of the day, when one’s retired to bed, you do feel complete with nature… with the pristine surrounding lending a whole chunk of tranquility… and its ever-rejuvenating freshness soothing the worked up minds. In the mean while, do not think twice about planning your holiday to Assam. Or, if there is any work coming along in Assam, don’t think twice about volunteering for it! Like we did! (R, C, M - comments please !)

Be ready to experience and enjoy the oneness with nature, in store for you in one and only Assam!!

Hang on – have’nt you wondered why I’ve bothered to be so nice and formal in what I’ve written above? Well, it was written excitedly for my companies monthly journal and being early days then I ‘believed’ that they were gonna publish it. As you can guess by now, it did’nt happen :) But what the hell.. here I am anyway …

And btw, don’t take every thing I’ve written up there on face value. You can’t write bad things about places where you’re sent to work when you write stuff expecting it to be published right?!

Anyways, its not about the place.. its whom you are with. What say ?


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dhaka – First impressions

Even as Taslima was scurrying for cover in a pretentiously secularist West Bengal, I was planning my first trip to East Bengal. Like most post ’47 first generations Bengali’s in India, my parents were born in erstwhile East Pakistan and spent a few years there before moving to India. Having witnessed the pain of partition first hand and the angst of having to leave every piece they owned they’ve always felt strongly emotional about this piece of land. Consequently, I grew up hearing a lot of stories about Bangladesh and knew many places by heart. I did the normal routine of reading up whatever lonely planet could dish and other travel blogs and surprisingly most of them had something good to tell about the place. Not that I believed a word of what I read. Am not sure why, but I strongly believe that a nation construed on religion can never be anything near ‘good’. So I set forth with my set of conservative prejudices.

20 minutes from NSCB International and the captain announces that we were ready to descend. I suspect it was a ploy to keep passengers quite and not pester the crew for stuff coz we kept circling a good 20 minutes before the actual descent begun. In the middle, the crew hurriedly scattered lunch boxes reminiscent of a toned down flood time food packet distribution ceremony.

As we touched down in Zia International, the first things that hit me was “Bismillah Airlines”. It hit me hard on how religion was deeply etched into every aspect of an Islamic nation. Anyway, it looked a World War II relic and I wasn’t going to fly that for free. A long walk down the arrival terminal led to the immigration counter the person there didn’t bother much about my tourist visa. But one of my managers who was on a tourist visa as well wasn’t so lucky. The immigration person quizzed him on what the places to visit were and after a barrage of other questions and suspicious retorted “On this fare you could have visited Bangkok, why come to Dhaka of all places?” Whatta reality check J

Anyway, as I stepped out and drove out into the city I was greeted with an array of palm trees. Have always wondered if palm trees have a symbolic connection to Islamic Countries. And the next thing that struck me was the barrage of gleaming Toyota’s all over the city! Apart from the rampant corruption I got thinking on what other sources of disposable income the nation was privy to .. it did’nt add up …and then it hit me – Aid Money! Doles from the ADB’s and WB’s and other loan peddlers.

Those were just the initial feelers … and im here for the long haul .. till later…


Monday, January 7, 2008

Monkey ?!

Of all words, imagine being docked for having called some one a monkey!

He a typical sardar and me thinks he muist have said something like " teri MAA KI etc etc" ... Symonds must have heard that as 'Manky' .. ahh.. come on.. thats not a racial slur.. its just Punjabi! We speak that all the time ! May be my frnds from Delhi can elucidiate better :)