Fort Kochi

This is about the maximum traffic we saw around in the inner bylanes of Fort Kochi during our two day stay!

Fort Kochi, the tourist hotspot of Cochin is full of old English and Portugese bungalows, most of them now
converted to Homestays or Inns. The quaint streets, void of any of the hustle-bustle that accompany touristy places are a pleasure to walk on and hide an assortment of boutique hotels, pubs and exotic stores selling everything from spices to antique jewellery and handicrafts to designer clothes.  
Fort Kochi is also the hub of the tourist circuit, boasting of most of the tourist attractions including Chinese Fishing nets, the Dutch Palace (in neighbouring Mattancherry), the Jewish synagogue, the St Francis Church and the Dutch Cemetry.

About 100 metres from our hotel, was the Fort Kochi beach. The beach is not as clean as some of the other beaches around Cochin, with long strings of weeds washed onto the shore by the currents and rowdy crows (which seemed to be a common feature across Kerala).
However, it is one of the social hotspots of Fort Kochi. On the Sunday morning that we first visited it, there were numerous teams of young people playing football on the beach, oblivious to the slush and weeds and visibly enjoying the animated looks of tourists like us.
One of the discerning features of this beach (and again, probably other beaches around Cochin) is the insane quantities of shells that are washed onto the shores by the water.  You would think that the beach is made up of equal quantities of sand and shells :). And this spawns a huge number of shell-collectors. The shell collectors, work meticulously and with intense concentration picking out shells that are either intact (the possibility of finding an edible mollusc inside are higher) or are the kind that can be used in making souvenirs or accessories.
A quiet evening at the Fort Kochi beach

And for us, the Fort Kochi beach offered a beach that was wide enough for Aadi to play with his "Park and Beach set" without getting hit by a stray football, long enough to walk without tiring and close enough to treat like our backyard!

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

A well-known Austrian Olympian is on an expedition to conquer Nanga Parbat when World War II breaks out. Immediately interned by the British at one of the war camps. An unconquerable urge to break out. A 6000 km hike through some of the harshest terrain on earth to arrive at the holiest city of Tibet. Unexpected hospitality, unwelcome challenges and the enviable position of rising to be one of the closest confidantes of the Living God, the Dalai Lama. This is the stuff legends are made of.
All this and more is what makes Heinrich Harrer and his 'seven years in Tibet' a masterpiece!
Part 1 (this is what I like to call it) traces his journey from the camp at Dehra-dun through the harsh and inhospitable terrain, often underplaying the challenges, helplessness and loneliness with stunning details on the majestic mountains and quaint life of rural Tibet.
Part 2 (as I like to call it) is the journey from being a pauper living on the goodwill and hospitality of the warm Tibetan people to a confidant of the Living God.
Heinrich uses his skills and resourcefulness to find acceptance in a society that has been largely unaffected by the rest of the world. In the process of finding acceptance and living in a society whose rich past and cultural heritage was largely unknown to the rest of the world, he gains amazing insights into the Tibetan culture and narrates a first-hand experience of the ways of the Tibetan society. He explores in depth, the pivotal role that religion plays in all aspects of Tibetan life, be it society or government. From being a gardener to building a cinema hall for the Dalai Lama, he quickly becomes Dalai Lama's trusted confidante, a position which gives him (and us) a ring-side view of the life of Tibet and its people.
A must read!

Facebook Phantom by Suzanne Sangi

Initially, Facebook Phantom appears to deal with what should be one of the easiest topics for a teenager to write about, facebook and friendship. It starts with an easy introduction to the protagonists, 3 friends whose life revolves around friendship, cell-phone and gossip (yes, not really facebook). Life is normal. And then comes a strange message on facebook that turns their lives upside-down. The rest is for you to find out!
There are a number of things that stand out in this gripping novel. Suzanne displays a simple mastery over language and evenness of narration that ensures that you breeze through the book, rather than drag your feet through it. The style of presenting different points of view, with the narration being shared between the protagonists is handled well and breaks the monotony. The lines between the normal and the paranormal are often grey, and you cant help but mistake one for the other. Predictable though it is to a great extent, it does keep you engrossed till the end.
The last third of the book has a tad too much romance that often takes away from the broader plot. 
But all in all, a commendable and mature first time effort!

Extremes Along the Silk Road - Nick Middleton

Extremes Along the Silk Road by Nick Middleton is an experience. It is a simple account of the climatic extremes along  the fabled silk road and a complex chronicle of human resilience. As he experiences the extremes of climate and life along this ancient trade route, from the scorching deserts of Mongolia to the icy Tibet and from the towering sand dunes of China to the rolling steppe's of Kazakhstan, he gives a warm insight into how these extremes have shaped human existence, their culture, their beliefs and above all their sense of purpose.

A note on the comparison between this and From Heaven Lake:
At this point, having finished Vikram Seth's From Heaven Lake just before this, I cannot help but compare the two. While Seth's narrative focuses on the journey itself with the experiences along the way remaining secondary, Middleton's narrative is like an amusing documentary, with the experiences taking a high seat and the journey being secondary. Not to mention, while Seth's writing comes with a fair share of nail-biting twists (he is an exceptional fictionist, remember?), Middleton's writing is almost academic (he teaches geography). :)

Dewdrops on bamboo leaves!

Summer holidays meant 25 days at my grandparents place, 25 days at my aunt's place and 10 long days at home.
Located at Visvespuram, my aunt's place was a stone's throw from Lalbagh. Those were the days when sleeping till late was taboo and frowned upon as a waste of precious holiday time. Getting up at 6:30 meant we had 2 options: (i) join my uncle at the morning prayers, which lasted a whole hour or (ii) scoot off to Lalbagh for a refreshing, healthy and un"adult"erated "walk".
Given that option (i) meant sitting cross legged on the floor quietly for an hour under the watchful eyes of adults who were positioned at the right vantage points to ensure discipline, option (ii) was the most sought after. Add to this, we were a band of 6, with my oldest cousin (all of 15 years) popular for coming up with incredible ideas that left us in awe of his worldly wisdom.
Upon entering Lalbagh through the West gate, as you walk down the main pathway and take the right fork onto the trail around the lake, there was a bamboo grove. Walking along the trail, you could reach out and touch the bamboo leaves, and most of the mornings, there would be dew on the leaves. "Dew from the bamboo leaves applied into the eyes, makes your eyes sharp and bright", thus spake the wise old cousin picking up dewdrops carefully from the leaves and dramatically lowering them into his own eyes! And we 5 awestruck children dint need any more persuasion to turn this into a ritual. Come to think of it, innocent passers by must have been quite amused to see a band of six 10-15 year olds picking up dew drops from bamboo leaves and rubbing it into their sleepy eyes.
And that dint end there because we had to also prove that it worked. We would then turn the other way, towards the lake, point out to far away objects/birds and pretend to know exactly what they were (sparrows, pigeons, kites, serpent eagles (!!!), kingfishers even!). Not to be outdone, the rest would maintain that this was exactly what they saw too and hence their eyesight was as sharp, if not better, that the other.

Ahhhhh...those were the days!

From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth

From Heaven Lake was an impulsive pick.
From Heaven Lake is different from page one. Very few travelog'ers can take you along like Seth does, on his impulsive, stubborn and ambitious journey as he hitch-hikes his way from Heaven lake (in China) to Tibet, then Nepal and finally home, Delhi. The fast paced narrative (I say this because there are often twists in the plot which could have made for a good piece of fiction) is rich with metaphors, taking you on a cultural tour through rural China, often leaving you with a feeling of surrealism, as you stand by the road-side when his truck breaks down in the middle of a road that barely exists or as you hold your breath, guessing how he would get to Nepal with all the rains and washed away roads.
And whats the best part about the book? While he expresses his opinion on various things Chinese, both political and cultural, at no point of time does it turn preachy or philosophical! its been a long time since I found anything to blog about. Before you get your hopes high, let me warn you that the intention of this post is not to talk about something interesting. It is more of a status check...just to ensure that my login does not expire :)

The last couple of months have been busy (work, nephews/nieces at home for vacation), exciting (trips to Mumbai, Lonavala and Mysore) and not without their moments of suspense (the boy's report card).
Between all this, I have also managed to squeeze in time to read a lot of Indian authors. Ashwin Sanghi's famed Krishna Key, which reeked of Dan Brown and his DaVinci Code, followed by his Rozabal line, which I realized is the book equivalent of a documentary film and to finish which, I needed more inspiration than my boy needs to go to school!
Once bitten, twice shy, does not hold for me. Not sure if twice bitten, thrice shy will either, since I plan to someday read his Chankya Chant too! Talk about self-inflicted torture :)
Sandwiched between these was Kalpana Swaminathan and her "Monochrome Madonna", which could pass off as an amateur detective novel, if not for the insane twists, melodramatic characters and irrational "logic"!
After this, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus just could not hold my attention and I had to give it up mid-way. It was far too well-written :D
Then came Ravi Subramanian with "Bankster". While many may differ, I loved the book. One of those suspense thriller books set in contemporary India that you can immediately connect with, not just because of its simplistic writing style but also because the characters are very human and the kind you may very well run into.
I will definitely try to write a more detailed review once I find time from the latest book that I am reading, Vikram Seth's "From Heaven Lake" :)
So long...
Ok...I have been really getting busy at work. However, Here is my recipe for minestrone soup :)

What you need:
Tomatoes - 4 large
Onion - 1 medium, chopped not too finely
Capsicum - 1/4th cup, chopped not too finely
Beans - 1/4th cup, chopped into 1cm pieces
Macaroni - 1/4th cup
Assorted beans - rajma, chana, moong - soaked overnight and boiled.
Salt, black pepper powder, italian seasoning, turmeric

How to prepare:
Boil the tomatoes. After they cool down, blend them and sieve out the seeds. This is your purée.

To a frying pan, add half a spoonful of the oil. To this add the onion, capsicum, and beans. Toast lightly (the veggies should not change colour).
In a cooking vessel, add the puree, the veggies, boiled beans and macaroni. Add half a teaspoon of black pepper powder, half a teaspoon of italian seasoning and salt to taste. Add a pinch of turmeric (this is only to give the otherwise dull soup a rich colour, not taste). Add enough water, so that the consistency is just a little more than rasam (this is something that everyone can relate to).
Let the vegetable cook and soak in the flavours. Turn off once the macaroni has cooked. Your soup is ready!
Serve with the open bread toast (wait for my next post!)...

Once the vegetables are cooked, let the salsa cool to room temperature. Add the rice and mix lightly, ensuring you do not break the rice grains.

Of corn rice, minestrone soup and open bread toast - I

Corn rice is one of those dishes that everyone, from Tarla Dalal to Nigela Lawson has a recipe for. And most of the time no two recipes are the same.
So after a lot of deliberation, I decided to create one of my own. Here it is, tried and tasted :)

What you need:
Rice - 2 cups
Oil (preferably olive oil) - 2 spoons
Tomatoes - 2 large
Onion - 1 medium, chopped
Capsicum - 1/4 th cup, chopped
Sweet corn - 1 cup
Ginger - 1 teaspoon, finely shredded
Salt, black pepper powder, chilli flakes

Cook the rice. Drain off the excess water.

Boil the tomatoes. After they cool down, blend them and sieve out the seeds. This is your purée.

To a frying pan, add 2 spoonfuls of the oil. To this add the sweet corn and toast lightly. Then add the tomato purée along with chopped onions, capsicum and ginger. Add half a teaspoon of black pepper powder, half a teaspoon of red chilli flakes and salt to taste. Let the vegetable cook in the purée and soak in the flavours.

Once the vegetables are cooked, let the salsa cool to room temperature. Add the rice and mix lightly, ensuring you do not break the rice grains.

Note (all these are from my own real life experience today)
1. While draining the rice after cooking, pour cold water over it and drain off. This removes the starch and makes the rice non-sticky
2. If black pepper powder and chilli flakes do not spice it up enough, you can add finely chopped green chillis too.
3. If you feel the corn may not cook well enough in the purée, you can boil them a bit before adding to the purée.

Those long-necked beauties...

Off we went to Mysore, to realise my Dad and his grandsons (aka my son) dream of a visit to the famed Mysore zoo together. We left home at 6 30, before Bangaloreans looking for a quick day-trip to Mysore clog the busy Mysore road.
Reaching Mysore at 11, after stops at Ramanagar and Srirangpatna, we immediately headed to the zoo.
We were cheerfully greeted by these 4 long-necked long-legged beauties. It was a sight to behold, majestic and unhurried, they went about munching on leaves oblivious to the awe-struck crowd (mostly children) that watched them with obvious excitement. The little one (my boy) could barely conceal his awe as one of the giraffe walked close to the edge of the enclosure, gave him a long hard stare, before walking back, not unlike a model on a catwalk!

Recursive functions...

It was a déjà vu moment...when my niece told me how she was trying to memorise a program to print out the n'th Fibonacci number, in preparation for her practical exams.
Rewind to my late teens, the age of learning complex computer logic such as recursive functions. And the first (and probably the most common) program to test your recursive function concepts and skills was generating the Fibonacci sequence. It was easier to memorise the program that ran into not more than 10 lines than wasting time understanding a logic that there would be lots of time to understand later in life! Those were the days when shortcuts could be taken without any guilt :)
At that time, little did I realise that I would understand the concept of recursive functions under very adverse conditions in a corporate setting a couple of years down the line :)
Coming back to the present, with an undisguised glee I explained the concept of recursive functions with examples to my niece, silently patting myself on the back. Maybe that is what growing old is - when you stop enjoying the simple joy of memorising a program to clear the impending practicals and instead, try to understand it, so that you can write those kind of things for the rest of your life!  

A story of 572 steps!

A resolution to take the stairs and not give in to the temptation of taking the elevator is about as tough as it can get. It is also one of those that I have made innumerable times, for reasons ranging from a love for the environment to a determination to lose those 'few extra pounds', and given up with barely a fight.
There have been various and apparently genuine excuses for not taking the important conversation that would have been interrupted if I alone took the stairs, a colleague who might have to take the lift alone if I took the stairs, a meeting I might get late for if I took the stairs (never mind the fact that I wait for 5 mins for the lift) on and so forth :)
So, it is not with great optimism that I made this resolution along with a colleague one more time yesterday.
And proud I am to say that on the second day, a day where all the meetings I had to attend were on different floors, I have climbed up 572 steps and climbed down 572!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ever since I finished Half of a yellow sun, I wanted to read other books that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written. What struck me about her writing (even though I was only one book old) was the simple language and the fluid writing. Adichie writes about the life of ordinary people, people whose lives are what we call "normal", more importantly they are ordinary people who face common challenges, no matter whether they are rich or poor. And the best thing, they do not always end up winners (in the usual way that the protagonists do)!  


"All kids fall down mummy, its ok" - these were the pearls of wisdom that my little one bestowed on his mom, after he fell for probably the fifth time in 25 minutes of his first skating class.
25 minutes earlier, his 5 months long wait (to turn 4, so that he can start skating class) and the more excruciating day long wait to start the class at 4:30 pm had ended. He could barely conceal his excitement as he put on his gear (knee, elbow and palm pads, helmet and skates). For us, however, every little event...the moment he put one tentative step on the rink and almost landed on his rear-side, looked back at his mom when she left him with the coach, his first fall and his tears when his helmet fell off...had us convincing each other that his fascination with skating would not end too soon.
Shortly, the wheels on his skates were tightened a wee bit, he was walking on his own without support, falling down, but getting up on his own and yeah, the icing on the cake - when he walked over to the railing, picked up his water bottle , had a sip and placed it back upright...all this without losing his balance even once!

Tokyo Cancelled!

And yayyy!!! I am at page number 255 of Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled. I had picked up this book after a lot of deliberation and with a lot of expectations.
When I read the recap on the back cover, I was curious. Definitely, 13 passengers stranded at an airport, because of a snowstorm and each of them telling a story to while away time should be worth a read!
The reviews from various critics impressed me, even though people were comparing Rana's story-telling to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And my first GGM read was not impressive either. Maybe it is something to do with people like me, who are more into fast-paced thrillers (the Frederick Forsyth types) or about the timing (the previous month was spent reading the Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson non-stop). To cut a long tale short, the beginning was just short of a disappointment. The way Dasgupta's stories oscillate between the real and the surreal, cutting across boundaries of believable and unbelievable, possible and impossible made my interest wane. And I was sure this was going to join the ranks of Fountainhead and Enchantress of Florence that I could never complete the first time round. Or even the likes of Shalimar the Clown and A 100 years of Solitude that I would never complete.
But after nearly a month and a half of half-hearted reading, more for the lack of anything else to read that out of interest, I am warming up to Tokyo Cancelled. And over the last few days, despite my conscious resistance, I seem to be drawn into Dasgupta's web of improbability, of stories where people turn into stone and back, where men fall unbelievably and passionately in love with their own creations and such. Stories with dark or puzzling climaxes, ones that leave a lot to your interpretation.  

Then and now - my library experience

Rewind to the early 90's - a little library on the tree-lined streets of Jayanagar, run by an "uncle" who knew everything there was to know about the books that he had and in the process of running a library, introduced thousands of people to the joys of reading (including me) and an "aunty" who knew everything there was to know about the magazines. Together it was a family affair and we were all part of the extended family :)
Come Summer holidays and we, a gang of about ten 10-14 year olds would patiently wait outside the closed doors of the library atleast 15 minutes before opening time, exchanging and pre-booking books (read:striking deals) then and there.
And then, after what would feel like an eternity, "uncle" would come on his TVS, like a santa with a bag full of goodies (brand new Archie comics, the latest Hardy Boys adventure, the weekly edition of Sport Star). And a new bout of deal-striking would follow. Uncannily, in the end, everyone of us would be happy and content that we had the best deal :D
Fast forward to 2013...lives are busier, patience is a virtue, libraries are high-tech, have catalogs online and would be definitely happier and more lucrative if you do not find time to pick up your book.
How else would I explain my membership at an impersonal library chain, the fact that I look at the catalog online and pre-decide what to borrow, spend a total of 5 minutes in the library picking up a pre-decided, pre-booked book, notice neither the lady at the checkout nor a fellow member who is looking through the same shelf and probably shares the same reading habits as me.
And life goes on... :)

Being a Marwari groom

Ever wondered what it is the most unnerving aspect of being a Marwari groom?
While being stuffed with ridiculous quantities of sweets, having your shoes stolen by the brides sisters and being tricked into sitting on papads which make a prrrrrrrrrrrrrr noise (you know what that sounds like, dont you?) come close to fraying your nerves, there is one deed makes these more bearable:
The ghodi-pe-chadna experience. For all the confidence that a groom exudes, there is nothing more harrowing than trying to balance an already precaiously positioned sapha (turban) and its accompanying trinkets, manage the suddenly itchy sherwani and a fidgety mare and trying to climb onto it. There will, of course, be a lot of assistance from family and friends, who have been there, done that. They will help your left foot firmly into the stirrup and provide you a shoulder to balance, but in the end, it is you, Mr Groom, who has to make that one "elegant" move, lifting your right leg over the horses back and placing your rear onto the saddle and balance yourself upright, akin to a gymnasts landing. Ok, you might have not done it very gracefully, but the people around you will ignore it. Checkpoint 1- save.
And, it does not end there, because, there is the paparazzi that ironically your family has paid for. And the show begins...the baraat starts. The band/orchestra that moves ahead of you creating a racket, has weaned a lot of people from the warm comfort of their homes, onto the street to witness the spectacle of this smartly decorated fellow on a horse surrounded by 100's of well-dressed people dancing their crazy minds off. And with a Greater audience comes Greater responsibilties. How can a fellow, who is in the limelight (most likely for the first and last time in his life), be seen slouched on a mare, hanging on to the saddle, rein and god knows what for his dear life and dignity.
Ask me...I know it first hand ;)


2012 has been an exciting year with its ups and downs, with the ups outdoing the downs :)
January - the holiday season was over! But lets make it interesting by planning our first long vacation with Aadi. Sheetal and Aadi - does Shimla - Kullu - Manali interest you?
February - was travel. Delhi - Shimla - Kullu - Manali. Aadi saw and held "ice" for the first time in his life. I climbed a horse after 5 years (fortunately the horse was shorter this time around and saved me a lot of embarassment). The stunning drive from Shimla to Manali and the amazing vista's took our breath away.
March - Aadi's playhome days were over. Bye bye Chirantana!
April - Its time for my first promotion at Target, followed by everyone but me travelling to Rajasthan :(
May - I badly wanted to travel, a sort of a belated celebration...but do not. It's the final month of summer vacation and the "Kids" come down to Bangalore :)
June - Aadi starts formal school...this is much easier than we anticipated. We quietly celebrate our five years of marriage :)
July - Sheetal grows a year "younger" and yet another quiet celebration follows.
August - project Rajasthan begins with an implementation planned for October :) am absolutely loving it. Long train journeys with the kids...I'm superexcited...wait a I?
September - frantic planning for Rajasthan...and by now, I really am EXCITED :)
October - things fall apart...people drop out one after the other...finally it's only Aadi, Sheetal n me...painting Rajasthan red in a white qualis with a turbaned driver who treats us like royalty :)
November - Diwali, crackers and amazing food...A very happy and quietly satisfying Diwali.
December - yayyy!!!! My birthday is here...anyone who knows me well will know that I look forward to this day with childish anticipation right from New Year's. But then, I am now really a year older!
Aadi wins the Tortoise race at the Arena-2012 (ANPS Sports day for hte KG students) birthday present, albeit a little late :)
And as the year nears an end (pun intended), the cautious excitement over an apocalypse that never happened!