About Me

Monday, January 05, 2015

Cantonment Street Food, Bangalore

Being away from Bangalore for 6 months now, has kicked off the craving season. A craving for the city's fine weather and for the eat-outs that I used to frequent with the wife. To get over the craving, I couldn't think of a better way than to write about the places and food I miss, specifically around the Cantonment, where I grew up.

Feel free to add to the list in the comments section. No list about food can be exhaustive.

1) Butter Brothers of the Benne Dosa fame, Jewelers Street
That's not really what they call themselves. What do they call themselves? Nothing! There is no board indicating their identity. I've seen them at the same place for about 25 yrs + now. On Commercial Street look for the lane opposite the police station, just preceding it. Walk down and stop at the second intersection of narrow roads. With some luck, you'd notice a benne dosa cart attached to a tiny nook with ancient green doors. The older of the brothers, hands out the dosas and collects cash, and the younger brother plays magician. 3 stoves and pans on them are his arsenal, relics of thousands of dosas over the years. 2 lids move between the 3 pans at a consistent speed, punctuated by dollops of butter hitting the batter. In the monsoons, you could go singing 'butter, batter, rain drops'.

By far the best butter dosas I've had across the city, and that includes the Vidyarthi Bhavans and CTRs. Don't get there before 5 30 pm or after 8 30 pm. Mondays are closed and ensure you carry sufficient patience along with hard currency. If you are queasy about large crowds walking by staring at you while you eat, this may not be your place. Learn to adjust to them and make them a part of the experience (without offering them a bite).

2) Thom's Cafe, Frazer Town
No school year was done until it was truly finished gorging into the best Pineapple Pastry this side of the city. Thom's like its counterpart Koshy's, is as old as the Anglo-Indian community in Cantonment. I still remember running back from school, waiting for the special days for which the pastry was reserved. From a small bakery with the best smells of fresh baked bread, to a full fledged supermarket, its come a long way. Yet, nothing has changed - right from the out-of-circulation 1 and 2 Rs. notes under the massive glass at the cash counter to the most amazing puffs and pastries.

Best time to visit them - anytime. Be willing to walk through really narrow aisles. Parking is not an issue and time permitting soak in some divine essence at the St. Aloysius Cathedral, a short walk away. Christmas or not, they have the freshest dark plum cakes in the city - don't miss them either.

3) Shankar Chats, Wheeler's Road 
Just down the road from Thom's Cafe, is what is reputed to be the oldest chat center in Bangalore. Tough to validate that claim considering no one keeps a census of such things. But then again, census' are for the boring folks. Shankar Chats is on Wheeler's road. Follow Kamaraj Road from Thom's Cafe into Wheeler's and stop at the second road that leads off to the right. At the entrance you will find a significant crowd thronging a cash counter with patrons filling up every bit of standing and walking space of the lane next to it. They also deliver to the car if you can find a spot to stop by and are thick-skinned enough to let the honking cars not bother you. Tough luck if the traffic cops are around. May I recommend the Mixed Chat for 40 bucks please!! :) The menu is minimal and the spices are liberal. Get your own bottle of water I'd suggest.

4) Chowpaty Kulfi, MM Road
Especially for the Mumbaikars away from Mumbai. If you ever feel like popping in one of those amazing kulfis with falooda, this is the place to be. And come the hour of breaking fast during Ramzan and riseth the glory of Mosque road. Drive down Mosque Road heading north. Enter MM Road on the left, at the junction after Hotel Empire and look out for the break in the divider. To the right is Bombay Chowpatty. A u-turn and some deft parking would help at this point. If you are worried about the pani in pani puri, find the nearest bin and drop your worries in. Corn flour puris greet you with smiles breaking on their delicate tops as they are filled with peas and you with peace. The pani is hygienic and not once has it given me reason to worry. Wash it down with said falooda and kulfi.

5) Rawal Jalebi Center, Veerapillai Street
Not so much a center as a 10 ft. x 6 ft. room with the stove jutting onto the road, calling out patrons in blazing orange. Rawal is a one-man operation. About 8 months ago he shifted from the tiniest of cubby holes where only Rawal could stand to a place where 5 people can be seated. If you are around Commercial Street shopping, put that reminder on the phone to get some hot jalebis. From the main entrance of Commercial Street, head down along Kamaraj Road. About 100m later at the Vithoba temple, take a left and enter Veerapillai Street. In case you want to bring your car along, forget the jalebis. Enter V street and 100 feet into the street, on the right is Rawal's jalebi shop. Opens only around 6 pm and runs until 9 30 to 10 00 pm most nights. Don't forget to say a hearty thank you to Rawal uncle. Get repaid by a reaction that suggests Rawal doesn't care 2 drops of sugar syrup about you. All the sweetness of his life is in the jalebi.

6) Ebrahim Sahib Street, Ebrahim Sahib Street
or Ibrahim Sahib Street if you go by municipal records. Only one lane away from and parallel to Commercial Street with multiple narrower lanes connecting the two. Most of the street is full of food carts, many which lend their origins to the ChIndi cuisine of Gobi Manchurian and Noodles. The place is more diversified now with South Indian and other North Indian options available. Its lost its sheen over time, though remnants of the Chinese invasion remain in parts, slowly giving way to garments by the pavements. This one's just to see what a hungry horde can do to a street if given enough options to eat.

I could mention a few more but heh! 6 is a good start as any. Many of these places have heart-clogging options for the meat-lovers I gather (Siddique's). But cannot vouch for! And along the yawning potholes and 'tar'nished roads are many more places one could spend a day eating. Its winter time and what better way to warm up the insides than this, especially if you are around the Cantonment in Bangalore.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Apple a Day: The iPhone's away

Smartphones to me were not a necessity, until 2 years ago, until I held that iPhone. It wasn't yet a necessity for another fortnight - the SIM card had to be changed to a micro-SIM and contacts had to be moved from the old Nokia Music Xpress to the iPhone, manually. Apparently smartphones come with a class-distinction and don't care to be compatible with partphones - the kind that can be taken off into many pieces and reassembled with a mini screwdriver by the candle light.

The OCD wasn't far off. I found myself using the iPhone as a paper weight, as a conversation starter, as a compass - to draw circles and occasionally to take calls. None of the calls mattered, since there was no need for a personal loan, 3rd credit card, new bank account or pay a bill 15 days in advance.

Little by little, the iPhone crept into my life, joining gym classes with me and soon finding itself wedged under my pillow when sleep. I bought a leather cover for the phone - like a gladiator protecting his sword from accidental injury and wear and tear; an insurance against accidental damages, the premium for which cost as much as an entry level partphone.

It was after one of those runs in the gym! The pounding of feet on the treadmill could have triggered it. With the eagerness to establish credo, I called the wife to update her on the calorie progress. She needed the input for her math calculation. 2 times the number of calories burnt, divided by 100 and rounded off to the next whole number, were the number of butter-smeared dosas she would prepare. This update was critical to kitchen strategies. I opened the phone and rushed to the favourites' list. And what I see - holy smokes and a 20 pound barbell! The contact list was empty. Vanished! Kaput! Not a single number. No calls could be made. The kitchen math went awry.

Apple tech support said such things should not happen. Like that client who refused to pay after work completion, tech support was being irrational. And I told them so. Toughened glass not withstanding, there were other exposed parts of the iPhone that weren't working. "You are speaking to level 2, SIRR!!" thundered a voice. It felt like a Level 2 voice and the firm believer in numerology in me, did not want to continue the conversation. He promised me, an even higher person from Singapore would call. Apparently iPhones, unlike all the other documentaries-in-design that the fruity one makes, are not under warranty locally. The phone was bought in US so had to be sent back there. She was helpless she said. A 3 months warranty extension was the best she would do.

Logic is mixed up with a bowl of fruit loops - Apple-flavoured to be precise. If an iPhone purchased in India can be fixed or replaced why couldn't those purchased elsewhere be given a similar treatment. Perhaps replaced with one that is of India-specific requirements. "Company policy" said tech support, which is the corporate version of the personal "It wasn't you, it's me".

And I sit here, contemplating if a product so beautiful, is functionally worth the trouble if I can't have it replaced. Maybe, I should have gone with the better half's wisdom - remove the iPhone from under the pillow, pray to the toothfairy and shift to a Samsung phone. After all, Temple Run looks better on her phone and that's where I spend most of my phone time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Economic Times - The Corner Office

    "There is no shortcut to the corner office. Or is there?" went the ad in the paper. 2 hours and a short ride later, sitting in one of the assembly-line cubicles in the big blue building, the question ran across my eyes like an invisible ticker. I had to know the answer. Standing up, the corner office was in clear line of sight. About 30 feet away, shimmering with all its sharp-looking furniture and with all the attention that a wealthy tourist in Bangkok gets. It surely wasn't the corner office I aspired for - this one had the printers, brochures of our products and services and other 'intellectual capital' stacked high as the eye. If there was a shortcut to this office, I didn't care about it. I guess the ads weren't talking of the literal corner offices but the metaphorical ones.

    The advent of HR as an important function made redundant the premise of the ad. Corner offices weren't physically corner offices anymore. Everyone followed an open door policy and on those rare occasions when the senior management wasn't canoodling a client, you could always walk in and take your annual quota of 15 minutes from him or her. This was the childhood equivalent of getting chocolates from the 'America Uncle' whom you barely knew. America Uncle would forget you the moment he set foot on foreign shores. And so will the senior management. But you still had the chocolates. The metaphorical corner office lay not on the x-axis but the y-axis. As one grew in the organization, the floor on which one's office is located goes up by storey-by-storey.

    The ticker ran again in front of my eyes. Economic Times promised that becoming a Young Leader would change things forever. A leading daily and one with strong views on the economy - perhaps they had a view or two about career progression as well. I didn't see myself as a guy in a hurry. 'Give it a shot' said the voice inside. South Indian meals for 40 Rs. at the canteen upstairs - drowned the voice for 4 hours straight. The next morning without much of a thought, I went to the portal and completed the activities. One round followed another and nearly 3 months later the results were out. 22, yours truly included were in the list. A visit to Bombay for the panel discussion and grand dinner ensued. The long-term impact is still too early to be gauged. But in the short term, we had a chance to spend 2 hours talking to some of the top honchos of Corporate India. Completely worth the experience.

    2 days from now I set off to ISB, Hyderabad. 'Accelerated Management Programme' says the word document sent by the program organizer. 'Accelerate' - the old message on the invisible ticker running across my eyes, is replaced with this one word. Maybe this is what I need to step on the pedal. To draw in a little more of fuel from around and get that extra boost of energy. Either ways, I know one thing with certainty - the course alone is not going to change anything beyond being a refresher of what I learnt (or feigned learning) 6 years ago. I look at the Young Leaders as a fantastic platform; one that makes you run faster and with more stamina and certainty towards a goal. There are however, no shortcuts to the corner office.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

To Dosa or not to Dosa

Culinary complexities this side of the Vindhyas are as deep as the number of ways a saree can be wrapped around oneself (assuming ‘oneself’ is a woman). And the epitome of such complexity, more due to diversity than the raw materials constituting it is the humbling dosa. There are many variants to the dosa. The offering changes from home to home and restaurant to restaurant. There’s the smooth-as-Smitha neer dosa from Mangalore, Bangalore’s own rava dosa which comes with the personality of a desert rattle snake, and the ubiquitous masala dosa. Further north we have dosas with a change in the stuffing – the Chinese dosa which makes you wonder if Hindi-Cheeni are really bhai-bhai, dosas with cheese and even dosas with other dosas as stuffing.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ went the Bard. The Bard’s pincode did not belong to Malleswaram, Bangalore or Mambalam, Chennai. If it did, he’d have a deep long look while writing that quote and promptly crush the papyrus into the bin. The way one pronounces a word, more than the word itself, is key to how far you get around within the IT parks that dot the landscape south of the Plateau. There’s the Tamilian dho-sigh¸ which in translations north of the plateau makes you wonder if the dosa is served with the waiter sighing twice, instead of the traditional double chutney. An Iyengar or Iyer would throw in that hint of a nasal twang with the dho-sIgh. In the north, the land of the spring dosas and other such blasphemous dosa progenies, the stress is on the first syllable – DOsa, asserting in typical aggressiveness, their supremacy over the humble batter.

Every state would have its share of legends on the origin of the dosa. The journey from legend to truth is a long one, spanning many generations of potato-fillings for the dosa and newer legends would be formed as often as new variants of sambar are being created. One version talks of how the first dosas were made by nuns in the missionaries in Mangalore. The Kannadiga calls his childhood kitchen sweetheart, dhosey, while his cousins across the Almatti Dam would go dhosa every Sunday morning. At the risk of not being sure, God’s own country and by logical deduction, God pronounce it dho-shy, leaving the spring dosa hunters, to wonder if the Malayali was bitten once, to be shy twice.

The loved are called more often. If recent polls are any indication the dosa will brace itself for many more a-calling. But whatever the tongue, or the marriage of syllables, the stuffing or lack of it, each time the dosa will respond to the calling with the same love as the chef’s twirl of wrist. Shakespeare, perhaps was right. A rose smells just as sweet by any other name.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Walking Tall

It’s been 3 years since I’ve owned an Enfield. Many a ride taken, through rains and skin-scorching sun, many a mile and historic town that has gone past with the all-too familiar thump of splitting the roads. It had to give one day. And it did. 3 weeks ago while nearly 10 km away from home on a wonderful Sunday. I looked around frantically for a mechanic who could fix it. For all the love of the Enfield that I have, I’m not good with tools. I’m more inclined towards the inner beauty of the beast while not capable of prying it open, like a doctor. And so the search took many forms – calls to friends who lived in the neighbourhood to rely on local knowledge, prayers to the almighty to make the best mechanic in town walk that same path I was stranded on, coincidentally and meaningless tinkering of the wiring hidden beneath the casing on the left. Finally, a search on the phone yielded a mechanic who could fix it who would be open on that day in that neighbourhood. Relief was only momentary since in a week there was a breakdown again. The first mechanic had not given it the health check of a specialist but that of a general practitioner.

With the festival week staring ahead, I knew that I’d have to get back to the oldest form of civilization’s travel – on foot. For ten days now I’ve relied on my feet for transportation services. And it feels great. I read somewhere that all it takes to begin a journey is to take the first step. And then another. And then another before the journey is already underway. While that may have been a metaphor, to me it was a literal journey. For a week now I’ve walked to every place I have to go – Java city, the coffee house that’s my home away from home; the grocery store for the day’s calories; the gym to burn away the previous day’s groceries and to meet friends round the corner. It feels great. It’s been 10 days now and the throttle of the Enfield is back where it belongs – on the road. But the break was just what I wanted to remind of the most basic forms of transportation. Sometimes we forget that fitness is just round the corner. We don’t need expensive memberships in the fitness center, we don’t need to go on diets, crash or extended to keep the health ticker moving. All it takes is a good walk.

You know where to begin – take the first step! The road is yours!!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Guru and the Gandhian

Below is a true account. It involves a Gandhian and a guru, interlaced with excerpts of interactions between the two protagonists.

Guru (in response to an earlier unrecorded question, one that can only be hazarded a guess to revolve around the Gandhian’s bad bowels): "Shirshashana can move mountains. And I’m sure what you’re trying to move isn’t much of a mountain – a mound at best! That’s what you get if you don’t follow my ‘Four easy asanas to free bowel movement Movement’"
Gandhian: "Shirishashana, my head! And my foot! They changed positions. As for the Satvik diet – that’s the reason for me to become more expressive with my bowels.”

The Gandhian had it easier than the guru the last few days. On the 21st day of his fast, during which he consumed nothing but water every day, after a breakfast of cornflakes and soya milk and a dinner of samosas, the cops rounded up him and his support group. Further up the country, the guru tried starting a grass-root movement. The event had many reasons for failing, chief among them being the camel fair held a day earlier – there were no grassroots for the followers. Aforementioned cops did their bit. While they were gentle in their prodding of the Gandhian, a midnight raid left the guru and his motley crew of followers, little time to get away. While being dragged and kicked out of the venue, the guru was heard yelling “I like salwar-kameezes and have a crush on Simi Garewal in white!”

With fasts becoming the hippest form of protesting, both thinktanks worked overdrive to find new causes. This was an industry that needed to be guided and nurtured. And soon there were causes – good ones, bad ones, long ones, short ones and one to make fasts faster.

Young men in Haryana fasted to force their government reduce the number of police patrol vehicles past midnight. Sreesanth and his fans fasted to make abusing Australians legal on Indian grounds, before all 3 of them were bundled off by the BCCI. And the top honchos of the consulting world fasted to make .ppt a legal language. In their collective wisdom they came upon protocols for fasting – presented in Times New Roman to a committee including the guru and the Gandhian. They laid out the laws – there shall be no fast longer than 30 days, there shall be no fast shorter than 30 minutes. Fasts can be broken when it rains or if it’s too sunny. And of most importance, all men who fast shall have in their bags a salwar-kameez. Only the purest silk shall do.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Time, Stand Still – Hotel Airlines (Part II)

Everybody needs a home away from home. For many it is a religious center – a temple, a church and for the atheists, their favourite pub with the gods bearing first names Jimi or Bob. For us, and I’ll briefly introduce the “us”, its Hotel Airlines. While starting off on Part I of this blog, the intent was to talk more of the “us”. It was only after the start that it dawned on me – while 4 of us meet at the place regularly, what bonds us was the 5th entity - the place itself. So Part I went in describing the place and the emotions it whips up.

Everybody needs a home away from home. Where they feel welcome and even if they don’t feel welcome, they don’t mind. You can’t be a guest at your own home, can you!? The waiters at Airlines go all-out in ensuring you feel at home. As mentioned earlier, there are lines drawn with wands that separate each waiter’s ‘area’ of tables from the others’. Like a friend puts it, these are Lines of Control and are taken very seriously. Ask something of a waiter from the enemy territory and the cold stare he gives along with the wave of the finger, suggesting “barthaare (he’ll come shortly)”, makes you feel like it’s a happy birthday party in Alaska – in your birthday suit. Few patrons have dared ask twice the same waiter, the whereabouts of his area’s designated man. Once bitten at Airlines and you’d be as shy as a newly-wed on the first night (strictly talking arranged marriages here). Trying to encroach upon another’s territory is like expecting breakfast before the gods have been given their quota of morning calories in an Iyengar household. That’s how much the waiters make you feel at home.

Asking for a tea/2, initiates a series of actions that would be banned in any self-respecting middle-eastern country. The WHO’s executive committee in its collective wisdom would yell out “WOO HOOO” upon spotting the hygiene levels. Empty glasses left in the open make you question authority. But the ones at Airlines start off an entire game of 20Q. The tap plays the role of Director, Make-shift Sink, c/o Massive Tree. Few swirls like those done by a Romanian gymnast later, precise-yet-meaningless, and the water is thrown on the ground you stand on. The waiter then proceeds to quickly split the tea into two. A deft flick of the hand is all it takes. What they miss out on quality, they make up with the metric system. An eye-to-eye check of the glasses, held at mid-riff level is undertaken to ensure both patrons who sought the tea/2 are given equal volumes of the tea.

None of the waiters ever make eye-contact unless provoked or seriously threatened. Their vision settles on a spot of “No Smoking” on a distant wall, easily recognizable by the hoard of smokers under it. Looking at you and acknowledging your presence, is in their books, putting the two of you on an equal plane. He may serve you two and take your money. He may obey a few of your commands and still like you tipping him. But as true as the brew in his hand, he’s superior to you. And he knows it. Waiters of Airlines, take a bow!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time, Stand Still – Hotel Airlines (Part I)

How do you feel the pulse of a city? Of a generation? The clothes they wear; the universities they go to; the language they speak or, a smorgasbord of all those ingredients.

To me, the pulse lies in the eating-joints and the pubs of the city. Not the glitzy, halogen-lit corner quarters in the central business district, but those joints that are known only by word-of-mouth, and rely on old-fashioned switches to let its patrons see each other upon dusk. If you are in Bangalore, Hotel Airlines would top the priority list of must-visits. There maybe other joints of a similar stature but being a loyalist, I would put Airlines on the top of the heap – its position no different from the mish-mash of the ubiquitous carrot and coriander on a rava idli.

There are two ways to get to Airlines – travel down Lavelle Road from Lady Curzon’s Circle on MG Road, taking the first left as you head towards Vittal Mallya Road. Look out for a stream of cars heading in and out of what looks like a park met a parking lot. All cars are vying for one of two things – the fantastic ice-cream at the original Corner House on the left, or those Masala Dosas on the right from Airlines, for which sane men would commit highway dacoities. The other way is to stand on MG Road and ask the nearest pedestrian “Airlines?” with a vigorous shaking of the hand, thumb held high.

If you’re looking to get a feel of the city’s denizens in one single sitting, like that executive summary you are so used to seeing, Airlines is the place. A digression follows.

I remember being asked to dissect a cockroach as part of class 8, Biology labs. The run-up to the section, which had its fair share of excitement due to Royston, resident bully insisting on funding the entire class’ budget of cockroaches on his own over the weekend, was not something I enjoyed. On the day of Endoskeleton Armageddon, Royston failed to turn up with the required quota. I was glad. The attendant, 15 minutes into the class funded the shortage. Thanks to the attendant, I had a dead cockroach in front of me and a rusting scalpel held tightly between my fingers, behind me.

Me: “I don’t feel like killing it”
Evil Teacher: “It’s dead already”
Me: “I’m a vegetarian”
ET: “I didn’t ask you to eat it”
Me: “Waaaaaaaaaah!!” followed by cockroach tears
ET: profanities I would understand one year later

What’s the point of the digression? The need of the class was to draw the inner organs of Mr. Roach, a cross-section of his body if I may.

A similar cross-section of Hotel Airlines, would yield the following:
(a) Students from the commerce and science colleges nearby – 20-somethings talking loudly and animatedly with colour coordinated clothes and streaky hairstyles. They are the ones that bring the brightness to the place.
(b) Middle-aged crowd discussing domestic matters, internal (to their homes) and internal (to the country). Occasionally they do stray across a topic outside of the country, but are soon cut-to-size by the third demographic – pardesis
(c ) Backpackers and working professionals alike, from outside the country – mud-layered clothes, big packs by the side and smaller ones around the waist, experimenting with the menu. (d) Life-members of the local mafia whose typical conversations go “Cox Town naa paathikre, nee Fraser Town paathiko” (http://translate.google.com/#)
But the group that deserves the biggest mention, the most respect (they command it; no choice on that), and extract the maximum bend out of your back by letting you plead are the Airlines’ waiters. The sitting area is marked out by the waiters with magic lines visible only to them. No waiter shall serve you if you aren’t sitting in his quadrant and if your quadrant’s waiter is on a break of a few minutes, you bloody well wait. A full blog on them will shortly follow. They command that too.

Its where we meet thrice a week; we never get bored; the giant figus tree never stops providing shade; the waiters never stop treating us like 2nd rate citizens and we’ll never stop being grateful to them inspite. In a city fast swallowing itself like a black hole, it offers those few square yards that tell you the city and its citizens are still doing fine. And one day when someone’s concrete dreams come to shatter the calm of those sitting under the giant figus tree, hands will be held. The mafia and an old-timer; the average middle-class Bangalorean and a teenager on his first visit to the place and yours truly will do more than post a blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Neta's Rally

The day started with business-as-usual - early morning bus to the factory on the outskirts, a quick 30 minute tea session to start proceedings and a fast-paced 15 min walk to cover the canteen-office distance of 300 meters. The meetings proceeded as usual, with us making all the right sounds – grunts to express displeasure, shrieks to express pleasure, oohs and aahs to express pressure and the well placed sigh to display our empathy towards the client’s problems. Communication, they say is 50% body language. And we did make the right moves in that department too, as two ill-meaning well-rounded consultants were meant to.

Morning turned to noon and lunch turned to high tea. Very soon the 6o’clock bus stared at us waiting to take us back on Route No. 5. The morning journey of an hour would take an hour-and-a-half in the evenings we were forewarned. Forewarned is forearmed and I promptly armed myself with 30 minutes of uncustomary sleep in the bus. Traffic in Bangalore, as in any other city with its BMI, displays a form of chaos by dusk. In another hour or so I expected myself to be transported to the CBD. A good pair of summer shorts was the need of the hour – the impending long weekend gave an opportunity to visit Goa. We grabbed it with both hands and such tight vigour that the opportunity felt violated.

Alas, the return journey from office to home wasn’t meant to be such a breeze in the evening hours. The neta had come. Strategically placed at the heart of the city is the Palace Grounds. To be fair, as all consultants are, Palace Grounds was there before the darn city. The neta had decided now was a good time to have one of those rallies. One of those where each participant gets a biryani and a ‘quarter’. They also get transported, with much fanfare from distance places and get paid for visiting - something on the lines of a symposium at the neighbouring Indian Institute of Science. The trouble began many kilometers away. Vehicular traffic piled up for miles away and many times did a traffic light turn from green to red, before it was our turn to pass.

‘We shall ensure there is excellent infrastructure’ he announced, as the bus ran over one more section of nice road to ensure the potholes were evenly spread.

‘Fuel prices shall be brought within reach of the aam aadmi ’ was the next promise from rote, while 300 vehicles idled at the junction, hoping that the next 10 seconds will turn the signal green, saving them the trouble of turning off and restarting the vehicles.

And while the neta stressed on what his party had done for one community of the population, Hindus and Muslims walked along the narrow open drain whose edges doubled-up as a pathway parallel to traffic, warning each other in the dark of impending gaps.

On a high from the ‘quarter’, the neta’s supporters lit fire-crackers. A kaleidoscope of colours rented the skies. Little did they know that those very hands that lit the firecrackers could bring down a regime. It happened in other countries and it could soon happen here, and THEY could be the agents of change. For now though they walked back through the chaos of traffic. Warm biryani awaited them. It was 2 hours and 30 minutes before we made it to our destination.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Cement Heron

Settling down in the 20 seater wasn't a comforting thing. A bus with 20 seats has its own charm. It makes you want to look at the running scenery to the right and left of the road, maybe start a conversation on advanced knitting techniques with the elderly lady ahead. Its not the same if the 20 seats are a part of an aircraft one of which you will occupy for the next 2 hours. With those thoughts, I boarded the flight, with 4 others from the team - 3 from the client and one other colleague.

A few freefalls @ 30k feet later, we had arrived at Hubli airport - square feet larger than a 3bhk in Mumbai and a lot more airier. The team tread straight away to the jeeps waiting to take us to our destination, the manufacturing plant. 1.5 hours of driving through amazing roads (newly laid out said the client, and surely not for us) and there we were. From what little we had gathered from our representative within the client team, we understood the person we had our day-long discussions, and 1/5th of the traveling party was not the easiest to handle. A grimace and a quick scratch of the stubble later, I joined the team at the supper table. Cooked by the women from Shirhatti, the village 3 km away, which is also from where 60% of the workforce comes from, the supper was worth a grand banquet. Simple in its approach, yet poetic in nutrition.

Our host, a technocrat in his own right, was one with nature, and as he mentioned, in the earlier days of factory, also two with it through the pond nearby. A small banana plantation defined the outer boundaries of the factory, rather unconventional and certainly an eyebrow-raiser if the eyebrow belonged to an EHS auditor. My colleague, who with the enthusiasm of a 3 yr old faced with the prospect of his second candy, ran into the last room adjoining the paddy fields, quickly bucked out of it. Reason - the host with the most mentioned how bats in the middle of the night, blind as is their wont, tend to knock around the windows of the last guest house. I willed myself into the room, left with no choice than that of the weakest kid in the playground paired with the bully by the monkey-pole.

Technocrat himself deserves a plantation full of praise. The factory, unlikely of a large organization as the one I work for (with?), made up for what it lacked in the form of great manufacturing facilities, with the fantastic bonding with nature - all thanks to T. T had most things barring the bare skeleton of the guest house facility, made out of bamboo. Solar light funded the nightly ration of electricity, and strategically placed bamboo covers around the lights (LED, mind it!), hightlighted the curves of the places, boulders as they were. A pond, 20 feet deep and a 100 feet wide was the destination of most rain water in the vicinity. The morning lights had me up in a jiffy, not because of my excitement towards a new place and a new morning but because I didn't sleep at all that night, down with a massive cold. Like Rudolph on morning duty I strolled out of the room and sat myself by the pond. The caretaker brought me my cuppa and I sat there appreciating the laziness of the pond heron, the ibis and their fellow feathered friends. An SLR would have done great justice but the birds themselves seemed media-shy. I very nearly managed to snap a kingfisher in her out-of-bed look but my 3.1 mp phone-camera was no match to his speed.

What I claimed was a baby-eagle, right above our pond (not in photo)

We forgot our purpose of the visit and when T offered an early morning drive to the 12th century Shiva temple nearby, we jumped onto the bandwagon and into the wagon. 10 km of a country drive, interspersed with T's now echoing "THERE's a pair of hornbills" by Magadi lake, which left the hornbills sour and us broad awake were well covered. Its the only place in India where Shiva and Parvathi appear in a human form, riding their bull Nandi, remarked the priest. He also mentioned that he's a direct descendant of the priest who first performed the rites at the temple in the 12th century. Fascinating stories. T's excitement in showing us the architecture of the temple cost him his footwear. The kids nearby had made a nice walk out of it. One of us remarked how its considered lucky to lose footwear in a temple. T's response that they weren't his had me giving him only 50% of the luck as a consolation for best-effort in being callous - he had parked the footwear at the east side of temple, compared to the standard protocol of the front entrance.

A shot of the 12th century temple, 8 centuries late

Mythical creature with the face of a crocodile and the body of a bull. My references to it as Rhino-san fell on deaf ears

The return and quick change of clothes to business formals, hypocritical as it seemed saw us finishing what was a really long day. Great business-cum-pleasure trip in all. My only regret - not negotiating with T, a stay-on-arrival arrangement even after I disengage with this client and not interacting with enough bats the second night.

PS - I've read somewhere that blogs are dead and passe. Doesn't stop me from writing here. Calling this a revival of the blog is akin to saying the Dutch are back in action in the World Cup - cricket. So let the remarks flow and hopefully, I'll rush back for another write-up, right up