Sunday, October 29, 2017

Typing –an essential life skill

   Learning to type was considered an important life skill for anyone in the olden days. Especially among the middleclass. Even if one did not pursue a college education, knowledge of typing could help a young man  get a job as a typist in any company. In addition, If he learnt shorthand he could be a stenographer leading to better job prospects. A whole generation of Tambrahms from Kerala, popularly known as `Palghat Iyers` migrated to Bombay in the mid forties qualified as  stenographers to start their lives as personal assistants to big bosses. Most of them did very well in life.
My first job, was also as a PA to a Gujarathi businessman. In addition to a B.Com degree I had passed the `Typewriting Lower` exams. Since I did not know shorthand I used to take dictations in long hand. My boss was not good at dictating resulting in several drafts before a letter was typed and signed by the boss.
The manual typewriters those days came with different brand names. Most popular was `Remington`. The more sleek looking was the `Olivetti`. The electronic versions of typewriters followed much later.

There were several typewriting institutes in every area of the city having scores of typewriters on which the trainees used to be busy learning the skill. `Clickety clack` sound of the multiple typewriters in an institute accompanied by the bell ringing sound warning the typist that the he had reached the end of the typing space on the paper was like music to the ears. The first lesson one learnt was to type `asdf` with the left hand four fingers followed by `lkjh` using the right hand fingers. This lesson would go on for a couple of days before you were taught to type all the alphabets from ` a to z`. Starting with small passages you typed long passages without looking at the typewriter, picking up speed in the process. When the Instructor felt that you had reached the speed limit of 40 words per minute you were allowed to sit for an exam to earn your certificate.
If you wanted extra copies of the typed matter you used carbon papers between sheets. Every time you made a mistake, you had to retype the whole matter. It was very frustrating. Though later on white correction fluids were available to mask the  mistake and overtype the correct word, it was messy. Typing was undoubtedly a laborious process those days.

On the other hand it amazes me to see the youngsters of today, who never went to a typewriting institute, type furiously on computers using only their two index fingers or using the two  thumbs to key in the messages on their mobiles. I don`t know how they do this. I find even the key board of a PC,  which is  touch sensitive, a  challenge! I tend to overlap the letters  when  I attempt to type with all the fingers. So, like millions of people I have also learnt to type on my PC using the two index fingers.  Keying in messages on my `over smart` mobile phone with only the right index finger, however, continues to be a challenge- with the prompter facility in the phone often  deciding to use words which I had not intended to use. Again like millions I have forgotten the lessons I learnt in the typewriting institute. No wonder the traditional typing institutes have almost vanished from this earth!

This article appeared in the 24-30th September, 2017  issue of Adyar Times under my column `Rajan`s Random reflections`

Monday, October 23, 2017

Grand Buffet Meal Deals

I recently saw an advertisement for a `Grand Buffet Lunch` with over 100 mouth watering dishes from a 4-star hotel and another news item in TOI which talked about how `Grand Buffet Meal Deals` by Hotels are contributing to wastage of food.
Do you know that the Grand Buffet Lunches at an irresistible low price offered on Sundays by many Star Hotels consist of all left over items of the week before?  Pulled out from the Deep freezer, reheated or served cold depending on the dish. This secret was revealed to me by   the General Manager of a star hotel in Pune, whose advertising business I was handling . He also told me that whatever was left over after the Grand Buffet lunch was consigned to the waste bin. I understand that this practice still persists in many hotels.

Even the mind boggling number of dishes served in an abundant `all-you-can-eat` buffet served  by hotels on special occasions or  at Society weddings hugely contribute  to the wastage of food. According to the TOI report  `the guests ate less than half of the food put out on such occasions. Besides stringent Food Safety regulations allow only 10 to 15% of the left-over food to be donated or repurposed resulting in wastage of food. The sizeable waste generated by coffee, juices and other liquids add to the conundrum`

A few weeks ago I was at a wedding in the family of a well-known businessman. The ‘Who`s who’ of Chennai were in attendance. The buffet dinner consisted of  over 100 items classified  into   North Indian, South Indian , Chinese and Continental besides separate counters for Chaats and Salads. The Dessert section alone featured 14 varieties. It was mind boggling. The very sight of such a variety filled up my stomach. Though there were a few youngsters and gluttons in the crowd who were having a field day, my own guess is that most of the guests would not have picked up more  than 15 items. 

In some of the typical South Indian weddings where `Elai Sappadu` (meals served on banana leaves) is served, I find  the habit of pre-serving the items even before the guests are seated abhorring. Apart from the food becoming cold, it does not give an opportunity for the guest to refuse items which he doesn`t like from being served on his plate. . Resulting in a huge quantity of left-over food on the banana leaf at the end of every `Pandhi`. What a waste of food in a country where millions  still don`t get one square meal.
A solution to this problem has been attempted by a community in North India. They have banned their community members from serving more than a certain number of items at weddings and other festive occasions. Those who break the rule are punished. I am told in Germany, guests who order more than what they need in restaurants and waste food are penalized. 

Will it help if the government introduces a  law restricting people from serving more than a certain number of items at marriages? More than any law what will work is self-discipline. I remember a well-known educationist who served only a tasty Biryani with a side dish and a dessert for dinner at the wedding reception of his daughter. At a personal level I do not take more than what I  can eat on my plate. I believe wasting food at home or on social occasions is criminal!

Friday, September 29, 2017


My unforgettable life experiences by  Dr. Palani G. Periasamy
Dr. Palani G.Periasamy is a first generation industrialist, an NRI who came back to India to participate in the growth story of Tamil Nadu by starting several industries and educational institutions. 

In his evolution as an Industrialist  the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Dr.MGR had a catalyst role to play. In view of his close association with him  , there was an opinion in the world of  business and politics that he was the Front Man whom MGR was using  to invest his own money. This led to the author facing a lot of problems in running his industries after MGR passed away and a new Government came into power. All through his turbulent but successful career as an industrialist, Dr. Palani had to face a lot of criticisms from not only  politicians but also from a few  friends who had invested money in his projects, who felt that they were not getting enough returns.

`Periasamy is really enjoying life. He travels in a Benz Car. Politicians, officials, film stars and other VIP s are seen around him in celebrations` would be the crux of the gossips.
` When relentless criticisms were levelled against me , I could not rebut them as that would have opened up a war of words. I decided that through this biography I would  tell the world the full and true story and how I had to fight against all odds to reach the position I have reached today.`

Out of the 283 pages of the text in the book over fifty percent are devoted to the author`s friendship with MGR recalling many interesting experiences with the `Puratchi Thalaivar`. This may be because the inspiration for the book came from  a series of articles that the author wrote  in Dinamalar titled `I & MGR`.
Dr.Palani  met MGR during his first visit to USA as chief minister. As he was the  President of Tamil Sangams of three States in USA,  he  was requested,  by MGR`s friends in India , to coordinate all activities of MGR during his stay in USA. Watching MGR from close quarters Dr.Palani`s  respect and love for MGR grew . He was impressed with his keen commitment to develop Tamil Nadu into a top class state in terms of both industries and education and his humane approach in dealing with people. 

Dr.Palani quotes the instance when MGR refused his  offer to travel in his big car instead of the small car which the Indian embassy official had brought to the airport to  take him to the Hotel where he was staying. MGR responded, ‘I have come at the invitation of the American Government. I will travel by the car sent by them. Here it is the protocol that is important and not a big car or small car’.
On another occasion MGR missed a train to New York from Baltimore because he was busy at the platform talking to a woman who had travelled a long distance with her child, just to meet him.  He justified his missing the train by telling Dr.Palani, “ Doctor! Rail may come and go.  But if I had not spoken to her she would have felt hugely disappointed. Just look at the woman. How happy she was`’ 

It seems that MGR too was very impressed with Dr.Palani`s network , sincerity, frankness and  organising skills.  Before he left USA,  MGR requested Dr.Palani to help start a top class management institution in Tamil Nadu. The establishment of Anna Institute of Management in Chennai  was the first initiative in which the author actively helped the TN Government. Thus began his tryst with Tamilandu and its industrial progress resulting  in his starting a number of industries and educational institutions later.

It was during MGR `s second trip to USA when he was in  the Brooklyn Hospital undergoing treatment after a Kidney transplant that Dr Palani  faced a major crisis in his life. As a good friend he was actively helping MGR and his team during their stay in the hospital. Back home it was election time and the opposition started spreading the rumour that MGR was dead and that his body was kept in an ice box by Dr.Periasamy.  Not knowing the true facts his family back home was also very upset. The rumour had the potential of  making  AIADMK lose the elections.  Periasamy, then decided to shoot a video film, showing MGR in action in the hospital room, depicting him perform  his normal activities, establishing that MGR was recovering well.  This video was widely screened across Tamil Nadu turning the electoral scene in favour of AIADMK. The Video tape really created  history in Tamil Nadu

Dr.Palani was born to Palani Gounder and Palaniyammal in 1939 as the first male heir of the family at Muthugapatti near Namakkal in Tamilnadu. His father was deep into farming and agriculture oriented industries. Dr.Palani credits his father for  inspiring him to help others who are in need as a credo in his life.
 He did his schooling in Sendamangalam High School , 5kms from his village. He did his first college stint in Alagappa Arts College in Karaikudi and later at St. Joseph`s college, Trichy where he passed B A Economics with flying colours. This  helped  him get an easy entry  into  Presidency College, Chennai to do his MA in Economics. In Presidency college he got involved with the Students Union of the college where his leadership qualities and organizing skills brought him close to many politicians of the time including K.Kamaraj, the then Chief minister of Tamil Nadu. 

`As a student leader I had the good fortune of being associated with several industrialists, educationists, social workers and other VIPs  which proved to be a turning point in my life. My  latter day successes in life was the result of the rich experience I gained in Human  relations as a student leader` says Dr.Palani.
After failing in his attempt to join the Indian Administrative Services, though he had lucrative offers from a few private  companies, he decided to join P.S.G.Arts College in Coimbatore as a teacher as  he realized that  teaching was his first love. Later he joined the Tagore Govt. Arts College in Puducherry, where he rose quickly  to become an Asst Professor. He was only 25. When his efforts  to get a doctorate  in India failed he decided to go to USA to pursue his dream.  He earned a Phd from the University of Pittsburg in Economics in 1969 after which he joined the Washington  college as an Asst Professor. He was to become a very successful educationist during his stint as a popular Professor between 1969 and 1987. He was  also earning good mone
It was during his stay in Baltimore that he initiated the `Tamil Nadu Foundation of USA` of which he became the Founder President. The Foundation encouraged the NRI Tamils to donate money to the Foundation ` to extend assistance to the health and education sectors in Tamil Nadu`. His success with the Foundation as a leader led him to  start the Federation of Tamil Associations in North America ( FETNA). Before returning to India, motivated by MGR, he had also started a company ` Mid-Atlantic Associates` and invested in hotels, shopping malls etc. and earned sizable profits not only for himself but other friends who had invested money in his company. He did not realize at that time that this experience would lay the  solid foundation for his becoming a leading industrialist in Tamil Nadu, later. His move to Chennai to start industries was largely because of the incentives offered by  MGR. 

Dr.Palani says, `A portion of funds invested in my business was from my own earnings. The rest was from the Tamils living in America who had faith and trust in me. Unfortunately, those who did not know the facts  spread  rumours that MGR had been my source of funds` 

His first industrial venture was Dharani Cements followed by Dharani Sugars. His foray into educational field started with  PGP Arts College   which  was followed by PGP College of Engineering, PGP Polytechnic College, PGP College of Education , Dharani International School, Dharani Matriculation High School and PGP International School.

It was MGR again who goaded him to  start a Star Hotel of International standard in  Chennai. Though the initial idea of starting a joint venture with the Tamil Nadu  Govt. failed because of the political developments after MGR`s demise, Dr.Palani went ahead and started  the `Le Meredian Hotel in 2000 on his own with support from friends. `Le Meredien` proved to be one of the very successful ventures of the PGP group leading him to start another `Le Meredien Hotel` in Coimbatore.

From Muthugapatti to Washington, from a teacher to a leading industrialist, Dr.Palani`s life story is both interesting and inspiring.

 Published by Vanathi Parhippakam, the original biography  in Tamil  was written by Dr.Palani  in association with the Tamil writer Rani Maindan and it has been translated into English by the bi-lingual writer Charukesi.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Call Drivers

  Call Taxies and Call drivers have become an integral part of our lives these days. This article is about the ubiquitous Call Drivers who have become  essential service providers to all those, particularly senior citizens like me, who own cars but do not have the confidence to drive their cars because of poor reflexes and weakening eye sight.
 I had resisted the temptation to hire the services of call drivers for a long time because of a sense of insecurity I felt in hiring them. I did not like the idea of all kinds of strangers coming home and also the thought that my car would be ruined in the hands of such drivers with their varying driving skills was unnerving. However, when  my part time driver quit his job and I found that I don`t need the car every day, I was reluctant but compelled to start using the services of call drivers.  Looking back I realize that over 90 different drivers have had the pleasure of ‘raping` my car in the last one year. A few of them repeatedly.  Yes, that is how I feel every time a driver doesn`t handle the clutch and  gear system properly. As a person familiar with the rules of correct driving, it is a painful experience to sit helplessly in the backseat of the car , when the driver is mishandling your  car.

The service provider whom I have been using claims to have over 1500 experienced drivers on his roll and has given me satisfactory service so far. Except once in the last one year, the drivers generally have arrived five minutes before time. And those who don`t know the area where I live, call me and ask for directions. It helps that most of the drivers have their own two wheelers which enables  them to reach their customer`s place on time.

The drivers not only come in different sizes, shapes, driving skills but also some with irritating habits. There is a Carnatic music fan, who  starts  listening to the music from  his `Thumb Drive`    which he will plug into the audio system as soon as he is ready to drive. If by mistake you ask him `who  the singer is?`, he will start waxing eloquent about Carnatic music, assuming that you are also interested in his favourite passion. Another driver , in his fifties, has this habit of driving very close to the median.  So close  that I would be worried that he might hit the median any time. When I question him on this bad habit, his response, `If I leave a gap some stupid driver will try to overtake me saar, and  I don`t like anybody overtaking me when I am driving!` This guy also has the weird habit of  showing signs with his hand to cars coming from the opposite direction, sitting inside an air conditioned car!

While most of them are the quiet type who hardly talk, there are a few given a chance ,  will start revealing their whole  life story . I don`t mind such types because I pick up ideas for my stories from such talkative drivers. Some who are gossip mongers  happily narrate interesting anecdotes from the lives of a few celebrities whose cars they drive frequently and so  the list goes on.

Whether I like it or not I have learnt to live with the services of call drivers whenever I have to go out in the evenings or travel to distant  places wading through heavy traffic during the day.

This article appeared in Adyar Times issue dt 17-23rd September,2017 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Live for 100 years

`Live for 100 years` is a blessing commonly bestowed  on youngsters by elders. The expression is also used by people whenever they receive an unexpected call or meet someone suddenly.

 “You will live for hundred years- I was just thinking about you and you called.!” Almost every other day, all my life, I have been getting such a response from some one or the other when  I contact them on the phone; or  visit them  without appointment. It looks like I have telepathic ability which is constantly at work. While I used to be happy receiving such blessings when I was young, these days I resent it. I tell my well wishers not to curse me with long life but to wish me a healthy life as long as I live. I have a reason for a change in my attitude.

It is a known fact that because of advanced medical facilities enabling early diagnosis and treatment of diseases, the average life expectancy of people has gone up. From the obituary pages of newspapers you will notice that the average age of people dying of natural causes is   over 80. And there are many who are over 90 years.

 Many senior citizens today have begun to have a healthy second innings post retirement from a career job and are following their passions and live longer. However, it is impossible for them  to stop the natural ageing process leading to  old age related health issues. In spite of their efforts to keep themselves fit and busy with activities we find many old people are afflicted with dreaded ailments like  Dementia, Alzheimer, Parkinsons, etc.  Such diseases not only reduces them to a pitiable state but also imposes tremendous strain on the care givers in the family. I am a witness to many such instances of elders over 80 years among my close friends and relatives giving tough times to their family members. Such care givers, in spite of the love they have for the elders in the family, cannot but pray for the early exit of their dear ones. It is heart wrenching indeed.

 The well to do in our society can afford to appoint full time professional caregivers or admit their elders into old age homes or hospices providing good  care facilities at a cost.  However, it’s the middle class people staying in cramped apartments without the financial resources who suffer the most. Life becomes hell for such families.

I have always felt that those old people who die of sudden cardiac arrest  or those who go to sleep but don`t wake up in the morning are truly blessed people. One day they are alive and  active and the next day they are gone without imposing any burden on their families.

During  my active working days I used to Pray; `God! Give me lots of problems and the courage to face them… make my life interesting`. These days I pray; ` God! Please take me with my shoes on…. when I am still active and useful to society`. I don`t want to be a burden on my family with protracted illness of any kind.
Will God listen to my prayers? Only He knows.

This article appeared in the Adyar Times Issue dated 10-16thSeptember,2017 under my column `Rajans Random reflections`.

Feedback welcome on 9840392082 or

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Brindavan Express

Traveling by Brindavan in the A/C chair car between Chennai and Bangalore, used to be my favourite mode of transport to visit Bangalore. This was before the two A/C coaches were detached from the train,  a couple of years ago to promote the use of fully air conditioned, less expensive  `Double Decker` trains.

One enduring memory I have of the Brindavan express, as a foodaholic ( I was one in my younger days!) is the parade of vendors from the pantry car, selling a variety of mouth watering snacks, which I could hardly   resist! While in  the Shatabdi,, where the caterers mechanically serve you fixed items, often unpalatable, at appointed times with clockwork efficiency; the vendors in Brindavan were more human, friendly and very hard working. Imagine having to walk up and down the aisles of the coaches hundreds of times in a day, holding the tray of snacks on one hand and balancing themselves, by holding on to seat tops with the other hand. That too in an undulating train, running at high speed .And doing this day after day, for a living. Great guys! Hats Off to them.

Now coming to the food items …If you were catching the morning Brindavan from Chennai to Bangalore, the first items to appear would surely be the traditional breakfast menu: Idli or Pongal with Vadai (invariably cold and hard because the items must have been prepared the previous night), served with insufficient, watery and sometimes stale coconut chutney.

If you have the patience to wait for the next round of snacks, which could well be “Hot Masala Dosa” or “Hot Bread Omelet”, then you are assured of a better fare. But the chap would insist on serving a minimum of two dosas at-a-time, with a generous serving of fresh chutney. My favorite was Omelet and Bread with a packet of tomato ketchup; my second breakfast in two hours.

Obviously there are many more hungry people like me on the train, who were not satisfied with even two  breakfasts. So from about 9.30 am there would be  a parade of vendors selling Vazhakai (raw banana) Bajjis, Chilly Bajjis, Cutlets, Masala Vadas, Garam Bondas or Samosas  not to forget ready snacks, like biscuits, Lay’s chips etc.

They kept  coming back  again & again until I was  tempted to try just one Bajji or one Cutlet, just for tasting them,  you know?! But the smart vendor  insisted  that a plate came  with a minimum of three Bajjis or three Cutlets. They had a target to meet, you see!.Needless to say, I invariably fell into this trap and had my third breakfast.

I always admired  the guys who went  around selling tea or coffee in the train. The way they balanced the hot steel containers between their legs, leaning on the side of the seat, adding a spoon of Nescafe and sugar into the cup and then filling it up with the watery milk from the container to give you a hot cup of a concoction called Coffee! No wonder the term “train coffee” or “train tea” have become synonymous with bad coffee or tea!

Though the food items continue to be available on the Double Decker trains, its cramped seating makes it one of the most uncomfortable trains to travel.  Shatabdi, though fast & comfortable, provides no choice when comes to food items. Any day I will vote for the re- introduction of the two A/C chairs cars in the Brindavan Express. It had a charm of its own!

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Corner “Annachhi Kadai”

                After nearly two months I was visiting Mahalaxmi stores, a grocery shop which has been in existence for over 40 years close to my home. I was pleasantly surprised to see the complete transformation of the shop. From a typical  `hole in the wall` kind of shop with an open counter manned by the shop owner and his assistant , it has now become a closed  air conditioned shop. Instead of the crowded interior with products lying haphazardly, it now had all the products stocked & displayed on neatly laid shelves offering an opportunity for the customers to help themselves. But the customers can have a choice of only the pre packed items in different SKU`s (pack sizes) and pay the MRP mentioned on the packs. 
In his earlier avatar, the assistant would take the order, weigh the exact quantity required on a weighing machine, pack it in a portion of a newspaper converted into a conical paper bag, close it and wrap it around with a white string pulled from a bundle on a rod hanging from the roof. Once all the ordered items were assembled he would list them on a white blank sheet held in a pad with a clip, mark the prices and add the amounts using a pocket calculator lying next to the cash counter. Even if there are only two items, he would use the calculator. He would exchange  this `Bill` for cash and hand over the items in a plastic bag.
 One of the advantages of shopping in such a store was the facility to touch and feel the products, be it  rice, pulses or any other item which needs to be felt, before you were satisfied with the quality and place the order. The shop also accepted orders on phone with assured door delivery and monthly payment  facility for those who opted for it.

Today the calculator has been replaced by a computer with the necessary software suitable for retail operations, which also helps  in getting  printouts of  the bills for the customers. The small 200 sq.ft shop also has four CCTV cameras which are monitored at the cash counter by the owner. While the air conditioned shop offers shopping convenience, the flip side of the self help system is that you tend to buy much more than what you came to buy. Good for the shop keeper , not so good for the customers. This is probably one idea adopted by the small shops to counter the onset of many branded department stores in and around our area.
 I remember,  my visits to such stores on Sundays  when on my return home, I was guaranteed  to get admonished by my wife for buying many items  which were not in her list. She would bitterly complain about my wasting money and also adding to her workload. All the joy I derived from shopping would be dissipated in no time.

Almost all the grocery stores run by Nadar Annachis or  the Muslim Bhais in my area  continue to exist  serving  the poorer people who shop  on a day to day or weekly  basis buying  items in smaller quantities, while the well-heeled citizens patronize the more up market department stores or even buy online; a trend catching up in a big way with the younger generation.

Does the Corner grocery store have a future? Only time can tell.

This article appeared in Adyar Times Issue dt. 6-12th August,2017 under my column `Rajan`s random Reflections`