Saturday, December 24, 2011

Talent is inherent

I believe that every human being has an inherent talent. It could be in the form of creative arts, sports, hobbies or some unusual activity which makes the person stand out in a crowd.

Super Star Rajnikanth, won the hearts of his fans with his crazy mannerisms- like his talent for throwing a cigarette up in the air and capturing it in his mouth with a flair. There are others who walk backwards or stand on one leg for a long time or sing in both male and female voices. Many others specialize or cultivate such a talent for winning awards or breaking records or just for their self satisfaction.

As a person who had been involved with the creative business of advertising for over four decades, I have had the pleasure of identifying and encouraging scores of talented people who have done very well in their chosen field of activity.

I remember Kumar, a boy of 12 and a son of the maid servant in our company. He used to spend his evenings in the studio of our office lending a helping hand to the artists who were working overtime. During his spare time, instead of idling, he would sit on an empty artist chair and doodle some drawings. Realizing that the boy had a flair for drawing, I made him a trainee artist. The boy took to the job like a duck to water and blossomed into a very fine artist becoming a junior visualiser and later venturing on his own as a freelance artist.

Another friend’s son who graduated as a lawyer, took to creative writing as a hobby which eventually became his career. He is today a Creative Director in one of the top advertising agencies in the country.

One of the best known examples of a person who discovered his talent in his mid forties and changed his career was David Ogilvy – the advertising legend who masterminded some well known advertising campaigns in the Sixties and Seventies. Until the age of 44, he was a Chef in a French Restaurant.

Age is no barrier for discovering one`s talent. One of my maternal uncles became a prolific writer of couplets in Tamil, after he turned sixty. Another cousin started displaying his artistic talent, as a painter, post retirement. One of my bosom pals- ‘Chaddi Dost’ or `Jaddi Buddy` as they say up North, has blossomed into a writer of Tamil poems at the age of 70. He writes on all kinds of topics.

I started writing my autobiography at the age of 65 and published it two years later. Thanks to the encouraging response I got for my style of writing, I am slowly evolving into a writer of short articles on a wide variety of topics. I am thoroughly enjoying my new identity as an author and writer!

I am proud to say that all the members of my family, including my grand children are talented. Hope atleast one of them reaches the World Stage during my lifetime! Needless to say that it requires somebody in the family to spot the talent inherent in a child and nurture it. Invariably it is the mother of the talented child who dons that role in any society. Though in the case of Cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, it was his brother who took on the mantle, sacrificing his own career as a cricketer!

Does everybody with talent get recognition from society? Are they able to use their specific talent to come up in life?

Unfortunately the answer is an emphatic `NO`. All said and done, in the pursuit of a secure career, many children are forced by their parents to graduate in subjects they may not be really interested in. With the result that the child`s inherent talent for something goes unrecognized. The concept that a talent could become a lucrative career has still not found favour with a majority of the Indian parents who prefer to play it safe with their children`s careers! What a pity!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life Without Responsibilities

I received the following mail from a friend who is an NRI parent, and who has recently moved into an upmarket senior citizen`s home with her husband after deliberating on the move for several months.

"We have settled well at Clasic Kudumbam. The atmosphere is friendly and healthy. The day starts with a morning walk in the pleasant surroundings. After an early lunch [very delicious] .we read books or browse through them. After some rest we have our afternoon tiffin/coffee.
By 4p.m we have yoga class and group recitation of shlokas on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; a discourse on Bhagavat Gita for 1hr on Sunday. We made some new friends. What else we want at this age. The Bank officials bring cash and collect cheque from us. I feel life has become very easy, free of worries and I thank God for that…"

My mother-in-law, a highly independent woman who died at the ripe age of 89, spent the last six years of her life in a good Senior citizen home. I would bring her home for a week every month in the early years. One day, she apparently told my driver; “I don’t know why my son-in-law brings me home every month. I am very happy in the home with a lot of new friends to talk to and I am free to do what I like. Here I spend the whole day only watching TV or listen to music. Everybody is so busy…!

I also met a few others from that Home, many of whom had sold their properties or rented out their homes to settle down in the well run Senior citizen Home. Here they not only made new friends but also indulged in hobbies for which they had no time earlier. Even the few, who felt bad initially, began to enjoy the new environment later. All of them agreed it was a comfortable life without the day to day responsibilities and problems faced when living alone.

No problem of running after the “hard-to-get” plumber, electrician, carpenter, or the ordeal of wading through the heartless traffic of the city to visit the bank, post office or other places; or living in fear of unscrupulous elements who have started attacking senior citizens staying alone in cities like Chennai.

Though some of them had their children living in the same city, still preferred to move into a Senior Citizen Home as they did not want to burden their children looking after them on a day to day basis. With the joint family system breaking down and nuclear families being the norm these days, old people find themselves to be of nuisance value to their children. There are also cases of old people who don’t have the energy or mindset to look after their grand children with office going parents. Obviously the old values are changing where people, both young and old, are becoming more self centered.

Though some children do not want their parents to live in a Senior Citizen`s Home because of the social stigma attached to it, many old people who can afford convince their children and move out to lead an independent life. They are content if their children are in touch with them regularly on the phone or visit them in their homes whenever they find time; and if they have energy to travel, also attend family functions where they can touch base with other relatives.

It is no more a stigma on the children if their parents voluntarily choose to stay in senior citizen homes which provide them the necessary independence, comfort and the company of new friends with similar backgrounds.

Senior Citizen Homes with attached hospices or with facilities for providing full time attenders are alternatives which can be considered by working couples who have old and infirm people who need constant help and attention. (People who try to hire such attenders to look after bed ridden old folks at their own homes have to contend with the idiosyncrasies of such attenders who not only add to the tension with their unreasonable demands but who sometimes take off without warning, leaving the family in lurch!)

No wonder, in order to cater to the growing number of senior citizens who want to lead a carefree and independent life in the company of like minded friends, scores of senior citizen homes are sprouting up all over the country. According to a report there are 4000 dwelling units in various retirement homes across India which may see a five fold jump in the next three years! While there are enough such Homes coming up to look after the economically well off senior citizens, such facilities are woefully lacking for middle and lower class people. A lot more could be done by the Govt or NGOs with support from corporate sector in this area..

Having visited a few such homes and seen the good times that many of the inmates are having, I would say it is an option worth considering by people who have reached the end of their useful lives and who are financially independent; to spend their twilight years in peace and contentment.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hobby as a First Love

The other day when I returned home from work, I saw my wife standing in front of one of the few hundred potted plants we have around our independent house in Chennai. She looked very upset.

I asked her what had happened. Pointing to a dead flowering plant, she said, ‘This jasmine plant is dead, in spite of my best efforts it did not survive’. Even personal tragedies do not bring tears to her eyes – but when the plants that she lovingly nurtures die, she gets very upset.

Her passion for gardening as a hobby is legendary in our family circles. I always tease her that her first love is gardening – everything else is secondary.

Over the last 30 years that we have been living in our own house, she has managed to grow hundreds of flowering plants, and other green plants. We have over six varieties of jasmine (Malli) :-Nithya Malli, Pavala Malli, Mullai, Jadi malli, adukku malli, & gundu malli, and over forty varieties of crotons and scores of colorful Hibiscus, Exora and Arali plants; flowering plants with no fragrance.

We even have fruit bearing trees – Sapota (chikku), Guava, Lemon sized Japanese oranges (called Kungfat) besides a coconut tree, banana tree, mango tree and even a drumstick tree!

In the absence of a regular gardener, my wife tends to each plant herself. Every morning she goes around the compound checking, trimming, weeding, cleaning and generally looking after the plants. Spending nearly 60 to 90 minutes on this particular activity.

Though we have a (ubiquitous) Velaikari’ (part time maid servant) who is supposed to water the plants, you can see my wife herself watering the plants if the velaikari does not turn up or if she is not satisfied with the job done by the maid. Whenever we travel she constantly worries whether the maid has watered the plants or not. Almost akin to how pet owners worry about their pet dogs or cats when they are away on tour.

As soon as we return from any tour, the first thing she will do is to go round inspecting the plants as if saying “Hey Guys, I am back to look after you!” There is a perceptible difference in the appearance of the plants as well; those drooping suddenly seem to perk up! I wonder if there is any truth in the belief that plants can also communicate with their patrons.

In the morning she has to pluck flowers for Puja, and in the evening she is kept busy collecting Nithya malli (jasmine) flower growing on our terrace. Come rain or sunshine she spends about 60 minutes every day plucking these fragrant flowers (nature`s aphrodisiac) and spends another 30 minutes tying them on a string to make a nice ‘maala’ for her hair or for use in the Puja room the next day.

I remember the year 1988 when my wife and I had gone on a holiday to USA and Canada. While shopping in a Mall in New York, she insisted that we buy a long hose pipe fitted with ‘start’ & ‘stop’ control mechanism, to avoid wastage of water, since such a device was not available in India. On our return journey one of the check-in bags contained only the ‘hose pipe’!

Like all women who are crazy about gardening, when we visit friends and if she finds a garden around the host`s house, she will go on an inspection tour of the garden before she has even said ‘hello’ to the host! Invariably, the host pleased with the guest`s interest in his/her hobby, will gift away a few plants which she would then promptly place in a pot and nurture carefully until it catches on. But when she tries to pluck saplings from plants in public gardens, where plucking of flowers and saplings is prohibited, I feel embarrassed. Invariably, I also find that she is not alone in this act. There are other equally gardening crazy women stealthily plucking and hiding the items in the folds of their Saris!!

After having fulfilled her responsibilities as a grandmother and helping her daughters during their `deliveries’, nowadays, my better half is comparatively free. So she indulges herself with a vengeance in her hobbies. In addition to gardening, she also finds time for reading,, music and writing. Time permitting, she looks after a retired husband who spends more time idling and grumbling about real and imaginary health problems.
My wife knows that an `Idle mind is a devil`s workshop and her hobbies help keep her mind and body active!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grand Sweets

Grand Sweets! The well known Sweet and Savory shop in Chennai has split. Instead of a unique, single point meeting ground for thousands of people, this landmark in Adyar, Chennai has now split into two units with same name, at the original venue. This is a result of a split between the two daughters of the founder of Grand Sweets (bagapirivinai!). Now branches of these two split units (both in the name of Grand Sweets) are appearing all over the city and I understand are likely to spread to other parts of Tamilnadu.

It is common in the world of popular eateries and restaurants to open branches to exploit the huge potential that a good brand name offers. It happened with McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KCF), Starbuck Coffee House, etc. all of which started in USA and spread all over the world. It is happening in our country with brands like Coffee Day, Barrista, Saravanas, Sangeetha & Adyar Ananda Bhavan. The last one is known by the same name not only in Adyar but other places in Chennai, different parts of Tamilnadu and Karnataka!

But the way it has happened with Grand Sweets has broken my heart. I have no objection to the family opening any number of branches, anywhere in the world. But it pains me to see the venerable institution split into two with a separation wall (like the one in the Ambuja Cement TV commercial) at the place of origin! Though a branch of Grand Sweets has come up very close to where I live, I still like to go to the original venue located on II Main Road in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, as the staff at the branch are not as friendly and nor are they aware of some of the famous items of GS. Like my favorite U/ K Mavu (Urundai Kuzhambu Powder) with which one can make the delicious Urundai More (Buttermilk) Kuzhambu or even Paruppu Usili!

Shri (Late) Natarajan Chettiar started Grand Sweets at his spacious residence in 1982 with a vision to supply top quality sweets and savouries to the neighbourhood. Over the years it had grown by leaps and bounds to become a “must visit” shopping point for any visitor to Chennai (within the country or even from abroad). For the Kai Murukku, Thenghuzhal or a host of other crunchy savouries and delcious sweets that GS offered. All made with fresh refined oil and pure desi ghee by very experienced `Mamis` and `Mamas`. Providing consistently excellent quality and taste, justifying the little extra one paid for every item.

People within the city visited Grand Sweets also for their very tasty (and free) prasadam that was distributed to all visitors in the morning and in the evening; every day without fail! On Mondays it was Melagorai (Pepper rice), Tuesdays – Rava Kesari, Wednesdays – Bisibele (Samabar Rice), Thursdays – Venn Pongal (Lentil Rice), Friday – Chakkara Pongal (Sweet Rice), Saturdays –Puliyodaraai (Tamarind Rice) and Sundays the ubiquitous Thayir Sadam ( Curd rice).

I have been a customer of GS since the time it started. I would invariably visit Grand Sweets around the prasadam time only to discover that I was not alone. One would find well known personalities of Chennai, waiting near the prasadam counter to literally grab the dhonnai (cup made of leaves) from the tray of prasadam placed at the counter. Some of them would feel very embarrassed to find themselves caught red handed in the act. But who cared? The delicious prasadam, which was not for sale, justified the little extra effort required to grab them!

I have bumped into long lost friends at Grand Sweets. Many of them NRIs or parents of NRI children, who had come in to buy several packets of rice mixes, pickles and savouries to be taken abroad. I used to take half a suitcase full of these goodies for my son and his friends when he was living in the US.

In spite of the hot and humid atmosphere (because of the asbestos roofing), there would always be a crowd at the Grand Sweets right from 8a.m; when they opened for business. The crowd began to grow during afternoons when they started serving tiffin items like ‘Kuzhi Paniyaram’ and ‘Adai Aviyal’. This part of the business had grown so big that almost every Grand Sweets branch now has a `make shift` restaurant serving a variety of tiffin items with some branches even serving mini meals during lunch time. But I have already started hearing murmurs about the declining quality of savouries from old and loyal customers, which does not augur well for the institution.

No wonder that the main venue does not have much crowd these days. Even the air-conditioned branches are attracting much lesser crowd than what a famous brand like GS should attract. So have the calculations of the family members; that by dividing the property and increasing the number of branches; they can multiply their profits have gone horribly wrong? Some experts should advise them that unless the quality and service is the same in every branch, the brand is bound to suffer .

Will the disputing family consider breaking the dividing wall and restore the GS to the original venue as it was before the partition? They should not be surprised if the crowds start teeming back to the place from all over Chennai and even from abroad, for the sheer joy of not only shopping at GS, but also for the possibility of meeting old friends; and of course for the delectable prasadams offered every day!

I hope it is not just a wishful thinking of an old loyal customer of GS!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Every religion has its festival time. Christians celebrate Christmas & New Year with great fanfare. Muslims have Ramzan and Bakrid which they celebrate with a lot of religious fervor; Sikhs and Jains even have a few festivals coinciding with the Hindus.

But Hindus have more religious festivals than others to propitiate the countless gods and goddesses that they worship. India is supposed to have 25,000 Melas celebrated across the country. These Melas invariably coincide with local temple festivals in different States or specific religious occasions attracting thousands of devotees ranging from a few thousands to several Lakhs. The biggest among them being the Kumbh Mela which attracts over 10 crore people to Allahabad every 12 years!

Hindus also have a number of festivals celebrated at the family level. Apart from the mandatory New Year celebrations they have Krishna Jayanthi to appease Lord Krishna, the fun loving Lord whose advice to Arjuna in the battlefield in Mahabaratha gave us the Bhagavad Gita. Ganesha, the elephant god, very popular across India, has Ganesh Chaturthi dedicated to him which is celebrated with music and dance for 10 days in Maharashtra and many other parts of India. Similarly Navaratri is celebrated in different forms in different regions. While exhibition of dolls (Kolu) dominates the festival in Tamilnadu, it is Durga Puja in Bengal and Garba in Gujarat. Of course, Diwali the festival of lights is celebrated with firing of crackers across the country and in which members of other religions also participate.

When I was growing up in Mumbai, the children used to look forward to this festival because of the fun and excitement associated with it. Diwali used to be a special occasion which the locals, particularly the Gujaratis, used to celebrate for three days. For Gujarathis, Diwali also marked the beginning of a New Year.

In our family, as for most South Indians, Diwali is a one day affair. The night before Diwali; my mother would apply kumkum and turmeric powder on all the new dresses to be worn by every member of the family and neatly arrange them in the Pooja room along with some packets of Diwali crackers. In the morning, she would wake up the kids by 3.30 am so that all of them could have their Ganga Snanam (oil bath) and wear the new dresses before sun rise. Before the bath, all the children and elders in the house would be asked to sit in a row on the floor in front of the pooja room and my mother would apply a dash of hot gingelly oil, kumkum and turmeric powder on the forehead, hands and feet and then perform arati; before anyone was allowed to have his/her bath. While doing this she would also explain the significance of the rituals to the kids. Then there would be a scramble to get into the single bathroom; as the kid who managed to have a bath; get dressed and fire the “pattas” (electric crackers) first was considered a `hero` or `heroin` in the colony! Invariably the noise generated would wake up the entire neighborhood, if they were not already awake!

Then it would be time for tasting the special Diwali savories and sweets that my mother would have prepared with lots of love and keeping in mind the special preferences of different members of the family. Later on the family members would visit the neighbors to wish them for Diwali asking the question `Ganga Snanam Acchha? (Have you had the sacred bath?); and to exchange sweets. Diwali was also the occasion when youngsters would seek the blessings of the elders by prostrating before them wearing their new dresses.

It is sad that modern day kids are being brought up by the overstressed parents without exposure to several of the fun rituals associated with Indian festivals. When I ring up my children, who all have their own families now, to wish them Happy Diwali at 7.30 in the morning, I find that it is a wake up call I am giving them as the whole family is taking it easy being a declared public holiday.

Thanks to the propaganda against crackers which creates atmospheric and noise pollution, even the modern day children are not as excited about firing crackers as we were in our times! With many of the popular Sweet and Savories shops offering readily packed sweets and savories special for every festival, most of the young mothers take the easy way out, buying such packets, instead of spending time in the kitchen. It is the same story with most of the festivals.

I feel sorry that the modern day kids are growing up without any knowledge of our tradition and culture! But I suppose each generation has to live with the changing values and priorities of the next generation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home Away from Home

I am a hard core loyalist! Be it my favorite barber, tailor, grocery store, travel agent, medical shop or any one providing any form of service; I tend to be loyal to the one who gives me consistently good service. I have even been a loyal husband to my wife for the last 40 years!!!

When it comes to Hotels, I am fiercely loyal to specific hotels in each city. These hotels are like “Home-away-from-home” for me! I am sure many modern day executives, travelling almost 15 days a month on work would have their own preferred hotels, where they feel at home! Of course this is completely different from the several `Chinna Veedus` that many of our politicians boast and also unlike the proverbial wives sailors are supposed to have in every Port that their ship calls on!


When I go to Mumbai on official work, I love to stay in Hotel Hilltop at Worli. A nondescrepit, unimpressive looking building; it appears more like an apartment complex. Started in the early Sixties, Hilltop became famous for “The Hell”; the first Discotheque in the country. At some stage it went into the hands of the Underworld and became notorious for its shady activities. It also got embroiled in a court case and was closed down for a number of years.

After a change in management, Hilltop is a mid-level business hotel today; very popular among pharmaceutical and other companies for conducting regular monthly/quarterly residential sales conferences. It has neither restaurant nor an attached bar. The buffet breakfast, lunch or even dinner is served in one corner of the lobby of the Hotel. The rooms; some with a sea view, are well appointed with all the modern facilities that a three star hotel offers. The room service is excellent and the staff is very cordial.

I have always felt like a special guest because of the friendly approach of the staff at the reception desk! Even when the hotel is full, I have managed to get a room allotted to me at short notice as I am a regular customer. In fact the roof top room (meant for the Manager) was allotted to me for a day on one occasion!

The icing on the cake, of course, is the beautiful Worli Sea-Face, which is just 2 minutes walk from the hotel. Being somewhat health conscious, I am addicted to my morning walks. It is a great pleasure walking on the footpath; running along the parapet wall separating the Arabian sea and the road.

Any day, my first choice of a hotel in Mumbai will always be Hotel Hilltop!

* * * * * * * * *

When it comes to Coimbatore it has always been Hotel City Tower, on Sengupta Street located bang opposite the old landmark; Hotel Alankar. City Towers is a nine storied hotel with decent rooms and basic amenities to satisfy a business executive travelling on a budget. I have been patronizing this hotel from the time it started its operations in the early eighties.

There is an interesting story about the origin of this hotel. The owner of the hotel, a Kerala Muslim who had made his millions doing business in the middle East was on a visit to Coimbatore on work. He went to the most popular Hotel Alankar; at that time for accommodation. One look at the shabbily attired visitor, the reception desk refused to give him a room because he looked like a guy who could not afford the hotel.

He came out of the hotel in a huff and vowed that one day he will build a classy hotel bang opposite Hotel Alankar and give the Alankar management a run for their money. He realized his dream within five years of that episode. Hotel City Tower with the first ever roof top restaurant in Coimbatore and with 95 well appointed rooms opened for public in 1983. It also has a banquet hall, meeting rooms and two restaurants. The one located on the Roof top has a panoramic view of the Coimbatore City. Being a staunch Muslim the owner refused to have a `Bar` in the Hotel. Even today, customers who are thirsty for the glass that cheers have to walk across to Hotel Alankar or next door to Hotel Heritage Inn.

Like the Hilltop, the staff at City Tower is equally friendly. In the early days the owner himself would stand near the entrance and welcome the guests!

Incidentally, Alankar went downhill after the opening of City Tower and had to undergo a complete makeover to survive the competition from City Tower!

I remember, I was one of City Tower`s first customers on the day of their inauguration and I have continued to be a loyal customer since then getting a special discount and treatment even today!

City Tower is certainly a “home away from home” ….in Coimbatore!


In Delhi I like the accommodation at India International Centre. Apart from the beautiful ambience, good food and decent rooms at reasonable rates, the place comes attached with my favorite Lodhi Gardens! What a lovely place to go for a morning walk surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna!

A meeting place for the intellectuals, it can be seen teeming with the who`s-who of Delhi in the evenings! You are likely to bump into some of them at the restaurant. It could be an ex-Prime Minister or just a minister, or well known names from the world of Art and Culture or even some famous “Babus” who run the Government. Of course, if you are the type who does not want to have anything to do with such people, there are enough restaurants nearby, where you can spend a quiet or a noisy evening with your friends!

Undoubtedly a good accommodation after a hard day`s work to relax and recharge; “A home away from home” is a must for anyone travelling frequently on work!

The author can contacted on 98403 92082 or email:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


There are two kinds of Dreams. The first one is the kind that one has during day time, when one is fully awake and conscious; the kind that our former People’s President of India Abdul Kalam extolled the younger generation to have. His advice that unless you have dreams about your future you cannot achieve anything in life, is so very true.

The more ambitious your Dream, and the more challenging, certainly makes life more interesting. Relentless pursuit of one`s dreams will certainly help achieve success in life. As was proved by that people’s businessman; industrialist (Late)Dhrubhai Ambani, of Reliance fame. A man with humble beginnings, he went on to build one of the biggest industrial empires in the country. What Tatas & Birlas took a century to build, he did it in 25 years. It is another matter that he fully exploited the loopholes in our system and the avarice and greed of the `Babus` who run the country. The fact is that he had big dreams and he realized them in his lifetime! No wonder you will find signboards carrying the slogan, “If you can dream it, you can make it” in every corner and in every establishment his group owns.

For the second kind of dream (Zzz..); you have to be fast asleep; and you have no control over what dreams you are likely to get. The kind most of us have almost every night and forget the next morning!

I have regular dreams; some of them pleasant where my fantasies come true. But many of them, which keep recurring, are bizarre! Like the times I find myself flying in the sky, looking down at the earth below like a bird. It is said that, when a person dies, his soul hovers over the body for some time, seeing all that is happening around! I am also told that many of our Yogis achieved this status when they were deep in meditation. Whatever it is, I am happy that I am still alive and kicking in spite of the ‘flying’ experiences in my dreams!

Another dream which keeps recurring is the one where I am walking on the road and suddenly find myself without any dress- almost in my birthday suit! Everybody is staring and laughing at me. And I am running away from the crowd with both my hands trying to cover myself!!

The latest dream which has been haunting me repeatedly during the last couple of months goes like this. I am abroad visiting a new country or a new place and suddenly discover that my tickets and passport are missing. I am desperately running from pillar to post trying to locate them.

I don’t know what to make out of such dreams.

There are occasions when I am woken up by my wife asking me why I was howling in my sleep. Invariably it would be a bad dream- either a beast chasing me or somebody trying to attack me- what a relief to realize that it is after all just a dream.

I think I got the dream bug from my mother. Almost every day she would have some dream, which she would then describe vividly, to anyone who cared to listen. If the dream came to her early in the morning and if it was a bad dream, she would be tense the whole day. There was a belief among the older generation that the dreams you have early in the morning, will come true! She had many such theories for both good and bad dreams.

In her last days, when she was bedridden, she had a recurrent dream of a burglar entering the bedroom when she was asleep. Hearing her screams, we would rush to her, to find her awake and sweating with fear. She would complain that a burgler had entered the room through the window and was trying to kill her! We would laugh it off and reassure her that no burglar can ever enter the room through the window. Satisfied that it was just a dream she would go back to sleep.

But it is strange that years after she passed away, a burglar did enter our house on a Sunday morning through a window in the drawing room, by carefully removing the grill!

After all my mother’s early morning dream did come true!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Family Doctor

As a boy growing up in the chawls of Bombay, when anyone in the family suffered from a health problem, be it the common cold, fever, cough or minor cuts / burns, the first person to be consulted was the family Doctor – the General Practitioner or GP as he was well known in the medical world then. Such GPs with an MBBS degree and an additional FRCS qualification were found on every street of Matunga, where we lived.

Most of the GP’s landed up converting one of the rooms in their residence into a clinic, with an attached dispensary manned by the ubiquitous Compounder; a breed which has completely vanished today. The doctor would sit behind a table and a long bench adjacent to him was used for the physical examination!

Every time, the patient`s weight would be checked; temperature, BP readings taken and the lungs or heart examined with the stethoscope. Invariably every patient would be asked to open the mouth (say aah!) and put his tongue out so that the doctor could check for tonsillitis or other throat infections. If it was a stomach problem, he would ask the patient to lie on the bench and physically inspect the stomach by pressing the different sections to identify the exact location of the pain or any growth. Then he would pull out a pad and write a prescription and ask you to collect the medicine from the Compounder, whose job was to `dispense` the medicines prescribed by the Doctor.

This guy would take your prescription and vanish behind a partition in the dispensary. He would come back with a standard vertical rectangle shaped bottle containing a `Mixture` (a combination of medicines in liquid form) and a brown envelope containing certain no. of paper packets with either tablets or medicines in powdered form. The bottle would have the dosage indication on a paper label pasted to one side. The label would indicate the quantity of each dosage and the number of doses in the bottle. Very rarely would the doctor recommend branded medicines back in those days!

The patient not only had to wait patiently in the queue for a consultation with the doctor but also wait for the compounder to deliver the medicines. I wonder if the word ‘patient’ was coined by some bright guy, waiting patiently at one such clinic!

If the problem was serious, then the GP would invariably refer him/her to a hospital – private or public for further investigation and treatment by specialists who were available only in the hospitals. Unlike now, where we find specialists for every part of the body, in every street corner in all the cities and towns!!

Apart from the more common Cardiologist, Oncologist, Orthopedic, Nephrologist or even Dentist; we have today under Orthopedics doctors who specialize in specific limbs of the body! A dentist who only does extraction of teeth (Pal Pidungi as he is called in Tamil), while somebody else who is a specialist in root canal treatment.

The danger of going to a specialist directly is that you will be forced to undergo several tests (many of them totally unrelated to the problem under investigation). The specialist gets his cut from the laboratory or the Diagnosis Centre, to whom he refers the patients for tests. Such specialists refuse to accept reports from any other diagnostic centre . Ofcourse, there are good and honest specialists with impeccable reputations but they are exceptions!

An even greater danger awaits an otherwise normal patient who goes for a routine check up to a five star hospital. The check up invariably unearths one or two blocks in the heart and the patient will be offered a package deal; which includes a By-Pass surgery at a concessional rate and also a five star comfortable stay in the hospital for the patient and his attendee. Depending on the availability of rooms the patient will be detained for a few weeks or dispatched home within a couple of days. The poor patient will not be given a choice by the family who would have been already blackmailed by the cardiologist that if the patient walks out of the hospital without undergoing the surgery, he is likely to drop dead at the door step!

My advice to anyone who is willing to listen – please have a family doctor – a GP who attends to all the routine complaints and knows the health history of every member of the family. Even a specialist in your area can become your family doctor. Like my family doctor is a Diabetologist but looks after several families in the area and is available on call whenever a patient urgently needs him. Only if he suggests go for further investigation or consult a specialist referred to. Chances of your getting ripped off by a specialist, when you carry a reference letter from your family doctor are much less than when you go directly. It is another matter if your family doctor is the greedy type, in which case only God can help you!

But even God cannot help those patients who try to get more insight into their problems by `Googling` their specific complaint. They will invariably find that their specific problem could be the indication of some bigger problem connected with anyone or more parts of the body. Armed with the knowledge, the enlightened patient tries to directly consult every possible specialist related to the problem!

Well, you can`t complain against the present medical system, if today`s enlightened patients willingly submit themselves to the exploitation by specialists!

Author can be contacted on:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Divine Grace and Blessings

Divine Grace (Anugraham) & “Elders” Blessings (Aashirvadham) are two values which my parents taught me early in life.

My mother was a very pious woman, who celebrated every religious occasion with reverence and great devotion, with appropriate Poojas performed at home. Whether it was a simple `Kardia Nonbu` or the more elaborate ` Varalakshmi Vratham`, she would spare no pain to make the occasion an opportunity to appease her chosen God / Goddess.

While her favourite Lord was Rama of the Ramayana fame, my father always claimed that Guruvayurappan – little Krishna of Guruvayur in Kerala, was his chosen deity whose name he kept invoking whenever he felt happy or depressed. Like millions in the world, both my parents also believed that whatever be their problem, the Lord will always provide a solution!

They also believed in openly expressing their respects to elders. Any elderly person visiting our home was showered with genuine hospitality and made to feel like a VIP. No one left the home without taking the simple meal my mother served, with lots of love! Invariably before the elders took leave, my parents would prostrate before them seeking their blessings! The visiting elders more than touched by the gesture, would be generous in their blessings. Whenever we went on a visit to South on holiday, my parents would make it a point to visit all the elders in the family seeking their blessings.

As for me Lord Balaji of the Tirupathi fame and Vinayaka the elephant God are my chosen deities. Like my parents, I also totally surrender to the Lord not only during hours of crisis but on a daily basis whenever I have the time and opportunity. I am no good at pooja rituals, which are performed by my wife who is proficient in them. My belief is expressed in the form of invoking the Lord`s name, as often as I can, silently.

Keeping elders happy and getting their blessings is also something which I have believed in all my life.
Though old age and physical problems are preventing me from prostrating before the elders I do not fail to touch the feet of the elders in the typical North Indian; `Pai Lagey`style, even now! I feel thrilled when they bless me from the bottom of their hearts! I can say with confidence that my bank balance of
Elders` blessings is always overflowing.

I believe that God’s grace and elders` blessings have played a major part in my leading a fulfilling life apart from my relentless pursuit of my dreams and goals. I have even named my home and company invoking the Divine Grace; ANUGRAH!

Coming to the younger generation, judging by the turnout of youngsters in places of worship and other spiritual get-togethers of modern day `Gurujis` of all shades, I feel that belief in God is certainly growing among the youth of the country.. Whether it is Rama, Krishna, Allah or Christ, every young man has his chosen deity or a `Guruji` whom he regularly invokes for moral support in his hours of trials and tribulations.

I also find the practice of paying respects to elders, by touching their feet is prevalent among all sections of North Indians, wherever they are located,, even today. You can see an ample display of this fine gesture among the younger generations at Railway stations, Airports, other public places and of course at family functions. It might look perfunctory to some but I always admire at the spontaneity with which the act is performed by North Indian youngsters, even in Chennai. Whereas in the South, particularly in Tamilnadu and among Tamilians, the concept of prostrating before elders, the traditional form of paying respects is slowly fading amongst the younger generation. It is especially difficult for the Vada Kalai Iyengars (a sect of Vaishnavites sporting the `U` Namam on the forehead) because they have to perform the act of prostrating- four times, each time they meet an elderly person!

It is quite a punishment, especially for the newly married couple at Weddings, when they are forced to go around the wedding hall prostrating before every elderly person in the crowd. Of course, a wise young man found a solution to this problem by requesting elders to assemble in groups so that he could perform a `one for all` ritual to get their blessings. Saving effort and time!! The idea is catching on even at homes where families get-together on occasions. The fact is today`s younger generation in the South has to be persuaded to pay respects to elders in the traditional way. It is also true that the stresses and strains of modern life have made them physically unfit to perform this arduous form of paying respect!

I suppose that the present day parents and grandparents should feel happy if their children or grandchildren or nephews and nieces express their love and respect in whatever form they choose- if at all they feel like expressing their respects!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who is Weird?

In life we come across all kinds of people, good & bad, tall & short, handsome & ugly, grumpy & friendly. The list can go on…but this article is about people who are known for their peculiar or weird habits – which set them apart from the rest!

The first person who comes to mind is my boss of 12 years in the advertising agency where I was working way back then! A very handsome man with an attractive moustache, which he would keep twirling whenever he was in deep thoughts working on a campaign or when he was in a serious discussion with his colleagues.

Since his marriage was on the rocks, living at home, facing his forever nagging wife had become a daily torture. To escape her, he decided to change his office timings. He would walk into the office only around 5 pm, have a brief meeting with his secretary to catch up on the day`s events and work the whole night in the office. He would return home around 8 am next morning by which time his wife would have already left for her office. After catching up on his sleep during the day he would return to the office in the evening. This became his routine.

He would dictate all his letters into a Dictaphone and leave it on his secretary’s table for typing the following day. People used to comment that he had virtually become an owl, active only in the night, probably also because his wife had the hobby of collecting miniatures owls in all forms!

While there was no problem for him with this arrangement it was hell for all his colleagues, who had to follow regular office hours! They could get appointments to meet the boss only after 8 pm. Branch Managers like me, on a visit to the Head Office, got our appointments with him only after midnight. This weird habit cost him both his wife and eventually his job!

My own father displayed certain peculiarities. He had an obsession for cleanliness – he would wash his hands, his dinner plate and the stainless steel tumbler which was exclusively reserved for him (nobody dare touch it even by mistake!) several times, even though they might have been already cleaned by my mother before he took any meal. He was a gregarious soul, very popular among friends and relatives outside the home, but once he entered the house he would turn into a ‘Rudra Moorthy’ (angry old man) who kept bawling at his wife and children for all that they did or did not do.

He also found a great companion in himself! Whenever alone, whether at home or on a walk; you would find him talking loudly to himself. The moment he became conscious of somebody approaching him, he would stop talking.

He was also well known in the colony where we lived, for his loud sneezing! Every time he sneezed “Haa… Choo!” the whole colony would reverberate with the sound. I know of visiting relatives, who could not locate our house – identifying the same on hearing his sneezing noise!

Another copywriter colleague of mine (in Chennai) was addicted to drinking, a bottle of `Hewlett Mixture’ daily. This tonic was supposed to be good for ulcers; which he had acquired handling a tension ridden advertising job and dealing with an equally demanding wife at home! A knowledgeable and erudite writer he was also well known for `beating about the bush’ in any discussion.

He would never come straight to a point. If someone asked him for direction to a place, his typical response would be, “you don’t take bus A, but take bus B. don’t get down at ‘C’ stop but get down at ‘D’. After getting down don’t take a left turn but a right turn. When you reach the end of that road, you will find ‘Y’ shop. Ignore it and look for ‘Z’ shop and take a left next to it and enter;…etc. etc`

By the time he finished, the person who had asked for directions would be so frustrated that he would be left wondering why he ever asked the question in the first place. He could be really exasperating!

It does take all kinds of people to make up this world. I wonder what peculiarities I have about which people talk behind my back!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Intruders

We all have guests visiting us from time to time; Friends, relatives; wanted and unwanted. People who come with appointments, and others who like to give a (little) surprise by landing without prior notice! “I was passing by, so thought I will just drop in” or “I was getting bored at home, so I thought of visiting you”. Such people are not bothered that they may be upsetting your pre-planned programme. However, in the true spirit of Indian hospitality, we welcome all with open arms and make them feel comfortable.

But I am going to talk about the visit of three totally unexpected visitors to our house. Let me elaborate.

* * * * * * * * * *

One day as is her practice, after her morning ablutions my wife was standing before the Puja Room, adjacent to our bedroom, paying obeisance or to put it simply saying good morning to the variety of Gods on display; when she felt something amiss in the puja room. Actually she found a lot of things missing – like the silver lamps – a silver idol of Lord Krishna and few other valuables. She also found the radio-transistor kept on a stand nearby missing!

My first reaction was that some petty thief must have walked into the house, through the front door which is often kept open by my wife during the day, when she is busy in the service verandah at the rear of the house or lost among the hundreds of potted plants she has nurtured around the house.

While we were blaming each other, my wife who was going around the house to find out what else was missing, noticed a whole window grill missing in the study room adjacent to the main hall. A burglar had obviously entered the house through the window! It was a pre-planned burglary the previous night, by some one who knew that our window grills were just screwed to the wooden frame without any extra safety mechanism. What shocked us was the audacity of the burglar who had entered the house when we were there; and what made us shudder was the realization that he could have walked into the adjacent bedroom, which was not locked and relieved us of all the jewellery and other valuables in the house, even probably threatening us at knife point! The Lord in whom I have immense faith obviously saved us from much greater loss! It was as if the Lord told the burglar: “Take whatever you want from this puja room but leave my devotee alone!”

* * * * * * * * * *

On another morning, when my wife was busy reading some prayer books, sitting inside the puja room, she heard a hissing sound and to her horror realised that she had illustrious company inside the puja room. Yes, it was a 3 ft. snake (mildly poisonous Sarai ) curled around one of the dozens of framed pictures on the wall.

A courageous person, she quietly got up and closed the puja room door and called my son for help. She was ready to kill the snake with a broom stick. (The number of creepy-crawly beings she has killed with a broom stick is legendary!).

My son had better ideas, and contacted the local snake park and requested them to send someone to catch the snake which was held captive in the puja room. The whole process took more than two hours but the snake was captured alive and taken in a bag by the snake catcher from the Irula community, who are specialised in this art. Though we had to pay a small price, it was better than our family getting a ` `Sarpa Shabham` (snake curse) if my wife had killed the snake as she had originally intended!

* * * * * * * * * *

The third intruder in my house – hold your breath – was a cow! On a Sunday morning, I was totally immersed in reading the morning newspaper lying on the easy chair in my bedroom. Hearing some commotion followed by screams from my wife, I looked up from the newspaper and realised that a cow’s face was staring at me and saying ‘Hello, I am your special guest this morning!!’

By the time I got up from my chair to handle the uninvited guest, the cow withdrew from the master bedroom and moved to the adjacent guest bedroom. It took a lot of coaxing and gentle pushing to get rid of this special guest.

Investigating the mystery of the ‘cow guest’, I learnt that the young cow ( not a calf nor a fully grown one) had walked into the compound of our independent home through the open gate, with the intention of having a breakfast of the delicious potted plants located all around the house. When my wife, who was busy tending to some plants noticed it and started screaming, the cow ran behind the house, and on finding the door of the service verandah at the rear of the house open, it had entered the house, walked through the kitchen and reached my bedroom to say ‘Hi’ to me!

While all of us at home were intrigued by the special visitor, some elders in the family had this to say: ‘Cow entering the house is very auspicious’. Auspicious or not, we had an interesting story to narrate about our special guest for the next couple of weeks!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Games We Played

The other day my six year old grandson was looking grumpy and irritable. When I asked him what his problem was; he said, “I am bored! Nobody is playing with me”. Even a three year old child today talks of getting bored.

My mind raced back to the time when I was a kid, growing up in a Mumbai chawl with scores of kids of all age groups for company, I never knew the meaning of the word ‘boring’. The moment I returned from school, I would dump my school bag in the house and run out to play with other boys of my age group in the compound area of the building complex where my family was staying.

Even those days Cricket was the most popular game – the underhand variety, with tennis balls and stumps drawn on the walls of the building. It was not uncommon for the aggressive batsman in the group breaking the glass panes on the windows of the flats nearby trying to hit a six! As we grew older and started playing with the seasoned` ball (as the red cricket ball was called), the group had to move to the nearby Matunga Gymkhana Ground opposite to R A Podar College of Commerce where I studied. I remember when I acquired a proper cricket bat and ball; I became a hero among the group! I was always included in our team, playing matches against other teams.

Playing marbles or Gilly-Danda or Top (Pambaram as it is called in Tamil) were other games popular among the boys. For playing marbles, one had to invest a small amount to buy a set of multicolor marbles, contributing to a pool of marbles, and then challenge others for a game. The game involved throwing the collection of marbles a little away from where you stood, and the boys would take turns to hit one specific marble in the spread out. Whoever got the aim right was entitled to keep the entire lot of marbles on the floor. Boys with perfect aim would have multiplied their collection of marbles by the end of the game…several times!

Gilly-Danda involved hitting a small rounded wooden piece (Gilly) with sloping edges on either side with a longer stick (Danda). The knack was to hit the end of the Gilly first to make it rise from the ground and then hit it hard with the Danda to send it flying as far as one could. The experts among the boys would keep hitting the small piece again and again moving forward around the compound of the building with the others running behind them. Those boys who were not able to lift the Gilly from the ground or could not connect it with the Danda after it rose from the ground were declared out from the game.

Playing the Top required special skills. You tied a strong string around the ridges of the conically shaped Top with a bulging head, at the bottom of which there was a pin on which the Top could be spun. Keeping the end of the string between your thumb and forefinger, you would fling the top, which then landed on the ground, spinning beautifully for some time. It is also an art to pick up a spinning Top from the ground on to your palm without breaking its momentum. Some boys were also experts in the art of flinging the Top with a reverse swing, managing to get the spinning top directly on to their palms without hitting the ground! I must confess that I was not good at it and envied the boys who could perform this trick!

And there were games like Kho Kho, based on the popular musical chair concept, featuring boys and girls instead of the chairs or HU-THU-THU (kabadi..kabadi in Tamil). I also remember playing “leap frog game” in which one of the boys would stand at the centre; bending at his waist and the others would run fast to jump over the boy using both their hands, placed on the back of the boy as a lever, to propel themselves forward. Once a boy suddenly decided to stand up while I was about to jump over him, sending me for a toss, resulting in a deep cut on my forehead! Even today I carry the scar left behind due the stitches required to help me recover from the injury.

Hiring a bicycle by the hour and going around the buildings was another activity which the boys and girls indulged in. A serious accident involving the cycle that I had hired put an end to this activity as my mother refused to give any money for this purpose again.

Flying kites during certain seasons was an exciting activity in which even the adults in the building complex participated, at times.

If it was raining or for any reason we could not undertake outdoor activities then there were always games like carrom, chess, cards and board games that would keep us busy! Even Pallankuzhi a traditional indoor activity using a wooden board with 14 hollow portions and a collection of sea shells or `Dhaya Kattam’ (modern day LUDO), were popular with both boys and girls!

The variety and choice of games that we could play then were mind boggling, and we had the freedom to do what we liked, as long as we did not get into trouble which necessitated the interference of the parents!

I pity the modern day kids, many of them growing up in apartment complexes without adequate space for outdoor games. Even if there are playing grounds in the locality, the paranoid parents do not allow
them to go and play because of security concerns. The parents who can afford ofcourse send their children to special coaching classes for cricket, basket ball or football etc. paying a hefty fee. Even these are aborted because of the priority given to attending the mandatory special classes on different subjects, considered necessary if the boys/girls have to perform well in their classes! The end result- is that the boys and girls are always glued to a variety of gizmos and electronic media, entertaining themselves with games and cartoons at home. Missing the fun of outdoor activities, so necessary for the development of the body and mind of kids. And also for lessons in relationship management!

The only solution to this problem is for the Schools to have a compulsory games period for all classes at the end of every day before the children leave the school for their homes! If the school has space constraints then such periods could be rotated between different classes on different days!

If the situation is allowed to be continued, I am afraid the modern day kids will turn out to be intelligent zombies unable to face the Real World! Young parents and concerned grand parents! Think about it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Visa to Vaikuntam

Visiting Divya Desams is a dream which many Vaishnavites who worship any form of Lord Vishnu nurture, thanks to the huge awareness created through television by Shri Velukkudi Krishnan, a corporate honcho turned preacher. So much so that lakhs of Tamil speaking households and housewives start their day only after watching his programme on TV every morning; leading to a popular comedian quipping “In my home `Kappikudi (drinking morning coffee) happens only after listening to `Velukkudi!”.

I was free, having retired at the age of 65, and so my wife expressed a desire to visit the 106 of 108 Divya Desams, also known as 108 Tirupathys- temples for Narayana (Vishnu) located across the length and breadth of the country (and Nepal as well). Narayana or Vishnu is worshipped in different forms in these temples, but the significant feature is that there are special devotional songs composed by one of the 12 Alwars, the Vaishnavite Saints, on the specific deity and their consort, located in every one of these 106 temples.

The breakup of the locations of these temples is as follows:

Tamilnadu-82, Kerala-13, Andhra Pradesh-2, Gujarath-1, Uttarkhand-3, UP-4, Nepal-1.

Among the very famous temples included in this list are: Ranganathan temple in Srirangam, Balaji temple in Tirupathy, Anantha Padmanabha temple in Trivandrum, Parthasarathy temple in Chennai, Badrinath (one of the Char-dhams) in Uttarkhand & Mukthinath in Nepal, the last two located on the Himalayas.

Out of the 82 temples located in Tamilnadu, 36 are located in and around Kumbakonam and 22 in Kanchipuram. While we could cover the 22 temples in Kanchipuram in one day, we visited the 36 temples around Kumbakonam in 3 days using a knowledgeable local taxi driver, who not only knew the specific locations and timings of the temples but also had the mobile numbers. of every pujari! Invariably he would fore-warn the pujari about our visit to the temple which ensured that it was kept open when we visited the same.

It is not that easy for the less privileged people. Since many of the temples are located in remote villages, a common man can reach them only by using public transport upto a certain point and then has to walk the remaining distance; and even then very often to find the temples closed as the Pujaris would have gone home locking the temples after performing the mandatory Puja in the morning. (Thanks to Ms Jayalalitha’s initiative, who during her earlier stint as the Chief Minister of TN, had the government sanction a special budget for such Poojas in these temples.)

Compared to the huge crowd that many of the famous temples mentioned earlier attract, most of the other temples, some of them over 2000 years old, attract hardly any visitors. Many of them are in very dilapidated condition. However, in recent times the TVS Group in the South has been spending a lot of money on renovating the temples and also providing amenities to devotees visiting these temples. What they have done at `Nava Tirupathy` in Tirunelveli and Sholingur are examples of their efforts.

Visiting some of these temples involves hazardous journeys and some test your endurance limits!
Visiting the nine temples in Ahobhilam in Andhra is both hazarardous and an endurance test. You have to walk 6 kms through Naxal and wild animal infested, dense forests on a mountain to reach one of the temples for Narasimha (Pavana Narasimha), and another involves walking on pebbles and stones for more than an hour and crossing a flowing mountain stream (which could pose a danger during rainy seasons) and then walk up the 400 steps on a mountain to reach Jwala Narasimha. A real adventure indeed!

Travelling to Mukthinath located at 13500 ft in the Himalayas in Nepal is an experience by itself. The journey can be undertaken by both road and air upto Pokhra, which is the second largest town in Nepal. From Pokhra to Jumsum everyone has to take a short 20 minute ride on the 22 seater propeller driven twin engine Dornier aircrafts, which operate like Mofussil buses! They look like flying contraptions which can come apart anytime- especially the ones operated by Tara Airways, a local airline. Everyone gets into these jalopies, climbing one at a time on a portable short steel ladder which is held in position by the sole airhostess! No security checks, no queues! As soon as the deplaning passengers get down, the waiting passengers rush to get in. And you are airborne in no time and ready to land even before you had the opportunity to savour the spectacular view of the Himalayas which you pass through with fear in your mind and prayer in your hearts.

From Jumpsom it is a 45 minute, bone rattling ride in a local jeep, to Rani Powa at the foot of the mountain on top of which the temple is located. Until two years ago helicopters used to fly devotees right next to the temple. Since this service has been discontinued due to operational reasons, people either take a two hour walk up the mountain or the two wheeler service operated by the local Nepali boys. Sitting on the pillion of the vehicle and holding on to the rider for dear life, devotees reach the temple premise in 20 minutes praying all the way through the narrow winding mountain path. Invariably you can hear the boys screaming to their squirming passengers not to shake, because any untoward movement can send the vehicle for a toss! It is also a sight to see the efforts required to make the old, fat and infirm people get on to the vehicle. My wife Prabha had a problem at that height due to the intense cold and lack of oxygen, causing some anxious moments for me.

Though the journey to Badrinath is not physically taxing it is hazardous to the extent that the acts of God and nature may put impediments, in the form of landslides and unexpected road blocks; sometimes leaving your vehicle stranded among serpentine queues for hours on end. On the positive side; on your way, you can enjoy a dip in the holy Ganges at Hardwar and witness the famous evening arathis on the banks of the river; later visit Rishikesh, and then move on to the see the confluence of Alaknanda and Bagirathi at Devaprayag before they combine to become the Ganges; or upstream watch the Alaknanda merging with Manadakini river at Rudraprayag.

Once you reach Badrinath, located at 11,000 ft and after finishing your darshan of Lord Narasimha, you can visit Manna village, considered to be the last Indian village on the mountains, which is just three kilometers away from Badrinath. Here you are treated to the spectacular sight of river Saraswathy gushing with all its fury from a nearby hill, the only place you can see the river because mythology tells us that due to a curse from Vyasa she goes underground all through her journey, to Triveni Sangam at Allahabadd where she merges with Ganga and Yamuna.

Another tough location was the Narasimha temple located at Sholingur, near Vellore in TN, where you have to walk up 1500 steep steps, with a walking stick, tackling hundreds of monkeys all the way! During our trip a determined monkey tried to snatch my wife’s handbag who was also equally determined not to part with it. The fisticuff between them was free entertainment for the other devotees passing by but terror stricken moments for my wife!

It is amazing that a person like me who finds it difficult to climb two stories to my office, could undertake all these difficult journeys without much trouble. That is what implicit faith in the Lord does to you. The feeling of achievement and fulfillment that both Prabha and I felt after visiting the 106 temples is worth all the troubles that we had to undergo during the three years that it took us to complete the project.

In the beginning of this article I mentioned about visiting 106 out of the 108 Divya Deshams on this earth. The balance two are located in `Vaikundam` and `Thiruparkadal, the original abode of the Lord Vishnu in heaven. As a Vaishnavite I can now proudly say that by visiting the 106 temples on this earth I have got my Visa for a Darshan of the Lord in the Heaven. I just have to wait patiently for the ticket and the departure call! Having fulfilled all my worldly duties and lived a full life, I am ready to face my creator any time he wants to meet me! Jai Narasimha!


Mob. 9840392082.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Advertising in Chennai- An Industry transformed!

In 1974, when I made Madras my home, advertising as an industry was yet to take off. It was still a seller’s market where the consumer was not the king – he was a beggar without a choice!. He had to accept whatever was rationed out to him as a product or service. And that too after waiting in a queue for years. Unless he was willing to pay a bribe! Imagine, being a buyer and not a seller, and yet paying a bribe!

The industrial scene in Madras then was dominated by automobile related products and agri inputs like fertilisers, seeds, agrochemicals etc. . Except Ponds, there was no other MNC dealing with FMCG brands based out of Madras. Some of the well-known regional brands which are giving run for their money to MNCs today, were yet to appear on the scene.

So, when I landed in Madras as a young advertising professional from Bombay/Delhi, armed with 10 years of experience in dealing with FMCG brands like Colgate, Forhans, Coca Cola, Nestle etc., I found myself in trouble. There were no FMCG brands to go after.

I started with a few retail accounts and thanks to my earlier experience of dealing with Madras Fertilizers, started getting business from agri input clients like Shaw Wallace E.I.D Parry, MRF (Farm Tyre Division) etc, slowly establishing my reputation as a specialist in rural communication. This niche positioning has helped my agency Anugrah Madison survive for 25 years – yes, the company which I founded in 1986 is celebrating its silver jubilee this year!

While I was growing as a rural specialist, Madras was also gaining importance in the world of advertising thanks to the influx of a number of new MNCs like Hyundai, Ford, Renault, BMW, Nokia, Citi Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and others. Even software giants like TCS and Infosys established big bases in Madras – all leading to increased advertising spend originating from Madras.

Meanwhile, Madras had already become a retail capital of India. Departmental stores like Spencers and retail chains like Viveks, which had their origins in Madras, inspired a whole lot of new groups to enter the field. New textile and jewellery showrooms like Chennai Silks, Pothys, RMKVS, Saravanas, Princes and Joy Alukkas appeared on the scene dominated earlier by Nallis, Kumarans, Vummidis and Nathellas. These new clients splurged big on media advertising, putting some of the FMCG brands to shame! Thanks to the proliferation of TV channels (with every political party owning a channel) and other media opportunities, the advertiser had a flood of media options to promote his wares

Once considered an overgown village that went to sleep by 9.00 pm, Madras during the past decade has acquired a 24 x 7 reputation. The city has drawn people from all parts of India. Result: This metropolis can offer anything that anyone wants! Be it the choice of foods, products, services or even entertainment! The Madras adman has been kept happily busy promoting every type of product or service to discerning consumers, using a gamut of traditional and new media. The ubiquitous giant-size hoardings have been replaced by a slew of other outdoor media, popularly known as OOH (Out-Of Home ) advertising. These include everything -- posters, banners, kiosks, bus shelters, wall sites, hoardings, mobile vans, all vehicles that move, dynamic display units in and outside the mega malls. Madras today is estimated to account for almost 8% to 10% of the Rs,30,000 crores per annum adspend in the country.

Old, tradition-rich conservative Madras is today a vibrant cosmopolitan Chennai. The young are willing to try out anything new! What better challenge than that for the advertising professional?

Madras is no more a punishment posting for aspiring admen. They have enough challenges to keep them busy. Some of them with exceptional creative talents have gone on to bag international laurels. A few others have invaded and conquered Mumbai, the Mecca of advertising in India! .

While R.K.Swamy was the first adman from Chennai to make a big mark in the competitive world of advertising, he also pioneered the Public Sector advertising in the country. His son Srinivasan K.Swamy, following on his father`s footsteps has the unique distinction of being the President of Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAof I), a premier industry body, that too for three consecutive years. M.G.Parameshwaran and Ramanujam Sridhar, both Chennai boys have become well known in the industry for their Books on Branding.

The Madras ad world can be proud that it nurtured some of today’s celebrities during their days of struggle. Today’s icon A R Rehman was popular as Dilip in his earlier avatar – he used to compose advertising jingles for many products in his spare time. He pioneered the concept of composing background music for a jingle on his Casio keyboard and recording it with a dummy voice or his own, before calling a professional singer to sing the jingle -- saving a lot of time and money in the process. Award-winning cinematographers like P C Sriram and Rajiv Menon began their careers in the Madras ad world. Madras has been a pioneer on the technology front as well. Jayendra, the veteran adfilm maker from Madras, first made a big name for himself in the competitive Bombay adworld. He then started Real Image -- a leading technology provider for film, video and audio, This company launched QCN - a digital out-of-home advertising solution provider with central screening and control facility for the first time in the world!

The list is growing. So also the dynamic world of advertising in Chennai. I wish I were young again and starting my advertising career anew in exciting Chennai!

Friday, May 13, 2011


It was a reunion get-together with a big difference.

A difference created by 53 years which separates the 1958 batch students of South Indian Welfare Society`s High School, Wadala, Mumbai, where I studied. Invariably the first reunion get-together of any school group is held to celebrate the Silver Jubilee when the batch mates are still young with school/ college going children. But this was a get-together of senior citizens with grey or no hair, and most of them with school going grandchildren!

What a memorable morning it was. Out of the 108 potential batch mates only 17` Thathas` & `Pattis` attended the event, most of them with their spouses. The absence of ten batch mates who were no more was noted with a silent prayer for their souls.

Though six of us had met at an informal get-together in November 2010, which actually triggered the idea of a bigger get-together, I could not recognize many of the batch mates. Still the joy and excitement was palpable. The spontaneous hugs & back slapping displayed by the participants showed their joy in meeting old classmates with whom they had spent 11 years in the classrooms and playground of the school.

Anecdotes and stories were exchanged fast and furiously. Enquiries regarding the families were inevitable. From the brief self-introduction session, it was evident that in spite of the enormous struggle some of them underwent in their early years, everyone had done well in life. Post retirement each one was financially independent and well settled. Most of them were NRI parents, making periodic journeys to USA or Singapore or the Middle East to spend time with children and grandchildren. With spouses providing the IAS (International Ayah Services!). All of them were involved in some activity, either religious or social to keep themselves and their souls busy. Most of them looked fit and healthy.

One vibrant batch mate, who described himself as a rebel in the school, with two sons and a sprinkling of grandchildren decided to shock the audience! He claimed that he is still trying to get a daughter much to the embarrassment of his young looking wife! He did not seem content with his two daughters-in-law. Cheers to his Libido!

This rebel had done well in life in spite of not entering the portals of a college, while there was another batch mate, a brilliant student even in school, with a gold medal in IIT Bombay who had gone on to acquire a doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the same institute. He had spent 32 years with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai winning laurels for his outstanding work. There were many who had hopped jobs to prosper while there were some who had stayed with one company all through their life.

What made a big difference to the event was also the presence of four nonagerian and octogenarian teachers. Two of them were in their 90s, one was 85 and the other was 77. They were uniformly thrilled to see their old batch of students and learn about their achievements. To gladden the hearts of the batch mates one of the teachers, in his speech mentioned that 58 batch was one of the best batch of the school. He also added that In the 75 year history of the school this was the first time that such an old batch had conducted the reunion get-together in the school. The teachers were happy that they were remembered and honoured by the batch who had already entered the ‘vanaprastha’ stage in their lives!

The highlight of the programme was the comments of old teachers read out from a scrap book which a batch mate had managed to retrieve from his archives. There could not have been a better way of remembering all the old teachers who had taught the batch! Thank you K K Mani for that brilliant idea!

The audience also came to know about the hidden talents of some of the batch mates and their spouses. One of them, S Jayaraman has suddenly become a Tamil poet. At the age of 70 he has churned out 100 poems on a variety of subjects, all within two months.

Personally, it was a dream-come-true for me. After completing my autobiography which forced me to go down memory lane, I developed an urge to meet all my old friends – from school, college, and even the company where I had started my advertising career. Thanks to my friend Raju, a beginning was made with a few school friends in November 2010, leading to the memorable get-together on 24th April.

Buoyed by the success of the get-together, the chief organizer Sundaresan announced that it has been decided to form a SIWS 1958 Club which will meet once in three months. I am sure the 58 Club idea will do well because everyone present bonded well and was keen to know more about the 53 years journey undertaken by the other batch mates. Obviously one reunion get together is not adequate to share a life time of experiences! Cheers to the success of S.I.W.S. 58 Club!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mumbai Traffic

The Bombay, I knew , was known for its excellent public transport system, which ensured that you reached your destinations on time. A Bombay man was never late for an appointment. You had a choice of local trains, buses and taxis. Though the local trains were very crowded and suffocating, they ran as per schedule. Buses were loaded only upto their capacity and were comfortable to travel – especially the double decker bus, where if you got a seat on the upper deck, you had a good view of the passing scenes. People were disciplined enough to stand patiently in queues to board the buses when their turn came.

Taxi drivers never grumbled about ferrying you for short distances and you paid as per the meter, which always worked . It is another matter that the meters were uncalibrated old models! If you felt happy about the ridiculously low rates being shown on the meter, you were in for a surprise. Every taxi driver carried a rate card showing the old rates converted into new rates which were invariably 10 to 12 times more than what was being shown on the meter. And they always returned the balance amount due to you – something which was and is still unheard of in any other city.

Another interesting feature of the Bombay traffic was the lane discipline that everyone followed – be it the ubiquitous BEST buses, private cars, taxis or the rare two wheelers. There was no question of vehicles zigzagging their way to jump the queues to move forward. And for such a voluminous traffic the blaring of horns was minimal.

All this has changed! During my recent trips to Mumbai , I find that the traffic system especially on the heavily congested roads of Mumbai has completely collapsed – where the ‘might is right’ system followed on the roads of most other Indian cities has replaced the orderliness of the past!

Though the Express Highways on the West & East have helped speed up the journey from one end of the city to another – it is another matter, on the roads running parallel below the flyovers, interrupted by hundreds of signals. Impatient drivers blaring away their horns or going out of the lane to move forward and get back into the lane near the signal is the order of the day. And there are many who don’t stop even if the red light is on – creating chaos in every traffic junction with the ‘Pandu or Dhondu’ managing the traffic, watching helplessly. I pity these guys trying to take on the might of the ever ballooning Mumbai traffic, without even the basic protection like a nose mask or reflector belts. During peak hours, it is a nightmare to be on the roads of Mumbai, negotiating your way to your destinations.If you want to be on time for a crucial appointment , better provide for 60 minutes extra travelling time. Or take the local trains ,which are still dependable , provided you have the ability to squeeze your way in and out of the,always overcrowded compartments.

Nowadays the buses are overloaded and don’t reach their destinations on time because of the frequent traffic jams. And even the queues at the bus stops go berserk the moment a bus arrives. There are very few airconditioned BEST buses running on the roads.

Though you have the option of airconditioned and more expensive call taxis, the majority of the taxi drivers of the popular yellow top metered taxis have become very greedy and arrogant. Not only they refuse to ply short distances but they overchardge too And don`t expect to get back the change when you pay. .

Despite being the financial capital , the city has on the roads lakhs of old, outdated Fiat taxis without ACs , adding to the pollution of Mumbai.

Any day I would prefer the disciplined and orderly Bombay of the past. Not for me the developed but chaotic Mumbai of the present! Mumbai still retains the spirit but has shed the values. God save the city!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Low Cost Carriers!

“I always find travelling by plane very romantic” said by my boss lady 38 years ago, while we were getting into a Dakota plane from Delhi to Chennai via Nagpur. I am yet to fathom what she found romantic in plane travel those days!

Remember, those were the days when we were at the mercy of the only domestic airline the country had – Indian Airlines. Limited services with limited and expensive tickets, old aircrafts with uncomfortable seats, airhostesses well past their primes, pathetic and tasteless food, delayed or cancelled flights, fear of getting offloaded because of overbooking. In spite of every conceivable negative point IA survived because it had no competition. Air travelers those days were really beggars without a choice! Dependent on Indian Airlines run by corrupt Babus of the Government!

Their idea of offering a cheap fare was restricted to the special cargo service which used to run in the night, ferrying mail from Post Offices. Dakota Aircrafts carrying mail bags departing around midnight from Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras used to converge at Nagpur and exchange bags of Mails and return to their respective bases every morning. In this essentially cargo service, a few seats were available for travel by passengers who wanted to save money on travel and did not care for travel comforts as long as they had a guaranteed seat!

Like everything else in life, what a distance we have travelled since those days! Apart from a choice of full-fare airlines we now have a choice of low cost carriers (LCCs)! Let us thank Captain Gopinath, whose vision has made air travel affordable to even R K Laxman’s common man. It is another matter that he tried to bite more than he could chew, landing himself and his airline into trouble; ultimately to be swallowed by a bigger fish (Kingfisher!). But the legacy of LCC left behind by Captain Gopinath has come to stay. While we are able to manage air tickets, at really bargain rates from a number of airlines, Captain Gopinath has gone back to flying helicopters – having made his pile in the process!

LCCs in India still offer a comfortable seat – though you have to pay for a bottle of water and the snacks they serve, at exorbitant rates on the flight; and of course no newspapers and magazines for your reading pleasure! You better pick up free copies of newspapers available at the checking counter before you get into the aircraft.

Indian LCCs are far better than in some other countries where, I understand, you have provision for even standing passengers ( like in the local trains and city buses). I wonder what they do when the flight is taking off or landing. Instead of tying the seat belt, do they have a system to tie their hands to the handle bars above them? I wonder!

Unlike Captain Gopinath`s Deccan Airways, which was notorious for its last minute cancellation and perpetual delays; the new breed of LCCs are far more customer-centric and efficient. In fact, Indigo Airlines, one of the latest entrant, holds a record for on-time arrival and departure of their flights for the last few years. All their aircrafts are new; the crew is smart, friendly and efficient; seats are comfortable and clean! You can always pack a pair of sandwiches or idlis from home if you don’t want to patronize the airline’s expensive catering service. The only negative point could be that you have to wake up at 3 am to catch a flight at 5.30 am!

Though I enjoy train journeys for the relaxation they offer, I am not averse to traveling by plane, the low cost variety I mean, even for personal trips; especially when I am hard pressed for time! After all they are just a few hundred rupees more than First Class A/C train fares!

Customers at last have become Kings when it comes to air travel! (And they can harbor romantic feelings as long as they don’t act on them, when pretty women are sitting next to them!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A tribute to my Mother -in -Law

After a brief illness, my mother-in-law( Rajam Narasimhan), passed away in her sleep due to a massive cardiac arrest on 14th March 2011 at the ripe age of 89. She was a remarkable person whom I have always admired for her “zest-for-life”!

She was a a woman who was widowed at the age of 28 with four children ranging from a 20 day old baby girl (my wife Prabha), a 7 year old daughter and two sons aged 2 and 5 in between. She showed a lot of guts, when she decided to bring up her children on her own breaking away from problematic relatives.. Though she had the financial support from the Management of the company where her husband was a very senior Manager. She had to face all the problems that confronted her from time to time as a single parent. This she did with fortitude and courage performing the dual role of the father and mother. All the children grew up to be responsible children with her elder son passing the CA exams with distinction and a silver medal.

She believed in self help! If she had to approach a person or an organization to sort out a problem she would not seek outsiders` help. She would be there literally taking the `bull by the horns’ and solving the problem.

Never one to indulge in self-pity, she celebrated life in her own ways. When she was young, seeing Tamil movies in her neighborhood cinema hall was her biggest stress buster. Listening to music and playing on the veena, in which she was proficient, also helped her to relax. Though she had never been to a school, she could read the popular Tamil weeklies. She loved gifts and never said no to anything offered to her. She was equally fond of giving away cash gifts to any one who came to see her-especially her children and grand children.

She was adept at using gadgets. Three years ago she insisted on getting a mobile and learnt how to use it with ease. Her mobile became her lifeline to the world. Though it was not unusual for her frequent calls to her favorite granddaughter in Chennai landing on my mobile and she would wonder how I am on the line when she pressed the number of her granddaughter!!

Even until a week before she got admitted to the hospital she was expressing her desire for things. She asked her son, an NRI who called on her recently, “Have you got the ‘x’ brand soap from America for me? And what about the gold chain you promised me the last time?!”

She was quite fastidious about many things; like keeping herself and her surroundings spic and span; having a matching blouse to go with colour of her saree. Not for her the indifference or `resignation to fate attitude’ that you witness in many old people.

Apart from watching her favourite serials on the idiot box, you will find her ears plugged to a portable music system any time you visit her in the ‘senior citizen home’ where she was staying for the last six years.

She never complained or cried out of self-pity for having been admitted to a senior citizen home. Her children, particularly her NRI son, had taken the decision knowing his mother to be fiercely independent, who would prefer to live her life on her own terms as long as she was fit. Even if she felt a tinge of sadness, she rarely expressed it.

After leading a turbulent life for 89 years, first in a joint family, later as a single parent bringing up her four children and still later as a mother looking after the family of her second son who died at the age of 44 (when she was 73), she decided to make the best of her new found freedom in the senior citizens home.

She would get up early, wash her own clothes, dust and clean the room (she was never satisfied with the job done by the maid servant appointed by the Home), have a bath, dress up neatly, offer a prayer, and then go around visiting other inmates in the Home. Like her , many of the inmates were well to do NRI parents who had chosen to live in the Home to get away from the day to day problems of running their households.

After lunch and rest, she would have another bath, comb her hair and dab her face with a generous quantity of talcum powder and again go on calling her friends in the home for a gossip session. Every evening between 5 pm and 6pm she would be glued to the TV to watch her favorite granddaughter, a VJ who compeered a musical show on a popular music channel.

While she was a proud old lady with eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren, she was forever worried about the fact that her three granddaughters through her two sons were not yet married. She would appeal to everyone who visited her to find suitable bridegrooms for her granddaughters.

Unlike many old people of her age who are forever complaining about their health or cursing their fate for some reason or the other, you would always find my mother-in-law cheerful, smiling, enthusiastically participating in group activities and generally enjoying herself. It is this positive attitude that kept her going throughout her life!

From the time she was admitted to the Home it was my responsibility to keep in regular touch with her, and generally looking after her needs. Since I was the only guy in the family who was opposed to her being placed in the Senior Citizens Home, I used to suffer from a guilty conscience! In the early days, I used to bring her home for a week, every month, to make her feel wanted! After a couple of months she complained to my driver, “I don’t know why my son-in-law brings me here every month, I am quite comfortable and enjoying my stay at the Home where I have made a lot of friends”` She was, obviously enjoying her independence and did not want to intrude on our freedom. Yet I ensured that she was with us on all important occasions, such as family functions and festivals!

Her sudden demise, without creating any turmoil or trouble to her near and dear ones, especially when her NRI son was also in Chennai on a visit with his wife,( so that he could perform all the rituals), showed that even in her death she got what she wanted!

During the last six years a greater bond had developed between us and her death has created a big vacuum in my life. Yet I am sure that her blessings are always there, taking care of me and my family in the years to come!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cattle Class to Comfort Class

Cattle class
I am one of those who enjoys a train journey; for both short and long trips, especially since the introduction of A/C coaches. In the pre-mobile days it was the best way to get cut off from your regular, stressful world with enough time to relax, ruminate, read and sleep a lot!!

It is a far cry from the kind of train journeys my family used to undertake when I was young and living in Bombay, visiting relatives in Madras, every alternate year. Unlike the instant-reservation facility on the net that you have today, I remember the trouble my dad had to undergo to get reserved train tickets. He would reach VT station in Bombay the night before (with a flask of coffee and some snacks that my mother would pack for him), so that he could be first in the queue.Only to find that many others thought like him, and he was invariably at the end of the queue, facing a “tickets-sold” board, by the time he reached the counter! He would have to invade the station several times to get reservations for some train or the other going to Madras. If getting reservations was an ordeal, the actual journey was much worse!

In spite of having reserved seats (no sleeping berths then), the journey was nightmarish. All kinds of people would get into the reserved compartment, in mid-stations and occupy every inch of space in the passage, making it difficult for anyone to even reach the toilet without walking over people.

If anyone questioned such “unreserved” passengers, the instant retort would be “You have only reserved the seat and not the passage, so shut up!” The T.C., whose palms must have been adequately greased, would be conspicuous by his absence.

The compartment would be noisy, filthy and with an unbearable stench emanating from the toilet. As there was no A/C, the compartment would be hot, humid and dusty and when you reached your destination you would be like a “fried ladies finger!”And there was no question of hawkers entering the compartment. You had to carry your own food for the entire train journey. The Minister who referred to travel by Economy class in Airlines as “Cattle Class” had obviously not traveled by such trains in his lifetime!
It was worse than cattle class!!


We surely have come a long way since those days; with Railways making every effort to make train journeys comfortable. Providing you value for money. The more you are willing to pay, better the facilities. Three-Tier, Two-Tier or First Class A/C, and if it is a day train you have the A/C Chair Car!

Traveling by Brindavan in the A/C chair car between Chennai and Bangalore, has always been a special experience for me! I sleep, read and occasionally also write articles. Like this article.

One enduring memory I have of the train as a foodaholic, is the parade of vendors from the pantry car, selling a variety of mouth watering snacks, which I find hard to resist! While in the Shatabdi,, where the caterers mechanically serve you fixed items at appointed times with clockwork efficiency; the vendors in Brindavan are 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 are 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 are an impatient man, like me, who is always hungry at any time of the day (that explains my extra girth in the middle!), you would grab a packet anyway, knowing very well that the quality will not be good!

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 is Omelet and Bread with a packet of tomato ketchup; my second breakfast in two hours. (I already told you, I am always hungry!). Since I am not permitted to have eggs at home, I eat them with a vengeance when I travel.

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

They keep coming back until you are tempted to try just one Bajji or one Cutlet, just for tasting them you know?! But they insist that a plate comes with a minimum of three Bajjis or three Cutlets (they actually have an incentive waiting for them if they are able to liquidate the stocks during the journey!). Needless to say, I invariably fall into this trap and have my third breakfast, or shall we say starters for the lunch to follow at 12 .30pm!!

I always admire the guys who go around selling tea or coffee in the train. The way they balance 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!

If you insist on a stronger cuppa, he would reluctantly add another tea spoon of Nescafe to your cup to make the brew stronger, leaving you even more dissatisfied. No wonder the term “train coffee” or “train tea” has become synonymous with bad coffee or tea!

There are other memorable experiences that I have had, related to trains, that are worth recording. I am one of those “tension-parties” who believe in reaching the station much before the arrival of the coaches, in order to occupy my reserved seat before the rest of the janatha does.

Once, I was well settled in my reserved seat, happily reading the morning newspaper, when another passenger came near my seat and after verifying the number of the seat with the ticket he was holding in his hand, confidently declared that I was occupying his seat. I was predictably upset and told him with equal confidence that the seat I was occupying was the correct seat, as per my ticket, and that he should take up the matter with the TC to sort out the confusion. He insisted on seeing my ticket and when I saw a smile on his face after going through my ticket I realized I was in trouble.

“Sorry sir, this reservation is for yesterday’s Brindavan”.

I felt so foolish and humiliated that words failed me. I had to quickly retrieve my luggage and perform the vanishing act.

Yes, train journeys are far more interesting than any other mode of travel for the variety of experiences you can have. Though every Ram, Laxman and his cousin travels by other trains between Chennai and Bangalore, my favourite is always the Brindavan Express.