Saturday, December 29, 2012

To be contended and Happy

Every morning when I start for my walk, I see one of my neighbors, squatting on the floor in the front veranda of his house, busy writing something in a notebook, placed on the low desk in front of him. On one day I stopped and asked him what was he writing every day? He smiled back and said; “I invoke God by writing the word ‘Rama Jayam’ to fill at least 10 pages every day, and when I have collected enough of these notebooks, I send them to the Rama temple in the city”

This fifty plus gentleman is a brilliant chartered accountant who was heading the Finance Department of a large Chennai based industrial group with all the perks that go with the job, including a chauffeur driven car. One fine morning he gave up all these privileges by resigning from his job. He was just 40. He was fed up of compromising on his values to keep his corporate job. His conscience was against all that the management was asking him to do to produce a healthy picture of the company, when the facts were otherwise. Interestingly, he decided not to take up any other job because he knew that in any corporate job he would have to make compromises and he had also begun to hate the rat race. He decided to stay put at home doing what he enjoyed the most.

He has a small family of three including his wife and mother and obviously has enough savings to lead a decent life. He acquired a bicycle and uses it locally for doing errands for the family. When he has to go out of the locality to attend functions he uses the public transport. He has kept himself busy with assignments from a professional institute, which he can do sitting at home. He hardly watches TV nor reads any books but uses any spare time he has to write the word ‘Ramajayam’ in his notebook.

When he is around you will always find him laughing heartily, narrating some interesting story or the other. I have never seen a more cheerful and contended man.

Another friend who was a doctor gave up his successful practice in Mumbai to settle down in Chennai.
He decided to play the stock market sitting at home in front of his computer. Rest of the time he takes life easy looking after the interests of his family and generally leading a relaxed life. He also seems to be very contended with his life.

I also know of two other friends, both brilliant students, opting for careers, where they refused to push themselves. Both were reluctant to take promotions after a point in life because of the stress and strain that would involve. One took to religion in a big way – a pious man who performed the ritual Sandya Vandanam three times a day. With no specific ambitions in life, except for performing his family duties he was a contended man who spent every spare moment invoking the name of his favorite, Lord Krishna.

The other friend reached a reasonably good stature in the corporate world. A practical, no-nonsense guy, he is the coolest person I have known in life. Nothing ruffles him, nor does he get excited over any event in his life. Though an atheist right from the beginning, he has been reading scriptures of all religions to find out the answer to the eternal question ‘Who am I?”. I don’t know whether he has found the answer yet but I know that as a person with no great ambition, no big targets in life but with a very positive attitude he has been leading a much contended life.

If contentment leads to happiness you can say that all the above people are a happy lot.

Unlike these friends, right from childhood I have been a very ambitious man. Always trying to take on challenges and converting them into opportunities. A born dreamer I am forever pursuing small targets often leading to bigger goals. I am aware that I give the impression of being an impatient man who cannot tolerate slow coaches leading to my being tense most of the time. Does it mean that I am not content? Am I an unhappy man? Certainly not! I have thoroughly enjoyed the seven decades of my hectic life and continue to find new challenges which will keep the adrenalin flowing in my veins all the time. That is what makes me feel contended and happy.

Happiness is a state of mind. So also is contentment. Obviously what leads to contentment and happiness varies from person to person

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Embarassing moments

We all face embarrassing moments in life, when we wish the ground below would open up and swallow us! Let me share with you a few such moments from my life.

One of the first instances relates to my son when he was still in school. A boy who was very fussy when it came to eating – like most children are, he hated the sight of many items, particularly Upma. Once on a visit to a friend’s place, it was tiffin time and my friend had prepared upma for everyone. Looking at the item, I confidently told her, “My son does not like upma, so don’t give it to him, he will only waste it.”

Before she could revert with an alternative, my son shot back, “No aunty, I like this type of upma very much”. He literally grabbed the plate from her. Not only did he eat the upma in a jiffy, but also asked for a second helping. I did not know where to hide my face. My friend consoled me by saying, “Don’t worry, my children also do this to me”. It is some consolation to know that all children are the same when it comes to embarrassing their parents!

I generally have a policy of not lying. That is mainly because I have found that to cover up one lie you have to tell many more lies to justify the first lie. With a poor memory like mine, I find myself caught with my ‘pants down’ on the rare occasion when I have been forced to tell a lie; as it happened the other day…

A person, whom I consider a pest, wanted to meet me on some matter. I was not very keen on meeting him, so when he called to ask if he could meet me on a particular evening, I told him that I have an appointment with a doctor on that day and he will have to excuse me. I completely forgot the talk with him and happily landed at another friend’s place for dinner at the same time. Much to my embarrassment I found that ‘pest’ also at the party. Naturally, I had to tell another lie to cover up my first lie, but I know I was not very convincing!

The most common disease that all of us suffer; leading to embarrassment almost on a daily basis, is the temporary lapse of memory in relation to names of friends. Engrossed in an interesting conversation with a friend when another friend suddenly slaps your back to draw your attention and you have to introduce the two friends – and then you realise that you have forgotten the names of both of them! I get out of such embarrassing situations by requesting both the friends to introduce themselves or asking for their latest visiting cards for updating my mailing list!

I will never forget an embarrassing experience I had on a train journey from Chennai to Bangalore. I had booked my travel ticket on my favourite Brindavan Express on a particular day. As is my practice I reached the station 45 minutes early and after double checking my coach and seat number, I got into the train. I was comfortably settled in my seat reading the morning newspaper when suddenly I realized that another passenger was tapping my shoulder to draw my attention. “Sorry sir, the seat you are occupying is my seat” he said. I pulled out my ticket, looked at the coach and seat number and told him confidently, “This is my seat as per the reserved ticket I have” and without even looking at the passenger’s reaction I went back to reading my paper.

A few minutes later the passenger was back .He was now beaming and told me, “I have checked the reservation chart on the coach and I find that my name is appearing against this seat number. Let me see your ticket sir?” Before I could look at my ticket, he grabbed it from my hand and when his expression changed to that of a winner in a contest I knew I was in trouble. “Sorry sir, you are late for this train only by 24 hours. Your ticket is for yesterday’s Brindavan Express!”

When I sheepishly got up to retrieve my baggage I could feel the pitying looks I received from my fellow passengers who were watching the fun. I have never felt as embarrassed and humiliated as I felt that day!!

These days, however, as a senior citizen I seem to be causing embarrassment to my children very often, with my behaviour in public. When they stiffen and their faces become red I know I have performed some indiscrete act or said something which I should not have!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The pleasure of walking at Elliot`s Beach

A morning walk has become an integral part of my life so much so that if I miss walking even for a day I feel miserable – as miserable as when I don't get my mandatory morning coffee or am unable to get rid of the garbage of the previous day from my belly!

The morning walks are all the more pleasurable as I get to see the rising sun every morning (except when the Sun God decides to hide behind clouds) and breathe in fresh sea air as I walk on the beautiful Elliots Beach Road, which is just a 10-minute walk from my house. Oh, yes, I go for a walk in my car! Don't mistake me, I take the car up to the beach road, park it at an allotted space and then go for a walk! The thirty-minute walk is a daily invigorating experience.

An interesting aspect of the morning walks is the very sight of the hundreds of people who walk on the Beach Road. They come from all strata and age groups, a melting pot of religions, regions, castes and communities. There are single men and women or groups of them taking a brisk walk, many of them listening to music on their I-pods. Some of them carry their mobiles, speaking in a loud voice with their spouses, children, friends or business contacts, letting the whole world listen to their problems. A few of them appear to be talking loudly to themselves while walking – you think they are crazy but then you realise that they are operating a hands-free mobile and are actually talking to someone!

There are a few who believe that they must stop and not only say 'Hi' to their friends but also discuss the day's politics or weather, thus defeating the very purpose of having a brisk 30 minutes' walk every day! I know of a friend who has learnt to tackle such unwanted intruders. If any one stops him on the way to say 'Hi', he continues to jump or jog on the spot until the conversation is over and then continues to walk!

Another acquaintance walks with his palms together forming a 'namaste' behind his back. According to him it is a healthy practice which he has perfected over the years; I tried it and failed. Beyond taking my hands behind my back, I just could not bring the palms together to the 'namaste' position! There is a man who has a habit of walking with his left arm firmly in place on the side and the right arm swinging up and down during his really brisk walk. There are a few who specialise in walking backwards, and others who practise yoga, meditation, pranayamam and Surya Namaskar while sitting on the parapet wall bordering the walker's footpath.

During the walks you cannot miss the group of senior citizens, both male and female, sitting on the same parapet wall having heated discussions. The women are invariably talking about the problems with their daughters-in-law or maid servants and the men talk only about politics or cricket.

What is very funny is the sight of some women in outlandish or ill-fitting clothes! Like the other day, my wife and I came across an old lady – she must be over 80 years old – who was wearing loose fitting jeans, a T-shirt, a 'red' pottu on her forehead and hair in plaits like a typical South Indian woman. Obviously she is the mother of an NRI who has converted her from nine-yard sarees to jeans and T-shirts! Equally funny is a fat old man walking with a quarter (not half) pant (proper shorts, if I may say so) with a T-shirt of some US University, probably gifted by his NRI son, and wearing a splash of vibhoothi and a pottu on his forehead!

The most beautiful thing about these morning walks is that nobody really bothers about your clothes or your peculiar walking habits. Most people walk totally lost in their thoughts, like I do most of the time; sometimes I don't even notice friends who pass by wishing me.

Then there are the vendors selling fresh vegetables, flowers, tender coconuts, and a variety of herbal juices targeting the fitness freaks. Not to mention the organisations which offer a guaranteed programme to reduce weight and a group of people of all shapes and sizes and ages waiting to get advice from these experts. Over the weekends, you cannot miss the many sales representatives of companies trying to promote products, ranging from a loan to a four-wheeler for a largely upper middle class target audience.

I do feel sorry for those fitness freaks from Adyar who are content with having their daily dose of exercise on the treadmills at homes or in nearby gyms. They are missing the real fun and joy of an energising walk on beautiful Elliot's Beach Road, especially in the morning when the air is not yet polluted by exhaust from four-wheelers which line up both sides of the road in the evening.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


There is an old saying in Hindi, which translated into English means, if you can do something tomorrow do it today, if it is today, do it now (kal Karen so aaj kar: aaj Karen so ab) emphasising the importance of prompt action from everyone.

But in reality there is a tendency among people to procrastinate. If something can wait till tomorrow, why do it today? This attitude is most evident among children and the youth of today. I remember a friend always complaining about his children not listening to him. Whenever he asked them to do something they would reply, ‘we will do it tomorrow’ and the tomorrow would never come.

Procrastination may cause one to lose a good opportunity. Sometimes procrastination can also cost a person very dearly. Most common situation relates to health . If you have a medical condition prevailing for a couple of days, instead of procrastinating a visit to the doctor, it is better to see him immediately. You may be able to detect a critical ailment early and thus save yourself from serious problems later

Another situation that is very common is related to travel. If you know you are going to travel a couple of months later and have the dates firmed up, book your travel tickets immediately. Even if you have to cancel the tickets later, for some reason or the other, the cancellation charge you pay is negligible. Whereas, if you keep booking tickets using the Tatkal scheme of the Railways, you pay an extra amount which is sizeable compared to the cost of the ticket. Besides there is the uncertainty of getting such tickets. Similarly, if it is air travel, with a no. of low cost carriers (LCCs) you get much cheaper rates if you book early. Closer to the date air tickets cost a bomb. Procrastination invariably leads to wasteful expenditures!

Another area where procrastination can cause untold damage is in terms of relationships. If you are seriously in love with somebody, better to express it early to the opposite sex, so that you know where the other person stands vis-à-vis your love. If you don’t act early, you may lose out!

Similarly, it is equally important to express your love to your near and dear ones or appreciation to any service provider as soon as you are in receipt of a kind act or efficient service. If you wait for an opportune moment to express your thanks later, sometimes it might be too late, making you feel miserable! Do not forget that all of us suffer from a syndrome called `Out of sight, out of mind`.A long time ago a good friend had helped me out of a crisis and I wanted to thank him by presenting him with a small gift. While I was procrastinating because of job pressures, the friend suddenly died in an accident. I lost my opportunity to thank him for ever. The memory makes me feel miserable, even today!

When it comes to service providers, we are generally prompt in complaining about poor services. But how many of us take the trouble of expressing a word of thanks orally or in writing to the person concerned, immediately. From experience I have learnt that such acts generate enormous good will which helps you get, out of turn services, later!

Another area where we practice procrastination and suffer immensely , relates to our jobs. Though we are given sufficient time to do a job by our boss ( atleast some of them do ), we tend to keep postponing the job until it becomes a crisis leading to avoidable stress and health problems.

Even on the home front if you do not attend to repairs of small gadgets and equipment immediately, it can lead to major breakdowns. A quick fix solution for just Rs.5/- offered by FEVIQUICK may be cheaper than trying to replace a whole section of a furniture item or a gadget.

Since the potential negative effects of Procrastination are great, youngsters must learn to get out of this disease early in life., Later, It becomes difficult to cure!

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breaking Rules

All of us break rules, sometime or the other, almost on a daily basis. The most common being the breaking of traffic rules. Like parking in a ‘No Parking’ zone or driving through a street with `No Entry` sign or driving without helmets. Like jumping the red signal - an offence committed by even well-educated people; like you and me! Even if you are a law abiding citizen who stops at a red signal, the impatient driver behind you who wants to jump the signal will keep honking, cursing you for blocking his way. Forcing you to break the rule!

Then there are drivers of two wheelers and auto rickshaws who keep overtaking you suddenly from the left, especially when you are turning into a road on the left. The other day a young boy on his two-wheeler, trying to negotiate the narrow gap between my car and the edge of the road on the left, hit my car and fell down. Instead of accepting and apologizing for his mistake, he started abusing me for not looking at my left rear view mirror before turning! He did not know the basic rule that he is not supposed to overtake a vehicle from the left, leave alone overtaking on a turn.

The worst culprits are drivers on highways who drive without dimming the lights blinding drivers of vehicles coming from opposite direction, endangering the lives of people who may be crossing the roads or hitting vehicles without parking lights – emphasizing the need for medians on all the highways.

One of the basic lessons in traffic rules taught to the children when they are still in school is on crossing roads- ` look to the right first and then left and cross’. Obviously an old lady did not know the rule when she was almost hit by my car, as she suddenly crossed the road looking to her left for ongoing vehicles, ignoring my car coming from the right!

Another common mistake people make is switching lanes indiscriminately, without giving any indication of their intention or suddenly opening the front side door after parking on a main road, again endangering the lives of vehicles that may be overtaking their car at that precise moment. The rule says look into the rear view mirror for any vehicles behind you before you open the door, but who cares!

The latest traffic hazard is caused by the ubiquitous mobile- people talking on their mobiles while crossing a road or while driving on a road with heavy traffic. Recently a relative lost his teenage son when he was hit by a speeding two wheeler while crossing the road right infront of his home- because he was busy talking on his mobile oblivious of passing vehicles!

Most of the accidents on the roads occur because the majority of drivers are not even aware of the traffic rules. Anyone in India can get a driving license for any vehicle by paying a bribe to the road inspectors. They can also get away by bribing the traffic cops any time they are caught breaking a rule.

I remember an incident during one of my trips to USA. My cousin and I were returning home in his car after attending an evening programme. It was 11 pm. There was absolutely no traffic on the side road leading to his house. But still he stopped at the red signal. When I asked him why he did not jump the signal, as there was no traffic, his reply was ‘This is USA and not India. There might be a hidden camera somewhere and if I am caught jumping the red signal; I might have to pay a stiff fine!’

In another instance I met a journalist friend who had moved to Singapore, at his office during one of my trips to that very `fine` city. He boasted to me that he had jumped a red signal on Orchard Road that day but no policeman had stopped him. His happiness was short-lived because three days later he got a challan from the Singapore Traffic police asking him to pay a fine of a few hundred Singapore dollars. He had been caught on camera breaking a traffic rule.

I don’t think the effort of the Government to install hidden cameras at major signals is going to help improve the situation in our country. Our denizens will continue to break rules because they know law takes its own sweet time to reach the defaulters and even when it reaches them, they can get away by greasing the palms of the government agents responsible for implementing the rules!

This is the bane of our society!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A House `Husband`

The other day I met an old friend after a long time. He asked me ‘So what do you do these days?’

With a sheepish grin I said, ‘Oh, I have become a full time House Husband’.

He was intrigued. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked me.

‘You see my wife has not been keeping well and since she needs complete rest, I am doing her job in the house. ‘

My friend wished me good luck and a speedy recovery to my wife and moved on to meet another friend.

I believe I am not an MCP (must check with my wife on what she thinks about that) and have always tried to help around the house in whatever way I can. During the last two months I have realised that there is a world of difference between a part time helper and taking charge of running the household.

Since I enjoy cooking, the first thing I did was to ban my wife from entering the kitchen and promised her that I will take care of the food needs of everyone in the house – that is my wife & I apart from my son and daughter-in-law who join us over the weekends. Besides that, as we live in a house complex with my siblings and my son`s family staying nearby, there is always a variety of food items available during any meal.

But I have realised that the toughest part is what happens before and after each meal. Though there is a part time maid servant who helps in cleaning after the cooking, the need to keep washing the small plates, drinking glasses and other miscellaneous items which constantly appear, is a demanding chore. And so is the effort to keep the kitchen clean, regularly wiping the granite slabs and kitchen sink and the dining table after every big and small meal!

The pressure starts from the morning, when I have to plan the menu for the day – not just the meals but also the variety of fruit juices and soups to give to my ailing wife at periodic intervals. Even that is not as difficult as the effort needed to keep the whole house neat and clean as per the high benchmarks established by my better half. I can no more throw away used clothes in the corner nor can I scatter the books and the papers I read all over the house. Now I have to keep them in their rightful places. I have to ensure that the clothes for washing are sorted out into colour and white , the collars and other soiled areas brushed before they are loaded into the washing machine. And also ensure that the dried clothes are collected in the evening, folded neatly, placed in their designated compartments in the cupboard!

I have to worry and attend to every little plumbing, electrical or the maintenance problem that a housewife faces every day and see that the difficult-to-get plumber, electrician, etc. do their jobs properly and attend to callers, who keep ringing the doorbell constantly ( It is another irritant to be put up with ), Most annoying are the courier guys who make it a point to disturb you when you are trying to have a well-deserved afternoon siesta to recharge your batteries.

Then, there are visitors calling to enquire about my wife’s health and offering useful and sometimes not so useful suggestions. I have to offer them a cup of tea or coffee. When relatives visit from far off places then I have to offer them atleast a simple meal.

I have to also cope up with outstation house guests- brothers, assorted cousins , uncles, aunts and in-laws visiting us for a couple of days. You have to worry about looking after their timely requirements in addition to the needs of a patient at home, in terms of giving her timely medicines.

There is so much pressure at home that I have no time to think of anything else. So much so I have lost count of the days and dates. The other day I got confused about the day of the week. I thought it was Tuesday when it was already Wednesday. There are days when I find that I have had no time to go out, except for my mandatory morning walks!

If you are finding yourself short of breath just reading this piece, as I did, imagine the mindboggling stress and strain that housewives, especially women with school going children go through every day.

The job of a house ‘husband’, as I am finding it the hard way, is very tough! Fortunately, as a retired man with all the time available, I am enjoying the 24 x 7 project that God has forced on me! To be of service to my better half, who has slogged all her life to provide me a beautiful home and a wonderful family, is a privilege indeed!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cancer is Curable

The deadly word ‘Cancer’ invaded my home, when we recently discovered that my wife is suffering from the disease. As it happens in every instance, the whole family felt shattered at the very mention of the word. Helpful suggestions from scores of friends and relatives started pouring in. Well-Wishers started offering prayers for the speedy recovery. While every effort is being made to give the patient the best of both regular and alternative therapies, in my own quest to find out more about the disease, I decided to attend a meeting of the Press Institute of India at which the Raman Magasasay Award winner and Padma Bhushan awardee Dr. V Shantha, the driving force behind the Cancer Institute in Chennai and an authority on the subject gave a talk on ‘Health Care with specific reference to Cancer’

“Contrary to popular belief that Cancer means sure death, sixty five percent of cancer cases are curable. Developments in medical science, especially in the area of Oncology, is helping patients recover from the disease and lead a normal life”, Dr. Shantha said.

“Lung cancer is the top killer among men mainly due to tobacco related habits, whereas among women breast and cervical cancer are most common. Both these cancers, can be detected early through simple check ups. Apart from regular Mammograms, it will be a good idea for women to physically check up for any lumps in their breasts regularly and also consult gynecologists if they find any unusual discharges between periods,” she said.

Dispelling the concept of miracles in cancer cure, she said that all improvements in Cancer cure were a result of modern science, which today can provide ‘targeted treatment` for different types of cancers, resulting in much higher success rate in Cancer cure. Today the disease can be diagnosed even at the molecular stage (without any sort of growth / tumor or physical appearance as such)

While one of the reasons for cancer in a patient could be genetic, she mentioned that sometimes the disease can skip a generation or two. Keeping in mind that `Prevention is better than cure`, she urged the media to create greater awareness among people that cancer is like any other disease and can be treated if diagnosed early. Even in the advanced stages of cancer, which had no cure, the patients are given palliative care to make them live a less miserable life.

Answering a question about falling hair as one of the most humiliating side effects of cancer treatment among women, she said, `though a remedy for this has not yet been found the falling hair will definitely grow again. It is a temporary sacrifice that the women will have to make, if they want a cure from the disease`.

Talking to several other cancer survivors and experts, I realised that the cancer patients willing to fight the disease with a positive approach to the treatment have a better success rate than others who give up hope easily.

I came back from the meeting reassured that cancer patients need not fear that they have received a death sentence from the God at the very mention of the word `cancer`. I am sure with the grace of the same God and her own will power to fight the disease, my wife will join the ranks of lakhs of cancer survivors to tell her success story to the world.

(The above article appeared in the Round & About columns of the August,2012, issue of EvesTouch magazine published from Chennai:)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Transformation of a Cute Little Colony

I have been a resident of Sastri Nagar in Adyar, an upper middle class colony in South Madras, since 1974. We were living in a rented house till 1982, after which my family moved to our own little independent house a couple of streets away.

I remember my first visit to Sastri Nagar in 1967. I was on an official visit and the Branch Manager of my company had invited me for dinner at his house. We had to cross a narrow one way iron bridge over the Adyar River connecting Gandhi Nagar, and beyond, to the city. A traffic constable was stationed to allow vehicles from either side alternately.

Sastri Nagar was earlier part of Urur Kuppam, a coastal village adjacent to the beautiful Elliots Beach. My friend’s house was one of the dozen independent houses in the area with plenty of open spaces all around. It seemed that during the rainy season the entire area would be flooded and Sastri Nagar would look like a lake dotted with houses!

When I moved to Sastri Nagar in 1974, though, the area had seen some development with more independent houses (but there were still plenty of empty plots). During the rainy season, in the absence of any storm water drainage system, the area remained water logged for a couple of days, making life miserable for all the residents, with knee deep water all around and all kinds of creepy-crawly things floating into the house.

Besant Nagar, lying between the Beach and Sastri Nagar was fast developing, with a complex of Housing Board flats servicing different stratas of society; categorized as HIG, MIG & LIG flats, paving the way for a number of shops cropping up. For all our daily necessities we had to go to Besant Nagar, or walk up to Lattice Bridge Road (LB Road), or to the adjacent Vannanthurai Street; a colony of Washermen (dhobis).

Modern stores on L.B.Road was our favourite grocery stores who door delivered our requirements. Today we have a number of depatment Stores in the area with a choice of both local and imported items.

For a number of years a washer man’s family was our neighbor. He (and many from his community) sold off their properties to builders, and with that money decided to look at alternative occupations; thus moving up the social ladder. Though Vannanthurai still exists, there are no Vannans (dhobhis) in this area now. Those who remain have become `Iron men’ or `Istriwallahs’, as they are known in the North.

Laxmi Sagar, the Udipi Restaurant dishing out delicious South Indian snacks was the only restaurant serving the entire area and it was located (and continues to exist) in one corner, at the Adyar Telephone Exchange signal on LB Road. Today we have a choice of multi-cuisine restaurants offering Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Continental flavours and within walking distance from our house in 14th Cross Street, we get everything from “pin to elephant”. We even have a branch of the ubiquitous Grand Sweets, just two minutes walk from our home.

Eros Cinema , gave way to the popular Wedding Hall – Shantha Sundara Mahal, which in turn gave way to Mitsubishi Motors showroom, was the only theatre in the area for long. Today the avid cinema goers in the area have to visit Ganapathiram theatre on L.B.Road or Jayanthi theatre on the same road in Thiruvanmiyur. Theagaraja Theatre opposite Jayanthi is closed down and is expected to take a new avatar soon.

Whoever was in charge of the layout of Sastri Nagar and numbering of the streets in the civic body must have been off his rocker! In Sastri Nagar the streets are not sequentially numbered. Eighth cross becomes 5th cross, 14th cross merges with 13th cross and the other way around. 7th cross runs parallel to 12st cross which in turn is parallel to 8th cross. 11th cross cuts across all these streets! Confusing? Imagine the plight of a first time visitor to Sastri Nagar trying to locate an address without proper direction. He will be totally lost in the maze of `cross streets`

In the good old days there was a `Kudam`(water pot) shaped water tank placed at on a height in the middle of the colony, with, a bus stop below it , which was referred to as a landmark for anyone visting the area. While the bus stop has vanished as there are no bus services on that particular road now, the tank too is lost among a host of multistoried apartments. Besides the streets are permanently dug up by the civic officials for some reason or the other. The colony has become a trap for unwary pedestrians and vehicle owners.

The price of land in Sastri Nagar in 1974 was Rs.15, 000/- per ground, which had become Rs.60, 000 by the time I decided to buy a plot in 1980. Today the price quoted is Rs.4 crore per ground. By virtue of owning a house on a plot of 3000 sq.ft. I can now consider myself a Crorepathi, at least on paper!

Until the early 90s, Sastri Nagar was a cute little colony, with lovely houses built by retired bureaucrat’s, upcoming businessmen and a few professionals. In the last two decades the greedy builders have managed to tempt the owners of the beautiful houses to go in for joint development of plots, with the result, Sastri Nagar has become a concrete jungle putting tremendous pressure on the poor infrastructure when it comes to garbage collection, sewage & water connections . As in the neighboring Besant Nagar and Kalakshetra areas, some of the streets are witnessing the appearances of commercial ventures in a primarily residential area, transforming the profile of the area.

All the development has come at a huge cost of the beauty and serenity of the colony. For over 20 years my home was a peaceful place tucked inside a small lane facing the Colony`s only Corporation play ground. Today we are surrounded by multistoried apartments on three sides blocking the sea breeze which we could enjoy in the afternoons. With strange people peeking into our homes at all odd hours, our privacy is lost forever!

I will, however, not think of leaving Sastri Nagar because of its strategic location - being located at a ten minute walking distance from the lovely Elliots Beach. I have been going for a walk to the Beach for the last 38 years- every day watching the Sun rise and breathing fresh air, recharging both my body and mind!.

It is another matter that I go for a walk in my car!

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Encounters with Yama

It is often said that while the date of birth of a person is pre-determined, his date of death is decided only by the Lord. As we are growing, we witness the death of many near and dear ones.  We also read about the passing away of celebrities suddenly or due to illness.

Almost all people above 60 have the habit of turning first to the obituary section of their favorite newspaper, every day, to find out if any of their friends/ acquaintances have passed away in order to count their blessings!

During our younger days, we think that death happens only to others – especially the older people. We never associate it with ourselves unless we are involved in some accidents or serious illnesses.  I am going to share with you a couple of my encounters with Yama!

The first incident happened almost 42 years ago, when I was still a bachelor in Mumbai! I was leaving my job in Grant Kenyon & Eckhardt to join ACIl; Delhi.  My boss in Grant was not happy. He tried to brainwash me from leaving. The day after I met him, I was very confused. Skipping office I decided to take a long drive to clear my head. I chose the National Park in Borvilli, a Western suburb in Mumbai, which is located on a small hill. It was a winding road going up and down the hill. As I was driving on the lonely road down the hill, I was totally lost in thoughts. Suddenly I saw a dog cross my path. Jolted out of my reverie, I applied the breaks. To my shock I discovered that it was not working. Narrowly missing the dog, I tried to bring down the speed of the car by changing gears and my repeated attempts to bring the car to a halt failed.

On one side of the road there were rows of trees while on the other side was an open steep drop of about 200 ft. Added to the break problem, I realized even the steering was not moving in the direction that  I wanted it to. The Car was running zigzag, threatening to veer off the road anytime! As the car was rolling down hill faster and faster, I became panicky.

At that point I realized I was going to be involved in a major accident and that I may not come out of it alive. All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind and I was praying hard to the Lord to save me. Suddenly my car veered to the right and stopped after hitting a tree. In the impact I passed out. When I came back to my senses, I realized that I was in an awkward position in the car, almost upside down. My car had turned turtle and its four wheels were on top while I was sandwiched between the steering wheel and the seat. With great difficulty I extricated myself out of the car and came out to find that I had escaped a major accident with minor scratches. The car, however, was badly damaged (which was another matter), but on that otherwise empty road my favorite Lord Balaji appeared in the form of a local guy who helped me out.  Those few minutes my car was running downhill without control, I was literally facing death!

Another experience happened just a couple of weeks ago.

One morning I was driving my car to my office, on the narrow two lane road, not far from my home. I was driving slowly and though my lane was clear, there was bumper to bumper traffic on the opposite lane. Suddenly I found a call taxi coming towards me in the empty space in front. I thought the taxi driver  was trying to jump the queue taking advantage of the clearer space in front of me and would  try to sneak  his way back  again into the row of vehicles in the opposite lane.  While I was trying to steer the car to the left to avoid a possible collision, the taxi driver continued to come towards me. I knew something was wrong and thought in those few seconds we were going to have a head-on collision! Literally staring at death!

Fortunately, since I was driving slowly and the taxi also was not that fast, the collision only damaged the two vehicles. Nothing happened to any of us, in either of the car. While I thought the taxi driver was drunk, it turned out that he had dozed off at his wheel, because he was returning back to his garage after driving the whole night and was very tired!

I have had all kinds of accidents involving my car during the last 45 years. Anyone else with a weaker heart would have stopped driving. But I have been carrying on putting full faith in my Lord to save me every time!

I realize that faith alone is not enough anymore. With advancing age and failing reflexes, I am finding driving very stressful and getting involved in `near ` accident situations,  every other week. As a friend of mine advised me, even God can’t help me if my time has come to keep my appointment with Lord Yama!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Fall of a cook

My friends and family are well aware of my interest in cooking. It is a creative pursuit and a great stress buster. It is a hobby that I also thoroughly enjoy.

The other day I was going down memory lane to recall when I first tried my hand at cooking.

I was about 8 years old with a 4 year old sister. My mother, a pious woman with strong beliefs in tradition, would sit in a corner during those days in a month, when she considered herself impure. She would not cook nor perform puja on those days. It was a kind of a three day holiday for her from her daily routine. Those three days, my father would take over her role, get the children ready for school, do the cooking, wash clothes etc. Because of this extra load he would be very tense and both my sister and I had to be very careful lest we earn his wrath. At the slightest provocation he would beat us black & blue!

It so happened that once when my dad was away on a three day official tour, my mother had to sit out and there was no one to look after us; especially to cook a meal for us, since we could not afford to buy food from outside.

My mother thought that at 8, I was old enough to learn some basic cooking. Standing in a corner, she taught me how to get a coal fired aduppu (Sigdi) ready. Then, showed me how to cook rice and dal and make a simple Rasam. I followed her step by step instructions and `lo & behold’ a basic three course meal for the family was ready in 60 minutes – Dal rice, rasam rice and of course rice and buttermilk .

I still remember the compliment I received from my mother for cooking a decent and palatable meal. She went around telling all our neighbors about my performance. I was proud that I had passed the first test in cooking successfully. This incident sowed the first seed of interest in me for cooking.

I had a few more opportunities as a teenager to cook at home; when I learnt to make a simple porial (dry vegetable curry) and vathal-kulambu (a kind of sambar without dal).

The real test for my cooking abilities came after my marriage when we moved to Chennai from Delhi and my parents moved to Mumbai to look after my bachelor younger brother.

My tradition bound wife made me perform the role my father would perform during `those days’ but only in the kitchen because by this time we had a servant who was looking after the other functions of the house like cleaning, washing etc. I continued to perform the role until my parents returned to stay with me permanently in 1986 when my mother started helping my wife in the kitchen. As long as my mother was alive till 2000, I was not allowed to enter the kitchen, as the two women were more than what a kitchen could hold!

After my mother passed away, I decided to help my wife in the kitchen by planning the menu for the day, buying and cutting vegetables…and even became a Sunday cook, giving my wife a holiday from the kitchen for that day (or so I thought). On some Sundays I would invite all the fifteen members of the `joint’ family we have in our compound for a meal. My specialities were ( and continue to be ): Avial (mixed vegetable dish made with curd), Appalam (Papad) Vathal Kuzhambu and Paruppu Urundai More Kulambu (Similar to Kadi Vadi of Gujarat).

Whenever I was on tour in U.S.A, I made my cousins and nephews happy by cooking a meal of my favourite items. During the five years my son was staying in USA, I visited him every year for a week and cooked his favourite items, without my wife breathing down my neck. Many of his friends would barge into my son`s home for the good home meals because of which I had to always cook for atleast for five to six people to ensure that none of his friends went back disappointed.

Everything was going fine until I decided to cook a meal every other day, back at home. I thought I was helping my wife by saving her at least 90 minutes of quality time in the mornings, when she was very busy with hundred and one other things to do.

But my wife had other ideas. She thought I was encroaching into her territory without her permission; and not only making a mess but also upsetting all the arrangements in the kitchen. I have now been banned from entering the kitchen without her permission. Even my Sunday stints at the kitchen have become rare.

My dreams of becoming a great cook, admired(!) by friends and all connoisseurs of good food, lies shattered at the doors of our kitchen!

Feedback welcome also on or 9840392082

Monday, June 11, 2012

Publicity & Film Industry

My first exposure to village life was at the age of 7 when I went to stay with an uncle, who was an Asst. Station Master of a small station near Gooty on the Mumbai -Chennai route. It was also my first exposure to a touring talkie where the villagers saw old movies sitting on rickety chairs or simply lying on the ground, in front of the screen. Every day there were two shows in the evening and every Friday the movie was changed.

The publicity for the new movie started a few days earlier. A bullock cart or a horse carriage carrying the posters of the film would move slowly around the streets of all the villages nearby. The driver of the cart would make announcements through a portable public address system and an assistant would distribute leaflets on the new movie to passersby and houses on the way. If the touring talkie could afford it, a band would also accompany the cart playing music to attract the audience. In addition posters of the new movies giving show details would be pasted at all the vantage points. Cinema slides featuring the forthcoming movies would also be shown in the touring talkies during breaks.

Over a period of time resourceful producers have used imaginative ways to promote their films. S.S. Vasan of Gemini Studios was a giant among them. He was the first to introduce the concept of big banners and hoardings to promote his multi lingual extravaganza – Chandralekha. It was also one of the mostly highly publicized movies of its time through various media. He is considered the father of Giant Film Hoardings on Mount Road with which Madras was associated for a long time.

Apart from experimenting with vertical posters for his movie; “Gumasthavin Penn” he also used the direct mailing idea for his movie `Sansar`. For his film `Avvaiyar` he printed special invitation cards with highlights of the film and distributed the same door to door; accompanied by a band. It was like an invitation to a wedding and he ensured that the novel idea was written about in all print media which generated a lot of interest in the movie.

Playing the songs of a film outside or in the foyer of the cinema hall and distribution of song books containing the lyrics of the film songs were other methods used to publicize a film those days.

The concept of showing Trailers (trial part) was introduced in the mid fifties to promote new English films. The idea was quickly adopted by Indian movies in later years. Projecting trailers of a new movie in the group cinema theatres and in multiplexes is done even today.

Over the years the press has been the primary media through which new movies have been promoted. While paid advertisements are common, plenty of stories about movie and its stars begin appearing in the media, starting with the `Muhurat` of the movie, generating free editorial publicity. Gossips about the leading pair, tit bits about happenings, on and off the shooting floor are used for this purpose. Sometimes even a controversy between the producer and director or a director and the Stars etc. are passed on to the media, both newspapers and magazines to keep the movie in the news.

With the advent of music cassettes, Audio launch of the film (tape/CDs containing the songs of the film) held a couple of weeks / months before the actual release of the film at a glittering function has become the launching pad and a regular publicity effort of the movies to follow. Between the audio launch and actual release interesting stories about the making of the film, interviews with the stars and directors also appear in all the media in an effort to create curiosity about the film. It helps to keep the title of the movie at the top of the mind of potential cinema goers!

While most of the producers use the time tested methods for publicizing their movies, Kamal Hasan tried an interesting experiment to promote his movie Virumandi in `B` and `C` markets.(semi-urban and rural areas). It was a two in one concept aimed at publicizing the highlights of the movie and at the same time fighting the unauthorized DVD menace.

Local cable TV Channels, featuring local news and events are very popular in the districts / mofussil areas across the country. He entered into a deal with several cable operators in Tamilnadu, providing them a 30 minute capsule of a special programme. The capsule featured the highlights, selected sequences, songs etc. at the end of which he would appear on the screen, appealing to the audience to see `Virumandi` in regular theatres and not on a DVD, if they really wanted to enjoy the visual experience of the movie. He supplied such free capsules to the cable operators every week for a fixed period. The cable operators were delighted to get a free programme and were telecasting the same several times during the week creating a huge awareness for the film in B & C markets. Even paid publicity would not have got this kind of awareness and interest that this novel method got for this movie!

Another idea which has caught on in recent times is the concept of promotional tours featuring the director, stars and other important technicians going around big cities, promoting the film through road shows to audiences- at the theatres screening the film, Big Malls and even colleges. This helps generate a lot of free editorial publicity in the print media. The impact is greater when the shows are co-sponsored by popular TV channels. Many Reality shows are used for this purpose.

In these days of multiple shows in multiplexes and the instant communication through twitter, face book and social media has helped create a new form of word-of-mouth publicity, which can make or mar a film`s success! There are `sms kings` who keep `tweeting` their views to friends even while they are watching a movie! Small budget films with good story but limited budgets for publicity have found the social media generating such instant and widespread word-of-mouth publicity helping them hit the bulls-eye in the Box office!

Proving the age old theory on advertising that while good products will survive and grow, (albeit slowly with a limited advertising budget), a bad product will get killed faster even with good and impactful advertising! The world of brands and films have enough examples to prove this point!

The author can be contacted on: or mob: 9840392082

Prakash Nair- a great Tabler; a wonderful friend

On Sunday, 20th May 2012, another good friend I was gifted with by Round Table India, was snatched away from us. Yes, Prakash Nair of Coimbatore North RT No.20, who spread cheer among anyone who came in contact with him, is no more.

The last time I visited his house in Coimbatore, he was suffering from multiple disabilities. Surviving with medication and the unstinted support of his wife Latha; who had to manage not only the responsibilities of running a house but also look after a patient`s physical needs single handedly! Prakash was literally a ghost of his former self.

But that is not the Prakash that I want to talk about in this tribute to his memory. I want to recall the dynamic Prakash, ever cheerful, ever helpful, and full of ideas not only for his business but for people and organisations that he was associated with. Coimbatore North RT No.20 and Round Table India were the big beneficiaries of his penchant for service.

I got to know Prakash after I shifted to Madras in 1974 and started visiting Coimbatore on business trips. Along with another common friend Pratap Gokuldas, he roped me into the publicity efforts for his Table`s Vellalore Village Project. That was the beginning of a long friendship which was cemented further by our involvement in several activities of Round Table India, of which he became a President in 1979-80. Round Table India later conferred on him the Distinguished Service Award for his many contributions in helping the Association reach an eminent position it enjoys today!

He also won several other Awards from industry bodies and youth organisations like Jaycee International for his ideas and leadership qualities.

He was one of the many Round Table friends who helped me with business and gave financial support when I decided to venture on my own with Anugrah Marketing & Advertising in 1986. He also helped me find an office space for Anugrah (Coimbatore branch); in the same building where the corporate office of Vivin &Co, the well known consumer durable distribution company was located. He was such a popular Tabler that his office became a must visit destination for any Tabler visiting Coimbatore those days. He was ever helpful to anyone who needed help. Prakash was one of the many Tabler friends from Coimbatore who taught me the value of friendship.

In my earlier years, whenever I visited Coimbatore, he would invite me to stay with him, which brought me close to his whole family; his doting parents, his charming wife Latha and their two loving kids, Raj & Nisha. The family`s hospitality was legendary! In all these years I never missed any of his family functions.

He was a fellowship man all the way. He loved the glass that cheers and thoroughly enjoyed cracking jokes and playing pranks with people, especially the Circlers who used to love to hate him. His role as the ‘Seargent at Arms’ at Round Table India AGMs will always be remembered; so also his ready wit and his ability to make people reel with laughter when he was at the mike!

Later when his family moved to their spacious Dream Home on Thadagam Road, he would organize Chamber music to encourage musicians and other fun get-togethers to celebrate some event or the other which brought hoards of his friends and well wishers into his home. He encouraged Latha to display her enormous talent for singing Carnatic music by extending his full support to her when she went on Concert tours. `UPASANA’ a cultural Association which he started was a sincere effort on his part to encourage Carnatic music in Coimbatore. He was way ahead of his time in terms of ideas or activities.

His troubles started within a couple of years after he moved into his dream home. He was afflicted by severe depression – a problem which some people with hyper energy are known to face in life. The treatment led to other complications finally leading to a massive stroke which took away Prakash`s power of speech, a terrible loss for a person whose very strength was his ability to connect with all kinds of people, with his great communication skills. Best of treatment provided by the family did not stop Prakash gradually losing other faculties leading to his total dependence on Latha to even perform his daily chores. But during all those suffering years; his mind continued to be sharp, as I found during my interactions with him assisted by Latha.

My dear Prakash, while God at last decided to relieve you of the prolonged agony that you suffered for the last two decades. Prabha and I along with hundreds of your friends and other young Round Tablers whom you have inspired and motivated, pray for your soul to rest in peace!

B.I.Chandhok- Salute to a man who has seen 1000 moons

It was in 1969 that my tryst with the Round Table started when I joined the Bombay Round Table No.6. I was hardly a couple of months old in the Club when one day the chairman of the Club called me and requested me to be present at the Club meeting the following day as the national President and Secretary of the Round Table India were making an official visit to the club. That was my first exposure to the legendary Krish Chitale (President) and Indu Chandhok (Secretary). While Krish impressed me as a committed, no nonsense and serious person, Indu came across as a `Jolly Good Fellow`. I did not realize then that it was the beginning of a long and enduring relationship with both these gentlemen.

The next time I met Indu was at the RTI AGM in Delhi in 1970, my first AGM which opened the doors of a number of new friends across the country for me and made me an AGM addict. Indu was the candidate of the Establishment for the post of Vice President of RTI who would have automatically become the President the following year. Standing against him was a reluctant R.Desikan from my Table, who had started his tabling career in Madras Mylapore Round Table No 3 to which Indu belonged. It was Bombay Vs Madras fight in which two good friends were pitched against each other. The Bombay team felt that in view of his soft corner for Indu ,Desikan might withdraw his nomination on the floor of the house at the AGM, before elections. My club had charged me and Ashok Dey ,another green tabler to sit behind Desi, holding on to his coat tails, to prevent him from getting up to make his intention known. Indu lost the elections by a narrow margin never to become the President of RTI and Desi won against the establishment but lost his popularity as a Tabler for ever. I have always felt guilty of indirectly being responsible for Indu losing the opportunity to become the President of RTI .

I also remember Indu for another reason. He was one of the three Round Table stalwarts ( Krish, Indu and Ramoo Ramanathan) from Madras who attended my wedding in Madras in 1972. Indu presented me with a Round Table India tie.

In 1974, I moved to Chennai and joined Madras West Round Table No.10. I got actively involved not only with the activities of my Table but also helping the other city Tables and RTI in the publicity efforts. Indu, who had already developed a soft corner for me entrusted my agency Grant Kenyon to handle the publicity of the Carex brand of auto spare parts which his company was selling. This brought me very close to Indu.

By this time Indu had turned square and become active as a forty oner. It is now history that he pioneered a lot of new ideas in 41 Clubs going on to become a popular President of both National Association of 41 Clubs of India and 41 International. He conceived the idea of the now popular YAP programme and was primarily responsible for making 41 India, a force to reckon with in the international forum. Along with Kishore as the Secretary of 41 International when he was the President, he gave us a memorable 41 international AGM in Madras.

Once I turned square I also became active in 41 India activities and was the Publicity convener for four terms. This also provided me an opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with Indu, who was already being proclaimed as the `Bheeshma Pitha Maha`of the 41 movement in India. Indu always claims that I was responsible for suggesting his name for the post of the President of 41 International at a truncated 41 India Board meeting in Kodaikanal. In retrospect I feel happy that I was responsible for correcting a wrong done to Indu in RTI, when I was indirectly responsible for his losing his election for the post of VP of RTI at the Delhi AGM in 1970.

A portly old man with a young heart Indu is a multifaceted personality. He is considered the father of the Motor Sports in India. He passed on his passion to his son Vicky and grand son Karun who is currently making waves in the International Motor Sports arena. An active Free Mason , he is the Past President of Rotary Club of Madras Central. He has been also very active in several other educational and community based social service organizations in Madras.

Belonging to a second generation Madrasi Punjabi family, Chandhoks are popular in the Madras social circles. A fantastic host, who loves attending parties and giving parties , Indu and Indira are well known among friends for some fantastic get togethers they have hosted in their lovely home in Nungambakkam, in Chennai. And in their family home in Kodaikanal. Indira is ever ready to host a party for 5 or 50 people at short notice-- to make her ever exuberant husband happy. I have always been a great admirer of this lovely couple.

Indu never comes across as a serious person even when he is discussing a serious subject. His ready wit in the form of one-liners and his sense of humour keep any discussion lively. His enormous enthusiasm and energy for anything that he handles is infectious. A great friend, ever helpful to any one in distress, Indu has endeared himself to a legion of friends both in India and abroad. He is as popular with children as he is with elders. My children discovered the child in Uncle Indu when they went on a private trekking trip with him in Kodaikanal years ago.

I am very proud to have Indu as my friend for the last 42 years! While wishing him Many Happy Returns on his 80th Birthday, I pray God that he continues to enjoy good health so that he is there to bless me on my `Sathabishekam` eleven years from now, when I would have also seen thousand moons!

No Limits to outsourcing

Thanks to the software industry which has put India on the world map, the word `outsourcing` is mostly associated with the IT industry. If brand India is a name to reckon with in the world market, the country owes a lot to the ‘wiz kids’ from the Indian Universities who constitute the ‘resources’ of the IT industry, providing software solutions to a whole host of multinational companies. They are also the bone of contention among politicians of the Western World who feel that Indians are taking away the jobs of their own countrymen!

Outsourcing has now become a by-word in almost every industry in India. We are all aware of BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing). But did you know about KPOs`- for Knowledge Process Outsourcing: RPOs- Research Process Outsourcing popular in Biotech Industry or Requirement Process Outsourcing popular in the HR industry. LPOs- Legal Process Outsourcing used by corporates, MBPOs- Medical Business Process Outsourcing in which Apollo Hospitals claim to be pioneers. The latest `PO` to be talked about is the MPO- Marketing Process Outsourcing which takes care of all marketing functions of a client, popular among smaller companies.

Be it manufacturing – where companies outsource the components required for their equipment, or the film industry where every support service required for the production of a film is outsourced, almost everyone is looking for opportunities to keep his own organization lean and mean. The idea seems to be to keep the fixed overheads to the minimum and get everything else possible outsourced!

There are service organizations who offer to provide you every conceivable service, for a monthly retainer plus costs. Whether you require the services of a plumber, electrician, carpenter or just a couple of hands to keep the house clean, there are service providers ready with requisite skilled manpower. Some of them also help in paying your bills, help you get tickets or do anything to save on your valuable time and efforts.

I have been using the services of a car cleaning service provider for the last few years. As per the agreement, two boys visit my home every alternate month. They not only wash my car & tyres clean but also vacuum clean the seats and floorings and end it up with a coat of polish to the car. Saving me the bother of taking the car to a service center and waiting there!.

Outsourcing of all wedding arrangements and marriage contracts to event managers is the in thing! From `Kolam` to `Kattu Sadam` we will take care of everything scream advertisements of marriage contractors in all Tamil family magazines.

Today there are experts who even can take care of all funeral arrangements.

`When you are in mourning and desolate, we will stand by your side` claims an advertisement for `ANTIM SAMSKAR SEVA`, projecting themselves as Mumbai`s only dignified funeral and cremation service! They not only provide you the flowers, garlands etc required but also the materials for `Antiyeshti` and bier (bamboo stretcher) etc. A well-appointed air-conditioned hearse to carry the dead body with some seats for the accompanying relatives and two trained, uniformed volunteers is the USP of the service.

Similar services are offered by any number of individual service providers in Chennai. As soon as a death occurs in your family, you just have to make a call to the specialist; the guy takes care of everything. Right from getting you a booking at the electric crematorium, a doctor`s certificate, and providing you a team consisting of a priest and helpers who take care of all physical and religious requirements. The Besant Nagar crematorium close to my residence in Chennai also has an adjacent building run by a religious outfit, where rooms are rented out with full facilities for conducting rites; special cooks and required manpower on a turnkey basis. All that you have to do is to book the room and pay an advance for the required services. From day one to day thirteen when the `Subasweekaram` feast is given, everything is taken care of.

What a boon this is compared to the amount of trouble we went through 18 years ago when my father passed away, when we had to run from pillar to post for the priest, for the helpers and for all other arrangements.

The way the concept of outsourcing is progressing, I will not be surprised if we start looking for somebody to do even our daily chores!

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kashmir is safe for a Dream Holiday

Kashmir is variously described as a Paradise on Earth, a dreamland destination., a crown Jewel on the map of India. It is all these and much more. As my wife and I discovered during `a dream come true` trip to this land where many holiday ideas are realized. Where the honey-dewed orchards, flower-carpeted meadows, rippling lakes and blue skies, icy mountains beckon everyone to sample the many delights of the Valley.

After 40 years of wedding bliss, When I took the decision to help my wife Prabha realize her Childhood dream and looked for some friends to accompany us – there was a general reluctance. As people are still worried about the safety and security of tourists in Kashmir. However, the travel Agent who coordinated our trip assured us that Kashmir was quite safe and that a few groups that he had sent to Kashmir last year returned with very happy memories!

They also offered us the company of Laxmi and Narasimha Swamy a couple from Vizag, who were courageous enough to undertake the trip along with us. We could not have asked for better companions as they were fun to be with.

It was a pleasure cum pilgrimage trip. In the first lap of the journey we visited Srinagar – the city famous for its Dal lake and Mughal gardens, Sonmarg known as a gateway to Ladakh , Gulmarg – the meadow of flowers and Pahelgam – valley of Shepherds. In the second lap we visited the famous Vaishnodevi Temple in Katra about 55 kms from Jammu.

This article is not only about the scenic beauty of Kashmir valley but also about our special experiences and my impressions about the places and people of Kashmir.

Beginnings of a dream holiday

Our flight to Srinagar from Delhi via Jammu was routine except that we had for company the Chief Minister of Omar Abdulla traveling with us. From the airport we were taken straight to the Boat house – Bendemeer – on the famous Dal Lake, where we were booked to spend a night. From Gate no 9, on the Dal gate, the road running parallel to the Dal lake , we were tranfered to our Boat House in a Shikara – a small manually operated boat used for transporting the visitors from the road to the boats and for pleasure rides in the Lake. Each Boat house has a Shikara attached to it which the tourists of the particular boat house can use free of charge. Our well appointed Boat House had a reception hall, dining hall, pantry and four double bed rooms. It was a modest accommodation overlooking the lake.

After a quick wash, we returned to the Dal gate on the same Shikara to begin our trip to various places. The highlight of the visit on the first day was the visit to the picturesque Tulip Gardens which can be seen only for a month in April, every year, when the flower blossoms. We were lucky to witness the fascinating variety of Tulips in myriad colours and varieties, spread across the huge garden.

On our return we took a joy ride in the lake sitting in our Shikara. We passed through hundreds of boat houses and a section devoted to a floating market where daily necessities are sold. During this trip we came across a no of salesmen in Boats trying to sell a variety of gift articles. A word of caution: Even the reduced prices of articles in these boats are atleast 50% higher than outside.

Relaxing in the front area of the Boat house in the evening, we were captivated by the beautiful scenary provided by the setting sun behind the mountains. In the night when the lights are switched on by all the boats – Dal lake becomes Golden lake, thanks to the reflection of thousands of amber coloured lights in the water.

On the second day after checking into a hotel, we visited the Shankaracharya temple located on a small hillock., a high octoganol plinth known as Takth-i-Sulaiman.. The site dates back to 250 BC. It is believed that Adi Shankaracharya performed Tapas in a cave here, which is still preserved for public viewing. This is the only tourist spot where we saw strict security managed by local police, who also were preparing and distributing `Rice Payas(am)`as Prasad(am) to all devotees. From the hillock you get a picturesque view of Srinagar and the lakes- Dal and the less famous Nageen lake-surrounding it. The temple is a must visit destination for all the Hindus.

Though we visited Nishat Gardens, Chasma Shahi and Shalimar Gardens all forming part of the Mughal Gardens. we were disappointed as we did not see enough varieties. We were told that the gardens will be in full bloom only in May/June.

We had heard that Srinagar used to be teeming with security forces and barricades on every street. But the situation has obviously changed. Because the area around Dal lake and other places we visited were teeming with tourists from all over India. The security forces were conspicuous by their absence.

While the breakfast and dinners were taken care of by the Hotels where we stayed thanks to a package deal, we had our lunches in local restaurants or Dabhas serving a wide variety of cuisines- including Idlis and Dosas and the ubiquitous Aloo Parathas. We were happy with the food we got during our stay in Kashimir. On the evening of the second day the hotel had arranged for a musical evening by some local singers in the Lobby. Since it was too noisy, we decided to it and have an early meal and retire.

The third day we took a trip to Sonmarg where I had an unforgettable experience!

Experiences of a lifetime

In Kashmir, they say, the weather is like Bombay fashion - it keeps changing every day. Fortunately, the day we visited Sonmarg it was bright and sunny. The snow clad mountain was beckoning the visitors to enjoy, not only the breathtakingly beautiful scenary but also participate in the fun activity of riding on a sledge board & skating on the ice wearing the special gum boots available on hire. Since it was the first time she was seeing snow and ice, Prabha was excited. .As the surface was slippery, we were advised to hire a ‘sledge’ with two boys as helpers. After you sit on the sledge one boy pulls the sledge with a rope and another pushes the sledge while going up the mountain. I found it extremely difficult to sit on the sledge with stretched legs and my protruding tummy and so opted to walk up the mountain, holding on to one of the helper. Beyond a point the men in the group of four decided to stay back. Prabha, however, with her child like enthusiasm, decided to take the risk of continuing with the adventure of going up the Icy mountain, accompanied by Laxmi who was constantly encouraging her to take up the challenge. While the gentlemen were standing and praying, the ladies managed to reach the top of the mountain from where they were shown the path leading to Amarnath. Prabha felt as if she had conquered the Mount Everest.

While the climb up is strenuous and takes almost 60 minutes , one can slide down fast to the starting point in 5 minutes, supported by one of the helpers sitting on the sledge. Watching Prabha and Laxmi having fun sliding down, I also gathered courage to sit behind the helper on the sledge, holding on to him for dear life and sliding back to the starting point. It was a thrilling experience.

While I escaped any accident walking up or sliding down the slippery snow clad mountain, when I stepped out of the sledge and put forward my right leg to stand up, it went down the loose ice right upto the thigh. Visual images of people going down quick sands passed through my mind . I really got frightened and screamed. Two boys had to pull me out to safety. Though there were other trekking possibilities, shaken by my experience, we decided to pack up and return to the safety of our hotel room.

At Gulmarg, which is about 90 minutes drive from Srinagar and famous for film shootings, I had my first experience of riding a horse. For a heavy man like me, made heavier by the hired big overcoat and gum boots and looking like an Eskimo, getting on top of the horse was itself an ordeal, The helper guided me to insert one foot in the foot rest on the left of the horse and asked me to hold on to him and throw my right leg to the other side so that I can sit on the saddle of the tall horse. After two failed attempts I finally managed to get on top of the horse, much to the amusement of the onlookers and collateral damage to some parts of my body- as I discovered later.

The ride itself was not comfortable. After sometime, thanks to the up and down jerks during the ride, I found my feet and back hurting, thighs becoming numb and at one point, I became panicky because my chest started paining. I asked the helper to stop and took deep breaths while praying the almighty for a safe journey. I even offered to sacrifice whatever hair I have on my bald pate to Lord Balaji at Tirupathi. Lord obviously responded to my appeal because soon I felt some relief and we carried on. Unfortunately, by the time we got on to the `Gondola`- the cable car which takes the tourists to the upland meadows of Kongdori `at 9000ft and beyond to the top of Apharwat range at a height of 14000ft for viewing the Himalayan peaks in Summer and for downhill skiing in winter - the weather turned murky and it started snowing. Watching the snow falling was again a first time experience for Prabha and she was delighted! Standing in the middle of vast expanse of white ice gave me goos pimples.

Like in Sonmarg, at the top of the icy mountains in Gulmarg – skating and skiing were in full swing. Since we had already experienced it at Sonmarg, we were content throwing ice balls at each other like kids! Prabha was also busy making `Ice Lingams`.

After a night halt at a hotel in Gulmarg, we proceeded to Pehelgam, which is situated at the confluence of the Sheshnag and Lidder river streams. Pahelgam, again has beautiful icy mountains, picturesque Valleys – Aru Valley and Betaab Valley ( so named because the shooting of the Hindi film Betaab featuring Sanjay Dutt and Amrita singh was held here).

Pehelgam is the place where lakhs of pilgrims assemble in June every year to start on the Amarnathji Yatra from Chandanwari- the last village in Pehelgam, trekking for three days to see the the Shivling made of ice in the Amarnath caves - which waxes and wanes with the moon.

The single road Mall in Pehelgam has well appointed shops selling a variety of gift items, peculiar to Kashmir. We picked up our quota of saffron, walnut and other dry fruits famous in the area. We also tasted Kauva, a special Kashmiri drink, offered instead of tea, made with hot water, cardamum, honey, some nuts and a dash of saffron.

As it was the flowering season, during our trips on the road, we saw miles and miles of apple trees with white flowers and no apples. Another popular activity is the cultivation of mustard plants. Vast areas covered with green and yellow mustard fields look like beautiful carpets spread on the earth. especially when viewed from the aircraft as the flight is on a descent to land at the Srinagar airport. We also got to see some saffron fields.

Simple folks

Kashmiris we saw during our trip were generally serious but friendly people. We did not come across any boisterous Kashmiri! Most of them are very fair and good looking. Men are well built and handsome. Kashmiris - especially men with a generous girth in the centre are rare to find. May be they were hidden behind the long overcoat called `Pheran` which every one wears during cold weather, with hands tucked inside the coats. Women are beautiful with chiseled features. Though they are poor they are all proud of their land. Almost every one eagerly asks you` Do you like Kashmir?`

A beauracrat in the Kashmir Government , who was seated next to us on the flight to Srinagar, was proud to talk about Kashmir`s beauty. With great enthusiasm he was pointing out the beautiful snow clad Peer Panja mountains glistening in the Sun, like silver mountains, passing below us.

Kashmir is cold throughout the year, though the intensity varies between Summers and Winters. While rich can afford to have heaters at home and in their cars, the common people carry a small portable heater basket called `Kangdi` with coal fire, hung around their necks . Or they sit on it to keep themselves warm.

Struggling Economy

Travelling by road to Pahelgam through the villages of Kashmir, we did not find signs of any progress anywhere. The villages are plain and simple with hardly any activity, as the men folks are away working at tourist spots earning their livelihood. However I was impressed with the sight of hoards of boys and girls in uniforms going to schools. I understand that the current government is laying a lot of emphasis on providing free education for children.

Some development is happening in the infrastructure sectors like roads and telecom. The only highway connecting Srinagar to Jammu (300kms) is being converted into a four lane road. You can see almost everyone carrying a mobile- another word of caution: only post paid facility is allowed in Kashmir. Your mobiles with prepaid facilty will not work here.

Though we saw massive new housing activities near the new Srinagar Airport on the out skirts of the city, we did not come across a single multi-storied building. It was interesting to note that there were no concrete structures in Kashmir. Most of the houses and buildings we saw were built with bricks and having slopy tin roofings with wooden frames., obviously to allow the snow or ice to slide down the roofs. It was also evident that a lot more needs to be done in terms of power and public transport. There is no rail connectivity within Kashmir. Public transport is restricted to buses, taxis and autos..

A manager of a local company whom I met said, ‘the last four years the situation has certainly improved a lot. It is a pity that the media is only giving negative publicity based on sporadic incidents happening in specific locations. Please tell your friends that Kashmir is safe today -especially all the tourist spots like Srinagar, Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pehelgam. if more and more people visit this state from across the country and abroad, the economy of the state will automatically improve’.

But the catch is that tourism can give employment only for six months in a year because of the extreme weather in winter months. And the supply of manpower to tourism industry far exceeds the demand, resulting in severe competition for available jobs in the industry. Most of the people we spoke to in our trip repeatedly said that they have to earn enough money in six months to take care of their family during the rest of the months when they have no jobs to do. If the government creates conducive atmosphere for industries to invest in the State, providing employment throughout the year, Kashmiris can really look forward to a better future., which should also help in resolving the contentious Kashmir issue, once and for all.

You can also do your bit to help the cause by planning your dream holiday to this much neglected Paradise on Earth, because Kashmir is now safe for travel. My wife and I have done our bit and in return have been rewarded with beautiful memories, which we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Useful Tips

1. Kashmir is safe. You can now confidently plan a trip to this Paradise on Earth with your family. Do it when you are still young so that you can participate in all the adventurous activities.

2. Try to finalise your plan a few months ahead and take advantage of economy rates of Air carriers and other tourist facilities

3. If you are planning to use the railways, please note that train services are available only upto Jammu. Beyond that you have to travel by road or air to reach Srinagar

4. Take enough warm clothings including monkey caps, gloves and woollen socks which will be required when you go picnicking at the top of icy mountains. Temperature range from 2oC to -5oC even during day time in March and April. I understand that June to August are comparatively warmer months.

5. Though you can book online for most of the facilities I would advise you to use the services of a travel agency in your town, who is familiar with the facilities available in J&K to serve different pockets and also has local contacts in Kashmir to address any special problems you may face.

6. Take enough supply of medicines you regularly use. You may not get specific medicines if you run out of stock.

7. Please note prepaid mobiles don’t work in Kashmir. Carry a mobile with post paid facility.

8. If you are the type who likes his two `chotas` or `badas` in the evening to keep yourself warm and spirited, please carry your own stock. There are no liquor shops or Bars in Kashmir.

9. If you are fussy about your food or tired of eating outside every day, I would advise you to carry some Podis & Vatha Kuzhambu paste and packets of banana chips. You can always whip up your favourite meal because cooked white rice and curds are available in every restaurant in Hotels.

10. Hindi is the most commonly used language in Kashmir. You can however get away with English because even the attenders in restaurants and vendors can understand some English.

11. Beware of touts and agents at the picnic spots on the icy mountains who help hire the special gears required to walk on the cold mountains. They can persuade you to part with more cash than necessary.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Is this fair advertising

Following article has been published by `Eves Touch` a monthly women`s magazine published from Chennai, in their April,2012 issue. Giving the valedictory address at the 10th Anniversary International Conference of Consumers Association of India, Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs; Mr. K V Thomas said that the Government was aware of advertisements that were not based on scientifically proven data, finding place in the media and warned of strong action against such publicity. In spite of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, Drug and Magic Remedies Act (Objectionable Advertisements Act) and the Cable Television Network Regulation Act to prevent misleading Advertisements; such ads are growing in number, taking the gullible consumers for a ride. ‘Reduce up to 10 Kg a week’, ‘get fair and glowing skin in ten days’, ‘have long and shiny hair in two weeks` or `become a chick-magnet in one spray’ – Claims such as these are what drives the sales of many health and beauty related products in the market. It is a well-known fact that as many dark men use fair & lovely cream as women, who are the primary targets – so much so that Emami has come up with a “Fair-Ever Cream” specially targeted at men. A young man lured by a television commercial showing a bevy of beautiful women falling over a young man because he was using a particular brand of deodorant spray bought a can to try his luck. Having sprayed himself with a generous portion of the liquid he stood outside the gate of a woman’s college only to find that not a single girl even glanced at him. He wrote a letter of protest to the company, accusing them of cheating him! For every such consumer who complains about a non-performing product, there are millions of consumers who continue to use a product hoping that it will help them in fulfilling their dreams and desires! The success of Fair & Lovely cream not only in India but also in African countries is a classic example of a product which exploits the weakness of human beings for fairer skin. If you visit the streets of some towns in Tamilnadu on a Friday morning, you will find many women with a distinct yellow layer on their hands and faces walking around – all of them have had an oil bath and have applied a generous dose of turmeric paste on their face and hands to make them look fairer! In their minds, yellow is better than black! Similarly men in South India are well known for applying generous portions of body talc powder on their faces after every bath to make themselves look fairer. It is this weakness of human beings to be what they are not that is exploited by manufacturers across the world. Resulting in misleading ads helping both the manufacturers and media, rake in huge profits. Who is to blame for this? The companies who produce such products or the media which disseminates information about the products, or the government which has failed to implement the Acts that are already in existence to protect consumers from such ads. More than anybody else I would blame the consumers themselves for falling for such ads. What else can you say for consumers, mainly middle class, who even today fall into the trap of companies or individuals promising higher returns for their investments, resulting in millions of people losing their hard earned money to fraudsters? Is there no remedy? Is there a forum to which genuinely affected consumers can take their grievances to? Thanks to the Consumer Protection Act 1986 and establishment of District Consumer Forums across the country, consumers can get speedy redressal for their complaints, provided they follow a certain procedure while buying any product – Always insist on a bill when buying any product and keep it safely for a length of time. Check the expiry date and MRP (Maximum retail price). In the event of a product not performing as per promises made, register a complaint through a letter or a mail and keep a file of the correspondence with the dealer or the company in the matter. It is in this context that organizations like Consumers Association of India (CAI for short) can help you. In the last 10 years of its existence CAI has handled nearly 10000 complaints from consumers, 98% of which got resolved without even going to any consumer forum. CAI now also has a system in place by which you can register your complaints through your mobiles (Visit CAI website for details Those conscientious citizens who feel agitated seeing blatantly misleading ads also can register their complaints with the Advertising Standards Council of India ( ASCI is a self-regulatory voluntary organization of the advertising industry formed by all its stakeholders; advertising agencies, media, advertisers and consumers. The Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI examines the complaints received from the public and if found legitimate requests the concerned company to stop such misleading advertisements. It has been found that in almost 80% of the cases the companies do respond positively to the ASCI` request. Though there is a time lag between the complaint and action taken, at least consumers now have a body to which they can refer their complaints. As per latest information received, ASCI is instituting a system by which it will retain the services of voluntary agencies to go through the thousands of advertisements in Print and television media on a regular basis and revert to them with details of misleading ads so that they can initiate action faster than the earlier system of waiting for receiving complaints from Consumers. `Is the consumer really a King today?`was the theme for the just concluded 10th anniversary International Conference held by Consumers Association of India. The deliberations of the conference highlighted the fact that though there are enough Acts in the country to protect consumer`s interests, it is the consumer who is not exercising his rights and responsibilities because either he/she is unaware of the same or is lazy to take up cudgels with the authorities concerned. When will the Indian consumer wake up to legitimately claim the crown of a King or Queen? Feedback welcome on 9840392082 or email:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Instant Marriage Solutions

“From Kolam to Kattu Sadam; from the traditional Rangoli out side the wedding hall to the packed meals given to departing groom`s party, we will take care of everything” scream advertisements in many family magazines.

“You have the bride and groom ready? – come to us, we will take care of all wedding arrangements- you just sign the cheque!” says another advertisement.

“Your NRI son is coming and he has just three weeks to find a bride and take her back to USA? Don’t worry; we have a package deal under which we will take care of all your requirements”

Managing weddings is big business and many chief cooks turned marriage contractors have found this truth and are laughing all the way to their banks. The concept of labour contracts for weddings has become almost non existent. Fortunately when I conducted the mega wedding of my eldest daughter, eighteen years ago, I could find a good cook who agreed to such an arrangement and I saved a couple of lakhs in terms of expenses. I had, of course, a whole battery of relatives, friends and office staff to help me manage the event!

Times have changed. In this stressful world people who claim that they have no time for anything are constantly looking for instant solutions to their problems. A family wedding is one such situation; leading to proliferation of wedding specialists catering to a variety of pockets.

Like in any service business, there are well known contractors who don’t accept contracts which do not fulfill their minimum billing requirements. Most of the contractors charge the wedding parties based on the number of meals to be served to guests and extra support required. The rate for a typical vegetarian South Indian meal in Chennai varies from Rs 200 per plate to Rs 500 per plate depending on the menu and the reputation of the contractor!

Apart from chief cooks turned marriage contractors today there are a whole host of Event Managers who also specialize in managing big weddings on a turn key basis. From helping in designing fancy invitation cards, to providing theme based hall decorations. planning a 70 course multi-cuisine meal, managing the travel and stay arrangements of outstation guests, providing wholesome entertainment including special appearance of some Bollywood or Kollywood star(for a fee of course) and generally looking after every guest including a nice parting gift, the event manager takes care of everything. Depending on the depth of a client`s pockets, the event manager can help blow up the not-so-hard earned black money to massage people`s ever bloating egos!

Investing in Wedding Halls is a good business to be in- because boys and girls are forever getting married looking for a place to tie the knot in front of friends and relatives!

Good marriage halls are booked years in advance. In fact it is not unusual for a bride`s father to book a famous hall first and then looking for the bride-groom. I know of a friend who tried this approach only to find that his daughter had already found her life partner from another community, had a registered marriage and then announced the news to her family. Though my friend felt let down, the positive side of the story is that he saved on the huge amount he would have otherwise spent on a grand wedding!

Marriages are made in Heaven- is an old saying. Today most of the marriages are made in cyberspace! Brides and Grooms try to find their life partners through the Internet, try to understand each other through chats on the net , mobiles or through web cameras and Skypes before saying `Yes`. It is not unusual for the bride and groom to meet each other just a couple of days before the wedding! It is another matter that many such instant marriages fall apart within a couple of months because of physical incompatibility, something, a couple can find out only when they live together under the same roof!

Like everything instant – instant coffee, instant foods, instant medicare- providing Instant Marriage Solutions has come to stay as a huge business opportunity for the multi talented marriage contractors and the event managers. Cheers to them!

Feedback welcome on 9840392082 or