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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