Monday, August 7, 2017

The Corner “Annachhi Kadai”


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

Today the calculator has been replaced by a computer with the necessary software suitable for retail operations, which also helps  in getting  printouts of  the bills for the customers.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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Down `photo` lane


   The old photo album is a  treasure trove of memories. The other day I was going through an old family album featuring photos of my siblings & I in our childhood. There were the mandatory photos taken when we were three months old, just after we had learned to turn on our stomachs. All of us staring at the camera with a frightened look and with a  black `kajol` dot on our cheeks to ward off the evil eye. For the same reason that   parents were not allowed to take photos of kids until they were three months old.
The next one showed all of us standing at different angles, probably when we were one year old. Except for my sister, who was wearing a `jaddi`,  all the male siblings were in our birthday suits! I also discovered separate albums for each one of us tracing our growth from childhood to our marriage. Marriage albums those days were with black sheets of paper bound in  black hard cover featuring black & white  photos pasted in position with four corner stickers. If you wanted to remove a picture from the album, it had to be torn off as it was not meant to be removed from the album.

I was thrilled to see a photo taken when I was four years old, clad in a pyjama /kurtha with my long hair tied  into a bun with flowers tucked in.  The photo was taken a couple of days before my family`s visit to Tirupathi to have my first `Mottai ( Mundan) , as was customary in our family. I also found thousands of loose photos taken on various occasions packed in different envelops or as inserts in transparent plastic albums.

Fast forward to modern times. Though I could not find any of the albums featuring my children`s photographic history ( as they were thoughtfully given away to them by my late  wife after their marriages) I did find a few photos taken during the time when my eldest daughter presented us with our  first grandson. There were  pictures taken showing my daughter lying on her back in a maternity hospital with a big protruding  tummy; the new born baby in the hands of my son-in law and a  beaming picture of my daughter with a deflated stomach  with her child next to her. This was twenty years ago. These days it has become customary for young parents  to record on their mobile cameras the minute to minute action before & after delivery of a baby and instantly share the same on their `Whats App` groups. I shudder to think of the day when some over enthusiastic young father (who is  allowed inside the delivery room if it is a normal delivery) decides to share the photo of the child coming out of the womb.  

Even the marriage albums with the accompanying video CDs have become lavish affairs. I am told that some families with deep pockets hire a photographer to accompany the newly married couple on their honeymoon so that the memories of the young couple cavorting in different places and situations can be captured for posterity.  Seems fine so long as it does not include their bedroom! 

 As an old timer I feel that the sheer  joy of browsing through old albums and going down memory lane can never be replaced by the thousands of instant photographs taken on mobiles which are forgotten after they are shared on` Whats App` groups`!

(This article has appeared in Adyar Times issue dated 23-29th July,2017 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`. If you like it please share it with your friends)

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Have you ordered for my new  book of short stories titled `A Difficult choice`?

Containing 15 short stories dealing with contemporary issues, the book is priced at Rs.199/-only and  has a Foreword by the legendary Novelist and Playwright  Shri Indira Parthasarathy.  The proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the activities of Prabha Rajan Talent Foundation

 You can order your copies on amazon.com : http://www.amazon.in/dp/8185987130 or write to me for your copy of the book (rvrajan42@gmail.com). The book is  also available at  Words & Worth, Besant Nagar and Odessey at Adyar/Tiruvanmiyur in Chennai.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fantasies


To  fantasize is to imagine something that you would like to happen. Another word for it is day dreaming.
 `Day dreaming helps the mind unwind, connect the dots and get creative` says a report in a leading daily. The author of the report recommends that when children complain of boredom, instead of overloading them with all kinds of  activities,  give them time to daydream. When they have nothing to do they are likely to indulge in `day dreaming` about what they want to do in life ,  which is good for them . The same report also quotes Sabu Cyril, the well known Art director; “ Day dreaming helped make me what I am today”. 
All of us have been fantasizing  or day dreaming about something or the other right from our childhood.
Living in a chawl in Mumbai in my early years where  50 people shared two common toilets every morning  ( what a nightmare!) I would dream of owning a home with toilets for every  member of the family.Today I have a 6-bedroom independent  home with  seven  toilets ( including the one located outside the house  for servants)- The irony is that we now have only three members living in the house.

As an adolescent I would dream of cavorting with the beautiful actresses of the time. Later in college, I would imagine that any girl who talked to me nicely was in love with me – the number  of one sided love affairs I had would have been  a record. Ofcourse,  like everyone else I was also in search of an ideal wife who would satisfy all the features and qualities I was looking for in my future partner. Since I could not find one on my own, I dutifully married a girl of my parents’ choice. Over a period of time she acquired all the qualities  I wanted in my wife ( I don`t know if I satisfied all her expectations) and we became an ideal couple in the eyes of  the society.

At seventy I dreamt of taking up `Vanaprastha` as prescribed by our Sastras and lead a carefree life without family responsibilities.  I imagined  that by doing so I would be  allowing total freedom to my wife so that she could  enjoy doing the things  that she always wanted to do, without me breathing down her neck. The sudden departure of my wife from this world four  years ago made me change my plans. Today I fantasize that I am still living with my wife;  feeling her presence in every room and every object in the house she passionately looked after!

I find  that age is no barrier for fantasizing. These days in my dreams I go back forty years in time and imagine  eating all the mouthwatering dishes I enjoyed,   indulge myself with  drinks   that made me  extra spirited, travel to countries and places I have not yet visited, doing all the things that I know I cannot  do because of my age and related health issues.

It is fun to indulge in day dreaming and go after such dreams , irrespective of your age. You will never get bored with life!

This article appeared in the 9-15th July 2017  issue of Adyar Times under my column `Rajan`s random Reflections`

Monday, June 26, 2017

A memorable visit to Bhutan- the land of dragons Part-III


Tashi- the friendly guide
 
Tashi Wangdi (Blessed with happiness) was the affable tourist guide who was with us from the time he received us at the Paro airport to the time he saw us off at the airport six days later. At 34, he represents the typical youth of Bhutan with big aspirations. During the course of the five days he was with us I tried to probe him about his life and he was more than willing to oblige. Here is his story:

Tashi was born in Punakha, old capital of Bhutan, where his father was a small time businessman. After doing his schooling in Bhutan, he moved to Darjeeling to get a BBA degree. At Darjeeling not only did he learn to speak fluent English but also a smattering of Nepalese. While in school he was so naughty & mischievous that his father had written him off as a `no good fellow` and would not give him any pocket money. As an enterprising young fellow Tashi decided to try his hand at being a part time Tourist Guide, which not only helped him earn his pocket money but also made him learn more about his country. He thoroughly enjoyed his part time job because he loved meeting & talking to people. This helped when his father passed away when he was in college and he not only had to look after his own college education but also help his mother supplement her income from a small shop she was running and  support his younger brother to complete his studies. 

After his graduation, when he returned home his mother insisted that he take up a government job because it would ensure security and continuity. With her contacts she helped him get a job in a government department. Within two weeks into the job he realized that he was not cut out for a desk job with fixed hours. Much to his mother`s disappointment he quit the job and after undergoing an intensive training course as a Tourist Guide he became a full time Guide. His deep knowledge of his country and his ability to answer any questions posed by tourists and his excellent command of English helped him become a popular guide within no time ensuring a decent income from his new career.When I asked him if he read a lot, he laughed and said, `the only books I read are the comics. But I am a keen listener & observer` 

While continuing as a guide, he started a night club in Thimphu, the capital city in partnership with a friend. He gave up the business when he found he could not devote enough time to it.

While young men in Bhutan marry when they are around 30, he was married to his sweet heart from school days when he was only 24 and the couple today have three boys ranging from 11 months to 8 years. Like all the boys in Bhutan, after marriage, he moved to his wife`s home on the outskirts of Thimphu. It is an independent cottage with a small garden with a couple of bedrooms which he shares with his father in law, mother in law and his brother in law`s family. His father in law is a successful cinematographer. No wonder his wife also got trained in a film institute in Delhi and is a successful documentary producer. The family lives a comfortable life with the joint income of all the family members. 

His brother is currently working in Australia with whom his mother lives. Though he also had opportunities to go abroad and earn in dollars, he decided to stay put in Bhutan because he loves his country and would love to make it big in his own country. One of his dreams is to start his own travel agency which will have some specialization like offering a variety of water sports.

Commenting on democracy in Bhutan and how it has helped people, he gave his trade mark smile and said,` Under the King we paid less taxes. We now pay more taxes. In the name of development the government is collecting more money from people but we are not complaining. Incidentally our government does not like open protests of any kind`

Bhutan is boasting of a high Gross National Happiness. When I asked him if it means that everyone is happy in Bhutan, his answer was illuminating, `Happiness is a state of mind which varies from person to person. However the overall happiness can be judged only by Good Governance, clean environment, good health etc. I do believe that overall people in Bhutan are happy people, whatever economic strata they belong to`
Tashi himself came across as a happy fellow doing a job he is passionate about, earning a good income, with a loving family, living in a decent place and generally contended with his life. As a parting shot he told me; ` Someday I would like to get into politics and serve my country`.

At the airport when we were bidding him good bye  I thanked him for all the time he spent with me answering all my questions without losing his patience. I told him that I hoped to see him as a Minister in his government in the future.  He gave me a big hug and thanked me for the blessings.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Difficult Choice- a collection of short stories



I am happy to inform you that my book of short stories titled `A Difficult Choice` is now available on Amazon. With the publication of this book- my sixth in eight years - I have covered five genres of books: An autobiography; An industry based book on my experiences as a Rural Marketing Specialist; A collection of my essays on a variety of topics; An institutional history of 41 Clubs of India ( an association of ex-tablers) and now a book of short stories.The only genre remaining in my target list is a `Novel`. Hope God gives me enough time in this world to fulfill my dream of writing a Novel. At
75 it might look like an over ambitious dream but I am going to give it a good try.

Priced at Rs.199/-only, the book has a Forword by the legendary Novelist and Playwright and a Sahithya Academy Award winner Shri Indira Parthasarathy.  The proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the activities of Prabha Rajan Talent Foundation

You can order your copies at : http://www.amazon.in/dp/8185987130

Look forward to your support and feedback on my book .

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A memorable visit to Bhutan- the land of dragons ( Part-2)



More about Bhutan
Bhutan is a tiny and remote kingdom nestling in the Himalayas between its powerful neighbours, India and China. The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means "Land of the Thunder Dragon". The Wangchuck hereditary monarchy has wielded power since 1907. Bhuddhism is the major religion of the country which also has a small percentage of Hindus and Christians but no Muslims!

Bhutan is known mainly for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. In the High Himalayas, peaks such as 7,326m Jomolhari are popular trekking destinations. Paro Taktsang monastery (also known as Tiger’s Nest), currently the most popular tourist spot.
For years, the country cut itself off, fearing that outside influences would undermine its monarchy and culture. The third monarch changed all that in 1970. Radio broadcasting began only in 1973 and the television and internet arrived only in 1999.
The term "Gross National Happiness" was famously coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Sing Wangchuck, in the early 1970s. The four GNH pillars  are: economic self reliance, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion and good governance. GNH is distinguishable by collective happiness as the goal of governance.
The current ruler of Bhutan is the 38 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck who succeeded in December 2006 as the fifth monarch of the dynasty, was responsible for introducing democracy in Bhutan in 2008.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha but most people are fluent in English. Most of the youngsters speaking fluent Hindi- result of watching Hindi movies and serials on television. Social and educational opportunities are not affected by rank or birth. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights in every respect.
With help from Indian Engineers Bhutan had constructed big dams on its perennial rivers which generate Hydro power. Today export of power to India is a major source of income for Bhutan followed by Tourism.  Maintaining clean environment is an obsession with the government.
Education is free till secondary school level. Government supports bright students with scholarships with the strict proviso that they have to come back and serve the country.
Medical facilities are free for the people of Bhutan. There is a big government run hospital in Thimphu. District level hospitals serve the people from small towns and villages. Tourists from India are offered free medical facilities, if required.
Most of the marriages are love marriages. There is no dowry system. After the marriage the bridegroom is expected to move into his In law`s house to live with his wife`s family. Joint family system is still in vogue.
Rice is a staple food for the Bhutanese. It can be white, sticky or brown. They have rice as a part of breakfast, lunch and dinner with the side dishes depending upon the time of the meal. Local noodles and Momos are also popular dishes. By and large the Bhutanese are non vegetarians.  Being Buddhists they don't kill animals.  All meat including fish is imported from India. But they eat very pungent food.
Bhutan is also well known for its Rice Wine which is called ARA and a Butter Tea called SUJA made of Tea, hot water, butter and salt instead of sugar. There is no prohibition in Bhutan.
While Archery is the national sport , youngsters also indulge in their love for cricket, foot ball and volley ball..
Thimphu the new capital houses all important business establishments. The city is dotted with multi-storied apartments. The traffic is moderate. The cars we saw were either SUVs or small cars. There were very few Sedans seen on the streets of   Thimphu. You hardly see any policemen or security personnel. No visible signs of poverty anywhere. There are few night clubs operating over the weekends where the youngsters come and unwind. Crime rate in Bhutan is very low- so far!
.To keep the traditional culture alive the Bhutanese wear their traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries. Bhutanese men wear a GHO a long robe tied around the waist by a small belt called Khera. A woman`s knee length dress is called KIRA. Throughout our stay in Bhutan I did not find any Bhutanese wearing modern clothes. The youngsters swear by their culture and tradition and they were generally happy and a contented lot. However thanks to growing popularity of social media and consequent growing aspirations some of them did say that they were looking for a better future and hoped that the government will help them in the process.
Though Bhutan currently is a sparsely populated country where we are able to breathe pure air and move around without any stress or tensions, will commercial considerations resulting out of growing tourism keep the country pristine in the future is a question.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A memorable visit to Bhutan- the land of dragons ( Part-1)


Fortresses, Monasteries & Captivating Scenaries

One of my dreams came true last month when I visited Bhutan that boasts of a high Gross National Happiness.  We were a group of 11 school mates.Though I had initiated the idea I almost did not make it because  my  air ticket from Calcutta to Paro in Bhutan was not confirmed by the travel agent, though others in the group had confirmed tickets. When I had almost given up hope he  managed to get me  a Business Class ticket,  just the evening before the departure date and I was off  on my dream trip with my group
On day one of our arrival at the beautiful Paro International airport we were met by our guide `Tashi`-a knowledgeable, friendly and articulate young man. The first impression of Bhutan is the peace and tranquility that you experience when you come out of the Paro airport and weather only adds to the ethereal experience. Unlike my experiences of visiting Himalayas on pilgrimages to Badrinath or Mukthinath, when I felt a fear of the unknown dogging me all through, the visit to Bhutan was a very pleasant and relaxing experience.
The guide` told us that we would be visiting a few interesting places before reaching Thimphu, the capital city. Our first halt was at the National Museum located in the watch tower (Ta Dzong) of Paro Dzong. On display were many artifacts used by the Bhutanese over the years.
After the Museum we were taken to Paro Rinpung Dzong a fortress built by the founding father of Bhutan, S N Namgyel, in 1646. The fortress houses the administrative seat of the district Paro and the district Monk body with about 200 monks. The central tower of the fortress is one of the most beautiful in Bhutan known for its excellent wood work.
The winding road to Thimpu following the famous Paro River offers some breath-taking scenery. We also stopped at Tamchhog Lhakang, a private temple for Buddha owned by the residents of the famous Tibetan bridge builder Thongten Gyalop.
At Thimphu our first visit was to see  the impressive Trashichoe Dzong. This massive Fortress located close to the Bhutanese Parliament and the Palace of the King (closed to public) houses part of the government ministries, office of the King and the Throne Room. A part of the fortress also houses the State monastic body, the office and the living quarters of the Chief Abbot. Since it was late evening, the beautifully illuminated exterior of the fortress was like a scene from a dream world.
On the second day, post breakfast, we visited Kuenselphordang to see the 169 ft high sitting Golden  Buddha statue weighing  40 tons.  It was made in China and imported in several parts which were assembled together at the site. This imposing statue built a decade ago has become the new tourist attraction in Thimphu.
Next was an Institute offering training in Bhutanese arts and crafts. With the slogan `Get skilled. Be somebody`, the Institute teaches tailoring, painting, carpentry, silver smithy and sculpturing.
This was followed by a visit to the local Zoo to see the national animal of Bhutan -Takin. A local legend talks about how the Bhutanese national animal was created from the remains of a lunch eaten by the Divine Madman. He combined the skeletons of a cow and goat and brought them back to life with a loud belch; the animal came to be known as Takin. This Divine Madman called LAM DRUKPA KINLEY was a Buddhist saint who lived in 15th Century Bhutan. He claimed to have powers to drive away evil spirits and also bless childless couples with children. He is worshipped even today as a `Divine Madman`. His symbol is a `Phallus`. Like the `Lingam` is the symbol of Lord Shiva. There were large size `Phalluses` on display at the `Simply Bhutan` pavilion we visited next. Simply Bhutan` is an  attempt  to transplant a typical village home at the pavilion portraying ancient Bhutanese architecture and displaying age old life styles of the Bhutanese people.
It is in this venue that we also saw in action 35 years old Pema Tshering, a cerebral Palsy person without hands, creating beautiful paintings using his feet. Scores of his paintings were on sale in the shop where he was creating his master pieces! It seems he has also won medals in Archery competitions for disabled; a very inspiring story. The second day ended with a visit to the Memorial Chorten, a tall stupa built in memory of the third King of Bhutan, located in the heart of the city.
On third day morning we were off to Punakha, the old capital city, driving through Dochu La, a 3140 meters high street pass.  This location is also the venue of a collection of 108 miniature chortens (stupas) built in 2005.  These  stupas were  built in memory of Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in thwarting an incursion by Bodos who were trying to occupy some of Bhutan's territories. Later we visited ChimiLhakang, a temple founded by the `Divine Madman` and built in 1499.
Another place on the way to Punakha was Punakha Dzong (Fortress) that lies between the two rivers known as Pochu & Mochu or ` Male River & Female River`. Built by the founding father of Bhutan, Punakha today is the winter residence of the central monk body and holds the famous relic known as `RajungKhasarpani`, where there is informative display of paintings depicting the life story of Sakayamuni Buddha.
Next morning we were on our way to visit KHAMSUM YULLEYNAMGYAL CHORTEN (Stupa).To reach this four storey temple we had to cross a suspension bridge and walk through rice fields before we started climbing a moderately inclined trail surrounded by Pine trees. This temple stands majestically on a strategic ridge over the Punakha valley. In building this temple, considered a splendid example of Bhutanese architectural and artistic traditions the Bhutanese craftsmen consulted holy scriptures rather than engineering manuals! Built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, the temple is dedicated to the well being of the Kingdom and its people. We proceeded to Paro, a three hour drive, very close to the Paro Airport.
On the  fifth day in Bhutan, we were originally scheduled to visit `The Tiger`s Nest`-referring to the gravity defying cluster of buildings housing the historical Takshang Monastery, perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800ft. Built in 1692, around the Taktshang Samdup cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months in the 8th century and introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. In view of our group`s ( all septuagenerians) reluctance to take the risk involved in the steep climb to reach the venue, the Guide took us to a point on the road from where we could have long distance view of the` Tigers Nest` seen as three white dots on top of the mountain. We used the free time available to go to `Chelela` the highest point on Dantak Road located at an altitude of over 12,000 ft.. We returned to Paro city centre and visited the oldest Buddhist temple located in the heart of the city.
Though Bhutan is famous for its pungent food, because of the prior arrangements made by the guide, we were offered specially cooked meals  with less chilly in all the restaurants we visited.The icing on the cake for our group was the availability of a cup of curd with every meal. What more does a Tambrahm group need  -  getting `Thayir Sadam` with every meal, in Bhutan!
The official tour ended with all of us shopping for curios in memory of our visit to `Beautiful Bhutan`
Some useful tips for the tourists:
Indians don`t need Visas but have to carry a valid Passport which is checked at the Airport by Immigration & Customs officials in Bhutan.
Indian Rupees are accepted in Bhutan at par value. You can carry only up to Rs. 25,000 in cash.  This rule is not strictly enforced. All credit cards are accepted. Limited number of ATMs is also found.
Not allowed to take photos inside any of the Buddhist temples.
Druk Airways & Bhutan Airlines are the only two airlines operating in and out of Paro International Airport.
March-June and September-December are the best time to visit Bhutan. Good to carry an umbrella as sudden rains are common even during peak seasons!