Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh Eight, Over

An un-precedented year, in many a ways!

And with more negatives to it's credit, '08 seems to have made us all poorer overall. If some financial pundits are to be believed, we may be looking at one of the worst financial meltdowns after the Great Depression and no wonder institutions of the like of Lehman Brothers disappear overnight these days. India participated in and mirrored the global meltdown with India's barometer, the Sensex, clocking an unprecedented fall. India was also plagued by a host of other internal disturbances, ranging from local bombings across India (Bangalore, Jaipur, Delhi ..) to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and attacks against Christians and Muslims in select pockets; events were more of the shameful nature this year around and are not worthy to reflect upon or go over ...

India's first individual Olympic Gold, courtesy Abhinav Bindra and US's new President Barack Obama are two pleasant exceptions to an otherwise disappointing year.

I am happy, '08 is getting over.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Christmas!

Given the holiday season, things are comparatively light on the work front and the mood overall is one of relaxing and fun. Chill is in the air in Bangalore these days and that saves a trip to Ooty or Kodai, :-). Most of the shops, hotels and malls are decorated with fancy lights, Christmas trees et al and that definitely adds to the mood of the season.

Speaking of which, a large, splendid Christmas Tree in Leela Palace, Bangalore deserves mention. Around 30 feet high (three floors tall), it looks splendid and stunning in the night. Not seen like this one before.

Looks good.

I gather, it is listed among the best ten Christmas Trees in India, this year. We paid a visit to the place and my daughter seemed 'wow'ed. Many thanks to Leela.

Feels good.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Indian democracy: Coming of age?

The much-anticipated results of assembly elections in the five north Indian states, described as the semi-final before next year's final - the General Election, portents something rare in India; governments (that did a reasonable job) being voted back to power.

Anti-incumbency is by far the biggest reason, opposition walks into government and sometimes it is very cruel when performing governments are voted out that way. For example, in Kerala, elections have become a ritual where each of the two fronts are gifted 5-year terms, alternatively, for now close to 60 years (I believe, Mr. Achutha Menon was the only Chief Minister who was ever voted back and that was more than 25 years back!). This, I would argue, would rob a government of any real motivation to perform because the result at the time of the next election is a fore-gone conclusion.

In Madya Pradesh, Delhi and Chattisgarh, Chief Ministers are being voted back this time around and the consensus seems to be that they deserved it. Mr. Chauhan has been widely accepted to be doing good job, in spite of being an administrative novice of sorts; Ms. Shiela, in Delhi, is one of most gracious of current-day Indian politicians and has been credited with serious and honest attempts in improving the lot of the people in Delhi. Mr. Raman's clean image is helping him a lot in Chattisgarh and he too gets a chance to keep his job. While these chief-ministers definitely have still a lot left to do and improve, it is definitely a pat on their back from the electorate for the good work they have done or the impression they have been able to create. And Sheila Dixit is entering into her third 5-year term, no mean feat for a democratically elected Chief Minister in India. These three guys need to be congratulated for their electoral performance.

I hope this is an harbinger of things to come. Good governance is something India seriously lacks today and I hope other politicians take cue from this. India deserves as much.

Friday, November 28, 2008

5 .. 7 .. 9 .. 11 ...

Picture courtesy : NDTV India, Flickr

I hope, the recent tragic events in Mumbai and the anti-terrorist operation that lasted 57 hours turns out to be truly India' 9/11.

Enough is Enough and it is time India started responding like a self-respecting nation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Family's Day Out!

Had a nice trip to Innovative Film City, Bidadi this week. A first-of-it's-kind in India, IFC [] is a short 35 KM drive from Bangalore city and fits the bill nicely for a day's hang-out. While the mock sets for films [from which the name of the place is derived] are not done yet, IFC already offers a good menu of items to choose from, for a family; especially for families with kids.

We have had chances to visit the Disney Land and Universal Studios in LA, USA during one of our stays there, so could not resist comparisons with those. While no doubt that, the scale and grandeur of the US-ones puts them in a very different class, IFC overall does a decent and reasonable job. IFC is a curious mix of the Disney Land and Universal flavors, though on a smaller scale. While the attractions fail to really impress when taken individually, as an overall package it comes out OK. IFC needs to be complemented for attempting something like this and I hope when complete and fully functional, this would be something Bangalore can be proud of.

At Rs.699/- per head for a day's ticket [excluding Cartoon City and no tickets for children below 3], the fare is slightly on the higher side but not outrageous. Some of the good ones were Go Karting [family and sports car options available], Mirror Maze, Funplex with a 4D show and Aqua Kingdom with 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum' being the highlight of the day. There were some very disappointing fares too in the stable with the Wax Museum being a flop show and Miniature City also being another damp squib. Food court is decent.

While I feel good about having something like this here in Bangalore, there are some things that every public place in India is plagued with and IFC is no exception. And one of the most irritating ones is our complete disregard to the queue system. And no personnel around in IFC seemed bothered to do anything about it. And this malice was most prominent at the Ticket Counter, where you begin your day!

And I have noticed the typical way one behaves when caught jumping a queue. First he/she displays an emotion [one not in the nava-rasas] and immediately follow-up with a blinking of the eye and shaking of the head, exhibiting a total non-cognizance of a queue in the near vicinity. Then people do either of the two things, the comparatively-subversive ones will suddenly display immense pleasure in having found the queue and utmost gratitude in locating it for them and soon stand in line. The smarter category, especially if they are the next in turn at the counter will shower you with Sorry, Sorry, Sorry [and some times utter words like excuse me etc.] and proceed with the transaction. And many a time he will get away with that. I came across two while standing in the queue for the ticket at IFC, one from the first genre and another from the latter!

But for these irritations, the place is worth a trip.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Great Indian Train Journey!

Though triggered by a family emergency back home, a recent trip to Trivandrum was a pleasantly memorable one. While we were in Trivandrum, got a chance to take the kid to some of the places that we sorely lack in Bangalore; like the Beach, a good Zoo (I agree, Banneraghata National Park fills that gap) et al. Meeting with our acquaintances, relatives and friends, we command in hordes in our home town was something of a revelation for the kid.

Onward journey, being an emergency one was by air and the Kingfisher flight was a smooth one though at a huge damage to the wallet. Four of us, three adults and one child (2.5 years), made the wallet poorer by 19K rupees for a 1.5 hour flight! The good old days of 'any one can fly' is HISTORY! For what one could fly last year, can not even get to the airport today!!! A Meru drive to the new International Airport from Sarjapur Road gave another Rs.900/- kick to the wallet.

So we were determined to make the return trip a Laloo affair and were lucky enough to get a Tatkal ticket from CAPE (Kanyakumari) to KJM (Krishnarajapuram) with boarding at TVC (Trivandrum Central). Un-like earlier days, it looks like Tatkal today needs to necessarily include either the Starting (From) or the Ending (To) points of the train route in one's itinerary, so had to book it from CAPE. But boarding point is allowed anywhere in between. [that sets me thinking ..., could I have taken the ticket from TVC to SBC in that case, may be that would have been a better choice; something to try out next time].

I am not able to comprehend the logic behind [having to include one of the end-points of the route for ticket booking but allowing an interim point for boarding] this restriction, but have now a fair idea how Laloo is turning Indian Railways profitable. I like India Shining, Kingfisher Airlines breaking even, Indian Railways making money and every thing else in that genre. My only grouse is that all that seems to be at a huge cost to me, if not at my cost!

And the train journey was made memorable by the presence of the crew of the popular Asianet musical reality show, Idea Star Singer, as our co-passengers. Interactions with them provided some entertainment and my daughter and wife had their fair share of chit chats and photo sessions with last year's winner Najim and a crowd favorite, Sannidanandan and the crew. The whole team was very friendly and provided great company for the trip.

Railways definitely seems to provide opportunities to interact with fellow-passengers in ways more meaningful than any other mode of transport (may be ship provides too, but I am to yet go there) and it is brings in a lot of richness to some trips at least. It is another of those human inventions that may never go out of use. Let me add this to my existing list, where Radio was getting bored sitting lonely.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Holy Grail of Customer Support!

I had an "interesting" SMS from the largest cellular operator in India, in response to my request for a change of Bill Plan. I quote the SMS, that I very promtly got, verbatim below:

" Your Service Request reference number is xxxxxxxx and we will get back to you by Thursday 04 SEP, 1000 hours."

From: 121
Date: 02.08.2008
Time: 2:28pm

Looks like 1000 hours refers to 10 A.M. See how prompt they are with the hours (forget the days or months!). So they may take a decade to respond, but they will at 10 A.M sharp! I am "WOW'ed!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Can't fathom!

As is to be expected, the suddenly-tightened security checks are slowly getting relaxed and things are back to normal. The so-called 'low-intensity' bomb blasts in Bangalore and Ahmadabad will be remembered just as another of those incidents that we have now come to expect every once in a while. But the lives of people who lost their dear ones and the "lucky" ones who managed to escape with injuries, will never be the same again. And for no fault of theirs. Above, a snap of one of the sites, couple of days after the event; a ramshackle bus-stand near Madiwala.

I really wonder, what is the motivation for bomb blasts, terrorist attacks or for that matter, any of these intentional acts of violence on the public? What do the perpetrators gain by creating panic among the general public and stealing a life or two in the process? See who lost her life in the Bangalore blast! A poor lady who was escorting her husband to Bangalore for his medical check-up. It is learnt, doctor advised immediate admission but they did not have enough money to get admitted in the hospital, so they were waiting for a bus to go back to their home town to borrow some money. Alas!!!

I just hope, who ever is behind this act of violence and those that are planning future ones, will stop, think for a moment and realize the futility of all these. Let there not be another such sad event!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Go Nuclear!

Things are hotting up for the vote of confidence on the current Indian government. Though it seemed incredible when Congress and Left initially announced their plans to gobble together a government after the last general elections, it worked and in hindsight it was a good thing for India. We had a decent government run by Dr. Manmohan Singh. Singh meant business every single day of his government in office and the stability his government provided was something India definitely benefitted from.

And I don't like it when a good government is willing to risk it's life on a single issue, this time signing of the nuclear deal; I just love it. I love it because it shows the Govt has a strong opinion (i have trust in the checks and balances in place with the Indian government machinery and if this has come to this level in a government headed by Dr. Singh i would take for granted the minimum due diligence required to be done) about something that matters and are willing to pay a price for it. And I am sure on an issue and on a topic, that is really worth it. Which other government in India's 60 years of democarcy has staked it's existence on a policy/issue that is worth it? Very rarely we see people in India take a position. We seriously lack conviction (about anything). And less said about people in public polity, the better. All matters of public interest are always discussed to death and eventually conveniently forgotten when a new hot topic emerges on the scene. All Talking, No Doing. So kudos to Dr. Singh, Ms. Sonia and the Congress Party for taking a position on something and willing to go the whole hog with it. And I think, it will be sad if the Govt. falls on this issue.

Where I think the present government failed miserably is sharing with the people of India, it's reasoning for the going-ahead with the deal. Inspite of having the whole government PR in it's control and in today's world of ultra-communications, the government really messed up with a golden opportunity to connect and communicate with the people of India. And if properly done, it could have also been a great way to cheer the average Indian who is otherwise caught up in the
'high inflation-high interest rates-slowing growth' morass. Because, when today is really screwed-up, the best bet is to talk about tomorrow. And the nuclear deal is about paying a price/sacrificing today, for tomorrow.

Two good links that I came across, on the deal. While the one from Mr. V.R. Krishna Iyer raises some good questions (otherwise I think the article is un-favourably biased against the deal as we should expect!), the one from Mr. N. Ravi is a very practical piece (very important since it comes from the The Hindu whose left leanings even my little daughter knows). For me, I agree with Mr. Ravi while I would have liked to have answers for the all questions Mr. Krishna Iyer and others are raising.

A betrayal of India’s constitutional vision: V.R. Krishna Iyer

Missing the wood for the trees: N. Ravi

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kerala-Style-Chinese-Chilli Chicken!

It was when my friend, Vimal, asked me to get the recipe of chilli chicken from my wife, that I pondered over her more-than-average culinary skills. She is a reasonably good 'multi-cuisine' cook and and chilli chicken one of her specialities. Among other things, Vimal is also my lunch-buddy at HP and he seems to have really liked the chilli chicken I shared with him sometime back. So (primarily) for Vimal and anyone else who might want to dabble in a bit of 'kerala-style-chinese-chillichicken-cooking', here it goes ...

Don't forget, I am ever ready to sample what you come up with, following the below recipe.

Cut chicken into thin, long slices (~2 inches in length). Marinate with chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, pepper and salt (all quantities to taste, wife says). Leave it for 30 minutes. Cut Onion, Ginger, Garlic & Capsicum into cube shapes. Fry the now-marinated chicken pieces in cooking oil. Use ~ 3/4 of a cup of cooking oil for a kg of chicken (chicken should not be deep-fried). Now to the oil remaining after frying chicken, add the cut Onion, Ginger, Garlic & Capsicum cubes. Once these are cooked, add soya sauce, turmeric powder (1/4 of a teaspoon), green chilli sauce, pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar (all quantities again left to the cook's imagination!) to get a mixture. Add 3-4 teaspoons of cornfour in one glass of water and mix it with the mixture above. Once the mixture boils, add fried chicken and cook it for 10 minutes.

Now taste for yourself and see how it has turned out. Tasting good?, declare it to the world and you will never see a trace of it, again. Not that good?, still declare to the world, but the world will turn around and tell you, 'it is all yours'. And that I think is what the world told Vimal last time.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Who says "a sport is just a sport"?

Yesterday's match between Federer and Nadal was an awesome commentary of the mental dynamics at play in sports. I thought, the real game was entirely being played in the minds of the two players.

Federer is a tennis legend and somebody who played like God, till recently. He is past his 'God-days' but obviously has not come to terms with it yet. But somewhere in his mind, he knows he is past his prime, Nadal is the new kid on the block and the closest to usurping the numero-uno position he held so majestically over the last few years. But he was so ahead of the other fellow-players in others' mind and in his own mind that he still does not want to give it away. Yesterday, Federer was doing just that; trying to somehow hold on to the crown that he thinks is (was) so much his.

On the other hand, Nadal had a worthy goal to pursue; defeat Federer, the legend, in his backyard. Being the underdog really helped him. He is not a bit distracted, just had to prove to himself and others that he can be a Federer-beater. Still, when he gets so close to the goal he is pursing, he seems to get a bit nerved thinking about what he is going to accomplish. He should have immese respect for Federer and needed several 'preparatory' championship-points before really clinching it.

Once Federer is unseated, Nadal may not have really anything to go after in his mind vis-a-vis tennis. When Federer was at his best, the guy in the opposite court seemed to be only an excuse for the match to be played. So with Federer slowing going away, Nadal may cease to matter!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Savanadurga: A good get-away!

Got an opportunity to go to 'Savanadurga', a nice get-away, 60KMs from Bangalore. Event was a business offsite in a team of ~15 people.

Savanadurga was a short 1 and 1/2 hour drive from Bangalore. Access is good and after a nice breakfast got to the first activity of the day, Cave Exploration!. It was a novel experience making one's way through the crevices in the cave. It was fun to see people encouraging one another and lending a helping hand to tide over the challenges thrown by the oddly shaped natural rock formations that made up the cave. Photo sessions at every stop during the exploration ensured that the event is preserved for posterity. And these photos serve another important purpose; go over those in the next week or so and savor the experiences many more times. And definitely some of those could be fodder for couple of scoops, as well! Overall, the 3-hour activity was a first and nice experience for all of us. Followed by lunch and a short session of rapelling and games, we had the day filled with interesting events to make a truly different Friday.

Adventure tourism (like the one at Savanadurga) is a welcome respite from the usual business like offsites. Offsites are best when they are completely in an informal seting without a definite objective/goal to be met by end of the day. Let the team, that works together on a daily basis, be set loose for a day. There are enough elements that goes into the making of a successful offsite and those already do enough to help the team members bond well. Brainstorming on a suitable location, doing the preparatory work for the event (this often includes motivating some initially-disinterested people to signing up as a major activity), the event in itself and savoring great moments of the day post the event is truly a team-effort by design. The positive experience, sure, lingers for a couple of months at least. And then it is time for the next one!

Got something better!

Wanted to begin my experiments with blogging and since I didn't get anything better, I had started off with I was still looking for a more catchy name and think have got some seemingly better ones. Of the ones so far, prathaman looks OK and am shifting my base to here. 'prathaman' in Malayalam, my native tongue, means "that which comes first". In a sadya (feast), prathaman is the sweet dish (payasam) that comes first. I am not venturing more into the word prathaman and it' s etymology here. There is a lot of information on the internet. One of my friends also points that prathaman also means No.1. Can I complain?