May 282010
 

Since there was some time for the train to arrive at our suburban station, three of us were squandering our time on political and social debate. The arguments drifted from one point to another, including, our local politics or the state of the government affairs(We the people of India, have a say in everything. Doesn’t matter if we are not heard to, because the value of words is determined by the depth of our pockets and not by the truth in our ideologies). At one point the discussion my two friends was about the slow pace of judiciary system where one was of the stand that the cases took too long to clear, while other felt that high profile cases were cleared faster.

What was I thinking at that point, I don’t remember, but I came up with a story that Kasab (see?  to be on wikipedia, you need to either score runs like Tendulkar, or be a one time terrorist, one who has bumped off Dawood Ibrahim from the top of India’s most wanted and hated list) who is languishing in Indian jail, was not being brought to justice fast enough. Above that, his stubborn demands were being fulfilled by India. Just few days back, as he was complaining of high summer heat, the 1.5 tonne air conditioner of his cell was replaced with 2 tonne model. My friends knew that no such incident had happened, but the story was catchy. Later was we were discussing with our fellow travellers on the train, again politics and shit, my friend brought up this Kasab “incident”(made up one.the 26/11 one was for real). And atleast 8 people heard what he said.

Now I calculate. Aleast 40% of these 8 will narrate this to other 8 and so on. I would say aleast 20-30% of them will be fool enough to believe it. And then the made up news, will become a rumour, and a rumour turn to news. If things go out of hand, we will surely see few T.V. channels airing “exclusive”(read staged) videos and pictures of a delivery van outside the arthur road jail, and people unloading the 2 tonne air conditioner from the van.

Thats how rumours turn in to news in “India”n TV. A true example is setup by Amit Verma on his India uncut. Read the first section, and you will agree.

May 272010
 

The appearance of the real Sachin Tendulkar on the microblogging site twitter, has delighted his fans in India and world alike. People login quite often, to check out the little master’s status and follow him through his life. And the master blaster, thought infrequent on twitter, he logs in and responds to few of his fans once in a while. Already he is credited to collecting 67 lakh rupees for the cancer foundation, just by publishing the initiative on the site. Such is the value of his words.

As with the physical fan base following a star through out his stardom, Sachin might find it difficult to keep up with this virtual fan base. At present, he has more than 3,00,000 tweeter’s following him, and he manages to communicate with few of them. We have seen how a celebrity is haunted and mobbed by the followers at the gates of his house, or at an outing which he wishes to keep private.

Similar things could happen on twitter.

Sachin will login one day to find himself spammed with thousands of messages in a single instance, from the followers burning the idiomatic midnight lamp, waiting for their hero to come online. It will be difficult to reach out to the genuine fans and keep the spammers at bay. Webrazzi’s, the web avatars of paparazzi, will be waiting for the master to type few words, and bend them as per their requirements.

Sachin’s doing well now by being inconspicuous right now. But he won’t be able to avoid above situation, if he has to maintain his regulay activity on twitter.

P.S. : Sachin, if you read this, don’t get scared of what I typed above. It’s just to motivate you to continue to score on the twitter.

May 222010
 

It was one of the worst days for Indian aviation. The news of the Mangalore plane crash left us all shocked at the office. I wouldn’t like to give hyperlink to the details of this news, cause you might have heard/seen it on media.

But as I reached home in the evening, I was shocked much more to see the media, building up the accident for their benefit. I saw a video conferencing being arranged on a particular channel, where in the host seemed to have got in to a heated argument with an official on the matter of safety at the airports. The anchors were even even daring enough to guess the reasons for this accidents, where as I feel, no one has any technical knowledge. I even saw a tv anchor flying a miniature sized plane on a picture of a runway, depicting the incident.

My humble request to these channels is to stop all this nonsense as there are people have near and dear ones who might be watchin it on tv. How sick will your presentation look to them? You are fighting over the safety of building the airport at such unsafe place, but did you ever cover this faulty project when it was underway?

The plane has a blackbox which records all the voyage data including few last conversations. It will take few days, may be months, to analyse the data and find what went wrong. Will the tv channels give enough coverage at that time, and try to bring the guilty to justice. Or will it be wrapped up in the coverage of another celebrity wedding, because the plane crash will no longer be a high profile case for them.

If we remember, justice is yet to be delivered to the union carbide victims, but how many media channels are interested in highlighting the case, is known to all. It seems that the media waits for the things to happen, so that they have something to cover.

And Mr. Patel, forget your political stunt of resigning on moral ground. Is there any justification for resignation?

May 212010
 

Summer….Oh it’s so hot these days.One of the most boring period of life for office goers. The heat becomes unbearable even in India, and people take this opportunity to cool off at hill stations around my country.
That being said about grownups, summer is the time most of the school kids wait eagerly for. It brings the much needed break from schools and studies and, heat or not, lots of play time.

My childhood summers were just plain days, with lots of activities like cricket(bat-ball, as we called it), and sometimes, kicking football in the evening on the neighbouring ground. But one of the activities which brought lots of pleasure, and some relief from the heat, to us kids, was swimming.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I am a villager, and we donot have recreational facilities like swimming pool. There might be lots of swimming pools in those days(When Mumbai was Bombay, and the trains ran empty) in the city, but the only swimming pool I knew, and used, was the one a kandivali in Mumbai. The only swimming facility in our villages were the common irrigation wells used for watering the farms. Now this wells are very big in side and even reach as much as 20-25 fts in diameter. Also they were very deep and always held more than 6 feets of water during peak summers. These wells used to turn in to a playground for grownups and kids alike during summers and provided for ther basic desires of swimming.

But I had a problem. I was afraid of drowning. And above all, I was afraid of heights. To get down to the water level, we had to step down on the flat stones mounted on the sides of the well. These stones were just enough wide two feet, but spaced far apart, about 2-3 fts. Using these facility to go down was not a worry for grownups. But we, the short legged kids, had to sit down on the steps and stretch out our legs for the next step. Thinking this to be an almost impossible feat, compounded by my fear of height, and complexed by the fear of drowning, I avoided going near the wells. It was a common tradition to throw children who feared water, into the well( with other people already inside). That child, once inside the well, would almost always get over his fears.

But I was not thrown in to the well. I used the kandivali facility, since my dad’s school, St. Francis D’Assissi, Mt. Poinsur, had arranged swimming classes for students of their school.
I was thrown in to the deep side of the pool, lifering around me, by my dad’s friend, while the children got in to it using the steps in the shallow side.

I managed to come out, and was thrown back in again. That was his last throw. I never came back out, guessing his intensions. Within seven days, I could swim across the pool and in few days more, along the length without the life ring. But by the time I was ready for my village well, my life ring was punctured, and my father wouldn’t buy another.

So I went to the well one summer afternoon with my brother and friends. The journey was covered halfway on shaky legs, and remaining half by dragging me to the well. I promised to enter the well on my own if they promised not to push me(of course, there were elders in the well, cooling off and supervising). Now, I must describe the life ring in villages. Its either two coconuts tied to each other which provide enough bouyancy, or two oil containers made of plastic. The plastic ones were rare since we used postman oil, which came in metal drums, so wewere left with only one choice, coconut. I doubted the ability of those  two coconuts to help me float. I tied the float across my waist, and took my own sweat time to lower myself to water level. Each step took about 2 minutes, with one leg down, then back up again, then other down, no no difficult to balance, then back to first leg. And each of my step was vibrating at resonance.

Finally in to the water, I felt I had conquered somthing big. Slowly I picked up swimming without the floats, or had to because the floats were rotting off. And the swimming sessions kept on extending, sometimes going as long as 2 hours.The cooling effects, and the exercise that swimming gave us in those days had no substitute.
The summer swims continued all throughout my school and few college years. But as more and more people started to have jobs, the attendence at the wells declined till a point that there would be only 2-3 people swimming.Finally, I was one of the people to drop of the well swimmers list due to job. Later I did get to swim in a swimming pool on my ship, but that swim has no comparison with the swim in a cool well.

Due to lack of usage, the well has become dirty, and is only fit for irrigational purpose. Face lifting it is not worth as there are no people with enough spare time at home.

I still yearn for the cool summer swim in the well…

May 182010
 

One of the experiences that every sea fearer has during his sea life is, being duped at some foreign port. No one has been spared of it, some for a small amount, some to a large extent. But a sea fearer always forgets the loss, comparing it with the very high salary he earns, and taking it as a part and parcel of his life.

I was duped once, off 50$.

It so happened that our ship had reached the port of longkou in the northern province china, and in the evening me along with few members of our ship went out for a round of the city. The very first store that we were taken to by the agent stocked electronics, and my eyes lit up seeing the display. I got particularly interested in a pen drive of capacity 32 GB(it was the year 2007, and 32 GB was unheard of)which was on sale for 85$. I tried to haggle the price but couldn’t get it below 80$. Now, I was in china, so wasn’t sure of it’s authenticity, so didn’t want to buy it unless I got it for cheap. By the time more of my fellow crew came besides me and showed interest in the pen drive. After a bit of haggle, the shopkeeper finally agreed to sell it to us for 50$ if we bought 5 pieces. We were four of us and we knew we could convince someone to buy one more on the ship. But we had a condition that we would check all the drives first and if all found ok we would buy. The shopkeeper was ok with that but informed us that he didn’t have those many pieces right at that time and would deliver it on our ship and we could pay at that time. Better for us!!

Or so we thought….

As we informed our other officers and crew on board, our captain became interested, and since it seemed to be a good deal, he called up his son in India, who immediately asked him to get two pieces. Our chief officer informed that he was duped by such seller on his previous ship, but when we informed him that we would check the drives before paying, he himself wanted one. So now we needed 7 pieces and we informed the seller through ships agent to bring 8 pieces so that we had a buffer of 1 piece if any found to be not working.

The seller came onboard and handed us the pendrives which we started testing one by one. We transferred about 18 GB data in to each one and checked that the properties showed 18 GB used and about 12-13 GB free, which it showed and we were satisfied. We handed over the cash and I went for sleep. By that time the seller had left the ship and we sailed out.

I woke up with plans to transfer my entire music collection to the pendrive to relieve me of th DVDs. And I did so in the officer’s lounge computer. As I entered the engine control room for my duty, I saw the duty motorman, Gerry Delrio, worried. After handing over the watch(handing over the duty is called as handing over the watch, in watchkeeping terms), the fourth engineer left, and the first sentence that I heard form the motorman’s mouth was,”Third!! We are F@#&%d!!!”

I didn’t understand what he was saying. He explained that the data was not going into the pen drive that he had. I told him that I had successfully stored just a few minutes back, and he asked me to verify it. I inserted the drive into the engine room computer, and saw that the folder were there on the drive. I browsed to one of the folder. and Oops!! No file in it. Thinking that the folder might be empty from the beginning, I browsed to another folder. Empty!! I checked the properties of the pendrive and found that it had occupied 18 GB with lots of folders, but it showed 0 files. Thinking that formatting it would solve the “error”, I formatted it. Only to find later that the capacity had come down from 32 GB to 20 GB. My heart sank. But all was not lost, since 20 GB was a good deal for 50$. Again I moved some data to the drive. Again I could see only folders, no files. My heart sank.

I carried out the formating number of times in a hope to rectify the situation, but each time the capacity reduced to 16GB, 10GB, 4GB, 1GB,128MB!! And finally, the computer gave up and stopped detecting the drive.

Same thing happened to all the people who bought it. Now I was worried two folds. I had paid for the captain’s pen drives and he was yet to return back the 100$. But within a couple of days he gave me back my money. A week later, the chief officer checked his drive, and came to know that he too was duped. He was a happy man till then, since no one had told him about this comedy. Or tragedy if you call it.

We had been duped by professionalism of the chinese sales person, and a shiny casing announcing a Sony Vaio Pendrive!! We were “Made” in China.

May 142010
 

Many of you might have read the novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which revolves around a character named Yossarian who finds himself stuck on to a battlefield without relief. And his every attempt towards his disengagement from his assignment leads to a catch 22 situation and a failed attempt. Catch 22 is a situation where in you need to carry out one out the few actions, but any action you choose will lead to an unwanted situation.

That was bit theoretical and not well phrased but  should serve the purpose of explanation. I had read this novel a few years back on my first ship. But I remember it today along with the catch 22 situation we had to face in our school days.

We had a very disciplinary nun, Sr. Rebecca, as the principal of our Pope John XXIII high school. She was the kind of person who never took talk backs from her students. “Don’t argue with me” were the words repeating, now and again from her mouth, just like the repeatedly running flash news on the bottom of a TV screen. And “wham”!! A good “pasting”, as she called it(punishing with a cane lash on hands), would follow. I always prayed that I would never want to be in such situation.

But God works in mysterious ways!! I had to face her once.

It so happened that I had scored less marks in a particular exam, and my father, being a teacher, wanted to find out where I had gone wrong. So he came to visit the principal one day and requested for my answer paper set, so that he could check it at home leisurely. Those were the days when open day(open day in India, is the day on which parents are asked to visit the school before results declarations, to gauge their child’s performance) was not a fad, so the principal initially refused. But later after a bit of talk she agreed and called me over the intercom. I went to her office, where she asked me to collect the papers from her or the vice principal at the end of school. So I went after the school to collect them, but was told by the vice principal that the principal was out and the papers were locked in the storage and could not be handed over to me. I came home empty handed, and was scolded by my dad, who thought that I didn’t go to collect the papers.

Few days later the principal entered our classroom on regular visit. She was already angry as she entered, and I being the person sitting near the entrance, became the object of her anger. “This boy’s(even though she knew my name very well, that was not important here) father came to me and requested to give him this boy’s exam papers. I took them out of the storage, but he is yet to collect them after so many days. They are still lying in my office. Tell me why didn’t you come? TELL ME!!” I manage to word out a feeble explanation which went, “Sister, actually I…..”, and stopped there. Because already it was, WHAM!! “Don’t argue with me.”

Catch 22 isn’t it?

May 132010
 

I am thrilled to announce the directorial debut of my friend, Savin Tuscano. His film Vroom, The Adventures Of Smarty, The Magical Car, is set to release tomorrow, 14th May 2010. Am looking forward to viewing it soon. And I wish him the best wishes for success in his venture……

…..Good going Savin.

May 122010
 

I remember this from a few years back. June 2007 to be precise. I had flown to Cairo to join the ship which was supposed to cross Suez Canal in a couple of days. Since the ship was to arrive at the canal in a few days I was put up at the Grand Albatros hotel, in the hearts of port said, the entrance to the suez canal from the mediterranean sea. I had been married just a few months back, and was already feeling home sick. And upon that those boring days alone at the hotel.

The very first day, I started out of the hotel, early at 8.00 a.m. in search for a phone booth to call back India. But to my disappointment, all the shops were closed. I had an inclination towards calling from hotel phone, but when the receptionist informed about the rates, I cancelled the plan. I was carrying a very few dollars, since that was the first time I was joining a ship that was not running the India coastal route, and I had no idea I would need some more money.

I went out again at 9.00 am but found the shops still to be closed. I was surprised to not find much people on the streets, and those few I came across, didn’t speak english to guide me properly. Back at the hotel, the people informed me that the market opens at around 11.00 am, since it goes through almost past midnight in that part of the world. I was amused, but had to stay patient for that call to home.

So I finally went out after 11.00 am, to find few of the shops opening up. But again luck was against me. Almost none of the people knew english, and few kids who knew a bit, couldn’t understand what kind of phone I was searching. I was sent 3 blocks down the road, and 3 blocks back up the road, and across to the parallel streets, and God knows where. No one was even able to guide me to a vendor who stocked mobile sims. The only phone I managed to find was a coinbox, accepting egyptian currency, and connecting to egyptian numbers. I knew no one in egypt to call.

During my search, I happened to browse through a mall that had just opened, and luckily I saw the universal sign proclaiming it to be a phone booth, on one of the shops. I entered, knowing well that it was going to be difficult to communicate with the person attending. To my surprise, he started the conversation in fluent english. I was jubiliant!!

I made the call home, and came to know that there had been a theft and murder in our area. I was tensed by the news, and as I came out of the phone booth, the person saw it on my face. He made some small talk with me, and then enquired about the problem. As I told him about the incident, he calmed me down with assurance and said I shouldn’t worry. And then he asked me about my family and where in the world I lived.

As I told him that I lived in Mumbai, he became very enthusiastic and and told me that he used to work in alexandria previously, and he worked under a man from Mumbai. And then he told me his ex-managers name. It sounded familier. I enquired further, and he took out a diary giving out that persons address. I was amused to find out that the person lived somewhere in my area. We continued talking to each other, like we were friends through a mutual friend. It was a good feeling, in a country so far from my land, to be able to feel at home. Incidently, he himself was a german, who had made egypt his home.

As I was leaving, he even refused to accept the payment for phones, but I felt it improper, and persuaded him in to taking it. I visited him again the next day, and he was quite helpful in guiding me around the city for that day.

Of course, I didn’t meet a very close acquaintance that day. But I would dare say, Its a Small World.

May 042010
 

People have been asking us why we were opposing the formation of the newly formed virar-vasai municipal corporation, and we have been answering them in various ways like explaining about the culture, traditions, environmental conditions etc. There are many joys of being a villager. One of them being the ability to lead a peaceful life, away from the hustle bustle of the city. And another being the fresh seasonal fruits!! Mangoes in this case.

Whats the price at which city dwellers are eating mangoes? 500 rs a dozen? May be more. We have them for free. Just look at the quantities that were produced by just one tree this season at my home. And we still have one more tree to go. Since we ripen this fruit at our home, we are sure that there is no harmful ripening agent added. So these mangoes are hygenic. We won’t be able to consume such a huge quantity, so some of them will be pickled, some ripened and rest of them sold off. So it brings in some pocket money.

If we had been “developed” like the cities, this would have been a luxury which we couldn’t afford. I was surprised to hear from a colleague that, when he tried to plant a mango plant in his colony, the secretary opposed it giving some vague reasons. Shame the no one thinks about free fruit, leave alone environment.

Anyway, as each year, I will be enjoying my home grown mangoes. You won’t be!!

Apr 252010
 

I have been to kerala twice. Once for an entire year to attend my mariners training. I was so mesmarised by its beauty, that I went the second time for my honeymoon. The surrounding and the environment is very beautiful, but being a a person with a taste for good food, I was knocked off by the traditional food down south. I had been under the impression that the south food drips with coconut oil, which can be a turnoff for many, but having tried it, I can say that such is not the case. Of course there is a hint of coconut oil in most of the dishes, but it enhances the tastes. Especially the “meen”(fish) delicacies and overall, the non veg dishes are very good. And any non veg curry should be had with Iddiappam( a typical dosa which seems like it is made from inter wooven fine noodles). And from the kitchens of kerala, I tried out chicken stew today. Results are put up in photographic form, but the final result was my family members emptying the frying pan and trying to scrape off the final bits and pieces from the pan using steamed rice. Of course, there were none….

And here’s the recipe for those who care enough to try. Its a bit of judgement from myself, few tips from here and there, and a bit of effort.

You require( for a family of five heavy eaters):

Chicken ( about 750 gms), skinned off, no fat.

A cup of thick coconut milk(better if fresh)

2 chicken stock cubes

1 Carrot

2 medium sized potatos

1 tomato

2 spring onions( with the leaves)

About handful of green peas

5-6 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon of ginger garlic paste.

A teaspoon of cummin seeds

3-4 full cardamom

A stick of cinnamon

A teaspoon of black peppers(full)

2 Green Chillies

Curry leaves

Coriander

a pinch of ground spices(garam masala)

Salt to taste

How you go about :

Dice the carrot. Cut the potatos in to big pieces. Chop the tomato into fine pieces. Chop the leaves of the spring onion to julienne and dice the onions. Cut the chicken in to medium sized pieces. Slit the green chillies and remove the seeds.

Boil three cups of water and add the two chicken stock cubes. then keep on boiling till the quantity reduces to about 2 cups. Set aside.

1. Heat about 5-6 table spoons( enough to saute the quantity of chicken till its golden in colour and firm) in a pan and add cummin seeds, cinimon, black peppers, cloves and cardamom. Then add the garlic cloves and the ginger garlic paste and fry the mixture.

2. As the cloves and the paste turns brown, add the chicken pieces and saute the entire contents while stirring it periodically. Once the chicken becomes firm and light brown we can go ahead.

3. Add all the vegetables( carrot, tomato, potatos, green peas, spring onions and its leaves, curry leaves), and fry till the vegetables are sauteed lightly, stirring continuously. Then add the chicken broth and green chillies and a pinch of ground spices(garam masala). Mix well and cover the pan. Keep on boiling for about 10 minutes, while stirring it. Check that the potato is well done by poking it with a knife edge.

4. Once this is done, add the coconut milk and mix well. Simmer for about 3 minutes( enough to thicken the gravy). Garnish with coriander.

5. Serve hot with steamed rice, garlic bread, puttu( a traditional keralite rice cake), iddiappam, appam, or anything in that catagory. Stew can also be consumed independently.

Enjoy your stew and share this recipe. Tell me how your’s turn out…..

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