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…..

Apr 222010
 

Few of us might have knowledge of the keynesian economics. What I understand of it in layman terms, is that it a dig and fill policy, where in the government pays someone to dig a hole and pays someone else to fill the hole. Nothing productive comes out f it, but John Maynard Keynes theorises that this can help to stimulate a stalled economy. I am not an economist, so wouldn’t venture to analyse this. But the way our infrastructure projects work in India, it seems that the keynesian economics is embeded deeply in to our economic policies.

If you are anywhere  in India, just look around you. Observe any of the government infrastructure project which is underway. It will be noted that, all of these projects have generated large amount of employment. Much more than that required for the project.

Point in case 1 : Very recently, a railway platform at Dadar(a suburban railway station in Mumbai) was extended to accomodate the longer trains. It was inaugurated a few months back by a union minister. Just today I saw the platform being dug up at one end to accomodate something under it. We have very good brains working on all the projects in India, but by not preplanning this underground accomodation, our government succeeds in generating more employment to the poor labourers( and more dough to the contractors, I am sure).

Point in Case 2 : A few months back, one fine morning, I saw that huge holes were dug up on a road that I frequent. I later learnt that they were for the upcoming skywalk project in that area. The road stayed dug for couple of months. Then on another fine morning I saw that they were filled up overnight. I later learnt that the project had been scrapped along with many other in the entire city. Here again employment was generated twice( and the promised moolah to the contractors). Its a different thing that the road has not yet been repaired after filling.

Point in case 3 : These same skywalks. They have crawled all over the city. Lots of public money has been utilised to create this ugly crawling metal structures, glorified with a futuristic name. But the utilisation is at the very least. People find it inconvienent to walk for long distances. First thing that comes to their mind is about climbing such a height, without any elevator facility. No consideration has been given to the disables while constructing the skywalks(anyway, no consideration is ever give to the disabled in India). And these skywalks being built right in the middle of the road at some places, have resulted in more congestion. So I guess, the government has some future plans of creating employment for dismantling this bridges.

Though these are typical examples, this kind of policy is adapted in almost all the government projects. Prove me wrong!!

Its very heartening to see the economy reviving so fast, and the dig and fill policy playing a good part in it. I would advise stock investors to invest in infrastructure companies. They are sure to give you good returns.

Apr 042010
 

Look what I did this Easter Sunday!! I barbecued my own food for the festival, and I have to say that it turned out to be a 100 % success. My family just loved the food, and didn’t get time to compliment me about it, till the entire portion was down in our tummies. I had been on a lookout for a barbecue kit for quite some time, but had postponed buying it on few previous occasions. But this time I threw my hat across the fence when I saw an advertisement in a local magazine selling the kit and promised my family that I would do it this year. The sauce for marination was home made by me and it turned out to be of top quality.

After an unsuccessful attempt to light the barbecue yesterday, I woke up early today( even after attending the night service at the church) to get the fir going. And it took about an hour to fire it up fully, but when it was up, it was much easy. As I ate the food, I realised that all the hard work at the barbecue pit was worth a lot.

Check out the results of my first venture!! The way my brother was eating it, he is sure to invest if I start this business 😉

Apr 012010
 

Maundy thursday, or the holy thursday, is celebrated by the christians all over the world as the anniversary of the beginning of the holy mass.

.As the Holy Bible reveals,  just before his passion and death,Jesus christ has a last supper with his apostles. This event is revisited on the maundy thursday which symbolises the church to be a big family and the holy mass to be the representation of the last supper.

The maundy thursday marks the beginning of the three days with the passion and death of Jesus christ on friday and his ressurection on sunday that follows immediately. Just before Jesus Christ broke his last bread on the earth, he washed the feet of his apostled to symbolise his humbleness. This event is enacted during the mass on this day, all over the world.

The end of the mass is considered as the departure of the Christ to the garden of Gethsemane. Night vigils are held at the churches world over to be with Jesus during his last prayers.

Mar 312010
 

After more than 5 complains and double as many days of disconnected service, my internet provider has felt pity on me and restored the service. Yes I was offline just because my internet service was down. Due to lack of options, or may be, loyalty towards state owned public utilities, I am stuckup with only one service provider in my area, BSNL.

There has been a lot of propoganda lately about the penetration of telcom services in to the hearts of India. Its is always good to hear and read it. But after going through this frustrating delays in repairing just some minor faults, I am  having second thoughts. I live in a commercially upcoming area, but if the state run utilities cannot capitalise on their strong hold, then whats the point of operating in the first place. Is it just to provide employment to the people who have always been lazy in their approach? I am seriously thinking about jumping on to another provider as and when it becomes available.

BSNL and MTNL has got a head start in terms of 3G spectrum. But both the utilities are lagging way behind in terms of implementation of those services. Private players who charge much higher, are getting ready to start these services once the 3G auction is carried out.(Whew!! Have been hearing about this 3G auction….for like ……a life time. Same goes with the number protability.) Once they start these services, BSNL and MTNL will loose the edge. Because, even though private players are not so great at providing any good service, their names sell their products.

All said, I still have to wait for some time till I get a proper net connection. Till then I hope there are less of such blackouts!!

Mar 162010
 

So what is development?

Lots of things are being done, lots of changes made, in the name of development. But the true question when put  forward, produces some vague responses, very few laudable, but most of them hilarious. No one seems to have understood, or have a desire to understand the true meaning of development. My attempt of an answer to this might be unsatisfactory to a few, but its my view point and you can comment upon it.
An example to start. Our area is being converted in to municipal corporation from a village panchayat, and we have a view that it will affect us adversly.
Hence there is a huge resistance from our side to this move. But its difficult for some people, and one particular person from a nearby city asked me and my friend, who stay in the same area as mine, why should we resist since the formation of municipal corporation brings about development? My friend ask him the million rupee question, “What is development?” The prompt reply was that there was construction of lots of huge buildings, which wsa good for the city. When asked as to how many of this towers had proper access road or electricity for 24 hours or continuous water supply, there was a mumbled attempt to some answer, but in vain. Then the next question was about the location of a government run hospital providing to the needs of poor, on which the reply was prompt and pointing out one particular hospital. We reminded him about the condition of the hospital and the lack of experienced doctors. We even pointed out how it was used only for carrying out autopsies. On being asked about a good educational institution, he pointed out many of them located in the gram panchayat area, but none so well known from the city area. So is this development? What has stopped any city from building proper health care centers or educational institutions, when it can keep on building huge commercial buildings?
I work in the city of Mumbai. I stay in a village which is around 60 km from my workplace. The british connected my town with the main city way back in 1925, since they had some foresight towards future population explosion around the financial hub. But the condition of this mass transport system has not improved much since then. The crowd, keeps on growing, no matter how many lines are added to the route or no matter how many coaches are attached to the trains. And this transport system has reached its saturation point with further expansion impossible. The travel time has increased due to congestion at nodal station.
Half of my life is wasted in travel to my workplace. Surely there is a roadway as an alternate, but if all the people start using their personal vehicles on this roads, the condition on roads would be much worse than now.There is no proper mass transport system to connect two cities. So whatever “development” was done since independence, seems to have dragged up back in time.
Food, clothing and shelter are the three basic needs of mankind, and any kind of progress or development as we call it, needs to keep in mind this three basic factors for survival of our species. But building high rises seems to be the priority of our authorities, thus neglecting the food department of our basic needs. What about the agrigultural land that is turning barren because farmers are preferring migration to cities for jobs, due to lack of any proper support mechanism to the farmers from the government in case of any natural calamity. What about the water supply? Major city like Mumbai faces acute water shortage in summers, even after water cuts throughout the year. How can any city, or a country be developed if its not self sufficient in food? Agriculturally advanced countries like the USA, Autralia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, which are self sufficient in food, are much ahead of us with regards to development.
What about the secondary needs of mankind like transport, power etc. Lets say electric power. We all know that India has a huge shortfall in supply of the power to its consumers. Except for major cities, rest of the India faces scheduled power cuts, which are increasing in frequency. So isn’t the city thriving at the expense of small towns and villages. Why this unequal treatment when both pay equal taxes? And how much of this tax has been used for true development
by government? Private firms, which can charge higher amount for power supply, build up huge power plants on large scale, but how much megawatts of power has the government added in previous 10 years? Not much I guess, else the demand supply gap wouldn’t have increased explosively.
We build buildings and then we remember that we had to have wider roads for easy traffic movement. So we demolish those buildings or houses which are not strong enough to resistance. After the road is completed our gas company remembers that it has forgotten to lay down pipes for supplying gas to the buildings. Dig dig dig. Then our telephone company again goes dig dig dig to lay down communication lines. Oh!! The municipal corporation forgot to laydown proper sewers aroud the city. So dig dig dig. The road endup being digged up more often than usable. A very recent case makes my point where the construction of a skywalk begun with digging of road and in the process congesting traffic, breaking up communication lines and water supply pipes. Then the dug up holes stay for few months and were ultimately filled back. It seems that the project scrapped. Only sign of that project is the damaged road which, I doubt, will be repaired soon. The civic authorities seem to not know that the planning is amongst the first step for proper development.
No one is against development. But the consequence of development were better life for mankind, and this doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
Mar 092010
 

……as to which side should I take. There is a non violent side, which I feel will not be heeded in our cause. Then there is violent side, which I strictly oppose, but I feel that this side has some hopes of winning as against the other side. But considering all, I still feel that which ever side I am on, our cause will be the ultimate looser, unless proper authority takes a notice of us.

It all began a few months back, when it was decided to include our 53 villages into the newly formed Vasai-Virar municipal corporation. This proposal was brought forth few years back, but due to huge resistance from us, the original residents of this area(who have fought against the administration, land mafia and anti-social elements throughout our life to preserve our culture and our environment), the then chief minister of the state of maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, chose to withhold the formation of the corporation. Then in december 2008 Ashok Chauhan was selected as the successor of Vilasrao Deshmukh, and appointment didn’t seem to matter to our villages in any large manner(because we have a phrase here in our place, “Kavre aale aan kavre gele, aami hai tahe hao”, meaning, many came and went but we are as we were). Little did we know that this change in the political scenario at the state level would lead to this huge turbulance in our peaceful vasai.

Here are some pictures of my Vasai….

(p.s. Photos shown above are not a mere sample items but the actual representation of  the beauty that our villages are. Keralites, on seeing this photos, go nostalgic. Source of photos http://onevasai.com)

Somehow, the land mafia managed to get the proposal cleared and the 53 villages were included in to the newly formed corporation. 49 villages which had been opposing this move, united to fight against this undemocratic order. Peace loving people as we are, we choose the non-violent path of the great Mahatma, for our struggle, and our united leaders chalked out few protest plans which were being carried out in the august of 2009 in peaceful and organised ways. But as the protest was reaching its height, it was disrupted by the actions of the well known land “grabber” mafia and the then member of legislative assembly(I doubt whether he knows what MLA stands for) Hitendra Thakur alias “Appa”. The result of this was innocent people being beaten brutally by the police and jailed for two days.

This incidents lead to much stronger unity in vasai localites, and they elected Mr. Vivek ‘Bhau’ Pandit in the assembly elections that immeditaly followed, as he was seen as the only candidate having a real chance in the elections. After few months of inaction from the government about this issue, it was decided to intensify the protest again, and other rounds of non-violent methods were chalked out. One of it included the decision of Mr. Pandit to go on a fast until death, till the issue was addressed by the government. Fearing a propoganda of this issue, the government did the most inhuman and cowardly thing we could imagine. First of all Mr. Pandit was picked up by a large police force and the other protestors were brutally lathi charged. Then a particular village, wagholi, about 10 km away from the place of protest, was targeted by the police force in large numbers. A curfew was ordered for that area, but was never announced to the public. As most of the male population of that area was out in the city for their jobs, the only people in the villages were old men, women and children. This police force brutally lathi charged on anyone and every one they could find in the village. Doors of the houses were broken down, glass panes were broken, inner doors were broken. Old men were dragged out of the house and repeatedly assaulted with the stick. Women were dragged out of the house and beaten. Children were slapped. And I am not recounting a fake incident. It was recorded by tv channels who were present in that area. This videos were later aired on national television which we saw in the evening. You can see some of the police brutallity here. Protectors of the society turned in to perpetrator of a the crime. Friday, the 9th of march turned out to be our Black Friday.

Even after seeing the video, one of the minister chose to label it as mild lathi charge on protesters. While the chief minister, on one side said that an enquiry would be made in to the incident, on other occasion was caught on video telling a reporter, who was questioning about this incident to “forget it”. I am not so good at expressing my feelings, so I feel you all should have been here to feel the anger and the hatred.

All my life I felt that I would grow up to be a man, lead a normal life, untouched by anything really bad if I played my cards right, and so on. I would go to my work daily, and come back in the evening, and my life would have nothing to do with the problems of the naxalites of the gadchiroli and such things. But now I know, my life is always affected, its just a matter of time before I realise it. This village could have been my village. The old man being beaten brutally could have been some one I love dearly. And all this even after I cared less about politics, politicians and their ways.

The family members of the affected are very angry. A small spark is enough for the ever impending explosion. Political leaders on our side are asking them to refrain from any violent way, but I think I know how they feel. And I think I know now what it takes to convert a normal human being to a naxalite. We were fighting for our rights, but the non-violent ways were not acceptable to the caretakers of the worlds largest democracy.

The government had promised to conduct an enquiry and present the report by the end of this week. But knowing the state of affairs that this state is in, I do not have much expectation form them. But our people feel there is some hope. And its hope that has kept us kicking throughout this struggle.

Mar 072010
 

The first moon mission from India blasted off with billions of hope on its back, and completed its job as defined. The results of the project were out some days back, and our very own chandrayaan it did not disappoint with its findings. The Nasa payload, was successful in finding ice in one of the crators on the moon!! Thats a very good news to us.

But I fail to understand how its a good news? Is Nasa or Isro or any other space organisation or government planning to build a pipeline from moon to the earth? Till that doesn’t materalise, the ice(water) stays there. Or may be they are planning to build civilisation around the source of water. But then, only people like Dennis Tito, Richard Branson, Vijay Mallya and such other people, will be able to afford the trip. So the discovery doesn’t seem to be of any consequence to the comman man, except for and additional chapter in our geography text books.

Get real my dear scientists. There are no any inventions which will help us to use any of this discoveries in near future. Of course discoveries are very much needed for the progress of the mankind, but should the issues at hand be not dealt with first? I would not touch the subjects of injustice, wars, and many other issues. But why not just think about the water problems? Billions of dollars were spent for this discovery on the moon, but I think a fraction of that amount could have helped in solving the problem at hand. Huge desalination plants for purifying sea water wouldn’t have cost much as compared to the Nasa payload. Now take the case of India, and Mumbai in particular. All the reservoirs supplying water to this megapolis, are found to be getting more and more insufficient each year. Now, the government has vast amount of lands under its control, so why isn’t anyone thinking about digging out more reservoirs on this lands. But that would translate to lesser real estate space, meaning less income to the politicians.

Technologically we are achiving feats, but we are going way ahead of our times, and in the process writing our history towards extinction.

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