Monday, December 24, 2012

Up On Cloud Number Nine

Here I Am, __ __ __ _ _____ !!!

I am sure some of you reading this blog post would have filled in those blanks with "rock you like a Hurricane" , taking cues from the song by Scorpions :)  But those blanks only indicate my long absence from the blogosphere; I went blank in a much bigger way while composing this post, got a little out of touch now. 

I am now a mother of a baby boy, we named him Kashyap and he was born in Bangalore on Aug 26, 2012. The new role as a mommy is keeping me far from phone, newspapers and world wide web; therefore my blog too has been lying in abeyance for some months now.

On the front of managing baby affairs, I have just begun to get a grasp of it all. After three months of hands on training, I am still learning to become nocturnal and virtually shift my time zone from IST to USA's EST.

I gave this post the title "Up on Cloud Number Nine" for two reasons -

1) My baby was born in Cloud Nine Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bangalore; every time I visited my doctor here, this line from one of my favorite Bryan Adams' song used to hit my head. 
2) Also, I intend to write about my doctor - gynecologist and obstetrician in this post, she has a huge share in my elation, "the cloud nine feeling" of becoming a mother. 


Dr.Praveena Shenoi MBBS, MD (OBG), DGO, MRCOG(LONDON) is my doctor. I came to know of her from few of my office colleagues; and personally, have known her since June 2011. 

A search on the Internet for good gynecologists in Bangalore brought me to her again and again; she had an impressive set of "clearly positive" remarks. There were even two blog posts that thanked her immensely. So here comes my turn to chip in some good words about her so that people looking for similar information can benefit and turn to her confidently for medical guidance.

The best thing I like about my doctor is that she follows some very simple principles like - let nature play its part; human body and its systems naturally adapt and react; prevention is better than cure - these clearly govern her methods of treatment and work wonderfully for you. Surgical means of intervention come as last resort and she turns to them only when absolutely essential. 

Since conception, I was advised to avoid eating outside food (strictly) and I followed her meekly. Pregnancy is definitely a period where unnecessary medication must be avoided at all costs. Also, my 8 weeks Oral Glucose Challenge test showed me little inclined to gestational diabetes, therefore I was advised to go off high glycemic foods like maida, potato and consume less rice. Dr. Praveena Shenoi really knows how to get her words across, there is a lasting smile on her face but important instructions are nailed in crisply and curtly, with no lenience in tone. 

For those of you who complain she spends little time answering queries from the first few consultations; just hang on! As time progresses, rapport with her builds up and she spends more time with you during consultations. You can rest assured that post delivery she will remember you and your baby for her lifetime. 

With a huge base of patients, when you see her scurrying between consultation rooms; to and from operation theater and labor wards, her abundant energy trickles down to you too and helps you sail through a weary first trimester. She infuses high energy levels and confidence with every visit during the entire course of pregnancy. Even now, when I wake up through the night attending to my baby, I think of how she attends to her patients round the clock, anytime she is summoned; yet makes it to her routine consultation hours in mornings and derive inspiration from it. 

My 37 week ultra sound scan revealed my baby's weight was above average for Indian standards. With absolutely no cervix effacement and dilation until 39 weeks, my doctor showed no hurry in inducing labor or pushing me to a C-section. I had concerns if I would be able to deliver a 3.3+ kg baby naturally but she only put my anxiety to rest by saying labor is the best judge and things will take a natural course. And true, I delivered my 3.69 kg bundle of joy naturally with her by my side at 39+3 weeks. 

In this world that is hard pressed for time, I feel she could have always wrapped up her work in 15-20 minutes performing a C-section. I am not denouncing C-section means of delivery but I strongly feel a person should be given a fair chance and sufficient time to deliver normally if medical parameters suit the case. And to find a doctor who genuinely believes in this and implements it seriously, I believe, is sheer fortune. 

She is reachable on her mobile for queries and concerns outside appointments, one can leave SMS s to her mobile number and she will respond to them. 

When I first consulted her, she handled out patient cases at her clinic - Perinatal clinic, Domlur and at Manipal Hospital, Old Airport Road. Eventually, through the year 2012, she shifted her base completely to Cloud Nine Hospital, Old Airport Road. To me, consulting Dr.Praveena Shenoi alone mattered, I knew I was in safe hands and the hospital set up did not quite matter. 

About the hospital, Cloud Nine is definitely heavy on wallet, call it more appropriately a boutique birthing center. However, with support from medical insurance, one does not get much room to complain. The support I received from nursing staff during my stay in the hospital was stupendous; I am highly grateful to all of them. The labor wards were clean and maintained well. There are visits by lactation and diet experts, visits by doctors for the baby and you that keep you alert all the while during 2 nights and 3 days stay at the hospital. It is this limited duration of stay at hospital that puts parents/elders to question if the establishment is a hospital or a resort. I personally feel that one gets bombarded with too many details in this small duration at the hospital, may be little extra time will help. However, an extension in stay is recommended only if doctors observe something abnormal. 

To end with, it might seem an ordeal to manage an appointment to meet Dr. Praveena Shenoi, waiting time for consultations may make you groan and complain. However, that little extra effort and time you give for your visits pays well in the end without doubt. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Culinary Grand Slam: Master Chef Australia

Much like the grand slam tournaments for tennis in a calendar year, the culinary majors/grand slams for this calendar year have begun with the show Master Chef Australia. The show, Master Chef Australia, is aired from Monday to Friday, 9 -10 pm IST on Star World channel and this year's season has gotten off to a brilliant start. The top 24 contestants form a highly capable lot and they churn out wonders in entree, main course and dessert categories, day after day. Three eliminations - that of Kevin, Lydia and Matt occurred over last three weeks. After Master Chef Australia, Master Chef USA and our own - Master Chef India awaits eager audience. 

Master Chef Australia has the same familiar, friendly trio for its judges - Matt Preston, Gary and George. All of them are extremely supportive, appreciative of sincere efforts and never too critical. However, my favorite  is Matt, an internationally acclaimed food critic,most balanced and impartial in delivering judgement, he forms a crisp opinion with relevant, grounded reasons and possesses taste buds that are sensitive to wide variety of tastes and cuisines. Gary has a terrible weakness for anything sweet - pies with apples and berries, lemon cheese cakes, deconstructed tarts, burnt meringue, ganache, anglaise, granita-  all have him sinking down on his knees and he gets tilted in favor of contestants who seek pride in dessert making. Matt Moran is another judge, more a mentor, who helps contestants during immunity challenges without airs. 

I began watching Master chef Australia intently from the last season. Various techniques contestants use for cutting, cooking and plating are impressive. Recipes for baked dishes and desserts appeal to me largely. This year has already offered many interesting episodes - reinventing a basic sandwich, identifying/making different pastas and preparing a magical 8-textured mousse cake. Team challenges, too,  have been equally exciting. 

My favorites in the show are Audra, Mindy, Amina, Ben and Andy. I pray they go a long way and remain till the end. The ladies are all exceptional in producing clean; lip smacking flavors and innovate with ease. Ben works with extreme patience and precision in the kitchen; qualities that his job as a teacher too demands. Andy is terribly calm and composed, well organised and these qualities along with his poise and confidence impress audience just as much as his cooking skills.

Dalvinder, with Indian roots (advertisements of Master Chef Australia aired in India project her as a representative/ambassador of the nation, much like an athlete representing the nation in Olympics event), Kylie, Alice, Tregan (three of them form a cheerful, happy go lucky gang), Emma (the soft and kind hearted cry baby), Filippo (an expert at bread baking and wood fire oven baked pizzas), TK, Beau, Andrew, Julia (dessert queen) form the next rung of my personal favorites on the show. 

Debra, the oldest contestant on the show has always won accolades from all judges for her expertise in cooking and producing clean, impeccable flavors. To me, she fell from her promising position, only seemed a typical oldie, always ready to complain/incriminate younger folks around for failure after the Yum Cha team challenge at the Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney. Now I would love to bid her bye ASAP.

There are many more action packed episodes - a multitude of masterclasses, immunity/team/elimination challenges lined up before an immensely talented one wins the title and trophy of culinary excellence. 
And , definitely there will be tears and emotions, much like Roger Federer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Some Dumbo Kids with Over ambitious Fathers

There are awards for best actors/actresses, awards for sports persons and their teachers. Recognition is meted out in field of arts, literature, press, journalism, photography, environment protection (despite calamitous damage done to it by humans), try naming any field and a bag full of awards, trophies and medallions bestow honor and appreciation.

Parenting too, is an art and this seems to be a department where I have not heard of awards or accolades. There are days or occasions celebrated across the world to mark its importance like Father's day and Mother's day but no particular trophy is given out to a chosen few.

If there was an award for the most doting, caring, supremely dedicated father (in India, keeping focus on some star kids) it would go to Amitabh Bachchan, undoubtedly.

With a dumbo - Abhishek Bachchan, for a son, Big B's efforts as a father to shape his son's career, future as an actor, to elevate him to a larger than life image have been relentless. From Bunty Aur Babli to the recent take - Bol Bachchan, the father has shouldered all responsibilities in an unimaginably excessive fashion leaving no stone unturned. In a ripe old age, he sings, dances, emotes, shouts, delivers crisp dialogues in his baritone voice and pulls along Baby B to stardom. Be it interviews or KBC shows or personally upclose moments, as a father he constantly swears by his son, stands by his son and is an immovable Rock of Gibraltar to him. The son, though now a father himself, no doubt, loves the cozy, warm zone of protection , has not shown enough mettle to prove his capabilities. In fact, the million dollar question is if he is capable at all? Or toning down the quotient of sarcasm, is he fit/suited for the field of cinema? Barring the movie Guru, where Mani Ratnam fiercely extracted some expressions from this rock faced star child, Abhishek has proved disastrous in all his other movies in all departments. When he dances, he makes only Tapori like/Dappan koothu moves, biting and rolling his tongue, making dodo like expressions on his already awkwardly shaped face. However, the father still believes his son who turned to stone in one of his earlier births by a stare from Medusa, will turn victorious some day.

Though Big B and Aby baby make the most outstanding example of best dumbo son, over ambitious father combination the world can ever witness, there are other examples from the film industry itself. Rishi Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor (recent histrionics in IIFA awards) is an example that hits my head directly; the son is not a failure in all departments but looks a complete dodo and definitely delivers incomprehensible dialogues. When Ranbir sings "Jo bhi mein kehna chaahoon, barbaad kare, alfaaz mere" in Rockstar movie, you cannot refrain from nodding in appeal.  

Moving from these examples and changing domain from films to sports, recent newspaper and TV reports have made me conclude that though the kid is not a dumbo here and the father has not done anything overtly to push the kid into limelight, this nosy father and an arrogant kid combination has wreaked havoc to true sportsmanship spirit. Leander Paes and Vece Paes form this unexpected example. The father features in all press reports like a spokesperson, brokers deals and bargains, asks for written assurance from Sania Mirza that she will partner with her son in mixed doubles format on the pretext of which he claims his son will play along with Vishnu Vardhan in men's doubles format at London Olympics (2012), all of this has gone awfully irksome and weird. Leander too,  throwing his weight around, quoted preposterously - " The only one I need to worry about is Vishnu, the poor boy is 307 in the world and I don't even know if he has grass court shoes. So it is like a bit of tough one." Such a gibe from an Olympic Bronze medalist, Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, winner of men's and mixed doubles in 1999 Wimbledon is a real shocker.

Personal frustration, ego, superiority complex and professional vendetta have ripped Leander off true sportsmanship and his father, an ace hockey player himself, has forgotten to drive lessons to get his son grounded. Paes will need to pick cues from other sports figures in India - Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand for instance, who are GODS in their respective games; yet haven't roped in their families/fathers to speak on their behalf, their likes and dislikes. 

True, we all admit - Like Father, Like Son; a son always looks up to his father for emulation. However, it is true that each one of us has a distinct talent, an area of super specialization which can quite be different from that of the father. Leander took this lesson to his head and chose tennis, not hockey; but few lessons of humility went starkly amiss and his over ambitious father failed to reinstate them. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Finally, some music stuff on MTV

The channel MTV or Music Television, in India, for little less than a decade, has been known for Roadies, Splitsvilla and like reality shows. These reality shows have featured the same scheme of dumping ground, vote out mechanisms, politics vs performance quotients, excessive bitching and wild card entries over these years, making it all clearly trite. 

A welcome change ushered in the form of a music show Desi Beats/Rock ON, the first season of which was judged by Ram Sampath and Kailash Kher, who in my opinion, have actually contributed something original to music - from colorful Bollywood music to advertisement jingles. The second season of this music show featuring Pritam (Hindi music director with maximum hits to his name and an equal number of plagiarism charges) and Indian Ocean's Rahul Ram (whose only standing credit till day remains the Kandisa song, a prayer in Aramaic uttered in Sryian Orthodox Churches) did not pack the required punch. 

There was a strange lull after this when it came to airing music related shows. Now, the breather comes in the form of a new show - Sound Trippin aired on the channel every Saturday from 8-9 pm. The show features Sneha Kanwalkhar, a young and chirpy,  budding Hindi film music director who travels to different parts of India, captures many sounds specific to that region, picks up some impressive local/folk tunes and creates a song out of it all. Sounds and music strips collected from locals in these places on her gizmo - an Intel notebook are taken back to the studio where she and her proficient team of music technicians carefully compose a song. The song comes along with a befitting video and is first shown to people of the town/region who really contributed to it and to us too at the end of the show. 

Six episodes of this show have been aired till now with the first five shows taking Sneha to Punjab (fun filled, bold music), Benares (mystic with sounds of bells and hymns), Yellapur (a village in coastal Karnataka where a tribe called Siddhis live and perform),  Goa (sounds of church gong with generous amount of English thrown in) and Kanpur (sounds of leather factory set the background for some whacky, mischievous lyrics). The last (sixth) episode was a summary of all these travels, primarily focusing on efforts put in by sound technicians and accounts of their experiences with sounds of various kinds.  

I would rate this show with a 7 on scale of 10 - Reasons? 

Finally, something related to music and making music appears on MTV. There are no money tasks/immunity tasks, battle ground/dumping ground rows in this show.

Two excellent songs out of 5 composed until now on the show - one in Punjab in episode 1 and another in Yellapur in episode 3. 

One can check out the videos of these brilliant music pieces from the links below - 
2. Yere (from Yellapur, lyrics and primary rhythm provided by Siddhi tribe who have their roots in Africa but have made India their home for long)  - http://mtv.in.com/soundtrippin/videos/yere-full-song-episode-3-intel-mtv-sound-trippin-8359-1.html 

Truly, remarkable efforts go in to make a song and this is shown convincingly to the audience through this show. 

Why not more than a 7 on 10? Reasons - 
2 out of 5 songs stand out, call for repeated hearing with fitting videos. So that's ony 40% excellence. 
There are many more episodes, more sounds to be captured - so it is a wait and watch before the show gets an upgraded rating. 

However, on an ending note, this is a show I look forward to on MTV, turn to for respite from livid auditions, excessive foul mouthing, roadies journey and bitching splitsvillians. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

60 years of Parliament

Seldom a newspaper like Times of India presents collection of facts, some serious and sensible stuff for readers. All and most other times, it is full of advertisements which come in bigger doses on special days like Mother's day, Friendship's day and Akshaya Trithiya etc.

I have always expressed displeasure at reading TOI. The Hindu, Bangalore edition fails to impress me, being nowhere close to the Chennai edition I grew up reading. Both Deccan Chronicle and Deccan Herald cover national news in a myopic manner. Given the junk that gets published in a well pronounced fashion in TOI, Bangalore in form of Bangalore Times and many glossy supplements, I think the decision to resort to other options is just around the corner.

Anyways, May 13, 2012 saw completion of 60 years of Indian Parliament and there was some information to take back from page 16 of the day's print - Sunday Times, Bangalore.
Ramachandra Guha, in his book - India after Gandhi describes how many felt India would never work as parliamentary democracy given differences were wide and occurred in many categories than similarities that actually could bind a nation together, that too a nation fresh from severe partition woes. If we were to argue on whether we have succeeded as a democracy and squashed many wrong notions, whether we really deserve to be applauded as the world's largest democracy etc - it would take publishing many more books; more analyses from historians like Guha and daily debates on news channels for years together.

There are many times where you feel the country has failed miserably as a democracy, it is only a banana republic. There are very few occasions where you may concede to believing that the scenario is not so bleak. I am writing this post on my blog only to make an entry of some important facts I garnered from reading the newspaper Times of India, Bangalore, dated May 13, 2012.

The House Story  
Parliament house was originally known as Council House. 
It was planned initially to be a part of Rashtrapati Bhavan. 
It was decided that this building will be the Indian Parliament in 1919 Montague-Chelmsford Reforms. 

The building was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, various designs - from triangular to colosseum Rome like were thought over before finalizing upon the circular design. 

The Parliament has 200 pillars, foundation stone laid in 1921 by Prince Arthur, it uses black marble in columns of chambers brought from Gaya, white marble for lining walls in the library from Makrana, teak for doors from Assam and Burma, rosewood from South India and pale and red Dholpur sandstone. 

The building was inaugurated on Jan 18, 1927 and it was on May 13, 1952 that the Parliament had its first sitting. 

What's special for 60 years of Parliament? 
Release of a stamp and a coin to commemorate the day. 
Joint sitting of the house in Central Hall at 5 pm. 
Veteran parliamentarians honoring ceremony presided over by President Prathiba Patil where - Rishang Keishing (92 yrs) stands out as the oldest Rajya Sabha member, the only sitting MP until day, a veteran Naga leader, he was elected to the first Lok Sabha (1952-57). 
Also, Reshamlal Jhange from Bilaspur (Chattisgarh), aged 88 years will be honored. 

Other important points discussed in the article in TOI 
The first LS has 22 lady members. 
The Parlimentary proceedings were televised for the first time during 1991-96 with Shivraj Patil as the speaker. 
The Parliament faces a terrorist attack on Dec 13, 2001. 
Many low points in parliamentary proceedings are also discussed in the newspaper in this article, many of these lows occuring during the tenure of Indira Gandhi as the PM - the time when corruption brewed in legislation without adulteration and in no dilution. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Truth alone Triumphs


A show on television with Aamir Khan as the host, a trailer that shows him traveling to different places in India, from Kochi to Ladakh meeting people there, a song written and composed brilliantly well as an earmark of the show, the many ads and promos, all in a way that instill interest; there were, I must admit, more than ample reasons to wait for 11 am, May 6, 2012 and tune into Star Plus channel. 

When one has huge expectations, reality's bound to fall short and going along that line, personally, I was left little disappointed when I saw Aamir Khan walk into a chic, air conditioned studio with audience seated in a  gallery around him. May be it was the snippet of the show aired repeatedly that made me think Aamir will travel places, gather information about local problems of people, highlight them and treat them wisely, with a difference and garner public support in favor of solving them. I grew little upset when Aamir called out few names and talked to these selected few on a one on one basis, it only brought back memories of the once very popular Aap Ki Adalat show by Rajat Sharma and Aap ki Kacheri show by Kiran Bedi. The formats do not match exactly since Aamir keeps repeating during the show that individual cases discussed are under judicial question and he is none to judge/provide opinion but somewhere, there's a meek prayer that this new initiative by the perfectionist of the film industry must not fall into the same league as shows that have been aired before. 

The disappointment did not abate as the issue discussed was female foeticide, an issue so pernicious in our country that it is too difficult to address it on TV and in one episode. Aamir questions different people, from a not so well educated lady to a doctor by practice about their personal grievances in this subject; we get to know that irrespective of where they hail from, their social, literary and economic background they all have been meted out the same treatment and have faced brutal discrimination; they have been both a criminal and a victim. Aamir fervently tries to impart knowledge by telling that the mother in no way determines the sex of an unborn child in a few sentences, even then I cannot applaud this effort. Reasons - literacy does not help, economic well being does not also help, even passage of time and generations does not help, nothing appears to eradicate this evil. 

I am sure a few hundreds listened to Aamir when he said Athithi Devo Bhava and stopped spitting and throwing trash on the streets, may be even stopped stalking foreign visitors in crowded markets. But for the message sent out last Sunday afternoon, I cannot believe even a 0.001 % change will ensue in the positive direction for no domestic, national or international voice has ever been able to batter this evil notion. 

Aamir chose to end the first episode with some light moments when he interviewed a group of men in a village in Haryana, all above 35 years of age and yet unmarried, unmarried due to dearth of girls in their community. These men requested Aamir to solve their problem and cheerfully said they would even nominate Salman Khan as their team captain. There were ripples of laughter but the bleak truth was lying barren in front of us all. 

It is said that the website dedicated to this show crashed the same day due to heavy online traffic, there were thousands of tweets congratulating the show and its makers, true and well deserved, I am very happy for it. But there is something amiss as far as I am concerned, few more Sundays would be required for me to conclude if TRUTH REALLY TRIUMPHS.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Inspired ...

I have always wanted to highlight the creations of this special friend of mine on my blog space. Guess here comes the right moment for it. Readers of this post are requested to visit -http://www.juhishandmadecards.com 

This website is maintained by my colleague and friend, she posts all her cards, scrapbooks and many other creations here. I am proud that I have been the recipient of some of Juhi's lovely cards, in fact, many of them and they occupy a very special and notable place in my showcase at home. 

I am providing the links of some of the cards Juhi made for me on various occasions since year 2009 - 


I never requested her to make a scrapbook for me but I must admit that she has some really ravishing stuff in that category too. She makes fantastic mini albums, photo frames and step cards (which can be placed on the center table). One side step card that she made specially for me carries a very beautiful message (Courtesy: side-step-card

Okay .. so by now, a lot of WOW s, amazing, "really great stuff" and similar expressions of awe and wonder would have struck you all :) 

I tried my hand at making some cards at home recently; inspired by my friend. Nothing can parallel Juhi's work for she is heart and soul into crafts and card making and really takes painstaking efforts to make each and every creation perfect and pleasant. 

Quite inspired by her efforts, I made cards for my nephews' (two of them) birthday which is round the corner. They are turning 3 years old and am sure when they grow up they will cherish this card from their aunt. I was immensely happy and satisfied making them :) I had, long back, procured some hand made paper, ready to paste flowers/feathers (from makers: ITSY BITSY) from a Reliance Timeout outlet and used them for making these cards. Here is a picture of the two cards ... yippee :) I wrote a sweet message wishing my nephews a very happy birthday in bright, bold colors on the inside, drew some cool stuff and put in more stickers; marked one of the margins with a satin ribbon that was lying at home for completion. 

Pic of cards with envelopes made 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heavily Misconstrued ...

If your mail box was flooded with "Buy Gold Coins", Gold ETF and Gold Funds investments related emails, pouring in from the likes of Reliance, Tanishq, Birla, ICICI and HDFC and many more banks and business groups for the last 20 days, you sure knew Akshaya Trithiya for this year was round the corner. 

Yes, the D-Day has arrived and it is today, April 24, 2012 and what a start it has been for the day, one opens the newspaper and finds page after page decked up with advertisements of gold and diamond jewellery, gold coins, gold bars, biscuits and cookies, what not. About 60% of the newspaper print today carries these ads. The percentage of these ads has only increased since last week mimicking the transition from a gentle reminder to a mandatory guideline to buy gold. Heavily misconstrued, I must state, is the importance imparted to this yellow metal and in matters like this India stands united. Class no bar, religion no bar, money no bar; beg, borrow but buy gold today, that is the norm. 

Even a casual search about this day will yield results that Akshaya Trithiya or Akha Teej is an important and auspicious day for Hindus and Jains. For Hindus, it is believed to be the birthday of Parashuram; an incarnation on Lord Vishnu, the day when Lord Ganesha and Veda Vyasa began writing the Mahabharata, the day when Ganga descended onto Earth from heaven; simply a day when prayers can bestow upon one infinite good times, luck and success. A small gesture of charity performed today is expected to bestow unlimited good luck, health and good will. But people have grossly misunderstood it all; they utter by rote, like machines- Charity begins at jeweller's shop. 

As for Jains, this is the day when their Tirthankara Rishabadeva,  renouncing all his riches, meditating for an year, broke his fast and penance. Even when one uses a magnifying glass and puts all effort to read between lines or within lines of any description of this holy day, there is no vague mention of buying gold and diamond and platinum. 

However, from retail outlets to online portals, there is complete frenzy on gold, gold and gold. It is proven that many traditions and practices get distorted over time when handed over from one generation to another. Blind faith creeps in at times, horrific rituals dominate at other times, heavy misinterpretations usually mar an original idea.

In case of Akshaya Trithiya, we do not know who started to spread the wrong word around, the day's notion is so heavily misconstrued that to question "Does buying gold on Akshaya Trithiya day augur prosperity?" seems to invite wrath from many quarters, not definitely from the gods but from humans.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: ANIMAL FARM


When it is said that Animal Farm by George Orwell is a classic, the statement marks absolute, timeless truth; for the book belongs to the highest literary rank and has a lasting significance. Written by the author during Nov 1943- Feb 1944, this book has endured the test of time with strong meaning relevant even today, unfazed by several passing decades.

I read this book last when I was in class 9 at school. Back then, I hardly grasped its import and Animal Farm to me was more like a fairy tale where animals residing in a farm talked, plotted and planned the ouster of their drunkard and tyrannical master. 

I grabbed this title and 1984 (another book by George Orwell) last year from a retail outlet in a sale on Penguin books and I re read it about two days back. This time the book unraveled a completely new dimension and the impetuous message contained in the book made complete sense.

The book is an allegory depicting Stalin era and his communist regime. Mr.Jones owns the Manor farm where many animals stay and labor - pigs, sheep, horses, cows, geese, hens, mare, raven et al. Jones's drunken revelry, his bacchanal ways stir a rebellion among the animals as they grow tired of not being cared for, not fed for days together and tortured with excessive work and brutal punishments. The idea of a rebellion is ignited in the heads of animals on the farm by Old Major, an old boar who envisions farms free from human parasites, farms where all animals are equal, animals toil for their own good, need not part with their produce for the sake of useless humans, animals eat enough, work enough, rest enough and are most importantly, independent.Old Major does not live long enough to see his ideas materialize but Manor Farm is rechristened as Animal Farm with Mr.Jones kicked out of power by the animals. Two pigs - Napoleon and Snowball frame Seven commandments governing Animalism in the farm, sing Beasts of England taught by Old Majoridolize him and vow to make Animal Farm a heaven for all animals alike.  

Snowball imparts literacy to all animals though equines like Boxer, Clover fail to pick up more than four alphabets. Snowball's  ideals move towards an egalitarian society but they are always in stark contrast to those proposed by Napoleon. Arguments alone ensue between these two pigs and their views are most often least understood by the lesser intelligent animals on the farm except for a wise Benjamin, an old donkey who is too wise and equally pessimistic. The Rebellion seems to bring everything just right for the animals on Animal Farm as they taste success against human enemies in the Battle of Cowshed. But all is not hunky dory.

The idea of rebellion gets lost with leaders losing their sense of rectitude. The novel, thereafter, presents how the concept of revolution is made corrupt by power hungry, wicked, myopic leaders and equally void in its effect by ignorant masses who express profound allegiance to their lords with no discernability. The Seven Commandments are re written with ease, their original intent mortified to suit those in power. Equines like Boxer toil endlessly in servile docility nodding in approval to the leader's hogwash. From "All Animals are Equal", the essence of Animalism effortlessly changes to "All Animals are Equal, But some animals are more equal than others".

A revolution, dreamt of being effectual, lands in complete paralysis and the novel ends with the sentence below - The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. 

A brief note at the beginning of this book quotes Orwell saying that Animal Farm is primarily a satire on Russian revolution but has wider applications. The moral to be was revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. And true it is as Orwell quotes, his Animal Farm, a grim humored novel, a satire, stands relevant to every word, every alphabet even to this day. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Top Notch Marketing Strategy

I always wanted to write about this place, a bakery, I visited in Mumbai and it has taken me over an year to do the needful. The address of this bakery is as below - Paris Bakery, 278, Dr.C.H. Street, Our Lady of Dolours Church Lane, Dhobi Talao, Mumbai - 400 002. Phone 2208 6619, 6423 3678 (Time: 9 am to 8 pm with lunch break from 2 to 5 pm, Mon - Sat). I visited this bakery in June 2011 and I must admit, though it is a small outlet with no facilities to sit and dine, the shopkeeper exhibited some of the top notch marketing strategies and impressed me. 

The shopkeeper at the bakery had a smiling face, was willing to answer our questions with just the right details, there were no curt replies like Indane/Bharat Gas agencies and no over mollycoddling like McDonalds and Pizza Hut, some examples that starkly hit my head. Paris bakery is famous for its Butter Khari (many layers of maida, thin and wafery, baked to precision, basically a mini puff sans filling) and when I browsed about Mumbai before my visit, I learnt people traveled far and wide to fetch a stock of their kharis.

At the shop, my husband and I would casually ask the shop keeper, pointing to a bottle of bread sticks - What is this? He would reply - Garlic Sticks, draw few of them out and make us taste them. He would then show more varieties of these garlic sticks, the ones that use less butter, ones with a lavish dose of butter, ones that go well with tea, ones prepared with a liberal dose of cheese. He would not only stop at that but ensure we tasted a small sample of each variety. We were little embarrassed by this shower of affection and decided not to ask any more questions in the fear we would finish quite a substantial portion of his shop in the name of tasting. But he would not relent. 

If we quizzed mutely over the biscuits in trays, he would politely point out the facts behind them all, again provide a small sample of each to taste. This treatment was not only meted out to us given that he figured we came from outside Mumbai but to every customer who visited his shop, regular or irregular or a first timer. There were superbly delicious shrewsberry biscuits, buttery and divine short bread biscuits, nutty and sugary kaju macroons, jam biscuits and fan biscuits. 

We were lucky for two reasons -
1) We visited the shop before they closed for lunch. We went to this bakery on our last day of Mumbai visit to take back some goodies to Bangalore. We would have missed out some excellent tasting baked goodies and such refreshing hospitality had we hit the place a little late in the afternoon. 
2) We reached the bakery at 1 pm and were planning to break for lunch thereafter, but our meal plan was almost taken care of by the shower of affection from the shop keeper. 

We left the shop with a sizable purchase - 3 packets of garlic sticks, 2 packets of cheese sticks, 1 each of shrewsberry and short Bread biscuits, 3 of kaju macroons. The supreme friendliness of the shopkeeper and his excellent marketing strategies of answering our questions patiently, providing us with required information of his bakery's products and more than enough goodies to taste and make a decision, bowled us over completely. Prima facie, it may appear the shop keeper will turn a pauper if he exhausted his supplies in name of providing the right to taste to his customer. But the warmth in his business dealings and the fine quality and taste of his products will sure win anyone's heart. None in my opinion will leave the shop without his/her share of bounty. A customer from Thane, alongside us, was in tears when he came to know that the shop exhausted its morning stock of kharis. He promised to return at 5 pm and get fresh evening stock before he headed back home that day. 

Other products that Paris bakery offers are - butter batasha, cheese batasha, cheese papri, nankhatai, mawa cake, fruit cake, sponge cake, buns, milk toast, melba toast, garlic toast and soya toast. I will always pay a visit to this bakery every time I am in Mumbai.

Some more information:  

We stayed in Goregaon (West) and traveled by the Western Line of Mumbai sub urban railway. We got down at Marine Lines station and from here any one can guide you to Paris Bakery or Lady of Dolours church. 

Paris Bakery is barely 10 minutes walk from the station. On the way to Paris bakery, there is a likelihood that you hit the Parsi Dairy branch in Dhobi Talao. Do not miss out the Malai Khaja and Mawa Khaja sweets here, they are truly out of the world. On all days of our stay in Mumbai, we commuted by the Mumbai western line trains which serve innumerable commuters at an unparalleled frequency. As a tourist, if you resort to road travel, then you will only kill time and all your energy; hissing and sighing in traffic. 

Quick tips: 

Get down at Mahalakshmi station and take a taxi if you wish to visit the Mahalakshmi temple and Haji Ali dargah. 

Get down at Charni Road station if you wish to spend the evening at Girgaum Chowpathy. This beach is a well-kept short strip with many food stalls; definitely much better than heavily polluted, plastic stricken and congested Juhu beach. 

Get down at Marine Lines station if you wish to spend time at Marine Drive, catch a view of the Queens' necklace by sunset time, take a stroll by the Arabian sea on wide and well laid out pavements. 

Get down at Churchgate (terminus of western line trains) to take a tour of all buildings and monuments of British colonial times located in South Mumbai - the Taj hotel, Gateway of India, Victoria Terminus (this is the last station of the central line route), Kala Ghoda circle, Mantralaya, Mumbai police headquaters, Prince of Wales Museum (now known as Chattrapathi Shivaji museum), Art galleries. You can take a taxi to save time but a walk would definitely be more interesting. The roads are wide, pavements well laid out with small road side eateries at intervals; milling around the buildings of British colonial times and gazing at their exemplary architecture would provide many cherishable memories. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES



This is the first Rushdie book I read - Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Wikipedia (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haroun_and_the_Sea_of_Stories) calls this book a phantasmagorical story, the word (in italics) meaning - characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions. 

The book begins like this - There was once , in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy...

Though this is the first paragraph of this 12 chapter book, there is no gloom in any page or chapter of the book. This book would come under for children category but it offers a great read for adults too. In fact, the narration style deployed brings a wide smile on the reader's face as he/she sails happily through the Sea of Stories. 

Brief overview of the plot:

The story is based in India, there is mention of Town of G (possibly referring to Gulmarg), then the Valley of K (referring to Kashmir), the tunnel of I, Dull Lake (referring to Dal lake). The story, in short, is about Haroun Khalifa, a child, who lives cheerfully with his parents - Rashid Khalifa and Soraya in a house that looks more like a cake. Rashid is a great story teller and has credits like the Shah of Blah, the one with Gift of Gab and tells tales, truly amazing and interesting ones. When Haroun wonders where his father gets this immense talent and multitude of stories from, Rashid quips - from the great Story Sea. There is a sudden nasty turn in their lives that forces Rashid into depression and pale silence; Haroun swears to himself that he will restore the Gift of Gab to his father, bring back cheer in him, at any cost, even if takes a trip to the unknown land of Gup on Kahani - the second satellite of Earth, he interacts and makes friends with aliens - water genies, eggheads, floating gardners, many-mouthed fishes and machine like birds. He learns that on Kahani, there are too many Processes too Complicated to Explain (P2C2E). Haroun even finds himself in a war like situation on Kahani where people of Gup city - the Guppies are fighting to save themselves from the Land of Chup, across the border and its inhabitants - the Chupwalas. 

The wikipedia link contains full synopsis of the book, a complete spoiler, much like the detailed synopsis of movies on IMDB. So if you plan to read this book, please keep away from Wikipedia link. 

About book and the author, my recommendations: 

I have read or heard more negative reviews of Rushdie's writing style/books than positive ones, so I was little skeptical when I picked this book from Flipkart. But from this book, I can state categorically, there is no better story teller than Rushdie; he is an impeccable master at his job. 

Most fiction books we read fall in "read and forget" category, then there are classic works of Dickens and many more great story tellers that leave a lasting impact. Very few, barely a handful, bring a childlike happiness and envelope us in bliss, Haroun and the Sea of Stories belongs to this smallest subset of books. Being quite possessive about my books, one will surely make me cross even if they marginally displaced this book in my shelf ;) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

IPL 2012 - what will make it interesting for me?

Ahhh ... so April 4 2012, it is, tomorrow! Indian Premier League Season 5 will kick start tomorrow with an inaugural session and a match between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians at the MA Chidambaram stadium, Chennai. Nine teams battle it out with each team playing against the other - 9x8 = 72 T 20 games in the league session itself barring qualifiers, semis and finals ... that's a whooping big total.

1. With MS Dhoni steering Chennai Super Kings this time too, from the front, no surprises if a repeat of 2010 and 2011 years happens. 
2. I think Sachin really got tired of all media reports, tons of questions and speculation of his calling it quits from cricket, so he decided to pacify press folks by handing over captaincy of Mumbai Indians to  relatively younger Bhajji. 
3. Sehwag will get to make his own rules and run his own empire, no Dhonism to hamper his progress, no injury will now come his way, he will fight like many kings history has seen from times of Hastinapur to Shahjahanabad and conquer it all for the Delhi Daredevils. 
4. What is Kolkata Knight Riders without Dada? Though we are now used to his absence, Gambhir with equal bouts of fiery temper, arrogance and attitude like Dada may work hard and harder to Korbo, Lorbo,  Jeetbho! Still somewhere, the positive passion that emanates from fury and attitude as in case of Dada will go amiss. 
5. Pune Warriors India will miss a true warrior, Yuvraj Singh, who is waging an even more critical battle than cricket itself. To not have the swashbuckler play the format he excels at creates quite a loss. It is a little absurd to see Dada - Saurav Ganguly head Pune Warriors India, even more absurd to learn from the newspaper that he insists on opening. The only Bong connection that is evident is that the team is headed by Subrata Roy. Hope this Poorab Poschim connection works. 
6. Kings X1 Punjab don't have any Chak De Phatte effect. This season, even rumor mills will fall quiet as Preity's pretty guy Brett Lee does not figure in the squad. 
7. Loyalty changes and so does royalty... may not make sense but it does rhyme well. The Wall - Rahul Dravid who recently became more of a Wailing Wall after retiring from cricket will have his hands full as the coach and captain of Rajasthan Royals. 
8. Royal Challengers Bangalore can earn back all fortunes lost, save many a sinking ships or more aptly said save many a drowning planes if two things are tightly adhered to, one keep Deepika Padukone out of all matches and never issue her a ticket and secondly keep Virat Kohli just happy (not too much or too little) and more focused so that centuries rain down heavily without stoppage. 
9. Deccan Chargers.. ahha ..there's something in the air of this team, they are like students who prepare extremely well for their exams, so well, yet flunk on d-day. 

Not too many reasons in favor to kindle and sustain interest in this season, yet I am sure I will keep a good eye on most, if not all matches :) After all, for really long, have I waited to break free from endless news debates on NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now channels .. so long, so long ....  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: CHANAKYA'S CHANT - A cornucopia of politics and history

Authored by Ashwin Sanghi, Chanakya's Chant, a work of historical fiction is actually more than a book. The book, the authors' second one, after The Rozabal Line, remained a hotseller last year and was well received, well publicized as well with a website (www.chanakyaschant.com), a video trailer and a free downloadable vedic chant mp3 file. The book, in about 430 pages, sails alternately between 340 BC, times of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya and the present day political scenario in Uttar Pradesh, India. 

Cold and calculated means to achieve political agenda - larger interests of unifying Bharat under the force of a mighty ruler like Chandragupta Maurya were employed by Kautilya or Vishnugupta, best known as Chanakya. An immaculately planned script in this kingmaker's mind translated into the most brilliantly strategized capture of power over Magadha and with it the advent of a very valorous and prominent Mauryan dynasty, thus saving the country from invasive throes of Alexander the Great and draconian Macedonian forces. All sorts of means - cruel, cunning, deceitful, lecherous and lascivious were deployed to avenge ones' loss, do the needful that the country and its people rightly deserved. 

The book emphasizes the fact that history exults in repeating itself and that is when the focus shifts to present day scenario in India where a simple Brahmin, a history teacher from Uttar Pradesh - Pandit Gangasagar Mishra elevates a simple girl from Kanpur slums - Chandni Gupta to reins of power - the prime minister of the nation. There is one chapter about the past, the scenario about 2300 years ago and the next chapter seamlessly shifts to present Bharat, much more diverse and divisive by class, caste, language, gender and religion. The techniques and tactics employed to get to the pinnacle are roughly the same and this parallel is drawn out fantastically by the author. 

Plot - its pros and cons



Book chapters describe the political moves of past and present in an alternating fashion 


A map in the beginning of the book marking empires of 340 BC times

Pros: Chapters revealing the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Magadha and rule of ancient India are highly intriguing. There are many witty conversations between the teacher - Chanakya at Takshila University and his students - Chandragupta, Sinharan, Sharangrao and Mehir. These conversations abound with ingenious quips/punchlines that reveal a lot on history, human psychology and politics. The author has dedicated a section for some of these quotes, their sources at the end of the book. History personally interests me and I found this section on past highly interesting. 

The book offers an easy read with no complex language thrown in. 

The fiction part dealing with the present political scenario bears nothing new, therefore is banal - magical numbers to attain majority in state or central assembly, playing minority card for vote bank, electoral rigging, venomous nexus between businessmen and political honchos - they are all there. While reading through the chapters that deal with present one cannot refrain from thinking that a thousand NDTV news episodes content were squeezed into them. Scenes from movies like Rajneeti, Apaharan, Gangajal and may be many more of forgotten names also trickle in. Despite all this, there are certain portions that toss you in surprise. 

The prologue gives a nice opening to this well written work and the epilogue ends well answering if the erstwhile Chanakya's chant rendered success, many years later. 

The author deserves immense credit for extensively researching the topic and writing this piece of political and historical fiction. He maintains interest and draws parallel between past and present quite well. To me, he is far better and more adept a kingmaker than both Chanakya and Gangasagar Mishra. 

Cons:  The hackneyed portions dealing with present day politics, the huge array of characters of past and present, remembering their names and connections, what they did and did not do may get taxing at times and make the reading a little cumbersome. You might have to stay up and erect and quit your slouching position on account of this. The book draws its entire life and blood from history and politics - so for folks not interested in how kingdoms and kings rose and fell, what stirred rebellions and revolts, what apart from people's votes brought parties to power, this book is a definite no-no. 

My recommendations 
I enjoyed reading the book, not a racy read, nevertheless delightful. There are moments where one is bewildered by the multitude of political strategies and tactics used. I am not sure if I will re read it as a whole, but I would love to turn its pages some time and revisit some interesting dialogues and quotes, particularly from section dealing with Chanakya and Magadha times.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: JOHNNY GONE DOWN - Racy Read, Quite Good


An extended weekend with Ugadi (New Year day celebrated in Karnataka) falling on a Friday fetched me some spare time to complete this book titled - Johnny Gone Down by Karan Bajaj. 

How I landed at this book? 

Casual browsing through books listed on www.flipkart.com - Books - Half price section yielded this find. The write up of the book and the reader reviews seemed promising. So summarily, I did not hunt for a Karan Bajaj book or have any expectations before beginning to read it. Published by Harper Collins and marked at Rs 99, I bought this one for Rs 50 last year. Good buy and good read for the money spent, I would state. 

The plot - its pros and cons 

The protagonist is Nikhil Arya, an ambitious graduate from MIT who is all set to begin a successful career at NASA, with dreams and abilities to make it really huge. But a completely unplanned vacation with friend Sameer to Cambodia post convocation starts the downfall for Nikhil. Caught in 1975 Khmer Rouge sponsored genocide just as their flight touches down at Phnom Penh, dramatic events unfold at a unbelievably fast pace. Nikhil makes decisions and acts in a way for reasons unknown and incomprehensible, even to him; lands himself in captivity, loses it all in two years, a seemingly eternal period of pain and anguish.  

There are different avatars he assumes, he turns a Buddhist monk from a genocide survivor in Thailand. For eight years, he meditates, tries to come to terms with his bitter past. But quite unsuccessful in accomplishing it, he travels across the globe to Rio, Brazil and renounces all tenets of Buddhism he slowly imbibed in one go. He turns a drug peddler, runs an empire, starts a family, hits everything right when the world turns topsy turvy again and lands him homeless in Minnesota. There, he works wonders as a software lord in one moment and in another, quite conveniently transforms into nothing but a deadly game fighter. The last leg of Nikhil's  roller coaster journey which is more of a steep, head straight plunge, ends in India. 

The pros of this book are - it is readable, fast paced and easy prose that requires undivided attention of only 6-8 hours for completion. The book offers quite a thrilling journey and authors' ideas are conveyed quite crisply without undue mess or confusion.  

Its cons are - though Nikhil's journey spans for 25 years of his life and is meant to be riveting, words used or style of writing employed does not convey that hard hitting, lasting effect. That's the primary reason why one can finish this book fast. In the end, the book appears a perfect material for a Bollywood flick. 

My Recommendations

This book is suitable for a train journey or say during an extended weekend stay at home. I would rate the book average and  okay. Karan Bajaj is definitely good in spanning great distances across the globe in about 300 pages and covering a myriad events that stand alone appear like unraveled threads but actually weave into a meaningful mosaic pattern in entirety towards the end. I am quite possessive about my books but I would not mind if some one borrowed this book from me and failed to return it. Pardon granted :) 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mere Symbolism

Happy Holi to one and all reading this blog! 

I hit my blog space today after a break, thoughts run in my head but they are all quite muddled up, not sure if I actually need to put them down here because over years these have become trite following redundant and ineffectual expression. 

There's been some brouhaha in newspapers since Mar 1 about International Women's Day celebrated today - Mar 8, 2012. Exclusive columns are dedicated in newspapers for entries on women, their achievements, their daily hassles and probable solutions. Bigwigs like Nita Ambani, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chanda Kocchar and  Shahnaz Hussain wrote over the last week on what they sowed in their young days to reap the success share they witness today. 

Advertisements are tucked into today's newspaper stating offers in Big Bazaar Supermarket and like places. Online portals shower cash credits and marvelous discounts on ladies clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and all accessories that a woman requires.

Supplements along with newspapers have featured articles on all topics like - 10 healthy foods for women, 10 ways to stop ageing in women, 10 most essential nutrients for women, 10 ways to fight acne, 10 ways for a lady to look good. 

A circle with a + sign at its bottom has become too familiar over the last few days. 
All of it just constitutes mere symbolism. 

By now, one reading this post would have inferred I am sort of a feminist, may be concluded I am going to speak of social evils and atrocities inflicted on women from birth to death. Strong NO!! 

Our society has functioned in a certain way over many decades, elders over generations have fashioned thought process in a meticulous manner. All this conditioning cannot be reversed/changed by observing a single day or a week full of merry. We had/have a varna or caste system which assigns a certain occupation to a certain community, likewise we also have clearly assigned some daily chores, probable ambitions, best suited hobbies, best suited educational degrees for women. Even certain character attributes like cleanliness, organization and neatness at work, multi-tasking and parallel processing abilities, foolproof memory to remember what lies where in the house are expected in stronger doses from women. 

Expectations from women folk are different, there are many reasons to it - while there may be limitations her  own physique poses, bigger responsibilities beckon her due to her greater mental endurance, patience and tolerance that only grows exponentially with age. 

I am not urging the world to celebrate women's day when women too drive equal number of buses and airplanes as men do or when women too participate in combat and trench warfare. That is absolutely ridiculous. But in a country, where a half-half probability of a girl child being born to a couple is rashly dismissed by heinous methods, aggrandizing  womenfolk for only a week or a day seems too much of trash to take. Many say, times are changing and literacy helps in reconditioning opinions. But even from the most literate folks of our grand parents and parents generation or from the most urbanized class, I am sure many of you would have heard overt wishes or seen covert expressions that favor a male child over a female one. No generalizations that all literate folks think alike, all women suffer and men are spared. Generalizations don't help and don't work in any walk of life. But why this symbolism and empty celebrations when man still tries hard to interfere with natural probabilistic mechanisms lies beyond my comprehension. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

What's going to be your first song?

The link provided below leads to one of my favorite ads - that of Flipkart.com - an online shopping portal that has made and is still making online shopping a rage. Online shopping has become a healthy obsession, thanks to the site due to wild discounts, fast delivery, 30 day replacement guarantee and high quality delivery standards. 


I wanted to possess a portable media player for a long time but never took that last step to make a purchase. Recently, I visited flipkart.com and found exciting discounts on MP3 players and purchased a ZEBRONICS STEM MP3 player. The player in its package comes along with a micro USB cable for charging and data transfer and a basic pair of earphones. This bundled along with a Transcend 4GB micro SD card is priced at Rs 650 on the Flipkart portal.  


In less than 24 hours of my placing the order, I received the player with the micro SD card in superb condition.  

Coming to some details of the mp3 player or more precisely portable media player - Zebronics STEM supports only MP3 and WMA file formats. It supports USB 2.0 interface. It does not have any built in memory and can take up to 16GB micro SD card in its slot. It has a built in lithium battery chargeable through USB interface. The player can also be used as a card reader and USB disk. 

I found the player worth every penny I spent. There is no elaborate instruction manual, the handy and small player does not require one anyways. The touch wheel on the player has keys to navigate to previous and next track, lower and increase the volume, play and pause the current track. The player comes with an on/off button and throws a red flash when out of battery power. The audio quality is very very good. There are no complaints. The ear phones are rudimentary but there is no crib if an additional set of better earphones is at disposal at home. 

The slot for the micro SD card has a powerful spring inside, so take care while giving a push to eject the card, you would not want the card to spring dive with a thud onto the floor. The player is basic in that there is no random/shuffle play option, the tracks loaded onto the card will play in order and we can use NEXT TRACK and PREVIOUS TRACK to skip or replay. Also, being really minuscule, there is no display that will show play lists and help you traverse from one folder to another. No such frills but despita that all,  Zebronics STEM portable media player provides an awesome experience and is superb value for money. 

Big thanks to Flipkart for providing such valuable products to its customers at a highly affordable price at an alarmingly super speed and with great care. 



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: 7 Secrets of Shiva


7 Secrets of Shiva is another fantastic book by Devdutt Pattanaik, it reveals important tales of Shiva, Parvathy and their two children - Ganesha and Murugan. These tales, 7 in number, unravel many important details of Shiva, the destroyer - destroyer of fear of death - Yamantaka; destroyer of desire - Kamantaka and destroyer of the three worlds (me, mine, not mine) that every human creates, his own world of subjective reality (known as Brahmanda) - Tripurantaka.

To start with, there is Lingeshwara's secret that explains the symbol - Shiva Linga, then Bhairava's secret and then a chapter on Shankara's secret where we learn of how Kali - the wild and fiery goddess willingly turns into a demure householder - Gauri, hence transforms Shiva - the ascetic god, smeared with ash, clad in animal hide, both eyes closed to the external world in deep Tapa into an empathetic and compassionate Shankara whose eyes are open to engage with humanity. 

In Bholenath's secret, we learn of Shiva, the God,  innocent of worldly ways, rules of society and cultural framework. Having remained with his two eyes closed to the external world, he is completely oblivious of stringent rules that drive daily life of human beings. He defies these rules, feels these are unnecessary and only create hurdles in ultimate human realization of atma (the soul).

In Ganesha's secret, we learn of how Lord Ganesha came into existence, how his pot belly assures all devotees of material abundance and removes fear of scarcity that lurks in them.

In Murugan's secret, we learn how and why Murugan came into existence. There are many interesting tales of his birth and valor, practices involved in his worship that differ so widely from the North to South of India. As a 7 day old toddler, he wages war against demons like Taraka, Simhamukhan and Soorapadman, heralds victory and removes the fear of predator from minds of Devas and all his devotees as well. It is through Ganesha and Murugan that Shiva engages even more closely with humanity, works to help them realize infinite truth of life.

The final chapter is Nataraja's secret - explains why many in the west find it a conundrum when they observe Hindus not worshiping  Brahma - the creator but revering Shiva completely. Shiva, the destroyer is seen more as performing acts of deconstruction of evil rather than that of destroyal.

This book holds a very special place in my book shelf and I must admit that reading every chapter has shed light on many important aspects I have observed in Shiva temples. There are references in the chapter on Murugan to Skanda Purana and I now intend to read this book to get a more comprehensive view of Shiva folklore. 


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A case of Over Display of Emotions

This Sunday gave a shocker to many watching the news for the first time it was reported Indian Cricketer Yuvraj Singh is suffering from a malignant form of cancer. Definitely, a real shocker, Yuvraj is a batsman of great caliber with great titles like Player of the Tournament in 2010 ICC World Cup, only one to hit 6 sixes in an over in a T20 format game, he has led the Indian side to victory in many crucial games, fields well despite odds of a huge beer guzzler tummy, bowls magical spells that leave all spellbound and hits like a rocket in steadfast attempts to damage the opponent. 

The Times of India newspaper on Monday Feb 6 quoted that in India his initial reports were stolen - now that is highly ridiculous. Not sure who wanted to auction these reports and earn money. Also, another hospital (unnamed) in India failed to detect the cancer last year. So in clinical diagnosis of the disease the nation has not been of any avail. But in arenas of displaying emotions and support - we stand second to none. Since Sunday evening, there have been scores of people coming on TV and talking about how Yuvraj is a great player and an even bigger fighter. These people encompass a group of cricket commentators, fellow players from IPL and other formats of the game, self declared cricket enthusiasts and some time pass souls who get a daily wage to appear in one of the windows of the news channel, whatever be the topic. Fans from all over the country are being questioned on news channels on questions like - when do you think Yuvi will return to cricket, do you think he can churn the same magic when he returns, how big a fan of Yuvi are you? 

The news channels are already on their way paying homage (Shraddanjali) to a person who is very much alive,  battling the disease which has been discovered at the earliest stages, thanks to medical expertise of a Russian doc. 

Today's news article in TOI describes the form of cancer that Yuvi is suffering from, its symptoms and treatment methods. The first line of this article reads - Yuvraj Singh is happy he is in Boston for his cancer treatment and not in India where unwarranted and sentimental attention could have dampened his mood. Very well said ! Full blown accolades to Yuvi for taking the decision of undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Boston away from homeland, may be this is the most crucial and well taken decision of his lifetime. If he had been treated in India, his parents would have had to spend more time giving interviews to news channels than be by the side of their ailing son. Journalists would shed their skin and shame to get a sneak peek into the room in which Yuvi is resting. They would not mind climbing skyscraper buildings for this purpose, even break their back in the process, just a picture of Yuvi drinking a glass of mosambi juice in his hospital ward would suffice news mongers for many days.  

Crowds would throng the hospital where Yuvi is admitted and create a huge law and order problem. If for a break, Yuvi tuned into a channel other than news channels, he would be feasted to his own advertisement which has been running in an infinite loop mode since Sunday - the ad on BIRLA SUN LIFE INSURANCE - Jab thak balla chal raha hai thaat hai (which literally translates into - as long as batting and career is fine - everything is rosy - when the bat does not work its magic .. then FULL STOP). This completely unwarranted over display of emotions is an inseparable part of  fundamental rights of every Indian citizen - something like Sadda Haq, Aithe Rakh. This situation can never be mended, so wiser and wisest to run away from it. 

So here's wishing Yuvi a very speedy recovery and issuing strict warnings to stay away from motherland till he is fully fine and completely cured. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Heart of Ramayana

Many a times, I have heard my mother mention about the greatness of Sundara Kandam in Ramayana. As a brief prelude, Ramayana - the great epic is divided into seven kandams or portions namely the Bala Kandam, Ayodhya Kandam, Aranya Kandam, Kishkinda Kandam, Sundara Kandam, Yuddha Kandam and Uttara Kandam. But it is often mentioned that even if one has not read Ramayana in entirety, reading Sundara Kandam with utmost devotion can equal reading the epic itself. Sundara Kandam is famously stated as the Heart of Ramayana.  

My mother's multiple and casual mention of the power of Sundara Kandam made me look for it on www.flipkart.com - an online book portal. The search landed me at this book - The Hidden Gems in Sundara Kandam by K. Lakshman, the original rendition of this book in Tamil by Amman Sathiyanathan. The book priced at Rs 150 on this site presents Sundara Kandam in easy to understand English with beautiful illustrations, in black and white. In this book, the heart of Ramayana is rendered in a tale like format. 

The book begins with a prologue elaborating importance of Sundara Kandam in Ramayana, why it is named so, what portion of the great epic does it span, why it is revered as the Heart of Ramayana. The author explains different versions of Ramayana he has referred to in writing this book. The next portion is the tale itself - Sundara Kandam beginning with Hanuman's crossing the sea in search of Sita, surveying Lanka, meeting Sita in Ashoka vana, setting Lanka ablaze thereafter in a bid to scare Ravana, crossing the sea again to meet Rama and convey the news - "Sighted Sita". 

The story telling is not abrupt as chosen/necessary references are taken from previous portions to complete the reader's understanding. The epilogue section sails seamlessly with brief accounts from Yuddha Kandam and Rama Pattabishekham (coronation ceremony after return from forest exile for 14 years) providing the neat end. Many important questions that hit the reader's mind during elaboration of the tale are discussed with authors' opinions and answers in the epilogue section. 

No Sanskrit verses in here, no heavy prose, this book is meant for all those who wish to do some devout reading of something godly and spiritual, not merely a one time read and definitely not a "finish in one go" book too. 



Cover of the Book


Illustration showing Sita handing over her crest jewel to Hanuman in Ashoka Vana, Lanka


Illustration showing Hanuman setting Lanka on fire, his tail ablaze