Trivandrum- a legend of a royal city

Trivandrum was were I spent most of my life. The best thing I felt about the city was the theatres, that were all clustered together in a 1 and a half kilometre radius making it convenient during my college days to bunk classes and tramp around to find the seemingly better movie and take a ticket for just some 20 Rs. at that time to sit in the front rows with my friends. It is still the best thing about the city. I remember going to see Saving Private Ryan in New theatre, one of the biggest theatres in Trivandrum and having had to outrun a couple of other hooligans to get into the line at a respectable distance from the counter. The theatre was huge and I just had to pay some 50 Rs. to watch all the blood soaked action from the balcony, compared to shelling out close to 350 rs. in a multiplex in Bangalore which was only 1/10th the size of New theatre.

The next best thing about the city was its beaches with the Shanghumugham beach being the closest to my place. You had to go round the perimeter of the airport to reach the beach and at a point in the not so distant past only morons with beards and a look of perpetual sadness used to come to the beach. I used to enjoy going there because there were so few people and you could hear the rumbling of the sea and occasionally smoke a cigarette or feel the cool, damp wind on your face. It was better when the sky was overcast, for the ocean would turn a gray and remind me of some of the scenes from the comic book Tintin. But nowadays the morons have gone and the beaches are filled with families who seem to have no other purpose in life but to come to the beach in the evenings and create a ruckus in which the magnificent rumblings of the sea gets lost. It is no longer that old romantic place where you were left alone in your thoughts and the only company were some melancholy bearded men who looked liked they had lost something or maybe someone.

The other beach, the famous Kovalam beach was some 25 kms away from my place and was a haven for the sunbathing tourists. The red and white lighthouse on a small rocky cliff adjoining this curved beach with shallow waters, is a sight to behold.

The city also has a zoo where no one goes and a magnificent temple, the Padmanabhaswamy temple where the crowds have picked up, not entirely because of the god but because of the recent discovery that the temple vaults hold treasures worth more than lakhs of crores. I can’t even imagine the number of zero’s in it.

Trivandrum is a nice city, clean, good food, beaches and hills. But in spite of all this it is a sleepy little place.

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Earthquake in Kerala, epicentre in Sumatra

Earthquake has hit Kerala between 2 to 2:40 PM on this day the 11th of April 2012, mainly in central parts of Kerala, Malabar coast and some parts of Bangalore. The epicentre of the Earthquake was in Sumatra which registered around 8.7 on the Richter scale. Though the Pacific Tsunami warning has been toned down, it is being said that if the waves do hit they will hit by around 5: 30 in the evening.

There are reports of tremors being felt in Cochin and the aftershocks are still being registered in the seismographs in Idukki dam area. The details of any tremors in the catchment area of Mullaperiyar dam are yet to come, as this old masonry dam has been the bone of discontent between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Any major earthquakes in this area will cause several districts in Kerala to be washed off due to the collapse of the Mullaperiyar dam.

No tremors were however felt in the southern districts but reports of waves normal than average are being reported by fishermen from the coast. People are being warned to stay indoors and not to venture out near the coast.

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The psychology of using fear of the unkown for business- Astrology

I must say I am less than a devout Hindu. Anyway, I am not your average cow worshipping Hindu. When I see a cow on the street my first thought is that if it was in my state it would have ended up on the plate. Anyway, what kind of cow worshipping person would let the creature roam out on the streets all by itself scavenging food from garbage bins.

But I did believe for a long time in one thing- Astrology, like many or most in my part of the world. Why does a person believe in Astrology? One, it is part fun to know your future and mostly because of the fear of the unknown. Life can often throw up big surprises, you might become rich overnight or you can lose your fortune or even a limb if not your life when you least expect it.

Nowhere is this belief more evident than in marriages, when by a series of computations people check out whether a couple is compatible or not. Factors range from having staggered cycles of fortune and misfortune for the partners so that the unit as a whole will have a stable life. There are around 9 other factors ranging from sex to having progeny and all this is measured by the position of your stars and computed out to come to an overall compatibility scale ranging from zero to ten. Zero signifying no compatibility and ten the highest compatibility. So scientific… yet what are they based upon? The influence the stars and planets have upon you. Agreed that they could have some influence but what if a comet were to pass through all your well laid out planets and stars, would it not affect your computation? The answer is nobody knows.

Most of the arranged marriages with all their astrological blessings end up in divorces. A science that can’t even predict whether something will last should not be used to compute the more intricate things in a relationship. But even with so much data against astrology people still stick to it and forego better matches based on the more rational factors such as financial security, social standing and family values to believe in hearsay and superstition. In spite of knowing first hand the disasters of listening to such a sham, people still go behind it. What could be the reason?

The biggest reason of course is the fear of the unknown. If you don’t see the astrological compatibility, and the marriage goes bad what then? At least if you checked the stars you could rest assured that you had done everything that was humanly possible and things still did not pan out. The reason to some extent is also the lack of a scientific study into the correlation between astrological predictions and actual life outcomes. Most people don’t know how these computations are arrived at. Many even don’t know that there are 10 parameters on which these things are measured leave alone how they work towards achieving the results.

Imagine if the whole thing was a hoax. In spite of knowing that it is not foolproof people have not shunned it. If anything, it has got more followers today than maybe a century earlier. Its hold on people seems to grow even as its error rates climb up. What a wonderful business based on nothing but lies. If you understand this properly you can even sell products or even dreams and quality would be the last thing to worry about. The business model is not based on providing quality product or service but is based on a fundamental human psychology, fear of the unknown.

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A villa in Chennai

Chennai is a place I love to hate, but Chennai is also the place that showed me what friendship could mean, what looking out for someone was all about.

It was on a rainy day that I arrived in Chennai with bag, baggage and a smoking bike to join a job there. I got the first sense of the city when I had to haggle with the porters to get my bike safely out of the railway station. Finally after much bargaining and telling that I was only a student I managed to get out with my bike and called up my friend, Manoj who was in the habit of being busy when his help was required. Anyway knowing him well I took directions and with some help from passersby on the streets I reached his office and he took me to the villa that later became my home for almost a year and its inhabitants who were waging a cold war at the time of my arrival became friends whom I would cherish for my life.

The entry was not without hiccups, my friend took me in and I settled down in his room which was shared by another guy, Koshi a colleague of his. There were 2 other people in the next room who didn’t take kindly to this and a war broke out with our landlady being summoned and asked to decide. She fell for my innocent demeanors and passed a verdict in my favour and I officially became their roomie. Later my adversary and myself shared a drink in the evening and buried our bone of discontent. My friends who came back late that night were amused at the transformation and the ceasing of hostilities. I was quite inebriated by the time and pulled their collective legs so much so that they saw the point I was making and that evening saw the end of hostilities and the beginnings of a period of collective fun and camaraderie.

Chennai I found a rather hot, humid and dry place with not much room for amusement. But the presence of these guys made all the difference. Our little trips to buy fish in Marina beach where all of us would jump into the car, troop out in single file along the market with Dennis taking the lead, as he was the biggest fish enthusiast in our midst and claimed to know fresh fish from the long dead ones, provided some funny moments. Since none of us were experts in this fishy business he got his way. The real job began when we brought it home. Division of labour would start, someone had to wash the sliced pieces, another person had to marinate it and the third one had to fry it. It was inevitably during these times that long duration phone calls used to come for one of the chaps who would skip the task and others would be left irritated at this smart ploy.

Apart from these moments of amusement, Chennai was a very expensive and not so fun place to be in. The occasional trips from office to 10D ( an acronym for 10 Downing, without the British Prime minister) provided the bouts of alcoholic bliss. Most of the bars and restaurants served spurious stuff as did the TASMAC (the govt. owned beverages corporation). Koshy, in his liking for beer would buy stuff with queer names like Jawan, Johny and god knows what else. It was during a small party with his friends at Hotel Manhattan that I decided to give up drinking. The contessa rum that we ordered reeked off a smell so similar to hospital corridors that I immediately decided Chennai was not your average alcoholic dream destination. If you wanted to have something decent it often meant shelling out half a months pay at places like 10D. When I decided to give the city’s culinary delights a visit, I caught typhoid and ended up flying to Trivandrum (koshy and Manoj taking all the responsibility till the airport) and getting admitted in the hospital for a few weeks. Later on I stuck to going out once in a while to the expensive restaurants which were cheaper in the long run as they did not dish out typhoid or hepatitis.

Our trips out on weekends often ended up for lunch in Kumarakom owned by some achayans or to a kerala syrian christian restaurant serving one of the best fish curries I have eaten anywhere. The fish used in the curry was often sear fish which made it all the more delightful.

All together, Chennai was hot, humid, a place to catch typhoid, some good but expensive restaurants and a villa which was ancient but commanding modern rents. Whether I like the place? Hard to say. Whether I liked my company? A definite yes.

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Boiling egg, my way

I am a great fan of eggs especially, my version of the half boiled egg. It is the easiest way to have an egg apart from eating it raw.

For this all you need to do is heat a little more than half a cup of water till it comes to boil. Pour the water into a steel tumbler and lower your egg with the help of a spoon into the hot water and keep it for around 2 mins or till the tiny air bubbles from the egg stop coming up. Dont put the egg in the tumbler first and pour water over it, as there is a greater chance that the egg will crack. Now remove the egg from the hot water and allow it to cool off for around 2-3 minutes.

The half boiled egg, my version is done and now the proper way to eat it, would be to make a crack with the spoon butt at the base of the egg and then with your fingers slowly make the crack wide enough for you to put the base of the spoon in and stir after adding a little bit of salt and ground pepper.

The egg yolk mixes with the white. The salt and pepper add a perfect flavour to your egg. Make sure that you mix the salt first with the spoon and then add the ground pepper in small increments stirring all the time, otherwise the pepper has a tendency to lump together. If you put the salt and pepper together and stir the result would be that the salt sticks to the lump of pepper. Now put your lips to the base of the egg and flip your head back and allow the salty, peppery, yolky liquid to slide down your throat. Aah! I love that feeling.

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Tale of a Gangster- Shantaram

After several years of reading books, I had dropped the habit and confined myself to more interesting pursuits in life, that is till the time I came across this book, Shantaram. For many years I had not finished a book without putting it down and doing all the myriad other things that come across in the normal course of a day. However this epic as I would like to call it, was so compelling that I took it with me to the dining table and my eyes never rested till the time they were drowsy or some other pressing work called my attention. This book by Gregory David Roberts made me realise, that the part of me which I considered dead and long gone was still alive, that given a passion to pursue, I would doggedly commit, to its very end. Unfortunately such triggers that arouse our passion are very few and far in between.

The book was the result of a single man’s unfailing determination in the face of insurmountable odds and this, I know, is scarcely an ode to commemorate the achievements of this man whom I consider one of the greatest story tellers who lived the life in his stories.The struggles that he took to even have his book written, leave alone getting it published, is worthy of the highest honour.

It is quite some time since I read the book, but the trials and tribulations of the man and the fate of the characters Karla, Khaderbhai and Didier post reading his epic have always instilled a sense of curiosity in me. It is as if this man had taken us in to his personal life through his narrative style and transformed us into a world where we lived amongst the characters accepting them into our hearts, sharing with them the emotions of sorrow in their pains and joy in their happiness.

Words fail me in describing the life of this man whose misfortunes led him to be a drug addict and propelled him into a life of misery, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his previous existence to commandeer the heights of literary world and stand to us as an icon of a man’s tremendous will to live and weather it out in spite of all the odds that life could throw at him. To you Gregory, I pay my respects.

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I love Cochin

Cochin was the first city I loved. Cochin is a small and beautiful stretch of place with a history to boot. Its many restaurants and places to see make you wish you had seen this place earlier.

Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi

My life in Cochin began when I joined my first job. I had a friend in Cochin and I needed a place to stay after my stipulated 15 days in Harbour View hotel, opposite the shipyard. The hotel was the first place I liked. Good food, a spacious carpeted room and a big bathtub. I wanted to stay on but then I had to leave. So I called up my friend who asked me to come to the Tavern near Padma. I caught an auto and reached the Tavern only to find to my amusement that it was a bar and my friend was previously never in the habit of drinking. I climbed its stairs and entered the quaint but somewhat old-looking place to find Sabari seated with a few of his friends. After making acquaintances with his buddies I settled down to a peg of vodka and told him the purpose of my visit. It was his little abode that I later shared with his friend in Padma behind the theatre. And aah! it was the smallest room 2 people could have to themselves but we were a good team and days passed in merrymaking.

This was the time I explored and found my beautiful Cochin. There was the Pai dosa where we went often at unearthly hours for dinner. The token system was not for regulars like us and my friend was a popular guy so we often ordered what we wanted and paid at the end. The menu had items like kada bullseye dosa, podi dosa, egg dosa and some very exotic cousins of our plain little dosa. If you felt a little more adventurous you can go to Kalamasseri and take a left from Appollo tyres junction to reach Punjabi dhaba nestled deep inside a petrol pump with lots of trucks parked around. You get some of the best Tandoori rotis and chicken in this place. Bhindi masala is a classic here. Lunch was sometimes in the Chinese restaurant in the ground floor of the old Mercy hotel. The name if I remember correctly had a dragon in it and it served some really nice dragon chicken and momos. My first taste of momos was in this chinese looking restaurant with chinese looking waiters. Oh and not to forget hotel Unnikrishnan, the old restaurant that featured in Floyd’s India aired in BBC, Discovery, TLC etc. Puttu and beef curry in Unnikrishnan was something to die for. Of course the quintessential porotta was also available.¬† A little further up MG road, was Chillies serving up an excellent spicy mutton dish and thali meals. And if I felt like having vegetarian, then on weekends I took my friend for breakfast to the very ancient looking building behind the Ernakulam temple where we used to get some of the best masala dosas in the town.

If you want to drink Cochin has a number of bars but very few pubs. One of the best is the rooftop of Mercy hotel where you get good liquor not the spurious ones that are served in most of the other places. And if you are ordering some snack with your whiskey then go for the fish finger, a favourite for anyone drinking here. If you wanted something a little more exotic you can go to Fort Cochin and take a right from the park to reach a bar overlooking the bay.

If you are into sight-seeing, then fort Cochin is the place to be. You have the Old Dutch palace, several churches and a Jewish synagogue. The only synagogue in South India. A testimony to the rich cultural heritage of Kerala and its links to the old western world hailing back to the times of Romans. If you want to bask in the sun then the beach is quite far in Cherai around 30 kms from downtown Cochin

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