Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reunion at our ancestral House in Kallidaikurichi - 22nd & 23rd March 2014.

Our ancestral House - 100 years old as on 2014

22nd and 23rd March 2014 are days i shall always remember. These were the days when we had a get-together of our relatives in our ancestral house in Kallidaikurichi (KIC)  in Thirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu. The majestic house shown above is our ancestral house . Built in 1914 it is now a 100 years old and it was fitting that we met here during the centenary year. This house belonged to my grandparents (from the maternal side) Mrs.Lakshmi Sankar Iyer and Dr.T.C.Sankar Iyer. Both were freedom fighters from Kallidaikurichi (see picture below) and my grandmother was also the first woman MLA in the then Madras Presidency. In a predominantly male dominated bastion during those days it was almost thought impossible for a woman to make a political mark or as a public figure. It was my grandfather Dr.T.C.Sankar Iyer who motivated and guided his wife Lakshmi Sankar Iyer to get into public life.
Mrs.Lakshmi Sankar & Dr.T.C.Sankar Iyer sitting second from right and extreme right .

This house was called the "Station View" as it stood bang opposite the Kallidaikurichi Railway Station and stands right adjacent to the main road connecting Ambasamudram and Thirunelveli. A huge house with 40-50 rooms and at any point of time then in the 1920's - 1960's  had 30-40 of our relatives living there in a joint family concept. Standing in the first floor of the house, one gets a beautiful view of the mountain ranges forming the southern tip of the Western Ghats (see picture below). This house was sold off in the mid 1990's to Mr.T.P.Ganesan who owns a Petrol bunk and was since been used by the new owner as a kalyanamandapam and also rented out for movie shootings.

View from the house. The Railway station lies beyond those Auto stand.

When we informed the present owner Mr.Ganesan about our intentions of having a reunion celebrating the centenary year of the house, he was so nice to agree without any reservation. He even went to the extent of doing repairs to set right the amenities and was kind enough to give it to us for free. Extremely nice person and we record our appreciation and thanks through this blog..

Twenty of us relatives (see picture below) then gathered for a couple of days and had one whale of a time. The continuous chit-chat, gup-shup and reminiscing of the good old times we spent in that house was the focal point of our conversations. We met, chatted, dined and slept in the house and those two days will ever be etched in our memory. In between all this , we managed to find time to visit Papanasam and had bath in the Thamirabharani river (see pictures below). We also visited the "Agraharams" and managed to buy the famous Kallidaikrichi "Appalams and Vadaams".

Group photo of the gathering

Papanasam- Thamirabharani river

The last time i visited Kallidaikurichi prior to this visit was 25 years earlier in 1990. There have been changes to this village in the form of cyber cafes, fast food joints and a lot more cars instead of Bullock carts. However, it still has those old charm of the row houses in the Agraharams (see picture below) and of course the Thamirabharani river.

Agrahaaram- Veerappara Street
A wonderful experience of the reunion and  time went off fast . It mostly does when one enjoys the event and that's exactly what happened.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is Kejriwal moving too fast too soon?

Arvind Kejriwal was as a social activist trying to alleviate the problems of the commoner. He was involved in the enactment and implementation of the Right to information act(RTI) and for his efforts he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2006.. Later he joined the Anna Hazare movement for Lokpal bill and the fight against the evil of corruption . Overnight, he became the cynosure of all eyes. The media-both print and visual- were all focused on the Anna movement and Kejriwal was riding piggyback on the Anna wave.

By 2012, he decided to plunge into politics and formed the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP). The Delhi elections was their first testing waters and he came up with a good show by winning 28 of the 70 seats. With Congress lending support from outside, he became the Chief Minister and functioned for 48 days before resigning as he did not have the House support for bringing in Lokyukta bill.  His decision to sit in dharna to bring the Delhi police accountable  to the ruling Government also was the highlight of his tenure as C.M. The methods he adopted may be questionable and debatable but it certainly enhanced his reputation among the common people. Opinion poll suggests that should there be an Assembly election in Delhi now, AAP would win hands down.

The peoples' support in Delhi probably made the AAP believe that they can plunge into the Nationwide Lok Sabha elections . Only time will tell whether this strategy by the AAP is right or wrong. Certainly, there is a strong wave amongst people that corruption should be wiped out of the system. Arvind Kejriwal definitely stands as a beacon with a sincere approach to fight corruption and to provide a clean Government. However, organizationally, there is still a long way to go before AAP can play a Pan-India role. There is a sense of urgency and this has prompted him to enter in most of the States for election.

 The better strategy one would assume is to show the strength in and around Delhi. If he had continued as C.M and shown his credibility and AAP's governance, he could have got the respect of the people across the country. From thereon, he could have tried his hands in other Assembly elections when due. This would have lent credibility to his party and enhanced his political market value. By rushing through to participate in the L.S election in most of the States, he could probably put his AAP itself in jeopardy of their existence. For his own good, AAP should win at least 20-30 seats in the coming L.S elections. This figure will give the party a locus standi in the Parliament and allow them to be a watchdog. However, if their performance is poor, AAP members might be disillusioned and the party itself could disintegrate as people might get demotivated. This is the danger Kejriwal faces. Strategically, he could have erred by rushing it through to jump in the all India fray.

Arvind Kejriwal is well educated with a degree from IIT,Kharagpur. He was a Joint Commissioner of Income Tax. He is also very articulate as a speaker and handles the interviews by Press very admirably. So, obviously, he is not lacking in skill or talent . He is also a tireless crusader against corruption . However, he is yet to come up with any credible Economic policy for the country. Taking names and putting other parties down is not the way to win. AAP will have to show what they plan to do and their policies. Anti-corruption alone cannot be the poll plank to be a winner or a force to reckon with. Sound Economic policies is a prerequisite to assure people of employment, better infrastructure and poverty alleviation. These alone can make any party be accepted Nationally.

Kejriwal is riding a double edged sword which can make or break his party and either dent his reputation or sky rocket him to another level. Another two months and it will be revealed where he stands. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

T20 World cup- Can India lift the Trophy?

It is that time again when fireworks will be back in the cricket field. We are not talking about the fireworks in the form of pyrotechnics but the contest between bat and ball with the rattling of the wickets, the booming sixes and the brilliant catches. Yes ! The cricket World cup T20 is ready to take off for the 5th time and this time in Bangladesh. The hype, the hoopla and the Razzmataaz surrounding this format of the cricket will be in full bloom the next three weeks starting today the 16th of March 2014.

Cricket has gone through a transformation like most any sports or games event. The test cricket still is considered the traditional form of the game and decides the skill, temperament and quality of a cricketer. However, the fast paced life and the time constraints brought in a change to the 50 overs ODI format. But people who wanted to eat into the cinema, drama or Musical space in terms of time and entertainment thought of this brilliant idea of cricket in a capsuled form and thus was born the T20 format of the game. The IPL really took centre stage in this form of cricket and probably still is. With a generous sprinkling of the cheerleaders, the musucal bands etc..., we have a show which can give a run for the money for any form of entertainment. Three hours of boom-boom cricket accompanied by the sound, dance and noise makes a perfect evening for most people seeing either from the comfort of their homes or sharing the razzle dazzle in the stadium.

This World cup will have 16 teams vying for the cup. There are 10 full members of the ICC and six Associate member countries. The top eight teams as per ICC ranking go straight to the super 10 stage. The remaining eight teams are put in two groups and one in each group will join the super 10 stage.

India in the super 10 stage is in a tough group along with Pakistan,Australia and West Indies. Dhoni is back in the helm of affairs and his finishing qualities will be a great asset for the team. With Yuvraj, Kohli and Raina India has real batting fire power. It is the bowling which has to tighten their belt and bowl to a plan. Spin can prove effective in Bangladesh but strategy plays a very important part in the game. One bad over and the game could be won or lost.

My Semi-final picks: India, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka.
I hope India wins the tourney but won't be surprised if the finals is between the Proteas Vs the Ozzies.

Keep fingers crossed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Parliament or a fish market !!!

The 15th Lok sabha session has come and gone and what a shame it was for democracy. This session would be more remembered for all the wrong reasons. Pepper spray, Black-out in TV relay when the Telengana bill was passed in the Lower House, Shouting in the well of the house and snatching of mikes and shredding of documents... One wonders whether they are the same people elected by the citizens of this country. They behaved like hooligans, goondas , thugs and criminals (which some people might well be).

The productivity was 61% and was the lowest in the last 50 years . Only 177 bills out of the 326 put forward were passed and it was a brazen show of wastage of tax payers' and public money. But do they really care? They have made the public look like fools which in a way we are.

 Has this set a bad precedent for the future? It well might be. This might well be the standard operating procedure of the Parliament in the years to come. The Opposition will not allow the smooth passage of Bills nor the efficient conduct of the House. However, what was very disturbing in the 15th Lok sabha session was the coalition members of the UPA and the Congress party MP's themselves were creating ruckus inside the House. The ruling party had absolutely no control over their members and it was a sorry state of affairs. Amidst all this din and furore , our PM was virtually sleeping through with eyes open. This has become a Brand Manmohan style of inefficiency to the hilt.

We as voters have also a role to play in this fiasco. All said and done it is we who elect these rowdies to the House and then see these kind of "tamaashaas" happening in the House. The next election is due in April/May 2014. Will we be wise enough to elect quality people as our representatives who will maintain the decency and decorum of the House. We reap what we sow. So let's be careful in the choice of our candidates instead of allowing them to make our Country a laughing stock in the eyes of the World.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Indians- Do we lack the killer instinct?

Are Indians basically soft by nature and is that an impediment to achieving our goals?
The ongoing second cricket  test match between India and New Zealand is just a case in point. We had a commanding 246 runs lead after the first innings. Then brought N.Z to the knees with 94 for 5. Just when people were talking about the post match ceremony, India took the foot off the gas pedal. Not taking away any credit from Brendon Mcullum and Watling but in their 352 runs partnership, one could see a listless Indian team with a pedestrian approach and negative bowling line.. Brendon Mcullum went on to score 302 runs and N.Z declared with a lead of 434 runs. India, playing under tremendous pressure became 10 for 2 and should have been 31 for 3 had the Umpire not goofed in Giving Kohli not out. It could well have been curtains for India had it not been for what turned out to be a brilliant unbeaten century by Kohli. What should have been an easy win for us turned out as India trying to save the match with their backs to the wall.

Is it that our culture and tradition is coming in the way to annihilate the opposition? This takes me back down the memory lane to 1974 U.S Open Tennis. Vijay Amrithraj was to play Ken Rosewall in the quarter finals. Before the match, Vijay was interviewed and was asked what he feels about the prospects of the match. His reply was " It is an honour and privilege  to play against the great Rosewall and that's all am thinking about now". It is nice to feel like that but the attitude was a give-away. Sure enough, Vijay lost the match. When Rosewall met Jimmy Conners in the finals of the same U.S Open, to the same question to Conners, he replied " anyone standing on the other side of the net is my enemy and i shall finish him off ". So he did. Conners thrashed Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. This essentially sums up the attitude of us and the others.

In the other cricket series going on now between Australia and South Africa, one can see how Mitchell Johnson and Australia literally pulverized the Springboks. They wait for the door to open an inch and then drive the wedge and push it ajar. That requires an attitude and self belief which we sadly seem to lack. The present lot of Indian cricketers like Kohli, Jadeja, Dhawan, Raina etc... may be lot better in being brash compared to the earlier generation of cricketers but we just don't have that little something extra to finish off the opposition when they are virtually down and out.

It is this attitude and the will to win against all odds that will make a Team a Champion. We are quite some way off from achieving that slot. One only hopes that this younger generation of cricketers will find their mojo and take us to the top.

Friday, May 25, 2012

City of the Golden Temple- Amritsar

Think of Amritsar and what comes to mind is the Golden Temple. My wife and I visited Amritsar for a couple of days in April 2012(16th and 17th).

The temple is extremely clean and volunteers ensure that it is kept that way by regularly washing the marble floors. People stand in queue to gain entry to the “Harmandir sahib”(the sanctum sanctorum) but there is hardly any jostling for position. Chanting of prayers by the priests goes on the whole day but the noise level is minimal.  I am not a very religious person but no temple has evoked so much of inner peace and tranquility in me as the Golden temple. There is orderliness in every activity inside the temple.
Majestic temple-180 kgm gold used.

Clean temple

After landing in the Airport, we got into a free bus pick up to the Golden temple. The moment one approaches near the temple complex, one can see the difference in attitude. People are friendly and very helpful. We were taken to the baggage room and left our luggage in the locker. Everything is free inside the temple, be it the baggage locker room, the shoe-stand, water or the food they serve (called “Langar”). A lot of planning by the temple management has gone into ensuring tourist friendly arrangements. Every detail like baggage trolley and wheel chairs for the physically challenged are provided free right at the point where the bus delivers the visitors. Small things like a foot rest to unlace ones shoes are provided.

Wheel chairs and baggage trolley
Lakshmi using the foot rest.

We were so impressed that we visited the temple on both the days of our stay and had “Langar” there. The food was simple but tasty with chapatti, daal and kheer. The free food is served 24x7 and caters to 20000 people a day.
Lakshmi partaking in the "Langar".

People waiting for the free lunch to be served

Chalk marks showing the bullet marks.

Jallianwala Bagh- the site of the massacre by Brigadier Dyer on April 13,1919, the Punjabi new year day- is situated very near the temple. 389 innocent citizens died and more than 2000 wounded during the indiscriminate firing. The scenes from the movie "Gandhi" showing this incident flashed through my mind and i felt so terrible standing where the firing took place. People were shot when they were trying to escape by climbing the wall and there were others who jumped into the well and lost their lives. The chalk marks in the walls capture the bullet marks.  

View of the crowd in the Wagha border ceremony.
The much hyped Attari-Wagha border was our next visit. This is about 23 kms from Amritsar and is the border between india-Pakistan. Every day evening they conduct a flag lowering ceremony with March past by the Border security forces (BSF). Similar function happens simultaneously on the Pakistan side by their army. This function is more of grandstanding and dramatization by the military and i did not feel any patriotic fervor by this exercise.Also, they have separate enclosure for men and women and when the gates were opened for entry to the venue, people rush in pushing others almost causing a stampede. We also visited the Attari Railway station which is the last station in the Indian side before the Pakistan border.   

The nest visit was the Rambagh museum. This houses the paintings on Maharaja Ranjith Singh who was called the Lion of Punjab.
Ista hotel with Alpha one mall.

We stayed in Hotel Ista (  which is a business hotel right next to the Alpha one city center Mall in the main G.T Road.The hotel is famous for its spa and Ayurveda massage. This is the only hotel where they offer a "pillow menu" where in one can choose from a variety of pillows to suit ones preference. I had one of the most wonderful sleeps with the cozy pillow. A console box is kept near the bedside table from where one can control all the electrical functions of the room. No wonder they pride themselves in calling a hi-tech hotel. However, a major drawback was in not providing a health faucet in the toilet.

As a city, Amritsar is quite dirty. The approach road to the temple is so narrow and it was a miracle how our bus maneuvered through these. These streets also form the shopping center and one can imagine how crowded the narrow streets would be. However, it really was fun to go through shopping among the crowds. Amritsar is famous for its Phulkari dress material and Patiala salwars. But, the thing that captured Lakshmi's taste buds was the "Kulfi" she had in a road side shop. It was probably one of the best kulfi we have had.

Delicious kulfi with rose syrup.

Lakshmi in a cycle rickshaw.
We tried all forms of transportation during this visit. We came by flight from Delhi and then boarded the bus to go to the temple. After the temple visit, we took a car to the Wagha border and back to the hotel. The next day we took an Auto rickshaw to the temple and wound up taking a cycle rickshaw to go to the museum and our shopping visits. That is vehicular variety at its best.

A wonderful trip and would surely like to come back another time to visit the temple and of course to try the kulfi.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Travelogue- Visit to beautiful Kullu / Manali

As part of my 60th birthday celebration, my son and daughter and their spouses offered us a trip to Kullu/Manali. My wife had never been to Himachal Pradesh(H.P) and hence we were only too happy to accept the offer.

Lakshmi in the hotel balcony
The tour package was from Delhi and was done through Bharath Booking Holidays ( ). Delhi to Manali ( about 520 kms ) was done in a Volvo bus in 13 hours. The route wasDelhi-Karnal-Panipat-Kurukshetra-Ambala-Roopnagar-Bilaspur-Mandi-Kullu-Manali.

The bus journey was comfortable but the dinner stop at Kurukshetra was in a road side Dhaba which had very poor toilet facilities especially for women.

Perched at an altitude of 1950 m (6400 ft) in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh state is the small, picturesque town of Manali. The Kullu/Manali valley is full of apple orchards and Ber trees. 

Manali is about 250 Kms from Shimla, the capital of H.P and we visited  from the 11thApril, 2012 to 14th April, 2012.In Manali, we were received by our cab driver/guide Kuldip and were put up at Hotel Naina Resorts. This is a decent hotel and offers a breathtaking view of the mountains and the River Beas from our room(see pic).

Day 1:  It was cold, raining and suddenly snow started falling. Mid April was not really snow time but i guess  we were lucky. Our guide suggested that we go to the “snow point“ which is in Solang valley, about 20 kms from our hotel. We rented some snow outfit and “ear cover” to guard us against the cold. Tourism being the main source of revenue, shops do mint money from the visitors. We paid an exorbitant rent of Rs.600/snow outfit and bought the “ear cover” for Rs.40. (we later found out it was available for Rs.5 in other shops). But, we forgot all about it when we reached the snow point.
Enjoying the hot corn cob
This was a beautiful place with snow covered mountains and ice banks on both sides of the road.  There were a lot of people trying their hand at skiing. We had our share of snowball fight. Lakshmi bought a “hot corn cob” and really relished it in the biting cold weather (see picture).

After an eventful experience in the snow, we visited the “Saint Vashisht temple” with it’s hot-springs. The water felt so hot for the initial touch, but you start feeling comfortable after some time. After the icy sojourn, this felt very soothing.
Day 2:  After a sumptuous breakfast of Poori, Chole and fried eggs, we set out for Kullu which is about 40 kms south of Manali. We were to have another adventurous day in the Beas waters. We went for “white water rafting” and the feeling of joy is to be felt to be believed. Lakshmi was initially a bit scared, as she didn’t know swimming, but minutes after setting off for the 7 kms ride(25 mins), we were soaked with excitement and fully drenched in water. The water current throwing the raft off the water and sometimes the raft bumping against the rocks in the water was really a thrilling experience. This was the place where the Ad film for “Mountain Dew” drink was shot as also the film “Krish” with Hrithik Roshan.( see video of our rafting).

Right across the river was the Vaishno Devi temple. After worship, we sat down for lunch offered by the temple. This is called “Bandaar” (free lunch). It was simple but delicious with rice, daal and a side dish.

Kullu district is famous for shawl manufacture and we did visit a factory producing shawls. Woolen sweaters and pashmina shawls are famous in H.P. 

Many would not know that Manali houses the famous “Nicholas Roerich” arts gallery. Roerich was a famous Russian painter, environmentalist and a philosopher. He spent a lot of time in the Himalayas as a mystic and his paintings depict this aspect of spiritualism. The museum also showcases the house he lived.

The remaining part of the day was spent in visiting the Naggar castle, Gayathri temple, Tripurasundari temple and a Tibetan Monastry. Naggar castle was earlier a Royal residence but since turned into a hotel and is now frequented by Bollywood for film shooting. Was a long day but enjoyable.

Day 3 & 4: we visited the “Van Vihar”( like a Botanical gardens). This place is full of Deodhar trees valued at about Rs.230 million. A lovely and cool place which reminds us to preserve our environment and be eco-friendly. It has a small lake where one can use the pedal boats.

We also went to the Hadimba temple located in the midst of the Deodhar trees. Like most houses in Manali, this is also constructed using slates as a roof cover. Slate has a low water absorption index and hence resistant to frost damage.

We did spend some time strolling down “The Mall”. Mall is a strip of road that has all the shops and restaurants. Bargaining is a way of life for shoppers and one can be happy to find that 40-50% discount can be had from the original price.

Plenty of roadside restaurants and Dhabas line up the Mall and food generally tastes good in most of these places.

A trip we would cherish for a long time. It gave us a chance to be young again and try our hand in adventure sports. Last but not the least, we also tried the traditional H.P dress and kinda looked nice in the outfit.

Dressed in traditional Himachal Pradesh attire.