The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Travails of Travel

I reached the gate of the PANAM terminal at the John F Kennedy airport and was sweating as I had rushed for boarding a flight to Washington DC. The next moment I froze in horror on realizing that my air ticket, the passport and other travel documents were missing. There were barely 45 minutes for the next flight to depart. My mind raced and then it struck me that on leaving the Air India terminal, I had probably left my documents on the desk of customs. I rushed back  to the terminal almost 100m away and then re -entered the concourse. The customs official smiled as he saw me come and next moment I sighted the papers and the documents lying on the table. I thanked my stars and collected the documents. I somehow managed to board the  flight for Washington DC in the nick of time.  It was my first trip abroad but even now my mind goes numb when the event plays in my head.

A few years back, I was scheduled to attend a conference in Heraklion, in Greece, where I had taken my wife and daughter too! The ticket was booked from Delhi via Vienna to Athens. On reaching the airport at Delhi, I was informed that the Austrian flight had developed a snag and was in lieu  given a ticket to fly with KLM via Amsterdam. The flight left 4 hours later. On reaching Amsterdam, I was informed that the flight for Athens had already left and the next one was late in the evening. So instead of cursing the luck, we decided to explore Amsterdam. The city of canals was beautiful and we arrived an hour before the flight to Athens was to depart. We reached Athens late in the evening, minus the baggage which was somehow not loaded on the flight. At midnight we headed to the  domestic airport in Athens driving through the deserted streets. The officials gave us seats on an early morning flight . By the time we reached the hotel in Heraklion, the lovely capital of Crete, we had been awake for more than 48 hours! Thankfully, the baggage was delivered by late evening.

Missing the baggage is no big deal but have you ever picked up a wrong bag? Last year , I achieved this feat when I did this at the airport in Singapore. On reaching our daughter’s place, the lock would not open. On breaking the lock we realized that the belongings were not ours! Initially my wife lamented that I had packed the wrong stuff! Even the baggage tag was consigned to the garbage chute, in a hurry. So with a torch, I rummaged through the muck to retrieve the baggage tag. Next morning an additional trip to Changi airport had to be made. The story was explained to the ‘lost baggage’ section who were kind to  help me in locating my bag and taking the wrong bag in their custody.

Right from the childhood, the dreams of Gulliver’s Travels, and Alice in Wonderland have set the imagination on fire. While , traveling one does land in fiascos from time time giving goosebumps and a momentary paralysis. In my many years of travel, the incidents of these kind abound , but has left me bolder than ever before. There is hardly a time when there is a perfect travel but god has been kind to salvage the situations. I am sure the readers too would have suffered at times due goof ups and would have had their own stories to share. Life could not be more interesting without such hiccups while traveling.

PS: 1.This is my 300th blog post and am grateful to all the readers who have undertaken this journey with me full of fun and surprises!

2. Image Kind courtesy Google

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Fountain Pen Story

Most of the writers would have had a romantic brush with the pen in early years of the life. The writing endeavors in the school are hemmed with stories of joy and sadness brought by the fountain pen. For those born after 1980s using a fountain pen is akin to driving a vintage car .The usage of fountain pen had declined to such an extent that anyone who wrote with fountain pen was considered medieval. I remember the time in school when after having completed the tryst with writing with pencils, came a time when it was necessary to write with ‘fountain pen’. It signified having reached a maturity akin to ‘Bar Mitzvah’ of a Jewish boy at the age of 13. The smell of blue and black ink transports one back to an era of romancing on sheets of white paper. The delicate balance  had to be maintained to avoid spilling of ink or smudging lest the entire exercise look like a creation of modern art! It was a challenge to fill the ink in the reservoir of the pen using the ‘eye dropper’. Some horror stories come to mind when the ink accidently spilled on the bed sheet leaving stains difficult to explain. Blotting papers did the trick in school but failed on such tragic mishaps! Despite, this the ball pen usage was barred when they appeared on the market in schools and even for signing cheques

Incidentally, the pens with long pointed G nibs inserted on the special holder were used by dipping them in ink and practicing ‘calligraphy’ on the special work sheets. Some students acquired such dexterity in handling these pens that they were sought after to write the ‘personal invitation ‘ cards or decorate the ‘honors roll’ in the school. One could seldom get away, without staining a hand or shirt at times leaving an embarrassing smudge which was so difficult to explain. On reaching home ,the scolding from parents followed. The stain removers of present day were rarely available to clean the stubborn marks. During the later years the same embarrassment would follow in flight, if the fountain pen was inadvertently left in the pocket and would leak the moment the air cabin was pressurized.

The interesting history of the ‘ fountain pen’ goes back to the 10th century when the Caliph of Magreb first used it. Petracha Poenaru a Romanian patented it on 25 May 1827. By 1850 half the fountain pens produced in the world were manufactured in Birmingham in UK. The nibs were madeof steel,iridum and even gold tipped with 14K.

I remember having first acquired a stylish hooked nib Parker 51 pen when the  Hero pens also made an appearance on the market. Fountain pens remained a ‘gifting’ item for long. Montblanc, Faber Castell, Visconti pens costing a fortune are still a collectors item and used till now. One of my saddest memories of losing an expensive ‘Parker’ pen gifted by my wife, on board the ship where I was serving.

It is difficult to control the urge to write with a ‘ fountain pen’ even now . The joy of seeing the ink dry with the smell of the ink lingering in the air is unsurpassed. According to Joe Haldmen the famous science fiction writer who wrote by candlelight,

‘There's something special about writing by hand, writing with a fountain pen, and there's something special about writing into a book, to take a blank book and turn it into an actual book.’

PS: Image Kind courtesy Google

Friday, April 8, 2016

Walk the Talk

Development and Loving Nature, can they go hand in hand? Most of us would agree that it is not possible. You have to cut forests, construct dams, build roads, construct houses for people to live in. The price for  the rapid development is increased levels of dust, toxic air due pollution from industries and vehicular traffic, the river water rendered unfit to drink, global warming, and host of other issues. The developed economies in South East Asia like Singapore, Korea and Taiwan have demonstrated that the fine balance between nature and development can be maintained.

In growing up years, most of the elders  rode bicycles and the number of cars and motorbikes were few, so air pollution was never an issue. The habit was not only healthy, but eco friendly too. The world over cycling is  encouraged with provision for separate cycle tracks even in big cities like Amsterdam. It helps in keeping fit. If elders set the example to cycle at least the short distances , the children would follow the suit. Unfortunately, most of the indulgent parents allow their under age children to drive leading to accidents and loss of lives besides adding to the existing traffic woes.

Many years back whenever we visited markets, the home made or own carry bags were taken. The vegetable vendors used to weigh and keep the vegetables and fruits in the bags that were carried and thus plastic bags were never used. The plastic bags are perhaps the worst invention as they are not only difficult to dispose off but are responsible for clogging of drains, rivers and are an eyesore especially on hills. Though at many places these have been banned but little do people care ! If the parents stop using the plastic bags, insist on carrying bags to the shops when they go with their children, the children would learn by observing, ‘walking the talk’ and we would have handled a major ecological problem.

We often, carelessly throw the wrappers of food, cold drink cans and PET water bottles by the roadsides, parks and almost everywhere. Those who indulge are not the ill read but those who are well read, rich and move in swanky cars. The next generation of young kids observe the elders and do the same, hence it is important to not only do the right things but set good examples. The impressionable children would soon learn the good habits.

The planet Earth is a gift where all kinds of life can prosper and should not be taken for granted. Leonardo di Caprio the winner of Oscar for best acting this year, 2016 in an emotional speech on the event, highlighted the need for preserving nature and helping in all possible manner all efforts around the globe to support such measures.
PS:“I’m blogging about how I’ll remind kids to press Ctrl+S for nature for theShortcut Safaari weekend activity at BlogAdda.”

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Tryst with Baking

Fennel Bread

Studying late at night was never easy while in school. As the hands of the clock inched towards midnight , the droopy eyes and stomach would protest. There was always a sure shot remedy to handle this. Stealthily walk up to the refrigerator, get some milk, a couple of slices of bread and butter. A hot cup of coffee and a sandwich would take care of the rest. The sleep would disappear for a while and a feeling of satiation enabled to focus some more time on the books.

The early love for coffee and sandwiches kept growing with time. As I got to travel even in early years in the job and subsequently too, I had to eat outside a lot. The easiest option was the bakery products. The aroma of freshly baked bread, buns, croissants, cakes and the works was irresistible and invariably always the first choice. I was fortunate to see some of the most awesome bakeries hidden in the back streets of cities in Europe, like Genoa, Nice, Barcelona and Paris. The golden crust of the bread, the fine layers of patties, the creamy succulent pies and pastries were a feast for eyes and a gastronomic delight.  A recent trip to Malta, and Turkey  turned out to be a boon as I fell in love with their pastizzi , and baklawa that would melt in the mouth, effortlessly.

Since the early years, I would read up and try to bake a pizza, invariably ending in disasters. There would be no takers for a crust that would be as hard as a car tyre and a test of fitness for the tooth!
Garlic Bread

Having hung my boots recently, I get ample time to get hooked to the art of baking yet again. This time the inspiration came from one of my wife’s friend who called us over for a demonstration on baking bread at home. It turned out so well that I decided to try the same at home while my wife was away to school. Also, a blog friend, Ashwini, in Chennai would keep posting the enticing pictures of her baking creations on Facebook, adding more fuel to the fire that had been stoked.
Farl Bread

Oat Meal Bread

I seriously got into the act. In almost three months, the time devoted to learning the new skill, has not only kept me busy but helped in finding confidence in a hitherto hidden desire . Paul Hollywood the master baker, Nigella Lawson, Tracey Zabar and Michella Chiappa have became the new icons that I revere. I hurriedly saw their shows and read their recipes to learn the tricks of the trade.
Stuffed Buns

The first bread that became a success was an ordinary bun and gradually I tried combinations which got better with time. The finer nuances of how well the dough needs to be kneaded to ensure that gluten is formed, thereafter allowed to ferment till it becomes double the size were learnt . I keep learning in baby steps and have managed to make some ordinary milk bread, garlic bread, oatmeal bread , Farl and most recenty stuffed buns! The joy of seeing the bread rise and turn golden in the oven is beyond words. The final proof of eating bread lies in the spongy and soft inner texture and a well formed crust. A sample of the breads that have been tried is presented but the journey has just begun!

PS: All Images are of breads prepared at home:)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Healthy Eating

How we all long to be healthy and how many miles are we willing to go to for leading a healthy life? The only problem is that most of the health foods  taste insipid and are not attractive enough to eyes and seldom please  the tongue. All things unhealthy, and long term enemies of the body look good and appetizing. The eyes turn in their direction, as if a beautiful girl has gone past. The cheese burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, thick shakes with rich toppings of cream and chocolate always win the race being run in the mind. Preference for something drab and unattractive  like a boiled vegetable, sprouts or green leafy salad is always low as it rarely looks good or excites the taste buds. Most of us are used to a sedentary lifestyle and seldom like to go out for exercises, thus the layers of fat never seem to melt. The discussions on food with friends always move in disagreements just  like the talk shows hosted by Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai.

I remember the times when undergoing the training at Naval Academy, the long runs and the evening sports coupled with drills at parade ground left us hungry after each meal. Just after the sports in the evening we would gather at the canteen to polish of packets of glucose biscuits and locally brewed cold drinks to make up for the calories burnt on the field. Everyone helped on heaps of rice or bread/ chappatis on the lunch or dinner table. No one gained even a pound of extra weight. I remember the shocked look of the family members on returning home for vacation after training, on noticing the frail demeanor and having lost all the chubbiness.

In the later years the ‘ battle of the bulge’ is  on going and struggle to keep the weight in check always high on agenda. Slowly, the sandwiches, parathas, pakoras and pooris, became rarer. In lieu oats, dalia, muesli, and cornflakes with occasional helping of upma, poha and sevian became more permanent companions. The weight watch diets being followed by all and sundry affected the regular eating habits. Multi grain atta was preferred over the gluten rich wheat and maida. The relatives and frail ladies in the neighborhood talked about benefits of quinoa, rye, millets, amaranth over the greasy parathas. The west wind blew in the direction of my home as I noticed new additions on food shelf like honey, green tea, flax and sesame seeds .Herbs like basil, ginger, mint , coriander  and garlic are used in a more pronounced manner.

I took a bow to acknowledge that ’change is the only permanent’ in life. It is important to move with the time when it comes to food, fashion and technology lest be labelled as a ‘laggard’. Needless to say the benefits of health foods are universally acknowledged and coupled with exercises help in keeping body in good physical and mental shape.After all , 'heath is wealth'!

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not. – Mark Twain

PS-Image Kind Courtesy Google

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Colours of Holi

It was dark already  and ‘Holi” was still more than a week  ahead. It did not matter to us, as the moment the water balloons and colors were available in the market, it was time for us to set the ball rolling. I and my younger siblings had got our cache of water balloons filled and ready in a small packet as we hid in the balcony of our second floor quarter. The camouflage was complete, with a cot covered with a sheet to give us a perfect hiding place. The first one targeted was a taxi driver who was walking towards the thick growth of bushes to attend the nature’s call. The balloon struck the unsuspecting target and he shouted! We hid ourselves and held our breath. The thrill that we experienced was unmatched. More targets were located and the water balloon missiles kept hitting the targets ranging from a college girl, a neighborhood friend, the vegetable seller and many more! The operation lasted barely half an hour lest we be caught in the act, never targeting the same person again!

On the night of ‘Holi’ the neighborhood congregated around a bonfire to dance , celebrate with dry colors, exchange greetings and sweets. We would join the revelry and after a while peel off to commence our covert operation from the balcony. Once, the missile inflicted damage to the guitars being assiduously tuned by Mr Brown, a friendly neighbor! The camaraderie was such, that despite  knowing who was behind it,  never took offence !

On the D- day morning, we would arm ourselves with pichkaris, gulal with fragrance of rose petals, of all hues, green, pink, red, and yellow. After getting wet we would stand in the sun to dry ourselves, raid the kitchen full of delicious, gujias, kachori, samosas, besan sev, laddos, namak para and many more , all prepared at home. We would then converge on other houses and indulge in endless spraying of colors, eat savories in their house and exchange greetings. Later in the afternoon the entire neighborhood  gathered in the lawns where people would ‘drink thandi and bhang’ play drums, dance and sing songs. We had a mix of people of all religions and background in the government colony where we lived and each one celebrated  with only same rare exceptions! It was a day when all the differences were sunk in the spirit of unabashed revelry. It gave us an opportunity to savor the delicacies of every region in the country and reflected the rare unity which is difficult to witness in present times.

PS: 1. Image Kind courtesy Google
       2.“I’m pledging to #KhulKeKheloHoli this year by sharing my Holi memories atBlogAdda in association with Parachute Advansed."
       3. Wishing all the readers a very happy and colourful 'Holi'

Monday, March 14, 2016

True Lies

In a country where a vast populace does not get three square meals a day, where the laborers do back breaking work, the bread winners in the family toil hard in offices to support the families there is a small section of super privileged ones who have easy access to the wealth stashed in banks to pursue a live style that make everyone red with envy. If this happens once in a while one can understand but the story keeps getting repeatedly like the ever changing fashion which fades with time but returns yet again like the proverbial ‘Sphynx”.

The legal system, the procedures, the entire system becomes a mute spectator when these are tweaked to favor the rich and mighty. Those in chairs of responsibility squirm and indulge in the blame game , on realizing that they have been taken for a ride. Imagine the number of forms, guarantees, surety one is asked to submit when seeking petty loans. The rules book are hurled at the face explaining why the same cannot be sanctioned when the amount is a few thousands or lakhs. As the amount in question gets bigger with greater number of zeros, the time to sanction the same is in inverse proportion and the ease with which the individuals walk away, with a smirk makes one wonder if the rules are only meant for the honest. Honesty does not appear to be the best policy in the brazen world!
This is equally true for other crimes where the petty criminals languish behind the bars for years whereas the ones with might walk away by signing bonds and lead lives as if nothing ever happened. The ease with which they get reprieve makes the mockery of the law. Agree,   that we do not live in a Utopian world but then the sense of fair play, or semblance of the same should at least appear to be visible.

We talk so much about the environment these days to preserve the city, rivers, and air clean but do not give a thought when razing a forest, or by the river front for holding huge rallies that leave a trail of destruction in its wake. It takes years to make the land green and conserve the rivers but systematic plundering keeps adding to the scars.

Unfortunately, the commercial gains, personal ambitions, greed, and petty politics are the primary motives behind most of the prevailing ills. People want to live a life as if there will be no tomorrow! One thing that is assured is that with repeated frequency of such events , there is very little future for the next generations to feel proud of. There is always a hope and for which, one has to make a beginning in small ways to restrain the desires.

As a nation we have to learn to demonstrate setting a level playing field and those not playing by the rule book be shown the door. No matter how high or mighty one may be, the law must prevail and justice be delivered in reasonable time for people to have the faith in the system.