The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Fitness Mantra

The race to keep fit is becoming more intense with every passing day. Pick up any magazine or a newspaper regardless of whether it is a travel, women’s , current affairs or even a gossip magazine, you will come across an article, or a column on the secrets of a perfect diet. If not, there will be an advertisement promoting a diet product ranging from a cold drink, cooking oil to a massage belt !In every home the ladies  are busy discussing what to eat and cook and what to avoid with their peers and friends.

There was a time when I went shopping and never bothered about what to buy when it came to food. Buy any cooking oil as long as it did not have an intense odor, any kind of atta, butter , cheese, sweets, fruits or any seasonal stuff. Indulging in fried pakoras, poories once in a while was a done thing with no feeling of a guilt! This was true till the turn of the century but then the globalization caught us unawares! Soon, insistence on buying, corn oil or oils with low cholesterol level, including olive oil , refrain from fried stuff became the new buzzwords ! Calorie count became more stringent. With the first break of dawn, the day must start with a cup of green tea in lieu of the strong tea with milk. The breakfast looked much less appetizing with only fruits, poha, vermicelli, and upma now becoming ,more frequent sights. Parathas were sighted once in a month like a full moon and poories and pakoras  became a rarity like a lunar eclipse!

Adding to the trauma was the constant shift in stands being taken by dieticians. One day, it was all right to eat chappati, vegetable and dal but next day it was suddenly discovered that wheat chappati was full of gluten and carbohydrates. It must be replaced with quinoa, or buck wheat to stay healthy. Honestly, I do not remember anyone in even far family circle knew about the wonder food  quinoa a decade ago! Even the food channels, shamelessly exhibit their cooking skills by cooking exotic foods as if they were born in Mediterranean region. Half the things they rattle while talking about a recipe are unlikely to be available at the local grocery store. One needs to rush to buy the exotic ingredients at super specialty stores and burning a big hole in the pocket , without being too sure what health benefits are likely to accrue. On the contrary, likes of Rujuta Diwekar and Anjali Mukherjee are singing their way to the bank by guiding many looking for quick fix solutions!

In the fast changing world, there are very few takers of simple things that are congruous with nature. Getting up early and exercising to improve digestion are unlikely to have many takers. There is a beeline for those suggesting fancy foods and gadgets to improve the health and guarantee weight loss are in thing. We have to make our own choices which keep changing with the time we live in. The good old secret of indulgence in moderation can perhaps be an answer.

PS-Images Kind Courtesy Google

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Digital Divide

The world is now getting increasingly polarized . I am not implying from the religious beliefs, tolerance , lack of patience or other similar trending subjects. Some believe that that the generation gap has only got much wider now with each generation and its predecessor. I am talking about polarization from the standpoint of Before Internet (BI) and After Internet(AI) generation which roughly means those born in late 1980s (AI)and before that(BI). Anyone can see this digital divide within the close proximity of immediate family, friends and neighbors.

The older generation, if has not kept pace with the fast changing world is saddled with writing letters, signing checks, reading the newspapers and magazines in the traditional format, standing in queues to pay their bills, buying their provisions from the market, doing high value purchases in the brand outlets and so on….In stark contrast the gen now or even those born BI, who are techno savvy, rarely ever write anything on paper unless mandatory. They use smartphones, tabs, and computers to send mails, do calculations, use latest messaging interfaces and apps, visit shopping malls for fun but order most items including clothing, groceries and even high value purchases using ecommerce sites like Flipkart, Amazon, EBay etc. They book their tickets and  taxis using the apps and internet sites thereby availing discounts and working from the comfort of their homes and offices.

The need to evolve thus becomes pertinent for people of BI era. They have no option but to rely on help of their children or grandchildren even for simple things like making calls or sending messages. Even the government has stopped the telegrams and postcards and letters are now on their last leg . The strange thing that I witnessed recently in a Guinness World Record show where three individuals participated using a smart phone( with auto word suggestion feature turned off), two seniors with a typewriter and a Morse Code keying device competing for sending a long message by typing on their devices. The time taken was almost the same in each case!

The generation that has seen both the periods ie BI and AI are perhaps the luckiest ones. They have seen the life change literally from a bullock cart to supersonic pace in every walk of life. The medical and technological changes has improved the quality of life and increased the longevity. At the same time more challenges like pollution, immense greed, bursting traffic, new diseases have emerged. The ecological disasters are taking a heavy toll every year. It is thus important to maintain a fine balance between the nature and greed  if one has to pass a legacy of inheriting a beautiful world to the next generations, and not annuling the benifits of the digital world.

PS: Image Kind Courtesy Google

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Torrid Summer

The searing heat, the scorching sunshine,
   Dry torrid wind, dust laden air shield the moonshine
Parched lips, and never ending trickling sweat
    Makes one long for green grass laden with mist
The color yellow dominates arid sky
     Blazing red gulmohars by day, fragrant jasmines by night
A still calm interrupted by dust storms 
    Cool breeze from the cooler is a welcome norm
Guzzling endless glasses of water and sweet drinks
    Red watermelons, mangoes save from going over brink
In the backyard a cuckoo sings
     Most melodious song with a tinge

PS- Image Kind Courtesy Google

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:)