The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shopping Mania


Last week was a watershed in the history of E Commerce in India! A few things happened that are set to change the rules of the game when it comes to shopping! Companies like Flipkart and Snapdeal, created a sensation by literally taking the retail market by storm on a scale that was hitherto unknown. The ongoing ‘Diwali Dhamaka ‘sale by the biggie Amazon has set the markets ablaze. Imagine both Flipkart and Snapdeal managed to rake in Rs 600 crores in just a day! We have seen the business being transacted by the retailers by giving discounts to the public with attractive schemes from time to time and retaining the loyalty by traditional methods like discounts, accumulation of points on the loyalty cards which can be redeemed at a later date!

The beauty of this way of shopping lies in the fact that without physically moving out of the house or office one can see ‘virtual store’ with a complete catalog and details of items available including 3-D views . All data between the transactions and exchange with individuals or with other business partners happens electronically including the buying and selling by using totally secure systems.

This concept has brought about efficiencies in the supply chain management, delivery logistics, warehousing and home delivery of products in a time bound manner. Virtually every type of shopping starting from retail goods, booking holidays ,air/rail / bus tickets, insurance policies, complete banking, payment of all kinds of bills for utilities is now possible thus eliminating the need to travel for completing these activities!

Just imagine all this has happened  barely in last 40 years (in 1971-72) with the advent of ARPANET in sale of cannabis  between students of Stanford and MIT( Massachusetts Institute of Technology ) laying the foundation of first ‘e commerce’. The formal ‘Online Shopping ‘was initiated in 1979 by Michael Aldrich. From these humble beginning Tim Berners Lee wrote the first browser of World Wide Web in 1990, thereby opening the flood gate for rapid developments to see more browsers like Netscape, Mozilla and many more. The volume of business grew at a staggering pace seeing an exponential growth in the next few years. India’s business in this domain has seen a rise of 30% in 2014 compared to the year 2013.

Currently the reach of internet in India is limited thus the volume of this business is  just the ‘tip of the iceberg’! Imagine with the connected world this can bring about a sea change in the way we live! Already in advanced countries and in big cities in India one can get even the groceries and organically grown vegetables and fruits at the doorstep at the click of the mouse.

The conventional business and small retailers are crying foul and have approached the government to lay down the norms to protect their business and even existence.  At least in India which has a very diverse milieu of population spread from villages to small and big cities the fears are unfounded, as there is ample space for all to coexist. However, the harsh reality is that in the Darwinian world only the fittest will survive!

PS- Images Kind Courtesy Google

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some Unforgettable Road Journeys

The festive time starts as the month of September ends and schools and colleges close for an autumn break. This was always a perfect time to head for the long road journeys as the heat is not too intense and most of the destinations had lesser crowd than one sees during the peak summer months and around Christmas. During my years in the Navy, I would take a short break from work and plan out journeys into the unknown and look forward to the day when our journey would commence!

The road trips always had the element of uncertainty as in India the buses rarely keep to the schedule. So the first thing that always was borne in mind was to start early for every place to avoid feeling cheated for having lost a few precious hours in just waiting for the bus to arrive. I have some of the most exciting memories of these road trips and each being unique!  I vividly remember having planned for journey to Badrinath by a bus from Rishikesh many years ago. The journey provided fascinating views with stoppages en route. The bus engine huffed and puffed as the arduous climb began. We were just about 10 km short of the destination when the smell of burning rubber gave me a feeling of unease! A huge spark came from under the bonnet and the cable was burning! The driver switched off the engine but the cable kept burning till the fire was doused.  After some help, the driver managed to pull out some extra cable. After the engine cooled down we commenced the remaining part of the journey. 

One can never travel without good company of fellow passenger especially the monkey cap clad Bengalis during Puja vacations! During one trip from Pithoragarh to Lohaghat, the bus was relatively empty! In came a shepherd with the flock of the sheep and the bus conductor who was more than generous accommodated the four legged guests!

We were once traveling from Rishikesh to Chakrata a military cantonment with some of the most magnificent views of the Himalayas! Even to this date the foreigners need a permit to visit the place. The bus started form Rishikesh and after about two hours reached Vikas Nagar from where the gradient is very steep. It had rained the previous night so the roads were slushy. After traversing about 2 km the bus stopped abruptly. I was stunned to see that the road beyond that had vanished and its place we could see a huge crater. We were asked to disembark. The driver realized that it was impossible to go beyond so after about an hour the bus returned to Vikas Nagar. We were forced to stay overnight at a small hotel and next afternoon we learnt that the Army had restored the route so we commenced our journey yet again. At the spot of landslide, some makeshift repair had been done, but we had to alight the bus and the driver took the bus over the treacherous road to the other side, while we climbed through the rocks over the landfill and boarded the bus on the other side! The Army Major had canceled our reservation at the guest house as we had not shown up!

There was a time when the bus was running a few hours late from Pathankot to Dalhousie and to make up for the time the bus driver drove at a breakneck speed and we felt having a live experience of the movie ‘Speed’ starring Sandra Bullock !

The beauty of the Teesta river can best be admired on the road trip from Siliguri to Gangtok. While traveling from Darjeeling to Kalimpong once, the driver decided to take a shorter route and the rest of the journey for a distance of almost 20 km was a roller coaster ride, with bus perched atop the hill at one instant and disappearing into the cloud the next moment leaving us wet! I am not sure whether it was the sweat that trickled in cold mountains or the moisture of the nimbus clouds! The experience was repeated yet again while going from Shillong to Cheerapunji when the clouds kept following us!

I am fortunate that  having gone through these experiences I  survived them and am able to narrate these!  The smell of raw earth after the fresh rainfall, and the glimpse of sleeting flakes of snow in wilderness continue to pull me towards such destinations even today!

PS: 1.Some of the fellow bloggers who have written about their recent journeys catalyzed my dormant mind to write this post!
      2. Images kind courtesy Google

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Moment of Pride

It was a long journey with perils n thrills

  One final command and scientists stood still

There were anxious moments n hearts beat

  Then it was sighted to a thunderous treat

Long hours and perseverance was behind this story

  The result was grand n brought immense glory

‘Knock, Knock, who is there’ Maven gazed

  ‘It is Mangalayaan ‘ came reply from haze

 PS: Maven is the first spacecraft launched by NASA to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars. It was placed in the Mars orbit on 21 Sep 14 and Mangalayaan entered the orbit on 24 Sep 14.This poem is a dedication to the scientists of our country who realized the near impossible dream at a fraction of cost!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Retail Therapy


Shopping is rejuvenating, therapeutic as well as fun! Even if one is not inclined to spend much, just window shopping can give one some kicks, besides, the rush of adrenalin to be accosted by the very sight of adorable niceties! With the festive season about to commence, the traders are getting geared up for a long spell of sales, discounts to push their sales graphs!

During the times in school we looked forward to this period with most eagerness knowing that the annual sale at Khadi Bhandar would commence from 2nd Oct and we would rush to buy the shirts, kurtas and other things! Also, the local markets and some upmarket areas in Delhi like NDSE, pitched sales for the jeans costing as low as Rs 15/- each, which may sound as if I belong to the age of dinosaurs! I remember once having saved my pocket money to take my brothers for purchase of cloth for stitching shirts! It would be fun to visit places like Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Chandni Chowk to return with a feeling of bewilderment!

After landing in the job, I had to travel to destinations within the country and was exposed to see places like Crawford Market, Linking Road, Flora Fountain in Mumbai. There would be no place to walk and one had to jostle to move around in Akbarallys at Flora fountain! While in Pune, Sadashiv Peth, Rani Laxmi Bai Road and Deccan Gymkhana were favorite haunts! It felt great to see these places after having seen only the MG Road and Ghantaghar in small towns of UP !

The love for window and minimal shopping continued while visiting Brigade Road, MG Road and KG Circle in Bangalore, Anna Salai and T Nagar in Chennai, Hazrat Ganj and Aminabad in Lucknow! The locals called it ‘Ganjing’! The smells of local foods and sweet shops would set the hunger pangs on fire! I remember always overeating my share of Idlis and Dosa in South and Chaat in Lucknow, Bhelpuri and Pavbhaji in Mumbai even if I went for a shopping worth just Rs50/-

When I got an opportunity to see the world, Downtown Manhattan, SoHo, Chinatown in New York worked like a magnet, with unbelievable array of goods! Faneuil Hall and Copley Place in Boston were difficult to resist! The unbelievable discounts at Macys would leave my already stretched resources to a rock bottom by the end of the day!

Khan El Khalili is a bigger version of Chandni Chowk in Cairo and the sight of freshly made Khobz( local bread) goes for miles! Bukit Bintag in Kulalumpur , Mustafa in Singapore, and Pratunam and Siam Centre are infectious and best avoided if one does want to feel like a pauper by the end of the day! Exotic tropical fruits in Male in Maldives and Seychelles are feast of eyes and one is tempted to buy even if it is difficult to carry them! Huge piles of dry fruits and sight of fresh preparation of  Falafel compete hard to draw the attention of tourists in busy Caramel Market in TelAviv.
Just for window gazing and having coffee, there is no place better than Galeries Lafaytte and Champs Elysee in Paris! If you are lucky, you may even end up watching a fashion show for free at Galeries Lafayette during promotions of new beauty ranges and dresses! The world is a market and the show goes on forever, can best be experienced at La Boqueria in Barcelona crammed with local foods, Harrods in London for the priciest branded items, Queen Victoria Market( lovingly called Vic market) in Melbourne and Victoria building in Sydney , eye popping crystals in streets of Prague, Luxury brands and watch stores in Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, glittering Gold Souk in Deira in Dubai, fragrance of Tulips in Amsterdam, and many more!

Floating Markets in Bangkok, midnight bazaar, weekend bazaar and unbelievable crowds at the odd hour give a feeling of how much to buy and how little we have in our pocket! Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, Odel and House of Fashion in Colombo  are places that must be avoided if you are in company of your wife or children else, even the biggest dollar note in the pocket will vanish before you realize what struck you.

There is only one problem during family shopping that the man ends up standing in a corner after a while carrying his wife’s purse and a wailing child while she is busy in selection!

The last word comes from the sex siren Bo Derek who once said’ Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.'

Monday, September 15, 2014

Time to Act

 The city was waking up from the slumber as the overnight rain had created huge puddles all along the road. The erstwhile potholes have now become craters and if one looks at the satellite picture of the roads in Gurgaon, he will mistake them to be craters on the moon! Car, buses, motorbikes were all in a hurry and were splashing the water, on the poor pedestrians who were trying hard to find way on what once looked like a road.

During the day the weather kept playing hide and seek and by late afternoon the clouds gathered once more, rumbled and it rained for another one hour. Around 5 PM, most of the office goers collected their bags and left the office hoping that by sunset they would reach home. The millennium city was groaning under the weight of vehicles and everywhere as far as one could see there were huge traffic snarls. It had taken almost one hour to cover the distance of 1 km and still the main road was far away. By now some of the drivers that had lost patience started entering the roads from all directions leading to a situation that traffic came to a grinding halt. The situation was grim and there was no solution in sight! Desperate now, many of the office goers made beeline for the metro stations and packed like sardines, traveled to their destination.  Most people were too tired after an exhausting day and were waiting for the trauma to end. This is the situation in the city adjacent to the capital, which houses all the major MNC/ Government and Public sector undertaking offices almost every rainy day! Incidentally, the number of taxpayers contributing to the kitty would perhaps be the highest here.

The scenario is much the same in the capital itself and most of the major metro cities with all major roads clogged with traffic and water overflowing from every drain and small rivulets running next to the roads on the rainy days. A low feeling of the collapsing infrastructure in bigger cities is visible all around.

Is it really very difficult for the municipal authorities to clear the drains and create a drainage system that works, when needed most! Is it so difficult for the traffic police to be available to guide the traffic in such times when people need them the most? Why it is that only the Armed forces are remembered and asked to assist the civil agencies that behave as if they have been paralyzed when emergencies arise? We never learn any lessons and the story repeats year after year only the locations keep shifting. We may take pride of Indians who are serving in every sphere with brilliant contributions but situation at home does not appear to be improving! We can only debate endlessly on prime time on TV shows but do little tangible except indulging in blame games! It is time to put our act together before it is too late!

PS: Image Kind courtesy Google

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On Teachers Day

How the teaching changed over time! There was a time when children were sent to ‘gurus’ for education. Even the princely had to abandon the life of riches to live in ‘gurukul’ where they were taught by the gurus. Most of us have read about ‘Dronacharya’ the famous teacher who taught the ‘Kauravas’  and ‘Pandavas’ in the epic Mahabharat.   He was chosen as the teacher by ‘ Bhishma’ who was the grandfather of Kauravas and Pandavas after he had performed the feat of collecting  a ball from the well where the children were playing by his ring and blades of grass, using them as spears! The great teacher had a soft corner for Arjun the warrior and thus asked ‘Eklavya’ to severe his thumb as ‘guru dakshina’ as he had learnt the skill of archery from Dronacharya on the sly!

Parshuram was another great teacher known for his fiery temper who had vowed to annihilate the “kshatriyas’( warriors) who lived in the times of Ramayana as well as Mahabharat. He was the teacher of Dronacharya as well as Lord Rama! Parshuram and Agastya are considered to be the father of  ‘Kalaripayattu’ the oldest form of martial arts.

Teaching is a noble profession and the credit for grooming the future generations goes to them. In countries like United States, the best universities hold all the teaching fraternity in a very high esteem. The close coordination exists between the industry and the top universities to pursue the research and results thereof are well known! The annual event of Nobel prizes is dominated by US and western world where the academic accomplishments are not only recognized but given the due place in society.

There was a time when universities like Nalanda (near Patna) and Taxila(near Rawalpindi) were considered to be world renowned seats of learning.  With the passage of time commercialization has taken over everything else in our country! Those who can afford prefer to send the children to schools that have air conditioned classes and buses to provide comfort to the students! The engineering and medical degrees can be virtually purchased at a price and likewise for other professions. The only saving grace is that small number of government colleges for professional studies still go by merit for selecting the students. Other shops only sell education to the highest bidders who in turn want to recover their investment in double quick time when they have acquired the degree.

I have lovely memories of the time spent in school that had the best of teachers who inculcated the deep desire to learn, read and write! I was fortunate to have never attended a single tuition class besides the time spent in school! It pains to see even the tiny tots attending such classes after school what to say about those preparing for entering portals of higher education! Somewhere we have forgotten to strike a balance between the need and desire. Our generation is fortunate to have seen and heard the great teachers like Dr S Radhakrishnan and Dr Zakir Hussain. Hope the address of the new prime minister to the nation fosters the spirit of learning and herald a new era in education! 

PS: Image Kind Courtesy Google

Monday, September 1, 2014


I am sure most of us would have encountered some hair raising moments in their lives! Once the incident is over with a happy ending, we tend to forget it for some time till we go through yet another incident, which gets stamped in the memory. They are reminder of some funny, comical, and some adventurous situations. I share a few of such instances.
We had to traverse 60 km through the night from Jamnagar to Khambaliya on foot as a part of exercise. Armed with rucksacks, rifles and some tinned ration we split into groups of five and started the journey. The boots, anklets and the heavy rucksacks made the journey a tough one! Around midnight, we had covered almost half the distance and the legs protested loudly now! So I along with rest of my mates sprawled in the middle of the road as we did not want a slithering reptile in the sandy area to bite! It felt better than a cushioned bed for a while. A few minutes had barely passed when we noticed the headlights appear in the distance. We quickly scrambled back to our feet and waved at the truck! The driver looked at us and told us to board the truck which was loaded till top. What a relief! The truck began to roll through the night. Our happiness was short lived as the uniform started to get wet and we felt as if we are about to freeze! The stench was also unbearable. We asked the driver to stop and asked what he was carrying as we got down!

‘Fish’ he replied and we were relaxing on ice blocks! Gosh! No wonder we were freezing!

There was hilarious situation when I was asked to jump off a Whaler (boat) in the sea in backwaters in Kerala and a lifebuoy was hurled at me! Gasping for breath, I tugged it close to my chest. Next a rope was tied to it and I was towed for a distance of about one kilometer. It was meant to be a demonstration for survival at sea!

As if this was not enough on the same sailing trip during the night at Bolgatty Island, near Kochi, I stepped on moss in dark and skidded to land with a thud in sea! I was gasping for breath as the world around me darkened. I frantically tried to bring my head up; my hand touched the rope by which the boat was tethered to shore! I was pulled out of the murky water with help and had to sleep for the rest of the night in same wet clothes , as I was not carrying any change!

Once on a trip to Stockholm, I was residing at Kista a suburb on the outskirts of the city. I got up early  and decided to go for a jog. It was freezing cold outside and the sky was still dark! There was not a soul in sight and after running for a short while I was gasping for breath and felt as if I would freeze. So I decided to walk and crossed over the road towards the wooded area. After trudging through the sheet of snow for about 15 minutes I looked back and realized that the pathway had disappeared. I looked around but could not find anything that could guide me in the right direction as the stillness was overwhelming.  The more I tried to retrace my steps the more I realized that I was getting lost! About an hour elapsed when I was seized with the fear that will I ever return back!! One more time, I tried and walked in a direction that my hunch told me may be the right one! About 15 minutes of walk brought me to the edge of the road where I could see some lights! I was almost 3 km away from where I had started. I thanked god for finally bringing me back!

It is a long list and am sure you readers too would have had similar instances to share!

PS- Image Kind courtesy Google