Monthly Archives: December 2009

The End of the Road

Update for 31 December 2009

The road that hugs the railway line ends a few meters short of the MIthi River. Town planners did not foresee the need to cross this dead river and now conveniently blame the eco brigade for their own lack of foresight – there is a teeming mangrove forest on the banks of this river/sea water inlet/ sewer which cannot be “disturbed” and hence no bridge was constructed here. (This could have set back the town planners a few crores of rupees short of 100, but they don’t mind spending Thousands of Crores for a Sealink that takes forever to build; but townplanners and politicians will never change; the more costlier the project, the more money they make!). I usually take this road by the Rail Track to and from office and I like the way it is clutterless (most of the days), and with few traffic signals, it is actually well regulated, even on festival Wednesdays, when the “whole of Bombay” descends onto Mahim for a novena at the Church by the bay. And just as it looks to end near the mangrove forest, there is a diversion to the left that actually takes you onto a bridge so that you can turn right over the rail tracks (confused, then try and use the road and this bridge when you pass by Mahim, next). In a place that is close to nowhere, has been living a community in government developed low income housing, juxtaposed to a “Diabetic” Hospital (apparently the hospital does not need insulin shots, but caters to patients with the affliction). To meet some of the basic needs of the community at the end of road, there is a little fish market and some veggie vendors as well. And like fungus, there is a shantytown that has cropped up where nothing else will – and their cheek by jowl tenements leave little place for anything else to survive there. And again like fungus, they have no chlorophyll cover, so are barren brown or dull grey. But look again and in the little Shanty Colony at the End of the Road you will find this hardy (though not literally) banana plant that sticks out of the paved sidewalk and has been through the vagaries that this harsh place unleashes upon such water thirsty plants. And mind you, I have noticed this plant stay green for so long that it has actually fruited. The banana bunch is at least a metre long and has a dozen hands of bananas, at least and growing. Amazing how nature sometimes learns to not only survive but also thrive in times of adversity. The shanty town folks know the worth of the fruit and plant and have ensured that no-one vandalises it. Ironical, given that they were the first to vandalise the “Great Wall of Mumbai paintings” on the wall opposite their colony that fences in the rail tracks. But such is life, where some things are taken for granted, while others are treasured and valued.

We are at a logical end of the Gregorian Calendar year; and despite trying times and uncertainty, the D Street Boyz have been taking the straight path with few impediments in their way and have learnt to live through adversity in other places without getting distracted. They have at times vandalized the street with their cans of Red paint, but have always known how to nurture some of nature’s gifts that lie with them and it is heartening to note that they are giving due credit to some of the parameters – like the GDP and profitable Indian companies – the SENSEX has scaled up 80% in 2009 from its lows and despite the high inflation (especially food), poor exports, lack of any infrastructure growth in 2009. Take today for example – the markets remained green all day on this ultimate day of 2009, consistently above 100+ points to close 120 points up at 17464. Like the 100 cm or longer banana bunch hanging on the plant at the end of the Road. The only fear is that the D Boyz should not get carried away and must reward industries that promote growth and must continue to be the moral controller for those trying to hoodwink small investors. The D Boyz in turn look forward to the policy makers to stick to their plans of achieving overall growth in the country.

The banana plant is easy to tend and vegetatively propagates through its roots, and being an annual it must die after fruiting, but with its roots it will ensure life remains eternal for this fruit. The corm roots of this plant are also succulent like the stem and apart from storing lots of water, they also absorb quite a few pollutants in the soil, thereby purifying the land it grows on. Its lesser cousin, the canna does a similar function in flower beds of municipal gardens around town. Perhaps this is the philosophy behind why so many Indians revere the banana fruit and offer it to their Gods, apart from the fact that they always fruit in bunches with over 100 bananas, at least, symbolizing fertility.

On this auspicious note, I would also like to wish you all very Happy and Prosperous New Year. As much as I have enjoyed writing about the shenanigans of the D Boyz, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as well. This is not the end, so look forward to meeting you all in the “New” Year.



Home Made Pizza

Update for 30 Dec 2009

In this age of instant food mixes and fast food delivered to your doorstep quicker than medical aid, it is heartening to note that some people still labour to put that wholesome food on dinner tables. Like the other day, my brother-in-law (BIL) decided to treat us to some home-style Italian Pizza. The difference here was that he started from scratch – including kneading the dough needed for the base. For urban Indians, this is not a chore one wastes much time on; we either call the local Pizza Deli and get our pricey cooked flour dough with cheese and some veggies or meat chunks delivered in 30 minutes (or we don’t pay for it); or some people buy the ready-made pizza base and bottled sauce to put together their “home” style version. But Mr BIL brought out the flour, yeast, olive oil and salt and rolling up his sleeves, started kneading the dough like a well trained signorina. He did not let anyone into the kitchen when he was putting together the tomato sauce, but I did spy him carry half a dozen plump roma tomatoes, some herbs and what looked like a half bulb of garlic. Thereafter, I don’t know what he did, but he emerged from the kitchen with a rolled out pizza dough that had a generous helping of tomato sauce on it. He called in my daughters to help him add the veggie toppings creatively – they had red peppers, some sliced button mushrooms, a small head of broccoli and loads of shredded cheese. The kids were enjoying it as much as their uncle and when done, Mr BIL loaded the tray into the oven for a quick bake. And before long, he announced that the Pizza was ready for slicing up. It was like a little ritual, when the tray was set on the table, and the pizza slicer was placed alongside, the kids were excited to see what their “creation” looked like and adults like me could not resist the shutterbug in me and clicked a few shots before the dinner slices were ready to be devoured.

The penultimate trading session of 2009 was a lack luster flat day at D Street. The SENSEX was almost as flat as the Pizza we ate that day. And also like the pizza, it had a few green sessions like at start of day and sometime around 1 pm, but otherwise it was a shallow flat red (like the tomato sauce base of the pizza). I am not sure what cuisine the D Boyz prefer, but going by their non-exuberance today, I think they don’t particularly care for Italian food. So, if yesterday saw a flattish uptick on the SENSEX, today saw a flattish downtick of 58 points to take it down to 17344. Nothing dramatic or shocking, especially when much of India is out holidaying, great weather is a booster in most cities, while some like Hyderabad and Bangalore continue to see some storms (not weather storms).

That evening, Mr BIL conjured up a simply irresistible dessert – chocolate mousse that was not sinful, but protein rich with silken tofu and guilt free because it had no cream. It is nice visiting family and friends who entertain you with their personal touches. I am thinking of subtly hinting out to Mr BIL for some wholesome muffins on my next visit. Maybe, if he is reading this post, he will make it!


The Garden that Hangs

Update for Dec 29, 2009

The little garden on the famed hill in South Mumbai is in the leafiest part of town. The tall green canopies of raintrees don’t particularly give you a “hill station” feel, because you would expect conifers or eucalyptus; but when you step into the garden, you realize that this is no ordinary place. The lawns are manicured, a lovely parrot green. The hedges are trimmed well, a deeper bottle green, while the flower beds are a riot of colours sprinkled atop a lush bed of olive green shrubs. The garden is not vast and therefore, you don’t get to see landscaping like in the famed gardens of Delhi, or the rocky garden at the once outskirt of Bangalore, or even the lush botanical garden at the foothills of the Nilgiri Forest in Ooty, or the never ending gardens on the other side of the Hooghly near Calcutta. The compactness of this Hanging Garden is perhaps its identity, apart from the near perfect view of the Queen’s necklace and the calm blue bay that it skirts. There is however one more highlight in this garden – a shoe house from a children’s fairy tale – one gets transported to one’s childhood as soon as you get into the boot-shaped house which also has a lookout balcony on its first floor. I almost bumped into Old Mother H when I went in to relive my childhood. And now, adventurists have added another feature that may attract the young adults to the garden – a rappelling slope at the edge of the garden. Oh – for those unfamiliar with this garden, it hugs the contours of the hill on a “cliff” and this is where the ropes are hung for youngsters to try their rock-climbing skills. The charm of the garden lies in its little nuances of being simple and green all year round.

After the 4 day holiday weekend, D Street opened in a relaxed mood. The day started in the green – a few points up and stayed flattish all day till the end – when it decided to peek over the hill or the cliff, but the D Boyz, being young adults, settled for some smart rappelling as they scaled down from the heights to end back at the place where they were all day – about 40 points up. So the SENSEX moved upwards to another 2009 high of 17401.

The chill all over India this winter has finally set into Mumbai and Chennai. The night temperatures are below 20oC and citizens in both cities are flaunting their woollens. Morning walkers do not forget their mufflers and monkey caps, while office goers are seen with their faux fur-lined windcheaters. If it were to get a little chillier in these cities, offices would turn on their heaters. Sometimes, it is Godsend that snow does not fall in the tropics (barring a few mountain tops in Africa).


Crossing the Bridge

Update for 24 December 2009 

As I alighted the rickety bus by the roadside, I was pleasantly taken in by the forested surroundings, yet within bustling distance of the religious town-centre and its chief attraction. I carried by luggage and looked around for a coolie – with none in sight, just tossed it over my shoulder and followed a small band of pilgrims towards the town centre. Just across the road, and I was face to face with the fast flowing green waters of the Ganges. It was meandering along in curves, not rushing, and not stagnant, but very calming and refreshing for a weary traveler like me. I walked less than a furlong and then crossed the road to the chief attraction, the bridge that would take me across. It was the bridge that every Indian had heard of – and was out of bounds to vehicular traffic. It had a mythological lilt to its name that swung dreamily from one bank to another. This was the Lakshman Jhoola, Lakshman’s Swing. Rather large at around 100 feet in span and since it was a suspension bridge, it was almost as tall at the entrance bank where I walked in. The hoists dropped down in a parabolic curve and almost stayed flat for a large part of the bridge. The tricky part of walking on this suspension bridge was its supposed flimsiness – because it bounces up and down with the human footfalls and if a prankster wanted to frighten the aged matriarch shrouded in a shawl, he would just jump up and down a couple of times to wobble the bridge under her feet. She would shriek and let out her choicest swear words, which would never cross the PG 13 limit (perhaps the effect of walking on the Lakshman Jhoola also led to drawing the famous Lakshman Rekha* on your vocabulary). And even if you did not have pranksters in your pilgrim group, there would be enough in others to give you a dose of the wobble on the bridge. The walk was refreshing as you saw the calm gurgling green Ganges below you, to your right and left and as you approached the exit of the bridge, the parabola rose again to hoisted high as the second support in the suspension bridge. Then I entered the Pilgrim Town with its temples, ashrams, and series of steps that led down to the river. I am sure I will return to these steps at sundown to witness the River Prayer, aarti. The bell chimes, and hymn chants in the background sound soothing and the crowds add to building the atmosphere.

The morning after the heady SENSEX recovery, the D Boyz started their work on a good note – they opened their offices to some good cheer and thereafter, looked around for good news and cheer. Not hearing much, they quickly got down to discussing inane nothings which quietened the SENSEX (keeping it flat for the next 4 hours or so). And then the cricket match in Calcutta started, exciting the D Boyz that they picked up the SENSEX to over 100 points again today and lofted it to 17360 – up 129 points.

The young boys at the ashram were cute with their foreheads smeared with the religious 3 stripe ash and dotted with the vermillion. They were filing past us towards the river for their daily prayer meet. I walked into the ashram and the smiling housekeeper offered to show me to my little room on the first floor that overlooked the Ganges, the Road that I just took from the bridge, the Lakshman Jhoola and the forested hills beyond.

Have a nice weekend and Season’s Greetings. Cheers….

* Lakshman Rekha – reference – the Ramayana – where Lakshman draws a line (Rekha) on the ground as the threshold limit for Sita, his sister-in-law and her safety when he goes looking for his supposedly hurt brother, Rama.

The Seven Steps – Saptapadi

Update as of 23 December 2009

Though technically this is the break in the Indian wedding season, it is still quite full of the wedding charms. The newly weds can be seen at touristy towns, holding hands and gently ambling down the Mall Road, or taking pony rides, or just sitting silently (in each other’s arms) on sun-soaked beaches, clearly distinguishable by the women sporting the deep red vermillion sindoor, in their hair parting and wearing the jangling traditional bangles; while their beaus strut around in their designer sweaters or pullovers with the unshaven stubble looks, and swaggering walks. And for those who will tie the knot when the wedding season opens again mid January, their eagerness to acquire the best trousseau can be seen on their faces. Their smiles just don’t fade and some women gushing over the brides, looking pleased as punch while doting over their glowing daughters or nieces. The grooms-to-be cannot be missed at any pub or 5 star hotel, as they are the centres of attraction around whom many male friends hover since that centre is paying for their expensive malts and vodkas. The recently married may or may not remember the most important moment of their wedding ceremony – the Saptapadi – the seven steps around the holy fire. Each step is significant and there is no North South divide here – whether you are a bhangra loving Punjabi or a Kutcheri enjoying TamBrahm, the steps are there and have the same significance. If the first 4 steps invoke happiness, health, prosperity and general well-being for the couple, the remaining 3 are actually inclusive in nature as the married couple take the steps for world peace, harmony and global bounty. For some, they are mere steps while for others they are clockwise perambulations around the fire. 

D Street was in a festive mood today, as the D Boyz reminisced their own wedding vows or “Saptapadi” and took some strong decisive steps up – leading the SENSEX to take those eventful 7 steps up. And today was the day when all the 30 stocks on the SENSEX were green (moving up between 0.79% to 7.7%). They tried to reach the magic number of 7.75% that a Mr FM predicted was where the Indian Good Day Program would end at in March! The Happy Boyz happily took the SENSEX up to 177231 up 539 points for universal peace, harmony and bounty (their part of the Saptapadi of using the 3 % upward move, symbolic of the last 3 vows!).

The Music season in Chennai has started in full earnest and mothers of to-be-brides are busy attending as many sessions as they can. It is not because they are keen connoisseurs of Carnatic music (they maybe), but to scout out the best talent who will perform at their daughter’s wedding reception. The 6 pm performer at the Academy is usually the first choice, but being in high demand, they may be pricey or even too busy to perform.


Mascot at the Mall

Update for Dec 21, 2009

The weekend ushered in winter in many parts of the northern hemisphere; Europe froze as airports shut down, rail services were disrupted and holiday-headers were stuck playing badminton in over-stuffed departure halls. The Americas too had their share of white snow, which the predictable weather guys confirm will stay till end of the week, so people can enjoy a truly white Christmas. This was the last weekend for people to catch up on their holiday gift purchases, and retail chains were not too happy with the weather Gods, but they were confident that the lost sales of the weekend will be covered during the week. They already had their mascots pulling in the crowds. The mascots are so popular and well known that children across America and Europe actually send request letters to these fictional characters. The local postal departments also play along and “deliver” these letters to the “North Pole” or “Lapland”, depending on where the letters come from. The mascot popularly known as Father Christmas was initially created as a means to boost “unreligious persons” during this festive season to attend church and participate in the festivities. Thus, the fictional character was dressed up in a Bishop’s overalls, and slowly as the legend grew, he focused on little children to prepare them for the festival. The capitalist Americans saw great opportunity here and used Father Christmas to attract footfalls into their retail stores – so although he wore a grey overcoat over baggy white trousers, his head was capped with a red pixie hat which enhanced the white flowing beard. Somewhere in the 1930s, a popular soft drink company took over the mascot to promote their blackish brown vanilla flavoured drink and dressed him in a red coat with white fur trimmings and his trouser also turned red, with white fur trimmings at the ankle, and he greeted children at retail malls, gave them some small gifts, and a bottle of the drink and thereafter has never looked back. This mascot still remains the most popular fictional figure of our times and although he is no longer the copyright of the soft drink major, the red coloured costume stayed.

The frost bites of a white winter were not particularly worrisome to the D Boyz of D Street. Mumbai is a city that gets “cold” weather for a week or 10 days at most, and usually coincides with the New Year, not Christmas. So the Boyz were out on the street, enjoying the warm sun and just waffling about, not knowing what to do – shuffling the SENSEX a few points up and a few points down, but most of the morning just keeping it steady or flat. Then after lunch, the D Boyz heard some metal bells ringing and loud throated shouts “Ho Ho Ho” and as they peeked out of their windows, they saw the Red Mascots of this season walking onto D Street and distracting everyone. The loud bell ringing and the metal clangs annoyed some Boyz who pushed metal stocks down (Metals Index down 1.6%); and the overall red colour of the street encouraged the BOYz to colour the SENSEX red too – taking it down almost 150 points down, but ending 118 points down to 16601. Strangely though, the European markets opened in the green despite the snow white landscape they see today, and all the green trees are frosty white – perhaps the European counterparts of the D Boyz have used this opportunity to add green to their lives through their version of the SENSEX!

American tradition demands that a glass of milk and a plateful of cookies be kept near the fireplace for the Father Christmas, as a sign of gratitude for the good work he is doing. So as the red dressed Father Christmas has arrived, he brings goodies with him that will bring cheer all round.


The Red Chilli Powder – Lal Mirchi

Update as of 18 December 2009 (and 17 Dec 09)

Given my liking to Indian food, I try, to the extent possible, to sample cuisine from different states and parts of the country. I must admit that I prefer the traditional foods more than the modern day avatar of fusion cuisine. I like the savoury rice crepes stuffed with a yellow potato and onion curry, masala dosai, but don’t particularly favour the crepe stuffed with faux Schezuan vegetables, or even spinach cottage cheese; eeks!! I don’t mind my lentil soup, daal, sweetened with a hint of jaggery, if served in a Gujarati meal, but I love the gingery version that many Western Indians prepare with the split green gram. But one thing that I don’t relish is the red chilli powder or its equally pungent relative, the green chilli. But the red chilli powder is a real scare – because once dunked into the gravy or curry, nothing can get it out; while a green chilli can be picked out or left on the plate. Fortunately, the red colour is a give-away, but if masked with a tomato concasse or puree, it becomes a ticking time-bomb, waiting to blow up once in my mouth. And it has an amazing way of going off – first, it singes my tongue and then sends me into a fit of cough which if left uncontrolled irritates my diaphragm to send me into a series of hiccups. At that moment, all I want is to be left alone to restore balance – and some acidic foods can help – my most preferred is plain curd – the easiest item available on a South Indian dinner table. If that does not work, then the glasses of water drunk without taking in a breath often help. And if that fails too, I must have chewed more than I could bite of the spiciest red chilli; and the only remedy left is to sip water from the opposite side of the glass – it is more like lapping it up than sipping it, but this has been my fool proof solution to those hiccough bouts!

Red Chilli has been the flavour of the week on D Street. The spiciness and heat singed quite a few D Boyz, who either pressed the wrong buttons or scurried around for some remedies to cool themselves off. So if yesterday was spent trying to keep the spice level down with short bouts of cool water drinks or other sootheners, it seemed to have helped them as the SENSEX lost only 18 points to end at 16894. But today was different – it had all the red chilli powder that the chefs could add without converting the dish into a pickle. And the Boyz tried to keep themselves in control all day with sips of water, curd spooned in, but at around 2:45 pm, they could not control it and got into their version of the hiccup bouts. First they lost balance, and thereafter could not regain it till the markets closed. Poor Boyz; what would they have done had the markets opened earlier today – they would need medical attention. They are secretly thanking the Regulators for deferring the time extension decisions to the next year. By then, the Boyz will devise something to help them with their eating! So today, the SENSEX slipped 174 points down to 16719. This was a 1% drop today, and an overall 2.3% drop this week. Perhaps the Santa dressed in Red will bring cheer to the Boyz next week!

Unfortunately for a vegetarian like me, I don’t get cues or clues on the spiciness of the dish that I am about to devour like perhaps someone who is served Laal Maas (red meat – a Rajput mutton curry); or Rogan Josh (the most famous Kashmiri Waazwan cuisine – mutton again). So I will have to stick to gingerly tasting the food before going the whole hog!

Have a nice weekend – Cheers….

Pass or Fail

Update for 16 Dec 2009 (and 15 Dec as well)

When I went to school, there were very few exams or tests in the first 2 years. I am not sure how the teacher assessed the students, but at the end of every term, there was a progress report card that was distributed to each student and we were promptly asked to get our parents’ signature on it. I was too young to understand what it all meant, and followed my teachers’ instructions to the T. From Class III onwards, we had tests and exams to write and our results were always expressed in numbers between 0 and 100. Our teacher ingrained it into us that anything below the 50 mark was a “Red” – a fail, which would be highlighted by a red felt pen and anything above that was a blue – usually marked by a ball-point pen. So all of us in class worked hard to avoid any red marks on our report cards and were mortally afraid of the number 50! As we progressed to higher classes, we slowly realized that the studies were getting expansive and complex and at times, the 50 number looked too close for comfort. But after class VII – we were slightly relieved to note that the Fail grades started from below 35 and though that was anxiously inviting, the complexities of our subjects made the number 50 look like a distinction grade! And thereafter, till I graduated, this threshold stayed and 35 became the “Pass Mark”. Some of those who went to Business Schools, at times encountered varying “pass grades” which were relatively graded. I understand from my engineer friends that some under-graduate engineering institutes also used this scale for their student assessments.

D Street was on unsure ground today. The D Boyz had worked hard all of the last 2 months, and the Indian economy gave them good cues to do well, yet the almost flat move over the last 60 days kept the tense Boyz on their toes. So when they opened the day with good marks, their next test caught them unawares and they blinked. They were in the red. This good test followed by a not so good one occurred a couple of times during the day, until the Boyz were exhausted and only waited for their end of day result. They knew that they had not done too well and were only praying that they passed. They did – with 35.6 points – to end the day at 16912. They wiped their brows – that was close!

Indian brides are always dolled up – and when these women grow up, they are shocked at their gaudy appearances in wedding snaps, but women being women, will continue to dress up their daughters and daughters-in-law in similar fashions. So there will be the heavy jewellery with loads of red – red saris, red shellac bangles, scarlet rubies in their golden necklaces (and in their golden bangles at times). And all of this will finally culminate with the red dot on the forehead – the bindi. And many weddings will be solemnized when the vermillion powder is applied on the hair parting! With so much red in this wedding season, the D Boyz saw two much of this – and literally moved the SENSEX Two Two O points down yesterday – 220 points down on 15 Dec to end at 16877.

I have always got tense before exams – little sleep the night before and edgy till the exam is over. And I hated students who would huddle together outside the exam centre, comparing answers! I would run home to soothe my frayed nerves.


The Green Leaf that turns Orangish Red

Update as of  14 December 2009

Even in difficult times, occasions that demand festivities are thankfully, still celebrated. Weddings are made up of quite intensive celebrations; with a very important start to it – the henna session. This is a must in all weddings, cutting across religions and regions. The methods of putting together the paste vary from state to state and even between the urban and rural areas. The beginning to this is always the henna leaf – which is a perennial shrub that grows as hedges across the entire country – including the drier areas of Rajasthan and Haryana. These leaves are picked and dried in shade so that they retain their olive green colour. They are then powdered on stone grinders and carefully sieved before being packed for sale. The specialist henna applicator selects the “best” packet and on the day of the “henna” session soaks it in a brown concoction that may include various tanners like tea, tamarind pulp and caramelized sugar syrup. The green paste takes on a brownish hue and adorns the bride-to-be’s palms. The designs get intricate in Northern and western India while the southern and eastern counterparts stick to geometric patterns, typically dominated by the circle. And since the intricacies are given a pass in the south, most the applicators prefer to use the fresh leaves. So they collect it in a basket and crush it on the grinding stone till it can be scooped into a ball. Then little balls are pinched out of it and applied on the palm in a chosen “design” (which is usually a large circle surrounded by smaller dots). And to cap it, little henna caps are made and stuffed onto each finger to completely cover the nails; this will add to nail colour as well. And when the henna dries (which usually takes about half a day – or in these circumstances, overnight), they are carefully scratched off the palm and then the palm is rubbed with some warm oil to “deepen” the colour and the bride is ready for the wedding with the reddish orange hennaed palms and feet!

This is wedding season in India and D Street members decided to join in the “henna” sessions as they opened in the green. They remained green all day, until they heard of some Gulf state helping out its brotherly neighbour. They were overjoyed by the news, and scratched off the green designs on the palms – revealing the reddish orange patterns. The SENSEX took cues from the D Boyz behaviour and started the day green till about 2 pm when the Gulf news poured in and it then went into the red. Of course, the D Boyz looked for good news from elsewhere, and saw a surging European market, but forgot that the SENSEX was attuned to the hennaed palms; so even though the close was flat – it was negative 21 points, ending the SENSEX ride at 17097.

I used to know this middle aged Rajasthani lady, who used to make intricate henna designs using her fingers only – no henna cones, or sticks – just her index finger and thumb – her trick was to use the juice of a few ladyfingers / okra, which would give the henna paste some viscosity and allow for “threads” of henna to appear as one pulled apart the index finger from the thumb after dunking them into a bowl of the henna paste. And she was really deft – but such arts are dying out. If you have an interesting henna story, do share it.