Monthly Archives: March 2011

Bargain Hunting Weekend


 Update for week ended 25 March 2011

As the sky-train slows down on the elevated tracks, approaching Mo-Chit, you can see the sea of humanity busily moving around in an open field to the left of the tracks, with shacks neatly demarcated out. The crowds that get off the train all head to this weekend Market, Chatuchak. There is no need to ask for directions. At the entrance is a tourist kiosk where volunteers hand out photocopied sheets of a map of the market in English. It helps a newcomer to navigate her or his way around this maze like market that spreads out almost 35 acres with over 800 stalls that sell anything you want or maybe you didn’t. Each Soi or street is neatly labeled and has a very organized oriental method of grouping clusters of similar product sellers so that a shopper has a good choice and is also enticed into buying things that one did not plan for, but was too tempting to resist. We set off initially to pick up some handicrafts that could be adorn our home walls, or nooks or shelves. And boy, was there a variety – it was almost of a riot of colours, textures, media, and price range. So after picking a wooden carving of a Buddha Head (who ever leaves Thailand without this?), we picked up some hand-made paper screen lamp shades, followed by some incense and scented candles. My little daughter started getting bored and irritable, and to appease her, we picked up a wooden frog – this was no ordinary frog, but one with a little a removable wooden rod stuck through its torso. One could pull out the light rod, and stroke it on the jagged back of the frog to give out a hollow and realistic croak. Fascinating! The kid was thrilled with this new toy, and that left mummy and I to go ahead with a few more purchases. We then headed out to the T-shirts section where fake labels jostled for attention alongside some kitschy, but nice touristy Tees. I must admit that I am not much of a label flaunter, so I pored over the colourful tees that had 3D elephant motifs on black T-shirts, or the children’s range of 3D animal and sea creature T-shirts. Another chance to please the little girl by buying the white T-shirt with a 3 dimensional starfish extending its five colourful arms out. This was a good place for the missus to also get some interesting Chinese styled silk blouses that are smart for evening wear, but not easily available in Mumbai. The next stop was the home furnishing section where the missus just went berserk. The silk cushion covers, the silk sheets were so enticing that it saw me nearly empty my wallet there – of course after the wife convinced me that a few could be kept aside for gifts for people back home. And they were really cheap, even I could not ignore the bargain… This continued till we spent till a few more hours and our aching legs needed some rest. So we headed to the refreshment section in the centre of the market where I quenched my thirst with the smoked coconut water – simply divine, sweet and so refreshing. I also noticed that my wallet was lighter than I liked and with more shopping due later in the afternoon, I looked for an ATM machine to withdraw more cash – not all stalls accepted credit cards (plus people warned me of credit card data misuse in smaller markets). The afternoon was spent in checking out the areas that are thronged by the European tourists – the footwear, leather jacket and crockery section. This was a bargain hunter’s paradise.

The buyers got off the trains at the train station near D Street and followed the horde of investors who headed in that direction. Everyone had enough cash for their bargain purchases. So they went after everything that looked cheap. So if a real-estate company was being hawked as a fantastic bargain – the D Boyz flocked to that counter and bought so much that the economic forces of high demand and limited supply pushed the prices up steeply – and yet there were buyers waiting… and as Oracles showed the way to successful information technology, everyone followed it to perk up the IT stocks … while another Oracle from Omaha zipped through different cities of India (nowhere near D Street), and spread good words, deeds and generally invited the D Boyz to make more money on D Street and later asked them to empty some of it on the poorer Boyz of the street. I am not sure how many of the D Boyz will take those philanthropic steps – but the first part of his statement is something they will all follow….. and they did it this week by perking up the SENSEX 937 points to 18815. And they still have more cash available for more buys.

And the most interesting stall I saw in the crockery and leather section was the international courier company’s. It was a fully functional office that had packers and handlers who expertly bubble-wrapped the fragile chinaware and stacked them into double lined corrugated cardboard boxes, and stuffed the empty space around the packed items with Styrofoam chips and balls. The English were buying British Wedgewood Dinner service sets and simply handing them over to the couriers to be sent directly home,…. so that they are left with little baggage to carry home. Just before we left, we browsed through the plants market where orchids, ginger lilies and other ornamental flowering plants were being vended for pennies – very tempting for wannabe green fingers like me, so I picked up 2 pots of orchids that I would carry back home to sunny, humid Bombay!

Have a nice weekend… Cheers …

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The Langurs atop the Palash


 Update for week ended 18 March 2011

The black-faced langurs were chattering away furiously. One female langur was busy grooming her baby as the rest of the troop atop the leafless Palash tree lazed on the branches in the mild spring sun. some were busy surveying the surrounding plains, now quite brown and dry after a dry winter. The chital, spotted deer, were grazing fearlessly on the plains. Many generations ago, the deer had to fight for their space against humans as the tribal villagers chopped down trees, and cleared forests to make way for their huts and little farmsteads. They also had to contend with sharing the grass with the herds of cattle and goats tended by the tribal boys. But the nationalization of the park, and subsequent resettlement of the tribals to areas outside the core forest area, left the land fallow to allow for regrowth of the fauna. This land was now the grasslands of the forest park that had over 70 tigers, at least 4 types of deer, the stoutly built gaurs or Indian bisons, leopards, jungle cats, boars, sloth bears, jackals, hunting dogs and numerous birds apart from the langorous langurs, not including others from the animal kingdom like amphibians, reptiles, insetcts, anthropods, etc, etc. The langurs acted like the watchdogs for all the herbivores, climbing up the tree-tops, and keeping the watchful eye for the predators, especially the big dreaded striped cat! The palash tree was not their favourite spot, as it usually did not have a good leaf cover for most of the year, especially in the sunny spring season. But another delight invited them to these dry and stark branches these days. The fresh new blossoms. The tips of the branches would suddenly sprout out new life each March with a bust of the deepest scarlet that anyone has seen. And the flowers would attract insects including ants – the “omnivoric” combination of the flower petals, and the ants and other bugs would entice the simians to gather on these branches to feast under the hot Indian sun. The fresh flowers would also have enough nectar to quench their thirst for a while, and though langurs are also known to eat other smaller mammals like rodents or rabbits, the feast on these palash flowers would stain their canines into a deep red as though they had just devoured a fowl or hare. That is the power of the flower of the Palash or the Flame Trees or the Flame of the Forest, which also find their way into human life.

The stark D Street was getting hot as spring sprung itself onto the D Boyz. And the unusually hot weather caused by swelling tides in lands of the rising sun, made it rather unbearable for the D Boyz to venture out for most of the week. They were busy tracking progress of nuclear fusion and fission and getting so confused between the two (cannot blame them, as they never studied their physics in school well – preferring to stick to accountancy and math), that if on one day they cheered the SENSEX up, the next they frightened or spooked it down. The flaming trees on D Street had also burst out blooming and their scents floated in the really hot dry air of D Street , pushing the temperatures higher than the 41.7oC that the rest of the city baked to. At the end of the week, the D Boyz felt like Xerxes’ Persian army that was defeated at Thermopylae – defeated by 300 Spartans; as the SENSEX was battered 300 points down. Down from 18178 to 17878.

The tribals who lived in the forest, used to chase these langurs away, as they climbed the Palash trees in early March to collect the fresh blossoms of the Flame Tree flowers. They would dry the flowers in the hot sun and then powder them to prepare the dye for their festival of colours that followed the full moon night. Of course, this was more potent than the colours that people in cities use, as it is fast and stained anything, including the bronze skins of the boisterous festival revellers for weeks on end. Some of the matriarchs also used this dried “flower dye” to colour their garments and ornaments and at times, paint little patterns on the mud walls of their kraal-like homesteads. Today, these tribals, buy chemical colours from the local village market, and can wash off their stains, on the drying beds of the seasonal rivers that flow out of the forest.

Cricket, a Full Moon festival celebrating another fight of Good over Evil, followed by the festival of spring, will keep people busy this weekend. I wish you all a very happy time, and please enjoy the celebrations, eat well, don’t cause trouble, and stay away from trouble too.

Have a safe weekend …. Cheers….

Gallops


Update for week ended 11 March 2011

Al-Hasnal was not academically oriented. His parents were migrants and they lived in the shanty town not very far from the city central station. The Hindu Muslim riots in 1947 had forced them to flee from their hometown near the Sarayu River and seek refuge in this cosmopolitan city by the Arabian Sea. They spent their initial years mingling in with the rest of the residents of the shanties, and Al, as he was called, got into rough company. So by the age of 14, he was suspended from school, after slapping his female school teacher and he spent more time roaming the streets of the town picking pockets and betting on street-side gambling dens. In his early twenties, he moved to the nearby city of Poona, as he graduated to following the horses and their fortunes from the Mahalaxmi Race-course to the Poona Racecourse. His ability to bribe the jockeys, the trainers and influence bookies made him a notorious but successful regular at the races. Al’s turning point came when a racehorse owner stepped in try and stem the rot that had set into the races. Al just shot the industrialist in the stables, as the jockey and the trainer looked on, stunned. He then just left after bolting the stable door, stood outside, took out his golden cigarette case, pulled out a filter cigarette and put it to his lips. He looked at the stable, clucked with the cigarette dangling from his lips and then bent his head as he fished out a lighter from his pocket. He walked back to the stable, and raised his sparse eyebrows questioningly to the two live men in the stable. They were ashen faced and looked once at the lifeless body of their now dead employer, said a silent prayer under their breaths and quietly slipped out of the stable though the side door. The jockey led the filly with him. Al then lit his cigarette, bent down to pick up some dry hay-roll. He lit it with the still burning lighter and threw the burning ball into the stable. He turned his back to it and tossed the lighter backwards into the raging fire. It exploded within a few seconds and the whole wooden stable was afire. Al just walked on to his car and drove off. The cops could not piece together the mysterious death of the industrialist. Strangely there were “no witnesses” to the incident, the body was charred beyond recognition except for the signature 2 carat diamond solitaire found from his melted ring. The Race King was anointed, without any opposition. Al ruled the turf and hob-nobbed with the changing political hotshots. He could get them the land to build their banks, he could arrange for the conversion of marginal farmland into “cooperative” sugar cane plantations and even dairy farms. He knew how to please the political mandarins in Delhi, as he arranged for their special trips to the tax havens like Mauritius and Switzerland, purportedly to help the local “farmers” learn better cane cultivation from the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago and get indepth knowledge of how to raise cattle and improve milk productivity from the Alpine Cowherds. And on these trips, Al also managed to stop over at Geneva’s lakeshore-facing baroque styled buildings, where he held secretive meetings. Al knew how to move money from the “controlled economy” back home to the shores of the source of the Rhone.  

As the D Boyz struggled through the week, they were shocked at the brazen arrogance of a person who had shot to the limelight for evading taxes totting upto mindboggling levels, like being able to fund the entire Health Budget of the government for 2011-12. Feeling sick, the Boyz, could not control their BPs as well as their SENSEX, as it shuddered with them. The brazen gent feigned illness, stuck to his wheelchair, complained of stomach pains and diabetes. But the Judge did not hear him out and knew that he was bad actor; however, the cops still didn’t know how to book him. So his horse stables remain intact, as he is quizzed more by the investigative agencies. The D Boyz just looked askance and swayed with the international markets – so if a tsunami hit Japan, they followed their Taiwanese and Chinese counterparts dropping the SENSEX. All in all – the SENSEX ended 312 points down from last week – at 18174.

The cops turned to the revenue service guys for help and the Economic Offences wing snooped around and “stumbled” onto a CD containing Swiss account details of Al. They rushed to arrest him, but could not authenticate the CD and the Swiss bankers wont talk – they are sworn to secrecy. And why would they squeal – they have bigger problems heading their way as Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians are rushing to the city by the lake that houses over 125 nationalities. Of course, not all of the citizens in this city are rich bankers or their clandestine clients, but there are refugees, and diplomats, educationists, activists and occasional tourists, too.

Any ways, Al led (and continues to lead) a life on the dangerous side and who knows, he may never get indicted, but that should not stop us from doing what we do every day. Lead a nice and happy life, spend time with your family and play with your children, tell them stories or make them their favourite sandwich. Watch a movie or a game or just simply go shopping or for a walk. Do whatever you want this week, but take care and be safe.

Have a nice weekend … Cheers …….

In the Hills of Kerala


Update for week ended 4 March 2011

It was a drive that took us at least 750 feet above the hillstation of Munnar – bumpy with uphill and downhill drives, but still in the mountains. The route took us through verdant jungles that hug the Munnar tea estates, but never attempting to crowd out the green canopy of rolling hills. A few distractions along the way included an elephant that was trudging along with its mahout atop – perhaps en route to a lumbering site nearby; then there were waterfalls gurgling down the rocky slopes; and little teashops that cropped up around the corners to give us that hot cuppa which was cheered in the chilly hills. And then we saw the board that indicated that we had to take the detour onto a dirt track and then we went climbing up another hill. What was striking was that the green forest was giving away to little “grass gardens” in a few places and then getting crowded out by tall trees, to give way again to the green gardens. The size of the gardens kept enlarging as we climbed the hill towards our resort for the night. It was a little planter’s bungalow with its quaint tiled roof and wide patio outside. The 2 mastiffs guarding the gates added to the charm of the place. This was a Cardamom Estate owned by a friendly retired Malayali Professor and his family. He had turned the place into a little resort with 4 rooms and was waiting at the verandah to greet me. It could not have got more personal and warm. After I quickly freshened up, our Professor was ready to show me around the estate and introduce me to the green spice. We walked a few yards out of the cottage and we were in the “middle” of the estate – grass or lily-like shrubs with long leaves grew in little clumps around us – not very tall, about 90 – 100 cms tall and I kept wondering whether this was the nursery for the cardamoms. And then the professor bent down on his knees and asked me to look close. At the stalks closer to the ground, below the leaves were tiny green pods growing serially along a few “stems”. The green pods looked like peas, only that they were like triangular prisms with some dried petals on an end and I was introduced to the aromatic spice of these hills, the green cardamom. I could not believe that these were indeed the same black seeds that sometimes flavoured my tea or my Indian sweetmeats. They looked so fresh and glossy – and then I was urged to pick one and crush it lightly between my index finger and thumb. I sniffed my fingers and this indeed was the spice – only milder. The professor informed me that these were picked, sorted and dried in the mild sun of this hilly Kerala hamlet before being sold in the Spice Auctions of Cochin. The subtle spice had a very subtle existence in these hills – and after ambling about for a few more minutes, I headed back to the cottage, it was getting misty and cold here.

The general green atmosphere spread across D Street this week. The D Boyz stayed in the green territory all week long, at times going up sharp gradients (like on Tuesday) and at times, bumping downwards a bit, but the crisp air blowing form the Hills of Kerala was too heady for the D Boyz, pushing up the SENSEX 747 points up to end at 18486 points  – no surprise, as the Delhi Bengali read out statistics that did not shake anyone, nor empty too many pockets. Moreover, the green flag flutterer of Maghreb also saw some direction to their struggle, easing oil prices. The green palak at local markets were still vended at Rs 2 per bunch. 

That evening, I was served some local food and it was topped with a milk pudding flavoured with cardamom – it was a dreamy sequence since the pudding was light, yet firm and the flavour was there alright, not overpowering or understated. I don’t know if it was the cook’s perfection, the heady hills and its cool climes or just the tired and hungry me, devouring everything that was laid at the dinner table.

Post the fasts of Wednesday past, there are feasts planned this weekend, as some following a Mid-Eastern originated faith will tuck into meats before they turn vegetarians starting mid next week!

Have a nice weekend .. Cheers…….