Tuesday, December 18, 2012

3 fests in 3 cities

Come December, the three cities I have been associated with hosts 3 annual fests. One for handmade arts, crafts, the second for music and the third for sugar cakes.

The first in the list is the festival of Arts, crafts, handlooms. I like handicrafts and handlooms. And so when there is a mela  organized for that,you can bet I am there. Especially the December All india arts and crafts mela which happens at the city where I live, Hyderabad. The venue is the crafts village, Shilparamam. Anything I write about this will be a repeat of this. This year on Sunday,  I quickly picked up arts and crafts from Gujarat, Kashmir, West Bengal and that elusive reclining Ganesha which I mentioned in one of my older posts.

The second fest happens in Chennai,my birth place. This city experiences concert tourism  this month and draws music lovers from all over the world;  predominantly in the genre of carnatic music.  This fest begins on the tamil month Margazhi and  so is known as Margazhi Isai vizha( margazhi is the tamil month, isai is music and vizha is fest) or december kacheri(concert). An year or so back, i wrote an article on this for 'I love madras. Anything i write about this will be a repeat of this article "Margazhi, music and my memories"

And last but not the least, the third fest in my list captures the yuletide mood of the city I was raised in  and lived, Bangalore. 

Every festival is connected to some tradition or the other. But so often, we don't know why we do the things we do. Fact is that the smallest custom goes back a long way.

 Another festival which is an amalgamation of different legends, myths and faiths from across the world is Xmas. Everybody has their own special memories and my Xmas memories revolve around Bangalore’s famous high street,  Brigade road. The whole road would be festooned with christmas lights and the road  is closed to vehicular traffic till the newyear. You can amble, stroll  on this street with huge Santas for company  without the fear of being run down by a vehicle. 

                         Brigade road dressed with christmas and new year lights, The traders association of this road do a similar dressing during diwali and offer lot of gifts through raffles

The twinkling festooned serial lights, stars  and the huge Santas distributing sweets to little kids will scream that New year carnivals don’t happen only in Goa, but also in places like Bangalore’s high fashion street, Brigade road.  And one of the corner building on the road ,Nilgiris nest( a boarding hotel), are the ones who organize and hosts this special fest, called the annual Nilgiri's Sugar cake exhibition.  The ground floor of the building is the supermarket called Nilgiris, the first supermarket which started in 1905 and stocks the best diary products and baked goodies. Their signature rich  bake called  Nilgiris Plum cakes  has that bitter sweet taste, which  for me has no parallels . I am yet to taste a plum cake which can beat this taste. 

                                          The nilgiris product range
Apart from the rich plum cakes, they have chocolate Xmas tree, kalkals, Marzipan, Yule logs and other Christmas goodies. But the highlight of their creations  are displayed  at The St. Josephs school grounds, Vittal Mallya road. They  host an unique exhibition called the sugar cake exhibition during Xmas time. This exhibition which is around 40 years old  has earlier had giant sugar cake replicas of Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore Palace, seven wonders of the world like Macchu Picchu, Taj MAhal and then the Buckhingham palace, Eiffel tower etc. Each cake is made with powdered sugar, gelatin, colored and flavoring agents and lot of man hours. The Master piece cakes are usually as big  as15 feet in height and can be anywhere between 30-50 feet wide.  The rest of the models are smaller in size. There are atleast 15 exhibits of which 10 are won by the viewing public through raffle tickets. The exhibiton has an entry ticket and the amount raised from this goes to the charity. The cakes are also not sold and are given to children in orphanages.

Some of their sugar crafts at the annual exhibits 

                                      A sugar cake model of The taj hotel mumbai, the replica was made the year blasts occured at leopald.
                            The Buckingham palace and the big ben, the men working on the model look half the size of the model

                                                           A model of Bangalore palace.

                             Wonders of the world -  Taj mahal and christ the redeemer, rio

                                                      a smaller model cake of a bride
                                                                the shoe house
                    This years flavor symbolizing communal harmony- a  pentagon symbolising the five faiths, temple, church, masjid, pagoda( buddhism), gurudwara 22feet wide and 16 feet in height

This art was mastered by one of the 3rd generation  owner of this enterprise. His desire for sugar modelling took him to Europe,where he visited Swiss, holland, Germany. He was inspired by the cake models  that he saw in Belgium and learnt this art there. My sister a nutritionist and dietician who worked here as food technologist in the late 90's and early 2K was the originator of their ready mixes and the source of this info. 

image courtesy: Google

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An euphoric evening at the auditorium

  It was a beautiful evening and a special one at that.  It was my daughter’s ex-school’s  and my son's annual day function which happens at the fag end of the year.  We were one of the special invitees for the function. Every year the function is based on a theme  llike here. This year's theme was " Krishna ke anek rang, radha aur meera ke sang". 

  I entered the  auditorium a bit late, my  husband dropped me at the venue enroute to the airport.   I occupied  the corner seat near the exit door when the chief guest was giving his speech.  A feeling of pride enveloped me as I was a privileged invitee to be there along with 19 other proud parents of achievers in the Standard X exam.  The chief guest's speech would be followed by the awards function and then the cultural program.

As I sat there, waiting for the awards function and my daughter’s name to be announced, my mind raced back to the first day when my dot started her schooling.  After a lot of vacillations between should we put her in a montessori  or a proper school, we decided to put her in a  ICSE school in Bangalore at the age of 2.6

 I  took her to school on the first day, the usually bubbly child was teary eyed that day  but never spoke out her fears. She appeared in control  and recited the shloka of “ yaakundendu tushara haara davala …” after me,  and my matured dot tried to conceal  her tears. She diverted my attention from her by showing me a poster of "Stuart little" pasted on the wall enroute.  She was also  infact concerned about her two month old baby bro back home.

  On reaching school, when she went into the arms of her smiling and welcoming teacher Suma Lokesh and seeing other children she seemed normal and happy.  It was my turn to be teary eyed. With a heavy heart I left her at school and thus started the journey of our lovely girl child  and she moved into this CBSE school when we shifted  here.  She beautifully balanced her studies, arts, music and sports and won many allrounder awards and co-scholastic  certificate of excellence without any external tuitions. 

 She never crammed or rushed during exam times or never believed in studying a week before her exams. She would do follow-ups on a daily basis, played and attended her music and art classes even a day prior to her final exam.  A child who is sensible and sensitive to other’s needs that sometimes  I wish she  put herself before others.( a mom’s heart you see)

And  13 years later, there I was seated in the auditorium with bated breath to witness  the awards function. The announcer called out my dot’s name and said “Toppers award for securing CGPA 10 in the AISSE”.  I clapped and clapped till my heart’s content along with the other invitees.  Tears of joy filled my eyes , recording that moment as one of unforgettable moments of my life when I got goosebumps too.  I turned around to see everyone in the auditorium clapping for her and that euphoric moment became another special moment worth recording.

                                                                A glimpse of the evening

                                  ( a diagonal shot from my seat, the school does not allow parents to click photos)
My husband unfortunately missed the event due to his travel plans.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kadlekayi Parishe - When bean town goes nuts

  At any traditional Indian  wedding, the groom and the bride would be busy with the rituals. For people around them   it would be a gala time.  Especially when you have a close set of cousins and fun loving aunts and uncles with whom we share great camaraderie, then these weddings are fun fests where we  relive and make lot of  memories.  That too  my paternal side  of uncles and aunts know not what generation gap is.  My  cousins, aunts and uncles along with my younger sis & parents would be having a gala time today in Bangalore.  My cousin brother is getting married today & We could’nt mark our  presence  as scheduled because we had to prioritize our daughter's exam.  Like me many cousins who stay far away  are also missing this event.

During my course of telecon with my cousin on Saturday, she said they were all planning to go to the “ Kadlekai parishe” after the temple wedding .

“Kadlekai parishe"?  Oh!   I almost forgot about this event that  happened in Bangalore  until she mentioned and as usual the nostalgic person in me traveled back in time.

 Well, I decided I will virtually travel to  the fair while they would be present physically and there it goes..... all about it..... The  Kadlekai parishe  -  a 2 day fair  when  bean town* Bangalore goes nuts.  Kadlekai is ground nut in kannada and parishe is fair and so this is a fair for groundnuts.  This fair that happens on the last Monday of the Hindu month  of Karthik  and this is unique to  Bangalore.

  Much before TV,  Malls, themeparks, resorts ,technology, deadlines and gadgets ruled us,   fairs like these were outings for us.  And this Kadlekai parishe despite the malls, themeparks, and resorts  continues its celebration in Bangalore.

 Every festival has a legend behind it and this fest too has a legend. Before Bengaluru metamorphised into a world class silicon city, this city was divided into  areas like Guttahalli, Mavalli, Dasarahalli, hosahalli, sunkenahalli etc.,( halli in kannada means village).  These areas had lots of groundnut farms around it.  Every full moon day  many  bulls(Nandi) would charge into the groundnut fields around sunkenahalli  and destroy the crops. The farmers who incurred losses then made a plea to Nandi( vehicle of Lord Shiva) to stop this and pledged to offer their first crop of their harvest to the god.  Meanwhile an enraged farmer is said to have killed a bull. Subsequently an idol of Basava ( bull or nandi in kannada) is supposed to have been found close by and this idol was growing rapidly. The farmers nailed an iron peg like trishul  on the idol to stop its growth , which is still visible when you visit this temple today at Basavanagudi, Bangalore. Later, A temple was built around this by the founder of Bangalore, Kempegowda. This temple is one of the oldest temples  and thus this fair is said to be five centuries old and the suburb  came to be known as Basavanagudi. ( Basava is bull and gudi is temple). Today this ancient temple is one of the tourist attraction of Bangalore and this suburb is one of the oldest suburbs.

The huge nandi( bull ) and the trident on the top of the statue   which was hit on the head to stop the growth of the bull idol 

                                                The nut fair along the street pavement

 The fair at night 

To this day, many farmers still keep up the word and the farmers of surrounding towns and villages come with their  harvest to sell the different types of groundnuts.
During this fair, the  Bull temple road, the road named after the temple  is blocked for vehicular traffic and the farmers sell their groundnut harvests on either sides of the roads. The nuts are spiced, salted, fried, roasted, boiled, sugar coated etc.,.  There are also many things that you see  like in any Indian fair along the pavements  like merry go round, play things, cotton candies, toys like flutes, bugles, astrologers with parrots, puffed rice, colorful sugar candies, kitchen items, fancy articles,  and decorative items like terracotta products etc. I remember buying a mud piggy bank here when I was a child.

I have visited this fair in  my childhood and  later during my teen years. My college was close to this place and the bugle rock park behind  the temple was  our favorite hangout for us friends.  One of the other stories that I have heard during these times was that the nut shells  which would be strewn after the fair would be no where around the place the next day. The myth is that the Nandi clears the nutshells.  There is no historical evidence for such stories, but these stories fascinated us and we grew up with such stories.

My paternal cousins are going to relive the memories and today evening may be I will hear more stories  from them.

For us Indians, celebrations never end and we keep celebrating nature, food, land, gods, city etc. In today’s seamless world,  regional fests or fairs like these are what distinguishes one city from another. Don't you think? 

* Bangalore is the colonial name for Benda kalu ooru- meaning the city of boiled beans)

Image courtesy: Google

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Some mommy moments - 2

Any achievement small or big  by our child will make us - the tribe of parents proud.   That is why you will find many of us parents blogging  about our child's first step,first smile,  gurgle, smart baby talks and later as they grow up we blog about their achievements big and small. Even I as a parent was proud when my child took that first step, at their first gurgle, first tumble , first spoken word etc., I had captured those precious moments in my camcorder.

   But, it will also be an embarrassing moment for many children, my children don’t like when I put status messages about their achievements. Even I would feel the same when my parents talk or praise about me to others.  It is so embarrassing for the children but only when we become parents we realize that we are so proud that we do brag or blog about many such moments. My children give me many such bragging or blogging moments.

Especially  the proudest moments  come  when the world around them recognizes them and compliments  them, then  that becomes such a huge mommy moment worth recording.

At home, I and my son are like the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. You will never find my son seriously studying school books, but he  will always be busy with his daily dose of cartoons, FIFA 13 time, real play time forming teams and playing matches against other teams. I live in a place where there are enough children to raise more than 20 soccer/ cricket teams and with an intercom to connect them,  it is difficult to pin this boy away from his play time. As if this was not enough he has many extra curricular activities like fiddling with gadgets like camera, tab, wii games etc and he is always on highgrounds when experimenting with these things, no wonder he made a newton's car here.

I am not against children playing but I  want my son to mark some time for his daily studies and avoid cramming during exam time.  Like Tom chasing jerry, I keep chasing him from room to room to pin him down for his daily dose of revision. But boy,  he escapes like jerry all the time.  I lose my energy and give up finally.  He would do his daily dose of homework though with earplugs hanging from his ears and his eyes fixed on the cartoons. His books will be everywhere around the house but you will never find him beside it. If ever by mistake,  he picks the book you will find him sleepy.

 To pin him down is easier for me with a stern action, but he manages to melt me with that beautiful smile and a sweet “Please Ma, konjam relax panikkren” ( mom, I will relax  a bit) or when I get angry and shout, he gives me a glass of cool water and says “ TACP, Ma” ( Take a chill pill, ma).  His matured talks and his sense of humour sometimes melts my heart and I give up. HE is such a happy go lucky child who will not crib or cry when he loses or neither does he raise up to the skies when he wins and so enjoys every moment of life in a balanced way. His status message on any of social networking site like skype will read “I am a happy boy"

But  how he manages not to put us  in awkward position is still a matter of pride for me. He came romping home last week telling us that he was nominated for the prefect council ( 30 selected among 300 children across all sections of 8th grade to shoulder the responsibilities of the school  like assistant head boy, head girl, assistant sports captain etc., by  assisting the 9th grade and Xth grade children).  These children are selected by the teachers based on the overall  activitites like curriculum and co-curriculum like discipline, behavior  with peers , teachers etc.,.

Again,  it was one of those PTA meetings and he never let us down.

Every PTA moment has been a memorable event  for me as all his teachers have heaped praises on him, not only on his academic performance  but also for his inquisitiveness, maturity exhibited beyond his age and that he is a responsible child. Though his sister has set a wonderful precedent for him in the school , his teachers never compare him with her.   Unlike my dot  who beautifully balances studies, sports, arts and other extracurricular he is not a topper in his class( not even in the top 10 because atleast  6 competitive children get 98%)  and has a bad handwriting to boot, but  his English teacher says that there are lot of insightful ideas and thoughts behind his scrawl.  His maths teacher tells me that his ability to crack HOTS( high order thinking skills) amazes her .  His science teacher says that his creative thinking skills and his doubts and questions forces her to refer external books.  When I told his teacher that he never studies at home and if I should consider external tuitions for him now since he is going to higher classes and all his peers go for the IIT & NEET coaching, she said “ Your son can tutor 3 – 4 children himself, he needs no tuitions, he is playful. He will be responsible with his studies and  I tell you most children  watch tv, nothing new about it. He is fine, he listens in the class, understands the concepts clearly and most important he knows how and when to apply them".

WOW! at those words i felt like the richest person in the world and started blogging about this and hence this brag post.  i can't balance emotions like  my son, you see:)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Divine cuisine - Neivedyam and prasadam

Whenever I visit the Skandagiri  temple  and walk out with the prasadam, I end up thinking what is it with the prasadam that has this fulfilling taste and will give you satiation when you have even just a little from that small shallow leaf cup.  It is less than a ladle but you feel your dinner is complete  and the taste , oh so…. Heavenly!

Is it the ritualistic cooking  that goes into the making of the Neivedyam( offering to god)?

I have visited many temples where the visit is completed with the prasadam and everywhere I have experienced  such divine taste.  Most big  temples that I have visited have huge halls where meals are served and  the food offered here is  sattvic meal. 

One of them  that I have often visited  is the ISKCON temple near my parents home, here  though commercially it is called ‘Annakuta’ . 

 According to higher taste of ISKCON( Higher taste is their publication), the wholesome meal is cooked according to vedic scriptures  without the use of onions, garlic, eggs, caffeine and is never over- spiced and the food thus prepared is offered to god as ‘Neivedyam’. This food when partaken after offering to god with vedic vibrations sanctifies the food and renders the food tasty and is  called ‘Prasadam'.

                                ( Jagannath temple prasadam counter photo taken from my mobile)

 The food is cooked  according to the satvic principles of Vedas.  The food is  thus  created with positive vibrations & thoughts  and cleanses  both body and mind. It also keeps us healthier.  I have read that the important factor that goes into ritualistic cooking is that it is made with good thoughts.  While cooking the thoughts play a major role in the outcome.  The thoughts of the cook flow into the food that we cook and have their impact on it and so one should not cook food when one is angry and stressed .And, also the cleanliness/hygiene of the cooks and the vibrations of the various mantras they chant while cooking must be rendering the divine taste to the food. 

 At home too, it is a practice among my family elders in our native place   to treat cooking like a ritual. They cook food only after having their bath. They cook on slow fire  in special vessels which endow the taste and aroma , they  chant mantras while cooking. The food is first offered to God  along with ghee, then to  crows and then served to people at home. Perhaps the reason why it tastes divine and satiating. Food had with such positive vibrations peacefully are supposed to be healthy. 

There are many such places of worship which are famous for prasadam, some of which I have had the pleasure of  experiencing were -

  1. The foremost is ofcourse  at Tirupati  – the GIS marked Laddu, dadhiyodanam(curd rice) and puliogre( tamarind rice).
  2. At Udipi (Karnataka)which  is called Anna brahma kshetra( where food is treated as god) there is a huge hall catering to the devotees and serves food to all the devotees.
  3. At Sri kshetra Dharmasthala again in Karnataka.
  4. The sattvic meal at Ramanasramam( Sri Ramana maharishi's ashram). Here you will find many foreigners squatting on the floor and eating with their fingers from plaintain leaf as if they were born with the practice.
  5.  The puliogre of most Vishnu temples especially the one at Devagiri( Bangalore). My in-laws would wait till 1.p.m( closing time) at the temple on Saturdays because my then 5 year old daughter loved this and would wait to grab it.
  6. The thambittu( made with jaggery, ghee & riceflour on festive days) at most kannadiga homes.
  7. The ksheera ( sugar, rava &ghee) during satyanarayana vrat
  8. The kadubu( fried modaks) during sankatahara chaturthi
  9. The aravana payasam of sabarimala, Kerala( rice kheer made with  jaggery)
  10. The paal payasam @ guruvayoor( made with milk and rice)
  11. The pazhani panchamirtham (tamilnadu) ( medley of fruits, honey and palmsugar)
  12. The pongal at ISKCON, Bangalore  and the various Krishna Prasad like pizza, burger, vegan biscuits, cakes. Yes, every vegan product here is sold in the name of Krishna Prasad and it tastes divine.
  13. The sundals( usal) at various homes during navratri visits.
  14. The snake pit mud at kukke subramanya( remember this temple site got more hits when Sachin tendulkar visited)
  15. The tilgul of shirdi( made with sugar and til)
  16. The  sugar balls of varanasi and most temples up in the north.
  17. The haldi at Saraswati temple, and the brahma temple @ Trichy
                 ..... and  many more I am leaving this list incomplete..........

Would you care to add yours in the comments section?

Friday, November 23, 2012

...... more about Anantgiri

The next day morning we woke up to the song call of birds and stepped on the balcony to see the valley veiled with mist. Closer below,  in the resort garden,  there were many  exotic birds hopping on the ground. We  found a bird with copper sulphate blue and dark blue plumes.

We decided to go sighting  birds so that we could find some exotic birds in their natural habitat and our  teens were eager to capture them in the new camera. They had gone through many online photgraphy  journals  the day before we started so that they could shoot some pictures.
 We  left our room  armed with camera but before driving out we hopped into the cafeteria for tea. We found that the cook arrived only at 7.30 and there would be no tea till then. The next tea shop is 6 kms downhill at Vikarabad or the one opposite the temple. We drove to the temple site and had tea outside the hotel.
As we were sipping tea , the sun was slowly peeping leaving a lovely morning weather. This was supreme driving weather  and we wanted to make use of it. We decided to explore and find where the road to the temple’s right would take us. (the road opposite to vikarabad)  and so off we went for  a joy drive early in the morning.
As we travelled down the road  for a kilometer, we saw there were many lorries giving us company. The road was excellent without any potholes and after a km, we found we were driving down hill, the road went in circles and we saw the real terrain here. Rocky and dry vegetation,  we could see a lake in the far end , we decided to drive there.
The destination of the joy ride  was the lake but due to a misguiding or miscommunication between a villager and me, we found ourselves  driving onto some plains on the right side amongst flower farms and tuvar dal farms, cabbage patches. The village which we entered by mistake had village houses with unique roofs. The roofs had stone slabs stacked one over the other. From the road, I could even see women using the chakki for grinding some grains.  A sight which I had seen in movies and in some urban museums depicting village life. This was a surprising sight as well. Most houses had dish antenna but relied on stone grinders instead of mixies.  I later came to know from a resort worker that this place was called Tandur and is famous for the famous tandur blue and yellow stones. These stone slabs are used for wall cladding and flooring and the creative people of tandur have even used them for roofing.  This was once the fluorishing and prospering town during the Nizam's times.  The rich forests in the nearby areas were the hunting grounds for the rulers of Golconda. But due to deforestation, many wildlife like tigers don't thrive here any more.  The stone slabs are transported to many places in India and abroad and now that explains those lorries which must have been on the way to the quarry. 
 the houses at tandur village, here the women were using chakki to grind. I heard later that jowar roti called bakri is the staple of the folks here. Perhaps, they were grinding the same( wish i had clicked that too).

                                    don't miss the dish tv antenna on the roof top and the roofing of course

Now,  that was indeed an unique joy ride and we drove uphill (resort) for breakfast and left for our trek. The same trail through those 50 steep steps, past the temple tank and three  kms into the forest amongst wild insects, trekking through some zig zag paths, bushes, chasing butterflies,  crossing brooks and listening to the calls and chirps of some unknown but beautiful birds. How i felt here  away from civilization( except for the off and on mobile network ) is something i won't succeed putting in words. The forest was'nt dense but it definitely was lonely and for me it was quite a task to pull out my adrenaline junkie family out of the forest.  We spent more than three hours there.
Perhaps the pictures taken by my teens can paint a picture. 

 My dot wanted to test one of the technic she had read about photography the previous day. to make the back ground hazy and the object sharp. She did it the other way round. hence the sharp background contrasting the hazy parrot.
 the size of the spider not just surprised me  but also made me wonder how much the forest provided for these to thrive. There were many such on our pathway.
             yeah, not very dense you can see the sun filtering in,  the pathway was easy.
                             some tree inter connections are fun for children to climb, hang and swing
                               this contrast in barks and the twining was interesting and there were many like these
                                                little  clear water streams that we crossed
                                         all these were grown enroute and we hoarded some home
                                                                           the tuvar dal plants in tandur 

 This is one of the easiest trek paths we had taken so far. (The toughest was at Abbey falls in coorg with leeches for company, but we were 13 years younger than). My energy levels have dipped since then.
We had an excellent time no doubt on that. But, was this the hunting grounds of the yesteryear kings? Sadly, we have lost lot of forest cover and we did'nt spot any wild boar or any animal not even a snake. This place was supposed to have had  good population of tigers once upon a time. Perhaps,  they have been the victims of animal-human conflict. It was evident from the amount of plastics strewn by the tourists and trekkers inside the forest other than the sharp edges of liquor bottles.  

Reams and reams have been/ are written in global press about conservation , protection, creating awarenss and threats to ecological balance and nature. The protection that nature provides for free might prove dear to replace unless some serious steps are taken. A nilam here and a sandy there often remind us to take care of the planet. 

Anyways, i put these thoughts aside, travelled down hill  to Vikarabad and found a beautiful mess which served homemade food by a lady.  After our lunch, we headed back home  hoarding  back some farm fresh vegetables  and we travelled into the festive city which was all decked up for Diwali. We did  some last minute festival shopping.
The next day, Just like you all, we too enjoyed Diwali :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An affair with nature @ Anantgiri,Vikarabad

It was a long Diwali weekend  and we decided to go camping, trekking, birding  &; exercising our new SLR at a nearby weekend getaway called Anantagiri. Away…away….. from the hustle bustle of the manicured gardens in the city to the lush green natural habitat of flora and fauna for a couple of days.  

Just around 90 kms from Hyderabad and 6 kms from Vikarabad is this hill station in a forest area. This is a surprising feature considering that RangaReddy district in which Hyderabad falls has a landscape of rocks and dry tracts of land.  This hill station is now an upcoming resort and a paradise for  people who love trekking and adventure sports courtesy Deccan trails. This is also the place where River Musi orginates, the river that flows through Hyderabad and divides the old city from the new city. This river is now a gutter in the old city.
 All along as we drove  through Chevella,  it was  a delight to listen to our favourite music and cruise on the road flanked with beautiful vegetable patches, sunflower farms and cotton fields.The whole route was a hub of activity with farmers busy in their fields harvesting carrots, tomatoes, marigold and selling their produce on either sides of roads.
 Our speed of the vehicle was checked by the flock of goats, buffaloes, turkey birds which crossed the roads often.

 We had prebooked our room at Anantgiri Haritha valley view and so guided by our GPS we comfortably reached the hill station. When we were at the gates of the resort, we saw an indicator for the Ananta Padmanabha swamy temple and decided to visit there before  our lunch.
So, we headed straight to the temple which was a km  away and  bang on the main road to Tandur. An ancient rock cut cave temple with a temple tank  dating back 800 years. The temple is beautifully maintained and renovated without disturbing the ancient feel.
The main deity is inside a small cave, The priest narrated the sthalapurana (history) of the temple . The idol was installed by Markendeya muni( Bhakta Markendeya a great devotee of Lord Shiva) and is supposed to be one of the biggest saligramas stone*. Sage Markendeya is supposed to have performed penance here. The temple is believed to be built by a Nizam(muslim king) who is supposed to have rested here during his hunting expeditions. The old  structures like a bridge, dam  around the temple bear testimony to the muslim architecture. 
The rear end of the temple opens to a  fllght of wide but steep platform stairs ( around 50) which leads to the  temple water tank(Pushkarni), enroute the flight down you are flanked by caves, tiny temples, huge banyan trees some as ancient as the temple itself and a dilapidated bridge like structure with arches. Nearby the pushkarni, I could see lots of small  stones arranged one over the other under a tree. The stacking reminded me of  my childhood game called Lagori( 7 stones). This game had  7 stones  stacked one over the other and a ball thrown over the stacking would disturb the arrangement. One has to arrange the stones before you are hit by the ball. Just in case you miss being hit by the ball, you have to stack the stones and shout "LAGORI". 
A similar arrangement here, only, this is a ‘Make a wish’ for devotees. The devotees arrange the stones, make a wish and once fulfilled they come back here, have a bath in the water tank and offer thanks to the little Shivalayam near the tank. The place looked so calm- the temple tank, the little temple with lots of weeds and small saplings over it, the wide expanse of greenery and tall trees clouding  around,  the chirping of the birds. Oh, Simply meditative!
The muddy track from the temple tank led to the forest which was our  trekking trail and one of the two trekking trails in the Anantgiri hills. But we were famished and had walked bare foot so far, we left our shoes at the temple entrance and so decided to come back later. Not that we were fussy about soiling our foot, but  we wanted to take caution from the wild insect bites.  We ascended back the steps over the seasoned granite which had a acupressure on our tired soles  and we drove back and checked into our resort which had a picturesque valley view.
The  buffet lunch was pathetic, very, very  spicy and had all the non-veg spices. Thankfully the "thayir saadam' ( curd rice) saved us. The afternoon hot sun & the late lunch took a toll on me and I suffered a migraine which spoilt the evening. Night dinner was simply awesome at the same resort. I think they have different cooks.

Uh..ho! That’s a pretty long post. Will break the post here and continue my trek story  in the next post. I also have  photos to share.
 (*The Saligrama stone is not believed to be just another stone found in the nature. It is found only at Gandaki River situated high in the Himalayas in Nepal. It is believed that the chakra symbols are formed by river worms called vajra keeta) 
                                                                    The cotton fields                                       

The cotton fields close up

The sunflower farms

                                                      The main gopuram of the temple from the main road.

                           The gopuram of the main deity as seen from the main road. It is at a  good  depth from                the main gopuram meaning you walk down a ramp from the main gopuram to enter the cave temple

                                 The temple tank (pushkarni) at a depth of nearly 50 steep steps from the rear end of the temple

a slice of the resort at night, the valley view was ethereal from our balcony but it was chilly and misty.

Will share more next week.........

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"The Bankster" by Ravi Subramanian

  I have not studied and don't  understand economics or finance but I have interest in the field of economics and banking. This made me  pick up Ravi subramanian’s ‘The bankster’ for review.  I had read his  book “If God was a banker” and was mightly impressed with the book. He had so beautifully narrated in the book how the corporate sectors/banks work. I am sure anybody who works in corporate world  would be able to relate to  the book where you find people with various colors. Associates who are manipulative, scheming, straight forward, aggressive,assertive, sincere, dedicated with integrity etc.

And so when ‘The Bankster’ offer from blogadda came, I picked up the autographed book offer.

                                 The Bankster  by Ravi Subramanian 
                                      Published by rupa publications
                                                       INR 250

"The Bankster" as the name suggests is the story of a banker and  two  gangsters. The trio  are involved in illegal trading of  blood diamonds and arms, money laundering and nuclear power installation politics. How the three work and use the services of  a famous bank called Greater Boston Global Bank( GB2)  is the story.

 There are three stories which run parallely  in Angola, Devikulam(Kerala) and Mumbai as bases, they finally converge as one.

The story begins in Angola, where a CIA agent Joseph Braganza trades arms for the famous blood diamonds.

The second story is at Devikulam in Kerala where a retired NRI Krishna menon now  runs a homestay & protests against the installation of a nuclear plant in his village. He has lost his only son and DIL in the Chernobyl disaster and so has taken a vow that a similar incident should not occur in Devikulam. Here he is helped by a NGO worker Jayakumar in his anti-nuclear protest rallies.

The big story of the three has its base at Mumbai, The greater boston global Bank. The bank which is known for its integrity suddenly finds its reputation tarnished when a series of its sincere employees are killed in  accident and suicide.

A former employee of the bank Karan Punjabi who has now turned journalist finds something fishy about the deaths,  investigates and finds out the employees were murdered. He unravels the mystery  behind the murders and then out tumbles the scams like money laundering, illegal trading of arms/ diamonds and the relation to nuclear protests, thus uniting all the three plots. The climax has an unpredictable twist. At many places, the investigation reminded me of the CID serial.

What I liked about the book was the simple language used.  There were no financial or banking jargon used which would have wanted  a non –finance person like me to google the word. In fact, some of the terms like hold instruction were beautifully defined so that a lay person like me could understand. I liked the i-cloud explanation too, a facility of ipad which I was not aware of. 

Regarding the characters,  I am sure every corporate associate will encounter many Raymonds, Harshitas who are sincere in their work  balancing the scheming Zinaidas and Ruthless Tanuja’s.  For me the story picked up pace after Harshita’s death in the book. From then on the book became unputdownable that I finished at the stroke of 1  knowing very well that I have to get up at 5 next morning.

What I disliked about the book was  the beginning few chapters.  The chapters were toggling between The 3 plots and so I found it difficult to connect. Many a times, I went back to read the story especially the Devikulam  plot.  Similarly,  the description of the bank affairs in the book  somehow  sounded familiar may be because I had read “ If god was a banker”.  The  description of the sewage pipes connection in the Vienna base was too elaborate like a lesson on plumbing. It could have been simple.

I have a mixed feeling about the language Hinglish used in between the conversations. I found them natural as that is how  two colleagues/buddies  speak  in most Indian work place.  At the same time, the dialogues may be difficult to interpret for a person illiterate in Hindi , considering this book is read  around the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hinglish though.

The narration is so realistic at places that you may start doubting your own  bank and your banker friends around you :)

Jokes aside,  Pick up the 358 page banking mystery if you like this genre and it is not a financial  crime thriller as many have  touted it to be. There are no financial jargon that can scare you but a banking thriller  with an unpredictable twist in the climax and a racy second half. Wish he had maintained the first half with good pace too. This book is one of the top 10 bestsellers now. (Courtesy: The Hindu)

About the author:

This  book is  by a banker and finance professional, Ravi Subramanian who began his career in 1993 in Bangalore with the Tatas and IBM and shifted four years later to Chennai, where he worked with ANZ Grindlays Bank. Moving to Delhi, he was with Citibank for five years before shifting his base in 2005 to Mumbai (Shriram Group), where he resides with his bio-technologist wife-turned-banker. He won the golden quill readers choice award for his debut novel "If god was a banker" and he is hailed as the "John Grisham of banking"
                           This bookreview is a part of blogadda book review program

Monday, November 5, 2012

Heaving a huge sigh of relief!

I let a huge sigh of relief today early morning at 3 and thanked god for all the emotional help, i was just waiting for the call. It was a great relief when i heard my hubby from Hyderabad airport.

I felt so restless  between oct 28- november 1st when  hubby was stranded in a hotel in NYC.  Frankenstorm Sandy had brought down the powerlines of NYC  and brought life to a standstill there where the  routine life of a common man was dependant on power. It cut off all communication lines betweeen my family and my husband .  I felt helpless  since none of our friends and relatives in the US could also reach him. His office too tried to reach him to reschedule his tickets. Everyone was worried for him.  It was so unsettling, i stopped watching any news related to Sandy. I did'nt want any negative reports to affect me.

Everytime i felt some negative thoughts crowding my mind, i  looked up to God. I had only faith in god, because when you have faith you know no fear. 

Luckily, the second day, some places like Dunkin donuts were restored power. An indian family near his hotel who had come to recharge his mobile went back home to get food like vada pav and khakras .

 The hotel had stocked  non veg food( we are veggies), fruits and bread. Moreover the  hotel depended on coldstorage for its food preservation. From the third day it could provide fruits and outsourced bread. 

 I was getting restless,  It was then i decided i will google to find out when power would be restored at his place. Guess,  who came to my aid?

 A FB page dedicated to Hurricane Sandy . It gave detailed account with a key mentioning where the power crew were working, where the power was restored, where there was massive outages etc. It also showed the hotel road with a blue dot( maximum outages). And all i did between those days was sit glued in front of the site and watch for the news out there. The news on the site  sounded more authentic than the press.

                ( a smaller version of the power outage map with legends which got updated every 15 minutes)

The site got many stinkers for its slow restoration work and bouquets too. But must appreciate the way, they worked through restoring power by first prioritizing hospitals and removing live wires and solving the root problem. The crew ( the yellow hard hats in the pic)  worked through day and night. The site kept updating the news every 15 minutes and cautioned people not to step on wires or do their own tree trimming work. They patiently addressed the stinker mails.  They gave priority to sms and requests where medical aid was important. The site also was updating news on the second day that the crews of the neighbouring states were sought for help.

Having said all that and appreciating their effort. It made me wonder, why an advanced country like theirs had such a disorganized disaster management. Having known in advance that Hurricane sandy was going to strike them and it was deadlier than the previous ones,  Should'nt an advanced country be well prepared to handle the crisis better. After all, they have even faced Irene last year.  The crews were hired from the neighbouring states only after two to three days.  Today, as i post this, many friends with independant homes have not been restored power. They are back to the olden days of warming up near fireplaces. Chilly winds have begun there.

Only today i am opening newspapers to read about Nilam and Sandy. How mother nature has made us 'powerless'. Perhaps, the reason why our elders worshipped nature and did'nt play with it.

Whatever said, those days were nightmarish for us, now though it can be dubbed as "life time experience".