Friday, July 29, 2011


The drive from Chennai to Alangudi was long! The roads were getting worse and Mr.Ramesh was starting to worry about the health of his brand new Hyundai Accent. “Poor baby! I am putting it through hell”, he thought. Glimpses of his childhood flashed in front of his eyes as his Accent puffed up dust into the eyes of a harmless pedestrian buffalo. He had not visited Alangudi in 10 years. Nothing seemed to have changed. Everything he disliked about this place was still there awaiting his return. “Poverty”, he thought. “Nothing can save this country”!

Ramesh had faced a lot of hardships in his young age. Being a farmer’s son doesn’t really help much, does it? But he was an ambitious lad. He was sure about one thing. He did not want to be like his father. He hated him so much for being poor, vulnerable, uneducated and ordinary. He hated him for being human! But his father loved him and did not want his son to be like him: a poor farmer. That was ironically the one thing they had in common. He toiled hard and made sure his son could go to school. Ramesh was a smart kid and the rest is history. Here he is: The Managing Director of a leading IT company. An over achiever in every sense of the word!

Other than that, nothing has really changed. He still hates his parents for continuing to be ordinary. How can they reject his palatial house in posh urban Chennai for an old hut with a thatched roof? He could not understand how money, comfort or luxury did not matter to some people. “What losers”, he thought. He was half lost in translation when he heard a minor blast. What was that sound? A part of him knew. A flat tire was the icing in the cake to this forgettable drive! “Bloody country roads”, he cursed.

“Need help, sir!” A small boy with a heavy bundle of hay on his head chirped. The boy had never seen such a nice car. Ramesh gave him an odd stare. "Hmm... Yeah.. whatever!" The boy dropped the hay down and started helping Ramesh replace his shiny alloy wheel tires. Twenty minutes passed and they made quick work of it. “There you go sir, your car is ready in a jiffy”. “Thank you”, mumbled Ramesh. He was about to leave, but then for a moment the God inside him took over. “Hey.. let me help you carry your hay home”.

“Boy it is heavy. Don’t you go to school?”
“Yes Sir, I do. I am first rank Sir. Every year! In the evening I help my dad in the farm. My house is just 2 blocks away Sir”.  
“All right, all right. You speak well. Study well, okay”.
“Yes Sir, I will. I want to work for Infosys. Big company Sir. Oh.. there is my father Sir”.

A tall man with broad shoulders in a dhoti and a towel around his neck greeted him with a warm smile. After thanking Ramesh, he lifted the little boy and the hay and walked back home. There was happiness in the eyes of the boy and satisfaction in the eyes of the father! It somehow seemed very familiar!

Ramesh slowly started walking back to his car. Something changed inside him. His heart was heavy. At that moment, he saw it. He saw Ramesh, the little boy who once loved his father for carrying him to school on his shoulders. A tear slowly rolled down his cheeks. For a moment, he felt good to be back home! For a moment, he felt grounded! For a moment, he felt human!

- A short story by Raj.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Before you let your imagination run wild and speculate about my premise here, let me clear the air. Well, this has nothing to do with the timeless classic featuring Zeenat Amman – Asha Bhosle. There is nothing in it for tobacco aficionados either. And certainly it has nothing to do with the forgettable Abhishek Bachchan starrer that sunk without a trace in the box office.

This is an excerpt from one of my lazy afternoon cooking endeavors. Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to Raj’s kitchen again! I have heard a lot about Dum Aloo but I had never taken a stab at it. So I dragged myself out of boredom into the kitchen to something more worthwhile. It wasn’t that difficult and didn’t take too much time. And more importantly didn’t taste bad either! Well.. so without any further ado, let me introduce you to Mr.Dum!

v      Baby Potatoes – 10
v      Onion (finely chopped) - 1
v      Green Chilies – 2
v      Yogurt – ¼ cup
v      Red chilli powder  (ask your taste buds for quantity)
v      Coriander powder - a pinch
v      Turmeric powder - a pinch
v      Garam Masala (ask your taste buds for quantity)
v      Salt (ask your taste buds for quantity)
v      Coriander and lime to garnish

Grind the following into a Paste:
v      Onion – 1
v      Dry red chillies - 2
v      Garlic – 5 flakes
v      Ginger – a pinch
v      Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp
v      Coriander Seeds – 1 tsp
v      2 small tomatoes
v      Cashews (Cashews are my secret ingredient here and they give a unique flavor to the paste)

Aloo Pre-Preparation:
ü       Mildly Boil the baby potatoes (don’t over cook it though)
ü       Prick them all over with a fork (don’t feel shy; just go for it)
ü       Heat oil in a pan and deep fry the potatoes by adding a pinch of salt, turmeric powder and chilli powder. Take them out when they are golden brown.
ü       Now in a cup add a bit of curd, add a tsp each of coriander powder and garam masala powder and mix well
ü       Now soak the fried baby potatoes in this mix for half an hour. This gives a very nice flavor to the potatoes

Dum Aloo Preparation:
ü       Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions until they are golden brown; Add the green chilies too
ü       Now add the ground paste and keep stirring at a low-medium flame for 5 minutes
ü       Make sure the raw smell of the paste goes away
ü       Now add the soaked baby potatoes and sprinkle some Garam Masala (or any other special secret masala you have) and let it simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
ü       Wait until the masalas have covered the potatoes well
ü       Then garnish with coriander leaves. Add some lime juice if you want to.
ü       Yum Dum Aloo is ready.

So.. if your taste buds are itching, go and try it for yourself. I am sure you will like it!Slurp! Slurp!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


On Wednesday, July 13th, terror struck Mumbai once again when 3 powerful bombs rocked some of the most crowded places killing 19 people and injuring several others. I was shell shocked and it instantly brought back memories of pain, anger and despair when I watched Ajmal Kasab and his friends hold Mumbai hostage for 2 days in 2008.  Nothing has changed! Once again, the events that transpired after the blasts were a complete déjà vu. PM and other politicos urged Mumbaikars to stay calm and united. Home Minister claimed they had no Intel on attacks. Rahul Gandhi had the guts to even say that not all terrorist attacks could be prevented. And all that the opposition did was to use this incident to gain political leverage. The morning after Wednesday's terror attacks, Mumbai was back on its feet as people went to office and children attended schools. A week from now, media will move on to the next hot topic and it will be business as usual for politicians. Only Mumbai will be left with another eternal scar!  

This is the umpteenth time I have heard about the famous Mumbai Spirit and it scares me. “Blasts cannot kill the Mumbai spirit” read a famous tabloid. Agreed! With all due respect, do they have a choice? On July 11, 2006, 7 powerful bombs ripped through local trains in Mumbai killing 181 people. So did the Government create an alternate mode of transport after that? No. People still had to take the same train to go to work the next day. I shudder when I imagine what would have gone through people’s minds when they took the train days after the blast had occurred. I am sure they held on tightly to the chain in one hand and to their heart in the other. So many lives completely uprooted in a flash. And then life becomes normal once again the very next day. But no one realizes that life is never the same again. The fear and agony have been tattooed into their hearts forever with metal shrapnel.

Why is Mumbai such a soft target? Agreed, it is the financial and economic capital of India. It represents the fault line between practitioners of different faiths and languages, who are often at loggerheads and are so ignitable. The city offers an anonymity which, many a times has proved to be its Achilles heel. It literally is the Gateway to India offering easy access to one and all. But beyond all this, there is a much more compelling reason. Mumbai is not just a gateway to India, but its alter-ego. It symbolizes everything that is good about India. And everything that is bad about Mumbai is equally true about India. They share several common adjectives: Multi-religious, cosmopolitan, warm and welcoming, poly-cultural, enterprising and industrious.

Truly Mumbai is India’s heart. It is here, among the city's grime and dust, that the great dream of India enunciated at the midnight hour of August 14, 1947, is being lived every minute. Mumbai is India in miniature; destroy it, and the larger picture falls apart. Mumbai has been chosen for the exact reasons that New York City was chosen on September 11, 2001. Both cities embody their respective nations; gut them, and the dream of a fabulous nation could be destroyed.

So how are we handling this open threat to the very identity of India? Well, honestly I haven’t seen too much done so far. No doubt we see a few rallies, candle marches, panel discussions human chains and a lot of angry tweets. Well, that’s all a common man can really do. No one will have the guts or means to do a Naseeruddin Shah in “A Wednesday”. It is up to the people who run this country to create a system that can save Mumbai from the clutches of terror. I have always been bamboozled by our politicians’ reactions to terror attacks. All they do is go in circles in their blame game. Why can’t the Prime Minister just appear on National TV and make a strong statement to the people. A small gesture like that can go a long way in reassuring the people. All that the politicians have done for Mumbai is the famous (or rather infamous) name change from Bombay to Mumbai. Well, the only legitimate reason that could have been given was that the name itself was jinxed: “Bomb”ay and changing names might bring better luck. Yes. Luck! That seems to the only hope for the city which still refuses to believe that luck deserted Mumbai long time ago. And certainly Mumbai deserves much better than that!

Then there is Bollywood! In 1993, Dawood Ibrahim coordinated a series of 13 bomb explosions which remains to be the most destructive in Indian history resulting in 250 fatalities. And what does Bollywood do about that? It came out with movies celebrating him as a fallen hero. Ram Gopal Varma even visited the attacked site at Hotel Taj to search the story for his next movie. There have been thought provoking movies made out of the subject too but they are too few in comparison. It is a shame to look at these tragedies as an opportunity to make a few bucks. So much for lack of creativity! Media and film industry should do more than just using these incidents to increase their TRPs or to come up with real life dramas!

The Government needs to do much more if they have to erase the fear and doubt from the minds of Mumbaikars.  An effective intelligence infrastructure has to be incorporated. In order for intelligence to be most useful in preventing attacks, it must be actionable, combining precise, tactical level warning with decision makers who are receptive to it. This is most likely to come from on-the-ground local and domestic intelligence gathering. This should be incorporated in all states and tremendous importance should be given to effective communication and coordination between the intelligences of different states. Only if we unite our intelligence infrastructure, can we thwart the terrorists who always have the element of surprise to their advantage. I think in a country of intelligent people, this should not be difficult to implement. Only if we have the willingness and focus to make it happen!

Here is a message to one and all. Laud the Mumbai spirit, but don’t use that as a shield to mask our incompetence against terror. A lot has been said about the Mumbai spirit. It is high time that something was done to keep it alive. Otherwise, it will not just be Mumbai’s spirit that will be lost, but an entire nation would lose its soul. Enough is enough!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


This is not the first city that has made me nostalgic. But it certainly is the most recent and one that will remain extremely close to my heart. It is the city that made me appreciate life once again. It is the city that woke up my colorful alter ego from a deep slumber. It is the city that brought out the child in me once again. Bloomington (popularly known as B-town) gave me the 2 most amazing and eventful years of my life!

I came into this city with so much going on in my mind. When I arrived, it was pitch dark outside and I couldn’t see anything. May be I didn’t even want to. Such was the burden of starting life all over again. But Bloomington magically changed everything for me in a jiffy. We do not realize the importance of the place we live in our daily life. It becomes an invisible family member whose presence we only realize when the time to say good bye comes. Bloomington freed my mind of all its worries and gave it a generous dose of fresh air! It helped me “rediscover” myself.

There is a simple elegance to this city that appeals to me the most. This was the city where I grew young again. Well I wish literally, but you cannot change the laws of nature, right! But certainly my mind went through a transformation from a cautious adult to a carefree youth whose desire to admire and enjoy the small pleasures of life was rekindled. How many times have I forgotten everything about the exam next day and taken a walk through the woods breathing in nature and losing myself among the trees! Sipping a coffee in the balcony and watching the blue skies suddenly became a routine! Getting drenched in the rain became a fantasy once again! When I looked into the mirror, I could catch glimpses of the 10 year old I once was. And in these 2 years, I watched myself grow up once again!

I had heard about 4 seasons only in books. Bloomington introduced me to spring and autumn. If watching Fall Colors was magical, then seeing leaves wither was heart breaking. But then.. white magic arrived. Snow! My first ever Snow! I was thrilled to be outside star gazing when the first snow-flakes descended. Sitting near my window and seeing every single damn thing covered in snow would make my evenings exciting. Not to forget: White Christmas! You cannot ask for more. It was small pleasures like these that made me appreciate life so much and I think made my supposedly hectic MBA life a breeze!

Bloomington is home to the Indiana University. Oh yeah.. that is where I was supposed to spend my 2 years of MBA: studying. I did spend most of my 2 years there alright: not necessarily studying though! Boy: the campus is a work of art. It is named one of the 5 most beautiful in America and deservedly so. Take a stroll along the campus, pass through the various school buildings enriched with a unique limestone architecture and you will be transported to 19th century English countryside. And if you are a fan of music and arts, then you will be thrilled to know that Bloomington is home to the world famous Jacob’s school of Music. A musical concert or an opera is a “must-do” and a visit to the Arts Museum would certainly be time very well spent.

Bloomington is not called the “Tree City” without a reason. The region has a generous décor of beautiful trees which add to its glamor quotient. Stop at the “Sample Gates” and make sure you have an extended photo shoot there. Then it will be time to spend your evening in a very colorful downtown. Enter Kirkwood Avenue and you will not feel like coming back. Restaurants from every part of the world can be found here and you can whet your appetite with some mouth-watering entrees cooked to perfection. A true connoisseur’s delight!  And of course.. Bloomington is called the “Crazy Party town” and you don’t need me to explain more than that I guess. Bloomington has something for everybody. But it had everything for someone like me!

But again.. no city is complete without its people. Bloomington has the typical Mid-West culture and people here are caring, friendly and extremely helpful. I have hardly heard a honk on the road in these 2 years. Says a lot! But more than that.. the people who I spent my 2 years with: my friends.. they are the ones who made the Bloomington experience truly fascinating. Night outs, cook outs, eat outs, hang outs, black outs (oops.. that one just rhymed).. you name it. It was just fun unlimited! I cannot forget those lovely potlucks, late night tea sessions, treks and trips, poker nights or sequence fights! They will be etched in my memory as “Bloomington memoirs”. And for this one single reason, Bloomington will always be missed!

It will be an irony if I say that the child in you is more mature than the adult “you”. But I think it is true. At least I discovered so. Being carefree and jolly made me more mature and successful. I have never felt so “complete” ever before. And I have to thank “Bloomington” for that and much more. As I finally drove out of Bloomington with a heavy heart and a desire to come back, 2 fabulous years of my life flashed through my memory. Suddenly I felt my drive was more beautiful than ever. I guess there are no “Good-byes” here!

Friday, July 8, 2011


This is a feeling I am sure most of us experience on a fairly regular basis as we navigate through the mysteries of life. It is that shift in emotion from a plain indifference towards anticipation for something good to happen which turns into frustration as time passes on and finally culminates in abandoning all hope and calling it quits. But then comes the killer! The much awaited event or outcome materializes but alas we are no longer there to witness it, enjoy it, feel it, live it or be a part of it. The only thing you can do is to feel happy that it happened. But the irony is that you were just a minute or an hour or a day short of experiencing it. And the agony is that you spent hours, days, weeks or months waiting for it to happen!

Well, by now you would have guessed that I was a recent victim. I am not a baseball enthusiast, but in the middle of a devilishly crazy work week, I will gladly take that. So here we were, on our company afternoon outing, in Chicago downtown to watch the Cubs play the Giants. Okay.. for the benefit of people like me, Cubs are the hosts and the Giants have come all the way from San Francisco. The Giants are the better team and defending champions and the Cubs are a good team too.

I had reason to cheer very early in the game as a run was scored and I was really happy that the Cubs had taken the lead so early. After about 2 minutes of cheering I noticed that the scoreboard seemed to suggest that in fact the Giants had scored. Well.. you can’t blame me. The noise was close to deafening when the run was scored. Either the audience was really sportive or extremely sarcastic. Either way, I wasn’t too upset as I got to see a run scored. And I was hoping to see an equalizer from the Cubs to make the match exciting!

But I was in for a lot of disappointment and eventual boredom as hours went by without any hint of either team scoring. A game has 18 innings (9 for each side) and sitting through 16 of them without seeing a single run getting scored was painful to say the least for a first timer. But I spent the time well, as my good friend Melvin explained me the rules of the game with some tips and fun facts. He is from Dominican Republic and a very nice guy. I learnt that baseball was the most popular sport there and a lot of baseball players in US are from Dom Rep. I gave him some cricket gyan in return and that kept him fairly excited.

Come last inning of the game: and guess what: The Cubs equalize. And I get to see the other highlight of baseball: a home run! The guy just creamed it. The stadium erupted! Now you may ask: “Okay.. so where the hell is your agony?” Relax guys… I am almost there. Now the game is tied. And I think naively that the points will be split. Melivin enlightens me: “The game goes on until a team wins”. Well.. now all my excitement fizzes out. Now I might again have the predicament of watching endless innings without any run scored!

And I did! Another 8 innings went by and everyone got restless. Our team was aiming for a 5 o’clock return. We were about to leave when it happened. Yeah… the smart ones, you guessed it right: The Giants scored! 2 – 1 Giants with 1 Cubs innings to go. Well, that seemed like the nail in the coffin and we had all the more reason to leave which we did.  I guess my story has become predictable now. So, as you may have guessed, I came back to office and casually checked the scorecard.

It read: Cubs 5 – Giants 2

What on earth happened? How come they score 4 runs in the 1 inning which I missed and just 2 in the 25 I sat through? That is some irony with a lot of agony! Probably less for me and more for the other baseball enthusiasts in my group. Anyways, that was my first major baseball experience. A mixed bag really. But nevertheless good fun and a little bit of agony! Sums up life, doesn’t it??
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