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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Amazing Amritsar

The Golden Temple 
A recent trip to Punjab was a nostalgic one considering it was one of the many done earlier. The air of the place and the friendly people, however, make every experience a new one and no matter how many visits I had done, this seemed special. A long drive on the national highway from Delhi was punctuated with a stopover at Murthal to have a bite! The delicious food with a lavish spread of ghee and aromatic dal was just a trailer of what was to follow in the coming days. The drive through the lush green fields on either side of the road was a feast for the eyes.
The scenic beauty from Chandigarh
The natural carpet of green with specs of yellow was soothing after seeing endless traffic snarls in the city. My companions on the trip did not want to miss the opportunity to shop for the woollens from the sprawling showroom adjacent to the highway in Ludhiana. The setting sun and the gradually thinning traffic brought us to Jullandhar, where we stopped over to pay our obeisance in an ashram. By the time we reached Amritsar it was almost 9.30 PM. We checked into the hotel which was very close to the Golden Temple. Without wasting any time, we headed for the sanctum sanctorum. The glistening gold of the dome shimmered in the lights that adorned, and the reflection from the pool added to the beauty. It was closing time but we were fortunate to get a glimpse of the Guru Granth Sahib( the holy book) being taken back to the Akal Takht, an adjoining building. in a palki decorated with flowers and silk amidst chanting of Shabad(hymns).
Ujagar Singh Papad and Wadi shop
Next morning it was time to explore the city which was overflowing with the tourists. The din of rickshaws, the fruit sellers, jostling with pedestrians add to the cacophony but makes one realize that the city is alive and kicking.
Phulkari collections at Katra Jamail Singh shop

The cloth market in Guru Bazar and Katra Jamail Singh are a shoppers paradise to buy the Phulkari, Dupattas, Brocades, Salwar Suits, woollens, blankets, Jootis( shoes) and much more at a steal!For the lovers of authentic Punjabi food more than a century old Kesar, the Dhaba offers the most lip-smacking food that one is unlikely to forget. There is a score of other places where indulgences like kulfi, piping hot jalebis and Gulab Jaman can be tried. There are also Dhaba that specialize in non-vegetarian fares like chicken and fish.

A visit to the Jalianwallah Bagh to remember the martyrs that fell to the bullets of  Brig Dyer almost a century ago on the Baisakhi day is a must. The place is just a stone's throw from the Golden Temple. For those who like an adrenaline rush with a patriotic fervour, a visit to the Wagha border about 35 km from Amritsar will not be disappointing! Only one has to reach the venue almost two hours before the start of the ceremony at sunset to get a decent place to watch as it is overflowing with people most of the time. There are several other attractions depending on the interest such as Durgiana Temple,  Sheetla Mata Temple and of course the walled city to explore. I find discovering the small alleys overflowing with shops, trinkets and local cuisine especially sellers of Wadi and Papads and Pickles( A kind of North Indian food) very fascinating.  The winding alleys bring you to Bazar Kathian to the Ujagar Singh Wadi and Papad shop which is almost a century old and considered one of the best.

The chariot with Lord Krishna and Arjun at Kurukshetra
The two nights went away in a jiffy and we packed to leave for Chandigarh en route to Delhi. The return journey through the small villages and a trip to the Chandimandir cantonment overlooking the Shivalik ranges, a visit to Kurukshetra where the war of Mahabharata took place would need another post. It was a short and sweet memorable trip

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Just Color My World

'Oh no', I silently wept as the maid who was cleaning the house put her wet hand on my shining surface. The hands were unwashed and had germs besides the dust and grime from the cloth she had used to wipe the kitchen.The story is repeated every day and by the evening as all the members of the house settle down. I can barely relax as the mosquitos and the cockroaches slowly crawl out from the hiding and are running all over me. You must have guessed by now, that I am a poor wall of a middle-class flat in Delhi.

Twenty years ago I was constructed and was painted with a coat of whitewash of lime over a surface prepared by the laborer after applying putty. There was a lot of dust all around but after two coats I was shining white in the broad sunlight. In a matter of few days, the contaminated air from cooking oil, dust from the atmosphere and the gases from the foul smell emanating from a nearby drain, took the sheen away. The erosion due to changes in weather and naughty Bunty's love for painting my surface with lead pencil and color crayons, I aged faster than ever. Mr. Sharma the owner of the house decided to give me a fresh coat.  He was advised to use distemper with an added coat of waterproofing. The fresh coat of paint was a very painful process as the laborers once again scaled my surface with a sharp-edged flat iron sheet and a hard rub of sandpaper. Everone in the house coughed severely from the dust that was raised for many days. After a fresh coat of the paint, I looked neat after three days and was shining once again. This went on for a few more years, but the torture I had to undergo was enormous with no significant change in the situation.

Mr. Sharma this year in March, came across the Asian Paints Royale Atmos advertisement 

highlighting the benefits of the new product. He was terrified to learn that the Odd-Even Formula to curb the pollution on streets of Delhi may have resulted in better quality of air but the air indoor could be five times more polluting than the air outside.  The main reasons were the presence of formaldehyde emanating from the wooden doors, metallic handles, the garbage bin in the house, decomposing plants in the garden, egg shells, cooking gas, carpets, vehicle exhaust from the neighborhood and even the boxes stored in the house.When inhaled over a period of time this could lead to allergies, skin rashes, and even respiratory disease. The new age paint developed by Asian Paints using Activated Carbon Technology for the first time in Royale Atmos brand was capable of neutralizing 60-70% of formaldehyde within 24 hours when tested in international laboratory conditions.The revolutionary paint not only makes the surfaces look better and brighter in the Matt finish but also fights against pollution and makes air cleaner to breathe.

Mr. Sharma has also come across an App called Colour Visualizer by which he can see how the walls will look like by choosing the combination of colors even before painting the walls. Both Mrs. and Mr, Sharma have decided the choice of colors that I will be adorned with just before Diwali! Is it not a great idea :) Imagine the hard time both had in choosing from a range of over 1750 colors! Also, due to the Teflon surface protector, in the color, the durability and strength of the film will increase manyfold.

Mr. Sharma is also following the international trends where nanotechnology will be used in making new paints using titanium dioxide nanoparticles, that will help create self-cleaning and waterproof surfaces.

As of now, around Diwali, I will have a reason to smile from end to end with a new coat of gloss making me shine in the sparkle of the lights

Acknowledgements:

1,  Asian Paints  for the following:
a) YouTube advertisement from Asian Paints Srilanka
b) IndToday link http://indtoday.com/brand-ambassador-shruti-hassan-launches-royale-atmos-a-revolutionary-air-purifying-paint-by-asian-paints/
c) Color Visualizer Link
2. Latest trends in Nanotechnology using carbon nanotubes

PS: This is my submission for the blog contest organized by Asian Paints(https://www.asianpaints.com/atmos.) and Indiblogger

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's All About Experiences- Singinawa

A Gond Painting -Tapestry in Main Building
The Dusshera holidays are knocking the doors and there is already a nip in the morning air! One can feel the excitement of holidays with offers and sales heralding the festive season. It is also a perfect time for get away from the daily humdrum of life. There is no dearth of choices ranging from hopping to the hills, visiting historical and places of pilgrimage to listening to the roar of the seas! One which stands out is a perfect getaway called ‘ Singinawa Forest Lodge’ which is located in the midst of a dense forest of Kanha in Madhya Pradesh.
How to Reach
The place is well connected by the major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Bangalore by air/trains with Jabalpur or Nagpur as the nearest railhead/ airports. There is a lovely motorable road that connects these cities with the Jungle lodge located on the main highway. The winding roads through the dense foliage, with occasional stream of rivulets and constant chirp of the birds, make the journey a very pleasant one.
About Singinawa
A Cottage in Singinawa
Singinawa is spread in a huge 110 acres of forested area with 12 independent cottages and 2 Jungle Bungalows with all the modern amenities including en-suite baths, rain showers, double vanities, air-conditioning, and minibars. 
The lovely decor of room with traditional local 

A plush interior of a cottage
Each room is very tastefully decorated with the local Gond art and artifacts that will bowl you over, the moment you enter the room. There is a verandah in front of every room where one can look at the star-studded sky in the evening while sipping a cup of coffee and hear a distant cry of hyena or rattle of birds trying to catch some sleep



The Main Building
The main building has anterooms, dining places and indoor entertainment with a huge collection of videos on nature and other entertainment. These can be put to good use on a rainy day when it is difficult to explore outdoors. The huge terrace is a great place to enjoy the dinner with a whiff of fresh air and swaying tall trees.










Ante Room




The property has a huge organic far where the seasonal vegetables are grown and one can devour the taste of these by the accomplished cooks who serve with a smile. They are hugely talented and can cook almost anything ranging from all kinds of Indian food to most of the popular world cuisines.The naturalists who reside in the complex give company during the treks and also help in understanding about the birds and local fauna when they join you over a cup of coffee. Their amazing knowledge of the bird calls and sighting the birds which one cannot see easily is an unforgettable experience.

There is a swimming pool- The Wallow, for relaxing after a long day or enjoying an Oriental or Indian treatment at the Meadows Spa within the premises.
The artifacts in Singinawa
Singinawa is perhaps the only Forest Lodge that prides in a museum of its own called ‘The Kanha Museum of Life and Art’. Nestled within the estate it is spread over an area of 1000sq.ft and is an ode to the Gond and Baiga artisans of the region and their labor of love.  Curated by Dr. Alka Pande the recipient of Chevalier dans/Order des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government, this museum will leave you bewildered by the intricate designs and craftwork of the locals.
The foresight of the Chief patron Tulika Kedia is helping in preserving the local art with the same fervor as the nation, to preserve the fast vanishing tigers that people come to see here.
Activities in Singinawa
Goodies for picnic in jungle

There is no dearth of activities for visitors of all age groups ranging from the Tiger Safari the most popular one that starts at the daybreak! A trip to the forest with the accomplished naturalists always ranks high. The safari starts by 5 AM from Mukkhi or Khatia gate and goes till late afternoon. The rewards of sighting the huge cat, antelopes, gaurs, deer, barasingha, wild boars and plenty of birds are the perks of the trip. A breakfast in the company of the wild with the huge assortment is a pleasant surprise that awaits you!
A night safari is also arranged at request where one can witness the fiery-eyed animals in the darkness and some rare birds like ‘The Night Jar’ and Owls too! It is an experience which is highly recommended for an adrenalin rush.
Bird Spotting can also be very indulgent to spot some rare birds out of 300 odd that exist here. The binoculars provided by the team help in seeing them frolic in their natural habitat. One can also see some rare insects and bird nests also
A trip to Baiga village to see their lifestyle, the art of brewing local wine,’ Mahua’, can also be experienced.
The traditional artists visit the lodge to familiarize the visitors with paintings on the spot to native dances in the evening around a bonfire.
Eco-friendly
This is an ecology friendly property and uses minimum plastics and encourages plantation of saplings by the visitors. A tribute to responsible tourism at its best!
Do not wait and pack your bags to have an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. There are several five-star ratings for this property at Trip Advisor and other portals. (https://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g1117557-d1404800-r485466108-Singinawa_Jungle_Lodge-Kanha_National_Park_Madhya_Pradesh.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT)
Acknowledgement
1.Huge thanks to Tulika Kedia, MD of Singinawa Jungle Lodge and her team and Philippa Kaye of Indian Experiences for making the trip possible

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Art of Italy

David  by Michelangelo
The amazing creations of art that draw millions of art lovers to the countries in Europe. Despite having faced several natural calamities and wars these have weathered all storms, and stand majestically even now.  During my last visit to Italy, I revisited some of these sites again just for the grandeur that leaves me in complete awe. I tried to trace the history and would love to share the same with the readers.

The consistent pattern of adoption of the ancient Greek Art was transformed in Rome and across Europe and North Africa and the Middle East from 1400 AD onwards. Before 1800 the Catholic church greatly influenced the art, architecture, sculpture, and paintings across Europe and especially in the Mediterranean region. The history of the church was amply reflected in the brilliant portrayal of stories from Bible, tales of mythological gods and goddesses, great wars and strange creatures that had earlier never been depicted.
The Birth of Venus -Botticelli
The European art was arranged in Stylist periods like Classical ( till 1100BC), Byzantine(843 till 1453), Medieval(6th century to 15th century ), Gothic(1360-1463), Renaissance(14th to 16th century), Baroque( 17th to 18th century), Rocco( mid -18th century), Neoclassical( early 18th to 19th century), Modern and Post Modern( first half of 20th century onwards).
Madonna by Duccio

The great Italian painter Giotto in 1290 heralded an era of painting based on observation to lay the foundations of Renaissance style in the years to follow. Until the 14th century, most of the paintings and art in Italy were Byzantine style by proponents like Duccio of Siena and Cimabue of Florence. Simone Martini and Fabriano, however, carried on in Gothic style during this period.

Adoration of the Magi, The Redeemer by Lorenzo Monaco
The early Renaissance emerged in Florence with sculptors like Donatello who created the nude of David in bronze. A large number of artists worked on some of the most elegant structures like the Florence cathedral and Brancacci Chapel. Brunelleschi created the magnificent dome of the Duomo in Florence.
Adoration of the Magi- Fabriano
In the period of high Renaissance the eminent artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello created one of the most astounding pieces of art that excelled to an extent that there we no parallels. In a sense, these artists created a new profession with its own expression and character.
Madonna and Child-Filippo Lippi

The masterpieces are housed in cities of Florence at Galleria Degli Uffizi which is the oldest in the world. The city gave birth to the Renaissance the creations of Cimabue, Michelangelo, and Raphael among other greats are treasures that have been kept here. Galleria del Academia also in the city of Florence has the mighty David created by Michelangelo. Vatican, Naples, Turin, Venice, and Rome have an immense wealth of art that one can see for whole life but still, all of it would not be covered. Italy has been blessed with beauty and has a big say in the world of art. It has more than a fair share of art with hardly any rival.


PS- The pictures are my collections from the galleries in Italy

Sunday, August 20, 2017

It is Never too late

Performing Bakasana

'You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream' is what the eminent Cambridge scholar C.S Lewis once said.

Most of us while pursuing our careers give up the hobbies and interests in joining the rat race to climb the ladders of success. Though, a handful few always manage to find time for things they love to do. It is a tough balancing act to meet the commitments and also pursue multifarious interests. Till two years back when I was on the verge of retirement from a corporate job which was a challenging one till the last day, I tried my best to engage in other pursuits so that I am able to do things that are meaningful. An early interest in reading and writing came in very handy to start blogging a couple of years before the retirement. A healthy network of friends whom I discovered on this journey has helped in not only learning the finer nuances but also refining the writing. Nothing could be more fulfilling than seeing the written words taking the shape of a post and to see a flurry of activity after pressing the 'Publish' button!

Another interest that I slowly cultivated was to practice yoga and meditation in a more determined manner than ever before. I was very fortunate to attend the yoga classes in Singapore under some excellent teachers.  Needless to say, the immense benefits of yoga have a telling effect on defying the process of aging and feeling good and fitter.  An early morning session is a perfect way to start a new day while the sun is yet to appear. The fresh air, a few beads of sweat help in calming the nerves.
The students at the NGO

Many a friends and relatives would ask as to why I am not working! One day not long ago, I met a teacher who runs an NGO for the children from the lesser privileged strata of society, for teaching and imparting other skills to them. I joined hands with her and the engagement is not only extremely satisfying but an another learning for me. I was educated in the English medium but the teaching has to be done in Hindi and this is perhaps the most challenging part. I have to teach Mathematics and Science to children in Hindi for those in classes up to XII standard!
A home baked Oat Meal Bread

I had always wanted to learn ' baking' and sure enough, the help came from the other side! One of the colleagues of my wife who excels in baking once invited us for a demonstration.I have not looked back since and at least once in a week I try a hand and try to polish my baking skills!

These are a few of the things that I have learned after retiring and enjoy every moment of it!Age is just a number and the mental attitude to take on a new challenge and it is never too late to learn something new.

   PS :  ‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

Monday, August 14, 2017

Travelling Cattle Class




I remember as a child, I travelled to most of the destinations in ordinary second class in trains or buses whenever we went to our native place or for a holiday. The joy of meeting new people while travelling, sharing food with them, jokes and even playing cards on the way, never let monotony creep in. As I grew up and joined the Navy, I got a taste of being upgraded to Ist class and AC sleeper class. The change was definitely welcome, but the co passengers were more snooty and the discussions were hardly meaningful. Most people purchased the food from the railway catering except for some die hard lovers of home food who still carried their tiffins but seldom shared with anyone!

During the years in the Navy, I had been bitten by the travel bug so everytime it was impossible to travel by first class, so I fell back to my old ways to remain rooted as well as economical. I heard of the 'cattle class' and had a taste of it too! This was in no way in a disparaging manner, but at times in the literal sense. I remember I boarded a local bus for travel from Pithoragarh to Dharchula. The bus was very rickety, and every time the driver changed the gears it seemed that the engine will fall off! The scenic beauty that I was enjoying was interrupted by a frantic wave of a shepherd.The bus braked to a stop and lo and behold... about a dozen sheep also boarded the bus! This was unbelievable as I had never travelled with cattle.May be the learned Dr Shashi Tharoor who many years later infamously tweeted about ' Indians travelling cattle class' never would have realized that this was for real! He has perhaps only seen people being stuffed in the buses and trains like a pack of sardines or the trains bound to Bihar and East UP having more passengers sitting on the roof of the train than inside a compartment. I have seen many such sights where people prefer to get on the bus or train from a window than using the gate!I have travelled within UP and even in southern parts of the country where there is a literal mayhem to board a bus! Too many people and too few buses or trains are the only reason, and the situation seems to aggravate with each passing year.

There are however a few gems of people who live by personal example. The learned Mrs Sudha Murthy wife of Mr Narayan Murthy is an epitome of simplicity. Once she was travelling from Heathrow in London to Bengaluru and was dressed in a simple cotton sari and waiting in the business class queue, chatting with an elderly couple in Kannada! Two smartly attired women walked up to her and informed her that she was in a wrong place and should go to the economy class and wait there. On enquiring why she should leave, the women continued that the business class was three times more expensive and other privileges which economy class was not entitled to! The conversation was interrupted by a boarding announcement and Ms Murthy started walking towards the flight. A stewardess recognised her and paid compliments for seeing her again in a matter of one week and ushered her to the business class. She turned back and saw that the two smarty pants had now a glum look on their faces and looked crest fallen! Ms Murthy told them that ' they had no business to tell her to leave as they did not have any authority'!

Warren Buffet, the wealthy owner of Berkshire Hathway drives his own car, lives in his 3 bedroom flat bought more than 50 years ago, and never flies on a private jet.Among other celebrities who prefer travelling economy class include Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, and Jessica Alba! We, unfortunately, associate a lot of false pride in showing off what little we possess in comparison to those who can well afford but do not like exhibitionism. I learnt the lesson early when I joined the corporate world. I was flying for a business meeting from Tel-Aviv to Eilat in Israel. My co-passenger was the CEO of my company who had a short chat with me on the way! He told me that many engineers who had spent just two years in the company often would travel by business class as they accumulated more miles than him to be upgraded! Of course, I knew he was being humble but then rarely one gets to see people living life with a personal example worth emulation.

PS- Images were taken while I was in Patna

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Unique Challenges & Opportunities in Education in Rural India

A country as big as the European continent with more languages spoken than all their dialects, a population which is one seventh of the entire global population and has the largest number of people under thirty-five years of age, pretty much defines India. This summary is also a reflection of the complexities and dynamics of a young nation which is aspiring to be a global power. India takes pride in having one of the best educational institutions, the biggest democracy, among a few nations capable of launching satellites and ICBMs in the space, a military power of more than a million and combat power few can match.

If we look at the other side of the coin the picture is far from encouraging. More than the 70% of the population lives in the villages where the basic level of sanitation and hygiene, clean drinking water and electricity is not available. The purchasing power is below USD100 for the vast millions thus the survival of many is at stake. India is still an agrarian economy and the farmers are dependent on the vagaries of weather. One year there is a flood and in the following year, there is a severe drought thus leaving the tillers of the land at the mercy of weather gods. Despite having attained independence almost seven decades ago, the efficient network of canals, linking the rivers is almost non-existent.

The other socio economic factors, existing levels of literacy, a preference of a male child over female one, prevailing patriarchal system, dowry and many more social evils take a toll on the growth and educational system.

With this back drop of unique challenges, the education in rural India takes almost a back seat when it comes to serving the nation. With low levels of income, the parents can ill afford to spend on the education of children. The mid day free meal is hardly an incentive to spur any interest in the young children. The teachers are generally ill equipped and rarely able to evoke an intelligent discussion. The conditions in class rooms is hardly an encouraging one and the absenteeism is fairly high. In most of the rural and government schools, the children are promoted till the class X almost automatically, thus leaving huge gaps of knowledge which reflect when these children have to compete with their peers in the latter part of the college and professional education. As most of the rural families have more than three children at home and very constrained financial means, the parents are keen that the moment children grow strong enough, they could serve as earning hands to augment the family income,

These problems are just the tip of the iceberg and many which have a profound impact like open defecation, security of girl child, archaic laws that need imminent change need to be discussed at length to bring about a meaningful change.

There is an old adage that 'when going gets tough, the tough get going'. Thus taking these challenges 'head on' is the only alternative. A few credible steps that have been taken can change the situation dramatically compared to the lethargy with which the reforms happened earlier. The pace of technological advances like the entry of internet in every village, mobile internet and smart phones, tablets, availability of vernacular software user interfaces can bring in a revolution. The linking of scholarships to the deserving children using 'Aadhar cards' is also a step in the right direction. There is a crying need to focus on 'skill development' rather than an emphasis on conventional education. The burden on educational institutions will be reduced to an extent to dole out degrees that have little value to the industry.This will also help in improving the quality of education for those who sincerely want to pursue higher education. Building sanitary conditions and toilets in every school and villages, providing safety to girl child and incentives to raise the girls is a slow process but will surely yield a positive result. If we are able to sincerely devote resources in this direction the results would be visible in the near future.