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Thursday, May 12, 2022

In Pursuit of Happiness

 


The bell chimed and the fragrance of incense filled the air. As a small child, my earliest memories of a union with God are still vivid in my memories. My siblings and I folded our hands as we joined our grandfather who was awakening the god and dressing him up with a chant of 'Jagyei kripa nidhan' ( O almighty awaken...). We watched our grandfather with excitement as soon after this a prayer of ' Om Jai Jagdish" followed, with a small lighted Diya doing rounds in one hand and the other hand carrying a small brass bell as the prayer continued. As the prayer ended, we were handed out two small cups containing a ' kachori and a couple of jalebis' to be distributed to everyone in the house as a prasad. It was irrespective of whether one had attended the 'Aarti'. This was a morning routine every day when I visited Mathura to meet my grandparents and a huge extended family, at the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Later in the evening, small prayer would be recited by our grandfather before putting the Lord to sleep.

We felt God's presence in almost every important activity be it a birthday, any festival or a  celebration. This left an indelible impression on my young mind. These rituals were never very elaborate but significant enough to leave a lasting impression. When I look back to those bygone days, I realize that these little things helped us in bonding, understand a bit about ourselves and above all learn to respect all the individuals and be humane.  

It was always great fun to visit the " Dwarkadessh temple' in the wee morning hours or later in the evening with the elders. The atmosphere was always charged with the toll of bells. chanting of hymns as 'Aarti' was performed by the priests. The shining jewels and lovely attire of the gods glistened with a twinkle of light as the Aarti stand dazzled with several 'diyas' as it circled around. The high point would be to recieve the 'prasad' of pedas, laddos and other savouries soon after. 

Several years later after having visited scores of temples, the dargahs, gurudwaras, and churches. and several other places of worship across the world, the feeling of immense peace that transcends is really difficult to enumerate. Each of these visits has helped in times of distress. Quiet meditation or a direct link with god is the best healer. Among other benefits is learning to exercise a curb on desires and enjoy moments of peace and serenity.

Every individual has his own journey and route to achieve his desired happiness. For some, painting, listening to music, reading, engaging in social service or pursuing a hobby is as threauptic. I wish everyone finds happiness and solace in their pursuits which ever journey they choose to undertake.

PS: The picture is mine




Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Delightful Vada Pav

 


It was raining when I stepped out on the platform of Mumbai Central several decades back. There was a flurry of activity in what seemed to be an ocean of people. The cacophony of porters, vendors of the ware, and shrill of loudspeakers announcing the departure and arrival of trains. I had taken just a few paces with my luggage in tow when I saw a  huge circle of people around a vendor who was frying vadas with a pile of fried green chillies, a pile of buns( I learnt later these were called pavs) and some chutneys around them. The vendor was disposing of the customers fast but the crowd kept swelling up even though some of them cleared. I too joined the melee and paid a princely sum of Rupees Two and took a piping hot vada pav wrapped in a piece pf old newspaper. The moment I unwrapped it., I fell in love with a glimpse of green chillies peeking from inside the bun with a golden vada peering below. The taste was awesome as the concoction melted in the mouth. It was my first taste of the divine ' vada pav'.

Since that time I have had countless 'vada pavs' at different places all over Maharashtra.. According to the different stories, the credit for this rustic version of a burger goes to Ashok Vaidya who started selling this at the Dadar station in Mumbai. whereas some attribute it to Sudhakar Mahatre of Khidki Vada Pav at the Kalyan station around the same time in 1966. There has been no looking back ever since as the crowded metro where time is always at a premium, this snack is prepared in a jiffy and can be eaten while standing, walking or moving, a prime reason for its mass popularity.

The spirit of local enterprise resulted in hundreds of outlets across the city and even though faced with a competition of the giants like McDonals in 1990's have gained strength with the passage of time.

The rustic delight is prepared with boiled potatoes, a dash of spices, curry leaves rolled into balls and deep-fried with a layer of chick pea batter. The piping hot 'vadas' are then inserted in a layer of bread called 'pav'' with a thin layer of chutney prepared with coriander leaves and chillies on one side and a garlic peanut chutney on the other side, topped with a fried green chilli. The entire process takes less than ten minutes and the sizzling vada pav leaves the customer wanting for more.. No matter how highly paid the film stars, cricketers for other businessmen there maybe, the love for 'vada pav' unites them alike.

I kept vising Mumbai for several years after having stayed a few years there, my love for the snack never waned. There were times I would return late from my project work from Navi Mumbai or other places around Mumbai, I would never fail to collect a couple of 'vada pavs' which I preferred to eat for dinner in lieu of other meal. One morning, when I entered the Mumbai office one of the senior management people who had just landed from the airport, asked the office helper to get him,'vada pav' which he had missed for a long time. 

Nowadays several kinds of 'vada pavs' have surfaced in several places like the variants with brown bread ( pav) healthier versions of vada but none can ever beat the conventional street-side 'vada pav'


PS: Image courtesy 'Vada Pav' prepared at home!


Saturday, March 26, 2022

Good News Travellers

 


Ever since the world was gripped with a pandemic two years ago, the activities in almost every sphere of life came to a crawl and for a while came to an almost standstill. Merciful, with a resolve that the world fought the onslaught by inoculating the populace, once again there is a silver lining over the dark cloud. New paradigms emerged for the travellers to satisfy their travel lust by taking virtual tours of the places, meetings and exhibitions.

Finally, there is good news for the footloose travellers of fewer restrictions for travel, especially for those fully vaccinated. Countries like Norway, Iceland and Ireland have fully eliminated the restrictions with regards to vaccination and pre-testing before entering their borders. Others like France and England have done away with pre-departure testing for those fully vaccinated. The definition of fully vaccinated differs from country to country as some consider two doses of vaccination as enough while others have included the booster dose also. It would be wiser to read between the lines before planning for travel so as not to be caught unawares due changing rules periodically. Costa Rica and Israel have allowed unvaccinated passengers to cross their borders with valid visas. The requirement of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before travel is still mandatory for travel to Israel, followed by a 24-hour self-quarantine upon arrival.

Likewise, travel restrictions to Australia and Indonesia have been relaxed significantly. The advisory for travel to 130 countries is still in the 'red zone due to an increase in the number of Covid related cases.

Destinations are also relaxing the curbs on indoor gatherings due to the improved situation. Many countries in Asia and Africa though have eased travel restrictions but require opre departure testing and proof of vaccination.

The hotels and restaurants have gradually eased the restrictions of dining in the restaurants.The occupancy rates in some hotels have surged to almost 55%  within the country giving a fresh lease of life to the hospitality sector.. The booking of bigger spaces is still not picked up due to the fear of closer proximity and not too distant horror stories.

The sense of despair that reigned for almost two years is gradually lifting the veil. There is hope for a brighter tomorrow with every passing day. The guards still need not be lowered as prevention is always better than the cure

PS :Image Kind Courtesy Google


Friday, February 25, 2022

Simple Pleasures



 How often did you enjoy roasted peanuts?

  On a cold winter afternoon not walnuts

How many times you sipped juicy cane sugar?

       Not fizz colas or beverages sugar free

Ate a humble pie not frosted whipped cream

    Dug teeth in roasted corn that’s what joy seems

We long for distant pleasures in our dreams

  When simple pleasures around us reign supreme


PS- The pic is mine

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Joys of Travel

Pretty towns like Delft in the Netherlands

 After a long hiatus from blogging, I am making a comeback. This has perhaps been the longest period when I have not written in a while ever since I started to blog more than a decade back. It is not the lack of ideas that came in the way of writing but preoccupation with activities I had never imagined would one day fill my time. A cursory attempt at teaching underprivileged children has suddenly got me occupied more than ever before. My love for travel also took a back seat due to the raging Coronavirus epidemic that shook the world. The tremors can be felt now and then but at least the worst seems to be over for the time being. Several times I was tempted to travel but then the news of the new variants, breakout in certain geographical pockets, the travel restrictions imposed both in domestic as well as international travel dampened the spirit.

After great reluctance, I managed to make my first trip happen towards the end of last year. Life it seems had changed so much. The suffocating masks were a reality that one has to accept while at the airport or inside the aircraft. After reaching Kolkata my first destination, it was not possible to hug or shake hands with the dear ones with whom we were meeting after a long break. The remaining time in the city was exciting as ever except for the masks that we could not remove while out of the home. Nonetheless, the feeling of gratitude that despite heavy odds I had managed to travel once again was overwhelming. The city was getting decked up for the Durga Puja that was just a couple of weeks away. The new flavours that I experimented with affirmed my belief that no matter how much one has travelled to a place especially like Kolkata, surprises await you every time. There were so many such experiences especially eating some local sweets in a small lost area in North Kolkata that left me mesmerised. I would need a separate post to cover such unique experiences.

Imposing church spires

I had just returned from Kolkata when an opportunity to travel to the Netherlands that I had been contemplating for some time turned to reality. The Schengen states that had severely curtailed travel suddenly eased the restrictions enabling me to travel after almost two years. This time again, right from the time I boarded a taxi to the airport till the time I landed at the destination, the whole travel experience was unique. Getting the right inoculations acceptable to the authorities, RTPCR test just prior to travel and wearing the masks on the entire journey was something one could never have imagined in the worst nightmares. Still, I am grateful to the people who despite all the odds have made travel possible. To my utter surprise, when I arrived in Rotterdam from Amsterdam Schipol airport, the train conductor at the platform asked me to remove the mask that was not essential in the city anymore! It was such a pleasant surprise. The rest of the time was spent doing little sightseeing in the pretty towns like Utrecht, Delft, Gouda and Rotterdam. The endless beauties of nature, clean sparkling rivulets and canals with omnipresent birds made me forget the tough times we had undergone in the recent times

Euromast tower in the Rotterdam

 Currently, with every passing day, the realization that one is able to enjoy the small pleasures of life, there is a lot to thank as we tend to take so much for granted. For everything around us be it people, the infrastructure, the services that sometimes appear to be not fully functional, we can do things that we love to indulge in.

PS- All pics are mine










Saturday, December 25, 2021

A City of Keys- Leiden

 


The beautiful country The Netherlands has some unique and delightful places. A country known for the tulips, cheese and beautiful canals has a few gems that are not too well known. Leiden a small university town is also known as the ‘city of keys. A pair of keys can be seen all over the city and has an interesting legend behind this. According to the Gospel of Mathew, Saint Peter was given the ‘Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, which is why Peter is shown holding a pair of keys. The city’s ‘Coat of Arms and flag shows pair of keys and the same can be seen all over the city on different monuments.

 

The small town is steeped in history, It was held in a siege by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century.  On 3rd Oct 1574, the Spaniards fled leaving behind virtually no food except white bread, herring and a pot of turnip mashed potatoes, parsnip and carrots. Every year there are celebrations of food, fireworks, music and funfairs in the city on this day. The city is also known for the wave of immigrants who left the shores of the city to arrive in the USA to lay the foundations of the present-day nation. Today they have 25 million descendants including nine presidents, including Barack Obama. The story of pilgrims unfolds in St Peter’s church and the houses around which these pilgrims once stayed. There are almost 35 courtyards with gardens that were once inhabited by the pilgrims. The visitors can visit these, respecting the privacy of the residents

The famous Dutch painter Rembrandt was a contemporary of the Pilgrims. A statue and the house where he once lived are in the vicinity. Jean Pesijnhofje or the almhouse was the place where John Robinson lived till 1625 and his next-generation sailed to the shores of America and are known as Pilgrims fathers. 

The city has remained as one of the greatest centres of learning and boasts of one of the finest universities. It has been the home to the likes of Rene Descartes, Rembrandt, Huygens and Hugo Grotius each attained prominence in different arenas. The university has produced sixteen Nobel laureates to date.

Leiden has a network of 28 km of canals that adds to the beauty and grandeur of the city. It has over 88 bridges to cross these canals within the city. The city is adorned with over 2800 sights which makes it difficult for a visitor to choose where to look for when you arrive! There are a maze of gardens, churches, quaint buildings, windmills, restaurants, speciality treats to name a few.

 There are almost infinite eating options ranging from traditional Dutch restaurants to, Chinese, Vietnamese and almost every food one desires to eat. There are bakeries that are almost 200 years old that churn out the best broodjes , breads and cakes.

The city has given the world so much including the first tulip sapling that was first grown here. The famous botanist Charles Clusius arrived in Leiden with the bulbs of tulips that were mistaken for onions due to their resemblance, for planting in the botanical garden of the university. The prices of tulips soared over the years and today Holland is associated with tulips everywhere in the world.

Christmas time in the city is full of festivities like anywhere else .The floating Christmas markets located in the midst of the city run for 10 days with non stop parties, hot chocolates , mulled wine  and music. It is an unforgettable experience to visit this lovely city

PS: All pics are mine

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Art of Sourdough Baking

 


Who does not like the aroma of freshly baked bread or cakes? The overpowering attraction has enticed me to learn some of these dishes from who so ever can teach. Sometimes the results are encouraging where as at times there are moments of despair. This is just like anything else where the success brings elation and bad results lead to sulk. I learnt to bake the " Sourdough' bread recently. 

Before I share my experience of this marvel, I  share a brief history of its origin. This kind of bread is perhaps as old as the mankind and the records go back to 3700 years before BC of its origin. It is difficult to say from where it originated as different forms of bread were made in different geographies. The common thread  is the constituents like flour, water and salt used in its preparation. What fascinates me about this bread is its texture of huges holes created due to the fermentation and the golden crust. The taste varies with the degree of fermentation. The most interesting aspect is that the interest in making this type of bread has reignited just about a decade ago. Some of the bakers have taken this art of baking to a new height by creating loaves with variants of flour other than wheat flour.

During the recent pandemic , the long confinement indoors around the world created a shortage of yeast in the market as many people started practicing bread making at home. However, this kind of bread, that requires a starter in lieu of yeast can be created at home using the traditional techniques of mixing flour and water in a proportion and feeding it every twenty four hours to create a starter. This  builds in volume to more than twice the size and  is  ready to be used for preparing the dough. I realized that time and temperature are perhaps the next most important things after the proportion to see the bread rising. .Although baking a bread is a precise art and measures must be adhered to to get good results but local variations can create  a good bread.

The most interesting aspect of the bread making unlike of other kinds of bread is it use dampness while baking the bread. Preferably in a " Dutch Oven" with cover so that the escaping steam remains trapped in the container and after initial baking, the cover is removed till the bread is fully baked.

This is one journey that I have enjoyed immensely.Those who have an interest in baking breads, a Sourdough  is worth trying. This requires patience and a lot of effort unlike the conventional bread, which too is more intensive than baking cakes and cookies

PS: All pics are mine