Monday, February 8, 2021

The thrill of Jogging


It was dark and windy and the sky was overcast. I was all set out for the morning jog, as I quietly stepped out of my house on the second floor in Goa. This was a daily routine for a couple of months as our work timings had changed from the usual ones to 5.30 AM-12.45 PM. Sounds unusual, but so did everyone feel initially as the runway extension work had commenced and the airfield was handed over to the construction agency who were executing the work. This is more than three decades ago but the memory is still crisp in my mind as if it was yesterday. I had adjusted my morning routine to be awake by 3 AM and get ready for the jog along the periphery of the Dabolim airport at a wee hour. There was no traffic except for a stray car or a truck at that time. 

I had just covered about two km when suddenly a ferocious dog sprang out from a bush by the kerb and growled fiercely! My heart missed a beat, at the thought of a dog bite at this odd hour. I mustered some courage and stopped in my track suddenly and looked back. It was now the turn of the dog to be taken aback. To my horror, there was not even a blade of grass forget about a stone nearby. I suddenly pretended as if I picked a stone ready to hurl, stopping my self halfway. The dog continued to growl and retreated a bit. I stepped in its direction a couple of paces but to my good luck, the dog changed its mind to attack me. I then gathered a bit more courage and commenced my jog slowly once again, with the dog following me for a little distance before giving up. I completed the lap and almost half an hour later reached home to recount the close shave I had in the morning. The daylight was breaking and after a quick shower, I left home for work around 5 AM on my scooter to the airbase. 

My wife tried to dissuade me from this morning ritual but I managed to convince her and left the next morning with a stick in my hand, a little better prepared for any eventuality. Around the same spot, I noticed that there were more dogs as if waiting to pounce on me. I valiantly waved the stick and the pack changed its mind. They howled but did not come anywhere close to me. I then decided to change my route so as not to disturb the tranquillity of the canine friends.

The routine of morning jogs continued for many more years adding more thrills as the time rolled on. After a few months, I moved into a new house, in Goa which was within the airbase. The jogging route was now on more serene and natural surroundings. I would witness the trickling sunlight beyond the Arabian sea on Dabolim beach every day. One morning it was drizzling and I saw a flash of light just a few yards away from me. It was a huge silver-coloured snake that crossed the road ahead of me at a lightning pace! I later learnt that due to dense vegetation the snakes were often sighted in the vicinity.

I would need several blog posts to recount such episodes including one of getting lost in a snowy field in Stockholm and discovering the old port town Jaffa near TelAviv. I explored several cities wherever I travelled in subsequent years on such jogs 

PS- Pic kind courtesy Google

Monday, January 18, 2021

In love with Dhoklas

I am sure most of the readers are familiar with 'Dhokla' or 'Khamman' and have tasted this humble snack some time or other. My earliest recollections of this dish are the time when my mother learnt making from one of the relatives who stayed in Gujrat. She mostly prepared this with the ' gram flour( besan), and yoghurt'. The soft spongy texture and melt in the mouth tanginess would make me crave for more.  Soon it started to appear in the breakfast and everyone enjoyed the wholesome light breakfast. A dash of green chutney would raise the flavour by several notches. 

Then the time came to leave home to start a career in the Navy. After initial training for six months at the Naval Academy in Kochi, I landed in Jamnagar for the specialization course. Within days of arriving at Jamnagar, one weekend on a Sunday morning I was strolling in the market, which was very close to the railway station of Jamnagar. I noticed a cubicle about 6'x6' where a huge tray with steaming 'dhoklas' was kept and adjacent to it a man stooped over a big vessel with boiling water, trying to arrange a tray inside the vessel on some kind of a stand.  I bought the steaming 'hot dhoklas' and he packed some 'papaya chutney' on a smaller leaf and handed over the packet to me. These ' dhoklas' were not yellow in colour but had a white appearance and were garnished with mustard seeds and coriander leaves. There were some green chillies too and the whole dish tasted heavenly with the chutney that accompanied the 'dhoklas. That was the beginning of an association with the 'dhoklas'  that could only be compared to a torrid affair. Like a magnet, I would be drawn to this little shop on every visit to the town. After a while, the vendor started recognising me and I also, asked him how he prepared the dish. He shared the recipe with me and I instantly memorized it! It was prepared with 'rice and gram dal' batter that was left to ferment overnight. It was quite a revelation as all the while I believed that the best dhoklas were prepared with only gram flour( besan)! There are several variants that are available these days like 'Sooji( Semolina) and baked dhoklas too!

On several occasions, I travelled to other parts of Gujrat and tasted several varieties of 'Dhoklas' or 'Khamman' in places like Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Anand, Mehsana, Dwarka and many other and never missed an opportunity to feast on many lovely Gujrati snacks and 'Dhokla' in particular. No train journey would be complete when travelling through Gujrat without tasting the local 'dhoklas' available at the railway stations.  In the intervening years, I gradually practised the art of making 'dhoklas' I had learnt from the 'little master' in Jamnagar.

PS- The picture is of homemade 'dhokla'

Friday, January 1, 2021

A Fitting Finale to 2020


There could not have been a better ending to this year which was a tumultuous one. An old blogger colleague Manjulika joined hands to do something which made these last two days unforgettable. A couple of weeks back I called her up to see if she could propagate her newfound love to create 'Art Objects' from discarded waste at home. She had been engaged in this activity ever since the pandemic brought many lives to a standstill. My association with a few NGOs where I have been teaching soon took this discussion to take the final shape of a 'Two Day Workshop'.

An idea that germinated, soon got everyone excited to attend this workshop. After several discussions, we homed on the last two days of the year for the event. Several teachers and students from Class VI onwards and the teachers logged into the event. Manjulika in her usual confident style soon had the eyeballs riveted on the artefacts that had been created earlier. She picked up old plastic bottles. old mugs. coffee jars and told everyone that by the next day they would all be art objects. 

The stories of 'Warli Artwork', 'Gond' and 'Madhubani' paintings were cleverly intertwined with the historical perspective. The children asked questions to satisfy their curiosity as they dabbed their paintbrushes to create their own pieces of art. After the first class, we had at least four creative works by these little artists. The pictures of their creative work need no words to express their beauty.

The second day was equally rewarding as Manjulika mesmerised the audience with her creativity of transforming a bottle of stain remover with the picture of a tree with a cherry blossom bloom. A box of tea pack had a pair of fish sparkling in multi hues. 

I am sure that these memories created would stay with the children for a long time and they would one day outshine their mentors to find a place in the society and prosper. I have many teachers, NGO organisations and of course children to thank besides Manjulika who single-handedly steered these workshops to a success

Pics - Pic1- Kind courtesy Manjulika

Pics 2, 3, 4 - Creationsof students

Monday, December 21, 2020

A Hope and Gratitude

As the year is drawing to an end, I am sure those who have remained unscathed with the raging pandemic have a lot to thank and express the gratitude. The chiming of church bells will soon herald another Christmas albeit the zing and festivities in most parts of the world as the normal life is yet to start on the familiar trajectory.

After a long time, it will be a quiet Christmas and New Year this time. Still, there are reasons to thank so many around us who have struggled to keep the lives going in these difficult times. I am reminded of my stay in Goa when I was serving in the Navy. The place is a vast airbase with all kinds of aircraft that are deployed from here. The day would begin at the crack of dawn with the briefing of pilots who would be airborne after gathering information of the weather, and status of availability of the navigation aids. During the rains in Goa, there were frequent power outages at times resulting in partial availability of the navigation aids. A huge diesel generator would crank to life to ensure that the power was restored in the shortest time, automatically. In case, the diesel generator failed to come on, the manual operator on duty would ensure that it takes over. So after the briefing on one such morning, the Commander of air operations came to address. He asked if the team knew who was the most important man on the airbase. Everyone was taken aback when he said that it was the 'DG( Diesel Generator) Operator especially in times of power failure as the lives of many depended on him. Especially the airborne pilots, who were dependent on the functioning of multiple navigation aids till they landed safely. It was the hard truth!

In our daily lives, we sometimes tend to forget the contribution of an important link, which sometimes appears to be insignificant, yet critical to ensure our well being. This year is one when remembering the contribution of frontline workers, doctors, sweepers, cleaners, milk, ration and vegetable suppliers and their long-chain need to be thanked wholeheartedly. Although many of us have stayed at home this time, without the untiring efforts of these warriors even the daily lives would have come to a standstill.

The hope of normalcy, adoption of 'new ways of working', would change our lives and will become a new norm. The personal interactions for many have now got confined to telephonic conversations. The technology has come to rescue and 'virtual travel, 'virtual classes'  are not a 'virtual reality' but real ones now. We now await the new year with a new hope that would bring a smile and a reason for cheer

PS- Pic kind courtesy Google

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Rendezvous at Sea


The mast high on which the tricolour flies
       Depicts glory and pride when guns boom in skies
The white uniform and golden stripes
    Bring back memories of music n pipes
A blowing trumpet  starts a new morn
   The roar of jet a brave heart airborne
Valiant men and women  guard sky and sea
   With determined passion and unending zeal
The grey steel vessels look quiet n sleek
   Till they belch fire to make enemies retreat
They touch the skies, n explore the deep sea
   Sweat n toil so the countrymen sleep in peace

PS:  1. The Navy Week and Navy Day( 04 Dec) bring back memories of my years at sea. This is a small tribute to the great service which gave me an opportunity to don the white uniform to serve
2. Image kind courtesy Google

Monday, November 30, 2020

Life takes a Full Circle


During the current pandemic, I realized that life has gone a full circle. So much has been redefined and so many things which we once mocked at, have become a new normal. In the current scenario what was once a forte of the IT and telecom world of working from home has become a standard practice almost everywhere except in situations where human interaction is a must. A few things which have once again silently crept back in our lives without our overt realization are worth a mention.

As a small kid, I remember when I visited Mathura the life would suddenly change. From the busy city schedule, it was a welcome change. After stepping out at the railway station from a steam engine- driven train, a ride in a rickshaw or a horse cart(tonga) was at a leisurely pace of life.  I arrived at my grandfather's place where so many aunts, uncles, and their children, all lived together. There was a  great grandmother who had an arched back and would go to the river Yamuna early in the morning for a bath. On her return some of my cousins would deliberately touch her, sending her in a rage. She would shout at them as she had been defiled by the touch and she would return to the river for taking a dip once again,  I notice a similar paranoia among even the elite these days who wash their hands several times a day, take bath more than once in a day and avoid any physical touch especially with unfamiliar people. As kids, we were not allowed to enter the kitchen in footwear and one had to leave all the footwear outside. Once inside the kitchen, no one was allowed to touch the food unless the hands were clean. This practice has returned once again and most people wash their hands before they touch the food.  Even the restaurants, fast food delivery chains and so much so even the e-commerce are portals are making a contactless delivery. 

Everywhere we went, the standard form of greeting was folding the hands and wishing a ' Namaste'. Our much-developed world and even those countries where hugging and shaking hands is a standard practice have adopted the humble ' Namaste' now. Most homes have learnt about home-cooked food and making do with just bare essentials during the current crisis. Over-dependence on domestic help has reduced significantly and most people have got accustomed to perform the domestic chores by themselves.

Whenever we fell sick, the first treatment was a hot water gargle, taking tea with basil and ginger and having a cup of steaming hot 'Kada' prepared with aniseed, ginger, cloves, black pepper and a pinch of sugar or gur, Within two to three days the ailments were bid adieu. The cycle of life has brought back the efficacy of this humble 'Kada' and even the 'Arogya Setu'(app developed by the government) has approved this to boost immunity.

The initiative of promoting the e-banking for the financially challenged masses has proved to be a boon. People have got used to making transactions using the apps and smartphones have provided a ' Midas touch'. Even children are taking their classes via the internet.

The beauty of human interactions has become a casualty but with every challenge comes learning. The urge for rushing out, eating outside and shopping by the upper-middle class has become the biggest casualty. At the same time families have got an opportunity to be together and learn to create a balance of work-life and homelife. One hopes that the dust would settle soon and life would go back on the rails soon. There is always hope and with every patient recovering from this dreaded pandemic the light at the end of the dark tunnel can be seen.

PS: Cartoon kind courtesy Google

Monday, November 9, 2020

A Whiff of Diwali


The festival of lights is just around the corner. No matter what, it is the time of year when one wants to break free from routine and indulge in some fun and merry-making. The times have changed and so have the ways of celebration. In the older times, it was mostly a simple affair though the festivities lasted longer. It would not be incorrect to draw a comparison of a five-day Cricket test match vis a vis a one day limited over- game as in present times. The festivities would commence from Dhanteras, followed with Narkachaturdesi or Chotti Diwali, the grand d-day Diwali, Bhai Duj and culminating with Goverdhan Puja. Depending on the region where one lives in the country, it may get extended to Chaat- Puja in Bihar, Kali puja in East India, Narkachaturdasi in South India and several variations.  

As small kids, the Dusshera festival used to set us in the mood of celebration for Diwali which was still twenty days away. Lighting crackers now and then, eating endless sweets mostly prepared at home, getting new clothes stitched, assisting in cleaning the house and helping the parents in petty errands kept us busy. In those times getting new clothes was looked forward to as we would get them only on our birthday, or on Diwali/ Holi or maybe on close family weddings. As we grew a bit older, a visit to Paharganj in Delhi became a ritual to buy the ingredients for making our own 'Anar'( the sparkler to be lit up on Diwali night). We would buy small lights from the Bhaigirath Palace in Chandni Chowk to make our own electric string lights. It was a tedious job but the excitement never diminished. After invariably getting a few electric shocks while testing the lights, they would finally light up the house and the balcony or verandah. Sometimes we would be running with a phase tester even at the eleventh hour to fix a defaulting string that would misbehave when least expected. We would also decorate the house with buntings and ' Kandeels'( Wooden decorative lanterns) built with a lot of effort using cardboard, glazed paper and bamboo sticks. In between, we would stare at mom who would prepare, Gujias, Besan Barfi, Kachoris, Dal Samosas, Mathri, Besan Sev, Fried Chana Dal, Gur Paras and many more things at home, while my father assisted. We never purchased sweets from outside, a tradition which my wife and I carried on many years later. In the evening on the Diwali day, a puja with silver coin having an image of goddess Laxmi would be used to offer, milk, curd, puffed rice( Kheel), sugar candy(Batasha). We would then be given some money as a blessing by our parents or grandparents followed with a round of touching the feet of elders. This would be followed by lighting the house with candles and earthen diyas. The sweets would be shared with friends and relatives with gusto. I remember waiting eagerly for the steaming idlis, sambar, chutney, Mysore Pak and other delicacies from our neighbours hailing from Chennai, on the morning of Narkachaturdasi and  Luchis, Aloo Dum and Chana Dal from the Bengali neighbour's post-Kali Puja. They were times with innocent fun. I remember just after my marriage my wife went to give sweets to our neighbours and they, in turn, brought a tray full of sweets to offer to her. She picked up the whole tray and the face of the lady turned ashen realizing that the entire tray would be gone! After my marriage when I was posted out of Delhi while serving the Navy, the tradition of making homemade sweets and savouries was carried out by my wife and often exceeded the varieties I had been eating when I was single! 

On the day of Bhai Duj all cousins, uncle and aunts would assemble at my Bua's place where Bhai Duj and Goverdahan Puja were celebrated on the same day. There would be more than fifty-six types of food ( Chappan Bhog) offered to the lord during the puja in which everyone participated. The food indulgence used to peak on this day with the possibility of missing out on tasting some variety even if one took just a spoon full of all that was laid out. This was the norm every year till my Bua left for the USA to stay with her own children who had settled there. 

Over the years a sea change has occurred and I see families spending many times more than what we could ever imagine. Eating in classy restaurants, endless buying of clothes, and commercial goods from the well-stocked malls, supermarkets, and web portals are the new norm. Very little time is spent in the rituals and pujas and like a twenty-twenty Cricket match, the curtain comes down only to announce the next sale due to commence for oncoming Christmas! As the world has become a global village, chocolates, exotic foods, branded clothes, cars and jewellery have taken the stage. As for everything else in life, 'change is the only constant', so is it for Diwali celebrations and enjoying these in the same manner as simplicity of the yesteryears.

PS All pics are mine