The Opinions and Views mentioned in this Blog are my personal opinions and views and does not reflect the views of the organization that I am working for.

22 March 2015

Six behavioral patterns that can make you a winner.....

There are six behavioral characteristics that can separate winners from losers. While these points have been discussed ad nauseam in internet articles, here is my idea of 6 traits that separate winners from losers.

1. Abundance mindset: Winners display abundance mindset while losers display limitation mindset. You can see this mindset in action in the person who gives one rupee to an old woman beggar and another person who gives 50 rupees and stands to talk to that same lady. You can see this in the husband whose constant refrain is 'We don't have cash'. Keep on repeating the same and you will see that your words will come true. Winners know that the path to riches starts through giving not through receiving. That is counter-intuitive, but that is how the laws of universe works. Winners are givers. They are thankful that there are people out there who are doing them a favor by agreeing to receive what they give. They are not proud that they are able to give. They are humbled by the experience of giving and the kind consideration of the receivers who has obliged them by accepting what they give..

2. Gratitude: Winners display Gratitude while losers display Entitlement: Winners know that there are a number of people who contributed to their success and they display enormous gratitude to those people. Winners know that 'They didn't build that'. For example, their parents provided them with the education, they had great teachers who gave them the confidence in themselves, they have colleagues and coworkers who have contributed to their success, there is divine providence that helped and guided them through difficult situations. Winners are always looking for opportunities to pay it back. Every morning they get up with a prayer of gratitude to the universe for helping them explore their true potential.  Losers on the other hand believe that they are entitled to every good that happens to them. They are entitled for every good that happens to them. If bad happens, it is the fault of the universe. 

3. Searching for good in people: Winners always look for good in people, losers always look for mistakes that people make. Winners know that every individual has their potential and is capable of delivering exceptional work. They are always looking for opportunities to find people 'doing things right'. They know that if people do not work up to their potential, it could be due to the fact that they need guidance and support to do a good job. Winners are quick with appreciation and lookout for opportunities to appreciate the good in others. Losers are always looking for ways to criticize people. They don't realize that when they point one finger at others, four fingers are being pointed at them

4. Anticipate Change (Temporary mindset): Winners realize that people and situations are always on the flux and they have to continuously work on them to maintain and improve the same. They believe in the Heraclitus adage that 'Sun is new everyday'. Even while the individual or situation is remaining the same, the environment, physical or psychological, is changing almost every minute. They do not take anything for granted and will regularly question the status quo and take corrective action to ensure that they have the situation will under control. People with the 'permanence' mindset will assume that everything will remain the same always. They do not see  the changes that are taking place everyday. They do not try to mend relationships, they take people for granted and they allow situations to deteriorate without being aware of the deterioration that is happening around them. Permanence mindset is the reason why families breakdown, the Organizational discipline is violated and things just go out of control and take a turn for the worse.

5. Details and action orientation: Winners tend to get into details of issues. They question, they seek clarification and they keep probing to go to the root of any issue. They plan very thoroughly and follow up on each task. They are action oriented and they know that things are not going to get right automatically and that they have to take required action to meet their objectives. They ask the 'How' question a lot. Losers tend to think at high level and rarely go into the details let alone to the required action. They tend to talk at the 'Want' ('I want to get good grades') or at the 'Should' ('We should take action to remove corruption') and at the 'Why' ('Why are things going from bad to worse?') levels without ever reaching the 'How' level where solutions reside. 

6. Winners anticipate and prepare. They are the scenario analysts and they are ready with SOPs to handle any eventuality. They plan. They are the ultimate followers of the dictum 'Trust but verify'. Their reactions are always planned. Losers on the other hand do exactly the reverse. They are always reactive and adhoc. They act only AFTER the disaster has struck. They always end up doing damage control and never learn from their mistakes. They flit from one preventable disaster to another.

Well, that completes my list. As you might have guessed by now, I have examples of each of the behavioral traits that I mentioned, both of a winner and a loser (more of them). I am sure that you can identify at least some people in your life that can fit into the above groups. 

I would love to hear from you about what you think and examples of behaviors that fit into the patterns above.

15 March 2015

How I started a new life in 1998....


Note: This post is presented as a part of Housing.com series on #Startanewlife. 
Checkout the embedded Video presentation of Housing.com



The year was 1998. I had been 11 years into my job, a boring deadend job, away from my family, in an alien culture with no visible prospects of career progress. Every day I was getting up and going to do the same boring job again. And again. Every morning I woke up frustrated and depressed. There was no opportunity for personal growth, no opportunity to learn anything new. 
I was looking into an career and personal blackhole. 
All around me world was changing. The Financial Reforms initiated by the government in early 90's was beginning to pay off for the country. The stock market was on a roll, the economy was upbeat, Infosys was declaring bonuses and dividends like crazy and there was optimism and enthusiasm across the country.
Except for me. 
As I looked to the future, I could see nothing but darkness. I was too old for a job change and jobs in manufacturing sector, of which I was a part, was very scarce. Also the part of the country where I worked had a reputation of trade unionism and was widely considered to be unprofessional. Rest of the country was not very enthusiastic about recruiting engineers from that part of the country. 
In addition jobs were plenty available in my home town in the area of IT. And here I was, with no idea of I or T.  I was even scared of booting up a computer. I thought that if I entered the wrong password, it would explode...
Both professionally and personally, that was the lowest point in my life.
In 10 years, I had been promoted twice to reach the post of 'Deputy Manager' with a salary and perks working out to about 7 Lakhs per year. Company provided accommodation, medical facilities, free power and water etc. 
Looking that way the life was good. But I was atrophying inside.
In the December of 1998, I got an offer from a management institute in Bangalore for the post of 'Faculty Associate'. That was the lowest position in the institute. There was no salary. I was provided a stipend of 10000 rupees per month. 
I accepted.
It took a lot of courage. There was some pressure from family. I was leaving a prestigious and secure public sector job for a low paying private sector job. Some people thought I was taking too much risk.
But I was adamant that I will take this up. This was any day better than the career abyss that I was looking into. 
That was the start of a new life for me. The management institute had all the facilities for me to learn new stuff. IT training was available aplenty. 
I joined an expensive, 6 months IT training program conducted by a leading vendor. By the time I completed the program, I had became one of the very few 'Sun Certified Java Programmers', completing the exam with 86% score.
In end of 2000, I joined an IT Company as an ERP Consultant and have been working in that area for the last 15 years. 
The job is very satisfying and the salary is good. 
Looking back, I see that the bold decision that I took in 1998 was the reason for the success later. I backed myself despite a lot of self doubts. The moment I did that opportunities opened up for me. I became confident of my abilities and my presentations and interview responses displayed conviction and confidence.
That is the lesson. Back yourself and you will never fail.

02 March 2015

Animal Farm...

Even though my father was an electrical engineer by profession, farming was his passion. He had enough land to indulge in his passion and he went the whole hog when it comes to farming. He was at the forefront of farming in Kottayam district and he used to plant whatever crop was the flavor of the season, He planted Paddy, Tapioca, Cashew, Robusta Plantain, Banana, Black Gram and Cocoa. He was in his elements once he was on the farm. He will shout at the labourers, caress the flora and fauna and was very happy with his plants and trees..
One aspect of the farming related to domesticating the animals.
Ever since I can remember we reared cows.
We had lots of land and feeding cow was not at all a problem. Also, since we used to cultivate various crops, cows could be fed the left overs once the crop was separated. For example, we used to give the cows dried paddy leaves, also known as hay (of the 'Making Hay While the Sun Shines' fame), used to mix the chaff and husk in water and feed the same to the cows and of course the leaves of the 'Kappa' plant was also given as food to the cows.
My mother came from a family where cows were non-existent, but she quickly learned to take care of the cows. She did not have to bathe the cows since we had servants to do that. However milking the cow in the morning and evening was her job.
Once she tried teaching me the process of milking the cow.  'First of all you have to get the calf do drink some milk from the udder', she told me like she was explaining the route followed by Magallen, 'Once the cow feels the tongue of the calf, it secretes the milk to the udder (Called 'Paal Churathal' in Malayalam).. Once the udder is full of milk, you first wash it with water. Then you apply Ghee on the udder to make it smooth. Then you milk each udder with the hand till all the milk is drained from the udder and then you move on to the next udder'....
Yucks...
'Half way through you again get the calf to drink the milk and follow the same process'....
One cow used to give about 3-4 litres of milk in one sitting which was sufficient for a large family.
To ensure that the calf do not drink milk at other times, you keep them separate. However some times the Calf will manage to evade the watch and drink the whole milk from the cow. Someone will come and shout 'Kidavu paal Kudichu' (the Calf has drunk the milk). That day, we hardly get any milk from the cow and my dad will come and scream at everyone.
*******************************************************************************
'Amme, Ambiye Pashu Kuthi' (Mother, Cow has gored Amby) screamed the panicked maid.
Mother came running out. The cow was standing with its newly born calf and a profusely bleeding Amby, my younger brother, was lying in front of the cow with blood spouting from his right cheek.
When this incident occurred, we were in Nattakom a small village in Kerala. I remember this incident very clearly even now despite the fact that when it happened I must have been five and my brother was four. 
The cow had recently given birth to a cute little calf and we brothers were very fascinated by the calf. All through the day we used to spend time near the cow watching it pamper its calf. We felt that the calf was our friend and it was our responsibility to look after it.
It must have been about three in the afternoon on that particular day, I think. Mom was inside the house. Both of us children were playing in the field just outside our house and the cow was tied to a nearby tree with the calf next to it. 
Amby wanted to offer something to the calf. He plucked out a coconut leaf, about a foot long, from a small tree nearby and took it to the calf.. 
There are some things from your childhood that you distinctly remember despite the passing of years. This was one such incident. I was there. We were playing, near the cow. It was afternoon. This was a brown cow with long horns. The cow was newly purchased, if I remember correctly.
Amby went too close to feed his friend, the calf. The cow, the protective mother, thought that Amby was coming to harm the calf and lunged at him. 
In the blink of an eye, the cow had gored Amby's right cheek and lifted him up about 2 meters and he fell down on the ground all bleeding and screaming.
Once Amby fell down, the cow did not do anything further. It, probably having realized the magnitude of what it had done, moved back a bit scared. It could have moved forward and crushed Amby. He was lying right in front of the cow. 
It was so surreal to me, who was only five years old. I remember seeing all these happening in front of me and not reacting at all. The magnitude of the event did not strike me. 
Of course, it was not supposed to. I was only five.
The servant lady came hearing Amby's screams. 
They took him to the hospital and he had to have 6 stitches in his cheek. Even now you can see the mark on his cheeks.
****************************************************************************
Despite his short stature, my father was a brave man. Early in our lives, when I was 4 or 5 years old, we used to live in a place called 'Poovan Thuruthu', where the family had large tract of land. Electric supply was very erratic during those days. Sometimes at night, mostly when it rains, the electric supply will go off. Then my father will take a torch, open the door to go and check if the fuse has blown or it is real power outage. 
Especially when it rains, sometimes the snakes will come in our house. Mostly they are non-poisonous snakes, about a foot or two in length that they will take shelter around the door handle. My father will blow the torch in their eyes, temporarily blinding them, pick them up by hand and throw them out. Then he will go out and check the fuse. Mostly it will be general power outage.
Of course I have not seen my dad do this, but I have heard from my mom about these episodes.
*********************************************************************************
My father also bought at least one dog.
I think he wanted it for security. 
Bringing a dog to a vegetarian, Tamil Brahmin house is the stupidest thing that you can do. There is no match between the values as practiced by us and the dog. Especially so when it comes to food. We are pure Vegetarians. We eat Vegetables, Cereals and Pulses. And the dog? It eats meat.
The twain doesn't meet at all.
Despite this, my dad brought a dog home.
Every time it hears the sound of the meat vendor or the fish monger, the dog will become frantic. Dad arranged someone to take the dog out and feed it meat and fish. However, ultimately it has to come home. After eating all that carnivorous stuff, it will come home without as much as cleansing the mouth. 
And lick all of us to show its bloody affection.
My mom, that pious, religious lady, hated the dog. 
Thankfully my dad got rid of the dog somehow.
********************************************************************************
I can't remember any more animals in my dad's life.
How many more do you need?
Note: The title is taken from the book of the same name by George Orwell. There ends the similarity

01 March 2015

Kottayam Peregrinations...

One of my fondest childhood memories are the long walks that we, I and my brother, used to take with my dad.

My dad was a born walker. He loved walking, ramrod straight, with a quick gait belying his short stature. He must have been about 5'4", but his lean body (no doubt due to all this walking) gave the illusion of height. While walking his right index finger was always straight, as if pointing facts which other people did not know. Most of the time, the finger will be writing something in the air or drawing a circle in the air. In fact I have inherited this trait of his and now realize that this was the outcome of a mind fast at work.

He used to come back from office at about 5.00 PM. Almost immediately and almost everyday he will go to Kottayam, a town about 3-4 Kilometers from our home. Kottayam is a smallish town with two roads, K K Road and Bus Stand Road being the main thoroughfares. There is a Temple in the middle of the town typical of almost all the towns in Kerala. Since Appa was originally from Kottayam he used to have a lot of acquaintances in the town and rare are the days when we do not meet at least a couple of them.

One of the regular destination was the 'Chanda', the vegetable market. He will linger around each shop, scanning each vegetable and arguing with the vendors about their freshness. The ultimate objective was to bring down the price he paid for the vegetables. The vendors knew this too and they always over quote before reluctantly bringing down the prices as if acceding to my father's superior insight. 

My father realized it too. Still this little game played out in front of us whenever we accompanied my dad to the 'Chanda'. I hated the visits to the 'Chanda', I hated the dirt, the noise, the slush and the slime. But my father was in his elements in the 'Chanda'. 

Since appa was paying for the trip and the perks, we kids had to put up and shut up. Also we enjoyed the walk. 

Mother was not a part of thease daily walks. Most of the time he will go alone and sometimes he will take us, me and my brother, to walk with him. It was strenuous, walking with him. He loved long, quick walks and we kids, about 7-8 year olds, found it difficult to keep up. Once we get tired, my dad would reluctantly slow down, brief enough for us to regain some energy and off we will go again, like a rogue rocket or something.

While we didn't care for the walks, the perks that came with it were very persuasive. Every time we went out with him, he would take us to the restaurant. There were two main restaurants in Kottayam at that time.  Both of them still exist, though not at the same location. One of them was Indian Coffee House, a farmers co-operative and the other was Hotel Aryabhawan. For us going to the restaurant was the highlight of the evening. During those days, money was tight and hence going out to eat was out of the question.

As you can imagine we, me and my brother, treasured those walks mostly for the perks that came with it.

We used to have a fixed menu in those restaurants. At ICH, we will have cutlets or sandwiches followed by Rosemilk (Milk flavoured with Rose Flower Essence). It was ‘Nei Roast’  (Ghee Roast: South Indian Pancacke laced with Ghee. ‘Nambisan’ ghee was the most famous at that time) and coconut chutney in Aryabhawan. I used to eat Nei roast with sugar, a habit that I carry to this day.

We used to hold his hands, me and bro. We will walk on either side of dad, holding on to his index fingers. My brother was more of the silent type, while I was the babbler. I used to talk non-stop. At that time I was learning multiple languages, Malayalam and English, and was learning to read. I will read out name of each shop, written in both languages, and dad will patiently correct me if he was in the mood and if not, especially  if he was preoccupied, he would ignore me.

(For a long time I remember thinking that the word ‘Accuracy’ was pronounced ‘Ahkuraki’  I never remembering asking my dad about this word. Probably because there were no shops with this name on our trail.)

Once in a while dad will buy Lottery ticket from an invalid vendor. The ticket cost One Rupee and the first price was 100000 (On lakh) Rupees. While I suspect that winning that free money was his motive in buying the ticket, he will take the moral high ground. ‘20% of the price of the ticket will go to that invalid vendor’, he will tell us, solemnly like he is Mother Theresa or something, ‘that man is poor and invalid and still he doesn't want to beg. We should appreciate his efforts by buying the ticket from him. Winning is not important, helping him is important’, the last part of the statement told while looking up, hoping that the invisible audience up there is listening.

Father’s wish was fulfilled. While he was able to donate a lot of ‘20%’ to the invalid vendor, he did not win a single lottery.

You have to be careful what you wish for because you will get it.

While money was tight through the year, there were two times in a year that we splurged. One was at the beginning of the school year. The company where dad worked gave him allowances to buy dress and shoe. While we, me and my brother,  were studying in different schools in the initial years, latter we joined the same school, the school uniforms were the same, Khaki shorts and white shirt. Readymade shirts were not available during those days. You have to buy clothes and get the dresses stitched. We will go for the cheapest clothes that can meet the basic uniform requirements. Both shorts and shirt was made of cotton cloth which will shrink and crumble after a few days of use. Into the second or the third month, the short would have converted themselves into Boxers and Shirts, white coloured ones, will shrink to the size of Tights worn by ladies.

We kids carried on despite, since most of the kids in the school were wearing similar clothes.

In one year, dad discovered ‘Egyptian Cotton’. A cheap alternative to cotton which was very soft and comfortable to wear. I remember enjoying that dress and looking forward to wearing it every day. I was the cynosure of all eyes, wearing that soft cotton clothes. Parents of many of my friends had not discovered Egyptian Cotton that year.

Of course later on it became a rage.

Purchasing Shoe was another experience. In the initial days appa got ‘Shoe Allowance’ – cash to buy Safety Shoes for his factory use – for which he had to submit the original bills as an evidence of having spend it on buying the shoe and in the later years he got ‘Coupons’ that he could exchange in the Shoe Shop. With coupons, there was no need for submitting bills and the associated bureaucracy.  There were two shoe vendors in Kottayam during those days. One was Bata and the other was ‘Carona’. Dad used the allowance to buy shoes from Carona.

Buying footwear was an elaborate ritual for our family. The entire family – father, mother and the works-  would descend on Kottayam town, destination being Carona Shop in KK Road. Once at the shop, we will try out different shoes and chappals before zeroing in on the footwear for the entire family, shoes and hawai chappals for children, good chappals for mother and black shoes for my dad.

That was the only time of the year when we bought footwear. All of us were supposed to manage the rest of the year using the same pair of footwear.

Since children spend most of the time in the wild world outside, the chappals would get damaged quite quickly. We learned to repair the hawai chappals ourselves. Most of the time it is the flap (called 'Valli' in Malayalam) that gets damaged, not the sole. We will buy spare flaps and fix them to the original shoe. I became expert at this. I will take some coconut oil and apply it around the hole and push the flap inside. If the hand do not work, I will take some small polished stick to push the flap inside the hole. With some effort, the new flap would fit in the hawai chappals.

Of course, the simplest solution to the problem of chappals getting damaged by use was to not use them. During the normal days, you will see us kids wandering around without a footwear.  The shoes and chappals were only for special occasions like going to school or going to Kottayam.  Most of our time was spent barefoot. Countless are the times when the thorns of mimosa plant pierced our sole. Many a time, we were able to pull it out with our nails (yes, long nails was a fashion among us kids then). If the thorns have gone deeper in, we will wash the surrounding area and remove the skin of the sole with a sharp razor blade (carefully of course, we did not want another wound) till the skin was sufficiently removed and we could pluck out the thorns with our nails.

I digress...

Coming back to our trips to buy footwear, once the same is completed, all of us will go to Aryabhawan (since ICH also served non-vegetarian, mom refused to go there) and eat our favourite food.

The second time in the year we splurged was during Diwali. Father used to get Diwali Bonus and we all would trundle out, this time to cloth shops to by dresses. During those days there were only two shops in Kottayam. One was ‘Seematti’ and the other was ‘Parthas’.  Our first destination was always Seematti since Parthas was more expensive. Me and my brother will get colourful shirts, Tees and shorts , mom will get Sarees and dad will buy white dhoti and shirt of sober colour (dad hated flashy colours, he was not a ‘Colourful’ man).

And we will all troop out to Aryabhawan for dinner.

The time difference between footwear and dress invariably caused problems.  On Diwali day, we will wear colourful dresses and shabby footwear and walk around the village, go to temples and such. No one noticed this ludicrous difference since every kid was dressed incongruously.

For Diwali, we also used to buy fire crackers. We all will get up at about 5.00 AM, father will light a notional cracker, which will make a lot of noise and wake up the neighborhood. During those days there was a lot of harmony within the village and no one complained.

Vishu, Kerala New Year, always celebrated on 14th of April was another occasion where we burst crackers. On both these days,  we had to get up in the morning, have a bath and go to temple.

Going to temple was mandatory.

While dad made us walk a lot, we kids did not feel much tired. Well sometimes we did feel tired, but holding on to those short, fat fingers rejuvenated us and gave us energy to continue.

That was my dad. A small man who carried a large heart. A heart that could bestow unending stream of affection on all he encountered.

Our hearts are filled with loads of memories of our numerous interactions.

Now that he is no more, we should treasure those memories.

30000 Visitors to my blog....

On 28-Feb-15, my blog hit 30000 visitors. It had hit 20000 visitors on 21-Feb-14. Which means about 30 Visitors per day on an average last year.

Personally, for a blog which started in 2005, I think my Social Media Presence is not so great. I am targeting about 100000 visitors in my blog in the current year.

Thanks you readers for visiting my blog. Some of my posts are good, some not so. Pl. read and comment your views about my blog.

27 February 2015

Murphy strikes back.....

Murphy's law states that 'If anything can go wrong, it will'. Another version of the same law is that the bread will always fall with the buttered side down'.
On my visit to Mexico, Murphy was a constant companion. Here are a few instances where Murphy announced his presence.
One the very first day of my visit to Mexico, I had the feeling that Murphy has decided to accompany me on my journey. I had planned my trip with razor sharp precision and efficiency. Reach Paris at 8.30 AM, change terminal and leave for Mexico city at 10.30 AM, reach Mexico City at 4.05 PM and board the 7.05 flight to Durango, my final destination. This will give me just about time to take a quick look at the Aeropuerto de Ciudad de Mexico.
In the beginning, it seemed as if everything was going well. The Air France flight started on time from Bangalore and reached Paris at about 8.00 AM. I felt contented and happy to note that I had enough time to transfer to another terminal and board the next flight at 10.30 AM.
That is where Murphy announced his presence for the first time. A look at the departure schedule told me that my flight to Mexico was late by four hours.
Leaving my picture perfect precision in tatters...
What to do now?
Fortunately Air France was very helpful. They gave me a seat in another Air France Flight which was leaving for Mexico City at 1.30 PM. The gate was F-38.
Now I had enough time at Paris. I wandered around the airport and by about 10.00 AM reached gate F-38.
Just to confirm the gate, I gave my boarding pass to the lady at the counter. She checked the computer and told me that the departure gate was F-65 and not F-38 as mentioned in the boarding pass.
Gate 65 is about a kilometer (at least it felt that long a distance) from 38. I trudged across to 65.
The lady at gate 65 checked and informed me that 65 was the gate for my original flight and my changed flight was actually leaving from gate 38 !!
Can you beat that?
I trudged back to gate 38 angry, tired and frustrated.
That turned out to be the correct gate by the way...
End of Murphy Instance #1
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Instance #2: The 'Flight Confusion at Mexico'
The second time Murphy announced his presence was when I reached Mexico City Airport.
The Air France flight landed at terminal 1 of the airport at about 6.10. Having completed my Visa 
process quickly, I reached the luggage collection point at 6.15. That is the normal time taken for 
luggage to arrive at the belt. But on this day, the luggage had not even been unloaded when I reached 
the belt.
I collected my luggage at 6.35 PM
There was no way I was going to be able to board my connecting flight to Durango which was to leave at 7.05 PM. So I again approached the Air France counter at Mexico city Terminal 1 for help.
The lady at the counter was very helpful. She listened to my broken Spanish patiently, quickly figured out my predicament and gave me a ticket for the Aero Mexico flight to Durango which was to leave at 9.45 PM. 
Wow, these guys are good, I thought.
Since the flight to Durango was leaving from Terminal 2, I took my luggage and trundled across to the Terminal train station to board the Terminals connector. You do not get a trolley in Mexico City 
Airport. The entire process is unionized and you can only hire trolleys from Union Members.
Since I did not have Mexican Peso in hand and since I was a bith stressed out and finally since I 
didn't know the language...
I lugged my luggage across the length and breadth of the MC airport. It felt 100 Kg!!
At T2, I went to the Aero Mexico Counter. The queue was long and it took me about 30 minutes to reach the counter. 
At the counter, I was faced with a fresh, young, inexperienced lady. 
She took ages to respond. After about 30 minutes, and after talking, calling and going to talk to 10 different people, she came and told me that:
1) Air France has not put the seal in my ticket
2) Air France has not reserved my ticket
3) So she can't give me the boarding pass. 
What should I do?
I have to go back to Air France counter in T1 and get the seal and reservation.
I had about 80000 flying miles with Air France and was a Silver Card member. To be treated like this by inefficiency in an alien city....
I was furious.
I rushed back to the train station, went back to Air France counter in T1.
Murphy was lenient this time around. The same lady who initially gave me the ticket was still at the counter. 
I explained my predicament and asked her to give me the reservation and a new seal on the ticket. 
She showed me the original seal. She told me that she can't give me a new seal. 
What about the reservation? She told me that it is already reserved and noted down the reservation code on my ticket.
My long walk back to T1 had not changed any situation. Neither did I have a new seal, nor did I have a new reservation. Nothing. Nada, Zilch....
Now it was about 9.00 PM. I was frantic. It is one thing to miss your original flight, but totally a different thing to miss the last flight to your destination.
I rushed back to T2, to the Aero Mexico Counter again.
This time I approached a guy. He also took his own time (may be it was my long name) and by about 9.20 PM gave me the boarding pass for the 9.45 flight.
And asked me to rush...
The nerve !!. Aero Mexico had taken almost 90 minutes at the counter to give me the boarding pass and now they were asking ME to rush.
Perhaps it is better if they followed their own counsel.
I rushed.
After a very thorough cabin baggage checking, I reached the departure gate at 9.35 PM and boarded the flight.
I reached Durango at 11.20 PM.
End of Instance #2
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Instance #3: The Hotel
I came out of Durango Airport at 11.45 PM. by the time my luggage arrived, it was almost midnight. Since this was the last flight of the day, they were preparing to close the airport for the day. I took the last taxi to Holiday Inn where I had my reservation. 
We reached Holiday Inn at around 12.45 AM. I came out of the taxi, took my luggage out and ....
The manager came running. 
'Are you Mr.Vaid.....Krish....'? He stuttered. 
To an inexperienced ear, it would have sounded like babble. However, having experienced my name being butchered at various places in Latin America, I realized that he was trying to pronounce my name. 
'Yes, that is me', I intervened to end his misery
'Sorry sir, since you did not arrive on time, we cancelled your reservation. We are sold out today and I will put you up in our sister hotel'.
He told the driver to take me to another hotel.
Here I was, in an alien city, sitting in a Taxi with an unknown driver (for all I knew, he could have been a drug dealer, after all, I was in Mexico) driving to deserted city streets, on my way to 'I didn't know where'.
Murphy couldn't have been more hardworking.
Finally I reached the hotel. All safe and sound...
End of Instance #3
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Instance #4: The lift
I was late for the office meeting and was in a hurry. I was impatiently waiting for the lift.
I live in the 4th floor of the hotel. I pressed the 'Down' button and waited.
The lift started from the basement. 
It stopped at Ground floor on its way up. Some people got in.
Next stop was the lobby. Lift stopped and a few people got out for breakfast. A few people who had finished the breakfast got in.
The lift stopped at first floor and guys who got in at basement exited.
Lift stopped at floor 2.. A guy who had finished Breakfast got out.
At floor 3, a few got out and a lady entered.
The lift stopped at my floor.
'4th Floor?', exclaimed the lady, 'I had pressed the down button to go to ground floor'.
I did't care. As far as I was concerned she could go to.......
An attendant got in at 4th floor along with me.
He pressed '2' button, changed his mind and pressed '1' button.
On the way down, the lift stopped at '3' because the lady had pressed the 'Down' button in that floor. That is how lift works.
It stopped at '2' because the attendant had pressed the button by mistake.
It stopped at '1'  and the attendant got out.
It stopped at lobby and some people who had finished breakfast got in. 
Finally it stopped at ground floor for me to get out.
The whole process took about 7-8 minutes. I would have been better taking the stairs.
Needless to say I was late for the meeting.
End of Instance #4
*******************************************************************************
Instance #5: The comb
During my school days, my teacher taught us that a man should always carry the following three things.
1) Money
2) Comb
3) Hand Towel
I always carry a comb in my pocket. I feel stressed out and flip out if I don't have a comb in my pocket.
I have 'Comb Withdrawal Symptom'
Since I have this 'Comb Fetish', I always ensure to pack an extra comb when I travel. For safety and comfort.
Just in case.
I had packed an extra comb for my trip to Mexico as well. I used to keep one in my pocket and one in the 'check in' luggage.
Due to all the back and forth mentioned in incident 1, I lost my comb somewhere between Bangalore and Durango. No problem, I had a spare one any way.
Within two days of taking out the spare comb I lost it.
I was 'Combless in Durango' as it were.
Buying a comb in an alien country is not that easy, especially if they speak a different language than you. First you have to cross the language barrier. After a series of Semi English, Semi Spanish and Semi Hand signals, I found that a comb is called 'Peine' in Spanish.
'Donde puedo comprar un peine'? I asked a passerby (Where can I buy a comb)
'Trate Sanbornes, por favor' (Please try Sanbornes)
'Quiero un peine', I told the lady at Sanbornes
'Largo y Pequineo?' (big or small?) she asked
'Pequineo' I replied. I wanted a small comb that can fit in my pockets.
She brought a comb packed in a guilded cage.
'Cuanto?' (How much?) I asked
'165 Pesos' (15 USD)', she replied.
I couldn't believe my ears. There has to be some mistake. So I took out a 200 Peso note and asked her if I give that how much she will give me back.
'35 Pesos', told the lady
I wanted to ask if the comb was made of Gold or something. But lack of fluency in Spanish and the fear of being oversmart in an alien country prevented me from freely expressing my emotions.
'Es muy caro por un piene pequino, no?' I asked sweetly (Isn't it too costly for a small comb?)
'Es material muy suave', she replied (the material is very soft)
Who cares for a soft comb costing your full day's pay? I quickly got out of Sanbornes
You will be surprised to know the number of people in a city who do not know the location of a shop where one can buy comb at a reasonable price.
Everyone knew Sanbornes. No one knew any other shop.
Finally I found a shop 'Allison's' where I could buy a small comb for 5 pesos. I could have got around 5-6 combs in India for the same amount. This was no time for penny pinching. I had to have my small comb. I bought one.
A week later, I lost my new comb as well. Since it was raining heavily and Allison's was very far, I went to the nearby Walmart and purchased a new comb for 18 Pesos. I still have it.
In the last three years in India, I have never lost a single comb and here in Mexico, in a span of about three weeks I have lost three combs. Now I have decided to carry two spare combs for every trip.
If this is not Murphy, please tell me what it is....
***************************************************************************
Instance #6: Durante Viaje de Vuelta (During Return Journey)
I ldft Durango today morning at 6.45 and reached Mexico City airport at 8.20. The flight landed at Terminal 2.
While coming to Mexico, my Air France flight had landed in T1. So I confidentally proceeded there. If you remember my luggage was heavy. I had done some solid packing. The idea was to check in my suitcase and take a leisurely stroll around T1. I had around five hours to kill.
As I envisioned it, I will got to the Air France counter, say 'Buenos Dias' to the pretty Air France lady, deposit my luggage, collect my boarding pass and walk around the airport.
All well thought out. This time I will beat Murphy.
When I reached the Air France Counter, no one was there. It was empty.
Now I did not know what to do. I thought that I was early and I will wiit. So I started walking around T1, pulling my luggage full of Stones !
As mentioned previously, no trolleys were available in T1.
I espied one Union Member with a trolley. I started chatting with him. I showed him my ticket. He checked it and told me that my flight is an Aero Mexico Flight and that it was to depart from T2.
Now I knew the drill. I lugged my luggage, got in the Terminal Connector and reached T2.
It was Deja Vu all over again.
********************************************************************************
That is it. As you can see Murphy was my constant companion thru the journey. Since Murphy was with me, he would not have attacked others and their tasks would have completed without any complication.
For that others have to thank me. For providing constant companionship to Murphy during those days. .

26 February 2015

Pilots da attitude...

Have you flown in airline? If yes, did you have a chance to observe the pilot?
Airline pilots have an attitude. A style, a joie de vivre that is difficult to explain. The other day I was flying by Indigo from Bangalore to Mumbi. I saw this lady pilot entering the airplane. She was quite young, as pilots often are here in India and she had an attitude....
(The word 'Attitude' has a specific connotation in Punjabi language. It connotes a 'Devil May Care' look, an explicit look of 'I am in Control here' and combines a particular style called 'Tashan' in Punjabi language)
Part of her hair was coloured darkish red and she wore an 'Aviator' and this no-nonsense look that said 'don't mess with me'. 
Why this attitude?
After all, she is only a driver who is ferrying paying passengers from place A to place B. Local Taxi drivers or long-distance bus drivers or train engine drivers are all doing the same thing.
Imagine your local taxi guy with an attitude. You order a Meru Cab in the morning at 4.00 and instead of shabby looking, pan chewing, khaki clad, half-asleep guy, imagine a driver sporting a crisp white shirt, black trousers and a matching tie. Imagine him sporing a 'Wayfarer' dark glasses and speaks in a clipped accent. On the way he informs you that 'We are currently travelling at Zero Altitude with a ground speed of 50 MPH. We expect a few speed breakers and potholes on the way. I suggest that you keep your seat belt loosely fastened'.
Every time he sees a speed breaker or a pothole, a light will flash in front of you with a 'Fasten Seat Belt' sign. Imagine the Seat Belts being available and working in the first place.
Imagine a taxi driver with an attitude. After all he is also ferrying passengers from place A to place B.
You may say that a taxi carries only one or two passengers and that too for short distances. What about the driver of a bus that ferries passengers across long distances? Imagine when you reach a bus station, you see a clean and neat bus. Imagine that as you sit in the bus, you see this laptop wielding, spic, span and debonair driver entering the drivers seat. What if he announces, 'Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen. Our Vaishno Devi Transport Bus Number HY-74 /1234 to Bareilly is now ready for departure. Our driving time to Bareilly is 16 hours and 32 minutes. We are waiting for the cleaner to get in before we start. Sit back, relax and enjoy the drive'.
Now that is a  bus driver with attitude.
Imagine him announcing 'We are 150 miles from Bareilly, we have begun our approach to Bareilly. We will reach Bareilly in another 180 minutes'. Imagine if the bus had 'Road Hostesses' to serve food to the passengers. What if he makes a mid journey announcement like 'We are now travelling through UP. On your left you can see 'Sonny Singh da Lovely Dhaba where you can get 'mast' Chicken Tandoori'. Imagine him informing you of the current temperature in Bareilly?
I ask you. Imagine....
What about the train driver. He ferries much more passengers than an airline pilot. Why can't he show attitude? 
Imagine, once they reach their destination the bus driver and train engine driver are taken in a merc and accommodated in a five star accommodation?
Imagine a bus driver with attitude.
It may cost the customer a bit more, but it is worth it.
And It will be fun.

23 February 2015

The 'Inhospitable' cow and the harrowing holidays...

'Kanna, there is some problem with the cow', shouted my father from the cowshed.
'So what?', I thought to myself. Of course I did not say it aloud. You didn't mess about with dad.
My father's parenting style was based on a three step framework summed up in a pithy Malayalam phrase 'Cholli Kodu, Thalli Kodu, Thalli Kala' (Tell'em / Teach'em, Beat'em, Throw them out). First you try to tell them, to educate them on what is good and what is bad. Instill respect in them.  If they do not listen, beat them up, instill fear in their minds. If that do not work, then throw them out, give up and ignore them. I think I graduated directly into the second level and has been in that level ever since I remembered. Dad had a short fuse and carried a 'Chooral' - a thin stick used to beat up the children. Having been at the wrong end of that stick on more than one occasion and knew how painful it could be. One did not wantonly wish those episodes to recur.
So when dad said that there is a problem with the cow, you did not equivocate or bloviate or say 'So What'. You just reached the cowshed to see what was the problem with the cow.
Still I took my own time to respond to this frantic dispatch from my dad. I laboriously got out of the bed, threw down the book I was reading, washed my face and made a big show of ambling to the cowshed.
I had time. Enough of it.
For, I was enjoying my Summer Holidays.
Padre was standing at the cowshed with a perplexed look on his face.
'What appa? Why did you call me?', I was oozing helpfulness
'There is some problem with the cow', he replied.
I looked at the cow. As far as cows go, this was nothing particular to look at. It was a lazy cow, with perennial drooping eyes giving the impression of being tired of the world and indifferent to what was around. It was standing there chewing the cud and generally looking bored. Never a demonstrative cow, on this Sunday morning, it was outdoing itself in its impassivity. It just stood with grand insouciance to the observations of the perplexed padre and his lethargic lad.
'What is it? I can't see anything.', I commented
'Look at the back side', said my father
Then I saw it. A big piece of flesh was hanging from its back. The flesh was the size of a pumpkin and from the freshness of the blood on the skin, it was obvious that the flesh was a recent eject. I did not have a clue as to what I was looking at.
'My god, what is it?', I blurted out
'The cow seem to have ejected its uterus', answered my father.
I had no idea what he was talking about. Whatever it was, this 'Uterus' was not the kind of stuff one would want to see or hear about during one's summer vacation.
****************************************************************************
It was the summer of 1976. I was in Class 7 and Summer Vacations (of two months) had started a week prior and I had made elaborate plans for enjoying my vacation. So far the vacation was panning out exactly as I had wanted. Essentially my vacation plan consisted of about 7-8 key activities. In chronological order, these consisted of:
  1. Get up late in the morning
  2. Loiter around throwing stones at coconut trees
  3. Climb mango tree and pluck and eat as many mangoes as possible
  4. Go to the nearby shooting range and collect used cartridges and sell them to the scrap dealer
  5. Lunch
  6. Repeat activities 2-4
  7. Dinner
  8. Sleep as much as possible
I had studiously (?) avoided 'study' in the above list
As mentioned earlier, summer vacation was progressing as per plan. Seven days into the vacation, I had slept a lot, eaten more mangoes than one could imagine, my stone throwing had improved and I had collected enough scrap to earn a decent income.
*********************************************************************************
'What do I do now?', father was thinking aloud. I maintained a studied silence. Growing up in a Kerala village, a boy learns to keep his trap shut.
'Let me see if I can push it back inside', said my father.
I continued to remain silent.
He went behind the cow and pushed the uterus back inside. It went smoothly in. Father's face lit up.
'It was so easy. I need not have worried', here was a proud padre
Suddenly, without batting an eyelid, the cow pushed the uterus out. As a bonus it sprayed some blood on my father's whitish lungi.
If he was disappointed with the outcome, my dad did not show it. With the grim determination of a bull-headed Indian farmer he again eased the uterus in.
And waited.....
Nothing happened for about a minute and then....
Plonk ! out came the uterus.
This time my dad was ready and waiting. Just like a badminton player hitting the shuttle in mid air, he caught the uterus in mid ejection and pushed it back in. 
The cow was now enjoying it (it seemed to me) and even before appa took his hand out, the uterus was out again, and appa was ready and waiting to push it back in.
I was enjoying the to and fro between two uterus pushers with my dad pushing it in and the cow pushing it out. As I saw it, this was a pleasant diversion from the tedium of my summer vacation. This could be yet another vacation experience that I could relate to my grand children. Unbeknownst to me, I was smiling.
'Don't stand there smirking like a moron', screamed my dad, 'Come and help me push this damn thing in'
This was a new development. But I did not hesitate.
Sweat was flowing down my father's neck and veins were protruding from his forehead. There was no way I was going to hesitate.
I went behind the stinking cow and more stinking dad and gingerly, like an american woman wading into the Indian poverty, positioned myself and pushed the uterus with my left hand.
My dad observed it.
'What do you think you are doing? Come and stand behind the cow and push with both hands', commanded my dad.
Now both of us were pushing the uterus in with the cow pushing it out. 
I was well and truly a member of 'Project Uterus Push Team'.
My summer vacation was quickly moving into uncharted territory.
After a few minutes of huffing, puffing and panting we stood to look at the result. The cow had won. The uterus was still out.
********************************************************************************
'What do we do now?', wondered my father
I did not like the 'we' part at all. Till now I had a hope that this disturbance to my vacation was an unpleasant dream and I expected this to end soon. With every passing minute, that hope was fading.
'What do we do now? The crows are already waiting', said my father, looking around.
This was a new development.
I looked up. The CMS (Crow Messaging Service) had already broadcast the presence in the cowshed of a couple of dazed dudes standing around a contented cow with a fleshy uterus. Like visitors to a community lunch, the crows were arriving leisurely. Currently they were watching the fun. No doubt they felt that a bit of entertainment was called for before the commencement of the feast.
*********************************************************************************
'I will go and call the vet', my father informed.
I was relieved. This was a brief disruption to my vacation schedule. Now adults will take over. I got up to follow dad. A luxurious bath was called for.
'Where do you think you are going?', my dad asked me in an accusatory tone, 'if both of us go, the crows will rampage the uterus and there will be a bloody mess here. You wait here and ensure that the crows do not come near the cow', he instructed.
Can you beat that? The second Sunday of my vacation and I was being asked to become a scarecrow...
My brother had now joined the party. He was standing there, biting into a juicy mango, oblivious to the mango juice drooling from both sides of his mouth.
'Why don't we move the scarecrow from the paddy field and keep it here?', I suggested. My father was growing paddy and he had kept a scarecrow in the field. To keep the cows away from rice, if you see what I mean.
'It won't work', said my brother, the ever helpful, 'If the crows find that the scarecrow is a statue, they they will rampage the paddy field also'
If the crows are so dashed intelligent, they would have been in Harward, I thought to myself. Of course I was joking. It was very difficult, if not impossible, for a crow, even one with a high IQ, to clear GRE and get a US Visa. Now crow has ever done that.
'The 'scarecrow' will become a 'Darecrow'', he guffawed. 
I gave him a look. Wasted, of course.
I grit my teeth. Presence of my dad prevented me from landing a juicy one on his bottom. 
It was obvious that he was taking his revenge on me. The other day I had caught him stealing from my scrap pile and had beaned him one. 
Dad concurred with my brother. 
'Your brother is right', he said, 'we can't afford the crows to get over the fear of scarecrow. You wait here till I come back'
'What do I do? I can't stand here all day doing nothing', I was desperate
'Read your math text book', replied my cold-hearted dad.
The die on my summer vacation had well and truly been cast.
*******************************************************************************
The vet, a practicing christian, was at the church, where my father located him. Though not his regular working day, he agreed to come and take a look at the cow.
He was of medium build, the vet, of medium height and was in his mid 30's. He came, he saw and he assessed the situation pretty quickly.
'The cow has pushed the uterus out', he informed us authoritatively.
My father was obsequious to the commanding authority.
'We tried pushing it in. But the cow pushed it out again', he meekly informed the vet.
This was a new dad. Meek and obedient to authority.
'Probably you did not push it back in the correct position. So the cow felt uncomfortable and pushed it out again', the vet was all authority.
'Don't worry, we will push it back in again', his assurance was very comforting. 
I felt my Summer Vacation reviving. This was a bad dream. Everything will be all right now. I can resume my vacation. I was feeling calm and comfortable. There was a sense of optimism all around.
The vet rolled up his sleeves. I was impressed with this display of cool confidence of the professional.
'Get me some water', he told my dad. My dad promptly brought a bucketful.
Vet went behind the cow and pushed the uterus in. 
In my sixth grade, I had been initiated into the world of classical physics through Newton's third law which says that 'Every action has an equal and opposite reaction'. I was now about to witness the law in action.
As he pushed the uterus in, the cow gave a mighty heave and in the blink of an eye, the confident vet was covered neck down with dark green cow dung.
This was a Sunday and the vet had dressed up in sparkling whites for the church and now the 'whiteness' had all but vanished from his shirt.
The universe was filled with a mosaic of expressions. The cow had an amused smile on her face, my father had the affected seriousness of a concerned farmer and I was trying to hide my laughter. 
The vet had a pained expression on his face, much like Mona Lisa having been disrobed in Louvre.
I could see from his face that the devout christian was trying to control his feelings in front of a child. There was no doubt that his thoughts were filled with pages of juiciest essays written in window's 'Symbol' font. The range of his thoughts covered the *&;#@$%%##@ cow, the **##@@%^^^ farmer and the @#$%^%^@** boy who was trying to control his laughter.
The internal struggle continued for about five minutes. Finally the 'Good Man' won over the 'Bad Man'. 
'I need some water and a spare shirt', he was talking to nobody in particular.
*******************************************************************************
Once the vet left, we were faced with a slew of challenges. First was to determine the next course of action re the uterus. The cow had obviously rejected it. While the family was deciding, I was asked to continue to be the scarecrow. Second challenge was to ensure that the area remained clean of flies and dirt. The vet told us to ensure that the uterus is kept clean to ensure that sepsis doesn't develop. So (naturally) I was asked to clean the uterus with water at regular intervals.
The next day the vet came (adorned with apron, of course) and pushed the uterus back in and stitched the skin. The whole day, the cow kept pushing the uterus out and but it looked as if the stitch was strong enough to withstand the pressure of the peristalsis. The vet told us that if the uterus stayed in for a few days, the cow will adjust to its presence and everything will be alright.
Someone had to keep and eye of the cow through the day. My father had to go for work and so I was asked to keep a watch (Naturally. It was not as if I had two more brothers who could do this work). Throughout this period, my father donned an injured expression and kept mumbling about the sacrifices that he had to make. Of course (he mumbled), he would have loved to be near the cow, but he also had a family to feed. The least that we children could do is to understand his compulsions and support him whole heartedly.
When he said 'Children', he meant me of course.
******************************************************************************
My mother, the eternal optimist, pointed out that it was good that the incident happened during my vacation. At least we have someone available, she said. Imagine the challenges if this incident had happened during the children's school days....
Imagine.....
The vet was wrong. The cow never accepted the uterus. After about three days, the stitches gave way. The stitches tore the skin and the uterus came out. Now I had a damaged skin to look after in addition to the uterus.
Talk of frying pan and fire.....
The vet raised his hands. Nothing more could be done.
Some decision had to be made regarding the cow. My father, indecisive as ever, took ages to make a decision. All through those indecisive days I was asked to keep watch on the uterus. My duties included among others, wash the uterus and the skin, apply skin ointment, once the uterus was dry cover it with a black plastic bag....
Sit and watch....
I had become a 'Uterus Watchman'. While I was sitting at the cowshed, I was asked to read some school books.
Cruelty....
This went on for about a month. Of course the crows were there too. I was not completely successful in keeping the crows away from the uterus. When my eyes were off, they will fly in and rampage the uterus leaving a bloody mess.
Which I had to clean
The cow took it all in its stride.
*******************************************************************************
I don't remember what we ultimately did with the cow.
And I don't care.
My summer vacation was spent in a cowshed.
I don't think that I will tell this story to my grandkids.

'Kappa Krishi' Phenomenon....

My father played many roles in his life.

Professionally he grew from being an electrician to heading the electrical department in a small factory near his house in the same town that he was born and brought up. In his role as a provider he looked after a very big extended family comprising of about twenty people, being its major bread winner. Despite being a small person, he was like this large umbrella that protected many a people from the rain. He carried a broad shoulder, enough for most of the family to cry on, complain or to blame. He took it all in his stride. Also in his role as a provider, he ensured that all his four sons got high class education. We were a family of six, father, mother and us four sons, self being the eldest. We children were by no means easy to bring up, but he did it with elan despite taking lot of stress. 

In the role of a communicator, he was par excellence. He had this knack of starting up a communication with almost anyone from 8 to 80 and beyond. He claimed to have a basic knowledge of astrology and that brought forth a lot of associates. 

He dabbled in classical music, was a natural litigant getting involved in many a court battle and was a thorough gentleman, sometimes a bit acerbic.

But the role that he relished, which he was passionate about and in which he excelled was in his role as a farmer.

Farming was in Appa's (Appa: Tamil for Father) blood. Come early morning, he will head out into the wild, clad in a lungi with an occasional towel covering his upper torso. Climate in Kerala is hot and humid all through the year and his dress code was par for the course in Kerala. Once outside, he will immerse himself in his pet trees and plants. Be it a tall coconut tree or a small flower plant, all got his equal attention. Like Lord Elmsworth of Blandings Castle, he will spent time near each plant, caressing the leaves and lovingly smelling the flowers and gingerly weighing the pumpkins...

Most of my early memories of Appa are of his spending time in his farm. He and his brothers inherited a large acreage of land and he was determined to make the most out of this gift. One of my earliest memories is about his rice cultivation. Till he ended up with a major loss, he used to cultivate rice in every season. In his first season, he sowed about one 'meni' and reaped about 150 'Menis' of rice. My mom tells me that this rice was very tasty and there was a high demand for the same. In the kind of barter system that existed in Kearla at that time (we are talking about late 60s and early 70s), one kilogram of this rice fetched him 4 kilograms of ordinary rice which he then sold in the market and made a lot of money.

My memories about this period is very sketchy. I remember seeing a number of ladies sitting in our backyard and trying to separate the rice from the chaff. First they will fill a large 'Kotta' ( a container made mostly of Bamboo) with the rice and let it fall from a height. A fan running in the background will blow away the light chaff leaving behind the heavier rice. Once the rice is separated, it is boiled in a large 'Chembu' or 'Uruli' - Round flattish kind of vessel, normally used in South India, especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The ladies will light a large fire, much like the ones that you see in a movie about African Jungle, and place the Uruli on the fire. They will add water and rice in the Uruli and let it boil. Once boiled the rice is dried and then sent to a rice mill. In the mill, the rice is separated from the husk and now the rice is ready for human consumption and husk and the chaff is ready for the consumption of cows and chicken which are the sine qua non in most of the houses in Kerala in those days. We had cows at home for the milk but did not rear chicken since we were vegetarians and did not eat eggs.

To prevent pests from damaging the crops, my father will call the pesticide guy once a while to spray pesticides on the rice crop. This guy was a site to behold in the hinterlands of Kerala. You will see him walk in the middle of the rice / paddy field, a solitary sprayer, with a cylinder of Pesticides hanging on his back and the sprayer in his hand, spraying away pesticide like crazy. I could almost picture him like Niel Armstrong walking about on the surface of the moon with all that Oxygen cylinder hanging on his back. We children were barred from going near him since the pesticide was very poisonous and could damage the eyes if it fell in them by accident, but we could go near enough to smell the pungent smell of the pesticide being sprayed on the unsuspecting pests.

Buoyed by his success in the first season, my father cultivated rice in the next season also. Here also he made good money. However he was not lucky in the third season where, due to inclement weather, he made a measly four times the rice that he sowed. After paying off the labourers and considering all the operational costs, my father ended the season in a big loss of both money and appetite for rice cultivation. 

This ended his tryst with rice / paddy cultivation.

He also dabbled for a small period in Black Gram ('Cheru Payar' in Malayalam) and Robusta Plantain Cultivation.

There are two other crops that my father cultivated about which I have memories. While I have fond memories about 'Kappa Krishi' (Tapioca Cultivation, Kappa is pronounced 'Cuppa'), the memories are not so fond about his Cocoa Cultivation.

First about his 'Kappa Krishi'.

'Kappa' is a major cash crop of Kerala. Since I am a vegetarian and teetotaler I can't vouch for it, but my friends emphatically state that 'Kallu' with 'Kappa' and 'Mean Curry' (Kallu - Toddy, a type of local liquor found mostly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, 'Mean Curry': Fish Curry) is the greatest food combination that they have ever (and will ever) eaten. 

'Kappa' is a very easy, low maintenance vegetable to cultivate. All you need is a mound of soil and a small (6 inches) long stem of the plant. The stem has to be fixed in the correct direction for the plant to grow. Then you wait for the miracle of the nature to do its trick. Almost from day one the plant starts growing. Soon the plant grows to about 2 meters tall, leaves and all. .

Once the plant is matured (about three months, I think) the root (Kappa) is ready to be pulled out. First step is to cut out the stem leaving about 6 inches in tact. This is to hold and pull out the root when the soil around had been removed. Then you make a wide circle around the mound and start slowly digging out the sand. You pour water to moisten the soil so that it is easy to dig. The wide circle is so that the shovel do not damage the root. Once you spot the root, you patiently remove the soil around the root and finally pull out the roots (holding the stem) and the Kappa is now ready to be cleaned and cooked.

The leaves are given to cattle as fodder and the stem is reused, almost immediately, for the next crop of Kappa. Children used the stems as cricket stumps or to play 'Kuttiyum Kolum' (Kutti and Kol: Kutti - A small stick 6 inches long, and Kol; A longer stick used to hit Kutti).

That is the beauty of stuff available from nature. You can reuse almost all the parts. Not a single thing is wasted.

Compare that to Plastic...

I digress.

I mentioned earlier that I had fond memories of Kappa Krishi. That is because, those days (I should have been about 6-7 years old at that time), I was also a Kappa Farmer. Kappa is planted in rows  of 10 meters long with three mounds per meter. I used to own a row. I will remove the weeds from my row and make mounds and plant thirty Kappa Stems in the mounds. 

As I mentioned before, Kappa starts growing from day one. I will wake up every morning, and like Appa, will go out wearing just a trouser and no shirt and affectionately stand there watching my Kappa Krishi grow. Occasionally I will find that some of the Kappa is not growing and most of the time the reason is that I had planted the stem in the wrong direction. Like god, Kappa is very patient and allows you to remedy your mistakes. I will pluck out the stem and fix it in the right direction and pour some water to pacify the irate stem. 

At the time of harvest, seeing your Kappa being excavated, oh man, is a heavenly feeling.....

My mother used to make various preparations using Kappa. One was 'Kappa Puzhuku', a preparation where Kappa is cut into smallish cubes and prepared in a ground mix of coconut, cumin seeds, green chilli and curry leaves. Another tasty preparation was boiled Kappa eaten with chutney made of Onion, Green Chillies and Curry Leaves. Then there was Kappa chips, Kappa sliced into thin slices, dried and fried in coconut oil.

Normally I like Kappa preparations, they are healthy and tasty. But when the same was made with the Kappa from my row, they were extra special. 

Around the time I was 10, we moved to Factory Quarters. Here the land area was smaller. Even though Appa continued his various Krishi, I had 'Grown Up' and found Kappa Krishi to be uncool.

Appa had multiple bounty harvests when it came to Kappa. Since it is a cash crop and start generating cash from the time it is out of earth, he made some profit out of his Kappa Krishi. 

I remember is stealing some money to buy Pencils and stuff and getting caught by Appa. That is a story for another article.

Now let me tell you about his Cocoa Krishi and why I disliked it.

Cadbury India created the culture of Cocoa Cultivation in the country in 1964. Kerala produced about 80 percent of the Cocoa demand in India and Kottayam, the place were we lived, produced most of the Cocoa produced in Kerala. In the years 1978 to 80, the Cocoa production peaked in the country. 

Cocoa was a very lucrative crop. Cadbury was purchasing Cocoa at about 15 rupees per Kg from the local farmers and the margins were in the range of 40 percent, unheard of for any other cash crop. Every farmer and his grandfather who had a bit of land was cultivating Cocoa. During those days, the stink of Fermented Cocoa was the state smell of Kerala. 

Once matured, Cocoa had to be plucked, fermented and dried in a span of just 3 days.

Cadbury had set up collection centers in various points in Kottayam District. Unfortunately for me, the nearest one was on the way to the college where I was doing Higher Secondary Course. So (Naturally !!) I was entrusted with the task of carrying about 5 Kilos of the fermented and slushy Cocoa to the Cadbury collection center in Kottayam, almost every day. I must have been about 16 then and had understood what was socially permissible. I realized that carrying stinking, slushy Cocoa in Plastic bags was not something which society encouraged. Despite silent reproach by the general public, I carried on this activity for over a year.

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining. In this case there were two. First is that even in crowded places, I got place to sit. Since people wanted to stay as far away from the Cocoa they gave up their seats as I approached. I was a social outcast in public transport during those days. The second one was that it built character I learned to ignore public reactions and carry on with what I had to do, provided I knew what I was doing was correct. (of course I am joking, every day I used to come home and complain that people are avoiding me.) !

Appa also cultivated Coconuts. Normally he used to sell it to the market, but in the latter days, he used to sell it to Coconut Oil Mills. In return, we got annual supply of Coconut Oil. 

That oil, straight out of the mill, is the tastiest coconut oil that I ever experienced.

Towards the end of his life, he sold off his property and came to live with us in Bangalore. Without the land to go out in the morning, without the plants, vegetables, fruits and flowers to caress, without labourers to shout at, my father was feeling like a river fish caught and kept in an aquarium. The fish had everything, regular food, someone to take care and all the needs having been met.

But it lacked Freedom to move around in its natural habitat.

That is the price one pays for progress....

30 November 2014

My trave(ai)ls with Spicejet....

Talk of Divine Retributions !!!
My family stays in Bangalore and I work out of Mumbai. Since I have holiday on the second and the fourth Saturday of a month, I fly down to Bangalore on Friday evening and return to Mumbai on Monday morning.
I have been doing this for the last 30 months. Like a clockwork.
Recently Spicejet announced some low fares and I decided to take advantage of those fares and booked tickets by Spicejet for the week of 21st November and on 29th November. It was not that I went through the mad rush of booking those lower fares. When I checked in a Travel Website, Spicejet tickets were cheaper than the rest. So I purchased them.
My booking for 21st November was as follows.
Friday 21st of November: Spicejet Flight leaving Mumbai at 7.05 PM and reaching Bangalore at 8.45 PM
Monday 24th of November: Spicejet Flight leaving Bangalore at 9.05 AM and reaching Mumbai at 10.45 AM. 
Travel time from Airport to my office is about an hour. So I was expecting to reach my office by about 11.30 - 11.45 AM
I had booked this ticket about two weeks in advance. On Monday, 17th of November, my boss scheduled a meeting at 11.00 AM on 24th. Since I won't be able to reach office at that time with my current booking, I was planning to cancel my booking, lose out 1500 rupees, and pay the extra fare (which normally works out to about 2000 rupees, a total cost of 3500 including cancellation charges) book by an earlier flight that leaves Bangalore at 6.55 AM, getting me to my office comfortably in time for the meeting. 
I was sad about losing that money but couldn't see any other options.
That was when Spicejet God intervened. They cancelled my morning flight from Bangalore and gave me their customer care number to reschedule my flight.
Reaching Spicejet Call Center number can be a daunting experience. It is my case that it is easier to reach President Obama on the phone,( in Air Force One, high above the high seas, during a Nuclear Crisis) sooner than you can reach Spicejet call center. I somehow managed to reach their call center and got my ticket rescheduled to 6.55 AM Flight at no extra cost.
This was what the doctor ordered....
Only personal cost was that I had to get up at about 4.00 AM to take the 4.50 Airport Bus from my area. A small price to pay. 
I felt like a winner. I crowed about my good luck to all who cared to listen.
Little did I know....
Remember I had mentioned previously that I had another booking by Spicejet on 29th November? You might have forgotten, but Spicejet remembered. 
As a punishment for crowing about my good luck, Spicejet cancelled both legs of my BOM - BLR flights. Both the bloody legs !!!. They cancelled my BOM - BLR flight leaving BOM at 5.15 PM on 29th November and the BLR-BOM flight leaving at 9.05 AM on 2nd December.
While they transferred my ticket to 6.55 AM flight on 2nd December, they wanted me to call their call center and get my flight rescheduled. Remember, they had a Bangalore flight at 7.05 PM on the same day, they could have rescheduled the same as they did for my return leg. But they did not do it.
May be because I am not a corporate account. Or may be they are uniformly unprofessional and did not do this for any passenger. I don't know.
I again did the pilgrimage of calling their Call Center and after about 100 attempts (I am joking, it was about 150), I managed to get someone on line.
"Can I get my flight rescheduled for the same day evening?" I queried. This was a courtesy question. I was very sure that they will. After all, don't they pride themselves on their on-time guarantee and all that?
No, he informed me, the inventory for BOM-BLR flights for 29th is full. He can accommodate me in a circuitous route, BOM-DEL-BLR. Will it be ok?
It was not ok. Who wants to fly half the country at night on a weekend when you could be with your family? But he informed me that there were no other options currently, so I reluctantly agreed to this labyrinthine route.
I was surprised that BOM-DEL route was available. It is the most congested route in the country. 
I need not have been surprised. He had not booked me in a direct flight to Delhi. He conveniently forgot to mention that I will be flying to Delhi via Jabalpur with a 30 minute stopover at Jabalpur..
I came to know of this only when I printed my Boarding Pass. I found that I had been booked in the BOM-Jabalpur-DEL-BLR route. Effectively, I was flying from West of India to East, then to North and finally to South.By that time it was too late to do anything.
'Bharat Darshan', as it were.
He also informed me that I can checkout about last minute cancellations at the airport.
I reached Mumbai airport at about 3.15 and immediately checked at the counter if they can accommodate me in a Bangalore flight later that evening. One lady, Dimpi (Sorry Dimpi, yours is the only name that I remember in this whole unsavory incident) assured me that she will accommodate me in the evening flight to Bangalore.
I was very relieved and impressed by the helpful nature of the staff.
I waited till 4.00 PM. My Jabalpur flight was scheduled to start at 4.20 PM. At 4.00 PM, Dimpi, transferred my case to another lady, who checked and informed me that Sorry, there are no seats available in the Bangalore flight. 
Highly unprofessional.The least they could have done was to have a separate counter for passengers of Cancelled Flights. And need not have made me wait.
I rushed to board the Jabalpur flight. A very small propeller aircraft. They still have them.
I reached Delhi at 8.30 PM (Ahead of Scheduled arrival, informed the steward). At Delhi, they informed me that my BLR flight is rescheduled to 11.15 PM.
Fortunately, that flight left on time and I finally landed in Bangalore at about 2.00 AM. 
Airport Buses do not ply at that time. I had an option to wait till 5.00 AM or take a taxi
I took a taxi. It costed me 1100, thereby  erasing any cost benefits that I may have had in booking Spicejet.
What other aspect was unprofessional about the whole experience? 
Since they had boarded me on a long circuitous route, the least they could have done is to offer me some light refreshments, some kind words, dinner, some recognition that they have caused significant discomfort to a frequently flying passenger. Some old fashioned courtesy, you know. 
Nothing. Absolutely unprofessional and discourteous.  I was left to fend for myself, which I am perfectly capable of, of course. 
Another unprofessional aspect. There was no one from Spicejet at Mumbai Airport who was ready to help me. My case was pushed from one disinterested Spicejet employee to another.
I am an experienced traveller. I can handle it the cancellation, rescheduling and rerouting part. But what about infrequent travellers, especially old people and those not from Cities? How will they be able to handle this impassivity? this indifference to Passenger concerns, of passengers who have been put on so much of trouble for no fault of theirs? Don't Spicejet have no responsibility other than just sending those emotionless SMSs? Shouldn't someone be promptly calling the passengers, the airline has all the contact details, and helping them with selecting the best option? 
Now the final clincher. Since my DEL-BLR flight was delayed, as a part of their 'On Time Guarantee', they sent me a voucher for Rs.500 which I can redeem in my next flight with Spicejet.
Nothing, not even acknowledgement,  for all my travails...
I don't think that voucher is going to be redeemed.
Spicejet Team, if you are reading this:
My name is Ramaswamy Krishnamurti and my PNR Number is XDGH4H