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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
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
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
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....
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.
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....