Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Start up lessons from a 90's Malayalam movie

Being part of start up's has now become acceptable and aspirational, lets spare a thought for the tireless and enterprising tribe of entrepreneurs of the 80's and 90's. We are privileged to be part of an era which has seen the likes of Flipkart and Ola, there is acceptability and encouragement from the most unlikely corners for a new venture and idea. The narrative has changed for the better just recently for budding entrepreneurs. Rewind a couple of decades back and the world was so different. Even if you had a brilliant idea and the skills and capabilities to build a business the circumstances were not encouraging.

Recently I saw a Malayalam movie - "Varavelp" starring Mohanlal. The movie which released in  1989 tells a story which effectively depicts the challenges of starting up in the 90's.

The Plot
Murali (Mohanlal) returns home after 07 years in the gulf. His 2 brothers and their families are very excited to see him after all his job in the gulf was the reason behind the changing fortunes of this family. In the late 80's of Kerala this context could be applied to any family and that wouldn't be an exaggeration. In such a scenario our protagonist returns back to lot of love and respect of his family and the society. Thanks to the foreign remittance the family debt is over and both the brothers started their own small businesses. Murali seems to enjoy all the pampering and adulation. He begins to enjoy the mundane village life, something that he has grown up in but missed for the better part of the decade. This is what prompts a decision in him to not go back to the Gulf. He has some savings from his labour and now that the family is better off after turbulent times he finds wisdom in staying back.

All hell breaks loose when he informs this decision to his brothers.
Their initial reaction was shock and they along with other elders in the family tried to counsel him. Once they realised that his decision was not going to change, the 2 brothers  started pursuing him to invest in their respective business.

On one such day, our hero comes across an advertisement in the local daily which mentioned a bus for sale along with permit for private route transport from a nearby village to the town. This got him excited. After a brief consultation with his childhood buddy, he decided to go for it. He brought a small office, hired a driver, a conductor and a cleaner and began operations. Initially he splurged his savings on  expenditure that could have been avoided. He in fact rented a car and followed the bus through the route, the earnings of each day went in such expenses. His inexperience in business showed in all his decisions. Cash flows went unchecked, discount coupons were given to anyone who asked for it. Obviously cracks begin to appear our hero was smart enough to recognize these and took control of operations. Just as things started looking slightly better he runs into the beuracratic hurdle. In one of the inspections, his bus was found not to have proper first aid kit and the fitness certificate of the bus has expired. Our hero had overlooked these aspects and now has to pay a very heavy price in fine, hurting his cash flows even further. A series of operational blunders due to his inexperience follow.

As it is a second hand bus, the maintenance of the vehicle costs alot and as our hero did not have any knowledge about mechanics and automobiles he ends up losing alot of money. Then his bus meets with a small accident hurting one of the pedestrian. He now has to pay a huge compensation and bear the hospital bills of the injured. As a fall out of this incident our hero becomes very stern with his employees and warns them that they will have to pay with their job if any such incidents happen again. The employees are very surprised by his change in demeanour as he was always soft and considerate. There is now a cold war between the entrepreneur and his employees, all this continuously affects the service and the revenues of the enterprise. Murali our hero realises that his venture is about to fall apart and now makes a last ditch effort to bring things under control. He fires the conductor who he identifies as the main instigator and takes over the role himself. He now has a better grip on the operations and takes steps towards reconciling with the rest of the team. Things slowly look to inch back into the green when he faces the toughest situation yet.

The fired conductor takes his grudge to the workers union. The workers union interfers and demands reinstating the conductor. The labour unions fuelled by the leftist ideology has been a nemesis to many entrepreneurs even now in Kerala. Our hero takes on the entire might of the labour unions head on. He refuses to budge and categorically states that he is in charge of his business and he took the decision of firing the employee only due to his non cooperative attitude. The labour Union however has a political necessity to protect their constituency leading to a very bitter face off which includes protest by union leaders right in front of the bus and not allowing it to move.

After facing so many problems, Murali has become stronger and resilient. He goes to the court and gets an order for the police to ensure the safety of his bus and staff. By this time it was too late and the damage had been done. With his business not in good shape and with no clear agenda of how he would turn things around and with no collateral he does not get access to funds for his operational costs. With continuous harassment through different means from the union, Murali knows it is just a matter of time before he will have to pull the plug.

He reaches out to his brothers, friends, relatives for a bail out. All his pleas were responded with either a blame that all this was his doing and they had advised him against it or with sympathy but no help. All the admiration and love of a gulf returned Malayalee had vanished in no time. In such a situation he winds up his business with a heavy heart and a debt that he had amased through his venture and a bus with no takers to buy.

We would think that this failure might have had the better of our Hero but the experience was not for nothing. The movie ends with our Hero contacting his friends in the Gulf to help him with a visa. He decides to go back to the Gulf but only with an intention to return with enough money to start a new venture.

Our former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee mentioned this movie as an example on the state of affairs for the local government towards global economic changes during the inauguration of the global investor meet held at Kochi on 18th January 2003

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#Foodprints in the sands of Goa

Five Reasons To Do The Goa Food Trail...

Goa may be India’s party capital but to dismiss it as just that would be criminally unjust to its mellower side. Away from crowded beaches, crazy binges and exorbitant resorts hides another Goa, a world within a world, where time has slowed down and the old-world charm has not faded. Speaking of a world within a world, there’s more to Goan food than sea food, sausages and recheado. A small but proud Saraswat community has kept alive its vegetarian culinary heritage with dishes such as muskachi bhaaji (drumstick flower curry), Keli Kappa (plantain wedges or chips), alu che ros (a coconut-based dish) and, of course, the famous sol kadhi (kokum and coconut drink).
So, why not combine these two lesser-known facets of the tiny state to give you an experience that is both bespoke and memorable. Here are five reasons you should embark on the Goa Food Trail with Indigo Holidays:
1. GOA, BUT NOT QUITE GOA: Give the beaches of Calangute, Baga and Anjuna, that seem forever swamped with tourists, a miss. It’s such a ‘been there, done that’ feeling. On this trail, you’ll discover that beyond the beach lie quaint villages such as Salvador Do Mundo and Pomburpa. With their palm-lined roads, tiny churches and sprawling bungalows, the two villages are where Time itself seems to say “Sossegade”, or ‘take it easy.’
2. UNFAMILIAR YUMMINESS: Sure, pork sausage and king crab may be yummy. But if you’re the exploring kinda traveller (the ones we love), we’ll have you know that there’s something else that’s just as yum. Oh, and by the way, it’s totally meat-free. This is the food of the Saraswat Brahmins in Goa. The food on this trail will have the best offerings from this cuisine, curated by Chef Aradhana Walkade. Intrigued? Go ahead. You owe it to your taste buds.
3. BREAD AND BETTER: Now that we’ve piqued your interest, how about making some of those dishes yourself? We’ll take you to traditional village bakers where you will get to try your hand at baking a loaf or two or the local bread. After all that kneading and rising, the moment that crusty loaf comes out of the oven will be pure joy.
4. FRESHEST FRESH: Ever heard of the phenomenon of ‘farm to table?’ You are going to visit a farmhouse of a local farmer, pick the freshest and best vegetables and carry them back for cooking. Bonus attraction: You will get to the farmhouse by riding a ferry.
5. MUSEUM MUSINGS: The venue for the feast is as interesting as the food. It is the Houses of Goa museum. As the delicious meal is being prepared – and you are most welcome to join the cook – you can take in the museum and know more about Goa’s rich architecture. In short, it’s a feast for all the senses.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Teenage Tantrums

The teenage years are described in Wikipedia as “years in which rapid physical growth and psychological changes occur. A long process that begins with a surge in hormone production, which in turn causes a number of changes”
Now that is too many changes happening at the same time. No wonder the teenage years are considered volatile and temperamental. Tough times lie ahead for us as we have someone in our midst who is stepping into its teens. Happy Birthday Indigo Holidays, you are 13 years now. March 07th 2003 was when our company was registered in Mapusa, Goa. Since then we have been celebrating every year on March 07th, a time just to get together and have fun for surviving another year in this tough, competitive and ever changing travel industry.

Not much of a political person but our former prime minister has been referred to as an "Accidental Prime Minister". We think the title - "Accidental Entrepreneur"is just apt for us. We are not the lot which had the vision and ambition to create an enterprise that solved problems and made life better on this planet. We stumbled upon it as other preferred options were slipping away. For the first couple of years we were like headless chickens. There was no focus, we were doing everything under the travel domain and were direction less. The fact that we started young having no liabilities and alot of support & patience from family helped us. It is only after the first 2 years we started sensing potential and a sustainable future in the venture.

Over the years we have been stupid, silly, foolish and ignorant of various aspects of our trade but we learnt and we had fun along the way. It has been a tough, rewarding and frustrating journey so far. Entrepreneurship is fascinating, it invokes so many emotions, it takes you through amazing highs and depths of lows in a roller coaster ride. You have to be one to understand how it changes you as a person. Each day comes with thepossibility of being the most rewarding to existence threatening.

We at Indigo Holidays in its teens now, and in all its brashness are ready and excited for this phase. The experience of the past decade or so is going to help us evolve and transform. Travel Industry itself is changing at an alarming pace. We started our company around the same time as make my trip and cleartrip. These companies have managed to adapt and grow much faster. It might not be entirely fare to compare us to a dot com company but yes there are extreme challenges ahead and we need to be on top of our game to survive and grow.

So here it is to happy teens and future growth. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pondy without its soul

I am a firm believer that magic created in certain destinations should not be replicated else where. With magic I mostly refer to food. For example, I would never order a Goan fish curry and rice outside Goa, similarly there are many street food joints in Goa that are known for Wada - Pav but I have never had the courage to have them there. Some how Wada - Pav is synonymous to Mumbai and how ever good the taste it is not complete without having it on a busy road in Mumbai, with lots of crowd, noise, honking and chaos. Certain dishes and delicacies are complete only at certain locales.

In our annual visit to Kerala (our home town) the early morning's I look forward to Kattan Kappi (Black Coffee) also known just as "Kattan". Some how the urge to have them never kicks inn while at home in Goa or Mumbai. It is not all about the coffee but the whole package of having a hot glass of kattan while watching elders reading Malayalam Manorama and discussing the news in the thinna (Balcony).

Thankfully my obsession about certain food at certain places is limited only to a few dishes and experiences. I will never have bun maska and chai at a 5 star lounge or even at a udupi restaurant even if theirs tasted better or they gave it for free but I was more than willing to experiment with a Tunday Kabab joint that opened close to my house in Porvorim, Goa. I thought it was good until my friend pointed out that they were average and no where close to the ones you get in Lucknow. I had never been to Lucknow so far and tunday kabab was not yet magic for me. I might change my tunday kabab strategy once I have had them in Lucknow and if the magic happens.

When in Tamilnadu or Pondycherry, the experience is not complete without a hot frothy cup of filter coffee. Here again it is the entire experience of the latest Tamil film songs playing in the background, along with posters of actors and politicians staring at you from different angles of the street, the dark and handsome coffee maker working in symphony to the demand of the market, the TVS mopeds zipping by etc. This time though I had very less idea of what I was heading into.

 As soon as my bus reached Pondycherry in the morning, I was in the look out for the coffee. No better way to start the first day at this erstwhile French colony. As the bus reached quiet early, there weren't many options available, dragging my luggage I found a street side shop serving tea, coffee and crispy samosas, I thought I was in the right place, but as soon as I ordered the coffee, I knew it was all wrong. I later realized that all others were ordering tea and I was the only one who ordered coffee. He made coffee the way we make at home and to top it all it was not filter coffee.

The experience put me off to the extent that I did not have coffee any where else in Pondycherry through out my stay. There was a fear psychosis that I will have as bad a experience every time. However through this experience there was another positive, I realized tea was not bad in Pondycherry as well. Mostly I am a tea drinker except when in Tamilnadu or Pondycherry, here it is always coffee. This visit changed it after all. I am back from Pondycherry after having coffee only once where I should have had at least 12.

Pondy will never be the same again for me, next time what would I look forward to have tea or coffee, I don't know yet and till I get back to my coffee ways, Pondy is without its soul.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Road to the Ganges - Indore

Every day we wake up to bright sunlight or to a buzz from our phones, but for the first time in my life I had a privilege ;) to be woken up by Mr. Kumar Sanu .His nasal vocals were piercing into my drums and then... there were cries and shouts from the neighbours/fellow passengers calling out “arre bandh karo yaar” but Mr.Sanu was adamant and the shouts got even louder.Then came a THUDDD...the floors trembled and the walls shook, our bus had jumped over a speed breaker and what followed was silence.The shouting neighbours, the roaring bus and of course Mr.Sanu everything stopped. The cleaner boy came announcing “sabko uthaane ke liye gaana zor se bajaana padtha hain”. Slowly the bus came back to life and the journey resumed.
The grey strip of NH3, which had perfectly hosted our drive from Mumbai to Indore, now looked like a swirling serpent with sun lit farms on either side. Here I am, with my friends, on our way to the city of Peshwas-INDORE. Though I had been to Indore earlier, as a student of Architecture, but this time it is different, probably because now I am a more confident traveller or maybe it is the sense of familiarity. I had a day to be spent before catching the bus to Kanpur. We put our bags up at a locker available for passengers at the bus Terminus and moved around weightlessly. I found a parental love in the words of rickshawwaalas who were fighting amongst themselves for claiming me. We sneaked away at the right time, still one of them followed us and insisted into taking care  .when I am in the city but I came with the ultimate answer ..My friend is here to pick me up thank you. After a brief walk of 10 minutes I reached my first destination. ‘Treasure Island Mall’ the first mall of Madhya Pradesh. There are few moments in one’s life when you feel the devil inside you rising to a big silent laughter ‘this was that moment’ Being welcomed by the smiling guard saluting me with respect and saying “welcome sir you are our first visitor today” the devil laughed in my mind and said “hahahahaha...I am going to be the first person to use your chaka chak toilet”. I thanked him and walked in. This mall is a shift away from the ones in Mumbai, which are either too small or congested or too large and still congested. Though it was not very big but the arrangement was linear along a fluidic atrium. This enhanced the sense of space and its depth. After freshening up in a free of cost spic and span glittering wash room. I walked across checking out the offerings. The shops were just opening up and there college students trickling in groups .Then suddenly I started experiencing something in my tummy it was rumbling and mind was tumbling there was an strong force which was pulling me inside and all I could hear was ...FOOD.!! FOOD..!! FOOD..!!..My inner soul was now awaken to the cry and plead of my stomach after giving a smile and a thank you to the watch guard, who showed me the way to ‘Chappan dukaan’. After a brief walk of ‘10 minutes’ here I was....knocking on heaven’s door... yeah.I was at the paradise of authentic desi Indore- style breakfast hub.


  A chain of 56 shops...!! All dedicated to food..... This is an undeniable part of Indore's food legacy. This place boasts of the best available chaat in the country. I started with a nariyal patice (crisp potato balls stuffed with coconut and dried fruits, served with the most delicious chutneys) at Vijay Chat House, working my way through kachoris at Madhuram Sweets and their ambrosial shrikanji (a thick milky concoction) poha and then it was the crispy jalebis at Tarang and an egg banjo at the end (don’t ask why an egg omelette in a butter fried bun is called that). There were many chaat shops serving the usual chaats and many sweet shops selling the winter favourite- gajak, a sesame seed sweet which melts in your mouth. And did I mention garadu? Go find out!
Indore has a number of mansions who exhibit a undeniable aristocratic feel their scale can give an inferiority complex to many palaces across the country. After fixing a deal with my dear Autowala to take me around for the day I started my journey. Indore kept becoming more and more dense and intense as I transverse into the old city and to add to that, the election flavour. The Modi wave was about to hit and all the hoarding rightly signalling the same.I reached “char Bagh” which was a famous garden of roses once, and now has only thorns.

 It was the winter palace of the Holkar’s completely designed in a colonial style of Architecture with lavish use of Metal. The palace has a good part of it preserved, though it was not maintained to the best. The palace had many attendants manning the building and keeping an eye on miscreants who were trying to touch or jump off into restricted zones. The palace had a lot of stuffed animals preserved as trophies showing the brutal hunting games played by the lords of Indore. The magnificence of the beast who were now reduced to standing mannequins shouted out loud filling your heart with hatred for the ignorant lords who killed these and many more for fun and show of valour. One of the most interesting places in the palace is the indoor Planetarium which runs space shows subjected to availability of minimum 6 people and the sad part is these information’s along with existence of such a spaces not let known to any of the visitors and yes also about  the ignorant and rude manager. Char Bagh has now reduced to a magnificent structure stuck in time amidst the casual caretakers. The once cherished garden has now become a lover’s paradise for guilt free PDA

My next stop was Kaanch mandir  

A Jain temple fully clad with Belgium mirror and silver on the inside, boasting of a rich trader who is also known as the uncrowned king of Indore .The temple strikes a very strong and lasting impression of the grandeur and the richness, at the same time generates a sense of divinity into the devotees .Around Kaanch mahal are various streets which derive their name mainly from the thriving trade in that zone,to name a few...Bartan galli,Kapda galli and the unique Sarafa.Saraf in Marathi means jeweller and I guess this was the evolution of the name thanks to Maratha rulers. This area is filled with gold smiths and jewellery shops which open during day time and in night this area turns into a one stop shop for all sorts of delicacies...Friyal sabudana khicdi,Butte ka khees,Dahi bada,mawa jalebi,Shikanji  etc.
The streets here form a cross grid and transports you into a different world of bazaars some which are 150 years old exhibiting a very typical feature of multi-storey buildings having shops down and house on top where the shopkeeper shuts the shop for an afternoon break and goes upstairs home.
The royal rajwada stands tall in the bazaar as if dictating people around and reminding them of their roots and the once command and power house it used to be. The rajwada has lost its grace but still charms you. A recent past fire has thrown up many things and adding to that a shoddy restoration leaving it in loom of a reminiscent past.
I Am on my way back and the numerous chatris – the Cenotaphs built in the memory of the Holkar rulers stand as testimonials to the royal past once it had, that this then capital of the clan called Uttarbharat commanded. I held my face out from the moving auto rickshaw with the joy of a puppy with open mouth holding my face against the whooshing breeze and lustfully tasting the wind "My moment of Happiness"
I stil remember the words from the attendant at Char bagh Sir indore ki baat hi kuch nirali hain aur sabse nirali hain yahaan ki thandi har sham chalti hian aur sabke dilon ko choo jaati hain”.
I was not sure whether the wind touched my heart but what it did was to tease me and set promise to myself ,i  have to come to this place again......good bye Indore .

Friday, August 30, 2013

The curious case of Tourism in Goa

In as complex and diverse country as ours, Goa joined late, well a good 14 years after India was independent.  “Estado da India” (Portuguese state of India) became a union territory and later a full-fledged state. Influenced by over 450 years of Portuguese rule and Latin culture, Goa presents a somewhat different representation of India. It was not long before tourists started pouring in to experience the unique lifestyle and culture the state had to offer along with the pristine beaches. 

Hippies from Europe where the first to arrive in the late 60’s with their alternative way of life inspired by ideas of the peace, love and travel, In Goa they felt free from the cultural morals & also fell in love with this tropical paradise. The Goans were indifferent to the new guests, they were too laid back to bother, if at all they were only curious about these semi naked whites. Small gatherings of hippies playing guitar and smoking pot started getting famous, more & more youngsters started visiting the shores of Goa for the experience, the gatherings started to grow and along with it grew the demand for different types of drugs. Cocaine & Hashish started to make its way from Nepal & Himachal in the North to Goa. This is not the only legacy of the hippies though; they are credited for single handedly putting Goa on the tourist map. We wonder how but their travels caught attention of the discerning traveler and in came the gentlemen & the ladies. This is a fete worth studying as many good destinations have not managed it even with huge marketing spends and of course the great help from fecebook & twitter.

In 1971 the first 5 star resort of Goa was opened, followed by many more hotels, home-stays and lodges. The rest as they say is history. Today almost four decades after the first tourists came the hippy image of Goa in most places have been replaced by up market and middle market tourist values. Goa is now a thriving hub of classy places, some of the best international hospitality and tourism brands are here. Today you could have a traditional Burmese meal at Bomras or enjoy the best of Greek food at Thalassa or dig into delicious French pastries at Delicieux. Entrepreneurs have found success and are dishing out their skills and innovations in every aspect of catering to a tourist. The tourists are enjoying this new avatar of Goa which pampers them with choices and options. 

In the midst of all this progress and value for money holiday experience, the average Goan is in a dilemma. The growing tourism industry needs a growing work force and due to the sudden burst in demand there is a large influx of migrants. Now the very culture and lifestyle that lured in the tourists in the first place is at threat. 40% of Goan population is of non Goan origin. Goans might be a minority in their own state in a few years time. The continuous migration of talented Goans who want to pursuit anything other than tourism is not helping either. I guess these are the challenges of a small state and ethnic community in a big country.

The easy going Goans are very liberal to anybody who wants to set shop. If you do a comparison with Kerala you will find in Kerala most of the big businesses are owned, partnered or managed by Malyalees unlike in Goa where it is the other way round. The options for Goans are limited; it sure will be prosperous but the sad part is that prosperity will be accompanied by frustration of seeing their home land transform into a place which does not cater to their own art, music and culture. These frustrations sometimes erupt and off late there is disturbing news of clashes of locals with tourists. 

Tourism always has a price to pay. We fear there would be nothing Goan about Goa soon,

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Proffesionall Hazzards

Question from a prospective client – “I found another package online which is including eight beaches, while your itinerary includes only three beaches in the itinerary”?
I am sure that every professional from any field might have come across questions which might be quiet elementary to them but still extremely complicated to the clients. To address these questions is what we get paid for but sometimes you are at loss of words to explain the reasons behind your suggestions.

I am sure I might have asked a few stupid questions to my carpenter or web developer, at the end, it all depends on how good a professional you have hired. The understanding of your client and his aspirations are the key.  It is also essential to have a little understanding of the cultural, social and economic background. No school or course trains you for this, it is very instinctive and most of these profiles are established subconsciously. Most importantly it is also how much you are willing to trust your vendor or expertise. Some previous experiences & pre conceived notions may sometimes influence your decisions which may save you from a bad experience or may even create one for you.  

The challenges in the travel trade are that many a times we have to communicate to the end user though a coordinator or administrator. In such a case we completely relay on the understanding & efficiency of the coordinator for the end result. Tourism like the film industry is one of such products where you buy the product without physically seeing or experiencing it firsthand. It is imperative that the product and the sequence of events be explained elaborately.

We had the opportunity to organize an offsite event for one of Indias leading IT brands. The brief given to us was very simple, the team wanted to go for a one night off beat experience and this they wanted it to be part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) basically they wanted to go to some place where they could do some team building activity, have some fun as well as take part in some social concern. This is something we had never done before, it was challenging yet within our domain of expertise.  As it was huge corporate entity they had very strict processes and protocols which did not allow us to do a presentation about the whole experience to the whole team, instead we had to communicate the same through emails to the administrator who was not even going to be traveling with the team.    

The end result, a group of frustrated IT professionals who thought that they were finally going to have some free luxurious get away from the company, you could guess how the evening might have been for all of us when the question by one of the team members was “I hope there is a good spa in the resort we are staying tonight”?

This is just one scenario; unfortunately there is nothing much we can do about it. The measures we generally take to counter such anticipation and aspiration is to communicate in such way that we help draw very murky picture in the clients mind and then deliver a product which is above his expectations with plenty of surprises and pampering but for this also we need to communicate with the end user.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's About the Bum

Crossing over from Goa to Maharashtra,

Crossing the Karli river, had to really convince this guy.

My ride on the boat on the river Karli

Wadantar Back waters, near Vijaydurg

Vijaydurg fort, it was a relief to reach here, the ride till here was never ending.

Can I get a Thums Up please

Crossing over from Vijaydurg to Jaitapur

 Thank God ! it was low tide.

My highest climb, so I thought near Ratnagiri.

 from Dhabol to Dhopave.

When you are down you just have to look around.

A huge ancient Masjid in Dhopave.

Just before crossing over to Raigad.

The terrain, roads were fairly good !!

Crossing over a bridge in Jaitapur

Siolim bridge in Goa
My journey through Konkan on a cycle

"Fear is a good thing."
The night before I started my journey was a nervous one. Packing, unpacking, trying to make my backpack lighter, question's all over me - What if I get robbed? What if I break down? Will I enjoy the journey? and many more. I could not sleep a bit and was just waiting for the Alarm to ring so that I could hit the road very unlike Vinod who just did not want to wake up.

Vinod had been awake for a while but just did not want to get out of his bed, he was pretending to be sleeping, thinking of excuses of avoiding the inevitable. He was stressed and the tension was making him feel sick in the stomach. Eventually he had to get up and go to school though he tried persuading his mom that he was not feeling well . The first few periods were uneventful and as the time passed Vinod grew pale and blue and then, the bell he feared the most rang, the 4th period, the Biology class, Padmavati Mam. Frantically Vinod started asking his friends weather they all had finished the homework assigned for the weekend. He almost cried when he realized that all of them had finished it but he fought back his tears and when his friends asked him about the  homework he lied that he too had completed. In any other subject Vinod would have escaped with a minor warning or scolding but not in Padmavati Mam's Biology class. She also happens to be Vinod's Mom's classmate and good friend. Padmavati Mam used to humiliate the students who did not finish their homework and also handed over a good enough spanking. Vinod could not imagine the humiliation he was about to receive in front of the whole class, last week she had slapped a student and also tore his book. There was no escaping now as she had entered the class and Vinod started preparing himself. She immediately got cracking and started calling students by their role number to her table. She seemed to be in a happy mood and most of the students started getting good comments and encouragement. Vinod started feeling worse. There were only about 3 students left in the role call before Vinod would be called and just then a peon walks in and calls Padmavati Mam to the conference room, Mam quickly gives all an assignment and leaves only not to return for the period. As the bell for the recess rings, Vinod is relieved and a happy boy again. All his suppressed energy was released and he came back to his self in the following period to help his team win the Volleyball match.

All my apprehensions had been put to rest when I started hitting 12 to 15Km an hour passing beautiful beaches, temples and climbing steep hills.

"Performance, a state of mind"
After 2 day's of cycling through Konkan, the 2nd day being the toughest, I entered Ratnagiri crossing over to Jaitapur from Vijaydurg by boat. From the 3rd day I started enjoying my journey.

Calm and poised Nikhil's body language was full of confidence as he was walking down to the restaurant. He reached there before his usual time, after all today he knew was going to be extra special. Nikhil worked as an assistant to the Waiters at a prominent restaurant. His job included cleaning tables, serving water, replenishing soiled linen, cutlery, crockery etc and also helped the waiters in what ever they needed. The section of the restaurant that he worked in was managed by 04 Waiters and 04 of their assistants. Today 02 of the other assistants had quit the job and the third one was very ill to work, this left only Nikhil to manage the whole section. On any day it often gets difficult for all four of them to manage the ever demanding requirements of the guests and also of their waiters to provide a good service. Nikhil had come in early and was preparing for the humongous task lying ahead of him. He always wanted to be a waiter, he had learned the trade well and was one of the better known employees of his designation. He knew that if he did a good job today he could pitch himself as a strong contender for being a waiter. Nikhil was getting everything organized, he filled extra bowls of sauces, pickles, kept the napkins, cutlery, crockery everything ready. He was ready about half an hour before lunch service was to begin. He ran himself through the entire sequence and rechecked if everything was ready for the onslaught. He had to hold fort for 4 hours, after which the Lunch service ended. As the guests started coming in, Nikhil was spot on, not wasting a single second, He had prepared and planned well. He filled a large flask of hot water for fingure ball, had cut enough lime to last the afternoon so that he did not waste time in cutting them every time a demand rised. He was a man possessed and even when he had to leave his section for replenishing cutlery and crockery, his mind was there he knew which table was about to finish the meal, which one needed the bill, which table is consuming more water, who is the more difficult of the guests, As the day progressed Nikhil was a well organized and  synchronized machine. He had hit the groove and there was no stopping him, he had pulled it off. At the end of it, Nikhil was very satisfied, he knew he could do it but the efficiency he showed surprised himself. In a way he was exploring new avenues of himself and now in his mind he was already thinking of the dinner service.

For the next 2 days I enjoyed my journey and the experience, the food was great, I met wonderful people and the journey was going good.

"Disappointment, sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfillment of one's hopes or expectations" 
 After 06 days on my own on the road, it was getting very tough. The nights were more difficult than the days. Spending my evenings alone in shady hotels was very demoralizing. In Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri I stayed in temples and homestays where I had good company till late night. In Raigad I could not find good places to stay and I had to stay in hotels, homely food was replaced by tasteless Chinese and other international cuisine, roads were filled with traffic. I was also missing my family and it was getting really frustrating, I had begun to hate the cycle.

Young Mohan worked in the illicit alcohol trade. He had to fill bottles, label them and seal them. There were many kids who worked along with him. He enjoyed it more than his previous job as it payed him more but they had to work in filthy sheds, They worked through the day and sometimes even till late nights at times they would get a couple of days break when the cops get cracking but most of the days they worked for more than 16 hours. Even after working so hard they did not have a proper place to sleep. They would sleep where ever they got place in the shed. The rainy season was the worst as the drain used to get blocked filling  the shed with sewage. The kids used to take refuge in the pavements but they were generally picked for sexual favors and they dreaded that. The safest place was the railway station but it was an hour's walk away and they used to get too tiered to make that long walk. Every night they used to hop from street to street, hunting for a safe place to sleep away from predators. One such night as they were looking out for a place to sleep, in one of the commercial buildings they found a service staircase which lead them to the terrace of the building. The terrace was just perfect, it had a porch which protected them from the rains and also was completely safe. The kids were happy with their knew discovery and they discussed among themselves not to tell any one about the place. Mohan had good nights sleep and was happy the next day, they got up early and left the terrace. This continued for a couple of weeks. Mohan and his friends managed to keep it to under wraps and also they did not attract any attention. One morning as Mohan got up early as usual, he saw a couple of monkeys in the terrace, he got up and walked  out of the Porch to see a whole gang of them. The left over food had attracted them. Mohan was not very worried. He woke the other boy's made sure they did not leave anything behind and left the place. The next morning also the boys woke up to the monkeys and this day the monkeys were a little more aggressive and also more in number, as they were trying to make way from among the monkeys it created a commotion which alerted the security. They just managed to escape from the monkeys first then the security and make it to the shed. Mohan now knew that they could never go back to the terrace.

At the end of the journey, once I was in the comfort of my home, resting my sore legs and sensitive bums, I realized that I did not have any cycling to do the next morning, I did not have any place to reach, no more new vistas, experiences, people, food. No more surprises. No more discovery. No more anticipation only till the next journey.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Coming of age......2012

2011 has taken us to Pangong lake in Ladakh (one half of this lake is in China) and to Matra the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka (from here 2000 Km is Antarctica), from the northern most tip of India to the southernmost tip of our subcontinent with a lot of travel to different destinations in between. While for others traveling comes as a leisurely and relaxing experience for us it is mostly a very stressful and exhaustive affair. When destinations start getting stressful we start enjoying the simple things in travel. Some of the most memorable travel experience of 2011 was not among the beautifully barren landscape of the Trans Himalayan deserts or at the emerald islands but came very near home at Thivim Railway Station while waiting for a local train which would take me to Kudal. It was in the early hours of the day and civilization was just waking up to the reality of modern day travel conveniences. The train I usually catch arrives Thivim at 0630hrs just at the break of dawn in the winter months. Along with me waiting at the platform was a young boy may be of 5 years with his mother. They were both dressed up as to go for a function. The boy was full of energy and was asking questions about the various aspects of the train from how does it move ahead to how many bogeys it has, the boy kept comparing it with a toy train he had received. His mom was patiently answering all she could. Only for education otherwise I could vouch for a brilliant engineer in the making.

The announcement comes that my train is about half an hour late, I did not seem so worried as I was enjoying the boy’s performance but on the other side the Boy’s mom’s face showed a clear regret of not paying attention to her physics classes. She will have to explore her imaginations for another half an hour. The boy also seemed disappointed as he wanted to finally be in probably one of his fascination or temporary fascination. After a while of challenging physics the boy started giving away to other worldly pleasures. His latest fixation was potatoes only that he wanted it in a green packet called Lays. His mom started resisting this demand, instead she offered him delicious aloo parathas (Potato Pancakes). The home made variety of potato did not impress the boy, after all the tried and tested powers of branding and packaging had to work. I wonder if someone in the classrooms of IIM or other reputed business school might have imagined the almost the same scenario while making a presentation supported by data and studies of the percentage of boys who like green color or relate to Saif Ali Khan (brand ambassador). For a moment I felt sorry for myself and the boy as we were all figured out by bunch of analysts and google, they seem to know everything about all of us. 

After persistent demanding by the boy, his mom came up with a deal, he  could buy his favorite Lays, but he had to do it himself, he would be given the money, he had to go to the station vendor himself, ask for his favorite Lays, pay the money and get the change. The boy did not want to go through the efforts and kept persisting his mom to get it for him but his mom was firm on her stand. After a few more minutes of pestering the boy gave in. He agreed to get it himself.

His mom was probably not expecting this from him, was pleasantly surprised, she gave him the money and asked him to get it, the boy started walking to the vendor hardly a few feet away, after a few steps the boy retracted fast to his mom and started again giving a final last try of asking his mom to get it, for the first time in the morning I saw a firm resolute in the mom’s face. She started ignoring his demand and reading a magazine. Once he realized that it was not working out he again attempted at doing it himself. The vendor a few feet away was going through his morning chores unaware of the developments. The boy walked a few steps ahead and looked back, his mom was pretending to be too involved in the magazine, he took a few more steps closer to the vendor and looked back, this time his mom was looking straight at him and was encouraging him to go, he smiled back and then finally went to the vendor and asked him for his favorite Lays.

Happiness and pride were reflecting of his mom's face a moment of coming of age of her little boy. She couldn't stop smiling till he was back with the change and his lays. I felt like she saw the entire life time of her boy and there was a feeling of content in her face that everything will be fine. As soon as he was back, she hugged him and kissed him. The boy after his latest achievement resisted as if he knew now he was big now and was ready for the world and finally he got his lays and started digging into it. As he was enjoying the potatoes of his efforts, I feel that it is going to be a good year ahead.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The bread of life

The Portuguese had food on their mind from the moment that they arrived in India – after all it was the scent of spices that lured them across the oceans in the first place.

Right alongside, the diet of the subcontinent changed permanently: potatoes were introduced (India is now the world’s largest producer); chilies came in for the first time. Corn, cashews, guavas, pineapples, custard-apples, papayas, all came into the Indian diet through the Portuguese.

But bread came to be the most famous import of the Europeans, who found no substitute in India’s versions of unleavened chapattis and rotis, thin dosas and appams, soft breads made from ground rice and lentils.

Wheat bread did not merely signify subsistence; it was required for the celebration of Mass. The early Portuguese presence in India was missionary-heavy, and they made bakeries and baking into a priority. It was missionaries who trained a large number of converts from the ‘Chardo’ caste (of Kshatriyas), from South Goa in the arduous art of baking bread in wood-fired clay ovens, and found an alternative to yeast in fresh coconut toddy.

Every traditional bakery in Goa, has its bicycle salesmen fan out across the neighborhood and beyond, honking insistently on bulb horns ‘Phonk phonk, phonk’ and you know bread is on its way to every home in the state.Everyone buys the same article for the same price: the government-mandated Rs. 2.50 per undo, katre or poee. It’s beyond a daily staple, and more like a basic human right: if every Goan doesn’t get his fresh daily pao, every politician knows that the government will fall immediately.

Bread is right at the forefront of this cultural exchange – in fact, the original Portuguese word ‘pao’ itself is a amazing cross-over phenomenon, incredibly widespread, and used in every Asian language from Japanese to Marathi.

It take’s a great deal of trouble and time, and require considerable expertise to bake bread consistently and efficiently. For us it has been part of our life style, the silent part of our daily mornings without which many of our discussions and debates are not complete an integral part of the menu in various cafes and restaurants spread across Goa making bhaji’s, omelette's, and all the dishes taste better.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

“Jhulley Ladakh.”

“Jhulley” means greetings, thank you, good wishes, bye all in one in Ladakhi. You say Jhulley at the beginning and end of every conversation. The built up to the trip was climatically dramatic. We went wearing raincoats to the airport in Goa, by the time we were in Delhi we did not need it, then we changed to light clothing as it was dry and slightly hot in Delhi, by the time we were in Ladakh we were freezing in the dress as it was quite cold and we could feel the cold breeze as soon as we came out of the airport. In a matter of hours we came from heavy rains to dry & hot climate to the cold winds of Himalayas.

Leh is one of the highest livable cities in the world, higher than any city in Europe. Being at 13500 feet has its perils – nausea, headache, breathlessness are all part of the package here. The first couple of days are the most difficult as you try to cope up with the high altitude then your body slowly adjusts. In the meanwhile you discover more about the Himalayas through the people, their dressing, food and lifestyle. Ladakhis ever so warm, humble, soft spoken are the perfect interface between you and the extreme and harsh terrain. They kind of make you comfortable and there is a sense of security when you are with them. The climate is unimaginably extreme with temperatures at -20 degrees during the winter. The climate and terrain have left with very few options and opportunities for the locals. The economy mostly relies on tourism which lasts during the summer months from April to September. The rest 06 months you are on your own mostly indoors with nothing to do. About a decade back this was the exact situation in Goa, so it did not come as a big surprise to us, though the heavy monsoons of Goa are far far better than the – 20’s of ladakh. Off late Goa is slowly moving towards year round tourist arrivals, an act very hard to replicate in Ladakh due to the sheer extremity of its climate and inaccessibility.  Small shops, handicraft stores, artisans, employees of restaurants and hotels conveniently move from Ladakh to Goa to enjoy year round earnings as the tourist season of Goa is from October to May during the winters and that of Ladakh is from June to September during the summers.

The food is very simple, again a reflection of the geography. I was expecting it to be more non vegetarian but Ladakh surprised me again as many of the locals prefer vegetarian though they also eat meats occasionally. Dal, sabzi, roti and rice were what we found cooking in local houses. Due to tourists arriving from different parts of the globe Leh has a good variety of cuisines. Gastronomically what stood out was tea, coming in black, lemon, with milk and Ladakhi variations. The tea was so good that we had it many times a day. It kept us warm and also tasted delicious. The Ladakhi variation of tea is salted and you have a special type of tea leaves to make it. They were kept in special local flasks which we found every where that kept it warm. We continued drinking Tea many times a day till we started descending to Manali and as we were descending the quality too started dropping till it became regular again.

Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions and is also the second largest district of India. The first being Kutch, ironically both are deserts, Traveling through this desert you realize how small you are, miles and miles of hills standing tall as it has through the centuries. All your achievements, all that you have seen, experienced and lived by all look small. The fastest growing economy, the large sky scarpers, the wealth all seem to be of least importance here. The legends, the stories and the sheer Geography do instill that in you.  

The tourists however seem to enjoy whatever Ladakh has to offer, it is an exotic and different experience compared to any other destinations in India. Photography, biking, cycling, trekking, camping are experiences which tourists seek. International tourists have been visiting Ladakh for the past 20 years, domestic tourists have started exploring Ladakh since the break of the millennium and thanks to the hugely successful movie 3 idiots it is now getting mileage. The sand dunes of Nubra Valley, Pangong and Tsomarari lakes, Tsokar salt lake and the drive from Leh to Manali are not to be missed. The Khardungla pass which is the highest motor able road at 18500 feet. The Changla pass and Rohtang pass drive are all memorable experiences.

As were taking one of our many halts at Changla pass on our way to Pangong lake it suddenly started to snow lightly. All the tourists started celebrating and dancing in the snow, the local’s were sitting dejected as the snow had come much earlier than expected and they have a long harsh winter to overcome while the tourists or “people from the lower areas” as they call it will stay warm in the plains