A minute with the president

There we were (year 1998), all suited and booted, the ‘few’ Indian families in Istanbul, fidgeting amongst other dignitaries waiting at the Hilton for the grand arrival of Indian president KR Narayanan. The occasion, ‘a breakfast with KRN’, arranged by the Indian consulate in Istamboul (as the consulate rubber stamp spelt it).

Meeting the president of the most populous country ‘one to one’, can you imagine that in India or for that matter any other place? Like my wife says, ‘ezhu ayalath kadakkan sammathikkila’ (I have tried to find out where & how that usage originated,, never figured it out – why seven neighbourhoods – so if anybody knows, please…)

Well, he made his grand arrival, accompanied by a number of ‘secret service’ chaps with microphones in the lapel and all that…his ADC (we were always told in our School days at Kazhakootam - that the ADC position is one we must aspire – President’s ADC) dressed smartly and standing next to him in the picture – Shoba, me and Arun. Our elder son Abi is missing in the picture, wonder where he wandered off so?

And the tete-a-tete?
Me – ‘Namaskaram – kandathil valare santhoshamundu’
KRN- ‘ehe? Malayalai ano’? The surprise was evident… “Evidunna?”
Me – ‘Palakkad, Wife Kozhikode ninnanu’
KRN- ‘Aha, eniku Palakkad nallonam ariyam, Ivide kure Malayalikal undo’?
Me – ‘Illa, randu familye ullu, veroral undu, you’ll meet him also today’
KRN- ‘Shari, ennal - nice meeting you all...’

Then he moved on and had a similar quick chat with Shoba…about Calicut, life in Turkey etc.

Naturally Arun, the little boy was forgotten in the rush – you can see him in the picture entreating us to introduce him, with animated eyes…

KRN moved away, Arun started to weep since he was not introduced & his hand was not shaken; So Shoba took him to KRN. He was all attention, “saramilla mone, come here” and shook his hand as well, after asking his name and patting his back.

Well, how’s that for an experience!!!

A quote from KRN
We are way behind when it comes to reading. I am not saying that people don't read but there is a need to make the younger generation develop a reading habit. After all, one acquires knowledge only through books. And, by books I mean fiction and non-fiction. Not just Harry Potter.

Those were the days

First of all, I must admit that the impetus for this blog came from the programme ‘Witness’ on NDTV. Regrettably I saw only the last part of it. Curiously, it covered a lot of things that were close to my heart…of times that had gone by…

I remembered the Vijay Scooter. My friend got an opportunity to work in Sweden for a year, so he lent me his vehicle for the duration. It took me a few rides to get used to the big difference in speed, and mind you, the Vijay was indeed nifty. While Lamby& Bajaj ruled the roost those days, riding a Lamby took more skill, the engine was off centre, so you had to be careful with the balance. The Vijay was thus easier to learn. Was I happy on that sleek blue vehicle!! We went all over Bangalore, Nandi hills and all kinds of places on it. Well after an year my friend came back and took it away, and I purchased the first of the modern mobike’s – The Ind-Suzuki…But the Vijay was a trustworthy vehicle indeed…Gone now, no where in sight…Remember the Enfield Bullet bikes, they went ‘thuc thuc’ or the inimitable Czech origin Ideal Jawa that whined (to be replaced by the Yezdi)…

While the Amby was always around, I recall landmasters, morris minors, standard heralds and the rest (even impala’s – my neighbour in Bangalore had one of them ships), I remember by uncle’s Premier Padmini more then everything else

Made from a fiat 1100 with a one litre engine, delivering 40HP.
This site has an old one for sale and states ‘the car is for people who need a boot but do not have much loot!’ If interested, read this review that puts the Padmini against the new Fiat Siena.

Of course there is the venerable Ambassador and will always remain as the only
bullet proof Indian made car…It can carry many a family within its spacious interiors, ride through dust and floods, ride on Kerosenated petrol or Ramar Pillai’s herbal hooch and ‘hopefully’ withstand small arms fire.

It is indeed a long way, to driving my Jaguar. What next?

As a small kid, I used to sit in front of the valve radio that was kept on its table, and fiddle about with the knobs watching the ‘magic’ cat’s eye thin and the sound go ‘fhium’ when close to getting that good reception, I remember the webbed aerials strung close to the ceiling, anchoring point for spiderwebs and home to a number of spiders. There were programs in the morning when Chettan used to teach aniyathis how to sing…then there were the chettnodu chodikku programs…and above all shabda rekha’s on Sunday afternoon’s when the whole family used to sit & listen to movie soundtracks and drama’s and katha-prasangams…When nobody was around, I would skim through shortwave to hear from distant places…Voice of America, BBC….With large doses of static hissing away in the background, I would dream of going to those lands some time (like I did eventually).

Time went by, the portable transistor radio came along and introduced us to Vividbharati, hindi songs and listening on the fly. Aap ki farmaish was a favourite, you will always hear from the various
Jhumritalaya listeners on Vividbharati. Later, I learnt how to make transistor radios and transmitters at school, starting with the crystal radio.

Then came the presenters who made radio listening fun – I remember Sarojini Shivalingam for two reasons, one the 330-430PM session in Radio Ceylon where they had the new movie songs and Sarojini did that session (Ilankai Olivarappu Koottusthapanam asiasevai…) in funny accented Malayalam after providing a long list of ‘prekshakr’ who requested the song….The other reason, she hailed from a village called Kakayur neighbouring Pallavur…Whenever we passed that village some relative or the other who was in the same car would proudly say, see see that house behind the coconut trees, there can you see, there…, there lives Sarojini…u know she lives there these days after her retirement!!!
And there was Ameen Sayani – Oh what a pleasure it was listening to Binaca Geetmala at 8PM on Wednesdays on my Keltron transistor radio Bhayiyon aur behnon, Ajj pandravhe paidan me...in his own inimitable lyrical style…He made the song even more interesting with some added titbits…Like Shivalingam, I remember Sayani for a second reason, some years ago, I met a chap at the Dubai airport, who was travelling to Bombay from America and who stated he was Amin’s brother and he had a tall story to tell about his exploits in Vegas….

I don’t know if radio’s sell in Indian cities & villages anymore, it is now TV’s and a whole breed or brash and supremely confident anchors… Reporters reported in the past, now they go on and put a spin and a hype on it!! Gone are Doordarshan’s deadpan and the chaste Minu, Niti ravindran, Gitanjali Aiyar, Rini Simon, Komal GB Singh, Ramu Damodaran….. now we have the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai on one end and the Christian Amanpour at the other, excelling in the art of whipping up the viewer’s emotions, hyping and spinning…

Hey, talking of Binaca, do you remember the Binaca toothpaste and the small charms they used to have with every tube?? Never mind, Never mind, humour me…

Well, those were the days…..

Mom and the PC

Mom was here with us the last two months. It had been her long cherished desire to visit Britain, and she was brave enough at age 78 to take the flight all alone from Bangalore to Heathrow. What I admired most was her tenacity, coming all the way from Pallavur, struggling with her gait and with a Quadra pod stick to assist, many medications, but she did it and went on to enjoy the sights and sounds of UK..

One of her requests to my son was, ‘Arun, will you teach me the computer’? Arun was initially a bit sceptical about the whole thing; you can imagine how it is at that age. A grand old lady trying to learn computing?? Anyway, he patiently went through the basics of browsing and the hardware with mom. What the mouse does, what the keyboard is meant for etc, where to type what. I overheard one of the complicated topics – The enter key = when and how to use the enter key. That really took some explanation. Then it was the 'double click' sequence, you will not believe how complicated that is for an arthritic hand…Mom soon got the hang of it.

She could go to the address bar and haltingly type www.mathrubhumi.com by herself, one hand.
From the moment the current edition of Mathrubhumi appeared on the screen, in large font, she got hooked. Then on, she would go the PC every evening and spend an hour catching up with news, Kerala elections, the monsoon report and so on. Starting with Mathrubhumi, she’d go on to Manaorama and then Deepika. Though she missed the feel and the smell of the ink on paper, and the surrounding ambience one has on the ‘kolaai’ at home with the bird cries, the humming bees and the such, it kept her in touch with her news, in a way the Daily Mail of UK did not.

She left back for India the other day, now it is the monsoon and various weddings at Palakkad that keep her busy. But I guess she misses the computer and the patient grandson.

Filter coffee

RK Narayan said in ‘My Day’s - Whenever I could afford it, I gave them a cup of coffee at a restaurant on Hundred Feet Road. The cup of coffee blunted the listeners' critical faculties and made them declare my work a masterpiece.
So guys, would you please drink a cup of filter coffee before reading this?

Ananda bhavan, after that good meal of ghee roast and vadas, one has to polish it off with a filter coffee served in the steel glass and ‘attified’ (cooled) with the dovarah. Nothing, not even paan can leave behind a better taste in your South Indian mouth! Remember the Mount Ganesh Coffee works at Malleswaram, can you smell the freshly ground coffee? Oh! The intricacies of making that filter coffee!

You fill fine coffee powder of the right proportion in the top compartment; push the plunger down to compact it. The top portion is then fitted over the bottom and boiling water poured into the top. Wait overnight to get an intense decoction as they call it. Add to sweetened hot milk, pour some froth on top, and voila – South Indian/Madras filter Coffee. This coffee is available typically in ‘Brahmanal’ cafes in TamilNadu or Kerala. They tried to emulate it with Bru, but not there yet.

I recall our training by my Pattar roommate Venkat while slaving in Bombay. Those days my employer paid me a pittance of a salary, with an HRA added. But it was only the term HRA that sounded expansive; the amount was in reality not even a decent ‘Hut rent allowance’. So we were five in a one-room kitchen flat compacted like the coffee powder, communal living at its best. Venkat was our coffee man, when we woke up he was there to get us going with decoction coffee made with great care. He was the one who taught us about tight compacting to get a good decoction.

But the trick was actually in the coffee powder. Dad was also very particular about his coffee, so we used to buy coffee based on his recommendations only from certain places like Krishna coffee works in Sultanpet. He used to remind mom when she went shopping (even though she knew) ‘ Babe, make sure the chicory is 25%’. Mom would repeat at the grinder’s – Plantation and Peaberry beans with 25% chicory and he would ask 25% are you sure, it is not right? She would say yes. This advice was repeated every time, month after month, year after year. After I got married and set up house, the same story continued in the new generation. The coffee guy in Malleswaram would ask 25%? First few times, he even refused, finally acceding to our crazy request. The norm was 20%, I believe.

After we left India, it was impossible to find coffee powder as above. In Saudi they had only pure Arabica, In Turkey they had acrid Turkish ‘kahve’, In America, well, less the said the better - we settled eventually on Maxwell house Columbian – grade 3. My search for the elusive Plantation plus 25% chicory continued…till I saw a version sold in New Orleans (Creole coffee). But it was not to be, the premixed Creole version tasted awful (had 50% chicory I guess!). So we gave up, to savour it only during vacations in India…

Chicory has interesting origins. Purists ask for pure coffee, so when we mentioned chicory in coffee shops out west, they blanched. What? You are asking for that cheap additive? Well, it has been around since the 15th century or even earlier, and is a root. Apparently it has no caffeine, lowers cholesterol & blood sugar. So, Coffee drinkers, that fact will come to your rescue. The French popularised it and the Germans adopted it. In all, Chicory gives coffee additional colour, body and bitter flavour..

But Historical French writers say it is contra-stimulante, and serves to correct the excitation caused by the principles of coffee, and that it suits bilious subjects who suffer from habitual constipation, but is ill-adapted for persons whose vital energy soon flags, and that for lymphatic or bloodless persons its use should be avoided.

Well, I don’t know all that…for me today living on British shores, I can only smell that elusive filter coffee in my mind, and dream of ‘Brahmanal’ coffee shops, steel tumblers and the dovarah…

Hey – Try reading – The Rape of the lock - It is a fun story – Now you understand why lots of things happen in college canteens, the vapours of coffee can get your spirits up. An extract from the writing of Pope.

Coffee is served, the vapors of which go to the Baron’s brain and embolden him to carry out his assault on Belinda’s hair. Clarissa, a lady who fancies the Baron, withdraws scissors from a case and arms him with the weapon. When he closes in behind Belinda, she bends over her coffee, exposing a magnificent lock. But a thousand sprites come to her aid, using their wings to blow hair over the lock. They also tug at one of her diamond earrings to alert her to the danger. Three times they warn her and three times she looks around. But all is for naught. The Baron opens wide his weapon, closes it around the lock, and cuts.
Pictures – Courtesy Wikipedia

RK Narayan took filter coffee to mainstream readers in many of his books. If curd rice was Narayan's favourite dish, coffee was undoubtedly his favourite drink. Writing in his Dateless Diary, Narayan talks about his visit to a New York cafeteria where he ordered coffee and was taken aback when the server asked him, "Black or white?" "Neither", he said haughtily. "I want it neither black nor white, but brown, which ought to be the colour of honest coffee - that's how we make it in South India where devotees of perfection in coffee assemble from all over the world." Narayan often used to joke with friends saying that he was the "globe's best coffee taster".
Narayan was known as a person who did not impose his regimen on his hosts. Even at home he was unfussy. But, according to those who knew him well, he made a great deal of fuss only about coffee, his favourite drink. He relied on his sister-in-law, Sulochana, to prepare this brew for him. This gracious lady, wife of his younger brother Seenu was a great friend of my wife, Ratna. She would tell her, "It is a terrible task for me, making the 'perfect' coffee for Kunjappa - his pet name. The warmth of the drink and the mix of sugar, milk and decoction have to be very, very correct. Even if there is a slight variation in warmth or flavour, he will ask me to make it all over again. One has to be a genius to 'repair' it."

Origins of coffee – check this blog out

Decoction –The act or process of boiling anything in a watery fluid to extract its virtues

The Barometer & lateral thinking

Has always been a classic, so I will reproduce it as I got it. The I in the story is not me, but a professor…here goes

Some time ago I received a call from a colleague, who asked if I would be the referee on the grading of an examination question. He was about to give a student a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student claimed he should receive a perfect score and would if the system were not set up against the student.

The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbiter, and I was selected. I went to my colleague's office and read the examination question: "Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer."

The student had answered: "Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building."
I pointed out that the student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really answered the question completely and correctly. On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics course. A high grade is supposed to certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm this. I suggested that the student have another try at answering the question. I was not surprised that my colleague agreed, but I was surprised when the student did.

I gave the student six minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he had not written anything. I asked if he wished to give up, but he said no. He had many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. I excused myself for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the next minute, he dashed off his answer, which read:

"Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^2, calculate the height of the building."
At this point, I asked my colleague if he would give up. He conceded, and gave the student almost full credit. In leaving my colleague's office, I recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem, so I asked him what they were.

"Well," said the student. "There are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the building."
"Fine," I said, "and others?"

"Yes," said the student." There is a very basic measurement method you will like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units.
"A very direct method."

"Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of g at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building, in principle, can be calculated."

"On this same tact, you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the period of the precession".

"Finally," he concluded, "there are many other ways of solving the problem. Probably the best," he said, "is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the janitor’s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: 'Mr Janitor, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of the building, I will give you this barometer.'"
At this point, I asked the student if he really did not know the conventional answer to this question. He admitted that he did, but said that he was fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach him how to think.

Finito- This is what lateral thinking is all about.

I decided to check this story (has its origin 1964!!!) out a bit and see who came up with this piece.
The results are interesting

It does not stop here - So many others worked on this problem and came up with even more unique solutions – like (Thanks & credits to all those who thought laterally…)

Walk away from the building with the barometer at arm's length. Once the apparent height of the barometer is the same as the building’s, measure the distance from the building and the height of the barometer and use a little trigonometry.

On a sunny day, place the barometer on the ground. Mark both ends. Stand the barometer upright on the mark closer to the sun, so the shadow will be approaching the other mark. Note the exact time when the shadow reaches the other mark. On the following sunny day, mark the end of the shadow cast by the building at exactly that time. Measure the distance from there to the building. This is the height of the building. Note: The accuracy of this technique depends on the number of days between consecutive sunny days

Hold the barometer one foot in front of yourself and find a position where the building appears to be the same size as the barometer. Now measure the distance to the building (in feet) and multiply by the height of the barometer

Go to a local shop and trade the barometer for the longest measuring tape they have. Take the tape onto the roof of the building. Holding one end, drop the other end over the edge of the building. Raise the measuring tape until the far end is just touching, not resting on, the ground. Read the height of the building from the measuring tape. Note: For particularly tall buildings, this may require a particularly good hardware store.

Hold the barometer straight in front of you and drop it. Measure, very carefully, how long it takes to hit the ground. Go up on the roof and hold the barometer in the same position. Drop it and measure, again very carefully, how long it takes to hit the roof. Since gravity falls off as the square of the distance from the centre of the planet, you can use the difference in times to calculate the height of the building relative to the distance from the base of the building to the centre of the planet. The local library can provide you with the distance to the centre of the planet in the required units. Note: The ratio of the times is the same as the ratio of the distances from the drop points to the centre of the planet.

Drop (and shatter) the mercury barometer at the base of the building on a windless day. Measure the increase in the mercury vapour concentration at the top of the building. Solve the diffusion equation to determine the distance from the shattered barometer to the top of the building.

Place the barometer on the ground floor of the building. Seal all the building's doors and windows. Fill the building with water. Read the pressure measurement from the barometer. This gives the weight of a column of water the same height as the building. Use this and the ratio of the density of mercury to the density of water to calculate the height of the building. Note: It is common courtesy to evacuate the building before using this technique

Go to all the local gift shops. Look for a fancy souvenir barometer, the kind which shows important local landmarks. Find one, which shows the heights of local buildings and considers this building important enough to be listed. Use this barometer.

Clap the barometer against the top of the building. Measure the time taken to hear the echo from the ground. Find the height of the building by multiplying half the echo delay by the velocity of sound

Walk back a measured distance from the building. Using any convenient means, throw the barometer at the top of the building. (Use trial and error until you get the aim right) Measure the angle from the ground and the initial velocity, account for wind and air resistance, use several formulae, and be prepared to account for why you just smashed the sh*t out of the professor's new barometer.

And many more….

The expected, boring, orthodox answer -

“If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.”

Picture Courtsey - Barometerworld UK

The Princess spy

"I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. It would help to build a bridge between the English and the Indians."

Whenever I passed the Baker Street tube station in London, it was the thought of Sherlock Holmes that sprang to my mind. Until I read about the WWII - SOE operations centre at Baker Street and the life of an extraordinary spy who uttered the words above.

The SOE, but for a couple of officers, believed otherwise.

Driven by ideals of freedom and calling herself Nora Baker, she volunteered for SOE, which specialised in dropping agents behind enemy lines. Trained at the secret Baker Street headquarters, she proved a poor recruit, being too clumsy, too emotional and too scared of handling weapons… Her finishing report, which the official historian of F Section found in her personal file long after the war, read: She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to the work in the field."

Nobody knows if it was just idealism or if it was a broken engagement that drove Norah to volunteer. But she did, spending a rigorous year in training and was then dropped behind enemy lines in France, Code name Madeline, Cover name Jean Marie. France was known territory, a place she had grown up in, and here she worked in constant danger, moving constantly avoiding detection, as the only woman radio operator spying & reporting on the German movements.

At the critical moment before the D-Day landing in Normandy she remained the last radio operator on the Continent, ensuring the last link between the Allied Headquarters and the French Underground. The life and death of millions and the fate of generations after the war was to depend upon one spirited by the vocation of a hero who accepted the risk of the supreme sacrifice: torture.

Incredibly enough, the girl eluded the dreaded Gestapo for many months, cycling, with transmitter in tow, from one 'safe house' to another. It was even reported that she solicited the help of an enemy officer to string up her antenna - telling him, of course,
that it was a clothes line!"

She was instrumental in keeping a steady flow of information to the allies. But it was not to be, the Gestapo was catching up and eventually her friend’s wife betrayed her for a few francs. She was jailed, beaten, chained and interrogated. Stoic & brave by day, sobbing at night, probably fearing the betrayal and compromise of her intelligence operation (which it did), she resisted interrogation for many months though trying unsuccessfully to escape a couple of times. She was not destined to live, however, Hitler had decreed that escaping agents should be shot after interrogation.

She never talked, and her courage so impressed at least one of the Gestapo,
Josef Kieffer, head of Gestapo HQ in Paris, that at his trial he is said to have broken down in tears when questioned about her death. "The Germans had learnt nothing from her - not even her real name."

On the fateful day,
The SS undressed the girl and she was terribly beaten by Ruppert all over her body. She did not cry, neither said anything. When Ruppert got tired and the girl was a bloody mess he told her then he would shoot her. She had to kneel and the only word she said, before Ruppert shot her from behind through the head, was `liberté'." She was 30 years old. Dachau 1944.

A French military band still plays outside her home in the suburbs of Paris every July 14. The country she worshipped, India, hardly knows her.

Noor unissa Inayat Khan – the great great great granddaughter of Tippu Sultan.
Her father Hazrat Inayat , a man with a mission, to spread Sufism around the world, left India for America, met & married Ora-Ray Baker (Begum Sharada Ameena Baker). Tsar Nicholas II through Rasputin invited them to Russia and it was here that Noor was born in 1914. The Bolshevik revolution was brewing in Kremlin and it forced the family to move, destined for France where they settled and where Noor grew up, excelling in languages. Tragedy struck, Pir Inayat returned to India and died from illness. Noor was slowly settling down to become a writer (her published works – 20 Jataka tales is still available
on Amazon), but when the Germans reached France, the remaining family fled to Britain where Noor became Nora and decided to join the war cause, along with her brother. But she was clear that she would work for the Allies during WWII to defeat Fascism and that she would go back to India after the war to join the freedom struggle against the British!!

At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle’s niece summed up her achievement: “Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage.”

Noor’s comment about military distinction proved prophetic:
at the "VE" and "VJ" days to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II, an astonishing fact came to light at the roll call, that it was Indians who outnumbered even the British as the largest recipients of Victoria and George Cross medals, the highest British awards for bravery.

SS Trooper Wilhelm Ruppert was tried for war crimes and executed by the Americans on May 29, 1946.

Update August 2007 - Shyam Benegal is planning on directing an upcoming movie on Noor Inayat Khan - The princess spy, based on Basu's book.

Further reading

Noor Inayat Khan - Wikipdeia
Madeline – Jean fuller
Spy Princess The Life of Noor Inayat Khan - Shrabani Basu
The Tiger claw – Shauna Singh Baldwin
Noor Appreciation site
The women who lived for danger – Marcus Binney

Indian tractor to the rescue!

Years ago, I learned how to drive a tractor. We had one of the few tractors in Pallavur then. The first to come was a greenish coloured Russian tractor, followed by a spanking new red ‘International’ machine. The village was slowly weaning away from bullock powered tilling and had started to entrust the work to roving Tamilian tractor owners. My uncle taught me the basics of driving the machine, operating the levers, the plough and all that, and we used to spend holidays tilling the fields. I still remember, the tough part was the individual brake system.. What power! The tractor could climb from one field to the other, traverse steep slopes, go through deep slush with no problem whatsoever…So in the mornings my cousin Suresh and I would set out with the tractor. In the initial forays, the car/tractor driver, Mani supervised us. Once it was clear that we could manage without destroying the vehicle or other’s property, we were allowed to venture out short distances on our own. As the work in our own fields got completed, the tractor was rented out, and we would drive & help Mani out in nearby villages for the going hourly rate … Thinking back, those were quite enjoyable days

Initially people would look at the two of us on the tractor with much trepidation, but after a while, they agreed that we could manage. Well two or three vacations went by, I was a cocksure driver by then and one day while returning to park the tractor in the shed, I overshot the point of no return and crashed into the garage wall (I still blame the individual brakes!). A big crack developed on the wall, the panicked me stamped the brakes in time and the tractor shuddered to a screeching halt. That incident and a bad accident that followed when my uncle was driving the machine put an end to our tractoring aspirations

This was many years ago, time flew by, whenever I went to Pallavur for holidays with my wife and kids, I would show them the infamous cracked wall…and recount the story. Now the whole family knows how to avoid me when I venture towards the garage. Pallavur has changed little. The tractor has been sold; actually it was not a very good investment, and the returns marginal! Nowadays, huge harvesters come from Tamilnad and get the work done in a jiffy.

While I was living in the US, I would see bright green John Deere’s or yellow CAT machines ruling the roost as I drove past many a countryside. The venerable International tractor was forgotten. Till hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the US Gulf coast…rescue efforts got underway after awhile and a year later this Business week
report followed. An extract below…

Like other rural residents of southern Mississippi, Jamie Lucenberg, 35, faced a huge cleanup job last fall in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He needed a tractor fast to clear debris and trees from his 17-acre family farm, just 16 miles north of devastated Biloxi. "We literally had to cut our way up and down the blacktop roads," recalls Lucenberg. But rather than buy an American-made John Deere or New Holland, brands he grew up with, Lucenberg chose a shiny red Mahindra 5500 made by India's Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. "I have been around equipment all my life," says Lucenberg, who also used the tractor to earn extra money clearing destroyed homes along the Gulf Coast. But for $27,000, complete with a front loader, the 54-hp Mahindra "is by far the best for the money. It has more power and heavier steel," Lucenberg says. "When you lock it into four-wheel drive, you can move 3,000 pounds like nothing. That thing's an animal." The local dealership in nearby Saucier, Miss. (population 1,300), figures it has sold 300 Mahindras in the past four months.
Time everybody realised, it is not just brainpower and outsourced hours that we export to the US, but also machines of steel, competing with US home brands!!! And ‘kicking ass’ as they say out there!!!

Did you know that Anand Mahindra, a Harvard university MBA actually studied to be a filmmaker and even did a short movie on the Kumbh Mela?? Anand’s undergraduate major was film making and his hobby is photographing his knockout wife Anuradha(editor -Verve)!! And that the M&M was originally Mahindra and Mohammed? The Mohammed relocated post Independence to Pakistan and was Ghulam Mohammed, Pakistan’s first finance minister. Go ahead read that
on line chat with Mahindra, it is worth it. BTW one more titbit, Anand was Bill (Clinton’s) classmate.


JY dared me ‘well, if you wish, you could try it, trust me, the taste is good’. But I was not so sure anymore. Bondaegi, up close and personal smelled awful.

I have been to Seoul a few times in the 90’s. Seoul is a great city, real big, with millions of people teeming about, hustling & bustling like many other mega cities around the world. A spanking clean & efficient metro that zipped you around, and taxis that ran on natural gas caught your attention…

Shopping was a national pastime I think, there were many areas kept aside for this purpose, Itaewon – mostly frequented by tourists and a place where I purchased my first leather jacket (subject of a Financial express article I wrote years ago) and many other places like Insadong and Namdaemun.

Our agent and friend JY always escorted us around, he would carefully steer us away from certain places. It took some heavy persuasion from us for him - albeit sheepishly, talk about the ‘Boshin tang’ issue. This was just after the Seoul Olympics, so a lot of those nefarious places had been closed and the city cleansed. Yeah, I know many of you are wondering about ‘Boshin tang’, that is the famous Korean dog stew.

For those of you who didn’t know, Bow bow tang or ‘Boshin tang’ is supposed to make you virile and your girl friend happy.

But what surprised me were some of Korea’s similarities with India, there were even people selling groundnuts in those paper cones made from old newspapers, around street corners. It had been a long time since I ate roasted groundnuts, reminded me of the Kadala vandi roaming Kerala’s inside streets…

Remember the emancipated ‘lungi’ clad guy pushing a cart loaded with a pumping stove and old newspapers, usually near cinema theatres and beaches? He would set shop, put stone wedges under the tyres to immobilise it, light his stove after a few vigorous pumps. Once it is nicely going, blue flame and all, he puts his thin iron wok over it and tips some sand into it. I used to wonder, how old is that sand? Minutes later, it was hot like hell and he would pop in fresh seeded groundnuts…It used to smell great and we hoped as we passed it that an elder would buy us a few cones. From ten paisa a cone, the price has inflated to Rs1/- a cone in most places!! Also, over the years the cones became smaller, the number of nuts in a cone went from the 50’s to 10’s…Cone making became a highly skilled task, to finish looking big outside, but containing just a few nuts inside…Then came the time when our man started to add items to the trolley, pickles, fried stuff…but the staple from the vandi was nuts.

Hey, what is this; I am digressing from Seoul streets and mumbling something else…

So well, I saw a nut vendor from afar in Namdaemum. I was asking JY if we should buy some groundnuts for old times sake. He gave me an incredulous look and asked ‘Do you have any idea what that old lady is selling’? I was so sure it was groundnuts and I said so, he asked me to move on and then explained. ‘My friend, those are fried or pickled silkworm larvae. It is a delicacy here, but maybe not for you’…and its name? Bon Dae Gi…then he went on, ‘Trust me the taste is good’…Well, I never tried the stuff.

So that is Bondaegi for you all. Eat it if you dare. Older Koreans will vouch for the taste; younger ones don’t eat it anymore!!!