Glow of hope

I saw a full size print of this painting at my cousin’s house & it has fascinated me since then. My aunt explained that the original is at the Mysore palace and I am now planning to get hold of a print copy myself. I checked around on the net and found that it was also attributed to Ravi Varma and people had, wrongly, written articles around the painting considering Varma as the painter. I will hopefully go and see it the next time I get a chance to go to Mysore.

The display at Jaychamrajendra gallery at Jaganmohan palace highlights the famous "Lady with the lamp" painted by artist SL Haldenkar usually mistaken to be a work of Raja Ravi Varma

The painting is currently on display on the second floor of the museum, in an enclave with a curtained window. The enclave is normally darkened, which highlights the subtlety of the glowing candle in the piece. When the light is turned on, the painting reveals remarkably subtle shades of pink and lavender in the woman's sari. Opening the enclave's curtain leads to yet another distinct view of the painting, the natural light exposing even more subtle gradations and details in this magnificent work.

One of the reasons why it is attributed to Varma is because there are other originals by Varma in the palace. It's even listed as one of his paintings in some places and the subject is supposed to be a lady from the royal family - ammankovil thampuratti. But it is not Varma’s work.

About the painter

Savlaram Laxman Haldankar (1882-1968), born in Savantwadi, Maharashtra, showed early talent in the arts and enrolled at the Sir J.J. School of Art. A student of Dhurandhar and Cecil Burns, he soon distinguished himself by winning prizes and exhibiting in Mumbai, Madras, Simla and the Royal Society of Artists, London. He also started the Haldankar Art Institute in 1908 in Mumbai. Later, with other friends, he found the Art Society of India in 1918 and became its president. He was highly accomplished in water color and oils, with a special mastery over portraits. His works were acquired by Prince of Wales Museum and the National Art Gallery, Mumbai.

His collections can be found at at varied places like Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Jagmohan Palace, Mysore, Nagpur Museum, Nagpur, Academy of Art, Moscow, USSR & Delhi Art Gallery.

During his years at the J.J. School of Art, he had a brilliant career and listed himself at the top and winning almost all the prizes. He won two commendation certificates from the Royal British Society of Art. In the years 1910, 1927 and 1932 S.L. Haldankar won the Governors Prize. 1964. Called to New Delhi for the felicitation by the Rashtrapati, Dr Rajendra Prasad. Fecilitated as a fellow, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.

Haldankar taught at the J.J. School of Art, Bombay. Taught at the Haldandkar`s Fine Art Institute. His son GS Haldankar is also a famous painter (water colors). Babanrao Haldankar, another son, is an acclaimed singer. Many a famous painter of today was trained by Haldankar. His family refers to an Italian encyclopedia stored in a library in Wai in Satara district, wherein the master was ranked as one of the three finest water colorists in the world.

If any of you want prints of Varma or other famous Indian painters (including ‘Glow of Hope’), try Samrudhi at Double road - Bangalore. Hindu has done an article on them.

pics - Kamath's potpourri & other linked sites


Barbers & Barber poles

How many of you know this famous sign signifies a barbershop? They are not usually seen in India, but I learnt recently that there is plenty of history behind it!!

As a child, in places like Pallavur which we visited during summer holidays, we got haricuts from the traveling barber. He was summoned a few days in advance, and he would come by with his sheet and worn out implements. My grand uncles used to say that he did one hell of a job. But well, for me, as a kid, barbershops were terrifying. They say I used to bawl for years. Now of course I enjoy chatting with the barber. I came across the first female barbers in USA, later in UK. Man, they sure are chatty!! The one I have now is a Srilankan lady, so we talk about music, Bollywood and Muthaih Muralitharan or Jayasurya…

The best I have come across are in Turkey, oh! were they good. You don’t have to say anything, they knew precisely what to do, like my favorite ‘Balus’ at SM Street and now also located on Mavoor road. The Turks also give you a fantastic head massage, pulling your ears and snapping your neck. Not always for the faint hearted, so feel free to tell them NO, if you are terrified of a broken neck. I remember the barber at Saudi, he used to offer tweezing services (Arabs tweeze their eyebrows, beard lines and ‘above shave-line’ hair!!), horrifying my sensibilities and making me say a firm NO! The Turkish barbers always have a coat boy (he takes your jacket and hangs it) and you have to tip both when you are done. The boy at the place where I frequented graduated to full barbering duties by the time we left Turkey.

Once upon a time, the barber did not just cut beard or trim hair, they had surgical duties to perform too, and did you know that? It started with bloodletting, where a lot of blood was drained away to get rid of poisons and the such. Typically leeches were used and stored in the brass bowl atop the barbers sign. The red & white stripes on the signs represented the bandages used for the process! In some places you see a blue as well, typically in USA. People say it is part of the national flag color or some say red is arterial and blue venous blood! Nowadays, these signs are not favored, as they are ‘visually disruptive’.

Barber – now what doeth that mean in the first place? Barba in Latin is beard, in olden times; the headman of the tribe was the medicine man & barber!!

In the middle of the 13th century, the barber companies of Paris, known as the Brotherhoods of St. Cosmos and St. Domain, founded the first school ever known for the systematic instruction of barbers in the practice of surgery. This school was later enlarged and became the model for schools of surgery during the Middle Ages. Many of the foremost surgeons of the times were students of the School of St. Cosmos and St. Domain. Until 1461 the barbers were the only persons practicing surgery. In 1450, the Guild of Surgeons was incorporated with the Barbers Company by act of parliament. Barbers were restricted to bloodletting, tooth drawing, cauterization and the tonsorial operations. However the board of governors, regulating the operations of the surgeons and barber-surgeons, consisted of two surgeons and two barbers. Every time a surgeon was given a diploma entitling him to practice his profession, the diploma had to be signed by two barbers as well as two surgeons. The surgeons resented this, but the barbers were very much favored by the monarchs and preserved their privileges until the middle of the 18th century. The alliance between the barbers and surgeons was dissolved in June, 1745.
WOW look at them tools!!! That 'saw' alone explains it all....

Did you know that the red & white aircraft speed indicator is also referred to as a barber pole?

And I remembered Kim, my friend from Korea. We were walking around Seoul and here was where I first saw the Barbers pole. Upon seeing my surprise, he said ‘once upon a time, in Seoul, it also meant other services such as massage are available in-house’. Or if there are two poles, the possibilities go further than just a good massage!!

A nice article & the Barbers museum in Ohio

Pics - various sites, acknowledged with thanks

A trip to NAPA and music thereafter

Friday was rough; I had a tough day at Napa Valley.

When I wrote that line, I thought about a tour guide’s recent remark and laughed. A couple of weeks ago, we had guests at home and we were taking an LA tour – Hollywood and all, with the awestruck guests. The driver of the tour bus / tour guide was a sharp Croat, who came up with very witty one liners now and then. While we were passing the Beverly hills Blvd, he would say – Look at all those nicely dressed, pampered & rich women, they are having what they would call ‘a tough day’, the poor things, they have to wake up late, have a long & leisurely breakfast and then rough it out with a tiring shopping day. Then they have to sit in the hot sun and eat that salad costing $150, at that classy star restaurant, man! what a rough life!!! And of course, we all laughed.

Anyway the not so rich and not so young guy who is writing this had a rough day at Napa valley. Now those of you who know about Napa must have sniggered, like we did in the bus!! Napa is where people long to go, that is where almost all the California Wine is made, a lovely valley with dozens of vineyards. People usually go there for a grand vacation, lazing about, eating good food, wine tasting and all. Well, I was on a business conference where I had to speak for 4 straight hours, wolf a quick and unpalatable lunch comprising strange leaves & berries and a blob of roasted chicken (surely costing over $50 which the others dutifully gloated about), drive through rush hour bay area traffic to Oakland to catch a flight to South California and then another hour and a half’s excruciating drive home through dense traffic…

A shower later I sat to watch the tape covering the Amrita Superstar finals. The singers on display were no class compared to those fine contestants of the Hindi ‘Indian Idol’ or ‘Sa-re-ga-ma-pa’…but there were two performers amongst the contestants who blew me away.

The first of them, I had made a brief mention of, previously….Stephen Devassy on the keyboards. He single-handedly shepherded the contestants of Super star & Superstar Junior through the contest, playing adroitly on the keyboards, as the one man orchestra & mentor… I had seen him first hand at the Hariharan concert that we went to recently and I am told that Stephen is one of the highest paid organist’s today. A simple man from what I saw, humble and pious, like everybody should be, a boy who pursued his dreams on the keyboard. Watch him play this tune…

Webindia123 has a nice interview plus a performance by Stephen Devassy, here. And another good article to read- The 23-year-old "village boy" from Palakkad came to Chennai with a keyboard, a handful of money and a dream --to perform the music he has composed.

After that there was Balabhaskar’s filler in the program…wow!! Was he masterly on the violin!!! There are many videos of his performances available for those who frequent Youtube, each as good as the other, simply because this young guy is a master of the art and his stage presence is complete.

Balabhaskar - another young prodigy, who is busy with his group and music direction, these days. Once a singer, he now concentrates on composing, arranging and playing the violin. He has his own website where you could also listen to his compositions.

Balabhaskar started young, at four, when his famous uncle, B. Sasikumar, virtually pulled him out of bed every morning, and put a violin in his hands. "It was gurukula training, and my uncle did not teach in the conventional way. He would play some swaras and expect me to do the same. It was like being thrown into the lion's den and one simply had to manage. So, manodharmas came naturally to me. The violin became a part of me and I think I can express myself best on the violin. My arangettam was at 12 and at school, I tried out my own compositions for youth festivals," he says. Another web123 interview.

And the evening was quickly gone – it was soon time to hit the sack…but not before I remembered another fantastic keyboard player, whose performance I had the opportunity to watch, though not at very close proximity (our seats were too far at the back)…It was Adnan Sami himself during his concert with Shreya Ghoshal. He is even on the Guinness book for fastest keyboard playing…More on that some other time..

Driving a Ferrari

People who read my earlier blog on the Montblanc Meisterstuck would have read of my stupid desire to own a Ferrari. Naturally a pipe dream and we all agree with that. But well, hear this now. I got to drive a Ferrari two weeks ago. My cousin owns one and we had a go at it, while at Cleveland Ohio.

It was an exhilarating though short-lived experience. I did not really let rip on a highway since I was new to Ohio roads and since I had no plans of making close encounters with animate & inanimate objects. And of course, I was nervous and worried about insurance and other mundane matters. Behind the wheels, it felt great revving the engine up and speeding up to 60-70 mph in a flash (Less than 7 seconds is what the specifications state). The steering was hard (trying a U turn took an effort), the cornering reasonably tight. The 6 position stick shift was a bit tight, the engine took 10 minutes to warm up initially and putting the car into reverse required pressingdown the shift to engage it. Above all, the sound from the quad mufflers, when you pressed the gas pedal ensured that all around the Barrington community took notice; as you sped by with the top down and the wind tore through your hair, your back firmly pressed to the seat, shoulders up, and that stupid grin on your face… well at least I ensured that the local community took notice and my cousin gave me quaint looks, wondering if I would tear his car apart. Actually, he looked quite smug… The Ferrrai he owns is a classic ‘family man’s Ferrari’ or the Ferrari 3.2 Mondial Cabriolet (Silver not Ferrari Red). I can only agree with what this owner had to say.

A Mondial 3.2 Cabriolet owner remarks - When you drive this car, especially with the top down, almost everyone will look and admire. The sound that emanates from the 4 exhausts is one that a Porsche could only imagine. I've had Porsches, and when you have stepped up to a Ferrari, especially one with a 348 engine or better, it is music to your ears. Women stare and wave, men weep in their practical Hondas or family mini-vans wishing to have a second chance at life. When you are feeling a little depressed, just turn the key and your problems vanish... it is that simple. The sound, power and handling will make any driving enthusiast smile as it does me, even on the darkest of days.
Ferrari introduced the Mondial in the early 80’s as the top model of their V8 DOHC series. In 1983, the Ferrari Mondial got an upgrade, its engine size was increased to 3.2 liters, and the car was renamed the Mondial 3.2. Things got even better in 1984 with the unveiling of the Mondial Cabriolet, the first convertible Ferrari. The horsepower increased to 260 and top speed to 155 mph. It featured more electronic accessories than any Ferrari before it and was a showcase of new technology throughout its production. It was the first V8 Ferrari to feature fuel injection, electronic ignition, automatic climate control, anti-dive suspension, ABS brakes, cockpit-adjustable suspension, power steering, t-type transaxle, and an automatic clutch. No Ferrari polarizes enthusiasts like a Mondial. You either like them or hate them. There’s defensible logic on both sides. Around 630 were produced during the mid 80’s.

Ferrari is an Italian manufacturer of racing cars and high-performance sports cars formed by Enzo Ferrari in 1929. At first, Scuderia Ferrari sponsored drivers and manufactured racecars; the company went into independent car production in 1946, eventually became Ferrari S.p.A and is now controlled by the Fiat group. The company is based in Maranello, near Modena, Italy.

And I did one more thing that I had always wanted to do. I drummed a real Chenda with real Chenda kols (my cousin also has a collection of all kinds of musical instruments including triple drums). I must say here that while I have tapped on a Chenda as a kid, doing a quick rat- a-tat while at the temple (with the Marar was away for lunch or something), but this was me with a Chenda on my shoulders, hammering away tunelessly in a basement, all by myself. I did not have the faintest clue what tune I was drumming, but well, it did make a lot of noise and it transported me to memories of the ‘ulsavam’ or celebrations at the Thrippallavurappan temple at Pallavur and Appu marar.

Later that evening while I was answering an official call on my cell phone, my colleague told me – I don’t know what you are upto, but vacationing in Cleveland Ohio is not something I have heard many people mentioning. If I had explained what I was upto, she would still not have understood, I guess!!!

Eat what we have and pay what you like!!

There has always been a dormant wish in my mind – to start a restaurant, but the ‘missus’ does not agree that it a good idea. Even though I tried explaining about the subtle differences between our bus stop ‘chayakada’ (tea shop) and what was in my mind….I tell her that she should view me like Bachan saab in “Cheeni Kum’ and not like the pot bellied guy at Ananda Bhawan…but she just grunts ‘Hooo hrrm’…Apparently there is a big difference, not just in height & pony tail…I guess it was not entirely appropriate to compare myself with Bachan saab!!!

My idea had been to serve Desi, authentic South Indian fare, especially Malabari & Palakkadan dishes to the unsuspecting desi’s and non desi’s out here… I have not come across any such place in the USA, so far…but, well the idea is still in deep freeze and not expected to thaw out, ever. So I try out my hand at cooking during week ends, seriously enjoying the process…especially with a CD of old (sometimes ancient) Malayalam or Hindi songs playing in the background. Many a masterpiece (so I believe) is thus served to other family members and select friends, though these experiments do flop miserably at rare occasions…Sometimes I wonder if Mehaboob or Mukesh ever imagined that a fine Chettinad chicken curry or the Veeraswami special egg curry could be engineered in an American kitchen with their voices prompting the cook..

So when I came across this story in the ‘American Way’ (American Airlines in-flight magazine) a couple of months ago, I was pleasantly surprised, though it was nowhere close to my business model. Let me try & tell you about what I read, since I do not have a link to connect to it and the article is not available online. Titled ‘Will work for food’ by Kevin Raub, this is a great article about a new concept in running restaurants where there are no menu’s and no price lists. I found a lot written up about the café, though.

Walk or drive around California and you will come across many a homeless man with a placard round their necks stating ‘will work for food’. Well, the concept I am talking about is not typically for the homeless, these hotels are loosely termed Robin Hood restaurants and cover outfits such as the One world café in Salt Lake and the SAME in Denver, Terra Bite (founded by a Google developer Ervin P)

The SAME café – Denver

Featured in Time magazine, Owners Brad and Libby Birky started SAME Cafe (So All May Eat) with a simple philosophy: Everyone ought to be able to eat well and affordably in their neighborhood. With that in mind, they decided not to demand money from anyone who comes to eat at their small cafe -- which features an ever-changing menu of healthy pizzas, salads, soups and desserts -- but simply to put a box by the door for donations. The way it's supposed to work, a diner comes in, has lunch (or an early dinner on the weekends), then pays whatever he's able or whatever he thinks the meal is worth. Surprisingly, the system has actually worked, with the Birkys doing a good business even as they do good.

Peta Owens writing for
Time states - Customers who have no money are encouraged to exchange an hour of service — sweep, wash the dishes, weed the organic garden — for a meal. Likewise, guests who have money are encouraged to leave a little extra to offset the meals of those who have less to give. The cafés' business models have won fans among the city's well-to-do residents, many of whom regularly dine there. At One World, patrons have given Cerreta a car, bought new dishes, arranged to professionally clean her carpets, supplied new tile for the restaurant bathrooms, and donated property for an organic garden and funded a new irrigation system for it. Last week, a gentleman left a $50 bill next to an empty bowl of soup at SAME. Since opening, one man has regularly come in and left money on the counter without eating, stating "I was blessed today so I though I'd pass it on." He's homeless.

Kevin outlines the Five steps – Help yourselves to a drink, pick up your silverware, plate, napkin & mug. Select your meal from the daily menu, tell the server what you want and how much. Pay either a donation (what you feel is appropriate for the meal) or exchange one hour of service for one meal – e.g. washing utensils.

Believe it or not, the business that the Birky’s started was conceived while they were flying American airlines and the ideas were jotted on a napkin…not only does it sound philanthropic; it is not a loss maker (BTW it is a no profit outfit) and hires no staff other than the two founders. It caters to about 200 customers a week where 20% work for their meal, the rest pay what they think they should. So what do patrons end up paying for a meal? About $8 per head on average, this is what they would have paid in average at a neighborhood eatery!!

James, a part-time math teacher, is out of cash today. He carries his empty bowl to the kitchen, pulls on rubber gloves, and starts washing. In the back of the restaurant, Will Murray, 52, is wondering how much to drop in the donations box after a meal of soup, salad, and pizza. Ten dollars, he decides. On the wall behind him are framed quotations about giving: “A person’s true wealth is the good he or she does in the world,” and “Be the change you want to see.” “Maybe I’ll toss in a few more,” he says.

Terra bite on the other hand, even provides you with free Wifi and a gaming lounge with Xbox and Play station consoles while there!! An article on Terra bite.

Happy eating folks, and hope you will leave a full stomach and a clear conscience - that is the motto!!!

The tale of Monte Cassino

Recently, as a tourist to Washington DC, I sauntered along like many others, rapidly past the WWII and Vietnam War memorials, taking in a superficial view of days gone by and sacrifices long forgotten. Oh, It was not my war, I thought, the Washington DC sun is hot; let me get a move on before the Washington monument line opens up…That was probably a bit callous, I agree.

A fellow blogger (thanks to GVK’s introduction) Abraham Tharakan steered me towards a long forgotten war where many thousands of Indians died fighting a foolish & stupid battle, the ‘Battle of Cassino’. This one took me to the Liri valley, where unfortunately over 5,000 Indians perished in a war that they had nothing much to do with, really.

Which country provided 2.5 million soldiers for a war, soldiers who wanted to be soldiers, many Punjabi’s and Nepali’s, bearing in mind that not a single one of them was a conscript? It was India and the war was WW II. Who remembers the 35,000 or more Indians who laid their lives for that war? Very few, I assume.

I decided to investigate, and nothing more touching than what Lord Wallace of Saltaire stated in the British House of Lords on 17th Nov 2005, can start the story rolling. He said as follows “My wife and I were at the Monte Cassino war cemetery some years ago with a young Asian (Indian?) Couple on their honeymoon who thought that that had nothing to do with them, until we took them to show them the six pillars of names of Indian soldiers who had died in the battle for Monte Cassino…. Years later, at the parade, I saw no Indian veterans marching past the Cenotaph (London). We have forgotten that the largest army in the British Imperial Armies, after Britain, in both world wars came from the Indian subcontinent.
A little background on Cassino - Historians judge Monte Cassino, where the Germans had dug themselves in around a 1,400-year-old Benedictine abbey, as one of the decisive battles (1943-44) of the Second World War. Monte Cassino was the birthplace of the Benedictine order founded in the sixth century. The allies were fighting their way up from southern Italy towards Rome, and the monastery of Monte Cassino stood at the strongest point of a powerful German defensive line. The battle took four months, and by one estimate it left a quarter of a million dead or wounded. Wrongly assuming that the Germans were using the Monte Cassino monastery for military purposes, the Allies dropped tons of bombs on the abbey destroying the fortress. After the destruction, the Germans held the abbey ruins for three months before Allied forces stormed the complex and eliminated the Germans suffering even more heavy losses.

The Indians who fell at Monte Cassino were buried “there itself. There are three cemeteries in the area — a total of 5,000 plus Indians are buried there.” The Indian army website states simply ‘At Cassino, the best that the German Parachute Regiment had were slowly reduced by equally motivated Indian troops of all shades’.

In the bloody six months, after large numbers of Americans were decimated, the Indians were sent up the hill on a frontal attack. The six-month battle for Monte Cassino was Britain's bitterest and bloodiest encounter with the German army on any front in World War Two. In a battle that became increasingly political, symbolic and personal as it progressed, more and more men were asked to throw themselves at the virtually impregnable German defenses. It is a story of incompetence, hubris and politics redeemed at dreadful cost by the heroism of the soldiers.

Comprising four battles, the opening salvo resulted in the allies losing over 2,220 Americans, The second land attacks followed the heavy controversial aerial bombardment resulting in very heavy New Zealand and Indian deaths as they tried to take the hill front on, climbing the slopes under treacherous conditions. The third followed after yet another bombing, but this was the most difficult part where man to man fighting ensued with Germans occupying the rubble. The fourth finally saw victory on 11th May.

Here are some excerpts of the fighting…While these document bravery of a few Indians, the rest of the 5000+ sadly died without a mention in history books. Their living friends and compatriots never recorded their lives or acts, Indians were I guess never taught to consign memories to books & diaries….

As the Gurkhas attempted to worm through the copse, the leading platoon blew up on the mines almost to a man. A hail of bullets and grenades followed. Two-thirds of the leading companies were struck down within five minutes, yet the hillmen continued to bore in, reaching for their enemies. Naik Bir Bahadur Thapa although wounded in a dozen places emerged on the enemy’s side of the copse with a few survivors and established a foothold. It was to no avail; in that deadly undergrowth dozens lay dead, many with four or more tripwires around their legs. Only a handful remained to be recalled to defensive positions at dawn. Stretcher-Bearer Sher Bahadur Thapa traversed this fearful undergrowth no less than sixteen times in order to bring out wounded comrades. (He was killed soon afterwards.)

Rain froze into sleet, sleet turned to snow, snow to blizzards followed by high winds and torrential downpours. “The wind,” wrote an officer, “holds up everything except the men’s tents.” Never has a severer task confronted Indian troops, and never have they borne hardships and dangers with greater fortitude. Baz Mir, a dhobi washerman of camp follower category, from whom combatant services were not expected, volunteered to serve as a stretcher bearer when casualties had depleted the field ambulance detachments. He crossed a minefield under heavy fire, and pushed through to Hangman’s Hill. Next day he volunteered again, and although intercepted by an enemy post, was allowed to proceed. His award of the Indian Distinguished Service Medal was alike a tribute to his bravery and a portent of the new India to come, in which merit will surmount the barriers of caste.

Naik Mohammed Yusef I.O.M., I. D.S.M., a Moslem from Rawalpindi, organized the evacuation of wounded along a track from Castle Hill which was systematically swept by artillery and mortar fire. He was afterwards presented to the King Emperor, who complimented him on his bravery.

Naik Babu Raju, a Hindu from Madras, gained the Military Medal for tending wounded in the open with utmost contempt for danger. These instances of gallant behaviour by Britons and Indians of diverse creeds are illustrative of the spirit of all ranks of the Indian Medical Services

Nila Kantan was brought up in Andra Pradesh, and volunteered for the Indian Army in 1940 at the age of nineteen. He saw service with transport and supply units on a wide range of fronts ‘I was doing a porter’s job - no vehicles could go where we were. On our shoulders we carried all the things up the hill. The gradient was 1:3; almost on all fours we had to go. I was watching from this hill all the bombers going in and unloading their bombs there. still can’t forget the Cassino ruins. There was nothing but rubble. The bodies were still trapped, stinking - I had to cover my nose as I passed through. I saw legs there, blown off the stomach. I have never seen such a number of dead bodies in any battle. I counted more than 800 - then I gave it up. They were just there in the rubble, covered with a blanket. I felt very sorry. I didn’t know where they were born, how they came there, whether they were enemy or our own troops - they were all mingled together. So many New Zealanders, British, Germans, Indians... Seeing that, I felt there should never be a war again. I abhor war. I hate war.
July 10, 1944. 5th Maratha Regiment's Yeshwant Ghadge, all of 22, was caught in a mortal combat in the Upper Tiber Valley of Italy. Except for his commander, his platoon had been wiped out by enemy machine-gunners. With no alternative left, Ghadge rushed the machine gun nest, lobbing grenades, knocking off the gun and the gunner. He charged, shot another enemy. With no time to change his magazine, Ghadge clubbed to death two remaining enemy gunners. Ghadge finally fell to an enemy sniper.

Sepoy Kamal Ram - 8th Punjab Regiment, Indian Army - "B" and "C" Companies crossed the river, and came forward to make good the gains. With Major Wright missing, Subedar Sumera Ram took command of "B" Company and Major Gardhari Singh assumed overall command of the assault. The advance was pinned down by a sleet of fire from front and flanks. Movement meant death, until the shining heroism of young Kamal Ram saved the day. This nineteen-year-old sepoy of Karauli State, in action for the first time, crouched near his Company Commander when the machine-guns swept the Punjabis to the ground. A gun firing from the right flank was particularly vexatious. The officer called for a volunteer to deal with it. Kamal Ram crawled through the wire and leapt upon the gun crew single-handed. He shot the gunner and bayoneted his feeder, swinging about to kill a German officer who sprang at him from a slit trench firing a pistol. With the post silenced he pressed on. Having sniped the gunner of a second nest, he bombed the remainder of the crew into submission. Together with a havildar he attacked a third machine-gun post and dealt with it in a similar fashion. The line was open. The Punjabis moved forward to secure their objective. Later, in a forward reconnaissance, Kamal Ram wiped out a fourth machinegun nest---an unsurpassed day's work which earned this gallant youngster the Victoria Cross

Two of the stealthiest peoples in the world---both expert woodsmen and trackers---roam nightly in No Man's Land, giving the Germans the jitters. They are Gurkhas and North American Indians from the Canadian Rockies. One of the North-American Indians---who looked very like a Gurkha himself except that he was taller---said to me in a broad Canadian accent: 'This is the first time that we have seen the Gurkhas, and boy, are they good? I thought I knew a bit about tracking, but I can't teach those boys anything. I'm mighty proud to be associated with them.'" So near to one another are the German and Indian troops in this sector that they have taken to conversations. The other evening a German called out, 'Hallo, Indians! Why don't you go home?' An enraged V.C.O., who spoke English, shouted back, 'I did not come all the way from El Alamein to go home. It is you who will go!' The Germans went next day, driven back by this Subedar and his men."

Curiously, from most accounts, I got the opinion that Indian soldiers enjoyed working in the British army, they were fed (Indian food including Chappatis & Dal were regularly airdropped) and clothed well and got along well with their peers, though there were racist reports here & there. Mark Tully’s radio interviews with some veterans are testament to that.

The comprehensive Monte casino story – The tiger triumphs

The official 60th anniversary report -

Vikarm Seth’s book ‘Two lives’ covers the story of his grand uncle Shanti Seth who was involved at Cassino.

German propaganda trying to win over India during this period is quite interesting, take a look.

Various pics - courtsey linked sites

On German surrender, by a Brit veteran - The funny thing was, we had a lot of these men come to us because they would deliberately make their way along the line until they came to where they knew they could give themselves up to a British soldier. They all said that they felt that they would get fairer treatment from the British soldier than from anyone else. They certainly didn't want to give themselves up to the Indian Ghurkas or the Moroccan "Goons" or even the Americans or Canadians. They tried to reach us and many did.

Tactically Cassino was absurd, strategically it was senseless, the worst battle of the Second World War.

The painting assignment

Jamal saw the ad in the local paper – it asked for experienced painters who had some exposure to the print industry, location - in Alkhobar Saudi Arabia. Little did Jamal know of the rigours and tasks that awaited him in the desert sands. He wondered if he was the right guy, but he wanted a job. The ad asked him to appear in person for an interview at an address in Mumbai. He was a painter all right, but not one who had any idea about the print media and all that, he was a house painter in Malappuram. He did know about emulsions and grades for brushes & rollers, he knew how to painstakingly do a house over in the hot Kerala sun, but like I said before, he wanted the job. So off went our enterprising Mallu friend for the interview. Our man got the job finally, but that is another story and not entirely pleasant reading. The guy at the interview told him nothing about the job (he was told not to ask too many questions by the brusque interviewers), Jamal assumed that he would have to paint some structures though something made him feel that it won’t be houses. He was asked if he was a devout Muslim, which he was..

Landing at Khobar, a place he had heard so much about, our man was shown his living quarters (room shared by 5 others). He was taken the next day to the work place. What he saw surprised him, some 10 guys sitting and colouring big piles of books based on a specimen. He was to become the censoring arm of the Muttawa who had done up a specimen. The modus operandi was simple. A publisher from India (or wherever) sends the sample magazine, the Muttawa read it and blackened the objectionable parts and passed on the marked copy to the, lets call them ‘blackeners’. When the bulk stock came, they sat and continued blackening all the copies as per the sample..

Actually they were the only lucky guys who saw and read the magazine, as it should be. Others mainly saw their handiwork. Sometimes house painters like Jamal were really enthusiastic when the pictures were racy enough.

After a time in Saudi, I had gotten used to the blackening of images and texts with what are, I am sure the blackest of black ink markers. I recall my friend lifting the magazine up to light to see if he could see Claudia Schiffer like she should look instead of being a cute face with a misshapen black blob on the rest of her body…no way! no light could permeate through, denser than a black hole I guess. I remember the early days when we tried to sponge the images with water, didn’t work either. So we resigned ourselves to the censored life…

Magazines, especially those dealing with Bollywood and Malluwood were the ones subjected to severe cropping and paint-over. In the beginning we could see that the blackening was very crude, a huge blob of black ink, then they started to become quite artistic, a belly would be covered with contour hugging black paint giving a feeling that it was part of the dress, the exposed leg would be covered with a stylish black salwar or trousers depending on the painters mood I guess. The worst was when entire pages were ripped off, thereby making most of the book useless and so thin that a Femina had only 20 pages or so at times.

One day, we purchased a thick hardbound cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey. It cost well over 30$, but in the middle a complete section had been sniped out, I checked the contents, it was a section on pork dishes..

Movies were very short in length; Indian movies were half the running length of those in India, no songs at all, which of course some guys enjoyed. Then I remember a friend who went to get married and came back with the videotape of the event. As is required, all bags were hand searched at customs and tapes are taken in to be checked and certified as ‘Saudi friendly’. He was asked to come back after two days and was aghast later when he put the tape in to check it out- Embedded were serious Islamic recitations in places where the Hindu religious ceremonies took place.

Who said life in Saudi is monotonous and no fun??

There are many more of these Saudi & Turkey stories from my living days in those countries, some other day maybe, if there are no objections..

See some recent hilarious examples in this blog

More examples of Iranian censorship here.

Oyster pails and Greek helmets

I must confess that the idea for this article came from the ‘food network’ which we watch once in a while when the many serials on TV have run their course and there are no more channels to surf. This one was very interesting, talking about the connections between oyster pails, fast food and Greek helmets. Aha! Wonder what they have in common? Read on..

Let’s start with a statistic. Did you know that Chinese take away alone outnumbers the total purchases of MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger king and such the in the USA? Unbelievable, eh? Well that is a fact. US spend about 170 billion dollars on fast food annually!! The first of the lot was a food chain called White Castle from Kansas that’s served steamed burgers (called Slyders) since 1916 with fries and cola for 5 cents. Since people had a pretty poor opinion on the meat used in the burgers, white castle opened up the manufacturing process of the burger to the public and that has how it has been since then – open kitchens. 27 years later, Macdonald’s came on, to be followed by many others. White castle could not handle a large number of patrons in the dining hall, so in order to ensure that they lost no business, they started the concept of drive through, to multiply the customers served. Thus started western takeaway rage and White castle used a rectangular burger box, creating the first takeaway container.

However Chinese takeaway existed before that but were consumed only by the Chinese laborers that flocked in following the California gold rush. What is Chinese food takeaway contained in? A nice looking self insulated pail made of stiff wax paper with a wire handle. It is all so common and famous, ever figured out where it came from? It has its origin early in the 20th century (oysters were plentiful then) when fresh opened oysters were taken away packed with ice in such containers. Today oysters are not so plentiful, Chinese food is and it quickly adapted itself as the container for Chinese takeaway!!!

Well what has all this got to do with the Greek soldier and his helmet? In earlier days, the helmet served as a soup carrier for the Greek soldier buying fast food from the Athens bazaar (typically hot soup made with lentils - chorba). Now can you imagine what the earliest soup’s (dating back 6000 years were made of ? Hippopotamus!! At least so sayeth Wikipedia.

More on drive through fast-food takeaway and how today’s economy have hit them, in an upcoming blog.