Auto's in Davos

When our dear friends in Switzerland sent us this photo with the cryptic note that said it all, I decided to check it out. Some time back I had written about Indian Autorickshaws in the UK. Well they were recently to Davos, where the World Economic forum is held every year, an occasion where the big wigs of politics and business meet to discuss all kinds of things. Don’t ask me more, I don’t know, nor have I been to such lofty meetings.

Our friend said - It was fun to see our good old autos ....(albeit) freezing in the snow.

So what was it all about? Dipankar Sarkar explains - Not that anyone is complaining. From the moment you enter Zurich - the international airport nearest to Davos - India is ever-present on the horizon. A large advertisement, written entirely in Hindi, greets the visitors at Zurich airport reminding them it is perhaps time to learn Hindi. The advertiser is Swissair. Standing along the snowy main street of Davos, the Promenade, are two black-and-yellow three-wheeler auto-rickshaws. They are there for the show, of course - you can't take a ride on it. Familiar to all Indians, they brighten up a cafe.

Dinesh Khanna adds – to explain how Rahul Bajaj himself went on to discover the two Bajaj Auto Rickshaws that made it from India to the snow of Switzerland. The three wheelers were placed on the corner of Promenade and Platzstrasse, one of the busiest corners of Davos Platz, as an important element of an art installation associated to Incredible India.

But Arab news tells a different story - A little investigation by their diarist S Wahab revealed that late last year, a Bollywood team came to Davos to shoot a particular scene involving the two mini-transports. Davosians, it seems, were fascinated by the little machines, and so they requested that the director (whose name and film are now lost in the mysteries of history) sell the conveyances to them. Instead, the director decided to give them to a hotel owner who in turn parked them outside his hotel as an attraction.

Sauvik Chakraborthy wrote the following in Indian express in 1998, for an article titled ‘One for the roads’ - Rahul Bajaj is speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year(1998). It is hoped he will understand that the era of crony capitalism is over, and that the world is knocking at our door. His autorickshaw must go the way of the dodo. Well, it is 2008 and Sauvik, the Auto is at Davos.

While on the subject, why don’t you take a look at this nice blog by ‘Life in two hours’. It is titled A honk could mean anything.

And, did you know that the Tata Nano is cheaper than a Bajaj Auto (Rs1.5 lakhs)? Bombay’s Auto drivers may even decide to move over to the Nano for safety reasons, according to a recent report.

Those desirous of buying an auto (US version, Ferrari red) in the USA may check this site out. It is priced upwards of $6500 each. A Bajaj scooter could cost around $3500.

Chapatti club and ‘Desi’ bacteria

It is always difficult when you keep moving from one place to another. Bereft of friends, you struggle through the first years, trying to maintain perspective. You then end up comparing the places you left with the place you arrived at and almost always find that the other side of the shore was greener. You also hunt around for friendly faces, the Indian in the crowd….and in South califonia, it is tough…with most Mexicans having faces somewhat similar to South Indians.

But the good thing is food, there are nice spices in hot Mexican food and you start to enjoy the fish tacos and all the other tasty items from the Mexican menu..

Soon you locate the neighborhood Indian grocer; you finally find that version or make of Greek yoghurt that is close to OK, you figure out the best brands in Atta and rice. Having got the kitchen in some order, and the mistress of the house settled with not many complaints, you then start to hunt for the restaurants. Within a year you would have covered all the Indian eating houses in a 100 square mile radius and would have decided that all or most are horrible. You suddenly start feeling that the ‘Nando’s’ in UK was by & far the best chicken you ever ate, after Sagar Calicut…

The other day we went to an Indian take out joint and they asked “Do you want Shak with your
Roti’s?” I was wondering what language she was talking in - Gujarati? Marathi? Tamil, Punjabi?? Or was she talking of the ex Lakers ex Miamai heat player Shaq O Neil?? Or was it ‘Shak’ for suspicion (suspicion with rotis? – Then, I remembered my cousin telling me that she once had to clandestinely meet some lady behind the MacDonald’s to pick up her 100 pack chapattis in Ohio)? All of this did not make sense, till we figured out that it is the curry of the day and that it was a Gujarati term for curry.

Then she wanted to know if we were in the Chapatti club – I was flabbergasted, wondering what on the earth such a club does. Well some investigation revealed that you can order bulk Chapattis every week on the supplying Desi lady only after becoming the member of such a club. Thus you get wholesale rates for 50 or more, if not it will be retail rates, per packet of 10. BTW there is a chapati club in Belgium but you play music there!!

Problems started when we got making yoghurt at home. Using the primer from purchased yoghurt made it all gluey and stringy. Till my wife met a friendly Punjabi lady. She provided some ‘Desi culture’ and with that, complaints on the horribly gluey yoghurt ceased. So now we thrive on curd made using the finest bacteria from the Punjab.

By the way – at that time we did not know
Inji Pennu – the food blogger. She had promised to be the Good Samaritan and send the curd primer to anybody who wants it, who would pay for shipping and leave a comment on her blog!! Now that is a great soul!! Inji, thanks, you also share a favorite of mine, Koorka kizhangu – she had researched that topic so much that we can now use the results to try & find the supplier in California!!

Chase, Gardner & L’amour

I am not so sure that children and teenagers read so much these days, can’t blame them though, with so much of TV and outside activities, where is the time? Not only that, the amount of studying they have to do to keep on top of things is making their life, unfortunately hectic.

But well, it was quite a difference some 20-25 years ago when we were teenagers, there was hardly anything on TV, in fact TV was not really available in Kerala until the early 1980’s. All we had to pass time (roaming around or outdoor games) other than radio were books, be it during a train or bus journey or while grounded at home. For some, like my friend Venu and me, reading was a passion. We read all kinds of stuff, magazines, novels; newspapers and a visit to the college library or the British council (which provided free membership at TVM) provided tons of material.

There were the all kinds of reads – like thrillers on one hand and heavy stuff on the other. I was more inclined towards the faster reads. Only when mood really permitted did I go for the real heavy philosophical books, but there were some like my friend KP who read Camus, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, Sholokhov and the such, not for me though. I never followed all that. As years passed; it became authors like RK Narayan, Erich Segal, Harold Robbins, Ian Fleming, Irving Wallace, Henry Denker, Arthur Hailey, Ayn Rand etc. Then I moved on to Ken Follett, J Archer, Forsyth, Grisham, Nelson DeMille…Now & then a new author found his/her way to my hands and books like ‘Life of Pi’, ‘Curious incident….’ were revelations.

But for a train journey or a bus journey in the 70’s & 80’s, there were the ‘pocketbook thriller’ genre books by Erle Stanley Gardener, James Hadley Chase or Louis L’Amour, or for that matter even Conan Doyle. Man, did they make the trip so easy and short. From the start to the finish, these books just flew on by…Interestingly each of these authors produced a good number of novels- each (except Conan Doyle) wrote over a 100 novels.

These days, I check for Higginbothams and such shops at railway stations while in India or at airports, but I do not see many or any books by Chase, Gardener or L’amour anymore. Today, tastes have changed, like the times. And I feel sad, because they were great books, for the time-pass purpose, and I liked them. I know that many others loved them too and sales never really flagged those days. Even if we were not traveling, there was always a book lending library (10% cost of book = reading fee) which stocked many of them, like Balan’s at Annie hall road Calicut. But for me there was always the perfect library, Venu’s house, my best source for choice reading material. Some of the great books I read, were borrowed from his book shelf, sometimes his dad would give me a quick comment or two about the book – I remember him, PM Warrier the snow white haired jovial chap with a mouthful of ‘paan’ and a cheery smile on his face. As we chatted, Venu’s mom would serve us a nice cup of strong coffee…and later I would take the bus back home to Kazhakootam, with my eyes already buried amongst the musty pages, taking in the hero and the heroine and their actions, wondering about places like New York, Los Angeles, Florida…..where most of the stories were based or sometimes, the wild Texan west as in the case of L’armor stories…

Erle Stanley Gardner – I talked about him in one of my previous
blogs, he used to live close to where I live now, churning his legal mysteries – earning him the title of fastest successful writer – His books were about a dynamic criminal lawyer Perry Mason, who solved complex cases together with his secretary Della Street and his private dick (slang for detective) Paul Drake. It was from those books, that I learned a little about the legal process & legal mysteries, which Grisham lords over, today …Curiously, ESG did have a Della Street type secretary (Agnes), whom he married much later in his life, actually he had three secretaries to whom he dictated all the time as he came up with a gunfire rapid & tireless output, sleeping just 3 hours daily. He wrote about 80 Perry Mason novels, I think I would have read most. In the 50’s PM books sold at the rate of 20,000 a day,and never did those books go out of print! He completed early novelettes in roughly three days & the first Mason novel sold over 29 million copies…
Louis L’amour - Now, this was a guy who wrote frontier fiction – western novels as they called it, all about fearless cowboys and the Wild West. Well, believe it or not, he started as a poet. I still remember his ‘Sackett’ series, pretty good Western thrillers, and his research was always solid, they say he kept in his library, details of exploits of over 2,000 gunfighters of the Wild West, the basis of all his books. During his years, he had tough competition from Max Brand and Zane Gray, who wrote similar genre and LL kept pace, writing five pages a day. Many criticized his books for following (somewhat like our Bollywood movies) a standard pattern - After the familiar character development, his heroes are righteous but violent, women proud and beautiful, and villains are killed at the end.

And there was
James Hadley Chase – Man O man, what a writer he was, just the right dose of mystery, sex and suspense. Only recently did I know he was a Brit, son of a colonel who served in the Indian army. Now, here goes, this chap even studied about Hydrophobia (his dad was the principal of the Bengal Veterinary College) in Calcutta! For a guy who never lived in the US, save a couple of trips, his books were all set in the USA and were so very precise in detail about places in America. He has a large fan following (this fan has a running blog on Chase). I remember & loved his Mark Girland series, Girland being a CIA operative in those books. And I remember his ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’, wow! That was one book. His best known phrase – That is the way the cookie crumbles.

There is one more
series that I should mention – all of them featuring the secret agent Nick Carter (a watered down version of 007 James Bond). None of those books listed an author’s name, but the early ones were written by Michael Avallone, Thomas Harbaugh & even a lady, Valerie Moolman. These books were perfect for the teenager on a testosterone high, in those days…

The thrill of holding such musty yellow pages, seated amidst sweaty passengers in a train or bus, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around, laboriously and breathlessly tracing the path of the righteous hero, till he emerges victorious – and later, looking forward to the next book by the same author, is long gone…

Pics - from the web, thanks to the owners....

Mehaboob - that forgotten singer

For quite some time I searched around for information on the Malayalam singer Mehaboob, but only a little could be dredged. It was finally a brilliant, thought provoking and sentimental article by novelist Vennala Mohan in last years ‘Manorama Onappathippu’ that gave me much insight to this lovable person. Thanks a lot to blogger Abraham Tharakan for directing me to Mohan’s article. That is the real stuff – the article to read, I am writing this only for the benefit of those cannot find it and those who can’t read Malayalam.

This is about Mehaboob, a singer great with his voice, but unfortunately weak in character. It is about a singer of yesteryears, whose talents I alluded to in my earlier blogs on trains and Mammad kaka’s coat. Sometimes you get drawn to a certain person, you can’t necessarily explain why, but it could very well be that it was because he was an underdog, one who was seemingly wronged, one who never received recognition that was always due to him.

There was a time when one could write a letter addressed thus - H Mehaboob Bhai, Cochin, Kerala and the letter would quickly find its way through the gigantic Indian postal system to this gentle soul. Alas, today it would be surprising if anybody in Kerala or for that matter even people of Cochin remembered Mehaboob even if they standing on Mehaboob road in Cochin or living in Mehaboob Nagar. It was the time when Mehaboob and Kozhikode Abdul Khader ruled the waves.

Indeed, he was a character with many virtues and an equally long list of flaws. Fortunately he left behind a legacy of memories for a select few who survived his generation and many lovely songs that epitomized his times & tides. Mehaboob’s story is curiously, one of loneliness, but actually filled with people. Sometimes I wonder if all those people around him were the very reason for his downfall. Such were the times; an era where people tagged on to the rich and famous and every famous person had an even bigger entourage and a huge ego to boot. They bolstered the ego to such a level that the otherwise normal person started feeling insecure and ended up seeking refuge in an imaginary world. They pampered the person with wrong and sweet ideas; they led the person astray, into the arms of booze and other vices.

Mehaboob, fondly known as ‘Bhai’ in the Cochin between the 50’s and 80’s, was born in a family beset with stark poverty. He spent his childhood (early 40’s) in the nearby Bengal battalion military camp polishing shoes while his mother did cleaning jobs. And in the midst of all the grime and squalor, he cheerfully sang the songs he picked up, be it English, Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu, Hindi or Malayalam - whatever the trend was on that day. Bhai grew up to become the singer of choice for the various pre nuptial ceremonies conducted by rich families in Cochin; here was where he made his name, his admirers and many friends. Mehaboob had no real home, but he lived with his friends, and he sang his way into the hearts of Cochin.

A lovable and humane man, with a boyish candor, Mehaboob partook in many of those evenings and his spontaneity and outpourings are now a memory only to a few lucky people like singers Umbayee & Xavier. His extempore songs were never recorded and eventually vanished leaving the oncoming generations poorer of a musical legacy. Many of his songs were composed by Mepalli Balan. While there is still an argument about the ownership of the lyrics, the two people who created songs for Mehaboob, with that special Mattanchery flavour, were Nelson Fernandez and Balan. A simple man, never ambitious, Mehaboob never demanded compensation for the performances, be it at the prenuptial ceremonies, or kacheris’.

So famous did he become in Cochin, that Muthaiah, the actor quickly recommended him to Dakshinamoorthy the music director who was looking for a new voice in the early 50’s. Would you believe that the two of them hunted for the truant Mehaboob all over Cochin and it was only a few minutes before Murthy’s train was leaving the platform that Mehaboob landed up at the station? Well, it was at the station, with the steam engine starting its departure whistle that he sang his first ‘voice test’ lines and Murthy decided that he had found his man. From that point Mehaboob started to get noticed in the film world. He sang of course, for P Bhaskaran and Baburaj in many hit movies between the 50’s and 70’s, but they were to a large extent comedy songs. While it gave him due recognition, it saddened Mehaboob and he remarked once that he thought P Bhaskaran as the one who branded him thus – the comedy singer. Some of us would remember today a few those great ‘comedy songs’ songs, but Mehaboob I believe, wanted to do more serious songs. Seeing all this, Dakshina Murthy took it upon himself to formally launch him, but Mehaboob gave up, refused to sing at the party organized for him, and just left Madras, and with that started his tryst with the bottle and his downfall.

It was not the first time he walked away, many years later at TDM hall in Cochin, Mehaboob who was to perform in a concert, did not sing. He came onstage, simply stated that Gandhiji was responsible for the rot in the minds of Indian people after independence and walked off from a houseful concert (He asked the audience – Gandhi enthakki? The audience replied, Bhai para Bhai para – Bhai said – Gandhi Indiaye mandhi punnakki). What triggered all this I don’t know, but this brilliant singer never took his life or his career seriously after the Madras days.

He was popular, no doubts about that and all this is abundantly clear from the days CH Atma and Rafi performed in Cochin. People clamored for Bhai’s songs even when Rafi was singing and Rafi gracefully invited Mehaboob to sing on his stage. It is said that Rafi then asked Mehaboob to accompany him to Bombay, but Mehaboob did not want to leave his friends in Cochin…Now that being the case, why did he lose hope with life? I don’t know, Was it much later, I don’t think so. All the money he made from his movie songs, bundles of it, was usually distributed to all friends the very same evening.

Can you imagine there was a time when Mehaboob had to coach Yesudas with Hindi/Urdu diction for a particular song before a stage show? It is from those dizzy heights this gentleman ended up to singing in Maharaja’s college hostel rooms for the price of a lunch (He sang many of his own songs and admitted that he was Mehaboob only after he was confronted with a request to sing Yesudas and Jayachandran songs). Later, it was poverty that led him to become a part time Muezzin in the local mosque, calling the faithful for prayers. In the end he died a pauper, an abject asthmatic, wizened and sick man leaving behind only his music as his legacy. By then people had forgotten him…new stars had risen in the sky and rustic folk music was no longer in vogue.

Let us take a look at some of his popular movie songs, the songs that make you feel happy and smile

- Manennum vilikkila, mayilennum vilikkila Manathe pachakiliye (Neelakuyil – K Raghavan)
- Kathu sookshiochore kasthuri mampazam kakka kothi (Nair pidicha pulival – K Raghavan)
- Pandu pandu nine kanda nalilla (Rarichan oru pauran – K Raghavan)
- Halu pidichoru puliachhan pulivalupidichoru nairachan– (Nair pidicha pulivalu – K Raghavan)
- Naya paisayilla ( Neeli Sali – K Raghavan)
- Zindabad Zindabad swantham karyam zindabad ( Kandam bechoru kottu - MS Baburaj)
- Vandee pukavandi, vandi vandi ninne pole vayaril enikkum theeyanu (Doctor - G Devarajan)
- O Rickshawalla ( Odayil Ninnu – G Devarajan)
- Vandikaran beeran kaka randam kettinu poothim bechu (Vandi karan beeran kakka )
- Kozhikodangdeele koyakkande kadayilu koyinde kariyude charu (Thanka kudam – MS Baburaj)
- Kandam bechoru kottanu athu mammad kakede kottanu ( Kandam bechoru kottu - MS Baburaj)

Sources ad picture – Manorama, Hindu and other web links. ‘’ provided access to many of Mehaboob’s songs through their fine collection.


The AIR signature tune

I have no doubts that some of you, once upon a long time ago, listening to the radio at the break of dawn, have heard this tune. It was a time when the lady of the house would be up, starting up the activities at home, after her bath, with wet hair hanging loosely tied, slightly damp sari with the one end tucked into her hip, getting the coffee & breakfast ready, the wood fire in the kitchen up and going nicely, smoke tendrils creeping up the chimney, clinking sounds of various brass & steel utensils in the background, while the man of the house and his father would be shaking themselves out of their beds, the younger anxiously ready to face life, the elder cursing his arthritic creaking bones and the various indignities of life as one gets older. Through this all, the child of the house would be fast asleep under his thin blanket, dreaming of animate & inanimate things; the boy had at least another two hours to dream before he started off for school.

The younger man would move slowly, still drowsy and with unsteady legs, to the living room. He would reach up to that wooden plank on the wall steadied by the two L brackets, where the old valve radio set was placed and turn the brown stained knob to click the radio on. It took a minute for the EL 84 vacuum tube valves to start up and glow as the man could see it through the cloth front of the radio. But it was not yet time; he heard only the hiss of static. Sunlight had started to streak through the gap between the wall and the roof, also through the glass tiles, and the man idly looked at the dancing dust particles in the beams for a while as his body warmed up. One could not help but notice the webbed antenna of the radio near the ceiling, where a number of spiders were busy with their own lives, spinning webs and waiting for their flying prey.

Then he did what his father had once routinely done during his entire life time, he walked across to the other side of the room and wound the wall clock, always remembering his fathers words ‘Son! Not too much or the spring will break…never should you move the needles back. If the time has to be changed, move it only forward – and as you move the needles make sure the pendulum is stopped carefully’…It was a clock imported from the old blighty (bilayath), and Papaji had to wait a two full months after placing the order at the local Spencer’s. It had cost all of fifty rupees in those days.

The magic eye tuner of the radio narrowed to a slit like cat’s eyes, the station came on air and the Akashwani signature tune started. Kaufmman’s immortal work composed on the resonating Tanpura, Viola and Violin echoed in the room. The Indian day had started.

It was now 0530 AM, and the lady of the house called out from the kitchen ‘coffee is ready, come and have it before it is cold’. Papaji had also come out after his ablutions, he would touch food only after all that was done and after he had finished his bath, and like he said every day, he grumbled “the younger generations are not right, ugh! They drink coffee without brushing teeth”.

And thus the many millions woke up to a new dawn in the teeming Indian villages, towns, cities, metropolises to toil & hustle to reach their own dreams…Many would remember the AIR signature tune in their lives, at some moment or the other – like I did today!!

The fledgling Indian broadcasting company which later became the All-India Radio employed two European musicologists, John Fouldes in Delhi and Walter Kaufmann in Bombay, to oversee Western musical programming. The signature tune of All India Radio, familiar to all Indian Radio listeners, was composed by the composer Walter Kaufmann (1907-84). Walter Kaufmann had left Prague after Hitler’s invasion, for India in 1934. He lived for twelve years in Bombay and worked in the music department of All India Radio and also did significant research into Indian music and with his friends, even worked for Hindi films. Kaufmann later worked as conductor and teacher in Canada and USA

An interesting extract - Unfortunately the start for AIR was not auspicious. Read Shabnam Minwalla’s Times report of 2002 - On a rainy Saturday, 75 years ago, Bombay’s swingers eagerly made their way to the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall. The evening promised not just dinner and dancing but an encounter with a magical technology — the wireless. .Some distance away at Radio House in Apollo Bunder, the new studio with its grand piano and unfamiliar equipment was a flurry of VIPs and violins. At 6 pm, Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, stepped up to the clunky microphone and inaugurated the services of the Indian Broadcasting Company. History, as well as some hiss and crackle, was created on July 23, 1927. But crowds who had paid eight Annas and gathered at CJ Hall heard none of it. A defective wire pooped the wireless party and The Times of India reported: "The audience left the hall disappointed". The disgruntled crowds may not exactly have gone radio gaga. But that brave, little enterprise survived, grew into the omnipresent All India Radio (AIR) and is today celebrating its Platinum Jubilee.

Deccan Herald’s GV Joshi provides a very interesting tidbit - Children from Karnataka should be proud of the fact that the vernacular name for ‘All India Radio’, ‘Akash Vani’ originated at Mysore, a place well-known for silk and sandalwood. In 1935, Dr MV Gopalaswamy, Professor at Mysore University, started an experimental radio station using a low power transmitter from his residence. Subsequently a 250-watt transmitter was imported for better coverage and this station was named Akash Vani. The station survived with support from the municipality and private grants. In 1942, the station was taken over by the then Mysore State. The designation of the Indian State Broadcasting Service was changed to All India Radio (AIR) on June 8, 1936. All India Radio adopted the name ‘Akashvani’ in 1958. Note however that there were a number of experimental stations before all that. GV Joshi provides details in this Daily excelsior article. Prof BB Mohanty recalls those days in his own words, here.

The provider of the AIR tune file is Soumyadip of Cutting Chai. He has a wonderful blogsite, check it out.

Edit Feb 2009 - One year later after this was posted, a keen reader Mr Chakravarthi provided me with this clarification.
At the risk of being called a revisionist, let me say that Walter Kaufman did compose the AIR signature tune but not as a signature tune. In fact, it was an extract from a sonata commissioned by Mehli Mehta the well-known violinist who later became the first violin of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and ended his days in California at the tender age of 92. He was, ultimately, better-known as the father of Zubin Mehta, the conductor. Mehli Mehta also played the violin for the signature tune . He remained justly proud of this fact to the end of his long life. There is no viola audible in the signature tune, contrary to the assertion in your blog.

So Mehli bhai - Thank you for this wonderful tune..


The kidney that traveled…

There is much talk on about the kidney racket in Delhi. Well for the last two decades, India has been a destination for either legal medical tourism or illegal transplants. There have been far too many cases in Villivakkam (AKA Kidney village) Madras and other places, it is just that all this has become a bit high profile now and is reported worldwide. India is news these days because a lot of people have directly or indirectly invested and got involved and interested in India. So the press takes the story straight to the front pages, be it Harbajan calling Symonds something or Carla Bruni not coming to spend the day with Sarkosy at Agra…The Nano car got good and bad publicity, the cricket affair got into Time magazine…

But well, this story takes you back to some 12 years ago, in Turkey. I had just arrived in Istanbul to start up a new division in our organization out there and had to make a high profile visit to one of the biggest customers. It was to a public sector organization in Ankara, and I was going to Ankara for the first time. My colleague who was with me drove me through the roads of Ankara in the rented Turkish make Tofas Dogan car (you will see Dogans only in one other place, Cairo Egypt – equipped with taxi meters from Pune which the taxi driver attests as – ‘Hindi meter bery goot’) past the great Ataturk mausoleum to the offices which we had to visit.

The visit went very well, or so I thought – with me speaking in English, everybody else talking in Turkish – much nodding of heads and everybody smoking like a chimney… I was wondering what they said and I am sure they were wondering what I was saying till my colleague translated bits here & there…The morning went by pleasantly, tea was served with pomp, biscuits eaten, more tea sipped, the country’s politics, recession and currency values dissected, many more tubes of tobacco consigned to acrid smoke and going on to start up the activities of cancer prone cells of people in there….

Then it was time for lunch. The GM, a dignified grey haired and meticulously dressed man, wearing a beautifully cut suit (The Turks dress splendidly and that is one thing I will agree with Gen Musharaf of Pakistan – if you want to buy men’s clothes, especially suits & ties, buy them in Turkey, like he does – Tansu Ciller the PM used to send ties to Billy Clinton) insisted that he sit next to me on the lunch table. He wanted my colleague to sit on the other side, ready to translate. Now I was mystified, why this sudden rapport? The man could speak passable English, but would not and continued on in Turkish. Anyway he started speaking and then all of a sudden, this 55-58 year old man started weeping!! I was astounded and just sat open mouthed wondering what was going on…The teary eyed man then took my hands in his and kept saying ‘tesekur ederim, tesekur’ which of course I understood as thanks over & over again…while the rest of the gathering gawked at us…

Later my colleague explained patiently in translation “You see, he says he owes his life to India. His kidneys had failed and last year he had been to Bombay and got a new kidney transplant. Now he feels hale & hearty and wants to thank your people and your country for saving his life”. Well, what could I say? I was stumped….

The surprising thing is that there was hardly any tourist movement those days between India & Turkey. How did this all take place? There must have been elaborate arrangements, go betweens, and I heard he had to pay a lot for the package tour to Amchi Mumbai and that there were many more members in the group that traveled to India…See how far touts reach…this was a time when the internet was just taking off…How did he get all this done?? Anyway this was all many years ago and I never met him after that.

Check out on Google today, see how many Medical tourism sites pop up offering transplant packages in India (with Government permission) at 15K$ to 30K$ a pop...

In the recent case, it took a disgruntled donor’s complaint to ensure a raid on the premises. The doctor escaped. Newspapers called it “the nexus between the organ traders and the police.”
Investigators were alerted to the ring on Thursday by a donor who said the operation had ruined his health. Apparently tipped off to the raid, Dr. Kumar escaped arrest. Only one of the four main doctors implicated has been detained. Up to 500 kidneys are said to have been sold at vast profit over the past decade to four doctors operating from a so-called "House of Horrors", a private house in the booming IT city of Gurgaon, on the outside Delhi.

A New York Times Magazine article recently asked the question, "Why not let people sell their organs?" From an economic point of view, the article explains, demand for kidneys is far outrunning supply around the world. If people could legally sell, economists argue, more people with kidney disease might be saved, and the poor people willing to sell would have a chance to get badly needed funds. "Nature has given us two kidneys because the poor especially are prone to more infections and more renal problems," Dr. H. Sudarshan tells Grant doing the PBS production. "They can't really afford to donate one kidney. It's a myth. They need two kidneys much more than any rich person." Others see it differently, including Dr. Ajit Huilgol, a transplant doctor who says he has performed more than 1,400 transplant surgeries. Huilgol believes a non exploitative measure could be implemented in which there is "no middleman involved and the money that is promised to the donor is given directly to them."

Watch this PBS movie by
Samantha Grant – India, A pound of flesh

Villivakkam donors photo – National geographic Sept 2003

Another chilling
video story on Youtube