Saturday, November 27, 2010

Our own weird democracy

I've been catching up on Obama's, now concluded, visit to India. I happened on this video about Obama's interview with the villagers in Ajmer.

So the video looks decent enough and touts the achievements of IT in helping the villager's day to day activities. Now obviously the villagers don't speak English, so everyone is assigned a Minder to help translate their views.

So in the end, the president (or anyone else) doesn't really ask any questions and all the responses look canned. Now why would that arouse any suspicion

Aah yes, now things look in context. So in the effort to promote the advances in India, our file pushers (or secretaries if you must), turned this whole exercise in to a propaganda campaign. Funny how one person's democracy is another's autocratic regime.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The long dance

I was recently introduced to Madeleine Peyroux's jazz numbers and have been really enjoying the way she seems to bring the feel of 1940's jazz to present day.

Just the other day, while watching How I met your mother (natural history), I heard a haunting melody in the background when Ted and Zoey dance. I saved the episode, trying to figure out what the song might be or who sang it. After a few days of unfruitful searched and countless replaying of that episode piece, I finally came across this lovely rendition of Serge Gainsbourg's La Javanaise by none other than Madeleine Peyroux.

She has sung it so beautifully that anyone who appreciates jazz music should definitely listen to it and if possible go to one of her shows.

French to English translation

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trying to build a groupon deals gathering site at If you are interested in more of my technical ramble (trust me no one is), Check out

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trying out google sites. While I've owned my domain for a while, I've been too lazy to build a website. Atleast google sites lets me Iframe in this blog so atleast it might look like I've been maintaing a page.

Check it out on

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hidden treasures

I've been jogging and biking along the chicago lakefront for almost a decade now, well more biking than running post marathon. So, I've been fairly confident that I had covered all the paths on the lakefront park district.

This morning during my bike ride, right on recreational drive between irving park and belmont, I saw a path leading towards the lake. Having never been on that path, I stumbled onto a gravel path on the lake side of the golf course and it just happened to be another beautiful secluded lakefront area on this beautiful fall day.

Chicago gives you multiple opportunities to complain about its weather, but during this unusually mild October, it gave an opportunity to uncover yet another hidden treasure - you just needed to be out there to experience it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The path of the right

India has always had a history of inclusion and to stand up against extremism. When the temple at Jerusalem fell at the beginning of the common era, a batch of the Jewish survivors found refuge in southern India and over the past two millenia, this was probably the safest environment to practice their faith. When Persia fell to the Arab invaders, the Zoroastrians fled to the West coast of India and to date the Parsis in India are the largest surviving Zoroastrian group. When China attacked Tibet, the Buddhists led by Dalai Lama did not hesitate to seek refuge in India.

Time and time again, India has stood for what is right and what is just. Giving refuge to the Dalai Lama, led to an embarrassing military defeat to our much larger neighbor to the north, but there were no protests against Pandit Nehru's decision to give refuge - for the citizens knew it to be the right decision. Even with the latest floods in Pakistan and inspite of misgivings of misuse of funds, the Indian government did give 25m USD to the relief work - for it is right thing to do.

However we find ourselves with a peculiar situation with regards to Kashmir. As a reaction to the danish prophet controversy, there were widespread riots in Kashmir leading to local deaths. On the rumor of a Koran being burned in the US, Christian schools (in no way connected to the situation) are attacked and burnt. With the floods in Pakistan, there were also widespread floods in Ladakh and Leh. With whole towns being washed away, emergency relief material could have reached in time, if not for the national highways being blocked by the protestors in Kashmir. As with the time when the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave on threats of mass genocide, the current day Kashmiri's failed to show any sort of solidarity with the people in need - nothing was raised for the flood victims and nothing was let through.

For some reason, Indian policy makers keep fretting over the idea on why Kashmiris don't associate themselves as Indian. Unfortunately they fail to realize that being an Indian citizen should be a privilege and not a right and it should be shared only with people who share our sense of righteousness. The partition of India during independence has always been seen as a scar on our history, but in hindsight it helped seperate out the extremists from the rest. Kashmir is the last vestige of the independence process and its time the policy makers deal with it as such. Irrespective of our policies, the extremists will hold the rest of the country hostage to their wants.

Its time we retake the path of the Right, the path of the Just.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Everyone loves a scapegoat

The Indian news media is currently obsessed with the verdict on the Bhopal Tragedy. So after a couple of decades of legal battle, a few executives got a couple of years in jail.

Instead of concentrating on the need for legal reform, everyone seems obsessed over how Anderson the erstwhile CEO of Union Carbide was allowed to skip bail and return back to the US. In my view, Anderson seems to be as guilty as all the other people working behind the scenes who oversaw the safety of the Carbide plant. However no one from the administration of the time have been brought to trial, even though if quick action had been taken on the initial alarm, a majority of lives could have been saved.

Even if the Indian government does what it does best, beg the US government (aka David Headley) to have access to Anderson, the Indian taxpayer will just foot the bill for an excursion for a few central government officials. In the meanwhile all the officials who worked and or were bribed in the background will never be held liable for the murder of thousands. After all, we are only concerned with scapegoats.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Different standards

This week Comedy Central took the extreme step of censoring ... a bear.

The cartoon show 'South Park' continued its trend of mocking animals by having a bear on the show. I did not realize but quite a few groups seem to sensitive to bears. A group called Revolution Islam actually warned the show's producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker that they might suffer the same fate as Theo Van Gogh (who was killed for making a film on the treatment of women in Islam). It's quite surprising how this group and other similar groups have the license to impose their views of wildlife on other non-believers.

Comedy Central, has now taken the stand to protect Revolution Islam's right to free speech over the writers of south park. Episodes on Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Scientologists, Mormons and Krishna are fine, but apparently bears are taboo.

Maybe it's just that followers of the bear are special and are held to a different standard than everyone else on the planet.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Truth doesnt triumph - in India

There has been a long media trial in India for Ruchika Girhotra's case, but justice served after a 19 year fight means nothing, especially when the multiple police officers and administrators who covered up the crime still go scott free.

Unfortunately the case of Satyendra Dubey (linky, linky) might be one such case where justice is completely denied. The police in India has graduated from being a completely corrupt organization to a living breathing force going to any ends to protect one of its own.

This week 3 people got a life sentence for the murder of Dubey. Ofcourse the three were petty criminals, juveniles at the time of the crime and in no position of authority in the Golden Quadrilateral project (Dubey was trying to expose corruption in the project). Its a cruel game played on the Dubey family but I'm sure the police have no intention of finding the guilty party.

Maybe its time to have a rethink on India's nation motto of Satyameva jayate (truth alone triumphs)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why try to change me now

Came across a really good take on Cy Coleman's and Sinatra's 'why try to change me now'. Fiona Apple seems to make this jazz number all her own.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feelings, its nothing more than feelings

Its time for me to look back at my trip and I was trying to find the right words. I realized that my trip probably cannot be a sum of words but more of a sum of feelings.

I felt longing to land in the country of my birth.
I felt joyous to spend a few days at home.
I looked forward to a trip of discovering the south.
I basked in the warmth especially coming from a cold place.
I felt frustrated by the sheer inefficiencies at different places.
I felt helpless when you don't have the power to change anything.
I felt angry that the politicians and the police rule as if they are above the constitution of the country.
I couldn't surmount the challenges of trying to converse in a language alien to me in a country which was my own.
I mastered a sort of sign language to assist conversation.
I loved the feeling of a light breeze while enjoying the 4 o'clock cup of tea on a terrace.
I still have an insatiable appetite to try out the different cuisines available here.
I had pangs of guilt when a man almost twice my age called me sir.
I grew sick of the pollution and the bad traffic.
I am going to be cautious stepping out incase people decide to celebrate holi a day early.
I feel lucky that the bomb at the German Bakery in Pune wasn't set for the day before.
I am glad that in spite of the time I have spent out of this country, I don't feel like an outsider.
I feel amazed that the poorest of the poor still have a smile on their face at the end of the day.

There has just been one main feeling to sum up my past 6 weeks here, I've felt alive.

The barbershop

It was time for me to head towards one of India's favorite weekend hangout, the barbershop. Its funny how the different spectrum of people that the barbershop attracts.

You will always have the kid who is generally jumping off the wall, but as soon as he sits on that chair its like he might as well be in a coma. The fear of the scissors is all pervasive. You will also have the balding man hanging on to his old sense of self. Sure enough, in he walks asking the owner if his hair has grown enough to require a haircut which is obviously met with a resounding yes.

I sat down for a haircut, a shave and a good dose of tel maalish (oil massage). The burning aftershave did have me reminiscing the couple of layers of skin that I lost to the shave though. Ofcourse the tel maalish did wonders and I'll really miss that part till I can visit a barbershop in India again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pune Week 3

Monday Lunch - Back to North Indian food at the norther frontier. Had kehwa for the first time and I can say I'm not a big fan of the tea served in the mountains up north.
Monday Dinner - Went to Bounty Sizzlers. Its been a while since I've had sizzlers and the food was scrumptious.

Tuesday Lunch - After passing by Burger Barn on numerous occasions, I finally tried the veggie burger with desi options and I can honestly say it was one of the best veggie burgers I've had.
Tuesday Dinner - Tried out italian at one of the places at the ABC farms. The pizza wasn't all that terrible.

Wednesday Lunch - Went to casanova for a multi cuisine lunch. Make your own pasta had its charm and the buffet was generally good.
Wednesday Dinner - Didnt want to head out for dinner as I was engrossed in the cricket game and Mike was gracious enough to grab me a McVeggie from McDee's.

Thursday Lunch - One last trip to Kathi Cottage to have a couple of kathi rolls. I'm going to miss this place the most.
Thursday Dinner - After a lot of searching we finally found the hidden Hard Rock Cafe. The food was so so but I can see the attraction for those who miss America. It was great to see Raju breeze past the security checks with utter disdain though we werent as lucky.

Friday Lunch - The last day of the pune leg of my trip saw us at the Great Punjab at Koregaon park. The food was amazing and the title seems well deserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pune Week 2

Mon afternoon - Checked out Sanjeev Kapoor's yellow chili at koregaon park, the food was bland and quite disappointing.
Mon night - Headed out of the City to the Rajasthani place called Choker Dani. The place is more like a theme park with a rajasthani theme. I am not a big fan of rajasthani cuisine but the entertainment value was pretty good. I actually had my hand read by an astrologer for the first time and all in all it was a good experience.

Tue afternoon - Lived across from Kalyani Veg and hadn't tried it till now. Went for some dosas and the place lived up to its high expectations.
Tue night - Went to zafron in the IBM building. It has a nice rooftop deck with a great view of Kalyani nagar, food being quite ok.

Wed afternoon - After a break of a few days, headed back to Kathi crossing for a kathi roll. Stuck with the spicy aloo kathi roll, fantastic as usual.
Wed night - Tried out barbecue at the barbecue nation and was quite impressed by their selection.

Thu afternoon - Spent the day at the Synechron office in Hinjewadi and had lunch at the Marriot. The buffet food was excellent.
Thu night - Stayed back at the hotel and had dinner at the Pizza hut. Tried out their new pizza (masala chilly or something), pretty tasty.

Fri afternoon - Went to a place called Polka Dots which seemed to have food from all cuisines. Tried my luck with enchilladas and finally came across a place which seemed to still retain the mexican touch without the regular over dose of indian masalas.
Fri night - Had a club sandwich at our hotel (The Royal Orchid Central), not too bad but the street sandwiches definitely are one up on it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pune Week 1

1 week in Pune and going strong. It's not as hectic as Mumbai, but it has its moments especially with its food choices.

Came in last sunday and stayed back in Kalyani Nagar to eat some pizza at the local Pizza Hut. I actually like the tandoori paneer pizza that they had to offer.

Monday Lunch - Tried out a place called Little Italy. It actually had mexican on its menu, though wasn't too impressed with it as the enchilladas had a distinct indian flavor
Monday Dinner - Had some really tasty kathi rolls at the kathi cottage in Koregaon Park followed by dinner at the Blue Nile. The veg pulav at the Blue Nile wasn't too bad

Tuesday Lunch - Tried out a panini at Witches and Dog (Koregaon Park) which wasn't too filling so topped it out with a Kathi roll (I can probably have 1 every single day)
Tuesday Dinner - Went to Arthur's theme. The menu didnt make much sense as the dishes seem styled after medieval english characters but the food wasn't as bad as we half expected it to be. Tried out the pasta and glad that it tasted italian instead of indian.

Wednesday Lunch - Went to 7 (Koregaon Park) which had both middle eastern and indian-chinese on its menu. Went with the Hakka noodles and veg manchurian and the chinese definitely hit the mark
Wednesday Dinner - Definitely a more low key dinner having a McDonald's veggie burger in my room.

Thursday Breakfast - Tried out some omlette at the German Bakery and it was pretty good.
Thursday Lunch - Had some really tasty Hyderabi food at Koyla.
Thursday Dinner - Had dinner at the hotel's cafe, pretty passable food.

Friday Breakfast - Headed back to the German Bakery for some cake, juice and other goodies.
Friday Lunch - Another trip to Kathi cottage for some sumptuous kathi rolls.
Friday Dinner - Went to St. Lauren at Hinjewadi. The buffet was pretty good.

Saturday Morning- Drove to Sinhagad and trekked up the mountain. The trek took a good hour and a half to two hours, but it wasn't as easy as I expected and did have its tough moments. The view from the fort was well worth it along with some kanda bhajji and masala tak (buttermilk)
Saturday Afternoon - Headed to the Poona Club to practice cricket with the Maharashtra A boys. Was nice to get to bowl and bat in the nets after years of not playing cricket.
Saturday Dinner - Headed over for some excellent food at the Deccan Harvest at Magarpatta, pune. Interesting concept of having paneer barbecued on your table followed by a good buffet.

During dinner, German Bakery went boom and got called from all concerned about our safety. After eating there for the last couple of days, I guess it was good that we skipped the location today. I do hate it that the terrorists have seriously impeded my eating plans in Pune as that was definitely on my menu for the next couple of weeks.

Drove to Mumbai today (Sunday) to get away from Pune for a while and show everyone what a real city should look like. Stopped by Dharavi for some leather products and then took the Bandra-Worli sea link. Havent been on that bridge after it opened and the views were definitely worth the toll. Drove down Marine Drive and had lunch at 'Not just jazz by the bay'. Went down to the Gateway of India and my first visit to the Taj after the Mumbai attacks. Things at the Oberoi-Trident and Taj are still under construction but it was really nice to see major crowds around the Gateway and Cafe Leopold.

Thats been week 1, hopefully the security doesnt get worse in Pune so hope to enjoy the rest of my stay.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The old and the new

On this trip I have been exposed to both the newer side and the old side of India.

I had to make a trip to Punjab National Bank (PNB) for some minor work for my dad. After standing in line for 45 minutes just to get an updated account information, I shot off a letter to the management and stuck it in the suggestion box. I didn't really expect anything to be done from it, but a few days later on I got a letter from the bank manager saying that they have actually taken the suggestion and all future work of that nature will be done in a much quicker time. I was pleasantly surprised on how private companies are actually willing to work on customer complaints.

I had another pending task of trying to get some transcripts from University of Mumbai. Not having my originals, the university seems to have implemented rules to slowly suck the life of the applicant before providing some copies. Since the University requires a First Information Report (FIR) to be filed with the local police station, I made a trip to Vashi Police station in Navi mumbai. Of course the police are never co-operative and they made me go to Turbhe Police station to file the FIR who promptly sent me back to Vashi. After I made an affidavit, the police registered a FIR only after demanding a bribe of Rs 200. Funny how the very implementors of the government's drive against corruption are the major perpetrators.

Somethings probably never change but there is a stark difference between the old and the new

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dakshin Bharat

Just came back from a short south india trip covering Kochi (Ernakulam), Munnar, Guruvayur, Madurai, Trichy, Tanjavur and Bangalore.

The last time I visited Kerala was about 15 years ago and I seem to have forgotten how beautiful it was. One of the lasting images of kerala is the relative well-to-do-ness of the local population. This is amply evident by the fresh coats of paints on most houses as well as the lack of slums near most urban areas. The breath taking beauty of the backwaters was amazing and taking boat/ferry's around kochi harbor and the backwaters is highly recommended.

Took a day trip to Guruvayur to visit one of hinduism's holiest temples. It was nice to see that the temple priests still stick to tradition, though I did have to buy a dhoti to be allowed in.

Continued with my love affair with the hill stations of India and took a trip to Munnar. Munnar is famous for its tea plantations and it was no surprise that all the hills in and around Munnar were covered with tea estates. The relative cool weather was a welcome relief from the heat of the plains as well.

After Munnar we slipped over the border to the temple city of Madurai. It was sad to see the meenakshi temple becoming a place of commercial activity with shops being allowed to be set up right within the temple complex, but atleast non hindus were allowed into most of the temple complex unlike guruvayur temple which was for hindus only.

We moved on Trichy and stopped over for a couple of hours just to see their temple built upon a hill. It was another disappointing experience of a temple being converted to a place of commercial activity and so we left to go towards Tanjavur.

Tanjavur still has the old town feel to it and its temple complex has been the best kept of the ones visited in my trip. Its open for everyone and is big and clean. The architecture is typical of the great cholan empire and is one of the best preserved monuments from that time.

Ofcourse both kerala and tamil nadu dont seem to have made much progress in learning any of the other indian languages. For some reason they seem stubbornly stuck on speaking the local language and hindi and english are not spoken for the most part. Inspite of the problems of communication, its been a great adventure.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nataraja's dance

I see blood, a lot of blood - on my legs, on my hands and on my face. All this blood is mine and there are the usual suspects - mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, why does it have to be mosquitoes.

I arrived in India to blazing sunshine which was a welcome relief from the cold of Chicago. But I had forgotten about Mumbai's problem with mosquitoes. In the past it was usual to expect mosquitoes after the monsoon's but recently they seem to have become a year round phenomenon.

After spending a few days scratching and slapping myself silly, I decided to take a more proactive solution. I cam across these badminton sized plastic electric rackets which can be used for killing those annoying creatures.

So now you see me doing Shiva's dance of death every evening. A frenzied look passes my face every time a mosquito passes my view accompanied by wild swings of the racket. Any of my neighbors peeking in from their balcony will probably see a man not quite in his senses, wielding a badminton racket and a crazed look on his face lighting up every time there is an electric shorting on contact with a mosquito. Shiva crushed the demon of ignorance, my foe is the mosquito.

The price for information

The Right to Information (RTI) act has been one of the better acts implemented by the government in recent times and has been primarily responsible in more open government.

Satish Shetty a social activist who's been responsible for exposing multiple land scams through RTI unfortunately paid the ultimate price. Fearing an attack on his life, Satish asked the police for protection, but apparently the police delayed his request. Like the fate suffered by Satyendra Dubey and S. Manjunath before him, his whistle blowing irked the wrong kind of people and Satish Shetty was killed on his morning walk.

India has successfully transformed itself to a land ruled by the goon. It's nice having the right to information but the right to life apparently is not guaranteed.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Bravo US Airways, Bravo

Talk about an expensive flight on US Airways. Good thing I'm using a no limit credit card