Home is where IT is!

July 2nd, 2009

A new Sea Link, new flyovers, metro railway, mono rail… you name it, Mumbai is getting everything short of a 7:13 Zeppelin service (fast) from Borivali to Nariman Point. And the city is so dug-up during this monsoon that soon the time taken for the daily commute will be in double digits – at least for some days. But wait a minute – do we need all these bridges, flyovers, metro service, additional trains? Do all the people travelling from the suburbs to town need to travel? Is there anyone out there thinking of the beautiful possibility of 20-30 per cent of commuters staying at home and working – at least for three days a week?
Imagine firms that encourage  part of their workforce to log-on from home  (call them e-force if you want) and be supervised by seniors who are similarly working from home? Fast Net connectivity, cheap cellphones and video conferencing possibilities can be exercised to the fullest, right? Once or twice a week teams can meet up, play their social roles and even do real meetings where coffee and biscuits are served.
BMC can then reward those organisations with, say, 30 per cent employees working from home at any given point of time, with lower taxes. This move will certainly reduce traffic, number of deaths on railway tracks, wastage of fuel, electricity use and the need for never-ending digging for better ‘infrastructure’.
Sure, if you moot this idea at your office there will be strong resistance by those people who can be called ‘traditional’. The physical presence of boss and employees under one roof is not required any more – alright it cannot be abolished overnight, but a beginning can certainly be made. In a maximum city like Mumbai, there is no better reward to give employees than a few commute-free days.
I can talk about newspaper organisations because I have been working in one for 14-odd years. Honestly, there is no real need that I can see for reporters travelling to an office, holding meeting with seniors, scurrying out to meet contacts and attend press conferences and returning to office to file copies. Instead they can wake up in the morning, have an e-conference with the respective editors, talk to contacts over the phone, or if necessary, travel directly to meet people or attend conferences and file copy from wherever they are. Yes, a desk that can lay out pages needs to travel to an office every day – but that constitutes less than 20 per cent of a newspaper edition.
Today if you commute everyday for two hours to stare into a computer screen and then another two hours to reach home, it can be termed a criminal wastage of resources, time, energy and terrible under-utilisation of available technology.
Oh…its 6 PM? I got to leave…two hour commute in the rain, you see!

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Shop No. 187

May 20th, 2009

So what do you do when you are on holiday in North Goa? Ride a motorcycle? (We rode to Goa on a motorcycle, so!) Eat a hearty breakfast at Infantaria? (Skipped this time…too many people) Drink your first beer before lunch? (No, we stuck to Bisleri! What a question!)Go to Brittos for their golden fried prawns and potato wedges? (Mental note to extend swimming sessions back home by 30 minutes for a whole month)Try your hand at parasailing? (As in hanging on a sail that is hooked to a speed boat ridden by some one who is still thinking about the drunk Norwegian who gave him a US$100 bill as a tip during peak season),  rode a Jet Scooter? (Trying to ensure that your arms are still attached to your torso while the ‘thing’ progresses uncontrollably towards Dubai), listen to 70’s music and chill at Cavala? (The band was named Bellbottoms, so what?)And get all misty eyed? (As the evening grows into night and you start wondering which direction your hotel is).

So we did the usual. And woke up every day morning with a hangover the size of Pangaea. And then of course, we made a mental note to hire a fat-wheeled Gypsy next time around – they look awesome and come for under a grand for a day. A wind in the hair blast to the lighthouse and back should be great. But the point of this note is none of the above.

Tucked away in the middle of the confusion called Mapusa Municipal Market (not too far away from the Aguada – Baga stretch and is conveniently on the way to NH17 and rest of the world) is a small shop not more than 10-15 sq ft called Francis Picardo and Sons. Shop Number 187 to be precise. It is adjacent to Simonia Bakery which, of course, is world famous in Mapusa. And trust me no trip to Goa is complete without a visit Shop No.187. This time too I made the pilgrimage. Sure, proprietor Raymand Picardo makes money by selling booze to dignified bootleggers who buy their share of Smirnoffs and Bacardi bottles (Rs 350 and Rs 300 per bottle in Goa! Please continue reading…makemytrip.com can wait!) But that is half the secret at 187. Picardo stocks the very best Goan sausage money can buy – all home made and carefully chosen by him, the tastiest fish pickles and Goan masalas. On a steamy afternoon, you will find the entire Picardo family at the shop – wife arranging fresh rolls of Goan sausages and son stacking up crates of Kings and Belo beer. If you are into local brews, and we are not talking about fortified grape juice that passes as ‘port’, Picardo will select the best of Cajulana or PVV branded cashew feni. My discovery though was a new coconut rum that goes by the name Cabo. From the picture on the bottle it is clear that the local drink got its name from Cabo de Rama (the southern most point of Goa and made up of stunningly beautiful ruins of a Portuguese fort). Cabo costs Rs 350 a bottle and is a brilliant substitute to fiercely expensive Malibu. How do I know?

 Back home I made some phenomenal Goan sausage pulav (lightly fry the innards of a Goan sausage roll and cook rice on top of it in a electric rice cooker for full blooded flavor!. While it was being cooked and its aroma was making my neighbour’s tummy rumble, ahem, I invented my very own cocktail called ‘Picardo to brain 187’ – one generous shot of Cabo, canned pineapple juice, twist of lime and a solitary mint leaf’. Trust me, I could feel the Arabian Sea lap on my feet. Thanks Picardo!


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God’s own election

April 16th, 2009

Last week I visited Thiruvananthapuram for three days. I landed without realizing that the Kerala was about to go to polls in the first phase of the general election. After staying in Mumbai for close to 15 years, I had forgotten how elections are fought the Mallu way. A summer shower had cooled the climate a bit but the heat of the election was simmering around me as I exited the airport. Huge hoardings and cut-outs of candidates welcomed me to the city. There were posters everywhere and corner meetings were on full swing. Slow moving ambassadors with gen-sets in the trunk and loud speakers on the roof blasted off election songs. Every small junction had fully decorated party offices and their very own loud speakers. Colourful  leaflets were being distributed and every one, from little children to great grand fathers with nothing better to do seemed to be participating.
At the family function that I attended people talked about the chances of Shashi Tharoor , the import from UN who is contesting under the Congress banner and the local veteran P.Ramachandran Nair, the CPI candidate. Newspapers were devoted to the election too with candidate profiles stretching across full pages. You could sense the tension in the air. ‘Shashi Tharoor is certain to become a minister if he wins’, thundered my father; ‘But he is an ‘American spy’ said his younger brother as they greeted each other after a long gap. ‘He can’t speak Malayalam properly’, said his sister. ‘So what, he has a ration card’, my mother chipped in.

BJP is yet to win a seat from Kerala and it does not look like they will this time too. Yet  you can’t miss the saffron presence – when I was a little boy Lotus was a flower seen in temple ponds and not on election posters.   
I know elections are colourful affairs in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and some other states but I don’t think you can match the intensity of Kerala. 

Voting would have come to an end as I publish this story and it would take couple of monsoons for the posters with smiling faces on them to peel off. But I think Kerala Tourism should invent ‘election tourism’ to showcase, arguably the most colourful democratic, multi party election held anywhere in the whole world.

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Look, the pigs are flying!

February 20th, 2009

The colour of my blood is green. I live in a rainbow.  My pet is an Anaconda. I am married to a cloned sheep. Porsche has launched a diesel car.
It is sad, but the last bit is true. Come March, Porsche, will take the covers off the diesel Cayenne – the first ever car from the stupendously successful sports car maker from Stuttgart to ruin its internal combustion innards with messy truck fuel.
Nothing, dear reader, is sacrosanct now. One should have guessed the way diesel motors were progressing – with common-rail fuel feed systems, enough torque to spin earth the other way around, enough mileage to mock bicycles and more green cred than Greenpeace means diesel fuel has arrived in life. But they could have spared Porsche.
May be they needn’t, and we should’ve been mentally ready for diesel Porsches and now be ready for even scarier stuff like diesel Lamborghinis and Ferraris after the phenomenal success Audi has had at 24 Hours of Le Mans with diesel power.
The 240 bhp V6 that goes under the bonnet (borrowed from VW?) can’t even take the massive Cayenne mother ship to 250 kph and it takes a rather shameful 8.3 seconds to do a 100 kph run (shameful in Porsche terms) but the press release talks about more important stuff, like fuel efficiency. How about 10.7 kpl from a Porsche? If not by that figure, you will be impressed when you know that you can drive 1000 km on a full tank of the smelly fuel. Welcome to the real world, where the world likes to have SUVs and even the super SUVs have no option to run on diesel.
Yeah I am looking out of my window and I can really see pigs flying.

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Wow it is recession…time to buy a supercar then!

January 7th, 2009

The Audi R8 is an amazing piece of kit. Enough aluminium to make Boeings jealous, a potent
V8 engine that is giving severe headaches to Italians from the Bologna area and Quattro all-wheel drive that sucks terrain like a PR upstart who just landed a big account it cannot chew. When Audi officially launched the car in India there were a few who laughed out loud – after all it was a bad year for the stock market and the news was not looking good for 2009. Not exactly the year to launch, hold your breath, a Rs 1.17 crore (ex-showroom) supercar then, right? Or so thought you and me.

Audi India has managed to sell its quota of 15 R8s for 2008 and is now in the process of delivering the cars to supercar starved super rich Indians who certainly do not belong to the set who checks the price of socks they buy at a supermarket (heck, am sure they don’t collect their free mugs too!). And Audi did a wonderful year selling 1050 cars including 350 Q7s (yup, those machines that answer to the tag ‘mother of all SUVs’).

2008 will also go down in the history of Indian automobile industry where imported motorcycles made their mark. Following the launch of the Yamaha R1 and MT01 (Rs 14 lakh odd for each) it was Suzuki’s turn to launch the world’s fastest production motorcycle, the Hayabusa and the 1800 cc power cruiser called the Intruder.  Recession? Is it another name for the season when everything is up to 50 per cent off?

(We hear there are only 20 Audi R8s coming to India in the year 2009, so act fast before your shareholders come to know!)



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Economy and the bar-coded fish

January 6th, 2009

There was a time not so long ago when, as a single ‘not so large’ income family, we had to account for every penny that came our way. That meant we maintained a monthly budget card with ‘in’ and ‘out’ sections and a ‘balance’ column that normally read on the negative. Lion’s share of the money went to EMIs for the house in any case. But when we saved say, Rs 2000 a month, we ensured that the money was put to good use – no, no recurrent deposits for us, but we spent happily on a nice dinner or even a small party for friends from office.

Every month I stood in a queue to ‘take’ some money from the bank, which we would systematically spend over the month.

Malls were not a suburban phenomenon yet and that meant my wife shopped from a wholesale store and hauled stuff home. She used to buy vegetables for the week and never ordered stuff over the phone. Every Sunday I rode my motorcycle to the market and enjoyed buying fresh fish or visited the poultry shop to buy fresh chicken. And as a rule we never kept a ‘credit’ account with the local kirana store. And the maximum I would spend at a time at a fuel station was Rs 500 (Rs 200 if I was filling diesel).  And I drove carefully and braked well before the signal turned red to save fuel.

When we wanted to travel to our home town, I stood in a queue and booked a train ticket. Flights, you see, were meant for emergencies only. And we shopped for clothes twice a year – for festive occasions.  But then things got a bit relaxed.

It has been ages since I visited my bank to ‘take’ money. To begin with it was the convenience of ATMs which dispensed crisp notes and later the culprit was the debit card that was wielded with a vengeance. The economic downfall of the average Indian middleclass family and the beginning of the global meltdown was er…beginning.

Three, I repeat, three super stores around our house meant that we were not buying things for the month any more. We succumbed to temptation and paid Rs 120 for bar-coded chicken from the rather nice ‘chiller’ room at the mall. The said ‘chiller’ room also had fish ‘cleaned and cubed’ for double the money and we could do with that too. What the heck, we even bought bar-coded pumpkin slices and bananas too. While at it, the guilty parents that we are (who hardly found time to spend time with children) bought creamy, sinful pastries for them as well as us. Needless to say, we grew sideways and children learnt the primary steps of blackmailing.

 I drove into fuel stations and started spending Rs 1000 at a time, because with my debit card, I could, and I stopped keeping an account of fuel consumption in my car. And our children got so used to air travel (it was cheap in the interim, mind you), now they wonder why any other mode of transport exist. And we shopped as and when Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Westside announced sales.  Mind you, ‘as and when’ as against ‘when we needed’.

Alright I woke up last Sunday determined to fight the meltdown – at least get ready for it before it struck us hard. I woke up my wife and daughter and we drove to the ‘big market’ next to the railway station. ‘Do they have a toy section?’, asked my seven year old which made me realise that she has seen one mall too many. There it was, in all its glory – Food land, Reliance Fresh, True Mart and D-Mart all combined to one. So what it was not air-conditioned. My wife screamed as she discovered that tomatoes were Rs 10 a Kilo and half while we were paying Rs 20 at Food land. Ditto ladies fingers and whole pumpkins. We bought a car load of veggies and headed for the fish market. Kingfish which retailed at Rs 250 per kg with a barcode was almost alive at half the price and in our bag. We ate local sweets and drove back and easily saved Rs 500 in the process. We would have saved more if we were not greedy at the sight of so much good stuff for so little money. Meltdown? What meltdown?

Next in the agenda is fighting the withdrawal symptoms – as in avoiding ATMs as if they don’t exist and not attending sales. And we are booking train tickets two months in advance for summer holidays – second class, where children can peep out of the windows and see the beautiful world out there. A world without malls, ATMs and bar-coded fish.


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Movies, roads and potato chips

December 11th, 2008

I watched two Australian movies –one on the way in to Australia in Qantas QF 124 and one on the way back in QF 123. You see, I wanted to get a glimpse of Aussie history and lifestyle and generally get ready for the Outback. ‘Squatter’s daughter’ had everything the name promised. This epic from 1930’s dealt with the tough life of a er…Squatter’s daughter. Before you draw your conclusions, a squatter was any one who held a patch of land with the help of a gun or two and raised sheep which inevitably got stolen. Now that the squatter was away in England or was dead, the pretty daughter (who had a way with horses and weak men) was in charge of affairs and fending off the everyday challenges raised by sheep thieves and encroachers. It was one of the first ‘talkies’ and it was fun to watch not because of the interesting costume worn throughout by the ‘daughter’. Heck, the movie even gave a glimpse of how the Harbour Bridge at Sydney looked soon after completion – a massive ‘coat hanger’ structure with nothing much h around it. Wonderful.

The second movie titled ‘Newcastle’ was more contemporary. And that meant lots and lots of young boys and semi-naked girls using a lot of F-words and living a carefree life of surf, sex and hmmm..more surf and sex. Every now and then the movie would get caught in reels of surfing footage, which I am sure cost a lot to film, with no connection whatsoever to the plot. Actually the plot was absent till some one dies in a surfing accident. Don’t worry, that was the insignificant part. Oscar material, I am telling you.

And then I saw a documentary on aboriginal art – which told a lot between the lines. Every one, including the new age Australians are now paying tribute to the original masters of the land. History cannot be shaken away from memory since it leaves worry lines on the face of earth for all to see. The clashes between the settlers and locals were fierce and entire communities were wiped off in the process. The legend of modern Australia, and yes the famed spirit, is built on thin crusted victory of gun powder over arrows and guess what, the signs are everywhere. It is really a bad scene in some parts of Australia – in Tasmania for example, there aren’t any full blooded local. You do encounter aboriginal centres, like the one at Wilcannia where we saw locals getting suitably drunk at noon. Most of them were on government support and they wore Chinese made t-shirts. Their smiles showed decayed teeth and almost all of them smoked – something or the other. And they looked beautiful.

But what lures me to Australia is not movies, art or the aboriginal history – not if you are an Indian who is familiar with his share of movies, truck loads of art and documented history of over 5000 years.  It is the open road that charms me…roads that leaves to no where in particular and irrepressibly romantic for someone who loves life from behind the wheel of a car. As the massive SUV (read BSM January’09 edition to find out which car…) floated at 110 kph, stormed the dirt tracks at even greater speeds , I was living a life denied to me in India. A large continent of a nation with brilliant roads and exotic tracks, generally friendly people (imagine the population of Mumbai in a whole continent…they got to be pretty happy, right?) and lots of chips with everything you order. Let me assure you…you cannot go wrong with the Outback.

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Outback and back

December 10th, 2008

A total of 3000 km starting from Sydney and ending in Sydney. And not the usual Gold Coast route. Broken Hill and Mungo National Park are not your average destinations but we at BSM wanted a crackerjack drive for the upcoming anniversary issue and that is what Australia presented with us. And the car in question? Hmmm, you will have to wait for the 10th Anniversary Special of BSM to get the answer.

Across the Blue Mountains and beyond Dubbo lies Broken Hill and beyond Broken Hill lies the Silverton with a total population of 50 people. And right when we thought we have seen enough of the Outback and roos and emus…the next day presents us with unsealed roads. Our massive SUV left a long trail of white, fine dust as we headed to the Walls of China and the long lost lake of Mungo (18000 years is ‘recent’ in history, mind you). 

Two Indian motoring scribes, a very German car (shhhh…), in Australia, heading for Walls of China…interesting, right? Things one got to do to earn a living! By the way, the 10th anniversary issue of BSM hits the new stands towards the end of December…BUY!

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Driving in eastern europe

October 8th, 2008

Next time you are passing through Frankfurt or CDG, do spare a thought for East Europe and take a connecting flight to Prague, Budapest or any other city you can get a flight to. Once you are there, hire a car and start driving - no, do not use a GPS or any of the modern navigational tools. Just get into a car and drive. And get lost. And enjoy getting lost in a new country! While expressways are as good as they come in Europe, it is the B-roads that will take you to magnificent villages, postcard settings and fantastic people. Last I drove in East Europe was ten years back and I got to say things are changing fast. It is important that you visit these countries before there is a Mac D around every corner, right?

This time around my route was Budapest to Prague through bits of Slovakia and lots of Poland. I loved the city centres, architecture in general, the occassional Polsky Fiats and pre-VW era Skodas and great food from the truck-stops where we stopped. People, thank god, didn’t speak English and it felt like I was driving in a foregin land for a change. But I hear Polish and Czech schools are teaching English these days. So go before these children leave school, go before the old Fiat 500s rust away, go before the abandoned housing blocks are re-built and go before another American chain start operating in Slovakia.  


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