Via Wyanad to Bliss!!!

Being born in Kerala, with roots still entrenched there and having worked briefly there too, one would expect to have had enough of Kerala in terms of holidays and vacations. Not for me. Though having been to many parts of Kerala, quite a few places are waiting to be explored. Vythiri at Wyanad in the north of Kerala was one such place.  So for this Diwali vacation we decided to zoom in on Vythiri, a place holed up deep inside Kerala’s lush rainforests that promised a back-to-nature experience.

When we landed at the Kozhikode airport we were welcomed by moist environs from the previous day’s unseasonal rains. When the driver mentioned that the distance of about 85 kms from the airport to the resort will be covered in about 3 hours, my immediate Mumbaikar instinct prodded me to check the condition of the roads. In Mumbai we are well aware of the potholed conditions of the roads during monsoons year after year. The driver who was nonchalance personified mentioned, “Kozhapamilla, edaikku theera mosavaa” (Its o.k. In between its really bad). 3 hours hence when we reached our destination which was the Vythiri Resort, I realized that our driver friend either wanted to keep our expectations low or is a Gulf return with experience of super quality roads! For, to me the road was fantastic all the way up the hill sections until the resort with just couple of uneven patches in between!!! The drive, when you reach Wyanad district limits is simply awesome with some spectacular views. Along the way, the famous “Airtel Open Network” kept indicating the coverage as moderate or non-existent!

On arrival at the resort, we were promptly briefed by the staff on supposedly the most important requisite i.e.  Wi-Fi. There is no Wi-Fi in the room or anywhere in the resort but for the common “Activity centre”. There is no TV in the room!!! Newspaper is available only at the reception area! In my mind I thought – so you pay for a body detox and you get few days of Digital Detox free!!! Vythiri, a fledgling holiday destination now, has more than 80 resorts all named almost similarly. “Vythiri this” and “Vythiri that”!!! So one has to be careful while booking online without getting mixed up with similar sounding resorts.

Vythiri Resort  is one of the older properties there and among the best few. It is expansive with river streams flowing within its premises and a hanging bridge to get across these streams. The whole resort looks green and romantic with many ideal selfie spots if I may add. The sound of the flowing water in the streams which you can hear 24*7 is therapeutic to the mind. Along with this, the sound of the magical flute (of one my very favourite and most talented but lesser known flutists in the country – Kerala’s very own Kudamaloor Janardhanan) which they play in the resort throughout the day relaxes and calms your nerves. The food was excellent even for vegetarians like us, with the Malabari cuisine which the region is known for taking centre stage.  The resort itself is home to different flora and fauna (the Giant Malabar Squirrel, the Benson’s Yellow snail, monkeys…). Also one has to be wary of the leaches as you walk by which are known to make a cut and suck your blood without you realizing the same. It happened to me as well as I was sauntering around taking pictures at odd places in the resort. Apparently, worldwide leaches are used to suck impure blood from the body. While biting, leaches infuse small amount of Hirudin a serum that thins blood and prevents coagulation. This is a base for all medicines used to cure heart bleeding, varicose veins,… So we were informed at the reception!!!

Overall I can say that the resort has positioned itself as an ideal honeymoon place. Since I don’t want this piece to sound like a plug for Vythiri Resort, let me move on by just saying that the place does enough justice to the impressive website!!!

Coming to the place itself, I realized that Wyanad which was home to many coffee plantations decades ago has now morphed to more of a Tea place and of course spice gardens. Many picturesque tea estates abound as you drive by though they are not very vast as in Munnar or Coonoor.

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In and around Vythiri, there are few interesting places to visit which will engage you for 1 / 2 days. I don’t have to write so much about tourist attractions of which Google does a better job. However more interesting to share would be the “Writings on the Walls” which one sees that communicate what’s happening behind the mask!

  • We didn’t realise until we reached Wyanad that the days we chose (1st week of Nov) coincided with “Kerala Piravi” or Kerala @ 60! Nov 1st marked 60th Anniversary of Kerala On such an occasion the tendency is to blast full page ads in all newspapers not just in Kerala but all over the country (a la Kejriwal style). But not in God’s Own Country. The celebrations by the LDF led Govt. was muted, restrained and very business-like showing a level of maturity unparalleled in other parts of the country.
  • The Kozhikode airport is barely a functional airport and for a city which ferries natives and tourists by the troves, it deserves a much better airport.
  • For tourists there is this Kerala’s longest Zip line here which takes you across a tea estate. At 250 bucks per person this is must be the cheapest adventure ride in the world! On a weekend, the guy said that he sells 100 tickets!!! Of course I guess this can function only during Non-monsoon seasons.
  • All along the way one could see the transition our country in general and Kerala in particular is going thro. Few years ago by and large the hoardings you will get to see were of Gold and Garment showrooms. But now you get to see sign boards of BSNL data plans, hoardings for International schools and that of Car salons of course with the Alukkas and Alapatt thrown in between. Am I surprised? Not at all. But this transformation is aspirational and is worth a mention.
  • Even in such remote areas one could see offices of “Kudumbashree” – a mission which Kerala launched for empowering women with credit to promote entrepreneurship.

Clean environs, tourist friendly people, pristine Nature does make Kerala a place one doesn’t feel enough of. And if you haven’t before, take the route via Wyanad to bliss next!

Postscript: The evenings at the resort’s activity centre were buzzing with people. And the activity being – Checking mobiles!!! With Wi-Fi just there, folks were feverishly catching up with the myriad forwards in WhatsApp and of course posting their day’s Vythiri pics. Coming to think of it, today the objective is not to go on a holiday, but to tell the world that we went on a holiday isn’t it?? I just did that.😃😃

Post featured in https://10tips.in/ as one of favourite blogs. 

Back to Roots and Canals!!!

It’s almost the last week of May and the much dreaded Agni Natchathiram (Star of Fire) – the phase which is supposed to be the hottest in parts of India just got over. In India this time of the year usually apart from temperatures, the so called summer holidays also are at its peak. A season when these days most upper middle class folks and above head for the cooler parts of the planet and tick off their bucket lists. When some set on a discovery trail of exotic places within Incredible India – like the North East or Jammu & Kashmir. And when others settle for shorter junkets or IPL watching (abki baar yeh bus hai yaar 😁). But amidst all this, if there is one group living outside who religiously and faithfully return every year to their own Native place during summer vacation and make their vacation incredible, it must be the “Mallus” aka “Keralites”. And as we all know, there are more Keralites living outside than within Kerala itself 😁😁

During my growing up years while in school, our Annual summer vacation of 2 months was invariably spent going to “Native place” which was Kottayam in Kerala. (For a Tambrahm usually suffering from an Identity crisis of Epic proportion, Native place or in more technical terms – State of Domicile is Kerala but the State of Origin is Tamil Nadu 😁😁😁.  Wait a minute – Explaining this will call for a post by itself. Will let that pass for now😁).  And it was similar story for many of our folks too. Annual vacations were time for family convergence in Kerala and spending time together in grandparents’ house in a grand manner at minimum expense to the parents. But what is surprising is the zeal which Keralites show even today to spend the vacation time in their own “Naadu” (place) year after year.

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Unlike others, among Mallus, the conversation about vacations is not about – “Where are you going for vacation this year??” It’s more likely or certainly – “Eppala Naatilottu pogunne??” (“When” are you leaving for our state??) So religiously folks living outside plan their vacation (which essentially means timing the logging into IRCTC site with alacrity😁or grabbing the low cost airfare tickets during airline promos) every year to spend atleast 1 full month in their “Naadu”. It really doesn’t matter for them at all that the vacations end up being repetitive visiting the same place every year.

Even otherwise for a Malayali at heart – his Naadu comes first. Probably one would argue that for all people their homelands come first. But if you have been with Keralites even for a short while you will know what I mean. For Mallus meeting each other for the first time outside Kerala which usually starts with – “Naattil evadaya??” (Where from in Kerala??) usually quickly veers around all happenings back home including LDF, UDF, Mammooty, Mohanlal, Mazha (Rain), Pooram, Gelf,…,…😁😁 It’s almost like their heart and soul are firmly rooted back in Kerala while they physically continue to “exist” in their cities of work. Hence I guess the unflinching urge escape to their Native place – come the vacation time!

Talking of Mallu vacations, I know of many who even today, change to the more comfortable and airy – Mundu (Dhoti or Lungi for the uninitiated) the moment they step into their tharavadu (Family house) from the train/flight😁. Its Bye Bye for trousers, Jeans, shorts and the like for the rest of the vacation. And since summer vacation time usually coincides with marriage season, the one month vacation schedule is planned in such a way that one gets to “hit” minimum 3 sadyas 😁😁(Traditional Kerala feast). And apart from catching up with Amma (mom) and Achan (Dad) usually the vacation package includes spending time “with” Aaru (River), Ambalam (Temple), Ayurveda (these days a “Pizhichil session is a must) and even one’s favourite Aana (elephant)😁😁😁!! A Keralite’s passion for the Elephant is unparalleled in the world in terms of Human-Animal relationships😁. Take my word for it. A true Mallu will identify the name of the Elephant by just looking at the tail that too from a distance😁😁! (My Mallu friend just corrected me – that even by looking at the Aanappindi (Elephant’s excreta) a Mallu can say which elephant passed by😁😁😁)

And these days for the parents it is also a matter of gloating time to show off to their Gen Next Kids stuff which have now made Kerala God’s Own Country – Back waters, Kettu Vallam (house boats), Kathakali performances, Kalaripayattu sessions,… And all these in the form of pictures and videos find their way to so many walls all over the world – Facebook walls I mean😝

Apart from subjecting oneself to this “Naturopathy Detox”, I suspect the annual vacation time for most Mallus is also a time for “Stock taking”. As most of them still own large tracts of land back home where some kind of agricultural cultivation is happening the supervision of which has been outsourced, vacation time is also the time to check what’s happening. Check prices of commodities and decide between going for Kurumilagu (Black Pepper) or Kumbalanga (Ash gourd) in their lands. And review other Buy/Sell/Retain decisions and probably execute.

Ergo, for the Mallus, visiting their home land during vacation every year is a matter of going back to their Roots. And catching up with the Canals (Thodu). Still having doubts – try booking tickets to Kerala during vacation time!!!

P.S: Keralites wear their hearts on their sleeves. Hence even a reference to Somalia in the context of Kerala was after all not a good idea at all!!!

A WhatsApp’s message!!!

I am myself surprised to witness what has been happening the last 2 weeks. If I add “pleasantly though” to it I will be labelled a sadist. For some time now I have been vilified for many social evils happening in the world. From the time I came to existence though there has been an acceptance (grudgingly if I may add) that I am useful in connecting people from disparate parts of the world, there is also this constant nagging at my back. Of how I waste people’s time, of how I have managed to turn people into being unproductive, of how I have become a tool to circulate mischievous rumours, of how people use me to spread venom, of how I and my clan have even become soft tools in the hands of savvy terrorists and so on. In the company of my more august colleagues we have become one group against which the Governments all over the world have axes to grind. And I hear that they all are putting up plans to do what they do best –“Exert control”. So I will not be surprised if in the coming months/years there are UN summits to discuss laws to control us like the ongoing UN Climate change summit in France aimed at achieving a universal and legally binding agreement on Climate😃 (Does these UN Summits really deliver is a debate you guys should kick-start)

So under the circumstances, what happened or rather is happening in Chennai, India – the unprecedented deluge which hit the city at its heart throwing the city and its people out of gear has been our moment of comeuppance and a decisive one in that. Though it was not my intention to use an unfortunate natural calamity to send a message to our critics, (though sending messages across is my raison d’être) it might have ended up like that. I never imagined that in a short time since I was launched as “WhatsApp” into the hands of many human beings across the world, I would get to play a stellar role at the time of a huge humanitarian crisis like the one which happened in Chenna😄😄i. The crisis is yet over.

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It is now normal for any individual in Urban India to be part of a few WhatsApp  “Groups”. One’s group range from “Immediate family” to “Dad’s side family” to “Mom’s side relatives” to “Cousins” to “Office team” to “Ex-Employer/s team” to “Living community” to “School” to “College/s” “Hobby” group and so on. And smart people who want to use me for their business have few more groups like customer groups, Vendor group,… And there are short time temp. Groups which are formed for certain events. The “Groups” may be many but I have noticed that the happenings are usually similar. From Good morning, Good night messages, Happy Birthday/Anniversary wishes, and then discussions which happen on and off ranging from being serious/purposeful stuff to frivolous time pass type. And there is this monster type called “forwards” usually taking up most of my server space – motivational messages, philosophical messages, Jokes and memes, articles, chain messages on Gods, those with political messaging,…,… I myself wonder how it would be to watch the same meme on Alia Bhat or Captain Vijayakanth again and again in different groups though I must admit here that they are extremely funny😄. In all this forwarding business, I got sucked into playing a huge part in resurrecting the career of guys like Alok Nath😁. And give a positive connotation to “Viralling” 😁😁. It’s now easy to know the time when one wakes up from the 1st message he/she sends through me. The 1st thing most people on earth do these days is check messages on me – again an accusation hurled at me as an addition inducer. My grudge has always been that inspite of being a powerful tool which is very useful to humanity in many ways what I got associated was that of a spoiler😩.

I guess however from now on things will be different. People put me into productive use in the last 1 week in the time of the Chennai crisis. From sharing updates on the latest weather to important information on road conditions to circulating info about people in distress the forwards were of the critical type. With no TV when power was down, people completely had to depend upon updates on social media. Groups which are generally are accused of gupshup used the forum to reach out to the needs of friends, near and dear. I’m not saying that the same people would not have responded if individually contacted through other means. But media like me which thrive on group communication have a demonstrative effect. The whole feeling of helping and supporting each other gets infectious in a group and end result has a multiplier effect. As the weather in Chennai returns to normal there is a big task in hand for the common public and the administration. Rescue is now over and it’s time for relief, rehabilitation of the affected and recovery to normalcy. Here again I hope to play a big role in being a platform for generating funds and resources from well-wishers all around the planet. If there is an identified agency which is engaged in relief measures, please use me to forward details of them among your “Groups” to raise funds. In the last few days, I am clear that there is no dearth for helpful souls and they are a plenty. To tap them is the crux of resource mobilization and I feel I can play a crucial role in this activity.

While being happy about the role we social media played in diffusing the crisis, I was also pained to see the other side. Like being used to spread wrong information to spread panic. Like forwarding pictures of Thailand cyclone and passing it off as Chennai floods. Like spreading mischievous message that crocodiles from the zoo have escaped (attaching some photo shopped pictures to effect). Like some political parties taking to social media to score brownie points at this hour of grave crisis. But one must not forget that we are a double-edged sword. It doesn’t take a long while for citizen groups to use us and expose the evil machinations of the politicians or their sycophant followers! So, I hope these will stop sooner or later.

From here on I do hope fervently that our group fondly revered sometimes and decried other times as “Social Media” consisting of my good associate Facebook and friends like Twitter is given our due place under the Sun. And folks like you should be proud for using us to play a constructive role when needed😃. So next time if you are bashed by somebody for being on “WhatsApp Chat all day long” don’t be guilty😃😃

Now, liked this?? Please take a minute to “forward” this to your Groups. Thanks😃😃😃

Aam Aadmi Petti!!!

It is that time of the season in Mumbai typically the onset of summer (Apr-Jun or the AMJ Qtr for those in sales 😉) when I equip myself with higher liquidity than normal. The equities get sold, the many mutual funds get redeemed, some dead wood furniture and the like gets sold (in OLX ofcourse 😉 😉) in short except for the immovable assets which essentially means the roof above my head and the 4 wheeler I use to commute get liquidated to raise cash. As much as possible. Even the previous 3 months (ending March) which is “taxing times” for salaried class, somehow gets managed without reaching out for assets disposal. But come April and if you want to enjoy the Aam (Mango) season that too the pedigreed variety like the Alphonso one doesn’t have any other choice but to cash the assets 😜😜

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 If one year the prices of the Alphonso mangoes are high because of supply constraints owing to draught in Maharashtra, then next year it is higher due to supply constraints due to excessive monsoon. Another year, the prices are high due to excessive supply as the producers had to incur additional expenses in proper storage and transportation!!! Last year when the EU banned the exports of Indian Alphonso Aams I was one among many Aam Aadmi who had our Schadenfreude moment – gloating that the glut in the market due to the ban will lead to falling prices. But little did I realise that Alphonso is not called King of Mangoes for no reason – It defies all applied laws of economics. Supply and Demand rules can go to hell 😒😒

Even after spending so many years in Mumbai (20 years though in parts the wife usually the one who is good at dates, years, names,…in the house reminds 😄) I am yet to come to terms with the Mumbaikar’s unending obsession with the Alphonso! In the initial years in Mumbai I used to be flummoxed when train conversations in summer would invariably veer around the Happoos (another name for the Alphonso) next only to customary antics of the Sena or the diatribe of its leader the previous day in some interview/public meeting. Frankly speaking, when I tasted Alphonso for the 1st time I couldn’t fathom why this Aam (common) Aam was revered so much. Having spent most of my childhood years in Trichy, a small city in Tamil Nadu, the fuss about Alphonso was too much to bear.  Trichy apart from being popular for the many famed temples (Rockfort, Srirangam, Thiruvanai Koil,..) also used to house a place called Mambazha Chalai (Mango farm) where private owners cultivated Mangoes. These farms called Thathachariar Gardens spread around many hectares were embodiment of horticultural experiments around Mangoes in those days itself. So every year, new cross breeds use to hit the market – bettering the previous year in terms of size, taste and also price! My memory deceives me now preventing the recap of the names of the species though I can remember vividly one called Imam Pasand (whoever said Tamils hate Hindi 😄).  Apart from this, we also used to get a flood of stocks from nearby towns like Salem which had its own varieties like Malgova, Neelam, Banganapalli,…  Many people (other than Mumbaikars ofcourse 😄😄) who have tasted the Neelam variety have confessed that it tastes very close to the Alphonso and in fact a tad better. And I agree. The only problem is you find insects inside the mangoes more often than not.  So I realized that the Alphonso became the King of Mangoes because of better marketing, reach and better managed supply chain while the others just preferred to stay as local satraps.

Being generally a Mango fan (like most Indians I suppose) in the initial few years I avoided the Alphonso due to the heavy prejudice I had against it. But with the Imam Pasands, the Malgovas and the like ruling many kilometers away, had no choice but to become a dutiful citizen of the Alphonso. That’s when I realized that like you do your cash flow planning for so many life events, one has to do the same for “Aam season” also plus prepare yourself for the unique Happoos experiences 😜😜

  • Like when I lined up before the crowded fruit vendor and insisted on buying varieties other than Happoos – I could hear few ladies nonchalantly asking the vendor – “Aajkal ye saada aam bhi koi leta hai kya???” (“Does anyone buy these ordinary type mangoes these days???”)
  • Like the first time when I asked for the price of Happoos and the vendor dutifully replied as Rs. 400. He almost came to blows with me when I piously told him I was asking price for 1 kilo and not 5 kilos. That’s when he did the brahmopadesam of the 1st lesson in Happoos buying. That while other mangoes are sold by weight Happoos is sold in numbers usually a dozen or in Pettis (boxes of 2 dozens).
  • Like when I insisted that I want to buy only few and not in dozens – I could hear him telling his chela – “Aajkal mandi chal raha hai na, shayad naukri chala gaya hoga”. (These days recession is going on no? May be he has lost his job!!!) Its o.k, give him in loose. And then the parting shot, “Saab, jab naukri mil jayegi – petti hum se hi kareedna’!! (“Sir, when you get the job, please come to me only and buy in dozens!!”)
  • Like when I see exclusive Happoos outlets springing up suddenly in hitherto empty gaalas (shops) in the season all over Mumbai with prominent boards saying “Credit Cards accepted and ATMs next door”. I think to myself – “Smart move”!!!
  • Like when I found that a group of friends did a road trip all the way to Ratnagiri – the Happoos town just to search for the organic variety and buy a truck load of the same for consumption for a few days.
  • Like few years ago in a summer season, while waiting for the luggage to arrive at the baggage belt at Changi (my baggage invariably arrives last 😦 ) was watching the bright yellow/Orange coloured petti after petti of Alphonso mangoes doing the rounds and the owners tearing their hair to identify their own ones!!
  • Like when I see brands fuelling this passion for Alphonso with hotties like Katrina year after year. I must say that the Slice’s AamSutra campaign is not an Aam Ad, me thinks its Jakaas!

“This season, Alphonsos beyond Aam Aadmi’s reach” is a headline which newspapers get to copy and paste year after year. But still the rush to savour this King of Mangoes continues!! If only the Thathachariar family is listening and doing something to break this monopoly! Or we may have no option but to appeal to our PM to bring in a new “Aam subsidy” through direct cash transfer ofcourse to tackle the increasing price of Alphonsos year after year 😜😜.  Not a bad idea for the PM who can beat his rivals AAP and Congress in their own game no???

Postscript: My apologies if you thought that this post is my usual rant/rave about Aam Aadmi Party and got misled. Aam Aadmi Party may be the flavor of the season, but nothing to beat the tastes of the Aam Petti in the summer. 😋😋

Mysore musings!!!

Mysore is a place I visit at least once a year since the last few years – of course on business. That often means a day trip up and down from Bengaluru. But the few hours I spend are enough to get the feeling of a city which is idyllic with its nice weather and expansive green cover. Coupled with the fact that it has many places of tourist importance made us look at Mysore for a short holiday during this Diwali holidays. The last time I visited Mysore for purely sightseeing was few decades ago when I was under 10.  Yes that was long ago. It was a road trip much before we knew what road trips were in what else an Amby from Trichy to Bangalore for a marriage. Only an Ambassador knows how it used to accommodate routinely 12+ people half of them adults with the accompanying luggage. Strangely, though I don’t have any memory of the wedding proceedings,… my memories of what happened on the sidelines are very vivid. After the marriage, remember going to Mysore for a day in which we covered Chamundi Hills, Srirangapatana, Tippu Sultan palace, St. Philomena’s Church and in the rainy evening a bit of Brindavan Gardens. I don’t recall us visiting the now famous Mysore Zoo or for that matter the Mysore Palace.

With my 7 year daughter in tow, the priorities in this trip were clear. To make this trip as memorable as possible for her as part of her childhood and growing up. So leaving aside the temptations for just chilling out in the resort which had a nice spa and the works, we tried to cover places of interest for her like the Zoo, the grand Mysore Palace,… Extremely conscious of not wanting to turn this post into a travelogue on Mysore for which Google Guru does a better job, I just want to touch upon few interesting things which caught my attention. So here we go:

  • It’s quite well-known that Mysore has probably the best Zoo in India thanks to its pretty collection of species, natural habitat and the fact that most species look healthy for a change!!! But what is surprising is that for a place routinely visited by tourists in the droves, the place is well-kept and can truly be a showcase piece for our PM’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
  • Additionally the Zoo is touted as a “Plastic Free Zone” like many other places in India these days. But unlike other Plastic free zones where plastic becomes freely available, this is indeed plastic free in letter and spirit. And in a unique programme (which I saw only in Mysore in the zoo and other parks) stalls selling water collect back empty plastic bottles and refund some money in a bid to prevent plastic littering.

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  • As in most of the zoos worldwide these days, in Mysore also most of the animals/birds,.. have been adopted by well intentioned human beings and corporate sponsors. And here, it was interesting to see the “King of the jungle” being adopted by once “King of Leg spin” – Anil Kumble!!!

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  • Want to visit Mysore?? Avoid vacation seasons like Diwali or Dasara holidays. Brindavan Gardens which is popular for its musical fountain show in the evenings was crowded and resembled a Kumbhmela. I can’t fathom if it’s a good idea to allow food hawkers inside the gardens and you can guess the ensuing mess. Brindavan Gardens which was a show piece of Mysore is a pale shadow of its past today and reminds us of the “Aswachh Bharat” we are living.
  • A Sand Museum is an interesting addition these days. One can find an extremely secular collection of sculptures carved out of sand. On enquiry, was impressed to note that these artwork have been the fine handiwork of a young lady by the name of M.N. Gowri, a Fine Arts Graduate. It seems she discontinued Engineering to pursue her passion in Sand Sculpting. A 15-ft high sand statue of a Lord Ganesh welcomes visitors to the museum. Other sculptures include Goddess Chamundeshwari, Laughing Buddha, Dasara procession, a striking work of Gitopadesha with Lord Krishna and Arjuna on a horse-drawn chariot, Disneyland, Islamic culture, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus,… An impressive place this!

 

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  • Karanji lake and Karanji Nature Park adjacent to it are increasingly getting popular among tourists I’m told. There is a butterfly park and peacock park there. You could do boat rides in the lake as well. What is alarming is – in spite of well-intentioned and well displayed warning signs of “No boating without life jackets” – hardly could you see anybody in the boats there with life jackets. And this is the kind of apathy over human safety which one finds routinely in tourist destinations in India. A tragedy happens consuming a few hapless lives and these issues get into “The Nation wants to know” routine for few days – only to get back to the routine slackness post that.

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  • The shopping market scene in Mysore reminded me of Trichy. There, in one NSB Road, you could find everything under the sun and moon. Here it was Devraj Urs Road. Along the main road and its alleys, one could see shops of all hues – of branded stuff and others. Disappointing though was to find shops closing as early as 8.30 p.m. here. Worse is, in other areas of the town shops wound up by 7.30 p.m. so much so in a handicrafts emporium where we stepped in by 7.10 p.m. – the display of frown by the staff there over shadowed that of the stuff sold there 😦 😦
  • The Mall of Mysore is a glitzy addition in this town reminding us of the proliferation of the young, aspiring class churning out codes in the Infosys’, Wipros, TCSs,... All these companies have impressive campuses in this city. The mall is still work in progress but has a food court and a multiplex with tickets as expensive as in Mumbai.

For a place with a fantastic, moderate weather almost throughout the year and many interesting tourist attractions in and around the city, my take is that Mysore is poorly handled and marketed. The Mysore airport is under connected even within the country. Which means reaching by road from Bengaluru is the only option. As Swapan Das Gupta says – “The unending journey from the airport to anywhere in Bangalore…” means a good 2 hours to just get out of the city and some 5 hours to cover a distance of 190 odd kms (from Bengaluru airport to Mysore). This is clearly a dampener for Karnataka’s‘One State, Many Worldstourism aspirations.  Dear Sarkar, please get a high-speed Express way fast.  And don’t worry, the IT folks will be ever willing to fork the toll.

Postscript: Just realized while writing this post that one cannot recall another city which has dedicated so much to the society – Mysore Sandal soap, Mysore Rasam, Mysore Bonda, Mysore Masala Dosa, Mysore silk and oh yes how can I forget Mysore Pak!! Appropriately the hotel welcomed us with this 🙂 🙂

Mysore Pak

Mysore Pak

 

“Cut” Uttarakhand, “Paste” Jammu & Kashmir!!!

In my 1st post this year (Read here), one among my wish list was to have a “Natural calamity free 2014”. But that is not to be. As I write this piece, most of Jammu & Kashmir is under a deluge. The fury of the rains has ceased but not before leaving a trail of destruction. The armed forces are pulling all stops in an attempt to rescue even the last human standing. The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact number of people who have been affected.  For most of us in India what is panning out is a very familiar sequence of events.  Just that it was Uttarakhand last year, Andhra couple of years ago, Kosi floods in Bihar few years back and Jammu and Kashmir this year.

With so much money spent on Science and Technology and regular chest thumping announcements of firing rockets and satellites into space we still don’t have a reasonably sound weather forecasting system in place. Most of the satellites we put in the orbit are meant for peaceful purposes including that of capturing imagery which will help in predicting changes in weather patterns,.. But year after year (exceptions like Cyclone Phalin apart) we have never been able to comprehend the scale of Nature’s fury with any reasonable amount of accuracy.  Pardon me for my ignorance if indeed we knew in advance of these floods in which case it is far more worrisome – that we knew what was coming and still we didn’t take adequate precautions.

As cynical as it may sound, in India our approach and response to natural disasters follow a very set pattern. Once a calamity strikes we seem to have a ‘Standard Operating procedure’ the main problem with it being so “Standard” that it can be summarized as “Chaotic”.  I had written about this last year as well. Read here.

First will be the local administration’s efforts to do some rescue without realizing if they have the capability and resources to do it. Followed by the Chief Minister’s visit to the affected areas and then appeal for support from the Central Government. Then the Centre pitches with its support which includes calling the Armed forces to get into rescue. This is followed by normally an “Aerial survey” by the Prime Minister and then announcement of Aid amounts to people who lost their lives,.. As the fury unfolds, media circus under the guise of informing the public gets into a “Coverage rat race” the underlying objective being “TRP rat race”!!! Then there is the blame game between Centre and State if they are from different parties. Then follow the “Photo ops” by politicians and PR plugs on their efforts.  And these days you have the social media “forwards” which add to the frenzy.

Jammu-Kashmir-floods-Rajnath-Singh-makes-fresh-look-2

In all this few questions arise:

  1. For a country like India which has seen so many natural disasters year after year predictably in the same time periods, is it difficult to predict a pattern in Nature’s fury? In the so many crores of money we spend on Science and Technology, Research,.. can we not allocate few crores to “outcome” based projects for example better methods of weather forecasting? If we are already doing it, the concern is on the effectiveness of these spends.
  2. Once the calamity strikes can we not have a method to the madness? Instead of first the Municipality trying to do some relief and then the State trying to pitch in and then finally getting the army to assist,.. can we not have a central nodal agency take over rescue and relief operation irrespective of the scale? Not that we don’t have nodal agencies. There is one called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the PM as its Chairman and till I last heard with a politician as the functional head!!! The Vision of this agency as per the website is a classic case of trying to do so many things and ending up doing nothing. Its vision says “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation”.  With so many adjectives and jargons doting that long vision – it’s clear that some management consultant has made a killing in helping the agency draft that impressive vision statement! For instance do we know what role is this NDMA playing in the J&K situation?
  3. Can we not have one Co-ordinating agency on the ground? What is required is an agency which effectively becomes a single point co-ordinating agency in all the post calamity efforts – the 3 R’s. First the Rescue, then Relief and then finally Rehabilitation. Once this agency steps in, even the CM of the state must go thro this agency if he wants to pitch in with any relief effort. It is admirable to see civil society pitching in remarkably. From common public to NGOs there is assistance galore. But without a central co-ordinating agency the nature of assistance can turn chaotic as we saw last year in Uttarakhand and as we see now in Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Can we not have a process by which anybody who wants to be part of the 3R’s as above must report to this central co-ordinating agency on the ground first? This agency then channelizes resources including men and material according to priority and gravity of the situation on the ground. Today we see many agencies doing their bit without any co-ordination among themselves resulting in a bit of chaos.
  5. Can we stop forgetting once the event is over? While the media goes over the top in coverage for a few days when the action is hot – it completely forgets to follow up after a few days except for revisiting for a day on the Anniversary of the event. After all that what happened in Uttarakhand last year, do we now know if the lessons have been learnt and sufficient precautions have been taken while reconstruction?? Can we say with confidence that come another flood, the scale of destruction will be much smaller?

I am not sure may be these are empty rants of an individual which may not be practical. But I am certain that for a country like India which generally thrives on chaos, it can do without that in the times of natural disasters atleast. As Nature “Cut” Uttarakhand and “Pasted” Jammu and Kashmir this year it could be another state next year. It will be good to see some lessons learnt and new initiatives taken under the task master Prime Minister.  I will then vouch for the arrival of “Ache Din”!!!

You could play a part in the R&R efforts in J&K. You could send in your donations if you wish to

  1. Prime Ministers Relief Fund – Visit here for Online donations.
  2. Uday Foundation – Link here.