Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tea or coffee?

Image courtesy: Cliparts Zone
It is said there are as many varieties of tea as there are people who want to drink it. It just means there is no one single way of making tea, and everyone has his or her preference on how the drink should taste.

This is one reason why I often choose coffee when I am asked if I would like to have tea or coffee. The taste of coffee doesn't vary too much irrespective of the way it is prepared, at least for my palette.

Whether it be tea or coffee, I don't like it too strong or too light. Ideally, it should be a fine balance between the two, but a bit on the lighter side is way better than being on the stronger side.

The first cup of drink in the morning is two glasses of plain water. Then, a little later coffee without milk. Then after a bit of workout, along with breakfast, tea with milk.

India is the second largest producer of tea in the world, after China. A number of places in the state of Assam, which produces the largest amount of tea in India, Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal, Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, Munnar in Kerala, Kodagu in Karnataka are some of the major places where we find tea plantations in India.

Coffee is more popular in south India, and tea in north India.

There are umpteen ways of making tea. But in India most people let the tea leaves or the tea dust brew in boiling water or in very diluted boiling milk.

How strong or light the tea would be depends on many factors like: 1. how much tea leaves is added, 2. how much milk is added, and 3. for how long the mixture of tea and water/milk is allowed to boil.

This is the most tricky part, because all this varies depending on the brand of tea. So it is all a lot of trial and error until one gets the right combination.

We at home decided to try out a new brand. And I think I got the right combination with the tea I prepared this morning. Finally!

How about you? You like tea or coffee? With milk or without milk? There are many people who don't take either; they prefer just plain water.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

3,550 steps, 9 kilometres to Tirumala

Tirupati is a town in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Here, atop one of the seven hills is the very famous temple dedicated to Lord Sri Venkateswara, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism.

The belief in the power of the deity is so widespread that anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people queue up every day -- for as many as two to four, or sometimes even five hours -- to offer their prayers, making it probably among the most-visited holy places in the world.

The picturesque town is known not just for the temple but also for the rich flora and fauna -- Sri Venkateswara National Park, spread over 353 square kilometres, housing about 1,500 plant species of 174 families; and Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park, spread over 22 square kilometres, having a wide variety of animals.

October 27

I, along with my wife and her sister's family of four, reached Tirupati in the afternoon. While my wife, her niece and I came from Bengaluru by bus, her sister, brother-in-law and nephew came from Bhopal by train.

We checked into one of the budget hotels, Shri Sai Tirumala Residency, near the Nandi Circle, which is not too far from either the bus stand or the railway station. We had lunch at the Orion Restaurant, a very nice place to dine -- a good variety of south and north Indian dishes, good ambience, and fairly priced. We had thali.

Thali means a plate, and in this context, comprising several vegetable dishes along with rice, chapatis (pancakes made of wheat) and a sweet -- considered a wholesome meal.

Kapileswara Swamy temple
In the evening, my wife, her sister and I went to Kapileswara Swamy temple, very close to the Nandi Circle. It's one of the popular temples in the town. It is also known as Kapila Theertham temple. Theertham means holy water. There is a waterfall that springs from one of the cliffs at the foot of the Tirumala Hills. The water is considered holy and people stand under the waterfall and have a shower. There is a pond as well in front of it, in which many people take a dip.

We had light dinner, a couple of chapatis and curry, at a small nearby restaurant.

October 28


800 steps done, 2,750 to go
Either one can drive along the winding road up the hills (it's about 20 km) or walk up 3,550 steps over around 9 km. My wife, niece, nephew, and I chose the latter; while my sister-in-law and her husband decided to come by road. There are frequent buses in addition to jeeps that ply up and down the hills.

This is the third time my wife and I are climbing up the hills, while it's the first time for my niece who is 23 years old and her brother who is 16 years.

950 more to go.
We started the climb at 7.35 am. The footpath is concrete paved and is covered overhead. Roughly, the initial and the final 500 steps are a bit steep. The rest are gradual. There are plenty of small eateries that serve snacks and drinks on the way. There is also a medical dispensary, where the service is free, just in case one feels too uneasy and needs medical advice.

The climb does test one's physical as well as mental endurance levels. With plenty of rest on the way, snacks and water, we covered the entire distance in five hours, reaching the Tirumala township where the temple is located around 12.30 pm.

We had lunch at the Saarangi Fine Dine Restaurant, an above-average, swanky place that serves a wide variety of vegetarian food. There is buffet as well as a la carte, we went in for the latter, as we weren't in a mood to eat too much. We just had chapatis, rice and a couple of dishes of curry.

As we nearly reached the top,
the view below was breathtaking
We had booked online the time for darshan. (Darshan is when one is at the sanctum sanctorum in front of the deity to offer the prayers). The reporting time was scheduled for 4 pm. But we ended up there at 3.30. Footwear and mobiles have to be deposited at a counter. They are securely kept in a barcoded container. The photo of the person who deposits the items is captured, which is then matched when the person goes to collect them from the counter near the temple complex exit.

At a distance, beyond the open ground is the actual temple complex.
The photo was taken while we were exiting the premises.
Before joining the long queue to the temple sanctum sanctorum, we had our credentials matched with what was entered when I booked the darshan timing online. We joined the queue around 3.45 pm. The line moved slowly. There are benches along the way for those who feel too tired to sit. We had our darshan at around 5.30 pm. The wait was not comparatively too long. One reason could be it's Diwali festival season, and many would prefer to be at home with relatives and friends.

Around 7.30 pm we were back. We came down by road. We had dinner at Orion Restaurant and hit the bed by around 10 pm after quite a tiring day.

October 29

While the three of us who came from Bhopal left by train around 9.30; we three returned to Bengaluru by bus. We were back home in the evening.

It was a good, enjoyable outing, which was a family reunion, a good trek, and spiritual getaway, all combined into one.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The new plastic currency

Photo credit: BBC
We all know the harmful environmental effects of plastic. For quite a few years there has been a campaign, the world over, to dissuade people from using plastic, especially those single-use ones that we use and throw.

Five Ways That Plastics Harm The Environment (And One Way They May Help) - Forbes

Recently, in India, the campaign got a fillip when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on October 2, the 150th birth anniversary, exhorted the people to put to practice the idea of reducing the use of plastic.

Actually, there was a plan to ban altogether single-use plastic, but that was altered and the government has been urging people to consciously reduce. One of the reasons being spoken of is that a total ban would be too disruptive a step for the fragile economy (Report in The Print).

BROUHAHA OVER MODI PLOGGING

Photo credit: Indian Express
Last week, the whole proposition got on to the centre stage when the Prime Minister released a video of him picking up plastic waste (BBC report) from the beach in Mamallapuram (in Tamil Nadu state in South India) on October 12. (The PM was in Mamallapuram for an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.)

It is a different matter that the video prompted the appearance of a misleading collage of photos -- which were called out by the media -- suggesting that the Prime Minister's act was a carefully stage-managed publicity stunt. (How the media busted the wrong sequence of photos)

PEOPLE ARE USING LESS PLASTIC

There is no doubt that the campaign has been having quite an effect. None of the stores in my neighbourhood pack products for customers in plastic. They have a board at the entrance urging shoppers to bring their own bag.

To discourage people from throwing away plastic, recently many institutions launched various programmes, including one under which people could swap plastic material with something useful -- plastic becoming a new currency of sorts!

Here are some news items that appeared in the last few weeks:

  • Metro commuters in Noida and the general public can deposit 20 plastic bags (of size 6” x 10”) or 10 plastic bottles (of 1-litre capacity) at any designated metro stations and get one jute Bag in return. (The Quint)
  • A Garbage Cafe has come up in Chhattisgarh state which provides food in exchange for plastic waste. (DNA)
  • Railway passengers with plastic carry bags arriving at the Hubballi Railway Station were in for a surprise on Thursday as a group of women approached them and gave them cloth bags with an appeal to say no to plastic. (The Hindu)
  • Traders in Pune are providing cloth bags for free if they give 1 kg of polythene bags or plastic to a retailer for recycling. (Pune Mirror)
  • There is a Facebook page by activists in Andhra Pradesh that is pioneering efforts to collect plastic and distribute food. (Deccan Herald)

    Abroad too ...
  • Italy's capital Rome (where rubbish has become an unmanageable problem) is offering travellers a way to exchange their waste plastic bottles for tickets on its public transport system. (Euronews)
  • Bayanan village in Muntinlupa City in the Philippines launched a program in September to improve waste management by letting residents exchange their plastic trash for a kilogram (2.2 lb) of rice. (Vice)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Key elements of Gandhian thought

Source: Gujarat Vidyapith,
founded by Gandhi in 1920
Today is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who led the independence movement in the Indian subcontinent in the 1930s and 1940s through means like non-violence and non-cooperation that were, if not unknown, definitely not popular then.

In the more than seven decades since those days, our lifestyles have dramatically changed. But the world largely has remained the same -- in the sense that there is no dearth of either the good or the bad.

There are so many kindhearted souls around doing wonderful things for the world around them. At the same time, on the other side, we still have many life-threatening health issues, conflicts and deaths.

It's pointless trying to imagine how Gandhi would have reacted to some of the present-day political, economic or social situations. Nevertheless, some of the key elements of his personal philosophy are everlasting. Some of them that come to my mind are:

1. Be truthful. What one achieves through deception and lies is temporary. This was the basis of Gandhi's agitation called 'satyagraha'.

2. The force of pacifism is enlightening but that of weapons is blinding.

3. Practise what you preach. That is the way to bring about change in society. Gandhi tried his best to follow this to a tee. It's not easy because it involves a lot of sacrifices. The extent to which Gandhi was able to achieve is simply amazing.

4. Avoid wastage. Everything has a value of its own. Make the full use of whatever we have. Don't let anything go waste. Today we are constantly exhorted to 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. But Gandhi practised it. For example, he would write (how much ever important it was) on the reverse side of envelopes.

5. Give up and gain peace. The more we amass, the more the burden. Let us be driven by our needs and not the wants. Abjure what is not necessary.

There are so many books and movies made on this great man, besides numerous articles available online. Some of my recommendations are:

1. Gandhi, the film directed by Richard Attenborough with Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Not just that it's a very well-made movie it's so inspirational.

2. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book is about the runup to the Indian independence on August 15, 1947, and has so many well-researched references to Gandhi, giving us good insights into that amazing human being.

3. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha. This book explores the complexity of Gandhi's views and throws light on also how others around him viewed him.

Mahatma Gandhi with Albert Einstein
Source: Open Culture that brings together free of cost
high-quality cultural & educational media

I guess nothing best sums up in one sentence on who Gandhi was as Albert Einstein's tribute: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Absent-mindedness

Image courtesy: Cliparts Zone
I am quite absent-minded. More often than not, I forget something -- keys, pen, wallet, or specs -- when I leave my house; and I have to invariably go back in to get it.

I have also applied the shaving cream on the toothbrush, only to sense a strange burning taste of the 'toothpaste'!

The biggest fear I have while travelling is whether I have boarded the wrong bus or the wrong train, even though I have boarded it only after seeing the display board.

In the case of flights, the biggest reassurance that I am at the right boarding gate and entering the right aircraft are display boards, the announcements, and the multiple checks by the airline and security staff.

There have been two occasions, once while travelling by bus and another while travelling by metro train, when my absent-mindedness played havoc.

INDORE, 1989

The first one happened long ago, 30 years ago, when I got a new job and moved from Bhopal to Indore. I was a bachelor then, and all my belongings could be packed in three boxes.

As I boarded the Bhopal-Indore bus, the boxes were kept in the luggage compartment at the rear of the vehicle.

When ​the bus reached Indore, I alighted at a stop near my house, which was two stops before the Indore bus terminus, the final destination of the bus.

I moved to the rear of the bus, picked up my luggage, and headed home in an autorickshaw.

Within a couple of minutes, I realised that out of the three boxes, I had taken only two of them. And the bus had already moved.

My first thoughts were as to what was in that box. It had all the important documents, like the original certificates of my school and college examinations, and also my two-in-one radio-cum-cassette recorder.

I immediately told the autorickshaw driver to go to the bus terminus, since I had forgotten to take one of my bags from the bus. He was a very nice man, and he said not to worry.

My concern was whether, by the time I reached the bus terminus, the bus would be there, or it would have moved elsewhere. Also whether someone would have walked away with my box.

When I reached the terminus, I saw that the bus was right there, and some pieces of luggage were still being taken out of the compartment.

I told the autorickshaw driver to wait for a while, while my eyes roamed all over the place looking for my box. I was so relieved to see it was indeed there as if waiting for me to pick it up.

I told the conductor that I had forgotten the box when I had got out of the bus at the earlier stop. He told me that he had kept the box aside because there was no claimant for it.

I was extremely happy and relieved that I got it back.

NEW DELHI AIRPORT METRO STATION, 2014

​There was another similar incident. This was five years ago at the New Delhi Airport Metro Station. I had gone to Delhi to witness the Republic Day parade: the first time I was going to witness the colourful ceremonial celebration of the anniversary of India becoming a republic on January 26, 1950. 

I reached Delhi by flight from Bengaluru. After exiting the airport, I took a shuttle bus to the airport metro station.

After clearing the security check, I reached the platform and kept my suitcase and the backpack on the platform as I waited for the train.

When the metro arrived, I took my baggage and boarded. About 5 minutes later, I got a strange feeling that something was amiss.

I realised that I had taken only the suitcase, and had left the backpack on the platform. The only expensive item in it was the laptop. But that was valuable enough. The other things were my shoes, socks and toiletries.

The other passengers understood my predicament and asked me what had happened. They suggested that I alight at the next station and contact customer care.

Meanwhile, since the train was running underground, the mobile signal was feeble and I had trouble calling my friend, who would have been waiting for me at the destination station. Somehow, I managed to call him, tell him what had happened and that I would be delayed.

I got down at the next station and went to the customer care section, where an executive asked me the colour of the backpack and some identification marks.

They checked with their counterparts at the airport metro station, who said nothing had been brought to their notice. I began to give up hope, thinking it would have been picked up by someone.

I was ready to resume my journey to my friend's house and gave my mobile number to the customer care executive telling him to give me a call if ever they got the bag back.

Just when I was about to leave the station, ​​the executive received a call from the airport metro station saying that they had indeed found a black backpack abandoned on the platform.

I was relieved but my fear was that quite probably the laptop would have been taken away by someone leaving just the bag behind. Hoping against hope, I took a train back to the airport metro station.

As I walked towards the area on the platform where I had left the bag, I was happy to see that it was exactly at the same spot where I had left it.

But what surprised me was that there was a group of policemen holding some appliances and equipment with them, near the backpack.

It didn't take long for me to realise that the next day was the Republic Day parade (a very high-security event in the nation's capital), and that explained why the policemen, probably with bomb-detecting devices, had checked my backpack.

Just when I reached there, the policemen took the bag and asked me if I was the owner. I said I was, and sheepishly I told them that in a hurry, I had left the bag behind.

They asked me to follow them and took me to a room, which looked like a place where they kept all the lost and found items.

The policemen emptied all the contents of the bag and thoroughly examined them. After convincing themselves that there wasn't anything dangerous in it, told me to enter my name, address and mobile number in a register. I then put everything back in.

One of the policemen also told me to be calm and not to be stressed. He said people forget things because they are stressed out and that their brain doesn't work properly.

I thanked them all, for everything, including that gem of advice; and once again began my journey from the Delhi Airport Metro Station to my friend's house.

My friend told me, no one will ever pick up anything that is left unattended, especially if it's in crowded places like a railway station. Instead, they would alert the police. So, you will always get back what you forgot and left behind.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Breaking free of mindset

Image courtesy: Clipart zone
Our lives follow a routine largely determined by mindset, is it not? Not quite sure if "habit" is a synonym, but mindset is a set of beliefs or thoughts that guide the way behave. A pattern that has become habitual.

We have preconceived notions not only about ourselves but also about different people, objects, places, issues, events etc around us. These notions decide how we react to them. Owing to our mindset, we behave in a predictable or stereotypical manner.

Since I work late, up to around 1 am, I wake up only by 8 or sometimes even 9. And I found it extremely difficult to go out for a walk or a jog or do some exercises after 9 am because for me, 9 am was sort of an "outer limit". After 9 am means it was "too late". The result was I began to miss my workouts on many days.

I realised that this 9 am fixation is largely an issue of my mindset. Why not go out for a walk or a jog, even if it's past 9 am?

So I went against my mindset, and irrespective of what time I woke up, I decided to go out for a short workout. I shifted the goal post, as it were, and I made myself free till about 11 am before I freshen up and get into some reading or writing or some such stuff.

It's working! And working well!

There are plenty of other examples in our daily lives. If need be, for a good cause, we must be flexible enough to change our mindset, make a course correction, and follow a different path. It might work, it might not. We can always improve upon it.

It's all in the mind, after all.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Kudos, Isro scientists!

Fifteen minutes of anxiety-filled moments late last night.

Those were the 15 moments when scientists of Isro, the Indian Space Research Organisation, would make complex manoeuvres from their earth station in Bengaluru to guide Vikram, the unmanned, robotic lander, into making a soft landing on the south pole of the moon around 1.50 am -- a feat no one had achieved so far.

Three of my colleagues and I were glued to the live transmission.

1.35 am. Vikram began its descend and the scientists were reducing the speed progressively, in order to enable the soft landing of Vikram, the lander, on the moon.

Close to 1.50 am, everything seemed to be going perfectly well, just about a couple of minutes or so for the touchdown. Fingers crossed.

THE WORRY, THE SILENCE

But then as moments passed, the cheerful faces of scientists in the mission control room seemed to be filled with anxiety. There was silence, and an announcement came on the air that we were awaiting further updates.

We saw the chairman of Isro K Sivan walking up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who was at the tracking station in Bengaluru to witness the event). Moments later Modi got up and left the room after telling Sivam something and patting him on the back.

We got to hear that the communication from the lander had snapped. Many feared that either the lander had crashlanded because the speed of the descent couldn't be reduced to the required level or Vikram had landed but we hadn't got to know about it since the communication was off. 

Around 2.15 am, Sivan made an official announcement that the communication got snapped when the lander was 2.1 km from the surface of the moon and all the data are being analysed.

No one had yet said that the lander had crashed. But that was what it looked like.

SO NEAR YET SO FAR

Nevertheless, this was a mission that nearly succeeded. Only three nations -- the US, Russia and China -- have so far managed to land an unmanned craft on the moon. And that too after many failed attempts. The success rate of such efforts has been just around 40%.

No nation had landed a craft on the south pole, an area where scientists believe has minerals and water.

Yet, the fact that Indian scientists made this attempt and managed to get the lander as close to the moon as 2.1 km is indeed a great achievement.

The entire capsule called Chandrayaan 2 -- orbiter, the lander and the rover -- was launched on July 22.  On August 14, it left the Earth's orbit, and it entered the moon's orbit on August 20.

Meanwhile, the orbiter is still going around the moon and the payloads on it are working well.

SPACE EXPLORATION IS COMPLEX BUT VITAL

The Prime Minister was all praise for the scientists when he returned to the command centre this morning and spoke to them for nearly half an hour. "This was an experiment, and we make progress with experiments. We are with you," he said.

We will know in the coming days as to what exactly happened and why the lander couldn't make the soft landing as planned.

To say that failure is the stepping stone to success sounds a bit cliched. But that's a fact. No one has ever succeeded in doing, especially very complex tasks, without a few failures. And space is a complex and challenging area. Everything is remotely controlled.

Space explorations and the success of the scientific community the world over is what has given us many comforts -- from modern communication technologies to our ability to understand the climate patterns, helping us understand our earth better.

FURTHER READING