Wednesday, November 29, 2006


A common cold and viral fever never got as worse as this. For close to a week, I was down and out. The cold set in Tuesday last, progressively got worse, and ultimately infected the sinus. The condition is called sinusitis: an inflammation of the sinuses which are nothing but small air pockets in the facial bones. Anyone who has been through sinusitis would agree that it’s awful to get it. The splitting pain that radiates from the forehead is unbearable. There is severe pain if one bends down, even if one moves the eyeballs to either side. Sinusitis is easily among the worst forms a common cold can aggravate into. A mixture of steam inhalation combined with mild antibiotics has finally brought me comfort.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Newspapers tie up with Yahoo

The print media won't concede defeat. It has always changed with times, by innovating and adapting.

A consortium of seven newspaper chains representing 176 daily papers across the United States is announcing a broad partnership with Yahoo to share content, advertising and technology.

This is another sign that the wary newspaper business is increasingly willing to shake hands with the technology companies they once saw as a threat, says The New York Times.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Reader's Digest sold for Rs 1.6 bn

Reader’s Digest Association, publisher of the pocket-sized magazine read by 80m people around the world, agreed to be bought by an investor group led by Ripplewood Holdings for $1.6bn. Started in 1922 from a Greenwich Village apartment, Reader’s Digest is the world’s largest magazine by circulation, selling 18m copies a month. The company has had to confront sustained drops in advertising and newsstand revenue at the US edition of the publication. (Read more)

This is one magazine you can talk about anywhere in the world. Generations have grown up reading it. From Quotable Quotes to Life is Like That, from Humour in Uniform to Book Special; from Drama in Real Life to articles on subjects that affect our daily lives: the magazine has it all.

It was one of the first to popularise direct mail advertising and sales. Subscription cost is much lesser than what one will have to pay on the stands. If one wants to stop the subscription, one can do it any time and the remaining amount will be refunded. We had a few occasions when our copies had got lost in transit. Always the replacement arrived in a couple of weeks. The customer care has been extraordinary.

Another remarkable feature is the language. It’s always concise, crisp, and to the point. In journalistic terms: most well edited. My English teacher used to tell us to read Reader’s Digest to learn the art of writing concisely and effectively. Obviously, the copy/ sub-editors have exemplary editing skills to bring out such a digest of articles printed elsewhere.

As times changed, Reader’s Digest also changed. This transition also reflects that. Hopefully, the commendable attributes that have made RD a unique institution in the book world would remain intact.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Newspapers to sell ads on Google

In a move into the old-fashioned business of ink on paper, Google is going to start selling advertisements that will appear in the print editions of 50 major newspapers.

For Google, the test is an important step to the company’s audacious long-term goal: to build a single computer system through which advertisers can promote their products in any medium. For the newspaper industry, reeling from the loss of both readers and advertisers, this new system offers a curious bargain: the publishers can get much-needed revenue but in doing so they may well make Google — which is already the biggest seller of online advertising — even stronger.

The new system will begin a test with 100 advertisers later this month. Some newspapers see Google’s proposed system as a way to increase sales. More in The New York Times.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Bush’s defeat and Saddam

What was expected to happen in 2004 Presidential election has happened in the 2006 midterm. Instead of George Bush going in 2004, Donald Rumsfeld has gone in 2006.

During the campaign Bush said attacks on US soldiers had gone up because of the polls. Now after the polls, he says: Let the course correction in Iraq policy not be interpreted as a victory for the terrorists. It should instead be attributed to the vibrant democratic process in America.

Since Bush himself had linked attacks to the polls, how can terrorists not claim some credit for the Republican’s defeat?

Just one wild thought here:

Bush is planning an exit policy. But it’s not easy for American troops to get out of Iraq. For that a conducive atmosphere will have to be created. Some understanding with the radicals can’t be ruled out. Will Saddam Hussein’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment? Saddam, after his conviction, has been asking people to pardon the United States. Any surprises in store?

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Water Gate, Dungeon

The defaced notice at Water Gate.

Srirangapatna is a prime tourist spot. It's reasonably well maintained, though there seems to be some disconnect among people who are responsible for it. That's what one believes as one sees some areas very well maintained, while others are just left to rot. One problem could be that the monuments are scattered over a wide area. But definitely there can be one single authority in charge of taking care of them all, if there'sn't already one.

The notice on the wall of the archway ‘Water Gate’ is hardly readable. Someone has defaced it. I guess it is: ‘At the northern end of this archway fell Tipu Sultan in May 1799.”

As one enters the archway, our mind races into an imaginative mode trying to visualise how it would all have been then. The place, obviously
under the care of Archaeological Survey of India, is sadly neglected. The walls of the fort -- each stone of which will have a story to tell -- are just left to the mercy of spoilers.

The banks of what must have been once an overflowing Cauvery, have been turned into a sort of ‘dhobi ghat’, a laundry. If one looks at the stones, we can see priceless engravings on them. A little away from Water Gate is a monument, much better kept, that denotes the “place where Tipu’s body was found”. It is very sad that our tourism department focuses on just a few well-known places.

Engravings on the ruins of the fort being used as laundry
Nearby is Col Bailey’s Dungeon, which seems to have got a fresh coat of poor quality whitewash: nevertheless a better place than the Water Gate. But here too someone has defaced a write-up on the historical significance of the dungeon, which was used by Tipu Sultan to imprison the British.
Each visit to a historical place, reinforces my feeling that there is so much the tourism department can do in such a diverse country like ours. The tourist promotions that we see are just a miniscule of what can actually be done. If money is the problem, it can easily be generated by introducing a token fee of something like Rs 5 or Rs 10 for admission to these places. The fee shouldn't prohibitive that it'll discourage visitors. Over a period of time, a good sum can be collected and ploughed back into the upkeep of these places. (Photo above: The defaced notice at the entrace to Col Bailely's Dungeon.)

Friday, November 3, 2006

The Gumbaz

(Continues from the previous post) After spending some time at the Sangam, we moved to the more crowded, more imposing, Gumbaz (pix on the right), which houses the mortal remains of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother, situated in the midst of lovely gardens. More than the Sangam, this looks more like a tourist spot.

This is my friend’s first visit to this place, and on seeing the crowd at the Gumbaz he said he had imagined the place to be very quiet and sort of deserted. “This seems to be a very popular place for tourists,” he exclaimed. By nature, Mr Whitfield looks for places that aren’t very crowded. But the Gumbaz left him very impressed.

As we came out we saw a man selling tender coconut water. That's absolutely irresistible for Mr Whitfield (pix on the left): “Ah… this is just out of the world… I am sure there’s no way these can be exported in bulk to New Castle!” (That’s where he stays, in north east England.)

It was around 1 pm and we headed to Hotel Mauyra, the restaurant of the Karnataka State Tourism Corporation. Often anything that’s government owed is looked at with some scepticism. So, this was truly a treat. A little under a kilometre away from the main highway, on the banks of the river Cauvery, the complex has a river-side restaurant and cottages. We preferred to dine outside under the trees with the sound of the water brushing the little rocks. The picture on the right-above shows the view from the restaurant. The waiter was extremely courteous and well-mannered. “I don’t think in Britain we have such simple, decent, quiet eateries beside nationally famous rivers.” Mr Whitfield was enjoying every bit.

The best part, the cottages (pix on the left) are very affordable: three types of Rs 500, Rs 600 and Rs 750 (air-conditioned) for 24 hours from noon to noon; Each can accommodate a family of three. Bookings can be done from the KSTDC outlets in Bangalore.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Business at Sangam

The drive to Srirangapatna, on Wednesday the 18th, was my first on the Bangalore-Mysore road after the new one was laid. It was a relief to see such a good, smooth, wide road. It left me wondering why we take so long to get such good things. My friend, Mr Whitfield, commented: “Such scenic, lush greenery beside a main highway is a real treat!”

It’s quite a few years since I made the last trip to the 18th century capital of Tipu Sultan’s Mysore. Some 125 km from Bangalore, around 11 am, as we slowed the car down near an expansive junction, wondering which way to turn, a man came rushing in. After telling us to take a left turn, he suggested that we could have him as a guide. He showed us an identity card, which didn’t excite us much. He quoted Rs 300. That was much less interesting.

Then he pointed to the road to the right of the main highway and said the ruins of the fort, temple, etc lie on that side. “You can’t enter the road this way since it’s one way. And the fine for violation is Rs 300. I shall take you around. Give me just Rs 200.” Mr Henry Whitfield said it was better we go on our own. As I told him that we weren’t interested, the guide reduced the fee to Rs 100.

To be fair to that guy, I must credit him for being very polite and he bore no regrets, at least publicly, for having his offer turned down. “Okay sir; wish you a very good time here.”

We tured left and took the road that leads one to the Gumbaz and a little ahead of that to the Sangam. We first went to the latter. As we parked the car and made our way towards the Sangam, Mr Whitfield told us how he regards guides with some amount of caution. “My experience is that they don’t give us any more information that what we already know. The worst bit is that they hurry you though and don’t let us soak in the beauty of the tourist places. Instead I would’ve liked some literature here on this place.”

Srirangapatna, derives its name from a 1,000-year-old temple of Lord Sriranganatha, and so obviously there is some religious significance attached to it. So, not surprisingly, as one approached the Sangam, there was a notice not to have non-vegetarian food.

Sangam, or the confluence, is the place where the river Cauvery and its two tributaries, Lokapavani and Paschima Vahini, meet. The place was moderately populated, rhe rivers had a gentle flow and there was good greenery on either sides of the river.

The moment my friend saw the coracles, he immediately took a liking to it, and fancied being taken around a good stretch on the river. We checked out the rate: Rs 200 for a round around the Nandi atop a rock. We were told that one coracle can seat up to 10. When we told an operator that were just 3, he said irrespective of the number, the fare was the same. That was quite understandable, but not his reluctance to put together a group of 10 people for one trip. He expected tourists themselves to come in a group of 10.

(Left top: View from the bank; and left below: view of
the bank)

Anyway, with a little patience the fare came
Rs150, but we couldn’t find anyone to come along with us. Not wanting to waste time, we decided to pay that amount for just 3 of us. (Probably the operators know from experience that it makes better business sense this way.) And, just as we stepped onto the coracle, two 13-year-old children also got in. Wondering if they were enjoying a free trip with our Rs 150, we asked them how much they are paying: Rs 40 each. The economics was getting clearer. The guy made a total of Rs 230! And we just spent less than 10 minutes in the water.

Forget the management gurus, these illiterate people know what's a win-win situation! At the end of it all, we had no complaints, for we had a good time.