Monday, February 26, 2007

Some of my friends

I've known a few interesting people in my time and some of them have been friends for ages. Not surprisingly, they are the most interesting. I am of course looking way back in time, when was in engineering college. That was... let me see... back in the Mesozoic era. Not all the details are fresh in my mind. Plus, back then, beer was real inexpensive. Well, here goes....

Jack D Daniels (not his real name), with whom I did my stretch at Manipal-on-the-hill, that producer of fine engineering minds, is a prince amongst men. He was the only guy who was worse at mech engineering workshop class than I was, which did wonders for my self esteem because otherwise, I should surely have taken to drink (Sheela read this over my shoulder and said "What? You mean you haven't already?". Wise girl.)
The workshop there was run by a dictatorial gent named K.V.K. Karantha whose acid tongue was dreaded by all. Self important prigs strutting around thinking no end of their craftsmanship would be speedily deflated by a few well orated barbs from this latter day Stalin. He was particularly worshiped by a mouse-like supervisor named Hebbar, who endeared himself to us by grabbing the hot end of a poker in smithy class one day and doing a good impression of a Sioux war dance complete with yips and howls.
What I was leading to, actually is that Jack's work left even Karantha speechless. He, Karantha, would just open and close his mouth like a goldfish, making a sound like steam escaping from a kettle and retire clutching the left side of his chest. Miraculously, both Jack and I passed that exam. Legend has it that the celebrations went on all night in the workshop when it was declared that they would have to see no more of Messrs. Daniels and Shenoy.

Another area where I have to be indebted to him is being late for the first lecture. No lark myself, I would forever be creeping into class late. The professor would start clearing his throat in order to hurl some choice abuse at me when Jack would saunter in, breaking all records for tardiness and deflect the fire from yours truly. Luckily, we kept passing all the tests and exams thrown at us periodically. How this feat was accomplished will forever remain a mystery to me, but we scraped through.

Normally a docile and inoffensive kind of bloke, the said Daniels once became the target of an assassination squad. How this happened is a story by itself.

One day I was pleasantly surprised to find a little note from Jack inviting me to a booze party at a bohemian outfit called "Bacchus Inn". Upon landing up at the appointed place, I found about a 100 other guys gathered and waiting expectantly to be offered copious quantities of the wines and spirits. The chatter was light hearted and we spent the next half hour scanning the horizon for our host. The resident waiters, alarmed at the sight of such a large crowd, started instituting inquiries. One of them finally mustered up the courage to ask us what the hell was going on and if we didn't want to order anything, to get the hell out of there because we were bothering the paying customers. Eyebrows were raised and very soon, one or two of the sharper minds divined that hey, it was the first of April, and maybe that might have something to do with it. Word spread and eventually it entered the dense minds of a 100 engineering students that they were not getting free booze, that it was an April Fool prank and that this was the doing of Jack D Daniels. It took 4 days and intense diplomacy to get the contract off his head.

Jack was, in those days, a nocturnal creature. You could find him all over the campus in the wee hours of the morning doing perfectly natural things like looking for a cup of coffee, frequently accompanied by yours truly, who, never strong minded even at the best of times, could be suckered into anything at 3 am. The corollary was that he would sleep through the day, in the unlikeliest of poses and places. It is on record, and I can produce chaps who will swear on the graves of their grandmothers, that he once fell asleep in the middle of lunch, while actually having a bite. Another documented instance is when he fell asleep at the wheel while waiting at a traffic light, causing an honest constable to burst a blood vessel

Jack's main problem, and mine too, was the food in the mess. It was awful. Being a vegetarian, he wouldn't eat meat of any kind. I could have, if I wanted to, but the stuff in the non vegetarian messes really put me off.

So we became life members of the North Indian Vegetarian (NIV) Mess whose chapati recipe, it was rumoured, had been sold to MRF for use in their tyre manufacturing process. Unless you had a chainsaw and a sledge hammer, you didnt have a hope of eating their aloo paratha. Diamonds were still the hardest substance known to man but the NIV Mess's mutter in the mutter pulao came a close second.

But the cook, may the heavens smile upon him, cooked a lovely rice and daal. Jack and I would get ghee from home and basically that was lunch and dinner for the rest of our stretch in Manipal. Daal, rice and ghee. We could - and did - eat copious quantities of it.

Had it been any place else, we would surely have grown impressive bellies of the large or police inspector size, but Manipal was a spacious place. It stretched out for miles in every direction and we didn't have any transport other than our feet, which was a good thing because with all the money we were spending on cigarettes, there wouldn't have been any left for gas.

We would walk to class, walk back, walk to a place called Tiger Circle where the medical college chicks would hang out, to ogle at them surreptitiously.

The chicks treated us with the haughtiness of duchesses dealing with lower footmen, but we ogled at them anyway because heart of hearts, we knew that med school guys were mega weenies unlike the real studs, namely us. Plus there were only 40 girls in our college, against 1300 boys.

The med school girls looked like Beyonce, compared to ours. Our girls were, how shall I put it, about as sexy as an ayatollah. And were even more conservatively dressed than your average ayatollah. Some of them even had as much facial hair as the average ayatollah, so you can understand how our preferences for dates were influenced. ANYTHING WITH TWO X CHROMOSOMES.

For the record, we failed miserably in our amorous ambitions, probably because we were spending so much time studying engineering and if you've guessed that this line is inserted in case my wife is reading this blog, you can claim your cigar or coconut.

Eventually, against all odds, Jack and I completed our engineering and got our degrees. We went our separate ways and despite all our best efforts, end up meeting every now and then. The past is hushed up, and should the conversation take an academic turn, we mention the times we spent under the streetlights. We usually omit mentioning that such time spent was usually in a horizontal condition, after half a dozen beers but hey, we said "truth and nothing but the truth", no one said anything about "the whole truth".

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Death of a soap

This is going to be one tear jerker of a blog. I usually try to write light stuff but today, the occasion demands gravity, so forgive me, dear reader, if you find typos in this page - I can barely see through my tears.

The soap "Kahin to Hoga" is dead. Stopped breathing last week, though it was paralyzed for several months now.

"Kahin to Hoga" is loosely translated as "he's gotta be somewhere" - a line which irresistibly brings to my mind an over sized pushy corporate type babe looking for her dork boyfriend in a dark and noisy night club, the dork trying to hide behind a barstool, but its nothing like that. Its a soft, romantic, sentimental tale full of loud, scheming, arrogant characters. No, I havent been having a couple.

Judging from Sheela's reactions, it is an epic love story which makes "Casablanca" look like a chick flick, though my take on it is slightly at variance from that view.

The typical episode which runs for 30 minutes, has a five minute re-cap, a five minute song or music sequence where the leading lady, who has the emotive abilities of a mannequin, weeps silently or the leading man brushes away a few manful tears, another five minutes where something deeply significant is said and the rest is advertisements. I'm not kidding.

The deeply significant parts of the dialogue are highlighted by a loud "dishhhh" of the drums followed by close ups of the various characters' mugs. The stuff said is quite innocuous, usually, "Dinner is served", perhaps, or "How are you" but when you hear the music, you know that its a declaration of war.

Another curious feature is the ability of the story to remain static. Episode after episode, the situation remains frozen in time. Then, someone dies, usually the result of some disagreement with Ekta Kapoor, and the plot sort of shudders and wakes up for a while before settling back into rigor mortis.

The story line is probably the work of a committee, oscillating as it does between extremes of love and hatred several times in the five minutes allowed for the actual plot. The trick, Sheela tells me, is to admire the clothes and the actors, because if you try to delve too deeply into the plot, you run the risk of feeling dizzy. But I know she is not telling me the whole truth because I catch here brushing away a surreptitious tear or two ever so often.

I guess I belong to the wrong sex. Maybe I'm one of those born squares. But for the life of me, I can't fathom why someone would spend half an hour on this kind of stuff when Victoria's Secret is showing its 2007 lingerie collection on FTV. You wouldn't know, would you?

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Aurangabad vacation - Part 2

On the following morning, I woke up feeling a bit woozy. Probably caused by all that overwhelming history and culture presented in a very short time to someone who, beneath his boorish exterior, conceals a boorish interior. Sheela begged to differ and opined that perhaps I should have had more of the soda and less of the whisky but she's so prone to jumping to conclusions! And any way, I was drinking vodka. But I'm drifting. As I said, I was feeling a bit woozy and looking forward to some calm and repose when the mother and children jumped me and hauled me off to the next destination. One Daulatabad fort. Squinting in the bright sunshine and wishing I had a couple of aspirin, I landed up at an impressive heap of stones and a BIG gate. One of those Buland Darwaza kinds, wooden gates studded with iron knobs and hundreds of tourists BRIGHTLY dressed, causing my eyes to throb.

A distuinguished looking man sidled up to me and inquired whether we required a guide. Some quick thinking told me that in exchange for a trifling sum, this fine gentleman would keep the progeny entertained while I reflected on the inner meaning of life. I quickly nodded acquiescence - a move I regretted doubly, first because it made my brain crash painfully against the back of my eyeballs and secondly, because the distinguished gent insisted on speaking to no one but the head of the family. Me. To make things worse, his history of the place started way, way back before the fort was built. In fact, I have a hazy recollection that he actually started off with the big bang, moving on to condensation and coalescence of matter, life emerging from the primordial slime and, eventually, thirty word filled minutes later, to the said fort.

I could look up all the history for you. Then again, you could look it up yourself, saving us both the trouble. But the fort struck me as the doing of one immensely paranoid king. There is everything here - moats, twisted pathways leading to death drops, dark chambers where people could be burned to death, niches where people could hide and pour boiling oil on other people, the list of traps goes on. And impregnable it was. The fort was never taken in battle. But there were rat finks back then too, and you could easily bribe the gate keeper to pass you the key or otherwise provide access, as one Malik Kafur found out to the lasting regret of Raja Harpal, whom he flayed alive.

Luncheon brought some respite from the bright sun and the almost incessant torrent of historical trivia. I started feeling a lot better after a good Dal Makhni and tandoori rotis washed down with a little kingfisher beer. Burping manfully, I flung the chest out and readied myself to face the world only to find the wife and kids snoring away in the hotel room. I roamed around the hotel looking for people to chat up and sample local colour but in the p.m., all of Aurangabad sleeps. We took in a bit of shopping in the evening - Aurangabad is the center for Paithani sarees, which have the same effect on women that a bikini clad Monica Belluci might have on the hirsute sex - and tied up the odds and ends required to enable departure for the homestead on the morrow.

As we drove into Bombay, traffic snarling and the smog greying everything, I could not help but reflect on the wondrous days that our fine country has seen in the past and wish we could see glory again. The chances, methinks, are remote.

Friday, February 16, 2007

My Aurangabad vacation

Did I tell you about the time I went a-vacationing with kids and wife to Aurangabad? It's not much of a story, because
(a) I came back alive
(b) I came back sane
(c) Aurangabad is still where it is.

But as I always say, if Karan Johar can write a story, so can I. Moreover, mine doesn't have songs.

Aurangabad is one of those grimy, industrialized towns that one finds all over the country these days. You can tell from the cockiness of the autorickshaw drivers that this is one burg where the economy is rocking. He has no time to waste and finds it impossible to conduct conversations without spitting out of the side of his mouth, as I found out when I was trying to elicit directions to our hotel. In a sleepy town, on the other hand, the typical citizen on the street has the aggressiveness of William Wordsworth.

We were booked into a nice, sprawling but slightly musty hotel called the Ambassador Ajanta which must have had its interior designed around the time when the three wise kings were following the star.

I was looking forward to this vacation because the kids were booked into a separate room which meant I would have a big window for romance unlike at home where its always crisis time.

I don't know if you've had that experience where you take time out from your busy schedule, smile winningly at the old spouse, get to the point where holding of hands is imminent and in barges your younger son, brimming with complaints of persecution and demanding immediate arrest and sentencing of the guilty party, namely the older one. Who has a good "not guilty" defense lined up and by the time you pass the final order ("faults on both sides"), all thats left of the fire of love is ashes.

We thought that the romantic environs of Aurangabad, coupled with hours of blissful solitude would re-kindle the romance to a quality that would inspire sonnet writers. It turned out quite agreeably. The old helpmeet actually smiled a couple of times at yours truly, an event comparable, in its rarity, to the sighting of Haley's comet . The rest will have to be silence lest an enterprising Subhash Ghai convert this into a multi-crore blockbuster with mega dance sequences.

Coming back to the vacationing, we started chilling soon, the mustiness and griminess forgotten. Being true Bombay wallahs, unable to sit in one place and soak in the atmosphere, plans were hatched of going sight seeing.

We went to see the Bibi ka Makbara, a sort of mini Taj Mahal built by Aurangzeb's son in memory of his mother. We hired a guide who was enthusiastically bustling around and we did not regret our decision. He pitched into his speech with gusto and told us a lot of interesting details which, sadly, could not be understood since he had no front teeth. I'm not a dentally prejudiced person -not all of us can have front teeth, is how I look at it- but front teeth are important for effective public speaking. Our raconteur's performance only made the kids giggle and the grown ups struggle to keep a straight face. And later, out of motives best known only to him, he started spouting "shayaris" or Urdu couplets. We abandoned all attempts at keeping straight faces - the kids were rolling on the floor long ago - but our large grins only kept him going.

It was with the greatest of difficulty that we extricated ourselves from the poet's grasp. Taking advantage of a lull in the monologue, we crossed his palms with silver and vanished post haste to the next place on our list, the Aurangabad Caves.

I had no idea these caves existed. I had heard of the Ajanta caves and the Ellora caves. Aurangabad caves? Well, had they been anywhere else, I tell you, they would have been super heritage monuments. Here they were quietly collecting dust. Their average age is 1800 years which makes them older than even Parmeshwar Godrej. Curiously (and this I found in the other cave groups at Ajanta and Ellora too) they had equal numbers of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. I read up later that this was the main trade route from the Hindukush to the Deccan Plateau and these caves catered to merchants tramping to and fro uninsured and with daughters of marriageable age in tow. Resting posts such as these must have been most welcome and the said merchants must have dished out generously to help fund the monks. Needless to say, the scale and quality of the sculpture in the caves was amazing. I couldn't help but wonder if the people who built this were racially and genetically related to the chaps, for instance, who built our local ward office of the Municipal Corporation. Where has all that aesthetic sense gone?

Ajanta, which we saw the next day, was even more impressive. I won't wax eloquent on the artistic merits - there are enough web pages and more on that - but I will say that its a very well appointed monument of national heritage as monuments of national heritage go, because the Japanese government spent some 500 crore rupees (100 million US!) on doing it up. Unlike poor ol' Aurangabad caves, which commands as much attention as a public housing project.

Ajanta was full of high pressure salesmen, though, selling everything from stones to water to trinkets with the intensity of insurance agents. Extremely irritating and ironically, the biggest victims were the Japanese tourists who swarmed the place. I don't know any Japanese intimately, but the one's I've seen in India have always had this air about them of being sorry to be alive and try to make up for it by being excessively polite and bowing to almost every animate object and quite a few inanimate ones. It was sad to see them harried like this. There ought to be a law.

Ditto too, Ellora. An awesome place, inspite of being substantially defaced by the Emperor Aurangzeb and his goons. The piece de resistance is one Kailas Temple. Hewn out of a solid rock and full of intricate sculpture. Two thousand years old. It took my breath away. I wondered idly what the motivation for such huge public enterprises could be. It is said to have taken a 100 years to complete. Would have spanned at least three generation of sculptors and patrons, if not four. No blue prints or sketches even. How did they ensure the continuity of design? Here, in my factory, it is apocalypse when a designer does not turn up even for one day! Though in all fairness one must admit that there are a few road excavation projects like that in Bombay (100 years, no plans) but certainly not so beautiful........ (To be continued....)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yeah I think cricket sucks. So shoot me.

There was a time, long long ago, when I used to be a big cricket fan. I used to have Walter Mitty dreams of the Indian cricket selection committee coming home and pleading with my parents to let me play. "Madam, for the sake of our country, you must let young Narendra play" Umrigar would plead to my mother. "Sir, I can do nothing but appeal to you" Gundappa Vishwanath would say to my father, his eyes brimming with tears. "Sunil Gavaskar threatens fast unless Bombay Lad plays" the headlines would run. The visions would continue most agreeably- my parents acquiescing to a pause in my education. Me, pulverising the Pakistan bowling attack. Akram quitting in disgrace, having been hit for 20 boundaries continuously.

That history, sadly, was never written. For some reason, Umrigar and Vishwanath never made the pilgrimage to 8, Padmanagar. My biographers will grope in the dark to find satisfactory answers to this mystery. I'm not sure myself, though a certain reluctance on the part of the ball to have any significant contact with my bat might have been a factor.

All this actually is a round about way of illustrating my deep involvement with a game which I now consider to be a washout and a waste of time. I realize that this one statement has put me on the death list of many people and that the world is not big enough to hide me but hey, hear me out before you start oiling that assault rifle.

I was first put off when it dawned upon me that virtually all cricket matches are decided by one D. Ibrahim from somewhere in Karachi. His long range telepathic power is amazing. Whenever he so wishes, players find that they can't hold on to catches or make the crease in time or bowl to one's set field or whatever. Luckily for Ibby baby, there is a lot of money riding on these matches and thanks to his premonitions and telepathic powers, he always ends up winning tons of it. Just the other day, a West Indies player was taped having conversations with a bookie who was known to be a crony of the aforementioned Ibrahim. The investigating authorities soon declared that they did not have anything conclusive, that the concerned bookie had let for Dubai and thus was unavailable for questioning and that they were probably just talking about the weather. Ibby baby must have telepathically conveyed to the authorities news of impending accretion to their finances. Be that as it may, the fools are the public who insist on betting on something which is clearly stage managed.

Even more depressing is the thought that a mega-wimp team like the West Indies (population 3 to 4 million) has to be PAID to lose against India (population 1000 to 1200 million). Our players, in which all encompassing term I include part timers like Tendulkar and Sehwag who are patriotic enough to spare the country some time from their hectic ad-shoot schedules, are hyped to high heaven because everyone has a vested interest in doing so. All the companies who have invested multimillions in ad campaigns sponsor parties for journalists who compare them to Bradman and Richards - what a laugh!- and all the media guys are eager to do just whatever the advertisers tell them anyway because they are the meal ticket. Completely circular and self-serving and all the simpletons shuffling in and out of homes, offices, buses, trains and the selection commitee believe it to be gospel truth.

Still, there are a few redeeming features of modern cricket over the good ol' days. One, a lot of the cliches are gone. The don't seem to say "glorious uncertainties of cricket" anymore. I wish I knew who it was who had coined that phrase. He should be right up there with Shakespeare, Bob Dylan and Bill "I never had sex with that woman" Clinton amongst "the most quoted of our times". I have a strong feeling it is the immortal Narottam Puri who had managed to disengage the operation of his mind from the contents of his speech.

Another improvement is the presence of eye-candy such as Mandira Bedi who distract you from the fact that the game is a no-brainer, even though the 'expert commentators' are legally required to invest into every captaincy decision a deep strategic significance. Excuse me while I laugh, but cricket strategy is spending a sleepless night of deep thinking by the captain, coach and key team members and the next day, having seven men on the off side and bowling outside the off stump. Real deep! Tic Tac Toe has more strategic fine points than that!

All in all, I think cricket has become too pretentious. Too many are glorified for too little and it shows on the quality of the game. What used to be a gentlemanly pastime has degenerated into a soap opera. I cant pinpoint any one reason why it sucks but then I cant pinpoint any one reason why "Kabhi Saas Bi whatever" sucks. It sucks.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On concerts in this wicked city

When it rains, it pours. I've been going to concerts by the dozen these days, mostly by the invitation of kind friends who, their usually sharp vision misted over with the cloud of affection, don't realize that ol' Narendra is a doofus and should be given passes to the circus, not concerts.

Any way, the other day we went to a Zakir Hussain concert "A tribute to Abbaji". This tribute to the memory of his father, the late Ustad Allarakha, is an annual feature at Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga, Mumbai. Zakir Hussain evidently organizes it with a great deal of personal involvement, which I find touching.

This year too, the show was simply amazing. It opened with a gaggle of elderly ladies of whose performance I missed the beginning owing to having parked several light years away. The drive to Shanmukhananda hall was no picnic either. For some reason the traffic was more maniacal than usual. Sheela continuously peppered the journey with little screams of panic whenever I went too close to another vehicle, either unwittingly or, as is usually the case, out of a sense of outrage that the other guy had the temerity to cross my path. I don't know what it is about Bombay that brings out the tiger in me. Normally the most docile and baa-lamb kind of guy, a small drive through Bombay traffic leaves me foaming at the mouth with canines bared and vocabulary showing a marked departure from my pacifist leanings. The non availability of parking space did not help in assuaging my temper. Muttering dark curses against Bombay, Matunga, the police, automobile companies and the general tendency of the Indian public to keep procreating, I reached the venue in the middle of a vigourous song and dance routine by five elderly ladies.

The gaggle of ladies turned out to be a a group called B'net Marakkech, which means"Daughters of Morocco". They were 50 plus size-wise and age-wise but the music was so rustic and vigorous that the entire audience was actively involved in what is called " call and response" music. An enthralling performance. John Mclaughlin who was scheduled to perform later was moved enough to drag them back for an encore. I read a blurb on a web page that their music "draws from the deepest bottom of the human memory" Its so true! Must visit Morocco.

Another interesting perfromance was from a Rajasthani Manganiar group comprising of three people, one playing a sarangi type instrument, one playing the desert version of the castanets and one with the dholak. They played an instrumental number first, focusing on the percussion and on the castanet. Upon my Sam! The castanets player wowed the audience, clicking faster than a Geiger counter sitting on a plutonium bomb. The dholak player would probably have held his own against Zakir Husain himself. This country never ceases to amaze me. A bunch of rustic blokes, straight from the desert, playing such amazingly sophisticated music! Most of the other musicians on stage were overwhelmed by the virtuosity on display.

They followed this up with a traditional version of "Nimbuda" made famous by Aishwarya Rai (in a movie called Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) who, and I say this in the kindliest sense possible, has the dancing skills of a bronc which a cowpoke is trying to tame. Besides the point of course, and I'm already running the risk of being assassinated by a member of the Aishwarya Rai Fan Club. Better move on to the next item on the agenda. A quick digression on this immortal movie. I didn't watch it, one of the many things for which I have to thank God when I eventually meet him, but when some one who did was asked why he had sat through it if it was all that bad, he replied "Hum Paisa De Chuke Sanam"

The rest of the music was of course, most satisfying. Anyway, a philistine like me commenting on the performance of the likes of John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein is a bit like a Trappist monk commenting on stand-up comedy. Or Kim Jong Il commenting on human rights. Or Osama bin laden on turning the other cheek. Or... sorry, I do get carried away.

After this veritable orgy of notes, we decided to repair to a convenient watering hole. Shatranj, where we went, is a nice but stodgy place. Unpretentious, good food, even a few celebrities hanging around but as "happening" as a cowshed. Luckily for us, a high volume suburban family had taken a dislike to the place and we were entertained to a good old fashioned "raada" which in Bombay means street fight. My normally large ears had become even larger in the hope of catching some good epithets for my next discussion with the traffic constable who saw sin in the way I cut lanes, but I was disappointed. No littérateurs, this suburban family, and consequently, the battle fizzled out into a skirmish.

Tomorrow, I go to another concert, this one by one Carl Clements. Ain't my cup running over?

Feeling Blue

As you read through these pages, dear reader, you will probably be struck by the subservience I show to the wife and kids - indeed, to all and sundry. You, being sensitive and mature, will wonder how anyone can be such a goof. Surely, you will feel, ol' Narendra is making things up.

I wish that were true. While I am second to none when it comes to yelling at the autorickshaw driver for crossing my path or arguing my case with the constable who has pulled me to the side of the road for jumping a signal, I feel like a de-shelled and de-veined prawn when in the company of the loved ones, especially when talk veers to technical things. I am an engineer. It would be useless to hush it up after all these years. Best to own up and make a virtue of it. But so far as knowing what's in and what's cool goes, I might as well have come from a Yurt in Kazhakistan.

However, I am in the process of acquiring culture and style. I keep going to concerts, fancy shopping places, gourmet restaurants, art shows. Soon, when I'm asked for my favourite dish, I'll stop saying "Batata Wada"........

Coming up soon, on this page, is an account of my impressions of a Zakir Hussein concert I attended recently. It will give you an idea of how much I've started resembling human beings. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

COORG – a travel guide

When you actually get there, it's incredible that a place like Coorg, (or Kodagu, it's official but not frequently used name,) should be off beat.

It has all the ingredients but one for making it is as a major tourist destination. It is quite accessible from Bangalore (5 hrs) and Mangalore (3 hrs), both international airports. It has a Yorkshire dale like feel, with a gently undulating landscape and pastoral scenes. It has one or two nice hill treks which, while not Mount Everest exactly are tough enough to deflate a couch potato like yours truly. The people are cultured, friendly and polished. English is spoken almost everywhere.

What, then, is the missing ingredient, you must wonder. There are no pani puri stalls. No, I'm joking, of course. That too, I mean, but primarily, their economy is not tourist dependant. Which is why its marketing is so laid back.

Coorg is India's top coffee growing district. Pepper grows very well too. So does cardamom. So do oranges, guavas, avocado pears, passion fruit and I don’t know what else. The people here are serious farmers. When they meet in the market, its not "Did you hear? Suzy's leaving David!" but "Psst! Ramu's pepper vines have the wilt disease".

Times are changing, however. A few enterprising people have set up resorts which are doing fabulously well despite near zero advertising. But hang on. A travel guide is required by law to first give some history and background.

History and Background

Coorg is a bit like the indomitable Gaulish village of Asterix comics. The Coorgis (or Kodavas) have a strong martial tradition. Indeed, some of India's finest military commanders come from here.

It remained a small, independent kingdom for most of recorded history repelling all and sundry till Tipu Sultan got emotional and tried to wipe it out circa 1785. Then they shook hands with the British, who too wanted Tipu defeated and thus paved the way for an almost English life style that continues to this day.

They have impeccable table manners, speak flawless English and are extremely reserved with strangers. Not hostile or anything, but not chatty like your Bombay host who, after five minutes of conversation is willing to marry into your family. They can be charming hosts, though.

The people themselves have exotic theories about their origin. One is that they are descended from Alexander the Great’s Greek soldiers. Not much proof, alas, but interesting anyway. Their features, language and customs are distinctly different from other inhabitants of Karnataka. So there's an anthropological mystery waiting to be solved here.

Their language is different too, a mixture of half a dozen regional languages that outsiders find difficult to follow. But best of all is their culinary style which is distinctive in the method of preparation as well as uniqueness of ingredients. I suppose I had rather not write too much on this topic lest I drool into the keyboard and gum up the keys. Its happened before.....

Getting there

Way 1:-

Stand in your shower cubicle and say “Beam me up, Scotty”. If that doesn’t work, fly in to Bangalore. There are dozens of airlines from everyplace. You can also ask for my LearJet (they’ll be delivering it any century now). From here, the easy but expensive way, if you are travelling en familie, is to hire a cab to drive you to Coorg. It would make sense to retain the cab for the duration of your stay since there isn’t much public transport especially in the interior. A Toyota Innova is highly recommended because quite a few of the roads in ol’ Kodagu are the “rough” or “butt conditioner” variety. The Toyota Innova, in my humble opinion, is the easiest on the large muscle situated there. There is an inexpensive and characterful way too. Take a state transport bus to Mysore, and from there to Madikeri. Be prepared to share it with livestock, though. I traveled once this way for a lark and had to share my seat with a goat and a rooster. (When I told this to Sheela, all that she asked me was “Were they MBA’s too?” Talk about empathy!) From Madikeri, autorickshaws will take you pretty much anywhere in Coorg. This is classified as an adventure sport here, taking the place of white water rafting.

Way 2:-

Get to Chennai, using any of a dozen airlines or my LearJet (provided, of course, no one’s taken it to Bangalore). Take a Shatabdi train to Mysore which takes about 6 hours and is an experience in itself. The grub they serve is really tasty and the babel of languages can be truly unintelligible. Frons is prawns, for example. A broh is a bra. Not that either of these words can crop up in a decent conversation but my motto is “Be Prepared!”

Way 3:- (Most picturesque)

Get to Mangalore. This is user friendly only from Mumbai, unless of course my Learjet is available in Chennai. You can take a cab from there. Coorg is about 3 hours away through lush plantations and forests. You would be well advised to remember the caveat about the Toyota Innova on this route because it is even more of a butt conditioner. This one can condition your butt to the consistency of chocolate mousse (or strawberry mousse, depending on race). The road is really pretty though, winding and verdant

Where to stay

I wouldn’t really know, because I have always imposed on the princely generosity of Sundeep’s in-laws (Sundeep is Sheela’s brother. His wife hails from Coorg and her family have an incredibly beautiful coffee estate.) But the Orange County resort is highly spoken of. So also is the Club Mahindra resort. There are many bed and breakfast places around – they call them “home stay” here – and you can experience coffee estate life first hand. The food is sure to be great because almost all the ingredients would have been plucked out an hour or two before you eat them, including food items that were flying, crowing, grunting or bleating before you decided to meet them.

Where to eat

Hotel East End, Madikeri serves the best Coorg cuisine. Try their chilli chicken, its awesome. The food is spicy and goes beautifully well with Kingfisher beer. (But then, what doesn’t?) The real mccoy is the Chilli Pork (or Chilli Fork, as it is sometimes pronounced) but my dear wife, bless her heart, opines that, in my case, it would count as cannibalism.

What to do

Apart from eat, drink and sleep, you mean? Nothing much, really. There are a couple of hills you can climb up. They say there are great views there but for some reason, very possibly because the escalators weren’t working, I never made it that far.

There is also a great forest reserve nearby, the Nagarhole national park (which, along with many schools, colleges, hospitals, roads, townships, battleships and scholarships, is now named after Rajiv Gandhi). It used to be ruled by Veerappan, (poacher and sandalwood smuggler, the guy who forgot to shave, if you’ve seen his photographs) till he decided to stop a couple of police bullets with his chest. The happiest with this turn of events must be the tigers and the elephants. Chances of seeing the former have greatly improved though it still involves going around in circles for hours in a rickety forest department jeep. Its great fun, though and is a must do for everyone regardless of age or sex.


Its one of the most de-stressing of destinations I’ve been too. I’ve been to some fancy and pretentious ones in my time where you are inundated with luxuries proffered by oleaginous attendants with one eye firmly on the ten percent gratuity. Coorg is not like that. While the average Coorgi would be pleased to know that you were having a great time, he wouldn’t give a damn if you were displeased with the service or decided never to set foot here again. I think they feel that the stuff is all there, its up to you whether to like it or not.

I loved it!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Have you heard much Modern Jazz? I've heard some,Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stan Getz. I've liked most of it. But every once in a while, you get the feeling that you belong to an entirely different species. I had that experience last week.

On Monday, I set out to attend an Erik Truffaz concert at the NCPA. I decided to take the local train, it had been such a long time since I had been inside one. Besides, I had no desire to spend three hours driving on eviscerated roads.

As luck would have it, the train in which I was traveling developed existential doubts. It stopped moving in the middle of nowhere and started reflecting on the
Meaning of Life, perhaps wondering if there was any point at all going forward when it was but a foregone conclusion that one day we would all go away, far away. Impatience was brewing in our compartment. After ten or fifteen minutes, some of my go-getter type co-passengers jumped out on to the tracks, presumably with a view to walking along them to the next station and taking another train. It looked pretty courageous to me and I decided to be a wimp and stay put. I was not alone in this. Most of the inmates turned out to be as wimpy as me, or wimpier. At least I got up to look at the tracks.

I spent the next few minutes looking at my co-passengers, who were a diverse and interesting bunch.

On my left sat GoldFinger, Excavator of the Nasal Cavern. He was "mining" the stuff, rolling it into neat little balls, subjecting the "nuggets" to keen visual inspection and carefully sticking them under the seat.

Opposite me was Mr. Dribble, who stared into nothingness, oblivious of everything including a bit of drool proceeding southwards down his chin. He made slight butt movements every once in a while which looked suspiciously like fart-releasing manouevers. Luckily, I was windward and it was reasonably breezy.

On the other side of the aisle, a prosperous looking gent was shouting important instructions into an expensive cell phone. He was wearing a safari suit (just love this garment) a size too small for him and every time he took a breath, the suit parted to reveal a glimpse of a vast, hairy and jiggly stomach.

I had given up all hope of reaching the concert and having wisely carried a book, immersed myself in it.

All of a sudden, like a jogger who suddenly finds himself the target of a large dog intent on biting him in the butt, our train started moving and moving fast. Must have attained nirvana or reached enlightenment, I thought. Displaying a sense of urgency usually seen in people who have to get to the toilet urgently, the train repaired eftsoons and right speedily towards Churchgate station. I made it in time to the concert. I soon realised I needn't have bothered.

I had never heard of Erik Truffaz. Wikipedia said that he was an important French contemporary jazz composer and after that brief piece of information, became very secretive. The assemblage settled down most respectfully and waited for the hostilities to commence.

Presently the music started. In true modern jazz style, the four musicians on stage were playing four completely different songs at the same time. I was dismayed to find that I seemed to be the only guy who couldn't fathom the music. Every one
else was swaying (I don't know what they were swaying to. The drummer played one beat. The pianist played to another. The bass guitar was oblivious to everything in the world and the trumpeteer was gliding through the scales).

The music was what they call "free jazz". The musicians played according to the "random note" theory of music, a modern trend where the musician plays whatever note his fingers happen to be close to. The result being that it sounded, to me, like a team of auditors taking inventory of a musical instrument store and checking if the instruments are functioning.

But I'm being a bit harsh. There were two pieces which were nice and melodic. Erik Truffaz turned out to be a very gifted trumpeter, in his less unconventional numbers.
But I'll never, for the life of me, figure out how that free jazz thing counts as music. May be I really am a Philistine.

What really got me, though, was that the rest of the audience - at least 500 people - was going nuts with appreciation. Huge clapping and screaming rock concert style (you know, the way girls behave when Enrique is on stage), standing ovations, screams for encores. What was this all about? Either i am a complete boor or these people were just being pretentious.

The journey back was just as interesting. I had the company of half a dozen Gujarati ladies returning from a wedding and they were bitching away about Sarlaben. I have not had the pleasure of Sarlaben's acquaintance (the loss is entirely mine ) but when I meet her, I'm going to stay as far away as possible, if those aunties are to be believed. All in all, a day well spent, don't you think?