Monday, December 20, 2010

Frugality for Sustenance - The Way To Go

The other night, Travel & Living was showing a programme on the culinary traditions of Korea.
The programme featured an interesting insight into the Buddhist and Tao monasteries of Korea.
Meal for the monks is frugal - sufficient to keep them going but not too much to prevent any discomfort so that their meditation can go on.
To ensure that the monks are reminded of their responsibility, they use only four bowls for their meal. They begin their meal with a bowl of soup, which is followed by a few spoons of boiled rice in the second bowl and vegetables in the third. Water to aid digestion is in the fourth bowl.
The monks are supposed to ensure that every grain of food in the bowls is consumed and not wasted away.
Frugality is of essence - they eat just enough for nourishment and sustenance and not for pleasure.
As an epicure, I find it difficult to practice what the Korean monks do. But surely, for say 5 out of the seven days of the week, it does make sense to follow the dietary habits of the Korean monks, in the name of a healthy lifestyle.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amazing Indian Landscapes Part 5

This set is from a trip to Gujarat. We took an early morning Jet Airways ATR 72 flight to Bhavnagar (I always swoon over the matchless connectivity small towns in Gujarat have with Bombay!).

Daybreak at 39,000 feet, classically, would not qualify as a landscape. But I am still putting in photos of daybreak. as that sight was simply breathtaking.

Landing at Bhavnagar may seem quite uneventful, but there is a certain indescribable beauty of the meandering estuaries merging into the chocolaty ocean. The starkness of the salt pans is also something to be seen from above!

Amazing Indian Landscapes Part 4

The Monsoon is great time to be in India. The clouds create breathtaking masterpieces in the sky, that never cease to amaze me.

This set of photos is from a village nearly 30 kilometers out of Jodhpur city. Within a span of 20 minutes, a flotilla of dark clouds invaded the bright blue sky. It was a wondrous sight to see the rain actually move towards us. You can see that from the third photo.

Amazing Indian Landscapes Part 3

After hiatus of over a year, Amazing Indian Landscapes is back!!!

The landscapes series had come in two parts on August 17, 2009 and August 20, 2009.

This set of landscapes is from Tadipatri, in Ananthapur District of Andhra Pradesh. I had visited this place in August this year. The Monsoons were on and the place was in full bloom - green and breezy!

And I was trigger happy, with my 5MP Nokia camera!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The End of An Era!!!!

The writing had been on the wall for a few years now, we all knew it but never wanted to admit that it would come, come so fast.

But when I read the article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, I knew that the time had come. The era of the Boeing 747, that began in 1970, was finally coming to an end.

The Los Angeles Times article spoke about how the first commercial Boeing 747, which was introduced by Pan Am for its trans-Atlantic routes (it is said that Pan Am's Juan Trippe wanted an aircraft with double the capacity of a Boeing 707 which prompted Boeing to develop the Jumbo!), was being junked in Seoul, South Korea and the strong emotions the demolition was generating.

My love affair with the Boeing 747 began at New Delhi's Palam airport way back in 1981, long before Terminal 2 was constructed.

We had gone to see off Papa. It was a summer evening and there stood a magnificent Air India Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, shining in the warm North Indian sun!

The glistening hump of the 747 will always remain an enduring image in my mind!

From then on, I always used to ask Papa and Mummy when we would travel in a 747.

As I grew older, my love affair with the 747 became even more intense.

I recall landing at Sahar, Bombay, in 1984, and seeing neatly parked 747s of Air India and Pan Am. The Air India 747s looked regal in their red liveries with magnificent palace motifs adorning the windows! Truly, they were "Palaces in the Sky", fit only for Maharajahs! The Pan Am 747s looked modern and very American with the blue livery and and the blue globe on the tail.

Years passed and I still did not get travel in a 747. I had to be satisfied with Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, Airbus A300s, McDonnell Douglas DC 10s and Hawker Siddeley 748s.

During these years, I kept looking at airline advertisements in magazines proudly showing off their 747s in all their splendor and used to wonder when I would get to fly in the gentle jumbo of the skies.

During those years, Papa once got me an Air India ticket jacket (those were the days of paper ticket booklets, ticket jackets and sticker labels!), which had a full pic of a 747 on a runway. Nothing excited more than seeing a 747.

In 1985, we were flying out of Bombay. Because of a technical snag, our flight got delayed after we had boarded. Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep. When I woke, we were already airborne and Papa told me that there was an Air France 747 on the runway, which had passed us by and he had tried to wake me up but..... I was crestfallen and sullen for the rest of the flight as though I had been rejected by my first crush!

My next encounter with a 747 was at Lusaka International Airport in 1987 - as our DC 10 was throttling towards takeoff velocity, I saw a 747 of the now defunct French airline, Union des Transports Aériens parked at a remote bay. That was enough to intoxicate me for the rest of the flight to Bombay. And when we landed at Sahar, Bombay, I walked past our "Palace in the Sky" - Air India's 747s always made me proud!

I got my first real chance in 1998, when Papa and I flew from Bombay to Delhi in Air India's 747 red eye flight as I had to catch my MBA entrance interview in Delhi the next morning. As we moved towards the aerobridge, the sight of the classic hump excited me a lot! Yes, I had finally made it.

Years moved by. Countless journeys on the Airbus A320 ensued, and then I moved to Bombay in 2004.

Those days, Air India used to offer discounted fares on its red eye flights on Bombay - Delhi sector that suited my budget. And I was too happy to take those flights. Afterall, most of them were 747s. A 747 had always been there for me when I needed it the most. It took me home when Ammi was breathing her last few breaths, took me to meet Neeti the first time and for our engagement as well!

And nothing beats the sight of a 747 taking off and I cannot help but wonder how the hell can something as massive as this gentle beast lift off into the heavens!

And then about 2-3 years back, news came in that Air India was retiring the 747s from active service on premier routes, only to be used for VIP service or for Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. The 747s were replaced by Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s in their fleet, but these aircraft certainly don't fit the "Palace in the Sky" description, for sure, though they maybe quieter and more efficient.

Air India is not alone - the world over, the 747 alongwith jetliners of its era are getting junked, for newer and quieter machines, that claim to be more economical! A slightly dated list on Wikipedia suggests this.

They say that the Airbus A380 is a worthy successor of the 747. To me, the A380 looks like nothing more than a fat sausage. It does not have the sexiness that the 747 did, the grandeur, the appeal that the 747 did. Who knows whether it would emerge as the queen of the skies or not.

Today as you roll down Bombay's 9-27 runway, you can see a couple of Air India 747s parked at the Kalina hangars, ready to be mothballed. It's sad to see them die that way.

Boeing, I am told, is developing a new generation 747-8 to succeed the 747-400 range. But sadly the passenger version got orders only from Lufthansa and Korean Airlines, though it may be a success in its freighter avataar.

And when I read this article in the Los Angeles Times, I knew that the era that Juan Trippe ushered into this world, which was brought to India by JRD Tata and Air India was ending!

I will always miss the heady feeling of sitting in a 747 and feeling its power. Adieu, may the Palace of the Skies rest in peace!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Did this Advertisement Foretell 9/11?

A few days back, my sister, Neelima, sent me an email forward which had a copy of an old advertisement, of Pakistan's flag carrier, PIA, from the 1970s.
The commercial advertised the shortest flight time to New York as 16 hours 30 minutes, via Orly, Paris. The advertisement showed the World Trade Center Twin Towers and the shadow of a distinguishable Boeing 747. Evidently, the Jumbo Jet was flying in to World Trade Center.
The email forward described the PIA advertisement as "visionary advertisement".
The email froward also quoted a media visionary, Marshall McLuhan, who apparently described advertising as the greatest art form of the 20th century. Though this is the first time I heard of Marshall McLuhan, I agree with him. Some advertising campaigns do fit that bill - the Amul Butter campaigns, since the mid-1970s, featuring the lovable Amul girl is a notable one.

Another notable campaign was Bobby Kooka's Air India Maharajah - a lovable, pot-bellied character with a handlebar moustache and a round turbaned head. The Maharajah defined Air India for decades with tongue in cheek campaigns showcasing their various destinations.
The email further went on to say that art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it. That is a bit debatable.

Let's take the example of Bollywood. In the 1980s and till the mid-1990s, Bollywood was all blood and gore. But our society did not degenerate to those lows.
But for sure, the PIA advertisement did in a very significant way, foretell the future.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oui, nous aimons la France!

This morning, I received a text message which joking said:

When asked why he is readily signing so many defence deals with Sarkozy,
Manmohan Singh replied "Have you seen the bomb he has brought with him. Agar
sample aisa hai to pura consignment kaisa hoga!!!

While the joke on the Indo-French deals and Carla Bruni was funny, there are a few realities about France that makes it bit easier for others to depend on them.

France is an unusual Western nation with a mind of its own. France stood out alone among United States' prominent NATO allies that opposed the Bush wars for good reason. So much consternation was caused in the United States that french fries were rechristened Freedom Fries!

France was the lone Western nation which adopted a moderate line towards India's nuclear tests in 1998, while rest of the West bellicosely imposed sanctions on India. The French had been warm with India even when the chill of the Cold War froze the world.

People love to bash up France calling it an Islamophobe nation, but it has perhaps recognised the danger posed by militant versions of Islam and Sarkozy has sought to legislate an opening of the Islamic sections of French society, which has the potential to modernise and integrate them into the mainstream. No other Western power really had the balls to do this!!!

While France is indeed a bit rational in its use of power, it still has to be relevant in the emerging world order. And that is what brought President Nicholas Sarkozy to India, to do business, though he was quite a bit more suave than President Obama who declared that he would get 50,000 jobs from India!!!

I would not hesitate to say "Oui, nous aimons la France!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can the Leaks be Plugged?

Julian Assange has finally been arrested!
And the way Assange made power centers in the West tremble has broken quite a few myths.
The West has always claimed to champion the rights of people as a free society. The way the West responded to Assange's exposes on Wikileaks prove that the West is no better or no worse than say, a Chinese or Myanmarese government that would jail a dissident.
The West claims to have laws on detention and custody. But the way in which, or rather the "excuses" given before Assange was arrested simply show that the West only pays lip service to the values it extols.
I am not trying to suggest that Assange is a saint. Why could Wikileaks not expose the supposed power struggles in China, the transition in North Korea, the Russian "musical chairs" style of governance or nexus of the United States lobbies and the military industrial complex?
It appears Wikileaks was selective in its approach to leaks.
Frankly, the diplomatic cable leaks were no big deal. Any astute political observer would have always known what happens behind the scenes in diplomatic circles. The leaks were no grand surprise.
But Wikileaks so far never had anything on India, except for a copy of the very unsexy agreement that Kingfisher Airlines signed with Airbus SAS for acquisition of various Airbus aircraft. I am still waiting for a grand leak on Indian politicians, their scandalous affairs and their Swiss bank accounts!!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Greed Couldn't Be Better!!!!

This may be the Year of the Tiger of Chinese, but for India, this is the Year of Scams, an annus horribilis of sorts!

First, we started off with Modigate, then Kalmadigate, then Rajagate, and then Adarshgate, and then Radiagate and now LICgate. Wait a second, am I losing count now?

I cannot imagine how we are getting through all this crap.

Rajagate for instance, we are told, cost our country Rs. 1,76,000,00,00,000/- - that's ten zeroes, a good Rs. 1.76 lakh crore.

Simple arithmetic will show up startling results. If indeed this amount of money was swindled in the scam, then the Raja has deprived each poor Praja family of approximately Rs. 20,000/-. And that's a hell lot of money for many.

This calculation assumes that the scam money were to be distributed among 30% of 1.2 billion people who are near about or below the poverty line. The broad numbers assume that each family would have about four members.

The Rs. 20,000/- per family could have had multiplier effects - each family could have opened some small form of enterprise - say a tea stall, a tyre repair shop, newspaper vending etc. bringing each family a steady stream of income. In all probability, this would have led to a better life for the marginalised sections.

I hold the Prime Minister and the First Family personally responsible for allowing all this under their noses. How was it that all this happened and despite their knowing it, they chose to ignore it? Were there more beneficiaries than we know of publicly?

Just as we were witnessing the curtain raiser of Rajagate, LICgate and Radiagate broke out.

It is common knowledge that corporates employ services of middlemen to pursue their business with public sector banks.

We all know that lobbyists, like Ms. Niira Radia, have always had a field day in Delhi. We all know that the media had always made themselves available to certain business and political interests, little wonder Radiagate revealed some names.

Was it that the unveiling of LICgate and Radiagate were diversionary tactics to suavely silence the rabble and the media? There is too much of a coincidence to all this.

Once the attention of the rabble has been diverted, the media silenced, the loot will be evenly divided. And tickets to Zurich will be in demand.

In March this year, I thought Greed was Good, but today, Greed Couldn't Be Better, couldn't be sexier!!!!
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