Friday, July 28, 2006

"Milse Riday Saar"

One of the great facets of Hyderabad, which I am rediscovering almost everyday, is the fascinating hybrid culture that it possesses. For instance the Hindi spoken here is influenced by both Telugu and Urdu and has developed an identity all of its own.

Apart from Hindi even English seems to have mutated considerably in the Hyderabadi environment.

Having moved back just a few weeks ago I am still in the process of discovering the perfect route to my office and during one such experiment I noticed a small little Andhra restaurant being part-renovated. It was not the fact that it was being renovated that caught my eye but the banner that was put up announcing that while there was indeed some renovation going on the Restaurant was still very much in business.
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The restaurant owner was, probably, using the service entrance to allow its patrons to get in and announced the same with panache.

Meals Served in the Backside.

If I had a camera phone I would have gotten off the bus immediately just to click a photograph of this banner.

The pity is that now I do not even remember the area where I saw it. Else I would have taken a day off just to get that photograph.

I guess this banner puts to shame other creative ventures that I have noticed like:

Dormantary and Sute available for Gents


Fost Food Avilible here

Time for a burger break, guys.
A Guide for the Linguistically challenged. ;-)
Milse Ready Saar=Meals Ready, Sir

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Mumbai Deluge

Got up this morning and realized that it is July 26 once again. My thoughts immediately drifted to the events this day, last year in Mumbai thanks to the unprecedented floods. Not that I could have escaped thinking about it given that the Television channels are once again going on and on about the Deluge.

I must, of course, also salute the much hyped (and of late much abused) “spirit and resilience” of Mumbai. Having been through all the madness of last year, I realize that it does take some spirit on the part of the citizenry to carry on even in such adverse conditions.

The Call
At around 1.30 pm, Sameer called to say that the trains had stopped running because of the heavy rains and that it made sense to leave work a "bit" early. I ignored the advice completely as I had a meeting and wanted to keep that appointment. Apart from that, heavy rains and trains stopping due to water logging on the tracks are not exactly a new phenomenon in Mumbai.

The meeting was scheduled at 5.00 pm. At Tardeo!!! This was probably the only place in south Mumbai that was water logged that day. Of course the meeting never happened but it ensured that I was in office till 4.20 pm.

On the Road
By the time we cancelled the meeting the situation was already chaotic. No trains and apparently no BEST buses. Everyone in the office had already left and I lost no time in rushing immediately to the bus stop hoping to hop onto some stray bus. Once on the street, however, I found that buses were plying. The moment I saw a bus at a distance I began wondering how much of the problem it really was. But the way I looked at it was, I have got off a couple of hours early so why complain. And I went my merry way to the Century Bazar bus stop at Worli.

However when one of the buses arrived at my stop I realised that forget getting in I would not be able to place a toe in it. The enormity of the situation was yet to sink in, but I kind of realised that this was not just another manic monsoon day in Mumbai.

My immediate concern was, as usual, What About FOOD? I decided to have some grub immediately because I noticed that most restaurants were filling up with people (I once experienced the situation where due to a similar kind of emergency restaurants had run out of food). Had a quick dosa and went back to office thinking that I would make another attempt at around 7.00 pm. By then I figured the crowd would have dispersed.

Back in Office
Ha! Little did I realize the chaos that I would get to witness at 7.00 pm. The arterial Annie Besant road was choc a bloc with traffic and not one of the vehicles was moving an inch. That was when I decided to stay back in office.

My office overlooked the Annie Besant Road and I was peeping out of the window every 20 minutes to figure out if it was time to get going. And in the meantime, to add to the fun and games, water started seeping in through a crack that opened up near the window frame. I spent the next hour or so shifting all the books and VCDs that were liberally strewn (in cardboard cartons of course) on the floor to some place safer.

That done and with my back complaining quite a bit I decided to stay back in office. I informed Uncle Pai and then settled in for the night.

Of course I asked the HOT secy to stay back too. Just Kidding dudes no such post exists. The only female in the office is Mrs. Pai.

Luckily the office had both electricity and Net connections. That enabled me to chat with my friends. I had a longish chat with my school friends who happen to be in the US. So it was convenient for all of us.

July 27, 4.00 am
At 4.00 am I decided that I would leave because I wanted to catch the "First" bus and head home.

I was back at the Century Bazar Bus stop by 4.15 am and waited for a bus till 5.00 am. Got a bus and was zooming home. The bus zoomed homewards for about 10 minutes and I was already thinking in terms of a nice hot bath etc. Just as the bus approached Dadar I noticed that there was this huge crowd milling around on the road.

The alarm bells started to ring.

The problems started from here with the bus remaining stationary for an hour or so because of a major traffic jam. At 5.00 am.!!! The reason was that a lot of people had abandoned their cars the previous evening on the roads and had left. This left very little space to move.

July 27, 8.00 am
At 8.00 am the bus finally reached a place called Sion Hospital. This is about 5 km from my office. (At this point I still had another 20 km to reach home) There I got off the bus as I just could not take sitting in cooped up in the bus anymore. I then walked a bit and found Route No. 521 and that too empty. (This is the Route no. that runs up to Navi Mumbai where I stayed.) Such things don’t normally happen. I quickly ran and got into the bus. And felt mighty relieved that I got the bus.

I asked a co-passenger at what time he had got the bus because I felt I had missed it because of the stupid traffic jam that the other bus was in. This chap glared at me and then said, "Kal shaam ko 5.30 pm ko. Bharaah ghanton say issi bus mein hain."

After a while, I kind of realised that something was wrong. For one, the bus was not moving and then I noticed that both the Driver and the Conductor were missing. They were having chai in a stall outside.

I quickly got off that bus and walked for about 25 minutes to get to Everard Nagar, the place where this Photograph was taken. I just did not feel like going into the water. Especially because I know what happens on the sidewalk and the open areas next to it.

July 27, 10.00 am
Well! I hung on for about almost a couple of hours mulling on where, if at all, any toilet facilities existed close by and other such interesting thoughts. In the meanwhile I asked the driver of a bus that was stuck there if the water was receding. He pointed out to a half submerged truck and said, "Kal raat ko woh bus dikh nahin rahi thi." He seemed majorly happy at his keen sense of observation. Anyway still hung on and watched people struggling through this waist deep water.

What I found interesting was that all of them were half submerged in dirty water and yet ALL of them chose to use their umbrellas to shield themselves from the drizzle. To each his own, I guess.

And then suddenly out of nowhere along came a cop and tried to clear the path for the bigger vehicles to go through.

July 27, 11.00 am
At last a truck carrying LPG cylinders started to move. I quickly clambered on to its side (along with about 15 others) and clung on. This truck then ploughed gleefully through the water. There was a Maruti car half submerged and because of the waves that this truck created that car went completely underwater for a second or two. Was a sight to behold.

At Kurla junction I thought the water level was quite low and jumped off. I was wrong. As usual. The water level was not too low. I waded through that water taking care to not look at the sides of the road and reached Chembur Naka.

Trust me there was no water logging at all. Absolutely clear roads.

I bumped into a couple of former students and then walked with them for about 20 minutes. Luckily the brother of one of the students had come looking for her. And more importantly he had got his car. We walked to the car which also had the mother sitting in there.

This student on being polite offered a lift. I usually do not accept a lift from students but this time around I changed my policy got into the car immediately. The next 10-12 km was covered in 15 minutes. Got dropped off at Vashi (in Navi Mumbai) and then walked to a restaurant and got my self lunch and then got home at 1.00 pm.

Not bad.

25 km done in 9 hours flat

Monday, July 24, 2006

Intent Blog - My article

There cannot be a greater proof of my ever increasing laziness than the fact that I am posting a write-up that I had done for the Intent Blog. But I thought why the hell not.
Intent Blog has been set up Mallika Chopra, daughter of new age Guru Deepak Chopra. Has a few interesting articles.

Anyway here goes my stuff on it:

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of changes in my life. Chief among them being a change of job, which has meant moving back home. I have now moved bag and baggage to Hyderabad after spending 16 years in Mumbai.

My last stint in Mumbai was with Mr. Anant Pai a.k.a. Uncle Pai, the man behind the “Amar Chitra Katha” series and “Tinkle”, the monthly comic book for children. (The “Amar Chitra Katha” series deals with Indian history, culture and mythology in the comic book format. I have a feeling that most of my generation had its introduction to Indian history and mythology from Amar Chitra Katha.)

Two years ago, at 75, when most people are well into their retirement (at least in India) Uncle Pai decided to use the animation and television medium, along with comic books, to popularize Indian culture. To this end he set up an animation and television software firm. I can’t think of too many people who have set up new ventures at 75. His enthusiasm and energy is absolutely unbelievable and totally infectious.

It was a delight to interact with Uncle Pai on a daily basis. He would recite shlokas from the Vedas, talk about Kabir and his life & times, quote from Zauq and Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan – all in the line of business.

Working with him was a breeze also because I loved doing what I did. And that was handling the promotional activities for our products (in an earlier stint I did the same for the comic series “Amar Chitra Katha” and Tinkle). I enjoyed interacting with the bright young kids and their parents. The interesting part was that almost invariably whenever we conducted a promotional campaign we would have parents come up to him and say that they had participated in some competition that he had conducted in 1979/1985/1990 (or whatever) and that they were delighted that their children were now participating in the same event.

The other reason that I loved working with Uncle was because of my own interest in Indian history and mythology. I found that I could pick his brains about almost any aspect of our history.

One of my favourite books is the Mahabharata (An epic that has at its core the battle for territory between two sets of cousins – the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The Pandavas, the good guys, triumph in the end. The Mahabharata also contains the Bhagwad Gita, Krishna’s advice to Arjuna delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra). I have read and re-read the epic and every time there is something new about it that I appreciate.

Indian history is another area that fascinates me. But it is more of ancient Indian history that I like. I feel completely depressed when I read the later medieval and modern Indian history. This is so because this period in Indian history is replete with:
• internecine battles
• ignorance and poverty of a large mass of people
• lack of foresight of the ruling class and
• a tepid response to external aggression
All these allowed a bunch of traders to gain political control over the whole of India. This segment is so gut-wrenching that I have decided to ignore it completely.

I succeeded in doing that but how am I to block out the fact that these are the very same ills that are plaguing India even today. Try as I might I cannot ignore the events of the past one week in Srinagar and Mumbai. Especially the Mumbai train blasts.

What really gets to me is the seeming inability of the Indian state to act with firmness. All of us know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, who is behind this latest terrorist attack on Indian soil and yet all we get are bromides from the powers that be that India will no longer tolerate acts of violence against itself. Wow! I am sure the terrorists are quaking in their boots after listening to this statement.

Contrast that with the Israeli response to the kidnapping of two of their soldiers and the difference in approach is starkly apparent.

The other thing that irks me is the way everyone has gone on and on about how resilient Mumbaikars are. Yes we are (oops, I am no longer a Mumbaikar…but the spirit lingers on). But why do we need to be?

Mumbaikars are termed resilient when we pick up our lives after there is unprecedented flooding, after riots and when bombs go off. Mumbaikars are always termed resilient. The rest of the country applauds as they see us come out onto the streets to help people in distress. They even applaud us when we hand out water and food or when we offer a ride home to stranded fellow citizens during an emergency.

I find this applause quite sickening.

Why do we need to exhibit this legendary “spirit” and “resilience” year after year? It would help if the world stopped applauding us and instead got down to the business of making the life of the average Mumbaikar a bit easier and safer.

I realize that I have come across as angry and a touch bitter but there are times when anger is a virtue and patience a vice. I do not subscribe to the view that being patient and virtuous and “spirited” is the way forward. There has to be constructive anger that the citizens have to express against the government. And hopefully that will force the authorities to act in a more decisive manner and all of us can get on with our lives in peace.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Battle of Khardla: The Begum & her Tantrum.

I asked a friend, who is a history buff, whether he could give me some reasons due to which rulers lost battles in medieval India. He was immediately up and running with his reasons.

Bad Planning
Incompetent generals
Ill-equipped and ill-disciplined troops
Inferior equipment

That was when I bowled my googly. I asked, “How about a tantrum throwing wife?”
This reason threw him completely out of kilter.

“Eh! What’s that again?”

He absolutely refused to believe that a tantrum throwing Begum could be a possible reason for losing a significant battle.

However this was precisely what happened to the Nizam of Hyderabad. He lost the Battle of Khardla to the Marathas because his Begum threw a tantrum and demanded that……… but hey, I am getting ahead of the story.

Before I plunge in and “reveal” all about the Begum’s tantrum let me give you a, not so brief, historical background to the battle.

The Marathas, under Peshwa Baji Rao I, routed the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad in the Palkhed campaign of 1728. Following this victory the Peshwa levied Chauth (1/4th of the land revenue collected) and Sardeshmukhi for the very first time on Hyderabad.

The amount to be paid was hotly contested and continued to be so even up to the 1790s. By this time Nizam Ali Khan was on the throne of Hyderabad and the Maratha Machiavelli, Nana Phadnavis, the real power in Poona.

Nizam Ali Khan tried, unsuccessfully, to sneak out of the commitment entered into by his father Nizam ul Mulk. Of course, the amount that needed to be paid could have been negotiated but there existed such bitter personal animosity between Azim ul Umra, the Nizam’s minister and Nana Phadnavis that such an option was just not on.

Azim ul Umra tried getting the British to help him in battle, but the British Resident under strict instructions from Sir John Shore, the Governor General, declined to do so. Shore wanted to preserve the fledgling British Empire and not antagonize the Marathas who were a more powerful force than the Nizam was.

The Nizam, in spite of this setback went ahead with his decision to go to war.

Preparations for the War:
The lead up to the war was obviously characterized by intense military preparations. As any good military strategist will tell you chief among military preparations is always the attempt to bribe members of the opposing court. The Nizam was rumoured to have spent a colossal amount of Rs. One Crore (Maybe about Rs. 4000 crore in today’s currency) in the hope of getting the Scindia to desert the Marathas. Nana Phadnavis in turn spent a more modest Rs. 7 Lakh bribing members of the Nizam’s court.

Once these preliminary preparations were completed the two sides hit the road.

On the Road:In early 1794, after additional preparations that involved nautch girls who sang about the Nizam’s victory and Azim ul Ummra thundering that he would send Nana to Benaras in a loin cloth, the Nizam with his darbar moved to Bidar (Bidar was the Hyderabadi fortress closest to the Maratha frontier) and began to put together a large army.

Finally in December 1794, the Nizam’s army set off from Bidar. It lumbered along the Manjira River towards Poona with the Nizam insisting, all the while, that he was not planning to attack the Marathas but was merely out on a holiday with family and friends.

Given the composition of the touring party it almost seemed true. For apart from the army there was also a huge caravan of covered elephants that had the Nizam’s harem. I am sure they were meant to bolster the morale, among other things, of the Nizam and his men. The harem also had a dedicated regiment of female infantry brought along to protect it from harm.

The Battle:
After meandering along the road for three months the Nizam’s forces reached a ridge called Moori Ghat on the 14th of March. On the morning of 15 March, 1795 the Nizam gave orders for attack. And the army swooped down from Moori Ghat on the Marathas who were assembled at the bottom of the hill.

The Nizam’s French trained artillery and even his Zuffur Plutun (Woman Battalion) succeeded in reaching their planned spot about 6 kilometers from the slopes of the Ghat. Once they reached the position they dug in for the night and prepared for the battle on the morrow. Smug in the belief that victory would be theirs.

The Begum & her threat:
However the silly stiffs did not reckon with the boss’ wife.

Occasional cannonade by the Marathas during the night scared the wits out of the Nizam’s begums. Especially Bakshi Begum who was the Nizam’s senior wife. Obviously the good Begum was not expecting all this noise and confusion during what she felt was just another Nawabi outing. Bakshi Begum then ran around in circles beating her breasts wondering what to do. It was then that inspiration struck.

She simply went up to the Nizam and threatened to unveil herself in public if the women of the zenana were not shifted to the “safety” of the Khardla fort which lay at the foot of the Moori Ghat. (Now in the Muslim society of that period this threat was equivalent to a President’s wife threatening to strip on live Television.) Unnerved by this threat and being the good husband that he was, the Nizam agreed to take all of his women to the fort.

Movement of this nature at the time that it took place (11.00 pm) obviously created some amount of confusion. During this confusion a small band of Maratha soldiers, who were out looking for water, bumped into a Hyderabadi picket and a short exchange of fire in pitch dark conditions, was enough to throw the Hyderabadi troops into complete and utter confusion. They rushed as quickly as they could into the fort.

Once inside the fort there was wild cheering and general happiness among the Begums that this complicated military procedure (of retreating to a fort from a position of strength) was accomplished.

Once the celebrations subsided someone noticed a SLIGHT flaw in the maneuver they felt was a super success: the Hyderabadis had left behind their guns, ammunitions, food supplies, pack animals, horses etc. And they were all holed up in a small fort, totally at the mercy of the Marathas.

In the morning the Marathas found that the Hyderabadis had not only left their strategic advantage but also left behind quite a lot of gifts for them. The Marathas obviously took complete advantage of the situation. By 10.00 in the morning they had brought about 400 guns, 2000 camels and 15 heavy canons onto the ridge. By 11.00 am they had completely surrounded the fort and started to blast away. It was all over bar the shouting.

The Nizam was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty on April 17.
Wonder what the Begum had to say about that.