Cricket World Cup 2015 in retrospect

Early yesterday morning, India’s Cricket World Cup campaign came to an end. They lost to a better Australian team who will go on to face fellow hosts New Zealand in the finals at Melbourne on Saturday. It was a long night punctuated by the occasional glimmer of hope but let us be honest. We over achieved our potential and peaked at the right time only to hit a wall in the form of Australia.

I could write a lot about what went wrong for India but I think that is beside the point. The Indian team was in tatters prior to the World Cup. It had a horrific Australian summer with very little to talk about. England, yes that very bad English team owned us in the tri-series. For that Indian team to win its first seven matches in this World Cup and bowl out every single opposition team was remarkable. Remember, this was the toothless bowling attack we shuddered to think about. This was the team that was going to start by losing to arch rival Pakistan and then follow up with a pummeling by South Africa.

team indiaI will be honest. This Indian team overachieved and gave me a very enjoyable World Cup. Every game was interesting and the team kept me engaged. The bowling was tight and significantly better than the one I am used to, the past few years. The fielding was solid. And the batting was reliable until the Australia game.

The Australian team was better than us in every regard. As much as I would have loved for the Indian team to have removed the look of arrogance in Starc’s face, we were simply outmatched. A total of 300 chase-able if we had kept the wickets. Dhawan, who was stroking the ball so well decided to give his wicket away. Kohli looked lost and Rohit Sharma never got into a reasonable groove. We didn’t rotate strike to keep the target run rate within reach and eventually collapsed under the weight of the chase. We could have played better but eventually we played a significantly better opponent and lost.

Dhoni did a miraculous job throughout the tournament keeping the team motivated and driven to win every single game. There were times when I thought his captaincy made all the difference. He will most certainly not play the next World Cup. For the 2011 championship and this year’s run to the SF,  I am most thankful to his leadership.

There will be a sizable churn before the next World Cup but there is a core around which a team could be built to compete. I am optimistic for now. Plus there is always IPL and Chennai Super Kings has assembled a formidable team to compete like every year. A fun summer lies ahead. Chin up, boys. You did well.

A brief review of Naatak’s fabulous adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”

On Saturday, March 21st, 2015, I had the chance to see Naatak’s Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” titled “To sum purush, na mo sum naari.”  You can read through this article if you still deciding if this play is for you or you can save yourself the time and just go watch it next weekend. It is a decision you will most certainly not regret. It is that good. My recommendation out of the way, here is my short review.

To Sum Purush, Na Mo Sum Naari” roughly translates to “No Man like you, no woman like me.” This sharply written take on Shakespeare’s iconic comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” is the 48th play being staged by Naatak, Bay Area’s revered theater group. This was my first Naatak play and I now understand why they are spoken about with such respect. The play was well-directed, beautifully designed, and joyfully acted by a merry band of local talent that came together to be a complete package. For just over two hours at the Tabard Theater on San Pedro Square in San Jose, the audience was rolling on the floors in laughter.

TSPNMSN is a non-stop ride alternating between slapstick and highbrow comedy- a balancing act that the crew pulls off very admirably. That the play is in a Bundelkhandi, a dialect of Hindi adds to the flavor in a way that I did not anticipate. I approached the play with trepidation thinking the dialect would make it challenging to follow the story. I am comfortable with Hindi and the language on stage was not much different from Hindi, yet added a touch of uniqueness to the play that made it all the more fun. The supertitles helped but for much of the time, I was just content following the proceedings. The language was never a barrier and in fact, a definite plus. Props to the Naatak braintrust for having the courage to attempt the play in Bundelkhandi and hitting a homerun (nay a six) in the process.

The set is simple, yet tastefully done and fills in for admirably for Padua. The costumes are spot on. A huge plus is the intimate nature of the theater which brings the viewer so close to the performers. Loved the venue and how it was orchestrated for the play. The intimate experience adds significantly to the enjoyment of the proceedings. And the acting is just so good, and so well done, it is just phenomenal. Every single nuance and dialogue is pitch perfect. Not a wasted second. Not a wasted word. Just perfectly written and beautifully acted.

I would love to tell you more about the play. But you really should see it live. It plays for one more weekend. So stop thinking about it and just buy the tickets. It is so well worth the price of admission, you will be thanking me afterwards.

Fabulous job, Manish , Juhi and the awesome folks involved in this play. “To Sum…” is a sheer joy, all the way. Can’t wait to see your upcoming shows in 2015 and beyond.

{Read, Write, Listen, Express and Do} more

2015 is here. We are a full two weeks into the new year which allows us to commit to things rationally without the hasty decisions we take in the name of New Year resolutions. I have a mixed opinion on resolutions. I think, taken too seriously, they tend to be ineffective. But seen as a fresh start to our personal and professional life, every 365 days, they make much more sense. Especially coming off the year end holidays.

2014 was a great year – I achieved new milestones professionally, made a ton of friends in the community and spent good time with the family. My blogs had over 30,000 views for the year which might be its high water mark ever (more on this later) and I am thankful to all of you for reading all the stuff I write- good and the not so good. Now it is time to commit to goals not just for 2015 but moving forward. Maybe, just maybe, some of you might be interested in a few of the ones I highlight below. See them less as resolutions and more as ongoing experiments in personal improvement.

Read More

This one is fairly obvious. Reading makes us better. I used to be a voracious reader growing up and that slowed down during my early professional years. Over the last 2-3 years, I have been slowly but steadily increasing how much I read. I set fairly conservative goals for each year of 5 works of fiction, 5 works of non-fiction plus magazines, articles, the works. I far surpassed my goal for everything but non-fiction last year and I am out to correct that this year. My Kindle Voyage and local library are my best friends. The reading experience on the Kindle Voyage is remarkable. While the wait for good books in the library is a pain, I have gotten a good portion of fiction reading from my library. I have a whole pile of books I purchased over the past year to get to. For online articles, I favorite the ones I want to read and then use IFTTT to send them to Pocket.  I have Pocket on everything from my phone, Mac and tablets. The image below is the first batch I need to get to**.

Reading List- Q1 2015

Write More

Writing here refers to contributing more online and also to write more with pen and paper. With your support, my blogs have gotten quite popular over the years and while I am still very enthusiastic to continue writing, I would like to explore new vistas and new topics that require more research and introspection. Blog posts will be fewer but hopefully with something more to take with you.

His writing materials

My continuing obsession with fountain pens and good quality paper is the other part of the story. My writing with pen and paper has dramatically increased. This post was composed as a series of bullet points on a 80th anniversary edition of a Rhodia Classic Ice Top Staplebound Notepad with a Hero fountain pen (remember those?) using a Noodlers Ink Heart of Darkness***.This obsession will get its own post soon.

HearListen More

In my notes, I titled this section as “Hear More” but upon further thought, modified it to Listen More. There is the critical difference where I could hear but not really listen and pay attention to what is being said. My penchant for being the talker in the room prevented me for a long time from being a good listener. This is a work in progress.

The other component of “Listen More” is related to podcasts. Podcasts have enjoyed a resurgence in the recent years and thanks to Serial, many more people are jumping in. Podcasts are my daily companion during my commute and a huge source of knowledge. If you are into podcasts, drop me a note. I can recommend a few****. Some off the top of my head worth listening to- The Pen Addict (surprise, surprise), Techpinions (tech analysis), The Critical Path (tech analysis), APM Marketplace (Kai Ryssdal FTW), Accidental Tech Podcast (tech+Apple), The Web Ahead (web dev) and a whole lot more. On my Mac, I use iTunes to listen to podcasts. On iOS devices, I highly recommend Marco Arment’s Overcast app. On Android, I use Podcast Addict.

TalkExpress More

This is part of what is new for 2015. I would like to express myself better. This is through other forms of media beyond plain text online. I am looking to add more videos to my reviews. I started adding hands-on videos to my reviews in 2014. There will be more of this. I attempted adding a read-along version for my book, Mahabharata for Kids. Initial response has been good. I am contemplating more podcast type posts or maybe even an audio version to go with every post. I am open to feedback on this.

Do More

Twenty four hours is never enough. To read and write and listen and express more, 24 hours is definitely not enough. But there is an itch to do more. More local community events, alumni events, side projects for work, personal side projects, an Android and/or iOS app, finishing a full course on one of the MOOCs, and a new book. The list is long. If I can get to half of this list without spending one less minute with my family, it will be a very successful year. Onward march!

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


** On my choice of books:

I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and St.Claire’s when I was younger. When I saw them during my last trip to India, I jumped on it. I have not read Haruki Murakami before. This is my first attempt. Kurzweil’s book has been on my list for a long time. Finally picked up a copy recently. Walt Isaacson’s “Innovators” came in for good praise last year as did “Asura” in Indian fiction circles.

*** The first sign of obsession on any object, fountain pen, paper or otherwise is that you start documenting specifics. Type of nib (Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad), brand and specifics about the ink and so on.

**** I listen to a ton of podcasts on a variety of topics. Let me know your interest and I can recommend some good ones.

“Why Bhopal?” – A spoiler-free review of the play, BHOPAL by the Bay Area Drama Company

Thirty years ago, on the fateful night of 2nd December and into the wee hours of 3rd morning, 1984, all hell broke loose in the the city of Bhopal in India. Tank 610 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant, exploded letting loose 30 tons and more of toxic Methyl Isocyanite and other gases into the air. Over 500,000 reportedly inhaled it and while the death toll varies from 3000 to 10000, suffice to say, it is one of the largest industrial disasters the world has ever seen. The story doesn’t end there. In the years that followed, people across the world watched in horror as multinational corporations and corrupt politicians of various stripes came together to put a lid over the disaster.

Thirty years hence, the air is still foul with the stench of politics and money that lorded over human lives. Unlike other disasters, which got global attention by a mixture of activists and artists making stories and movies out of the human suffering, Bhopal has barely registered in the radar of many. If Bhopal were to have happened in today’s socially connected world, the reaction would have been swift and so much more different. The story of Bhopal needs many voices to tell what happened on that fateful night. One such is the Bay Area Drama Company.

BAD Company's bhopal poster

Bay Area Drama (BAD) Company is a newly formed theater group in the San Francisco Bay Area. It boasts of thespians with great dramatic pedigree who have come together to form this new entity that will hopefully offer interesting and compelling fare to the local community. Their first production, Bhopal, premiered on the 3rd of December, 2014 at the Sunnyvale Community Center, exactly 30 years from the day it happened. There will be additional shows of Bhopal on 13th and 14th of December at Lohman Theater at the Foothills College campus in Los Altos, CA. Here is my spoiler-free review from the premiere show.

The Setting

The Sunnyvale Community Center is an intimate auditorium and suits a play like Bhopal to the T. It offers seating for a sizable audience without getting unwieldy. Every seat had an excellent view of the stage. The audio was excellent and overall, felt like a good place for the premiere event.

BAD Company's Bhopal

The event began shortly after 8 pm with a brief introduction about the real life event that was the Bhopal disaster and a very short note on the BAD Company. The stage itself was sparse but for the occasional table or chair brought in during different parts of the play. There was little to no background music but for the haunting vocals of Subhapriya Srivatsan, set to the lyrics of “Ek Zahreeli Hawa (A Poisoned Wind)” by the late Habib Tanvir. Subhapriya’s voice and Sharmi Mukherjee’s graceful moves sets the tone perfectly for the play and in the 2-3 times when Subhapriya reappears, her voice lends gravitas of the situation at hand. Kudos to the director for knowing when to have music and when not to distract from the dialogues.

The Story

This play is not about the tragedy that happened on 2nd December. It is the story of the practical, occasionally selfish survivor, Izzat Bai. It is the story of the steadfast believer, the scorned and misled lover, Madiha Akram. It is the story of the NRI who had big dreams and an empty soul, Devraj Sarthi, CEO of Union Carbide India Limited. It is the story of the face in front of a multinational corporation, Warren Anderson. It is the story of the Doctor who knows too much and is repeatedly being silenced, Dr. Sonya Labonte. It is the story of the archetypal Indian politician who will sell his soul for money, Jaganlal Bhandari. And most important of all, it is the story of the 250,000 faceless people of Bhopal whose lives were irrevocably changed that fateful night.

The original script by Rahul Varma is brought to life by these characters, each of whom has a story of their own. Of ambition, of love, of power and of hope. The CEO who says, “Poverty is the biggest environmental hazard. ” goes onto to claim, “Carbide Thunder will roll out of their eyes. Like tears.” If only. If only.

BAD Company's Bhopal

From the early signs of a disaster in the making, to the pieces of the nightmarish puzzle coming together and hurtling towards destruction, the script is tight and the pace is rapid. As Warren Anderson proudly states, “Safety is our No.1 concern,” the viewer knows what is about to happen. And happen it does. The tragedy does not strike until after the first hour of the play. As soon as it arrives with a loud boom, disaster mitigation kicks in amidst death and chaos. And that is the ultimate irony of it all. When corruption and power blinded the eyes of politicians and officials even as bodies were piling up.

Suffice to say, the play is crisp and taut and time flies before you know it.

The Acting

This to me was the biggest revelation. Rahul Varma’s script is not new. It has been around for years. Bhopal was originally staged in 2001. It is the acting that elevates what is a solid script ot great heights. The seven key artists who potray the protagonists each bring their best to the table and leave nothing unexpressed.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Devraj played by Basab Pradhan is cold and calculating and every minute. His occasional weakness is his love, Madiha played by Neha Goyal. Neha does full justice to the character who is so much in love with Devraj that she cant see past his actions. Jaganlal, the CM is played to a T by Ravi Bhatnagar. Ravi lives and breathes the role of the considerate politician whose true colors are always under a cloud. Phil Wiseman as Pascal Sauve, the Canadian representative shows his political colors while rarely but definitely betraying his humanity.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Sindu Singh taking on the conscience of the play in the form of Dr. Sonya Labonte is a revelation. Her shock at everything that is happening and her utter helplessness is brilliantly conveyed by Sindu. Paul Costello as the villain of the piece, Warren Anderson is fabulous in his role of the true capitalist who cares for nothing more than his corporation and stock price. And last but not in the very least, Kamala Subramaniam as Izzat Bai is the representation of the victim of the system. She blows away anything and everything you come to expect from the role with a bravura performance. She is the chameleon whose true stripes are those of the real survivors of the system.

BAD Company's Bhopal

Quibbles

Maybe the fact that this was my first play in a long time or that I was really captivated by what was going on made me oblivious to problems. But I found the whole show to be free of any big issues. Sure, there were a couple of minor complaints. While I thought it was a great idea to have the singer sing live in front of the audience at the beginning and end of the show, having her on stage in between was a distraction, as good as her vocals were. In a couple of scenes the abrupt end of the scene took away some of the palpable tension that could have built into a higher crescendo. Then again, these are definitely minor quibbles in an otherwise well executed and well acted show.

So, should you see it?

Absolutely. This is my first time at a full length play (clocking at about 100 minutes) in the Bay Area. And if this is the kind of quality and acting I can expect, I am so going to so many more, not in the least the ones from BAD Company. Bhopal is a story that has found its voice. And what a tour de force it is. There are still some tickets left for the shows on the 13th and 14th. Don’t wait, rush to the website and get it while it lasts. That it one decision you will not regret.

Beyond anything else, this play “Bhopal” reminds you in the starkest way possible, the horror and tragedy of Bhopal, thirty years ago. One that still has unanswered questions and two generations of affected families. This play puts you in Bhopal on that cyanide filled night. It also gives you a ring side view of how bad things can get at this scale when left unchecked and unmonitored.

Disclosure

I was invited to attend the opening night by a friend and if interested, write an unbiased review of the play. I was not paid to write this in cash or kind. I wrote this because I felt like the play deserved all my words and more.

Life at 36

Last year, for my birthday, I made a list about the milestone and what it meant to me. I love traditions and figured I would make one this year too. So without further ado, here goes my top 10 list for the completion of year 36 of my life.

36

10. 36 feels a little less awesome than 35 only because it is an even number. Even numbers IMHO get way more attention than odd numbers. Unfair advantage I’d say.

9. While twenty somethings in the Valley continue to make millions selling their startups or going IPO, I am still yet to see something like that. Maybe this will be the year or miracles. Or this would be the year I continued dreaming but did nothing about it.

8. I got more of my articles printed by India Currents (and get paid for it). You should check them out if you have not already. I continue to blog as and when I can and continue to enjoy it.

7. I continue to over promise and under deliver when it comes to cooking at home. I have run out of excuses also. But there is always the next year.

6. Work continues to be interesting and we shipped a phone this year in addition to the best e-reader ever (it is seriously that awesome). Here is to year with more interesting problems to solve and complex technical challenges to overcome.

5. I am almost entirely pen and paper at meetings these days and as a result my handwriting is so much better( a personal goal year over year) and I treated myself to a Pilot Metropolitan which writes very smoothly. This is one of those things that makes me feel younger every year. For years, my handwriting suffered due to excessive computer use and going back to pen and paper makes me feel younger by the day.

4. The little guy continues to be the center of my Universe, not surprisingly. As he grows into a fine young boy, he reminds me that I am getting older. But just as that feeling starts to overwhelm, he treats me like a friend making me feel so much younger. Everyday is special with him around.

3. I continue to hit new milestones at the gym and feel my best in years. Many thanks to the awesome folks at Lifeworx Crossfit and my 7:30 crew. You guys rock! I still have miles to go but I’d rather do it no place else.

2. My first book, Mahabharata for Kids continues to do well – selling better digitally with every passing month. It has sold well over 1600 copies and has resulted in over $1000 to charitable causes. Many thanks to everyone who has supported and continues to support this effort. I am working on some interesting ideas and hope to discuss them in public in the coming year.

1. Finally I realize every day that I have been tremendously blessed to have everything that I do. I like my job, I have an awesome and supportive family that puts up with my quirks and an incredible set of friends (old and new) who are just awesome to hang out or interact with through social networks. And the community we live in seems to be coming together in a wonderful way. What more can I ask for?

36 you say? Bring it on!

The California water problem and how we can help

Update (Jan 16, 2015): After the promising rains in December, things have gone back to being dry. Here is an updated chart of the water levels across the state, courtesy Fusion.net.

As most of you are aware of, California is going through one of its worst droughts in the last century. This year specifically is on record as the third worst in the last 100 years. And there is no end in sight. We do not know if this drought will end next year or in the next 50 years. All we can do is to be smart and conserve as much water as we can. Startlingly, water consumption in the state this May was 0.5% MORE than the same time last year. That does not bode well for our water conservation efforts. We obviously are not doing enough, if any. We need to do more.

ca drought map-july 2014

In my native language, Tamil, there is oft repeated phrase which is literally and figuratively the best way to describe what we can do. It goes, “Siru thuli, peru vellam” which literally translates to “Small droplets, big flood”. In this context, it means that we all need to add our droplets so we can create the flood (surplus) of water that can then be used for farming, irrigation and all other essential activities. This post is a collection of suggestions and recommendations I have picked up over the last year from blogs, articles, radio and online videos. Some of them are easy and the others take time. Either way, it will help, however long and however much it is.

1. Talk to your kids about it. This to me, is the biggest and most important step. Kids love water and from the minutes they take to wash their hands to coming up with interesting ways to use water, they consume a lot of it. Some of it is definitely important- like washing hands. But it doesn’t have to take a fully open tap running for 2 minutes. It could be a partially open tap running for a minute to wash one’s hands thoroughly. The best part is that kids are smart. When you explain the real problem to them, they surprisingly get it. Unlike us, they are not cynical. If they believe there is a problem, they will work hard to fix whatever they can.

2. Reuse water– wherever and whenever you can. Here is a simple way. The water we use to wash vegetables and soak our vessels prior to scrubbing them can be used to water our small plants. We have been doing this at our home for the past 4-6 months. I am definitely using far less water for my garden from the hose without compromising on how much water the plants need and get. I cant imagine all the water we could have saved all these years if we had only done this earlier.

3. Turn off the sprinklers. Really. As harsh as this sounds, there is no bigger criminal in households than sprinklers. Most of them are highly inefficient. They run far longer than they should and far too often. If we can take the time to water our gardens and lawns conscious of the water scarcity, we will save a lot of water. There is also new regulation and fines in California for egregious water users. You can be fined up to $500 for wasting too much water in your front lawn or on the driveway.

4. Reduce shower time.  For a lot of us, our daily showers are one of the last bastions of being alone, left to our thoughts. And as much as we love it, we take showers a tad longer than we really should. And this is an area that can result in water savings aplenty. Also consider turning the tap off while brushing your teeth.

5. Save water. Save money. The Santa Clara Water district (for local South Bay residents) offers a bunch of rebates for purchasing and committing to water sipping fixtures. This is an added financial incentive on top of our moral incentive in saving water.

6. Rethink your kitchen habits. If you take the time to examine our water use for cooking, there is so much water that can be conserved. Many of us have the habit of keeping the water on while scrubbing dishes. Of taking more water than we need to drink and tossing the remnant in the sink. Of pouring excess water away in the drain without thinking of reusing it. Each of us have our own kitchen routine that can be optimized. Small changes can be big savings in water usage over time.

7. Do what you can to reduce water in every aspect of your life where you consume or use it. Everything but the water you use to drink is within bounds for consideration. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) has a lot of ideas on how you can conserve water. Give it a read.  The EPA has a whole slew of advice on how to conserve water. Give it a read too. Many of these ideas are simple and doable in small steps.

Finally and most importantly, don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing (or not). We have a responsibility to ourselves and the people around us to be judicious with our water use. Let not someone else’s ignorance and lack of awareness discourage you from making a difference. It all counts towards something. 

Dispatches from real India (Part 5): Mottai Mama, my first and latest barber

Note: This post was composed in India and published after I got back to the US.

Over the past few weeks, I have featured interesting people who we encounter in our day to day life in India. A tailor, an employee at a soda vending shop, a movie buff who runs an 85 year old beverage store and a virtual character in the form of a new take on sugarcane juice. In this penultimate article in the series, I talk to my very first barber, Mottai Mama Subramaniam over a haircut and a shave.

At the time of my birth, my dad used to go a barbershop not too far from home on Shastri Road, Ramnagar. The shop has no name and is identifiable only by the blue revolving door at the entrance. The shop was originally started by Mottai Mama’s brother and Subramaniam took over in 1971. Since then, he has offered affordable haircuts and shaves for customers of all ages and stripes.

A couple of years after my birth, when I was ready for my first haircut, I am told my dad took me to Mottai Mama. For the next decade, I trusted mama with my head as did my dad. I distinctly remember a couple of calendar posters that adorned the shop as was the pot of water in the corner. The pot offered cool water on a warm day without the need for a refrigerator. In 1989, when we moved to our own place, we discovered a new saloon, Bharath Hairdressers next to home and shifted allegiances. Fast forward to last year and Bharath shuttered leaving us in the lurch. My father knocked at the door of Subramaniam who welcomed him with open arms. When I went home and wanted to have a cut and shave, my dad pointed me in the direction of Mottai Mama.

I dropped by and instantly recognized mama. But for a white beard, he was still the same person I remembered from two decades ago. I reminded him that I was an old customer and while he didnt remember me, he knew my dad and pieced things together. We talked about the changes in our lives all these years and he was visibly thrilled to have me come back. When the next customer, another regular, came in, mama took a few minutes to talk about how an old customer had come back to his roots and what it meant to him.

The shop has not changed much. It has undergone a couple of paint jobs- but in the same color. The posters remain as does the pot. The shop is peppered with pictures of various Hindu deities. The old tape recorder in the corner blared religious music non-stop. The ambiance had not changed one bit.

Mama asked me how I was doing in the US and if I was happy. I paused and said, “I am doing good. Things are fine. I am happy. What about you?” He smiled. He replied, “My life has been the same for as long as I remember. I am very happy with what I have and what my job and life offers. I need nothing more at this point.” His answer blew me away. As someone who belongs to a “want even more” generation, it is hard to find anybody who is happy and content with what they have. One could argue about his lack of motivation to be and do more. But I would think that a contented man today is a very rare commodity. In a world where more money buys more things, here is someone who is happy with everything in life. It must be applauded.

I paid my Rs.100 (~$1.6) for the haircut and shave and dollops of advice on how I can tweak my shaving style to keep my skin smooth (unsolicited and good natured advice is a bonus everywhere in India). I walked away happy – not just with my shave and cut, but also with having met someone who was genuinely happy with life and had no regrets. For that alone, the Rs.100 was worth it.

P.S: Subramaniam insisted that I call him Mottai Mama in this article.

Other Posts in the series:

Dispatches from real India (Part 1)

Dispatches from real India (Part 2)

Dispatches from real India (Part 3)

Dispatches from real India (Part 4)

 

Dispatches from real India (Part 4): Dr.Karumbu

In all the previous posts in this series (1)(2)(3), the focus was on real people who are working hard and making a difference to their families and the country. Lest this is misunderstood to be all about nostalgia, here is something that is at once looking forward but with local underpinnings. This time the character in question is a corporate entity, Mr.Karumbu (Mr.Sugarcane).

As many of you know, sugar cane juice is a popular summer beverage in India, mainly south India. It offers a refreshing dose of natural sugar on a sweltering afternoon. It requires minimum preparation and no additives but for the occasional ginger to give it a kick. The only downside to sugar cane juice is that it is almost always found on the road and mosquitoes and insects occasionally get crushed along with the sugarcane. It does not make for a healthy drink in the dust and grime of the streets and most people stay away from it for just that reason.

I am a huge fan of the beverage but was hesitant to go to the street side vendor nearby given the surroundings. As if to answer my prayers and that of thousands more, I stumbled upon a nice store in R.S.Puram called Dr.Karumbu.

Dr.Karumbu is an excellent example of innovation on homegrown produce. It takes the production of sugar cane juice and makes it clean and audience pleasing without increasing the price significantly. It also adds flavors to sugarcane juice which gives the drink an extra platform to be more popular.

I happened to drive past the store in R.S.Puram and immediately brought my vehicle to a halt. A karumbu juice shop- I had to try this. I walked in and was pleased to see things nice and orderly with a menu, no less. I ordered a bottle of sugarcane juice with ginger- the operator smilingly wore a pair or disposable gloves, gathered a few chopped and peeled sugarcane pieces from a closed cooler. He then put the sugarcane sticks carefully into a fully closed and well maintained box. The box chugged and then came to a stop. The operator than picked up a clean PET bottle from a pile arranged carefully on a corner. He then turned on a tap to collect the juice. Once filled, he took the bottle to a cap sealing unit which plugged in a cap to the bottle and sealed it. Voila!

I was blown away by the efficient process, the arrangement of things and the cleanliness of the infrastructure. And best of all- the juice was outstanding. And all this for less than a dollar. A cup costs Rs.20. A small bottle, Rs.40 and a full 1 liter bottle worth of sugarcane juice was Rs.70. I was told that the equipment was made in Bangalore and assembled on site. Dr.Karumbu had two outlets in Coimbatore and were looking to grow. The sugarcane juice in a shop concept I am told is also catching on in Chennai and Bangalore.

All in all, I was thrilled. I made multiple trips to the shop before I left town and sampled all the variants. Needless to say sugarcane juice with ginger was the runaway favorite. If you are in Coimbatore, do try their shop. You will not regret it. To me, this is an excellent example of building and refining on one’s own specialties. Something that will benefit India a great deal instead of just aping the culinary habits of the west.

Other Posts in the series:

Dispatches from real India (Part 1)

Dispatches from real India (Part 2)

Dispatches from real India (Part 3)

Dispatches from real India (Part 3): Vasu, the tailor.

In the first two parts of this series (1)(2), I talked to and about common people in the beverage business. For a change, we will now take up a sartorial subject. The man in question here is Mr.Vasu of Vasu Tailors, Kattoor, Coimbatore.

Vasu of Vasu Tailors has been stitching my shirts and pants, mending torn ones and resizing them as needed over the past 20 years. I had been using my dads tailor until then but Vasu worked closer and was more accessible and I decided to shift my allegiance. I have not looked back since. Vasu offers excellent and timely stitching services for a very reasonable price. Added to which, he drops them off at my house when it is done. Talk about free home delivery.

Over the past few years, much of India has been engulfed in the ready-made craze. There are ready made clothing showrooms everywhere. They hawk their prices in dollar equivalents that now puts my wallet to shame. I find it expensive beyond comparison- even by dollar converted currency standards. In the midst this sea change in customer preferences, Vasu offers a way to get well tailored, custom fit clothes for a significantly cheaper price. Even with excellent fabrics, the tailored, custom fit shirts and pants end up being very reasonable. Vasu has added women’s clothing to his repertoire which his tailors stitch all day. This supports the original enterprise of men’s tailoring which is not as robust as it used to be.

As usual, I stopped by Vasu’s this week with some alteration requests. This was a menial job for him and not at all worth his labor time. It is back to school season in India and uniform stitching in full swing. Every tailor worth his skill is in huge demand and swamped with work. But I was leaving town in two days and had no one else to trust my clothing with. Vasu being the good friend that he is, could not say no. As promised, he delivered the altered clothes on time and for much less than the labor was worth.

I struck up a conversation with Vasu as he was working through a couple of school uniform pants. He talked about his background where he moved to Coimbatore from a small village close to Palghat at the age of 18 to open his own tailoring shop. His current shop has been his haunt for the past 35 years. He has been stitching clothes since 1970. In that time, he has gotten married, had 3 kids, put them through college and gotten all of them married, all while he was toiling in his shop on clothes like mine. His kids are now settled and he is relieved of all that worry. I asked him if he is happy now. He said yes. He then paused for a few moments and then remarked, “All my life has been spent within these four wall toiling away that I know nothing else. I wish I had the time and wherewithal to explore the world and see things. But now, it is too late.”

As India shifts rapidly towards a consumption economy driven by brands and glitz, it helps to cultivate and support local small businesses like Vasu Tailors. They offer much better value for money, a personal experience and a long lasting relationship built on trust, unlike any other.

Other Posts in the series:

Dispatches from real India (Part 1)

Dispatches from real India (Part 2)

Dispatches from real India (Part 2): Mrs.Lakshmi and Mr.Soda

I kicked off a short series on some interesting people I met during my recent (and ongoing) India trip. In the first post on the topic, I wrote about Mr.Rajan, MGR fan extraordinaire and owner of a 85 year old sukku kaapi shop in the outskirts of Coimbatore. In this second brief post, I turn my attention to a simple and enterprising lady at the local Mr.Soda franchise shop, Ms.Lakshmi.

Not too far from my house, in a bustling intersection where buses and autos make their evening resting stop, is a local Mr.Soda franchise shop. For the uninitiated, Mr.Soda is a burgeoning chain of shops/kiosks around the city where made to order flavored sodas are concocted and sold. These shops are bustling at this time of the year when 100F is bosom buddy of the thermometer. The shop offers everything from mint flavored soda to ginger lime (fabulous), jeera masala (pretty awesome), guava (OK), butterscotch (too sweet) to cocktails of various flavors made to the customer’s desire. Most of these range from Rs.10 (about 17c) to Rs.30 (about 50c) and is a lifesaver on warm summer days.

Over a cup of Kalakhatta flavored soda, I struck a conversation with her. My father and brother are regulars here. So she knows all about me already. She is an enthusiastic lady, chatting away inspite of the crowd on a warm 98F afternoon. She has two daughters in college and she works here until they get back home. She is employed in Mr.Soda for the past three years but interestingly enough, her wage is tied to how much soda she sells every day. Warm afternoon and big sales translates to a decent income. She says, they make up to Rs.4000 a day on sales when the going is good. But then on rainy and breezy afternoons, they barely sell 15-20 cups making less than Rs.400. This is important because, her wages kick in after the daily rent for the shop which is Rs.450.

To make the Rs.450, she needs to make good friends with everyone in the neighborhood, myself included. The auto stand close by is a good source of income. As is the Tasmac liquor shop next door. Apparently the sweet and sour sodas work well to dispel the smell and occasionally the effects of hard local liquor. The enterprising lady is all smiles on a good or a bad day and is slowly becoming a part of the local area. They thrive and she thrives.

In a nation of Rs.70 coffees and Rs.150 cakes, Mrs.Lakshmi of Mr.Soda is surviving with her skills and instinct. The nation was and will continue to be build on the shoulders of such people.

Other posts in this series:

Dispatches from real India (Part 1)