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From 'sui-dhaaga' to sustainable fashion: Rural women weavers find new identity

Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)
Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)

What happens when women from "silai schools" in rural India up the ante under the expert guidance of fashion designers? They not only hone their skills and amplify their earning potential but also learn about fashion, gain confidence and respect and the permission to move out of their homes.

Consumer durables company Usha International Ltd, in collaboration with IMG Reliance, has launched Usha Silai, an ethical and sustainable fashion label which has clothes sewn by women from Usha Silai School and mentored by designers.

The label is a movement to eliminate gender disparity and bring rural women into the world of high street fashion garment construction.

Four clusters were identified for this initiative -- Kaladhera in Rajasthan, Mastikari in Bengal, Dholka in Gujarat, and Puducherry -- and select women from these clusters were mentored by designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, Sayantan Sarkar, Soham Dave and Sreejith Jeevan.

The initiative aims to reverse the migration of skilled workers by empowering them with skills and resources to create clothes and accessories that can be retailed in the urban fashion market as well as create the go-to-market strategy for them.

Rinku Mandal and Devdasi Mondal from the Kolkata cluster feel that their standing in their community has grown manifold after working on this venture.

"We got to know about new skills and we have learned how to work as a team," Rinku told IANS.

Devdasi said that in addition to the usual silhouettes, they have learned to texture hand-embroidery and how to dye products, which have helped them create high-end fashion garments.

Irudhayamary and Metildamary from the Puducherry cluster feel their confidence has grown immensely ever since they began working on the label, and that they now take pride in showing their work around.

"There is an increase in confidence, increase in respect from the customers at Silai School since we have begun making quality garments," Irudhayamary told IANS, adding that they feel proud that the dresses made by them are used at fashion events.

The first collection from each cluster under the Usha Silai label was showcased at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in February this year.

Metildamary said they have got "more exposure to the fashion world".

"We are now able to make any new design by seeing the garments. We are making garments that reflect our Puducherry culture -- with waves, window, pintucks and glass panels," said Metildamary.

Sunita Devi from the Kaladhera cluster in Rajasthan is proud she has her "own identity outside my home and in the home".

"Now my family does not stop me from going outside my home. My decision also has value in my home. Before being associated with this fashion label, I didn't know about fashion. In fact, the first time I heard the term fashion was when I underwent the fashion label assessment in Kaladhera.

"I had never seen fashion clothes in my life. I have only seen clothes which are sold in the local market," Sunita told IANS.

The same is the case with Rekha Ben from Dholka cluster in Gujarat.

"I have felt a lot of change in my life. I got a new identity after working on this fashion label. People (in my community) did not know about me before the training, but now many people know me as a good member of society. I am getting good work orders from local markets because my skills have improved," she said.

Priya Somaiya, Executive Director, Usha Social Services, says the idea behind Usha Silai was to facilitate the manifestation and expression of the creative potential in rural women.

"To recognise their ability to learn and hone their skills to sew and stitch, and later cut, draft, and patter-make to a level that could cater to the demands of the fashion industry. By empowering them with the skills to tailor high fashion garments, Usha Silai has grown their earning potential manifold while ensuring continuity of work," Somaiya told IANS.

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China Garden -- a success story that could have been scripted by Bollywood

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(This is the first of two exclusive extracts from "Secret Sauce", an in-depth look at 40 of India's most iconic and successful restaurants, not just as landmarks and must-visit destinations but also as businesses that have stood the test of time and upheld their standards of dining and culinary excellence. From a 100-year-old no-frills eatery in Bengaluru to an award-winning dine-out venue in Delhi, from inventive cafes to nationwide chains that have scaled admirably, this book is a sumptuous treat for aspiring food entrepreneurs, foodies, and anyone interested in the success secrets and inner workings of the restaurant business in India.)
 
In its heyday you could, on any given evening, be dining at China Garden and have Goldie Hawn, Imran Khan or members of Bollywood's Kapoor clan at a table nearby. Playing charming host to his celebrity clientele would be Nelson Wang, relishing every moment. It must have been hugely gratifying for the man who had done various odd jobs as he made his way up in life, including being a shoe-maker and a limbo dancer, who also performed fire-eating tricks.
 
Born in 1950 in Kolkata to Chinese immigrants, Nelson left home and sought his fortune in Hyderabad and Bangalore (now Bengaluru), before landing in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the early 1970s with a suitcase and a little cash. Desperate, he was willing to do anything to make a living and so he joined Frederick's, a Chinese restaurant, as an assistant cook and was paid a modest sum of Rs 20 a month. He learnt on the job and harnessed the skills required in a kitchen devoted exclusively to Chinese cuisine. It was here that his love for food emerged as well, and that, backed by his admirable work ethic, saw him quickly become a key worker at Frederick's.
 
While he was still employed there, Nelson received an offer from the owner of a small, failing restaurant, China Town, to run it on a partnership model. China Town was just a hole in the wall with three tables on the ground floor and one upstairs.
 
Supremely confident about his cooking skills and food, Nelson took up the offer. Soon, customers were queuing up to take away food from China Town and word spread about Nelson Wang's cooking. The restaurant's commercial success and Nelson's frugal lifestyle allowed him to save enough to buy a flat for his family by the early '80s. Having made his way up the hard way, Nelson's top priority was to provide well for his wife and children. "He thought nothing of working twenty-hour days," says his son, Edward Wang, who now manages the Kemp's Corner outlet of the restaurant in Mumbai.
 
We've often noticed that fortuitous events occur at crucial junctures for successful restaurant businesses. For Nelson it was the arrival of the burly, food-loving cricket administrator Raj Singh Dungapur. A regular at China Town, he was also the President of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) at the time. Utterly impressed by Nelson Wang's cooking and attitude, Dungapur invited him to open a Chinese restaurant at the CCI. The China Man was the big break Nelson Wang was hankering for and would catapult him into a different league.
 
Even while working at the elite CCI, Nelson continued running China Town. His day would begin at 5 a.m. with a visit to Crawford market and end at 2 a.m. the next day. His family saw very little of him, but his wife was uncomplaining and a steady support. He drew the energy for this hard routine from his dream to open his own restaurant. He continued to practise thrift and saved every rupee he could. The opportunity to open his own business finally presented itself when Om Navani, also a fan of China Town and China Man, offered Nelson a space to open a bigger, more posh, Chinese restaurant.
 
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Instead of entering into a partnership with Navani, Nelson borrowed money from friends and bought space in Om Chambers at Kemp's Corner for this new, ambitious venture. Edward Wang says that his father believed, adamantly even, in being his own master and owning the spaces in which he would run restaurants. It is part of Mumbai hotel lore that Nelson Wang turned down an offer from Ajit Kerkar, then Chairman and MD of the Taj Hotels, to open restaurants in the chain's properties. He was determined not to give up his independence.
 
Nelson's vision for his restaurant was grand. He was clear that it would take shape in a space that he owned. His business acumen was sharp and he understood the value of real estate assets. Eventually, China Garden opened and Mumbai was bowled over. Spread across more than 7,000 sq ft, and with a vast lobby, it had makrana marble flooring, spectacular all-white interiors, water fountains and monogrammed napkins for privileged regulars. It was the dining place to be seen in, in the Mumbai of the '80s. Nelson Wang had never studied English, having only been to a Chinese school in Kolkata. But he was suave and charming and found himself perfectly at ease amidst his celebrity clientele.
 
Soon, Nelson was a celebrity himself and was invited to Bollywood parties and glitzy Mumbai gatherings.
 
Even with all the hype about the style and extravagance of China Garden, Nelson Wang was clear that the food would always be the hero in his business. Before opening China Garden, Nelson and his wife spent time travelling to Hong Kong, Bangkok and the Philippines to study their local cuisines. Nelson would never simply recreate a dish from elsewhere. According to Edward, one of his father's greatest strengths was his understanding of 'palate'. So, he could take any Oriental dish and tweak it to suit his customers.
 
Edward remembers that his father would experiment and innovate all the time. China Garden was, for instance, the first to put kimchi on the table. His specialities such as teppan soba noodles on a sizzler, pepper chicken, glazed chicken oyster chilli garlic, and corn cream, which the vegetarians love, all became star dishes.
 
As the business grew, Nelson gradually started grooming his two sons to run it. His advice to them was simple: Never give up CCI (that was his expression of gratitude to the place that launched him on his successful journey), be conservative while expanding and start restaurants in spaces you own. Nelson had made some smart real estate investments along the way, taking bank loans wherever possible. With the Indian economy on the upswing post 1992 and the subsequent real estate boom, his insistence on owning the spaces in which his restaurants were located was validated.
 
Nelson also believed that personal attention was a crucial factor in China Garden's success. Even today, all the restaurants are operated by family members with complete loyalty to the brand and the business. Financially, the group is in sound shape and all the bank debts have been paid off. The family business now includes a restaurant in Pune, two in Delhi and, of course, the China Garden in Mumbai, besides the outlet at CCI...
 
...With age catching up, Nelson Wang has bowed out of active involvement in China Garden and spends much of his time in Canada. But he's always there to provide guidance for Edward and his elder brother, Henry, who carry on the legacy. That, Edward says, is both a huge responsibility and a rich reward.
 
How Chicken Manchurian came to be
 
It was Nelson Wang who created the Chicken Manchurian, which has morphed into paneer, gobi and baby corn variants now commonly available at not only every Chinese eatery but also south Indian tiffin joints and street carts. Chicken Manchurian was Nelson Wang's response to requests from CCI members who said 'Kuch alag karo', make us something unique. Essentially, the dish consists of chicken pakoras tossed in soy sauce and condiments. It first bowled over diners at the China Man and went on to become the ubiquitous snack it now is.
 
(Jayanth Narayanan is an entrepreneur and restaurateur. Priya Bala is a food writer and critic with several years of experience in studying restaurants. In 2016, they co-authored Start Up Your Restaurant: The Definitive Guide for Anyone Who Dreams of Running Their Own Restaurant)
 

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God's committed soldiers - from the Crusades to conspiracy theories

Title: The Templars - The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors; Author: Dan Jones; Publisher: Viking/Penguin Random House; Pages: 449; Price: Rs 1,199
 
From Sir Walter Scott to Umberto Eco to Dan Brown, or the video game Assassins Creed to the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", they are shown as a sinister, villainous organisation or fanatical and overzealous guardians of some holy relic, treasure, or esoteric secret. But who were the Knights Templar exactly? How did they earn this reputation? And is it justified?
 
Originating in the early 12th century as an order of warrior monks to protect Christian pilgrims in the recently-conquered Holy Land, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (or the Knights Templar, or simply Templars) went on to become the Crusaders' feared shock troops.
 
They also, as we learn in this rigorously researched but thrilling work liberally interspersed with contemporary accounts, became Europe's first multinational corporation with extensive interests in hospitality, finance and transportation, and owning huge tracts of land and choice properties across the continent -- all tax free and beyond any local secular or spiritual regulation.
 
But within a few years, in the early 14th century, they were discredited, suppressed and totally disappeared -- with their existence continuing only in all kinds of speculative fiction and conspiracy theories down to the present day, says English historian Dan Jones.
 
"The Templars were holy soldiers. Men of religion and men of the sword, pilgrims and warriors, paupers and bankers," and though one among several religious orders that came up in medieval Europe and the Holy Land during the Crusading era, "they were by far the best known and the most controversial", he says.
 
In this book, Jones recounts the Templars' meteoric rise, flourishing fame and equally rapid downfall in a welter of charges "designed specifically to cause outrage and disgust" but happening so suddenly and violently that seven centuries hence "they remain objects of fascination, imitation and obedience".
 
The Templars feature in fiction, TV shows and films as "heroes, martyrs, thugs, bullies, victims, criminals, perverts, heretics, depraved subversives, guardians of the Holy Grail, protectors of Christ's secret bloodline, time-travelling agents of global conspiracy" and more, which may be entertaining but isn't true, he says, as he seeks to tell their story "as they were, not as legend has embellished them since".
 
The goal, as he says, is to show that "their real deeds were even more extraordinary than the romances, half-truths and voodoo histories that have swirled around them since they fell".
 
In the racy narrative in four sections, "Pilgrims" details the Templars' origins, "Soldiers" about how they transformed from a "roadside rescue team" into an elite military unit, which not only guided pilgrims, but the entire army of the King of France, and "Bankers" about how they laid the foundation of modern banking.
 
Finally, "Heretics" deals with their troubled last half-century in which their fortunes ebbed with the Crusaders' defeat and eventual expulsion from the Holy Land, and covetous eyes hungered for their huge wealth.
 
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In course of this, we see the Templars at battles of the Crusades across three continents, fighting in the vanguard of Crusader armies from Syria to Egypt, and from Palestine to Spain. They are also seen financing wars, providing loans to pay kings' ransoms, helping kings with financial management, collecting taxes, building castles, running cities, interfering in trade disputes, engaging in private wars against other military orders, carrying out political assassinations and even playing kingmakers.
 
Along with how they were so gifted in fighting, making money and so on, why they were feared by their enemies (their organisation for one) and hated by various sections (for their wealth and influence), Jones shows their interactions with an extraordinary gamut of people. These range from kings and sultans -- brave or brilliant, cruel or covetous -- to popes and prelates, of steadfast integrity or known for being influenced by power, pressure or pride.
 
As the story traverses from the fields of France to the stony battlegrounds of Palestine and back, it doesn't only explain some dynamics of a period of religious conflict but also "the relation between international finance and geopolitics" and "the power of propaganda and myth-making".
 
That is the Templars' real legacy and the reason why they are still of interest -- and Dan Jones is the one who must be read, not Dan Brown.
 
IANS
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Book review: A valid argument for a life less technological?

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Title: Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer; Author: Wendell Berry; Publisher: Penguin Classics; Pages: 64; Price: Rs 50
 
In this era of high technology, expressing disinclination to use a computer would be tantamount to declaring yourself a fossil. But have the ubiquitous computers -- or rather the technological progress they embody -- been an unqualified boon for us?
 
There may be no simple answer; and in any case, it would differ on a generational basis -- from those who have practically grown up with computers, and their elders, who can still recall a world where they were not that common.
 
But there are some -- among both sections -- well aware that the growing presence of computers in every field of human activity also raises a few concerns. Artificial intelligence (AI) and its consequences is one, but slowly but steadily diminishing human ingenuity, knowledge and endeavour -- and even thinking -- is a rather bigger, though lesser-known, problem. Take anyone who turns to Google to find a fact, or a spelling -- to find, not to cross-check (William Poundstone's "Head in the Cloud", 2016, is a worrying read in this regard).
 
However, it was nearly three decades ago that American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer Wendell Berry invoked these concerns while setting out his reasons for not investing in a computer to help him in his writing. As this book, reproducing his 1987 piece for "Harper's Weekly", shows, some of his points are still valid even now. While dealing with the US of the late 1980s, some will also strike a chord across time and space. 
 
Stressing he did not "admire" his reliance on energy corporations and wanted to be "hooked" on them as less as possible, Berry holds this is the primary reason for not acceding to the demand of several people that he get a computer.
 
Asserting he "did not admire the computer manufacturers a great deal more than I admire the energy industries", he says he was familiar with the former's "propaganda campaigns that have put computers into public schools in need of books".
 
Berry also argues that the stand that computers are "expected to become as common as TV sets in 'the future' does not impress or matter to me" for he does not see them advancing, even a bit, anything that matters -- peace, economic justice, ecological health and so on.
 
He goes on to list his nine standards for useful technological innovation. However, all this barely covers two (A4) pages -- but then there are a selection of letters, mainly critical, his article evoked, especially his quips about his wife's role in his writings, and his joint rejoinder to them, questioning "technological fundamentalism".
 
But what occupies most of this book, among Penguin's special printing selection from 50 classics, is a longer essay titled "Feminism, the Body and the Machine".
 
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In this, Berry, expanding on his previous arguments, gives an eloquent and reasoned, yet provocative, pitch on how technological progress, or even the modern economic system that props it up, may not always be very positive, since it may be dehumanising us.
 
This, he polemically but cogently argues, has made the modern household "the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming" and "nothing productive" -- well almost nothing -- is done. How the aims of gender equality cannot be served by women submitting to "the same specialisation, degradation, trivialisation and tyrannisation of work" that men have, and the fact that work can be a gift too is overlooked.
 
Berry also deals with the shortcomings of modern education where "after several generations of 'technological progress'... we have become a people who cannot think about anything important" and goes on to question the very purpose of all this progress, which is not having a too salutary effect on our lives -- family or personal -- despite its promise of "money and ease".
 
There is much more which merits a careful consideration, though many of us will dismiss this as an obscurantist rant. But as Berry, now over 83, says: "My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can."
 
Do we need devices for this? 
 
IANS
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At 104, his passion for driving remains undiminished

C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza
C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza
Driving has been a passion for C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza ever since he was 18 – which was way back in 1932. It continues to remain the focus of his life, but sadly, deteriorating driving conditions, a growing number of motorists with deplorable habits and rapid urbanisation of cities have deprived him of the joys of driving.
 
Says the still sprightly 104-year- old, living in a quiet area of Mangalore, the vibrant hub of south Karnataka: “I have driven all kinds of vehicles including military ones, buses and trucks. But now I just use my car.” He now provides services to a family living near his home.
 
Michael was born in Ooty on a plantation on October 16, 1914. His father had, over his lifespan, married five times and had about 30 children. “I could study only up to standard VIII,” recalls the ageing Michael.
 
He joined the British Indian Army after getting his driving licence and worked for a decade as a driver and mechanic. “Those were tough days,” recalls the centenarian, speaking in a mix of Kannada and English, when this journalist met him at his Mangalore home last month.
 
Later, he joined a power company before getting into the public works department (PWD) in the erstwhile Madras Presidency (Mangalore was part of it then), and had continuous service of 37 years, mostly driving vehicles around the state.
 
Mangalore as home
 
In 1949, his job brought him to Mangalore, which has since become his home. Michael married and lived with his wife for several decades, though the couple never had any children. “I have a younger brother in Ooty now and many children and grandchildren of my other siblings come often to Mangalore to meet me.”
 
His wife, who passed away about five years ago, was hard working, recalls Michael. “One night she vomited and I took her to a hospital. Fortunately, she did not have to struggle and passed away soon thereafter,” he adds.
 
Michael was a heavy smoker – up to five cigarette packets a day – but gave up smoking nearly a quarter century ago. And after his wife’s death, he also gave up alcohol. “Earlier, I would shower with some little brandy added to the water, take a peg and then go to sleep,” he says.
 
Of course, he’s grateful that he’s had a hassle-free life for the past more than a century. “I’ve only gone through one operation, for cataract,” elaborates Michael. “I never took English medicine or got admitted to a hospital in those days.”
 
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Sadly, his first stay in hospital was one after completing his century. “Many television and print journalists had come to Mangalore to interview me,” recalls Michael. “I went to a function in the morning, but couldn’t go to the evening one as I couldn’t sit or even stand.”
 
He was hospitalised for a fortnight – and was slapped with a hefty Rs 49,000 bill. “But after that the videographers and journalists were not seen,” he says.
 
No interviews, photographs
 
And when he turned 102, many called him up again, asking him whether he would pose for pictures. “I warned them not to come home,” says Michael. “I do not give interviews to any journalists now.” (The exception, fortunately, was this one).
 
The centenarian driver continues to be a busy man. Living in a small house, he only has a dog, cats and a few birds as company. “Of course, God is always there,” he remarks. “I get up at around 4 in the morning, and start cleaning the house.”
 
Michael is multi-lingual and speaks Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and even English.
 
Asked about his favourite passion – driving and cars – he recalls that cars and even roads in the past were much better than today. “I still remember taking just 30 minutes to travel to Udupi from Mangalore,” he says. “Today, even after widening of the highway, it takes more than 90 minutes.”
 
He bemoans that not many motorists follow rules or traffic signals. They overtake arbitrarily from the right or the left. “I ask policemen to take action against such motorists, but they are helpless.” And when motorists blow their horns at this ageing driver sitting behind the wheels of his car, he tells them to fly off.
 
When he was young and in the military, he had bought a motorcycle for a mere Rs 200. Of course, today cars and other vehicles are prohibitively priced. His driving licence was renewed for five years, and the officials at Mangalore transport department told him that next time when he comes, they will renew it for a lifetime.
 
Michael has not travelled abroad and also does not have a passport. Has he taken flights? “I aim to go on the last one, which will soon take me away forever,” he quips. The centenarian prays to God daily, pleading with him not to hospitalise him for a month or two, but to take him away quickly and painlessly.
 
Nithin Belle
Nithin Belle
 
 
 
 
 
Nithin Belle is a journalist who has worked with several publications including Indian Express, Mid-Day, Bombay magazine and Gentleman magazine. He also worked with the Khaleej Times in Dubai for several years, covering both regional and international news. He has been writing extensively for many Indian and international titles since his return to the country. His other passions include photography.
 
 
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Recipes: Assorted Pakoras, classic tea-time snacks


 
Assorted Pakoras
Cabbage pakoras are a very tasty snack and also easy to cook. There are varieties of pakoras available in India, but the most common and favourite of all the vegetarian people are onion pakoras and cabbage pakoras. Pakoras are usually served as snacks which are available in all of India but in the south, people also call it as bhaji.
 
There are numerous Indian snacks recipes that can be prepared easily at home and one such classic appetizing tea-time snack or a rainy day treat is a pakora. It is easy to make. We will show you a few easy step-by-step recipes to make a few different varieties of them. 
 
 
 
 
CABBAGE PAKORAS
Ingredients:
 
Cabbage 
Turmeric powder - 1/2 Tsp.
Chili powder - 2 Tsp.
Salt to taste
Ajwain/Carom seeds - 1 Tsp.
Besan/Gram flour - 2 cups 
Water
Oil for deep frying
 
Method: 
 
Take a few cabbage leaves and cut off the center thick stalk. 
Roll up the cabbage leaves together and cut them up. Make sure they are not too thin. 
Put these cut up cabbage in a large mixing bowl. 
Add turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt, ajwain, gram flour (Besan) and mix all the ingredients together. 
Gradually add a little water and mix well. 
Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pan. 
Drop these coated cabbage leaves into the oil. 
Deep fry it until it is a crisp golden brown colour. 
Now, carefully remove the pakoras from the pan, draining all the oil. 
 
BEETROOT CARROT PAKORAS
Ingredients:
 
Beetroot - 1 grated
Carrot - 1 grated
Onion - 1 thinly sliced
A piece of Ginger chopped
Green chilli - 1 finely chopped
Ginger & Garlic paste - 1/4 tsp.
A few chopped Coriander leaves
A few Curry leaves
Salt to taste 
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp.
Besan (or) Gram flour - 2 tbsp.
Rice flour - 1 tbsp.
Oil for frying
 
Method:
In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients, i.e. beetroot, carrot, onion, ginger, green chilli, ginger-garlic paste, coriander leaves, curry leaves, salt and red chilli powder. Mix all the ingredients together until they are blended nicely.
Now, add the besan (or) gram flour and mix gently. 
Now, add the rice flour to the mixture and mix again.
Heat some oil in a kadai. Once the oil is hot enough, drop the batter mix gently into the kadai, a little at a time.
Deep fry the Beetroot Carrot Pakoras until they are nice and crispy. 
Crispy Beetroot Carrot Pakoras are ready to be served!
 
BREAD PANEER PAKORA
Ingredients: 
 
Bread slices 
Paneer - 200 gms
Mint & coriander chutney [Recipe]
Date & tamarind chutney [Recipe
Oil for frying
 
For Batter:
Besan/Gram flour - 1 1/2 cups
Turmeric powder - 1/4 Tsp
Salt to taste
Chili powder - 1 Tsp
Ajwain/Carom seeds - 1 Tsp
Water
 
Method:
Make Batter: In a mixing bowl add besan/gram flour, turmeric powder, salt, chili powder, ajwain/carom seeds and mix well.
Gradually add water and mix well. It should be a thick batter. Keep aside.
 
Cut the paneer into a thick slice. 
Take 2 bread slices, spread mint & coriander chutney on one slice. On the other slice spread date & tamarind chutney. 
Place the paneer slice on top of the bread slice and close it with another slice. Cut the sandwich into quarter size.
Heat oil for deep frying.
Dip the bread paneer sandwich into the batter and gently drop into the hot oil.
Fry till it turns golden brown color.
Enjoy the bread paneer pakora served hot.
 
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Creativity has no age limit, says 70-year-old self-taught photographer

At an age long past retirement for most people, who would prefer to lie down on a planter’s chair on the verandah, 70-year-old Professor (Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma is on the move, in constant pursuit of his latest hobby, photography.    
 
‘Moments and Movements’ is the title the professor has given to the exhibition of 60-odd photographs and paintings now on display at the Lalit Kala Academy here.
 
What makes the exhibition interesting is that Varma, now 70, had taken to photography only three years ago. Having decided to take it up as a hobby, he lost no time in walking into the nearest photography equipment store and demanding a “good camera”.
 
Having selected a Canon 550D that then cost Rs. 90,000 including original lens, he ventured forth, happily clicking away at anything that caught his fancy. However, he found to his dismay, that nothing has been captured in the camera. Off he went to the shop again to complain, only to be told that a memory card needed to be inserted first!
 
He then decided to read up a few books and armed with the knowledge gained and the camera, he gradually built up quite a big collection. The camera became a part of his body whenever he went out or even while sitting at home.
 
Fascinated by the crows fluttering about, he managed to capture quite a few shots of them sitting on electric wires, pottering about the ground in search of food and the like. Once, standing outside a shop, he looked up and found a tangle of wires overhead and took a picture that he likens to human life, with innumerable connections, cross-connections and confusions.
 
Some of the photographs on display, like the one about the Vivekananda Memorial in Kanya Kumari, at first sight, looks like a finely-crafted painting. It has colourfully painted boats, in various shades of reds, blues and yellows in the foreground and the memorial, with its saffron domes, set against cloudy skies on the rough brown rock with a small patch of green lawn, floating in the light blue waters of the sea.
 
Nature forms a major theme in the collection. Water bodies like serene deep blue lakes, the sea with gently rolling waves, sun rays turning the water into molten gold, sunset at Kanyakumari are on display. One or two photos are of elderly bulls lying down, their skin scarred with a lifetime of hard work and cows nuzzling each other.    
 
Varma has been an academician for the past 48 years. “After being a professor of English in Tamil Nadu for 32 years, I switched to management studies after taking a few PG degrees in that discipline. I worked in a management institute in Bangalore and later joined DC School of Management Studies promoted by DC Books in Vagamon and Thiruvananthapuram. Later, I became its Group Director and Chief Operating Officer,” he says.
 
He retired from service about a year ago after having met with an accident that resulted in a major head injury, He credits his recovery to his passion for photography as also to poetry and painting. Throughout the recovery stage, he says, his mind was full of plans for new projects.
 
(Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma
(Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma
About his foray into poetry, he says, “I have been writing poems in English for the last 35 years and published 500 poems that have received favourable reviews from national and local dailies.” So far, he has published four volumes of poetry titled ‘Spark and Fire ‘In Love with Life’, ‘Loom of Life’ and ‘Let Us Face the Facts’. The last mentioned book has a preface by renowned Malayalam poet Ayyappa Panicker and an endorsement by eminent novelist and filmmaker M T Vasudevan Nair.
 
Varma is a self-taught painter who picked up the brush rather later in life, at the age of 50. Similarly, about photography, he says he became interested in it three years ago and started studying more about it from books and experimenting with a good camera. The display at the exhibition includes 22 paintings, mostly abstracts, executed in vibrant tones of reds, yellows and white, radiating positive energy.
 
“The exhibition is the result of these activities. I am very passionate about all these things even at the age of 70. Creativity has no age limit. This exhibition is also intended to inspire the visitors to take up some hobby and pursue it to discover something new within you,” he adds.
 
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Mexico should be among your top travel destinations, will remind you of India

Panoramic view from the Pyramid of the Sun - the Pyramid of the Moon can be seen on the right
Panoramic view from the Pyramid of the Sun - the Pyramid of the Moon can be seen on the right
Mexico is not quite on the radar of most Indian tourists who end up travelling to the more popular destinations  in Europe, the United States or the Far East. But I got to travel to Mexico City on a short business trip recently and enjoyed every bit of it.
 
In many ways, Mexico will remind you of India. It is close to the equator, and at the same time, shows extremes in climates; both our cuisines are spicy and use similar spice blends; both have long coastlines of about 7,000 km; both have ancient civilisations in their history and have rich cultural traditions.
 
(In fact, the chilli came to India from Mexico. Pop quiz: Do you know which fruit went to Mexico from India? - Answer at the bottom of the article.)
 
So, when I arrived in Mexico City, barring the jet lag from the 28-hour long journey, I felt almost at home. I reached late at night and after a good night's rest, the first order of business was to order a proper Mexican breakfast.
 
I stayed at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in the Polanco area, a decent budget business hotel in the heart of the city. The rooms are expectedly average, the service is efficient, and the food, although limited in options, was excellent. A light breakfast, consisting of fruit, toast and coffee, was included with the room - which was not what I was expecting when I was told continental breakfast was included - and anything more had to be ordered over and above.
 
A major issue that non-Spanish speakers will face in Mexico is that there aren't many people, especially in shops and restaurants, who know English. So, one has to rely on translator apps and dictionaries to communicate or use sign language generously, along with sporadic use of English words and hope the other person understands.
 
Fossilised mandible of large mammoth like creature(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Fossilised mandible of large mammoth like creature(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Back at the breafast table, I decided to dive right in and order Chilaquiles  from the breakfast menu. I had, of course, no idea what it was -  the waiter just said, "tortillas, queso" (tortillas, cheese), and then asked "Con pollo?" (with chicken? I said, okay), "Salsa verde, roja?" (I said, green), after which he took off to get the order.
 
I was, of course, completely intrigued. Not long after, my order came - and I quickly understood why the waiter had been so sparse in his description. The dish was literally a shallow pool of green salsa, in which tortilla chips and chicken strips were swimming, with a sprinkling of cheese all over, and a blob of refried beans on the corner - and tasted amazing!
 
I had come to Mexico to speak at a business event. On the way to the event, I was struck by how some neighbourhoods of Mexico would not have been out of place in Delhi, the only difference being that the signs were all in Spanish. Another thing that stood out was that Mexico City has a predilection for the bright pink colour. The logo of Mexico City is in pink, and all the city vehicles (taxis, trucks, buses, vans) are painted pink. Many houses have also painted their outer walls in pink. One would imagine all this pink would look garish, but somehow, it all fits in, and looks natural.
Head dress(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Head dress(Museum of Anthroplogy)
 
The event was catered by a local Indian restaurant, called Bukhara, run by a genial Sikh gentleman, who had come to Mexico in the early 1990s. The food was traditional Indian catering fare - chicken tikka, seekh kebabs, fish tikka, pulao and dal makhani, rounded off by rasmalai and cardamom chai - and, was surprisingly good. The crowd had almost polished off the entire stock of food available.
 
That evening, the jet lag finally caught up with me and I crashed early for the night, without having any dinner.
 
The next day was to be another packed day and, because it had been a good 14 hours after my previous meal, it was no surprise that I was at the restaurant early morning, waiting for it to open up. After I finished my allotted fruit appetizer, I turned my attention to what was going to be the main act that morning. Mexican Scrambled Eggs, it was, with Chorizo. The Mexican bit was the fried beans and a tortilla chip
 
Mexican Scrambled Eggs
Mexican Scrambled Eggs
Wyndham Garden has a restaurant on their top floor, which overlooks the Chapultepec Castle, and the surrounding park - which makes for a wonderful scene, as the sun streams into the restaurant when it rises from behind the palace, and the scrambled eggs were a perfect complement to the view.
 
Chapultepec Castle, located on top of Chapultepec Hill in the middle of the Chapultepec Park at a height of 2,325 meters above sea level, has served as an Imperial residence, the Presidential home and is now the National Museum of History. The castle was a film location in 1996 for Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
 
During the day, we grabbed a quick bite at McDonald's - where the local options are lathered in salsa and habanero sauce. The evening was hosted by my colleague and his wife, where they treated me to some great home-cooked Indian food.
 
After the meetings next day, I had about half a day remaining in Mexico City, and I decided to explore the sights. (Tip: If you are going out in the city for a meeting or sightseeing, keep at least an hour's margin for travel time, as Mexico City's traffic is famously unpredictable, and your schedule can get out of gear quite rapidly, if you are not prepared.)
 
Since, I had limited time, I decided to first see the most popular place in Mexico City - the Pyramids of Teotihuacan.
The Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun
 
The Meso-American civilisation that grew near Mexico city established itself in the valley of Teotihuacan, and built their famous flat-topped pyramid temples here. Teotihuacan is about 50 km from the city, and it takes about an hour by taxi to reach here. Mexico City is surrounded by hills, and combined with its latitude, makes the drive out to Teotihuacan a natural scenery treat. I would describe it as very similar to the drive from Mumbai to Lonavala, interspersed with many fields and structures reminiscent of North India.
 
Once there, I finally understood what the fuss about the pyramids were, and why everyone I had met had recommended that I spend some time to visit them. The Teotihuacan pyramid complex has two large pyramids - the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon and many smaller ones around it in neat lines. I was struck by the near precise angles at which the pyramids are constructed, restricting and framing views at strategic positions. Both pyramids have tall, narrow, steep steps cut into the side, where one can climb all the way to the top, and see the entire valley in one view without any obstacles.
Pyramid of the Moon
Pyramid of the Moon
 
The taller of the two pyramids is the Pyramid of the Sun, and the climb is about as high as about 10-12 storeys, and barring one super-athlete, who ran all the way to the top, and skipped circles around all of us, everyone there found the climb extremely strenuous and scary at times. If you are planning to climb the Pyramids, you must have good walking shoes, and stamina.
 
These pyramids were discovered, much like the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, many centuries after their original creators and inhabitants had abandoned them. However, unlike the Pyramids of Giza, these were used as temples and residences for the society's elite, and the rest of the society grew around the Pyramids. Similar pyramids and structures exist throughout Mexico, which indicate many such societies had developed in parallel.
 
The gift shops nearby have many intricate items on offer, especially various articles made of obsidian, which was apparently the preferred traditional material for many objects from Mesoamerican era, and local liquors, including tequila and mezcal.
 
After making the arduous trek to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, and back down, I ambled across the entire complex, admiring the various buildings and their symmetry. Another remarkable fact: the acoustics in this complex are so perfect, that sounds from one end echoes sharply to the other without losing much coherence.
 
After spending about an hour at the Pyramids, I then headed back into the city, and went to the next hot spot for tourists - the world famous Museum of Anthropology
 
The Facade of the Museum of Anthropology
The Facade of the Museum of Anthropology
Set up in the 1960s, the Museum attracts many visitors to its extremely well-designed exhibits, covering the history of homo sapiens, starting from Homo australopithecus all the way to the modern-day American. The museum requires at least 3-4 hours to cover it properly, and has some amazing artefacts, including fossils of, possibly, a mammoth, and many, many objects of use from those times. The museum is a veritable archive of Mexican heritage, and it is highly recommended to get a guide (or an audio guide), as most of the exhibits are in Spanish.
 
While going back to the hotel from the museum, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a fairly large and quiet park commemorating Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to humanity. The park has a large statue of him, but I, unfortunately, did not have much time to spend there - next time perhaps...
 
What I was able to see and experience, was a just a tiny portion of what Mexico (or even, Mexico City) has to offer. Just like India, there is much more than what I have written about, and if you have a week to spare, Mexico City should definitely figure among the top of your list of travel destinations.
 
Travel:
 
Although there are no direct flights to Mexico City from India, there are many one-stop flights from India via France, Germany, Netherlands and the US.
 
Stay:
 
There are any number of options for stay in Mexico City. Wyndham Garden Hotel, a budget hotel, is where I stayed and it is a good economic option for tourists and families. 
 
Transport:
 
Taxis are quite expensive - Uber is a recommended option, or else, one could also look at buying tickets to the Hop-on Hop-off buses.
 
(Answer to pop quiz: Mango)
 
Panoramic view of the temple buildings in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.
Panoramic view of the temple buildings in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.
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The City of the Taj is a good option for a short getaway

 
We wanted to take a short break from Delhi recently and, after considering various options in the region, zeroed in on Agra. Most of us had been there before, but not together as a family. And one of us had not visited the place,  and that was  good enough reason to make the trip to the city of the Taj -- the monument of love.
 
Summer is  not the best time to visit Agra, but we had no choice as far as the dates were concerned. 
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal
 
Our last trip was about a decade ago (and that, too, was in June!). Since then,  the 165-km six-lane controlled Yamuna Expressway from Greater Noida, near Delhi, to  Agra has opened, cutting the travel time considerably. That is the route we took, and it was one of the smoothest drives we have had in India, with the journey taking about three hours. We made sure the driver of our Toyota Innova stayed well within the speed limits and stuck to his lane, and that made the trip enjoyable, without the tension associated with travel on wide highways.
 
This is the expressway on which an Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage-2000 successfully landed near Mathura on May 21, 2015 as part of the IAF's plans to use national highways for emergency landings by fighter aircraft. That will give you some idea of the quality of the highway and you cannot help feeling a sense of pride as you race ahead.
 
From Delhi, we drove through Noida and then Greater Noida and before long we were on the Yamuna Expressway. We left around 1 pm on a Sunday afternoon, after brunch, but the efficient air-conditioning in the car meant that we did not suffer on account of the heat outside. Our aim was to reach Agra long before sundown, and that we did, with more than a couple of hours to spare.
A view of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri
A view of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri
Once you leave Greater Noida, there is not much to see on the way to Agra. The expressway does not pass through any towns and there is hardly any inhabitation for long stretches, unlike the National Highway (NH)-2, which is the older and longer route and passes through towns such as Faridabad, Ballabhgarh and Mathura.
 
It may not be a very wise decision to drive in the night on this route, given the stories you read in the newspapers about crimes on the highway. Ideally, you should leave early in the morning and try and reach Agra by noon. Winter is the best time to visit Agra, but you have to be very careful because of the thick fog that is likely in these parts and the consequent traffic risks.
 
Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri
There are three toll plazas along the expressway at Jewar (38 km), Mathura (94 km) and Agra (150 km). Jewar, by the way, is the place where a new international airport has been planned, one which will bring Agra even closer to tourists from other parts of India and abroad. All three have good food courts and other facilities, including reasonably clean toilets. We are the sort who like to stop for short breaks on road journeys and we did this at Jewar on the way out and just outside Agra and Mathura on the way back. There is a wide choice of food and drinks, especially at Mathura and Jewar, and there were lots of families enjoying themselves in these food courts.
 
There are any number of options at Agra as far as hotels are concerned -- from luxury properties to modest ones. On our previous trip, we had got a good deal from the Taj. This time, we  booked ourselves rooms at Sterling Holidays' Agra Regal Vista for our stay. It is small hotel but quite exceeded our expectations. The check-in was a smooth process, the rooms were comfortable, all the fixtures worked, and room service and housekeeping were effficient. We took the breakfast-dinner package and enjoyed the food at each of the meals. The spread was limited, but the quality was good and consistent. What we appreciated even more was the restaurant's and the hotel's willingness and ability to respond to our requests. A good place to stay for those travelling on a budget and well located on Fatehabad road in the city.
 
What many people try and do is to make a day-trip to Agra and squeeze everything into a few hours. But we think it is much better to stay in the city for a couple of days and enjoy at leisure what the Taj and other monuments have to offer.
 
Based on our experience from the previous time, we asked the hotel to arrange for guides for us, and they found us two -- one for Fatehpur Sikri and the other for Agra on the following day. These guides were slightly more expensive but much better than the ones we would otherwise have ended up picking at the monuments. 
The Angoori BaghEntrance to Agra FortA view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort
The Angoori Bagh; Entrance to Agra Fort; A view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort
After a quiet evening and a relaxed dinner, we set out early next morning for Fatehpur Sikri, a fascinating city built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century about 36 km from Agra. Legend has it that Akbar, then 26, did not have an heir and went to a saint, Shaikh Salim Chishti, who lived at Sikri. He blessed Akbar, who had three sons after that. As a gesture, he built a whole new city in Sikri and named it Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory. It is a superb example of the splendour of Mughal architecture and has featured in many Bollywood movies. It was meant to be a joint capital with Agra, but was soon deserted because it did not have a proper water supply system. 
 
Fatehpur Sikri is a fine example of a combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture and attracts thousands of tourists from around the world today. There is a fair bit of walking to do to see all the structures, but they are worth every bit of the effort you make. In particular, the Diwan-I-Khas, the Panch Mahal, a five-storeyed building which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding areas, the tomb of Salim Chishti, Buland Darwaza, the 54-metre high gateway built in 1575 and the Diwan-I-Aam and the Jama Masjid are some of the major attractions. Listed as a World Heritage structure by UNESCO, Fatehpur Sikri is clearly one of the places people must visit at least once in their lives.
 
We were back in Agra by noon and, after a quick lunch, went to the Taj Mahal. Again, there is a lot of walking involved, and it would be a good idea to equip yourselves with a bottle or two of drinking water. 
 
Even if you have been to the monument before and have seen hundreds of pictures, nothing quite prepares you for the majestic beauty of the structure when you first set eyes on it from the gateway. You will be overcome by a variety of emotions as you enter the complex and slowly walk towards the mausoleum.
 
Before that, we hired the services of a photographer, who took pictures of us outside the entrance and then at various points inside the complex. At the end, when you come out, you get an album of pictures.
 
As is well-known, the monument, often described as poetry in marble and one of the wonders of the modern world, was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1630 A.D. Its construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. More than 20,000 workers were said to have been employed to build the mausoleum. It stands on a raised, square platform (186 feet x 186 feet) and is a part of a vast complex that includes a large garden, a mosque and several other grand buildings. 
 
As things turned out, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in the Agra Fort for nine years, which he spent just gazing at the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna.
A part of the Agra FortA part of the Agra FortThe Diwan-e-Aam at Agra Fort
A part of the Agra Fort; A part of the Agra Fort; The Diwan-e-Aam at Agra Fort
Agra Fort, which we visited next morning, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, about 2.5 km northwest of the Taj Mahal. It was built by Akbar in red sandstone and served as his residence and military strategic headquarters. The vast complex has splendid palaces in red sandstone and marble, built by Akbar and later Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Among the buildings that have survived are such exquisite structures as the Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace), the royal dressing room adorned by mirror-like glass-mosaic decorations on the walls; the Diwan-I-Aam, where ordinary people could communicate with the rulers and which once housed the Peacock Throne; and the Diwan-i-Khas, a private hall where the emperor met kings and other dignitaries.
 
There also the Anguri Bagh, Khas Mahal, a white marble palace, various mosques, and Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal.
 
Other places of interest in Agra include Sikandra, the mausoleum of Akbar; Itmad-ud-daula, the tomb of Mir Ghiyas Beg, a minister in the court of Shah Jahan and the first tomb in India that was entirely made of marble; and the Red Taj Mahal, the tomb of Dutch soldier John William Hessing built by his wife Ann Hessing in his memory after his death in 1803. 
 
Tourism is a major contributor to Agra's economy but the city has a lot of manufacturing units, too. Among other things, it is known for its leather industry.
 
An important fact we noticed was that the city appeared to be a much cleaner place as compared to what it was on our earlier visit. Also, there are now any number of good restaurants. We tried one of them, Pind Baluchi, and enjoyed the experience.
 
All in all, thanks to the expressway, Agra is a good destination for a weekend getaway from Delhi.
 
Photographs: Kevin Verghese Sam
 
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Review: Malayalam movie Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is a winner all the way

Fahadh Faasil , Suraj Venjaramood and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from the movie Thondimuthalum Driksaakshiyum
Fahadh Faasil , Suraj Venjaramood and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from the movie Thondimuthalum Driksaakshiyum
Dileesh Pothan's Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (The Evidence and the Witness), starring Fahadh Faasil and Suraj Venjaramood, is one of the most watchable Malayalam movies of recent times,
 
The second directorial venture of Dileesh is amazingly realistic, on the one hand, and remains entertaining throughout, on the other.
 
It is the story of a theft, in which the paths of Prasad (Suraj), his wife Sreeja (a superb debut by Nimisha Sajayan), the thief (also Prasad, played by Fahadh) and the cops at a police station, including assistant sub-inspector Chandran (Alencier Ley Lopez) cross.
 
The story starts out in the backwaters of Alappuzha and then moves to a village in Kasargod, and soon develops into a gripping and realistic police drama.
 
There are no heroes and villains here, and by the end, the audience can empathise with almost each  one of the characters. A winner all the way, by any standards.
 
In the Delhi theatre where we saw the film, there were English sub-titles, and that should encourage non-Malayali moviegoers to watch it.
 
The movie marks the return of the Dileesh-Fahadh pair after the hugely successful Maheshinte Prathikara, and fully lives up to expectations. There are moments when the film seems to lag, but, on the whole, it retains audience interest all the way with several moments of situational comedy even while addressing larger issues.
 
The film's strong point is its casting, with a host of newcomers, led by Nimisha, who have come up with commendable and mature performances. Fahadh and National Award winner Suraj are, of course, brilliant but each one of the minor characters, including each of the policemen in the film, is convincing in his or her role, and that is what sets the movie apart. 
 
Rajeev Ravi's photography brownish frames, Bijibal Maniyil's music and, above all, Sajeev Pazhoor's screenplay have also played a major part in turning the movie into a veritable work of art. Clearly, this is one of the best films to come out in India in recent times.
 
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Even minimal physical activity can lead to happiness: Study

People walking about in Shimla, India. Photo: NetIndian
People walking about in Shimla, India. Photo: NetIndian
Even minimal levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on happiness, the largest-ever smartphone-based study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness has revealed.
 
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Essex, is based on reports from more than 10,000 individuals.
 
It found that physical activity, whether or not it is classified as exercise, can have a positive effect on emotional well-being. 
 
The results, reported in the journal Plos One, also demonstrate how smartphones can be used to collect large-scale data to examine psychological, behavioural and health-related phenomena as they occur in everyday life.
 
Using data gathered from users of a mood tracking app for Android phones, the researchers found that modest levels of physical activity – even if it could not be classified as exercise – can increase a person’s reported emotional well-being, regardless of their baseline level of happiness. They also found that people reported being happier when they were physically active.
 
Earlier, studies in this area have focused on the relationship between exercise and happiness, with mixed results. Some studies have found that happier people report exercising more, while others have found no relationship between happiness and exercise. Much of this past research has relied solely on retrospective self-reports, on data collected at only one time period, and on small samples.
 
For the new study, data on physical activity was passively gathered from smartphone accelerometers, and participants were also sent a short survey at two random intervals throughout the day which asked questions about their emotional state.
 
Users reported their emotional state on a grid, based on how positive or negative, and how energetic or sleepy, they were feeling. Users were also asked a handful of questions about how their mood compared to normal.
 
The activity data was then averaged over the course of the day, so while the researchers could not pinpoint what participants were doing at any given time, they found that participants who had higher levels of activity throughout the day reported a more positive emotional state.
 
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“Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” said the paper’s senior author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College.
 
“However, our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”
 
“Most of us don’t keep track of all of our movements during the day,” said study co-author Dr Gillian Sandstrom from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.
 
“A person might track whether they went for a walk or went to the gym, but when asked, most of them probably wouldn’t remember walking from the desk to the photocopier, or from the car to the office door,” he added.
 
“This study shows how mobile and wearable technology really can allow social psychologists to perform large longitudinal studies as well as open a direct and permanent connection with the users for advice and intervention,” said study co-author Professor Cecilia Mascolo from Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory.
 
The research was supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Research Council’s UBhave (Ubiquitous and Social Computing for Positive Behaviour Change) project.
 
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Filmmaker Biju rues lack of concern for nameless people like municipal sweepers

Physician turned film director Biju is deeply disappointed at the lack of concern among the people and the authorities for the faceless, nameless people like municipal sweepers and those belonging to marginalised sections of the society.

Suraj Venjaramoodu in a still from the film Perariyathavar
Suraj Venjaramoodu in a still from the film Perariyathavar
Physician turned film director Biju is deeply disappointed at the lack of concern among the people and the authorities for the faceless, nameless people like municipal sweepers and those belonging to marginalised sections of the society.
 
He took up this issue in his National Award winning film “Perariyathavar” (Names Unknown) that depicts the plight of a sweeper, whose services were yet to be regularised, through the eyes of his son. They are forced to vacate their makeshift home next to the rail tracks as the colony was bulldozed for redevelopment work. 
 
It won two awards at National Film Awards 2013--for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation and the best actor award for Suraj Venjaramoodu. 
 
Suraj, usually known for his comedy roles, plays the lead role with conviction and brings out the pathos and suffering of a single parent trying to bring up a small child in the absence of his dead wife. 
 
The film, commercially released in August, 2016, was screened by Clone Cinema Lovers, in association with Kerala Union of Working Journalists at Kerala House on September 25.
 
At a question-answer session that followed the screening, Dr Biju said the residents of Brahmapuram in the vicinity of a designated open air garbage dumping yard in Kochi had abandoned their houses and shifted elsewhere following unbearable stench and filthy conditions. 
 
These houses, situated among dust covered trees and stunted vegetation, were being rented out to migrant labourers from the eastern and North Eastern states, he added. 
 
Meanwhile, almost on a daily basis, Kerala newspapers carry full page advertisements about multi-storied housing projects offering every sort of luxury, tennis courts and swimming pools, including full compliance with ‘Vastu’ principles. However, they seldom talk about waste disposal.
 
In the absence of any system of garbage removal on the part of promoters of the luxury villa/flat projects, residents in almost all cities and towns in Kerala are forced to pack the household waste in plastic bags and take it in their cars to be thrown on the roadside or vacant plots.
 
Then it becomes the thankless task of the faceless, nameless sweepers, employed by the city corporations, often on temporary basis. In the film, the main actor is seen picking up garbage tied up in plastic bags, abandoned on the footpaths and roadside and carefully depositing in waste bins.
 
Even while taking a bath in a polluted stream near his house, Suraj, who remains nameless in the film, collects all the plastic waste and deposits on the banks of the stream.
 
Dr Biju, in the making of the film, had drawn upon various incidents reported in the newspapers and his own experiences. Thus, the viewer gets glimpses of the protest by local residents against a garbage dumping yard, rape of a little girl, the protest by tribals in a forest area, being sought to be displaced in the name of development. The last mentioned incident provides the climax in the form of police firing on the protestors.
 
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The filmmaker said several people, after seeing the film, had asked him questions like “where in Kerala can you find people sleeping on the pavements and bus stands?” In fact, the shots appearing in the film are from footage recorded by the film unit during their travels across the state.
 
A controversy had erupted over remarks Dr Biju made in a Facebook post against renowned film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan describing the latter’s latest movie ‘Pinneyum’ as an amateur movie. Adoor, on his part, accused Dr Biju of jealousy and lack of knowledge about movie making.
 
Dr Biju said a filmmaker of Adoor’s standing should have at least watched his movie and pointed out the flaws before making such a statement.  
 
He also regretted that most of the film critics, who could write realms and realms about commercial films, chose to ignore “Perariyathavar”.  
 
While the film had undoubtedly succeeded in raising awareness about the issues, it fails in bringing an emotional connect with the viewers. Unlike a commercial film, there is hardly any drama or neatly tied up conclusions.
 
There are no negative characters, except the unseen hands of powerful vested interests in the form of the government and the industry. 
 
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Coal to acetylene - the pit stop fixes

The manufacture of acetylene from coal is a path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry.
The manufacture of acetylene from coal is a path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry.
Coal, found in abundance in many countries, is a wonder feedstock for several major industries and utilities. During the early industrialisation era, coal was used as feedstock in the manufacture of most chemicals, which were derived through mainly the coal-to-acetylene route. 
 
However, the abundance of crude oil and natural gas has led to these replacing coal, and this proved beneficial for large-capacity production of polymers and petrochemicals despite the process being a complex one — a process using steam crackers. 
 
This production route requires significant unit sizes in order to realise economies of scale, and remain viable. It is indeed a good option when crude oil is available in plenty and at low cost.
 
In the case of relatively low volume, ’fit for purpose’ chemicals, the crude oil and natural gas route may not be a viable option especially when such feedstock is imported and the ‘mother’ feed molecules are obtained from mega scale plants that require considerable capex outlay. 
 
The last decade has seen significant volatility in global crude oil prices. However, even at falling prices, dependence on imports for feedstock poses a risk especially when large production setups are built around such imports. 
 
For several countries like India, China, Australia, Indonesia, etc, coal as a feedstock is available in abundance and at low prices. It makes sound business sense to exploit this feedstock instead, with due processes plugged in for efficiency.
 
Acetylene is a very versatile and reactive molecule and is known to be the ’mother of organic synthesis’; many chemicals can be derived from acetylene with relative ease. Manufacturing of relatively low-volume chemicals — for example VCM/PVC, VAM, acrylics, BDO, etc — can be potentially considered through the coal-acetylene route, which is a relatively low capex option more suited for distributed production. 
 
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Further, this process facilitates the capture of the carbon content as a valuable chemical product and hence contains carbon emission.
 
The manufacture of acetylene from coal can be made efficient and cost-competitive through integrated process interventions at every stage of the production life cycle:
 
Managing the quality of coal: Coal drying, coal beneficiation, de-ashing of coal, efficient coal handling, and feedstock management and coal conversion.
 
Managing the conversion process: The process involves conversion of coal to carbide, carbide to acetylene, and conversion of acetylene to product molecule.
 
Energy integration and optimisation
 
Plant and process efficiencies
 
Managing the carbon fototprin: Coal ash management, carbon capture and re-utilisation.
 
Effective project evaluation, design and execution through the entire project life cycle.
 
Mahesh Marve
Mahesh Marve
Tata Consulting Engineers, through its wide knowledge base and expertise in coal, chemicals and logistics systems, can provide holistic support for this potentially path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry and contribute to the ‘Make in India’ campaign in a truly meaningful way.
 
Courtesy: Tata Review
 
Mahesh Marve is senior vice-president and chief technology officer, Tata Consulting Engineers
 
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Nita Ambani becomes first Indian woman to be nominated to IOC

Nita Ambani becomes the first Indian woman to be nominated into the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Her roles as Reliance Foundation founder, FSDC founder, Mumbai Indians IPL team owner backs up her nod.

Nita Ambani
Nita Ambani
Nita Ambani, the Founder and Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, was on Friday nominated as a candidate to be a member of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the supreme authority of the Olympic Games, by its Members Election Commission.
 
Part of a list of eight members who were selected by the Commission, she is the first Indian woman to be nominated to the IOC, and will go on to create history if she gets elected in August 2016 at the 129th IOC Session.
 
Reliance Foundation is the philanthropic arm of energy and petrochemicals major Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).
 
Ms. Ambani, the wife of RIL Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani, has been involved in promoting different sports in India with focus on young talent through her grassroots programs, which has reached over 3 million children around the country. 
 
This proved to be a defining point for the Commission to enlist Mrs. Ambani as an appropriate candidate and as India’s representative.
 
Her nomination comes at a time when a new procedure was followed to select the candidates. 
 
“It is recognition of India’s growing importance on world stage. I believe in the power of sports to shape the future of our youth. Sports bring communities and links cultures and generations together, so I’m really excited about this honour,” Ms. Ambani told a News18 correspondent.
 
The new approach also involved integrity checks by the IOC Ethics Commission which further strengthens the appeal of Ms. Ambani’s nomination. She was selected based on her illustrious career. 
 
Nita Ambani is also the Founder and Chairperson of India’s Football Sports Development Limited, through which she has shown extraordinary commitment to developing sports talent in India.
 
Led by Ms. Ambani, the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Programme has reached out to nearly 2 million children across 2,200 schools in India. She is also the owner of Mumbai Indians cricket team.
 
As a member of IOC, Ms. Ambani will participate in various sessions where the core elements of the Games will be discussed. Selecting the host city and discussing issues will be some of the responsibilities that Ms. Ambani will assist in as a member.
 
The IOC’s role is to supervise, support, and monitor the organization of the Games; ensure that they run smoothly; and make sure that the rules of the Olympic Charter are respected. 
 
As a member, Ms. Ambani will be at the forefront of this supervision for Indian players who will participate in the Games.
 
The Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will propose in all eight new members, including Ms. Ambani of India, for election at the 129th IOC Session ahead of the Olympic Games 2016 this summer.
 
The addition of eight new members would bring the total number of Members to 99. The 129th IOC Session is scheduled to take place from 2 to 4 and on 21 August 2016.
 
Once elected, Ms. Ambani and the other new members will continue to be members until the age of 70.
 
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"The list is the result of the first targeted recruitment process for IOC Membership as outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement," a press release from IOC said after a meeting of its EB at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on Friday.
 
It said a new set of criteria was applied by the IOC Members Election Commission, which proposed the list of candidates to the EB. The Commission devised a procedure aimed at targeting new members with skills and experience needed by the IOC. The new approach includes integrity checks by the IOC Ethics Commission.
 
"The proposed candidatures represent a cross-section of expertise from the worlds of sport, culture, medicine, sociology, business, law and management. Gender equality is guaranteed with four women and four men on the list," the release said.
 
Apart from Ms. Ambani, the other candidates are athlete Sari Essayah of Finland, who is chairperson of the Finnish Christian Democratic Party; Italian bobsleigher Ivo Ferriani, president of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation; Luis Moreno of Colombia, President of the Inter-American Development Bank; Auvita Rapilla of Papua New Guinea, Secretary General of the Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee, ANOC and ONOC Executive Committee Member; film producer Anant Singh of South Africa; Tricia Smith of Canada, Olympian, rower, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee; and Karl Stoss of Austria, Chairman of the Managing Board of Casinos Austria AG, President of the Austrian Olympic Committee.
 
“These eight candidates that we are proposing to the next IOC Session are a strong and varied group of individuals that are experts in their respective fields and will make great contributions,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “They have been vetted by new criteria in keeping with the recommendations of Olympic Agenda 2020. These candidates will add extra strength and diversity to our already universal orchestra of IOC Members.”
 
The International Olympic Committee is the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement. It acts as a catalyst for collaboration between all parties of the Olympic family, from the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), the International Sports Federations (IFs), the athletes, the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs), to partners and United Nations agencies. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) shepherds success through a wide range of programmes and projects. It ensures the regular celebration of the Olympic Games, supports all affiliated member organisations of the Olympic Movement and strongly encourages, by appropriate means, the promotion of the Olympic values.
 
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'Single anklet' once again chimes on Kathakali stage

Kannaki grieves over Kovilan -- a scene from a Kathakali performance of Chilappathikaram in Thrissur on December 27, 2015.
Kannaki grieves over Kovilan -- a scene from a Kathakali performance of Chilappathikaram in Thrissur on December 27, 2015.
The story of Kannaki, who threw down one of her anklets before the Pandya king to prove innocence of her husband, unjustly accused of theft of the queen's anklet and killed on the King's orders, destroying the kingdom in her rage, was once again staged on the Kathakali stage here after a gap of several decades.
 
Kathakali, the famous classical dance drama theatre usually features a set of stories from the Mahabharata and other texts about divine characters and their valorous deeds.
 
There have been, time and again, exceptions to the rule. One such is the adaptation of “Chilappathikaram,” one of the five great epics of Tamil literature, authored by Ilango Adigal in the Sangam period (second-­third centuries AD).
 
It depicts the deep love between Kannaki and Kovilan, a rich man of Kaveri Poompattinam.
 
Madhavi, a beautiful dancer, comes between them, divesting Kovilan of all his wealth. He returns, in an utterly dejected and defeated state to his faithful wife. Kannaki, who has been pining away for him not only offers words of consolation but also one of her gold anklets to sell and raise some money.
 
The couple then goes to Madurai where Kovilan approaches the King's goldsmith with the anklet.
 
The evil goldsmith, who had stolen one of the queen's anklets, goes to the king and portrays Kovilan as the thief. The king orders to kill Kovilan. A distraught Kannaki, on coming to know of 
his death, rushes to the palace, confronts the king and proves her anklet contains emeralds unlike the queen's anklet filled with rubies. She then curses the king and in her rage, transforms herself to the angry goddess Bhadrakali.
 
The 'Atta Katha” (Kathakali play) by Prof. K Marumakan Raja was staged by Kathakali Club, Thrissur here on December 27 to commemorate his 25th death anniversary.
 
Raja, who belonged to the Kodungallur royal family, was a multi­faceted personality straddling the world of mathematics, his field of choice for a career, and that of Akshara slokam (recital of slokas 
in Sanskrit and Malayalam, like 'Antakshari'), Kathakali and Melam, the traditional drums and pipes musical ensemble, an integral part of Kerala temple festivals.
 
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Prior to the performance, a meeting was held in which several speakers lauded Raja's contributions to Kathakali and to the club itself. Prof. George S Paul said art forms like Kathakali needed to be preserved and propagated, not as static, ancient art forms, but as dynamic, growing entities.
 
“Kathakali was ideal in this respect that it, like Carnatic music, appeals to people across cultures and continents, without the burden of language,” he said.
 
Thus, William Shakespeare's “Tempest” and “King Lear” found ready audience at several performences across Europe and the United States of America (USA), he added. In both cases, Raja played a part. He translated David McRuvie's adaptation of King Lear into an 'Atta Katha' in Malayalam on the request of noted French choreographer Annette Leday. 
 
Chilapathikaram has been adapted to Kathakali stage by Kalamandalam Krishnan Kutty Poduwal.
 
Apart from Chilapathikaram, Raja had also authored “Shishyanum Makanum' (Disciple and Son), Dharma Sashtha and “Tempest”, based on the famous play by Shakespeare.
 
The first scene opens with Kovilan, a rich man in Kaveri poompattinam very much in love with Kannaki, a pretty lass whom he had just married. The happy couple engage in a conversation 
extolling the virtues of each other.
 
The second scene features the court of the Chola King. A Nattuvan (dance master) arrives with Madhavi, a dancer whom he had trained and seeks permission for a performance. Her dancing 
skills impresses the King so much that he presents her with a necklace.
 
Madhavi then announces that whosoever buys the necklace will have her hand in marriage. Kovilan is the only one who has enough money and she marries him. Entranced by her beauty and 
other charms, Kovilan forgets all about his wife and starts living with her.
 
However, soon fed up with her spendthrift ways and avarice that makes him a pauper, Kovilan returns to Kannaki and they have a tearful reunion. They leave the city and on reaching Madurai, 
the capital of the Pandya kingdom, Kannaki persuades Kovilan to try and sell one of her gold anklets.
 
Kovilan approaches a goldsmith, who is shown boasting about his clout in the royal court. While even Ministers and other dignitaries have to seek prior appointment and wait to get an audience with the King, he is the onlly one who could directly walk into the King's presence any time of the day and be welcomed.
 
On seeing the anklet, the evil goldsmith decides to put the blame on Kovilan for one of the queen's anklets that he had stolen years ago. So on the pretext of getting an assessment of the value of the ankllet from experts, he leaves asking Kovilan to remain there till he returns.
 
The goldsmith then goes to the palace and informs the king that the thief who stole the queen's anklet was in his workplace and he could be caught and the stolen property recovered. The king 
despatches two of his guards with instructions to kill the thief and get the anklet.
 
The goldsmith points out Kovilan to the guards who promptly slit his throat and takes the anklet to the king. In the meanwhile, Kannaki, searching for her missing husband, finds her husband's body in the goldsmith's shop.
 
She then approaches the King who tells her that Kovilan was killed because he had stolen the queen's anklet. Kannagi then tells the king that her anklet was filled with emeralds and throws it down. The anklet bursts open and emeralds spill out on the floor.
 
A repentent king realises his mistake but not before Kannaki flies into such a rage that she curses the king and his kingdom resulting in the burning down of Madurai. Kannaki assumes the form of Bhadrakali, who is appeased with puja and other rites by saints and Brahmins.
 
Raja, according to experts, had managed to adapt the classical work to Kathakali without deviating from the text and following all theatrical conventions of the dance drama. Both the uninitated and 
discerning audience would find enough dramatic high points to keep their interest alive till the last.
 
The latest staging, after a gap of decades, featured Kalamandalam Balasubramanian as Kovilan, Margi Vijayakumar as Kannaki, Haripriya Namboothiri as Madhavi, Kalamandalam Suraj as Chola King, Kalamandalam Hari R Nair as Nattuvan and later as Bhadrakali, Pishapilli Rajiv as the goldsmiith and Kalamandalam Arun Warrier as Pandya king.
 
Singers were Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and Kalamandalam Harish. Percussion instrumentalists were Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda), Kalamandalam Narayanan Nair and Kalamandalam Srijith (mridangam).
 
Chutti (make­up) was by Barbara Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Ravikumar.
 
On several occasions Thrissur Kathakali Club had staged 'Chilappathikaram' on several stages across Tamil Nadu to much acclaim.
 
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Raja, son of Kodungallur Kunjikavu Thampuratti and Attuprath Raman Bhattathiripad, was born on July 11, 1926. After preliminary education at Kodungallur, he graduated from Maharaja's College at Ernakulam. Moving to Madras, he joined the Presidency College and passed MA and M. Sc. (Maths) with University rank.
 
Starting his career as a teacher under Madras Education department, he switched over to Kerala service following formation of the state. Having held teaching posts at Brunnen College, Thalasseri, Victoria College, Palakad, Engineering college, Thiruvananthapuram, he retired as Professor of Mathamatics from Engineering College, Thrissur.
 
His book 'Bharatiya Nyaya Shastravum Adhunika Ganithavum' (Indian logic science and modern mathematics) that illustrated and simplified complex mathematical principles with examples derived from Indian mythology, poetry and folklore has been published by Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad. In 1991, it won an awad in popular science section, instituted by the state Science and Technology department.
 
After retirement, he also earned a name for tution classes at his home in mathematics for everyone, ranging from school students to those appearing for Chartered Accountancy, engineering and other specialised courses. He was also a pioneer in entrance coaching classes for engineering colleges, in Thrissur.
 
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UK dancer Marina Collard: From performances to craniosacral therapy

Marina Collard
Marina Collard
Amongst the many pleasures of life, dancing must be near the top of almost everyone's list. Be it on the stage, on the dance floor, or simply in the confines of your room, dancing has that capability to transform and lift moods. A professional dancer is able to turn that pleasure into a life­long passion and career.
 
Marina Collard, a contemporary dancer from the United Kingdom, is one such professional who dances with a passion not many of us can pinpoint, but one with which most of us will be able to identify.
 
Marina was in Delhi recently to mentor six dancers from Asia as part of the annual dance residency programme with Gati, a dance forum based in the national capital. Gati has been inviting several dancers and dance educationists from around the world to propagate the world of professional dance beyond the realm of pure classical and traditional within India. As part of their activities, they provide support and guidance to several dancers of various styles to build their art form.
 
During the residency programme, artistes and mentors like Marina are invited to provide guidance to dancers selected from across Asia. The result of the residency is a culmination of their progress into individual performances.
 
Marina, being one of those mentors who are also performers, was invited to showcase one of her own performances independent of the residency programme.
 
I met her during her stay in Delhi and had a chance to watch her performance, performing style, and her mentorship ­ amongst her other work.
 
As part of being mentor, she was invited to guide the residents in the final stage of their residency – the point where they finally piece together everything they have learnt from the time as a resident into one cohesive performance.
 
Her performance, “Still Going”, was staged at the British Council in New Delhi. “Still Going” is a collaboration between Marina’s movement and the film work of Tom Paine. She performs with the question of retiring from her dance, and yet still feels drawn back. She ultimately performs the state of suspension between dancing some more and attempting to change activities.
 
Contemporary dancers across the world have the unique disposition of dancing a style that is as different from each other's style as apples are to oranges. Unlike most styles, where there are rules and a specific language to their movements, contemporary dance is better known as a vision and not style.
 
Marina was born and raised in London, and soon moved to Italy which provided the space for the beginning of her dancing imagination. She started with ballet lessons at the age of 4 years, since those were the only kind of dance classes "that were around me at the time, or rather what we knew of at the time".
Marina Collard with her mentees at the Gati Summer Dance Residency, at the Gati Studio in New Delhi.
Marina Collard with her mentees at the Gati Summer Dance Residency, at the Gati Studio in New Delhi.
 
Till she became 12 or 13 years old, ballet lessons occupied her after school hours, three to four times a week. After that, she began to experiment with other dance forms, including jazz. "I enjoyed dancing these forms, but I was not comfortable with them. It felt like these forms were not compatible with me. I knew I wanted to dance, but 
none of it felt right." So, she continued with only ballet, which was at that point the most comfortable movement form for her.
 
"By the time I was 15, I was still committed to only ballet. It was where I felt at home. Then, I went to watch a contemporary dance show, and I knew then, this is it. This is what I wanted to do. So, I continued with school and ballet till I was 18, after which I went to Trinity Laban, which was then just called Laban, to train in contemporary dance."
 
At Laban, Marina trained for three years, completing her BA degree. She trained mostly in the Graham technique and some Limon technique, named after Martha Graham and Jose Limon, respectively, and both "very different schools of thought". This difference becomes apparent in her practice, later on.
 
Marina is now also a therapist in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. "In Britain, it is very common for dancers involved in contemporary work to be involved in somatic practice. It goes with the territory. You end up covering a huge amount of practice and approaches to the body. I always had a very strong interest in the body, so much that I thought I would one day become an osteopath or something like that. But I ended up choosing craniosacral therapy, which is very different in approach from a medical practice and is more hands on."
 
Though she found her path to craniosacral therapy through dance, it has very little to do with dance and dancers alone. It is her understanding and increasing interest in the physical body as a dancer which led her here, and it certainly is a plus when she works with those who are from a dancing background for she is able to relate to their physical issues. However, most of those she works with have little or nothing to do with dance.
 
"They're very different and separate territories, dance and cranio. If I'm engaging in an artistic practice, I will work from the body. So, somatic information is very important. But, in my artistic practice, I have no interest whether I feel good or anyone else feels good. It's what we're doing in terms of art, what we're trying to make, which is of interest to me. Whereas, in therapy, in a one-­to-­one, it has everything to do with how they're feeling physically. When I'm a therapist, I'm just a therapist. My dance is irrelevant here. It certainly informs when I'm treating those who dance, but my therapy is not only for dancers."
 
I ask if there was any one thing or event that drove her passion for dance and movement through the years, or if she had any theme to which she was more likely to perform than any other.
 
“Themes and things are of no interest to me. Art practice, however, I’m interested in. I see contemporary dance as an art form. I feel it has a relation to contemporary visual art and other contemporary works. The fact that it's an art form is much more important to me than the fact it's about moving. It just happens to use the body. While I'm very interested in involving movement in my art form, I would not dance about for the sake of movement."
 
She insists on having no interest in inspirations either. "The whole notion of inspiration is very romantic, with having to sit about waiting for it to drop out of the sky....it's all fantasy. I have no interest in that."
 
"However, from when I was young, I've always been interested in various kinds of art and art forms ­ sculptures, paintings, movement or dancing. I think I've never stopped the inquiry, or that curiosity, around making or thinking about art, trying to unpick someone's work that interested me. So, it's never in isolation. It's a continuum of activity ­ that activity might be going to see someone's work, being in a studio working on something, or might just be somewhere noticing a surrounding ­ and a lot of it has to do with seeing and receiving information. I could sit here and think that I love the light lands on that wall in that way. It's all a bit of a constant awareness and little 
ramblings. Through these ramblings, something might start to surface and then you follow that, and it turns into a work. It gets clarified in the process." 
 
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When she agrees that her dance is covered by the "large umbrella of contemporary dance", I encourage her to provide me her view on how one could and should define contemporary dance. "It's not a form. Its form, instead, emerges from the ideas you have rather than having a form and theme beforehand. It's contemporary in terms of how the work is approached and talked about, more than anything to do with style."
 
Reminiscing over the struggles of thought process in my dissertation, I asked her opinion on the usage of traditional dance and other movement forms in Indian Contemporary Dance, and whether she felt using those traditional forms in their currently purest known form defeated the purpose of calling it contemporary.
 
"While I wouldn't want to say that any one approach is not alright, from what I have been witnessing with the residents here, their influences and who they are is in their work but they don't start from any particular form in their making. There's room for many different ways of working. Every country will have a kind of contemporariness that is specific to them, partly because, culturally, you can't help it. You can't deny the cultural influences that emerge in their work. Contemporary work is true to those who start to work differently, without denying them their Indianness."
 
So, has she, in the past decade or so, drawn upon her ballet and other dance lessons to create her work? "I stopped dancing ballet at the age of 21. I'm now 45, that's a lot of years of not doing ballet. I guess the training is visible in my body, but I don't think I draw upon it now." Does she, then, pick out certain movements from her daily observations and practise them in the studio? "Not at all, it's all about improvisation. It's the practice of just being in the studio, working and improvising."
 
Does that kind of working then help her create meaning in her work? "I'm not interested in meaning, either," she chuckles. In a developing culture of contemporary work these days, where audiences seek to relate and understand a certain meaning from these performances, how would she then expect her audience to see her performances? 
 
“I’m interested in the audience liking what they see, yes. But I’m not really bothered if you get some meaning from my performance, and the person next to you gets another meaning.”
 
There is a break in the conversation as she’s urgently called to help out a girl with a stiff back. I witness Marina in her therapist role; it is as I had imagined Marina the performer to treat her patient – with the intimate knowledge of how the muscles should move and feel against each other. The look on her face is of concentrated concern. Soon, the “patient” is recovering well and Marina changes roles again, back to being the mentor. 
 
A quick chat with the mentees reveals that Marina is the mentor they all feel fortunate to work with at the final stage of their residency. For each of them, she has managed to mentor them into creating a smooth performance from their chaotic ideas and movements. The difference in dance styles of the mentees did not faze her; rather, she knew how to carry forward each style into representing their ideas as best as they might.
 
True to her concepts, she even convinced one of the mentees to dress down the performance and focus on movement rather on embellishment.
 
This interaction with Marina left me with an impression of having met someone who practised, preached as well as went beyond fulfilling her ideals, rather than simply just talking the talk.
 
Vinita Abraham
 
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate in Performance Studies and has trained in piano and ballet.
 

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Modi visits Tesla Motors -- Will its E Smart Car make its bow in India?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, in San Jose, California on September 26, 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, in San Jose, California on September 26, 2015.
The Narendra Modi government is committed to promoting alternate fuels and green technologies as part of its long term strategy to ensure sustainable development in keeping with the millennium goals, post 2015 UN development agenda and the latest 2030 Agenda.
 
So, one should understand the underlying significance of why Mr. Modi is visiting the Tesla factory in San Jose in California, better known for its IT software firms in the Silicon Valley. 
 
It is apparent that the team that works with Prime Minister Modi has done its home work well on green automobile technology. Mr. Modi is tech savvy and is far ahead of his peer group in his vision for the future. Consider this, Tesla is ushering in a quiet revolution in the United States and elsewhere in green technology . It has got over the problems that a normal battery car usually faces -- space, size, style and speed. 
 
Usually, battery-operated cars, like Reva, for instance, are known to be small, unconventional in looks , lacking in speed, considered a snail’s pace by most automobile enthusiasts, and not much boot space as the available room is taken by batteries.
 
But Tesla Motors has disproved all of this – it has the style and elegance of a BMW or an Audi, large boot space, stylish interiors and is an intelligent car, completely controlled by an onboard computer with a 17-inch large screen to view the actions. No wonder it is gaining in popularity not only in the USA but also the world over. They have now a Netherlands facility in Europe.  Don’t be surprised if Modi gets Tesla to open a facility in India and a manufacturing centre in his home state of Gujarat.
 
If they do, India would be able to solve much of its automobile pollution – the only inhibiting factor is the price as it is upwards of US$ 35,000 for a small car and US$ 123,000 to US$205,000 for the bigger ones (which means in Indian rupee terms it is about Rs 22.75 lakhs excluding duties for the small car and Rs 79.95 lakhs to Rs 1.31 crore for the bigger versions). It’s a stiff price to pay for an E Car.
 
But, consider this; it’s a one-time price for a car. No gas filling, no petrol/diesel price, no maintenance charge, no servicing charges . It’s the car of the future. 
 
What made Tesla famous in the world? Look at the pictures of its interiors and its size – it can not only give the latest in the series of BMWs and Audis a run for their money in sheer stunning looks, but has sensational performance for a battery-operated car, say its initial batch of users. It can race upto more than 100 miles or 160 kms an hour in city driving.  
 
Here is the growth story of Tesla Motors, Inc. It was basically incorporated as an American automotive and energy storage company that designs, manufactures, and sells electric cars, electric vehicle powertrain components, and battery products. 
 
It’s a public company that trades on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the symbol TSLA. In the first quarter of 2013, Tesla posted profits for the first time in its history, claim its sponsors.  
 
Tesla Roadster is the first fully electric sports car that attracted global attention. Its second offering was the Model S, a fully electric luxury sedan, and its next two vehicles, the Model X and Model 3, set the trend for its assembly lines.  Global sales of Model S passed the 75,000-unit milestone in June 2015.
 
Tesla also markets electric powertrain components, including lithium-ion battery packs to automakers including Daimler and Toyota. 
 
Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he envisions Tesla Motors as an independent automaker, aimed at eventually offering electric cars at prices affordable to the average consumer  Pricing for the Tesla Model 3 is expected to start at US$35,000 before any government incentives and deliveries are expected to begin by 2017.
 
In 2015, Tesla announced the Powerwall, a battery product for home use. 
 
Tesla Motors is named after the electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla. The Tesla Roadster uses an AC motor descended directly from Tesla's original 1882 design. 
 
The Tesla Roadster, the company's first vehicle, is the first production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first production EV with a range greater than 200 miles (320 km) per charge.
 
Between 2008 and March 2012, Tesla sold more than 2,250 Roadsters in 31 countries. Tesla stopped taking orders for the Roadster in the U.S. market in August 2011.It unveiled the Tesla Model S all-electric sedan on March 26, 2009. In December 2012, 
 
Tesla employed almost 3,000 full-time employees. By January 2014, this number had grown to 6,000 employees. 
 
Tesla Motors was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning who financed the company until the Series A round of funding.  Both men played active roles in the company's early development prior to Elon Musk's involvement.
 
Musk led the Series A round of investment in February 2004, joining Tesla's Board of Directors as its Chairman. Tesla's primary goal was to commercialize electric vehicles, starting with a premium sports car aimed at early adopters and then moving as rapidly as possible into more mainstream vehicles, including sedans and affordable compacts. 
 
Musk took an active role within the company and oversaw Roadster product design at a detailed level, but was not deeply involved in day-to-day business operations; Eberhard acknowledged that Musk was the person who insisted from the beginning on a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer body and he led design of components ranging from the power electronics module to the headlamps and other styling. In addition to his daily operational roles, Musk was the controlling investor in Tesla from the first financing round, funding the large majority of the Series A capital investment round of US$7.5 million with personal funds.
 
Musk maintained, since his induction into the company, that Tesla's long-term strategic goal was to create affordable mass market electric vehicles. He  received the Global Green 2006 product design award and the 2007 Index Design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster. 
 
Musk's Series A round included Compass Technology Partners and SDL Ventures, as well as many private investors. Musk later led Tesla Motors' Series B, US$13 million, investment round that added Valor Equity Partners to the funding team. He co-led the 
third,US$40 million round in May 2006 along with Technology Partners. Tesla's third round included investment from prominent entrepreneurs including Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, former eBay President Jeff Skoll, Hyatt heir Nick Pritzker and added the VC firms Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Capricorn Management and The Bay Area Equity Fund managed by JPMorgan Chase. The fourth round in May 2007 added another US$45 million and brought the total investments to over US$105 million through private financing.
 
By January 2009, Tesla had raised US$187 million and delivered 147 cars. Musk had contributed US$70 million of his own money to the company. On May 19, 2009, Germany's Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz, acquired an equity stake of less than 10% of Tesla for a reported US$50 million. In July 2009, Daimler announced that Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments bought 40% of Daimler's interest in Tesla. 
 
In June 2009 Tesla was approved to receive US$465 million in interest-bearing loans from the United States Department of Energy. The funding, part of the US$8 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, supports engineering and production of the Model S sedan, as well as the development of commercial powertrain technology. 
 
Battery Technology
 
Unlike other automakers, Tesla does not use single-purpose, larger format cells. Tesla uses thousands of lithium-ion 18650 commodity cells. 18650 cells are small, cylindrical battery cells, which are usually found in laptops and other consumer electronics devices. Tesla Motors uses a unique version of these cells, designed to be cheaper to manufacture and to be lighter than the standard cells. The cost and weight savings were made by removing some safety features which, according to Tesla Motors, are redundant because of the advanced thermal management system and a protective intumescent chemical in the battery pack. This chemical is intended to prevent battery fires. Currently Panasonic, a Tesla Motors investor, is the sole supplier of the 
battery cells for the car company.
 
Tesla Motors may have the lowest rates for electric car batteries; the estimated battery costs for Tesla Motors is around US$200 per kWh. Currently, Tesla Motors charges US$10,000 more for the 85 kWh battery than the 60 kWh battery, or US$400 per kWh. At US$200 per kWh, the battery in the 60 kWh Model S would cost US$12,000, while the 85 kWh battery would cost US$17,000. The price increase is closer to US$ 8,000, as supercharging is included in the higher price. It is a US$ 2,000 option for the 60 kWh version.
 
In the Model S, Tesla Motors integrated the battery pack into the floor of the vehicle, unlike in the Roadster, which had the battery pack behind the seats. 
 
Because the battery is integrated into the floor of the Model S, no interior space is lost for batteries, unlike in other electric vehicles, which often lose trunk space or interior space to batteries. The location of the battery pack and the lower ride of the Model S does put the battery at a higher risk of being damaged by road debris or an impact. 
 
To protect the battery pack, the Model S has 0.25 in (6 mm) aluminium-alloy armor plate. The battery pack's location allows for quick battery swapping. A battery swap can take as little as 90 seconds in the Model S. Tesla's first battery swap station is located at Harris Ranch, California, and is operational as of December 22, 2014.
 
T. N. Ashok
 
T. N. Ashok is a freelance journalist based out of Delhi, writing on finance, economics, and commerce. Automobiles are a passion with him and he writes extensively on the latest trends in the industry.
 
A former Economics Editor with wire service Press Trust of India (PTI) and contributor to leading economic journals and newspapers, he has travelled widely. He has also done a brief stint as a corporate communications professional with leading multi-nationals.
 
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Kerala priest's short stories offer fascinating insight into young minds

Rev. Kurien George
Rev. Kurien George
Having been immersed in academic concerns for a while now, I was not able to pay attention to the little joys of life like reading for pleasure. One of the first books I read after having ploughed through heavy, academic texts was the collection of short stories, "Thank You, Dear Snake!" by Ben Koryun.
 
Ben Koryun is the pen name of Rev. Kurien George, a priest and psychologist with the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India. Koryun, he says, is a reference to his Armenian ancestry. This is the Reverend's second book, the first being a collection of poems called "Echoes from Life", published in 1996 under his official name, 
 
Having read "Echoes from Life" years ago, as a young kid, I looked forward to what he had to offer with his second book. What ensued was a fascinating journey.
 
Beginning with the first story, titled "Thank You, Dear Snake!", we are given a glimpse into the childlike mind of Balan and his adventures with his companions. The story addresses the issues a young boy faces when thrust into a world where his judgement and wit are his only saviours when it comes to peer pressure. 
 
Introducing Balan as the recurring protagonist in the stories that follow, we can see that they have a certain pattern of coursing through the boy's growing up years, from the earliest memories of his childhood onwards. We are faced with several instances of events a boy might face while growing up, be it the little adventures that result in triumph or lessons in life, or major events like the loss of a friend to sickness. Some stories also provide the boy's point of view towards adult life and activities, focussing on those around him. In doing so, Rev. Kurien brings in the new and not necessarily pleasant experiences of the young ones while interacting with adults.
 
However, not all stories revolve around Balan and his boyish feats.
 
Several stories that form an integral part of the book are anecdotes from the perspectives of several other people, who do not feature pointedly in Balan's life at all. The nature of these stories range from humorous to thought-provoking, each of them capable of standing on its own.
 
Rev. Kurien finds his inspiration in several instances from his growing up years, as well as in his experiences from within the seminary where he trained to be a priest.  
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We must take cognizance of the writer's history, if we are to comprehend the depth of a story - what about the story makes it believable, and how does the writer provide that unmistakeable tone of truth? In Rev. Kurien's case, as is wont with several other great writers, the stories in this collection are a window opening into his past, not without the pinch of salt for the sake of the readers.
 
Rev. Kurien was born in 1953. He came to priesthood late in life. After obtaining a degree in Zoology, Rev. Kurien trained to be a chartered accountant, and also worked as an accountant in firms in Saudi Arabia and Delhi. 
 
Towards the late 1980s, he pursued a degree in Divinity, after which he then broadened his focus to psychology and counselling. As an ordained minister with the Church, his responsibilities varied and took into account his psychology training. Although he was the vicar of parishes in Mumbai and Kerala, his main contribution to the Church has been in the form of reformation and rehabilitation projects for different sections of society. 
 
Amongst the most notable of his contributions include his reformation and rehabilitation project for the children of sex-workers, as well as their mothers, especially those infected with HIV, in an initiative called Navjeevan in Mumbai.
 
Well-liked and fine at oratory, he has also been popular as the students' chaplain for dioceses in India as well as North America.
 
Rev. Kurien's recent work involves the rehabilitation of those with mental illnesses, while also providing counselling for all kinds of people, including those with learning disabilities. He has provided counselling for de-addiction centres, as well as with a Half-way Home in Kerala.
 
His areas of special interest are, unsurprisingly, Rehabilitation Psychology and the neurological understandings of psychology. With these interests and approach to the various programmes in Kerala and Mumbai, he has helped hundreds of people find a new and firm footing.
 
From the style of writing, it becomes clear that the stories are a set of narratives that form a large part of personal experience as well as second-hand experience from being a psychologist. His experience as a psychologist can also be seen from the way the stories invoke introspection and understanding towards the various characters, as if to almost share with us the seeds of therapeutic knowledge from the stories of this book. 
 
This has been executed exceptionally well, and it proves that the collection of short stories, while not all suitable for the very young minds, are perfect for those who feel like they need a walk through their lifetime along with reminding them of the little things that make them who they are today.
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The collection stands out for its eclectic selection of stories which are not all connected by a singular theme, but are connected by the reality one faces in every day situations. While situated mainly in Mumbai (then, Bombay) and Delhi, the stories have a unique quality of universality with the nature of human interaction that has been penned down.
 
Rev. Kurien's love for writing stems from his fondness of literature which was cultivated while he grew up reading the classics. From each of those, he holds dear the essence of great story-telling - the opening out of minds towards the innocence and thrill that lies within the "non-descript" lives of people, and the discovery of new and meaningful within the ordinary.
 
If one were to find a purpose for the book in today's society, it would be instrumental in understanding the psyche of the child which extends to the domain of adult behaviour through the child's eyes. Episodes of trauma and misunderstanding between an adult and a child are not uncommon in any part of the world, and this book opens another path towards gaining a better footing in tackling a child's issues as a responsible adult.
 
Rev. Kurien has carefully written and put together these stories over extensive years of conception and curation, keeping in mind that the world today has a need for a different kind of story-telling - a story-telling with a purpose to further human relations and interactions positively. It would be limiting to assume an entertaining perspective of the stories that provide a childlike insight to the world, but it does much more than just entertain. It reminds the reader of a time when they went through similar issues, bringing them closer to a certain closure and justice for themselves.
 
It's a must read for anyone and everyone, and is available to buy online on Flipkart, Amazon and Google Play, amongst other retailers, in paperback, hard cover, and e-book/Kindle editions. 
 
Vinita Abraham
 
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate in Performance Studies and has trained in piano and ballet.
 

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Vani Kaushal makes a mark with debut novel

Vani Kaushal
Vani Kaushal
On a bright and cheerful Saturday morning, I am headed to Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi, to meet Vani Kaushal, so far known to me as the author of a book with the intriguing title, The Recession Groom.
 
I have been fortunate enough to read the book -- Vani's first, and I am looking forward to the meeting. The book portrays a Punjabi boy, Parshuraman Joshi, living the enviable NRI life as an IT consultant in Canada, at the ripe-for-marriage age of 27 years. 
 
As is with any Indian boy ready to get married, he has a posse of relatives, in both Chandigarh as well as San Francisco, all eager to pitch in with their best in the enjoyable task of getting their beloved boy married off. Ranging from the protective elder sister and youthful-minded grandmother to the self-assured and loud aunt, each of them has several ideas on the ideal bride and wedding. Meanwhile, Parshuraman tries to keep up with their grandiose plans as he juggles his extremely busy work schedule with the demands imposed upon him by the family.
 
Then, suddenly, all plans are in total disarray when Parshuraman loses his job in the recession of 2008. The job having been the only thing that kept attracting the "right" sort of brides, he goes in a flash from being the hot bachelor on the Indian marriage market to the man to whom no father wants his daughter to be married. It doesn't get easier when his colleague, the white-therefore-off-limits Jennifer, confesses her undying love for him. 
 
Resorting to any job available to him, irrespective of the respectability it offers an Indian boy, Parshuraman matures almost overnight into the man who stands up for what is right for himself. After a series of incidents, hilarious and serious both, Parshuraman discovers himself and what he needs and wants in life, and seeks them out with little fear. The book offers an unusual yet happy ending, leaving the reader unsettled with a looming uncertainty.
 
The novel has me intrigued thoroughly. A refreshing change from the stories flooding the popular Indian fiction market, it has me questioning the choices Vani made while writing the story.
 
I walk into Oxford Bookstore, in the Outer Circle of Connaught Place. Having been in touch with her over the telephone for a week and also having read about her, I have made acquaintance with a friendly sounding and pretty looking Vani. I find her in the innermost room of the bookstore, a space set aside by the good folks at Oxford for book launches and readings, poring over a few papers with another lady. At first glance, I see a smartly dressed woman sitting with an easy elegance, chatting professionally with the lady. Must be the business journalist in her, I think to myself. I make my presence known to her, and I'm rewarded with a warm greeting and a request to make acquaintance with her friend while she wraps up the task at hand.
 
 
A few minutes later, Vani approaches and settles herself next to me, and a friendly chat ensues. Her younger brother, Rahul, approaches and we are introduced. He assumes the responsibility of her event manager with little difficulty. Clearly, Vani has her family support throughout the endeavour - it is a collective front, as is expected from the author of a family-oriented novel. 
 
A little while into the chat, I bring the conversation to her growing up years. Brought up in Chandigarh, Vani, like most Indian children, was faced with the daunting dilemma of choosing a career. A dilemma, since the conventional routes of medicine and engineering were of no interest to her, which found her leaning towards humanities. She pursued Economics at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels while studying journalism on the side. A student of Bhavan Vidyalaya and Panjab University, Vani excelled academically, going on to top the university and winning a gold medal. 
 
Having studied journalism as well as Economics, it became a natural choice to make a career in business journalism. Vani went on to work with Financial Express, Chandigarh and the Times of India, Delhi, till she felt a calling to write more than the compact articles she was turning out for the paper.
 
"Journalism became the point where I began to gravitate towards writing more. I wanted to write better stories; I could do better than a 500-word article," she said.
 
A novel felt like the obvious progression, and she began writing drafts of a chick-lit story. Unhappy with the results and lack of energy in the story to make it last a full-length novel, she changed track and pursued an MBA at Kingston University, London. Expecting several dreamy job offers on completing her MBA, Vani was, however, faced with a brutal reality as she graduated around the time of the global recession of 2008. With several companies on a hiring freeze, she taught at a college in London with the MBA department, as well as in Mohali.
 
Driven to write about the recession making a huge difference to one Indian family, out of the millions affected across the world, Vani began weaving and writing her story as she taught. "I could see my friends around me taking up jobs they would rather not do at all, and buying groceries of lower quality than they were used to consuming under normal circumstances. I wanted to write about this, from a perspective of an Indian. I wanted to write about the macro changes in the big world affecting the little world, where the Indian family sees their child in a plush international job and cannot wait for him or her to settle down. The job makes the person much more valuable to prospective grooms and brides, so what happens when this job is suddenly taken away?" 
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Catching the knowing look in my eyes, she reaffirms that this is a story that is sure to resonate with millions of Indians across the world, and equally fascinate the rest who are privy to this side of the Indian family for the first time.
 
Writing out her first book took as long as two years, after which she was introduced to yet another new - getting published. Upon receiving several rejections, she enlisted the assistance of international editors and writers to shape her piece to be better suited for the tastes and sensibilities of the English reader across the world. Finally, she submitted a much revised draft to various publishers. This time, she was presented with an offer within a week of submitting - Leadstart Publishing had decided to publish her book.
 
For Vani, the responsibility of getting the book published did not end there. She continued to revise various passages, especially the ending.
 
She was also presented with a completely unfamiliar task of publicity - she had to go out there and create an image and presence in the terrifyingly large world of new authors. "Around 100,000 books are published every year in India alone. It was a daunting task to make myself visible amongst them," she said.
 
As a comfortable loner, this was probably the harder part of publishing her book. However, attesting to her stereotypical Punjabi nature, she accomplished the task and made her presence known with little difficulty.
 
Sipping on masala chai, we allow our conversation to take us away from the book altogether, and I find her an easy conversationalist.
 
Asked whether it was a conscious decision to write in the style of the popular Indian romantic ­comedy fiction, Vani hesitates slightly before saying that, though she would have loved to write fantasy and crime fiction, her maiden book is based on what she knows and is comfortable with - something that is a jumpstart for any first-time novelist.
 
However, she does intend to write fantasy and crime next. "I have my phone on my person all the time. I keep getting ideas of what to write next, and I keep saving it as little notes on my phone as and when they come to me. I already have an idea for the sequels - two of them - to the Recession Groom, as well as for a crime fiction novel." 
 
She brings up her digital column on the Huffington Post, where she writes regularly on the mistakes one should avoid while writing. True to her nature of collecting ideas, she dispelled skepticism from friends about being able to find 100 mistakes while writing - the column is set for a series of 100 notes on the mistakes of writing - and collected close to 80 mistakes she was aware of within the first night of brainstorming.
 
Though desirous of writing beyond a singular genre, she also states that while she does adore authors such as George R. R. Martin, she would not want to emulate him or anyone else in writing stories that are unfamiliar to her own life. 
 
"I would rather inject a comfortable note of what I know in a healthy mix of said genre, and make a completely new storyline, than stick to what fantasy has always been written like," she says as she laughs at the thought of a Punjabi protagonist in a fantasy novel. "As a writer, at the end of the day, I want to be known for my own kind of writing, not for adopting someone else's writing. It should be as imaginative as theirs, but fresh and from my own perspective."
 
Speaking about the creation of her worlds in her stories, "It is a process of stepping out of my comfort zone, and figuring out individual characters from within their shoes. I run it past several people known and unknown to me to understand if I have truly captured the sense of the character I am aiming for - whether they are believable people, and whether they are situated in believable places. However, in doing so, I was aware of not completely fulfilling this criterion in the Recession Groom since I became more mindful of making the book suited for international tastes and appeal, apart from cutting down on descriptive notes in order to stick with the word limits."
 
Moving to a subject that plagues all first-time writers, I ask her how much she criticized her own words and whether she ended up trashing her work more than going forward? 
She agreed that this is an issue that affected her.
 
"It is hard today to make a mark in this industry, unless you have the right promotions and your story and writing are absolutely wonderful. While writing my first book, I felt my first draft was ready to be published. It was only after I faced a few rejections from publishing houses that I began to critically look at my work and rewrite. I sought the help of international editors as well. Each dialogue has been worked on for at least two days, and finally after two years and many drafts later, I felt I was bringing out the perfect script," she said.
 
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The Recession Groom faced multiple revisions even after it was accepted for a publishing contract, and Vani felt the ending deserved a less-than-cinematic and more intriguing finish to what she began to view as the first to a series of books.
 
So, at what point was she satisfied with her book, and when did she leave the draft to its final words? "I had difficulty in accepting the draft was perfect, and felt a compulsion to rework the writing over and over again. It becomes easier with the second book onwards, as you begin to write with a critical eye, always assuming what the reader is going to see when they read what you write, and progressing positively - as opposed to tearing down something you've written out completely and then editing that to pieces. I have become a little more independent in this respect, not constantly requiring the need of an outsider perspective. The first time my draft was sent for analysis, the editor trashed more than half of what I'd written, citing that as nonsense. I cried and felt she was a horrible person. Now, I'm a far more evolved writer than when I began, for knowing better what is good and internationally saleable writing."
 
As a first-time writer, did she ever feel that her writing should have a particular serious literature style to it, or did she aim for what the readers would connect with popularly? "Neither. I have always wanted to write the way I feel and think, and that is exactly what I have done. I feel like I am an entertaining person, and I want to write entertaining books. People have enough seriousness going on in their lives. I would rather be true to who I am, and write in a lighter vein."
 
Carrying forward this discussion in the subsequent Talk with the Author session at the bookstore, Vani maintains an image that appears true to herself. Effortlessly moving from a personal conversation to a public chat, Vani might be the shy girl from Chandigarh, but she has definitely made her mark as a likeable and popular debutante author. 
 
From penning down her penchant for entertainment for contemporary readers of Indian fiction, she has gone on to create a niche for herself and we will hopefully read many more delightful books from her.
 
Vinita Abraham
 
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate student of Performance Studies at the Ambedkar University, Delhi. She has trained in piano and ballet. 
 
 

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I Think I Need A Wife!

Preparing for a small party at home --- all in a day's work for a wife.
Preparing for a small party at home --- all in a day's work for a wife.
"If I am not misunderstood..............I think I need a wife!”
 
That was my response to a question thrown at me at a recent interaction. What is the one thing that you would ever want in life?
 
I thought for a moment and realised I had everything. I had a beautiful house, a home, a loving husband, two wonderful children, an absolutely handsome golden retriever, a garden, enough money, everything was so perfect. I had nothing to wish for, nothing to complain about. No one else could replace anything that I had.  
 
I thought for a while. There is something, probably. Yes! I need a wife.
 
Having looked all around me, interacting with different women, they all had one thing in common. They took a sabbatical and managed their home. Some of them were doctors, lawyers, lecturers, all from different professions. What is it that made them give up their dreams of being independent and career-oriented? 
 
It was the love they had for their man and children. They didn’t want a member in their home to feel lost. So many ‘what if’ situations to take care of. No one else could handle them better than her.
 
6. 15 am-  wake up time. Keep milk on stove, boil water, boil eggs, leave the dog, get the newspaper, switch off the light outside, make coffee for husband, milk for kids, wake them up, keep reminding them to get ready, see them off (did you take the water bottle?), see off husband (have you taken the wallet, mobile, office keys, office id?). Close the gate and wave with a smile ….Thank God! The house is all mine. 
 
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What do I do? Tidy up the house, dusting, water the plants, sort out clothes for ironing and wash, put clothes for wash, hang out the clothes, make dinner, an evening snack, finish off all my freelance projects for an hour or two, bathe, and do I hear the doorbell??? 
 
Well! The kids are back. Keep your shoes on the rack, change, wash up, have your snack, they either go to play or they go for a class. Light the lamp. Sit for a while enjoying the evening peace for half an hour (what’s running through my mind is what’s left to be done), go back to the freelance work, kids are back, sit with them with their studies and the doorbell rings again! 
 
Husband is back!…….dinner time, wash the vessels, keep all arranged for the morning, switch of lights, kiss kids good night and collapse.
 
Feeling stressed out reading this, or is it boring? Well! That’s the life of a wife.
Only a wife can multitask. While you are away, she takes care of every aspect of your home. When you return, you have a tidy home, warm home cooked food (with the secret ingredient- Love), kids will be taken care of and the most important fact - She is just there! ................ so guys! I think I NEED A WIFE! 
 
This statement triggered several questions in the minds of men we know. Was I leaving my husband? Whereas, others thought, Wow! Lovely idea. The lucky guy would have two wives!  Obviously, Men will be Men! 
 
My thought was more or less based on the depth of the person she is.  I need to experience the same assurance and care. I want to give her abundant love for just being there for me and setting things right. And trust me! I would be so possessive of my wife. 
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When other husbands jokingly made the statement, that every man would want a wife, an interesting thought went through my mind. A husband would never think he needs a husband...because a wife offers so much support to the family whereas a husband increases the work load (He would never want a replica of himself, would he?).
 
A wife means so much. She is the most efficient person, so caring and definitely with an amazing presence of mind to handle difficult situations. She with the ability to multi-task, the only thing she would probably need was to be like an octopus. At times, a doctor, a plumber, an electrician, the finance controller, a chef, takes care of the housekeeping, a motivator, a counsellor, a consultant, and several others.
 
I have been on both sides of the world. The working woman and a home maker. Either ways, I managed the home. With growing responsibilities, a woman has to make her choices - a choice between responsibilities and self-growth. 
 
As husband and wife, the decisions are made together. So much thought goes into the discussion.  Well, is there a choice? It takes two people to discuss for hours and come up with the obvious conclusion -  the woman stays home.
 
I never think it is a male dominated world, the fact is men think they should dominate and women too think men dominate. But we need to understand that we depend on each other, one's survival depends on the other's existence. So look after each other, acknowledge each other, respect each other, and consider each other. Society puts responsibilities and duties into compartments, this duty is for a man and that for woman. Why not help each other so each individual lives life to the fullest?
 
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A wife has no personal gain other than the happiness to see her husband and children return to a comfortable home. 
 
Come to think of it,  men are really lucky. As men relate to technology, let me put it this way: in a wife they have several applications to set their world right and more efficient. The one person in their life with several features. Yes, there are times when there could be a virus attack and the system crashes, but, trust me, the anti- virus is probably a simple solution -- a hug and a question, “ How was your day?” 
 
So, "If I am not misunderstood..............I think I need a wife to just be there for me!” 
 
Anita Peter
Anita Peter
Anita Peter is a corporate trainer by profession and a dancer and actress by passion. She has acted in two Malayalam films, several Malayalam and Tamil television serials and in plays. She has compered shows and programmes and modelled for several print ads and television commercials for popular brands. She was among the top 10 finalists of the Haier Gladrags Mrs India 2011.
 
She is an active member of a non-profit dance school in Bangalore that promotes art and culture. She is also a certified grade "B" artist by Doordarshan Kendra for Mohiniyattam and has performed in several dance festivals and events.  Among other things, she won the Kerala State Championship in Artistic and Figure Roller Skating. She is currently based in Hyderabad.
 
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Life with Lions

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Sher, Singh, Babbar, Cheetah etc were the first, middle or family names of many of my colleagues while I was posted in New Delhi many years ago.
 
These names meant lion. Well, Cheetah may not exactly mean lion but it also belonged to a similar species.  There were a number of them in the office like Ram Singh, Sher Singh, Kushal Singh, Darshan Singh Arora, Kuldip Singh Kapur, Bikram Singh Cheetah, Satish Babbar and so on.  In addition, we also had a South Indian gentleman- Narasimhan or “Human Lion”.  I was, thus, virtually surrounded by lions in the office.
 
As is normal with all human beings, these people also were different from one another in many ways.  One was a do-gooder while another, a nasty schemer.  One was taciturn and reserved while another was a wind-bag.  One was gentlemanly and polished while another was crude and boorish.  Some were good workers while quite a few others, shirkers.  
 
One was a master of vulgar expletives, especially those two nasty ones in Hindi and Punjabi which if hurled at a person accused him of having illicit affinity with his mother or sister, as the case may be.  If he was happy or unhappy he would let out one; if he was angry or pleased, one would come out of his mouth. I found that he could not utter a single sentence without the prefix and suffix of expletives. To my utter surprise I found that an expletive was a must for him even while referring to himself!
 
Another person was looked at with awe by all. This chap carried very expensive foreign cigarettes with him always.  Smuggled foreign brands like State Express 555 or Dunhill were available at some places in Delhi those days in the early 1970s but these were very costly and hence only the very affluent could afford them.  But here was a clerk in possession of these all the time It was a mystery for all as to how he could afford these as he was known to hail from a very modest background. 
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The secret was out one day - the office sweeper got a stub from his ash tray and it was of the cheap Charminar!  Only the packets were foreign in which he stuffed the local ones!!
 
Mr. Cheetah would never come to office on time.  Our office started at 10 am and this guy would land up only around 10.20 or 10.30 everyday.  All sorts of methods like persuasion, friendly advice, warnings and threat of disciplinary action were tried to make him punctual.  Nothing worked and the office was in a dilemma as he was a very good and responsible worker.  His output was almost double that of others even after the late arrivals and the quality of work, excellent.  As a result, there was tremendous goodwill for him and nobody wanted to take any extreme step.  
 
Then a proposal came up that, in the summer months of April to June when the heat becomes unbearable in Delhi, the office timings may be changed from 0800 to 1500 hours so that people can reach early before the high heat and they could leave early for rest.  It was welcomed by most of the people and then came the issue of Mr. Cheetah. How can this fellow who cannot reach even by 1000 hours be made to come by 0800 hours? The senior managers called him and told him about the proposal and they thought he would express his difficulty.  To their utter surprise he readily agreed and said “By all means you change the timing to 0800 hours sirs - I shall reach by 0830 hours"!
 
Life in the company of these people had many interesting asides and experiences.  One day a customer walked into our office and the receptionist asked him to meet Ram Singh for his work.  Ram Singh, after listening to him directed him to Cheetah.  Cheetah heard him carefully and told him that the job has to be done by Bubber who in turn sent him to Narasimhan.  He told him to go to Sher Singh.  By now the customer, totally exasperated, yelled “Hey Bhagwan! Mein kis jungle me gus gaya?” (Oh God! In which jungle have I landed up!)
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My seat was the second one from the main entrance to our office and the first table was occupied by another “lion” Prem Singh.  He was quite polished and had good manners.  Like me, he also used to come at least half an hour before the start of office hours.  No wonder we started developing a friendship.  Noticing this, another colleague privately warned me.  “Be very careful and wary of this fellow.  He may look polished and sophisticated but he is a crook.  He can fool anybody and one cannot comprehend what he schemes.  You just keep a watch on how he deals with his visitors.  As soon as someone comes he will yell out to the canteen boy to bring tea urgently.  The visitor would be waiting for the tea and in between he will repeat his orders.  Finally, after waiting for long, the visitor would leave in disgust, without the tea.  This fellow has a code with the canteen boy- if he asks for urgent tea, it was not to be brought at all!  The poor visitor would never know it! If he really wanted tea to be brought, the adjective ‘Urgent’ would not be used.”
 
I noticed that he dealt with most of the visitors this way but even then I was not prepared to believe that there was any diabolic scheme in this as I was impressed by his manners.  If he did not want to spend his money on some strangers, what is wrong with that after all, I thought.  Then one morning I realised the significance of the warning I got.
 
We had one senior colleague Mr. Pritam Singh, who was very honest and straightforward but strict with everyone.  He would not tolerate any nonsense from anybody, especially on work matters. Earning his ire was easy and he was quite rough with people. As a result he had more detractors than friends in the office.
 
One morning, as usual Prem Singh and I were in the office early and a visitor turned up for him.  He narrated the purpose of his visit - he had received a marriage proposal for his son with the daughter of Mr. Pritam Singh.  The visitor had a friend who knew Prem Singh well.  He had advised the person to meet Prem Singh to enquire about Mr. Pritam Singh and his standing in society, before proceeding further with the proposal.
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Prem Singh was all sweetness as he offered the visitor a chair.  He then eulogised their common friend and as usual, ordered “urgent tea” and then pretended to be a little busy.  By then other colleagues started slowly walking into the office.  Prem Singh stopped a known denigrator of Mr. Pritam Singh and asked in the sweetest manner “Do you know what time Pritam Sahib is coming to office today?”-  he uttered “Pritam Sahib” in the most deferential manner.  
 
“Whose name have you taken early in the morning?!  You have spoiled my day by uttering the name of this wretch as I enter the office," was the angry retort he got.
 
People were still walking in and Prem Singh saw to it that he picked and chose the worst slanderers of Pritam Singh to put some such innocuous questions about him and get nasty retorts.  In between the canteen boy was regularly reminded about the “urgent tea” which remained as elusive as ever.
 
Then walked in the expletive master.  Prem Singh put a similar question to him and what followed was an explosion of obscenities of all varieties- ancient and modern, rustic and refined, out-dated and latest, in Hindi, Punjabi and English!  The visitor, who was already feeling quite uncomfortable listening to the categorical castigations the name Pritam Singh would attract, had enough with the last round.  He made a quick exit and there ended the marriage proposal.  I could now realise how cunning Prem Singh was.  He did not say anything ill of Pritam Singh - in fact he was all reverence when uttering the name.  Yet he could totally demolish this honest, upright man before his prospective in-law.   I became very careful with him thereafter.
 
Now, almost 45 years later, when I look back or rather ruminate, life those days was very enjoyable. I have had the occasion to work in many places but life with these lions was the most interesting for the sheer mirth, fun and variety of experiences.
 
 
J Chacko
J Chacko
J Chacko served in different parts of India and abroad for 33 years as an executive in the general insurance industry. He took voluntary retirement in 2004 and has settled down in Kochi, Kerala, where he spends time reading, writing, watching films, travelling and so on. Interested in history, finance and humour. He can be contacted at joschacko@gmail.com 
 
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AICTE's CMAT opens up many options for MBA aspirants

File photo of students at a business school
File photo of students at a business school
Common Management Admission Test (CMAT) is an important management entrance test conducted by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for admission to MBA programs being offered by Colleges and Departments under State universities in 13 states of Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
 
Conducted twice a year, CMAT this year will be held during a five-day test window from February 20 to 24. Candidates are allowed to improve their scores through re-tests and better scores are taken into account. The results are expected on March 14, 2014.
 
Importance of CMAT
 
CMAT is a prominent entrance examination along the lines of CAT and XAT. Over 400 good business schools in India accept CMAT scores for admissions. Over 100,000 candidates will sit for the ensuing CMAT. MBA aspirants who did not fare well in the other two examinations can grab the opportunity with hard work and get into a good business school.
 
Exam Pattern
 
CMAT, considered easier than CAT or XAT, is an online computer based test comprising 100 multiple choice questions to be solved in 180 minutes. The test is divided in 4 sections and each section has 25 questions. The sections are Quantitative Techniques and Data Interpretation; Logical Reasoning; Language Comprehension; and General Awareness.
 
The examination allows students to attempt any question from any section till the test is over. While every correct answer gets four marks, each incorrect mark gets one negative mark.
 
Important Topics
 
Quantitative Aptitude and Data Interpretation: Questions in this section are usually single and are not based on sets. While topics like tables and pie charts in data interpretation section require basic calculation skills, topics from which most of the questions appear in quantitative aptitude are arithmetic (ratios, mixtures, work, averages, profit and loss, basic statistics etc), number properties, probability and counting principles with one or two odd questions from geometry and derivatives (i.e. maxima –minima).
 
Logical Reasoning: This section is a mix of topics from arrangements like linear, seating, sequencing and arranging with conditions to coding. The other questions are based on statement--conclusion, logical puzzle, numerical puzzle, Venn diagram, true or false statements, visual reasoning. The basic preparatory tip for Logical Reasoning is to attempt as many practice exercises as possible using basic logical instinct.
 
Language Comprehension: Questions like error correction in sentences, fill in blanks may be based on core grammar concepts like Usage of Articles, Non-finites, Dangling modifiers, Nouns, Pronouns (especially relative Pronouns), Adjectives, Adverbs, Prepositions, Spellings, Usage of punctuation, Verbs, Syntax, Subject-verb Agreement, Tenses, Conditional and Unreal past. The vocabulary questions consist of synonyms and antonyms; fill in the blanks, idioms. Use flash cards for synonyms-antonyms, one word substitution, phrasal verbs, idioms.
 
There are short jumbled paragraphs, comprising four to five sentences. Another question can be a statement with idiomatic expression and the correct meaning of the same is to be selected from the given options. Passage based questions can also be expected in English language. Reading comprehension passages are not very long. Other questions in this section are based on words or phrases. Difficulty level is moderate.
 
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General Awareness: For the preparation purposes this section can be divided in three parts with equal weightage for each part. Conventional General Knowledge (GK) available in books; Current GK-based on current reading of newspapers and periodicals; Business and Economics GK - for example changes in Fiscal and Monetary Policy, CRR, Repo Rate, Devaluation and up valuation of Rupee. Please remember current GK - whether Business, National and International has an on-going preparation method with extensive newspaper reading to stay updated.
 
Prepare Well To Score 
 
You can prepare well in the next few weeks by following the quick tips below:
 
Use Flash Cards with words to be learnt. Read editorials in newspapers every day. Pick out difficult words in them and check out in the dictionary to understand the context. This use in context will become the part of your memory.
 
While answering the questions, you may go in for elimination round to zero in on the right answer option.
 
Try to attempt maximum number of questions on general awareness as they test your memory. There is no use wasting time on guessing the unknown. It won’t help.
 
CMAT provides the facility of navigating through the entire test paper and answer options from any section. However, you need to qualify in all the 4 sections. Take my advice and manage the time and be balanced. In case you answer three sections and leave one section, you may not qualify for final admission round despite scoring high. Take note of that.
 
Important Tip 
 
You may stop preparing GK questions a fortnight ahead of the forthcoming examination as the test paper is usually set about a fortnight in advance. However, continue revising whatever you have learnt.
 
Continue practicing multiple option type of questions in Verbal Ability, Quantitative and Data Interpretation, Logical reasoning till one day prior to the examination. Revision of GK questions should continue. Attempt and analyse the mistakes that you tend to make in mock tests. Keep your confidence level high. 
S K Agarwal
S K Agarwal

S K Agarwal is Vice President--Learning at MBAUniverse.com and author of ‘Build your Basics First’, a comprehensive book on Verbal Ability for CAT/XAT.

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Our Tryst with the Queen of the Hills

 
Queen of the Hills, Summer Capital are some of the lovely epithets that come to mind when you think of Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, which was our destination for a short holiday recently.
 
We had booked our rooms well in advance and got them for the period that bridged the post-monsoon and early winter. Diwali was over and done with for the year and Delhi suddenly started feeling chilly. It had turned cold as if on cue. It was a lot warmer at this time last year and for many years before that.
 
This only meant one thing, if Delhi was this cold, Shimla would be at least 5 degrees colder, we calculated. This entailed detailed stock taking of woollens and buying new ones too. One really should not take the cold for granted however much one would like to and however much anyone else tells you. Be prepared, that was the motto.
 

 
 
Reading up on Shimla and its tourist attractions was the next thing to do. Lots of friends piped in with their experiences and must-do things and must-avoid things. A confusing list that was luckily not jotted down. I can quite imagine the vigourously conflicting opinions that such a list would have produced. So, we just let Shimla happen to us, naturally and without any prejudice.
 
As far as getting to Shimla is concerned, there are many options. There are comfortable overnight bus services from Delhi. If you wish to travel by train, a ride on the Kalka-Shimla Railway - a UNESCO World Heritage site -- would be a great experience. Travelling on the narrow gauge section would give you some breathtaking views of the hills. One can travel to Kalka by broad gauge trains from Delhi and other places. Once the train leaves Kalka, it begins its climb and offers a panoramic view of the mountains all along, passing through Dharampur, Solan, Kandaghat, Taradevi and Barog. The route has 102 tunnels and more than 800 bridges, mostly viaducts with multi-arched galleries. On our way to Shimla, we did see the tracks criss-crossing the road and in many places hugging the cliff face through the mountains and out of them. Quite an interesting sight!
 
The Kalka-Shimla train takes about five hours to cover 96 km, and if you think that is too long, you can choose to take a taxi from Kalka, if you arrive by train there, or from Chandigarh, which you can reach by train or air.
 
Shimla has an airport, too, at Jubbarhatti, 22 km from town but only turbo-prop aircraft can land there. We could not find any flights, however, from Delhi.
 
We opted to hire a car from Delhi. Shimla is 384 kms from Delhi and the drive would take about 8 hours or near-abouts. There were six of us and we hired a Toyoto Innova that could seat all of us. We had to make sure the vehicle had a luggage carrier on the top, given the number of bags we were carrying. 
 
Of course, ours was not a non-stop drive, and we made it to Shimla in about nine hours, not bad, I thought.  We had left Delhi only around 9.30 am and stopped for an early lunch at Haryana Tourism Development Corporation's Oasis restaurant at Karnal on the highway, a place we had visited earlier and with which we were comfortable, as far as the food and other facilities, were concerned. The restaurant is spacious, the food was generally okay, the toilets were clean, there are shops to browse around and there is a large area for you to loosen your limbs.
 
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For those who start out earlier from Delhi, another option for a stop for lunch is Dharampur, after Ambala, which has several restaurants, including the well-known Giani Dhaba and a McDonald's outlet. We had read mixed reviews about some of the dhabas there, and wanted to try Gyani out, but ultimately did not stop because we were running late and wanted to reach Shimla before sundown.
 
Leaving the wide and dusty roads of Delhi and later on, some towns of Haryana, had us wondering what the first glimpse of Shimla would be like. It got a lot more interesting once we reached the Trans-Himalayan Expressway. What a wonderfully exciting name!! That jolted all of us out of our slumber and the cameras got into action. The surroundings were no longer dusty. The winter sun was dazzling bright and hot and far, far, far away in the distance, we could see the shadowy outlines of the majestic Himalayas!! Utterly spell-binding to say the least.
 
We were now on a mountain road and the numerous curves on the road came sharp and quick that made some of us want to stop, to get our 'legs' back. After a few hours, we reached the place where we would be staying for the next four days. It was the Club Mahindra resort at Mashobra, about 10 km from Shimla, at about 8000 feet from sea-level. The whole place is covered with dense woods of pines and other evergreens. Mashobra is beautiful and quiet, away from the rush of tourists in Shimla. The resort is located just off the road and there are lots of little shops near the entrance. The resort itself is a bustling place with lots of guests walking in and out. The suites we were allotted exceeded our expectations and the staff at the resort went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
 
 It was already rather dark and we were tired after the drive. Looking forward to a restful night, we decided to relax and go downstairs for dinner. The temperatures were dropping to quite low in the night, notwithstanding the hot blazing sun in the day!  At last we were able to wear the woolies that we had so conscientiously taken with us.
 
The resort staff had arranged some games and music in a hall and we spent some time there. Some kids were playing table tennis in the background, even as the others played a few rounds of housie. Finally, we went for dinner. The buffet spread was quite good and the chef came out and talked to us, especially to find out if we had any special wishes or requirements.
 
At the Jakhoo Temple
At the Jakhoo Temple
One of us wanted to avoid sugar, and he ensured that she got beautifully laid out fruit salads every day of our stay there. Another talked wistfully of fish he had tasted somewhere long ago, and there it was, in the barbecue the second night.
 
On our first morning in Shimla, we woke up to some amazing views of the mountains through the picture windows. After a nice, hot and filling breakfast buffet, we hired a car from the resort to drive us around Shimla. Though this was an extra cost, we opted for a car from the resort because our driver from Delhi could not be expected to know the routes and also might not be able to negotiate the mountain roads well as a local driver.
 
The weather was very pleasant and the drive was enjoyable. Most of Shimla lies between 2100 m and 2300 m. It used to be the summer capital in the times of the British Raj, thanks to its climate and terrain. History literally seeps through its bricks and stones, in its architecture and ambience.
 
The town itself offers many walks, day-trips, shopping, entertainment and museums and can also be your base for forays into the interior districts. Above all, it has got the famous Mall, one of the longest stretches of pedestrian shopping in the world.
 
Today's youngsters may not quite realise it, but Shimla had a close connection with India's freedom movement. It was here that ornithologist and former civil servant Allan Octavian Hume created the Indian National Congress which spearheaded the freedom struggle. Stalwarts such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, C Rajagopalachari, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Maulana Azad were also regular visitors to the town.
 
The town was also host to maor events such as the Shimla Conference in 1942 and the deliberations which finally led to the difficult decision to partition the country.
 
While the nostalgic elements are all over the place, Shimla today also has a youthful vigour. Its many attractions and the ease of accessibility have made it one of India's most popular hill resorts. 
 
Our driver-cum-guide took us first to the highest point in Shimla which has the famous Jakhoo Temple at its pinnacle. It is best to go to this place in a four-wheel drive as vehicles with less power would not be able to climb the rather steep gradient. The road to the top is long, narrow and winding. So it is good to have a driver who knows how to manouvre vehicles on such terrain. Many people had to leave their smaller vehicles on the way and had to trudge up.
 
The highest point was quite a surprise. There were lots of people and monkeys galore too.  Pilgrims were doing their bit by feeding the monkeys and the monkeys were doing their bit by checking out the vehicles.
 
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(In fact, our resort had bold signages for the guests cautioning them against leaving a window open here or there that would let in the curious simians, who could cause a lot of damage.)
 
The temple is popular with pilgrims and we saw many who were paying their obeisance to the very enormous vermillion Hanuman, the deity to whom this temple was dedicated.
 
After the temple, we proceeded to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), which used to be the Viceregal Lodge or the residence of the Viceroy of India in the summers. The building is huge and beautiful. It houses the Institute and the sight-seers were cautioned against making any noise and touching any of the handsome period furniture and objets d'art that were so plenty there.
 
We were shown around and were able to see the different rooms where monumental decisions regarding the future of the then pre-Independence India were taken. We felt a sense of pride unlike any other before...seeing the table where important documents and agreements were signed and the rooms where they were discussed and debated. Here, amongst these very same things, history was scripted and the future of millions of Indians was sealed. Photos of many of the ceremonies featuring the founding fathers of our nation among others were starting points of curious questions from the youngsters with us.  And when you club that with the state-of-the-art computer centre for the scholars who work here now, you feel an awesome patriotism for our dear country.
 
The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies
The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies
For those interested in details, the Viceroys and Governors-General who occupied Viceregal Lodge included  Marquess of Dufferin, 1884-88; Marquess of Landsdowne, 1888-94; Earl of Elgin, 1894-99; Marquess Curzon, 1899-1904 and 1904-05; Earl of Minto, 1905-10; Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, 1910-16; Viscount Chelmsford, 1916-21; Marquess of Reading, 1921-26; Lord Irwin, Earl of Halifax, 1926-31; Marquess of Willingdon, 1931-36; Marquess of Linlithgow, 1936-43; Earl Wavell, 1943-47 and Earl Mountbatten, April to August 1947.
 
You cannot fail to notice the elaborate wood-work of the building's interiors, the paneling and pilasters and the staircases with newels and handrails, all made of teak procured from Burma along with local cedar wood (deodar) and walnut. The huge estate around has a collection of rare and exotic plants and all kinds of grasses.
 
It was a heady feeling, to be in those environs and we spent a long time gazing at and discussing the events captured by the photographs and the furniture and other items on display.
 
We spent some time on the neat and pretty grounds. There is a fire engine station too, a tiny one by today’s standards, and now converted into a lovely cafe and souvenir shop. We picked up a few postcards to mail to friends and family. Truly, this place is a must-see for everyone who comes to this mountain capital.
 
The Mall
The Mall
After, the Institute, we headed to the Mall. The Mall in Shimla is famous. It is a plateau like area which has many things going on at the same time. First and foremost, the sun was shining brightly and people were soaking up the heat with pleasure. The Mall overlooks a cliff. This is barricaded with a long and beautiful wrought-iron parapet. There were pony-rides, food stalls and photographers. We could take our pick. While, some opted for the ethnic wear photo-session, others were oohing and aahing over the sights and munching away at the numerous snacks on sale.  The walk is extremely pleasant and the sights were truly exhilirating.
 
There was an old and pretty church at the Mall and we went in and lit some candles. The Mall is a pedestrian-only zone and has to be reached using a couple of elevators. One has to queue up to use the lift. Once you are out of the elevators, you reach a path flanked on one side by shops and eateries. This path leads up to the Mall. 
 
Senior citizens might find the incline of the road a bit tough, and we had one in our group, who opted out of the walk and preferred to sit and rest on one of benches thoughtfully provided on the wayside. We discovered that there were people with wheel chairs and prams on hire and many people made use of the facility. Near the Mall is the Lower Bazaar, which is a typical Indian marketplace where you can buy trinkets, silver jewellery, shawls, garments, handicrafts and a variety of other things. The entire area has a certain vibrancy, thanks to the hundreds of youngsters, many of them honeymooners, walking around.
 
After our time at the Mall, we had lunch at a cosy cafe attached to a hotel called Combermere. The food was piping hot and tasty. It was really good.
 
Walking up and down those paths had tired us out and nightfall saw us returning to the resort and dinner there. Bonfire and barbecue are very good things in the cold. The resort had organised one such event and dinner was indeed a warm and very happy time.
 
The next day we decided to travel to Kufri which is at a higher altitude (about 2800 metres) than Mashobra, where our resort was located. Kufri is about 15 km from Shimla and the highest point in the surrounding region. It has a zoo, with rare antelopes, felines and birds, including the Himalayan Monal. Kufri is famous for its ski-slopes and the amazing views it offers of deep valleys and thick forests. The Mahasu Peak is nearby.
 
The drive again was a very pleasant experience and we reached a place in Kufri which had pony rides and rustic looking eateries. Souvenier shops abound here and I did buy a small keepsake. And lots of photographs were taken. There is a nature park and a zoo in the vicinity, but we had to give them a miss because we were running short of time.
 
The Wildflower Hall, one of the best-known hotels in Shimla, was on the way back, and we stopped there for a cuppa. Lots of our friends had stayed there and told us we must at least visit the place.
Inside the church
Inside the church
 
The Wildflower hall used to be the residence of Lord Kitchener, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India (1902-09) It is now an Oberoi property and they have maintained it well. The hotel is a stately place and evokes the times gone by. We had lunch planned elsewhere, so we opted to have some hot coffee and snacks. After a late lunch, we had a relaxed evening at our resort.
 
There are any number of places to see within Shimla, including the State Museum, the Lakkar Bazaar and the various temples and churches and scores of historical buildings. There also several day-tours that one can take to places like Chail, Narkhanda and Tattapani. One can also take longer trips to places such as Manali, Dharamshala and Kinnaur. We hope to go to all of these places some day.
 
For the present, we had to return home the next day. There was a strike scheduled by local taxi operators, and our driver said we had to leave before dawn the next day to avoid any trouble with the strikers. The staff at the resort offered to pack dry breakfast for us -- sandwiches, muffins, fruit and the such. We set our while it was still dark.
 
On the way, we took an impromptu decision to just drive through Chandigarh because two people in our group had not seen Le Corbusier's well planned city. That done, we were on our way to Delhi, stopping again at Oasis in Karnal for lunch. Later, we stopped at Pind Baluchi at Murthal, near Sonipat, on the highway.
 
By late afternoon, it was back again to the traffic jams in the national capital, making us wonder if Shimla was a dream. We decided that we needed to go there once again for longer next time.
Rachel Sonny Abraham
Rachel Sonny Abraham

Rachel Sonny Abraham works full-time at NetIndian. She is a travel writer, writes a food blog and runs a clothing business.

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Delhi music lovers enjoy magical evening with Verdi choruses, arias


 
It was a magical experience for music lovers in Delhi who got a chance to listen to some of the finest music by Verdi at the Kamani Auditorium here on Friday.
 
The evening of Italian operatic music was put together by Neemrana Foundation, the Italian Embassy and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations to celebrate the bicentennial of the world renowned composer.
 
Giueseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813 – 1901) was an Italian composer of the Romantic Era, who wrote mostly operas. Starting out as a commercial musician, he found success and was hailed as a pioneer by the end of his long career in the music industry. 
 
Born the same year as well-known German composer Richard Wagner, he also rivalled the great musician in his popularity in the operatic theatre. 
 
Verdi’s best known works include La donna è mobile from Rigoletto; Va, Pensiero (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, and Coro di zingari (Anvil Chorus) from Il Trovatore. 
 
The Verdi Bicentennial Gala Celebrations are being held alongside the same for Wagner all across the world.
 
Friday's concert, conceptualised by the soloist voice coach and renowned Indian soprano Situ Singh Buehler, was a collection of various well-known arias and choruses by Verdi. The music was played by a chamber orchestra that was a collaboration of both Italian and Indian artistes. While the strings - the violins, the violas, and the cello - with exception of the double bass which was played by Salman Mubarak of Spain, were all played by Indians, the wind instruments, consisting of the flute, the oboe, the clarinet, the bassoon, the horn and the trumpet, and the kettledrum were played by Italians.
 
The orchestra was led by Marco Balderi, a distinguished and enviably experienced conductor. Known for the productions of Madama Butterfly at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in January 2006, as well as Georges Bizet's The Pearl Fishers in New Delhi, Balderi is well versed with all the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Schumann, as well as over 200 operas, forty of which he has conducted. 
David Sotigiu
David Sotigiu
 
Apart from this, he has also studied 650 sacred and secular vocal works. He has conducted 16 orchestras across Europe, such as the Padova Chamber Orchestra and the Deutsche Oper orchestra in Berlin, and the New Symphony Orchestra of Boston and the Metropolitan Orchestra of Tokyo. He has served as the artistic director for 12 seasons at the Ongakoyoku Festival of Nijgata in Japan and two years at the Puccini Festival of Torre del Lago. Having gained deep knowledge in opera vocality, Balderi has performed with important singers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Cura and Barbara Frittoli amongst many others.
 
The Neemrana Music Foundation Choir, trained by Nadya Balyan, served as the chorus for the evening. A registered, national, non-profit, non-partisan educational organisation in the field of classical music, the Neemrana Music Foundation debuted with the Fakir of Benares in Delhi (2002) and Mumbai (2003), before becoming an independent registered trust in 2004. Presently, the foundation organizes and performs various operas and operatic music regularly in India and abroad.
 
The evening began with the orchestra performing Sinfonia followed by the choir joining them for the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va, Pensiero), both from Nabucco. Having grown up listening to Verdi's music, it was a delightful beginning. The programme progressed to the many solo performances of the evening. It was a pleasant surprise to listen to the strong, lovely voices of the soloists, each having an appealing timbre that made one want to hear some more.
 
Performing Saper vorreste from Un ballo in maschera was soprano Ashwati Parmeshwar, who delighted the audience with her loud, clear voice. Following her, tenor Prabhat Chandola sang Di quella pira from Il Trovatore with great gusto, as the chorus backed him up. 
 
Mezzo soprano Ramya Roy then rendered in her honeyed voice the Stride la vampa from Il Trovatore, and was followed by bass Avi who sang Di due figli vivea padre beato also from Il Trovatore, complete with actions and conviction. Petite and slender in form, soprano Tara Kumaravelu wowed with her powerful voice singing Tacea la notte placida from Il Trovatore. Right after, the chorus performed the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. 
Soloists and the chorus
Soloists and the chorus
 
Enchanting the audience with his quick smile and easy charm, tenor Toshan Nongbet wonderfully delighted with his rendition of La donna è mobile from Rigoletto and was followed by another choral performance from Aida, The Triumphal March. 
 
Moving on to the famous solos and duets from La Traviata, tenor David Sotgiu began by masterfully singing De’ miei bollenti spiriti. Following him, and deserving a special mention, was soprano Payal John, who came up with an exceptionally beautiful rendition of Addio del Passato. The final soloist of the night, young baritone Bhanu Sharma made many feel the conviction of a father that Giorgio tries to sell his son Alfredo with Di provenza from La Traviata.
 
Balderi drew appreciation from the crowd for not only his charming stage presence, but also his careful and fluid conducting which was carried out while he played the accompanying piano for the performances. As a pianist, there was a heightened sense of awe and respect at his efficient and exemplary performance as both pianist and conductor. It was fortunate that none of the musicians or singers faced any problem with the aural quality of their music, and it was reflected upon the happy mood of the Maestro.
 
The evening drew to a close with four of the soloists - Ashwati Parmeshwar, Prabhat Chandola, Toshan Nongbet and Payal John - performing Brindisi from La Traviata, accompanied by the choir. The Maestro pulled together an encore performance which included Situ Singh Buehler sharing a note or two with all the soloists of the evening. She, not only conceptualized the programme,  but also trained each of the soloists for their exemplary performance this evening.
 
The enthralled audience, having filled the auditorium to splitting capacity, filling aisles and sharing seats for this extravaganza, cheered on the artistes and clapped in time to their song before giving them a standing ovation.
 
Vinita Abraham
 
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate student of Performance Studies at the Ambedkar University, Delhi. She has trained in piano and ballet. 
 
 
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Those Were The Days, My Friend, LaLaLaLaLaLaLa

Still going strong...file photo of senior citizens ahead of a half marathon in Delhi
Still going strong...file photo of senior citizens ahead of a half marathon in Delhi
 
You know your age has passed the half-way house and it is all downhill from now on when:
 
People tell you to take it easy, slow down, you are not getting any younger, lean back a bit - and you hate them for saying it. 
 
Everyone has advice on cutting out various foods. You never hear enough of it as they babble on about salt, sugar, coffee, tea, fried foods, cigarettes ...oh go away and leave me alone.
 
You actually read those "I am John's liver" type of articles in the magazines.
 
Your hypochondria gallops around like a young colt and every symptom you read about or see on TV you know you have it, no doubt at all. 
 
You actually have memories and talk about the good old days.
 
All the young people suddenly get very busy when you say, "Let me tell you when I was your age...".
 
You cannot believe what things cost as compared to your childhood and you can't wait to share the comparison if you can get someone to stay long enough to listen.
 
All the job ads are for people old enough to be your son.
 
Ads on herbal medicines and what they do to your system fascinate you.
 
Someone sees you jogging and tells you it is dangerous at your age.
 
Gravity seems to be winning hands down because now life is one big sag.
You wish your metabolism wasn't such a lazy sod.
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You go around the house yelling about electricity bills and switching all the lights off. 
 
You meet some young guy whose swash hasn't buckled and he reminds you of what you once were, and you loathe him for it. Then you go home and sadly realise you'll never run the 400 metres again. 
 
Someone gives you his card and you spend a minute squeegeeing your eyes to read it; is that number a 6 or an 8 or a 5 squint, squint. 
 
You overhear someone call you that old eccentric.
 
Your kids tell you this is not your type of a movie, it is too `now'.
 
No one in this generation knows who Malcolm X is.
 
You find today's youngsters lazy, shiftless, spoilt, pampered, ill-mannered louts ...not much different from what you were.
 
You go to a party and yearn for a chair to sit in; then you don't want to get up every time a lady comes in.
 
All your food intake is on a quota system. The doctor talks about you in third person, like what does he like to eat or how was he feeling this morning and you want to say, hey, I am here, okay talk to me.
 
You can't open a lid and you go red in the face trying, and then some kid comes and yanks it off and, upstaged, you go looking for Deep Heat.
 
Your whole breakfast is a saga in roughage and fibre and you actually read the ingredients on the packet to see if you have had 60 per cent of your riboflavin - whatever that is.
 
You discuss the details of your flipping daily `walk' with others of your age ...like who cares, did you ever think you'd do that?
 
If you do something young at heart your family is embarrassed, like not at your age...well, whyever not?
 
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You actually find you bought a jar of anti-wrinkle cream.
 
You can't believe this is the generation which is going to inherit your legacy, 1 mean what a mess they'll make of it.
 
You get all sbmaltzy and gooey eyed in the movies, all that soppy sentiment for Mr One-time Tough Guy.
 
Your after-late-night morning recovery time is two mornings, and you like fizzy solutions like fiuit salt and Alka Seltzer.
 
You find yourself obsessed by your digestive system and its mysteries.
 
You wonder where the time went, there was so much of it just yesterday ...it was yesterday. Itwasitwasitwas.
 
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Bikram Vohra
Bikram Vohra
Bikram Vohra has been editor of Gulf News, Khaleej Times, Bahrain Tribune, Emirates Evening Post and helped in setting up Gulf Today.

More articles by Bikram Vohra
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