Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Divide the world into two – Dog Lovers and Others – Our best friend “Button” – Story of a Lhasa Apso

I do not know why the world was divided into various continents and countries, the haves and have-nots,rich and poor,East and West,developed, developing, and underdeveloped and so on. It’s all too complex. A simple way would have been to divide the world into two – Dog Lovers and Others. The world would have been a better and happier place to live in. A dog is the ultimate friend and companion. It is very difficult to explain the special relationship that human beings have with dogs. Perhaps there is no other animal like the dog which is capable of giving unlimited joy and happiness and wanting nothing in return. There is no limit to extolling the virtues of dogs.

In the fifties, not everyone kept dogs in their houses in South Bangalore and it was a rare sight to see a pet dog on a leash being taken out for a walk or someone playing ‘fetch ’ with his canine friend. Our knowledge of dogs was derived mainly from their unfortunate cousins the - stray dogs. To begin with I was not a dog lover.

My elderly cousin stayed in Jayanagar 1st Block and they owned a Pomeranian by the name of ‘Skippy’. He led a very cushy life in that house with a huge garden chasing squirrels, cats, strangers, monkeys and whatever they are required to chase. Life continued undisturbed till one fine morning when the owners suddenly realized that Skippy had skipped. The house was engulfed in despair and a sense of helplessness prevailed, as a non dogger, I for one could not fathom the mood. A few days later, an acquaintance sighted a dog resembling Skippy, in a house located on Vani Vilas road. I enrolled myself into the search and rescue team and went along with the family on operation ‘Rescue Skippy’. All that my cousin did was shout ‘Skippy’ and the dog came running into his arms. Smiles returned to their faces and all headed back to the house to celebrate. I was impressed.

There was a gap of some seven years between that incident and my next exposure to dogs. We moved into a huge house in Shankarpuram. The landlord, a retired chief magistrate, stayed in the front and we stayed in the outhouse. Between these two houses was a Guava tree, which for some unknown reason, never yielded any fruit during our entire stay of some 23 years. The magistrate for all his magistrating ability and wisdom used to tie a Silky Sydney to the Guava tree. The dog remained there all day and night- come rain, shine or storm. Had Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans been alive, she would have written another ‘Casabianca’ .Instead of ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ it would have been ‘The dog stood chained to a tree’. Cook Pachappa gave food once a day and a bath God knows when – all the while tied to the tree. I never saw Mr. P take the dog out for a walk. In due course, more miserable things happened to the dog and finally one day it was no more. Why the magistrate did not care for the dog, I have never understood.

Whilst on annual leave I visited my cousin in Frazer town. While she was busy giving final touches to the lunch I settled down on the couch with a news paper and engaged myself in some small talk. All of a sudden a huge monster came and placed his fore legs on my knees and got busy licking my face. I instantly froze and wanted to scream, but my voice failed me. The cousin, busy in the kitchen, asked me a few questions about my recent doings. When all she got was silence at my end, she came to the drawing room to see what was wrong. Later on she said that my face had turned a pale grey with sweat all over and ‘FEAR’ was written in three different languages on my broad forehead. She called out “Alex dear, be a good boy and come here”. At this Mr. Alexander the Great – a boxer, very obediently got off and went back to wherever he had come from.I was completely 'Porused'

Years went by and I became a young Lieutenant in 1975 and met a wonderful girl in Bombay. I became a frequent visitor to their house whenever my ship was in port. That was when I had my next encounter with yet another Pomeranian – Romus. When I met this little beast of roman ancestry, he was old, snappy, short tempered and totally unpredictable. Whenever I had a chance to sit close to her, he would commence barking endlessly until the entire household consisting of her strict father, mother, sister, the security Gorkha and his wife descended on me to see what terrible things I had done.

I got engaged to her expecting the dog to behave well towards me. One afternoon when I was sitting next to her, probably a few inches closer than usual and the mutt went into action and bit me in the leg. On that day I said to myself, enough is enough and told my M in L “it’s either me or him”. She did not reply and I always wondered what her answer would have been.

Very soon I was married and in due course two wonderful children came along. I was posted to Delhi. Somewhere in Dec 84 my wife’s uncle rang up to ask us over for lunch in their spacious bunglow in Chanakyapuri. Other guests included my wife’s sister and her family and the house owner’s daughter and their clan. On establishing contact with the aunt, LOH found out that uncle dear had organised a video filming session. In 1984, video filming was a great event and to be star performers meant much more. The sisters went on an overdrive and dressed up their respective children in their Sunday best. During the drive from Daula Kuan to Chanakyapuri, I was told not to come anywhere near the camera, looking like a joker in my silky blue trouser and a red striped shirt. Rajiv Gandhi had just taken over and PV Narashima Rao was yet to usher in economic reforms and pay revisions. All this had a telling effect on my wardrobe – which was limited to two trousers and two shirts.

As soon as we entered the house two pests – no typo here – Candy and Samba (C and S) welcomed us with their sharp and insistent barking. This was followed by loud retort from one of our gang members to be followed by mother telling everyone to behave or else. All this commotion woke up the little one inside who joined the endless Jugal Bandi (musical game) with his own noise making devices.

The man of the house made his formal appearance and ushered us all in to be formally introduced to ‘C and S’. The barking stopped but the mutts continued to track me and my co brother, wherever we went. The video filming session was announced and I suddenly remembered the stern warning which my wife had issued a little earlier. Time was just right and we made a very quiet exit towards the bar set up under the Jacaranda tree. We remained in the shade of the tree till lunch was announced.

During the drive back home there were ample indications that the sisters were raving mad. We decided to exercise extreme caution and did not utter a word during the entire journey. Silence is golden.

Later on when calm had descended it transpired that the lunch was to celebrate the 3rd year birthday of ‘C and S’ and the video filming was exclusively for them. The kids were just character actors and the sisters’ extras. When we actually saw the film we realized that the kids appear for some ten to twelve minutes in a two hour film. To make matters worse, all that one saw was the legs of the children and their shoes as the dogs were only six inches tall. The icing on the cake was the name of the film “Candy Samba and their little Cousins’.

That much for my wife’s uncle and his love for dogs. His attachment really went beyond the ordinary L and A – it was divine and sublime. I believe that ‘C and S’ slept inside a mosquito net. He had the carpenter make two low stools for placing their food bowls. This was to prevent any extra strain on their delicate neck during feeding time. At that time I thought that the uncle was completely batty and had lost all his marbles.

The family there after went abroad to Nigeria and we forgot all about dogs, having to deal with African tigers and lions. We came back to Bombay to pitch our tents once again. The children had grown up and soon noticed that we did not have a dog. The subject of ownership of a dog came up very often only to be shot down by LOH – who maintained that the children interest would last only for a short period and she would be saddled with all the work of feeding, bathing, walking the dog and so on.

After twelve years of marriage, six transfers, dozen houses and four schools we landed up in Visakhapatnam and moved into the top floor of a multi storied building ‘Meghna’ with an excellent view of the hills of the Eastern Ghats. Our close friend Sunder and Saroja were already there. The first evening was spent at their place.

I had hardly settled down in the sofa when she made her entry into the drawing room. I was immediately attracted to her. She radiated love, affection, warmth and a kind of look which I had never seen before. I sat there totally captivated and engrossed in her beauty. My wife was quick to notice the subtle changes in me and preferred to remain silent through the evening.

When we reached home, the children came into our room expecting me to say something. When they saw me very quiet they eagerly looked up at the mother. There was an air of expectation and hope and for some time we sat in silence and finally she said “you can keep a dog if your father agrees”.

A confirmed dog hater of 40 years had been reduced to jelly and a shameless lover in one single evening by a Lhasa Apso ‘Fluffy’. Without wasting any time I rang up Sunder and informed him about our momentous decision. I was immediately promised a male pup of choice from Fluffy’s maiden delivery.

“Apsos were bred as an interior sentinel in the Buddhist monasteries, who alerted the monks to any intruders who entered. Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet and Apso is a word in the Tibetan language meaning "bearded," so Lhasa Apso simply means "long-haired Tibetan dog." This is a hardy dog with a friendly assertive manner. Intelligent and lively, it makes a good pet. Lhasa Apsos are spirited and devoted little dogs, which are affectionate with their masters. They can be very obedient to their masters. This breed responds to motivational training. They have a keen sense of hearing, and make good watch dogs”.

One evening when Sunder and I were returning from our walk, a local grocer stopped us and offered Sunder a most handsome male Apso pup. The grocer had found it extremely difficult to look after the dog and had decided to gift it. He chose Sunder as the recipient as he had seen Fluffy a number of times on walk. On that day Fluffy found her life partner.

Four months later, when whole of US of A was preparing to celebrate their independence day Fluffy was laboring hard and precisely at 0412 hrs IST on 03 Jul 1990 she delivered the first of seven pups. The news reached Meghna and within minutes the selection committee had left home. The puppy with the Red was selected and Sunders were formally requested to reserve the pup.

On the 30th day the pup was to come home. The children skipped games and stayed at home and had invited their friends for the home coming. The LOH prepared lovely vadas and coffee for the grand event – I had taken a haircut for the occasion and the maid was instructed to dust the house all over again. The Prince of Wales arrived in a ceremonial basket and was formally adopted into our family.

Late in the evening when all others had left, the family sat together in a huddle to find a suitable name. Number of names was bandied about – what about Snow white, someone said “it’s a female name” – Santa “no he is trim” – I said Tommy and got a horrible stare in return. The process went on till midnight – Bingo, Bush, wolly and so on. That is when I felt the need for something similar to Ashta Sahsranama – a book recommending names for dogs only. Suddenly from nowhere the name ‘Button’ was heard and everything seemed to fall in palce.The only thing that was visible from the front was the dog’s dark nose resembling a button on a white sheet.

A dressing table draw was removed and suitably converted to become buttons bed. He looked extremely handsome like his father and was blessed with a pleasant temperament of his mother – Fluffy. As time passed his brothers and sisters Flojo, Bonsai, Snoopy and the rest found their shelter.

Button grew up to be a lovely person and loved by one and all. I was renamed Buttons father and Jai, buttons mother and so on by the children in navy nagar. Daughter and her friends used to dress up button as Mother Theresa play house house, doctor and patient, teacher and student with him – he really enjoyed playing with children.

Figure 1- Button Modeling

I was transferred to Delhi and the family prior to joining me decided to go to Bangalore and enjoy its salubrious climate for a while. To be able to take a dog in the train you either traveled in a coupe with two tickets or a four berther with four tickets. Al this was prior to 2 tier, 3 tier etc. I had asked for a coupe but ended up with a four berther along with a school teacher as a co passenger. When the attendant came, my wife preferring privacy pleaded with him for a coupe and warned him saying that our dog was vicious and was generally aggressive inclined towards strangers, especially school teachers. While she continued to strongly plead her case, dear Button had jumped up and comfortably settled in the teachers lap.

Figure 2 - Button with daughter, son and cousins in Bangalore

I went to Bangalore to fetch button. We travelled by air while the rest of the family came by train to Delhi. He refused to be left alone in kotah House when I went for work. And I had to take him to the office every day. It was pre 9/11 days and the DSC sentries did not see him as a security threat. He used to settle down below my table and enjoy the air conditioned atmosphere. Many officers in the directorate were ignorant of his august presence. He braved all the long and boring meetings in my office and at times used to let go a low decibel grunt expressing his disagreement or disgust at the proceedings. At times when I had to make a very important decision I used to steal a glance at button for help – if he wagged his tail vigorously then it was ‘yes’. He had quietly started aiding decision making in Naval Headquarters.

Figure 3 - How he looked most of the time

Few days later the family joined me in Kotah House. Delhi summer was impossible to bear and in all this misery Button located a mole in the cabin. The mole was code named’ Baldy’. Being a mole he lived underground and the extent of his territory extended from the bed room to the enclosed verandah. Through a network of intricate and complicated tunnels Baldy had free access to all the space below the cabin. Button declared war on Baldy and nothing mattered thereafter. Button kept vigil the whole day and night, constantly running between the three exit points, which the mole had, to the outside world. Baldy became an obsession and everything else was forgotten – dinner, play and sleep became secondary. The mole knew he was trapped and Button increased his vigil. A week went by without any attrition and state of intense war continued. During a temporary truce, I had withdrawn my forces to the bathroom for a bath when I noticed a bad bruise on Buttons nose as a result of constant rubbing against the floor.
We had no clue as to where a vet could be consulted. Luckily the same day we were able to get through to our dog loving uncle in Bangalore and sent him our SOS. He immediately directed us to a vet in Khan Market in the exclusive locality of Pandara. This was an up market shopping area for the diplomatic corps. After an hour of waiting with other dogs including a huge and ferocious Rottweiler we were ushered into the examination room.Button was immediately ticked off for coming without an appointment. After a close look, the vet recommended some ointment. During the course of the treatment he was horror-struck to learn that I had brought poor button on a two wheeler and lived in a non air-conditioned abode. After promising Dr Kapooria Jr that I would try and improve Buttons standard of life I departed after paying a huge fee.

Figure 4 - Guarding daughter

After a few days, Sunder joined Kotah House along with his dear wife Saroja and the dogs Fluffy and Snowy. With all the three Apsos running around, Kotah house resembled a small Tibetan refugee camp. Our army headed by Button with addition forces at his disposal scored a resounding victory in “The Battle of The Baldy”. Having accomplished their mission objective the awesome threesome Button, Fluffy and Snowy resumed their peace time activities such as chasing cats, squirrels and other dogs.

A few days later we shifted to our permanent abode to a flat on the 5th floor of SP Marg with an excellent view of South Delhi from the balcony. Never a dull moment, with dear Buttons. One day I took him for a walk and saw his poop resembling a rain bow, on closer examination I found to my horror, friend had eaten a handful of crayons. Once, he ate his fortnightly quota of beef in a single session – to find himself completely bloated like a balloon, sick and unable to breath.

Figure 5 - In Shimla – Kufri with us

One evening an officer from the colony along with his wife visited us. After the pleasantries were exchanged the officer came to the issue on hand and said “we own a female Apso – ‘Sherry’ and we are keen to get it mated with your dog”. Instantly my wife assumed an air of importance as we were from the boy’s side. After initiating the right queries we finally agreed to the match. The marriage would be held in the boys place. After consulting the Bangalore press calendar an auspicious date and time was selected. On the appointed day my wife decided to skip work and stay at home – just in case. Sunder by now the Director of Naval Operations working from the Naval War Room was chosen by the LOH to be the sutradahra (stage director) who would remotely monitor the proceedings. Many embarrassing questions were asked by LOH and Sunder amidst all his national responsibilities, had to find time to answer them – what questions? – Some other day!!!!Sherry went back home and Buttons bachelor days had come to an end.

64 days later Sherry delivered six healthy pups. We received our dowry – one male and one female. The male went to my sons very close friend Jaspreet who named it ‘Zipper’ saying that it had replaced buttons in the trouser. The female – ‘Woopy’ went to Sunder to give company to her grandmother Fluffy. Woopy turned out to be another Button in its temperament. It looked after Fluffy till the latter died. Sherry his first love remained ingrained in Buttons mind. Whenever Sherry was on a walk he would run to the balcony tail wagging and tongue hanging out to get a glimpse of her. I am yet to come across such attachment and love. How he came to know Sherry was on a walk still remains a mystery. He got to mate her once more in Delhi and the girl’s side was transferred. We also left Delhi in June 1995 to come to Bangalore on retirement.

Bangalore posed new challenges for Button and us. As we were on the ground floor he would run away at the slightest opportunity. Button was pro humans but totally aggressive when it came to others of his breed. He had a totally wrong perception of his size and physical prowess. His favorite past time was to chase and attack a huge Alsatian named ‘Bhima’, until one day he was literally lifted by Bhima by his neck and tossed around. Thereafter he kept away from big dogs.

Figure 6 - On a holiday to Karwar 1998

Another interesting anecdote concerning Button relates to his escapades with cockroaches. He used to enjoy catching them and putting his ears on top as they wiggled to get free, the cockroach not to be left out used to lie on his back and play dead. Button used to roll him back and start the ‘ear on top’ game all over again. This would go on endlessly, till he got bored and end the game by smacking the roach once and for all. One day he tried this game with a Wasp, which left him badly defeated and red nosed. He was good in catching rats, chasing cats and squirrels. He liked running on grass and often pretended to be a rabbit and hop around. He never liked open umbrellas and used to bark till they were closed. He had developed an uncanny knack of knowing that LOH and daughter were planning to have a head bath and he would try to run away or plead with them not to have it. The hair dryer noise was unbearable for him.
He loved idlis, dosa, upma, toast with amul butter, boiled eggs and his favorite beef cubes. He simply loved food. On one occasion we celebrated Satyanarayana pooja and retired for the night with lot of items still left in the open. My S in L an early riser was astonished to find Button slowly dragging a block of Jagerry and hiding it in my daughter’s cupboard. On examining the place, we found dry coconut, ghee packet and some dried dates – probably storing them for a rainy day.

He enjoyed coming in our car on rides and trips. The whole family went on a beach trip to Goa, Karwar and Murdeshwar. He would not let my daughter get into the sea and would bark endlessly till she came out. One day when she did not obey him, he swam into the sea and nudged her back. That was his first swim. Where ever he went, he was the king and would aggressively protect his territory.

Sometimes, in Bangalore, you come across a man with a trained monkey visiting houses and doing tricks for treats. One morning my S in L gave a sharp shriek from their bedroom on the first floor. All of us ran with Button in the lead to see what had happened only to find a monkey with coins in his mouth and a toy gun in hand. Button was seeing a monkey for the first time and not knowing what to do next, found it safe and appropriate to wet the floor.

He slept with all of us in turn. He used to spend some time with daughter dear and then lie down with my son and finally settle down below my feet. If ever I visited the bathroom he would immediately occupy me place and fall asleep. Any attempt to regain my place would be met with deep growls.

Figure 7 - Sitting by the door

It all happened when I was at sea. Button got sick and became weak, even an ordinary task of jumping on to the bed was daunting. He went silent and looked withdrawn. He waited for me to get back from sea and breathed his last at 4 AM on 14 December 1999.He passed away in my lap. He gave us endless love and affection for nine and a half fun filled years. He had many friends and well wishers outside of the family, who also felt his loss. Button left a lasting impression on all of us and even to this day we recall his life and antics with great fondness. A year later my wife wrote an article about him in the Hindu News Paper – A tribute to our dog ‘Button’. May his friendly and playful soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Lessons from the sea for a landlocked city
December 4th is Navy Day. Bangalorean, Capt. M V Prabhakar, explains what the day is about for land-locked Bengaluru.

03 Dec 1971 NEW DELHI:In a radio broadcast shortly before midnight, the Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi, addressed the nation. She said“ I have no doubt that by the united will of the people, the wanton and unprovoked aggression of Pakistan should be decisively and finally repelled..... In response to the call of the nation, the Indian Navy had planned a most audacious and daring attack in the history of naval warfare ‘OPERATION TRIDENT’ ...... Because we did not have a powerful navy,we were unable to dictate trading terms and conditions which were suitable to India. Britain, with a strong navy, was able to establish supremacy in the seas of their interest. After 1858, India became officially a British colony as the British crown took control of India from the East India Company.

For more information on Navy Day, please read Capt. Prabhakar's account here
Visit - http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/view/2586-navy-day

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jal Vayu Vihar Turns Twenty

If home is where the heart is
Then may your home be blessed
A shelter from the storms of life
A place of rest,
And when each day is over
And toil put in its place
Your home's dear warmth
Will bring its smile
To light the saddest face!

The above poem by poet and writer John McLeod, from a small fishing town near Edinburgh, Scotland beautifully sums up what JVV is all about; a colony where all of us live and spend our retirement in joy and happiness. On 4th December, 2010 JVV bids goodbye to her teens and turns twenty. Like our own child we have seen JVV grow from an unsure and shy toddler to a charming teenager and now it is ready to embrace adulthood with maturity and grace.

It was in August 1988, as Staff Officer Operations in Western Naval Command Mumbai, that I received an innocuous mail from Naval Headquarters asking commands to give wide publicity to the availability of a few houses in the AFNHB scheme in Bangalore. The first thing I did was to temporarily put away the letter and rush to the bank to make a DD for Rs 73,000 and become a member of JVV. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of my life. On retirement, we moved into JVV on 06 June 1995, a little more than 15 years ago. Retirement unsettles you for a short while. The support system one had all along during our service career is no longer there to hold our hand and guide us. We are at a loss and find it hard to adjust to a new way of life, surroundings and people.

As soon as we arrived in JVV, there were familiar faces to greet us and make us feel at home. While we were settling down, food came from Balu, Surendra and the Pawas, invitations for drinks and dinner were many. Camaraderie - the hall mark of military service was available in plenty in JVV. The organization provided us with the facilities one was used to in the services such as a plumber, electrician and a mason – MES in a different avatar. Regimental shops, garbage collection at your doorstep, the all important ‘dhobi’ and other sundry services were already in place. To top it all, the entire colony was clean and tidy and in a much better shape than SP Marg Delhi, from where we were coming. Our dog, Button, a very playful Lhasa Apso, found living in JVV house on the ground floor for the first time extremely exhilarating as he could run away whenever he wanted. My daughter found admission in National Junior School and my wife, a job in the same school – popularly referred to by my son and me as the ‘back side’ school. I went to sea for long durations, knowing full well that the family would be safe and well looked after in my absence. JVV became the support system and filled the void created by retirement. The only thing missing was a bar to quench one’s thirst on a ‘make and mend’ day. To our great pleasure, we found a ready watering hole in the Sena Vihar club. We settled down quite quickly to a new way of life.

When I think of JVV, I can recall only good things that have happened to us. My daughter Akhila joined Mount Carmel College and made friends with Shubra Chadda form JVV 521, who later became our dear daughter–in–law. When my daughter’s wedding was fixed, our son-in- law to be, shifted into the secure environs of JVV, as his job involved a lot of travelling. Our children got married in Aug 2005 and both our ‘Sambhandis’ lived in JVV - We could not have asked for more.

When I go for a walk within JVV, in addition to breathing lungfuls of fresh air, I get to wish a number of people and chat with some; walking in JVV is extremely therapeutic. My NRI sister-in-law once told me in a lighter vein that the number of people I meet daily during my walk is more than what she meets in a year. The absence of noise pollution is another extraordinary feature of JVV. Tucked away amidst trees and foliage I am spared the noise of vehicular traffic, horns and the hustle and bustle of shoppers – the silence of JVV is broken only by the melodious calls of birds and at times the barking of unruly dogs or the mewing of cats. Often, just for a laugh, we imitate the call of a particular bird and are deeply amused to hear a response from the said bird.Only the other day my cousin seeing JVV for the first time remarked “I don’t feel I am in Bangalore”.

Somehow I feel extremely secure in JVV. We have had times when we left our front door or back door open and slept, our dog has stayed out all night, we have happily broken into our own house when a key has been left behind somewhere, we have sat at our neighbour’s place when locked out of the house, only to find all is safe. I recall a doctor friend of mine telling me how fascinated he was in seeing our security system.

Children love the expanse of JVV. My grand kids revel in running up and down the roads on a holiday, peddling their tricycles around, playing in the park, meeting other kids, watching a cat with her new born litter, searching for interesting dried leaves and seeds, looking at the full moon through the trees and eating their food while sitting outside (a totally novel experience, especially for my grandson coming from Mumbai).

I came in search of JVV which was under construction way back in 1988 and it was indeed a difficult task to locate it. Nobody knew where JVV was. After 22 years it is an entirely different story. Kamannahalli has grown into an up market locality, sought after by many, largely due to JVV and Sena Vihar. I call CMR circle “Times Square” as the nearby area is packed with a variety of posh restaurants that satisfy different palates, wine boutiques, top end shops, pizza houses, bakeries and coffee shops – we are totally self contained.

Another remarkable feature about JVV is the wide cultural milieu that we all live in. It is simply fascinating to see various cultures and traditions mix harmoniously in JVV. Ganapati Pooja, Deepavali, Christmas with Santa, Aiyappa, young carol singers visiting our houses, Sai Baba Bhajans, Onam festival, Koduva Day, Karwa Chauth, programmes for senior Citizens –all add to the bonhomie among our residents.
Today JVV wears a festive look - the 20th anniversary functions began yesterday - we had a quiz show. Stalls at the JVV mela was inagurated this morning. The evening is going to be busy with variety entertainment,lucky dip and loads of shopping and eating at the stalls.

JVV has become an integral part of our life and has grown on us. It reflects the ethos and cultural values of military life we so dearly cherish. As it enters adulthood let us all join hands to rededicate ourselves to make JVV a beautiful, safe and dignified colony, wherein the residents not only live but live life king size.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bengaluru Days – The Idea of Eating Out in ‘Them Days’

The idea of eating out is probably as old as time itself. Man as a hunter – gatherer was always eating out. Those days there was no eating in. Today it’s a different ball game all together. There are a number of reasons why people eat out. My dear colleague Doc Ramesh used to say that he ate at home to survive and went out to enjoy. One of my father’s friends had made ‘eating out’ a habit, every evening he would be at our palace to partake the excellent dishes which my mother offered. Much later we came to know that, the friend’s wife and Nalapaka the Hindu mythological culinary expert were not on speaking terms. Dore and Lalitha, our close friends, used to eat out very frequently when they were newly married, as both used to work. Whatever may be the reason, eating out always offers you a change from the regular fare and change is always for the better – however fleeting it may be.

Today, the opportunities to eat out are many and the places to visit are even more. Whenever I ask my son Vivek, where we should go out to eat – he has a plethora of questions which are required to be answered before he decides for you – who’s going, is it a treat, who is paying, whether you chaps are going to have drinks and so on; if you think the restaurant has been selected after you have answered all the Q’s, you are mistaken. Then comes the next volley – Chinese, Italian, Moghulai, Thai, Afghan, Continental, Sushi, Chettinad and the options are mind boggling. At the end of the meal, the situation gets even more serious, the guests generally become silent after a good meal and the person who has to pay the bill becomes even more silent and withdrawn – the silence turns to suspense and finally to shock as the bill arrives - the astronomical cost that one has to pay to ‘eat out’ in today’s Bangalore.

When we were young I mean the fifties and the sixties, eating out was never so complicated. The two most important factors for eating out namely – availability of money and restaurants were both absent. As a result ‘eating out’ actually meant ‘whatever you ate outside of your house’ not necessarily in a restaurant. Having defined eating out, it becomes easier and far simpler to recall how we ate out those days.

My earliest memory of eating out was in the canteen of Mahila Seva Samaj. Actually it was not a canteen in a traditional sense but an enclosure specially carved out for Mr Anthony. Mr A was a very short statured man with a goti beard who kept his Tuck Shop in the space below the stairs leading to the first floor of the school. Apart from many useful school related items, he also kept Pea Nut Toffee, Buns, Biscuits, Chocolates, Halcova, Acid Balls, Lemon Drops, Bulls Eye and Bananas. During class breaks one could visit Mr A and partake the goodies, provided you had the money. But M was always in short supply and therefore my visits to the tuck shop were - I would say infrequent if not rare.

Outside the school compound the availability of food and their variety increased manifold. Probably the concept of mall may have originated here. In this free retail zone, Mr John the Ice Candy man stood out. He had three varieties of ice candies, the water based ice candy being the cheapest, and then there was grated ice with coloured syrup and finally the milk candy. To eat the last one, you had to be either rich or know a friend who was rich. Shantaram was one such customer of John. In the overall scheme of things it was good to cultivate Shantu.

As we progressed to National High School, Kaka became the centre of attraction. Not to be confused with the Brazilian footballer but a simple mallu, who sold mouth watering raw mango masala, tomato slices with puri, cucumber slices with green chutney, pineapple slices with salt and red chili powder and bhel puri. All of us strongly believed that he was the best in Bengaluru. Nobody like Kaka. The Kaka craze did not end there. Many years later, I took my wife to Kaka’s place during the holidays and both gorged as if there was no tomorrow. The after effect was loud and clear as our son who was only three months old developed bad loosies.

There were other outdoor attractions, but the best, was a chap who came with sweet candy paste in a multitude of colours. The paste was carried at the end of a wooden stick and covered with plastic. He would draw the paste and make almost anything, such as a watch, car, motorcycle etc. We stood and watched him with admiration as he dished out each individual requirement. After a lapse of almost 45 years I had it once again in Disney Land in Orlando.

There was yet another chap, who came selling dried figs and dates. In addition to accepting money like all other vendors, he also bartered his figs and dates for old bronze and copper utensils. He usually came around 2 PM when all the hard working mothers went to rest for a while. Seeing this window of opportunity I would stealthily smuggle out a vessel or two and barter.

We did have our occasional trips with parents to the old MTR and Lalbagh restaurant. Once my aunt took three of her children and me to Kwality Restaurant on Brigade Road. She ordered pastries for us and went out for some shopping. To our astonishment the waiter brought a plate full of assorted pastries and kept it in front of us. Nobody knew what to do or how to proceed. After much consultation with Radha and Pammi, Prakash and I decided that all the 12 pastries had to be eaten. When aunty was presented with the bill, her face changed colour several times in a matter of minutes and finally settled down to a mix of battleship grey and stormy green. In the confines of their house the three siblings plotted against me and to this day people still believe that I was the instigator.

Keshava was academically very bright and became the head boy of his class. The duties and responsibilities of the head boy were many, but one stood out. He was required to spot the trouble makers and write their names on the black board. Satya was mortally scared of Keshava and dreaded the sight of his name on the board. Satya was down but not out. He had other trump cards up his sleeve. He was ‘Jiddi Hotlu’ owner’s son. Very soon a deal was carved out between the two. Keshava should not write the name of Satya and in return Keshava would be allowed to eat free in the hotel. Later on the rule was slightly amended to include one good friend of Keshava – yours truly. The condition being we could make use of the hotel only when Satya sat on the cash counter. In one master stroke Keshava brought a totally new meaning to “Eating Out’. In fact life itself changed for the better.

Every year my uncle from Bombay drove down with his family to spend time with our grandparents. Bombai Mama was a voracious eater who strongly believed that God had erred in giving two hands but only one mouth. An out and out gourmet who loved eating out. I looked forward to his annual visits with great anticipation. Visits to Venkateshwara Fruit Stall the only joint serving ice cream in Gandhi Bazar were very common. Visiting Vidyarthi Bhavan was a daily ritual. Parade Cafe was also his favourite haunt.

College days were spent in ’Anadhi Restaurant’ (orphan) (how it got its name still remains a mystery) on Hardinge Road now known as Pampa Maha Kavi Rasta. In our days it was owned by Mr Mani from Kerala. The USP of the hotel was, it allowed the customers to spend any amount of time and order one by two coffee or even six by twelve all on credit. Mani had only one helper by the name of Pichaiyya who also left the hotel due to some small financial misunderstanding with the owner. He had not been paid his monthly wages for over six months. Mani thereafter became owner, waiter, cook cum cleaner, creating a totally new concept in hotelliering. A unique feature of the hotel was that Mani took the order and shouted in the direction of the kitchen ‘randu’ (two) dosa and went inside to make the dosa himself and finally served it to the customer. To our friends circle Anadhi was ‘Coffee Day’ of Shankarpuram

These experiences of ‘eating out’ from the pre historic days are a far cry from what happens today. The idea of pocket money was yet to take root and making programmes with buddies was a tough task without cell phones, chatting and face book. Private transport was nonexistent and above all there was a perpetual shortage of moolah. I sometimes suspect that the RBI did not mint enough coins to go around those days.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Stay in Port Harcourt - Nigeria

There is an old saying– “If the king dislikes you and wants to covertly punish you – he gifts you an elephant”. In the navy, if they like you very much, they send you to Africa. So in December 1985, as a result of navy liking me very much and in recognition of my good performance, I was specially selected and sent on deputation, to serve as the ‘Chief Instructor’ (CI- being somewhat comparable to a principal of a collage ) in the Nigerian Naval college (NNC) – ‘Onura’, Port Harcourt. Five more officers and their families joined me on this deputation. From the Indian side I was designated as ‘Senior officer Indian Naval Training Team’. NNC Onura was commissioned on 25 Sep 81 for the training of naval cadets which entailed a two-year military and academic program. Seventh and last batch of cadets passed out from NNC Onura on 11 Aug 88. We were responsible for training cadets in1986 and 87.

Figure 1 Port Harcourt marked in red

A word about Port Harcourt - Capital of Rivers State and a port town in Southern Nigeria. It lies along the Bonny River (an Eastern distributary of the Niger), 41 miles (66 km) upstream from the Gulf of Guinea. Founded in 1912, in an area traditionally inhabited by the Ijaw people, it serves as a port, named after Lewis Harcourt - the British colonial secretary. Port Harcourt has long been an important merchant port and is today the centre of Nigeria’s oil industry. Its exports include petroleum, coal, tin, palm products, cocoa, and groundnuts. Among the industries of the area are timber processing, car manufacturing, food and tobacco processing, and the manufacture of rubber, glass, metal, paper products, cement, petroleum products, paint, enamelware, bicycles, furniture, and soap. Situated at 4 deg 40 min North, the weather is very similar to our coastal towns such as Kochi – hot and humid throughout the year with lots of rains and lightning.

The attraction of going to Nigeria was a very favorable pay packet and the idea of travelling abroad with your family. The whole family was excited with the thought of travelling and visiting new places. As a part of the Nigerian naval routine I was to join their Navy 10 days prior to our departure from India. Those 10 days we were put up in posh hotel in South Delhi. Staying in a star hotel was a very welcome change not only for us but also for all our kith and kin, who came visiting us. We entertained like there was no tomorrow, until one day a naval acquaintance who had been through the same routine earlier, told me “Pubs the Nigerian Navy (NN) does not foot the liquor bill which you have been merrily signing away”. Soon there was a temporary halt in my breathing system, followed by profuse sweating and loss of vision. The next evening when I was entertaining another friend (this time without any alcohol) I happened to narrate my predicament. The friend assured me that the hotel manager was a class mate of his and he would speak to him. The helpful manager was good enough to show the consumption as 'Compliments of the hotel'. A few days after we left the hotel, unfortunately, a devastating fire broke out in Siddharth Continental Hotel in January 1986 killing 41 people.

We flew JAL from New Delhi to Cairo. A good thing about NN is that, all officers of the rank of commander and above travel 1st class. The air hostess quickly changed the children into Kimonos as we relaxed with a single malt. Cairo airport was like a fish market and Egypt air was so scary the children mistook the hostesses for mummies and never asked for anything from them till we reached Lagos the Capital of Nigeria.

After a brief stay in Lagos, we landed in Port Harcourt airport. There was nobody to receive us and were left stranded in a new country - some 35 Km away from the city without any transport, telephone or any means of communication - hungry and restless children adding to the overall chaotic situation. This was the beginning of our ‘Nigeria Experience’. While patiently waiting for someone to come from the college, I noticed the marble plaque which loudly proclaimed “Port Harcourt International Airport, Inaugurated by his Excellency the Governor of Rivers State – Commander Suleiman Saidu on ………”.Prior to coming to Nigeria I attended the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, Ooty in 1982. There I had met a NN officer who used to talk big and walk tall, he used to often say – “brother I wrote the constitution, inaugurated airports, built bridges” and what have you – his name was Suleiman Saidu.I was happy that his claims were true and was thrilled to see his name on the plaque. As I settled down in Port Harcourt I came to know he was now the Home Minister. I went and called on him at the ‘Dodan Barracks’ the seat of power of the military government ruled by President - Major General Ibrahim Babangida.

After a three hour wait Lieutenant Commander Gagariga the Training coordinator of NNC arrived with the transport to take us home. We were driven to Hotel President, as our houses were not ready. We stayed in the hotel for almost a month. It became increasingly difficult for the hotel cooks to cater vegetarian food to six members of my team. LOH gave a stern warning and told me that she could not survive any longer on boiled eggs, bread, butter, jam, cheese, milk, fruits and fresh vegetables. I ordered an emergency meeting to solve this life threatening problem. Cdr Ghanti Narayanan volunteered to liaise with the cooks and in no time we were served the much needed Rasam, Sambhar, Baigan ka Bharta, Okra curry and many more. He was an instant hit with the team, especially with children.

Fig 2 - Some of the children of the team. Vivek and Akhila are at extreme Left and Right

Figure 3 - Indian Training Team and families
Finally we moved into our own houses after weeks of stay in five star hotels. What a relief to be in your own home. The newly constructed NN Officers Quarters had 12 houses, officers’ mess, swimming pool, tennis court and hundreds of king size chameleons in every nook and corner including the garage.

The children enjoyed home food after a very long break and LOH along with the other ladies were busy preparing curd under the directions of Jyothi Hariram. For the uninitiated – drop a broken red chilly into a bowl of warm milk. Next day take a spoon of the half set curd and add to warm milk – continue the same process for a day or two and abracadabra you will end up with the best curd in town.
Miss Patience joined us as the domestic help. We gave her quarters to stay and she was available 24/7. A smart and hard working girl with an impeccable sense of hygiene. She spoke Nigerian Pidgin which is an English-based pidgin and a Creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. It was difficult to follow her in the beginning but got used to her slowly. Have you had breakfast and she would say –‘I go no have breakfast’ ‘I go land you slap’ meaning I will slap you, and scare the children by saying ‘mamy water go come’ – mermaid will come and so on. One day I told her “go to Geetha’s house and get me a suit case as I am going to Lagos – do you follow me” and even after I had repeated it twice there was no response so I asked her if she understood, to my surprise she said “I no go follow you to Lagos masta (meaning master)”. She was very good with our children who were aged eight - son and six - daughter. She learnt Karnataka cooking very fast and would have our dishes piping hot when the children came home. One morning she told Jai that “curd go walka walka” meaning it had not set. Four years after returning to India and posted in Naval Head Quarters, New Delhi I received a letter which was addressed “To – Camder Pabakar, Navy, India”. A remarkable feat by Indian Post and Telegraph. She had written to Jai, saying she was unhappy that we left her behind; life was very bad in Nigeria etc.

Figure 4 - Patience with all of us

My children initially went to Port Harcourt Primary School and did very well in Bible Knowledge and came home every time ‘Mamy Water ‘visited their school. Later on they joined Indian Cultural Association School where Jai joined as a teacher along with Mitalesh and Geetha. All the children used to be driven 35 Km to the school by my driver ‘Friday’ in a ‘Peugeot Saloon’. My car used to log a whooping 200Km every day. They never cleaned the spark plugs – they just threw it out. I am told that an Indian collected all these old plugs, took them to Ghana and got it cleaned – repacked and sold them as new.

Figure 4 - Jai with Mrs. Aikhomo wife of Admiral Aikhomo Vice President of Nigeria in white dress

Figure 6 - Meeting some of the girl cadets

Life at NNC was like any other Indian naval establishment, except when the unexpected happened. Ekpo the logistics officer once misplaced his revolver and went to the local witch doctor to seek advice. Unfortunately for him the concoction he drank made his body fold up in complicated contortions and the allopathic doctor had a tough time disentangling him. Nelson was a very strict Gunnery officer. One day I suddenly heard a revolver fire in the office lobby and to my astonishment I found that he being unhappy with the condition of the cadet’s shoes, had fired a round in the proximity of the leg. Talk about jungle justice. The college doctor Surgeon Lieutenant Afaloyan once operated a sebaceous cyst on my back without any local anesthesia and when I was howling in pain, he said ‘ah I think there go be no pain’. Later I came to know that Africans have a very high pain threshold. Lightning is very common and frequent in equatorial Africa and we had got used to it. One night it struck our colony very badly and all of us were jolted out of our sleep – the air around us was totally ionized and glowing. The lightning struck our house and discharged through the geyser. It was compulsory to attend ‘Happy Hour’ (tradition from the US navy) every Friday afternoon in the Officers mess. The HH started exactly at 1230h with the introduction of visitors, followed by jokes and riddles, contribution of money into the magic tray, endless tankards of beer, snails and suya (kebab). Ghanti used to regale them with jokes and riddles borrowed from my son Vivek. If house A - dries clothes in 1h and 20 min and house B – in 80 min – which house dries clothes faster? “Ah no paper and pencil oh – you go be no fair”. The only thing I could not partake was bush meat eating – ant eaters, rodents, lizards, porcupine, rabbits and other animals from the bush.

Figure 7 - Training Team - Both IN and NN officers

Nigeria is a very rich country with lots of oil, minerals and wealth from forest, sea and Niger River. The nation is still experimenting with governance, alternating between civil and military regimes. Their wealth is yet to circulate and reach all citizens. It is very heavily dependent on imports. In spite of all these shortcomings, Nigerians are a set of happy go lucky and friendly people with no tomorrow. They take life easy and are not unduly worried if something goes wrong. They brush it aside by saying “ah no go worry yo”. They eat whenever they feel hungry, not like us, eating at designated times of the day. They love music and dancing and one can see small children spontaneously breaking into an extraordinary rhythmic dance in the market place. Along with Ghana this part of the world was called the ‘Slave Coast’- who later on became the forefathers of Jazz. We were blessed to attend the ‘Pan African Jazz Music’ festival in PH.Their markets are called Mile 1, Mile 2 market and so on. They also have a ‘Go Slow’ market wherein you sit in the car and do shopping as the traffic moves at snail’s pace. Talking about snails they go well with chilled beer. They love their beer and stout and order by the crate. Never go and order “Give me one beer” it means one crate of 12.Their eating habits is very similar to Kerala – yam, dried fish, prawns, plenty of boiled rice, tapioca, pineapple etc. They love cars and fast driving. Their roads were built by the Germans and cars came from oil money – together it’s a very explosive combination. They are very clean and tidy. One day in the month, the whole nation comes out and cleans their surroundings – akin to our Shramadhan. After their school and college everyone does two years of compulsory service in ‘Youth Corps’ – a large body of manpower used for nation building. One should by chary of travelling at night in their cities out of fear of being mugged by armed robbers – a legacy from the Biafran civil war of the seventies. My very dear friend MC came to Lagos from Bangalore in the late seventies and on the very first evening in the city, the armed robbers took away all his belongings and did a ‘Full Monty’ on him. (Read my earlier blog – MC with pigeons in - http://samundarbaba.blogspot.com/2010/07/bengaluru-days-joy-of-summer-holidays.html)

Figure 8 - Jai in typical Nigerian dress with Captain Davis NN

Figure 9 - Typical party in my house - NN officers and a few NRI

There was a sizeable Indian NRI community living off the wealth of Nigeria – essentially involved in FMCG trading, small time industry, doctors and teachers. Very regrettably the majority were not interested in contributing or giving anything back to the country. A lot of them did not even mix or socialise with the locals. They called all the locals ‘kalus’ and were generally loud, selfish, ostentatious and bordering on the vulgar.

One fine morning we read in the news papers that the Naira had been devalued from Rs 14 to 3. As we were being paid in Naira, it became extremely difficult and untenable to continue with the deputation and GOI recalled us back to New Delhi.

So our stay ended in Nigeria and we returned home rich with experience, lots of friends and tons of Nigerian navy goodwill.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bengaluru Days – Gadget is Guru

The other day the Lady of the House was on a war path with all household gadgets and their overall utility. She said “you are converting this house into an electronic graveyard” when you desperately need something it doesn’t work and what works is of absolutely no use to man or beast. I gathered courage and said “sweet heart the 15 Amp power point does not work with the backup inventor supply and you have to wait a little longer to press your clothes”. Not willing to wave the white flag as yet, she continued “I am sure life was never like this with people tied down to gadgets” with that, the argument was put to rest by the LOH.

Even though I did not openly admit the fact that some of us have become ‘Prisoners of Gadgets’, I inwardly agreed with her assessment. We have surrounded ourselves with all sorts of gadgets to make our lives easier, convenient, and entertaining and so on. Gadgets give you speed and efficiency. Be it pressing clothes, grinding for dosa or having a hot bath we are at the mercy of gadgets. Owning gadgets gives you a feeling of material satisfaction and a sense of superiority, especially if your friends do not own it. Till recently the pleasure was even more if the gadgets were foreign. On the negative side it can give you loads of headache, always worrying which gadget will go kaput next. What follows thereafter can be devastating to say the least. Life without the gadget, search for a good repair man (an oxymoron) and finally the bill. I remember life once without a microwave oven. It was a very trying period for me. All and sundry in the colony came to know about this well guarded kitchen secret. There was no peace with so many unsolicited telephone calls giving me advice not only on microwave but on all aspects of life. Finally after three attempts by different rocket scientists I got it going.

Fifty years back the story was entirely different and life was relatively gadget free. Waking up in the morning was bio triggered for my mother and she woke up the rest. To the best of my knowledge there was no alarm in the house. Just prior to the exams my grandfather used to call my name repeatedly like Vishnu Sahsranama till I woke up. A friend of mine, Seetaram had a fantastic counter measure. He would loudly recite Sanskrit shlokas while continuing to be horizontal and go back to sleep as soon as he realised that his grandfather had dropped his guard. Today I wake up for the first time at 0545h to music from cell phone belonging to the LOH. ‘You never know when these gadgets fail’ fear being uppermost she would have set an additional alarm on my cell phone for 0600. If it’s an extremely important day at the school then the land line telephone would also be activated. When we were posted in Nigeria, our unaccompanied baggage containing the alarm took some time to arrive. Our Nigerian domestic help Miss Patience used to stand outside our window and keep saying amma, amma, amma till LOH got up. That for you was the African alarm system.

While posted in Riga – Latvia an acquaintance - a Russian naval officer had a habit of frequently boasting about the engineering achievements of Communist Soviet Union – their KM 8 kitchen Mixers, Zenith Cameras, washing machines and the rest. One day he asked me “what do you have in India” to which I told him we have a very advanced machine which washes clothes – dishes – sweeps and swaps, a three in one, surprised he asked me “what is the name” and I replied “Ganga Bai”

There were no geysers to be switched on. The bathing systems consisted of a very large copper vessel (Hande) enclosed on all sides in bricks and cement in such a way only the mouth on top and the front of the vessel were left exposed. It was my father’s duty to put saw dust (Hottu) the previous night in the opening and light it. The shavings would burn slowly through the night and the water would be warm in the morning. Then my father would put four to five wooden sticks (Sowde) into the system which would make the water piping hot. My father on Sundays used to roast sweet potato and onions in the fire. I am sure you cannot achieve this feat in a geyser. Mistakenly a log of sandalwood once made its way into my grandparents place instead of normal firewood. Every morning my GF used to burn a few of these sticks and the entire house would smell of sandalwood. Those were the days before carbon footprint, Jairam Ramesh and Barkha Dutt. Since then we have become very modern and today we have solar heaters and the conventional geyser as back up.

If the water finished, one went to the well to replenish. Most of the houses in Shankarpuram had wells. Drawing water was a strenuous exercise if one was talking in terms of 20 buckets from a well fifty feet deep. Today I do not even switch on the pump as it has been fitted with an auto starter. Well well.

In the absence of an Iron my father used to nicely fold his washed shirts and trousers and keep them below the bed. Abracadabra – next day they came out nicely pressed. Vacuum cleaner has entered the house but fortunately the broom stick continues to rule.

The kitchen had no gadgets. No conventional ovens, microwave, mixer, food processor, toaster, gas, hobs, Faber fans, refrigerator and pressure cookers. Yet the best of food came out from the olden day kitchens. Today everybody has every gadget but no time to cook or on diet. Eventually my mother became a victim of gadgetitis which started attacking all middle class housewives in the late sixties. Gas, pressure cooker and mixer walked in. During the 1971 Indo Pak war I was on the Eastern Seaboard. I was continuously at sea and did not step ashore for four months and eventually came on leave with all my pay intact. I decided to present my mother with a fridge. After much discussion and debate we finally bought an Alwyin - 95 litres fridge for Rs 710. In an instant my mother was a celebrity in the area and the children started calling her ‘Ice Lalithamma’ as she used to dispense ice water to many children returning thirsty from games. After 30 years I got it overhauled and gifted it to an NGO ‘Ananya’ for their children. Soon thereafter, our opposite neighbour, not to be left behind went and bought a fridge.One morning she came running to our house panting and told my mother "Lalithamma whenever I open the fridge door a light comes on".

How can anyone forget the all important Usha sewing machine – the queen of all gadgets. Owning an Usha was a sure way of attracting neighbours envy especially if it was leg operated and came with an electric motor.

Once upon a time Bengaluru had lots of lakes, trees, gardens and sparrows. The weather was excellent round the year and there were no fans. Come 1982 we had ceiling fans fixed in all the rooms.2005 was the year of air conditioning.

Electronic gadgets deserve a special mention. Arrival of our first radio was an event comparable to home coming of a new born. Bangalore Press almanac was consulted to determine the time of its entry and switching on. We were prepared for its arrival for almost a month. Where should be the location of the Murphy, which table it should rest on, where the aerial will be fixed and so on. Mother dear had already decided on the menu for the big event. In addition to the usual fare, bisibele hulianna, puri sagu and sandige were included. I was told repeatedly by father that I should not touch the radio at any cost. The instructions were crystal clear – stand clear and just listen. Along the way the poor radio lost its position of pre eminence. It had to share berth with the transistor, two in one, record players, walkman, cell phones, I pods, TV and computer.

Today, gadgets are so easily available owning them is no longer the privilege of the few. My cook bought a cell phone earlier than me. I have also become a victim of gadgetitis. In the last one year, I have acquired a tandoor oven, bread maker and an ice cream machine. Recently, I mentioned the need to buy an Electronic Kitchen Weighing Machine and the LOH categorically stated “either you stay in the house or the EKWM, once and for all decide for yourself “.
Next time you feel like buying a new gadget ask yourself “do I really need this” before your LOH gives you an option.

My sister in law once remarked that in order of imporatance of gadgets in the house - fridge takes the first place, followed by cooking gas and the poor husband stands third.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We visited - Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal

The coffee decoction friends had been planning to visit Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal for quite some time. The Deepavali holidays in November (4th to 7th) gave all of us an excellent opportunity to go on a trip. We started planning in early October. One thing about travel is good planning. It always helps to sort out the ‘where’ and ‘when’ part of the visit as early as possible and to tell all your friends about it. This way, they also get adequate time to plan their itinerary. Once the ‘who’ part was sorted out, we went ahead and booked accommodation at the KSTDC hotels in Hampi and Badami. The booking for KSTDC hotels is done by their authorized agents such as ‘Padaki Travels’. I found the ‘on line’ process to be easy and reliable.

We hired a 12 seater ac Tempo Traveler for our trip. The TT is quite comfortable as long as the roads are good. The TT reported to Sunder and Saroja at Jalvayu Towers at 0430 on 5th Nov 2010. Nair and Sudhi joined them. Prassu and Preet were next, followed by Jai and me and thereafter we went to White House in RT Nagar to pick up Dore and Lalithamma. Talking about White House, earlier on there was a rumor that Obama was also likely to visit Hampi and we were scared that it would interfere with our trip. I just realized that Obama gets underlined in red and one of the synonyms suggested by Microsoft is ‘Osama’. I hope Bill Gates has not done this on purpose. Finally we left the Hebbal flyover complex around 0545.
The drive from Bangalore to Chitradurga on NH4 was excellent as it is part of the Golden Quadrilateral - a highway network in India connecting Delhi, Mumbai,kolkata,and Chennai, thus forming a quadrilateral of sorts. This highway project was initiated by Atal bihari Vajpayee –Ex Prime Minister of India and consists of building 5,846 km (3,633 mi) of four/six lane express highways during the first phase. There after we took NH13 to Hampi. The decision to take NH13 was a grave error on our part. The roads are terrible and at places they do not exist at all – courtesy the mining lobby which transports iron ore via this highway. Unfortunately there are no official websites which provide a daily status on the condition of national and state highways. Also there are not many public sites which offer accurate information on the condition of roads. Unlike here, it’s extremely easy to obtain accurate information on condition of roads in USA and Europe. Our authorities at the national and state level need to provide this facility to the road user. It’s so much better to travel on a good road even if it means a few kilometers more.

We finally reached our hotel ‘Mayura Bhuvaneshwari’ at Kamalapura - Hampi around 1400 hours- a good nine and half hours in the TT. Looking back we should have done a little more home work. Prassu has suggested that for the next trip, “We meet at the RSI and discuss the details over a good Gin and Tonic, which is very good in agitating the brain cells – we could have several pre trip meetings to sort out route selection, places to visit, what small eats to carry, how much liquor is required, food and so on,” – the more the merrier.

Apart from the roads, the journey was very interesting. I enjoy travelling and love organizing trips, picnics and activities which take you away from the ordinary day to day existence. Over a period of time I have noticed that there are some inherent irritants in taking the lead. Automatically you become responsible for all aspects of the travel, be it the transport, food, accommodation, quality of roads, acts of God such rain, storm, oppressive heat, the health of those travelling and much more. As the journey progresses, you become the butt of all jokes, cribs and complaints. To obviate such an eventuality I decided to publish a ‘Disclaimer’ to all my fellow travellers – “This is to inform all fellow travelers (FT), that as the organiser of the trip I Captain MV Prabhakar IN (Retd) am not responsible for the performance of the Tempo Traveler, behavior of the TT driver, including his personal hygiene and bathing habits, roads of Karnataka, performance of BJP government, state of KSTDC Hotels, ruins of Hampi and such other issues. I am also not responsible for any delays and changes in programme due to rain, strikes and any other acts of God. Any dissatisfaction with the above mentioned services may be referred to the correct authorities. In order to help my fellow travellers, I have published below sample FAQ showing the correct way to ask a ‘Q’
Pubs, ‘Why is the driver driving so fast?’ - Wrong
Driver – you bloody fool! Why are you driving so fast? - Correct

Pubs, ‘The damn roads in Karnataka are bloody useless!’ - Wrong
When I go back I must write to the Chief Minister Mr Yediyurappa about bad roads in Karnataka - Correct

Pubs, ‘What have you gone and done? The rooms are bad and smelling!?!’ - Wrong
Are you the manager of this dump? by the time we get back I want the place all cleaned up or else I will give you one solid kick up your backside - Correct

Pubs, why are the roads blocked? - Wrong
Let me get down and find out why they are blocking the road … Correct

Believe me the disclaimer had an extremely sobering and salutary effect on all my friends and the entire trip was free of any innuendos and obliquely aimed questions. The TT suddenly stopped on NH 13 and we saw a number of people blocking the road. To my utter surprise and satisfaction all the FTs got down and went to investigate. What a relief!!!!

I. Figure 1 Farmers on Rasta Roko on NH 13

Travelling with senior citizens is great fun :) All of us have retired, brimming with experience, full of ideas and opinions about anything and everything around us. One cannot make a statement and get away with it. All utterances are discussed threadbare and different opinions offered on the subject. Somebody says “Gaultheria oil is good for joint pains”- is sufficient to start a debate of gigantic proportions. A volley of views is suddenly thrown at you. The cause of joint pains, Gaultheria oil is a hoax, proportion of Gaultheria oil with coconut oil, why Zulu tribesmen do not get joint pain, Vajpayee and knee replacement, Dr Ranawat’s life history, malayali massage cures everything and finally the tech savvy traveler reads out the details of Gaultheria oil from his Blackberry connection.

After a chaotic lunch we started our first round of Hampi darshan. Details of Hampi, the Vijayanagara Kingdom and the reign of Krishna Deva Raya are all very well documented and I shall keep these aspects to the minimum. Hampi belongs to Hospet taluk of Bellary district situated at a distance of 350 Km from Bangalore. We hired a local English speaking guide Mr Sreenivasa Char who was knowledgeable and did a reasonably good job. It is very useful to hire a guide in these historical places and they make the tour interesting. The readers have to bear with me as I have a placed a very large number of photographs on this blog, I could not help it, as the trip to Hampi and other places is all about photography and capturing their story told in stone for posterity. As you walk around the ruins it becomes evident that the city was rich and thriving and built around a proper plan.

Saint Vidyaranya established the seat of Vijayanagara Empire in 1336 A.D, with the help of his devotee disciples Hakka and Bukka. Hampi strewn over 26 square Km area was the capital of the Vijayanagara, for over 200 years during the period 1336 AD – 1565 AD, during this period four dynasties – Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu ruled Vijayanagara. The capital was once a major trading center. Anything from horses to gems was traded in Hampi. Art and architecture found its special place in Hampi. The rulers were great patrons of art and religion. King Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529 AD) of the Tuluva Dynasty stands tall among the rest. During his regime the empire saw its peak. Hampi was finally laid siege to by the Deccan Muslim Confederacy. The Bahamani Sultans, who were the traditional enemies of Vijayanagar, were waiting for an opportunity to attack. When they saw that there was no strong ruler, they attacked and defeated the Vijayanagar army in the Battle of Talikota in 1565. Thus the invaders - the Bahamani Sultans - conquered Vijayanagar and burnt, looted and plundered its beautiful sculptures and buildings. 250 years of a glorious empire came to an end and passed on into history. Hampi was deserted by its people and it lay in ruins unknown to the outside world. Excavations by Archeological survey of India began in 1975 and continue even to this day. Hampi was declared ‘World Heritage Centre “by UNESCO on 5-December-1986. As explained by our guide, Hampi was chosen as the capital of the Empire, because of its strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra River on one side and surrounded by defensible hills on the other three sides. In addition the soil around Hampi is excellent for cultivation.

Figure 2 - Map not to scale - 1. Both Calicut and Sri Lanka were tributaries of Vijayanagara Empire - 2. Considerable portion of The Gajapati Kingdom of Orissa was tributary to Vijayanagara Empire - Net

Figure 3 - Hills around Hampi as natural barrier

Figure 4- Hills and river Tungabhadra

Figure 5 - Old road with stones on the left
The BBMP has a lot to learn from the city planners of Hampi. 400 years back Hampi had broad roads for horse drawn traffic better than many of our present day narrow roads.

Figure 6 - All of us at Pushkarni

Figure 7 - Ruins of the shops with stone pillars

We visited the Pushkarni - the temple pond located at the entrance to the Hampi main bazar. The main bazar extends the entire length from Pushkarni to the Vitthala temple. Even by today’s standards the bazar is huge with its continuous row of shops.

Figure 8 - Entrance to the Vitthala temple

The Vitthala temple represents the highest watermark of the Vijayanagara style of art and architecture. Vitthala is the Krishna aspect of Lord Vishnu. It is one of the largest temples of the period, built under the patronage of King Devaraya II (1422 – 46) AD..... ASI

Figure 9 - Stone chariot inside the temple courtyard – perhaps the most stunning achievement, the wheels actually revolve - …ASI

Figure 10 - Sabha Mantapa

The composite pillars of the Sabha mantapa (congregation hall), are massive, hewn out of single granite block, which are designed as clusters of slender pillars. Some of them when tapped gently produce musical notes….ASI

Figure 11 - Kalyana Mantapa - Marriage Hall - Who does not want to get married in a place like this - Samundarbaba

Figure 12 - Utsava Mantapa - Festival Hall for musical concerts and dance programs

Figure 13 - Southern view of the temple – entrance at the far end

Figure 14 - Jai enjoying a coracle ride in Tungabhadra River

Figure 15 - Saroja, Nair and Sudhi in the Coracle

We then proceeded to the Zanana enclosure with high walls on all the four sides as it housed the queens’ residence. It also has a tank, treasury, elephant stable and Lotus Mahal which is shaped like a lotus flower from top; this two-story structure has beautiful arc ways set in geometric regularity. It was an air-cooled summer palace of the queen.

Figure 16 - Lotus Mahal

Elephant Stables: This huge stable, a beautiful example of Hindu-Muslim style of architecture, housed about 11 elephants in separate compartments.

Figure 17 - Elephant Stables

Figure 18 - Treasury

Figure 19 - Sun sets over Hampi

That was end of our day one at Hampi. We then proceeded to our hotel. Mr Deshmukh the manager of the hotel was there to welcome us to make up for the horrendous lunch he had served in the afternoon. After a hot bath, we all gathered to discuss the proceedings of the day. A soothing drink thereafter greatly helped us to appreciate Hampi even better. Conversation flowed freely like the Tungabhadra River – sometimes calm and steady and on occasions turbulent and tumultuous – but always remaining on course. The unfortunate NH13, recent utterances of Arundathi Roy, Adarsh and Kapil Sibals Right to Education act were some of the topics which kept us company, till Venkatesh announced dinner.

Dore and I believe that tipping should be done, like in the ‘Pre Paid’ billing concept. Especially in hotels, if you are staying for long, it is better to announce and display your intention of generosity and appreciation of hard work in advance. Dore called Venkatesh aside and tipped him in advance. The effect was immediate and the service thereafter become more prompt and personalized. This method works well in hotels, but for other jobs one has to exercise utmost caution.

After a very refreshing sleep and sumptuous breakfast, we set forth for the second leg of Hampi Darshan on 6th November. We have to thank ‘Cyclone Jal” for bringing rains to this area also. Hampi otherwise happens to be in the rain shadow zone. Throughout our stay the weather was very kind to us and making the trip very comfortable. Our first visit was to the Virupaksha temple. This temple is in ruins, but devotees still worship Lord Shiva. The temple has a 50 m tall, elaborately carved gateway and renovated in 1510 by Krishnadevaraya. The approach to the temple is lined with an array of shops catering to the foreign tourists.

Figure 20 - Is it hello “excuse me” or exclusive wrongly spelt. Whatever, I found it funny

Figure 21 - Virupaksha Temple

Figure 22 - Local musician blowing his skills

We were lucky to be in the temple courtyard when the temple elephant was brought in by the mahout. The elephant is extremely well trained and accepts bananas and cash. Depending upon the value of the gift, the elephant responds accordingly. It may be an ordinary wave of the trunk to the ultimate gesture of placing its trunk on one’s head. In my case, more than cash, it was recognition of another member of the same species.

Figure 23 - God be with you Brother

We then went to Lakshmi Narashima temple, the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The 6.7 meters monolithic idol is one of the finest examples of Vijayanagara sculpture. The statue was consecrated in 1528 AD….ASI

Figure 24 - Unfortunately this lovely and exquisite idol is badly damaged by the marauding forces

Our next place of visit was Badavilinga Temple which contains a 3 meter high monolithic Shiva Linga

Figure 25 - The Linga

We then proceeded to Prasanna Virupaksha (Underground Shiva) 14th century temple.

Figure 26 - Prasanna Virupaksha, the Sanctum Sanctorum is below the ground level and so named underground temple

Next was the Royal Enclosure, which is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Vijayanagara Empire Architecture. At one time it housed as many as 46 buildings such as the Main hall where the king held his court, water tank, underground secret rooms, Mahanavami Dibba and many more, occupying an incredible 59,400 square meters.

Figure 27 - Mahanavami Dibba

Mahanavami Dibba is a spectacular raised platform, 80 sq feet in area and 22m ft in height built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate his conquest of Orissa. This is the tallest structure in this area and hence the first thing you would notice as you enter the Royal Enclosure. The Dibba provides a panoramic view of the entire Royal Enclosure. Standing on this elevated place and viewing the ruins, takes you back in time and it lets you feel like an emperor for the fleeting moment. An extraordinary place. The original Dibba had a sandalwood carved roof to protect the royalty from the elements. The king used this platform to watch the army march-pasts, war games, aquatic sports, shows of the royal animals, musical performances and also the most important Navratri celebrations, the nine day-nine night state festival. And this was the annual occasion the governors of various provinces under the king visited the capital to pledge their loyalty to the king’s dominion. For the king, it was an event to demonstrate the imperial pomp and power at his disposal.

Figure 28 - View from the Dibba. Notice the squares, which once supported the sandalwood columns of the roof

Inside the Royal Enclosure, not far from Mahanavami Dibba, is a beautiful and ornate water tank. The tank was not excavated until the 1980s. It is a square tank, measuring 22m x 22m. It is 7 meters deep. The water to the tank comes from a long aqua duct which can be seen in the photo below.

Figure 29 - The water tank

Figure 30 - Water from Tungabhadra supplied through an incredible 9 Km long aqua duct to the royal tanks and bath houses, a symbol of amazing engineering feat.

Figure 31 - The magnificent assembly hall of the king. The squares once housed sandalwood pillars of the enclosure.

Figure 32 - Secret Chambers

Figure 33 - The famous stone doors of the Royal Enclosure

Figure 34 - Queen's Bath House

Queen's Bath, located in Royal Enclosure, is a rectangular building with the long veranda inside approaching a square tank of 6 feet depth from all sides. This is considered as the Royal bath, where the king and his wives had their baths. It's believed that water in the tank was filled with perfumes and fragrance flowers for the royal family. It housed a change room on the first floor. Water was supplied through an aqua duct and drained out through a different duct.

Figure 35 - The Bath House

Figure 36 - Duct for used water

With this, our trip to Hampi came to an end. The numerous monuments of Hampi tell a story carved in stone, a story of a great empire ruled by grand kings and queens of four dynasties and their people, their lives, devotion to gods, victories, achievements and aspirations. Hampi undoubtedly was a fascinating capital of a flourishing empire. Hampi must have been a maximum city, attracting hordes of people from within the country and foreign nations. A very prosperous and busy city with broad roads, shopping malls and gardens. Destiny had its way and the city was plundered and relegated to the dustbin of history until the excavations unearthed this glorious city to be seen and appreciated by us and future generations. We left Hampi feeling proud of our ancestors and the heritage they have left behind.

We left for Badami the same evening taking a route recommended by the hotel manager, which kept us away from the dreaded NH13.It was Hospet – Koppal – Yellburga - Badami. Roads have a knack of deteriorating within days and it is advisable to seek information and advice in advance from responsible locals. We reached KSTDC Hotel Chalukya Badami by about 1830 hrs.The hotel, manager, staff, rooms and almost everything around there is so depressing, one gets a feeling that they are in competition with the ruins. We started our second leg of our trip on 7th with Pattadakallu meaning 'Stone for the throne' in Kannada. We were lucky to find yet another knowledgeable English speaking guide with a very unusual name 'Mr Benne Shetty' meaning butter shetty. Thank god the weather was very pleasant or we would have seen Mr Shetty melting.

The town lies on the banks of the Malaprabha River in Bagalkot District of North karnataka region. It is 22 km from Badami and about 10 km from Aihole. The group of 8th century CE monuments in Pattadakal are the culmination of the earliest experiments in the Vesara style of Hindu temple architecture. They were designated a World Heritage Site in 1987. The town displays both Dravidian (Southern) and the Nagar (Northern, Indo-Aryan) styles of temple architecture. I like the way Mr Butter put it across, if Aihole is primary school of sculpture, Pattadakallu is high school and Belur Halebid is college. Pattadakallu uses red stone, unlike Hampi where granite is used. One can visualize the difficulty in carving stones here when compared with the soft soap stone which is used in Belur Halebid.

Figure 37 - Pattadakallu Temples from a distance

Figure 38 - Kashivishwanatha Temple

Figure 39 - Virupaksha

Figure 40 - Sangamaheshwara Temple

Figure 41 - Mr Butter earning his bread

Figure 42 - The Gang

Figure 43 - Virupaksha Temple Complex - Bull pavilion - Monolithic Nandi mantapa - 8th century

Figure 44 - Vishnu measuring three steps

Figure 45 - Kadasideshwara with curved tower - dedicated to Shiva - 8th Century

Figure 46 - Another view of the temple complex

We then proceeded to Aihole, which was once the capital of the early Chalukyan dynasty. Aihole is a picturesque village situated on the banks of the Malaprabha river. There are about 125 temples in Aihole that are divided into 22 groups and scattered all over the village and the fields. About 30 temples in a single enclosure are surrounded by the walls. Most of the temples were built between the sixth and eighth centuries and represent early Hindu temple architecture. Various temples are being excavated here that reflects about the vigorous experimentation done in temple architecture about fourteen centuries ago under the Chalukyas. Aihole is the cradle of the stone temple architecture of the southern Dravidian school.

Figure 47 - Durga or Fort temple vaguely resembling our parliament house
We then went to Badami which is a visual treat of different sorts. The Badami cave temples are composed of four caves all carved out of the soft Badami sandstone on a hill cliff in the late 6th to 7th centuries. The town is named after the colour of the stone which resembles the outer skin colour of dry fruit ‘Badam’ or Almond. Incidentally my mother’s sister and father’s sister are married to Badamis who once hailed from this city. Cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the first to be excavated by Chalukya craftsmen in 550 AD.

The rich past of Badami is closely linked with the ancient Kingdom of Chalukyas which dates back to 600 and 700 AD. Chalukyas built number of temples, and other monuments that marked the beginning of the Hindu style of architecture

Figure 48 – Caves as seen from below

Figure 49 - Closer view of the cave

Figure 49 - The second level cave. Notice the fort and two cannon post erected by Tippu Sultan on top of cave

Figure 50 - Third level cave

Figure 51 - Fascinating view of Vishnu and the pillar carving inside the cave

Figure 52 - Yet another example of the cave carvings - Lord Vishnu

Figure 53 - Nataraja with 18 arms

Figure 54 - All ears to Mr Butter
Figure 55 - Monkey view of the lake from the cave

With this we ended our trip to Badami. After a well deserved lunch at Badami Court we went back to Hampi to spend the night. In retrospect it was a very good decision to halt at Hampi, which in turn reduced our overall travelling time. Next morning, 8th November we left Hampi at 0930 hrs and reached Bangalore Jalvayu Towers, our final destination at around 1800 hrs. From Hospet we came via Bellary bypass on NH 63 and took SH 19 to Challekere – Erabahalli and on to good old NH 4. The roads are in very good condition and we had a very comfortable journey back to Bangalore. Post event wisdom dictates that we should have taken this very route while going to Hospet.

I look back at Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakallu in awe and feel proud that our ancestors created this architectural wonder in stone, hundreds of years back. Someone in the group remarked that the people of these places had nothing else to do but sculpt stones. May be its true – but see what they left behind for us. Take a minute to ponder and tell me what are the architectural wonders Karnataka has created since then. In 500 years all that I can think of is – Mysore Maharajas Palace and Vidhana Soudha building.