Friday, April 24, 2015

NCPA Mudra Dance Festival - Pita Mahatmya and Kausumbh Review

When two mediocre dancers perform for two hours that has three minutes of thillana-like nritta and the rest abhinaya in tedious varnam pieces, and even more unimaginative and hazy padams, you know that the recital was disastrous. Why? Because with the above structure, there is no place to hide incompetence. 

Though NCPA billed it as a Mohiniattam recital, it turned out to be primarily Lata Surendra's leaden-footed Bharatnatyam. 

The Mohiniattam bit was non-existent. Whatever little was on show was trainee-grade. Mohiniattam is anyway handicapped in its width of movements, especially of the lower part because of the base posture of the bent thighs, the aramandalam, much like the seconde pose in demi pile of ballet. It ought to have been compensated by the beautiful sways of the torso and other angas, and with sparkling hasta-mudras in conversation with the percussion. Alas! The Edakka and Chenda accompaniment was muted in the solo piece as well. 

Sure, Surendra is a senior Bharatnatyam dancer, hence one can somehow explain the minimal strenuous stuff. Yet, Alarmel Valli is nearly sixty, Malavika Sarukkai is near fifty. When they do abhinaya, we see razor sharp clarity of intent in movement and stillness. No one in the audience fidgets, or grabs the mobile when they do the slow pieces. Besides, both can dance two hours solo without a problem even today. 

Surendra was exploring the colour yellow. It was beyond the capacity of this duo to convey yellow in either form or idea. Even the dramatic episode of Parvati scraping her turmeric-smeared body to give prana to Ganesha was soporific. And yet it was the most interesting piece by far. So imagine the rest. 

The worst was the lengthy, meaningless and pretentious prattle in the beginning, in the middle, in the end and everywhere in between. It is always a good idea to let the dance do the talking. 

Music was excellent but could not compensate for the poorly devised and executed dance. I felt it was an hour too long, such was the tedium.

I wish NCPA will take care in the future to not foist low grade dance in this annual nritya utsav. 

The evening was somewhat redeemed by the Kathak husband-wife team of Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal. They were exploring the colour orange. I especially liked the thought given to merging the musical idiom with the dance theme. For example, the piece on Spring, Basant, was done in a Dhamar (14 beats) in raga Basant and also used the nine-beat Basant tala ( I didn't know of such a taal).  I liked almost all the pieces especially the one done in (I think) Brindavani Sarang depicting the fierceness of a summer day. The singing was  fantastic. 

In fact all the accompanists were superb. The pakhawaj, the bol singer and the lyrics singer were wonderful. The dhamar mentioned above had smatterings of (quasi) nom-tom and fitted the idea so well. Lovely!

I wish the tayyari was more rigorous- I spotted at least four occasions when the male dancer didn't know what to do with the other hand. And the duo were far from perfectly synchronised, either in point or counter-point. 

For that I'm looking forward to Nrityagram's peerless Surupa Sen and Bijayani Satpathy on Saturday. Hallelujah! 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Extinction of a way

Today 5 PM, was the end of an era. The oldest IT outsourcing company, Patni, closed its original office inside SEEPZ. The people, all of us, will be located in the larger campuses around. All of us met to commemorate the passing of this age in the canteen on the first floor of SDF II for the last time. As we reminisced, it emerged that amongst us were some who had been here since the beginning, twenty five years.  A few more, for twenty years. Perhaps only TCS can trace back people who have been with them for this long. In the rest of the IT industry in India, there is no other company that can talk about times a quarter century ago. As I listened, it felt akin to the stories of swashbuckling pioneers of the gold rush in the New World. While it may not compare exactly in the number of years spent, but IT as an industry has in fact evolved into a behemoth scarcely recognizable as the one in the eighties. And here were the veterans of that time, talking about which room NK Patni, the founder-owner of Patni, sat. The time when M Revi, the man-Friday for all hardware work, would readily agree to staying late. A colleague from the same vintage piped up saying, no, he would eagerly look for excuses to stay back. For Revi, this was not even second home; it was home. He worked and ate, bathed and slept here. Someone from the security team, the Three Musketeers,  would wake him up in the morning for chai-nashta. Then one morning he did not wake up. Sometime in the night, he had taken his last breath in this very place.

And then were the fond memories of the Three Musketeers, musicians all, when in the evening, once the bheed-bhaad was gone, they would go to the cupboards here and bring out the tabla-dagga and harmonium, play and sing lustily to the enthusiastic waah-waah of NK and the core team of Patni leaders. NK too has passed away. With him has gone a whole way of being, a gentle elegance, an ecosystem where empathy and compassion were not rebuffed, where calls were taken based on many human attributes not found in the list of the hard-headed business report sheets of then and now. Yet it was an inventive place, a joyous place, a place where experiments were done without the fear of failures. Even as a relative newbie, I recall moving to virtualization in 2008, investing in Cloud in 2009 when it was horrendously expensive and primitive. We discussed the need to have platforms and applications, not just infrastructure on Cloud. The words IaaS, SaaS and PaaS had not yet been coined. And these are examples from my limited exposure. Ah! It all seems a lifetime away. I could almost taste the sweetness of nostalgia tinged with the chalky astringency of regret that many spoke of. The regret was for the finality of it all. No lingering now, no wistful glances into the dim corridors of memories. It was done.

What I will miss most are the magnificent trees. The giant Kapok, for instance, near the lake at SDF VII, squat yet spindly like the bizarre baobab in Madagascar; and the benevolent banyan, under which the TCS campus was built. I’m sure no one knew then that it would become the noisiest corner inside SEEPZ – not because the jewellery chaps made a ruckus or the fresh-faced developers shouted coding secrets rudely. No, it was because the banyan became the home for thousands of fruit bats and they would scream and screech all morning and afternoon while roosting and preening and exchanging gossip. And with godhuli, this time not stomped up by hooves, but by the revving of a hundred buses making the homeward run, the bats would glide away silently in bunches of tens to the nearby fig trees.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Living with the neighbour

Kamila Hyat says this in the end of this article:
"The recent events on the Line of Control (LoC), just as Pak-India relations were reaching greater normalcy, are perhaps the latest example. The brutal beheadings bear the trademark of the Taliban, and their mode of action. Yes, the Indian response has not been mature either, but looking at things from our own side of the fence, the timing of key events has been extraordinary.

The 2008 Mumbai siege came just as President Zardari had suggested Pakistan’s willingness for a ‘no-first-strike’ agreement on nuclear weapons. Such an agreement is of course now a thing of the future. There have been other events before this that also raise suspicions. The inane action in Kargil began in May 1999, soon after then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan and signs of rapidly melting ice. The hijacking of an Indian aircraft in December, 1999 and the subsequent release of key militants seemed also to be part of a larger plan. We need to be mature and wise enough to realise this, and make others aware as well. The truth is that without peace with India, we cannot move forward at all. As it is, we have moved many, many steps back." 

If only more Pakistani commentators acknowledged this fact, it would be a better mahaul, conducive to building trust. 
Fact of the matter is, Indians do not trust the nation of Pakistan. This is not because of the remnants of the partition. It is because of repeated incidents that show Pakistan as an aggressor. Not only do the incidents rankle, the immediate denials followed by mealy-mouthed acceptance makes the experience of dealing with Pakistan a constant despair.

Look at this report called ‘India Growling’. Or this called, ‘Hope on the wane’. It is mealy-mouthed and takes the line, ‘it was only a tiny incident’and it completely exonerates Musharraf for planning Kargil in the first place. The beheading incident is not seen as a possible ‘final straw that broke the camel’s back’. In this case it has certainly snapped the patience of many Indian citizens. Politicians in India have jumped on the bandwagon to milk it, and there might also be a few of them who are genuine (possible but not probable). In every war with Pakistan its been them who have instigated. They do not hold themselves responsible for the first act of aggression; they think it is a legitimate tactic to use against its larger neighbour. In every argument thereafter, this initial act of aggression is minimised and even dismissed as irrelevant. The subsequent reaction from India is shown as illegitimate, extreme, oversensitive, etc. They are lucky that they do not have Israel as their neighbour.

The question to ask is, do we as Indian citizens, need to go through this stress? The response often is, ‘since there is no option but to have friendly relations with Pakistan, we do need to make the best of it’. At this juncture I cant help but ask, ‘do we really need to have friendly relations with Pakistan? Why? Why can’t we simply ignore them, ensure that a fence is built where possible and ensure that everywhere else there are troops to block intrusion. Sure we can trade. Friends trade, so do enemies and all the rest in between. If there is something that Pakistanis value, let them negotiate a price and buy. Similarly, if there is something that Indians want, let them negotiate and buy. If it does not work out, well, tough, but that is the nature of trade negotiations; look elsewhere to trade.

 The change in perspective that we in India need to start thinking about Pakistan is this: True, we started off from the same cradle of civilization. But Pakistan is as far away from it and as alien to it as modern white Europeans are to the Greek and Ionian culture. They have replaced it with a Christian, specifically, a Protestant ethos. Pakistan has done it by adopting Islam. Europe and Pakistan are at different periods of adapting to their new ideologies – while Europe has had a few hundred years to figure some of it out, to argue it and even argue against it, Pakistan is only at the cusp of getting overwhelmed by Islam and by the vision of the Ummah. It does not see any merit in accepting Indic civilizations, be it the Indus Valley or the Vedic or the later syncretic versions. So the point for us Indians is to understand that Pakistanis are no longer our cousins in the way we want to think of them. Yes, they look like us sometimes, and speak some common languages. But culturally they have moved away and are inexorably moving farther.

The important point is not that they are moving away, but that they are moving away to embrace a creed that is virulently opposed to our ways. Their’s is about excluding. Our’s is about including. Both are problems while they are work in progress. However I would like to think that the problem of including and to be truly pluraristic is a more rewarding exercise than the move towards excluding and being exclusive. Being pluralistic has always been in the Indic DNA (as Diana Eck has shown), and with luck and perseverence we Indians will forge an identity that is more and more inclusive without being hegemonic, a culture that will try to understand and appreciate as many world cultures as possible, taking what it wants to but at all times honouring each its space. We are not there, but we will. Pakistan on the other hand is on the way to becoming an isolated monoculture, believing and breathing one particular form of Islam, disdainful of and violent against any other belief and norm. If their neighbours, from close and far, for the world is now but an oyster, choose to leave them alone, they too will prosper in isolation, if prosper is the word to be used. They too will find equilibrium in isolation. One wishes them luck.

One might argue that if India is inclusive, why can it not include Pakistan too? We have tried, and we continue to try in our own way. The results are indifferent, vulnerable to derailment by Rawalpindi and, in the last 15 years, by various shades of islamic fundamentalists. No relationship can survive if one party continues to break trust with small and large actions. Kargil was a large bertrayal, the beheading of our Jawan was a small one. They have all added up over the years. Apart from trust, the form of Islam that is being nurtured in Pakistan does not allow for anything that is Indic and western – no images, no festivals, no music, no medication, no blood transfusion, no non-Islamic education, no international norms for justice (only Sharia, and for all, believers and non-believers), clearly defined (but narrow) gender roles, no scope for accommodating new ideas of urbanization and multi-culturism and disdain for science. To put it differently, how can you include a person in your space who says that, ‘you may accept my beliefs and even indulge in them, but that does not mean I will accept yours or even acknowledge it as a valid and honourable way’? This is  the Pakistani way now. And it is inimical to everyone else who is not a votary to their vision of Islam.

Thus it is time for us to rethink our relationship with Pakistan. It would do us no harm to distance ourselves, give them a wide berth, and continue with our lives as best we can. It sure won’t be easy because we have seen in the past that neighbours can be pesky and interfering. India is specially vulnerable to such a charge by all our neighbours – and often for sound reasons. We too have been short-sighted and brusque – not with Pakistan, but with our other neighbours. With Pakistan we have been far more accommodating than appropriate. With Bangladesh and Nepal we have been far more brusque than appropriate.
It is time to redress this mistake with respect to Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and even Sri Lanka. But that is another story and another article.

Stop Press: Here is a sensible article by Talat Farooq. Specially interesting are her last two paras. It is the disease that needs to be remedied. Elsewhere, I would like to argue that such a thing is not possible unless the power structure in Pakistan changes, namely, where Islamabad is in complete control rather than Pindi. And that, as they say, is aint gonna happen.

In what way does Pakistan affect our internal sensibilities, especially the one between the adherents of the Indic religions and those of Islam?

For India, the conceptual segregation of Pakistan and Pakistanis is far more difficult in practise. That is because the primary identity, in exclusion of all the other identities that they possess and the one that the Pakistanis want to forge is that of a Muslim, a Saudi version of Islam more generally lumped under Wahaabi Islam. And we in India have almost as many Muslims as Pakistan. So what about the Indians who are Muslim? Do all these agruments also not apply to them?

Yes, to those who follow and want to follow the Sharia to its letter, those who yearn for the Ummah, for such Muslims living in India is living in Dar-al-harb, i.e. the land of warfare, till the day when the holy writ of Islam is established in the lands. The land then becomes dar-al-Islam. Such Muslims have no peace and will feel no peace while they live in India. They will either need to amend their personal interpretation of Islam or leave to join where the Ummah exists. Only then will they find peace. I know of many colleagues who have probably followed this thought and are now comfortable leading their lives in many of the Islamic countries in the middle-east.

But such Muslims, I would like to think, are hopefully few. One somehow gets the idea that the Muslim sketched above is a quarreling, intransigent, redneck of a person. He (or she) may not be. He may be a quiet, studious, hardworking man, deep in the thrall of the teachings of the Koran. For him, he may not see, or not want to see the world that is not described in the Koran, of worldviews and beliefs that are indescribably different, so different that there is no access to even start grappling with them. To bring it in perspective,this is no different from a Meerabai who could see only Krishna and rejected every thing else (I can already see some readers saying, ‘what an apologist! Why does he have to bring the Hindu example, only to deride it?’ Not to deride, dear reader, only to make the idea more accessible). What does such a person do when faced with neighbours and people, cities and systems with whom he has not even a starting point? One may argue that such a worldview is exclusivist and not conducive to urban living and to the modern world that is so well connected. But that is an argument that ‘others’ have; for the believer, it may not be as important a consideration, and as a free nation, he should feel no compunction to toe the ‘majority’ line as long as he is within the laws of the land.

It is therefore natural, that such a person is likely to find solace in those like him. It is hardly any surprise that we have a preponderance of Muslim ghettoes.  Do note that such an explanation is simplistic. People of same religions, or languages or ethnicity or region; have tended to be together for millennia. What distinguishes a Muslim being discussed here from other Indian Muslims is the idea that he is different and superior, that under no circumstances is he to succumb to the tempatations of the culture around him. For such a Muslim living life everyday with constant reminders of the unislamic would be very painful indeed. For many it would be a cause for rage, especially if he sees his space being encroached and demands, real and imagined, being made on him to dilute his beliefs. It becomes an even more potent situation if the Muslim also identifies himself with the class that ruled these lands for many centuries. This happens more ofthen than we think. One of the reasons it is so is because of the nature of Islam – its central message is so focused and laserlike, that it can make believers forget (or ignore) other kinships like language, land of birth and the culture of their parents and forefathers. (to make a passing point: Bangladeshis have taken care to not forget these kinships).

What about the other kinds of Muslim? What about those who happily (or with some misgivings) merge in the cultures of the time, who seek to include and get included? For such Muslims, the problem is unacceptance. Having taken the first (tentative) steps, such a Muslim often faces prejudice. Renting a place in a city like Mumbai is a problem for Muslims (no matter how much the media and commentators may want to trivialise it); employment in semi-skilled areas is driven by caste and regional affiliations and in such a situation the Muslim often finds himself at the perprtual ‘other’. Of course there are trades that are overwhelmingly Muslim; just to take the case of UP – weavers in Banaras, metalware of Moradabad, lock industry in Aligarh, zari work in Bareilly, glass works of Ferozabad – all predominantly Muslim artisans. But in a city, trying to get office work for a Muslim is more arduous than for a non-Muslim. Police in most states are under-represented by Muslims. The military has low Muslim enrolment. They get picked up by police more often, they hear inadvertant harangues by friends and acquaintances – its not uncommon to hear variations on the conversations below:

Friend 1, ’Do you know Firoz and Azeem were bashed up by some guys yesterday outside the cinema’

Friend 2, ‘I can bet they were trying to be too smart. These miyas don’t know how to behave in public yaar – always aggro, u know!’


Neighbour 1, ‘Do you know some Muslim family has come to stay on the second floor. I don’t know why there was need to rent the flat to them. Had I known I would have found them a better family’

Neighbour 2, ‘yes, shocking. Just wait till Eid and when the bakra is cut in the courtyard then we will know the real horror of the mistake. They are so filthy.’

Muslims too have pet peeves about Hindus and other religions. However, because non-Muslims are four times the population, it is 4-times more likely for a Muslim to overhear such comments. One can imagine what a Muslim friend will go through if he is part of a group and someone starts taking the above line of conversation. Almost all of us have experienced this in our lives. Remember, the Indian Muslim lives through this every day all his life. These are like small chips being chiselled away from one’s confidence, from one’s sense of belonging and of acceptance. It cannot be pleasant, no matter how blasé one wants to be about it.

Yes, the reason why urban jobs have low Muslim employment is also because of other reasons – for instance lower educational standards, reluctance to break away from the comfort of the community’s ‘protection’, relatively hidebound thinking amongst family elders and social leaders. All of this is, of course, helped by the fact that Islam teaches active exclusivism. Hence even when they try, this second kind of Muslim, they receive very little support from families and immediate friends.

What I have painted is very much an urban landscape. The realities of rural India are different and more complex. There is rigid segregation yet cultural amalgamation; there is violence yet there is acceptance of the other; there are clearly demarcated cultural lines, of cuisine and food habits, or clothes and language; yet there is commonality in all of them. It is impossible to draw a neat line where one ends and the other begins. If there is a change then the change is for the worse – this change is in the growing numbers of hardliners in each of the communities. And these hardliners are isolating arguments and decisions, they are demanding a singularity where multiplicity is the only way. 

To summarize then.

Islam awaits the time when its adherents will find the strength and conviction to reintrepret the tenets such that it is amenable to inclusive living in a world that is becoming multicultural and in some cases even pluralistic. It will take longer because Muslims are more community and congregation based than any other religion at this point in time. Hence, the unshackling of an individual (and many such individuals) will still not turn the tide; it will need to be consensus that will need to run across a community, a congregation. And that, as we well know by now, is difficult. Not because consensus amongst many is a challenge, but because those who will be rabidly opposed to the changes will be able to hold sway even if their numbers are miniscule. That is how group dynamics works everywhere. The ‘silent majority’ as they are often called, has so far received a very good press. The arch villians are always the rabid lot. But in my books, it is this ‘silent majority’ which has been the culprit, the biggest perpetrator of horrors. To be silent is not to be irresolute. But that is what this majority has been. To be silent is not to be cynical, the majority has been so. The ‘silent majority’ has used its invisibility to follow its personal, often parochial goals.

It took many hundred years for Christianity to turn the tide. Judaism has been flexible for other reasons, but it has shown remarkable resilience and ability of reinvention over the millennia. Indic religions have other kinds of challenges, not these, but they have been supple to the demands of new thought. Will Muslims care enough about giving the other as much space as they themselves demand from everybody? Only then will Islam start the journey of including the rest of the world. And in turn, find peace and contentment.

Monday, March 28, 2011

1636 or 1706

The latest tiger census says that India now has 12% more tigers. One hopes that it is an accurate figure. If it is so, then this is news worth rejoicing. Specially if this is the beginning of a trend.

One was also glad to know that along with the pug-mark profiling, photographic census was done in many places. Pug-mark census is not a reliable method in itself. Too many variables come into play - the ground needs to be soft and not rocky to capture the imprint; the animal needs to be walking normally and not with a large kill in the mouth; if the ground is sandy then the pug can appear smaller or indistinct; a short burst of speed may distort the distance of the stride...and many such variables. However, pug-statistics are invaluable when the animal is being tracked and monitored on a continuous basis. The pattern that gets created with numerous separate data-points reduce the errors.

To do this exercise as a one-off is not a good idea. And that is what happens in our counting. Volunteers are recruited every 2 years - they have no details of the behaviour of the individual animals and hence record data mechanically and without much insight.

This can change if our tiger reserves are monitored 24x7. This way the observers can get to know the individual animals, gradually build the pug-profiles, correlate them to pictures (it is impossible to get the pictures of all the tigers in an eco-system in the few months that a typical census takes to complete) and, most importantly, build the DNA profiles of each animal. The DNA profiles need to be verified using cross sampling: fur, scat, saliva, urine, etc. This becomes a crucial data-point for monitoring cubs as they grow. It also ensures that cub losses are recorded and no mistake is made of either double counting or missing out, for example when the male-cub uses jungle corridors to occupy new habitats after it separates from the mother.

If all this is done, the actual census would be like taking the freeze-frame of any one particular period's count of animals. It would still need to be painstaking, but it would be far more accurate.

We would continue to face challenges in some areas - like Sundarbans. Not only is it difficult to spot the tigers, the habitat is spread between two countries where the animals move freely, completely oblivious to the man-made geographical boundaries. Here, as they do now, statistical algorithms will need to get used. However, continuous monitoring will ensure that the profile records help in calculating more accurate error compensators. Sundarbans has an additional problem because when the animal spots our intrepid observer he does not think, 'Good Lord! Man!!! Let me melt into the jungle'. Instead he says, 'Ah! Dinner!!!' Yes, they are all maneaters in Sundarban.

Jairam Ramesh has done a commendable job by improving the census methodology. It would be great if he invests in adequate personnel to provide expert and scientific monitoring; and invests in laboratories to ensure that even better processes are sustained across all tiger habitats. Without reliable and continuous data it is impossible to save the tiger. Or indeed, any endangered species.

However, today, it is time to celebrate and congratulate the minister, the ministry, the fantastic guardians of many of our sanctuaries, our IFS officers and the villagers who live in the jungles and support it. Well done, all! A big thank you for saving this magnificent beast and its habitat!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Open Letter to Dr. Manmohan Singh

Dear Manmohanji,
Your last alma mater, Oxford University, released a report based on an new, accurate way of measuring poverty called Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). This report states that India has 410 million desperately poor people, a poverty level that is comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa but numbering far more. To put this number in perspective: India has more desperately poor people than all the people in the whole of sub-Saharan African countries put together. The world has a total of 1.7 billion such desperately poor people. That works to around 24% of these poor live in India. In the 17th century that was India's share of the global trade. To put another number, so that we have some idea of what we are talking about: money-wise the desperately poor are those who earn less than USD1.25 per day. That is, around INR 60. And that is maximum INR 60. Further, they need to earn it every day, day-after-day; because they are on daily wages. So it is a maximum INR 60 on the days that they have work. Else, they starve. They starve and their children starve. If things don't go well, they starve the next day too.

Some of these people we are talking about are the very persons who starve for so long that they die. That is what we know of Kalahandi. It can't be that Kalahandi is the only place for such wretchedness. So it is reasonable to assume that we do not know of many other places where people starve to death.

You, Mr. Prime Minister have 4 more years to go with this Government. Now, here is my proposition to you: please ask the Planning Commission and the entire think-tank that you have to create a project-plan to reduce the number of MPI Poor from 410 million to 205 million in these 4 years; that is to say, halve the current numbers. Then work backwards from the plan and see how much money will it take to accomplish this. Please give this team a quarter (in case they misunderstand, it means three months) to present this plan to you. Whatever the money required, please allocate. It will naturally mean scrimping on other things, but let's do this on a war-footing.

After all, you would not hesitate to come up with a war-plan if China or Pakistan were to attack us, would you? What's more, you would not take a quarter for it. Suddenly every thing would be made possible - the movement of the army and artillery, the managing of the food and transport logistics, the support staff - all would be instantly mobilised. You would not think twice about diverting the trains and disrupting civilian schedules, would you? Suddenly all fuel would become rationed, suddenly roads and bridges would start to get built where for 60 years there had been none. Suddenly remote villages would become mini-cities supporting 100,000 Jawans - much like a 6 month long Kumbh Mela. No expenses would be spared for any of these activities. Suddenly every ministry would be on their toes, every key position monitored and made accountable under the absolute certainty of swift and sometimes savage punishment (retribution?).

And it would be right too, after all what is the use of being a sovereign nation if we cannot defend our land?

Manmohanji, you do see what I am getting at, right? I am saying that this situation of 410 million desperately poor is no different from a threat to our borders; it is in fact worse, because it is gnawing away at our innards and making us weak and hollow - how will we fight an external threat in such a state? And I am not being poetic - do you think that the Maoist situation we face has nothing to do with this? Do you not see the uncanny coincidence: the states that have these 410 million people are the very same that are the Naxal-ridden regions. Do you think that the vast population of the downtrodden and the dispossessed who are part of the 410 million but are an even bigger number, would sit meekly and not revolt when spotting this chance? Yes, revolt, because opportunities and wealth may have made us middle-class folk become seasoned citizens of this nation, but it might be a difficult idea for a father to agree to when he watches his children wither away and die in hunger. You know that already. It is also a good time as any to remember your warning Sir, that the Maoist threat is the biggest that is facing our country.

It is also a matter of deep shame. In a country that takes pride in growing at 8% per year, year-on-year and aims at becoming a world power, this calamity of 410 million desperately poor is a slap in the face. No amount of progress in the cities and in the stock exchange, no amount of glories in cricket and badminton, no amount of home-grown billionnaires, no amount of media coverage and sensational revelations is going to balance this deep and abiding shame. And the shame is not that the 410 million exist. The shame is that we who are not the 410 million do nothing about it. I read about your retort to the Supreme Court's order to distribute free grains to the desperately poor. In all humility Manmohanji, please can I say that no matter how difficult it might be to do the above task, to let the grain rot and for the mice to eat them is not an ethical option for us. If it is difficult it does not mean we must not try it. And when I say try, I do not mean the way Mr. Kalmadi & Co. are trying in CWG; no, I mean the way you tried when Mr. Narasimha Rao brought you on as the Finance Minister. Does one need to say more?

What I (and millions more like me) don't want to hear is: These are complex tasks that will take years to fulfill. Or, 'you must be joking, these cannot be done in four years - they require proper planning and marshaling of resources. We will need a proper structure in the states to deliver this program. Not all Chief Ministers will comply.' And a million other excuses why it cannot be done.
Why don't we want to hear such words? Because they are not true. If as a nation we can run a war-machine, then we can run this poverty-alleviation-machine. Its is imperative to reduce the numbers swiftly; and more importantly, to demonstrate that these numbers can be reduced quickly and effectively. It will be a template for reducing it further by another half, this time perhaps, in two years! Who knows! We might become good at managing this sort of a thing. What I am tired of listening to is that we are a big and complex country, with maddeningly complex issues. How much longer does one need to wait? To repeat the key word here: swiftly!

So let's give this plan a shot. Go on, try. After all, we Indians are good at doing projects. Why should this one not be a success? Besides, for years we did the five-year plans. This one is merely a four-year one. Here is my commitment: you just have to ask (Ahem! I mean even one of the secretaries of your personal secretary can drop me an email - or better still give a call) and I shall leave anything that I am doing to join you in whatever capacity you wish me to.

I have no doubt that like me, there would millions who would gladly join you. Let us try it please.

Citizen Pat

Sunday, August 8, 2010

CWG & the Rogue's Call to Nationalism

I am amazed!

At the audacity of come of our better known commentators, who have suggested in their respective Sunday columns that this growing sense of revulsion and alienation towards Kalmadi, and through association to the entire CWG games, is excessive and even misplaced. The gents, Gupta and Mitra have both defended the accused saying that in the scheme of things, even if corruption is discovered, it really is peanuts compared to some of the scams that our master hiester politicians have engineered. They are both at pains to point out that Kalmadi has been uinfairly singled out and that he (Kalmadi) and his cohorts are really novices - having possibly pilfered a few crores.

Gupta makes a point that 85% of the budgets were set aside for, 'virtuous development' - of virtuous Delhi. Well, what better way, one must agree, to convince our commonwealth visitors that India is now no longer a third world country because we have 30 crores worth of flower pots, gleaming (but slippery as death) granite sidewalks, spanking new stadia (what if a few tiles come off in the swimming pool on the opening day? Guys, why be unnecessarily harsh? I mean, have you not heard of a wardrobe malfunction?), a world class airport terminal, a new power station - and all of this in Delhi. Which, in retrospect seems so, so fair. After all, we must all agree, Delhi is India. The sportsmen and sportswomen may come from impossible places in the hinterland, and they are the ones who might win medals; but how is that relevant? The CWG is a showcase for shining, First World Delhi..oops...Shining First World India! Medals, sports facilities, diet, coaches, all those are piffling details and as we all agree, details, they are for the vulgar. We must be noble.

So noble that we must agree that anyone who thinks that years of preparation time being wasted, warnings of international experts were all bunkum. Does not one remember with flaming pride coursing our tiny, worthless and doubting hearts the day when our own dear Kalmadi scorned the CWG observer from distant lands, the expert had warned that things were in a hopeless state and that something drastic had to be done if the games were to start on time. Oh! the machismo the shone from every honest pore of dear Kalmadi that day when he rang forth in indignant righteouness that the observer be stripped of his post and be banished from the face of earth for making statements of gross negligence and mischief.

So noble that we must desist from our shallow nature to be seen aghast at the revelations that every quality certificate was found to be a fake or dubious. Shame on us for ever doubting the capabilities of Kalmadi and his cohorts - of course every stadium will be completed, of course every facility will be in place before the first guest arrives to exercise on the the fabulously special treadmills, the very, very, special treadmills hired at a mere 5 times the cost. And since when, might I ask, nay, demand, why any of this is even remotely a question of national pride? Don't we know that National Pride is only to be exhorted after the money is safely in the banks and when every known device to create a situation of crises has been triggered? How dare we, at this late hour question the indifferent quality, the bombed-out, war-zone look of the stadia? Instead, we should do kar-seva and help in making everything perfect. We must show the world how brilliantly we manage large projects of national importance, projects that have only a fleeting relationship to national pride for the best part of 5 years and two hundred days but miraculously become the most singular beacons of national pride in the last 50 days of its life.

I had a good mind to heed the haloed advise and wear my coolie hat and torn jeans to Delhi and do my bit of kar seva. It might have knocked my misplaced sense of patriotism in place. Alas! I shall forever be bereft of that piece of enlightenment and continue to be this base, vile person who doubts every hardworking politician! My boss thought that it was all very well to wear the coolie hat but felt that I could not be given leave and that I still had to earn my salary despite the noble but contrary sermons of Kalmadi and Co. My soul screamed out - O! What outdated notions! My country needed me, national pride was at stake. If this is what our bosses say then who will stick all the fallen tiles back on the pools? Who will plug the leaks of the stadium walls? Who will arrange the 30 crores worth of flower pots (hopefully the amount was enough for the pots to come with the plants in them. But, hell! what do I know?). Who will smoothen the ground and carry away the debris? Who will cook and make the meals? (for, in the absolute tightness of times, in the welter to formalise on bank accounts and appoint shady contractors in UK, Kalmadi and Co. forgot to appoint contractors to cook the meals. Poor chaps, so insanely busy, when could they have had the time for such minor and unimportant details?)

And all this brouhaha over the Commonwealth Games. A sporting activity with quaint rules - it gives three gold medals where all others give just one. So here our exalted weightlifters get a gold for the Snatch, another for the Jerk and the third for the total of the two. Oh, oh, oh! An idea just occured to me!! We MUST have cricket as an event (someone just whispered that it already is! Shucks!). But to continue with the idea, what if we have a gold for each wicket taken and for each century scored, a silver for each Maiden bowled and bronze for every four saved at the boundary ropes? Oh, oh, oh! What an idea Sirji!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Great Accumulator

India has just won the Third Test in Sri Lanka, levelling the series and thus redeeming some of its reputation as a number one ranked Test team. It was yet another opportunity for Sachin to lead India to victory. Alas, it was not to be! Instead it was VVS and Suresh Raina who remained unbeaten.

This is yet another instance when Sachin has failed to address the valid criticism that he is an all time great batsman, the all time highest run-getter and century maker, yet of all the opportunities presented to him to take India past the winning run, he has not converted them with the regularity that he converts his fifties to hundreds.

This is not to say that he is not a great player; he is. This not to say that he has not won for India; he has; after all, he has won the most MoM in the history of cricket - they could not all be losing causes. Many have been to steer India to victory.

Yet, yet, yet. If proportions were a criteria, then the greatness that Sachin has attained as an accumulator of centuries and of runs is leagues ahead of the reputation he has, and it seems now, that he will have (for he has far few seasons left to redress the balance), as a finisher of games. This quality too is an essential component of greatness. A great batsman also carries the the great responsibility to steer his team to victory. And if Sachin has been the undisputed great batsman of this era (he has!),  then he has decidedly not been a great finisher.

This is a fact that we must accept and also regret. Regret because, at least in my books, its a flaw that keeps Sachin away from the mantle of true greatness. Just as a truly great batsman scores the most runs and centuries for his team in his career, and he is given every opportunity to score these runs and centuries, so too must a truly great batsman ensure that it is he and not lesser batsmen who take the team past the winning run. Sachin does not make this cut.

I put this down to a flaw in the character. Perhaps luck also has a part to play. Perhaps he tries too hard? Perhaps he feels the burden more heavily than the others. After all, for example, had VVS failed today, people would not have written an article as I am now, decrying the fickleness of VVS. Instead all I remember is that VVS stood up and won us as he did in the Kolkata match. For me he is the low profile hero, a genius batsman, who has flaws but is incandescent at times, and who more times than not, stands up with his team and gives it his all. I am protective about VVS, I am more forgiving.

For Sachin, I expect him be there when India wins, carrying his bat through, not succumbing despite every difficulty. I am less forgiving. It may seem unfair. But that is the flip side of being the greatest batsman of the era. Sachin should have stood up more often, he should have been there taking his team to victory more often. In this, Sachin has been a disappointment.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vacation Report - North Sikkim

While planning the itinerary our gaze was fixed on North Sikkim. We had to go there, no matter how difficult the terrain. We had also to ensure that it did not entail too much walking as Mum's knees, in their current state, would not hold. All said and done, Lake Gurudongmar was marked down as a must-visit.

We were instructed to pack light as space was needed to haul all the provisions that we would consume in Lachen. It sent a ripple of excitement: it seemed that we were going to an arctic research station. So on came a sack of rice, not-to-fresh vegetables, pulses, oil, cartons of milk, biscuits, juices and corn-flakes. And a big box packed tightly with ropes. It did not seem to be rum or whiskey - if it was then that was hardly a civilized way to treat precious cargo.

After a point the 'roads' became a bit like wild beasts - I tried this trick of staring blankly out of the windshield at the rushing gravel and stones, letting the focus go (as one does while sipping tea and going into a place far, far away in the mind) - and the road would leap at me like the stallions that Liv Tyler invokes in The Lord of the Rings. But who in his/her/its right mind would look at the road while the scene around was spell-binding? Uncorking of cliches will not do justice to the splendour of North Sikkim. The place seemed wilder; the trees were gnarled and deep; the mountains were taller, darker; the streams seemed gurglier and frothier; the waterfalls more numerous; the clouds were lower and frequently wreathed the mountains like mysterious, ephemeral veils. When we broke for a comfort break I remember standing at a spot looking at a distant, tall waterfall with only the murmuring of the stream and the sound of the wind whistling through the ancient trees just below me. It was dark and cool. For some moments I was sealed in this primeval world with its sounds and smells, the rest of the world lost to me in swirling mists - magical!

As we climbed higher it became colder and darker. The mountains were all around us, crowding the sunlight away. On and on we went for 8 hours - with copious halts for lunch and tea, photographs and a quick pee. At last we halted at our hotel - it looked innocuous from outside. And so it proved to be even from the inside - a tad overdressed with tawdry furniture and garish curtains and carpet (carpet!). The welcome was warm. And we got some free (well-meaning) entertainment from the manager of the hotel - he spun tall yarns about the arduousness of Gurudongmar, about how sparse the oxygen was and how light the air was - we would float, he said - and how each step would be a painful realization our mortality. I had a fleeting thought  - perhaps it was here that the earliest moonwalkers from America and USSR had trained? And then he sold us the idea of renting ice-jackets, gloves and caps; and he very kindly agreed to arrange all of it. It was all done with good humour and a twinkle in the eye so with wry grins we parted with the advance money.

Next morning we stopped at Thangu for breakfast. We sat around the fire and sipped steaming hot Maggi with onions, chillies and tomato! It was delicious! They have a unique way of 'toasting' the bread - it is steamed like the momos, whole loaves in one go! To eat you pick a slice and dip it in the bowl of melted Amul butter. The little kitchen was friendly and nice - it took me back to the unpleasantness at Gangtok. When we were leaving for North Sikkim we had an unintended skirmish with the local drivers. As with most such incidents, I'm sure that fault lay on both sides. Now with some days to absorb and reflect I have only this to say: for Sikkim to become a tourist destination it will require not just infrastructure and investments but also a rethink of the attitude of the local populace towards (demanding, pesky, sometimes annoying) tourists. To manage tourism, or indeed any venture that is customer-centric, it requires tact and appropriateness of articulation. After all tourists come here for a vacation, to escape from the stress of everyday existence - a little bit of pampering is a fair expectation. The take-it-or-leave-it philosophy may not be effective. Just a thought, mind you; I'm not an expert in tourism...

It is superfluous to talk about the beauty of the lake. So I won't. Suffice it to say that we did not moon-walk, but yes, it was exhausting to even walk briskly. The jawans were the busiest lot - skipping down to collect the water and to pray. We spent an hour, opening all our senses to the grandeur of the place. It was a silent ride back to the hotel. Most of all, we, the younger lot, felt quietly proud of the way Dad and Mum coped. We did not even feel the need to rib the manager at the hotel. It was smiles and silence all over. The lunch was very Bengali and tasty. It was a 3 hour drive to Lachung next.

After traversing to Chunthang, we forked left towards Lachung. There was a transformation in the state of the roads. It was smooth, wide (as wide as it can be on mountains) and barricaded towards the free-fall end - this last thing was a minor relief; most of the roads that we had left behind had no such comfort. We fairly zipped into Lachung. The scenery was even more spectacular. It would be a fair to say that Lachung is the most scenic little town that I had seen in my life. It had both the soothing, lush and dark beauty of the forests and waterfalls; and the terrible, brooding majesty of the soaring peaks - all black rocks and white snows.

The hotel arrangements were awful! But let's not crib. Instead let's spend some time on a curious incident. We had arranged to visit the valley of Yumthang only. But our driver, Pempa suggested that we had enough time to take a look at the snow slopes of Katao; he would take care of the permits, etc. And so we went - the journey was spectacular and as we passed a military check post, the soldier there took our permit and informed that we were the 19th vehicle since morning. Very good, I thought, nice and early; we were 33rd in Gurudongmar. And so we had fun and took pics and played with the dirty snow; finally we set our way to Yumthang. On our way we were stopped by the Sikkim police - in fact all the vehicles on their way down from Katao were being stopped - and were told to pay a fine of 1000 rupees. The driver seemed to mumble something incoherent when asked the reason for the fine. So we decided to go the police station and understand the reason. What emerged is this: tourists are forbidden to go to Katao as it is a sensitive spot. The tour operators and the drivers and the hotel owners know this. Hence it is kept out of the official itinerary. But this fact is not divulged to the tourist - who then pays extra (as we did) to tour Katao. And everyone makes money from the gullible tourists - including, it seems the military. This came as a jolt. One does not associate our army with such riff-raff. But if it was not then how come the military check post soldier took our permit and informed us of the vehicles ahead of us? They should have stopped us right there!

So it was with a sour taste in the mouth that we made our way to Yumthang, the valley of flowers. But first we had a splendid breakfast at a stall on the valley and we were served by a jolly little woman (a cousin of Pempa the driver) who made pleasant jokes and bustled about happily. We had momos and noodles and eggs. The crankiness vanished, our brows thus smoothed, we stepped down to the valley. No flowers, sadly - it was too late in the season. But the place was nice, an ideal picnic spot. This entire area was part of the Rhododendron sanctuary.

And that was that. All 'places' had been visited and ticked off the list. All that remained was to pack up and leave for Gangtok. By this time I was seeing visions of my cosy bed in Andheri, the aroma of ghee on hot rice and daal wafted in from all directions; I wanted to throw away the inners-shinners, the gloves-shoves, the sweater and the jacket and wear a bermuda a la commando and curl up with a book with the strains of Kishori or Kumarji surrounding me.

In short, I'd had enough of Sikkim; I wanted to go home. But dilli duur ast; we had a 6-day stay with Mum and Dad in Kolkata. Good Lord!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vacation Report - Nathu la and Baba Harbhajan Singh

We started at 8 on a moderately sunny day. The day before, some vehicles luckily escaped getting grounded - of a sudden snow flurry. Half way up, one thought kept looming in front of us all: had this been any Western country, no one would have been allowed on roads such as these. Not just were these roads perilous by Divine ordain, it was given a generous dollop of perilous-ness by teams doing simultaneous construction and repair work. Yes, it made for unintended exhilaration, mostly in the way of yelps followed by sighs from us (minus the driver, who, like all pahadi drivers, leave decisions such as safe completion of a treacherous drive to Divine powers. This helps them to be guilt-free when the passengers die of fright)

This is not to criticise the Border Roads Organization - codenamed Swastik - I'm sure they sure do fantastic work. It is not that things don't work - they do, miraculously! It is helped in no small measure by the general Indian attitudes of looking for jugaad at all costs and a disdain for human lives. This lethal combination of attributes has ensured that we do not strive and do not expect to have excellence in systems, public utilities and infrastructure. The flip side is that we generate (eke?) money out of activities like tourism earlier in the lifecycle.

The tragedy of Indian public life is that we are eager to grab the early fruits and utterly neglect the aspect of building excellence. There is no reason for the roads in this country to be so decrepit; no reason for our cities to be so ugly - take a look around you, each building is a monstrosity; no reason for non-star hotels to be average; no reason for the railway stations to be several sizes smaller than current requirements; no reason for airports to be dank, unlighted, cluttered and chaotic. No, the reason of us being a third world country does not cut the mustard. All of us who watched the recent 2020 world cup remember the shots of the streets and the townships of several Caribbean third world countries. What did you see? My brother returned from Nairobi, Kenya; and swears that it is a fabulous town, beautiful and stately - Wodehousean English, even.

My goodness! What a tirade! Now after that digression, back to Sikkim and Nathu la.

We passed several lakes on our way up; including Tsomgo (also called Changu) which we had planned to see on the return. Nathu la is at 14500 feet and I underestimated the might of nature as I stepped out of the SUV - it was bitingly cold because of the stiffish breeze - and a few brisk steps later my head was spinning the way it had done in the New year's party of 2006, my worst experience of getting drunk. It took 5 minutes of deep breathing and controlled calmness to return to normal. After that I took small steps and rested copiously for the short walk up to the Chinese border. Admittedly all of us were under-dressed: no thermals, gloves or double-socks; I was even wearing rubber-soled denim shoes. So much for cuteness!

There is nothing really to see up there. An Indian building, a much larger and gleaming Chinese block (check my pictures later and you'll know what I mean); couple of very young and smiling Chinese soldiers offering us ciggies; and two benevolent-looking Indian soldiers (after accepting the ciggies) keeping a close eye on what we clicked. A curious thing happened: as we were talking to one of the soldiers, the officers marched in with the entourage. The CO ignored my greetings, looked through me as if I did not exist and walked on ignoring the rest of the 6 civilians there. The lesser officer, however stopped, wished back and even engaged us in a conversation. Perhaps that is how the officers of the Indian Army are trained - to create this caste system, if you will, between them and the hoi polloi, the civilians. Perhaps it helps them to be dispassionate and tough. I will wait for further enlightenment on this.

I will digress a little again - humour me please. On our way up we saw several bunkers and camps. In one of the camps we saw artillery carriers - which meant that the main artillery gun, the Bofors was also positioned. Now, you can't have Bofors deployed in any significant numbers by trundling them up trucks or even in the French equivalent of Chinooks that we have, it's too slow and too, too expensive. Cargo planes like AN 32 would be required - especially in light of the strategy of rapid attack envisaged under IBG (read here for further details). This meant that there had to be an air-strip up here. And since we were looking for it, we saw where is could be: a mile-long plateau on the top. It was further reinforced when we saw a road branching out from our's towards that flat and the sign, 'Entry Prohibited'. Of course none of us took any pictures that we thought were delicate so I cannot share the thrill of spotting the possible air strip - it is etched in my mind. Seeing all these preparations of protecting our country and the incredible difficulty that each soldier faces 24x7 (we spotted numerous half-concealed shelters spread across the tops and slopes. They were tiny, which meant only one, possibly two soldiers in utter and total isolation), I found myself reacting incredibly emotionally - proud and teary at the same time.

This proved to be merely the prelude to a larger emotional jhatka a few minutes later. The all-faith temple in the remembrance of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Here was a structure created out of a belief in a human being and there were hundreds of plaques saying, 'Baba bless us'. And these were from the battle-hardened soldiers of the Indian army. While I was there I saw groups of soldiers of various faiths doing darshan and offering sealed bottles of Bisleri as a gift to the memory of the Baba. There is a certain innocence and goodness required to believe in all this if you are a soldier. To see these large, well-knit men pay obeisance to an idea of faith was humbling; these same men would not hesitate to kill an intruder and an enemy. I did not have the heart to take pictures of the soldiers while they were praying - it felt odd - so I took several of the plaques and flags and the lovely poems on the doors, probably of Guru Nanak sahib. It is cold up there and the face muscles go numb, so one does not realise when things run down the face for all to see. It meant a hasty retreat to the edge of the mandir for me. An odd, irrational, heady and cleansing moment.

It was Tsomgo lake next - yaks and yak-touts, people everywhere. On the way back to the hotel, just minutes from Tsomgo, the dark clouds came rolling in. Much of the 90 minute drive was done through 10 meters of visibility, sometimes less. It was very tiring to keep checking if this time we passed 3 inches away from the edge of the precipice and doom. So I curled into my seat and went to sleep.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Vacation Report - Day Six: Gangtok

Continuing from the last blog, no, the sandwiches were not cucumber and cheese; they were instead, bathed in some kind of a homegrown tomato sauce of dubious parentage. So the breakfast-on-the-move was a flop but the tea-stop at Ravangla was nice. But before we Gang-talk, some more observations from yesterday.

Perhaps its the timing; when we leave we see groups and lines of children making their way to school. On our way back we see groups and lines of children on their way, presumably on their way home. The children are sometimes tiny - maybe 4 years old; and most often it is unaccompanied children - girls and boys in equal number. Sometimes one can spot a parent but mostly it is children. Last morning I saw a small girl, possibly a laggard, for there was no child following her, make her way slowly, with hundreds of tiny digressions (an aimless step to the right, a skip and a jump, a craning of the neck to watch a bird, a swing of the arm...) to her school which was a couple of turns up the road. It was just that little girl alone. I struggled to remember if I ever saw a child that young being unescorted at the bus stop in Mumbai, let alone a child walking all by herself to school. I was left wondering admiringly at a society that encourages and supports parents to behave in the way that they did. And not just parents; for this to work the other people on the road, the drivers of the hundred taxis and jeeps, the teachers and older school-children - all have a part to play. I hope and pray that this cheerful practise continues - it certainly brought a smile to my lips.
We had lunch at a place called Cherry Village, a traditional Nepali lunch. The food was good with a few dishes like Chhurpi bhurji being excellent! Chhurpi is Yak cheese and this particular variety was the soft kind. I also liked the way we were served - the trays held high, the food being offered with the left hand touching the right elbow; it was traditional without being dramatic - we felt quietly special. We mentioned chhurpi casually while we were eating and within minutes the bhurji was on the table.Munching on the slighty stringy beans and mustard greens I had the time to reflect that such alacrity is not something that we experience everyday; indeed, we felt special!

However the highlight of the visit was to know from Sushil Tamang that Cherry Village is actually a community-based business - the land is Sushil's and he is the MD of this group called Darap Eco-Tourism Committee. I would have hyperlinked this site had it worked. Maybe it is down temporarily so I'll leave it in. This committee provides jobs to the locals and promotes tourism. The resort has a few rooms and independent cabins; all laid out tastefully with enough space to not feel hemmed in. I hope it succeeds, and as Sushil says, it has started well. All the best DEC! I shall follow your career with interest.

OK, back to Gangtok! To say it was unrecognizable would be a cliche and completely true. I'm afraid the first impression was not positive - too crowded, narrow streets, warm, nauseating gasoline fumes and too few trees on the main roads. By the time I came back to the hotel room to write this blog I was convinced of one thing: sitting and loitering on the MG Road is cool! The people of Gangtok dress well and are good-looking; the girls and women look very chic in their high cheek-bones and slim legs, the boys and men look a tad loutish but it changes when they laugh and smile.

The weather is changeable, indeed callous. It was sunny at 1:30, by 2 the dark clouds and thunder enveloped the city and the wind threatened to pluck the prayer flags out from every rooftop, by 3 it was drizzling lightly but the dark clouds were gone, by 4 it was sunny again and I had to remove my jacket. However soon it was cold enough to wear it again. Temperamental;  that is the word I was looking for.

We had dinner at Hotel Tibet. I've had better dumplings than the vegetable momos that got served, but the brothy noodle soup with hand-made doughy round noodles was interesting. Peasant's fare, true, but honest and nourishing. By the time we reached the hotel room it was pretty cold again and the sky was starry. The paan I had on the way back was just as ordinary as the one that I get near my flat in Andheri - so one could say that I was feeling quite at home.