Sunday, November 29, 2015

Metropolises, sun, sand and sea!

This is about a family trip to Andaman Islands (Port Blair, Havelock, Ross,Viper and North Bay) via Bombay and Calcutta.

November 3, 2013: Reached Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad at around 05:30 am, to board an Air India flight to Bombay. Boarded the aircraft at 07:10 am. It took off at 07:30 am, delayed by a few minutes. At 08:45 am, the aircraft landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Bombay. As we had more than 9 hours left to board the connecting flight to Calcutta, we decided to meet relatives in the city. We hired a black-and-yellow taxi to Churchgate. We were lucky to get a Premier Padmini (Fiat), famous for having ruled Bombay’s roads as an iconic taxi since the 1960s. This was being phased out in favour of newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles like Hyundai Santro and Maruti Alto.

Decided to take the Bandra-Worli Sealink. We had to pay Rs 55 at the toll-gate.

Bombay seemed to be like New York, with skyscrapers dotting the Worli skyline just like Manhattan. Could see Haji Ali’s Tomb. Crossed Pedder Road, Jaslok Hospital and Wilson College. The city was apparently much cleaner than Ahmedabad.  Turned left at Hotel Marine Plaza on Marine Drive and stopped near Mantralaya. Our relatives welcomed us. After refreshing ourselves, we spent time with them. We had lunch and slept for a while before bidding adieu. 

At 3 pm, we decided to leave. We hired a Hyundai Santro taxi and told the driver to go to the airport via the Gateway of India. We saw Oval Maidan, Rajabai clocktower just before reaching Apollo Bunder. We waited for a few minutes near the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel. Saw the Bombay Stock Exchange building (Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers) and Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-a World Heritage Site), before hitting the Eastern Express Highway. After crossing Byculla, Dadar and Sion, we took a detour via Dharavi to reach Bandra-Kurla complex. Autorickshaws were seen after crossing Dharavi (they were not allowed in South Bombay). Took the Western Express Highway and reached Santacruz airport at 04:30 pm. Waited at Terminal 1A to board the evening Air India flight to Calcutta.

The aircraft took off at 06:40 pm. Dinner was served: Veg salad, bread roll, rice, curry, chocolate cake and tea. At 9 pm, the aircraft landed at Netaji Subash Chandra Bose International Airport, Calcutta. We identified our bags and hired a yellow Ambassador taxi to Salt Lake. Reached the guest house at 10:30 pm. As we were tired, we hit the sack after checking in.

November 4, 2013: Woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and went shopping around Bidhan Nagar, Salt Lake Sector-III. We decided to visit the Botanical Garden. Calcutta had many yellow Ambassador taxis, trams and colorful old buses. Crossed the second Howrah Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) and reached the Botanical Garden. The main attraction was the 250 year old banyan tree, but it was difficult to spot.  Went to Rashbehari Avenue (Lake Market) and had a masala dosa at an Udupi restaurant. APJ Abdul Kalam had dined there in 2005! 

Visited Victoria Memorial in the afternoon, but didn’t go inside. Returned to Lake Market for shopping. Returned to the guest house at 5 pm. The sun had set by then (Quite early for people from Ahmedabad). Had dinner and slept.

November 5, 2013: Woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and called the driver who had taken us around the city the previous day. He said there was a problem with the car. So, another vehicle was arranged for us. Went to Victoria Memorial again. Went inside and felt the relics were more interesting and informative than any high school history lesson!

Went shopping at Lake Market again. Had lunch at Komala Vilas, a South Indian restaurant. Left for Belur Math at 02:50 pm and reached at around 4 pm. Got to know a lot about Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda. Temples were built in their memory, overlooking the Hoogly. Bought some books from the souvenir shop and proceeded to Dakshineswar on the other bank of the Hoogly. Calcutta got its name from the presiding deity of Dakshineswar. There were subordinate shrines with lingas of Lord Shiva. Dipped feet in the holy river and left for Salt Lake. Reached the guest house and had dinner. Went to bed by 10 pm (we had to reach the airport at an unearthly hour!)

November 6, 2013: Woke up at 02:45 am and checked out at 3 am. A taxi was waiting for us. Reached the airport at 4 am. Boarded the early morning Air India flight to Port Blair. It took off at 05:55 am. Breakfast was served: Veg cutlet, bread and butter, chole bhature, fruit salad and tea. At 07:50 am, we could see the Andaman islands. The emerald sea contrasted with the dark green rainforest of the archipelago, just like the Caribbean or Mauritius (exotic locales).

At 8 am, the aircraft landed at Veer Savarkar Airport, Port Blair. The weather was warm (29 degrees Celsius) and sunny. Some passengers were scolded by the airport authorities for clicking pictures.
We identified our bags and proceeded to the arrivals gate. Someone had come to pick us up. Checked into Hotel Anbu at around 10 am. Relaxed in the room till 10:45 am. The driver came at 11 am to take us on a city tour. 

At first, we visited Samudrika Marine Museum. It was really impressive, more than just another aquarium. Found Nemo (Clownfish feeding on sea anemone)! J There were other colorful species such as parrotfish.

We visited Chatham Saw Mill and the Anthropological Museum of Port Blair, but they were not as impressive as Samudrika. We had lunch at Annapurna, a vegetarian restaurant. At around 3 pm, we went to Corbyn’s Cove beach. There were rocks along with white sand on the shore, apart from coconut groves in the vicinity. We could see tiny crabs making intricate patterns. Spent half an hour there and proceeded to Cellular Jail.

The Andaman archipelago may seem like a cool holiday destination now, but not in the past (from the 1800s to the 1930s). Prisoners were treated cruelly, probably worse than slaves. ‘Kaala Pani’ is the term used for the sadistic treatment meted out to them. After sunset, there was a sound and light show which was interesting.

Went back to the hotel, after shopping at Aberdeen Bazaar. Had dinner at the hotel. It started raining after 9 pm. As we were tired, we hit the sack.

November 7, 2013: Woke up and went to the Port Blair jetty to board ‘Sea Princess’. Left at 08:30 am and reached Ross Island at 10 am. Ross Island was a British settlement planned for recreation. There were Japanese bunkers. They bore evidence that there had been an attempt by Japanese soldiers to invade the territory. Deer and roosters were seen. A church (Presbyterian) was seen overlooking the azure sea. Feral beach was beautiful, with coconut groves on the shore.

Lunch packets of pulav were offered before reaching Viper Island. Spent a few minutes there. There was a memorial for prisoners (they were there before the construction of Cellular Jail). Arumugam, the guide, explained the history behind the memorial with full gusto. There was a moment’s silence in memory of the martyrs.

Proceeded to North Bay Island. Went in a glass boat to see fishes and corals (the sea had a greenish tinge). Went snorkelling. Could reach the ocean floor and touch some corals. There were shops selling coconut water and coral/shell souvenirs. The shore was composed of corals and shells, not rocks or sand. No crabs were seen.

Left at 04:30 pm and reached Port Blair at 05:30 pm. The sun had set by then. Reached the hotel and had an early dinner

November 8, 2013:  Woke up at 04:15 am. Went to Port Blair jetty and boarded ‘Hut Bay’. Left at 06:30 am.  Reached Havelock Island at 9 am. Went to Dolphin Resort in a Tata Sumo. Checked in and had breakfast. 

There was a beach (Vijaynagar beach-No.5) in the vicinity, unmatched in terms of beauty. The sea was an exquisite shade of cyan. The shore had white sand, shells and corals, apart from coconut groves. It was a sunny day and nothing could spoil one’s mood. One could spend hours relaxing in the picturesque, pristine surroundings.

Had lunch at 1 pm. Left at 03:30 pm for Radhanagar beach (Beach No.7).

Reached Radhanagar beach at 4 pm, after crossing a tropical rainforest. Dark clouds were seen in the southern horizon. It started raining after a while. Though the beach was rated by Time magazine as the best Asian beach, it didn’t seem as interesting as Vijaynagar beach. It was sandy, with green hillocks at either end. Sunset was observed at 04:45 pm and there was darkness by 05:30 pm. Went window-shopping at stalls near the beach and returned to Dolphin Resort at 6 pm. Went for a stroll on the beach, after having dinner at 8 pm. Rocks could be seen at low tide.

November 9, 2013: Woke up at 04:45 am. Went to the beach and saw rocks at low tide. Came back to the room as it started raining after sunrise. Had breakfast and checked out at 08:30 am. Reached Havelock jetty and boarded a speedboat at 9 am. Reached Elephant beach after 30 minutes. It was beautiful but not as picturesque or pristine as Vijaynagar beach. Trees were on the shore. Went in a glass boat. Could see fish species like angel fish, zebra fish and parrot fish, apart from corals. Went snorkelling as well. The view of corals and fishes was far better than the same at North Bay Island, though we weren’t supposed dive and touch corals on the ocean floor.

Took another speedboat back to Havelock jetty. Reached at 1 pm and had lunch at a restaurant near the jetty. Boarded ‘North Passage’ to Port Blair. Left at 04:40 pm. Caught a glimpse of the setting sun. Reached Port Blair jetty at 06:45 pm. Reached the hotel and had an early dinner, as we had to board a morning flight to Calcutta.

November 10, 2013: Woke up and reached the airport to board the Air India flight to Calcutta. The aircraft took off at around 08:30 am. Landed at Calcutta Airport at around 11 am. Took a taxi to Salt Lake and checked into the guest house where we had stayed earlier. 

After refreshing ourselves, we had lunch and decided to take the famous Metro Rail to Kalighat. Boarded a train at Jatin Das Park. It was as crowded as a Borivali-Churchgate fast local train at rush hour. The coaches were not airconditioned. Namma Metro (of Bangalore) seemed better in comparison. After visiting Kalighat temple, we returned to the guest house at Salt Lake.

November 11, 2013: Reached the airport and boarded the 6 am Air India flight to Bombay. The aircraft landed at Bombay Airport at around 9 am. Spent 8 hours in transit, before boarding the evening Air India flight to Ahmedabad.

The trip ended on a memorable note. Before leaving for Ahmedabad, we saw Kirron Kher in a lounge. She was being interviewed by a reporter. J

The aircraft took off at around 06:45 pm and landed at Ahmedabad Airport after an hour. 

Here are the pictures: Diwali 2013-Trip to Bombay Calcutta and Andaman Islands

Monday, September 21, 2015

The farmer's tale

Here's the Indian farmer, who's overlooked by someone employed in another sector;
Success on reaping a good harvest is sweet, just like nectar!
He's the breadwinner of his family, but doesn't realize he indirectly gives us our daily bread,
Without which many would not be well fed;
They would not be at peace while going to bed,
Some things are better left unsaid;

He has many mouths to feed,
And has to sow many a seed;
Hunger has to be appeased, by food which is a basic need;
Rain or sun, he has to toil,
And he remains a true son of the soil;
He has to feed all, irrespective of color or creed,
And is oblivious to the landholder's greed;

Deprived of support, cultivation can be affected by just a weed,
To which others pay no heed;
Dependence on middlemen is for sales,
But no one has time to listen to his woe-filled tales,
Of borrowed money as a loan;
Taking his own life seems to be the only option, leaving us with many a bone.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Breathe in a bit of...Fragrant and Vibrant Gujarat!

This blog post is about a recent family trip to Kutch, an arid district in western Gujarat.

December 28, 2012- Left Ahmedabad at 07:20 am in a white Tata Indigo. 
We went west of the SG Highway (NH8C) to reach Sanand and crossed the Tata Nano factory at Charodi. We bypassed Virangam and crossed the Narmada on the main road to Dhrangadhra. On reaching the Jalaram intersection, we took the road to Halvad.  After the Falku bridge near Halvad, we halted at an outlet of ‘Honest’ (an Ahmedabad-based chain of restaurants, famous for its bhajipao and pulav) for breakfast. We helped ourselves to fafda and gota (Gujarati farsan) and left at around 10am towards Kutch.
Cranes were seen near Aniyari (17kilometers from Maliya and 28 kilometers from Morbi). CNG autorickshaws, typical of Ahmedabad, were replaced by ordinary yellow and black ones. It was surprising to see non-vegetarian cafes, in a predominantly vegetarian state like Gujarat. Villagers were moving around in three-wheeled contraptions called 'Chakdas'. A 'chakda' is a cross between a Royal Enfield motorbike and a tractor.Villagers were clad in colorful attire, contrasting with the dull brown surroundings.Salt pans and windmills were seen near Samakhiali (Surajbari Checkpost to be precise). It was a sparsely populated region, but lots of industries were seen. Some of them were the Oreva-Orpat electronics plant of Ajanta and the Yo electric bike factory of Electrotherm.
We reached Bhachau(a town badly affected by the 2001 Gujarat earthquake) after crossing an RTO check-post at 11:40 am. Roads deteriorated in quality after crossing a railway gate in Bhachau(from four-lane to two-lane). We crossed  the factory of Sanghi Cement and the farm of Suzlon Energy near Dhamadka . Hillocks appeared after Dhamadka.
We reached Bhuj at 1pm, after crossing Madhapur. We checked into a hotel downtown at 1:30pm and had a Gujarati thali at Green Rock restaurant. After resting for an hour, we left at 04:25 pm towards the White Rann (desert) at Dhordho village. We crossed Rudramata dam at 04:43pm and theTropic of Cancer at 04:58pm. The landscape changed dramatically. There were less shrubs and bushes, thanks to the scanty rainfall that rendered the land arid. We got permits to visit the Rann at Bhirandyara. Reached Dhordho, a little to the west, at 05:57pm. The White Rann was reached at 06pm. Sunset was followed by moonrise. We were lucky to visit on a full moon night. Though the captured image of the moon was not as spectacular as the images on Google, it was nice to see the parched sandy land illuminated by moonlight. We left the parched land at 07:15pm and reached Bhuj at 08:40pm. We had dinner at Sankalp (another Ahmedabad-based chain of restaurants, specializing in dosas) and spent the night at the hotel.

December 29, 2012: Woke up and had dabeli for breakfast. It is a famous Kutchi snack, also called double roti(it’s just like a burger or vadapao with pomegranate and peanut fillings instead of a potato cutlet/patty). We checked out of the hotel and went shopping for handicrafts/souvenirs in the market and decided to visit the Kutch Museum, the oldest in Gujarat.
The museum, earlier known as the Fergusson Museum, was established by Maharao Khengarji III on July 1,1877. It was full of exhibits showcasing the handicrafts of Kutch. It had galleries on Kutchi art,archaeology and anthropology too.Examples of tribals in Kutch are Koli, Vagadia Rabari, Kach Rabari, Ahir, Charan, Matwa and  Meghwal. Those belonging to the region are skilled in embroidery work, patch work, brocade work and silver engraving. As a matter of fact, a silver sword was presented to Kuldeep Sharma, an IPS officer of Gujarat cadre, for his admirable work during his tenure as the DSP of Kutch.

After visiting the museum, we headed to Mandvi, 60km south of Bhuj. We reached the coastal town at around 1pm and went inside the Vijay Vilas Palace. It was named after Yuvraj Shri Vijayaraji , the heir of Maharao Khengarji III . It was meant to be a summer resort. It now belongs to the royal family of Kutch, whose members reside inside. One must note that Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (a 1999 Hindi film starring Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Ajay Devgan) was shot inside the mansion of sandstone.  It was full of ornate arched gateways with a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. We had lunch at a restaurant downtown and decided to visit the beach. Though not as crowded as the Juhu in Bombay or the Marina in Madras, it was buzzing with activity. Camels were seen and there were windmills too. 
We departed for Ahmedabad at around 4pm, crossing places like the Adani Power Plant, Mundra and Anjar. We halted at Dhrangadhra for tea and reached Ahmedabad at 10 pm. There was enough time to have dinner before hitting the sack.  It was the end of an unforgettable family trip, with fond memories still lingering in our hearts.

Allow me to end here by sharing some Gujarat tourism ads starring Amitabh Bachchan:
1.The Gujarat Tourism ad about Kutch in English:

2.The same in Hindi:

3.Khushboo Gujarat Ki-Festival-Kutch-Hindi:

5.Rann Utsav:

Here are the pictures:

A few words I’d like to quote,”Breathe in a bit of Gujarat”,
 “कच्छ नही देखा तो कुछ नहीं देखा! (If you haven't seen Kutch, you've seen nothing)”,
 “कुछ दिन तो गुजारये गुजरात में!(why don't you spend some days in Gujarat!)", 
Why don’t you come and behold the wonders of this vibrant state for yourself?J                                                              

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why this Kotagiri di?

Okay, the title may sound funny and mislead you, but nothing seems apt after visiting the Nilgiris again after 4 years (The Nilgiris Revisited sounds a tad too commonplace).  My college life has been full of industrial visits (IVs) to different places. All of them have been like picnics for socializing rather than going to visit industries. But it doesn't matter for a student who has to complete 26 credits(8 subjects). Some classes in the morning and others in the afternoon, apart from seminars, assignments, quizzes and reviews-Aargh!! Give me a break from this hectic routine! When my (I'll use 'our' from now)class representative, Samuel announced about the confirmation of the trip to Kotagiri, many students were thrilled. Barring the IV to Pasteur Institute, Coonoor in 2008 (we were freshers then), all others were one-day trips from Vellore. Moreover, the IVs to Pondicherry(2010) and Yercaud (2011) lacked the charm of the first IV to Coonoor. It's probably because we were younger and got to know each other pretty well during those 3-4 days of fun and frolic in October 2008. Ahh, nostalgic memories keep haunting us, but we sadly decided to move on and be less adventurous, settling for one day trips instead. There were other formalities like getting permission letters from professors (ask any VITian, it's a Herculean task!)

Anyway, it came as a pleasant surprise when Samuel announced about our trip to Kotagiri. It was at the right time-we MSItes were bogged down by the academic workload as I had mentioned earlier. Kotagiri, nestled in the Nilgiris at an elevation of 1793m, could offer respite from the sweltering heat of Vellore as well.
The 3-day IV is described as follows:

September 20, 2012: Two buses were booked for the IV, as train tickets weren't available. We were told to assemble at VIT's All Mart gate at 7 pm. Getting a seat was initially a problem, but it was sorted out. We departed at around 8:30 pm. We crossed the outskirts of Vellore, and the music player was turned on. The experience of frenetic dancing to several Bollywood numbers cannot be described in words. We stopped at a roadside shack somewhere near Krishnagiri for a late dinner at around 11 pm. We fell asleep shortly after midnight, with those melodious tunes reverberating in our ears.

September 21, 2012:  We woke up near Mettupalayam at around 6 am. We were at the foothills of the Nilgiris. After a break for refreshments, we began our ascent up the winding roads of the Nilgiris. After 3 hours, we reached Kotagiri and checked into to Bel Air Cottages. The cottages were well-furnished and comfortable. After the long, tiring bus journey from Vellore, we decided to rest for a few hours there. In the afternoon, we decided to visit a tea estate. It was nice to see how tea leaves were picked and processed. The transition from green to brown was interesting to note and other processes like sorting and packaging were clearly explained. Though the main purpose of the IV had been fulfilled, there was more to look forward to.  We had a very light lunch at Kodanadu View Point. We could see the entire stretch of hills around Kotagiri from there. Not very impressed, we clicked pics and decided to return to Bel Air. As it was dark by then, we kept ourselves occupied by playing Frisbee and Dumb Charades in the garden. At dinnertime, we enjoyed playing 'Passing the Parcel' around the campfire. Prior to hitting the sack, we had a session of 'Truth or Dare' . It was fun getting to know one's deepest desires with no offence, or the expression on one's face after having performed an arduous yet hilarious task.

September 22, 2012:  After a good night's slumber, we had breakfast at Bel Air and decided to visit Doddabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiri range at 2637 m. We had to change from buses to jeeps in the vicinity of the peak (to handle the narrow, winding roads with steep gradients well). The coniferous trees and the mist made the location seem picturesque. Lots of pictures were clicked, while we munched on carrots and purchased souvenirs. We had lunch at a restaurant in Ooty. After a while, we went to Pykara Lake . The place was water-starved despite the clouds and rainfall, but verdant and picturesque. Those clad in green seemed to blend in with the surroundings. After the visit to the tea estate, we could see shades of green and brown in action again! It seemed like an exotic locale in Europe ! Lots of pictures were clicked, amidst logs, bogs and meadows. I feel Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or Twilight could have been filmed at Pykara, rather than Europe or North America. No castle or mansion could be seen though! We went back to Ooty after sunset and had dinner at a Dominos Pizza outlet. We purchased home-made chocolates (Ooty is famous for them) and reached Kotagiri at around 9 pm. Dinner was served for those who didn't have anything in Ooty. As we were tired, we went to bed a little earlier than the previous night.

September 23, 2012: Most of us woke up after 8 am. After breakfast, we packed our bags and decided to bid adieu to Kotagiri. We left in the afternoon at around 1 pm, when it started raining cats and dogs . A picture of our group was clicked, amidst the downpour. We reached Mettupalayam at around 4 pm and had a light lunch. The eateries didn't appeal to us much-most of them were tea-stalls or roadside cafes (dhabas). After a while, we proceeded towards Vellore, halting at Bhavani Sagar Dam on the way. There was a park in the vicinity, where we played games like kabbadi and lock-and-key. We left Bhavani Sagar at around 6:30 pm. We decided to have dinner at an Adyar Ananda Bhavan outlet near Dharmapuri. We departed at around 11pm and finally reached VIT Vellore at 2:45 am ( September 24, 2012). We were exhausted after the 13 hour journey, so we feel asleep after reaching our respective hostel blocks. We probably missed some classes in the morning, but some were cancelled too! :)

We were back to the routine of Continuous Assessment Tests, quizzes, assignments, reviews and seminars, but rejuvenated after the trip to the Nilgiris! I have visited Himalayan hill resorts like Dhanolti (Uttarakhand), Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir), Gangtok (Sikkim) and Darjeeling (West Bengal) with my family. But visiting a quaint town like Kotagiri with my friends in VIT is an experience in itself! It's an unforgettable trip, etched in the sands of time. After all a thing (or a place) of beauty is a joy for ever. :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What I feel about friendship

'A man is judged by the company he keeps.' This is a true saying. Apart from the place you grow up in and your family, friends have a profound effect on your psyche. For instance, if you socialize with the crowd you meet in church every Sunday, you'll probably think like them and abhor evil. You can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Choose them wisely.

I've always liked the Harry Potter series for showing what true friendship is about. We have a lot to learn from Harry and Ron. They were depicted as polar opposites, yet managed to become the best of friends. Harry could have chosen to be with Draco Malfoy, but decided to remain with Ron. The friendship between Harry and Ron wasn't bereft of problems either. They quarreled several times, but were ready to forgive each other. Anyway, I feel Hermione was there as a neutralizing factor. It's amazing to note that Harry and Ron remained best friends even after marriage (generally, friendships aren't strong after marriage.)

Let's come back to the Muggle world I grew up in. I was an introvert, with very few friends in school. I regret not having socialized much. In college, I regret having made many mistakes while choosing friends. It was stupid of me to choose friends who weren't right for me. I went out of the way to be friendly and caring towards people. But I realized that it was futile to expect them to reciprocate the same.

There is no such thing as true friendship in college. In a materialistic world of make-believe, people change with time and so do their friends. It really hurts when people ignore other friends when they get into relationships. Come on! Think of the plight of single people too! The campus is supposed to be cosmopolitan, but there's apparently no unity among students! Groups divided on a linguistic basis seem sickening. I agree that it's important to preserve and promote the cultures of different states, but not at the cost of becoming clannish.  This is a major impediment to friendship. During college farewell parties, students realize that they may never meet their friends in the future. It's really hard to say goodbye, isn't it?

If someone asks me the number of friends I have, 545 seems unrealistic, considering I merely know 20 really well. Even those 20 are not met on a regular basis (Thank you, FFCS-Fully Flexible Credit System!). Poking,tagging and liking does not give the same feeling as listening to a friend's dulcet tones in person (Or at least, over the phone).

Hanging out can foster better understanding among people. I've never had a friend or a group with whom I could plan a trip to Spain (Like the 3 guys in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). Forget Spain, a visit to Apna Dhaba (an eatery near the VIT campus) seems to be a big ordeal!

Friends, get out of your comfort zones. Your cocoons become your limitations. Go out and make new friends!

J.K. Rowling
“Harry - you're a great wizard, you know."
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - friendship and bravery and - oh Harry - be careful!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

“True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.”
― Charles Caleb Colton

Muhammad Ali
“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.”
― Muhammad Ali

Abraham Lincoln
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” 

Mahatma Gandhi
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Mark Twain
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

Bob Marley
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
― Bob Marley

William Shakespeare
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
― William Shakespeare

Jess C. Scott
“Friends are the family you choose (~ Nin/Ithilnin, Elven rogue).”
― Jess C. ScottThe Other Side of Life

C.J. Langenhoven
“Friends should be like books, few, but hand-selected. ”
― C.J. Langenhoven

Benjamin Franklin
“Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Culture shock: Ahmedabad and Bangalore blues :)

There's a famous saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." One always takes things for granted back home-such as good food at home or in restaurants, multiplexes where one can watch a variety of movies, other hang-out spots and above all, the security, comforts and conveniences of home(as opposed to a hostel) and Mother's love (Yes Papa, you too!). Only when one moves away does one realize how much one misses them-small things, but magnified in importance with time. Truly, home is where the heart is.
The city you are born or brought up in will assume prime importance,as it tends to grow on you. Moving to another place is bound to result in culture shock, as people do not act the same everywhere. Habits such as food, clothing, tastes in music and literature, vary from place to place as a manifestation of cultural differences.Culture shock may occur because of differences between expectations and reality as well; for an alien, a new place is not the same as what it looks like on TV or in books. Experience is the best teacher one can get. I did experience culture shock when I moved from Ahmedabad to Vellore in 2008, for pursuing a five year integrated Master's degree after school. Though I am a Tamilian, I have a special affinity for Gujarat rather than Tamil Nadu. I prefer vada pav, farsan and aamras to idli sambar and lemon rice! You can say I am a 'Gujaratified' Tamilian. But I didn't feel like that earlier. It's surprising to note that my favorite city was Madras(sorry, I have a fondness for old names of cities) before I went to study in VIT Vellore. I took everything in Ahmedabad for granted. I never liked it when I was living there, thinking Madras was great while Ahmedabad was hot, dusty and polluted, a medieval city of crumbling monuments, congested streets,pols and nothing more. One year in Vellore changed that opinion: Ahmedabad became my favorite city all of a sudden, and I started liking Bangalore more than Madras too. I probably thought Madras was a bigger version of Vellore.

Ahmedabad is a major city of India. It's a gourmet's paradise, a hub for gastronomy.People are fond of eating and are willing to experiment with different cuisines. They celebrate with food-it's more than just for nutrition or filling the belly. Seasons change and so do food items available to eat. Dalwada is for the rains, Aamras for summer, fafda-jalebi for Dusshera, and oondiya or sev-tamatar for winter. On the other hand, Vellore is a small town, merely known for its private university-VIT, missionary hospital-CMC, and for being the hottest place in Tamil Nadu :) I know it's stupid comparing the two, which are as different as apples and oranges, but let's see what Vellore needs to learn from bigger cities like Ahmedabad and Bangalore. I have been to many states in India, but Gujarat offers the most mind-boggling variety of food, at least in terms of vegetarian items. It's easy to get the food of Tamil Nadu(like dosas and idlies) in Gujarat, but the converse is not true. Try getting vada pav, dabeli, gota, buffvada, other farsan items and aamras in Tamil Nadu. You may not get them anywhere in Tamil Nadu, and even if you do, they'll be ridiculously overpriced! A dabeli costs Rs 10 in Ahmedabad, while it's available for Rs 75 (gasp!) at a high-end mall in Madras. Ahmedabad offers a better variety of ice-creams too. There's more than just vanilla, strawberry, mango, chocolate or pineapple available at any ice-cream joint in Ahmedabad. Arun is a poor equivalent of Vadilal,Havmor or Amul.  A glass of soda is available at any branch of Gandhi Soda Shop for just Rs 5. Served under hygienic conditions, many flavors are available, apart from ice-cream soda for just Rs 15. 
RK or Jay Bhavani vada pav, Karnavati dabeli, Dakor gota, farali buff vada, Honest bhaji pav,Continental/Indian/Chinese food at Choice, Havmor ice-creams, juice and snacks at Shambhu's Coffee Bar, Gandhi soda, Astodia/Raipur/Sabarmati jail bhajia and the exquisite Gujarati thalis served at Vishala, Rajwadu and Gordhan Thal-these are a few of my favorite items I can't resist having when in Ahmedabad and which I miss in Vellore. Not the best of Vellore food served at Darling and Baby (these are funny names of so-called top-notch restaurants in Vellore) can appease my taste buds. I have also noticed that food in Vellore is a tad too spicy for comfort (cooks in Vellore have a habit of adding red chillies to everything.) That's probably because people in Ahmedabad love food which tends to be on the sweeter side; Gujarati food is known for its sweetness.  
If one needs to watch a movie in Ahmedabad, one is spoilt for choice in terms of multiplexes-PVR, Cinepolis, Cinemax, Big Cinemas, Wide Angle, City Pulse, City Gold and more. Vellore, on the other hand, struggles with single screen cinema halls like Raghavendra. It's rare to see English films being shown in Vellore without being dubbed in Tamil. One may have to go all the way to Madras to watch the latest one. Moreover, Vellore does not have a single outlet of McDonalds, Dominos, US Pizza or Pizza Hut, which we take for granted elsewhere. I hope it gets at least one of them soon.

 Another city I like a lot is Bangalore, the city I was born in. People generally don't like the dosas of darshinis served with sweet sambar, but I think otherwise. Masala dosas served at Shanti Sagar, MTR (Lalbagh Road), Adigas or Chalukya (Race Course Road) seem to taste better than the same served at Saravana Bhavan or Sangeeta. I probably prefer the Karnataka (Udupi) style to the Tamil Nadu style dosas because I want them golden-brown, thick, crispy and served with sweet sambar. The Tamil Nadu style sambar's a bit too insipid for my liking.

I don't hate Vellore, but I just can't like it as much as Ahmedabad or Bangalore. People may consider this blog post to be 'Vellore bashing' but whatever has been mentioned is straight from the heart. I hope I like a city more than Ahmedabad or Bangalore in the future. By the way, it's time for me to go to Vastrapur lake and have my evening quota of vada pav and Gandhi soda! Aavjo (Goodbye)! :)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

M.Sc Biotechnology students-sob for a job! :)

“What do you want to do on completion of this course?” is a question asked by many. It’s very difficult to answer that question! It’s because there’s always a difference between what we want to do, what we end up doing and what we actually get. If you ask a kid what he or she wants to become in life, the answer will be clear (doctor, engineer or pilot) initially, but will change with time. Situations can make one change one’s goals suddenly. For instance, one might have had a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, being fascinated by stars and wanting to explore outer space. But with time and growing levels of sense, practicality and maturity, one becomes down-to-earth and probably settles for a more attainable, softer option such as investment banking. It’s been no different for me. I have had wacky goals of becoming a teacher of social science, then an astronomer and a bike racer! J

But I gave up on those dreams, as they were not feasible to be followed considering my impulsive temperament and my awareness levels those days. I became interested in life sciences when I was in the eleventh grade (as I did well in a nationwide Biotechnology Olympiad). I decided that biotechnology would be a suitable career option for me. The thought of modifying DNA to heal the world seemed amazing to me. My dream company was Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotech firm. I thought biotechnology could make a better impact than information technology in any way. I wanted to join VIT University and pursue its well-known B.Tech programme in biotechnology. But sadly, my VITEEE-2008 rank (5327) wasn’t enough, though I had been called for counselling. I had done better in VITEEE compared to other engineering entrance exams. I was left with 2 options: To pursue a B.Sc in life sciences at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad or the newly introduced 5-year integrated M.Sc programme in Biotechnology offered by VIT University, Vellore. I opted for the latter, thinking it’d be an excellent alternative to the B.Tech programme offered by VIT.

Three and a half years later, looking at the final year B.Tech Biotechnology students getting placed or coming to Vellore for their reviews, I feel a better VITEEE rank would have made a significant difference. Placements are assured for B.Tech Biotechnology students, as the course is well-known and established. It’d have been really different if Maaruthy, Mayur and Anchit had been my classmates, though there’s no shortage of creative people in my class such as Deeptiman, a fellow blogger. I can’t understand why M.Sc Biotechnology students aren’t given priority for placements. I feel a plethora of subjects, ranging from modern physics to environmental health, is covered in the curriculum. But why we can’t intern at ISRO or a pollution control agency (just because it’s mentioned that M.Sc Biotechnology students are not eligible?) Not everyone can pursue a PhD after an M.Sc, owing to financial or other constraints. Pursuing an MBA after an M.Sc may raise a lot of questions, as an additional investment has to be made, for yet another Masters degree! Cognizant can hire M.Sc Chemistry graduates but why not M.Sc Biotechnology graduates (in the life-sciences department)? This was something I got to know from a classmate of mine, Kshitija. What do M.Sc Biotechnology students lack which other graduates apparently have? Nothing! It’s not industry-specific skills (M.Sc Biotechnology students have had more rigorous laboratory sessions than B.Tech students-who have readymade culture media provided for ease in performing experiments and reporting results.) It’s really sad, considering M.Sc Biotechnology students spend 5 years learning and trying to apply what’s been learnt, yet falter when it comes to employability in the global scenario.

I agree it’s a competitive world out there, where the ascent up the corporate ladder is full of people waiting to pull you down. So go ahead, do what it takes to get that dream job, as you are different from others. Looking at your CV, recruiters should feel you're different. You can be a successful person with a good job amidst a crowd of others. It is sad that engineering and medicine rule the roost as the most popular careers in India, apart from management, civil services, chartered accountancy and banking. There are other options in sectors like hospitality and hotel management, but they’re not popular owing to lack of awareness. Moreover, a doctor or engineer still commands respect in society, as pay packets are good despite the recession. I got to know from today’s newspaper that a B.Tech student of NIT-Allahabad got a mind-boggling offer from Facebook. No wonder M.Sc students turn green with envy. Now I feel it’s worth dropping a year after school, to pursue a B.Tech degree after slogging for engineering entrance tests. Siddhant (a B.Tech Biotechnology student) couldn’t pursue a career in medicine. But he decided to make the best of whatever he got. He stood first in his batch and went to Imperial College, London for his final semester project.

I hope an apparently underestimated course such as M.Sc Biotechnology gets recognized not merely in society, but in terms of employability as well. It’ll be justified if some people such as professors dare to venture into entrepreneurship and generate new avenues (in terms of employment) in different sectors for M.Sc Biotechnology students.