Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food Crisis. Surprised? No.

Vir Sanghvi is a jury member that selects contestants who appear on the new Shahrukh Khan quiz show 'Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain?' which is Indian version of globally hit show 'Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?'. (Counterpoint, Hindustan Times,27th April)

He has seen the tapes of peoples' auditions for the show and read their forms and on the basis of this he gives his version of 'Mood of the Nation Poll' albeit softened to be called 'Mood of the Middle India'. The middle class is cheerful, doesn't complain about anything and is hopeful about the future. TV and Mobile are integral parts of life and everyone wears good clothes and looks prosperous. But what about food?

You may laugh at this question. What about food, we have more pressing issues to think about than worry about something as lowly as food. You have money and you can buy food. But in this country where agriculture minister is more interested in running the richest sports body in the country (BCCI) and finance minister is bothered about rise and fall of sensex more than rise of fiscal deficit, food is still one of the biggest expenses for many Indians who don't own TV and mobile.

For many years now, agriculture growth has languished at less than 2% but continuous double digit growth figures in other sectors of economy have ensured that we shine as 'one of the fastest growing economies'. Not that this fact was not known, but for Indian media the agriculture crisis meant farmer suicides in Vidarbha only. No body talked about reducing productivity of Indian fields, more farmers moving to growing cash crops (sugar, cotton, jute etc.) rather than food grains and incoherent Government policies which would motivate farmers to sell to open market rather than Government and hence cause a supply demand imbalance.

And the usual cockiness that comes with money! We can afford to go to costliest hotels and restaurants and food was something we took for granted. We thought that we have reached stage where food security was something as natural as ... well food itself!

Western countries had their special contribution in aggravating problem. Surge in use of BioFuel ensured more cultivation and use of sugar crops like sugarcane and beet and maize and corn for producing fuel, lead to shortage of these for human consumption!

The need of the hour is to estimate our needs and necessities honestly and realistically. Think of whole country and just not focus on 'resurgent' middle class. Remember what happened to 'India Shining' campaign?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

'Paanchvi Pass' Facebook Application fails.

Now that IPL has generated massive interest across the country and is getting headline coverage across news channels, the general entertainment channels are leaving no stones unturned to ensure that their programs get viewer shares too.

Star Plus is launching new reality game show based on super successful 'Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?' hosted by Shahrukh Khan, 'Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hai?'. Star has launched a Facebook application called 'Paanchvi Pass' which promises to give you loads of prizes if you answer all the questions correcly.All very good. I played the quiz and at most times ignored the fact that questions were no where related to syllabus of fifth class. However the problem is that some questions have wrong answers!

For example, the game tells you that first novel of James Bond series is 'Diamonds are Forever'.Actually it is 'Casino Royale'. Kolar is famous for its gold mines not Copper, the right answer would have been 'Khetri'.

These are only two of the bloopers I noticed. There can be many. I wanted to,but could not find any link for feedback. Even finding contest rules is a challenge!

It is a good idea and may be I wouldn't have written this post, had there been no talk of any prize or anything. For those who like quizzing it would have been a good timepass but when there is booty involved, you must have your house in order else you are cheating your users.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In the Nilgiris: Ooty, Coonoor, Wellington and everywhere between them!

At Coimbatore airportMy tourist spirits sank as I saw perhaps the first (and hence the oldest!) ATR Turbo Prop of Air Deccan whose age was in complete contrast to the spanking new Hyderabad International Airport from where it was getting ready to fly to Coimbatore. However some good photo ops in the plane and greenery of Coimbatore city cheered me up as we landed at surprisingly small and comfortingly cozy Coimbatore airport.
My plan was to take the Nilgiri Passenger to Ooty from Mettupalayam, a small town at the foothills of Nilgiris and a hub for public and goods transport to the hill towns. This train, popularly known as Toy Train covers a distance of 46 km in 5 hours uphill and in 3.5 hours on return journey. So I took a bus to Mettupalayam in the night itself, stayed there in a lodge (you can find plenty of accomodation there at very economic prices) so that I could take the train in the morning.

Mettupalayam Railway StationBuses ply from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam every half an hour from Mettupalayam bus stand which is very near to Coimbatore's main bus stand,Gandhipuram. Mettupalayam is a small town which is at the foothills of Nilgiris at the doorstep of Coonoor and Ooty. It can be reached from Chennai via Coimbatore by Nilgiri Express which reaches here at 6.30 am. Just in time for you to get the toy train to Ooty which departs at 7.10 am.

Under normal circumstances, I would have got the tickets but since this was a long weekend, there were no tickets available. Normally, the Mettupalayam railway station booking office opens at 5.30 am(!) and you should be there early to book your tickets, but if you are travelling in peak tourist seasons, keep in mind that you need to get your tickets reserved (yes, reserved for a passenger train!) atleast a day in advance.

I thought quickly (which means that after getting a non-commital answer from station master about ticket availability and a very early breakfast of idli-vada in station canteen, I sat for about half an hour!) and decided to take a bus to Ooty and then board the return train towards Mettupalayam. For the entire 1 hour journey till Coonoor I hanged precariously near the gate so that I could get a better view of the mountains and valleys. If you have been to an IMAX theater (where entire view in front of your eyes covered with screen) you would understand how it feels when all you can see is lush green forest covered slope of a hill, unmarred by any tree or telephone wires!

Coonoor is a beautiful town with major tourist attractions and perhaps the largest Coonoor Townmarket among its neighboring villages and towns like Wellington, Arwankad, Kattaji etc. Nilgiri district is famous for tea. You must have heard of Nilgiri tea, which is prominent alongside Darjeeling tea and Assam tea. Coonoor is the headquarter of United Planters Association of South India and has one of the seven tea auction houses in India! The slopes of Nilgiri around Coonoor and neighboring towns are covered with tea gardens which often surround their owner tea factories.

Coonoor is just 19 km from Ooty but due to very bad (and at places dangerously narrow!) road the journey takes about 1.5 hrs. However once I reaced Ooty, all the potholes in the road were forgiven! Sitting undisturbed and unhurried on Udhagamandalam (Ooty) railway station, with Mark Tully's 'The Heart Of India' in hand I thanked God for being so kind to me as to give me such a beautiful experience!

A view from trainAfter waiting about 2 hrs,the journey in Nilgiri Passenger seemed a bit of an anticlimax. 10 people were crammed in a space sufficient for 6 and I had much better views of the scenery from the bus (actually, I was hardly able to shoot anything!). However this journey turned out to be surprisingly memorable when one of my co-passengers turned out to be a guy I had met during SSB Bhopal, 9 years ago. He recognized me when TC called out my name (I was the only one to be called, everyone else had got their tickets checked!) and I surprised even myself with instantaneously recognizing him!

I got down at Wellington, a typical military town; crisp, clean and smart. For those who don't know, Wellington houses Army Staff College. My brother was undergoing a course there and I was visiting him. His home happened to be in a location that will make a good hotel proud! Panoramic view of entire Wellington surrounded by hills on all sides covered by endearing silence.

The TeaAround 5 km from Coonoor lies 'Lamb's Rock' on the way to 'Dolphin's nose' which is another 5 km. The road to both these extremely popular view points is extremely bad and narrow but provides amazing views. On one side you will see clouds floating in the valley and on the other you can savor the greenery of the tea gardens. On a clear day, which is VERY rare due to mist and clouds hanging around, you can see as far as Mettupalayam. At Dolphin's nose we tasted different types of tea and my pick is 'Chocolate Tea' which actually tastes like hot chocolate and has a special method for preparation. An absolute recommendation. And the famous 'Orange Pekoe' which sells for as much as 600 rs/kg!
Brooklands Tea Factory
I love the smell of tea and though I am not an avid tea conneissour, I love its rich aroma. So while our tea factory guide at Brooklands Tea Factory was showing and explaining various steps involved in the process of making packaged tea from leaves, I was trying to assimilate that wonderful smell for my memories!

Kotagiri is 20 km from Coonoor and believe it or not, I went there just because the road is good and I had a two-wheeler! Facing the gust of wind, you can feel the chill in the air if you pass under shadow of tree even for a few meters. I know I was driving a little too fast and on this road where you can turn about 270 degree without seeing the straight road, this was not wise but no doubt exciting!

There are many more places to visit in Coonoor and Ooty. But if you are a nature lover you will find beauty at every step of the Nilgiris.

Here are the photos:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bollywood Trivia: Om Shanti Om

(Courtesy: Picture This, NDTV 24x7)
The climax of Om Shanti Om was lifted from old classic 'Madhumati'. In this movie's climax when Madhumati's look-alike gets delayed, Madhumati's ghost herself appears to seek revenge.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Handle With Care: India-China Relations!

CNN-IBN has a knack of surprising its viewers. They talked to Saurav Ganguly about his reaction to Baichung Bhutia's decision of not carrying Olympic Torch as a way of showing support to Tibetan movement. I wondered aloud, how the heck does Ganguly come into picture here! Bhutia hails from Sikkim and he said he is a Buddhist and wants to show his support to Tibetan movement. Ganguly is not a Buddhist, he doesn't belong to Sikkim or anyother state that has issues with China (unless you consider Left's Chinese infatuation!) and what's more he was not going to carry the torch!

However I think, had someone asked foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee his opinion about Bhutia's decision, he might have said 'Baichung Bhutia is a respected player of India and we would continue to offer him all hospitality but he should not do anything that will adversely affect Indo-China relations'.

He might have added that newspapers which publish stories about Chinese intrusions in Indian territory or Chinese building bunkers and road along India-China border and LAC (Line of Actual Control) are respected media houses but they are adversely affecting India-China relations.

I don't know if he called up Indian envoy to China Nirupama Rao to tell her that even if Chinese external affairs ministry keeps on calling her at 2 am she should happily go else it may 'adversely affect Indo-China relations'.

But I think he would not be losing sleep over German Chancellor Anjela Merkel's decision to not attend Beijing Olympics opening ceremony or French President Nicholas Sacozy's threat of France boycotting the games since that may not 'adversely affect Indo-China relations'. Also Pranab da should be terribly happy with his colleague Shivraj Patil's ministry which has downplayed Chinese threats to India and protrayed China as a superpower with a great impact on this region politically, economically and militarliy. This would have enforced India-China relations to a great deal!

I hope I won't be told now to stop writing something that 'adversely affects Indo-China relations'!

(If you are wondering what is this about read here)