Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Memories of 'Project Carrot'

“This gajar ka halwa tastes heavenly Maa…..yummmm!” I spoke through a mouth full of Mom’s home cooked delicacy, finishing off my plate in a few seconds, and pushed it across the table towards her.
“What now?” Mom asked.
“Maa ….. Don’t pretend like you do not know why I’m pushing my plate towards you. Come on, another helping please!”
“But our son hates carrots, doesn’t he?” Mom looked mischievously at Dad who nodded in affirmation.
“Maa, it’s been more than a decade now, how many times do you need to remind me of that?”
Dad put a dollop of gajar halwa in his mouth and smirked, “We never tire of that story, son! If not for my ingenious Project Carrot, you wouldn’t have known what gajar halwa is! So, we’d continue to play it in loop, from time to time! Consider it payback from us …….!” He let out a guffaw, and Mom laughed too.
        Much as I tried, I could never forget that for the first fourteen years of my life, I had led a rebellion against eating vegetables. Any efforts by my parents to force feed me veggies was countered, using violent tantrums. So, although they despised it, the most frequently adopted measure opted for by them was ceasefire, by omitting vegetables. I had been happy with the arrangement.
But a hilarious turn of events changed all that.

Oct 2002, Ooty:            
      We had been to Ooty for the holidays, and were having a lovely time. Shah Rukh Khan’s “Chhaiya Chhaiya” had been a rage for the past few years, and I was eagerly looking forward to having a ride on that toy train, the Nilgiri Mountain Railways, on which SRK had performed his famous dance steps. We drove around Ooty, admiring its picturesque landscape, with the train ride scheduled for the late afternoon. All over the town, we had seen vendors selling bright orange carrots. But I had no idea as to, what was coming!
 At the spot before the train ride, Dad took me aside and told me, he was sorry they had to keep me off the ride.
I was shocked! “WHY?” I demanded.
“That’s because we have decided not to allow anybody on the train that does not eat vegetables. Start eating carrots now and you’re getting on with us!” Dad’s demeanour was cool.
“NO WAY!” I bellowed.
“Then I’m sorry, there’s no way we are buying you a ticket for the ride!”
We had my uncle and aunt with us on the tour. “I’ll ask them” I pointed towards them, “I don’t need you to buy me a ticket!”
“Try them!” Dad had a twinkle in his eyes. I feared that this was all set up.
“This is cheating! You’re teaming up against me …..You’re torturing me!” I was about to fly into a rage.
“Now, Titas, Shut up and don’t be silly ………….. Here’s the deal--- you eat a carrot, you go on the train. However, to give you moral support, I’ll eat one with you too.”
I felt betrayed by all, but here was something for which I had waited for long, that now hung in balance. I weighed my options. I couldn’t possibly surrender this coveted train ride!
“Don’t worry son, it’s not poison we’re giving you. I’m quite sure, once you take the first bite, you’d love it. These carrots look pretty too…….plucked fresh off the fields here!” Dad went on.
“OK!” I relented, glaring back, “but I’ll remember your bluff forever!”
Dad walked over to a vendor, bought a few carrots from him and held them out to me.
“This better be good …….,”I told myself, ears burning from embarrassment.
My mom, aunt, uncle were trying hard to suppress their laughter. Other members of our bus had now joined in to have a look at the proceedings. Mom even took out the camera to capture the moment. “Come on Titas, this is royal treatment being meted out to someone, just for eating his first veggie!”
I felt like a fool, shut my eyes, and took a bite, trying to chew off the orange stick without even tasting it. I had prepared myself for some vile taste, and was ready to puke. On the contrary, the carrot didn’t seem inedible …………it actually tasted good.
I proceeded to take further bites till I had finished off the whole carrot. Now it was my parents’ turn to glare back.
“Well, somebody here has eaten a whole carrot at the blink of an eye! How’s that for a start?”
Suddenly, I had no answer but to admire my shoelaces! Our whole entourage had started giggling. I too smiled foolishly.
On the Nilgiri toy train too, I rode firmly tongue-in-cheek!

“So, on that note Titas , considering the troubles we had to undertake for making you eat a carrot, we refuse to sanction your extra helping of gajar halwa!” Dad declared.

“….and for making a circus clown out of me at Ooty, I demand an extra helping!” I winked, as I took the spoon from Mom and helped myself to a generous amount!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Rice, Water ....and Facepalm !!

 To put it simply, I'm in an illicit relationship with food: It is simply based on lust ! I devour good food, but I hate cooking. I despise going to the kitchen, and I'm oblivious about how to make even the simplest of dishes.
      It's therefore deducible that I have ended up with major face palm moments , whenever I have been forced to give up my indignation at cooking , and prepare something for myself . Speaking from prior experience, I can state that being armed with zero-expertise , you can land in major food fixes , at the most ridiculous of situations. 
      So , with a thoroughly crimson face as I get reminded of this incident, I take you back to December 2002 , when I was in an adventure camp in the rocky hills of Purulia in western fringes of Bengal . I was part of a group of 8 advanced campers, who, under supervision of two instructors, had to spend a couple of days away from the campsite-proper . We had to build our own makeshift shelters , learn to gather  firewood and cook our own food , after trekking up a rocky hill trail . 
       On reaching a suitable spot after 4 hours of toil, I was terribly hungry , but our ration consisted of rice grains , uncooked eggs and a few pieces of potatoes. With hunger gnawing at my intestines, I gathered dry leaves & chopped dry branches and twigs with a vengeance , to assimilate firewood quickly. After a lot of effort sitting hunched down in front of two stones with the fuel material accumulated between them, and guarding the wind blowing across, I could finally light a fire . Taking a saucepan out of my rucksack and putting the rice and some potatoes in it , I placed it on my self-made stove and sat down with another wood piece , occasionally stoking the fire . Looking around , I found some of my fellow campers were already cooking , while a few others were still huffing & puffing over the dry branches, struggling to light up the firewood. The instructors were moving around, checking the progress , and occasionally lending a helping hand.
         After about 15 minutes, I found no discernible change in my saucepan, but I told myself that I had to be patient . One of the instructors came to check on me , asking me, " How's it going, Titas? Ah.....Nice fire you've done here !" I looked up to say "thanks",  but to my surprise, I found him staring at my saucepan with a queer look on his face 
   " What's this you're preparing, may I know ? " , he enquired.
   " Cooking some rice ,sir ", I replied coyly . 
   " Then where's the ........" , he peered more closely into my saucepan ," where's the water ??" 
      It was my turn to get puzzled. " What water sir ? " , I enquired .
      " Titas , you're cooking rice . Where is the water you have added ?" , the instructor was still incredulous. 
       " Do I need to ADD water to this rice to get it cooked ?" , I was appalled !  
      The instructor simply slumped down on the grass beside me. By this time people around had also taken notice , and gathered around my oven. A few were giggling . I still could not make head or tail of what was wrong. I had to add water to cook rice ?? I didn't have the slightest inkling what they were talking about . 
         The other instructor spoke up, " Titas , haven't you ever seen rice being cooked at home ? It boils , and you have to decant the extra water once it's done .......don't say you haven't seen it ever !" 
        I had indeed seen it , but I spoke what my mind knew , " Yes sir , but I thought , that the water came out of the rice grains when it was being cooked! " 
          There was a roar of laughter at this , and even the two instructors were reduced to tears of laughter . I was embarrassed beyond my wits . My ears burned . Here was I, an expert rock climber of the team , who possessed all trekking skills , but even the slowest and worst climber was now having a hearty laugh . The joke was on me! My loathing of kitchen practices had played a cruel game on my prestige ! 
        I remember one of the instructors sitting down with me to help me fix up a dish of sorts. Even then , the rice and eggs were undercooked, but I was too ashamed to complain ! I finished every last bit of it without a word! 
        It is almost thirteen years now that I had got into this  food fix ,  but my epic silliness coupled with lack of cooking concept , ensured that the scars of the public shaming hasn't quite healed yet!  

Friday, 21 August 2015

Possibilities with 4G

    Not a very long time ago, I had to fight with my phone when it hung while trying to post a Facebook status . In dire situations, where the page hung while the status was being uploaded , I tried various self made tricks on it , like holding it out in awkward angles ( as if the net connectivity depended on it) , talking lovingly to it, coercing it to allow me to simply post the status and then get disconnected! The few times I got through , I patted myself on the back that my cajoling had indeed worked, but majority of the times, it simply fell flat on its face and I had to rethink the entire status update and write it down, all the while cursing under my breath!  So the relationship between my internet connectivity and me was one based on compromises . On days, I even wondered whether the 2G connection that I believed I was being given was a bluff ........as the network seemed more close to 1/2G ( if ever there was one) !    
            Fast forward a few years , and we've already rolled on to the Lightning fast 4G ! Airtel has brought across this treat for all of us netizens who are perpetually harassed by our internet speeds on the go! Since I spend a huge amount of the day on my phone , brushing up new medical notes, or reading the newspapers , I think the agonising days of waiting for a webpage to load is finally over . I can now seamlessly read a news headline and its main report without having to stare for an eternity at the headline only , while the body of the news takes its own sweet time to load . Moreover , I can finally dump that dreaded word called 'buffering' into the recycle bin , as watching videos will now become a smooth experience . A silly circle rotates forever whenever we need to see a video on YouTube , and by the time the first part of the video runs, were already out of patience. There's nothing more frustrating than getting an HD video to start playing in all its glory , and then quickly move into 144p quality! Thankfully , all these will be history now, and we would talk about these internet hardships to the future generations. Downloading large videos will now be a breeze . And one of the endless possibilities of a fast internet is that the attachments in an email would load instantly , removing the grievances that we might have on a busy day when the mail fails to download the attached files! 
                  Thus , Airtel 4G ushers in a new era of super fast internet connectivity on our phones. We get to realise that it's a pioneering deal. 296 cities is a pretty vast number of cities to start with, but the citizens of these 296 places would savour every bit of this new experience. Hope , whole of India is 4G connected soon! 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Within My Sky Room

My room is the only place in the whole world that I can claim to belong solely to me ........inside its four walls is my kingdom , where I'm the supreme sovereign ! Every monarch aspires to portray his land in glorious lights, and so , it's natural for me to have aspirations to make my room akin to a dream land ! 'Heterogeneity' - that's how I would like to describe the state my mind is in, most of the time. And my room being the outwardly extension of the inner mind , would certainly bear the signs that would reflect heterogeneity in its appearance .

                 I'm a doctor by profession , and so, medicine would always be my soulmate. However ,I'm equally adept at handling the scalpel , and wielding telescopes and star charts , because my muse has always been the SKY - the vast expanse of nothingness that spreads like a giant umbrella above us ! It has never failed to intrigue me. As a child, I would sit fascinated under the night sky, staring at the stars, thinking how they were winking at me from high up. The constellations caught my imagination , and the planets moving across the zodiac belt charmed me. On visits to the countryside, I would lie under the open sky, to look up in awe at the illuminated streak across the sky,and wondered if somebody had actually drawn the Milky Way with a lazy stroke of the paint brush across a navy blue canvas. I slept under the sky , comfortably, and felt, the canopy of stars cared for me. The vastness of the sky caught my imagination. The vivid blue sky on a bright and sunny morning mesmerised my eyes. The ever changing colour palettes at dawn and dusk made me fall in love with the sky daily. 

                   It has been my childhood wish to dress up my own corner in my house in shades of the sky. Nothing can simulate the greatness that lies above us, but I have had dreams that my room would be themed on the sky . There would be a crescent of a moon , in some corner ,while the magnificent sprinkling of stars - the Milky Way can make its presence felt. A comet might adorn a part of the wall while a couple of shooting stars , frozen in time , would make the ceiling decor beautiful. 

                  The walls can have a myriad of sky blue shades , to act as the perfect foil to the night sky , that might be the ceiling . A false ceiling , concealing a pleasant blue light would make the appearance really stunning , when the light would reflect off the stars , comet or meteor designed and placed strategically . The room would fulfil my cravings for the beautiful sky, much of which is lost in today's city life due to incessant pollution . In my themed room, when I go to sleep every night, my mind will be at ease , feeling that ,the stars still look down upon me lovingly , just like they did , when I slept out on the roof in the countryside , in my childhood! 

                  I've been ever thankful , to be a part of this humongous universe , and my mind never loses trail of the fact , that we are nothing , compared to this vast space . Sitting in my room after a hard day at work would enable me to wash off any bitterness that I might have , as I would be able to attain salvation under the de-facto sky, in whom , I can confide my feelings. 

                 A place that would know my every secret deserves to be draped in the colours that soothe my mind . I believe, my sky themed room would become the hub, where I thrive peacefully for years to come! 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

WASH project : Coca-Cola seeks a safe tomorrow!

                  Working in public health for the past few years in and around Kolkata has given me an insight into the problem of acute water shortage in the urban slums, as well as lack of basic sanitation facilities. Thousands of families live in these slums, with dubious water sources quenching their thirst. In many cases, segregating water for washing clothes, utensils, and drinking is a luxury, so the whole family simply resorts to a single reservoir of stored water for every activity. Add to this the fact that many of them lack the knowledge that they need to wash hands with soap and water regularly. So, it isn’t surprising that , when an outbreak of enteric diseases like Typhoid and cholera occurs, they spread rapidly throughout these slums, because practising proper hygiene is not a norm here . Carrying out surveillance in many suburbs in the fringes of the city have also enabled me to realise that the text-book references of the minimum distance required between a toilet drain and a drinking water source is farcical. People are worried about getting a tiny dwelling place to squeeze into, so unless a major health hazard happens, nobody in these crowded suburbs would care to look  for violations of the norms for safe drinking water.


   It is a matter of huge significance that under these circumstances, TERI University and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in association with Coca-Cola and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) today launchedthe ‘Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings”  initiative inKolkata. The  WASH programme (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) aim to reach 50,000 beneficiaries in low income settlements and over 300 professionals through WASH governance studies. It will also reach out to 2,500 students through 20 municipal schools across India.

          This is a first-of-its-kind venture that identifies a basic problem plaguing the urban low-income group settlers, and it is commendable how the global soft drink giant Coca-Cola looks to alleviate some of it. Once the project is implemented, it will go a long way to empower the workforce present in the slums and help their development.


Sunday, 9 August 2015

Decoding Taazgi Ka Dhamaka : My Max Fresh Move

It's not everyday that I get in front of the camera and shoot myself, doing utterly hilarious dance steps! I have no qualms about admitting that I possess the stiffest pair of left feet that you might come across. So, the very fact that I dared myself to shoot this video, comes across as a vindication of Allu Arvind's call to show our moves to him!  

       Make no mistake, the "Taazgi ka Dhamaka" track for Colgate Max Fresh toothpaste is infectious. It invites you to come out of your shell and savour life, dancing away without a care in life. Anushka Manchanda pours every bit of her sensuous voice to enliven the peppy track. In the video, the effervescent Allu Arvind hops and skips around, waltzing at will through a wedding ceremony, even hijacking the bride for a brief leg-shaking.  Whilst the track played on, my feet swayed on its own, tapping the ground along with the beats. The tempo is high and your spirit starts gyrating to the tune that veers from Bollywood to hip-hop and back! As my feet went on declaring its will to perform its customary "drunken" steps, I gave up to its demands. 

     Most of the time when I indeed do these nonsensical moves, there's nobody to judge, as its always with friends having fun together.  The arms fling around aimlessly, and the pelvic thrusts come out easily.  That's precisely what I managed to replicate here. Trying to emulate Allu Sir is out of question.......however, there's no shame in giving it an honest try! But I should admit, encouraged by Allu and Anushka,  I indeed had one of the most exhilarating experiences of recent times.  "Taazgi ka Dhamaka" gave me the vent to dance away the recent predicaments I'm facing in my preparatory phase for some difficult exams!  So, cheers to Colgate Max Fresh , Allu and Anushka for helping me forget my worries for the time being and helping me enjoy a lot!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Raising a Toast to My Oldest Buddies

 I grew up as a 1990s kid, part of a generation that didn't have smartphones or tablets to start off their lives ---- even those grand old mobile phones with large keys & an ungainly antennae, were a few years away . But, my parents were eons ahead of their times, as they were my buddies, when the concept of 'buddy parenting' perhaps wasn't much in vogue. They didn't force me .......they enticed me into things that they wanted me to do ! That doesn't mean they granted each and every demand of mine. Dad and Mom devised novel plans to help me learn , not by strict imposition of rules , but by inculcating my lessons within things that I loved to do! And in the process, they themselves got an insight into the world ,through my perspective! 
                   I remember having an aversion towards vegetables , and Mom would have a tough time persuading me to eat a bowl of green veggies. But , she took the help of one Mr Popeye, the sailor, who derived inhuman strength after a mouthful of spinach ! Mom would sit with me for watching the cartoon show, and would always emphasise how Popeye managed to defeat the baddies by having spinach . I took to eating the despicable spinach dishes more out of curiosity than love , but even though I never developed rippling biceps even after eating lots of it, the habit stuck and Mom was successful! 
                      My first memory game experience came courtesy a Kellogg's cornflake pack , as nearly 20 years back , an Aladdin puzzle came free with the packs . Dad and mom would often sit with me , and help me in solving the game . It was quite addictive , and I had trouble solving , but Dad and mom too stuck to the task . I racked my brains hard in an effort to solve it, and I was successful after lots of effort, in the process attaining the zeal to never give up ! 
                     My school had computer classes from a very early age , and I must say that at the beginning , I wasn't too fond of the machines! But my parents told me that since they were 'technologically challenged' , they would like their 'smart' son to become their computer tutor and make them 'modern' ! I became more interested in learning the computer as I knew I had the job of teaching my parents . They took keen interest in learning the basics of Word, Excel , PowerPoint and became adept at handling PCs too ! 
                     I was very fond of cricket , so dad used my own ideas to make me sit for Mathematics! I could rattle off players' runs and averages , as I had learnt them by heart from the statistics shown on TV. Dad quoted those figures to compose sums and I took special care to solve them correctly . As Sachin Tendulkar piled on runs and Anil Kumble took loads of wickets , I could recite their figures in a series easily. Those figures became building blocks for Dad's sums and I must say , I learnt solving sums on averages and percentages from these great players' statistics only !! 
                 Dad also had this trait of asking me out for mathematical duels. He would challenge me to solve a set of sums correctly and faster than him ! As we both worked on the sums, I tried my level best to beat him . Although Dad finished earlier than me most of the time, on the days I beat him , I was elated. I now realise his 'defeats' must have been play-acting to retain my interest,lest I give up due to a train of losses , ( he possibly couldn't have lost out to me on skills). It did excite me a lot and encouraged me to practice harder. 
                 Even Mom had a similar trick up her sleeve. She would ask me to memorise a particular poem in fifteen minutes time and start the stopwatch, whilst she said she would finish off a work in the kitchen in that time. As the timer ran down , I read on vociferously, so that I could finish off before mom returned from the kitchen! 
                Mom taught me the art of recycling old items, when I tried to replicate simple science experiments at home . As I explained to her the principles behind pin-hole cameras and periscopes , she gave me the ideas as to how I could always use old shoe-boxes and discarded mirrors to construct the things ! 
                  But the biggest of influences that me and dad exerted on each other was in the field of Astronomy and Sky watching . It was one of the nights of a power cut in sultry Kolkata , some two decades back , when I accompanied Dad to the terrace for some fresh air. In the pitch darkness all around, the stars shone like jewels encrusted in the night sky . As Dad pointed his fingers to the sky and showed me the imaginary figure of the great hunter Orion , the mind of a five year old boy was enthralled. It kick-started my biggest pastime ---- as I got hooked on to astronomy big time. I would read kids' science magazines , getting astonished at the magnanimity of the universe and would excitedly tell Dad what I learnt . Even though Dad himself did not have too much idea about the cosmic world apart from the names of a few stars, he listened to me intently. He gradually developed an interest and procured a telescope . A few years later , he would join me for a year-long evening course on astronomy at our city's Planetarium ! Every Tuesday , my doctor Dad would hop in from hospital and sit for the hour long class. As I took notes, I could see him dozing off on occasions , but he vehemently denied the charges. Even though I became a doctor , my love for Astronomy never wavered. Later on , we would both join the Sky Watchers' Association in Kolkata . Irony lies in the fact that even though I myself am not able to undertake all the sky watching tours nowadays , Dad never misses out on these ,and comes back enriched with new knowledge, which he shares with me ! Talk about buddy parenting !! What started off as a carefree pointing out of celestial objects , so many years back , continues to fuel our common passion : it opened a treasure trove that remains an integral part of our son-dad chemistry !