Aug 19, 2009

What say fella?

Go ahead and vent our anger at the multiplex mania in Hyderabad... Put in one line and you can win a prize... It is called Masti Maha Combo.. Buy a Pepsi, note down the batch number on the lid, now multiply it with two and add the chassis number of your vehicle. If it adds up to 4, you are lucky. You can win a free meal with me.. Seriously... Comments and names are necessary. PS: This is not a cheap gimmick to get some clicks.. A genuine concern for my reader and for the larger good of the world... Seriously

Drama In Real Life

Published in Big Hyderabad August 2009
Going for a movie in a multiplex? Be ready to go down half a kilometer at a 60 degree gradient at 25 kmph into a tunnel for eight minutes to reach the parking space. Of course, wait for your turn at the ‘automatic electronic mechanized smart sensor-activated hydraulic gate’, where 27 cars are already honking, asking you to make way.
Movie watching in Hyderabad is as tough as movie making. Both involve a lot of planning, co-ordination, logistics etc. Even a year ago, you could just decide after dinner to catch a movie. You call friends, folks, neighbor’s and even neighbor’s dog to watch a movie. Pile into a car, descend on the ticket counterwalah and then watch the movie. Simple.
Now, it is a four hour ordeal, almost like flying from one place to the other. First, you can’t just walk into a theatre like that. Either tickets are booked by some corporate for his employees, or have been booked by fans. If it is a good movie, the blackmarketeers have bought the tickets. Moral of the story: Plan in advance.
Now, you have to go down half a kilometer at a 60 degree gradient at 25 kmph speed into a tunnel for eight minutes to reach the parking space. There, by the time you await the ‘automatic electronic mechanized smart sensor-activated hydraulic gate’, about 27 cars are already honking, asking you to make way while the automatic electronic… thingy takes its own sweet time to give you the parking ticket. Now, you need to walk up 900 metres, wait for the lift for seven minutes, ride up six floors for four minutes to reach your multiplex floor. No, we haven’t gotten half-way through.
Now, you are the 12th person in the line for the security check. Sorry, now you are the 4th person in the women’s line. But wait, now you will be ushered into a dingy 1x1 feet make-shift room where the stern and indifferent woman will feel you up with her gloved hands. Thank God. I am a safe human being to the mall.
Now, you are the 12th person in the line for the security check. Sorry, now you are the 4th person in the women’s line. No, I am not repeating myself. The previous security check was for the mall. Now, you are undergoing a second round of scans for the multiplex. You are let in after being declared safe.
Finally, when you settle down to watch the movie, you will listen to ‘Too hi To Jannat Meri ring tones four times, Bommaalee two times and a tinny version of unreleased Josh title song one time. After the ringtones of the one sitting four seats to the right of you and the one in the second row ahead of you, the movie begins.
After the movie, the ride is no less thrilling. Two escalators, two lifts, four minutes of waiting for the lift; walking through the basement for seven minutes while hearing 80 cars honk at you for going slow and obstructing the traffic… Finally, when you do get on to the main road after that thrilling uphill drive while honking maniacally, the movie experience is over. This is what is called movie drama in real life!

Aug 17, 2009

Movie review of Anjaneyulu

The one liners are spicy and heady – like Martini shots. The wise just enjoy his dialogues and walk out. The ones who sit through and complain are otherwise. For more look up

Aug 4, 2009

Magadheera movie review

It was almost a pressure cooker like situation for Ramcharan. First, the title sounded deceptively like his Dad Chiranjeevi’s movie Magadheerudu. Next, they inserted a super duper hit song from the Megastar’s super hit movie remixed to check his dancing prowess. Then, they even got Dad in a cameo to add to the weight. But to his credit, Ramcharan breaks out of the steam and the weight to come out with a movie that deserves a whistle. Magadheera is a must watch and a mast watch! More at

Jul 22, 2009

Less Style More Life Guru

Thank you dear recession for giving us back the good old days.
Published in Big Hyderabad, July 2009

Dear Recession!You are a stranger to us. We haven’t known each other for too long, have we? Just at the beginning of last year, when we were all having pipe dreams about owning farm houses on the Vikarabad highway and moving into gated communities on the Warangal highway, we were introduced to you. Recession, they said, had hit us. The word, incidentally, rhymes with repercussions. That’s not a nice word at all. A word my boss uses when I go wrong and he asks me with a nasty face whether I know of the ‘repercussions’ of my actions!
Till last year, it was Thank God It’s Friday. This year, the line is ‘Oh God, it’s the month end again’. Lifestyle split into two words. Style flew out of the window and life remained. Birthdays meant the office sponsoring a lunch at a place where they ask you ‘mineral’ or ‘regular’. We used to choose the former. Celebrations meant gifts and return gifts for all. A wedding anniversary was about a booze and snooze party at a friend’s farmhouse where he would sponsor the eats. A holiday meant buying expensive souvenirs without haggling for it. Salary was roughly divided into EMIs, Credit Card payments and since there was nothing much left, it again meant applying for fresh loans and paying through credit cards. Saving was a word that we associated with washing powder ads where they talk about saving Rs 3 on every packet of washing powder. All that before we met you!
Now, we celebrate birthdays at home and pass on a box of Kaju Barfi (Rs 400 a kilo, sob sob) and get free online cards into the email inboxes from friends. Clothes for the birthday meant giving a gift from an old granny to the good old tailor and get it done a day before the D-day. Where have those days of walking past malls, trying out clothes in changing rooms and coming up to show off the loot. But I guess, it’s not so bad after all. At least, we now spend just one-tenth of what we used to, a year ago.
Designer clothes have given way to tailor-made ones. Expensive Sunday afternoon lunches have been replaced with a chat session in the street corner. The car sits decked up in the parking slot with a gleaming silver nylon cover on it as two-wheelers with maha mileage and fuel savings move us around. Holidays meant flying off to crowded destinations and blowing up a few hundred thousands for a weekend. Now, it’s a quick drive on the weekend, preferably to a pilgrim place where we can ask God to send recession packing away. Weekends used to be a trip to the resort telling friends and folks we are not available. Now, it’s a potluck lunch over a game of Rummy and scrabble and cups of hot masala chai. Trips to the malls have plummeted and visits to parents, chachas and maasis have grown.
Yes, we don’t have much style left. It is about living grassroots and spending only on what we need. But thank you dear recession! It is because of you that we have less style, more life guru!

Jul 19, 2009

Movie review of Kalavaramaye Madilo

Kalavaramaye Madilo (KM) is like the biriyani your younger sister made on your birthday. The effort is honest and genuine, but the result is not exactly what you would rave about. More on

Jul 6, 2009

Yo to Oy - Movie review of Oy

The Telugu audiences seem to be in a good mood and Oy may just go on to be the DDLJ of Tollywood. Like an ice cream that starts with a soft, juicy cherry on the top to the crunchy waffle at the end, Oy is like a yummy dessert that lingers on in the mouth. For more read the review at

Jul 3, 2009


Published in October 2008, Big Hyderabad

Words simply seem to stop somewhere between my eyebrows giving me a migraine up there on my head. Writing an edit is not all that easy sometimes

Every day is not Sunday.
Every movie of Amitabh Bachchan is not a blockbuster.
Aishwarya Rai does not look great in every outfit.
AR Rahman also has a bad air day and belts out average numbers
Shahrukh also has hit rock bottom with his movies.
See, even the super stars of the world falter. The greatest of them tail off in their output.
The super duper successes have had their share of down days.

So how can a diminutive editor come up with great edits every single time, issue after issue, edit after edit?

After the issue comes out, my colleagues tell me ‘It wasn’t like the last issue’ and
it feels like a prick on a balloon. Until the next Edit comes out, the bitter feeling lingers on.

On the face of it, it looks so easy. To write 460 words every month about anything I like. Put in my opinion and pass it off as an Edit. I would probably be among the privileged few if it were all so easy.

As the month trickles down to its last week, there is a nagging ache in my head. At the back of mind, the keywords keep scrolling left to right, like a lazy news ticker after the commercials stop on the 24-hour news channels. No luck yet. What can I possible write about the T20 cricket mania especially since Deccan Chargers have hardly made any breakthrough so far? Somebody at office suggests I talk about the summer in Hyderabad because we are Big Hyderabad. Huh! What about summer. Maybe I should just compare sultry, crowded and complicated Mumbai to lazy, laidback (yawn, yawn) Nawabi… and be done with this month. Oh, that’s been written a zillion times.

Emails from office stating that the Edit is pending pour into my mailbox. Gentle calls and reminders. The damn keywords refuse to take in a concrete shape. Writer’s block!

I open an empty Microsoft Word and grandly name it Big Edit and type our some random Xs and Ys give them my favourite font (usually Comic Sans J and my kind of font (usually 24) and pray fervently that some brilliant idea will dawn upon me. Words simply seem to stop somewhere between my eyebrows giving me a migraine up there on my head.

We are just two days before we put the edition to sleep and send it to print. Zero progress. I decide to sit late night to finish it. Still only three characters (two Xs and one Y) on my MS Word file. I toss and turn at 3 am and walk around to get a glass of water. I peek through the window and hear the police patrol. Maybe I should write about how the police take such good care of our area. I try to think nice things about life at the dead of the night….

The brilliant summer sun rays hit my face and the dreaded fifth of the month has finally dawned. I switch on the television and walk past the room to get hold of the remote on the table. My ankle hits the chair’s leg and an idea sparks off. The travails of an editor!

In the next 18 minutes, 568 words fast and thick. It may not be the best Edit, but it certainly one that has had its share of hard work. Too bad if you don’t appreciate all the work!


Jun 22, 2009

Movie Review of Current

Current is like a circuit board with a few messy wires left hanging loose. Touch it, but watch your hands. For more, log on to

Jun 9, 2009

Movie review of 'Kavya's Diary'

The very mention of a diary has a sinister vibe to it. Diaries are meant to spill out steamy secrets and Kavya’s Diary, therefore, had this curiosity factor right from the beginning. Interestingly, the promos never gave away the movie and until the movie review is out, not one soul had a clue what the diary contains. For all those curious cats, this diary is worth a peek. Grab your pen torch and latch the door. We’ll just begin in. More at

May 18, 2009

Ek din Achanak…

Ignorance is bliss at the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, as the car trundles along the bylanes thick with vegetation, entwined banyan trees, rubble, pebbles and dry leaves, when the guide decodes the meaning of Achankmar as Achanak – sudden and mar – assault, it dawns on you that you are indeed a great prey for the leopard that is rumored to be sauntering around. It is too late to turn back. Guide Sahniwal says it has been a chilly morning and our dear pard will probably come out and bask in the sun rays to beat the chilly climes. Leopards are nocturnal animals, active after dusk. Sometimes, they can be spotted basking in the sun atop their favourite rocky vantage points or having a siesta up in a treetop. The locals proclaim that the leopard was sighted just last weekend when a Canadian couple were on their way back from the city.
Last weekend sighting by no means translates that you can sight a leopard now. Animal sighting is like rolling a dice. Just because you haven’t had a six for 42 times doesn’t mean you will have it now. Or just because you had a six recently, doesn’t mean you will not have another again. Wildlife sighting, according to the locals, is about Deepak Chopra’s synchronicity - being at the right time, at the right place. And doing the right thing. Like hiding, becoming alert, not fidgeting and being ready with the digicam.
Hours of craning the neck out of the diminutive car, a thorough scan from the watchtower, surreptitiously approaching the watering holes and the sunny rocks for one whole day did not yield any results. Sahniwal says we could spot a deer, at least, if we are lucky.
A sudden gale of wind passed out with a wave of heady floral fragrance engulfing the car. Guide Sahniwal asks, ‘scent lagaya kya? Now, the deers will never come close to us’, he said. Oh dear!
The only way to spot a deer within 500 metres distance is to conquer a deer's defense of smell, sound and sight, in that order. A deer’s olfactory is 20 times superior to humans. To be able to spot that spotted beauty in here, you need to tackle both your air scent and your ground scent.
Ground scent is the trail you leave as you walk through the grass and dried leaves. A deer's sense of smell is so fine tuned, they know the exact hour of your passing, so they will keep away from you.
Seasoned wildlife enthusiasts, however, have a solution. Use leather boots (no socks as any cloth on your feet will hold and spread the odour) and don’t use any perfumes. If you are used to these fragrances, you can use a suppressant or a scent block to offset it. Right now, in this sanctuary that is at least 100 km away from the nearest keyboard, forget the scent blocks, even spotting a deer seems tough. Look for trees with langurs, they usually have deers underneath, he informed us.
But as the sun calls it a day and the Achanakmar Coffee Centre serves its last series of coffees and chais, it is time to hope for the best the next day.
The reception centre here showcases the escapades of wildlife enthusiasts in Achanakmar. A few snapshots of the sanctuary in full bloom in the spring months of February and March, the spotted deer caught at its most vulnerable moment, the langur taking a look at the Red Bulls beverage can, the Wild Buffalo at its lethargic best etc.
Over a cup of coffee, the locals at the coffee centre will regale you about the how the bison broke open the SUV’s glass pane with its horns alone, how a group of deer ‘posed’ for a wildlife photographer’s lens and other such tales.
Sahniwal keeps reiterating that wildlife sighting may or may not happen at this time. Frankly, it would be silly to expect animals to come visiting you when you are traveling in a noisy revved up vehicle spitting out exhaust every minute. The altitude is so steep that it is literally impossible to navigate on those muddy roads without revving up the accelerator.
Also the number of cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep grazing in these parts happily belies the presence of a wild animal that could prey on these cattle. The reality, however, is that it is a win-win situation for those who graze animals here. Either the animals have their daily grub without any cost to its owner. Should they become prey to any wild animal, it means they now have something more valuable in their hands. The rumour is that when an animal dies because of a tiger or a leopard attack, they send back their animals to the same spot for the next two to three consecutive weeks after smearing the cattle’s skin with a poison. So the next time the wild animal gets the cattle, it will die because it has consumed the poisonous skin. A dead tiger or leopard is then discovered once its body rots. The stench helps them discover the dead wild animal. Now, the animal is open for trade.
However, with the recent WWF funding, the sanctuary is now equipped with the necessary infrastructure to battle the poachers. Two barriers that open only with human intervention, guards with bikes to chase the culprit in times of crises, wireless sets for quick communication has prevented several poachers from walking away with their loot.
Up, up as you go further up from any of the roads into the sanctuary on a safari ride, you reach the watchtower. A dome that gives you a 360 degree view of the sanctuary. Most people believe watch towers are for leisure tourists to be able to spot an animal in the dense. Far from it! Watch towers are primarily to look out for forest fires. Of course, it also gives you a good view of the entire fascinating landscape of the place around.
The watchtower here, on a sleepy afternoon, is a total silence zone. Once your car comes to a grinding halt and even the flash of the camera shuts down by itself, Achankmar transforms into a silent zone. Even the crickets and cicadas are snuggling up in their nests this lazy noon. The blanket of calm in broad daylight seems a little unnerving. The bamboos are certainly taking a nap after all those laborious swings, the sal trees relaxing, in almost a kaizen stance with zero movement. The trees seem as though they have conspired to intensify the silence. By the way, silence too is measured in decibels. Anything below 20 decibels is silence and right now, the silence here appears to be 2000 decibels. Deafening is perhaps the apt objective.
Perhaps, this is the calm before the leopard storm. What if the last of the Wild Bison has decided to survey the shiny White Indica and see if the tyres really have air in it? Having got used to the constant sounds of traffic, electronic gadgets and the trrrring of the telephones, silence seems scary in this part of heaven. Psychologists call it ‘sensory deprivation’ which can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behavior. Ah, that explains the hallucinations of a sloth bear silently meandering around the road to reach for us in the outgrowth. The same bear that is used in circus as dancing bears and despite its tag of a sloth, it is known to outrun humans in times of distress. Human distress that is!
Driver Rangaswamy’s impatient honks pierced the silence and gave us a sensory overdose. Ah, the sounds of modern day life! His single minded devotion to keeping his car squeaky clean even in these rough roads brings us to a little flowing stream. A stream that flows along merrily as though it is straight out of those ‘sceneries’ that you can hang in your bedroom! Too good to be true. But then, the icy cold water wetting the fallen branches is so very real. A small, culvert lets you soak your feet in the chilly waters.
There seems to be some romantic connection between the placid waters and the trees on the bank. Almost like young men showing off their six packs to impress the girls out there, the trees stand tall showing off their naked roots. The water has obviously washed off the mud attached to the root and what we have is raw under branches, the lifeline of the tree. The water from the stream is so clear and placid, it transforms into a mirror to double the beauty.
Somewhere a far, you hear the shuffle of feet. ‘Woh dekho chital’, we are informed. Someone hears it as cheetah and scrambles to the car. But it is chital, or the spotted dear, abundant in Achanakmar. It was a herd of six. True to the guide’s words, the deer were spotted under a canopy of trees replete with langurs.
Spotted deer are extremely nervous animals and are always on the alert for a stalking predator. They are often seen under trees housing langurs for two reasons. Langurs warn them about approaching danger because they are perched up there and secondly, the tidbits dropped by the Langurs make easy pickings for a meal.
The deers are indeed graceful animals. They walk without making noise, when they look, they mean no-nonsense. When they run away, they do so without stumbling anywhere or stepping on the wrong place.
It seemed as though the deers had kindly consented to give us a 20 minute show. It seemed to be in perfect bliss as long as it grazed in the highlands. But the moment it sounded an alarm, it took to its heels and vanished into thin air. One moment, a content animal, the other a petrified being. Surely the deer practices the ‘live this moment’ philosophy. How else can they shift so effortlessly from one state to the other?
The safari ends in late afternoon. Achanakmar does not have any eat outs where you can do a formal sit down lunch. The best it gets is fresh maida bhajia hot off the kadai with pieces of hara mirch, onion and jeera in it. For someone who has been starving for anything tasty and hot, the bhajias taste divine. By the way, the fast food here is not really for the visitors who are few and far in between in the cold months of November and December. It is for the weekly haat (bazaar) that happens here every Friday afternoon. People from villages around like Lamni, Keonchi etc display their wares to make a quick buck and proceed home before it turns dark. On offer are cane baskets, cotton garments, haldi, wooden handicrafts, ripe guavas, herbs and Ayurvedic roots, fresh gajar, mooli and lauki and the works.
A mobile open air pharmacy, however, attracts the maximum crowds. The shoppers meet the doctor-cum-salesman-announcer to discuss their health issues. ‘Daud ke jaate ho kya’, the doc asks if the patient has to ‘run’ to relive his intestine. In their parlance, running to the loo is equivalent to having loose bowel movements. The doctor also prescribes medicines for anything between laryngitis to sexual dysfunctions. With vials, bottles, syringes, dirty white polythene covered pills, all that the open air clinic needs is a sturdy charpoi that can take the weight of an occasional outpatient and a fast-talking doc. Clinic timings: 11 pm to 4 pm.There is also a pitstop for the forest labourers here. As your axe gets sharpened, you can load yourself with hot chai and pav served right there. The haat’s products are a far cry from what we see in the city. This one is more a weekly shopping update for the farmers, labourers, cowherds and animal grazers.
About the park:The Achanakmar wildlife sanctuary constituted in 1975, comprises 557.55 of lush forests. It forms part of the North west forest block of Bilaspur forest division. It is around 55 km north-west of Bilaspur. Nearest railhead is Belgahna Railway Station. Forest vegetation mainly comprises sal, saja, tinsa, bija, bamboo. Gaur (Indian wild buffalo or bison), chital (spotted deer), barking deer, wild bou, bear etc are among the animals commonly sighted even while in vehicles around the sanctuary. Leopard, Gaur, Chital, Wild Bear, Tiger, leopard, striped Hyaena, jackal, sloth bear, Indian wild dog chital, sambar, nilgai, four-horned antelope, chinkara (mountain gazelle), blackbuck, wild boar are the other common animals sighted here.
The sanctuary is about 60 km away from Amarkantak, which is the origin of River Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. The sanctuary is wrapped around by the Mekhal range of mountains known to be the rendezvous of the Vindhyas and Satpuras. The sanctuary is predominantly hilly with altitude ranging from 20-1,000 m. Best time to visit: November – June. The sanctuary is closed for public between July 1 to October 31. So when it does open in November, there are tales about the tiger, the panther, the sloth bear and whatnot. Some of them sounding so true, some so fake. Yet, what is a sanctuary if it does not have a few wild sightings to boast about?
How to reach... In next blog :)

May 5, 2009

How Anushka got the Arundhathi look

Published in Wow! Hyderabad, May 2009
Character Stylist Deepa Chander of Arundhathi fame shares a few trade secrets with MANJU LATHA KALANIDHI on how to snag the right ethnic look. Also places to shop for best results

It’s funny how Deepa Chander, Telugu industry’s most in-demand character stylist owes her first break to designing to a lowly carrot, palm tree and a bhutta (corn). It was her first ‘hobby’ attempt at designing these costumes for an amusement park’s opening that won her accolades and her first movie assignment Rockford. More about her journey so far, in her own words.
TWIST IN THE TALE: I’ve been in Hyderabad since 2000 and I am now doing character styling for my 42nd movie. Initially, I wanted to design sets for movies, but my passion for clothes got the better of décor and I landed up styling for characters. I would like to call myself a stylist, not just a costume designer, because I also work on the hair and accessories to get the complete look.
MY WORK, MY MILESTONES: The red tie-up choli for Bhoomika in Missamma, the cropped hair for Prabhas in Chakram and the no-nonsense look of Anushka in Arundhathi are close to my heart. I’ve also styled Lakshmi Manchu for her new television series.
HOW SHE GOT THE JEJAMMA LOOK FOR ARUNDHATHI: I first charmed all the great grannies to show me the photographs of their times. I spoke to them extensively, found out what was trendy one hundred years ago, the kind of jewellery their grannies wore for weddings etc. I studied Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, went back to the history of gems and precious stones, the kind of jewellery in vogue in those days. I culled out information from old paintings, portraits, artists, photographs, sculptors, history books, spoke to the descendents of royal families and looked up their heirlooms. Finally, I used my own imagination with a little cinematic license to come up with the look. I have used natural fibres and vegetable dyes along with the warp and wefts of that era.
BOX ITEMDeepa’s suggestions for the right ‘ethnic’ look for young girls:Hair, outfit and accessories are the three elements that complete your look. Pick two out of the above three elements while playing up your look. So if it’s a lavish outfit and ornate accessories, keep your hair-do basic. If it’s a simple saree, go full steam on accessories and play up your hair. • It’s either Kancheevaram or the embroidered. Don’t go for an embroidered Kancheevaram. It is look having garlic bread with Andhra pickle. Let its original beauty stand out. Don’t mask it with silly beads and chamkis.• Back to basics is back in style. So papidi billa, jada ghantalu, vankeelu (armlets) add to a good look. • The trick is to not do what others are doing. So if every one turns up with nail polish, you should do a U-turn and show off your mehendi and vice-versa. While the rest are sporting off designer bindis with loud sheen, opt for solid monochrome traditional kumkum powder. • If everyone is turning up in heavy sarees and tight joodas, go for a plain chiffon, a sexy choli, one rose stuck behind your ear. Recreate that 60s look. It is all about doing it in style and differently.• For men, the minimalist look is back. So keep the stole, chunky finger rings and bracelets at home and turn up in classic long kurtas with just a watch on your wrist. I believe men should show off their strong arms and leave it bare without the gold accessories.• Try out short sleeves, backless cholis and slacks only if your arms, back and your thighs are toned. These cuts are meant to show off your figure and will fall flat if you don’t have a great figure.
Places to look for:• Silks: The government and co-operative handloom showrooms have the best and classiest silks. Handloom House, APCO and Co-optex near Nampally are good places to look for. Ideally, buy two or three contrast pieces and get it stitched at your local designer for a stunning effect. • Kurtas: Nothing beats the Lucknow in Chikan wear with self-embroidery. Beads, sheen and crystals can never match the eternal look of embroidered kurti. Unless you are the groom, opt for simple, timeless pieces.• Fancy accessories: Laad Bazaar. Charminar. The cluster of shops in a little nook to your left as soon as you enter Laad Bazaar has some of the best fashion jewellery.

Apr 14, 2009

Five Time Management Tips … You Should NEVER Follow

Published in Big Hyderabad April 2009
Multi-tasking: Never think of saving time by doing three things at a time. Like for example, turning on the water tap to let the water fill in the bucket by the time you boil the milk to make yourself a mug of instant coffee while you send an SMS. Chances are the geyser has drained out, the bucket of water has gone cold, the milk split over and the sms gone to a wrong person. Now, you are left with cold water, a messy cooking range, burnt milk and a ‘You are fired’ message from the Big Bully boss you’ve sent to. So one thing at a time and that done well!
To-Do List: Collect all your To-Do lists and run them in your washing machine, freeze them in your ice tray or bake them in the microwave oven. Delete the software in your personal computer or mobile phones. Looking at the To-Do list before embarking on tasks is a little like reading the list of lessons you need to study for the impending board exams. It is unappealing, demoralizing and painful. Also like reading about exercises and diet and not doing it. Instead, when you have to do something, just do it. You have decided to sell off raddi, stand in the portico and holler at the first raddiwala and the work is done. Simpler than entering it with time, date, reminder into your Blackberry Storm!
Don’t Procrastinate: Those who never procrastinate know not the advantages of the same. For example, you have postponed the payment of your mobile phone. The fella cuts off your outgoing calls first. Great. That means you save Rs 80 per day on calls. A saving of Rs 2,400 per month. Then he cuts off your incoming also. Super. You also save on the movie program your friends have planned and could not include you, as you were not reachable. Ditto with the car and bike repair. The more time you take time to get them fixed up, the more time you can spend at home without driving into the mad traffic. Petrol ka bachat yaani paise ka bachat. So procrastinate as much as you can, as often as you can. In most cases, the others in the house or office will take the initiative thus saving you enormous time and money.
Prioritize: They say you should divide your tasks into A, B and C. A is for important, B is for urgent and C is for neither. I say make A is for Do it later, B is for Don’t Do it at all C is for Don’t bother. This way, you don’t have a To-Do list and you can revert to the previous point and reap mega benefits.
Wake up early: Those who don’t know the joy of being snuggled up in the bed, the bliss of having your body remain in a state of inertia when the Sun is up and shining will say these things. After all, what do you do when you wake up early? Start on the mundane chores of taking a morning walk, making coffee and fixing up breakfast or super boring tasks of taking bath, getting dressed up etc. According to research, life follows Parkinsons Law, which states that work expands to fill the time available. Therefore, if you wake up early, you have another three hours to fill it with work. Alternatively, you can choose to stay in late and get your work done fast. Again because according to the above law, the work has to get done in this time.
Go ahead, defy all the rules of time management, and write back to us about how much fun you had.

Apr 6, 2009

A Life less complicated

Published in Big Hyderabad June 2008
It takes only a genius to lessen complications and make more space and time for the nicer pursuits in life.
Here is a small test to show whether you are calm and composed or restless and stressed out. Look at the seconds hand in your watch for three minutes. Yes, just look at the slim needle do three complete rounds without looking elsewhere or thinking anything. Chances are, most would not be able to focus even for those 180 seconds. That’s because we’ve lost our ability to enjoy things in its pristine form, it its simplistic state.
Even ten years ago, a long drive just meant that. You would drive, enjoy the smooth black tar under the wheels, feel the breeze from the open window, look at the avenues on both sides of the road. Today, a long drive means switching on the FM radio; tinkering between the six radio stations available, jumping from one to another catch only the song and not the commercial jingles or the radio jockey’s blah blah. And then restlessly switching over to your Ipod player and hunting for your play list. Meanwhile, taking a call on your Bluetooth while sending an SMS from your second mobile phone. All this while changing the gear and maneuvering the others on the road. Aah, some long drive this.
Simplicity is no longer a virtue. The more you complicate your life, the more successful you are. Have you spotted anybody in the age group of 18 to 40 just be and do nothing even for five straight minutes?
There was a time when we could simply dunk the glass into a earthen pot of water, drink it with gusto and throw the glass into the sink and you’re done. Today, you bend down to take water from the water purifier which dribbles out water at its own sweet pace. Then you drink the water from the delicate branded Borosil glass and carefully place it on a coaster stand, lest your mahogany table develops rings of water marks on it. Then guard it from the little ones around who may topple it. Do we really need so many complications in life just to drink a glass of water?
Hotels have really perfected the art of complicating. Previously, we used to have nice open bathrooms which would allow fresh air into the wash area. But open windows have given to glass windows and that means air-conditioners which translate to dead air. To keep off the odour, you need to have room fresheners, special containers to hold them, then a hand perfume. Not a simple one but an automatic dispenser perfume holder. Again to dry it off, not a soft towel or even a use and throw tissue but automatic hand dryers! All this for a simple hand wash.
It takes only a genius to lessen complications and make more space and time for the nicer pursuits in life. Albert Einstein was so cheesed off spending twenty minutes everyday simply trying to choose his suit for work. One fine day, he ordered for seven suits of the same colour from his tailor. From that day onwards, he just had to open his wardrobe and pick any suit and it would all be the same. No time spent on futile chores. A month later, he propounded the Theory of Relativity.
Centuries later, we still spend time on whether to listen to Jodhaa Akbar or Om Shanti Om… while the geniuses work on world changing theories…

Mar 30, 2009

What Shade Is Your Brown

Published in Inside Outside August 2008
Brown is the color of soul food. Brownies, brown bread, plum cake, dark chocolate, beer… How will it be if various shades of brown – auburn, burgundy, sepia, ochre, rust, mahogany and other such come together to create a ‘taste’fully done up living space? Delicious? Yummy? Delectable? With a home designer like Hameeda Sharma of AH Associates, Hyderabad, at the helm of affairs, this space gets transformed into more than just awesome. It is practical, comforting, urbane, sophisticated and above all, spells class - just what the owner of G-2, a big business tycoon who loves to keep a low profile wanted, for his second floor guesthouse at Trendset Vantage, Banjara Hills. It may be a sheer coincidence, but brown in color psychology (representing Earth, mud etc) is associated with rewinding and rejuvenating oneself. Bang on for a guesthouse.
The spacious 3,000 sq feet apartment is an exercise in thoughtfulness. The décor and design elements are not just for looks, but for comfort and practicality as well. Take the wooden ledge in the foyer. Most would think it is for a décor niche. “It’s to sit and put on your shoes on an average day and as a candle holder for an evening party,” says Hameeda Sharma. Incidentally, the wooden panels on the foyer wall deftly cover up the electrical fittings fro the entire house. In the dining space, the marble countertop is not just to put on some brass jugs but to convert it as a buffet counter for an impromptu luncheon. Ditto with the luggage racks in each of the guest bedrooms!
“This is a guesthouse and we don’t expect our guests to stuff in their huge suitcases into the wardrobe. So there is a provision for a knee length table that facilitates easy usage of the suitcase without having to bend all the way down.” Interestingly, the luggage rack has steel protuberances to make it easy to put it, pull in front and back and remove it without any pressure on the handle. “Luxury is not just about duvet beds and mercerized bed linen, but about little details that make it easy for the guest without them having to disturb the host,” says Hameeda. She says the brief for the house was that guests should go back home wanting to come back here again ASAP!
However, there were a few issues that definitely seemed like sore thumbs while designing the house. First, the house enjoyed no view of the outside. Second, a prime window of a bedroom was overlooking a walking corridor. “A playful bamboo lattice in the balcony offsets the lack of view from the backyard. The bedroom with a window overlooking the corridor has been suitably compensated with such interesting and innovative lights and lamps that they wouldn’t bother opening the window instead spend time admiring the flickers from the stenciled table lamp or the Olympic ring showpiece on the wall,” quips Hameeda.
The apartment has three bedrooms, a spacious living room, a bar, kitchen, dining space and an entertainment room. The living room which houses the bar has been designed in such a way that the various spaces – dining, main seating, secondary seating etc all seamlessly connect with each other to allow the guests in a party walk into each other for a conversation. At the same time, the rooms are all tucked in private corners neatly to ensure privacy to the inmates of the rooms.
Color co-ordination was the real challenge as the apartment has various zones. Each zone had to stand out yet have the same thread across. “Brown seemed to be the apt choice as there was a host of choices in this color. So if its chocolate brown in the hallway, it’s walnut brown in the dining, it is classic wood brown in the main bedroom. Some of the rooms have such precise co-ordination, you’d think the room was accessorized first and then painted. “The painting of the eye in the master bedroom and the cream laundry basket are sheer coincidences,” laughs Hameeda about the décor co-ordination.
The entertainment room is certainly the star of the house. With burnt orange décor and seriously sensuous wooden ledges sitting pretty to hold in the remote controls, chords and the sockets for the electronic gadgetry, the room looks techno, almost as though you were sitting in a high-end recording theatre. The wooden flooring ensures there are fewer echoes when the music goes on.
To give the eye an easy view of the various niches of the house, the accessories have been deliberately chosen in symmetric geometric shapes. For instance, a regular round or oblong lamp is replaced with a neat, straight cut, tall rectangular lamp shade. Elsewhere, a staid handcrafted one gives way to dramatic, stenciled meshed up lampshades. Of course, Hameeda confesses to using several camouflage techniques to cover up some boring walls. “In the dining space, we were left with an odd stretch of wall adjoining the hand wash space. Instead of cluttering up the little space with paintings and accessories, we simply used gracious blue wallpaper on the wall with accent lighting. As a central focal point, a hanging lampshade has been used.” The small space looks bigger than it is, thanks to the mirror on the hand wash unit.
The centre of the house is the vantage point from where you can soak in the browns of the house in one go. From the brown wood flooring at the main seating to the brown on the wall painting opposite the bar, G-2 is a harmony of burgundy, auburn and other delectable shades. What the brownies, brown plum cake, dark chocolate is to your soul, these browns are to your eyes. ‘Taste’fully done up, right?

Mar 24, 2009

Funny View, Punny Review

Sambhavi IPS Published in in 2003

Sambhavi (Vijayashanti) has three thugs chasing her. She has only one bullet in her pistol. She takes out a knife and places it before the gun. The bullet splits into three and the thugs die.

Next: a gangster is chasing La Femme Sambhavi. The lady has a gun but no goli in it. So she waits for the gangster to shoot. As soon as he does, she opens the bullet compartment of her gun and catches the bullet. Then, she closes the bullet compartment and fires. Reliable sources in Tollywood say there was another scene where Vijayashanti suffers from a brain tumor that, according to the doctors, can't be cured, and her death is imminent. Then, in one of the fights, the lady is shot in the head and the bullet passes through her head taking the tumor along with it, and she is cured! But they had to chop this scene out because the running time exceeded its tolerance limits. Long Live Lady Superstar. Awww okay, okay, fine! What's a bit of exaggeration if it makes for a funny read! Most of you also know the above descriptions are inspired by a funny forward that did the rounds when Baba released. But trust me, some of scenes in Sambhavi IPS look far dumber than what has been mentioned above in this Kartavyam meets Vijay IPS meets Police Story meets Lockup Death meets Police 100 meets movie. Thanks to the She Spies meets Lara Croft meets La Femme Nikita meets Kiran Bedi meets Chitra Ramachandran meets Lady Superstar avatar of Vijayshanti, the result is a 'frustration meets boredom meets ennui meets tedium meets annoyance meets disappointment' experience. There is not an iota of novelty in this 82nd sequel to Kartavyam, VS's cult movie back in the last millennium, except that now she wears XXXL sized polo neck Tee shirts in the stunt sequences. Inspired by Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Comes, Sambhavi IPS starts off as a fairy tale. She has a rocking career, a flirty husband and a precocious son. Toss in a new-age super cool mavagaru and a Jane Fonda fitness regime on weekends, we have the pre-intermission of Sambhavi IPS. Post the siren bell, life goes topsy-turvy because Sambhavi's husband suddenly decides to shed his image to become a womanizing, corrupt and greedy thug. He plans his own murder and frames his wife in it, so he can sell his son for a price and live in sin with his paramour in the beaches of Goa. Sambhavi is not your average woman. So like Tracey Whitney in the novel, she decides to pay back her husband in the same score and seeks parole. Once she is out, she has to fight off several criminals and get to her son. Some of the excuses given on why the husband decides to suddenly turn so evil are so lame that you want to roll down the floor laughing. In the second half, this guy opens an ugly restaurant in Goa and starts wearing floral shirts. Methinks Sambhavi shot him dead more because of his atrocious dressing sense and preposterous taste. There are exactly three-and-a-half scenes that look interesting in the movie and are what got this movie its rating. A half star is for the stunt director who makes Vijayashanti fly up in the air and remain there till the end of the movie. But for these antics, there is nothing else to redeem this average flick. Not even the mandatory duets. On the whole, the movie comes down with a thud, after flying up with a bang just like Vijayashanti. Like movie, like heroine.

Mar 16, 2009

Hello??? Wrong Number hang up u *&^%

Published on www.jaalmag.cpm at least a decade ago :)
Foreword: This piece is a tribute to the ingenuity of systems engineers at software companies in the country who program the most creative and user-unfriendly automated response systems in their EPABX systems. Here's a byte-by-byte account of a harmless telephone call to XYZ to reach a certain Mr ABC.

Me: Hello!
Other end: Hello!
Me: Hello!
Other end: Welcome to XYZ company, the ulti…
Me: Hello! Can I…(still under the impression it's a human voice, and not an automated response)
Other end: …mate solutions in networking, software, RDBMS, *&^%$…
Me: Hello!
Other end: If you know the extension of the person you desire to reach, press 1. Or press 2 for operator assistance
Me: 1! (I trust technology more than fallible humans, you see)
Other end: Now press 1 for adminstration, 2 for accounts, 3 for datawarehousing, 4 for godknowswhat, 5 for hangupyouloser
Me: 3 (that sounds vaguely familiar)
Other end: Welcome to the datawarehousing section of XYZ company.
Me: He..Hello
Other end: Press 1 for first names starting with A to F, 2 for second names starting with G to H, 3 for first names with G to H…
Me: Sheesh…but I dunno what his official name is
Other end: Press 8 for middle names with vowels, press 9 for names with consonants, press 0 for…
Me: Taking a chance again I press 3…
Other end: You have reached the extension of XYZ. Sorry, the person you have reached is not in his seat and has switched on his voicemail box. Press 1 to disconnect and 2 to leave a message
Me: Press 2
Other end: Voice goes mute
Me: Hi XYZ. Please call me back at this number seven-zero…
Other end: Sorry, XYZ's voice mailbox is full…Please try later..
Me: Hello, hello (making a last ditch attempt..)
Other end: Sorry, your call has expired. Thank you
Voice goes mute again…

I hang up here to retry the whole procedure, this time taking the assistance of the human receptionist, as against the inhuman, er, the automated voice response system.

Me: Hello
Other end: Hello!
Other end: XYZ company, May I help you!
Me: Can you connect me to Mr ABC please.
Other end: Is ABC his first, second or last name ma'm.
Me: Well, err. I am not certain.
Other end: Please hold on Ma'm…(Titanic again in the background)…
Other end: Hello!
Me: Yeah Hello!
Other end: Can you tell me which module he was working for Ma'm.
Me: Please, I have better things to do than remember his module's name and number
Other end: Difficult without such crucial information, but I'll try Ma'm
Me: (Now losing my patience). But if I give you the name, can't you just go into your database and tell me the possible names and extensions.
Other end: Sorry ma'm. Our database got corrupted. After the September 11 blasts, the software economy burst, our stocks fell, we lost profits and in cost-cutting the database manager was fired.
Me: But then…
Other end: Ma'm. I think we've got the person Ma'm… (Titanic in background again)
Me: Hel. Hellooo…Can I talk to XYZ please?
Other end: Well, he quit just last week. He's now with EFGH company. And the number is six-four-three…

After dialing six-four-three…
Me: Hello
Other end: Hello!
Me: Hello!
Other end: Welcome to EFGH company, the ultimate…
…and the story goes on

PS: Ignorance is bliss, but not when you need to reach your friend and you are ignorant of crucial details such as his/her module name, strategic group number, date of appointment, Details such as blood group and idenfication matters may be of added help.

Mar 4, 2009

Classics Out Of Stock

Published in Big Hyderabad, May 2008

Classic, for a long time, meant boring, unexciting, unchanged with time, stuck in the past etc. Last evening’s trip to the supermarket put the word classic in perspective. Amidst all these ‘new, improved, with extra XYZ and other such add-ons, today Classic means in its original, uncorrupted form. It means fiercely resisting change to retain its virgin charm. It means sticking to its guns to keep its charm intact.
Bread, I asked the supermarket counter guy. He pointed his finger to a bread counter, neatly stacked with a wide array of breads. Spinach bread, methi bread, garlic bread, masala bread, pavbhaji bread, brown bread, health fibre bread. I asked, “But I just want bread. Not the garlic, masala, health or any other version. The regular, plain, classic bread that I used to eat as a child.” I went back without my bread.
Same with popcorn, at Numaish, the Hyderabad Industrial Exhibition at Nampally Grounds. The big, noisy stall with garish yellow bulbs welcomed me with his big, plastic smile. “Popcorn,” I asked. “Tomato, butter, masala, Chinese, kya chahiye?” he threw a barrage of choices at me. “Simple popcorn”, I said. “Woh flavour next week ata,” he said reassuringly, as though it were another flavour by itself.
At a popular restaurant in Punjagutta, I had to choose between executive thali, special thali, power thali. Where has the good old meals where I get a round plate with six little katoras and a mound of rice with crunchies gone?
At the junk food store, for a simple snack like Potato chips, I had to agonize between chilli chatka, Rajasthani Chutney, Spanish Tango, Indian pepper, American Cream and Onion, Garlic Tomato and whateverthehell that was. Do you have the classic salted flavour, I asked. “Yes. We do have that flavour in this brand of chips. But since it doesn’t really sell and nobody wants classic, we are out of stock,” the man behind the counter said.At the hep coffee place with scores of youngsters sporting PYT (Pretty Yuppie telephones), it was another big choice when it came to coffee. Hot coffee, cold coffee, international coffee. In hot coffee, it was Espresso (without milk), Americano (without milk, but lesser coffee bean), Latte (with milk), and more such. Where is my regular coffee buddies???

Feb 25, 2009

What life teaches you in 25 years...

Published in Outlook Traveller Getway Guide - Pocket Book CHattisgarh in January 2008

What life teaches you in 25 years, Sitanadi condenses and crash teaches the same in eight hours. Gyan in the greens? Just one night at the Sitanadi forest guest house in Chattisgarh enlightens you on a zillion things.
That tandoori naans, when left to their own devices, undergo rigor mortis to become so stiff in six hours, they can be had only after you dunk it in water for two hours! That when you don’t have a good accompaniment for your rotis, you can split open the oily samosa – the breakfast leftover - junk the flour wrap and finish your meal with the filling alone! That the juice of Aloe Vera works as a natural mosquito repellant at those times when you brought a fancy electric repellant, and there is no power!! That the grim ant-hill next to the forest guest house has inspired scientists to build search algorithms in web search engines like Google.
Sitanadi, the wildlife sanctuary that encompasses Sitanadi, a river named after Sita in the thick of fascinating Chattisgarh, is like a tough teacher who gives the test first and teaches you the lesson later. Yet, you are more than willing to learn. Experience. Discover.
Sometimes recover. After over a dozen enquiries for a place to eat and drink in the last 100 km, the locals directed us to Hotel Bhatti. Ah, now that is reassuring. The name spooled off visions of a middle-aged Sardar with flowing white beard giving the Dal Fry his personal touch while we prod him for Punjab’s sinful sweet lassi. Hotel Bhatti - we asked the nurse at the Anganwadi, the cowherd at the junction, even the happy looking stray dog at the post office.
Before we could loosen our belts and mentally order the food, we saw the milestone that proclaimed: Kotal Batti. It’s a village? So where is Hotel Bhatti, the bearded sardar, the Dal Fry with fried onion juliennes on it?
Sitanadi never ceases to throw surprises. One moment it is gulping a mouthful of hot chai only to realize it is bitter lal chai, bina doodhvala! Another, it is knowing that after all, the deserted forest guesthouse – our lodge for that night – indeed had electricity! But then the solar power drains off by 7 pm.
After a series of revelations, some pleasant (yoohoo, no connectivity), some shocking (keep a window open to let the smoke out of the fireplace, never mind if the chill that seeps in), some plain frustrating (there are no blankets) and some supremely exhilarating (there is a LPG stove to heat up food), Sitanadi is a cocktail of experiences that will find mention in your journal and arms you with real life stories to regale your timid friends on nights with power cuts.
Frankly, surviving a night without power is not so tough as convincing the forest guest house guard about your whereabouts, antecedents and your alarming need to spend a night here braving the chill, the carnivorous beasts and the craving for a latte in this no-milk zone. The nearest milk point is 85 km from here!
Prem, the guard at the guesthouse, wants us to drive down 60 minutes to Sehawa, on that cold afternoon despite our collective lean, mean and hungry looks. At 4 pm, he is not even sure if saab will be at the office and if we can get the permission to stay there at all. Name dropping, contact flashing; ID swishing … nothing works with this gentleman. Paulo Coelho’s words that ‘When you want something badly, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it’ came true when Asst Forest Range officer BS Rajput himself came down driving in his noisy Maruti van. Ah there it worked out. The permission to stay that night and Rajput himself volunteering to show us around and introduce us to his feathered friends. “One shot. Two birds”, quipped Rajput, the bird lover, who spends his twilight hours of the day tracking down birds and reading their habits.
“That rascal is the racket tailed drongo. He imitates other birds and unless you spot him, you would think there is a myna or a parrot around. The drongo has over a 40 calls, whistles, screeches and gurgles in his repertoire,” Rajput informs.
Soon enough, we meet a languorous langur who refuses to smile or even bat an eyelid at a car, full of people waiting for him to respond. Sitanadi has a road that is pretty much a thoroughfare during the day and the langur witnesses not less than sixty trucks a day. Thank you for that deadpan langur! A few more Hanuman langurs, as they are known here, have all similar burnt black faces on hands. Legend goes that the langur is a descendent of Hanumanji, who burnt his face and palms while he set Lanka on fire. The langurs are like your regular simians, a bit more languid about life perhaps. Soon enough, we spot the chital or the spotted deer. The two species are friends. While the deers use their sense of smell and alert the langurs about the predators around, the langurs keep a watchful eye from the treetops. They snarl and screech when the predator is around. Natural synergy!
In the next two hours, a whispering ‘look there’ from him and a finger pointing towards a distant branch meant we had a bird in the bush. We were to turn off the car engine, shut our mouths and watch it intently. Then he would brief us about the bird we just spotted.
Without a care in the world was a solitary barking deer feeding on a green patch. These deers are usually like bachelors who want to do their own thing. They don’t move in groups like the spotted deer. These deers can let out a sharp bray which sounds like a bark. Deer, by the way, comes from the German word Tier, which simply means animal. How creative!
Sitanadi’s pride is the colourful plant with red, yellow and white flowers. But for every flourishing plant, there is a heap of the dried plant thrown upside down, as though somebody took it upon themselves to uproot it. Rajput says the forest administration indeed has taken it upon itself to kill Lantana, a toxic weed, its enemy number one. Lantana grows like nobody’s business in forests, eating up greedily into the tree space. It starts small by entwining itself lovingly to a tree and before you know, like the Arab and the camel story, knocks out the very tree that has supported it. Lantana is so notorious that it can start its growth all over again if left uprooted. So the only way to check its growth is to throw it upside down.
However, Lantana is the collective favourite of the birds. The birds relish the fruits of Lantana and actually are the accomplices in spreading the weed. The birds feast on the fruit and merrily spread across the pollen and seeds far and wide.
The Lantanas looked plaintive under the dwindling sun. But the sorry picture was soon replaced by the glimmering twilight of a young sunset.
The sunset was most certainly the ideal time in a forest. The animals and birds are active and just about retiring home with the catch of the day. At the forest guest house sitting on the concrete built around the tree, watching the hand pump go up and down as Janki the pet peacock would go guturrrrr, lush greenery around and the zero pollution. The setting was just perfect.
Sitanadi is a sprawling sanctuary spreading across 556 sq km and even one tour across is adequate to spot the animals. Sitanadi most definitely has the wild animals that you expect in a sanctuary - Tigers, Jackals, antelopes, wild boar and snakes like Cobra and python. The sanctuary is known to have the best collection of various deer breeds such as chinkara, Black buck, Nilgai, Sambar etc.
Deer have always been a favourite with Goddess Sita. From taming them as her playmates as a child to staking her life for a golden one, Sita has a mysterious connection with the deers. Sitanadi, according to the locals, was the place Goddess Sita chose to spend her days when she was heavy with her twins Luv and Kush. She wanted to get over the separation pangs with her husband spent time in the company of her favorite animal. The river that flows along is Sita-nadi and the sanctuary derives its name from here.
Several rivers, mountains and plains of Sitanadi conspire to provide possible proof to corroborate its claim. The Balki river that flows perpendicular to Sitanadi, and almost half its size and flow, is apparently named after Luv and Kush, the balaks of the ashram where Rishi Valmiki left. Again, the little mount near the watch tower is called Valmiki Ashram.
At 635 metres above the sea level, the watch tower is truly Sitanadi’s high point. You get a vihang drushyam or the bird’s eye view of the sanctuary. Phew! It is also the only place in the entire sanctuary where you get mobile connectivity. The quick double beep in your mobile says ‘Airtel Orissa Welcomes You. Your current balance is …” Without having made a single call in the last 24 hours, to lose talk time simply for ascending the watch tower was truly Sitanadi’s low point!
The watchtower is surrounded by seven stark mountains, each one named after the Saptarishis – Angira, Bhrigu, Vasishta, Bharadwaja etc. According to Hindu legends, it was the saptarishis who helped Valmiki gain enlightenment and transform into a radiant sage from a rascal thief. It is at these respective mountains that Valmiki personally took care of each of the rishis.
As the sun sets over the mountains, Sitanadi looks surreal in the glow of the full moon. Like a picture perfect painting, the faint rays of the moon make the old colonial forest guesthouse glimmer in the white light. The trees around stand majestically. Barring the occasional bark of Janki, the pet peacock, there was not a sound around. Incidentally, peacocks are the only other animals, besides dogs, that bark at strangers and alert its master. Janki was definitely not pleased to have a group of city revelers around the bonfire and causing it some unrest. So he would keep making his presence felt every now and then.
It was 7 pm and the solar lights gave away. The bonfire worked in tandem with the moonlight to create natural illumination. As the stars twinkled in the moonlight, the only other noise was the rumbling of the stomach. With no food in sight, the leftover paratas from dinner at Gyani Dhaba last night at Kanker came in handy. So did the half consumed bottle of Frooty, the unopened pack of Good Day biscuits, some chewing gum and the supari that Driver Swamy was so addicted to. Sometimes, the ambience makes all the difference and perhaps that’s why the dinner at Sitanadi is still one we would all remember for years to come.
It was just 8.30 and goodnight time at the forest guesthouse. The guest house itself is a sprawling bungalow with big beds and a bathroom as big as a 1BHK in Mumbai suburbia. Sagar later told us that there is no running water. Only, he did not reveal that the stored water in the bathroom was freezing. That put an end to all thoughts of the goodnight brushing and the toilet ideas.
For nocturnal beings like us, it was tough to lie still and lie that we actually slept. The sleeplessness was heightened by the utter silence around. The nearest help, should there be an emergency, is at Sehawa, 15 km away. In Sitanadi, that would take 20 minutes more than an hour! It was not really an auspicious time to have dreams of a tiger prowling there. When the alarm finally rang, it was still pitch dark. Not even a glimmer of hope that morning would be a few hours away. And we were right. Back home, the alarm is the one that goes off every night at the stroke of 12, to remind us night birds that it was time to sleep. That means we had five and half hours more to see daylight.
But when the glorious morning did happen, it happened like the way an elegant bud flowers. Slowly, gradually, showing each of its colours in detail. First it was tender pink, pretty pink a few minutes ago. Then crimson and before you go flash, flash, flash, the big, bad orange ball had taken shape looking like a tangy candy in the sky. Is it the trees, the mountains or just the lack of human populace that makes the sunrise in a forest so beautiful?
The need of the hour was latte again, that refreshing cup of coffee. With business getting done at the early hour, it was time to bid goodbye to good experiences at Sitanadi.
The way back into our next destination Udanti was equally fascinating. We traveled for another 120 km before we smelt coffee! Driver Swamy has been starving for his cuppa. At this point, there was only one thing that came between his cup and the lip. The stream again, with rocks, pebbles and water flowing across in great speeds.
Swamy was all charged up and decided he would not let the cup slip from his lip and made a huge giant leap with his revved up car. Like a daredevil stunt master in a Tata Safari ad, he vroomed across the stream, splattering water all over arrogantly. We clapped with joy as he zoomed off triumphantly.
“I’ve never done this before in my 21 years as a driver,” he said wiping his face with a towel and sipping his coffee. We told you! Sitanadi teaches you in two hours what life can’t tutor you in 21 years!
About the park:Sitanadi Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh, at a distance of 173 km from Raipur. It covers 556 sq km of highly undulating and hilly terrain. The sanctuary owes its name to the river Sitanadi which originates in the middle of the sanctuary and joins river Mahanadi near Deokhut. The flora here is composed of moist peninsular Sal, Teak and Bamboo forests and also Semal, Mahua, Ber and Tendu. The fauna comprises Tigers, Flying squirrels, Jackals, Four-horned antelopes, Chinkara, Black buck, Monkey, Porcupine, Wild Boar, Gaur, Nilgai, Sambar, Cobra and Python. The bird population includes Parrots, Bulbul, Peafowl, Crimson Breasted Barbet, Teetar, Tree Pie, Racket Tailed Drongos, Egrets, Herons etc.Established in 1974, Sitanadi Wildlife sanctuary is rich in hard wood that is ideal for making furniture. To check poaching and deforestation, the sanctuary has been taken under the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. It is therefore classified as a bio-geographical province.
REACHING THERE: The sanctuary is at a distance of about 173 km from state capital Raipur which is also the nearest airport. Dhamtari Railway Station (95km) is the nearest railhead from Sitanadi Sanctuary. The place is easily approachable through the Raipur-Deobhog State Highway.
Best time to visit: November – June. The sanctuary is closed for public between July 1 to October 31. November is when the winter sets in India and when birds do their annual darshan. So any sanctuary with birds will be at its best starting November. The flowers and plants also welcome the birds with their best blooms. To be able to enjoy the sanctuary without the crowds, avoid the last fortnight of December.
How to reach: If you are doing the wildlife bit, then it is best to cover Kangerghati National park and Sitanadi in one stretch. The two parks are about 300 km away and it takes a good part of the day to reach Sitanadi from Jagdalpur.
Orientation of the park: Park entry fee: NonePark timings: 8 am to 6 pmParking fee: Guide fee per day: Rs 250 for three hours. You are also expected to tip him with another 50 or Rs 100 if he has taken the extra effort. Cameras Still: NoneVideo: NoneVehicle hire charges: Rs 1,200 for half day The safari are accompanied by a guide and last for 4-5 hours in the morning and 3-4 hours in the evening. The barrier is the best point to do your enquiries and also hire the guide. Tell them your needs (from Press, or photographer, bird watcher etc) and they help you out with the right guide. Most of them speak Hindi, but they can also communicate in basic English.
• Where to stay: Booking the forest accommodation is the best way to introduce your child to the true charms of a forest. However, do ensure you carry all valid documents to prove your accommodation booking. There is no communication network to reach back to the booking office. Only papers talk for you. The only other accommodation is back in Kanker or Dhamtari. Ph: 0772 238371. Rs 300 per day, double room.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO:BALKI RIVER: A gentle river flowing perpendicular to Sitanadi, this one has been named after the twin of Luv and Kush. True to its name, this one can be easily waded through. Take your kids along for some real water sports!This is accessible by foot from the forest guest house.
BIRDWATCHING: Be an early riser and you will find it rewarding. Barbetts, drongos, magpie robins, bulbuls will greet you a very good morning if you can co-ordinate your morning walk along with the sunrise. Interestingly, the flying squirrels, which are primarily nocturnal animals, are returning to their habitat a few minutes after the light hits them. The forest guest house has tall Sal trees which houses a flying squirrel. On any good day, you can spot them while having your coffee.
LANGUR FEEDING: Harmless fun that both you and the langurs will enjoy. You can give them some harmless biscuits, popcorn, fruits etc. Go in groups rather than as solo. These langurs are especially friendly and naïve, not at all like those scheming monkeys you find in the city temples.
SWIMMING: Swimming is fun in Sitanadi but the ideal time is mid afternoon when the sun is shining bright. The water is cool, but certainly refreshing for an afternoon shower. There are some good spots adjacent the make-shift bridge near the road.
DOUBLE BONANZA: Sitanadi and Udanti are two sanctuaries, not too far away from each other. It takes you about five hours from Sitanadi to reach Udanti, which another rich sanctuary with lovely falls, gentle streams and all your favourite animals. However, the road is pretty bad and it would be wise to set aside six to eight hours only for travel.
Miscellaneous Tips: • There are absolutely no joints that serve you food 100 km before Sitanadi (from Kanker) or after the sanctuary (towards Udanti). You will not even find good stores that sell quality biscuits and beverages. Do carry enough processed food to last for two days if you are doing Sitanadi and Udanti.• At Kanker, just before you turn towards Kotal Bhatti for Sitanadi, Gyani Dhaba serves excellent food. However, avoid the rotis and go in for paratas which stay longer. Tell Gyaniji you need them to remain intact for 24 hours and he will knead it super soft himself. Gyaniji’s Dal Fry and Palak Paneer are too good. However, avoid carrying non-vegetarian food as the forest air makes it go rancid within a few hours.• Inside the sanctuary, the caretakers can rustle up some basic stuff like omelet etc but nothing beyond that. The LPG stove also is used sparingly so even if you volunteer to cook, you may not get a chance to. • Carry soup powder and a packet of instant noodles as a last resort. It certainly won’t go wrong. Sturdy fruits and loads of biscuits will also come in handy. If you are leaving the sanctuary, do give away food to the langurs. They show their gratitude in their eyes. Touching moments!• Do carry your own set of blankets. While some forest guesthouses do provide you with a mattress and a blanket, most of them are unwashed and dusty. Those with sensitive noses could end up with a bad sinus. You can always cover their bedspread with yours and remain safe.• Carry manual mosquito repellants such as Tortoise or Mortein. Don’t rely on the electric ones because either there is no power or the plug point won’t work.• Do carry both sunscreen and moisturizer. While the afternoons are sunny, the evenings get cold and moist.• Carry sweaters, woolens and windcheaters with you if you are going between November to February. • Don’t play the audio in your car in these parts as it is a silent zone. Honk only if necessary. • Unless it is biodegradable, don’t throw plastic or cans around. We personally witnessed how a langur’s foot got stuck in a pepsi can and it took her an hour to extricate herself. Be responsible.• Tip the caretakers generally because they really take the trouble to make it a nice trip for you. The tacit Sagar went cycling for 12 km to fetch some eggs and onions!• Don’t expect milk in these parts. Bring in your milk powders if you are traveling with toddlers. • If you are a keen birdwatcher, get in touch with Mr BS Rajput, Assistant Forest Range Officer, Sehawa on 094242 10923

Feb 17, 2009

2 bc 2 c arnd

Since when did it become uncool to chat up with your neighbor or co-passenger?
Published in Big Hyderabad, January 2009

Five years ago, on a good day, a train journey used to be a clamor of voices. The topic of discussion began at the laxities of the Railway officials, delay in train schedules, bad governance of the current government, the current volatile political scenario, inflation, nursery admissions and the when everybody reached the destination, they exchanged telephone numbers, addresses and made furious promises to keep in touch. All this in early 2000! But this year, the flavor of a train journey is different.

As most of the airports were on high alert, my office thought it would be a good idea to send me by a train. My trip to Kolkata last month by the Falaknuma Express looked like I was in a strange contraption where one passenger won’t talk to another. A 24-hour journey in a cozy air-conditioned coach and complimentary bedding seemed like a good proposition. Add to it the constant supply of samosas, chats, soft drinks, meals, soups… even CDs on sale… made it much more attractive besides catching up on the world with fellow passengers. Well, obviously it’s been a while since I stepped into a train. Apparently, it is out of fashion to talk to co-passengers these days.

It is cool to either pretend you work very hard by shifting to the top berth and dozing off to sleep even before the train pulls off. Alternately, you can switch on your laptop, plug-in the Data Card and go online even before the train runs on the track. If you are not so busy and important, you can choose to watch a movie.

If you are not carrying a laptop, it is only understood you will play games on your mobile, listen to music on your IPod. Of course the last option to bury your head in Aravind Adiga’s bestseller The White Tiger.

At the end of the day, a terrorist could have well been traveling in the upper berth. You will never know, because you were too busy working, networking, watching, playing and whatnot. Ditto with your knowledge about the whereabouts of your neighbor in your apartment complex or your colony!

In the pre-mobile and laptop days, at the end of the train journey, two co-passengers would have got each other’s identities, profiles, job descriptions, family background and if luck be, even had a common friend or relative in between. It was indeed difficult for anti-social elements to get away with such nosy co-passengers who demand to know his education, family, lineage, job and other such details. Within ten minutes of good natured grilling, it would be established if you are a businessman doing well, a frustrated clerk, a jet setting executive, a bored housewife or a drug addict teenager. Oh yes, if you are a terrorist as well.

Thankfully, today even if you are traveling on a blast mission, nobody would notice as they are all busy trying to act busy, distant and in their own worlds.

Next time there is a headline that XYZ terrorist stayed right in your neighborhood for three months to do a reccé, don’t blame the government. Blame yourself. You were too busy working, networking, partying clubbing, pubbing, dancing and buffeting to notice your next door neighbor. Too busy to see around! Or to say it in the new ‘cool’ lingo – 2bc 2 c arnd


Do you have an ICE entry in your mobile phone? ICE, or short for In Case of Emergency, is a number that one can dial in case of any emergency and where you are not in a position to act. The ICE entry helps the police, neighbors or those around to get to the right person (for example, your spouse, parent, sibling, friend etc in times of medical emergencies. Enter the ICE number today. Help others to help you.

Feb 10, 2009

Telugu: Idhi Chaala Cool Guru

Published in Deccan Post, March 2008
Hyderabad is loving it, NRIs are embracing it, Tollywood starlets are learning it, FM radios are espousing it and ad makers are scrambling for it. Telugu, FYI folks, is happening like never before, says Manju Latha Kalanidhi
Space = Jaaga, Backspace = Enka Jaaga, Print = Acchu, Copy = Gatlane Dinchu… This hilarious email forward on the commands of Microsoft Windows ‘Renduvel’ version in Telugu with a Telangana spin could soon be a reality. Telugu, for your kind information, is now chaala cool guru.
Telugu may be the most spoken language in India, after Hindi and Bengali, but the sudden spurt in Telugu activism is definitely a recent phenomenon. And a positive one too! English was upmarket and Telugu was looked down upon by the collegians even a few years ago. Today, Telugu has garnered its glory back, at least partly and that is a moment to celebrate.
Jodhaa Akbar, though aimed at the urban centres, was dubbed in Telugu. Not without reason. At the end of the day, nativity and the local stamp appeals to people. Telugu is the only other language the Magnum Opus was released besides Hindi and Urdu.
Even MNCs have realized the magic of the ‘Talk to Me, Not to My Dad’ syndrome and have started appealing to people in the language they think, not the language they work. Brands like KFC, which predominantly cater to the English speaking urban youngsters, are also coming up with ads in Telugu.
Says ad maker Alapati, who has been into advertising for over two decades, since the days of Eyetex, “With so much access to so many things, suddenly we are missing the local and native touch. Probably that is why youngsters are shifting to Telugu newspapers and NRIs logging onto Telugu websites for news, even if the same is available in English.”
“Everybody craves for that personal touch and the mana feeling,” he adds. A new mobile network ad says ‘Think Different ga’ with the dash of Telugu. Going ga-ga over Telugu, literally! Ad revenues for Telugu have gone up by at least 40 per cent in the last two years, he says.
Elswhere in Cyberspace, Telugu has ‘clicked’, literally. The vernacular dailies get more response than their English counterparts. By the way, Amar Chitra Katha’s Chandamama launched its Telugu website; the first out of 12 language editions to go online. It was in English alone till a month ago.
The newfound love for Telugu could also be attributed to the research findings that reveal interesting dynamics about native language. According to a latest research in New Scientist, “The native language you speak may determine how your brain solves mathematical puzzles. It influences the way problem-solving circuits in our brains develop,” it says.
Closer home, dazzling stars such as Charmme and Nayantara are learning the language from the scratch so they can dub their own voices. Asin started the trend by slogging for two hours every morning with a home tutor.
NRIs are embracing Telugu like never before. Telugu classes are held every Saturday morning for two hours at Edison, New Jersey. Software makers are scrambling to release Telugu versions of it. Euro Talk, an interactive language software, is getting an unprecedented response for the first time for an Indian language.
“Even in the US, Telugu is the flavour of the season. Peddabalasiksha is the most popular gift for the NRI kids on their third birthdays, when they start learning the language formally,” says Krishnamohan Kumsi, NRI of seven years and working with ISO New England at Holyoke, Massachusetts. During festivals and Indian holidays, kids and their families throng to the local temples not just to perform archanas and pujas but to learn Telugu as well.
The Mana Badi concept, launched by in April 2007, runs 13 centers across eight cities in Northern California alone. 17 passionate volunteer teachers, using meticulously developed curriculum, are helping the students learn Telugu with enthusiasm. All for the love of Telugu alone.
The day is round the corner when the computer tutor dictates his wards the meaning of Telugu Windows commands. Search = Devulaadu, Save = Bachainchu, Save as = Gitla Bachainch, Save All = Anni Bachainch, Help = Nannu Bachainchu

Feb 5, 2009

Come Back Peter, Come Back Paul

Published in Kolkata Weekend Guides, February 2009 book by Outlook Traveller Getaway

At Raiganj, keep your identity as a tourist a secret. Otherwise be ready to get interrogated by the locals on the purpose of your visit as they refuse to believe that anybody can come all the way from Kolkata to ‘visit’ their town and marvel at the birds. Right from the bell desk boy to the Bhel Puri seller, everybody is surprised at your idea of a holiday here. Some of the locals even burst into a raucous laughter when we revealed we are staying overnight just to relish the sights and sounds of the town. But frankly, this dusty and sleepy town in West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur district has no inkling of the magnificent natural treasure it is endowed with.

Home to over 12 migratory birds including open bill storks (also called Asian Openbills), night herons, cormorants, egrets, drongos and other such, Raiganj (pronounced Roygonj) is India’s second largest bird sanctuary that attracts over 71,000 birds every year. No mean feat for a sanctuary that doesn’t even have a concrete parapet wall to protect itself. The sanctuary (also called as Kulik Sanctuary) supports 50 per cent of the global Asian Openbill population and therefore has a pride of place in the international ornithology map.

When the migratory birds actually descend in thousands over this little town between July and November, it is a virtual siege. The birds invade every plant, tree, hole, niche and groove and water body. It is a sensory overload of beaks, paws, feathers and plumage. There is no escape from the happy chirpings, lazy gutturals, angry screeches and beseeching panic calls. At Raiganj, the birds propose and you dispose. In here, everyday is the bird’s day out.

Raiganj does not offer much else for the tourist in hot pursuit of ‘sight-seeing’ besides bird watching, but it certainly can give you the feel of a nice, languorous weekend. You could take a stroll along the meandering Kulik river right next to the sanctuary, walk across the little patches of mustard farms, snuggle up in your bed and listen to the chirping of birds as you read a book or catch up on the Sunday reading in your balcony and probably doze off while doing so. Raiganj has a lethargic pace that any city slicker would dream of while he awaits the light to turn green at the crammed city centre junction.

Early mornings at Raiganj are feel-good and will linger long after you drive back home. Being woken up by the pleasant chirpings of birdies right across your hotel’s bedroom window is in such stark contrast to the rude and impatient knocks of the doodhwala, paperwala, koodawala and subziwala back home.

By default, you end up staying next door to the bird sanctuary because Raiganj doesn’t have any decent hotels to boast about barring the government-managed Raiganj Tourist. The lodge is a 40-year-old structure with sit-outs to help you watch and capture the birds on your camera. You can see the sanctuary from your window. So park your car at your hotel and set out for a walk with your binoculars and a pocket notebook. The distances are embarrassingly short to drive around in a car.

Casual birdwatchers can tour the town in one day. However, the day lasts only till 4.30 pm and after that there is nothing much to do but stay indoors to watch television or read books.

Wake up by sunrise (around 6 am) and use the entire day to track birds and retire early. You won’t need any guide here as every part of the sanctuary is accessible for the public. The watch tower (still under construction) at the entrance of the park can easily keep you engaged for a few hours giving you a panoramic view of the birds and their activities of feeding the little ones, foraging for food, repairing the nests and even getting around together for a good time. You could ask someone in the hotel to show you around or brief you about the birds, but that would strictly be in Bangla – including the names of birds and trees.

Things to see and do
Raiganj is a place where you are pretty much on your own with little help from guides or any other guidance. Serious birdwatchers should come in groups and stay over a weekend during the season to watch the birds, discuss and exchange notes about it. Ideally, split your day into pre and post lunch, setting aside the morning for the sanctuary and evening for the river. Plan to reach back to your base by 5 pm.

Raiganj/Kulik Bird Sanctuary:
Timing: 8 am - 5 pm between October and May8 am - 6 pm between April and September
Entry: Adult: Rs 5;
Child below 10 years: Rs 2;
Students: Rs 2. Car/Jeep: Rs 50 (though there is no road around to drive through right now)
Closed on: Monday
Still Camera: Rs 20. Video camera: Rs 40

The sanctuary, built in 1985, is a landmark in the town and you can easily reach there without much trouble. It is about 5 km after the town and about a 2 km away from the Railway station.

Forget about being concerned, the local farming community holds the birds in contempt as they often forage onto their fields (usually paddy) to hunt for insects thereby destroying the crop. The board showing the direction to the sanctuary is embellished with cow dung cakes and that announces the ire of the locals.

It is spread across 1.30 square km. The core area is about 0.14 km² and the rest is buffer area. A leisurely, educative walk around shouldn’t take you more than four hours.

On a lazy weekday when the sanctuary expects just a few stray tourists, the ground is still not swept. Layers of dry deciduous leaves form a brown carpet on the floor. They break and crackle as you step on them giving the true forest feel. Even one lighted match can cause havoc to the place.

A few lazy streams from the Kulik river meander into the sanctuary. The quaint wood bridges on the streams make a pretty picture. The brick walkways are easy to walk through. The ground itself is covered with dense ferns and other shrubs imparting a dash of green to the otherwise brown forest. Every now and then, scores of teenage boys in rags pass by, carrying everything from twigs, fire wood, termite-ridden wood and perhaps even birds and eggs! The boundary itself is porous with an easy to bend mesh surrounding the sanctuary.

Even as we chat up the locals, a group of young girls walk past with bulging gunny bags filled with dry leaves and casually drop off the bags onto the other end of the mesh and jump across it to their colony. The sanctuary is certainly a no-man’s land giving access to any activity and being trespassed by clueless street urchins, women laborers, goat and cowherds and love birds. So much activity and not a single security guard around.

The only guard here is the Kulik river that wraps around protectively from outside around this U-shaped sanctuary. The sanctuary has a network of artificial canals connected with the river Kulik. During monsoon, the river floods the sanctuary and that’s good news for the Asian Openbills whose main diet is apple snail found in marshy waters.

As the monsoon fills up the Kulik river with gallons of fresh water, the Asian Openbills across the globe (probably from Siberia) instinctively know it is time to take their six-month vacation at Raiganj. The birds choose this part of India as it gets the Apple Snail insect – their staple - in abundance in the fields nearby.

Asian Openbills comprise the majority of the 164 species of birds such as night herons, cormorants, egrets and drongos here. During the peak migration season between May to January, even the indigenous birds such as doves, pigeons, woodpeckers, sparrows, kingfishers, flycatchers, owls and bulbuls join their foreign friends and hang out together.

According to birdwatchers, the Asian Openbills open the season by making a recce of the place in early July. When the first batch does not return to its base, the other birds take a cue that all is well and start off to Raiganj. By early August, the entire Asian Openbill population would have descended starting a fresh season of bird fights, one-upmanship and peace talks.

Just like the admission list in a school, the healthy, sturdy and aggressive birds take the best seats as nesting areas while the handicapped and the weaklings settle for the trees, even outside the protected areas along the NH 34 and sometimes in the garden or backyard trees the local homes.

Nestling ends by August and the birds start laying the eggs by September. The eggs take 40 days to hatch and therefore November is the best time to catch the birds in action – training the juveniles the surviving techniques in this big, bad world.

You can watch the birds standing two metres away as the Asian Openbills are now pretty used to flashbulbs and handycam lights. These birds do have their share of tragedies when a sudden rain destroys the nest or when the little ones hit the ground with a thud and pass out. Interestingly, even an adult Openbill takes a good five minutes to take off after holding the same ‘ready-to-take-off’ spread out pose. So it’s not surprising to see the little ones take an eternity to spread their wings.

By early December, the mission has been accomplished. Little ones see the world in the safety of the Raiganj bird sanctuary and are ready to take on the world. By New Year’s Eve, the Kulik bird sanctuary bleeds with the pangs of the empty nest syndrome. Come back Peter, Come back Paul!

Kulik River
It flows adjacent to the sanctuary and you can access it from behind the Raiganj Tourist Lodge. The river supports the life here. As noisy ducks paddle away, the kids take a dip, an occasional cyclist wades through with his ware and a group of Openbills descend onto the bank and fly away in one swell swoop.

NS Road
The market is on NS Road. You can recharge your mobile phone, fruits and even shop for woolens.

Rickshaw ride
A ten-minute ride in cycle rickshaw costs Rs 20. Definitely a pleasant way to soak up this little town. Buy a hard boiled candy and as you slurp in the sweet syrup, watch the town go about its life from the high seat on your cycle rickshaw. You can find rickshaws at the entrance of the sanctuary.

Where to stay
The Raiganj Tourist Lodge is the only good one in the vicinity. The rooms are basic, but clean and spacious. Every room comes with a sit-out that overlooks the sanctuary and is also the place for the birdies to wing in occasionally. Spend a while at the little marigold garden with eight varieties of the plant.
Note: If you are fussy about your boiling hot water for bath, carry your own mobile heating unit as the geysers here are not effective.
Raiganj Tourist Lodge (West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Limited)
PO Madhupur, Raiganj
Uttar Dinajpur district
Ph: 03523-225915; 9733 08791
Book your rooms in advance at least by telephone before you land up. Mobile and wireless internet connectivity is available.

The next nearest place to stay would be at Malda, 75 km from here. Hotel Royal Park (??????) on the main road is a good bet.

Where to eat
The Raiganj Tourist Lodge has a guest-house kind of restaurant where food is prepared on order. Don’t expect gourmet food though the lack of many options is offset by the concerned and hospitable restaurant staff. Chef Robi and steward Dipyendra Sanyal take personal care enquiring affectionately about whether you’ve slept well and if the food suits your palate.
Try the Mangur Macchi curry that has been made from the fresh catch off the Kulik river a few hours before it is cooked. Vegetarians will have to settle for watery and bland dal with some mixed vegetable curry. However Chef Robi surprised us with hot Beguni bajias with a sprinkling of aamchur powder for dinner on the day of our departure. Beguni is a hybrid brinjal used for curry and bhajias.
Breakfast with eggs, omelet and sandwich are also available. Curd is not available as it doesn’t set well in this weather. Rotis and rice available though.
You can try street food such as samosa, kachori, Jhol Muri near the Railway station road.
Note: The staff is not equipped to handle the rush hour adeptly. If you’re in a rush to finish your breakfast, carry your own packet of bread, biscuits, canned juices etc.

Even Malda does not have great food options. You can try the Mayaban, a fancy dhaba (with artificial waterfalls, fountains and lawns) for rotis and bhaji. The ambience is good but food is just passable.

Fast Facts
When to visit: May to December
Weather: Even peak winter is not too cold. A simple shawl or pullover should do. However, nights are chilly. Carry a fleece blanket if your hotel room doesn’t have one.
STD code: 03523

Getting there:
Air: Kolkata is the nearest air head.
Road: Take the Dankuni toll plaza from Kolkata and get on to the National Highway 34 to Durgapur. Take right at Panagarh (18 km before Durgapur) and keep proceeding till you reach Malda. Raiganj is 73 km from here. Expect a bad stretch of about 30 km after Basudhi.
Toll taxes up to Rs 200 one way (there are four toll plazas on the way. Tickets range from Rs 10 to Rs 45).

Tip: During winter, the sun sets before 5 pm and if you are taking the road, reach before sunset as some stretches of the road are bad and deserted.
Do not ask for bird meat as they could be killing the local birds here to get it to your table. Stick to fish, chicken or mutton, if you want non-veg.
Each meal takes an average of one and half hour because of the slow service. Set aside that time if you want to have a good breakfast. If you are in a rush, skip it.
If you are driving to Raiganj, stop by at Shaktighar (150 km from Kolkata) for Lengcha sweet. It is an oblong gulab-jamun kind of sweet, but milder in sweetness. Its shelf-life is 24 hours.

Feb 2, 2009

No Mania Only Sania

Publishes in Sify's in 2005
Sani won’t admit. But she actually loves an awful ankle sprain. Thanks to her twisted ankle, today she gets to watch the Indo-Pak Delhi ODI on TV from start to finish as she puts her feet up, literally, on her favorite red bean bag. The cooks are dishing out her favourite biryani because Sania bibi is at home for lunch and all her friends are calling to catch up with her. Thank God for the ankle injury. But again, is this what she had bargained for when she started off as a tennis pro? Leg injuries, failing fitness levels, airline food, jetlags, early morning practice sessions, no parties, TV or dates. Sania Mirza picks up her verbal racquet to deftly field the volleys and Manju Latha Kalanidhi serve her up.
Seven day house rest. The break you are getting is just what the doc ordered?
Yeah, that plaster to my left leg goes off next Sunday (it was a Monday that day). I am not supposed to move or walk. This rest should hopefully fix my poor injured ankle.
you’re the only Indian woman with a WTA title under your belt and to finish 75 in the latest WTA Singles Rankings. what’s next on the agenda?
I want to get into the top 50 by the end of this year. Going by the way life’s unwrapping at this moment, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
we’ve all heard of the sachin-shivaji park hardwork to success story. Tell us THE MAKING of the tennis sensation sania.
Ok, ok, ok (*shuffles her legs nervously on the beanbag and continues)… I hail from a family of sportspersons. My Dad’s cousins Ghulam Ahmed was the skipper of the Indian cricket team once upon a time and Fayaz Baig was a major Ranji trophy player. My Dad could not fulfill his dream of pursuing cricket because he had a family business to look after his parents passed away when he was young. But he is living his dream of having a family sportstar through me.
so your life was really planned to result in a sporting sensation?
No, not that way. Dad (Imran Mirza) wanted a sporting professional from the family, not a sporting star. I mean he wanted someone in the family to do well in sports and had I been a boy, I would have taken up cricket. But then, no regrets for choosing tennis. I started taking tennis coaching simply because among the sports I played I liked the game and I was good at it. So I started playing, winning local cups, then state-level tournaments, slowly moved on to the national circuit. Then I got good sponsors and there was no looking back. Each success propelled me to move further.
Sounds like a very cool ‘no-tears-no-toil’ success story.
Most people have no idea what all I went through. Today they only see my hoardings on the streets and the signed Sachin Palio gifted to me after the Wimbledon. I had my share of testing times when I had to put my academics on the backburner to pursue tennis. Those were the days when tennis was not happening and I wasn’t winning anything big. I was like ‘no ghar ka na ghaat ka’. My academic grades were falling (considering I was a bright student) and my tennis was moving at a sluggish pace. There was a time when I wanted to throw it up all. But then, winners never quit.

Do you miss going to school and college because of tennis?
The regular bunking classes, friends, movies, coffee pubs and the works. But then I was always a puritan when it comes to academics. Strangely, I used to love studying – you know just reading, writing notes, memorizing etc. That I manage to do even now. I have enrolled myself for a three-year degree course in Mass Communications from St Mary’s College, Yousufguda, Hyderabad.
What’s the high point of your career?
Winning the Bronze for India in the Mixed Doubles at Asian Games in October 2002. Being amidst the world’s best players was a big award in itself. It was great teaming up with Leander. I learnt so much in such a short while.
For someone who relies primarily on aggression, you don't seem to have a powerful second serve?
Even the world’s number one playing is never spared of a weakness. I overcome it with a strong forehand. My footwork and agility are two other points I need to work on. I am also bad on some courts. I have decided to hire a traveling coach so he can train me on every kind of court.
The media made a big deal out of your game against serena williams. Was it really?
Hmmm, I read in the newspapers a few days before the game about Serena playing against me. Serena is certainly a star but for me, it was more about being pitted against the best and getting a damn good chance to prove myself. I respect a good player like her, but I wouldn’t say I was overawed. It was a very professional admiration I would say.
Why is your physical fitness always an issue. How come players abroad, even those young teenagers manage to have custom-made bodies for tennis?
I guess it’s the Indian genes. Maybe Indian food habits. Weather perhaps. I really don’t know. I am 5 feet 8”, pretty tall for an average Indian teenager. But when I step abroad for my tournaments, my opponents easily tower on me by their sheer height. I am certainly working on my health aspect. In fact, this one week rest should hopefully put me back into good shape. And yes no more biryanis. Just healthy food.
Your cricketing counterpart Azharuddin, we hear, keeps tabs on the number of biryanis you consume every week?
Haa, that’s not true. Azhar runs a gym in Hyderabad and thanks to his interest in fitness and concern for a fellow Hyderabadi sportsperson like me, he does give me advice, dos and donts about keeping in shape. In fact my personal trainer is Faiz, who works with Azhar at his gym Est. That way Azhar plays a major role in how fit I am.
Considering tennis players retire in their 20s, what are your sporting ambitions?
Every year, I want to keep moving ahead. I want to become at least the top 25 players by the time I retire. But then one can never really predict. Tennis is indeed among the most strenuous games. If my doc says no more tennis, I have to do that. I twisted my ankle 17 times in all these years. Anyway, once I am done with my career, I’d like to start a Tennis Academy. Insha allah, in Hyderabad perhaps.
What’s your advice to budding tennis talent?
You will never become a great player if you’re after the WTA ratings, the endorsements, the fame or the money that you get by becoming a star in sports. Pure love and sheer passion for the game are the only factors that will make you success. Believe me, nothing can beat passion.