Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review : Scion of Ikshvaku ( By Amish Tripathy )

Buy it online on Amazon .

A story can be retold in many ways. And that is what Amish ( author of the Shiva Triology ) has done with the epic Ramayana. Staying true to the spirit of the original, he has unleashed his creativity by introducing many a twists and turns into the repackaged Ram Chandra Series. A clever move in case those fanatics and purists question his interpretation of Ramayana, a sacred Hindu text.

The fight between good and evil is given the garb of trade monopoly which is bleeding Ayodhya even as the paths of Lanka are being paved with gold (trust the business ingenuity of this IIM guy). Among the most striking deviations from the originals is the depiction of Ram. Instead of being the favorite son, he is considered as the jinxed one and is blamed for his father's defeat.

He effectively channelizes his feminist inclinations by depicting Sita as a strong woman, a warrior princess who is also the Prime minister of Mithila. The poor hunchback Manthara is turned into a scheming rich merchant who has the ear of Queen Kekeyi by virtue of her immense wealth and not for any other emotional reason.

Introducing Manthara's daughter and killing her off in a Nirbhaya gang-rape kind of twist was not required at all in my personal opinion. Not so subtle allusions are made to the gruesome episode by depicting the main accused as a minor and hence exempt from capital punishment. But the final punishment meted out to him by Bharat may play a role crucial in developing the latter's personality in the minds of the readers. I loved the way Amish has spent time and effort on assigning different personalities to the four siblings.

There is also a reference to the use chemical/biological weapons being banned and one using them incurs a banishment of fourteen years. When Ram is felt with no option other than using one ( the name Asuraastra sounds cliched ), he chooses to do the honorable thing by going on a self imposed exile even against the wishes of Dasharath. In Amish's storyline, Kekeyi's emotional prelude in the Kopa bhavan is not the primary reason behind the exile but it only serves to make it easier for him .

Quite unorthodox but loved the modern spin that Amish has given it. ( I personally like it better than the Shiva trilogy ).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Re-embracing the Old !!

Image courtesy : 

Many many years ago, there were the yellow and black taxis which one used to travel within the city and then the sea green Meru taxis started to appear. The latter were much more organised with the drivers being well mannered and ready to go by the meter for a change. One just had to save a number on the phone and one call was enough to get a vehicle at one's disposal. That too on time. But they had a minimum fare policy which made it uneconomical if one had to travel short distances within the city.

Smart operators like Olacabs and Taxiforsure were quick to understand and capture the lion's share of this very lucrative market. They had no minimum fare policy, provided one with a cab in record time and turned out to be cost effective. As a result, many of us chucked those cranky auto-rickshaws in favor of a swanky cab.

Their spectacular success helped then raise millions of dollars of funding and they have been swift to introduce changes that kept them ahead of the competition. Smart moves like customer segmentation and getting those auto-rickshaws into the fold have paid off handsomely. And after making forays into smaller / tier 2 cities like Bhubaneswar, Nagpur etc, they have come up with a hitherto unheard thing. I am referring to the very ambitious Ola Air, allowing customers to book a chopper ride at prices starting from Rs 499 per hour. Now we just have to wait and watch if this revolutionary idea actually takes off.

But isn't meeting the customer expectations the very basic objective/goal that these startups should keep in their mind or rightfully on their agendas. Success cannot be measured only in terms of financial figures. At least not for very long. I would like to recount that my previous experiences with these cab aggregators has been less than pleasant.

I had booked an cab through Ola for a Sunday afternoon session at the Lalit Ashoka, Bangalore. When the cab did not turn up even 10 mins after the reporting time, I called the driver and was flummoxed when he asked me for directions from Sony World junction to Old Airport Road. Then next call to their call center was more fruitful and I finally got a cab but after an hour's delay.

The next time I chose TaxiforSure. They did not even bother to send me a message with the driver's number. And after a delay of nearly 2 hours, I got a call from the driver and I had no choice but to tell him that I did not need a ride any longer. That was followed by a call from the call center and an apology SMS. Good that they had the decency to accept their failure.

The last one disaster was with Savaari. I booked a cab for a couple of unsuspecting guests for a trip to Ooty. We paid rental for 300 km per day and three days in total. But once he reached Ooty, the driver refused to budge and said that Conoor was not a part of the itinerary. And he also fleeced Rs 900 from the passengers by claiming that he had to deposit the same at the Bandipur forest checkpoint on the way to Ooty. We have raised a complaint with the Savaari guys but have not received any response even though it has been two weeks now.

So, when I had to take a cab to the railway station last week, I chose to go back to Meru and was in for a pleasant surprise. I realized that while the others were busy trumpeting about their success, these guys had quietly improved their services. The SMS with the cab details came 15 mins before the reporting time, the driver arrived on time and an tracking sms was sent to my phone every 15 mins to keep us informed about the course charted by the cab.

Now, it does not take a genius to figure out where my current loyalty lies. As for the others who have raised enough money to party all through the night, I can only say that the "Wham. Bam. Thank you Maam." approach is good only as long as it lasts.

Disclaimer - This is NOT a sponsored post. The author has shared her own experiences and her opinions are merely from a customer's viewpoint. She prefers to leave the financial angle to "better qualified people", as she prefers to call them, folks holding fancy degrees from celebrated colleges .

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Lies Beneath..

"As the darkness descends on the horizon,
it seems to set off something darker within.
No longer willing to be controlled,
the rising gloom strains the shackles of the mind !!

The evil within seeks to match the one outside,
it craves for the blood and gore hitherto denied.
Macabre thoughts gather into a storm,
threatening to doom the floodgates of reason !!

What ails a mind once so refined,
the wisdom of mankind has failed to find !!"

These lines are penned about 'Depression'. An increasingly common occurrence, it can be set off by the smallest of changes in a person's environment.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Great Indian Joint Family - Endangering a woman's health

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If you are in a habit of watching those Hindi soaps, it is a common sight to find a large 'happy' family gathered at the dining table with two or more young women (the daughter-in-laws) running around them. While the elderly lady duly issues commands about what needs to be served to whom and fawns over a favorite son by indulging him with a curry/dish of his choice, one hardly gets to see the DILs having their meal which is of course after everyone else is done with theirs. When such episodes happen in a soap, one can dismiss it by reasoning that the major discussions are over by the time the who's who of the household have left the table and the ladies would only indulge in some idle chitchat. But unfortunately, such incidents are equally or even more prevalent in real life. Other than denigrating women to a secondary status, it also affects a woman's well being.

My reasons why gender politics at the dining table is not good for a woman's health -

1. Gorging on cold meal is not a good thing - Remember the archaic custom where a married woman is served her meal on her husband's plate (something which Karishma Kapoor's character does in the movie 'Anadi' ). Apparently after being left out in the open, those plates and the food that remains in them turn into a breeding ground for harmful microbes. So one can give oneself a mental kick for believing that 'ek thali se khane se pyar badhta hai'. Even if one were to change the plates, still the food which remains on the table would have turned cold. "Invest in good quality casseroles", some would advice. Well, no casserole is built to keep the food warm despite being opened a dozen times. Or, the worst case scenario where the lids are not replaced. Trust me, cold food or reheated food is never as good as the freshly prepared stuff.

2. One end's up eating late - Meal times are pushed as the self designated 'important lot' take their own sweet time to savor each and every morsel. Debates/discussions are carried out at the dining table oblivious to the fact that there are people waiting on them. This often results in ailments like gastric ulcers and indigestion. And a good percentage of women seem to be suffering from them.

3. Beggars (read DIL's) can't be choosers - The choicest dishes are the one's that get over the fastest. And by the time these ladies have their meal, the best dishes are almost over. Well, one can console oneself by saying that since the menu was catered to the choice of a more important family member, one did not have any special inclination towards any particular dish.

4. Throwing stale food may or may not invite the wrath of Goddess Lakshmi but eating it is sure to invite disease - Quite a few households seems to believe that throwing or wasting food is sure to displease the Goddess of prosperity. While I am not a deeply religious person, I would prefer to give away the excess food to needy folks instead of wasting it.  But what really irks me that this logic is selectively ingrained into the minds of these women and the menfolk form an exception. The latter are always served the freshly cooked stuff while the responsibility of appeasing the Goddess falls on the former's shoulder

Sadly, the above mentioned issues are not a fragment of the author's extremely fertile imagination. Nor is it an attempt at twisted humor. They reflect a reality that is uncomfortable and most of us would like to brush it under the carpet. Of course there are exceptions (Thank GOD for that) and I personally know families where everyone gets to eat at the same table ( or on the floor ) at the same time. If only some of us would grow a spine. Only if........

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stepping out of the Food Blogger Mould

It feels liberating to step out of the food blogger mould. Though I have been associated with food blogging for close to six years now, the blogosphere has undergone a sea change. While it was a close group of individuals in those initial days who appreciated and encouraged each other while learning and growing simultaneously, the current scene is dominated ambitious folks who are not content with just writing about recipes. They keep adding tags like foodie, food critic, restaurant reviewer and other such stuff in order to stand out amongst each other. It seems that suddenly enough everyone has morphed into experts on food though quite a few of then can just about manage to boil water. It has become more about social networking rather than being just about good food. No wonder a lot of my old blogger buddies have been pushed into retirement.

Another reason for  can also be the fact that my initial objective has now become obsolete. I started with the goal of making a name for Odia cuisine and keeping those native culinary traditions alive. But from being a handful, the community of Odia bloggers has now blossomed with a few dozens of blogs being added every month if not week.

On my part, I have never really warmed up to the title of food critic though I harbor a deep love for simple home cooked food . While I have explored the food and cuisine of at least ten cities, it hardly entitles me to write horrid stuff about a place. I prefer to call myself a reviewer at the best. My philosophy is simple. Good food will do the talking for itself while those horrid places need to be denounced. The competition seems to be among those mediocre joints and sadly enough, instead of the kitchen, the fight has been moved to the social media. ?????

While those six years have been wonderful and I have received a lot of appreciation, I now look to explore more. Being associated with a food blog, my literary contributions have always faced prejudice. Also it seemed unfair to serve my random musings to all those lovely folks who have subscribed to my food blog. They are most welcome to read my thoughts but I prefer to keep it optional. Hence the attempt to break free and carve a separate niche.

Wish me the best and keep the love alive !!

Note - All my book reviews, musing, stories, poems, reviews will be published on this blog.