November 30, 2008

I Love Puchkas

It was a trip down memory lane when I had a chance to visit my city of birth – Kolkata – last week.

I was born and brought up in the ‘City of joy’ but moved out in late 80s. Though, there are many places associated with my childhood but being a food junkie, I didn’t want to miss one thing – the Bong eateries.

Many things changed in Kolkata. The lanes, the buildings, and the traffic etc etc..the only thing which is intact since ages is its road side snacks.

Favourite snack of the Kolkatan is the puchka — pani puris and golgappas come a distant second. The crisp puchka, with its mashed potato filling and dipped in tangy tamarind water and eaten out of saal leaf rolled into cups, is an experience to be savoured.
Favourite hangouts are near Victoria Memorial and Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata. My own favourite is Panditji near Birla Academy. Another delicacy from the puchkawallah is the churmur — crushed puchka with potato and masala, which has not yet found its way to other cities.

Jhalmuri or masala muri is a favourite item of all. Its acceptance lies in the fact that it is easy to make, available everywhere, safe on the stomach and best of all, can be customised to suit every palate. An item, made even at home and the focal point of many an adda and party.

A recommendatory guide is incomplete without mention of the sweets of Bengal, found in every lane of Kolkata. There is a distinct north-south divide in this regard with old-time favourites spread throughout Kolkata. Favourites are Kacha Golla (Nakur), Mishti Dohi (Bhim Nag, Bowbazar and Jadab, R.B. Avenue), Sandesh (all types) from Balaram (Bhowanipur), Pantua from Bancharam, Indrani from Ganguram and the list could go on and on.

I am feeling hungry again!

October 25, 2008

Happy birthday Pablo!

#Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.
#Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.
#Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.
#There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats.
#We don't grow older, we grow riper.

THESE are some famous quotes of a man called Pablo Picasso. One of the few artists to become a household name, Pablo Picasso was nothing if not prolific. The hundreds of thousands of works he created in his lifetime are scattered in many public and private collections throughout the world. But Picasso holds the record for the number of museums devoted solely to his oeuvre. Three (in Paris, Barcelona, and Málaga) are devoted solely to Picasso, and others dabble.

October 25 was his birthday – and I wanted to pen down a piece dedicating to a master with a difference. I visited his museum last year in Paris. Pablo’s museum is a very nice and intimate museum in the middle of a fashionable and typically Parisian district.

I was putting up at Hotel Ibis in Bastille. Though I been to Paris several times but I always missed paying a visit to the museum. This time I wanted to be there not because of Pablo’s great works but to feel the ambience of the place and how the museum came to fore. It was not because Pablo donated his masterpieces to Paris but some tax problems forced him to do so.

I was told famous painters have tax problems, and Pablo Picasso was no exception. To settle the taxes on his estate, the French government “inherited” a large number of his works upon his death in 1973. These paintings and sculpture form the core of Paris’ Picasso Museum, located in a large 17th century mansion –the Hotel Sale – in the popular Marais neighborhood. The ornate townhouse makes an interesting contrast to Picasso’s, largely abstract, paintings.

The Picasso Museum features over 3000 works by the artist and the collection is organized chronologically and the visitors can walk through the different periods in Picasso’s artistic development. Particularly noteworthy in the collection are “The Kiss,” a painting inspired by the painter’s marriage to Jacqueline Roque in 1961, his early (1901) self-portrait, and “The Two Brothers,” painted in Spain during the summer of 1906. In addition to works by Picasso, the museum includes a large number of works from Picasso's private art collection, including works by Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, and Seurat. The museum is a fascinating immersion into the work of one man and, no matter how one feels about Picasso’s work, is fascinating in its intense concentration on all phases of his art.

Among the many Picasso's paintings, you will find a 1901 self portrait and self portrait, the 1917 portrait of Olga in an armchair, the 1925 kiss, the 1931 woman in a red armchair (left) and the 1937 portrait of Dora Moor.

Paintings didn’t fascinate me much has I had already spent two days in the famous Louvre museum trying to decipher the meaning of hundreds of masterpiece paintings. The sculptors – the man, the woman and a pregnant woman made by wrought iron absorbed my attention.

In case you happen to be in Paris anytime – I would suggest please do visit this muse of Pablo. You won’t regret spending time here.

Visiting the Picasso Museum

Paris' Picasso Museum is open Wednesday to Monday year-round, except for January 1 and December 25. (The museum is closed on Tuesdays.) Summer (April – September) hours are 930am to 6pm. Winter hours are 930am to 530pm. Admission is 6.50 Euros for adults, 4.50 for students 18-25 years, and free for those under 18. The Museum is free to all on the first Sunday of each month. The museum has a gift shop that features prints, cards, and gifts inspired by Picasso as well as a small café.
The Picasso Museum is easily accessible by the Paris Metro system, via the Saint-Paul, Saint-Sebastien Froissart, and Chemin Vert stops.

Contact Information
Picasso Museum, Hotel Sale; 5 rue de Thorigny; 75003 Paris, France; Telephone: 01 42 71 25 21

Official site:

Getting to the Picasso Museum in Paris is easy. If you’re using the Paris metro system, just get off at either Saint Paul Station or Chemin Vert Station. The Picasso Museum is within walking distance of both these stations, and the directions are signposted as soon as you get out of the station. If you’re taking a cab or riding a bus then the address of the Picasso Museum is 5 Rue de Thorigny. Buses that stop very close to the Picasso Museum are 29, 96, 69 and 75.

October 6, 2008

A summer soiree in Sydney

-This was my second visit to Oz land in last one and half years. I am re-publishing an article written for Times of India last year in May.

Nestled amidst gorgeous beaches, Sydney is special in very many ways. Water sports for the adventurous at heart, world-class restaurants for foodies like me and a vibrant nightlife, well for everyone! But let me begin with Port Jackson. It truly is the heart of Sydney, symbolising the sun, water and the outdoor spirit of those who inhabit it.

Sydney occupies the largest natural harbour in the world offering divinely picturesque sunset views from almost all of the 70 harbour beaches in the metropolitan region. The best way to see the harbour is by taking a ferry from central Sydney to the Toronga Zoo, where I saw koalas, platypus and more than 3,000 other endangered or rare species enjoy prime ocean front property!

I was fortunate to witness the Harbour Bridge's 75th anniversary celebrations. The iconic Harbour Bridge , known as the coathanger among locals is an adventure in itself. Climb the southeast pylon for an unimaginable view of the harbour or pay a little more to spend adrenaline filled hours climbing the bridge through a certified company.

Facing the Harbour Bridge is the signature Opera House against the beautiful backdrop of Port Jackson; making it difficult to believe that Sydney is just about 200 years old. A visit to Sydney would not be complete without a trip to one of its several dozen sandy beaches lining its suburban coastline. The famous Bondi beach is about 15 minutes from the Bondi station by bus and is in the eastern suburbs. It is Sydney 's sandy seaside escape, complete with gelato vendors, funky pubs and an overall air of relaxation.

The beautiful Manly on the Northern side of the harbour is about 30 minutes from the city by ferry from the Circular Quay; one of the most relaxing, picturesque and enjoyable rides you will ever experience! If you are an animal lover and have come all the way to meet the famous koalas – an hour's train ride to Paramatta will take you to the Koala Park. You can explore the city's central and North sides where you can see the Queen Victoria statue and the Royal Botanical Garden, which is quite remarkable featuring the preserved site of the colony's first paltry vegetable patch.

The Museum of Contemporary Arts is also a point of interest mainly because of the terrific Art Deco building in which it resides and the Art Gallery houses an impressive collection of 18th and 19th century works. Following a long day of harbours, beaches, art and amusement, King's Cross is just the perfect blend of trendy class and underground subculture for a fine meal, chichi cocktail or gritty groove. And if you want to escape the hustle bustle of the city, simply take a two-hour train ride to reach the Blue Mountains.

Perhaps these beautiful mountains get their name from fumes created by the eucalyptus oil released into the air by the carpet of trees lining the surrounding hills. But well, you can never feel blue here!

October 4, 2008

Kiama - where the sea makes a noise

After a wonderful time in Blue Mountains – it was now destination – Kiama -. The drive was breathtaking though mostly I slept.

Rain and cloudy weather tried its best to play spoilsport but the high spirits in me ensured the spoilers didn’t blemish my trip.

Kiama is a well-known and much-favoured coastal resort located 120 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway. It is characterised by dramatic rocky coastline, sandy beaches and an attractive harbour. The hinterland behind the town is dominated by lush green dairy pastures, and rolling hills which were once clad in dense subtropical forests.

I went around looking for history of Kiama. I read that the area's original inhabitants, the Wodi Wodi Aborigines, are said to have called the place 'Kiarama-a' or 'Kiar-mai'. The meaning is usually given as 'where the sea makes a noise', although 'fertile area', 'mysterious spirit' and 'plenty food: good fishing ground' have also been suggested.

I had only a day with me to explore Kiama. After a scrumptious Thai red curry with rice to ease my hunger – went to find the most obvious place - the Blowhole. Still the town's greatest attraction this sea-cliff cavern will always offer some kind of display but the really spectacular 'blows' only occur when the wind and water are coming rather precisely from the south-east. On those occasions waves roar explosively through a hole in the cave-roof sending spray up as high as 60 metres and down over the carpark.

But on the day I visited it was playing hide and seek. Near the blowhole is the 15-metre lighthouse, opened in 1887 on George Bass Point after a considerable death toll had occurred on the rocky coastline. It was converted to electricity in 1969 and extends its beams to a distance of 27 km. Once attended by a lighthouse keeper it has long been automated.

Just down the hill from the lighthouse is the Kiama Pilot's Cottage and Heritage Centre, the residence of the local harbour pilots from 1881 to 1981. The building is typical of the country cottages designed in the office of the colonial architect to house public officials

On either side of the harbour are two attractive rock pools. The one on the northern side was built in 1888. Its location was determined by indecency laws which forbade bathing in public. The southern rock pool can be spectacular when the sea is rough. I wanted to have a swim but backed out after I realized that the water was cold and I didn’t know how to swim.

But two of my travel mates – a 12 year old handsome Saahil and a nine-year old naughtiest amateur magician – Eshaan had one of the best times in water.

There is a walking trail – the Kiama walking trail clearly marked with large blue-and-white posts. But I gave it a miss as it was time to return to Sydney.

October 3, 2008

Three Sisters

Sorry for lazy postings…It’s been over a month since I last posted on this blog. I was in Australia for sometime. Now I am back with some interesting stories to publish on my blog. To begin with let me tell you the story of three sisters.

This was my second trip to Australia in last one and half years. This time I made it sure that I spent some time in the Blue Mountains. And especially click a photo of three sisters.

Three beautiful hills named as three sisters in the Blue Mountains was awesome scenic beauty. After spending sometime there I went on to search some history behind the three sisters.

I was told that the Three Sisters are 922, 918 & 906 metres tall, respectively. That's over 3000 feet above sea level!

The Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe.
These beautiful young ladies had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry.

The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle.

As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed. As only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.

Journey to Blue Mountains is around two hours drive from Sydney and the drive is breathtaking. Though I was there for only a day - I would recommend for people to stay there for few days and enjoy the scenic beauty of the place. I would say it is out of the world.

August 25, 2008

Memoirs Of Bomb Blast

SAME DAY SAME time last year - I was sitting at an Indian restaurant in Brussels enjoying the delicacies of Indian cuisine made by Belgium chefs. For the firs time in years since I had my cell phone – I switched it off. Completely cut off from the world. It was me and my holiday mood – which didn't want any intruders to spoil the ambience, which was dipped and brightened in the ink pot of happiness.

Rajbir Singh, if I remember correctly was one of the waiters in the restaurant – who was trying to be friendly with me. Cracking some stupid Internet jokes on Indians and Europeans. I didn't blame him. Seeing a fellow countryman in alien place gives a feel of being among known people.

Why I am reminiscing about what I did last year? Same year same day and same time….. Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh – where I stay suffered two bomb blasts killing many people. And I had no clue about it and no information of news. It was Rajbir who told me about it when he came to know that I was from Hyderabad.

The information shocked me. I rushed to the hotel to check news on internet. It was not the first time when blast shook Hyderabad. A blast in Mecca Masjid also claimed many lives the same year. I was sad. Many innocent people died in twin blasts- Lumbini Park where people went to watch the sound and light show and other one at famous Gokul chat Bandar – a shop which is usually crowded for its well-known gol gappas (gup chup) and chat.

Today its first anniversary – of the twin blasts. While on way to office I passed through Lumbini Park – it wore a deserted look. No one was there. For a while I stopped my car and closed my eyes to pay deference to those who lost their lives of no fault of them. Most of them were engineering students from Maharashtra who came to this city on a study tour.

I left the place wondering why in the name of terrorism – do people take live of innocent. Don't they feel even for a moment what the family members of the deceased would feel. Don't they have heart? When will all this end. Killing of innocent people in the name of jihad and whatever reasons the killers spell out.

This small write up is my tribute to those who were killed in Hyderabad – last year. I pray such incident do not happen again.

August 15, 2008

Proud to be an Indian

I am so proud to be an Indian. The freedom we enjoy is unbeleiveable. Jai hind, Here is the translation of the national antheme.......i still wonder why we use the word Sindh when we do not have in our possession...anyways - one day we might re capture it. Hopeful and patience.......i am ......

O! Dispenser of India's destiny,
thou art the ruler of the minds of all people
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat,
the Maratha country, in the Dravida country, Utkala and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
it mingles in the rhapsodies of the pure waters of Yamuna and the Ganges.
They chant only thy name.
They seek only thy auspicious blessings.
They sing only the glory of thy victory.
The salvation of all people waits in thy hands,
O! Dispenser of India's destiny,
thou art the ruler of the minds of all people
Victory to thee, Victory to thee, Victory to thee,
Victory, Victory, Victory, Victory to thee!.

July 14, 2008

More Than Meets the Eye

Karachi: India V/s Sri Lanka - 6th July 2008 - Asia Cup Finals... India Lost। Was it due to the hectic schedule that Skipper Dhoni was talking about that left the Indian contingent too tired to try? Or was it something else...

Three Indian cricketers were caught on camera having fun with a group of girls at Clifton beach in Karachi on July 5 and the party went on till wee hours of July 6 ( the day of the final)

These cricketers returned to the hotel room after 5 am। Tired and drunk। Is this why they couldnt perform when most needed... Some exclusive photos of the three players in Pakistan- having fun before the final...

July 2, 2008

Media Scan - Interview

June 5, 2008

The Big Rule!

If you are working in an Indian Television company; particularly Hindi channels, this write-up will not be surprising for you at all. It’s all about breaking news. – Yeah I know I have earlier too posted a similar article but... When I look back at my days in the Hindi channel bracket and my being a silent spectator yet a participant to this raging stupidity – it not only makes me sad but I also experience disgust, which leaves behind a feeling of despair. And it hurts, knowing that the people who allow such nonsense are well reputed and distinguished journalists.

Let me tell you; the quality and importance of ‘Breaking News’ on Hindi channels is based on – A BIG RULE – i.e. - There Is No Rule. From untimely to timely rainfall, from the cat spilling the beans to some biggie sneezing his heart out – All these and more can be sold as breaking news, the only criteria being the ‘incident’ needs to have occurred in big cities – to be precise the all important TRP centers.

I don’t want to go on harping about the lameness of the ‘Breaking News’ concept, which is adopted in India – primarily coz I was also a part of it and I seem to be still an important part of it.

Some video grabs sent to me by a television journalist and a good friend – speaks volumes about the standard of broadcast journalism and the ‘Breaking News’ phenomenon in India and mind you these are just a handful of the examples and not the entire picture. My only prayer - Good sense should prevail and hopefully soon. Amen!

June 1, 2008

History's Mystery

What's Stonehenge all about! Stonehenge - the mysterious circle of giant stones standing in the south west of England – have always fascinated me. Not because of their scenic beauty but because of the strange arrangement of the stones in a circle.

My trip to these mysterious rocks was quite a journey in itself. Even after hours of trying to analyse and dig out the unsolved and deeply buried legacy of this beautiful yet eerie destination.... I could not lay my hands, heart or head to what was it that brought so many people to this fascinating place; a monument in its own right? Was it the voices; of those who lay silent underground or was it that sense of solace that one feels once you step onto these greenlands. What is it that calls out to you?

There have been many theories put forth; about the pattern of these stones but, the biggest mystery was the fact that who brought these stones and placed them in this isolated place, and most importantly Why? ....where the clouds and the acres of green have a tête-à-tête of a kind – A sight to behold!

My happiness found a new degree when I read a report - claiming that scientists had finally concluded what Stonehenge stood for. They had always been tombstones. But, this latest news has picked up loads of coverage since its announcement by Mike Parker Pearson and National Geographic.

It was thought that the 5,000 year old stones had only served as a burial place for a brief spell between 2600 and 2700 BC. But Parker Pearson has new radiocarbon dating information for three sets of remains, and pinpoints three specific times when the bodies were cremated, spanning a period from 2930 to 2340 BC.These dead people were probably some sort of royalty - a fact that has been picked by some UK publications such as The Times, although perhaps predictably the royal angle seems to have garnered more interest in the United States (see, for example, the LA Times and the Star Tribune).

Still people debate the significance of those big stones in southwestern England (apparently dragged all the way over the mountains from the far reaches of Wales) and why they are arranged there in a circle of distinctive arches. One comment posted at the bottom of this New Scientist story claims that they are just left over bits of stone from people looking for coal. I'm slightly skeptical about that one, originating as I do from a coal-mining area of England and never having noticed huge stone circles there.

In case you still aren't convinced by the latest discoveries New Scientists also have a nice rundown of the most popular theories for the existence of the stones, including the best of all – Stonehenge being an UFO landing site. Please, please, please, for once let science be wrong. Let Stonehenge be a gateway for visiting aliens. It's what all of us want. Don’t We?

May 29, 2008

Pisa's leaning tower 'stabilized'

And How!

While at Pisa in Italy, I did my own thing and tried my hand at stabilizing the Leaning Tower of Pisa… only for the sake of this Kodak moment that you see above. I am happy that it has finally stopped moving for the first time in its 800-year-history - and of course - not due to my efforts, but, because of those engineers who have worked on it for years.

Reports say, that the man in charge of the team monitoring the 26m euros (£20m; $40m) project has confirmed that the tower should remain stable for at least another 200 years. It took the team more than 10 years to stabilize the tower. The work involved extracting some 70 tonnes of earth from the northern side to encourage the tower to right itself. The tower continued to move towards a more upright position when the work finished. Now, though - seven years later and 48cm (19in) straighter - hi-tech monitors embedded in the soil beneath its foundations and in the tower itself show that it has stopped moving completely. Even while it was being built, in the late 12th Century, workers noticed that it was starting to tilt. Their attempts to compensate resulted in the completed tower, being very slightly bent. As if to underline the success of the project, the leaning tower recently lost its title as the world's wonkiest piece of architecture to the steeple of a small church in Germany.

May 26, 2008

Shooting under Fire

May 25, 2008

I am a hardcore news journalist who loves to report in 90 seconds – a documentary and the likes of news have never been my forte. But a day spent at the Reuter's headquarters in Canary Wharf, London sometime in August, last year – changed my perception on documentary making. My friend Pawan Bali loves documentaries and will eventually venture into it sometime in the future. Her stern interest in this subject always befuddled me but I was in for a revelation. A screening of a 72 minute documentary on Reuters's cameramen and photographers in the war torn Gaza strip made me sit upright and understand the nuances of what a good documentary is and what it can do, unlike those shown in the name of documentaries on the Indian news channels.

Would like to share some part of this very interesting and must watch documentary. From its story to its camera work and for its climax – Every single nuance is so beautiful; dipped in the essence of pain.

SHOOTING UNDER FIRE – is the story where Reinhard Krause, the German head of the Reuters Israeli photo bureau is up against a deadline and facing a moral dilemma. He's looking at a photo that shows the head of the female suicide bomber still perfectly in tact lying on the ground, severed cleanly from her body without a blemish on her face and with no blood to be seen. Does he decide to show this to the world or keep it hidden? "Every picture must tell a story" Reinhard says and it's clear what happened with this frame, but is the world ready for this kind of image? He needs to decide within minutes. Welcome to the everyday difficulties of depicting a story that keeps rolling on with new horrors. This film joins Reinhard during the last few weeks of his 4 year placement in Israel and unveils the people and the pressured process of a news agency producing the photos we see in papers around the world. Reinhard single-handedly revolutionized how photos are taken and reported upon in Israel and is now working with a well-oiled team made up of both Palestinians and Israelis, many of whom still have never met, as freedom of movement is restricted for everyone. Both sides of the war report to the same person. Reinhard's team reports on atrocities most days and each of them has found different ways to cope with the stress of what they are witnessing. Gil, an Israeli photographer breaks down on camera after covering an emotional funeral saying that sometimes he feels like an animal chasing after the shots. Ahmed, a Palestinian who was nearly killed when on the job knows that it's his duty to show the world what is really going on in Gaza and lives and breathes his job. Nir, a young talented photographer in Tel Aviv has learnt to separate the day job and his leisure time and blocks off what he doesn't want to think about. Abed, a resident in the anarchic West Bank town of Nablus has become a spokesman for local journalists even though he's had to endure 90 days of curfew before. All of them won't change their job for love nor money. This film gets behind the world's oldest news agency to show how the news is made and reported on, from the first ambulance text of an accident in Jerusalem to the front page of the papers the next morning. Few of us stop to think how our stories and pictures come to us. With unprecedented access Shooting under Fire shows us the full process, highlighting the staggeringly fast digital technology, the difficult morals that await even the toughest of snappers, and the extreme lives that people lead in a land in war.

May 23, 2008

Breaking News: Exclusive!

“Media... - They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent...”

The question always seems to be - What is our jurisdiction and who is it that sets the limit for media to report a crime story? Broadcast Journalists from News Channel in India seem to have lost all restraint… as there are no set guidelines. The ‘Breaking News’ phenomenon has clutched the Indian media’s throat and doesn't look likes its going to let go soon enough. My short stint with BBC in Bristol showed me a different side of media… I had to go through 50 pages of offcom regulations and guidelines on what to do and what not to do while reporting crime stories. Once the police take over the crime scene – the media is set off limits and is not allowed to probe or investigate into the matter on its own. It could and would report only what police confirms.

Whereas in India; it’s been the other way around. News channels go ahead and report, investigate and cook up their own analysis behind the facade of social justice. The most ‘happening’ (pun intended) and recent story that’s been manhandled by the media is the Arushi murder case in Delhi... Media played a major role in exposing police in-competency but while doing so, it crossed all boundaries of investigation. Personal detectives were bought on to the scene – Courtesy News channels who conducted a probe into the murder mystery. Was it justified? I really appreciate what NDTV did. - It issued a statement saying it will report only what the police confirms and would not station reporters in front of the crime scene in respect of the privacy of the victim’s family. It’s been a high profile case no doubt, but is high time the Channels understand their role. Being a Broadcast Journalist myself, I understand the circumstances given to which reports are made, nevertheless the Big Bosses need to realize that reporters on field are not experts in reporting crime stories and floating out speculations don’t do good. They just hamper the investigation and unnecessarily pressurize the investigating team and the viewers, derailing and confusing them with the different versions of the same case on different channels.

If, the so called National News Channels claim that their strategy is correct; then who is it that should be held responsible for ‘wrong’ reporting? - For example; in the Jaipur serial blasts case; where one channel claimed that it had exclusive reports of RDX being used in the explosion, the reports that have emerged now say that no RDX was found. Funny? There’s more! Similarly while one channel was showing a video of the cycle being used in the case as genuine, at the same time… another top news channel was reporting as fake. Whom to believe? Its time to stop fooling and drilling people’s minds with ‘Exclusives” and “Breaking News” Its time to showcase News with sincerity and faith; keeping in mind… Our responsibility towards society...

January 27, 2008

God of Small Things

“God is not a spectator, but a fellow-sufferer … to embrace the bitterness of the strange world he has made. - From Science and Providence.

Does the Sun differentiate between the rich and the poor or the upper caste or the lower, when it emits its life saving energy? Do the ocean waves shy away from touching the feet of Dalits (untouchables as they were once called in the pre independence era of India)?

Nature doesn’t differentiate between the extremes of the world, so doesn’t GOD; the Maker of the Universe. It’s us - Human beings who create these differences and rifts within. Its said that untouchability no longer exists in this part of the world, but is it really so? A deep probe in rural India - would leave the so called mentors of society with lots to think and ponder about. But, there is always a ray of hope, and it comes from non other than our maker himself.

Lord Balaji- the richest Hindu God (with a turn over of more than Rs. 800 crore annually) is going out with his priests to the Dalit colonies, to spend time with his set of underprivileged Dalit children and erase the caste discrimination that they face in this part of the world. Tirumala Tirupati Dewastham (the body which manages the Lord Balaji temple in Tirumala (Andhra Pradesh) – needs to be applauded for thinking of such a novel idea. Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) has decided to initiate the Dalita Govindam programme, in an effort to propagate the message of “Equality in the Eyes of God” in the Hindu religion.

As part of the programme, the idol of Lord Venkateswara will be taken to a Dalitwada (SC colony) by the temple priests and sacred rituals will be performed there after which, the temple priests will give out Veda Ashirvadam en masse to the residents of the colony and share the Srivari Prasadam with the devotees. To add to this, Lord Venkateswara along with its retinue of priests will spend a night in the Dalitwada among its residents. Until now, the Veda Ashirvadam was given only to the VVIPs who visited the temple for Lord Venkateswara’s darshan, as it’s said...

“When a man takes one step toward God, God takes more steps toward that man than there are sands in the worlds of time.” - The Work of the Chariot

January 16, 2008

Mona Lisa's Smile Re-veiled

'The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.’

What’s the secret behind Monalisa's smile, everyone asks? Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo – uncovers a researcher, who apparently has evidence behind the identity of the woman behind Mona Lisa's iconic smile. So what’s the evidence everyone asks? Well, some book-margin notes written by a friend of Leonardo da Vinci while the artist worked on the masterpiece.

So, why am I so interested in this? I spent days...tracing the house of Mona Lisa in Florence, the place where she modeled for Leonardo Da Vinci and also where she was reportedly buried and it was no easy task.

October 2007, Florence, with just a list of places mentioned in history and some deeply buried records obtained from Google search, I set out to discover Sant'Orsola. With no Italian to help, I spent 2 days trying unsuccessfully, to trace the place.

Finally, a broken sign board, hidden behind a shop gave me some direction to where Mona Lisa was supposedly buried.

I couldn’t believe my luck whenI stood at the Convent of Sant'Orsola, where Mona Lisa spent her final years before she died in July 15, 1542. But to my discovery, I found there standing, nothing more than a mall.

After the first milestone, my curiosity grew – it was time to find her birthplace – which, according to many websites was a place just across the famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge. A walk over the bridge was awesome - A sheet of paper in my hand read out the documentary of Leonardo's scholar, Giuseppe Pallanti, which spoke of Mona Lisa being born in a house that once stood in Via Sguazza, a side street of Via Maggio, where Florence's antiques dealers do their trade.

Interestingly, I was in a different world while I walked through the thin lanes of old Florence where, I, at once, spotted the closed down and battered house, where the most talked about, most visited and the most analyzed beauty with the secretive smile was once born.

Was it only me who was experiencing this different feeling? Did it really matter to those, who live in these lanes? To my surprise, most of them were not even interested in Mona Lisa or the great maestro Leonardo, whereas for me, this trip to Florence was a walk through and back in history.

January 12, 2008

Diamonds are Forever!

Somewhat almond-shaped, almost in its native condition … worth over 600 crores and missing! That’s the Nizam Diamond. One of the largest stones in the world, but little is known about it, except its size, estimated value, and its fortunate owner - the Nizam of Hyderabad, the most powerful ruler and lineal descendant of the former Mogul Viceroy of Golconda. It is believed that the famous diamond-fields popularly known as the Golconda mines were situated in his territory.

Not surprising, that the Nizam's jewellry collection - now in the possession of the government of India is said to be world's best. If one has to believe officials of Christie's - the 177 pieces of diamonds and other jewelery pieces in the collection are worth an amount of over Rs 20,000 crores which was bought out by the government of India for a mere Rs. 218 crores from the Nizam family.

The star attraction of the collection is the world’s fifth largest diamond – the Jacob Diamond... Interestingly, people rarely know about a diamond called the Nizam diamond, which weighs 277 carats and is the biggest of the Nizam’s treasure. But this diamond was not part of the collection that was sold to the Govt. of India. Major Websites dealing with diamonds have specific mention about this particular diamond but have no idea about its whereabouts.

Saifulla- the Cultural Advisor to the Nizam Trust believes that this piece of heritage treasure is still in possession with someone in the family – suggesting a possibility of a hunt to begun soon, but the success and discovery of where it is left, wide and deep to imagination.

January 8, 2008

A Prince's Ransom

Sixty years ago the richest man in the world deposited £1m in a London account. It's been there ever since, and today it could be worth £80m. But no one can lay a finger on it.

The Nizam of Hyderabad, as he was known, cut a curious figure. A frail, tiny man, and a devout Muslim, known to be notorious for his meanness - he wore the same tattered fez for 35 years, dressed in rumpled cotton pyjamas, and ate all his meals off a tin plate, while sitting on a mat in his bedroom surrounded by overflowing wastepaper baskets. But he was, back then, the richest man on the planet. In 1948, he deposited £1m - in those days, a staggeringly large sum - with the Westminster Bank in London.

The Nazim's family had ruled Hyderabad since the early 18th century, and he was the only maharajah in British India who enjoyed the title Exalted Highness - a reward for his generous £25m contribution to the British exchequer during the first world war. When the Nizam deposited this £1m in London, he was in a tricky political situation. As the Muslim ruler of an Indian territory the size of England and Scotland, he was attracted by the idea of joining the new state of Pakistan. But he faced several obstacles. Most of his 20m subjects were Hindus and his huge landlocked kingdom was thousands of miles away from the new Muslim homeland in the Punjab.

Cultural Advisor to the Nizam Trust in Hyderabad - Saifulla said that while the Nizam dithered, the man to whom he had entrusted the £1m, his finance minister Moin Nawaz Jung, took matters into his own hands. He signed over the money to Pakistan's new high commissioner in London (who rejoiced in the name of Rahimatoola). Appalled, and under pressure from India, the Nizam cabled Westminster Bank and told officials to freeze the account. Soon afterwards, in September 1948, Indian troops marched into Hyderabad and brutally annexed his kingdom.

According to Saifulla - the story would be little more than one of the curious tales from the partition of India - were it not for the fact that, 53 years later, the money is still stuck in a NatWest account in Britain. And as of last week, depending on whom you talk to, the Nizam's missing fortune has grown to between £25m and £80m.Before his death in 1970, the dethroned seventh Nizam's son made attempts to get the money back. In 1957, after several rounds of litigation between the Nizam and the Pakistani government, the case reached the House of Lords. Lord Denning concluded that the account could only be unfrozen with the agreement of all the parties. The only way forward was "intergovernmental negotiations", he averred.

Few people then, however, would have imagined that the bitter adolescent rivalry that characterised the early years of India and Pakistan's relationship would continue well into the next century.The main beneficiary of this surreal dispute, of course, is NatWest, now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group. The late Nizam's money was initially invested in war bonds, earning interest at 3%. In the 1960s the money was shifted into a fixed-rate deposit account.

Over time most of the partners who had dealt with the account retired.Until India and Pakistan and the Nizam agree, then, to cut a deal, it seems the money will remain lodged interminably inside NatWest's shiny London HQ at Bishopsgate EC2.