Dumpy in Hampi – Part I

Dumpy, Macha and Magne were wondering what to do on a long weekend which is a thought that crosses through their mind every time their is a “long weekend”.

“Long Weekends” is a off day from office either on a Friday or Monday that makes a normal Saturday/Sunday weekend into to a long weekend. This is probably somewhat new to us in India as trips were not that common and mostly if at all the trips were done it was either to a relative’s place or to Holy place for Pilgrimage.

Anyways Dumpy was the only guy who has gone around places in India in his school days. Their family used to make trips during the Durga Puja holidays but making sure they don’t miss the final days of Puja back in Kolkata. If there are people who like travelling in India they are the Bengalis   who ensure that they keep covering places in India every year. Dumpy’s family album is full of such images and the family displays it on a collage at their home. He has a family portrait in his room with that image in the background.

Macha is a die hard fan of Thaliava and has been basking in the glory of latest movie “Kabali”. Some of his mannerisms are nothing but inspiration of Thaliava. His home in Chennai was also flooded last year as many others. His family car was submerged in those waters and he still feels very bad it. Normally he has train tickets booked months in advance, cancelling whenever he is not going which is not that usual. This time on the long weekend he had already booked ticket but his family was going out to relative’s place somewhere in Tuticorin and he was not very keen.

Magne is another Mandayada Gandu and is also a big fan of our Rebel Star, Mandayada Gandu Ambareesh. In southern states on India Filmstars get a very good fan following and loved and respected than the Bollywood stars. Magne was very calm and friendly, was the cool guy in the group that his schooling in Bangalore contributed to. He was the only guy in the group who had some contacts in “Ladies Hostel” during the college times and still has many in Facebook Friends. Dumpy and Macha get all the updates browsing his profiles

These three stay together in a small 2BHK that they have rented out on Banerghatta Road which is close to their offices.Its already been 2 years of staying together in this flat but all this started way back in college first year triple seater hostel rooms. Room were allocated by the Warden and he used to make sure people of the same state don’t get the same room. This was a rule and hence people of three different states in one room. This helps in the National Integration and is proof for “Unity is Diversity”.

Four years in College has changed these young men in ways that they can’t imagine. Magne can eat food on a table which has non-veg served. Macha can sing couple of lines of hindi songs and he even likes Rabindra Sangeet that Dumpy loves so much. Dumpy can go through the winters without a monkey cap. All three have started enjoying parties and have started tasting beers, wines and on-the-rocks. Its been a change that their families notice when they go back home on vacations. Each year the change was more profound and stands out more than the last year.

All of them were here in Bangalore for a long weekend and wanted to make use of it. Recently Dumpy after his many failed attempts in order to convince his parents to buy a bike went ahead and got a car. With his budget of as minimum as possible the only car he could think of was Maruti Alto and he got a mid-variant of the car. Unfortunately Dumpy was not ready to drive on the highways but Macha had a Maruti Omni in Chennai and was fairly confident with driving. After discussing about the probable destination and  knocking out  Mysore,Ooty, Yeracud & Madikere, everyone agreed for Hampi. Since Hampi is over 6 hours drive from Bangalore they decided to take a day off from work making a 4 days trip.

Early Friday morning the trip started with Macha on the driver’s seat. Dumpy on the front passenger seat and Magne sleeping on the back seat. They have all that was needed for a road trip good music on the iPod, bunch of snacks and usual tea breaks. They stopped in Chitradurga for lunch. It was a normal Darshini hotel with vegetarian food and Dumpy was not that happy with the food but after 2 years of Bangalore he can manage the meals.

Dumpy wanted to try his hand on the wheels and took from Macha for sometime. All of the had put their seatbelts, even Magne. Dumpy was driving fine but then there was KSRTC bus going to Hoskote which used to honk whenever it was close. Dumpy would just accelerate and not let is pass. But each honk disturbed his concentration and finally he gave up and Macha was back. This delayed their arrival a little but Dumpy was happy.

The plan was to stop at Kamalapur’s KSTDC Hotel which was about 6 KM from Hampi. They reached there around 3 PM and Friday evening was spent in the Hotel with relatively better dinner and pint of beer.

The beer made them high or it was something else, but they were transported to a different world that they had never thought. This Hampi Trip was going to very different that none of them had realized.

Why American’s Don’t Walk?

Recently I was on a short trip to US for work. I was in a town called Longmont, Colorado. At this time of year which August the climate was very pleasant with bright sun. The temperature was hovering around 25-30 Deg C which was very near to what we have in Bangalore. Longmont isn’t that big  a city but very beautiful with Rocky Mountains running north to south and can be seen very easily.

In United States you wouldn’t see lot of people walking around. Coming from India where you would finds lots of people walking, many because they don’t have means otherwise, many because like walking and then many times taking a car or a bike out is a hassle so you walk around. Getting a car in US isn’t that difficult but driving on US roads isn’t that straightforward. There is this driving on the right/left that confuses people and then there are these traffic rules as well the speeds. Driving is simple here than in India’s chaotic conditions but it takes time to get used to.

Anyways, on a Saturday me and couple of office colleagues thought of walking down. We walked more than 2 miles to a Best Buy store and then lunch at Twisted Noodles (It was really a twisted place as when you order noodles you get a pasta and when one orders a pasta gets a noodle). And you couldn’t find a single soul walking on a pleasant sunny Saturday morning. There was only one young lady standing on the pavement asking for money to buy gas.

So I was wondering why Americans don’t walk and there are few things that we have to take in considerations

  • Ubiquitous Motor Cars – Everyone has a car and in a family there can be multiple cars
  • Absent Public transport – Public transport isn’t probably used much here and hence the services are generally not that great. And whenever you find one it is somewhat costly
  • Climate – The climate can get really cold in winters with snowing which probably makes it difficult walking in cold areas. Extreme hot weather of Arizona may also create its own problem for pedestrians. The pleasant weather may not be for long and hence the habit of walking takes a hit.
  • American cities and towns have elaborate  roads with major roads within cities having speed limit of 45MPH which makes it scary for pedestrians. There are crossing and sometimes one has to walk a lot to find such crossings. And then you have 20 or 30 secs to cross the roads Hence people find it easier to take a car out rather than walking.
  • The places are designed very motor friendly. The place where one lives, the place where one works and the place where go to buy stuff is all in different directions with distances of the more than 2-3 miles at the least. Offices and Malls have acres of open parking which is quite a luxury for countries that don’t have such open spaces.

Walking makes the city more happening and perceived safe  and people more healthy. In addition to hitting the Gym or walking around a Park, if walking to nearby shopping or to schools or offices can be made safe and more friendly.Once walking is habit the walkers wouldn’t get stare from everyone else in the car and doesn’t feel intruding into comfortable driving.

I would not say that conditions for pedestrians is great in our Indian cities. Just that people many times don’t have choice and are ready to share the roads with all the vehicles running  around. I think when people who come from places where the traffic is quite organized, find it very difficult as to how it really works for us.

The General Theory Of Investing

The general theory of investing is quite simple and exhibited by people in everything. We generally want to buy good things at good prices and sell things at a profit which means making it for less and selling it for more. This is true unless you are someone who wants to have snob value attached to things like some of the super rich people who are probably less than 1% of the world wide population.

The central idea to investing is forfeiting today’s fun/joy and delaying it for the future in the hope that it helps to get greater returns or atleast safeguard us in the rainy days.

The stories are many and advice are plenty in today’s fast paced well connected internet world. Just scan through and you will have best real estate investments, best shares to pick, best SIP to put your money, best mutual fund to buy, best bonds to put your money into and what not.

In my own way I was trying to get a better view of all this.In doing so I  read  couple of books Graham’s “Intelligent Investor” supposedly mentor to super investors like Warren Buffet and Taleb’s “Fooled By Randomness”. Both these books are very different take on investing, success and life.

There are few points that I have taken my key takeaways

  • Always avoid herd mentality – Its human nature to value things more when other also believe in it. Bullish/Bearish markets are great example of this. Investors are carried away and they keep buying in a bullish market believing that markets are going to raise and raise. Companies are valued not based on their balance sheet/earning rather on the future prospects making them too expensive but people keep buying the over priced shares contributing to the herd behavior.
  •  Do not believe in statistics completely – Mathematics/Statistics  has been used in Economics in order to derive results based on data. There are multiple theories with the mathematical/probabilistic explanations based on which the decisions are made.Many of these theories are pseudoscience with most of the investors having limited understanding. So relying completely on statistics to make decisions on investing without understanding the background can be dangerous.
  • Be wary of expert opinions –  The “experts” in the field of investment keep on changing very frequently. Many of traders who were very successful at a certain point of time go bust and new league joins. The journalists of which most of them are trained in expressing things in a great way but they don’t tend to get what and how investment needs to be done. So always be wary, what has worked earlier may not work in future. A trader with very impressive past may blowup in the next ups and downs of the market.
  • Have realistic expectation from the investment – Take any investment and have realistic expectation. If someone says that the investment is definitely going to give unheard returns, then be sure there is something fishy. Anything beyond bank interest rates + 5% is great and isn’t very easy to repeat year after year. Anyone who claims to give returns of  50%, 100% or so are actually like getting you into lottery. I am not denying that nobody makes such returns but you cannot be certain about it and it cannot be repeated every year. If you are investing in something like that, keep in mind that you can as well lose everything.

I may be sounding a scumbag who is very skeptical about the whole situation. Its just that make your own decisions and do some thinking. If you want to put your money in a company whose price to earnings ratio is 500, its your choice. If you want to buy a flat for 1.5 Crore thinking of a great investment, think through.

Sometimes running against the herd is good. Its will never be easy but in the end it will be probably worth the struggle.

I think whatever I have put here is common sense and hopefully helps me as well others to take investment decisions in a better way.

Hawa Mahal (All India Radio Program) – A primer

Hawa Mahal is 15 min radio program broadcasted by  All India Radio’s (run by Indian goverment) channel Vividh Bharti. These days there is a FM channel 102.9 MHz where this program is played at 8PM (Mon – Saturday)

Stories, Anecdotes, Snippets, skits, plays or natak, jhalki, vyang in Hindi are what Hawa Mahal deals with. The specialty is the  local stories that are close to us, our culture and stories of this land. In this globalized world where a Television Series like “Game of Thrones” is so popular worldwide and has stormed the world, somewhere these stories have taken backstage. In this globalized you can soon become an outcast who has not seen Game of Thrones, Friends, How I met your mother, Big Bang Theory and what not. I am sure they are good and definitely have their own place with viewers mindshare. With Indian TV spewing out venom in all their daily soap operas that are nowhere close to what story  telling should be all about. Indian storytelling isn’t new, there have been numerous storytellers and their everlasting stories still reverberates in the hearts and minds of people. But with so much clutter out there it is very difficult to  find things that are not shouting it loud. AIR and Hawa Mahal would not resort to modern advertising techniques as they cater to their loyal audience and probably believe that newer generation would never like these. Also it would not be considered “cool” if  you start discussing a play whose telecast was done last night on Hawa Mahal rather it would be considered perfectly okay discussing the various tidbits of “Game of Thrones” not only in office but also social media. Nevertheless I am still old worldly and somehow like listening to these kind of stuff. I should put the disclaimer that I have not seen GOT and Friends and probably a big outcast already 🙂

I have started to listen to Hawa Mahal again and many of the stories are just amazing. These stories are probably little dated sometimes but still have the Indian touch which makes them all the more interesting. I have gathered some of the episodes online and collated into a soundcloud channel.

Bin Bah Ka Sweater – A sweet little Indian love story, very subtle, very Indian                    (Half Sweater)

Dhoop Ka Tax – In today’s scenario of various taxes seen, this one is quite valid even today (Tax on Sunlight)

Ataichi Case – Married couples will definitely find this very relevant and interesting (Suitcase)

All  copyright lies with AIR and their respective writers/directors on these links. I have just gathered it from online sources and put together on soundcloud. This is kind of advertisement for AIR and Hawa Mahal Program.

Hopefully this will encourage more listeners to enjoy many of these masterpieces. But these can only be enjoyed by Hindi Listeners. I am not sure there may be local programmes as well which I am not aware of.

I am sure any anthology in Hawa Mahal will be a very good collection to have especially for people who are driving their cars and that also in extreme traffic.

Even if I get few people back to listening Hawa Mahal on AIR’s Channel Vividh Bharti I will be very glad.



Numismatist by Stroke of Luck

I am not sure about the year, but it would probably be somewhere in 1992-93, I was playing cricket in an area which wasn’t our normal playing ground.I have blurred memory of that day and it was a nice cloudy day , mostly at the start of winter, perfect for playing. Boleng used to be a small hamlet surrounded by Himalayan Hills with distant constant burble of mighty Siang. I was probably fielding in the mid off area and as this one was not a regular playing pitch for us, there were patches of bushes everywhere. If you have lived in Hills you must know that it isn’t always easy to find a nice flat ground to play. Someone hits the ball towards my fielding position and ball must have hit hard as I was not able get hold of it and it went into bushes. We never had the luxury of having multiple balls and whenever it got lost there was a search mission until we found it. Sometimes it was found, sometimes we will find one that was lost long back and sometimes game stops with search abandoned for another lucky day. Boleng at that time did not had a shop selling these cricket balls and if we don’t have backup will have to wait for Dad to go to Pasighat or Along which were nearby towns.Thinking of those days and writing about it today makes me go into a different world, for those who cannot think of this scenario can watch the movie “The Blue Umbrella” , a Bollywood movie where Pankaj Kapoor plays brilliantly a shop keeper in a small hilly village.

Anyways lets get back to our story, as I was searching the ball suddenly I saw a soiled corroded plastic sac full of coins. It was like finding a hidden treasure. I picked it up and it did not belong to anybody by the look of the sac and coins that the sac had. I was not sure what should I do with these coins but then as there was no claimers to that and I took it home. My mom was very angry and asked me to throw all as it may be the grave goods which is a custom with the local folks in Arunachal Pradesh like the Pharaohs of Egypt. I was somehow not convinced with her conjecture and wanted to get a second hearing with Dad. Finally when I showed these to my Dad he agreed that these coins are somewhat old and should be kept and not thrown. And because of his rational decision I got to keep all of them and it was cherished property for all the time until I was in school. All those coins are still there with my parents. Most of the coins were on 60’s and 70’s and were not much in circulation in 90’s. That accident of finding some coins which were either grave goods or someone’s lost and forgotten hidden money my  coin collection started. I won’t lie that I did go again to that area to search more but wasn’t lucky anymore. But I started collecting coins and oldest I got was 1835 East India Company coin in my collection today. I have been collecting old coins as well coins of different countries. The picture that you see here is what I have collected in last 10 years. The original collection is not with me currently.

There are times when life puts you  suddenly into things that becomes your lifetime memories and here I am carrying someone else’s legacy and an “Amateur Numismatist By Accident”

Lou Han – Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant Review

India has a Chinese Diaspora possibly because both these countries have been in touch for thousands of years be it Buddhism, Silk Route, wars or more recently as competitors. As a kid I remember going to a Chinese dentist’s clinic of S S Chiang in Patna (Opposite BN College for those who know Patna) and there were bunch of them on that road probably cousins who moved out of Calcutta. Not sure if they had official degrees but there used to be a queue always. Patna being my maternal grandmother’s place we used to go often in our summer vacations and some of those vacations used to become more of medical checks. Mr. Chiang’s son was practicing those days and I remember he speaking to my Grandmother in a very good bhojpuri. I still don’t have couple of molars that were removed by him, so can’t really forget the Chinese Dentist in my life 🙂

Anyways this is my first review of a restaurant, I am not a great foodie but once in a while I do go out eating.Lou Han is located on 13th Cross, 27th Main Road (Opposite CPWD Quarters). I have been there many times and there is one thing that this place makes you feel is the age old business mantra of “Customer is King” is really not true. Lou Han is not a fine dine or an expensive place, you should be done under 500 rupees for two with really a good filling meal. There is a  lady (of Chinese descent) who runs the place and she speaks in Hindi. There is definitely something strange with the way she speaks Hindi, I am not sure if she is angry while speaking to customers or its her usual tone while speaking Hindi. It has so happened that I have seen many time people getting angry with the way she takes order. If you ask too many things on the menu she just loses her control and shouts. There was an instance when there were bunch of “just college passouts into jobs” who were making quite a noise. She was getting angry while taking their orders but at some point she lost it and blasted them saying they can go out if they continue creating such a menace. I have seen couple of times she has told customers to go if they are too late. But even with all this you will always find 70% of table occupied. Where on the earth  will you find vegetarian Chinese food, probably not even in China 🙂

I have had various dishes noodles, rices, manchurian (probably a Indian Chinese preparation unheard of in China), tofu and few more dishes and I would tell you it has never been that we have left anything on the table. The quality and taste of the food is great.So even after being afraid of getting scolded people keep thronging the tables of Lou Han.

There is always a very old lady probably in her seventies sitting on one of tables near the billing counter. Probably the family lives in the same premises also.

So the food that is served is homely and the service and ambience you get is homely as well and if you have forgotten scoldings of your mom you would get that too very easily.

Overall food is good and I liked it all the time I have been there.

Cost ~ 500 for two

Quantity – Bountiful

Ambience – Average

Service – Questionable 🙂

Must – Patience (Takes time for food to come to table) and forget the idea that “Customer is King”

(I am not a pure vegetarian and do eat other non vegetarian stuff as well)

Here is a business tidbit from the Lou Han experience. If a product/service is unique and customer would not find it anywhere else, you can be little harsh on customers and they would still come back. One doesn’t have to worship their customer always but work on making their products/services worthy 🙂

Shimla “Queen of Hills”

There may be various contenders for the “Queen on Hills” in India but “Simla” as it was called on those days will definitely be one with an oldest claim. English ruled India for about 200 years (Company rule – 1757 to 1858 and Crown rule – 1858-1947). Calcutta was the capital until 1911 but English made Simla as their summer capital in 1864 much before Delhi was made the capital of British India.So you can imagine the how much effort and energy would it take to move the bureaucracy from Calcutta to all the way to Shimla when there were no roads. The narrow gauge railway line between Kalka and Shimla was inaugurated in 1903 which would have reduced the effort this yearly movement of the complete establishment. Nevertheless the British people could not bear the summer heat of the India and they would bear all the pains in order to avoid that.

Recently I visited Himachal Pradesh for couple of days and it was my first trip to Shimla as well. As all other Himalayan states, Himachal is also seeing lot of development in terms of construction of building including apartment complexes, widening of roads and lots of modern man made creations. The hotel that I stayed was going 9 floor down. You enter the terrace which has reception and then there were two different lifts one going down from terrace to 5th floor and then other going down to 9th floor. And Shimla is full of such huge buildings, the ones going down in the valley and other rising on the slopes, I could only think of Himalayan region being so seismically very active and there is another disaster in waiting. Hopefully these builders would have gained knowledge of making these building strong enough to face earthquakes. Coincidentally when I was back to Chandigarh that very day there were earthquake shocks in that region but there was no major damage. Anyways not much can be done but I only hope everyone pays enough attention to make buildings that are earthquake proof.

Shimla was setup by the British to give them the feel of England and most of “The Mall” is very British in construction and architecture. I can imagine that westerners would feel at home in such a place. As usual I was looking for books to buy as souvenir and I saw a shop on the mall road which sort of Antique Book shop and there were very old volumes of books in a very bad shape. I took out one which was First Edition discussing Hills in the Himalayan Range and when asked for price I was surprised to hear a princely sum of 4000 which may be fine for its antiqueness but I couldn’t take it. There is another normal bookstore called Minerva Publishers and Distributors and I found two books that looked interesting enough and easy on my purse as well. One called “Simla In Ragtime” written by some Doz whose identity is not known and another The Toy Train by Raaja Bhasin. Its not clear that Doz was English or American but he has lived in Simla for a long time. Those days, a lot of westerners used to come to Simla and this is guide for all who are planning a visit. It was published by Station Press, Simla in the year of 1913 which no longer exists. Justice Deepak Gupta, a Shimla Old timer found this book with “Raddi wallahs” and found it really interesting and funny and got it re-published through Minerva. I read that book which is just 120 pages and not much has changed on The Mall as described in the book which is quite amazing.

There is another not so known historical anecdote  that I came across while reading Raaja Bhasin’s book on “The Toy Train”. It is well known that East India Company used to bring lot beer, wines, malts and others from England as the officers could not bear the Indian heat without those and the demand was huge. There was a business opportunity to produce it in India itself and one Mr. Edward Dyer, father of infamous Reginald Dyer (General Dyer) whose name goes in the history as the butcher of Amritsar for ordering firing on innocent civilian gathered in Jallianwalla Bagh on the auspicious day of Baisakhi. Mr. Edward has been trying his hands at setting up Brewery in India and has been instrumental in setting up units in Murree, Rawalpindi, Quetta (all in Present day Pakistan), Mandalay and Ooty. Dyer family moved to Shimla in mid 1860s and set up what used to called “New Brewery” or Beer Khana but real success came to Edward when he moved to Solan, mid-way between plains and Shimla, and here Edward Dyer and Company was established through the railway line passed making the supply regular and reliable and brewery was a commercial success. During the first World War, Edward joined hands with HG Meakin and the company was called Dyer Meakin Breweries which was a listed company on London Stock Exchange. After Independence a majority stake was bought over by N N Mohan but the name was changed to Mohan Meakin Breweries only on 1967. The name Dyer was dropped probably because of Edward’s infamous son General Dyer which gave the brand a negative undertone. This brewery is still there in Solan and can be seen from the road. Probably the famous “Old Monk” from Mohan Meakin Brewery may be inspiration from one of those Dyer’s formulations. I thought this is a interesting titbit worth knowing.

I get carried away by the history of places and Simla deserves to be visited again. There are couple of things that I don’t want to miss next time I am there, one way Toy Train journey from Kalka, staying outside Shimla possibly Mashobra or other outskirts