Wednesday, January 25, 2006

a piece of paradise

Haven't posted anything for quite a while now, i *knew* this would happen!
(suitably annoyed with myself.)

Jan has been a lovely month(so far), and the extra layer of icing was provided by my recent trip to Devbagh. Tucked away in Karwar, in the Uttara Kannada region, this little island is an idyllic microcosm of a simpler and closer-to-nature world...
But I'm jumping the gun.

It all started one lazy Friday afternoon at work (yess! Another good reason for enjoying Jan is that I finally *do* have lazy aft.s , though it's going to be a short-lived season of rest. But Feb's not quite here, so one shan't worry about that just yet!) We had two mid-week holidays coming up the following week, and this time round, we decided to get away from the city for a while. Suman and I were both interested in Devbagh - it seemed just the right sort of place to go to, to recuperate from the onslaught of all that toil in the preceding months. Called up Jungle Lodges and blocked a booking.

Come Monday, we went over to the Jungle Lodges office and finalized the booking. We fell in love with the brochure itself, the place looked so pretty, and the accomodation (a Swiss-style tented cottage), delightful! Tuesday, we shot off to the closest BDA complex to book our train tickets to Hubli.

Wednesday dawned bright and nice (not that I woke up at dawn or anything. That was just figuratively speaking!) , and we went about packing and getting things ready. We met at MG Road, shopped for sunblock and other beach-stuff, ate a quick salad and garlic bread, and
zoomed off to the station. (Again, I use the word "zoom" just to express our collective feeling of chirpiness. One can't exactly zoom about in B'lore anymore, can one?)
Reached the station well in time, and went off to Platform 10 (oh I'm so tempted to say Platform Nine and Three Quarters ;o). ) and climbed aboard the Jodhpur Express.

The journey was pleasant and uneventful, and we slept fairly well, to wake up all excited as we reached Hubli Station in the wee hours of dawn. It's a small and not-so-bustling station, and since the sun hadn't risen yet, we decided to linger and have some station waali chai.

When it got a little light, we wended our way out, and after a few judicious enquiries about buses to Karwar, we got into a rick and made our way to the Old City Bus Station.
We were looking forward to the four-hour road journey through the Western Ghats, so we wanted one of those Super Deluxe buses with comfortable seats to enjoy the ride better.
However, here's where things went slightly awry: apparently there were no buses of the afore-mentioned kind, and after dithering about for over an hour, (and missing a few normal buses in between), we clambered into a rather rickety (or so it seemed to us, though it wasn't that bad really) regular KSRTC express bus bound for Karwar. Just about managed to grab a seat (and before that, stock up on some essential junk to munch along the way) and then we were off!

Driving (or rather, being driven :-p)through the Western Ghats is one experience I never tire of, I love it everytime... whether it's the Pune-Lonavla-Mumbai route, or much further south through the verdant stretches of the Nilgiris, Kodai... and this time round was no exception. NH-67 is an excellent route, and we were soon in high spirits again.

The bus had these small halts at places along the way, picturesque little villages with fields dotted with neatly thatched haystacks (I think I have a thing for haystacks, no idea why!)suddenly popping up along the backdrop of dense greenery and lofty mountains... if we'd had our own transport, I know we'd have stopped to explore some of those... On the other hand, it was good that the bus kept to schedule so well, as we were just as eager to reach Devbagh in time for lunch.

Another memorable part of the journey was when we reached the outskirts of Karwar district, just out of the Ghats, when we saw the first glimmer of the ocean; it was a sight to behold. To cut a long story (journey actually) short, we reached the Karwar depot just around noon I think, and here too, as in Hubli, the people were extremely kind and helpful as we asked the way (and the correct auto-fare) to the Jungle Lodges office.

The auto-rickshaw ride was through NH-17 (the highway that connects Karwar to Goa), and we saw the Rabindranath Tagore beach on the way, and a Naval base as well.
The sun was well up now, and we tottered into the office of Jungle Lodges, where we checked in, and were made to wait for a vehicle to take us to the boat that would ferry us across to the island. And oh, what a wait it turned out to be!
What was supposed to be a 10 minute wait turned out rather interminable, and the two of us were famished and awfully hot and getting annoyed about the delay. But it doesn't do to hurry things along in a sleepy little seaside town, methinks, so we couldn't really do much except fret and fume and curse a bit.
The Jungle Lodges folks finally managed to get hold of a rickshaw to take us to the jetty, and so, after a delay of about 50 excrutiating minutes, we set off.

When we got on to the boat, it still wasn't all smooth sailing, however. The boatmen said they'd been instructed to wait for another four people who were due to arrive at Devbagh. Since our tempers were already hovering above the danger-mark, we yelled at them and said we'd already done enough waiting, and ordered them to take off right then, which they did.
We were a little mollified then, but just after a few minutes of chugging along, the boat did a volte-face and turned right back to the jetty! We were really annoyed about it, but they just apologized and picked up the four people who were waiting there, by then.
After a little more fuming and fretting, Suman and I decided we couldn't do anything about it anyways, and decided to just focus on what was coming ahead.

I think it's a tribute to the place that famished and grumpy as we were, setting foot on the island, it just floored us completely as we beheld it.
A long walk through the sandy path set amidst swaying casuarinas, picturesque cottages and log huts, hammocks, and oh! la mer!! Glimmering in the sunlight through the expanse of trees , the sound of waves breaking sur la plage, it had this come-hither look.... and boy, were we dying to!

It was like stepping into a beachside version of a Wodehouse-ian setting. I think Bertram Wooster would have approved...

To get back to our story, we got to our own cottage, and were duly handed the key, and we stepped in. It was a pretty little joint, set in the middle of those afore-mentioned trees, it was what the brochure described as a "Swiss style tented cottage". A nice roomy bedroom, and a changing room, and a bathroom that completely satisfied us finicky souls. A hammock just outside, and a convenient porch to gaze out on the sea while partaking of a morning cuppa...

After having gotten ready, we walked down the long path, over to the central twin reception-and-dining area. This was again a simple and rustic structure - twin domes with a wooden bridge connecting the two. The other guests were already in the middle of lunch when we walked in. Made a beeline to the buffet, loaded our plates, and chose a table.
The food was absolutely brilliant. It was so simple and appealing and wholesome, everything was done just right. I could wax eloquent about each dish that was there, but I shall refrain from doing so, since I'll feel that sharp longing everytime I read it :-p.
Now I know how B. Wooster felt about Anatole's cooking!

After we stuffed ourselves a bit, we looked around at the other guests. The crowd was a good mix of Indian and non-Indian junta (the latter outnumbered the former though). Everyone was looking completely contented and well-rested and happy.

When we finally decided we'd done ample justice to the food, we looked around the estate a bit, since it was still too hot to head beachwards. Looked in at the reception to find out about different activities. They have a range of water-sports there, depending on the tide and the weather of course. Para-sailing, snorkelling, banana boat rides, dolphin-spotting, kayaking, the works. We were far too tired to do anything that active that day, so we decided to just chill at the beach in the evening.
After relaxing at the cottage, and lazing around in the hammocks, we walked to the woods again and watched the sea from the vantage point of one of those convenient little rustic benches that dotted the woods just adjoining the beach. It was lovely to just sit there and listen to the sound of waves, and the birds and the sound of the wind whistling in the trees. When the sun dimmed a bit, we finally walked over to the beach. It was a pristine sandy beach, with seashells and crabs, and the waves were gentle and soothing.
It was Suman's first really intimate acquaintance with a sandy beach, so she was absolutely delighted.
I don't think I have it in me to adequately describe in words the splendour of the sea during sunset (or indeed, during any hour of the day or night, for it is always magnificent), much has been written about it by people far better at descriptions of that sort.
It was hard enough to capture it all on camera... I sometimes think it's presumptuous of us to try to capture indescribable beauty of that sort on any medium, so I shall not even try to go the verbal route.

Before we knew it, it was nightfall. The Jungle Lodges staff was busy laying out paraphernalia for the much-awaited-by-the-two-of-us-constantly-famished-souls barbeque on the beach.
And as we waited and strolled around, some of the guests started a round of volleyball, which Suman joined in, with gusto. (While I had an eye on the game and another at the moon stealing up over the trees.)
We also tried our hand at the barbeque, I can still picture dem sizzling taters, sigh!
We piled up our plates (as usual), and made our way to the chairs around the bonfire.
It was all very delightful, idle small talk with some of the other guests, digging into those perfectly done potatoes and salad and drinks, with the waves roaring in the background. It was high tide by now, and the sea now had this awe-inspiring power... huge frothy silvery waves breaking against the shore under the pale light of the moon.
Sigh! I knew I couldn't write a good-enough description there! (But I'm not going to edit any of this :-p )
After all the eating and watching the bonfire, Suman and I walked a goodish bit on the beach again. It was lovely, and besides, we wanted to work up enough of an appetite for dinner :-)
We managed to do just that, and after a dinner (which was worthy of a lyrical ode) we headed back to the cottage.

A day well-spent, and now it was time to sleep soon. We'd left word that we wanted our morning tea at 6:30, so we could do a nature walk just after.
After a bit of drowsy conversation, we drifted into deep slumber, wondering what the morrow would bring.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Courting danger

I was watching a fairly interesting topic on the Big Fight today, the age-old debate over the diminishing relevance of Socialism vs unbridled capitalism. I'll probably write something about that soon, but what triggered this blog, was the presence of Vijay Mallya as one of the participants. Obviously, he stands for a whole lot of things, but today, his presence happened to remind me of the time I flew Kingfisher recently.

It was a pleasant enough experience, though I found that the glam factor was rather over-stressed and over-hyped. The food tasted decent, though not as great as its GUI was made out to be. The periodic announcements were the best, crisp and clear; and the staff, quite courteous. However (hehe, and now we come to the negative part. Inevitable!) what set me thinking was this underlying chauvinism that seemed to pervade the air... the outfits of the cabin-crew (and why, to the best of my knowledge, were *all* of them female? Is this some sort of discrimination?) - though they undoubtedly looked glam and eye-catching and eminently presentable and all that, appeared to me, to be woefully lacking in terms of safety and comfort.

This actually got me thinking abt whether those crew members would be able to effectively help out passengers in case of mishap in the skies (and there are loads of those disasters just waiting to happen, apparently, going by this report) . Would they even be able to fend for themselves properly? One doesn't care to imagine oneself running from disaster, or bailing out, or even being stranded for hours in inclement weather conditions, or hijacked, in uncomfortable tight high-heeled shoes, or a mini! Perfect for a pleasant evening out, no doubt, but definitely not what one would want to be equipped with, during life-threatening situations.

And actually, it's not just this particular airlines; I see this disregard to safety and functional comfort, in most of those that I've used. Not one of them seems to have a staff uniform that's comfortable enough to withstand long hours of work aboard, and emergency situations.

I do hope this isn't some sort of human rights violation.. I mean, sure, what with all this cut-throat competition in the airlines business, I guess every little perceived means of providing for a pleasant experience and retaining clientele, is needed, but not at the cost of employee safety, one hopes. And I'm sure there are loads of talented designers out there who'd think of something creative and comfortable and chic at the same time, to come to the rescue of this workforce!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An article I came across..

Or that's what the mail said. Anyways, whoever wrote this article struck a chord... so here it is:
Update: Now we know who the author is... check the comments section!

I visited Jamshedpur over the weekend to see for myself an India that is fast disappearing despite all the wolf-cries of people like Narayanamurthy and his ilk. It is one thing to talk and quite another to do and I am delighted to tell you that Ratan Tata has kept alive the legacy of perhaps Indias finest industrialist J.N. Tata. Something that some people doubted when Ratan took over the House of the Tatas but in hindsight, the best thing to have happened to the Tatas is unquestionably Ratan. I was amazed to see the extent of corporate philanthropy and this is no exaggeration.
For the breed that talks about corporate social responsibility and talks about the role of corporate India, a visit to Jamshedpur is a must. Go there and see the amount of money they pump into keeping the town going; see the smiling faces of workers in a region known for industrial unrest; see the standard of living in a city that is almost isolated from the mess in the rest of the country.
This is not meant to be a puff piece. I have nothing to do with Tata Steel, but I strongly believe the message of hope and the message of goodness that they are spreading is worth sharing. The fact that you do have companies in India which look at workers as human beings and who do not blow their software trumpet of having changed lives. In fact, I asked Mr Muthurman, the managing director, as to why he was so quiet about all they had done and all he could offer in return was a smile wrapped in humility, which said it all. They have done so much more since I last visited Jamshedpur, which was in 1992. The town has obviously got busier but the values thankfully haven't changed. The food is still as amazing as it always was and I gorged, as I would normally do. I visited the plant and the last time I did that was with Russi Mody.
But the plant this time was gleaming and far from what it used to be.
Greener and cleaner and a tribute to environment management. You could have been in the mountains. Such was the quality of air I inhaled! There was no belching smoke; no tired faces and so many more women workers, even on the shop floor. This is true gender equality and not the kind that is often espoused at seminars organised by angry activists. I met so many old friends. Most of them have aged but not grown old. There was a spring in the air which came from a certain calmness which has always been the hallmark of Jamshedpur and something I savoured for a full two days in between receiving messages of how boring and decrepit the Lacklustre Fashion Weak was.
It is at times such as this that our city lives seem so meaningless.
Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata had created an edifice that is today a robust company and it is not about profits and about valuation. It is not about who becomes a millionaire and who doesnt'. It is about getting the job done with dignity and respect keeping the age-old values intact and this is what I learnt.
I jokingly asked someone as to whether they ever thought of joining an Infosys or a Wipro and pat came the reply: "We are not interested in becoming crorepatis but in making others crorepatis."
Which is exactly what the Tatas have done for years in and around Jamshedpur. Very few people know that Jamshedpur has been selected as a UN Global Compact City, edging out the other nominee from India, Bangalore. Selected because of the quality of life, because of the conditions of sanitation and roads and welfare. If this is not a tribute to industrial India, then what is? Today, Indian needs several Jamshedpurs but it also needs this Jamshedpur to be given its fair due, its recognition. I am tired of campus visits being publicised to the Infosys and the Wipros of the world. Modern India is being built in Jamshedpur as we speak. An India built on the strength of core convictions and nothing was more apparent about that than the experiment with truth and reality that Tata Steel is conducting at Pipla.
Forty-eight tribal girls (yes, tribal girls who these corrupt and evil politicians only talk about but do nothing for) are being educated through a residential program over nine months. I went to visit them and I spoke to them in a language that they have just learnt: Bengali. Eight weeks ago, they could only speak in Sainthali, their local dialect. But today, they are brimming with a confidence that will bring tears to your eyes. It did to mine.
One of them has just been selected to represent Jharkand in the state archery competition. They have their own womens football team and whats more they are now fond of education. It is a passion and not a burden.
This was possible because I guess people like Ratan Tata and Muthurman havent sold their souls to some business management drivel, which tells us that we must only do business and nothing else. The fact that not one Tata executive has been touched by the Naxalites in that area talks about the social respect that the Tatas have earned.
The Tatas do not need this piece to be praised and lauded. My intent is to share the larger picture that we so often miss in the haze of the slime and sleaze that politics imparts. My submission to those who use phrases such as "feel-good" and "India Shining" is first visit Jamshedpur to understand what it all means. See Tata Steel in action to know what companies can do if they wish to. And what corporate India needs to do. Murli Manohar Joshi would be better off seeing what Tata Steel has done by creating the Xavier Institute of Tribal Education rather than by proffering excuses for the imbroglio in the IIMs. This is where the Advanis and Vajpayees need to pay homage. Not to all the Sai Babas and the Hugging saints that they are so busy with. India is changing inspite of them and they need to realise that.
I couldn't have spent a more humane and wonderful weekend. Jamshedpur is an eye-opener and a role model, which should be made mandatory for replication. I saw corporate India actually participate in basic nation-building, for when these tribal girls go back to their villages, they will return with knowledge that will truly be life-altering.
Corporate India can do it but most of the time is willing to shy away.
For those corporate leaders who are happier winning awards and being interviewed on their choice of clothes, my advise is visit Tata Steel, spend some days at Jamshedpur and see a nation's transformation. That is true service and true nationalism.
Tata Steel will celebrate 100 years of existence in 2007. It won't be just a milestone in this company's history. It will be a milestone, to my mind of corporate transparency and generosity in this country. It is indeed fitting that Ratan Tata today heads a group which has people who are committed to nation-building than just building inflluence and power. JRD must be smiling wherever he is. And so must Jamsetji Nusserwanji. These people today, have literally climbed every last blue mountain. And continue to do so with vigour and passion. Thank god for the Tatas!

La mot juste

1 a : a source of supply or support : an available means -- usually used in plural
b : a natural source of wealth or revenue -- often used in plural
c : computable wealth -- usually used in plural
d : a source of information or expertise

That's what Webster says, at any rate.
Unfortunately, this word now seems to refer to people as well, atleast in the industry that I work in.
Now I'm not particularly fond of going to great (and often ridiculous) lengths to sound politically correct, but I do believe in a reasonable amount of p.c. What surprises me is that I've not really come across any backlash over the usage of this term, to refer to real, live, thinking human beings working for an organization. It's so typically corporate, this attempt to avoid sounding human (and hence avoid human interaction and its underlying responsibilities, perhaps)... why couldn't they put their heads together and think of a word that sounds more personal - engineer, or professional, or team-member, or associate or even something as generic as people?

There was this person who came to take stock of my team and our current work recently, and she asked me, "So how many resources do you have?" And I was so tempted to say that we have three linux machines, a windows machine, three phones, and some amount of hardware and furniture amongst my group :-p.

I wonder why many corporates are so head-in-the-sand-ish about this whole human angle. I guess it's easier for them to think of contributors as objects (refer to 1.d above) so they can go about their sharklike businesses without that niggling little voice of conscience bothering them.
And I've noticed that, funnily enough, a lot of the smaller firms and start-ups do not use this word.
It probably sounds like I'm being a little too harsh on them corporate bigwigs (after all, "What's in a name? A resource by any other name works just as hard??" and all that jazz..) but libby-left that I am, I just can't help wishing they were a trifle more conscious of the environment (human and natural) that they operate in.

But wait, I came across a rather heart-warming mail recently.. posted it here.
And a happy new year 2006 to everyone out there!