Tuesday, July 25, 2006

'Tiffin' @ Work

A recent article from BBC News - Mumbai's "dabbawallas" have now gone online. The incredible chain of lunchbox pickup from homes and the delivering it on time at far away workplaces at lunchtime has long been showcased as an example of efficiency, dedication and teamwork. In fact, the study of the Dabbawallah's has made it to the course curricullam of several of India's B' schools as an example of supply chain management efficiency.

This brings to my mind the entire scenario of having 'tiffin' or lunch at our offices. To think of it, this need has lead to a whole sub-economy in India. I do not have the experience of working in any other city in India other than Kolkata - so my experience is restricted to Kolkata itself and that is what I will write about here.

Now we all know almost any Bengali can is invariably a 'bhojon-roshik' (rough translation: food afficianado). We Bengali's sure do enjoy and know our food. And since more than half the time in a typical day is spent at office, office 'tiffin' or lunch becomes a life saving necessity...

Before the fast food and eating out revolution hit us, most people used to carry lunch from home (many people still do now, but I believe the percentage has gone down). Now of course, there are various options available - be it the office canteen, street food, restaurant take-aways and such alike.

Office canteens are for the more conservative at heart - they dish out the regular Bengali 'thaali' or multi-course meals. Typical meal would consist of a rice and/or roti, some vegetables (in most days heavily dominated by the cheapest vegetable available - potato), fish or chicken curry and a 'mishti' (Bengali sweets) or doi (yoghurt - made the Bengali way).

Now many people are constantly driven by the spirit of adventure and innovation - and the above staple fare served at office canteens will not satiate their taste buds. That is where the street food of Kolkata comes into the picture.

The two places in Kolkata who have earned their fame in this regard are Decars Lane and Camac Street, especially the former. In both these places you would find an amazing variety of food available - bengali, north indian, south indian, "chinese" (thoroughly Indianised) and also what is proclaimed as 'Continental' (stews and such alike). The requirements from most people eating in these shops are primarily how filling the food is (the quantity), how cheap the food is and also how quick the 'service' is. The though of pristine hygiene is something which one will have to forego if eating at these places.

Another late entrant to the Kolkata lunch scene is the 'dabba' - now 'dabba' in Kolkata is not what is meant by 'dabba' in Mumbai. In Mumbai the 'dabba's contain food is home-made and is then to an individual at his work place. In Kolkata the 'dabbawala' delivers food which he has made/procured himself.

In this regard I should mention the lunch scenario in the IT industry belt of Kolkata (primarily Sector V, Salt Lake). Here the situation is a different because there are very few restaurants in this area. Most people either bring food from home or have it in their respective office canteens. But there are two more options - firstly there are some vendors who bring in food in mobile vans. They come in at lunchtime - serve the food out of the car/van and then leave. There are also a number of semi-permanent structures - they are referred to as 'jhhupri' in Bengali ('jhhups' is a recent trendy name :-)). These 'jhhups' normally have steaming hot rice, 'daal' & fried fish on the 'menu' - the hygiene bit of course leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The recent Mumbai bomb blast - some thoughts...

7/11 - Mumbai was ripped apart by 8 bomb blasts - around 200 people killed, hundreds more are gravely injured. The many 24x7 news channels across Indian TV space scramble over each other to provide the details - live feeds, audience reactions, expert panel interviews...

7/12 - Mumbai is trying to slowly crawl back to normal, people are going back to work...TV channels such as CNN-IBN go gaa-gaa about the "Mumbai spirit".... images are being shown of people helping each other on the streets, water & food being provided to the stranded, people are queuing up in front of blood banks...

People going back to work the very next day after the blast are interviewed, especially those who are traveling by the local train network...Mumbai is returning to "normal"...

7/13 - The security agencies and police are woken up from their slumber and they pretend to be doing their work - more than 350 have been detained...LeT & SIMI are being suspected as the perpetrators.

7/14 (today) - The bomb blast news is no longer the sole story hogging the headlines - the 'breaking story' is now just another story....

Tomorrow - Mumbai returns to "normalcy", the bomb blast story vanishes from the headlines and most importantly - we forget...

A regular and familiar pattern - all of us are proud and resilient Indians - we can take pain (give us more, please)...we are famous for our ability to "bounce back"....

Question is, do we really "bounce back"? Are the people who are traveling by Mumbai local trains today doing so because they want to show bounce back or prove to somebody that "India will not be scared of terrorists?". Or is it because they are taking the train because taking a taxi will cost more money and taking a bus more time than they can afford?

For the people who HAVE been the real victims, people who have lost their family, their friends...people who lost their limbs and will never lead an active life again....will things ever return to "normal" again? In my opinion, no...

There will be some arrests surely (maybe after 10/15 years), a high profile trial - and then mostly likely an acquittal. The accused will then proclaim himself as the "victim of the media's witchhunts" and win an election on a sympathy wave..

Okay, maybe I have gone too far in the last bit - but the reality is nothing will never happen, nothing will change. The whole nation will seat glued to TV watching the "breaking news", there will be reams of newsprint printed, parliament will see heated discussions, people will chat, rave, rant, blog (like me here!), and then we will forget - and then the cycle will start again for yet another story.

This brings me to a question which is related to what I have already said above - I have never understood why our collective public memory is so short? Why do we forget so quickly? Why is it that any issue which is burning today is not even in the fine print tomorrow?

There are so many examples in the recent past - the reservations issue for example. Protests, hungerstrikes, resignations and even self-immolations. Ultimately all that has changed nothing! And then quietly, slowly but surely that issue has vanished from each our minds.

Even non-issues such as during the release of Da Vinci Code will stir the Indian media into frenzied activity. Issues such as these have shorter lifetimes but during that time they even have the capacity of displacing the more important issues from the limelight.

Another area which gives (or used to give, in my case) us national identity is cricket. There also, for example a cricketer turns in a great performance in a match. He is hailed by all and sundry as the next Sachin Tendulkar or the next Kapil Dev. The whole nation will idolise him, people will sport his hairstyle - and then he flops in the next match. Lo and behold - all that was said & sung before is conveniently forgotten. That very same player will then be the villain and will be put down to the dust...

Or take for example the scant regard with which we treat our own history and our own monuments. How many times have we seen people deface our monuments by scribing their names on them? Or for that matter monuments covered in 'paan' stains and garbage?

All of this is something which arouses great curiosity in me. What is it that has caused our public memory to be so short? Why do we forget (and perhaps forgive) the past so quickly? Is it the role played by the media? Or is it the fact that given our continuous struggles with the present we can afford no time for the past?

I wonder....can someone answer?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

10 Things I dream to do before I die...

Just came across this book today while surfing through Indiatimes Books.....
"Unforgettable Things to do Before You Die"

I found the title of the book to be very thought provoking and started thinking about it.....I am in hurry to die right now, but why not start planning for things straight away? As somebody has said "Life is short and work is long" - once I started thinking about the things I wanted to do, it was a case of "Life is short and the list is long". In the end I forced myself to stop at listing the Top 10 wishes only.

So here goes...my list of 10 things that I would like to do before I die (in no strict order)

1. Visit Manasarovar in the Tibetian Plateau...a place of stunning & rugged beauty....a place where the heavens touch the earth....

2. This is something which I have already done - a trip to Paris! Two unforgettable experiences stand out - an evening cruise on the Seine River watching the Eiffel Tower lit up by glittering lights; a visit to the Louvre and being awestruck by the astonishing art collection on display.

3. A drive from coast to coast of USA - in a Ferrari F430 Spider

4. Spending a night out in front of the Taj Mahal lit by moonlight.

5. An open-air dinner in the many restaurants in San Marco's Square in Venice accompanied by the best French wine (Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild perhaps) and with musicians performing live classical music. I would like to be dressed in a Louis Vuitton suit, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes and wearing a Chopard watch.

I have been to Venice & San Marco's Square, so part of the dream has been fulfilled. But the reality ends there - the rest is sadly pure pipe deam :-(

6. A night out on the African Bush all by myself driving a jeep......stop the jeep in the middle of the vast plains......enjoy the silence, watch the starry skies and get to see a lion in its natural habitat.

7. Visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andes mountains in Peru. Take the Inca Trail route up the mountain, camping in tents at night.

8. Watch the men's singles final at The Championships, Wimbledon - with Roger Federer playing. It's not only about the sport - but also the sheer heritage, the ambience and the feeling..

9. Bungee-jump from one of the cliffs at Grand Canyon - dowwwwwwwwn to the depths below!

10. Watch Sourav Ganguly lift World Cup 2007 :-))

There are many other wishes and dreams - but right at this moment, at this stage - these are the Top 10 !