Saturday, 1 December 2018

A WREATH FOR TANYA ! ...... Musings from rebooted Russia continues.....

I was flabbergasted seeing the number of churches in Russia!Most of them are centuries old but well kept now.After 75 years of communists rule who were staunch atheists, though they fell out of favor of people in 1991,  I never expected this!I  wonder in a country full of believers how the Bolsheviks could successfully set up a communist regime and rule for more than seven decades, which was basically against practice of religion.I equally wonder after continuous brainstorming of atheism for decades, why the communists couldn't change the faith and  tradition of the Russian people the way they wanted.The reason could be that it was forced on the people rather than  through free thinking like happening now else where in Europe.Now that communism is no more in power, the churches have come back live though practicing Christians remain not a major percentage of population.At the same time the entire population practice traditions such as Christmas and new year, I believe.

The interior of churches in Russia is a feast for the eyes for anyone  for its majestic, artistic beauty, a fact hardly known to outside world since communists never wanted to give such a publicity during their time!The exterior- mostly with onion domes- invites attention with a unique style of architecture.However it could be a paradox that what Russia showcases these days are these churches and imperial palaces than anything else for  a tourist!One of the outstanding churches in Russia , if not the most, is with a large dome but not onion shaped- St Issac's Cathedral at Saint Petersburg(erstwhile Leningrad). It is a product of  engineering marvel combined with fantastic artistry  which made me reminiscent of St Peter's Basilica of Rome.

But just across this church, in the same square stands a hotel,name of which  caught my eye-Hotel Astoria.This hotel which has celebrated 100th anniversary in 2012  has withstood the times of  Russian imperialism and communism, now going through the time of the modern rebooted Russia. The name is stuck in my mind because this was the venue Hitler selected and even invited guests on a particular day- 9 August 1942- to celebrate occupation of Russian city of Leningrad during WWII, which never happened. Siege of Leningrad is a unique chapter in the world history.Almost for 900 days the ordeal and trauma the people in Leningrad went through is not too well known.The Nazis or their records hardly existed after the war to tell about the cruelty they inflicted on people.The communist regime in Russia also did not want the actual tragic tales of the people encountered  during these 900 days known to outside world for their own reasons...

                       St Issac's Cathedral and hotel Astoria- in one frame

St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and back to St Petersburg!
Saint Petersburg,second largest city in Russia was founded in 1703 by Russian Tsar Peter the great but it was so named after Saint Peter, the disciple of Jesus Christ.The name of the city was changed by the imperial Govt to Petrograd in 1914 meaning Peter's city.When Lenin died in 1924 the communist Govt in power took no time to change the name to Leningrad.But once communists went out of picture the city is back to the original name of St Petersburg in 1991.As the change in name denotes, the city underwent different forms of situations. But what the people had to face during the Nazi siege of Leningrad for 900 days is  terrible, consequences of which is not much known to the world till the change of guard took place in Kremlin in 1991.

Hitler wanted St Petersburg badly but not the people...
Capture of Leningrad was strategically important for Hitler.Not only it had a port in Baltic Sea but an imperial capital,a burial ground of tsars  with all the fantastic artistry-literature,art,music and ballet- which can compete with Vienna or Berlin.A non aggression pact signed between Stalin and Hitler did not stop him to attack Soviet Union.On 22 June 1941 by an unexpected but massive operation code named 'operation Barbarossa' Germany ruthlessly attacked USSR.Red army was not a match for Hitler's professional war machines.In less than 14 weeks by 8 September Hitler's forces reached the outskirts of the city of Leningrad.'Great patriotic war' of USSR commences here!

Hitler could have thrust his forces further to take control of the city without much difficulty.But He did not.Instead he made sure that German forces encircled the city from all sides and cut off food and oil lines with the rest of the country.Leningrad became totally helpless and isolated.The reason is unbelievable but true.He did not want to take responsibility to feed the 3 million people of Leningrad.Instead he asked his commanders to keep the vigil to keep the supply lines shut but wait.He expected that within few weeks the people will perish due to hunger and disease!To quote him the city would "drop like a leaf"soon.His idea was to bull doze the great city to rubble once the people are dead!!

The communist leaders and the people caught within Leningrad tried their best to survive with little food left, while Red army from out side made many futile attempts for a counter offensive or to make a way for supply chains.However the siege had to be continued contrary to the quick results expected by Hitler. The severe winter of 1941-42 was more favoring the Russians than Germans.Hitler set a targeted date of 9 August 1942 to celebrate fall of Leningrad. That's how Hotel Astoria- which had a long list of patrons including Rasputin to Lenin, comes into picture.Guests list was made and invitations sent.

Civilians in the city of Leningrad had to face extreme starvation due to the blockade.People were forced to live on 2 slices of bread a day by ration! When that too was difficult saw dust was added to 50% flour while making bread!Scarcity of all basics prevailed.People died in thousands- young and old alike.Mass graves were dug to dispose off the bodies.Stray cases of forced cannibalism took place.Making murder to steal ration card was not uncommon.Parents never let children go out of home after dark!World came to know about this only after Communists went out of power!

But in spite of all these, people kept on their struggle to hold, which was unexpected by Hitler.His proposed day of celebration at Hotel Astoria did not materialize.

Attempts of Red army to find a way to Leningrad was finally fruitful in January 1943.Russia could create a land corridor and started supply of food and other essentials in spite of bombardment by the Nazi air planes.Soon 900 days of ordeal and trauma of the people, this world has hardly seen was over.By the time siege was lifted officially in January 1944, about 1 million civilians- about one third of the population- had perished while another 300,000 Russian soldiers died!!

                                                                   Flower of Life

A wreath for Tanya..
Tanya Savicheva was a Russian child diarist.She was 11 years old when the blockade started. She used to record successive deaths of each member of her family due to hunger and disease  during the siege of Leningrad.Finally she was left alone in the family when she wrote 'Everyone is dead, only Tanya is left' in her diary.She was rescued by the red army after the siege.But tragedy came in another form to her since she too died of internal tuberculosis at her age of 14,as her internal organs had already been affected due to malnutrition!Her diary became very popular in USSR and rest of the world.
A memorial complex called'Flower of life' is made by the authorities later dedicated to the children of the siege at St Petersburg.

photos-courtesy google

Thursday, 1 November 2018

MUSINGS FROM A REBOOTED MOSCOW...Stalin's 'seven sisters'!

When two Russian words -perestroika and glasnost- meaning restructuring and transparency made headlines of international media in 1985, little I thought about it more than reformation taking place in the administrative pattern in communist regime in erstwhile USSR.There were rumblings of discontent reported but I thought it was the tricky work of western media as usual than true  happenings.

Collapse of communism in USSR was never expected by me.But I think at least that was the case with most of the people elsewhere in the world except perhaps with those in old USSR itself and other communist countries which followed suit!On December 26, 1991 the declaration number 142H of supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union officially granted self governing independence to its 16 member republics....

It is 27 years now since then.when I could visit Moscow few weeks back, I was expecting a Russia which has not yet come out  of the malnourished economy and shortages in consumer goods it inherited from the old regime.But again I was wrong.I could see a reemerging Russia...Moscow was just great with its well preserved old churches-with what is left out by the earlier regime,majestic museums and art galleries, well laid out wide roads but with traffic snarls.All the luxury cars are plying  on the roads-Mercedes,BMW,Porsche,Bentley...all the major brands except Russia's own brand Lada!!Hypermarkets were full of local goodies and world renowned brands,places of eat outs were just grand and people were dressed well....

Yet at Moscow one cannot miss two icons of the old USSR which stands loud and clear even now.The metro and 'Stalin's seven sisters'.While the grandeur about the underground metro at Moscow which is built as back as in late 1930 s  is known to many,I do not think people know much about the 'sisters of Stalin', so nicknamed by the west......


A bit of nostalgia....
During my childhood in India, three foreign countries about which I used read a lot were UK,USA and USSR, in that order.While UK was familiar to me as England,USA was America and USSR  Russia.I think I used to know much about them than our own neighboring countries and for that matter even our own north eastern states in India!Could be that status even now with the exception that USA takes the lead position leaving others way behind!

 My brother and I used to have access to United States Information Service( USIS )free- for- all publications.Monthly periodical of  Soviet Land was a similar tool of USSR freely distributed.I did not know then that those were distributed for propaganda but was eager to get them  and was being delivered home free.While USIS periodicals highlighted the success of free press, free market and free economy,Soviet Land trumpeted success of application of communism in their economy, controlled market and quality way of life of the people!I did not understand both of the situations much as I was young and  not hooked to habit of reading those days but found useful to show off among school friends! Other use was also there like my sister said the other day nostalgically that 'Soviet Land was a good magazine for covering her  text books'!!From UK I do not remember having read any particular publication regularly but in later life while in Qatar I used to regularly visit library at British Council for almost a span of 25 years and read books on  all topics of my  own interests!And I have to admit that I stand today fully benefited from such a habit of pre internet days.

The Russian revolution of 1917 is recorded in  the history of the world not only  for overthrowing the imperialist empire there but introducing a new political system in place. Based on communism articulated by two German thinkers Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels in the mid 1800s,a communist country was born here for the first time any where in the world! Communism- as far as I know- is essentially a political and economic system where a single communist party had absolute power over Government.Eventually under different circumstances more and more countries joined this group led by USSR.At its peak by the mid 20th century, when I was young, it even appeared that communism could supersede democracy as the main ideology.But towards the end of the 20th century,contrary to everyone's expectation, it nose dived to very few places...

Moscow skyline under Stalin....and 'The Palace of Soviets' which never came up!
When New York skyline namely the Manhattan got all the attention of the world in early 1930s with marvelous skyscrapers including Empire State building,it seems Joseph Stalin, who controlled the communist party after Lenin, also dreamed of such a skyline in Moscow .The Palace of Soviets -the plan to build the tallest building in the world with 415 meters,last 100 meters with the statue of Lenin was launched at Moscow.The site for the same  chosen by Stalin for his own strange reasons was the very place where a famous church named as Cathedral of Christ the Savior stood.In 1931 it was dynamited to make way for the foundations of 'The Palace Of Soviets'!It seems the communists while in power have destroyed quite a number of churches all over the country in one pretext or other!!

                      'The Palace Of Soviets'-see how it would have looked from
                                         Red Square,an unfinished dream of Stalin!

But the ambitious project had to be abandoned without long as world war II broke out.Stalin could not take up the construction of his pet project never again.It could be a irony that even before  fall of communism all the giant statues and photos of Stalin were removed in the country!And a new church was built in Moscow at the same site by the Orthodox christian community by 2000 which stands to this day!!

Winning the second world war over Germany was a boost for Joseph Stalin to emerge as a world leader and  stamp his boots over his critics in USSR.Though his dream of of making The Palace of Soviets -his eighth sister- never became true, he could accomplish the idea of construction his 'seven sisters'. 

Stalin's 'seven sisters'.......
Joseph Stalin wanted to show his own people and rest of the world that USSR has not become bankrupt due to war.He wanted to showcase -the wealth and might- of USSR.As he was influenced by Manhattan high risers, Stalin wanted and expected visitors to come to Moscow as well and gasp looking at his creations.I think he has succeeded in that matter.I was gasping seeing them even 70 years after those were built !!!

Stalin is believed to have been particularly influenced with the architectural features of Municipal Buildings at Manhattan which came up as early as in 1914. This could be true or false.But the interiors are definitely very different. Choosing the best of Russian architects and best of his own liking which was Gothic style of architecture,he went ahead. Seven buildings -huge and stylish-were constructed between mid 1940s and  early 1950s in key locations of Moscow.It includes the famous Moscow state University, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others.As one drives past, I am sure that the looks of the buildings exhibiting the logo of the communist party-hammer,sickle and star- to this day, invite one's eyes.It looks different to Manhattan towers with long spires top  of which rests a Soviet star. All of them looked impressive to me albeit the architecture is a bit different to surrounding buildings which are equally good but not massive as these seven sisters

The seven sisters are built with highly decorative facades,luxurious interiors and intricate stained glass works.I wonder why I did not read about it earlier!Was it because the western press did not want to give credit to communism or USSR itself did not want to give wide publicity for this wonderful seven sisters because it was also a show of unnecessary  opulence which basic communists are against?After Stalin's death the Soviet Govt issued a decree condemning the architectural excess and put an end to the practice of having such buildings !

                        Moscow state University- one of the seven sisters.

Almost all the buildings have underground bunkers, may be because  built soon after the war.Some of the buildings are said to have been completed using forced labor of prisoners or POWs. Again it is difficult to find out the truth since the world is controlled now by western media and they were and are not fair when reporting subjects not to their  tastes!

Photos -courtesy google

Monday, 1 October 2018


Any one who passes through the well laid out sea side corniche at Doha cannot miss the beautiful sights of dhows-large seafaring vessels- anchored or on sail.For years I have enjoyed this while driving around the sea side or more closely while making customary weekend evening walks along with my friends Kutty and Thomachen. Always these dhows also used to invoke in me about the high skilled craftsmanship required in building them where the Indian connection comes.The Indian inborn talent in craftsmanship is not limited to just stone masonry, carpentry or black smithy or technical skills as known to others.It can be extended to many other trades as well.One such talent- not known to many- is dhow making.Dhows are large wooden ships that can be seen in the Arabian Gulf or Arabian Sea.All Arabian Gulf states boast a maritime tradition with these dhows which were used for trade or pearl hunting. 

In fact Al Balagh, the company where I had been working, was instrumental to build a port office building at Doha wharf exclusive for dhows, years back. To this day dhows are being used to transport loads of merchandise between most of the countries in middle east and along the coasts of Africa.I am sure that most of us do not know the fact that these wonderful vessels traditionally were built in India and exported to Gulf states. Although dhows are built these days indigenous  in most of the Gulf states, Indian participation in the form of skilled labor is a likely possibility. 

Used in Arabia ,built in India....
Dhows are large sea worthy vessels primarily used to carry heavy merchandise along the coasts of Arabia.Still they do.In Doha one cannot miss the sight of a number of dhows anchored at the corniche any time of the year.There are modern berths dedicated for the purpose these days.

Now built in few places in Gulf states, the origin of such dhows- locally known in India as Uru-can be traced to a place named Beypore in Southern India.Over 1500 years such sea vessels are being built and exported from this place.Using the same old spice route which existed connecting ancient India , it is recorded that Arabs,Romans and Sumerians used Beypore as a trading post and boat building yard.  

Dhow making...kept as a family secret in India.
Possibly dhow can be the biggest handicraft in the world!The art of dhow making in India is limited to only few families of master carpenters.It is an art but kept as secret passed down through the generations!For the same purpose there are no sketches or drawings or blue prints.From conception to completion it is only in the mind of the master carpenter although a number of skilled carpenters 30-50 at a time will be used in making a dhow.Another interesting fact is that dhows are traditionally built with out any machine tools.Even nails are not used to ward off corrosion while in  sea water!

In water the vessel dip exactly up to the water mark earlier drawn by the master carpenter after making many mental calculations! It is simply amazing to believe that even these days of computers this tradition holds fast!

Why Beypore?
The small town of Beypore, is very close to Kozhikode(Calicut) in South India. Beypore is by the side of a river Chaliyar which leads to the Arabian Sea and rest of the  world.

 It is also just about 40 kms away from Nilambur forests where good quality of teak is grown naturally to this day.The British while colonized India made teak plantations here, the first of its kind in the world.In order to plunder the teak logs en masse the British laid out a railway track deep into this forest town much before it was done so elsewhere in the country.The quality teak grown in this place is so well known to them that in 1805 Lord Nelson decided to build ships in his fleet for Trafalgar with this timber!It is the most corrosion resistant timber against sea water.These years teak also is imported to Beypore from Malaysia for the purpose making dhows to make it cost effective.

Already I told that no nails are used in making traditional Urus. In place coir, made from husk of coconut is used which is locally manufactured.Above all, the skill and craftsmanship was available at Beypore to conceive,execute, commission and launch these large vessels. Right from floating restaurants to cater to the needs of international tourism, to miniature wooden models as curios are made here these days.

Dhow festival at Doha....
For the last couple of years Annual dhow festival is conducted at Doha to reflect the country's rich maritime heritage.About 100 dhows of different sizes, shapes are exhibited here which were once used for trade and pearl hunting which is not only attracted by the locals but from neighboring countries as well.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

NOT 7 BUT 1010 TIMES!...The motivational story behind the success of that "finger lickin' good" chicken that we all know!!

Retrospectively from whatever exposure I have in managing corporate business, I would say now that Dreaming is the first step in the path of success.Dream is not something that you see while asleep.Dream is something that doesn't let you sleep, if I borrow a quote of late Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam. Second step towards success is Ambition.Ambition is the strong will to achieve your dream.If it is closely followed by the gist of the inspiring story of King Robert the Bruce and the spider which we all know-Never give up,keep on trying-one's third step is ready to step on.But how many times one should try?

The spider in the cave taught King Robert the Bruce and us to try seven times or more.Beaten on battle after battle six times, King could drive back his enemy on the seventh attempt taking a cue from the spider.But to be successful in modern business scenario this number need not be correct.However from my experience such a magic number doesn't exist while it  depends on the logical intuition from what one gets through the unsuccessful trials.

I want to share the story of a person who kept on trying without success in business 1009 times.But the 1010th time it clicked.Eventually his product became a household name in US and Canada, later Europe and now the whole developing and developed world.He himself became the brand ambassador of the product while his iconic photo became equally popular.Even a child would recognize his photo...

I have in mind the inspiring story of Colonel Sanders and his Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).

Farmhand to 'colonel'.......
Sanders was all along a small time salesman of tires and insurance ,fireman,blacksmith etc. since he was a drop out from the school in the seventh grade.His  financially poor family background forced him to go for a series of petty jobs.He tried unsuccessfully many petty business ventures as well. But he was a natural cook.His passion was cooking and loved it.

He acquired a petrol station cum service station with a small restaurant in Kentucky in 1930.As his food became popular he got rid of the petrol bunk and went for a full restaurant.Ten years after, around 1940 that he figured out how to pressure fry a chicken seasoned with selective herbs.His restaurant became more and more popular but his idea to sell his chicken recipe  based on a franchise model to sell to other restaurants did not click but kept on trying for years...Here I find Sanders a different person.Normally anyone would have  have been contend with the success of the restaurant or would have advertised more on the new recipe of the chicken he serves in the restaurant.But thinking of making a franchise out of his chicken fry, that too way back in 1930s shows special acumen he had in the field!

He was conferred with the title of Colonel by Governor of Kentucky in 1935 in appreciation of the quality of the food he offered in the restaurant.Honorable Order of Kentucky colonels is a long standing charity organisation and nothing to do with the army.Buts that's when Sanders started dressing in white suit and black Kentucky bow tie which eventually got associated with KFC.May be here one can make a cue on his special way of dressing up. He wanted to stand out in the crowd and noticed, ultimately to his own baby-chicken recipe.

His changed modus operandi...
His pursuit to find a buyer of his franchisee chicken recipe KFC continued for 12 years without a tangible result.In 1952 he could make a deal with a restaurateur  friend.That was in his 1010th attempt!His royalty was 5 cents a bird sold.Sanders could make few more similar deals locally but that was when he had to face some more unexpected hardships. 

                              Inside the old restaurant of Sanders at Corbin,Kentucky                  

A new interstate highway bypassed his restaurant.He had to sell off his location at a loss in 1956.A business which he expected to stabilize and grow had to be abandoned.His monthly social security amount of $115 per month was his main income....

Having no base with an office or a kitchen in his case he changed the style of operation- selling/marketing of his franchise- to be more practical.Again I find a different person in Sanders in this matter.Than waiting for more resources which he knew is not a possibility he decided to try with what he had.He used to travel with his wife in his car, packed with few pressure cookers,flour and spice blends!He would offer to cook his chicken in any restaurant and made a deal of franchise if the owner of the restaurant liked the taste and his terms.It clicked.KFC started in operation in many places of US and Canada without long.Business prospered.America started loving his chicken with 600 franchised outlets!

Sanders sell his company....
In 1963 Sanders was approached by a lawyer of a venture capitalist named Jack c Massey who wanted to purchase the franchisee rights.Sanders who reluctantly started the negotiations finally agreed.

He sold his company for $2 millon. Under the contract the new company KFC will establish its own restaurants around the world and would not compromise the chicken recipe, one thing Sanders was not ready to compromise. Sanders would be paid $40000 as salary ,which was later increased to $75000 along with a seat in the board.He was also given majority of ownership of KFC'S Canadian franchisees.Sanders in turn had to work as brand ambassador for the new company, which is definitely not a win win situation.

Sanders was 75 then while some observe later that he didn't bargain the deal well.But for Sanders his own chicken recipe counted more than the money.He wanted his chicken recipe popular all over the world than anything else.If one goes through history of many famous painters , writers, movie makers the same thing had  happened. Others than the creaters  made multi millions out of those creations.KFC chicken was an artistic creation for Sanders!!

KFC goes multinational...
KFC went public in 1966 and listed in NYSE in 1969.3500 franchised restaurants were in operation world wide when Heublein Inc acquired KFC corporation in 1971.The deal was through for $285 million!Sanders had a bad time with the new owner, it is recorded. Heubelin Inc was acquired by Reynolds in 1982.In 1986 Pepsico.Inc took over  KFC which they purchased for for $840 million, the reason why one was offered only Pepsi and related drinks there.Again in 2002 till this time Yum!Brands is the owners of KFC along with other popular brands like Pizza Hut and Taco Bill and has a  turn over which runs into multi billions.

Sanders died at the age of 90.   

Next time when you pop into one among 20000 KFC outlets in 125 countries, for that "finger lickin' good" chicken, just think nothing good is created easily.

Photos:Courtesy KFC

Wednesday, 1 August 2018


Athens is not like London, Paris or Rome. It is unique in many ways to this day comparing to other European capitals or even other Mediterranean cities. At least that was the impression I got when we- Geetha and I- had a chance to visit the place. May be because it is the oldest living city in Europe and for that matter one of such places anywhere in the world.

Athens can boast of its many contributions which have made the ancient and modern world a better place to live. I think nobody can challenge that fact. We all know that it is the birthplace of recorded history, theater, philosophy and many aspects of Mathematics and Science. Nobody can forget the fact how Olympics originated and revamped in 1896, with its first and majestic Panathenaic stadium in marble which is kept at Athens to this day. But what I would give the best of all the contributions of Athens made to the rest of the world above all, is democracy! Demokratia in Greek from where the word democracy originated means peoples rule!

Athens has given birth to at least three great philosophers ever lived- Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Here I think I have to note that Athens also gave a very infamous person-Draco. If one cant recognize this name of the person all of a sudden, I wont blame anyone because it is not him but what he made became so infamous. 'Draconian' laws anywhere to this day is blamed after old Athenian lawmaker  Draco who lived 2600 years back! Few musings from Constitution Square, Athens...

                          Greek Parliament clicked through a glass door from the hotel room

The Grand Bretagne....
There is a central square in the city of Athens which is interestingly named as Constitution Square. This is also where the Greek Parliament is located. We had the chance to check into a pretty old but good hotel The Grand Bretagne, almost diagonally opposite to the Parliament building. If it was in other countries including India, we would not have got such a place to live so near to a Parliament building because of security reasons. Anyway we could enjoy the sight of the Parliament building in day and night  including the famous change of guards which happens every hour of the day and night. In the night the building looked more serene which forced me to take a click. The above photo was clicked in the middle of the night from our room through the glass door leading to the balcony, overlooking the Parliament! No doubt Athens is a very friendly location for tourists. From the roof top terrace coffee shop of the same hotel one can enjoy stunning view of Acropolis.

Back to democracy of ancient Athens...
I shall go back to 'democracy'. Many basic political terms commencing with the word politics itself originated from Greek language.Monarchy,Aristocracy,Oligarchy,tyranny and of course democracy...all have roots in Greek.

Draco was the first recorded legislator of Athens who lived in 7th century BC.He was requested by the aristocrat citizen of Athens-mostly rich and the privileged- to chalk out a written code of laws to be enforced replacing the prevailing oral laws. Draco did his job but was characterized by its harshness. He gave death penalty for most of the offences whether trivial and serious crimes. His name became synonymous with brutal,harsh,severe laws which lingers to this day as 'draconian' laws!  

Thanks to Solon and few others, in 5th century BC,in and around Athens, the first known democracy came to existence. It is definitely a wonder how the people of Athens thought of this great idea and implementing into a democratic form of Government when rest of the world was under mostly autocracy or in wilderness. It had few short comings such as women and slaves were not permitted in the voting. Instead only Athenians who owned landed property had the right to vote. But the great thought of democracy centuries back is what I admire about Athens... 

Democracy now in the world....and in India
It is said that if a nation conducts free and fair elections, it can be classified as a democratic nation. Of course different political parties with varied interests should be able to take part in the elections. While India is considered to be the largest democracy in the world with its teeming population of 1.3 billion, it is yet to top the list in quality- as per chart of democratic index. According to the same index Scandinavian countries like Norway, Iceland and Sweden are the most democratic ones as stands on date. They are reaching perfection in this matter with scores of 9.87,9.58 and 9.39.

India has a score of 7.23 against US 7.98,France 7.80,Greece 7.29 and Pakistan 4.26.It is understandable considering the large population of India consisting of different classes of people. But it is to the advantage of India that democracy has taken deep roots in the system while economically the country is getting richer year by year. India is one of the richest nations in the world while a lot of poor remain in the country. But I firmly believe that only  when this richness of the country  goes to people and reflect in their standards of living, only then the true democracy triumphs.It may take few more decades but sure to happen.

courtesy second photo-Hotel Bretagne

Sunday, 1 July 2018


Jeans was designed for the greasers-working class youth initially.There after it became sort of symbol of disobedience, largely used by youth in general.But since professional jeans were patented in 1871 by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in US, jeans became one of the most popular and fashionable  dresses world wide, if not the most popular. It is a  unisex dress used by all classes and ages, as we all  know.I still love it at my age.One type of jeans is  fading jeans- guaranteed to fade or already faded!But I am sure hardly anyone knows that there are cotton- non denim- shirts which are guaranteed to fade!It is named 'Bleeding Madras'!!

Bleeding Madras, as the name indicates, come from India.Bleeding Madras was once the fashion craze in US-especially in the 1950s and 1960s in California and New York.They were marketed with a guarantee to bleed and fade!Like Jeans, Bleeding Madras was used initially by the poor working class of the Madras(Chennai) region of India.But the west took it to a different level in fashion- a status symbol of the wealthy!!

Textile history of India is as rich,vibrant and different as its own  history.Modern world is unaware of India's contributions of past though Indian textiles is one of the most preferred world over now. Most popular international brands like Wrangler,Marks and Spencer,Adidas,Puma,Timberland....the list will be very long.... all use Indian textiles.....


Calico to Dungaree Jeans...
Calico originated in Calicut(presently known as Kozhikode),South India as early as in 11th century.It was a thick cotton cloth woven by local spinners.But it was British traders who arrived in India in early 1600 s who identified the fabric as a commodity to be traded.The East India Company promptly took it to Europe named it as Calico.

Dongri is in Greater Mumbai now.Once it was a dock side village. People over there- largely improvised-used to make a special type of cotton cloth for them in the 17th century.It was cheap,coarse,thick which was known as 'dungri'.The English rulers of India then were interested and exported the same to England for making working clothes for the workers.During 1st world war the same clothing was used even for British Navy to withstand the wear and tear of the environments they were working while the name 'Dungri' clothing changed to 'Dungaree' to suit English phonetics.The British were clever to re export it to other parts of Europe and US. Soon it was a hit everywhere. Dongri villagers and Indians never knew the popularity of their own making!Even now, I bet.The Americans including Levi Strauss started using Dungaree for Jeans along with Denim from Genoa,Italy!

I am always amazed and amused by the different ways the British took advantage- exploited could be a better word- India while they were in control!Yet they managed to the appreciable level that they shook hands with Indians as friends before they left the country!!Even today the relationship is warm.I don't know whether the credit for this should go to the clever British or exceptionally tolerant Indian!!

Bell bottom days.....
I had my first bleeding Madras shirt in 1969, when I was doing my Engineering.I knew that it was then a fashion craze among the youth of city bred Indians like me but nothing more.Those were pre TV days.India was not opened up.Forget about international brands, any ready made garments were hardly found or used in the country regardless national brands of Raymond and Zodiac were there.Bell bottomed pants and big dog collared shirts were in the fashion for men but all stitched or custom made to size!To be honest I never knew at that time that Bleeding Madras- more popularly known as just Madras- was a fashion rage among the youth of US. Instead I was under the impression that it was an impact from some Bollywood stars. 

Bleeding Madras.......    
 Fabric of Madras in cotton was originally designed and made for the peasant class of Madras region in South India from 12th century.Multi colored dyes that were not colorfast were used, may be to avoid getting soiled fast.It resulted in bleeding and fading of colors that gave the fabric a new look each time.The color bled into the water during each wash and hence it is called Bleeding Madras.The exclusive color pattern of the fabric was so influenced by the tartan pattern of the Scottish Regiment stationed in that region in 1800s it is commented at times.However it became a hit in California and New York by 1960s, first and thereafter the rest of places          

It is told that American novelist SE Hinton portrayed Bleeding Madras as the dress of the rich in her famous novel 'The Outsiders'.The novel was later filmed in the same name which was a Hollywood hit.Anyway not only as the shirts but blouses,beach shorts,skirts and aprons came out in the new cotton patterns all over America including in Hollywood.Bleeding Madras originally intended for the poor working class in India caught on even the footwear of the men and women of US alike!!!

Though used by a lot of international brands,Indian textiles is yet to take central position of the world with own brands as in case of many other Indian products.Allen Solly,Louis Phillippe,Peter England,Raymond and Zodiac are all purely Indian brands.The deceptive names to sound western so selected shows the lack of confidence of Indian manufacturers to market their products even in 
India to this day..If Indians can manufacture and export to west one of the best single malt whiskies in an Indian name,this seems to be much lesser task!!

Friday, 1 June 2018


Recently, citizens of Cuba got a new President-Miguel Diaz Conel. Cuba is neither a rich country nor powerful, politically or militarily.Yet the world press gave a good coverage to this news.Miguel is the new face to steer the country after Castro brothers-Fidel and Raul who have been ruling Cuba since 1959. Fidel Castro headed the country till 2011 when he stepped down due to poor health.He died in 2016.

Cuba under Fidel Castro has been 'apple of my eye' for few nations while many others thought just the opposite.Fidel remained a hero for some- my own state Kerala included- but at the same time a villain or even tyrant for others!Strategically positioned very close,almost in the lap of US,Fidel Castro led an armed revolution which toppled the Govt of Batista in Cuba in 1959 which was against the interests of US.The event and the policies of the new Govt thereafter had many repercussions both in the national and international fronts about which we all know.

But what many of us may not know is that over Cuban affairs the whole world stood still for 13 days fearing break out of a nuke war.Worse,the Presidents of US and Russia(erstwhile USSR) kept their fingers on nuke buttons since there was no hot line then.Americans call it as 'Cuban missile crisis', Cubans calls it 'October crisis 1962' while former Soviet Union named it as 'Caribbean Crisis'...the word crisis was common among them....Read more to know about the pivotal and catchy role played by a football court in Cuba in the context, many of us are not aware of....

The event as I remember...
1962.I was in my early high school classes when the event took place. I don't remember anything other than that a third world war was in the offing.And the fight was between US and USSR(popularly known to us as America and Russia) over nuclear missiles placed in Cuba.I do also remember having read a lot about Kennedy, much less about Khrushchev and hardly anything about Castro in the newspapers!Those days India was more depending on news supplied by Reuters or Pravda than anywhere else.I had to read at least headlines and sub headlines of two newspapers delivered home everyday compulsorily.That was the rule at home.One was in English and the other in Malayalam.When I look back I think I have to thank my appa and amma (father and mother) for that.....

More or less at the same time, India was facing a major problem on her borders-Chinese aggression.This could be also a reason why I have been covering the newspapers those days.

The event as actually happened.......commencing with failed Bay of Pigs invasion
Birth of a communist regime headed by Fidel Castro in 1959 in Cuba, a tiny country within arms reach of US-about only 90 miles- was intolerable for them.To make matters worse the communists had toppled a  Govt which was very friendly towards US, if not a puppet one.

Under the direction,training and funding of US, a group of Cuban exiles in US made an abortive effort to overthrow the communist regime.For obvious reasons the misadventure was organised from Guatemala and Nicaragua through Bay of Pigs closer to Cuba.That was in April 1961.Castro himself personally lead the counter attack and finally won.But he knew that every time he cannot be the winner against the mighty US. That's when he looked out for a permanent solution from his advisers and supporters, the Soviets. 

Why the Soviets decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba
The Soviets were very uncomfortable since US installed nuclear missiles in Turkey in 1959, a bordering country.In few minutes some of the cities in USSR could be decimated, that was the situation.When Cuba asked the Soviets for help for the very existence,Khrushchev thought it is a chance to kill both birds with one shot- to counter installation of nuclear missiles in Turkey and to deter further adventures of US on Cuba.And they also wanted to show the world those days that they care for ' newly born communist babies' under any circumstances.

USSR and Cuba jointly decided to have the nuclear missiles planted in Cuba but wanted to do such an installation discreetly.The Soviets launched a secret operation named 'Anadyr' for the purpose.And the first phase was successfully over but then...

They love baseball in Cuba than soccer....
As we all know the whole of South American countries love Football or soccer as Americans call it.But with an exception of Cuba.'Beisbol' as baseball is known in Cuba is the most popular and official sport of Cuba to this day.

On 14 October 1962, a US spy plane on its routine reconnaissance over Cuba noticed construction of a modern soccer(football) field.It gave a ring in somebody's brain because not only that soccer is not popular in Cuba but very popular among Russians.Going after such a clue before long the US could identify some of the missile sites already progressed by the Russians in Cuba.

On 22 October 1962,President Kennedy addressed the nation and rest of the world about the presence of the missiles in Cuba.He also conveyed his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba,demanded withdrawal of the missiles already installed  and announced deployment of US military force to stop further,  if need be.

24 October 1962....That was the day world expected a spark!
A naval quarantine set by the US unilaterally came to force on this day.Soviet warships bound for Cuba neared the line of US vessels enforcing the blockade.This was the day the whole world expected a military confrontation between US and USSR which could have instantly escalated to a nuclear world war.But the Soviet ships stopped few miles short of the firing range of US ships in the  blockade!!The world heaved a sigh of relief!!

The tense stand off between the super powers continued for few more days.Finally USSR agreed to remove the missiles installed in Cuba against the assurance of US that it will not invade Cuba.US also had to agree to the removal of missiles installed by them in Turkey against USSR.But US wanted this to be kept as a secret between the two nations. For reasons best known to Khrushchev, USSR agreed for that too.World press made Kennedy a hero out of this episode. Khrushchev who could come out equally with a win win situation had to face criticism from communist countries since the removal of US missiles kept in Turkey had to be kept as a secret as per negotiated terms with US!!Cleverness in negotiations always win!!


Tuesday, 1 May 2018


Ceremonial Change of guards take place at many places around the world.Almost all of them I understand are colorful military drills, enjoyable to all, while I have seen myself some of them.Similarly Beating Retreat is a ceremony that calls patrolling units back to their bases.At different but few locations we have beating retreats at the borders of different countries but the most exciting, eventful, colorful one in the present world is undoubtedly at Wagah border between India and Pakistan.

As the sun sets each day, the soldiers of both countries march, trying to outdo the other side in style and perfection. The respective steel gates are opened at the same speed, at the same time- in a haste I would say.The two flags are lowered simultaneously , then folded and the ceremony ends with a quick unfriendly handshake between the soldiers. What makes this ceremony stand out is peoples participation on the Indian side. Singing and dancing of performing Indian youth- men and women alike- to the tunes of old patriotic songs, with occasional loud chanting of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'(victory for Mother India) and 'Vande Matharam'(Mother, I bow to thee), while the whole spectators in thousands from all over India including oldies like me, join them waving the tri color flags is a rare emotional  experience I have gone through in such contexts.One of its kind among all beating retreats or change of guards anywhere in the world, I would say.

Come what may - peak of summer, icy winter or torrential rains-the event rather a ritual is taking place at the dot of time every day without much interruptions ever since 1959!No wonder international tourists also witness and enjoy this event in large numbers.

Grand Trunk Road to 'Zoaq'....
It took some time and skill even for Jaspal Singh, seasoned Punjabi driver of our exclusive Tempo Traveler to come out of unruly and commotive traffic of Amritsar town, like any other typical town of India for that matter, to join the Grand Trunk(GT) Road. Jaspal had been driving us -four elderly couples who are close friends,around the hilly terrain for the earlier week from Chandigarh-Shimla-Kullu-Manali-Amritsar with stop overs as required.Though we reached Amritsar previous night, my mind was not fully awake from the hang over of the beautiful snow clad mountains of Manali.

However the name Grand Trunk Road brought me an avalanche of thoughts silently.The GT road is not only one of the longest and oldest roads-over 2000 years old,2500 kilometers long in India but remains a life line all these years.And it passes through Bangladesh,Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.Right from the days of Chandra Gupta Maurya,Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great,Mughals,Shershah Suri.....GT Road remained mute witness to making of this country.It is 28 kilometers to the border from Amritsar on the Indian side while it is 24 kilometers from the border to Lahore on the Pakistan side. In fact Wagah is in Pakistan now where as the closest Indian village to the border is Attari.

I dont know why but 'Zoaq' came to my mind when I read the board which named Lahore. Zoaq is a Pakistani restaurant in Doha owned by a friend of mine Ahmed.About 8 years back it was opened with handpicked chefs brought  from Lahore,I remember him telling me. The venture was an instant hit. It remains very popular  to date because of the quality of its food-various authentic Lahori dishes.

Soon we reached the border- known as Radcliffe line in the world history.

India and Pakistan celebrated independence in 1947 without knowing their own boundries!
I am sure that most of us may not know much about how literally the partitioning process was completed by Britain between India and Pakistan in 1947.Sir Cyril Radcliffe was appointed as Chairman of Border Commissions - one for Punjab and the other Bengal.Though there are 4 members in the commissions, two each representing Indian National Congress and Muslim League, the decision making power remained with Radcliffe. Interestingly Radcliffe who was a lawyer did not know India at all or never visited the country even once prior to the appointment.In hindsight I think the British authorities wanted such a person for the job!

He came to India on 8 July 1947.More or less within a month he completed his job!!Simple as that!!But his decisions were kept as secret for a week  until published.Officially Pakistan was born on 14 August 1947 while India on the next day- 15 August 1947.But both countries celebrated independence without knowing their own boundaries!!Hardly few know that on the very same day Radcliffe left India for good after handing over the award to last Viceroy!

On 16 August at 5.00 PM Indian and Pakistani authorities were given advance copies of the final details of the border while it was officially published on the very next day with no room for changes.Riots and killings on both sides had started earlier to that, before Radcliffe left India. Finally, above a million people were killed while another 12 million people were uprooted from their homes!!No one knows exact figures.History books say that Radcliffe never collected his fee of Rs. 40000 which was offered on his appointment.It seems he was appalled by the killings that he left in a hurry.He knew what would follow if his own boundary line is implemented!!

After 70 years since both countries got independence, when one look back I am of the opinion that it was a blessing in disguise for India.Two undisputed factors lead for this thought.One India has become a fully matured democratic country.Second India would not have achieved the way it has progressed economically and otherwise for the last 20 years or so, if it was one country. People can differ with me,I know.

Spectacular show...
As we are about to reach the border for the ceremony, all the vehicles were stopped for security reasons except those who are having VIP entry passes issued by Border Security Force(BSF).All others have to walk almost a kilometer.Thanks to Manohar a colleague of mine who took the efforts to get those passes for us , we could reach the venue or view the ceremony without any difficulty.For others too it is stream lined well, I have noticed but one has to walk a bit and probably has to come early as well to get a seat.But it is amazing that everything is being done absolutely free by BSF.

We sat in the well laid out amphitheater made of concrete meant  for the viewers on the Indian side.The heat was generous since the setting sun was directly falling on our faces.Nevertheless our spirits were lifted as a crowd of ladies- young and old- came to the center stage and started singing and dancing to the tunes of patriotic songs.Moments one may feel emotionally.Being abroad I was missing this all these years!

This was followed by parades of well built BSF soldiers who are in khaki uniforms, starched and pressed, with colorful orange fanned hats.All the time they were making heavy foot stomping or goose steps which will keep one on the edge of the chair.Definitely they must have been well trained.As some part of the ceremony synchronized in time and actions with Pakistani side I think  it can never happen so unless both countries cooperated.

As Indigo Airlines took off from Amritsar airport the next day noon to take us back home, my mind was full of Golden temple, the show at the border and 'alu parantha'( a bread dish stuffed with mixture of mashed potato and spices) offered by Ramada for breakfast.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Musings from Doha: WORLD OF FLOPS....THE RACE IS ON !

Musings from Doha: WORLD OF FLOPS....THE RACE IS ON !: It is 3 weeks back that Japan officially notified her intention of recruitment of 200,000 IT professionals from India.Japan also to issue...

Sunday, 1 April 2018


It is 3 weeks back that Japan officially notified her intention of recruitment of 200,000 IT professionals from India.Japan also to issue green cards to them to help them settle down in that country!The live first hand feed back readily available on performance of Indian professionals deployed in almost all the developed countries in the world including Japan must have given right  impetus in reaching such a decision.Politically also India is having an excellent relation of all time high with Japan currently.  After all Indian labor-highly skillful and comparatively cheap- is good value for money for the developed and most countries of the world.

I am exposed to doing business with the Jap businessmen while in Qatar.They generally come to conclusions after very extensive negotiations and considerations unlike European or American counterparts.Definitely it is a win win situation for both the countries,I presume.

The current status that India being one of the lead countries in the world in Information Technology/computer software and related technology is not obtained by luck or accident.Thanks to selective few among the political visionaries,large number of dedicated, brainy professionals  and some of the great educational institutions of the country, India is catching up fast with the top notch in the scientific world. Here I am sharing what comes to my mind now -  how India developed the first indigenous super computer in 1991 against many odds and challenges........hardly known facts  even among young Indian professionals and others.....

A change I was longing for.....
My first job abroad was in 1977.I was 27 then.It did not last long,only 2 years before I rejoined my Govt service in India.But when I made the second sojourn, this time to Qatar in 1984, it got stuck ever since.From a career that of an engineer in civil projects, it went to other fields and levels in which I never thought I could thrive!No doubt  what the international business exposure I could gain through out my career abroad gave me is tremendous.Many years esp while in the west,nobody was aware about India more than its poverty, population explosion or rarely on Nehru or Indira Gandhi. Most of them thought Indira is daughter of Gandhi!!But it changed dramatically towards the end of the last century from my own first hand experience.

I was in Frankfurt,Germany in late 90s to visit ACHEMA.It is an international trade fair, one of the best of its kind in the world,if not the best, in chemical and Process Industries.I was on hunt of some good pump manufacturer to be represented in Qatar commercially. On my first day on my way in a taxi to reach the venue, the German cab driver asked me in broken English whether I am an Indian.But such an inquiry is just routine anywhere.His second question was a sort of an unexpected one.Instead about 'poverty in India he asked me "Are you a computer engineer?" I was glad that  Germany had already identified India with  computers .....That was in 1999.

Why India was denied a super computer?
Credit of introducing the first super computer in the world goes to Seymour Cray,an American electrical engineer.That was in 1962 and the computer was named Cray CDC 66000. Obviously the invention took the scientific world by storm.By 1985 India wanted to import a super computer from Cray Research International, a firm floated by Cray himself, mainly to boost weather forecasts more scientific that existed then in the country.

The firm was willing but the US Govt was not.More than political reasons US administration thought that India will use the super computer in the design of missiles and nuclear weapons than weather  forecasts.The Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who made a visit to US  had to return empty handed! Russia(USSR then) too was arm twisted by US admin not to sell such a computer to India.To best of my knowledge IBM too wanted to enter India but was stopped by the US Govt.Since the super computer was built only by those two countries India did not have no other immediate option!

Have seen only picture of a Cray....but Yes, we can.......
When all efforts failed to get one imported super computer, instead of more begging India wisely thought of exploring possibilities to make one herself.In 1988 India set up Centre for Development of Advanced Computing C-DAC with Vijay Pandurang Bhatkar as its head. When the Prime Minister met him for the first time, there took place an interesting recorded conversation which I shall reproduce in verbatim.Quote
"Can we do it?"asked Rajiv Gandhi.
"I have not even seen a super computer but only a picture of the Cray.But yes, we can do it"answered Bhatkar.
"How long it will take"?
"Less than it will take us in trying to import Cray for us".Unquote.He also promised that related costs including building such a facility will cost less than a Cray!
Govt of India went ahead with the program with a very tight budget it could afford those days.

India rolls out its first super computer but....  China outsmarts all!
Within 3 years, by mid 1991 first Indian indigenous PARAM 8000 was rolled out.Most of the scientific world were even doubtful about the claim. Thats when India decided to take PARAM prototype to a major international conference and exhibition of super computers. In fact it was the second fastest of its kind in the world then, with a much lower price tag.The US company Cray had to slash the prices to be competitive!!One US newspaper gave a title for the event aptly -Denied super computer angry India does it!

India has to go a lot forward and fast in this field where China's TIANHE-2 is the fastest with a speed of 33.86 peta FLOP.FLOP stands for Floating Point operations per second,the measure of the speed of computer performance. Their version  3 is expected to be launched in 2020.China was no where in the world of supercomputers till 2000 where  as US venders like Hewlett Packard,IBM,Cray,Dell..  still keep 90% share  among the top 500 systems to date.This is excluding people like Google,Facebook,Apple,Yahoo who may have very advanced super computers which they may not reveal.....