Friday 24 December 2021


Merry Christmas to one and all of my readers!

A Christmas season anywhere in the world is not complete without at least a cake these days. Whether it is in the Americas ,Canada or Europe, Africa, Far East or Australia it is the same. Even in non Christian countries or secular countries where Christianity is comparatively a small community like India -with less than just 3 % of population- a Christmas without a cake is unthinkable for the last many decades. In Japan where Christians are limited to less than 1 %, bakers are busy with their trade mark  Christmas cakes during the festive month. I am sure that hardly few know that the only shortcake emoji exhibited in our smartphone emoji selection is a Japanese Christmas cake with a strawberry on the top! You can check that in your phone whether it uses Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung or any other known technology...

In fact it also may be interesting to know  that the first Indian who baked a Christmas cake in India was not a Christian but a Hindu by faith! In Kerala state where I live where Hindus, Christians and Muslims live together cordially, may be due to the influence of commercial practices of traders, a cake has become very popular among all communities. One Mampally Bapu , owner of Royal Biscuit company baked the first cake at Thalasseri, Kerala in 1880.

A cake has nothing to do with Jesus Christ or basic beliefs of Christianity. It is believed to have started much later in Britain in the 16th century based on traditional food there rather than with any church in the world. Thereafter it caught up with the rest of Europe and the world.

Please read on ...A cakewalk on this Christmas day!!

First day of each December while in Qatar...Thanks to Mr. Sherida Al Kaabi..
While in Qatar in spite of my busy official schedule even on Christmas days, I used to remember about Christmas  sharp on every first day of every December for many decades! Definitely it was not because of any religious reasons. In a country like Qatar where Christmas was not celebrated in public much in those years of 1980s and 90s, strange for many reasons, I used to see the Chairman of the company where I was  working ,signing on a number of Christmas cards to be posted to his Christian friends all over the world! That was sure to happen if he was available in the country on first of every December. Of course those were pre internet days. He also used to scribble down one or two sentences on the card to make them more personal. No wonder he had been a very professional and successful Ambassador for his country representing in India, Egypt ,UK and Scandinavian countries for many years. 

Now also he seems to continue the same habit since it is only two weeks ago that my wife and I got one of such cards from him. Time has changed that we got into that list but admire his ability to share and maintain the warmth of relationships for decades with others. Still he uses the good old system of printed Christmas cards in spite of the fact that he is a computer literate. I think his silent but noble action is the best Christmas message one can give to this day- keep the warmth and love with all, irrespective whether they are useful to him or not in life any more!!That's Mr. Sherida Al Kaabi!! And this is only one of the many characteristics of Mr. Al Kaabi which I try to emulate. An Arab influencing me, an Indian was the last thing in my life I expected !!

How the first Christmas cake was born?
The evolution of Christmas cake began with plum porridge which was  an English tradition for dinner. On Christmas eve people over there started having oats porridge after fasting. Soon dried fruit, honey and spices were added to porridge mix which eventually turned into Christmas pudding!

By 16th century oat meal was removed and instead wheat flour , butter, spices and eggs were added. It became the first version of Christmas boiled plum cake. Later the rich started baking the cake. By 1830s eating a traditional plum cake on Christmas day became a practice in Britain and caught up with the rest of the world. 

The most popular types of Christmas cakes in the western world..
Here it is not my intention to give the recipes of various Christmas cakes in the world and bore you. But it could be interesting to know that different types of such cakes remain popular by different names  in different countries.

While the traditional plum cake remains in many countries, in Germany it is Christollen, in Poland it is Makowiec, in Italy it is Panettone and in Portugal it is Bolo Rei. In France , Belgium, Switzerland and Lebanon it is Yule log cake (Buche de Noel).This reminds me that in Qatar most of the patisseries and bakeries are run by the Lebanese and during Christmas season how the Yule log cakes are exhibited in the shelves there more than traditional plum cakes!

And in  Japan....Emoji cake!

Christmas cake is very dominant in Japanese culture regardless of the fact that the % of Christians in the country is less than 1% of the population. It is sold in every other corner during the festive season right from November! The Japanese Christmas cake is unique- a light sponge cake covered with white cream and decorated with fresh strawberries. The Japanese liking for a Christmas cake started after the second world war devastation. There were a lot of Americans helping out Japan in the resurrection. And the poor Japanese those days were attracted towards the rich traditions of US! The Christmas eve in Japan is like Valentines day in the west. Would you be my 'Christmas' this year they ask each other instead of 'valentine' in Japan!

And the only cake emoji in our smartphones we use is Japanese Christmas cake! It is observed that the color scheme-white and red- of the cake represents the Japanese flag. Red strawberry for the sun while white of cream represents the background in Japanese flag! And why this particular cake in Emoji ? Because Emoji originated in Japan in 1999 created by a Japanese artist named Shigetaka Kurita which was patented. Emoji means 'Picture illustration' in Japanese language and he created the same for his employer firm NTT Docomo initially, but used by all.

First Indian made Christmas cake...
The  Christmas cake in India can be traced back to 1880.Mampally Bapu was a Keralite business man who used to ship bread, milk and tea to British troops stationed in Egypt. On his return to Kerala he started a bakery because he had learnt the art of baking biscuits while abroad mainly in Burma. His bakery was named as Royal Biscuit Factory at Thalassery, Kerala.

One day one Englishman named Murdoch Brown, a planter of estates brought him a cake which he had purchased while in England. He was requested to make a similar cake in his bakery. With the tasting and narration of such a cake from Murdoch , Bapu could bake a similar cake with dried fruits and other ingredients. That was in November 1883.

           Mambally Bapu presenting the first Indian made plum cake to Murdoch Brown in 1883.

Another cake known as Allahabadi Christmas cake also is well known in India for the last many decades. It has origins from Anglo Indian kitchens of Allahabad railways colony. Goa's Baath cake is a delicacy there during Christmas which has Portuguese origin. Vivikam is a traditional Christmas cake of Pondicherry which was ruled by the French. Mandas of Mangalore is traditional Christmas cake  among the Anglo Indians. So also Cochin Jews and Parsees  have their own cakes in the season. 

"You can't have your cake and eat it too" is an English idiomatic proverb, as we all know. Perhaps the only exception is a Christmas cake! Once again a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!!

Wednesday 1 December 2021


While all educated Indians are fully aware of the rule, rather misrule of the British in India during the colonial years, I don't think that the same awareness is there about that of Portuguese' in India. I used to wonder why Indians and others are not fully focused on the atrocities meted out by the later during their 451 years of colonial rule than 200 years of British in India. Is it because the Portuguese were treating Indians better than the British? Or is it because while the British could directly or indirectly rule almost all India while the Portuguese were ruling only few pockets? These doubtful thoughts were always there in me but could do research on these only after I came back to India. 

It doesn't amuse me when most of the Indians- knowingly or unknowingly- celebrate our past slavery and looting by the British colonists. Or the way the personal affairs of their royal family is publicized in our media even now! Recently the mostly read Malayalam newspaper(in my mother tongue)  had written in detail in their internet edition titled as headline 'Operation London Bridge is ready" about the steps the British would do in case, Queen Elizabeth who is ailing from old age related diseases at her 96 demises....Thankfully she is still live. Winston Churchill  hated India to hilt- and expressed it openly- in spite his country was mostly depending on the loot from there to remain as a wealthy world power! He openly had said that "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion...". Most of the Indians still think he is great...mostly by ignorance ,if I am not wrong. 

When I finally focused and read about the Portuguese colonization of India, its implications on Indians it gave me shock initially. After making sure of the happenings from various reliable sources including available Portuguese chronicles in English- many back up documents the Portuguese have cleverly destroyed-I am here to share them. I didn't know that  Vasco da Gama was known for a personality as violent, rude and relentless to start with! I didn't know that there is an epic classic poem revered in Portugal by all to this day titled 'The Lusaids'.It was written by Luis Vaz de Camoes in 1572 in celebration of the new sea route to India founded by da Gama! But their celebration was more than agony for India from 1510 to 1961 until Goa, Daman and Diu their pockets in India were liberated after 451 years of colonization! Even at that time all the western so called 'self champions of freedom and democracy'  including US, France, Britain and co were all supporting Portugal, opposing India openly in UN and elsewhere! It seems they sincerely believed that India was created to be mastered by them for ever!!

I have used the word 'unbeknownst' in the title intentionally meaning 'without someone's knowledge' which is more apt than just 'unknown'!! Hardly publicized  episodes of the erstwhile  ' Portuguese India'!

                                                    Vasco Da Gama meets Zamorin in globalization? 
Motivations were three G s....God, Gold and Glory! 
It is said that the kings/Queens of Europe who funded such expeditions and the brave who captained all exploration trips were after three G s - God, Gold and Glory! And the Portuguese was not an exception. The usufructs, the benefits or profits so generated were always divided between them based on a pre trip agreement- mostly on percentage basis!
Though not in the correct sense of it, the Portuguese started globalization in the world in the 14th century. It was them who were the first European power to engage with other Europeans, Africans, Asians and Americans! It was smart of  King Manual I of Portugal who  sincerely believed that explorations to find new lands and sources of spices which were popular in Europe, can boost the poor economy of the country. Finding a new sea route to India and Indies was so intended to overcome the influence of Venetians in Mediterranean Sea and those of Ottomans and Mamluks of Egypt over Indian Ocean. Until then the Muslim middlemen who traded the Indian  spices to Europeans were charging hefty commissions claiming that the same was brought from far off lands guarded by serpents and devils as well. It was also hoped to find new Christians living in those parts of the globe so that more effective joint opposition could be made against the ever growing control of Muslims and Arabs over trade and power. And  to avoid robbers who always waited to ambush the land caravans.

The journey starts... 
Vasco da Gama belonged to a family of explorers. His father and maternal uncles -Vincente and Bras Sodre- and brothers were known to be in that category. It was Estevo da Gama, father of Vasco da Gama, a minor provincial nobleman  who was assigned with the trip but for some unknown reasons it was delayed and the duty was entrusted to young da Gama by the king. 

With 4 ships and 170 men including a catholic priest named Fr. Figueiro and interpreters,  da Gama commenced the journey from Lisbon on July 8,1497.He followed the same ship route without out losing sight of the main land which was discovered by another Portuguese explorer named Bartolomeo Diaz few years prior till the Cape of Good Hope, rounded the tip of Africa to reach Malindi, Kenya.

It was an  Indian who navigated da Gama from Africa to India!
Da Gama knew that he had to sail across the Indian Ocean from Malindi to Calicut which was really tricky those days. There it is believed that da Gama befriended a rich Gujarati merchant from India named Kanji Malam who escorted him in his own ship  to the shores of India! The identity of such a guide is also claimed to be one Ibn Majid, an Arab of descent by many Arab historians. But it is unlikely since the Arabs were already on loggerheads with Portuguese! I wonder why Indian history texts remain mostly silent of such a person all these years albeit many foreign chronicles like Encyclopedia Britannica writes about it authoritatively. Even the Portuguese chronicles mentions the help of such a person who had large fleet of ships bigger than what Portugal had! I wonder why I had not studied this factor anywhere in my school textbooks! And that could be more intentional than passive,I am afraid.

Ahoy Calicut! Land of 'Prester John'!
As da Gama landed at Calicut on 20 May 1498 taking 23 days from Malindi , he was under the impression that the local king- Zamorin and inhabitants of the town were Christians! Europeans were of the belief that there was a king named Prester John somewhere in Africa or Asia. For this reason da Gama was carrying a letter addressed to him by King Manuel I of Portugal while he met the Zamorin. He was given a warm welcome and reception by sending a palanquin and the people thronged on the sides of the road and roof tops leading to the palace as he travelled. It could be interesting to quote the first hand early thoughts of da Gama as I have read from one of his companion's diary." They are of tawny complexion. Men wear moustaches, go half naked to the waist covering the lower part with fine cotton stuff. Not all, but all seem to wear the best they have." " The women are ugly and of small stature. They wear a lot of gold ornaments ". He also thought that all the people were friendly but seemed ignorant!!Being polite, guest friendly and a warm reception with wide open arms including a royal ride in a palanquin for the first time carried by our Indians for miles, might have made him to think so, I presume!

Anyway the meeting with the Zamorin who was 'constantly chewing leaves of betel-nut' did not take off well especially because the quality of presents da Gama presented to him were not of gold but of lesser value! And already he had an influence of Arab merchants who were taking all the spices from his port which was unexpected by da Gama.

The return trip to Lisbon...
Apart from the fact that Vasco da Gama had to leave India empty handed without entering into any sort of trade agreement, he had to face an unexpected situation where a lot of his crew died of the disease scurvy. His own brother Paulo who steered one of the ships was one among them. He had to order to burn down one of his ships too because of shortage of enough competent men. Finally he reached the shores of Portugal with only 54 men in a dejected mood.

But the King of Portugal had ordered for a grand reception and celebration. He knew that his battle to monopolize the trade route to India out beating rivals such as  Spain, Britain, Dutch and others was over. He knew that the West is connected to the East by sea for sure and further the lands of Ceylon, Indonesia, China and Japan!!

Further expeditions of Cabral and da Gama of Portugal.

In 1500 Pedro Alvres Cabral with his 13 ships and 1200 men set sail for India. One of his ships was captained by none other than Bartholomew Dias of 'Cape of Good Hope' fame. The wind in the Atlantic Ocean accidentally took him to present day Brazil in South America. He is credited with finding of Brazil. Leaving behind few convicted criminals who were taken with him in the armada, after few days Cabral successfully sailed back across the Atlantic to round the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut on the west coast of India. He had lost few ships and captains including Bartholomew Dias in between in storm!

He reached Calicut on 13 September 1500 and tried for a trade treaty with the king which was resisted by the Arabs. Cabral then demanded the king to banish all Muslims from his kingdom which the king refused. Enmity between both came out. Arab traders killed 50 Portuguese men and Cabral retaliated capturing 10 of Arab ships!! Cabral then moved to Cannanore and later to Cochin where the kings were in bad terms with Zamorin. They welcomed the Portuguese and allowed trading facilities at Cochin. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'- their new relationship flourished well. Cabral could return to Lisbon successfully with his ships loaded with spices of Malabar. He could  get permission of the king at Cochin to leave 30  Portuguese sailors-thankfully not convicted criminals- behind, when his ships sailed off! European domination and ultimate colonization of India for the next 447 years had kick started!!

It was the turn of Vasco da Gama to make the next rip to India in 1502, his second and third of Portugal. He wanted to show the Arabs who had been opposing them to have a trade with India the might of Portugal! With 20 ships in his command da Gama captured many Arab ships on the way. He stopped a ship full of Muslim pilgrims who were on the way from Calicut to Mecca. It is recorded that da Gama was merciless to the extent that he looted the ship and killed all the 400 passengers and crew on that ship!! As he reached Calicut on October 30,1502 he came to take revenge on the treatment of Zamorin and Arabs on his predecessor Cabral. He bombarded the port of Calicut and destroyed it considerably. It is also recorded that the crew of many rice ships of Zamorin were caught live by  da Gama. He then cut the hands and ears of some of them and send them to Zamorin with a warning note. Zamorin did not yield to the pressure tactics anyway. As such da Gama had to go to Cannanore and Cochin to fill up his ships with the spices before he returned to Portugal!!

           Original burial place of Vasco da Gama at St Francis church, Fort Kochi.

In fact da Gama had made one more trip to India sometime later in 1524.By that time headquarters of Portuguese had been shifted to Goa. Da Gama landed in Goa but couldn't be in India for long. Vasco da Gama died while in Cochin in 1524.To keep the records straight Vasco da Gama had six sons and one daughter. His second son also was in India as a Governor in 1540.His body was cremated in a church at Cochin which is close to my  residence but later the remains were taken to Portugal.

                                     TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT AS PART II....

Monday 1 November 2021

HUSO HUSO.... fish that swam with dinosaurs still swim in our oceans!

Recently while reading about the production of the 'Titanic', one of the best block buster movies we ever had, I came to know that in order to make the scenes more realistic in the movie, James Cameroon, the director and producer decided to serve original Beluga Caviar to actors which costs about $5000 a pound or more , while filming the dining scenes. And the actors and others there had a cushy time because of that! And my attention drifted from Titanic to Caviar..

I am born and brought up in a coastal town. And all sorts of fish- sea water and fresh water- including crab, shrimp, oysters, squid and lobsters which are delicacies elsewhere are very much part of our day to day culinary diet. Even these days lady fish mongers supply fresh catch home delivered on a daily basis, which is a rarity in any other part of India or even the world. While such a situation exists from one end to the other in all coastal towns and villages in my own state Kerala, which has a long Arabian Sea coast in addition to  44 perennial rivers and backwaters, it is not typical of the rest of India. 

But two types of fishes which are very famous in the western culinary world are not caught or available here at all. One is sturgeon and the other is Salmon, although there are few exclusive outlets where they bring imported salmon today. The majority of Indians also may not be aware of world  caviar of Sturgeon fishes to this day. I too started tasting both only after I landed up in Qatar,37 years back. There also it is imported but available in selective supermarkets or restaurants. Here I am writing about the caviar, about which  most of us may not be aware but should be...

On trail of the unusual history of Caviar...
Researchers think that Sturgeon fish had evolved about 200-250 million years back, putting it alongside dinosaurs at a time when the land began breaking into continents. Anyway the scientific world unanimously think that this fish is one of the oldest on earth! Caviar- eggs of the fish Sturgeon is mentioned as old as Aristotle or Herodotus as back as 4th century BC! But it was the Persians who started consuming the caviar of the Caspian Sea but enjoyed by the people as diverse as Byzantines, The Greeks, the Egyptians etc. Possibly the word caviar is derived from the Persian word 'khavyar' which means fish roe. Eating caviar raw was caught up later with fishermen and peasants of Russia as the food of common man and then to Europe. 

In Christianity there is a Saint Amalberga of Tense in the Catholic as well as Easter Orthodox churches in the 7th century, whose coat of Arms has a Sturgeon fish! Towards the end of the twelfth century, King Edward II of England even declared Sturgeon to be the Royal fish, meaning all Sturgeon belonged to him personally. Interestingly this right is still believed to be held by Queen Elizabeth II!!In 1280 Russian Orthodox church had declared that Caviar as a food  could be consumed during religious fasts. In 1556 Ivan the terrible demanded annual tribute paid in Caviar delivered to Moscow after he conquered region of Khanate of Astrakhan, a region north of Caspian Sea! It was the Russian Tsars who raised the caviar to the world of costly to be known as black gold of Russia!! Caviar is also considered to be a natural Viagra.

Huso Huso...
The Beluga Sturgeon whose scientific name is Huso Huso is mostly seen in Caspian sea but also in Black, Adriatic and Azov seas. Beluga is considered to be the most expensive of all the 27 species of Sturgeon caviar followed by Osetra from the Danube Sturgeon. It has a life span up to 118 years and can be as long as 11-22 feet. They do not reach sexual maturity till 15 years old for males and around 20 years for females.

Like Salmon, Beluga Sturgeon spend most of the time in the ocean but travels into rivers to spawn. But unlike Salmon , they do not die after spawning. Beluga is classified as critically endangered.

Episode of 1873..
Fully aware of the expensive Caviar in Europe , Henry Schacht made a revolution in the caviar industry who made it popular by farming in the US. He was a German immigrant who commenced farming Sturgeon in Delaware river basin near Philadelphia in US. It was a success. Then to out beat the supremacy of the Russians over Caviar in international market, Schacht made it good and popular in US by massive farming. The prices came down drastically. At a given time in US, serving Caviar was sold as less as a nickel! Schacht decided to take Russia by storm by exports. But the plan seems to have backfired. Russians used to export back the same cheap US made caviar in Russian containers labelling it as black gold of Russian Beluga at exorbitant prices to US!!

However since 2005 US has banned all imports of Caspian Sea Beluga caviar in order to protect this species facing extinction. Now by law in US, caviar must be farmed and as such caviar as marked as 'wild' on many containers could be fake.

Cruelty free caviar...Angela Kohler method..
It was the work of Angela Kohler, a marine biologist who perfected the art of extracting eggs of living but farmed Sturgeon fish and patented it in 2006. First the fish is given an ultrasound test to see the readiness of the eggs followed by giving an injection to fish that induces labour after which few days later the eggs are effectively birthed out. Now many companies world wide use the Angela method successfully. 

And little bit of statistics...
Among all the countries of the world, France has the highest consumption of Caviar followed by Germany and Spain. And who leads in supply of Caviar to the European Union? It is China again!!

Tail Piece..
My attempts to acquire a taste for Caviar had failed miserably whenever I tried. Whether it is because of the wrong way of use or wrong brand of selection I don't know. Fish I like very much but anything raw is not my taste I admit, since I have failed in the tastes of Japanese Shushi as well!




Friday 1 October 2021


Suez canal was  in the news all over the world in March 2021 when a huge container ship named 'The Ever Given' accidently blocked the canal traffic for six days. It was a disruption of global trade as reported and the Egyptian port authorities impounded the ship. Finally the ship was allowed to moved out in July after reaching a settlement by the Japanese ship owners Shoei Kisen Kaisha with Egyptian port authorities.

Only few of us may be knowing that the Suez Canal of Egypt , a maritime engineered wonder of the modern world was nick named as 'Gateway To India' in 1869, at the time of building the great canal. How come a canal is named as 'Highway to India'? The name was so given that countries of the world, mostly Europeans and Arabs always wanted to trade for spices of India and Indies from the day navigation was possible over the high seas. Finding a new sea route to India circumnavigating Cape of Good Hope was a mile stone in the history of the maritime world but opening of Suez canal minus of  such a long journey of days was another!

The name Suez Canal was first registered in my mind very early in life in 1961 when I was just eleven years old. Not because I was a keen student of Geography or History but that name came many times then and thereafter in Indian newspapers related to Goa, a state now in India. It was in 1961 that India liberated Goa which was colonized by Portugal for 451 years! I remember that President Nasser of Egypt at the request of Prime Minister Nehru of India stopped the Portuguese naval vessels moving towards India at the Suez Canal to the utter surprise of NATO and USA who were all supporting Portugal hands down. This strategic move could make India attach own territory from the colonizers without much of a military warfare.

Trade with India over ages...
India was very much sought after for  trade by other countries from the time man could possibly make such journeys through land and sea. There is ample evidence for trade links between Mesopotamia and the Harappan civilization of Indus valley as back as around 3000 BC in ancient Greek and Jewish scriptures. 

The Jewish Tanakha and the Christian  Bible Old testament clearly indicates about India in THE Book Of Esther 1:1 and 8:9 about a King Ahasuerus whose domain was from Ethiopia to India. Hodu is the biblical Hebrew word used for India.1 Kings 10:22 of Bible again mentions about Soloman's ships bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks. All these are  believed to be from  India or Indies where only they were available. It may be interesting to note that 'kapi' is the word in Sanskrit used for ape while 'koph' is used for an ape in Hebrew. And the word 'tokai' is used for peacock in Tamil while 'tukki' in Hebrew. The Talmud, religious text of Jews- Babylonian and Jerusalem versions- written before by 350C specifically mentions about cinnamon, ginger, pepper and quality of Indian textiles! As I could learn this religious text also mentions about Etrog fruit(citron) imported from south India!

'Periplus of the Erythaean Sea' is the only oldest document available showing the trade routes to India from Greece and Rome around middle of the first century. The historical chronicle is well written by an unknown Greek and documented including available ports in India of those days is kept in Heidelberg University, Germany and a copy in British museum to this day. I feel happy and amazed to note that my home town Kochi is very close- just 35 kilometers away- to Muzirus a port of fame in South India those days. Greek and Roman sailors used to take advantage of the seasonal monsoon wind discovered and  named as Hippalus after the Greek navigator who discovered it in 1st century BC which would bring them straight from the mouth of the Red sea to Muziris! And could go back on the seasonal change after few months!!And it is a recorded fact that Jews from  abroad have been dwelling in and around  Muziris before the time of Jesus Christ! Saint Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ is believed to  have come in search of those Jews! And over 2000 years the Jewish community thrived in India, perhaps one of the few countries known to have not faced any sort of discrimination by Jews, if not the only country!

Before 7th century  it was Persians who controlled trade with India and Indies. But with the rise of Islam, Persians(Iran) were replaced with Arabs. It was in order to outsmart  the Arabs that Vasco Da Gama did find a sea route to India for trade around Cape of Good Hope, Africa in 1497. Indians welcomed them with warm hospitality without even an iota of doubt that the same Europeans would colonize and bleed their country  stealing the resources to their exclusive benefit for the next 4 centuries!! And it is to be specifically noted that when India wanted to come out of yolks of colonization and slavery after 421 years, the colonizers who are over 8000 kilometers from India, were supported by many so called countries in the west known to be 'champions of freedom and democracy' !In future too such situations will continue to come, more or less , and unless Indians put their foot down as required... as no one else will come to their rescue!

Suez Canal...linking of two seas..
Though built in the modern era, the dream of connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas was there from the time of Pharaohs of Egypt! In 19th century BC Pharaoh Senusret III and his followers had made successful attempts to connect river Nile by canals to the Red Sea, the remains of which existed till sixth century. But there was a misconception that both seas are at different altitudes till as late as 1830s while any linking of both  may end up in flooding of Egypt! In those years the French engineer and explorer Linant de Bellfords  found that both seas exist at the same altitudes.

In 1850s the Ottoman Empire which governed Egypt at that time had granted French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps permission to create a company to construct a canal which eventually came to be known as Suez Canal Company which was given on a 99 year lease over the waterway and surroundings.

Suez Canal emerges finally...connecting the continents and civilizations!
The Suez Canal company hired the expertise of a professional civil engineer Alois Negrelli and others and the survey, estimates and works started in 1859 in right earnest. An estimated 1.5 million workers participated in the project  stretching 193 kilometers  which took 10 years. Many perished in between due to Cholera and other reasons. Many of them were just employed as slaves!!On August 19, 1869 the waters of the two seas met for the first time while  on November 17,1869 the canal was formally opened by Ismail Pasha, Khedive (Ottoman Viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan in presence of a lot of dignitaries from world wide.

A bit of a twist in the opening ceremony....
The concessions given to the French by the Ottomans was never liked by the British, the way some unexpected happenings took place on the inauguration day of the canal which was carried out with much pomp and publicity! In fact the interests of the French and the British in digging a new canal was the easy transport of resources stolen from their respective colonies in Asia and Africa than anything else and also to dump their inferior goods at exorbitant rates in those markets like India! Late 18th century, the time of opening the canal  was the peak of bleeding of Indian resources by the British to remain as the wealthiest and most influential country in the world!

It was so decided by the authorities that the first ship officially to pass through the canal was the imperial yacht of French Empress Eugene, followed by the British Ocean liner named Delta. But to the utter surprise of all, a British ship was the first to enter the water way. The ship under the cover of darkness of the previous night sailed through the canal just few hours before the ceremonial opening!!It is also recorded that the captain of the British  ship HMS Newport was reprimanded for this action but the British Govt lauded him in secret!! However the authorities could hold the inauguration ceremony as planned and 70 ships followed the pilot ships out of which 50 were war ships.

The major shareholder of the Suez canal company remains France, while Ismail Pasha and few others were forced to sell their shares to Britain in 1875, since the company found it difficult to run it financially.

Nationalization of the Suez canal and the Suez crisis....
President Gamal Abdel Nasser on 6ht July 1956 on a very surprise move declared nationalization of the canal by Egypt to the disapproval of almost all the western powers. They tried to arm twist Egypt, withdrawing their pilots and specialized technicians deployed at the canal, thinking that Egypt will not be able to run it without them!!But Egypt managed to run it with the help of few friendly countries. Finally the issue was resolved by a joint decision of keeping a peace force of UN at the canal! 

Tail Piece!
Prime Minister Nehru of India was in full support of Nasser and Egypt during the Suez crisis. Perhaps that could be a good reason why Nasser decided to say no to the Portuguese ships to enter the canal ,on the way to India in the Goan liberation action!!

Wednesday 1 September 2021


It is unlikely that one may readily recognize the names of Jerry Baldwin or Gordon Bowker or Zeiv Siegel. But we all know about the brand they  founded-Starbucks, the largest coffee house chain in the world  arguably one of the most expensive as well. Jerry Baldwin and Ziev Siegel were teachers of English and History respectively in the University of San Francisco while Gordon Bowker was a writer-all belonged to academia-world of learning and education. They never dreamt of business, that too coffee business albeit they were all lovers of coffee and tea! Then how come they landed into coffee chain business?

The name they selected -Starbucks is equally baffling! I don't know whether Herman Melville, the American novelist of 18th century who wrote the famous 'Moby Dick' might have turned in his own grave while the trio did that! But surely one of his characters of the novel- Starbucks- became much more famous in the world in a couple of decades than his name, his novel or main characters or founders- could!!

As it stands today while Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world with close to 33000 retail outlets spread all over the world, it is a 'must read' for anyone but mainly the youngsters to know how they came into that covetable position!!

1971...the birth of such a name and logos in transformations...

In 1950s there was a famous coffee roaster  named Alfred Peet who was an immigrant from Holland stationed at Berkeley, US. One of the co founders Jerry Boldwin had worked with him who is known as the creator of American coffee concept! The founders decided to base the success of Peet but made on their own roastery techniques to create blends and flavours. Initially raw coffee beans were also purchased from Peets.

One of the initial requirements was to find a brand name which easily will be remembered by the coffee lovers. Various options came out but one Terry Hekler with whom Bouker owned a small ad agency strongly suggested that words beginning with ST were powerful. The trio who came from academia finally zeroed in on STARBUCKS, a fictional character of the first mate .He is described as scrupulous and steadfast in the classic novel 'Moby Dick', although he was never known to have drunk coffee! 

Herman Melville is best known for his novels of the sea, perhaps for the fact that among varied jobs he did, one was of a Harpooner in a whaling ship! In the novel 'Moby Dick' which is the name of the whale, the captain of the ship named 'Pequod' was 'Ahab', while the name of the First Mate was 'Starbucks'- rather a minor character comparatively! Obviously the founders settled for the name starting with ST as advised by brand adviser.

Once the name was finalized their  search for nautical mythological creatures  for imaginary logo related with the sea ended with Siren,  an image of bare breasted, twin tailed mermaid from mythology who was known to lure the sailors to ship wrecks with her enchanting music!

                                The founders of Starbucks with the first brown logo behind...
                                         but the trio didn't last long to remain as owners         

In the following years, it was decided to cover up her over sized boobs  with long hair and dropped suggestive spread tail with the green colour instead of the first one which was in coffee colour.The third logo is what they have now.  

As the first brown mermaid is born....

The first store of Starbucks was opened at Pike Place market,Seattle on 30 March 1971 quietly, the spot which has become a tourist spot in later years. The founders opened the place with not fresh brewed coffee, but as a store to purchase coffee beans. Interestingly to this day the dΓ©cor of the store is kept the same way!

it is equally baffling to note how the mode of business changed while the ownership too changed. Ziev Siegel left the company as early as 1981 while Howard Schultz was appointed as Head of Marketing. It was Schultz who initiated Starbucks to diversify into a full fledged Cafe, selling Expressos and Cappuccinos- my favorites to this day- but the original owners wanted to keep the business strictly as a coffee and equipment seller! One of the two remaining owners Jerry Baldwin who was with Peet's earlier decided to purchase that concern in 1984 along with Bouker and few others! Shultz left Starbucks in 1985 to start his own brand Il Gionale which became an immediate success. In 1987 the two remaining owners-Baldwin and Bouker- decided to sell the Starbucks to Howard Schultz!!

In 1992 Starbucks went public. It was in 1996 that Starbucks decided to expand to overseas. I still remember their first coffee house in Doha at The Mall, which was the first hypermarket in Qatar to the amazement of most in Qatar including me. I presume that it  was in the year 2000 or so which was close to our HQ office in D Ring Road! Doha was yet to wake up as a busy metropolis then, while I used to wonder the logics or feasibility behind opening such an expensive brand there then in an American environment in an Arab country ! But I was proven totally wrong myself within just 3 years later!!

                                                                       Howard Shultz

In 2003 Starbucks commenced selling food. In 2008-09 Starbucks lost billions in business due to recession but remained active and live until it recovered. During the last many years they have been opening at least two new stores each day somewhere in the word!!  
It's a brew-tiful day to have Starbucks!
Before I conclude the article I have to specifically write about Howard Shultz who was the strategist and catalyst of the Starbucks business plan which is seen very successful  today. He was the Chairman and CEO of the company for so many years but the the best part of his career was that he could make the Chinese drink and enjoy coffee who were hard tea lovers for so many centuries- almost the way Alfred Peet, the Dutchman taught America how to drink coffee!

While he considered to be an independent candidate for US presidentship three times including as late as 2019, we don't know what the future holds for him in politics. He has authored few good books including 'How Starbucks fought for life without losing its soul', is into philanthropy and had even ventured into sports related business once owning Seattle Supersonics team for NBA!

There are quite a number of successful ad slogans of Starbucks which have become catchy over the years. "Coffee that inspires" "Starbucks or nothing" are examples. But I would conclude this article here with an outstanding caption used by Starbucks years back but still live in my mind: "It's a brew-tiful day to have Starbucks!"

Photos/Captions: Courtesy Starbucks.


Sunday 1 August 2021


I consider myself a prosperous man, if the number of my official meetings and close interactions with hundreds of multiple nationalities from all around the world is the basis of such an assessment. I should profusely thank the State of Qatar and Al Balagh where I had been working for attaining this status. I got a right platform at the right time to which so many international executives had been flocking around to take advantage of the oil boom. Every time, every day there was something for me- an observant student- to learn, improve or correct myself. The process was never ending... which persisted for more than three decades.

My perspective towards life also might have been influenced by these close interactions, which started as unexpected challenges but ended up as a boon ultimately in my career and life ! I got many chances to review the competency of Indians and Indian products as  compared to others during this periodI also consider myself lucky to have traveled widely in the world, both officially and otherwise and got thoroughly exposed to the world. 

Having said this, when it comes to the traditional skills and craftsmanship like in black smithy, gold smithy ,carpentry and joinery , stone masonry and the like, I can categorically note that Indians are the best in the world- past or present. With all due considerations for Italians, Greeks, Chinese or others in the world, as it  stands today, there is not even a close consistent second I would say from my first hand professional exposure in construction sector. In acquired skills from an institute like plumbing, welding, electrical, electronics, machinist, AutoCAD, IT and other engineering skills also Indians are comparatively very good. I am limiting to the skills of Indians in engineering fields where I am exposed and left other areas like Medical, Commercial, Banking etc..where Indians perform well but I have to depend on statistics than first hand information.

 This is one of the reasons why so many Indians are seen in the Middle East for the last 30-40 years, a region where hectic construction activity is going on. Not just because they are cheap to be hired. All the Arabs in the Gulf region and others in the Middle East know this and their contributions to the region but sadly Indians esp Indian Government Officials and politicians , I am afraid, have not realized this fact yet, or are poor in marketing and  taking advantage of the situation. Instead the poor lot is rather exploited in many cases. And this is not limited to white collar or blue or gold but all jobs with different coloured collars!

Diplomatic Club....
Al Balagh got a chance to build Diplomatic Club, Doha - a building with traditional Qatari design features having modern club amenities- in 1998.Under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this was the first structure to come up in the newly developed area of whole west Bay in Doha, Qatar. If I borrow the words of the owners of the club now as written in their website, it is a building of 'Quality and extravagance infused with a rustic Middle Eastern charm'. The second building to come in that area is Ritz Carlton.Pl browse

It was a challenge for us at that time - to make a dream come true in engineering skills. I took a bold step from my own cue on the quality of traditional Indian craftsmanship in engineering fields and recruited them exclusively for the specific purpose. Thanks to them and supervising staff, the building came out exactly what Ibrahim Jaidah, the famous Qatari architect had in stands loud and clear to this day in Qatar. Quality and delivery of the project took the company altogether to new levels once completed.

                                                   The Diplomatic club, Doha

What's in colour of a collar?

White collared shirts were very popular in US in early 1930s among office and administrative workers. It was an US writer politician named Upton Sinclair who coined the term 'white collared' for the first time. Whereas workers who used to do manual jobs preferred to wear blue denim clothing not to show the dirt easily were called blue collared workers. Other colours are not popular as these two but I think it is prudent in this context to know about different types of jobs classified by the colours of the collars.

Gold collar: Highly skilled and high in demand. Surgeons, certain class of engineering consultants, limited number of lawyers and airline pilots come in this category.
White collar : General office workers and employees in management, non manual  knowledge intensive jobs.
Green collar: Employed in environmental sector.
Red collar : Government workers.
Blue collar: Manual labourers.
Black collar: Coal miners, oil workers etc. Artists, graphic designers, video producers also come under this these days as they are stuck to black attire.
Pink collar : Workers belonging to service industry, waiters, sales persons and the like.
Orange collar : Prison labourers. 
Scarlet collar : Sex workers.
Steel collar : Robots.
Grey collar: Elderly workforce working beyond the age of retirement.
No collar: People like artists who work not for payment.

                                      Akshardham temple- a poem in marble -year 2000, Delhi

                      Ramanathaswamy temple- symmetry in rock carvings-12th century

                         Ellora cave carvings from solid rock- 6th century

And why quality of craftsmanship among Indians better?
Quality of Indian workmanship is deeply rooted in history. For the last 5000 years or so, since 3000 BC it is so evident, as seen in the Harappan civilization. And the special skill is handed over traditionally between generations than acquired. Not just limited to Taj Mahal which is mostly publicized , all one should do is travel across India. Let it be any state in the country -north or south, east or west one cannot miss those marvelous and incredible ancient, not so ancient and modern structures mostly Hindu and Buddhist temples built before many centuries which are yet to be known to the world.

Built with indigenous technology and work force these buildings stand outstanding to date all over India, compared  to those in Greece, Rome , Egypt, Istanbul or Iran (Persia) or China. Buckingham palace which is showcased at London is nothing compared to many palaces in India, allow me to state with due respects to the British and others.

photos : Courtesy Diplomatic club/Google.

Wednesday 28 July 2021






The last nine words above mean same as the first -Thank you in Indonesian, Hong Kong Cantonese and Chinese Mandarin, Ukrainian, Arabic, Russian, French, Hebrew and Hindi  languages!

300,000!That's the total number of readers world wide who have visited my blog MUSINGS FROM DOHA at as on date. It is amazing, gratifying and equally encouraging to note that the readership has spread to 107 countries in  all the continents! Most of such countries are well known but quite a few are not that known- no offence meant to them- like Bukino Faso, Kosovo, Montenegro, Moldova or North Macedonia. Then, there are a few from 'unknown countries', classified as such by Google, presumably Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Crimea, North Korea or Iran, details of which is not known.120 articles on various topics are published so far, while 1240 valuable comments are received from the readers world wide! I thank each one of you for your continued support. As far as I am concerned it is incredible but true! It also shows that in spite of all the differences among us, this world is small!!

The following three articles are in the top of the chart in popularity:

1.What and How to negotiate business deals.

2.63,Ravipuram Revisited and 


And most of the readers are from the following 10 countries in that order...

1.USA                                                        6.China

2.Hong Kong                                              7.Qatar

3.Indonesia                                                8.Russia

4.India                                                       9.France  and

5.Ukraine                                                   10.Israel.

I am also pleased to announce the publication of the following book to commemorate the event. It is a collection of 65 articles on varied subjects selected from this blog which is written over last 10 years.

This book is readily available wherever you are in the world, hand delivered in,, in print and kindle editions. it is also available in Google Play while the e book can be had from

Thank you very much! Namasthe!!πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™


Writing about the end of own life, that too after knowing that it could happen any time is hard to write for anyone. I am not an exception. ...