Wednesday, December 07, 2011

For the Survival of the Unfit


I am fond of cats. Be it any species, even the wild ones. And I honestly believe, there is no animal that you can’t domesticate (I am a little opposed to the term and the concept of “taming”) since I grew up between snakes, had lizards, hamsters, crows and even a tortoise for pets (most of them were not in captivity) as I grew up. Quite recently I had a friend from Russia visiting me, who pointed out that she hasn’t seen a single cat during her fortnight-long stay in Delhi. Here is the fact:

Delhi doesn’t like cats

“I don’t see any cats here. Surprising! If you were in Russia, you could see them everywhere – all sizes and shapes.” She was peacefully sipping tea in the front room.

Well, that’s true. And it is also true that I love cats. I have loved them all my life.

The reason behind the suspicious absence of cats in all neighborhoods in Delhi I’ve lived, can be attributed to two basic reasons:

(a) The abundance of man’s so called “best” friends – canines
Tooth-flashing, tail-wagging, barking and biting canines. It is not that I dislike dogs, but there used to be “a peaceful coexistence” (to borrow the words of Nikita Khrushchev) of canines and felines when I used to live with my parents till the early 90’s.

Here in Delhi, I don’t see that. Both species are at war (as usual) and in Delhi, the dogs outnumber their feline opponents. I found a reason why.

Delhi is a large city and is not immune to such untoward incidents like carjacking, theft, etc. In an effort to control bad incidents, individual neighborhoods and resident societies have employed security guards of all kinds and calibers. In neighborhoods like mine, the security guards prefer to “outsource” part of their work to the stray dogs, so that they themselves can report late for duty or have their way while at work. Dogs will raise alarm if they see unusual people or situations. Unfortunately, we do not have a comprehensive animal management policy for the urban areas, and at the same time it is against the law to kill a stray animal on the streets, no matter what nuisance they create. Hence the security-men feed the stray dogs, who over a period of time, infest the neighborhoods. Since cats are yet to be put to such crime-control efforts, they are not a preferred option for anyone. As a result the canines are large in number and the felines (if they are there) have to constantly be on the watch lest they fall prey to stray dogs. Being a cat-lover, whenever I see a dog chasing a cat in Delhi, I always shoo away the dog.

(b) Delhi doesn’t eat fish like Kerala or Bengal does

Though I couldn’t corroborate the statement with solid facts and research reports, I believe there is an aeonian relation between cats and fish. Naturally you will find felines in abundance in places where fish is a significant component of daily food.

Thus people of states like Kerala and Bengal where fish is an almost mandatory part of the daily food are used to keeping cats for pets. On the contrary in Delhi where “non-veg” usually means chicken, more chicken and much more chicken, it is natural that there is no significant feline population.

A little more than a decade ago in another city, a member of the church where I used to visit, mocked me for being a “grass-eater.” You guessed it right: “Grass-eater” is the impolite expression common in the North to indicate a vegetarian person. Since people in the North are more obsessed with chicken and I was yet (yes, I started falling prey to chicken after moving to Delhi) to taste it, naturally he couldn’t know my choices. I met the same person on a different occasion where I was visiting a Malayali friend in the same city and we all had lunch together. Since there was the typical Central-Travancore “meen curry” (fish cooked in spicy gravy) which my poor Northern friend couldn’t eat despite his hard efforts, it was my turn to throw the same question back. It takes a lot of patience and good practice to remove the bones from fish before you eat, and no matter how deep a carnivore you are, never challenge a Malayali with fish!

Image Courtesy:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Glimpses of the ‘Us v. Them’ Debate


While reading Gayatri Jayaraman’s entry on gastronomical North-South debate in the Livemint Blog (1) this afternoon, I was remembering a conversation with a distant relative of a close friend about the ‘strange behavior of people in Delhi’ which prevents him from having many friends here, despite having several relatives. I am too, not distant from this feeling that took me almost a decade to overcome my surprise about the strange way people respond to your queries. I would like to share my thoughts on some such observations I picked up from different parts of the country. North v. South or India v. Others. Having been able to overcome (I believe so) the barriers of culture and region, I do like to be an independent observer without hurting sentiments of people around me. I also feel that friends across the globe would also find it an interesting reading.

My initial observations are from my city.

People in Delhi shut the doors on your face
It has annoyed me more than once when I visit a neighbor or friend to hand over something (even a domestic delicacy or a gift), they just take accept it from you, make some comments, and finally shuts the door on you. In rural Kerala, we take this as an offense (my family doesn’t even shut doors at the face of beggars!) when someone shuts the door on your face. Even a stranger who visits my house just by mistake gets a proper treatment and a set of questions (‘who are you looking for?’, ‘what is the house/family/person name?’ etc.) and is shown the door peacefully and the door is shut only after person exits the compound.  

The fair logic I feel for this anomaly is based on two other observations:

(a)    Delhi has one of the world’s highest population of mosquitoes
 Uncomfortable, but true. This explains why we all have metallic external doors with a wire-mesh small enough to keep mosquitoes away but sufficient to let in the flow of air. One of my friends who came calling from Russia just thought that this metallic grill is the only door of the house. I can’t blame her for thinking so. As she found out later, there is a separate opaque wooden door too. Given such a high population of mosquitoes in the city, no one would risk keeping the door open for more than a few seconds. So you better come inside and talk or I may have to shut the door!

(b)    We don’t welcome strangers so easily
The level of crime in the city is alarmingly high and no one would risk being friendly enough to open the door and come out to welcome you if you visit their house with a query. Yet there are instances where people really come out to help and be friendly. But yes, Delhi is cautious and hence the quick door-close.

This has become so much of a practice here having evolved due to changing circumstances and environment of the city. Therefore a typical Delhi-ite would never see anything wrong in the practice even if s/he is at the other side of the door.

Image Courtesy:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Here are some photos of my recent trip to Gwalior. Filled with glimpses of history and the glory of yester-years. It was nostalgia of a different kind!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Day We Went to See the Hidden


My city is built upon the historic ruins of seven different cities, each with its own distinct styles of life. I have been to some places from where I am collecting history like pebbles.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Walking Through Deserts

Shadow of the Silk Road JUST READ

Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

Wonderful read. Thubron masters the art of intricate storytelling. It is not just a travelogue. He actually traverses the silk road, explaining history, meeting people, sharing stories, reminiscing the past of several cities and countries he travel through. Great read!

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Little Walk and the Myth of the SUV


One of my resolutions for the year 2011 was that I will calculate my carbon footprint, and start seriously working on minimizing it by at least 10% by the next year. And every time I walk nearby a gas guzzling SUV, I remind myself (strongly, sometimes) that she's not for me. I am not against SUVs or for that matter any automobile, as long as it transports you from point A to point B, in a reasonable time causing minimum nuisance to pedestrians and fellow drivers on the roads. My experience in the National Capital Region has been otherwise since quite some time now and hence this decision.

I'm happy being a pedestrian and am seriously planning to be so, if things will go by as desired. Also since the public transport system in the Capital has changed for good compared to how it was a decade ago, I see no apparent reason why I shouldn't use public transport. Add to it the volume and randomness of vehicular traffic one finds on the city roads, I feel rather relieved that I am able to put my energy and attention to more productive things and let professionals drive the giants on wheels.

Recently someone asked this funny-sounding question in a TV forum as to how many of us planning to buy SUVs (or sports utility vehicles, for the uninitiated) are actually sporty? How many of us take these monsters to dust and dirt where they actually belong? How much have we tested the true abilities of these hunks created to traverse rocky terrains and muddy riversides? Not many, in the Indian context. Here in the city, I come across several such people who won't flip an eye before buying that expensive, gas guzzling SUV and take enormous pride in showing her off on the streets and honk and swear when they don't have enough space to park. What is stopping them from taking their muscle cars to dirt where it belongs? I call it the "SUV Dilemma."

Something similar happened to me recently while I was preparing for a trip to the great outdoors. Starting this year, I am dedicating the rest of my life to travelling of all sorts - cultural, adventure, historic, you name it. And while planning my first serious trek to the Lower Himalayas, I was about to pick up a pair of trekking/hiking shoes. As the trip planners explained it to me (and I picked up from several spaces on the Web) treks can be dusty, wet, dirty, slippery and trying. So you need footwear that can withstand it all. 
The pair of shoes I picked up was great. I simply couldn't resist the feel when I slipped my feet in. Looks beautiful, yet durable, muscular with the right kind of grip and feels wonderful to put on... what else do you need? Another new member of the family... and as tradition goes I christened them Little Walk, with Little Bea's approval. I was (and still am) happy and proud to take them out to places on weekends (even as part of Friday dressing in the Office). And then came the D-day. I asked this question myself several times while I was packing my bags: Do I need to take Little Walk to the woods? Of course they are designed for that, and it would rightly serve their purpose. Something was pulling me back, and I finally faced the reality: I can't take them to the dust and dirt. They are objects of my affection and I've spent quite a sum on them (on footwear standards). I finally understood the internal conflict that an SUV owner might feel while wanting to take his hunk to the dirt.

I still believe in the green way of life, and shall continue efforts to reduce my carbon footprint on the planet. For trekking I use the older and more rugged shoes now.  And Little Walk continues to be my weekend walkers. 

Have you come across the "SUV Dilemma" in your life in anything other than automobiles? Do kindly share your thoughts in the "Comments" column below.
SUV Image Courtesy:

Monday, March 07, 2011

LittleTalk - Talking All the Way

A quarter ago, I promised that I'll write about the newest member of my gadget family. She's 3 months old now, and works perfectly well. I think this is the right time to write a review, now that her newness is no more a limitation. After spending too long searching for the heart-stealer and feeling dejected when all dealers in the neighbourhood swearing high that my favourite Berry is out of market, I was desperate to get something really good into my hands. And that decisive weekend, I went searching for the holy grail of a touch-screen mobile branded after an aggregate fruit that grows in the temperate regions. After a full long day of searching I did neither found the product nor an encouraging dealer who sells/promised to provide it. I already have a case history of stocking products that becomes history soon after I've bought them (they just disappear from the market ever since), and after sales service becomes a pain. I learned it the hard way with my first smartphone. This time I wanted to be different.

And that decisive weekend, I came up a well-reasoned shortlist of beauties that I would like to lay my hands on. And another exhaustive search for the top runners, and getting negative replies (this time, the comment was “yes there is such a phone, but not yet launched in India” instead of the previous “sorry, this product is off the market now.”) I wasn’t ready to give up so soon, now that I have a list of beauties to choose from. And it was an accidental question about a certain model which resembled the #1 beauty from the Nokia stable in my list. For the first time, the girl at the Nokia store smiled at me with relief “Yes sir, this is available. Good choice.”

Welcome Back, Nokia
And that one little beauty stole my heart. Contrary to the name and in line with my peculiar choice of smartphones, the C7 (yes that’s her generic name) is anything but little. One significant contradiction is the weight: while all my beloved smartphones (the Nokia, HTC, and Palm etc.) were heavyweights, the C6 is incredibly light and handy. She’s the first of my beauties to fit in the pocket perfectly. When I first took her in my palm, I knew this is the one meant for me. I never had a second thought, and am happy with my choice since then. After getting it approved by Little Bea, I officially named her ‘LittleTalk.” Like a human being, she talks and even “breathes.”

Things I Like
Right from the overall look and feel, LittleTalk is a delight to have. I’m particularly new to the concepts of proximity-sensor (it automatically locks the screen when I take it to my ear to attend a call – ideal “must have” for a touch-screen beauty) and accelerometer(it auto-silences any incoming call when you place it face down). The sales girl at the Nokia store was keen to configure my g-mail, and personalize the phone for me – thanks; the email account set-up is easy too. The C7 is a 3G phone (though 3G was officially launched months later) and if you have a 3G connection, it would add more value to the usage. The screen size is good, and I love the flat surface. All my previous smartphones have a hard frame, sol I love the clean flat surface of the C7 more. The camera is sharper by a delightful 8 mega pixels, the highest in any smartphone I have had so far. She also made me proud when a friend complained that his iPhone 3 doesn’t capture images as sharp as my LittleTalk, after visiting my photos in Facebook. The Nokia Ovi suite comes with a host of in-built applications like GPS that I actually put to use.  I also found quite some usable applications in the Nokia Ovi Store.
The Not-So-Good
LittleTalk doesn’t have a scroll button. The only button on the front surface is the Menu button, which also acts as the breather (the lights go on and off in such a way resembling a person’s breath – it’s amazing!) and visual alarm (blinks). Since I’ve always used touch-screen mobiles that ad at-least three buttons on the face, this was a turn-down since I faced difficulty in adding contacts straight from the missed call list. This has disappointed me for quite some time and I finally found that you only need to keep pressing the particular space/contact/application and it works equivalent to the right-click of a mouse.

I am happy and contended with the new member of my gadget family, and simply hope that Nokia doesn’t call it off!

Image Courtesy: Cellular News

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