Posts Tagged ‘Kerala’

Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry!!!!

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday, while browsing Google Earth, I was surprised to see large swathes of yellow and brown near my home in Kerala. My impression, from a ground zero perspective of our hometown had always been of uninterrupted verdure. The satellite image was a revelation. It clearly showed that concrete houses and pineapple plantations had supplanted trees and vegetation.

Over the past few years the landscape has changed much and so has the mindset of people. This is of course not a phenomenon limited to Kerala; one finds it everywhere. In most homes, children, after education, have migrated to cities leaving behind the old to tend the farmland. Meanwhile, exorbitant labour charges, scarcity of  fertilizers, vagaries of climate, poor yield and thinner margins have rendered farming unprofitable. While traders and middlemen rake in enormous profits, farmers are left high and dry with hardly an incentive to pursue agriculture. The downturn in farming has come at a time when burgeoning population has lead to unprecedented demand for real estate, especially within commutable radius of major cities.

The nonviability of agriculture coupled with skyrocketing real estate prices have tipped the scale, converting large tracts of farmland to commercial or housing complexes. Concrete, steel and glass have substituted chlorophyll. Gurgaon is the best example of this kind of skewed development. Farmers who sold their land to the real estate mafia became millionaires overnight, owning expensive cars and sprawling mansions. They now provide car rental and real estate services to the new landlords – call centres and multinational corporations.

The rapid deterioration in extent and quality of farmland is among the root causes for the high food prices, water scarcity and extreme temperatures that we face now. These problems can be overcome only by effectively addressing the underlying causes. Dharna’s, Bandh’s, Hartal’s and Rasta Roko’s does not answer the problem at all. However, with an opposition focused on booby trapping the government to derive every miserable political mileage, we are likely to listen to more high decibel rhetoric in the days ahead, with scant attention paid to the real issues.

We are right now teetering on the brink of several crises which can blow up big and hurt us badly, unless appropriate action is taken now. What is at stake is the survival of civil society. A food scarcity can quickly dissipate our civilizational pretenses, turning us into savages. The images of stampede that we see on TV when food packets are distributed during natural calamities could very well become the order of the day. To avert such a calamity, we need to come out of the coma induced by the daily dose of morbid scandals dished out by the political, Bollywood and cricket celebrities and recognize the issues that need urgent attention. Political parties must forget their differences and forge together workable plans to tackle the problems. The need of the hour is not partisanship but partnership.

Image courtesy:

Categories: Planetwatch

Wayanad – An Emerald Breath

March 3, 2010 1 comment

Recently we went on a whirlwind visit of Wayanad, the hilly region to the north-east of Kerala, bordering Karnataka. Wayanad is blessed with great natural beauty and a refreshing climate. Early morning, dense swirling blankets of mist smother the hills, which is gently pulled away by a mellow sun by mid morning; dew drops hang glistening on spider webs; bright fuzzy yellow blotches of sunlight filtering through branches of mahogany, jackfruit and areca trees coagulate on several spots on the grass. It is pleasant throughout the year, even during summer.
Over the past few years Wayanad has transmogrified into a tourist hotspot from a rural backwater. Agriculture, the mainstay of the region has taken a backseat. The sparkle of practically tax free lucre from tourism has seen almost everyone hitching to the bandwagon. Real estate near tourist spots have undergone an unprecedented escalation. One cannot walk around without rubbing shoulders with a real estate agent or a home-stay owner. Not that it is a bad thing. Home-stays, the tourist arrangement where you typically stay with a family and share the meals, have flourished in this region, and has brought in a modicum of prosperity; augmenting the hard earned agricultural income. Several Ayurvedic massage centers and spas have cropped up aimed at tapping the exploding tourist traffic, taking advantage of the rejuvenating climate.

An Old Jain Temple


Our flight from Delhi to Kozhikode was 3 hours late. A sweltering 45 minute taxi ride from airport brought us to the Kozhikode bus stand. The blazing afternoon sun had us scramble for shelter, but an exhilarating cool breeze which blew as the bus zig-zagged across the mountain pass restored our spirits by the time we got down at Kalpetta late evening. Our accommodation was arranged at Hillview Homestay, a short walk from Kalpetta town. The bustle of the town faded away as soon as we turned into a pocket road; it was pitch dark, myriad stars twinkled in the dark velvet night sky stretched between slender trunks of areca trees.

Hill View Homestay

The home-stay was a sprawling double storied concrete mansion set in a small garden. The family was waiting at the porch to receive us. After refreshments, we were ushered to a double room on the upper floor, overlooking a valley. A lavish Kerala style dinner was laid out for us when we returned downstairs. The owner, a retired HR manager in a pharmaceutical multinational in Mumbai spent only a few days in a year at Wayanad. His brother and a caretaker attended to the home-stay arrangements. There were 3 double bedrooms available. Since we were the only guests we had the entire house for ourselves. We spent sometime in the lawn playing with the frisky Alsatian dog ‘Paula’ before retiring for the night.


Early next morning we woke up to the clamour of birds. The world outside was awash in shades of green – rolling emerald green of a tea garden, dark forest green of coffee plantations, pale green paddy fields wedged between hills. Yellow sunshine winked across swaying green palm fronds, the air crisp, bright and hopeful. We had a busy day ahead visiting relatives and taking care of business. Evening, we downed couple of beers and munched on fried fish and Kerala mixture on the lawn. The dinner was exhaustive and featured mutton and fish much to my delight. The caretaker, originally from Orissa had prepared Roti’s especially for us which added to the pleasure. We left at day break the next day, headed back to Kozhikode for a long flight home. The visit though hectic, instilled a permanent love of Wayanad and its people in us. We hope to return some time this year for a longer stay.

Hill View Homestay
Off PWD Office Road
Kalpetta, Wayanad,
Kerala – 673121
Contact: Mr. K V Joseph
Tel : 09249112468, 09833416688, 09422475757

Rs.2000 per person per night
(Inclusive of breakfast and dinner, Kozhikode airport/ railway station pickup and drop and local sightseeing vehicle)

How to reach:

Nearest Airport: Kozhikode
Daily flights available to major cities

Nearest Railhead: Kozhikode

By road: Kalpetta is located on NH-212 highway, approx. 70 KM from Kozhikode. KSRTC (Kerala State road Transport Corporation)  bues from Kozhikode to Sultan Batheri and Mananthavadi goes via Kalpetta. Travel time: 2.5 Hrs. approx.

Places to see: We did not visit any tourist places. But there are peaks, waterfalls, a dam, wildlife sanctuary, ancient temples and caves in the vicinity. Plenty to keep one occupied.

There is an Ayurvedic Spa next door to the home-stay. The Kerala Ayurvedic massage is quite relaxing.

Kozhikode is famous for sweetmeat. Be sure to visit SM Street (next to the railway station) for some exciting varieties of Halwa.

SM Street - Kozhikode

Photo courtesy: Subha Varma

Categories: Totternama

Indulging the Malayalee – a la gastronomique

December 15, 2009 9 comments
Malayalees are everywhere. It is said that when Tenzing and Hillary reached the pinnacle of Everest, they found a tea shop run by a Malayalee. This legendary ubiquitousness of Malayalee can be traced back to the lack of employment opportunities in Kerala and consequent migration all over the world, especially to Middle East. There are a substantial number of Malayalees in Gurgaon as well, as I have discovered over these years. However hard a Malayalee tries to hide his identity, the camouflage is easily betrayed by looks, intonation or pronunciation, providing much food to evergreen Mallu caricatures.
When Malayalees are around, Mallu restaurants cannot be far behind. However, these are so low profile that usually one comes to know of them either by sheer chance or by word of mouth. I had to search far n wide and high n low before I could find the two featured here.

The first one is Maria South India Restaurant near Gurgaon Sadar Bazaar, located next to Federal Bank.

The restaurant does complete justice to Malayalee’s appetite, offering delicious Kappa (Tapioca), Meen Curry (Fish curry), Appam (leavened bread), Kadala, Porotta, Chicken Curry, Chicken Biriyani, the dubious, stealthily whispered, notorious ‘Beef’ and a sumptuous Kerala Thali. The rates are reasonable and cleanliness passable. On Sundays, there is usually much rush around noon time, mostly returning church goers dropping for lunch. Parcels are available. It is better to check in advance for Kappa and beef since these are usually not available.
The second restaurant, Ammu’s is on the lower ground floor of Sushant Shopping Arcade, near Park Plaza. The fare is much the same as Maria and the same comments hold good.

This is the first time in history that the international network of computers (internet) has provided the hapless Mallu’s of Gurgaon a fair means of gastronomic indulgence, true Kerala style. Let us praise the Lord in this moment of joy before digging in..
Maria South Indian Restaurant
Shop No. 18-19, Chandan Deep Complex,
Near Federal Bank, Jail Road, Gurgaon
Contact: Roy, Mobile – 9810379916

Ammu’s Restaurant
LG-23, G-Block, Phase-I,
Sushant Shopping Arcade,
Sushant Lok, Gurgaon
Tel: 0124-4040765
Contact: Pradeep,Mobile – 9810761567

“Simbly South”, the one decent shop in DT Mega Mall which quenched my appetite for Appam and Stew at an exorbitant price has closed down. Let us observe a moment of silence in pretended sorrow over this sad demise.

Coco Palm, the all things South Indian restaurant in Galleria has taken up the mantle of Simply South to provide Malabar Fish curry, again at an unaffordable rate. Auto-da-fé anyone…

Categories: Gastronomique

Fair Trade – At the Advancement Arena!

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

This weekend, instead of combing our usual haunts, we visited the India International Trade Fair currently underway in New Delhi. In our infinite wisdom, we decided to take the Metro rail instead of driving down to Pragati Maidan (Advancement Arena!!). But Saturday was a bad day for Delhi Metro. Trains were running late. The one we took from Dwarka Sector 9 was jam packed by the time we reached Dwarka Mor. “Minding the Gap” was impossible as we stood on each other’s toes, breathed into one another’s ears and cursed. Train attendants rushed from door to door pushing people in and closing the automatic doors. Pictures of my previous near death experiences in local trains of Mumbai flashed across my mind. By comparison, this was mere massage of tired limbs. This attempt of Delhi Metro to bring Indians together irrespective of cast, creed, gender and nationality was laudable. I had no business deploring it. Excruciating circumstances precipitate philosophic resignation. This was enlightenment! Braced against the crushing weight and odour of humanity, I wondered if it was all an illusion, a spell of “samsara”. But the hair getting into my eyes and the elbows ramming my ribs were too concrete to be a mirage. Relief came when many passengers got off at Karol Bagh. We were already late by an hour and half. As a parting shot, the disembodied voice of Metro hoped “we had an enjoyable journey” and looked forward to “seeing us soon”. This bit of sardonic wit was not lost on the passengers.


We had already purchased trade fair tickets at the Metro Station, and passed though security check quickly. Ravenous, we headed straight for the food court. “Bharath Ka Khana” welcomed us with open arms. The food court was littered with people occupying every available inch and digging blissfully into idlis, vadas, puttu, mutton chaps and many interesting yet unidentifiable forms of grub.


Watching mad maws on overdrive only amplified our appetite. The cataclysmic force of craving scattered us in different directions. I landed up at the Nagaland counter and ordered rice with pork and bamboo shoots (Rs.100.00 only). Meanwhile others explored Odisha (Orissa), Bihar, Bengal and Tamil Nadu counters. When we gathered for barter I had a plate of rice with 3 handsome chunks of pork in a near bland gravy and a paste of fish and chilies. Others had come up with Vada/ Ghughuni (Urad Dal vada and Chole)from Orissa, Litti – Chokha (Atta balls stuffed with Sattu [barley] and garlicky potato) from Bihar, Idli – Chutney from Tamil Nadu and fried fish (fillet of unknown fish coated with flour and deep fried) from Bengal. These were rapidly decimated and replaced with Vada-Pav (Maharashtra street food specialty). To drown it all we had tea (Rs. 5.00) from the Tea Board counter. Being used to milky tea, I didn’t like it much, though it was probably more authentic.


More philosophy! To live we all need food. For some, food symbolizes luxury and has ceased to be a necessity. Coffee table magazines and news paper supplements catering to the hyper-gastronomic anxieties of such elite flourish in metro cities like Delhi. Even though I do not belong to that elect category, the gourmet fare that they nibble at has frequently attracted the desperate foodie in me. For others, food is incidental. I do not belong to this category either. Food, to me, goes beyond the survival value and enters the realm of sensory delight, good conversation and companionship. Good food begs good company. A solitary eater, according to me, is a miserable creature. I couldn’t resist that digression. Sorry!

Satiated, we took bearings and headed for the international pavilion. Crowded! There were exhibits from Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and surprisingly Papua New Guinea. Credit cards were not accepted. We ended up buying an onyx candle stand from Karachi, Pakistan and a papyrus scroll of Isis from Egypt. The guy manning the Egyptian counter was peremptory, intent only on money and hissed Anubis, Isis, Osiris, “Balance” replying to customer queries. Entertaining…

The most interesting counter of the Trade Fair belonged to NMBA, National Mission on Bamboo Applications. Apart from promoting bamboo as food, they have innovated various light weight and durable bamboo based wood substitutes and composites, construction and structural applications. A two storey house with steel frame and walls, roof, ceiling, columns, railing, doors and windows made entirely of treated bamboo was displayed at the exhibit. The treated bamboo was termite resistant and fire proof. Installation time was a mere 48 hours and it cost only Rs.13 lakhs. There were bamboo frame exercise bicycles coupled with a dynamo which generated and stored electricity sufficient to light an entire room. Specialty mud kilns for producing high grade carbon from bamboo for use in Tandoors and activated carbon for water treatment facilities were also on display. NBMA also promotes gasification of bamboo which can be an environment friendly source of renewable heat energy and electricity.

There were pavilions from all states of India. We could only visit those of Jharkhand and Kerala besides Techmart India where industrial machinery were on display. The Trade Fair was a wonderful fusion of business and pleasure. It provided a forum for small scale industries from all states to interact with other industries and the larger public.

 My only regret was not being able to visit pavilions of North Eastern States. I was also not able to sample Haleem chicken and other specialty cuisine from Pakistan. All in all, it was an informative, fun and relaxing jaunt.

Ridiculous Acts of Faith

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

I am not a believer. At best I’m agnostic. When and where I lost my faith in organized religion, I do not remember. But the seeds were sown in early childhood when I was forced to attend church and listen to uninspiring sermons. Later, during the tumultuous adolescent years, with the fire of rebellion burning inside, I became more and more skeptical of religious authority and its tenets. Over the years the fire has subsided and I have come to accept religion as the private affair of an individual. I have realized that religion is not really about God; in fact God it seems to me is a hypothesis, a prop to support a massive social engineering structure. I could be wrong though, given the immense support God and religion enjoys on our planet, these ideas have a morbid fascination equivalent to that of sex. The difference is that while sex exists the other is at best chimerical. That these two, religion and sex, are at loggerheads is obvious from religious condemnation of sex as evil. According to me, such enmity is only natural; after all they are two competing energies wrangling over our lives. Many a time this leads to a desperate struggle within ourselves, as we try to balance our biological needs and religious aspirations. Spiritual gurus like Osho Rajaneesh recruit followers and amass enormous fortunes by claiming to reconcile these disparate forces that govern our lives. According to me, this compulsion to achieve a blissful ménage a trois of self, spirit and sex is self inflicted. In reality there is no conflict of interest. Religion, to me has no business interfering with sex and vice versa. Each occupies separate spheres of influence. It is only the desire of religion to poke its spiritual nose into the natural order of things that is the cause of a lot of our troubles.


All religions lay claim to one God, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. All of them lay claim to human soul too. Existence of both these entities, God and soul, has not been verified till date. Religious crusades have been waged and immense agonies have been endured by the faithful for appropriation of these abstract entities to their respective religions. With the exception of a few, most world religions have been aggressive on winning over flock from other religions, either by way of evangelism or by compulsion. The latest mutant of this conversion drive is “Love Jihad“. Armed with money, mobile phones and other essential romantic paraphernalia, religious Casanova‘s are unleashed on unsuspecting young women. Once married the girl is converted to the husband’s religion. This impressive modus operandi offers several advantageous over the traditional one. It does not require brain washing or whipping up of hatred or promise of posthumous bliss. Young men hardly need inducement to undertake such missions. Love-Jihad is its own reward. In this enterprise, holy war and love dissolve into a transcendent cocktail, a rare mix of business and pleasure. More like in a Bond movie script. However, the flamboyant Love Jihadi, unlike James Bond, marries the girl and forces a conversion before taking her to bed. It is nothing short of a miracle. The throat slitting, gun toting terrorist is transformed into a charming Adonis, a knight in shining armor riding the latest motorbike, smartly dressed, and bristling with mobile phones with a liberal supply of moolah. Such flashes of religious inspiration have been very rare off late.


Religion sanctifies love. It screams unconditional love from every pulpit. Love thy God, love thy neighbour and love the poor etcetera. Love Jihad provides an alternate definition of love, one driven by laws of entrapment, something fanatic and disrespectful of human values. Love as a weapon instead of grace. The underlying message it seeks to propagate is “If you love me, change your God”.


In my view, a Love-Jihadi is little more than a sophisticated version of the unscrupulous Romeo. The ulterior motive in this case is religious conversion rather than sex sans commitment. Love-Jihad is an unprincipled exploitation of innocence, in religious garb, and hence more potent and dangerous. But it seems to have the same flaws as say, network marketing; it would take a lot of gullible to prop up the pyramid. It is also expensive and time consuming, all that courtship, marriage and conversion takes time, effort and money. The conception of such an inefficient and ridiculous idea only indicates the depth to which religious evangelists can sink to grow their flock. Personally I think Love-Jihad has already fallen flat on its face. The only problem is the trouble it would cause to genuine lovers from disparate religions. From that perspective, it has done considerable damage to the social fabric.

Categories: Musings

Serendipitious delights

October 27, 2009 3 comments

Sometimes the best things in life are discovered entirely by chance. Like yesterday night when we came across this tiny shack near the rear exit of Anzal Plaza in Sector-22, Gurgaon. All of us were in a mood for a quick bite and that was probably why “Vada Pav” caught my eye so quickly. “Vada Pav“, a native of Maharashtra is a rare sight in Gurgaon. So, it was pure ecstasy to find it tucked away in this remote corner of the universe.

We were delirious with anticipation as we approached and immediately spotted the Vada‘s from far away. We rubbed our eyes and pinched each other to make sure this was no mirage. The Vada’s were definitely there for the taking, but Pav, nope, Pav was exhausted. We were heart broken but decided to try the Vada anyway. Soon, steel plates with Vada’s swimming in coconut chutney and red chilly paste were passed around. My god, amazing Vada‘s, authentic Mumbai flavour mouth watering Vada. We nearly exhausted the restaurant’s Vada inventory. My friend in the meantime couldn’t resist a chicken soup which he later claimed to have tasted a bit like Sambar! There were many more alluring items on the menu like chicken lolly pops, varieties of soups and momos. The food was warm and hygienic. The setting was informal; sweet chill of incipient winter was in the air, and steaming Vada‘s melted in our mouth.

The owner was thin, dark and pleasant faced. He was a Shetty from Mangalore. He asked if we were Malayalee’s and as we nodded in a semi trance induced by Vada, he told his story. He had come to Gurgaon, 11 years ago and had never returned to his native town. He could understand Malayalam, but could hardly speak the language, though he had many friends from Kerala. The shack primarily catered to students from nearby colleges and he was doing brisk business. We could see that. Even at this late hour there were a group of students chatting away at a corner over tea and momos. He had plans to expand the set up to cope up with the demand. He was particularly attentive to us. Compared to his, our lives were easy. Yet, he was optimistic and cheerful at the end of the day. Probably he has to wake up at 4 AM and start over.

Our nocturnal adventure was coming to an end. This was another instance of chance triumphing over well laid plans, reinforcing my belief in serendipity. I vowed to be more open to chance and its unexpected delights as we drove away.

Where to find Ashva’s Fast Food

It’s on the lane next to Anzal’s Plaza in Sector – 22, Gurgaon. Shetty can be reached at 9718559669.

Categories: Gastronomique


September 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Recently, on my annual visit to Kerala I chanced upon the poetry collection “Only the Soul Knows How To Sing” by Kamala Das, better known to Keralites as Madhavikutty.

Only The Soul Knows How To Sing

Only The Soul Knows How To Sing

I seldom read poetry, but I had come across some of her poems in an anthology during my college days and had been fascinated by them. The wordplay and rich imagery are captivating, the ideas conveyed, to me, are of loneliness and longing.

I eagerly brought this one and began it right away. Although by nature I am not very reflective, this collection drawn from her vast repertoire evoked a range of emotions from philosophical reflection to sadness, particularly since she passed away this year. Sometimes poetry expresses in a line, a thousand thoughts. The puerile controversies she was often mired in notwithstanding, she stands vindicated in her work. I feel humble.

Categories: Bibliophilia