Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kudos to a friend

My good friend Gokul recently volunteered on a one-week Katrina debris removal project through Habitat for Humanity. Here's his brief account of the things he experienced and the people he met.

On the last day, on our way back to camp, before disembarking, our bus-driver spoke with a heavy voice puctuated by southern accent "Y'all dont know me"...he paused..."But God bless you for what y'all are doing". A brief moment of silence ensued and then the whole bus burst into applause. There was no demeaning thanks or words of praise. Just simple heart-felt appreciation for being there and doing it. For me, that was the defining moment of the whole camp.

For a quintessential lazy nerd who does not believe in physical exertion, he has really taken the effort and made a difference. I found it touching and inspiring, and for once, I'm actually going to say "I'm proud of you, my boy!" without meaning to be sarcastic.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Freedom of speech? Shut up!

I usually refrain from making political comments on this blog. But I've been watching, these last few weeks, my India degenerate from a proud democracy (individual freedom, political freedom and economic freedom. Remember?) to a bumbling novice that's turning out to be a haven for religous and political groups. Well, I shouldn't say that this has happened only over the last few weeks. 'Freedom of Speech' has always been taken with a pinch of salt in India. We were one of the first countries to ban Salman Rushdie's Satanic verses. And let's not even go into those dark days when Indira Gandhi declared emergency to prevent court conviction and treated India like her personal trampoline.

More specifically, I've been disturbed at the plight of 2 completely different movies that have suffered at the hands of the Indian government and been banned in parts of India for completely different reasons. First up was the Da Vinci Code that was promptly banned from releasing anywhere in India, following protests from Catholic groups that the movie undermines their faith (If a 2000 year old faith feels threatened by a pop-fiction book and movie, it makes me sad). This, when other predominantly Catholic countries in the Americas and Europe cannot even dream of this. I agree that when we talk about India being a secular country, we swear to recognize and respect all religions. But does this come at the cost of freedom of speech and media? What's next? In our bid to be a secular state, we always bend over backwards to accomodate all kinds of religious groups and fanatics. What we're doing here is setting a dangerous precedent for future protests by various religious groups along the same lines. Why else do you think Muslim groups have sided with the ban? And ofcourse, we can always rely on our saffron brigade (VHP etc.) to come up with innovative reasons for protests/srikes/bans. I think once we go down this path of appeasing various religious groups, there is no turning back. Its a vicious cycle that will suck us into a maze of precedents and accusations of favoritism. These are certainly good times for religious fanatics in India.

Closely following in the footsteps of Da Vinci Code is the decision by the Gujarat government to ban Aamir Khan's much-awaited movie 'Fanaa' in all multplexes in the state. This comes after violent protests all over Gujarat, following Aamir's comments against Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his government. I recently read a blog aptly titled Aaj Ki Goonda Raj that complains about this kind of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) pseudo-dictatorship that goes on all the time in India. So now we're not even allowed to criticize our democratically-elected leaders and their policies (it doesn't matter if its Aamir or me)? I remember an incident a while ago when our Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha had a few top people from the respected Hindu newspaper arrested for having the balls to question her government.

So what do we do now? Stand by and watch while our freedom of speech and expression gets completely snatched away from us and leaves us naked to suffer the whims and fancies of religious parties, vengeful politicians and the fickle-minded voting public? It might already be too late to stop this rot. I don't have a simple solution, and I suspect, neither do you. But its heart-breaking to see this happening to my country, so I rant and rave here.

Disclaimer: I'm deeply sorry if anything I've said in this article hurts your religious or political sentiments. I'm ignorant, but mean well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

When India and Vietnam said "I do"

Just came back from my cousin Arun's wedding in Los Angeles. It was without doubt the most interesting and racially diverse wedding I've been to. Why? Because Arun married Cindy Le, a beautiful and smart Vietnamese American girl. I went to the wedding expecting it to be a series of mishaps and funny misunderstandings (that would have provided me with some good material for my blog!), and ended up being part of a ceremony that beautifully incorporated Arun's traditional Tamil Brahmin roots and Cindy's Vietnamese-Catholic upbringing. At the end of it all, I'm left speechless.

It all started about 5 years ago when Arun and Cindy (both raised in the USA) started dating casually. At the time, I thought to myself this was just one of his casual flings, and like everyone else, I assumed that he was eventually going to settle for some hot ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) chick his parents would hook him up with (probably some family friends' friends' daughter!). But when he graduated with his MD/PhD from UCLA and moved to Johns Hopkins to do his residency in Neurology (oh! did I mention he's one smart cookie?), he asked Cindy to move to Baltimore as well. And she did, from one corner of the country to another. With a Masters in Social Service, she took up a job in the DC area working with Vietnamese immigrants. That was when I knew there was something special going on here. Eventually, he proposed to her last year. They visited Chicago immediately after that and spent a long weekend with me. I got to know Cindy, and equally importantly, I got to know the new Arun. This might sound corny coming from me, but I couldn't believe what an incredibly lovely, and loving, couple they made. And it finally started to make perfect sense to me. All thoughts about India, Vietnam, Hindu and Christianity seemed trivial, and I started looking forward to having Cindy as my sister-in-law.

The wedding itself was a blast. There was the Hindu brahmin style ceremony on Friday early morning, where all of Cindy's siblings, cousins, mom, aunts and grandmoms were dressed in traditional 'pattu' (silk) saris and looked completely at home. Some of these had been purchased by Arun's mom when she visited India earlier this year. The cutest of the lot was Cindy's grand mom who had flown all the way from Vietnam for the wedding. She was probably all of 4' 6" tall and couldn't talk any English. But when she wore that blue sari and moved around like she'd been doing this for the last 60-70 years, I could have sworn she was from Mylapore! Cindy herself was decked up beautifully, but seemed to be a bit disoriented with all the strangers pushing and prodding her and instructions flying from different directions - fall at someone's feet, straighten your 'pallu', greet someone, pose for 15 cameras and keep smiling - all at the same time. It came to a point when the professional camera guy asked her to smile at the camera, and she asked "Which one?" and everyone cracked up. But to her credit, she handled everything that was thrown at her with aplomb. But I guess she hadn't given much thought to the part where she had to sit on her dad's lap when Arun tied the knot. It was fun watching them both trying to keep a straight face and trying even harder to not slide off from the chair.

Her dad was dressed in kurta/pajama that was too short for him. Apparently, when he received the Kurta from Arun's parents, he thought that they had miscalculated his height and that it was too long for him. So he had someone cut it down and tailor it to his 'size'. Arun convinced him that the reason the kurta was so long was because Indians do not wear anything underneath it. I heard from reliable sources that Cindy's dad was running around tense and sleepless wondering how he was going to look in the short kurta without anything below the waist!

The next day (Saturday afternoon) was the Catholic white wedding at Cindy's family's church in Orange County. In contrast to the Indian ceremony, this lasted all of one hour, without anyone having to raise his/her voice (except for the choir girl, who kept breaking out into opera-style songs at the most unexpected of moments. She did sound good though!). When they recited their vows and took turns saying "I do"and Cindy's voice started breaking, there were very few dry eyes at the Church (Yes, I agree. My eyes might've clouded at some point of time!). It was a touching moment and one that finally consummated the wedding, or should I say weddings?

But the party was not over yet. The reception that evening was held at the lawns of the Museum of Latin Arts. The open air, clear skies, sculptures and fountains and the variety of people made it an ideal setting. I could literally count dozens of nationalities there - Thailand, Philippines, China, Nepal, Germany etc. apart from India, Vietnam and USA. While I raided the open bar and helped myself to a few samosas and stuffed mushrooms, I scanned the gathering. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Indian and Vietnamese aunties were hobnobbing and exchanging gossip, the music was a mix of mainstream and latino which I peppered with some Hindi pop, all the uncles were downing beers and catching up on old friends and the girls from both sides, well, they just looked incredible. In the middle of dinner, the best men and bridesmaids were invited on stage and had a few things to say. Then Arun and Cindy's parents took turns sharing anecdotes and wishing the couple. They also had a photo slideshow on the huge screen depicting their childhoods, families and friends.

When Cindy's dad mentioned that this wedding has brought India and Vietnam a little closer, everyone applauded. If taken literally, this does sound presumptuous and a little over the top (as does the title of this post!). But it also drives home the point - that this cross-country cross-cultural marriage is definitely a small step in broadening the outlooks of both these ethnic communities. For too long, Indians settled in America have been in a time warp, wanting to raise their kids with so-called 'Indian morals and values' while providing them with all the comforts of America. It does not always work that way. And if you want to live in America, you should be ready to let your children go and make their own lives.

To their credit, Arun and Cindy's parents carried themselves admirably. It could not have been easy for any of them, but they have come around to accept their childrens' decision and have stuck by them. And through it all, they seem to have developed a special bond and respect for each other and their cultures. And this was true for me as well. Arun's mom mentioned how happy she was when Cindy started calling her 'amma'. Arun's sister Meera wore a stunning traditional Vietnamese costume (ah! I forgot the name again. Meera, if you read this, can you help me out?). Arun's family friend greeted the Vietnamese guests in their own language (transliterated for him ofcourse!) and Cindy's uncle (and pastor) greeted our side in Tamil (though we all lost him after "vanakkam"). And I found myself explaining to cindy's uncle why there were no statues of Buddha in the wedding hall :-)

I'm not saying its all going to be "And they lived happily ever after" from here on. In fact, they're probably just over the fun part of the marriage and have a lot of hard work ahead. I'm sure their cultural and racial differences are going to crop up once in a while. Their children might look very cute or unspeakably ugly :-) Making this marriage work will require a lot of understanding, respect and unselfishness from both. But knowing Arun and Cindy, I'm sure their love for each other and respect for each others' values in addition to the support of their families and friends will carry them through.

And so, Arun and Cindy, here's to you. I hope you grow miserably old together. I love you both...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Of Blog Feeders and Readers

Yes, I confess. I've become a blogaholic. These days, 90% of my browsing time is consumed by blogs - both writing and reading them. Infact, I seem to get all my news and current affairs from blogs rather than credible news sources like my favorite NY Times. Initially, I just bookmarked my favorite blogs and kept visiting them regularly. As the number of bookmarks increased, I found it tough to keep pace with the rate at which these blogs generated new posts. I looked around for a better way of reading blogs and decided to try Google Reader. I don't know what this thing about Google is. But when you have competing products from 10 different companies/web-sites, I always seem to prefer Google. It has sort of developed this cuddly teddy bear feel and people seem to implicitly trust the company and its products. We'll probably have to revise our opinions now that Google is turning out to be a whiney cut-throat monster just like MS and Yahoo as it gets into the browser war.

Anyway, coming back to Google Reader, I found that I could add subscriptions to various blogs I'm interested in, and every morning the latest posts from these blogs are retrieved and presented to me as my Reading List for the day. Everything about this was so simple, the interface was googley neat and I could even easily share or blog these posts directly. Such tools, apparently, are called on-line feed readers. And believe me, if you're a blog junkie like me, any of these tools would drastically reduce your blog-browsing time. You can check out this post by TechCrunch a while ago if you're wondering which feed reader would suit your requirements.

Ok, now that my blog-reading requirement had been taken care of, I had another problem. I like to know how (un)popular my blog is and how many people read my posts. If you visit my page, my sitemeter (bottom of the page) would give me the statistics. But if you were to subscribe to my blog via one of these feed readers I just described, then I would have no way of figuring out my subscribers, would I? This is where FeedBurner comes into the picture.

Let's start with the basics. What's a feed? If you publish a blog, you publish a feed. A feed is the format that allows your content to be delivered (and subscribed to) on the Web. You probably have heard of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) by now. Then there is the Atom Syndication format which is designed to be a universal publishing standard for personal content and weblogs. This is the default XML feed provided by blogspot. As the number of feeders and readers increase, there could be various compatibility issues with the atom format. So instead of relying on atom, all my feeds are now routed through FeedBurner which automatically converts my feeds into the format most suited for the feed reader you're using. So if you would like to subscribe to my feed, just click on the icon on the side bar or at the bottom of the page that looks like this or . If you're a blogger and would like to put FeedBurner on your blog, here's a nice post by Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration.

I finally managed to blogroll myself (since everyone seems to have their list of blogrollers, I'm kinda starting to feel left out!) as well as created a Flickr account since I've been wanting to share more photos (blogger allows only 300 MB of free photo hosting). More than writing posts, I seem to get tickled by finding out new toys and adding them to my blog. Unfortunately, the blogosphere is changing way too fast for me to keep up with. Its a losing battle...

But, if you are an absolute beginner considering stepping into the world of blogging, then this post is a good place to start. Well, that brings us to the end of my Blogomania - 101. If this inspires you to start blogging or improves your understanding of the blog world, well then, good for you. But if you've learnt absolutely nothing from this post, I really don't give a rat's ass. And if you thought I'm showing off my newly-acquired knowledge and skills, you're right. Tata!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Motorcycle Adventures

It was a glorious Friday afternoon in the middle of summer, and I was sitting at work. As lunch time approached, my thoughts wandered from Real-time Operating systems and embedded microchips to the question of where I should be going for my customary sumptuous Friday lunch and how I could fit in a siesta during my unavoidable afternoon team meeting. A voice suddenly came up behind me “Got any plans for lunch?”. I turned around to find a head popping over my cubicle wall. The head and voice both, coincidentally enough, belonged to the same person. Tony had been my off-campus student at UIC when I was a Teaching Assistant for a graduate level Advanced Wireless Communication Course. We had become good friends then. Later when he heard I was starting to look for a job, he forwarded my resume to his boss. The interview was a snap, and here I was at Motorola in the same team.

I replied “Not yet. How about 'I am Siam'?”, referring to the Thai place with the funny-sounding name that made a mean curry fried rice. I could feel his brain processing my words, retrieving memories of the restaurant and sending signals to his taste buds to salivate. But Tony bit his lip, held firm and said “Not today. We’re going somewhere else and you’re gonna love it. And by the way, we’re gonna ride our motorcycles there”. This was unexpected. I did not appreciate riding my motorcycle in 70F+ heat on an empty stomach, bundled in a thick protective leather jacket, gloves and helmet, to some place I had no clue about. But I knew that protesting would be of no avail, and with a big sigh that I made sure he heard, I picked up my helmet and jacket and followed him.

A few days earlier, I had acquired a used Yamaha Seca XJ600 from a friend’s friend. It was a sleek black mean-looking machine with an incredible 600cc engine (To put things in perspective, the legendary Enfield bullet is only 350 cc). There were quite a few bikers in my team. When they heard I’d literally grown up riding motorcycles, scooters, mopeds and all sorts of motored contraptions in India, they had coaxed, cajoled, blackmailed and tempted me into buying one myself. Ofcourse, I did not have a license yet. But you just needed a learner’s permit when you’re riding with other experienced bikers.

So we all started our bikes, idled them a bit and set off. There was Tony, Chris, Tommy, Dan, Troy and me. A bunch of bikers usually ride in a staggered formation because 1. they take less space that way and can use a single lane and 2. they are more visible to the regular auto traffic. I was the novice by a long way, so I brought up the rear. Once we passed the busy roads, we started taking back roads, and the passing scenery seemed to be getting more and more rural. Very soon, we were riding by country roads, passing farms and trucks and miles of nothing but just curvy roads. We were all in full flow now, taking on the curves, leaning into them at 45 degree angles, adjusting every so often to maintain our formation. For the first time, I could put my bike through a good hard ride, and could feel the power in my control. I went up all the way up to a 100 mph and the Yamaha showed no sign of misfiring or misbehaving.

After 45 minutes of the most enjoyable and thrilling ride of my life, we arrived at the destination. It was a lakeside restaurant/bar located in Wisconsin. Yes, believe it or not, the biker bhais had decided to come from Illinois to Wisconsin for lunch. We chilled by the water, watched the speedboats and jet skis race by and checked out the hundreds of different bikes and bikers around us. And we sat there, enjoying the warm summer afternoon, and sipping on chilled beers, I couldn't help thinking to myself a work day never felt so good!

Its hard to explain the thrill of a bike ride in America. The miles and miles of open roads, the powerful bikes, the camaraderie among bikers and the looks of appreciation and jealousy you get along the way, all make it worth it. However, there are always two sides to a coin, and so it is with motorcycling as well. With the possible exception of going quail hunting with rich Texans, motorcycling is probably the most dangerous sport out there if necessary precautions are not taken. Infact, bikers who ride without helmets are affectionately referred to as organ donors by many. The reason is that many states do not mandate helmets for bikers. And understandably, there are a lot more motorcycle-related deaths in these particular states. So people who need organs (you know - kidneys, heart, eyes and the like) relocate to these states since they have a better chance of receiving those organs from stupid dead bikers.

Consider the cast of colorful characters I was riding with and their misadventures.

Dan: After riding for years, he had a major bike accident on the freeway. His bike skidded and he went sliding and hit the steel fence on the side. He was not wearing his helmet, and was extremely lucky to survive. Had to get his jaw rewired though. You’ll never see him riding without a helmet these days.

Tony: After what happened to Dave, this relative newbie always makes sure he has the right protective gear. That was probably what saved him when he couldn’t handle a sharp turn and hit the ground at close to 90 mph on a country road. He managed to escape with a few ugly scars on his head.

Tommy: He’s a beginner as well and rides a relatively less powerful machine. But I cannot forget that day at work when he came back from lunch with the shirt sleeve on his right hand missing, and with bandages stained with blood in its place.

Troy: Built like a WWF wrestler, this guy can operate his 2-way pager while cruising on his sports bike. He’d recently bought a new Suzuki Ninja and was understandably proud of it. However, he went riding on a famous stretch somewhere in Tennessee (famous for the no. of twists per mile) and went flying off a curve. He managed to get off scot-free but his new bike went flying and hit a tree. Since it was completely totaled, the insurance company gave him a new bike.

Chris: A very experienced rider and a speed junkie. He had this habit of gunning his engine and speeding through a particular neighborhood at around 6AM everyday on his way to work. The residents grew to hate the sound, but never managed to catch him, usually because he was gone faster than the sound. So they went complaining to the cops. One fine morning, as he was raising hell as usual in that neighborhood, some 20 police vehicles surrounded him (he told me it looked straight out of a Hollywood chase). He was doing 90 on a 35 mph road! But he had a good lawyer and managed to get off with a speeding ticket and some community service.

Me: I’ve had my fair share of minor falls and bruises, and they did not bother me. But eventually, I had my big one too. Took a turn too fast, went flying through the air and landed on my right ankle tearing 3 major ligaments on it. After some crutches, cartisone injections, recurring pains and limping for a couple of years, I’m finally over it now. I still did not want to give up my bike, but I had to eventually sell it when I moved on an assignment to Kansas.

PS: Finally, last year, Ram and I completed a Motorcycle safety riding class conducted by the Illinois University, got our certificates and exchanged them for our motorcycle licenses at the Secretary of State office.

PPS: Unfortunately, neither of us have bikes to ride.

PPPS: Its been a year since we completed the class, and its safe to say we’ve forgotten everything we learnt there.

PPPPS (okay, I'll stop with this!): These days, I eat lunch in the same state I live in...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

An international restaurateur from Chennai

If any of you has tried the heavenly assortment of puffs, buns etc. from the 'Hot Breads' chain of bakeries (I actually have one right next to my house), you probably have heard of the owner and famous restaurateur Mahadevan. Chennai residents would also be familiar with his other works of art like Copper Chimney, Planet Yumm etc. Here's a nice profile of the man and his career. Notice the title of the article. Can I sue them for copyright violation? ;-)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Back in Chi-town

The fresh smell of Spring, combined with a delicious 65F and cool breeze... ah! its good to be back in Chicago. What a world of difference from Mad-town. Not looking forward to getting back to work, but would be great to resume some of my favorite outdoor activities - volleyball, rollerblading and running in the maze of forest preserves around my house. And you can do all this without sweating your ass off and coming dangerously close to losing 95% of your body fluids (ok, that was an exaggeration! but I was just trying to make a point).

The new video iPod (its black and sleek, if you're the type that gets off on this kind of stuff!) my brother gifted me in India is amazing, and I'm beginning to get hooked on to it. But I'm no music junkie, and the 30 GB capacity is going to be grossly underused by me. I'll probably put 10 of my favorite songs on shuffle mode and keep repeating them. The security guy in Germany went like "wow! an iPod. Is this the kind on which we can watch TV?". And I smugly nodded, as if I've owned this all my life and it was no big deal. The only issue with this device is that battery life is pretty short, but the sound quality is great and video is surprisingly crisp even on the miniature screen.

2 of my good friends have gingerly stepped into the world of blogging, and I, as a veteran of 3 months, would like to welcome them into the brotherhood.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Live from Chennai - Part 5

By some strange and rare alignment of planets, elections are taking place in Chennai on the day I'm supposed to be leaving for the US. And I was dumb founded when my name actually showed up in the voter's list and the card was delivered to my house. Since I've been away fom home ever since I finished my schooling, I've never had the opportunity to vote. And I've always assumed that my identity has been safely and surely taken over and is in the pool of kalla votes. But as it turns out, all's well with the Indian democratic process, and I proudly cast my vote for the first time and came back with a smug smile and an ink mark that many say will never leave the finger. My dad thinks that my brother and I wasted our votes because we cast them for a party that had high ideals but nary a chance of winning. Isn't that what democracy is all about?


Everyone has given up predicting the result of this election and have decided its too close to call. The most common word I hear in association with this election is that it is a 'watershed' in TamilNadu politics. Since MGR, no incumbent party has won the elections, and we have a long history of alternating DMK and AIADMK rule. I've been striking conversations with auto drivers wherever I go (for fun ofcourse, not for any serious intelligence gathering!), and the word on the street has nothing new to offer as well. We'll just have to wait and watch.


I've been enjoying riding my motorcycle again and weaving through the Chennai traffic. The first few days, I was being polite and yielding to pedestrians and all that stuff. Now I find myself squeezing in between 2 cars at the traffic signal so I can be the first one to take off when the count down reaches 7 (If you wait till zero, even bullock carts would have left you behind). But I never got the guts to drive our new car, and my brother Chandru has been moonlighting as the resident driver and car DJ.


Plenty of new and high-rise office buildings and lavish apartment complexes, improving roads, increasing number of cars (quite a few imported ones) and plenty of people willing to go out, spend a bit and have fun - Madras has slowly and surely turned the corner from Conservative street to Fast Life Hwy. But roam the streets of Mylapore, Mandaveli or Triplicane and the old world charm is still there. Its a delicate mix that not many cities can pull off.


Can't believe my 3 week sojourn in Chennai got over this fast. Although I'll be glad to get out of this heat and humidity, I'll still miss this city. Not just because of friends and family, but I'll miss the city for the city's sake. Madras has a pace and personality of its own, just like any other city you might say. But for any long-time Madras-vasi, its tough to imagine settling down anywhere else. And despite all the short comings, the people here have always been extremely smart and cosmopolitan. I believe we're just seeing the beginning of the great Chennai boom. Its been fun blogging about my city. Adios!


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Live from Chennai - Part 4

Back from a good trip to the southern parts of Tamil Nadu. Got a chance to visit Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Tiruchendur, as well as a few places along the way. Glad to be back in Chennai though.


Any visitor to this part of the country would probably know that there is no escaping the millions of "must-see" "special-power" temples that seem to be everywhere. The Nellayappar temple in Tirunelveli is apparently bigger than even the legendary Meenakshi temple at Madurai, but is impeccably maintained. The Shiva lingam is weirdly shaped with sort of an inclined head, rather than the smooth rounded top we’re used to seeing. And like all such oddities, this one has an interesting story as well. Hundreds of years ago, a milkman used to carry milk every morning to the king of Tirunelveli. Inexplicably, he kept tripping at the exact same spot on his daily route and spilling some milk in the process. When the king noticed the missing milk and enquired, the milkman explained his predicament. The king, intrigued by this, asked the milkman to show him the location. Then he asked his men to dig at the spot, and was shocked to see blood oozing out after a strike. So then they dug the place carefully, and lo and behold, a Shiva lingam came out with the top sliced out by the King’s men (and hence the weird shaped head). Also, legend has it that the lingam has been growing, albeit at a minute rate.


On the way from Tirunelveli to Kanyakumari, you pass a place called Aralvaimozhi with hundreds and hundreds of wind mills along the highway. These are all owned by private enterprises, or in some cases, even individuals. The owner of a windmill can feed the power generated from his windmill into the national power grid, and then get paid for this, or alternately, draw the same amount (minus transmission losses) for his factory elsewhere in the country. On top of that, the Government gives a huge tax break to the owners of these wind mills. The whole scheme is professionally managed, and is a strong stride towards energy self-sufficiency. Even actor Surya has invested in a couple of these windmills (titbit from my uncle!). In case you decide to follow suit, you should probably know that each of these contraptions costs upwards of 2 crore Rupees.


Kanyakumari is the southern most tip of the country and marks the confluence of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea, but on Mayday, the place was packed. The ferry takes you up to the Vivekananda rock memorial and then to the huge statue of Tiruvalluvar, the Tamil poet. Vivekananda apparently spent 3 days meditating on this rock and attained spirituality. There is a dimly lit meditation room with a neon-lit Om symbol, where people are encouraged to meditate a few minutes. The Tiruvalluvar statue is 133 feet high (his phenomenal work Thirukkural has 1330 verses organized into 133 topics) and is breath-taking. The Tsunami wave, I was told, almost covered the entire statue.


The return trip from Tuticorn to Chennai on the Deccan Air flight was extremely comfortable. The plane probably seats 60 people, and was only half full. The airport is a glorified bus stand but serves the purpose. But considering that there are only a couple of flights per day, it seemed to be overstaffed and crawled with all sorts of uniforms. My tickets and baggage must’ve been checked and rechecked a million times by over-zealous and under-worked attendants. We got on the flight to find a Gujarati-looking air hostess making all her announcements in Hindi. Hindi in this part of the country? Are you kidding me? The faces around betrayed the complete ignorance of the language, and I must’ve been the only one on the flight who had even a vague idea of what she went on about. As you probably know, that’s not saying much! But the cost of completing the usual 11 hr train journey in 1 hr 25 mins flat? Priceless.


There is an active campaign going on here against the Cocal Cola manufacturiung plant that withdraws some 5 lakh liters from the Thamirabarani River at a dirt cheap price, and then dumps its waste there.


The famous Tirunelveli 'halwa' is omnipresent, with the legendary Iruttukadai (dark store) doing brisk business from a small box-like shop that cannot be more than 8ft by 8ft.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

4.5 years old, 65 kms, 7 hrs

This is probably the most inspiring story I've come across recently.

Child prodigy Budhia Singh on Tuesday entered the Limca Book of Records by covering a distance of 65 km in 7.02 hours even though he failed to complete the targeted 70 km.

Flanked by cadets of the Central Reserve Police Force , the five-year-old Buddhia completed the distance from Puri Jagannath Temple to Bhubaneswar braving the hot and humid conditions.

This was all over the news yesterday. The video clip of this kid in oversized shorts and red shoes, overcome with exhaustion, almost falling with every step and still carrying on bravely, surrounded by khakhi-clad cadets and cheered on by thousands was somehow deeply moving.

Here are some earlier articles about this kid on wikipedia and BBC. I've been looking for something/someone to inspire me to try out the Chicago marathon this year. I guess I don't have to look beyond Budhia Singh.