Friday, May 29, 2009

Swingers Dance School Inspirations Show

In recent past, I attended two dance shows organized by Swingers. Swingers is a company operational in Chennai and Bengaluru that provides long term professional, short term courses and summer (crash) courses on western dance forms (hip-hop, bachata, salsa and the likes-I can hardly differentiate between them) and conduct stage shows wherein their students perform to display their recently learnt dance skills.

This post shares information and some of my observations about (western) dance schools like Swingers and their shows. Disclaimer: I’m not qualified enough to pass comments on dance performance-these are my simple observations/opinions. I do not have any rights to criticize them-children had fun, parents are proud and Swingers got yet another successful show to their kitty-but since I bought tickets to the show I am taking some liberty of publishing my thoughts.
The business model is excellent- a 15 day crash course for wannabe dancers, priced at approx Rs 1.5-2k per person, during which they get to learn a set of dance steps which forms a 4-6 minutes dance item. At the end of training season there’ll be a 3 hour stage show will have about 15-20 dance items (of various types, from different batches, each involving 15-20 students). So anywhere about 200-300 people get to perform per show. Tickets for the show priced at Rs 250-300 and upwards, no complementary tickets given to the members who are performing. When a child is performing, its proud parents will buy the tickets at any price, so at least 2 tickets per performer and 600 tickets will be sold easily. That directly makes 1.5-2 lakh rupees per show by sale of tickets alone. Income from sponsors extra. Expenses are studio/theatre rentals and lightings (costumes by performers, at their expense).

I’m given to understand that John Britto’s dance school, SDIPA (Shaiamak Davar’s institute of performing arts), Bal Bhavan, Unwind Centre and several others also have similar approaches. Nothing wrong or worth complaining about it-just a mention.
Still from a dance
Other comments
1. Compared to the first performance I attended (on March 15th 2009 and Music Academy Chennai), the second one (May 23 2009, Music Academy, Chennai) was cheaper and better. For the dances meant for small kids, this time they made a elder dancer dance with them, so that kids can refer to him/her and follow the steps. Last time kids were left to their own.

2. In addition to the technicalities, music , coordination and MCing , managing 300+ performers backstage, most of them kids, for 3 hours, is a challenge. Swingers has managed to accomplish the task gracefully.

3. Both the shows I attended staged Lion King and it appears to be their trademark. With several “animals” and poised rhythmic movements, the hullaballoo generated is contagious..
Small kids dance
4. Several dances were however a repetition. May be the performers were different- couldn’t help but notice that the dance steps, music and costume of certain items were a copy-paste of Inspirations ’09 ( the 1st show I attended)

5. They thanked the sponsors, management, partners everyone, but didn’t thank the audience who paid a price and bought tickets

6. I was initially hoping there will be some Bharatanatyam or other Indian classical performances-there weren’t any. Only western ones. (Bharatanatyam takes several years to master-why bother when Swingers can teach you hip hop in 15 days and make you dance on stage? I asked a veteran bharatanatyam dancer Indira Kadambi if Bharatanatyam is losing sheen among pupils or if there’s a decline in demand. She assured me that there’s still a good number of students joining Bharatanatyam classes) Also Bharatanatyam is predominantly a solo dance-they won’t be able to put 300 people on stage with solo items
7. I’m given to understand that they didn’t force the participants to buy dance dresses from a specific shop-most performers had the option of buying one for themselves/manage with existing dresses they may have. Though this meant minor non-uniformity in the costume, it should have saved some cash outflow for the performers.

8. Generally, it’s a practice to announce the names of the performers-but this was skipped during the show, understandably due to huge headcount in each item. I later noticed that they’ve displayed a board outside, listing names of performers in each item.
Prasanna- The man behind Swingers
9. As far as I know, ticket sale opened just 48 hours before the show-shows that they are fully confident of selling all tickets (parents and friends who wish to see the performance of their ward/friend will anyway have to buy the tickets)

10. The first show I attended, had an item called one minute to fame, wherein several members were given one minute stage time, to do anything they want and impress the guests-some danced, few played instruments, it was a good concept indeed which was missing in second show.

11. Lots of energy was seen on stage with everyone trying to put in their best. Because most of them weren’t professionals and had only 15 days of training, at times some deviation from perfection was evident, but that doesn’t really matter. Couple of solo performances by well qualified dancers would have spiced up the show a bit.

Even if you do not intend to take up dancing full time, Courses from Swingers or other such institutions are a great opportunity to overcome your inhibitions and learn some steps/body movements, make new friends in the process and have good time in general. They seem to have different courses for different age groups, ranging from small kids to adults. Different batches at various places keep happening throughout the year. Wanna try?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 2: Coonoor-Kotagiri: Sim's park, Dolphin nose, Kodanad viewpoint, Catherine Falls

Hello Sir Wake up. I need to sweep this place. Is that your car? Can you remove it?” I woke up listening above words, from a sweeper, at Coonoor main bus stand, on 2nd of May 2009 5.45-6 AM. Couple of hours back I’d slept there, after a failed attempt to find an ideal camping place/hotel during day 1 of our Ooty trip. You need to read part one here to get full picture.
The place where we camped
Highlights of Day 2: Campsite found, Dolphin Nose, Lamb's Rock and Kodanad Viewpoints, Catherine Falls and Sim's park, Saying No to Rs 500 buffet dinner at Wallwood garden, driving in lush green Coonoor roads.

Thus began Day 2 of our trip, with the shadow of Day 1 still haunting us. We needed a place to freshen up-few hotels in the city which had proper restroom facilities would open only by 7. We had about an hour to spare, so thought we’ll visit one or two tourist places and return. We set out to explore Dolphin nose. One kind localite guided us for most of the distance. Somewhere suddenly I saw a board-“Parking Toilets” and I slammed the brakes. Two people got out and checked the place-it was a shop (run by Mayur Teas) selling tea, tea powder, oil, homemade chocolates and other products Ooty is famous for. They had a toilet which visitors could use and lots of open space, generously offered for parking/camping, free. We freshened up here and had great tea. We checked with them if we can camp tonight in the premises of their shop and they generously agreed. Thus we decided to come back and camp there that night, without searching any further. One problem solved. (Clarification: Parking & Toilets are two separate term-not a combined service like Drive in Restaurants :) )

We next went to Dolphin nose-located at the edge of a hill, connected by very narrow road. Nothing there resembled the name, but view was great nevertheless. A magazine page with Amit Agarwal’s photo was lying on the ground and caught our attention. Catherine falls is visible from here (we went there later in the day- refer photos at the end of post). Photo session at the tea garden, stop at a small water stream and checking out Lambs Rock viewpoint were next few activities before returning back to city. Sim’s park was the next destination, where we had breakfast. The Poori we had there came with a Sabji of north Indian style. The garden was ok ok-a tiny pond with boating, several big trees (with honeybee nests) and lots of shade. This garden was supposed to have a japanese style-didn't notice anything to that effect. The Pasteur Institute was right in front of Sim's park, which we could have visited, but didn't.
honeybee nests on a tree at SIM's park, Coonoor
It was noon by the time we came out and started looking for a restaurant. Saw the board of Hotel Vivek and we went there. We were the first customer for the afternoon. This hotel has very nice restroom-a bathroom included. Lunch was good, comprised of biriyani and pullao.

Next we set out towards Kotagiri. Got to see a possession en-route in which a person had pierced a rod through is cheeks. First destination was Catherine falls, hidden somewhere inside a private tea garden. First proper bathing for us since we left Bengaluru-refreshing. Dolphin’s nose was visible from Catherine falls. The places of tourist interest are spread all over the district, 10-40 kms from each others, most of them connected by narrow roads in the middle of tea gardens-good that we had our transportation. A few autos and jeeps do seem to ply between places ferrying people. No buses for most of the places (road isn't wide enough)
Business ideas
Energized by the falls, drove towards Kodanad viewpoint. Roads were good all around. Signs were adequate to help us with direction, but at times we had to stop at ask. In Kotagiri, I believe villagers are used to people asking for directions-At junctions if we aren’t sure which way to take, we just had to slow down and people would automatically guide us to the right direction, without our asking. Feels good. Viewpoint was good and we’d reached just in time for sunset.

In Yercaud, all viewpoints-Pagoda point, Lady's seat, Gents' seat etc were looking similar. But in Coonoor each viewpoint had different view and were interesting.
Went back to Coonoor, no other plans for the day, except for dinner and rest. Almost all key destinations were covered. But we had to reach our campsite in time, so that the shopowner won’t lock the gates and sleep off. Searching for a restaurant for dinner, suspecting another traffic jam in Coonoor city, took an impulsive decision to checkout Wallwood Garden, a posh hotel which we’d just passed by few mins back while driving towards Coonoor. We took you turn, went inside the Wallwood Garden campus and parked the car. We went to the restaurant and surprised to see a person playing a Piano there, entertaining the guests. With little hesitation we asked how much the dinner would cost. “Rs 500+tax sir” promptly came the reply. (Comparative buffet dinner rates, Deccan Plaza, Chennai: Rs 350+tax, Club Mahindra Yercaud: Rs 200+tax) Way beyond our budget and we had to escape from there. To the surprise and dismay of the hotel representative, we promptly told him that the rate is beyond our budget and left. If only they’d put a small display saying “Dinner-Rs 500+tax” we wouldn’t have taken the trouble of going inside, parking the car and come back after asking the price. We went back to Hotel Vivek which we’d tried in the noon, had dinner and went to camping site to call it a day. Tent was small for 5 people, without pegs to stretch it properly-too late to worry about all that, we slept off. Sound sleep finally awaiting us.
View from Dolphin Nose view point-What you see inside the circle is Catherine Falls
View from Dolphin Nose viewpoint. What you see inside the circle is catherine falls
view of Dolphin Nose viewpoint from Catherine falls
View of Dolphin Nose from Catherine Falls

End of Day 2. Read part 3

Saturday, May 23, 2009

3 days Bengaluru Ooty Trip Part 1

3 years of blogging: This blog has completed 3 years of existence yesterday. First post was published on 22 May 2006 and 370 posts have gone live so far. Thanks to each one of you for the support and encouragement.

Earlier this month, me and 4 others went on a 3 day trip to Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri. Day 1 was lost in travel, Day 2 was ok ok and Day 3 was full paisa vasool. This trip made me realize the need for better planning. This post is about Day 1. Day 2 and 3 will be covered in a subsequent post.

Highlights of Day 1: Steep uphill drive at kallatti Ghats, Traffic Jam at Coonoor-Mettupalyam Road, night spent in car/bus stand

This 3 day trip to Ooty and nearby areas was conceptualized long back. But in between a 11 day Himalayan trek option (SAR PASS Trek organized by YHAI, Abhijit Bhat, who went for this trek has uploaded his photos here) came my way, which I happily grabbed, ditching the Ooty plan. But my registration for the trek couldn’t get confirmed in time from YHAI and I decided to drop out (next year, may be). This made me free again for the 3 day long weekend and Ooty plan was revived and executed.

For three reasons, we opted to take tents and sleeping bags for rent and camp somewhere instead of staying in hotels (Reasons were: getting accommodation was tough due to peak tourist season clubbed with 3 day weekend, wanted to keep costs as low as possible, wanted to give fellow travelers an experience of camping)

We rented a tent+5 sleeping bags from Mars Adventures Bangalore. [Same co who’d organized Ramanagaram rock climbing] Rental was Rs 1800 for 3 days for these items. They had not kept the pegs for tents and zip of a sleeping bag was not working-which we didn’t check as we were in a hurry. Be careful on these aspect if you’re renting from them.

I rented a Ford Fiesta from Car Club for this trip (last time I’d booked >Ford Fiesta from Hertz for >Wayanad trip I got a free upgrade to Scorpio-no such wonders happened this time). This 1.4 Duratorque EXI had about 50000kms on the odo. I had to arrive from Chennai and collect delivery of the car.Driver hadn’t got the vehicle documents along and hence had to drive to Car Club Garage. Anyway we’d to wait till 6.30AM for collecting the tent.

Picked up friends who were joining me in the trip. Then we headed to Kanteerava indoor stadium near Corporation to collect tents. Soon we were on our way to Ooty. Original idea was to stop at Kamat Lokaruchi for breakfast, but we spotted a hotel Kadu Mane and decided to check it out. It was too crowded, so we decided to take parcel and proceed. We ate it on the way sometime later.

To reach Ooty there exists a shorter route via Kanakapura, Chamarajanagar-Mettupalyam. But as we learnt that road to be in bad condition, we opted for the tried and tested Bengaluru-Mysuru-Ooty route. We could see an unusually high number of cars and tourist vehicles-understandably headed towards Mysore-lots of people heading out to make the most of 3 day weekend, visiting Mysore, Ooty, Coorg, Wayanad etc.

First major stop was near Nanjanagudu, at an abandoned railway + road bridge over Kabini river with few abandoned compartments. 2 bogies of Heritage chariot were also stood there. Fellow traveler Raveesh took the trouble of noting down details of this bride from a Railway Department board nearby-I’m just sourcing the same from his blog - "It was built by Dalvoy Devraj in 1735 with brick, sand and stone adopting ancient Gothic style. It was strong and wide enough to carry road traffic as well as metre guage trains, which started running in 1889. This ancient bridge today stands as an engineering marvel, which bears testimony to the skills of those who built it. This bridge now over 270 years old and could very well be the oldest railway bridge in the world because the first railways was built only after 1825 and there were no other known cases of ancient road bridges having been used to carry railway traffic".

Next stop was somewhere inside Bandipura reserve forest. We only spotted some deers-no other wild animals. Soon we entered TamilNadu state and took a turn to go to Hotel TamilNadu. What we saw there was that all tables were occupied, but no table had any dish on it. Apparently they’d not started serving lunch yet and it would take lots of time. The place had lots of gulmohar trees and a water stream flowing nearby. We took some rest there and moved on, without lunch. Few other hotels/resorts we could locate en route also had no food, as it was late or too many customers came that day- bananas and other packed foods kept us energized till the evening.

At Theppakkadu junction we had two options-take the shortcut via Kalhatti ghat or take the regular route via Gudalur. We took the former. Narrow road, 36 hairpin turns and a steep uphill drive, made it a challenging. I thought Fiesta is a sporty car, but the one I rented 1.4 Duratorque EXi) hardly had any pull in second gear while climbing Kalhatti ghat.(Car was fully loaded with 5 people, the engine wasn’t obviously tuned for sporty climbs and incline was reasonably steep-all these could be the reasons) Driving most of the distance in first gear, burning the clutch, wasn’t a pleasure, but I enjoyed it. As far as I noticed, Only Innovas zipped uphill with ease, while many other cars, Indicas, Indigos, Marutis and even a Sumo had tough time. In fact one Indigo driver asked us if we had an extra driver who can drive his car till top. I also couldn’t prevent the engine from stalling several times-tells me I still need to improve a lot in driving. We could see lots of cars parked with their bonnet open, to help the engine cool down. When we stopped for a cup of masala tea, I also opened the bonnet and allowed the fiesta to breathe easy for a while. Ideally one should have taken Gudalur route to reach Ooty and Kalhatti ghat route to return from there, but that way, those who enjoy driving will miss the fun.

It also started raining. We stopped at several places for views and photos and reached Ooty by evening. Our original idea was to go to Coonoor, locate an ideal place to camp, then drive around a bit, come back and camp. It was 5PM and some time was left we thought we’ll cover one place in Ooty and went to the main lake. It was too crowded, we were told it will take min 1 hour for our turn (for boating) to come and it closes by 6.30PM. Not so keen to wait, we moved on, heading towards Coonoor losing about 45 minutes in the process. Though just 17 kms from Ooty, heavy traffic ensured that it was dark before we could reach Coonoor. As per our plan we were to locate a camping place somewhere around Coonoor but it became impossible in the dark, given that we were visiting the place for the first time. To find one there has to be some light and we needed to go somewhere away from the city but we weren’t sure where to go. Some better planning or a local help or a GPS device could have helped, but we had none. We had dinner in some decent hotel on the main road, opposite Coonoor Railway station. We checked at hotels and lodges, only to learn that all rooms are full (as suspected).

So now the options were limited: Spend the night in the car, or venture out in the dark to find a camping place. Suddenly the picture I’d seen in Bangalore City and Chennai Central railway stations came to my mind-Railway stations operate 24x7 and passengers often the night in railway station campus, either waiting for their train or for not being able to afford a hotel. On our agenda was to take the Mettupalyam-Udagamandalam heritage train. So I thought we can drive to Mettupalyam, spend the night in railway station campus, take the train next morning (7.45AM) and come back. This decision proved to be a mistake-as we headed towards Mettupalyam, we got stuck in massive traffic jam. Apparently this Coonoor-Mettupalyam highway has several bottlenecks-narrow bridges or turns and whenever a big vehicle tries to negotiate it, it creates a traffic jam, halting traffic several kms on both sides. On several occasions we switched off the engine and waited for 20-30 minutes before getting to move few more meters. Thus the 28 kms journey took several hours and we reached Mettupalyam by midnight. With some local help we located the railway station, only to find its gates locked. I thought Mettuplayam is a bigger city/station than Conoor, but maybe I was wrong. All hotels in Mettupalyam were also full. In one resort the person in charge offered us a small unfurnished hall for Rs 3000. He later brought down the price for Rs 2000, but we weren’t keen on spending so much for just a few hours of rest.

We spent few hours in the car, but it was too hot (Unlike Ooty/Conoor, Mettupalyam is not a hill station) with a topping of mosquito bites. Wasn’t a good idea to run AC on battery and risk a dry battery and keeping the engine running would attract undue attention - safety factors in an unknown town had to be factored. Everyone preferred to spend night in the car than camp at some unknown/unsafe place. Other than boarding the train we didn’t have any other plans for Mettupalyam on our agenda. An impromptu decision was made to drive back to Coonoor-which was a hill station far cooler and we had to visit several places around Coonoor. Somewhere around 2.30-3AM in the morning I drove back to Coonoor. This time roads were deserted and it took just about 45 minutes.

After reaching Coonoor, took some rest, drove around a bit and while passing through Coonoor bus stand, saw lots of people sleeping there. So parked the car in a bay meant for buses. Others preferred to sleep in the car itself, but I wanted to spread my legs, so came out, took out the sleeping bag and slept at the cleanest place I could find around, in the Great Coonoor Bus Terminal.

Poor planning leading to discomfort, bad luck and too much of travel marked day 1 of the trip. But it was one great experience and lessons learnt are many. I felt bad for making all of them sleep in the car and spend the night without proper rest/comfort/amenities but the guys were accommodative and supportive enough not to complain.

Read Part 2 and part 3

Note: Names of some of the places have been sourced from Raveesh's blog. While I was busy driving he's done a nice job noting down several details.

Other travelogues: Talakona * Yercaud * Wayanad * Binsar *

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Caution about Mazaa and slice mango drinks

This is an health related information, learnt from a reliable source, but not verified by this author. Readers are requested to use their discretion.

Some of us think fruit based drinks such as Mazaa and Slice are better alternatives that aerated drinks like Sprite/Coke/Pepsi. Learnt from a friend that these drinks, specially during summer months could be even more harmful.

Now, this is what I learnt recently about these drinks-
Drinks like Maazaa and Slice are manufactured using natural and synthetic fruit pulp (mango in this case). In order to sterilize the microbes in them, the drink needs to be treated with a process called Pasteurization for about 90 minutes, before bottling. During summer, demand will be very high and the bottling plant will have difficult to meet production targets. Due to this high demand and a mandate of producing more and more bottles of drinks, the 90 minutes pasteurization process is often compromised-either the duration is reduced or its skipped altogether.

What this means is lots of bacteria, which should have been sterilized through pasteurization are bottled live and they reproduce rapidly inside. A consumer drinking from this bottle runs a high risk of catching some infection/diseases these bacteria might be pathogens to. I do not know the exact threat/disease caused by these micro organisms. So far no serious case has been reported in this regard and our body might have enough immunity to deal with these microbes, still this post is a word of caution. Better be safe than sorry.

Also please note that above information is not verified-of course no company will officially accept a lapse in process compliance. Unless a designated government agency conducts a surprise ride to verify it, or a person working there confirms it off the record, we can’t be sure. Please use your discretion.

This doesn’t mean aerated drinks like Coke and Pepsi are any better. Serious recommendation is to revert to any of the natural drinks listed here

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making Tomato Rasam in 12 easy steps

This post tells you about a simple way of preparing Tomato Rasam (in 12 easy steps)

Items required:
  • Tomatoes (Apple tomatoes-the big red round ones, not the smaller local variety), say ½ kg
  • Onion: 2 units
  • MTR Rasam powder
  • Dhania (aromatic green leaves which are added in all dishes)
  • Salt
  • Coconut powder(optional)
  • Chilli powder and Haldi (optional)
  • Tamarind and Green Chilli (optional)
  • One small/medium sized vessel to cook and a gas stove.
Safety precautions:
Keep Ambulance and paramedic staff on standby before consuming the product generated through this experiment. A sample may even be sent to CFTRI or other labs for declaring it fit for consumption.

Try on yourself first, before feeding roommates/visitors/others

Making Tomato Rasam in 12 Easy Steps:
1. Clean tomato and onion (about 5-6 tomatoes, 2 onions)
2. chop the vegetables & pour them into vessel
3. Add water
4. Add a bit of tamarind and green chili (optional)
5. Switch on the stove
6. Add salt- 4-5 tea spoons
7. Add Rasam powder: No specific quantity- I just pour directly from the packet, to my heart’s content. (let us say 6-8 tea spoons)
8. Add little bit chilli powder, little haldi and Coconut powder (optional)
stir to mix properly
9. Wait till it boils (if you plan to leave the kitchen while it boils, be sure to set an alarm and come back within about 5 mins, else the vessel will dry up)
10. Reduce intensity of flame, let it continue to boil for few more mins
11. Switch off the stove.
12. Add dhaniya leaves, chopped (optional, but highly recommended)

Taste it. If found eatable, mix it with rice and consume. Else discard and go to hotel. (Rice needs to be prepared separately-Read Jammy’s post on how to prepare rice

Note 1: This is a my way of cooking-All those mentioned optional are strictly optional-Rasam can be made without them too. Regular home makers would cook it in a different way-by adding grams, coconut etc.

Note 2: By replacing Rasam powder with Sambar powder and Tomato with any other vegetable, the recipe can be used to prepare XYZ Sambar as well (where XYZ is name of the vegetable whose sambar you wish to make)- Highly flexible you see...

Note 3: This recipe is custom prepared for bachelors who will have very limited number of vessels, ingredients and accessories in kitchen. Primary objective will be to cook something eatable as fast as possible, without having to spend several hours in the kitchen meddling with dozens of ingredients, vessels and accessories. Time, cost and effort spent in procuring the ingredients to preparing the meals to washing the dishes will also be a major consideration, vis-à-vis visiting a hotel nearby.

Statutory Disclaimer: Anyone who dares to experiment this recipe is understood to have excused this blogger for any possible accidents/damages/issues before, during or after the preparation of food item.

Also read: My cooking expedition (May 2006 post) * Natural drinks for this summer * Domino's Stuffed Crunch Pizza *

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jeffrey Archer on Paths of Glory and his next book

I don’t do celebrity fan fare but when I learnt that master story teller Jeffrey Archer was coming to town, thought I’ll drop by for a while if possible. He was in Chennai last time also, but I got the information rather late. So yesterday 7PM I was at Landmark Nungambakkam and spent some minutes listening to Jeffrey Archer.

He arrived 10 minutes behind schedule and without wasting much time in any formalities launched his new books and began talking. Paths of Glory is his new English novel (hardback Rs 850, paperback Rs 230) which he launched in Chennai yesterday, besides unveiling Malayalam and Tamil translations of his work ("Not a penny more, not a penny less" in Malayalam and “Twist in the Tale” in Tamil) Twist in the tale is being translated to Kannada as well and will be inaugurated at Bengaluru in a couple of days.

Jeff was very upbeat about his blog-he said lots of his readers are from India and he is spending considerable time daily reading and responding to comments/mails he gets. He said he needs to be very careful presenting facts as his readers are smart to identify goof ups. He went on to give a brief overview of his latest work, Paths of Glory, which has said half facts and half fiction.

Extract of Paths of Glory:
This book (15th from Jeff) is about a gentleman, George Mallory who wanted to climb mount Everest. But for various reasons he failed in his first two attempts. This hobby of his was taking away lots of his quality time and money, so his wife is not happy. He sets out to make one last attempt, telling his wife that I’m going to climb Mount Everest this time and I’ll place your photo on top of it and return. Once I come back I will spend all my time with you and won’t venture out again.

He sets out to climb Mount Everest, but was found dead on the way. No one knows if he died while climbing down or he failed to make it to the top and gave up on the way. They check his wallet and his wife’s photo was missing in it-which should mean he went up till the peak and place it there. The whole novel is about unraveling weather he did really make it to the peak or gave up enroute- said Jeff. (The significance is, if it could be proved that he indeed climbed Mount Everest, he would have been the first person to do so, ahead of Tensing and Edmund Hillery)

Watch below video if interested to hear it from his own words (poor quality video made from mobile camera)

About his next project:
He said his next work will be a collection of short stories. He went on and offered to tell one story from that collection of short stories, I’m narrating that story below in highly abridged form:

There’s a gentleman who loves to backpack and travel all around, unplanned. He once arrives in a small town by bus and its about midnight by the time he reaches there. There were few more passengers along with him in the bus and after getting down he sets out looking for a hotel to stay.

Finally he finds a hotel, manned (womanned??) by a beautiful lady at the reception. She tells that all rooms are fully occupied and she has no room vacant to offer him. On being asked about other possible hotels/accommodations in town she says “No-there’s no other hotel in town. Your only chance is a lady who accommodates people-but her place is 5 miles from here, she’s no phone and is partially deaf-if you wish you can go there and take chance, but I don’t recommend

After much deliberations and discussions the receptionist offers our traveler an accommodation in her room. They go upstairs, spend the night together “and all things happened” if I’ve to quote the story teller himself.

Morning she asks the traveler: "Please take the fire exit to get out and come in from the main entrance again to collect your baggage left at the reception, so that no one notices that you were in my room". This guy does the same and as he re enters the hotel he finds a middle aged woman at the reception. "I came to collect my bags"-he explains.

Lady: Where did you stay?
Traveller: At the beach, as all rooms in the hotel were full (he lies)
Lady; Who said it is full- several rooms were vacant last night
Traveller: Err, but the girl at the reception said all rooms were full
Lady: Who was at the reception?
Traveller: That girl named ____

Lady: Oh she? She said all rooms were full while most of them were indeed empty? Then she offered you space at her room?
Traveller: ?!?!
Lady: hmm… this is not the first time she’s done that… (End of story)

It was nice hearing to Jeffrey. He praised RK Narayan a lot and said he'd read Malgudi days once again after returning to England. He spoke well, inducing humor at right spot and entertained the audience. Seems he promised to stay back as long as required so as to autograph each and every book purchased. Wish I could stay back but I had to leave. I left the venue once he finished his talk and started taking questions. Making my way out of overcrowded landmark store was a challenge-like Chakravyooha…

Poor event management by landmark:
I felt it was a very bad idea to organize the function inside the landmarks store, making some space by pushing book shelves aside. Just about 20-30 people could sit comfortably on the chairs provided and about 10 times that number stood wherever they could find space. Since landmarks store is in basement of the building with only one entry+exit, had there been an emergency safe evacuation is near impossible with an inevitable stampede. I understand organizers wanted to promote the store, but for the size of crowd expected, the meet could have been kept in a larger space, say an auditorium or a hall. Hope they’ll mind these factors next time.

Citibank and Hertz (carzonrent-self drive anyone?) were co sponsors for his India tour.

Disclaimer: There could be minor deviations in what Jeffrey Archer told, what I heard, what I could recall and publish here. Refer to videos for precise talk. Also regrets for the poor quality photo/video. Novel and stories are IP of author-excerpts published here as Jeffrey himself has made them public.

Also read:

Event report: Dr. Steve Crocker's talk in Chennai * Sandhya Ravishankar's workshop on broadcast journalism *

May 13 Updates: Had put same video twice-corrected. Had left a comment at Jeff's blog mentioning this blog post-that comment wasn't approved, probably classified as Spam... I've promptly removed the links given to his site and blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Missing feature in social networking sites

-Old post- republished-

If you’re active on social networking sites like Orkut, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the likes you will be familiar with mails of following type:
  • ABC is now following you on twitter!
  • XYZ has approved your friend request
  • has confirmed his/her subscription to your blog
  • So and so wishes to connect you through LinkedIn
Whenever someone shows interest in you by some means (friendship request, subscription to blogs, following on twitter, fans and ACs and so on) corresponding social networking sites promptly inform you about the same via mail. But almost all sites do not care to inform you of a lost contact. That is, if someone stops following you on twitter or terminates friendship with you on orkut or chooses to end his subscription to your blog, you usually do not get an alert. (Feedblitz is an exception)

Why so? Why are the sites hiding negative aspects? It’s very crucial for me to know if some people have chosen to discontinue their subscription to my blog or stop following me on twitter or have decided to remove me from their list of friends. Exit interviews are very important and it is very critical to understand why I lost a customer (or a friend or a fan or a reader, as the case may be) It is very difficult to keep a track of it manually. Social networking sites and utilities should have a provision to conduct kind of simple exit interview (like asking the reason why you’ve opted to discontinue) and promptly pass the feedback to the user. If I get an update for what reason a particular person took that decision I can introspect and analyze where I can improve. If the move was due to my fault I can extend an apology and make efforts to ensure that such things won’t repeat. If networking sites don’t facilitate this side of the coin their service remains incomplete.

Do you agree?

Friday, May 08, 2009

YPR-MAQ Mangalore Express

Platform No.9, Bangalore City Railway Station, 2100 hours approx on Saturday 18th April 2009: "ಇನ್ನೂ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಹೊತ್ತು ಒಳಗಡೆ ಕುಳಿತುಕೊ೦ಡು ಆಮೇಲೆ ಆರಾಮಾಗಿ ಇಳಿಯಬಹುದಲ್ವಾ?" (Kannada for: “Why don’t you sit inside for some more time and then get down?”) said a middle aged gentleman as I hurriedly got down (read jumped off) from YPR-MAQ Mangalore express as it was gaining momentum.

“Oh Jesus, please forgive this gentleman. He wouldn’t have made that statement if he had access to full details why I had to board the train” I said to myself and instead of retaliating opted to say “Thank you sir” to his surprise.

Flashback: Had booked train tickets for my Mom and Sis to go to Mangaluru from Bengaluru. Mom hasn’t travelled much in train, because we had to travel a lot to catch nearest railhead - buses were most convenient for us as they pickup/drop us on the highway near our home. In order to give her an experience of overnight train journey booked tickets for them in 3 Tier AC coaches. With 300 Rs tatkal charges the fare was twice the AC bus fare.

We reached Bangalore city railway station well in advance, showed her various information systems in railway stations, under-bridge, over-bridge, touch screen kiosks that shows real time train location, ticket status, coach position etc (it’s there on platform 5) and then we reached platform 9 where Mangalore express was supposed to arrive. (it starts from Yeshwantpur)

Train arrived little late and our compartment halted about a hundred meters away from where it was supposed to (as per markings displayed). Our seats were No 23 and 24. We checked passenger chart for the correctness of seats and names, and then got into the compartment, searching for our seat. There were 2 sets of seat numbers- one with printed number plates, and another written with markers (Some changes in seating layout due to introduction of additional berth on the side-
details in this post-most of the trains do not have confusion free seat numbering yet.)

I asked my mom and sis to sit at the seats marked 23,24 with metal stickers, while another group of passengers who entered insisted that we should follow the numbering done with marker and our seats would come elsewhere. Meanwhile two ladies entered the compartment announcing “sit in 23, 24” (as if shouting the seat numbers makes them theirs). I was taken aback for a while-I’d reasonable faith in Indian Railway’s IT system that they don’t allot same seat to two parties. I asked this lady for her ticket-she said she’ll show it, but comfortably sat in the seat (marked 23,24 with marker) instead. Several minutes had passed and it was time for the train to start. Since it was an AC coach I couldn’t talk to my mom and sister from outside the coach-I had to be inside to ensure everything is in order. She was travelling for the first time and is facing confusion over seat number-How can I leave them without verifying everything is fine? will they be able to manage if something is seriously wrong? I repeatedly asked the lady for her ticket-after several minutes she checked her tickets and admitted that 23,24 are not their seats.

Now that there’s no clash of seat numbers, confusion over which seat numbering system to follow (marker ones or metal stickers) still prevailed. Train started moving… I had to leave. I told my mom and sister to hold on to their seats and wait till the ticketing inspector comes-check with him for correct seating and relocate if necessary. They said fine and I headed towards the door, preparing myself to disembark from the moving train.

Then this gentleman at the door passes a comment: “Why don’t you stay inside for some more time”! (of course I would have loved to travel all the way to Mangalore and go home, but I had to return the Innova and reach Chennai next day-who will explain all these to this gentleman who enjoys passing comments without knowing why I had to be inside the coach for so long?

May the God almighty forgive this gentleman for his comments, that lady for her false claim of our seats and Indian railways for confusing seat numbers.
Above: An April 2008 file photo of Mangalore Express negotiating a turn in scenic western ghats

Epilogue: Learnt later over phone that one is supposed to follow the numberings made with marker. Mom and sis relocated to the correct seats (which that lady had occupied before realizing that her seats are different) and had comfortable journey. Train reached Mangalore by 10.30, about 2 hours behind schedule and Mom and Sis took a bus from Mangalore and reached home by 2PM (by bus they would have probably reached by 8-9AM). It was a good journey for them, though ate off half of Sunday.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Met an old pal

Note: The essence of this post is that I accidentally saw a vehicle which I'd rented several months back. If this doesn't interest you, please check my April archive or March archive for more interesting posts.

September 2008, I’d booked a Ford Fiesta from carzonrent (Hertz India licensee) Bangalore for our Wayanad trip. 3-4 days prior to scheduled trip, Hertz told me that they’re upgrading me for free to a brand new Scorpio vls, as Ford Fiesta which I’d booked is unlikely to be available for the said dates. (probably due to extended rental)
rear view amidst tea plantationWe eventually enjoyed our Wayanad trip in that brand new Scorpio Vls (Scorpio Vls review * Wayanad travelogue) It was a maiden voyage for that 4 days old SUV. After that, it appears that there’s been huge demand for this vehicle and whenever I check with Hertz about Scorpio, I would get a response that it is not available.

Recently we (me and 4 others) were touring Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri area, in a Ford Fiesta rented from Car Club. Last Sunday afternoon, while driving in a jam-packed Ooty city, near bus stand, I suddenly noticed a vehicle with yellow on black number plate. Naturally it grabbed my attention and next moment I realized that it is a Scorpio. Second look at the number plate assured me that it is the same vehicle belonging to Hertz which I’d rented last September. Quickly asked my friend to take a snap.
This might look silly to most of you, but this is how I met my old pal (so what if it is not a human being?). he was looking as good as a new one-without any dents or scratches. A carzonrent sticker is the only addition.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

ET power of Ideas @ Bengaluru

Few months back got an invite from Economic Times to visit their event, “power of ideas” as a guest blogger. I was in Chennai and the event happened in Bangalore, hence couldn’t make it. Few weeks back got the invite again and as I had a Bangalore visit planned and could squeeze some time to attend this, I had an opportunity to check out the event on 17th April at NIMHANS convention centre, Bangalore.
ET power of ideas banner
Honestly admitting, I didn’t have much idea about the event. ET power of ideas is an initiative started by ET and Angel Investing to bring out the entrepreneurs of the future. Anyone who thinks he/she has got a viable business idea and looking for investors could submit the same for consideration by a panel of experts. I understand that about 12000 business ideas were received from all over India (of which 4000+ were from Bengaluru). Of this 12k ideas, 1000 ideas were shortlisted by the panel of experts and these 1000 applicants would have a chance to present their case in person to the experts and investors, wherein they’ll be scrutinized for viability of the idea, passion of entrepreneurs, strength of the team, revenue model and other parameters.

For a moment I thought this is similar to But the difference as I understand is, while is for already established startups, ET power of ideas takes it from the very conceptual stage. The event I attended in Bangalore was part of second stage wherein most of the shortlisted applicants (of the 1000) participated.
Panel members
Before attending the event, I was of the opinion that I will get to see some budding entrepreneurs present their case before the panel. But it wasn’t so. The session only included a talk by Subhash Menon, Founder Chairman, MD & CEO Subex Azure, a panel discussion, another brief talk by Janesh of Robatah Robotics and Q&A Session.

Wasted some of time at the registration counter- as the event was scheduled to start at 4.30PM, I reached the venue by 4.15. The ladies manning the registration desk told me registration is not open yet. I walked around and came back after 10 minutes, only to see a mile long queue in front of registration counter. I stood in the line, my turn came after about 30-40 minutes. I was earlier told I need to present a copy of the mail I got from ET inviting me to the event- but I was let in after noting down my name and mobile number. Didn’t get the logic behind making everyone wait for an hour just to note down name and number-that could have been done online/they already had name and number of most of the participants. No welcome kit/information leaflet either. I was on my own to explore once I went in.

Subhash Menon- Founder Chairman, MD & CEO Subex AzureMr Subhash Menon talked on how difficult it was to convince prospective investors about the telecom fraud detection software product Subex was trying to build. There was a stereotyped notion that products are best developed in Silicon Valley/US and not in India by Indian companies, who are expected to focus on services. Subex had a very strong vision and belief in what they wanted to do and eventually managed to raise money by going public. “Today all Indian telecom companies, except BSNL are our customers” Mr. Menon proudly recalled. “We’ve heard that story a thousand times”- a former Subex employee responded when I told him I heard their boss speak at ET power of ideas. But if his talk can inspire at least one person each time, then I feel it is worth repeating it many more times.

(as I realized later, some of the photos taken in low light condition, from my seat far away from the dais, are distorted- Arun Bhat has explained in detail about camera shake-why this happens and how to avoid it. Be sure to read it)

Some key points I noted down during the panel discussion that followed Mr. Menon’s talk (Panel discussion was moderated by Pankaj Sharma of ET and some of the dignitaries were Mr. Sharad Sharma, CEO at Yahoo! India R&D, Mr. Harsh Ramesh Angeri, Head Strategy & Initiatives- HoneyWell, Mr. Puneet Vatsayan, Co-Founder Mobera Systems and others)
  • Cash Management: knowing when to spend and where is critical: When you’ve to build a product, invest in engineers. When you’ve to grow, invest on sales team. Avoid spending on office and other luxuries at the early stages (Kiruba Shankar has developed a concept called co-working, wherein lots of entrepreneurs share a common office space- for Rs 2500 per month I think one can rent a seat-far cheaper than setting up one’s own office)
  • Besides the business idea, it’s the team whose strength that investors look for. A not so great idea with a strong team might win, but a great idea with not so convincing team is unlikely to get a buy-in. Also its near impossible to claim that one will manage everything on his/her own without needing any other team member. Also if you can’t convince at least one more person to join you in your venture, chances are low that you will be able to convince an investor or customer
  • Claiming that “we don’t have any competition” usually hints that one hasn’t done enough market research. Substitute products/services, probability of customers changing their preferences/spending habit and many other factors need to be considered.
  • Recession is a right time to start a new venture in a sense. During good times everyone tides with the wave-but during recession only the strongest ones who can swim against the wave will survive and those who can survive a recession period can grow exponentially when good times return.
  • Do not feel you should be the smartest in the team-pair up with someone who is smarter. If you’re strong at development, partner with someone good at marketing. Let the skills complement.
  • Just the way you need a right investor, investors also will be looking for an ideal start up. So as long as you can project a win-win situation, getting investors attracted shouldn’t be difficult
  • Don’t be shy to dilute your stake (by offering equities)
I had to leave the venue at 7.15PM while Q&A session was in progress. Overall it was a good experience attending it.

Also read:
ET Power of Ideas Official site* ET power of ideas blog * Sandhya Ravishankar of ET NOW conducts workshop on broadcast journalism * Startup saturday at IIMB Bangalore * review * Entrepreneur Blues (a blog listing several startup stories)