Saturday, December 31, 2011

You are fined two COINs today

All items prepared for the day's feast are arranged in the prescribed order.  Head cook has checked the order list given to him with the items prepared for a second time and nodded his approval.  He has specifically checked the five special sweet items and signaled his clearance.  Plantain leaves are spread in the dining hall neatly in designated order.  Drinking water pots are kept with each leaf.  Neatly dressed assistants are ready for starting serving with the first signal.  Line Supervisors have taken position at the assigned spots.  Everyone is waiting for the Diwan to arrive.

The Diwan arrives in the dining hall with the guests and all guests take their respective places in the lines kept ready for serving food.  There is nobody to designate the seats and direct the guests there.  But the guests move swiftly and take their seats as if the seats were already shown to them before.  The head supervisor signals and the assistants start the service immediately and swiftly.  The pace of serving is neither too slow nor too fast, but just right.  The feast begins and the line supervisors are busy signalling the assistants to serve the items and special items among the guests.  No word is spoken but all directions are by signals so that the guests are free to carry on their talk without interruption of the other noises.  Words are exchanged between the guests in low tones and never becoming noisy.  Diwan is enjoying the food, but is also watching the quality of service and efficiency of the serving staff and supervisors.  The guests enjoy the sumptuous food which is up to the usual excellent standards.  The last item of curd rice is served and the guests get up after finishing the dinner and move towards the big vessels of water kept outside the dining hall for washing their hands.

The guests are now busy chewing the tender betel leaves with special betel nut pieces mixed with scented chunnam (lime).  everyone is appreciating the quality of food and service of the day.  Guests meet the Diwan one by one, express thanks for the invitation and leave the place.  By this time the cooks, supervisors and assistants have also had their food and wait for the call.  The Diwan comes and sits in his special chair which is kept ready now.  As soon as he sits, an assistant brings a silver plate with coins in them. Each coin is of one Anna, sixteen coins making a rupee.  The head cook, other cooks and assistants come to the Diwan one after the other and salute him.  Diwan looks at each of them, picks up the coins and hands over to them.  The number of coins handed over is matching his own assessment of the day's work by them.  Line supervisors are called in an order and similarly rewarded.   After the supervisor of Line 3, supervisor of line 5 is called and supervisor of line 4 is skipped.  In the end supervisor of line 4 is called and the Diwan tells him,  "You are fined two coins today".  The supervisor salutes and moves away.  Line supervisors had the duty of watching the guests and ensuring that any item liked by the guest, assessed based on the consumption and expression on their face while eating, is served to them again before they ask for them.  Supervisor of line 4 failed today in his duties and is punished for dereliction of duty.  This is only a warning and if he performs well next time he will be rewarded like others. If he fails again, he may be taken off duty forever.

A few years back I went to the corporate headquarters of a well known group in Bangalore.  I had to wait for a few minutes before the scheduled meeting.  A quarterly magazine of the company was lying on the table and I chanced to go through it.  One piece of writing in the magazine interested me and later on I did some more reading on the person mentioned in that article.  Several pieces of interesting information came out of these sources.  I have described the above scene as I have imagined from one such information.  T Ananda Rao, the Diwan in reference was fond of entertaining his guests with sumptuous food and used to arrange frequent feasts.  He had a system of rewarding and punishing the efficiency and inefficiency of his cooks and supervisors.

Exactly a hundred years ago, Tanjore  Ananda Rao was  the Diwan of Mysore (April 1909 to November 1912), during the period of His Highness Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV.  He came from a family of Diwans.  He was the eldest son of Tanjore Madhava Rao, who was the Diwan of Travancore, Indore and Baroda.  Madhava Rao's maternal uncle, T Venkata Rao was also a Diwan of Travancore state.

Both Venkata Rao and Madhava Rao were excellent administrators and are credited with initiating several welfare measures and administrative reforms.  T Madhava Rao's tenure as Diwan of Travancore is especially remembered for the excellent financial management he exhibited in nursing the financially sick state to sound financial base.  His financial skills in the area of Public finance and Taxation received appreciation from European Financial Experts and he was even called "Turgot of India", in comparison with the 18th century Financial Wizard of France and pioneer of Economic Liberalisation.

T Ananda Rao was himself a man of distinguished public service and worked in many capacities, including as Deputy Commissioner of Hassan and Mysore before becoming Diwan of Mysore state.  A dam at Shivanasamudra was constructed during his period, to start power generation.

There are two landmarks in Bangalore reminding us of these able administrators.  There is a choultry in the name of  "Rai Raya Rai Venkataraya Choultry" in Pampa Mahakavi Road, Chamarajpet named after Diwan T Venkata Rao.  Ananda Rao circle near Bangalore Railway Station, named after Diwan T Ananda Rao has now disappeared and has become "Ananda Rao Flyover".  The name may even be changed after one of the present day dynastic rulers as has happened with many other landmarks in the country during last few decades.

To my knowledge, there is no landmark in Bangalore named after Diwan T Madhava Rao.  There is a "Madhava Rao" circle in Basavanagudi, near M N Krishna Rao park, which is confused with Diwan Madhava Rao's name.  Madhava Rao circle is actually named after Prof. B S Madhava Rao who was a Professor of Mathematics and Principal of Bangalore's famous Central College.  There is a  Diwan Madhava Rao road near Krishna Rao Park, which is also actually named after V P Madhava Rao, who was Diwan of Mysore between 1906-09, immediately before T Ananda Rao and not his father T Madhava Rao.    Unfortunately, Bangalore's changing shape and uncontrolled traffic is swallowing many such landmarks.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Promise, I will be there

Some bizarre incidents which defy the ordinary and border on the super natural happen in every one's life.   Many explanations could be given to them in accordance with one's own philosophy and outlook to life.  I was a witness to one such incident some fifty years ago; when I was still in school.

My father received an invitation from his Uncle in Kengeri  to go over there to participate in a three day long function.  He had probably finished his daily reading of "Kumaravyasa Bharata" and "Jaimini Bharata" and the function was to celebrate the occasion.  It was a holiday period for the school and he was free from the school work.  I was also idling at home in the holidays and he took me along with him.  I was fond of going by train and hence we went by bus from Kanakapura to Ramanagaram, a distance of sixteen miles which used to take a little more than an hour since the bus stopped whenever anyone on the road signaled with his hand.  The distance of 20 miles from Ramanagaram to Kengeri by train again took one hour with stops at Bidadi and Hejjala.  We participated in the function for three days and our plan was to stay there for a week.

On the fourth day I was woken up from my deep sleep early in the morning.  My father told me to get ready quickly as we had to get back urgently.  I was surprised by his urgency, but one would never question his decision.  I was rather disappointed over the cutting short of my trip during holidays but got ready in a few minutes.  We usually took the bus from Kengeri to Kalasiplayam and then another bus to Kanakapura.  Strangely on that day he chose the bus to Majestic, near Bangalore City Railway Station.  Bangalore's main Bus Stand opposite to the City Railway Station had not yet come into existence then.  I followed him without question.  Once we got down from the city bus in Bangalore, he moved westward instead of our usual Bus Stop on the east side.  I gently asked him as to why he was going in the opposite direction.  He told me to look out for bus to Govindanapalya and he would tell me the reason after we got into the bus.  There was no bus to Govindanapalya, but some conductor informed that we have to go towards Jalahalli side and then walk for one or two miles before reaching this place.  We got into the bus and sat down.  I looked up to him and he told by way of explanation, "We have to go and see Narasakka urgently". 

Narasakka was my mother's aunt, my grand mother's elder sister.  Being the elder sister of his Mother-in-law, my father going to see her was no surprise.  But why the urgency today, I did not understand.  Narasakka was a very peculiar person to look at with her entire body being a twisted mass of bones.  Her legs were stretched on the side, body sprawled on the ground and only the chest and neck above the ground.  She could never stand up or sit on a chair.  Her hands were very active and she had a commanding presence despite the Sphinx like appearance.  Her voice was very strong and authoritative and she could move swiftly on the ground by using her hands, lifting the body and dragging the legs, all in motion.  Despite her peculiar appearance and limitations of movement she was always doing some work or the other; cleaning grains, cleaning or arranging utensils, keeping guard over valuables, assigning work to farm workers and supervising them and many such things.  She was the model of an efficient administrator and nothing escaped her attention.  It was indeed surprising as to how she commanded total submission and reverence from all others.     She was the eldest of the four siblings, followed by two brothers and my grandmother in between.  She spent  all his life with her youngest brother, my uncle.  Her name was Narasama and she could never get married with such an appearance, but she was loved by everyone in the family and the villagers wherever she lived, everybody calling her affectionately as Narasakka.  We lived in the same street for several years before my uncle moved to a village north of Bangalore.  On the day of her departure to Bangalore, every single person known to the family came to see her and many knew that they may not be able to see her again.  Well past sixty and frail in her body she was dignity personified in bidding farewell to her long time friends.  Someone mentioned that Ramu (meaning my father) was the only one who did not come to see her.  She responded by saying that she knew Ramu was out of station, but will come and see her in Bangalore.

When  we reached our uncle's house in Govindanapalya after making enquiries about directions to the village, it was about 11 AM.  When we looked through the open large window as to whether we had reached the right house, we saw Narasakka lying on the bed and our uncle holding "Gangajal" in his hand (water from the holy river Ganges kept in a sealed small copper pot) indicating the time has come for her soul to leave the physical body.  I was too young to understand the real happening, but knew enough to understand the situation.  I ran to my aunt who embraced me with moist eyes.  My uncle told in Narasakka's ears that "Ramu had come".  She opened her eyes once and saw her beloved brother and Ramu.  There was a smile of contentment and a brightness in her eyes.  Uncle opened the pot and dropped Gangajal with Tulasi (leaves of a holy plant) in her mouth and passed on the pot to Ramu who did the same.  Seconds later Narasakka was no more and left on her heavenly abode.  Cremation was done in the next few hours.

Next morning we were on our way back to Kanakapura.  While sitting in the bus my father told me: "I saw her a few days before they moved to Bangalore. She expressed her disappointment that I would not be with her when she breathes her last.  I told her, "My Promise, I will be there.  Do not worry".  Yesterday night I felt she was asking me, "Ramu, when are you coming?".  I realised her time was near and she was probably waiting for me.  I am glad we left in a hurry and reached just in time.  I fulfilled my promise yesterday.  Paying our last respects to a departing soul is one of the most sacred duty in our lives".  Generally not a person to show much emotions, he could not speak further.

Whenever I ponder over the event, I am baffled as to how he got the message and proceeded to see her that morning.  There was no letter or telegram or trunk call.  No messenger was sent by them.  Yet he got the message and acted.  My father, uncle and aunt are no more.  But my three cousins and myself who were witnesses to such a remarkable episode in our lives fondly remember the bondage between Narasakka, her brother, my aunt and my father.  This may appear somewhat too personal and emotional to share with others, but that is how life is!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This is a GOLDen Girl

Most of the news items nowadays relate to Film Stars, Politicians or Sports persons.  Achievements of anyone with a humble background is lost in the maze of the Paparazzi and media blitz.

There is a very old story which everyone has heard.   Some credit it to Akbar and Birbal.  Some to Krishnadevaraya and Tenali Rama.  Some others to another King and his Minister.   It does not really matter.  There is no harm in recollecting the story before I actually dwell on today's subject.

A King and his Minister were touring in the villages of their state, in disguise to find out the state of affairs and how their subjects were perceiving the administration.   They stumbled upon a very old man carrying water in a pot from a distant well to saplings in freshly planted pits.   King and the Minister watched him for some time from a distance.  The old man  was weak and tired but continued to bring water from the well and water the saplings.   The King felt like teasing the old man.  He moved his horse closer to the old man and the Minister followed him.  Sitting on his horse, the King spoke to the old man.

"You have planted these saplings just now.   You are bringing water from the far away well to water them.  You are already very old.  Do you really believe that you will live to eat fruits from these trees?"

The old man looked up and smiled.  "I am old but not a fool.  I know very well that I will never be alive till these saplings grow and yield fruits.   Look at the big trees laden with fruits there.  My ancestors planted them and I enjoyed the fruits from those trees.  I have planted these saplings.  Someone in future, may be grandson or great grandson will enjoy those fruits.   My work is for posterity and not for me".

The king was pleased by the wise words of the old man.  He looked at the Minister.  The Minister always carried small bags of gold coins.  He understood the King's mind and extended a bag of gold coins.   The King handed over the bag of coins to the old man.   The old man took the bag, saw the contents and looked up at the King with a mischievous smile.

"I am a very lucky old man.  These saplings have yielded fruits as soon as I have planted them!  And that too not ordinary fruits, but golden fruits!!", he said.

The King was mightily pleased and again looked at the Minister.  One more gold coin bag was passed on to the old man through the King.

"Oh my Lord, look at my good fortune.   All these saplings will yield fruits only once a year.  But these saplings have yielded golden fruits twice already!", the old man said.

The King looked at the Minister again, even more pleased with the old man.  The minister handed over a third bag of coins which the King passed on to the old man.  Before the old man could speak again, the Minister said:  "This man is not just old; he is also very wise.  He is witty and will exhaust all our coin bags if we stay here for some more time.  He has been amply rewarded.  It is better we are on our way".

The King smiled, patted the old man on his back and moved ahead with the Minister behind him.

This was just one of the hundreds of stories I have heard and told over the years.   But its real import was brought home by a news item today.  Zeeba Bhuktiyar is the daughter of Basheer Ahamed, an agricultural labourer and marginal farmer from the small village of Gullanpet near Charmadi Ghat in Chickmagalur District, Karnataka.  She studied at a High School in the small town of Aldur and secured 88% marks in SSLC (10th Standard).  She went to Alva's college in Moodubidare for her Pre-University course and secured 70% marks.  Motivated by the hard work of her father in the agricultural fields, she took up Horticulture as her subject for further study.   She went to the Moodubidare Agricultural College for the Degree course.   The rest, as they say, is history.

Horticulture University, Bagalkot was established by a Special Ordinance of Government of Karnataka in November 2008.  The first batch of degree holders received the degrees on 26th December 2011 in the first ever Convocation of the University.  Zeeba had secured 89.60% in her degree examinations and passed with distinction.  28 Gold Medals were awarded at the convocation.  Zeeba got 15 Gold Medals and only the remaining 13 were left for the other students.  Her photograph with 15 Gold Medals around her neck is one of the finest photographs I have ever seen. 

The wise old man's saplings yielded repeated gold coin bags.   Zeeba has reaped a big bunch of Gold Medals as a reward for her and her family's hard work.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vrushabhavati was a RIVER then

I had made a reference to Vrushabhavati river in a blog in September titled "Gangecha Yamunechaiva...".   That reference was to the present day Vrushabhavati, or more to what we have made her today.   But it was not always so.  She was actually a river once, a river which provided lifeline to many villages on its path.   A river which was providing drinking water (!) and source of irrigation to many agricultural fields on its banks.   A river in which children played while women folk washed their utensils and clothes.   I have seen the river as a young boy, by which time it had ceased to be a source of drinking water, but still used for washing utensils and clothes.

Fifty years ago, Kengeri was a small village situate ten miles outside Bangalore (distances were actually measured from the Kalasipalyam Bus Stand in those days), on the Bangalore-Mysore highway on the banks of the river Vrushabhavati. The present satellite town had not even been thought of and there were agricultural fields between Bangalore and Kengeri.  Bangalore University offices functioned from the red buildings near Mysore Bank circle, inside Central College premises.  "Jnana Bharati" was not in existence and that area was like a semi forest.  Trains running between Bangalore and Mysore and BTS (Bangalore Transport Service) buses were the means of travel between Bangalore and Kengeri.   It is said that the name Kengeri has come from the two Kannada words "Tengu" and "Keri" meaning "Coconut" and "street" respectively and Tengeri has changed to Kengeri over the years.  The village was surrounded by a number of coconut trees, especially along the banks of the river, and some of them have still survived the onslaught of the civilisation.   It was also known for Sericulture and Mulberry gardens lined the river banks.   My father used to write to his uncle in Kengeri on Post Cards and give them to me fill the address part on them as a learning exercise.  Sometimes the letters were on "Reply Post Cards", two post cards attached to each other.  One card carried the outward message and the attached blank card with sender's address duly filed in was to be used for the reply.  This ensured prompt reply as there was no need to go to Post Office for buying a post card and thereby obviating delay. The Postal address used to be Kengeri, Bangalore South Taluk, unlike the PIN Code 560060 now. 

Kengeri Railway Station was half a mile away from the village and there was a Railway gate between the village and the station, unlike the huge flyovers of today.  There was a well in an agriculture land opposite to the Railway Station.  Its water was sweet and good for drinking unlike other wells in the village which mostly had salty water.  My father used to tell me that the water from that well had medicinal properties as well.  The Railway line from Kengeri to Bangalore City station was on a steep gradient and the steam engines in use did not have the capacity to pull up trains to the City station.  An additional engine was being stationed in Kengeri Railway Station and attached to "Chamundi Express", which was a popular train between Bangalore and Mysore, on the journey from Kengeri to Bangalore City.  On the reverse direction, the additional engine would be detached at Kengeri and wait for the next train coming from Mysore!.  Villagers from the nearby huts used to collect the excess hot water discharged from this engine in their pots and buckets for their use.

Vrushabhavati river, a tributary of Arkavathy was still considered a river and used for washing clothes and utensils.  Malleswaram extension in Bangalore was always a popular and prestigious area to live in Bangalore, like Basavanagudi in the south.  Malleswaram derives its name from the famous "Kaadu Malleswara Temple", as the temple was in the middle of a Kaadu or forest.  The temple is still available for devotees, but there is a concrete forest around it now.  Vrushabhavati is believed to have originated in a pond near this temple, in the then forest.  We lived in a village on the banks of the river Arkavathy and Vrushabhavati was close to our heart.  My grandmother came from Kengeri and hence my father's childhood days were spent on the banks of Vrushabhavati.   His mother's younger sister (Chikkamma) and two younger brothers (maternal uncles) lived there and my father used to make regular trips to visit them.  He had lost his mother at an early age and he used to tell me that the affection showered on him by these three in his childhood as well as in later years was invaluable to him.  He would often take me with him to visit them.  His uncles were of his age group only and the younger one was born in the same year as my father.    One incident he told me that happened nearly eighty years ago summarise the lively existence of Vrushabhavati river.

It was in August-September of 1928.  My father had gone with his mother to Kengeri for Gowri-Ganesha festivals.  He and his younger uncle were both nine year old kids.   Festival was celebrated with all enthusiasm in the morning and there was a sumptuous lunch with Hoolige and Kadabu, special dishes for these festivals.  After the first batch of lunch was served, arrangements were being made for the second batch.  My father and his uncle had their lunch in the first batch and immediately proceeded to their headquarters - the big banyan tree on the banks of the Vrushabhavati; the point at which the river turned at right angles near the village.   There was only knee deep water in the river and the two got into it for their usual play.  There used to be flash floods in the river whenever it rained heavily in the upper parts of Bangalore.   Suddenly someone working in the nearby fields shouted that there was a heavy flow of water in the river and to be careful.  My father was near the bank and ran towards the tree.   His uncle was in the middle of the river and before he could make his mind as to which bank he should go, the flash flood swept him away.  Sensing that the boy was in trouble two villagers working in the nearby fields jumped in the river to rescue him.   Taken aback by the sudden development and overcome by fear my father hid behind the tree.

My grandmother and great grandmother had just sat for their lunch when someone informed that there was a flash flood in the river and one of the boys of their family was washed away in the river.  My grandmother ran in one breath to the river without knowing whether her brother or son was in trouble.  Closely followed by great grandmother wondering whether it was her son or grandson who was washed away.  They were both joined by other womenfolk, trying to console them.  Within a few minutes there was a big crowd near the river bank.  One Ibrahim sab, an expert swimmer of the village, appeared on the opposite bank and shouted that the boy caught in the middle of the river has been rescued by him and is safely lying on the other bank.  Having heard this my father mustered courage to come out from the shelter of the tree and join his mother and grandmother.  After a few hours the floods subsided and Ibrahim brought the uncle safely to the other bank.  There were the usual admonitions and firm warnings and life went on as usual thereafter.

We have flash floods even now in the Vrishabhavati valley during the rainy season.  There are news items that somebody fell in the storm water drain and was washed away.  But Vrushabhavati is no longer the river it was.   Heavy rain in Bangalore is a welcome relief as it cleans the main sewer system and students in R V College of Engineering can breathe easy for a few days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The big fight and BANANA bunch

Coconut and Banana are two great fruits and daily life hardly moves in Southern India without touching these fruits.  No function or festival is complete without use of banana fruits and leaves.  Banana trunks decorate all pandals and food served in banana leaf bestows its own warmth and festivity to the occasions.  This is also true of many other parts of India and Asia.   Banana is a popular fruit all over the world and consumed due to rich carbohydrate, protein, vitamin and mineral content.   There are many different variety and of varying sizes and tastes including some varieties used as vegetable as well.  Every single part of the banana plant is used for some purpose or other just like coconut tree.  One banana trunk provides fruit only once in its life time and hence the famous saying in Kannada:  "ಬಾಳೋನಿಗೆ ಒಂದು ಮಾತು; ಬಾಳೆಗೆ ಒಂದು ಗೊನೆ!", meaning "A person who  lives  in a truthful and righteous path lives by his words once given,  just like banana has one bunch of fruit in its lifetime".

Banana fruits develop from the banana heart (stem), in a large hanging cluster known as a bunch; each bunch has many tiers, sometimes as many as 18 to 20, and each tier has several fruits.   A bunch can have varying number fruits  and a big bunch can have as many as 200 fruits.   Whenever I see a big banana bunch hanging in a shop, I remember a fight between two distinguished persons in the society and my being caught in the crossfire.   This is an incident that happened two decades ago when I was working as a Branch Manager of the Bank in a medium sized city.

A senior officer retired from service after a long and distinguished tenure in the Government and returned to his small city for settling down after retirement.   He had some lands and own house on the outskirts of the city.  His wife had already established a society for training and helping rural artisans to secure gainful employment.  Many villagers from neighborhood areas were getting the benefit  of the training and marketing support given by the society.  Both the retired official and his wife were highly respected and revered in the surrounding areas.  With the full time support of the retired officer, the community was expected to get full benefits of the different developmental programs of the government for various weaker sections of the society.  During our marketing efforts we could establish contact with them and secure their multiple accounts opened with the bank.  In short, the portfolio of these individuals and the society was a valuable source of business for the Bank.

One of the traders in the city had an account with the bank since the branch was opened in the place and the portfolio of the trader and his associates was also a valuable business source for the bank.  The owner of the firm was a highly knowledgeable person and also holding a representative post in the local trade body.  He was an expert in the various laws and banking practices and would catch any mistake by the bank in the conduct of the accounts immediately.  He was also a personal friend and we would discuss some of the latest developments occasionally over a cup of coffee in the evenings.

Those were the days of manual clearing of cheques.  Cheques deposited by various customers were aggregated by bank branches and then meet in a place called "Clearing House" to exchange them and settle the difference in the aggregate amounts receivable or payable through accounts maintained with the Clearing Bank.  Any returned cheque, for insufficiency of funds or any other reason was being settled in a smaller clearing in the evening.   Once the time for returning of cheques is past all unreturned  cheques were treated as paid and the customers were free to withdraw the amounts at their convenience.

One day I received a call from the Branch Manager of another Bank requesting us to accept a return of cheque outside the clearing and across our counters.   Though this is an exception, such requests are sometimes made and met also as a matter of  co-operation among the banks due to operational reasons.  The cheque to be returned was presented through  the account of the trader friend.  I informed the banker friend that as the prescribed time was already over, I could accept his request only if my customer agrees to it and I would seek his concurrence before acting.  When I contacted the trader customer, he categorically said that  the cheque should not be accepted at any cost and any contrary action is at our risk and responsibility and he would hold us responsible for the value of the cheque.  He was well within his rights to take such a stand and  I conveyed to the other Banker that we were unable to accept the request.   About an hour later the Banker friend telephoned again and informed me that the cheque was issued by the retired senior officer who was also our client and they had personally requested us to accept the return as a special case.  We again conveyed our inability to meet the request.

Later in the evening, the retired Officer and his wife came to the bank to plead their case.   They had purchased certain items for the society from the trader and now they wanted to return some of them and exchange some others.  The trader was not accepting the proposition and they wanted our help in coming out of the situation.   I was now caught between two valuable clients of the Bank.  If no action is taken, Society clients will be unhappy.  If acted, trader client will be unhappy besides holding us responsible for the value of transaction.   I requested the society friends to wait till the next morning to enable me to explore some solution to their problem.  Next morning I met the trader friend in his shop and pleaded the case of the society.  Initially he firmly declined any retraction in his position and stuck to his guns.   After some more persuasion and explaining my own personal friendship with both the parties he agreed to take back the items with some conditions.   With this window of opportunity I contacted the Society friends to meet the trader and sort out the matter amicably.  By evening I received phone calls from both the parties that the matter was resolved amicably.   Trader friend thanked me for recognizing his rights and acting fairly and the Society people thanked for getting them out of the jam.   There was no need for returning the cheque and both banks were not in the picture in the settlement between the two parties.

A week later I got a call from the Society Secretary that they have sent me a small banana bunch grown in their lands as a token of appreciation for resolving the issue.  When the banana bunch arrived on my table it was no small bunch, but had 20 tiers with nearly 200 fruits.  The big bunch was hung in the stationery room, with full packing to provide protection from attack by rats in the night.  After two days the fruits were fully ripe and ready for consumption.  The bunch was hung near the cashier's cabin and all customers visiting the branch that day were given one fruit.  The reports were unanimous; the fruits were very tasty.  Some customers used to ask me later as to when they would get the fruit again.   I would jocularly tell them that it would be when the next dispute is amicably settled.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Main street of America

Historic Route-66, also known as "Main Street of America" and  "Will Rogers Highway" is a nearly 2,400 mile or 4000 kilometer long road in USA, from Chicago in Illinois to Los Angeles in California. It was considered as "Main Street of America" in view of its importance for development of trade and commerce in the early decades of twentieth century. It was also known as "Will Rogers Highway" in recognition of Oklahoma's favorite son, Will Rogers, American cowboy, humorist, comedian and film actor. The road from Chicago to Los Angeles passes through Springfield, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Flagstaff and was also refereed as the "Great Diagonal Way".  It passes through three time zones and eight states; Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The route was commissioned in 1926, by picking up as many bits and pieces of roads as possible of the then existing roads. When it was commissioned, only 800 miles out of the 2400 miles was paved.  It was paved end to end only by 1937.

Cyrus Stevens Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma is considered as the father of Route-66. The route connected rural farmers in the mid-west to the cities in the north like Chicago and the west coast cities like Los Angeles. Many books have been written about Route-66 and there are Route-66 clubs to protect its heritage. Inter State routes replaced the historic route and it was officially decommissioned in 1985. Current maps do not show Route-66. But anyone traveling in the areas served by this road is reminded of the famous Route 66 by the various items sold in the shops carrying Route 66 memorabilia. Route-66 was also the name of a popular TV series run during 1960 to 1964. There was also a hit song on Route 66 written by Bobby Troup and performed by legends like Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones. The great role played by Route-66 in the economic growth of the areas it served is a part of history.

We had an occasion to travel on a part of this famous route in the in June 2005. After visiting Grand Canyon, we started our long journey towards St. Louis by road, which was to be covered in three days with halts at Tucumcari (New Mexico) and Tulsa (Oklahoma).  On the 25th June 2005, we started after an early breakfast and traveled on the famous Route 66 from Williams all the way up to St. Louis, covering the distance in 3 days. At one place we stopped to visit an Indian shop by the roadside. It was a shop displaying many rare items relating to American-Indian culture and items found in the Grand Canyon and Badlands area.  Some of the petrified stone blocks were quite big and were shining like polished granite and marbles.

Petrified wood are remnants of giant trees from ancient forests of the Triassic period, over 200 million years old and these logs turned from wood to rock after the trees were buried under the layers of sand and silt. In some petrified rocks, microscopic structure of the wood was preserved during the process and is visible on close examination while in some others the cellular structure of the wood is completely lost.  Petrified wood displays a variety of colors resulting from the minerals it contains – pine quartz for white and grey, iron for the reds and yellow, brown, blues and green, and carbon and manganese for the black.  There is a "Petrified Forest National Park"  in north-eastern Arizona, near to Grand Canyon, where the legacy of petrified forests is preserved and it affords wonderful sight seeing including petrified desert, wild life and plants. Above photo (taken from Internet) gives a view of the petrified wood crystals and a testimony to the nature's abundant surprises for us.

We took some photos of the petrified wood displayed in the Indian shop and continued the journey with the usual lunch and coffee stops and reached Tucumcari by evening. We stayed overnight there and resumed the journey next day. We  passed through the beautiful Oklahoma City. Journey was enjoyable and we reached Tulsa by evening of 26th. On 27th June we left Tulsa after breakfast and continued our Journey along the Route-66.  On the way we had snacks in the world's largest McDonald's in Vinita, Oklahoma. This outlet is also known as "McDonald's Glass House Restaurant". Located on the Will Rogers Turnpike of I-44, this 29,135 square feet large outlet has a beautiful building with a statue of Will Rogers. A board in the outlet claims that it is the largest McDonalds outlet in the world and the second and third biggest are in Beijing and Moscow respectively.  We also visited a huge factory store next to the McDonald's. Above photo (taken from internet) shows the statue of Will rogers in front of the McDonald's Glass House Restaurant.

As we neared St. Louis it started raining very heavily and visibility was not even up to a few feet. Large pieces of ice were falling on the car and the road and the hailstorm continued for more than an hour. Nature showed us its limited fury when we where in the middle of the highway and cleared after a few jhalaks!  We reached St. Louis by evening, had supper and rested for the day. Had the rain not interrupted the journey, we could have taken a look at the famous Steel Arch of St. Louis in the evening, but it had to wait for the next day. Journey from Tulsa to St. Louis was of about 700 kilometers and was covered in about 8 hours despite rain interruption.

Our journey of 2400 kilometers along the famous Route-66 took about 20 hours of actual driving, net of stops for rest and refreshments in between. It ended in St. Louis  as we moved away from the famous route on the next day, towards Indianapolis.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is LOVE?

When we open our "Inbox" we often find a number of unwanted messages and forwards.  Many of them are deleted even before opening them because we have no time to read them.  And also the perennial fear of viruses.   We may also curse senders of such messages while unceremoniously deleting them.   Of course, others may also be cursing us for similar reasons at the same time.   One good thing about the old mail system was that the sender had to pay postage.  Unfortunately, even that constraint is not there now.

It is not always unwanted stuff alone.   Sometimes we do get meaningful and informative matter also.  These messages or stories are left in the "Inbox" for future reference.   One office had a lot of old records occupying large volume of space.   In-charge of the office wanted to destroy the papers to make way for future incoming papers.   He wrote to the higher authorities seeking permission to destroy the old papers.  He knew the requirements of bureaucracy for approving such requests as he himself was earlier working in the higher office and remembered how he was treating such requests when sitting at the other end.   He made a proper report with details of why the papers were not required and why their destruction was necessary.   Enclosing therewith details of papers to be destroyed, period-wise as well as subject-wise.   The voluminous report and the request was duly received at the higher office.   As is their practice, the higher office wanted to reject the request and close the matter.   But the reference was not providing any scope for rejection.  Higher office approved destruction of all unwanted records, as there was no alternative, subject to two conditions.   First, to destroy only unwanted papers after keeping a photocopy of all such papers safely for future reference.   Second, to keep the expenditure for photocopying at the minimum and allotting the work to lowest bidder after obtaining competitive quotations.   The lower office  rued the action of making reference for destruction.   They could not keep quiet also; there would be regular reminders for confirmation of compliance of approval already issued!

This is a story I received as a "forward" six years ago.  It was safely hibernating in the "Inbox".   I do not know the author or where was it published.  I am repeating it as I have received it.

"How long will you be poring over that newspaper? Will you come here right away and make your darling daughter eat her food?"

I tossed the paper away and rushed to the scene.  My only daughter Sindhu looked frightened.  Tears were welling up in her eyes.  In front of her was a bowl filled to its brim with Curd Rice.

Sindhu is a nice child, quite intelligent for her age.  She had just turned eight.  She particularly detested Curd Rice.   My mother and my wife are orthodox, and believe firmly in the 'cooling effects' of Curd Rice!   I cleared my throat, and picked up the bowl.   "Sindhu darling, why don't you take a few mouthful of this Curd Rice?   Just for Dad's sake, dear.  And, if you don't, your Mom will shout at me"

I could sense my wife's scowl behind my back.  Sindhu softened a bit, and wiped her tears with the back of her hands. "OK, Dad. I will eat - not just a few mouthfuls, but the whole lot of this.  But, you should...' Sindhu hesitated.  "Dad, if I eat this entire Curd Rice, will you give me whatever I ask for?"
"Oh sure, darling".
"Promise".   I covered the pink soft hand extended by my daughter with mine, and clinched the deal.
"Ask Mom also to give a similar promise", my daughter insisted.  My wife slapped her hand on Sindhu's, muttering "Promise", without any emotion.

Now I became a bit anxious.  "Sindumma, you shouldn't insist on getting a computer or any such expensive items. Dad does not have that kind of money right now. OK?"
"No, Dad. I do not want anything expensive".  Slowly and painfully, she finished eating the whole quantity of curd rice.  I was silently angry with my wife and my mother for forcing my child eat something that she detested.
After the ordeal was through, Sindhu came to me with her eyes wide with expectation. All our attention was on her. "Dad, I want to have my head shaved off, this Sunday!" was her demand!

"Atrocious!" shouted my wife, "a girl child having her head shaved off? Impossible!"
"Never in our family!" my mother rasped.  "She has been watching too much of television. Our culture is getting totally spoiled with these TV programs!"

"Sindhumma, why don't you ask for something else?  We will be sad seeing you with a clean-shaven head"
"No, Dad.  I do not want anything else", Sindhu said with finality.

"Please, Sindhu, why don't you try to understand our feelings?",  I tried to plead with her.

"Dad, you saw how difficult it was for me to eat that Curd Rice", Sindhu was in tears.   "And you promised to grant me whatever I ask for.  Now, you are going back on your words.  Was it not you who told me the story of King Harishchandra, and its moral that we should honour our promises no matter what?"

It was time for me to call the shots.  Our promise must be kept.
"Are you out your mind?" chorused my mother and wife.
"No. If we go back on our promises, she will never learn to honour her own.  Sindhu, your wish will be fulfilled."

With her head clean-shaven, Sindhu had a round-face, and her eyes looked big & beautiful.

On Monday morning, I dropped her at her school.  It was a sight to watch my hairless Sindhu walking towards her classroom.   She turned around and waved.  I waved back with a smile.  Just then, a boy alighted from a car, and shouted, "Sindhuja, please wait for me!"

What struck me was the hairless head of that boy. "May be, that is the in-stuff, "I thought.

"Sir, your daughter Sindhuja is great indeed!"  Without introducing herself, a lady got out of the car, and continued, "That boy who is walking along with your daughter is my son Harish.   He is suffering from ... ... leukemia."

She paused to muffle her sobs.   "Harish could not attend the school for the whole of the last month. He lost all his hair due to the side effects of the chemotherapy.  He refused to come back to school fearing the unintentional but cruel teasing of the schoolmates.  Sindhuja visited him last week, and promised him that she will take care of the teasing issue.  But, I never imagined she would sacrifice her lovely hair for the sake of my son!   Sir, you and your wife are blessed to have such a noble child as your daughter".

I stood transfixed.  And then, I wept.  "My little Angel, will you grant me a boon?  Should there be another birth for me, will you be my mother, and teach me what Love is ........!!!!!!!!!!?"


I considered this  "Forward" received six years ago, as worth saving and sharing.  Do you?

Monday, December 19, 2011

PAAYASAM, Coconut and Coffee

Paayasa is a popular sweet dish of South India.  Actually, Paayasam is a family of sweet dishes with dozens of variants.  Usually made of Jaggery or Gud as a main ingredient and other components thrown in, it is a must dish in festivals and functions.  Another popular dish, Kheer, is also a member of this family.  The basic taste also varies in preparations in different states and regions.  Coastal Karnataka has its own popular varieties with Green gram or its Dal as one of the components.   They also have payasam dishes with jack fruit, mango and sweet potatoes.  Kerala has its own varieties of payasam and palpayasam of Guruvayooru is quite famous and very tasty.  So also with Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh.  With a literally rich addition of coconut, cashew nuts, badam and dry grapes,  Payasam is a big hit with children and elders alike.

When we were kids we were taught two customs or practice with payasams.   First one is that one should never say "No" to payasam when it is being served.  At least a small quantity should be accepted.  Second is one's plate should never be lifted or cleaned with  the hand after eating payasam in a plate.  The hand should at least be washed before cleaning the plates.  I suspect this was a ploy to prevent guests from cleaning their own plates.   By the time the guest washes his or her hand and returns, someone from the host's household would have taken away the used palates for washing.  Many times someone would say he does not want payasam because he or she is full and there is no place for next helping.  Then the eldest person or the one serving payasam would remind us of the Coconut bag and rava or soji (also called semolina in the west).   When a Gunny bag is filled with coconut and there is no place for adding a single coconut, still several Kilograms or pounds of semolina can be easily added in the bag.   Similarly, the stomach may be totally full, but it will still find some place for the liquid or semi-liquid payasam!   It was probably one way of exhausting all payasam prepared for the day.  In the days of no refrigerators, payasam would get stale quickly and any argument for full usage when it is good for consumption was just and fine.

The example of  gunny bag filled with coconuts and adding semolina or rava in it was also quoted in several other contexts, say for example making place for one more person in a crowed bus or train compartment.   Or scheduling one more visit in a crowed program.

A friend sent me a story by e-mail nearly five years ago.   It is a popular story and is still making rounds. It is of the Mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.  It says that when things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.  When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.  The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.  The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents.  Take time to get medical checkups.  Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18.  There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter.  Set your priorities.  The rest is just sand." 

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.   The Professor smiled.  "I am glad you asked.   It just goes to show you that no matter what your life may seem, there's always room  for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend".

Whether it is the "Full stomach and a small helping of Payasam" or "Gunny bag filled with coconut and semolina" or "Mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee", the message is same. There is always time for a friend, however much busy you may be otherwise. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

CORN PALACE of Mitchell

On our journey from Minneapolis towards Rapid city in South Dakota, we reached a town in South Dakota called "MITCELL" in the afternoon.

Mitchell is known for its famous "CORN PALACE".   The corn palace was established in the year 1892 and is now 119 years old.   Corn Palace is the brain child of two distinguished gentlemen, L O Gale and Louis E Beckwith.   Their desire to provide a place for the farming community to gather and enjoy a fall festival – to celebrate a climax to crop-growing season and harvest, before the long chill of winter sets in the area.  It was desired to be a place to stage entertainment, place for display of products and competition to give prizes to progressive farmers who excelled in crop production.  Col. Rohe of Lawrence, Kansas was selected to decorate such a place and Mitchell at that time was only a 12-year old town with 300 inhabitants. Funding was by local community and the place became a popular center for festivity among the nearby areas. Originally a wooden structure measuring 100'x66' fully covered with corn was constructed and later due to large participation of local community another 100'x42 feet area was added.  There were no celebrations between 1894 and 1899 due to drought.  The corn palace was relocated in 1905 and a third palace was built in 1921.   A general overhaul was done in 1964 and brought to its present location and extended to an area of 125'x145'.   The corn palace is now a popular tourist spot in South Dakota and has put the small town with a present population of 15,000 on the tourist map.   Located on the popular US-90 highway, it attracts nearly a million visitors every year.

The present corn place is a fine structure and more than a home for a farm festival: it is a practical structure adaptable to many purposes – conventions, industrial exhibitions, dances, stage shows, meetings and other activities of civic interests.  The civic auditorium in the palace is made use of as a multipurpose hall and available for any group to hold a large event.  There is a basketball arena within the palace and the annual match between Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University in the winter is a major event in the area.   Rides and Carnival attractions are made available on festival occasions.   A gift shop is located within the palace and local artifacts are displayed for sale.   Proceeds from the gift shop are used to improve the palace and redecorate the same.  Photographs of the palace with decoration of earlier years are displayed along the walls of the palace.

Only native corns of the South Dakota region like Maize, Oats, Barley, and local grasses are used to decorate the palace.  Each year a different theme is used to decorate the palace with different colored grains – red, purple, yellow, white, calico and other colors to make it as the agricultural show of the world.   3000 bushels of grain is required for decorating the palace and entire corn is contributed by the local community. Corn and grass together give different colors like white, red, yellow, blue, pink etc. and a beautiful sight to the visitors.   The palace is illuminated at night and cultural festivals are held.   Birds feed on the corn during winter and the Corn Palace has earned a name as the world's largest bird feeder!

We were taken round the palace in a 20-minute guided tour.  The guide explained the history and significance of the Corn Palace .  After some more time in the palace we purchased a few small items in the gift shop and came out of the palaceThere is a Doll Museum near the palace displaying more than 4800 old and new dolls which is worth visiting.   There is also a Pre-historic Indian Village Museum and Research Centre in the area.

Among the purchases we made in Mitchell was a set of three T-shirts for ten dollars. The T-shirts have a logo of the STURGIS Motorcycle Race. These T-shirts evoked inquiries later on  in different places and people asked whether I am a motorcycle enthusiast and take part in Sturgis Rally.  Sturgis is a place in South Dakota which holds an annual Motor cycle Rally.

Harley-Davidson Motor cycles are very popular and are custom made to meet the requirements of individual customers.  In one rest area I met a man who was vigorously polishing his Harley-Davidson motor cycle.  I asked him about the motorcycle and he told me that it would cost more than 50,000 dollars which makes it more expensive than most cars.   He also told me that it takes hours to clean, polish and keep them in shape. It is used in the summer months, may be a maximum of six months in a year, and is a passion for the riders. Camping and hiking gears are carried on the motor cycles and week end tours on the motor cycle are enjoyed by them. 

We resumed our journey and reached a place called Chamberlain on the banks of the river Missouri by evening.  After an early supper we went to the river bank for a drive on the bridge to the other side of the river, and after watching the beautiful sight of the flowing river and the hills returned to the eastern bank of the river.  There is a camping ground on the riverbank with the bridge in the background.  We sat there enjoying the beauty of the flowing river, the bridge, hills and the sunset.  We took many photos and returned to the hotel

The memories of the quiet beauty of the mighty Missouri will always remain in our memory.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It is no LAWughing matter

Laws are enacted by a legislature or a body elected by the people and reflect the situation and needs of the society at the time of their enactment.   As with any other aspect of life, with change in times, behavioral pattern and practices accepted by the society, requirement of amending existing laws or enactment of new laws arise.   These issues are addressed by the law enacting bodies from time to time.   Several sections of an existing law are repealed or modified to match the need of times.  Sometimes a fresh enactment is put in place replacing a whole existing law that has become obsolete.  But until such time that they are repealed, substituted or modified they make strange reading and appear funny.  What needs to be remembered is that these provisions were put in place after much deliberation and application of mind and by collective wisdom representing equity and fair treatment at the time of their enactment.

Three or four decades ago, in many parts of the world, children were expected to be back home before sunset.  Now night life has become an integral part of life in those very areas.  The world now moves on around the clock and offices and establishments work continuously and without a break.   In a decade or two, day and night may remain as words in the context of movement of the Sun and Earth only.  The way Science and Technology have changed the world over the last two or three decades, anything appears possible.

In one part of the world it was illegal for a husband to beat his wife with a stick larger in diameter than his thumb.   In another area,  a man could legally beat his wife, but not more than once a month.  In yet another area a man could legally beat his wife with a leather strap, as long as it was less than two inches wide or if she gives him permission to beat with a wider strap.   May be the objective of these laws was to restrict higher level of violence.  It is not known whether there was any such restriction on wife beating a husband in some part of the world!

In one place it is illegal to attend a theater within four hours of eating garlic.   In another place barbers were forbidden from eating Onions from 7 am to 7 pm.   In yet another place, ministers are forbidden from eating onion or garlic before delivering a sermon.   "An apple a day keeps doctors away" goes a saying.   "A garlic a day keeps everybody away" say garlic haters.   But today garlic has become a must for many dishes and restaurants will be out of business without use of garlic.  And half the vegetable dishes may disappear without Onion.

In one place, it is illegal for a man to kiss a woman while she is asleep.   In another place it is illegal to waking up a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking photographs.   In another place, a person is considered as sober until he or she "cannot hold on to the ground".

There are or were some interesting provisions for horses and women.  That is when taken together.  In one place it is illegal for women weighing more than 200 pounds (90 Kg) to ride horses in shorts.   In another area, it is illegal for a woman to ride horseback down a public street with a kimono on.

Also about use of clothes.  And purposes.  In one area, it is illegal to wipe one's car with a used underwear.   In another place, it is illegal to sing while wearing a bathing suit.   In yet another place, women are not permitted to wear anything red, in public.   In another place, it is illegal for an on-duty firefighter to rescue a woman wearing a nightgown;  in order to be rescued, a woman must be fully dressed.

In one area,  it is illegal for a tenant to bite his/her landlord.   In another place,  to bite someone is considered as a simple assault, but to bite someone with false teeth is considered "aggravated assault".   Sound logic that, because it involves using a foreign object which is not a part of one's body.

It is a felony for  a wife to open her husband's mail in one place.  A man's mistreatment of his mother-in-law cannot be a ground for divorce in some other place.  It is illegal to remarry the same man four times in yet another place.

It is illegal to make love in a car, unless it is parked on own property, as per the local laws in one place.  Implying that not only movable but immovable property should be your own!

There are websites and TV serials that bring out such paradoxes.   Provisions of law that were considered a must and reasonable when they were enacted, but might have outlived their time now.   It is funny and entertaining to read them and think about their relevance today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Story of WALL DRUG

Some ten years ago we visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.  There was an advertisement  board near Taj Mahal which read:  "It is only 10,728 miles to WALL DRUG".   We wondered what it was and why was somebody advertising to a place over 10000 miles away!  We never imagined that we would travel that long and actually eat ice cream in Wall Drug one day.

During our visit to USA in 2005 we were traveling from Minneapolis to Rapid City, South Dakota.   Since we left Chamberlain in the morning, we could see boards displayed along the road advertising "Coffee for five cents – visit Wall Drug".  The boards could be seen for over one hundred miles and made curious reading. Who would advertise a cup of coffee being sold at five cents for as far as over a hundred miles?    We realized the truth after taking an exit on highway I-90 and driving for two blocks.  The advertisements were put up by the Wall Drug store. The story of  WALL DRUG makes very interesting reading.  It is the ultimate example of advertising and how far entrepreneurship can go.

In the year 1931, Wall was a small town in the South Dakota region with a population of only 326 people and all of them were flat and broke busted due to the great depression and drought.  Ted Hustead moved into the town from Philips in Nebraska and purchased a drug shop in the town.  Son of a doctor and a pharmacy degree holder, he had his wife Dorothy and four year old son Bill with him.  When he moved into Wall, his well wishers warned him about moving to a "place which is in the middle of nowhere" and no chances for survival.  Having started his business with his three thousand dollars, he found that business was next to nothing and set up a time limit of 5 years to move out if the trend continued.  The situation remained the same after four years.  In the fifth year, one summer afternoon his wife went to take a nap as there were no customers in the shop.  She returned after a few minutes and told Ted that she could not sleep due to heavy traffic on the nearby highway 16.  She had a suggestion – somebody traveling in the hot summer desert needs water, ice cold water.  If only they could let them know that ice cold water is one and a half blocks away……

She had also prepared a board reading "Get a soda….. Get a root beer…… turn next corner….. Just as near….. to highway 16 and 14….. Free ice Water …..WALL DRUG".   Ted liked the idea and with the help of a hired boy he prepared many such boards during the next week.  He then went with the boy and put up the boards on either side of the road and returned to the shop.  Even before he returned to the shop there were visitors asking for ice water.  After receiving ice water they thanked him and went.  Some of them wanted ice water to be given in their cans for use on the way.  One of the visitors asked him to sell some ice cream also.  That is how it started and the Wall Drug sales soared day after day.

The shop went on distributing such boards advertising its existence.  A wall poster was put up in the London underground subway station – in the "Tube" as it is called.  The board said  "Visit Wall Drug …. Only 5,160 miles away"!   A representative of BBC interviewed Ted Housted and many British tourists actually visited his shop when they traveled to the United States.  Boards in English were put in Paris.  Someone commented as to why English boards were put up in Paris!  Someone else replied that if the French could not read the board they would ask some one else who knows English to read it to them!  Boards were also put up in transit stations in far away Kenya in Africa.  Even today Wall Drug gives away 14,000 small posters and 8,000 big posters to the visitors to put up the boards wherever they want and it spends over 300,000 dollars every year  on advertisement even now.

The shop has been expanded from time to time and today is spread over 76,000 square feet of Western Wonderland ad resembles a wild west town.  The shops today have a collection of western art, over 1,400 historical photographs, beautiful black walnut peeled dining rooms, native American artifacts, animated attractions, a six foot rabbit and giant jack-pole.  Abundant shopping opportunities bring 20,000 visitors every day to Wall Drug and annual sales exceeds 10 million US dollars.  The shop is located 50 miles to the west of Rapid city and nearly 75% of the traffic on I-90 highway turns to Wall Drug.  A small drug store in a semi arid desert town has been converted to a tourist spot and shopping mall.

Started by Dorothy and Ted Hustead in 1931, their son Bill joined them in 1951.  Ted's grandsons Rick and Ted Jr joined the business in 1981 and 1988 respectively.  Dorothy died in 1994 and Ted himself died at age 96 in 1999.  The business is carried on by their daughter-in-law and grandsons.  We could not violate the unwritten rule on I-90 highway and went to Wall Drug. It was very hot on the summer afternoon. We visited the different areas of the shops and had ice-cream as most of the visitors do.   Dorothy and Ted Hustead were no MBAs, but made us go all the way to wall drug

The above picture is taken from the wall drug website.   You may visit  for further details, if you are anywhere in South Dakota to visit the place, relish the ice cream and enjoy many other rare collection of photos and artifacts in Wall Drug.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Story of Soma Sharma's FATHER

There are many instances of sons or daughters earning far higher distinctions in life than their father or mother.  There are also instances of children suffering under the burden of great achievements of the parents.  This gives rise to someone being called "Some one's Son or Daughter" or "Some one's father or mother".  Parents may be highly pleased to be known as "Father or Mother of so and so", if the son or daughter becomes famous, not notorious.

Every Cricket enthusiast knows about Sir Don Bradman.  Of course, every Australian knows about him.  Ten years ago, when the Don was alive, the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Bradman as the "greatest living Australian".   Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years and it is said that his first question to an Australian visitor was "Is Don Bradman still alive?".   His batting average of  99.94 is in no danger of being broken however much other pursuers of records may try, and is well known world over.   What is not that well known was the fact that John Bradman, son of Jessie and Donald Bradman, weighed down by his father's fame changed his name to "John Bradsen" by a deed of poll 1n 1972.  Of course, his relation with his father improved after his mother's death and he changed back his name to Bradman during his father's last years.

But there is only one claimant to the fame of being the "Father of an unborn Son".   That is Soma Sharma's father.   This is the story of Soma Sharma's father.  His name is never known.  But the name of his unborn son is Soma Sharma and Soma Sharma's name is well known!

Many many years ago, there was a young man in a small place.  He did not have any family and he did not know where from he came and what were his antecedents.   He was making his living on his own.   He lived in a dilapidated and abandoned ruins of a building.  He did not have any possessions of his own except a set of clothes, that too given to him by an old kind couple.  He would get up in the morning and take bath in the river flowing nearby.  He had a small pot for collecting alms.  He would then go from house to house  and announce his arrival at their doors by calling "Bhavati, Bhikshaan dehi", meaning something like "Mother, give me alms".  Some kind women would give him rice floor or wheat floor which he collected in his pot.  On some lucky days, like festivals or some other special occasions, someone in the village would invite him to come in and have a regular meal.  Otherwise he would be happy with the flour collected in the pot.  He would later make some rotis (bread) out of that floor and eat.  The river gave him water and and the old building was like his own.  He would do some errands for the village folk and anything given by them in return was accepted with gratitude.   This pretty much summed up his life.  Since he had no savings he did not worry about saving his savings and earning further from it.

Then came that wonderful day which changed his life.  It was one of the days following the harvest and overjoyed by the bountiful harvest almost every woman in the village gave him flour on that day.   Even those who never gave him on any other day gave him some flour.  Those who were giving regularly gave him some additional quantity and he collected nearly three times his daily requirement!   When his pot overflowed with flour given by the villagers, he went to the village potter for one more pot to store the extra flour and to his good luck, that was also granted  in the form of a big pot capable of holding many days surplus flour.   He now had an extra pot as his possession and stored the saved flour in the newer and bigger pot.   His worries started with that for he had to protect it from cats and dogs.   He procured a long rope and tied one end of the rope to the ceiling of the building and secured the pot by tying it to the other end.   He could not resist the urge to see his treasure frequently and hence kept the pot at low level so that he can check the flour level whenever he wanted.   That way he could get up in the middle of he sleep, just sit to check the pot and its contents and again go back to sleep.  He was thrilled with his own idea and went to sleep after satisfying himself that the pot and its contents were safe.

He could not see sleep soundly on that day due to his savings.  He was thinking of what to do with the flour when this new pot also overflowed after a few days.  He decided to sell the extra flour in the village fair and convert it to some coins.   This he will do for a few days and one day he would have enough coins to purchase a cow.   The cow would give a lot of milk which he would sell and make further earnings.  The cow would deliver calf also and after some days he would be the owner of many cows.  He would then keep some servants to take care of the big herd of cows and also buy a horse.  He would naturally need his own house and a big cow shed to keep the cows and servants.  And once he has his own house he would marry a beautiful girl and start his own family.   After one or two years his wife would give birth to a son and he will name the son as Soma Sharma.

By this time his affairs would have grown so much that he would not be able to mange without moving around a lot.  To facilitate easy and quick movement from one place to another, he would buy a black horse.  the logical chain of thoughts had taken him to a dreamy state and he was now in the middle of a very sweet dream.  His son Soma Sharma was now nearly two years old and one day when he was about to climb on the horse, the child came near the horse and was about to be crushed under the horse's feet.   He deftly maneuvers the horse to save the child but is very angry with the wife for letting the child out of the house and the servant not to keep an eye on movement of child.   Enraged and full of anger, he would kick the servant for his carelessness.

The very thought of danger to his unborn son made him to actually shake his legs vigorously in his sleep.  There was no servant and what he thought as the servant was actually the pot of flour.   The pot broke due to the impact of his legs and all the flour fell on his body.  He got up from his sleep and was now sitting with his body fully white, due to the white flour allover his body.

The story is summed up by this verse:

अनागतावतीं चिन्तां असंभाव्यं करोति यः | स एव पाण्डुरः शेते सोम शर्म पिता यथा ||    
Anaagatavateem chintam asambhavyam karoti yaha, sa eva pandurah shete soma Sharma pita yatha.
( He who thinks of unrealistic things and builds castles in the air will be lying white like Soma Sharma's father.)

There are similar stories in many other languages.  But Soma Sharma's father has the distinction of being a "Famous and nameless father of an unborn son with a well known name".

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Everything is for the GOOD

Long time ago there was a young King ruling a small country.   He had just ascended the throne after the death of his dear Father, who was a very popular and highly respected King.   Before his death, father had given advice to his young son about the manner in which he should conduct himself and manage the affairs of the Kingdom.   Among the advice given was that he should always keep his Minister with him, even while on tour.   "Good advice is like rich treasure.  It protects you in times of difficulties.   Have faith in the Minister.  Respect him and his advice.  At the same time be on your guard",  the elderly King had told the Prince, before his taking over as the King.

The young King followed his father's advice in true spirit.  He respected his father's Minister for his wisdom and had seen as a young boy how the Minister's advice helped his father over the years.  After the formalities for the young King's ascension were completed, the elderly Minister requested for permission to retire as he had also become old and wanted to spend his old age peacefully as a recluse.   The young King requested the elderly man to continue in his post for sometime and he may retire after finding another suitable man for the responsibilities.   The elderly Minister agreed to the suggestion and continued to guide the young King while searching for a suitable substitute for himself.

One day a delegation of villagers came to meet the King.  They had a problem to be solved.  A Tiger from the nearby forest was attacking the villagers and their cattle.  They requested the King to arrange for killing the Tiger  and save them from its attacks.   The King assured them that he would attend to their problem and visit their village also.   After the delegation left, he called his chieftain and asked him to arrange for a hunting sojourn.   He also asked the Minister to accompanying him but the Minister requested to be excused due to his old age.   The King remembered his father's advice to keep the Minister at all times near him and politely ordered that the Minister should accompany him.  The Minister had no alternative but to follow the order.

While chasing the Tiger, the King went deep inside the forest and was separated from the other members of the hunting party.  The Minister advised the chieftain to form small search parties to find the King and he himself went in a direction he felt the tiger had ran away.   The King was attacked by the Tiger when he was alone.   The King fought bravely and killed the Tiger.   While searching for the King, the Minister found the King and the dead Tiger.   He appreciated the king's bravery and they started moving back to the base camp.  The King told the Minister that while fighting the Tiger a small part of his little finger on the left hand was cut away and he was in pain.   The Minister had the habit of always saying "Everything is for the Good" or "Whatever happens is for the Good".  To pacify the King he immediately said "Everything is for the Good".   The King was irritated by the Minister saying that losing the finger is for the good.   Enraged and angry, he pushed the Minister in an abandoned well in the forest and went in search of the base camp.

A group of aboriginal tribe were in search of a human being in the forest to offer as sacrifice to their God in accordance with their custom.   They found the King moving alone in the forest, captured him and took him to their chief.   When about to be sacrificed at the altar, the priest checked the King's body and found a small part of the little finger missing.   The priest declared that the King was unfit for sacrifice and another person should be brought instead.   The King was luckily let off.   He was found by the search party now and the King had realised that losing the small part of the finger was actually good as the Minister had said for it saved his life itself!  He went in search of the abandoned well and got the Minister rescued by his soldiers.  He apologized to the Minister  and told him how he was let off before sacrificing him.  When he regretted pushing the Minister in the well for the second time, the Minister said  "That was also for the Good".   The King was surprised as to how being pushed in the well could be good.    The smiling Minister replied, "Oh, dear King, had you not pushed me in the well they would have captured us both.  After finding you unfit for sacrifice,  they would have found me to be perfectly eligible for the same and I would have been sacrificed.  You actually saved my life by pushing me in the well!   Was it also not for the Good?".   The King understood the minister's logic and kept him in his post for many more years.

This is a story I heard some fifty years ago.  It was a thrill when I first heard it.   Looking back now after fifty years, I am not as certain that everything is for the good.  It is one thing to say so and another thing to actually experience things in life.   However,  this way of looking at life gives a certain degree of equanimity and composure when under strain due to adverse things in life.   Who knows, everything may be for the good, as the wise Minister used to say!.