Monday, October 26, 2009

Book review: Go Kiss the World

Author: Subroto Bagchi
Publisher: Penguin Portfolio
Price: Rs 399
Pages: 239

With a title like this one, it would be hard to miss this book. Why should a book for your professionals be named, Go Kiss the World? Probably, because it glues your eyeballs to itscover, or maybe because it's not the run-of-the-mill kind of title for a management guide. Or, probably because they were last words spoken by author-entrepreneur Subroto Bagchi's blind mother.

Go Kiss the World describes Bagchi's journey from his early days in Patnagarh in Orissa to to eventually co-founding the multi-million dollar MindTree, one of India’s most admired software services companies. The book's largely autobiographical but it goes much beyond Bagchi's own story.

He talks about his family - of his father's job as a tehsildar in small-town Orissa, the role his brothers played in his life in shaping his personality, how he almost got into the armed forces, his setbacks while working as a trainee at the secretariat in Bhubaneshwar, his years at the Delhi Cloth Mills (DCM) and the men who ran the "business like a spiritual dictator".

He draws parallels between Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his early days as a salesman at HCL which were uncomfortable. He talks of his first stint as an entrepreneur with Project.21 way back in 1985, at a time when "the country's annual computer offtake would be counted in hundreds". But it was at Wipro where Bagchi found his feet and help turn Wipro around from a mini-computer manufacturer to a global software giant. He credits his experiences at Wipro that led him to start the global IT solutions company, MindTree.

In the last chapter of the book, he enlists “the important lessons I’ve learnt in my life”, where he stresses on believing in yourself and the need to connect with people however ‘marginal’ they may seem to be.

The book makes for an interesting and inspiring read. That someone from the backlands of Orissa could go on to found one of India's global IT firms is indeed remarkable. Bagchi's done well to not just highlight his successes but also his failures. That's the mark of a good leader. The book's high on technology so it may be a little difficult for lay readers to grasp. Yet, its human element - Bagchi's childhood of little material means but great contentment, his brothers mentoring him and him trying to quieten his children as he worked from a home office for Wipro in California - touch a chord.

Thoughtfully, the author has drawn up a list of books - some of which have been quoted in the text - for his readers. Few writers think of giving something more than a story. For Bagchi, the book's not a PR device; it's more of a sign of contentment and fulfillment. Cheers to that!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alternatives to soap

Soap isn’t the only substance that can wash those germs off your hands. Here are some other alternatives

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Times Wellness on Thursday, October 15, 2009

Remember when you were a child and mom yelled out, "Go wash your hands before you put anything in your mouth." You would run to the sink, turn on the tap, lather the soap slowly waiting for mom to calm down before you could head back to the dining table. No matter what mom and the doctor told you, soap isn't the only thing that can keep your hands clean.

Here are a few others people from around the world have used time and again to ensure your hands are free of dirt and germs

Hand antiseptic or hand sanitizer
These non-water-based hand hygiene agents starting becoming popular in the late 1990s. Most are based on isopropyl alcohol or ethanol-formulated together with a thickening agent such as Carbomer into a gel, or glycerin into a liquid, or foam for ease of use and to decrease the drying effect of the alcohol.

Hand sanitizers containing a minimum of 60 to 95 per cent alcohol are efficient germ-killers. Alcohol rub sanitizers kill bacteria (including multi-drug resistant bacteria and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and viruses (including HIV, herpes, RSV, rhinovirus, vaccinia, influenza, and hepatitis) and fungus. Alcohol rub sanitizers can prevent the transfer of health-care associated pathogens (Gram-negative bacteria) better than soap and water.


For centuries, people in India and Nepal have been doing their laundry and cleaning with soap-nuts. The 'nut' is actually the dried fruit of the reetha tree (Sapindus mukorossi and Sapindus trifaliatus). Also referred to as washing nuts or reetha (in Hindi), soap-nuts contain ‘saponins’, which have the ability to clean and wash. On coming into contact with water, soap-nuts release mild suds, which is similar to soap lather.

Soap-nuts are safe for babies and people who suffer from eczema and sensitive skin.

Hand wipes
They are easier to use when you are travelling or have to remain outdoors for work or for any other purpose. You may easily carry your own antibacterial hand wipes in your purse or in your car for instant cleaning. There are different types of hand wipes available in the stores such as dry wipes, alcohol-free wipes, water-free hand wipes, sanitizing hand wipes, pre-moistened hand wipes and antibacterial hand wipes. Most wipes boast of killing 99 per cent of the germs. Perfumed hand wipes can also keep your hands smelling great throughout the day.

Iodine wash
It is used mainly in operation theatres of hospitals during surgeries. To 'scrub' one's hands for a surgical operation, a tap that can be turned on and off without touching with the hands, some chlorhexidine or iodine wash, sterile towels for drying the hands after washing, and a sterile brush for scrubbing and another sterile instrument for cleaning under the fingernails are required. All jewellery should be removed. This procedure requires washing the hands and forearms up to the elbow for usually two to six minutes.

Mud or ash
In rural Bangladesh, soap is not commonly used for handwashing. It is expensive and is used more for cosmetic purposes. Hands are usually washed with water only. After anal cleansing following defecation most rural people rub their left hand on the ground and rinse it with water. Ash is not widely used, although it is often promoted in health education programmes. A 1993 study of 20 women from a low-income community in Dhaka found that soap, mud or ash are equally effective in reducing contamination. Indeed, dirt can help you wash off dirt!

The evolution of soap

When Elton asked me to do a story on soaps for a special feature on the occasion of the first Global Handwashing Day, I was surprised that such a thing would call for a celebration. But then, with swine flu fears raging all around, it wouldn't be a bad idea to tell people to wash their hands properly, I thought. While reading online, I stumbled upon a little piece on how the Babylonians washed their hands. I read more on other civilisations and found interesting nuggests of information (even Persian manuscripts) about how soap came into being what we know of it today. Read on for more...

Keeping hands clean is not a modern affair. On Global Handwashing Day, we trace the origin and evolution of the quest for clean hands

Eisha Sarkar Posted on Times Wellness on Thursday, October 15, 2009

There’s nothing as selfless as a bar of soap. It loses itself to make you pure. From its humble beginnings in ancient Babylon to becoming a multi-billion dollar industry in itself, the soap has come a long way. The evolution of soap parallels the growth of civilisations of this planet.

Ash for shiny hair!
It is believed that prehistoric man used only water as a cleanser. In ancient Babylon (2800 BC), wood ashes were burned with animal and vegetable fats and this substance was used to cleanse and treat skin disease. It was also used ‘make hair shiny’.

'Washing' with sand
The Greeks were known to wash themselves with clay pumice and sand which stimulated the blood circulation in the body as well as removed dirt.

Oily baths
In the Greco-Roman era, perfumed oils were used for bathing and were combined with the use of the strigil, a metal implement used to scrape the skin free of oil and dirt.

From Mount Sapo
Soap got its name when the Romans discovered it at Mount Sapo, a popular location for animal sacrifices. Rain mixed the animal tallow with burned wood on the clay and a chemical reaction occurred. Women living near River Tiber found that clothes they washed using this substance were much cleaner.

While soap was in use during the Roman period its adoption may have been slow, despite the popularity of public and private baths throughout the empire. Possibly early soaps were not particularly attractive in appearance or smell, and were deemed more suitable for cleaning and laundering.

Manuscripts on soaps
Since 6AD, soap was produced in Nablus (West Bank), Kufa (Iraq) and Basra (Iraq). The A recently discovered manuscript from the 13th century spells out a recipe for making soap: Take some sesame oil, a sprinkle of potash, alkali and some lime, mix them all together and boil. When cooked, pour the mixture into molds and leave them to set.

The cold process
The early Americans made soap using the Cold Process, which yielded soap comprised of animal fat and lye extracted from wood ashes (potassium hydroxide). The substances were mixed and animal fat would be added along with steady stirring. Because of the time it took the soap to cure, soap makers would repeat this process twice a year.

William Colgate started a candle and soap making company in New York City in 1806. By 1906, the company was making over 3,000 different soaps, perfumes and other products.

The palm-and-olive oil soap
In 1898, Caleb Johnson's company in Milwaukee introduced a soap made of palm and olive oils, called Palmolive. It was so successful that that company changed their name to Palmolive in 1917.

"Soap that floats"
In 1897, a soap maker had gone off for lunch one day without turning off the soap mixer. More than the usual amount of air was shipped into the batch of pure white soap. Fearing he would get into trouble, he kept the mistake a secret and packaged and shipped the air-filled soap to customers around the country. Soon customers were asking for more "soap that floats".

Soap in a bottle
William Shepphard first patented liquid soap on August 22, 1865. In 1980, the Minnetonka Corporation introduced the first modern liquid soap and they cornered the market by buying up the entire supply of the plastic pumps needed for the liquid soap dispensers.

The germ-killer
In 1895, Lever Brothers created an antiseptic soap and coined the term "BO" for bad odour for its marketing campaign.

The modern soap
Today, soap is made using the cold process method where lye is added to palm oil, coconut oil, or olive oil, which causes the chemical reaction called saponification. The mixture is poured into a mold. The bars are then removed after setting and are restacked, covered and left to cure. The curing can can take anywhere from three to eight weeks.

Going soap-free
In order to prevent their skin from becoming dry, many people look for soap-free options. Once used only in hospitals, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are becoming increasingly popular. The alcohol ensures that your skin stays germ-free while the glycerine present prevents it from drying up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dam it!

India's most controversial hydel power project, the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, is slowly turning into an eco-tourism hotspot

We see a log floating in the middle of the Panchmuli pond in Kevadia, Gujarat. A closer look reveals it's a crocodile, the vehicle of Goddess Narmada who shares her name with Gujarat's most important river. They say, "Still waters run deep." None so much as the one that's contained in this pond, one of the many that have formed near the Sardar Sarovar Dam. A village died the day it was born. "But millions of people in Kutch and Saurashtra have benefited from the dam. This was barren land. It has now become fertile," notes Rajivbhai, our guide, pointing to the banana plantations nearby.

India's most controversial dam
We dwell on his comment as we take in the beauty of the surrounding Satpura hills. The Sardar Sarovar Dam has been in the news for over 40 years since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru placed the foundation stone in 1961. The project only took form in 1979 as part of a development scheme to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity. With every new proposal to increase its height by a few metres (the initial proposed height was 49 metres while the current proposed height is 138 metres), the dam courts a fresh round of controversy.
The discord between the planners and Narmada Bachao Andolan, who are echoing the concerns of villagers and tribals who have been dislocated because of the project, is high. Little in the news speaks of the dam’s beauty, its reservoirs and canals teeming with carps and crocodiles and the dense forests that have replaced the once-barren hillocks.

Power house!
We take a ride in a bus through the 1.2 kilometre long tunnel that takes us deep into the riverbed. The bus stops at the river bed power house that resembles Mogambo's island in Mr India, with all its gizmos, forklifts, cable carts and engineers. We find six giant turbines before us (two each for Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh), which make 135 revolutions per minute to generate 200 MW of electricity. Poor rains this year haven’t given the turbines a chance to generate to their full capacity though.

Cable cars for concrete!
The 212-kilometre-long reservoir amidst the Satpura hills is simply breathtaking. The trickle of the Narmada downstream makes way for a huge water body on this side of the dam. This thing of beauty has come at a very high cost. It has washed away 103 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 19 in Gujarat and 36 in Maharashtra.

Our eyes catch the cables above the dam moving very slowly carrying bags. "What are those bags carrying?" "Concrete. There's a lot of construction going on," our guide says adding that the cost of transporting these cables from the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai to the dam site cost 30 times more than the cable itself.

Tourist attraction
The Sardar Sarovar Nigam Limited has tried hard to make reservoir and the main canal an environment-friendly zone to attract tourists by providing for a tarmac road, potable water, fountains, refreshment and food counters, civic amenities, street-lights, benches, parks, information centres, temples (Shoolpaneshwar Mahadev Temple and Aditeshwar Mahadev Temple) and picnic spots. The place also offers many opportunities for trekking and jungle walks.

At the bridge over the main canal, we watch a bunch schoolkids cheering on as a heron ducks into the water to grab a fish. A vendor haplessly looks on as cows stick their noses into the pile of bhutta (boiled) she's just cooked. We spot an odd crow picking on a piece of cucumber lying on the street. This is the dirtiest tourist spot in the dam’s vicinity. It's a fine line between commercialisation and conservation, we note. In India, the former has always come at the cost of the latter.

Where to stay
While there are a couple of hotels in Kevadia, the officer hostel blocks, Reva Bhavan and Community Hall are much closer to the dam site and much cheaper too. A room at the Circuit House comes for as little as Rs 55 for a night inclusive of breakfast and tea but the booking has to be done from Gandhinagar.

Getting there
It's a good 82 km drive along pothole-free roads from Bharuch via Ankleshwar, Rajpardi and Rajpipla. Bharuch is well connected to Mumbai by both road and rail.

Get in touch with

Public relation officer
Reception Centre
SSNNL Kevadia Colony
District Narmada
Pin: 393151
Tel: 02640-232533

Executive Director (Tourism)
Tourism Cell
SSNNL block No. 12
First floor
New Sachivalaya
Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Tel: 079-23252345
Fax: 079-23223056

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don't miss a good story

Great Short Stories by Sufi Saints

Author: Manish Khatri
Publisher: The Book Paradise
Pages: 191
Price: Rs 60

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Monday, October 05, 2009 at 05:21:18 PM

The title suggests that this little-known book is a collection of stories of Sufi saints from round the world. Why should you read them? One, these are among the oldest stories in human history. Two, Sufism offers profound insights into human nature. Three, they're fun. And you certainly wouldn't want to miss a good story.

The 101 stories in the book, like mystical Sufi dervishes, help you transcend the barriers of time and space. Baghdad, Damascus, Herat, Kabul and Lahore may now be associated with conflict, war, pain and apathy, but the stories give you a picture of these places centuries ago.

Through the book, you enter the world of dervishes, djinns, magical jars, talking parrots, monks, deaf frogs, muezzins, caliphs, figurines, tyrannical kings and their harems, village simpletons and wise Sufi saints. You meet popular Persian, Afghan and Arabian characters such as Mullah Nasruddin, Bulla Shah, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna (Ghazni), Maulana Rumi, Sadi and Imam Junayd. And after every story you learn a moral lesson.

Take the story, "The Branch and the root" for example. A certain caliph hosted a huge festival in Baghdad where thousands of beautiful artefacts, pieces of jewellery and precious stones were displayed. The invitation said that anyone could take anything they wished. One of the caliph's slave-girls did not pick up anything. When the caliph asked her to pick up something, she simply placed her hand on his and said, "Why should I hold a branch when I can reach for the root?" And with that, she became the ruler of his kingdom.

Though nearly all the stories are set in west Asia (there's one on Emperor Shah Jehan in Hindustan), some of the stories are very popular in India. 'Cooking by candle' featuring Mullah Nasruddin is actually a version of the popular tale of Birbal cooking khichdi by hanging the pot five feet above the fire.

There's also the story, 'Monkeys and Hats' featuring a young hatseller in Baghdad whose hats were stolen by monkeys when he was napping under an olive tree on one of his journeys. Sounds familiar? Well, it's the same hatseller story we've all learnt as kids. The young man got his hats back when the monkeys copied him after he threw his own onto the ground. Only, the story doesn't end there. Years later, the hatseller's grandson encounters a similar situation and does what his grandfather had done. Only, this time, the monkeys aren't willing to copy.

Great Short Stories by Sufi Saints makes for an interesting read. Kudos to the author, photographer-journalist Manish Khatri for that. Thankfully, the essence and the tone of the stories have been maintained through the translation. Since most of these stories have been attributed to Sufi saints, the author would have done well to mention where he sourced the stories from. Also, the numerous grammatical errors in the text could have been avoided. Still, they don't take much away from these delightful stories that speak of love, hate, betrayal and magic. Acknowledge their beauty and they'll bring you joy.

A journey through a forgotten world

Book review: From the Holy Mountain - A journey in the shadow of Byzantium
Author: William Dalrymple

Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: Rs 399
Pages: 483

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Thursday, October 08, 2009 at 04:19:40 PM

In this hard-hitting book, British author-journalist William Dalrymple embarks on a journey through the Middle East following the footsteps of a sixth century Byzantine traveller-monk, only to find that Islamic Fundamentalism is not the only enemy Eastern Christians have to combat with everyday.

As he retraces the route of the journey John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist had set off on in 587 AD, Dalrymple finds that despite centuries of isolation, a surprising number of the monasteries and churches visited by the two monks still survive today, surrounded by often hostile populations. Dalrymple’s pilgrimage takes him through a bloody civil war in eastern Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the vicious tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in southern Egypt.

More than a millenia back, Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist had stayed in caves, monasteries and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the stylites and the desert fathers before their world shattered under the great eruption of Islam.

Like in The Spiritual Meadow of John Moschos, Dalrymple starts his journey at the Monastery of Iviron, Mount Athos in Greece where he finds the original mauscript of Moschos's travelogue. He then moves eastwards to Constantinople (Istanbul) and Anatolia in Turkey, then through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank southwards towards the Nile, Cairo and the Great Kharga Oasis in Egypt, which was once the southern frontier of the ancient Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.

Through his journey Dalrymple exposes the plight of downtrodden Christians in the Middle East. In south-east Turkey, he finds Syrian Christians "trodden underfoot in the scrummage between two rival nationalisms , one Kurdish, the other Turkish". In Lebanon, the Maronite Christians' failure to compromise with the country's Muslim majority had led to a destructive civil war that ended in a mass emigration of Christians. In Israel, Palestinian Christians were Arabs in a Jewish state and hence regarded with a mixture of suspicion and contempt by their Israeli masters. The educated lot preferred to emigrate en masse and very few are now left in the land they've inhabited for thousands of years. In Egypt, Christians were threatened by a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. Only in Syria, did he find happy Christians but even their future looked decidedly uncertain.

"Christianity is an Eastern religion which grew firmly rooted in the intellectual ferment of the Middle East. John Moschos saw that plant begin to wither in the hot winds of change that scoured the Levant of his day. On my journey in his footsteps I have seen the very last stalks in the process of being uprooted. It has been a continuous process, lasting nearly one and a half millenia. Moschos saw the beginnings. I have seen the beginning of its end," the author writes.

From the Holy Mountain is more hard-hitting than Dalrymple's other books. But who would go church-hunting in the conflict-stricken Islamic Middle East and come up with a light-hearted travelogue? Like his other books, this too is very well-researched and has academic value. Dalrymple's done well to present a list of bibliographical sources at the end of the book along with a glossary.

This book speaks of the author's courage, his endurance, his passion for discovery and most importantly, his service to a long-forgotten people who may soon lose their history and their future.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My graphics


Desert sunset

Quack Xpress!