Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No sting left in spring...

Kandisa by Indian Ocean

Kandisa is an ancient prayer in Aramaic (from Aram, the region in what was ancient central Syria), the language that comes close to what was probably spoken by Jesus. The literal translation of this word may be Holy/ Holy Praise / Divine Praise. This prayer is chanted even to this day in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Syrian Malabar Nasrani people from Kerala. The Kerala Syrian Malabar Nasrani people also called as Nasrani Syrian Christians are the descendants of the Jewish diaspora in Kerala who became Christians in the earliest days of Christianity in the Malabar Coast. They have preserved some of the traditions of the early Jewish Christians. The prayer goes like:

Kandisa Alahaye, Kandisa Esana,
Kandisa Alahaye, Kandisa Esana.
aalam aalam Aalam, Aamenu Aamen.
sliha Mar Yose, Almaduba-ha Kudisa-ha,
angene Dhanusa, Nyahveh Dukharana.

aalam aalam Aalam, Aamenu Aamen,
sliha Mar Yose, Almaduba-ha Kudisa-ha.
angene Dhanusa, Nyahveh Dukharana.
kandisa Alaha, Kandisa Esana, Kandisa La Ma Yosa Isaraha Malem.  


Monday, February 27, 2012

The Bucket List

Recently, I met a 77-year-old businessman-engineer-consultant from Mumbai who wishes to visit 144 monuments all over the world before he dies. He was in Gujarat because 10 of those monuments on his list are here — all architectural marvels sprinkled around the state. By the time he will have finished this tour of Gujarat, he will have struck off 120 from the list. 

I liked the tenacity of the man. He owns a company which has offices in many cities in India and the world and has over 1,400 employees. Still, he took a month off his extremely busy schedule to drive around Gujarat in search of sultanate monuments, temples, stepwells and ornate gates. We wanted him to check out a few more tourist destinations, most notably the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, which is four times the size of Buckingham Palace. He said that he was interested in only the 10 on his list. We persisted. He said, "No!" He spent an hour at the Jama Masjid next to the Champaner Fort which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, the only one in Gujarat. He didn't even check out the fort or the Saat Kaman (the seven arches on the Pavagadh Hill). It seemed ridiculous that he should come all the way and not do that. But, few of us have the courage to believe in our dreams. Fewer still, convert that belief into a reality, without getting swayed by external forces such as friends and peers. 

While chatting with him for a couple of hours (where he did most of the talking and I listened to his experiences in India and France and about his irate Bengali executives), I wondered if I could ever do something like that. I'm still in my twenties, but chalking up a Bucket List now wouldn't be such a bad idea.   

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Non-veg restaurants in Ahmedabad-Anand-Vadodara

Gujarat is predominantly for vegetarians. It's only recently that restaurants serving non-veg fare have started mushrooming around Ahmedabad and Vadodara. Here's a guide for all you non-vegetarian friends who can't seem to find the meat here. And also for vegetarian friends who are at a loss when their foreign clients demand 'red meat', 'tandoori chicken'or 'seafood' for lunch. The cuisine in brackets refers to the non-veg specialities of that place. I have made a distinction between Mughlai, Punjabi and Indian cuisine. Mughlai implies anything cooked in a tandoor (the clay-oven the Mughals brought with them to India). Punjabi implies the cuisine from west Punjab which now is part of Pakistan. Indian refers simply to food that could be cooked in a kadhai at any Indian home with a little less oil and spices. Similarly, by Oriental, I mean anything and everything that has a combination of ajinomoto, soya sauce, chilli sauce and ginger-garlic paste and remotely resembles Chinese cuisine. And the 'Chinese' could be more Singaporean than Chinese. I propose to keep adding to this list as and when I discover more joints. Please feel free to contribute.

QUIZNOS, Old Padra Road, Vadodara (Submarines, Soups, Sandwiches and Pasta)

KEBABISH, Pashabhai Park, Vadodara (Lucknowi, Awadhi, Mughlai)

SUNSHINE KEBABS, Jetalpur Road, Vadodara (Turkish, Lebanese, Pizza)

TOMATOES, Race Course Circle, Vadodara (Punjabi, Lebanese, Mexican, Mughlai, Italian)

ABHIRUCHI, C G Road, Ahmedabad (Bengali)

TOMATOES, Navrangpura, C G Road, Ahmedabad (Mediterranean, Spanish, Indian)

CURRIES, S G Highway, Ahmedabad (Mughlai)

SOUQ, Vijay Char Rasta, Ahmedabad (Lebanese, Moroccan, Mediterranean)

MOMO CAFE at COURTYARD BY MARRIOTT, Satellite Road, Ahmedabad (Continental, Oriental and Indian)

MAINLAND CHINA, Satellite Road, Ahmedabad and Centre Square Mall, Vadodara (Oriental)

KAI ASIA, GATEWAY HOTEL, Akota, Vadodara (Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian)

PESHAWARI, WELCOME HOTEL, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Peshawari, Punjabi, Mughlai and Kashmiri)

24 CARATS, EXPRESS HOTEL, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai, Continental, English)

THAT PLACE, Sampatrao, Vadodara (Lebanese, Mexican, Mediterranean, English, Continental)

MILLENIUM, Sampatrao (Indian, Mughlai)

AZURE, Surya Palace Hotel, Vadodara (Indian, Mughlai, Oriental)

HAVMOR at some outlets in Ahmedabad and Vadodara (Mughlai)

ROTI SHOTI, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai, Indian)'

SAYAJI, Vadodara (Mughlai)

MOTI MAHAL, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai, Punjabi, Kashmiri)

MIRCH MASALA, Vadodara and Ahmedabad (Mughlai, Punjabi)

LAZEEZ, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai)

REGAL, Opp Vadodara Railway Station, Vadodara (Mughlai, Indian)

SAN'S SIZZLERS, Sampatrao, Vadodara (Oriental, Continental, Mughlai)

ZAFFRAN, Fatehgunj, Vadodara (Mughlai, Indian)





PUNJAB KING, S G Highway, Ahmedabad (Mughlai)

UPPER CRUST, Vastrapur, Ahmedabad (Continental)

KFC, Alpha Mall, Vastrapur, Ahmedabad (Continental)

KFC, Vadodara Central, Vadodara (Continental)

MOCHA, Opp Inox, Vadodara (Continental) 

BARBEQUE NATION, Shreem Shalini Mall, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai, Indian)

OVEN MAGIC, Jetalpur Road, Vadodara (Bakery, Continental, Oriental)

GOODYS, Vadodara (Continental, Bakery)

MADHUBHAN RESORT, Anand (Mughlai, Rajasthani)


FLAVOURS OF ASIA, Old Padra Road, Vadodara (Thai, Chinese)

JADE, HOTEL EXPRESS RESIDENCY, Alkapuri, Vadodara (Mughlai, Punjabi)

JASHAN, Lilleria Food Court, near INOX, Vadodara (Punjabi, Malwan, Avadhi)

MY RESTAURANT, Old Padra Road, Vadodara (Mughlai, Indian)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pavagadh: 2000 steps to a Goddess!

I have never really been able to understand what devotion to God means. Why are people, who won't otherwise move a finger, willing to walk miles to a temple, mosque or church as a mark of penance? Why do misers put coins into donation boxes? How do people, who don't have much to offer much in terms of guidance, suddenly become the beacon-holders for religious processions? And how do the unfaithful find a path to God?  

I did something extraordinary yesterday. Well, it was extraordinary for me. I climbed the 2,000 steps to make it to the Mahakali Temple atop the 2,000-ft Pavagadh hill located 46 km from Vadodara. I have been on the hill quite a few times before. I've even been once to the top, taking the cable-car most of the way, and then climbing up the remaining 250-odd steps. But yesterday, was different. I had the option to sit out, instead of joining a group of devotees on their pilgrimage. I had a good reason too, what with a stiff neck, a bad back, altitude sickness and a shoulder that was sore from playing badminton. Somehow, that didn't seem enough. Not when you want to know what thousands of pilgrims will be going through when they make the daily pilgrimage in the April heat during Chaitra Navratri. At least I had weather on my side!

And so I climbed, one step at a time. I chose not to look over the cliff to the beautiful valley below, with the towers rising from the Jama Masjid that belongs to the UNESCO Heritage Site of Champaner. I had to stop several times — to allow for herds of white donkeys making their way down, for devotees and goats who had been 'blessed' by the Goddess and who were marked with a piece of red cloth tied around their heads, for pilgrims who climbed quickly and shouted, "Jai Mata Di" and to gasp for air at that altitude. Fake sadhus (holy men) wearing saffron robes or synthetic animal prints (since fur is expensive and banned) beckoned me for blessings that would cost me just a couple of rupees. "Jai Mata Di," one of them yelled. I ignored him. He shouted again. When he didn't get a response, he said, "Arre, bhagwan ka naam bhi nahin le sakte ho kya?" ("Can't you even take the Goddess's name?") I smiled and turned away. 

At a particularly steep turn I stopped. Was I really going to carry on? The wind was stronger and the sun shone bright. I wrapped my scarf around my head and ears. I looked thirstily at the earthen pots at the entrance of a stall. Chaas (buttermilk) and nimbu-paani (lime water)! But I had been warned about the water quality. I moved on. A few steps later I had finished the last drop from my water-bottle. And I wasn't  even half-way up. I chose to risk suffering from contamination than thirst and purchased a plastic pouch of water and filled my bottle with it. This, I hoped, would see me till I reached the top.  

The last 250 steps were the most difficult. They were steep and the climb was almost vertical. I crawled to the top, almost exhausted. The temple courtyard was small. Women in red sarees with vermillion marks on their foreheads were swaying to garba beats. They seemed to be in some sort of a trance. I spent exactly 10 minutes inside the temple, where the devotees offered coconuts and mithai and red chunaris (scarves) to the Goddess. The view from the top was surely breathtaking. And the temple's said to be at least 1,300 years old. Of course, the renovations have made it look like it's brand new.   

Being no devotee of the Goddess, I wondered whether the two-hour climb had been worth my effort and time. I couldn't come up with an answer. But as I reached the last few steps (the climb down took me only 45 minutes) that led to the car park, I recollected that I had had no hopes of ever making it to the top. But I had carried on. And it was not because I was attached to the Goddess in any particular way, but the fact that I did not want to be the first one to give up. Not when little kids were climbing all the way up, not when people were walking barefoot on jagged rocks, not when devotees were crawling and inking each step with vermillion and certainly not when donkeys had made it look easy. I had gone all the way up thinking that I would turn into a believer. I came back believing more in myself!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

At a Goushala (cow-shed, literally)

Sumeru Jain Derasar located near Karjan, around 20 km from Vadodara along the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Highway

The Derasar runs a Goushala which has nearly 1,600 animals

Feeding the cows and buffaloes is supposed to bring you good luck.

There are about seven horses. They are left to roam around the campus.  This one was  delivered to the Goushala  by the local police who found it abandoned in a village.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


By paying obeisance to Randhal Maa, most Gujarati families belonging to the Nagar Brahmin community usher in a new beginning whether it's in the form of a marriage between two people or the birth of a baby. 

Randhal was the wife of Suryanarayan, the Sun-God. According to the legend, Randhal's mother was getting very worried because her daughter had lost a lot of weight after she got married. Randhal explained to her mother that she had to wait long hours before her husband, Surya, would be back home for dinner. A real pativrata, she couldn't possibly eat a morsel before her husband ate. 

Her mother was worried and advised her to talk to her husband. When Randhal asked her husband to come back early, he said he couldn't because that would bring chaos into the world. She became very upset and told him that she would die of hunger if she were to go on this way. He scoffed at her. Right there, an ant climbed into a box. Randhal told Surya that the ant would die of starvation in the dark box. Surya told her that he would not let it die. Randhal shut the lid of the box tight. The next day, she found that the ant was still alive. She noticed that while closing the box, a grain of rice that was used to mark the red dot on her forehead had fallen into it. That was enough for the ant to survive. 

An embarassed Randhal turned into a white horse and ran out of her husband's house. Surya figured what had happened and he, in turn, also took on the avatar of a stallion and followed her. He danced before her and wooed her back. 

As with most Gujarati ceremonies, the puja of Randhal Maa is also celebrated by singing garbas (songs). Only, the women, after the ceremony, dance like horses in the honour of the Sun-God who loved his wife. They believe that if Randhal Maa is pleased, she will shower her blessings on the household.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Envirotech 2012

At the Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII) Envirotech 2012 conference that was held at The Gateway Hotel at Vadodara today, I learnt:

  • that the length of Gujarat's coastline is 1,600 km, the largest in India
  • that industrial units along the coast don't even look at effluents before sending them off to common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) where the harmful chemicals are removed before finally discharging it into the sea
  • that the Gulf of Khambhat (Gulf of Cambay) has a very high concentration of total suspended solids (TSS). That means less sunlight reaches the phytoplankton and their productivity is low, which impacts all fishes, animals, birds that depend on such food sources 
  • that the phenol load in the Amlakhadi, a tributary of the River Narmada, is anywhere between 70-387 kg/litre/day
  • that Vadgam (Banaskantha district) and Kantiyajal (Bharuch district) are the most polluted places around the Gulf of Khambat (Gulf of Cambay). The main reason for pollution of the gulf at Vadgam is because of the discharge from the effluent-laden River Sabarmati and at Kantiyajal, it's the discharge from River Narmada
  • that the sand and silt levels in the sediments of the Gulf of Khambat (Gulf of Cambay) are high while the levels of clay is low. Therefore, planting mangroves, which need clay to cling onto, may not be a very good idea to save the gulf
  • that the process of tapping into the solar energy that is absorbed by the sea is called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
  • that sewage contains 40 per cent organic waste
  • that the highly dynamic waters of the Gulf of Khambhat provide for good mixing and flushing conditions for industrial effluents
  • that the longest marine outfall tunnel in the world is at Boston (16 km), the widest at Navia, Spain (8 km). The longest outfall tunnel in India is of the Final Effluent Treatment Plant in Ankleshwar (8 km)
  • that the Coastal Regulatory Zone extends to 500 metres from High Tide Line. Mining of limestone is forbidden in this region
  • that the Government of Gujarat has undertaken an Aquatic Shoreline Study which, over the next two years, will help generate maps of 1:4000 scale and help track changes that have happened over the past 50 years
  • that after Corporate Social Responsibility, companies should now take Corporate Environmental Responsibility seriously
(Compiled from presentations by Tobias Bleninger of Karlruhe Institute, Germany; Sandra Shroff, Vice Chairman, United Phosphorus Ltd; S K Nanda, Principal Secretary, Department of Environment & Forest, Government of Gujarat; B R Naidu, Zonal Officer, Central Pollution Control Board, S Basha of Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute; C A Moghe, principal scientist, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Jiyalal Ram Jaiswar, senior principal, National Institute of Oceanography and R S Sachdev, COO, Arvind Excel Ltd.)