Travel Travails: Another Five Star Story

April 30, 2011

One of the professional hazards in my job is travel. When you travel within India, Murphy’s Law operates big time! You know Murphy’s law, right? Something which states a profound truth so simply, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. While I cannot do much about airline delays, I get worked up big-time when the hotel goofs up. Like last week.

I had asked for an airport pick-up at the Delhi International airport. I normally take a cab, but landing late into the night after an over five-hour flight I did not want to be standing in a queue for a cab. But the hotel had goofed-up big time. No car at the airport.

I call the hotel and I am told the driver is somewhere around and that they will get back to me. Ten minutes of waiting and no response.

I call again.

“Sir, the driver is certainly there, but his mobile is switched off. We will call you back in two minutes, Sir!”

I get a call ten minutes later.

“Sir, I have located the driver. He is right there!”

WTF, I wonder, if he is right there, how come he is not holding the placard with my name? And I say so on the phone.

“No, no, sir, do not worry, I will send him right-away to meet up with you. Here is his name, and here is his number”

I dutifully scribble it on the back of the stub of my boarding pass. “I am at the exit gate number five right next to the CISF jawaan”

“Right away, Sir”

The driver shows up presently and he is indeed carrying a placard. But the catch is that it bears an altogether different name, that of some foreigner. And the driver proceeds to enlighten me that he has indeed been rostered to pick up the firang and he is confused as to why he has been asked to meet me and that I should proceed to the pre-paid cab counter and buy myself a cab trip to the hotel.

I am fuming now. I call the hotel again and give the guy at the other end a piece of my mind. Several pieces of my frazzled mind actually.

“What are you saying sir! How can this be? Can you give the phone to the driver, let me speak with him”

I disconnect the mobile with an angry twitch of my thumb. Get lost, I say aloud in my mind to the hotel guy.

And this treatment coming for my favourite hotel chain, I am determined to teach them a lesson!


I reach the hotel and announce myself to the lady at the reception.

“Ojha, Santosh Ojha. (just like “My name is Bond. James Bond.) I have a confirmed reservation here.” I am determined to stay calm initially so that the impact of my outburst would resonate even better after I let go!

What I did not quite notice while I was savoring the thought of the outburst as I was introducing myself was the lady’s reaction as soon as I uttered my first word “Ojha”. She looked to her extreme left diagonally across the reception desk gesticulating wildly to someone who had his back towards us. She even banged on her desk and hissed, “Sir, Mr Ojha. Mr OJHA!”

The gentleman swivelled around instantly. A young, earnest looking and burly gentleman wearing a linen suit.

“Sir, sir, come with me sir!” He nearly grabbed me by my hand.

“”Hey, come where? I am checking in now”

“No, no, sir! You come with me to your room, we will complete the check-in formalities there only.”

He leads me to the lift mumbling as we walk along. The bellhop in tow with the luggage.

“Sir, myself so-and-so, sir. Sir, I am the duty manager here. Sir, I was the one who called you, I am sorry for the mix-up. That driver had no business to say what he did. And sir, I have ensured that I have given you the best room possible. And yes, of course sir, you can smoke there.” He went on and on….

Now this guy looked like an avatar of Obelix, though a little smaller in size. How can one get angry on Asterix even if he is a tad tinier and all-so-apologetic? I can’t!


“Here Sir, is your room!” He opens the door with a flourish and marches into the room. The bell-hop and I stumble-in in his wake.

“Sir, sorry, sir”, he starts again.

“No, no, it is OK! These things happen. Anyway your hotels are like second home to me, so relax!” I reassure him.

“Sir, I am sorry”

“Relax buddy!”

“Sorry, sir!”

“Buddy, relax”

I was feeling sorry for this guy, he did indeed look to be genuinely repentant.

But more importantly, I wanted him and the bellboy outside my room. I was dying to have a peaceful smoke after several hours.

“Bye, sir, here is my card. Do let me know if need anything. Anything!”

I nearly told him that if he indeed wanted to serve me with “anything”, then perhaps he should send up a nubile woman to warm my bed for the night. Or for good measure, two!

I was getting really angry at his over-stay!

He did leave finally, smiling toothily and bowing to me as he left. While the bell-boy was bowing to the Duty Manager saheb!


I hear a knock on my door twenty minutes later.

“Ah, the mandatory fruit basket”, I think to myself. Or maybe Obelix had indeed read my mind and sent across two nubile women. Ok, even one was fine! I slip on my T-shirt and open the door. And who do I see? The Duty Manager again! No women in tow alas! Just a room service guy holding aloft a tray with two wine glasses and a bottle of wine.

“Sir, here is something for you.”

I can indeed see the something, that wine bottle. Satori merlot. “No, please, I am fine. Not to worry.”, I reassure him.

“Sir, just something from our side, just for you to remember the evening.”

I thought his phraseology was rather inappropriate. I do not want to remember this evening which was getting into midnight now, really.

“Hey, theek hai yaar! Koi baat nahin

Nahin sir, kuchh to…?” His voice trails off.

All this is happening at the door. Obelix and his flunkey in the corridor, Myself at the door making sure that these two guys do not enter the room.

“Sir, don’t you like a drink?”

“Sure I do, but I have my own whiskey. Maybe you could join me for a glass or two.”

“How can I, Sir, I am on duty. I am the Duty Manager here tonight.”

“Ok, Ok, sure.”

This was getting into a circle, and I decided to take charge.

“Ok, I shall carry the wine bottle back with me to Bangalore to “remember” this evening. And thank you for your gesture.”

“Thank you sir, thank you.”

“Thank you”, I say.

“Sir, see you tomorrow at the coffee-shop at breakfast.”

“Sure, sure. Good night!”

“And sir, ask me for anything you may need tonight.”

I bang the door shut. I have had enough of these entreaties.


Given his eagerness to make me happy, maybe I should have indeed asked him again to arrange those two nubile women. Ok. Just one. Maybe someone who could make a hot cup of tea for me. Or even help me unpack by luggage. Or just someone who could sing a lullaby…..



Blast from the past: MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR

April 30, 2011

Remember this is late 70’s and yours truly is a teenager. Like a teenager I have confused views about life, where to head to, what to do. One keeps toying with various idols, various “ideologies”, multiple ideals (heavy words for a kid!). There is no clear solution in sight. There is one beacon however in this miasma, Amitabh Bachchan. Or rather the persona of Big B those days (who was called AB still, not Big B), the angry-young-man, ready-and-keen, to take on the establishment. He, from the dregs of the society, taking on the heavyweights. Remember Trishul, Ganga Ki Saugandh, Adalat, Deewar? If he was not from the dregs, he was tortured soul personified. Mili, Namakharam, Zanjeer, etc. etc., remember?

Sorry, I digressed, I do not mean this piece to be a discussion on Amitabh Bachchan’s filmography. Let me just tell you that I loved this movie, loved enough that after watching it for the first time, I saw it twice again within seven days of its release.

Let me tell you a small story. I was born and raised in Jamshedpur, a small town in what is now called Jharkhand. After I completed my 10th in the city, I had to move out as there were limited options for +2 in Jamshedpur. My classmates and I chose Nagpur. There were two simple reasons behind this. Nagpur was just 12 hours away by train (Geetanjali Superfast Express) from my hometown and more importantly the Maharashtra Board exams (for +2) got over in March which gave me enough time to prepare for the IIT-JEE scheduled for May. Those were the rational reasons. There was one more reason, known only to me then, Nagpur had many more cinema theaters, compared with Jamshedpur. And me, a hard-core movie buff, this was incentive enough to relocate from home in Jamshedpur to a hostel in Nagpur.

The year was 1978. The year I saw many interesting movies including AB’s Trishul, Kasme Vaade and Don. And MKS!

It was during my early days in Nagpur when MKS was released. And I saw the movie on the 8th day of its release in a theater called Liberty, in the Sadar area in Nagpur, close to my college hostel. To say I was bowled over would be an understatement. This was the movie about an underdog going down fighting!

I will not go into the details of the movie, but suffice it to say that the great Kadar Khan’s “speech” in the graveyard when young AB (the hapless Master Mayur) is moping on his foster mother’s grave was inspirational:

Sukh mein hanstey ho to,
Dukh mein kehkahey lagaao.
Zindagi ka andaaz badal jaayega!”

(If you laugh when happy, chortle aloud when sad. You will then find an altogether novel way of living)

And the adult AB comes on screen soon enough riding around in South Bombay on his motorcycle dressed in a natty jacket, singing aloud: “Rotey huey aatey hain sab, hanstaa hua jo jayega.”

Sometime during the song he crosses a hearse on the street. He pauses and sings:

Zindagi to bewafaa hai, ek din thukrayegi,
Maut mehbooba hai apni, saath lekar jayegi

Enjoy this song, one of the greatest movies of AB, ever, and one the greatest songs from Amitabh Bachchan/Kishore Kumar combo.

PS: This song was placed 13th in the “Binaca Geetmala 1979”. However the top two songs were AB’s. In fact of the 39 top songs of the year, 16 were from AB’s movies.

PS2: This post was written a few months ago for my friend Atul’s excellent blog on Hindi film songs

Blast from the past: TRISHUL

March 25, 2011


Here is one more post I did for Atul’s remarkable blog . Enjoy!!

May 5th 1978 was a most awaited day for an Amitabh Bachchan fan. That day his latest movie Trishul got released. Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Adalat and Khoon Pasina had been released in the preceding years and had proved to be super-duper hits. Amitabh Bachchan’s distinctive “positioning” as the “angry young man” in the rather cluttered world of Bollywood heroes was firmly established. That the above-mentioned movies were interspersed with blockbusters like Kabhi Kabhie (romantic hero) and Amar Akbar Anthony (comedian) only helped to intensify the hero’s aura among his fans.

Yours truly, then a gangly teenager growing up in Jamshedpur, was one of his millions fans. Jamshedpur, in small town India with five cinema halls, four of them were called “talkies” (like Basant Talkies, Regal Talkies) and the fifth reverentially known as “cinema”; Natraj was its name, Natraj cinema. The nomenclature perhaps drew its source from the fact that Natraj was the newest cinema in town and it was the only one to have air-conditioning and push-back chairs in the “Dress Circle” section. (The others had intermittently working ceiling fans and torn seat cushions). Of course the ticket price was higher for Natraj Cinema as compared with the lowly talkies. Rs 3.72 for a first class ticket in Natraj and Rs 3.15 for one in the talkies.

I have digressed. Let me now tell you why the date was so important. Jamshedpur was participating in a simultaneous all India release. Trishul was premiered on in Jamshedpur on the same day as its all India release!! Truly historic for a kid in the city used to seeing “new” movies only after a few months after its release in the metros and other lucrative circuits. So how could I miss the first-day-first-show of this movie!

Together with my regular movie-going pal, we figured out a way of raising the finances and also – more importantly-  an excuse to stay away from home during those hours. Soon enough I was groping my way into the darkness towards my seat in Natraj Cinema.


After a rather long build-up, Amitabh Bachchan emerges on the screen through a cloud of smoke-and-dust at a construction site. The lanky Amitabh with fitted jacket and trousers, puffing at a bidi. He puts his bidi to a better use when he nonchalantly picks up the fuse of the dynamite and lights it up casually. He unhurriedly walks away from the site even as we see his co-workers running away from the blasting area. When the cloud clears after this most recent blast, his colleagues asked him how he could do it without being scared. His reply,”Jisney pachchis saal sey apni maa ko dheerey-dheerey marety dekha hai, usey maut sey dar kaisa?” I still remember to this day the thunderous applause this dialogue received from the already noisy crowd in the Cinema! Needless to say, my friend and I were two of the more voluble ones!

The magic had begun!


The magic had actually begun twenty minutes prior when the director, Yash Chopra, started laying the foundations of the story.

Young R. K. Gupta (Sanjeev Kumar) is in love with Shanti (Waheeda Rehman). His mother (I forget her real name now, Sudha something?) persuades him to marry Kamini (Priya Siddharth) who is his boss’ daughter. (Compare and reflect on the meanings of Shanti (the wronged one’s name) and Kamini, the usurper’s!). The boss is a construction magnate in Delhi.

R.K. Gupta succumbs and ditches Shanti who most “stoically” wishes him well and informs him that she is carrying her child. And that she does not need his patronage, as she does not want to assuage his guilt feelings of being a ditcher. She declares she is leaving town and that she will most certainly bear their child. She works on construction sites to support the child, a son. She, of course, dies rather prematurely and her son swears to take revenge on his biological father, RK Gupta, who has now inherited his father-in-law’s business and is now the biggest builder in Delhi.

That child happens to be Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan).


He walks into Delhi, penniless, “merey paas paanch footi kaudiyaan bhi nahin hain”, as he informs his father in their first encounter. He demolishes competition with devices fair-and-foul and soon rivals RK Gupta’s empire and finally bests him. Along the way he meets his half brother, Shekhar, (Shashi Kapoor), and his half-sister (Poonam Dhillon’s debut movie). He befriends an RK Gupta loyalist Geeta (Raakhi) and nearly ensnares Sheetal Verma (Hema Mailni). What a multi-starrer! Throw in some more in the picture, Sachin, Yunus Parvez, Prem Chopra etc., etc. Total multi-starrer!


The crowd in that first-day-first-show in Natraj is besides itself with joy, admiration, and adulation! We are supporting Vijay- and his Shanti Constructions- all the way in its contest with the “RK and Sons” banner. Till, after the denoument in the movie, this hoarding transposes into “Shanti Raj Constructions”.


This song is from a party thrown by AB; Shashi Kapoor and Hema Mailni celebrating the joys of love; by dancing, and singing. “Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez hai”. Shashi Kapoor in his jerky but lovable self and Hema Malini as only Hema Malini would. AB, who is the host, responds with “Ye bekaam, bekaar si cheez hai”- utterly useless stuff this romance is. This is understandable, considering the tribulations his mom went though. “Kitabon mein chhatptey hain chahat key kissey, haqeeqat ki duniya mein chaahat nahin hai” , AB goes on to sing in Yesu Das’ voice.



The Romance of Parathas

March 23, 2011


One of the best things about the hostels of the engineering college at Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU, Varanasi) was the cuisine on offer at the messes. Fresh, tasty, nutritious, and incredibly cheap! The IT-BHU messes are a subject of a post of their own, more about them later. One of the monthly highlights was the “paratha festival”; a weekend lunch where we would be served several varieties of parathas. Parathas are something I have adored all my life, and you will soon get to read reasons why. Suffice it now for me to say that these fests were just the right antidote to the week’s hard work. And well fortified I would have a grand snooze in the afternoons extending into evenings- till I was woken up by friends to catch the night show of a movie.

I will return to the BHU paratha fests in a bit. I must tell you first about how my romance with parathas started.


I have indelible memories of those triangular, layered parathas. They were the constant feature in my school “tiffin-box” for eleven years, right from kinder- garten till the tenth standard. We called them tikoniya parathas, the three-cornered ones. They were nearly always accompanied with aloo bhunjiya, potato sautéed with onions- sometime gobhi as well. The tiffin-boxe never varied in its shape and size. An anodized aluminum or stainless steel affair with a lid which would be affixed to the body by means of two “clasps” on either side which snap shut with the sharp clicks. The container would have a partition one-thirds the way. This one-third was meant for the bhunjiya and the rest of it was for the three parathas, each folded into half.

Just to complete the story of the tiffin box I must tell you about the days I forgot to carry the box back home. The following day’s supply was rolled into a sheet of paper. Often a glossy sheet torn out of a magazine! Or an old calendar sheet.


Parathas would nearly invariably be made with Dalda, or “khajoor chhap” as it was popularly known as. “Khajoor chhap” being a colloquism for the logo of the yellow-tinned brand from Lipton, two palm trees embracing each other. Sometimes the paratha would be elevated to another cooking fat- the blue-tinned Ghantoor ghee. The actual brand name for the ghee was “CK” (CK standing for Chanda jee, Khuba jee). The “Ghantoor” was the Bihari-speak for Guntur (coastal AP) where this ghee was manufactured.

It is not that the paratha was had only with bhunjiya, there were several other agreeable accompaniments as well. For breakfast at home it could be had with milk, or its derivatives- dahi, kheer and sevai. It could also be had with pickles, sabzi or with plain sugar. For good effect- and ease of eating, sugar was placed along the length of the paratha (the perpendicular of the isosceles triangle, if you will) and the paratha was rolled into a well, cheeni-roll. Just the right thing to munch on as you flipped your textbook pages with your left hand and chomped at the paratha roll held with the other.

Our house was strictly vegetarian, and I discovered later, that a paratha tasted divine with an omelette, a bhurji, chicken, mutton or an egg curry.


Tikoniya paratha is only one in the royal family of parathas. There are the most gloriously appetizing stuffed ones. Aloo Paratha being the most popular one. Staple of a weekend breakfast in many a family. Aloo partha with dahi and pickles or with an egg bhurji. This was the standard daily breakfast on my travels during my sales stint in North India in the early 90’s. Nothing like a large, hot, crisp aloo paratha with some divine, thick dahi at a road-side dhaba in upcountry Punjab on a cold wintery morning before I caught a bus to my next work destination! Mooli partha- ones stuffed with shredded radish- was also a popular breakfast.

The fillings could get really diverse depending on the creativity of the cook. You can use mashed chana daal, gobhi, and even keema. Even khowa paratha, paratha stuffed with the divinely sweet and mouth-watering khowa. And if you can’t stuff them, knead them into the dough. Like, for example, methi paratha!


You thought the people from the Southern parts of India eat only rice and sambhar? Think again! Have you ever lasted the delicately layered Kerala Paratha? The Ceylon paratha is a close equivalent. Have you ever had the joy of having Kerala paratha with Malabari mutton pepper fry? Succulent and spicy lamb pieces with crispy parathas! If you- or your wife- cannot prepare these parathas, fret not. You can always order pre-cooked and packaged “ID Parathas” available at every “kaka-shop” in the neighbourhood. If you don’t know what a kaka-shop is, or if a kaka-shop does not exist in your neighborhood then you probably do not deserve to have these parathas. Amen!


PS: We are on a family holiday to Mauritius. I am taking my kids around the breakfast spread and we are all admiring the vast array of dishes. Cheeses, fruits, meats, breads, my kids are totally impressed! Mostly continental stuff though as Mauritius is hugely popular with European tourists, specially the French and the British.

Suddenly I hear my younger one exclaim: “Papa, look! Paratha!! But I don’t know why they call it a faratta.

“Shut up”, scream the elder son, “this is not India!”

I scramble closer to where the action is, and I spy upon those juicy tikoniyas right next to a large bowl of aloo-sabzi. And then I realize, Mauritius has been largely peopled with men and women from Bihar, wretched indentured labourers who came from Bihar.

You can take a Bihari out of Bihar, But not the paratha out of a Bihari! Partha or faratta, does it make a difference?

Angkor Waaaaah(t)!!

March 7, 2011



I must admit I was not prepared for Angkor Vat. At all! All I knew it was an old Hindu temple in Cambodia. Only when I visited the place I realized there were three mistakes in my short presumption. To start with, the age of the temple. It is not old, but very, very old. I am sure that you will agree that something built in the 1000-1300 AD does indeed deserve to be called old. Only a few centuries younger to our very own Ajanta and Ellora. While Angkor Vat is indeed the name of one of the temples -one of the most glorious ones at that- the Angkor Vat complex houses hundreds of temples across a sprawling area of maybe a few hundred square kilometers. And the temples are not solely Hindu, they house Buddha statues as well. Some temples  have alternated between Hindu and Buddhist over time depending upon the faith of the then king of the land.

Somewhere in the middle of the first millennium, Hinduism moved eastwards from India; probably due to the travels of traders. Cambodia was a place where it struck roots and flourished for centuries. It was occasionally overtaken by Buddhism which had also spread from India to the far corners of Eastern Asia; from Burma and Thailand to Japan, China and Korea. The Khmer kings of Cambodia were not all Hindus, some were devout Buddhists as well.  Hinduism was the more dominant of the two till the 13th century when Buddhism, patronized by the then king became the state religion. All the kings had very Sanskritized names;  Suryavarman, Jayavarman, Yashovarman. Point to remember here is that they were not Indians, but Khmer. Khmers who interacted and traded freely with the Indian kingdoms (Cholas etc) and zealously went about constructing magnificent temples across their empire. A large number of them are in the Angkor Vat region including the famous Angkor Vat temple. I had the opportunity to visit three of the temples on a trip to Cambodia last week.



Bayon Temple

Bayon temple, made sometime in the 1200’s, is a cluster of towers each with Buddha’s face carved on the four sides, sometimes with only on one or two faces. The temple is made entirely of rocks (Lateritic rocks, I am told, from the neighbouring mountains.). Not carved into hilly slopes the way the Ajanta caves are, nor fashioned out of one single rock like the temple in Ellora. But huge rectangular chunks of these rocks stacked one atop the other without any binder like cement or mortar to hold two of these rock pieces together. I wonder how this structure could hold and then I am told by our guide that it is the weight of the rocks which ensures stability! Some engineering creativity here!

The towers have this eerie, grey, weather-beaten look. It is something about the rocks I surmise. Let me describe a rock piece to you. Imagine a tower of polished black granite. Gleaming in the sun. And then a few years of acid-laced rains eats into the granite leaving blotches and pits all over the surface. Then someone with a giant sandpapering machine gets to work on this mottled surface making it even rougher. To complete the effect someone carries a large hose pipe and sprays tons of liters of a powerful bleach on these rocks.

The temple complex is, well, complex, and feels like a maze inside. You climb up into a narrow aisle and you climb down into an even narrower one. Look around diligently and you find gems of such carvings.

Wall Carving at Bayon 1


Another detail from Bayon wall carvings

One should ideally devote at least 2-3 hours to take in all the details. Thirty minutes is all we could spare!



Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm also known as Raj Vihara (The Royal Monastery) was made in the late 12th century. It is a longish walk from the road via woods to the temple. When we reach the temple what grabs us immediately are the trees growing atop the temple and its walls. Yes, huge, full-grown trees on the walls. Take a look yourself:


A Tree at Ta Prohm Temple


Tree 2

It is the trees which give the defining look to this temple. Apparently, the chaps who were responsible for discovering and then repairing the Angkor Vat ruins decided to leave one temple in the “original” state to tell the visitors- and the world- what the real state of a temple was when it was discovered.


The subject of many a picture postcard



The last of the Ta Prohm tree pics!

All this time, over the last hour, I have not seen a single Indian tourist, the tourists were nearly all Caucasians or from the Far East: Koreans, Japanese etc. Suddenly I notice a very Indian-looking gentleman walking very purposefully up and down a corridor. I sidle up to him and ask what was he doing here alone and where his family was. (Only an Indian can ask another Indian about the family, others discuss the weather or football!).

“I am not a tourist”, he explained, “I work with the Archaeological Society of India.”

“Oh, the ASI”

“Yes, the ASI”

“Ah the ASI!”

I decided to move on from my excited- and silly- ASI chants.

“My name is Ojha, Santosh Ojha, I am from Bangalore”, I offer him my business card.

He offers me his own, “I am Ganjoo, T.K. Ganjoo.”

I inspect his card with due reverence.

T.K. Ganjoo, Senior Conservation Assistant, Project: Conservation and Restoration of Ta Prohm Temple. A partnership Project of ASI and SPSARA Authority Conservation D’Angkor Siem Reap Cambodia”. On the top right of the card is the legend Government of India (Ministry of Culture). And on the top left the ASI logo.

“Kashmiri I am sure!” I showed off my knowledge about Indian names.

“Yes, a Kashmiri, now based in Jammu”

“How long have you been here?”

“Since 2008, Mr Sood, my boss has been here since 2004.”

“Great job you are doing!” I complement him.

“Aah!” He dismisses this. “We are not allowed to touch most of the temple here. Just a few crumbling walls which we plan to fix.”

Of course, Ta Prohm is intended to be kept on an as-is, what-is basis! And a ten year project to maintain Ta Prohm in its pristine glory! Now you know the complexity of the job at hand at the Angkor Vat Complex!

“I will return the day after to meet up with you. I hope you will be around”

“Of course I will be. I will tell my boss Mr Sood as well. Do come.”

Unfortuantely, I never did get round to revisiting Ta Prohm temple again.


As I exit the Ta Prohm complex I cannot help but mention three things.

Thing 1:

The board displaying the association of ASI with the project:


ASI is helping out as well.....

Thing 2:

The ensemble of musicians squatting on the floor at the exit playing some lovely music. And then I see the display board next to the music party, it comprised solely of men who were victims of land mines who lost their limbs in the civil war of the 70’s and 80’s. Cambodia has the highest per capita victims of land mines.


The Magnificient Musicians!

Thing 3:

As we emerge out of Ta Prohm complex, we are accosted by little girls, some as little as 4 or 5 years. “One dollah, saah, one dollah, you mah friend.” One US dollar could fetch me one  bottle of water, a pair of bracelets or even a folding fan to give me relief from the hot Cambodian weather!

"One dolla', Sah!"



THE Angkor Vat Temple

Angkor Vat is the largest Hindu temple I have ever seen. I thought Meenakshi temple at Madurai was huge, but you must see Angkor Vat to see what huge means. I read later that this temple has a total area of 200 hectares, a rectangle of 1.5km by 1.3 km. A temple to beat all temples and that too built some 800 years ago.


The structure of the temple is supposed to represent Mount Meru, the center of the Universe for Hindus. Originally built to have nine towers, only five survive the ravages of time. The outer four having disappeared altogether though they have left their marks on the temple periphery. The outer eight towers representing the mountains surrounding Mount Meru, the home of Gods.


Those steep climbs at Angkor Vat!

This is not a temple to be visited in an hour- the amount of time I could afford to spend there. You could go on for days and still not tire of it. And at the end of your visit you would have (re)visited the entire Hindu mythology. The battle of Kurukshetra, the Samudra Manthan, Hanuman identifying Himself to Sita at Ashok Vatika, Lanka Kand, Sita’s Agni Pariksha. Well, I could go on and on. Except that I did not have the time to see all this, what I mentioned above have been gleaned from reference books!


The View After the Steep Climb

The look and feel of this temple is similar to the previous two temples. Similarly hewn stones, erected in a similar manner; one rock slab stacked over the other. It is just the dimension of the temple complex overpowers you. As I walk through the galleries, I spy upon a row of Buddha statues which had one thing in common; they were all decapitated! Not the Taliban effect, but the work of local vandals who have looted artifacts over the centuries. And yes, Buddha was there all over the place even in this overtly Hindu temple!



Blast from the past: KALA PATTHAR

February 28, 2011


Kaala Patthar Poster


This post first appeared many months ago in Atul’s immensely popular blog on Hindi film songs. In his blog, Atul discusses songs- generally old- and also gives the full lyrics and a link to the video. I contribute occasionally to his blog. While ostensibly the post is on the song “Ik rasta hai zindagi”. I have written more about the movie itself!


It has been one of those big mysteries of Bollywood which I have not been able to fathom yet. Just why did Kala Patthar not become one of the biggest block-busters of all times! Heck, it is not even among the top 50 grossers of 1970’s (it was released in 1979)

To start with it was the multi-starrer to beat all multi-starrers. I do not think any other movie has brought so many stars together in one film. The only notable exception being the recent film “Om Shanti Om” and that too in just one song only, “Deewangi, deewangi”.

The director of Kala Patthar was Yash Chopra, the man with the Midas touch, fresh from the successes of Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie and Trishul. Story and script were by the duo Salim-Javed who could do no wrong. Remember Sholay, Deewar and Zanjeer? They are the ones who created the angry young man persona of Amitabh Bachchan. Music was by Rajesh Roshan (Des Pardes, Doosra Aadmi and Swami fame). The story was based on the Chasnala mine disaster of 1975 which was fresh in people’s minds.

As far I am concerned this movie deserved to be a super-hit, but it actually did average business at the BO. But first the story.


Kala Patthar is a story of migrants and refugees. Nearly all of them victims of their pasts.

Vijaypal Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, a disgraced shipee, is tortured by his past. He was court-martialled after he abandoned his sinking ship, instead of “going-down” with it like a dutiful Captain. To escape his internal demons he takes a ride on a goods-train. And lands-up in the coal-mining area around Dhanbad.

Mangal Singh, Shatrughan Sinha, is also, somewhat “tortured” by his antecedants. He, a convicted crook, needs to escape from the long arm of the law. He too takes a train. And lands up in Dhanbad.

Ravi Malhotra, Shashi Kapoor, is also on a trip, except that he is on a mo’-bike trip. Just out-of-college after his studies in mining engineering.

Anita, Parveen Babi, a new-age journalist, and an old friend of Ravi’s, is there on the spot- at that mine near Dhanbad- on the invitation of the mine owner, Dhanraj Puri (Prem Chopra).

Dr Sudha Sen, Rakhi, is a dedicated young doctor at the local clinic. She has deliberately chosen a posting at this mining outpost as she wants to help the marginalized. (She had seen her father die in her village when she was young.)

Chhanno, Neetu Singh, lives in the village but we are not told where she has migrated from. She is that poor, parentless, village belle eking out a living selling talismanic finger-rings and other knick-knacks.

Each character well-written, well-etched.

There is a “reverse-migrant” too so-to-speak. Sanjeev Kumar in a cameo of a Doctor. He runs away from the mine’s clinic in just three months, he is so sick of it.

Even the relatively smaller characters, Yunus Parvez (the chief engineer), Parikshit Sahni (a truck driver), Manmohan Krishna (tea-stall owner), Bharat Saxena, MacMohan (miners) are given their clearly defined spaces, albeit small. Poonam Dhillon, Satyen Kappu, Iftekhar (Vijay’s dad), etc. etc., I could on-and on!


Vijaypal is on this major guilt after he has got court-marshalled.To add to his woes, his dad, a retired army officer, disowns him. He is the quintessential angry young man, but this time his anger is not directed towards the injustices heaped upon him or his family. He is angry with himself, he is seething with blind rage at his own cowardice. This makes him nearly masochistic, ever ready to embark on dangerous missions.

Witness the scene where, when confronted by a co-worker- a local toughie (Bharat Saxena)- he grips the sharp-edged knife held by the latter, wrenches it off his hands, chucks it and walks away nonchalantly.

The scene when he enters into the mine to rescue a fellow-miner even when he knows that his life is in danger.

In a classic scene at the clinic he refuses local anaethesia which his doctor (Rakhee) wants to administer to ease his pain as she tends to the wound on his leg. She beseeches him to take the medication: “Why don’t you understand?” She bursts in English, she is so exasperated. Right comes this killer from AB, “Why don’t you understand? Pain is my destiny and I can’t avoid it!” In AB’s crisp English, of course.

Mangal Singh runs away from the law at a stone quarry where the prisoners are laboring with a cleverly executed escape behind a screen of smoke and rubble after he ignites the dynamite at the quarry. Destination: Dhanbad’s coalmines.

Vijay and Mangal loathe each other, it is very evident from the beginning. The tension which builds between them is a highlight of the movie. The director holds the maar-peet between the two till much later, he just makes taut the already tense animosity between the two at each encounters of theirs’.

But it is not hatred all across, romance is blossoming between Vijay and Dr Sudha, between Mangal and Chhanno. And of course Ravi has charmed his way into Anita’s life.

Dhanraj Puri, the classic villainous character, is plotting a watery graveyard for his miners. He has instructed his engineers to drill deeper ignoring the large body of accumulated water in the depths of the mines. Till one of the walls is breached and water floods in.

The good guys all come together and finally they win. The evil is vanquished.


Amitabh’s performance is A++ grade, no one else could have essayed the role of a man at war with himself. Seething with inner rage, his brooding eyes, his sullen looks. With weighty one-liners delivered in a manner in which only AB can. To wit, the one in English mentioned above.

Shatrughan Sinha has the role of a lifetime, written it seems, specifically for him. The petty, uncouth, foul-mouthed ruffian, but, as it eventually turns out, one with a heart of gold. The sparkling dialogues which the S-J duo has written for him are delivered with elan. Some of them are all-time classics:


Shotgun is playing a round of “teen-patti”, flush. He draws two Kings and one minor card. His opponent draws three Jacks. The opponent is flush -pardon the pun- with anticipation when he does a “show” of his three Jacks. Shotgun nonchalantly “shows” the two Kings and tears into bits the minor card as he makes a grab for the cash on the table. When challenged to show his third card, he thunders, “Teesra badshah main hoon.” (I am the third king)

His terms of endearment, or scorn, are unique. More notably when he addresses his lady-love, Chhanno:

Ai meri bholi banjaran” (Oh, my naïve gypsy woman!)

Ai meri gulshan ki bulbul.” (Ah, the sparrow in my orchard)

Referring to her derisive repartee to him to sell him bangles when he refuses to buy the tantric finger-rings: “Kyon fakeeron sey mazaak karti hai, balikey! Waisey ham kadey zaroor pehentey hain kabhi kabhi, lekin lohey key aur who bhi sarkari”. (Why do you joke with us mendicants, young lady! I do wear bangles, but those are made of steel, and are standard police department issue). As you would have guessed he means the handcuffs!

Haaayyy, aisa lagta hai ki ek-saath chhey darzan choodiyan kanon mein chhank gayi hon…”, when she introduces herself to him as Chhanno. (When I hear your name Chhanno, I can feel the clink of six dozen bangles are ringing into my ears!)

To the others:

Arey o ullu key patthey, teri duty meri bhookh sey badhkar hai kya?” (Oh, you SOB, you think your duty is more important than my hunger?) Shotgun says to the truck driver, after he has just stopped the truck he was travelling in, just to spite AB who was a co-traveller.)

Abey o arthi key phool, ham apni line khud banatey hain, samjha. Abey hat”! (Oh you wreath-on-a-corpse! I make my own line, understand? Now you get lost!) Shotgun to a patient in a queue at a doctor’s clinic.

I could go on-and-on.

Salim and Javed have excelled in this movie. Hats off to them!

Rajesh Roshan, the music director has also done a wonderful job, with so many hummable numbers in the movie. The most enjoyable of all being “Ek rasta hai zindagi” sung by Shashi Kapoor as he drives to “Dhanraj Coal Fields” to take up his job. A classic Rajesh Roshan song with the typical beat of bongos. And very hummable.

IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 4

February 26, 2011

“It was for you.”

“No. No. I did it for you.”

“No. You. Believe me!”

“No, no. You!”

Happy married lives are made of such selfless gestures. My wife and I were trying to convince the other that the delay in waking up was due to our consideration for the other on that cold wintry morning of 25th December at Varanasi. We had over-slept, plain and simple, and had missed the meeting of our batch with the current students of IT-BHU that morning. I have the reassurance of friends like Chalis, Anshu and Arun Anant who I knew would play the roles of responsible seniors and address the concerns of the juniors. And they did as I heard from the others


I was woken up by a call from Bipin Jha, an old friend and an ex roommate at 112, Limbdi.  I now had some urgent matters to attend to. Bipin had a tummy upset and needed some medication. And I had a very old favour to return. As I told you, Bipin was my room mate in our first year. He, incidentally, is also from my school in Jamshedpur but I barely knew him then. He was the one who had nursed me into health when I was having a severe bout of blood dysentery. So much so that we had to seek specialist care at the University’s hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, commonly called SL by the campus denizens. But the problem with the hospital was that it was not limited to only the Univ. students. Patients came from far and wide, such was the reputation of the hospital those days. (It is another matter that the University residents got thrown far and wide as a consequence of events in the hospital, but more about that later.) And for anyone to get some time with the consultant on duty was a difficult proposition. And I, and for that matter, Bipin, were just a few weeks old in the campus. No hope for me. Till Netaji’s intervention.

BHU in that era was a hotbed of student politics. Politicians of all hues, parties, ages and departments were active in the campus. The Netaji referred to above was none other than IT’s Manoj Sinha. He accompanied me to SL, both astride a cycle-rikshaw with Bipin pedaling behind on his cycle. Thanks to Netaji, I was given a priority appointment by the doctor and was out of the hospital quickly.

I think I am digressing now, the student politics of BHU deserves a post (maybe posts) of its own. Back to the Reunion meet.


We reached the campus only at lunch time, the morning’s interaction was missed. We gathered that many in the IT café had missed the morning’s session as they were busy sight-seeing. But all made it a point to come for the lunch. Rantim (V Mech) and wife came from Sarnath, “No way we could miss out on the reunion meals”, they said! I shall not delve into the details of the spread, suffice it to say that it had a distinctive Rajasthani flavor. And a little Bhojpuri too. There was litti-and-chokha, amazingly well made. I was busy canvassing for this and I remember persuading many of my friends to have it. In case you are not familiar with this sinfully delicious stuff, here is a definitive guide to it! A most satisfactory lunch, I can tell you!


Post-lunch was the time for introducing my family to MY campus. Started that with a pilgrimage to 112, Limbdi, which surprise, surprise was open (in that vacation season) and we were welcomed by the current occupant whose name eludes me now. He was happy to invite us into his room. The room looked pretty much the same but for a feature which was non-existent in my 1st year engineering, namely a PC! My teenage sons found it strange that I had studied in an era when there no PCs. “So weird, Papa.” That’s what they had to say! “So weird!”

112, Limbdi. Do not miss the current occupant!

The Expansive Limbdi Campus

Oh those hanging towels and undies!

The scene outside the room was familiar, the famous towels and undies drying in the sun in the “lobby”. So reassuring, I thought to myself, there is a bit of the old BHU alive even now!

A march to the “mess” after that. A current student was showing off the mess to his grand parents. We peered into the cavernous corridor of the mess from behind the closed doors but could not figure out any of the royalty; no maharajs around! Even the “canteen” where Sri Hasanand Punjani, the canteen contractor ruled had been converted into multiple messes.


After Limbdi we proceeded to the DG crossing, the setting for many an exciting debate during those five years. I have written about this in an earlier post of mine.

The next stop was the Arts Faculty Auditorium. I was involved with dramatics in the campus; some plays I had directed while in the others I played various roles. A lightman, the backstage incharge, a prompter etc. The auditorium was locked and some helpful persons guided me to the chowkidar of the Arts Faculty, I think Lachhoo was his name, who cheerfully opened the audi and let us in. Felt a bit weird to have it only for ourselves, no audience milling around! My kids were excited to see the stage where a “debacle” of sorts had happened during one of my plays, “Kamala”.

Director awaiting audience!

Time to leave the campus, but a stop en route at pahalwan’s to partake of the delightful lassi! Unfortunately, there are three Pahalwan outlets at the same location (the family has split since we left the campus), none sells lawanglata anymore.


The dinner was at the same venue as the previous night’s. And as expected, another grand affair! It was the Christmas day, and to add to the X’Mas cheers, the hall was done up with white and red balloons. The waiters wore the Santa Claus’ red peaked caps. I would not have been surprised if the caterer, who paid so much attention to details, brought in a pair of reindeers into the hall! And Santa Claus himself with his bag of goodies for us. Well, the caterer had the dimensions of Santa Claus and he was indeed carrying his bag of goodies. All spread on the tables for us to savor. Yet another fabulous meal. Thank you very much Milan Caterers, your fare made the reunion that much more memorable.

Don't miss the peaked caps!

The evening entertainment was provided by a one man band- Rolando orchestra. Rolando from equipment the “one-man” was playing on. I love music, but the action on the lawns outside was a lot more exciting. Just a few hours to go before this fairy tale of a reunion came to an end. Big time (re)-bonding was happening outside.

Anshu: the one man army!


Arey, idhar aa, phir galey mil jaa

“Don’t you visit the US? Please drop by the next time round!”

“We REALLY must meet again, maybe when our batch turns 30.”

Apni beti ki shaadi kab kar raha hai tu, I wish my son was old enough for them to get married”

“Go away, this group photo is only for the 1980-81 Limbdi gang.”

Some of the 1980-81 Limbdi gang

The lawns outdoors

Sandy scurrying about with his massive photography equipment. Chellam urging all to fill in their demographics in a book he was carrying. Salil, the methodical organizer as ever, persuading the laggards to pay up the contribution for the reunion (I was one of the laggards). Anshu flitting from inside the hall to the lawns ensuring all were happy and occupied. Kaustabh making sure that his corner of imbibers were kept well provided for. Balaji doing what he does only can do best; regaling us with his one-liners delivered in his chaste Tamil-Mumbai Hindi. The sagely Chalis (beard-and-all) spreading peace all around. A shawl-clad Anant Arun guffawing as only he can. An impossibly black-bearded Panesar (which hair dye do you use? I need to try it out myself) narrating tales of Canada where he lives now. Bipin Jha, a little weakened after a night’s illness still managing to join in the revelry, that too minus a drink!


Ojha is flitting between the lawn and the indoor hall. In the hall nibbling into a kabab, patting a friend’s son on his back, keeping an eye on his sons who were lost among their new-found friends, getting introduced to a friend’s wife. As his wife, who had kind-of forced her way into the reunion, bonds with the ladies in the group.

Some wives! (Oh dears)

Ojha returns to the lawns to discover the “smokers’ corner” even more active. He even gets invited to inaugurate a new smoke round. And clink glasses with yet another group.


I get back to the lawns, the more happening place.

Ajeet Saran grabs me by my shoulders: “Ojha, jaantey ho, I have continued doing plays even after the campus days!”

Manoj Prasad is intrigued I want to see a mine: Open cast he says, will you be interested? Of course I am, Manoj!

I am now suddenly missing those who are not present there. Randomly. Ramki (one of the andhas in my play “Andho ka Haathi”). Partha Dey (the guitarist). Subhash Shanbhagh (Shambhu we called him). Rajesh Tiwari (Tavare, named after the Brit cricketer of those days, Chris Tavare). Biju John from Thiruvalla. Sunita Singh, the lone female protagonist I have had in my plays. Bhandarkar, for no reason at all.

And then, I catch myself weeping, tears flowing down my cheeks.

Don’t know why.