A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Tag: Luchi

A tale of two cities ……

I am back from a trip to Kolkata. A trip I made after nearly 2 years. Traveling to Cal (I still prefer calling it that way) is always a welcome change. A tamilian born in Durgapur I have fond memories of this part of the country. As I landed at the Netaji airport – I could sense the similarities with Chennai airport. Both the airports are run by AAI (Both suck and are the amongst the most inefficient in the country). Therein starts this exercise and as I was spending a day in Cal – I could not stop myself from spotting the numerous similarities and some differences between these two lovely cities.

Travel to Kolkata

Lets get started – Cal & Chennai are the only two metro cities which are still loyal to the grand old Ambassador Taxis . Mumbai is still stuck with its Premier Padmini but every other city has moved on to the Fords, Renaults, Maruti …..

Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Both Cities have a long history. Being major ports they have been key bases for the British & the Dutch. Remnants are still visible in numerous buildings spotting the city. Cal having been the capital of the British beats Chennai hollow on this count – in terms of numbers, size, magnificence….  Yes the Ripon building is impressive but is no comparison for the Victoria.

Chennai Central Railway Station

Chennai Central is an impressive structure, although smaller than Howrah Station –  both have their similiarities with their striking design and bright red color.

Howrah railway station

The Howrah Bridge is an icon of Kolkata and a marvel of engineering (Talking of the Howrah bridge do you know how many nuts & bolts were used to make it – that’s a common quiz question, check out Google). Add to this the second bridge over the Hooghly.

Howrah bridge in kolkata

The Cooum and Adyar bridge is all that Chennai has – while the Cooum is a disgrace the Adyar bridge is just a small bridge over a river that flows for maybe a few months in a year). But Chennai has the Marina Beach. (Some say this is the longest & widest  beach in the whole world. It is nature’s gift to Chennai but sadly not well maintained)

Cooum and Adyar bridge Moving on to education. Both have a culture where education is valued, kids are studious, and they have some of the best schools & colleges the country can boast off.  Many are Jesuit institutions over 100 years old – St Xavier’s, La Martinere, Scottish Church, Don Bosco in Cal and Loyola, Stella Maries, Christians College in Chennai. The BE college at Shibpur and the College of Engineering at Guindy are amongst the oldest in the country. Presidency is a veritable institution and many still prefer Jadavpur to IIT KGB. Chennai boasts of an IIT and Calcutta of an IIM.

Xaviers Kolkata

There was a time when the majority of IIT seats were bagged from Madras & Cal (That has now changed and Hyderabad holds claim to that title now). The highest % of students who crack CA are from the Cal & Chennai CA Institutes. In the 1960’s majority of IAS officers came from these two cities. (That was before reservations, now UP & Bihar hold claim to that record!!) Both cities also contribute significantly to the brain drain – and now for H1B Visas.


Both cities are rich in culture & art.  Chennai the heart of Carnatic music & Bharatnatyam, while Cal is famous for Rabindra Sangeet, Jatra, Baul & Satyajit Ray. Getting seats to the Music Academy or for a program at Rabindra Sadan is equally difficult.

Kanjeewaram silks

While the Kanjeevaram silk rustles in finery and bright colours  the Bengal handloom holds sway with its elegance and class.

Bengal handloom

The Chennai “Mami” & Calcutta “Boudi” hold sway as they majestically stride down T Nagar or Bou Bazar shopping for the finest of gold ornaments. (Both cities love to buy gold and are a key reason for the astronomical increase in gold prices in India.)

Gold in Chennai

The spicy “Jhal Mudi” and “Puchka” beckons at every corner while the “Sundal” (Boiled Chana) at Marina  bags a distant third place. Luchi – Allor Dam , Mochar Chop , Baingan Bhaja and the tasty Hilsa , Rui & Katla ( I am veg – just heard , smelt and seen them)  compare well with the  Ghee Roast, Avial , Sambar of Chennai.

Luchi in Chennai

Both are predominantly rice eaters (Some say that rice adds to the intellectual capacity and wheat to the brawn power – probably that’s the reason most of the folks in the Indian Army are from north of the Narmada and the intellectuals from TN & Bengal)

Rasagolla sweets

The Rosogolla reigns supreme in the land of sweets while the Mysore Pak and Jangri entices you in Chennai. (While I love all sweets – Bengali sweets made of “Chana” are better for health since they  are not fried)

Best hotel in South India

My only grouse in Cal is the difficulty in finding a neat & clean restaurant chain where I can dig into Bengali delicacies. (I always end up at Aheli – but that’s fine dining and pretty expensive). Chennai has Saravana Bhawan at every main street serving delicious treats that are tasty & consistent. When I asked the cab driver to take me to a good sweet shop he took me to Haldirams !!

Business in Cal has been taken over by the Marwari’s (Other than Peerless – every large business is run by Marwari’s – Birla, Abuja’s, Khaitans, even the Lovely Brand underwear are made by enterprising Marwari’s). Sowcarpet in Chennai has its share of Marwari’s & Guajarati’s but the Chettiars control the pulse of business in Chennai.

Jayalalitha Iron lady

Madam Jayalalitha runs the show , while here its Mamata Di. Both are mercurial and have a tendency to be dictatorial. Both have ideologies that they are ready to dump and freely switch between UPA & NDA as per their convenience.

Morning coffee

Chennai wakes up at sunrise to Suprabhatam, temple bells and fresh hot filter coffee. Cal wakes up a little later to “Allah O Akbar” ( in many parts) and  the aroma of Darjeeling tea. (Never figured out why Cal has a Coffee House in College Street and not a Tea House).

Both cities have their share of minorities – 20% Muslims in Cal & 20% Christians in Chennai. But thank God they live in harmony and peace.

The intellectuals at Calcutta love their “ Adda” over a cup of hot chai (In earlier times in a mud pot)  with a spicy & tasty “Singhara” (Samosa) and many of the worlds problems are solved in these neighborhood “Addas”.

Darjeeling is an overnight journey from Cal and so is Ooty from Chennai. Two of the finest hill stations in the country, which are sadly well past their prime. Both are similiar in height at 7000 feet.

Both have local trains that keep zipping thru the city from morn to night.  Cal got its metro many decades back, Chennai is working on getting it soon. The Trams in Calcutta are iconic. Chennai is a major auto hub; Cal was also nearly an auto hub, till Didi got into her act in Singur.

Local trains in India

Chennai expands to OMR with high-rise building and world-class amenities; Cal is fast expanding to Rajarghat (which when fully done one day will look like New Calcutta, its already called New Town).

The Iyer Brahmin in Chennai is pure veg , the Brahmin in Cal eats Fish & Chicken & Mutton. The DMK preaches to be an atheist, so do the Communists. DMK Patriarch Karunanidhi’s son is named Stalin and the doctrine of the original Stalin runs deep in some of the venerable institutes of Cal. But Religion runs deep in both cities. Chennai probably has the highest number of temples in a metro while Cal celebrates Durga Puja, Kali Puja, and many others … with pomp & joy

Special on Durga Pooja

The prince of Behala is waiting to be  a kingmaker (Hopefully when Jagmohan uncle comes back as the BCCI President) while Chennai adopts Dhoni , Kolkatta has adopted Gambhir.

The “Kalkatta Pan” is world famous while Chennai has its “Madras Eye” (Red Eye infection).

President Venkatraman one of the finest the country has seen  came from Madras and now Pranabda from Calcutta will probably match him.

The Statesman founded in 1875 and The Hindu founded in 1878 were the leading news papers from Cal & Chennai – both are a class apart with great editorial and error free english.

I could go on and on – but then I am going to lose my reader. So Lets stop.

Whenever I travel to Chennai or Cal I come back with a feeling of “ when is my next trip”. I remember the title song of a Bengali serial we used to watch in DD many years back in Durgapur when we were kids  “ Aajob Shahar, Premer Shahor, Bichitra Nagar, Ei Kolkata” however when I travel to Mumbai or Delhi its always “ when can I get out of this city” .

Which leaves me wondering – when we have two cities with so much of culture, tradition, intelligentsia… whys is Delhi the political capital & crumbling Mumbai the financial capital. Is there hope, will we see a change in fortune and will Cal & Chennai come back soon as the top 2 cities of this country and the world at large ?

Please do share your thoughts.

Sare Jahan Se Acchha

Its our 66th Independence Day. The ladies in our building put together a nice 1 hr program to celebrate the occasion. The kids had to sing ” Sare Jahan Se Accha  Hindustan Hamara …..”. My 5 Year old was part of the group and she has been practicing hard for the last few weeks. Last night as we were chatting post dinner before bedtime and she asked me a simple innocent question ” Is India really the best in the whole world “.

I was in a spot. I couldn’t tell her lies , yet I really had to think how to prove to her that India is really the greatest in many many aspects.  I was anyway sick & tired of all the negative press we see in our newspapers & TV every day (Corruption , rape , train accidents , murder – I seriously feel our media folks needs to focus on more positive commentary)- so here are some points I shared with her.

We have been Independent for only 66 years 

When you look at the history of India of nearly 2000 + Years – we have actually been independent as a country for only 66 years. The concept of Bharat & Hindustan has been around since the Aryan era but from the late 800 AD we have been plundered again and again by invaders –  Starting with Alexander , Ghori, Ghazni, Aibak , the Turks , the Mongols , the Dutch , The French , the British ….. . Think of any country that has faced the wrath of so many invaders  – not many names come to our mind. The US has been independent for hundreds of years, Europe faced the effects of WW for a few years, Japan was bombed once  – but we have been controlled, ruled , butchered ,  dominated for over a 1000 + years – and have still retained our traditions, culture & art . That really makes us the best in the world.

Idli, Dosa & Rasogolla has Global acceptance 

Look at our diversity in food.  Walking into the Indian kitchen its amazing how the housewife creates magical varieties of dishes from over hundreds of  ingredients thats part of almost every household . They say in India if you travel every hundred kilometres the food and the language changes.  And today we have absorbed different food habits – North Indians eat Idli , Dosa, S Indian Eat Dhokla & Sabudana Poha, Luchi Aloo Dam is a favoured dish Pan India , Rajasthani  Thali is loved all over – food has truly integrated us as a nation all over. Why just India the humble Indian Curry is the most popular disk in UK and Saravana Bhawan has opened in over 25 countries to roaring business. So when it comes to food we are the best in the world. Nobody can match even remotely the variety of dishes this country can serve. 

Culture & Arts 

Learning Bharatnatyam takes many years – for a kid of 5 , a committment of 10 years to become a exponent of Bharatnatyam is not an easy one. Why Bharatnatyam – take any Indian Musical instrument  – Veena , Mandoline, Tabla , Ghatam… its hard dedicated work to become a specialist. They say to become an expert one needs to spend nearly 10,000+ hrs in an activity – if you spend an hr / day thats 365 hrs a year and 30 years to become a world specialist. Yet we excel in this – every indian family wants their children to learn at least one Indian art form. In a city like Bangalore every weekend there will be at least 10 different stage performances happening of some traditional Indian art form or music. Find me a country that can match the sheer variety of dance forms , music instruments that we have in India. That makes us the best in the world.

The Power of Yoga 

Over 1000 years of invasions all our manuscripts and scriptures were plundered , burnt , ravished (Read about what Mahmud Ghazni did at Somnath , and that was follwed right till the age of the British)

We find glowing references to India in the writings of pre-colonial Europeans quoted by Swami Vivekananda: “All history points to India as the mother of science and art,” wrote William Macintosh. “This country was anciently so renowned for knowledge and wisdom that the philosophers of Greece did not disdain to travel thither for their improvement.” Pierre Sonnerat, a French naturalist, concurred:

We find among the Indians the vestiges of the most remote antiquity…. We know that all peoples came there to draw the elements of their knowledge…. India, in her splendour, gave religions and laws to all the other peoples; Egypt and Greece owed to her both their fables and their wisdom.

Look at the Power of Yoga. A practise that retained its glory thru the ages and was imparted from Guru to Shishya , Father to Children. Anything that is genuinely good and delivery value needs no marketing or publicity ( Look at Apple Products!!). Today we probably have a Yoga teaching centre in every major city of the world. Millions practise the Surya Namaskar  every day and profess of the benefits they have gained. Its the perfect example of Word of Mouth Marketing.

Yoga, spiritual thinking and the ability to share this knowledge by individuals and small teachers is what makes India unique.  An example of this is Yoga House – a small Yoga Studio that has opened in Indranagar – started by a passionate Yoga Practitioner. She could have rented her house in this prime area and made a lot more money rather than try running a Yoga Centre with delectably tasty health food (Veg). There are still many practitioners like her across the world spreading the power of Yoga and Spiritual Thinking ( Not every one like Baba Ramdev & Sri Sri are running a commercial venture)

People like the lady who runs Yoga House or the many Yoga Ashrams across the country propogating health & spiritual peace are what makes India the greatest.

In Conclusion I had to tell my daughter – lets look at the positives around us that makes us a great country. The journey has started and yes there is hope that some capable person ( maybe its Kejriwal) can strike the right chord and wake the millions in this country from slumber ( The slumber of what Can I do ? ) and help us get our wealth back ( Black Money from Swiss Banks) , eliminate Greed (So that we are happy with one house and don’t buy 3 – and even if we do pay the right amount in Chk and not evade property tax) , Elect Good People ( Not Crooks) , Create a sense of Community and pride (Sadly other than Sachin, Dhoni and the winers of Olympic medals and maybe Aamir Khan there are no national heroes. There is no Ambedkar , or Sardar Patel who can bind the country as one).

There is hope and we definitely have a right to  keep singing Sare Jahan Se Acchha Hindustan Hamara.

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