Mannaar from Mayavaram – A Short Train Story for Kids

Mannaar was the friendly diesel engine driver from Mayavaram. He drove the Mayavaram Mysore Express every other day.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/abhinavnfr/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/abhinavnfr/

One day, as usual, he finished his evening snacks, took his nap, and then boarded his familiar blue diesel engine locomotive. It was late as usual, but he knew he could make up time on the way.

By the time he got to Kumbakonam, he was very tired and sleepy. He had not slept well the previous night. He found Singaaram, another engine driver friend lounging at the Kumbakonam station.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/floydgal

“Will you help me drive the loco until Trichy? By that time, I can have a small nap. You can catch the Trichy Kumbakonam passenger back.”

Singaaram was a helpful friend. He agreed and took on driving the blue diesel loco. The track between Kumbakonam to Trichy through Tanjore has lots and lots of level crossings. So Singaaram was honking all the way to Trichy.

When they reached Trichy, our friend Mannaar had just fallen asleep. He pleaded with Singaaram – “Please, my friend. Can you please drive on until Salem? I could not sleep a bit with all the honking.”

Singaaram did not have any other plans. So he agreed. After all, Salem was not too far away. The blue diesel loco chugged through Karur and Erode and eventually reached Salem.

By that time, our dear friend Mannaar was deep in slumber. So deep in sleep he was, that Singaaram could not even wake him up. Singaaram did not have any other choice than to drive on.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/abrinsky/

It was day break by the time they reached Hosur. Mannaar rose from his deep sleep, fresh as a daisy. “Singaaram, my friend, let me buy you a coffee”. He jovially said, “Since you have driven all the way to Hosur, and there is no return train right now, come, let us ride to Bangalore, which is only one more hour away.”

Singaaram realized that Mannaar had been fooling with him all along. But then they were friends, and Singaaram did not mind helping friends. The Mayavaram Mysore Express chugged in to the Bangalore Central station.

 

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Singaaram got off the train. Mannaar bade him good bye and went on his way to Mysore.

PS: I told this improv story to my kid last week, and he totally enjoyed it. Hence I thought I would share it here.

 

Big Basket Features that I would love!

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image: bigbasket.com

I have been a big fan of BigBasket.com for quite a while now. While I love walking by the supermarket aisles and ‘discovering’ new products, bigbasket has taken away the stress of monthly grocery shopping for the family. To be fair, I should also disclose the fact that, we alternate buying weekly vegetables from bigbasket and our local HOPCOMS vegetable store (walking distance).

I had been thinking of a few things that bigbasket could introduce to make it even better. Having been a program manager (in a previous live at Microsoft), the first thing you do is to write a feature set / requirement spec. Here goes!

Weekly vegetable delivery. This is something similar to Amazon Fresh in select areas of the US. Most of India shops for veggies once a week, for a week. There is usually a preference on vegetables in most households. The vegetables could be a randomized set. (This is a common pain point when you buy veggies – what veggies did you buy last week – no one wants a repeat, leave alone several repeats). Ofcourse, no one minds repeats of favourite veggies (um, potato?). Send an email on Friday or Saturday listing a proposed selection of vegetables that would be delivered on Sunday. This would let the user to potentially tweak the order set. Guarantee freshness delivered at your door step, every weekend morning. I am sure you will get a bunch of customers asap.

Grocery is something that is fairly predictable too. Pulses, masalas, and other house hold goods are typically purchased at a roughly similar frequency. There is some infra that is already available with bigbasket for this – in the form of smart basket. I got this idea from looking at my own shopping analytics that is available at bigbasket right now. If I can see it, so can the system, and make a prediction.

Festivals and Diets: You can incorporate all kinds of smarts into this too. Suggest more ghee and sugar during festive seasons like Diwali maybe? Suggest baking accessories during Christmas maybe? How about incorporating your diet plan into this as well? If you get broccoli every week, would you throw it away? Always suggest low sodium salt?

Recipes: Hey ! You are throwing in a bunch of veggies, and you know the other groceries that you have delivered recently, why cant you put together 2 recipes per week using these ingredients. Simple pictorial ones. Easy to understand, and prepare. Even better, add one or two more exotic ingredients (for free), which in conjunction with the veggies delivered and the groceries that you recently delivered, would make a super exotic meal. This is marketing for those two exotic ingredients. If they like this recipe, now, you have a regular customer for 2 more of your offerings.

Secret box: There are a few start-ups in the US that are attempting this now. For a monthly subscription, they will deliver a monthly surprise box containing cosmetics or snacks, or other similar consumable stuff. This is a great marketing tie-up opportunity with partners. Drop in a couple of satchets of the newest flavour of Saffola Oats – carefully concealed in some secret wrapping of course (to enhance the interest) for free with your delivery. Notice the delight in the customers attitude. You can also link this line item with the previous (recipe) for even more customer delight goodness.

Delivery: What if the customer does not really want you to deliver home? Get up early on a sunday morning to a doorbell? Really? I bet the idea of bigbasket kiosks are already running the rounds inside your org now. You should, and yes, I mean, you should, introduce kiosks for ordering and taking delivery of orders. Best place for these kiosks for the yuppie crowd would be malls and IT parks.

Well to paraphrase ‘Sound of Music’, these are a few of my favourite things. I would love Big basket to come up with these features. And I would be the first one to trial these out !! And well, yeah, to be fair, thanks BigBasket for letting me do some PM stuff that I had not done in quite a while.

Bangalore – Shirdi – Pandharpur

This is a guest post from my father. Father and Mother had done a 4 day 3 night trip to Shirdi and Pandharpur from Bangalore.

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First Day

  1. Left by Karnataka Express to Kopergaon (Shirdi access) at 7-20 pm. Comfortable journey with good catering service.
  2. Reached Kopergaon (KPG) at 2.00PM 45 minutes late.
  3. Kopergaon to Shirdi about 15 to 16 Kms. Separate auto Rs 300.
  4. Checked into to Prebooked A/C room at Sai Ashram Bhakta Nivas, a 2000 room accommodation complex by Sai Samasthan. A wonderfully created infrastructure with a sorry state of maintenance. The Sai Samasthan need to take a very serious view if they have to maintain the complex in good shape. Highly recommended to stay in one of the good hotels in the nearby vicinity until the maintanence problem is fixed.shirdi1
  5. Sai Dharshan through tickets booked on line. Good Dharshan and pleasant experience.
  6. Visit to other places like Dwarakamai, Chavadi and other places within the Temple.
  7. Mukh Dharshan (A Dharshan of Sai Baba) from a hall from a little distance. Good view of the entire Sai Baba from here.
  8. Snack at Sukh Sagar a restaurant near gate — Good Bombay Chat.
  9. Night Arathi (10.15 PM) through admission pre-booked on line. Systematic admittance till going into the Deity main hall. After entry it was like in a Mumbai Suburban train during peak hours. Once the Arathi starts people get adjusted to that.

Second Day:

  1. Morning after breakfast (7.30 AM) come out of the Bhakti Nivas. Lot of operators waiting to take you to Sani Shignapur (Sani temple). They charge Rs 120 per person for two way journey.
  2. We chose a Force Motors Long Chasis Carrier (they pack 14 people).We got a middle seat (4seats).We have to wait for almost 45 minutes before starting.
  3. Good decision to take the Force Vehicle taking the very bad condition of the National Highway which we have to take. It would have been a night mare with a Maruthi Omni or a Tata Ace.
  4. We reach Sani Shignapur (65 Kms from Shirdi) after 75 minutes’ drive. Since we reached early no crowd and we have a good Dharshan of the open deity. The deity a black stone in the open surrounding. Very nice Dharshan.shanishigna
  5. On our way back we could see lot of vehicles zipping past indicating the buildup of crowd going to Shani Signapur.
  6. After reaching Shirdi back at about 1.00 PM Lunch at Woodlands (duplicate) opposite to Sai Temple. (Slightly highly priced but good.) Rasam Vada, Sev Puri, Bakala Bath and Mysore Coffee.
  7. Again Dharshan at Mukh Dharshan Hall.
  8. Leave for Kopergaon little early by about 7.15 PM as we have to reach Kopergaon well in time to go to Solapur by Maharashtra Express slip coach to Solapur. The train reaches Kopergaon at 9.50 PM. The train arrives on time. Till the last moment the Railways do not announce the platform, which puts the passengers to lot of anxiety and makes you run helter and shelter
  9. Though the stopping time was one minute, the train halted for 90 minutes to allow crossings for 4 trains.

Third day

  1. Maharashtra express reached Daund at 3.00AM, 45 minutes late.
  2. The slip compartment to Solapur was expected to be attached to Chennai Mail at 5.15 AM which arrived at 7.30 AM and so the train reached Solapur at 11.15 AM 2hours late.
  3. This leg of the journey was the worst. The condition of the sleeper coach with the nightmarish toilets emanating stench which could make one swoon. Further parking the compartment in a dead end platform for 4.30 hours made it into an open toilet for all the people living their life in the platform.
  4. At last reached Solapur and checked into Surya International (not the executive hotel but the older one) which looked a heaven after the nightmarish journey.
  5. Decent hotel which charged Rs 1400 plus taxes for a deluxe non A/c accommodation.
  6. Hired a car (Suzuki Desire A/C) through the hotel for visit to Pandharpur (Rs 2000). Good car with a descent driver.
  7. Solapur – Pandharpur is 68 Kms one way and takes 75 minutes’ drive.
  8. Though we have obtained Pre-booked pass through internet, luckily we don’t have to use it since there was no crowd. We had a good Dharshan.
  9. Pleasant experience is there is no touts to pester you.
  10. The whole trip to and fro Pandharpur took 3.15 hours.

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    (image courtesy:wikipedia)

  11. Reached the station Solapur well in advance and since our departure time by the Solapur- Yeshwantpur super-fast express at 7.20 PM is linked with Mumbai Mail from Chennai, quite a good spread of food like Idly,Vada etc. were available (otherwise everywhere only Vada pav and Bread Sandwich only.

Fourth day

  1. Reached Yeshwantpur on time at 7.10AM after a pleasant journey in the train.14783638006_95ab41dd50_z

Book Review: Sceptical Patriot

I had been wanting to read this book for a while. I have followed the author (@sidin) for quite a while on a twitter. He does write pretty well, and there were several several good reviews of the book on the twitter feed.

So when the new kindle landed up on my door step, this was the first book I bought.

  • The book starts off at a brisk gallop. Sidin gives his reasonings on why he started writing this book. And the proclamation that this would not be a dry history book, but more of an enjoyable read of Indian history and some of its misinterpretations.
  • I liked the idea of taking apart of a few ‘India facts’ and also the concept of giving a rating to it at the end of each fact. This rating shows how much of the ‘fact’ is truth.
  • I really enjoyed his in-depth research of some of the topics. Most of the history of India can actually found only in history analysis books written by Europeans. Sidin’s readings of these books saves us time, money, and energy. He condenses them wonderfully into smaller chunks we can digest.
  • There is not much of a humour (as he claims) but the light hearted writing style makes one smile at times. Well, I guess that is what humour is.
  • The chapter on the Cholas was a delight to read – it has always been one of my pet peeves that, this chapter was never covered in depth in our school history books. For the extent of the empire that the Cholas had, this deserves a full chapter in a history book. not a paragraph on the Tanjore temple.
  • Cantering on, however, one of Sidin’s choices of the India facts gets a little too dry, and this is strictly my opinion. And this is probably because of his self-confessed bias towards some areas. Any author who writes about something that he is more passionate about, will write more and with deeper interests in those areas. And yes, I am talking about the ‘India was the richest country’ fact. Perhaps, it is my aversion to economics, and ‘numbers’ in general, which put me off, but folks who like that kind of thing will surely enjoy it. Just not my cup of tea (it should actually be coffee!).
  • The last two chapters are well written. This is Sidin’s heart talking on what his dreams are. And how the facts in these books should be interpreted, and why Indians are the way Indians are. Ofcourse, this is subject to personal opinions. I agree with some parts, and am neutral to some. I am sure other readers would feel the same way too. I would go to the extent of saying, that the last chapters some times does get a little prescriptive, which might not bode too well with some readers.

On the whole an enjoyable read. It took me about 3 days of a few hours reading every day on my kindle.

 

Restaurant review: China Pearl

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(pic courtesy: link)

This cosy little restaurant is in 60 feet road, Koramangala, Bangalore. I had always seen this restaurant when I had passed by it, but had never been to it. One of my colleagues recently told me that, his family likes the restaurant so much that, they lug it all the way from Whitefield to her, once in a few months.

Ambience: Very nice ambience. Lots of Eastern relics in the decor. Swords. Chinese porcelain dolls. Oriental wall hangings etc. They could with some lesser focus lights – some times, these give you a headache. Music is passable chinese background music – nothing fancy.

Menu: Very clear. Something that pleased me immensely was a note at the bottom of the first page – “For our vegetarian patrons, please turn to page 7″. Most vegetarians are inherently skeptical of what they would get in a Chinese restaurant, since they have this predisposition that it would mostly be non vegetarians. So this note and a few pages of pure vegetarian menu goodness, was a welcome change.

Food: Fairly authentic. Slightly high on the oil, but tasty. We had the crispy fried vegetables, veg ball in Hunan sauce, and Five treasure chowmein. Noodles were hakka type, well cooked, but just the right amount. Quantity of the starter was generous.

Service: A restaurants acid test with respect to service, is how well they respond on a busy saturday night. It was saturday night, and huge crowds. Service was slow. It tends to irritate customers when it takes 10 minutes for the bill to come, and another 15 minutes to get back the change. One nice touch on the service, I should mention though. My kid (who is 4 year old) got his own kiddie melamine plate (cartoon characters and all), and a small plastic fork and spoon. That is a first that I have seen.

Cost: Overall damage was around 700 bucks. It is on the slightly pricier side, but it is worth it.

Overall: Enjoyed the meal and the ambience. Perhaps, if it was not a saturday night, and if service had been better, we would have enjoyed it even more.

 

The Argumentative Follower (Vanthondan) – Part 3

Story so far: Nambi Arooran of Thirunaavalur had almost gotten married. Lord Shiva in the guise of an old Brahmin comes and stops the marriage, and reminds him of his duties to be fulfilled on earth. [Part 1] [Part 2]

Nambi thought back to his time in Kailasa.

Lord Shiva was once admiring his own beauty on a mirror. He was so pleased at his own beauty, that, without realizing what he said, he said – “Sundaraaa vaa” (Come here, my beautiful one). The powers that Shiva had, his reflection stepped out as a person from the mirror. From that day on, Sundarar had become a constant companion and servant of the Lord (anukka thondan). 

On a fine summery morning, he was out plucking flowers for the Lord, he happened to see two maidens (Kamalini and Anindhithai) also in the garden. They were maidens of the Supreme Goddess Parvathi. In a spontaneous minute of love, he fell for both of their beauties. Lord Shiva got to know and did not approve. 

“There is a time and place for everything, and this is not it. You would need to go down to earth for this and finish what you started. You will enjoy your time with these two maidens, who will also descend to earth with you. I also want you to go to the Southern part of India, and sing about me. “

Sundarar had realized his mistake and was ready to accept the punishment, but he made on request of the Lord – to come and remind him of this very moment, in case he got lost in the the pleasures of earthly living. 

All these thoughts came flooding in as he stood in front of the blinding light, now feeling thankful that the Lord had come and reminded him of his past.

But, I do not know how to sing, or compose, or any of that, my Lord, How am I supposed to sing about you?

The Lord still loved him very dearly. He said, “Talk to me, swear at me, admonish me, like you just did a few hours ago. Remember you called me a senile old fool. It will still sound like music to my ears.”

Lord Shiva also added – you will always be my Sundarar, my beautiful self. So I do not want you to renounce anything. I want you to always dress up like what you are now – in true wedding dress (kalyaana kolam). You will also be called Van thondan – the argumentative follower. And he vanished.

Over the course of the next 2 years, he meets Anindithai and Kamilini as Paravai Naachiyar (from Tiruvaaroor) and Sangili Naachiyar (from Thiruvatriyoor). And in these 2 years, he makes dozens of temple tours, singing on Lord Shiva, as he moved from temple to temple. Anecdotes abound on how the friendship of the Lord and Sundarar are played out. The Lord pulls out all stops to keep Sundarar, his friend, happy. Sundarar on the other hand, continues to admonish the Lord, never being satisfied with what he is given.

A peculiar friendship based devotion plays out in this Nayanmaars life. The story is meant to personify how devotion to God should not be of fear, but of trust and respect.