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The Bicycle Diaries

I cycled the eight kilometers from work to home, and cycled back to work the next morning. This was part of ‘Bike to work Day’ at work. This got me thinking about my bicycle-borne adventures, bringing back a flood of memories.

When we were kids, we did not have bicycles – we had to hire them for a rupee an hour. These were small, kid-sized bicycles, and my brother and I used to look forward to the weekends when we were given money to hire them – we did not have allowances, and it depended totally on if we had been well-behaved the previous week. Of course, thinking back on it now, it also got us out of the house and out of our parents’ hair for a few hours.

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The Adventure of the Nexus One

Nexus One
Nexus One

A few weeks ago, I was stocking up on victuals at our local green grocer’s, which goes by the grandiose name of Veerabhadra Vegetables. Veerabhadra Vegetables is by no means a mean place – on the main road from Kothaguda to Miyapur, its location opposite Shilpa Park gives it a strategic advantage that the grocer has turned into an excuse for the most alarming (to outsiders) Nawabi attitude. It is also this that endears him to all his customers, me included. Wasn’t this the guy who looked at the awesome-looking Force India t-shirt (to buy which I spent a small fortune) I was wearing and complimented me on how it looked, and in the same breath said how lucky I must be to work for a company that made such nice shirts? Apparently all the logos on the t-shirt made made it look like it was a company shirt and not something anyone would pay for. read more

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Part of a Billion

Last week, a census taker visited us, and for the first time, included us in the National Census of India.

The only previous memory of being included in the census was in the 1981 census, when I was staying with my grandparents in Bangalore for the summer holidays. My grandmother was sitting on the stone step outside the front door, removing adulterants from rice, when the census taker visited. My grandmother being a teacher herself, she got into a conversation with the census taker, who was also a teacher. I was playing nearby, and remember being part of the conversation, though I doubt whether I made any insightful contributions, being all of six years old then. read more

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Share Autos – Hyderabad’s Alternative Public Transit System

An Auto in Hyderabad

Last night, I took a series of share autos to reach home from Panjagutta, and this seems to be an opportune moment to take a look at this alternate public transport system that so effectively supplements and complements Hyderabad’s official public transit systems.

My ride was simple enough – I got into a share auto in front of the Y2K restaurant at Panjagutta. Once I got in, it took about three or four minutes for the auto to fill up. The driver kept calling out the destination of the auto – Jubilee Hills Checkpost – and one by one my fellow passengers took their seats. The ‘seats’ have to be described, for apart from the usual and expected three passengers in the back, there are additional, rather unexpected (to the uninitiated) seats on either side of the driver. Since I was first in, I got the choicest of seats – the middle seat in the back. Two guys squeezed in on either side of me, and two guys squeezed in on either side of the driver as well. The driver not being a greedy sort, we took off right away, and made good time to the Checkpost. Two guys got off just before we reached and I hopped off when we stopped at the red light – it was easier for me to cross to the next share auto ‘stand’ that way. The ride (4.1 kilometers, according to Google Maps) cost me 8 rupees. read more

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Onion Pakodas for the Soul

Eight life lessons from an afternoon of making pakodas
Vidya wanted to eat pakodas, and I decided to surprise her by making them when she was taking her Sunday afternoon siesta. After making sure she was sound asleep, I chopped the onions, mixed them with the dough, heated the oil and deep fried them. As I was finishing up, Vidya woke up – from the smell of the oil, she said – and walked into the kitchen. I proudly showed her my handiwork – fried pakodas resting on a newspaper shedding as much excess oil as they could. She popped one into her mouth, pronounced that it was delicious, except for a lack of both salt and chilli powder, both of which I had thought of, but had forgotten to add. She said we could toss them in salt and chilli powder and that should make them taste okay, and that was just what we did – before proceeding to eat them with some awesome tea she made.
Thinking of the whole pakoda-making process, and the ‘journey’ it was, I could not help but see how many life lessons were hidden in that short afternoon activity.
I started out with four peeled onions, and once I had chopped two of them, I could see I had enough. I stopped, storing the other two for later use. When initial estimates are wrong, it makes sense to revise them.
When I was mixing the onions into the dough, following the instructions, I could see that the mixture was dry, and it was mixing unevenly. I added a little bit of water, and the mixture came out smooth and even. When the instructions don’t make sense, it’s good to do what makes sense.
I’ve always been taught that the best way to make pakodas is to by hand – to drop the dollops of flour and onions into the hot oil with your fingers. This is messy, and involves washing your hands every time before taking a ladle to the continue the frying. I tried using two forks instead of my fingers, and it worked wonderfully well. I was able to control the size of each dollop, and the forks did not have too much dough sticking to them. Sometimes, it’s good to leave traditional wisdom aside and try out new things and tools.
Every time I picked up a dollop, it would seem the right size. Things rapidly changed as I approached the frying pan. A small or mid-sized dollop was often too large to be fried, and I ended up putting in dollops half their original size. Our estimates of magnitude are very often way off. Only by placing them in the right context can we get a realistic estimate.
The oil seemed to have been heated up to the right temperature when I started out. Very quickly I realized there was not one right temperature, but at least two different ones – a lower one when I dropped in the dollops and a higher one once the dollops were all in. The higher temperature golden-browned the pakodas, and I had to reduce it again when I took them out of the pan. I had to constantly keep changing the temperature as I was frying them. We always tend to look for the golden balance in everything. This is a myth, and only by constantly changing various things can we keep things balanced.
As I was into the frying process, I was so taken up by it that I did not notice the smell of frying oil had spread throughout the house. I had a door and window open, but I did not have any other door open to allow for cross-ventilation. Only when Vidya pointed this out, and opened another door, did I realize my oversight. Very often, we get so involved in what we do that we fail to realize the effects of our actions on our home life, and the lives of the ones we love.
When I was frying the pakodas, I realized it was a short step between golden brown and inedibly black. However, this wasn’t so short as to be impossible – I just needed to keep my eyes on the pan and not be distracted. Most of the time, concentrating on the job at hand and remaining focussed  is crucial to success.
Finally, once the pakodas were made, it just took one taste for Vidya to figure out what was missing, and her simple solution set it right almost instantly. No matter how much we’ve planned and checked our actions, there is always bound to be something we have overlooked. We have at least one person in our lives who can see what it is and tell us what we need to do to set it right. Keep such people close, and listen to their counsel.
It is not often that such thoughts strike me, or I feel like feeding onion pakodas to my soul. But then, it is not often that life’s lessons stand revealed to you.
Have a good one.

Eight life lessons from an afternoon of making pakodas

Vidya wanted to eat pakodas, and I decided to surprise her by making them when she was taking her Sunday afternoon siesta. After making sure she was sound asleep, I chopped the onions, mixed them with the dough, heated the oil and deep fried them. As I was finishing up, Vidya woke up – from the smell of the oil, she said – and walked into the kitchen.

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