Monday, April 14, 2014

This Sunday we made kanda poha

“You need to let them soak some more.”, she said, when I was about to turn over the vessel containing wet poha. They had been soaking in water for about an hour now, enough for the fragile little wafers to become a soggy mass. Yet, I turned to her, acknowledged her instruction and did as she bade me leaving the poha alone. There was no getting around her when she was the back seat cook.

A week ago she had decided that the coming Sunday we would make kanda poha per her instructions and so far we had deviated from every rule in the poha making book. I had yet to chop the onions, we had run out of fresh coriander and grated coconut, the must haves for a perfect plate of kanda poha. “Can I move to the onions now? And perhaps add a potato or two?”, I asked her. “Has the poha soaked enough?” she asked, for the fifth time. “Yes, it’s been swimming in water for an hour and now it has drowned, can we rescue it?”. “Yes, yes, do that now or you’ll get lumpy poha! What have you been waiting for?”, she chided, forgetting completely that a short time ago she had issued an entirely opposite order. I quickly turned the poha vessel right and checked the contents. They were not entirely beyond salvage. I picked some onions and a couple of potatoes from the basket and took them to her. She had perched herself on a chair. We had moved into the kitchen so that she could oversee the entire cooking process, but I had kept some distance between it and the cooking range so that any stray tadka spices would not fly to her. She was not entirely happy with it though. Looking at the contents of my hand, she approved of all but one onion, and then asked me to show her the first cuts.

I began the chopping, occasionally taking the chopping board to her for inspection. Amidst comments like, “Too thin!”, “Too fat!”, and some sarcastic ones like, “We are making “kanda” poha, right? So add more kanda!!” we got the chopping done. I chopped the chilies as well, too quickly for her to realize.

“Now?”, I looked  at her.
“Take the kadai, the big one that you like. Put it on the burner with a high flame”.
“How much oil?”, I asked.
“Just about this much”, she said showing me her fingers put together like a scooper.
“Okay”, I said pouring oil in the kadhai.

“You know the sequence, right? Which spices for the tadka?”, she asked me.
“Thinks so, else please guide me.”
“Okay so, put in some jeera and mustard seeds first, let them pop. Then add salt, I think.”
“Should I add the turmeric powder then or go for the salt?”
“Right, turmeric powder it is. Don’t forget the salt though!!”
“No, I will sprinkle it once the poha is added.”
"Not the poha right away, it goes in last, before the salt!"

So it went. She told me the ingredients, their quantity and sequence. I did try to make suggestions now and then. All through the process, she wanted to involve herself in the cooking, to check if the kanda, potatoes were cooked, that the poha was the right colour from the amount of turmeric added and so on. I did not let her leave the chair for her own safety. And then she wanted to stir the poha in the kadhai, but I refused to let her. Her hands were in no position to handle the load of poha in each stir. She was sure she could have done it, she insisted as much, but could not overcome my opposition this time.

Finally, it was time to let the poha cook to perfection and we retreated away from the kitchen to let the steam do its work. As the smell of poha wafted in the house she went off to have her bath and get ready for breakfast. She chose to wear a new outfit that day and called me all the way to her bedroom to admire it. She smoothed out every little crease in the fabric while I spoke about how good it looked on her, like all hand printed cotton always have.

We had our fill of kanda poha shortly after. It had turned out to be really good. Some friends unexpectedly dropped in around that time and they were also treated to this snack from the Konkan. They loved it too.

My first memories of kanda poha as a child were of this fulfilling dish being served steaming hot by Mum for our midday snack at 5 pm, almost once a week. My grandpa at the head of the table, me, my sister and my Mum on the remaining chairs partaking of the yellow goodness. I always had an extra quarter of lemon squeezed on my share for the tangy after taste. I have loved this concoction of carbohydrates, vitamins and spices ever since and can have it as one of my meals every single day. I have also developed a discerning taste for well made kanda poha, nothing less will do. And it helped that my Mum never made okay tasting kanda poha. It was always fantastic, always! 

30 years later that Sunday, when I just carried out the "doing" part of the poha under Mum supervision, it turned out to be just as good. To the friends who had just dropped in, Mum could not stop raving about the great job I had done when really all I had done was listen to her step by step guidance and carry them out. For a woman who has undergone 4 surgeries, 30 chemotherapy cycles, 9 radiation cycles and hosts a tumor in her brain, for a woman who cannot remember where her room is in the house, replicating the taste of kanda poha over and over again is no mean feat. 

Operation kanda poha being the grand success it was, Mum has now moved to tastier things to prepare on the coming weekends. She never lacked the confidence, or shirked a challenge, and then she has us as her "hands". Be sure to smell some apple pie baking when you next pass our house. And no, don't drop in, we like having our pies and eating them too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Importance of Learning and Applying New Skills Relevant for the 21st Century Work Environment

Akash turned on his tablet and looked at the movie he had created. This was his school assignment for the week – a presentation about his chosen species of dinosaur. Akash had picked the biggest of them all and decided to make a movie out of it. He learnt that an average human can retain 95% of video as opposed to only 10% of text. He had goggled extensively looking for as much information as he could find on this species. For more authentic material Akash had looked up his Encyclopedia Britannica CD collection as well. All details collected, he had proceeded to storyboard the movie’s screenplay using PowerPoint and then created the actual movie with his favourite movie making software. He had received help on fine tuning it from members of an online movie makers’ forum. He was finally satisfied with his efforts and was going through his assignment one last time before submission.

An incoming call from his mother broke his concentration. Her face flashed on the screen he was happy to see her. Mother and son chatted for some time about their respective days. He had to log off soon though since his Math’s class was about to start. The eClass session was already running and most of his classmates were online. Within a few minutes the teacher could be seen in the video in one part of the screen while the learning material occupied the remaining half. Akash submitted the movie to his science teacher via Dropbox and got ready for his Math’s module. A recording of this module would be available for him to view later, if he missed anything.

By the time Akash finished his graduation some years later, he hardly had to step into his school or university campus. Both these institutions were a part of the Second Life world and he could visit anytime he wanted. He remembered fondly the only times he had actually gone to the campus to play his part on the basketball court in tournaments. And to meet and thanks his teachers.

Now he was enrolled into MIT for his MBA. He had managed to drastically cut the cost of his education by being a student at their virtual campus. He could be anywhere in the world and still partake of the excellent learning the Institute offered. He did not have to bother with costly housing, or a job to earn while he studied. What he loved most was the fact that the entire college library was available to him on his tablet.

Akash used the mobility he had, to travel the world. His parents were supportive; they could be in touch with him anytime and he did not miss any classes. His professors encouraged it too. He collected real experiences to strengthen his learning as he travelled. It was something the virtual universities could not expose him to. He had picked up movie making as a hobby and he had a serious interest in that craft. He wanted to meet in person, the people who had helped him over the years via the online movie maker forums.

With Akash’s interesting profile combining world travel and an excellent education, it was not long before he was placed with Wipro. He visited the Company campus to understand the rich history, the work culture and to meet his batch mates. This would be his only visit for some years now. As an employee, he had a virtual presence in the company and he had access to everything that he needed to add value to his role. He was connected via his virtual desk, and eCampus to colleagues. Akash was impressed with Wipro’s Cloud university and the repertoire of trainings it offered. The Company strongly encouraged collaboration via virtual forums, wikis and CoEs – shared knowledge enriched everyone’s experience and the world had realized that it was the most effective way to learn. 

As he reflected on his journey to date, Akash thought of the common thread that ran through all his learning so far in the eClasses, eUniversities and eCampuses – the online platforms could teach you almost anything and everything, but a facilitator was irreplaceable even in this wired world.

My first prize winning entry for the Wipro CHRD Leadership day article contest.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Panshet Parikrama - Chasing the horizon

Recces are always exciting. Going into uncharted territory (well, not strictly uncharted since the arrival of google maps and smart devices), to places I have never been to before seems like a quest for hidden treasures. There is much anticipation in the air some days before the trip is made – the hows, wheres and whats. Never the whys.

I don’t not really thinking of the recce itself in the days leading up to it. It is the small things that I turn around in my head. If I am going on foot, there are a thousand possibilities to consider. If by car then a different thousands of them. I might have done about seven recces so far to explore place to go and have an adventure at. They prepare you for anything and everything. All of them are exciting experiences in themselves and they just drive home the point that I enjoy recces more than the “planned” adventure.

That being said, my recent recce for exploring a route for an ultra relay marathon was a fantastic outing after a long time, besides being a memorable adventure. Me and my good friend, Samir, started the drive down at about 9 AM. We had chosen Panshet as our start point and planned to go all the way to the very source of the lake. Then we planned to cross over the water body and return from the other side. We proceeded via the tried and tested road circumventing Sinhagad base, leaving Donje behind. The road was fairly ok with occasional potholes and loose mud patches. We went via Malkhed and were soon at the point where we could cross over to the other side of the Panshet dam, but we continued on since it was the source we sought. If we had crossed here, we would have joined the Panshet – Lavasa road.

A road towards your left just before Malkhed, goes all the way to State Highway #65, to Velhe, base of Torna fort. Another tar road turning left, a little before the actual dam also goes to Velhe to join State highway #65 in the area around Gunjavane dam. This turn has a landmark – a zilla parishad school. You pass a village named Kadve if you take this road towards Velhe. Both these are handy roads to know in case you want to detour to Torna from Sinhagad base.

The road we were driving on became fairly lonely once we passed Shirkoli. There was a change of drivers here. We met the occasional Bullet walas, a few bullock carts and a couple of tempos. The back waters were constantly to our right as we drove by and it was a beautiful clear day. We spotted many possible sites that we could return to camp at along the lake. It would be equally beautiful at night I think with no traffic or big settlement immediately nearby. We passed tiny hamlets of Vadghar and Givashi. As we neared Ghodshet, the road turned sharply inland, away from the water. For sometimes, we could not see the lake at all and continued the drive over small rolling hills. Ghodshet to Ghodkhal is another beautiful, but lonely stretch. The road is ok for ATVs, SUVs, sturdy 2 wheelers, but not a Honda City.

Against the advice of the small voice at the back of my mind and for the lack of any other suggestions, I had chosen to take the City on this recce. It was going to be a roughly 180 km ride by our mapping estimates, so what better vehicle than this. I had discounted for bad patches too. I drive a lot all over Pune so the City can take the occasional muddy, slushy road with me at the wheel.

When we neared Kurtawadi at about 2 PM, it was immediately apparent why getting the City along was a bad idea. Bad, bad idea. We were confronted with the “Source” - a wide, but shallow stream full of rocks, mud and stones. The water from this stream feeds into the lake and this was the ultimate turnaround point for Panshet. It was a scene right out of a Tata Safari advert. This was the part where the Safari takes the plunge without a care and there we were, heads in hands, looking like fools with the City in tow. Damn! We had only 2 choices - turn around and drive all the way back or try the tricky way across. We got down to make a mini recce of the possible route the City could take across. Some local folks in a battered Bolero came out on the other end and started picking up big rocks to take away. Someone was building a house nearby it seems, and the stones was handy material. They looked at us and then at the City, clearly puzzled about why we would be there. They thought we had come scouting for land to buy around those parts (not a bad idea actually). In the course of asking them for a spade to see if we could clear a route, we explained the mad enterprise behind the long drive. Our explanation seemed to have some effect for they were in a sudden hurry to leave. And no, they did not have a spade.

We were really and well stuck now. I went to the other side to see if I could visualize a path for the City to take, once we could dislodge some stones, pat down some mud, and fill up some ruts. This was the easy part. Both me and my friend discussed the pros and cons with a lot of humour at our predicament. We were hopeful that with some manual (or divine) intervention, we could pull through the rough patch. The hard work began.

To make things merrier, we realized the mud also had dung in it. Stellar! We really were in deep shit. Both Samir and me got ourselves stout sticks to poke around stones, loosen them up and lever them upwards. They lasted no longer than a few minutes and it was back to good ol’ hands. As I continued to push the stones deeper into the ground I remembered telling a friend how recces excited me. They prepare you for anything, really. I was living the proof.

There was a dilapidated bridge behind us a little upstream, but it was just a foot bridge. I imagine that in monsoons, this stream must be overflowing and that bridge would be the only connection to the other side.

We continued to work in the afternoon heat. The rocks were sharp and Samir had a bad cut on his foot from one. We took a break to clean the wound. A woman grazing her sheep had been watching us all this while. Seeing Samir hurt, she came to us with a ball of crumpled leaves to press into the wound. A herb with healing properties apparently. My car’s first aid kit came in very handy here. One more item to include in the next recce – a full service FA kit.

In an hour and a half’s drudge work we managed to change the geography of the possible route, enough to satisfy ourselves at least. We cleaned ourselves in the clear waters of the stream before turning to the task at hand. Samir as the guide to watch all 4 wheels and me at the helm was how we were going to get the City across. I put the car in first gear, took a deep breath and rolled forward. Inch by agonizing inch, the City went forward under Samir’s careful eyes. I was quick on the brake, anticipating a soul crushing denting sound every time the car moved. I visualized the path in my mind beneath the car while Samir watched all 4 wheels on it. We had to look for jutting rock, rocks too near the car’s underbody or it’s side skirting, and rocks near the exhaust pipe. It was an agonizing drive of no more than 25 metres, and took about 15 minutes. Every second my ears strained for a metal-on-rock sound, but I need not have worried, Samir was instructing very carefully.

FINALLY! The car was across!! I must have taken in gulps of air in several deep breaths. We had done it! A high five and some stress relieving banter later we were on our way up the slope towards the other side of Panshet.

The road we took was primarily unused. It was not tarred, there was grass and hay everywhere, and very faint rut marks of rare vehicles. But it was still a road. We were cheerful that we had made it through when another danger loomed. We came upon another stream, thankfully with a crude concrete bridge on it, but with a possibility that it did not touch the other side. Muttering curses at myself, I got down to inspect, again. Samir was already half way there and much to my relief, confirmed that the bridge was actually that, a bridge. It touched the other bank of the stream albeit the road descended very sharply once the bridge ended. Thank god that the PWD’s funds did not disappear half way through while building it. Here was another situation we had to save the City’s underbody from.

I slowly took the car up the ascent to our end of the bridge only to have the wheel turn in place in the dry mud. Our man was quick to the rescue pushing the car from behind in spite of his hurting foot. The wheel finally caught on to something and the entire car was on the bridge. Very, very carefully, I let is descend on the other side and hurrah, we were across one more hurdle. The road continued to be in a rough state and we almost though that we had managed to lose ourselves. Samir’s phone map helped us retain some sanity by showing that we were on the right track and lo behold a tar road. A sweet sight for our eyes.

As soon as we were on the smooth road, we stopped in the shade to let out some steam and eat some snacks. There had a been a few discomforting sounds that the City made during those rough ascents-descents and I was sure I had hit some crucial part. I thought I smelt some coolant too. Just too much love for my City manifesting itself, I think, because we gave the car and the underbody a thorough inspection and found nothing wrong. I kissed my car fondly, petting it heavily for being such a good sport.

There after it was a smooth ride back to Panshet dam. We turned right on the tar road to go towards Panshet. If we had turned left, we would have continued to a village called Ghol. Another scenic place and the base for the Konkan Diva fort. Worth a visit for sure.

We made our first stop at the canteen near the Panshet MTDC and had our lunch at 3:30 PM. Post lunch, instead of returning to Pune directly, we took the Nilkantheshwar route towards Temghar. The Nilkantheshwar road turns inland near Jambhli and a road to the left takes you to the temple. We continued onwards without going to the temple and the road naturally turns perpendicular to the river at Davje. Shortly after that, we turned right to reach road 3 via a small bridge. Turning left at road 3, we joined the Lavasa-Temghar road at Mutha. We made this detour to stop at Col. Godbole’s MI Initiatives camp. We were treated to chai and kanda pohe before we started back to Pune via Mutha.

It was 7:30 PM by the time we reached the city in the City. Samir, gallantly, had me go straight home preferring to take an auto to his place.

A quote from my friend Alistair’s book would be an apt conclusion for our day of adventure.

“I am also drawn by the randomness and unpredictability of horizon chasing. I like having to respond to new situations. Out here I do not just have the opportunity for spontaneity; I am compelled into living spontaneously. I often fear this in anticipation, but love it in hindsight. I know that these are the fun times, the mad times, the exciting times. Living by my wits. Trusting them to keep me alive. Standing on a hilltop and singing at the sky with no idea where I will sleep tonight. But with enough chutzpah to be confident that it will all work out. And enough positivity and humour to accept that the worst thing likely to happen is a long, uncomfortable night. Morning will come. The sun will rise. And I will sleep extra well tomorrow because of tonight’s travails.” 

-- Alastair Humphreys from the book “There Are Other Rivers”.

Making a road for the City

The view of the lake from the road

The City on a precarious perch crossing the stream

The road from Kurtawadi

The just-about-complete bridge

The steep descent from the bridge

The small bridge to road 3 from Nilkantheshwar road.

A beautiful sunset from MI Camp

Route map