Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Aamir Khan controversy

Normally, I do not respond to triival controversies on issues that do not even remotely touch my life. However, this issue clearly touched everyone's lives, and so, here I am, taking a stance on it. Before that, however, let me take you through the entire controversy. 

Aamir Khan's initial statement was made HERE at the Indian Express' Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards recently.

Within hours, he was being attacked. Although he was purportedly quoting his wife KIRAN, he was being accused of being a seditionist! Thousands of messages across social media were painting him in black, asking for his head, asking him to leave India with his family, accusing him of being anti-national, of being a traitor and of false description of the state of India.

Another video gave a more balanced view-point and gave an opportunity to Aamir to explain what he had said in the Goenka awards. However, the so-called Indian patriots continued to hoot and bray and shout against him. Then, someone had a "bright" idea to punish SNAPDEAL whose brand ambassador Aamir is. They uninstalled the app from their phones and exhorted others to do so as well. Within a few days, as per one news report this was being done with the hashtag "Appwapasi" and "SayNoToSnapdeal". In some reports, I gathered that more than 6.5 lakh people (650000) uninstalled this app and sent a message to Snapdeal via social media that they would not buy anything from them unless they removed Aamir Khan as their ambassador.

The controversy raged on. On the one hand, there were open letters to him that ridiculed him and all the other "Khans", others that added a religious touch to it (equating the whole thing to Muslims feeling intolerant), and still others who created and circulated jokes on his supposed desire to leave India (there was even this image of Salman Khan escorting him on his back to Pakistan in a sort of Bajrangi Bhaijaan 2 - replacing the head of the girl with a photo of Aamir in an intelligently done Photoshop). One of those who joined the rabble rousers was Anupam Kher, whose saffron chaddi is always visible.

Soon after, support for him surfaced - Rahul Gandhi, A R Rahman, and some others started the ball rolling, Soon, the intellectual class joined in and cleared the air, slowly but surely. He had never said anything anti-national. People who claimed they "tolerated" him because they went to his movies were exposed with the statement that they saw his movies not because he was a Muslim but because they liked his work. In the same way, their sails were knocked out when it was pointed out to them that they were, in fact, displaying the very same intolerance that Aamir had accused them of. If you analyse those criticising him you will find that none of those criticising him were Muslims, but many who started supporting him had Hindu names!

The controversy is slowly moving from the front pages to the back-pages. When I searched for him on the Times of India website, I couldn't find anything for the last few days. I do hope that better sense prevails. It was sad that Aamir had to give out follow-up statements, but I am proud to report that he stood by what he had said and found no reason to change the statement. Also, he firmly said that he was an Indian citizen and was always going to stay so.

This, then, was the way the controversy developed,.

My own take: Ignore the rabble rousers. Aamir Khan's original video shows that he never meant to mix religion into the statement. He was merely talking about insecurities. Much like how parents feel insecure when their daughter returns late from a party. Or a wife, when her husband isn't home at the right time. Perhaps the last 7-8 months have seen some degree of individual remarks by people within the Saffron Parivar. Those statements should have been nipped in the bud by their mentors or organisations, or at least criticised by the PM. They weren't, but the anti-Muslim dialogue has taken wing and is growing more and more as the days pass. Hence, the kind of insecurity Aamri spoke about is quite natural to understand. 

What do you think? Join me in the comments section.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A week past in the UK: Interesting tid-bits of the UK Life and Living

Several amazing aspects of life in a developed country have assaulted my senses and my mouth has often dropped in surprise at seeing some of the things which I do not think will happen too soon in India. I am just going to recount some of these and see if it evokes a response from you.

  1. Every public place can be accessed by a ramp - making life easy for those who are on wheel-chairs, kids in prams and those with walking and climbing difficulties. This includes bus entrances which can be tilted to allow chairs to be rolled on/off, all foot-paths, buildings, stations, etc.
  2. Pedestrians are respected by all sensible motorists, so that they will stop or slow down when they see a pedestrian crossing ahead of them; likewise, pedestrians will generally avoid walking on the road, and will go the extra "mile" to reach a proper pedestrian crossing.
  3. Individual privacy is very important, and Britons do not generally encourage idle conversation between strangers. You might have to wait before someone approaches you and offers to help, to, for example, tell you the time, or show you the way to a certain destination.
  4. They like to be addressed by their first names, and this is not frowned upon. OTOH, they may feel slighted or insulted if you did not call them by their name, as it implies that you did not know their name.
  5. "Are you okay" is the ubiquitous phrase they employ when they see someone in trouble; however, this is not just when they see you fall or when you are in real trouble, as we imply for the phrase in India, but also when they find you"lost" and looking for someone or for some place that you want to go to. We often thought British were very, very private, but when it comes to this aspect of their thinking, I find them very open and very helpful.
  6. Still on the privacy issue. My colleague tells me that all people in the UK have poor social communication. I beg to only partially agree, because I have found that although they do suffer from a "No-first-greet" policy, they are extremely warm once you take the initiative and break the "ice", so to say. Not just that, it seemed to me that they were actually "waiting" for you to start it off, so eager are they to want to communicate, even if it is as inane as asking how you are,
  7. Sales people in stores and malls, on the other hand, are very, very cordial and effusive when you reach your turn at the check-out counter (known here as the "till"). They are, however, quick in their work, just like the guys and girls back in our country. Vegetables and fruit are not weighed before, near the veg and fruit counters, as is the case in India, but by the check-out person himself/herself. 
  8. Loose change is never a problem, unless companies have a policy not to return change. I have heard that some bus services in other cities like Preston/Manchester routinely pocket the balance if you don't have the exact change as per their established and publicly declared policy.
  9. Supermarkets do not routinely store Indian or other world cuisine. You need to go to bigger stores to fetch those. For example, I could not get any pulses from my friendly, neighbourhood store; even at a bigger one, Sainsbury, I got only some, but not all the pulses. Yesterday, I was at the biggest store in Blackpool, viz. Tesco Extra, and even here, tur dal was not available, though a lot of other Indian and Asian stuff was. I wonder whether this is because of the shortage of the dal back in India!
  10. And, finally, in this post, I am going to write about the way bus and train services are organised, A little here, but I guess I might devote an entire post later ... either here, or on my UK Blog. At bus-stops, there are three basic displays: one tells you where you are and what stops each bus will do; the second tells you the same in a map with colours coded for the various bus routes; and the third will display timings for each of the buses in a chronological sequence over the night and the day.  
          At railway stations, there are well-lit and displayed electronic boards not unlike the ones we 
          have in India; however, they are smaller, much more compact, and simply in a portrait style
         with a display of the route and the time and the platform number on the first line, and the var-
          ious stations it will halt at in the subsequent ones. This should be enough for a new traveller 
          to find his train. Inside trains, the comfort is amazing, even when the train fills up. Standing
          customers never invade the seating space. Inside, in the seating area, some trains have seats 
          facing both ways, and there are many four-seats with a large table in between, especially on 
          long-distance trains. Many also have full-fledged toilets which are spotless and well-mainta-

And that's about it for this post. Do comment about the various things I have written on here. Thanks very much!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Announcing a new blog and some other news

Just a few days ago, I created my new blog which, like the Arabian life blog, will take forward my experiences in the United Kingdom. Check out the blog HERE. While I cannot promise that this blog will reach the top ratings on any scale, I do promise that you will see much more colour and fun in this blog as compared to my arabian blog, as life is likely to be more colourful and enjoyable there. However, my prediction is that while I posted fairly frequently from Saudi Arabia, I may not be able to do the same with my UK blog as my work schedules are likely to be much more tight. Be that as it may, do check out the new blog and read my first post ...

In other news, I have just completed sleep studies on my own self as I have had obstructive sleep apnea since 25+ years. The study showed that I was getting OSA almost once every minute. This means that my airways would collapse so much that oxygen supply to my lungs would stop to the point where my body would suffer from a lack of oxygen almost every minute. It might explain why I have had numerous other side-effects of it such as forgetfulness, tiredness, day-time sleep, an increased obesity and so on. The technicians then attached a small device which will blow air into my lungs through a nose-piece that I would have to wear every night for some years to come. He repeated the night study with this device in place, and it showed, not surprisingly, that my apneas virtually disappeared and I had markedly improved oxygenation of my blood through the night. I have therefore decided to purchase the device and use it for the required period to resolve my snoring and OSA problem.

Yesterday night, I met with a small accident when I braked my two-wheeler suddenly to avert banging into a car that swerved left ahead of me without a show of turn lights or hand signals at one of the densest roads in my area - Mohamedali Road. As a result, I sprained my right hip and right shoulder, in addition to a scrape on my left knee. 

And that, basically, is the news for now. Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The last ten days

The last ten days since I last wrote on this blog have been eventful indeed. In a nutshell, here is what happened:

a) I went with Nishrin, my better half, to Nanded on last Thursday and Friday, to visit all the important intra-city gurudwaras.

b) From my return hour to  Mumbai on Saturday morning, I straightaway boarded the car of my friend Dr. Vijay Chile, and joined him and three other class-mates (Suryakant Pol, Arun Sali and Mohan Kembhavi) on a 4-day trip to the Konkan strip south of Mumbai. Our destination was Ratnagiri, from where we travelled to Kudal and Devbagh, and did many interesting activities that made my weekend and the next few days memorable and enjoyable.

c) Upon return from this unexpectedly enjoyable holiday, I visited the Visa Application Center of the UK Visas at Nariman Point and learned that my UK visa application had been successful, and that I could now plan my travel to the UK to join Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust as a ST4 Paediatric Registrar.

d) I began planning on what things I should buy and take with me, and what I shouldn't. In addition, I started planning how to call my close friends and home members for a small get-together to celebrate my success and to give them a great good-bye.

One by one, the various plans are coming to fruition. On the other side, I am facing some health issues - nothing serious, though, and I am planning to tackle these as soon as possible, so that I have the fewest possible issues when I am in the UK.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A party at The Little Owl on 17th October 2015

As late as in June 2015, I came across an international community of people working outside their own home country as expats in other countries. This community of people are included under the "Internations" website. They have thousands of members, and over 213 different cities where their chapters are active. I signed up on their Mumbai chapter even while I was working in Saudi Arabia. There are no activities in KSA, but on return to India, I browsed their site again and discovered that their Mumbai chapter is managed by some Russian women. They had organised their annual anniversary party where one could go on payment of a cover charge.

The uniquely shaped glasses with the logo
The theme for this party was fun, and it was titled "Oktoberfest". It was held at a brewery-cum-bistro that goes by the name "The White Owl". Located in the B2 tower of the One Indiabulls property at Lower Parel (just outside the Elphinstone Rd. bridge on Senapati Bapat Marg), this is a lovely place to party at. For Oktoberfest, they had discounts, freebies and lots more. They brew their own beer, and their serving glasses look more like small glass jars with their owl logo on it.

The time was half past six ... a little beyond, perhaps, and I was only the second person to reach there, the first one being one Mr. Sumit Shitole. He and I began an interesting conversation, acquainting ourselves with one another and taking some photos of ourselves and of each other. The other guests began to arrive after half past seven. The hosts were there only after eight o'clock. And the chief host, Natalia, came after nine! 

The cover charge that they took from us came with privileges of free starters (chicken and potato based), unlimited pretzel bread and fellowship with expats of different countries, plus two drinks. I had great fun, making new friends and taking photos like crazy. Some of these pictures will probably tell their own story:

The brewery with one of the servers, Mr. Andy, in the foreground

With Sumit Shitole

The logo with me in front of it

Chris, South African, and his wife, Kristina, Armenian with Sumit and me



Caught by the cam
By ten p.m., the party was in full flow. More than 60-70 people had collected, many of them Indians, but also Europeans, more Russians, South Africans, and some others were in evidence. Surprisingly, there were no Blacks. I stayed only until half past ten, and then left, but I am sure the party went on until much later. All in all, a very enjoyable evening indeed!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A mini-outing to Panshet MTDC resort with family

My family and I desired to take a break since I came back from KSA, but were unable to do so owing to many reasons. The two main reasons were the uncertainty of where I would be going to work next, and a knee injury my younger daughter Hannah sustained within days of my arrival to India. This grounded her for over a month. 

Once she recovered, the clamour to have a small holiday grew louder. I narrowed down on a place called Panshet. This is a small town about 185 km from Mumbai and about 50 km from Pune. It is part of the Sahyadri belt of the biodiversity hotspot, and boasts of two dams near each other. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has a resort here, and until recently, also conducted water-sports activities on the reservoir that stood behind the main Panshet dam. We decided to hire a car, and to book rooms at the resort there. Accordingly, we left on the early morning of the 8th of October 2015 in a Suzuki Ertiga car driven by a young driver by the name of Mahesh.

Food at a mall on the way

With Mr. Fakira Walunj at the gate of the resort

En route to the Sinhagadh Fort

Hannah and Inas
We left on Thursday, 8th October, at about half past five in the morning, and reached the resort at about half past ten. The last 50 km took up a lot of time, as the roads were poorly maintained, and our driver, a green in experience, did not know the way. The resort itself was nicely tucked away inside Panshet. It has been renovated recently, and is a small but well-maintained property with just 39 rooms in three categories.  We had booked two A/C suites, which is the middle level of the available properties (with non-A/C rooms below us, and luxury A/C suites above. This is also seen in the design of the building that houses the rooms. There are three floors with the luxury suites on the top floor. There is a restaurant, a games room (with table tennis and carrom), a swimming pool (unfortunately under maintenance) and large walking areas throughout the property. 

The resort manager, one Mr. Fakira Walunj, was a very decent man who looked after us through both the days. He served us a complimentary breakfast on day 1, and also helped select the best rooms, helped get the pool refilled as fast as was possible (the pool was almost ready to use on day 2, but it wasn't clean as yet, thereby closing the option to swim inside it) and also took us beyond the police check point on to the Varasgaon dam over the Mose river, which joins the Mutha river later on (over which the main Panshet dam or the Tanajisagar dam is built) to show us the beautiful district and the sluice gates on the dam itself. 

The kitchen staff was extremely friendly, and was ever willing to make special dishes and adjustments for us. There was this middle-aged worker who was a Man Friday for us. He helped us wherever we needed him - his name, Tirupathi. He took food and tea orders, answered the reception, attended to our minor needs and troubles, and kept smiling through it all. The food was rather limited, as we were the only guests on the entire Thursday and up until 11 a.m. on Friday, after which guests started coming, mostly from the nearby city Pune, to spend the weekend. 

We left the resort at around half past four, reaching Mumbai via the Expressway, at about 11 p.m. On the way, we did stop at an eating point where we all had a great eating experience. In particular, Hannah had a filling "thaali". Nishrin and Inas shared a dish of dhansaak and rice; I had a chicken chilly+noodles+rice combo that was real value for money. (Just Rs. 120/-). I also parcelled an extra plate of dhansaak and rice, a few packets of Maganlal's chikki, a box of strawberry fudge and a few other things. 

All in all, a good holiday, albeit, very short!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Looking back, looking forward

It is now over a month since I returned to India. Although there is some clarity on where I am going next, it is time to introspect at this juncture. I completed 4 year-long contracts in Saudi Arabia. It has been a journey of discovery. I have not only discovered this country and its people, I have also discovered many new facets of myself, many hidden strengths and a few weaknesses. On the balance, I guess the strengths won out, and I am a better person than the one I was when I left India on the 16th of November 2011.

I have already written about this in many previous posts, so I am not going to repeat those things again. Back in India, things are happening so fast. My family is in their present continuous mode, of course, but Hannah had a knee injury within days of my arrival, and is off work since then. Inas goes on as does her mom. I have been meeting my friends and contacts periodically. I try to renew my relationships with as many people as possible, but I have come to realise that some friendships and relationships have been missing that something extra - that something that differentiates between a true friendship and a mere acquaintance. And, so, it is once again a journey of discovery as I separate the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the milk and my true friends from thousands of acquaintances.

The next thing I would like to mention is that my wife and daughters are now completely independent in most things, but, when I am around, they take the maximum benefit possible! In a way, that is quite cool, because it gives me immense satisfaction to do things for them that I am otherwise unable to do when I am thousands of miles away. I would illustrate this with a few examples: giving me a slew of repair tasks to do - mobile phones, electrical appliances, etc., governmental work such as submissions for privileges, shopping for essentials from a supermarket, and for luxuries and other stuff from malls, taking them to dinners at new and exotic restaurants, planning short holidays, medical appointments and consultations, etc. It makes me feel good, because I find that when I am active, and particularly when I am on a job for my family, I feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. 

So, yesterday, I met up with my favourite classmates Rakesh Ghildiyal and Sudhir B Rao. We dined at a popular Chembur restaurant called the Grand Central. It has two storeys. The ground floor is the usual, but on the first floor, they have a live music and song performance. Hence, while the ground floor has a normal restaurant look, the upper floor is full with guests enjoying themselves. The performers included a tabla player and a singer who crooned soft Hindi songs from the past. We had a table farthest from the performers, but could appreciate his singing. We ordered a couple of starters and three main-course dishes, and all the items were superb. They had a dim-sum festival, so our starters were basically a lamb dimsum and a vegetable one (Rakesh was going totally vegetarian). For the main course we had a Veg kofta curry, a Rogan-Josh and a Butter Chicken with rotis as per our preferences. Finally, we ordered one caramel custard for dessert, but both my friends did not eat the dessert at all, claiming that they were both "full to the head" with food. 

Any other items? Not really, not for now, but I will return to entertain you all within a day or two ... with more interesting stuff from the city of Dreams, Mumbai. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Food hopping again. Reviewing two more: Umame and Faaso's

So, yesterday night, we ordered food using the Faaso's App. This app allows you very easy ordering of food from one of the fastest growing chains in Mumbai, the Faaso's chain. The best thing about the food is that it is hygienically wrapped and boxed and sent to you hot and attractively displayed. The next best thing is that the food is really affordable. 

I can't say that they delivered the food from which outlet, or whether they have a central kitchen or/and a food parcel depot, as I ordered their food using their app. Seriously, friends, they are super good when it comes to hygienic packing and small addons. For example, every covered plate has a neat label stating which dish is inside. They delivered in an hour and 15 minutes from wherever they packed it and sent it to us in south central Mumbai. We had ordered a mutton biryani, a chinese noodle dish with what looked like Manchurian chicken, and a chicken kolhapuri+dal+rice+ ... etc, full meal.

The entire thing cost us only INR 650 ... that IS cool.

At the other end of the cost spectrum is a fine-dining restaurant that we discovered because we could not get bookings at some OTHER restaurant. So, we decided to go to UMAME restaurant, located inside the Eros Theatre building (Khambatta Chambers). This restaurant is owned by the famous Farookh Khambatta of the Joss restaurant  at Kala Ghoda (now that one closed about 3 years ago, and Umame lived up to its reputation very much! We ordered three items, one for each one of us (my daughters and I), and then followed it up with an awesome dessert.

We've eaten at Joss before, but this time, to be frank, the food blew us away. We were first-timers, and the steward there, one Mr. Russell, who has been with Mr. Khambatta for the past ten years (earlier at Joss at Kala Ghoda) became our guide. He suggested the perfect dishes according to our requirements. We wanted to try everything, but opted for one starter, two main dishes, a rice item and a dessert. Everything was perfect, and we came back pleased as punch. Well, we did not take any drinks, so maybe the word "punch" is inappropriate here, ha ha.

The starter was a Prickly ash-peppered snapper cut into pieces. It was really good. For the main course, we had sea-bass cooked in banana leaves and beef in the form of Prime tenderloin steak. To complement these two, Mr. Russell insisted on ordering Vietnamese fried rice, and to tell you the truth, that was just perfect.

For dessert we had something astonishingly beautiful ... and it was NOT the Big Bang stuff, but a more humble but exotic filo mille feuille with assorted berries!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

My World, My blog

As this blog fades into the cyberspace, I have begun to write energetically in my other blog - Dr. Taher's World. Each entry is substantial. I write about my life, about Mumbai, and about various experiences that I am having. If you wish to read it, just click on the link that is highlighted above. My last several entries relate to the following topics: reviews of some restaurants and products that I have used/purchased; my family and I; outings for food; and back linking to this blog, for example. 

Back in Al Muwayh, it seems that my absence has been covered up with the arrival of another paediatrician, one Dr. Hamza. He was earlier in Zalm, then transferred to Taif, and now, he has come back to the periphery, with new duties in Al Muwayh. Life goes on as routinely as it has been going on for the past several years! 

The Saudi Government is certainly tying itself up in knots with one bad news after another. First, there was this crane incident, where a construction crane in the Haram area of Makkah collapsed, killing up to 100 people. Then, a few weeks later, a stampede in Mina at the time of the Hajj led to the death of more than a 1000 people, with over 50 Indians among them. 

Saudi Arabia has been trying to help the official government of Yemen to fight the Houthi freedom fighters. I think there was a misadventure yesterday, with Saudi planes bombing a civilian area where a wedding was taking place. There are unconfirmed reports of many deaths in this one incident which will undoubtedly tarnish the Saudi government's official image.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dinner at Trattoria, Vivanta by Taj President, 28/09/2015

My family and I went to Taj President hotel for dinner a few days ago. This is a review of the Trattoria restaurant that we visited. We were celebrating in a way, since it looks as if my future path is becoming a little clearer compared to where I was a month ago when I returned from Saudi Arabia, having finished my fourth year contract there.
In the lobby

My lovelies

Me with my new Chinese collar shirt

Love, actually

The food was delicious, and even better was the eminently helpful service. We had insider help, so we got some specially crafted dishes with extra portions, and a discount to boot! All in all, a wonderful evening was had by us.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Some photos of my meeting with Yogesh Kadu, who is my fourth adoptee child through World Vision

Yogesh is born on the 1st of August in 2001. He hails from Bandra West. I have adopted him to support his life and education through World Vision, a NGO that helps community development through adoption of children (for the purpose of educating etc.) He and I met at the office of the NGO in Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar in Mumbai. I was thrilled to meet him and his father. I intend to look after his welfare as long as possible. The current rules of the NGO allow sponsors to commit themselves to their wards until the latter have turned 18. That leaves me with about 4 years. If I want to continue my sponsorship beyond that, I must contact the NGO separately with my request to allow me to extend my sponsorship.

I presented him with a simple jeans and Tee shirt and some chocolates.

Here, we are posing just at the entry of the nearest railway station, a very clean GTBN station, located on the Harbour branch of Central Railway.

Review: Katti Batti - the movie

A few days ago, I went to see Katti Batti, a new movie from Bollywood. Directed by Nikhil Advani, this is the story of a man and a woman who meet in college, and go through twists and turns in their romantic life before learning the value of each other. The lead roles in this movie are played by Imran Khan and Kangana Ranaut.

Maddy (Imran) falls for a hep Payal (Kangana - imagine the irony here!) in college, when she appears in the most outlandish outfit ever known to grace a woman (see picture below). When he asks her her name from across a glass partition, she gently lifts up her long skirt and shows him her anklet. Wow ... what an imaginative charade!

The interaction between Payal, the "neglected" daughter of Page 3 socialite parents and Maddy (Madhav), the son of the usual kind of parents is enjoyable in the first half; the songs are beautifully picturised, the dialogue is kitsch, but a few scenes are really good (e.g. when Maddy has to push his non-starting bike all across the campus with Payal sitting atop it like a queen). 

Maddy's sister (Ms Irksome) creates the most cacophony in the movie. When, one fine day, Payal leaves the five year old live-in relationship house and goes away to a place unknown to Maddy, the otherwise effervescent romeo turns into a morose Majnu, moping the world over for his lost love. His attempts to track her down finally take him to her, but the denouement comes when Payal announces the reason for her running away. Eventually, tragedy triumphs, and a sort of meaning is added to the movie. 

When all the chips have fallen in place, you feel sympathy for all the actors! 

Rating: 6 *
Running all over India.

Review: Everest - The movie

Mount Everest has always beckoned people to try and conquer it, and reaching the pinnacle of this huge mountain is often equated with the biggest accomplishment anyone can have in this world in the field of adventure and thrill, in the field of endurance, stamina, courage and absolute exhilaration. 

This is a movie based on a true story. The year is 1996, and the story traces the adventure of two teams of Everest climbers led by the expedition head, their backup teams and support and the actual travellers who have paid money to these expeditions to reach the top of Mount Everest. The two teams are led by Robert Hall (played by Jason Clarke) (Adventure Consultants) and Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal) (Mountain Madness), and they come together for synergistic reasons. Some of their climbers include a mailman (Doug Hansen - John Hawkes) who is doing this for glory, a seasoned mountaineer (Beck Weathers - Josh Brolin), and a Japanese woman (Yasuko Namba - Naoko Mori) who has already scaled 6 summits and hopes to crown her experience with this, her 7th climb, to Everest. 

This story is a thriller all right. The camera work, special effects and the narrative story are top class. There are reports that the shooting was not only done in Nepal, but at several other places in the world, including the Alps in Italy and some studios in Rome and the U.S. 

The story starts on a positive note, and continues to remain hopeful until when the climbers reach the Hillary steps, a very narrow ledge on the way to the summit, where the leaders and guides have to perform the additional duty of installing fixed ropes before the climbers can go up; then, a storm begins to grow upon the climbers. The rest of the story is the real story of how the climbers and the guides had to battle the elements to survive; many perish, and some return successfully to tell their story to their family and to the world. 

See this movie if you love to see a technically well-made movie with a strong story line. It is filmed in 3D, but the movie had few moments to justify its 3D avatar. 

Rating: 4 *
Running at: Inox CR2, Nariman Point and IMAX Wadala,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

India Shining!

Having returned from KSA since over three weeks, my career path is in a limbo, thanks to a technical hitch with my licensing process with the UK's General Medical Council (the GMC). I am also pursuing other tracks in case the UK licensing process does not go through. And that, friends, is the first time I have disclosed my plans for the coming months. I am sitting here before my old laptop (an Acer Aspire) that I had purchased in November 2011, a week before I went to KSA for the first time. Two and a half years later, I had purchased a newer, Windows 8 touch-screen laptop - a Dell Inspiron - but in the last week, its monitor has died off and I have had to give it to a service center to repair it. So, as I said, here I am, with my Acer on a stable, Windows 7 OS, working again without a touch interface, doing my thing.

I am also just through with the following tasks:

1. I renewed my passport. 

Strictly speaking, my passport wasn't due for a renewal until the spring of next year, but I went to an agent who booked my appointment online with the PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) at  Lower Parel inside the Kamala Mills compound. On the appointed day, I was expecting a raggedy office with long tireless queues, absent workers from sweaty desks, and the typical busy milieu we have come to expect in governmental offices. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the PSK turned out to be a well-appointed air-conditioned suite of offices on the ground floor of the rear-most building. The queues were orderly. Although there was a rigmarole of forming one queue, submitting your documents there, then going on to another queue for biometrics, then a third queue for submission of your original documents for instant verification and then, a final one where they bid farewell to you and hand you a paper which you exchange for a receipt at the exit counter (the fifth queue - albeit a very small one). There was a snack counter, clean toilets, plenty of metal seats, and a generally friendly atmosphere that I thought was pretty nifty. As soon as I left the office, I received my first SMS that my passport printing had begun! 

Six days later and after a regular receipt of SMSs, I received my new passport at my doorstep. 

2. I travelled by the Metro rail from Andheri station to the Airport road station and back. 

I had gone to my relative's residence to condole the death of my aunty Zehrafaiji, who passed away on the 1st of September (just a few days before I came back from KSA). It was a Sunday morning when I went. The local train that took me from Dockyard road to Bandra (harbour line) and from Bandra to Andheri (Western line) was the usual crowded mess that Mumbai's local railways are known for. The Metro railways were something else entirely! Clean, largely airy platforms, automated kiosks for entering and leaving the concourse, food courts, and superbly air-conditioned trains made the small trip really memorable! The tickets are pricey, but the price is well worth it, as you are in a world-class railway with passengers not unlike you, and not a nameless, sweaty, smelly crowd that you are yourself a part of in the local network. 

All in all, a great experience.

3. I visited the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.

 Of course, I knew that this is a hi-tech, state of the art hospital in the western suburb of Andheri. However, I was not prepared for the level of security there. In my life of over 55 years, this was the first time I saw a queue for visitors! They were aligned perfectly, moving peacefully as they approached the metal detector gate and the frisking security-men. Water bottles and food were meticulously looked for and removed from the possession of unsuspecting visitors. As I had no bags, I was allowed to go in easily. The ICU where my friend was admitted for a post-op observation is on the third floor of the huge monolithic building. Entry to this floor is blocked for visitors. You can bypass this by getting off on the second floor and using the stairs to reach the third floor. My friend's wife received me there, and guided me to the ICU door, where a security man gave me a tag for the bed my friend was on and allowed me to go in and meet my friend. The ICU was spacious, and there was a quietly efficient staff performing their duties as I approached my friend's cubicle, which was at the far end on the opposite side. All the equipment was working fine. A nurse came in a few minutes into my visit, checked all the inputs and outputs, sat on a custom chair-table and jotted down her findings. After some time, I left, and went down to the lobby. They have a complete food court with all the major brands of food chains (like McD, CCD, Subway, etc.), a book shop (Crossword), a chaat shop (with sev-puri, etc.), a beauty salon, a pharmacy and a provisionist/ The admissions area, the discharge area, and the information and reception area were all clearly demarcated and segregated. There was a busy hum in the entire lobby, with over a 100 people there. There were clean wash-rooms (a bit out of the center, though), and two banks of elevators - one for visitors to the various diagnostic and day-care service areas, and the other, for inpatient floors. 

I must say the hospital ended up impressing me thoroughly. 

4. I visited my newest adoptee at Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar (GTBN).

Today afternoon, I went to GTBN to the office of World Vision India to meet with Yogesh Kadu, my newest adoptee. This boy, all of 14, is a slight, shy and intelligent boy of Maharashtrian parents, and the youngest of three siblings. Both his older siblings are daughters. His father was with him. I had gone and purchased a set of clothes and some chocolates for him yesterday and got the items gift-wrapped, so handing them over to Yogesh in front of the World Vision staff was a great experience. I am adding this experience to this enty in my blog to encourage every reader to do an act of charity - each according to their budget. My aim is to sponsor ten children, and after Yogesh, who is my third adoptee (the others are Sabia from Kolkata and Sakshi from Mumbai), I have just today added funds to adopt Shruti from Gujarat. There is immense sense of fulfillment when you see your adoptees going out into the world and making something of themselves. 

Check out the pics in my post here.

Adopt a child today!

That's it for now. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: K Rustom Ice creams and slushes

  Any Mumbaikar knows what I am talking about. I started visiting K. Rustom and Co. in childhood, when their trademark sandwich ice creams cost Re. 0.40 each. With the passing of years, the prices increased to 0.80, then 1.50, and so on. Today, the regular range costs Rs. 60 a piece, and the premium range goes over Rs. 80 to even up to 200 per piece.

From Google Maps

I had the occasion to go there again today, after a gap of over a year. The Parsi lady who sits at the counter does little except to collect the money and to return the change. The work is done by a staff of mostly Maharashtrian workers, who flit from one customer to another with an amazing efficiency. The guy who took my order was as efficient as any of the others. A ready reckoner of sorts is stuck on the wall behind the cashier. It gives multiples of 30, of 60, of 80, and so on.These are the prices of different units of ice creams and slushes. There are the usual ice creams, and then, there are the exotic ones. For example, you can get a lychee ice cream almost throughout the year!

I purchased 3 ice creams - a pistachio, a chocolate nut and a kesar-pista. For Rs. 180/= only. These three biscuit ice creams should be enough to share between the four of us. 

Where is this place? It is on Veer Nariman Road, the main road between Churchgate station and Pizza by the Bay. You stick to the south foot-path, passing by the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, then the Gaylord, then the Alankar and Wordell Chemists, and finally, you are there. It is the second shop in the CCI building complex. It is always open on all holidays, and also on normal days. You will always find customers here, from all classes of society. The place is small, and you won't find rest rooms, but there is a wash basin and drinking water. Small benches meant only for the weary customer waiting for his parcel adorn the side. 

Try their special ice creams and you will see why they are so popular. On most food review sites, people rave about K. Rustom and Co. Zomato has over 500 reviews, and the average rating is 4.6/5.0. The case is the same with other sites like mouthshut, burrp, etc. 

For larger parties, they even provide the ice creams in thermocol boxes (for which you need to pay a refundable deposit).

Tel. +912222821768
Timings: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., daily
Address: Stadium House, 87, V. Nariman Road, Churchgate, Mumbai

Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: Sennheiser Ear-phones

A few days ago, I went to shop for a pair of good quality ear-phones for myself. The natural place to go for this was Lamington Road or what is now known as Dadasaheb Bhadkamkar Marg. Asking around led me to a shop recommended by several traders - this shop was known as "O Three". As I had expected, the shop occupants had a lot of ear-phones;but neither could we see a good range of ear phones, except on a rack in the rear of the shop. 

Now, when you go to buy ear-phones, most end up buying something in the range of INR 500 or less; I was looking for something costlier because I do feel that a good set of ear-phones should give better voice quality than the cheaper ones, that are mostly Chinese. In addition, the packaging, the accessories, etc.also make a difference. The choice was between the moderately priced "Skullcandy" and "Sennheiser" brands. Bose earphones start above 6000/=, and the noise-cancelling ones are in the stratospheric range of over 30K/pair!

These, then, are the ear-phones I bought: Sennheiser CX 275s.

The box pack contained the following: A pair of ear-phones with a microphone and a 3.5 mm audio jack; 2 extra pairs of differently sized ear plugs in case the one that is fitted on the phones by default does not match up to the size of your ear canals; an additional adapter for using with i-phone audio jacks; a small purse-string bag to keep the ear-phones safely, and a 2-year warranty card. All this for INR 1600! On internet b2c sites, the rates quoted are 1750, and then, on some sites, over INR 4000! 

My first experience with the Sennheiser brand, which is a German brand (check out their website HERE) was extremely satisfying.The voice quality, portability, etc. were very good indeed. 

Sennheiser has an independent website in India (see THIS LINK). They have operations in India too, and they have a toll-free access (1800-200-3632) with offices in Gurgaon, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru. You can even email them on info@sennheiserindia.com. What more can one ask for?

So, to summarise, these are excellent ear-phones. Go ahead and buy them. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: Village, The Soul of India, Cuffe Parade

As I cool my feet here in Mumbai, waiting for the next phase in my life to reveal itself, I decided to diversify my blog writing into reviewing stuff. This can be reviews of books, movies, electronic products, services, etc. etc. The idea is to share my thoughts with readers who visit my blog regularly.

Today, I am going to talk about a restaurant that my family and I visited last week. This restaurant at the World Trade Center, Cuffe Parade is known simply as The Village, and subtitled "The Soul of India".  It is one of a chain of 7 outlets in Mumbai. 

A screenshot from www.zomato.com

The way to the main door is lit up nicely, and your path is flanked by counters on the wall where they've created a village ambience. The day we went was a Sunday evening, and we expected some rush. Fortunately, there wasn't a rush. We went past the walls decorated with glass bangles, faux cow dung hanging from threads, tyres from cars and Bollywood photos and through the multi-coloured gate into the restaurant reception. A manager approached us to know how many we were, and directed us to the payment counter, where we paid the cover charges of Rs. 600 per person for an unlimited buffet-style meal.

The interior was cooled by large air-conditioners placed discreetly behind tables. There were three real trees that lofted up above us, and through a net placed between three surrounding buildings. We were actually in a modified outdoors location! Rows of serving areas lay all around us on the sides of the central, open area. We went around, examining the various items on the menu as well as the interesting decor. There are areas made to look like village locations. Thus, we have a "Billoo barber shop", a "leddies tailler" shop, and several other similar areas. We also had a "pathshala", a "baraf-gola and drinks" station, a "sweets and dosa station", a "barbeque and rotis" station, plus the usual veg and non-veg table each. Of course, there was a chaat and pani-puri stall as well. 

There was a mini "bioscope" showing various village and national mnuments on turning a lever at the top, a "mini-puppet" theatre, and, as we continued through the evening, a live dance by some of the artists, in which the audience was also invited to join, a dandiya raas with audience participation, and, finally, a mini-dahi-handi (we had gone there on the eve of Gokulashthmi) where some kids were lofted on to the shoulders of the staff members, and they were asked to break a handi filled with milk.

Food wasn't exceptional, but there was plenty of variety, with veg and non-veg options. We had fish and chicken as well as paneer and veg starters, chaat, pani-puris, dosas, jalebi, main course of chicken, mutton and vegetarian dishes, with assorted rotis, biryani and pulao. One could go and have baraf golas and flavoured drinks as often as desired. A paan store was lacking, though, and I drew the manager's attention to this, and he agreed to look into it.

The food was above average, but not exceptional, as I already pointed out earlier. However, at Rs. 600 for an unlimited meal, this is probably the best location in south Mumbai for an evening of fun.

My ratings:

Ambiance: 4/5
Food 3/5
Price 4.5/5
Service 3.5/5

Overall 4/5

Village: The Soul of India
World Trade Center, The Arcade, Courtyard 2, Cuffe Parade, Mumbai
Tel.: +912222163355/+919987131339

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Things that worked, and things that didn't, for me

This is going to be a candid post, so guys, if you are expecting that four years in Saudi Arabia made me a true blue Muslim, or changed me into a deeply religious person, you have another think coming. Sure, I set out to become a better Muslim, and to a large extent, I am. I lose my temper less often; I am more kind and forgiving than I was before; I have become a lot more caring, and I share my good fortune with many others, and these, in a way, are changing me into a good human being/good Muslim. 

OTOH, I am still not deeply religious by the standards of Islam. I did the Hajj pilgrimage; I recite or read the Qur^an whenever I can; I pray the Namaaz, but I am definitely not doing it as often as prescribed; Diabetes prevents me from performing the fasts; and finally, I give an arbitrary zakaat from whatever I save. So, there it is, in a nutshell. 

At the same time, I think I am a good Muslim, because I do not indulge in anti-Islamic acts; I do not cheat, rob, steal, covet, gloat, envy, boast or act in a manner not in accordance with my principles, my health, my character or my habits. 

I am a better Muslim than many bearded, self-confessed religionists we see everywhere around us. They are subservient to their own agendas of greed for fame, for money, for respect, for influence, for recognition, for promotion, for sponsorship of hatred and dislike for certain specific communities or specific groups of people.

So, while I do not practice the kind of rituals and protocols of Islam, many of which are specifically COMPULSORY, I do all the things mankind sees as being in line with being a good human/Muslim.

Need your non-judgmental comments, friends, elders, juniors, cousins, brothers and sisters.


A pleasant surprise

In Mumbai, the city that "never sleeps", the city that is the "financial capital of India", the city that "is a global melting pot of people from every where, I  had a pleasant experience the other day. It is when I went to the "Passport Seva Kendra" at Lower Parel, inside the Kamala Mills compound to renew my passport. The office is located right at the back of the compound, with many towering office buildings before it as you walk to the rear. 

At the door, a couple of security guys look at the papers you have with you and verify that you are indeed meant to come on that particular day and at that particular time (your agent made sure of the date and time when he applied for the appointment online). Once they have done that, you go past their make-shift blockade into the first room where you basically submit some of the papers which you brought with you. Then you are allotted a token number, with which you go into the second room. You join a biometrics queue (section A), and when your number is called, you are assigned a "cubicle". The lady there asks you to show her the original passport etc., then takes your photo, then gets your fingerprints, then thumbprints, then asks you whether you wish to pay Rs. 35 for the SMS service that will update you on what the office is doing regarding your passport renewal. 

After this, you wait for your turn to go to a third section, which is either section B (for those who are applying for a new passport) or section C (for those who have come to renew their passport). At this cubicle, they re-check your originals (I had carried a lot of papers, but they checked only my Aadhar Card and the old passport). Then, the old lady asked me to wait for a little more time, and for the last part, I went to yet another C section counter (that is NOT Cesearean section, ha ha). Here, the lady who "manned" the counter took a look at my token, made some alterations on the screen of the computer in front of her, and announced that the task was done, and I was to collect a final receipt from the "Exit counter" just near the exit. 

And that's it. It took nearly 2 hours, but it was a smooth affair, all in the comfort of an air-conditioned suite of rooms, with properly appointed toilets, a snack bar (the food was contracted from a third party and it was a bit pricey, but it was good) and sweet-smiling staff. Everyone stayed calm through the various stages of their application. I saw just one woman all in tears in a private glass-cubicle at one point. She was arguing something with a bunch of cops and a woman official who were all trying to placate her. I never realised what was happening, as I had to move on. 

As soon as I left the office, an SMS popped up ... it said "your passport has been sent for printing". Wow! Incredible for a governmental agency to achieve this level of speed, wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Five days in Mumbai, and my emotional health improves

After just 5 days in Mumbai, I am feeling like a different person altogether! No longer am I worried about how the long days will pass - there is so much to do and so many things to look after that there is barely any time to write in this blog, let alone do all the online stuff that I used to do when I was in Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday evening, my family and I visited a new eating place called The Village - at the World Trade Center in Cuffe Parade. We ate good food, served in a buffet, but we also enjoyed playing Dandiya, dancing inside a horse costume, and observed a couple of young children break the Dahi Handi ... will post photos soon. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, I must say.

The very next day, Hannah hurt her left knee in a fall while driving home on the scooter. I took her to the ortho surgeon the next morning, and we were told there was a blood collection in her knee joint, and a possible ligament injury which should be ruled out by doing a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Ligaments are fibrous cord-like structures that connect bones to other bones, muscles or other tissues in the body, including skin and deeper structures. 

We went for the MRI the next morning, and the results indicate that the orthopedic surgeon was basically right. Hannah will need to rest for a month before the knee structures return to their previous state! When she spoke to her boss, the latter took it quite good-naturedly ... an attitude I would have found hard to emulate. 

I went for a walk yesterday evening to the Mazgaon Garden. It was something I used to do quite regularly some years ago, but have given up in the past few years even when I am in Mumbai on a vacation. Having said that, I found it enjoyable. Met some friends and renewed contact with them. I was unable to go today, the day I am writing this ... however, I do feel it should be part of a daily routine so as to keep myself fit. Nishrin and Inas do it almost every day.

I went to the passport seva kendra today to start the process of renewing my passport. This is a place located within the Kamala Mills compound on Senapati Bapat Marg ahead of High Street Phoenix. The internal offices are quite spacious, and one has to go through four queues before being issued with a receipt of your successful application. A task that took over 2 hours. After the job was over, I stopped at the nearby "Smash" gaming shamiana, took a look at the different adventure sports like stuff that one can play, then went out to their canteen, where I had a snack and tea. All in all, a nice experience. 

What else? I plan to get myself an international driving license in the coming days; I plan to cook some interesting food for my family; I wish to complete the job hunt for myself and take up a job wherever destiny takes me; I plan to stitch some new clothes for myself; I want to meet my old school friends and GS friends ... if I can; I have other social obligations too. Let us see what things I can, and what I cannot, do. 

Thank you for reading my entry.