Where did the popcorn wallah go?

Tan..tan..tun…tun..tan…the chimes of his sickle shaped utensil hitting the dark iron wok could be heard atleast a block away. Each afternoon, around the last few minutes of the 13th hour I could hear him approaching. I’d be usually be sweating in my school uniform, just arrived from school, with my mother bidding me to change before venturing out. On most days it would be too late for her, I’d already heard the popcorn wallah‘s tune and like children chased the Pied Piper I’d rush out to our gate waiting for him.

He was a tall dark man, with bright white teeth, often reserving a smile for me. The transaction was the usual, I’d ask him for 2 rupees worth of pop-corn and he’d pop fresh kernels of corn into the wok. The wok was a curious instrument, bigger than the ones at home but not any bigger than the ones they’d make jalebis in the nearby sweetshops. At the base of the instrument was a coal fired stove, and the wok had a sand-salt mixure. The real thrill of the ritual was the sound of popping corn, it gave me a strange delight and he’d cover it up with a strainer but even with that contraption, a few kernels would pop out and escape leaving a trail of popped corn in front of the houses he had sold his produce. In the end, he’d pick a paper bag, and gently blow air to open it. He’d finally fill it to the brim with hot popcorn and finally top it off with a sprinkle of the strange sand-salt combination. It took 5 minutes each day, in the sweltering sun, and I’d pay him up a couple of rupees. But the whole performance was not without its rewards, he’d always fill a tiny paper bag with already popped corn and give it to me for a quick snack, while i watch him cook a fresh batch for me. He’d never charge me for it, it was perhaps a token of our unspoken friendship.

This would continue for the next morning and the next, for almost 2-3 years, the price went up to three rupees and gradually his regular visits declined. Sometimes he’d be back to his village for weddings, and at some point he stopped coming. I, for my part, also grew up and left my home for studies and work. I still wonder where did the popcorn wallah vanish, does he still sell it in another town or place? Does he share the same camaraderie with another boy as he shared with me?

The second man had his stall in front of the Parade grounds in Kanpur. I’d often visit my grandfather for my summer vacations, and he’d take us once a week to this pop-corn seller to pick up our favorite snack. This man was shorter in stature, but more talkitive, he’d talk my grandfather about us and about his well being. It would usually be dark when we’d be visiting him, his kersone lamp would burn and through little strands of light on the wok. He’d only pack the fresh popcorn into thin polythene bags, and perform the magic of sealing the packs by touching the base of the lamp with stretched packing material. This was pure magic, and probably my first experience on how one could seal stuff in poly bags! This man would always give us extra bags of pop-corn, much to the annoyance of my grandfather, for he would refuse to take money for these extra bags. It was a ritual, with him giving us extra bags, and my grandfather coaxing him to take money for all of it. It would always be a sight, sometimes he’d win the argument on others my grandfather would prevail. Each week, when the packs were empty, we’d go for the refill. Over a period of time, our grandfather grew old and could no longer drive the scooter, my trips on vacations declined and the talkitive popcorn wallah vanished from our memories.

I do not know the fate of these men, who shared their affections with us with a fresh bag of hot popcorn, I wonder if they still ply their trade or have long fallen victims to make-it-yourself-for-10-rupees Act II, or worse, compete against 60 bucks a pack popcorn at malls, which we grudingly buy either due to keeping up a social pretence or just lack of other options. Maybe I’ll spot them once again…just maybe..

If you have a similar story of a street vendor filling your childhood with tiny pleasures, do share in comments below.


Elections 2014: The People have spoken…

The four words of the above title have been repeated multiple times since this Monday on various news channels. While, I being not in India was denied the opportunity to vote (as postal ballot is not a reality for us), the rest of the country did.

It has been a remarkable 6-7 months, I have seen normal friends on facebook turning into fanatics, have seen the discourse of the lowest quality where an opposing view was either coming from an AAPtard, psedu-secular, communal, pseudo-liberal, pheku and what not.

The saddest part of all this has been the fact that numbers and statistics have been cleverly selected and shared to prove points, everyone has data points.  It seems nobody is wrong. They also conveniently offer that judiciary has spoken while at the same time doubting the judicial results on the opponents.

By the end of it, I also sarcastically started annoying my wife with abki baar… on each sentence. But it is no laughing matter, being the world’s largest democracy we had a chance to speak our minds.

Tomorrow (it’s today already?) the results will be out, and we will soon have a new Government to crib and blame about. Finally, only time will tell if our representatives will again do the 5 yearly Great Indian Vanishing trick.

I may sound cynical, but whosoever gets chosen, I only hope they bring all the change they might have promised. As often said before, my only wish is what Tagore wishes years ago:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Indian Train Journeys – An experience like none other

Sleeper Class

In the past few years I have traveled a lot by trains in different countries, while nothing beats the punctuality of the Swiss Railways (SBB), or the speed of Deutsche Bahn & TrainItalia, none of these travel systems have the true experience like the Indian Railways.

During my college days I’d used to travel regularly on the Sleeper class from Noida/Pune to Lucknow. Like everyone else, I have been a witness to the unapologetic delays,the festival rush when having a reservation meant little when fellow travelers had to get home to be with their families on Diwali.While I upgraded to the AC IIIrd, it just wouldn’t give me the same experience as the Sleeper Class travels or General class travels between Lucknow & Kanpur.

I have been always amazed at the uncanny ability, of passengers, to analyse delays in the local MEMU type trains stopping in between stations in the middle of nowhere. A typical conversation in this situation would go like this:

‘Bhaisaab, ye train kyun ruk gayi? (Brother, why did the train stop?)’

With an air of authority of such matters the reply would be, ‘Passenger hai, Shatabdi cross ho rahi hai, dekhna abhi crossing ke baad chal padegi (ours is a passenger train, giving way to a more important train, you’ll see it pass)’

And if by chance, the above mentioned logic fails, the second response would be, ‘Lucknow station pe platform khali nahi hoga, aajkal bahut train late hai isliye rukna hai. (No free platforms in the destination, we’d get in once it frees up)’

These conversations happen everyday between strangers, nobody knows how true they might be or who created them to begin with, but there would always be someone to ask and answer.

Then, there would be instances when you’d have reserved a lower level seat and there would always be a gentleman requesting you to shift to the upper levels because ‘ladies hai (women passengers with them)’. If you were a guy like me, most of the times you’d grudgingly oblige, even when the upper berth was your last preference.

But the most fun was to be had to be a part of wedding parties, when at each station some new members of your extended family would join you with fresh supplies of snacks, cold water and family gossip. The singing & gossip sessions would last late into the night, but who’d care about other passengers. Of course, there would always be that elder uncle or cousin who’d be snoring like a siren, feeling completely at home in the wobbling train.

Talking of these train journeys, how can one forget to mention the support economy of chaiwallahs and naashta (breakfast) sellers who’d chirp in at each station offering you wafer thin omelettes, & cutlets from unverified sources. Many train stations have their own special offerings which lure the foodies to step out at the stops and attempt to pick the sweetmeat or savory offered. The chaiwallahs (tea sellers) deserve a special mention with their trademark calls for tea, which is always promised to be enriched with cardamon and tulsi (basil) with a money back guarantee on quality! Lets not forget, he’d be off the train much before you’d be done with your tea, but the promise meant something to everyone.

Finally, there would be the ticket collector in his black coat moving with the air as if he were the king of the train, followed by hapless passengers on the wait list requesting the lord’s mercy be bestowed upon them with a berth to sleep for the night.

But while all this excited me, everyone would often knowingly ignore young lecherous men leering lustily at young women making them uncomfortable, exposing the undercurrents of gender issues in India, or parents beating the hell out of their kids in public as a punishment for their hyperactivity.

Waiting for Apocalypse!

Ah, today is the penultimate day of life as we know it? I hope so, else the post title will defeat its purpose. The year draws to its close, and I find it difficult to summarize it, to keep it a short post.

How do I remember this year? Tragic and in a state of flux.

Why Tragic?

You see, we started off fine, with fireworks down at the lakeside, filled with hope, and a fresh beginning. While I proceeded to blow my weight loss goal and lost more hair on my scalp instead, the world took multiple weird turns.

Not too far away from where I live, I hear they discovered the God Particle, strangely they never could take a picture of this particle. Most people, still, do not understand the science behind it yet, they know the God Particle. The name probably indicates that God is somehow linked with this physical entity.

Olympics happened, our nation got more medals, 6 medals in all. Better but still a long way to go, Mary Kom didn’t get the gold, would have loved her to win. And yes, the IOC suspended our Indian sports boday. Speaking of sports, the CWG Scandal has still not output, and as the public suffers from amnesia,  Mr Kalmadi and others are out of jail.

Speaking of Scandals, lets see Telecom scam and Coalgate were the top names, but there is actually a Wikipedia entry on the summarized list of scams, should you need to remember the names for your next exam. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that the economy is booming. So the scams were pointless, people exchange allegations, MPs didn’t let the parliament function and made a lot of noise with no outcome (all fart and no shit, ha?).

Oh and yes, they managed to hang Kasab. Also, the nation is burning in anger against the rape in Delhi. Hope we skip our amnesia just this once.

Enough said. What about the world?

Obama got re-elected, again. On the other hand two Armstrongs were in news: While Lance was blamed for doping, Neil died after taking mankind to the moon.

Global warming again affected our planet, with no outcome in Doha. EU Union got the Nobel Peace prize, I hope they don’t go pieces next year. Egypt is still not stable, Syria still burning.

What about tomorrow?

Oh the Apocalypse, well thats just pish-posh. The Mayans Y2K if you get the drift.
Chill out, party hard, get drunk and hope that the change of date will change your life for good.


Ham honge kamyab

If you are of Indian origin, chances are that you have heard the song above, probably sung it at one point or other in your life. It was a translation done by Girija Kumar Mathur

We used to sing the English version of this song in school, the real song “We Shall Overcome”  is in English which had become the Anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Standing at the Berlin HB station, we were singing this song, and then the reality struck(akin to the light bulb being lit). The song is probably a reflection of the prepetual state of affairs in India…it talks about overcoming the odds someday, it doesn’t mention when…not today, not tomorrow but someday.

Isn’t that the real Indian way? Infrastructure projects going on forever, to be completed someday? Lokpal Bill in process for over 30 years, will be passed someday? India will be corruption free someday…Indians will be empowered someday…

Maybe it gives us hope to not give up…but it also makes the time period abstract…

What are your views?





Its been just around a week in Geneva, the perfect city in the perfect country of Switzerland. Life seems so systematic, organized, punctual and respectful. In between extra polite Bon jours of ever helpful citizens of this city and the rough brawny and loud existance back home, I seek peace.

Its strange, life seems much more balanced, comfortable and easier here…its simply a perfect place to be. Yet, I am counting days to return, to an imperfect country where I’d start cribbing the moment I reach and start comparing it with good ol’ Geneva.

Why? Simple. Its the place I call home, its not perfect…its far from perfect but it still is home. Its the place where most memories and moments of my life have been, its the place where things can change, there is an opportunity to improve and make it perfect. There is so much to do.

Yes, i have met too many Indians living outside India and cursing it. I do not like it, I respect their decision to move out but with the same decision they forfeit their right to be critical of the place. If you cannot be a part of the journey you have no right to talk of its destination.

I know I’d go back home and crib…but its home, imperfect home.

Installing Nokia Ovi Maps and the nightmare!

Installing/Upgrading Nokia Ovi Maps on my Nokia 5230, and then downloading India Maps data on it was not an easy job. This deserves a DIY post.

I believe this installation process would atleast help Nokia 5230, 5530, 5800 XpressMusic users, maybe others too.

Before we begin, the pre-requisites for this are:

  • Microsoft .NET 3.0 framework or higher must be installed on your computer
  • Nokia PC Suite must be installed
  • Data Cable (needless to say here, but you’d need that) for your Nokia model

A lot of readers would tell me that the process I mention below is longer, and I could have done the updates via the Nokia Ovi Suite instead (which I did try to do, but the India map data would never download properly, even after 5-6 attempts).

So here’s are the two applications you need to download, and everything shall be fine:

  • Nokia Maps Updater – Download this to install latest version of Nokia Maps on your phone
  • Nokia Maps Loader – This one is critical to download the Map data for your country on your Nokia phone (the advantage is that you’d use less of your data bandwidth while using GPS now, as the map data would already be on your phone)

Once you are done installing the above applications, do this:

  • Run Nokia Maps Updater, connect your phone to the computer, download the latest version of Ovi Maps. Let it sync and install on your phone.
  • Keep the phone connected, now Run Nokia Maps Loader, Select your country and click on download maps. It’ll download map data from the web onto your computer and then sync it up on your phone.

Only disadvantage is that your phone needs to be connected all the time, and it screws up when you get a call in between the updates! Hope this posting is of help.

Indian Tiger RIP

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

As an Indian I am quick to write off a myriad different things about my country,  saying that it won’t work. Today I am writing off our national animal – The Tiger (not to be confused with a certain Tiger woods, who has been a real tiger in bed of late!).

With just 1411 of these wild beasts left alive in India (out of the only 3500 left alive around the globe), this may just be the end of the Tiger. Project Tiger was launched back in 1973 in order to conserve these animals; the numbers increased from 1827 to around 3500 in the 90s. However, the number dwindled to 1411 in the last decade.

Save Our Tigers is a campaign to raise awareness and concern about the state of the national animal. Do visit the website and make your pledge.

Honestly I don’t know whether my blogging about tigers could make a difference; for its just a form of opinionated inaction”

Throwing shoes…the be-coming of the Indian electorate!

It all began when one Iraqi gentleman threw his shoes at Dubya back in 2008. While those shoes went on to become best sellers and a fashion fad elsewhere, we at India learnt the new art of shoe throwing!

The past few weeks have resulted in atleast 3 incidents of shoe throwing at various politicians across the country on issues ranging from corruption, communism to just plain anger. While this trend has resulted in some politicians signing out of the election nominations to restriction on wearing shoes in press conferences.

On the other front certain places have also witnessed public turning violently against the certain candidates holding rallies during their campaigns. Is the the beginning of regular Indians showing their exasperation against lack of governance and utter apathy of the sitting MPs who failed to deliver the goods? Is this the end of us being mere sitting ducks?

By the way, are you voting this year? I am.