Was at Dr L.Subramaniam’s annual fusion music festival last night. He started with a real foot stomper called ‘Indian Express’ (poetic justice indeed, since the festival itself is sponsored by the Times of India) and ended the evening with Don’t Leave Me. In between were pieces by his wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, their kids and two other musicians. Except for the odd flash I pretty much forgot HolidayIQ for over 2 hours; evidently the music was absorbing.
Last month while in Manhattan I visited the Museum of Modern Art for a few hours. And was captivated by an initiative they have right at the lobby.
Here is what they do. All visitors to MOMA can pick up a piece of paper and write/doodle/whatever they want to on it, ideally about how their MOMA experience went. Then they can scan it in a easy-to-use scanner and up their masterpiece goes on to the MOMA website inside the ‘iwent’ section (incidentally it also gets projected on to a wall right in the lobby). You can go later to the MOMA website and ‘claim’ and share your scan using the unique id that each piece of paper has. Essentially, this is a really creative and cool method of giving user feedback, a whole lot more fun that just writing a Review. Exactly mirrors our thoughts on how HolidayIQ’s hiq! should feel. Loved it.
Read more about this here: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2011/12/07/i-went-to-moma-and-it-s-back/ & here: http://www.moma.org/iwent/
Last weekend I seriously overdosed on Coke Studio Pakistan on Youtube and have not been able to purge it from my system since. Looks like this weekend is set to be a repeat.
As many have pointed out before, Coke Studio Pakistan is better than its Indian avatar. I had never heard of Rohail Hyatt – the producer of CS Pakistan – before ; but the guy shows sheer genius. I have forever been wary of fusion music (as also fusion food) given the difficulty of creating something truly seamless by merging massively disparate cultural contexts. But this man has absolutely done it. Read an excellent interview with him here.
And as another weekend creeps up, I am completely lost between the smoky voice, the aquiline profile and haunting melody of Meesha Shafi crooning Chori Chori..
This is one of the better things to happen for Travellers. As I wait for another delayed flight at Bangalore airport the magic of online music hits me. Switching between Saavn (the online Indian music service funded by Tiger) and TuneIn Radio (a worldwide selection of internet radio stations) I am definitely spoilt for choice.
If yoga and meditation are the epitome of ‘stillness’, Facebook and Twitter are the apogee of ‘noise’. And these days I am immersed in both – making life interesting…
India has always sold itself well to ‘seekers’, never really to ‘indulgers’. And in this lies our inability (not withstanding the regular self congratulatory blurbs emanating from our tourism ministry) to jump-start our inbound tourism.
‘Indulgers’ look for experience and that means they are looking to do something now – the Today matters to them. ‘Seekers’ on the other hand are looking for answers and are very likely to look for them in the past. And practically no country on earth has so much mind-share of Seekers as India.
The real question I guess is – can India be relevant to both?
HolidayIQ launched its Indonesia website today, our first real foray outside India. The soft launch is designed to allow domestic Indonesian travellers to add their photos, hotel reviews and the like. What a journey this has been!
A few years ago the only thing one had was this passion for travel and a desire to do something unique around it (read: not become a travel agent). And from an idea sparked off by reading an article about Zagat Survey to a 2-person team in a little room to now 150+ people across three countries, the journey has been a lot of fun and of course an ulcer or two.
I was here at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC exactly a year ago for the last Tiger conference. The last time I was a newbie to the conference, Tiger having just invested. This year, one is a bit of a veteran since there were so many new investee companies.
Sitting at tables or standing with coffee, making boc phet on all matters big and small with a group of almost 200 other founders of internet businesses across the world, I am struck for the first time by this whole new brotherhood. Almost everyone here is from the non-western world and absolutely everyone is a product of the 30 year reign of prosperity in the developing world let loose by the Thatcher+ Reagan regime in western countries. The world view among these 200 people is surprisingly uniform and upbeat, a far cry from the relatively pessimistic view from Larry Lindsay, the ex economic advisor to the previous POTUS, George W.
There is simply no doubt that the internet and mobile are together making fairly significant changes to just about everything human beings do and I am definitely happy to be part of this. Of course, the fact that I do something that is of real interest to my two sons is the real payoff. How many dads can say that . Certainly keeps me young.
As the Garuda Indonesia flight takes off from Singapore, all I can make out of the announcement by the pretty little stewardess is a single word loudly repeated thrice – evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. My strong instinct to dive under the seat is tempered by the realisation that none of the other passengers have twitched even the smallest muscle. Apparently catastrophe is not imminent. Actually the Garuda fight between Singapore and Jakarta isn’t bad at all. In addition to having lovely stewardesses, Garuda served a rice meal on the flight that had a very interesting dish of dried anchovies and peanuts. The last time I had small dried anchovies in food was when I was around 12 or 13 years – so it was with pleasure that I found that the decidedly acquired taste had not deserted me after all these years.
The first impression of Jakarta to an Indian eye brought up on classical Indian languages is the preponderance of Sanskrit. As you swing out into the highway from the airport you see big signboards that proclaim Soewarna Technology city. It is soon followed by Jalapuspa hotel and Sampoorna Square. Markers of an ancient connect with Hinduism are abundant everywhere; I start to dimly understand how westerners feel as they travel the world finding markers of their culture dominate the landscape in most countries.
Driving in Jakarta is educative. Getting tired of the legendary traffic jams of the city, the good men running the government there came up with what sounded like an eminently reasonable solution. They mandated that cars have to have a minimum of 3 passengers to be allowed to traverse some of the main city thoroughfares during peak hours. The obvious idea was that single or double passengers should not take cars but use public transport so that cars do not take up too much of scarce road space. Unfortunately Indonesians are as adept at Jugaad as Indians and the impact of this rule has been to actually increase the number of people using roads. Since all cars now need to have 3 or more people, there are men hanging around intersections who rent themselves out as a additional passengers for a fee to motorists with lesser number in the car. So a large number of unemployed youth who otherwise would not be using roads or footpaths are all over the place now. Another strike for the law of unintended consequences.
You can’t escape SRK in Indonesia either. Shah Rukh Khan is repeatedly mentioned as the one Indian that everyone, especially the women seem to know about. Most of the time, the only Indian. Along with Korean superstars, SRK is up there in the not-too-hip celebrity scene in Indonesia. All the young hipper-than-hip hipsters are rooting for Justin Bieber. East Asia is definitely the latest theatre of war for pop culture supremacy and it is a three-cornered fight between Hollywood, Bollywood and the Koreans. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.
I return to Jakarta in another fortnight- cannot wait to see what I will uncover next..
I remember reading some time ago that the Indus Valley civilization (one of the oldest known human civilizations) had no concept of Police, or any other violent means of controlling internal behaviour (different from the notion of a standing army which is meant for repulsing outsiders). The historian-author of that book speculated that internal order was likely maintained by a system of mental conditioning of citizens and not by violence.
This came to mind while recently watching a Google TechTalk video that explored the Neuroscience of meditation (see that excellent – but long – video above). One of the points made by scientist Richard Davidson in that talk is that the practice of meditation, even for a duration as short as 3 weeks, can actually increase ‘virtuous qualities’ such as Compassion in its practitioners. Here is a serious western scientist demonstrating with western scientific approaches and data, the power of calm contemplation to fundamentally alter human behavior.
It then seems to me no huge surprise that the locus of the science of such contemplation or meditation lies in the East, particularly in ancient India and thereabouts. For, it seems logical to assume that it was this sort of thing that enabled the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization to maintain internal harmony without policing. And that if they had figured it out 5000 years ago, it is their direct descendants who are most likely to retain the knowledge.
Sure, visiting Italy, Greece and Turkey over 5 days is not a recipe for immersion. But surprisingly, what it did allow me to do was to make a rapid comparison of three of the world’s prominent ancient civilizations. And here is my 6 line primer on these three great cultures
The Roman civilization was obviously a martial empire and the one thing that stood out was its emphasis on physical discipline and organization. The Appian way, the Roman baths and of course the Colosseum speak of a people obsessed to physically building order.
The Greeks on the other hand (incidentally an older civilization from whom he Romans gathered much) were clearly more intellectually inclined. The Greeks, using a new tool called Reason, gave rise to many seminal intellectual developments including such gems as the notion of equality of men and the premise that ideas are more important than physically perceived reality.
What about Turkey? Turkey was the gateway through which more ancient human achievements of the East reached Greece and then over millennia onwards to the wider West. And in this process of creative transmission became one of the great cosmopolitan civilizations ever.
Comscore has reported its independent list of the Top 10 travel websites in India. And HolidayIQ is one of them. And with that, we have joined the leadership group led by the venerable (and massively visited) Indian Railways booking site.
What is particularly gratifying is that HolidayIQ being a niche tourism site with information only relevant for holidays, unlike most of the other sites which offer broad travel or transport solutions/bookings, managed to make it to this list. What is also good for HolidayIQ is the fact that we are probably the only site in that list (excluding of course Indian Railways) that has practically no advertising used to drive its traffic. On the whole, a good place to be
Yup, I know that is a mouthful. And to top it, we had to wait for more than 20 mins to get a table for 2. But boy, was it worth it!
The first time I had Xia Long Bao was on the last day of a trip to Hong Kong a few years ago. And the taste lingers. Xia Long Bao are steamed dumplings that have warm broth inside along with the more usual shrimp/meat mixture. The sheer mix of flavours and textures that this gives your mouth is crazy. I love it.
Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese mecca of Xia Long Bao. And since they make it so well, they have now spread everywhere in Asia including to Singapore. On Saturday I went to their outlet at the Paragon Mall in Orchard.
Thanks to Martin for suggesting this place and accompanying me for an awesome meal.
For a useful lesson on how to eat Xia Long Bao, click on the above photo.
I hit this place practically every month and have never found more than 4 other people eating here at the same time. Being alone among 50 tables in a huge restaurant is eerie and if it had not been for ther fact that I have always got the craziest food each time I go there and it never fails me, I would never have gone back. Under the circumstances, I always do.
When Mohit was here a couple of weeks ago, I was able to introduce him to Sufi. Now, I have never taken anybody other than Sunita to this restautant before on the fear that they will end up ordering Indian tandoori stuff, which in comparison to the Gafghazi kebab and such other divine stuff, is abomination. So, it was a relief to be able to take another devotee to pay homage. And boy, did we pray!
Three huge kebab platters and one massive Persian bread. Not even the slightest hint of oil, lightly done veggies to round out the meat. And the meat – ahhh!!!!
Go there if you are seriously into meat. It is on the top floor of the Empire hotel in Koramangala, 5th block.
Thank you Nayan for pointing me to this..
No, this is not about a 10 day trek through red-tinged villages in Chattisgarh or anything like that. So if you are looking for pain & suffering of that kind, here is your cue to jump ship.
I am talking different Interiors – the mind, soul & spirit kind.
Over the last month or so I have been reading a curious mix of books, which now in retrospect all have the same theme of Inner Awareness.
The first book is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.The author gets into Ultra running, the extreme form of running where marathons are what you do for warm-ups. Covering 10s or even 100s of kilometres, this form of very long distance running pushes human endeavour to the limit and has created its own heroes and fables (‘body artists playing with the palette of human endurance’). The centrepiece of the book is the story of the Tarahumara, a tribe of Indians living in an extermely inhospitable part of Mexico and their amazing capability to run very long distances. The story gets particularly intriguing when McDougall tries to deconstruct the mind/spirit/soul context that drives such feats of human endurance. And comes to surprising conclusion that the ability to do ultra running is less about the physical and more about the metaphysical. As one of the runners says, It has to do with the ability( & sometimes the need) to become a better person than just physical capacity. While it all does sound very touchy-feely, Mcdougal is deeply persuasive in his argument as he recounts the experiences of Ultrarunning’s greatest.
The next book is Dr V S Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain. Dr Ramachandran is one of the world’s foremost brain-geeks. As a Professor of Neuroscience, Dr Ramachandran is interested in dissecting the very physical but controlling organ we all have in some measure – the Brain. Dr Ramachandran’s approach is to look for patients with peculiar manifestations of neurological illnesses and using these oddities to explore how the human brain really works. Fascinating stuff. Early on in the book, the author comes to the extraordinary conclusion that human perception is not an unalloyed recognition of things as they are (ie. reality) but massively influenced by the Brain’s underlying assumption of what should be. In short, what one of modern science’s great exponents is telling us is that all ‘scientific’ evidence points to the accuracy of one of the most enduring metaphysical truisms of all time : Perception is Reality and not the other way.
Which brings to me the last book. The Hindus, An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger. Ms Doniger is an American with a PhD in Sanskrit from Harvard and another PhD in Indian Studies from Oxford. The book tries to explore one of the oldest human cultures through an alternative prism. As can be expected with an enterprise of such nature, this leads to massive disagreements all around and the fact that she had egg thrown at her at a conference reinforces her ability to discomfit. But that is not quite what I got out of the book. What the book shows is that from the very early stages of their evolution, the people now called Hindus seemed to have focused deeply inward to find rules and paradigms that explain stuff around us. And insofar as we can see from evidence that has survived, succeeded in large measure. Modern science is an artifact of empricism which is just a fancy word for Observation. And keen observation over millennia of the human being’s inner workings is undoubtedly what Ms Doniger brings to light as one of the defining characteristics of her subjects.
The world of the inside is at least as interesting as the physical world around us. However, what is truly intriguing is how interconnected they seem to really be.
Getting off the plane, I could not find the baggage conveyor belt. And eventually when I did, there were no baggage trolleys. As I drove in to town, the talking heads were discussing the latest gang-rape, this time of a 30 year old BPO employee in the Dhaula Kuan area. Delhi it seemed was playing true to character. William Dalrymple in his ‘City of Djinns’ explains how Delhi has been around almost forever, rising and falling with each successive ‘civilization’. I am sure the current avatar is unlikely to be one of its glories.
But it turned out to be a glorious day. One of those bright but crisply cold pre-winter days that along with its quick Spring makes Delhi enchanting for a short while every year. To relive great memories, I went to Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri and wandered all around it with a friend. Shubha Mudgal was playing live & open air in Nehru Park in the evening courtesy Spic Macay, but unfortunately could not catch it. A real surprise was the tolerance towards canoodling couples. The last time I wandered Delhi’s parks, I recollect cops and similar irritating fauna harassing lovers that inevitably dot parks. Now I saw they were being left alone and wondered what has led to this change. Not being able to put my finger on it, I decided to to attribute to the person to whom all good things in Delhi are usually attributed to : the Chief Minister, Shelia Dikshit. As we walked on the Vinay Marg side of Neru Park, I also saw the army ground over which, as a teenager, I had seen a small red aircraft do crazily daring maneuvers, while we played cricket below. It was only when news came that Sanjay Gandhi had crash landed & died that I realised that the little red plane had been piloted by Indira Gandhi’s younger son and heir apparent. Those innocent times having passed, I saw that the army had put up a fence around the ground and I guess kids don’t play there anymore.
And on to Khan Market. Now, Khan Market is not the most natural location to obtain enlightenment, but I came close. At the bookshop there one cold evening I stumbled upon another book that fulfilled the two criteria I always look for in a book – a bright cover and many pages (yup, I know you should never judge a book by its face or by its size, but I do – which of course Outs me on other aspects too I guess). The fat book by Wendy Doniger titled ‘The Hindus – an alternative history‘ seemed too interesting to pass up and so I ended up buying it along with Kakori Kebabs from one of the bylanes; both holding the prospect of a wonderful though solitary evening ahead.
(A Korean music video set to an Indian pop number)
The man even has a fan site in Japanese. But it does not seem to end there. Indian popular culture’s (especially our movies) creeping globalisation has East Asia squarely in its sights. Come to think of it, not particularly surprising. We are the largest producer of ‘pop culture’ after the West. We have a domestic market of a billion people, give or take, for the juggernaut to feed on. There are a large number of people in Asia who find Indian cultural elements at least as interesting as Western ones (and probably less alien).
Ergo – India’s new sphere of cultural influence.