Why great blogging is like good exercising

I posted a lot on this blog all across 2008 & 2009 and for various reasons slowed it down to a trickle in 2010. And in so doing committed a cardinal sin of blogging. Inconsistency. A number of regular readers made a few quiet comments on the falling rate of posts. And when nothing changed, left.

Blogging, like exercising should be a sustainable activity. The simplest way to assess whether you are doing too much or too little exercise is to ask yourself the simple question : ‘how much exercise can I expect to reasonably do when I am 65 years old?”. Whatever the answer is, is  how much you should do today. And so with blogging.

I think my sustainable limit is 1 to 3  posts a week. I shall try to adhere to it.

Hooptedoodle 3 : Cosmo sounds

in which I promised to tuck away all things not tourism, not travel, not food & likely not of interest…

A couple of months ago I achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the last person in urban India to subscribe to Worldspace.

For those of you who have been training for a Mars mission for the last 3 years and missed out on earthbound news, Worldspace is a worldwide satellite radio that has got a huge number of subscribers in India.

I have a pretty catholic taste in music. And Worldspace indulges me no end, which I love. I close the day on either the Hindustani Classical or the Urdu channel – amazing soporifics, incidentally. And the first light of dawn (8 am or thereabouts to be more exact) brings up Shruti, the Carnatic channel. As the day progress, I then move from Country to International Amore to Classical Rock and on to Hindi flim music till I complete the circle, back in the capable hands of kishori amonkar or ghulam ali.

Religion, Spirituality and Science meet in a unique consensus on the primacy of sound in Creation – whether it is the Aum of Hinduism or the Big Bang of Physics.  And the thing that we call Music is simply the arrangement of sounds that connect us to those mysterious forces that gave us our Life.

Preservation & Conservation

I come across calls for preserving the past or conserving nature or suchlike almost everyday. And I ponder..

A few years ago I read an interesting article about the Irish diaspora. It seems the infamous potato famine in Ireland forced many an Irishman to cross the Atlantic & seek refuge in the new world of America. A couple of centuries later, their descendants, now successful plutocrats in America decided they wanted to discover their roots in Ireland. So they set out to go to Ireland of their parents & grand-parents. Unfortunately, when they got there, that Ireland of their past had gone away. The Irish had given up the old ways for what they saw as the ‘success’ of the American Irish. And much as the Americans tried, they could not convince the Irish that the old way was the better way.

For those of us who live in big cities, the countryside seems idyllic and calm and we rush to its embrace every weekend. But for those who live in the country, the bright lights of the city beckon. I know many a gentleman-farmer who pines for the City all week and runs away from the ‘dead & boring’ countryside to the City every weekend. And their happiest moment is when Café Coffee Day opens a raucous & glitzy outlet in their backyard.

So, preservation & conservation is often a matter of perspective.

Kanji to Congee

One of the enduring memories of my childhood is of having to slurp down thin rice gruel whenever I fell ill. Kanji, as rice gruel is called in Malayalam was pretty much the staple food of Kerala for a very long time. But, by the late sixties & early seventies, it had reduced to being the staple food of the less-well-off or the food one had while ill. Of course, it has now been fully supplanted in Kerala by Porotta & Chilly Beef but that is another story.

Cut to another time & another land – seated at the breakfast table. A chinese waiter points to a menu & asks whether I would like to have Congee for breakfast. I decide to try it. Turns out to be the same rice gruel, except it has bits of various meats floating around.

It became clear that the Kanji of my childhood and the Congee of my travels were basically the same thing. So I decided to do some historical research to figure out where it all started. The question was : did Kanji start in kerala and move to china or vice-versa?

The answer turned out to be a surprising one – neither. It seems, Kanji was an ancient dish of the Tamil people. During the colonial conquests of the Tamils, Kanji was shipped out to South East Asia. It struck firm roots in the Malay lands, where it was picked up by Chinese settlers. It is these Malay chinese who took the Tamil kanji to their homeland and made it Congee.

Tamil culture is one of the most ancient in the world. With their strong history of colonising adventures across Asia, the Tamils have spread Indian cultural idioms across the East Asian region. Kanji is just one of those. So, if you have’nt had Kanji yet, do try it. It is vintage India.

Tilting at windmills

This is the longest I have seen you enjoy tilting at a windmill“. A few days ago, an old friend made this casual comment that made me introspect a bit. Let me explain.

This aforementioned friend has maintained that I am forever chasing difficult to impossible (to even possibly foolish) ventures. When I look back, there seems to be something in this. You see, my jobs whether they were in start-ups or in big companies always involved conceptualising something new and setting it up. Not that it has been a conscious process; but it has inevitably been the outcome. Must be that I like the ‘moulding clay’ nature of ambiguity that surrounds a venture or an initiative. Or maybe it allows me the freedom to express my two dominant character flaws – the need to be creative & the desire to triumph as an underdog. Unfortunately, it has a flip side. Like falling in love, once the rush of ambiguity is over and the venture is up & running smoothly, usually in less than three years from the start, I lose all interest in it.

So when I decided to set up a project to help our countrymen find good information on their path to becoming some of the world’s most avid travellers, sceptically raised eyebrows were par on course. But, I have been resolutely at it for three years now and I am still enjoying it throughly – ready to go on. Seems to me there are many more hills to climb on this one. That does surprise me somewhat.

John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley is the best travelogue – probably even the best book – I have ever read. In that, the camper van he travels in is called Rocinante, which was Don Quixote’s mount while he went tilting at windmills. If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is..

Hooptedoodle 0

John Steinbeck introduced, what I consider to be one of the niftiest ideas for authors – the Hooptedoodle chapter. All writers occasionally want to break out of the main plot of whatever they are writing and wander about a bit. Obviously, that can be a bit of a strain on a reader who wants to quickly know whether x killed y or A ran off with D. So Steinbeck introduced the Hooptedoodle chapter.

Here is how Mack explains this in a prologue to Sweet Thursday (among the best 5 books I have read – ever).

“Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy’s writing it, give him a chance to do a little hooptedoodle. Spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up in the story. So if the guy that’s writing it wants hooptedoodle, he ought to put it right at first. Then I can skip if I want, or maybe go back to it after I know how the story came out.”

So that is what I am going to do – all those things I need to broadcast, but I think you might not want to know, will henceforth be introduced in my Hooptedoodle posts. A bit narcissistic perhaps; but what the heck – if JS can do it, so can I.

ok – here is my first Hooptedoodle post

The world has two views

Just finished reading a recent post from a Kuwaiti blogger. The lady is evidently western-educated, most-likely western-reared and the post was about watching Indian movies. She does not like Indian movies and is forced to occasionally watch them, because all her friends in Kuwait do. Here is a classic case of the western sensibility at odds with the new, increasingly confident, Asian ‘feel’. As many of us have heard by now, Rajnikant, the Tamil movie superstar has a loyal following in Japan – another instance of an Asian-Asian cultural nexus that bye-passes the west.

I have noticed a similar dichotomy in user opinion on travel. On HolidayIQ, a lot of traveler comments are from Indians. I now find it really interesting to compare these comments with stuff on predominantly ‘western’ sites such as Tripadvisor & Igougo. The difference is palpable. For the same destination and often for the same hotel, reviews on HolidayIQ are quite different from the traveler views in these other sites. The sensibilities are different & therefore, so are the opinions.

More than anything else, this brings home to me the reality that the world is no more west-centric; the multi-polar globe has arrived. The old certainities built on a hierarchy that puts everything ‘western’ on top is clearly under threat. Young, confident & well-off people across vast swathes of Asia & (eventually) Africa will increasingly determine a new set of realities.

It is in this world that Indian films and Indian tourism stand to gain. After all, the sensibilities of the billion (largely young) people of India seem to find a resonance in many parts of the globe. All we need to do is to conscientiously service this demand.

For HolidayIQ, I think the opportunity to create a pan-Asian viewpoint on travel is, I believe, very real.


Ever since I started a company I have been asked various questions about “entrepreneurship”. Stuff ranging from the usual “how-to” to “what-does-it-take-to” to ‘leadership attributes’. Here is my current answer to most of these questions : I have no clue.

This is what happened to me. I was at the top of some kind of a totem pole that circumstances had set up for me. I got there after a climb of 15 years, sometimes fun but sometimes not. I needed a break. Since I had always loved travel (as in the non-business kind), I decided it was time I gave myself a break and do something I like. The most cursory glance around told me that the only way I could do that was to initiate it myself. Nobody had a job for me that would allow me to do what I liked and get paid for it. So I decided to do it myself. One thing led to another and here I am, an entrepreneur.

So in my limited experience, the biggest catalyst required for entrepreneurship is serendipity. Having got into it, what do I think? I think entrepreneurship frees you from the shackles of “always running somebody else’s race” and allows you to “run your own race” (wonderfully wise words I got from one of my first investors, himself a successful first-generation entrepreneur).

I had’nt thought much about this thing called “entreprenuership” when I started; I still don’t. I want to do what I like& if the only way to do it is to start it myself, so be it.

Sorry guys – can’t really help you on this one. But I found 12 videos in Youtube with the tag ‘entrepeneurship”. So, if you still need to know, maybe you should click here.

Niche, influential, defiant

These 3 words were written recently to describe both Adrian Zecha, the founder of the Aman Resorts chain and Steve Jobs of Apple. If I have benchmarks, they are it. Their businesses revolve around building lifestyle services created out of a wonderful personal aesthetic.

Obviously, neither of them run the biggest businesses in their chosen fields. Apple is so much smaller than Microsoft – but, given the Mac, the ipod & the iphone, can there be any comparison? Similarly, all the rooms of all the resorts owned by the resolutely niche Aman Resorts can probably be fitted ito a large chain hotel in one place. But again, no product in world hospitality can be easily compared to an Aman.

Sorry to gush – but that is the way I would want to make products – as things of beauty.

Gates vs Jobs : check out this cool animation video

Scale Veil

It has always seemed to me that one’s perception of things is influenced hugely by one’s sense of scale, which in turn is a direct outcome of past experience. This came back to me strongly while on my Caribbean trip last month.

I went to two countries. The larger country has 250,000 people; the population of the smaller one is 100k. Accompanied by a number of my country-men, I set out to explore these countries. Very soon, I started to notice a pattern. My compatriots would try to explain Indian scale to the hosts. For eg. ‘Most large Indian cities have over 10 million people” or “India has a billion people” etc. This would be met a polite nod from the host – it was clear that our caribbean friends had no conception of what we were saying. Not that they did not get the numbers. Just that they could not even remotely comprehend the reality of these numbers.

Soon, I started to see the reverse to be true as well. We, indians could simply not comprehend the reality of a people who were born in and lived their entire life in a country with a population that most self-respecting housing colonies in India would have.

Scale (in this case, of population) is a veil through which we see everything around us. Travel can sometimes bring this fact home with a vengeance.

Paraadise Maan..

As the clouds parted I saw heaven. And as I watched the twin peaks tower over a smoking valley right beside a tourquoise cove, Antony the Preacherman, Guide, Taxi-driver & itinerant philosopher called up the perfect-est rainbow in recorded history. The seduction was complete.

There probably is no point on earth more remote in mind, spirit and space from today’s India than St Lucia. In spite of its waddling tourists, in the quieter back-lanes of St Lucia I have, for the first time, found a place I would want to live in. And fresh lobsters, tropical blooms, incredibly relaxed people, the bluest ocean meeting the bluest sea and exotic racially-mixed women are not the only reasons to live there. Although for me, they do the trick well enough. Go there if you can. I will meet you soon at Tyrone’s bar in Soufriere.

Click here for my posts on Beach Vacations.

Click here for my posts on the Caribbean.

Squiggles on the first page

About twenty five years ago, I saw an old book on a shelf. On the first page of the book was a signature in a neat hand and under it the words, “St Catherine’s, Oxford, 1932″. In that little inscription was buried the first half of the story of a man whose tumultous journey of life took him from being the veritable baby-with-a-golden-spoon, to an orphan with no support, then to a bright young boy who walked over 5 miles and swam across a river everyday to tenaciously pursue the need to study, and onwards to a young man propelled by circumstances to reach what was then the world’s greatest centre of learning. It is the story of a person I loved very much.

Add up all those inscriptions made across the thousands of books that inhabited his library and overlay it with a bit of imagination – and you get one of the most interesting travelogues you can ever lay your hands on.

Over the last decade or so, I have done the same squiggles on every book I bought. There is the P G Wodehouse I bought from the airport on my way to see my first-born. Or the Peter Mayle that I got from the little village of Arbroath, while walking across Scotland. Who knows, maybe a few years later, there might be even be a few people who will find the cumulative story told by my squiggles to be interesting.

The land of Astarte & Adonis

LEBANON. Like most other people, the first sign of this word makes me want to dive to the floor and scan desperately for the nearest bomb shelter. After all the “disturbing images” we have seen over a lifetime, it is difficult to associate this land with anything other than strife & bloodshed. But Colin Thubron in his wonderful book “The Hills of Adonis”, writes about an ancient and fertile land which is not just bucolic but is in many ways a crucible of civilisation. Continue reading

Mauritius at Anahita : the second-home revolution in India

This morning I saw an Ad in Times of India. It was for the sale of exclusive holiday residences in Mauritius. If there is a better proof of the growing wealth in India, I cant think of any. Most of our parents toiled most of their lives to be able to afford a decent education for their kids, a minimum standard of living and one house. How things have changed. Continue reading

Christian bye-pass, across the Rub-al-khali

(An unlikely video of Saudi Arabia – scuba diving in the Red Sea, Jeddah)

I lived in Saudi Arabia for six months in early nineties and am I thankful to fate for that. Tourists rarely go to Saudi Arabia – the only outsiders (reluctantly) allowed in to Saudi Arabia are expat workers. As one such, I landed in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Continue reading

Olaulim village, Goa


Olaulim village is not one of the touristy villages in Goa – thank god for that. I had the good fortune to stay for a night at one of the more interesting households in the country, set in little Olaulim village. Savio, the head of the house is a Goan who finally “settled down” (after wandering the world as a tour guide, hotelier, scuba diving instructor etc). His graceful wife Pirkko, moved to Goa from, hold your breath!, Finland. Continue reading

No-cost trips

I woke up early today and from somewhere far away heard the strains of Vande Mataram. And I was immediately carried away on another Nostalgia trip. It was the late sixties or early seventies. A small boy of about 4 or 5 wakes up, a tousled head comes out from under a thin sheet. In the darkness there is a faint chill of a Keralan dawn; the first strains of Vande Mataram waft out – All India Radio signals the start of another day – a special day with gandparents for the little boy.

Little cues scattered across our daily lives call us back at all times to extraordinary memories. One of the tricks of life is to allow such memories to creep in often and take us on these journeys. After all, Nostalgia trips cost us nothing.

7 Wonders of the World

Remember the list of wonders you learnt as a child in school? Well, the list is about to change. Some of the wonders you knew will get pluto-ed. Others will climb in. All this is being done by a guy called Bernard Weber, a self-confessed film-maker, Art Curator, Aviator and Adventurer. In keeping with the spirit of the times, this is being done by popular vote over the internet or telephone.

I always thought such weighty matters were best decided by white-haired boffins peering short-sightedly over ancient manuscripts. At first blush, it seems strange that extraordinary beauties like the Angkor Vat and Taj Mahal have to win popular votes (like ma Shetty) to have their place in the sun. On second thoughts, I think it is a good idea. My experience with HolidayIQ suggests to me that popular voting, in a world of ubiquotous connectivity, can throw up fairly accurate results. Surowiecki’s thesis on the Wisdom of Crowds is pretty interesting and worth a read for all of us interested in this subject.