Tall Man at the Iron Gate


A story hard to believe but indeed true


In 1985 I went to Civil Engineering Department at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne under British Council’s Academic Link program. It was month of November. The weather in Newcastle was windy and it was biting cold. I wasn’t much prepared. Professor Sam James was my contact. A Teacher par excellence, a warm and kind personality.

Sam worked on water quality modelling of rivers and estuaries along with David Elliot. At that time, I was attempting a two-dimensional water quality model using Yotsukura and Sayre’s Stream Tube concept. I was inspired by Prof T P H Gowda’s work on Canadian rivers. The application of two-dimensional model was to be made on river Ganga. Idea of the Link program was to exchange our experiences in these areas. I eventually made this application and developed STREAM-II model.

Tees estuary modelling was Sam’s focus. He used compartment or box modelling concept that was tried on river Thames. Here, the estuary was construed as consisting of layered boxes – stacked on and next to each other with exchange coefficients and reaction mechanisms. This model seemed to work and corroborate well with the field data. (Later, I realized that the same approach was used in Box modelling of air pollution in cities. Here Akula Venkatram made some inspiring publications).

In the course of day, I used to read some of Sam’s unpublished work, join discussion meetings with his Ph D students and sometimes attend his lectures. We used to meet up all faculty in the coffee room in the late afternoon. I loved these get togethers. The coffee used to be great – in both taste and aroma.

I was staying at Hotel Avenue on Manor House Road. This B&B hotel was in Jesmond and at a walking distance from the Casse building of the Civil Engineering Department. Sam used to drop me by his car to save me from the cold winds.

Hotel Avenue

One day, Sam had to leave early as he was not feeling well. “Will you manage going walking today Prasad?” He asked. I nodded as the distance wasn’t too far.  Sam explained how to and recommended a short cut.

I got out a bit late as I was engrossed reading one of Sam’s research notes on Tees Estuary modelling. It was 5 pm and the evening was already set with streets getting dark. I tied to follow Sam’s instructions of walking along Clayton road but missed and instead took route via Jesmond road and reached Osbonne road instead of the Osbonne avenue. There was no one to ask in the street.

Road from Civil Engg Department

I reached a point where I came across a majestic iron gate with a dim light outside. There was a Tall Man standing there – perhaps waiting for somebody. I stopped by and asked him. “Sir, how to reach Hotel Avenue? I think I am a bit lost. Can you please guide?”

The Tall Man smiled. He said, “You are not too far away Sir, continue on this road another 5 minutes, reach Rosebery cres and then take a left, then first right, and then second left. You should reach then the Avenue Hotel”.  I was now confused – not just because his complex instructions but because of his Northumberland accent.

The Entrance with Iron Gate

The Man saw me give up.

“Well sir, there is an easy and shorter way too. You can get inside this Gate and head straight through the inside road. A 5-minute walk and you will hit a similar rear Gate. Get out of the Gate and another 200 m ahead is Hotel Avenue”

I thought this option was better. But I was a bit hesitant.

When the Man noticed my discomfort. He said “Sir, this is a public property and so you can enter with no inhibition whatsoever”

He thought for a while and added

“I can walk with you through Sir and give you company This may help”

The Inner Road

I thanked him for his generosity.

We started walking together.

The road inside was narrow with tall grass around. I couldn’t see much as it was already dark. All I noticed was an unusual silence. Leaves made noise as we walked.

“Sir, what brings you to New Castle? You don’t look like a local” The Tall Man asked.

“Well, I am here to do some joint research at the Civil Engineering Department of University” I answered. I wanted to be brief as I didn’t want to be technical. Besides the weather was getting now real windy.

“What research?” The Man seemed to be curious.

I explained to him the work we were doing on mathematical modelling of Dissolved Oxygen on Tees estuary in as simple terms as possible. I think I did well as the Man asked more questions that were meaningful and relevant. I elaborated.

“So, will your modelling work help the fish in the estuary? Will it improve the income of the fishermen?” The man asked me this question as we were coming close to the rear Gate of the property.

I had not thought about this question. I was only thinking that we could publish our work in a good refereed Journal and we could “produce” two Ph Ds.

“Honestly our work should” I answered.

But then I wasn’t sure. “Must speak to Sam” I said to myself. This Man is asking good questions.

The Tall Man continued

“Sir, did you ever visit Tees estuary?”

I nodded negative.

“Did you listen to the sound of its high and low tide? And did you meet any of the fishermen? And did you take a ride on the boats and spoke to them about fish?” He asked

I realized that I was away from the reality. I was attempting modelling with no real purpose.

“Well, I haven’t done this yet. I have been kind of glued to the computer and research papers” I said apologetically.

“I see – this is generally the case” The Tall Man whispered.

We had reached by then the rear Iron Gate, and so our conversation ended.

In this 5-minute walk, I realized that I needed to completely change my perspective on environmental modelling.

The Man shook my hands, walked back and disappeared.

When I exited, I noticed the board at the Gate that was dimly lit.

It said “All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond”

All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond

When I reached hotel Avenue and the Bar, Tim, the bar tender got me a Bitter with froth and served with chips. He saw me with sweat on the forehead

“Sir, how come you are sweating in such a cold and windy weather” Tim asked

I explained Tim about my experience of walking through All Saints Cemetery with the Tall Man.

“Oh, did you actually see this Tall Man and walked with him?” The bar tenders voice had a lot of concern.

“The Man you met is a famous person of the fishermen community of the Gates Head. There are so many stories about him – few true but most untrue. Very few see him”

“Well Tim, I spoke to him, and he said a few things that were simple but very relevant to my work. Now how do I get hold of him for another round of conversation?” I took a large gulp of the Bitter

“Sir, the Man you met, and I was referring to – died a 100 years ago. His grave is the first one as you enter the Cemetery from Osborne Road” Tim said while topping my Bitter.

I did not visit Newcastle university after 1987. I plan to visit and walk through the All Saints Cemetery once again for a friendly advice from the Tall Man


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Up in the Air

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airline passengers generated 5.2 million tonnes of waste in 2016, most of which went to landfill or incineration. This figure is expected to double over the next 15 years.

Once a plane has landed, huge volumes of disposable items are thrown away. Apart from plastic waste (including cutlery), toilet waste is included in the waste stream –  so are the miniature wine bottles, half-eaten lunch trays, unused toothbrushes, empty plastic water bottles, napkins, discarded packaging. Airline waste management is now an area of great concern.

Iberia Airlines in partnership with Ferrovial Services prepared a scheme that could recover 80% of cabin waste coming into Madrid’s Barajas airport by mid-2020. The scheme will explore low-packaging meals and reusable cutlery. Designing cabin products with waste minimization will be another strategy. Qantas, for example, is combining its charity donation envelope with its headset package, cutting one polythene bag per passenger per flight. America’s United Airlines has switched to compostable paper cups and last year began donating unused amenity kits to homeless and women’s shelters. Virgin Airlines has set up a system for recycling all parts of its headsets, including ear sponges, that are now used as flooring for equestrian centers.

IATA’s head of environment feels that unrealistic and unreasonable waste related regulation is a major challenge. The EU animal health legislation, drawn up as a reaction to diseases like foot and mouth, dictates that all catering waste arriving from outside EU borders be treated as high-risk and incinerated or buried in deep landfill. A coffee cup from the US, for example, will be treated as hazardous waste because it might have had milk in it. Donating uneaten food to charity is impossible. A more rational approach is needed, one which identifies elements of cabin waste that pose a risk to health and considers the stringent hygiene standards airlines are already subject to.

Another challenge is getting cabin crew’s buy-in for waste segregation right in the aircraft. Iberia Airlines has introduced recycling bins attached to service trolleys — so that in-flight waste can be easily sorted. About 2,500 cabin crew members will be trained in the basics of waste separation as part of the push. Emirates has also introduced segregation facilities on board, for easy sorting of glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper products.

But environment is not the only concern. According to IATA, cabin waste costs the airline industry $500 million plus each and the costs will rise steeply thanks to growing fees to be paid to landfills for disposal. The airlines are therefore focusing on a product’s full life cost, rather than unit price, and invest in more durable headsets or blankets and ditching disposable products. This can be a game changer.

Flexible catering is one-way airlines could curb waste.  Airlines are now “predicting” likely meal preference of the passenger based on the frequent flyer and other behavioral data such as spending habits and consumption. This is the future where big data analytics and artificial intelligence will be used.

Another solution is the pay-as-you-go approach, where travelers order meals before a flight as followed in most low-cost carriers (LCCs) around the world. By providing this system — where passengers buy meals using an app or website — airlines can simultaneously meet demand and minimize waste. This approach is now followed by full-service international airlines as well, with the likes of SAS, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Qantas.

Reliance on plastic and paper also contribute to the issue, but some airlines are experimenting with recycling solutions and packaging alternatives to minimize waste. Qantas has begun to use recycled materials for its packaging as well as plastic-free headsets. Emirates has introduced eco-friendly blankets, made from recycled plastic bottles. The airline expects this amenity to rescue more than 12,000 tons of bottles from landfills by 2019. There is a huge benefit of such upcycling.

Back on the ground, several airports have installed waste management systems that are innovative and effective.  Waste Management Best Practice in the Global Aviation Sector Leading international airports are now targeting and achieving diversion rates as high as 80%. This is achieved through on-Site Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) and Waste to Energy Plants.  Uptake of MRFs is high where the prohibitive cost of landfill supports commercial viability. To reduce transportation and landfill space and harness energy, Gatwick airport in London opened an on-site waste-to-energy plant.  Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) is in the process of installing an in-house integrated solid waste management facility based on biomethanation to deal with the 20 tonnes of organic and inorganic waste generated every day. KIA also plans to reach out to stakeholders such as concessionaries, F&B and retail outlets and persuade them to use recycled products made out of the inorganic waste. The airport will sell the recyclable material such as glass and plates to other manufacturers as raw material. This will make KIA the first airport in Asia to initiate in-house integrated solid waste management.


I took a flight to New Delhi today on economy class. When food was served, there was no option – Veg or Non-Veg. “All food is Veg Sir”, said the air-hostess – We want to minimize the waste generation sir”. I was anyway going to opt for a veg meal.

My co-passengers tray had a Gulab jamun, but my tray didn’t. When asked, she smiled and said, “Sir, we use big data analytics and expertise of companies like Cambridge with backing (or hacking?) of databases like Facebook. This helps us to diagnose passenger food preference before boarding the flight”. I was surprised to learn that these sophisticated techniques were not anymore limited to politics and elections. The air hostess continued.

“We found out that you are diabetic type II person with H1bAC of 7.5 around, so there is no point to serve you the Gulab jamun”. She gave a sweet smile that did not raise my blood sugar but only the heart beats raced!

I thought she was right. If served, I wouldn’t have had the Gulab jamun and hence it could have been a waste. The airline was clearly waste-wise.

I noticed that the cutlery provided was not of plastic but looked very different. Just then the flight supervisor made an announcement

Edible Cutlery from Bakeys 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you may be aware that the Government of Maharashtra has banned plastic disposable utensils made of plastic and thermocol, plastic plates, bowls, cups, straws etc. with effect from March 18, 2018. In order to be compliant, our Airline has introduced edible cutlery that is sorghum based. Once you finish your meal, we encourage you to eat the cutlery as it is nutritionally good as well as delicious.  And if you don’t eat, please don’t worry. This cutlery easily biodegrades in any outside environment within 10 days. In any case, we use this cutlery as animal feed”

I thought that this was impressive.

I took a good bite of the edible spoon after relishing the idli Sambhar.

What a transformation! I said to myself. “I must tell my wife about this edible substitute. This will eliminate the work of cleaning plates, spoons and forks.”

We had another hour to go to reach Delhi.

“Will this transformation sustain?” I wondered.

But I decided not to think about the ground realities while 30000 ft up in the air.


Cover image and statistics sourced from Watch your waste: The problem with airline food and packaging

Read The ridiculous story of airline food and why so much ends up in landfill

 


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Who “Drives” India’s Agenda on Sustainability?

Other day, I took a good review of all economic, environmental and social initiatives (and in that priority) of the ruling NDA Government. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a significant progress was made in terms of launching missions, signing of (vibrant or “vibrating”) MOUs and reforms on identity (Aadhar), demonetization and the GST, just to cite a few.

I was in full praise of the Government when I met the Professor, right outside the Parliament house. It was Monday morning. The Air Quality Index was moderate, and we could do conversations without wearing masks.

I asked “Professor, the Government, I mean the Ministers of this Government, are real visionary and are contributing so much to the progress of the country. Without saying anything explicitly, the Government seems to be moving towards Sustainability.  For example. Make in India mission is going to increase the productivity and the jobs, National Skill Development Corporation will do the skilling, Programs like Smart Cities and Nanami Gange programs will bring in investment flows, innovation and partnerships.  The PMO has asked Niti Ayog (earlier Planning Commission) to take charge of reporting on the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). I know that Niti Ayog has all the expertise and the might to roll out numbers that the PMO would want to see on the attainment of the SDGs. Everything is so perfect”

Professor smiled. He said “I presume you are not sarcastic as usual and for a change you are accepting the good performance or at least good intentions of this Government.  But do you know the secret? Its not the Ministers who are driving India’s agenda on Sustainability. The car drivers who take the Ministers around are the real visionaries. They discuss between each other and give suggestions to the Ministers when they drive them and when alone. The Ministers simply steal these ideas and present to the PMO and get them endorsed for implementation”

“You mean, the car drivers run this Government?” I was simply astonished.

“Of course, Dr Modak, and don’t treat these drivers as people who know only how to drive. These drivers are MBAs from Harvard and London School of Economics, or D Sc from institutions like MIT and Berkeley and few come from some of the world famous liberal arts schools from Finland and France. Some come from the Ibaraki prefecture of Japan and Hello Berlin that are hubs of innovation. So even if PM shuffles the Ministers, the strategy of the Ministry does not change. Selecting these drivers is one of my important functions designated by the PM himself. China did this long ago and President Trump is following this model of modern governance”. Professor said in a proud voice and as a matter of fact.

I was astonished to learn about this top secret. I knew the importance of car driver from the epic Mahabharata. Arjuna’s driver or sarathi of the chariot was none but Lord Krishna. While Arjuna sent the arrows, it was Lord Krishna who did brilliant advisory and stole the show.

“Now let me walk you to the parking lot of the Parliament House where you would meet the real drivers to India’s growth” Professor made me walk a few hundred meters.

The drivers of the Ministers cars had assembled under a tree. They were busy chatting.

Driver of the Minister of Power. Piyush Goel was explaining the scheme for promotion of electric vehicles. It seems he was the real architect and the brain. But he was not happy as Mr. Goel himself was not using an electric vehicle. “Oh, I have been telling him again and again, that he should be the first one to shift from petrol to electric. These Ministers don’t set an example”.

“One day I am sure he will, said the driver to Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways.  “My Minister checks every day the kilometers completed at the highways against the promise made and compares them with the kilometers we drive. We always win. Minister is informed about the “meta data” such as the number of trees felled, and number of people displaced etc. I have advised him not to bother about this statistic however as it does not affect the sustainability that much at least for the next 2 years. Access to voters in rural areas is perhaps more important as it will improve sustainability of the government in the coming up elections”.

I thought the driver was smart and made a valid point. He came from the London School of Economics.

The driver of Arun Jaitley’s car had something important to share. “Well, I just advised and convinced Mr. Jaitley to waive income tax for annual incomes less than 10 lakhs. In any case only 1% of India’s population pays the income tax. Raising the slab of income tax from 3 lakhs to 10 lakhs will increase the popularity of this Government only at a marginal “loss”. He was not wrong.

The driver of the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change wasn’t speaking. When asked why he is keeping quiet, he said that there was no use in speaking. “Nothing changes in this Ministry”. He sighed. He was a PhD from Yale University.

There were lighter conversations as well. A news was exchanged that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath’s driver was fined Rs 500 for chewing tobacco on government duty. The joke was this very driver had convinced the CM to institute a ban on chewing tobacco! Driver of the Minister of Communication Manoj Sinha said.

As the drivers  were telling us how they were driving the agenda of various Ministries, a stiff, aloof but impressive driver walked in. He was one of the highly trained elite official who looked like a SPG commando!

“Who is this?” I asked the Professor. Oh, he is the driver of our PM. PM has made sure that he is not as educated like others; knows only how to drive and he will protect him in case of emergency. He has knowledge of many languages, knows using arms in case of emergency and is equipped with latest communication gadgets and is well trained for their use. He is “muted” i.e. not allowed to speak.

I said “I understand. This PM does not need a drivers advice like the other Ministers. PM clearly knows how to drive India’s (political) sustainability agenda – all by himself”

“Are you sarcastic this time again Dr Modak” Professor retorted closing the conversion. I kept shut.

When we reached his car, I noticed that Professor’s driver was wearing a cap with an emblem of the Stanford University!

Wow. now I understand! – I said to myself.


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Shall We Dance?

This post is about some of the great and inspirational dances that we must watch on the movie screen.    I have placed few video clips as examples for your audio-visual experience. These videos and the stories behind have made my life interesting. I have picked some  statistics from the Web and especially from WikiPedia and edited to provide you some fascinating information.

Don’t read this blog in a hurry. You must take time to immerse in these videos and appreciate the dances.

Sit with a glass of your favorite drink and sip along while you enjoy this post, watching the videos as they appear.

A little longish post but I hope you will have a wonderful time!


 

One of the most influencing movies that hit the style of disco dancing was Saturday Night Fever. The movie was released in 1977. I was in the 4th year of BTech at IIT Bombay then. The movie was directed by John Badham. It starred John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class young man who spends his weekends dancing and drinking at a local Brooklyn discothèque. While in the disco, Tony was the champion dancer and ruled the dance floor. His circle of friends and weekend dancing helped him to cope with the harsh realities of his life. He had clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents and there were racial tensions in the local community. The movie had thus a very interesting social dimension apart from watching John Travolta perform.

A huge commercial success, the film significantly helped to popularize disco music around the world and made Travolta, a household name. The Saturday Night Fever sound track, featured disco songs by the famous Bee Gees and that made a huge difference. In 2010, Saturday Night Fever was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Film critic Gene Siskel said “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” Siskel even bought Travolta’s famous white suit from the film at a charity auction. “You Should be Dancing” is a video clip that shows Travolta’s amazing talent.

 

Year of 1983 was the release of the Flash Dance featuring Jennifer Beals (Alex in the movie) who was shown as an eighteen-year-old welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a converted warehouse. Although she aspired to become a professional dancer, she had no formal dance training, and worked as an “exotic dancer” by night at the nearby Mawby’s bar.

After seeking counsel from her mentor, a retired ballerina, Alex attempts to apply to the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. She however gets intimidated by the scope of the application process, which includes listing all prior dance experience and education, and she leaves without applying.

Later she gains the courage to apply for entrance to the Conservatory and gets an opportunity for an audition with the Arts Council. At the audition, Alex initially falters, but begins again, and successfully completes a dance number composed of various aspects of dance she has studied and practiced, including break-dancing which she has seen on the streets of Pittsburgh. The board responds favorably, and Alex is seen joyously emerging from the Conservatory. Feel the pace in this video and the beats that will race your heart.

After the success of the Flash Dance, one of the most popular dance piece that everybody enjoyed was the Time of Life in the movie Dirty Dancing.

“(I’ve had) The Time of My Life” was a 1987 song composed by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz. This song won a number of awards, including an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, a Golden Globe Award for “Best Original Song”, and a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Director Ardolino was adamant that he chooses dancers who could also act, as he did not want to use the “stand-in” method that had been used earlier with Flash dance. Jennifer Beals was not an Actor. For the female lead Ardolino chose the 26-year-old Jennifer Grey, daughter of the Oscar-winning actor and dancer Joel Grey, who, like her father, was a trained dancer. He then sought a male lead and after checking with a few, choice was 34-year-old Patrick Swayze, a seasoned dancer, with experience from the Joffrey Ballet. In the beginning Jennifer and Patrick did not get along very well.

Filming started on September 5, 1986 but was plagued by not so friendly weather, that ranged from pouring rain to sweltering heat. Patrick Swayze required a hospital visit; as he was insisting on doing his own stunts. See in the video the “balancing” scene with Grey. Patrick repeatedly fell off while balancing and injured his knee so badly that he had to have fluid drained from the swelling. The shooting was wrapped on October 27, 1986, both on-time and on-budget.

After the initial “not so great impression”, the film drew adult audiences instead of the teens, with viewers rating the film highly. The film’s popularity continued to grow after its initial release. It was the number one video rental of 1988 and became the first film to sell a million copies on video. When the film was re-released in 1997, ten years after its original release, Swayze received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,

A May 2007 survey by Britain’s Sky Movies listed Dirty Dancing as number one on “Women’s most-watched films”, above the Star Wars trilogy, Grease, The Sound of Music, and Pretty Woman. Of course, the film’s music has also had considerable impact. The closing song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, took the glory.

Today Patrick Swayze is no more. In mid-January 2008, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and he died on September 14, 2009 at age 57 after fighting 20 months after his cancer diagnosis. His wife Lisa Niemi Swayze wrote a book on his life along with him, aptly called “Time of My Life” – a book I will recommend all of you to read.

Let us go back a bit in time or rewind. You must have watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler on the Roof was a 1971 American musical comedy-drama film. The movie featured the famous “Bottle Dance”. This dance is not a traditional Jewish folk dance but creation of director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins did “field research” for Fiddler by attending Orthodox Jewish weddings and festivals where he was thrilled with the men’s dancing.  He  elaborated this experience and got four dancers performing precise and electrifying moves. This famous bottle dance got re-planted in the United States and today there are amazing bottle dancers who burst into special events (especially weddings) and perform the sensational “bottle dance”. For a grand finale, they lead the whole crowd into frenzy.  I just love the amazing synchronous moves of the dancers while balancing the bottles on their heads.

In 2004, move “Shall We Dance” was produced that featured Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.  In the movie there is a very sensuous dance with the song “Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)” from the album La Revancha del Tango played by the Gotan Project.

The movie shows life of John Clark who is a lawyer with a charming wife, Beverly. He feels that something is missing in his life as he makes his way every day through the city by a train. He gets hooked to idea of learning dancing while following Paulina (Jenifer Lopez) who is a dancer. As his lessons continue, John falls in love with dancing. Keeping his new obsession from his family and co-workers, John feverishly trains for Chicago’s biggest dance competition. He loses and quits dancing, to everyone’s dismay after an argument with his wife Beverly. The dance with the song Santa Maria is simply haunting. A must to watch.

Now let us watch something more contemporary like Bachata.

Bachata, is essentially a slow style of dancing that emerged in the ’60s. Bachata is performed only in closed position, like the bolero, often in close embrace and the basic steps are confined within a small square. The hand placement in Bachata can vary according to the position of the dances, which can range from very close to open to completely open.

The authentic version is still danced today in the Caribbean and all over the world. It is increasingly danced now to faster music, adding more footwork, with soft hip movements and a tap or syncopation. Yet, it follows simple turns and rhythmic free-styling and with alternation between close (romantic) and open position. Watching a good bachata dance can be mesmerizing.

Tanja La Alemana is one of the best-known Bachata dancer. She and her partner Ataca Jorgie performed a sexy Bachata routine by Xtreme “Te Extraño” at DWF in Singapore. I thought of presenting this video to you.


I was working on writing a textbook on Air Pollution for UNESCO with several contributing authors. An authors meet was called in Barcelona that was hosted by Professor Valentina of the Technical University of Catalonia. Valentina was an established expert in numerical modelling of air pollution but was a talented artist (oil paintings) and a dancer of repute, especially the Salsa.

When she spoke to me about her interest in dance during one of dinners we had, I told her how much I love to watch dancing and narrated some of the great dances that one must follow– and highlighted a few just like I did in this blog. I elaborated on the Bachata and the subtle differences with Salsa.

“Oh Prasad, great to know that you love dancing. You seem to be really knowledgeable”  Valentina exclaimed. “Do come with me tomorrow at  the Mojito Club to watch the Salsa, Bachata and listen to some Latin music.

When we arrived, the place was crowded. The music was spinning and so was the crowd. We took a place to sit as the discs were to change. There were many folks waiting for the next chance to get on to the floor and dance.

The music stopped, and neon signs flashed with the words “Now Bachata”. “Wow, Valentina said – “What a timing Prasad, Shall We Dance?” She passed her hand to me and stood up with a charming smile.

I froze. I said sheepishly “Valentina, I only know the theory but don’t know how to dance”. I wished I could be like Ataca Jorgie, Tanja’s Partner (you probably just watched). And I wished some Angel did this instant transformation, just for me, today and right now!)

“Oh, don’t worry Prasad”, Valentina said while gyrating her hips “I see that you are a typical Professor, Most Professors know only the theory and not the practice and you are not an exception!”

I think Valentina  was absolutely right!! She was clearly an exception.


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Dinner at the Masala Craft and Bade Miya

Last week, I decided to call my friends over a dinner at the Taj in Mumbai to celebrate by two years of extended life after the Angioplasty.

The Taj Mahal Palace & Taj Mahal Tower are a striking blend of nostalgic elegance, rich history and modern facilities.

Masala Kraft is the specialty Indian restaurant at the Taj Mahal Palace. The cuisine uses ground spices and traditional recipes with a blend of culinary innovations. Masala Kraft features an array of menus including the Masala Mumbai Tiffin.

I booked a large table where we could accommodate 8 of my Page 3 friends. Everyone arrived in time, well dressed and perfumed.

“Good choice of the restaurant”, my friend who lives on the Nepean sea road said, placing the napkin on the lap

Friend from the Italian Consulate asked for a wine list. After some discussions with the waiter (sounded in Italian) she ordered a bottle of Barbera. This versatile wine of Italian origin but now widely produced in California is not as popular as Merlot. But it contains very high levels of resveratrol and offers similar health benefits, according to a comparative study. The grapes used seem to contain very high quantities of another phenolic antioxidant called trans-piceatannol.

“I am ordering red Barbera, in case you are tempted to. Research does suggest that red wine could help in blocking the formation of fat cells. This is because of the presence of compounds called Flavonoids in red wine, which inhibit the oxidation of LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) otherwise known as bad cholesterol. Flavonoids are plant compounds called polyphenolic antioxidants that come from the seeds and skin of grapes. But I would not recommend as the evidence on the benefit of red wine to the heart is not still conclusive and the debate is ongoing”. She asked the waiter not to place wine glass on my table. “Have a ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice) instead”. She sounded a bit apologetic.

“Come on – not for Dr Modak, my Dr friend from Jaslok Hospital said. “His HbA1C level is already at 7.5 and he needs to stop eating anything with sugar”.

The term HbA1c refers to glycated hemoglobin. By measuring glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), clinicians are able to get an overall picture of what our average blood sugar levels have been over a period of weeks/months. For people with diabetes, like me, this is important as the higher the HbA1c, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications. To be good, you should be close to 6.

“Let us examine the Menu” said my doctor friend putting on the glasses on as if he is reading a pathology report. He turned the pages of the Menu and hit straight on the Healthy menu page. “For you, I will recommend one of the mains from here” He said. I looked at the Healthy menu and thought that these mains were not interesting.

“Well, I am going to start with Kombadichi Kadi (a rustic chicken curry with coconut). My cholesterol is good – so no worries”  said the Pathologist.

I felt envious but realized that all my friends were seriously taking care of my health. They sounded really concerned.

I said” Let me then order the Masala Mumbai Tiffin – Veg version. It looks tempting”

“Oh No, Dr Modak, that’s not good for you. The tiffin starts with Farasan(made out of chickpea flour – fried and crispy) and ends with Shrikhand (fermented reduced milk with sugar)! Terrible for you given your health condition” Said my friend who is regular at the Mumbai Marathons. “Instead I will recommend that you take a soup like Tomato and Santre ka Shorba (Tomato soup with Orange) that is healthy and will fill your stomach. For me, I am asking for Laknavi Seekh (coarse lamb mince skewered kababs from Lucknow)”

My mouth was watering when he spoke about the kababs. I took a deep breath and sighed.

“This kind of soup is no good for you Dr” said my friend from Times Now in a tone that as if it was a breaking news. These folks put a lot of salt (unknowingly) and that can upset your salt balance. Its OK for people like us – but certainly not for you. I wouldn’t recommend”. I could see that he probably had a bad experience of having such soups in the past.

“Ok then why don’t I hit straight to the main and ask for Lasooni Palak (spinach tampered with garlic) with a combination of two phulkas (puffed Indian bread with home ground wheat)” I fought back.

“Good choice, garlic is good for the heart and Palak contains iron and helps in raising the hemoglobin” My friend who runs a Yoga clinic at the Lokhandwala complex said.

“Well, in that case I will ask you to eat only Lassoni Palak without any phulka. Wheat contains gluten and that’s not good for you” said my friend who just arrived from the United States after a long stay of 30 years. “We are sharing a Masala Craft Paraat Pulao with Jheenga (curry layered with aromatic basmati rice with prawns)” He said this in an American accent and looked at his wife who readily nodded. I felt jealous

“Perhaps it may good if you have just have two pieces of Nachni Phulka (puffed Indian bread made with red millet) with matki dahi (yogurt in a clay pot). The person who least spoke all this time now said. I think he retired from Indian Administrative Service (IAS). These folks generally speak the last or have the last word.

“I won’t recommend this option Dr Modak, this means you will only have 600 calories. Not good given your total recommended intake of 1800 . You must not starve”. My friend who was regular at the Gold Gym on Linking Road retorted.  “Well in my case I am going to order hot Gulab Jamun Yogurt (dumplings of reduced milk soaked and baked with sweetened yogurt). By the way, I work out over 2 hours every day”

Wow, I realized that all my friends were going to have a great time at the Masala Craft (at my cost) and me, the host, was going to be starved.

To end this ping pong of advices, I asked for Kashmiri Khahwa tea (a blend of green tea leaves with saffron strands with cinnamon barks and a cardamom pod), saying that I actually have an upset stomach. This led to some more discussion.

“You can have two full cups Dr. Its very healthy” My friend with Italian embassy said in a comforting tone while sipping the red Barbera.

When we ended our dinner, I said good bye, thank you and good night to all my friends. When I was sure that everybody had left, I walked to Bade Miya behind the Taj that serves delicious street food. After reading some adverse Trip Advisor reports on the poor hygiene in company of stray dogs, I had avoided visiting this otherwise famous place. But today, I was desperate.

Mohmed Gaus, the co-owner greeted me “Dr Modak, long time no see! We thought we lost you!!”. He yelled at the boy and said “Please get our esteemed guest, a plate of Seekh Kebabs, Butter Chicken and two Roomali Rotis – the usual”

“It’s not unhealthy for me I suppose?” I asked Mohmed.

He smiled and said “So far you enjoy eating Dr Modak. Life is too short to live”

Was he right?

I thought of asking my well-wishers when we would meet next


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