Night-walk in the Streets of Prague

Years ago, I was in Prague to attend a UN conference. As I arrived, I fell in love with the city. I chose to stay at hotel Black Elephant that was a few minutes’ walk from the Old Town Quarter.

Old Town Square is a historic place. It is located between Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge where people take romantic walks at night.

A friend had recommended me hotel Black Elephant. Black Elephant, also known as Hotel Cerny slon, is located in the narrow street Tynska. It was built in accordance with historical archives of Prague in the years 1330 – 1340 in a gothic style. A unique roof truss of the building was preserved in an original form. It is one of the oldest hotel in Prague and perhaps in the whole Czech Republic. The building is listed on the UNESCO heritage list. The hotel boasts of Bar Bandol that was set up in the cellar with pebbled walls around. In this hotel the history literally “talks to you”.

The Black Elephant Hotel

The Reception

Some of the UN delegates had also booked the Black Elephant. One of them was my good friend Anna. Anna was a Slovakian and worked as a consultant on a project sponsored by UNIDO. I was pleased to see her at the reception as I was checking in.  Anna was dressed in a smart lamb wool sweater with her Slovakian ID hanging out in a brass chain.

The Slovak identity card is issued to citizens of the Slovak Republic aged 15 and older. A Slovak ID card can be used for travel in all member states of the European Union and the Schengen Area as well as several other European countries. Most Slovakian’s those days used to sport the ID in a chain put around the neck, especially while in the Czech Republic.

“Hi Prasad, great to see you again” Anna said. “Hey, we are having a reception at the Municipal House followed by a concert at the Smetana Hall”. Smetana hall is a celebrated concert venue in Prague.

“Do check with me after the program is over as we all are planning to take a nightly walk on the streets of Prague on our way back”

I was really excited to know about this plan. Walking on the streets of Prague at night is perhaps most romantic thing to do. I proposed to Anna that we will walk from the Municipal Hall, watching the illuminated old quarters and then end up dining at a nice place”

Oh, sounds good” said Anna. She suggested White Horse restaurant that was close the Old Town Square. “That’s the best place in Prague to be”. I had been to White Horse before and endorsed Anna’s suggestion.

White Horse restaurant is a hidden gem. Tucked away in a cellar downstairs, it is a cozy, beautifully decorated restaurant. From the street you could think you would be sitting in a rather uninviting seating area at front. But we you go downstairs to the cellar restaurant, you realize that it is beautiful and romantic place to eat. The cellar has live jazz or blues bands entertaining the diners. I remembered that it has a good selection of vegetarian foods was available as well.

 

The White Horse Restaurent and the Cellar place 

The meeting over the day was good. We met lots of old friends, one of them was Brian from the United States. Brian was a Professor at North Dakota University. A very jovial person that he was, Brian captured everybody’s attention and charmed Anna with his stories.  “Keep a few stories in reserve when we will walk at night” Anna chided him.

The concert ended by 9 pm. We started walking from the Municipal Hall on the pebbled streets of Prague. The streets had aroma of perfumes, the youth around was full of love and passion, the breeze was chilly, but the hearts were warm. We walked through the crowds, pushing people sometimes and making our way. Anna was leading us in the beginning giving us the “street sense”. Brian was in the mood of humor – making interesting remarks on each one of us and cracking jokes. I could see that Anna was simply adoring his pranks. We used to see both sometimes trailing behind and getting into conversations that we all wanted to hear! I don’t think Anna had met Brian before.

We must have walked just about 2 km and cleared much of the crowed portion of the streets.

Suddenly, Anna stopped. I saw her face panicked.

She looked extremely worried and concerned. “I think I lost by Slovak ID, either it got slipped or someone wacked it in the crowd”. I saw the brass chain in her neck was empty.

We knew that losing the ID card in Czech Republic could be a nightmare for a Slovakian. The immediate thing to be done was reporting to the City Police Station 1 at the Old Town.

We got into a discussion – some said that we should walk back and check if the ID had slipped on the streets. This idea was dismissed. Few said that it was most likely that the ID was stolen. Many from Slovakia who stayed in the Czech Republic always looked for IDs that could be forged to enter Slovakia.

“Well friends, I must go and report to the Police for the lost ID card. The Police Station is not far away from the hotel” Anna had decided.

“Prasad, you know White Horse restaurant so lead everyone there. I have done a booking already. There is a piano jazz tonight. I will join there as I finish the formalities at the Police Station. It may take some time” Anna sounded practical.

Brian volunteered to accompany Anna. I really liked his friendly gesture.  I was relieved that there was someone to accompany Anna.

We were at restaurant White Horse in the next 10 minutes. Our tables in the cellar were pre-booked. The piano-man was in action and was rolling out great jazz. We kept seats for Anna and Brian. We hoped that they will sort out the complain part soon and join us.

We ended the dinner by 11 30 pm but none of them showed up. We were worried. Some said that they must have got real fatigued and hence retired to their respective rooms.  Like Anna, Brian also stayed at the Black Elephant.

I had an early morning flight from Prague to Zurich for way home. I checked out at the reception and went to the breakfast area for a hot black coffee to fight the chill outside. Airport taxi was about to come. On the table, I saw Anna sitting.

Hi Prasad, let me get some breakfast she said. As she walked towards the buffet table, I saw lying on the top of the table her brass chain with her Slovakian ID.

“Oh, looks like she found it. May be someone returned her ID to the police station where she had gone to register the complaint – I must ask” I said to myself

“Madam, your room number please?” The girl serving the coffee asked Anna. Anna showed her the metal key that was on the table that had the room number engraved in the old style. The girl noted the room no. But she returned to our table once again.

“Madam, I think you showed me the wrong key. This key belongs to the room of Mr. Brian Crawford”. The girl said in an apologetic tone.

The situation was then clear to me.

Did Anna really lose her Slovak ID?  And was something planned during the nightly walk on the streets of Prague?

Dear readers – I leave to you to decide.


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Do you remember me?

You keep meeting people in life. You remember some people, but most you forget. Few have elephantine memory and they remember the names. I am envious about these people as they make their acquaintances comfortable when they meet after a gap.

When I am asked “Do you remember me?”, I get embarrassed. I do my best to place the person, but often fail or make a wrong guess, especially when it comes to the name. Many don’t like this weakness of mine. They expect that I remember. And there is nothing wrong to expect this at the least.

I remember I went for a meeting at the UNEP office in Geneva. As I entered the foyer, a woman in the early forty’s ran towards me, hugged me and exclaimed “Prasad, you never told me that you will be coming? You have been absconding for quite a while, we must catch up”

I couldn’t just place this woman. I knew I met her before – as the face looked familiar – but I couldn’t recall her name and the context we last met.

The woman continued.

“Well Prasad, you must be rushing for your meeting. So, I am letting you go now. I will pick you up from the hotel at sharp 7 pm and we will then head for a good dinner”

Given her kind gesture, I thought it was not appropriate for me to tell her that I don’t remember your name. It would be so impolite I thought.

The woman asked my hotel’s name. I said ibis. “Oh, Ibis at Palexpo” Woman said. “Last time you were at Jade Manotel on Rue Rothschild. See you at 7 pm”. The woman disappeared through an elevator.

The woman was absolutely right. I did stay at Jade Manotel the last time I visited Geneva. This time Jade was full, and I could only get a room at the Ibis.

So, this woman certainly knew me before. And that’s why her face looked familiar! But then who was she?

As I sat down in the meeting room, I did my best to remember her name. But shit, I just couldn’t place her. I couldn’t concentrate in the meeting.

The woman looked Caucasian. Was she Gene? Gene worked with the division of economics and last year I had an assignment with the division. No not Gene, I said, as Woman’s accent was meditarian. Oh, then it could be Laila from Cairo? I seriously considered this possibility. Laila worked on Gender. She loved Indian food and we used to lunch together. I used to give Laila  tips to appreciate the Indian food. But I dismissed this possibility too, as if she was Laila, then she wouldn’t have hugged me. Laila was kind of “conservative” person. I gave up.

I was ready at the hotel lobby at 7 pm. I was a bit nervous as I did not know my “host”.  The woman zipped in with a Beetle that was stark red.

“Come on in Prasad”, she yelled

We drove on the streets of Geneva.

“We are heading towards Leopard Lounge & Bar”. Woman said this while changing the gears. “A trio of musicians are playing today. I don’t remember the name of the band director. I have booked a table”

Leopold Lounge and Bar in Geneva

I had heard about this lovely jazz bar before and always wanted to go. When we entered, I enjoyed the quiet, dark and elegant lounge and reminiscent of a bygone era.

We sat together. I didn’t know what to say and so I started “some” conversation. I talked about the weather (how chilly it is), traffic (how it has increased over last few years) etc. The woman added that cost of living is going up especially for leasing apartment in Geneva. These conversations sounded hollow and meaningless to me (and certainly to this charming woman). I was trying my best to place her– my brain was spinning and working hard at a high stress level.

While the woman was giving me a patient hearing, she seemed to be a bit amused though. I could sense that. That made me uncomfortable.

Suddenly, I got a bright idea.

I said “You know I sent an email to you that I am coming to Geneva and the email got bounced. Maybe I typed an incorrect email id. Would you have by any chance have your name card on you. I better take one so that this mess doesn’t happen next time”

“Oh Prasad, no problem” She opened her large purse and pulled out a box of her visiting cards: Here you are” She gave me her name card.

I looked at the card. It said Nara Sullivan, Basel Secretariat

Oh, it was Nara then!!

I had met Nara during my last visit to UNEP that was some three years ago. I was in Geneva for a whole week then and we had got along famously well because of her love for Jazz music. We did two parties at that time and each time after the party  Nara had pulled me out to places near to the Geneva Lake to listen to the Jazz.  We did exchange a few emails after that, but our correspondence soon faded away. Thats the sad part of our work life.

I now got the context. Of course I knew Nara and should have recognized her. It took me a while to gather myself.

I gulped a glass of soda water –  picked up the flyer on the Jazz performers of the night that was lying on our table.

The cover page carried a picture of Trio Band Pilgrim.

I said to the woman (who was no stranger to me now) “Nara, it will be great to listen to Christoph Irniger. Thanks for picking up this place. Christoph is a well-known saxophone Jazz player and director of the Trio Band Pilgrim. I think he studied at Zurich University of the Arts Music Pedagogy and at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. He is considered to be one of the top young Sax player in the Switzerland”

Nara smiled.

“You are now on your track Prasad. For the past half hour, I was wondering why were you wasting time talking about the weather, traffic and me speaking about rents of the apartments in Geneva. That was not you. At least as I remember”

Nara was right.

She sounded relived.

“Prasad, now let me ask for a bottle of Chardonnay” Nara said this while tapping on my head.

Christoph Irniger’s Trio Pilgrim Band was about to start. And I was now ready for better conversations.


Cover image sourced from

https://honestaboutmyfaith.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/do-you-remember-me


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The Jukebox

The term jukebox came into use in the United States beginning in 1940, apparently derived from the word “juke joint”, meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.

A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that plays your selection of a song. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers. When entered in combination, these buttons trigger a mechanism to fetch, lift and play a specific song. The technology of coin driven song selection is sophisticated. Leading makers of Jukeboxes were Wurlitzer, AMI, Rockola and Seeburg. Amongst these the famous organ maker Wurlitzer was the leader and model 1015 was by far the most popularly used Jukebox.

Initially, the 78 rpm records dominated the jukeboxes. The Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45-rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950. The 33⅓ rpms then took over. In the last decade CDs and videos on DVDs stormed in with MP3/MP4 downloads and Internet-connected media players.

Today digital versions are spinning around and have made the old Jukebox obsolete. iTunes software from Apple provided a personalized digital Jukebox that was revolutionary. You could build a playlist of your favorite songs on iTunes and shuffle the songs if you like to be in surprise. The iTunes store became a global jukebox holding a stock of 40 million songs! You could connect iTunes based device to an amp with speakers and entertain the audience.

Several digital jukeboxes are now available in the market. One of them is BCJukebox in Mumbai that was introduced by four IIT Bombay alumni. BCJukebox is a digital jukebox that plays music by your choice and the mood eliminating the need for a Disk Jockey (DJ). BCJukebox has more than 1000 installations in India. But the charm of playing a classical Jukebox with a coin and vinyl disks is different and this experience just cannot be compared.  I love the old Jukebox.

Many jukebox restaurants have now withered away in Mumbai. I still remember playing songs at the Swimming Pool Café at the Dadar Chowpatty, at Hotel Sanman on the Cadel Road and at the Pomposh restaurant in front of the National College in Bandra. We used to sit there after attending the college to relish an oily hamburger (laced with onions) and a chilled glass of London Pilsner.

You can still find old Jukeboxes in Mumbai restaurants and pubs. The Kit Kat Restaurant, Dhobi Talao that was revamped recently has a bar with jukebox that plays both English and Hindi music. Diners usually like to play Classic Rock, but you’ll also hear classic 90s Bollywood songs. The other café to visit is the Café Mondegar in Colaba. Although all genres are available, you’ll hear classics like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Hotel California by the Eagles, Knock Knock Heavens Door by Bob Dylan and Riders On The Storm by The Doors more frequently. On these Jukeboxes, you pay 10 Rs for one song and play 3 songs for 50 Rs.

Jukeboxes essentially gave opportunities for “participatory listening”. When a great song will be played, you would wonder and look around to see who would have probably selected it.

Later, an era came up of “participatory singing and listening” as Karaoke. Karaoke (meaning “empty listening”) is a form of interactive entertainment or video game that was developed in Japan in which an amateur singer sings along with recorded music (a music video) using a microphone. The music is typically an instrumental version of a well-known popular song. Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing color, or music video images, to guide the singer.

A karaoke box is the most popular type of karaoke venue. It is a small or medium-sized room containing karaoke equipment rented by the hour or half-hour, providing a more intimate atmosphere. Karaoke venues of this type are often dedicated businesses, some with multiple floors and a variety of amenities including food service. Unfortunately, Karaoke box got tarnished because of the girly business ending many times with prostitution. But if you are lucky, you could land up with someone with a great voice to sing along with you and has a sense of humor!

 

A Japanese Karaoke Box

The era of Disk Jockeys (DJs) followed along with the Jukebox.  DJ-ing was all about the concept of mixing music. Modern technology made the job of a DJ more technical. A DJ did not restrict to playing or mixing music but got into cutting his own records or take up training. Today, there are more than 300,000 DJs in India, and the demand will continue to grow for the next 20 years unless robots take over! It will then truly become a “machine music”.

In Mumbai, DJing was introduced at the members-only nightclub, Studio 29. Studio 54 in London was the inspiration. The Sound systems, turntables, lighting equipment and a big disco ball had all been imported from England. The brain behind Studio 29 was Sabira Merchant, who later became a renowned grooming and etiquette expert. At its peak, Studio 29 had 700 paid-up members till Merchant, for want of space, put a stop to new entrants.

Dancing at Studio 29 

Jo Azaredo was Studio 29’s original resident DJ and the man behind the musical success of Studio 29. Jo was trained under Alan Jackson, one of UK’s Best Remixers’. Today Jo runs a training school for DJs.

DJs have now graduated to the EDM or the Electronic Music Dance. The EDM industry is relatively new in India but it has widely spread and has taken over a large percentage of people from the age group (14 – 40). The EDM events are increasing and harmoniously blending to the traditional festivals that the people celebrate. Sunburn festival, EDC India, Vh1 Supersonic are few well reputed EDM festivals that are happening in India. Sunburn is Asia’s largest music festival that is an amalgamation of Music, Entertainment, Food, and Shopping. It was ranked by CNN in 2009 as one of the Top 10 Festivals in the world. So, from that cute and soulful machine called Jukebox, the world of music has transformed and stormed with the advent of digital innovation, technology and a mass appeal for entertainment.

Now let me tell you about Tina and Albert.

I was sitting at the Café New York in Girgaon in Mumbai with Tina. It was nearly 7 pm and we were expecting Tina’s boyfriend Albert to join. Café New York is a very cozy, cheap and cheerful place considering its Chowpatty location. Tina and I went to the first floor where the bar is located and asked for some chilli mushrooms and two glasses of Kingfisher beer.

The ground floor of the Café has the Jukebox that has all the retro music that you would want.

Cafe New York 

I was looking into my wrist watch waiting impatiently for Albert. Tina was sitting cool.

People on the ground floor were playing Bob Marley. And suddenly someone put Elvis Priestley’s Jailhouse Rock. And the mood changed.

Tina smiled. She got up from the chair and started walking downstairs – Dr Modak, Albert has arrived. Let me fetch him up”

How do you know that he has arrived? I asked (later realizing that it was a dumb question)

“Oh, Dr Modak, this is his Signature song – Albert plays this song on the Jukebox to announce his arrival”

She blushed. She looked so pretty.

I then realized the real power of the Jukebox. It was far more than the digitals like the iTunes, Karaoke Boxes and the DJs with machines and what have you.

“Make it to three glasses of Kingfisher, Boss” I yelled at the bartender.


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Newspaper at the Bungalow of Dinshaws

[This post uses several images of locations and properties in Matheran – a hill station near Mumbai – as available on the Internet. I  would like to acknowledge sources of these images. These images have greatly helped me in creating the setting of my “story”]

Matheran is a hill station in Karjat Taluka of the Raigad district in the Indian State of Maharashtra. Matheran’s proximity to Mumbai makes it a popular weekend destination. Matheran, which literally means “forest on the forehead” (of the mountains) is an eco-sensitive region, declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. And It is Asia’s only automobile-free hill station.

I always wanted to camp in Matheran for couple of weeks to write stories of my life. A friend of mine recommended a bungalow that I could rent near the Charlotte lake.  I chose the period right after the end of monsoons and before the Diwali vacations to avoid the noisy tourists. The location of bungalow was in the woods. Besides it was just 2 km away from my favorite Louisa Point – that has a cliff resembling lions head. I always drew inspiration and solace sitting alone at the Louisa Point in the morning. I decided to take early morning walk on the muddy road from my bungalow to Louisa. I knew that this walk in the woods followed by a majestic view of the valley from the cliff would help me to brew my “stories”.

Cliff with Lions Head at Louisa Point and Panoramic View of the Valley

On the very first day when I started to walk towards Louisa, I noticed an old Parsi bungalow. Matheran is known for old Parsi properties. Today, these properties are not well maintained, and several have been deserted due to family disputes. But this bungalow looked rather majestic and seemed well maintained. There was a watchman at the gate who looked friendly. He smiled at me. We chatted a bit. I told him about purpose of my stay in Matheran. When he learnt that I am a writer and camping in Matheran for three weeks, he said “Sir, why don’t you meet the owner of this Bungalow Dinshaw saab. He is a great person to be acquainted with. He loves meeting people like you. See he is just outside watering the trees”

I looked where the watchman pointed and saw an old Parsi man watering the trees with a hose. He seemed to have noticed me too as he waived and walked towards me.

We spoke and in the next 5 minutes we were sitting in the main hall of the “Dinshaw bungalow”, Mrs. Dinshaw joined us with a warm smile.

Drawing Room at Dinshaw Bungalow

After brief introductions and few pleasantries, we got along very well.

“Dr Modak, why don’t you join us for a breakfast?” Mrs. Dinshaw seemed very hospitable.

“Sohrab, you better shave and be more presentable before you sit next to Dr Modak” Mrs. Dinshaw got into the kitchen and Mr. Dinshaw (Sohrab) walked to the adjoining room to shave. The room had a closet and a large washbasin with mirror on the wall.

I sat in the drawing room and picked up a newspaper that was lying on the teapoy. This newspaper looked very strange. It carried a mast “Tomorrow” – a title I had never heard or come across. The date on the newspaper was March 15, 2018 when todays date was September 15, 2017! I was simply aghast to see a Newspaper what was printed six months earlier and was essentially carrying news of Tomorrow!!

The newspaper carried stories such as


Smog kills 3000 in Delhi

Chromium found ingested in the rice crop of Tamil Nadu

Flamingos in Mumbai displaced

IT industry in Bangalore city shuts down – because of mounting waste, traffic jams and flash floods 


I found the news very disturbing. Is this the future we see and future we want? I said to myself.

There was no name of the Editor and publisher of the newspaper.

“Sorry Dr Modak – it took me much longer than expected” Mrs. Dinshaw appeared with a masala tea with Brun muska (butter) and placed the tray on the dining table that had a marble top. She noticed that I was reading the Newspaper “Tomorrow”.

“Sohrab – the breakfast is ready” She yelled while taking the Newspaper away from me. She carefully folded it and placed inside a tall camphor chest that had a top carved with a Spanish ship with pirates.

Masala Chai with Brun Muska for Breakfast at the Dinshaws

I thought the Newspaper must be somebody’s prank. But I thought that I must still ask the Dinshaws about this strange Newspaper and where did they get it.

But when we started the conversations, I simply missed asking.

Dinshaws were explaining to me their philosophy of life. The bungalow was more than 150 years old and was a heritage property. Dinshaws moved in after parents passed away some 10 years ago to look after the property and live life in peace.

“We seldom go out Dr Modak” Mr. Dinshaw said. “We do what we feel is best to do and what best should be done. We like to help as much we can. Future ahead of us is troubled and does not give us a good feeling”

Mrs. Dinshaw smiled “We get a lot of satisfaction when we do something in time and find that we are still useful to the society” She said this while pouring more masala tea for me. I noticed her wrinkled face. The Dinshaws must be above 70 years I guessed.

“Come Dr Modak, let me take you to a tour of the bungalow” Mr. Dinshaw invited me after we finished the breakfast. I was most pleased with this invitation.

The rooms in the Bungalow were elegant with antique parsi furniture with old chandeliers hanging on the ceiling. But I was shocked and surprised when we reached the verandah on the rear side of the bungalow. The verandah faced the valley and it was so close that you can almost jump or fly out if you had the wings!

When I spoke about this feeling to Mr. Dinshaw, he said “Why not Dr Modak? Stretch your imagination and you may really fly – you just need to be inspired enough”. I thought Mr. Dinshaw was right.

Valley View from Mr. Dinshaw’s Verandah – You will be inspired to fly if you have the wings!

It became a ritual for me to say hello to Mr. Dinshaw during my morning walks to Louisa Point. There were occasions when Dinshaws would invite me for the breakfast. I would look for the newspaper Tomorrow and get disappointed when I would see instead todays edition of the Times of India lying on the teapoy.

Only once I found the mystic newspaper lying on the top of the camphor chest. The news of July 15, 2018 and it carried headlines such as


Road alignment changed to save trees and reduce resettlement and rehabilitation

Landfill mining – pilot projects mobilized  that were earlier stuck


I sheepishly stepped aside when I saw Mrs. Dinshaw walking towards me with a tray with Masala Chai, Akuri (spicy scrabbled egg in Parsi style) and Muska Pav (thickly buttered bread). The newspaper was taken away, folded and kept in the mysterious camphor chest.

These headlines looked good and showed some signs of hope. Mr. Dinshaw was a municipal engineer of repute with a degree from Harvard and had strong ideas and views on the management of solid wastes in cities and building of environmentally sound and socially sensitive road infrastructure. I thought for a while that Mr. Dinshaw must have influenced some of these decisions in the interest of doing something good as he knew the “problems” in advance or ahead of time !

“You are hallucinating Dr Modak”I said to myself.

In the next week, I missed taking my morning walk as I was in a fervent mood to write. I did not want a break and I continued pounding keys on the keyboard of my laptop. Finally, I could complete my “story” by late afternoon. I decided to walk up to Louisa and drop in to say “hello” to Dinshaws. It was late evening and an unplanned visit.  The watchman must have gone home as there was no one at the Gate. I walked in.

Gate of the Dinshaw Bungalow in the late evening – A strange and mystic feeling

I reached the drawing room. There was no one. A copy of newspaper “Tomorrow” was lying on the dining table this time. The Newspaper was dated for September 25 while todays date was September 22. Future but not too distant – I thought. A prominent headline was “Water supply to Mumbai under threat – A new form of terrorism”. I simply froze and shuddered with the thought what if someone does contaminate the reservoirs holding Mumbai’s water supply with toxic chemicals!

I called for Mr. Dinshaw. No one answered. So I went to the verandah on the rear side. I saw Mrs. Dinshaw standing there on the ledge of the verandah almost in a trans. It looked as if she was to about to jump and “fly” out to some destination on a mission. Her eyes were shining, and it was the first time I noticed that she had Vulcan ears!!

There was a hallow around her with a shape of wings.

Mrs Dinshaw with a hallow

I looked into the valley beneath and I saw a humanoid bird with large wings – flying. Was it Mr. Dinshaw? And was he waiting for Mrs. Dinshaw to join?

Where were the Dinshaws expected to fly? Perhaps to see the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai? and warn him that such a sabotage was going to happen.

To do something good and in time.


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Picture of the “Dinshaw Bungalow” is taken from https://www.saffronstays.com/view/the-parsi-manor-a-100-year-old-quaint-heritage-stay-7LAWThR4QHMDBIEH. The property is called Parsi Manor

Nights at the Ayurvedagram and the Ultimate Truth

[This is my 50th post  after the publication of my two books of blogs. I thought of celebrating the 50th post by writing on a topic that is little different. This post was written after a long and strange dream at the Ayurvedagram.]

I decided to spend two weeks in Ayurvedagram near Bangalore to address several of my health concerns. Most of my health problems were due to sheer negligence, lack of understanding and low priority given to my body and mind. But never too late, I thought. Ayurvedic therapy had worked for me in the past. I gave a long list of my problems to Dr Manmohan, the Chief Medical Officer. Dr Manmohan chalked out an elaborate plan for me for the required “correction” and “prevention”. I am sure coming up with such a plan was challenging to him.

I was tired of the multiple ailments however and wished that I could get another body for a change so that I could continue my work. But I knew that this would require some Godly intervention. So, when I was woken up at night by Lord Vishnu in Ayurvedagram, I was rather delighted.

Lord Vishnu heard my story patiently with a smile. He said “Dr Modak, you are still not understanding the Ultimate Truth and hence are worried about your health issues and thinking about the world of work.. Once you understand the truth, everything will be different and you will live differently”

I asked Lord how can I understand what you are saying.

“Well Dr Modak, I will have to “free” you for a while to experience. Come with me” said the Lord.

I soon realized that I had left my body. It was like a breeze as I was perhaps blessed. I was  floating in an astral form that had no more pains and the ailments. Lord Vishnu took my hand and navigated me.

We left the campus of Ayurvedagram, rose on the skyline of the Bangalore city, and gradually reached above the Indian peninsula where I could see both Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal. That was a fascinating view and it humbled me.

“We will go even further Dr Modak. We will exit the Earth shortly and move towards the Universe”. Lord Vishnu said.  His face had a different glow.

To me it was going to be a magic carpet ride and with none other than the Creator and Protector of the Universe. I considered myself  to be very fortunate.

In few minutes, we had left the Earth. The journey beyond was new and exciting to me.  After crossing several planets, we stopped.

“Now close your eyes Dr Modak” Lord Vishnu said. “You will soon realize the Ultimate Truth without me saying anything”

I closed my eyes.

I saw that nothing was existing contrary to what I believed. There was no earth and no planets.. and no mountains and the seas and no people. There was only light that encompassed the universe. There was a deep humming sound (Omkar – that is the primeval sound) giving vibrations. It looked like an everlasting or chirantan Brahmic universe with all the emptiness. And  yet it seemed complete.

And this universe was me.

Was that the Ultimate Truth?

I was in a trans.

After a while, Lord Vishnu asked me to open my eyes. I did not want to but I simply obeyed.

Lord Vishnu had taken by then his mighty form stretching the universe. I looked at his Viraat Swaroop or Vishvarupa. And I understood that I was Him too! We were not different.

Vishvarupa


Vishvarupa is considered the supreme form of Lord Vishnu, where the whole universe is described as contained in Him.


Lord Vishnu then assumed his humanoid form like before and navigated me back to the Earth and to the Ayurvedagram. We did not speak a word in this journey.  There was no need.

When Lord Vishnu put me back to my body, I realized that there was nothing much to worry or discuss about the ailments I was facing. There was nothing to fear as fear appeared irrelevant. Would you agree?

I realized that all I had to do was to put my body and mind to the best use I could – till I have.  Helping someone was logical as the one suffering was me and rejoicing in someone’s happiness was a joy – again to me.  I saw all the boundaries one perceives to be blurring.

But the realization of the Ultimate Truth put me to another difficult question. Knowing that nothing is real, should you be in the state of sthitaprajna?


The sthitaprajna is a free soul, ever steady in knowledge of Self. A sthitaprajna is also known as a jivanmukta, or one who is truly free while still living.

Though engaged in actions, being free from ego and free from motive, the sthitaprajna is not a doer of actions. Though having a physical body, the sthitaprajna is merely a dweller within the body and is unidentified with it.

The wisdom of the sthitaprajna is wisdom of a cosmic oneness. Ever established in the state of yoga, the sthitaprajna remains in constant union with God and, at the same time, is the ideal exemplar of karma-yoga, demonstrating steady wisdom through every action.


Attaining the state of sthitaprajna is perhaps ideal but certainly not easy. It is something that is to be realized and not learnt.

I thought of asking guidance from the Lord on how to accomplish this difficult task when and if he visits me again in the nights at the Ayurdevagram. Having exposed me to the Ultimate Truth, I thought He should enlighten me how to be in such a state.

I had several questions to ask.

If you have the answers, then please let me know. I would love to get your insight and guidance.

Was being with Lord Vishnu at the Ayurvedagram – a dream? Or was it a reality?

I leave it to you to decide.


Text on sthitaprajna taken from https://indiaspirituality.blogspot.in/2010/05/qualities-of-sthitaprajna.html


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Will you Marry Me?

All those who fall in love – either speak or listen to this asking “Will you marry me?”

Many believe that to say “Will you marry me?” requires a great courage. You are also at the risk of receiving a negative response. And if the answer is negative, then there is a greater risk and a pain if you further asked “Why? or “Why not?”. One should never make that stupid mistake.

If the answer is Yes, then many are dumb founded and don’t know what next to do. Few smart ones, insert a ring in the partner’s finger or some bold ones give a long hug and plant a deep kiss. This moment is cherished throughout the life irrespective of the regrets later!

I came across five seemingly straight forward steps in proposing a marriage.

Step 1: Make sure that you’re both ready for marriage. Before you take the plunge, you should know if you’re really ready to be together for the long haul of life. …(I know its hard many times to be “that sure”. But you need to be an optimist).

Step 2: Pick the right ring,  before you propose…. (This Step is as real practical. Note that this will be some investment)

Step 3: Pick the right time. …(don’t ask when your partner is in some stress and when he/she cannot be receptive or attentive to what you say)

Step 4: Pick the perfect location. ...(a deserted beautiful beach? a romantic top terrace of a hotel overlooking city at night? Or in a plane flying at 35000 ft when the sign of fasten seat belts off? – you need to be imaginative here)

Step 5: Ask the right way.(with all the passion, grace and love; in a voice that is thicker than usual, holding the hand in a firm grip when you speak)

It seems that if you follow these 5 steps, and rightly so, then you would probably hear the answer Yes, see a loving and assuring smile messaging an unspoken response as YES.

Many however follow the usual style of communication like sending flowers with a (surprise) note, post a love letter with a box of chocolates, get help from friends who sing in choir “Will you marry him/her?” with a brass band or a drum line in the background.  Alabama’s (a music group) song “Will you marry me?” and a solo by John Berry are often played.

All these tricks are interesting but not exciting.

There are web pages that present a compilation on different ways to propose a marriage. See the 58 tips on so called romantic ways to propose and 100 such ideas

But I find that these resources and tips are rather drab, conventional and not that innovative. So I started asking my friends how they did it.

My friend Bill working in an investment firm in New York was in love with a colleague. They used to partner in many assignments.

Opposite their office was a McDonald outlet where they used to take a bite because of the bizzare work pressures. A branch of American Express Bank was next to the McDonalds. Bill asked  his girlfriend  while crossing the street “how about opening a joint account in Amex”. The message was subtle (a bit fit for professionals in the financial world!) but the proposition of the joint account set the ball rolling! They eventually married.

One of my Thai friends Veerawan was courting with a boyfriend for quite a while with no progress on asking “Will you marry me?”. One day, Veerawan was lunching with Surasak (name of her boyfriend). She pulled out a pocket book from her purse that is used as a guide for naming newborns. Veerawan asked “Sura, what name should we choose if we get the boy first?” Sura chose one quitely – as if they were already married!! There was no need to ask “Will you marry me?”

But story by good friend Aron from Manila is interesting. Tes (his girl-friend) and Aron were close friends in the college. They used to go out with friends on the weekends for music. Both loved to read books and later have a conversation about them. Alan used to paint and was pretty good at portraits.

One of their favorites place to meet was the Books and Border Café located on the Tomas Morato Street in Diliman Quezon. The Café held a stock of 650 books and served great coffees.

Aron and Tes would pick up an interesting book, read the book for a while, sit quietly in the Café on the bean bags and then after an hour or so sit on the table and order a coffee. They would exchange the books and discuss their reading experiences. This would generally happen on the weekdays as the Café was less crowded giving them more peace and privacy.

Book and Border Cafe in Manila

Aron was in love with Tes and wanted to propose marriage, but their closeness and friendship became a barrier to express his love.

The book shelves of the Border café had unique book markers. You could write your name on the book markers, so the next time you visit the Café, you could pick up the book that is not yet finished and reach the place to continue reading instantly. Most popular books boasted several book marks, and you could see names of people who are reading the book “along” with you. That was quite interesting.

The book markers

Aron picked up a book, wrote on the book marker his name and then wrote in capital letters “Will you marry me Tes?”. Tes was engrossed reading another book.

When they sat on the table for conversations, Aron passed on his book to Tes and started to talk about it. “It’s a great story of life of a painter like me”. He said.

Tes was turning the pages of the book as he spoke. “Read the section that I book marked – that may interest you. The story has a twist at the end” said Aron while browsing through the pages of Tes’s book. He avoided looking at her.

Tes reached the book marker. And the communication happened …. She closed the book, gave a warm smile to Aron and softly said “I don’t need to read the rest of the book now” The story was clear and over. That was the twist!

Aron and Tess married in the Church within a month. The Owner of the Books and Border was warmly invited.

I asked my Professor friend where did he propose to his late wife. “In Samover Café at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai”. He said while lighting his cigar. “It was just past 8 pm. The main door got closed for the day. I paid 10 Rs tip  to the waiter to let us stay. He told us that we could  leave from the back door after 10 minutes that had an automatic latch. We were the only couple in the Café. Everything happened in those 10 minutes –  We did not speak. But our eyes did. When we stepped out of Samover, we knew that we were to get married”

Cafe Samover in Mumbai

Professor was perhaps lost in the memories as he sat quiet.

I thought that the Professor was right. His wife who was a famous artist and a noble soul, deserved place only like Samover for that unspoken “Will you marry me?”.

Professor had chosen the right place and the right time.

Unfortunately today, Samover is closed.


Started by Usha Khanna in 1964, Cafe Samovar in Jehangir Art Gallery was an icon of Mumbai’s cultural landscape and for decades. It served as a haven for the city’s creative minds across the arts. This cafe was a theater for dramatic performances, a meeting place for executives, especially lawyers, young lovers and the students.


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Eating With

We go and eat out often. In most cases, we do this to be with friends. Well, eating something special (e.g. a different cuisine) and being in a different ambience is also an idea. But what matters is the people we eat with. This makes the occasion memorable. You see pictures on the Facebook where we see more photos of friends sitting on the dining table and very rarely photos of the dishes we eat!

Most of us visit some of the famous restaurants in the cities we travel to. Each city has a list of iconic restaurants that are recommended as a must (like you see on TripAdvisor). We make appointments or book tables at these restaurants to experience the eating and then talk about it on WhatsApp.

And there is also a “hidden” list of little restaurants that are tugged in the narrow by lanes – generally in the old quarters of the city. Owners of these restaurants are there for generations, they don’t change even the furniture and so forget changing the menu! They follow the traditions and that’s why you love them.

I have been patronizing many such restaurants. These restaurants were introduced to me by my friends because of their cuisine, ambience and uniqueness. A concoction of all the three added with friendliness and generosity of the host made the lunches and dinners at these restaurants rather memorable. But above all, as I earlier said, you always remember the people you ate with, the conversations you enjoyed and the friendship that gets brewed. I simply hate business dinners. Informal sessions with friends are the best.

I remember dining at a little restaurant in Paris. The restaurant was close to Eifel tower. There was a deal. You could book Chef’s time (at some extra cost) to have him dine with you. The Chef would customize the dinner and the wines to everybody’s taste and discuss French cuisine with stories to give you a true gastronomical experience.

Six of us went to the restaurant on a Friday evening. My local host booked for Chef Andre. Andre set up our tables on the street outside the restaurant with cane chairs having a round base (like the Irani restaurants in Mumbai). Andre had a stocky and large body with chubby cheeks and a moustache similar to the Bar Tender in the movie Irma la deuce. He had a happy face and was full of life. He spoke broken English. But his daughter Noel who served the dishes could speak much better.  She was a very pretty and witty girl.

The dinner was wonderful. Andre asked us questions on what we liked, where we wanted to be adventurous and what were our allergies (like sea food for me). He then thought, closed his eyes for a while and said something in French giving instructions to Noel. Both father and daughter got inside restaurant and took one us to the kitchen – to watch cooking. This experience was great. We took turns. The dinner and the discourse lasted for 3 hours and all of us enjoyed the experience. At the end, when we were having the deserts with wine, Noel sang a French ballad in a soft voice – that looked impromptu. Andre played a box guitar to accompany and he was pretty good too. I later learnt that the ballad was about saying good bye when you were about to fall in love!

Talking about singing, have you been to the singing waiters and cooks restaurant in Manila? The Singing Cooks & Waiters is the first, the original and the only musical restaurant of its kind in the world. The restaurant was conceived by Mr. Ongpauco. I went there for the first time in 1995 with a bunch of friends. We not only listened to some great philipino voices during dinner but discovered musical talent amongst us that we did not know about! A colleague of mine who was workaholic and always had a constipated face, sang a lovely Tom Jones number. We were simply astonished and floored to witness his hidden talent. The ambience and the mood of the restaurant had certainly made the difference.

But there are occasions we want to be at a quiet place basically for conversations with no agenda. I would recommend two interesting restaurants in India for this purpose. One is the Lodi Garden restaurant in Delhi and the other Kairavali in Bangalore.

But let me talk here about Lodi.

Known for its romantic setting & natural surroundings, Lodi is touted as Delhi’s favorite alfresco restaurant. I have had most interesting conversations in the garden portion of this restaurant with several page 3 personalities of India – influential and learned people who speak words that walk with you after you dine. Lodi is essentially a non-institutional high profile cultural hub. The best time to be there is evenings – a bit early like 7 30 pm and start with cocktails. The wine bar at Lodi boasts of an extensive wine list and a 16-tap wine machine and is popular for its innovative cocktails.

The best part of Lodi’s is the sparse placement of tables in the garden area and proximity to the trees. You feel that you are sitting and chatting in the garden of your own house. You also feel private while conversing with someone intimate to you. You feel like confiding to share your concerns, worries as well as joys and happy moments in life –  but with no agenda.  The conversations simply sail or drift like a ship with a slow but steady wind on a lazy sea. Often you don’t even realize that you have reached an unknown destination in the conversations.

I remember a quiet dinner with a close friend of mine at Lodi’s when she disclosed to me that she was hit by a cancer of bone marrow and had only six months to live. There was silence when she spoke about this dreadful disease. The truth was harsh but the trees around us were patient and kind. They listened to her agonies. They didn’t even whisper. I saw her unmoved with a courageous face. I held her hand while walking out of the restaurant – and firmly so – to let her know how much pained I was. There was also  a promise to express that I will  stand by next to her in these difficult times. It was a dinner to realize how do you take a trauma with courage and elegance.

But let me not depress you. Well, have you heard about EatWith? If you visit the website, it says that “The future of dining is here”. EatWith invites you to join at a “communal table” to lunch/dine located in 200+ cities and 50 countries around the world. The concept is simple. You log in and access the 650 hosts who are profiled on the EatWith. Hosts are offering lunch or dining service from their homes because they love cooking, meeting with strangers and in the process, make some money. You select the host based on the menus displayed and make a booking. You are generally in small numbers, so could do interesting conversations, make new friends and of course converse with the chef host to learn more about the recipes.

On my recommendations, a friend of mine visited Chef Yves in the famous market La Boqueria in the Raval district of Barcelona. There were four customers who met Chef Yves at the market at 5 30 pm. The Chef walked them through the colorful market stands nearby, and introduced different to them  local and fresh products that are the basis of Catalan gastronomy.

After the interactive food tour, they were taken to Chef’s personal kitchen in the little village of Esplugues de Llobregat, 15 minutes driving from Barcelona. Here they were then taught way around his catalan kitchen while following the instructions for the preparation of a delicious 3 course dinner that took about 2 hours. Every participant was given a cutting board, the required tools and an apron to take an active role in the cooking class. After cooking was done, the dinner was set up on a rooftop terrace that overlooked Barcelona – city warmly lit with lights at the night.

I asked my friend why this dinner was so memorable to him. He was a bit hesitant to answer my question. But when coaxed, he told me that he was in a very interesting company of three women for the cooking and dinner. He got famously along with one of the women, and both of them kind of flipped on each other. The conversations got a bit personal too – and more so with each glass of green wine that the Chef generously served. After few drinks, Chef Yves brought meatballs stuffed with the cuttlefish tentacles and stewed in a fish broth. The woman asked my friend to get up and walk down the staircase with her. My friend obeyed. As they reached the patio downstairs, she held him tight and gave him a long and a deep kiss. My friend was simply shocked and dazed.

The woman said “Dude, I had to kiss you right now as I don’t like the cuttlefish”

Oh, I then understood the excitmnent  and the fizz of eating with!

 

Cover image sourced from https://rapidiq.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/eating-with-bare-hands/


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