Adventures of a Coffee Enthusiast

There was a time when the question “Would you like to come inside for a coffee?” would stimulate the mind in a manner that caffeine — despite the psychoactive drug that it is — could never rival. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall there being much coffee present in such circumstances.

These days I shake my head. Okay, so nobody says this to me anymore, but if they did, I’d shake my head and the neurophysiological response would be the opposite. Dread and suspicion would be writ all over my face: did she say “coffee”? The imagination – crabby and pessimistic with age – thinks of a small sachet of instant Nescafe – snipped at the edge with the kitchen scissors, lying in a freezer for weeks. It’d be yanked out and drizzled into a spoonful (maybe half, because most people don’t know how much coffee it takes to make coffee) thrown into a cup of boiling water (microwaved?), stirred and served taking all of 30 seconds. I would then proceed to take a sip in a valiant act of chivalry and proceed to retch and ruin the hypothesized evening.

I discovered coffee (beyond the instant kind) when my love affair with tea ended abruptly on discovering, much too late in life, that I was 100% lactose intolerant. And even though a cup of green tea is what I start my day with, let’s face it: this vile drink was invented as an entry level Chinese instrument of torture. Café Coffee Day also plays a huge part in keeping people away from ingestible coffee and certainly delayed my affair. The coffee at Café Coffee Day – like a Chetan Bhagat book, a Salman Khan film, or an Arnab Goswami’s news hour – is crafted with a one-size-fits all approach, and appeals to the ever-expanding cerebral chunk of the Indian consumer that celebrates mediocrity. CCD is a prime example of why India will never be a world superpower, or indeed ever, a developed nation. But on the bright side, if you’ve had the misfortune of quaffing a CCD coffee and decided you don’t really care for coffee, be assured you’re a prime candidate for liking good coffee. You’ve been through the trenches, now dress to the nines for the good life.

So where do you start? Most people have consumed a dark gruel-like liquid masquerading as “coffee” while growing up and are predisposed to hate it or at best be indifferent. It’s only when you step out of your parents’ home and taste real coffee – brewed by a barista who knows what they’re doing – when you realize that bad coffee has zero merit and can never be romanticized in a manner like a cutting tapri chai in with bhajia in the rain. Coffee for many is unlearning and rediscovering. The moment of epiphany “I like coffee” is dormant in every one of us.

My own epiphany was triggered by an Indian-grown single origin coffee that was drip-brewed. And even though autodrip machines are mocked at by snobs (you can control only one of three critical aspects of coffee-making), the heavens conspired in such a manner that there was no going back. It was love at first scald.

As I familiarised myself with a new kind of terroir, the espresso shot quickly became my go-to-beverage. Copious amount of literature was gathered, and it hit me that unlike cheese, or wine, or single malt, you can’t be a coffee connoisseur if you only drink it. You must make it too.

Now, it started to get tricky.

Sample this instruction, a tip from an expert barista: “‘Bloom’ the coffee grounds by pouring five ounces of the 196-degree water slowly and delicately in a spiral over them, then let them sit for 25 to 30 seconds before pouring an additional 8.5 ounces of water in the same gentle, even spiral.1

What’s that? It took some time to get there where every step started to make sense and — more importantly — could be implemented. I’d already moved on from drip to the Aeropress — a manual air-pressure driven apparatus — and more concerns emerged: how could the same coffee taste so different when prepared in another device? Questions needed answers, and answers came with the acquisition of a shiny new espresso machine. To borrow and mangle an analogy from poker, I was coffee-pot committed.

Like any worthwhile hobby, coffee is expensive. And there is no tangible payoff. A decent espresso machine costs tens of thousands. An acceptable tamper — a simple piece of weight used to firmly pack the coffee into the porta-filter — costs upwards of two thousand rupees. Honestly, if you spent an hour looking on the footpath outside your home, you could find a piece of rock that would do the job. But never say that to a snob like me. Of course, once you’re in tamper territory you’re going need milk/coffee thermometers, drip scales, and other such hardware for fine-tuning the coffee to perfection. All this assuming of course you’re already armed with the basics such as a good grinder, frothing pitchers, cappuccino cups, and cleaning material such as grinder burr brushes, etc. Then, of course, there’s the coffee.

The world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, costs up to $100 for a cup. That’s $100 for what is essentially weasel poop. But you can do with regular single-origin coffee that sometimes still works out to more than what you’d pay for top coffee at a chain. And that’s why a true coffee lover will never be found at coffeehouse chains, places where desserts masquerade as “caramel macchiato”. And what self-respecting coffee geek would have his name mispronounced when they could be home, dazzling visitors in his own kitchen?

It’s a bit of hard work because the truth is, making coffee is a precision sport that needs years of training and perseverance. I’m confused about what I’m enjoying more: the quest for making the perfect brew, or drinking it. Probably the former. Right now I’m obsessing over two aspects that are getting my goat: Achieving a thick, healthy crema, the light brown liquid/foam that sits upon freshly pulled espresso; and making some form of latte art, the intricate designs found on professional coffee surfaces. And neither of them is easy. The crema, for instance, depends on several factors that is the essence of a pulling a perfect espresso. It starts with the tamping pressure: 27 pounds is the optimal amount of muscle you need to put into it. How do you calculate? By rehearsing on a bathroom scale. Then there’s the quality of water (cold but fresh), the amount of coffee (solo or doppio, beans to be measured on a scale), the freshness of the grind, grind coarseness, good grain distribution, the degree of roasting, timing of the extraction.

If you think I’m being obsessive about the perfect cup, you should see the pros measure their water on drip scales calibrated to one-tenth of a gram. That’s right: 0.1 grams. Of water. For a regular morning cup of coffee. You might think this is overkill, but that’s where I want to be when I grow up. These days I’m watching a forum thread like a hawk over at coffeegeek. com on new theories to achieve microfoam for soy milk for a more velvety texture. Short answer: it’s not possible. It looks like I am doomed to never being able to drink cappuccino that I’ve made for myself.

Maybe you’re better at this than I and are feeling inspired to brew some of your own coffee and reap the rich reward it brings. Remember, coffee is for everyone. Even for the folks who’re addicted to CCD.


I have a visual coffee blog over at

*An edited version first appeared in Mumbai Mirror

1 source:

The Tune of the Empire

The British national anthem is in crisis. There is a loss of clarity on what the official anthem is. Most of us know the first line – God Save the Queen and the opening chords that we can identify when Lewis Hamilton wins a race, the English football team takes to the field or, notably, at the last London Olympics. But ever heard it at cricket test match? They’re humming a different tune – which on closer introspection I discovered was ‘Jerusalem’, originally a poem by William Blake – a song that is now often substituted for God Save the Queen at state functions. In fact two other songs are increasingly being the preferred anthem for the English over GSTQ – “Land of Hope and Glory” and “I vow to thee, my country”. As it is Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own versions and England finds itself with a bit of an identity crisis.

The problem? Here is the standard version of the English national anthem:

God Save the Queen

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Three stanzas in all. Universally, it is accepted that only the first stanza maybe be sung or played. The following two are simply not acknowledged – and it’s not hard to see why.

Take the second stanza. God has been asked to assist in scattering England’s enemies and make them fall (heads must roll! Literally!). That the ‘enemies’ are but knaves with only tricks (and no God) up their sleazy sleeves and are to be politically confounded. Somehow it doesn’t fit. England has had mighty wars with France, Spain, the Scots, and the Dutch – hardly to be judged (even by England’s own exacting standards) as humble knaves.

No. The reference is to their colonies.

I recently learned that pre-1947 in English convent schools of India, the Indian and Anglo-Indian students were made to sing the English anthem in its entirety. There was however, one small difference from the now-standard version and the second stanza went thus:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her colonies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Now we see it in proper perspective. From Barbados to the Bahamas, from Sudan to South Africa, and of course, India, here was where the ‘knaves’ were – humble servants of the mighty Empire, here is where the natives were illiterate (and to be kept continually in the dark) and up to no good – where half-baked political ambitions were mutinies and ploys to be crushed (rather than simply confounded) – here is where there was no God to save them – only rulers to lead them to salvation. The choicest gifts too (stanza 3) – no doubt a result of all the relentless pillaging of the people and lands.

Can you imagine the English making Indian students sing this in their own schools? And only a few decades ago?

Still heartening to note is that fervor for the anthem by English citizens is on the wane. Even Prince Charles has publicly denounced it and called it “politically incorrect”. The second verse is never heard and citizens are calling for outright scrapping.

America though, might be interested in borrowing this scrapped version – given their new-age imperialism – confounding politics and picking up the choicest gifts from their new found colon-, uh, neo-liberated countries – that the Brits are decidedly ashamed about. Maybe the Brits should gift it to them.

Every Man’s Land: Thoughts on Turkey

Ayasofya, Istanbul’s defining landmark at the heart of the city in history-soaked Sultanahmet is often referred in guidebooks as one of the greatest monuments a traveler will ever see. From the outside it isn’t very impressive – its exposed brickwork and peeling façade only downplaying and readying you for the dizzying effect it has upon entering this building built in 537 CE by Emperor Constantine.

And how impressive it is!

For a thousand years it was the largest church in all of Christendom. No one could replicate the size of the dome and its magical ability to have been built without any apparent support – it was perhaps one of the greatest architectural marvels since the pyramids. Its only adversaries that caused it to be rebuilt several times over its millennia and a half history were earthquakes.


If we’re gaping at its magnificence today, imagine how the subjects of the various successive regimes of massive empires – from the Byzantium to the Ottomans might have reacted to such a marvel.

The soul of the building was its mosaic work. 30 million gold tiles interpreted Biblical images to create works of art that adorned the walls – Madonna and child, the magnificent Deesis, the Comnenus and many more. The ones I mention have survived till today.

And yet right under them you can also see is the Islamic Ottoman additions – a mihrab (indicating the direction of Mecca) and a mimbar (the pulpit) – along with the four minarets outside.

turkey2You see, Ayasofya was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans established their empire in Constantinople in 1453. And it wasn’t until 1934 Ataturk repubicized the country and this mosque and deemed it a museum.

Reeling within the splendor of the cathedral turned mosque turned museum, the only question in my mind was how did everything survive? Today you can still see the Madonna and Child glowing surrealistically in the light from the intricate stained glass windows right above where the altar used to be and where the mihrab stands today. It’s not like the Ottomans couldn’t reach it and simply scrape them off. No, they simply covered it. Temporarily. Images of Christian Gods, preserved, in a mosque.

Ayasofya is a convenient example of the Turkish DNA, which is all about acceptance. Overwhelmingly Muslim at 99% of the population, Turks are incredibly moderate in their interpretation of Islam and still remain a deeply religious people.

Istanbul from the Bhosphorus

The Bosphorus river splits the country into two geographically and yet in a metaphorical sense the bridges that span across Asian and European Istanbul stand for a meeting of two sensibilities in perfect harmony. The essence of the east mixes seamlessly with the practicalities of the west. While mosques with their magnificent minarets overwhelm the landscape, you’re still in throbbing metropolis that could be anywhere in Europe. While you dine in Michelin star restaurants, you will still have to bargain like a tourist as you would in Cairo or Agra. And while you take a cruise down the Bosphorus shelling out inordinate amounts of cash for a beer, you will still be wonderstruck with the beauty and depth of well-preserved history of the Topkapi Palace.

And yet the Asia-Europe split is causing severe consternation in a geopolitical sense. Membership to the EU is a primary fuss for Turks and the world has their own views on this. Significantly, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the state of Israel and the two countries have shared a less hate-total hate relationship over the years. Israel views Turkey as it’s only ally in the region. The Arab countries detest this. The Turks care not for Arabs, and have deep reservations especially for Saudi Arabia. The Arab countries (save for Egypt) accuse Turkey for turning it’s back on the Muslim world and hankering for an EU membership that will essentially alienate it from its eastern neighbors who frankly don’t have a hope in heel to make the cut (we’re talking Iran, Iraq, Syria here.) Strangely enough this is exactly the reason why Turkey is not yet an EU member with Germany and France having their own reservations on admitting a Muslim country within their ranks.

Interestingly the Arab media initially ridiculed Turkey’s bid for the EU. All that changed in a famous outburst at Davos in 2009 when the Turkish PM Erdogan lambasted Israel with a famous “one minute” quote that is a legend in Turkish pop culture. He promised to not return to Davos. He’s kept his promise in 2010. Immediately the Arab media’s voice changed and now was particularly critical of opposition to Turkish membership in the EU by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Despite serious communication issues, I had the opportunity to interact with many locals over several days and scratched the surface of the many facets of the Turkish outlook. They’re proud of their roots, often not city-based but in towns and villages of the less-ballyhooed east. They are a sexually liberated people, they love their culture and have an over-the-top patriotic zeal. This is evident in the number of flags of all sizes from little ones on taxi dashboards to behemoths over 60 feet fluttering over the city skyline. When in Turkey, be assured you will always be in view of their flag.

They very much love Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the architect of modern Turkey and indeed in my own academic imbibitions, portrayed as a modern man with a modern outlook – putting the country on the road to becoming a full-fledged developed nation (indeed Indian textbooks praised him endlessly like a hero our own country could never have), but mostly famous for banning all things religious including head-scarves from all government schools and universities. He rewrote the language (a tough-to-learn but fine language Turkish – extremely logical – it was the basis of the failed attempt at an international language called Esperanto.) He even tried to introduce – against all Islamic tenets – azan in Turkish.


It’s my personal belief that perhaps Atatürk went a tad too far and tried too hard to westernize the country. Banning religious symbols are extreme in their own way, aren’t they? Creating a national identity with a new language – wholly acceptable. Disallowing headscarves, a purely personal choice of clothing accessory … well it’s still being debated.

The headscarf debate I suppose has been on since the 1920’s. On my very first day in Istanbul I came across a long op-ed piece in the nation’s largest English newspaper (Today’s Zaman) titled ‘Headscarves. To wear or not.’ It was as if a trivial issue of the week has been raised to satiate a reader’s curiosity. The truth is that it is Turkey’s favorite dining-room debate. A trip to Üsküdar – a tourist-free, more conservative section of Istanbul was a window to the deep attachment most women in Turkey have to their scarves. And this is within Istanbul city limits. You can imagine the rest of the country. The fact is there are more people today than ever before advocating a political role for Islam in Turkey.

Turkey doesn’t need this brand of artificial secularism thrust upon itself. The people are well aware of their own DNA. They don’t understand Islamic fundamentalism the way the rest of the world sees it and rightly proud of saying so. And even with their headscarves on they see themselves as European. This really is the essence of Turkey. It’s a gateway, a meeting point, a go-between for the East and West. It lives up to it’s strategic geography in a very spiritual sense.

My most memorable moment was sitting at a teahouse in a village off Asian Istanbul at 7 am in the freezing cold in the company of men, each of over 70 years old busy with their morning cuppa, cigarettes and newspapers. It can’t have been very different for them or their fathers for generations. It was impossible to start a conversation because we didn’t have a common language. But there were many smiles, an uncharged cup of tea, and meaningless sentences exchanged. The Turks were warm and welcoming. And I suspect they always have been.

Well, almost. By no means have the Turks got it all right. The Ottoman role in the Armenian Genocide (the term ‘genocide’ comes from here) sticks out like a sore thumb in its history. As do its long-standing issue with Greece over Cyprus and its own Kurdish population who continue to resist Turkification – as with anywhere else in the world it is a country with dark patches of history and its own demons to overcome.

Coming back to history, the cold, inhospitable Anatolian Plateau was the center of the fierce Hittite empire. Theirs was a warrior race and their main enemy: the Egyptians. And still – here is the magic of Turkish soil again – the Hittites and the Egyptians signed the first ever peace treaty the world has ever known after the epic Battle of Kadesh. This was over 3200 years ago. Amazingly, the cuneiform tablet still survives today in Istanbul’s Archaeology Museum bearing the words of Hattusilli III and Ramses II. Significantly, it’s often referred to as ‘the Eternal Treaty’. It is, in a sense Turkey’s promise to itself.


More pictures I took are here:

Killed Before Birth? India’s EV in Jeopardy

Since its launch half a decade ago, Reva, India’s only electric car manufacturer, has sold 3000 cars in 24 countries. Not bad for a product that (unfortunately) looks like a glamorous rickshaw and is still having teething problems (fuse box issues, slow, safety issues, et al). Issue no. 1 seems to have been addressed at the Frankfurt International Motor Showlast week when Reva put on display the NXG – an appealing, futuristic looking version of itself designed by that one man army – Dilip Chhabria. There’s even a 4-seater version – the NXR. It costs under 10 lacs, works on electricity, has no emissions, can seat 4 people (and in India 4 is really 5), and looks better than all other small cars. This could be the car that saves the world.

However. Barely a week after the announcements at Frankfurt we see General Motors is getting into a JV with Reva. The idea is to use Reva’s production capabilities in India to produce an electric version of GM’s current small car – the Spark. The question is – Why in the world would GM need Reva’s help?

Having promised myself that my next car is going to be electric (or hybrid at the very least), I have been following developments on the electric vehicle (EV) front in India for a while. GM has been making cars since 1908. It’s was the first company to mass produce an EV in 1990, before it self-sabotaged and killed its own initiative for diabolical reasons – see for the whole story. It’s fascinating. Better still, watch the documentary – Who Killed the Electric Car?

GM was the world’s largest car producer until Toyota recently overtook it, but it is still global warmer no. 1.

GM has – barely covertly – gone about promoting and ensuring the continued use of fossil fuels and has literally crushed every single attempt (even its own) at EV production. This is not hyperbole. GM has worked in tandem with the US Federal government and lawmakers to make this happen. The Volt, priced at a ridiculous $40,000 is not going to make a dent in any way to the cause. It will remain a trophy car, a pathetic cover up for the damage already done.

GM doesn’t need Reva! In 2007 GM sold close to 30,000 vehicles per day. That’s 10 times the number of cars Reva has sold ever. And at many, many times the price! Bailout or not, GM still sells many more cars in a day than all of Reva is worth. Since the late 80’s, GM has had the technology to build EV’s that are superior tech to Reva’s current products. Given its size and economies of scale, if they wanted to, GM could corner any car market with EV’s overnight. GM is out to kill Reva and that’s the obvious conclusion.

My great hope was that any development and pro-environment policy change in developing countries such as India would be under the radar. To hell with US and Japan – China and India could lead the way. All that bickering at trade meets about the US polluting its way to economic success in the ‘70s and now enforcing a carbon emission cap (Kyoto, et al) on India being unfair is stupid. Instead of whining about it, this is our chance to lead the way and show the world that renewable sources of energy is the only way ahead. If there is any place on the planet where alternate energy can succeed, it’s India with its abundance of natural resources – and we’re only talking of tidal, geothermal, wind, and water. The only catch is, the movement had to be under the radar – at least until the point where it was too late for the big oil and associated cartels to cripple what would’ve turned into mass economics by then.

Unfortunately Reva’s NXG and NXR has turned heads and GM’s going to nip this one in the bud.

Reva represented that private player initiative in India – the small independent firm that stuck to its guns against all odds and made the EV possible for a small group of people. But then it seems to have come up with a product that might actually sell large numbers. And not one week later GM calls them and announces a JV? GM’s CEO is here shaking hands with Reva’s CTO. It’s unreal. I bet if Obama called him, he’d have put him on hold, just to show who’s boss.

How does one interpret this news except that GM is going to steam roll Reva into the ground and crush yet another honest attempt at the EV?

Bad move Reva. It’s a deal with the devil. Whose next? Ratan Tata has promised an electric Nano by 2011 – mass produced in ’12. Will GM buy them out too? We’ll have to wait and watch. But the future of the EV in India has taken a mighty blow.

The Cost of Social Service – A Closer Look at the Tata Memorial Scam

Here are the stats: Rs. 80 crore is what Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) spends on cancer-related drugs annually. They buy this medicine at a subsidized rate (upto 30% less than market price) and sell it at cost in their basement dispensary. Hundreds of people – from all over South Asia and spanning the cross section of society – wait in distress for their case numbers to be called out so that they can collect the drugs and rush back to the patient they are attending. They wait in stifling heat, with almost no accommodation to sit, and without any cellular signal for sometimes up to 3 hours for these drugs that might a) have a discount of only 2-5% or b) are not there at all. Yes, sometimes you have to wait a couple of hours before they call your case number and say that they don’t have it. You should see the desperation and defeat on some of the faces. Please note that these are the attendants of the cancer-afflicted patients we’re talking about. Imagine the state of the patients.

Anyway. Here is the question—

How is it possible that a hospital that spends Rs. 80 crores a year on meds a year, notch up a drug pilferage and sale scam to a tune of Rs. 100 crores involving only 6 people who work here?

The CBI says this has been on for ‘a few years’. For argument’s sake let’s make an assumption that this figure is 5 years. 5 years is a respectable amount of time to not get caught. So essentially, at an average, 20 crores has been filched every year.

That is:
•    25% of the amount that TMH spends on buying drugs
•    25% of drugs missing from the shelves of the dispensary
•    25% patients denied medicines or, another way to look at it, all patients denied 25% drugs at subsidized rates
•    No. of surgeries annually: About 9,000
•    No. of patients at TMH OPD daily: 1000

That’s hundreds of thousands patients suffering from cancer. Most of these patients are so poor, they can barely afford to get to the hospital in the first place. TMH promises free treatment (surgery and drugs included) to those who can’t afford it. TMH says that 70% of its patients are treated free, a claim that should be questioned further. People pour in from everywhere, notably the east. Of course, it is an insanely difficult process to actually qualify for free treatment, but what hope are these people living on anyway? Their families can’t afford to book a room in a hotel or even a seedy ‘lodge’ (there are several in the area catering to exactly this clientele) so they rent a 6×4 space on the pavement opposite the hospital for a ‘price’ paid to some enterprising Mumbaikar. They sleep, cook, live here while their loved ones – already suffering from a possibly fatal disease are trying to overcome a scary-looking general ward and OT redtapism that delays surgery.

Medicines from the dispensary – indented by the nurses – have turned up at the bedside of patients packaged as if new but empty inside. And these are medicines that are paid for by the patients in the private ward. What are the ‘free’ patients getting? No amount of logic or cajoling can convince the authorities to get replacement drugs for the damaged/missing goods. It is your bad luck, they say. You got to buy them again. And cross your fingers and hope they haven’t been sold to pharmacies on the outside. It’s sickening.

There are notices plastered all over the hospital walls asking people not to bribe staff. You wonder about that – what could the bribes be for? A bed? A quicker ticket to the OT? Just being accepted as a patient? Probably all of the above. And the notices prove the prevalence of the practice. But that’s another story. 100 crores? That’s just a whole new level.

Again – How is this possible?

If you have been to TMH at any point in the last year, you would know that there is always, always a posse of cops and police van posted in the driveway. There is no going in or out the main entrance without dodging the nakabandi barricades. Of course, given the sheer number of people (sick and attending) entering and exiting the building and the stress levels of the guards at the door, all you really need to do is wear a white coat and you’re all but invisible to all authority.

How is it that no one but 6 people – four pharmacists, an office-in-charge of the dispensary, and a clerk – are involved in cheating the hospital, patients, their families, the government, and the dignity of human beings? One would imagine it would take a lot, lot more. Could the Director of TMH, Dr R A Badve be blind?

What about the ones immediately under him? All blind? The cops who’re fanning themselves outside? The other people working in the dispensary (they’re a close-knit family, I assure you – laughing and joking in their AC section as people’s faces jam against the glass counters, staining them with sweat)? What about the doctors, the nurses, the politicians? It is important to note that TMH is not a private hospital but one under the aegis of the state government. What about the pharmacies that the drugs are sold to? Who are they in cahoots with? It’s hard to imagine almost Rs. 5.6 lacs (20 cr / 365) worth of drugs are hauled by 6 people in the dead of the night and distributed to various locations across the city on a daily basis. Where is the network?

And how did this information leak to the CBI after all these years? My theory is that one of the higher-ups didn’t get their ‘cut’ and in an act of retribution, decided to spill the beans.

The 6 people named had already been investigated in 2008, duly suspended, but reinstated within a few months! Topping this, the CBI has said on record: “Whenever these instances were being probed by the hospital’s own vigilance department, either the operations were stopped or the officials transferred,”

And we are to believe that only 6 lowly employees are the cause for this?

The modus operandi is even more stomach-churning. The drugs are charged to paying patients or attributed to dead ones. Patients, most who’ve lived in poverty and spent their last few months in pain fighting cancer, help fill TMH employees’ pockets and find no dignity even in death. Is this the price of hope?

Corruption in the health sector is not uncommon. Since independence, the system has allowed – perhaps even forced – doctors and associated staff of government hospitals to moonlight. And that’s being euphemistic. Public hospitals from the smallest towns to the prestigious TMH allow for patients to be cheated monetarily and denied basic healthcare. But it’s one thing to charge a consultation fee when you aren’t supposed to, and quite another to make a 100 crores off the dead and dying.

If you think that’s crossing the line, think about all those people who were duped and didn’t get the drugs on time. As we have seen, even paying patients are defrauded; how expendable are the ‘free’ ones? How many people died waiting for drugs or timely treatment? That’s the number that scares me. That’s the number that should wake people up.

This is not just another scam, this scam has cost lives. There is no line for the crooks.

PS – I’ve spent a major part of last two months attending to my ailing grandmother in TMH. I’ve stood in those endless queues at the dispensary and seen the plight of patients who’re hanging around for days waiting for an overdue surgery; she has received medicine bottles with nothing in them and has suffered a taxing time in this hospital that has no heart. And all for nothing: her surgery was a failure and they couldn’t fix her. The only thing giving her temporary comfort now, she says bluntly, is “being out of that goddamn hospital.”

Of Court We Are On a Break!

The wily Mr B Ramalinga Raju of Satyam couldn’t have timed his confession admitting to embezzling Satyam Computer Services to the tune of USD 1.5 billion. He had an ample 4 days to go into hiding, analyze the aftermath, and resurface. If news channels are to be believed (an entirely different debate) it gave ample time for the YSR government to do everything in their power to ‘shield’ Raju. Shield against justice, mind you.

So what is this timing I’m talking about? The court was on a 3-day holiday for Makarsankranti, followed by the weekend and no action could be taken. And since was primarily a SEBI case and not a criminal offence (trying telling that to Satyam’s 53,000 employees) he went scot-free until the AP CID (on the insistence of the opposition) stepped in and slapped charges of criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy, cheating, falsification of records and forgery and took him into custody the day before he disposes before the SEBI. While all this is continued proof of information exchange between agencies being in total disarray, only one thing really jumps out in all this: the court was taking a 3-day break for Makarsankranti? Are you kidding me? How many til-ka-ladoos can judges possibly eat? Further excavations reveal the following:

Total number of holidays the Supreme Court has in a year: 189

Total number of working days for the Supreme Court: 176

Besides the fact that there are more holidays than working days, it equates to officers of the court spending over half the year on a hammock. Just for the record, Pakistani courts have 43 days off + Sundays and the American courts have only 10 days off.

Why? Besides ridiculously extended offs for non-events such as Makarsankranti, courts in the country take, hold your breath, a summer vacation, a diwali vacation, and a winter vacation. Yes, these judges get more holidays than kids in school for the same reasons and with full pay. The summer vacation alone is over 2 months!

You know how usually they put a list of holidays at the bottom of every calendar? Not the calendar on the official site of the Supreme Court of India ( These guys have a separate parallel box of holidays for each month!

And as if that wasn’t enough, judges can take full paid leaves over and above these holidays. And combining these offs and adding a few more ‘absent’ days the judges are off on their foreign jaunts. One CJI took 7 trips abroad traveling first-class with wife with the central government picking up the bill of 39 lacs for airfare alone. Here is the detailed story.

What’s similar between a school kid and a the Chief Justice of India? They’ve both got uniforms, they’ve both got textbooks, and they’ve both got summer vacations. And what’s the difference? The kid actually attends school.

And we all know there is a massive number of pending court cases. Just a reminder of the number: 30 million! Here’s a breakup court- and region-wise.

Right. Why exactly aren’t these systems changing? There was a sense of pride when we spoke about the Indian judiciary right from when we were in school. We were taught about their no-nonsense attitude; independent of the legislative and executive branches and morally upright. Later, when the Supreme Court started entertaining PIL’s we were given to believe that the future of this country could only be course corrected by the courts. And now these are the same guys who say the RTI doesn’t apply to them, and that 30 million cases is far too many too handle. Really, it’s the public that needs a holiday.

Air Deccan – A Terrific Airline

I can understand what possessed Vijay Mallya to buy Air Deccan. After the (true) story I’m going to narrate, you too will see why Mallya wept with tears (of joy no doubt) when he acquired this magnificent airline. It’s no secret really, the answer is plain and simple: Air Deccan was and always will be, a terrific airline.

Air Deccan is a terrific airline. Sometimes I wonder how Indian aviation was managing before this path-breaking airline set the wheels of the Indian airspace rolling with their 1 rupee ticket (nevermind the taxes and surcharges which usually make your ticket a minimum of Rs. 3001, and god forbid you may have no option but to book it last minute, where the rate is usually double what you’d pay to get to North America). Coupled with Laloo Prasad Yadav becoming the railway minister, Air Deccan’s launch realized the great Indian middle-class dream of getting to a ‘higher plane’.


Despite a 99.9% record of being delayed by a minimum of two hours, Air Deccan still remains a thoughtful and terrific airline. Even as you lounge around after security check, a glass panel away from the runway, Air Deccan has made plenty of provisions to keep you from 1) getting bored and 2) getting on board. For example, try asking any Air Deccan staff the cause of a delayed take-off. If at any point you do intend to ask them this question, please remember that for your entertainment, they will play a game. Usually they try to act out the scene, as in dumb charades. Punctured with grunts and squeaky noises, they first pretend being hard of hearing. This in reality is actually a clue: They know the answer, but they can’t reveal it. If you ask them to speak to you, remember you’re breaking the rules of dumb and should you ask “Why the delay?” They will clearly tell you, “I can’t say” and will continue to squeak, until you throw your hands up in the air and give up. Then they will reveal a terrific answer that will have you rolling on the conveyor belt. As they said to me once, at Ranchi airport: “The flight is circling overhead and can’t land due to airport congestion.” This is a good reason to be taken seriously, as the Birsa Munda (after who the airport is named) isn’t exactly JFK (even though the men were evenly matched in most respects) and has limited resources. But you know Air Deccan is yanking your chain when you look out and realize that the only thing on the airport runway is a runaway cow, who has probably been there for the last two months, avoiding detection.

If by some chance a plane actually does get ready to take off, you should ready yourself too… To run. Being a trained athlete helps big time. This is how it works: Smaller airports do not need buses to cart people to the aircraft and Air Deccan doesn’t give you seat numbers! Now you’re free to sit wherever you want on the aircraft! Can you imagine what a breakthrough in passenger democracy this is! It’s terrific! So you line up at the door, and an Air Deccan bouncer tries to hold the line. Holding, holding… the stair van is docked, door opened, airhostess in the Good Evening position… and “Go!” he yells. You run. Like the wind, holding on to your security-checked hand baggage as it thumps your back, you run. On the airfield, dodging oil trucks and baggage trolleys, you run; grappling, gaining on your co-passengers on the airfield, much to the envy of passengers of other airlines who are left gaping from the terminal. You see, Air Deccan gives you a chance to experience life as a gladiator, as you gamble your life and knees, scrambling for the perfect seat.

As you know, no matter how smart you’ve been to be first in line (or in this case, first in the race across the runway), there will always be many people already on board. Where do they come from? No one knows. Air Deccan, maintaining full passenger privacy, never asks either. Some of these folks probably have nowhere else to sleep because they believe Air Deccan is their home. So despite everything, you will land up in the middle seat. An announcer in the aircraft will repeatedly remind you that there is free-seating in the aircraft. Isn’t that terrific? What if you forgot?

Even the interior of the aircraft is designed innovatively, such a far cry from standard airplane designs where you have overhead lockers that shut. Some Deccans don’t have lockers with anything to shut them in. That’s why the airhostesses say, “please use the overhanging shelves to store your bag. Please make sure no one is seated underneath during turbulence. If there is someone sitting underneath during turbulence, please resist from laughing when your bag falls on him.” This is some of Air Deccan’s terrific humor. Another funny thing you’ll notice is the in-flight magazine. It contains several ads for – you guessed it – chairs! This padding, that armrest, it’s when you begin noticing the Deccan’s own terrific seating (wholly unique to any airlines): the buttons on the armrest are only placebos. Your seats actually don’t recline. In fact, they’re totally rigid. No more slouching, uncomfortably twisting and turning to find the right position for a catnap. With Air Deccan’s seating, you’re ramrod straight, alert and ready for action. No more sudden jerks from the jerk ahead, spilling your food (of course – Air Deccan cleverly doesn’t provide food in the first place – double insurance against such an accident) – therefore no more lost tempers, screaming, and shouting. It’s terrific. It’s almost a course in non-violence.

Back to the food. All is not lost! We all know that Air Deccan doesn’t serve meals or any kind of food to keep costs low. But if you think about it, this is a terrific idea and a good thing. I mean, doesn’t everyone hate airline food anyway? Of course, if you’re hungry, you can always buy food, and guess who’s catering? Café Coffee Day! How snazzy! First imagine all those hours you’ve parked yourself at one of their tables, slowly sipping their Mochachillos to gain extra faff time. Now imagine a sexy airhostess pushing a CCD card towards your seat as you fly across clouds. Ha! It’s practically a wet dream. And what an expansive menu they’ve extended to Air Deccan – Cheese sandwiches. Yes, that’s it. You can’t expect Guava Granitas in the air, now, can you? Beautifully packaged (ketchup included) the uncooked shard of mozzarella would make any French gastronome proud! For 50 bucks, a steal!

While you munch through CCD’s entire menu, don’t bother looking out of the window. All windows on these aircrafts are fogged out and scratched. You’ll never guess why. This is because other Deccans are playing ‘hit-n-miss’ (also called ‘narrow escapes’) with your aircraft. Deccan pilots, the best in the business – hired straight from stunt flying clubs – always have a point to prove. This exercise keeps them motivated and their minds terrifically sharp. I am only guessingthat their windscreen is see-thru and/or they are not blind. Air Deccan has been known in the past to complain to the AAIof “short runways that (their) pilots always seem to be missing” – not sure what the reason is for this – but it doesn’t matter. Like I said before, Air Deccan is a terrific airline.

Once you land on the runway (AD will always strive for this, it is in their mission statement) – Air Deccan will try their mightiest best to keep you entertained as long as possible. They will ensure that your baggage will not appear on the conveyor belt for at least 50% of the flight duration and once again take up charades, should you ask for an explanation. My last flight lasted 8 hours (it hopped four cities) – so you can do the math. Sometimes I think that Air Deccan’s claim to be India’s second largest airline is misleading. I believe their best-kept secret is that they only have three and a half planes that hop about 6 cities on an average flight. This is why there are always people on board. And this is why Air Deccan is always entertaining you. I wholly recommend flying this airline to everyone. It’s an unforgettable experience every single time. They’re absolutely terrific!