Three fabulous travel writers

July 16th, 2016

Today, I will give you three authors who have written really great books on travel. These authors all have a common approach. They don’t judge;they include lots of anecdotes and personal interactions with locals; they use dollops of humor very judiciously.

Paul Theroux

One of the originals in travel writing. Very few people have invested so much effort in knowing and empathizing with people and places they have visited. Two recommendations for you.

Micheal Palin

Monty Python maybe his more famous work but his travelogues are some of the best in recent times. Rich in wry humor, very english! i would recommend that you listen to him in the following books.

Bill Bryson

An American who writes like an Englishman. Great humor! Some of his books read really well as Audio books while you are traveling. I will give you a couple that you will really enjoy.


Commute listening : July 12th 2016

July 13th, 2016

Author of the day: Eric Weiner

There are a couple of books by this wonderful, quirky and humorous writer.

1. The Geography of Bliss

I read the above about 10 years ago and it is all about where are people happiest in the world. Yes, money is involved with happiness but interestingly boredom plays a part too. A must read because it costs you next to nothing in the US.

2. The Geography of Genius

I am listening to the Audible version during my commute and it is hilarious. I do get strange looks by people thinking I am a bit of a crank. Can’t fault them really.

Podcast of the day

Nice Podcast on Simple Rules to run your business operation. It is really hard to make an entire business run on simple rules but the author makes a nice pitch for it. Buy this book from Amazon.

Look to the grocers for COD

June 9th, 2014

You have a very good website.

Your products are many and very well priced (read:discounted well enough).

I have been buying from you by credit card for a long, long time. Just recently, I made the mistake of ordering by COD.

The shipment was charged an extra Rs. 40 although it was delivered on the promised date. So what’s the problem?

There were a few and they bear listing out so you can handle them in depth.

1. I didn’t have change. The delivery man when asked for changed replied “We make so many deliveries. How do you expect me to have change for everyone?”[ This was not said very politely]

2. When I insisted that I didn’t have change, he reluctantly pulled out the credit card swiping machine and showed me that it did not have a signal, all the while getting more and more impatient.

3. I finally scrounged through several purses and got the change necessary. Can we shrug and say, “deal with it”?

No! E-commerce in India is already struggling to make major in-roads. In such a situation, “chalta hai” attitude will not fly.

For heaven’s sake, just follow the example of my grocer who does as many deliveries in the neighbourhood and always send change with his delivery boy to the nearest Rs. 500. It’s simple to count the cash doled out at the end of the day. Outsourcing to local delivery companies should not hinder this process.

Also, it would pay to educate the delivery guys the proper behavior expected from a I thought you had already licked the logistics problem. It is disconcerting to see these lapses.

This is not only you. guys, though very polite, never carry change. Neither do! Are all of you interested in surviving in this market?


I haven’t ordered from with the COD approach yet. I will try that and let you know my experience.

Gujarat: The unconvincing economic miracle

March 26th, 2014


We are being sold the notion that we should vote for Mr. Modi and become part of his cult because he has wrought miracles with growth in Gujarat. No matter if he likes killing Muslims in well-orchestrated pogroms and belongs to the same ideology that hero worships Hitler and his SA. At least, the rest of us will get richer.  So I think to myself, let’s try and analyze if the “economic development” card holds true.

Gujarat has the highest increase in GDP when comparing the fiscal years 2004-2005 (203,373 Cr.) to 2011-2012 (620,044 Cr), a whopping 304%. Looks great doesn’t it. It is! However, as an analyst , I know that one number rarely tells the whole story. Let’s scratch around a little more and see.

If we look at the top growing states in India, Gujarat at 304% is followed by Tamil Nadu at 290% growth, Maharashtra at 280%, Kerala at 273% and Karnataka sitting at 279% growth in nominal GDP. Is there a statistically significant difference in all these growth rates?

I don’t think so; particularly if you take into account the all india GDP growth is 278%. This is looks like the “India Shining” campaign all over again.

Well, let’s take a gander at GDP growth per capita. That should tell us how each state is performing taking into account the population. In this measure, Gujarat is the sixth highest. Not bad, but is it the best among the big boys? Bihar( yes! incredible Nitish), Haryana and Tamil Nadu outrank it there too.

Not bad but hardly the best. India GDP per capita grew by 227% whereas Gujarat grew by 238%. Is it statistically significant? I don’t think so. India Shining again!

Congress walahs tend to point at Gujarat and its debt growth over the same period as if that has not happened to all states. This is a national problem and not only a Gujarat issue. This increased burden of public debt that the governments at all levels are blithely adding to their balance sheets will bear watching and curbing eventually.

In the meanwhile, I refuse to sacrifice myself so that my brethren can get “pseudo-riche”. If it really was true, we could consider sending 20 crore Muslims to the gallows. However, on present evidence this mass murderer may not turn out to be the messiah for the rest of India too.

Interesting reading for Feb 18th 2013

February 18th, 2013

Search Engines Never Forget

Perhaps they should. How long should people bear the mark of their sins? A harmless bout of drunkenness can be the cause of losing a prospective job. A wardrobe malfunction is visible forever. Some halloween costumes need to be buried after a while. There are also some other concerns. What if my name is that same as a crooked politician? My google vanity searches look horrible!!!

Anti-Jewish nature of Western civilization

No quite convinced about the fact that the only other that Chrsitians had were the jews. I believe this is a way of trying to explain why the holocaust occurred. Such a monstrosity does put a pall on Europe and the achievements post-enlightenment. However, to trace anti-jewish sentiment all the way back ot the ancient egyptians is a bit thin..

Life and Letters of P.G. Wodehouse

All my early reading and most of my writing, is trying to emulate the “Master”. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that there is no bile in his writing. His wit was lush, not dry. His characters so vivid that I would want a Jeeves somewhere close by so he can be consulted about how to deal with Aunts. Hilarious read that, “Aunts aren’t Gentlemen!

The Clear question: Can Online advertising support news portals in India?

Why is this question even being asked, one might think? Well, because reported it’s 18th straight quarter of losses. This is depressing because all my early news I got from this august portal.  I didn’t quite find the ads either. The site should be saturated by them. I do think it is possible to turn this ship around as more and more traffic comes online. Also, will have to change it’s image into a marketplace and start buying traffic on that basis. It also helps to have working payment gateways. Ghastly page design too. Needs lots of changes to make this site truly live up to the brand that they have been over the years.

Churchill and a couple of books that might be interesting.

January 22nd, 2013

Warlord  Amazon Flipkart

Easy read.

Early life of churchill as a philanderer and a warrior cum journalist

a decided bias towards the commanders as the author is an army man himself.  The defence of Wavell is too long, even if justified to some level.  Ord Wingate and Churchill’s relationship is not really looked into.

The Last Lion  Amazon Flipkart

Well written and very readable. The author tries to sound like Mr. Manchester in his two earlier books, he manages it quite

The second coming of Churchill is quite sad after all the boom and blast of the war years. Churchill was not even able to make it to the last conference of peace after the war in Europe was over.

Lucid reading again. The episodes of Norway are more vivid in this book and the political angle

The confessions of Sultana Daku

December 16th, 2012

sultana Daku

Oh! Such a sad tale, full of pathos and foreboding. I was so moved that I went into active depression for a couple of days.

This is a supposed narrative that Sultana gave of his life to a white Sahib the night before he was supposed to be hung.

It makes for great reading because it seems that Robin Hood has come alive again. Sultana is a charismatic bhantu outcaste who has no other choice but to rob and thieve, such is the abject poverty that he is born into. This book is set in the backdrop of the non-cooperation 20’s, probably just after the Chauri-Chaura incident.

The author narrates the events in Sultana’s life and his love for his Phoolkanwar(a nautanki girl) so well that one is moved to will him to survive this night! At the end, we can sense the despair of Sultana and the distrust of the white Sahib towards all Indians. The climax is quite gripping. This book is a must read for all those who think on how Dakus have arisen in India.

To get more from Mr. Saraf, please visit his website.

Driving for pleasure through the plains

December 16th, 2012

I have driven several hundreds of miles along empty yet beautifully paved roads. In the wilds of Utah, where visibility on a good day is 235 miles; through the pacific coast towards San Francisco where the road and the ocean play tag with each other and the sunsets are glorious. However, the one thing I desperately wanted to do was to drive at home through the Doab plains. Taking the opportunity to spend a couple of days during this sabbatical of mine, I took a little sojourn to Aligarh. A small and insignificant trip to be sure, but filled with delirious joy for me.
yamuna expressway

The Yamuna Expressway and I, we had long conversations all the way to Agra on another sad trip but this time we could only converse like old pals in a hurry, for 44 wonderful Kms. This road is nothing I have experienced in India before (It is true that I know little of this country so no offense to other roads). There is no way I can be less than parochial in this post so I am going to go the whole hog and say that there is nothing so lovely as watching the countryside flash by.  The sugarcane stands and mustard fields in the distance are a joy to behold from a freshly tarred and well maintained road.


By the way, no picture taken at any resolution can ever do justice to the pure joy upon beholding a field of mustard flowers in bloom. This picture is blurry but I cannot describe in words or even in any emotional cadence, a field of mustard lightly rustled by a breeze. Perhaps poets can do justice to this or great painters, but the eye is completely arrested and the mind captivated by this scene.


I sat here maudlin for a whole half hour.  Very reluctantly did I turn my audio book back on and move towards Aligarh.

The trouble with Muslims working in the West.

September 4th, 2011

All along I knew there was something wrong about all of us who work in the West. Today, I was enlightened by a wonderful gentleman who works in Riyadh. While waiting for our respective Paan, I said, “Sir, I do admire the fact that you can come to Aligarh so often because you work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. He replied, ” Yes indeed! Plus, the biggest benefits are that we work in Halal jobs. All you westerners work in Haram environments”.

Now I was a bit thrown. I didn’t expect this particular brand of crap. You know, we Muslims come up with all sorts of interesting stuff… but this was new to me.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind that my Paan friend considered my labors in the USA Haram. Not in the least. He is perfectly entitled to his ignorance and bigotry. Only, I hadn’t head this one before so I went looking.

Truly, Google par sab milta hai( you get everything on Google). I think I found what he was alluding to. Like everything else, it has to do with wine, women and ..well, not song, but interest and usury are bad enough man!

By now, either you are bored ut of your mind and are still willing to hear me out, or you are genuinely interested. Either way, this is where it gets juicy. Trust me!

Wine and other Tasteless Spirits

In the West, liquor and other spirits are the norm and the work place atmosphere is such that a believing brother cannot get by without imbibing a few completely Haram sips here and there. One has one’s children to think about and one’s job prospects get dimmer the lesser you drink with the boys and girls(God Forbid, of course). No data to prove this but it seems very obvious, doesn’t it?

Interest and Usury issues

We know that in the middle-east all Muslim countries do not give or take interest. They are completely cut off from the banking systems of the world. In fact, they all practice Islamic banking where taking and giving Ribaa(interest) and Usury(sood) is not practiced. This is known, of course. No proof needed really.

We also know that the West is steeped in interest and usury. Their problems become ours because our wives and sisters( not ourselves, mind you) start desiring these western houses and all the accoutrements thereof. Now, how is a brother in a halal job going to pay for a posh mercedes? He will have to take a loan from these evil western banks( it is known that all Muslim banks are ipso facto not evil, sort of like Google). So living in such a society destroys one’s faith in God. One particular scholar on a forum noted that one should not work in these societies and live on government assistance. Very wise, indeed!

Women at Work( Oh Lord!)

You see, this whole business of women working in the same office as men is terribly controversial and a bit too suspiciously interesting to all brand of Fatwa-wallahs.

First of all, we ALL know that the first chance women get, they will flirt!( No data is necessary to back this up of course. We brothers know this! We have to fend them off after all, in droves, mind you.) Western women apparently flirt all the time. It is quite a wonder that any work gets done at all!

Secondly, there will be skimpy-clothing-to-work days, pretty much all the year round. Skimpy, here signifies anything not in the traditional KSA Abayah. Is there any research to back this up? Of course not! God knows this already and hence the whole ritual mummification of women thing…You could argue that men should be able to observe a bit more decency and ogle less but this is a weak argument. We all KNOW that the clothes will get skimpier if we do not ogle. We Muslim men are doing a public service here and no one gives us any credit for it. Such is the world!

Thirdly and finally, there will of course be touches, very accidental mind you, but such touching sets everyone’s beard aflame. One cannot be sure whether it is excitement or censure, but we get very touchy about this business. Forum upon Forum, blog upon blog, are enveloped in the Halal and Haram of touching. Everyone knows that a pure Muslim Brother will be lured into touching by a woman. All that happens after that is not in the purview of discussion as it is purely said woman’s fault. Besides, this is a decent blog so I am not going beyond this.

So, in conclusion, this chance comment by a very wise fellow Paan eater has indeed induced me to desist from working in the West. Henceforth, until the West shows some initiative and improves itself, I shall work in India.

Got jobs anyone?

india is complicated….

June 17th, 2011

It has been two weeks since I migrated back to India. They have been very interesting and quite eye-opening is some cases.

1. The first thing you notice is how much cleaner the big cities have become. New Delhi air is nowhere as noxious as it was a few years ago. CNG operated buses, taxis and autos have had a huge influence there.

2. Everything is quite expensive. You can’t really live a middling, middle-class existence in $1k. People are making and spending a lot of money. There is every kind of booze available too.


3. Medical care is available for a price. At Artemis hospital in Gurgaon, I saw a lot of foreigners; middle-easterners as well as Europeans.

4. You also have lots of family and so that makes the transition to the heat and more heat a lot more bearable.

5. Internet connections are also available at very high speeds. Quite higher than what I had anticipated. However, you need a backup for every connection. Preferably a backup of a backup as well.

More, anon…