Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Early on 4th December, 2006, the factory of TilSpices Pvt. Ltd. was razed to the ground. In this convoluted civil dispute, a brutal land mafia has connived with the owner of the property to oust an honest couple who were the tenants on that property.

Husband and wife pair of Sudhir and Aruna were running a successful spice manufacturing unit in Perungudi called TilSpices Pvt. Ltd. (Til for Trust in the Lord). They had entered into an agreement with the owner of the property, a man called Venkatraman who got the power of attorney from his father who is in coma. The agreement signed by him in 2004 says that he will sell the property to them for 60 lakh rupees. However at the time of registration he backed out, given that land prices were going through the roof along the IT corridor.

Construction activity is on everywhere, with buildings coming up on both sides of this demolished factory. The agreement for this 6 ground property was 10 lakh rupees per ground. But at the time of registration, Venkatraman never showed up.

Aruna and Sudhir have suffered damages of nearly 3 crore rupees. Venkatraman and his bunch of hired henchmen have given stolen and destroyed their property. Aruna says, "Venkatraman also has two children like me. He's raising two more monsters for this world."

At the site, there are a whole bunch of shady looking characters hanging around. The place is being fenced off and I'm certain construction will begin soon. Aruna's equpment has been stolen and damaged but the police are telling her to get out of there. The Assistant Commissioner from the J1 police station said she had no business there. The goons are even trying to sell the media photographs of her "stealing" Venkatraman's property.

But he didn’t re-negotiate with Aruna and that forced her to go to court to make him keep his end of the bargain. Venkatraman of course just ignored the court summons.

Now, Aruna says, the factory has been demolished at his behest to get her out of there by hook or by crook. A local land-broker, called Kodandaraman (with some heavy duty connections that include High Court judges) was hired for the job and in three hours 100 men with bulldozers smashed Venkatraman’s factory and Aruna’s business. Venkatraman can now get much, much more for the property with Aruna out of the way.

This brazen illegal act has the blessings of the police. A senior police officer told Aruna that his hands were tied because somebody above him had been bribed. The officer admitted to her that it was a rape of justice and that he was truly ashamed. But alas, honest men can do nothing.

This story has sickened me because the rot of corruption has such deep roots. Not that I didn’t know it, but it sickens me because perfectly decent, honest people are attacked in this manner and their livelihood is destroyed.

The people who should protect us are the ones we need protection from – the police. This entire episode has left Aruna and Sudhir shocked because everywhere they turn they find people have been bought up. Aruna says, “I am strong and I believe in God, so I am able to take this shock. But what if someone had ended their lives because of this?”

The police and Venkatraman would’ve heaved a sigh of relief. That’s how soulless this tribe is. But its got to come back to haunt them and I hope they suffer the consequences of their dirty greed.

Monday, December 04, 2006


In the centre of the city of Kolding, stands the castle of Koldinghus (pron. Kollinghoos). On this site once stood a fortress built by the Danish King - Erik Glipping in the year 1268 - meant to guard the border between the Kingdom of Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig (in Germany). The fortress was rebuilt as an unfortfied castle in the mid-16th century at which time the King often stayed at Koldinghus. In the 1720s the castle was again rebuilt but by then the members of the royal court were only infrequent visitors and the castle was allowed to fall into disrepair.

In 1808 some Spanish auxiliary troops, stationed there in the Napoleonic wars stoked the fire in one of the hearths so fiercely that the castle itself burnt down. Reuilding work was not started until as late as 1890.

The rebuilt castle (above) today draws plenty of visitors. The architects who restored it are Inger and Johannes Exner. Scandinavian design is truly classic and minimalist, employing material in its natural form to achieve both function and style. The castle has been restored in keeping with that tradition. Indeed, the reconstruction is modern and seems incongruous at times – contrasting sharply with the weathered red brick walls, although, it does not diminish by way of aesthetics.

There is a magnificent view (below) from the top of the Great Tower. (Great Tower known as 'Heroes Tower' was added around 1600.)

This is where you park your car, where the stables once were.

Right next to the castle is a river where you will always find a boat. This particular boat (sorry, no picture) has to be kept ready at all times for the Queen. If the Queen were to arrive at the castle and wanted to cruise down the river, then she should never be disappointed and for that aim to be fulfilled the boat remains docked in this river perennially.

The Danes incidentally are quite crazy about their monarchy, following their lives and loves as closely as any monarcho-phile in, lets say, Britian. I asked an agricultural teacher, Jørgen P. Jensen why they loved their monarchy so much and he said, “I think its because they are quite sensible people.” Down to earth for sure, because when we were in a place called Gråsten (pron. Grosteeng) where the Queen has her summer home, people say, you can actually run into her, shopping for groceries in the neighbourhood supermarket.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


(Photo Courtesy: Pratik Shah)

The VIP tribe of this country is a self-serving, smug one. If you live in Chennai and happen to drop in at 'Coffee' near the Music college, look for this PWD order painted on the wall.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I hate noise. I can't stand it when people talk loudly and constantly interrupt me but I really hit the roof when people use their car horns. And God help me, if a bus or a truck is hooting away. I burst an artery. And when those bloody ambasadors - that symbol of power in India, comes along honking away with impunity, I just want to shed tears - shed tears at his stupidity and his arrogance and my own pathetic helplessness. What can I do to make people shut the F *** up? I feel so helpless.

(Even as I type this, some jackass on a bike has gone tooting down my road. May he run into a pole.Oh god! And now Onyx is here. What their workers do to keep the city clean is negated completely by the noise and air pollution their trucks release.)

There is a vast army of half-witted, insentient noise-polluters who have invaded the roads rendering common sense a rare and priceless commodity in India.

Thats why, when we first landed at the Billund airport (below) in Denmark, we could've easily assumed that the country was in a state of Emergency and all residents had been told to stay indoors and shut up. Everything was so lovely and quiet and empty. (Look at the last snap of the arrival lounge. Not a soul in sight!) Thats how it always is. I had a feeling things were going to go well. They did. I didn't see or hear a rude driver for 40 days and I will need a separate blog to start writing about how I was glowing with good health.

But seriously, what can we do, to make people aware that there is such a thing as noise pollution? That people use their horns ridiculously more than they need to. I have a good track record on the road having avoided dogs, cows, goats, cyclists and pedestrians deftly for nearly 10 years now and all this with only the gentle nudge of the horn in the rarest of rare circumstances. So why can't everybody else shut up??????!!!!!!! Waaaaaaaaah... Waaaah.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006


Denmark is flat country – so flat, that the second highest point – Skamlingsbanken is all of 370 ft high. But it offers a lovely view of southern Denmark and you can spend a quiet, refreshing morning there…. like we did, complete with a picnic basket and soda that topples over a lot.

Right on top of the hill (bank is an old Danish word for hill) stands a tall obelisk – a memorial erected to commemorate the Danish nationality and way of life. It was erected at a time when the Danes were trying to fight off German aggression on the southern front. But in 1864, the Germans led a successful invasion and captured the south of Denmark and one of the first things they did was to blow away the stones of this symbol that their captives took great pride in. But villagers living around the area collected the stones and rebuilt the obelisk. The Germans left southern Denmark in 1920 after a plebiscite and have not staked their claim since. But it left behind a minority of Germans and Danes on both sides of the German-Danish border.

Today of course things are calm but Danish parents will still not send their kids to German schools or German parents to Danish schools for that matter, and, the older generation would still frown upon a German-Danish marriage.

There is a large Danish minority in the north German town of Flensburg where Danes like to drive down to do their shopping. People pay such high taxes in Denmark that its cheaper for them to drive down to Germany and do some monthly shopping there. Especially if they’re buying the famous Flensburger Pilsener also called Flens.

Back to Skamlingsbanken – and the great fluttering red flag next to the obelisk. Denmark’s national flag called the Dannebrog (old Danish for “The Danish cloth”) is red with a white cross that is not exactly in the center but a little to the left.

Its one of the oldest flags in the world. Legend has it, that during the Battle of Lyndanisse, in present day Estonia, it descended from the heavens at a crucial juncture, resulting in a Danish victory and given the Danish reverence for their flag, it goes without saying that the flag should flutter proudly next to the restored obelisk.


Its great to record a holiday like this. I can’t remember anything of previous holidays and thanks to the blog, I’ll never forget this one. So heres another little something from an afternoon spent at a Moravian Church with priest Lorenz Asmussen (below).

First a grab from Wiki: The Moravian churches form a modern, mainline Protestant denomination with a religious heritage that began in 15th-century Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic). It is sometimes also known as the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren, or as the Bohemian Brethren.

Moravians were some of the earliest Protestants, rebelling against the authority of Rome more than a hundred years before Martin Luther.

Christiansfeld – in South Denmark is the only Moravian town in Scandinavia and the youngest town in Denmark. It is named after King Chrstian VIIth who requested the congregation to build the town in 1772. Build it they did, and so well that in 1975 the town received an award for its distinctive style of straight streets and beautiful buildings.

Our walk began at the church square by the well, which is the center of the town. From there the measuring of the town was started, when it was founded.

Inside, the church hall is all white, devoid of altar or pictures. The Moravian church has spartan interiors because they believe that elaborate art and décor are only a distraction. Another interesting departure from other churches is that the organist does not have his back to the congregation but faces it.

The Moravian graveyard is known as “Gods Acre” or “church of the dead” with the sisters buried to the right and the brothers to the left. All the gravestones are exactly the same as a symbol of all being equal and alike after death. Here the graves have been preserved since 1773. Interestingly, a Moravian funeral will not involve the telling of stories about the deceased by relatives and friends. Instead, as Moravians age, they start to document the story of their lives on their own and they remain a rich treasure for posterity.

Monday, November 13, 2006


There were nearly 30 foreigners working at the Danish Crown plant in Grindsted. Many from Vietnam and a few from Sri Lanka – like Kandiah Kankanidhi (in picture). Kandiah is from Achchiveli in Jaffna and he fled the war in Sri Lanka in 1985. He landed in Tamil Nadu and lived in Purusuwalkam briefly before seeking asylum in Denmark. He lives in Grindsted with his wife and two boys aged 4 and 10. He still has two brothers back in Achchiveli and is able to send a considerable sum of money back home. He was making nearly 170 Kr. per hour, which is around 1360 Indian rupees. (People work 35 hours a week in Denmark.)

Kandiah is satisfied with his life but dreams of going back home. “I want to go back some day. I want the future generations of my family to remember Tamil. If we get freedom, I will definitely go back.”

I felt sorry for Kandiah - thousands of miles away from his homeland, holding onto the pipedream of a free Eelam.

Kandiah won't have a problem finding another job. Sri Lankan workers are generally valued for their hard work. Besides, Denmark, with a population of around 5.5 million could do with as many hands as possible.


TV Syd serves the southern region of Denmark – called South Jutland. I spent a day at their office observing how they work and that’s how the pig story happened. I was assigned to go with the team of Dorte Vinther (both in picture) and cameraman, Arne Andreasen. Dorte had yawned during the morning meeting and was thereafter referred to as “the sleepy reporter.”

The thing I noticed first about their office was the silence. Nobody was screaming down phone lines, nobody was barking on their cell phones, indeed, cell phones were not even ringing and all was truly quiet on the southern front. For the story we had to drive from Kolding (pron. Kolling) to Grindsted. TV crews there don’t have separate drivers – Arne drove, filmed and edited the pictures.

Once there, we had to wear space suits like these before going into the factory where Arne and Dorthe got down to business while I got down to staring.

Arne shot for about 30 minutes and then Dorte began her interviews. The story about the imminent closure of this plant had been done before so she did a soft story on what people were feeling on the day it actually happened.

The union leader, Kent Kaltoft was interviewed outside the plant. He said, "Of the 700 workers, 500 already have a job. But I'm not going to stop till the last person finds a job."

Here in India we keep our equipment in the office. But at TV Syd, all the equipment remains in the ENG (electronic news gathering) van. It’s equipped with chargers and monitors and everything else required in handling a breaking news story. Just jump into this thing and hit the spot. Here, Arne puts everything back in place.

Back in the office Dorte begins to write her story in the newsroom. The picture of Tintin looks down upon the place. Why is it there? Because according to the news head Ernst Moller, “hes the best reporter in the world!” That is true.

Once the script is done, the edit begins.

These are pictures of the production control room. Everything that happens in the studio is controlled from here. The plant's closure became the top story that evening.

And that’s the way it goes.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Don't think me macabre for taking pictures of pigs being slaughtered. I just happened to be there. The process was fascinating and I must admit I'm not really big on animal rights. The eyes don't moisten. So anyway, here it is - a photo essay. And if you care about pigs and other four-legged friends of man, skip this one.

These pictures were taken at the Danish Crown factory in Grindsted, Denmark. The plant was shutting down because it was too small and it was no longer viable to run it. The pigs are gassed in a chamber just ahead of this one. Here they enter the assembly line where man and machine go to work to remove the innards. This is how it ends up as bacon and ham at the breakfast table.

A worker makes the first cut.

There are quite a few stages and each worker or machine yanks out a specific part from inside the pig. Theres blood all over the floor and thats not the scary part. Instead, its the knives in the workers hands. I kept thinking, what if one of them went berserk one morning? (Like that morning.) But workers in Denmark are not frustrated. More on that later.

This is pretty much the last stage of the inside-clearing job. As you can see, theres almost nothing there!

Now, the Danes love using their flag. Everyone has a flagpole in their lawn and if its someones birthday the flag goes up. Little flags even go into the birthday cake and all over stores in Denmark you will find all kinds of everyday things with the flags design, like, notebooks, pens, pencils, postcards and of course flags. So it was only appropriate that the last pig that came out of the assembly line went through proudly with the Danish flag in it.

It was an emotional day for the employees at Danish Crown in Grindsted. They had worked side by side for many years and as the last pig rolled out a wave of nostalgia swept over them. But everyone was still smiling. Unemployment is so low in Denmark (about 3%) that only a minority of the nearly 700 workers here had not yet found another job.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


The tiny country of Denmark has unfortunately been remembered in the last year for the notorious Prophet Mohammed cartoons. The controversy erupted again a year later when the youth wing of a right-of-center party was caught on tape drawing cartoons during a drunken bash. Companies like Robert Damkjaer Ltd. have been badly hit because of these needless doodles. They are exporters of meat and 80% of it went to Muslim countries. But their products were boycotted and almost a year after the controversy only about 60% of their business has revived.

Company owners reportedly still have good relations with their buyers in the middle east but under pressure from local mullahs and imams, people there are unable to carry on business with the Danes.


Delightful Danish pastries. More delicious photographs when I find the time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


In the three-and-a-half years that I have been working as a journalist, I have never - not once - been able to reach a government officer on the landline. Not once.

This is EXACTLY how it goes.

"Hello, could I speak to Mr. XYZ."

"Yaar pesarade?"
(Whos speaking?)

You are put on hold while your name and designation are told to the person you want to speak to and of course that person does not want to speak to you and never has the grace to come on the line. Then you are informed...

"Saar meeting le irkaar."
(Sir, is in a meeting.)

"Okay, when will the meeting get over?"

"Teriyaade medem"
(Don't know, medem.)

"Okay, give me his mobile number please."

"Teriyaade medem" or "Permission illame kudaka mudiyaade medem" (Without permission I cannot give it to you... Medem)

Okay stupid F &$#*$#&!!!!

"Okay, when should I call back?"

"Naaliki....Inniki, Saar roombu busy."
(Tomorrow... sir is vurrry busy today.)

Then you can call tomorrow and you will be told all these same things again. Then try it the day after and you will find they do not care to even come up with a different lie. This will carry on till you get fed up. Till YOU get fed up because they don't tire of the exercise.
This means, you can't get simple information or cross-check it by speaking to the 'right' people. The only way to gain access to these people is to hob nob with them. I think many journalists see this PR exercise as a part of their job and are happy to build sources this way to acquire contacts and more importantly mobile numbers. It helps to go through with it sometimes because these are the benefits. But I'd rather go home and read a book.

Alas, my holiday has ended.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I went into peels of laughter after dinner today. Just before picking up her plate, my Danish host Esben Ihle asked his wife Helle, "Are you finish?"

Her reply, "No, I'm Danish."

I laughed so hard I knocked my head on the chair next to me. I find many similarities between Danes and Indians and one of them, perhaps the most important one, is that we laugh at the same things.

Monday, October 02, 2006


On the first evening in Haderslev in south Denmark, I went to my host Christian Juhl’s mothers home. It was a linguistically-challenged affair. Noone there knew English and I didn’t know a word of Danish. My energy was spent mid-way through the meal after all the animated acting involved in communicating what I was trying to say. I gave up and sat in silence eating Gammeldags hvidkal – a mash of cabbage and cream (quite nice). But the family – Christian Juhl, his sister Rita, her husband Gunnar and their mum Annalise continued to speak in Danish. I thought Christian must have been telling very interesting tales because Rita was drawing in her breath every few minutes.

The following day I met more people making sharp intakes of breath, every few sentences. The Danes must be easily surprised I thought. But its only now at the end of the first week here that I realise its their characteristic way of speaking. Spoken words are followed by a gulp of air.

Now I don’t rush to ask what the matter is when I hear a “whu”. Its just air making its way into a Danish throat.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I'm turning my 'Reporter's Diary' into a little holiday notepad over the next few weeks. I can't be bothered to start another blog just for this and I think it will be nice to write things down so I don't forget. I wish, I wish I had done this on earlier vacations. I will be adding pictures as soon as I can. I'm carrying an old camera thats giving me hopeless pictures so the minute I can start bumming photos from my friends they'll be up here.

I dislike flying. I loathe airports and I think nobody should use them unless they are flying. Its definitely the worst way to begin a holiday. Anyway....

At the Frankfurt Airport my friend ordered a "fancy cake". True to her vegetarian roots (pun unintended) she asked the salesperson if it had "beef gelatin" in it. Even I have not heard that one before but he laughed so derisively at the idea, I think it killed her appetite.

I am happy to say that since then things have gone very well. More follows.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Recently Arjun Singh was at IIT to inaugurate a new hostel block. But being the villain in the reservation saga, students conducted a 'spontaneous', 'flash' protest. Promptly the media was called. (Protests, dharnas, fasts and demonstrations these days seem to take place only inside a frame.) The frantic calls by a few students forced me and a cameraman into the car heading towards IIT. Three students received us at the gate and called their mates to tell them we had arrived and to be "ready".

That pissed me off. But I said nothing. Then when we reached the venue of the "protest", much to my chagrin, the students started asking me what to do. "Should we sit or should we stand? Should we march or should we stay here? Should we call more students or is this enough? Should we burn the banner or shouldnt we?"

Thats it! Stop! I lost my cool. I blame the media as much as I blame the students for asking me these questions. There are lots of unethical practices that go entirely unquestioned these days, starting with making people shout slogans for the camera, or directing them to do things they would not have otherwise done. Its pardonable if its a feature story and sometimes you need to 'direct' people into doing certain things - like make an author read his book while shots of him are taken, or make a chef toss up the noodles for the camera. Thats allowed. But if its news, its simply unpardonable. These students obviously dont know any better either. I said, "This is not a film and i'm not a director. Do what you have to do or don't do anything at all. I frankly don't care."

Then to make matters worse and ruin my mood further, the students turned out to be a divided house with some overenthusiastic ones getting carried away with the idea a protest and others warning them of dire consequences. It was the last straw. There was no way this lie was ever going to be on air. But just to say, televised protests are very often done like this.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


In a remote corner of the 'Giggles' bookstore sits a delightful lady called Nalini Chettur. Shes totally isolated from the negativity flowing in the world around her, as she sits there, indulging her first and only true love - books. When I went to meet her, she was reading Ogden Nash's 'Candy is Dandy' with such thought-provoking verse like:

In the world of Mules
There are no rules.

33 years ago, Nalini started 'Giggles' for a giggle, as she likes to say. Inspired by Helen Hanff's '84, Charing Cross Road', Nalini was offered a space inside the Taj Connemara Hotel. Over the years, the hotel has been shrinking that space and thats how Giggles has ended up becoming the "biggest little book shop" with all of 100 square feet. There are over one lakh titles crammed into its incredible smallness. Books are stacked from floor to ceiling with one narrow sinew that can only indulgently be called the aisle and you have to be pretty little yourself to visit the biggest little bookshop.

Worthies like William Golding, Michael Palin, Ranil Wickremasinghe and Amitav Ghosh are part of the long list of people who have visited her store.

Nalini loves books and goes through every single one that comes to her store. Thats why when she talks about a book she imbues it with a special quality. No computers for her. Her entire inventory is in her head. Her delight in a book is infectious and she immediately arouses your interest and awakens the imagination.

Im having a difficult time trying to capture the charming character of 'Giggles' and its owner - exactly why Nalini thinks not everyone who has a book in them should write. So ill leave it here. But im a sworn Giggler now.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Why are Indians so averse to criticism??? I finally found the story that has pushed me to write this post. It was a ridiculous, ridiculous piece on ‘Slum tourism in Mumbai’ from a channel that exhorts us to ‘Feel the News’. I feel sick.

The two Indian anchors practically bullied two foreign tourists invited to their studio, for walking through the squalor of the slums of Dharavi and stripping its residents of ‘dignity’ and being totally ‘insensitive’ to these real ‘people’.

(They took the moral high ground that Indian tour operators were making money off India’s poverty.)

But frankly, who are we to talk about dignity and insensitivity? If we were so sensitive, we’d be thinking of ways to get foreign tourists to help these people lead better lives with their dollars, not abuse them for wanting to see the reality of India and for gods sake - stop lying to the world - it is a reality!

The beleaguered male foreign tourist said, “I agree that there might be some insensitivity in going through their slums, but these people were actually happy to see us. They were happy to talk about the industry in their slum and show us what they were manufacturing.’ Its certainly more than what most Indians have time for so what are we complaining about??

The female tourist was more combative. She said, “Of course, I’m here to see the slums. I want to see how people live. That’s why you travel.” Whats wrong with that?

The story ran a sound byte of some average Mumbai lady saying, “I don’t want others to see the dirty side of my city, Mumbai. That’s certainly not the side I want the world to see.”

I think its clasically representative of a misplaced pride that many Indians have. There is a certain rejection of the realities of India and a selective choice of things we are proud of. Real pride is when you accept these bitter realities not pretend they don’t exist.

Another instance of this misplaced pride is the hue and cry over the treatment meted out to the 12 Mumbai passengers detained by Dutch authorities for suspiscious behaviour. Admittedly, we live in unhappy, paranoid times but the Dutch authorities don’t call in fighter jets just to scratch a racist itch.

Such misplaced pride. Show the world your slums. Atleast it might bring in tourist money that you can use to improve the slums – the festering eye-sore you are so ashamed of but find no creative solutions to improve.

In an interview on the protests in Pakistan over the death of Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam, pretty much told India to mind its own business. She said, “Let India not worry about the protests in Pakistan. Let them concentrate instead on its flooding dams, its dying farmers and its malnourished children.” We will, when we aren't so busy trying to sell the world a half-truth.