Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Edinburgh: Discovering Malt Whisky

Edinburgh:Discovering Malt Whisky
Being in Edinburgh and not discovering more about Scotch whisky would be a sacrilege, and because of my spiritual disposition, I decided to find out more. After a small wait, a coffee and a pastry at Rabbie's Cafe, Wellington Place near Waverley Station,the trip started at 9.30am. The driver and guide Mike was an Irishman with the gift of story telling and a mischievous sense of humour. The little lilt, the accent all added to the charm.
As we left the majestic sandstone mansions of new town, the beautiful row houses appeared, followed by quaint cottages and their manicured hedges and lovingly maintained small gardens. As we moved out of the city, the cottages grew in size, and so did the size and beauty of the gardens, and of course, the mandatory two cars parked outside the cottage, usually Mercedes/BMW/Audi/Jaguar and a smaller car.
Soon the rolling, undulating Scottish countryside with verdant crops appeared, dotted by green copses of trees. The sides of the roads often had white, yellow and violet wild flowers growing among the lush green grass. Apparently the local government is resisting all attempts by developers to build on the green belt that surrounds Edinburgh.
Enroute Mike pointed out three bridges across the River Firth, each from a different century, one built in 1780, the next early 1900s, newest one still work-in-progress and expected to be opened in August 2017!
Along the way to Stirling Castle, our first stop, Mike narrated the story of Mary Queen of Scots, her three marriages and tragic death by the decree of her cousin Elizabeth. He followed it up with history of William Wallace, his battles and those who succeeded him in their attempts at achieving freedom for Scotland from the English yoke. Stirling castle appeared gloomy and forbidding under the overcast skies.
Soon we were at Glengoyne Distillery, established in 1833, and is the southern most of the highland malt whisky producers. Incidentally, it is just north of the road that divides the highlands from the lowlands as applicable to whisky, and its bonded warehouse is in the lowlands because it is on the otherside of the that road! It is a small distillery, almost boutique and privately owned, compared to the big boys owned by global giants as Diageo, Pernod etc. Glengoyne makes about two million litres of the eponymous non-peated  single malt. It's claim to fame was the queen mother Elizabeth swore by the Glengoyne 10 year old, and served it in all her parties. Glengoyne does not use peat to dry the germinated barley or malt. Hence the whisky does not give the smoky flavour favoured by many highland malts. Interestingly, most distillers have since outsourced the malting of barley and drying.
Glengoyne 18-year old Sinle Malt
Difference in colour between American & English Oak Cask
The tour followed the grinding of the malt into grist, steeping water to release the sugars called 'mashing', this was followed by adding yeast to start the fermentation and conversion of sugars in to alcohol.  The copper distillation stills, the heart of whisky making, were wonderful to look at. Since there only three inputs-barley, water and yeast, the answer to good was mostly art, rather an science. The finished whisky is stored in sherry casks made of either English or American oak. There was even a display on how the colour of the whisky was different in these casks.These barrels kept for at least 3 years, in order to be called Scotch whisky, actually lost 2 to 5% by volume every year, the loss is called 'Angels share', helps to mature the whisky by allowing the undesirable aromatics to evaporate. The Glengoyne exemplifies the virtues of patience and following hallowed traditions honed over generations. We first tried  a 12 year old , and then a 15 year old single malt, with the tour guide telling us to first swirl the whisky to release its aroma, then taking a sip and letting it roll over our taste bids before swallowing and so on. The expert's advice was to have whisky either neat or a dish of water, which releases the bouquet of the whisky, something which I had read before, and practiced! Glengoyne retail their 18 year old single malt at £85, 5 year old at £52, and cask strength (59.1%) at £55. 
Loch Lomond
Willows by Loch Lomond
The next stop was at Loch Lomond Nature Park. Loch Lomond is probably one of the largest lakes in Scotland, and the geological fault line, which decides whether it is a lowland or highland whisky passes through the lower end of Loch Lomond.
Deanston 18-year old Single Malt- £1000
River Teith
Deanston Distillery

The last stop was the Deanston Distillery, founded only as late as 1965. This distillery was once a cotton mill which closed down. The building was resurrected as a distillery by the local community. Deanston has its own tiny hydro-electric plant with two water turbines from early 1900s generating 400kw with the water from the fast flowing River Teith, and thus is green distillery. Deanston, interestingly is very small, makes only a million litres of whisky a year, and sells 80% of its produce of single malts to large blenders and bottles the rest. It's legacy of the cotton mill is reflected in an unusual layout where processes are stacked one on top of  the other, rather than side by side layout of traditional distilleries. The tour guide pointed out with great pride that although they were just 50 year old, they relied only on craftsmanship and not technology to perfect their art. They use bourbon casks for ageing their single malts. On the side, they are also proponents of a counter-culture to the age-old 'older is better' philosophy of whisky. They have a new blend, matured in new casks, which does not carry its age and leaves the interpretation of the bouquet to the drinker. Interesting! Deanston's sister distillery, of much older vintage, sold a 42-year old single malt for an obscene  £2500!!!!
Copper Stills at Deanston
Tobermory 42-year old single malt £2500
Storage at Deanston
One interesting fact that came up was that all distillers are required to store their whiskers at 'cask strength' of 63% alcohol. Then it is diluted to between 40 and 43% alcohol before bottling. Some distillery editions and cask strengths, rare though, have anywhere between 50 to 60%. Once unwittingly, I had bought such a sample and found the taste a bit harsh, and it could be consumed only in the harshest Delhi winter.

The return journey was a mellow one, with two tastings of single malt each at two distilleries- befitting end to the journey of understanding the myth and mystique of uisge beatha,  'water of life' as the Scot call it! Cheers!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Biker gang of IIM Kashipur's trip to Mukteshwar January 21-22, 2017

A bike trip was long overdue, as I had made the last trip with the PGP 2015-17 batch in November 2015. The new batch of 2016-18 were actually complaining that they had not yet gone on a bike trip with me. So with the planning and logistics  and the mandatory lecture on driving guidelines (25 metres apart, no overtaking, no speeding, formation driving, hill driving etiquette etc.) delegated to Rizwan of the senior batch, a veteran of many trips, we included quite a few enthusiasts from the new batch too.
As usual, the inter-campus coordination and cold mornings caused a delay in starting. We started at nearly 8 am, instead of the planned 6.30am on Saturday January 21, 2017 with 8 bikes and 14 riders and pillion for the 170 odd km trip one way. The plan was to reach Mukteshwar by late afternoon covering about 170 km and the route was Kashipur-Ramnagar-Kaladhungi-Haldwani-Bhimtal-Bhowali-Mukteshwar. The bike count was: four Bullet Classic 350, one Thunderbird 350, one Bajaj Pulsar 200, one KTM 200, one Yamaha FZ 150.
As we hit the Ramnagar highway we encountered very dense fog which dogged us over the entire stretch of more than 25km. The trucks whizzing past in near zero visibility was scary. The ride from Ramnagar to Kaladhungi was under a bright and clear sky. Breakfast at Kaladhungi, opposite Jim Corbett Museum was sumptuous- stuffed paranthas and hot tea. The onward journey from Kaladhungi to Bhimtal was pleasant, except for crossing Haldwani. From Bhimtal we proceeded to Bhowali, with a couple of stops to regroup especially on forks on the road where Google maps was of not much help! On the way we saw parasailers gliding down from the hills around Bhimtal.  
At Ramgarh we experienced patches of ice on the road from snow fall earlier that week, not much though. Snow on the hillsides at Ramgarh gave our students enough photo-ops, as did all the stops. As we were approaching Mukteshwar, problems surfaced. The clutch of the Pulsar failed and the FZ refused to start. Three hours were spent in trying to repair both, including trips up and down to Mukteshwar to catch an elusive mechanic. The Pulsar was parked with a friendly ship-owner and the FZ started reluctantly.Evening was close and we made our way to our destination Sitala, which nine km down just at the entry to Mukteshwar. These nine km were tortuous, narrow, broken and with steep downhill gradient and the gathering dusk made it difficult. Well, on the plus side, I found that my LED fog lamp worked well and marked out the left edge of the road and also worked as a day-running light, and consumed little power. When we reached Sitala, the sun had set and we were apprehensive about the location of our hotel, and its quality, back of the beyond as it was. Pathik Resort turned out to be quite spacious, clean with a wide and beautiful view of the snow-capped peaks.  
 The morning of January 22 started late, each complaining of aches etc. and post-breakfast long planning session involved of what to do with the two immobile bikes.
The food was good but the rooms were chilly and the stiff, chilly breeze did not help. 

The food was good but the rooms were chilly and the stiff, chilly breeze did not help.ning of aches etc. and post-breakfast long planning session involved of what to do with the two immobile bikes. Another hour went in getting a replacement plug for the FZ, but it could not possibly make the trip back because it was burning engine oil due to worn out rings. Finally the sick bikes were put on a small truck for onward trip to Haldwani for repairs at respective dealers. Six remaining bikes separated in to two groups, one group of two heading back to Kashipur and the other group of four decided to try for paragliding near Bhimtal and return via Naintal.

The return trip, with me taking on Chauhan (PGP 2016-18) as a pillion and Swagat on his Thunderbird with a pillion. The return journey wasn’t without incident! A car overtook us somewhere near Baelparao and one of the passengers frantically waved us to stop. He told us they had seen one bag falling off the Thunderbird and had been trying to warn us. Thanks to the warning message, the bag was found. Retrieval took more than half an hour and gave us the opportunity for a cup of tea. The journey ended around 5pm on Sunday January 22, 2017 with around 350km on the odometer. We have started planning for the next trip in March 2017.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Making Moussaka on my 63rd birthday

My 63rd birthday making Moussaka
The idea of celebrating my 63rd birthday, alone and far from family, was hardly appealing. My friend Prof Evangelos Afendras decided otherwise. 
Now, Evangelos definitely needs a proper introduction. He can be cast as Zeus in any Greek mythological movie, with all the necessary qualifications- white beard, girth and presence, and all of 73 years. He comes every year to teach at IIM Kashipur. He had gone to Johns Hopkins to study Electrical Engineering but ended up with a PhD  in Linguistics and Humanities. He is globe-trotter and has taught all around the world, has a family across five countries.
Coming back to the moussaka, start by taking 500 grams of goat meat (original recipe has lamb), mince it fine. Fry the motor of the poor mixie in the process! 
Take a kilo of big aubergines (lowly baigan), cut them in to thin slices about 10mm thick; make slits across them but do not cut across the skin. Add salt to the baigan slices and let them stand for at least half an hour so that they shed some water. Put them in a large baking dish, smear them with vegetable oil and microwave them on full power for 6 minutes, turn them over and microwave again for 6 minutes. They should be cooked. Remove from baking dish and keep them on a plate.
Sauté about a kilogram of chopped onions, with salt, pepper and a dash of chopped green chillies (innovation mine alone) in vegetable oil (it should be olive oil, but that is unavailable and bloody costly) till they are brown. Then add the minced mutton and keep frying till it tastes semi-cooked or al dente. Add  about half a kilo of tomatoes, quartered and fry till the water dries, tomatoes get mixed and the mutton mixture is cooked. 
In parallel, start making the bechamel sauce. Start by warming half litre of milk, preferably full cream. Start frying whole meal wheat flour (atta) in two spoonfuls of butter till the atta starts to turn light brown. Add the milk slowly to the fried atta and ensuring that there are no lumps. Add one egg slowly to the mixture while mixing. This should be a rather thickish sauce.
Line the bottom of the baking dish with the bottom ends of the fried/microwaved baigan, skin part downwards. Put in a layer of the mince mixture, add another layer of the fried baigan, one layer of mince. Cover with the bechamel sauce covering the entire surface, just like what you do for a pie.
Microwave in combo mode for 8 minutes. Stop, check for the crust. Repeat in combo mode for 8 minutes, and the crust should be golden brown and voila your moussaka is ready!
Now open a bottle of ouzo. The one we had was labelled Ouzo from Plimario, the island of Lesbos ( yes that's the etymological root for lesbian), courtesy Evangelos. Throw in 10 cubes of ice, pour in about 60ml of ouzo, swirl it around till the liquid turn milky, clink your glasses and take a gulp. Fire and ice, with a smell of aniseed rising- the world seems a much better place. Thus fortified by a few more sips, take adequate slices of brown bread, slather with butter, sprinkle finely chopped garlic and put it in the microwave in grill mode for 3 minutes max. Leave the bread in the oven for some time and they turn exquisitely crisp. By then you should be onto your second helping of ouzo.
Start your meal with the third helping of ouzo and bon apetit!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Strange business

Love is strange business!

Business, because it needs
investment, continued effort and commitment.

Strange, because
The  partner who loves more, 
Is more committed,
Has invested more,
Is always the weaker one!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Start 7am Kashipur
Biker Gang of Kashipur: Bike trip to Kausani November 14-15, 2015
Breakfast at Kaladhungi
Midway break
The long-planned bike trip started early on Saturday November 14 from Kashipur. There were Rajgopal, Rizwan, Nishant all from PGP 2015 and me; two Bullets and two Pulsars. We started at 7 am from Kashipur and stopped first before Kaladhungi (of Jim Corbett fame) because Nishant's bag slipped and dropped on to the exhaust. The bag was burnt and not salvageable. It involved scraping off toothpaste from the exhaust and redistribution of all items. And then we stopped for tea and breakfast at Kaladhungi. We made good time up the steep rise to Nainital, to Bhawali onwards to Almora. Just before Almora we had another round of tea and then took the road to Kausani. No major incidents except I took a spill- reasons un-fathomed! No harm done except a slightly twisted left knee. We reached Kausani around 3pm. The view of the afternoon sun on the range with Trishul on the left to Nanda Devi, Nanda Ghunti and Nanda Khat was enough to compensate for nearly 8 hours and 240km of driving on mountain roads. By evening the PGP2014 bikers Davinder, Rishank, Amitav and Rinesh joined us. They had started after their weekend class at 1pm.
The vista unfolded next morning from 6am at sunrise. The changing face of the peaks with golden sunlight shining is unforgettable.  Davinder, Rishank, and Rinesh left early to join a special class in the afternoon. Rest of the gang started after breakfast. The return journey was largely uneventful but we decided to take a different route- Kausani, Almora, Bhimtal, Haldwani, Kaladhungi. Relaxed ride,  we took a wrong turn and ended up crossing entire Haldwani and lost an hour. We were back at Kashipur 8pm on Sunday, November 15. Total distance 476km, by my odometer,and riding time 16 hours.

Evening view of the Himalayan range
Midway stop and photo-op


Return trip, stop
Evening stroll Kausani; Nishant, Rizwan and me

L -R: Rajgopal, Rizwan, Nishant, Davinder, me, Rishank & Rinesh

Morning view, Trishul peak on the left

Saturday, October 17, 2015

On the proposed IIM Bill

The bill has gone through an iterative process, which includes assimilating responses over a wide range from 13 stakeholders- the IIMs, through written responses, meetings  over at least two rounds. The bill proposes to bestow the status of 'Institutes of National Importance' on the IIMs, make them more accountable, less under governmental control, with the President of India their titular head as 'Visitor'. 
The vintage of an IIM decides the response. 
There are IIM A/C founded in 1960s, IIMB founded in middle-1970s and ABC together form the global face of IIMs. Let us call them 'Senior Citizen'. They are globally recognised, almost financially independent and receive virtually no funds from MHRD. They do want the degree granting status, which will give their graduates more international acceptance. Currently, the 'post-graduate diploma' is looked at with askance in the developed world, even with the Indira Nooyis on the world stage. They resent the  small clauses which entitles the government (MRHD) some oblique, even tenuous control. 

Then there are the 'Intermediates'- IIM Lucknow (1984), IIM Indore and Kozhikode in middle to late1990s. They have gained acceptance, growing financial strength, faculty strength nearing 100, multiple programmes including outreach, and well, a modicum of respectability. Each has pioneered in a particular area. They still get some funds from MHRD, especially for development but are well on their way to adulthood and independence.

RG-IIM Shillong is an oddity, as it as the RG in front of its name, a necessity in its formation post-haste without much forethought. Shillong is desperate to shed the two letters in front which somehow seem to cast a faint shadow on its parentage!

There are IIMs between 6 and  4 years old-  6 IIMs at Raipur, Ranchi, Rohtak, Trichy, Kashipur and Udaipur. Let us call them Pre-schoolers! They are entirely dependent on MHRD for their survival. They are in different stages of developing their campus (depending upon the cooperation of the state of their location). Their 3-5 batches have graduated, have less than 30 faculty, are able to place nearly all students, do not have a permanent campus. Their fate hangs at a balance; if they do not get adequate and timely funds for their campus project they may become 'also ran' and may wither away. Interestingly, 3 of the pre-schoolers do not or very soon will not have directors!Now for the responses to the proposed bill from these four segments:
All welcome the degree granting status; are a little apprehensive about what it means to have the President as 'Visitor' and whether it is a roundabout means for continuing control of MHRD.
ABC- do not want any clause that requires them to  seek permission from MHRD. Their key demand is autonomy in almost all areas. They want clarity and documented process for areas where IIM needs to consult MHRD. 
Intermediates- L & K do not have directors for more than a year. To what extent their views and with what vehemence  have been put forward, is a matter of enquiry. Indore has more or less echoed the concerns of ABC.
Pre-schoolers are entirely dependent upon MHRD, and hence their concerns about  clauses involving 'going back to MHRD' are duly tempered. They are in no position to seek autonomy.
Newborns have no voice yet. 

Next there are the 'Newborns'- Amritsar, Bodhgaya, Nagpur, Sambalpur,  Sirmour and Vizag. All newborns are struggling to get students, faculty and facilities. Their mentors would push for the next 2-3 years to establish the temporary campus, recruit faculty,facilitate starting the process of new campus building. All do not have directors and are being run by their mentor IIMs. If newborns are funded over the preschoolers, preschoolers will starve. If preschoolers are funded, the newborns will be delayed in their development. MHRD, given limited funds, thus has a Hobson's choice between the preschoolers and the newborns. Perhaps the temporal separation of off-springs applies to humans and institutions  as well! 

Now for the responses to the proposed bill from these four segments:
All welcome the degree granting status; are a little apprehensive about what it means to have the President as 'Visitor' and whether it is a roundabout means for continuing control of MHRD.
ABC- do not want any clause that requires them to  seek permission from MHRD. Their key demand is autonomy in almost all areas. They want clarity and documented process for areas where IIM needs to consult MHRD. 
Intermediates- L & K do not have directors for more than a year. To what extent their views and with what vehemence  have been put forward, is a matter of enquiry. Indore has more or less echoed the concerns of ABC.
Pre-schoolers are entirely dependent upon MHRD, and hence their concerns about  clauses involving 'going back to MHRD' are duly tempered. They are in no position to seek autonomy.
Newborns have no voice yet.

Interesting developments have taken place in the bills torturous journey. After protracted rounds between the chairmen and directors  of 19 IIMs, the bill was sent by MHRD to PMO. Apparently, PMO is in favour of more autonomy to and more women and alumni on IIM boards, autonomy regarding fees and fewer central government nominees on the boards. The file is back with MHRD. The issue between PMO and MHRD being unresolved, the bill was not passed in the Budget Session of Parliament. Hopefully it would be enacted in the next session.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Close encounters with the state bureaucracy

Nearly one year back, the Government of India in its wisdom thought I measured up to the job and offered me to found an institution of national repute, representing one of the most prestigious brands of higher education in the country, in a new state in Northern India. The abbreviated name of the institution is - the perpendicular pronoun twice followed by a consonant.  The locale was rather bucolic and simplest of things took long to be done, because the people were tuned to slower pace, and marched to a slower drummer.  For example, nothing could be procured on a Wednesday. People took their Wednesdays more seriously than the most orthodox Sephardim Jews took their Sabbath. No work, no business meant exactly that, and more! I took it in my stride, more a compulsion than a choice actually. As the first year was drawing near, time came to request a bigwig to grace the first convocation.
I was getting a bit tired of sending innumerable letters, faxes and emails to the entire state bureaucracy seeking support. These letters never, it seemed, reached the addressee. Once a letter written to the highest elected official of the state was discovered by my subordinate lying with a Lower Division Clerk. In an act of desperation, I sought an appointment with the first citizen of India to invite him as the chief guest for the first convocation. Whether it was Lady Luck or the initials of the institute or both- an audience was granted with the first citizen of India.
Being a Mango person, brought up in dingy by-lane in the capital of a backward state, I had not met anyone famous in my fifty nine years, either by chance or through any notable achievement. Entrance to the giant brown stone edifice on Raisina Hill, walking through its awe inspiring corridors and magnificent rooms was a crowning achievement. My hands were trembling when accepting the proffered cup of tea by the impeccably dressed steward. I deliberately refused the steaming spring roll, not sure I’d be able to tackle it with the cutlery with adequate deftness or decorum. Then came the moment of truth- meeting the First Citizen of India, the Commander-in-Chief of Indian Armed Forces!
My knees were beating a staccato beat against each other, like a flamenco dancer’s heels accompanied by castanets. Butterflies in the stomach are a gross understatement, pterodactyls is probably more apt! I folded my hands in a namaskar to which the First Citizen responded and not only that, he stood up and extended his hand to shake hands with a mango person! For the next  twenty eight minutes exactly, the First Citizen read through our institute’s brochure, discussed what problems I faced in running the institute, asked incisive questions about recruiting  of faculty, getting companies to the remote location to recruit our students and many others, including where I had worked before taking over this job. Presto, we had a common bond! His elder son and I had worked for the same large public sector company and I was three years senior to his son. As I had left the industry to take up teaching in another institute, again with two perpendicular pronouns, followed by a different consonant, his son too had left the industry and joined politics.
Two days later, I get a phone call from the largest building in Lutyen’s Delhi informing me that the first citizen had agreed to grace the convocation on a date exactly one month from that day! The dream had come true!
And the nightmare began! Protocol demanded the request again be routed through gubernatorial office and the office of the highest elected of the state, while keeping the district administration in the loop. When this was complied with, the youngish civil servant actually demanded that the process be restarted, with a document prepared afresh according to his guidelines and that was to be sent to the titular head of the state and then on to the First Citizen’s office. The request having gone twice, starting from opposite ends of the chain, I kept on wondering whether these twins ever crossed their path. What came back had no resemblance to either!
Thus, having established that the Honourable Citizen No.1, no longer “His Excellency” by official decree, was indeed visiting this institute in this small town in the boondocks, the next step was to fix the venue. The bureaucracy was bent upon foisting a rundown, decrepit auditorium owned by one state government department, situated a kilometre away from the institute. The expectation was very simple in its essence. “We loan you this auditorium for one day, you pay for the entire renovation which is to be done by a sister organization, at rates fixed by us and you return the auditorium day after the convocation”. Adding insult to injury was the fact that this auditorium had been given to us on paper but never actually handed over. To top it all, the letter regarding use of this grand auditorium came from the concerned Commissioner, one day before the event! He must have commiserated with our problem and then got down to this act of supreme charity. This decrepit building, with a fine albeit crumbling facade, mildewed seats, rotten wooden paneling, a wooden stage that had collapsed and a broken down air-conditioning plant,  was inspected by a host of officials of the state administration, their immediate retinue and innumerable camp followers and pronounced suitable. Immediately, their counterpart in the police cordoned off an area up to forty feet away from the stage, spanning the first eight or so musty rows of seats.
Mystified, I enquired about this cordon. “This is the D!” “What dee?” I asked, totally clueless. He said, “But surely, the security D, as given in THE BLUE BOOK”. And he proceeded to display a brownish, tattered, dog-eared collection of papers, that was not only not blue but also did not resemble any book, at all. They were old pages kept together by the sheer weight of history and must have been formulated around the times of the Anglo-Gurkha War and designed to keep Lord Moira at a safe distance from any belligerent  local with a kukri, visiting his durbar or camp during his disastrous campaigns in this state in circa 1800. This government functionary was a rapt student of apt history. Has it not been said, “Those who do not read history are condemned to repeat it”? And there I was, trying to explain the not so subtle difference between a public meeting and a convocation, to a person who after all, had cleared the highest examination for entry to the bureaucracy and was responsible for a tract of land 3000 square km and roughly the size of the country of Guinea-Bissau, with nearly 1.7 million people in his domain, which was virtually his fiefdom!
The ludicrous proposal of paying rupees fifteen lakhs for one day for a decrepit auditorium, where half the seats were unusable and a quarter was to be cordoned off, was far from appealing. A perky subordinate of mine chirped, “But why are we calling the Citizen No.1 at all- to see this town or our institute? We should just say that space is inadequate and entirely too small for the Citizen No.1 and stick to our guns”. Armed with this brilliant one-liner, I approached the mini-suzerain and blurted out the same. And presto, he agreed!
So it was agreed that the convocation would be held in a field adjoining the institute’s temporary campus.
What took the cake was the issue of rendition of the National Anthem. A choir of children from a local school was requested to sing the National Anthem. During practice, the plenipotentiary from the police again took out his version of the ‘blue book’ and pointed out a relevant passage which talked of the anthem being either sung or played by a band and blah blah. The plenipotentiary pointed out that since the anthem was being ‘sung’, no instruments could be allowed! Flabbergasted and totally at a loss for word by the turn of semantics, I agreed with due deference! However, on the day of the event I managed to smuggle in a harmonium and a pair of tablas.
There were many such close encounters with the state bureaucracy during the one month of preparations for our convocation, and documenting all of them would result in a tome, which was beyond my literary capacity. These encounters left me decidedly older but none the wiser. I often sit down, reflect and ponder on how this great country of ours is moving at all! There must be a Supreme Being, clearly aware of all these machinations, and steering this country forward despite the bureaucracy!

A visit to a faraway shrine

Every religion has its godmen, shrines and places of pilgrimage; why should it be any different for the followers of the Royal Enfield Bullet? Most become followers in their youth, but with passing years, marriage, children and few accidents later, some repent and either convert or are forced to convert. Some succumb to the lure and inert stability of four wheels, while others migrate to lesser motorcycles, and the scum, those destined for motorbikers Hell, Jahannum, Narak -settle for scooters! When questioned, they come up with lame excuses and specious arguments, like “cannot bring home the grocery on the bike!" Or "wife’s sarees get soiled!” Only the honest confess that they do not have it in them anymore! Their mojo has vanished!!
Sorry for the digression, but it is necessary to prove one’s genuineness, authenticity etc, whatever! However, with five score and one year on life’s odometer, three Bullets at different times- the latest being a Classic 350 and at least six other motorcycles of different marques at different times, one is often dismissed as a crank, an outlier, and a reckless and irresponsible person! This, notwithstanding the fact that one has been married to the same person for thirty-two years and counting, acquired the higher academic qualifications, achieved a position in a reputed abode of higher learning and brought up one well-educated daughter in her thirtieth year, married. To put it bluntly, I am an unabashed, die-hard Bullet lover! As one of the many pithy sayings found on the WorldWideWeb, “I would rather be on my bike thinking about God, than in the church thinking about my motorcycle”! Huh! Walt Whitman said it better, about being on the open roads (on a bike- italics mine):
 "I am larger, better than I thought,
  I did not know I held so much goodness."
                        While travelling in Greece and France this June, during free time I would click parked motorbikes. The better half was indeed chuffed at me, neglecting to snap a picture of her against the famous landmarks. While sitting on a bench near Palais Garnier, lo and behold, a new red Enfield Café Racer! An unforgettable sight amongst the BMW, Suzuki, Honda, and some Moto Guzzi and the odd Triumph, and myriads of the mongrel abomination which currently seems to be sweeping Europe- the maxi-scooter! The very sight of the Café Racer evoked a heady mix of pride, nationalism and other indescribable feelings. But alas, no pictures, as I was almost transfixed by the unexpected!       
Every religion has its written dogma and fluid folklore. The folklore about Fritz Egli first came out in one such Indian automotive magazine, with glossy pictures of what he had done to our desi-Bullet, with details of the bumped up power and torque etcetera, somewhere in 1990s. Other than being a super mechanic/designer he also held some motorcycle land speed record.  It only added to the lore and aura. Since then, Fritz Egli’s name would crop up in one magazine or the other. The significant thing was that Bullets tuned by him were a totally different creature, performed admirably, sold for a packet and quite popular in distant Switzerland! So much so, he had a dealership for Royal Enfield Bullets in Switzerland!
                    Life sometimes plays strange tricks, and often restores the faith of the believer. Within a week, I find myself in Geneva at the invitation of UNCTAD. Sense of duty and propriety be hanged, on a dreary afternoon, when experts are grinding away eloquent at how to improve the competitiveness of Basutoland or some such, yours truly slinks away to the nearest train station under Geneva Airport. 
          The kindly lady at the railway booking office listens very attentively, charts my route by train, including changes at Neuchatel and Aarau to a distant small town called Lenzburg and the final bus journey from Lenzburg to Bettwil! The 2nd class ticket one way costs a whopping Euro 84 and I am on my way on a train journey through a picturesque route. Lunch is forgotten and I wait at the Lenzburg bus station gnawing at an apple waiting for Bus 910. An interminable 45 minutes later the bus comes and another 40 minutes or so later I am deposited at Bettwil. It is a tiny village and the road stops there and Haupstrasse is the only street! Finally, I am before the shrine.

An earlier phone call had confirmed that the deity was away in sunny Italy, but the next person Mr Lindeman had given me an open invitation to visit. Soon, I was shaking hands with the head priest of the shrine and a conducted tour ensued. One heady moment after another! A Brough Superior, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. His was a Superior SS100, 1000cc v-twin, famous for its power and handling and demonstrated ability to ride hands-off at 100mph (160kmph)! This was the smaller sibling SS80- 800cc, impressive none the less. There was this handsome Enfield Interceptor, 735 cc, parallel twin and one of the hottest British twins competing with BSA, Triumph and Norton. It had been worked upon- aluminium tank, redesigned swing arms, dry clutch, disc brakes and other bells and whistles! There were the classic Norton Commando- last of the great British twins, with a great fan-following in the States, in avatars from 1970s till present resurrection!  Mr Egli runs the dealership for both Enfield  and Norton in Switzerland. There was a Norton Manx 500cc single, the most definitive of British racing singles. From early 1970s was a beauty, Honda CBX1000, all 6-cylinders gleaming, tuned by Egli.  There were an oddity or two- A Chinese flat-twin, copy of the Russian Ural, which itself was a bad copy of the BMW! There was a Sunbeam, the daddy of shaft drive motorcycles.

There was this Super Bullet 1000 Egli,    complete with dry clutch drive via rubber belt,   Brembo anchors built around the old cast iron engine, custom front shockers from forged aluminium billets, an Egli frame with swing arm made from square tube, short clip on handle bars.with added instrumentation for engine rpm, engine oil pressure and temperature and painstaking attention to details. This bike was probably the Egli interpretation of the original Café Racer, and granddad in spirit for the current!
There were four Moto Guzzi singles, with their sloping cylinder and fire-engine red livery and a rare BSA Rocket 3. Rare because it was one of the few transverse triple made in Britain and although Norton and Truimph have been resurrected in Britain, Royal Enfield in India, but not BSA. The new avatars of the old marques are still producing Triumph Bonnevilles and Norton Commandos. Mr Lindeman fired this one up and the triple has a distinct cadence, so very different from twins and tranverse-fours!
All good things come to an end. So ended my pilgrimage and soon I was on my way back to Geneva. Wish I can go back there once more!