Annakoot at Gaudiya Math, Allahabad

Annakoot — Mountain of food — is celebrated in observance of the episode in Sri Krishna’s childhood, in which He gave protection to the cowherd clan of Vrindavan from the wrath of Indra and humbled Indra in that process. The cowherd, their wives, children and cattle jubilantly surrounded Sri Krishna. They were awed by His superhuman accomplishment and celebrated Sri Krishna’s feat with a sumptuous feast. Thus began the tradition of Annakoot.

Gaudiya Math in Allahabad also celebrates Annakoot. Baba — Jaya’s father — planned to visit the temple at the Gaudiya Math with all the family members for the worship on the day of Govardhan Puja. It’s the next day after Diwali. This year, it was celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor to this ashram.

The Annakoot or the Govardhan Puja celebrations take place on the first day of the month of Kartik which is the first month of the Hindu new year — Vikrami Samvat. The Monsoon season has come to an end and new harvest has been brought in from the fields and grains and cereals are plentiful. To thank the Lord for the good year that has just ended, plenty of delicious foods are prepared and offered to the Supreme Lord.

According to legends, Lord Krishna taught people to worship the Supreme Controller of nature, God, specifically Govardhan, as Govardhan is a manifestation of Krishna, and to stop worshiping the God of Rains, Lord Indra. For Annakoot, a mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan mountain said to be lifted by Lord Krishna to save the people from the wrath of Lord Indra, the demigod in charge of rain.

Annakoot

Annakoot

The devotees gather in the temple and sing kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti is performed and then everyone enjoys a special meal which is prepared earlier.

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We all sat on the floor of the temple with other devotees and had Annakoot prasad, and bhog offered to Lord Krishna. We prayed to Lord Krishna and returned home. Baba was very happy that we all family members went to the temple and had the prasad and bhog.

Dining at Alfresco, Kolkata

On 16 October 2014, I came to Kolkata with my parents for my mom’s health check up at Quadra Diagnostics, Hazra Road.

My dad booked at Great Eastern Hotel in Dalhousie for our stay tonight. It’s the oldest five-star hotels in all over Asia and its establishment dates back to 1840s during the East India Company rule in Kolkata. The hotel has been in top charts since then. The location of the hotel is very good as it’s in the heart of the main business district of Kolkata. All the big and reputed companies have their establishment around.

The hotel is quite huge with three separate restaurants. One of them is on the lobby named Alfresco, which is a multi-cuisine restaurant accompanied with a café.

We walked in there for our dinner. Well it is a very beautiful restaurant. As the name literally suggests ‘outdoor’, all the arrangements are like sitting in the outdoor porche or a tent with circular glass cane table and cane chairs complemented with sweet chirpings of birds making you feel sitting at a garden in the open. The ambiance made us feel good. My mom was tired of the journey started feeling refreshed there.

We had a hard time discussing the menu since there were a lot new dishes on the menu card. Finally we settled for ‘mushroom cappuccino’ soup for my dad and me and my mom had ordered for hot n sour soup as she doesn’t like mushrooms. As the name mushroom cappuccino soup it was served in a coffee cup, yah truly in a coffee cup with cookie shaped baked breads! The soup was made up of like a paste of mushroom and served exactly like cappuccino. The froth and color was very much similar to the coffee we generally have at the café. The presentation was awesome. Along with that they served some breads and green salad. Also we ordered for chicken Caesar salad which was equally delicious.

But for us the star meal of the diner was the ‘posto murgi’ which we ordered in the main course. The concept of posto (poppy seeds) murgi (chicken) was awesome. We had before posto with vegetables but posto with some non-vegetarian item was really novel. The taste was even more delicious than I had expected. The innovation was really appreciable. Along with that we had preserved breast chicken which was chef’s special. It was a chicken steak along with steamed omelets.

Lastly we had fresh lime soda (sweetened) before leaving the restaurant. The food was so great that I would say that this place should be visited once again and enjoy the foods here. I’m loving it!!!

Ugrasen ki Baoli, New Delhi

I went to Delhi for attestation of documents by Iraqi embassy. So, Jaya & Babai also accompanied me to Delhi from Ranchi.

After depositing the document at Ministry of External Affairs for their attestation before it’s attested by the Iraqi embassy, Babai & I went for a walk from Patiala House towards Connaught Place. We then walked into the historic Ugrasen ki Baoli.

Ancient Indians used to build water temples as well as earliest forms of step wells and reservoirs.

Ugrasen ki Baoli (a.k.a. Agrasen ki Baoli) is one of such step wells in Delhi.

It is designated a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). It’s a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Baoli or baori is a Hindi word (from Sanskrit vapi, vapika). Water temples and temple step wells were built in ancient India and the earliest forms of step well and reservoir were also built in India in places like Dholavira as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen during the Mahabharat epic era and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen.

The Baoli is a unique blend of architecture with an impressive design known to have existed centuries ago. The red stone walls of the Baoli, dressed with a series of arched structure are grim and desolate, but still beautiful.

The Baoli is made up of a series of superimposed arches supported on piers or columns. It consists of 103 steps made of red stones.

The Baoli had water till recent times, but now it has dried up and one can see the bed of the reservoir, full of bird feathers and droppings.

It is well known for the pigeons and bats residing in the lofty places of the reservoir.

It is a cool and silent place in the heart of the capital. The silence deepens as one moves to the bottom of the stairs, and the gradual increase in the gurgling sound of pigeons, and squeaky chatter of bats echoing off the stone walls makes this place creepy.

The mystic architecture is definitely worth a visit.

After enjoying the magnificent baoli, we walked into Amber Bar in Connaught Place for a couple of glasses of beer.

India Gate, New Delhi

India Gate is the pride of Delhi. An imposing structure, the gate was built in memory to the of the 90,000 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during World War I.

The India Gate is a war memorial located astride the Rajpath. 13,300 servicemen names, including some soldiers and officers from the UK, are inscribed on the gate.

The India Gate, even though a war memorial, evokes the architectural style of the triumphal arch.

In 1971, following the Bangladesh Liberation war, a small simple structure, consisting of a black marble plinth, with reversed rifle, capped by war helmet, bounded by four eternal flames, was built beneath the soaring Memorial Archway. This structure, called Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the Flame of the Immortal Soldier, since 1971 has served as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

During the night, India gate is dazzled by floodlit and the fountains nearby are lit up with colored lights. People throng the lawns around the India Gate in the night.

We went there yesterday to enjoy the splendor of India Gate.

There are many vendors selling tea, ice creams, chanachur etc. We spent sometime there and returned after having dinner at Pindi Restaurant in Pandara Road, New Delhi.

Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

I have come to Delhi with Jaya & Babai for a couple of days for getting my graduation degree attested by Iraqi embassy in New Delhi. We are staying at hotel The Park in New Delhi.

A lovely view of Jantar Mantar from our hotel room window

It’s just opposite to the iconic architectural masterpiece of 18th century – Jantar Mantar.

We today visited the Jantar Mantar site. Jaya & I remembered this place as Jaya used to wait with Babai in the lawns of Jantar Mantar for me to come from office and pick them up for shopping etc in Connaught Place area.

The Jantar Mantar is an equinoctial sundial, consisting of a gigantic triangular gnomon with the hypotenuse parallel to the Earth’s axis. On either side of the gnomon is a quadrant of a circle, parallel to the plane of the equator. The instrument is intended to measure the time of day, correct to half a second and declination of the Sun and the other heavenly bodies.

The jantars have evocative names like, Samrat Yantra, Jai Prakash Yantra, and Mishra Yantra; each of which are used to for various astronomical calculations. The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets.

ASI is carrying out some renovation at the site

Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. This is the most significant, most comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories.

It is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.

The site is one of five built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur as he was given by Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables. The construction was completed in 1724.

The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. Some of these purposes nowadays would be classified as astronomy.

Between 1727 and 1734, Jai Singh II built five similar observatories in west-central India, all known by the name Jantar Mantar.

They are located at Jaipur (Jantar Mantar (Jaipur)), Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi. While the purpose of the Jantar Mantars is astronomy and astrology, they are also a major tourist attraction and a significant monument of the history of astronomy.

Kojagori Lakshmi Puja

People of Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Orissa worship Goddess Laksmi on Kojagori Purnima night — the full moon night in the month of Ashwin of Bengali calendar, just four days after Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera — the last day of the Durga puja in the month of October.

It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, and prosperity, visits every household on this full moon night and blesses them with sheer promise of wealth, fortune and good luck.

It is also a common belief that in order to guide goddess Lakshmi to the households, residents lit up deep, earthen lamps on the terraces or balconies especially to show the path inside the house.

It’s customary at our house to Lakshmi puja every Thursday and also on Kojagori purnima. After several years, all of us are at home on this day. It was nice that we all together performed the puja at our house. Babai drew alpana with rice powder paste, while I made all other arrangements and performed the puja. Jaya cooked the bhog.

Alpana refers to colorful motifs, sacred art or painting done on a horizontal surface on auspicious occasions in Bengal like Puja, wedding or community events. The art typically has some religious significance. This type of art is found on the Indian subcontinent. The word Alpana is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally in Bengal, alpana is strictly white since the liquid paste used for alpana is rice powder mixed in water.

Different items are offered to the goddess like fruits, grains, rice, naivedya prepared from milk products sweetmeats made from coconut and other stuffs. Lamps are lit to ward off evil spirits and devotional songs are sung in praise of Goddess Lakshmi.

After the puja is over, we ate prasad — offerings given to the Goddess. I was reminiscing our earlier days. This puja used to be a grand affair at our house with lots of friends coming to our house celebrate this puja and eat prasad at our house. Jaya & my mother used to prepare prasad and bhog for everyone. This time we didn’t make it a big affair as we are leaving for Delhi tomorrow morning. After puja at our house, we went to Maitraee Club, North Office Para, Doranda for Lakshmi Puja at our club. We had prasad there too. It was a nice evening.

Indian Mars mission — Mangalyaan creates history

India’s maiden mission to Mars — Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the Mangalyaan (it literally means Mars-craft), creates history by successfully entering the orbit of the red planet after a 300-day marathon covering over 670 million km this morning (7:17 am IST). India now joins the elite Martian club that comprises the US, Russia and the European Space Agency.

India becomes the first country to successfully get a spacecraft into the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt. Since 1960, there have been 51 global missions to Mars and the overall success rate stands at 42% — only 21 were successful. Both Russia and the US failed in their maiden attempts. The first Chinese mission to Mars, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched. Earlier in 1998, the Japanese mission to Mars ran out of fuel and was lost.

Mangalyaan is an indigenously made unmanned robotic mission weighing 1,350 kg, including 850 kg of fuel and oxidizer, was launched from the rocket port at Sriharikota on the coast of the Bay of Bengal on 5 November last year. MOM was developed with homegrown technology.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is known for its frugal high technology abilities. At approximately Rs 450 crore or around $75 million, the cost of the mission was just one-ninth of the $670 million NASA spent on its Maven explorer. European space agency’s 2003 Mars express orbiter had cost about $386 million. This works out to less than Rs 7 per km for the Indian journey to Mars. That is cheaper than an auto ride in Delhi, which is Rs 8 per km!

It’s a proud moment for all of us. Heartiest congratulations to ISRO scientists! I salute their tireless efforts, and dedications that made it a success. Jai Hind!

Lunch with colleagues

My colleagues told me in the morning that they are planning for a lunch for the Investment Department and Back Office department. They requested me to join them too. Some of them decided to join with their spouse.

The lunch was planned at Bestoon Samad Restaurant nearby. I agreed to join them. It would be a nice way to meet my colleagues outside the boundaries of the formal atmosphere.

The table was booked by Zaid. Ibrahim volunteered to take us and drop us in his car. I got OK for our visit from security too.

After 3:00 p.m. we went to the restaurant. Although the restaurant is some 15 minute walk from our residence, but the car took a circuitous route due to some traffic restrictions in the neighbourhood. We were around 14 people gathered for the lunch. Zaid, Mustafa and Rana were accompanied by their spouses. Zaid came with his son too. He’s a lovely boy and very cool also. He has no inhibitions. He even came to my lap for quite some time.

Rana’s husband was sitting beside me. We met each other for the first time. Dia — Rana’s husband — is a nice guy. He’s presently doing his doctorate on complexities in architecture.

Our lunch started with soup and salads accompanied by huge Iraqi qubooz. The main course followed after we finished our soup and almost through our salads. I opted for chicken barbecue. We finished our lunch with tea.

After our great get together over lunch, we left for our homes. Ibrahim dropped us at the gate. Thanks guys for making my afternoon with nice company and good food.

India’s oldest and iconic watch company is running out of time

HMT Watches, the iconic brand that evokes nostalgia in most Indians, will be shutting shop soon. It was set up in 1961 in collaboration with Japan’s Citizen Watch. The first batch of HMT watches was released by India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.

HMT used to dominate India’s watch market during the 1970s. Such was once its sway that it even had a waiting period, which could run up to 10 months. It was a prize gift, the sort of thing that parents would promise to give their offspring if they did well in board exams. It’s ad punchline portrayed it as “timekeepers to the nation” and nobody suggested that was hype. In fact, it claims many firsts to its credit — the automatic day-date watch to the first Braille and quartz watches.

My new HMT watch

I was also a proud owner of a HMT watch. I was gifted a HMT watch — Ajeet — before my secondary school examination by my father in 1978. I had that watch with me until I got a job in 1985. I just checked flipcart and found 133 HMT watches are there on their list. I immediately ordered one for me, one of the last HMT watches.

HMT Watches was outperformed by another Indian company — Titan — a Tata group company, when they introduced various models of quartz watches at quite reasonable price in mid-1980s.

The government has decided to wind up the company, a wholly owned subsidiary of HMT Ltd, which has been incurring losses since 2000 and has been unable to generate adequate resources to pay salaries to its employees. A sad reality for not aligning with the change in customer preferences, and unable to sustain the competition.

Dinner at the residence of the Indian Ambassador

Yesterday, while talking over phone Mr. Dharam Veer Singh, HOC, Indian Embassy invited us for dinner. Mr. Singh is a nice, friendly person and I agreed immediately. He again called me in the afternoon to confirm our presence in the evening at the residence. It’s so nice of him. He also informed me that he’s now getting posted at Atlanta in Georgia (USA).

We reached the residence of the ambassador at 7:00 p.m. We had nice chat with Ambassador Ajay Kumar, Mr. Singh and Mr. Ashok Rawat, Consular over scotch whiskey followed a heavy dinner.

There was kaju barfi in dessert! They said that they got the barfi just today. It was fresh indeed. Kaju Barfi is an Indian subcontinent dessert. Kaju literally means Cashew nuts and Barfi is a type of Indian sweet.

We didn’t realize that it was almost 11:00 p.m. We wished them Good night and walked back to our residence.

We hope to see Mr. Singh again before he leaves for Atlanta. I wish him all the best in his new assignment.