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Our wedding anniversary

It’s hard to believe that twenty-three years have passed already since Jeet and I were married. I remember that day with mixed emotions still, for such a variety of reasons. But our wedding day was far from perfect and I’m the first to admit. There was curfew in the city of Varanasi when Jeet came to marry me. It was what I like to call ‘imperfectly perfect’ because despite the things we didn’t have, the difficulties that we faced, I married the one whom I love the most. He is my best friend.

As I get older, as my priorities shift and as I realise how important the small stuff is, any feelings of inadequacy I’ve ever had of not having a good enough wedding begin to wash away.

My husband is now far away — working in Baghdad while I am in Ranchi. He prefers to stay alone in Baghdad given the security situations there. But the distance hasn’t dented our relations, perhaps it has emboldened our love for each other.

It was very nice of Jeet to send me flowers, gifts and cake.

I was very happy when I opened the door and the delivery man gave e a nice bouquet, cake carrying a nice message from Jeet:

He also tweeted:

Today, as I look behind, I feel that I have everything I need. I feel and am happy. I am beyond blessed. Thanks Jeet for being with me always. I love you dear. A very happy anniversary to us!

IFC issues first Masala Bonds in London

International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank, issued a 10-year, 10 billion Indian rupee bond (equivalent to $163 million) to increase foreign investment in India, mobilizing international capital markets to support infrastructure development in the country. These bonds will be listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). The bonds were issued under IFC’s $2 billion offshore rupee program with a AAA benchmark rating. The bonds yield 6.3%. J.P. Morgan is the sole arranger for the bond.

IFC issued the bonds in London to leverage the city’s standing as a premier financial center. The vast majority of investors are European insurance companies.

The “Masala bonds” mark the first rupee bonds listed on the London Stock Exchange. They are the longest-dated bonds in the offshore rupee markets, building on earlier offshore rupee issuances by IFC at three-, five-, and seven-year maturities. Proceeds from the offering will support a forthcoming infrastructure bond issuance by Axis Bank, which plans to raise Rs. 6,000 crore by March 2015.

Issuances in overseas financial centres such as London give countries like India a chance to tap global investors for funding investment needs. The IFC Masala bonds are a boost for Indian rupee-denominated issuances as listing on LSE will provide visibility, and set a benchmark for yields in future issuances. It could also increase demand for similar products later as liquidity of these bonds goes up. This also shows the confidence of international investors in the Indian economy and its currency.

Rupee-denominated assets have become more attractive after the Indian currency rallied 2.3% in the past year to 61.69 per dollar, the best performance among emerging-market peers. International investors have plowed a record $23 billion into onshore rupee debt so far in 2014, exchange data show. Bond risk for Indian firms fell this year. The average cost of credit-default swaps protecting the debt of eight Indian issuers dropped 128 basis points, or 1.28 percentage point, to 209, according to data provider CMA.

Eurobond is a bond issued in a currency other than the currency of the country or market in which it is issued. Eurobonds are not the same as foreign bonds. An example of a foreign bond is a bond issued by U.S.-based Company XYZ in Australia and denominated in Australian dollars — the home currency of the market in which the bonds are issued.

Foreign bonds have a variety of nicknames: A bond sold by a foreign company in the United States is known as a Yankee bond; a bond sold by a foreign firm in Japan is a Samurai and pound sterling-denominated bonds which are issued by non-British borrowers in the British market are called Bulldog bonds.

IFC has named these ‘Masala’ bonds as ‘masala’ is a globally recognized term that evokes the culture and cuisine of India. This is not the first time that a bond has been named after the food or culture of a country. Chinese bonds, for example, are called Dim Sum bonds, and Japanese ones as Samurai bonds.

Zerde — a Turkish dessert

Today, Ibrahim brought zerde to our office. Zerde is a Turkish dessert, a sort of sweet pudding from rice that is colored yellow with saffron. It is a festive dish popular at wedding, birth celebrations and during the sacred month of Muharram. Zerde differs from rice pudding insofar as it is prepared with water instead of milk.

There’s a rice pudding with a similar name – zarda in South Asia, which is made by boiling rice with orange/yellow food coloring, milk and sugar, and flavoured with cardamoms, raisins, saffron, pistachios or almonds. The name Zarda comes from Persian and Urdu word — ‘zard’ meaning ‘yellow’, hence named since the food coloring added to the rice gives it a yellow color. Zarda is typically served after a meal. In India and Pakistan also, zarda is often served in weddings as dessert.

Thanks Ibrahim, it was nice and sweet.

The tradition of Vedic chanting

The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their religion, the Vedas embody one of the worlds oldest surviving cultural traditions.

The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several pathas, “recitations” or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the Vedic texts (samhitas) as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer (early Iron Age). The tradition of Vedic chanting is on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Vedic heritage embraces a multitude of texts and interpretations collected in four Vedas, commonly referred to as books of knowledge even though they have been transmitted orally. The Rig Veda is an anthology of sacred hymns; the Sama Veda features musical arrangements of hymns from the Rig Veda and other sources; the Yajur Veda abounds in prayers and sacrificial formulae used by priests; and the Atharva Veda includes incantations and spells. The Vedas also offer insight into the history of Hinduism and the early development of several artistic, scientific and philosophical concepts, such as the concept of zero.

Expressed in the Vedic language, which is derived from classical Sanskrit, the verses of the Vedas were traditionally chanted during sacred rituals and recited daily in Vedic communities. The value of this tradition lies not only in the rich content of its oral literature but also in the ingenious techniques employed by the Brahmin priests in preserving the texts intact over thousands of years. To ensure that the sound of each word remains unaltered, practitioners are taught from childhood complex recitation techniques that are based on tonal accents, a unique manner of pronouncing each letter and specific speech combinations. The insistence on preserving pronunciation and accent as accurately as possible is related to the belief that the potency of the mantras lies in their sound when pronounced.

Although the Vedas continue to play an important role in contemporary Indian life, only thirteen of the over one thousand Vedic recitation branches have survived. Moreover, four noted schools in Maharashtra (central India), Kerala and Karnataka (southern India) and Orissa (eastern India) are considered under imminent threat.

Via: UNESCO

Annakoot — Mountain of Food

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 (pronounced as Mutt) 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’s celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor at 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 gathered in the temple, listened to religious discourse given by the swamiji maharaj and sang kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti was performed.

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We all sat on the floor of the temple hall with other devotees in rows and enjoyed the 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 Medical Services, 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. The hotel is now managed by Lalit group.

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 porch or a tent with circular glass cane table and cane chairs complemented with sweet chirping 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 and sour soup as she doesn’t like mushrooms. As the name mushroom cappuccino soup it was served in a cappuccino cup, yah truly in a cappuccino cup with cookie shaped baked breads! The innovative cappuccino was a rich, earthy soup made with mushrooms and served exactly like cappuccino. The froth and color was very much similar to the cappuccino that we generally have at the café. The presentation was awesome. The innovation was really appreciable.

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 dinner was the traditional Bengali dish: ‘posto murgi’, which we ordered in the main course. The concept of posto (poppy seeds) murgi (chicken) was awesome. The idea of posto with some non-vegetarian item is really novel and a peculiarity of Bengali cuisine.

The taste of the “posto murgi” — chicken in poppy-seed paste — was even more delicious than I had expected. 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 — an ancient step-well in Delhi

My dad has come to Delhi for attestation of some documents by Iraqi embassy. So, mom and I also accompanied him to Delhi from Ranchi.

I went with my dad. Mom was resting at the hotel. After depositing the document at Ministry of External Affairs for their attestation before it’s attested by the Iraqi embassy, Dad & 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.

From the core of the well. It’s now closed to avoid accidents. It had water before. My dad also saw water in this Baoli.

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.

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

Bed 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.

India Gate at night

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. We had lovely chicken dishes and then returned to our hotel.

Delhi Jantar Mantar

I have come to Delhi with mon & dad for a couple of days for getting my dad’s graduation degree attested by Iraqi embassy in New Delhi. We are staying at hotel The Park in New Delhi. It’s just opposite to the iconic architectural masterpiece of 18th century – Jantar Mantar.

A lovely view of Jantar Mantar from our hotel room window

Mom and dad were remembering this place as mom used to wait with me in the lawns of Jantar Mantar for dad to come from his office and pick us up for shopping etc in Connaught Place area. I was toddler then. :-)

Dad and I walked across from our hotel to Jantar Mantar.

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 — feeling blessed.

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