Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"How Sweet It Is"

The four words, "How Sweet It Is", was a trademark phrase used by the legendary American actor and comedian, Jackie Gleason.
Promotional photo of a young Jackie Gleason

Through my childhood, I remember Gleason most as Ralph Kramden, the main character in television show called "The Honeymooners". Many of you may remember him also........however, if you are just hearing about him for the first time, please do some research. He had a very illustrious career.

He popularized this phrase so well during his lifetime, that it is still used today as a "Welcome to Brooklyn, New York", the city that Gleason was born in.

Street Signage welcoming drivers into Brooklyn New York

"How Sweet It Is", is also the title to a popular song by James Taylor (1979), that he had done as a cover song to the original version performed by Marvin Gaye, whose version  sold 900,000 copies in 1964.

"How Sweet It Is" - James Taylor

Sorry to disappoint you, but this blog entry is about neither of the above.........this blog is about my recent experience with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice on a roadside near Shirdi, India, the town most noted for the Sai Baba Temple..........oh sweet it is!

Here's the story..........................

My colleagues and I got an early start Sunday a week ago, and began our day by visiting the Sai Baba Temple......followed by a brief return to the hotel for me to grab my camera (as they are not allowed within the Sai Baba grounds), before heading out to visit the other famous temple in the Shirdi area, the Shani Temple at Shignapur.

The journey from Shirdi  to Shignapur is approximately 50 kilometers or so, and as we made the turn off of the busy main highway, it was hard not to notice all of the sugar cane juice "dhabba's" lining both sides of the road.

Sugar cane juice is a very popular beverage throughout India.......vendors can be found year round in just about all parts of the country selling this simple drink....... occasionally in our neighborhood,  one can find vendors squeezing this sweet liquid from the cane using a "hand cranking device" mounted to their mobile cart.

At more established roadside spots in the city, the sugar juice is squeezed into glasses using a motorized version of the hand cranking over sized mechanical device made of of pulley's, gears, belts and a noisy motor, huffing, puffing and chugging along to produce the sweet liquid drop by by glass.

But the juice makers (all farmers I am told) along this stretch of road in rural India had a unique method for producing the sweet beverage.....and one after the other, side by side.....they were competing against each other to sell their product to the thousands of visitors making their way to and from the temple.

Most were located under the shade of massive trees........with scattered plastic chairs for their patrons to relax in and enjoy and swings made of rope and tires for children to entertain themselves.
For those without natural shade, tarps were strung in various ways from tree tops and bamboo stakes........while others had created more formal establishments made of brick, mortar and concrete. But all had one thing in common.......the unusual method used to squeeze the juice from the cane.

Anxious to reach the temple, I did not suggest we stop, but I knew that on the way back, there was not only the promise of a refreshing beverage waiting for me, but also a great opportunity to take some photographs of this unique way of creating the juice and share the experience with all of you!

So what is this unique method I have been not been revealing until now?

Meet Sony..........the bullock who was the key participant in creating sugar cane juice in this part of India. Throughout the day, Sony remains strapped to a hand carved wooden crank that turns two hand carved logs with gears, that squeeze the juice from the cane fed by the "juice man"!

Sony.......up close and personal.......don't pay attention to the didn't make it into the container!

If there is one common thread that connects all of India, it is "ingenuity". I see it everywhere throughout the country, and this is a perfect example that highlights what I see during my travels. This juice cart is a prime example of  my newly coined phrase, "Indiagenuity"!

Sony and his juice making machine

On Sunday......when the farmers are not working their fields along with their bullocks, they have a leisurely day at the roadside, sitting and waiting for passersby to stop, have conversation and perhaps renew an old acquaintance or make new sweet glass of juice at a time.

Raw Cane waiting to be crushed and made into a delicious beverage
 As we drove down the road, I was looking for one of the establishments to make the bold claim  that they were the "original", but I couldn't find one! Undoubtedly, if this discovery was made in the U.S., someone would have surely made such a claim!

Second pass
 While I did not count, I would not be exaggerating if there were at least 50 such places to stop and get juice......I will be making an upcoming trip and I will take a detour to not only count, but to have another glass of this wonderful drink.
The cane gets fed through the machine about 4 times!
With such stiff competition, vendors used creative methods to catch the eyes of passers by......there were the boring traditional methods such as signage and flags that would flutter with the wind, but those more creative decorated their main attraction, the bullock, in some unique way.
The fresh juice being collected in a not so clean container! Who cares about hygienic conditions?
While Sony is surely a handsome specimen, some of the bullocks were decorated with garlands, some had hats,and like Sony, their horns were painted in bright colors; red, blue yellow orange, etc.

Even after a very tiring week in the fields, most bullocks were standing at attention waiting to make their rounds and squeeze some cane, yet others used their time at the juice dhabba to take rest......obviously, who would want to stop at a juice dhabba that had a resting bullock????????

Lazy bullock across the street! No business!

Are you curious about what a glass/cup of this freshly squeezed, marvelous beverage costs? Take a guess....go close your eyes!......oops, that doesn't work because you have to read.

Did you guess 15 rupees? Perhaps not if you were from a big city like Delhi or Mumbai............yes, I was a bargain........and so very yummy!.......and for my readers in the US, it is the equivalent of about $0.30........thirty cents! Actually less at today's conversion rate. So fly on over for a glass!

The "Juice Man"
 I wish I had more time to research.......who started this trend, who designed these juice machines, how long has this tradition been in practice........
I grew up in state which produces 20% of the sugarcane grown in the United States. Louisiana has more that 420,000 acres of land under cultivation that produces 13 million tons of cane with an economic impact to the state of 2.2 billion US dollars. I have driven past miles of sugarcane fields, but back home, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice is not popular.......I'm not sure why because it sure is good!

Doesn't that look yummy? All fresh, no preservatives or artificial coloring!
 However impressive, Louisiana's sugarcane production pales in comparison to India, the worlds second largest producer of sugarcane and recovered sugar!
Notice how the cart is partially buried and weighted with rocks to keep the bullock from overturning it!
I would not mind introducing my fellow Louisiana brethren to this delicious beverage if I could find a way to have one of these juice carts dismantled and shipped back to the US. It sure would be fun and I am sure I could get more than $0.30 cents per glass!


"How Sweet It Is".............

Friday, October 26, 2012

Feeling Like a Celebrity!

Every now and then, something happens in your life that makes you feel special! Don't you agree?

I am sure that all of you reading this blog post have had similar experiences, when someone or some circumstance has made you feel super important!

Well my family and I are far from celebrities........and as a matter of fact, we are very humble people.......just regular people living their lives as normally as we can............just like everyone else.

The other day, I registered my blog on a site called "".......and a few days later i received a nice request from the editor of the site asking if I would be willing to conduct a written interview about our experiences as an "expat" in India.

I agreed and within a few hours were sent a series of questions........sent in my answers along with a few photographs that were requested "voila" article gets published for all to makes you feel kind of special!

Here is the link in case any of you are interested........and for those of you who click on this link, I would greatly appreciate it if you would navigate to my blog on the site and leave a few kind words.

There is an Expat Blogging Contest taking place, and if you have enjoyed what I write and find my blog worthy, I would appreciate a vote for me......and of course any other blog that you may find worthy as well.

Happy reading.......and please leave a comment....or two......or three!

I hope you enjoy.......and please....leave a comment!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Patience? Yes......but I Snapped!

I travel.......alot!.......I travel approximately 25 days per month.......but I'm not complaining.

To say that I thoroughly enjoy my an understatement.......I truly love what I do.

As a result of so much traveling, I have become a bit of an out of a suitcase and navigating security at airports.

Obviously.........I travel internationally as well.........not often, mainly to go home twice yearly to visit family.....and the occasional business trip, but mainly my extensive traveling is done domestically in India.

If there is one thing I have noticed about India and airport security is that they are "consistent"......yes......that was sarcastic!

However, I am not going to divulge any top secret security measures in this blog........I just want to share with you one experience that tested my patience the other day.........a rather long day at that!

Let me preface this again by stating that in the past 4.5 years I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles/kilometers both internationally and domestically. These travels have taken me through some of the toughest airport security systems throughout the world.

I have removed my shoes, my belt, my watch........I have removed all electronic items from my briefcase, I have removed my laptop from its case, and on and on.

I have been "wanded" God knows how many times and I have even been through the "controversial" body scanning units that reveal secrets that may shock "Victoria".

But in all my travels I have never been asked if my camera was "real".......

So after a long day.......and having been asked the question......I SNAPPED....literally!

I just thought I would show you what it looks like when I have reached the end of my patience!

I remain a very patient man......and I was of course very polite during my interaction with him......and I greatly appreciate them screening so thoroughly and keeping me safe in the air.........but yes, I did show him that my camera was real!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Indy" turns 4 years old.......How many years is that in Human Years?

I grew up in the US............not on the metric system like all other parts of the world.

When I moved to India, the ounces I was familiar with were replaced with "ml's", pounds were replaced by "kg's", and dollars were replaced with "Rs.".......

Converting everything from one to the other is something that I had to adjust too........but honestly, I still rely on the familiarity of the weights and measures and currency system I grew up with.

I have gotten quick at calculating in both currencies...............certainly not an expert, but I can navigate back and forth more easily now that when I first moved here............but it all doesn't seem "real".

It's hard to explain............100 Rs. doesn't seem like $2.00 USD...........and 95 kg doesn't seem like 210 lbs.......

So what does all of this have to do with "Indy" our Toyota Innova turning 4 years old?

Going Strong at 100,000 kilometers
  Just the other day, on my way to work, Ramesh, our faithful driver, proudly pointed out that the odometer on the car just turned 100,000 km.

Wow.....a milestone. So I asked him to slow down so that I had time to pull out my camera and take two quick photographs of the display panel.

That quickly led to a discussion.............."how many miles" is 100,000 kilometers?

It made me reminisce about a time when I was growing up and as children we would go around converting dogs ages into Human years.

It has always been commonly believed that each year of a dogs life is equivalent to 7 in human years......but this isn't quite accurate......many factors go into determining a dogs age and it varies by breed.

So Ramesh and I started to try and calculate how many "miles"..........and the banter started back and forth about how many kilometers in a mile.......I was doing division in my head...............back and forth......but I knew one day I would have a little time and I would find out the accurate answer.

For you math whiz have probably already calculated it.......for me, it took several find a converter on the Internet and let it to the calculations for me.

100000km = 62137 miles, 1640 yards, 1 foot, 8 inches

Yes......can you believe it............I was close in my calculations.......I proudly told Ramesh the answer and I was only off by 10 yards.................NOT!

"Indy" has been a great car............for his birthday he got his check up, fresh fluids.......oil and such and he got a new set of brake pads.....his original ones were becoming a little squeaky.

He got an early birthday present around 90,000km.....a new set of tires......

He is getting "old" though.......a warning light has popped up intermittently for the "safety restraint" system......sometimes it is on....sometimes it goes out......we took indi to the shop and the technician stated that there was nothing wrong except they would replace a wire for 15,000 Rs.......thats almost $300 USD.....I told Ramesh........thanks but no thanks!

Check out the "Safety Restraint" light illuminated and almost out of fuel!
 But what I can't believe is that we only put an average of 25,000 kilometers (15534 miles, 460 yards, 1 foot ,11 inches) per year on Indy....... our cars in the US have very high mileage. This is extremely low in comparison.

When we first got Indy, Ramesh and I took him to the pundit who performed a "puja" hardly seems like that was 4 years ago.........if you want to read the blog entry......see the archives for 2008 and the posting was done on November 9th. It was one of my early blog postings and received many page views.

So....for those readers back in the old is your car in Human years.......or how many kilometers does your car have vs. miles...............

Practice those never know, tomorrow you may find yourself on your own adventure someplace in this world!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lungta Flag Shop - and John Keats

Over two years ago during a small break to the city of Mussoorie in the northern part of India, I discovered a Buddhist village on a morning walk.

It was my first time to see prayer flags gently blowing in the wind and the site was one of amazement and beauty. I had written a blog post about the experience in which I described the meaning behind the flags, but often wondered about who and how they were made.

Check out my Blog archive written on October 19, 2009.

Several months ago, on a trip to Gangtok, in far northwest India, the answer to my question was answered.

So I thought I would give you an insiders look to the people behind the scenes.......

Gangtok is a delightful little city that is blessed with clear skies, a rarity in Delhi and in most major cities in India. While walking to my destination, I noticed a sign for the Lungta Flag Shop......with an arrow directing customers to use the stairs to the second floor.
Now keep in mind that Gangtok is in the mountainous region of the lower Himalaya's and most buildings are built on the slope of the mountains, so it was an oddity that while at street level I was actually descending a stairwell to reach the second floor of the building.
The pathway was dark and the surroundings were pitch electricity...and a stark contrast to the brightness of the day. Even after allowing my eyes time to adjust to the darkness..........there was no light in site......and I was forced to use the dim light of my mobile phone to navigate the dark corridor.

Needless to was a bit descending into the underworld......but I was up for the adventure.
I finally found the shop and made my way inside, armed only with English and not able to speak the local language...........but in such situations, a smile  breaks such barriers of communication.

The shop was lights, except from the window at the far end......using the outside light, two ladies sat behind sewing machines that required no electricity and the continued to work throughout my visit.

I have seen such sewing machines in antique shops in the US............long past their prime and cast aside decades earlier after being replaced with more modern machines that required electricity............yet hear in India, machines like these are common and many make their livelihoods pedaling away for hours upon hours.

The shop walls were filled from floor to ceiling with material printed with all colors, and were a stark contrast to the dingy walls behind.

After I took my photographs, I thanked the shopkeeper and her staff and made my way back into the dark hallway and back up to sunshine.

I have to admit, two years ago my imagination ran wild with thoughts of Buddhist monks sitting in a quiet monastery in some remote location hand sewing the flags before they were bestowed upon villagers for hanging in outside locations to put their prayers forward to be carried by the wind.

I found the following quote and I believe that it is quite fitting considering what I have written:

             “My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk”
              ― John Keats