Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post 497 : Meeting God in his own country….(Mumbai - Hubli - Kerala - Banglore - Mumbai drive)

Prologue : Vinod Panikar, a colleague & a friend of mine is a complete auto-phile (am not sure such a word exists, but excusey mua my tiny liberties). He has been wanting to do a driveathon ever since he bought a Civic (about 1.5 years ago). Vivek bought into this aspiration in the recent months. We almost drove to Kerala in October 2008 for Santosh Vishwanath’s wedding (another ex-colleague)….but then the plan fizzled away. But this time, it was different.

For starters, we did not have too much of a plan, save one goal – drive to Kerala be back. Some of these wild ideas work best without a plan (aha!! the Joker speaking again) – for if you plan, you end up figuring out enough reasons why “this” is not going to work. So the brief was simple – Mumbai-Kerala and back in 5 days.

Vivek and Vinod were ready and signed up. I was unsure wifey would make it to this (we all knew it was going to be strenuous, and India is most unfriendly(read lack of loos) to the female traveller) – but surprise surprise she signed up, she could not afford to miss not going to Kerala (I am confused with this sentence, 2 negatives and a “miss” – f*** it, all I wanted to say – she had to be part of it…)

We decided to cheat on our bare-bones plan. We decided to leave on 24th evening and gain some extra time at Kerala.

Travelogue : 24th Dec 2008 (Wednesday 5pm) to 28th Dec 2008 (Monday 7pm)
Cast : Wifey, Vivek Menon, Vinod Panikar and me
Cars : We took only Vinod’s car, a black Civic (thank god, some of us still think like Henry Ford – we will buy a car of any color as long as it is black….I find the arguments which people to not buy a black car ridiculous - “it is very beautiful, but very hard to maintain”, “it heats up quite a bit”, “one scratch and it will show” – my response, guys get a reality check – would you not marry a beautiful partner, because she is tough to maintain, or she has a temper, or blemishes show easily – and if you are going to tell me that a car and a partner differ – serves you right – drive the beige car and screw the shrew …..I can’t fight against an empty cranium that serves muddle head arguments.)
More on the car later, just one point, we could not have chosen a more apt vehicle to meet God – the transporter was just as divine.

Odometer for the trip : 2980 kms door to door

Route :
24th - Day 1 --> Pune --> Kolhapur --> Belgaum –> Hubli (approx 550kms) (throughout NH4)
25th - Day2 –> Hubli –> Manglore –> Kasargod (380kms) (though NH17)
26th - Day 3 –>Kasargod—> Kannur –> Calicut—>Trichur (approx 450kms) (through NH17)
27th – Day 4 –>Trichur –> Coimbatore (120 kms) (State highways)
28th – Day 5 –> Coimbatore –> Banglore –> Chitradurga (via State + NH4) (approx 600kms)
29th – Day 6 –>Chitradurga –>Hubli –>Pune –>Mumbai (700kms via NH4)

Point to note about the route :
- We were told to take NH17 and hence we took it during the onward journey. Use that crappy advice only if you plan to make this journey in about 3 days. NH17 is fuck-all, opt for NH4. NH4 is definitely the more longer, but much faster and easier on the car machinery. (We must thank Vinod, he was the first one to see through the NH17 sham).

Stays :
24th – Day 1 – Hotel Hans @ Hubli. Clean good 3 star equivalent. Very close to the highway. Tarrifs about 1800+taxes. A good hotel, decent breakfast, good courteous staff. IMG_0007 IMG_0002

Recommended for a good stay. Overall (based on cost and expectation from the place, 3- meets expectation, 5 –exceeds, 1 – miserable) – this place deserves a 4.
25th – Day 2 – Deira Residency - Kasargod @ Kerala – very cheap and clean hotel. Does basic stuff, but has AC, clean beds, hot water. Cost us about 1300 per room. Definitely not 3 star. Does not have it own restaurant, uses a nearby one. So-so food (though the warmth was great. Overall 3
26th – Day 3 – Dass Continental @ Trichur – Clean good hotel. Almost a 3 star, except for a few finer points like noise insulation and food choices. 2000 per night. Food was so-so. Overall 3
27th – Day 4 – CAG Pride @ Coimbatore – definitely the best hotel in our list. 2800 per night. Stand out 3 star. One of the best hotels in that class I have stayed at. Food was great (both at dinner and breakfast). Extremely courteous staff. Overall 5
28th – Day 5 – Aishwarya Fort House @ Chitradurga, Karnataka. 1250 per night for an AC room. Gigantic rooms, loos and balcony. Very so-so food @ Dinner and outstanding @ breakfast (best one of the trip). Passable but serves an important purpose of halting during the trip. Overall 2

How we met God in his own country:

Day 1
- We left Powai @ 5pm
- Halt after Pune (15kms later) at around 830 @ Joshi Wadawaley (a good homely joint, a favorite of mine, highly recommended) for the night meal.
- Vinod had switched on his Garmin GPS (later referred to as GRAMIN). A text to speech converted to a lady’s voice helped us through the travel (“you will be reaching Puunnn in a 100kms”). I like the technology, is precise and especially useful driving within a “untamed” country like India.
- I drove the CIVIC for the first time. Had I driven this a month ago, I would have bought the civic instead of the CITY. This vehicle is a dream come true. Its ages ahead of the Santro for just 3 times of its price. There is a 10x benefit for a 3x price increase….I fell in love with Vinod’s Civic the minute I hit the road driving. My closest experience to a sports car. I hit speeds of 178 during the trip (on other days during “day driving”)
- We reached Hubli at 1.30am. Driving into the city, we were surprised to still see quite a few people on the streets. Hans is 6kms off the highway. Checked into the hotel at 2am.
- No food except for grilled sandwiches + tea was available. Key point to note, we got sandwiches made in sweet bread – ahem!!
- Closed the day at 630kms

- Breakfast @ Hans – Eggs and Tea Cake (they were very well made and fresh)
- Started driving at 10am
- We had a “oh no” moment, when Vinod was pushed off the shoulder by an oncoming bus (at 120+ that loss of traction was overtly compensation by our skipped hearbeats). My theory – accidents happen – the sign of a good driver – how soon in split seconds do you recover and do the right thing – Vinod scored handsomely on this parameter – he recovered like a rally champion – within a few millisecond we were back on the road – business as usual.
- Lunch @ Pandurang International – So-so food, but crappy service and loads of attitude from the manager. Nothing memorable about the hotel, save the name, almost like Gangubai Hillton Towers….get the drift??
IMG_0013 IMG_0015
- Throughout Kerala/Banglore trucks seem to prefer bumpers made of old tyres. Was a very unique innovative way of dealing with the risk over the highway.DSCN2851
- At 6pm we halted at Sharad International Hotel. Crappy hotel with a menu like a book, but very little but Tea and Onion Bhajis to offer. The menu was hilarious though!!
- By 9pm, wifey needed to have nature’s break – we searched @ Kasargod – no options – finally requested a shady lodge – MM Lodge – had to pay him 40 for using his loos.
- We were 400 away from Trichur at least, I was driving and continued to travel through dense ghats and crossed a police checkpoint. (about 35kms from Kasargod).
- Vinod had some epiphany and asked him road to Trichur (he looked at us incredulously and said) – Trichur, this goes to Manglore (oh fuck!! screwed by an elephantine dick!!)
- We drove back 35kms to Kasargod and decided to hunt for a hotel there (by now it was 11pm).
- We did manage to reach a good hotel called J K Residency, but it had no rooms available.
- Deira Residency seemed the only other liveable option. We crossed our fingers and drove into that place. Rooms were available (Hallelujah!!)
- Food ? “No Saar, kitchen closed”. We persisted and requested and we got 8 rotis, 3 egg curies and 1 ghee (nie) rice. What I liked was the fact they were sweet enough to accommodate the request of 4 lost city dwellers. (Full marks to them on that account).
- Closed the day at 1140kms

Day 3
- Breakfast at the sister restaurant of Diera was Egg Curry + appam + cherupayar (moong).
- We started at 9pm out.
- Good thing we had not stretched the previous night. The roads in Kerala are horrible. The planning is obnoxious. Every 5kms is a town (ON THE NH), every town has a roundabout without directions – you can either rejoin the highway to go back to the previous town, time is not an premium, neither is petrol, nor is the destination important….hail red flags and Lucky Strikes.
- We had lunch @ Fortune @ Kochi. Great clean place, good food, lousy service. Thats again a Kerala thingy – a throbbing 20 table restaurant will have 2 servers who are loaded to death and you are agonised that you have to live through it. Clean Loos. Definitely a recommended halt. 3 star hotel – 4 of us ate complete set meals for 710 ….beauty of coming out Bombay is that the world around seems so cheap and affordable.
- We reached Trichur @ 830pm. Planned to stay at Vishnu Resort Hotels, who offered us awesome rooms (the resort itself is awesome) but only till next morning. We being who we are said “fuck it” and moved onto other options.
- Miss Poornima @ Vishnu Resorts – she is the GM recommended Dass Continental, whereas our friend Santosh Vishwanathan recommend Joy Palace. Poornima veered us away by suggesting that the place had police raids (in retrospect that was the largest pile of bullshit ever heaved on us!!)
- Dass Continental turned out to be crowded decent place (I like Hotels only if they are crowded). I remember on the hour of checkout – a lackey named Arun Nair (Marketing manager) came upto me and spoke in chaste Hindi – hindi in Kerala is rarer than spring water in Sahara. I lapped and drank
Arun – How was your stay?
Me – Good. Decent clean hotel would recommend to others.
Arun – Sir, Joy aur Ashoka Inn bhi clean hai, lekin aapko Dass ke paas hi vapaas aana hai (pause) unke paas Arun Nair nahin hain na….
- On the night of checkin we had nie dosa and cups of tea.
- After dinner we walked to the Trichur Vadakanathan Temple.
- Day ends at 1510kms

Day 4
- Morning we drove to Vinod’s inlaws place (his inlaws are sweet and loving in a very South Indian way…will not forget them and his uncle easily – a nice portly chap who seemed very intelligent – far too intelligent (and worldly wise) to blend into the settings we met him in…
- Awesome Putt-Kadlai for breakfast followed by Yellow coconut water and tender coconut.
- Drove to Guruvayoor temple.


- Had a 1-1 with the lord :-)
- Could not have lunch @ Elite – because we reached at 145pm and they had by then run out of rice. Vinod was disappointed. Supposedly this was the second time this had happened to him.
- We did shopping. Bought chips, sweets
- Vivek bought a brass vessel used to keep rice and make payasam and a vallakh (the lamp)
- I bought a few small brass articles and a wooden wall sculpture. (I truly like to be surrounded by fascinating complex art forms….I think it gives my home character and depth).
- We reached back at Vinod’s place at 4pm
- Ate fresh boiled tapioca garnished with curry leaves and green chilly. It was awesome.
- Reached hotel at 5pm and exited out at 6pm for Coimbatore.
- Reached CAG Pride by 8pm.
- Went into the restaurant at 830. We had chilled beer. Vinod had chicken wings cooked in pepper and he loved it. I had egg biryani (which I could not taste because of a blocked nose), Vinod (again!!) helped me finish it and thought it was brilliant.
- At 1630 kms we ended day 4

Day 5
- We left at 8am (only day we left before 9am – and invariably it was I who with a weak bowel and late bathing kept everyone else waiting).
- Vivek drove onto Salem. The road was not really the best though not as bad as Kerala
- We halted at Salem for lunch @ Apoorva. Only place we had meals on Banana leaf.DSCN2937
- This is at the junction where we start off onto the Banglore Road.
- I took off from Salem and our luck changed ;-) with the roads I mean. We drove straight through to Banglore.
- After Banglore we halted at a deserted Reliance Petrol Pump – Sree Krishna Hotels – which served nothing but tea. – Vinod had a fun conversation with the waiter
Server – Sir, sit.
Vinod – Kya Milega?
Server – Bonda, Onion Bhaji
Vinod – Aur Kya
Server – Gobi Manchurian
Vinod – Aur Kya
Server – Chai
Vinod – Theek hain, baaki logo ko aane do(we were in the loo)
Server – Tum batao na tumko kya chahiye. Baaki log unka choice batayenga.
- We finally had tea and biscuits and left
- Reached ChitraDurga @ 8pm
- Checked into Aishwarya Fort House
- Crowded hotel (I like crowded hotels…I know I am repeating myself)
- Food was crappy. Beer was good and cheap. We paid 75 for a 65 MRP bottle.
- Rooms were gigantic.
- Ended day at 2205kms

Day 6
- Awesome breakfast of fresh IDli, Kesar Bhath and Upma – fresh, piping hot. Great Masala chai, had 4 cups of it.
- Left at 93opm
- Drove straight to Hubli. Halt at Kamat’s for Tea and Clean Loos
- Next halt at Pune Joshi Wadawaley which we reached at 4pm
- Straight home @ 2980kms @ 7pm

Random Musings
- Roads condition – Kerala (Pathetic) – Maharashtra (unbelievably good) – Banglore (good in most bits)
- Small winding roads in Kerala with huge potholes were classified as NH in Kerala
- Gokula Nalanda Restort 60 kms from kannuar and 40kms from kasargod – looked like a very good one...
- Speed-breakers are car scrapers. None of them are designed for a ground clearance of 160mm which is what a city and civic deliver.
- Speed breakers on a highway – absolutely asinine. At one point on Chitradurga 15kms from the main city- we were coasting at 140kms @ 7pm when 3 absolutely back to back rumblers broke our backs (and almost our darling civic’s axle)
- Salem had a huge Shivling Temple with some 100 odd visible Shivlings
- Next to it a huge property being developed by the Vinayaka trust.DSCN1706
- After you exit from Chitradurga towards Hubli, some 50 kms later, a huge Buddha statue.

- If you travel, do it with like minded people. Till now it was always me and my wife. That worked well.
- Vinod and Vivek were perfect buddies through this. Their approach to the drive was exactly like mine. It made the whole journey so much easier for all. (Thank you both buddies).
- Travel in a good car. We drove the CIVIC for 3000kms in 5 days, not a single PSI of pressure leaked of its tyres and we did not re-fill it even once. Awesome car.

Last word:
- I used to bike long distances. After ages, I felt like that again. All my previous car trips now seem like a build up to this one. This one was liberating and almost spiritual. I hope to do many more soon.
- Next stop Leh ?? Anyone

Vivek and Wifey

The Civilised Beast and Me


Bad spellings @ Ghatkopar


A click genius called Vinod…


A beach near Manglore.

DSCN1685 DSCN1686 DSCN1687 DSCN1688 DSCN1689
Bad Spellings @ Sharada International


Sunset on the last day from the car….


wifey and me first day clicked by vivek


I am obese…I eat fast food and drive fast trucks


vinod, vivek and wifey


The name says it all…Sastha Wine Mart


Garmin aka Gramin @ Work


Brilliant snap (by Vivek) of a man who is seeing his entire life (truck) pass by in an instant :-)DSCN2978

Windmills along the way

Post 496 – Ben Stein on Madoff

Read this article in NYTimes….liked the general feel of it. Reproducing it below, so that you dont have to move out of this site. (Original article at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/business/28every.html)


Everybody’s Business

They Told Me That Madoff Never Lost Money


Published: December 26, 2008

ABOUT two years ago, a little delegation from a major investment bank arrived at my home in Beverly Hills. These nice young people were from the bank’s “wealth management division.” I told them straight away that I didn’t have anywhere near enough wealth to make their trip worth their time, but they smilingly insisted that we could help each other.

Philip Anderson

They told me that if I invested a certain sum with them, they would make sure that a large chunk of it was managed by a money manager of stupendous acumen. This genius, so they said, never lost money. He did better in up markets than in down markets, but even in down markets he did well. They said he used a strategy of buying stocks and hedging with options.

I protested that a perfect hedge would not allow making any money, because money made on the one side would be lost on the other. They assured me that this genius had found a way to spot market inefficiencies and, indeed, to make money off a perfect hedge.

I thanked them for their time and promptly looked up Bernard Madoff online. Nothing I saw was even a bit convincing that he had made a breakthrough in financial theory. Besides, this large financial firm was going to charge me roughly 2 percent to put my money with Mr. Madoff’s firm. I could invest my few shekels with Warren Buffett for no management fee at all.

I checked with my investment gurus, Phil DeMuth, Raymond J. Lucia and Kevin Hanley. None of us could see how Mr. Madoff could do what his friends said he could do. I politely passed and went on my way, finding my own inventive ways to lose money on a colossal scale during these last 15 months.

My point is not that I was so smart. I am not and I was not. Mistakes are a big part of my life. My point is that, as humans, we seem unable to learn from our mistakes very well.

I have never heard of an entity that could make money in all kinds of markets consistently, year in and year out. Yet we continue to believe that there will be one. It is, like much else in finance, a myth that will not die. I have never heard of a financial manager who promised to be able to defeat the markets anytime he chose and who, in fact, was able to do so. Even Mr. Buffett says repeatedly that he will have losing years and losing stretches of years. (Wow, is he right this year.)

By the same token, I belong to a number of country and town clubs. In all of my years at them, I have never gotten an investing tip that made money. In fact, as far as I can recall, I have never gotten a tip from any source that made me money, except for my former agent’s wife mentioning Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Buffett’s company, 30 years ago.

The same goes on a much larger scale for the debacle of subprime mortgages. In essence, it is a much larger version of the Drexel Burnham Lambert junk-bond debacle of the 1980s. Back then, investors were charmed by the idea that the lower-ranked the bond, the more money it would make. It seemed like a great idea: there’s this little corner of the market that the big boys turn up their noses at. But in this little corner, huge money is made. It’s almost like the myth that you get great bargains in poor parts of town.

In fact, the Drexel episode should have taught us to be wary, indeed, of poorly rated debt. But it didn’t. The new version of the myth was so alluring that it drew in not just billions of dollars from lenders and mortgage bond buyers, but much more in derivatives linked to the myth.

Then there was the myth of the hedge funds. One great advantage of being 64 is that I can remember the early hedge funds of the 1960s. They, too, were supposed to turn water into wine, but they fell hard in the stock market meltdown that also laid low the Nifty Fifty — another 1960’s idea that 50 carefully selected stocks could long beat the indexes.

I can still recall visiting an early hedge fund pioneer. He had a small stereo playing rock music in his office as he tried to make millions. That’s how cool he was. I don’t know where he is now and I don’t want to know.

AND there are many other myths I could talk about, myths that we believed in and that tricked us and hurt us. But I will tell you about the main myth that’s hurting investors right now. It is well expressed by my hero, Bob Dylan, who warns against being “ nothing more than something they invest in” in the immortal song, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

We are more than our investments. We are more than the year-to-year or day-by-day changes in our net worth. We are what we do for charity. We are how we treat our family and friends. We are how we treat our dogs and cats. We are what we do for our community and our nation. If you had $100 million or $100,000 a year ago and now you have a lot less, you are still the same person. You are not a balance sheet, at least not one denominated in money, as was explained to me recently.

Losing and making money are not moral issues so long as you are being honest. You may have a lot less money as this year ends than you did two years ago. But you are just as good or bad a person as you were then. It is a myth that money determines who you are, and if you have gotten over that myth by now, then 2008 will have been a very good year.

Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. E-mail: ebiz@nytimes.com.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Post 495 : Learning my swansong – 6 (3 ragas down)

Now I can play 3 ragas
1. Darbari Kanhara
2. Yaman
3. Bageshri

In Nov 08, practised for 14 out of a possible 30 days. That makes it 78 out of 115 since 7th Aug 2008.

Post 494 : Weight Watcher 18 (11 is a tacky number)

In the month of Nov 11 out of a possible 30. My dismal record at exercising regularly continues.

Looks like I am not running fast enough and bad health will catch me sooner than later.

Total since 5th Feb 2007 is 320 out of 674, still less than 50% days.

Post 493 : Benchmarking against the market

I said in a previous post that I would like to benchmark against the market. Thats seemingly very difficult to do for want of a model.

I am currently with the set I left it at last month, but percentages have moved.

Plus I have added to the list of stocks I like:

Kamat Hotels
Asian Paints

The only exit from my portfolio has been United Breweries.

Let the game continue….

Post 492 : Passages 43 : Backcover – Fireproof Raj Kamal Jha

I looked at the window again. The words had begun to fade as the room inside must have got colder. All I could see now was E P ME, the E of the ME disappearing, and as I focussed on the remaining letters, there was a blur of a movement inside, I saw a form pass by the window, a hand reach out to wipe the glass clean, draw the curtains close, I saw the lights switch off, turning the window into a rectangle of darkness.

- Backcover of Fireproof by Raj Kamal Jha

Post 491 : “British Pakistani”

While 26/11 the terror attacks happened, I was in London. It was amusing to see the Brit “scumbag” press refer to one of the suspects as a “British Pakistani”.

Now, either a person is a Brit or a Pakistani….I like how the West likes to be politically distanced from anything which can be incriminating….

Post 490 : Movie 21 – The girl in the park

I watched Aliens as a kid and liked Sigourney Weaver quite a bit, and this movie was a watch only because of her.

Very drab movie. Not recommended at all.

The whole story revolves around how a mother who lost her daughter in the park, years ago, is now, years later, adjusting to it, by making herself believe that the daughter will still be found.

I would rate it 3/10. Avoid. Both Kate Bosworth and Ms. Weaver and passable. Give me aliens any day.

sep1007-girl_park kate-b_0


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Post 489 : Movie 20 – Journey to the center of the earth

Complete waste of time. Tacky plot and tacky effects. The book is better. 4/10 – don’t watch.

Final comment - a very mindless venture.


Post 488 : Movie 19 Wall E

This movie is melancholic, and paints a real picture of the world’s future. Very apt theme of craving for mother earth.

What to look out for:

1. Pixar’s story-telling
2. The Characters
3. Background music (this movie has almost no dialogues)
4. The jibes and satire (e.g Buy’n’Large Corporation)
5. Peter Gabriel’s Down to Earth

What not to look out:

1. I thought the movie labors in the middle section, esp. when Walle travels to the space ship.
2. Eva (the love interest) seems confused and ambivalent (she cuts both ways!!)

Will I see this movie again? Maybe not. Will I own the DVD? Maybe not. Will I say “highly recommended” to my friends? Maybe not.

Three “Maybe  nots” make this a 7 star movie (7/10)

wall-e2 wall-e

wall-e3 wall-e_3