Monday, September 27, 2010

Leaving for Newyork, Washington DC.

Bhanu had planned a long trip between 23rd and 28th June to New York, Washington and Pittsburgh. I was eager to experience the long distance driving on the freeway and was looking forward to visiting places about which I had only heard all these years. Vishwa had booked hotel accommodation everywhere except in New Jersey where we were planning to invade my niece Nanda’s house. My wife was worried as to how she would survive eating in Mc Donalds, Subway, or some such place for nearly six days and was planning to carry as much food stuff as possible for her consumption. Her food habits are very traditional and she knew what was in store for her as she had visited the US before.

We started procuring things and preparing for the trip. During our visit to Costco, the whole sale store, we bought a box of ‘Trail mix’ bars - a mixture of dry fruits, grains and nuts. This had been tasted and approved by my wife, Latha, as ‘edible’ and was included in the list of food stuff to be carried. Eventually she took to it so much that she carried a box of the bars to India on our return. I prepared my own mix using nuts and dry fruits which turned out to be even more popular.

We were scheduled to leave Canton MI on the evening of 23rd June, stopover for the night at a place called Dubois and continue to New jersey the next day. Latha was busy the whole morning, preparing her ‘survival kit’ which contained a sort of Onion curry which ( ‘gojju’ in kannada) could be consumed with Rotis or with cooked rice and which does not need refrigeration. This was to be the backbone of her food kit for the next week. Bhanu had ordered a few dozen rotis which were expected to arrive by evening. Apart from this, Latha prepared a dry mixture of roasted semolina, spices, curry leaves and few other ingredients which I do not know. It produced a filling snack (uppittu) on mixing with water and cooking in a microwave oven, in minutes. Vishwa had ensured that all the hotel rooms that he had booked, contained an attached kitchenette with a fridge and microwave oven. Latha also packed the rice cooker, rice and two tubs of ‘DANNON’ yoghurt (Natural – plain - gelatin free – fat free - almost same as the ‘curd’ we are used to) and was more or less sure that she would return alive after the trip.

Bhanu and Vishwa had to attend the office, come home and pack for the trip. We were ready by the time they arrived from work and I used the available time to clear the minivan of empty water and juice bottles, empty chip pouches, pizza boxes, Dharini’s soccer gloves and socks, Dhruva’s school shoes and base ball, assorted packages of our purchases which had remained in the van, jackets which had been used during the Niagara trip etc etc. We loaded the van with our luggage, found (surprise) that it could still accommodate all of us, got in and were off, only to return once to fetch Dharini’s mobile phone and again to search and collect the charger for the GPS. In spite of all these we were on the freeway by 5PM, only an hour behind schedule.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Meijer is a Michigan based departmental store, rather a ‘hypermarket store’ which means it is a combination of a grocery store and a departmental store. It also has its stores in few other states like Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

I walked slowly around all the sections and it was the same as any other departmental store. The ice cream section had lot many varieties and looked very tempting.

Then I reached the vegetables and fruit section and the pineapple cutting caught my eyes. I had seen these cut pineapples kept for sale in other stores too but had no idea how it was done. I got to see that here. They just chop off the two ends, keep the fruit vertically below this machine and press it. There are two concentric blades. One goes around the core separating it from the rest of the fruit and the other goes in below the rough skin and takes it out in a thick section along with the thorns. The procedure wastes a lot of fruit but takes only seconds to prepare the fruit for sale.

One may say that there is nothing great in cutting a pineapple. True. But I liked the machine. You see, I love pineapple. When they are sweet of course. But to know whether they are sweet or sour, I need to cut them and cutting them is a pain. I manage to remove the skin and cut them to eatable pieces but the thorns remain and removing them individually is a very tiresome task. This machine did the work so easily. If it could be dismantled and carried in a suitcase, may be, I would have made enquiries and purchased one. I am sure it would have been worth it.

I stood watching it for some time and went near the cash counters. I wanted to take a picture of the counters numbering more than thirty but as I directed my camera at them, one of the staff members informed me that I am not allowed to take photographs inside the store. So I slipped the camera into my pocket retaining the pictures already taken and quietly walked out of the store.

Monday, September 20, 2010

IKEA Store

IKEA, according to their website is a furniture store. The store has a wide range of furniture very attractively displayed in their ‘actual use’ positions. The size of the store, display and price attracts people and once you enter you will surely find, if not the furniture, one of the thousands of accessories without which you can’t do and you never come out empty handed. It is a very huge store spread on two floors. The first floor contains more than half a dozen samples each, of fully set kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms.

The furniture, accessories and everything else is attractive but what impressed me was the placement of measuring tapes (made of paper), pencils and notepads everywhere within easy reach.

Whenever we go shopping for a ‘consumer durable’ viz a refriegerator, washing machine, cupboard, bookshelf or some such thing, we visit half a dozen shops, discuss and quarrel about the quality, price and utility of different makes and models, decide about a particular piece and when we are about to finalise the sale, get a doubt whether it will fit in the place meant for it at home or not. We tell the salesman that we need to measure the thing and ask him for a measuring tape. In most of the cases the shop never has a tape. I use my fingers, palm or forearm to measure the thing and make a guess but will always have to make another visit with my measuring tape. So, I was very much impressed with the provision of paper tapes, pencils and note pads all over the furniture section.

The store also has a food division which sells, cookies, chocolates, juices, coffee powder etc etc and a fast food restaurant. I ate a cone of frozen yoghurt which was very smooth and tasted better than any ice cream. And I could eat it without guilt, it being ‘yoghurt’! Unfortunately I never got to go there again and eat another cone. I did eat frozen yoghurt elsewhere but that did not taste as good.

When we set out of the house that evening, we planned to visit IKEA as well as Meijer, a departmental store located close by and after two hours in IKEA we had covered about half of it.

By then it was nearing 9PM and announcements were being made that the store would close at nine and asking patrons to hurry up with their purchases and so we hurried through the remaining part and returned home planning another visit to see the store in detail at leisure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"May I use your pen please?"

“May I use your pen please?” I have come across this request any number of times in the bank, post office and railway reservation counters. Sometimes, even “please” and “May I” are eliminated. Just “Pen” and a finger pointing at the pen in my pocket. As a sort of right. We understand that. I have asked for the pen from strangers too. We don’t think twice before requesting some small favour from others, even absolute strangers.

“Doctor, looks like you are going to the market. Please bring me a kilo of Potatos” My neighbour's wife spots the shopping bag and shouts from their balcony.

I have asked for such favours from my neighbours too.

“Is your next seat vacant? Here, put this there” a stranger hands over his hand kerchief through the window of the bus, while a crowd jostles near the door. Accepted form of reservation. We usually oblige.

“Are you travelling up to Hubli? Please take care of my mother. She is alone” a stranger hands over his old mother’s responsibility to you in the railway station.

“Will you take care of my luggage for a minute? I will be right back" the man runs to buy a cup of coffee with out waiting for your answer. We don’t say no.

“Will you fill this form for me?” an illiterate person hands over the money order form in the post office. He will not even consider the possibility that you may not oblige.

These are accepted as a matter of fact. But this morning’s request by a stranger was quite unusual.

I had gone for a walk as usual. I reached the outskirts of our small city. There was a herd of buffalos in front of me, well spread out and completely occupying the road, moving in their own pace enjoying the morning weather. A man was walking along making odd noises and shouting “hai, hai” trying to keep them to one side of the road. When he shouted, the buffalos obeyed and moved to the edge of the road.

Their destination must have been further ahead at some distance. The man did not intend going with them all the way. He probably had other business. He was expecting them to remember his order, maintain lane discipline and walk to their destination in single file. But as soon as he turned back, the buffalos spread out on the road and he had to come back shouting and force them to a side. This happened a few times. The man could neither walk with them all the way nor just leave them to themselves and go away. At this moment he spotted me.

“You are walking the same way aren’t you? Keep shouting ‘hai, hai’ as you walk and they will remain to a side” he shouted instructions to me, turned and walked away.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Canton Fair

We returned from Colorado on 19th June, Saturday, late at night. We missed the Canton Fair which was scheduled for the week end to be held at Heritage Park, Canton MI. I believe it is held every summer and is an occasion for all the families to have a good time. There will be games, entertainment, food stalls etc etc, usual for any fair/festival. Bhanu wanted us to experience the atmosphere and felt bad that we had to miss it. Hoping that some activities may still be lingering on the next day, it being a Sunday, we headed for the Heritage Park soon after breakfast on 20th morning. The only thing that had lingered on in the vast field was this truck which was last to leave and half loaded.

We took a walk around the park and met these Mallard Ducks which were happy to have their park for themselves once again.

We wanted our pictures taken in front of the pond with the ducks but after the fair they were fed up of human company and wanted to be as far from us as possible.

We returned home for lunch and planned to do some window shopping at IKEA and Meijer in the evening.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

IITs and Medicine

“Recognizing the long standing demand by many IITs and recommendations by various committees, the IIT Council on Friday gave its consent to the institutes to start courses in Medicine”

TOI dated 11.10.10

I can’t understand why IITs need to start medicine courses. They have already been spoilt enough. My respect and regards towards IITs down a few notches.

“However, the health Ministry is NOT in favour of IITs starting medicine courses. Instead it has suggested that they should consider starting Phd programmes involving collaboration between engineering and medical science”

Since when did the ministry turn so sensible? Account of respect and regards towards the ministry opened.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dentist and the Electrician

“Food gets stuck between these teeth doctor. It causes lot of irritation. I sometimes feel little pain.” Mrs. D’silva pointed at her lower grinders.

I examined the area. The space between her grinders contained day before’s chicken fibres, yesterday’s fish bone and today’s dal decorated with bits of coriander and mustard. The gum started bleeding the moment I put my probe there. The teeth looked alright. Probably a periodontal pocket, ‘bad gums’ to put it in simple language. I explained the condition and possible treatment. I suggested some medicines and called her after a week for treatment.

She was back after four days

“I feel little better but these teeth appear to be sensitive. I have a very uncomfortable sensation when I take anything hot or cold.”

I looked around the teeth again. I found a grinder worn out on one side - we call it an ‘abrasion’ - probably due to wrong brushing. Since the hard enamel covering had worn out and the sensitive tooth part was exposed, it might have been bothering her. Along with her pockets this was complicating the matter. I advised her to use a desensitizing paste also and let me know the result.

She returned after another week.

“I am using the paste doctor. Sometimes I feel Ok. But sometimes even tap water causes lot of discomfort and it actually starts paining. I could not sleep last night for a few hours after brushing my teeth”

I told her that I will check the tooth with an X-ray. The X -ray showed a classical cavity on the side of one of her grinders, hidden below the gums and going deep up to the nerves. THAT was the cause of all her troubles.

I almost kicked myself for not looking for a cavity in the first visit itself. That is the first thing I should have checked. The symptoms did suggest a cavity and a bad one at that.

I started the ‘Root canal treatment’ and everything was fine. There were no more complaints.

My water pump stopped working all of a sudden. I called the electrician who fortunately is very prompt and helpful. He came, tested some of the things around the pump and said that the pump needs oiling and servicing as the rotor shaft is not moving freely. “May be the bearings have rusted due to humid weather, sir.” He detached the pump and took it with him. He brought it back after two days, fixed it in place and switched it on. It remained silent.

He opened the cover once again, tested this and that, checked the capacitor with his meter and said “I think the capacitor is gone. We may have to replace the capacitor”. He detached the capacitor, took it with him and bought a new one from the market. (That is the good thing about him. He does things himself. Does not ask me to go and buy things.) He connected the new capacitor and confidently switched the pump on. It refused to run.

“I will have to check the connections.” He opened the junction box and pulled some wires to see which were the ones connecting the pump. As he pulled, about a meter long piece of wire came out of the box with a burnt and cut end. He held it up triumphantly “Look at this sir, this is the trouble. There has been a short and the wire is cut. How can the pump work?” He replaced it with a new wire and the pump started functioning perfectly.

I was about to ask him why the hell did he not check the connections first. Was it not the first thing he should have done?

Just as I opened my mouth I remembered Mrs. D’silva. What would have been my answer had she asked “Doctor, why did you not look for the cavity first. Is it not the most common cause of such trouble in teeth?”

I held back my comments, thanked the electrician, paid him and sent him.

Sometimes it just happens so. Be it a dentist or anyone else.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Last day in Colorado.

19th June 2010, Saturday. Our return flight to Detroit MI from Denver CO was in the evening at 6.30. We planned to spend a morning leisurely and leave for Denver airport in the afternoon by 3.30 PM. We had had a very pleasant stay. After wishing Datta and Rama on the day of their wedding, We had not seen Rama again. Madhur,we had met once when Datta had brought him along to Goa more than ten years back. He was a young boy then. We were almost strangers to both of them and we were not sure if they would be comfortable with us staying with them. My apprehension evaporated the moment I met them. If Datta’s company was cake, the presence of his wife and son was the icing. They saw to it that we felt welcome and comfortable.

On the morning of 19th we just went around Colorado Springs and visited a few parks in the city. One of the parks (I do not remember the name) was a sort of forest within the city and had warnings and instructions displayed at the entrance regarding dealing with ‘urban wild life’.

But the only wild things that were there were the pet dogs, the owners of which, ignored the instructions completely and set them free to run around and jump on strangers much to Datta’s annoyance. They were keen to be our friends but we could not read their mind and were busy attempting to protect ourselves.

Datta’s patience was evaporating fast and we decided to leave before he started jumping on the owners of the dogs that jumped on us. We spent some peaceful time in a much better and pleasant place called the Fox Run Park and returned home for lunch.

Datta dropped us at the airport exactly at five in the evening, accompanied by Rama and Madhur who had come to see us off. After the check in and security clearance we still had about half an hour for boarding and decided to relax in the comfortable lounge in front of the gate 42, our departure gate, with a cup of coffee. After experiencing the Cappuccino, Café latte, Expresso, Caffé mocha, Caffe Americano etc etc, we had found that only Caffe latte came close to the coffee that we were used to but we had not been able to get it hot. They poured cold cream into the cup of hot coffee and it made the coffee just warm when served.

For the first time in the US, I managed to get the right combination of coffee, cream and sugar and got it heated again in the microwave at the ‘Caribou Coffee’ outlet in Denver Airport and we sat in front of gate 42, which was almost empty, awaiting the boarding call, chatting and enjoying our coffee. It was nearing six and our flight was at half past six. I was surprised at the absence of activity near the gate and casually looked at the display board in front of the gate. It read ‘Cinicinnati 20.00’ !

I was confused. Gate 42 should have displayed ‘Detroit 18.30’. The Frontier airline counter in front of the gate was empty. I knew something was amiss, handed my cup to my wife and ran to Gate 44 where there was an airline staffer. I told the lady that my ticket to Detroit showed gate 42 but the gate indicates Cincinnati. She saw the ticket, took out a pen, put a big circle around ‘Gate D 32’ which was prominently mentioned on the ticket and told me that I better hurry. 32 was nearly half a mile away. We dumped the coffee cups containing the right type of coffee into the trash bins and ran to 32. It read, ‘Boston 18.30’!

Luckily the counter was functioning but the lady was busy with another passenger. The two minutes wait felt like an hour. “Detroit?” she checked on her computer. “It is changed to 36”. Fortunately 36 was just about a hundred meters away. After reaching 36 and reading “Detroit 18.30, Boarding,” I relaxed and took a deep breath. I confirmed again that that was the gate and it was the flight we were booked for and we joined the queue. As I looked out of the window next to the gate, I could see one of the pilots wiping the windscreen before taking off.

As the plane began moving I wondered how I got Gate 42 fixed in my mind and what would have been our plight had we missed the flight? I was so sure that I had not felt it necessary to check the departure time and gate on the ticket.

It was sad that we had to discard our coffee but it would have been sadder if he had missed the flight.