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Archive for May, 2015

Calcutta Diaries…


Calcutta(now known as Kolkata)-the City of Joy is a fabulous city to live in, love at first sight you see. After traveling from Bengaluru, I was there for a mere four days which was not at all enough to see the uniqueness and intricacies of the city-the city with a perfect mixture of modern and heritage buildings,reminiscing about the yesteryear India. But I tried my very best to visit most of the places in my spare time and this blog post is entirely based on my experiences with the city and not influenced by anything else.

Calcutta has always fascinated me since I was a kid because of its rich history(served as the capital of India under the British Raj),sporting culture(Bengalis love their football and cricket),art forms whether its literature or cinema(Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray are in itself an institution) and above all Bengali sweets (Anyone here who don’t like RossoGulla?? Handful isn’t it?). I wanted to visit Calcutta at some point of time and I found the opportunity when one of my Bong friend decided to marry.Also I wanted to know more about the Bengali culture especially their unique style of marriage which is quite different from marriages seen in Southern India.

Before we get the ball rolling with our city tour,let’s start our day with a cup of tea by the road side on a kulhar(earthy mug) and The Telegraph newspaper.

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Our first pit stop would be a visit to Dakshineswar in Barrackpore.

img_9153 img_9148 The Dakshineswar Kali temple was built between 1847 and 1855 by Rani Rashmoni. Along with the Kali temple, we have 12 Shiva temples(lingas) and a RadhaKrishna temple situated along the Vivekananda Sethu(Bridge) on the East bank of Hooghly River.The presiding deity of the temple is Bhavatarini, an aspect of Kali, meaning, ‘She who liberates Her devotees from the ocean of existence’.

img_91681img_9152 Ramakrishna Paramahasamha, the saint of 19th century, regarded as incarnation of God, set his base here in Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna formed a group of spiritual aspirants which later paved the way for the formation of Ramakrishna Mission. Interestingly,before this temple was built, Nawabs of Chitpur used to hunt tigers in Dakshineswar.

Now that we have seen the beautiful Dakshineswar, let’s head to Belur Math on the other side i.e. west banks of Hooghly river. It is the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission founded by his disciple Swami Vivekananda. This site was carefully chosen by Vivekananda on the banks of holy Ganges(Hooghly) such that a clear view of Dakshineswar and Cossipore- the two important places related to Sri Ramakrishna could be seen which add to its sanctity.

Belur Math is known for its splendid architecture and devotees want to develop inner appreciation of thought through this unique and beautiful architecture. On the day of my visit, it was 180th birthday celebration of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahasamha and visitors, devotees,media were sprawling from all corners of the world.

Self note:Visit this place when there is less crowd and more peace.

img_20150301_094709 It seems like I am hungry now, so let’s have an early meal. And here in Calcutta, no meals is complete without fish. So let’s try the Bhetki fish along with some prawns from a Bengali food chain- Bedouin Sher-E-Bengal in Gariahat.

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Now lets stroll to St. Paul’s Cathedral-The Mother Church of the diocese of Calcutta in the church of North India.Let’s gulp some RossoGollas as we get there and a bakery of N C Das- Creator of the iconic Bengali sweetmeat is the place to be. The RossoGolla(highly nutritious,easily digestible and truly a drooling affair) was born in 1868 in a moment of sublime inspiration.Now, the sweetmeat is packaged in a tin and distributed all around the world by his son K C Das.

IMG_20150302_131010 img_20150228_011614 Self note: Get some stock of this sweet rhapsody before leaving to Bengaluru.

St Paul’s Cathedral church and it’s magnificent architecture is a must visit along with Academy of Fine Arts and Nandan-West Bengal Film Centre which is a stone’s throw away from the church. Some of the art installations beside the academy for a exhibition is exemplary.

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Lets now head to Kumortuli to have some dossier of information on artisans of the potters’ colony in North Calcutta. By virtue of their artistic and creative creations their clay idols supplied especially during the Durga Pujo on Dussehra is exported overseas too.

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Their idols are mostly ordered well in advance and their clientele includes Indian communities living in America, Europe and Africa. For a record, this colony supplies idols to around 90 countries worldwide with new countries adding each year.Their creations gives greatest joy to Calcutta(The City of Joy) by transforming crude structure of clay to a beautiful, mesmerizing bedecked Bengali bridesque Goddess Durga. No wonder, this colony is one of the seven wonders of Calcutta.

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img_95271 img_95451 During Pujo, these idols are supplied to countless pandals all over Calcutta. That their creation is going to leave Calcutta in awe and admiration for the entire duration of the festival and even beyond that is of no consequence to them as it is a just a means of survival to these talented and very skilled artisans, most of them creating these idols since a long long time. Needless to say, I was in awe of this place and their great artistic skills.

img_95531img_9525 img_95392 Self note: Pay a visit to Calcutta and this colony during Pujo.

Next stop is Jorasanko Thakur Bari (meaning House of Thakurs(Tagore)) in a place called Jorasanko in North Calcutta. It is the house in which Calcutta’s and India’s pride-Rabindranath Tagore was born and spent most of his childhood. He was the most celebrated poet(Indian National Anthem was his creation along with the national anthem of Bangladesh) and first non European Nobel laureate.

img_94741 img_94781 It was an exhilarating experience to visit this place and to know more about one of India’s jewels who contributed immensely in literature,art,music among other things. His legacy endures in several of his works on display here which is very well maintained and also in Visva Bharati University founded by him in Santiniketan.

IMG_9485 IMG_9466 Self note: A visit to Santiniketan when next time in Bengal.

I am a foodie and I am on a see food diet- I mean see the food and eat without much adieu 😛 A satisfying meal will only do good at this stage. So lets move to Peter Cat restaurant in Park Street where they serve a dish called “Chelo Kababs”- The protected regional product of West Bengal. A dish consisting of mutton kababs-the best kababs I ever had, perfectly cooked egg, juicy and very tasty chicken, butter and aromatic rice. Such a perfect meal. Touché.

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Lets now head to Eden Garden reminiscing about the memorable matches played here in this very ground. Who can forget tat famous victory on this ground during Australian tour of India in 2001. Laxman’s and Dravid’s epic partnership, Harbhajan’s hat rick and moreover India’s unreal comeback into the match and then to wrap up the series in Chennai. Unbelievable to say the least….

img_94521 img_94551 Calcutta has very unique facilities unlike some cities with respect to their public transport- Yellow colored cabs, cycle rickshaw, underground Calcutta metro and most fascinating of them all- Calcutta trams(mini trains on the road along with the other vehicles on the road). Have a look

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Calcutta Metro is the first underground metro rail system system in India operational since 1984. Those Rickshaw walas are one of the most hard working people around toiling hard in the sun for their bread and butter. The Calcutta tram is currently the only operating tram in India and the oldest operating tram in Asia running since 1902.

Let’s stroll now to Princep Ghat and then to ever so magnificent Howrah bridge. This bridge also known as Rabindra Sethu is symbolic to Calcutta and is the busiest cantilever bridge in the world.

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Now we head to The Victoria Memorial, a large marble structure built between 1906 and 1921 dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria. It is now a museum and a major tourist destination by the bank of Hooghly river.

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It’s dinner time to end a fabulous day and what better way to end it by having Hilsa fish-probably the best fish in town. Bengalis love their fish and can swear by fish and I ain’t any different in this matter 😉

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After an excellent city tour which I thoroughly enjoyed, I witnessed an interesting Bengali wedding(my first time).But before we get started to experience its uniqueness, let’s know more about Bengali people and their culture through my retina display 😛

Bengalis are very emotional and passionate people.Given a chance they can lecture or talk continuously for hours together.But they are sweet people owing their love for sweets. I think Mishti (meaning sweetmeat) comes a close second next to their first love which is Fish.A meal without a fish is very rare and incomplete.They can swear by fish literally. Apart from fish,they love their football and off course cricket. Mohan Bagan/East Bengal match at Salt Lake stadium garners as much attention and interest as a World Cup cricket match elsewhere in the world. Cricket in Eden Gardens is as electric and noisy that most parts of Calcutta near the Maidan can feel the atmosphere when a game is on. And Durga Puja in Calcutta is one of biggest festival of India. What Ganesh Chaturti is to Mumbai, Puja is to Calcutta. I was told that Calcutta experience is incomplete without Durga Puja which is reveled and celebrated with as much pomp and glory as one can ever imagine.

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For my friend’s wedding, I lived with his family among his relatives and friends for four days which was an enriching experience. I was welcomed and treated very warmly and the icing on the cake was when I was given Mishti on arrival which bowled me over completely 😉 Since Hindi was the only common language we both knew, that was the mode of speech used for interaction. Bengali’s sound funny when they talk broken Hindi as most of them are not used to speaking Hindi. Also it was difficult for me to get their Bong accent and managed to get what they were saying or at least the context when they used some Hindi/English keywords. When they converse in Hindi, they pronounce some words such that its funny to a non Bengali who knows Hindi. My name being Harsha, over the years I have been called as Harsh, Harshu and off course Harsha but for the first time I was addressed as ‘Horsho’. Yes Horsho-The Bengali version of Harsha 😉 So Harsha becomes Horsho, Vidya becomes Bidya, Gaurav as Gourab and Rituparna becomes RituPorna. They say Jol Khaana(meaning eating water) for drinking water and Cha khabe( meaning eating tea) is what they sound when they ask you for tea. I found it sweet and funny and taught the kids out there multiple times that It’s spelled and hence pronounced as Harsha and not horseshoe amidst lot of laughs 😉

Unlike most of the wedding here in Southern part of India, a Bong wedding usually starts in the evening. On wedding day early morning at around 4.00 hrs the wedding rituals began where the groom and bride in their respective homes were made to have some food after which they were not supposed to eat anything until the next day when all the marriage rituals ended.

On the wedding day before lunch hours,a ritual called as Nanni Mukh took place where the groom remembered his ancestors before tying the knot (later in the evening) followed by haldi where all the women out there put haldi on the grooms face who was made to stand firm on a stone viz the most interesting time to click some candid and funny photos 😉 To wash off, he was poured with a bucket of water and then the groom had to crack open 4 small cups surrounding him made by mud. Once this was done, the haldi used to put on groom was passed on to bride’s place along with her wedding dress and some gifts generally called as shagun where bride is put up with same haldi. Amongst this, Rohu fish was decorated as a bride.

img_9210 img_20150227_113948 img_9240 After lunch it’s generally a break time where most of them overlooked about different arrangements and had a good nap after a satisfying meal. Then in the evening we started to the marriage hall with band baaja and baarat 😉

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The groom was greeted with all the necessary special attention and offered some mishti by bride’s side.During the mahurath, groom was made up to stand firm at a fixed place and the bride was carried to the mandap by her brothers while she covered her face with beetle leaves.The bride was made to take 7 rounds around the groom which signifies 7 vows of marriage and then to remove the covering from her face only when she faced the groom after saath phere amidst lot of cheers and clapping.Then they exchanged garlands 3 times followed by Sindhur Daan viz maang barna.The marriage rituals ended after a yagna(Agni shakshi).

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After having a special meal viz as I said earlier, having quality time with Bengali fish, we had a friendly interaction between both the families which was playing antakshari in this case. We played for over 2 hours such that all the songs were either already sung or we had no new song to sing for a particular word. Led by the groom, we won when the bride’s side was deliberately and repeatedly given a particular word and the game ended when they finally gave up at 4.30 am.Before that we had to negotiate a price with the bride’s friends, for making the couple enter a particular room.They were seven in total for which they demanded 20k and we gave them only 3.5k(500 per head) after making them wait for a long time and hence succumb to pressure and impatience.

The next day it was vidhaai time at bride’s place and a reception on the subsequent day on the groom’s side which panned out nicely.It was a most fruitful and enriching to experience a Bengali wedding as unique as this. Hope you enjoyed it too through this blog post.

Until next time we meet, Be good, Do good and Keep Smiling 🙂

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P.S: Here in this post, Calcutta(old name of the city) is used instead of Kolkata as someone rightly said “Kolkata is a city whereas Calcutta is a emotion”.

P.P.S: On my last day in Calcutta, early morning when I was listening to music in shuffle mode, coincidentally this beautiful song by Hemant Kumar cropped up which sumps up my visit quite brilliantly.

 


Myntra To Go App Only…


Mobile phones which was a luxury then and is a necessity now has created a revolution over the years.One can’t imagine life without a mobile phone as it has become a integral part of one’s identity.In 1990, cell phone subscribers were 12.5 million viz about 0.25% of world’s population then. In 2002, it grew to 1.2 billion(19% of world’s population) and in 2010 it grew leaps and bounds to 4 billion(about 67% of world’s population).With this whopping growth,mobile technology has disrupted every other industry one can ever imagine changing the way people interact and the way they use it’s different services.Interestingly,it’s true potential is yet to be understood.

With mobile revolution,came the internet revolution which is adding around 6 million new entrants every month.The estimated user base was 243 million as of January 2014 with internet usage growth at it’s inflection point.This has led to a boom in e-commerce industry which had a growth of 231% for a span of mere 4 years, estimated to be around 12.6 billion dollars in 2013.

Electronics and Apparels are the biggest categories when one goes for online shopping. In India, Flipkart has always been a industry leader ever since its inception in 2007 especially in electronics segment.

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Image credit: thehindu.com

On the other hand,another Bangalore based company-Myntra.com which also started it’s operations in 2007 provided on demand personalisation of gift items,has evolved into a leading fashion and apparel based e-portal. Flipkart acquiring Myntra(biggest deal in the e-commerce industry) has made it a much bigger entity to take on the likes of Softbank backed SnapDeal which is growing at a alarming rate and Amazon which is the big fish among e-tailers expanding it’s footprints in India.

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Image credit:iamwire.com and financialexpress.com

From 15th May,2015 Myntra announced that it will shut down its website and will operate only through it’s mobile app which is a global ecommerce first. Flipkart, the parent company will also follow the suit in a year or so, given that its much more complex to switch only to mobile apps altogether as it operates in various segments and categories unlike Myntra which caters to mainly fashion. On the other hand, its competitors like Jabong, SnapDeal and Amazon think otherwise and are of the opinion that it is incorrect to force a customer to do only mobile shopping.Even though mobile shopping is growing at an accelerating rate, the choice should lie with the customer. Nevertheless, its a bold move which will have massive implications on how shopping will be done in the future and Flipkart-Myntra want to lead the pack instead of following other retailers even though it may seem as a risky proposition now.However this decision is not taken at a haste and done with lot of pondering and detailed analysis.

Mobile accounts for 70% of Myntra’s revenues, with 9 million active mobile app users. It expects another 5 million mobile app subscribers to join the bandwagon in few months. India, the market which it operates is a mobile first country because of the total time Indians spent on Internet, 90% is through mobile phones. Interestingly, over 50% mobile traffic is coming from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities which has great prospects in near future and will drive their business big time. Myntra plans to hire lot of people especially from Silicon valley to live up to its vision by investing heavily in lot of innovative technologies in providing highly personalized shopping through the device which is very personal to them-their mobile phone.

As Myntra will start their business only through one channel i.e.mobiles,a lot of emphasis will be on the development of the app with never seen before features making it more engaging which will only benefit the customer and make his/her choices much simpler.Content shopping with lot of multimedia that resonates with the customer will drive their business to new levels.With advancement in social media analytics, it will provide you more personalized recommendations based on your choices and liking.You will be greeted by the application with listings only you want to see and eventually shop. Also to engage the customer more and take customer relationship to a whole new level, it may provide personalized discounts and deals more regularly than we see today.

Mukesh Bansal, Myntra CEO feels that smart phones are going to drive online shopping in the future. He says that the company will now put all its efforts to leverage its mobile shopping experience.

“Fashion is a very personal experience. We believe that only mobile can truly deliver this experience as it captures user’s lifestyle and context in manner that no other medium does. Think of all the hardware and software features that one can leverage like camera, contact, location etc. to understand the user’s context and deliver the experience that is deeply personalized,” he said.

Hope Myntra, a Indian brand leads the way spreading (h)App-iness and all the other global big players follow suit as it will be App-etizing to say the least.

P.S: Are you still thinking of downloading the app when u know that it’s gonna be the next big thing in online shopping in India?? I hope, the message is loud and clear.

This post is written for Myntra App Contest,one of the campaigns from BlogMint.

References: Wikipedia


Travel Diaries-Kolhapur


It was Gudi Padwa(Ugadi)-Hindu New Year and I embarked on a journey to Kolhapur in Maharashtra to visit MahaLaxmi Temple on this auspicious day. This photo blog is entirely based on my experiences in Kolhapur.

I was traveling on a Volvo in a overnight journey from Bengaluru to Kolhapur. After a good night sleep and upon nearing Kolhapur early morning, had a Maharastrian break fast in a pit stop after witnessing this beautiful sunrise.

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The Shri Mahalaxmi(AmbaBai) temple, first built in 7th century is one of the Shakti Peethas listed in Hindu Puranas. It is believed that the divine couple of Vishnu and Mahalaxmi reside here.

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The deity of Goddess Mahalaxmi, made of gemstone weighing around 40 kilos is considered to be at least 5000 to 6000 years old.

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Unlike many temples where the idols of God face north or east direction, here the idol faces the west with a small open window open on the western side.Once a year during sunset, sun rays falls on the face of the image through this window. This festival called as KiranUtsav, is believed to be very auspicious and devotees throng the temple in large numbers.

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Rathotsav (annual chariot festival) bearing silver representation of Goddess decorated with flowers is taken out for procession around the city in April celebrated with all the pomp and glory.

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This temple is an exemplary specimen of Vesar style of architecture in Maharashtra. Vesar is a confluence of Nagar and Dravidian style. In this style, temples have a complex with several small shrines around the main shrine.

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Flower market outside the temple is quite a spectacle too. Have a look.

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After the Devi pooja, I headed to some pet-pooja as it was time for lunch. Kolhapur is famous for very aromatic and spicy mutton curry called tambda rassa. However since it was a festival, was prohibited to have non veg food and settled for a very satisfying Maharshtrian meal- baakri(roti) and viangan bharatha(baigan ka bhartha) in Gokul restaurant which serves very good food for vegans.

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After a satisfying meal, it was time to head to Shree Chhatrapati Shahu Museum also called as New Palace museum. Built in 1884, the architecture of the palace is a combination of Jain and Hindu influences and local Rajwada style.

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This museum is dedicated to fine collection of possessions of Chhatrapaties of Kolhapur like costumes, weapons, jewelery,embroidery,games, silver elephant saddles,stuffed tigers, tiger heads, wild boar,black buck etc.The Darbar hall occupies a double height space, while the side halls display lobed arches filled with stained glass illustrating scenes from life of Shivaji.

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After a great showcase of regions history through this museum visit, I headed to city market for some shopping and some temple runs. Kolhapur is famous for hand crafted leather slippers called as Kolhapuris that are locally tanned.

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Then in the pleasant evening, I headed to Rankala Lake  for boating which is serene and picturesque on the western side of Mahalaxmi temple. This wide and spacious lake is so called as at its centre lies the temple of Rankabhairav.

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It also hosts another palace which is inaccessible to common public.

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And then signed off after having a delicious street food- some bhel puri and a fruit salad.

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It was a nice time in Kolhapur. Hope you enjoyed it too. Until next time we meet, Be Good,Do Good And Keep Smiling 🙂