Saturday afternoon conversations

It was 4:pm on Saturday when I rode my bike into the quiet verdant premise of The Blue Mountains school to pick Ayaan.

As I parked I saw the familiar figure of BJK Sir. Dressed immaculately as always in a tweed jacket and a flat cap. He was showing the sapling of the magnolia tree to a bearded young man.

I walked across eager to meet him. It had been a while since I had met him. As most school folks would say there is a sense of beingness conversing with wise old BJK Sir.

“Hello there BJK Sir, so good to see you, its been a while”.

“Abhimanyu, so nice to see you. Let me introduce you to Chaithanya my son who is visiting us from Bangalore”, he replied. “I was showing him the Magnolia Tree we planted before Covid. It will take its time to grow though”.

“Yes, unfortunately we are now used to WhatsApp speed”, I remarked in jest.

We chatted about the mountains, the tales which gave names to certain parts of Nilgiris. And some moments we were just quiet. Content in the presence of the moment. 

” Look there, in that tree, do you see it”, BJK Sir was pointing to a spot. Ever alert for small movements or signs of nature.

We saw it. The Nilgiris Flycatcher. 

“In my 5 years this is only my third time I have seen one. And normally the flycatchers are in a pair”, I said.

Sure enough there was the second one. Nibbling together on the spring berries of the tree. It was a moment to savor together. 

The flycatchers triggered something.

“Let me share an anecdote with you, ” said BJK Sir, “In 1975 the country was under emergency. And like many youths I protested against it. Which led to me being on a watchlist and having to report daily to the police station. After a week the friendly Inspector suggested that I stay away from town for a while.

I thought it was a good idea. And decided to stay for a few days near Mysore at a bird sanctuary – Ranganathittu,  armed with a small book written by Dr Salim Ali -India’s famous ornithologist.

Settled into my new abode one afternoon I was sitting by a bench and reading the book quietly. An elderly man was sitting at a slight distance but seemed busy. 

After a while I was eager to make conversation but he looked occupied. I made some movement but nothing happened.

A bit more and I couldn’t hold back, ” Hello I am BJ Krishnan, I have come from Ooty”.

The man turned with a finger on his lip, ” I am Salim Ali, I will speak with you later”.

I was stunned, here I was reading a book by the very person sitting next to me.

Later we conversed and he heard about my reason to come down. He even offered me a place to stay if I needed it. A real down to earth human being without a trace of his fame & reputation.”

Let me share another anecdote with you, continued BJK Sir.

“As a lawyer I had to travel to Gudulur once and I was returning back with Mr Mathews. In those days Rajesh Khanna was ‘the’ superstar of Bollywood. 

There was shooting going on near the 9th mile. It was the movie ‘haathi mera saathi’. Mr Mathews was eager to break the journey midway and catch a chance to see Rajesh Khanna.

I had no choice but to give company. We got down from the bus but as Mr Mathews walked towards the shooting area I paused. I had no interest in cinema and definitely not through the throng of people to see a superstar.

I’ll sit here and wait for you to come back, I told my companion. Mr Mathews continued his journey. It was crowded but he managed to meet a few junior artists and also the heroine. 

Meanwhile as I sat down to read on a stone when a man appeared. 

‘Hello, he said. Hello, I responded. I shared that I was from Ooty. 

My name is Rajesh Khanna, he said. And I realised I would have never recognised him. He said he had finished his shoot since he had some time to spare he had gone for a walk.

We spoke for sometime and he left.

Mr Mathews returned. He seemed disappointed. In Malayalam he told me there was everyone there except Rajesh Khanna.

Well if you had waited with me you would have met him. He was here a while back !

As we laughed at the delectable incidents of life Ayaan appeared. Dressed in his football kit, dusty from his game and carrying knocks on his knees like honor badges.

“Come Dad, let’s go home I have had quite a match”, said the 10 year old.

Yes and I had quite an afternoon too as I bid adieu to BJK Sir and Chaithanya.



Batman climbs Up

A tale from December 2022-

For two days our 8 month old cat Batman hadn’t come back. A day’s truant behaviour was common with her but two days had me a bit worried.

Meanwhile my phone pinged. It was a message from my friend Tarun saying he would be free by 5pm. 

Tarun was participating in the Tour of Nilgiris, an 8 day cycling event covering 800km across three states. The Tour also included the steep Kalhatti climb which in cycling terms is ‘something beyond categorisation’. And Tarun was doing the tour for a third year. Amazing !

So off I went in the evening to pick Tarun for dinner. Back home the fireplace was on, there was music as we chatted and ate simple food which he was craving for. Then we stepped out to drop him back.

At night the woods get quiet. Really quiet. Unless of course there is a storm. In the darkness outside there was a faint unmistakable sound of cat meowing. Calling out. Batman.

We tried but couldn’t trace the origin of Batman’s call. I assumed she must have got stuck inside my neighbours cottage – Amruth Cottage which is perpetually locked. 

Having dropped Tarun I called the manager of Amruth Cottage. He promised to send someone the next day morning to check.

And so the next day we scoured the Amruth property. The calls from Batman were clear but we couldn’t trace her.

Then a penny dropped. Having raised cats way back when I was in college I knew of their propensity to dart up trees. And sometimes get stuck.

So I came back to our house and kept looking to trace which tree she was in. And sure enough there was a little black cat on a high branch of a 70 foot tall tree. 

I figured if she went up she would be able to come down too. But it wasn’t so. The lower base of the tree, about 20 feet was slippery. And Batman wasn’t getting any grip.

Well she must be hungry too I wondered. I decided to ask for help and messaged two people – Nagina who runs the local SPCA chapter (and had helped us get our young pup Chocolate) and Ilona who heads the World Vet Foundation.

They both messaged back that for this height only a ladder would help and such a tall ladder was available with the Fire Brigade. I was stumped. I couldn’t imagine walking into the Fire Station and requesting them to come and haul down an estranged kitten. 

Nagina suggested I could put a tall log and tie fish around it. Maybe the smell of fish and hunger may entice her.

So off I went and bought some fish from the market and then found three large sticks and tied them together. With Shaina’s help we hoisted this long stick and then hoped for the best.

Unfortunately Batman was in no mood to take the bait. The slippery surface scared her.

It was evening again. I went to pick Tarun from his Hotel and on our back I asked have you ever been to a Fire Station? No why he quizzed back. Well here is your chance, I said lets try our luck. 

At the Fire Station I put on my best sorry face and showed the team the clips of Batman stranded up. Fortunately for me they recognised me from earlier visits to seek help to clear the road outside. But this was a unique case for them.

“Wait for today if she doesn’t come down we will come tomorrow morning”, said the supervisor. I felt tremendous gratitude as I imagined the very sight of a large Fire Truck with tall ladders wheeling to get a little kitten down.

Batman did not come down that night nor did she try to get closer to the fish bait at 20 foot height.

Next I called the Fire Station. We are on our way. A large Fire Truck did wheel in with a team of seven members. They studied the scene and got their tallest ladder, a 35 foot piece.

A crew member climbed up along with a bag. I quickly handed him some fish. Then we all watched from below.

The man climbed but Batman got startled. She raced up to the top branches. She wasn’t going to come down.

Then the penny dropped in my head again. I had not factored Batman’s personality. She is timid and fearful by nature. The whole operation seemed flawed. After 30 mins the supervisor said they would have to leave. Afterall an emergency response team would have to be back on station. I thanked them for their efforts. One good thing was that the man left the fish on the branches before coming down.

Sure enough after they left Batman descended halfway down the tree and wolfed down the fish. 

Well at least a partial problem was solved. She was fed. But I was at my wits end of how to help her down. Heck even the Fire Brigade had failed.

The next morning I had an idea. If Batman was reluctant to come down the perpendicular tree bark then I could make a tall wooden bridge and hoist it at 60% angle. But I needed help.

Abu Wakad 

I drove down Deer Park Road to the first residence which is located inside the kabristan (cemetery) to find Abu Wakad the Undertaker.

A short built man with his trademark faded brown jacket and a cap to cover his ears and his beard. I shared the problem with Abu and my plan and asked would he help?

Of course he replied. And he came home to inspect the scene. He went back and got his chopper and ropes. He selected a small young eucalyptus tree 25 feet and bought it in a minute. It felt awful to see a tree hacked but there was no option. Aah Batman I wondered.

I tied the remaining fish on the log and we both tried to hoist our wooden bridge. Abu is strong but I realised I had my limitations. I couldn’t take the load on my shoulders.

I told Abu I’ll ask for help and went out of the house. My luck was changing rapidly, for the better. There is road work happening outside but being a Sunday there wasn’t anyone. Except for two men. Luck.

I began the conversation in my trademark style. 

“Hindi English? “

“No Tamil.”

“Few minutes please come” I communicated desperately and pointed towards my house.

Somehow it worked. They dropped their tools and followed me.

“Abu now we can hoist it”, I declared with the two men walking behind.

And sure enough in a few minutes the bridge was up and placed on a high branch of the tree. Batman now had another route to come down and this new route was filled with fish.

The two men left and I thanked Abu profusely. He grinned back in his usual fashion.

Well that’s that. Now she has to smell the fish and then attempt this route. 

It was afternoon and I went back. I needed a nap. 

And sure enough in the evening hungry Batman was attempting to navigate the bridge and wolfing the fish enroute. An hour later she mustered her courage and came down the full 25 feet. Thus ending my saga of – Batman climbs Up.

Back in the kitchen Batman was eating happily from her bowl. I informed Sim and Ayaan in Mumbai and there was a sigh of relief.

When the penny dropped a third time. Why did she climb up ?

That’s when I looked at Buddy and Chocolate sternly. 

“Did you two rascals scare the poor kitten?”

They both had the most benign look in their eyes and wagged their tails in innocence. For sure I wasn’t getting any answers here. 

++++++++ scroll below for previous tales.

Haggle in an Old World

About twenty years back I had picked an antique wall clock in the outskirts of Chennai. One of those in old clocks that have a special key to wind each week.

And about a year back it had stopped working. I inquired about possible places to show in our hill town and I was pointed to a small shop on the Lower Bazaar Road.

It was indeed a small shop with a few old wooden furniture and a short bald old man in residence. He took my old clock in his hand.

A few minutes of inspection and he said yes it could be repaired but would need a week as it required some work and he wanted to test it for a few days. He seemed happy to hold the clock. It seemed he wanted to keep it just to chat. It felt like that. 🙂

And a week later he smilingly handed me my old clock in perfect working order.

At home I also have two fake antique wall clocks aptly purchased from Chor Bazaar (thieves market), Mumbai. These run on simple batteries.

One of them stopped working recently and despite changing batteries wasn’t ticking. Which warranted a trip back to the old man.

I drove slowly on the Lower Bazaar Road and missed his shop. Surprised, I turned back and drove even slower and then found it. It is that small and nondescript. 

My little Nano parked, I walked up to the old man. He smiled and seemed to remember me.

I handed him the fake antique clock and he raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, a battery operated clock”, he seemed a bit disappointed.

 I offered my best sheepish grin. He had already flipped the clock, checked the battery and the small circuit machine running it.

Battery is ok, the machine needs to be replaced.

“Oh ok, how much will it be? ” I asked. It’s that moment in any transaction when you are expecting some big amount heading to you. Breath paused.

” Rs 150/”, said the old man.

Really that’s all. I was expecting a blow and it wasn’t even a whiff. 

“You come tomorrow morning, i’ll give it to you”, he continued.

I was a bit surprised. He had a replacement machine and it would take him maybe 10-12 minutes. Why tomorrow I asked?

“I want to keep it overnight and make sure it’s working smoothly”, he concluded.

Wow. I felt so grateful, obliged.

Next morning I was back there parked and ready to pick my clock.

“It’s working fine” and he handed me the clock. 

“Thank you and here is Rs 150/-“, offering two currency notes.

“No, it’s Rs 120/-“, he seemed to correct.

“But yesterday you said Rs 150/- “, I protested

“No, it is Rs 120/- only”, he said with a smile and a soft firmness.

It was a strange transaction. I felt defeated but then I used the last weapon a customer always carries. Tip.

“Sir, please keep it, I request you” and walked away from a smiling old man.

As I sat in the car I realised this tends to happen often in this town. When I buy fruits from Abu the conversation typically goes like this.

“Hi Abu, 12 bananas, 6 apples, 4 pomegranates, a box of Kiwi and 6 oranges”.

“Here you go, Rs 330/-“, handing over the bag.

“Abu, come on. You have given me so many fruits. Are you calculating correctly? ” I would protest

“What happened Sir, it is correct “

“It is quite less, you please keep Rs 500”. What a weird moment I always wonder. 

And then we haggle over how much extra he is willing to accept from me.

Having lived in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Vizag, Chandigarh I am programmed to haggle with the fruit and vegetable sellers – to reduce the price

But this haggling, it never ceases to amaze each time.


The car goes Boom !

I’m headed to school in the afternoon to pick Ayaan in my trusted Nano. The car seems to wobble a bit and my first thought is to check for a flat tyre.

Nopes no flat but the little car feels different and if its not the tyre could it be something more serious like wheel alignment or something I wonder. Later when I am back home I decide maybe I should send the car for a checkup. Maybe its time to call Mr Mubarak, Tata Motors, Mettupalayam branch at the foothills of Nilgiris. (Small Town Big Heart:: Jan 2022 Blog)

Sure, no worries someone will call you and then come and check the car, Mubarak responds to my message. But a thought occurs that maybe I should just get the tyres checked again. So I drive to the Lower Bazaar Road and pull up at the pavement of – Xavier Tyre Repair. 

‘Jones, hi .. please check if my tyres are ok’, I ask my friend.

Jones speaks only Malyalam so our actual conversation is always arbit with lots of nodding on both sides.

But we have a story to narrate so I shall put words for the reader.

‘Sir one of your rear tyre is worn out, it needs to be replaced,” he said then walked to check the front tyre, ‘Oh, one of the front tyre is worn out fully. You will have to replace two tyres now”. 

I knew the Nano was taking quite a beating on the hilly roads and given that the roads keep breaking down due to rains.

So I promptly called Mubarak and shared Jones’s assessment. He agreed that should solve this issue of the wobbling car.

“But then order new tyres for both front wheels,” he suggested. Its better.

Righto ! So right then I placed the order for not one but three new tyres.

I thought with this the car wobbling chapter could end soon. I was feeling pleased with how things were quickly sorting

Saturday morning I got a message from Manoj, a colleague of Mubarak. Three Bridgestone tyres were procured. Should he send them through a courier to Ooty or he could send them via the government bus which ferries daily.

The Government bus sound good I texted back. A few hours will make no difference and I found the idea cute. My three new tyres travelling with the local passengers.

Well this was going smoothly I felt. The goods should be in town by lunch maybe I’ll grab a bite at a cafe. As I headed out on the woody Deer Park Road there was a song on my lips. The wobbly car wasn’t bothering me anymore.

A few bends on the road and I saw a Bullet motorcycle parked and a man in big boots, jacket and massive camera lens taking pictures of the lake.

I braked, ‘Hey can I suggest you some nesting sights?’, I asked. He smiled back. ‘Sure’. 

“A few bends ahead look for a non descript green gate on your right. Behind that you will find the Cormorant nests”, I suggested.

And then I was back on the road. This is the weather to have soup at Sugar Dribble. I drove through the Lower Bazaar Road and waved at Jones as I passed him.

Boom !

It was a jolt and it felt like one. I braked and got down to check. To my horror I saw that the already worn-out rear tyre was now flat.

I reversed a bit to Jones. ‘ Ive got a puncture can you fix it?’, I asked 

He had one look. “Its not a puncture, its gone”. 

Gone ? As in beyond repair?


While growing up as a school kid I would love to mingle with the Army soldiers from my Father’s Battalion. The highlight included sitting next to the driver in all assortment of vehicles. Jeeps, Jonga, Trucks, OneTons, Light Tanks and even the occasional official cars back then.

The army drivers had told me that all vehicles are classified 1-5. With 1 being newly minted wheels straight out of factory, pish posh no creaks, fresh paint and 5 category being which have been used beyond hope. 

What happens after category 5 I had asked? 

Oh we call that Kandam (finito). And somehow that pharse had stuck with me somewhere.

Today I was staring at a Kandam wheel. Wow.

Ok lets put the spare wheel then I thought. Jones opened the hood and stared. “Sir, your spare is also worn out. Its gone”.

I was taken aback. Really? For the first in my life and I have not one but two ‘kandam’ tyres and I had no clue. What a genius.

And of course now my car wouldn’t move on three wheels so it felt like I was actually stranded. The hot soup of Sugar Dribble seemed like a moonshot away. Atleast till the three new wheels reached Ooty.

“I have a spare wheel I can give you for now,” offered Jones. I was stunned. “Really, thank you Jones”. So he went to his storage room to pull it out. And I found a place to sit by the pavement.

Then a small van pulled up and two young guys jumped out. They began chatting with Jones. I couldn’t follow. Like a normal human I went back to checking my phone, scrolling inane world news. 

Then I noticed they were picking some of the tyres and flinging them into the van. The penny dropped. Oh the tyre recycling process. Hmm but wait the next tyre flying from the young man’s hand into the van was once mine. Hell a  few minutes back it was the rear wheel and now it was off to be made into something else. That felt weird. Then the van was soon off with my donation. 

Finally with the replacement tyre gifted by Jones my Nano was ready to move. Straight to the Soup Station.

As I was waiting for my order I saw my phone was ringing, it was Manoj. Aah maybe the bus has reached. Maybe I wont be able to finish my soup.

“Hi Manoj, I’m here at Charring cross has the bus reached?”, I asked.

“No, he said gloomily, ” there is a slight problem. The bus has had a flat tyre and it is stranded in the hills somewhere. A recovery bus is headed to pick the passengers and the goods”.

I was stunned. What. Come again, did you say that massive bus had a flat tyre. Really?

“Yes. But im sure the tyres will reach later today, I’ll keep you posted.” Manoj informed.

Well maybe God wondered which human being should I have some fun with today and perhaps it was one bloke in Ooty who popped up in the daily list. 

Soup done, bill cleared me and the Nano aided with Jones’s tyre made our way back home. I had barely parked when I got a call. It was Mubarak. 

” Hello Sir, I had driven to Wellington to give a test drive to one Officer here. I heard about the bus breakdown and your tyre”, he said. “The bus is stalled somewhere close to Wellington. Ill finish the test drive and pick the tyres and then come up to Ooty. Hope that’s ok”, he concluded.

“Wow. You are amazing Mubarak. How can I thank you?” I was speechless

“Oh, its nothing. Its lucky that I am here today so I can be of help”.

And so an hour later I met Mubarak and picked the three new wheels and thanked him profusely. He didn’t think much of it and funnily was apologetic for the bus breaking down. 

Some human conversations are just pure heart.

New wheels procured I went straight to Jones. To return his gift and refit my new tyres. 

Jones is super quick to change tyres. It was 4:15pm when I had reached him. I thought at most it would take him in 5-10 minutes to complete all the tyre change.

He took an hour. A complete hour. I saw what he was doing. He took off the rubber of one tyre and then scraped steel rim clean meticulously. Then fixed the rubber back on. Thrice. In all my years of owning cars I dont think I ever had the rims cleaned. It never occured to me as something that is done.

It was a strange moment. Im prone to napping every Sat Sun afternoon. It is something I really look forward to. And on a crazy Saturday like this late afternoon, by a bustling Lower Bazaar Road traffic whizzing by I noticed I wasn’t feeling irritable at this unexpected wait. 

Why, I wondered?

Then I saw it clearly. The evening sun was getting reading to melt for the day. The view of the skies was fantastic. And the gentle cool mountain breeze was flowing and kissing my cheeks. No wonder my heart was purring in some natural peace. 

When the work was done I paid Jones as handsomely as I could. But as I finally wheeled away I couldn’t help but think about two more ‘kandam’ tyres I was leaving behind for the two young guys and their van.


At the Governmet Hospital

“I have a small lump in my back, I think its serious”, declared Suresh at home post lunch. I realised his mind had raced ahead and he had already made plans to return to his village and take an extended break.

This lead to a series of quick conferences at home. The first being to check the gravity of the problem ie the small lump in the back. There are but a few small private hospitals in Ooty with the large specialised ones being below the mountains in Coimbatore.

“Why dont you take him to the Goverment Hospital, if anything we can get a first opinion?” suggested Sim.

Well in my entire life I had been to a Government Hospital just twice which was to take the two Covid jabs. It was a place I had never thought of visiting for a treatment. But I could see the merit in our current circumstances, maybe to just get an opinion.

So Suresh and I drove off to the Ooty Government Hospital. The layout is a series of old barracks laid over multiple tiers on a hill slope. Having parked and entered the premise we set about to locate the Doctor in the Out Patient section.  But we started with our biggest handicap. Language. 

The process we learnt starts with collecting a token and then waiting to meet the Doctor. Having collected a token Suresh joined a typically long queue and an hour later his turn came. We entered the small room and the Doctor had one look at him and she said, “Oh this is a case to be seen by the Surgeon, you should move to another section’.

Which promptly meant joining another queue, the Surgeon’s queue. 

Normally I think I am quite impatient and with a start like this my lifelong apprehensions of entering a Government Hospital or Government anything were coming true.

But strange things were happening. The weather was perfect. The Sun just crisp and a light mountain breeze was flowing. The waiting seemed harmless and the mind quietened under Nature’s embrace.

A while and we were next. The Surgeon had a look at Suresh’s back. 

‘Its a lesion but its nothing to worry about. You can let it be or if you want a small surgery can help remove it. You decide ‘, he said.

I looked at Suresh.

‘ I’d prefer if it is removed ‘, he declared.

“Well then, the Surgeon continued, “get these two reports- a blood test and one for the tissues. Submit them on Tuesday and enter Suresh’s name for surgery. I do surgeries on Wednesday and Friday only”, he concluded his report.

There was something certain in the Surgeon’s demeanor which gave me confidence in his assessment. Yes, it would be a quick day surgery, no admission required.

My mind though had jumped and was racing on the logistics. Especially the thought of waiting in two more queue for giving samples for the two prescribed reports.

“Ok Sir, we shall do what you suggest. But err.. can we collect sample from a private hospital/ clinic and submit?,” I prodded.

He looked up, “Why do you want to waste money, its free here!”, he chided.

Right then and off we went. The blood test room was next door but for the path lab we had to climb a steep slope. I was breathless. I wonder how many calories I was burning now. Perhaps there is something positive in everything I wondered.

Finally with the samples given we were done for the day. Having started with the intention of getting an opinion we were looking at a host of activities ahead. Collect reports, pre surgery consultation, surgery, post surgery and also to request Shaina to come for extra hours to help at home.

My simple mountain life was looking complex in the coming week. The first thing ofcourse to do at home was to have chai, strong adrak chai. 

Settled after the soothing effects of a chai in the terrace with the Sun shining sweetly. I reasoned the way ahead was one step at a time. 

Perhaps this how Dad would have tucked in on 2nd December 1971 before his Maratha Light Infantry men would make the charge at the village of Bejai, Bangladesh the next day. 

Back to present times and two day’s later I collected the reports and we went to enter Suresh’s name for the Surgery. It was afternoon and the Doctor in attendance had a look at the two reports and said, ‘You need to collect two more reports and then come for surgery tomorrow morning. The Surgeon will be there”.

“Wait,’ I was in a tizzy, “where will I get these two reports right now? The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow right? “.

” Go to the Path lab they will guide you “. said the Doctor in attendance. “Also one person from your side has to be in attendance while the surgery takes place”.

So off we raced up the slopes. It was 3:45 pm and I knew the labs close at 4pm. 

We reached, “Aah yes,’ said the assistant,” we dont have the kit for one of these tests. Ill write it down and it won’t be problem. And for the second one you need an attestation from the Blood test centre “.

“Isnt that down, I asked, “from where we came just came?” 

” Yes, ” she nodded helpfully, “the person will be there for another 15 minutes, they close at 4:30pm”.

So we raced back downhill. I could feel my calves asking if I was restarting marathon training ? No, this is just temporary I replied. I hoped.

And lo. The man was walking out having closed the blood test centre when we caught up with him in the stairs. I handed him the papers and he had a look.

” The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow” , I said taking a deep breath.

” All right”, and he saw the blood test report and attested with his signature.

So ended our pre surgery phase. 

The next day I dropped Suresh and Shaina at the operation theater. The Surgeon had said earlier that Suresh being a low critical case would have to wait his turn.

With Ayaan having half day as his term assessments were on,  I went to school to pick him. While waiting for Ayaan I got a call from Shaina – Suresh was wheeled in.

Ayaan came out hungry and tired. Let’s go for lunch he announced. Shinkows.

Lets go via the Hospital I suggested. All right, but dont take long.

As I parked and went up Suresh had come out. The Surgeon explained the procedure, gave a list of medicines and suggested to come next week to remove the stitches.

As Suresh walked back down to the car I saw Ayaan.

“I know you are very tired and hungry, but can we drop Suresh home?”.

He had one look at Suresh and nodded, “Yes Dad, let us”.

Later as we pigged over the delicious Chinese lunch at Shinkows I called and updated Sim. I realised it couldn’t have gone better. Shaina was home making hot simple food for Suresh. His treatment had gone smoothly, he seemed relieved. And the Government Hospital had billed us princely sum of Zero rupees. The consultation, the reports, medicines, surgery, everything everything included. 

Yes Calories burnt were an extra bonus of course.


What to do in Ooty?

Nov 2022:

I’m visiting the hills, please let me know XYZ and ABC?

Often these words come in a message and then I draft a response for that moment. Today on a lazy Sunday I thought let me put in some effort 🙂

So here goes a list of places to eat and shop in Ooty and around. These are purely my experiences from the last 4.5 years here.


Places to eat :: Ooty::

Quick Bites: (not in any order of ranking)

– Darjeeling Momo’s, Charing Cross

Run by a sweet Sikkimese family. The locals believe the Momos here are the best in the world. I’m not debating. On a cold day you find most of them here.. including me. Happy.

– Buddy’s Cafe, next to Modern Store & Opp Kailash Parvat

If you like Tea and say about 80-90 varieties and want to spend a bit of time just slowing down. This is a great place. Old memories is my favourite Tea, it contains Australian berries and African hibiscus. Aah it smells divine. Often there are simple tea cakes popping out over their ovens.

– Prabha Sweets, Commercial Road, next to Domino’s

Every evening at 4pm the massive kadai is getting ready to prepare the Samosa. Prashant-ji also makes two types of chutneys – sweet and spicy. You stand at the counter, order, eat and ❤️.

– Willy’s Coffee Pub, Off Commercial Road 

Probably the best sandwiches in town and a good-good filter coffee. Though lately I’ve been selecting the Ginger Lemon & Honey Tea. Affable Kumar Sir also stocks a vast range of books. So if you want to chill for a bit this is a good place. Also this cute Cafe is connected to the Oscar award winner – Elephant Whisperers. Kartiki Gonsalves mum had started Willy’s.

– Moddy’s Modern Store, Botanical Garden Road 

Somedays post shopping I stop by at Moddys for their Hot Chocolate. It is terrific. They also keep making new ice cream flavours and that’s a treat too. Oh yes it was a joy to discover Churros here. Yum. Their bakery is ok though because Nilgiris mom and pop baker’s (Virtues bakery, aah) set the bar high.


Lunch / Dinner / Breakfast…

– Le Cafe : Commissioner Road

The best pizza oven in town. And a brilliant outdoor place. For a great lunch atmosphere this is your place. The desserts counter is highly recommended. You could also order from the adjoining swank Periodic Table if you don’t want to sit indoors. And if the cold is getting to you try the Hot Toddy (non alcoholic) 

– King’s Cliff / Earl’s Secret

This is a 200 year old country manor which was a BnB run by a British lady in a bygone era. Now it’s a beautiful restaurant with rooms to stay. The outdoor and indoor seating have their own charm. The food is really good with Fish & Chips and Cannelloni being our favourites, do ask if the Sticky Toffee Pudding is available. If you are going on weekends then reach a bit early as it tends to get full and they don’t take reservations.

– Mindescapes ..mid way Ooty Coonoor

This is a new entry to the dining options in Nilgiris. And it is an uber chic experience. The F&B is run by the well known Vikram Malhotra. For a high class dining experience and a view of the Nilgiri ranges look no further. We have had many terrific Sunday lunches here. Tiramisu is insane. But you have to book before you arrive. 

Mindescapes also recently (Apr 2023) started Nirvana. Its a sit down fixed menu – North West Frontier cuisine. We had one lunch last week and it was terrific.

– Cullinarium – Khetti (mid way Ooty Coonoor)

Perhaps the uber chic experience of the hills before Mindescapes but it still has something unbeatable. Much of their ingredients are fresh and sourced from their farms. Order the veg platter and find a range to tingle your taste buds and then probably the affable staff will point at the fields below from where it was sourced. Do not miss their ice creams, especially lavender flavour. Yes, the lavender is homegrown. But the best part- Croissant. If you are lucky you will get them and pack them home.

– Ooty Coffee House (Commercial Road)

This is authentic. Period. The board outside has faded out and the place is so-so simple. And then the food arrives – hot and fresh. The dosai, sambar and chutneys. And the filter coffee. Our Saturday morning breakfast ritual. 

– Whipped and Whisked, Hospital Road

Gaurav and his team lovingly bake the daily bread. And when that is the cover in which your burgers and hot dogs arrive you are in joy. Soak the sunset views and the coffee sourced from their gardens. A great place to unwind.

– Shinkows, Commissioner Road

There are I think just 4 original Chinese folks in our small hill town now and that is a story by itself. Coming back to our food report the old couple Chinese run this quaint charming Chinese restaurant. It has a unique ordering system. The place is simple but the food is delicious and very very helpful in portions. Cold weather + warm food is often Shinkows.

– Angara, Eittens Road & Zuka (Hotel Preeti Classic)

These are the two places to get our North Indian fix. If you crave paneer, chicken, naan et all and Indian desserts – zafrani kheer, khubani ka meetha, Indian bread pudding..then Angara it is

Zuka is the place for black dal and delicious chicken. His white brownie is very good.

– Yellow Door Cafe, Smyrna

Smyrna is a 200 year old country manor and Yellow Door is the cafe nestled within. If you want fresh ingredients, beautiful garden views and quiet because Yellow Door often escapes most visitors. Order fresh bagels and scrambled eggs with their tomato chutney, or dosai or a nutritious oregan jar (delicious). Add their homegrown Lipia tea at the end of the meal. Sometimes we play boardgames here and spend an easy morning breakfast while the world matters are ignored. They are only open 8am-4pm from Mon to Sat. Their bakery section is right behind and you can check if fresh cream buns, donuts, biscuits are coming out. The akka’s are very friendly.

– Sugar Dribble, Charring Cross

A sweetly designed cafe tucked behind the bustling Charring Cross. The gorgeous art on the wall is done by Prajwal & Vidhya who run the Birdhouse Cafe in Coonoor. SD offers some delicious soup options and the stuffed mushroom starter is a winner. Their pastas are quite good and the desserts are ok ok. 


Places to Eat:: Coonoor 

Birdhouse Cafe:

The BHC opened in April this year and is at the top of my list in Coonoor. It ticks everything for me. The place is beautifully decorated, the ingredients are fresh, Paul the mythical Baker supplies fresh loaves to the cafe and everything is as honest and loving as it could be. We left two boardgames here for visitors to play and will hopefully keep adding to it. A great place to enjoy a delicious meal. Top recommendation are the soup and sandwiches. And then die a glorious death in the desserts section.

Open Kitchen: 

It was crazy of Priyak to pursue his passion by chucking his previous occupation. But when he finally took the plunge and started Open Kitchen it just took off. The #1 Trip Advisor eating spot in Coonoor are proof of his labour of love. Wasabi Hungcurd (veg), Bacon Bomb (non veg) and his Burgers are absolute tops here.

Lisa’s Delicatessen :

What a beautiful place to read a book, sip coffee and order a variety of high class croissants. A great place to have conversations or just be with yourself. Peaceful.


Places to Shop::Ooty

Chocolates: Jai’s Kingstar:: Commercial Road Ooty

Young Vivek is a 3rd generation chocolatier and he’s open only in the afternoon as he’s busy making chocolates each morning. All the chocolate at our home and the chocolate that I gift are from Vivek’s place. Roasted almonds, truffles, dark, wine, you name the variety. 

I had asked Vivek once, why is it that your chocolates seem so pure when eaten. He smiled and shared that all chocolate manufacturers (Cadbury, Mars etc) use a small percentage of additives, compound chocolate etc for cost cutting and longevity. He says his grandfather made pure chocolate and he hasn’t changed the recipe ever. All these additives came in the later years.

Belts, Shoes, Bags, Jackets:: Leather:: Skinns, Off Commercial Road, Ooty:

I was tipped that this is the place where a lot of serious shoppers spend time. And I’ve bought some terrific stuff too: jackets, shoes, wallet, belts. Women’s shoes hop across to Marigold. The prices at both are reasonable and the quality is incredible.

Oils: Eucalyptus, :: The Ootacamund Eucalyptus Oil, Charring Cross, Ooty

Ravi Sir has been running this old shop (est 1947). He is so thorough that he will select the eucalyptus leaves from the Toda tribes as he wants only the best. Then leaves goes through his beautiful old laboratory which he is happy to show you.

I often urge him to increase his rates as they are so-so stuck in the 1990’s but he is like that. A few drops of oil and you feel healed. We always stock them at home.

Saree, Sweater:: Variety Hall, Upper Bazaar Road

This sprawling large shop is probably as old as Ooty and its beautifully maintained. My friend Harshad takes loving care of each visitor in an old world manner. They stock an incredible range. No wonder it draws a lot of celebrity visitors especially for their unique saree collection. 

Pickles & Jams:: Connies: 9791265234 :: Mysore Road

Connie is an 82 year old Englishwoman who makes an assortment of veg and non veg pickles, chutneys and jams. She still makes them the old fashion way at home and almost always by herself. She is happy to receive visitors at home and help them choose. I call her the living relic of our small hill town. 


Life in the Hills

Its that moment at twilight when your sleep breaks just slightly, you are neither asleep nor awake. The room felt colder. I moved my leg on the bed and the mattress felt like ice.

The senses dawned immediately. Aah the heater is off. Oh did we lose power at night ?

But it didn’t feel like it rained last night. Then it hit me. Without power the boilers wont work and we needed hot water for Ayaan to get ready for school. So off we shifted to heating water on gas stoves.

But within I was a bit anxious. Why did the power go? How would I find out and then I would have to get it rectified. Aah the day ahead was looking rather tumultuous.

An hour later Ayaan and I geared and saddled up on the motorbike for school. we took the first bend we saw it. Brakes slammed. Wow.

There it was. A large tree had toppled across the road and brought down the electricity wires as a final act. It looked like a fine mess.

But my heart was fuzzy and happy. A grin flashed within the helmet. The cause was known. And this was a problem that two departments would be obligated to solve. Today wasn’t a case where I would have to cajole someone to visit our house to check and fix a problem.

Aah the joys of discovering social problems and informing requisite folks to attend to them.

With Ayaan dropped to school I took the first step towards solving any complex problem as taught by my Dad, a pukka Armyman. I turned the bike to Imperial Bakery for a hot cup of tea.

Parked, I called Suresh and asked him to step out of the house and take pictures of the crime scene and WhatsApp me the images.

” Good morning Praveen, how are you”, I waved to the affable owner.

“You are here early, what happened,” he enquired.

I shared the narrative and the images as soon as they popped up on my phone. The weather has been so this season he reasoned. And we discussed Bangalore like everyone does now.

Invigorated by the strong Imperial Bakery tea I turned to solve my problem, first step- the Fire Station.

I learnt that Mr Sivakumar, Station head had been transferred and a new supervisor was in seat. And there was a slight problem. Language.

“Hindi, English?”, I asked hopefully

“Tamil, Kananda,” replied the large man in khaki dress.

Oh yes, pictures. I took out my phone and showed the sprawled pictures of a once large tree. His eyebrows went up.

Location, he questioned. I wrote it down.

Then he gestured to me to WhatsApp the images to a phone number. What name should I store this number I asked?

Anbhu, he said and I obliged.

Keen to thank him before I left I asked him his name.

Anbhu, he smiled

Oh ! And I returned my best foolish grin.

Back home I felt happy that some progress was made. Then my phone buzzed. It was Pavan, my dear friend from the Navy currently posted in the hills of Shimla.

Greetings done we promptly exchanged notes of the weather in our respective Mountains. The Himalayan ranges especially in Himachal and the Nilgiris have been through turbulent phases.

Suddenly the quiet in my area was broken by the loud sound of a machine hard at work. The Fire Station team was already on the task.

Well half the problem was getting solved, now to get the EB (Electricity Board) to pick up the complaint and reinstall the wires I thought. We finished chatting and I noticed Suresh close to our gate.

” Just check if they have removed the tree”, I suggested as the machine sound seemed to have stopped.

A few minutes later he was back.

They have removed the tree, the road is clear now”, he declared.

“Wow, well now i’ll chase the EB to fix the lines” I muttered.

“The lineman is already working on the site”, he continued.

” Wow, really!!”. Half hour more and we should have power back. And so within a span of four hours the tumultuous day became a regular mundane one again.

There was only one step to take.

“Suresh, can you make a nice adrak chai”.—–

Divine Order

Divine Order::

The past few weekends have followed a regular rhythm. Friday evening call the real estate brokers to schedule visits for Saturday & Sunday. Then comb the hills around Coonoor in the lure of finding ‘the’ plot with the right size, view, budget, gradient, access, water, sunlight..blah blah.

In this ritual I was meeting like minded soul hoping for similar stroke of fortune. Captain Abhijit, Indian Navy, the ace naval aviator being one. 

‘We will have to keep looking I guess’ was how the usual weekend hunt was summed by both of us.

‘Hey I’ll connect you with Groovy too, he has been looking for a longer time’, Abhijit recommended and shared his friend’s number.

Last Saturday began on a similar note with me this time doing a solo hunt with the brokers. By evening I saw not one but four properties with some promise, some possibilities.

Exhausted but happy I wheeled into the Birdhouse Cafe. My friend Paul was hosting a Pizza pop-up. And I didn’t want to miss it.

It was 6pm, early by most dinner standards as I walked. The Birdhouse cafe gang of Prajwal, Vidhya, Ananya besides Paul were gathered on a table when I joined them.

That’s when I noticed. 

A tiny black kitten probably a few weeks old was curled up on Paul’s shoe, fast asleep.

As we chatted Paul was faced with a growing dilemma. There was an oven to be fired but being a pure hearted soul he was loath to get up and disturb the tiny feline.

‘Let me keep the baby in my lap’ I offered, bending to pick the furball ”you please fire the oven I’m starving buddy for your pizza’s ”.

Soon the Pizza’s were flowing and the Cafe was settling into a beautiful warm place. And the kitten was sleeping blissfully on my lap.

“We have been looking for a home for the kitten, why dont you take her home Abhi”,Vidhya suggested.

I instantly recoiled at the weight of responsibility. Sure I had reared cats when I was in college. But I was younger and carefree then. And wait I already I have two dogs at home, how would they take it ? A risk I explained to her.

After an hour, dinner done I felt a great reluctance in leaving the kitten behind. I had to drive back to Ooty.

That night as I tucked in the kitten kept playing in my mind. I am looking for a place to make my home in the mountains and so was the tiny one, wasn’t it ?

Next day Sunday I decided to just sleep in. I was feeling exhausted. But the kitten kept coming in my thoughts.

Well God, if you give me a sign ill take it, I comforted my restless self.

Meanwhile over phone I exchanged the Saturday report on the potential properties with Abhijit and then with Groovy.

“Can you show me these places if you are free today?” Groovy messaged.

That message shook me. Was it a message to go back and pick the little kitten a voice inside suggested.

“How about next weekend?”, I replied desperate to duck my own dilemma.

“I am moving from Coonoor to Bangalore on Tuesday”, Groovy mentioned 

“Ok today evening then?”. I offered wondering where it was heading.

” Let me confirm to you, since I am getting posted out there are some dinner invitation, but ill confirm to you if its possible ‘, Groovy concluded.

Aha ! Its not happening I felt. Having grown up in a defence service household I know very well the social obligations especially when you are dining out. Your calendar is packed crazy.

The lazy Sunday continued and post lunch 3pm I was about to get into my nap. This being the highlight of my week, when I noticed a new message.

‘1620hrs, War Memorial ‘. It was Groovy.

Groovy had commanded India’s elite Surya Kiran squadron before coming to Coonoor. And I had read that Surya Kiran is considered the top 3 aerobatic team in the world – The British Red Arrows and the Canadian Snowbirds being the others.

This was probably the typical order issued by Group Captain Groovy to his fellow Airforce flyers, but to me it was a Divine Order.

My sleep had vanished. My back was light. I was jumping around the house. A cat on a hot tin roof.

“Shaina didi, please wash Chocolate’s old basket. I have to leave in 15 minutes. I am getting a kitten home’. 

She just raised her eyebrows.

In a flash I was ready and in the car and then it struck me. Typical man brain which thinks very little.

I pulled the phone and sent a voice message .

“Hey Ayaan, Sim I’m getting a kitten home, more later”, I mumbled. Both of them were in transit at that moment from Delhi to Mumbai as I drove off.

At the appointed time I picked up Groovy and we headed to the potential sites. With his deeper knowledge Grovvy was giving me precise inputs for each plot.

As were looking at the last site the Sunday evening skies were fading over the green hills. A gentle breeze was flowing.

“You know”, I professed, “by calling me over today you have made a difference to my house.”.

” Really how ?”

“I dont know about the land but I’m sure I’m taking a kitten home today ” And I took him over the events of last 24 hours.

He smiled and shared how in a similar way he had got his dog over. 

As I was driving back to drop Groovy I got a call. It was Sim. Apparently my voice message hadn’t transmitted clearly. Was everything ok?

Im going to get a kitten home I shared.

“Dad, how come? You didn’t ask me and will Buddy and Chocolate be ok? “, It was Ayaan with valid questions.

“Ok, let me go to the Cafe and make a video call. Then you tell me and ill go with that”. 

After dropping Groovy I headed to the Birdhouse Cafe. I picked the little baby and made a video call.

It was magic. 

Ayaan took one look. “Dad, take her home”. And when Sim spoke the kitten actually meowed.

And so it was. A tiny fur ball came home to be greeted by two doggies.

Well I still dont know the gender so we haven’t reached the naming bit yet. But I’m guessing that Divine Order will be passed soon too.


The Birdhouse Cafe

A beautiful experience last evening:

I’ve dropped Ayaan for his Calligraphy class in Coonoor and I have an hour to kill. A new cafe has opened in the small town and I thought I’d give it a visit.

So I park and walk upto The Birdhouse Cafe. The evening weather is Coonoor perfect. Slight breeze and the gentle Sun getting read to set.

Im quite sure ill just have a coffee as im not feeling hungry. The Food-Gods though have other plans.

‘Ill have a filter coffee please “, but then I notice the small black board on the wall with the dessert menu – Queens Arms, Butter Cream Cookies et. My internal volition is fast evaporating.

Can I try the Queens Arms?, I ask

Oh its sold out, she says.

Ok ill take one Butter Cream Cookie with the coffee then.

A few minutes later the coffee and the cookie arrives. It is perfect. Not too sweet and the biscuit. Aah.

Do you make it here? I ask.

No, there is a Chilean lady who used to run a place called Point Cafe in Kotagiri long back. She now supplies us with the desserts.

You are kidding me. Marcela? Id heard so much about her. And ironically we shifted to Nilgiris in July 2018 and she closed in June 2018.

This cookie is the first time im tasting her stuff, I tell her. She smiles back.

Yes Marcela makes desserts for us every alternate day and sends us a box. We have no clue what is coming in the box! She decides. And the old timers – locals here know her quality. So its sold out pretty much the same day.

We then chat and exchange names and all that social stuff. The three youngsters from Bangalore, Vidya, her husband and friend Nidhi run The Birdhouse Cafe and The Birdhouse hostel. They have been living in Coonoor for 6 years, the Cafe though is just 3 weeks old.

The chat makes me hungry. I want more.

What would you recommend to eat ?, I prod.We added the corn and spinach sandwich to the menu today. Would you like one? Vidya asks.

Sure sounds right to me. And then the dish arrives.

This bread is FRESH, I exclaim. Having sold bread as a salesman long long back I’m nutty about my bread.

Have you heard of Paul the Baker? Vidya asks. The bread just arrived a few minutes back.

Now im transported back to the social gatherings in Coonoor. Often the conversation would turn to food and the locals would speak about the mythical Paul the Baker.

The best breads and he makes it at home. But you have to be lucky to get it. And then there is the waiting.

So now the penny drops or the bread pops. The fresh ingredients in the superb bread slices are elevating me to heaven.

Then a group descends into the cafe. Vidya is busy attending to their order and offering suggestions.

That’s when I saw. Only 2 pieces of Butter Cream Cookies are left.

My mouth filled with the sandwich I wave to Nidhi behind the counter.

What? She gestures.

Quick, pack those two remaining pieces of Butter Cream Cookies.

She smiles back. Clearly this has happened before.

Small Town, Big Heart

There was a message on my phone. My debit card was expiring on Feb 22 and a new one would be issued shortly. I realised this debit card was my business linked card and the address listed was of Mumbai.

I did the next best thing which was to check online if I could redirect it to Ooty. Search as much as I could I couldn’t find an option to route the new debit card to Ooty.

Well then the easiest thing I sensed was to visit the Ooty bank branch and put a hand written request. 

So after breakfast I got into my trusted Tata Nano car, possibly the world’s smallest car and slammed closed the door. 


Stunned by the sound I looked behind and to my horror noticed the passenger window pane had smashed to smithereens. Glass particles were lying all over the back seat and the ground.

As I got out and gathered my wits I was trying to make sense of the cause. Was it the excess rain which caused the glass pane and its rubber casing to be compressed and then crash when I slammed the front door?

Perplexed I pulled out my phone and called Praveen, the helpful Engineer at the Tata showroom. I made a small prayer because a few months back Praveen had shared that the Ooty showroom was closing as they had issues with the Landlord.

‘Hi Praveen, I have a problem and I need your help’, I buzzed 

‘Good morning Sir, what happened’, he asked.

I explained my predicament and then waited for the verdict.

‘Unfortunately we have closed down and yes I know there is no Tata showroom in town for now. But what you can do is speak to the Mettupalayam branch. They will assist you’, he summarized. ‘Speak with Mr Mubarak’, were his parting words.

Mettupalayam is at the foothills of Nilgiris. In less than 2 hours you rapidly move down from 7200 feet to 1000 feet. I shuddered at the thought of taking my small run-around car on a brutal up and down trip of that sort.

But I had no options. A local mechanic or repair shop may not be able to procure the right Nano passenger glass pane for one.

I called Mubarak.

We spoke and he heard me patiently and then I sent him the car pictures. 

” Ill order the car window from Coimbatore and then it will take some time to fix it. When do you want to come down to Mettupalayam?, ” he enquired.

“Errr, do I have to bring the car down ?”, I was half pleading.

“Well if you want we can have someone pick it from Ooty and then sent back once the job is done.” he offered a token of solace.

” Ok. Please order the part. I  so wish there was a way to fix it in Ooty. It breaks my heart to think of driving her up and down the hills. I don’t even take her to Coonoor.” was my gutted voice.

” Yes, I understand. Let me order the part then ill come back to you.” he consoled.

And so ended the Monday episode with me taking the other bigger car and painfully parking and getting my chores and bank task completed.

Tuesday passed and Wednesday came the more alarming global news hitting local shores. Corona in its new Omicron avatar was raging swiftly in India. The State government issued Sunday would be a complete lockdown and night curfew orders were mandated immediately.

Well it always starts slow before the restriction screws tighten further. I was now feeling the hurry to get this pending task done. Maybe if the glass part comes to Mettupalayam ill just drive down this Friday or Saturday and get the repair complete.

Today Thursday morning at 10am I got a call. It was Mubarak. I wondered what news awaited me

‘Good morning Sir, I have got the part’, he announced. Yipee my heart jumped with hope.

‘And I’m coming to Ooty by bus. Ill carry the part and I have spoken with a local mechanic in Ooty who has all the tools. We will fix the glass part there’. 

I was speechless. 

“Really Mubarak. Wow I am so grateful to you.”, was all I could mutter.

So off I drove at half past noon to the designated meeting point. And yes Mubarak was there. We did the corona times fist pump greeting with me effusing deep gratitude.

He opened the rear door with the damaged window and then noticed something. He bent and pulled out a big spanner that was lying in the rear car door pocket.

“Was this always kept here?”, he quizzed

‘ Yes’, I confirmed.

“That’s what probably caused the glass to shatter. When you closed your front door hard, it would have reverberated on impact and affected the glass pane.” 

So one mystery was solved.

They both got to work. And on a hunch I walked to Virtues Bakery and packed some snacks for them. The winter Sun was beautiful and the usual cool mountain air gave company as an hour soon passed and the job was done.

“How much Mubarak for the part, labour and your travel.” It was that moment where accounts needed to be settled. 

“The part and labour added up comes to Rs 1,800/-. Don’t bother about travel expenses.”

That’s all ! 

I couldn’t believe it. Now my gratitude had reached the Moon. I tipped Mubarak the best I could.

::: This was the only job that he had taken the ride up for. He was heading back to Mettupalayam 6000 feet below with the next available bus.