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.

The Visit

As the calendar flipped into August the Covid cases started climbing down in the Nilgiris. Gradually the State government eased the restrictions and movement was permitted. 

Perhaps I could resume my morning walks soon. I so missed the morning jaunt. Saying hello to the tiny Pied Bushchat, soaking the sights of the distant Mukurthi ranges and pausing at my little coffee shop called KGK.

Early morning as I would savour the filter kaapi there would be the usual tractors parked, stray dogs wandering, horses grazing and a tired old auto rickshaw parked adjacent to the gate of a nondescript Helipad. ‘No Trespassing’ said the board but the gates were never shut nor was the guard booth ever occupied.

Then walk back home watching the play of the rising sunlight on the tea gardens and watch for any activity in the lake. And occasionally dodge the Wild Bison.

But right now I had a set of chores to accomplish. As I drove out I noticed some broken road patches were being repaired. Life is really getting back on track I thought.

I was glad to hear that all our favourite Baker’s were open again. I was already sniffing hot buns from Aazam, rich plum cake & croissants from Virtues, bagels & donuts from Smyrna and the honey cake from LakhDe.

With these dreamy thoughts I parked and got about the real business of honouring the procurement list. An hour later as I trudged back the image of bakery goodies started tantalizing my senses. Sometimes it is difficult to resist a temptation. Does anyone know a cure?

It was noon and the weather was perfect. Cool breeze flew across the market road and the clouds tempered the Sun. Maybe I can walk all the way to Virtues Bakery I thought, I’m sure there won’t be any parking available there in any case.

As I stepped close to Virtues I was surprised. Not one car was parked in the limited parking spot. Just a few busy looking policeman. Strange. From that spot I noticed the tiny Imperial Bakery was open too. 

If there is one place in Ooty where you get a perfect cup of tea then it is Imperial Bakery. Actually no outlet can make a decent cup of tea in this coffee crazy South India. Just like you never get a good cup of coffee in any joint in North India.

The promise of hot chai and their crispy samosa had me swiftly at the door of Imperial. 

“Hello Praveen, its been so long”, I greeted my friend the owner.

“Good to see you again, I noticed you were coming and I’ve already asked him to make your chai”, smiled Praveen.

“I walked all the way from Commercial road, if I had known parking was available then I would have been here sooner”, I grinned.

“Oh, but you won’t be able to park here for sometime now. The President is coming tomorrow”, he responded.

” President? Which President?”, I questioned. Our State has two key political parties who take turns to rule the State. Was one of them coming I wondered.

“The President of India”, he stated simply passing me my hot chai.

“What? Really”, I couldn’t believe it. Our little town really.

“For how long?”, I continued my naive course of interrogation.

“Four days”

“What ! Really, four days in Ooty?”. 

I was flummoxed. Busy people often wonder what one can do in this tiny town on the 3rd day and here the President of India was coming for 4. Incredible.

The hot chai helped soothe for a moment while I tried to digest this news. 

Back in the car and heading home everything was making sense on the road now. Furious paint work was on the sidewalks and even the dusty board proclaiming the Office of Superintendent of Police was now beaming a fresh life. 

Goodness even the Ooty lake and the garden next to our house was getting a fresh scrub. Like a typical Indian household all attempts were in motion to impress the big visitor.

As I shared the news of the visit at home a logistical query cropped up. How would the President arrive? It is 3 hours by road from Coimbatore our closest airport. 

Then the news flashed. The President was going to land in a Helicopter. And the Helipad was none other than the one opposite my little coffee shop – KGK.

Next morning we heard an enormous chopper landed at the once sleepy Helipad behind our house. The President had arrived.

Then our distinguished visitor did what a distinguished visitor does. Visit the Botanical garden, plant a tree, give a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College in nearby Wellington, attend a special dance performance by the Toda Tribal et all.

While the President was busy I was curious to visit my coffee shop KGK and check the activity at the Helipad. And sure enough the gate was gleaming with a rich new blue paint. Serious looking policemen and barricades manned the entrance. While a police van, fire tender and an ambulance were stationed on the heli-field above.

“Kaapi please Akka”, I requested the old lady at my coffee shop.

The owner was present too. We smiled at each other.

“Yesterday must have been quite a day with the President arriving?”, I asked holding the hot kaapi glass in my palms.

” Oh yes. Such excitement”, he concurred.

“Did the President come for a cup of coffee?”, I asked in jest.

” No ! And thank god for that. There were at least a thousand people. I don’t have so much coffee”, he replied.

We both exchanged a laugh.

While the President’s movement was causing some inconvenience there were some instant benefits too. You see the obscure Helipad was connected to the Governor’s House – Raj Bhavan by series of small roads. All these were miraculously restored to race track conditions.

Finally the day arrived for our dignitary to depart. But the Nilgiri weather God’s watching probably wanted more work done. Sometimes we humans forget who the Big Boss actually is.

The Storm clouds were building again. Saturday morning the Helicopter arrived but a landing was determined too risky. Which meant Plan B was put in motion. The President and his convoy would depart by road.

There are two roads that connect Nilgiris to the plains below. The quicker and busier Coonoor road which everyone prefers or the scenic & quiet Kotagiri road which takes 20 mins longer which I love.

On Sunday as I bought the newspaper from the market I had a smile. The President went via the Kotagiri road. Whatever patches had to be repaired there would be leveled for sure. The Visit had its gifts even while departing.
_——————.     ——-

The Helipad post “The Visit”

Sunrise over the Mukurthi Ranges

Crash ! Boom ! Bang !

” Then bang he scored the winning goal”, narrated Ayaan at the dining table, giving us a vivid description of the football match consumed the previous night. 

It is the month of July and the Euro Championship is moving to its final stages. The excitement at home is palpable with team standings and score sheets being updated daily. With the School closed for annual vacations Ayaan has permission to watch one late match a day. Fortunately his favourite footballing nation Brazil doesn’t play Euros so it’s joyful for him to keep shuffling his ‘new favourite’ team 😀.

Meanwhile outside our house the rain gods are working overtime. It is the monsoon season and it’s been a week since the Sun shone bright over Ooty. The days are cold, grey and wet.

And so gradually we arrive at the culmination of the Euro Finals with Italy playing England at Wembley. The final is scheduled to start post midnight at 12:15 am India time. We all tuck-in early to bed and set the alarm for midnight. No one wants to miss this bus, surely not Ayaan.

As we doze off the storm outside gathers speed. The winds are lashing and the rain pelts us furiously. At midnight we assemble, tucked under thick blankets. It is biting cold and the oil heater is switched on to warm the room.

The football match starts and an early goal from England sets the excitement soaring. The roaring storm outside is forgotten for now.

It is close to half time when suddenly we hear a BOOM outside. In that moment we instantly exchange glances wondering what fell to cause that sound. The next instant the power voltage fluctuates wildly and SNAP we lose power. It is pitch dark and pouring furiously making it impossible to investigate. I guess it is a branch that toppled and snapped an electricity wire.

With little choice we take the next sensible step which is to switch on the UPS and continue watching the Finals. With Italy equalizing the match duly heads to extra time and finally to penalties when Italy inch it to lift the trophy. It is close to 3:30 am and we at last shut down and groggily fall asleep.

It is a disturbed sleep as I wonder about the cause of the electricity failure. In the morning I notice the storm has reduced but as I step into the terrace the sight hits me. 

It is a massive Jacaranda branch that fell off and smashed an iron electric pole in our garden. A tall iron pole weighs close to 400 Kg and it is now bent helplessly to a V shape. So strong was the impact that there are strewn pieces of branches and dangling electric wires in the garden, the fence and even the road outside.

My heart sinks with the visuals. Being a Monday morning I wonder how many days it will take to restore power at home. We are a remote house and during stormy seasons the Electricity Department -TNEB prioritizes repair work based on the number of people impacted.

But today unknown to us the roll of dice is going in our favor. 

After a quick breakfast I take a few pictures of the carnage and head to the TNEB Sub Division office. I take a longer circuitous road just to check how many other wires or poles are damaged in our area. Incredibly there are none which means I might get the Department to attend to our problem sooner.

When I reach the office the storm has paused entirely. I lodge my complaint in the register and notice the Assistant Engineer is in. We make eye contact and he gestures at me to come over. I show him the pictures in my phone and he raises his eyebrows and immediately asks the Lineman Rammoorthy and two men to go over to our place. 

I can’t believe our luck. At best I had hoped for them to visit by afternoon but they are instantly at home to take stock.

Rammoorthy gets to work and is busy making calls in Tamil. After 15 minutes, he looks at me and our typical broken English – Tamil conversation takes place.

“Branches need to be cut, get a new pole, re-fix the wires and then we charge the lines” he puts the remedy simply.

In my head this seemed like a minimum 2-3 days at the earliest. I mean how long would it take for a pole to arrive for instance? But I mustered courage to ask the obvious question.

“Err, Sir, when do you think the power could be restored ?”Rammoorthy looks me in the eye and simply states, ” By afternoon”. I am simply bewildered to fathom a response. 

But like I shared, the roll of the dice was in our favor today. In a few minutes the Assistant Engineer arrives with a full team of 13 men from TNEB. All equipped with the necessary equipment namely ropes, axes, wires, a whole sack full of bolts, some curious looking parts and a chainsaw.

As I now understood the entire operation hinged on 3 parts being completed. First remove the fallen branches & wires, then procure a new electric pole and finally install the pole with fresh wiring. 

Unfortunately the process to chop and remove the branches was tedious. The TNEB men were putting their best but one massive large branch hunched over the pole was proving a bottleneck. Even their chainsaw wasn’t effective. Meanwhile Suresh was brewing a round of hot cup of tea with biscuits on the side for the hard working party.

Well I thought we will just see how it goes with a sense of gloom building as an hour passed by and progress moved at a crawling pace. 

And that’s when I turned my gaze to the main gate and saw him.

Just five and a half feet tall, in a worn out dark brown jacket with his bearded face holding a mighty electric chainsaw. 

Abu Wakad had arrived.

“Abu !”, I called out with my heart soaring in gratitude. Abu is the caretaker of the Kabaristan (cemetery) at the end of the Deer Park Road. He smiled back and we had a quick fluent conversation in Hindi. “TNEB informed me that help was needed, here I am”, he summarized.

And Abu got to work. For the next twenty minutes everyone, the TNEB team in the garden and Sim, Ayaan & Suresh watching from the windows stopped what they were doing and watched a master at work. He cut precise wedges at the right angles and weakened the branch at multiple places. Finally the branch was cut into three pieces and we had passed our first hurdle. 

As Abu prepared to leave, a Jeep arrived with a new pole. In a matter of half hour the mood had swung. Surely there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Installing a 400 kg pole using ropes and arm strength is quite a task. But first two pitch forks were procured. For what you may ask? Well to dig a hole deep enough to install the new pole of course! We are in a simple town in the Mountains where basic tools and human endeavour are all you have at your disposal. 

Shortly the resting ground for the new pole was prepared. Then with ropes tied on branches to form a pulley two groups were formed. One group to manually push up the pole and another group opposite them with rope to pull the electricity pole upright. There were shouts of encouragement in each attempt to balance the pole. But it was precarious as the 400 kg iron standard was tottering under its weight and was put down each time.

A moment to catch the breath and we were at it again with me desperately in the group pulling the rope. My hands were almost on fire with the heat from clutching the rope. Finally success. The pole aligned straight and quickly with stones it was supported at the base. Phase 2 was over. 

Now it was a race against time to complete the final third phase of wiring up the poles. Why a race against time you ask? Were the storm clouds approaching again you guess ? No. It was almost 1pm and I was paranoid that if the team broke for lunch they may not come back immediately. 

I sheepishly asked the Assistant Engineer,” Will they complete the wiring now?”. “Yes of course”, he reassured, then paused, “yes, it is almost lunch time but they should be able to wire the poles”.

Breathing a sigh of relief I watched a man rappel up and slung the new wires back on top of the pole. Finally in half an hour the wiring work was complete. All that had to be done was charging of the lines and power would be restored. 

As the men packed up the tools to leave I thanked them profusely. Having suffered a week’s outage in the previous year this half day turn around to normalcy was remarkable. 

“Light has come”, announced Sim. “Please put the geyser on, I so need a nice hot bath”. And surely CRASH for an afternoon nap !

—–***—–The title of this blog is a little ode to Roxette who gave us beautiful music in the 90’s and Marie the Lead singer who passed away 1.5 years back. RIP !

Wat-er issue

Its the month of March 2021. Spring is in bloom as the Sun shines beautifully each morning and the skies are clear Blue. I have been busy rapidly planting a variety of flowers and herbs. Meanwhile the town is bustling with tourist while yes there are some reports of Covid rising in Mumbai & Delhi but nothing much to worry about it seemed.

The air is fresh and you wonder what could go wrong. Well one morning we discovered there wasn’t any water in the pipes.

For our household supply we have a ten thousand litre overhead tank directly connected to the Municipal supply. And for back up another ten thousand litre tank which is an underground tank. In emergency we use a motor to pump water from below to the overhead tank and feed the house.

This was an emergency as all taps were dry, so the motor was quickly switched on to topup the main tank.

But the question remained, why was there a disruption? Was there some issue with the pumping station at the reservoir or was there a leak in one of the Municipal pipes through the woods leading to our house?

I called the Water Inspector and he promptly asked me to check with the Supervisor. The Supervisor didn’t take my call but dropped by in the evening.

The conversation was typical. I asked in English and he replied in Tamil. It seemed a bridge too far but the water broke rather the reasoning splashed on my face.

Well the Town was brimming full with tourist and the hotels needed more water. So the water was being diverted and hence the ‘pressure’ at it which it was released to our house was low. 

Simply put water pressure wouldn’t climb up 15 feet to reach the main tank. But at lower pressure it would trickle continually and fill the emergency underground tank. All I had to do was keep pumping water each day via the motor to the overhead main tank.

Well there wasn’t anything i could do but accept.

This bought one immediate change in the daily routine. There were patches of herbs, vegetables and young flowers to water. 

I had one remedy. Our house had four large drums filled with rainwater, something which we never actually used. Well now maybe I could fill the water canister and manually water the patches.

This looked simple in design but was quite an hourly exercise carrying a heavy water canister over a topsy-turvy hilly gradient. 

And so for a couple of weeks this daily watering workout continued. Usually ending with lying under my favourite fruit tree sipping a hot cuppa Ginger tea.

One morning as I sat sipping I wondered what would provide some relief, perhaps the April rains would arrive earlier ?

But the April showers were beaten by another developing phenomenon. Covid was ravaging the Metro cities and it seemed imminent that trouble would arrive in our little town soon.

And so it happened, the Administration took action and one immediate casualty was tourist traffic. The Town went eerily quiet. The boating in Ooty lake stopped.

The next morning while I was recuperating with my ginger tea I heard one of the sweetest sounds. Water ! It was gushing gleefully in the main overhead tank. Finally the ‘pressure’ was back on.

Now no more lugging the heavy canister. I could use the garden hose pipe. 

But loh I was in for more joy. A few days later the April Mango showers arrived in full glory. From now the herb – vegetable patches and the flowers would be nurtured by Nature. 

The water issue was a non issue.


Last week at noon time the normal activities were in motion. We were closeted in our respective rooms hunched over our screens.

Occasionally I would look out to soak the greenery. A car happened to pass on the road outside and Chocolate gave a furious chase from our side of the fence. Interestingly another object was tailing Chocolate and barking along.

Well maybe Chocolate has got her friend over I thought. This had happened a couple of times in the past few months. But unlike earlier pals this one seemed a lot smaller in size.

Stepping out to check I was in for a surprise. It was a Pup.

Each morning post breakfast Chocolate would head out in the woods or to the nearby village, maybe this time she discovered a Pup and tagged it back. Well we had neutered Chocolate long back and maybe she decided to take matters in her own hands. Hmm.

Around this time Ayaan walked out of his room after his online class. “Wow, a Pup?” And in a second the Pup was in his hand which delighted both of them.

In the last two years Chocolate had grown in size and had developed her independent views. For Ayaan as he lifted and tickled the Pup it was joy unmatched. A memory reclaimed.

Meanwhile Sim got some food and the Pup gobbled it in record time.It was seeming to me that perhaps the Pup was going nowhere. It wanted a home, love and food. And Ayaan was soaking the raptures.

In between madame Chocolate trooped back to a bewildering scenario. She couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. Sure she had got the Pup home to play and all that, but watching the Pup being cuddled by Ayaan and feeding from her bowl was agony magnified. 

She growled, she snarled, she wrestled. But the pugnacious Pup was least perturbed. A punch from Chocolate was duly returned back though in smaller measure.

Gradually as the day passed Chocolate and the Pup got into a typical relationship. One minute they would play and the next squabble then play again. They even found time to wrestle and damage the coriander patch 😦

We were now faced with a big choice. Do we go to the village and inquire or do we keen the Pup at home?

And sometimes life forces take things in their own hands. The next two days it poured and there was no way I was taking the Pup out to the village to investigate.

Simultaneously the Pup was adjusting happily at home and changing a few routines.

Chocolate who would sleep in the living room shifted with Pup in the store room. Which was great for us as it ensured a quiet night for us all.

Then Ayaan asked the obvious question, “We need a name for the Pup right?”
Maybe Chocolate needed a pal so how about Buddy. A for Ayaan, B for Buddy and C for Chocolate”.
“Yes, I like it” and he put his seal of approval.


Late Night Encounters

Late Night Encounters::
“Tomorrow morning ill let you know how Liverpool fared”, I assured Ayaan as he tucked into bed. 

The Champions League football matches are played mid-week and our time zone ensures that its practically impossible to watch live. Because matches start at 1:30am India Time.

My own sleep ritual is to keep the BBC football page open on my phone. So that whenever I get up I can check the scores immediately. 

But tonight was going to be different as I was going to realize.

At some point in the night Chocolate started barking. Which isn’t entirely rare, but this time her bark was stronger.
Sim had sent Chocolate out of the front door. It was quite cold and misty but our warrior was out in a flash.

Grudgingly I pulled myself out of my warm blankets. 12:30am showed the clock. Woolen socks on and head & ears covered I ventured out. Something about her bark made me wonder.

I opened the door to the terrace to get a larger view of the gardens. Then I froze. On the ground below me stood a large wild bison. And a few feet away Madame Chocolate was barking furiously.

It was a strange match up. An average Wild Bison weighs 1000 kilos and is documented to cause human casualties if disturbed. On the other corner was her opponent weighing 19.3 kilos.

“Dogs don’t know their size, in their head they feel like a Lion”, a friend had shared long back.

Chocolate’s self illusion was winning the turf war. The Wild Bison now disturbed in its late night snack moved away from the garden and headed to the vegetable patch.

This solved one problem while creating another. The vegetable patch had no vegetables but lots of delicious grass as the Frosting weeks had slowed our farming activities. From the terrace I couldn’t view but only hear sounds of grass being chewed, an occasional snort and Chocolates movements.

” Come back Chocolate” I yelled. Then pleaded. But she was in no mood to leave the Bison. The Bison was in no mood to leave the lush grass. And I was desperate to get inside.

After a while with no luck in enticing Chocolate in, I went back inside and resigned myself to a long night of wait and watch. On impulse I picked the phone.

The football match was about to start. It was past 1am.

Suddenly the night and the events stopped feeling gloomy. Liverpool got on to a bright start and midway was leading 2-0. The game continued with intrigue on the football patch and the vegetable patch. Attacking gestures, deft movements and barks of encouragement.

Liverpool held on to win. As if on cue Chocolate got weary of the Bison and came back and went straight to her sack.

It was well past 3am but I thought there is always a brighter side to everything and switched off.

” Who won Dad?”quizzed Ayaan early morning.
“Liverpool won and Chocolate had a hard earned draw”, I summed up the Late Night Encounters.

On the trail of the Log Cake

Like all good tales this begins with a conversation and a cup of tea.

It’s a weekday morning and I am just back from an exploration trip, excitedly sharing my discovery with Praveen the owner of Imperial Bakery. Also the spot in town for perfect chai and Samosa’s.

“During my school days we would explore a lot more but the real treat was going over to King’s Star Bakery. They would have fresh Honey Cake, Ribbon
Cake, Japanese Cake and Log Cake”, Praveen mused

“Log Cake, what’s that?”, having sampled the first three this was new to me.

“Yeah, unfortunately its not available now. Folks of this generation only want Black Forest Cake”, he added with a shrug, “but you could try your luck at
their shop across the street, you never know”.

With the hot chai having revitalized my soul I headed across in all earnestness to King’s Star. Unfortunately the shutters were down.

But hey right next door was Virtues Bakery, a place rated highly by my friends Kris & Resa. What better time than now to make my first visit?

So in I walked and declared my request. The staff said no we don’t make it anymore. But the owner behind the counter turned his head.

He had that forlorn look before he added, “people nowadays just want Black Forest”.

Strangely Black Forest was now sounding like a Black Plague.

I came back and shared my discovery and new mission at home with Sim & Ayaan. Which turned out to be a mistake.

Next day post breakfast Ayaan asked, ” Dad will you find the Log Cake?”. I wondered if this is how Vasco da Gama, Shackleton, Christy Columbus, Magellan et all felt the same at some point.

Meanwhile a fierce storm was brewing in horizon and life’s priorities changed. Critical matters like Log Cake fell off while mundane matters like power supply – visit to Electricity Office, a charged computer for Ayaan’s mid-term assessment, heating Hot Water for Bath etc took over.

After three days the Storm finally passed. The Sun was back and on cue Ayaan inquired, “Will you find the Log Cake?”

It was time to source fresh leads. My friend Harshad who runs a flourishing textile business suggested I visit Jai’s Kings Star. An off shoot of the original King’s Star.

It was Friday evening. “Ayaan do you want to come for an adventure?”, I quizzed. I’m guessing he said Yes because in a flash he was out to open the gate.

We drove into Town and surprisingly got parking right opposite Jai’s King Star. The Town was clearly coming back to life but to my dismay the shop was shuttered.

So off we went to Willy’s to nibble into sandwiches, cookies with coffee. Strolling back we saw Jai’s King Star had opened. What luck!

In we walked and declared our request.

“Yes, right over there”, pointed the young owner.
“Wow, I thought it’s not made anymore. I had almost given up hope”, I shared.
” Well, since the tourist had disappeared the locals kept nudging me to make it” he responded.

“I’m glad, I’ll keep coming back for more”, I beamed in anticipation.
“Oh, but the tourists are coming so I won’t be making it anymore”, he shrugged, “it will be the usual stuff… Black Forest, …”


History of the Log Cake:

Before I headed out I did a google search and came across a delightful blog – My Parisian Kitchen. Sharing the story of the Log Yule Cake.

“The tradition comes from a very long time ago, even before one started to eat log shaped cake for Christmas. Long ago, a huge log was placed in the fireplace after being blessed to protect the house and its inhabitants (and sometimes sprinkled with oil or wine as an offering) and then burned for the occasion of Christmas Eve. The log had to be big enough to smolder overnight (and even up to Epiphany day, 12 days later in some regions!). Choosing the type of wood, the log itself, and who will place it in the fireplace or light it was of greatest importance. It is even said that ashes or the firebrand who had served were supposed to protect (from thunder, devil …). Traditions varied from one region to another (and even from one family to another).

Fire places became smaller and smaller, and cities bigger and bigger, making this tradition quite unease to respect. Logs burned in fireplaces were replaced by even smaller, sometimes decorated, placed as a table centerpiece. It is then that started to appear cakes with the shape of a wood log, even imitating bark.

As for many dishes, several stories last. Was it an invention from the Parisian pastry chef Antoine Caradot located rue de Bucy in 1879? Or from another based in the city of Lyon earlier in the 1860s? Or from Prince Charles III of Monaco’s ice cream and pastry chef, Pierre Lacam in 1898?

Nevertheless, the symbolic cake substituting wood log was quickly a success and tradition changed from a real log to a fake log, our now classic Yule log. Since the beginning, Christmas yule logs were made with Genovese sponge cake (baked in a particular mold before the cake started to be rolled up) and buttercream, already with decorations (holly, leaves, mushrooms ….). The first flavors were probably chocolate or mocha.”