Jan 31, 2006

Random thoughts from my vacation...

I have always traveled in Indian Airlines between Chennai and Madurai. They serve you puli satham or keerai satham for lunch! Yuck! And they have hostesses who will remind you of your school teachers! When they greet me near the flight entrance, I will be almost tempted to say “gooodmorneeeeeeng mam” like in school days… Even though it’s barely an hour’s flight time I find it the most boring journey for such obvious reasons. The only thing that will keep me awake is the thought that Iam nearing home.
But it all changed for me this time. I took Jet airways for a change. I was skeptical when I entered the flight because of my previous experience in another private airline- Deccan where they sell food on the plane. Not even water is free. And to top it all I had my ears paining for 12 hours after I landed.
But my jet experience was really pleasant…. Excellent food and a couple of enthusiastic young hostesses who were always smiling… I can’t wait for my next trip to Madurai.

Indian Airlines is now changed to "Indian"......they say they are building a new image..Hmmm...u have to do something better than that guys! send home the teachers on retirement...

I rediscovered that Madurai is the cheapest place for ‘good food’ in the whole world. When we went to Bell Hotel for breakfast, my wife ordered “set Tiffin”.I was wondering what that was ? In a few minutes the waiter brings a platter with an idly, a big scoop of pongal, a cup of kesari, a dosai, an assortment of sambars and colorful chutneys and finally a cup of coffee….all for an unbelievable 25 rupees package! whew!
( I was content with a masala dosai as the first two items in the set Tiffin never agree with me!)

I clicked this pic as I drove past the 'Nel vaniha valaham' thats next to mattuthavani bus stand.It stood fully complete but deserted. The green tiles looked odd against the rest of the color scheme...now a days, every govt building has to have some green to please "amma" (who may not even know that such a building exists).... It has a solar paneled dome –hmmm...something interesting! But why this multi million dollar project is still standing unoccupied is a mystery we have to solve.

At SAP , Prof. Ravi used to talk hours about the influence of politics in buildings. Here is one sorry specimen for him-the High Court at Madurai. This building was started in the DMK regime and completed & opened in the present ADMK regime. The building was initially designed with elements resembling the ‘anna arivalayam’- to please 'Dr.kalaingar'. And, finally colored green to please 'amma'. sigh*...

Jan 30, 2006

Cravings ...

Where the green grass,
To the tune of wind,
Gently waves in a dance:
There will I lie in a trance,
To rest my tired mind.

For the song of the cuckoo
That fills the green vale,
And it’s overflowing echo:
My wealth, my wants, I’ll forgo;
Even my life and all.


Jan 26, 2006

Happy Republic day !

Mr.O.Jayapandi showed his patriotism with his tri colored boat on the Vaigai river, Madurai (file photo : 26.01.2004)

Jan 23, 2006

Know this place?

Colonial villas, green and colorful landscape, cool breeze, captivating vistas and delecious food...thats none other than the Taj Garden retreat in Madurai.

This centuary old celebrated property (previously owned by Madura Coats) is perched atop the Pasumalai hill, amidst 62 acres of landscaped gardens .

peacocks on the porch...
The panaromic night view that you get from here of the Temple city is worth every rupee you spend on the costly food

Vaigai Hall, were our weekly Rotary (Metro) meetings are held...

visit "Foodie Madness in Madurai " @ Noa's blog for more on Taj food.

Jan 22, 2006

Kabul winter snaps

Its peak winter now...Temp. goes down to -15 deg.C !

...'fully loaded' to face the cold...
a scenic view from our VICC compound...

distant view of the apartment housings built during the russian occupation... 

mountains of war time buses, cooling down in the snow...
(click on the images for clarity)

Jan 20, 2006

The Loss...

Ashok Kumar's untimely demise was not just a spinal shock for me. It was in some ways a personal loss . I had lost a dear friend , my schoolmate and a great client.
Ashok kumar passed away in a tragic car accident while traveling from Bangalore to Ooty last August (2005). I couldn't attend his last rites as I was stuck in Kabul and last week when I passed by Xpress, I had a very heavy feeling in my heart.
I had a chance to know him from very close quarters when i did the interiors of his photo color lab- XPRESS.
That was the first instance when a 'client' completely respected my creative decisions and was ready to spend for it too. I remember Mariappan (our school buddy)saying "now that the two 'Ashoks' who are the best in their business are coming together... I can’t wait to see the finished product"
and the finished product turned out to be the talk of the town! In fact the interior project was even published in JIIA, the journal of the Indian Institute of Architects.
and it owes everything to Ashok's shrewd business acumen.

Ashok wanted the Best in everything. No compromises. Maybe that’s why he chose me as his architect...not becoz i was his schoolmate . In the design process, there were instances when I was hesitant whether he would accept certain expenditure for the sake of aesthetics. But he always replied " If YOU really think its worth and important go ahead...don’t worry about the money!" That was a revolutionary business attitude for Madurai .I felt like the luckiest architect in Madurai at that time.Even before the interior work started, he had finalized the opening day for the project. He had even printed invitations and invited the chief guest PTR...so I had to work day and night for 70 days..But I enjoyed every second.
The Lab was located just opposite to the famous Amma mess in Goripalayam.
We used to eat at the Amma mess at day and nearby Kumar mess at night almost everyday. I was so engrossed in this work (i sometimes used to go home at 1.00 O ‘clock mid night) that I almost got fired by my wife.

Ashok was the guy every Architect would dream to have as a client. Here are some reasons 'why?'-
· General convention in Photo color labs was to hide the working (machines) room away from the customers. But when I mooted the idea of having a transparent machine room forming the main focus of the interior, Ashok was more that happy to accept the concept.He had imported the latest machinery worth 50 lakhs and was proud and exited to display it too. I came up with a very expensive idea (something new for this part of the world) of bending a single piece of 6mm glass of size 4’ x 8’ and the result proved that every paise spent was worth it.

· My first design for the false ceiling was very conventional keeping in mind the timelines. Ashok saw it and was upset...He straight away rejected it, saying "this is not what I expected from you"....I changed it at once. With the kind of technology and labor in Madurai, the result was something we both were proud of. I got the false ceiling guys really crazy with that design.

 I wanted a particular shade of red laminate that was not in stock in the market. Shops said they can arrange it in a week..but Ashok was in a big hurry to finish the work as he had already announced the opening date.He asked me if he can buy the next closest option. I was not happy but said “as u wish” and left the shop.But later I found that he did not give order and informed me that if I feel so strongly about the color shade, he will wait 7 days! What a guy I thought!

When I started using flashy orange and yellow in the interiors, everybody including his family, friends and clients discouraged it , almost comparing it to ramarajan's dress code. Anybody else in that position would have begged me to change the style but Ashok said "go ahead, I am happy that it’s already attracting opinions. Thats what I want-People talking about my place!"

Its still impossible for me to accept the fact that he is no more.Iam in some ways glad that I was not in madurai at the tragic time.

It’s not just a loss to his family and friends.Its truly a big loss to MADURAI CITY .

During my vacation in India last May, I had visited him. He said that the business was overwhelming and this kind of rush was something even he didn’t expect. He informed me that he is planning to start a chain of Xpress labs and is already looking at rental spaces in different spots in the city and neighboring districts.
That’s the last conversation I had with him.

This is not what I expected from you Ashok.

click 'Xpress Digital Lab' for more pic.s

Jan 17, 2006

I Love Fish

Looking thro' the aquarium ...

That's at 'Tornado' , a very decent food joint near my house in Madurai that I frequent...

Fishes are my favourite food aswell as hobby...

Jan 16, 2006

Karaikudi to Madurai

These are few of the snaps I took on my return trip to Madurai from Karaikudi (16.01.06)...
just leaving karaikudi ...

on the way near Siruvayal, it was 'manju verattu' (bull fight) megaevent..U can zoom this snap to see in the back ground the big crowd gathered to witness the event...

a big bull being taken to the grounds... there were hundreds of bulls and people on both sides of the road moving towards the grounds

the owner of the bull proudly bicycles in front as the bull is being led behind him...
recent rains in the district have painted the outskirts of tirupatur green...

lush green fields...a sight for sore eyes...especialy those that came from afghanistan

thats my little car...stopped for nature's call...

very common sight on the way to melur...rocky hills eaten away by granite quarries...

TVS office...a fav building of mine on the way...i was shocked to see the beautiful stone facades plastered up

palmirah trees all the way...

the lonely road to madurai...

nearing Madurai...Yana malai at a distance

closeup of Yanamalai

Jan 15, 2006

Ashokism award 2005 ...Thavamai thavamirundhu

Thavamai thavamirundhu arguably is Cheran's best movie so far. The story takes on the love of a father as seen through the eyes of a son who evolves into a father himself. A clear simple screenplay with amazing performances make this into a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Missing Ilayaraja!

Jan 12, 2006

Iam in Madurai now...

Reached Home , Sweet Home ....Iam in Madurai now for my Vacation...Will be writing a lot once i return back to Kabul !

Jan 5, 2006

Madurai Police at their best...

This was supposed to be "Road Safety week" in Madurai. This Photo from The Hindu today shows a footboard traveling police man, a real son of the soil.
"In this fast-paced world, who cares whether you practise what you preach"
( for those who cannot read the banner on the left bottom, heres the translation:
Madurai City Police -
Road safety week -dates from 2.1.2006 to 8.1.2006
Do Not Travel In Bus On The FootBoard )

Well, thats nothing new for 'Madura-Poleesu'...We can see police jeeps parked exactly in front of the "No Parking" sign and entering "NO entry" streets. But as they say, somethings can never change...

Jan 4, 2006

The Palace , Madurai

The Mahal - Tirmalai Nayakar's Gothic Palace ...
(Photo by Nicholas and Co in the 1890s)

To the tourists who visit the riotously gaudy temple pagodas that Madurai is famous for, the unmistakable European Gothic (?) style of the 17th century Tirumala Nayak Palace can come as a relief , surprise or even shock !

Tirumala Nayak, who ruled the former kingdom of Madurai between 1623 and 1659, is said to have recruited the services of an Italian architect, (apparently one of the many unknown European adventurers that swarmed these parts before the advent of British colonial rule) , when he designed his royal abode.

Wars and other depredations have left only a quarter of the original building standing today. But even this is enough to awe casual visitors with its massive colonnade of 250 pillars each, measuring 40 feet in height, and connected to each other by foliated arches that form a vast open courtyard. Vast domes stand at the far end of the courtyard, reaching a height of 22.32 metres and surmounting vast spaces over the 'swarga vilasam' or celestial abode, where Thirumala sat enthroned and undoubtedly impressed ambassadors from near and far with his pomp and pelf.

Then ...East gate of the Palace, taken by a photographer of the Archaeological Survey of India (1899)

Now...east gate after renovation(2004)
Clearly though, Thirumala had a secular outlook which he gave expression to when he built his own dwelling.

''The admixture of Saracenic forms, developed by the Romans and later spread by the Arabs with Hindu details, is fascinating and singularly picturesque,'' for some.But, not everyone shares this view. The distinguished late art historian Percy Brown, for example, admired the palace as a ''work of considerable magnitude'' but also found it an example of ''architectural regression''. A retired professor of history from Madurai Kamaraj University, R Venkataraman, agrees with Brown,''while the synthesis of three cultures was a unique and a laudable attempt, their individual characteristics could not be successfully assimilated at the palace.The foliated arches are Hindu in form and Mohammedan in application and the columns supporting them Christian, but the overall engineering and designing of the palace is of a high standard,''

Then...The Giant columns, taken by Wiele and Klein (1890s)

Now...the red giants (2004)
History notes that when Thirumalai first brought his consort to the palace after it was completed built in 1636, she commented that the giant pillars and arches reminded her of a stable for elephants, sending the king into such a rage that he had her confined for the rest of her life. And he took another wife.

Thirumala's grandson Chokkantha Nayak thought nothing of demolishing large portions of the palace and carting off the material to build another palace for himself in the nearby city of Trichy. The British saw fit to use the palace as a horse stable, barracks and, disastrously, as an ammunition dump.But in 1858 Lord Napier, then governor of Madras, allocated 500,000 rupees (five million dollars in today's terms) for restoration work.

Then...inner courtyard, taken by a photographer Archaeological Survey of India (1899)

Now...The inner court where the amusing light & sound show is organised by the ASI.

With tourist interest in the palace picking up, authorities are beginning to see merit in fresh investments for restoration work. In 2003 the local administration earmarked two million dollars for the construction of a pavement around the monument that could keep encroachments at bay. Another four million dollars has been committed by the state government for the restoration of the stucco work and repair of damaged walls and pillars. The central government's India Tourism Development Corporation has set aside two million dollars to upgrade the sound and light show at the monument, to include laser beams and digital soundtracks and also for the upkeep of a small museum housing rare artefacts from Madurai's different dynasties.

information from : www.ipsnews.net sent to me by Winston and his 13 year old daughter Sarah who is doing a study on Thirumalai Nayakar's life .
old photos : british Library

Jan 3, 2006

My Architecture...

I have done something I have been procrastinating for a long time..a blog to post my own works of Architecture ! Even though I had designed more than 300 buildings , I have not maintained any proper portfolio or documentation to showcase them . I dont even have snaps of some of my best works...hmm..anyway, as a start, i have complied the ones for which I had some pictures to post. hope to do a better work of it in the future...

Jan 2, 2006

snowy site visit...

Contrary to my enthusiasm, our project manager Farooq was a dejected man today, seeing his site and his construction schedule goofed up by nature. Iam used to site work disrupted by rain back home..but snow?- now I have seen it all !

I made a site visit today to the army base to see the progress of work in this inclement weather...real tough times for the site engineers and laborers...

but work goes on ... the Army barracks.....

winter Kabul: clicked on the way to site...

And miles to go...

Non-stop snowing for the second day today..thats the street opposite to my house... "as white as snow"

This place reminds me of the poem I read in high school "Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening" ...now I can really relate to what Rober Frost wrote, both as a surface meaning and as a (death) metaphor...

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
by Robert Frost