Feeling at home in the land where the Cuckoo Calls

The inside of a sloping roof greets you first thing in the morning. You wake up, get ready and find yourself in a lawn where spread for you on the table is a typical homemade European breakfast - eggs, fruit cakes, marmalade, bread with butter, cheese and homemade jam. You are part of a European family, chatting away merrily and entertaining you like one of their own. Then you are shown around the garden and a sauna erected in the garden. Doesn’t it seem something right out an Enid Blyton book? I have often wished to experience something like this since the time I started reading Blyton books. And unexpectedly the wish came true one fine day. When my European friend invited me home for a weekend during a visit to his country. The country was Germany though and not England. But I don’t think I lost much of the experience except for not being able to converse properly with my friend’s kind mother who was not so well versed in English.

After the delicious breakfast I was to be taken on a tour around the town named Haslach im Kinzigtal. Even the very name had something exciting about it. My friend had to go have his hair cut and carry out a few other chores. So he asked his father to take me around. His father who seemed to be hold a great regard for his son’s friends took the mission really seriously and set about his task. He began to explain to me, “See we have the two parts of the town – the new town and old town. I am going to take you to the old town which has old Roman remains and has lot of history attached to it.” I nodded my head.

“This is the old city wall,” he said pointing to the wall as we reached the old town. “This divides the new town from the old town.” Then we moved on to the church and then to an old house persevered in old fashion for benefit of tourists. Then we came towards a statue. “This is a respected man of our town – a politician who represented our town back in the nineteenth century,” he said.

I had already been to quite a few cities in Europe and was quite familiar with these kind of monuments and relics. But it was all together a different experience being shown around by a local gentleman. In the former you see the place as an outsider. In the latter you see it all as an insider if you get what I mean. It was a small town and my friend’s father knew almost everyone. Almost anyone who passed by on the road stopped to talk to him and he wished them and introduced me to them. They nodded at me with a smile and spoke a few words of greeting. All this made feel so much part of that town. I had earlier stayed in Germany for 9 months on one occasion and 2 months on the next but never had the feeling of being part of the local community. It felt more like I was part of an Indian community living in a parallel dimension sharing mere physical space with the Germans. Now here I really felt kind of integrated though it was only a short trip.

In the afternoon, after lunch, it was my friend’s turn to take me around. He took me to the local farm where he got me a bottle for fresh Schnapps made from berries. Then he took me to a place called the hunter’s lodge which a museum of sorts. But it was shut. Then he asked me what else I would like to do.

The place I was in was in Freiburg district where the Black Forest is located. The Black Forest is known for its cuckoo clocks and my wife had expressed a desire to have one. I wanted to get her an authentic black forest Cuckoo clock. So, I mentioned it to my friend Manuel. He knitted his brow and said, “Today is Saturday. The shops will be closed.” Seeing my disappointed face, he said, “Wait! Let me see if I can do something.”

He made a quick phone call and then said, “Come on.” We were outside a shop. An old lady came with the key and opened the shop. Since he knew the shop lady, he had called her and asked her to open the shop specially for me. I saw the various clocks and finally picked a decent looking one within my budget. She explained how to set the time and wind it. Now I must say something about this magnificent clock. It is an intricately carved wooden clock made from the special wood of black forest. It runs completely with no battery. Not only does it show the time, but a cuckoo comes out and coos every hour the number of times equal to the hour of the day. Some of the more expensive clocks even have music playing and set of small figurines dancing around as the hour changes. And all of this works on mechanical principles – using a pendulum and weights. Every day one had to raise the weights and as the clock winded down the weights began to go down. Remember potential energy and kinetic energy from school physics? It really seemed something special to take home from this place. Made more special having a kind shopkeeper open a shop just so that I could take a gift home for my wife.

When I reached their home, Manuel’s mother insisted I take some of her homemade cake with me. I reflected mothers everywhere were just the same. As I boarded the train and was on the way back to Frankfurt, I carried with me lovely memories of a the day spent as part of a German family. Being a World traveler and going on trips of Exploration to different parts of the world did make you more Open Minded and Love the World more and more. Travel Inspiration I call it.

Lufthansa seeks to support your dreams of being a World Traveler and this post is an entry for a contest they are holding as part of their campaign. Click here to see the campaign details. Do take a look at this video to see the spirit behind this campaign.

A Game larger than Life

Lights, cameras, action. A huge arena lit up by lights. Thousands of people yelling their hearts out cheering as the men walk into the arena. Screens everywhere playing dramatic background music that would make warriors proud and announcing each participant who is entering the arena. Where am I now? In Rome of the pre- Christ era? Not exactly but quite close. Rome was the heart of the human empire back then – America is the heart of the human empire today. Sitting at an American Football match, a burger and chips to keep me company, I can kind of imagine how it must have been for those ancient Romans to sit watching those gladiatorial contests and chariot races. Only technology has made the spectacle many times grander. It is difficult to capture the experience in words – one has to be there to experience it. And the game itself – no, Sir, no – it is not the English gentleman’s game that Indian so love. This is a game that resembles a full blooded gladiatorial contest. You have 22 men like in cricket. But the similarity ends here. Brawny men these are, heads protected by helmets, they rush at each other like men possessed. One man takes the ball and runs. The opposite teams run after him and jumps at him. His own team mates along to support him. There is mad scramble. He tried to throw the ball to his team mate. The team mate catches it and runs. The opponent players are after him in a trice. He is down now. Again, the quarter back picks up the ball and starts a run for that is what the one who is running is called.

Well that was my brush with American culture – a much more American thing to do than visiting Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco or Sears Towers in Chicago as I had in my previous two visits to this great country. For it is not buildings that make culture but people. This was where the people were. A local had invited me to be part of this experience – a Monday night match between the Pittsburg Steelers and Houston Texas. A mega event it was – the entire town was in frenzy. I heard all hotels were booked and I might not have got a ticket if I had not booked 2 months in advance. The Texan fans had arrived by droves to cheer their favorite team. Even my own hotel lobby, when I went to change, before setting out, was packed with the Texan fans in Texan jerseys. I was apparently lucky to get this opportunity to watch this match for tickets were not all that easy to come by – only pass holders could get tickets. I had been lucky to have this friend who had a lifetime pass who also knew somebody else with a pass, who was not going for this match. Apparently it was quite tough to get hold of one of these passes as well. “I have booked one each for my son and daughter,” he said, proudly. “It will be twenty-five years by the time they get their passes. So long is the waiting list.” It almost seemed as if the life in the whole town revolved around football. That evening as my friend drove me to the stadium, I could hardly see anyone without jerseys. Even my friend Nathan changed into a jersey as he entered the stadium. We had to arrive an hour before the match to get parking and the match ended up starting an hour late.

In some ways I felt the game was a representation of the spirit of America. Everything felt larger than life. Along with all the dramatic game announcements, there were commercials on the big screen indicative of the consumerist side. And the place was so full of passion – even old grannies were jumping off their seats cheering for their side.

While we were waiting for two hours, we got to talk quite a bit. I learnt Pittsburgh had been a small obscure town, which had risen in prominence post the advent of steel industry. And now with manufacturing moving to China, apparently the city was hit and there was lot of unemployment and economy was suffering badly. I came to know about Nathan’s parents – they lived in a rural town and brewed beer for a living he told me. He told me of his own family – his wife and two children and how he planned 2 vacations every year with entire family and one with just his wife alone. Contrary to what is generally spoken of American family system collapsing, he seemed to be an out and out family man – job, family, hobbies – same things all of us want. He told me of his favorite hobby as well – ice hockey. Made me see however different we may be, how similar we are as well in some ways. Only the form varies but essential substance of humanity is just the same. That is the thing about seeing people up close – you realize we are all but branches of the same human tree.

He also told me about the history of the Steelers team. Apparently, they had been one of the top teams winning super bowl for successive years. But in recent years, they had declined and not performing so well. This year however apparently, they fan had lot of hopes, but the performance so far had only been average. Texas was supposed to be a pushover team and the fans were looking for an easy victory.

Coming back to the match, he did try to explain the rules to me. But it was a bit tough to follow. There were goal posts on either side and a median dividing the region between the goal posts. And region from the median to goal posts were further divided into sections with numbers 10, 20, 30 written on them. Apparently, the players had to hold the ball and successfully run 10 yards without being captured in 4 attempts. If they crossed to the next box, they got another 4 turns and so on. The other team had to down him and seize the ball all 4 times without letting him finish the 10 yards. All the catching and pulling somehow reminded me of our own Kabbadi. Initially Texans seized the lead going up 13-0. The scoring was quite complex with 7, 3, 2 and 1 points for different things. That was a bit difficult to understand but I could get the general sense. I wondered if I was going to see a major upset. A pall like silence prevailed on my side of the stadium. The Texan side was filled with cheers. The Texans being lesser in number, generally the atmosphere was quiter than at the start. Then suddenly Steelers scored one. The mood lifted on my side. I was not familiar enough with the game at what score difference it would be easy to come back. In regular football 13-0 meant the match was lost for good.

Unfortunately, we could not stay to see the full match as Nathan had to get up early and go to work the next day. The next morning, I got to know Steelers had stemmed the tide and managed a comfortable victory. As I ate my fruits, muesli and croissants, I could see the Texan fans checking out with forlorn faces. It had indeed been an experience of a lifetime.  Being a World traveler and going on trips of Exploration to different parts of the world did make you more Open Minded and Love the World more and more. Travel Inspiration I call it.

Lufthansa seeks to support your dreams of being a World Traveler and this post is an entry for a contest they are holding as part of their campaign. Click here to see the campaign details. Do take a look at this video to see the spirit behind this campaign.

Small is Big - Review

These days we see lot of innovation in fiction formats. People write plays, ballads, multiple authors writing the same story to name a few. Some of these have been fueled by mediums such as blog which connects people across the world and promotes certain literary form. I don’t know if writing English poetry in regional poetry forms such as Tanku, Haiku, Ghazal, Triolet etc. would have become that popular without internet and blogs. Flash fiction is one of those things that has gained lot of popularity with the advent of blogs. The thing about them is that they are succinct and delivers a strong punch. In this age of low attention span, these take less time to write, less time to read. The entire story is around 50-200 words. Of course, this form has been around all the time. The most famous instance being Ernest Hemingway’s 6-word story – ‘“For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”

Rafaa Dalvi who has been an enthusiastic participant in this online literature sharing especially of the flash fiction variety has gone ahead and compiled an entire book of these short ones. It is a very interesting concept and I was curious to try it out. I have to say he has done a commendable job. One can see his dedication to bring out a good piece of work, meticulously working through every piece. For a book is not just the writing.

Let us start with the titled. “Small is Big” conveys exactly why the reader must pick the book for in this flash fiction, small stories convey big ideas. The picture on the cover is also appropriate depicting a lens magnifying a pawn into a King which kind of conveys the idea. Though I would day Pawn to queen would have been a better idea for in a game of chess, pawn can never become King but can become queen. But that is just nitpicking. Moving on to the blurb, that is also well done, giving sample of the kind of stories one expects to see within the book. Within the book, he has nicely arranged the stories in alphabetic order, ensuring at least one story per alphabet. The one story per page also works well. It looks neat.

Coming to the stories as such, it is a mixed bag as author says. The book has something for everyone. It has humor – a few of slap stick variety, playing on puns, it has punch where you get a most unexpected twist, it has philosophy, it has romance and it has horror – stories that chill your spine. But the thing about having something for everyone also means there will be something everyone will not like for tastes are different and you offer an assorted mix, everyone will like a few, dislike a few – no one will like the entire offering. I too felt some of the shorts were interesting. Others seem to be cliched and overused themes. Few felt downright silly; some made you think. Some felt over dramatic. But I guess that is how it will be with 100 whole stories. I thought of sharing the ones I liked most from the book but then whoever have tastes similar to mine, would have already read the best ones. So, what remains to read in the book? In that way doesn’t it become a spoiler of sorts?

I personally felt it was overdose of flash fiction for me. It takes reader some time to get into each story. Once reader gets into the flow of the story, he begins to enjoy the experience. However, when story is so short, it becomes like a Chennai-Bangalore flight – the journey is over even before you strap your seat belt. So there isn’t that slow savoring of the imaginary world of the story. That is my problem with everything that is short – articles, blog posts etc. Every time you need to attach and detach your mind. And it becomes too rapid in the case of flash fiction. So I prefer the longer ones – long short stories and novels. But that’s again me. For some it may work. After all almost everyone reads newspapers. It might work for those who don’t want to commit to an entire experience but savor only bite sized ideas.

Overall I feel it is good piece of work and for a reader interested in this kind of work, it is a definite must- read.

You can pick the book here on Amazon.

This review is part of The Book Club Tours. I have received no remuneration for reviewing the book and free copy was picked up by me when it was available for general public.
Blog Tour: Small is Big: A collection of 100 micro tales by Rafaa Dalvi

A Collection of 100 Micro Tales
Rafaa Dalvi

Blog Tour: Small is Big: A collection of 100 micro tales by Rafaa Dalvi


Have you always wanted to read more, but you could never finish that one book?
You kept putting it off, hoping you would find some free time, only to find out that months or even years went by and you saw little progress.

That’s about to change!

With Small is Big, Rafaa Dalvi has created a potpourri of 100 diverse micro tales (140 characters or less) that will provide you a rich experience in easy-to-digest fragments and urge you to read one page after another before you finally finish the book.
And the best part is that there’s a story for everyone, including YOU!

If you’re a romantic at heart, this micro tale is for you-
She kissed his cheek as he smiled back. Nothing had changed much since two decades.
Her husband called her.
She hid the photo in the closet.

If you love happy endings, this micro tale is for you-
You rested on my lap, opened yourself before me and shared your fantasies with me.
Then the stories ended and you turned back into a book.

If you are a big fan of word play, this micro tale is for you-
They’re lying in bed. 
“You’re the one,” he says; he’s lying. 
“I never doubted it,” she says; she’s lying. 
They’re lying in bed.

And if you like thrillers, this micro tale is for you-
There were two of us and one vacant position.
He would die for this job and I would kill for it.
No wonder it worked out just fine for me. 

In fact, there are 100 such small tales that will have a big impact on you.

Grab your copy @

About the author

Rafaa Dalvi, 26, is a vibrant mess of innumerable thoughts, quotes and movie dialogues who tries to escape from the mundane with words. He dreams about changing the world, one smile at a time. When he’s not busy befriending the voices in his head, he can be found in cosy corners, sipping green tea from a wine glass. As for everything else in between, there is food.

An alumnus of NMIMS Mumbai, he wants to be a versatile writer following in the footsteps of his role models Michael Crichton, Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl.

Already published numerous times, his stories can be read in the anthologies – Curtain Call (editor), Terribly Tiny Tales Volume 1, Kaleidoscope, Myriad Tales and Her Story. His first solo book ‘Small is Big’ is a collection of 100 micro tales. He’s the recipient of Indian Bloggers League Booker Prize 2013, the winner of Melonade 5 and a Select Writer at Terribly Tiny Tales.

  You can stalk him @     


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A Wall that helped build Bridges

"Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting." Only in my case it was a Sunday and it was winter morning. A Beijing winter and I was going to see the great Wall of China. The very mention of the Great Wall inspires awe. I had never imagined I would actually get to see this great monument.

Sharp at 7.00 am, I was to meet my friend at the entrance of the Metro Station. My new-found friend. My Chinese friend from work who had insisted that I should not leave the Middle Kingdom without at least seeing the famous Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. And not only that, on realizing that I was alone, he had offered to take me there himself.  I was completely overwhelmed by his generosity – after all who would willing give up a day of one’s precious weekend to take a junior colleague visiting from a foreign land sightseeing? I had had lot of apprehensions about the Chinese, with the country being projected a nation antagonistic to India and the West seeing China having nefarious intentions towards the world in the world. Maybe it might be true of the politicians. But then politicians are politicians everywhere. However, this one act of friendship began to make me see the Chinese people in all together a different light.

I got up at 6.00 am, was ready by 6.30 am and was down for breakfast. Unlike people who tell sorry tales of struggles to find suitable food in countries like China, I just loved the breakfast at my hotel – noodles with all kinds of exotic ingredients one can pick for oneself, assorted varieties of boiled yam and bean cakes. So that was a good beginning to my Sunday morning. A stomach full of Chinese food and a head full of visions of Chinese landscapes, I set out on my day’s adventure. I reached the station sharp at 6.55 am.  Legendary German durability served to protect me from the cold as I waited – the jacket I had purchased in Germany a decade back continued to serve me in good stead. My friend Xiaolin’s car appeared sharp at 7.00 and we were soon on our way.

As he drove, he started talking. “The Great Wall is on the outskirts of the City. It is not the entire wall. There are bits of the wall all over China. Most of the wall lies in bad repair. But some portions of the wall have been restored for the benefit of tourists and we shall be visiting the one in the outskirts of Beijing.”

I nodded my head.

“Good that the traffic is less today. Usually the road is full of traffic. We have 70 Km to cover and it could easily take 3-4 hours in peak traffic. But since it is a Sunday and we have started early in the morning, hopefully we can beat the traffic and reach in an hour.”

I again nodded my head. I liked listening to him. As against the stereotype of the reticent Orientals, Xiaolin loved to talk.

“So, what do you do during weekends in India?” he asked.

“I mostly read or spend time with my family,” I replied. “What do you do?” I asked in return.

“I spend a much time as I can with my son. He is going to finish his schooling and go to university soon. So, we don’t watch television at home. I spend time talking to my son and inspiring him. The only recreation activity I indulge in is a walk around the park with my wife every evening. We have a large beautiful park close to my home, which is part of the summer palace. If we have time, I will take you there as well.”

“What does you son plan to study at the university if I may ask?”

“I think he will like to study science or engineering. That is what provides maximum employment opportunity. But it is also a choice between the university and subjects. Sometimes one has to take lesser preferred subjects in order to get into a better university.”

“How does one get into universities in China?”

“There is a national level exam and based on the ranks in that exam, there is counselling, and one picks universities and subjects.”

All this seemed so familiar to me. A tough competitive exam like IIT JEE and students taking less preferred subjects such as Civil Engineering to get into a more reputed university. The Chinese did not seem all that different from us. Same kind of education system, same kind of parental aspirations! They did not seem all that alien anymore.

By now we were at the Great Wall of China.

“You are lucky. It is not crowded as it is winter, “he remarked. Indeed, it was freezing cold, more so since the altitude was higher.

After a few moments he stopped and pointed to where something was written on a plaque. He translated for me, “It is a quote from the great steersman Mao during his visit here. He has said no one can truly call himself a man till he has climbed the Great Wall at least once. So, are you ready to be a man?” he asked, with a smile?

So far, I had only read about Mao. He seemed a distant figure in a distant land. It seemed so strange to now be standing in Mao’s land and discussing what Mao had said with one of Mao’s people.

“Do you want a picture next to great man’s great words? Go stand! I will click.”

Now I would have a piece of history with me.

Then as we climbed I began to pant and puff! It was really steep, and the wind was real cold. I just could not keep pace with him. “Not used to too much exercise, eh?”

I felt he was taunting me and my competitive spirit rose. I had to keep up the Indian pride in front of the Chinese. I soldiered on for few more steps. But I just could not. I had to finally stop for breath. How the hell was he managing. He looked more overweight than me and he smoked as well.

“Don’t worry. Even I was like this last time I came. But ever since I have been exercising regularly and, so I am more fit these days.”

Thus, the fire of competition was doused by few words of understanding.

“We used to come here every during our school and college vacations. We used to climb 5 Km and back on either side.”

Seeing the haggard expression on my face, he said, “Don’t worry. We will not climb that much now. Let us just climb one side and only for as much distance as you can manage.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. As we walked up, I began to catch sight of amazing views like what I had seen in the pictures. It was really an elevating experience – standing there and seeing this glorious spectacle.

“This wall was built thousand years back when barbaric hordes used to attack China,” he explained to me

“Which nation were these hordes from,” I asked, curiously.

He spoke to someone in Chinese and mentioned some name to me which I no longer recollect.

“So now which country lies on the other side of the great wall?” I asked

“That is also China. Those days China was much smaller. Now all those regions which were threatening us has been assimilated into China,” he said proudly.

That was an interesting history lesson for me.

On the way back, he asked me if I would like to have my lunch at a local place or one of the international chains. Before I could answer, he himself spoke up again, “Let us go to a local place. International food you can eat anywhere. It is local good you must eat to experience local culture. That is what I do whenever I visit other countries,” he said.

“But I am vegetarian,” I protested.

“Don’t worry. I know the folks at this place well. I will talk to them and ensure there is no fish or meat ingredients.”

We went to place that looked really authentic. “Since you don’t know our dishes, let me order for you. Just let me know whether you prefer noodles or rice,” he said.

“Noodles,” I said.

So Noodles it was and he also ordered a dish made of potatoes. It was a real sumptuous meal. I could not perceive any meaty taste as such. And I did not inquire too deeply into the matter for I did not want to find out something I didn't want to know.

After the meal, he dropped me back at the metro and thus ended my Chinese day out. Somehow since my return from that trip, I could not think of the Chinese anything but fondly. Being a World traveler and going on trips of Exploration to different parts of the world did make you more Open Minded and Love the World more and more. Travel Inspiration I call it.

Lufthansa seeks to support your dreams of being a World Traveler and this post is an entry for a contest they are holding as part of their campaign. Click here to see the campaign details. Do take a look at this video to see the spirit behind this campaign. 

A Fremen's Warning

I am a Fremen. What is that you ask. We are a tribe of people who live in the desert planet of Arrakis. Our entire culture revolves around one resource that we sourly lack - water! Yes - water, that you take so much for granted. In our planet we hardly have enough water. We harvest every drop that is found and fiercely protect every drop. We move around in clothes called stillsuits that do now allow moisture to escape our body through sweat and urination. All water that comes out of our body is purified and circulated back for use. The greatest tribute we can offer to someone is a few drops of tears for water is such a crucial element in our lives we can't afford to lose even a drop of it unless the occasion really demands it. We show our greatest sign of friendship by spitting on your face. For thus we offer you our water. All the water that runs in the bodies of the members belongs to the tribe. So the moment someone dies, before we do the ceremonies, we harvest all the water. For water is more precious than sentiments. We can't afford to lose the water in their bodies.

Such is our lives. If we don't live by this code, death awaits us. But you? Your planet has still not become a desert planet. Act while you still can. You can save your water in a much easier manner than how we save ours. Water still seems like an abundantly available commodity that you so take for granted. But it isn't. It must have been in our planet as well once upon a time. But then our ancestors didn't preserve it and it all went away and we were overtaken by the desert. Same will be your fate if you don't act fast. All your cities are already facing acute water shortages. Ground water is draining and water table is going lower and lower. River beds lie dry. And mindless of all this, flat promoters are destroying one easy source of water - lakes. Every time it rains ,lakes store up water and are your reserve for the sunny days. But instead ugly apartments loom over every lake and rain water drains away and joins the sewage. In the rainy season, water is seen every where but nowhere is usable form. In summers, all the water is gone and not a drop to be had.

Some of the things you can do to save your precious water:-
  1. Take a stand against flat promoters building on top of lakes. Hit them where it pains most. Don't buy from them and run campaigns to make everyone boycott these flats. Let them remain unsold and let the promoters lose big money so that they will never encroach a lake again. 
  2. In your flats and bungalows, don't keep digging bore well after bore well - there is no more water to be had from the ground. Instead go for water harvesting. Harvest every drop of water.
  3. Use recycled water for toilets, lawns and fountains. 
  4. This is a bit extreme - but don't use showers or water directly from taps. Instead use buckets and mugs like olden times. That way you will be conscious of how much water you are using. When  used directly from taps and showers, one never knows how much water is getting spent and all water that comes out is not used.
There is much more to do but these are some good ways to start. Don't let your planet become another Arrakis. In case you want to know more about our lives look up Dune series by Frank Herbert. 

Work with organizations that work to save water.

Support the #CuttingPani Initiative to save water.

Sign this petition to save water at restaurants.

Watch this video on wastage of water at restaurants.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces