via The Last Puff


Nicotine Dreams: a Remembrance

I haven’t read a more touching story in recent times. So written from the heart. And I can relate to it more so because today marks almost thirteen months of my abstinence, since my massive heart attack on 17th April18. I still have before me on a small wooden shelf the packet of Classic Ultra Mild that I last used on the 16th April last year after dinner. It contains ..wait..I’ll check..fourteen cigarettes exactly. I’ve been keeping the packet on display as a reminder and also as a means of testing my resolve against temptation. I’m still fighting the urge, sad to say. The physical urge is becoming more and more of a distant dream but the psychological urge is still there. May be it will go away after a few more years. But there are days when I very strongly feel like succumbing to the temptation. The only thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow is the threat from my wife that she would leave me if I touched a cigarette again. I can’t afford to lose her. ..So there

Wanderings and Wonderings

Be warned, O gentle reader: this one’s a reminiscence of sorts: rather long, very rambling, and rather personal.

It’s May 13th going on 14th … a time of year that always reminds me of my father, R S Paramasivan, mother Jaya, and the closely related subject of cigarettes.

Dad supported, unsung, the lives of tens of thousands of tobacco farmers across the country during his 50 years of heavy smoking. In these worthy and heady efforts he was joined enthusiastically by brother Bala and yours truly once we had entered our teens.  Bala started early as Dad had – at the age of 15 or thereabouts; I took my first puff when nearly 16. Dad initially smoked Wills Gold Flake (it came in a tin of 50 cigarettes till the early 1960s), and later switched to Wills Filter. Bala and I smoked Charminar till well after we started…

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The cardiologist looked down over the top of his half moon reading glasses at the echo cardiogram report and wrinkled his nose. It was a distasteful report. I could see that, even though I couldn’t read it from across the table. The body language of my doctor said it all. My heart had not won his heart, if you know what I mean!

He dictated a revised prescription, changing some of the medicines. His understudy – another doctor training for his MD – wrote it down in a form.

Then he looked up at me.

Do you walk? He asked.

I was affronted. Why should I walk, I wondered? In fact why should anyone walk, if they could ride a cycle or a bike, or a horse or a car or a bus, train, plane…?  Walking was exercise. And I wouldn’t even bother to bend down except to pick up a large gold coin or something of similar value and really worthwhile.

I nodded nicely, trying not to offend him.

How much? He asked.

This was dicey. Actually I had no idea how much I walked. The main door was forty six steps from my bed. So, assuming I was compelled by force of circumstances to open the door two or three times on an average day, interrupting my crossword, my Facebooking, my WhatsApping and so on, I would have walked two hundred and seventy-six steps. Assuming each step to be about two feet that would mean a journey of five hundred and fifty-two feet, no mean feat, translating to about one tenth of a mile.

But one doesn’t boast of walking one tenth of a mile. Not outside of Facebook. Certainly not before a cardiologist.

So I multiplied the reality by ten and said may be I walked a mile.

He looked grim.

“Your heart has ischemia and also arrhythmia”, he said with relish, making them sound like bad words used only by stable boys.

“It is also has sluggish blood flow inside”, he sounded ominous and happy.

“You must walk” was the final verdict after the build-up.

This was a jam I needed to get out of very fast. “But I have this severe arthritis of the joints” I pleaded in a weak voice.

“In that case walk slowly. You need not be brisk”

“Oh. OK then I guess” I said, finally defeated.



There are certain steps to be followed before each and every activity in our daily lives. They all begin with downloading an app.

Waking up in the morning at a particular time? Must download the Clock App and set the alarm.

Want to calculate something? Must download the Calculator app.

Making tea? Must use the countdown timer built in the Clock App to brew it just so.

Going to work? Must download Google Maps app and find the shortest route and the traffic situation.

Want to travel by taxi? Download and use the Uber or the Ola app.

Want to check out some facts in the middle of a discussion?  Open Google app. Or OK Google.

Not feeling well? Open MedLife app  to order the medicines at a discount.

Want to buy groceries? Open Big Basket or Grofers app.

Want to buy milk? Open the Rain Can app.

Want to order cooked food? Open Zomato app or Swiggy or similar.

Want to watch a movie? Open Book My Show app.

Want to buy rail tickets? Open IRCTC app.

Want air tickets? Open Make My Trip app or any of its hundred alternatives.

Want a hotel room? Open OYO, Airbnb or any other Hotels app

In short, one cannot lead an app-less life. If one wants to be h(app)y !

So, when the doctor asked me to walk I downloaded a couple of walking apps as the first baby step, so to speak.

After a few weeks of trial and error I settled down to something called the Google.Fit app. This app measured the number of minutes I walked, the number of steps I took, the number of kilometers I covered and it also calculated the equivalent amount of cardiology exercise performed. It also kept the log of my activities, day-wise, week-wise and month-wise.   In fact, it was a nice new boys’ toy. It took the boredom out of walking round and round the perimeter of our gated community.

There was only one hitch, however. For the app to work, the smartphone had to be carried on my person at all times. And when the smartphone travelled in the glove compartment or the dashboard of the car it jumped about a bit and the Google.Fit app recorded that as walk. So that a five kilometer car ride was recorded as at least one kilometer of walking…

It helped me to cheat myself ..!!

 Watch this space for Middle ground…

To be continued…


TRAVELLER’S DIARY. Alhambra. Spain.


(Don’t miss the on the links and preferably watch on a large screen for best viewing pleasure )

We set out from Seville after a sumptuous breakfast, as usual, for a straight two hundred kilometers run to the Alhambra Palace, en route to our hotel. The tickets for the Alhambra had already been procured and the guide was supposed to meet us exactly at two O’ clock in the afternoon.

 These timings were extremely important. We were travelling through this part of Spain during the Easter weekend and Easter processions and festivals and church services were taking place everywhere. We had seen large processions in Seville also. Thousands upon thousands of tourists, including those from Spain itself, had already flocked to the major cities to witness and or to participate in these events. A mammoth procession practically chocking the whole city was due to start from in front of the Melia Granada, the hotel situated on Calle Angel Gavinet where we were supposed to stay. There was no way anyone could get past the processions for many hours once it started. We simply had to get into the hotel by five at the very latest. On the flip side, the hotel was located bang at the Centre of Granada and the shopaholics amongst us were assured of a free rein as soon as the processions ended.

 For the uninitiated, Granada lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Andalucía. It is an ancient town and has many important examples of medieval architecture dating to the Moorish occupation of Spain. Of course it’s best known for the Alhambra, a grand, sprawling hilltop fortress complex encompassing royal palaces, serene patios and reflecting pools, built in the 14th century by Spain’s last Muslim dynasty – the Nashid dynasty. Next to the fortress complex and about a one and a half kilometer walk are located the fountains and orchards of the Generalife Gardens – also called the White Palace.

Alhambra   palace was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-11th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. Alhambra’s Islamic palaces, as we know them today, were built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain and the court of the Nasrid dynasty. After the conquest of Granada by the Reyes Católicos (“Catholic Monarchs”) in 1492, some portions were used by Christian rulers. The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, was inserted in the Alhambra within the Nasrid fortifications. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings being occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travellers, with restorations commencing. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. Alhambra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for many songs and stories.- Wikipedia)

 We stopped for a washroom and lunch break by the roadside at a place called Cafeteria Tiendas, a unit of the Abades chain of hotels that abound in Spain. I think I had a chicken sandwich and coffee. The others had lots of beer, since it was going cheap at two Euros for a can. As usual, the scheduled half an hour break extended to over one hour and in the end there was again a mad rush to reach Alhambra within our appointed time.

 The air turned cooler and the snow-capped mountains made their appearance in the distance as our tour bus climbed towards the fortress. Frankly, the beauty of the place cannot be easily described in words, least of all by me. It’s best that you go to my album and go through the selection of pictures that I have uploaded. Suffice it to say that from the parking lot to the exit through a park, the entire place was filled with beautiful buildings, scenes, views and flowers. Interspaced with many trees laden with ripe oranges which no one plucks. The whole place was a photographers dream come true. From people to things. You could shoot to your heart’s content. As with all conducted tours that I have taken, the guide hurries along ahead of you and you have to keep pace with him or her, “Whispers” notwithstanding, because you cannot afford to lose sight of your group or your guide. Because if you do, you will never get back out of this hugely spread out place. Hence the photography had to be quick point and shoot. Then limp along with your shoulder bag, your camera, your backaches, your knee pains and all, to make sure that at least you are in the fringes of the group. I did just that. We walked up the sloping garden path from the ticket gates to the main gate of the fort and met with a battery of canons that guarded it, facing downhill towards Granada. The following link will take you to the pictures of Alhambra.

It takes a full day, or two, to truly see and appreciate all the things there are to see in Alhambra and its surrounding areas. We finished it in three hours, at “fast forward speed”. As a result, the legs and back were aching and the head felt heavy with accumulated knowledge imparted by our guide by the time we finished the tour and got back into the bus. The only consolation were the hundreds of photos taken, to enjoy at leisure once I got back home.

 We made it from Alhambra to our destination, the Melia Granada hotel, situated on Calle Angel Gavinet at the city centre of Granada, just in time before the Easter processions began. It was a beautiful hotel with very large rooms, and even larger bathrooms. The window looked out on a café below where people of all ages could be seen enjoying themselves at all times. The entire street of Calle Angel Gavinet was closed to all traffic at five o’clock and there were makeshift galleries with plastic chairs lining the road for spectators who had to buy tickets in advance for the choicest seats. We had no such luck. But there was a beautiful arcade in front of our hotel, somewhat along the lines of the Grand Hotel arcade in Kolkata. This arcade was open and we moved along it from the hotel area towards the town square, a half kilometer away, to enjoy the festivities at long distance.

 I had taken off my shoes after a long day and had stepped out in my Bata Hawaii slippers. But walking in slippers was no problem at all for a leisurely stroll for the roads of Granada are beautifully paved and spotlessly clean. This is not saying much, since all roads in Spain are beautifully paved. But here, most of the roads were built to make them convenient for pedestrians, wheelchairs and cyclists alike. Even the edges of the roads were paved with large rounded stones embedded in cement, and there was no scope for dirt to seep through. It was taking a bit of time for the procession to get organized and so in order to kill time some of us strolled over to – where else – El Corte Ingles, the chain of huge multi-brand retail departmental stores that dot the whole of Spain. There was one branch of theirs very close tour hotel and we headed there. I will not spend time providing details of the clothing, accessories and provisions that filled the shelves in this huge store. We were basically looking to buy a little saffron for which Granada is famous. We found it, beautifully packed, in the grocery section and, according to a knowledgeable fellow traveller, the price was less than half of that in India. So all was good. Browsing somewhat idly in the liquor section, I spotted a 750 ml bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey for 19 Euros. As prices go that was a steal. So I bought a bottle. And we set out for the venue of the Easter procession once again.

 There is a lot to be said for learning Judo and Karate. In my early days in college some of us had bought books on Judo, Taekwondo, Karate and other forms of martial arts. On summer evenings in Shillong we practiced in our own amateurish way the various types of jumps, kicks, holds and falls in the football field adjacent to our hostel. The enthusiasm didn’t last for long. But some of the training stayed on in the depths of the subconscious memory.

 We set out from El Corte Ingles back towards our hotel, the Melia Granada, laden with our purchases and chatting excitedly. We were not really looking at the ground, because it was taken for granted to be a smooth pavement. At least I was not looking at the ground. Suddenly my foot slipped – or shall I say my slipper slipped – and I was airborne, with the camera in my left hand and the precious bottle of Jack Daniels in my right.

 The faint memory of judo learned forty-three years ago kicked in at the last moment. I landed on the pavement on my left forearm and knees, torso off the ground, camera intact in my left hand (not touching the ground) and Jack Daniels equally intact and off the ground. Of course I had lost a part of the tip of my right toe and the corner of a nail and was bleeding a bit. But the elation of remembering how to fall and the fact that I could save my dear camera and the bottle more than compensated for the pain and the bleeding. Late at night I washed my foot in running hot water in the bidet of my hotel bathroom and put a band-aid round the wound after applying a liberal dose of Soframycin ointment borrowed from a friend. Three weeks later all was well again.

 We got to watch the procession, after all. It was amazing and something to be remembered. However it fizzled out quickly enough. Later we came back for a sit down dinner to Resturante Paco Martin or  Paco Martin Restaurant, located just next door to El Corte Ingles. This time I was wearing my shoes!!

 For photos of our hotel, the Easter procession and other please check the link  and or the thumbnail below:





Don’t miss the photos, preferably viewed on a large screen

On the last day of our stay in Seville, (locally pronounced as Sevia ) we went on a day trip to Cordoba, about one hundred and seventy kilometers away from our hotel.

Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome.

The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called “El Puente Romano”.

But Cordoba’s hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this was when work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.

When the city was reconquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today.

The purpose behind visiting Codoba , the largest urban nucleus in medieval Europe, was of course to visit the Mezquita, among the other, lesser sights.

The Mosque-cathedral of Córdoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba (or Mezquita de Córdoba in Spanish), whose another name is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is the Catholic Christian cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and located in the Spanish region of Andalusia.

The structure is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

It originally was a Catholic Christian church built by the Visigoths.

When Muslims conquered Spain in 711, the church was first divided into Muslim and Christian halves. This sharing arrangement of the site lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman I, who then proceeded to demolish the entire structure and build the grand mosque of Cordoba on its ground.

After the Reconquista, it was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. It is the most important monument of all the Western Islamic world, and one of the most amazing in the world. The evolution of the “Omeya” style in Spain is resumed in the history of the Mosque of Cordoba, as well as other styles such as the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque of the Christian architecture.

As well as the unique mosque-cathedral, Cordoba’s treasures include the Alcazar, or Fortress, built by the Christians in 1328; the Calahorra Fort, originally built by the Arabs, which guards the Roman Bridge, on the far side of the river from the Mezquita, and the ancient Jewish Synagogue, now a museum.

Cordoba’s medieval quarter, once the home of the Jewish community, is called “La Judería” (The Jewry), a labyrinth of winding, narrow streets, shady flower-filled courtyards and picturesque squares such as La Plaza del Potro.

In early May, homeowners proudly festoon their patios with flowers to compete for the city’s “most beautiful courtyard” contest.

We walked almost a kilometer from the tour bus to the gates of the great cathedral, along the beautifully paved road that runs along the river. The massive top less, door less gate was itself a wonder of architecture. Past the gates you enter a cobbled courtyard packed with tourists and a souvenir shop.

Beyond it is a narrow cobbled lane dotted with restaurants (with washroom facilities, which we duly used) on one side and the high boundary wall of the cathedral on the other side.

The lane was even more crowded- with tourists from all over the world.

We were cautioned against pickpockets, beggars and other unsavory characters and after entering this lane I was happy for the caution. For it was indeed sprinkled with some dubious looking characters, generally women. Mostly looking like gypsies.

Some of them did attempt to get close to us, but without much success, due to the caution that we had already received.

The queue for entry into the cathedral was long but moving and we duly picked up our guide and the audio equipment (which the guide called “Whispers”) which we plugged in.

That way the guide could speak and every member of the group could hear clearly through earphones what was being said, over FM radio on a fixed frequency.

Inside the boundary walls there was a huge compound like a park and on one side of this compound was the entry to the great cathedral. There were many stalls lining the way to the entrance, displaying local handicraft – mostly ceramic pottery of outstanding intricacy and beauty.

The walls on the way to the entrance were also lined with some of the wooden rafters that had once formed the ceiling of parts of the cathedral.

These are now for display to give one an idea of what things were like in those centuries gone by.

It took about two hours for a ‘fast forwarded’ tour of the insides. It is difficult really to describe in words the things we saw but I took many photos without flash, that I hope would help people to get an idea of what it was all about.

Of course, we did not have the time to take in all the sights and sounds of the city of Cordoba within our limited and rather tight schedule. But we did our best. Which included a walk across the Roman Bridge and into the old town to stroll around and to get a bite of lunch at one of the many roadside restaurants.

We had an excellent lunch by the roadside place called Bar Miguelito with lots of chicken-prawn green salad, mouth-watering sizzling hot pork-kababs served off the grill on little skewers (called Pinchito Moruno), fish fingers (called Mero Rebozado) Alhambra beer and bread.

Back to the tour bus for the return trip to Seville and a half day city tour there.

We then waited around for two hours in the scorching sun and doing some desultory browsing at the store located close to the bull fighting ring , selling mostly fancy useless bric a brac souvenir items mostly made in China, until it was time for our guide to show up for the walking tour of some old parts of the city.

Finally we had an Indian dinner to round off the day, sitting on the wide pavement at The Mahal, a Pakistani owned restaurant.

The dinner was like Indian dinners go , with salad, Dal, Tandoori roti, Rice, two mixed vegetable items, a Cauliflower curry, a dish of Paneer butter masala, chicken curry, Sweet Chutney, Jilebi and ice-cream. It was a nice change from the usual dinners of soup, fried chicken and custard/ice cream that we had been having on normal days.

The Sun went down around the same time as we finished eating and the town lit up with beautiful lights against the background of the dark blue and still darkening evening sky. It was a magical evening.

Then it was back to our hotel the Abades Benacazón for a relaxed late night chat with friends over some Chevas Regal.

The hotel was lit up like a palace from the Arabian Nights and every room had a balcony attached that overlooked the open air swimming pool which was not in use probably due to the very cold weather. This was about the best external architecture in a hotel that we saw during our entire trip.

Repacked our suitcases and went to sleep to be up early on the following day for our run to Granada and the Alhambra.

(Don’t miss the photos, preferably viewed on a large screen )

Famous Food Joints of Kolkata. My own comments..

Most of the mentioned places are very old, some over a hundred years in age. Therefore the article has a lot to do with history and nostalgia, rather than real quality.. Anadi Cabin, Golbari, Nizams, Aminia, Amzadia etc are cases in point. Dilkhusa Cabin, Basanta Cabin , Chacha, Allen and Mitra Cafe – all of them specialising in chop, cutlet and moglai porota – have existed since long before my birth.. Their quality too have deteriorated very substantially over time.

I had once written a comment in Facebook describing my own sad experience of Golbari r Kosha Mangsho which all North Calcuttans swear by even today….destroying the myth about the place.
The level of hygiene in the eateries of Kolkata and the suberbs are also quite abysmal.
There was a huge scandal in Kolkata less than a year ago about red meat and chicken being sourced from garbage dumps and from dumps for dead animals and birds (called bhagads) . Employees of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation were found involved in the racket. Many restaurants in Kolkata and Howrah were also caught serving dead dogs under the name of mutton. Majority of the popular restaurants of the city were a part of this huge racket. Many people I know have since stopped eating meat outside their homes for this reason ..
Agreed excellent food is available outside Kolkata also. But the places are so far flung that one gets to sample them only by accident and not by design.
Some of the top quality sweets from far flung places however are sold in the streets near the Writers Building around lunch time. They are brought daily in small quantities directly from source.
But just for information, a vast majority of the traditional sweet makers from outside Kolkata… like from Bardhaman, Shaktigarh, Krishna Nagar, Nabadweep, Mechheda, Jonai etc to name just a few, have been migrating into the city in search of a better life for several years now, and this has resulted in the improvement in the sweets made in Kolkata and a marked deterioration of quality in the sweets made in those places..
Last but not least there’s a new crop of superb restaurants opened in the last 20 years who give everyone a run for their money. These are operated by smart, qualified and quite “with-it” people. And they have now become the new pilgrimage places for the food lovers of Kolkata…