Friday, November 29, 2013

Award Time

Awards make me happy. Period. But when I was bestowed with not one but two, my happiness knew no bounds. It felt like I am a mini celebrity. However I did keep procrastinating this post because of the tremendous amount of work involved in both the awards. Before I start to brief about the awards I want to convey my heartfelt thank you to Sai Charan and Vishal for nominating me.

First award in line is the Liebster Award. This comes with a set of questions created by the person who has nominated you. Here are the rules:
1.       Link back to the blogger who has nominated you
2.       Nominate ten more bloggers and pass the award to them
3.       Answer all the questions given to you
4.       Create your own ten questions set for the nominees
5.       Let them know that they have been nominated

      Liebster is a German word for “dearest” and this award is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers. I was nominated for this award by Sai from Beyond Barriers and below are my answers to his questions.

1.       What is the happiest moment in your life till now?
It was when my little niece was born. I was away from home, saw her when she was almost 2 months old but I was so so so happy. 

2.       Describe one embarrassingly funny experience you had.
Well, I have had many such moments. Luckily I have some of them documented on Rendezvous. There is not one, not two but three of ‘em. Find them here, here and here.

3.       If a genie grants you three wishes, what would you ask for?
My first wish would be to keep the genie with me always and then I will use my other two wishes as and when I need to.
Actually the first three things that came to my mind were so stupid and shallow that I couldn’t bring myself to write it down here. So I came up with the above answer which come to think of it is not bad at all. Hmmm, good thinking! *Pat on the back*

4.       Mention about an adventurous trip you went on and what makes it memorable.
Well, the question is sad. Sad because it reminds me that my life is so non-adventurous. Anyhow there was this one trip some million years ago, a trekking trip with group of close friends. Some mountain climbing, beautiful waterfalls, a little fun here and there and finally lots of cramps followed by a sick leave on Monday. There was this another trip with a near-death experience in the sea, catch more of that here.

5.       In future, if you were chosen for the Nobel Prize, which field would it be in?
Literature, I hope.

Interesting choice of questions, I hope my answers did justice to them. Coming back to the award, just like always I dedicate this award to all those who drop by my blog and are the reason I am still writing. As far as the questions are concerned, there were originally ten questions, Sai narrowed them down to five and lazy as I am, I have just one question for you guys.

1.       Who according to you, will win this season of big boss? 

Don't make a face. Big Boss is the flavor of this season ;)

Okay then, coming to the second award. It's the Blog-of-the-Year 2013 award by Vishal. I am so excited about it that while I am typing, mentally I am air kissing and reciting my vote of thank you's as if its a best actress award. It would be really unfair if I don't talk about my little audience of readers. Those of you who take out time to visit my page and leave behind sweet comments. And then those of you who visit and leave no trace behind. If it weren't for this invisible kinda support you guys provide, I guess I would have got bored of blogging long back. If I have come this far its only because of the love, encouragement and appreciation that I have received from you dear friends

I would like to nominate the following bloggers for this award.

R Ramesh - Global Madrasi
Sai Charan - Beyond barriers
Chandana - The Girl at the first avenue
Praveen Pandey - न दैन्यं न पलायनम्
Abhi - एहसास प्यार का..
Basically Blah -  A Touch of Tabasco
Vishal - Scripting the story of life

Congratulations to the winners :)


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dedicated to Jammu - An insight into the street food

The first few weeks of any trip back from home for outsiders are always filled with longing, nostalgia and terrible bouts of homesickness. This post is a result of all those emotions. Live any any big city, shop in malls and eat in fancy places but none of these can match the charm of your chotta shehar, local bazaar and the thaeli ki delicacy’s. It’s just like eating pani puri in a restaurant and from a local vendor. The former is spick and span without dirt or flies but it never has and never will match the exquisite taste and the saliva that sprouts when you see the puri being dipped into various concoctions right in front of you. Getting passed from bhaiya’s hands to your mouth and aahh the blast of different flavours

Gol Gappe wale uncle
 Though it’s only been around 2.5 years since I left Jammu, I find a lot of difference in the lifestyle of people. I was quite surprised to spot a Porsche and a Land Rover on one of my recent visit to town. Jammu also boasts of having a branch of all major food chains – KFC, Dominoes, Pizza Hut, and Mac-D etc. There is an outlet of Cafe Coffee Day right in front of my erstwhile school. Sipping coffee with my friend I saw a huge throng of girls from my school rushing to buy drinks and shakes after school. I was astonished that they were easily buying stuff from a place where the average cost of any beverage is more than Rs. 50. When I was a little girl the only after school guilty pleasure was an orange candy costly some 5 rupees. On some days my mother used to give me 10 rupees and I used to be on cloud#9 the entire day and wait eagerly for the school to get over because 10 rupees meant I could have Chocó-bar. Having 50 rupees to spend back then was unimaginable. Looking back I don’t think I regret this.

People and their lifestyle may have changed but thankfully the love for street food remains. In every nook and corner of the city you can always spot a street vendor selling something or the other. I feel there is nothing that gives a better insight into a places’ cultural heritage than its street food. Our Jammu street food is no different. It is a clear reflection of the fact that we Jammuties like our food to be tangy and spicy.
The best thing about street food is that it’s made right in front of our eyes, which is so stimulating. Who hasn’t experienced saliva filled mouth as one looks on how the butter melts on the hot tawa and how the pav’s (buns) are generously smouldered with it.

The guy is cutting Khimbh and next to the banana's is the Kachallu
 One street food which is spotted in almost every part of India (except maybe south) is pani puri. Popularly known as gol-gappa’s in our part of the world, they are a clear favorite of all. People from all spheres are seen devouring its taste. There are some vendors selling gol-gappas since ages at their specific places. In every neighborhood there is a particular place and person who you know would be available from morning to evening to satisfy your craving for something sour and spicy. Close in competition are kachaloo’s. Kachaloo basically belongs to the family of potatoes. The boiled vegetable and pulses (black eyed peas and moong) is served in gravy of tamarind and various other spices. Old Jammu city is a famous shopping joint for ladies for clothes and accessories and equally popular for street snacks. The shopping in the old city area is utterly incomplete without a healthy dose of these spicy treat. What is all the more special about these savouries is that they are so light on the pocket!

Me and my friend enjoying Khimbh
 Another popular snack is the tangy kimbh. Kimbh is a relative of the orange family and is extremely sour so the dish contains an ample amount of red chillies. We had a dhabha just outside our college and Vikhram Bhaiya the chef used to prepare the spiciest Kimbh ever. It used to set our stomachs on fire and after that we used to walk almost half a kilometre in opposite direction (our college was in outskirts with no soul in sight) to a tinny-tiny shop that selled those round fruit flavoured candies.  

The unhealthy but very tasty Hot Dogs!

Hot Dogs may belong to America but we have our very own desi versions of it. Our version comprises of a stale bun with boiled potatoes, tikki and dollops of mayonnaise. Sounds awful but tastes awesome. Talking about buns, channa kulcha is another popular kind of food which as the name suggests has a filling of kabuli channa with liberally applied butter. The sellers are usually seen on cycles near the BC road and outside schools. Pav-bhaji on wheels sells like hot-cakes near the Bahu-Plaza area in evenings. The aaloo-tickki vendors are also very famous. Crisp aaloo-tickii’s with spicy chutney, a little curd and some salad is pure bliss. Then there are different types of pakoda’s and one special kind which is called gul-gulle’s soft spongy batter fried besan served with spicy radish chutey flovered with tamarind.

Gul-Gulle with mint chutney and salad

 Over the years Chinese food has been made very famous by the Ladaki students who come to Jammu for college and studies. Momo shops are mushrooming in every locality. These light and healthy snacks have a huge fan following. If you are a non-vegetarian you have to try fried mutton momo’s at Momo Hut. It is so tasty that just thinking of it has brought water into my mouth. Another popular dish of Ladakh available at Momo Hut is Thupka, it is momos and noodles all together in a pool of soup (chicken/mutton). The disk is very popular, healthy and supposedly helps keeping warm against the cold weather but somehow I don’t like it. Other popular Chinese snacks served are soups, Manchurian and noodles. There is this one shop that servers hakka noodles with gravy. The noodles are cooked in Indian style and there is nothing “hakka” about it but it is still so great.

The un-hakka noodles and gravy
 Walking on a hot scalding summer day can be a torture. But not in Jammu. Here, one is greeted with refreshing cool drinks after every few steps. Who wouldn’t enjoy a drink of sugarcane juice or rho on a hot day or the tangy jaal-jeera and other numerous varieties of juices available? 

Carrot Juice

And if you are not a juice person there is always kulfi falooda. There is a shop which has been serving kulfi since very very long. My grandparents have had kulfi there and it continues to be the most loved kulfi-wala in the entire Jammu. Even the workers and waiters have not changed there since my childhood days.

The Kulfi

Agreed it is cool and chic to sit and eat inside a fancy restaurant but it is also very boring. Street food is all about eating in the open air, dropping bits of food on your clothes and not worrying about it, no tissues or finger bowls. Just you, the open aroma, the food and the satisfaction the taste buds. Nothing beats the fun element attached with the street foods. Hope you liked the post.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Decrypting the Digital Fortress.

Mystery of any sort is enticing in nature, whether in real or reel life. Who is going out with who always forms a great means of guess game for people. The secrets and anonymity always provides an interesting opportunity to ponder and gossip. History has been a witness to the success of various movies and books associated with mystery and thrill. Personally I prefer my mystery served in a book. I cannot imagine any other way in which it can be thoroughly enjoyed. With a book you can actually experience the experience while being mentally transported into the story. Over the years I have enjoyed reading thrillers by Agatha Christie and Sydney Sheldon. My personal favorites are The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankill and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Dan Brown’s books have substantial amount of controversies associated with them. But with every book of his, you are sure to learn a thing or two. Apart from being handsome, the guy is really smart and that is reflected in the topics he chooses for his books. The books are interesting no doubt but other than that they actually make you sit and Google in detail about stuff – whatever it maybe. Da Vinci code had us googling about the last supper, the Holy Grail, the blue bloodline, Mary Magdalene and the supposed marriage between her and Jesus Christ. Angels and demons had us looking deeply into Rome and Vatican City. I recently laid my hands on The Digital Fortress and once again Google has started to get a lot of hits from my IP.

Digital fortress was published in the year 1998, the year I was promoted in 5th standard and introduced to Enid Blaydon who would soon become my best friend. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that in a parallel world miles apart from my secret sevens and famous fives there was a buzzing of codes and encryption. The book is based on the art of cryptography (art of hiding a secret message in a seemingly inconsequential piece of data) and the means and mechanism involved in decrypting the secret message. My world was still untouched by the advent of internet and what would become a very popular means of communication in those times – the email. Not proud to admit this, but I was familiarized with the concept of cryptography another 11 years later while preparing for my engineering third year seminar, the topic of which I had chosen as Stenography.

 Stenography can be called as the sister of cryptography. It refers to the concealment of messages inside an image, sound file or any other digital media type. Another interesting branch of stenography is network stenography which utilizes the communication protocols and are apparently harder to detect. Whatever maybe the mechanism the methodology of hiding messaging is definitely a boon, especially for the unlawful transactions and elements like warlords, drug dealers and terrorists. It is a common knowledge that the 9/11 attack was planned and executed by hiding the messages in images via Stenography. To counteract this menace our intelligence agencies have to be at least one step ahead. There are various programs and dedicated computers specifically designed to break codes. And these codes are not just any random haphazardly arranged jumbled words. There are specific mathematical algorithms designed to create encoded messages. And these may take a cryptographer or a computer time ranging from few seconds to years to break them. Programs are making use of parallel processing and complex circuitry to come up with something so powerful that will break codes with seconds. On the other hand hackers and other smarties are coming up with codes that are unbreakable. A very interesting chain of actions.

US National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for snooping stuff of internet and cracking objectionable and suspicious messages. Many a terror attacks and drug deals have been avoided after the NSA alerted the administration and authority. However all the snooping across sensitive data's has been gaining a lot of negative feedback from technology giants. Recently according to reports NSA broke into Google and Yahoo's data centers across the world.After this Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, AOL and Facebook have supported a legislation to clip NSA's wings. It seems the aggressive eavesdropping activity is causing a botheration. What fascinates me is that Mr. Brown has already described in the book published in 1998 is actually happening now!

Though still halfway through the book, the codes, keys and programming description in the book is very fascinating. By the time I am done reading the book, I will have done a more detailed and comprehensive research and analysis on the subject. Any queries or interesting piece of insight related to the topic are welcome.

NOTE: All details related to NSA, the legislation details and the pictures have been taken from various sites on internet and TOI.


P.S While re-reading the post I just realized that the last two paragraphs sound more like a technical paper write-up than a blogpost! Anyhow a little change and something new doesn’t hurt anyone, right?