Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rat o' nine lives !

Intelligent Rodents
There must be a good reason why rats, of all the animals, are subjected to all kinds of tests in laboratories. Be it discovering a new cure for an old disease, or testing the effectiveness of stem cells for hopeless cases, rats are considered ideal simulation for human beings. This must be because of the similarity of the response of their bodies to any chemical input with that of the human bodies. But even in matters requiring intelligence, rats can not be inferior to the humans. At least, that is what is the conclusion I have come to, after battling with the house rats for weeks.
Nightmare with the Rats
Initially, the rats used to enter the flat through a pipeline from outside which led to the wash basin in the courtyard. Since the discharge tube made of plastic was not tightly fitted into the bigger drainage pipe, the rats bit off the plastic tube easily and entered the courtyard. Since the door leading to the living room was always kept open, entering the living room in the twilit time of the evening was no big deal for the rats. Then the night became theirs and they had a free run in the kitchen after lights were switched off. The first indication of the nocturnal assault was the lid of a used Nestle condensed milk can which was taken out of the pipeline by the plumber who was attending to a routine complaint . Deciding to close the door to our uninvited rat guests, I asked the plumber to replace the frail plastic tube by a thick PVC pipe. Well, the joy of blocking the rats through their usual route was short-lived. After a week, I found the plastic cover for the drainage under the kitchen sink fully damaged and the discharge tube was hanging loose. And the droppings everywhere gave evidence of the return of the rats. I bought an Ultrasonic Rat Repellent and installed it in the kitchen. The manufacturer of this device claims that the high frequency sound waves emitted by the equipment scares the rats away. I believed it initially. Then one morning I found that the tender coconut I had left on the kitchen platform the previous night had now a giant-sized hole instead of the small 1 cm hole I had earlier made on the Coconut shell to empty the contents. There was absolutely no doubt. It was a Rat which must have feasted on the tender coconut during the night. So, the ultrasound device failed and the rat triumphed.
Now what does one do in such cases? To go in for a rat trap? To poison the poor creatures? Neither of these obvious and popular solutions was acceptable to me. I put up with the nuisance of the rats for some more time. But the nuisance was becoming a menace. Earlier, they used to restrict their free run to the kitchen platform and the open shelves underneath. In course of time, they found out that the dining table in the dining half of the living room offered occasional treats like some left-behind snacks. Also, they learnt to probe near the Puja corner and were rewarded with the remnants of oil in the lamps. One morning, I discovered that the cushion of the sofa set had been bitten and torn.
Now was the time to take the battle to the next level. I had the kitchen sink discharge cover closed with a perforated iron plate with stainless steel cups attached underneath. Rats are not known to have overcome iron or stainless steel barriers. The pleasure of having stopped the rats in their tracks lasted for 2 nights. During the third night, I heard some faint sounds and decided to check . I found the soap box and the coconut oil can in the bath room overturned. I took a torch light and started looking under and behind every possible hiding place. It did not take much time to notice the tail of a rat rushing for cover under a Godrej Almirah. The rat had entered the bed room through an open window the height of which posed no challenge to the rat to climb.
Round One goes to me
I had to think fast. What do I do to checkmate this intelligent creature? I decided to cover all the windows with stainless steel screens. Before doing that, I ensured that no rat is left hiding anywhere in the house. Behind the refrigerator, sofa set, TV trolley, Godrej Safes, Washing machine, Computer table etc. Having ensured that the rats had been mainly overnight guests and not permanent residents in the flat, I had the windows covered with the stainless steel mesh. It is now nearly 10 days and I am beginning to feel that the first phase of the war against the rats has been won. But I do not underestimate their intelligence which has been sharpened by their thousands of years of co-existence with the human beings; that is why I consider the present lull as a truce. I know that the truce and with it, the peace could be pierced any time. But let me enjoy the small mercy meanwhile.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Prices of goods always go up, right? Wrong !

In India, we take for granted that price change is always in one direction . Up. Ever up. Higher and still higher. That is one thing which defies gravity, we joke. But there are exceptions. Electronics. Consumable durables. Have a glimpse of my observations made out of my personal experience of consumption.
*In January 1998, I had bought a Philips colour TV. It was a multimedia model. That meant that you could use it not only as a TV but also as a computer monitor, with some accessories. The price was Rs.22000.- That was a lot of money 11 years ago. Though I could have used it as a second computer monitor too, I used it mainly as a TV. I can not now explain why I paid for a feature which I did not use. Too late. But even the corresponding non-multimedia model of Philips used to cost close to Rs.16000.- Since the 11-year old unit started showing some fatigue in terms of fading colours ( the red became increasingly yellow), I decided to sell it and buy a new colour TV. Recently, I found a professional buyer and sold it for Rs.1500.- I bought a new colour TV of Samsung make. It cost me Rs. 7100.- A slim design ( a superior model of flat TV). Rs.7100.- today means about Rs.3500.- in 1998. So, in real terms, the colour TV price is 25% of what it was 10-12 years ago.
*In 1987, I had bought an Automatic Washing Machine. It cost me Rs.10000.- It had a dedicated chip for the automatic washing and drying cycle including heating ( heating is not a standard feature of the Automatic Washing Machines of today, except in an IFB model). It was one of the two makes available in India at that time. The unit was assembled in Faridabad, out of Japanese kits. Now the equivalent model ( IFB make ) costs Rs.17000.- Rs.17000.- of today must have been about Rs.3000 to Rs. 3200.- in 1987. So, in real terms, a washing machine costs less than one-third of what one paid for a similar machine 22 years ago.
*DVD , if I remember correctly, came to the Indian market in the second half of the nineties. May be late nineties. Till then it was VCP/VCR that dominated the market. I bought a National ( Japanese) VCR in 1989 for Rs.18000.- A VCP might have cost Rs.10000.- at that time. Iam not sure how long I used it; but after the cable TV came into being in early 90-s, one did not feel the need to use VCR or VCP for seeing any movie as the cable offered so many channels and hence enough choice of movies every day. Recently, I decided to buy a DVD. I bought a basic model of LG. I paid Rs.2200.- for it. Rs.2200.- in 2009 is the equivalent of Rs.500 to Rs.550.- of 1989. My conclusion is this. A superior technology in 2009 costs one-twentieth of what the price-tag of its more primitive predecessor in 1989 was.
*You might have other examples to brief me about. Mobile phone......PC.....Laptop.......and....and... the list could be longer than you think.
Now tell me, do prices always rise? Even if they do nominally, do they always rise in real terms? Not always. Thanks to constantly-evolving technology and free-market system. they could and they do come down in several sectors. Oh yes, also because of the Govt. of India's increasingly liberal import policy which has resulted in significant reduction of customs duties on components over the years. Let us give some credit to globalization which compelled the Indian Govt. to be market-savvy and not a tax-and-spend Socialist of the yesteryears.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Visiting Kerala while it rains.......

My plan was to visit Aleppey when the world-famous boat race took place. That would have been the 2nd Saturday of August. It is really funny that an unintended error one commits changes the entire plan and one ends up doing some thing other than what one originally wished. But all is well that ends well.

Special Fare Air Tickets

In this case, I ended up skipping Aleppey but visiting Kochi and Aluva. I was to take advantage of the special monsoon air fares of Air India and Jet Airways. When I was booking the ticket online, I typed the departure date as 7th July instead of 7th August. It was a small mistake but it changed my entire tour plan . There was no change of date possible since it was a special-fare ticket. Also, one was not allowed to cancel and the entire money for the ticket would have been lost upon cancellation. Well, that was the string in small print attached to the special monsoon fare. There was no sense in losing so much money just because one wanted to see the boat race at Aleppey. So, I decided to visit Kerala on the wrong date but then there was no need to go to Aleppey any more since there would be no boat race in July. And there was nothing else to see in Aleppey . So I deleted Aleppey happily from the plan but kept Kochi and Aluva as planned. In hindsight, not a bad move.

Kochi Airport

The new airport at Kochi is actually not close to Kochi. It is at Kalamassery and is closer to Aluva. It is the first private sector-built/ private sector -managed Airport in India. Plenty of space ( as on date) and very clean ( very Kerala, I should say). The lady at the pre-paid taxi counter was polite enough to explain to me that though the hotel I was to check in was quite close , I had to pay the minimum taxi fare (Rs.235.-) which would have given me several more Kms of travel if only I had the need.

Stay & Food

I preferred to stay at Aluva rather than at Kochi. It is far cheaper. Since Kochi is not very far, one could travel to Kochi during the day and be back to spend the night at the hotel at Aluva. While the room was comfortable and clean, there was one problem. There was no kitchen in the hotel. The room attendant has to go out and fetch your food at some nearby restaurant. It was a disappointment that in spite of trying different restaurants on different dates, food was uniformly bad. I must hasten to add that I am a vegetarian and so the comment on the quality of food should be taken with a pinch of salt. Who knows, non-vegetarian food might be good at these restaurants. But when I went to Ernakulam ( Kochi-Ernakulam are twin-cities), I compensated for the bad dinners I have been having by eating my lunch at an Udipi restaurant and I thoroughly enjoyed the food.


Aluva is a tourist place. There is plenty to see. Well-maintained temples. Elephant farm. Cherai beach. Kaladi Shankaracharya Ashram. It was a pleasant experience to watch all the paintings and read all the Puranic stories on the walls, as one climbed the steps of the Ashram tower.


Kochi is the older of the twin-cities and Ernakulam is the more modern one. Kochi palace was under repairs when I visited. I had to be satisfied with taking a walk in the spacious palace grounds. Since it was raining, the cup of hot tea available from the small shop in the vicinity was very welcome.

The Jewish town was a bit of a let-down. I was expecting a lot of Jews moving around. Instead, I found a lot of Muslims (some looking like Arabs) roaming around. I am told that there are very few Jewish families left in that town. Most of the Jews have migrated to Israel over the decades. The Synagogue is still there.

Kochi Marine Drive is an excellent place to spend an evening. One could take a boat ride. The place is ideal for taking long walks.

The Dutch museum is one of the places a tourist is told to visit. One could learn the complete history of the Kochi monarchy. I still remember the excellent Dutch museum in Colombo which I visited five years ago. If I had not remembered it, I would have been more appreciative of this one at Kochi.


I bought plenty of Banana chips, some of them sweetened. I found them least oily and most tasty. After I boarded the flight back to Chennai, I thought that I should have bought some Jack Fruit chips too. It is OK; there is always a next time. I hope that next time I am more careful in typing the correct departure date in the online Air-ticket booking procedure. Oh oh, I almost forgot. I must mention the give-away too, not just the take-away. I had carried an old umbrella with me to Kerala. While returning, I brought a new umbrella. The old umbrella was stolen by a small-time thief when I had kept it on a table in a restaurant for less than two minutes and gone to the wash room. In Kerala, every one is smart. How could the thieves be otherwise ?