Published October 18, 2013 by Srikanth Eswaran

The degree kaapi life

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The man inside the house is dressed only in a dhoti and is sitting facing his bare back to the busy main road either oblivious to the surroundings or perhaps ingrained in the fact that life has to continue despite the contraints that the world outside has to offer. He is either watching TV or just medidating in the midst of all the hustle and bustle barely a few feet away from the floor where he sits on. His palatial house of yesteryears perhaps offers the solace to him that the outer world can’t.

The pavements are decorated with navaratri dolls and vegetable and fruit vendors lined up for many a kilometer that the eye can see. With not even an inch left on the road, the traffic is everywhere. A loud sustained honk generated when you press the squeezy green ball shaped invention is umistakable as it announces that a vehicle perhaps 100,000 times larger than the horn is arriving at breakneck speed at rubbing distance from you. The driver seems least bothered whether there are humans walking on the road, or other vehicles either merging from the alleyways or from the opposite side. Frankly its upto one’s destiny to heed that honk and move away. Else the bark of pure unadulterated tamil is worse than its bite in Chennai.

There are both fast and slow paced worlds coexisting here. The traffic is maddeningly fast. Someone exits the main road to join a by lane, while someone appears suddenly and merges into the main road. Another guy does the unpredictable act of darting from the opposite lane aiming his squeaky two wheeler straight into one empty parking slot on your side. Driving straight on your face that is without any feeling of an error. He got that most coveted parking for the next half an hour that no one managed to notice.

As I approach an intersection there is a large corner plot which has been demolished. The compound wall now has large structures standing tall made of thatched coconut leaves. Every now and then I can notice the moon playing hide and seek as I walk by this large empty land. Its only a matter of time before a swanky new commercial complex or some apartment comes up here. As I near the corner, I am only able to notice very bright rays of a couple of sharp yellow bulbs and can smell something large which will unmistakably squash me if I dont pause.

A large vehicle followed by a few pesky two wheelers dart from one by lane to another putting to a complete halt every vehicle on the main road (the bus included). This precision system works without a signal or a cop and its merely based on an understanding of the teams working at right angles to each other. The traffic is self managed. Almost twenty five years ago, when I came shopping here, a series of petromax lights on vegetable stall quadricycles welcomed be in the cacophony shouting at top pitch - thakkali, urulaikazhungu, keerai, vengaayam.

There was no way you could get along without buying any one of that after a heightened marketing pitch. The very same fruit and vegetable stalls still dot the busy main road even today - petromaxes replaced with swanky chinese CFL lamps running on solar charge - minus the marketing. The old charm still remains but no one calls you to buy unless you stop by anymore.

Along the corner is a temple with people stopping by paying a visit to the diety, wishing that their lives become better than what it is while vendors are busy selling puja items to help the cause. Somewhere along two guys dressed in lungies are sitting besides lots of unsold navaratri dolls lamenting on low sales this year and how people are losing the traditional touch. Opposite the temple is a small but clear board in tamil that reads white font on blue background - “Saloon” - hair in chennai will quadruple the amount of sweat your body can generate, so you do need someone who can “take care” of that for good.

As I walk along, I notice a rather burly man, about three times my size (just to let you know my wife feels I am a pot bellied ‘fother’ to my kids already). He wears a neat full sleeved shirt rolled to 3/4th of the arms. His veshti can give an inferiority complex to Mamooty in the “salute Ramrajkku salute” ad. The folds of his veshti expose his rather large thighs, knees and strong hairy legs ending in a sandal. His gaze is fixed on me, and his large eyeballs look threatening and menacing. As I walk forward, I realize he is looking at something behind me. Some distance further the street gets dark due to lack of shops for a brief period.

This is place where dimly lit locked up houses are present, and I notice two friends are chatting up sitting on the pavement. One of them explains his injured fingers to another while showing the bandage. They share a laugh or two as I walk past. As I go further, a share auto screeches to a halt in front of me blocking my path and a man in a hurry jumps right onto my face from the auto. The share auto revolution has now managed to make the normal auto drivers by storm and they think again and they now “put meter” which is equivalent to the 8th wonder of the world.

Strong smells of agarbathi, degree kaapi fill the air as I walk further past. At a corner of Brindavan street, a huge shop screams of Krishna Sweets with the traditional mysorepa kept all over the place. I continue walking past in search of a certain Jockey showroom when I notice how dark the street has gotten suddenly. There are vehicles constantly whizzing past you reminding you to take care of your mortal remains assuming they have scared the rest of the shit within you while brushing past. “Anney, Seenu anney” screams a guy across the street from his garage. I continue to be amazed how some people live their daily life in a garage in an atmosphere dominated by sweat. Seenu anney does not respond and I walk on.

A bunch of auto drivers are loudly discussing something and it seems like anytime they would break into a fight. Whether they would hurt someone is anyone’s guess but most probably not. A woman screams something from an apartment on top to someone on the road at a time when mobile phones are the thing of the day even to talk from one room to another within the same house.

A bit further I notice a rather neat and well built small apartment on my left with huge entry gates and some builders name glorified on it. I fail to notice on my right something dark, black and almost non existent to the naked eye unless noticed carefully. Its nothing short of about fifty years old and the moss and algae all over without any light around makes it an apartment in complete contrast to the one I just otherwise noticed. Not to forget to mention two big multi utility vehicles squeezed into an already small lane.

Finally I reach a junction from where one cannot miss noticing the all encompassing Pothi’s store glittering away in lights that could perhaps light up a locality of frustrated voters in some other village outside the city. I find the Jockey store finally and quickly get into the comfort of the airconditioned lifestyle inside the shop. As my sweat from walking during the evening dries up almost instantaneously a rather confused store attender wonders which undergarment to show me.

He looks at me like I have come from Mars. He gives me a stare like I am not going to make a successful purchase and the whole atmosphere is now beginning to turn a futile shopping experience. When I ask for something that he does not have he says - “two shops later there is Fashionberg, you must check there you will surely get it”. I sign out of the store and stand in disbelief two shops later. “Fashionberg” is a 10x10 store with 100 customers already standing inside and I am sure the Germans would be feeling the heat seeing someone use their naming style for a shop this small.

I decide to walk away almost instantaneously and walk past the Venkateshwara Boli stall. I must say that all Boli stalls have something to do with the name Venkat (venkateshwara, venkataramana) to be successful. A father asks his young daughter - “Bonda saapadrayaa?” as he points to the shelf full of Bondas lined up. As I ask the store owner whether he accepts card and get a negative reply some others are jostling behind me uncontrollably with their urge to eat that “soodanna bajji rendu” just ordered before me. As I walk further past back to my home I notice a few more stalls ahead after a dark patch. A whizzing two wheeler driven by a lady and her young daughter on pillion abruptly stop at the dark side of the street.

After witnessing what seemed as a never ending chaos of overflowing traffic I assumed that there is a traffic jam ahead only to understand later that the woman stopped just behind a huge DUSTBIN which has been intentionally left at the middle of the busy street. When I was just feeling good for the woman who stopped on time avoiding crashing into the dustbin I was dumbfounded when she picked up a cover full of garbage, threw it into the dustbin in “rajini style” and vanished from the place all in one go. I was left imagining what kind of person would come all the way with her daughter in tow on a two wheeler to a designated dustbin to just throw some trash?

Finally as I walk past the last stretch towards my home I notice a clothes showroom which is brightly lit with a board saying - ‘all credit and debit cards accepted with no service charge’ prominently displayed in front of the shop. In today’s world its a matter of being customer oriented and service oriented. In a world where shark eats shark, you need to woo people to stay in business. And its so much more the case in an area like west mambalam where the crowd is humongous, the hunger has to be fed at the earliest and a missed opportunity means that you would be out of business on a sustained failure.

I cannot help noticing the temporary shed blocking 50% of a street as I reach my home. It seems the lady who owns this shed has single handedly fought with everyone in the locality who tried evicting her saying the government alloted her the land years ago and she will see how anyone will try getting her to vacate her hut. She speaks of political contact at government circles who she will go to if people disturb her existence.

Welcome to west mambalam, Chennai.
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Published October 13, 2013 by Srikanth Eswaran with 0 comment

The Nokia Asha 501 - a cute little story

Nokia released erstwhile the Asha series of phone to pump some more life into the dying series 40 phones. Whe microsoft announced the launch of the nokia asha series for emerging markets, it was yet another launch story with the same old ingredients which would not make the phones a roaring success. It is somewhere after this that nokia was completely acquired by MS, and they also somewhat settled onto making rectangular phones with an eye for design.
After their failures with nokia lumia 610 and 710, the x20 series of phones started emerging as the post-guinea-pig-experiment product line having windows phone 8 operating system. It was at this time that MS was seriously considering unifying the desktop, tablet and mobile operating systems into one amalgamation more for the benefit of them rapidly being able to deploy apps on different platforms without much code change.
That the fact that the surface tablet was not such a great hit, and the non availability of MS own windows tablets beyond this, did not make such a great dent in the market. But then the x20 (520,620,720,820,920,1020) series of phones from MS and Nokia have somewhat managed to keep up the sales so far. The one thing I did not much like about the MS sales strategy is to price its dual core phones, in the same pricing leagues as others' quad core phones among the android brethren. MS can give any excuse they want saying "our os can run just on 1GB ram" or whatever such stories, but then the question still remains on the value for money when it comes to anything greater than the 550-600$ mark in India.
The Nokia 1020 with its 40MP camera as the main excitement is priced at 50000 here as well as about 800$ in the USA. I am not sure what MS is pitching as its sales strategy with this product at this price.
Coming to the lower priced side of MS/Nokia products, there were and are phones but there was no REAL phone in the making. That is until the Asha 501 was released. With this little fella, MS has pulled off an Apple within the 80$ mark (Rs.5000) with almost everything on this phone.

This phone boldly speaks some interesting design elements. I love squared phones as they are easier to hold rather than curved ones (cursing my iPhone 3GS). And this phone is the perfect fit in the hand. Its just one piece of back cover all over and it has everything else nicely integrated into that cover beginning from screen and ending with the battery. Sporting just 2G and Wifi it also suits perfectly for the homely-rarely-go-out type of phone user where the WIFI takes care at home and the EDGE takes care outside. Considering that many rural towns still don't even have 3G connectivity in India and considering you need to live life more than be using your phone more, this combination works well with some set of people.
The screen itself is made of hard material (gorilla glass?) and the capacitive touch is brilliant and just about right. It recognises everything that is touched and responds quickly and accurately to whatever is needed. The camera itself is nothing to write home about and one had expected that the falling cost of optics might have made MS rethink about introducing some real good camera element in this phone. But that is not the case. So if you are looking at this phone for Camera related usage, forget it. The screens themselves are reworked upon since the original series 40 and they are a pleasure to use with the fonts, and colours chosen. Each and every native app looks gorgeous to use on such a cute little phone. the responsiveness coupled with good tactile feedback on key press to the user is really a good effort by MS. Nokia has delivered on the hardware front to create a beautiful masterpiece of this phone.
Next up is the keypad on the phone. Compared to the Asha 3xx series of phones, MS has particularly paid lot of attention to matching up the keypad experience on the Asha 501 to the levels of the x20 series of its other phones. You must remember that early reviews of the MS windows phones including windows phone 7 were really very appreciative of the keypad that was extremely snazzy to use and nearly flawless. MS has carried on that tradition to the nokia asha 501 and the keypad is just so outstading for such a small screen size. MS has also reworked on every single native app to choose colours wisely and the size and type of fonts, buttons, and other elements to complement the overall phone appearance and use. At the same time they have ensured that they phone usability is not compromised one bit, though the screen is small.
I still feel the Facebook and twitter applications could have used better fonts, but then these applications are not native, and hence this is always debatable.

The dial pad as expected is large and easy to type on and anything that is touchable and clickable is take care of to be shown to the user accordingly. One thing to note about this phone is that since it emulated apple, there is exactly only one button to navigate back, and out of any screen. The apps screen is divided into the all apps, and frequent apps/ recent apps screens and we can toggle by swiping across. Notifications also appear on the screen and can be clicked/swiped out. The quick access pull down bar from the top, provides access to quickly switch SIM cards - did I forget to mention to you that this is a dual sim phone?, toggle WIFI, and also toggle Vibrate modes. Everything is so responsive and amazingly implemented in this phone.

Don't assume that this phone will provide you with amazing speeds on everything that you use on it, but then its not bad either. If asphalt 6 is pre loaded on this phone, you can imagine then!!
One of the popular and important grouses about this phone is that it does not support the Whats app application yet, and there are many people who don't buy this phone just because of that issue. You must remember that you need to give some time for app developers to iron out their issues and launch something that is stable and that is honestly not in the decision making from MS/Nokia side. A final comment on the battery life - well this is a nokia low end phone, so what do you expect? Guess. Yes. Its almost 2-2.5 days of use without hitting the zero percentile. Again a commendable effort by nokia on this device. I have used this device for long distance calls for almost an hour or more and it does not get hot at all, and is cool on the ears (thereby losing out to the overheating award winner - Nexus 4). People whom I spoke to mostly did not complain about not being able to hear me, but sometimes - just sometimes they said there was some issue in the calls. But I feel it has nothing to do with the device itself.
If you need a dual sim phone, and you don't care about 3G connectivity, whatsapp (for now) or anything more smarter - and have only 4500 to spend on, go right to the online stores and make the purchase on the nokia 501 asha. You will not regret the ingenious design of this phone. Definitely something to flaunt around to people. There are rumours of the nokia asha 502 with probably 3g, and other better things, but thats as always a rumour and no one has clear information on when this would be available in the market. This phone also has a 32GB memory card capability for all your music, it has radio, it has bluetooth and a 1200 mAh battery if you care to know.
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