Spanish Delight


Well, Spain surprised me! It is not the first time I am here. I liked Barcelona and its sea beaches in summer, I liked the ice cream in the roadside shops and I remember desperately searching for a good restaurant serving grilled chicken and finally sleeping empty stomach that night. Well – that was Barcelona and that was 2010. And this time it is the capital city – lively, vibrant and so very – Spanish!!

The first shock comes in the airport. Large one, you don’t know where to go; when you come out of the gate, there is no sign nearby and the person willing to help speak Spanish only. After some minutes of desperate attempt of using all possible gestures, figured out the luggage belt. I was late at least by 15 minutes by that process and the entire place was empty, so was not sure if it was over or not started. After waiting for 15 more minutes, it displayed it would start in another 15 minutes. That was my first shock in Madrid !

Then the taxi – irrespective of however you communicate, what gesture you use and how frustrated you look – nothing brings a mere sign of compassion on the face of this guy! Novotel Sanchinarro was one of the hardest places to find on earth. But at the same time, it was good too – as I realized what oasis really meant.

Its not a cribbing story. If Madrid offers no English, then it offers Puerta Del Sol. It offers Plaza mayor. And topping everything – it offers Gran Via. The lovely main street of Madrid never sleeps. Well – that is not a correct statement either. It sleeps, but for some hours in the day. As time passes by and night gets darker, this street starts lighting it up itself in the grandeur. Spanish people love to enjoy their nightlife and it starts little late in night. The culture is somewhat similar to our B-school lives. In the daytime, you can still find some people sleeping, but at night, everyone is up. Gran Via has wide range of bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs in store for you. You will find all sorts of people on the street – Spanish to Columbian to Brazilian to Bangladeshis to Indian.

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Puerta Del Sol is the most famous square of the city. I went there at least 5 times and every time it looked different. Sometimes it is full of police – don’t know for what they need so many of them! Sometimes, a procession and group of inquisitive people trying to figure out what it is all about. Sometimes, just a bunch of tourists taking photographs of the kilometer zero plaque in front of the old Royal post office or Sometimes, it is empty(!) giving it a look of deserted Swiss squares.

If you are in Madrid, check out “Mercado de San Miguel” or the famous indoor market selling a range of good quality food – from cheap Chinese food to expensive Spanish tapas. Though I personally don’t like the smell of dried ham, so I went in, took pictures and came out.

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If you like to try variety of food, try the Spanish Tapas. My Spanish friend took me to a restaurant and similar to many other Spanish words that I tried remembering, I forgot name of this one too. But the food was awesome – it was definitely not the hard bread covered sandwich or tasteless smoked salmons. Everything was so well cooked. Patatas Bravas was superb – people who have tried paapri chaat without the sweet sauce will be able to imagine it partially, but it is lot better. And the famous Spanish Omelette – egg and potato are so carefully mixed and cooked. The best thing about Tapas is the variety – it is like bunch of starter options which they keep serving unless you die with your stomach burst. So, you never get bored and you forget the taste of the first one while you try the 5th or 6th dish, so you go back and try it one more time and it continues.

Given a chance, I will go back. This time also without knowing Spanish. What is the merry in enjoying something if it is easy to achieve?

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Warmth of Life at 13000 Feet


It was 5 in the morning in the last week of February. When I came out of my hotel, it was pitch dark outside. There was not even a single human being as far as I could see. There was no street light either – the faded moonlight, the sound of the half frozen river and the dangerously powerful chilling wind were the only living  things. Leaving the warmth of the blanket in such a morning is a painful exercise, but I really wanted to do it as I knew I am not among the lucky ones to visit one place multiple times in lifetime. So, I woke up, put some ice cold water on face, put on my jacket and dragged myself out.

My driver promised to be there at 5; I realized how empty that promise was when I did not find him anywhere near. So, I started walking up the hilly road to the place where he mentioned he would stay that night. People who have not experienced walking on the hills in moonlight can never imagine how it can be. That uncanny feeling cannot be expressed in words. That unusual mystic sense of someone following you is bit different and cannot be felt from a seat in front of the computer.

Katao was not in my plan. I planned to visit only Yumthang when I started my journey from Gangtok. Sometimes during that 135 km journey from Gangtok to Lachung, I just threw the idea. My driver Shering immediately caught it and suggested to start the journey next morning at 5 am to enjoy the sunrise from Katao. Well, I could not reach Katao before the sunrise as he arrived bit late. But I don’t regret it. The journey from Lachung to Katao is rewarding at every moment.

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Snow clad valley and peaks with the first sunrise on them is out of the world. This is something that you are definitely going to miss if you visit this place in the peak season of summer. That extra pain of waking up early was worth it. Every turn had something new to offer. The beauty of the mountains was simply awe inspiring. I spent a year in Switzerland and explored many corners of the country. Trust me, Katao is no less beautiful.

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After driving for an hour and half, my car got stuck in the ice. That was near an army camp and we were not allowed to proceed any further anyway, so I decided to step out of the car. The freezing cold and the wind made it almost impossible for me to stand there for long. Desperately looking for shelter, I found out an army tent.

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It is a brick structure but very small –more like a hut. I was wondering if I should get in when I heard a voice from inside calling me “Get in, brother”!!

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I entered the house and found what I found small from outside was much smaller from inside. It was a 6 by 3 feet room. There were several people inside – majority of them were tourists like me who wanted to get a share of the great Mountain View and could not withstand the freeze. The room was dark with a small fireplace inside. Due to oil and constant burning of the fuel and very little place for airflow, the entire room was covered with black dust. On one side of the room, there are 3 beds mounted on the wall. I could not believe that 3 people stay in that room, keep their belongings, move, sleep, eat. The burning oil definitely harms their health. The room is thronged by people like me every morning, every day who just add up to the unhygienic condition by consuming a share of the little oxygen they have. And these people are still there with smiling face, calling us brother, away from their homes for a long time and carrying the great responsibility on their shoulder of protecting our country. I didn’t have words. I went back to my car, get whatever food I had and offered it to them. They did not take anything.

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I came back and took some more photographs. But the small hut appeared more beautiful than the mountains. We drove back – I did not feel cold any longer.

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Is sales still a factor of sell?


Is “Sales” still a factor of “sell”?

The Pharma industry has really come a long way. There was a time when number of players in the market was few, more time with physician was available, simple and basic selling strategy worked. With time, the scenario changed. Time with physician has been enormously scarce, sales force effectiveness has come in the limelight and companies, to align themselves with the trend, spent millions of dollars on technologies and consulting to increase or retain their share of the pie. Was all this worth? Yes – without this, established players would have faded away. Think about a market leader being complacent and not meeting the doctors for a while and allowing their products to be out of the pen habit. No one who has some basic sense of sales and marketing will do that.

This strategy of ethical marketing worked and will work. But if you take a closer look, it is like a situation where a bunch of hungry people fighting for a small piece of cake. The cake size is limited and they are ready to pay more to get one more piece of it. Within a short distance, there lies another big piece of cake but people are so busy fighting for this piece are not even looking at that. Sounds little infeasible, isn’t it ? Yes – but this is true. Pharma companies, focusing very highly on physicians or KOL / KAM are increasingly overlooking another big channel of business – Patients!

Lets take an example of 2 big multinational giants trying to convince a doctor on one life saving medicine used for chronic treatment. Finally one of them wins – the doctor is convinced and he prescribes the medicine to one of his patients. The patient starts taking the medicine however, drops after a certain period of time. The medicine, if used for prolonged period (say 3 years), could have generated 200 $ of revenue. But since the treatment has stopped at half a year, the revenue will now be one-sixth i.e. 33$. All effort that was spent on convincing the doctor generated revenue – but 17% of what was desired.

But don’t you think the rest of the 83% was assured money? Yes – but what did the company do to ensure that 83%? Nothing! The entire exercise stops right at the physician prescription. This is one big area that is untapped to a very large extent and will be in the focus in the next decade.

One of the reports I read few days back mentioned “pharma globally loses $350bn a year due to non-adherence which is more than 1/3 the total market size”. That should be enough to be an eye – opener.

Pharma companies need to invest in this area to ensure that prescription switching does not happen and patients adhere to the medication guideline as suggested by the physician. A patient who needs to have long term medication will ensure his / her own long life by adhering, so this has a social cause associated with it. Doctors will get benefited by associating themselves with the improved healthcare of the society. Pharma companies will be a part of this improvement and will generate more revenue at the same time. So, it is win – win for all.

What is needed is a robust program to ensure patient adherence. It may be in numerous form – text message at periodic interval to remind patients of their medication, next visit date, test etc; Free health check up after certain interval for their progress checked by the physicians; bond with the Pharma companies to avoid prescription switching and availability of the “bond”ed medicines at a lower cost, mobile games that help to increase patient awareness. There are many ways and the industry has just started.

Of course this will have challenges – economical, political, social. Some of the companies will utilize more liberalization in the rules to promote their medicines through emails, brochures and messages directly to the patient, availability of incorrect, misleading information and wrong interpretation will also be more likely. That requires tighter regulations, stricter control. But you can’t miss the forest for the trees, right?

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My First Week In Singapore


There is one kind of people who love US so much that they can’t think of staying anywhere else. There is another kind who love Europe so much that no other place in the world seems comparable. You talk to them on any place, they will bring Eu reference and utilize all possible data points to prove Eu as best in the world. I belong to the second kind. For me, either the beauty and money of Europe or the comfort of my home town is necessary– I rarely think beyond this. So, when people talked to me about Singapore for the first time, I was not over enthusiastic. For me, the expectation was a country with places to see and a subsequent tick mark on my bucket list. Staying in that country for more than what is required was not thought of. I hope you know what I mean.

 That notion got a major shake when I first came out of my hotel and walked down the streets of Little India. There is one Little Italy or China town that exists in many corners of the world – but this is different! It is in almost real sense a little India! You see Indians everywhere – so much so that you do not realize if you are in some other country. Garments, jewelries, coconuts, mobile phones, hawkers – I will really need to think hard to remember what is missing. Of course the large and dust free roads and wagons of BMW make you realize that you are in some other place, but you will end up admiring the variety more than roads and cars.

 Then the food. Singaporeans normally do not cook at home – a flat with a kitchen will come at a premium! So, there are proliferations of food joints across the country and its streets. I marched into the Tekka center and what I saw was a mix of Quincy market of Boston and Hogg Market of Kolkata. There are food stalls all around – all sorts of food that you can think of are being served. I tried one Biriyani and it was awesome! The cost was just 5$ – excellent value for money.

 I like the ability of Singapore to surprise at every moment. You come to Raffles place – you get awestruck with the view of the skyscrapers everywhere. I didn’t count – but at least the offices will have more than 50-60 floors. You look down and you find La Pasa – a food court that serves Korean to south Indian to Japanase – everything! You walk through the Marina Boulevard a bit and you see the river with boats sailing. Every corner and turn in Singapore has something new for you. Here I met an old friend of mine whom I did not meet in last 10 years or so. We studied together during our college days but hardly met after that. He and I spent an evening talking and remembering all good old memories we left in the memory lane – blowing the dust away from the old jewels was a great experience by itself! In today’s world, when you have more colleagues and less friends, meeting a friend after 10 years was superb!

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 That another unpredictable evening when I and one stranger-turned-to-friend walked through the streets of Orchard. With me being cautious about the road signals and my friend being desperate for breaking the “boring” rules, every cross road was fun. It actually reconfirms my old belief that it does not matter how much of time you spend together, but it is the quality of time and like mindedness that really matters in life. Within that 2 hours, both of us talked about some emotions which were otherwise personal in nature and we do not often discuss about.

Busy Orchard

We explored Paragon and Lucky Plaza malls in the Orchard road. Paragon is unlike what is described in wikitravel. It contains luxury brands for sure, but for that matter, many other malls do. It is not for undermining it, but to say that it is comparable with many other shopping malls in the world and Singapore. Lucky plaza is bit different – I heard it was infamous for cheating tourists. I didn’t try though. It is full of electronic shops / stalls from top to bottom. The shops are small ones – quite matches with Chandni market of Kolkata. Majority of them were closing down at 8.30 pm itself, so could not see all.

 Orchard is an amazing place to hang out. With miles and miles of shopping malls on both side of the road, you will not get bored. You can spend an evening or you can spend days – Orchard is always ready to greet you with its grandeur.

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 I liked Singapore in my first sight. I like its unpredictability, its ability to surprise every moment, thousands of people co-existing without pushing each other, I feel its open arms ready to hug people from all over the world. Thank you Singapore – rock on!

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The Great Indian Rail Journey


I happened to visit a travel blog few days back where a German lady has written her experience of travelling in Indian Railways. She spent about a month in India and in this timeframe, has travelled across 3-4 major cities. She could have taken flight but chose to opt for sleeper class train because she wanted to get a glimpse of life on Indian rail. I read it few times – every detail is so usual to me. I didn’t find anything interesting. Then I read the comments. People were so curious to know more. Then I thought. Did a complete rewind of my experience with Indian Rail and railways of other countries. Then I understood. Yes – Indian Railways is different. It is unique in its own way and every Indian has a portion of his / her life dedicated to this. There will be always few people raising eye brow and saying “ what is so special in it”? This is not meant for them.

If I look back in my life and think about how many journeys I made on rail, I will not be able to count. But some of them were special, very special to me. I remember them for all good and bad reasons.

It was sometimes between 2007-2008. I was on Howrah – Mumbai via Allahabad express. The train was standing in Satna station while an old man leaned over my window and asked in clear English for help. I looked at him – he looked like a beggar. But my curiosity grew, so I started talking and here is how it went –

“Sir, I need some money as I have to go a long way”

“Where do you want to go”?

“My wife died today and I have to go to see her body at least once. Our home is very far from here and I will need to take a bus. It will cost almost 50 Rs”

“Really? So how do you know that she is no more”

“I got a phone call”

“How did you get a phone call. I don’t see you carrying a phone”

“I somehow got it….I need 50 Rs”

I didn’t give anything to him as I had a doubt. He was a fraud. I saw him even later in the same station while travelling in the same route. But the key point here is, his ability to communicate in English. He did not memorize his speech as all his answers were context sensitive. And by no means, he looked anything more than a beggar. Who was that man? I will never come to know in my life.

And then it was in 1999 on our way to Ooty. The way to Chennai from Howrah goes through Orissa. That year Orissa experienced a super cyclone. Big overbridges were torn apart, people lost their lives, villages were destroyed. Rail lines were functional, but the speed was not more than that of a bicycle. Such a long train journey can really be boring if you do not have anything to do. Moreover, the pantry was not sufficient to cater to the need of all passengers. So, here the pantry guy comes with few food packets in his hand and the passengers in the first few seats of the compartment pounce on him to snatch the food packets. People were ready to pay higher but if there is no food available, paying more money will not produce more food, right? It was a crisis time and I experienced how otherwise civilized people can turn into animals. It is just the situation – that it takes to turn them back to their long forgotten ancestors. But we reached Ooty – after long 3 days. Then while coming back, it took even more time. But that is a different story.

Then my first travel in AC compartment. It was 2002 August or September I believe. That was the first time I boarded Rajdhani express. The whole train is AC and there is a light soothing music running at the background. I was kind of overwhelmed as it was completely different from the picture that I had in mind about trains. I was travelling with 5-6 other colleagues of mine to Delhi. For some reason, these days I have more colleagues than friends. That time, I had more friends that colleagues. Anyways, it was a similar experience for some of my colleagues too. There was one guy who was kind of confused of how to get the best of Rajdhani express. The food was complimentary, so when the pantry guy came and asked about choice – Indian or Continental, he thought continental would be some great option to choose. We did not want to take any risk – so we chose Indian. After some time, food was served. We got Tandoori chicken and rice. He got two pieces of bread and a little bit of boiled chicken. Frustration went up to that extent that when the server brought rolled towel for us, he thought it would be some spring roll. He took it, realized it was a towel and then opened the roll to see if there was food inside. When he was discovred it was nothing more than a mere towel, his face was worth seeing. I will not take his name here as he might be as well reading this blog.

And how can I forget my way back from the devastating earthquake in 2001 in Gujrat? That 38-40 hour long journey was one of the most horroible experience of my life. We were approaching the station when the earthquake started. People who have not seen will not believe. But I have seen big auto rickshawas jumping from the ground with the fierce tremor. We thought we were safer while we boraded the train, but it was not over. Our train stopped after 30 minutes or so  followed by an annoucement of a major earthquake in Surat and possible railline cracks. People started running here and there but there was no big ground nearby either. Fear for life surpassed everything. One of my colleagues fell down trying running and got a wound on his chin. We were feeling the tremor but did not have enough courage to leave the train because missing the train would have left us in a god forbidden place. There was no mobile phone, no communication, no way to inform my worried family people that I was still alive. The only news they had in TV channel was of that earthquake striking the same place where I was in and that it killed some 30000 people. It was the same journey where I made some friends for lifetime. It was the same train journey which got my family worried for life. It was the same train journey which probably saved my life ….

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A day in Henry Island


If I have to prioritize type of destinations I love to travel in, I think the first in the list will be mountains. Old architectures and historical places will also be in the same rank followed by sea and then jungle. But I think the best part of any travel is the set of memories you capture and bring home. Whatever is the destination, your memories and the moments are the jewels that you preserve all your life. For example, you visit a Rajasthani Haveli today. After 10 years, you may not even remember who the king who built that Haveli was, but your experience of seeing a Rajasthani dance in the courtyard of the same palace stays with you.

I have also gathered some such moments in the course of my travel. Here are some random picks from the old bag of jewels I carry.

2007 March. After having bath in the wild sea for 3 hours, we came back, tired and exhausted. No one of us had any energy to go out in the evening. But then it was a short holiday and we did not want to miss out on any piece of fun, so we went to explore the local market. While visiting the vegetable market, one of my friends got a deadly idea – he wanted to cook dinner. We were staying in home of a local villager and there was no way the landlord would have shared his kitchen. We tried to resist all possible ways but he was desperate to cook dinner. Calculations were made right there and he showed us how cooking dinner will save lot of money that we otherwise would spend on buying food from a local restaurant. We didn’t have a choice.

So, the next phase was to request people to get access to their kitchens. No one agreed for obvious reasons. Finally, one shopkeeper agreed to share some space. That was an empty space with only few utensils. Don’t want to elaborate on how we gathered fuel, small tree branches and all other possible earthly beings, but you can imagine how painful that exercise would have been.

Our cooking

Then we cooked. Some local youths also came to support us. They were amused at the enthusiasm my friend was showing and how we were supporting him in his endeavor. After 2 hours of battle, we cooked some chicken. Then there was another round of calculation and we found that the cost including everything was more compared to restaurant food. Then he sold this entire exercise to us as an experience. Indeed. Today I have lost majority of the details around that place. But that moment is preserved.

The dink specialist in the middle

Then the drink. One local youth came with us at our place. He wanted to have a small share of the English whiskey. After taking the first two pegs, he claimed that it was nothing for him and he could drink the whole bottle without getting intoxicated. So, he drank few more. Two of my friends also were with him, so the bottle did not last long. That guy was drunk but did not want to admit it. We tried all possible tricks to tell him to leave the room and go to sleep, but somehow he felt that it was his room and there was no way he could leave it. He agreed to leave on one condition – someone of us should go with him and buy more bottles. Finally, we offered him one more bottle. It was a bottle of soda that was lying around in our bag for long. He again challenged to drink the bottle in one shot. Just few gulps and then the entire thing came out of the stomach of the brave soul – we utilized this opportunity to push him through the door and take him out. That was a wrong deed but if you are in a situation where you have a bed for two and you are three and all three are tired and then a drunken guy wants to share your bed, you try out these obnoxious tricks. (J)

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Next morning we explored a virgin sea beach. You need to walk close to 4 Km through the jungle to reach the sea. The other side of the jungle directly extends to Sundarban, the home of Royal Bengal tigers. This place is fenced and has no direct fear of getting intruded by wild animals though. When you first time look at this beach, you will also feel that this is wild. It is not yet touched by human beings to that extent. The road through the jungle suddenly finishes and it opens up into the sea shore. You look around – there is no human being anywhere nearby. It is not a tourist destination and therefore is not thronged by tourists or shopkeepers.  The name of the sea beach is “Keya” – 5 km away from Bakkhali.

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On the way comes Henry Island. It has few nice guest houses and a watchtower. It offers a good view of the surroundings. You can also see Sundarban borderline from here.

Way to Henry Island

Travel tips: Henry Island and Keya sea beach can be reached from Bakkhali by cycle van. Or you can walk down through the jungle. Bakkhali is 180 Km away from Kolkata – can be reached by car or bus.

Henry Island guest house

You may like to take the guest house by doing advanced booking from Benfish offices. But there is nothing to do in the evening – the place is dark and you have almost no communication. You have to rely on the cycle van pullers to come to Bakkhali market.

Avoid summer and rainy seasons. Winter is the perfect time to visit.

If you get a weekend, plan a trip. You won’t repent.

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