Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tales of a Novice Backpacker: Picture time!

Nothing quite like a long weekend after an intense work-week to reminisce about an extraordinary summer. After much procrastination I finally uploaded photographs of my trip. Here's the link to my flickr collection (in spite of best efforts to reduce content, there are quite a few)-

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Tales of a Novice Backpacker: "Food Glorious Food!"

Chocolates in Brussels! Of course I took a generous helping of free samples

Currywurst and Berliner Weisse at a street stand under the shadow of the Reichstag. Part of an 'authentic cultural experience' in Berlin, according to the Sandeman Walking Tour guide. Currywurst essentially comprises of fried pork sausages seasoned with ketchup and curry powder. The Berliner Weisse is a traditional wheat beer, in this case raspberry flavoured, that I would not recommend to anyone who can't reconcile themselves to sweet beer.

Cafe Domecek, Prague: "Typical Czech" Brewery Goulash with Bohemian Dumplings and Lobkowicz Premium (4.7%). The goulash cooked in a dark beer and seasoned with red peppers was exquisite, to say the least. I later found out that 'Domecek' means a small house in Czech. Albeit this is also the informal name for a prison cell in the Hradcany (castle) district that I came across. This prison has been used by the military, the Gestapo and Communists in the past. In hindsight that's a fairly dismal name for a cafe. I didn't take any photographs of another traditional Czezh dish I tried- Halusky. I would not recommend this to anyone unless a combination of potato dumplings, cabbage and bacon sounds appealing to your palate. 

Vienna loves its coffee houses. It also lovingly makes the world's best Apfel Strudel. However an appreciation of the city's coffee houses requires distinguishing between the more 'proper' Classic coffee-houses such as Cafe Museum (where the above picture was taken), and Beisl(s). The latter have a more relaxed atmosphere conducive for long evenings spent arguing over drinks. They're infinitely less bourgeois-best understood by the menu, and differential socio-economic composition of regulars. Both types however encourage hours spent lounging about in the spirit of Viennese 'Gemutlichkeit'  (cosiness)

I really enjoyed this simple meal of bread with wurst in goulash sauce (Viennese style) at Cafe Bendl. According to a map designed by locals this cafe is a legendary Beisl that hosts students, actors and intellectuals alike. It even has a jukebox with a vast collection of Austropop songs!

This was a most gratifying dinner in the Tuscan village of Tavarnelle. The meal comprised of chicken breast with zaffron, via santo and mushroom sauce with salad accompanied by a glass of Chianti wine (Tavarnelle is in the heart of the Chianti region so we were surrounded by vineyards). I really needed that meal after a fairly harrowing episode which involved being stranded in the middle of nowhere with my backpack and not a bus in sight (more details in a later post). 

Roma: Pizza with prosciutto

Gelato at Giolitti's. Totally worth the wait!

And finally- after weeks of Antony Bourdain inspired craving- I finally got me some Cacio e Pepe tonnarelli. Cacio e Pepe translates into "Cheese and Pepper". You can't go wrong with that.


This blog has been inactive for over a year and consequently has me feeling like I've outgrown it. Perhaps it's been difficult to keep pace with changing environs, perspectives and age. Perhaps I've just been lazy. At any rate, it's time to revamp this space to tell new stories and mull over life, the universe and everything.

I'm writing at the end of what has been a very eventful summer. Somewhere between an intensive internship in Blackfriars, a weekend in Paris, another surreal weekend in the French Riviera, my older sister's wedding in New Delhi & Kolkata, two weeks with family, friends and the drum kit in India, and the longest train journey I've ever embarked on (London-Brussels-Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Florence-Rome) I've managed to recuperate from an intensive year at the LSE! Evidently the summer after the tougher MSc year has a lot to live up to.

The next few posts will attempt to recreate sites, feelings, people, food and moments that made my ten-day journey across Europe remarkable. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Context Piece Draft

 Can find final version at:

A discussion of poverty immediately throws up the conundrum of identifying and aggregating poverty to guide policy. The multi-dimensional nature of poverty is not as obvious as intuition suggests. The more popular definitions of the concept stem from perceptible impacts such as starvation. The inability to obtain the minimum nutritional requirements to facilitate physical efficiency (Rowntree, 1991) motivates a biological approach. Albeit this is undeniably parochial- wider concepts account for income inequality, relative deprivation, epidemiological factors, education, the environment and the freedom to attain well-being. Sen’s capabilities approach is the most wholesome approach to understanding poverty, yet its characteristic ambiguity confounds statisticians. Measurement has conventionally therefore been limited to narrow definitions. Even so, effective policy response would need to transcend statistical limitations, and recognize the deep nature of the problem.
The adoption of eight Millennium Development Goals represents a global commitment to comprehensively address the problem, in a time-bound manner. The eight goals include eradicating poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global partnership for development. The goals were arrived at through a series of summits across the 1990’s and the joint effort of UN members countries, the OECD, IMF, and World Bank, finally culminating in the Millennium Summit in 2000.
According to the World Bank, nearly 1.3 billion people on our planet live in extreme poverty, as per the US $1.25 income per day poverty line computed at PPP. The $2 a day measure of deprivation, estimates twice this number. Approximately three quarters of the world’s poor reside in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The 2011 progress report on the MDGs paints a mixed picture. The sharp reduction in poverty in East Asia (China, in particular), supplemented by gains in India have led to a substantial decline in global poverty. The 2015 global estimate of poverty is 15%, well below the 23% target. Projections for Sub-Saharan Africa are also more optimistic than before, despite the global economic slowdown augmented by food and fuel crises. Markedly, the best record for pursuing the goal of universal primary education is that of Sub-Saharan Africa (1990-2009). Joint efforts of international partners, governments, civil society, and public health workers have helped effect substantial improvement by making treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria accessible to millions of patients. Access to clean drinking water and a renewed focus on maternal and child health has also helped reduce worldwide deaths attributed to disease.
However, there are pertinent concerns about the reliability of data. The variability in analytical techniques across countries, small sample sizes and vested interests make it difficult to obtain credible estimates. Income inequality continues to broaden unabashedly with the growth trajectory of developing nations. Volatility in food and fuel prices, food shortages, environmental degradation and economic shocks further obstruct development. Furthermore, there is disturbing evidence that the conditions of the poorest sections is only getting worse. The most vulnerable are disadvantaged compared to others below the poverty line where access to limited resources of sanitation, education, food rations, public health and clean drinking water are concerned. Theory suggests that the headcount ratio mode of aggregating poverty may in part be responsible for such a phenomenon. Women and children are among the worst affected, as a consequence.

The multiplicity of anti-poverty programmes oft leaves observers baffled. These programmes can be divided based on a one-size-fits-all approach versus one that is more region/institution specific. Policy need not confine itself to either approach exclusively, of course. Development aid, part of the former genre, reflects the approach of the international community to help impoverished countries escape the ‘poverty trap’. This method has met with varied results, and has consequently been the centre of a controversial academic debate (Sachs vs. Easterly). The opposing party argues that aid is ineffective, encourages perpetual dependence and undermines local institutions. Neither side has succeeded in unequivocally establishing their case.

Microfinance received international recognition after the Nobel Committee recognized Yunus for the Grameen Bank’s pioneering work in Bangladesh. These schemes helped extend organized credit to the informal sector, finding innovative ways around the traditional impediments of collateral, lack of creditworthiness, default, etc. However, it is incorrect to regard this tool as a panacea as there is little evidence that microfinance has actually helped lift people out of poverty; albeit it has facilitated greater financial freedom for its clients.

Another scale-based approach promotes ICT4D, i.e. Information and Communication Technologies for Development. This involves the use of technology to address issues in agriculture, health, banking, education, etc. Since the adoption of MDGs, cellular phones have also begun to play an important role. The successful M-PESA scheme in Kenya, for instance, has helped incorporate more than half of Kenya’s adult population within the formal banking network. However, the feasibility of replicating one-off technologically supported successes depends on the extent of institutional heterogeneity. There is an intriguing line of thought that questions the underlying premise of prioritizing technology altogether (Toyama, Boston Review).

The various solutions (not exhaustive) listed above all motivate the same query- does it work? Following this line of reasoning there has been an increasingly popular shift towards evidence-based policy in development economics, which uses statistical tools to assess the impact of policy interventions. The necessarily micro nature of this exercise, however, is a limitation for large-scale projects and grand solutions. Simply put, your questions about interventions will still receive qualified ‘yes and no’ answers. There is no single magic cure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Breakfast-Bath Dash

Do I stop living when in college? Or is it that I'm too busy living?

No time to think.


Its either this or go stinky to class.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Questions that leave me stumped..

1) What's up?

2) What did you this summer?

Clearly, I need a life.

What I did: I read some, watched some, ate some, jogged and weight-lifted some, even drove some...and drummed, but a bit too little for even a 'some' qualification. I put my feet up. Embedded my behind into a rather phoons bean bag... Oh, and I 'finally' managed to make a french pancake without breaking it. (The trick lies in making the filling separately). Most importantly, I spent time with Ma and Baba. I often forget the joys of huddling round the TV to catch the 9 o' clock news...that's our window to the world. We like to keep it open.

What I didn't do: Engineer another financial crisis with complex derivatives and other strange financial instruments. Run around the country-side thinking of ways to effect change and improvement of the country (been there, done that...would probably like to do it a little while,perhaps). Write interesting papers (I outlined one in my head and laptop, on my own terms and not those dictated by a think tank's reigning ideology). Get coffee for some corporate honcho, and write tedious reports on construction finance and the like... (Why do I sound defensive?)

DISCLAIMER: The internships described in this post intentionally resemble those of a lot of my friends. I do not in the least wish to undermine their efforts, and do in fact laud them for having some clarity of purpose. Something I lack.


It's so much easier to read my friend's blogs and marvel at their work, rather than pen down something in my own. Check out for some insightful experiments with poetry and prose, and for brilliant photo-stories. Now their blogs are truly windows into their lives. My rather uneventful life, in comparison, could use some sprucing up (be careful what you wish for, says a tiny part of my movie-stuffed-memory). Yesterday was actually rather interesting..

It all began at 2 am where my coffee-stimulated-self could not get herself to sleep. I opened Karmel and Polasek to aid the process, and boy did it work while I held on to the leaves of its sickeningly yellow-green cover (If you're going to write a book on statistics, at least try deceiving the reader into thinking its interesting, with the cover! The only pictures it has are of histograms and bell curves). Anyhow, so once I did get drowsy, I did the whole light-switching-off, dump-the-book-on-the-drum-stool routine, not in that order...but it seemed that my eyelids were inversely correlated with the light switches. Well, that isn't entirely true..because then the solution lay in sleeping with the lights on..which too wasn't working. Do you ever marvel (or curse) at the ability of your mind to switch off while your body's still screaming for action..and vice versa? Lullabies must be invented for both parties...

So I gave up eventually..and decided to sort my cupboard. God alone knows how many clothes I've amassed over the years and hardly, if ever, worn. It's time someone who truly valued them had them. Well, that is the end of my terribly interesting story. this post should be an effective cure for your insomnia. :p

No no that isn't the end at all...later in the day..I was all pumped up to go on a date with my newly appropriated old camera (a film-run-canon T50) since my driving test got cancelled. Thought I'd head down to Fort Area and take a couple of peek-chars..possibly eat some Pizza by the Bay. ('eat at' I should say)..maybe I'd even find the much-anticipated mobile for my new room's window. Ah..but all of it went up in the air..when the rain came pouring down with a vengeance. My link to the beautiful paved stones of Kalaghoda has a tendency to go under water when the coast Gods unleash their wrath upon us suburb-ians. So I cursed the elements, while grudgingly giving into the beautiful calm that a hot cup of tea and a book can bring upon one on a rainy day.

Later, in the evening, Ma took me on another driving lesson. I really started enjoying myself...fifth gear on the Palm Beach expressway has the tendency to iron out one's frown and worry etched forehead. However, not all was I did the following 'bokami' in the span of the same evening- 1)leave the keys hanging on the door outside, while we got seat-belted and ready to roll (quite deservedly I was at the receiving end of a 'are you feeling stupid yet?'); 2) Almost hit a bike with a sudden leftward swerve just after positioning myself to turn right (Ma: 'But when I said we needed to park somewhere, I didn't mean right now!'); and the worst, 3) Worried by a bullying red bus heading in our direction at rapid pace, I steered leftwards (again) only to realize that I was separated from a parked car, literally, by a hair's breadth...we were close enough to lock in a passionate kiss...get my drift? Goodness...I do tend to lose my head when I'm behind the wheel...well..actually...I do tend to lose my head. period.

Home, we returned, after some gift hunting and bakery swooning...only to be informed that there had been three blasts in the city. Colaba, Zaveri Bazar and Dadar West had been hit during rush hour. Baba had fortuntely returned to Belapur by the time the madness hit...but, man did I retract all my ill-will towards the rain that morning! It reminded me of this story...was it by Nathaniel Hawthorne?..we read in our English class in school..something about chance..and how every second's decision can take one down a different road. It still gives me the heebie jeebies to think about it.

Me aside's insane that Bombay's been hit again. With every passing hour of last night, the home ministry kept revising the casualty figures upwards..the city will get over it. It always does. But it shouldn't. As in it should get up and get moving again, as is characteristic of the average Mumbai-kar who'd brave the flood to get to work...but we shouldn't adopt an attitude of resignation and inevitability towards terrorism. The helpless 'What can we do about the bomb blasts?' is not going to get us places.

Look at urban planning for instance. The terrorists have picked Zaveri Bazaar several times's a soft spot in terms of congestion, chaos and traffic...any novice could target the place and get away with it. The last time they thought of V.T...well of course they'll think of VT- have you seen it at rush hour? Maximum impact with minimal gunpowder and planning.. Our country is chock-a-block with people...I'm not going to get all Malthusian and look at it as purely an evil. We have to deal with the numbers in ways such that the value of human life is elevated and not undermined. The media has got it right this time- human life comes really cheap in our nation. Just this once, I wish the laws of economics (excess supply decreases price) didn't apply..