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Saturday, March 17, 2018

40 and Counting !

Today I have reached a milestone of sorts - having completed 40 years of service. I started my career on 18 March 1978 when I passed out as a commissioned officer from the Officers Training School, Madras (OTS as it was then known) as part of the 25th Short Service Commission course (shorty silver course).  I was posted as a 2/Lt in the 6th Battalion the 8 Gorkha Rifles (6/8 GR). Yeah, those days Gentlemen Cadets used to pass out as second lieutenants with Rs 750/- basic pay which was more than enough.

Having served in the Army for more than 10 years, the next 20 plus years were spent at Walchandnagar Industries Ltd and the Reserve Bank of India (the latter is where I served for nearly 19 years). This is my 10th year at Saud Bahwan Group, Muscat, which I joined in December 2008. The going is good and I am still at it with God's grace and good wishes of friends and family.

I think celebrations are in order for having reached this milestone and the needful will be done to have a bash tomorrow. Cheers !

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Visit to Wakan Village

Last week, one of my colleagues at work (Janarthanan) told me about a quaint little village in the Western Hajar mountains of Oman called "Wakan" which was unique for it's scenery and terraced farming. Consequently, a group of five of us decided to visit this place on 27 January (Friday). Wakan is around 150 km from Muscat and since we wanted to see the sunrise over the village, we left Muscat at 0500 hrs and reached the foothills around 0630 hrs.

The village is situated at an altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level overlooking Wadi Mistal in the Wilayat of Nakhal. This region enjoys moderate temperatures in summer and low temperatures in winter owing to the altitude. The road leading to the village passes through a number of valleys and is good to drive on except for the last 3-4 km leading to the village which is just a dirt track requiring a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Since we went in my Camry, we parked the car at the base of the mountain and trekked it up to the village. The uphill trek of around 3 km was a torture for which none of us were prepared and it reminded us of the sorry state of physical fitness we were in. The early morning chilly air only added to our woes.  

As we kept ascending, the view kept getting better and though we could see the village perched atop a hill, reaching it took some time owing to the serpentine bends in the road. The first rays of the sun started peeking from the mountains as we were about to reach Wakan and it was a sight to behold. A viewing platform adjacent to a visitors information centre and a viewing tower is the first sight to greet visitors. A hiking track has been built which goes through the village right till the top from where one is offered spectacular views of the surrounding areas. 

We spent a couple of hours clicking photographs and marveling at the wonders of nature and also the grit of the handful of inhabitants who eke out a living from fruits and vegetables grown on terraces on the mountainside. It is a very painstaking job and speaks volumes about the spirit of the farmers. The following photos will elaborate and tell the story in a better manner (click to enlarge).

                      Huffing and Puffing on our way up. Smijith shot this photo on his iPhone

                                                     Dawn over the mountain range

                                                               First rays of the Sun !

                   Wakan Village (seen from the place from where we started foot slogging)

                                                        Janarthanan, the pro at work !


                                          Sunrise on the mountain above village Wakan.

                               Visitors Information Centre (not manned) and Viewing Platform.

                                           Notice Board at the start of the  Hiking Track

              Markers (yellow, white and brown stripe) to show the route. The drain on the right
              side is part of the 'falaj' system for irrigation. Dry pomegranates can be seen on trees.

            A Peach tree in bloom. January is a bit early for Peach trees to bloom so this was a
         special sight. In Mussoorie, where I grew up, I remember they used to bloom in March.

                                Another special sight - not referring to Bharat and myself -
                                   a Mango tree in bloom in January at 2000 mts altitude !

                                                       Wakan - The Green Village.

                   A view of the village and surrounding areas from one of the vantage points.

                                          The last viewing platform at the end of the track.

                                                    Notice before the last view point.

           End of the track at the very top. It was still cold. Even the Goats are basking in the sun.

                                 Wakan and surrounding areas from the last viewing platform.

                                         View of Al Qurah village form the last platform.

                            Jana, Dipesh and Smijith (L to R) at the village on our way back.

                                        View from the Viewing Platform at the Village !

                                        The "Lion's Head" Rock ? Thus christened by us !

                                    Rocky Perch ! We saw amazing rock formations all over.

                                         Atop another rocky sculpture on the way back.

The downhill trek after we left the village was no cakewalk either as descending is equally tough, if not more, than climbing up. By the time we reached the car it was around 1000 hrs and we were famished. We had not bothered to carry any food or water during the trek which was a big blunder. We were lucky that no one suffered any muscle cramps owing to lack of fluids. After gorging on food and beverages, we left for Muscat at 1030 hrs and with just a short stop for 'Karak' tea enroute, reached Muscat at 1230 hrs. 

The trip to Wakan was a wonderful outing and a welcome change from our daily routine despite the physical discomfort. The trip was an eye opener for us in more ways than one. We never imagined that farming of fruits as diverse as grapes, pomegranates, peaches and figs could be possible at a small hamlet way up in the mountains of Oman. For me it was special as it reminded me of my home state in India (Uttarakhand) thanks to the greenery and scenic beauty of the mountainous terrain.          

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Is it a plane, is it a rocket ....or is it a Lamborghini ?

The past weekend, on Saturday, around mid morning I was suddenly jolted from my peaceful existence by a loud engine-revving sound. We normally do not hear any sounds from the road which passes by very close to the place where I stay as people do not blow horns and vehicles generally move past silently. As I hurried to the window to have a peep, I saw a rare sight. There were six Lamborghini Aventador model cars waiting for the signal to turn green. The sound I heard was the collective grunt and sputter of all these cars. I barely had time to shoot a short video before the vehicles whizzed off. I don't think I will ever get to see a similar sight again. Their presence on the road unnerved even the other cars which went helter-skelter, whereas normally they line up in a very disciplined manner before a traffic signal.

This particular model of Lamborghini is a coupe made up of carbon fibre and composite materials, has a monstrous 6.5 litre, V-12 , 42 valve engine which is just short of a rocket when it takes off (0 to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds). It costs around $ 450,000/- so the collective cost of the cars I saw would be around Rs 18 Crore. These are super cars for the super rich. Here is the short video I shot:

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Mahfoodh's Villa

Mr Mahfoodh Al Hinai, an Omani colleague of mine recently shifted into his new villa at Sohar. He belongs to Sohar which is a large industrial town having a free zone and a large port. This place is about two and a half hours drive from Muscat (around 250 km). His old house was taken over by the Govt as it was falling in the proposed Muscat-Sohar expressway zone. A plot of land was allotted to him elsewhere along with compensation to build a new house. It has taken him more than an year to build the house and he has spent a considerable amount from his own resources to build his dream abode. I had an opportunity to visit his new villa when I visited Sohar on an official branch visit last month. 

The villa consists of 5 bedrooms with attached washrooms (3 for the family, 1 guest room and 1 for the maid) in a duplex structure. All the building material and furniture was selected by him personally in China (yeah, he went to China to buy the stuff which was shipped to Oman in two containers). Additional material/fixtures were sourced from Dubai as and when required. The villa has cost him upwards of 80,000/- Rials (multiply that by 176 to get an idea in Indian currency - that's around Rs 1.5 crore,  wow !).  Here are some pics of the beautiful villa (click to enlarge):

                                                  A view of the villa from outside.

                                                 Close up from the courtyard.

                                    Bharat putting forth his view while Mahfoodh is all ears.

              The "Majlis" or the front parlor. The 65 inch TV was dwarfed in this huge room.

                                                                6 meter curtains !!

                                                    Another view of the Living Room

                                                    Wardrobe in one of the bedrooms.

                                          A set of two wardrobes in the children's bedroom.

                                                             The Dining Room.

                                                Wash room attached to the Guest room.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Visit to Rustaq

After Eid-al-Adha (or Bakreid) in September this year I got an opportunity to visit a historical town called Rustaq which is about two hours drive from Muscat. Mr Saif Salim Al Lamki, an Omani colleague who is a domicile of this place, had been regularly inviting me to visit him during the Eid holidays every year since I have been in Oman. As most of my holidays were spent in India owing to  various commitments I could only visit Rustaq this year thanks to his persistence.

Rustaq was once the capital of Oman and the Rustaq Fort is said to be built four centuries prior to the dawn of Islam in Oman (as per Wikipedia). It is an imposing structure built on three levels, containing separate houses, an armoury, a mosque, cells for confinement and four towers. The fort has been restored and is open to visitors who have to pay a nominal fee to gain entry to the premises.

Rustaq is also famous for its hot springs, the sulphur content of which is regarded as a cure for many skin and bone related ailments. I was fortunate, along with some other colleagues, to avail the generous hospitality of our host who took us on a tour of the town and then laid a sumptuous feast for us to partake. Following are some photos of our visit to this quiet, serene and picturesque location which I am sure will speak louder than words (click to enlarge):

                                                  A blend of History and Modernity !

                                        Entry to the Fort ( with Saif, Bharat and Dipesh)
                            Artillery Gun of a Bygone Era ! (Saif can be seen in the background)
                                                        Reinforced Wooden Entry Door

                                                    A View of the Inner Courtyard

                                             View of the Outer Area from the Top Level

                                         Door of a Safe Deposit Area (Presumably)

                                           Imagine 'Boiling' Oil Being Poured on Invaders !

                                    The Fort had it's own Source of Water and Canal System

                                                           Source of the Hot Springs

                                        'Lost in Translation' or is it 'Painter's Devil' ?
                                       A sign near the Hot Spring which in Arabic proclaims
                                    that 'Bathing' is Prohibited instead of 'Thing' in English.

                                           The Best part of the Visit - Hogger's Delight !!

Thanks to Mr Saif Al Lamki, we had a wonderful time seeing the sights and thoroughly enjoyed the traditional Omani hospitality. Our parting query to him was "When are you inviting us to visit Rustaq again ?"

Monday, October 31, 2016

Saud Bahwan Group - Update

I am about to complete 8 years of service at Saud Bahwan Group. When I joined this group in December 2008 I had posted my first impressions about the place (Muscat), my new job and some 'feel good' factors about the company too. During the course of my tenure here I have been getting a lot of queries regarding the cost of living, working conditions, the atmosphere at work, work culture and questions about the place in general from a motley group of folks. The queries were mostly from prospective candidates who were shortlisted by the company during the interview rounds which our HR guys conduct at various places in India. Some were from guys from other Gulf countries who were contemplating a change. Some disgruntled souls who had left the company also posted negative comments about the group. 

Just like I mentioned in my previous post a 'google search' on Saud Bahwan Group must be showing related posts from this blog too. From time to time I have made it clear to such people who e-mailed their queries to me to 'not get carried away' by what I had mentioned about Saud Bahwan Group and the place as these were my personal impressions and were not meant to sway anyone's judgement. There is a lot of information floating around in cyberspace and information can also be gleaned from 'word-of-mouth' sources (friend of a friend of a friend etc, etc) or the local grapevine (which we call 'lungi gupp') in case someone has a friend from Kerela. One should reach a conclusion after thoroughly researching all available inputs. To all such inquisitive folks I must say that my take on life may be diametrically opposite to yours considering my area of expertise, qualifications, experience, designation, age, attitude, level of expectations, etc, etc. 

Some illustrious people who, before leaving the organization for good, go through the 'generally accepted practice' of composing a fine piece of prose in praise of the organization, the wonderful support received from superiors and colleagues and how the company helped them grow into fine human beings and how the experience enriched their lives. Such lavish praise is showered by a majority of folks prior to leaving the company for good. I find it unbecoming on their part to pass negative comments about the workplace particularly when they have been so vocal in their praise while they were here. One such guy posted a comment regarding his fundamental right being infringed upon by having to deposit his passport for 'safe keeping' with the company. Well, if this policy is a 'deal-breaker' for you then don't join the group or if you are in service and this rankles, then 'chuck it' man. As far as I am concerned, it is no big deal for me. I have received my passport well in time whenever I wanted to travel without any fuss whatsoever. Sometimes (and I have traveled a lot of times owing to the court case which I have mentioned in an earlier post) I have got the passport at very short notice and at times no notice at all.

Some other gentleman has commented that the environment is very political and the work culture worse than a Government organization in India. Here again, I must reiterate, that this is an individual opinion and one must take a call on what to do about it if the perception is such. Early in my service I had heard of a saying in hindi which goes thus: "नौकरी  करनी है तो नखरा कैसा ?" We seek employment for various reasons or compulsions and every job has its pros and cons. We do not have the liberty to choose our bosses and if you have to work under some 'stuck up' guy or a 'fuddy-duddy' then it is just too bad mister. Blame it on luck !

As far as I am concerned I am quite satisfied with my lot and things are cool.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

CPP - Update

I have received a lot of queries regarding the subject from CPP aspirants from all over during the past six years. A google search on 'CPP' throws up some posts from this blog besides other relevant results. I have tried to reply to most of the mails I got but missed out some owing to other commitments/preoccupation/general feeling of being DWL (Disgusted With Life). My apologies to those people whose queries did not elicit a response from me. While I did get some really weird and 'out-of-this-world' queries (which I am not listing over here), the common ones are as follows :

(a)  Will CPP enhance my chances of getting a better job in Security ?
(b)  Is CPP the best certification for employment in Security ?
(c)  How do I arrange the required 'Course Material' ?
(d)  How about sending me some study material ?
(e)  Name the companies which directly employ CPPs ?
(f)  What is the 'value addition' after getting this certification ?
(g)  Did your professional career get a boost after earning this certification ?
(h)  Does it really help professionally or it just remains on your CV ?
(i)   Is it worth spending so much money on membership, test fees and resources ?
(j)   How relevant is this certification in India ?

Well, guys, thanks for the above mentioned bouncers. I am not going to answer these questions individually but the update I have in mind should clear most of the doubts. Firstly let me remind the present CPP aspirants that I got my CPP certification way back in in 2007. After re-certification in 2010 the same was validated till 31 December 2013. I did not bother to get re-certified thereafter, so technically I am not a CPP now (that is why I don't append it after my name anymore). Thanks to my current job profile, my personal preoccupations and problems, the 'low-crime-rate-country-that-I-work-in', advancing old age and general laziness to some extent, I did not think of re-certification after the validity expired.

The tag of being "Board Certified" in Security did not open any doors for me and neither was it my expectation. I was working in the Reserve Bank of India which besides being a premier institution is also a 'corruption free' (in the words of a distinguished former member of the Board) place to work in. It was a "Sarkari" job which paid well and there was lot of prestige attached to it in the market. When I faced the interview board for my current job, the panel (6 senior management officials) was totally clueless about CPP and I had to explain what it was and how that made me a 'tees maar khan'. When I landed in Oman I found out to my chagrin that no one had even heard of ASIS or CPP. So it did not boost my professional career in any way. I took the test to see if I had it in me to earn the credential. In 2007 there were just 7 CPPs in India (myself included) and I was the first in RBI. I can happily state that I did motivate some other colleagues who are Board Certified today and working in the Reserve Bank of India and some who are not. A whole lot of other guys (who got in touch with me through this blog) also benefited by the material which I had.

However, a lot has changed over the past years in terms of exam content, structure and percentage of domains of Security in which one is tested. My earlier posts related to CPP may not be fully relevant today. The study material recommended has totally changed. Now all that is recommended is the 8 volume POA and relevant ASIS Standards which can be downloaded free of cost (once) in case one is a member. The cost of POA is quite high so it would be a good idea to convince your management to foot the bill for the resource. I know the New Delhi Chapter had bought one set of study material, POA (which was 4 volumes at that time) included, in 2008 or 2009. No idea about other Chapters.

The ASIS website is quite exhaustive and one should go through it carefully to get answers to most common queries. Earning the certification is tough but it certainly gives you recognition within the fraternity. Employers in India today (and not only multi-nationals) are increasingly advertising for relevant certifications. Taking the test will ensure that you gain the required level of knowledge in Security Management, give your confidence a tremendous boost and make you visible within the fraternity. Should one go for it or not, spend so much money and whether it will add value or not  is a matter of personal choice and I will not comment on these choices. Hope that I have cleared the air somewhat ! Wishing all the best to future CPP aspirants.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Resurgence, Revival, Resurrection, Revisting - Bishtblog

After a lengthy hiatus of six years plus, I think it is high time I start blogging again. I have received numerous requests from my friends and acquaintances in this regard. Well, for starters, an update on my status would be appropriate. I am still working with the Saud Bahwan Group at Muscat - going to be nearly eight years now. The past six years have been a roller coaster ride in hell on the personal front owing to a court case in which my sons were framed for a crime they did not commit. On the professional front, things have been hectic but no cribs on that account as the ride has been quite satisfying. So much for resurgence - I better quit my rant now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wangdu Phuntsok - RIP

A few days back I was devastated to learn that my dear friend Wangdu Phuntsok passed away on 05 August owing to a massive heart attack. This shocking news came as a bolt from the blue for me. Words cannot describe my anguish at this loss. We became friends in 1966 when I was studying in class V at Bramleigh Towers Cambridge Academy, Mussoorie, and had kept in touch with each other for the past 44 years. Our friendship had stood the test of time and grew stronger with each passing year.
Just last month Wangdu had informed me that he had been honoured with His Holiness The Dalai Lama's award for his dedication and devotion in working for the cause of Tibetans settled all over the world. He was the Director of the Herman Gneimer School, Kathmandu, Nepal as well as a very well known personality in the Tibetan community.
Wangdu was an extremely polite, soft spoken, down-to-earth and humble person. Thoroughly dependable and ever willing to lend a helping hand to the needy, he possessed a great sense of humour and there was always a twinkle in his eye. I can vividly recall all the tricks he used to be up to when we were studying in Mussoorie. He later on moved to Sherwood College, Nainital, to complete his schooling. I am sure everyone whose life was touched by him will mourn his passing away. I pray to the almighty God to give his family the strength to bear this loss.
Adieu my friend. Rest in Peace !
Wangdu (in shawl) receiving the award

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Code Number Clocked !

The title of this post is not meant to confuse anyone. When I joined the Saud Bahwan Group in December 2008 I was allotted an employee 'Code No.' My Code No. is 21217 which means that I was the 21217th individual to join this company ( the oldest serving employee as on date is Code No. 4 - employed in 1973 and currently part of the TOP management !!).
Recently, on my way back to Muscat from a branch visit I happened to notice that the odometer on my car was about to show my Code No. as kilometers clocked till date. Not bad - clocking 21217 kms in just a little over one year ! I shot the following pics on this occasion. (click on the pic to enlarge):

Code No. Clocked !
A view of the scenic surroundings
Speed Thrills are Cheap Thrills - Dont try this !