Instant Cut Mango Pickle (Kerala Style) – Recipe

I have prepared this type of cut mango pickle numerous times in the past but got the chance to post the recipe only today – thanks to some pictures clicked during the process. So, without much blabber, let’s get into the act.
cut mango pickle recipe - kerala style

Ingredients

Raw mangoes – 2 medium sized
Green chillies – 10, sliced diagonally into 3 or 4 pieces
Curry leaves – 4 to 5 twigs
Garlic (optional) – 8 to 10 cloves sliced lengthwise
Gingelly oil (Sesame oil) – 2 tablespoon
Red chilli powder – 1 teasooon
Kashmiri chilli powder (Paprika) – 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder – ½ teaspoon
Big mustrard seeds – ½ teaspoon
Vinegar – 2 tablespoon
Fenugreek powder – 1 teaspoon (1 tsp seeds fresh toasted and powdered)
Asafoetida powder – ½ teaspoon (solid asafoetida toasted and powdered)
Salt – 1.5 teaspoon, or as per the tartness of the mangoes

Preparation

Clean mangoes well, wipe it with a cloth and let it dry for a few minutes. Cut them into small pieces (ideally ¾ cm cubes) with the skin on. This recipe of instant Kerala mango pickle (nadan manga acchar) needs very good raw mangoes with thick skin.

In a pan, heat 2 tablespoon of gingelly oil. When the oil is really hot, add mustard seeds and let them crackle for a few seconds. Add curry leaves, garlic, sliced green chillies (beware, never add whole green chillies to heated oil as they may explode and splash hot oil) and stir fry it for about 30 seconds. Lower the heat and add chilli powder, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric, salt and stir well for another 30 seconds. Turn off the stove and add vinegar when the pan is still hot. This helps in vaporizing some water content in the vinegar.

After five minutes and when the pan is still warm, add mango pieces and mix it all together very well. Yes, in this variety of pickle, we don’t cook the mangoes but it’s consumed rather raw. Sprinkle asafoetida and fenugreek powder and mix again. The mango pickle is almost ready!

In about an hour, this hot mouthwatering mango pickle can be transferred to an airtight bottle. You can start consuming this instantly though it tastes better after a couple of days. If garlic is used, it tastes good typically in a week or so.

By the way, while salt and gingelly oil are good preservatives, whatever little moisture the ingredients hold is good enough to spoil the pickle in a few days. Hence, if you can’t consume it within 4-5 days, you may have to refrigerate it.

Postscript: Gingely oil, Fenugreek powder and Asafoetida are the three most important ingredients that make irresistible South Indian pickle! Hence, never miss any of these ingredients nor pick any substitute oil.

In Pictures

cut mangoes

curry leaves, chillies and garlic

chilli powder, turmeric powder, fenugreek powder, asafoetida

gingelly oil

mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chillies and garlic

chilli powder and turmeric powder added

add mango pieces and mix well

cut mango pickle - almost ready

Kerala style cut mango pickle
(This picture is shot by Aditya Edassery. He wanted all that decoration around the pickle bottle)

cut mango pickle recipe

Anti-Nepotism Online Campaign for Loksabha Election 2014

Friends,
We are living in a Democratic country. Democracy provides you the freedom and power to elect the representatives who can make decisions on our behalf in order to take this country forward.

Today, the eligibility of candidates contesting for parliament or state assembly elections is decided based on too basic parameters such as citizenship status, minimum age, criminal conviction status etc. From time to time, the educated citizens in this country have asked for stricter norms such as minimum educational qualifications, upper age bar and so on. However, going by the constitutional rights of the citizens of India, it may not be practical to implement such amendments in the near future.

nepotism in india

Yet another virus that is affecting the democratic process and progress of this country is Nepotism in politics. Favourism granted to the relatives of family members of politicians has reached such a pathetic state where several members of the same family get to contest a particular election (E.g. Three members of the Paswan family contest the forthcoming Loksabha elections). This is so easily done and manipulated by the crooked politicians because the people have no say in deciding who can contest even before deciding whom to vote for. Further, Nepotism is one of the reasons why most of these politicians and their families turn corrupt.

While constitutional changes or even an Anti-Nepotism bill may be close to impossible, we as voters always have the chance to vote out those who run politics as a family business. We have to decide whether 20 or 30 families out of the millions in this country can continue to play with our future, just because they get to contest and win elections by playing vote bank politics, caste-regional politics and other inherited means.

So during the forthcoming Loksabha election, let me request my fellow citizens to do the following.

1. First, enroll yourself in the Voters list and please Do vote on the election day.

2. If you know of any candidate who got a ticket by Nepotistic means, please alert voters and fellow citizens by word of mouth, social media shares etc to spread awareness. There are already many familiar names out there ( Gandhis, Gowdas, Yadavs, Paswans, Karnunanidhis etc) but there may be a lot more that we don’t know; So let us spread awareness by all possible means.

3. Do not vote for Nepotists – especially who haven’t done anything at all for the social well-being or progress of the nation even at his/her lowest capacities prior to this election. Even if they have done something in the past, if you believe that there could have been a better candidate, reject them outright. Please think beyond your political views for once.

4. If you don’t find a suitable candidate in your constituency, please use the ‘Reject all candidates’ button. Let us hope this new mechanism introduced this year is going to work and make things better in the future.

Please share this note with your friends and contacts. Let us send this message loud and clear and work towards a cleaner and truly democratic election process. While for every election, we try to vote and elect people based on our best judgment, let us try to make Anti-Nepotism as the theme for this Loksabha election. Because, uprooting nepotism is one of the key steps towards fighting corruption!

The link to the Facebook Online Campaign is below:
Anti-Nepotism Online Campaign for Loksabha Election 2014 – Facebook link

Thank you,
An Indian Citizen

(Early) Retirement Planning in India – A Practical Approach

Today is my last working day in my fulltime Software career. Yes, I decided to retire at my current age early retirement is nothing bad!of 43 years after careful deliberation and planning for retirement over the last few years. I worked for exactly 19 years in the IT Industry which thought is equivalent to some 30 years of efforts in the Indian context; that is, when you consider the first ten years of hard work and extra hours that we all had to put in during those years.

Nevertheless, I decided to call it quits mainly due to the following reasons:

  • I was kind of getting bored with the IT office routine – while Software still excites me, the industry quite doesn’t anymore
  • I thought I have planned my finances reasonably well till today after initial years of spend-thrift lifestyle. At the moment though, I have no loans, have some decent savings and fixed assets, and I have further plans to appreciate whatever little wealth I have)
  • I do not want to improve my lifestyle or living standards further or better than what it is now. In fact, I already froze my lifestyle some five years ago
  • I plan to leverage on my secondary skills and hobbies in order to earn some income from home. This, at the moment, cannot immediately match the high salaries that IT professionals command – it is more about doing what you like the most and have huge potential to outsmart the IT salaries
  • I see the need to spend more time with my family with my kids (a special one too) growing up – I believe that after certain age, one’s sole goal should be grooming the next generation and giving back all your learning to the society

The reasons may be reasonable but can one really retire so early without having some planning and backup? Well, that’s what we are going to discuss in this post. I am writing this post because I thought it might help a younger guy out there who wants to plan for his retirement. It is very obvious that one needs quite some money to retire and hence it needs careful planning! I shall also share here the little Excel sheet that I made sometime back to help with my retirement planning.

How to plan for your early retirement?

Disclaimer first: I am not a financial adviser nor planner myself. However, based on the personal finance articles that I got to read in newspapers and online over the past several years, I kind of figured out how much money I might need to retire early and more importantly, if that money is not sufficient, how can I supplement it further? (In fact, that’s more like my situation now). In my case, the plan was laid out almost 8 years ago and I kind of executed it more or less along the expected lines. I must however admit that I didn’t fully reach my financial goals yet, and hence it is all the more important to discuss the management of post-retirement savings as well. We will discuss both these aspects in the post.

If you ask me about early retirement planning, the following will be the logical steps involved.

  1. Decide at what age you want to retire from your full-time job; Do that at least 10-12 years in advance so that you don’t miss any wealth creation opportunities.
  2. Project your typical monthly expenses post retirement (without considering inflation parameters; planning tools will take care of adjusting for inflation) and hence the amount you want to retire with for a longevity of say 80 years
  3. Execute your plans to save up that much money – The plan should include foreclosing any pending loans before retirement, a clear strategy for pre and post retirement investment, onetime big expenses etc. Also, do special planning for high-inflationary expenses such as medical (You need a good medical insurance for your family post retirement) and a term-life insurance well in advance
  4. If the return on retiral investment do not seem sufficient, plan for a backup part-time job or go for alternate investment instruments (often high-risk, high-reward ones if you are retiring at a younger age)
  5. Retire peacefully and enjoy those little things in life!

Now, that sounds easier said than actually done but it’s not that easy! Let’s now take a closer look at our planned steps. I shall try to explain these steps in detail using the little Excel sheet that I was talking about (download link below).

[ Download my Retirement Calculator Here ]

Step 1. At what age do you want to retire?

To begin with, you need to make up your mind to arrive at a reasonable retirement age. This has to be done very well in advance. For example, when you are still in your early thirties, you may plan for a retirement at 45 if you are sure of saving up enough. Be careful not to be super-confident here. In my case, I started thinking about retirement about 7-8 years back itself after seeing a few ups and downs in the industry as well as the financial markets. More often than not, people won’t take a retirement call out of fear or social reasons – because it may be seen as a sin by old thinkers!

Your readiness for retirement again can be checked using my sheet. If you are not ready yet, use the sheet again to decide how can you accelerate your investments towards achieving your retiral goals (i.e. the money with which you can retire. Remember to add additional investments for special needs such as kids education or marriage, if such events are likely to happen post your retirement. You may use the third sheet in the workbook for such goals and add up to your systematic investment goals)

Step 2. Project your monthly expenses

This is reasonably easy if you have the habit of tracking your monthly expenses. If not, do the following:

– From all your bank statements, find out your annual account outflow (withdrawals, bills payments,credit card payments)

– Deduct the expense types that won’t happen post retirement (e.g. kids schooling expenses – not always though, fuel adjustments when you don’t commute that often, shopping budget as applicable etc)

– Add any additional expense that might recur after retirement (e.g. medical insurance)

– If there are things that repeat every couple or few years, add those expenses on an annualized basis as well (e.g. family vacation abroad once in two years)

– The resultant value divided by 12 would be roughly your monthly expenditure.

– If you want, more accurate values (advisable) please track your expenses from today itself.

Now, this monthly expenses should be on as-is basis. i.e. if you decide to retire today, how much you will need after cutting anything that’s not applicable in retirement life is this monthly figure we are talking about. Don’t worry about any inflation parameters at this moment.

Step 3. Execute your plan based on your particular sheet

Now, it’s time to take a closer look at your sheet. After entering the mandatory fields of your current age, retirement age and expected monthly expenses, you may adjust the inflation parameter and the expected returns on your savings after retirement. The inflation parameter in Indian conditions can be anywhere between 6 to 10 percent over a long period of time. The rate of returns on your investment can be as low as 3% for savings banks, 7 to 10 percent in long term deposits and 8 to 12 percent typically in equities (and as high as 15-20 percent in certain time horizons in the bull market).

I suggest to leave the longevity at 80 years as that’s typical life expectancy number that one should plan for. The life expectancy in India is slowly going up thanks to advancement in medical facilities and health standards.

With that plan in the sheet, you now know how much you need to save up. You need to document that somewhere and not keep it transient in the sheet (and you forget your planned numbers later).

Now, the preparation steps start. Some of the activities you need to undertake during this 8, 10 or 15 year period is to close all your loans, take care of major one-time expenses or allocate further money for that, and take a term insurance policy at a good age (typically before 40 years and preferably in early 30s).


(Note: As a thumb rule, one should de-link insurance and investments. There’s no point in having an old style endowment policy like the one LIC used to offer. Instead, earmark most of that money into high-return investments and use only a fraction of the cost for a high value term deposit. These days, taking a 50L or 1 Crore term insurance policy is not a big deal!)

Living frugally and investing wisely should be the motto towards the retirement age. Especially, one should go for things that add long term value than disposable/expensive items (e.g. smartphones, electronics, changing cars frequently etc).

No matter what, your end-goal on retirement day should be having that magic figure that you want to retire with.

Some of the wise things to do on retirement is to dispose illiquid assets such as real estate, gold* etc. Also, try to invest 20-25% of your take home salary in equity market (blue chip) and mutual funds prior to your retirement. One good thing to do is to allocate 10 to 15% of your take home salary towards EPF (Pension Fund or Provident Fund) on top of the employee+employer contribution. This comes as a big savior at the end because it’s all tax-free amount that returns at an average of 8.5% over the past several years. It’s as good as getting 12% annualized returns before tax. I was doing exactly the same since 2004-05 and it really helped me!

* By the way, responsible citizens should avoid gold as an investment instrument as this illiquid and stagnant wealth – while giving you good returns – will spoil the country’s economy. Our biggest curse is the trade deficit caused by Petroleum and Gold imports.

Step 4: Special risk planning

Now, what if you slogged it out till your retirement day and you still are not going to make the money you wanted as per the planning sheet? (Don’t worry, that will be the case with most people)

You have to either (1) Go with some high-risk, high-reward schemes or (2) Plan for a part time activity that earns some money to supplement your retirement savings returns with which you can make a living.

(1) is where I disagree with the old school of thought. Yes, it’s ideal to invest all your post retiral savings into risk-free and fixed return instruments AS LONG AS you retired with a handsome amount in your bank. And that’s indeed the recommendation for those who retired rich. What if you didn’t and you are still rather young?

In such cases, you need to maximize your returns from your post retirement money by investing part of it into the equity market. Why? Because it returns like 10% or 12% annually on your retirement savings and you are going to beat the inflation big time.

Also, please note that the risk scenario mentioned here is applicable ONLY when you couldn’t take that risk before retirement. It is always better to take this kind of risky investment before retiring itself, as much as possible.

Negating the bad effects of Inflation is the key to be successful in Indian conditions!

You may compare the two sample screenshots below to understand what I am talking about.

retirement plan - 1
Retirement Plan 1 : Minimal returns on Post-Retirement Savings means You have to save up a LOT!

retirement plan 2
Retirement Plan 2 : Better Returns post retirement means, you need to Save up less

If that’s not your preferred route, you need to definitely do some kind of part time activity that earns money (in my case, that’s the plan!)

Step 5: Happily Retire!

No explanation needed here, but all that you have to do is to go for a good medical insurance coverage, bifurcate your money into the right investment instruments and enjoy life! Because you have done your planning part really well, you deserve to enjoy life to the fullest till the very end!

Early Retirement Hassles (Non-financial)

When somebody decides to retire so early in their life, the biggest worry is to manage and convince the family members. In the Indian context, you will invariably have an argument with your spouse on your decision. Even worse will be the nosy friends and the family people who will be waiting for an opportunity to prove you wrong for not thinking like the most! At any point of time when things don’t seem to go well, you have to remind yourself that your conviction is better than the conventions you see around!

Further, some people might develop boredom and depression after an early retirement decision. That’s why it is very important to find a post retirement activity to keep you occupied and happy. Retirement life is a very good time to reconnect with your family, friends and rediscover yourself. You will also find a lot of time to take care of your health.

The above are some of the non-financial aspects that you need to manage and figure out to lead a peaceful life, after having done the financial part perfectly right!

Enjoy your life!

PS: This article was written in a hurry as I really wanted to post it on my retirement day itself! Any suggestion, corrections are welcome and let me know if the Retirement planning Excel sheet that I shared has any bugs or calculation issues!

Papaya Halwa Recipe (Indian Dessert)

Last Sunday – having completed all my blogging tasks for the week – I was wondering what to do for the rest of the afternoon. Since we were already heavily loaded with healthy salads and fish based lunch, preparing some dessert sounded like a good idea. However, all that was left in the fruit basket was a lonely semi-ripe papaya which is something I hate a lot because back home in Kerala we had them aplenty and was part of daily menu in various forms. Anyhow, I decided to experiment with Papaya to make some dessert. The initial, idea was to eat it as raw fruit but then I just remembered seeing something on the TV long ago. Hence without following any specific steps in mind, I started off with my own Papaya Halwa recipe that finally defeated the papaya hater in me.

Papaya Halwa Recipe

Here’s my variant the basic papaya halwa without milk or milk powder.

Ingredients

Semi-ripe Papaya – 1, weighing around 1 Kg

Sugar – 150 grams – You may add more based on your tastebuds

Pure ghee – 3 to 4 tablespoons.
(I used homemade ghee that our maid had prepared a while ago from leftover milk-skin)

Almonds – 20 to 30

Cardamom powder – Quarter teaspoon

Cloves – 3 or 4

I didn’t use cashew nuts which is one of the main ingredients in many Indian halwas mainly because I prefer almonds to that fatty nut. Further no milk, milk powder or condensed milk was used either in this recipe.

Method of preparation

I didn’t manage to shoot a video or use my DSLR, because I didn’t quite know final outcome could be. However, I managed to click some mobile pics and let me add them here – not that they cover all stages of cooking.

papaya fruit

1. Remove the papaya skin and seeds and chop it into small pieces. You may want to keep wiping the burning papaya milk during the peeling process – That’s what I hate the most about papayas.

2. Heat Ghee in a non-stick pan and add the papaya pieces. Keep stirring in medium flame for about 12-15 minutes. By now, the papaya would have started softening and you can mash it into a nice thick paste while on the stove.

Papaya mashed

3. Leave it for a longer time say for another five to ten minutes on low flame if it’s still watery or juicy. You can add the cloves at this point and stir occasionally.

4. Add 100 to 150 grams of sugar and stir well again for a couple of minutes. You can go for reduced sugar levels based on your taste and how sweet the papaya is. I, for one, like to have very less sugar in my halwa.

Sugar

5. Add cardamom powder and crushed almonds once you see Ghee formation around the halwa. This is when the halwa clearly move around the pan swiftly as a single ball. That’s when you know that it’s ready!

cardamom and almonds

Tip: Just in case you feel that your halwa’s consistency is going to be thin, you may sprinkle a spoon of fine rice floor during step 4. It’s not a crime to do so and the rice flour is a healthier option than Maida or corn flour.

Another tip: Once it’s done and the pan is still very hot, you may tilt the pan and remove excess ghee from it right away using a teaspoon. I managed remove half of the ghee that I added in this fashion because I just hate oil dripping halwas and similar desserts.

papaya halwa recipe

That’s my papaya halwa recipe which is rather lean compared to majority of halwa varieties because we didn’t add a lot of sugar, milk or other fatty stuff. It tastes fantastic and doesn’t taste as boring as raw papaya.

I am a Papaya lover again!

Air Asia Flight Booking Tips and Travel Guidelines

I just came back to Bangalore after an awesome 7 days in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. Having used Airasia for my international itinerary for the trip and seeing how cheap flying is really possible with them, I thought of jotting down the following tips to help you save big bucks on your next travel with Air Asia.

Now everyone can fly, But just be careful

When you book an Airasia flight online, you have to be really careful about how and when you are doing it. The following are some guidelines for you based on my personal experience with them during multiple bookings.

airasia flying booking tips

#1. Never book Airasia in your first attempt

AirAsia’s online booking system is a pretty smart spy that seems to track what you are trying to do in your multiple attempts under pressure. It will persuade you with some impressive numbers/statements and session timeout warnings etc. You have to make sure that you take your own sweet time before committing to a booking because there’s no refund (Also read the next section on how to uncheck unwanted options)

Since they use cookie based tracking, try clearing cookies or use alternate browser (or even a different PC / Laptop) on your subsequent booking attempts.

Also, try your booking options without logging into you your AirAsia account because if you do so, they clearly know your history.

#2. Uncheck addons during booking

This is where exactly you save big bucks. AirAsia’s default options are meant to extract money from you and the following are the recommended AirAsia booking options in most cases.

Airasia booking summary page

(Please note that you have to do the below settings for each and every traveler. Refer to the image above)

(a) Enable web check-in: For each passenger on your list , they will charge you RM10 (Malaysian Ringgit) if you opt for counter check-in. This means, that if you are a four member family, you can save RM80 on a roundtrip. Web check in can save you from a lot of trouble in front of the checkin counter.

(b) Discard Airasia insurance: This option is at the very bottom of the online booking screen. AirAsia’s insurance add-on doesn’t provide a lot of value for the price you pay. The insurance in this case is opted on a point-to-point basis which is not exactly what you want on an overseas trip. Instead, you can get very cheap online travel insurance for the whole trip from other vendors – especially when you are travelling from India to countries like Malaysia on tourist visa. For example, for my entire one week’s trip for a three member family, I had to pay only Rs.1400/- for all medical and air travel losses covered. The premium can much cheaper when you opt for the right insurance companies – of course, I didn’t do enough research on this before buying a travel insurance policy from Bajaj Allianz.

(c) Deselect checked baggage: By default, for every passenger in the itinerary, they add 20Kg of checked in baggage limit at the cost of RM30. If you are traveling as a family and if you need only 20Kg or 30Kg max, make sure that you bundle all that stuff in one travel bag. Then you can choose this option ONLY for one passenger and deselect all others. If you have only cabin baggage to carry, the situation is even better!

(d) Don’t opt for KL Sentral to Airport bus transit: The bus transit, if you opt for, is a cheaper mechanism to travel from LCCT to KL Sentral or vice versa. However, when you buy from them with all their add-on taxes, it doesn’t work out really cheap. You can buy it anyhow from the airport later or you might even decide to go for a taxi for comfort reasons. Hence you can defer this option while doing online booking.

(e) Don’t pick hot seats unless you really want it: Hot seats in AirAsia are those seats dressed in red color headrest cover while all others are black. Hotseats offer better leg room but be very careful while choosing them because NOT all those dressed up seats offer significance difference in leg room in a typical Airbus A320 carrier that AirAsia mostly operate. Row 1 and the ones near the exit doors (12 and 14) definitely offer a lot of leg room than other hot seats (Check this link) Hence, unless you get these seats, don’t pay the extra RM10 per hot seat. Even otherwise, unless you are a six-footer, for short journeys (i.e. less than four hours), you don’t really need a hot seat.

(f) Buy inflight food in advance: The inflight menu of AirAsia , though limited, is a great bargain when you buy in advance during online ticket booking. For example, the RM10 Nasi Lemak (typical Malaysian food) is an excellent in flight food for such cheap pricing.

Why pre-booked food when you can buy it on board? Because, those who pre-booked their food is first served and on a small carrier like A320, it takes the crew about 30-40 minutes to complete this task. Only after that, others can buy food and that’s exactly why it makes sense to prebook AirAsia’s awesome cheap food from the inflight menu.

However, you may really need to do this if the flight journey is say, three hours or longer. Again, it is a matter of personal preference.

By the way, AirAsian in-flight cuisine is mostly good for Non-vegetarians. The vegetarians have very limited options but still fine for the price at which they come.

#3. Be careful while booking onward journeys

Since AirAsia can postpone or reschedule your flights by a few hours, be very careful while booking your onward journey. If you have planned for just two or three hours break between flights (from the same airport even), think again. You might want to keep a good 8 to 10 hour gap between connecting flights if you are flying AirAsia. The typical rescheduling seems to be by four or five hours as per my experience with AirAsia on two occasions.

#4. On travel day

Due the point explained in #3, you have to make sure that you contact them at their desk before starting to the airport on travel day. Sometimes, their SMS alerts just don’t reach you on time. I was surprised that I got alerts regarding my return flight’s postponement but never got any alert for my onward journey on time. I accidentally found it out during web check-in. An alternative to calling them up is to cross-check the web-checking portal (http://checkin.airasia.com) to verify the new departure time.

Further, if you are in India do your web check-in using your email ID rather than opting for mobile alerts. Because, I never managed to get my 2D check-in code via mobile in India.

Regarding the baggage weight: If you are checking in from an Indian airport, don’t even imagine in your wildest dreams that you can exceed even 1kg from the prebooked weight. The AirAsia crew in Indian airports always go strictly by the numbers and they are very stubborn if you exceed the limits by even a kilogram. They would force you to take the next 10Kg block which costs you about RM80 or 100 when you are buying it at their counter. I experienced this myself last week and they are very cunning on that part.

Outside India (e.g. KL LCC Terminal) they have a flexibility up to 1 or 1.5Kg exceeding the limits, but again you have to pre-book your baggage weight in advance to save money. Read point #5 below.

#5. Add more weights just before travel

Since tourists are likely to have more baggage weight on return journeys, it is always better to top-up your baggage purchases on your return flight. In AirAsia, you can do this top-up job up to four hours before your travel and that’s a good thing because you can take a decision after packing up.

However, there’s a catch here. Between 20Kg and 25Kg, there’s only a difference of 6 Ringgits but if you cross 25Kg, the next option (i.e. 30Kg baggage) is rip off with doubled pricing as compared to 20Kg. And if you opt for 40Kg, that is even worse at 4 times the charge of 20Kg. And imagine, if you didn’t pre-book it before travel, you will be robbed by a few hundred Ringgits on the counter.

Hence be very careful while deciding your baggage options. The advantage of the AirAsia website is that you can access it from your mobile phone using any of the free Wifi options. I used the Hotel wifi to quickly add another five kilograms when I returned and that really saved me a lot of money.

Please note that, once you have done a web check-in and later you top up more baggage weight, you don’t need to do another check-in or modify anything. Their system will anyhow capture the changes.

Summary

That is pretty much I have to share in this edition of AirAsia flight booking tips. In essence, if you book and opt everything in advance, everyone can fly cheap in AirAsia as per their real claim. But if you vary even a bit from your options chosen, they will rip you apart.

Happy Flying!

My Favorite Value-for-Money Brands – The Top 10 List

I used to be a real spendthrift during my late 20s and early 30s! High income clubbed with single life abroad was like perfect recipe for personal finance disaster. It was the time when I started falling in love with designer brands that offered little value in life but made myself a self-proclaimed somebody else 🙂 I must confess that I spent a significant part of my life wasting money over those famous brand names that every one of my age group then probably wanted or were envious about.

The craving for designer brands ended once I started my married life when the reality injected some good sense into my head. That’s when I started realizing the value of going for products that offer value and quality for the price you pay. While some of these products may not be exactly cheap, they definitely do offer great value for money in the long run.

Once I started using those value-for-money products, I involuntarily started liking the brands or companies that produced these amazing products. This blog post is about the brands that have added value in my life in the long run.

My top 10 favorite brands

When I talk about a real brand (other than FMCG) that I am in love with for at least 35 years now, I have to start with Panasonic.

1. Panasonic

I first saw a Panasonic (National Panasonic to be precise) stereo tape recorder as a five or six year old child. During those days, a National Panasonic boom box or stereo was one of the most valuable things that a Keralite who returned from ‘the Gelf or Persia’ would bring in. I am talking about the pre-VCR era and post-valve radio period.

national panasonic boombox
National Panasonic Boombox - Picture courtesy: stereo2go.com

I attached myself to the Panasonic brand from those robust boombox days itself and started familiarizing with their other products as I grew.

Today, I am a big Panasonic fan and have used at least 8 to 10 of their products to satisfaction over the past several years. There are some categories where a Panasonic is simply the best – e.g. Cordless phones or Rice cooker etc. Among the
Panasonics that we have at home as of today include:

– Our Panasonic plasma TV
– A cordless phone (that I purchased 15 years back and still working)
– Two electric rice cookers
– A mixer grinder (awesome product!)
– An electric shaver
– A super silent hair dryer (latest addition)

panasonic mixer blender rice cooker

Well, the audio systems themselves underwent a lot of changes and hence I don’t know how the Panasonic stereos or boomboxes are doing now. But I definitely love their other products (may be except their recent entry into smartphones)

Philips is another brand I familiarized and started liking at the same time – particularly due to their lighting options, radios etc. However, in my mind, Panasonic still has the highest value for money.

2. Raymond’s Park Avenue

This must be one Indian brand that every working professional in this country must be familiar with and proud of for years now. I doubt if there’s a single middle class executive in India who didn’t own a pair of Raymond’s trousers in his life. In fact, I haven’t seen any cloth item that’s so durable and offers good looks at the same time for the money spent.

Further, I see that most people who went for their first suit or blazer naturally went with a Raymond’s Park Avenue.

(By the way, I do not use a Park Avenue on a regular basis any longer as I have stopped wearing formals. However, I still do have a couple of them in my wardrobe)

3. Titan (formal watches)

Okay, I am not here to talk about Tanishq, Fastrack or other late entrants from the Titan family. But a Titan Quartz formal watch is a high value for money watch and the one I own for the past 18 years still works like a charm whenever the battery is replaced in a timely manner.

If I remember correctly, I had paid something like Rs. 1200/- for this watch (in the picture) way back in 1995 or 96. Of course, I don’t use it as often as I used to do 10 years ago but even with a couple of other watches in my collection, I never forget to wear this little formal Titan once in a while.

titan formal watches

4. Zodiac – formal shirts

Zodiac is another Indian brand that I started liking after I got my first job. In fact, at one point of time, I remember ditching all other shirt brand and going outright for Zodiac when I had to relocate to US for the purpose of my consulting job.

Years down the line, while there are dozens of choices available when it comes to clothing brands, Zodiac still continues to be my favorite. I haven’t bought a formal shirt for a few years now, but when I do it will again be a Zodiac.

Their ZOD! Clubwear is another brand that needs a mention. At one point of time – perhaps 12 years ago – it was probably the only option if you had to pick a party wear for men. I still have a couple of them in my wardrobe that’s not used for quite some time now but is still in a highly usable condition apart from being the perfectly fitting shirt. Well, these shirts are not exactly cheap but serves you well (just like Raymond’s) in terms of fit and finish for a long time not to mention that they continue to equip their shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons even after several years into starting that practice.

5. Reynolds (ball-point pens)

This is no-brainer! Reynolds – among the ball-point pens – is the first one that I liked ever since we got the very first chance to switch over from those leaking fountain pens. By the way, I indeed liked the hero fountain pens as mentioned in an old post but Reynolds offered more freedom and resulted in better looking note books.

Even before Reynolds pens entered the Indian market; it was a popular name in our households – thanks again to the relatives working in the Gulf countries.

I still consider it as a value-for-money brand although the quality seems to have deteriorated a bit ever since their Indian entry in the early 90s.

6. Hitachi

Just like the brand Panasonic, yet another consumer durables brand that I like a lot is Hitachi – particularly due to their Air conditioners (and fridges too). While, one doesn’t go out and buy a Hitachi product on a regular basis, it is peace of mind once you own a 5-star energy rated product from Hitachi. Even better, they are like silent work horses that keep your mind away from regular repair related botheration.

I love Hitachi as a brand!

7. Polaroid – sun glasses

The Polaroids that one could wear even during night driving / riding have been my favorite list for the past 10 or 15 years now. In between, I switched a couple of driving glasses / fashion sun glasses but nothing offered the utility that came with a Polaroid

It is just amazing how those cool looking designer brands come nowhere close to a Polaroid in terms of real use and value for money.

8. Emami as a brand

Probably the only cosmetic item – other than my deos – I have to ever use in my life is the cold cream. And the best value for money cold cream that I have seen so far is the Emami cold cream which is priced almost one-third of typical brands like Ponds.

Emami is yet another Indian brand that’s synonymous to value and culture for the Indians. Their Himani Navaratna oil, Boroplus cream, powder, facewash etc are rightly priced products that understand the Indian audience well.

9. Oral B (dental floss)

Dental floss is something that I can’t live without and ever since I started flossing (at least 15 years now), I have been using the Oral B floss. Why Oral B? Because that’s the thinnest possible floss that I could find in the local market. The other brands like Colgate are much thicker flosses and very plain too while Oral B has a fresh minty flavor to it.

Overall, it helps maintain the dental hygiene at a reasonable price. I like this brand mainly because there are very few options in India when it comes to Dental hygiene products.

10. Pears soap

This is one brand that I have used for at least 90% of my life so far because even my father used the same and I have been seeing it since my birth. During my twenties, I switched to men’s lifestyle bath soap brands like Park Avenue or Aramusk but I knew that I was never going to patronize with such brands.

While the Pears bath soap has degraded a bit in its cut, shape and quality over the years, it’s still a decent Glycerine soap to help with a fresh shower.

[By the way, I just recalled an incident that took place some 32 years ago. My father, in fact, wrote to Hindustan Lever the first time they changed its shape of Pears to make it flattened and thinner. His queries were, then, answered by the customer care department in a personal letter. A couple of years from then, they reinstated the shape but the the beautiful cut was gone forever. Now, it looks like an unfinished product though the soap quality is still good if not the best]

Some more value brands

Well, there are a number of other things that I started liking at various stages of my life.

The super silent Crompton Greaves ceiling fans are one such brand that keeps me happy and amazed from the time I first saw it. We still have one in my house back home and even after 35 years of its heavy usage, it hasn’t failed even once. The regulator was damaged once but never the fan.

Colgate Pax Fresh Tea is an awesome mouthwash product that I found to be very gentle and fresh at the same time. It’s not too expensive either.

Another product I like for its pricing and quality is Himalaya Whitening Herbal toothpaste – it’s not too coarse; it is rightly priced and very effective.

As for the shaving systems, the Gillette Prestobarbara ready shaver at 22 rupees or so is a great bargain and it’s good for a couple of clean shaves.

Washing machines from Siemens are in my quality products list too, but since they are so expensive, I am not mentioning it in the value-for-money list.

The list could go on. But what I have learned in the process is that, beyond the upfront cost involved, there’s something called customer support, long term returns in terms of quality and satisfaction. That’s what make some of these products stand out.

And well, I know that you could disagree with some of my picks so let me know your list of best brands that offer value.

Telegram Service to Stop in India: Some Childhood Memories

Telegram will soon be history in India! In fact, practically it was already dead with the likes of telephones, fax machines, mobile phones and e-mail services gradually taking over its place across the past three decades or so. As a matter of fact, I was really surprised when I read the news today that the public sector giant, BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd), still operates this service though only about 5000 telegrams are being sent every day – down from million in the past. To be frank, I had really forgotten about the existence of Telegram and hence when they announced the decision to discontinue the Telegram service in India by July 15th, 2013, I was like ‘Who cares?’. But then, I started to recall a few good old memories from my childhood days where the Telegram service played a significant role in our lives – though not on a daily basis. It was indeed, ‘the fastest and affordable one-way messaging service’ at some point of time in the history after making its debut in the British in the middle of the 19th century.

Telegram in our lives!

Having brought up in a village background, I definitely have a couple of childhood memories to share about telegrams. I am talking about late-seventies to early eighties when I studied in our government primary school which was very near to the village’s own post office. This post office (Dak aur Tar Ghar which later became Dak Ghar alone) was a very old building that leaked during the monsoon rains and it hosted two staff members – A postman and a post master. My first memories about the telegraph equipment are from this Post office where our post master was always busy punching into it. And this mystery equipment produced random ‘tic-tac’ sound that was kind of nice to listen to. The only other sound from that building was his colleague slamming the heavy brass seal on all those letters to be delivered during the day. I clearly remember that both of them chewed Paan throughout the day. The postman’s face is still in my memories though I am unable to recall the face of the post master – the superman – who handled the telegraph.

Most of us – the school going lot – would invariably stop by the post office just to watch and listen to the proceedings inside by standing near a rusted window that doubled as the stamp & envelope vending counter.

Telegram = Either GOOD or mostly BAD news

During that ‘ancient era of telecommunication’, the normal mode of messaging was writing a letter that would take several days to reach the recipient. The senders can procure a ‘kavar’ (Stamped envelope) or an ‘illant’ (Inland Letter Card) from the post office to write and send their letter or snail mails as they are called today. These mails usually included kilometers of writing that oozed affection and everything that had to be conveyed between two loved ones or families since their last communication.

A telegram on the other hand had the purpose of ‘quickly’ communicating a few words across to your people who are staying away in another place – in a different district or state. Unfortunately, this mechanism was used mainly to inform about the events of death (which was probably the only urgent matter then?) in the family and hence the arrival of a telegram was always looked at as a dreaded thing – invariably someone at home would faint as soon as a telegram arrived – even before its content is read out. This aspect of the telegram has been depicted in comedy scenes of many Indian movies and if I remember correctly these important telegrams were sometimes delivered even after regular office hours.

Telegrams always conveyed concise and direct message when used for happy purposes such as wishing people on their achievements, marriage, wedding anniversary etc or even to communicate job offers by companies where there wasn’t much time left to report. However, when used for conveying the death of a loved one, it always contained diplomatic words such as ‘serious’ or ‘unwell’. So if someone gets a telegram that read ‘Grandfather serious, Start immediately’, it usually means that grandfather has already expired. And the neighbors of the deceased could always predict the arrival of someone who received the telegram when a spike of scream originates from the particular house – this can sporadically happen a few days after the death as and when the telegram recipients arrive one by one.

My experience with Telegrams

During my middle to high school days, I used to go to the post office to send ‘grams’ on my father’s behalf. Most of the time, the purpose was to congratulate or wish some of the newlyweds in his circle – typically his past colleagues from his transferable job postings. It was an easy task for me as he would have mentioned the greeting code to pick from the published list, fill it in a small form along with recipient’s address. Sending a digit code that finally translated to a one-sentence message was something that amazed me then. And, my father always used to pick his favorite greeting code that translated to ‘May Heaven’s Choicest Blessings be showered on the young couple’. As a matter of fact, his diary (and most printed diaries then) had these telegram codes printed, on their annexure pages, which was later replaced by STD codes of cities. And I do not even know what occupies that place now!

As I grew, I understood that it was Morse code that does the trick of transmitting these coded messages. When I was in 9th or 10th, a couple of us together built our first telegraph equipment prototype for a science exhibition – Telegraph really played its part in the life of millions of Indians from our generation and a couple of generations before ours as well.

And today, just like many other things from the past, the telegraph is going to be part of history books alone.

RIP Telegraph!

How to Build a Simple Motor?

Since it’s mid-summer vacation time, there’s always that opportunity to share some good time with kids by helping them with crafts, scientific experiments and stuff like that. My 11 year old son Adi’s (Aditya) favorite subject is Physics and that’s the first book he opened – with some compulsion of course – for the next academic year. They will be getting introduced to a bit of electricity and magnetism in the coming academic year when he goes to the 6th standard.

This week, I thought of teaching (for a change) him a little bit about electric magnets, dynamos, electric motors etc since these were my favorite topics in school as well. As a matter of fact, my favorite subject was Physics as well.

I had built motors during my school times but it was always a bit complicated to get everything working together. But now things are different and there’s the Internet for your help. A little bit of browsing around and improvisation over several prototypes resulted in the following motor that Aditya and I built during this weekend.

It takes just some insulated copper wire (about 3ft), a magnet, a dry cell, two safety pins and some adhesive tape to build possibly the simplest motor out there. I made a video based on the little clips and photos taken during the process so that it might help some kids out there to build one.

(If you can’t watch the video here, please click this link)