The Best From Philly

(Not another travelogue or extracts from city tour-guides – pls read till the end)

It was an enjoyable 2-day trip to the historic city of Philadelphia.

On the way back, between songs played from a phone, Ne (8 years old) threw a question: What was it one liked the best among the various sites visited during the trip?

She kicked off with The US Mint – that’s what I liked the most.” Though on a Sunday the machines were switched off and no shining piles of coins to be seen.

Phil punching press

(Pic: This diminutive press packs the wallop of an elephant herd!)

Her jaws dropped reading the titbit on the enormous pressure required to punch  blanks out of sheet-rolls. For instance, to stamp a penny blank, weight of 16 elephants or the force of 3 speeding trains are required!!

Others too came up with (edited for readability):

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The sight of the huge suspension bridge over the Delaware river, luxury apartments on the waterfront, the leisurely walk on the crowds-free pier sticking out into the river, gazing at the waters… Adding spice to the scene was a just-married joyous couple made to pose like this, like that, by a photographer throwing himself in unusual postures like going down on all fours, stepping up on a tree-trunk… Also, the Liberty Bell with its rich history.


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Walking through a huge model of a human heart…brought back memories of the days 25+ years ago when we dissected a goat’s heart in the lab…Also the comparative display of heart sizes of small to big animals and birds.This was at the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

A demo of Virtual Reality at the Museum – had never seen one before, though read and heard a lot… companies like Google, Facebook freaking on it.

The 3D-printing demo, also at the Museum…unbelievable…printing such intricate parts!!! An interesting chat ensued with staff in attendance, a mechanical engineer, on the relative strengths of parts forged, machined and printed,

The last to respond was Sh (11 years old): The best for me was the time I could spend out here with you all…such fun!!





Source: images from, yelp


A Crying Shame At Koduran’s Mansion

Like it happens with so many others, Chotu, an appellation commonly conferred on the ‘baby’ of the family, now was not what his name said – no doors of any ordinary house would let him easy passage. But Koduran’s Mansion was no ordinary house. It was a house of a zamindar (landlord) who lived some three hundred years ago during colonial times, built with large high vaulted halls and rooms, large heavily curtained windows, wide passage ways fitted with double doors, teak-wood furniture with faded tapestry rich in its days. Chotu was shunted out to this place as a last resort by his employer unable to catch him in the act, as the site offered nothing lying around to pilfer. All the articles of use in the zamindar’s household – dresses and linen, utensils, weapons, crockery and even toys- were inside glass cases locked and sealed for display to the visitors. Large portrait paintings of the family lineage filled good part of the high-ceilinged walls. Sculptures adorning the corners were too heavy to be carried away. In his early days at the Mansion Chotu not given to big-time crime did try his tricks; failing to make any headway he was forced to stay clean. Over years of non-practice now he had no head for any hanky-panky.

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A heritage site at the city outskirts managed by the Archeology Department, the Mansion did attract its share of tourists – mostly middle-aged men and women making rounds they can talk about to their neighbors, with more kid-like curiosity than any appreciation for history. Chotu would offer his services as a guide to make a few bucks on the side – his employer ignoring his moonlighting even if it was reported. But very few visitors considered his services as most of them were simply breezing past and a few interested content to read the placards describing the exhibits. But not one to be discouraged he would present himself to every group that crossed the portals of the Mansion.

This was a day no different. While the heat was oppressive, summer also meant holidays and visitors. Organized tour buses usually called in just after lunch as part of their itinerary. And so a bus load of senior school girls arrived with a bi-spectacled teacher at the head struggling to keep her herd in line. As customary, Chotu welcomed them with a few enticing tidbits about the Mansion and its glory. Pausing for a minute for his words to sink in he laid out his services promising to unravel more for them.

The teacher tentatively inquired: ‘How much? I mean, what are your charges?’

‘Five hundred rupees only, Madam. Mind you the tour would take at least a couple of hours to do justice. And the stories I give out, you won’t find them in the pamphlets.’

The teacher pegged it at two hundred rupees – after all she had to collect from the students – that was politely declined by Chotu lest people might think Chotu was desperate for business. Good service never came cheap.

Never mind no deal, the professional Chotu was, he did not show his hurt at this ridiculous down-pricing of his services; he quickly reverted to his official station and handed them a few copies of the officially free pamphlets and saw them off with a few officially scripted tips on how to go around.

That he harbored no bitterness was appreciated by his clients-not-to-be who thereupon set off by themselves on the tour.


After a while Chotu had nothing better to do than going around keeping an eye on visitors – sometimes throwing in some juicy detail from the zamindar’s lifetime to shake up a listless/jaded tourist out of his ennui and most times showing where the toilets were or the cafeteria. On his slow walk he came upon the teacher-students group gazing at the statue.

‘Excuse me.’

It was the teacher beckoning him.

‘Yes, Madam, what is it?’

‘I want to show you something.’

This was new to him. Usually it was he showing things to others.

‘Look at the right eye,’ she said pointing to the statue, ‘and down the body to the lap. Do you see what I see?’

Chotu stepped up closer to the statue and narrowed his eyes to figure out what was not normal in the statue that was to his eyes perfectly normal not having moved an inch from its place.

The teacher saw the lost look on Chotu and explained: ‘Do you see in midst of the surrounding dust a clean streak running down from the right eye?’

‘Yes, I do. I must apologize – the staff has been careless in the daily dusting. I’ll speak to the head. You see, in summer, the wind kicks up a lot of dust around here. There’s no moisture in the soil to hold the dust down.’

Chotu’s exposition was promptly ignored: ‘I see a certain wetness, traces of water having streamed down washing away the dust in its wake. In fact  if you observe closely there is still a drop hanging down from the right eye ready to roll down any moment. There is some leakage somewhere.’

‘Leakage? Impossible. There are no pipes running here. And where pipes are there’s no water in them. Summer, see?’

The teacher was like a hound on scent not to be shaken off: ‘Alright. Go ahead and explain it your way.’

Chotu went for a second look. When he slowly turned around to face the teacher he had a dazed look of someone who had seen aliens landing in his backyard:

‘So it’s all true, eh?’

‘What’s true?’


‘What’s unbelievable?’ The teacher was deeper into a lightless tunnel.

‘Don’t you see? It’s in plain sight. The statue has shed tears.’

‘Statue shed tears?’

‘And it is because of one of you.’

Chotu now turned his gaze to the group shifting his eyes from one to the next like he was trying to spot an assailant in an identification parade.  ’

‘Because one of us?’

‘Stop repeating after me, you blithering idiot.’ Chotu wasn’t one to say it. He believed his customers were always right though in this instance he wasn’t sure how it applied here.

Instead he managed to say with a deep sigh: ‘Oh, it’s a long story, Madam.’

‘Tell us, tell us, we wish to know,’ chorused the sufficiently intrigued students.

‘You must pardon me. It would be very unfair to my other clients if I share the stories freely with you.’

At this point negotiations reopened. The demand-driven deal was inked at the original price of five hundred rupees for the story. Chotu was no greedy merchant to take advantage of the situation.

The long and short of Chotu’s narrative without his embellishments was:

About three hundred years ago, Koduran the zamindar lorded over the lands around here.  Unlike his forefathers he was a cruel man to his subjects claiming unlimited rights over their blood and sweat to fund his decadent ways. Justice in his rule was swift and severe unencumbered by evidence.

Once the monsoon had failed and so did the crops. The tenants of his lands were unable to pay Koduran his dues. Koduran’s men wrought untold misery on them and their families. Kaalia was one of those unfortunate men to suffer at their hands. He was a great devotee of Goddess Kali. His child was thrashed before his eyes, his wife taken away and he beaten to death.  Before he breathed his last, he invoked Goddess Kali and prayed for her to punish Koduran for all his misdeeds before the sun went down on the very day.


Goddess Kali is never known to forsake her devotees. Come evening, Koduran began to feel certain stiffness in his lower limbs. To his horror, he found he was progressively turning into a stony statue. At the twelfth hour he repented for all his sins and earnestly pleaded for forgiveness. Mata Kali told him he would be redeemed only if every one of those souls made to suffer by him in their lives came back in their reincarnation to see him in stone and forgive him in full.  Until then he would remain encased in stone.

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‘See, how life-like the statue is. Since he found it difficult to stand on his stony feet, he sat down on a low seat almost squat before completely turning into a statue.

After him, the zamin completely disintegrated. The lands were annexed by the neighbouring zamin’s. No news of his descendants. Perhaps ashamed to admit their lineage? Only this Mansion survived with poor Koduran in utter loneliness. At the turn of this century fortunately for him the abandoned Mansion was discovered and restored like what you’re And now he has visitors like you and a chance to redeem himself.’ Chotu concluded his story.

For a couple of minutes there was absolute silence before his awe-struck audience returned to the present.

‘But why the tears?’ softly ventured the teacher.

‘It rarely happens and it has happened today. When Koduran sees one of those souls standing before him and is ready to move away without forgiving him, he sheds a tear in sorrow. There’s one among you wronged by Koduran. We would never know who it is.  If I’m not overstepping my limits could I request all of you to pray in your mind silently for a minute forgiving Koduran from the bottom of your hearts? Gods in their heavens would be pleased and would bless you for it.

Most girls had tears welling up in their eyes, some sniffing into their kerchiefs.

They readily obliged Koduran with a short and silent prayer for his early redemption save one girl who remained unmoved.

The teacher and the students solemnly thanked Chotu profusely for making their trip memorable and moved out like they were returning from a funeral.

This one girl ran back to Chotu and said:

‘You know, I saw a pale discoloured patch near the right heel of the statue. The statue doesn’t appear to be all made of stone.’

Chotu set her doubts at rest: ‘You see, over the years so many visitors like you have heard me and prayed for him that his redemption has already commenced, Mata Kali willing. That’s the patch you keenly observed. I’m sorry I missed pointing it out to the rest of your group.’

Called back by her group, she ran to her colleagues to share her exciting find.

As their bus pulled out, Chotu made a mental note to keep those damn pesky pups out from committing nuisance.

And also where it showed, the plaster-of-paris must be patched up at the earliest.

In any case he had nothing to fear – he had only a month to go.






Credits: Images from,, wiki, and painting by Piyal Kundu.