Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Durga Puja - Finishing four years' quota in one

I am a Bengali. And for a Bengali, the festival to rule 'em all is undoubtedly Durga Puja. We can have different Pujas around the year, celebrate Id and Christmas in Calcutta with a vigour that would put other Indian cities to shame, and just strike once in a while if we feel that the Government holidays list is a bit (the word just comes to my lips and disappears, but for the lack of creativity) short. But nothing beats the atmosphere of Durga Puja in Calcutta. It is an experience. And my experience is made better because my neighbourhood Puja is Maddox Square, which is grand. Unfortunately, the last time I was there was 2004.

2005 and 06 were in Ahmedabad. Was enthusiastic enough to go pandal-hopping one year, and see only three (could have been four, am not sure), and also participated in getting a Puja organized on our campus for the first time.
2007 was a damp squib. I was in Malaysia.
Bombay ('08) turned out to be better. Managed to visit 5 different pandals, and also get drenched in the rain - a memory that I shall always cherish.

And now, it's Delhi's turn again. Last time was 6 years ago, in 2003, when I was in college.
Visited 13 pandals in all this year. Ok, I am staying in Kalkaji, so CR Park is near. One day I just walked around for an hour and was able to see 4 Puja pandals. CR Park itself has so many - Mela ground, Shiv Mandir, Pocket-40, E-Block...
Mela Ground is supposedly one of the best, but I didn't see what the big deal is. Really liked the idol at a pandal further down the road near a Gurudwara - supposedly a GK2 puja. J Block, CR Park was a bit creative with the interiors done up like a cave, with rock-cut statues. The lights were obviously a bit dull. Kali Mandir near Gole Market was ok. Saw the Aarati there one evening, but was disappointed because there were too many Dhaakis (drummers) blocking the view. The Aarati at Minto Road was good, with some girls also doing a Dhunuchi dance with the Dhaakis. The Kashmere Gate puja completed 100 years this year, and had an eco-friendly idol. It still looks just as I remember it from 6 years ago, and also from what I remember from my childhood. The most creative puja had to be the Matri Mandir puja at Safdarjung Enclave. It had an Egyptian theme with hieroglyphics painted on the walls. However, they had not messed around with the idol.

With any Durga Puja comes its share of junk food. But didn't have a lot. Tried galauti kababs with roomali rotis at a stall at Mela Ground, and some Shawarma at Minto Road. The kababs were dry and the shawarma was a bit too spicy.

Definitely an enjoyable Puja with family around every day, pandals to go to, good food (at home). But miss getting wet in the rain in Bombay.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Bombay place in Delhi

I recently shifted to Delhi after spending two amazing years in Bombay. I really love the city and the amazing variety of food that it has to offer. There is a good mix of street-food, pubs and restaurants, and most of the ones I'd frequent were places with good music.

There are some places that do not have music, and I am ok with that. Maybe the music does not complement the food; maybe the target clientèle would enjoy a nice quiet meal. That is absolutely fine with me.
What I do not like is Brian Silas playing in the background, or some light 80s pop, just as some ambient music. What I also do not like is a place like the Sports Bar at Phoenix Mills, Bombay, that has a DJ who is so musically challenged that he will churn out the worst remixes ever. He will slow down a nice peppy number to the speed of a lullaby, and a nice ballad will be accompanied with a galloping beat.

Having stayed in Delhi before, I know that there are not many places that serve a mean cocktail, decent food and have good music. The fear apart from remixes, techno-crap etc. is that the fall-back for the DJ is bhangra.
The only place that I really liked earlier was Turquoise Cottage at the Adhchini crossing, but that has closed down.

Cafe Morrison at SouthEx is a nice place. The day I went there wasn't a media night, so it wasn't packed (no free booze = no crowd). The music was pretty good - mostly contemporary rock -, and the food was good too. My test for any such place is to have the Long Island Iced Tea. If you can't make this, you had better shut shop soon. Morrison didn't disappoint at least.

But the place that has now become my favourite is Bennigan's. I have been to this place in the M-block Market at GK-II for the last two Fridays, and I have been in Delhi for only 15 days. Friday is an open-mic night, and anyone can go up and sing. Fortunately, the first time I was there, whoever went up was terrific. And someone sang a CCR song. And anyplace that I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival is a place I am definitely visiting again.
Unfortunately, the next time, a girl decided that she could sing, and after not having her way with us with Sajana (she made Shibani Kashyap sound good!) and Zombie, she thought of entertaining us with Kehna Hi Kya (OST Bombay, Singer-Chitra, Music- AR Rahman)!!! FM. Moral - Never ever sing a Rahman song unless you are classically trained! Still there was a saving grace - the guy accompanying her on the guitar was a very good vocalist and his interventions were, well, divine.
Didn't sample the food the first time and just had a Corona - so no comments. But the second time had some chicken snacks, wings, mozzarella sticks etc. which were alright. The potato skins with cheese should have had bacon in it (I am not sure whether they were told not to put bacon - my Sister-in-law does not eat pork). Had a cocktail - Lynchburg Lemonade - that I have never tried before, but it was quite nice. The Mojito left a lot to be desired though - the glass was wrong, the mint wasn't muddled properly, and there was a layer of sugar granules at the bottom of the glass.

Would I go to Bennigan's again? - Yes.
What will I order next time? - A steak and a Long Island.
When will I go again? - Probably the coming Friday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

26 - The new age for a mid-life crisis

Random thoughts not precipitated by me turning 26 – that was last January!

First thought that crossed my mind then – this is more of a landmark than turning 25; I am in a different survey-age-bracket now! You know these surveys about random things like “do you suffer from mid-life crisis”... where we have to tick empty slots against Sex, Age, Income... there is an option 26-35, and I realised that now I have to tick this empty slot. Not 18-25 anymore. I am now part of a new demographic!

Quit my job, went back home... while working, would shave regularly; but at home, I let my beard grow... guess what? My first white hair! ...and my mom thought it was something stuck to my beard. A friend of mine (who’s in the same bracket but 30 plus) had something a li’l more interesting to comment – “when you have your first white hair down there, that’s when you have a mid-life crisis!”

Went to Delhi... met one of my favourite teachers after 13 years... he was my Housemaster at boarding school, and his wife taught me Geography. Had a drink with him (Ballantines) and then, dinner... sounds good... but I also met his 10-year old son... played trump cards (does anyone remember trump cards? He had football stars’ cards and he doesn’t like Kaka... why?... Kaka does not win much in trump cards... does he watch football?... NO!)... well, everything is going fine till my brain goes a bit nuts and tells me he’s 10... How old were you when you first met your Housemaster? 10... (I don’t like where this is going)... How old was your Housemaster then? 27... How old are you now? 26, will be 27 next Jan... (why would my head f*** around with my head?)... a very chickie OMG later, “I am old enough to be that kid’s housemaster!”

(Disclaimer: I am not suffering from any sort of mid-life crisis)... Yes, that’s what they all say.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I feel small

I feel small

When I am unable to walk a few miles

When I see an animal with claws and fangs

When I can’t see the edge of the ocean

When I see the snow-capped mountains rising above me

I feel big

When I am able to travel hundreds of miles

When I see the animal with claws and fangs caged, and not able to hurt me

When I know there is no edge to the ocean

When I climb the mountains and see the valley below me

I feel small

When I travel in comfort, yet children walk miles in the sun to fetch water

When I see the animal caged

When though the ocean does not disturb me, and then I look up at the sky

When I see the valley and the mountains shredded and mutilated by me

(I never write anything that even resembles some form of poetry, but was thinking about how small physically I felt while taking the Bandra-Worli SeaLink one day as I saw the waves crashing. Another thing I am not comfortable with this piece is the punctuation - there are no full stops!)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on a train

Why does the train always speed up when they are serving tea?
Never been able to decide whether I should wait for soup to arrive before I smother the breadsticks with butter and gobble them up.
What's up with the veggie soup? What happened to good ol' tomato?
Why have they stopped serving dahi in the mitti ka kulhad? Has Mamati-di got something to do with the removal of anything that could be remotely linked to a Lalu legacy?
They have also discontinued Non-veg continental! Noooo...
But the dal was not oily and very tasty.
Why do people sleep so early?
Bed-time music is the Rajdhani Snorchestra!
It's pitch dark outside.
Wonder where we have stopped now... Feel like having some tea in a mitti ka kulhad...

(thoughts while travelling from Mumbai to Delhi on the Rajdhani Express yesterday around 1045pm)