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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Top bina Lap

We have integrated so much with the digital world...I realized this when my laptop crashed. The motherboard that is...and that means a LONG wait as this was the office machine.
The machine was an archaic Dell 430 model. I had initially resisted getting a laptop from office. One, it would mean 24/7 support. Second, I have a very lady-like resistance to learning a new gadget. Gadgets, however simple, freak me out. But then I was given one. I had to learn first, that it has a charger. Two, that I need to learn how to plug in the network cable. Three, plug in the external mouse. I felt like a hardware engineer connecting all these wires to my laptop.
But slowly as I got used to it, I learnt I could operate it without having to keep the charger plugged in, learnt that the wireless can be configured and that the mouse can be done away with. The sleek laptop slowly crept into my bed to become my companion. Work or browsing was now being done while lying down.This serpent position quickly gave way to the supine with the laptop on the tummy. The elevated tummy gives an unhindered view of the screen :)
Well, as I slept on my side, the laptop also moved and I started reading from the tilted screen. When it blocked the fan and made the machine hot, I would turn to the other side. The laptop now replaced the book. Books started getting downloaded and read in bed. It was easier as I didn't need to get up to switch off the light after the book was read. I simply had to sleepily click 'Hibernate' and slide the machine to a horizontal position. The newspapers were discontinued as I could read the e-paper in bed.
And thus my laptop and I became 'do jism ek jaan'. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and perhaps that's why the laptop decided to die on me.
The first reaction was, 'you cant do this to me...com'on,  come back to life.' It didn't budge. When the network and support team looked at it, they confirmed my worst fears. The mother board has crashed and will be replaced after you obtain all the required approvals. Sigh! This flagged a loooooooong wait. Now how do I go to sleep? I have to read for at least an hour before I can sleep...what do I do now? I dug out my books again and tried to read them. But the light that the backdrop provided to all my e-books was missing and I started finding it difficult to read by the light in my room and then the hassle of switching off the light before I go to bed. :(
The withdrawal symptoms started, with me becoming grouchy and grumpy at not having slept well in the night without my laptop.
After nearly a 2 week wait, I decided to go and get myself a new one. ( And, this is from someone who resisted buying a laptop for nearly 15 years of computer use) The main purpose was to read in bed and hence the smaller, sleeker, lighter Acer D257.

                                                                                  image courtesy: engadget.com

Now don't ask me questions like what memory, what storage etc. All I know is, it has a 10 inch display and came with a web cam (haven't used the web cam yet). Ordered through flipkart and got a pen drive free with it :)
I now sleep in peace with my newer, sleeker and lighter companion.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hyderabad Book Fair, December 2011

I must admit that for a self confessed book lover, I haven't been regularly visiting the book fairs in Hyderabad. A lack of awareness of when they are held also kept me from visiting them as often as I would like to. Well, yesterday I happened to visit the book fair at People's Plaza.
I walked to the place from the Necklace Road MMTS station, about a kilometer and half away. Taking the walk was a good idea as not only did it give the body the much needed physical exercise but also did away with the hassles of finding a parking slot for the vehicle.
Just outside the entrance, you have a few food stalls selling the 'chaat' stuff, coffee & tea. I passed over the temptation to have some tea as I was more eager to get lost in the vast ocean of joy that awaited me inside. The meager Rs. 5 charged towards the entrance ticket, is, I guess, more to keep a count of the number of visitors rather than actually charging you any.
The stalls were set up in a vast area. I haven't kept an exact count of the number of stalls but I did notice stalls numbered 170 onwards. My guess is that there were about 180 of them in all. There was tea and drinking water but no food stalls inside the premises.
What does the fair have to offer for the book lovers?
  • Management books (most of them more popularly known as personality development or self help books) .
  • Religious, spiritual books and CDs: (there was also the Nitayananda's stall, lol! )
  • Books for the students: the regular sciences, GRE, TOEFL etc.
  • Some of them had the kids' stuff like CDs/DVDs playing the rhymes, cartoons etc.
  • A few stalls selling stationary
  • For people like me who dig fiction, there definitely was much to offer as nearly 40 % of the stalls had the stuff.
Second hand books abounded with many of the popular titles being offered for as less as 50/-. The new ones had discounts of about 10%. But later I realized that we could bargain further there. A word of caution for the people who already are equipped with a list of new books that they want to buy. Don't! Flipkart offers it at much cheaper rates than the fair does. Second, do check the print inside before buying. Some of them are Indian reprints and the quality of print is poor. You get the original version in flipkart.
    But for the second-hand stuff, if you are lucky, you land up with some really good picks. You just need to have the patience to delve through. The true book lover can get lost in this world as the look, touch and feel of the pages in his hands can give a heady feeling.
    We have the Numaish exhibition in Hyderabad every year. The crowds jostling for space, the long ques for tickets had put me off. To compare, the crowds here are no where as thick as the ones at Numaish, yet what's redeeming is that there were crowds. There were kids, of course and grown ups mostly 30 years upwards. There were very few of people in their 20s buying the real stuff (that is apart from the study material). I almost felt like hugging one such young girl who was seriously browsing through the novels...real novels and not just some chick-lits. There is still hope for the continuing of the culture of book reading, I thought.
    There was also quite a handful of Telugu literature.Though I don't have an in-depth knowledge of Telugu literature, I recognized some reputed names in the old world of Telugu fiction/ poetry by Sri Sri, Chalam, Yendamuri, Ranganaykamma... Telugu children's books were there but I wonder how many of our kids have even heard of the Budugu books. I heard some of the kids clamoring for 'Cinderella' books though. I also found few of the famous English novels translated into Telugu.There were a couple of stalls selling Hindi literature too.
    I felt quite heady in this environment which was breathing and living books. The sight of so many books, the sound of books being discussed...

    I made a very conservative purchase of two books : Ken Follet: 'A Place called freedom' and James Patterson: 'Honeymoon' Safe buys both...known authors, bestsellers.
    'Roots' by Alex Haley has been my favorite and I had read it when in my college. Since then I had wanted to possess the book. When I saw this book, all discretion set aside, I went ahead to buy the book for 300/- ( I found out later, available cheaper in flipkart). The fourth book was a book which had the feel of a junk-read. 'Oh Shit, Not Again!' By Mandar Kokate: unknown author, unknown book...what you buy as 'what- the- heck' kind of novelette. Will find out when I read but for Rs.130 for a new book, it is ok, I guess!
    Though far from being satiated, nevertheless, the possession of new books in hand is invigorating.
    The foodie refuses to remain quelled even in a blog about books. Well, so here's to that foodie:
    I visited Water Front at the end of my experience. As I stepped in, it was so dark that I almost couldn't see my way around. As I was one of the earlier ones to arrive, I got a place by the lake-view which I admit, was awesome. The ambiance of the place, the view, the prices in the menu, everything was superlative! Though I had to read the menu by my mobile torch, lol! The vegetarian curries start at Rs. 250. There is a section of Thai and also cocktails and mock tails (160/-)
    As I was in a bit of hurry to catch my train back, I didn't order for anything exotic or elaborate. Also the fact that I was alone and would not be able to down the regular order of North Indian fare without getting some of it packed. Ordered a simple Hakka noodle ( 253/- with taxes) which was good in taste, decent fill per plate. May reserve this one to visit with the family for a leisurely visit later as I have read good reviews of this.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Kolaveri: the carefully arranged careless look

    I am sure, by now we have the Kolaveri, every version of it, oozing out of our ears.
    Starting with the delight-to-watch Sharad Pawar one... transcending national/international borders, male/female/child/black/white/brown--even puppets on NDTV :) everyone seems to be encompassed by the infectious tune.
    The skeptics have criticized it, the comments ranging from 'Rajni's son-in-law, hence popular' 'why the obsession with white skin in the south of India', some rubbishing the lyrics and many more such comments.
    Let's admit, we don't create the music that we did until three decades back, when the lyrics held much meaning and moved us. Fast is fawned on and tardy is frowned upon. Instant gratification of all senses is sought. Here today, gone tomorrow. But as long as it lasts, people revel in its popularity.
    One was dismayed at 'going viral' in our younger days but this is now a matter of great delight. So what's working in favor of this feverish zeal that encompasses the entire world with 21 million you tube video strikes? Remember the tananatananaaaaaaaa of Malgudi Days? Can we even try to explain why we feel so warm and joyous inside us when we listen to this song...especially those parts where we hear the looooooong drawn sleepy tanananananaaaaaaaaaaa.
     Such songs go beyond the superficiality and touch the child deep down inside us. Again, I don't seek to compare the two songs in either the lyric or tune. But equate the two as I find that that is the magic that is being sought to create.
    We all know how much of a hair dresser's hand is involved when he needs to give his actors the tousled look of the mornings. A similar attempt has gone into making the song seem spontaneous and a lot more hard work has gone into giving the otherwise average-looking Dhanush a classy look. Dhanush and team has created this image of a simple South Indian rustic who seems to make light of his heartbreak. The part where Dhanush wipes his upper lip...seems so unaffected and unedited. That the song is in some silly English, helps people understand it. And they have loved it so much that no one seems to have pointed out the spelling mistake in the lyrics when it should have said 'I want you here now' and not 'I want you hear now'. Moreover, don't we all break into some such silly self-composed ditties when alone?
    What also is redeeming  is that this song has firmly put South India on the Indian and world map in an astoundingly irrefutable way. The Southies are not simply dark skinned 'Maddus' who speak with a nasal voice but are now lending more and more of resources (music directors, actors, stories, films) to the North of India where we have the likes of Abhishek Bachchan confessing to feeling wonderful while working with the Tamil film makers.
    I am aware that this song will not be the rage a year from now, but then why not just give in to the way it makes you smile and swing your head in rhythm with the simple beat?

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    The Buffet@ GVK

    Certainly this restaurant hasn't tried too hard to name itself. It is simply called 'The Buffet'.
    I must thank Vinod for his diligent research of restaurants at BH and always discovering new ones. It hugely benefits foodies like me who love to try a new one at least once a month.
    Not keeping well prevented me from trying one last month. Made up for that by eating at 'The Buffet' yesterday.
    This is located in GVK mall and is on the 5th floor. Finding the restaurant can be tricky as not many, not even the GVK staff, have really heard of it. Second, if you attempt to go from the parking area, you'd be lost as the elevator reaches INOX. So it is advisable to take the outside lift and head straight to the 5th floor.
    Yesterday I enjoyed the warm welcome which started from the time I stepped out of the elevator. I was escorted from there to the restaurant.This pampering continued through the meal with very attentive waiters.
    The restaurant is  well lit and very spacious. Well-spaced tables give you all the privacy you need.
    I gathered from my internet search that the buffet is priced at Rs. 249 and this was confirmed by the restaurant when I called them the day before. In fact, this price is exclusive of taxes with which it comes up to nearly 300/-. A first for me, as when you inquire for the buffet price, the rate is normally quoted with taxes.
    The spread consists of both veg and non-veg dishes. And the spread is HUGE.
    Even for a strict vegetarian like me who could partake of only half the offer, I felt it was truly filling.
    What was a delight to see were the starters--four of the vegetarian ones consisting of cauliflower, potato wedges, paneer rolls and spring rolls. There were four salads on offer too...just the ordinary ones--none too exotic.
    There is no Indian food in the main course. There was pasta, noodles, fried rice, au gratin, spaghetti bolognese (didn't touch this not knowing whether it is a veg or non veg dish). There was also one Indian dish of Biryani which was awesome in taste.
    Among desserts, there is nothing unique or imaginative. You had the ubiquitous gulab jamun and ice cream and plenty of varieties of pastries and a couple of soufflés. After stuffing yourself with all the goodies, you really aren't in the mood for the desserts...especially when you have so many of the same stuff to choose from.
    It was also nice to note that all food is labeled green/red according to whether they are veg/non veg dishes and are served on two different tables but confusion still persists as you find some veg ones in the non veg section and vice-verse.
    The paanwala appeared towards the end of the meal but I was in a hurry to catch the movie and hence didn't glance at the various paans in the menu. 
    My take on this spread is that it is too good to last. They cannot afford to give this kind of spread at that price for too long. Grab while the restaurant is still new. All the dishes taste quite decent.

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    The Dirty Picture_First day show

    One of the rares for me...booking a ticket for a movie without reading/watching any reviews. Its happened again today...booked a ticket for the Dirty Picture and I must say after watching the movie that I am FLOORED!
    'Awesome!!!' doesn't come even close to describing the movie And there's no one but Vidya who can do justice to such  role. I went a bit skeptical after seeing all those titillating posters but had some confidence that a Vidya Balan movie can rarely go wrong. They say success comes late to some people...so it has to Vidya. She has proved her mettle beyond doubt. The dialogs are strong, scathing and caustic and the actor has done full justice through her delivery. Naseeruddin...is there any need to write about the great actor? He is an aging, wrinkled, mustached hero of the 80s in all his macho and melodramatic glory. Whatever the narcissist hero does is simply superb. His clumsy attempts to match up to Silk's steps (Vidya Balan's name in the movie) are lauded and Silk chided for not being able to keep up with him.He is wigged and mustached like all the heroes of 80s in south. Its not like Om Shanti Om kind of superficial attempts at recreating the 80s. They have gone into the skin of 80s and we have the old Jeetu Bhai's famous pots song recreated. Ekta Kapoor plays it safe by not trying to re-create song and dance sequences from any other actor but her father's.
    Emraan Hashmi in the not-so-subtle emulation of Mahesh Bhatt as the thinking, intellectual director and Tushar Kapoor as Silk's fan do justice to their role.
    But it is a through and through Vidya's movie. Very strong script brings out the best of Vidya.
    It may not be the real life story of Silk Smitha but were she alive today, she would have been proud of being portrayed as she was in the movie. First it was the item song in Munna Bhai, and now the second time, I felt that the titillating scenes were necessary to take the movie forward.
    Very simple and strong message in the movie tells us that as long as one believes in self, there is no one in the world who can touch you but once bugged by self doubts, you can destroy yourself.
    It is a story of a simple struggler from a humble background who is passionate about acting and how she is betrayed first by her child hood idol and then another man as she scales the ladder of success. How she allows self-doubt to creep in when she chooses to listen to others and that's when the down slide begins which subsequently leads to her suicide. In her suicide, she conforms to the expectations of the world by draping herself as an Indian nari.Sad!
    A must see movie, not to be missed by anyone.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Aloo Paratha and Mint dip

    When I visit the restaurants, I am served the green dip which goes with the starters and I find it awesome in taste.
    Well today, I finally learned how to make it and it was equal awesome in taste.Here's the recipe:
    (Recipe courtesy vahchef)

    Grind together
    • 1 tsp jeera
    • 1/2 inch ginger
    • 2 garlic pods
    • 2 bunches of pudina/mint
    • 1bunch of dhaniya/coriander
    • 1 tsp anaar/pomegranate seeds
    • salt
    Take equal quantities of this paste and thick curd and whisk together. The fragrance of mint combined with coriander with a dash of sourness caused by the pomegranate seeds makes this a heady concoction.
     I don't have the dried pomegranate seeds which were shown in the recipe and therefore went with fresh ones and enjoyed that crunchiness rendered to the dip 
    Make those hot aloo parathas and dip it in this chutney and enjoy this great combination. 

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Udaan

    Saw this film tonight and had tears in the eyes. Only one life to live and why live this life in subjugation and fear?
    Fly, soar, be free...

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Some more restaurants and buffets in Hyderabad

    ll the mundane stuff over the past few days prevented me from writing more. So, here are reviews of some of the restaurants that I tried in the last 3-4 months:

    Sahib Sindh Sultan:
    The one visited during Dushera time was Sahib Sindh Sultan. Had heard good reviews about it so thought of trying it out. The restaurant tries to create the nostalgia of trains. When we went, we were one of the earlier passengers in the long train compartment. The ambiance was well created and was charming. But what we hadn't realized that the AC compartment was soon going to get converted to our earlier days' sleeper class, what with the crowds and crying babies. The increasing noise and the crowds did put me off. Outside of the coach where the tables were laid out, were comparatively less occupied and quieter.We went on a Sunday, which I think was a mistake.
    In keeping with the theme of Indian food, there were no soups. There were two shorbas which could be read as sweet corn soup and tomato soup. Shorbas aren't shared like in other restaurants. Each had to have a bowl. The quantities are ok though. The starters and the main course were awesome. The accompanying chutneys are equally awesome. The biryani tasted very different form what the Hyderabadi palate is used to...yet it had its own distinctively delicious taste. The service was good. Our family had actually gone there for a long and leisurely lunch and I could sense the impatience in the steward's manner after a while. We ordered the mock-tails at the end of the meal which was a huge mistake. They were horrendous...thin and no great shakes. The pan-wala asks you for an order of a pan as soon as he sees the finger bowls brought in. All the orders took at least 20-30 minutes in coming.Sahib Sindh Sultan offers no buffets.
    Good ambiance, clean wash rooms (outside the restaurant) , great food but expensive at Rs 2100/- for three.

    Rayalseema Ruchulu
    In the month of September, it was Rayalseema Ruchulu. As a vegetarian, I never thought I'd visit this restaurant known more for its non vegetarian fare, especially the sea food. Rayalseema Ruchulu was my son's recommendation and we went there for his birthday. He wanted me to taste the food of actual Rayalseema.The RR special soup was quite yucky and therefore we went for the tomato shorba (though it isn't a part of a Rayalseema menu). A paneer starter and its accompanying chutney were quite decent in taste. And then we went for the jugular...the Ragi Sangati The Ragi Sangati, as I could see was a ball of boiled ragi and rice and brought with an accompanying allam pachadi. We ordered a tomato curry to go with it. We halved the ball amongst the two of us. The waiter doused the ball with ghee despite our trying to stop him from doing so. Later I understood why. Despite taming down the food with the ghee, the combination of Ragi Sangati and the tomato curry set our palates on fire and we ended up having watering eyes and running noses. By the time the meal had ended, I had a heap of tissues at my side. The food was delectable, though. We skipped desserts as the ragi really had us feeling stuffed.
    Despite the visit on a weekend, there weren't many people around which I thought was a blessing as there was very little noise around. Also, could be because we went in around 2:45 or so. Quite a decent service. An earthy feel is created around with cement benches for seating (though padded well). Cement floors like in the houses of yore. Lights shaded by carved hanging shades. All the waiters were dressed in black...I don't know why. Does black have anything to do with Rayalseema theme? And most of them were Shakal-style...shaved heads!All in all, a nice, quiet, spacious restaurant. The simple meal for the two of us was around 750/-

    The Square, Novotel:
    In sharp contrast was the restaurant at Novotel. We had the buffet dinner. Everything was so bejaan, so bland and tepid. Most of the fare was continental. The food served whether Indian or not, needs to have some filling main course along with all the accompaniments. And then who said continental needs to be bland?
    There were two starters (a rather insipid alu fry and gobi fry) and one soup in the vegetarian section from the Indian fare. Just about three curries and rotis. Plenty of choices of breads and cheeses. Tried most of them, though none of them truly stood out. Placed along with these breads were all those fancy looking, daintily done up fare from their coffee shop Le Cafe'. Well, however cute they look, how many of those teeny pastries can you have? What vividly stands out in memory is the truly VAST array of desserts...everything from Indian dry sweets, the syrupy ones, pastries, cakes, various ice-creams, souffles, a true delight for a person with a sweet tooth.This fare is like lot of odds and ends thrown together to display all those lovely colors and shapes but nothing that really fills you. The food doesn't justify the hefty bill
    Neither were the waiters much forthcoming about what the buffet offers. For example, we weren't told about the Chinese live counter and saw it only when we had already had our fill. We were also not asked if we wanted to try something from the a la' carte menu.Though we had asked for a buffet dinner, at those rates, one at least expects the waiter to ask whether we wanted something which is not there on the buffet. In fact, we did end up ordering some mock tails from the menu.
    You can always go there to enjoy the ambiance, which is awesome...starting with the foyer which was vast and with its high ceiling sure did make an impression. We had booked previously and were seated at the long table towards one end of the restaurant. Even as we sat down, we realized that the air conditioning did not reach out there. All the time we were there, we felt quite warm as the temperature was not at a comfortable setting.
    Novotel doesn't really warrant a second visit.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Cold Pasta Salad

    With a ritual of late lunch on the weekends, I decided to prepare this for my Saturday dinner, a meal  that's not heavy and yet filling. Easy to prepare. And this time I used wholewheat pasta which is healthier and also doesn't really become mushy like the regular one might.


    For preparing pasta, you need to cook the pasta first. (See below on how to cook pasta). Pasta doubles in quantity when cooked. I used one cup of penne pasta for this preparation for two. You can use other varieties of pasta too.
    Ingredients:
    1. Very finely chopped half onion & half capsicum,10 olives sliced, 10 jalapenos sliced, 1 small carrot grated and 1/4 cup of cooked American sweet corn.
    2. One garlic pod, crushed. Use one small pod or else the smell can be overpowering.
    3. Half cup mayonnaise
    4. 1/4 tsp lemon juice or 1 tbsp yoghurt
    5. 1 tbsp vinegar
    6. 1 tsp olive oil
    7. 1 tbsp sugar
    8. 1/4 tsp pepper
    9. 1/2 tsp oregano 
    10. 1/4 cup of grated cheese. (The cheese suited best for this is Parmesan cheese. I used Gouda cheese this time as I ran out of  Parmesan cheese.This comes closest to Parmesan cheese in taste)
    11. 1 tsp salt
    Mix all the above. Refrigerate for at least six hours before serving. Best eaten cold.

    Tips for cooking pasta: Cooking the pasta can be tricky. If it is allowed to cook for too long, it tears and turns mushy. If undercooked, the center remains white and hard. I have found a trick to cook this the right way. Put the pasta in the pressure cooker and even before the first whistle emits, turn it off. The pressure ensures that the pasta is cooked though. The cooker cools down quickly too. Drain the pasta in a colander and run water over it. By running water, two things happen: it stops further cooking; second, by removing the starch, you ensure that the pasta doesn't stick to each other

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    The Inimitable Kapoors

    Of the Kapoors, all of them known for their vivacity, the youngest-at- heart- and a ladies' man, Shammi Kapoor, would have completed 80 years today. Though inactive for several years now, his death somehow seems to draw curtains on that era of  honest, unaffected, yet powerful performances.

    This blog post attempts to pay tribute, in pictures, to the accomplished, versatile and vivacious  actors of the first family of the Hindi Cinema.

    The first and second generation


    The second and third generation






    The third and fourth generation 




    Collected pictures and information from various sources to make this family album. Just so the younger generation understands the rich lineage of their current heart throbs.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Sizzling Grillz

    Kobe at Chennai had me hungering for more such sizzling experiences.
    I was eagerly looking forward to adding to my experience of tasting a variety of sizzlers at Hyderabad as well. This, and a plan of eating out, made me travel all the way to Sizzling Grillz at Kondapur despite the impending rain.
    The usher at the entrance was quite welcoming and led me to a table right beside the door. I wasn’t too comfortable of being seated beside the door but was told that the restaurant was full. I had been to a Friday lunch and found the place filled with the IT crowd. It was like magic that the entire crowd just vanished at the stroke of 2! And because I happened to be there at 1.30, I was royally ignored as I was not a part of any huge gathering. I was starved and raring to have a go at the hot food. But what was first served at the table was the barbeque. Having driven for an hour to reach the place, I was  thirsting for water. But no, what I get served first is the barbeque. I now had to grill the half done barbeque before I could plunge into eating. The fun of eating the BBQ lies in lovingly swathing the pieces with all the accompanying sauces, grill them slowly on all sides and then serve yourself the same. All this can be done patiently when you are not hungry and not starved as I was that day. Almost at the end of my having eaten the BBQ I was served the ‘Welcome ‘drink and then the starters! I wish I could have started with the entrées first to quench my hunger pangs while my BBQ was getting grilled.
    Well, after having gone through the BBQs and the starters, when I turned to the buffet table, I found hot corn soup at the start of the spread. How I wished that I was informed of the soup. I would have started my meal gradually with the soup, and while my shivering body warmed up, I could prepare my grill. After this entire 'ulta-putla' menu, I explored the other stuff. I was directed to the vegetarian section by a helpful staff there. A small consolation for the vegetarians: the veg and non-veg sections are kept at opposite sides of the array.
    There were 5 curries in the vegetarian menu, one pulao, roti/naans, and the inevitable Chinese stuff. The good part of the menu was that none of it was way too oily or too spicy. After having tasted these, I turned to the desserts. Just as I was about to serve myself , I found some salads at the end of the table! Salads with desserts?! What do I do now? Of course, I had to skip the salads and carried on with the desserts which were about 5 in number…none outstanding as they were the usual Hyderabad fare (the cakes and ice cream). Amongst the desserts, the souffle was quite good though.  
    Well, this restaurant is definitely a take-off on BBQ Nation. Sizzling Grillz has done justice to the barbeque part of the meal. They were tasty and you could actually see the BBQ cooking and sizzling as the sauces dripped on to the hot coals. But then, once you have been to the inimitable BBQ Nation, you know that Sizzling Grillz is not quite there.
    The service could have been paid more attention. Having huge crowds during lunch is no excuse to ignore a lone diner. A quick note on what’s available or an attempt to know what the diner wants, could be helpful. A 3/5 for the food and the same for ambience. Not a very big place, though an attempt has been made to have it done tastefully.
    At Rs. 401, the lunch buffet is slightly overpriced. And to add to my disappointment there are no sizzlers in Sizzling Grillz’ buffet.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Pondicherry trip

    As written in my earlier post, I managed go to Pondy the Saturday before last. I almost didn't make it. As the weekdays were filled with the assigned office work, the temptation to remain between sheets and spend a lazy weekend was quite overwhelming. But then, I firmly told myself to stop being lazy and make use of my time there which if I didn't, I am sure I'd end up regretting once I returned.

    Well, to ensure I make the trip, I decided to book my bus tickets before hand. Tried the redbus.in but most of the seats were taken. So I booked through 'Make my Trip.' The bus was to start at 7 am and the return bus at 6.30 pm. The AC Volvo bus cost me Rs. 440 each way. Now that the tickets were booked, there was no escape. I got up at the early hour and waited for the bus at Adyar Bakery at Thiruvanmanyur and was pleasantly surprised to find it come on dot. A very comfortable journey of about 3+ hours with a break thrown in at a road-side dhaba.

    A major minus for me was that I didn't get any time to research and plan my trip like I normally do. I went like any other tourist who has heard of Pondicherry and wants to see it.

    Well, I was told that tourist information was available at the Pondy bus stand. My bus was headed beyond Pondi and therefore was asked to alight at Indira Gandhi Statue. I assumed that the bus stand would just be a stone's throw away and kept walking. Its only when I reached the destination was I to know that the distance was actually 1.5 kms. Walking that distance under the hot sun wasn't easy. On reaching the bus stand, I was told to contact counter no: 11 where I'd get tourist information.The information I got was, "Contact the tourism office on the beach. They will tell you."  Having walked this distance, this time I wanted to make sure where this beach was. I was told it is 10 mins from the bus stand. As usual, the hawk-like auto drivers were at the bus stand volunteering to drop me at my destination for  anything between 50 to 80 rupees. I crossed the over bridge and took a share auto for 3 rupees! This took me close to Vinayagar Temple, one of my destination spots. Crossing this, you have another tourist spot, the Aurobindo Ashram about 150 meters away. 600 meters from there is the tourism office. For me, it meant a close 2.5 kms walk that day. If you travel like me, ignorant about the site-seeing there, the best option would be to take a direct auto to the tourism office .Though I was thoroughly tired by the time I reached , what was redeeming was that the people there were quite helpful. They gave me a map and told me where to go and how to reach. They have two tours: a full-day tour from 9.45 am to 5.45 pm and half day tour from 1.30 to 6 pm. Reasonably priced at 250 and 150 rupees respectively for an AC bus service, this should suffice for the tourist.

    What I could not savor is the French culture & cuisine that I had so looked forward to. The other tourists who had been here told me that there is not much to see in Pondy and the 7 hours I planned to spend there was enough. What I realize now is that Pondy is not the typical tourist place where you mark out a few places to visit. It is a way of life that one needs to experience through a well-planned visit to Auroville, experience the french cuisine, know the french heritage buildings housing the various administrative blocks and much more. On the way back from Auroville, I found a row of Pizza outlets. They looked very different than the ones that one normally visits, a few of them promising wood-burn pizza.

    Walking around the Auroville is an experience by itself. The Matri Mandir, a large golden globe in the center of the International village, is restricted to few visitors who have booked the hours for meditation at least 2-3 days before. The booking happens only between 2-4 pm everyday. The meditation is reserved for 60 visitors per day. Without these restrictions, huge crowds would surely hamper the silent meditation that one seeks.I am sure spending time in that the serene atmosphere will be quite recuperative to the mind and soul.

    What  I also missed was the shopping there. I didn't have any thing particular in mind but was told later about  the tax free shopping available there :(

    I got to watch the Aurobindo Ashram beach from far as it is a rocky beach and doesn't really allow one to go dip your feet in the rolling waves. But I did have more than my share of water when I went to the beach at the Auroville and was literally swept off my feet as a HUGE wave swallowed me with along with the jhola on my shoulder which contained my belongings, the tickets, money, cards, phone everything!
    But here I am, survived to tell my tale.

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Returning to mana Hyderabad

    Tired of your routine life? Go out of town, stay out for a while and then come back…like me.
    Three weeks of Chennai—staying in the outskirts of city, on the IT highway—hungering for a simple home-cooked meal and living with people with who you have no common language to communicate…all this cured my thirst for a break.
    When I boarded the Hyderabad bound train, I couldn’t believe I was set to return home.

    What I returned to:
    • to read the wording Chennai-Hyderabad in Telugu
    • to see my mobile phone stop 'roaming' as it entered AP!
    • to step on to the Hyderabad railway platform and breathe an AC-free air again..AND not sweat!
    • to the haggling with the auto driver in a language we both understand!
    • to step into a messy, yet cozy home...away from the septic, formidable, cold, guest house walls
    • to stop drinking mineral water
    • to not having to keep my possessions under lock & key every time I step out of home
    • to just have magi or rice and, yes, to be able to have my favorite upma once again
    • to be able to prepare and have my paani-wala chai after three weeks of machine-brewed tepid sugar syrup
    • to be able to sprawl out on my own bed
    Even after a week of return, it sometimes still feels as though I am going to wake up to the sights and sounds of the last three weeks and I shudder! Feel so thankful to return to the routine that the body and mind are used to.

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Chennai Diary IV

    From what I have seen of Chennai so far, I conclude, it is not a city for the foodie.
    Hyderabad!!! Where are you?

    Day 7, Sunday, was spent going to my aunt's at Guindy. Though a good 16 km from my guest house, the visit with a taste of lovingly prepared home-food made it worth while.

    Monday to Friday had me explore different eateries around my work place and the guest house. I am now no longer surprised to find no paan stains on the road or paan shops around. You need a paan only when you have had a good/heavy meal.

    Tried food at Shogun, Ponnusamy, Sarvanan…all known and recognized by any Chennaite. The rest are small outlets.Yet, these three seemingly big names disappointed too.
    What’s amazing is, the ambiance seems to have no importance. It is as though what’s important is just eating the food…everything else is not necessary.

    I went to Ponnusamy beside my guest house hoping to get some light snack at dinner time as I am not too keen on heavy dinners.They have idli, dosa and wada for tiffins. They also have mutton dosa, egg dosa, paneer dosa…why can’t I have one simple masala dosa with its potato stuffing? The ambiance is like the Swati tiffins we have near Secunderabad station. So, why is it famous, I wonder. Neither the quality of food nor the ambiance is anything to rave about. They present the bill at the end of the meal along with a miniature banana.

    Shogun was a well recommended Chinese outlet.Though not an ardent Chinese food fan, I was game to trying anything now. It comparatively has a better ambiance than what I have seen in any other restaurant in Chennai. Ambiance-wise, compares to a Chutneys at Hyderabad…though less crowded. And the price that we ended up paying for this slightly better ambiance!  830 rupees for two for an ordinary meal (from the Chinese and Indian menus), one soup, two starters, three rotis, one curry, and one soft drink each. The food was ok. Maybe a 3 on 5, surely not more.

    The world-famous Sarvanan let me down in a big way. I went to Parry’s and as it would be very late by the time I went back, I decided to have food at the famous restaurant. I asked the steward for a masala dosa. I had to ask him to guide me with the menu because every single item on the tiffin menu was prefixed with Ghee…ghee idli ghee wada, ghee, dosa etc. All I wanted was a simple masala dosa. He pointed to one which said Ghee Paper Masala Dosa for Rs. 128/- I okayed it and found that it meant a dosa about a feet and a half in length and with accompaniments of coconut chutney, karipatha chutney, tomato chutney and sambar. I had planned for two simple items but seeing the size of the dosa, I knew I’d need to rule out ordering any other item. What first hit the nostrils was the aroma (stink?) of ghee. As I kept eating and reaching the lower half of that cylinder-shaped contraption, I found more and more of it stick to my fingers. When I lifted the dosa to check, I found the entire bottom of the dosa, and the plantain leaf it was served in, smothered with ghee. I started using the tissues to dab at every bite of dosa to get rid of the excess ghee. I called the steward as I had noticed a small girl beside my table being served a much smaller masala dosa. I asked him why I was not served that. His answer, “Because that will not be enough for an adult!” My next question to him was why all this ghee. He smiled, (sadistically?), saying, “It is all pure ghee.” Gosh! I wonder how, we who lead such a sedentary life style, will be able to digest all that stuff. Again, ambiance is like that of the AC section of the much crowded Sanman tiffin center at Tarnaka. As though all that ghee in the tummy was not nauseating and tumultuous enough, right beside my table plonks a lady and her mother with their hair adorned with strong-smelling jasmine flowers!

    NONE of the restaurants here serve my favorite upma…not one! It is always dosa, idli wada. Choice is between these three. No golgappa walas to be seen anywhere either.
    Everyone is so practical here…like they just need to get the work done. The finer things of life don’t seem to matter much. Back in Hyderabad, we live life the Nawabi style!

    Off to an early start to Pondy tomorrow. Look forward to enjoying the fine French culture.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Chennai Diary III

    Day 6 saw a lazy Saturday. The WHOLE day stretched in front of me with an option to do whatever I want to…this prospect was too tempting to not exploit. Express Avenue at Royapettah was what I had narrowed down my choice to. Before starting I had searched the internet for some info on Chennai bus routes and was absolutely stunned at the wealth of information  I found.

    ABOUT CHENNAI BUSES:

    The frequency of the buses is amazing. There seems to be one every minute. To find the bus that you need, just type the source and destination and an amazing number of options throw up!
    The Google map has the option of showing both the car and bus routes. When you click on the bus routes, a tiny figure of a person shows where you need to walk to catch the bus. Or how many meters you need to walk to your destination after getting down from the bus. The bus conductors have started conversing in Hindi, even if broken. They may/may not come up to you for tickets. The money gets passed from hand to hand till it reaches the conductor and the ticket gets passed back in a similar way. The Hyderabadis can bring their 5 rupee notes and 50p. coins...all are accepted here. Bus tickets are sold for odd amounts like Rs.4.50 and the the change of fifty paise religiously returned!
    Despite being loaded with all the bus numbers, I still asked around to confirm whether I was headed the right direction. And guess what?! The one to guide me was not a Tamilian / Indian but a British lady! She advised me on how much to pay the auto driver after I get down from the bus to head to Express Avenue.

    ABOUT EXPRESS AVENUE:

    Hmm. I heard that this is the biggest mall in Chennai. I chose to visit a mall because I was told that the mall was different as it also housed some authentic Tamil stuff. Towards that end, I was disappointed as it had all the stores that any other mall has. Yet, there are no regrets at having visited this mall. The sheer size of the mall stuns you. There are three floors of clothes, accessories, cosmetics, shoes etc., plus the basement with the Big Bazaar that I didn’t have the time to visit. I felt that each floor had a circumference of 2 kilometers. It took me about 5 hours to only window shop through each of them.
    I briefly spent some time at the Life Style and saw the hip crowd there. What is amazing to find is that there were the traditional sari-clad, jasmine wearing women and also the t-shirt-jeans kind too. So, though I wasn’t really dressed well that day, I didn’t feel out of place. The younger lot seemed to be modernly attired, the older ones more traditional. However modernly dressed, none of the women wore any cleavage–revealing clothes. I’d find more such girls amongst the hip crowds in Hyderabad.
    What happens to husbands here is the same as happens to them in every mall in any city. The poor guy acts as a hanger for all the clothes his wife has selected and keeps passing them one by one to her in the trial room as she keeps stepping out and asking for his opinion (but then goes on to buy what she thinks is the right one).
    When I reached EA, I headed straight for the multiplex and bought a movie ticket. This done, I started looking around the fourth floor which contained all the food joints. You are issued a food card after you pay whatever amount you decide to. And then you use it like an ATM card to keep paying for your food. If any amount is left at the end of the day, you are refunded.
    I first decided to make a round of the entire floor to check out what was on offer. Almost every kind of food in its about 20+ outlets found menus from Italian to South Indian, Arabic, Malaysian, Chaats, KFC and many more. After having completed the tour of the place, I opted for Kobe

    FOOD AT KOBE:

    Kobe, I had read even before going to Express Avenue, was a place of Sizzlers. As I wanted to try something different, I opted for it. Kobe is a separate restaurant and doesn’t accept the food card issued by EA.
    When seated, I saw that about 70% of the items on menu were non-vegetarian ones. Undaunted by the limited choice or the price, I stuck to my choice. The menu mainly consisted of sizzlers, pizzas, and mock tails. I selected one vegetable sizzler. It was priced 290 and I wondered whether one snack is worth 290/-. After a wait of less than 10 minutes, the waiter rushed towards me with a sizzling, steaming oval shaped plate which was about 12 inches long. Looking at the quantity, I was petrified. I just can’t eat all that stuff, I thought. I wasn’t sure of where to start…whether I’d get a plate to serve myself smaller portions of that gigantic offer or directly dig into it? I realized that the plate was quite shallow and placed on a half inch thick, burnt wooden base. The dish was made up of a portion of rice surrounded by shredded and par-boiled vegetables like cabbage, peas, carrots, French fries, baby corn and a flat potato cutlet. Over all this was poured Schezwan sauce. Between pepper/garlic/Schezwan sauces, I opted for Schezwan sauce though I was warned it would be spicy. What I realized by now was that this sizzler is not a snack but the main course itself. The dish was kept piping hot throughout the meal though the sizzling subsided after a while. It had a tangy taste to it, not very spicy with a delectable mix of rice, sauces and vegetables. I enjoyed every bite of this awesome dish which nearly burnt my tongue. This dish is a must-try.

                                    Image from Kobe website

    THE MOVIE: ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DUBARA

    Getting a ticket for a Saturday movie is unthinkable in Hyderabad. Yet here, I was pleasantly surprised to find a seat for the evening show. Well, I read reviews in favor of and against the movie. I trust Rajeev Masand’s reviews. A 3 ½ /5 from him means that the movie is a sure-watch. There also are reviews which speak to the contrary belittling it as a Karan Joharesque movie with its unrealistic, feel-good, made-for-the-NRI-crowd kind of movie.I went with an open mind to watch this movie. Story apart, the script and execution was slick. Not a moment of boredom as you are taken through a journey of three 30-something bachelors reviving their younger days and finding a new meaning to life at the end of this one all-boys trip to Spain. You will not be disappointed when you watch this. But beware, Katrina Kaif and her non-acting still jar!

    ON THE CHENNAI STREETS:

    A few of my observations on my first outing in Chennai. Many women adorn their hair with jasmine garlands. This is a disappearing feature back in Hyderabad…unless women go for a wedding or some such traditional occasion. Most of them have good hair though. I also see many dark complexioned people around. In some imperceptible ways, I sense a respect for women ...like a man won’t sit beside a woman in the bus, even if the seat is vacant. I also find fewer lungis and more trousers this time. The roads are almost empty by 11 pm. In fact, when I was going back from EA, I found I was the lone woman on the bus home. A bit scary! What I don’t find is the fidayeen-kind of the ubiquitous women found everywhere in India these days, their heads all wrapped up and only the slits for the eyes showing. When I tried wrapping my head here, I realized why they don’t do that. I nearly suffocated in the sweat inside my scarf! I found one or two on the streets, though I am sure they too will give up soon.
    I didn’t find any of those wide, pleasure-to-drive roads like we have in some posh locales in Hyderabad. Yet, the roads here have far fewer potholes than what we find back home. Many of the main roads too aren’t really wide.
    There are almost no paan shops… as a result, also no red marks on the roads unlike in Hyderabad where we literally have painted the town red.
    It is sweaty and clammy even in July whereas back in Hyderabad, this season sees you shiver with cold, especially after heavy showers. Here, shower or no, you always sweat and one can’t imagine life without an air-conditioner.
    More posts to come when I explore Chennai more.

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    Chennai Diary II

    Day 5: Uneventful so far except that the team happened to go out for lunch to a restaurant called Delhi Dhaba on ECR road. I had been eyeing a Delhi Dhaba on the Thuraipakkam Road and wanted to try it out and today I did…though the one at ECR. The food itself isn’t great as such. For the first time, I found that I am not in the minority. Of the 15 people in the group, 10 were vegetarians. We veggies stuck to one half of the table and the non vegetarians to the other half. The vegetable shorba for the soup was quite decent…a thick translucent liquid with a few chopped vegetables thrown in. We ordered for a vegetable kebab platter for starters which was a nice assortment of about seven kinds of starters. Except for the mushrooms, the rest of them vanished in no time. That platter was quite a decent one too. After this excellent beginning, the main course did let us down a bit. All curry gravies were quite bland and tasted the same. Sarson ka saag was an exception though.
    Verdict is one can go here…no regrets and definitely for someone from outstation who is starved for good food, this can be recommended but not for a discerning diner. (although it looks like 3 days of having good dinner has made me go back to my picky ways.)
    As of now, the plans are to try the Express Avenue tomorrow. I resist malls in any city as they only clone each other but EA has been highly recommended. I have also been told it could contain some handicrafts etc. let me try. If not anything, I guess my time will pass well in that huge mall. With also a multiplex in it, I might throw in a movie. People who know Hyderabad say it is like the Inorbit. My verdict tomorrow, once I have been there.
    I want to carry back a bit of Chennai flavor with me whether they be clothes/ handicrafts/ food/ snacks/ footwear…whatever.I am only a bit skeptical about buying snacks as I may end up finishing them off before I reach Hyderabad and not have anything left for the family.I have been recommended Grand Snacks. Let me see. Being in city outskirts at Shollanganallur, I need to travel quite a bit for getting anything. But yes, I am glad to get this opportunity to go out and explore. I do not look forward to sitting cooped at the guest house for the weekend…that’s sure

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Chennai Diary

    Almost out of blue, with a very short notice of 2 days, an office trip to Chennai was planned. The trip is supposed to last for 3 weeks. First, I was told it was a training for a week…which I thought was ok but then that was extended to three weeks saying that we needed that on-job experience as well. That set me thinking. On one hand, at a personal level, I felt that it is going to be a good break from my daily grind. Second, was the opportunity to learn something new and this has always excited me.
    As I was packing, I decided to pack the best of office wear. I was excited and looked forward to looking good, feeling good and giving this trip the best shot.

    As I got down from the train and stepped on to the Chennai soil, I looked around to see, observe and absorb. I wanted to see how the city is different or similar to Hyderabad. What I noticed were the black and yellow Ambassador taxis which are not to be seen in Hyderabad. We have all those accident prone Indica cab drivers with their dented and scratched cabs. Another mini shock was being charged 430 bucks for a distance of 22 kms to my guest house! And this is the official price set by the police stationed there.

    The service apartment provided was below par and I had to quickly shift to the company guest house. On the plus side is that the guest house is 2 kms from the office. This was my dream since we came down to settle in Hyderabad. Commuting to the office in less than ten minutes…that’s cool. The travel is taken care of but I lose heavily on quality food. Complementary breakfast is just that…something that’s an obligatory part of the deal. A semi-conscious and drooping dosa, rock solid idlis, and a watery fruit juice complete the deal. Lunch at office cafeteria is a well-known story…everything stinks of dal/sambar. All that I can do is get adventurous while in pursuit of dinner.

    There shouldn’t…rather cannot be any comparison between the restaurant-rich Hyderabad and any other Indian city. If Hyderabad had a similar long IT corridor, we Hyderabadi foodies would be spoilt for choice! My friend and I went to Nallas right opposite my office once in the last three days (has it just been three days?). This place comes with high recommendation from many of my Chennai colleagues. Our meal for two consisted of three rotis, a soup, a curry and a can of soft drink each which totaled Rs 430! An ordinary restaurant, though air-conditioned, with ordinary ambience in Hyderabad will not charge as much. If they do, they will be out of business in no time. Out here, there aren’t really any other decent restaurants around.

    Yesterday, we got a little more adventurous and headed towards a food court beside Asecendas. No one without a company ID was allowed inside. I surrendered my ID and got another tag in exchange. Well, with this new set of tags, we stepped into the food court and wow! Like a young girl getting attracted to glittering trinkets, all these junk food outlets had us stunned for all the choice they offered…all of which I might not even care for in Hyderabad . I almost ran towards Mc Donald for their burger, chomped on it washing it down with a much-caloried 7 UP.

    Unsatiated, I looked around for more. It warmed my heart to find a bit of Hyderabad in a sign in a corner proclaiming ‘Hyderabadi.’ Well, I can have that once I am back in Hyderabad. I gave my favorite chaat corner a miss, so also the Chinese Wang’s, KFC etc and went seeking stuff from the famous Sarvanan Bhavan. Sarvanan Bhavan, which I thought specializes in South Indian, had a variety of North Indian stuff as well. I narrowed my choice to the never before tasted Idiappam. This was offered with coconut milk. I watched with fascination as I saw a tablespoon full of batter being spread thin in a deep vessel, covered and cooked. A hollow thin hemisphere-like layer was gently coaxed out once cooked. It looked very similar to the regular Dosa we have but I knew the batter was different. I was very tempted to lapse into my comfort zone and ask for chutney to be served with it. But I stoically stuck to the white, sweetened, cold, milk like accompaniment. The dosa was unique as it had a paper like consistency towards its rims and expectedly a slight thickness at the bottom At least, I got to try something from Sarvanan Bhavan and the Idiappam for the first time too.

    By the way, how did I forget the filter coffee?! Being at Chennai and dining at Sarvanan Bhavan, I did order for filter coffee. It smelled amazing and tasted good too but really not worth the 23 rupees that I paid for it. I might need to try the same at some road side restaurant to have the real ‘kapi’

    Today is the fourth day here. Need to see where else I can go for eating something different. I don’t know whether I will lose weight or gain some at the end of this stay. There are times, I get nothing but a plate of rice with curd and times like yesterday when I binge. More Chennal news in the next few posts till I come back…soon I hope!

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Mumbai Life Cycle



     

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Yaksha, Basil and buffet experience in Hyderabad restaurants

    I hadn't eaten out for a long time. As I was thinking of which new restaurant to try, I came across Yaksha. I wondered why the name Yaksha (a demi-god) for a restaurant. Nevertheless, after reading the favorable reviews, I decided to visit the place. The distance of about 13 kms to Banjara Hills takes about three quarters of an hour in the usual Hyderabad traffic conditions. But that day, every traffic light waved me green as they seemed to understand the urgency of my hunger pangs and urged me to zoom by, thus allowing me to cover the distance in 25  minutes flat!

    As I stepped inside Yaksha, I stood there uncertain as to where to go. Like a cinema hall, it was too dark inside. Also, the place seemed so tiny! There was no welcoming usher either. In fact, I had to draw the attention of one of the ladies who was passing by and asked to be seated. She waved me to the nearest table which was filled with some cutlery. I sat down a tad hesitantly and waited and waited. After a full 5 minutes, the same lady comes by and points in the general direction of the buffet spread and asks me to help myself. The usual expectation during a buffet is that the starter and soup be served at one’s table. But here that was not to be. I got up trying to find a path through the narrow spaces between the compactly placed tables careful not to stumble and trip in the darkness. In all this darkness, I spotted a bright countenance. When I peered closely, I found it belonged to an ex-colleague of mine. One of the few times I appreciate a fair complexion. Thank god, something is visible in the darkness! After the initial ‘Hi’ s, she told me that they were here as a group of about 15 people and were not just lamenting about the quality of food but rather the lack of it, I mean the food itself. The restaurant perhaps never had a huge number of 15 visitors in one go!

    I made a quick u-turn wondering where to go to quench those quickening hunger pangs. A la' liberty was a well tried restaurant and one that I am truly fond of but I have been there thrice already. So I quickly decided on Basil in the immediate neighborhood. Basil is no stranger to the Hyderabadi. I had also visited the place around 3-4 years ago once and had carried no particularly favorable memories of the place. But then I thought about giving it a try once again.

    As I stepped into the restaurant it was a relief to find it well- lit. The glass windows were used to let in natural light. Basil also comforts me as it is a pure vegetarian restaurant. Even as I stepped in, the usher was at the side and seated me at once.

    Well, coming to the meal…let me tell you that I am a small eater and most of the restaurants make money on buffets through people like me. Now, why do I state this? I actually had a second helping of all dishes on offer! And if your mouth waters at the prospect of quality food, let me correct that assumption. I am not talking of quality but quantity here. Even as you think of allowing your eye to rove over the buffet spread, the journey ends almost where it begins. Two salads…unable to distinguish between the two diced vegetables placed in two different plates was all that was in the department of salads…and two starters to begin with.

    When I talk of starters and salads, my mind recalls Barbeque Nation and Liberty. And that’s what I call a hearty beginning to a hearty meal. This offer was like the ragged clothes of a beggar. But to be fair, the starters of corn and boiled and barbequed potato were quite decent. For the first time, in a buffet I could actually finish off one full naan as there were only two curries and one dal to go with it. And only two sweets. The whole thing comes to Rs. 234 with taxes. What the restaurants must realize is that a discerning diner is willing to pay more for some unique taste/dish on offer in the meal. What else would make me bother to travel a distance of 26 kms for a meal? I can as well have it in any place nearby. The food itself was not unpalatable but then…

    One of the risks that you run into when visiting a restaurant on a working day is to find groups of women having their kitty parties. I found one such group here too. Most of the women pass themselves off as upper middle class not by virtue of some self-achievement but the achievements of their husbands…which rather translates to the flaunting of the wealth amassed by their husbands. Many of them do not look well-educated themselves. I feel annoyed by the loud chatter and the louder guffaws that emanate from such groups. Culture and education seem not to even touch these women—all of them decked as though attending some party—sari, jewelry, flowers et al Why such uncharitable remarks you wonder. This was my experience there:

    When I sit for any meal at a restaurant I always ask for tissues, beside the napkin provided. I did the same here too. I was seated beside the buffet table and one of the women while passing by my table, simply pulls out the tissues provided to me. I couldn’t help stare with disbelief at this uncouth behavior. She realized perhaps and asks customarily…”you want these?” and goes away without waiting for a reply with the bunch clutched in her hand. Luckily, there is a private room provided for such groups and the noise is contained within. It was at the end of about twenty minutes that the door opens and two of the women step out to have the dessert. Too lazy to go back, they stand there eating the sweets. Two more women join them, then more and then all of the 15 or so people all standing there right beside my table talking loudly and eating more noisily. One of the women finished her ice cream and had the audacity to just deposit the cup right beside me on my table as it was within her reach before she went for a second round of desserts. Fortunately, the alert waiter quickly removed the dirty bowl and spoon from my table. Respect for such groups dipped further seeing such behavior.

    To sum up this post, this is not my usual review of a restaurant but rather a comment on the cost cutting measures adopted by many of the restaurants in Hyderabad these days wherein they keep the price the same year after year but the items on the menu in the buffet are fast depleting thus disappointing the regular patron. Case in point: ‘Haveli’ in Madhapur.

    (Added later: Went to a gathering arranged at the banquet hall of Basil in the second week of Jan 2012. The food is the same as it was in the buffet. I had hoped it might be of better quality as it was catering to a group of about a 100 people)

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    (Ah)Men!


    This picture of Wasim Akram recently in one of the newspapers took my breath away. Girls, this guy is still drool-worthy!
    We girls, who grew up in the late 70s and through 80s, were not all that fortunate as we had no such heroes we could have a crush on. And so who did we have? Amitabh (hain!) Bachan, Mithun Chokroborthy, Shotgun, Jeetendra...You get the scene, right? That entire period we didn’t have ONE Bollywood hero we could drool over.
    Luckily for us, the cricketer Imran Khan came by and had us girls swoon over his pictures in the sports mags and we ended up cutting and sticking his pics in our rooms. Post teens, I found amongst my contemporaries, all midget sized actors.
    And when I had given up on watching a soothing visage, arrives the tall and handsome, Abhishek Bachan with Refugee and knocked me flat with his dark brooding eyes, left-handed gestures, the small crinkle of smile in his eyes, and a ‘bechara’ expression on his face.

    Watch him as the intense lover in Refugee, watch him as the funny and naughty Bunty in Bunty aur Babli, as the oh-so-sexy brooding bad boy in Yuva, as the gay with the cutely effeminate characteristics in Dostana. Watch him in Paa as that bespectacled politician portraying a clean image playing father to his real life one. Watch him in all his talk shows/interviews and listen to his witty and intelligent repartees.  AND… and watch him mouth those now famous words “Get Idea!” I LOVE that Idea 3G ad where he says, “Chi! Kitne gande gande comments aa rahe hain!”
    He brings back the same magic that the heart-breakingly handsome Garam Dharam & the handsome hunk Sunil Dutt had spun with a their looks ( an amazing mix of vulnerability and sheer masculine strength.)

    Just as I write this, I hear he is going to be a papa himself. I wonder what’s going to be the product when a 6 footer handsome hunk cohabits with a piece of plastic.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Life

    There will be two dates on your tombstone.
    And all your friends will read them.
    But all that's going to matter is
    the little dash between them.

    Yep, life is as short as that little dash between the two dates. Why don't we just keep it as simple and straight?

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Garam Chai

    As kids we were told that drinking tea or coffee is an adult thing and were forbidden from tasting them. It was a big glass of milk along with breakfast for us. Milk did not come in polythene packets. With a can and a lactometer in hand my father would set off  to get milk from the local doodhwala who had his herd of cows and buffaloes .
    The coffee prepared was a mix of this fresh milk and decoction brewed by my mother in a small coffee filter. Tea was prepared in evening times. My parents sat in the 'easy' chairs in our lawn as they sipped tea and chatted, catching up on the day's happenings.
    Having grown up drinking milk, I never knew what tea or coffee tasted like. This continued even after marriage. But then I had a difficulty...it was ok at home. But when we went visiting our friends, we were asked the inevitable, 'coffee or tea?' I politely turned down the offer but that led to the next question 'Maltova? Boost? Horlicks? Yuck! I liked my milk plain sans sugar. I had to give in and opted for their offer of tea/coffee.
    Back at home, morning times were always hectic as we used to have our respective coffee/milk and rush off to our places of work but come evening, I started having tea to give company to my husband.That's how my tea-drinking experience began.
    Gradually, I started making my own brand of tea which my aunt and I have proudly named 'kaamwaali chai'. Any kaamwaali who hears this will sue me, I am sure, as none of them will have this kind of chai any more. In earlier days though, the kaamwaalis were given chai prepared from the residual tea leaves prepared for the household.
    My chai comes very close to that.The recipe for my Paani wala chai is to boil one cup of water until you see a vociferous dance of bubbles in the vessel, put in 1 1/2 teaspoons of tea leaves. Boil for 10-15 seconds. Switch off the stove. Put 2 tablespoons of milk and half tsp of sugar. The color should be a distinct brownish red. Take a deep breathe of the aroma that arises from the swirls of the steaming brew and tell me you don't feel alive! (Did you know that the word 'cha' in Hebrew means 'coming alive'?)
    Many ask me why not coffee? Coffee is not like tea. Tea conjures a rustic image and feel. Coffee, on the other hand, is something that I might have as an-after dinner thing...it is an urbane experience. When you think coffee, you think rich, you think cream...better whipped cream, you think of espresso, cappuccino, mocha, latte and all those cute hearts, hopscotch and other figures cutely drawn across. Coffee is a leisurely and luxurious experience. Whereas chai is that delightful brown hot fluid that pumps life into your lethargic body. Of course, some coffee outlets have distorted the nice rustic chai with offers of iced tea, green tea and...even latte! But then why have chai there?
    To have real chai, have this:

                                                (Image: Courtesy:Wiki)

     Moreover, a Hyderabadi = (Irani) CHAI and not coffee!

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Man dheere dheere gaye re

    Man dheere dheere gaye re, maloom nahi kyun...
    Bin gaye raha nahi jaye re, maloom nahi kyun...

    And if you think these are the romantic ramblings of a senile mind, you are as far from truth as the claims of AXE drawing the Miss/Mrs/Ms in droves. 
    Then why do I keep humming this song today? And I ask you... why shouldn't I?
    It  is said that it is not the big things of life that make us happy but the small-small things (choti-choti baatein).
    There must be days when you experience a sense of deeeeep contentment...not a gleeful, rapturous, delirious, drum-beating kind of joy at having won the world-cup, but more like that of the pastoral musings of a cow as  she chews & re-chews the cud slowly, lazily, while flicking the flies with its tail from time to time. I feel like that cow today.
    This is the list of things which gave me that feeling of ummmmmmmm...
    1. I could sleep in longer as it is a Sunday
    2. I was able to give my son his favorite breakfast
    3. The joy of hearing my scooty purr back to life albeit after a few juicy ones from the watchman to its underside.
    4. Finding that the week's supply of veggies cost me only Rs.120 this time!
    5. That my son offers to cook lunch for me. Gosh,what an awesome way to be treated!
    6. That I took a short nap after lunch
    7. That I could quickly whip up a lassi when my son asked for it
    8. That I succumbed to the wicked desires of the wicked tongue with some wicked snacking.
    9. That I sweated so much in the kitchen while preparing dinner that it made the bath that followed all the more worthwhile.
    10. That I could stand under the shower to my heart's content
    11. That I have a clean set of clothes to slip into after the bath.
    12. That I can rest this pristine body on cool sheets on a comfortable mattress at the end of the day.
    13. That I can type in all these words to share this feeling of  absolute beatitude and double my joy.
    Isi liye...
    Man dheere dheere gaye re, maloom nahi kyun...
    Bin gaye raha nahi jaye re, maloom nahi kyun..

    (Waise, this song is from a 1958 Hindi movie called 'Maalik')

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Kathal ki Sabzi: a Veggie's delight !

    Last week we were at my sis-in-law's place. They have an independent house and an enviable garden wherein they grow a huge variety of plants and trees. Of all trees, what awed me most was the sight of the jack-fruit tree laden with the fruit.And of course, I brought one home!

    During my childhood spent in Orissa, almost every second home had a jack-fruit tree. What's different about the jack-fruit tree is that unlike other fruit-bearing trees, many of the fruit grow on the trunk/branches near to the ground. Some of the fruit can grow up to two feet in length. Exchange of home-grown vegetables/fruits was very common in our childhood days and jack-fruit featured quite commonly in that exchange. Sometimes we received the fruit. None of my family could stand the smell of the ripened fruit and we used to offer it to people who loved them. But when the raw one was at home, I used to pester my mother to make the sabzi, the Bihari style. There is one recipe for the Andhra style too wherein the jack-fruit is chopped very fine and cooked with mustard powder.But my favorite is this one.

    From my childhood, my friends kept teasing me saying that I don't know what I miss as I never tasted non- vegetarian food. Inside my heart I used to wonder what it really tastes like but never had the desire to do so.
    For vegetarians, let me tell you that kathal ki sabzi, the recipe that I share with you now looks exactly like mutton when cooked and when my friends tasted it, they remarked that it even tasted like mutton ki sabzi!
    So here goes...
    Call it Kathal in Hindi, Jack-fruit in English, Panasa in Oriya and Panasakayi in Telugu. I choose to call this recipe as kathal ki sabzi as it is the Bihari style of cooking the curry.

    To prepare kathal
    1. Skin the kathal first. For this, you need to oil your hands and the knife as well. The fruit exudes a milky gum-like substance which doesn't leave your hands easily. I wore the kitchen gloves as an extra precaution and applied oil to the gloves itself. Keep a small bowl of oil at your side and keep dipping you fingers in to it from time to time as you cut the kathal.

                                                                       The uncooked pieces.

    2.      Cut the kathal into 1 inch cubes. Discard the hard middle section of the kathal as it doesn't cook.
    3.      Soak some tamarind in water and squeeze out the tamarind juice. Add one tsp of salt and a pinch of turmeric to this extract. Put the kathal pieces in this tamarind water and pressure cook. Switch off after one whistle.
    4.      Drain the kathal. After draining, fry the pieces in a shallow pan adding two tbsps oil for each batch of about ten pieces. Fry till they are golden brown in color.
    5.      To give it a yummier taste, add potato as well. Cut potato into half-inch pieces and fry. Do not remove the skin.

    The fried pieces 

    To prepare gravy:
    1. Make a powder of 6-7 cloves, dalchini, elaichi(big), 1 tsp black pepper, 1/4 nutmeg, 1 tbsp dhaniya, & 1 tsp jeera
    2.  Make a paste of 3 medium-sized onions. Fry in 2 tbsps of oil till it starts leaving oil.
    3. Add 1 tsp of ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute.
    4. Add the above masala powder. Fry well. Add turmeric and lal mirchi powder. Fry for 1-2 minutes.
    5. Add paste of 2 large tomatoes. Keep stirring from time to time till the paste starts leaving oil.
    6. Add salt and tej patta. Add water (approx 2 glasses) till you have the desired consistency for the gravy.
    7. Add the fried kathal and potato pieces, cover with lid and cook for 10 minutes on low flame.

                                                                          And ready to go!

    Note:
    1. This recipe is for three people.
    2. A ten-inch long kathal is enough for five people.
    3.  It is important to make this kathal ki sabzi in mustard oil to enhance its flavor.
    4.  Some people recommend adding the mutton masala powder available in the shops instead of the garam masala that I used.
    5.   It takes about an hour and half to prepare the curry.
    6.  It can be eaten with roti/nan/ paratha.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    SMS

    I received this SMS some time back and every time my thumb moved to delete it, I stopped. So sharing this:

    You don't know how high you can fly until you give a real try. 
    Just do your best in each try. 
    Maybe the sky will have to shift a little high. 

    For people who are not risk-takers, this message is wonderfully inspirational.
    Thanks, Sheetal, for sending this.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Of Anna(s) and Events

    There is one Anna sitting in fasting in Delhi protesting against corruption. It is amazing to see how he swept up and touched people across the country! The middle class, the (largely) honest tax payer was hurting as scam after scam of unimaginable proportions was hitting headlines. Looking back, Harshad Mehta’s 4000 crore scam seems diminutive now! The latest one, the 1.76 lakh crore scam befuddles most of the middle class minds who don’t really know how many zeros the figure contains. Many of them are busy commuting to work, working, taking care of family and inevitably paying the taxes through salary deductions. Caught up in this loop and unable to do little else, they only can be frustrated and helpless when they see their hard earned money warming some undeserved pockets. That one voice, therefore, garnered gigantic waves of support. Like everything else these days, Anna’s movement also is seen through eyes of cynicism. Plenty of voices have FBed and Twittered, both for and against the agitation.

    Just about a week ago, the crowd frenzy took a different dimension. History repeated itself on the 2nd of April. The underdog of 1983 had now become the favorites for the 2011 World Cup. The difference between 1983 and 2011 also is the pervasion of cricket into many more homes via TV screens. In a country where a wooden plank, three sticks and a ball make cricket, where you find kids playing cricket on every road and gully, where the children may not remember the Math formulas but cricket stats are quoted confidently and accurately, Dhoni came close to displacing Sachin from the position of Cricket God with THE SIX which made history by bringing the world cup back to our country after a 28-year long wait.

    And then we have the Annas of Telangana. [Yeah, men usually address each other as ‘Anna’ in the Telangana regions of AP]. One of those Annas went on a fast for independent state of Telangana last December. Hyderabad has seen several bandhs in the last one year seriously disturbing the life of general public. People closer to the OU were practically imprisoned in their homes as the Annas and their followers resorted to stone pelting and destruction of public property. These protests gathered momentum and led to the so-called Million March on the 11th last month. People gathered in droves defying the police, breaking through barricades to join in the protest, wreaking havoc, breaking the statues that lined the road, throwing the desecrated and broken statues and cameras snatched from the journalists into the murky waters of the Hussain Sagar.

    We witnessed crowds, enthusiasm, hullaballoo, cheering, stomping, sloganeering, madness and mayhem…all within the last one month.  In the first event, the fight is against the common enemy of the middle class—the greedy government official. In the second, it is India against the rest of the world. In the third, it is one Telugu against another Telugu. While the first event caused people to connect emotionally and fight as one single entity with a enemy within, the second brought tears of great joy and goose bumps as we, irrespective of class, creed, religion and language celebrated our—India’s—moment of triumph over the world, the third had us frightened by the sight of the noisy mobs silencing the streets with their acts of violence and mayhem.

    I do not know what motivates someone like Anna Hazare to speak for the people. But right now, I, as a middle class person will rather submit to the optimism that the voice beckons, be swept away in the euphoric success story of Indian cricket than be intimidated by pessimistic, destructive and divisive forces.                                                                

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Friendship

    Came across this wonderful poetry and was taken through a nostalgic trip down memory lane.



    Friendship was either 'katti' or 'mitti' in those days. Put your thumb under your chin and flick it a couple of times and it was a 'katti' meaning end of friendship. 'Kattis' would last a few hours or maybe till the next day. Things were forgotten and forgiven quickly as you needed that very friend to play with the next evening. Wagging of your little finger showed a 'mitti' and your friendship was instantaneously resumed.

    What happens to all those stories of  friends &  best friends--'kacha dost' and 'pakka dost'? What happens to those promises of ever lasting  friendship? What is it in the adult world that does not permit such friendships any more? Why is trust so hard to come by? We have never seen a more well-networked generation. Yet, I believe we are the loneliest of people.

    Listening to this very simple poetry brought  a tear to the eye and the memory of  all those small meaningful things now lost for ever.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    CRICKETTTTTT!

    Yes, that is me shrieking in exasperation. And before you men out there dismiss it with a shrug and say, “Women...what do they know of sports,” let me tell you I was a great fan of cricket. Though not able to quote statistics at random, the interest in cricket was held fastidiously till the infamous match-fixing allegations in the famous year of the century, the Y2K. That’s when I lost faith in cricket and gave up watching it.

    The world cup was therefore obviated from my radar as were all previous cricket matches including the supposedly very thrilling 20-20s. Yet, it was not to be so this year. I could not but submit abjectly as I found myself swathed, swamped and smothered by an all-pervasive delirium.

    TV news channels are taken over by well-known Mademoiselles, thrusting mikes under people’s noses asking, “What do you think about tomorrow’s match?” “Do you think this match will really benefit the peace process in India-Pak relations?” Switch channels, and you have another equally popular Anchorji doing his best balancing between comments of Indian/Pakistani cricketers and audiences. Bites, bites and more in every channel. Perhaps the India and Pakistani cricketers are making more giving these bites than what they did during their playing careers back then. Even the equable DD news channels submit to this frenzy interviewing people chanting pro-India slogans.

    At office, the mail exchanges stopped at 2:30 pm. A ticket assigned to a (guy) network administrator gets transferred to a lady associate. A coincidence? 95% of people are missing after lunch. They are licensed to absent themselves today as the office has giant screens set up to enhance the watching experience. Every few minutes, loud shrieks told us that one of the Indian batsmen had scored. I left office early and found that, thankfully, the trains were running half empty too! Who would want to leave the match and spend one hour traveling?!

    At home, the family is stuck to the TV, forbidding me from touching the remote...my saas-bahus are relegated to repeats! :( When I could lay my hands on the remote for a few seconds during the break, I turned to the Telugu news channels. Unmindful of the sober news of the death of a very prominent actor, cricket updates were running gleefully in the scroll below.

    Even when I was away in the kitchen, loud cheers and bursting crackers outside told me when a Pakistan wicket fell. Stony silences were indicative of a Pak batsman’s 4 or a 6.
    The last over was crowned by the deafening sound of crackers accompanied by loud cheers from youngsters zooming past on their bikes.

    Sanity prevails as the key match of this world cup is over!
    Now you know why we Indian women cannot remain impervious to the world of cricket! :)

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    My companion for life

    When you sit to write about a topic you are deeply passionate about, where do you begin? There seems to be so much to write about.Well, I talk about something that fascinates me...books! Just as a foodie salivates at the thought of eating, so does my mind at the idea of reading. The mind immediately conjures images of rows and rows of books of varied thickness, different writers, different genres of writing! My secret fantasy is to remain locked inside huge book stores like the Crossword, Odyssey etc. and lie sprawled amongst all those books...all mine and keep reading and reading. I don’t think I’d be tired of the activity ever.

    Where did this journey begin? I have no recollection. The farthest that I can throw my mind back is to reading the Chandmamas when I must be 7-8 years of age . We kids not only read those interesting stories but also remembered the names of the artists who used to so painstakingly paint each of those pictures within. Gradually, that interest spread to comics. The Amar Chitra Kathas were devoured with gusto even before they lost their new smell. This time it was not only the artist but details like printer, publisher…all were memorized!

    There is an interesting story about our reading the Amar Chitra Kathas. For our vacation, being in Rourkela, we had a long distance to travel to our native in AP. We had no other means of travel other than the Bokaro Express. The berths used to be made of wooden planks. 'Bedding' consisting of bed sheets for us all was one of the regular features of travel. We kids weren’t fazed by the hard berths or the long 24- hour travel because at the beginning of our journey, we were each given a rupee and asked to go and buy a book each. Three comic books amongst the three of us! Those books were read and quickly exchanged and exhausted before the end of the journey. A little later when I was in my teens, we had the Konark Express and imagine what! It had a built-in library where you could keep borrowing books throughout your journey. That sure made the travel tremendously exciting!

    Well, the appetite was whetted and then there was the fact that we lived in the Steel Township and as any township is, we were a close group, socializing across languages and cultures. The movie halls numbered only 4 in all for a population of about 4 lakh! So one can imagine the interest that the people had for movies. Moreover movies were considered ‘bad'. Only selected movies, and that too only after passing parents' certification, were allowed to be watched. But I don’t recall ever longing to watch movies. Perhaps 2-3 movies in a year were all we watched. Well, I seem to digress...the point I am trying to make is that with no other source of entertainment (no TVs those days either) all that we kids were left with were those HUGE playgrounds to play on (quite enviable and unimaginable for the kids of metros these days) and books to read. Most of us were voracious readers and none of the township parents had dispensable income those days. The books were therefore preciously preserved and then exchanged for more with neighbors and friends.  And most of the time, they would find a way back to the owner though a little dog-eared. There were some fights over the condition of books, I remember, if returned torn.

    The first few baby steps with the Amar Chitra kathas led to Archie’s, Tintin, Phantom and then my first novel—of course, Enid Blyton—the blue dragon, the green dragon, the yellow and then the red series indicating that that particular Enid Blyton was for the elder kids. Hardy Boys followed, and then Nancy drew. Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Hailey, and who can forget the most important book for the teenage girl—the Mills & Boons series... we girls used to be hopelessly lost and come out starry-eyed after reading those Mills & Boons. The classics were not spared with the reading of Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, Pearl.S.Buck and then later 'adult' books like Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon. The passion for reading was such that the newspaper that the samosa- seller used to wrap the samosas in wasn’t thrown away until we ensured that there really wasn’t anything worth reading on it.

    In the later years, I read Taslima Nasrin, Kushwant Singh, John Grisham, Salman Rushdie and even Shobbaa De (!!!)

    The books that have made an impact are:
    1, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
    2. Roots by Alex Hailey
    3. The Good Earth by Pearl.S.Buck
    4. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
    5. Carpetbaggers By Harold Robbins

    After marriage I was again in a small township with its own infrastructure and you guessed it… with its own well -equipped library! For someone as passionate about reading as I, that was a God-sent gift. My job required me to travel 3 kms and with no traffic, a 10 min drive. If I left home at 8 am, I was back by 4:30 pm. And that left me plenty of time to read…at least one novel a week.

    In Hyderabad, I travel 60 kms each day to and from work taking around 4 1/2 hours to travel and very little time to read and enjoy books like I used to. And for the first time in my life I am distanced from a regular supply of books from a library. Human beings adapt and that’s what I did too.Books were replaced by online reading. All the classics are available online and that’s how I finished reading ALL short stories and novels written by my favorite author— the inimitable PG Wodehouse!

    These days I have discovered the world of blogs and find many interesting blogs to read...each of them displaying such different genres of writing. The skewed laptop screen has replaced the book in bed and I curl up with it now reading all those blogs.The medium has changed but the habit stays on...hopefully never to be cured. :)

    PS:I still have with me all those Amar Chitra Kathas  read in my childhood. :)